Not On The Wood

Not On The Wood

Tommy Calderbank writes about ‘Not On The Wood’, the new self-published collection of poetry, prose, doodles and magic from his mother Maggie Calderbank who died in 1997.

Well! Here’s a labour of love for you.

Finally, 23 years after her death, comes ‘Not On The Wood’, the posthumous debut collection from local poet and self-declared witch Maggie Calderbank (1951-1997). Incidentally, this is the second self-published book of 2020 I’ve been involved with, so lockdown was good for something, at least. The first was the remarkable ‘Warrior Beings’ by my partner Moksha – available from News from Nowhere, by the way – who also provides classy Art Direction here, as well as producing 8 wonderful art pieces for this collection, inspired by Maggie’s words. These include the very striking coat of arms cover, featuring two Egyptian-style winged cats, smoking a couple of big joints each, with a crystal ball between them and overseen by the all-seeing eye. Very Maggie.

I’d been meaning to do this book for some time, just ask anyone who knows me. Sick of me going on about it, to be honest. When Maggie died in 1997, I put together two slim volumes of her poetry on a photocopier, just to have something of her for those of us left behind in the aftermath of her departure from the physical realm. But she’d always wanted her work to be published professionally, in a squarebound book with an ISBN number and everything (so it could go in the British Library), and it was on me to do it. Took me a while, like…

Portrait of Maggie Calderbank by Joey Zeb

In the end, after much cajoling, facing demons and getting over meself, I assembled the contents – poetry, prose, doodles and magic – over the course of a few months, poring over reams of notes and fragments left in folders and carrier bags, choosing and ordering the material we had to hand, putting aside bits that were just too bitty. Adding to the whole mix is a stunning portrait by Joey Zeb and some art by my daughter Kizzy (I love that she is united here with the Grandmother she never met). As an added connection to her for the reader, each copy comes with one of her original tarot cards as a bookmark. So everyone who gets one is quantumly entangled with me Mam. Listen, this isn’t even me saying it at this stage, this is physics…

The whole production is top quality, heavy matt paper and great image reproduction. I wanted it to look like she’s scribbled and doodled all over it, like she’s vandalised her own work, to bring her closer to the reader. I hope that bit comes off. A tip of the hat to the brilliant Slim Smith, who laid it out beautifully, as well as designing our logo. We set up an imprint to publish this book – ‘Tuppence, Diamonds & A Pram’ – and fully intend ‘Not On The Wood’ to be only the start.

Best review of the work so far came from a friend of mine, who described it as a “brilliant ancestral rebirth shout out from beyond the grave.” I’ll take that all day. Thanks, Ru.

So, what are the poems like? Ahhh, they’re great, la! I know I’m biased, of course, but MATE! Ask anyone who heard her perform these, over a quarter century ago and they’ll tell you the same: these are pure magic. Influenced by the works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, her poems are funny, imaginative, surreal, perceptive and sometimes deeply moving. They’re populated by dragons, elves, fairies and wizards, cheek by jowl with themes of death, grinding poverty, religious oppression, and violence. A strange mixture, Maggie’s urban fantasy land. In a way, these poems – like her magical practise – were survival strategies, a way of surviving the harshness of life in Liverpool 8; both art and magic offered a way of seeing the world anew, making it better by living mythically. They were a means of coping and connecting with fellow humans, both in the writing and performance.

‘The Kettle’s Always On’, Moksha, T-bags on canvas

Maggie was a natural mystic, with a poet’s soul, which I hope comes through. She was a Crowded Living Room Poet, and these poems and songs were designed to entertain, to make us feel better, to be read aloud, recited or sung to folks over endless cups of tea, a smoke or two, and a game of yahtzee. Some are silly, but always have something deeper going on. Like this one:

A Bit of Babble

I’m almost completely half-crazed
In a short, oblong, round-about way,
The only time I keep my mouth shut
Is when I’ve got something to say.
If I talk fifty-one to the dozen,
Will my message ever get through?
There’s a reason why I babble like this –
I’ve got nothing to say to you!

Always, there is an empathy for the human experience and an understanding of the vicissitudes of life, expressed with a light touch.

Sometimes Life

Sometimes Life is a rain-soaked
Sometimes it’s dew-speckled skin,
Sometimes Life can be
Sweetness and Light
Sometimes it just does you in;
Sometimes you just got to take
What comes,
Just have to bear it
And grin,
Coz sometimes Life
Is a rain-soaked
And sometimes, it’s
Dew-speckled skin!

She loved to sing, and she’d do it with swagger and confidence, imagining herself the star turn at the local speakeasy whenever we had house parties, in the days when everybody did a turn. Maggie did mean versions of ‘Crystal Chandeliers’ and ‘Blanket On The Ground’. She also loved Bold Street. So she wrote and sang that love. If any musicians out there are up for it, by the way, you have my express permission to have a go at putting this one to music:

STOP PRESS! One of my mates has done just that. I just know she’d be made up with this….

The Bold Street Stroll (lyrics by Maggie Calderbank, music by Tim Dalling)

The Bold Street Stroll

Walkin’ down Bold Street,
Doin’ the Bold Street Stroll;
Walkin’ down Bold Street,
Doin’ the Bold Street Stroll;
Strollin’ down Bold Street
Can be good for your Soul.

Lots o’ shops where you can stop and buy,
You’ll meet lots of folks, who’ll tell you ‘Hi!
How’s it goin’? How d’ya feel today?
When I stroll down Bold Street – I feel okay.

Penny Lane’s got its place
So’s Mathew Street,
But there’s only one place
I wanna walk my feet…

Walkin’ down Bold Street,
Doin’ the Bold Street Stroll;
Walkin’ down Bold Street,
Doin’ the Bold Street Stroll;
Strollin’ down Bold Street
Can be good for your Soul.

I often share particular poems with bereaved friends, to offer solace when the pain of grief is at its sharpest. Maggie’s mum and dad, Maggie and Barney, were both dead by the time young Maggie was 19, so she knew the sting of death, alright. This final poem shows that beautifully.

For those of you meeting her for the first time, I present me Mam as a priceless gift to the world, and trust that you’ll never forget her.
Blessed be.

And You’re There

When sadness is imminent
Or unhappiness threatens,
When the World
Becomes a cage,
When Tigers stalk
Through the Nightmare Hours,
When I’m afraid
To turn the page;
When the Sulphur Breath
Of the Fire Dragon
Begins to singe my hair,
In the Dark of Night,
To comfort myself,
I whisper your name,
And you’re there.

When Storm Clouds gather
And block out the Sun,
And my Life
Is awash with Rain,
When I think that
The Light at the
End of the Tunnel
Is really an oncoming train;
When I need to be held,
To be kissed, to be loved,
Need to feel
Somebody care,
In my mind’s eye
I conjure you,
I whisper your name,

‘Not On The Wood’ by Maggie Calderbank
ISBN: 9781910467183 (! – Which way to the British Library…?) is available for £10 from News From Nowhere @newsfromnowhere, or go via Paypal (includes £2.50 p&p).

NB: To commission Joey Zeb for a portrait, drop me a line at tcalderbank[at] and I’ll pass it on.

‘Multiple Maggies’ by Moksha


  1. I would have loved to have met your mum! could have done a Tarot swap!!!


  2. Great stuff Tom. Good project. yer Mum would be well proud. Look forward to singing some more of her poems in a Crowded Living Room sometime soon.
    Tim x


  3. What a tribute Tommy to your wonderful ma
    She would be so made up with this and your great work putting it together so beautifully.
    Brings back my mum, Hamish my brother and our friend Kevin


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