Saturday 27 June 2015

Lesley Wheeler's Heterotopia (Barrow Street, 2010)

Some favourite passages:

This blitzed, hungry, smoke-thin world
invented me, and its ardent lies

are my birthright.

from "Forged"

                                                               ...dryad men, full
of mutton and commerce, stomp through in gray overcoats.

from "Heterotopia"

The new designer had never seen an eagle and did not know
          it carried prey in its talons, or he wasn't as deft as the
          old artist, or he was bored and manufacturing trouble.
Ergo, the duck with something nasty in its bill.


...the irritable phoenix plotting immolation in its ball of myrrh....

from "Concerning the Liver Bird"

There he goes, peeping at my bosom
and away again quick, stumbling
and clutching his guilty heart.

It's snowing flakes of coal today.

from "Mr. Hawthorne Peeks at Me Shelf Kit, c. 1854"

Even my great-grandmother's suffering
was never told, save for the last birth, seventeen
years after the rest. Go to the pictures,
Father said, and the elder children grabbed
the coins and ran. They didn't know and he
was ashamed. The newborn small and powerful,
distilled from the ether, dreams, old rain.


                         All beginnings hurt
someone: the animal, the ground. So much
to witness and all of it slipping away.

from "Twilight Sleep"

A day becomes a story becomes a bird,
a lost seagull who shrinks each time
I describe him.

from "Inland Song"

I'd belong 
to it whether it wanted me or not.

end of "Vronhill Street in Liverpool 8"

It's an incoherent sound,
the shout of the unshaven man in the dirty cap,
but he has what you need and he sells it cheap.

from "The Calderstones"

If a magpie lights on the garden wall, she might

look up, and the wind might pluck a fragrance
from a blossoming bough.

from "The Forgetting Curve"

Thursday 25 June 2015

Poetry at Gulliver's, Manchester, 24 June 2015

We had a small, attentive audience for our reading last night at Gulliver's in Manchester. The readers were Carola Luther, Brian Bartlett, Stephen Burt and I. So many good poems and such great company! Here are some photos of the evening--unfortunately I missed snapping a picture of Peter Riley as he had to hurry off for a train.

Neil Campbell, Scott Thurston, and Evan Jones

Nearly the whole gang! (I didn't mean to cut off Carola Luther!)

Jessie Bennett and Stephen Burt

Claire Thompson and Alec Newman

Evan Jones and Carola Luther

Steven Waling carrying a copy of Imagined Sons 


My former student Zoë Howarth-Lowe (on the right) and her dad

Thursday 18 June 2015

Daniel Sluman's Absence has a weight of its own (Nine Arches, 2012)

Some favourite passages:

                   When you wake

to find a tube hanging from your chest
your ears will swarm with bees,

the doctor will catch you

just before you hit the tiles.


                              The tumour on the x-ray

tells you life is a fistful of cobwebs.

from "Letter"

I have adored your ankles,
snaffled the fine hairs that crisp
the small of your back,
& now, after I've licked

the soap-traces from the underside
of your knees, we find ourselves
stalled in the marriage bed;
your maiden name

a peppercorn crushed
in my mouth.

from "After the Wedding"

                                                                       I think 
of you, sealing yourself in a lead coffin where

the faces of the men you shot burst like poppy seeds.

end of "Your Limp Breath Slides off the Hospital Walls"

& the shadows we nailed
the floor
start to stir. 

end of "Snow/Swinging #2"

You stare until the letters tremble
like needles on a pine tree.

opening lines of "Ambition & the Individual Talent"

I have pulled apart
the machinery of that night

for the last ten years....

from "Scenes from a Film"

We'll return where we left, forgetting

when we started; each breath
binding us tighter to the past.

end of "When Our Pupils Swallowed the Irises Black"

                  You could tighten

this world in inky loops,

tourniquet this moment
before it bleeds out.

end of "When Lightning Switchblades"

I'm aware of my breath--the push & pull

of this fine wire....


When the doctor brought in my scan
my liver had bloomed a Rorschach test,

& we all stared, seeing only one thing.

from "My Death"

The last time we spoke

I was smearing the red flag
of myself around the tub....


                      God sees me

as a tiny pink coffin, wandering

from place to place, waiting
to fall into the open earth.

beginning and ending of "Dear Samaritans,
I'm Writing This to Let  You Know Everything's Okay Now"

Last night can't escape your kitchen....

from "The Aftermath"

Violins eased from speakers 
& hovered around our gestures

as a whole summer bled into that night,
a shoddy polaroid.

opening of "Kiss"

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Nancy Gaffield's Zyxt (Oystercatcher, 2015)

Here are some favourite passages:

                               the iterate wind renders you

down to tallow this far north you stop looking for light

end of "Blown-in"

                                           regardless of
where you are bats return in the early evening, & we are on the threshold of the [in]
visible world....


a solitary blackbird sings
& we are


listen--what was it we saw that
summer the moon burned 
almost black--
did you
can you


                                                     we hunt among flints
for a name that cannot be spoken a hot wind scatters the thirty-nine articles
so much space you can hear dust loosening the hinges


first in 
panic of
dislocation I
let myself drift in the lyric

from "Eastbridge Fibonacci"

                                                                                             what happened to you then
as afternoon evaporated into evening and the century folded in

from "Lost Negatives"

Darkness brayed within him


The randomness of it
        skylark and song
        somniis meis fis--
        you become because of my dreams

from "Abecedarian Hymn for St Alphege"
(a tour de force of a poem)

Monday 8 June 2015

The Forward Prizes, with thoughts for those on and not on the shortlists

Today The Guardian covered the announcement of the Forward Prize shortlistings. I've been quoted by newspapers four times before--twice by the L.A. Times, twice by the (central Illinois) Pantagraph, yet never accurately until now. You can read the article here.

While I've been pleased to see congratulations go to the shortlisted poets on Facebook and Twitter, I've also thought of the sadness and disappointment some of those not shortlisted may feel, as I've felt before at similar announcements, and want to say there was much good work that didn't make the shortlists, and not making the list does not mean one's book or poem isn't good.

Sunday 7 June 2015

The Third-Year Poets of 2015, second selection

Round two from the student reading at Bath Brew House on 28 May, with the blurbs I wrote for each of their pamphlets.

"Sean Martin’s pamphlet Shrike gives animals from sea, land and sky their own distinctive voices in a series of provocative and compelling monologues."

"In the ambitious pamphlet When I Was, Chloe Mayo intelligently and insightfully explores an ambivalence at the heart of selfhood that manifests both in our sense of ourselves as well as in our relationships with others."

 "In Atlas’s richly nuanced poems, Tom Williams conveys the significance of place—indeed, of inhabiting each place anew—throughout our lives."

"In his well-nuanced pamphlet, Is This It?, Matthew Leigh explores the psychological complexities of romantic relationships with intelligence and tenderness."


"In this emotive and engaging pamphlet, Skeletons in the Closet, Jack Tinmouth powerfully traces the discovery of sexuality from the purely physical, to the increasing emotional freight of relationships, to romantic love."

An ideal night and hopefully a new tradition for the third-year poets at Bath Spa University!

Friday 5 June 2015

Susie Campbell's The Bitters (Dancing Girl, 2014)

This ambitious pamphlet is excellent. Here are some favourite passages:

It is biting down it is a red cut when is it a green. It is a red green.

from "the way we bruise"
(a poem, in part, about lettuce)

         all these names Alice Jane Catherine Eliza Edith and Grace
little snowstorms of unreason blowing around the haunted ward

from "Casebook"

Go about it gently--brightly--a light-footed trick. Don't pay it too much attention, don't always feel what is felt.


Let the green come down. Let it fall.

from "Sayonara Libertyville"

Bake the pie for 25 miracles and reduce the temple to 350 delusions and bake until the top is golden brown, another 30 miracles. 

the opening sentence of "Strawberry Malfunction"

The oven grows in the dark. Out of one feast comes many....

from "The Oven"

Nobody pays for gold and silver to be conservative.


I sicken at the floss of it, the twist and count, knotted in cerise, gimped in rose.
* innocent excision of threads from the ordinary....
from "White Work"

These are common duties.
Cheerily brutal.
You have to do it 
and do it.

from "Funeral Feast"

This opening's a ripped
paper membrane 
pearl soft

against my cheek
and a little green bridge
I cannot cross

end of "Snowdrop"

A box: a casing, a continuation, a context.


There will be neither lack not superfluity of paper at any edge or angle. Rent is a heavy item.

from "Homework, ii. boxes"

Me. That little whore
with a pebble in her breast
a box of sharp tools
and no hope of heaven.

end of "Wyvern"

You can purchase the pamphlet from the press here.

Monday 1 June 2015

The Third-Year Poets of 2015, first of two selections

As my third-year poets worked all year toward producing cohesive, ambitious pamphlets, I was happy to arrange a reading for them at The Bath Brew House, where each could read three poems to show a selection of work. One student persuaded me that if they were going to make physical pamphlets, I could write them each a single-sentence blurb, so those blurbs appear below each reader.

"In the thoughtful pamphlet Twenty Two, Nick Compton presents a life in one’s twenties as mingling fond memories of childhood with the vividness of present experience, through precise imagery that shows the power of small moments."

"In De La Mer, Lizzie Martin moves deftly among myth, tragedy and family in a series of evocative and often poignant poems."

"In Tigers and Other Beasts, Ben Halford skillfully evokes India’s exotic animals in their extraordinary beauty and ordinary violence."

"In Theos, Mairead Miller reimagines Greek mythology, giving voice to the often voiceless, airing new interpretations, in a series of original and passionate poems."

"Maddy Heal’s whimsical and original pamphlet, Spirit Animals, uses real and imagined relationships with animals to explore our humanity in poems that manifest their depth on repeated readings."

Good luck to them all!