Friday, 30 December 2016

Дървета в Портисхед/Trees in Portishead

                                            Fog swags over the estuary make it hard to tell
                                            if we’re looking at mud banks, islets or the far coast.
                                            If you hadn’t told me, I would never have guessed
                                            these flat-topped bunkers below us on our shore
                                            had once been used for storing natural gas.
                                            Old industries litter the littoral while behind us,
                                            in the field beside the main road, there’s a mast
                                            whose warning siren they still routinely test
                                            in case of chemical leaks, aerial toxic events.
                                            Such dangers in the air if we but knew it.

                                            And so here in the aftermath of Christmas
                                            we’re doing what we can to make sense
                                            of all that’s changed and changing.
                                            The edge has come off the temperature.
                                            Walking back up the hill, beside fences,
                                            dustbins, smoothed asphalt parking spaces,
                                            you ask if these trees are silver birch.
                                           “Yes,” I say. “They are.” And the past
                                           makes friends with itself and for a moment
                                           consents to our leaving it utterly silent.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 23 December 2016

Честит Коледа/Happy Christmas

As has become traditional, we take a short break from art and poetry over Christmas and New Year and take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone who's visited, liked or shared Colourful Star.

2016 has been quite a year. On the one hand, there was a Colourful Star reunion in Sofia in the summer; on the other ... Well, if you're reading this post and are interested in cross-cultural collaboration and international dialogue, you'll certainly know what 'the other hand' delivered in June and November.

We've also seen a giant leap in terms of the number of people reading Colourful Star - so please do keep spreading the word.

There is no agenda here. Just a delight in conversation.

Much love and best wishes for the festive season and beyond,

Tom, Marina and Vasilena X

Many thanks to John Fru Jones for the photograph from the CS summer reunion in Sofia.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Музика довечера/Music tonight

Music across the water,
that's how it is – a sound
which skirts the smooth docks.

The way home attended
by arpeggios, vamped chords.

 That’s how it is:
the old bloke on the fiddle,
the others on flute and drum.

 There’s music tonight
across the water.

And that sense of playing,
a sense of playing out …

The spittle wiped
from the mouthpiece.

Everything might be otherwise
without the need for translation.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 9 December 2016

Изкуството на естествени структури/The art of natural structures

You talk of a stasis, a calm.
You walk with lighter steps.
Coming at the city from here,
we’re following trails
and I’m collecting clues
to using language like a compass
and letting it turn my thoughts
in its own directions –
much like these trees,
whose natural structures
can’t help but seem
to be offering options:
continue in this direction,
turn back or stand here,
branch out and look up.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 2 December 2016

В Шкодра/In Shkodra

What drew me
            was the timbre
                        of the timber

when we walked
            along the hall.
                        That was no place
you’d want to leave
            in a hurry –
                        the smell of it,

that resinous smell.
            Or was it
                        our breakfast ritual?

Coffee, fruit
            and a smoke
                        on the terrace.

So much to learn.
            And how everything
                        can just wait.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 25 November 2016

Столът/The chair

Typically, I find it – this vantage –
on the all-but-last day I’m here.
I should have known. I’ve seen
the chairs put out for passers-by
on the forecourts of shops,
the pensioners with legs akimbo
beside the speckled hearts        
of water melon, the graded ranks
of tomatoes. And here,
at the neighbourhood’s edge,
I’m on a chair with wisteria trails
shading out the sunshine
on this almost last day of August,
with the traffic all but gone
and the end-of-season goalmouths
bruising the field where neighbours
walk their dogs. The city –
and its business – is that way,
past the trees whose roots explode
through the pavement, the café,
the cosmetic surgery clinic.
It won’t be long before I go,
but for the moment there’s this chair
and the open space
and that radio on a building site
which is playing a song
that once we thought was our own.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 18 November 2016

Сезоните на Живота/Seasons of Life

Well, for me, of course,
it's autumn – that sting
of age and what I’m part of.

In the room that’s still open,
I’m doing my best to hold on:
flies delve into plums
and that’s just what they do.

The brows of ships nose out
into a harbour beyond the point.
I came home once
and I had none of it.

But that was me just saying
how old I might have been.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 11 November 2016

Приключенията на една улица/The adventures of a street

Even the trees have some disquiet.
At the slightest disturbance, our dog
takes shelter, growling under my desk.
Circumstances close in. It’s as if,
in that downtown apartment,
the dripping geyser forewarned
apocalypse – or the afternoon music,
blaring out from some distant radio,
was soundtracking a situation
that I would never be able to grasp.

You can see the wood for the trees,
if you choose to – but that’s not
what I’ve been told and told again.
In the shadows of trees in the park,
we've found some space where,
flipping off caps from bottles of cider,
we can talk. Elsewhere, over the city,
the planes fly in and tomorrow
another bunch of people will be here.

The trams ruck and fret across old lines.
Clutching the handrail down into the metro,
I’m pretending there’s been no change.
At the ticket machine, there isn’t.
I bob and weave my barcode at the reader
and then take myself back up to the street.
I can walk home from here and count
the trees which unwittingly punctuate
the journey from downtown to home.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 4 November 2016

Ето/Here Is

Doing my best to remember
what's changed, I’m back
at the point before the point
when it happened:
a memory skirts the horizon
like a grace note.

Here is …
the colour of regret,
the geography of loss,
the physics of departure,
the thing that I was doing
just before the moment
you shouted for that knife
and here I am,
handing it over.

From here to wherever,
the flowers cling to granite,
assert themselves, flourish –
like a kind of relief.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 28 October 2016

Тези неща/These things

And now as things close in –
these questions unanswered
like the prows of boats
which sit and bob
in the afterflow
of opened lock gates
or the dart and dive
of seagulls strutting and fretting
on streets between apartment blocks –
we’re doing our best.

Love might be no more
than a question mark
but here at least we’re sure
as we’re ever likely to be –
deploying the same old signs,
old hands at this old game,
which we know now somehow
as well as we’re going to:
these habits and conditionalities,
the words we’ll say,
the flowers on the table,
this morning routine.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 21 October 2016

Познанието/The knowledge

All day struggling with vocabulary –
not lost for words or lost in translation,
but taunted by the prospect
of the ever-impossible mot juste
(so impossible we’ve had to borrow the term).

The gist, then, anyway emerges
like those blocks which sharpened
from the dawn on my first day in Sofia:
how I remember that –
first coffee, first cigarette –
a while before the archetypes advanced
across some Jungian field
and I’m answering to
whatever it is I don’t understand,
reaching for and then grasping
that precipitous apple.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 14 October 2016

Сезонна гледка/Seasonal view

It’s autumn. No other way to say it.
The nights are indeed drawing in
and suspended between branch and eave
an all-too-sharp spider is farming its trap.

Fruitful the colours, though,
as harvest mellows into decomposition
and the promise of winter on the tongue
stings with its hint of bitterness

as if there was any way to prevent
or divert the passage of the seasons
into early nightfall, the long dark
which presages those first dawns

of a warm and pre-emptive spring.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 7 October 2016


Perhaps I am going to say this again
because recurrence is natural and
it seems that I have been here before.

Red flowers in white vases might be
a kind of landmark, a kind of punctuation –
a combination that reappears

but makes no specific demands.
Each time there are the same clusters
of petals, lines grooved into porcelain.

In my mother’s house or ours,
we’d take them for granted
and then regret it – these reminders

of what? Some thought about beauty
not being found in the everyday
but being an integral part of it.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips


Perhaps I am going to say this again
because recurrence is natural and
it seems that I have been here before.

Red flowers in white vases might be
a kind of landmark, a kind of punctuation –
a combination that reappears

but makes no specific demands.
Each time there are the same clusters
of petals, lines grooved into porcelain.

In my mother’s house or ours,
we’d take them for granted
and then regret it – these reminders

of what? Some thought about beauty
not being found in the everyday
but being an integral part of it.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 1 October 2016


Beyond a landscape of hedgerows,
socket puddles, cisterned water,
the unadopted lane runs out
to a slick of mists. The hard shape
of a gate is a buried grid –
we lean on it and blow smoke rings
into softened autumnal air.

And it’s as if that moment’s
returning, gaining definition
without our knowing,
and we might see through
to something thickening.

We were 17. It was cold.
Across that willow waste,
the trees articulated promise.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 23 September 2016


Thoughts, of course, in the language of flowers –
and mine not tidily gathered, but they exist
and somehow thrive in those parts
of the garden that we’ve forgotten.

And perhaps that’s the best way – to leave
things where they fall and just wait:
for the greenery to come first and then
dark petals, the yellow pristine eye.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Thursday, 15 September 2016


And now the taste of it, this autumn.
It’s there in the first brown leaves
that scud across the pavements,
the departure of experience
into memory and those other adjustments
I’m having to make, being home
and not really here.

                                    On the bridge,
love's hope gets locked as if fixing it
could be anything more than a promise
that might well declare its own failure.

This is where we live and what we have
to look out on: the edge of the city
and, beyond it, the lives which seem
to diminish towards the horizon
but nevertheless exist and have been lived.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Нейният ваза/Her vase

Uprooted from their places in the house
that’s soon to make way for some dream home
or business enterprise, brochures and letters
arrive as forgotten enthusiasms – fading
and patinas of dust make plain the known fact
of their age. I’d hardly recognise the hand
in these calligraphies of blue ink turned pale green.

Repossessing her memories, my mother’s,
after another generation’s settling in,
is a kind of re-acquaintance – as if here
she is again with stories of moonlight flits
and trespassing afternoons at London University.

In the bottom of the suitcase, cushioned
in newsprint from the year before she died,
her vase whose porcelain pattern reflected
in the candlestick table’s polished sheen
by the window on a September morning.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 2 September 2016


Laughter across the harbour
and the lights wink out Morse code
on the new refurbishments.

It’s not so late but suddenly again
I’m a long way from home –
being right in the heart of it,
as if in a foreign country.

And that’s somewhere I may well be
if you choose to believe the headlines.

Portrait: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips; photo: John Fru Jones

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Към септември/Towards September

The slightest chill in the night air might be
autumn’s first breath or thoughts
of imminent departure – and I am trying
not to count how many more times
I’ll pass the building with its red display
announcing the current temperature.

The cyclepath’s emptiness stands in
for anticipated regrets – but then,
here I am again at home, where,
through the spill of courtyard light,
a bat is weaving figures-of-eight:
a surprise visitor to our block
and a reminder that possibilities
still unfurl across the distances
like a view of autumn hills.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Случайно/By chance

Somewhere on Graf Ignatiev or Shishman Street,
posies of wildflowers laid out on a tray:
brought in from the country, they’re almost lost
against another era’s architectural promises.
I was on my way to somewhere else,
but what if I’d stopped, bent down and chosen
one of those transplanted bouquets?
If I’d crossed the street where I’d meant to,
I wouldn’t even have seen them.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Сезонни игри/Seasonal games

Strewn amongst green crowns
below the balcony, horse chestnuts
are almost ripe here in August.

Our best conkers came from trees
around the church: they fell
and split on the asphalt path,
dark hearts in pulpy flesh,
like promises of future triumph.

There were tricks, yes, and theories:
soaking or baking them into hard skulls
to crack against each other –
and rapping our own knuckles
for our autumn playground sport.

Somewhere in a different part
of the wood, I was telling you this
as you tried to fathom the rules
of another improvised game.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 5 August 2016

Цветя от балкона/Flowers from the balcony

When you come I’ll bring you flowers from the balcony –
the pink ones whose name I can’t remember
but which bloom throughout the summer
even in the hottest weeks when pavement surfaces blister.
It’s not much of a gift (you can see that colour splashed
across the apartment block facades in any street)
but they’re the ones that grew then budded then opened
these papery petals all the time that I’ve been waiting.
You could say that they’ve measured out the days and weeks
but that would be to burden them with a weight
they don’t deserve: they are flowers, after all,
from the balcony and here is a vase you can put them in
and the table where you can leave them
in the first few minutes after you arrive.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 29 July 2016

Между заминаванета/Between departures

It takes little more than the suggestion
of a road to set me off.

The light’s particular
fall on woodland and that promise
of distance recall other terrains,
other journeys made or intended –

and how only last month
scrub silvered hillsides
and mist plumed a lake
en route to a different return.

No, it doesn’t take much to set me off.

A dispersing tangle of vapour trails
is merely the most obvious and I’d go
at the chance of those figs, that coffee,
the cut grass beside half-finished houses,
figures of sand dusting dry pavements
and the noise of headlines left behind.

No, it doesn’t take much to set me off.

And as the suggestions come ever thicker
ever faster, it would seem that – as in
those lines from a poem I’ve yet to write –
the urge to get away isn’t very hard to foster.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 22 July 2016

В Борисовата градина/In Boris gardens

And I remember the poets,
the bronze busts lining the path,
and with so few words to rely on –
unable at least to distinguish between
their work and their reputation –
remaining complicit in that silence.

But the living here were intent
on different accommodations
and we resided too in a reunion:
whatever history there was
accumulated in every word –
a friendship coming into focus

as we walked through that heat
and did what we could in photographs
of our jet-trail coincidences –
the ones which brought us up and out
of where we’d been before –
the words which were understood
no matter what the language.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips