It’s been a while! Handing out poems on the street, which I’d been doing regularly for four years, came abruptly to an end last year. The libraries closed, and we all stayed at home. And my local library is still closed, a year later, despite weekly read-ins and campaigns for the council to reopen all Glasgow libraries.

During the first lockdown, I found out that my debut poetry pamphlet was going to be published by Broken Sleep Books. It came out during the third/forth (I’ve lost count) lockdown on March 31st and I couldn’t be happier with it! The launch for my pamphlet was virtual, so you can watch it online.

And I’ve had to go virtual in other ways too: working with local charities – Apex Scotland and Enable Glasgow – to run online poetry workshops with, or send poems to, people who may have barriers to accessing culture, such as people who are in prison/have previous convictions, and people with learning disabilities.

I’ve also had time to apply for arts council funding, something I’ve been wanting to do for so long but didn’t know where to start. On my second attempt, after some very constructive feedback, I have received funding from Creative Scotland to make a Time for one Poem Podcast, aimed at complete beginners to poetry, which will come out later this year!


Click here to read more about the podcast on Creative Scotland’s website!

“Oh I’ve read poetry”

Gorbals Library – Glasgow

Today I gave out the poem ‘Playing House’ by Tessa Berring, which is featured in the new anthology, makar/unmakar: twelve contemporary poets in scotland (Tapsalteerie, 2019). I went to the Glasgow launch of the book last week, and was really impressed by all the readings. I chose this poem because I love how every line seems to change direction. Tessa has also just had her first collection, Bitten Hair, published by Blue Diode. When I met her at the reading, she offered me her copy for free but I (foolishly?) said I wanted to buy it to support a fellow poet. It is in the post!

As the man who asked me for a lighter said, it was “pure baltic” standing outside Gorbals Library today, so I didn’t think I’d be able to stay out long enough to give out all of the poems. He found a lighter in the end, and took a poem after originally refusing: “because you’ve got my respect”.


My ears got very cold, but I managed to give out all the poems. I met Jim, who read the whole poem to me out loud, surprising himself with every line, and considering the meaning before going on to the next. When he got to the end said: “oh marvellous!” and asked me why I was giving out poems and if I’ve ever had hot spun sugar in my face (read the poem!). I said it was just something I did in my free time, in case someone wanted to get into poetry but didn’t know where to start. This set him off: “oh I’ve read poetry!” He then started to recite by heart the entire works of Robert Burns.

One man seemed apprehensive and refused a poem on the grounds that: “it’s giving away paper, you see?” I told him he could recycle it afterwards but he wasn’t convinced. Another said no before I’d even finished offering, but when I was unlocking my bike he came back up to me and said in a flurry: “I would like a poem. I’m really sorry for saying no, that was really rude. It all happened so fast. What’s this all about then?”




Playing House

I’d like a golden apple, or a red one
or I’ll cry

(this room is tiny
when covered in snow)

did you hear about the woman

who bound her face
in hot spun sugar

as a protest against everything?

we could do things too
like breathing in, then out

oh my God, oh my God
you’d really love that, wouldn’t you?


“No thank you sorry thank you”

Gallery of Modern Art Library – Glasgow

I gave out the poem ‘in the style of richard scott’ – from Richard Scott‘s Soho (Faber & Faber, 2018) – outside GOMA Library.  I was originally going to give out the first poem in the collection, ‘Public Library, 1998’, because the speaker writes ‘COCK’ in the margin of a library book, which is great. But I chose this one because I like the way it talks about liking to read poetry in an everyday non-grand sort of way.

Because it’s in the basement of a modern art gallery, I expected the library to be very sleek and angular, but it’s just like a normal local library – lots of crime novels and autobiographies, harsh lighting and garish sofas. I loved it!


Outside, I stood next to the statue of the Duke of Wellington, which Glaswegians famously love to decorate with a cone-hat. It is always interesting (and sometimes disheartening) when I hand out poems in city centres, because more people ignore me and less people take a poem. It makes sense: people think its another flyer or petition or god-leaflet, and have got so used to pretending those people don’t exist that they don’t even blink. Other people are very friendly and apologetic: “no thank you sorry thank you!”

But it makes it even more special when someone says yes, and their face lights up when they realise what it actually is that I’m giving them. Like the lady who responded to my question “do you like poetry?” with “not really!” but still took a poem and said she would give it a try when she gets back home to Oban (she was off to catch a bus) “when I can finally sit down and relax”.

Afterwards I had a look around the art gallery to warm up, and saw this painting by one of my favourites, Beryl Cook, of a woman by the river Clyde.





in the style of richard scott

my moon is a man
he’s watched me get naked in parks cemeteries by the canal etc
the other stars belt spade massive crab
are pretty meaningless and dead anyway

there’s no more music in poetry
than in my boyfriend’s whispered voice
both make my heart pump
belly spasm

I don’t forgive you bullies exes
the man who punched me the one who touched me
but I love my dad
even though he did and said shit shit things

I am free now still
it hurts every day so I read
mark and walt and arthur and constance and gregory and thom and my boy paul
write poem after poem about

“Are you cold?”

Govanhill Library – Glasgow

On this very cold but sunny day in Glasgow, I gave out the poem ‘beaches (14)’ from Rebecca Perry‘s glorious new pamphlet, beaches (Offord Road Books, 2019). It was hard to choose which to give out, but I decided on this lemony one to give the people of Govanhill some vitamin C!



In the library they were offering free copies of a book called Blether (a Scottish slang word meaning ‘to have a chat’) – a collection of true stories submitted by the Scottish public, to celebrate Book Week Scotland.


The Library had just got new photocopier which no one knew how to use yet, so a nice librarian named Ewan let me use the one behind the desk. Later he came out and took a poem off me: “I recognise this!”

It was a busier spot than last week for handing out poems, and it took no time at all to give them all out to friendly passers by. One woman asked me for directions, and one man asked if I was warm enough. I also met a woman who was taking her rubbish out (the communal bins are next to the library) who said she didn’t think she’d read any poetry since school: “I remember doing that one about the daffodils over and over…” 


beaches (14)

lemon juice
in your cuticle cuts
is not punishment
for anything
it is serendipity
it is one star crossing another
in a flat sky
it is god

lemon juice
lifts almost any dish
roll it on the worktop
be thankful

speaking as a person
with almost no experience
pain can be
a gift


“Only the ones that capture us”

Langside Library – Glasgow

For my first time handing out poems in Glasgow, I chose ‘Or Passing the Time with Some Rhyme’ from Claudia Rankine‘s third collection, Plot (Grove Press, 2001). I like it because it’s one of those poems that sticks in your mind even if you don’t really know what’s going on. And everyone loves a bit of rhyme!

Langside is my new local library, so it seemed like a good place to start. It is a big, busy library with a funky carpet and a hearty poetry section. When I was preparing the poems I sat near a weekly writing group who were quietly talking about all the unknown, unpublished women writers of history.



Most passers by politely took a poem, and many seemed pleasantly surprised. One man read it while waiting to cross the road, and I hoped he wouldn’t walk across while still reading. But he got all the way to the end then came back to ask me about it. When I asked if he likes poetry, he said: “only the ones that capture us”.


Or Passing the Time with Some Rhyme

Too much within—close the garage, reset
the alarm, let the eye in the world coo.
The River Ouse flows on no matter what
or who gets caught as its debris. She sits
in Le Café for once not distracted
by boo, its bark. She sits rudely sunglassed,
blue silk cascading off her tumultuous
tummy. Honey, are you happy? You there,
indiscriminate, in your loosened dress
skirting sidewalks. You there, flirting across
each shop window though a pastel broach moos
powdered jade, asking, Are you happily—
oh bovine, oh babe—are you happily
charmed? For this world, oh this whorl is a woo.


“So it’s just her in the garden?”

Wood Green Library – London

Today I gave out the poem ‘Matins’ from the book The Wild Iris (Harper Collins, 1992) by Louise Glück. My mum told me matins is the French word for the morning song of birds. I liked the idea of handing out a poem about nature in a place that is called Wood Green but is actually a big high street and shopping centre, with not much green nor woods around.

It’s a big, busy library, as well as having a bank and other shops in the same building, so there were lots of people around. Unfortunately there were lots of street fundraisers nearby trying to talk to people as they went past, but I stood as far away from them as possible.


One man in a high vis stopped and read the poem out quickly next to me: “so, it’s just her in the garden?” I shrugged my shoulders, and asked if he liked poetry: “yea, sometimes it makes a change from lengthy novels.” Another woman took a break from feeding pigeons to ask what I was doing. When I said I hadn’t written the poem, she said: “so you just like the poem and thought you’d give it out to people…that’s a nice thing to do!”

I also met Mustafah, who comes to the library to read the newspapers. When I asked if he liked poetry he said: “I can’t really say whether I do or I don’t.” Then he asked if it rhymed, because “sometimes it has more character if it rhymes”. I said it doesn’t rhyme, but it still sounds nice, and asked if he wanted to read it out loud to see what I mean. He read the whole poem out loud next to me, really slowly, and said it had “something about it.” 

I  recommend the book wholeheartedly, and love this poem in particular for that same “something” that Mustafah couldn’t put his finger on. Maybe it’s that gripping first line, or the unashamed attempts at trying to see what you’re doing as ‘symbolic’ – or maybe it’s just her in the garden.





You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?


Latin American Market – Seven Sisters, London

I meant to hand out this poem – ‘La extranjera’ by Gabriela Mistral and my translation ‘The foreigner’ – in Chile, but it never seemed like the right time. I found the poem in The Biblioteca Regional Gabriela Mistral in La Serena, and later visited Montegrande, the tiny village where she grew up and is now buried.


Mistral is hugely famous in Chile. She was the first Latin American author to win a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, and her face is even on the 5,000 Chilean peso bank note. So maybe it made more sense to hand the poem and my translation out in the UK, where less people have heard of her, and what better place to do so than my local Latin American market in Tottenham?

The market is just opposite Seven Sisters tube. It is very easy to miss because it is hidden behind shops and doesn’t draw attention to itself, but it’s a great place for a café con leche and I will definitely be spending more time there to keep on practising my Spanish!



I had forgotten how different handing out poems in England is compared to South America: here, a lot more people say no. And in London, especially, people don’t have time to stop and chat. My favourite response was the man who held up his hands and said “sorry!” as if he really had no choice but to refuse a poem. But it was a good idea to stand near this market, where I could catch people on their way out and offer them the poem in Spanish, which I think they appreciated. I was happy to see two men, who had just met up outside the tube, looking at the poem and translations together and talking about them as they walked down the high street.


La extranjera

    a Francis de Miomandre

Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros,
con no sé qué algas y no sé qué arenas;
reza oración a dios sin bulto y peso,
envejecida como si muriera.
En huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño,
ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas.
Alienta del resuello del desierto
y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea,
que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase
sería como el mapa de otra estrella.
Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años,
pero siempre será como si llega,
hablando lengua que jadea y gime
y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas.
Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros,
en una noche en la que más padezca,
con sólo su destino por almohada,
de una muerte callada y extranjera.




The foreigner

    for Francis de Miomandre

She speaks with an accent of her rough seas
with some sort of seaweed and some sort of sand;
she prays to a god without size or weight,
so old she’s almost dead.
That garden of ours has become strange to us,
she filled it with cactuses and clawing grass.
She breathes with desert wind
and has loved with whitened passion
but she never tells and if she did tell
it would be like the map of another star.
She could live among us for eighty years
but it would always feel like she just arrived,
speaking a tongue that pants and groans
and is only heard by animals.
And she will die among us too
one night at the height of her misery,
with only her destination for a pillow,
a death silent and foreign.

“¡Es cultural!”

Biblioteca Municipal de Puno

My mum came to Peru to visit me. When I told her we would be staying on the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titikaka in Puno, the first thing she asked was: “will we be able to watch the Champions League final there???”

The day we arrived, after we had been told about the history of these amazing islands and met the family we were staying with – who have lived and maintained their island with reeds and roots for generations – we asked for a lift back into Puno to watch the big English final.



During half-time, I popped out to hand out the poem ‘Compañera’ by Carlos Oquendo de Amat, and my translation ‘Companion’. It comes from his book 5 Metros de Poemas (1927) – and it really is five metres of poems! Each page of the book folds out to make one long poem. I bought the book in Cusco for 20 soles (about 5 pounds) after being introduced to it by a good salesman who told me the price was offensive to Carlos, who was never appreciated in his own time, and died penniless in Puno.

I wandered out of the fancy, empty restaurant where we had found to watch the game, and was just about to ask tourist information if there was a library nearby when I saw the words ‘Casa de la Cultura’ on the high street, and a little library right under it. It was closed but it would do.

The people of Puno seemed very friendly, and lots of them stopped to ask me what I was doing. I met Olid who works in the National Archives of Puno: “con muchos documentos importantes” (with many important documents!). He said he he likes poetry: “¡es cultual!” and had heard of Carlos before.

I also met two friends Liliana and David, who tried to read the poem out in both English and Spanish but mainly just giggled a lot. They thanked me for: “la oportunidad” and ran off, still giggling.




Tus dedos sí que sabían peinarse como nadie lo hizo
mejor que los peluqueros expertos de los transatlánticos
ah y tus sonrisas maravillosas sombrillas para el calor
tú que llevas prendido un cine en la mejilla

junto a ti mi deseo es un niño de leche

cuando tú me decías
la vida es derecha como un papel de cartas

y yo regaba la rosa de tu cabellera sobre tus hombros

por eso y por la magnolia de tu canto

qué pena
la lluvia cae desigual como tu nombre





Your fingers knew how to comb like no one else
better than expert hairdressers from across the atlantic
and your marvelous smiles umbrellas for the heat
you who wear a cinema on your cheek

when with you my desire is a child of milk

when you told me
life is right like a piece of white paper

and I watered the rose of your hair around your shoulders

because of this and because of the magnolia in your song

it’s such a shame
the rain falls uneven just like your name

¡Feliz día de la Madre!

Plaza Túpac Amaru – Cusco

This Sunday was Mother’s Day in Peru, so I decided to give out a poem about mothers. The poem also happens to by Peru’s national poet, Cesar Vallejo – who clearly loved his mama. It comes from a sequence of poems called Trilce (a made up word), published in 1922, which features the word ‘madre’ (mother) 19 times in the 77 poems.


Often described as a pre-surrealist Surrealist, Vallejo’s poem was hard to translate, but also a lot of fun. My Spanish co-worker Silvia assured me that it doesn’t make much sense in the original either, so I just enjoyed myself playing around with the strange and often seemingly random images chosen by this visionary poet.

I intended to hand out the poem on Sunday – outside a big Mother’s Day festival in Tupac Amaru Square – but all the printing shops were closed to mark the occasion, so I went back the next day to hand it out in front of a pet shop…




Tahona estuosa de aquellos mis bizcochos

pura yema infantil innumerable, madre.

Oh tus cuatro gorgas, asombrosamente

mal plañidas, madre: tus mendigos.
Las dos hermanas últimas, Miguel que ha muerto
y yo arrastrando todavía
una trenza por cada letra del abecedario.

En la sala de arriba nos repartías
de mañana, de tarde de dual estiba,
aquellas ricas hostias de tiempo, para
que ahora nos sobrasen
cáscaras de relojes en flexión de las 24
en junto parados.

¡Madre, y ahora! Ahora, en cuál alvéolo

quedaría, en qué retoño capilar,
cierta migaja que hoy se me ata al cuello
y no quiere pasar. Hoy que hasta
tus puros huesos estarán harina
que no habrá en qué amasar
¡tierna dulcera de amor!
hasta en la cruda sombra, hasta en el gran molar
cuya encía late en aquel lácteo hoyuelo
que inadvertido lábrase y pulula ¡tú lo viste tanto!
en las cerradas manos recién nacidas.

Tal tierra oirá en tu silenciar,
cómo nos van cobrando todos
el alquiler del mundo donde nos dejas
y el valor de aquel pan inacabable.

Y nos lo cobran, cuando, siendo nosotros

pequeños entonces, como tú verías,
no se lo podíamos haber arrebatado
a nadie: cuando tú nos lo diste,
¿di, mamá?



Hot oven that baked my favourite cupcakes

pure childish gold innumerable, mother.

Your four whirlpools, surprisingly
deep sobs, mother: your dirty laundry.
Two sisters left, Miguel gone
and me still dragging along
a curl for each letter of the alphabet.

In the room upstairs you divide for us
in the morning, in the evening, in dual stowage
those rich hosts of time, all
that we have left now
husks of bent watches bent on 24
stopped on the dot.

And now, mother! Now into which socket

will I fit, which blood vessel,
which exact crumb that today is tying up my neck
and doesn’t want to pass. Today until
your bones become flour
that will never be kneaded.
The sickly sweetness of love!
until the harsh shadow, the great molar
whose gums are throbbing behind that milky dimple
that unnoticed ploughing and swarming – you know it so well!      
in the closed hands of the newly born.

The earth will hear it in your silence
the charge of everything
the rent of the world you leave for us
and the value of that endless bread.

And it charges us, even when we are
children then, as you would see,
it can’t be taken away
by anyone; just like you said,
say something, mama?

“!Es mi mercado!”

Mercado Modelo de San Sebastian – Cusco

Because of the title of this week’s poem, I decided to hand it out in front of a market, instead of a library. The poem, ‘Mercado’, comes from July Solís’s debut collection, Leche Derramada (Paracaídas, 2015). July is a poet from Lima who you can watch reading another poem from the collection here

When I got to my local indoor market in San Sebastian I found a huge tent selling books right outside! So I sort of had my library too.



I was met by lots of people happy to receive a poem, often struggling to take one because they were holding so many bags of groceries. One teenage girl with a big smile asked: “¿cuestan?” (“do they cost anything?”) and reached for her purse, but I reassured her they were free.

Then I met Marcosa, who came over to ask what I was giving out. When I gave her the poem she immediately folded it open and began to read aloud. She told me she liked poetry, and when I asked what she thought of this one, her answer was to read out some of her favourite lines out again, as if in reverence.

Though she said she couldn’t understand my English version of the poem, she seemed fascinated by the fact of translation. With her finger she followed from one Spanish line across the middle to the same line in English: “aquí el poema está en español, y aquí está otra vez, exactamente lo mismo…” (“here the poem is in Spanish, and here it is again, exactly the same…”).

It turned out Marcosa has her own stall in the market – that even sells fish! It was closed for the day, but she showed me where it was quickly before being told off by her son for not helping him to tidy up! When I asked if I could take a photo of her in front of the market, she replied: “si, es mi mercado!” (“yes, it’s my market!”). 




Y dar el pescado sin las branquias
cortar la cabeza
o quitar el espinazo donde sujetarnos
sería una pena más

El dolor descargándose en las alas muertas
y en la balanza tramposa
las patitas estiradas
alcanzando su última madrugada

Pagar un precio justo es el gran dilema:
todos los animales gritando en tu monedero
y ese sol cinquenta que regresa a casa
se avergüenza en sus dos caras de tu huida

Alguna vez alguien pagará esta voz que sobrevive?
este nervio mordido que tragaste
esta sangre estancada en tu mal aliento
o estos huesos que entierran los perros.



And give the fish without the gills
cut the head
or remove the spine which we deem
one more nuisance

Pain unloading itself in the dead wings
and crooked scales
little legs stretched
reaching towards its final dawn

Paying a fair price is the big dilemma:
all the animals screaming in your purse
and this loose change that returns home
ashamed with both its faces of your escape

Will anyone ever pay for this voice that survives?
this bitten nerve that you swallowed
this stagnant blood in your bad breath
or these bones that the dogs bury.