“I learnt my lesson a long time ago”

Reddish Library & ALL FM 96.9

Today I gave out the poem ‘Cave Quid Dicis, Quando, et Cui‘ by Ciaran Carson. I asked a woman if she understood Latin: “Do I hell!” I told her the title translated to ‘Beware of what you say, when, and to whom’ and she nodded: “I learnt my lesson a long time ago.”

I also met a man who said he’d taken a poem off me last time, who said he liked it but: “I think it would be more effective if it used simpler language.” He’s going to hate the Latin! But don’t let it put you off – this is a really fun and strange poem. It’s from Carson’s book Opera Et Cetera (Bloodaxe, 1996) which starts with a poem for each letter of the English alphabet, and ends with a poem for each word of the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie…etc).

I had Andy Porter on my show today to talk about his instagram-haikus, the NuJazz Collectiveand to hear a special mix made especially for the show! Listen here to find out what Andy thought the word ‘pantechnicon’ meant…


Cave Quid Dicis, Quando, et Cui

You will recognise them by their Polaroids that make
the span between their eyes
Immeasurable. Beware their digital watches; they are
bugged with microscopic batteries.

Make sure you know your left from right and which side
of the road you walk on.
If one stops beside you and invites you in, do not enter
the pantechnicon.

You’d be participating in another’s house removal.
You could become
A part of the furniture, slumped in some old armchair.
That would be unwelcome.

Welcome is the mat that does not spell itself. Words
don’t speak as loud as deeds,
Especially when the safety is off. Watch it if they
write in screeds,

For everything you say is never lost, but hangs on in
the starry void
In ghosted thumb-whorl spiral galaxies. Your fingerprints
are everywhere. Be paranoid.




“I never forgot that poem”

Reddish Library Week 2 & ALL FM 96.9

Today I cycled through the hail to Reddish, and handed out the poem ‘Geodes of the Western Hemisphere’ by Jana Prikryl, from her first collection The After Party (Tim Duggan Books, 2016).

I met Gemma, who – as soon as I said the word ‘poem’ – told me a story that had obviously made a big impression on her. At primary school she used to write poems, and had been writing one during an English lesson when the teacher caught her and read it out “in a squeaky voice” before tearing it up and throwing it in the bin: “But I never forgot that poem. It was about a raindrop rolling down the window, then stopping, then starting again.”

Gemma promised to tune in to the radio show at 4pm and I hope it didn’t disappoint! I talked contemporary artist Pippa Eason about her sculptures and the power of the internet. And of course we talked about the poem, especially its use of surrealism and the sad turn it takes at the end. Listen to the full show here.


Geodes of the Western Hemisphere

The earth has feelings
some killed others in its mud and it has lots of mud

The earth builds a scrapyard, a sequence of them to tell
of this, a seam on its embalmed glabella future galaxies caress

The earth knows André Breton,
compiles ingenuous personalities in its fevered correspondence

Out of its winding sheet rolodex the earth erodes another name,
your name

Beware, the earth prepares to say one final time, construction

It hoped to say nothing further and then was disappointed, its hope
misplaced it knew deep down

Say more,
you say, the earth had hoped you would

Express as little as possible with your furniture, find the little that is
as near to nothing as can be

The monuments unpictured drift up like watermarks through the odor
of the lens

You make things happen all the time, says the earth, take my advice
look the other way

“Poetry’s what’s inside, isn’t it?”

Reddish Library & ALL FM Radio!!!!

I didn’t get a chance to hand out any poems last week – I was busy gallivanting off to London to see the T.S.Eliot prize reading which was won by Ocean Vuong for his wonderful book Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Cape Poetry, 2017). Last year I handed out a poem by Ocean as well as ones by Caroline Bird, Leontia Flynn, Tara Bergin, and Michael Symmons Roberts – that’s half the shortlist! (I like to dream that I had something to do with them being there!)


I have ALSO been busy training for my new ‘Time for One Poem’ radio show which starts next Wednesday at 4pm on ALL FM 96.9 – and then every week after that! I did my last bit of training today, co-hosting the ‘Mosaic’ show with Jason Cooke and Florence King, where I drove the decks for the whole show and rambled on about haggis and even read out a poem of my own…

But mostly I talked about the poem I handed out today at Reddish Library: ‘it won’t be a bullet’ by the American poet Danez Smith, from his new book Don’t Call Us Dead, published in the UK this year by Chatto & Windus. I saw Danez read at the fully sold out Anthony Burgess Centre event on Monday, and was instantly blown away with by his poems and the ease with which they articulated issues like race and sexuality. But ‘issues’ isn’t the right word, because – as his poems show – race and sexuality should be things that are celebrated rather than edged around.


Inside the library I met Beryl, who had been coming there since she was a little girl searching for the new Enid Blyton book, and who gave me the lowdown on Reddish. She told me it was a working class area where maybe 1 in 30 people would be interested in poetry (I liked her use of statistics) and the rest see it as something for the upper classes. I asked her if she thought that, and she was quiet for a minute then eventually said: “No, not really, poetry’s what’s inside, isn’t it?” She said she couldn’t write poetry herself though, because “you need to have deep feelings,” and she only has those for Man United!

In the end though, I think her statistics were a bit off, judging by the reactions of pleasant surprise I got from people passing by (mostly heading to Hobson’s Bakery across the street that seemed to be the hottest place in Reddish – “lovely vanilla slices!”) From the people I spoke to, I’d say about half answered the question, “do you like poetry?” with, “yes, but…” Then they’d say something like: “I don’t know much about it”, or “I only know the ones from my childhood”. Here’s a new one for you:


it won’t be a bullet

becoming a little moon – brightwarm in me one night.
thank god. i can go quietly. the doctor will explain death
& i’ll go practise.

in the catalogue of ways to kill a black boy, find me
buried between the pages stuck together
with red stick. ironic, predictable. look at me.

i’m not the kind of black man who dies on the news.
i’m the kind who grows thinner & thinner & thinner
until light outweighs us, & we become it, family
gathered around my barely body telling me to go
toward myself.




“Push it down their throats!”

Withington Library

Today I went to one of my favourite libraries in Manchester, which coincidentally is just about to close for refurbishment until the summer. I handed out a poem called ‘Boiling up’ from Lemn Sissay’s second book, Rebel Without Applause (Bloodaxe, 1992).

One man thought I was giving out flyers about the library closing, and was shocked when I gave him a poem. He said he was going to “sit down and read it properly”. Joan, who said she liked poetry, had a similar idea: “This’ll be lovely to sit down with a cup of tea and have a read!” Mohammed, who stood with me while he waited for the bus, took a more forceful approach: “Educate yourself!” he shouted at someone as they sheepishly took a poem from me, defending himself by claiming: “you have to push it down their throats!” I made sure he didn’t miss his bus!

When I first came to Manchester to visit the university, Seeing Sissay’s poem ‘Rain’ painted on the side of a kebab shop on Oxford road was one of the things that made me decide I wanted to live here. And once again, this poem spoke to me: ‘Can you spread me lightly on this street?’ Yes, I thought, I can.


Boiling up

Can you spread me lightly on this street?
I would like to blend in.
If butter and bread can do it, so can I.

Will you sprinkle me softly in this hotel?
I would like to blend in.
If chicken and seasoning can do it, so can I.

(The store detective is either trying to
strike up some kind of meaningful relationship with me
or I’ve got a box of jelly babies stuck to my left ear.)

Could you drip me into this club?
I would like to blend in.
If coffee and milk can do it, so can I.

(It’s not a sawn-off shot-gun in my inside pocket,
and that’s not because I keep my machete there –
ten regal king size please.)

Can you grate me into this city?
I would like to blend in.
If cheese and tomatoes can do it, so can I.

Can you soak me into this country?
I would like to blend in.
If rice and peas can do it, so can I.

“If I could choose between a winning lottery ticket and this…”

Manchester Piccadilly Train Station

Happy New Year everyone! Today I decided to hand out all my left-over poems from the year, so I thought I’d go somewhere busy and employ a little helper (my friend Morgan) to help me shift the pile.

Piccadilly seemed an obvious choice – lots of people with nothing to do for an hour or so but sit on a train, who could spread the poems across the country or maybe even further. One man had been on a trip to the football museum and was very happy to receive a poem to read on his way back to Hull. Another said he was going to sit on the train and “decipher it”.

Of course a lot of people took us for annoying flyer-givers, and one man asked if we were Christians and was quite disappointed when we weren’t: “God bless you both!”

We also talked to a Hare Krishna who swapped us his own flyer (apparently the website includes 2,000 vegetarian recipes) for a poem and told us: “This is the luckiest day of your lives. If I could choose between a winning lottery ticket and this, I’d choose this.” I might start using this line when handing out poems.




The Glitch

Abraham Moss Library – Week 4

I wanted to give out almost every poem in Leontia Flynn‘s new book The Radio (Cape Poetry, 2017) and in the end it was between a poem where Flynn compares a newborn mother breastfeeding to a ‘semi-deranged/ trainee barista’ and this.

Maybe because it’s nearly Christmas, nearly the end of another year, that The Glitch: Poem for 2016′ seemed like the right choice for today. I met Abdul, who said he took a poem off me a few weeks ago and ended up taking it to his language class where they all read it together. I hope this one isn’t too gloomy for them!


The Glitch: Poem for 2016

When the world threw up its hands and wobble-tipped
into dysfunction: faction facing faction
posed in uncompromising opposition
and posting their insults over the abyss
– the logic binary, the tone de trop –
well, it all seemed an outsize version of the glitch
or gremlin in the works that harrowed us
and jammed the comms: Male wrath meets Female shame
and panic. Now too blindly passionate,
our words contract round one another’s throat.

Who set the snares? Who wired so weirdly wrong
the circuits? The outrageous Patriarchs
sitting in our state or – yes! – the one that stalks
up through your blighted childhood hectoring
and sowing fear might know. We don’t. We watch
the displaced flee or freeze in alleyways.
Our righteous take their vigils to the streets –
homogenous, peremptory and too late,
their cry, re-echoed, one of disbelief:
who woke us to the bad dream of our life?

We broke the loom and lobbed the first lout’s stone
so that this mirror cracked from side to side
that we’d eyeballed, oblivious, so long
shocking us roughly into adulthood?
The year prolongs its asshole smash and grab
its wrecking spree – with us on separate coasts,
hunched round narratives of all we’ve lost
like two spectators on apocalypse.
And, searching for where the blame lies in this matter,
we rifle bleakly through the microdata.

“I love you!”

Abraham Moss Library – Week 3

This week I handed out the poem ‘Wanting it Darker’ by Ben Ladouceur – a Canadian writer living in Ottowa – which I found in the latest issue of Poetry Magazine.

The first people to take the poem were two energetic men who shouted “I love you!” and ran off down the street. The second was a woman who rolled down her car window, shouted “excuse me!” and gave me a hand-it-over look, then took one and drove away. It was too cold to stay out long so I stuck the poem onto the bus stop for people to read while they wait.

I really like the way this poem uses a childlike voice to talk about sadness using images. I feel like it could be written entirely using emojis? People with smartphones may take this as a challenge – good luck.


Wanting it Darker

The sun time of the year died out and never might return.
We made fires as big as coffee tables to approximate the sun.
I wanted to be a mountain.
I wanted us all countless mountains in a detailed painting.

Blood is everywhere as always.
But now it is blown further and oxygenated for longer.
Yet more sad word has come digitally.
We contain no blood with which to soften and warm the sad word.

Cold wind placed and places the house in its mouth.
We met the end numb and almost still.
Number meant less motion meant even number meant totally still.

The buildings stand still.
The buildings still stand.
The buildings like the builders take each other by the hand.