Monthly Archives: May 2013

Andrew Philip’s The North End of the Possible

© Image by Thomas Ritchie

© Image by Thomas Ritchie

Andrew Philip was born in Aberdeen in 1975 and grew up near Falkirk. His first full collection of poetry, The Ambulance Box (Salt, 2009), was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry and in the Scottish Book Awards. His work has been published in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Ireland, translated into Italian and included in anthologies such as The Forward Book of Poetry 2010, The Best British Poetry 2011 and Adventures in Form. He is poetry editor at Freight Books, Scots language editor at Irish Pages and a popular online tutor for the Poetry School.
The North End of the Possible 
“How do isolation, belonging and the land shape us? What difference does this make to how we live? Andrew Philip’s second collection delves deep into these and other questions.
In the opening and closing portions of the book, Philip takes us further into the life of MacAdam — an enigmatic character from his multi-award nominated debut, The Ambulance Box. MacAdam, who seems to have built a version of the Large Hadron Collider in his garden shed, attempts to find “the fundamental particle of night”. We follow him into the chaos that results, as his experiments run out of control, culminating in a powerful encounter with a mysterious intruder.
The middle of the collection brings us poems of place, love and politics. A newsreader’s BBC English transmogrifies into Scots without her realising. Edinburgh’s worst piper is lambasted in a rollicking Burns pastiche that led novelist Rodge Glass to dub Philip his “new favourite poet”. And an intricate, tender sequence charts the highs and lows of a decade of marriage.
Rich in humour, imaginative reach and formal invention, The North End of the Possible displays a fresh strength in narrative writing for Philip and pushes his lyric gifts to new heights.”
“Andrew Philip has great formal skill, high ambition, and a lyric voice strong and supple enough to explore scientific and theological ideas, and to make tender and beautiful love poems. The promise he showed in The Ambulance Box is amply delivered in The North End of the Possible.”
– Michael Symmons Roberts
“This is a real gem of a collection – it’s witty, wide-ranging, deft, funny, adroit and moving, but most of all, wonderfully, wonderfully readable. A book that takes us straight to the heart of the matter, and the matter of the heart. Paul Farley described the great poem as a ‘page stopper’ and with Philip’s The North End of the Possible I constantly found myself going back to read through poems again for the sheer enjoyment of their craftsmanship and music.”
– John Glenday
“Craving to show anger turned into comedy, love wry and without vanity, and pain that shan’t lead to anger or bitterness, Philip describes this world; as if were a trial, at times in desperation for the next. A daily round, chancing (without control of the process), sometimes on the between spaces – of banter, longing for the departed, and hallucinatory language play.”
– Ira Lightman
A Child’s Garden of Physics (1)
Trauchled by the paraphernalia
of a life spent tinkering
— the long stands, the mundae hammers —
MacAdam settles
to cobbling light apart
into constituent darknesses:
pit mirk, pick mirk, part mirk, heart mirk.
Even so, there’s hardly
enough mirk in this world
to account for the breadth of black
he thinks must lie
at the core of everything.
And here it is, nestling
in the pleasant land of Counterfact,
spreading as the sun droops:
the fundamental particle of night.
It shades in/out of being
the way MacAdam does when not
observing himself at a distance,
his anchor ego flowing
through various queerlike states
akin to the nocton’s flavours:
still, thrang, change, dread,
silent and sudden. The quirks
the hour has flung at him
gather in the corner of his shed.
Now, armed with the tools
to measure the mirk aright,
he can take to the streets
to ascertain precisely what
the afterlight is made of — this
could be his service to us all.
MacAdam Takes to the Sea
Unhooked from its tenter, the sea drifts off
to arrive at a new understanding
with the earth
                         while MacAdam, wearied
and clean out of Red Bull,
                                     walks to the edge
of the land he’s always called home.
Pure force of habit, that locution:
                                                 he has come
to feel more at home on the move these days —
on the move and in the dark.
                                                      Aye, but there’s dark
and dark the dawn has marvelled at.
It’s hidden from him yet, but MacAdam
must drive through such a gloom
to witness how
                         lightly the morning rises from its knees.
For now,
               we leave him wading
waist deep into the loosened waves.
The Melody at Night, With You
ECM 1675
Snow bound and determined to break
out of the silence enforced by chronic fatigue,
Jarrett is at his piano again — the first time
in let’s not contemplate how long for a man
as given to his art as this — stripping
the music back to all that ever mattered,
taking it to heart the way you’d want
her to take what you know most sparing:
your softest, most unguarded speech and touch —
no smoke, no mirrors, no sleight of hand,
no firecracker runs or full-voltage solo virtuosics:
just the tune; the tune and Christmas coming.
A moment to warm the fingers. Press RECORD.
Cheer Friend of Both
An abnominal for Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Thorn in the Reich, be the torch
for the terrified bride
of the torn Herrn. Interned,
confined, be free in the other
hidden Reich, the one eterne.
If the dirt of the Hof be
bitter herb, bete doch
“For thine be —.”

Ich hoffe not trite: no richer effort
to render the terror inert. Brief
the trot to Tod. Therefore, brother,
be fortified, cheered, enriched.
Deride the thin, horrid, inferior credo
ordered. Be interior hobo, freed
to intent. Tend the bidden boon.
If it be no Hilfe, do not ochone;
ochone for the Eiche, the Erde,
the bent Hirte. No introit intoned, be
the Brot bitten: be rid of, interred.
Thorn in the Reich, be reborn.
from The North End of the Possible (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order The North End of the Possible.
Visit Andrew’s website.
Read the Scots glossary for The North End of the Possible
Read Colin Begg’s review at The List

Helen Ivory on writing ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969 and began to write poems at Norwich School of Art in 1997, under the tuition of George Szirtes. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1999 and then disappeared into a field in the Norfolk countryside to look after two thousand free-range hens. When she emerged ten or so years later, she had two collections with Bloodaxe Books and had helped, with her own bare hands, to build several houses.

She is a poet and artist, a freelance creative writing tutor and academic director for creative writing for continuing education at the University of East Anglia, an editor for The Poetry Archive, editor of the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and co-organiser with Martin Figura of Café Writers in Norwich.

She has published four collections with Bloodaxe Books, The Double Life of Clocks (2002), The Dog in the Sky (2006), The Breakfast Machine (2010) and Waiting for Bluebeard (2013). She was awarded an Arts Council writer’s bursary in 2005 and in 2008 an Author’s Foundation Grant.

Her website is
Waiting for Bluebeard 
Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood, where seances are held, and a father drowns in oil beneath the skeleton of his car. When her childhood home coughs up birds in the parlour, the girl enters Bluebeard’s house paying the tariff of a single layer of skin. This is only the first stage of her disappearing, as she searches for a phantom child in a house where Bluebeard haunts the corridors like a sobbing wolf.”

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

“Helen Ivory creates a troubled yet beguiling world rich in irony and disquiet. She possesses a strongly-grounded narrative voice which, combined with her dextrous transformative takes both on reality and on what lies beyond reality’s surface, puts one in mind of the darker side of Stevie Smith who said that poetry ‘is a strong explosion in the sky’.”

– Penelope Shuttle
“A direct approach, via deep folklore and dream imagery, to the conundrum of being a woman … in keeping with what I think we mean when we say ‘women’s writing’. This book is mischievously dark, rich with anti-logic and harnessed to the power of something we used to call magic.”

– Katy Evans-Bush
“She is a visually precise poet, with the gift of creating stunning images with an economy of means … Ivory has established an eerily engaging style. Her poems are like mobiles suspended on invisible threads, charming to watch as they seem to spin by themselves in the air, but capable of administering more than a paper cut on the sensibility of the reader.”

– James Sutherland-Smith

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

When I started writing the poems based on part real, part imagined events in my childhood that make up the first part of the book, I had no idea I was going to go on to write about my experience of living in an abusive relationship which forms the second part of the book. But in retrospect this makes good narrative sense. ‘Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house’. When you find yourself in an abusive relationship, it makes you question who you are. How did I end up there? I’m not that type of person, surely – a victim? An abusive relationship happens so invidiously, even the abuser probably doesn’t notice what has happened. Here I am, perhaps, being charitable.

So, the poems have at their heart autobiography – and form a narrative. When I was writing the childhood poems, there were many specific events I wanted to write about. There are those events from which you remember a detail and then try to construct a narrative as to what might have happened around it. It’s the same with photographs – our brain tells us stories as it tries to make sense for us. I was also attempting to get at a more powerful truth – a metaphorical truth to show what parts of my life have felt like.

There are more poems about my father than my mother in this collection. I think it’s because he was quite a shadowy figure, so I tried to create him in words.
My father was a shadow
who stood at the school gates
fresh from the factory
where he’d pieced cars together all night.

His old-fashioned clothes
were oil-stained and solder-burnt,
and his face wore the aspect
of moonless dark.

One winter, the north wind
pushed me right through him.
It was like losing your way
in the hills, in the rain.
I barely knew him, even though he lived with us. There was a deep feeling of sadness about him and he was incapable of expressing himself. This poem tries to draw him in his natural setting and to show how it felt to be his daughter.

Then there are poems that try to say how it felt to live in a house where your parents have an unhappy marriage that eventually dissipates.
The Inside-out House
The house turned inside out,
innards tumbled onto the grass;
trees watching
with the quick eyes of birds.

One has laid eggs
in the body of her parents’ bed
and is breaking them open
with a pin sharp beak.

It eats the yolk,
leaves the albumen
to dribble down
through the rusty springs.
I was thinking of the house like a doll’s house or maybe a garage sale, where everything is exposed. I think the bird is engaged in some kind of anti-nesting behaviour! This wasn’t a conscious metaphor, it just felt right as an image.

There are family deaths in the first part of the book – indeed, it is dedicated to the memory of my grandmothers, both of my mother’s sisters and my cousin Emma who was a couple of years younger than me and died of cancer at 22. This represents the way that home seemed to fall away from me as I was growing up. I didn’t intend to write such a personal book; it’s only when I think about it in prose that I realise just how personal it is. However, the poems kept coming and I began to think in terms of how I might shape them as a book. That’s when I decided to animate the world and the house in which the child/me lived. Poems like ‘What the Bed Said’, and ‘What the Stars Said’, which are peppered through the childhood poems, making the environment a threatening and dispassionate place.
What the House Said
When the sky feeds me birds,
I cough them up
in the middle of your parlour games.

When you examine them
you’ll see even the most vivid
burnt crow-black.

I do not have to pretend to like you,
we have signed no contract
yet you line my insides with your lives.

© Image by Martin Figura

© Image by Martin Figura

Then one day I just stopped writing the childhood poems and began to write about a character called Bluebeard. This was a coded way of thinking about somebody who I lived with for over a decade.  Marina Warner writes “Bluebeard is a bogey who fascinates: his name stirs associations with sex, virility, male readiness and desire”. And Bruno Bettelheim writes: “Bluebeard is the most monstrous and beastly of all fairy-tale husbands”. The story is essentially about a man who murders his wives when they become too curious: Here is the key to all of the rooms in my castle. I am just going away for a little while. Use the key to explore any room you want to, but I forbid you to open THAT door. Her brothers rescue the woman the story centres on, in the nick of time, so she doesn’t befall the same fate as her predecessors. The story most people are familiar with is a ‘literary fairy tale’ written by in 1697 by Perrault but in a chapter entitled ‘Demon Lovers’, in From the Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner traces Bluebeard’s ancestors back to the oral tradition of beastly bridegrooms. She points out that in earlier versions of the story, there was no mention of female curiosity, which was the ‘moral’ added later – Bluebeard was simply a wife-murderer. So when it came to finding the perfect man who would use his maleness to subjugate my female protagonist, the Bluebeard character muscled his way into my mind.

The poem ‘Waiting for Bluebeard’ came first, which is part memory, but was also intended to signal foreboding, which in retrospect I did feel standing outside his house for the first time.
Waiting for Bluebeard
The child in the garden wears a coat
collaged from the skins of paper,
sutured with lengths of my hair.
I am inside the house
in a matching coat.

There is no one to tell us not to;
called here, as we were
by the halloo of peacocks
who turned tail
the day we arrived.

We are waiting for Bluebeard,
and when he happens here
in his grey-silver car,
he will unleash wolves
like rain.
This is the last time, for a while, that the narrative ‘I’ is used as the ‘I’ becomes a ‘she’ and the woman moves further away from herself. There is a sequence of poems called ‘The Disappearing’, which forms the backbone of the second part of the book. Although nobody literally dies in Bluebeard’s house, the woman dies a tiny part at a time. As I mentioned earlier, an abusive relationship develops so invidiously – the abuser slowly gains control over the abused by keeping them remote, not allowing them friends nor financial independence. This is the first stage of her disappearing, in which the woman goes through a painful initiation into adulthood.
from The Disappearing
The tariff for crossing the threshold
was a single layer of skin.

She imagined a snake
unzipping itself in one deft move.

She imagined herself lithe
inside the house, her new home.

She didn’t imagine the scarring
nor the painstaking care required

to leave the ghost of herself
on the doorstep like a cold-caller.
Half way through writing these poems, I was a little concerned that Bluebeard was just becoming a big bad bully, so I wanted to write some poems that showed him as a vulnerable person, and to present some of his backstory.
Bluebeard the Chef
You coax the rabbit from its skin,
cradle the bruised flesh ripped with shot.
A deft incision and soon the tiny heart
is in your hand, its stillness
opens up a dark hole in the sky for you.

You climb inside
and all the stars are dying eyes
fixed into you like pins.
So you slice each optic nerve
and disappear.

The knife completes your hand
with such sweet eloquence
you part recall its amputation
when you were wordless
in your father’s house.
In retrospect, this poem touches on a similar relationship with his father as one I wrote about my father and his father.
My Father’s Accident
By then he had stopped painting us
so I picked up his book,
turned it upside-down
and filled up the last pages.

I couldn’t see the absence of floor,
the way the furniture floated on rafts
in a sea of lava,
so I painted in carpet round his chair.

Nor could I see his dead father
beating his stick like a metronome
against the ceiling,
nor the broken bones of his dog.

What I did see was the sketch of a man,
head held together with spiders’ legs
and the smell of the hospital
still trapped in his clothes.
I won’t go too deeply into analysis here, but there does appear to be a pattern emerging! Silent, controlling men who have as their hearts deep wells of sorrow. The poem I have chosen to end the book with conflates the two men in perhaps a disturbing way, but seemed to me to be the most logical way to end the book. It’s based on the Donkeyskin story, which is essentially one of incest, and I should state that there was no incest in my family.
My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.
I always say that we write poems to understand things about ourselves and to explore how we feel about inexpressible things.  Poems come from the same place that dreams do – the unconscious – and when we start delving into the unconscious we are perhaps surprised by what we haul out. If I set out to write Waiting for Bluebeard, I couldn’t have done it.  The poems came to me when they were ready, and when I was ready for them. Writing the poems did not feel exposing, and neither have I felt exposed when reading them at events these past few years. Now the book is out, it does feel a bit that people might be able to see my bones, and writing this piece most certainly does! But I have put the work out there because I must and I have dedicated the book to all of the women who have lived or are living in an abusive relationship, and have spent time inside Bluebeard’s house.
Order Waiting for Bluebeard (Bloodaxe Books, 2013).

Visit Helen’s website.

Visit Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Helen reads nine poems here.

View Helen’s artwork.

Helen on writing the visual for the StAnza blog.



Andrew Taylor’s Radio Mast Horizon

Radio Mast Horizon 
Andrew Taylor lives in Liverpool. He is a founder member of the Edge Hill University Poetry and Poetics Research Group, and his work has appeared in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: Manifestos and Unmanifestos (Salt, 2009) and Otoliths. He is co-editor of erbacce and erbacce-press. As poet-in-residence at Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust he undertook a residency at Liverpool Cathedral where poems and poetics were gathered in the pamphlet Cathedral Poems. He completed a PhD in poetry and poetics in 2008 and teaches English and Creative Writing at Edge Hill University and Nottingham Trent University. Radio Mast Horizon is published by Shearsman Books.
“This collection, the author’s first full-length book, gathers poems written over the past decade. The poems, some gathered from previous pamphlets, are concerned with place, love, identity and mortality. Nature is never far away and neither are the watchful eyes of the cities of Liverpool and New York, their tidal rivers and connections.”
Radio Mast Horizon travels well. Read it on the train, in a hotel room, at the bus stop sheltering from the rain. Andrew Taylor’s absorbing, tender poems see clearly. By turns playful and moving, tender and taut, they make absence tangible. A generous collection that still leaves you, in the best sense, hungry for more.”

– Cliff Yates
“Andrew Taylor is a poet who engages with the world — in all its affects and aspects — and says what he sees with both compassion and wry wit. These poems have a linguistic clarity and invention and observational flair which open us, his readers, into a series of vital encounters with the here and now. Taylor shows us where we live too.”

– Patricia Farrell
“With a voice fresh and responsive, these poems’ chiselled lyricism is firmly located in terms of time and space (and often place). They speak to us from those locations, about love, about absence, about abundance. Their moods shift from the elegiac to the ecstatic and we move with them as we read. Everything is in them, it seems. Including us. At last Taylor’s impressive oeuvre is amassed for the audience it deserves: that’s us too.”

– Robert Sheppard
She Strokes Bees
She strokes bees they must know
of course we do angel mark
faded in sunshine beyond the fringe

shaded face beneath cap follow
the flight of butterflies as they seek
buddleia growing on wasteland

“What colour are the flowers?”
“No, what colour are the flowers?”

A keen eye spotting planes dots to me

On the telephone mast starlings gather
are they being fried slowly
or is it convenient parking?

It gets better every time we meet
Small Poem
If I turn left to St Pancras
          you’ll be at the Champagne bar
under the gaze of Betjeman
while I drink cans of bitter
reading O’Hara
the room too large for me

breakfast can’t come quickly enough
and time for tea before onward journeys
Three Hearts
They’re clearing the snow from
streets that I walked in another
lifetime I see a shaft of
sun highlight a particular point

where a young tree stands marks
the spot I want to revisit these
streets hand held in shared pockets
away from the histories of home

to travel share in the creation
of the new matched possibilities
a time for combined healing
and re-birth of the ordinary

It’s all about coming to terms
with life and love
Poetry and Skin Cream
When the fog lifts and you walk away
I hope that you’ll glance over your shoulder
and wave from the built up distance

December foxes and urban fireflies
the cold comfort of a hiding place.

How the season comforts enables
sleep to be disturbed by machines
as frost filters through the night sky
the process needs assessment
the liquid is dark green
          smells of eucalyptus

a need to be healed

take all the precautions necessary
bathe in lavender foam
reading and trying to unwind

and avoid dreaming of a past
involving ocean views
          at Half Moon Bay
city vistas from the 86th floor
coffee from Peet’s
          doughnuts from Krispy Kreme

a time when the future was bright

heat surrounds as pages turn
offering a glimpse into
          the other side of the American Dream

I think about writing
through the difficulty

epically moving this soundtrack
Like Geese Calling in the Night
They are out there
          our shining hours await
the softest kisses
          as garden constellations

Yellowing lime tree
          leaves a rooted bond
an apple left on a desk
          rots after six months
from Radio Mast Horizon (Shearsman Books, 2013).

Order Radio Mast Horizon.

Visit Andrew’s website.

Visit erbacce-press.

Antony Rowland’s I am a Magenta Stick

I am a Magenta Stick 
Antony Rowland was born in Bradford in 1970. Since studying at Hull and Leeds he has taught literature and creative writing at The University of Salford. He has published poems in various journals and magazines, including Critical Quarterly, Stand and P.N. Review. A selection of his work appeared in New Poetries III (Carcanet, 2002). He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2000, and a Learning Northwest Award in 2001.
“Staring at 8MM bar in Berlin, this collection wonders what it’s like to spend your entire life on the M62. Playful, risqué and plain funny, these poems always tackle the important questions. Where does beer come from? Why was Shakespeare fond of gravy? What does it mean where Bedfordshire produces a sweet and sour pasty? Can a smile kill? During the Bradford section of the motorway, the book encounters Titus Salt and enquires about his snooker table. Mark E Smith discusses the Manchester smog and moshes with Allen Ginsberg. Children come and go, wishing for shells, Liverpool and a ready supply of Scootin’ Bumbleberrys. And where is Widdop?”
“Throughout the collection, Rowland demands that we take nothing for granted and ensures that we visualise the world as the extraordinary place that he perceives it to be. It is this unique vision that brings a fresh vibrancy to Rowland’s work and explains why this consistently self-assured writer was recently awarded the Manchester Poetry Prize.”

– Judi Sutherland
The Yellow Villa
The garden flamingos unfold their pink, but
I still can’t get you out of my granite windowsill,
curtains that only face-cloth half the light
of Olomouc, Kozel pastures, where
from the top of this sad oblong
an evening plane is a moving star.
For sleep you have crumbs in your eye
and you make me spill the negotiation
of a hairpin bra in The Yellow Villa.
I always like a gold oratory
despite your crisp air-bag exploding
and fountaining: we’ve been growing holes
in ourselves all afternoon where the water
clings to the leaves falling on the oriel,
řijen, October, rutting, štika,
listopad, sour tart and ham-ribbed
the potent funge of hermelín. I
don’t know why the meatballs were cold.
They just were. And the beautiful monsters,
the giraffe women laugh grazily by the kašna.
An aeroplane is a bar, laddered.
Staré mĕsto squeezes with your Moravian arm
and the lime trees in Michalská,
which has a very high cherub count
unlike our recent afternoons, paku paku:
my ledvinky are battered with ghosts.
Would you like that with gherkins?
The plane morses the tree-lined dark.
The Unexpected Guest
Have never seen a spiral staircase in a room before:
would not know where to begin
and they should do something
about the pigeons. There was something sore

in the bathroom I couldn’t place.
Felt unsafe in the gym:
the doors were not pleasing;
suspect adjoining face

with wall penetration of heat.
I found a dirty sock in a broken bed:
I told reception and they looked at my head.
The shower was a daily feat:

I wear glasses; it got hot if you turned your back
in the wrong direction. Told
to use our newspaper as a fan to keep cold.
‘What do you wash your face with?’ I asked.

They said the big towel. The doors opened onto the bed:
I could not even take a photograph of it.
They didn’t serve us but they made us sit
and the breakfast – when it came – looked unhealthy and sad.

We found someone in our bathroom. That was weird.
The relaxation room was cold. The toaster
was trained by a parrot. No coasters
for the bell-captains. We found a beard

in our suitcase. There is only one phone
for use in the hotel, and it is a phone, it is also
locked in a private room. We had to go
into another cupboard. The toaster was alone

on the serving table and frustrated all the guests.
They should have mentioned
that it was under construction.
The gel was terrible. Ditto eggy bread.

The sweet at reception was coked.
Motor bikes roaring up and down.
The bartender was a clown.
Being a smoker I appreciated that I smoked.

Breakfast – waste of a cow. Floor too high.
I want fresh milk and English tea!
The kitchen was excellent, but empty.
If the room was a minibar it would be nice.

Milk – creamer. I slept with a wet carpet.
This may not be the hotel you are looking for
if you need service, facilities or storage.
We did not want these: the hotel was perfect.
Would a Smile Kill
I did not like the little biting animals in the carpet
and, overnight, the chocolate in my dressing gown
had been eaten by something. Now
there is wind in the room like a harp.

Elevator only runs from the basement to first floor.
I threw a twenty down for a drink:
‘You’re going to need more than that’’, winked
the bartender. The legs out of the bathroom door

were small. The view from the hotel is the hotel
at the other side and they should do
something about the cars driving through.
Whenever I open a tap, there’s a sink smell.

Staff came into the room in the middle of the night
to do a roll call. Noise spreads with snore
and people watched me from the corridor:
I couldn’t even stroke my shirt.

We had no choice but to dismantle the duvet:
please, I am not noise retardant you know.
The stairs are too abstract. We found a cockroach
but the staff came and took it away.

The sound proof was so good I had trouble thinking.
I saw a wall and I couldn’t open it.
Would a smile kill ya? Asked for a blanket
to drape over the painting. The spacing

and distribution of the furniture
was terrible and late afternoon was cooler
than we liked in the swimming pool.
My kids also thought the floor would be better.

A large party of schoolchildren emptied the bar
every morning. Woke every time
the hotel went by to slide
the receipt under my door. Crazy car

parade held in the night. Sometimes just one side
of the building was working. The chair was cane
at the hotel entry: it had a strong fragrance
that annoyed both my wife and myself.

Be careful when you wake up from the bed.
Someone else came into the shared bath. Body bars,
the whole place is rocked down with whores,
if you come to my country you don’t expect

to speak Greek. We had to share the elevator.
You couldn’t close the door unless you were locked in
and it was hard to look at things
because the concierge wasn’t always there.

Twice we were charged the price of living
and disadvantages were the FBI,
swat teams, large guns, remote-controlled eyes,
but the English soaps made up for everything.
The Mind Resort
The white colours of the bulbs were disturbing,
the panoramic windows had a noose and you
shouldn’t allow relatives into the room
I don’t know: you didn’t mention this in the terms

and conditions. When I went to book a spa,
they asked me to have an operation, and the pool
was small for an infinity pool and two
rats joined us in the pool; even birds use water.

I was stopped by the unlimited buffet
experience. We asked for an iron
and they brought us sliced onions;
the porter also didn’t leave our room all day.

There were some adult bears very close to the hotel
and I found a gentleman outside my door
taking photographs of an empty corridor –
bear in mind Mumbai. The smell

when we burned some wood perfume was bad.
There were two elevators at the end of our room,
a lightbulb hurt my eye and when you placed two
pillows together, it became too high for the head.

The cleaning staff were hanging in the corridors.
Servis a little horror: Wi-Fi only in a coffee,
the hotel was in a restaurant in the lobby,
and they charged an extra basis for a morning call.

Why has the kitchenette got a glass pane
that allows the west sun to enter?
The room was a gas chamber.
The air con cons: the fan the AC just facing

our faces sucks! My small pillow could smell:
minor sewer gas came out of a sink.
The paint was sniffable. The welcome drink –
an insult. The desk said we were mental

because we didn’t understand: I said
we didn’t like the non-functional encroached
footpaths. We placed some cockroaches
on the desk, the fridge smelt like death,

the receptionist is always mad
and the prostitution is so loud and clear,
someone attempted to steal my beer,
and all the hotel staff are a little bit slag.

In the bathtub, the previous occupant was floating.
The basement disco climax should be free,
the expresso machine brewed us something green;
even the room was badly smiling.

Misery – one word. A ghostly experience occurs
in the bathroom: we didn’t have enough selves
for our clothes; I had to use clothes
to protect myself against external eyes.

I can’t remember anything I missed;
simply, the hotel did not exist
and if you want a hotel close to
creepy interactions, this the hotel for you.
I am a Magenta Stick
A spell in your index finger,
logged as dialect for splinter,
precious as the autumn spinners,

finally scooped as East End slang
hairing north after Whitechapel banns
with Yorkshire Cockneys, the family,
hexed by natives, my moving kin,
with a one-word spell under new skin,
woodening our identities.
Spell – to spell – spell it out, wrong
since it’s northern too, not nawped
from our Stepney tongues long

before smudge faces caught in Holborn days
where cream hokey-pokey men frame
the five-inch gauge, Shoreditch railway;

not lost in Southwark mystery, or lead
to the path of our Elijah Rowland, wed
among St Giles’s daisies and untidy dead.
And I am a magenta stick
in my child’s nursery picture,
schooled in the family’s width

and margin, barely discernible
head round a pint of whelk,
whisper to your mum’s sleek

and wigged care, Bette eyelash notes,
splintered felt, sending me in dots
upstairs, home to the cloud pots.
The Ladies’ Companion

“[I]n all the several Ages of the world it hath been the confirmed Privilege of the Fair Sex, to use all the lawful and ingenious Endeavours to get the Love and Admiration of Mankind”
(T.B., The Ladies’ Companion (1704))
Clean your Paint with the Juice of distilled Raspberries
& Asses-milk, or the Water found in a kind of Bag
on the Leaves of the Elm-tree. The pressed Water of Radishes
is also good. For Make-up, graze your Cheeks with the Blood
of Paradise, Cubebs, Clove Raspings and Golden-rod
infused with Brandy over an open Fire (my Fire). Do not ignore
your Prints of the Small-pox: choke them with Bulls-gall
crusted in the Sun, effused with White-spirit and Venice-Talk
bled into a subtile Powder. For Ringworm – if I may – the Liquor
that drops out of green Wood burning on a Chestnut Fire.

Do not lose your Beauty for want of my Attendance:
use Milk-warm Water to wash & wear an oily sort of Mask
& Gloves at Night for plump & soft Hands, your Hands
chafing the Sleeves of This, our homely yellow Tome.
We say it alone: for Sun-block, Mucilage of Fleaworts,
Quince Seeds & Sheep’s Suet; Florence Orrice and Venice Borax
for Night-paint, or the Gall of an Ox digested in powdered Glass
& two Gutted Pidgeons with Sugar Candy. Marrow of Hogs
or Calves’ Feet for Spots. For Redness, a pint of sweet Cream
boiled in Oak-tree Moss. Believe This, and You will Believe.

My Beauty, our Guests do not want see your Cerate
of Sperma Ceti & you have left your Bear’s Grease
on the Settee just to annoy me. Remember, the Ashes
of a Mouse will milk out your Hair, but then decease
or it will white like a Rose. I suppose the distilled Water
of Man’s dung might be effectual against your bleeding Gums;
if not, macerate your tender Head with white Wine or the Tendrils
of a Vine, Lye of Tartar, Blood of a Mole & Decoction of Thyme.
And if by Fancy you would have blanched Locks,
live until eighty: it is odd, but you shall have your Shock.
from I am a Magenta Stick (Salt Publishing, 2012).

Order I am a Magenta Stick.

Judi Sutherland reviews I am a Magenta Stick.

Tony Williams reviews I am a Magenta Stick.

Roy Marshall reviews I am a Magenta Stick.

Read more about Antony at The Poetry Archive.

Celebrating Keats, 24 May – 2 June

Keats House

Keats House

Poets and cultural organisations from Mexico, Armenia, Ethiopia, Iran, Australia and USA are among those taking part in the ‘biggest and best yet’ Keats Festival at the poet’s house in Hampstead to celebrate his legacy.
Organisers of the annual event – now in its fourth year – say they are hoping to attract record numbers of visitors to Keats House during the Festival’s two-week run from Friday 24 May to Sunday 2 June. This year’s theme is ‘Health is my expected heaven’: The body and the imagination.
Around 40 events are being organised, including poetry readings by established poets and emerging talent; musical performances; jewellery workshops; talks; family activities, and creative writing workshops, hosted by leading poets and fiction writers.
Highlights include:
Patricia McCarthy and Jane Draycott, the winner and runner-up respectively of the National Poetry Competition,  reading their prize-winning work;
events by, and for, young people, including the Foyle Young Poets workshop and an ‘open mic’ session organised by the Keats Youth Poets Forum;
Cherrell Avery, the calligrapher on Jane Campion’s Bright Star, will run an introductory calligraphy workshop for adults, and
the return – by popular demand – of George, the mechanical dragon.
This year’s Keats Festival will also mark the beginning of a new poet-in-residence at the House. Jo Shapcott, whose best-known work includes Her Book, Tender Taxes and Of Mutability, for which she won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2011, takes over the residency from John Hegley.
Vicky Carroll, Principal Curator at Keats House, said:
“Keats Festival is going from strength to strength, and we are building on the popularity of the first three events to deliver the biggest and best Festival yet. It will be a joyous – and truly international – celebration of Keats’ legacy for people of all ages, and I am delighted that, as well as attracting participants from around the globe, we are using the event to welcome Jo Shapcott to Keats House.  Jo is at the top of her game and she is excited at being part of the Festival and, as we go forward, to working with us to inspire poetry lovers and budding writers to celebrate Keats’ talent, as well as develop and nurture their own.”
Some events are free and there is a small admission charge for others.
All events at the Keats Festival must be booked in advance by calling 020 7332 3868,
or email

For more information about Keats House,

George, 'the mechanical dragon', at Keats House

George, ‘the mechanical dragon’, at Keats House

Keats Festival 2013 programme
Friday 24 May
Poetry Appreciation Group

Led by Ken Page of the Keats House team, the group meets regularly at Keats House to read and discuss works by established poets. In keeping with the theme of the festival, this week’s theme is Bodies.
Disabled Genius: Alexander Pope – Poet, Satirist, Scourge
and Wit

Join Colin Pinney to discover the life of ‘The Little Nightingale’, as Sir Joshua Reynolds called him, from his childhood in Windsor Forest to the coffee houses of eighteenth-century London – the age of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and John Gay’s Beggars’ Opera.
Keats, Cobbett and Cottage Gardens –
Fine Words Buttering Parsnips

Caroline Holmes
Keats’s poetry timelessly evokes the fecund beauty of cottage gardens. Cobbett’s political rant ‘Cottage Economy’ decries potatoes and tea whilst praising maize and homebrew. Caroline Holmes explores both in a talk which will culminate amongst the blossoms and borders of Keats House garden. A Chelsea Fringe event.
The Poetry Parnassus Postscript: Crossing Continents
A myriad of global voices – from the Performance poetry of Mexico’s Rocío Cerón to the Caribbean-inflected, UK-influenced work of Malika Booker and Karen McCarthy-Woolf; from the British-Iranian sensibilities of Mimi Khalvati to the poetry of Antipodean writer Cath Drake, via the lyrical works of Armenia’s Poet Laureate, Razmik Davoyan. A night of continental shifts through the power of the word. In association with Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions. 
Saturday 25 May
Explore writing using all the senses, especially smell, with Cherry Potts, short story writer, novelist and owner of Arachne Press. If you have a scent that means a lot to you, bring it with you! For fiction writers and poets with all levels of experience.
Lovers’ Lies, and Weird Lies
Focusing (loosely!) on Keats’ involvement with science, medicine and nature, Arachne Press brings you stories of the Garden of Eden, conversations with tadpoles, a meeting of minds across disciplines and love, repression and an old-fashioned approach to doctoring. Writings by Tania Hershman, Cherry Potts, Bobbie Darbyshire and Tom McKay.
The Lyric Self
Find and channel your lyric self with Dante Micheaux. The lyric poem is a text of emotion and thought, expressed directly from the poet to the reader. Participants will compare examples of Anglophone lyric poetry and create a poem of their own.
Chinese Calligraphy
Free, drop-in
Family friendly
Try your hand at the art of Chinese calligraphy with Jing He. This drop-in workshop is suitable for adults and families. No booking necessary – just come along and enjoy.
House History
Nick Barratt, genealogical consultant for Who Do You Think You Are?, will lead a practical workshop showing how to trace the history of a property, from first steps to detailed archival research covering maps, land surveys, occupancy records, manorial documents and associated historic sources.
Shelley, Byron and the Allegra Story
Susan Brandt’s docu-play is about the love-affair of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont (Mary Shelley’s step-sister), and their daughter, Allegra. In this dramatized Reading, Claire narrates the heart-rending story using the characters’ actual letters and journals, revealing Byron to be other than the lovable rogue we usually see.
Sunday 26 May
Words and Music: Playing Poetry
An afternoon of classic and contemporary poetry spoken, sung and harmonized with musical accompaniment. Presented by MA Music Theatre students of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in association with Spread the Word, an Arts Council funded charity supporting new writing in London, and the Keats House Poets.
The Ode
Join Foyle Young Poets, Flora de Falbe, David Carey, Sarah Fletcher and Alex Hartley to explore the timelessness and evolution of the ode form. Read authors as diverse as Catullus, Neruda and Keats, and create your own odes through a variety of writing exercises.
Foyle Young Poets
Reading & open mic
Workshop participants will read odes written during the afternoon’s workshop, to be followed by an open mic session. 
flamingofeather Poetry and Dance
Reading & performance
Reading by winners of the flamingofeather poetry competition and the judges, Mimi Khalvati and Peter Daniels. Plus Performance by 55+ Sage Dance Company, directed by former Royal Ballet soloist Simon Rice.
Monday 27 May
Keats in Hampstead
Guided walk
£8/£6 concessions
Follow the story of Keats’s life in this walk with readings from some of his best-loved poems. Starting at Hampstead tube, we will stroll through old Hampstead, visit the Vale of Health, dip into the Heath and finish at Keats House. Please wear comfortable shoes.
All the Fish in the Sea
Family friendly
Create sparkling foil fish with artist Jennifer Conroy and frame them in a beautiful seascape to take home. Suitable for families with children aged four and upwards.
Jewellery Masterclass
£7, includes materials
Create your own exquisite, hand-crafted jewellery from recycled paper with artist Jennifer Conroy using a range of innovative cutting, folding and origami techniques. For adults, including beginners.
Tuesday 28 May
Drama Fun for Families
10.30am-1.30pm and 2-5pm
Family friendly
The Bunbury Banter Theatre Company will be running two audio drama workshops for families. Working on two different Keats poems, we will make discoveries, have fun and leave with lots of interesting recorded audio material, which afterwards will be edited and put on the web for the world to hear.
Anonymity & the Prizewinning Poem
Patricia McCarthy, Jane Draycott and Pascale Petit are top winners in this year’s National Poetry Competition, chosen from over 13,000 anonymous entries. They read together here for the first time, and discuss the liberations of anonymity, exploring how poems can escape their authors. Presented by the Poetry Society.
Wednesday 29 May
Volunteering at Keats House
Drop-in info session
Join us for a cup of tea and find out how you could meet new people and learn new skills by volunteering at Keats House. This drop-in info session is open to anyone aged 18 or over; no previous experience is required. No booking necessary. 
Introduction to Calligraphy
£7, includes materials
Explore the beautiful art of calligraphy using quills, nibs and pens with Cherrell Avery, calligrapher on the film Bright Star. Learn the beauty of the written word and discover how lettering styles are used to convey the emotion of the words to great effect. For adult beginners.
The Poet Next Door
Prize-winning biographer Lyndall Gordon will talk about the explosive and visionary character of Emily Dickinson, the poems she shared with her confidante next door, and the medical secret that kept her secluded in her father’s house. Presented by the Poetry Society.
Thursday 30 May
Feltmaking Demonstration
Drop-in demonstration
Discover the beautiful tradition of feltmaking. During this demonstration felt artist, Avigail Ochert will show you how to transform merino fleece into beautiful artwork using nothing more than soap, water and elbow grease. No booking necessary.
Felt Workshop
Family friendly
Come and make a unique and beautiful hand felted bag. During this workshop you will learn how to draw with wool and create a beautiful felted bag which you can take away with you. This workshop is suitable for children aged five plus with parents or carers supporting their children.
Creative Writing – Between the Lines
In a session aimed at the curiously minded, you will be gently encouraged to leave your comfort zone and explore writing a story from multiple points of view using forms such as poetry and letter writing. For beginners upwards. With Anjan Saha, Visiting Writer at Keats House 2012.

International Voices with Parnussus Poets & Guests
In 2012 Poetry Parnassus gathered poets from every Olympic nation to read at the Southbank. In 2013 some of the Parnussus Poets will be reunited alongside British counterparts to present the history of the world through their stories and “found” poetry. There will be live calligraphy and music to make for a truly sumptuous event. Hosted by Anjan Saha. Countries represented to include St. Kitts, Bermuda, Grenada, India and the UK. Curated by London Literature Lounge. 
Friday 31 May
Illustrating the Immortal Bird
£10, includes materials
Join artist Maggie Nightingale for a fun, immersive, experience focusing on Keats’s famous ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, written under a tree here at Keats House. The group will explore the grounds, consider how poets have represented their work visually, and contribute to mixed-media illustration to Keats’s poem. Adults at all levels welcome.
Getting Started in Life Writing
Everyone has a unique voice and experience. Join Andrea Watts in an afternoon of exercises to get your memory and writing muscles working. This course is ideal for beginners looking for fun, practical skills and inspiration to keep writing.
The Day the Grass Came – and Unmade Roads
Muswell Press poets Leo Aylen and Alan Franks honour Keats through their recent collections. Aylen performs his acclaimed theatrical poetry, with scenes from Brixton tube station to Vesuvius erupting, whilst  Times columnist Franks ‘A modern day Sydney Carter’ delivers ‘poetry of great musicality’ (Jo Shapcott).
Saturday 1 June
‘The Silent Mysteries of Earth’
Join Rommi Smith for an outdoor creative writing workshop. Together, we’ll take morning tea in the garden, tuning into Keats’ House’s beautiful garden space, as both muse and inspiration. We’ll explore the magic of seeing things from different perspectives and techniques for imbuing the everyday with the extraordinary.
Volunteering at Keats House
Drop-in info session
Join us for a cup of tea and find out how you could meet new people and learn new skills by volunteering at Keats House. This drop-in info session is open to anyone aged 18 or over; no previous experience is required. No booking necessary. 
Wild Writing
Cath Drake invites poetry and prose writers of all levels to stretch beyond the predictable, re-invent the ordinary, sneak into the surreal, flirt with freefall and have fun taking your writing to unexpected places. Put aside the editor and critic and let your creativity fly.  
Discover the joys of collaboration as Cath Drake hosts poets Kayo Chingonyi, Jocelyn Page, Saradha Soobrayen and Jacqueline Saphra. Some are part of online collaborative group, The Vineyard; others meet regularly, mentored by Mimi Khalvati.
Sunday 2 June
George the Dragon
Family friendly
George is a giant mechanical dragon. Rarely rolled out due to his great age and cantankerous nature, this marvel of grime and grease is a hand cranked mechanical wonder. Keith Moore invites the fearless and curious to step forward, turn the handles and bring George to life. Drop-in, no booking necessary.
Keats Youth Poets Forum
Reading & open mic
The Keats House Poets are back for another chilled-out afternoon of poetry and spoken word. Open mic, plus performances from headliner Anthony Anaxagorou, with Raymond Antrobus, Simon Mole, Deanna Rodger, Dean Atta, Laila Sumpton, Sonority Turner and Kaamil Ahmed. Arrive early to grab an open mic slot.
Regency musicians Frank Underwood and Angela Mayorga play romantic guitar and other stringed instruments of the period and Gillian Tunley supplies vocals and regency percussion, all in the costume of Jane Austen’s day. Suitable for all ages.
Strange Tracks
Celebrate the changing face of Modern Poetry in Translation with Chris Beckett, poet and translator of Ethopian poetry, Frances Leviston, whose first collection Public Dream was shortlisted for the TS Elliot Prize, and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, poet and translator from Chinese.
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Tree
Join us to celebrate the launch of the 2012 Keats Anthology. John Hegley and anthology poets will read work written in 2012 during the festival and other workshops during John’s residency.
Booking information
Free and paid events must all be booked in advance unless otherwise stated.
Phone 020 7332 3868 or email
If you book a space and then can’t come, please let the festival organisers know so they can offer the place to somebody else.
Keats Foundation members receive £2 off each event. Membership costs from £25.
Keats House is situated at Keats Grove, Hampstead,
London, NW3 2RR. 

Keats' letter to Mrs Brawne, The Keats Collection

Keats’ letter to Mrs Brawne, The Keats Collection

Alvin Pang’s When the Barbarians Arrive

Alvin Pang
Born in 1972, Alvin Pang was Singapore’s Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2005, and received the Singapore Youth Award for Arts and Culture in 2007. He is a Board Member of the University of Canberra’s International Poetry Studies Institute, and of the peer-reviewed journal Axon: Creative Explorations. A poet, writer, editor, and translator with work translated into over fifteen languages, he has appeared in major festivals and publications worldwide. His recent publications include Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore (Autumn Hill, 2009), Other Things and Other Poems (Brutal, Croatia, 2012) and Waiting for the Barbarians (Arc Publications, 2012).
Alvin Pang2 
“This is a new and selected works, with some poems taken from Alvin Pang’s previous three collections. The selection ranges from unsentimental love poems to sharply satirical writing; here are poems that are wry and shrewd, intelligent and sensitive. They mock, celebrate and unsettle, are generous and beautiful, full of paradoxes, logic and illogicality, and are at once recognisably national and international in reach, offering a fresh edgy energy to the wave of urban poetry emerging from Singapore.”
When the Barbarians Arrive 
Shades of Light in Holland Village
Say you just got a raise. The last good kiss
you’ll remember for life is waiting to happen,
but you come here – Friday night, Saturday night –
the mock Latino bars that didn’t last, bars that did,
cafes and coffee-shops that keep up.
The magazine stall on the corner must have turned thirty,
the proprietors still furtively fingering
glossy foreign magazines like contraband.

What they’re really selling now
is ease. People come for love of mess, looking for a stab
of feeling, the suddenness of pain, any kind of intoxication.
Well-kept bodies who leave each year
more regretful than the last. Running from silence
into noise. Even the rooftop Balinese illusion of Café 211,
four storeys above ground, can’t hide their boredom.

Isn’t this the life? That languorous drowning of the senses?
Isn’t this defeat so subtle, our bohemian afterlife,
token as a piece of heaven, resounding in seclusion,
all the world will let you have
until the hunger you came from
dies from inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man on the void deck,
already forty when these streets were laid, still laughs
although his legs have jumped ship. Some night soon,
he says, I’ll turn off the lights in my room
and never see the sun again. You tell him no
in your head. The taxi that brought you here
is still out there, running for what it’s worth
to hunt down the kind of money
you can’t even buy lunch with; your fatigue
and unclaimed grief mark the air with sighs
disguised as breathing, and it will kill you one day
no matter what you do.
               So the struggle now is with the stiff
bolt on your front door, the stubborn wilting
of your balcony ferns, the straining of your neck
to catch one glimpse of the woman who loves you
in the best possible light.
Poem for an Engineer
This poem has no intention of changing the world
or even moving it one iota. For that you need
a more exact science: aeronautics, civil engineering.
You need plenty of expertise, money, management,
countless nights redrafting plans in the lonely grove
of your cubicle. While you calculate angles, calibrate
cross-shafts and supporting structures, your wife
has fallen away into sleep, your dog beguiled
by the slow wheeling of the moon on its careless axis.
This is serious work. What do poems know about
the imperatives of balance and stress, the calculus
of load-bearing metres? This one spent its childhood
dissecting sonnets, as you grazed, in the class
next door, on vast plains of lines and numbers.
While you struggled with compass and slide rule,
it was dividing dactyls from iambs, dreaming up
wild rivers, airborne castles, towers kissing sky.

Not for you, whose shoulder is to the hard stone
of this life, whose idea of sleep is one long dull
ache in the back of the neck you cannot reach.
But you are almost done. You check the figures
one last time, as the poem watches, innumerate
and invisible. Finishing for the night, gifting
schematics to the unmagical gloom; straight
lines on paper that will one day become a bridge,
a skyscraper, a lighter-than-air miracle.
Incendium Amoris
Burning incense could cause cancer according to a scientific study conducted by researchers from Taiwan, who found high levels of carcinogens in the smoke of incense burned in Buddhist temples.”
               Associated Press (2 Aug 2001)
“I have groped my breast seeking whether this burning were from any bodily cause outwardly. But when I knew that it was only kindled inwardly from a ghostly cause, and that this burning was nought of fleshly love or concupiscence, in this I conceived it was the gift of my Maker.”
               Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love (14th C)
Now we know our prayers
are killing us. Offer incense, set flame
to sandalwood, give your soul
to the votive glow of oil lamp and candle;
all it summons is this secret bird of prey,
silence fluttering beneath the rib-cage.
So the slow burn towards divinity
begins from within, after all: ashes to ashes,
flesh expiring from smoke into grace.
Gather enough faith
and it could kill a city.
We sensed the bigger picture that day
on Jurong Island: refineries humming
like desert temples; land gathered and burnt
for one purpose only. On the horizon
smokestacks tower like Seventh Month joss,
under whose gaze even light wavers,
cowed into sunset. Second after second
the waste flares roar
their fierce syllable of
How often we fall to the naked gaze of fire,
trusting the blaze of fact, faith, desire
to light the way out from ourselves to wholeness.
As if salvation is earned by becoming less,
by feeding our dreams to the right combustion.
Does the soul hide in plasma? Is God a question?
The unsolved science of this calculable space,
whose name resides in the geometry of light?
Perhaps freedom gleams in answers which escape
us, eludes our sense of what could be. In which case
we are more than what a quantity of ash might
hold, and what we seem to lose, released from shape
only. Any day soon, we could stumble on paradise
in the embers of here and now, and what we sacrifice.
To Go to S’pore
After Zagajewski’s ‘To Go to Lvóv’
To go to S’pore. Which station
for S’pore, if not in a dream, at dusk, when rain
glistens on chrome. When Mass Rapid
Trains and Light Rail Trains are borne
to all corners. To leave in a hurry for S’pore,
night and day, in August or in May, but early,
but only if S’pore exists, if it is to be
found within the bounds
of this island and not just
in the colour of my passport, of my smart card;
if the smell of raintrees after thunderstorm,
of angsana, of frangipani, still lingers
like fresh smoke; if the canals brim
and grumble like epithets in Hokkien, vanish
beneath ground. To pack up and go, to leave
and never look back, at 5 p.m. to cease
like shop windows, while beneath the whirl
of fans in coffee shops, geckos chatter
their politics. But the office tower rises, straight
as the law, and everyone standing
in its shadow, and a mop and bucket leaning
on window glass, and our dream which hadn’t
come yet, only concrete, and litter-bins and the
rainbow pulse of new pubs set to music, the low
bass tremble of bumboats, rocking.
Always too much of S’pore, no one
could fathom the depths of its neighbourhoods,
walk the inside trails between each block and hear
the creak and hiss of each brick speaking, scalded
by sun, at night the city’s muteness, the dead
stillness in Shenton Way unlike that of temples
where monks keep silence full of unseen rivers.
In Liang Seah street history spilled
in unlit stairwells and on window louvres
swinging and shutting by themselves, in china
blue ceramic tiles, in flour, in the smell of eggs,
the form of feathers plastering the walls, in green
muck collecting in rusty pipes, fronds growing
where laundry once sprouted and the streets
played percussion and the air singed, the procession
of the devout sang like kings of the world
toward the temple gates. People in such frantic joy
they didn’t want to stay indoors. So much life
it burst and flooded every street, it cracked the sky in
thunder and fireworks, the new year lived over
and over. My granny as she stood at the window
calling for my father, dinner ready and
steaming in the evening light and neighbours
shouting from windows, watching out for
trouble and the next meal and nothing tentative
as hope. An uncle slaved himself blind
reading by candlelight, while my father was out
catching fireflies. The health inspector came
and my grandfather bought him a drink
and covered the cockroaches with his sole, and
got away with it. Even then
there was too much of S’pore, it overflowed
each drain, came down as rain, so much and yet
none; what was there spawned, grew, cut
into shape not without love and now the green
June springs from every square, verdant wigs
pulled over everything. Weeds, attap, kampong
and five-foot way fell away as the towers rose,
pushing out above the temples, people shuffled on,
handbags and wallets full of tomorrow,
and every estate growing into each other,
and everyone a leaseholder, and now in a hurry
to just go, and somewhere to come and go from,
S’pore tugged every which way,
S’pore clutched in the small palm of the sea,
becoming and flowing in like tears, tides, currents,
rivers run beneath the surface everywhere
from When the Barbarians Arrive (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order When the Barbarians Arrive.
Listen to a podcast at the Scottish Poetry Library where Ryan Van Winkle discusses language identity, Singapore literature and poetic practice with Alvin at the StAnza 2013 poetry festival.

Alvin writes about poetry in Singapore for The Poetry Society website.

S J Fowler interviews Alvin for Poetry Parnassus.

Order Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore.

Visit Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Softblow and Asymptote.

Gratitude blooms

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
– Albert Schweitzer
“Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers – silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.”
– Naomi Shihab Nye, from ‘Two Countries’
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

– Marcel Proust
“You can have the other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly but I’ll take it.”
– Mary Oliver
“Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.
Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.
Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets,
          katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.
Give praise with mockingbirds, day’s nightingales.
Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle
And glossy tulip trees
On quiet side streets in southern towns.”
– Anne Porter, from ‘A List of Praises’
“Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.”
– John Henry Jowett
“One regret dear world, that I am determined not to have when
I am lying on my deathbed is that I did not kiss you enough.”
– Hafiz of Persia
“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled –
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.”
– Mary Oliver, from ‘The Ponds’
“Praise the bridge that carried you over.”
– George Colman
“over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is”

– W S Merwin, from ‘Thanks’