Spotlight Poets


There are a lot of amazing poets out there and what we would like to do is to draw your attention to some of our favourites. With that in mind, we will be featuring two poets each month as part of the 'Spotlight Poets' series. We hope you like their work as much as we do.

Khaled Hakim


Spotlight Poet #24 is the brilliant Khaled Hakim. Formerly working in film and TV, Khaled  was the first British-Asian experimental poet in the 1980s & 90s, working with semi-improvisatory performances. Largely refusing to publish at the time, he abandoned both writing and film in the new millennium to become a Sufi student and musician. He returned to writing after a decade and has published Letters from the Takeaway, The Book of Naseeb, and The Routines: 1983-2000. A new book To the Hitchhiking Dead is slated for 2022 release.


Name: Khaled Hakim

Hometown: Birmingham

Collections/pamphlets titles: Letters from the Takeaway (Shearsman 2019), The Book of Naseeb (Penned in the Margin 2020), The Routines: 1983-2000 (Contraband Books 2020)


What are you currently working on?

I've just completed a book-length poem 'To the Hitchhiking Dead' which was planned and part-drafted over 30 years ago when hitchhiking through Europe in the 80s.


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

I described completing a book-length poem 'To the Hitchhiking Dead' shelved/abandoned 30 years ago. When I belatedly, reluctantly returned to the insignificant poetry world after my silence, I wanted to know what the vangardistes were doing these days. And I found a new online PDF zine produced in Seoul, and the very first poem of its first issue had a long poem called 'The A1' by Richard Parker. It was like reading my abandoned poem, with the same cadences and Romantic visions. I later met him and told him his poem had convinced me there was no point to completing my poem. He demurred, and somewhere last year I found I wanted to revisit the dozen notebooks to piece it together. Richard Parker wrote a version of my poem, and then I wrote my poem.


If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

Homer. I prefer dead poets to living poets. The deader the better. Homer because I was taken by Milman Parry's insights into oral composition/bardic performance. I later learnt Turkish Ottoman Sufi music and I suspect I would recognize the rhythms and modes of Homer's musical performance.


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

To complete the poetry that I must write before I'm dead


What advice would you give to your young poetself?

My new book-poem 'To the Hitchhiking Death' is a dialogue between the young poet and the present poet. I couldn't say anything to the young poet that he would listen to. I wrote some lines since excised: 'I had to enter th skins of a moning narsissist to folow th thredd of luve -- is this prigge th father of me -- O son yore gonna be th death of me'


An interesting fact about yourself

I gave up writing to enter a long period as practising Sufi student and 'accidentally' ended up as a Daf player (Sufi framedrum). As my first books started coming out, I was still primarily known as a musician, but that's changing.

 

 

Fiona Larkin


Spotlight Poet #23 is the exceptional Fiona Larkin. Fiona  was born in London to Irish parents. Her debut pamphlet, A Dovetail of Breath, was published by Rack Press in 2020. Her poems have featured in Magma, The North, Perverse, Under the Radar, New Boots & Pantisocrasies and elsewhere, and she was highly commended by the Forward Prizes 2019 for her poem ‘Rope of Sand.’ She manages innovative poetry events with Corrupted Poetry, with whom she has guest-edited the forthcoming issue of Finished Creatures. She tweets @fionalarkin


Name: Fiona Larkin

Hometown: Kingston upon Thames
Pamphlet: A Dovetail of Breath
What are you currently working on? I’m developing a couple of new pamphlets, which
might come together as a collection or might stand alone - it’s all quite fluid at the moment.


What poem by another poet would you like to have written?

I began writing poems about seven years ago. The poem which sparked that desire to write was ‘Irena of Alexandria,’ by Michael Donaghy, for its wit, its surreal imagery and its voice - it showed me what contemporary poetry could do - so yes, I’d like to have written it!  I find that the poets whose work inspires me - Zaffar Kunial, Deryn Rees-Jones, Mary Jean Chan, Sasha Dugdale - are, like Donaghy, expert in transforming traditional forms.

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

It would be a time of stripping back to what’s essential. I’d take the collected Louise Glück, bare lyrics to draw my eye upwards.

 

What is your biggest ambition for your poetry career?

It took me so long to discover the writing. My biggest ambition, which I think many of us share in this most difficult of years, is simply to continue. Let us not lose it.

 

 

Fiona Larkin

Beach

Form it from mica, a runnel of crystal. From shell, from sand. Form it from loosestrife, form
it remorselessly. From salt. Gather whatever is floating, plastic or rotten, belly-up crab.
Form it in thunder, dash it to pieces in winter derangement.


Form it again. From molluscs, in ankle-deep drifts. From bladderwrack, itching with
sandflies, memento mori of cuttlefish bone. Scratch it from cliff edge. From what is
exposed twice a day, the hood of crustacean, the foil of the eel. From rain.


Form it from barnacles, intact on the rock: from what is resisting attrition. Shape it from
stasis. Form it from creatures in soupy lagoons, quarry for egrets at the turn of the tide.
From sea-glass, herald, assurance. Form it as votary, down on your knees.


[Commended, Winchester Poetry Prize 2019 and published in the competition anthology.]



Arun Jeetoo


Spotlight Poet #22 is the fantastic Arun Jeetoo. Arun is a poet and educator from Enfield, North London. He is a wanderer and a compassionate soul, known for his dirty realism style, provocative imagery, and dark humour. His work appears in The London Reader and LUMIN Journal amongst numerous print and online magazines across the world. His poetry received second place in the John Hopkins Prize (2016) and was shortlisted for the Erbacce Prize (2020). His debut pamphlet I Want to Be the One You Think About at Night published from Waterloo Press is on sale right now. He tweets @G2poetry and Instagrams @g2poetry.


Name: Arun Jeetoo

Hometown:  Enfield, North London

Collections/pamphlets titles:

Debut pamphlet: I Want to Be the One You Think About at Night from Waterloo Press – a agile, sensual and achingly honest collection of contemporary love poems in the digital age. 

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new pamphlet titled Life is Cumulative, which is about appreciating our everyday human experiences – from the mundane to the surreal – because each experience serves up a hard lesson learned about the self, our surroundings and our world. I have yet to send it out to poetry publishers, so here’s hoping someone gives it a home!


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

‘Everything Changes’ by Cicely Herbert – I admire this poem for Herbert’s masterful structure and fixed form that reinforces the message that the choices we make as humans, good and bad, have the power to change everything from the minute to the catastrophic. 


If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar – a brilliant poet whom I admire so much I could read her debut collection a thousand times! And each time, I learn something new about The Partition of India in 1947; her identity; descriptions of her father and much more. The collection will make a great companion anywhere I go… or anywhere I end up stranded. 


What advice would you give to your young poetself?

I started writing song lyrics at thirteen because I was in a band (lead singer and keyboardist) and only really transitioned into writing poetry at nineteen. So, my advice to my younger poetself is to cling even more to your secondary school English teacher and ask them for poetry recommendations for your age. READ READ READ READ READ. Reading poetry you don’t like might lead you onto a path where you discover poetry that ‘gets you’. That’s what I tell my students. 


Arun Jeetoo

The Rambunctious Celebration 


grandiose with colour confetti

blue whimsical 

banners 

Kelewele cake


and presents galore 

with an open-casket service

my Caput Mortuum

in a coffin


waiting for sundown 

to build myself back

in my own way 


luminous like Saturn’s face 

wiser than yesterday


my phoenixian renaissance 

incinerates the weak me


that is why 

so much depends upon.

Briony Hughes


Spotlight Poet #21 is the brilliant Briony Hughes. Briony  is a poet, visiting tutor, and doctoral researcher based at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is interested in kinetic movement in language, water bodies, the archive, and site-specific writing. Briony's publications include Dorothy (Broken Sleep Books,2020) and Microsporidial (Sampson Low, 2020). Her limited edition bookworks have been collected by bookartbookshop, Senate House Library, National Poetry Library, and the Foyle Special Collections at Kings College London. Briony is a founding member of the Crested Tit Collective and is currently the editor of Rewilding: an ecopoetic anthology.


Name: Briony Hughes
Hometown: Ipplepen, Devon
Collections/pamphlets titles: Dorothy (Broken Sleep Books), Microsporidial (Sampson Low)

What are you currently working on?
I am currently developing a series of object poems which address the 1940s and 50s testing of nuclear weaponry at the Bikini Atoll, alongside the design of the bikini swimsuit, and the 2015 development of a ‘pollution absorbing’ bikini. Within the poem, found language linkingto each of these moments is in freefall, suspended in water and subject to chance encounters, collisions, disruptions, and reverberations.


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?
It would be criminal to not mention Redell Olsen in response to this question. Dell led the lectures in the ‘Introduction to Poetry’ course during the first year of my BA. Fast-forward four years and Dell led my MA in Poetic Practice and is now my current doctoral supervisor. She has been such a wonderful and generous mentor, teacher, and friend, and has helped me to develop my writing and creative practice in so many unexpected ways. Check out some of her collections! Film Poems (Les Figues), Punk Faun: A Bar Rock Pastel (Sub Press).


If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Juliana Spahr’s Well Then There Now (Black Sparrow)


What advice would you give to your young poetself?
Ignore the rules. Tear the rules down, open yourself up to different possibilities and don’t be afraid to experiment (in every sense of the word). Find the small presses. Find the indie presses. Engage with presses which champion all voices. Write and find a community and write some more. Throw rhyme out of the window and do something different. Language is fun.



 


Briony Hughes

Blood Test

 

centre yourself in
height or weight
of her gravity
10 days empty
outline shedding
never at speed
the trickle is
contagious red
pith or water
directed toward
a pink-cap vial
focus consciousness
car park remains
visible this room
with a view
I am the lucky
one curtain between
bodies draining
other bodies
snow white drags
your limbs under
the water hello
h ello hhh h el hello hello
hello o oh hel hello hhell
hel lo hhh ello l l l l hello
cn y ou he a me
hel lo h e llo h h ello
hell o hello hello hello
hello hello hello hello
can you hear me?
open eyes remember
to breathe

Clint Wastling


Spotlight Poet #20 is the excellent Clint Wastling. Clint’s  poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies like Blue Nib, Dream Catcher, Orbis and Dreich. His novel, The Geology of Desire, is an LGBTQ thriller set around Whitby in the 1980’s and Hull during World War II. He also has a sci-fi novel: Tyrants Rex set 3000 years in the future, both are published by Stairwell Books.  Clint has worked with composers as part of Leeds Lieder Festival and toured his one man show, The Poet as a Geologist.


Name: Clint Wastling

Hometown: Beverley

Collections/pamphlets titles:  My first collection is Layers from Maytree Press

What are you currently working on? I’m working on a series of poems charting the River Hull from its source to meeting the Humber at the city of Hull. My family farmed in the area for many generations,  so it’s not just about landscape. There’s also the edits on  the next draft of my novel Stalin’s Bear to do and a publisher to find!


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

The poet Pat Borthwick had a major impact on my poetry. Attending her Stanza sessions over many years, I learnt all sorts of skills: the shape of poems and the importance of space. Where a poem begins and killing your babies by which Pat meant removing the best words/ phrases when they didn’t work for the greater good of the poem.

 

If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

I’d love to share a few beers with Walter de la Mare. I love the way he weaves that ghostly touch into poems like Silver and The Listeners. I am keen on reading his ghost stories as well. Seaton’s Aunt is a good one to start with.  I read The Lord Fish recently and enjoyed the elemental use of water. I’m partial to writing a ghost poem myself, though very few of them make it into print!

 

What is your first poetry memory?

 My first poetry memory is writing about the sea. The sea, the sea, where does it end?  Was the title/first line. I entered this poem, aged 12, for a local competition and won first prize!  I lived  a five minute walk from Scarborough’s North Bay so most weekends and holidays I’d be exploring the area. I could see the castle and sea from my bedroom window. 

 

An interesting fact about yourself  -- I was looking for fossils in a sandstone layer beneath Scarborough Castle and lost my footing, tumbling some thirty feet, landing miraculously unharmed. The experience made me determined to become a geologist.

 


Clint Wastling

Listening to Waves

 

Winter’s roar on a frosty night

would find me sitting on the sill,

in an old cotton dressing gown,

lights off.

I would throw open the bedroom window

and listen to the sounds of the sea,

with the path of moonlight

paving the way a dream might take.

 

Go to sleep.

The door shifted and

I’d jump between winceyette sheets

as mother’s arm eased the window closed.

She warned me of sirens

who make men weak

and mermaids who drown

the meek and good

unless you say your prayers.

 

Through the glass, the physics of

a wave’s  increasing asymmetry

transferred energy as sound.

How shifting gravity as the moon

waxes and wanes creates tides.

 

Scatter my ashes in the ocean,

let my atoms drift across the

wide, life-giving sea and maybe

I will feel fingers ripple through

amniotic fluid.

 

Hear new waves.


first published in Dream Catcher 37

Ella Duffy


Spotlight Poet #19 is the brilliant Ella Duffy. Ella is a poet originally from Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Rialto, The North, Ambit and the Guardian, among others. Her debut pamphlet, New Hunger, was published by Smith|Doorstop in May 2020. Her second pamphlet, Rootstalk, will be published by Hazel Press in November 2020.


Name: Ella Duffy

Hometown: Manchester

Collections/pamphlets titles: New Hunger (Smith|Doorstop, 2020); Rootstalk (Hazel Press, 2020).

What are you currently working on? I’ve spent the last few months finishing my second pamphlet, Rootstalk, which will be published by Hazel Press in November 2020. It’s a single long poem made up of five voices, some from myth, others from historical accounts, all reimagined. The lives of these characters are shaped by their search and discovery of the ghost orchid, one of the rarest wild orchids, which spends most of its live underground. Writer webpage: elladuffy.co.uk


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

My first thought was ‘The Fish’ by Elizabeth Bishop. Then I remembered Edwin Morgan’s poem ‘Midge’, which is fiendishly brilliant - “Sisters, I smell supper, / and what is more perfect than supper?”. Then there’s ‘Flies’ by Alice Oswald, which opens with the killer line, “This is the day the flies fall awake mid-sentence”. That said, if I’d written them, I wouldn’t have the same joy of reading them. Probably worth it though…

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

I might have to go with more Alice Oswald and her collection Falling Awake. I always come back to it feeling as if I’m reading it for the first time.

 

If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

Sappho. I think we’d have a laugh together.



Ella Duffy

Hericium

 

If when we die, the soul attaches itself to something half-alive,

mine will settle for forest rot,         

drip its thousand spines to a pale spill.

 

Woodland does not pause at loss,

it lives through its buried —

another hounded fox, the wrong red.

 

Somewhere, a horse chestnut’s falling pulse

and in the damp, stars yawn into autumn.

Everything and nothing in this wood.

 

When I become impossibly light, appear as wax,

let foragers steal my ghost-meat home,

prepare a meal of it, slow as winter.

Nigel Kent


Spotlight Poet #18 is the excellent Nigel Kent. Nigel is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet (2019), author of four collections/pamphlets, and an active member of the Open University Poetry Society, managing its website and occasionally editing its workshop magazine. He has been shortlisted for several national competitions and his poetry has appeared in a wide range of anthologies and magazines. His latest publication, Psychopathogen, has been nominated for the 2020 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets


Name: Nigel Kent

Hometown: Evesham

Collections/pamphlets titles: Saudade, Psychopathogen, Thinking you Home, A Hostile Environment.

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on two publications: a collection of ekphrastic poems entitled ‘Whispers in the Gallery’ and an as yet untitled collaboration with photographer, Nick Browne,  in which the images are not literal illustrations of the poems but make their own complementary statement


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

 

If you’d asked me that question only a couple of weeks ago, it would have been ‘A Rainy Morning’ by Ted Kooser from ‘Delights and Shadows’ in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair skilfully manoeuvring herself through the street in the wind and rain. However, I have just recently discovered the poetry of Richard Jones and I would now choose his poem, ‘The Waiting Room’ from ‘The Blessing: New and Selected Poems’. Jones and Kooser share an ability to see significance in the ordinary: they notice the beauty, the courage, the suffering and the heroism in everyday personal experiences and do so in a direct, understated yet elegant style. ‘The Waiting Room’ is typical. Jones transports the reader to a doctor’s surgery where the sense of isolation of patients is vividly realised through accessible, relatable, resonant poetry: the sort of poetry I try to write myself.

 

What advice would you give to your young poetself?

 

I think my advice would be to read poetry to help find your own voice and not to make evaluative judgments about your work. I started writing poetry at sixteen and wrote a lot until I went to university. Studying the modern greats of poetry, however, undermined my confidence: I questioned what I was trying to do, giving up and not seriously writing poetry again until I was in my sixties! I think if I had followed my advice, I would not have wasted all those years.

 

An interesting fact about yourself

 

I had my first poems published at the age of 17 in an anthology called ‘All People are Poets’ for which I was paid…yes, paid.. with a ten shilling postal order, which I never cashed believing it would be the first of many. In fact, it is the only time I have ever been paid cash for a poem published in an anthology! Different times.


Nigel Kent

The Cleansing


We thought the pond just needed cleaning

to make sure the fish would thrive

but you said overstocking

was the problem and not the years of silt.

 

We deferred to your authority

idly standing by as you labelled

so many sick, diseased and weak:

threats to the well-being of the rest.

 

You judged them by their colour,

despatching the unchosen

to the pile beside your booted feet

impervious to their mouthed appeals.

 

Afterwards we cleared up the carnage

yet the memory still lingers,

like the stink upon our fingers,

that no amount of water will wash away

 

published in ‘What the Moon was Told’, edited by Janice Dempsey, Dempsey and Windle, 2000.

Clarissa Aykroyd


Spotlight Poet #17 is the talented Clarissa Aykroyd. Clarissa is originally from Victoria, Canada. She spent a few years in Dublin and now lives in London, where she works as a publisher. Her poems and translations have appeared in UK and international journals, and her pamphlet Island of Towers was published by Broken Sleep Books in 2019.


Name: Clarissa Aykroyd

Hometown: Victoria, BC (originally); London, UK (now)

Collections/pamphlets: Island of Towers (Broken Sleep Books, 2019)

What are you currently working on?

I'm working on having something to work on. In the meantime, I'm trying to learn Russian, and it's going quite well.


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

There are many possible answers to this question, but one which often comes to mind is 'The Spaces of Hope' by the Serbian poet Ivan Lalić. Although I have only been able to read it in the English translation by Francis R Jones, it is a poem which I could just imagine myself writing if I were having a particularly good day (or year).


If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, and why?

I actually met the Canadian poet PK Page once, very briefly, at a reading in my hometown of Victoria about ten years before she died. I took a Canadian Poetry class as part of my English degree at the University of Victoria, which really expanded my horizons - PK Page was one of the writers I discovered and she became one of my favourite poets and a major influence on my writing. Her poem 'Stories of Snow', in particular, is a touchstone for me. Although I did meet her once, I would have loved to have spent more time talking with her about literature and life. If I can cheat and add a couple more: I would give much for even five minutes talking with Paul Celan about poetics, pain and silence. And I'd like to think that Keith Douglas would have tried to flirt with me. 


What is your first poetry memory?

I remember writing a poem when I was about six years old, about a horse - and it was in French. In case this makes me sound overly precocious, it was because in my Canadian school I was enrolled in a program called French immersion, which enabled me to become fluent in French over the years. I also illustrated it. It is a very long time since I have written a poem in French, and even longer since I illustrated a poem, but at least I still write poetry in English and occasionally translate poems from French into English! 



Clarissa Aykroyd

Kingdom

 

 

Hammered gold of glass.

Golden wood. Through this door,

the sky’s blue door. The birches,

rays of light, up from earth.

Hammered gold in a high sky.

The here-ness of there.

 

 

Vantaa, Finland

Richy Campbell


Spotlight Poet #16 is the fabulous Richy Campbell. Richy is a writer based in Manchester. With language, he wishes to capture noticeable detail, dream-like apparitions and the idiosyncrasies of human beings. He has performed his work at the Poetry Cafe in London, the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, and Huddersfield Literature Festival. In January 2020, his first collection of poetry, Lovely Peripheries, was published by Live Canon. In addition to his own literary pursuits, he co-edits Sideways poetry magazine. He exists digitally on Twitter (@richyacampbell) and Instagram (@lovelyperipheries).


Name: Richy Campbell

Hometown: Rugeley, Staffordshire

Collections/pamphlets titles: Lovely Peripheries (Live Canon, 2020)


What are you currently working on? I am working on a sequence of poems based on a strange walk I took near Cannock Chase, Staffordshire; a novel based on a dysfunctional small publishing house; a short story collection; and a stage play about a retired couple who go on a walk that goes very wrong.


If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

I don’t really yearn to meet artists that I love, dead or alive. However, I would like to have had a coffee with Elizabeth Bishop. She is my favourite poet. More importantly, she seemed like she’d be great company. She seemed to be unimpressed by establishment concerns, and had a dry wit, which is most interesting to me.

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop. I never tire of those poems.

 

What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

I would like to keep creating work that I am proud of. It would also be very nice if the aforementioned work was read, and enjoyed, by other people.


Richy Campbell

Waves

I return to the house,
stare through the grime-smudged windows
at chairs on their sides,

at the table covered with districts of muck.


The backyard’s slabs are mottled with litter,
weeds advance through gaps in brick.
A cold fetor clouds all from the corner,
from refuse sacks that holds water in clefts.

I sit on a brick pile near the fence,
head full of the last time we met.

The silence as our shoulders touched with the last hug,
your large eyes stupefied of their sheen.

 

Our laughter echoes from the bedroom window.
This is what I have of you
I see colours project on the curtains
if I stare hard enough.

I leave to the street, walk under the lamplights
and wonder where you are, in some living room
the silence between the two of you

deafened by the television.

I imagine the could-haves,
they ebb from the house,
flow out of the road, to you

they break brick from cement, skid cars on roofs,
knock your fingers from lampposts
that you grab in the current.  

Liam Bates


Spotlight Poet #15 is the brillant Liam Bates. Liam is a poet originally from the Black Country, currently living in Birmingham. He’s been published in some places and not published in most places.


Name: Liam Bates

Hometown: Wednesbury

Collections/pamphlets titles: Working Animals (Broken Sleep Books) — a pamphlet -length sequence exploring labour and the relationships between human and non-human animals

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing poems with a view to assembling a first collection. I have some strong underlying themes in place atm but I’m not going to commit anything to posterity just yet.



Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

I came to poetry through music, and some of my biggest influences live at the intersection between those mediums. The artist I think I owe the most to, formatively, would be Adam Drucker, aka doseone. He’s a poet, rapper, singer, painter, producer and sound designer, and someone who has been producing exceptional and absurd art for decades. I wouldn’t say I write in a similar style exactly, but my ideas of what is possible from a creative output has been fundamentally shaped by his work. I once went down to London to see him perform live, and he stood behind a mouth-shaped podium playing drums on a sampler and having the audience chant at him to ‘Get a real job!’ and I hold that memory close to my heart.


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

Honestly, I’d just love to make any kind of a living from writing and reading and teaching about poetry. I’m almost 30 years old and through a combination of stark generational economic trends and chronic and periodically debilitating mental illness, the two of which I think should be considered causally intertwined, I’ve not yet worked a job that pays more than what’s technically classed as a ‘low income’. With the help of several generous elders, I’m beginning to get a sense of what’s possible, and so I’m determined now that if I’m going to make shit money for a while longer, it should be in service of doing something I love, and not to make some managing director a little richer.


What advice would you give to your young poet self?

I would love to let myself know earlier about the breadth of great contemporary poetry that’s out there. For a long while I had no idea, and had been soured on poetry all together, through what I see as the manifold failings of the British education system. It’s not possible to give my younger self advice, of course, but I’d love to be in a position one day where I can, on a bigger scale, help out others in the way that others have helped me.


Liam Bates

Apartment Block

(from ‘Working Animals’)


A kestrel hovers above the roadside,

a wary shadow against the sky.

You are stuck handbraked staring

into the arse-end of backlogged traffic.

The sun is a yellow stress ball

out of reach. Up ahead,

a motorcyclist has come apart:

not in the way we all do, but in two

discrete parts – there’s the part that’s their head

and the part that’s not.

You need to piss and you bark

at a drive time radio DJ who isn’t listening.

Gaynor Kane


Spotlight Poet #14 is the excellent Gaynor Kane. Gaynor is a writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She likes capturing images that might otherwise be missed, often with words, sometimes in photos, and occasionally on canvas. She has been placed in competitions and widely published in journals and anthologies. In 2018, The Hedgehog Poetry Press launched their Stickleback series with her micro-collection Circling the Sun. Gaynor’s poetry pamphlet Memory Forest, about burial rituals and last wishes, was published in 2019. Her debut full collection is due for release, also from Hedgehog Press, on 8th September, which coincides accidentally-on-purpose with her fiftieth birthday. You can find out more about her here: www.gaynorkane.com


Name: Gaynor Kane

Hometown: Belfast

Collection/ pamphlet’s title: Circling the Sun (2018), Memory Forest (2019)


What are you currently working on? Promoting my debut full collection, Venus in Pink Marble, due for release from the Hedgehog Poetry Press 8th September 2020. As I have a 9 to 5 job, I have limited time and I can’t always find the time to write. I would love to say I was working on my next collection, but alas…


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

I don’t think I can narrow that down to one person. I’m lucky that several local poets have encouraged me to find my own voice. However, when I started writing I did a class with Moyra Donaldson at the Crescent Arts Centre. Moyra introduced me to writers I hadn’t experienced before and motivated me to keep going. I went on to do several terms with Moyra and found it beneficial, particularly the critiquing sessions, her guidance and encouragement.

 

What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

This changes frequently depending on want I’ve recently read Today, it is the poem ‘The Hug’ by Tess Gallagher and this is my favourite bit: “ you want it / to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button / on his coat will leave the imprint of / a planet in my cheek”

 

If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

Eva Gore-Booth. I have so many questions I’d like to ask her, most of which are probably not about poetry. I think she grew up at a really interesting and important time.  I would like to hear about her suffrage work, her friendship with WB Yeats, what it was like to be the sister of Countess Markievicz and lots more.

 

What is your first poetry memory?

My parents reciting nursery rhymes to me. I also remember writing a poem in primary school about an old woman, it featured tree similes and a cat. In another, I anthropomorphised a pencil and took him on an adventure.


An interesting fact about yourself...

I’ve spent the night in a Garda Station in Dublin. It sounds worse than it was. My friend and I missed the last train back to Belfast when we were 18. We had very little money left and where walking the streets at dusk. The Garda Síochána stopped to check if we were alright and after a bit of crying we told them what was wrong. They tried to find us a hostel for the night but no one would take us in and we ended up spending the night in the medical room of Harcourt Terrace station. I have told this story at a local event called Ten X 9 and it’s here on their podcast if anyone wishes to listen.

Gaynor Kane

Window Weather


The Icelanders have a word that means just that.

A murky day that you know is better

enjoyed from the comfort of a window-seat;

soft mizzle cleansing leaves shiny and bright. 

 

When webs become crystal dreamcatchers,

or perfect drops form on the telephone lines

and slide slowly down like the oil

on the wire of the indoor rain lamp,

 

with Venus in pink marble,

her flowing robe revealing perfect curves

against the plastic plants.

Outside the blackbird puffs himself,

 

feathers rippling. He dances on the lawn.

Drizzle doesn’t bring the worms up

but his fancy seven-step has the desired effect

and he pecks and pecks and pecks;

 

like the drinking woodpecker did, long ago,

on the dentist’s counter, see-sawing,

a globe of red liquid dancing, as I looked

past it and through the window,

 

longing to be outside in the rain.

Sunita Thind


Spotlight Poet #13 is the amazing Sunita Thind. Sunita is a British, Punjabi published poet with two published collections of multicultural poetry. She is a performance poet as well as Secondary English, History and Primary school teacher and workshop facilitator. She uses her poetry as a medium to voice important issues that woman have to deal with, such as  mental health, equality, cultural and social injustice, racism as well as achievements. She has suffered from depression, PTSD, GAD, anxiety and paranoia throughout my life as well as having Ovarian Cancer twice. She is a BAME, female, Punjabi, Malaysian, British writer, qualified Make Up Artist and model and writer. She is also an advocate for Ovarian Cancer and have fundraised or charities and completed charity fashion shows and she has been covered by BBC East Midlands, BBC Radio Derby, BBC Asian Network, Mirror, The Daily Express, Eastern Eye Magazine, Huffington Post and Macmillian Cancer Support as a media volunteer.


Name: Sunita Thind

Hometown: Derby

Pamphlet’s title: The Barging Buddhi And Other Poems (Black Pear Press)  The Coconut Girl (Wild Pressed Books - Upcoming in November)


If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

Sylvia Plath was a such an inspiring, strong and creative genius ahead of her time who changed the face of female poetry writing. The imagery she created was wonderous and mesmerising and I loved her novel the Bell Jar. It is sad and tragic how she died.


What is your first poetry memory?

Writing a poem that got published in an anthology in a school competition called The City Of Malaysia At The Festival of Lights in Year 6, I was so proud to get my poem in the book.


If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

Sylvia Plath's greatest works!


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

 I would love to get a literary agent and publish a novel and poetry collection with not only amazing indie presses but also the bigger more commercial ones and maybe Blood Axe books. The sky is the limit, write a memoir about my Ovarian Cancer and Covid experience, win a literary competition and travel and do readings and so on!


What advice would you give to your young poet self?

Get the Indie Mslexia Indie Press Guide it was invaluable to me when I was just starting out to submit my poems to magazines, getting them published and submitting my poetry collection to different publishers. Write what inspires you, what makes you passionate and keep note book with you always, I write everyday.


Sunita Thind

Menstrual Mothers


Odd protrusions on her body.

The darkening blood on her egg white school panties.

Was this feminine disease contagious?

Pining for her premenstrual form.

Hair tight in sequined scrunchies.

Sucking the irony blood off her fingers that she inserted up herself.

She was curious for a sniff, her new smell was different.

It was disgustingly womanly she thought.

Ignoring the wet slush gush from crimson coated nether regions.

Hand prints slaps embellished from her turbaned papa.

He was not a man of god, only a man of excuse.

Bruise shaped-malevolently coloured.

Everything her was dying.

Her legs were blood.. scarlet limbs.

Her father was jealous of her female secrets that her dainty body told her only.

Shards of the feminine.

Underwear sodden and warm.

Murdering the whiteness of her school shirt.

She has to hand wash everything.

A washing machine was a luxury that was unavailable.

The lies that bind the womanly shame together.

Garnet soaked clothing in cold water and scrubbed with a cheap plastic washer

brush before her Punjabi Papa found her.

Curdled brain, belly flop, churning body, clouded corneas.

She was an embalmed butterfly.

His anterior fury, her half former thirteen year old thoughts.

Her staccato stuttering, her bloody words, dribbling from vagina lips.

Retreating inside her head, the fractures of her feminine chronology

Adorned in a wealthy costume of humiliation by these menstrual mothers that greet her monthly.

She is thinly with a painted face at obligatory family functions and weddings.

The pitiful cosmetics daubed on, her body somehow seemed wrong

Sexual assault is erectly waiting

Her finest salwar kameez is soaking-raw silk blanched in vermillion gore.

He can sniff at her period stench.

Was she impulsive and her father compulsive in his slaps at mortification at her womanhood.

Once reveling in the palpable joy of sniffing a bloody cunt.

Her eyes blooming in fear.

Inanimate to his anger, ungracefully running with ruby prints on her thighs.

Serge ♆ Neptune


Spotlight Poet #12 is the tidal wave of brilliance that is Serge ♆ Neptune.Serge Neptune has been called ‘the little merman of British poetry’. His first pamphlet is 'These Queer Merboys' published with Broken Sleep. His work has appeared in Lighthouse, Banshee, Brittle Star and elsewhere. He is the creator and host of poetry broadcast 'Neptune's Glitter House for WayWard Poets'.


Name: Serge ♆ Neptune

Hometown: under the sea, somewhere in the English Channel.

Pamphlet’s title: These Queer Merboys


What are you currently working on?

I just finished a commission (can’t reveal much about that yet). I am working on new stuff and trying to organise my first full collection, making sure all poems communicate with each other to create a flow from beginning to end. There might be another pamphlet or two in the cards. I am also working on future episodes of my poetry broadcast ‘Neptune’s Glitter House for WayWard Poets’, which always requires a lot of effort.

 

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

There’s been a few. Emily Berry no doubt. At the beginning most of my poems sounded super Berry-esque. I love the way she exposes power games and flaws in relationships. Richard Scott has been a huge influence, not only because his poetry melts my heart but, having been my teacher at Faber Academy and Arvon, he guided me and encouraged me to look at queerness in new and exciting ways. Anne Carson because she is a genius, does what she wants on the page and always leave me in awe of her skill. Her translation of Sappho’s fragments is another book which has proven fundamental to my development as a poet. Finally, Sylvia Plath and the Silver age of Russian poetry.

 

What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

Rebecca Tamás’s ‘Interrogation (1)’. It always sends chills down my spine.

 

If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

Sylvia Plath. ‘Ariel’ is another book which influenced me massively and I’d love to share a cuppa with her and simply chitchat about stuff.

 

What is your first poetry memory?

Reading a copy of Baudelaire’s ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ and discovering that all my rage and pain could find their way onto the paper (I was a very angsty teenager, still am).

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

Sappho – If Not Winter (tr. Anne Carson)

 

What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

World domination. Should that fail, I’ll be happy publishing a minimum of three full collections.

 

What advice would you give to your young poet self?

Stop overthinking things. Brush your scales. Don’t drown too many humans.

 

An interesting fact about yourself?

Merman, innit? I also studied Russian language and lit at university and worked as a translator (not a poetry translator) for a few years.

 


Serge ♆ Neptune

How Sailors at Sea Mistook Manatees for Mermen


i

sea wrapped in itself like a dead bug

voyaged on sunk within its liquorish water

that once drunk burns the mouth elongated

bone-structure of the sea its drench bark

zappy whirlpool skin cosy exoskeleton even

the greatest of men here flounder


ii


how long to be lost at sea months years

hormones spiral mind hallucinates how the absence of touch dictates what one sees in a distance of waves ~~ one defines lust as a

sea cucumber wriggling inside the ear & into

the brain ~~


what factors contribute to the brain splitting

into chunks of desire a ship that wobbles this loneliness of salt that tastes like pork well

past its due date & the other sea mammals

~~ gaily swimming by


iii


brine-lustrous species head & trunk of man

ending in a tail of fish or cetacean these

beguilers test the thirst of men lips wet with prophecy which have had centuries to

practice teasing scaly Cassandras nobody

ever listens to for fear of drowning & what

is it to love a man if not to drag him

underwater to steal his last breath


every sea-faring culture reporting the cheek

of it


iv


the sun like a spell of sweat which blurs the

sight the motions of shoulders pulling ropes

vigour of firm hands make a man forget

himself how a secret peek can cause the

strongest lungs to bruise


when tempest arrives it’s a quarrel of

spinster clouds fighting over the most

handsome sailors waves become hands that

clutch & crush & when wood turns to

splinters men look for each other ~~ not

even the virile want to die alone or unloved

when you drown you can feel the brain of

the sea at work hear its synapses cling to one another like a fishnet of laughter & song ~~


v


everything so blue wish I could eat the blue

whole like a pretty blue hamburger have you

ever chewed on your own guilt how a song

pulls and twists the mind of a man so that he

wants to die to forget his home & family our

voices’ frills baroque jukebox our lips know

~~ the wants of flesh


but what survives of us once men forget

little brothers we flick our fins in spite

dissolve sperm-white glowing spume on

choppy waves first wink of dawn


Cara L. Mckee


Spotlight Poet #11 is the excellent Cara L. Mckee. Cara is from Yorkshire but now lives on the west coast of Scotland. Her poetry has been published in places including Gutter Magazine, Brittle Star, Ink, Sweat and Tears, and The Queer Dot’s Queer Quaranzine. Her chapbook is  First Kiss (Maytree Press, 2020), which you can buy from Maytree Press or get a signed copy on Cara’s website http://skeletonarchitecture.blogspot.com.  


 

Name: Cara L. Mckee

Hometown: Ilkley

Collections/pamphlets titles:First Kiss, from Maytree Press, May 2020: https://maytreepress.co.uk/shop-poetry-book/

Writer webpage: http://skeletonarchitecture.blogspot.com.  


What are you currently working on?

I wrote a series of poems for the Scottish Writer's Centre and I didn't mean for it to happen, but they all had wee gods in them. I noticed that these little gods are coming up a lot in my work despite myself being pretty much godless, so I'm currently working on bringing them together into a new chapbook sized collection. 

 

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

I was hugely into New Model Army when I was young (still am), and I once attempted to sneak in late, to a big Joolz Denby gig at the Ilkley Literary Festival, wearing a lot of silver bracelets and clogs which I had spray painted silver. It wasn't a good outfit for sneaking and Joolz paused in reading her poetry to give me a good slagging off. I was determined then that I would have as much confidence as she showed, and inspired to bring the realness to my writing that she brought. I discovered that she'd been published by Bloodaxe, and I really wanted to get published by them too! 


More recently I've developed an obsession with Jacqueline Saphra whose work is blooming amazing. I love the way she uses form to hone her poems, and the incredible amount of craft that goes into something that might seem at first glance to be thrown together. I have been delighted during lockdown to have a chance to talk with her about just how much I like her writing, and she was incredibly gracious about it. I'm also always excited to read new issues of Butcher's Dog and The Interpreter's House. I find Jo Clement and Georgi Gill to be really interesting editors, I love the things they choose, and the collaborative way they work. 

 

What is your first poetry memory?

I won a poetry competition in primary school and had to read my poem at the Harvest Assembly which was in church. I had to read it from the pulpit, which was high up, and I was freaked out to be looking out at everybody. Happily my parents couldn't come, I think that would have pushed me over the edge! I don't remember the poem, I'm afraid. It most definitely rhymed. 

 

What is the biggest ambition for your poetrycareer?

I know poetry doesn't pay but I wish I could find a way to make it! I would love to spend more time reading and writing poetry and helping other people to write and to enjoy poetry. 



Cara L. Mckee

The Island


I lived on an island once

which was sometimes surrounded by sea.


Sometimes though the island’s god

would decide the island was enough


and wrap us up in a soft grey-white cloak 

of frost and feathers, take us far away.


That’s the thing that no-one tells you:

that islands can just go away.


I don’t know where they go. It’s not

something I’ve read in the physics books,


I don’t care, except it’s hard sometimes

putting up with the other islanders.


At least we can laugh together at 

mainlanders who say that sometimes


they can hardly make us out

for all the fog.

Matthew M.C. Smith


Spotlight Poet #10 is the brilliant Matthew M.C. Smith. Matthew is a Welsh writer from Swansea. His work is in Barren Magazine, Finished Creatures, Icefloe Press and Fly on the Wall. He is editor of micropoem journal, Black Bough. Twitter: @MatthewMCSmith @BlackBoughpoems Facebook: Matthew M C Smith (writer)


 

Name: Matthew M.C. Smith

Hometown: Swansea

Collections/pamphlets titles: Origin 21 poems

Writer webpage: https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/matthew-m-c-smith


What are you currently working on? 

I'm working on a second poetry personal collection of poetry and also completing editorial work for the two Black Bough poetry 'Deep Time' anthologies. My second personal book will either have a really ancient feel or be futuristic. I probably have two books worth of poems and should do the ancient one first.


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

The most significant poetic influence was the writer who inspired me into poetry as a teenager and that was Jim Morrison, poet and lead singer of 'The Doors'. After reading their song lyrics and getting copies of 'American Prayer' and 'The Lords and the New Creatures', I never looked back. Dylan Thomas should also get a mention, too and another Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas.


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

To have a number of poetry collections for sale in high street bookshops and independent retailers; to travel to festivals to share my work, meeting other writers in the process; to meet more of the writers I publish in Black Bough. To eventually retire to a Greek Island and write, swim and lounge about all day in a house with views of sunrise and sunset. That's all I want.


What advice would you give to your young poetself?

Read more contemporary poetry. Don't read the same old poets over and over again - look at writers in the here and now.


An interesting fact about yourself

Two of my 40 bucket list goals: one was to run the London marathon for charity, which I did in 2017. The other was to write a poetry book. I self-published the book and won a poetry competition before I ever got a poem published. I did it the wrong way round.


Matthew M.C. Smith



After gods

 

He wanders, drifting, after death of gods

and kneels on rock at earth’s still pool,

where water ripples to finger’s touch.

He rises, raising eyes to starry vault,

his spirit soars through endless night,

with ancient heavens myriad on show.

He leans again at water’s blackened edge;

the graven image, stream of light of stars,

imprisoned, still, a liquid mirror.

Elizabeth Rimmer


Spotlight Poet #9 is the fabulous Elizabeth Rimmer. Elizabeth is a poet, editor for Red Squirrel Press and occasional translator. She has published three full collections of poetry with Red Squirrel Press. She is working on her next collection (due some time in 2021) reflecting on the experience and awareness of being ‘a person’ and what it means to be a human in space, time and community. She has also published a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Charm of Nine Herbs. Her website is www.burnedthumb.com


 

Name: Elizabeth Rimmer

Hometown: Stirling

Collections/pamphlets titles: Wherever We Live Now, in 2011, The Territory of Rain, in September 2015, and Haggards (2018) Red Squirrel Press

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on my next collection. It’s going to be full of poems about dissociation and self-awareness, landscape, language, memory, family, and artistic expression.

 

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why? Kenneth White. He lives in France and I don’t think he’s well-known in England so much, but he is the inspiration behind the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. I like the wild mix of poetry, philosophy and psychology, and I liked his aesthetics – very spare, concrete and yet sensual poetry. I think some of his poetry has dated badly, but his philosophy has taken on a new lease of life among artists and writers and in fact anyone concerned about the climate change issues.

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be? Alice Oswald’s Falling Awake. I could be years working out what she did and how she did it, and I could walk around the island declaiming it without anyone complaining, because it is so good to read aloud.

 

An interesting fact about yourself: I lived in Sri Lanka for a few months in 1980-1, and the first house I stayed in, beside the lake in Kandy, was one D H Lawrence stayed in when he was there.


El Duende


From Haggards

Grief lives in my house

like dry rot infesting the timbers.

It has taken up residence

in the cellar, where I do not go.

I pretend there is no such space.

But he sits there, smoking coltsfoot tobacco,

and brewing a bitter tisane of rue

and wormwood, hyssop and dill.

Too much indulgence, he says, in sweet things

like joy and kindness, all the fruit

of sunlight and fresh rain, have done me harm.

It is time to take my medicine,

time for a purge, a cleansing.

Hell mend ye, he says. And hope.

James Roome


Spotlight Poet #8 is the brilliant James Roome. James is a poet and English teacher from Manchester, UK. His first pamphlet, Bull, was published in April 2019 by The Red Ceilings Press. Recent work has appeared in Tears in the Fence, Anthropocene and Iamb. 


 

Name: James Roome

Hometown: Bury

Collections/pamphlets titles: Bull (Red Ceilings Press)

What are you currently working on? A full collection manuscript.

 

What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

Probably something by Frank O'Hara. Maybe, 'A True Account Of Talking To The Sun At Fire Island'. 'Darkly he rose' is such a beautiful line. That, or something like 'Briggflatts'. I'd love to be able to write like Bunting, but it just isn't in me.  


What is your first poetry memory?

This may be TMI, but when I was about four I had really bad constipation. Really, really bad. My parents said it was because I was always so excited to get back to playing, so I would never sit on the toilet long enough. I guess, over time, it built up. Anyway, after a trip to the hospital for some unpleasant procedures, my parents decided that they would need to think of a way to keep me on the toilet longer, so they bought a book of children's poetry. My mum would sit outside the bathroom, reading it to me through the door. I distinctly remember The Owl and the Pussy-Cat being in there, and also a re-telling of Gogol's 'The Nose' by Ian Crichton Smith. There was plenty of other great stuff too, but those two really stuck with me. 'The Nose' in particular was incredibly weird. I read Gogol's original story years later. It wasn't quite the same. 


If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

It would be awful to have to choose one, wouldn't it? For endless rewards, I'd probably take Emily Dickinson's collected works. Her syntax is just so interesting, and her images are so surprising. I might also consider taking 'Whereas' by Layli Long Soldier. That had a big impact on me when I read it last year. Again, that's another collection that is just unbelievably rich and rewarding. Actually, no, I would take The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector. Technically, it's a novel, but to me it reads like a long prose poem. It's amazing. Everyone should read it. 






Confessional

 

Thank you for the lovely meal. I noticed that your name was Jennifer. Please accept this poem in lieu of payment. Forgive me, I am but a struggling artist with a taste for fine dining. I also took the cutlery, glasses and crockery.

I am so sorry. I must take opportunities as I find them. For instance, the other day I found a whole poem that had become caught in the drain at the swimming pool where I work. I was cleaning hair out of the filter and there it was. Jennifer (may I call      you     Jenny?),    I      was

astounded. Ever since, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Perhaps it became tangled in someone’s hair at a poetry reading, then they rinsed it out when they came for their regular swim. It’s either that or they are a poet themselves and keep their drafts in their hair. I have known a few who do. I have launched an investigation. I have decided to open an office in the city. It will need to be a little dingy, and perhaps the glass in the door will be cracked. I am still wrestling with the specifics. Anyway,   Jenny, I leave you this poem. I have tucked it under the tiny saucer you brought with the bill. It is not the poem that was tangled in hair. Nor is it the   poem I found in a supermarket trolley. I have submitted both of those to literary magazines. No. This is just an occasional poem about a meal I ate alone with a price my humble means could not meet. This is really just to say sorry.

Naush Sabah


Spotlight Poet #7 is the wonderful Naush Sabah. Naush  was, for many years, an IT lecturer and community organiser. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing, with Distinction, and now works as a freelance writer and editor. Her short play, Coins, was staged at The Rep and longlisted for the Pint-Sized Plays competition (2019). Heredity/ASTYNOME, a double micro-pamphlet box set, was published by Legitimate Snack earlier this summer. She is a trustee at Poetry London, Assistant Editor at Short Fiction Journal, and Co-founder and Editor at Pallina Press.

 

Name: Naush Sabah

Hometown: Birmingham (and thereabouts)

Collections/pamphlets titles: Heredity/ASTYNOME (Legitimate Snack, 2020)

What are you currently working on? I’m revising a sequence of forty poems I first wrote in the autumn of 2017 and which I tell people is about doubt and dissent, though I can’t be sure anymore how much those themes come through. I have a vision for it as an illustrated pamphlet so we shall see how that goes.

 

Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why? 

This is a difficult question since there are too many big influences for me to isolate one. In terms of those who have gone before, my greatest affinity is with the Victorian poets, Hardy and Tennyson. I think their melancholy and doubt, their musicality and form, all really enchant me on the level of pure pleasure foremost.

I’ve loved Hardy for Tess and there was really no way I wasn’t going to adore his little poems too. Tennyson’s 'In Memoriam' is, of course, a masterpiece but I love all his poems of myth and legend and the links there to the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Beyond them, undoubtedly Frost is The Poet to me. The plainness of his language coupled with the almost mystical and mythic qualities he’s able to conjure in the space of a short lyric poem, this woody, earthy place that always feels other-worldly to me and magical. How does he do it?

Look at ‘A Cliff Dwelling’. Who could possibly predict where he’d take us from those unassuming first two lines? The lyricism and narrative movement in his poems makes them a place I want to stay and keep revisiting; there's something comforting and warm about how he carries you along, and yet the mood is still always slightly disturbing or disruptive, you’re left unnerved at some level and I want the tension of both those elements.

How these influences bears upon my own work is, I suppose, something for others to judge. I see myself as quite Frostian in the natural plainness of my poetic diction and take heart in him as a much-beloved model of that, of something I otherwise worry is unfashionable and too quiet a style to be taken seriously or noticed these days. 

 

What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written? 

I’m currently obsessed with ‘Enter a Cloud’ by W.S. Graham. I’m fond of little three-stress lines in longer sequences (*cough* Heredity *cough*). The opening two lines in this are stunningly direct and unusual and really hook you in. The poem continues to surprise with its phrasing and imagery, its playful self-consciousness and that hilariously meta ending. Yet, all the while you can imagine, despite the surreal elements, lying on a hill gazing over this coastline between these two points and watching the clouds enter your line of sight and move and dissipate. I just love everything about it and in Graham’s work in general how foregrounding of dialogue and language and this sort of self-awareness enliven the poems and utterly disarm the reader. It delights me that it was written before I was born but the language feels so contemporary and fresh that, yes, I wish I’d written it today!

 

If you could take one collection with you to a desert island, what would it be?

I don’t buy single collections unless they're new books. All my favourites are in their collected editions that I buy in the cheapest available paperbacks. This is strange in a way because it means the poet’s work as a series of separate collections and the progress and change through a career and lifetime are sort of lost on me in terms of my experience of reading their work which is very much a process of dipping in and out their Collected. So, you’ve asked a question I can’t really answer! I think I would take my edition of Frost which is the Vintage edited by Edward Connery Lathem. It’s not even prefaced with an introductory essay but that is good enough for me and feels quite apt. I'd treat in the fashion one would take a prayer book or cherished love letters, which is to say with well-worn reverence and in the manner of a talisman.






August Rain


 

I’m stuck in traffic with Stacie Orrico,

Queuing to cut through to the centre,

Trying not to check my phone for messages

You won’t send.

 

I sit in my black car in the black fumes

Grief, in a black pit heavy with the black

Hound of silence awake in my passenger seat,

Its black eyes boring into me, white canines

Sometimes bared, or wet tongue on my skin.

 

Of course, there is rain—I didn’t write it

There is rain because the sky is weighted.

The city again brutalised at Exchange Square,

Its grim descent like falling high-rise blocks

Crushing us under looming glass shadows.

 

I’m car dancing; rocky heartache in falsetto,

The hound stoic, glossy and large beside me.

Then, in the silver Toyota Yaris in front,

The baseball-cap-wearing driver reaches

Over to his lover in the passenger seat.

 

Black silhouettes meet at the centre console

—her arms encircle him—and they seem to sink

Into each other. When we move, they refuse

To separate. Their car sticker tells me:

Not too close.

 

But they’re kissing, and seeing two lovers

In the protective bubble of their car

With their heads conjoined,

Makes me rev until I feel

Teeth in my thigh.

Mirror


 

                 Suddenly, six months later in the steam
                 of scalding water in the bath,
                 my abdomen contracts
                 as if with birth
                 and I let out a cry—more a howl.
                 You were the wolf
                 and I would have sold my grandmother.
                 You ate me,
                 then cut open your own stomach
                 and wrenched me out.
                 There I am,
                 that bloody dissolved mess on the floor.
                 There I am, that stain lying
                 like a dead foetus
                 and you have sewn shut your stomach,
                 clamped shut your mouth.
                 What use is being sated to a wolf,
                 what use is a full stomach
                 to one accustomed to tearing flesh with teeth?

 

I wrote you this poem
in the steam of gushing water.
I bathed you like my own infant,
with these hands I poured
water over you          parted
your lips where you lay injured;
of what I made with my own hands,
you ate.

I ball this poem in my fist,
it becomes a brick and shatters
through veiled glass into shards.
The mirror above your hearth now
a glinting mosaic on your living room
floor          your daughter dances across
slicing her fleshy feet
trailing blood to daddy.
Such mess and outside air
in the centre of your home.

When you tend her cut soles,
gripping fragments of glass to extract
from her feet & drop into your hand,
bloodied canines lie in your palm
and you tongue your empty roots.

Arji Manuelpillai


Spotlight Poet #6 is the brilliant ARJI Manuelpillai. He is a poet, performer and creative facilitator based in London. For over 15 years Arji has worked with community arts projects nationally and internationally. He is co-founder of children’s theatre company A Line Art and is an advocate for arts as a tool for change. Recently, his poetry has been published by magazines including Prole, Cannon’s Mouth, Strix, The Rialto and The Lighthouse Journal. He has also been shortlisted for the BAME Burning Eye pamphlet prize 2018, The Robert Graves Prize 2018 and The Live Canon Prize 2017. Arji is a member of Wayne Holloway-Smith’s poetry group, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and London Stanza. Arji’s debut pamphlet ‘Mutton Rolls' was released with Out-Spoken Press.



Name: Arji Manuelpillai


Hometown: London


Collections/pamphlets titles: 'Mutton Rolls'


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

For me, it’s rappers like Biggie, Tupac and Nas that have had a big impact on my practise. But more recently, poets like Daljit Nagra and Matthew Dickman. But i’m off with the wind and wherever it rolls i follow.


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

Singh Song by Daljit.


If you could meet any dead poet, who would it be, why?

William shakespeare of course!


What is your first poetry memory?

We had Leon Garfield, a writer and poet who came into my primary and I remember thinking that he had the best job i had ever heard of, he went from school to school reading his own book.







You can find Arji's work over on his website at www.arji.org

Jenny Mitchell


Spotlight Poet #5 is the amazing Jenny Mitchell. Jenny is joint winner of the Geoff Stevens’ Memorial Poetry Prize 2019, and winner of the Fosseway Poetry Competition 2020. She’s been published in several magazines including The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House and Under the Radar. Her work has been broadcast on BBC2 and Radio 4.

 

Her debut collection, Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing) was selected as one of 44 Poetry Books of 2019 (Poetry Wales).


Name: Jenny Mitchell


Hometown: London


Collections/pamphlets titles: Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing)


What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a new collection. Would rather not talk about it too much at this stage if that's okay.


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

The Sea is History by Derek Walcott


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career? 

To be invited to read in Rome at least once a year. I've already performed at a poetry festival there and it was like heaven.


An interesting fact about yourself:

I've travelled through six African countries alone. It was a formative experience, and one day I'd like to write a collection about it.







Incident


from Her Lost Language  

I’ve come to see what remains of my son

before they wash the pavement.

 

There are flowers sticking out of a fence

where strangers have paid tribute –

 

dying leaves: a golden mass of light

still in their plastic.

 

As I approach the concrete melted into blood,

a yellow-blue board screams:

 

Fatal                Gang               In Confidence

 

I step away from the cracks and see the guts

have said too much, each drop a part of him I knew:

 

the sheet where he was born,

 

a nose bleed on a white, white shirt;

 

outline of a boy with three knife wounds.

 

Why is it my child locked in an airless box

and not that man, frowning in his car?

 

Or her, a girl I do not know

and did not push into this world?

 

My blood has fallen on the ground.

I am the blood torn from his heart.

 

These strangers want to help me stand

but where he fell, this pavement,

frames me gentle enough.

Jonathan Humble

Spotlight Poet #4 is the briilant Jonathan Humble. Jonathan is a deputy headteacher in Cumbria. Before that he was a power station engineer, lettuce picker and painter in a corrugated card factory. His hobbies are beard growing and pointing at wild flowers. His poems for adults have appeared in a number of anthologies and other publications online and in print. His short stories and poems for children have been published in The Caterpillar, Stew and Amazing magazines. His work has been commended in the York Mix and Caterpillar Poetry Competitions. A new collection of his poems, Fledge, will be published by Maytree Press on July 31st 2020.


Name: Jonathan Humble


Hometown: The Port of Goole


Collections/pamphlets titles: My Camel’s Name Is Brian (TMB Books); Fledge (Maytree Press)


What are you currently working on? A resignation letter.


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

I am drawn to poems which appear deceptively simplistic and yet are crafted beautifully, evoking memorable imagery with lines that stay with you long after you’ve put the poem down. For me, Holly Singlehurst’s poem Hiroshima, 1961 was the stand out entry in the 2016 National Poetry Competition. Similarly, the excellent Mark Pajak’s Cat on the Tracks makes me look at my own efforts and motivates the search for poetry perfection.


What is your first poetry memory?

At the age of 16, I worked over the summer as a painter in a corrugated card factory where I became besotted with the owner’s beautiful daughter, Elise. I felt the need to write a poem and considered giving it to her but I worried she might laugh, so it remained a secret. It lies in a drawer at home somewhere.


An interesting fact about yourself:

I have been the Tripe Marketing Board’s Poet Laureate since 2014. Rossendale’s Sunday Morning Clog Market at Rawtenstall also has a place in my heart and I hold the same position of poetic esteem with them as with the TMB.







The Copenhagen Interpretation of E-mails


(after Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg)


 

I read somewhere, at sometime,

that everything and nothing exists

outside the space you’re placed.

 

Closed doors are quantum barriers

separating the countless possibilities

of constantly branching parallel universes.

 

Facts on the outsides of rooms

are blurred, until they are moved into

and created through observation.

 

So, ignoring Newtonian classical notions,

where time, space and rejection are absolute,

with eyes shut, many hands over multiple ears,

 

imagining one liquid crystal screen,

focusing on one mouse click outside this head,

what I hope to see are these words:

 

Thank you for your poetry submission.

We enjoyed The Copenhagen Interpretation

and would like to publish it in the next issue of

 

*** insert name and date of publication here ***

Amanda Huggins

Spotlight Poet #3 is the fabulous Amanda Huggins. Amanda is the author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018, and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’ features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. Her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds won a Saboteur Award in 2020. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.


Name: Amanda Huggins

 

Hometown: Scarborough

 

Collections/pamphlets titles: 

Brightly Coloured Horses (Flash Fiction)

Separated From the Sea (Short Stories - Special Mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards)

The Collective Nouns for Birds (Poetry - winner of the 2020 Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet)

Scratched Enamel Heart (Short stories - contains the Costa prize-winning story, 'Red')


What are you currently working on?

My third novella, An Unfamiliar Landscape, and some individual poems that (hopefully) may be the start of another collection.


What is your first poetry memory?

The first poetry collection I owned was When We Were Very Young by A A Milne. I don't know where it came from, but I remember reading it with my mother when I was very young - and I still have the same copy! The earliest memory I have of writing a poem myself is when I wrote one for my Writer Badge at Brownies when I was seven or eight. It was called 'Night' and was all about owls and stars.


What is the biggest ambition for your poetry career?

Right now, I have no idea, as this year I've surpassed the ambitions I had and more! It was fabulous to see my chapbook published by Maytree Press in February, and then for it to win a Saboteur Award within the space of a few months was amazing. I would love to publish a full length collection someday, so we'll see!


What poem by another poet would you have liked to have written?

So many! I would love to have written 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' by W B Yeats - simply because it was one of my mother's favourite poems, and it has always been there in my life. I wouldn't mind taking credit for 'The Wasteland' by T S Eliot either; his poetry was a huge influence on me as a teenager. 'Small Kindnesses' by Danusha Lameris is a more recent favourite that I'd love to put my name to.







At the Kitchen Table


from 'The Collective Nouns for Birds'


The late spring snow
catches us off-guard,
drifts against the henhouse wall,
blots out the distant fells.

And here, in this borrowed house,
we watch, transfixed,
brave the blizzard
to throw scraps for the birds,
half-wishing it could always be like this.

Just you and I      
at the kitchen table—
a dog-eared novel,
the weekend papers,
the last bottle of wine
waiting on the shelf
until the sheep are fed.

Yet we know
the snow will thaw by morning,
and we’ll drive down the lane  
for bread and logs,  
ice-melt from the trees
pattering on the bonnet.

Then, too soon,
the workday grind will call us back  
from this adopted life  
to the small house in the town,
where everything is a little less bright
and a little less kind.

As we leave,
the weather will change again,
the brilliant shine of it
making us smile,
and I’ll point out a newborn lamb,
his pink ears backlit by the sun,
as he watches us drive away.

Matthew Haigh

Spotlight Poet #2 is the brilliant Matthew Haigh. Matthew is a poet from Cardiff. His debut collection, Death Magazine, was published with Salt in 2019. In the same year he published a pamphlet, Black Jam, with Broken Sleep Books. Matthew’s work has appeared in a number of anthologies from Sidekick Books, The Emma Press and Bad Betty Press, and his poetry was highly commended in the Forward Prizes 2020. He is co-organiser of the experimental poetry night CRASH in Cardiff.



Name: Matthew Haigh

 

Hometown: Cardiff

 

Collections/pamphlets titles: Death Magazine (Salt Publishing); Black Jam (Broken Sleep Books)

 

What are you currently working on?

Alongside Aaron Kent I’m currently working through submissions for an anthology of poetry inspired by video games, due to be published with Broken Sleep Books in 2021. Also, I’ve been in talks with Live Canon about editing an anthology of horror movie-themed poems. 


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

Without a doubt the biggest influence on my work is music. I wouldn’t say any one individual has influenced me entirely - it’s more an aesthetic, a movement. Artists that are making these deconstructed pop songs while experimenting with a post-humanist / futurist visual world. Artists such as Arca, SOPHIE, FKA Twigs… Also, Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) - the way she creates such heady, dreamy, vivid worlds with her music is a big influence on how I’d like my work to feel.

 

What is your biggest ambition for your poetry career?

I don’t know how people make a career out of poetry, really, because there’s no money in it. I work full time, so I don’t need to do this to survive. I’m happy just pottering along at my own pace, sharing my work with others and forging friendships with poets who have a similar ethic. Any ambitions I have would be quite grass roots - forming a collective of writers and artists with a shared interest in post-humanism / futurism would be cool.

 

 

What advice would you give to your young poet self?

It’s easy to say in retrospect, but my advice would probably be to not wait so long before trying to get a collection published? I was writing poetry for around 10 years before even attempting to get a pamphlet published - I just don’t think I believed I was good enough. People at all stages of their writing development probably suffer from imposter syndrome to some degree, but I suppose you can’t let it stop you.







My Robot (or I Stopped Knowing What to       Do with the Android Version of You)


 

 

I left you/ my robot/ standing under

the blackcurrant bush in the rain

the house with the lip-gloss door/

the neighbour’s washing hung there/ forgotten or given up on/ I left you

like I leave all things/ propped against

the brick wall/ going soft around the heart

the pool table/ its greying wood

the bicycle’s slack chain

I do not believe that you end death

you died/ became a pink palace

in the distance of my mind’s eye

viewed askance/ a sigil sight

I now look past your metallic face

and each new rusty flowering

it appeared to be a gift at first/ this

code of swirling consciousness

dusk has me surrender

to its crush the same way

as your synthesized voice/ a sound

that you can smell/ new-car-leather

hot salt wind across the beach/ we’ve

lurked too long/ this coastal town

I perfume my hands

with lavender cream

think gorgeous/

gorgeous/ knowing

how it ends/

the touching

of all these

disparate

parts


Suna Afshan


Spotlight Poet #1 is the incredibly talented Suna Afshan. Suna  is Director of Pallina Press, Co-founder and Editor of Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, and on the Editorial Board of Broken Sleep Books. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Birmingham City University, and in 2018 she was awarded with the University’s Mercian Prize for her poetry. Suna’s poetry has appeared in Visual Verse, bath magg, and is forthcoming with Wild Court. Her most recent publication is the micro-pamphlet Belladonna, a 200-line poem, published with the Broken Sleep Books imprint Legitimate Snack.




Profile

Name: Suna Afshan

Hometown: Birmingham

Collection/Pamphlets titles: Belladonna (Legitimate Snack, 2020)

What are you currently working on?

I’m tentatively working towards a first collection, centred around the formation of the very first consciousness, and consequent notions of godliness and annihilation.


Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your work and why?

T.S Eliot, undoubtedly. I read ‘The Waste Land’ at a very important time in my life—before I had even considered writing poetry at all, and I was utterly enamoured by its ambition; the allusion; the complexity; the obfuscation. I’ve kept the selected poems of Eliot within arm’s reach for years, and I feel its cognitive hold on the poetry I’ve written since—certainly, Belladonna.

 

What is your biggest ambition for your poetry career?

Once, while I was rather poorly and bedridden, I saw a James Cameron documentary on the arduous making of Avatar, that movie about blue aliens and genocide. In it he says something I’ll butcher and paraphrase here: ‘Set your ambitions at the highest possible level, so, even if you fail, you’ve still done pretty well!’ With that in mind, I’d like to humbly say the biggest ambition for my poetry career is to with the Nobel Prize for Literature. Failing that, publishing a first collection before the impending climate catastrophe would be good enough.

 

What advice would you give for your young poet self?

Inwardness is not a sin—indulging in it too much is.





Extract from — ‘Belladonna’, II. Twilight Sleep, lines 103-22


This June afternoon I swayed like a sheet

Caught in a gale holding the limp washing line.

One end tied to a birch, another to a trellis

Bleeding with rot: decay’s kiss that chases

After all things in the end, even me.

     Even the snails after nights smearing

Their silver over paving stones, the lawn

The worm hose left short of the shed

Over half-pegs with their rusty groins

Coiled but ineffective, have moved on

If only by God-blind compulsion.

     But I’ve laid in this cot struck

By my own sickly dream, and I’ve seen

That dream ink another core through the skull—

The day temporised by morning’s first blink.

     Now I walk the yard barefoot

Settling on the clover like dew

And forever beside me, Atropos

Stands skeletal. The silver birch

Black, coughing sap, weeping marrow.

 


Sacrament

 

 

Woman of the failed state
Woman in your failed state
With wrists warm as sepia
Burnt sage between your lips
Woman your thighs speckled
As slender as communion bread

      One century from today, you’ll dine
      On offal gnocchi, sip on honeyed wine
      Fennel seeds will perfume your breath
      From your lobes two opals will hang

There is no heaven, no haven
Only retreat from that elm-ringed brook
Where the stream ran warm like bathwater
And for now no thigh to rest your cheek
For now, no sanctuary bar his iris

 

 

Friday for our funerals rites—else, a pyre
A day where it rains enough to soak the veil
Where the ground forgives, aids the spade
Somewhere the earthworms have forsaken
And I’ll see twelve girls spread on marble
And you, Woman, read the prayer cast
on the underside of all our eyelids:

                                                                    Pluck
      From my breast the rib You loaned. Pluck from
      My breast the rib You loaned. Pluck from my
      Breast the rib You loaned. Pluck from my breast
      The rib—

Friday for our funerals rites—else, a pyre