House Finch
House Finch

If the sky was perfect
inside the house finch
he would not
beat the red thoughts
around his feathered crown,
nor collapse his brown-grey wings.

This poem, like a few others written during this month, was inspired by a writing prompt provided by Poem A Day October. The prompt provided an online random image generator and suggested choosing a visual. It was a toss up between a pair of wizened hands and this handsome house finch. The finch came with a poem, which isn’t surprising as I have used bird motifs in my writing before. See
Sky and Hope have disappeared,
Nearing the End and

I have written drafts in response to all the Poem A Day October’s recommendations. However, not all these attempts have passed the benchmark I set for work worthy of public reading.

Contrary to what some may believe, I do not post any old bunch of lines. Not all the words I have thrown together do I declare poetry. While I do ease up a little on my personal standards (otherwise 80% of the writing on this blog would not be online), I also set high ideals for my writing. For example, I wish my work was more literary. I wish its craft was more dazzling. (Sadly, my attempted poem in iambic pentameter terza rima resulted in a mess of scribbles.) If my poetry was more politically engaged or socially critical, perhaps it might also be more useful to the world.

As a perfectionist who also happens to work as an artist, I spend a long time judging my work as inadequate. The fear that the public and critics will spotlight flaws compounds my panic. (An early poem, “To whom it may concern”, explores this.) Such fear is debilitating. While housebound creativity satisfied me somewhat, it did not wing in the world. How would anything take flight? After years of filling up notebooks I decided that it was time for creation to be shared.

This is why I share my poetry online.

Here are the other poems inspired by Poem A Day October prompts:

Highest Priority
Transition/ Disclosed
Postmarked from a Café
A cooking attempt for colleagues
You cooking me

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012, which includes “To whom it may concern”

Exalted thus, we left

Sunflower courtesy of the Old Design Shop. Illustration by Kate Greenaway on sheet music from c. 1881.

An old favourite revisited, because artists are allowed to have their obsessions. “Exalted thus, we left” is a reworking of a poem from 2011:

I love the Dorothea Tanning painting that spurred the original “Jacob’s Dream for crinolined girls”. When I’m in Tate Modern, I’ll usually try to pop into the Surrealism gallery to gaze at the image, my crinolined protagonists and the yellow angel wrestled down.

The first version of this verse is one of twenty selected poems in Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012.
My other books include In the Ocean: a year of poetry, which came out in last month, and Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys.

Find me on Twitter as @BeadedQuill and on Facebook.


In the window is 
from Senegal, 
and beautifully put together:
the bird.

The artist, with the help of sticks
and other flotsam,
beautifully put together
the bird.

The artist has been washed ashore 
with other birds 
beautifully put together 
with the help of sticks.

They make beautifully put together
birds from the window, 
these sticks and other flotsam
and the artist, who is 

beautifully put together
washed ashore with birds
in the window of flotsam
in the window of helpful sticks


Since the earliest days of summer, before the heatwave descended and when a further bout of snow probably still threatened, I’ve had a torn page from a catalogue against my table mirror. It has long been a habit of mine to pull pages of beautiful interiors from magazines, newspaper supplements and catalogues. (For the astrologically minded, I am Cancerian after all.) I have made dozens of scrapbooks of such images. At one stage, when my life was more sedentary, I had an elaborate filing hierarchy of general shoebox for the scrappy ones, small envelopes for alone images, larger A3 sized envelopes for pages and files for full articles of beautiful homes.

In the last ten years, as my life has been more transient and nomadic and my views about a life filled with objects have changed, I have become more restrained in such collecting. After my time in the USA, I did gift my sister a stapled book of glossy San Diego estate agent advertisements and Pottery Barn pull-outs in an imaginary décored version of My Californian Life. In my ever-growing collection of notebooks, you will find the occasional image of quiet studies, verdant gardens and cool kitchens drawn from Polish, German, Austrian, English and South African publications. On the most occasional of occasional pages you may come across a hurried line-drawing of a hotel room in Istanbul or a tin of pens against a window-view in Grahamstown.

In the torn page propped against my mirror these last few months, this is the scene: there’s an empty, but inviting cabin dining-room. Set around the wooden table are worn, painted chairs. The wool rug against the wall is a burst of folksy flowers. Silhouetted in on the windowsill are a hurricane lamp and a bird sculpture.

Alongside this scene is a quieter, more tantalising shot. Below the window is a blue-seated bench. On the windowsill a geranium flowers pink blooms in a tin bucket. Squint and peer, and alongside the leaves and wooden window frame you’ll spy a long-legged bird sculpture.

Accompanying the images is the usual informational catalogue blurb. It reads:

The bird in the window is
beautifully put together
with the help of sticks
and other flotsam that
has been washed ashore.
The artist in Assane Déme
from Senegal, who makes
birds from recycled

I’m drawn to the visual arts and beautiful spaces. Like the creative work of writing or composing, working with objects, colours, textures and light piques my exploration of creative process. In a more academic capacity, I’m also interested in the politics, patterns and trends of artistic and creative consumption. Overlay the consumption with North-South dynamics – as in this example, a Northern European interior clothing/décor/lifestyle store highlights a Senegalese artist’s work. Now some of the post-colonial cultural theory I once studied stirs.

Stanza by stanza “Recycled” explores both creative process and creative politics. In the first stanza the artist as (named) person is suspended for exotic creator from Senegal, who not merely makes art but is resourceful enough to do so from flotsam and other recycled materials. Invoked are hints of the myth that artistic Africa is resourceful, but not quite of the materials or rigour of the Western European Academy sculpture. (I am also conscious that I have not mentioned Assane Déme by name in the poem, which is interesting. I’d like to argue it opens the poem to be more of general circumstances. ) The second stanza continues a similar idea, with the “beautiful, helpful” materials taking on a creative role in which the artist is almost subservient.

The subservience of artist to material is sometimes noted by creatives, who point out that often their media works itself. So, it is apt that stanzas three and four shift from politics to creative process. In the sea of sticks, flotsam, birds and beauty, we read an ebb and flow of the creative tides. The final stanza incorporates the ambiguous politics of the original catalogue blub and the mystery of a creative wave. It refers to the role of materials both in the creative process and the myth of creative production from Africa.

And all this from a page torn from a catalogue. Such is creative recycling.

Preview more poems and essays on my writing in my recently published volume SHINING IN BRIGHTNESS.

I am on Twitter as @BeadedQuill.