“I guess so…”

Heatons Library & ALL FM 96.9

When I asked the librarian in Heatons Library if I could hand out poems outside, she glanced at the poem I showed her and said: “yea, I guess so…”

I had glamorous assistant Emma with me, and we stood on each side of the road on the quiet street, to make sure we didn’t miss anyone. At one point Emma came to my side to tell me something, then she saw a man coming on her side and ran back across the road just as he was crossing to my side. I was laughing too much to give him a poem and he must have thought we were very strange!


I gave the poem to some builders on their lunchbreak, and quite a few other takers including a woman who said she likes reading poetry: “it all started with Keats.”

We gave out the poem ‘Toni Braxton’ by Annie Katchinska, from her Faber New Poets pamphlet (2010). When I talked about the poem on ALL FM with my guest Michelle Ayavoro (community-arts hero and co-founder of HerArt), she was put off at first by the way the poem is presented all in one solid block of writing (maybe this is also what annoyed the librarian?). But after we talked about it a bit more she started to connect with the poet and the poem and in the end of the show we listened to ‘Unbreak my Heart’ and had a good cry!


Toni Braxton

My fate was a weird surname and lipstick that glowed in the
dark, and adults who slurred, ‘Russia! Russssia!’ at video
cameras every year. My parents pinned carpets to the walls
and bought a tape recorder, gave me bad asthma attacks with
Beverly Craven, Ace of Base, Enya, more Enya. Crawling
under the table at dinner parties retrieving furry gherkins and
measuring guests’ legs with a tape measure, I thought Red
Square was full of onions and we’d never go home, and I
wanted kareoke not two alphabets, a frog in my throat like
Toni Braxton or the woman from M People. The song played
simultaneously on Capital and Magic until one day I heard
she had to stop begging her heart to be unbroken or her boobs
would explode, true story I swore, as somebody’s parents filed
for divorce and somebody else burst into tears in another
room saying they only ever talked to carpets, by now drooping
off the walls in a tragic fashion and smelling of gherkins. Say
you love me.


“Two pints or one?”

Northenden Community Library & ALL FM 96.9

This week I gave out Kaveh Akbar’s poem ‘Milk’ from the collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Penguin Random House, 2017). It was quiet as usual outside the library so I found myself running back and forth across the road to catch people, and had quite a few enthusiastic takers. One tall man with a star wars t-shirt took one and then asked: “Is this the way towards Manchester?” which made me wonder how far he’d walked.


I was very excited to get to Levenshulme to have Cheryl Pearson as a guest on my show – my first real poet(!) who happens to live just across the road from the ALL FM studio in Levenshulme Old Library. Cheryl read from her first collection Oysterland (Pindrop Press, 2017) and talked about how and why and where she writes. She told me she does most of her writing in her local pub, where she often goes on an evening or weekend to buy two pints (so she doesn’t have to get up again) and write in her favourite seat by the plug.  We also talked about ‘Milk’ and how jealous she is of Kaveh for being about to ignore the punctuation and grammar instilled in our brains by teachers.

We ended up down the road in The Bluebell pub. When we got there the barmaid asked her “two pints or one?”




“Everyone needs a poem”

Sheffield Central Library & ALL FM 96.9

This week I had playwright and co-editor Will Berrington on the radio to talk about the poem ‘Una Piadosa’/’A Pious Woman’ by Gabriela Mistral, translated by Randall Couch in Madwomen/Locas Mujeres (University of Chicago, 2009).

Then we took a train to eastward to visit our friend Samuel, see the sights of Sheffield, and hand out poems outside the Central Library. Will took quite a forceful approach and gave his poems out quickly. He said “people just seemed a bit surprised,” and that one man said no and went into the library, but then came back and said he’d thought about it and actually did want one. I stood a few metres away from Will and met a nice man who told me “everyone needs a poem,” and when I told him the Spanish original was on the back he said “Gracias”. Meanwhile, Samuel had wandered off and we found him in the middle of Tudor Square.

A Pious Woman

I want to see the man of the lighthouse,
I want to go to the rocky point,
taste the wave in his mouth,
see the abyss in his eyes.
I want to reach him, if he’s living,
old man of salt and brine.

They say he looks only eastward
—walled up while still alive—
I want to cut him off from his waves
so in place of the abyss he’ll see him.

He knows all about the night
that’s now my bed and my road:
knows undertows, octopuses, sponges,
knows a cry that ends all knowing.

His faithful, battered chest
is spat on by the tides,
he’s whistled at by gulls
and white as any wound,
and so still, so mute and absent,
he seems as yet unborn.

But I go to the lighthouse tower,
climbing the knife-edged track,
for the man who’s going to tell me
the earthly and the divine.
One in each arm, I bring him
a jug of milk, a sip of wine…

And he keeps listening to seas
that love nothing but themselves.
But maybe now he listens to nothing,
stalled in forgetfulness and salt.


Una Piadosa

Quiero ver al hombre del faro,
quiero ir a la peña del risco,
probar en su boca la ola,
ver en sus ojos el abismo.
Yo quiero alcanzar, si vive,
al viejo salobre y salino.

Dicen que sólo mira al Este
—emparedado que está vivo—
y quiero, cortando sus olas
que me mire en vez del abismo.

Todo se sabe de la noche
que ahora es mi lecho y camino:
sabe resacas, pulpos, esponjas,
sabe un grito que mata el sentido.

Está escupido de marea
su pecho fiel y con castigo;
está silbado de gaviotas
y tan albo como el herido
¡y de inmóvil, y mudo y ausente,
ya no parece ni nacido!

Pero voy a la torre del faro,
subiéndome ruta de filos
por el hombre que va a contarme
lo terrestre y lo divino,
y en brazo y brazo le llevo
jarro de leche, sorbo de vino…

Y él sigue escuchando mares
que no aman sino a sí mismos.
Pero tal vez ya nada escuche,
de haber parado en sal y olvido.


‘love letters to myself’

ALL FM 96.9

I didn’t have time to go to Northenden this week, because I’ve been doing an internship at Carcanet Press – an independent poetry publishers in Manchester. But I left early enough to do my radio show with a very special guest, Manchester-based painter Emma Knowles.

A while ago I stumbled across Emma’s studio in a little corner of Crossacres Resource Centre in Wythenshawe, and was very intrigued by the idea of this woman who sat talking to and drawing the older people who visited the centre. Two years later I finally got to meet her and have her as a guest on my show!

We talked about the poem ‘On Sleeping Alone’ by Deborah Alma, from her pamphlet True Tales of the Countryside (Emma Press, 2015). Deborah is another person I’m trying to get on my show, partly because I love her poems and partly because she calls herself ‘The Emergency Poet’, drives around the country in a vintage ambulance and prescribes people poems!

On Sleeping Alone

oh my oh my what big teeth you have you letters of love smelling of sandalwood in your special box of disappointment and raging not sleeping soundly remembering that you should be the start of the happy-ever-after story not the little girl swallowed whole to be saved by the woodsman and his wielded axe

what wolves in sheep’s clothing

what grannies’ bonnets tied with a ribbon under their sweet little chins

now I sit tight on the lid

Pandora was not heavy in her hips like me not grounded by her own strong living days and nights

I am drawn instead to my own songs to let them sing in the fresh air love letters to myself wearing the blue slip with the butterflies I take up the pretty teapot for one the scratchy pen the days the life floating lonely happy sad

the blank sheets

“What’s it for, love?”

Northenden Community Library & ALL FM 96.9

Today I handed out out the poem ‘The Girl with the Cold Sore’ by Angela Readman, which I found in the anthology Stairs & Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press, 2017). The first man who took a poem attempted to read the title aloud and came out with “the gift with the coleslaw?” Another woman asked me “what’s it for, love?” and laughed when I told her.

I asked Sarah in the library if she had any poetry books and she said she had only one – an anthology called Stressed Unstressed (Harper Collins, 2016) – and encouraged me to take it out, but I thought I’d leave it for someone else to discover.


On my show this week I had Ben Walker, a tree surgeon who dabbles in poetry, and who happens to have been the first guest on my very first, very scruffy poetry podcast many moons ago (last year). We talked about waitressing and lust and Andy Burnham till the sparrows came home:

The Girl with the Cold Sore

She stacks spoons, one into the other,
silver hips that chase ice cream into streams,

balance cherries on sundaes, offer morsels
to wet tongues over tables. Here, love is

a red straw sucking cola, a coin in a hand
tapping the jukebox, itchy for a song

with words someone can sing. The busgirl hears
the sound of wanting all day, stashed in laughter,

kisses that gasp between tracks, airbeds of breath
full of slow punctures sighing to be fixed.

She pretends to be walking on sand, listening
to the oceans people pour into another’s mouth.

If she stands still by the forks, she can imagine
seawalls, seeing a sparrow so close she may stroke it.

She holidays in smushes of strangers, soft smacks
of lips like birds learning calls beyond their nests.

“That is so random!”

Northenden Community Library & ALL FM 96.9 FM

I got a bit lost on the way to Northenden Community Library, and a few people I asked told me the library had closed down a few years ago. Then I met an old couple who told me that there was a little library up the road in the housing association next to the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses – but they had never been inside and “object to the fact that they closed the old library down”.


You wouldn’t necessarily know it was a library from the outside, set back from the road and a bit out of the centre. Inside I met volunteers Sarah and Oliver who are part of a team that keep this place open three hours a day. They told me that the people of Northenden “were very angry about their library, understandably,” and that not many people know about this little library which is still here waiting for them to use it. Apparently there are even still street signs pointing to the old one.

I gave out the poem ‘Bulls’ by Selima Hill, from her book Bunny (Bloodaxe, 2001), and had lots of enthusiastic/shocked takers. Martha had to take a moment to process it all: “You’re just giving out poems on the street? That is so random!” She works in the health centre across the road and asked me to bring a poem about children next week to give out to her patients.

After I’d handed out all my poems I couldn’t resist going to see the old library, which stands like a ghost in the centre of Northenden.


Then it was onwards to Levenshulme to talk to Poland about women’s cycling, and her graphic design alter ago leaving handmade pottery around Manchester. Listen to us trying to get our heads around headless chickens and flame-retardent pyjamas, and to Poland tackling the strange imagery in the poem by trying to turn it into an illustration:


Up in the room she watched the headless chickens from
and farmers like bulls shunting into bays
and stuffing the heads of calves into clattering buckets,
by the single bed and the single peeling mirror,

up in the room big butterflies fall apart in
and windows stun the heads of tiny birds,
up in the room you can’t hear the aunts and uncles from
calling you down for dinner it is so high –

having first removed her flame-retardent pyjamas
and said a last goodnight to the sky –
she dips her hair into the orange fire
she is old enough now to be trusted never to light.


“I do like to read a GOOD poem”

Burnage Library & ALL FM 96.9

The snow had cleared in Burnage today, where I handed out the poem ‘There’s a Woman’ by Vivimarie VanderPoorten, a Sri Lankan poet suggested to me by my guest on today’s ‘Time for One Poem’ radio show, Tasneem Perry.

I met a hard-to-please woman who told me she didn’t like poetry much BUT if a good one came along she would like it: “if you know what I mean?” Hopefully this one fit the bill! I also met a man who said he always had a poetry book nearby: “Only the other day I was talking to a friend of mine – who’s knocking on a bit too – about that Jenny Joseph poem, you know, ‘When I’m an old woman I shall wear purple'”

And coincidentally, this was one of the poems that got Tasneem into poetry when she was a teenager in Sri Lanka. Listen to us talk elocution lessons, international women’s day, and Tasneem’s love of cheesy 90’s music:

There’s a Woman

In every picture
there’s a woman
an outstretched hand
holding out scissors
carrying a garland
handing out a tool, a ribbon, a tray of certificates, awards
leaning against a car
a tyre, a bottle of soda
she’s serving a drink
pouring coffee
smiling nodding
but hardly waiting.

she’s sitting it out
observing it happen
taking down
the dictation of life
typing out decisions of life and death

In every picture there’s a woman.
If you look very hard
You might even see her.