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A poem I wrote about porpoises has appeared in a book called When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors – People and wildlife working it out in California.

I guess the advantage of writing poems about porpoises is you can quickly corner the market.

Written by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom of the National Wildlife Federation, the book tells stories about humans and animals living in various states of harmony – including foxes on the Facebook campus in Silicon Valley, a mountain lion called P-22 who lives in the middle of Los Angeles, and the porpoises who returned to San Francisco Bay in 2007 after a 65-year absence. Good for them.

The book is available here and all proceeds go to the National Wildlife Federation. 

Society of Design Conference 2015


Photo by cbower2366 on Instagram

Just back from an extended trip to Philadelphia to talk at the Society of Design conference. It took place in the Harrison Auditorium in Penn Museum and was hosted by Craig Welsh of Go Welsh.


Photo by wittynoggin on Instagram

As part of my talk, I revived the rearranging-corporate-copy idea of Corpoetics to write a poem based on Go Welsh’s profile copy.


Photo by @themodernchris on Twitter

I also took the chance to talk about a few interesting pieces of writing spotted over the last year or so.


Photo by thatgreenalien on Instagram

And it was my first opportunity to talk about a new version of this book, which will be coming out early next year.

The best part was being able to hear from six other speakers, all from different disciplines. To give an idea of the range:


John Ryan talked about his work as Director of Interaction Design at Local Projects, including this City Pulse installation at One World Trade Center. 

Oskar Zieta talked about his studio’s mind-boggling technique for inflating steel with high-pressured air to create strong but lightweight forms, for use in everything from furniture to space stations.


Spencer Charles and Kelly Thorn spoke about their beautiful work, previously for Louise Fili and now independently – I was a particular fan of this layered ampersand poster.


Alisa Wolfson gave an insight into design as part of a big ad agency – she heads the Department of Design at Leo Burnett in Chicago. Recipeace is the award-winning D&AD White Pencil project, but I also liked this single-minded branding work for McDonald’s.


Craig Dykers runs architectural firm Snøhetta, which is responsible for a wonderful array of buildings, including The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion.


When Snøhetta turned its attention briefly from architecture to graphics, it immediately created one of the stand-out projects of the last decade. These Norwegian banknotes won a competition a while back and are coming into circulation next year.


Finally, Annie Atkins talked about her graphic design work for The Boxtrolls and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not only great work, but also a fascinating story told with clarity and humour.

Thanks to Craig Welsh and everyone who provided such gracious hospitality. 

Hail Jodie


By popular demand*, we have created a variation of The Nation’s Prayer in honour of the England women’s squad who have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Canada (they will play Japan on Wednesday night).

Rather than rewriting the Lord’s Prayer as with previous versions, this one takes the Hail Mary as its starting point. Jodie Taylor takes the lead thanks to her crucial goal in the quarter final, while captain Steph Houghton plays the holding role at the end.

Please feel free to download, print out and share in advance of the match, not that it’s done any good in the past. We may have to produce the full rosary set at some point, with footballs for beads. Or maybe not. (By the way, we are aware some Christians may not like the prayers being used this way – we appreciate your tolerance of what is intended as a good-humoured project.)

See previous posts for more on the back story to The Nation’s Prayer.

* one person mentioned it on Twitter (thanks @garham)

The Nation's Prayer 2014


Following no popular demand and one explicit request not to do it, we’ve decided to release a new version of The Nation’s Prayer to mark the impending 2014 World Cup. This year, we have chosen to go one step further and produce some prayer cards that you can buy and place strategically alongside your remote control and chosen beer.

If you remember, we first came up with The Nation’s Prayer in 2010 (read it here) and released an updated version for Euro 2012 (here). It’s written in the tradition of the Bus Driver’s Prayer, of unknown origin but popularised by Ian Dury.

This year has presented a particular challenge as there remains a chance Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be replaced at the last minute, which will present an existential threat to line 5. We’ll have to deal with this if and when it happens.

Keen sports fans will notice there is no place in the poetic starting line-up for reserve keepers Ben Foster and Fraser Forster, nor for Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw. This will be embarrassing if Gary Cahill goes on to score a hat-trick in the final, but we will take that risk.

Prayer cards are sized 127mm x 76mm and come in a protective plastic sleeve, the way prayer cards do. They cost 66p.


Think of England and order yours here.

Mr Paxman interrogates the poets


If you’re one of those strange people who don’t follow the poetry world closely, you may not have been aware of the recent Paxman Controversy.

As the chair of this year’s Forward Prize jury, he made some characterisically brisk comments about the need for poets to engage with the outside world, even calling for an ‘inquisition’ where the more obscure poets could come and explain themselves (a suggestion that I don’t think was meant to be taken entirely seriously). Nevertheless, it caused understandable consternation among poets, not least because the ‘poetry world’ is arguably more accessible and politically engaged than it has ever been, but also because popularity isn’t necessarily the best measure of poetry’s worth in the world. 

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about how a Paxman-esque inquisition might work, which led to me writing and publishing this poem (it originally appeared here):

Mr Paxman interrogates the poets

Who set fire to the tyger? 
Will you apologise to the people of Slough?
So you’re admitting you ate the plums?
Twas not, in any sense, “brillig” was it?

“Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song” –
You stole that, didn’t you?
Nothing depends on a wheelbarrow, does it?
Are you saying you set fire to the tyger?

In what possible sense is anything “dapple-dawn-drawn”?
Was there really a man from Nantucket?
These people you call the best minds of your generation – 
presumably not smart enough to avoid being destroyed?

You write about shepherds and daffodils, 
but I believe you were grammar school educated?
Why did this imbecile kill the albatross?
Shall I compare thee? I’ll ask the questions.

Did you threaten to set fire to the tyger?


As these things sometimes do, it did the rounds on Twitter and eventually got noticed by the people at the Forward Arts Foundation. Before I knew it, an email landed in my inbox:


In some ways, my poem bears out Paxman’s criticism in that it’s full of smart-arse allusions that probably exclude as many people as they entertain. But fortunately he saw the funny side (I think...)

Porpoise poem


With the news that five porpoises have been sighted far up the Thames following the recent storm surge, I thought I’d welcome them with this poem that I wrote a while ago. It’s taken from a collection called Songs for Animals which we plan to produce in book form one day, but we have no idea when.


I asked a pair of porpoises
what the purpoise of a porpoise is –
and whether dolphins are like porpoises
to all intents and purpoises?

‘How dare you!’ said the porpoises,
storming off to sea.
It was strange to have cross porpoises
talking at me.




I worked on an enjoyable project with design company Build just before Christmas. They were commissioned by German/English magazine Form to create a poster for their ongoing series. The theme of the issue was 'Collaboration' so Build decided to get their Twitter followers involved – the call went out for people to tweet their favourite German or English word. Once 140 words had been collected, Build sent them to me to convert into a poem. A 14-line sonnet tied in with the numerical theme, so I picked out my favourite words, hunted down a few rhyming pairs and created a nonsense poem with vague glimmers of something disturbing going on underneath.

The title translates as a 'total work of art' or 'synthesis of the arts', so it felt right for this synthesis of design, writing and tweeted contributions, as well as the collaboration theme.

The result reads like this:


Bikini bingo: squeezes bosom.
Candid hardcore schlittschuhlaufen.
Super bazinga cosmic rummage.
Scuttling cretin. Prefer knowledge.
Astronaut daydream: rotund baboon.
Infinite aesthetic. Sublime spoon.
Currywurst, saucepan, rundumdum.
Butternut bungalow: dongle numb.
Love bruise. Crumbs. Catastrophe.
Invisible haberdashery.
Gesundheit! Ostrich silhouette.
Spiffing palimpsest cassette!
Coda: Muscovite (loquacious).
Bubble. Bumble. Boggled. Bodacious.

Michael C. Place at Build took the poem as the cue for the illustration and it's lovely to see the words brought to life and interpreted that way (albeit disturbing – the image is arguably even weirder than the poem). 

For images that do justice to the project, see the Build project page. Posters can be ordered online at Form.

Diamond Bob

Picture 4
I've just had a piece of writing published on the poetry and cultural review blog Eyewear. It's called Diamond Bob and is a collision of two texts: the Barclays Strategic Report 2011 (Chief Executive's Review / Citizenship section) and the traditional protest song Diamond Joe.

You can read it on Eyewear.

Sometimes you feel an urge to write something quickly in response to news events and this kind of collage of found texts feels like a natural way to do it. Not strictly a 'found' poem as it involves some creative intervention and arranging. But not a fully authored poem either, as you're acting more as an editor than a writer.

I did something similar with Corpoetics a few years ago, which rearranged the words of corporate websites, including Barclays:


That said, the most socially useful piece of writing I've done in response to recent events was filling out my application form for a new account with the Co-operative Bank.

Oh Ashley


It got covered on the Guardian and Telegraph sports blogs and in Sabotage Times, and even spread as far as the Yorkshire Fishing community messageboard – the premier angling website in Yorkshire. But to no avail. Back with a new version in 2014, if we qualify.

The Nation's Prayer 2012

The Nation's Prayer 2010

The Nation's Prayer 2012


We are badge-kissingly proud to present this poem and downloadable mini-poster for the Euro 2012 championship, which kicks off this evening.

The poem is an update of a version I wrote two years ago for the World Cup, which was itself inspired by Ian Dury’s Bus Driver’s Prayer.

Working on something like this adds an extra frisson to news reports about squad selection and injuries. The surprise call-up of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain posed what looked like an insuperable problem. Ledley King is also much missed from the previous version. That said, I was glad to see Leighton Baines in the squad and have been praying he avoids a last-minute injury. Sports-related poetry is a stressful business.

The poem proved remarkably ineffective last time, but who knows, this year could be different. We can but hope. And pray.

We interrupt this prose...

I’ve written a piece for Semionaut
on poetry in commercials.

The link is here—please share your thoughts,
however controversial.



It was a year yesterday that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Sendai in northern Japan causing a massive tsunami. I remember hearing the news after a sleepless night (our son was three weeks old). I wrote this poem at the time, which I thought I would post up here. The picture above is from this news story.


A nightmare of a night: really the worst—
stood in the bathroom, swaying back and forth
(he likes the sound of the extractor fan),
humming Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
hoping to God as his eyes begin to close
up above the world so high… then jolt
bolt open, limbs locked in sudden fight
or flight—and now the panic-stricken wail.
And so it goes from roughly 2am
to the distant glow of daylight in the east,
and the slow, defeated trudge down the stairs
(as finally he decides to start to snooze),
to sink into the sofa, turn on the news.

11 from 11

In the predictable rush to cover natural disasters, political upheaval and the fall of empires, many reviews of 2011 will no doubt fail to note our blogging exploits – so we've been forced to write our own.

Here are eleven posts from 2011:


1. The year began on a sad note with Mr Blog’s Valedictory Awards Show.


2. The valedictory mood continued with reflections on Rob McElwee’s disappearance from our daily lives.


3 & 4. February was poetry month – one about Asda launching a dating service, and one about the birth of a new Asbury (the defining moment of our year in a big and increasingly noisy way).


5. April saw ill-informed copywriters defacing a blind man’s sign.

6. May was all about the Creative Amnesty, a joint venture with Creative Review, which saw the great and good of the creative world sharing their worst ideas.


7. June was the month of 1,000 words.


8. July was The One With The Really Good Friends Advert.


9. September saw a rare venture into long-form blogging, with some reflections on wackaging and the trouble with copywriting.


10. October saw the unwrapping of WrapperRhymes.


11. And finally there was a salute to the greatest brand name of all time: Rotavator.


If you have been, thank you – and happy Christmas.

Blogging for Britain


For the past three weeks, Alistair Hall of We Made This has been cycling his way from one end of Britain to the other. Before he left, he invited 20 guest bloggers to man the blog in his absence. The results have been seriously interesting – all very different, all very good.

Nick Hornby on cover design
Catherine Dixon on José Luiz Benicio da Fonseca
Mike Reed on Milward & Sons
Joe Dunthorne on Le Gun
Clare Skeats on Foundation
David Pearson on phillumeny
Mike Dempsey on visual culture
Andrew Diprose on the best bike in the world
Michael Johnson on the future of the Design Council
Angharad Lewis on reading
Joe McLaren on Whizzer and Chips
Paul Finn on George Perec
Ace Jet 170 on pigeons, planes, and asterisks in the sky
Phil Baines on remembering, the French way
Caroline Roberts on the Elephant and Castle
Max Fraser on freedom
Eleanor Crow on variations on a theme
... and a poem from Laura Dockrill


My contribution was about the designer behind Tunnock's.

The point of the whole exercise is to raise money towards a very good cause, so click on a few of the links above and then donate a few quid in exchange for some high-quality blogging.



Just submitted these Twitter search poems to a project called Blast/Bless, jointly hosted by Creative Review and the Tate – more background here.

The poems are composed from the Twitter search results for the words 'Blast' and 'Bless'. They were inspired by these Twitter search poems by Craig Robinson. There's something about using raw materials from everyday life that gives words an extra resonance.

All I Really Want To Do


Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday is a happy occasion when you think of all the great songwriters who never made it this far – Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson...

The most melancholy thought about all of them is all the unwritten songs that are forever lost to us. With Dylan, we’ve been able to enjoy those songs as he grows old (and he writes brilliantly and movingly about the physical and mental deterioration of ageing). The last few years have been one of the most productive periods of his life, with a series of albums of extraordinary range and reference, plus Theme Time Radio Hour and the first instalment of Chronicles. For me, he’s the great artist of the last 100 years, working at a deeper level than anyone in any art form.

Anyway, I wrote this strange thing a while back, when I was pondering whether it was possible to write poetic ‘cover versions’ of popular songs – taking the basic idea and structure but changing the words. It’s an update of his 1964 song All I Really Want To Do, reinterpreted for the social media age. Not sure what it proves, but here it is anyway.


All I Really Want To Do
after Bob Dylan

I ain’t looking to log you in,
click or drag or drop you in,
aggregate you, navigate you,
populate you or update you.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

I don't want to subscribe to you
or to join a twibe with you,
analyse you, categorise you,
magnify or monetise you.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

I ain't looking for your avatar
or to join your webinar,
write a message on your wall,
reply to you or reply to all.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

I don't want to chat with you,
link to or trackback to you,
view your source or track your host,
comment on your latest post.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

No, and I don't want to spread your meme,
browse your Flickr photostream,
swipe you, Skype you, text you, type you,
skip you, rip you or unzip you.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

And I ain't looking for you to follow me,
forward me or favourite me,
or cc me or bc me
or retweet me or delete me.
   All I really want to do
   is baby be friends with you.

First song of the bird


First song of the bird

This song is here to say
I made it through the night.
I made it to the precious light of day.

This song is here to say
that I am still all right.
The night is gone and now it's time to play.

For Robin Martin Asbury
, born 23 February 2011.

Happy Ever Asda


Happy Ever Asda

“Asda has launched a dating website that matches potential partners based on their shopping habits.” The Grocer, 1 February 2011

Darling, when you chose that chicken korma
ready meal for one, could it be you
were also choosing me? What hidden karma
drew you to that packet of mange tout?
As you squeezed that triple-velvet toilet roll,
what other dimpled tissue did you squeeze?
Was it to cool the ardour in your soul
you bought that bag of Birds Eye frozen peas?
Does destiny lie waiting in the lists
we scribble down each day—not in the stars,
but in the way you overlooked that Twix
in favour of some choc chip Tracker bars?
   Those Tracker bars were buy one get one free
   and the one you got, my love, was me!

This isn’t just any poetry

There has reportedly been an outbreak of poetry in the usually prosaic world of corporate communications.

Marks & Spencer customer Christine Baxter (pictured) was disappointed to hear her local Grantham branch was closing and wrote to M&S to say so. She decided to write her complaint in verse, which is a great thing in itself. A lady writing a poem to Marks and Spencer in order to complain seems the perfect distillation of everything that is English.

But it gets better, because Alex Hawkins from the executive office at M&S decided to reply in kind. And this isn’t just any poetry – it’s incredibly bad poetry:


I completely understand you’re upset,
That our Grantham store will soon be for let.
This decision was not easy to make,
But it’s no mistake,
And we settle on it full of regret.

We know we’ve been with you for years,
And we’ll be leaving with eyes full of tears.
But if a store can’t make money,
There’s clearly something going funny;
This situation any business fears.

Marc wants to open more shops,
But to do this costs lots and lots.
We need the cash in our hand,
To spread the M&S brand.
Right now in Grantham we cannot.


On the plus side, the poem has generated some great PR for M&S and it’s nice that someone took the time to write it. But it would also make a fascinating starting point for a thesis on corporate language and poetry.

As modes of language go, they are at opposite ends of the scale. Corporate language necessarily treads carefully, with a tendency to evade responsibility and toe the party line. By contrast, poetry is all about ambiguity and multiplicity – the words go wherever they want. Mix the two together and interesting things can happen.

Take the opening line: “I completely understand you’re upset”. It’s a banal commonplace of corporate complaint handling, but it takes on a different air in poetry – there’s a sense of genuine melancholy (particularly when rhymed later with ‘regret’).

Then there’s the key couplet in the second stanza: “But if a store can’t make money, / There’s clearly something going funny;” The poet is making humorous use of rhyme (funny/money) to make the point seem incontrovertible. Advertisers have long understood the close link between rhyme and reason, and how people often confuse the two. If it sounds right, you tend not to question the logic behind it.

But there is a very questionable argument going on and the tension becomes clear in the third stanza, where the poet claims that “We need the cash in our hand, / To spread the M&S brand.” The simple rhyme again lends an air of common sense to the point. In reality, quite a strange argument is being made – that closing stores is logically the best way to spread the M&S brand.

This tension is betrayed in the language itself, which shifts uncomfortably from the tangible “cash in our hand” to the corporate abstraction of spreading “the M&S brand”. Does casting the argument in poetry highlight this tension or mask it? Maybe it does both.

Either way, the finality of the last line is chilling: “Right now in Grantham we cannot.”

Tonally, this could come straight from Larkin. There’s a sense of a very English politeness masking simmering tensions beneath. Don’t argue back, because we cannot and that’s all there is to it.

None of the news stories so far have included details of Christine Baxter’s original poem, but if it surfaces it should make for a good read.

Sources: Daily Mail and The Guardian

Anyone fancy buying HBOS?

Intrigued to come across this story about an auction of defunct brand names taking place in New York next month.

The auction includes 150 trademarks and their associated domain names. Most are American brands that won’t ring many bells over here. (I probably won’t be forking out for Bum’s Sports Bars or the Relaxacizor.) However, in among all the unfamiliar names, there are some very familiar ones indeed.



Anyone fancy buying the rights to HBOS?



Or Punch magazine?



Or Mum, the first ever commercial deodorant, launched in 1888?



It would be lovely to revive the British Overseas Airways Corporation, whose design materials are often the highlight of Ephemera Society Fairs.



Possibly the most melacholy entry on the list is search engine Infoseek, founded in 1994 and attracting 7.3 million visitors a month at its peak. I found that out on Google.


One of the reasons lost brands are so evocative is that brands have a way of infiltrating everyday life to the point that they seem as eternal as the rocks or the trees. Occasionally, we're reminded that they're not. For anyone who works in the business, it's also sobering to think of the thousands of hours invested in each one of these brands – poring over mission statements, tweaking logos, putting in the late nights on the latest marketing campaign. And all for what?

Still, at least it's good material for poetry. I wrote this one a while back (and may need to update it soon):


What if?

What if Cif was Jif?
What if Olay was Ulay?
What if Morrisons was Safeway?
What if C was still &A?

What if Treets were still sweets?
What's with Immac and Veet?
What if Fruits were still Opal?
Whither Constantinople?

Wasn't there a shop once
called What Everyone Wants?
Where did everyone go?
How come Do It All don't?

What if Liptons lived on?
Where's Radion gone?
Why did Boo take a bow?
Where's our Principles now?

What of Kwiksave and Cullens
and Dolcis and Dillons?
And Marathon bars?
Is Our Price still ours?

Why did Rumbelows close?
What if nobody knows?

By the way, all the auction stuff should come with a heavy health warning – forking out for the 'rights' may be a ticket to get embroiled in a massive lawsuit with other people claiming to hold the same trademark. I'll probably give it a miss.

Rumbelows picture by Jon Combe.

The Following Poem

The Following Poem is made out of the names of people we follow on Twitter. It's in honour of National Poetry Day, whose Twitter address provides the emotional climax of the poem.


@abstractcity @prttyshtty
@eyemagazine @sjgreen
@ztf @L_D_F
@zerofee_ela @fred_dela

@YorkshireTea @sbeebee
@Paiku @creativereview
@Design_Week @AdFreak
@Nicko66 @adamrix

@LaurenceKingPub @newspaperclub
@graphicflow @SteveMartinToGo
@swissmiss @checkthis
@SueJaneA @PoetryDayUK

Remember, this is the kind of thing Milton would be doing if he was around today.


Came across this poem while walking around Blaze Farm in the Peak District. There doesn't seem to be any trace of it elsewhere on the internet, so we thought we'd put it up here.

There's something particularly satisfying about mnemonic poems that teach you something. Groucho Marx once said his favourite poem was the one that starts '30 days hath September' because it's the only one that helps you remember something useful.

This one has a quite a melancholy tone, written in the past tense, for a world that has lost touch with knowledge that would once have been common across generations.

The full text:



With OAK the old-time ships were laid,
The round-backed chairs of ASH were made,
Of BIRCH were brooms to sweep the floor,
The furniture was SYCAMORE.
Clogs were of ALDER, bows of YEW,
And fishing-rods of bright BAMBOO.
WILLOW was used for cricket bats,
And OAK again for tubs and vats.
Of PINE the roof-beams and the floor
Or for the window frames and door.
ELM made a waggon or a cart
And MAPLE was for carver's art.
BEECH was for bowls, pipes were of BRIAR,
And many woods would make a fire,
But in the cottage or the hall
   ASH made the brightest fire of all.

The power of prayer

Hope Jim Davies has better luck.

The Nation's Prayer


Here's a prayer in anticipation of Sunday's match. Background and inspiration here

You can download and print your own version if you like (landscape format).

Godspeed, England.