62 year-old prize-winning* poet and recovering actor Ken Cumberlidge was born in Birkenhead and cut his performance teeth on the Liverpool pub poetry scene of the 1970s. His work has appeared variously in print and, more recently, in numerous online journals. Since 2011 Ken has been based in Norwich, but can be lured out of cover by good company and an open mic – a proclivity that has led him to become an habitué of the fetid underworld that is the slam poetry/spoken word scene. He likes it. A lot.
Ken’s poetry on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ken_cumberlidge_poetry
Ken’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrEPf1MlegfAJyKDA5-wNqQ
* the prize was a chocolate cake. He guessed its weight.
(from a workshop prompt “Write about your safe place”) How old I was? I've really no idea. Pre-teens is all I'm certain of: elusive things, those middling childhood years. The place? My bedroom's casement windowsill – a bench-like space, as chance decreed just long and broad enough: enough to bear the burden of a boy and his drawn-curtained thoughts. Now to what happened there. Religions clamour with competing claims. As befits a non-believer, I avoid them. Likewise, psychiatry is keen to help. "An altered state of consciousness," they'd say, "a mere perceptual side-step. Nothing we can't fix..." I wouldn't know. I've never sought to name, far less explain it. To do so would seem churlish, like dismantling a flower gifted honestly in love. Rather, let it be that which it was: a simple dissolution of identity, relinquishment of all that ordinarily would qualify as self; as if the very stuff of me – the play of forces, properties and sub-atomic particles that habit had decreed ought needs must answer to my name – no longer cared to keep up the pretence, to admit of any boundary between my presence and the air, the window frame, the street – and on, beyond, the universe. When, in time (or maybe no time: I was never sure) my mind returned – unharmed but nonetheless an altered thing – I stayed a while in silence there, unsure as to exactly what had passed but glad, oh glad of it. Next day I went back, took my place, drew the curtains, quelled my heart and waited in hope that I might know it’s like again. I'm hopeful still.
Here in the quiet between silences, gaze-lost in thrall to a wall-patch of leaf dapple rippling adrift between bookcase and door, I remember a room by the park, the window thrown open, blown curtains, the bed and how, that humming summer long, we made there a thesaurus of the hours, assaying every synonym for 'kiss': noun and verb – active, present perfect and imperative – and shaping a few more just for ourselves. And if this is how it wants itself remembered, well, I ask you, where's the harm? My diaries hold the details but the details aren't the tale. A room? No – several rooms in different towns, some with windows that would open, others welded stifling-shut by decades worth of yellowed landlord gloss. Most looked onto noisy streets; one onto a market selling fish. At close of business every afternoon they'd hose the stalls down – no-one left their windows open then. But another, yes, was near a park – if by 'near' you mean a seven minute walk. Summer? Let it be a summer, collage though it may be: gathered, stuff of every season, scraps of disparate liaisons, brief vacations, lazy weekends-in and, just the once, a nameless one-night stand. And you? A gentle fusion of the few: the ones I can't and won't forget, girls and boys alike. Did I just say alike? I meant unique.