Category Archives: books

Amy Key’s Luxe

© Image by Travis Elborough

© Image by Travis Elborough

Amy Key was born in Dover and grew up in Kent and the North East. She now lives and works in London. She co-edits the online journal Poems in Which. Her pamphlet Instead of Stars was published by Tall Lighthouse in 2009, and her first collection, Luxe, was recently published by Salt. Amy is currently editing a new anthology of poems on female friendship Best Friends Forever, due from the Emma Press in November.
Luxe (Salt Publishing, 2013) is a magnificent spree in a bric-a-brac shop. A haul of pre-loved and glittering objets – pralines in a crystal bowl, a handful of tame ladybirds, a portrait in vinyl and cola-cubes – are artfully displayed on the poems’ shelves to represent the conflicts and connections of a fabulous circle of friends and lovers, those real, remembered and imagined.”

“”Layer your pulse/ onto my pulse,” she writes in ‘Brand New Lover’. “Dress me.” Only the reader knows if this is an order, an instruction or the sweetest sort of invitation. Read a copy of Luxe, keep it next to your fainting couch.”

– Julia Bird
“This delicious selection is a chocolate-box assortment of the work of one of my favourite poets writing today. Her delicate, dextrous writing belies the raw truths she tells. There are many centres to her confections that only reveal themselves when you take a bite. In her words “Poem with peep toes … Poem to conceal some feelings in … Poem to avalanche in your heart”. I love Amy Key.”

– Lauren Laverne
“If we are living in the material world, I want Amy Key to be my material girl. She makes her pleats and flounces move; she crowds the surface with colour and texture right where it needs to be to draw the reader in like a bee to the velvet bell of the foxglove; or like the silverscreen beauty who eats bonbons from a satin box, she wills our gaze to take it all in and to crave more. These poems are worn on the body, and like all great ensembles, they show just enough; they are hot and memorable.”

– D.A. Powell

© Image by Martine Charalambou

© Image by Martine Charalambou

You Ought To Be In Pictures
In my depression the energy goes everywhere. It’s diffused. And where it’s intense it’s in very short bursts. Enough to scrub the bathroom or change the sheets. Enough to write a poem. My book is as though I pressed play and record each time I had a burst.

Last night I posted lines from my iPhone notes disguised as Twitter and Facebook status updates to see if any of them stuck.

I read someone else’s poetry for the first time and worry that my book will be perceived as being derivative of their book.

Someone asks “What is your poetry about?” I am embarrassed and say “me” but I mean “being a woman”, I think. But then I really mean “my experience of being a woman”. Later I wonder if what I really mean is “what I want my experience of being a woman to be, distress included”. I’d asked the poet Kate Kilalea to read my book and respond to it. She said:

“Aside from all their purely poetic elements, what strikes me most about Amy’s poems is the kind of idea of woman-ness which they work with. It feels like what is happening is a kind of valorisation – as oppose to eroticisation – of feminine vulnerability, which is different from what I’ve seen before.”

This was an important moment for me. An embracing of the woman-ness. After all I had the comment “I can see why girls like your poems” ringing in my ears.

My poetry is endless recalibration of experience.

My poetry is a way of mind-mapping my insecurities.

It’s all mood board.
I’m struck by what Steve Roggenbuck says in his essay ‘toward a more flowing culture’:

“i want to be your poet … i want to inspire you and talk to you. in many cases, I really want to be your friend.”

This idea of friendship compels me.

In my poems am I trying to communicate more effectively with people in my life or who might be in it. To say “Look! I know I come across ‘this’ way, but here is something else I want to share”. This being able to talk without my physical persona intruding is something I need. There are so many ways into the truth of a person.
Grey Gardens 
In the documentary Grey Gardens there is a scene where Little Edie performs to camera. She sings and dances to ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’. I find this scene very touching. Little Edie is a star, but she’s no longer the ingénue, about to be discovered. In singing it she’s saying to the crew “Look at me. I could have been someone” but also “Tell me I still could be someone”. It’s the “Tell me I could still be someone” that affects me. In my poem ‘On Typing Paper Stolen From Her Employers She Proceeds To Evolve A Campaign’ I get at this idea:

          Hopes should recede with age but this isn’t
          a right seeming present!


          My imagined future is a collapsed soufflé.

Never far away from dancing to ‘True Blue’ in the kitchen a grown-up’s face on. Never far from singing into the cassette. Singing into the dark. Hopeful someone will say what a nice voice you have. Never far away from maybe making it.
True Blue 
Just as Alabama, the main character in Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me The Waltz, in her hopeless pursuit of ‘making it’ as a ballet dancer feels that:

“[in] reaching her goal…in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self – that she would be able, through the medium of the dance, to command her emotions, to summon love or pity or happiness at will, having provided a channel through which they might flow”

I am my own delusional heroine. But I have to hope.
Save Me The Waltz 
I am also forcing people to look at me. In my poem ‘Emotional State Seen Through A Pale-Haired Fringe’ I am, chronologically speaking, at the beginning of a deep depression. Unable to speak about it to anyone, just quietly falling apart, I write the poem where even:

          […] the at-boil kettle maddens the bully
          of your memory, and no one there to see it blow.

Is it that I’m terrified of no one seeing me live? Is that the role poetry is playing?

I’ve often wondered if I write poetry because I’m scared of dying. I fear I’ve been negligent of my own fortune.

          Inside I fritter soft as cinders.
Where the Wild Things Are 
One of the recurring images in my poetry is of the lost child. The much loved children’s book Where The Wild Things Are was made into a film a few years ago and I became obsessed with it. And heartbroken by it, by the isolation of the boy and his imagination. I began to write a series of poems, inspired by the film and by the soundtrack to the film, written and performed by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The poems turned out as childhood memoir and in implicating my siblings I found I couldn’t finish them. One has made the book – Igloo – and in it I try to express the self-imposed, necessary isolation of the child:

          […] Instead of talk,
          we will have stronger thoughts.

This is both a resistance to talking – there are some things I cannot speak to the adults about but it is also a power I can have. The idea of having secrets that I can snap into being, like activating a glow stick appeals to me. The secret as super power and malevolent force.
I should really talk about love.

When I was in John Stammers’ group he asked me ‘what I wanted to be’. I told him I wanted to be ‘a great love poet’.

What I really meant was ‘I want to be loved’.

This was some years ago now. Truth is my experiences in and out of love haven’t been at all happy, but it seems to be all I can write about. Perhaps that’s the recalibration I mentioned earlier. A need to ‘right’ my love experience in poetry. In my poem ‘Your Year in Review’ I address myself:

          […] Your heart went rouge. Desire
          kept in a gold compact, fell loose of its casing. Powder
          went everywhere.

The sense that I make a mess of stuff can’t be escaped. But I lavish my attention on love less experienced, more felt. In absence of the grand, all-consuming Love Affair (in the presence of the paltry, ill-conceived ones) I act them out in poems. My nights pour into the absence of my One True Love. But I know:

          Even this crochet blanket won’t
          address the lack of requited laundry.

Really my ‘it would be better to be hurt than not have any love at all’ from my teenage diary is simply reworn as:

          […] rather a cupboard of cut-off ponytails than this! I want a life
          that warrants excessive exclamation!

I suspect all the poems are just an attempt to neutralise my self-image.

© Image by Rebecca Key

© Image by Rebecca Key

Brand New Lover
I’ve abandoned vanity, since I became a body
of pixels, never quite set, since you rippled
the apparent skin of me.

I’m all texture. Silk rosette, billowing coral,
tentative as a just baked cake. Sensations
slide over my knitted blood.

My mouth is a glass paperweight
to keep our tastes in, like maraschino
cherries and water from a zinc cup.

This is not about a future
with a decorative child. Layer your pulse
onto my pulse. Dress me.
To A Clothes Rail
Dress folded as an envelope and posted to me
Hand-me-down dress taken up, then taken down again
The one worn once, to a party
Age-appropriate dress
Dress the colour of your skin long underwater
Margot dress, Marianne dress, Marie-Antionette dress
Paper dress, never worn, purely decorative
Dress employed as stand-in
Silk dress with scenes from Labyrinth
Pattern for a dress, unmade
Dress embroidered with every song I’ve ever loved
Pinafore that comes with caveats
Two sizes too small dress, bought for its primrose
One last seen doing the hula down the precinct
Shift once worn in a dream
Dress as though assembled from vegetable peelings
Woodland dress in the style of a fawn
Poppy-print shirtwaist, won in a tombola
Dress for slow-dancing to ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)’
Fancy dress in want of a petticoat
Cocktail-drinking dress, un-sittable-down in
Dress best worn with brutalist pendant
Smock to bring to mind a meadow
Old-fashioned dress in crepe with self-covered belt
Little black dresses (numerous)
Acid light projections dress for crazing the eyes
Formal wear gown for selling on eBay
Dress bought for funeral, frequently worn to detach from death
Dress last worn when someone cried for you
Fretful dress, to be cut up for rags
Palladium dress for looking into mirrors in
A cake of a dress – whipped to frou-frou
Scented dress of mustard seed, orange peel and almond milk
Glitter-bellied hummingbird dress
Ex-favourite dress, now not quite right
Perfectly acceptable dress, given the circumstances
Emotional State Seen Through A Pale-Haired Fringe
Dawn is coloured sweet pea and warbles with birds.
From bed, you notice how dust garlands

your fake yellow roses, but what now could
be gained by licking them clean? You could

plan menus, polish the mirrors, call your mother
and sweep the yard. Cleanliness, if not calm

in your reach. But, storm sultry, you lack
resources for comfort: the last velvet sleep;

legitimate wretchedness.
Others tell you, I too have felt alone.

Imagine them, teary on the sofa or wrenched
in the bathtub, all their wishes declined.

And then your own confines of lonesomeness,
where the at-boil kettle maddens the bully

of your memory, and no one there to see it blow.
We Should Be Very Sorry If There Was No Rain
For Sarah Crewe
I mention lately I’ve lacked a honeyed mood,
delicates have evaded me. Again I’ve spent too much
trying to ornamentally tile my life. The sofa’s worn
down where I always sit and though my diary’s
clogging up I don’t know how to project.
I am ashamed to want a someone. Social
engagements are propelled by wine,
as unease goes up, eyeliner goes on. Sometimes
I imagine you in your kitchen, stirring soup.
Sometimes I make broth and pretend it will work.
Darling, it seems there’s no awning
to shelter under. Or perhaps I’m under the awning
unable to step out. Someone might cake crumb
a path for me but it doesn’t do to rely on others
to ice your day. I can see the dead roses
are as pretty as the live, appliqué
sleep to my brittle concerns. I have an aspiration
you will recognise my handwriting, in time.
Igloo (Where the Wild Things Are)
When it is cold enough to slice the snow
we’ll build an igloo and we will live in it.
The igloo will be like a poached egg,
the snow dome hiding a hot yolk. We will grow

sharper teeth and bedtimes will be later.
I will be cook and you will make fire.
I have stolen sausages from mum
and this will do us for tea. There is a story

I can tell at night of a runaway child
and you will ask if it’s you. We have
two brothers, but they never let us take charge.
No one will know we are in the igloo,

but we’ll find a way of telling we’re safe.
Your best friend will be a bird and mine
will be a deer. The bird will bring us berries
and the deer will guard the door. Instead of talk,

we will have stronger thoughts. Our skin
will morph into something more warm. In summer,
we’ll make bricks of mud to dry in the sun.
High Voltage
Just as I woke, you stomped into my head
and I thought of everything that makes me admire you:
not just your sass and nerve (although
it does deserve an explicit mention ), but how
Neverland it is to spend time with you, like a pop-up theme park –
each day abundant with vivid wants,

like how you’re era-less, confident as a portrait,
inconsolably hungry, you talk easy as an adult –
seems even your glamour isn’t at the top of my list,
admiration being such an intimate reckoning of a

friend. If I can’t say it now, when?
Oh, there’s nothing ordinary about decadent warmth
real as foxgloves and glow sticks and winter birds,
did I tell you how much I want you to dance with me?
From Luxe (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order Luxe here, here or here.
Visit Amy at Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat.
Read ‘Here, For Your Amusement’ and ‘”Too Gruesome!” at The Quietus.

Children’s Poetry: Joanne Limburg’s Bookside Down

Joanne Limburg    
Joanne Limburg has published two full poetry collections for adults, Femenismo and Paraphernalia, both with Bloodaxe. A pamphlet, The Oxygen Man, was brought out by Five Leaves Press last year. Joanne has also published The Woman Who Thought Too Much, a memoir about OCD, anxiety and poetry. She is currently finishing a novel based on the life of Queen Anne, and beginning a PhD in Life Writing. Bookside Down (Salt Publishing, 2013) is her first book for children.
Bookside Down 
“The poems in Bookside Down (Salt Publishing, 2013) are written about and for 21st Century children, who are into their friends, the TV, Wiis, DS’s, computers, collectibles and things that make them laugh. They deal with important matters such as difficult schoolmates, daft parents, impossible siblings, the last days of the dinosaurs and the death of planet earth. In this book you will find rhyming poems, non-rhyming poems, poems that are conversations and poems that tell stories. You could read them to yourself, read them aloud, or even use them as patterns to write your own poems.”
“Joanne Limburg’s funny and tender Bookside Down sees things deliciously from the children’s point of view. The poems are set in the worlds children inhabit: the home, the playground, school, pocket money, TV and friendship. With a natural story-teller’s timing, a poet’s ear and a splendid eye for both detail and fantasy Limburg leads us through the jokes and puzzles of a childhood all children will recognise.”

– George Szirtes
Dad, Dad, is this my lunch?
And are you having your lunch too?
And are we going out after lunch?
Are we going into town after lunch?
And are we going on the bus?
And can I have my pocket money?
And can I buy a comic with my pocket money?
And can we take the bus back?
And can I ask you something else?
Will you always say yes now?
The Sort of Boy
There’s always the sort of boy
who has to get in first

who says he knows
whatever you know already,
he’s known it for ages

who got whatever you just got
three weeks ago

or says there’s a better one just out
and he’s getting it with his Dad

who has to decide who’s playing
and what they’re going to play

and if it’s Harry Potter,
he’s always Harry Potter.
The Prefix Lesson
Let’s see if you’ve been listening.
Can you give me something that begins with ‘anti-‘?

Anti Julie lives in London.

Not quite what I was looking for.
Let’s try another, ‘un-‘.

Un-cle Ian lives there too.

OK. Never mind. Have another go.
How about … ‘pre-‘?

Pre … tty soon they’re coming to visit?

Oh dear. We’ll try one more.
Now think carefully: ‘dis-‘

Dis … dis …..
dis isn’t going very well, is it?
Family Swimming Time
I think I might just watch today.
But you’ve got your costume on.

The water feels too cold.
But you’ve only put your toe in.
It’s splashing on my face now.
So what? You’re wearing goggles.

I don’t like the big boys jumping in.
It’s OK. We’ll move away.

I think I might get out now.
You’ve only just got in.
Well don’t leave me on my own!
But I want to have a swim.

I don’t like it when I can’t see you!
But I can swim—don’t worry.

I know you can, but I can’t!
Then just stay in the shallow end.

I don’t like it in the water!
Mum, I know you don’t, but you’ll be fine.
Butterfly and Crocodile
At swimming once,
I went to turn from front to back
and just kept turning,
just kept turning,
turning over,
over and over,
till the swimming teacher said,
‘What are you doing?’
and I said, I’m a crocodile.
This is the death roll
that crocodiles do
to tear their prey apart.’

‘OK’, she said,
‘You need to work on your butterfly now—
though I must say
your crocodile
is really coming on.’
The Potatoes My Dad Cooks
Let me now praise the potatoes my Dad cooks
     for truly they are epic;

for they come from the oven smelling so sweet,
     their smell delights my nostrils

and when they sit steaming in their dish,
     their crispy coatings delight my eyes

and when I take one up and bite it,
     the coating breaks with a crunch

and when I chew that mouthful,
     the mouthful delights my tongue

and then it delights my throat,
     and then, oh then it warms my insides,

for truly the potatoes of my Dad are epic.
     The potatoes of his enemies will fail.
From Bookside Down (Salt Publishing, 2013).

Order Bookside Down.

Visit Joanne’s website.

Translator Nicky Harman speaks to Han Dong

Han Dong – London, April 2009

Han Dong – London, April 2009

Han Dong (韩东) was born in 1961 in Nanjing. His parents were banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, taking him with them. When the Cultural Revolution ended, he studied philosophy at Shandong University, subsequently lectured in Xi’an and Nanjing, and finally relinquished teaching in 1993 to make his living as a writer. In the 1980s, Han Dong became an important avant-garde poet, and edited the influential poetry magazine Tamen (Them). He is also known as an essayist, short story writer, blogger and novelist.
He has made several literary tours in the West, visiting Rotterdam, Paris, Brussels, London, Manchester and Edinburgh, and has been writer-in-residence in Gutenberg, Germany and Saint-Nazaire, France. A collection of his poetry in English can be found in A Phone Call from Dalian (Zephyr Press, 2012). A number of poems from this collection, and others, have appeared in translation in poetry magazines and online, for instance as Carol Rumens’ Poem of the Week in The Guardian.

Nicky Harman
lives in the United Kingdom. She translates from Chinese, focusing on fiction, poetry and sometimes literary non-fiction, by authors such as Han Dong, Chen Xiwo, Xinran, Hong Ying, Zhang Ling and Yan Geling. She is a regular contributor to the literary magazines Chutzpah, and Words Without Borders, and also organises translation-focused events, mentors new translators and was one of the judges for the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize 2012. She contributes to the website for translators from Chinese, Paper Republic, and was Translator-in-Residence, London, at the Free Word Centre in 2011. Her home page is here.

A Phone Call from Dalian

Han Dong was a leading light of China’s avant-garde in the 1980s and continues to be an influential poet today. But, 30 years on, the poetry scene in China has changed, and so has he. I was curious about how he sees his work now and eager to delve a bit deeper into his persona as a poet. I interviewed him for Peony Moon.

In 1966, when the Cultural Revolution began, Han Dong’s family was sent to a remote area of the countryside. Here he grew up, developing an affection for the countryside and its people which still comes through in some of his poems. His parents suffered: his mother was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a counter-revolutionary plot, and his author father struggled to “serve the people”, within a system so seamlessly repressive that Han Dong describes it in Banished: A Novel as “a dog that winds up biting its own tail”. Then came the 1980s and, alongside political and economic reforms, a great explosion of new literature. Han Dong became known as an enthusiastic debunker of everything from ideology and heroics to the elaborate imagery of other avant-garde poets.  An early poem, ‘Of the Wild Goose Pagoda’, which mocks a famous patriotic landmark and ends with a characteristic sting in the tail, became iconic.

Han Dong has been called a ‘colloquial’ (口语), poet, of the ‘ordinary folk’ (民间). But as Maghiel van Crevel says in his Foreword to A Phone Call from Dalian: “the language of this so-called Colloquial Poetry is not the same thing as that spoken in ordinary human traffic … the power of Han Dong’s poetry lies not just in the rejection of formal or bookish language of one kind or another. Positively defined, his usage comes across as measured, focused and controlled. This lends his poetry a quiet confidence and insistence”. And van Crevel goes on: “Several features combine to make Han’s a distinct and influential voice: quotidian themes, purposefully superficial description, colloquial language, literary meta-consciousness and last but not least, his individuality and sophistication in handling these things”.
          The Chicken-seller
          He’s got the knack for killing chickens quick, so
          He became a chicken-seller, that way
          He doesn’t need to kill people. Even though he acts
          Calm and gentle, and never beats his wife
          Taking off his wife’s clothes is like plucking a chicken
          Similar skills always overlap, just as
          Cruelty and kindness are two sides of the same coin
          He plucks, and she leisurely takes the money
          And I feel that therein lies a kind of evil sweetness
Time to give the floor to Han Dong himself. Many of the leading lights of the 1980s and 90s poetry scene have stopped writing altogether. So I began by asking –

Nicky Harman: You’ve been writing poetry for 30 odd years. Why do you go on writing it?

Han Dong: I’ll carry on as long as I’m able – for the reason that poetry, unlike other things in life, is of no practical use. And its very uselessness makes it just a bit important. Of course (I also do it because) I think I do it well and the poetry I write is distinctive. I’ve said in the past that poetry is my homeland. I have a hankering to ‘go home’, and in fact I often do. I hope one day to be able to settle down there and just write poetry, nothing else. That’s the kind of life I’d love to lead.

NH: How do you feel you’ve changed as a poet over the years?

HD: In my early poetry I put a lot of stress on form and language but my poetry has evolved in that respect. I focus now on the content, the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’, partly because I have learnt through experience what form and language to use, partly because I no longer feel form is so important to me. Now my main aim is to create work that is stubbornly, distinctly, my own. Ultimately, poetry is the meeting of language and a particular life lived. There’s a kind of mutual love, a kind of merging. I want my poetry to be reclusive and private, but I’m also groping towards connecting at a deep level with other people.
          Green tree, red fruit
          The green tree was there before I was
          Then I walked past it
          Then ahead of the tree, there were more green trees
          Between the forked branches was the sun

          I looked right at the sun. Just then
          It was like a red fruit
          And so the whole garden became an orchard

          A flurry of footsteps came
          A buzzing of voices debated life
          People’s shadows circled, gathered like gnats
          The evening star, a great cool teardrop

          I am still there
          The red fruit gone
          The green trees dulled
You famously said that, “poetry does not go beyond language” (“诗到语言为止“). Do you still believe that? If not, what do you think are the most important principles of poetry?

HD: When I said that, it was to counter the prevailing view (in China) that “the written word must express a moral view”, and to emphasize the importance of language in poetry. But ultimately this was just another creed and, to that extent, one-sided. I understand poetry in a more rounded way now, not just as in opposition to something else. Poetry is an absolute, or at least an indication of an absolute. Analysing poetry is of limited use. Poetry doesn’t exist in the abstract, only in specific poems, in the writings of a particular poet, and we shouldn’t try to over-explain it. I dream of being able to write poems which need little or no explaining, and can be understood intuitively. Readers don’t need training but poets do, and that training ought to include how to stir people’s hearts.

Han Dong has written many poems about women, from the erotic to the love-lorn. I can’t help noticing there are fewer now, at least of the latter. Could this be because he is a middle-aged, happily-married man? I rather cheekily asked him if he still wrote love poems.

HD: Of course … Ultimately, a good love poem is about more than just love. … I’m continually concerned with human feelings, especially the love between men and women, and that’s a source of inspiration I wouldn’t willingly give up. You’re in love, you break up, you have no one to love or you’re abandoned – and you write about all of those things as they happen. There’s something else: the thing we call ‘love’ is only one way of expressing love between humans. I’ve said in the past that my ‘spiritual home’ is with people who have left or died, with friends, even with pets. That’s where love is, for me. Yes, I will go on writing love poems in the broad sense.

Hmm, I’m not sure I really managed to nail him on that one.

NH: Going back to the years when you first made a name for yourself as a poet, you had a reputation for getting into heated debates about poetry. Are you still so combative? If so, what topics get you fired up?

HD: I’ve always enjoyed a good argument, but I’ve also regarded that as a failing. In fact, I really hate that side of myself. Intense, aggressive debate only ends in defeat or victory, so it leaves me feeling empty. I almost always win the argument, which makes it more difficult for me to curb that tendency. The reality is that where poetry is concerned, the only meaningful things are serious thought and careful listening to others. Discussion should be based on an exchange of ideas, where everyone gets a chance to say what they think and makes an effort to understand the opposing side.
          Wood work
          The wood workers lie at work in the sawdust
          Their workshop has no door, no windows and no walls.
          Just a shack with blonde rush matting on three sides.
          Just sunlight, sawdust, wood and
          The shaped hafts of every kind of farm tool
          No door, no windows, benches or doorsill
          No lathe. This wood work has done away with wood work
          Sawdust has covered up the mud floor
What do you feel about the translation of your poetry? I once asked you which of two possible titles I should use: Wood worker, the person who does it, or Wood work, the process. (The Chinese could mean either.) You said you didn’t mind, I could choose whichever I liked. Would you be as laissez-faire about translation if you were fluent in English?

HD: Translations are authentic creations in their own right; the original is only the spiritual source and the basis for the translation. Especially with poetry, when you translate from one language into another, you create something other. For a poem to work in another language, it needs to be completely transformed. Its magic, its inspiration, depends on the translator. Poets aim to ‘translate’ life and give it a meaningful existence in language; translators have the same aim. So, first-rate poetry can become second-rate in translation and vice versa, depending on the translator’s ability and sensitivity. I’m there to respond to the translator and I’m happy to discuss anything which is relevant to the original work, but this is just a way of stimulating the process and doesn’t mean I want to control it. If your poems don’t stand up to translation into another language, then why should the translator continue to be loyal to the original? If those poems can shine in another language, then why worry if they have departed from the original?

Ultimately my aim as a poet is to create good things, not things that are good for my reputation. And all good things can stimulate and ‘give birth’ to further good things. Even in the original language, a poem only becomes complete when it is read, when it arouses feelings, and when the poem combines with those feelings. To have vitality, a poem needs to transform, stimulate, adapt, combine and give birth to something new.

And there we left our discussion. But let the poems speak from themselves. And, yes, there really is one about his dog:
          Overcoming loneliness
          My small dog was shut in the flat
          The neighbours opposite kept one
          Shut in their flat too
          The two dogs yapped through the barrier of two doors
          They could hear each other, and sometimes met on the landing
          They were boy dog and girl dog but didn’t mate
          We all know dogs like to lay-about in packs, but these two were no pals
          You could say hostility was
          Stronger than friendship
          More help in overcoming loneliness
          The end came when their dog died, but my dog
          Kept up the yapping
          An imaginary enemy may well be better than a real one
          At overcoming loneliness.
Han Dong’s poems ‘can stand their ground in any contemporary world literary canon’, World Literature Today.
All the poems except ‘Overcoming loneliness appear’ in A Phone Call from Dalian  (Zephyr Press, 2012).

Whitehall Jackals by Chris McCabe & Jeremy Reed

 Whitehall Jackals 
“London in the dark end-times of the late noughties; escaped war criminals and their hired thugs scavenge like hyenas amid the city’s smut and glitter, the system appears in nonchalant free-fall and words drop cheaply as grimy metropolitan rain. With this dystopian backdrop, where language is spun, redacted and renditioned, McCabe and Reed’s gritty riposte performs an angry and elegant resistance.

The result of this psychogeographic collaboration between two of modern poetry’s most distinct voices is this – a poetry chain-letter that seeks to interrogate the city at one of the most peculiar and sinister points in contemporary history and to map the capital on foot, under their own light; poems as foundlings; the weight of language and place obsessively and voraciously explored. Beneath flagstones, in river silt and on the top decks of buses, the strange, dark energies of the city find their way into this electrifying exchange of poems.”

© Chris McCabe

© Chris McCabe

“McCabe and Reed’s wide-eyed, X-rayed Cubist vision of London is more than a cultural mapping. It is a significant addition to the poetry of London. Partly a response to Whitehall’s warring, it uncovers deeper historical and psychogeographical interplay within the city. Horizontal and vertical layers of story are contextualized and abstracted to reveal multifarious states of being, control and flux. These anchored, edgy scripts of multiverse unearth deposits in angular localised texts that make you smile, laugh, wonder and leave you wanting more. A tour de force in every way.”

– David Caddy

Chris McCabe 
Chris McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1977. His previous collections are The Hutton Inquiry, Zeppelins and THE RESTRUCTURE (all with Salt Publishing). His work has been described by The Guardian as “an impressively inventive survey of the uses of English in the early 21st century”. He has recorded a CD with the Poetry Archive and has had work included in numerous anthologies including Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010), The Captain’s Tower: seventy poets celebrate Bob Dylan at seventy (Seren, 2011), Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins, 2012) and Dear World & Everyone in it (Bloodaxe, 2013). His plays Shad Thames, Broken Wharf (also published by Penned in the Margins as a limited edition box) and Mudflats have been performed in London and Liverpool. He works as the Poetry Librarian at The Saison Poetry Library and teaches for The Poetry School.
Jeremy Reed 
Jeremy Reed
has been for decades one of Britain’s most dynamic, adventurous and controversial poets; The Independent called him “British poetry’s glam, spangly, shape-shifting answer to David Bowie”. He has published over 40 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, winning prestigious literary prizes such as the Somerset Maugham Award, and, on coming to live in London in the 1980s, was patronised by the artist Francis Bacon. Amongst his fans are J.G. Ballard, Pete Doherty and Bjork who has called his work “the most beautiful, outrageously brilliant poetry in the world”. His poetry publications in recent years include Heartbreak Hotel (Orion), Duck and Sally Inside, This Is How You Disappear (both Enitharmon), West End Survival Kit (Waterloo Press), Bona Drag (Shearsman) and Piccadilly Bongo with Marc Almond (Enitharmon), and his most recent novels are The Grid (Peter Owen) and Here Comes the Nice (Chomu Press). Jeremy Reed also works and performs with musician Itchy Ear as The Ginger Light.
Jeremy Reed
A black network in London’s thalamus,
a landscaped-over solid trawl
licking a trace into Dead Dog Basin,
like a path-lab procedure,
a subterranean autopsy

of body parts in soup, bottles and dogs,
a swirly ooze down to Kentish Town loch
and under to St Pancras,
furred arteries pushing to King’s Cross
as cold bacterial soup, a mucky rush

that puddles on the road sometimes
in thunder-rain at Holborn and Blackfriars
in think-bubbles, the river’s secret life
come up to be decoded like intelligence
and splashed through by the tube exit,

I’ll never know I’ve walked it home
in squidgy traces on the floor
at South Hill Park like a liquid barcode.
We talk about the river’s drop
at the Magdala, drunk out of the rain

in leaf-slidy November, the street
wallpapered over by stripped orange leaves;
and someone claims they’ve fucked beside its source,
the bottomless pool by the aqueduct
power-pointing into the river

to feel its drive into the underground,
but it’s not clear where water starts,
unlike a road, its shoplifting impulse
traffics into a dark gritty corridor.
We stand above it as we talk,

a disturbed system of tunnels and tubes,
aquifers, islanded from the rain,
and I can feel the drop under my feet
into the Fleet pit, as I buy a round
and feel the fourth or fifth light up my brain.
Wapping Old Stairs
Chris McCabe
A lighter, a camera, a PLUMS bottle
washes in the tide at the Old Stairs :
I smash the bottle against ceramic & brick
— no message but ink —
the content oozes conger black
slicks wet in ebony nox
gluts in chunks its obsidian soup,
the river’s bed condensed to wet ash
— no message —
the camera ejects the card,
digital images crust in wet clay
embedded with the river’s source.
I take the lighter & camera —
past Tower Bridge a courier sits
on the pavement — head between knees —
opened envelopes around his feet,
two Latino men shine the bullion
of the Tate & Lyle logo
out of the strong came forth sweetness
as cigar smoke rises like cremations
of vermin. At Dark Horse Walk
a payroll manager stares out the tide’s volta,
pockets an Identity Card, folds up collars —
I scratch the wheel of the lighter :
its wet flint adds nothing to this
Whitehall Endgame
Jeremy Reed
(depleted uranium mix)
The 5pm sky’s like rainy sapphires
a blue toxic hydrocarbon blanket,
and you’re my pick-up, bite my lip
to redden like a strawberry.
It’s later in accelerated endgame time
by 600 seconds than when we met
at the compressed Starbucks on Hollen Street,
you a Beijing space-time interloper
put into a blonde-bobbed Eurasian mix.

The psychopathic jackal Tony Blair,
four blacked-out Range Rovers gunned
through town, a war criminal’s carbon tail
choking polluted haze, his handgun grin
cold as forensics, czar to every war’s
genocide, the killer autocrat
smeared in depleted uranium, Gulf blood,
the meltdown hedge funder — the commandant
guarded 24/7 by thugs in suits,
Glock pistols in their Paul Smith repertoire.

We watch his cars open a corridor
into a cannibalistic future —
Blair crunches Cherie for a final meal.
The day builds on us like a pyramid
of neural info — love me to the end
of Soho village — there’s no other way
sighting those tyres that leave blood on the bend.
Chris McCabe
for Kelvin Corcoran
It’s the music of what matters
it pulls me this way always
across Waterloo Bridge
in search of the poet
— revenant of sliproad hymns —
the Isle of Dogs smatters
its SIM cards to the stars
as Westminster descales
gold florins
in the Counting House
of the river’s pummelling,
the Aldwych arcs a scythe against
Bush House & pushes me north
— in search of the poet —
through the contented Squares
of Tavistock, Russell, Bloomsbury,
where my mind lost its trace —
night air around Gt. Ormond St
when my son was strung with fluids
like a doll in a rockpool
I walk that way through reduced serotonin
to the glyphs of SWEDENBORG HALL
inside the poet sings
with a haemorrhage on his mind —
adds his message to the city’s signs :
the dark enfolding road we leave behind
Jeremy Reed
A blue light-box, deep sea ultramarine,
an Yves Klein shot with toothpaste blue
(Colgate Oxygen) faces out
on Broadwick Street, a rainy Sunday fuzz
pixelating beadily, a damp glow
grainy Soho 4pm 30/11 chill
we take inside from reflective windows
of Cowling & Wilcox opposite.
(I make adjustments for altered place states
in my sci-fi Soho novel The Grid)
and find immersion in 150 teas
and choose a Pau Dragon Orchid, scent
written into the name, a gold sauna
poured in a cup, a steamy tangy trick
turned on the palate — it’s your green tea cake —
three leaf-green suitcases pitted in mousse
like baggage angled on the carousel
arrests my eye, an arty rococo detail
designed to tease the bite: the Cantonese
next to us fork venison puffs
and lobster dumplings, slowly, incisively
like surgery, a serious graft
of separating textures, while I stare
out at a 6ft strip of afternoon
leaked in with shop lights, frontage, drizzled smear,
a Broadwick Street industrial grey different
from any other Soho grey
and feel the transient suspense, the last
shot-down blues bled out of the winter day.
Alderman Stairs, E1
Chris McCabe
Under Alderman Stairs chains latch
to brick, moss-covered steering wheels
of Volvos silenced in the woods
— interiors hushed with vines —
an anchor rigged with a rope of horsehair
and matted with sponge. The city’s
urgencies close-off above, quaint
as tea-rooms from the debris & crush
of this basement shoreline, a cellar
of thanatos drinking games. A shingle
of dud electrics glint the base of a glass
like a monocle that blinds, the petrified
crust of a stout bottle holograms
an eagle in the tide’s dispensary — we drink
to ooze these toxins merrily. What sunlight
the city takes in early March is caged here,
like the underside of a disused pier, ribbed
with blackened timber & splintered barge-
beds. I walk like a hangman that scattered
the revellers as the grey beach rolls
under my treads on an axis of lichen —
finger-nails hook damp wood for gravity.
A trickle like coins from a hostelier’s
pouch counts itself in crustaceous syllables
from under the stairs : there, like a kissing
chamber enclosed in the corner, a stream
runs from a lost river or a leak from
an ancient watermain, choking back
to its source. My shadow sprawls on the
bricks beneath, as if to attach itself to itself
and multiply under stalactites in this unit
of storage the city fails to lease, a hub for
rats & disused fibre-optics. There is enough
space to sit inside & for the river to rise
and cancel this bucket of oxygen, closing
London back to ground level as the detritus
swirls to the surface for the tea-drinkers
to watch — swirls of champagne corks,
consumables — that submerge again & rise
with the broken glass & the bladderwrack.
from Whitehall Jackals (Nine Arches Press, 2013).

Order Whitehall Jackals.

‘london bacteria is virulent: writing whitehall jackals’ by Chris McCabe.

Whitehall Jackals reviewed in Stride and Sabotage.

Visit Chris’ blog.

Visit Jeremy’s website.

James W. Wood’s The Anvil’s Prayer

James Wood  
James W. Wood was born in Scotland and educated at schools in Canada and the United Kingdom before studying English at Cambridge, where his first pamphlet, Swingtime, was published with financial support from the university.

After leaving Cambridge, he won a scholarship to work with 1992 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Derek Walcott, in the United States. Since leaving North America for a second time, James has worked as a copywriter and media executive on four continents. He has also reviewed for The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, The London Magazine, The Daily Telegraph and many others, and his poems have appeared in the above journals and further anthologies, including Faber and Faber’s First Pressings (1998). James is the author of two further pamphlets, The Theory of Everything (HappenStance, 2006), and Inextinguishable (Knucker Press, 2008). He is married with a son and currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
 The Anvil's Prayer
The Anvil’s Prayer (Ward Wood Publishing, 2013) finds magic in the ordinary, heroism in the average person and beauty in the least likely places. Celebrating the wonder that surrounds us, James W. Wood’s first full-length collection turns from praise to elegy and exaltation in language which is as understated as it is precise and daring.”
Reviews of earlier work
“James W. Wood’s The Theory of Everything negotiates the daily business of living with insight and feeling.”

– Carl Phillips, winner of the Solomon Guggenheim Memorial Award
“James W. Wood’s The Theory of Everything is an exceptional first volume of verse, full of an awareness of the richness of everyday lives.”

– Professor Emeritus Brian Cox
“James W. Wood’s poetry couples a finely tuned ear with a remarkable mix of passion, idealism and down-to-earth good sense. Indeed, ‘The Song of Scotland’ – a powerful piece by any measure – may well be this century’s first significant state-of-the-nation poem.”

– Andrew Philip
“James W. Wood is a talent to be reckoned with: both lyrical and humane, he has a technical ability with language that shines through every poem and a versatility that enables him to range effortlessly from elegy to satire.”

– Jane McKie
“James W. Wood cares about the precision and possibilities of language and about honest when dissecting the subtleties of human emotion, neither one to the exclusion of the other. His work is a pleasure to read and, when questioning or provocative, none the less pleasurable for that.”

– Rob Mackenzie
The Same Page
Our hands hold the book: a poem
I must have read a hundred times before,
this your first time, eyes scanning
the page, stumbling, unsure. You listen

as I mouth rhymes I know too well,
rushing through them as though reading
a timetable or manual. You discover things
I should have seen but never spotted,

new points about this old poem
that will enrich our future. My eyes
fix on the last word on the page,
my heart races as you get near the end

and I wonder what this poem means to you –
I want it to say what I cannot find
the words to tell you as I catch my breath,
waiting for you to make up your mind.
The Wandering Horses
The eyes of a horse in a field:
our animal other for fifty centuries,
now she’s a curious, distant beast
chewing remorselessly in rain. Conscious

of our presence, she keeps her thoughts
to herself, those truths we would deny
or mire in delusion. But for her
there is no doubt: birth comes quickly, death

too often too slowly, and life
a blur of joy and work in her world,
too fast and fast forgotten. Somewhere
beyond what we see, her folklore

riddles these fields: there, where she foaled
one early summer, or there, where
her head first dipped for fresh shoots,
and always will until at last she lies down

in her last place. Though she lives
far from our endless, panicked rush,
she knows our world too well:
the box that comes and carries her,

the needles we stick in her,
the metal shoes, the spurs and leather,
those instruments of a ruler, or so
we’d like to think. Lucky us

that she can’t speak, can’t say
how unexceptional and pointless
our worries are, how unattainable
the peace we seek without sorrow

or at least the patience to bear it –
something we used to learn
down all those centuries from
the eyes of a horse in a field.
Amphigorey Story
(Edward Gorey, visual artist: 1925 – 2000)
It begins to snow. In Chicago
a baby boy is born. A cow lows
behind the ha-ha: a snail crawls
across the ceiling, scything sideways 9s.
His mother’s eyes, his father’s hands
hitting. Drinking. Screams press the boy
to drawing. A pen and ink,
roads open for escape, leading
to Harvard. A heart smoothed
to stone, tennis-racquet nerves
taut. Miss Eunice Slipper
picks up teacups in a house
called Collapsed Pudding in Mortshire;
then he’s outside the publisher,
building that long dark stair
up to a room in his heart’s mind
where bleeding he lay beaten
until his mother came in greeting,
come-for-tea’ing him. Warding off Ed
and all those Gorey details. Then fame,
children swallowed in the beasts
of imagination, the breast beaten,
sloping heads and unstrung harps. A man
alone in age, all one to him. A pen
again. Black ink and ten cats, he gains again
all that he wanted to ignore in us:
If something is worth
anything it isn’t worth
defining. Fur overcoat and tennis shoes,
black wire specs hid what no-one knew,
copies of the Daily News, the New York
City Ballet season. Haunted
by his father’s weeds, words,
deeds, over grown, going
over: a boy with a horror
of hands. When he unwoke up blue
and cold found outside it was still

(IM James Wood, 1903 – 1978)
At fourteen years old he put to sea
in his father’s trawler. He hauled the nets,
watched the ropes freeze, rolled his cigarettes.
When the fishing shrank he came to shore
and policed the streets of the South-East.
After that came marriage, then a war:
he sent his wife home and signed up
to delve the bomb-swept seas around the Azores.

          What makes our time better than the past?

You couldn’t say he was ignorant
or judge him by books he hadn’t read –
the Pelman Course for Self-Improvement
was his university for the untutored.
Think of everything he heard and saw,
so unlike those Pathé newsreels in your head:
dolphins at play with seals, gulls keeping score,
the heat-cracked deck, the spray, men killing or dead.

          Did they call that combat stress?

After demob he worked for the GPO, silent
about the scars he’d seen. His medals
slept ranked in the sideboard, a store
of silver for a grandson too little
to understand or bear them. And at the last –
an oxygen mask, mint imperials in a dish,
gasped phrases, cancer his unwelcome guest,
an old sailor too ill to change the TV channel.

          Who puts our bravery to the test?

So as you think on, ask yourself why
history gets written by those who are left
and not the ones who bear it witness?
In our panic-blind age, he’s still here
with all the pressing ranks of dead
who wish us well, watch our errors with regret –
if only our antiseptic online lifestyles
could bring us half his courage and strength:

          What makes us think we know best?
          What makes us think we know best?
The Craws
William Rodger, 1910 – 2002
Alexander Wood, 1918 – 1998
                                        One for sorrow.
I see them wherever I go:
birds perched on the prow of a ship,

oblique letters wheeling over the waves,
sunlight glancing off them as they dip

and rise above the postcard landscape
we know as home.
                                        Two for joy:
all my life you were there, when I was
taken in to the old men, ‘this is Bobby’s loddie’,

in the cold, deep houses, their faces battered
by rain and tobacco, hands turned to stone

and scarred from the nets. Cans of Tartan
or whisky’s warming, talismanic glow

in a short glass. Your ever-present packet
of Players’. Your wristwatch and lighter.

                                        Three for girls, four for boys.
That time
at my sister’s wedding, I had to bite harder

on my lip to stop the trembling when you said
‘Hurry up Jamesy and get merrit

or I’ll no be aboot tae see ye do it.’ Five
for silver, six for gold. You never envied

the hordes who left for London
or further abroad; you never strayed

much further than Kirkcaldy or Leven,
home the anchor you would not weigh.

Seven for a secret never to be told –
sixty years on from your wedding day

you kept smiling, still in love
with your wife, bowling and drinking,

watching a passing world. You were
no prizewinner, sportsman or great thinker,

just a man like any other, and one
whose life asks us for little grieving.

I make this for you not just
to mark your leaving, but because

the birds in the harbour won’t sing
the same since you passed on:

the boats sit too high in the water,
and the whalebones guarding the town have gone.

But those gulls still watch from the rocks
near the graveyard, guarding your headstone,

chiselled letters all that’s left
of a life that stays with me, like the crows

that fly overhead here in London,
calling out to me, chasing me home.
Catherine Wheel
A hand and a key. Eyes aflame
as you babble about Rilke
and his angels. The engine starts – why

did you do it? No-one
you could talk to about the depths
you were driving into, no-one else

in that silence, only trees
and blackness and your mind
like a firework wheeling crazily

in the middle of that sunless wood
where you stopped the car, full of pills,
and fixed the pipe. You knew no God

except the one you spoke to privately,
struck dumb by the world, praying
to a dead poet whose angels wouldn’t come

as the fumes filled your car
and your head slumped forward. There
was no sound, no sound but your machine,

an engine turning over in the woods
with no-one to see it or care: you were
a Catherine Wheel blazing brilliantly

in a ploughed field at midsummer, a spark
that might have cloaked us all in fire
if only we could have seen it.
from The Anvil’s Prayer (Ward Wood Publishing, 2013).

Order The Anvil’s Prayer.

James reads ‘Departures’ at his Poetry Café launch.

James reads ‘The Parting’ at his Poetry Café launch.

Poems from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’

For Rhino in a Shrinking World 
For Rhino in a Shrinking World, An International Anthology
Published by The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013
Edited by Harry Owen
Illustrated by Sally Scott
All proceeds from the sale of this volume go, via the Chipembere Rhino Foundation, to support the work of fighting poaching and protecting our gravely threatened natural heritage. 
“What we need in the world today is to hear within us
the sounds of the earth crying”
(Taken from a Zen Poem)
Man’s connection with the earth is a mystifying confusion of physical, chemical and spiritual beauty. The depth and complexity of nature’s secrets has scarcely begun to be understood by the overwhelming tide of human beings. To be able to appreciate and take care of the abundance of life on our planet has always been a challenge.
Life has always been a mystery that many of us scarcely take the time to consider. The poets bring glimpses of a reality beyond our known sense and the beauty of their words lingers for centuries, be it Virgil, Wordsworth or Rupert Brooke. As we fail to understand the depth of the natural world, we place ourselves at risk.
The poets who have contributed to this book forcibly bring to mind the terrible plight of the rhino in the modern world. We applaud their efforts.
Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.
The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond to the “sounds of the earth crying”.”
– Dr Ian Player and Andrew Muir, Wilderness Foundation
“The deepening crisis faced by our rhino threatens to overwhelm us as we are assaulted daily by rotting images of animals mutilated at the hands of greedy man. The gruesome account of just two of the victims of poaching has reached into the hearts of these writers and resonates back on us from across the world. A challenge for us all to react. Our simple personal responses as caring custodians in the face of such a daunting reality, is all that stands between life and extinction.
Who will join this global collection of humane reactions? Will there be enough to express our value for the natural world? Are we able to focus fear, anger and bitter sadness into those simple abilities we have been blessed with and create the change on which we all depend? I trust the power of the written word gathered within this wonderful collection, inspired by Harry Owen as an expression of his own journey, is enough to change our hearts and ignite us into action.”
– Dr William Fowlds
Contributors: Hannah Armour, Natalie Armour, AE Ballakisten, Shabbir Banoobhai, Mike Barlow, Brett Beiles, Marike Beyers, Alison Brackenbury, Roger Bradley, Peter Branson, Mark Burnhope, Chloë Callistemon, Veronica Caperon, Hélène Cardona, Alfred Corn, Richard de Nooy, Dónall Dempsey, Gail Dendy, Bandile Dlabantu, Jordan du Toit, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Margaret Eddershaw, Chukwudi-prince Ehilegbu, Roger Elkin, Nola Firth, John Forbis, Myfanwy Fox, w. Terry Fox, Lance Fredericks, Hailey Gaunt, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Matt Goodfellow, Elizabeth Gowans, Geraldine Green, Kerry Hammerton, Rosemund Handler, Geoffrey Haresnape, Caroline Hawkridge, Silke Heiss, Denis Hirson, Linda Hofke, Phil Howard, Louisa Howerow, Chris Jackson, Simon Jackson, Lorne Johnson, Madeleine Begun Kane, Peter Kantey, Andy Kissane, Valerie Laws, Stuart Thembisile Lewis, John Lindley, Pippa Little, Alison Lock, Moira Lovell, David Mallett, Chris Mann, Andrew Martin, Agnes Marton, Ian McCallum, Fokkina McDonnell, Jeannie Wallace McKeown, Joan Metelerkamp, Sonwabo Meyi, John Mhongovoyo, Bill Milner, Ian Mole, Norman Morrissey, Mary Mullen, Tendai Mwanaka, Philip Neilsen, Kate Noakes, Edward Nudelman, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Harry Owen, Val Payn, Pascale Petit, Pauline Plummer, Joan Poulson, Ron Pretty, Sheenagh Pugh, Wonga Qina, Lesego Rampolokeng, Andrew Renard, Susan Richardson, Mark Roberts, Amali Rodrigo, Sam Schramski, Sally Scott, Richard Slater-Jones, Dennis Slattery, JD Smith, Annette Snyckers, Leih Steggall, John Stocks, Adam Tavel, Michael James Treacy, Megan van der Nest, Ellen van Neerven-Currie, Marc Vincenz, Elmé Vivier, Wendy Wallace, Brian Walter, Mal Westcott, Tony Williams, Phil Williams, Jennifer Wong, Ruth Woudstra, Dan Wylie and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.
Dear Rhino, love from Hippo
Tony Williams
With skin like ours, friend, the usual
          insults of a rivalry descend
          harmlessly as confetti or the blossom of trees
          we rub our backs against.
Nor would expressions of sympathy survive
          the foul tempers of our readership. Instead
          I’m sending you this chatty letter, a crocodilian
          sickle of courtesy in the poisoned soup,
          which might worry you if crocodiles did.
          Be assured of my continuing hostility and indifference.
In the past month
          I have eaten a rare fly, a wristwatch,
          a silhouette, odd chunks of my rivals’ chins
          and a vast tonnage of hay which you,
dense hoover of the midday sun, missed
          when the eternal salad drawer of the night
          clanked open as you slept. Or are you
          nocturnal too? It’s hard to see in the dark.
You doomed swordsman, me cloven-hoofed
          and cackling like a whale. You unicorn,
          me Cadillac bumping up
          against the blond girl’s legs.
Whatever happened
          to your ambition to become a freelance illustrator?
Every time I pass the hospital
          done out like the concourse of an old European station
          with the pediments high up based, unattributed,
          on your sketch of an elephant’s toenails
I think dommage! and of the royalties we’d claim
          if I’d ever passed my law exams and you
          weren’t such a raging and wretchedly cantankerous drunk.
At least we don’t owe money to the giraffes.
Down at the waterhole it’s O’Casey
          the lion this O’Casey
          the lion that but it’s us
          they come to when the drains are blocked.
You, woodcut engraving from the days of the plague,
          me poster paints printed by a dipped-in bum.
Listen, priapus-face, I’ve been
          divining the future in the map of illness
          disclosed in my own used nappy.
I think you’d enjoy a cheese and pickle sandwich
          if you dared to enter a deli. I think the jackals would swoon
          like spinach wilting if only you’d show them The Dance.
I’ve been listening to local radio over the internet.
          I’ve bid on a doll’s house and
          a signed photo of Lothar Matthaus.
I’ve heard a grown man singing falsetto
          for the amusement of chumps.
Thanks very much for the library card. I’ve read of
          isotopes, anarchists, artistic foibles of heretical sects.
I’ve read a few classics, and enjoyed your waspish annotations.
          (I dreamed I saw your initials
          carved into the brickwork of the Bradford Alhambra
          but didn’t inform the police.)
You tin opener, me turtle without a shell,
          you me, me you. How long
          will we put up with being haunted
          by the ghosts of all the antelopes
          mistaking us for mobile crypts to hole up in?
Now that I’ve developed the transmogrifier
          we could go anywhere, do anything –
          spend a century as a standard lamp, become amoebas
          in the eye-sockets of a monkey, and get elected.
So don’t get pettish. Sling your keys in the bowl.
          We’ll put our heads together, become a
          get a scholarship to university, mend a motorbike,
step out one morning after a pot of tea,
          carrying a cudgel, thinking
          how the sky’s colour reminds us of approaching evening,
          how the deaths of our loved ones will become
as quaint a topic as the weather and the history of the Anabaptist Church
          which we might tease open with a little sullen laugh
          over a tall glass of Pernod.
You’ll never become a rhinoceros, really you won’t …
you haven’t got the vocation
(‘Rhinoceros’ – Eugène Ionesco)
Susan Richardson 
There comes a day when making donations
and signing petitions isn’t enough,
when braver decisions are needed.
So you practise detachment
from your knees,
trample the lunchtime prattle of fat loss
and anti-wrinkle creams.
You commit to omitting to moisturise,
will your skin to thicken,
thrill to fashion callouses and warts.
When the first horn forms, it triggers
second thoughts, till you use it to gore
your twinges of caution.
From raw veg and fruit, you move
to woody shrubs and thorns,
snort through weeks
of stomach cramps and wind.
But the wallowing’s a breeze,
and the shift to horizontal’s eased
by your umpteen years of yoga.
Next to varied breathing speeds
and scent-marking middens of dung,
texting seems so naive. In fact,
if you still had fingers and thumbs
you’d just use them to pinch yourself,
for you’ve done what none
can believe. And while the strain of raising
your head has led
to chronic pain in your neck,
your brain hums with infrasonic success.
As you roam your home range,
oxpeckers divest you of ticks
and outmoded emotions,
though you insist they must not strip you
of awareness
of your rare, endangered state.
Crushed Dragon Bones
Marc Vincenz

          Tiger Claw Apothecary, Shanghai, 1999
Quan leads me through an array of popping scents,
this lingering whiff of Bombay spice bazaar,
medicine healing scars, prehensile fungi, blooming
rhino horn, white deer antler, mandible of stag beetle,
snapping tail of scorpion, turtle snout, all crushed to steep
in clear hot liquids bubbling right into the very centre
of the maze where a woman in a nightdress waits patiently.
Here he goes whispering in the corner.
Lady behind the counter turns flushed-cheek red,
titters under her breath, holds her hand to cover her teeth.
Eyes him apprehensively. Eyebrows arch-raised,
coughs in syncopated answer. Fiddles with her stethoscope.
Another woman looks me up and down: Hey you, big nose?
Want me check your pulse? I sit down across the counter.
She applies the leather-puffing contraption to my left biceps.
Pumps until I feel my left side is ready to explode.
Aha, take this. She fiddles a powder, rattling grains from
that drawer, granules from another. All marked in red.
Grinds the mixture in mortar humming some old love tune.
Flips the dust into a paper bag. Hand palm out:
Fifty yuan. Releases the catch and Ssssss spins down.
Quan’s smiling ear to ear and we’re out the door
through the hedgerows and into haze of open space.
Quan rumbles something about bones old bones.
Crushed dragon bones for the little man inside.
No problem like you, he says. This will keep me going all night.
The Dead are Bored
Philip Neilsen
We the dead are bored with your concerns
your endless talk on radio and TV about diet and pets
your fear of impotence
your fascination with genealogy
your colour photos taken on holiday in Africa:
speak for us now
or condemn us all by your tiny fears
your politeness about customs and magical beliefs.
Listen, only this is magic – human and rhino
conjoined. When we depart
and clumsy birds mop the plain
you see there your own remains.
‘Best Selling: Father and Son Hunting Package Deals’
Valerie Laws
The world is big and wide, son.
It’s ours to rule and ride, son.
Come hunting the Big Five, son,
It’s all about male pride.
Game animals are grand, son,
And you must understand, son,
They are ours, as is the land, son,
It’s all about God’s plan.
The elephant, the lion, son,
The buffalo and leopard, son,
The rare and savage rhino, son;
Stalking them is hard.
So beautiful they are, son,
Most dangerous by far, son.
Come hunting with your Pa, son,
For nights beneath the stars.
I promise you it’s fun, son,
With servants and two guns, son,
We’ll bag them every one, son,
Until the job is done.
They’ll snap us with our Five, son,
Propped up as if alive, son,
Then carve steaks with their knives, son,
For us to feast upon.
And when you eat your fill, son,
Of meat and see blood spill, son,
And when you’ve learned to kill, son,
You’ve learned a manly skill.
We’ll fly back home to Mom, son,
With washing to be done, son,
And trophies to be shown, son,
The skins, the horns, the bone.
It’s a kind of conservation, son,
These beasts need preservation, son,
So we shoot them on reservations, son,
So you can take your son.
Why Save The Fckn Rhino, Harry?
Richard de Nooy
Let’s face it, Harry, every fckn war we’ve ever
fought every nation squashed and generation
stolen each pre-fckn-cision bombing and
concentration camp the man-high heaps of
napalmed children grotesque decapitated
privates draped over barbed wire and women
raped for days on end the in-fckn-terminable
talks of peace and cease fires that only serve
to replenish and prepare for world war fckn
eight hundred and thirty-three the scorched
earth blacker than Satan’s arsehole into which
the orphans creep in search of cover and
AK-47s, grenades and mines to
blow their barren fckn world to kingdom
fckn come and every martyr strapped with
semtex every broken life and drop of fckn blood
endless inventories of collateral damage poorly
hidden mass graves that all reveal ma-fckn
-cabre human treasures displayed in grinning
rows and each and every other fckn act of
violence albeit somehow vague and indirect
was perpetrated for one reason only so
that rich men’s cocks would grow or stay erect.
So why only save the fckn rhino, Harry, why?
Your Tour Guide Speaks
Harry Owen
6.00 p.m.
Hi, everyone!
We trust you’re enjoying your sundowners.
A few short years ago we couldn’t have
played you this record of the plains
in such blissful comfort, for then there was
no road. The Great Migration, they called it,
of wildebeest and zebra, but what use
was that when none of us could watch such stuff
as now we do in air-conditioned calm?
Those days are gone, thank God, the Great Migration
is no more, but life moves on and we adore
our Serengeti Roadshow.
We drive through early evening into night,
deep darkness of the range about us now,
for why should we need detail? These eyes
that surge and leap on us in acid whites
and bloody reds are really all we’ve travelled for.
Let’s tick them off our Big Five species lists –
elefords in the middle of the road,
buffamercs and those sleek white rolls-rhino,
our latest ivory, newest muti.
Mara will spawn the mitsubishi hippo,
more deadly in the dark of the moon than
this fat catillac, king of all the beasts.
We speed past the cheetatas (be quick with
those field guides!), placid audilope alert,
and the smarmy Black Market Wildebeest,
noting the occasional ponderous
VWDungbeetle, thought extinct
but making a slow and ponderous comeback.
But it’s getting late. Recline your seats
and rest: dream of wild Africa.
6.00 a.m.
Good morning!
Just ahead and to the left, ladies
and gentlemen, boys and girls, where our coach
slows for the flashing amber light, you’ll spot,
grazing at the roadside verge, a small herd
of white ute-bakkie, once extremely rare
on these vast plains but now plentiful
from Arusha to Lake Victoria.
Always at their most striking in the haze
of early morning when our Tanzanian
sun sears itself, so languid in the smoggy east,
they rev – so have your cameras ready.
And look, presiding over that scrapyard
to our right, a splendid pair of blue cranes!
Yet, though this is indeed the Road That
Never Ends, we’ve glimpsed our destination:
last chance to pause before the journey ends.
Here is the world famous Pick-up Pit Stop –
and what better breakfast than its cool
Kikwete Fast Chowmein (KFC for short:
you’ve seen their logo all along the road,
the friendly huge red grinning Colonel Croc),
the only one with chopsticks fashioned
from authentic acacia wood. Alas,
this morning all that’s left for us to poach
are the eggs of kites and vultures pulling
at the putrid flesh of roadkill corpses.
The rest is out of stock, so please don’t ask
to see the manager – he’ll likely be
in some important meeting.
Or at a conference.
So thanks for sharing your World Heritage
Safari Experience with us. Do
enjoy your omelette – and have a lovely day!
Stone by Stepping Stone
John Lindley
From ‘landfill’ to ‘lapwing’
requires more than a dip in the alphabet,
more than just a leap of faith
yet it begins
and it begins not letter by letter
but hedge by fattening hedge.
It begins as small as a bird table
and grows as wide as a field, as long as a ridge.
It begins amongst foxgloves and figwort,
in a morning of meadowsweet
and though no wild boar witness it
it is noted by hairstreak and peregrine,
by badger and owl.
It begins stone by stepping stone
and who would have thought such stones
could be engineered and sown?
Who would have thought
they could be dreamt, mapped and moulded
into more than fancy, more than symbol?
Still, it begins. From Frodsham to Bulkeley Hill.
From corridor to green corridor
a land found and refashioned
reclaims itself and swells until each corridor
is no longer measured by the wing span of a hawk
but by the circumference of its flight.
Born of a glacial shift –
a sandstone ridge,
red raw with promise,
skirts hill fort and castle.
A raven hunches like age
against the gathering mist.
Put an ear to the earth,
hear a seed splitting with new life.
Cast an eye to the hills,
see elms able again to stretch and touch fingers.
Woodland and heathland –
all are a heartland
and it is a heart that beats from Beacon Hill
to Bickerton and beyond.
It is a heart thought still,
jumpstarted by other hearts:
by landlord and farmer,
by owner and tenant,
by craftsman and labourer,
by the you and me we call a community.
It is a heart that drums
in the small frame of newt,
the slick casing of otter,
the sensual hide of deer
and grows louder,
like the echo of those lost skylarks
who went with the grassland
but now sing of recovery, sing of return.
Sheenagh Pugh
Two miles below the light, bacteria
live without sun, thrive on sulphur
in a cave of radioactive rock,
and, blind in the night of the ocean floor,
molluscs that feed only on wood
wait for wrecks. White tubeworms heap
in snowdrifts around hydrothermal vents,
at home in scalding heat. Lichens encroach
on Antarctic valleys where no rain
ever fell. There is nowhere
life cannot take hold, nowhere so salt,
so cold, so acid, but some chancer
will be there, flourishing on bare stone,
getting by, gleaning a sparse living
from marine snow, scavenging
light from translucent quartz, as if
lack and hardship could do nothing
but quicken it, this urge
to cling on in the cracks
of the world, or as if this world
itself, so various, so not to be spared
as it is, were the impetus
never to leave it.
from For Rhino in a Shrinking World
(The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013).
Order For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  
Visit For Rhino in a Shrinking World’s website
Visit the Chipembere Rhino Foundation.

Jennifer Wong’s Goldfish

Jennifer Wong
Jennifer is a Hong Kong-born writer, translator and copywriter currently living in London. She is the author of two poetry collections including Summer Cicadas (2006) and Goldfish (2013) published by Chameleon Press. Her poems have appeared in literary journals including Eyewear, Morning Star, Frogmore Papers, Warwick Review, Orbis, TATE ETC, UCity Review, Cha, QLRS (Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore), Dimsum, One Night Stanzas, Iota, New Writer, Rising, as well as poetry anthologies including Oxfam anthology of Young British Poets by Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood (Cinnamon Press, 2012), World Record: An Anthology edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), Prairie Schooner – Fusion online journal edited by Kwame Dawes and Agnes Lam (August 2013) and Asian Poetry in English forthcoming from Math Paper Press. She is a regular contributor to Asian Review of Books and Sphinx Reviews.

Jennifer studied English at Oxford and received an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. In 2012, she took part in the Poetry Parnassus festival hosted by Southbank Centre and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. She worked as writer-in-residence at Lingnan University in Hong Kong for Spring 2012, and is an associate board member of the UK literary magazine Magma Poetry.
“From childhood memories, fairy tales, taboos, deep-rooted faiths to translated truths, Jennifer Wong’s dream-like and surreal second collection reveals the changing landscapes of Hong Kong and modern China.”
“‘I know my home is not a country anymore, just a festering colony of the mind’ says the speaker of Jenny Wong’s poem, ‘Gift’. But the colonies of the mind are full of life, of pleasure and melancholy. The modern city of Hong Kong with its crowd of lingerie departments, coffee, Xerox machines and stilettos, merges into the voices of ancient and modern China in a set of fine translations … fleeting images of the world from Mexico to Berlin, where ‘Life is a solo act,/ a casual scooter’. It is a poignant, tender, free-flowing colony we move through, handled with great sharpness and delicacy.”

– George Szirtes
“Jennifer Wong records the colour and detail of the world around her with great precision and delicacy, and reinvents the commonplace as something surreal. The poems are deceptively simple, but yield rewards with each reading, like magic boxes that reveal new treasures and hidden secrets.”

– Tamar Yoseloff
“With her tender, subtle evocations of place and relationships, her work represents a distinctive Hong Kong poetic voice we keep returning to with insight and delight.”
– Prof. David Parker
“Poems written with sensitive delicacy … Jennifer knows the cosmopolitan worlds of urban Hong Kong and London as well as the solitudes of her own heart.”
– Tim Wells
Love in the Time of SARS
We met in the year I looked
rather awful with my braces.
You offered to help me with maths
which became our common excuse.
On weekends we’d go
to Sai Kung, Stanley
or ice skating at Festival Walk,
glad to be on our own.
When my dad fell sick you went
with me to the hospital,
waiting about patiently,
peeling oranges.
For a year or so after you left
for Canada, we kept up with
our letters, but recollections
of what we went through
dwindled, as someone else
held my hand in the cinema,
your IDD calls and MSN messages
reduced to a nearly nothing.
With a pang of nausea I removed
our sticker photo from my cell phone.
He wasn’t as good in hiking or sports,
but he wrote me a song based on Eason’s
‘The Ferris Wheel of Happiness’.
We walked along the waterfront, drinking Vitasoy.
Meanwhile, decrepit buildings
were pulled down like useless teeth
to make way for the new.
For months I listened to news
on the sudden death of birds,
the closure of Mai Po.
Some of our faiths were shaken.
We learned to hide our sorrow,
struggled with late night revisions,
and mulled over choices of university.
Before long the precious years
would pass us by, sooner
than we hoped for or realised.
Paper Stars
A tall jar full
of paper stars,
rainbow coloured.
‘I hope you like them,’ I murmured,
walking in a circle,
feeling the weight
of long origami nights,
rehearsing my line.
On Time
Waiting on the platform
of the JR Yamanote line,
my friend explained,
‘Trains here are seldom late
until someone jumps onto the tracks.’
The afternoon crowd increased.
The digital panel and broadcast
confirmed our suspicion.
Commuters glanced at their watches,
staring blankly at an absolute nothing.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
The news column tomorrow would be brief:
name, age, metro line, passengers affected.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
Perhaps she already had lunch—
miso ramen or teishoku—perhaps not.
Did she put on any lipstick?
How did she make up her mind
on the station, section of the track?
Someone must be left to deal with
her cell phone and gas bills.
The train finally arrived—
the jumper was with us, she’s out,
we’re in—we filed in one by one,
all the time holding on to our masks
and the metal handrails.
Gobbling Down Auspicious Chinese Dishes
It’s feeding coins into the fruit machine.
It’s a national race, greed, a feast
of all-you-can-eat lucky homonyms.
Say abalone: fat pockets of prosperity.
Say prawn noodles for laughter in the house
and lettuce sounds exactly like money-making.
To maximise profit, try raw fish salad.
Tuck into the whole chicken,
symbol of family unity.
In the new year it’s unimaginable
to skip the most auspicious dish:
dried oysters with black moss
that reek of fantastic news.
As for dessert, help yourself
to ‘smiling sesame balls’
and if all these aren’t enough,
buy a paper windmill from the temple,
give your money to the poor,
wear red underwear, drink pomelo juice.
Embroidering Chinese Pin Cushions
We start with a satin circle,
fill it with wood shaving or cotton,
steady the centre, cut out
six square cloths to make
six little dolls whose hands
almost touch.
Grandma lets me draw their eyes,
their meek smiles. She teaches me
how to braid their hair.
From early evening until midnight
we’d sit, talking as we work,
the kerosene lamp glowing in the dark.
We’d make enough to fill
a red-and-blue tarpaulin bag:
three cents for a cushion. A fortune.
Next day we’d bring our satin work
to the missionary church
where the sisters would teach us songs.
Looking at the stained glass windows
and the brass eagle on the altar, we’d hide
our blistered fingers in jingling pockets.
from Goldfish (Chameleon Press, 2013).
Poems reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
Order Goldfish here, here or here.
Visit Jenny’s website and culture blog.
Visit Chameleon Press.

Mario Petrucci’s anima

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

“Reminiscent of e.e. cummings at his best”, Mario Petrucci’s work is “vivid, generous and life-affirming” (Envoi).  His most recent poems, inspired by Black Mountain and hailed as “modernist marvels” (Poetry Book Society), embrace contemporary issues of profound social and personal relevance via a distinctive combination of innovation and humanity.  Through groundbreaking residencies, poetry films and a remarkable output of ecopoetry, his unique scientific sensibility has illuminated the linguistic as well as emotive resonances of love and loss in the public and private domains.  Whether exploring the tragedies of Chernobyl (Heavy Water, 2004) or immersing himself in heart-rending invention (i tulips, 2010), Petrucci aspires to “Poetry on a geological scale” (Verse).
“The thirty-nine poems of anima bring a distinctive, archetypal potency to the closing stages of Mario Petrucci’s larger i tulips project, the 1111-strong sequence in which this sub-sequence crucially sits.
Arising organically from prior modernist experiment, Petrucci’s style nevertheless remains utterly contemporary. His mastery of the shape and sound of each poem makes for an intense and all-consuming experience, refocusing an array of influences through an acute lyrical sensibility. By yielding so completely to the power of linguistic transformation, these searing, necessary poems capture both the crisis and the beauty of the heart’s innermost voyage.”
“Mario Petrucci’s anima is a revelation of the underside of a human heart submitting to the contradictions of love, doubt and mortality. This remarkable work reconfigures the soul as well as the mind, through language that shapes the ineffable into a visceral, triumphant poetry.”

– Alexandra Burack
“The tensile delicacy of Petrucci’s lines springs back with a very English baroque, Miltonic surprise: sense-ambush occurs in the next line, skewering what’s gone before.  Between these line-breaks rests a declamatory silence tested to snapping.  This is major work to cast shadows.”

– Álvaro de Campos, tr. Simon Jenner
“With a brio and tenderness all of their own, these new lyric poems are modernist marvels, word sculptures pared to their very essence… Petrucci’s tulips promise to grow into a truly ambitious landmark body of work.”

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2010
the machine
step into the machine
they said
& we can take you back

undo each & all regret
the girls  the booze  that bank
I said

the catch?
that’s for you to choose  they said
just get in first &

take it
step by step  so I could have had  (I
mean could have)

Margaret?  no –
better than that  the clearest pearl you
never met  a flower

a-swirl in mead  but
hurry now  this power is
expensive  & what of illness?  mine?  no

need for that  you’ll be shown
where you mustn’t live  look – an open
door  sign

here (I cursed)  was she then
the one?  of many  friend  you mean
rather than the one I

took?  you’re sure?   oh
much more than you can know  so
meet that hearse

with a silken heart  take another
throw…(I’d one leg
in)  I said

what about
my son?

your son?  ah
– nothing to be done  nothing
we can do  but

there’ll be others  just like
him & not  unkilled  & he’ll never know
you know   nor you

I know
now  I said  (they began to fret  the floor
began to slide)  we need

answers  get
inside  don’t make this your biggest
yet   I

saw a face
somewhere still  at play  a door
swept shut

disappeared as I whispered
through air  distilled

I’ll stay
for Pablo Neruda (‘Tonight I Can Write…’)
because  i have
lost her  I hold her gaze in mine
who never loses  who sees me  under
the bone moon  bones in her eyes  daze

all love shown  in singlest glance  nothing
survives other than love  what eyes
steady behind a look  covered

recovered  as one loses a stone
generations passed  down on single
fingers  regenerations to regain her  I

found because I looked & all  gazing salt  who
think eyes that dance  lose  translating
flesh to other flesh  that thinned

mink a thumbtip brushed in her  small
of back or animal  between thighs made
heady muse  what is  never held I cannot

lose as oceans do not hold  the dolphin  ever
passing  through  I have her now who
passed in trueness  feel her

glide within as certain days  become
asides to time  as though I were that air  emp-
tied  leap–stunned over water  what waters   hide

after dolphins
none ever
walked through

unpainted with chords

beneath silt
& caught between brick
each ability

to weep
bedded in plaster to cover
notes as

if music
were indicant absence for

never express though this
covert man

is able
sat by a window black
with lateness

in love for all quiets
he cannot

quite pianissimo

artful with dawn all on
its brink

with the next his very next
beat b-

that rim outermost in him
ever after

about to
return even as it burns
lock to

in the one his

anima  I
cannot write
her straight – this
man in whom straightness is

an arrow curving
its path : mere illusion
for lovers who plot where it arcs

I cannot know
her in this line I draw
back tauter than the string that lets

pain go or
the bow supple in its
bend yet ever prone to warp & send

off-true : so
how may I find a You
where speech is impossible unless

this skimming
of targets be the way
into speaking between a man &

that woman he
started with neither
mother nor wife but She he

squints at
clear through near
-sighted morning as if

her stroke
steady & precise
through him were

air ready
to be parted
O  anima
you ran
ahead when magma
was just a girl hurled along masculine

vertebrae to spill her tresses hotly orange
or part in pleasure there &
here her

many yellow
lipsticked mouths – you
blessed the pool where bacteria unthinking

Brownian ways through measured light chose
instead one day to walk &

still fused
hip to shoulder you
smouldered on each southern bed dreamy

with depth & loosely loved where underwater
vents teethed in druse sent

biota as campfires do
by gloomy streams & even through reptilian

doom you grew patient for me as the Nile for
sand or that green-brown rind
on crocodiles

you waited
for sun & mind to grow me
with every journey hearse-to-crib become one

slow breath & now i breathe creation in
as though that oxygen were
easy on

these lungs
received through a look
fearlessly ancient from a creature formed

not of rib but water who found at last air &
fire or as bluish Earth in
all its seas

glares in love
upon airier blues or the air
-borne bird ever chooses to keep motionless

its egg or settles in the nest it makes itself
with delicate shivers to rest

that perfect
fit – though today i sleep &
skit so sense myself a swallow stalled &

brought too soon to ground who sees thus
calls to your sky moving on
above to

wait for me
for Hafez
how  our stars
fall to heaven not
from hell: twinned

flares unseen in op-
that dare cross them

selves across the sea
moon in soundless omen

a quick amen in bodied sky
swells to bluest child these

plutonic cells uncurtailed
indivisibly double this

zygote afternoon that
to hours made all

but ionic with
electrics our


of night
from anima (Nine Arches Press, 2013).
Order anima here and here.
Visit Mario’s website.

‘The Old and the Young’ by Rebecca Goss

© Image by Rosie Bennett

© Image by Rosie Bennett

Rebecca Goss was born in 1974 and grew up in Suffolk.  She studied English at Liverpool John Moores University and has an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University. Her first full-length collection, The Anatomy of Structures, was published in 2010 by Flambard Press.  Her Birth, her second collection, is published by Carcanet/Northern House and has been shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection. She has recently moved back to Suffolk after twenty years in Liverpool, where she taught creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University. She is married, has raised her two stepchildren, and now combines writing full time with caring for her young daughter.


Her Birth 
Shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection
“In 2007 Rebecca Goss’s newborn daughter Ella was diagnosed with Severe Ebstein’s Anomaly, a rare and incurable heart condition. She lived for sixteen months. Her Birth is a book-length sequence of poems beginning with Ella’s birth, her short life and her death, and ending with the joys and complexities that come with the birth of another child. Goss navigates the difficult territory of grief and loss in poems that are spare, tender and haunting: “Going home, back down/ the river road, will be a foreign route without her”.”
“The poems in Her Birth unfold their story of love, loss and grief for a baby daughter with pared-down precision and scorching intensity. The language, like sea-glass, has been ground by a tide that might have crushed words completely. Instead, it has shaped these translucent poems.”

– Helen Dunmore
“It is rare to read a book of poems which has the narrative compulsion of Her Birth. But even such a powerful and moving narrative as this one would not be effective without the beautifully crafted language in which the poems are expressed: clear, graceful, word-perfect. This is a wonderful book.”

– Bernard O’Donoghue
The Old and the Young
Since the death of my baby daughter in 2008, I look at old people differently. By old, I mean men and women well into their pensionable years. I have always loved the company of older people but there is an added poignancy to it now.

Twenty years of my life were spent in Liverpool. It’s rare to go anywhere in the city and not engage with a stranger within hours. Perhaps I am generalising, but I think women too, are particularly quick to confess and confide in each other. We have an ability to share and reveal information about ourselves, to females we barely know, in a matter of minutes. In the past five years I have met several elderly women who have lost children. Their stories were told to me in various locations: the gardens of a café, a bus, my own street. I didn’t know any of the women, we had not met before, but just the gentle crossing of paths prompted conversation. Their stories of sadness came quickly. I didn’t tell them about my own daughter’s death and what floored me about their stories was how quickly their ‘loss’ came to the surface. In each case, the death of their child had happened decades earlier but it was almost the first thing they told me. It defined them, all those years later.

Inside Liverpool’s imposing Catholic cathedral there is a Children’s Chapel. It houses a stone-finished sculpture depicting Christ surrounded by children. The windows have been likened to the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery song. The woven hanging depicts the Sea of Galilee. At one end of the seat circling the chapel’s edge is a folder. It is overflowing, bursting with letters, cards and handwritten notes. I am not religious. I do not believe in God. I went to the cathedral on this particular day with my stepdaughter, as she was sketching part of the building for her school art project. I had no idea the chapel was inside. While Rosie sketched, I wandered into the chapel and gradually realised where I was and what this place meant to people.

I opened the folder and began to read. It was harrowing. There is no other word for it. Parents had come to leave letters for their dead children. But it was the dates that haunted me. My own daughter had been dead for less than a year. Some of the letters in the chapel were from women whose children had been dead for over fifty years. They had come to mark birthdays, or anniversaries and each card was written with the rawness of a recent loss.

I’m not frightened of getting old. I am frightened of forgetting my daughter, of sitting in a chair, stricken with dementia and being unable to recall her name or face. But I am also terrified of remembering her. That a part of me is going to be very sad, for the rest of my life. How selfish that sounds. How selfish too, to fear the day I will be old, an unremarkable presence on a bus and no one will give a damn that my daughter died. No one will know that I lived through that terrible thing. Now, when I see an elderly woman alone, I want to sit beside her and say Tell me everything. Tell me everything about your life.
I’ve been told of women in their eighties
who dial on birthdays, their story drawn

from the receiver in small damp breaths:
‘He would have been sixty’

and a voice wraps them in a blanket of vowels.
Somehow, a child has slipped from them.

They were unable to stop it, like sand collapsing
back down the hole, dug on that dry part of beach.
The final section of Her Birth covers the birth of my second child. I wanted the book to end with feelings of hope. Hope is there, but the poems are permeated with fears of something awful happening again. When your world has been that of hospitals, palliative care, bad news, it is hard to believe that children live to grow old.

I discovered Sharon Olds’ collection The Sign of Saturn (Secker and Warburg, 1991) in my very early twenties. I was single, had no children of my own but was drawn in completely by her portrayal of women, motherhood and children. She also wrote a lot about sex. Sexual relationships and the family were two key things I wanted to write about and I’ve always felt that book gave me a kind of ‘green light’ to go ahead. Olds observes not just the beauty of children, but their fragility and vulnerability too. In a poem about her daughter’s worn and abandoned pyjamas she describes how they “lie on the floor/ inside out, thin and wrinkled as/ peeled skins of peaches when you ease the/ whole skin off at once./ You can see where her waist emerged, and her legs,/ gathered in rumples like skin the caterpillar/ ramped out of and left to shrivel” (from ‘Pajamas’).

Her daughter ‘ramps’ through life, but what she leaves behind is as fragile and ephemeral as peach skin. The daughter matures at a pace and there is the mother, behind her, following the trail, collecting the discarded items of proof that her child existed. Of course, this is what we want. We want to see our children growing, maturing, achieving each metamorphic stage. Despite Olds’ poems about her own children being quite wondrous, she does not take anything for granted. The book is punctuated with stories of children who do not make it. A young girl is raped and murdered, a child goes missing – the tape of his information poster “beginning to/ melt at the centre and curl at the edges as it/ ages”.

In The Sign of Saturn Olds describes someone who “knows what all of us never want to know”. If you experience the death of a child, you then carry that awful knowledge. The final poem in Her Birth returns to the wondrous state of watching a child bloom, of allowing myself to enjoy her young life. But I admit, I wanted to share some of the awful knowledge too. I wanted to explain it, explore it, try and make sense of it in some way.
I let socks dot the washing, coats grace
a chair’s arm.  Her hospital bag, too hard
to unpack, stayed slumped and ignored

but eventually there was a gathering,
the limp outline of her size carried upstairs.
It accumulated in the cot, a cold pit

of pyjamas, dresses, jeans.  My heap of her,
visible through bars.  Insides of sleeves
brushed with her cells, last flecks compacting

in pastel matter, until her father found me
fretting at its edge, suggested it was time
for the careful mining of her things.

Our intention to sort, fold and label soon became
a quick, unhappy shoving into grey plastic bags,
the silent hoisting to an attic’s dark.  Her cot

collapsed, I sobbed in that desolated space,
while my desk was carried in, books and pens
planted on its surface, her father’s wise reclamation

of the site.  I kept a row of lilac-buttoned relics
in my wardrobe. Hand-knitted proof, something
to haul my sorry lump of heart and make it blaze.
The Lights

Pausing in traffic, I’m miles away
when a file of children forces me
to focus.  School now behind them,
they cross in a bustle of coats and bags –
their ages vague to me, but their limbs
bold and flailing, affirming themselves
with shoves and pushes. I marvel
this mass of certainty.  Even the loners

get to the other side, lights turning green
as they dawdle. I’m beginning to realise
most children make it. It’s rare to see
your child being fought for in intensive care;
to stay with her afterwards, saying her name.
It’s unusual, at the undertakers, to finalise
arrangements then fumble for a photograph,
so they could know her when she was warm.
© Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House, 2013).
Order Her Birth here.

Visit Rebecca’s blog.
Rebecca will be talking about Her Birth on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, on Thursday, 15 August from 10h00.
Read Rebecca’s interview in The Observer about Ella, the book and the Forward Prize.

Rebecca writes about ‘Motherhood, poetry and loss’.

Read Rebecca’s title poem, ‘Her Birth’.

Visit Child Bereavement UK.

Gaia Holmes’s Lifting the Piano with One Hand

Gaia Holmes 
Gaia Holmes is a West Yorkshire-born poet and a graduate of Huddersfield University’s English with Creative Writing BA, and has previously made a living as a busker, a cleaner, a gallery attendant, an oral historian, a lollypop lady, a poet in residence at Bradford Library and Halifax festival, a freelance writer and Creative Writing lecturer. As well as being a familiar face on the local poetry scene, Gaia Holmes is also known nationally. She has read at literary festivals throughout Britain and beyond. Her poem ‘Claustrophobia’ was highly commended in the ‘Best Individual Poem’ category of the Forward Poetry Prize, 2007 and ‘A Homesick Truckie in the Algarve’ was the featured poem in Frieda Hughes’ weekly literary column in The Times (May 2007).
Lifting the Piano with One Hand 
“The poetry of Gaia Holmes delves deep beneath the urban and the quotidian to reveal a strange and exotic other-life. This, her much-anticipated second collection, champions the survivor and celebrates the indomitability of the self, measuring at each turn the cost suffered against the hope retained, the loss still felt against the new-found strength of starting afresh.”
“More like incantation or witchcraft – these poems are spells, taking the most ordinary and mundane of things, including jokes and sadness, and working some metamorphosis on them, so they shine like stars – tiny but brilliant.”
– Sara Maitland
“Like the narrator of her title poem, Gaia Holmes performs elegant feats, her language effortless and remarkable. This is a haunting but often witty collection, the poems alive to both ‘the sweet and the sour / moments of life’.”
– Helen Mort
“Here we see Holmes deepening the distinctive voice which made Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed such an impressive debut. With frailty and ferocity, she finds the sacred and discordant in the everyday. Empty teacups and beds are brimful of loss. Sex is sweet, sour and subversive. All this in a style which is as accessible as it is challenging. An engaging collection from a poet going from strength to strength.”
– Cathy Galvin
“Gaia Holmes became my favourite contemporary female poet the moment I read her potent, enchanting art. A wordsmith chef mixing the magic of the concrete and sensory with the imaginative, she is like a young Lady Prospero, able to make eiderdown moonlight or lift a neglected piano up to the skylight.”
– Joan Jobe Smith
Your grandmother
had tins full of prayer tags
and soft Garibaldi biscuits.
She stored gossip like hymn sheets
folded into the back
of her breeze-block bible,
kept a row of icons
above her fireplace
with garish hearts
like rotting plums,
reserved the best bone china
for priests, saints
and other visitations.
If you were lucky, upon leaving
you’d be blessed with a dry kiss
pressed upon the brow,
otherwise you’d leave
drenched in a frenzy of spittle,
Hail Marys and Holy Water.
You said I’d done quite well,
made a good impression
but I could tell by the way
she edged her way
around my name
and how damp I was
when we said goodbye
that she thought
I’d burn in Hell.
Our sadness lives
on different floors,
by a flimsy wafer
of carpet and board.
Mine is the feisty kind
that screams,
yours is the quiet rat
that gnaws.
Sometimes they meet
at the breakfast table,
spill milk, make chaos,
leave meaning out to sour.
But we
keep missing each other.
A fast car shrieks,
a bass-beat
jellies the house
or a cat keens and mewls
over our pleas
and we hear nothing,
only the tense creak
of our parallel pacing,
the gush and scratch
of something
scrubbing itself raw.
Ice Hotel
We have here
our own cheap little room
in the ice hotel
with none of the glamour
of a honeymoon bed.
We sleep on glaciers
with thick sheets of glass
between us.
you have forgotten me.
My name turns blue
on your lips.
At night
the hotel glows
with its chandeliers
of seal-fat candles
and from the outside
you can see us,
you can see through us.
You can see
our meaty hearts
under traceries
of frost.
On Albion Street, squeezed between Pisces fishmongers
and Custace’s game shop there is a little slice of Italy.
A tiny stereo plays Mina Mazzini’s greatest hits
as Carmelo flours his rounds of soft calzone dough.
All day a gush of butchers’ slop trickles past his shop,
a slurry of gills and gizzards and shreds of hide.
Carmelo grins above the gore, spins pale manna on his fingertip:
‘A calzone , Madame? Nice with the coffee, the tea’,
but he says it like a tragedy, as if he’s announcing a death.
No one stops. His beautiful cubes of feta run like milk
as the sun shines hard, turns pig’s blood into clots
and the dead rabbits swinging beside his sign
begin to drip.
I turned my heart into a 2-star B&B
hoping that I might trick you
into checking in.
I covered the uneven walls
with red flock
and tawdry dados,
painted the ceiling
nicotine yellow,
hung dog-eared landscapes
at subtle slants,
put a back-lit tank
of Angel Fish in the foyer,
left stacks of browning
Readers Digests
on a pouffe in the lounge.
I transformed myself into a Mistress
of Marigold gloves
and tremulous ash cones,
wore pressed pin-curls
and a lilac housecoat.
And the only way you might
see through my disguise
would be when I slid your
grease-jeweled breakfast
onto the yellowed oil-cloth table,
bent low and close
so that my powdery cheek
dusted your jaw
and beneath the new
Jiff and liver scent
of my neck
you smelled wood smoke
and coconut
and remembered me.
I’d like to live in a French film
where the thin tea-brown light
paints me wise and beautiful
Where the Sacre Coeur bells
and my neighbor playing Satie
make a stinging soundtrack
to my life.
Nothing will be bland:
you will be addicted
to my skin,
you will smoke
stumpy Gauloises cigarettes,
fill your car
with lust and violet clouds
as you drive through storms
dodging monstrous wind-fall trees
and toppled telegraph poles
just to get to me,
just to plant little kisses
like forget-me-nots
at the top of my thighs.
And in the morning,
every morning
we will drink black coffee
from shallow bowls,
we will eat croissants.
Our bed will become a table
full of love, books,
butter and crumbs
and outside
the wet streets will shine
like pewter,
the world will smell
of Montparnasse cafes
and Parisian rain.
I am lifting the piano with one hand
I am holding it effortlessly steady
like a graceful waitress balancing a tray
of quail’s eggs and salmon soufflé
on her horizontal palm.
I am dexterously carrying it up three flights of stairs
without stubbing my toes or splitting my fingernails,
without chipping paint off the door frames
or denting the soft plaster of the walls.
I am lifting the piano with one hand.
I have not eaten spinach, mineral supplements,
muscle powder or Weetabix.
Today I am just unusually strong
and able to carry the piano up three flights of stairs
where I’ll leave the skylight window open
and a note inviting any passing ghosts
to come in, sit down and play ‘Moonlight Sonata’
or Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’ or ‘The Entertainer’
or whatever they’d like to play on a neglected piano
in the house of a strong woman.
from Lifting the Piano with One Hand (Comma Press, 2013).
Order Lifting the Piano with One Hand here or here.
Visit Gaia’s blog.
Read four of Gaia’s poems here.