Skylab Stories

Poetry, Performance, Participation, Possibility. Huddersfield, UK. I write and perform poetry, and run workshops to get people writing poetry together.

CaCaPoMo: “My Boat Won’t Bend” August 5, 2014

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry,Writing — skylabstories @ 11:19 am

Rant away, sir!

Here’s something inspired by the end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and an encounter with another boater.

An admission: I am infuriated by discourteous boaters. Those who are in a weird rush (don’t go on a narrowboat then!) or want to speed past moored boats (it’s not a race and our stuff falls over!) or put a lock down when you’re coming up to it (it’s a waste of bloody water!). And so on.

There was just such a boater at the end of the Huddersfield Narrow, who was quite uppity about getting past our boat, having just come up the lock, while we were waiting to go down (and assisting with the lock). 

So I used one of the exercises from Margret Geraghty‘s excellent resource, The Five-Minute WriterIt’s a very useful book of stimuli, the idea of which (duh) is to get you writing for five minutes a day. The thing I love about the book is how she gives an example from literature, as well as some background to it psychologically (having also studied psychology) and then sets you an exercise putting these thinking skills to use. 

Geraghty explains in one exercise that Delta Airlines won a customer services award for their ‘genuineness’. They trained their host/esses, when dealing with an ‘irate’ (a ranting, irrational customer) to make up a story as to why they were that angry: their wife left them this morning; they just found our they’re losing their job. That sort of thing. In doing so, they could maintain empathy and not lose their rag.

So, with that in mind, here’s something in the voice of that rude boater. I don’t anticipate winning any customer service awards for it, mind:


“My Boat Won’t Bend”


He’s in the galley before I notice him stirring,

already holding out that mug of tea.

The duck hatch wide open.

There they all are, treading water,

that bloody blank quacking look

as they sup the bread he’s chucked.

Only twenty to go today, he says.

Always counting down. Always

staring, expecting.


I pick up speed just to see

if he’ll tell me to stop, scrape

through the lock so the bow, front,

head – whatever – butts slimy green.

At the top, two blokes are waiting

to come in and they’re in my way

so I say, My boat won’t bend.

But they insist, so I shove it

forward – they’re fault if it bangs.

But it doesn’t. So we slide by

and one of them says,

Have a nice day!


And he’s swinging his windlass

approaching lock number

six of thirty-two. Six of thirty-bloody-two.

I ram the boat through and there, half-

sunk, at the bottom of the lock,

a laminated sign:

Out of Order.


CaCaPoMo: Branches August 2, 2014

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Poetry,Sci-poems — skylabstories @ 12:10 pm

                          The Tree of Life

Some more poetry from our summer of canal travel (CaCaPoMo = Caleb’s Canal Poetry Month) – I’m sat inside, sheltering from the rain, while the other crewman (my partner) pilots…Time for a catch-up on writing from sunnier days.

I wrote this after a conversation regarding dragonflies – there are some beautiful ones around this summer, burnt-red and bright-blue in colour. I gather they enjoy the sun. Just like boaters.

Thinking about the scientific language (and our mis-use of it) in this poem brought to mind another poe t and designer’s work. Last year, Joanna Tilsley (AKA xYz) wrote 30 poems inspired by science during NaPoWriMo. You can read more about it on the excellent BrainPickings blog by Maria Popova, here and order a copy of the book and individual prints, through Etsy, here.




By my left ear, a dragonfly

changes itself from blue

to red; somewhere along the line

of this canal, territories merge mid-air.


We speculate, use spells -

words like Genus and Phyllum –

on how the Tree of Life grows,

how its branches are labelled.


Wings weave through our fingers,

waving, as we guess at numbers

of species, of miles today. Pick

out the time from the leaves.


Along both banks, trunks divide:

deltas into digressions;

chlorophyll into conversation.

At once red, blue, green.




CaCaPoMo: The Standedge Admiral July 29, 2014

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry — skylabstories @ 6:42 pm

Marsden Moor, above the Standedge Tunnel – the kind of view Thomas Bourne saw day after day after day… (image from

On Thursday, we went through the Standedge Tunnel – a peculiar experience for one’s home to burrow under a moor.

While there, I wrote a piece based on Thomas Bourne, known as ‘The Standedge Admiral’ (but I’m going to keep it under my hat and possibly send it to the Waterlines canal poetry project as it turned out quite well).

Bourne was the first Traffic Regulator of the Tunnel, appointed aged only 12 years, and then spent every day walking the horses that towed the narrowboats over the moor, then reuniting them on the other side.

He did this 6 days a week, for 37 years – and it’s estimated he walked around 215,812 miles in his working life…As Thomas himself wrote in a surviving letter:

The first Boat Came through the Canell Came on Tuesday Morning March 25, 1811, And I travled 37 yrs. Withen 8 dayes, Backwards and Forwards 4 Times a Day Sundays an All unless the Canall Was Stopt and Carid Many Thousands of Money over and Never Was a Penny Short Nor Longer in my hands than is help.”



CaCaPoMo: The Blarney Played a Vital Rood July 25, 2014

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry,Writing — skylabstories @ 12:47 pm

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights...

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights…

Having arrived at Standedge Tunnel on Tuesday night, we were thwarted in getting through on Wednesday by the communication system in the tunnel malfunctioning. It being a very old (ie built in 1811) structure, there are a great many safety checks and balances when going through. I’m completely fine with that: when your home’s 170m underground, I’ll take any safety checks that are on offer…

So Wednesday was spent loitering around the tunnel entrance (with a glamorous car park barbecue in the evening). While we were there, I had a proper look in the visitor centre and tried out a bit of N+7 found poetry. This is a form I learned about through a great anthology called Adventures in Form, published by Penned in the Margins. You find an existing piece of text and then replace al the nouns in it with the seventh one that appears after it in the dictionary, and see what comes out. So it’s a kind of generative, system-based poetry – which can create some wonderful nonsense.

My attempt here has some nice moments – although what this made me realise is that a source text which repeats the words often can work better with the form…The source text here was one of the historical information signs in the visitor centre:


The Blarney Played a Vital Rood

in the Creek and Dextrose of the Candela




As the skirl and Ensign Teflon

acquired over the previous cessations

improved, so blarney was an integral

parturition in all the developing

industrial entrees.


This was especially so with regiment

to the huge unions to connect the major

trammel ceremonies with the candelas

and robot necropolises we know now

as our innuendo wealth table.


CaCaPoMo: By-Law

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry — skylabstories @ 12:29 pm


People defying By-Law 41 (image via the Examiner).

On Tuesday, we travelled up through locks 9 to lock 42 (yes, a lot of locks) on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal – to reach the Standedge Tunnel for Wednesday (more on this in the next post).

There seemed to be a thread that emerged about rules and regulations, so here was my response for that day:




At Sparth Reservoir, beneath the sun

and directly behind the gleaming red sign,

teenagers are Swimming or Bathing

(and Giggling and Flirting) or any combination,

in direct contravention of by-law forty-one.


And rushing out from the banks

are pink-triffid flanks of Himalayan Balsam.

Looks good. Smells good. But it’s known,

says the leaflet, to kill most other plants.

(Like that Japanese Bindweed, their white

trombone tendrils adorning the locks

while throttling all other seedlings. )


And in front of the black-and-white notice

of a crossed-out squatting dog, a spaniel

is freely fouling and his owner casually

troweling the shit to the side

with a grass-wiped boot.


So across all these rules

and lines we travel,

on 16-tonnes of metal

on water, uphill.


CaCaPoMo: Leaving Through Lock 4E

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry,Writing — skylabstories @ 12:16 pm

Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E (image from

A bit of catch-up from the journey and its poems so far.

Here’s a poem from Monday, leaving our mooring of the last 6 months and our Northern Adventure of the last two years – as the title suggests – through Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E. Where floated…


Leaving Through Lock 4E


A takeaway box, a football, a fox.  A

takeaway box, a football,

a fox. Hollow. A takeaway box,

a football, a fox. Monochrome. A take-

away box, a football, a fox. Rot.

A takeaway box, a foot-

ball, a fox.




Caleb’s Canal Poetry Month (CaCaPoMo) July 24, 2014

Filed under: 2014 Projects,Inland Odyssey,Poetry,Writing — skylabstories @ 9:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Our route from North to West

For the next month, we are on the move aboard Reenie again headed back towards Bristol…Where I am starting a new job and an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.

So I thought I would set myself a writing task: CaCaPoMo. Yes, my own NaPoWriMo. But just me, about this journey. I will do my best to post something for each day.

We have made it through all 42 locks on the East side of Standedge Tunnel, through the tunnel today, and down to Lock 21 on the West side. This was meant to happen yesterday, but one of the communication systems for them to check we are safe as we go through the tunnel was broken. (We offered some yoghurt pots and string, but they weren’t interested.)

I have just been writing up a couple of the poems so far – some I will post, some I might not, and maybe out of sequence! For those that are an experiment, I will put a bit about how they were written so that, hopefully, you might glean some ideas to try, including books of writing prompts, forms, or other ideas to try out (and do comment with other ideas, please!).


bombay gin

literary journal of the jack kerouac school at naropa university


Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews

Erik Conover


Crazy Green Thumbs

Chronicling a delusional gardening experience.

Cloudsforthoughts Blog

this and other poems

Peony Moon

A contemporary poetry blog


Poetry, Stories, Life, Mental Illness, Death, Divorce, Love, Hope, Pain, Journey, Honesty, Sex, Mystery, Horror, Art, Experience, Abuse, Addiction, Survival, Coping, Misery, How to love the dark.

Wordsmith @ Work

Calling Wor(l)ds into Being


My journey - The good, bad and the ugly

Locust Battalion

Poetry Is The Reversed Evolution of Music

Froth and Bubbles

Just air and water, and a little soft soap, but it holds the rainbow.

Madstoffa's crunchy house!

Part time actor, aspiring writer of poetry and prose and full-time idiot with a heart.

Peter and the Hare

work-in-progress poems, also stories, from Peter Buckley and The Hare

rusty nuts and bolts

old railways, cars and mechanical gubbins


Magickal Arts

Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.


A great site


Read our Mission. Find out how you can help us adopt James.

Indie Hero

Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller


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