“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.

Advertisements

“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.

“Ugh! yucky books!”

Abraham Moss Library – Week 2

This week the library was very quiet apart from a three year old girl who ran around shouting: “ugh! yucky books – I want LEGO!” Outside in the real world adults passed by and quietly took a poem from me, either out of politeness or interest. One rolled past on a bike and pulled one out of my hand, another silently started reading while crossing the road and nearly got run over.

I gave out a poem called ‘The sea-house’ by Kathleen Jamie, from her book The Queen of Sheba (Bloodaxe, 1994). I love the sounds in this poem: the rattling and ‘tinkling’ of objects in the old, abandoned (?) house by the sea. There are some words that I don’t understand but I don’t want to look them up because I’m scared it will ruin the magic!

 

The sea-house

In this house
are secret rotting wings,
wrecked timbers; the cupboard
under the stair
glimmers with pearl.

The sea-house
rises from dulse; salt winds
boom in its attics. Here:
my tottering
collections of shells, my ballroom
swirling with fulmars.

Morning brings
laundries of wrack,
a sea-maw’s grief-shaped wing. Once
a constellation
of five pink buoys.

This place is a stranger’s.
Ewers in each high room
hold a little salt water.
My musical box
is a tinkling crab.

The sea-house is purdah:
cormorants’ hooked-out wings
screen every chamber. Inside
the shifting place, the
neither-nor

I knock back and forth
like the tongue of a bell
mournfully tolling
in fog, or lie
as if in a small boat
adrift in an upstairs room.

 

“That’s just my interpretation!”

Abraham Moss Library 

Today I ventured back into North Manchester and this time I got a friendlier welcome! I met Elizabeth who worked at the reception, who asked for a poem for herself and tried to read it between questions about how to use the computers. She said she thought it was about a relationship of some kind: “they can’t be together for some reason. I don’t know why – that’s just my interpretation!”

It was quiet around the library this afternoon so people were all the more perplexed at the sight of me waving my poems around – a few people looked back to check if they’d imagined it, and I got a thumbs up from across the road from a group of ladies who’d shared the poem between them.

I gave out the poem ‘Until the Next Time’ by Amryl Johnson, from the book Long Road to Nowhere (Virago, 1985). I like the intimate voice of the poem that seems to be trying to share something private with us, to help us ‘understand’ in order to keep us ‘warm’ and  ‘in good stead’.

*

Until the Next Time

I will put on
my overcoat
and tiptoe
through the ashes
of a love which took
so long
to die
And it is not my feet
you understand
but my arms
which feel the cold
Maybe in time
they will grow to know
the logic of my ways
and
still
these precious embers
may melt my thoughts
may warm my soul
may keep me
in good stead
until
the next time

“It’s just a bit random”

Miles Platting Community Library & City Library (again)

This week I wanted to go to a library in North Manchester, so I cycled up to Miles Platting, getting a bit lost along the way. When I got there the manager told me I should have rang up in advance and that I couldn’t hand out poems there because “it’s just a bit random”. I felt a bit like I’d been denied marriage by the father of my desired bride just because he didn’t like the look of me. It was a bit disheartening, but at least I had a pretty cycle along the canal! 

After this failure I cycled back into town and handed out my poems outside City Library. I gave out the poem ‘Place’ by Kapka Kassabova, from her book Someone else’s life (Bloodaxe, 2003). Kassabova was born in Bulgaria and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. This poem really hypnotised me – I want to know who the ‘we’ is, and where ‘we’ are going next.

 

Place

This is why we come

To wake up to the crowing of plucked roosters
from a sepia childhood

To watch the merging of dawn and dusk,
as matter-of-fact as a lesson in evanescence.

To see without a warning white herons in the bay
still with rarity, guarding their reflection.

To spot a hooded figure on the hill in a yellow raincoat,
in a flashback of self-recognition.

To lie, then stand and fall into the deep storm
from a great height, emerging on the other side of here.

To sleep and when you wake up, to remember it
as something that did not exist, and that will never be again.

This is why we leave.

 

*

If you haven’t already, check out the first issue of Lager Magazine, co-edited by me and my friend Will – and submit your poems or short stories for the next issue!