Category Archives: poetry collaborations

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.

House of the Deaf Man, a collaboration between Andrea Porter and Tom de Freston

Artist Tom de Freston and poet Andrea Porter explore the dark images Goya created on the walls of his house Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man) in the last few years of his life. Using these paintings as a touchstone both artist and poet create a world in which Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’ provide a vital and significant link between the present and the past. The House of the Deaf Man becomes a space where a strange Master of Ceremonies guides you past walls that talk and a woman carries a severed head through a supermarket. In this house a mad band plays on as a man hangs a spoon from his nose and all the king’s and banker’s horses come tumbling down.
Praise for Andrea Porter:
“The fascinating cut glass surfaces of her work, always tug against an undercurrent of darkness and violence.”

– Jo Shapcott
Praise for Tom de Freston:
“[T]hese paintings also put the human form under a merciless gaze; Tom refuses to idealise our bodies, our genitalia, our corpulence or our angularity – a gaze which implicitly acknowledges Lucian Freud’s oeuvre, in its unsentimental, unforgiving and at times baleful scrutiny.”

– Sir Trevor Nunn
Andrea Porter
Andrea Porter’s A Season of Small Insanities is published by Salt. Her pamphlet Bubble (Flarestack) was adapted into a play and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies in the United Kingdom, Eire, Canada, Australia and the United States of America. She has had poems in the annual Forward Book of Modern Poetry and in the Poems of the Decade published by Faber. She is a member of The Joy of Six poetry ensemble that has performed across the United Kingdom and in New York. She is a tutor for The Poetry School. She lives in the Fens.
Tom de Freston
Tom de Freston is a Contemporary History Painter represented by Breese Little Gallery. In 2012 he was the Hatley Resident at C4RD. Previously he has been the Leverhulme Artist in Residence at Cambridge University, the Levy Plumb Artist in Residence at Christ’s College and the Artist in Residence at the Leys. Five catalogues have been published on his work including essays by Sir Nicholas Serota, Sir Trevor Nunn, Richard Cork, the Hon. Rowan Williams, Dr. Caroline Vout and Mike McCahill amongst others. His work has been featured in Studio International, Dazed Digital, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.
Artists’ Statements
Andrea Porter
Over ten years ago I was in London and wandered by chance into the Hayward Gallery. There happened to be an exhibition of Goya’s prints and drawings. As I walked around I was mesmerised. The Goya I had come across was the Goya of the Spanish court, with grand set pieces and formal portraits, but here was a very different artist. I began to seek out other work by Goya and read about the man and his times. The more I read and looked at his work the more I began to see a complex man, a man full of contradictions and strange hypocrises but whose fears, nightmares and dreams were still very relevant to our current times. My reactions to Goya’s highly personal ‘Black Paintings’ has been a long journey. The power of the visual speaks for itself; the word in response has to say something other, something that steps through that visual to another place.
I have sought to let these fourteen paintings be the beginning of a journey leading me to explore both Goya’s world and my own, and question aspects of the times we live in. The continuing marvel of words is that they live in a space that is created by the listener and the writer together; marks on a page weave together sound, imagination and echoes of our own personal history. I have chosen a variety of forms; the sonnet, terza rima, rhyming couplets, free verse to reflect and explore the different worlds Goya’s paintings suggest to me. The paintings have at times almost created the form the poem takes in that intimate dance between rhyme, rhythm, sound, tone and image that Ekphrasis can create.
The joy of the collaboration on this project for me has been seeing how, from images painted by an artist on the walls of his house nearly two hundred years ago, words and art can be energised to present a different dimension and experience that is as relevant to our present world as Goya’s work continues to be.
Tom de Freston
This is not an illustration of Goya’s time in the ‘Quinta del Sordo’ or a modernising of his ‘Black Paintings’. Instead both of these sources have provided reference points for the building of a new world. The eroticism, mysticism and horror of the black paintings and Goya’s deafness as a cruel physical manifestation of a wider set of psychological and biographical contradictions have taken central roles. Andrea’s poetry gave me an opportunity to find new ways into Goya and his work, populating my mind with new characters and voices.
This ekphrastic engagement has allowed us to try and create a world which is elliptical, maddening and noisy, with time and space as an accordion, opening and collapsing to shifting rhythms, a fractured and fragmented realm with signs and signifiers destabilised. The current social and political climate is given nods with Saturn reincarnated as Bashar al-Assad and Rupert Murdoch, the puppet master, the model for a series of theatrical masks.
More broadly the violence and pornography are seen as interchangeable commodities from a ‘society of the spectacle’. Goya’s grotesques are replaced by a new cast of modernised monsters. A bastardised form of Christian Iconography appears in the form of a zombified Jesus turning the crucifixion into a dance at the disco of death, whilst the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are a hybrid chorus line at the endscene of a bad Bollywood move. A single falling figure nods at the Deposition whilst the same figure becomes Auden’s beast which repeats itself in a swirling Last Judgment scene, the strict patternation of which seems more akin to William Morris wallpaper and the Roschach test.
Art History becomes a compost heap of reference points. Goya’s most violent scenes, Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas, Caravaggio’s entombment and Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa are all restaged in domestic settings. The screaming horse head from Picasso’s Guernica nods to the terror of war, the collapsing of ideologies and the absurdity of an increasingly unstable psychological state. All the reference points above are lifted, mutated and restaged.
The safety of the domestic is polluted to create something unhomely, familiar but strange and akin to Freud’s notion of the Unheimlich. The desire is to create a type of poetic and visual theatre where seemingly safe spaces are interrupted and infested by a white noise of psychological unrest and alienation similar to Brecht’s notion of Verfiemdungseffekt.
Welcome to the House of the Deaf Man, we hope you will enjoy the show.
When you go to the supermarket
place my head in your wire basket
as you wander the aisles of meat.
Be careful my hair does not brush
the sign of two for the price of one.
Let check-out girls catch my eye.

Keep me close and always visible,
you never know when you will need
to raise me up as a bloody trophy,
to rouse shoppers from their torpor.
Never take lightly the authority given
when you show what victory means.

Guard me from thieves.
If I were stolen how could you prove
that a god and right and butchery are,
and always will be, on your side?
Insure me, but a policy of like for like
may cost far more than you can pay.

Post my decapitation up on YouTube,
followers want to see the neck bowed,
the thought severed from the deed.
Become the poster-girl for deliverance,
the strong woman’s role in pay-back,
the lesson about listening to a deity.

Artists never see the flicker in the eyes
as you hack and saw through bone.
‘Two blows’ was their hyped publicity.
Most portray the moment before,
the moment after; the moment itself
disappears up the magician’s sleeve.

Speak softly to me at three a.m.
Whisper sweet names you gave me.
Tell me other secrets; I know
about the knife you use to prise
my fingers from your heart,
the axe I take to your soul.
After the Black Painting ‘Judith and Holofernes’.
On Close Examination
She spins, I measure and that one cuts;
even meddling gods are afraid of us.

Here we loom over you, older than time,
here before you inched from the slime

and knew the endless minutes and years
that plummet past and disappear.

You, old man, are not content with three.
Our face and name have a degree

of licence but number is sacrosanct.
Beginning, middle, end. You can bank

on birth, life, death, it’s solid symmetry.
Two’s company but three’s a guarantee

that time on this earth remains unravelled.
It can be short, shit and badly handled

but the thread is spun until it’s snipped.
You know about death, written its script

into your brush, drawn the cut strands
hung from trees in this bleeding land.

But this fourth fate with the spy-glass
hints quality control will have to pass

our handiwork. Will your short span,
show fuck-ups made by another man?

I see her glass is turned towards the door,
beyond which are all the other flaws

but here is the reminder to own your fate,
an art more difficult than mastery of paint.
After the Black Painting ‘The Fates’.
from House of the Deaf Man (Gatehouse Press, 2012).

Order House of the Deaf Man.

Visit Andrea’s blog.

Visit Tom’s website.

Birdbook I: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland

Sidekick Books is a London-based publisher of exclusively collaborative poetry projects, including micro-anthologies and (forthcoming) poet-illustrator team-ups. It is run at the behest of excommunicated alchemist Dr Fulminare and his demonic familiar, Bandijcat, but most of the legwork is done by poets Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone, who kicked off the press with Coin Opera, a book of computer game poems, in winter 2009. Books can be bought from and currently all four micro-anthologies plus Birdbook (April 2011) are available for £20 (plus P&P).

Birdbook 1: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland
£10.00 + postage, 158pp 
Featuring poems and artwork by:
Rachael Allen, Rowyda Amin, Hannah Bagshaw, Becky Barnicoat, Simon Barraclough, Julia Bird, Niall Campbell, Michael Chance, Tom Chivers, Hanna Terese Christiansson, Monika Cilmi, John Clegg, Dave Coates, Phil Cooper, Lois Cordelia, Lorna Crabbe, Caroline Crew, Nia Davies, Lizzy Denning, Isobel Dixon, Philip Elbourne, Dai George, Matthew Gregory, Cliff Hammett, Aiko Harman, Emily Hasler, Holly Hopkins, Nicholas Hughes, i-lib, Kirsten Irving, Andrew Jamison, Amy Key, Judith Lal, Alexandra Lazar, Natalie Lazarus, Katherine Leedale, Roddy Lumsden, Edward Mackay, Marion McCready, Siofra McSherry, Matt Merritt, Kate Parkinson, Saroj Patel, Kate Potts, Richard Price, Fiona Purves, Declan Ryan, Bethany Settle, Jon Stone, Jennie Webber, James Wilkes and Chrissy Williams.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
James Wilkes
We would like to know when all these deer actually work as you never see them at it. Their spoor is stacked in the form of logs. A plastic chair nailed halfway up a tree. Climbing into its cup we surmise it is for shooting the deer if they fail to complete their quotas. A death perspective snaps open. Across this, the looping movement of a slight bird. It all goes strangely quiet as it drums a hollow tattoo of ants and bracken in the smell of rain-to-come. 
St Jerome and the Chaffinch
Emily Hasler
More usually with a lion he can’t shake off,
and always with a book – but,
sometimes, he appears with a chaffinch.
Animals love him. And it’s a symbol
of celibacy to be accompanied by a chaffinch.
The colourful male winters less far away than his mate.
He becomes known as the bachelor bird
and also the harbinger of rain.
But only sometimes does he sing for rain,
other times he sings for sun, or for his mate.
The French say gay comme un pinson
but we are not always so gay
or so serious. Bosch paints him this way.
I cannot say why he sings, only that
the chaffinch, sometimes, appears with St Jerome.
Willow Tit
John Clegg
Her beak is a split thorn
carving a zipline,
undressing a seedpod.
Ignore her calls,
those sudden shudders
of breath in a pinetree.
Ignore her completely.
Some birds in China
sculpt nests from spit;
she’ll hammer a home
in your huge neglect,
eyeshadowed, black-capped.
In the land of the dead
the judges will balance
your heart and her feather.

Tacc Tacc, Blackcap
Edward Mackay  
Tacc tacc;               creetily creetily – akerah creektur
turrturr               you will be taken hence     turr creetily creetily;
akerah, and from there                   creetur creetur –
turrturr,             to a place           akerah akerah creetah.
A place Akertah! of lawful                 tacc tacc
creetur execution       tacc tacc…          creetily tacc
where you will be creetily creetily tac tac
hanged tacc tacc by the neck creetily
until dead tacc tacc     And may the creetily akerah tac
Lord tacc tacc have mercy creetily on your
tacc tacc akerah soul            Tacc.
Wood Warbler
Nia Davies
In the unaxed oak and the underleaf,
where a feast hatches
for a hidden eater or
a smallish singer,
a Thai green belly
is patched over by tree.
And it blows those calls:
a reedy woodwind
with kora playing
tapped melodics,
trying to elbow in
a slice of bandwidth
amongst Buzzard,
Thrush and Chiffchaff,
hipping up the trunk
with a draw-string beak,
shutting-up from singing
till there’s hush
in the barging forest,
till there’s space in
the rustling arena,
from the chainsaw
and the twitcher,
and all those other
tiny gladiators
tangling for flies.
from Birdbook 1: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland.
Order Birdbook 1: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodland.