Lady Pedal Festival 2017

Alexandra Park – Whalley Range

This week’s poem-handout wasn’t in a library but a park. I came to volunteer for Lady Pedal Festival – a celebration of women and cycling – for the second year running, and spent the first half an hour walking round the park, handing out poems and telling people to come down to the festival.


The poem I gave out was ‘Machines’ by Michael Donaghy, which instantly came to mind when I thought of giving a bike-related poem. Most people in the park were happy to receive a poem from a strange person in a high-vis jacket, and I even ventured outside the park to give one to a man just as he was stepping onto a bus – maybe it’ll inspire him to ride his bike next time, or learn the harpsichord…


From 3-4PM I also ran a haiku writing workshop. Here are some of the cycling haikus people came up with:

I love my red bell
Bing bing bikes by your elbows –
OOT the bloody way!


What a big old hill
Full english and a stodgey cake
Eyes water downhill


Potholes everywhere
Ringing Manchester council
Twenty-third in queue




Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.


“Will it be a little inspiration?”

St Ann’s Library – London

This week I’m in Seven Sisters, Tottenham – where my mum’s just moved to. I’ve been exploring the area, and am especially glad that she has a very nice local library.


I gave out the poem ‘Being a Grandmother’ by Selima Hill, from her book Violet (Bloodaxe, 1997). I bought this book as a present for my sister a few years ago because it contains lots of poems confronting the horrors of sisterly relationships. I like short poems that do a lot in a few lines and Selima Hill is a very good poet for this. Her poems are surreal and her books always have good covers, usually featuring animals.

I had to shelter from the rain in a Newsagents on my way to St Ann’s, so I bought some Love Hearts – one had ‘YOLO’ written on it. 

I stood on the corner to catch people busily walking by (it is London after all) and was pleasantly surprised that the first person replied with an enthusiastic, “Ooh, yes please!” He carried on walking while he read it and turned round to give me a wave of approval and a thumbs up when he’d finished. 

The people of London didn’t seem fazed by me at all, and received the gift of a poem in a creative, business-like way: “I can make a song out of it!”, “Will it be a little inspiration?”, “Okay, so I go on that website?” I gave out all my copies quickly and went to return the book through my sister’s letterbox.



Being a Grandmother

First, there is a smell of custard-cremes
baking in a custard-creme factory.
And mixed with that you smell a hint of gorse,
of roasted pods cracking on hot cliffs.
Inhale again, and what you smell is stars.
It smells so sweet you smell a little more.
Be careful though. The scent has strange effects:
everything goes quiet. You stay indoors.
You wash your hands. You smile. You lose your way.
At night you meet small animals in bonnets.
You turn a sort of misty violet grey,
and start to sing. And never stop singing.
Men walk past with buckets on their heads.
Some of them, alas, no longer know you.

“Ooh it’s a sexy poem!”

Arcadia Library (Levenshulme) – Week 4

For my final stint outside Arcadia library I gave out the poem ‘You Can Watch Me Undress’ by Melissa Lee-Houghton, from her book Sunshine (Penned in the Margins, 2016). As you can imagine, I was a bit wary of the comments I might receive handing out a poem with this title on the street, and I did politely refuse to read it out to a man said he couldn’t read without his glasses because he’d already asked if I could write my number on the back…

I met Albert who said he likes all poems as long as they are meaningful, and doesn’t mind it if they are hard to understand at first because he likes using his brain to work them out. I also met a nice woman who promised to send me the name of a poem she read recently about a Greek island that I will love, so I look forward to that!

Thank you Levenshulme for being so welcoming – I will definitely be back for the library, the coffee, and the community spirit!




If you want to hear an informal discussion about the poem then listen to my NEW PODCAST where I talk to my friend Emma about it and we come to some interesting conclusions. See what you think and feel free to join the discussion by commenting or emailing me!



You Can Watch Me Undress

I used to wear pinstripes, with parrot-coloured love-beads.
I had no idea what I was trying to say or do.
Now clothes hang no better on me at thirty,
my hips being as ample as beach coves in holiday season.
In my wedding dress I had good breasts.
I had tight skin like the hide of a radish
and I wore silver round my neck like it was human flesh.
I was proud of my body once, its general audacity;
the way it made milk and conjured electricity;
the way it wanted and needed a body, not so much viral
as in your bones. In the nineties, febrile-high on ecstasy,
I used to take a bath as the sun came up and I came down,
alone, hot as shame, my pinstripe jacket stuck to the floor,
arms back, like a man pinned by his own misery.
What am I to do? I’m in a £4 dress with knickers
one size too big. I want to touch somebody. Right now.

“My Grandfather was a poet!”

Arcadia Library (Levenshulme) – Week 3

I had such a nice time outside Arcadia Library today. I had to go back inside and make more photocopies because I couldn’t get enough of the grateful smiles I was getting from the people of Levenshulme! One lady, who had taken the Heaney poem from me last time, thanked me for the poem and told me “it really cheers people up”: “Life’s not all about keeping your head down and slogging. People don’t realise that.”

A man nicknamed Torch (apparently no one can pronounce his actual name) said that neither of his parents can read English, but that he’s always loved reading and writes poems himself which he sends out to friends and family.

I gave out the poem ‘Ode to Dirt’ by Sharon Olds, from her book Odes (Jonathan Cape, 2016). I found the book in a charity shop a few days ago and had a really hard time choosing just one to give out because I liked them all so much. Every poem is a celebration of something in life we all take for granted on a daily basis – like legs and sisters and balls! Here is Sharon reading another from the book – ‘Douche Bag Ode’:


Ode to Dirt

Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,
I thought that you were only the background
for the leading characters – the plants
and animals and human animals.
It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine. Subtle, various,
sensitive, you are the skin of our terrain,
you’re our democracy. When I understood
I had never honoured you as a living
equal, I was ashamed of myself,
as if I had not recognised
a character who looked so different from me,
but now I can see us all, made of the
same basic materials –
cousins of that first exploding from nothing –
in our intricate equation together. O dirt,
help us find ways to serve your life,
you who have brought us forth, and fed us,
and who at the end will take us in
and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit.

“¿Por qué no?”

Biblioteca Vila de Gràcia – Barcelona

I´m on holiday this week in Barcelona, but luckily I know a great Catalonian poet – Laia Martinez i Lopez – who used to pick me up from school when I was ten, and whose poem I handed out this week on the streets of GràciaMost of the events in the local festival were sadly cancelled because of the attacks around Barcelona, but lots of people were still around enjoying the decorated streets and putting on impromptu gigs.

DSCN0104 1.JPG



To see more photos of the festival (or if you just want to know how to make the perfect bikini) click here for Bill Sinclair´s blog on all things Barcelona.

I gave out Laia´s poem – from the book L’estiu del tonight, tonight (2011) – in both Catalan and English, translated by herself. The responses I got were mostly the same as my experiences of handing out poems in Manchester – some people ignore me, most people are confused at first, then surprised, and then pleased. Espero que te gusta!

To get a sense of what the poem sounds like in the original, here is a video of Laia reading  the poem in her native tongue:



the hill-top cerulean
orange the stony scree
red mud on the rocky slopes

amber bushes
branches grey
carobs purple
almond trees
green the valley
tile-roofs tile
lemon lichens
silver smoke
lavender clouds
the sky: sky-blue
the sun: amaranth

and all of the light
dies in the feathers
of a cormorant.


empatx cromàtic

el cim del cingle ceruli
la tartera de pedra taronja
fang roig a les carenes roca

mates ambre
brancam gris
garrofers porpra
ametllers florits
la vall verda
les teules teula
líquens llimona
fum d’argent
núvols lavanda
el cel: blau cel
el sol: amarant

i tota la llum
morint al plomall
d’un corb marí.


“There is only one poem”

Arcadia Library (Levenshulme) – Week 2

Today I gave out a poem called ‘Gravities’ by Seamus Heaney, from his first book Death of a Naturalist (1966). There are a few odd phrases and proper Nouns that seem to put people off, but still this poem has stayed on my mind, despite – or maybe even because of – the roundabout way it uses to get somewhere.


I spoke to Asma, who gave the poem a chance but in the end said she didn’t understand it and didn’t think she ever would. And John, who said there was only one poem that had ever grabbed him, which he reads “near-enough every day” – Kipling’s ‘If—’ . I also met Lorraine who said she wanted to do her own poetry project where she leaves little messages on buses and benches for people to find. I saw Joe again too, who helps out on a radio show on North Manchester FM (Tune in on Tuesday’s 12-2! and in the coming weeks you may hear a snippet of a very haphazard interview with Asma regarding her opinions stated above).






There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé…

Arcadia Library (Levenshulme) – Week 1

Like Hulme High Street Library, Arcadia has been combined with a leisure centre in order to keep it open. It’s on a busy main street and it was a bright, sunny and welcoming setting for my first time here – where I stood giving out the poem ‘So What’ by Morgan Parker, from her new book There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé (2017). Listen to Morgan reading another, brilliant poem from the book here!

My first taker was a young girl in pink trousers whose dad initially said “no” to taking a poem, but the girl just laughed and took one anyway. A few minutes later I was joined by Joe from Levenshulme who took a few poems and started giving them away himself and telling passers by about my project (“I’ve done this before”)! By the end of my stint people were purposefully coming up to me to ask what I was giving out and if they could have one – with a family on a bench behind me passing it along the line to each get a chance to read it. Thank you to everyone in Levenhulme who welcomed me into their neighbourhood – I hope you like the poem!




So What

If a pill comes into bed with me
Like melon-colored dawn
Is liquid, grandma’s lipstick
Repentance becoming sky
I am tired of coveting
This is where I hang my hat
And kiss myself hello
This is the way it feels to lose
My vision is wind and light
Bottles and men are covered in snow
They touch their lips to a horn
Magical powers are everywhere
Fingernails, post offices
Indoor cactus spines
Everyone gets married to everyone
There is song and dance and drink
Vacant lots confess their flowers
I swallow bold colors because
So what if I have more regrets
Than birthdays I am old
For my age, I am made of water
Why do you get up in the morning