Three poems from Matthew Stewart’s Inventing Truth

Matthew Stewart

I saw one of Matthew Stewart’s poems on Dan Wyke’s Other Lives blog recently, and was drawn to its combination of emotional impact and impressive restraint. Having since investigated further and discovered his use of syllabics, knack for concision and love of Keith Douglas I’m doubly delighted to have been introduced to his work. Matthew blogs himself, at Rogue Strands, and his debut pamphlet is out now from the high-calibre hothouse that is Happenstance. Here are three of my favourites from the collection, which have previously appeared in Poetry Nottingham International, New Walk and Rain Dog respectively.

After the party

Saturday, gone midnight, and trains
are heading out from Waterloo

with half-a-dozen rows of space
to separate each passenger.

The track’s set on jerking failure
left-left, right-left-left through my skull –

her thumb round the lip of a glass,
her goodnight kiss to cut me off.

I’m ignoring the tidal wave
of a single couple’s laughter.

Guisantes al vino tinto

Crushed and sautéed garlic, smoked paprika,
a long dollop of wine and just-shucked peas –
this is still her dish and far more daring
than sly rummages for battered photos,
especially now I’m serving it to you.


for Josefa

When you trace your wrinkles, criss-crossed
like the fine scars of unknown wounds,
and speculate how they got there;

when you’re sure you hid the stained scarf,
the note and the bent bronze bracelet
for some significant reason;

maybe you can’t remember what
you forgot, but you remember
you forgot, which is worse, far worse.

Read more from Matthew on Ink, Sweat & Tears

Poem from Andrew Motion’s Laurels and Donkeys

Laurels and Donkeys

Andrew released a chapbook with the indomitable Clutag Press last year to coincide with Armistice Day. It’s now sold out, but do check out their other mighty holdings. This poem will be included in Andrew’s next full collection, due from Faber at the end of next year.


General Petraeus, when the death-count of American troops
in Iraq was close to 3,800, said ‘The truth is you never do get
used to losses. There is a kind of bad news vessel with holes,

and sometimes it drains, then it fills up, then it empties again’,
leaving in this particular case the residue of a long story
involving one soldier who, in the course of his street-patrol,

tweaked the antenna on the TV in a bar hoping for baseball,
but found instead the snowy picture of men in a circle talking,
all apparently angry and perhaps Jihadists. They turned out to be

reciting poetry. ‘My life’, said the interpreter, ‘is like a bag of flour
thrown through wind and into thorn bushes.’ Then ‘No, no’, he said,
correcting himself. ‘Like dust in the wind. Like a hopeless man.’

More on Andrew here

Four new poems from Toby Martinez de las Rivas

Toby was one of the first wave of New Faber Poets, and his pamphlet is a thing of grandeur, heart, divinity and sparkling intelligence – in short a must-have. He’s featured in the latest clinic anthology, and is one of the poets whose new work I’m always most excited to read.  The first three poems are very specifically formatted so I’ve uploaded them as image files – click to enlarge.

Three Illustrations From Blake’s Europe: A Prophecy


Kneeling in contrapposto, the shoulders and arms
Twist against the swelling vertical axis of the left leg.
Muscles set in shadow and raucous, oppositional light.
This is one aspect of the ideal nude: arrayed as man,
Pre-democratic and wholly local, wholly sufficient.
The borrowed contortions, the splayed web of fingers
Or wind-blasted hair raddled with age, feebly white.
Heaven adorned with fire, darkness divided against
Itself where he leans to set the bright stars and the law.
Delicate sash of eyelids half closed in concentration.
And what this posture connives with is what is in us,
Is what we are: inexorable, self-willed bowing down.

Plate VIII

Hold yourself to yourself, my lost and keening one.
Beyond this room, and this fire, and this infant body
Stretched in abject stillness on the floor, lies nothing
But the failed State, arming itself against consolation.
What does she want, this duchess, in the cobalt lustre
Of her robes, if not to tax you to death and eat you,
A ring of white pearls at her beating, heron’s throat
As the cruel and  oblatory smoke ascends in clouds?
Who can doubt, now, that he foresaw and foreheard
The full range of tragedy: Passchendaele and Omaha,
Torrejón de Ardoz, Guernica: that in my grandfather’s
Throat seemed the vocables of a paradisal language?

Plate XVII

Gerusalemme. Of which the stylobate at extreme left
Is surely an outrider, the suburbs of the Holy City.
Look at the purpose in the eye of this tall, naked boy,
His right leg planted on the bottom step, his lover
Upon his shoulders, his massive torso twisted to drag,
From the following flames, his bairn, his daughter.
Thís is the ideal nude: not arrayed in flesh, but really
Flesh: sprung from earth, newly risen, individuated.
Beneath whose bare foot the secularity of stone rests
Its cold and dependable mass, begging to be shaped.
He shall make of his own arms a fold, that the gale
May pass them by, the fire not bite them with its teeth.

Read more from Toby at Eyewear and in fine company with James Brookes, Jon Stone and Sarah Howe at the Best American Poetry Blog

Three poems from Claire Trévien’s Low Tide Lottery

Low Tide Lottery
I’d been hearing lots of great things about Claire’s debut pamphlet, Low Tide Lottery, out now from Salt, for a while and having had a chance to read it found it an elegant, finely crafted thing. Here are three of several early favourites from the collection:

The Swan

After Baudelaire

Swan! I think of you as I cross the gutter.
It’s 9 a.m., so it is sweating trash: cans float
down the street like toy boats.
I look at its flow, like a useless mirror.

I am being followed by a weary German shepherd,
I spotted him a while ago walking through a stream
of commuters, soaked and slow, his head hanging low.
He is stalking, or being stalked,
large enough to hunt, but seeming haunted.

A lonely dog should be less incongruous than a swan
but he seems like a god transformed and wandering.
He has no Leda as far as I can tell.

The others barely glance at his mass as they overtake, their eyes
have been trained by beggars to stare at the middle distance.

They have been trained, but my eyes still look down and up,
like dizzy bugs at a light bulb who get stung and burned, but still

Not dulled enough to look away,
not brave enough to open my purse.

You worried at the changes of the city, I worry at its grinding halt,
at the monotony that seems to congeal the most buoyant animal.

previously published in The Warwick Review

L’Air du Temps

As we counted the two diamonds missing
from the cross, I was carried up to the mirror
and told: “one of them is Lou, darling”.

The bottle attracted first, with its embracing
doves, a fragile alabaster-kind creation, almost
transparent, yet palpable. “This one is her too
and the other one’s Barney, before”.

Her heart beats in someone else’s body now
whilst Barney breaks and decays.

It doesn’t stop the doves from kissing,
nor the bottle from opening, releasing
the perfume, free to haunt still.

The Naked House

We used to live at quatre, rue de la gare.
There was no more station by then, or tracks,
or trains, but there was our house.
The buses stank next door; we’d see
their leviathan mass disappear
down traps and never return.

The olive shutters always peeled,
stripped green, curtained by ivy.
When quatre, rue de la gare was sold
the shutters were painted new,
ready to be unwrapped again.

Visit Claire’s own site, the review site she edits and see more from her at Peony Moon

Song from David Hobbs

I’ve seen David playing a few times now and he’s got something special, in that Richard Thompson/Nick Drake/Jack Rose line. Here’s one of my favourites of his, called Your Name:

and you can hear more on his own Myspace site

Night & Day 2 – Catastrophe

The new issue of Night & Day is online. It’s called Catastrophe, in honour of Roy C Sullivan (above) – a man unluckier even than Jackson C Frank. There are new poems from Edward Mackay and myself, an interview with Mick Imlah from 1983 (taken from the Collected Prose of Imlah edited by Andre Naffis-Sahely), and much more besides.

Three poems with notes from Tamar Yoseloff’s The City With Horns

The City With Horns

Tamar’s fourth collection The City With Horns recently came out from Salt, and is a book brimming with ideas, artistic inspiration and style. I’m excited to post three poems from the collection alongside some notes and thoughts from the poet herself today.

City Winter

There’s nothing more beautiful:
a smudge of taxis and buses
crawls across the empty grey; a muddle
of faces – lovers, long-lost friends –
rises to greet you. The mercury drops,
darkness yields to streetlights, headlights.
The edge of your known world.

What you’ve missed –
hidden behind the bright dome
of a church, the slashed glass
of an office block, massed clouds.
Last greens of summer
still in your head, a sudden recollection
of heat – nothing more beautiful

than knowing something is going
to be over. You walk the streets, the map
ingrained in your feet, stare
into uncurtained rooms
lit and ready for intimacies –
you’ve been outside yourself
too long. What you want

you won’t find here. A train
leaves the city, its complicated tracks
weave past buildings still to be built,
girders lifting beyond the horizon,
its passengers bound for those lit rooms
flickering like grubby stars
on the outskirts.

Tamar’s note:

City Winter: In 2007 Tate Etc. commissioned me to write a poem based on any work in their permanent collection. My favourite painting in Tate Modern is ‘Number 12’ by Joan Mitchell. Mitchell was a muse of Frank O’Hara’s, and so it seemed fitting to borrow his lines: ‘there’s nothing more beautiful / than knowing something is going / to be over.’ But the poem isn’t necessarily about New York – I wrote the first draft in the gallery, and to my right I could see the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s through the window. So the city I’m describing is really London, although I wanted the poem to reflect a common urban experience. In the end, Tate Etc. couldn’t publish the poem – the Mitchell estate doesn’t allow reproduction on the internet, which is a great shame – but it gave me an excuse to write about Mitchell. I wrote this poem before I started my Pollock sequence, so maybe Mitchell led me to Pollock (their paintings hang in the same gallery in the Tate). Mark Doty is also a fan – I love his poem ‘To Joan Mitchell’.


(after Howard Hodgkin)

I see the scuffs and knots and bruises:
what a body takes.

The sea at night, tarmac road –
an obliteration, a mistake.

The Japanese master contemplates
the landscape from his mountain –

I clear the mud from my window,
wait for a revelation:

the antiseptic tinge of boredom,
silt of the airless room.

Now it’s quiet, the memory
of Spring behind us. Nights drawing in,

the tide is out, so when I walk
the edge of the shore my feet stick fast.

What a body needs:
the green warmth, someone to hold.

Tamar’s note:

Mud: I’ve always liked Howard Hodgkin’s paintings because they appear to be abstract, but there are gestures towards the figurative, often in his titles, which suggest seasons, relationships, songs, etc. It’s as if he’s presenting you with a fragment of a story, or the subject is obscured behind a curtain or just out of view or through a window. I wanted to write about his painting ‘Mud’ because the title suggests that kind of obscuring – something messy – but then you can see the surface wood through the paint. There’s something poignant in being able to see through the layers to the surface – a stripping away, a revealing. So the poem is about emotional vulnerability.

Where you are

The river bursts its banks,
spills over the map,
over names of farms and towns,
faded and cracked, the paper
eroding in your hands.

The stones you gathered
on the beach, the trinkets
stockpiled so you would remember
have lost their shine
torn from their source.

You had a mind of summer,
tarmac scalding your feet,
the red stain of the sun,
nothing left but a small pile
of ash, a fire

extinguished – a wound
in the ground. Everything
has floated away: trees, roads,
houses, a world of water,
colours seeped to white,

sharp light of forgetting;
the way he grows pale
behind your eyes,
loses definition, as you
let him go.

Tamar’s note:

Where you are: I wrote this poem after seeing the Roni Horn retrospective at Tate Modern in 2009. I’m a huge fan of her work; I interviewed her in 2007 for Art World magazine. Horn is interested in the ‘personalisation’ of maps: a map becomes a personal document once you have visited a place and can picture its terrain, but also make a connection to what you were doing there, who you were with, what the weather was like, etc. The poem began with this thought, and then shifted to the idea that places become sealed in memory, particularly if you never return to them again. People too – a place takes on significance through its association to one person (as in Horn’s installation ‘You Are the Weather’ or in Sheenagh Pugh’s poem ‘Times Like Places’). The last stanza might seem enigmatic, but I was thinking of my father, who died at the end of 2007. There is also nod to Wallace Stevens’ ‘The Snow Man’; Stevens is one of Horn’s favourite poets.

Visit Tamar Yoseloff’s own site