Category Archives: poetry anthologies

Days of Roses II

Cover artwork© Rachel Howard

Cover artwork© Rachel Howard

Contributors are Liz Berry, Robert Selby, Harriet Moore, Lydia Macpherson, André Naffis-Sahely, Alan Buckley, Declan Ryan, Malene Engelund, William Searle and Rory Waterman.
The Sea of Talk
Liz Berry

for dad
That last Summer before school robbed language
from my mouth and parcelled it up in endless
Ladybird Books, you made me a boat of words
and pushed us off from the jetty into the Sea of Talk.
You let the waves navigate. My fingers stroked shoals
of nouns in the chatter – goosegog, peony – ,
verbs slithering, electric as eels in the seagrass.
All August we sailed, the vast shadows of stories
trawling below us: ‘ow the lights waz out the night
you waz born … the secret in the marlpit up Batman’s Hill …
then further out, deeper, those first vowels we’d spoken,
filmy and shapeshifting as jellyfish in the dark.
You let me swim in the shallows until the moon drew
the murmuring tides to her breast. Then you made a net
of your arms and hauled me in, kissed your thumb
to my small mouth, my barnacle ears, whispered:
Bab, little wench, dow forget this place,
its babble never caught by ink or book
fer on land, school is singin’ its siren song
an oysters close their lips upon pearls in the mud.
Black Country/Standard
goosegog/gooseberry          dow/don’t

The Burning of the Pets
Lydia Macpherson
Today they start the burning of the pets.
The wind is in the right direction,
the sky is blue and flecked with larks
and fighter planes, the weather’s set
and it’s as good a day as any to burn pets.
There are economies of scale and pets
who die before the rest must wait in piles
like fur coats on a party bed until
the latecomers catch up, collarless
and stiffening, for the bonfire of the pets.
They come in unmarked vans and pets
who, living, would have bickered now sleep
easily together, the Dobermans and flopsy bunnies,
tabbies curled with mice and gerbils, paws and claws
and hooves and tails, a jumbled bestiary of pets.
There are no funerals for the pets:
the forklift hoicks them down the chute
like laundry in a hospital, a button’s pressed,
a fat man settles with his Daily Sport and tea
to wait for the incineration of the pets.
Tomorrow they’ll box up the pets
in plastic urns of varied size:
a lucky dip of bones and teeth,
which, parcelled out to owners,
will complete the burning of the pets.
Previously published in The Rialto.
An Island of Strangers
André Naffis-Sahely

The roof was the place to be. I was fifteen
and in love with ash-cans, pigeon coops,
women hanging their laundry. There was a fifty-
foot portrait of the King – always smiling –
by the sea, overlooking a busy junction;
like an ad for toothpaste or mouthwash.
At night, the shore on the west side of town
was the quietest, where hotels, natashas and haram
coalesced into parties. Every half-lit room
was a sure sign of orgasms and the passing
of money from stranger to stranger. Anything
interesting and pleasurable was haram. I envied
the King, and his sons, all eighteen of them.
The King was virile, a patriarch, Abraham on Viagra,
the rest of his people were on Prozac. Everywhere
the eye looked was money, the nose, meanwhile,
hit only sweat: acrid, pugnacious, pervasive.
Most of the boys I knew sucked Butane, smoked,
saved up for whores, waited for their parole in the summer:
each back to their own country. Come September
the dissatisfied return; misfit mutts, at home every-
and nowhere. A friend compared cosmopolitanism
to being stuck at summer camp, to waiting for parents
who never showed up. In the twentieth year of his smile,
the King finally died. His mausoleum is a meringue: wavy,
white, empty . . . His sons have gone on squabbling, playing
‘whose is biggest’ with bricks; one by one, they die in car crashes.
Days of heat strokes, kif and blood-thirsty Ferraris.
Alan Buckley
for Kate
Although your mobile must be lying still
and unblinking on a bedside table,
or stuffed in a bag with a pointless diary,
tonight I ring it one last time, and hear
your voice, clear, unwavering, as you ask me
to please leave a message after the tone,
and then I try to pretend you’re busy,
writing songs on your scuffed acoustic, or down
in the lush, quiet county you were born in,
hands on the steering wheel’s leopard-print cover,
casually speeding south through a warren
of hedge-bound lanes, stone bridges, up over
Eggardon Hill, to the place you’d go to stare
at the waves, and breathe the incoming air.
First prize, Wigtown Poetry Competition.
From Alun Lewis
Declan Ryan
There is nothing that can save today, darling,
you not being here. You MUST write.
It’s impossible to breathe otherwise.
I’m only talking of the things I really NEED.
I’m so tired of travelling away from you.
I think of you all the bloody time. Do you mind?
This isn’t an answer or a letter –
it’s only a cup of coffee after lunch.
Many things I’ve been unable to remember
came to me last night.
You sitting like a babu at a desk
in the bowels of the G.P.O.
You standing in the quartier latin corridor
of the Hotel Marina on Sunday afternoon
after the cinema saying ‘Alright, pay the taxi. Let’s stay.’
When I saw you on Saturday July 24th
you were the flash of a sword.
Now I’m hopelessly shut into the camp life again.
A soccer match, a disjointed conversation at dinner,
a visit to the reading room to see how things go:
oh and a longing beyond words.
There’s a fat dove strutting across the lawn
by the bougainvillea.
I wish I could be strolling with you
looking at the rose moles all in stipple
in your little stream.
One way or another I make a lot of shadows where I go.
Don’t worry over the hairs on my head.
May you not be tried harder than you can bear.
Let there be an again, New Year. Save us.
Previously published in Poetry Review.
from Days of Roses II.
Days of Roses II is available in London at Daunt Books and Foyles.
Order Days of Roses II.

Skate, a Pighog Press anthology

Skate: the wonderful world of ice skating in prose,
poetry and
Edited by Meredith Collins
Pighog Press, 2012
ISBN 9781906309794
A fascinating collection of poetry, history and images dedicated to the art of ice skating, with an introduction by Jayne Torvill from Britain’s most famous skating duo, Torvill and Dean. It’s an ideal gift not just for novice skaters and more experienced dancers on ice but for anyone who loves elegant design and intriguing information.
contains articles written by curators at the Museum of London with iconic paintings and charming photographs depicting the history of this joyous pastime. From medieval ice skates made of bone to the Frost Fairs on the Thames in London, this enchanting miscellany explores the art and history of skating. It also highlights the remarkable contribution British skaters have made over the years and the impact they’ve had on the style of figure skating we recognize today as a graceful Olympic sport.
‘Poetry on ice’ by historically renowned poets such as Addison, Blunden, Goethe and Wordsworth features alongside work by contemporary poets, to create a fascinating reading experience. Whether you’ve never gone near the treacherous surface of the rink or you can do a Mohawk turn with the best of them, you will treasure this stylish and beautifully presented anthology.
£1 from each sale of Skate goes to the charity Shelter to support their work with the homeless.
Articles by Meredith Collins, Hazel Forsyth and Jackie Keily.
Poetry by Tracy Davidson, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, William Wordsworth, Joseph Addison, Pauline Suett Barbieri, Edmund Blunden, Robert Snow, C Dibdin, Anna Kisby, Edgar Wood Syers, Curtis Tappenden, Brendan Cleary, John Liddy, John McCullough, Susan Richardson and James Thomson.
Extract from The Coldest Winter on Record
17th Century Frost Fairs
by Hazel Forsyth, Museum of London Curator
The great ‘singularity of the City of London’ is the Thames, wrote James Dalton in his celebratory account of the capital in 1580, for it,

“Reacheth furthest in the bellie of the land [and] … the breadth and stilnesses of the water is naviagable up and down the streame.’ London is perfectly situated ‘for if it were removed more to the west, it should lose the benefit of the ebbing and flowing; and if it were seated more towardes the East, it should be nearer to daunger of the enemie and further from the good ayre and from doing good to the inner parts of the Realme.”
The importance of the river to the communication, economy and culture of the capital is a recurring theme in sixteenth and seventeenth-century literature. Foreigners were particularly struck by the vast number of merchant vessels thronging the quays and wharves and the smaller craft ‘used by groups of people to cross the river, or to enjoy themselves in the evenings’. According to the Venetian, Alesandro Magno in 1562, the boats were ‘charmingly upholstered and embroidered cushions are laid across the seats, which are very comfortable to sit on or lean against’. By the late 16th century there were three-thousand watermen operating a water-taxi service on the Thames, but sometimes there were no boats to be had and one tourist complained that he had waited so long ‘that we could in the space of time have made the entire journey on foot and performed some errands along the way’. When the boat finally arrived it appeared to be reduced by ‘worms and time to such a condition that it could have been used as a cork’ and the two watermen seemed broken: ‘they stretched their bodies to their entire lengths while rowing, [they] succeeded only in making very slow progress’.
The Other Side of Winter
John McCullough
Overnight the Thames begins to move again.
The ice beneath the frost fair cracks. Tents,
merry-go-rounds and bookstalls glide about

on islands given up for lost. They race,
switch places, touch – the printing press nuzzling
the swings – then part, slip quietly under.

Still, there is no end of crystal weather.
I hoard coal, stare mostly at the chimney’s back,
fingering the pipe he gave me on the quay.

Even now it carries his greatcoat’s whiff:
ale, oranges, resolve. I remember his prison-ship
lurking out from shore, huge as Australia.

I’ll write, my dear sweet man, he said
then squeezed my thigh and turned, a sergeant
again, bellowing at a flock of convicts.

I do not have the nerve to light it.
The mouthpiece is covered with teeth marks, sweat.
I look out at my museum-garden,

the shrubs locked in glass cases,
the latticework a galaxy of frozen dew.
There is no snow in New South Wales.

I cannot put the pipe down. It makes things happen.
Last week I heard a crash and ran outside to find
a jackdaw flat on the lawn. It must have fallen

from the sky, its wings fused together
by hardened sleet, its neck twisted as though broken
from straining to see the incredible.
from The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
from Skate (Pighog Press, 2012).

Order Skate.

Order Skate’s companion publication Ice.

Visit the Museum of London’s website.

Ice, a Pighog Press anthology


Ice: Contemporary and traditional poems
for the festive season
Edited by Meredith Collins
Pighog Press, 2012

ISBN 9781906309718
Ice is a beautifully designed anthology that includes works by poets of the past and present about winter, snow, ice and everything frosty. Classics by William Blake, Emily Dickinson, John Keats and Charlotte Brontë snuggle up with works by contemporary poets like David Crystal, John McCullough, John Davies and Jeremy Page. Whether nursing a glass of mulled wine or roasting chestnuts on the fire readers will love to immerse themselves in these memorable poems full of evocative imagery and cadence.
£1 from each sale of Ice goes to the charity Shelter to support their work with the homeless.
Poetry by William Shakespeare, John McCullough, Emily Dickinson, Alex Mosner, William Blake, Chris Hope, David Crystal, Elizabeth Tollett, Thomas Campion, Nancy Campbell, Anne Hunter, Robert Burns, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Paul Deaton, John Keats, Charlotte Brontë, Alwyn Marriage, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jeremy Page, George Meredith, Eileen Casey, John Donne, Meredith Collins, Robert Bridges, Laura Kayne, James Thomson, John Davies and Christina Rossetti.
Cold Fusion
John McCullough
March thaws the ocean
and I resume spinning pebbles into the shoal.
Speedboats reclaim the lavender distance,
their backwash diminished
by rollers that hiss at my feet.

On jetties, men clank huge buckets of mussels,
their rubber soles squelching
past crate stacks, flung rope.
The air stinks of spilt fish guts and tainted jokes.
Husband comes home to find his wife …

Last month, they hoisted a dead man
from the glass-covered Atlantic,
a small crowd of us watching.
Matted blond hair, his face purple and mustard.
He seemed to be pondering inscrutable algebra.

A passing nurse crossed herself,
two boys dashed for a bus and I carried on home,
trying to remember your smell.
It’s my turn to phone your mother
though I’ll write a letter instead:

calm words that say everything’s fine.
In my recurring dream, I swim
instinctively back to Christmas
to sweep again all the icicles
from under your bedroom window.
from The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011).
Winter’s Naked Answer
Alex Mosner
To melt the butterscotch cathedral
of your ribs, to wear the silk chant of shivers
woven through your skin
would be to understand
the slur of music in your eyes;
the way you look at a thing of beauty
with a quiet understanding.

We walked together through December
and you noticed the moon’s raw crown of light.
You broke off a sharp gasp of sky and swallowed it,
held it inside you where it learned your silhouette,
and then you let it out. We stood there, shared breath,
stared up at the vague enormity.
It was as if you were listening carefully to its story,
keeping a secret on behalf of everything else.

I went home and drank a glass of water
just to give myself weight,
tried to solve winter’s naked answer
with nothing more than a broken key of questions,

to find that you are the unspoken agreement between
the rest of the night and the way we touch;
gorgeous as a beggar’s soul.
Snow Fox (on the cancellation of our reading
at the Whitechapel Gallery, December 2010)
David Crystal
for John, Matt and Zena
I watch the fox
that slept on our shed-roof in summer
walk up Queensthorpe
in a blizzard of snow.
He of the right leg limp
he of the cat thin tail
head down, ribs lean
in the last winter of his life.

(Snow fox on fox-hill
on his red bread tray sledge,
Spider, popping snow white pills.)

I read out loud to no-one
Gangsta Keats,
look at my set list, my last poem
Three Strawberries,
for Arthur, my grandad,
who would have rattled past the Whitechapel
flat out in his ambulance,
the blitz years he never really talked about.
Happy nights though
ballroom dancing in Bethnal Green
chain smoking Black Cat cigarettes.
Somewhere on Lemon street
a severed freckled arm in rubble
hand lock tight around a worn out old iron
Shirt, skirt, silk tie,
only the washing line left of the house.
Arthur dancing the American Smooth
before another black-out, more bombs.
John Davies
Wait. Watch a scimitar of heath
chicane above the fencepost silhouettes,
careen along the hillside’s windward crease,
as drab as the branches where it settles.
Wait. See the ground start up and fly
and leave its long-legged shadows in the snow.
Observe a wing of primrose in the sky,
how long it takes for anything to grow.
Wait. Count dull barbs on silver wire,
sodium stars that pierce the closing dusk,
wheat stalks scorched in the harvest fire,
the total sum of humanity’s flux.
Will waiting help us understand how much
of us is there, how much of there is us?
‘Winter’ was written as part of a commission from North Middlesex University Hospital and Bouygues UK.
from Ice (Pighog Press, 2012).
Order Ice.
Order Ice’s companion publication Skate.

Part Three: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow 
Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman, Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
the burden of being bama
ko ko thett
it’s living on
sawdust and shrimp paste
to save for diamonds

it’s being a lustrous luna
in a bamboo tube
thinking ‘how dainty i am!’

it’s being a haystack fire
flaring suddenly
fading out swiftly

it’s aching for the aunt
from the embrace of the mother

what’s your key
majority in minor-c or minority in major-d
cease-fire in flat-b or cease-identity in sharp-g
give me a falsetto
let’s improvise
no need for harmony

what would you choose
want, rage or ignorance
defeatism or maldevelopment
an increase in viral load or a decrease in internet speed
sexual preoccupation or self-denial
power cuts or power crazes
a bag of rice or an ounce of democracy
myopic blitheness, escapist wizardry and alchemy
syncretisation of incompatibilities
internalisation of irreconcilabilities
the four noble truths
the four oaths ………
the menu is endless
the die’s been cast

your karma is you
life short
suffering tall
plenty of water
no fish, no fish at all
The Day (Before That Day)
The day before that day
A huntress held her breath
The day that annihilated itself
The day that dressed my wounds …

That day
With the cold-bloodedness of
A public executioner
Needed nerve to reconstruct itself …

That day
Of amnesia without special effects
Needed a genuine gasp for air
To purify its lungs …

That day
Could have been the moon jumping out
From the grim underside of clouds
That day
Could have been a ticket
For a journey that never began …

On that day
He switched off the song he’d been singing along to
I shelved the book I’d been reading
The nameless café bored him
And my aimless yacht anchored

In fact …
I achieved nothing
It was a day of horrid loss …
Horrifying disintegration …

In fact …
Uncertain were the days
The bitter days disfigured by experiments
They will never be resold
For the price I paid

In fact …
In life …
I was in the habit of abhorring

On that day
He mocked me
With the worst of words
I took all his barbs
And laughed them off

On the day before that day
Is it today
Is it really today?

The day before that day
I poisoned the arrowhead
That would shoot me down.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
The Sniper
When you see them on a flag march
Repress your swelling bugs
No mortar shells, no hand grenade explosion
This battle must go on quietly
With a calm mind, in cold blood
With sharp shooting, trained hands
Hone your skills when the sun shines
Camouflage like a chameleon
Be immovable as a sleeper
Don’t blink, don’t doze off
Don’t miss your chance
If necessary, play dead
Don’t flinch, even if they walk all over you
Blame fate if they shoot you point-blank
To double-check you are dead
Life may end up in anticipation, in lethe
There isn’t much of a choice to make
For example …
Five enemies are approaching
Five bullets are all you have.
Translated by ko ko thett
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.

Part Two: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bones Will Crow


Bones Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets
Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne

with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,  
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye

Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel

Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
Sling Bag
Zeyar Lynn
Wherever he goes, in his sling bag
He carries his severed leg. If he has to shake hands,
He takes his severed leg out from the bag,
And touches it on the other person’s hand
As he says ‘Nice to meet you’
He must have gone through a lot of suffering
With that severed leg in his bag,
Though he still has his two legs intact.
When he needs reassurance, he’ll insert his right hand,
Like a dead hand, into the bag slung on his right shoulder,
To feel the sinews and greasy slime of the severed leg.
That’s how he recharges himself.
That’s how his pride is uplifted; his self-confidence restored.
The severed leg serves as his pillow when he sleeps.
The severed leg is placed on the dining table when he eats.
(Is he married? Let’s say he is.)
When he makes love to his wife,
The severed leg welds their two bodies together.
(Only then does he feel the hit, he says.)
The severed leg is his life, his past, his present and
His future, he says. ‘It’s truth’, he says.
‘It’s honesty’, he says.
‘It’s just him’, (says someone else).
Someone who claims to be a childhood friend.
He too always carries a sling bag.
Translated by ko ko thett & Vicky Bowman
the heat bearer
Maung Thein Zaw
in a not-so-new morning
in sunshine

i have been infatuated with
that fragrant little ear
of my dream

what a gusty wind

on my heart
a homeless crow is cawing
all my longings are in staccato
i have descended
like a melody who has sobbed herself out of tune
‘not really very special’ she says

the screechy
dry branch
soothes me in magada
not having found any cure under the waterfall

i build a tower
the height of my heart
and look out on the genesis of the world

the person who discovered fire happened to be me
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
Rose, 1985
Moe Zaw

At a certain café in New York City
If you happen to leaf through this page
The poem is dedicated to you,
Bold Rose, swelling with petals.

I have often taken
a stroll
On your burgundy lips
The humid breeze
Your tongue
Your teeth
How can I forget
The scent of grapes it carried.

As I combed your drenched hair
You laced up my jungle boots.
Shall we call it a predestined meeting
Between water drops of life?
Many wrongs have since occurred.

We didn’t love Hitler.
We loved Shakespeare.
We didn’t love Mussolini.
We loved Modigliani.
We didn’t love Stalin.
We loved Yushchenko.

Mr. Columbus!
I couldn’t have predicted her plight
How my Rose walked the American plank.

My fragrance of Shinmadaung thanaka,
Has just hurried
From Pazuntaung Yekyaw
To North America.

Will your itch be relieved
In the land of cowboys
Riding the world like a horse?
Will you be gazing
At the image
Of a sensitive boy
From a whisky glass?
What will you be doing
During the American holidays?
How will be greet
One another
Whenever we meet?

From beneath the tragacanth tree
My soul, like the feather of a paddy bird, is marching
Towards the native land of the Apaches
Towards the Wild West, wherever you are.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.

Part One: Bones Will Crow, 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

 Bones Will Crow

Will Crow:
An Anthology of Fifteen Contemporary Burmese Poets

Bilingual Edition
Edited and translated by ko ko thett and James Byrne
with additional translations by Maung Tha Noe,
Vicky Bowman,
Zeyar Lynn, Christopher Merrill,
Pandora & Khin Aung Aye
Introduced by Zeyar Lynn with a Foreword by Ruth Padel
Arc Publications, 2012
ISBN 9781906570897
“This is the first anthology of contemporary Burmese poets published in the West, and includes the work of Burmese poets who have been in exile and in prison. The poems include global references from a culture in which foreign books and the internet are regarded with suspicion and where censorship is an industry. The poets have been ingenious in their use of metaphor to escape surveillance and censorship, writing post-modern, avant-garde, performance and online poetries.

The anthology reveals the transition of traditional to modernist poetry, the development of Burmese poetry over the second half of the 20th century, as Burma has changed. Through their wildly divergent styles, these poems delight in the freedom to experiment with poetic tradition.”
“This collection is important because these poems are a splendid counter to the current scholars’ obsession with ‘cultural authenticity’ of national literatures. What we have got here is not so much just Burmese poetry as simply poetry (in the cosmopolitan sense) that happens to have been composed by the Burmese in their language. It shows that Burma is part of the world and significantly part of World Literary Culture. The fact that we have both the Burmese language originals and the English translations (which are really lovely and wonderfully free of the usual attempt to ‘Burmanise-Buddhacise’ the English) makes the collection not only enjoyable to readers anywhere, but also of serious importance to scholarship on Burmese literature.”

– FKL Chit Hlaing
Bones Will Crow is an illuminating account of real Burma narrated by uncensored and often deviant Burmese, who dare to dream and challenge the norms. Burma Studies scholars and literature fans often lament the lack of authentic Burmese voices in print, accessible to the world outside Burma. Bones Will Crow not only fills this gap but also presents the readers with a counter-narrative of ‘exotic’ Burma often associated with golden pagodas and smiling faces. Daily struggles under crony capitalism, confronting commercialisation of female bodies, an exile’s homesickness, issues Burmese grapple with leap out of the pages of this anthology. This anthology is a long overdue, much-welcomed addition to everyone interested in Burma and Burmese poetry.”

– Tharapi Than
About the editors

ko ko thett is a Burmese poet who writes in English. He translates Western poetry into Burmese, and he is working on his first full poetry collection, the burden of being burmese.
James Byrne’s
second poetry collection, Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc Publications in 2009. He edits The Wolf, an international poetry magazine, which has published various Burmese poets like Zeyar Lynn, Saw Wai and Zawgyi. In 2008, Byrne won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. His Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009, and he recently edited The Wolf: A Decade (Poems 2002-2012).
Desert Years
Tin Moe
a strand of grey hair
a decade gone

In those years
the honey wasn’t sweet
mushrooms wouldn’t sprout
farmlands were parched

The mist hung low
the skies were gloomy
Clouds of dust on the cart tracks
Acacia and creepers
and thorn-spiral blossoms
But it never rained
and when it did rain, it never poured

At the village front monastery
no bells rang
no music for the ear
no novice monks
no voices reading aloud
Only the old servant with a shaved head
sprawled among the posts

And the earth
like fruit too shy to emerge
without fruit
in shame and sorrow
glances at me
When will the tears change
and the bells ring sweet?
Translated by Maung Tha Noe & Christopher Merrill
My Island
Ma Ei
Singhala for Prince Wizaya
Saint Helena for Napoleon
Tahiti for Gauguin
The Isles of Belles for Maung Shin
The Coco Islands for a baby turtle.

An island is a landmass surrounded by water.
But what do you call a place surrounded by dukkha?
Amalgams of body and soul,
Angst and anguish, suffering, doubt and delusion,
Circled by an illusory life,
I keep on trying … Yes, trying so hard to stand upright.

It was me! I was such a handful,
Such a flirt, such a red.
I’ve had no reward, just fingers pointing.
Dying ain’t much of a living!
The lady is a crank.

I’m out of shape,
A sculpture chiselled by two masters,
Here’s a chipped ear …
there’s a cock-eyed eye.
(Let them be chipped and cock-eyed).

Diluted in water
After slurping curses down
I turn a new page,
But life is un-renewed.
Sometimes I sing ‘I Seek Retention Loss’.

Look …
To purify the soul
Firstly, don’t deceive yourself.
Secondly, don’t deceive others.
In the long run, lies grow legs.

How I hate to spit it out,
Some men are too featherweight,
The copulate with their own craft.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
A Sun-ripened Song
Maung Chaw Nwe
Don’t chime in with
A definition of ‘the individual’
Just live within your own meaning
Just be sure
You’ve known defeat.

To punch a man
You need a strong lower jaw
When I land my fists on you
I maintain a good solid chin.

You are jawless
Yet your jabs keep raining on me
Mr. Truth
You are beyond the dhamma

What I hate most in this whole world is
That scumbag named Truth
Whose fat face is
Scarred with chicken pox.

In this life
You don’t need four, five, or six.
You only need two.
Just two, real love and
An authentic foe.

Maung San Aye, my friend,
Who has had to survive
By the smell of strangers
You need not install
Mercury lights in the town.
Towns are made of mercury.

There at Table No. 1 is
The man who lays down the law
Unerringly over his life.
Firmly seated there,
Isn’t Aung Cheimt, my pal,
A booming city?

Like Pompeii
Inundated with lava
The poet Phaw Way
Had once been a thriving city.

Who has lost
The whole earth?
Only they
Will get it back.

Maradona channelled
‘The Hand of God’
To score.
Translated by ko ko thett & James Byrne
from Bones Will Crow (Arc Publications, 2012).

Order Bones Will Crow.

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part Three: Six Poems

Commentators Chewing Meat
Kirsten Irving
The excitement here is one fat comet – do the crowd
want to praise him or eat him alive? I’m joking of
course; we all adore him like the sort of uncle who
cuffs you for low grades but still brings you sweets –
say, would you carve me another sliver? This chorizo
is heaven’s lace – and at last here he comes, in his
golden mortar, punting along with a sapphired pestle –
is that mink or ermine lying dead on his shoulders?
Are those real dragon’s teeth around his neck? –and
the roars are so loud now you’d think – you’d think
he’d steered his gondola into Moscow Zoo at feeding
time – speaking of which, one more tongue’s worth
couldn’t hurt – and has he gotten more muscular? His
upper body seems bolstered with clay beneath that
cloak; he’s practically a hunchback. But let’s not forget
what we’re here for: this isn’t Milan, Paris, London.
History! A two-thirds majority and a few royal nods
have cleared the weeds from a long-dead job role –
now guys, while I’m forking up another doily of pig, I
want you to think on this: can men become gods these
days? Did the window close with the last Roman
emperor? Who gets to decide, if not other gods, who
drift uselessly by like silent ships, fading into the fog?
And if a god can die, what use is he anyway? Oh look!
A scuffle! I do love scuffles!
The Eye of the Needle
Aoife Mannix
I bet when Jesus went into the temple
and started knocking over stalls,
there were those who said this is just
some punk from Bethlehem pulling a PR stunt,
and it’s disrespectful and it’s disgusting
and he needs to get what he deserves
so we’ll pin him to a cross and won’t consider
that two thousand years later his words will rise up
in a prayer that says Putin with your 22m roubles
worth of white gold watches, and your flotilla of yachts,
and your 20 palaces and your flying toilet
that cost 75,000 dollars, you with your Mercedes,
helicopters, villas, aeroplanes, swimming pools,
you are just an echo of that other Pilate dictator
who also thought he could cling to power
by torturing those that seemed weak
but knew the strength of turning the other cheek.
Free Pussy
Sophie Robinson
I’ve got the vagina your mother told you about
& it’s coming for you so watch out –

couplet vagina, hairy scruff, parkland
butchery waiting for your tender hand

descending. Happy vaginas on TV
open and close like poetry.

Sad vaginas on the streets stripped
of their rights, tight-lipped

& talkless in alleys always.
Awake & waiting, outer hallways

of a world full of those who know
it could be better & isn’t. Sad disco

where we can dance off our hurts
free pussy / lock hips / solidarity / stay alert.
John Siddique
Imagine thirst without knowing water.
And you ask me what freedom means.
Imagine love without love.

Some things are unthinkable,
until one day the unthinkable is here.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.

Some things we assume just are as they are,
no action is taken to make or sustain them.
Imagine love without love.

It is fear that eats the heart: fear and
endless talk, and not risking a step.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.

Fold away your beautiful thoughts.
Talk away curiosity, chatter away truth.
Imagine love without love.

Imagine believing in the whispers,
the screams and the gossip. Dancing to a tune
with no song to sing inside you.
Imagine love without love.
Abridged and Complete Biography of Olympe de Gouges
Claire Trévien
You were born on a tongue of land
resting on a tit,
from which sprung willows that
made the slightest wind look like snow
no wonder you left
for the singeing gash of Paris where

they called you a he-woman at the slice
for daring to spunk for women’s rights. If

a woman can be brought to the scaffold,
you said, she should be allowed to fucking
shout! Thank fuck

you roar in the archives, slobbering over
the filing system! You’re an army of sixty kings
and no subject, you’re a butcher and his widow,
you’re every Mary I’ve watched
eat a tax collector for lunch
and still have room for a groom. Your plays
haven’t washed in two hundred years
and grow brown at the armpits. So what
if they stink and whistle at men in the street?
At least they don’t give a shit about our precious

you’re a willow soaked in blood and set on fire
and when the wind gusts
you shit on it.
Our Glorious Leader Putin
Jack Underwood
Look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just shot a rare Siberian Tiger with a dart gun! Surely he is at one with/ connected to/ master of nature at its most fierce.

And look look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just spoken fluent goose to some rare migrating geese as he flies adjacently to them in a light aircraft, wearing a beak, leading them to safety, just as he metaphorically leads our nation with a cool, authoritative dignity.

Look now! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just woken up and thumped out two hundred loaves of dough in a masculine and serious way, to be baked for the starving old people.

And look look! A crowd of beautiful women sing how they wish their boyfriends were as conscientious and as traditionally masculine as OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN as they shake their feminine behinds respectfully at his motorcade silly girls.

Ah wow look! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has been diving in the sea with his shirt off showcasing his masculine figure to his country and the World as he finds some ancient artefacts on the seabed again.

And bravo! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN throws a lesser man in Judo!

Whoof! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN rides a horse masterfully with his shirt off!

Listen! OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN is laughing at a joke, displaying to our country and the World that despite possessing a overall masculinity of impregnable steel, he is able to laugh at an authorised joke somebody has made in line with the concerns and beliefs of OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN.

And see OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN has just masturbated in the shower, in line with the recommendations of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation. After all, he is nearly only a man, for which this is ordinary behaviour.

Observe now how OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN cleans his penis with a q-tip, so tidily and neatly, as if he were erasing a small secret from his past as a KGB hero/agent.

And now OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN is drinking a glass of his own delicious and superior vodka brand PUTINKA. Surely there is no other vodka brand currently available on the market that typifies the drinking requirements of an actual Russian man.

And imagine that as OUR GLORIOUS LEADER PUTIN swallows the cold-hot transparency of it, he opens his ears to himself and hears not one dissenting voice from within; thusly closing the wound of each of his thoughts with the same brute salve of his sure and right reflection.
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book.

Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part Two: Six Poems

A Mother Prays to Cipaltonal
Sirama Bajo
do not go out, daughter
they do not like your flesh, here

they seek to harm it, here
cover yourself, for you will be seen

do not go out, daughter, be still
you will not be sacrificed today

not in the darkness, never in the dark
for how will they see it?

daughter, your flesh has grown
how, so much of it, will we hide?

darkness’ shawl is not enough
daughter, your flesh is glowing in the dark

I will sing a very old song
thick like war, like grief

from our dead, this gift
a song to cover up the sun

birds will think it is always night
we will have the stars in cactus blooms

always safe your female flesh
which used to darkness, has begun to glow
‘Here, my love, listen.’
Karen Connelly
Here, my love, listen.
The sculpted dish of the human ear
still fills with cries
from a road where the blood
stayed for many days.
The people come slowly out
of their hiding places to collect
the scarves, the purses,
the hand-painted signs,
so many voices broken away
from frozen-open mouths.
Here where all the doors are closed
the woman turns herself
sideways to slide through the slit
of hope, the woman strips off
her shadow and stands perfectly
before the crowd.
Then she begins to sing.
Here where the spirit
becomes flesh and a million
dead sweat beside you,
the borders dissolve
with the bruised skin.
Here there is no separation.
Entering the new age
of murder,
you forsake
every weapon but the hand
thrashing a guitar.
And the voice, the unruly voice,
raising its riot
of song.
Sasha Dugdale
When all the passions are at last spent
They lead out the mother martyrs
Who honestly have the most to lose
Having regurgitated soul, heart and brains
At some earlier stage, having sent a pigeon-chested
Yellow parcel of skin forth into the dung.
They are more parts water than anyone else:
Tears rush to blur their eyes at the smells of
Jasmine, milk, meadowsweet, bread.
Every night they fight a constricting doubt
Winding itself about their neck, chewing, pawing
Severing important arteries and nervous structures:
Every night in their sleep they are closer to dying
Than the rest, because with one act they have become two
And they perceive their own death always from outside
As a halving, a terrible halving, with a sharpened sword.
The Cage
Katy Evans-Bush
Inside it are the most beautiful animals of all.
The most dangerous animals.
The most vulnerable animals.
The ones with the most coloured plumage.
The ones with stripes.
The ones with the loudest songs.

Outside it are the ones who might be hurt.
Our eyes are burned by colour.
Our flesh is torn by claws.
Our ears are troubled by the untrammelled
cacophony of nature.
Our cameras –

In the dust of the enclosure, in the pen,
the caged cat paces, darkly miraculous
inside her suit of cat skin.
The squid-woman swims oblivious in light and water.
Behind the wall, the rhino nurses her infant,
innocent even of her horn.
Avoid Using the Word ‘Pussy’
Charlotte Geater
feminists it’s time to become angry
again! gingerbread women break your
fists when they say

the punk rock girl band / stop bitching
whose name we can’t say / i call them bitches
on morning television / because they are bitches

three strumpets who will / holy mary mother of god
be pardoned soon

the girls are sinners, they’ve made their
choice against christ & real madonna
what pussies, when riots?

but which of you weren’t always angry –
who listened / stop bitching
little heart elbow patches

are used only because
they’re hard to take seriously.
everyone can be pussy riot?

but why presume / stop bitching

but the struggle as its own apart
but the struggles together.

the trampled tents laughing
i hate i despise / the empty church
& do not respect

your festivals / what if we had two
hundred thousand years more of this

& if you are not angry from before
these times / what riots

will you have had enough / stop
will you stop? pussy like most slang terms
(see also: cunt) an endearing name

for a girl / do not endear
when riots are / which anger is this
Kiran Millwood Hargrave

for Lady Macbeth
I wish that children came
easy as a lie.

That blood came, dropped like
so many seeds


It’s as if someone has
sewn me up.

So I took the handle of a knife
and split a slit.

Finally blood, for all the
months I missed.

Imagined a pomegranate
spilling red-bruised-black.

Imagined a girl her flesh
was blue and sad

imagined a boy his hair
was black like mine

imagined myself stretched
scream-open and alive.

It took five hours to
stitch me up.

They left my hands red
so as not to forget.
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book.
Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part One: Editors’ Foreword and Introduction by George Szirtes

are Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Sandra Alland, David Ashford, Tim Atkins, Andrew Bailey, Sirama Bajo, Richard Barrett, Susan Birchenough, Mark Burnhope, Wayne Burrows, David Caddy, John Calvert, Jen Campbell, Theodoros Chiotis, Karen Connelly, Jennifer Cooke, Rebecca Cremin & Ryan Ormonde, Sarah Crewe, Sarah Crewe & Jo Langton, Alison Croggon, Tim Dooley, Betty Doyle, Sasha Dugdale, Laurence Ebersole, Amy Etkins, Chris Emslie, John Ennis, Amy Evans, Gareth Evans, Katy Evans-Bush, SJ Fowler, Kit Fryatt, Lucy Furlong, Charlotte Geater, The Gingerbread Tree, Jay Griffiths, Hel Gurney, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Steven Heighton, Sophie Herxheimer & Alison Winch, Sarah Hesketh, Jeff Hilson, Adam Horovitz, Ray Hsu, Peter Hughes, Philo Ikonya & Helmuth Niederle, Kirsten Irving, Genowefa Jakubowska-Fijalkowska, Maria Jastrzebska, Tom Jenks, Antony John, Phill Jupitus, Amy Key, John Kinsella, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Deborah Levy, Ira Lightman, Francesca Lisette, M Ly-Eliot, Alex MacDonald, Melissa Mack, Christodoulos Makris, Aoife Mannix, Barbara Marsh, Agnes Marton, Sophie Mayer, Sally McAlister, Michelle McGrane, Michael McKimm, Drew Milne, Helen Moore, AF Moritz, Barbara Norden, Redell Olsen, Sandeep Parmar, Anna Percy, Jody Porter, Frances Presley, Karen Press, Katy Price, Ana Pulteney, Chella Quint, Red of The Vaginellas, Selina Robertson, Sophie Robinson, Shelagh M Rowan-Legg, Fathieh Saudi, John Siddique, Adrian Slatcher, Daniel Sluman, Ali Smith, Barbara Smith, Tom Spencer, John Stone, Andrew Taylor, Philip Terry, Sarah Thomasin, Claire Trevien, George Ttoouli, Gareth Twose, Jack Underwood, Steve Waling, Tony Walsh, Michael Weller, Tim Wells, JT Welsch, Ginna Wilkerson, Alison Winch, Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Veronica Zundel.
Translators into Russian are Andrei Aliaksandru, Vladimir Andreev, Marina Brodskaya, Chicago Translation Workshop, Elena Edwards, Tatiana Filimonova, Sophie Gug, Mary Harrah, Masha Karp, Svitlana Kobets, Sergei Korenevskiy, Nokolai Kozin, Maria ozlovskaya, Dasha McLeish, Cat Paronjan, Tatiana Samsonova, Maria Shukurova, Dmitry Simanovsky, James Taylor, Jennifer Wilson and John Wright.
Editors’ Foreword
Red Letter Day: Poetry and Protest for Pussy Riot
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot is a communion of the visual and lyrical; rhymed, satirical and experimental poetry in tribute to political prisoners of conscience, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. It contains a cornucopia of approaches to freedom and to feminism, from opposing patriarchy to reclaiming pussy from a book of dirty words. It is an offertory for three women whose actions have woken up the need for change, in not just their own authoritarian state, but also in how we address gender politics and all forms of oppression in our own society. Featured poets include Alison Croggon, Amy Evans, Jeff Hilson, Tom Jenks, Amy Key, Agnes Marton, Michelle McGrane, Sophie Robinson, Andrew Taylor and 100 more.
Summing up the work of 110 poets in 110 words is never easy – especially when the poets in question have donated their work rapidly and generously. Our anthology, which includes nearly 100 poems written especially for the band, has come together in under three weeks. What started as a conversation among four friends on Facebook, sparked by a post from EngPussyRiot that provided instructions on how to send letters to the band, has become a transnational conversation of hundreds powered by social media but driven by the same community and generosity among writers that informed the foundation of English PEN, who have supported this project practically and imaginatively from the beginning.
Both the example set by Pussy Riot – fierce, feminist champions of freedom – and the example being made of them by the Russian judiciary has fired something in writers around the world. The band’s punk prayer uses language precisely and powerfully – and it’s inspired the poets who’ve contributed to do the same. They’ve taken risks in recognition of the real legal and physical dangers facing the Writers at Risk supported by PEN internationally.
We have been overwhelmed by the wit, passion, elegance and variety of the poetic protests we’ve received. Some are funny, like Phill Jupitus’ puntastic ‘Girl Banned’ and Sophie Herxeimer’s short and sharp ‘Trollops’ Cathedral’. Others are bold and angry, like Sophie Robinson’s vivid ‘Free Pussy’ and Tim Atkin’s extraordinary ‘I Love the Rich’, which adapts a poem by Maria Tsvetaeva. Many poets, including Sirama Bajo, Steve Waling, JT Welsch and Veronica Zundel, have responded to the band’s Punk Prayer with their own new invocations. Sasha Dugdale wrote from Russia, Sally McAlister from France, and John Kinsella from Australia. Philo Ikonya, International PEN member, has been reading his roll call of unriotous dictators at events in Norway.
The PEN blog, where around 45 of the poems have been posted, along with images of their poets in balaclavas, carried the message further than we could ever have imagined: offers of poems poured in, from poets such as seventeen year old activist Betty Doyle, and feminist performance poets Anna Percy, Ana Pulteney, Barbara Smith, and Sarah Thomasin – often with videos, such as Pulteney’s performance in her church in Totnes, Devon. Twenty-two poets who took part in SJ Fowler’s and Richard Barrett’s Poems for Pussy Riot in London and Manchester shared their poems.
The book, as you’ll see, even includes cut-out-and-wear poem-balaclava masks created by Mark Burnhope, and a stencil by Chella Quint so you can create your own Pussy Riot protest wherever you are. Please read, share, tweet, translate, remix, and keep our prayers for Pussy Riot’s freedom alive.
Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer
by George Szirtes
An anthology of poems dedicated to a political purpose is not so much an anthology of poems as a political act in poetic form.
There is a long history of such anthologies including 100 Poems Against the War, edited by Todd Swift at the time of the Iraq War in 2003, and, about ten years before that, Klaonica: Poems for Bosnia, edited by Ken Smith and Judy Benson. The two were different in that 100 Poems was an act of protest about a war in which the UK and US were the initiators and actors, whereas the second was to raise money for victims of a war faced by others, the contributing poets being helpless observers. The poets in Klaonica were not taking the Serbian or Bosnian or, for that matter, the Croatian side, but donating work to relieve suffering, much as they might donate money.
There are many other causes in which poets might do the same – hospitals, libraries, celebrations, childhood and so forth – but from the political point of view 100 Poems and Klaonica represent the two main kinds.
is of the second kind. It has been rapidly compiled by its editors to protest – from the outside, as it were – against the two-year sentence imposed on Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, three members of a much larger (twelve to fifteen members) punk band known  as Pussy Riot, for staging a brief masked performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The performance, by five members of the band was quickly put up on YouTube and within eleven days, two of the band, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, were under arrest. Thirteen days later Samutsevich was also arrested. The two remaining members of the performing band have, it is presumed, gone abroad to avoid arrest. The song the band was singing at the time was a raucous prayer asking the Mother of God to chase away President Putin. The two-year sentence is due to be appealed on 1 October, 2012.
These are the bare facts but the cause of Pussy Riot is more complex than that.
In the first place the performance was about President Putin personally, and articulated a desire to see him leave the political stage.
Who is Putin? Russians in general have mixed feelings about him. The period straight after the fall of the Soviet Union in President Gorbachev’s time, was followed by a few chaotic years under President Yeltsin. Those years were wounding and humiliating for a people that had felt stable and, in many respects, proud of their role in the Second World War as well as on the international stage afterwards. The Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact was an equal and opposite force to the United States and NATO.
A good part of those who remembered the pre-Gorbachev era, before the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, looked back to those times with a certain nostalgia, because, despite the gulags, despite the secret arrests, despite the censorship, despite the increasing corruption, they felt safe. Given Russia’s history, their feelings about authoritarianism were and remain very different from our feelings about individual freedoms in Europe and the West. The ‘strong hand’ – inevitably a patriarchal hand – was something many trusted. When Putin came along offering just that in a new form in a world of oil and oligarchs, he seemed to them welcome. Anything but the madness under Yeltsin!
But that opinion is clearly not universal in Russia. A good many people have strong fears of the establishing of a new, more corrupt, one-party state in which the state itself is the largest oligarch, a state in which notions of ‘tradition’ are imposed on those who, for very good reason, wish to free themselves from it.
Putin is an individual, the most powerful individual in the state, but Pussy Riot’s performance, as I read it, was not only about Putin – it was also a protest against the kind of power Putin symbolises.
This includes the Russian Orthodox church. The church has an important role in maintaining Putin’s power since it represents a very large conservative constituency in Russia, one that somehow survived the officially atheist Soviet period to prosper after it. The church is an alternative embodiment of the ‘strong hand’ Putin can employ to influence and control the Russian electorate, which is why the performance, including the reference to the Mother of God, took place in a major Moscow church closely associated with Putin. The church is, necessarily, patriarchal.
And the patriarchy – both formal and informal in terms of the family and society generally – is clearly important to a band calling itself Pussy Riot. The performance was, in those terms, a call for female solidarity and rebellion against a state of affairs where Putin’s masculinity is a highly constructed point of appeal. Jack Underwood has a poem in this anthology that comically highlights precisely this aspect of Putin’s power: Putin the macho man, Putin who offers or denies you the power because he not only knows best, but has the means to effect his will. Pussy Riot is a highly intelligent form of resistence to such will: it is a call to disobedience.
Since Putin seems assured of the power, it is rather surprising that the courts should have decided to act as severely as they did. Intended primarily for home consumption, as a warning, the charge and sentence, has been entirely counter-productive in international terms. The charge of ‘hooliganism’ is rather like the one of ‘parasitism’ that was directed at the Nobel Prize winning poet, Josef Brodsky in 1964. It is broadly seen as a charge of convenience. In that sense Pussy Riot has grown from a minor nuisance to a global cause. They are up there with Brodsky. A crushing and oppressive two-year sentence becomes very big news. The result is that Pussy Riot look, as they actually are, highly intelligent while Russia looks cruel and stupid.
For people on this side of the equation the issue is not so much with Putin as with what Putin represents and what Pussy Riot represent. The meaning of Pussy Riot, for many, is as evidenced in the poems published here, less a political incident, more a cross-section of contemporary concerns and passions symbolised by the three young women. The meanings of Pussy Riot in this context begin with what the name suggests, that’s to say feminism in its various forms and moods, from assertion of rights, through core issues of identity, down to protest at an inimical, oppressive male world. This meaning – probably the most intense meaning – involves a conception of the world that is the polar opposite of Putin’s.
Then again, since Pussy Riot calls itself, and performs as, a punk band, the meaning of the group is derived from and invites a punk aesthetic that is partly tribal, partly anarchic, looking to be disruptive of conservative views and manners, in exactly the same way as Pussy Riot were disruptive in the church.
Beyond that, the band is young: there is also the invitation to youth. It is not precisely an old-versus-young battle but, in this case, it is the young, masked and loud, who are in the vanguard. For many they represent the potential for a new and different model of Russia.
Each of these models and antitheses is crude in itself – life, we know, is more subtle than that – but the antitheses remain. Most importantly, trumping all other concerns, is a conception of justice. It is simply wrong to jail people for that length of time for the minor office of disruption. Three unjustly accused individuals stand against a state led by a former operative of the KGB, a state that has seen the arrest and assassination of vocal opponents. In many ways it is like the old days: the repressive state against its dissidents. The corrupt system against those who protest its corruption.
The anthology contains a variety of poems, some, like Andrew Bailey’s, the second of Mark Burnhope’s, Rebecca Cremin and Ryan Ormonde’s, Tim Dooley’s, John Ennis’s, Charlotte Geater’s, Jay Griffith’s and others (the list is too long and I am going alphabetically) address the case directly or refer to it obliquely. More numerous are poems that are born out of a sympathetic feeling, identifying something in Pussy Riot that corresponds with the feeling of the poet in respect of feminism or authority or sheer voice quality. There may be earlier poems now grown particularly relevant. There are poems that appear on a larger map of concerns that happen to find themselves here.
There are poems of various styles including Alison Croggon’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Perpetual’, SJ Fowler’s ‘They’, Kit Fryatt’s ‘Sounds Like Sense’, Sarah Hesketh’s sharp ‘Some Protest Stones’, Philo Ikonya and Helmuth A. Niederle’s ‘Pussy Riot For Ever: The Body’, Amy Key’s ‘Cat Power’, John Kinsella’s ‘Penillion for Pussy Riot’, Aoife Mannix’s ‘The Eye of the Needle’, and so on. I don’t pick these out because I think they are the best poems, only because they are broadly different. I could pick many others.
Like any contributor to such anthologies, I am fully aware that it is unlikely to affect the course of events in any measurable way, though it may perhaps add to the weight of protest that hopes, at some stage, on some level, to influence the Russian court and indeed that part of the Russian people who support the sentence. It might be a consolation to Pussy Riot, and to those for whom they speak, that there are many people – including poets – who listen to them and talk back in support. A book of poems in a foreign language published in a foreign place is rarely a factor in the decisions of a hostile administration, but this is downloadable. It may be a factor somewhere, somehow. Who can tell? One has hope or one has nothing.
Speaking personally it is quite odd for me as an almost sixty-four year old male poet to be writing this introduction. It was odd, but rather nice to be asked on the spur of the moment and to say: yes. Of course I wondered if I was out of place. I am not looking to be cool with those younger than me or of a different gender. I have been on a few demonstrations but never felt it to be my natural place.
I ask myself this: if the world were arrayed into forces represented by President Putin on the one side and Pussy Riot on the other I know which side I’d be on and it wouldn’t be Putin’s. That’s where we are, and that’s where this is. And that is why it is a privilege to write this introduction.
– George Szirtes
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book

Visit English PEN’s website.

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Three poems from The Best British Poetry 2011

The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt Publishing) presents the finest and most engaging poems found in British-based literary magazines and webzines over the past year (selected by editor Roddy Lumsden). The material gathered represents the rich variety of current UK poetry, including lyric, formal and experimental poetry. Each poem is accompanied by a note by the poet themselves, explaining the inspiration for the poem and why they decided to write the poem in that form. The format of the book will be familiar to those who have seen similar annual selections made in other countries such as Ireland, Australia and especially the United States, where the equivalent annual book is a popular yet controversial landmark in each year’s literary calendar. At a time when print journals still retain their significance and popularity and when new sites are flourishing on the web, this book offers a snapshot of current poetry practices in the country by offering a diverse selection of excellent poems.”
Contributors are Gillian Allnutt, Mike Bannister, Chris Beckett, Emily Berry, Liz Berry, Nina Boyd, James Brookes, Judy Brown, Mark Burnhope, Kayo Chingonyi, Jane Commane, Fred D’Aguiar, Emma Danes, Amy De’Ath, Isobel Dixon, Sasha Dugdale, Ian Duhig, Josh Ekroy, Laura Elliott, Carrie Etter, Dai George, Giles Goodland, Matthew Gregory, Philip Gross, Kelly Grovier, Jen Hadfield, Aiko Harman, Emily Hasler, Oli Hazzard, W.N. Herbert, Alexander Hutchison, Sarah Jackson, Christopher James, Katharine Kilalea, Nick Laird, Pippa Little, Chris McCabe, Ted McCarthy, John McCullough, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Lorraine Mariner, Sophie Mayer, Gordon Meade, Matt Merritt, Kate Miller, Esther Morgan, Catherine Ormell, Richard Osmond, Ruth Padel, Emma Page, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Abigail Parry, Andrew Philip, Heather Phillipson, Kate Potts, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Deryn Rees-Jones, Sam Riviere, Colette Sensier, Penelope Shuttle, Jon Stone, Matthew Sweeney, George Szirtes, Lizzi Thistlethwayte, Eoghan Walls, Ahren Warner, Chrissy Williams, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Michael Zand.
Andrew’s Corner
Kayo Chingonyi
Where an old man comes, to practise
standing still, tutting
that the street he fought to keep is gone
and, sixty years on, he doesn’t belong
to this world of bass, blasting out of
passing cars, and earshot, at the speed
of an age when pubs close down
overnight; are mounds of rubble in a week.
Where flowers moulder in memory of Tash,
fifteen, her twenty-something boyfriend
too drunk to swerve and miss the tree,
girls own their grown woman outfits,
smile at boys who smell of weed and too much
CK One. Pel, who can get served, stands in line.
Outside his friends play the transatlantic
dozens; the correct answer is always your mum.
Where alleys wake to condom wrappers,
kebab meat, a ballet pump, last week
a van pulled up and it was blood. Today:
joggers dodge a dead pigeon, offer wordless
greeting to the night bus’s army of sanguine-
eyed ravers, nursing bad skin and tinnitus.
Goaded by the light, past the same house on repeat,
they think of taking off their shoes; inviolable sleep.
from Wasafiri
Kayo reads ‘Andrew’s Corner’.
Abigail Parry

You dreamed the field was a tin grid,
Latticed with running hares, March-mad and stargazy,
Their quick jolts the firing of neurons.
At other times you meet him alone:
That long face, the dowsy parting at the mouth,
A suggestion of teeth; lecherous, repulsive, somehow
Irresistible. Witch.
And he was there in pinstripes,
Haunches drawn out on their pivot,
Leaning over your shoulder at the wedding party,
Those fine ears folded smooth down his back,
Complacent. Smug. Buck-sure.
His yellow eye met yours, knowing
You could do nothing. You thought:
I’ll have you, you suave bastard.
Find him in a field. He’s gone
In one swift arterial pump.
                               Oh, he is a tease …
            He is the sidelong, sidling
And askance,
      So learn to see as Hare sees,
           Learn his steps,
Accept his invitation up to dance:
He’ll stay that spring-heeled jolt if you keep time.
Walk in rings around him. Do not spare
          One glance towards the centre or he’ll bolt.
See how a pattern’s there, a coiled line:
          Tighten up the circles, and each whorl
Will shave a sickle off the verticil.
          Pare away the moons. His labyrinth’s
A unicursal round: with just one end,
          And just one track. He’ll be waiting,
Slant-eyed jack, and prince
          Of tricks. Your part is fixed:
          A virgin going down,
          A widow coming back.
from The Rialto
Abigail reads ‘Hare’
Jon Stone
Its flavour in the nostrils a thundercloud smart
like seeing your crush on a superstud’s arm;
you’d have to be sturdier than durmast
oak to contain such a bastard stum
in your head’s barrel and not cry out drams
of tears. But if you, in your dilemma, durst
eat another spoonful, your throat’s drum
is often only half as stung, your heart’s mud
stirred to a soup and every untoward smut
on your tongue expunged in one broad strum,
leaving nothing – no points, no clear datums
from which to measure pain, no lukewarm dust
of hurt feelings, rags clinging to an absurd mast
or pins or crumbs or flakes of seed-hard must.
from Magma
Jon reads ‘Mustard’.
Order The Best British Poetry 2011 (Salt Publishing).