Monday, 10 October 2016

Featured Poems: Roy McFarlane

Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage, and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the surrounding Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham Poet Laureate and Starbucks’ Poet in Residence. Roy was highly commended by the Forward Prize for ‘Papers’, published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2017 . Other anthologies include Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe 2012) and he was the co-editor and writer for Celebrate Wha? Ten Black British Poets from the Midlands (Smokestack Books, 2011). His writing has also appeared in magazines, including Under the Radar, The Reader, The Cannon’s Mouth and The Undertow Review. Roy is poet in residence at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and performer in residence for Warwickshire Poetry Voices. His first full collection of poems is Beginning With Your Last Breath.


'She ain’t holding them up; she’s holding on (some English Rose)' by Sonia Boyce, 1986

I saw my mother in this painting of Sonia Boyce;
the woman wearing a cerise dress with black roses,
holding her family above her head – a basket of life.
And like her she was holding us up,
her load no lighter for having two babies
out of wedlock, holding on, making a life
in strange places, fighting the struggle of womanhood.

Love evaded her twice, men she couldn’t hold on to,
no matter how wide she opened her heart.
Holding on to any job whilst handing over her babies
to be held by others until she returned, tired and weary.
Holding on to hope that a childless couple would take
care of the one she’d leave behind; knowing
that her last breath upon his skin would be a new beginning.

That place just off the M6

Out of the darkness cometh light
Coat of Arms of the Wolverhampton City Council

I’ve always wondered why Black people
came to Wolverhampton,
that place just off the M6
in the middle of nowhere.

Queen Victoria called it the Black Country.
Black Country! Black people!
Where else would they go?

It’s the place of the yam, yam.
Well, Black people nyam yam,
sweet potatoes and tings.

Yow spake funny, yam bostin.
They felt at home with people
who couldn’t speak the Queen’s English.

The black and gold of the Wolves
like myths of streets paved with gold drawing
Blacks and Asians from across the world to Waterloo Road.

So why Enoch? Why speak of forebode?
River Tiber foaming with much blood
when blood had already been spilt in the name of nationality.

And look at the bronze Lady Wulfruna
like the statue of liberty
welcoming the poor and the needy;

instead they were welcomed with closed doors,
cold looks and biting words
in a bitter climate.

I’ve always wondered why Black people
came to Wolverhampton,
that place just of the M6
in the middle of nowhere.

Night and Day

I learned verses of love with
a beautiful two-tone Rudie,
her tight jeans and t-shirts held
her as intimately as I did in the day time
in between lessons, common room
and the sports hall. We kissed like
lovers from a Klimt painting; our bodies
ablaze with the touch of each other
and we made love in open fields
painting beautiful colours
until the sun went down…
                             night times
we sneaked out; the daughter
of a single mother and the son
of a preacher man; star-crossed lovers
at the Rising Star or The Molineux
waiting for the healing of Lover’s Rock
where bass speakers mesmerised,
locked us together in perfect poetry,
the symmetry of a Rodin sculpture
brought to life on the dance floor,
lost in Janet Kaye’s Silly Games.

Leaves are falling

I didn’t notice the leaves falling
the day they told me it would be
weeks more than months.
The rest of their words
fell softly on deaf ground.
I remembered in the morning
they had forecast an oncoming storm,
the tail end of a hurricane
from the Caribbean seas.
What do they know?
they never get things right,
it will never ever reach here.

Praise for Beginning With Your Last Breath:

 ‘I had tears in my eyes reading some of these poems. In Beginning With Your Last Breath, McFarlane holds the reader’s attention expertly through deeply moving, emotional and personal narratives. His adroit use of rhythm, rhyme and repetition draws us unselfconsciously into passionate and complex reflections on familial and cultural identity, social and political injustice, loss, love, sensuality and spirituality. Combining the skills of the orator, poet, craftsman and bard, Roy McFarlane has created a very special debut.’ –  Ruby Robinson

'There’s something I need to tell you, says a voice in the first poem of Roy McFarlane’s Beginning with Your Last Breath, which opens with a deeply personal and moving account of the discovery of an adoption. But the need to tell resounds throughout this collection - moving through lost love and friendships, the politics of place, race and culture and the salvatory power of music. The writing is always evocative, with a great care for the detail. These are poems of great power.' - Hannah Lowe

'So many of these poems have a novelistic power to hold the reader through their tense interior domains. This is a riveting poetry about loss and recovery, about pride, about boxing, basketball, Norman Tebbit and sex, though not all at once. I love the tight yet welcoming lines of each poem and McFarlane’s ability to concentrate the image, my best was perhaps the reference to ‘a stomach filled with cage birds’. Disturbing yet uplifting verse!' - Daljit Nagra


Monday, 6 June 2016

Featured Poems: Abegail Morley

Abegail Morley’s latest collection of poems is The Skin Diary, published by Nine Arches Press in June 2016. Her debut collection, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection. Her previous collections, Snow Child and an ekphrastic collection based on the work of the German satirical painter, George Grosz, Eva and George: Sketches in Pen and Brush are published by Pindrop Press. She collaborated with artist Karen Dennison on The Memory of Water (Indigo Dreams Publishing) based on a residency at Scotney Castle. She was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2015 and Poet in Residence at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Kent 2015-2016. Abegail is a co-founder of EKPHRASIS commissioning poets for ekphrastic events, most recently at The Royal Academy of Arts and the British Library. Her website is The Poetry Shed.

Before you write off your imaginary sister

remember how she didn’t take her blunt playschool scissors
to your Tiny Tears doll, didn’t lop off a curl,
how it didn’t make you cry for three nights in a row,
your only consolation, not inviting a mantra to your lips:
You are not my sister, you are not my sister.

Think of that night she wasn’t at the tap-end
of the bath, not blowing bubbles through her fingers,
not sloshing them over your face, how water didn’t slop
over the bath’s rim, how you didn’t slip
when your mother hugged you out in a towel.

Memorise how she didn’t cuddle close for those stories,
clap when they escaped the Gingerbread House. Learn how
she didn’t travel with you on the school bus, wasn’t there
when you rubbed your fingers over the invisible bruise
that couldn’t yellow on your thigh, wasn’t bashed by her bag.

Before you know it, she’s not at your wedding,
taking the posy from your nervous hands, doesn’t smile
when she doesn’t do it. Bear in mind she didn’t
have that look in her eyes when she didn’t hold your son
in her arms in amazement. Learn by heart those miles

she couldn’t take because you couldn’t call her at two a.m.
thinking he might die from colic. Remember how
she doesn’t say she loves you more now than ever, and how
desperate that cannot make you feel. And know now
all you can say is, I miss you, I miss you.

The carrier bag

I empty myself like quicksilver, pour
an ankle-deep pool on the kitchen floor,
take up two seats on the bus –
one for me and one for the pool.

I call it Heartbreak, carry it with me,
sometimes in a Waitrose bag, latterly
in one from Aldi; it’s firmer,
contains the liquid better.

I take it to a church in Holt,
have it blessed by the priest, show
it to a window cleaner outside M&S,
raise it aloft to the waves

at Holkham Beach so they get a good view.
At home, by an electric fire, I watch
it steam, mist the windows, write
Heartbreak was here – then wait

until all the bulges in the bag
turn in on themselves, collapse.
Heartbreak was here dries slowly.



I clinch its heart-shaped body with both hands, hands that cooked
his supper, washed his dishes, held my own mouth when we laughed
too loudly and for far too long. I forgot to tell you the postman

made me sign for this package and I looped a hooped bundle
of letters with his pen on a string, took the thing
to the front room. I didn’t know something so small could change

my day, so opened the gift without ceremony, didn’t expect
his dried-out soused diary to unhug itself from the envelope.
No letter from the coroner, just river-rippled A5 pages.

Love Child

I store the potato, peeled, covered in polythene.
When I open the fridge the motion of the door rocks it
to and fro like a skull. Tonight on my way home,
I nod to the grocer who, drenched in electric light,

sprouts wings like Phanes. His hands are grubby, old.
I wonder how they’d feel on my body, what he’d say
about the empty fruit bowl, how he’d bend to kiss
the top of my head while checking my kitchen:

cafetière, wine, bread. I know in the morning
those fingers will plunge down coffee
and I’ll smell it here at the top of the house, hope
he doesn’t take milk, pray he doesn’t open the fridge;

I know he’ll fan out his fat hands, hold the hollows
of the fontanelles, cradle it like a baby’s head.

About The Skin Diary

The Skin Diary: Here are alert and lyrical poems that hunt out imperfect hiding places, conjure up imaginary sisters and try to contain near-impossible sorrows that spill out of carrier bags and fill up archives. New skins and old disguises are stitched together, the fabric of life tries to hold fast whilst all else unravels and comes apart at the seams. The Skin Diary documents the sometimes fragile and strange windfalls of our days and months; through hard times and thin ice, this journal is bleakly wry, brilliantly focused and brimming with uncanny and discomforting turns of event.

Praise for The Skin Diary:

‘...ghostly, visceral, and unflinching poems.’ – Penelope Shuttle

‘The Skin Diary somehow finds words for the ineffable in its search for hope and understanding.’
– Martin Figura

‘A life can be held within the construct of one person’s poetic contribution, and here is a poet who can hold her nerve and her entire psychological landscape within each multifariously conceived and consciously humane line.’ – Melissa Lee-Houghton

‘This careful lexicon Morley offers us here is nothing but essential.’ – Graham Clifford


Monday, 30 May 2016

Featured Poems: Julia Webb

Photograph: Martin Figura

Julia Webb was born in London and grew up in Thetford – a small town in Norfolk. She left school at sixteen and spent nine years living in a rural commune before settling in Norwich. She has a BA (hons) in Creative Writing form Norwich University of the Arts and she graduated from The University of East Anglia’s Poetry MA in 2010. In 2011 she won the poetry Society’s Stanza competition and in 2014 she was shortlisted for the Poetry School/Pighog pamphlet prize. She teaches creative writing in the community and is a poetry editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal. Bird Sisters (Nine Arches Press, 2016) is her first full collection of poems.

My owl sister pays me a visit

She moves restlessly around the room
examining every object, flexes her wings,

lingers by the double-glazed window,
shields her eyes as if the day is too bright.

I know she hates hospitals,
and I have interrupted her schedule,

she has chicks to feed,
important things to do.

She plucks a vole from her breast pocket,
and drops it onto my blanket,

turns on her claw.
Her hoot echoes along the ward.

After cleaning out your house

I wanted to rush home and throw everything away,
cram it all into bin bags.
I wanted to mix letters
with plates and underwear,
sweep them, like a bonfire waiting for a match,
into the middle of the floor.
I wanted to open up the house wide,
invite the wind and the trees inside.
I wanted to throw away the windows,
the doors, the front path, the weeds,
the cars, the people walking along the street,
turn the kitchen cupboards inside out,
uncook all those breakfasts and dinners,
turn on the taps until the water ran dry.

no one speaks of you

unless they don’t know not to speak of you
and those who know not to speak of you
and have to speak of you
speak of you in hushed voices
as if you’re a baby asleep in their arms
and those who don’t know not to speak of you
speak of you loudly almost shouting
as if your name is a triumph a hallelujah
and when I tell them that I don’t know how you are
that I haven’t seen you for months
they reel back as if they are the ones hurt
and I know that the next time we meet
they won’t speak of you and if they do
it will be quietly and seriously

Bee Dress

Give me a dress made of honeybees
that I will wear in humming praise of summer,
that shimmies its blacks and yellows
across my body in waves,
each curve of bee a buzzing bead
that catches the sun’s rays as I move.
Let the whole street see my waggle dance
as my bee dress swarms and sings –
lifts me clear above the pavement,
leaving behind me a fine yellow dust,
a faint whiff of honey.

About Bird Sisters by Julia Webb

Julia Webb’s Bird Sisters is a surreal journey through sisterhood and the world of the family via the natural world. Fascinated by the ‘otherness’ of things, her poems expose places and relationships that are not always entirely comfortable places to exist. Many of them feature transformations of some kind – both real and metaphorical: a woman wears a dress of live bees or becomes a bird and family members turn into owls and sparrows.

Praise for Bird Sisters:

‘Glittering and shadowy, the ‘magic’ of this first collection is anchored in the ‘real’ of nylon sheets, a rented TV, Thetford Forest... Its language is spare and supple, wry, and can stun with such transformations as “a baby dandled on the knee of the sea” (‘Quiet Man Norfolk’) and “Water held a knife to the throat of the village” (‘Water’). Beset by the dark instability of a particular family’s life, Bird Sisters exerts a powerful hold, as if to read it is to be haunted by things one half-remembers.’ – Moniza Alvi

‘There is something both comforting and predatory about the sisters that keep reappearing in Julia Webb’s first collection. It is a visceral world they inhabit where people and animals partake of each other’s existence through constant metamorphosis. Everyday life is full of demons and, as the father in one of the poems has it, THE DEVIL’S WORK. All is strange or estranged in fact, but it is articulated in poems of supple inventive concentration. In that sense Bird Sisters is a book that casts deep shadows.’ – George Szirtes


Monday, 21 March 2016

Featured Poems: Isobel Dixon

Photograph: Jo Kearney

Isobel Dixon grew up in South Africa, where her debut, Weather Eye, won the Olive Schreiner Prize. She studied in Scotland and now works in London, returning frequently to her family home in the Karoo.  Her further collections are A Fold in the Map and The Tempest Prognosticator and she co-wrote and performed in the Titanic centenary show The Debris Field (with Simon Barraclough and Chris McCabe).  Mariscat will publish a pamphlet, The Leonids, in August 2016. Her new collection of poems, Bearings, is out from Nine Arches on 4 April 2016

“A Part of Me is Gone”

It’s not just twins, identical,
who feel this way
(thinking as one),
same-egged, conjoined,
deep life-long linked
till hit and run –

or old age in my case:
not twinned, but fathered,
equally bereft.
Death, it seems, the fiercest
raider of identity,
for the survivor too – self’s theft.

Once genetic double,
equalled, answered, met –
you were almost only goodness,
I’m the damaged bit that’s left.

In Which I Am Urged to Let Myself Go

There'll be time enough, elsewhere, to fret
at how the indelicate prosper.
Let's drink to the whimsy of the jolly-boat,
the evening cavalcade. 
You find me garrulous? Then speak.
Even a cuckoo has more tongue.
Quid pro quo. Quid pro quo. Quid pro quo.

In Which Things Go Too Far

The lawn has not been mown in weeks.
It lays there moaning to itself, only I
can hear the rhizomes’ thin green whine.
Everything has a voice
if you pause to listen. Why else do we stop
our ears: phones, buds, muff, cuff, boxed
about the lobes. Wheesht. Won’t you just shut up.

In Which We Pack It In and Shut Up Shop

Nothing turns out as you plan; don’t
give me your Easter Island stare.
Mice and men and the praying mantis,   
equal prey. And I am tired
of the pelican mother sideshow here.
Get a life. Find a lift, hitch a ride. Stick out
your thumb. Fuck off till the cows and kingdom come.

In Which Dogs Feature Only Metaphorically, Alas

It’s easy enough to break the habit of a lifetime:
I'll have what you're having.
My years of simple living chucked out of the window,
gone to the dogs – Borzoi,
Labradoodle, poodle, lap. And the Lapis Lazuli Girls
are in the wings. I’m hoping one will show me
how she does that thing, like Cleopatra, with the kohl. 


Russet and frost 
roadside fox 
to be sidelined so fast.

Stop press
on the early news 
he was delivering
tip-toeing across tar –

Abuja, Tripoli, 
Hurricane Irene, 
and the sky’s
new supernova –

Now his ankles
are delicately crossed
but he’s sidelong
on the grass.

Mercurial reversal, 
the still-fine feathers 
of his bushy tail 
ruffled by wind

but his grin’s 
the giveaway, 
a Janus mask.
His ear is snicked,

a young buck’s mark. 
He is beautiful.
Whose job is it to bury

a dead fox? you ask.

‘A Part of Me is Gone’ was previously published in Magma 59 (Summer 2014) edited by Roberta James and Alex Pryce.‘In Which I Am Urged to Let Myself Go’; ‘In Which Things Go Too Far’; ‘In Which We Pack It In and Shut Up Shop’; ‘In Which Dogs Feature Only Metaphorically, Alas’ were first published in Poems in Which,(April 2014), edited by Amy Key and Nia Davies.

About Bearings by Isobel Dixon:

‘A poet confident in her mastery of her medium.’ – J. M. Coetzee

In her fourth collection, Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. From Robben Island to Hiroshima, Egypt to Edinburgh, the West Bank and beyond, these poems are forays of discovery and resistance, of arrival and loss.

Bearings sings of love too, and pays homage to lost friends and poets – the voices of John Berryman, Michael Donaghy, Robert Louis Stevenson and others echo here. And there is respite for the weary traveller – jazz in the shadows, an exuberant play of words between the fire and tremors.

In this wide-ranging collection Dixon explores form and subject, keeping a weather eye out for telling detail, with a sharp sense of the threat that these journeys, our wars and stories, and our very existence pose to the planet.

Praise for Bearings by Isobel Dixon:
'The poems often sparkle with colour, and are feisty, full of rich doubt, and complex considerations of world and self ... A wide-ranging collection in many senses then, venturesome and powerful, remaining in the mind long after reading. Highly-recommended.' - Penelope Shuttle

'Isobel Dixon's recent poems confirm her sumptuous gift of mining for melody all the way down to the syllable, but it is remarkable how she can go on tightening her focus even as she widens her range of topic ... Her work is a perpetual transformation, inexhaustible even though anything in it can be said aloud, and indeed demands to be. There is something new under the sun on every page.' - Clive James

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Featured Poems: Daniel Sluman

Photograph: Catherine Frowd-Bate

Daniel Sluman is a 29-year-old poet and disability rights activist based in Oxfordshire, UK. He gained a BA and MA in Creative Writing from the University of Gloucestershire, and has previously held editorial roles at Dead Ink, Iota, and the award-winning disability anthology FTW: Poets against Atos. He was named one of Huffington Posts Top 5 British Poets to Watch in 2015, and his debut poetry collection Absence has a weight of its own was released by Nine Arches Press to critical acclaim in 2012.


the first thing you taste
is the sweat & bleach
of human delivery
the story of life
is always the thing
& something to wash
away its stain    each year  
a step you tumble down  
falling apart a little more  
how time drags you
by the ankles so slowly
through the grass  
you watch it all pass  
the expectant faces
of the people you love  
slipping into the dark  
you clutch at weeds  
but nothing will grip  
& in the end    like us all
you fall into the cold
black earth    every window
in the world slams shut

the terrible

when I was eleven I prayed so hard
for the cancer that would deliver
my mother’s love    my fingers
had to be prized apart like scallop shells
the cells tumbled through my blood
god would never answer me again

at nineteen my girlfriend poured a circle of salt
around our bed    we spooned in greasy sheets
& stared through the window    as the rain
sowed rooftops into one impenetrable dream  
but she’d cast the rite the wrong way  
something terrible whispered in her ear at night

at twenty-one    I slid my tongue inside a saint    
whose hair burnt redder with each cigarette she lit  
like loose change    she tried to shake the terrible
from me until the bed glittered like the sea    
each breath dragging us deeper

today    emily fills my eyes in our grubby basement flat  
each time I tell her I love her    my heart crushes
like a paper cup    the diamond winces on her hand  
its brightness weighing us down in shadow  

in dreams

I have two legs    my mother stays
& childhood is a single house

a bursting fridge with music

crashing through the hall  
the record-player’s needle

is the only one that will tear

into my life    I am a thing
worth loving    & I love

in controlled explosions

nobody is hurt    the script
hacked into my skin with a knife

un-picks itself like a thread

& ambulances only ever pass
my tempered heart ticks

in line with everyone else’s

with a gin in my hand I drink
myself to perfection each night

& this is love

she goes limp & falls into my arms
like an important looking letter  
I help her to the bathroom  

& sit the other side of the door  
tearing nails between my teeth  
clutching the phone like a safety rope

& this is love    how we live between
the side-effects of glittering pills
the wads of her dead hair snarled

in the plug-hole    the morning cigarette
that shakes in her hand before her kiss
once again says whateverhappens    I ring

the ambulance when her head smacks  
the floor    & in the crazed flutter of her lids
I see a million lives for us    each one perfect

About the terrible

Daniel Sluman’s bleak brilliance in the terrible is a masterclass in the power of poetry to confront difficult subject matter with accuracy and painstaking openness. These are rigorous and exacting poems, that dare to go to some of the darkest places and speak with stark precision.  

These poems may be stripped down, intense and utterly frank, but they are not without deep reserves of sincerity and beauty. Sluman writes of the heady cocktail of being alive, where loss, love, sex, close shaves with mortality and sharp narratives of pain and suffering are examined in concise and humane clarity. 

Praise for the terrible:

‘Daniel Sluman’s new collection explores acute and chronic, emotional and physical pain (and, albeit less often, pleasure) with a raw, compelling urgency. At times playful, at times harrowing, the terrible always brims  with life.’ – Carrie Etter

‘Vivid and honest poems of intense experience, in which no wound is too deep to be cauterised by language.' – Jean Sprackland

‘This is a decadent work of painstaking beauty. Its sophisticated chromatic spectrum is fevered with a minimal though striking palette of monochrome and the occasional burst of pure, visceral colour – erotic, it sweeps through all the shades and nuances of Love and a life lived to its blurry reaches like a Lou Reed song and striking and vivid as a Warhol Factory print. Blood sutures stream through every poem and cuts in the flesh of this book ensure that you cannot read it to the end without knowing the sweet release of a hesitant knife edge to the wrist – let the pain entice you – there is absolute suffering and absolute relief within the pages of this book.’ – Melissa Lee-Houghton

‘In this unflinching collection, Daniel Sluman evokes raw truths at the core of personal experience. These are darkly intimate poems, by turns tender then stingingly sharp, where the human body itself houses ‘strange weather’ that has the capacity to overwhelm an individual in an instant, shaping relationships and identity. To read them is to view the world through a lens that reveals sinister undercurrents in everyday places. Each moment of hope they reveal is as fragile and beautiful as a lit match in a cellar.’ – John McCullough

Monday, 14 September 2015

Featured Poems: Myra Connell

Myra Connell grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in Birmingham where she works as a psychotherapist. Her stories are published in various places, including the Tindal Street Press anthologies, Her Majesty and Are You She?  Her poems have appeared in Under the Radar, Obsessed with Pipework and The Moth.  Her first pamphlet was A Still Dark Kind of Work (Heaventree Press, 2008), and her second, From the Boat (Nine Arches, 2010). House (also Nine Arches Press) is her first full collection of poems.


So here’s the house.
It makes the corner,
stands where two streets meet,
and looks towards the sea.
One flat wave is foaming at the kerb,
the water green, and icy.

The tide is at the door,
and yet the woman says it isn’t high enough for bathing.
That’s a lie: she lied,
the woman with the black and shining hair,
to stop the other swimming.

Out the window to the sea-front
they could see the waves run in
slant and slant against the road.
She lied.
Or both the women lied,
needing one the other.

Whiteadder, Monday evening

Relationships are often constituted by what one dare not say to
the other person. – Adam Phillips

A man was up there burning something. The air was acrid,
then we saw the smoke. If we were in love, it would be fine
to hide like this; for something to have come upon me. So,
one could account for it: the lying low, not speaking.

A pump was taking water from the river,
or pumping something in. Flat, flood-plain wheat-field,
half-moon-shaped, at dusk. The tractor-tracks were deeper,
black, because the soil was sodden.

And then he’d gone, the man, although the gate stood open.
Don’t go looking. It’s evidence he’s been burning.
Don’t go further up the path, in case.

There’s something. I have lost my sense of smell.
I am afraid I’ll kill you. So far?
No. I haven’t.

China Seagull

It is smooth like skin but cold,
and when I lick it it tastes like salt.
(We must be careful at all times and know what we want.)
When I see it, I think of my grandmother.
I think of her house

and the cellar with the jars of jam,
and the garden, and the orchard, and the blackbirds
in summer in the cherry-tree by the wall.
It is smooth like skin but cold
and when I lick it it tastes like salt.

We must be careful and at all times know what we want;
but the seagull is smooth to the touch and cool,
and I think of my grandmother
and her fingers which were bent, and which plaited
each morning the long hair of her daughters.

And I think of her house with its cellar
and the jars of jam and preserves,
and of the orchard, and her hands stained with beetroot.
My seagull is smooth like skin.
When I lick it it reminds me of salt

and of the blackbird, this last summer, in the tree by the wall.


As if that was the only way to have the room:
the door, the chair, the couch like that,
the way the sun comes in.
As if a window-sill with pigeons,
the soffits flaking, light just so,
were needed for the cure,
and I must make my home the same.

Here. Two floors up. The chimney wind,
the magpies.
Cloud and scratching sky, the willow;
summer heat, the draughts in March.
Does the brightness –
does the rising up to heaven –
does walking through the house mean something,
and being here alone?

Is the white too stark, the blue too like the sky?
Is the journey up the stairs too long?

Will there be space to hide?

Myra Connell’s House is a startling debut collection of poems that are both enchanting and disquieting, that ask questions, look for clues, and mark out telling absences.

The house itself might be deep in the woods, high on the moors, or alone at the end of an urban terrace; simultaneously a real place, and a body, a mind, a home for the soul. Is it a shelter or a fortress, solid or decaying, welcoming or defended? A cast of characters come and go from its spaces, the outside world presses in at the windows, wilderness awaits at the threshold.

Praise for House by Myra Connell:

‘Myra Connell’s poems in House shimmer; she shows mastery over the silences between words and the power of telling images to fascinate and compel. Very often her beautifully controlled poems seem to be like interruptions in greater narratives, or to be their own created universes of unravelling motives and actions. Above all, Connell observes, and works from the world as it is with a sense of awe and spiritual awakening, so that the reader feels, as she puts it, ‘something encroaching like the tide’. This resonant and haunting first collection put me in mind of Pauline Stainer, Charles Simic and Wislawa Szymborska.’  –  Peter Carpenter

‘Myra Connell has a gift for the uncanny, each recollected encounter with the local community just a sharp intake of breath away from gothic horror. In crystal, minimal images and tightly paced soundings, Connell’s poetry drags the rivers of rural communities and churns the soil for bones, gathering terrible secrets under the language’s skin. And yet, in the final reckoning, the poetry swerves from fear to sorrow: ‘The sudden closing of the heart // the rain’ (‘All this rain’).’
     – George Ttoouli 

‘Thoughtful and often mysterious, these poems invite the reader to enter and take a fresh look at the world they describe.’
     – Beatrice Garland

Monday, 17 August 2015

Featured Poems: David Clarke

Photo credit: Helen Dewbery

David Clarke was born in Lincolnshire and now lives in Gloucestershire. He works as a teacher and researcher. His poems have appeared in magazines including Magma, Tears in the Fence, Iota, Anon, Under the Radar and New Walk. His pamphlet, Gaud, was published by Flarestack Poets in 2012 and won the Michael Marks Pamphlet Prize. Arc (Nine Arches Press) is his first full collection of poems. He blogs here. 


Orpheus wants two Americanos.
His mate is impatient on double yellows
in the van where they keep the harp,
rapping the roof with his knuckles.
Our godly axeman flashes a victory V,
thus drives home the point

       of the goth girl’s pen
       tracing cutely bulbous capitals
       on her yellow pad, endlessly redrafting
       as she chews on a hank of purple hair

              that curtains the puffy eyes
              of the barista. He slouches,
              hung-over, to the steam machine
              with a face full of shrapnel,
              stomach turning at that burnt
              milk smell of hot babies

       screaming in 4x4s. Half-bald pigeons,
       cyclists in eye-watering Lycra,
       the whole ragged street tensed
       beyond the café windows

waiting for Orpheus to swing
back into his van and strike
the morning’s opening chord.

Sword-Swallowing for Beginners

Start by flicking the fleshy switch at the back
of your throat. When you’ve thrown up a dozen times,
you’ll find the impulse subsides – you can sit for hours
with a knuckle softly pressed inside your head,

watching rolling news of the war. Insert spoons,
knitting needles, a length of plumber’s pipe.
Stare at the ceiling, your jaw loose as a gorging
python’s, and try to conjure those shocks that pass

through the body, but leave it intact – the rasp of panicked
breath, the whump of a nearby explosion, a scream.
Or think of the soldier who coughed up a sleeping bullet,
shrapnel burrowing out of a human thigh

to freedom. By then you’ll be ready to take a blunted
bayonet, silver and slick with spit. Arrange
your body around that deathly spindle,
repeat to yourself – I am unharmed. Unharmed.

Permanent Emergency

We find ourselves on a marbled concourse,
      the air tart, the thievery elegant.

We find ourselves flailing in cataracts of red dust,
      our ears ringing at the pitch of the aftershock.

We find ourselves quarantined in the media compound,
      living off shrink-wrapped carbs.

We find ourselves nodding to the security detail,
      the exact nature of their remit.

We find ourselves lobbying for hearts and minds,
      drumming our fingers on the conference table’s
            mahogany veneer.

We find ourselves offering flexible consultancy options,
      straightening our zany neck-ties.

We find ourselves schmoozing the policy-wonks,
      a post-traumatic pastoral.


Gay Pride Festival, Clapham Common, 1996

I remember, chiefly, that shocking light,
how we squinted up from the earth,
bleached by the very summer that floored us –

how through that light emerged those thin-armed
boys from my class, proclaiming themselves
the heralds of memory, even that one

I’d hit for calling me queer. Now
our lustrous presence was all the proof
required. We sucked at cans of Red Stripe,

lounged in glare like exiles thrown
on a luminous shore, scuffing at it,
heel by heel, until the dust

threw up another move. Come
to think, we already had the people
we needed – hawkers of ironic

T-shirts and merchants of the old
religion, saving us all in brand new
drag. But then someone was grabbing

the mic. A thousand balloons cut loose
from their net, a pulsing vermilion
arc, while men made little huddles

of grief in twos and threes, their faces
tight with fat and beautiful tears.
I stalked to the edge of the crowd, chippy

as some lad who just missed out
on the war. A whole new country was set
before me, refusing to be ignored.

More information about Arc here 

Order your copy of Arc here 

David Clarke’s debut collection Arc invites you to follow the trail of fleet-footed poems, and be swept along from sonnets for Scott Walker to ‘epic fails’ and sword-swallowing for beginners. It’s a memorable trip you’ll want to start afresh as soon as you finish reading. Subtle, bittersweet and wickedly sharp, these poems from the winner of the 2013 Michael Marks Pamphlet Prize deserve to be relished and revelled in.

Praise for Arc by David Clarke:

‘“I am the boy who threw the ball / into summer’s empty mouth.” So begins David Clarke’s beautifully-crafted debut. His refined and elegantly playful poems mine popular and classical culture with equal aplomb, as poems about Jimmy Stewart and Superman sit alongside an Orpheus who “wants two Americanos” and an exploration of Plato’s ideas on cake. Here is a subtle control of form, a distinctive voice, a lightly-worn erudition and a feeling that we are in very safe hands, as Clarke sings in praise of this ‘Dumb old world.’ In a time of permanent emergency, there are few better navigators. Just as in ‘The Messengers,’ Clarke laments the fact that we do not hear the angels crying, so I want to say Listen. Listen to this. –  Jonathan Edwards

‘Lenin sheds reactionary tears in the music hall, Scott Walker starts over with ‘only [his] voice and the dark’, a narrator finds the promise of a ‘whole new country’ in a Gay Pride Festival; there are poems about sword swallowing, Jimmy Stewart, assembling a greenhouse, and revolution. Arc is a various, exciting and exhilarating debut collection. David Clarke has a knack for writing lines that take your breath away.’   – Cliff Yates

‘This is an energetic debut and a thoroughly engaging read. At times explosive in imagery and theme, the tenor of discord, both personal and political, flowers through a skillful sobriety of form and theme. Arc contains poems in which the language of the world is returned to us with a lyric excitement. It’s a pleasure to read work as engaged and intelligent as this.’ – Rachael Boast