Archive for the ‘ Poetry ’ Category

Two poems from Christine Webb’s Catching Your Breath

Catching Your BreathChristine Webb’s new collection, Catching Your Breath, is out from Cinnamon Press, and has its launch on the 20th of September as part of the Lumen Poetry Series. It’s also available from Cinnamon’s site. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Christine read some of the poems from the collection in the past year or two, and as the two below – taken from the book’s main, elegaic, sequence – demonstrate they’re deeply affecting, full of heart and craft. I’m excited to see them between covers and thrilled to post them here also.


That moment suspended in the dull room
above the streets of the January town

(a branch pecked on the window, but the curtains
shut out the garden of dead chrysanthemums)

– undressing for each other the first time
all I saw was lit up by your body,

its gold and ivory. Such knowledge to bring away,
to carry wrapped through the streets, past naked trees,

into the school where heating pipes clanked and gossiped,
where blackboards expressed decorous equations,

where at the corners of corridors we might breathe in
to pass each other, but did not speak or glance

in case the doorways should break into leaf,
in case the books we carried should burst into flame.

Inside the Mirror

Inside the mirror you’re settled for the night,
your head tucked into the dip of the pillow,

your hands drawn up, just touching your face.
The light that’s kept on for you all night, now,

falls on the curve of your shoulder, smoothing
its green cotton. I take off my shoes, lean

towards the mirror, achieve the exact angle
to hide your cannula, your oxygen tank,

the tackle of your survival. My fingers,
which are practised in touching your skin,

your sleeves – tender even towards your buttons –
undress me quickly: I don’t need to break

my gaze from that framed world where your breath
comes and goes, easy, as strong as mine.

Catching Your Breath launch: Tues September 20, Lumen, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1, 6.30pm. Read more from Christine here, including her Poetry London Competition winner, Seven Weeks.

Three poems from Joseph Horgan

Joseph was born in Birmingham and lives in Cork. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2004 and published his first collection, Slipping Letters Beneath The Sea, in 2008 from Doghouse and The Song At Your Backdoor with Collins Press in 2010.  He recently completed a residency in Achill, Mayo. I’ve been a fan of Joseph since hearing him read last year, and I’m delighted to post three poems from him today.


People in the city die
in complete silence.
A notice appears overnight,
the bare details
of an unimagined life.
House numbers go into the hundreds,
As and Bs and Cs.
An address that does not exist.
In the loving care

of the long streets.
Passing away again and again.
Not many left now
and in the end,
after all that,
their photographs come home.
A notice appears overnight.
People in the city die
near perfect deaths.

A Private Matter

This silent society,
a country, a fogbound airport;
for all our shouting on screen
a landscape
of private memories.
The faraway shifting of trains
and high walls topped with broken glass,
as if definition only exists
in the damp kitchens of the past.
In the new country there is no recognisable face.
A raised hand from a car,
putting a key to the front door.

Say small things often.
Shape silence
in order to break it.
We are who we are
when we put our colours on
and then we take them off again.
We wear our sponsors close to our heart.
So down in the woodshed,
a chisel;
in the disregarded air,
with no one looking,
we do our work.

When The Dancehalls Closed

It wasn’t those that stayed that built a country. It was those that left.
It wasn’t the calling. It was the silence.
It wasn’t the getting on a country bus. It was the boat.
It wasn’t the unformed queue. It was the line.
It wasn’t the perfidious. It was the faithful.

And if you are lucky, your way back with a shopping bag
along the streets, the widow or widowed,
the sideburned days and Sunday afternoon drinking gone;
a newspaper notice brings you home.
It wasn’t the country. It was the city.

Poem from Lydia Macpherson

The wonderful Lydia Macpherson recently came second in the Edwin Morgan Competition with this poem. She’s no stranger to being on the podium of the big competitions, our Lydia, and with good reason. Even by her own usual lofty standards this is a gem and I’m very chuffed to post it today.


And when his father left
he learned to carve, to whet the blade,
worn arched and thin by years
of Sunday lunch, against the steel,
the Bakelite handle gentled
as a bird cupped in his hand.
Then, to test it on his thumb pad,
drawing the finest wire of blood.

He found the easy slip in bone
and muscle, how to break
a woodcock’s leg and bring
sleek tendons out with the foot.
The lolling head, plucked back
to black-eyed fledgling, turned
in upon itself, the long beak
pinning the reed-fed breast.

Like marking former Soviet states
on maps, he portioned up a steer
in doodles on the fly leaves of
Philip’s Modern School Atlas.
On the way home, his dinner money
bought a whole ox-tail, a fleshy
jointed dinosaur dripping its trail
through his satchel’s hide.

It took a year of careful choice,
getting the right cut, saving
shoulder blades, ribs, hocks,
wishbones standing in for all
the delicate bits too hard
to find. The skull was worst,
a patchwork of chicken backs
and Christmas turkey leavings.

His father always said,
“if a job’s worth doing it’s worth
doing well”, and Dad would be proud,
he thought, to look under the single
bed and find, among the dust,
the furry sweets and Lego,
the bony keepsake, complete,
laid out upon the shagpile.

DOR E.P. 001 – Robert Selby – Nine Poems

In something of a first for the blog I’m thrilled to present Robert Selby – Nine Poems featuring poems by Robert Selby and illustrations by Catherine Williams.

Click to download Robert Selby – Nine Poems:

Sample poem:


I’m putting my pyjamas on
as you’re slipping yours off
in the dawn of Hong Kong.

Pink light licks the skyrises
where you are. Here, I write
night’s confessional diary

sleep-shy above the duvet,
as you apply green mascara,
fly into a new blue day.

Interview with Mark Burnhope and poem from The Snowboy

Mark Burnhope

Mark Burnhope’s debut pamphlet has just been released from Salt, as part of the Modern Voices series which has already published a number of fine writers. I first saw Mark’s poems on Dan Wyke’s excellent Other Lives blog, and was glad to discover he was making his bow with The Snowboy. To coincide with the launch Mark’s doing a little ‘tour’ of a few poetry blogs, and I’m delighted it’s starting today with Mark discussing some of the influences on the collection, followed by a poem taken from it.

A long-time favourite collection of poems:

In terms of the canon, the centuries, it might be William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. I started writing poems seriously during GCSE, and this one made me bite the bullet, thanks to my inspirational teacher Mr. Matthews, who spoke about it and read it as if it was written yesterday; it seemed urgent, relevant, not old and stuffy. I was fascinated that the book was split into two halves, and dealt with ‘faith like a child’ and faith from an older, wiser, disaffected point-of-view. Not all of the poems fit neatly into their allocated halves; that was interesting too, since childhood doesn’t withhold ‘experience’, and ‘innocence’ can be found in adulthood (peace-of-mind, contentment, etc).

As an adolescent, going through all the obvious changes, it was irresistible to read not conclusions, not ‘messages’ (I had those coming out of my ears), but evolving thoughts, changes of mind, even thought-provoking contradictions, within the same book. I loved the irony of the fact that these poems were (mostly) inspired by nursery rhyme, with all that simple readability and music. But on re-reading, they were also dark, serious, satirical, caustic, and often seethed under the surface with pain, anger, a desire for social justice. Finally, I was an obsessive artist. Blake became my hero for illustrating his own poems then publishing them himself. Far from being an old dead guy, he had a punk aesthetic. He was quite mad, and a maverick. If poems could be that, I wanted to get involved.

A recent discovery:

I could write about something actually new, but I can’t, because I’ve fallen head over heels for Larry Eigner. He does have a new entire Collected, which I’m going to buy as soon as I can afford it. He’s associated with the Black Mountain movement, whose influence was felt by several schools later on, most notably the Beats and the L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poets. Larry Eigner had Cerebral Palsy, and that piqued my interest straight away because there are so few poets writing from within a disabled context now. But any interest couldn’t stop there; so gladly, it turned out that Eigner didn’t really write about disability at all (in fact, we always trip up when we try to say a poem is about anything, in a prosaic sense, don’t we?). Rather, he used his experience of disability to define his aesthetics.

His poems are most often about nature and landscape, but in a haiku-like way, never about sweeping vistas, always about the small shift of focus that the eye makes from one image to the next, over tiny distances. He struggled physically to write poems onto a typewriter. His speech was laboured, and speaking his poems was also a struggle (but to him poetry was an oral/aural form, so he did it anyway, and a few of his performances are on Youtube). His poems demonstrate those physical struggles by having short, fragmented utterances; no capitalisation or punctuation, just white space where speech is broken, and a pause for breath needed. That, I think, is an exciting way of imbuing the writing with a disabled viewpoint without the need to say ‘I am disabled’. I have no problem with explicit identification – I’ve done it – but it’s all about the writing. From where I’m sitting, no one understood that better than Eigner. I’d like to think I have my foot – footrests – in the doors of both experimental and mainstream poetry. I consider both absolutely essential. Eigner’s aesthetic, and the possibility of applying similar to new ‘disability poetries’, is something I can’t help but pursue further.

An album:

I couldn’t possibly come up with a single favourite album, but I’m a long-time Pearl Jam obsessive, so it would have to be one of theirs: Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Binaural, Riot Act. I don’t know. They only have two slightly imperfect albums, in my opinion: Self-Titled and Backspacer. But every one is listenable. Other album favourites would include any of Wintersleep’s first three albums, anything by Sigur Ros (except Von), and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose best album must be I See A Darkness, closely followed by his collaboration with The Cairo Gang, The Wonder Show of the World. It doesn’t get much better than those.

A non-poetry book:

I remember reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in my early teenage years (13? 14? I can’t really remember). I only barely understood the words, but I was straight away attracted to allegory: the naming of characters based on their traits, and their purpose for the narrative. It seemed to be somehow more realistic than life. We put so much stock in arbitrary names and labels, I remember thinking; it’s funny how people are defined by tags imposed upon them, rather than what they did, what they thought, the part they played in history. In terms of faith, it was the first time I was introduced to the concept of journey: that faith and trust was about negotiating a path through life, developing our thinking through relationships and conversations, not about bowing down to prescribed beliefs or ticking doctrinal boxes.

Another influence on the pamphlet:

The book which pushed me to deal openly and honestly with questions, myths and experiences around disability was Laurie Clements-Lambeth’s Veil and Burn. What excited me was that some poems delved into sex and intimacy through the lens of the physically disabled body, but in a straight-forward, totally non-aggressive way. At the time, I’d written a few very clumsy efforts, and was getting frustrated by just how difficult it was to do. No poem about love and intimacy is complete without the context of a real, lived-in life, difficulty and conflict; I knew that, and yet I struggled to deal with that without putting off the reader. If I expressed shyness, embarrassment or frustration, it looked like a journal entry written for my own catharsis (!), or an angry political soapbox rant, or – at best – it didn’t look like I enjoyed sex very much. But if I wrote an exuberant poem about a perfect rough-and-tumble, it was generic, and not in any way illuminating about particularities (a good poem is always built of particularities, not generalisations; especially love and erotic poetry – make a love poem generic, cliché, vague, abstract, pornographic, and there’s a good chance that your jotting is Dead On Arrival).

Clements-Lambeth’s book showed me that a poem from disability could be beautiful, gentle, yet refreshingly honest and seething at the same time. Human bodies aren’t perfect or imperfect, they exist in a spectrum, a kaleidoscope of broken colours; these poems were painted with their own colours. The other aspect of this poetry I took on was the aesthetic of transformation. There were mythical poems in which animals, particularly horses, were used as icons, embodiments of the strong yet vulnerable body. Other bodies changed and morphed, particularly in the marvellous ten-poem sequence ‘Reluctant Pegasus’. In this sequence, Clements-Lambeth uses the imagined idea of her metamorphosis into Pegasus to confront the issue of stereotypes, disability myths. She uses mythology in order to question which societal labels she may or may not be prepared to take on; she is a ‘reluctant’ Pegasus because society will, by its very nature, see her body as in some way mythical; that attraction is there, but it’s also dangerous – we are not ethereal myths but physical bodies. The sequence is soft and lyrical but also philosophical, full of debate and insecurity about the question of which ideas we accept about ourselves; which stereotypes we allow others to entertain. It worked in a similar way to the metaphysical conceit, an essay not disguised but brought to life, by necessity, as a poem.

Find more on Mark’s pamphlet The Snowboy and buy it from Salt’s site

The Ideal Bed

Double bed which shouldn’t look
like this: so skewiff but no one on,
I can’t even stand to smooth its sheet.
I try to circle round it, but my wheels
won’t fit down the right side, the one
which, incidentally, I try to imagine hides
who we were five years ago: you standing
heaving the bed to and fro, trying to catch
our south-facing garden’s light
(the bulbs were always blowing)
and me laughing; then afterwards
us, falling bed-long into this
self-same undividable iron maiden.
My nurse has just replaced our mattress
with a manmade, farcical memory-foam
thing: cures pressure sores faster.
You’d laugh if you could be here.
Remember shopping in IKEA,
wondering what kind of carpenter
constructed, folded, boxed and sold our bed?
Hardly an artist, probably couldn’t
have given an actual fuck, you said.
When we got home the bed refused to stand
up in the room we’d meant for it. In its form,
we saw the ideal parts to shed:
a little off this surface, that corner.
We grew hungry, desperately so
pushed it against the larder door
so neither of us could hoard
when the waves crashed hard. Its back
was flimsy chipboard and would give
out in the year’s most unnewsworthy
quake, if the front of the frame stayed.
So you sanded back for days, weeks,
months; pored over cookbooks,
catalogues and promotions; reclined
on the mattress like an ocean, faced
me and my canvas, and said, Draw!
(But the kitchen bulb was dying.)
Hardness the Lord made then tore:
the one you pushed aside to get past
the fact we never found
the perfect light to lie in.

See two more poems from the pamphlet at Peony Moon and visit Mark’s own blog, Naming The Beasts

Three new poems from Martin Jackson

I saw Martin read on Friday at Broadcast’s Greatest Hits event and very much enjoyed his own poem, as well as his choice of ‘covers’ from Burnside and Stevens. Martin was born in Warrington and having previously worked for a number of large advertising agencies quit in 2007 to focus on his own writing. He lives in Hackney, was a founding volunteer at the Ministry of Stories, teaches writing at a university and works in his local pub. He received an Eric Gregory award in June and his first novel is pretty much finished too. A good year, then.

Saatchi: compositions in Black and Red
no. 1

On Ecopoiesis


Research told us about
the Basics of Adulthood.
Tri-decade transitioning
is something hard to conceive.
Childhood dreams are dashed.
We are not special.

Achieving autonomy
is not linear, as hoped,
but soft drinks are well-placed
to deliver moments
of self-actualisation.
The hoped for better you.

We called the solution
Grown-up Innocence
and proved it using
a two-minute mood film
(Home Alone, Trigger Happy,
Shrek’s donkey snorting cocaine)

followed by storyboards.
We explained that the fridge
would have only eggs, milk, juice,
and that it would be more ‘fridge’
than the fridge in the drawings.
(Smeg, without being Smeg).

There were rushes and rough cuts
and we elevated the dramatic tone.
Early CGI was circulated
against our strict wishes.
There was a meeting to explain
why we had to be trusted.

Weekly WiP meet-ups
became daily FTP downloads.
The sigh at the start
was made to suggest:
‘I want nothing more
than to go there.’

The one towards the end:
‘I’m thankful for having
avoided so many deaths.’
We were too far down
the line to zoom into
the personality of the fruit.

A timeframe was constructed
around David Bellamy.
Concerns his delivery
lacked clarity dissipated
as less words became
more powerful. More filmic.

The packshot was pearlised.
The splat icon took weeks
to be satisfactorily rendered.
There were sunbursts and lens flare.
Fingers of god were made punchier.
They were brand properties.


Women were targeted
through Quality Press
and supermarket six sheets
after the family food panel
was replaced by a brainstorm.

It was to be real fruit
but treated differently.
A hyper-reality of fruit.
Blimps and hot-air balloons
good enough to eat.

AMc signed off helicoptered bushes
after consulting with her scientist.
There would be butterflies (native)
and flowers (various, unimposing).
It would be 8am BST.

Mountains were to be archetypally Scottish
but greener, with snow-speckled peaks.
Things would not be seen from a worm’s POV
but from the POV of fallen, heroic fruit.
Worms were not to be mentioned. They are not taste.

AMc was sent a copy of final outdoor.
Outdoor was well-liked and circulated to all.

Saatchi: compositions in Black and Red
no. 2

On Dialectical Reasoning

Know how to start. Create
appetite. Beware of ticks.

There is always a room.
Understand it. Change it.
Rehearse with a stranger.

Brutal logic always wins.
Tell them what you’re going
to tell them. Tell them. Then
tell them what you told them.
Avoid textual fatigue.

Don’t borrow someone’s watch
to tell them the time.

For handovers: just stop
and seamlessly hand over.
Be yourself. Watch for ticks.

Saatchi: compositions in Black and Red
no. 3

On Social Democracy


Spencer suggested that more TV is better,
despite the plans as sold. MPs see it, are reassured
things happen, so can reassure others.

We awaited operational and policy details
but PG and even GB were becoming involved.
CR was scoping from a distance.

Status was urgent. KP, IMc, SV, SW,
BW, TK, GE, JJ, GC, KC, SN and MJ sat down.
We had to read the Tax Back findings.

Econometric modelling was to be closely stuck to
in terms of timing. There was a CiC ethnic LTC
document rumoured but unseen by anyone.

SV was merchandising old tracking data
to programming teams via chartless summaries.
Milk cartons were definitely still possible.

Future planning meetings were becoming essential
but no one knew what would follow them.
A low take-up on ethnic was reported.

If Craig was charged ½%
and Josephina 2 x ½%,
what would Ahmed be charged?

All liked the suggestion to use analogy.
A leaky pipe. A hole in a boat.
Trousers falling down, gradually.


Everything about 2006 changed.
Milk was definitely gone.

We were asked to sit down
on the brocade of context.

The tone needed to get worse.
It had to develop and become far worse.

New mothers had to be targeted, but when?
They had to have decisions made for them.

Timings became very squeezed
at the back end.

There was a con call to discuss London-
centric Bang/Pak/Black communities.

We had to construct a story,
then work out the logistical tale.


There was no ethnic research.
None had been commissioned.
We produced a general campaign
targeting the usual targets.

We remembered the translation holiday.
Naked were to send invites for the rounders game.
Critical timings were sent through instead.
April was unlikely to happen.

Read another poem from Martin here

Four poems from Rishi Dastidar

Recently I posted a poem from Rishi taken from the Faber Academy anthology and I’m delighted to be able to publish a further four today. One is a version of a poem by Durs Grünbein whose work I first came across in translations by Michael Hofmann – a collection I can’t recommend highly enough. One to watch, this fella…


When I am as rich as Carnegie,
but lacking his pious exhortations,
I shall give you a bridge
made of snow and diamonds and onions,
all designed to echo the golden glow
as the sun sets on two cities, and us.

And what of it that I stole this dream
from an advert I saw?
Where else am I to find gifts for you?
A catalogue?


In every map is a kind of trance,
as a whisper that says geography
is destiny, no matter what you say.
Remember the bridges of Konigsberg,
it continues. That was an unsolvable
problem, and so is your desire to keep
moving, to lose yourself in whatever
new topography you can conjure
with the spin of a compass – as if
it’s a roulette wheel, rather than a
divining rod that keeps saying
he who changes the sky above
him without changing his soul
changes nothing.

Shipwreck champagne

Once the bloodless caravan has floated off,
buried shanties have uncoiled their last
memories, and your dreams are sunk, again,
by the looming metaphor that is the cold, cold her,
seven-eighths of which you couldn’t fathom
and on the bit you tried to cling to
you ran out of crampons and carabinas and gumption
and time – and the fact she refused to
be like the contented failing whale.
Console yourself as you drift down past
the seahorse paddocks into secret seas.
The shipwreck champagne is sweeter here
and won’t give you the bends.

The last hunt

(a version, after Durs Grünbein)

A man in Belgium has been shot, shot on his way
to a hunt, shot by his faithful dog. It’s a funny old world
said the newspaper; not the dog.

He, the man from Belgium, was sat in his people-carrier,
at the wheel, and sat on the back seat was his faithful dog
and his faithful gun, both unaware of each other.

Like they always did, they looked the same way
at the forest; he silently, the dog panting, because
it was already summer hot –

the last summer, as it turned out, for him, the man,
because the road was bumpy, the dog was jumpy and bang,
a fatal discharge, from the faithful gun caused by the faithful dog.

Sad to think one of these two Belgians
could still be around, if a pothole hadn’t punctured
their faithful friendship. Oh well.