Are you positive?

I’ve just watched a beautiful, uplifting video about success. It was aimed at women – all the images and speakers were famous women – but could equally apply to men in its message: work hard; focus on what matters; know that failure is part of the journey – use it to learn. If you do these things, you will be on your way.

For a moment it won: it made me feel hurrah! for those wonderful women and slightly unsettled that here I am, messing about writing poems, managing a charity shop, an impossible jungle garden and a family. Really, shouldn’t I be successful by now? Hell, I should be rich, famous and botoxed. I’d better concentrate, get on my way.

But on my way where, exactly? All the images were famous women – writers, sportswomen, politicians. But, at any one time, only one person can be ranked first for a sport; only one person can be leader of a political group; only one person can top the bestseller chart, or the most watched TV show stats. So how many of us does that make failures? The entire rest of humanity?

One of those captioned photos on social media listed ways to success including:
– think positive
– don’t listen to people who talk negatively
– keep your focus no matter what
– put yourself first
– because you’re worth it

‘Scuse me, but aren’t those traits of all those overbearing politicians and CEOs who know they know best and don’t give a shit for the rest of us? The Boss-suited tycoons who sign away rainforests, enslave poor communities and don’t pay taxes on their offshore profits? The lobby lick-arses who get off on undermining accountability?

Positive thinking does have a role in life – many of us will have benefited from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sports psychology, mindfulness or life coaching – but it’s not the answer to everything. Nor is it an excuse.

Negative thoughts – providing they don’t wake you in a 3 am panic attack night after night – are our checks and balances. They stop us doing utterly stupid things. They make us discuss ideas with friends we trust or at least our bank. What if …? When negative thought is banned silly projects go ahead: remember Thatcher’s Poll Tax? Anyone with half a brain could see it would not work because it would be far too costly to keep track of everyone and – back then – the technology was not up to it. So many schemes of all sizes flounder because of yes men, yes thoughts, where negativity is banished.

‘Hey, Mr Fabulously-rich-CEO, what led to your success?’
‘Positive thinking and hard work.’
Bollocks. Sure those two factors played a part but they are not the full story. I’d bet family money, a good education (meeting the right people), networking (meeting the right people), charm (meeting the right people is the key to success) and perhaps even psychopathy all have more effect. As another captioned photo of barefoot women carrying vast piles of firewood on their heads says, ‘If wealth were based on hard work, these women would all be millionaires’. The myths of positive thinking and hard work are cognitive dissonance for those of us with money to feel we deserve it.

At the nadir of positive thinking we come to victim blaming: you are poor because you didn’t try (if you are poor it is because you deserve to be poor; if rich people earn their wealth then the converse applies); you didn’t think yourself better which is why your cancer is spreading; it’s your fault you are so depressed; you could cure your arthritis if you put your mind to it. Robin Williams being selfish in his despair because what right did he have to be depressed with his success?

I’m not “successful” in terms of fame or fortune but I was born into a first world country and have reasonably healthy, happy life. I try to be positive, think carefully, make good choices in all the little details of daily life. I think pros and cons. I think gratitude, joy and also things that should be challenged.

I think myself lucky.


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Gillian Clarke will be our Autumn Dinner guest on 26 November

Myfanwy Fox:

I’ve heard wonderful things about Gillian Clarke reading at Ledbury last year so I am really looking forward to this.

Originally posted on Malvern Writers' Circle:

Malvern Writers’ Circle are delighted to announce that GILLIAN CLARKE, the National Poet of Wales, will be our Autumn Dinner guest speaker on Wednesday, 26th November at the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Great Malvern.

Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator from Welsh, becoming the third National poet of Wales in 2008. In 2010 she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and became the second Welsh person to receive the honour. In 2011 she was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards. In 2012 she received the Wilfred Owen Association Poetry award. Her book Ice was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

Wednesday 26 November, 6.30 pm, Harcourt Room, Mount Pleasant Hotel, Belle Vue Terrace, Malvern. WR14 4PZ. £20 ticket includes dinner.

Gillian Clarke will speak at 7.00 pm, before dinner.

14 Autumn Dinner Menu Choices 2014


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ConFab Cabaret – with Hollie McNish and Al Barz

Another FAB show.

Here’s the Fox Pops audience poem. One of my suggestions was “football”. The audience shaved that down to something more specific on the world cup:


There’s a rabbit in my window box
…so many nuts, so little time!
Ronaldo, Rbinho, Ronaldinho, senna
coco cabanna, Rio and dancing with Hanna
I know very little about Brazil – apart from
it rhymes with HILL and ILL and the football’s there!
A South American frenzy of balls
Or a frenzy of cutting remarks on the ref
one makes you shout till your hoarse
The other makes you deaf
Riot of colour, passion played
out in the street – who? Brazilians.
I favour your favela
Favelas as nesting boxes perched on the hill
No go areas filled with corruption and poverty
Oh Brazil you drive me nuts, the truth
is in favelas away from chance the ball
How many millions in a Brazilian?
There are lots of fellas
in favelas
millions and millions
of Brazilians
Suz read a poem and hairs, zillions
and you go and ask for something about Brazilians.
They have an awful lot of coconuts
in Brazil but give me a good
festival every time
Brazilians I don’t like,
I want to write on WESTFEST
Because of all the Malverns
They’ve got a whole lot of coffee
There’s a really nice cocktail
at Wetherspoons called Brazilian
it’s mango flavour and really yummy
A Brazilian is a strip away from Hollywood –
yet they’re inches away on a map!
The chainsaw breaks.
The rainforest is saved a close shave.
My hedge trimmer is broken
MY topiary is not symmetrical
The first cut is the deepest
A close shave with you alright!
Faithful and trusty landing
A landing strip is not my trip – I let it run – amok,
but a Brazilian on Prince William is how I like to rock!
It’s only hair – it’s meant to be there
A fluffy muffin is just as volcanic
Bright brilliant Brazilians sleekly shaved
in all the right places – shaded from San Paolo’s sunshine
I tried it, it’s not like in the pics,
a red itch plucked chicken with a landing
strip clit
must be time to polish the rabbit



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Garden Party

Originally posted on Malvern Writers' Circle:

MWC annual bring and share garden party in a gorgeous garden and with perfect weather. Readings from war poetry and members’ own work.










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What we need to do things, what we put in to things we do. What I run out of …

For those of us who are larks – at our best first thing in the morning – events are particularly exhausting as they are usually at night. For those of us who are introverts – not as in shy but finding we need a bit of aloneness to re-energise – it’s another way events are tiring however wonderful and lovely all the people involved may be.

So this blog post is a bit personal because I’m explaining why I can’t make it to everything that’s happening. Well, I could go to everything, but I’d pay for it over the next days – and possibly even weeks. Long ago, I was one of those undergrads who worked – and partied – all term and then promptly caught a cold as I stepped onto the train for the holidays, to spend the two week break at Christmas or Easter comatose, starting with pretty much 48 straight hours of sleep broken for the occasional snack and a visit to the doctor for antibiotics for tonsillitis.

Excuses, excuses: I wanted to go on the Worcs Lit Fest & Fringe opening events – including the laureate selection – followed by the magical-sounding midnight solstice walk last night but I was at work yesterday (my day job is interestingly knackering –I’ve had plenty of interesting/knackering jobs over the years; this one takes the biscuit) and I’m to be at work again today and my teenagers finished their various exams as of yesterday so, instead of going anywhere at all we had a takeaway meal as a treat and I was in bed by 9.30 – long before my kids – catching up after ConFab on Wednesday night (it was FAB indeed; I will blog a review and the audience poem ASAP) and then a visit to Birmingham’s new library for a Poetry On Loan workshop (also fab; fun and funny and educational all in one) on Thursday.

So I have just looked on FaceBook and I Worcestershire’s new poet laureate is FERGUS MCGONIGAL; Claire Walker was a close second and Suz Winspear third. Huge congratulations! And see you all soon, I hope.


Here’s wot I made in the Poetry On Loan Seeing Things workshop with permission to play like preschoolers with the PVA glue and bits of sparkly stuff:


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Outside The One Stop

This week I am chuffed that a my 52 (“highstreet” theme, week 8) poem, Outside The One Stop,  is on the Morning Star’s poetry section HERE.

I’m also mega-incredibly excited that next week Hollie McNish is coming to ConFab Cabaret here in Malvern on Wednesday 18 June (Oliver’s Bar, Belle Vue Terrace, Great Malvern, WR14 4PZ).

Here she is doing poems that have gone viral on YouTube:


Fabulous events are like buses: wait for ages and then two arrive at once. So, on the same night ConFab hosts Hollie McNish, John Cooper Clarke is performing in Colwall, just over the hill.

A couple of years ago I heard a poem (on the radio? I really can’t remember) and thought, ‘That’s the same rhythm and form as John Cooper Clarke’s “Evidently Chickentown” using repetitive profanity to beat home the monotony of a dismal existence.’

Here’s the fabulous Christopher Ecclestone rendition:

I finally tracked it down today with a bit of googling. Here’s an interview where he mentions it. And here is the precursor poem, from WWII.

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A prose poem about tits

Political Support

The ‘80s Wonderbra is the lingerie equivalent of UKIP: attractively buoyant at first glance but built on false fillets with nothing to support its claims, embarrassingly prone to self-exposure and inevitably ending in tears. Trendy T-shirt lightly padded bras for those who refuse to admit to nipples are New Labour yummy mummies wearing floral frocks and bearing half-baked cheery cherry buns. The feminista Greens don’t see the need for Man-made Lycra, elastic and sweatshop-bent under-wires: they’ll take breasts as they come. Which leaves the Tories with the Playtex and the M&S matron ranges proclaiming their winning mantra, “Lift and Separate”.


Jo Bell’s slightly-scary-but-ever-so-exhilarating 52 project is now at Week 22 with an exhortation to write prose poems from guest prompt-setter Luke Kennard.

There are some stonking pieces already posted in the accompanying FaceBook 52 group, even though some of us are not quite sure we’re “doing it right” – or even if there is a right.

The above was my attempt.

I left out the Lib Dems on the basis that so does the universe, plus, at the moment, the poem is exactly 100 words, which means I can say it’s a Drabble. (And then people might think I know what I’m doing because I know some jargon. (Back to the politics?))

While I’m on the subject of tits: I remember meeting a charming group of elderly lady writers a few years ago and picking up their regular anthology of work to find the volume fell open at a poem with a startling opening line something like “Tits are bouncing on the table”. That her line momentarily and alarmingly conjured a scene quite unlike her intended garden nook (with its chirpy sparrows and cheery chaffinches as elaborated thereafter) will always stay with me.




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