“I know it’s meant to be important, but…”

The third episode of my podcast is available to listen now on SpotifyApple Podcasts and Google Podcasts!

In the first part of this episode I talk to the poet Nia Davies, who was born in Sheffield and now lives in Wales, about how the first poem she ever wrote was mocked by a cynical schoolteacher. Nia’s first collection All Fours came out in 2017.

In the second part I talk to Paul, a star-trek fan who works as a community gardener for Urban Roots, about Nia’s poem ‘You will never guess my name’.

Paul says he has “no reaction” at all to poetry, though he knows it’s “meant to be important.” After reading this poem his first instinct was just to move on and forget about it. But eventually he does find a way to put the poem into his own words – by looking at it in terms of our shifting identities.

You will never guess my name

Call me javelin. A mannequin for spears.
Call me Harriet, if you like. I am
scissor-real. A jar of pickles.
Call me Andrew Happenstance, lovely Xerox.
Lovely evaporation. My biggest concern is
this here riddle told on the cusp, by a makeover
guru such as myself. Call me Evermore, Grecian burn,
Leaf-o-grass. Categorise me under Peckham.
Under Pazartesi (the day after market).
Vasilisa’s skull-stick. Stand in the throne hall
and say my name: Miss Never-again,
Miss Happy Harpy (née Julia).
Call me mythic – I’m a toss-up between
‘project’ and ‘ongoing’. I’m nil-by-gusset,
I am tall-boy. Poppy, or die. Seaweed, or die.
St Tropez? It was a place once
and I called it home, soft-nuts.
Soft-gusset. Soft mushroom collar with a triple pleat.
Call me fuckwit, fuck all of it.
Categorise my role under soup-kitchen.
Milkweed – why? Flower market – why?
Testes – why? Does everything pointy
have to be phallic? My fame runs, and you’ll drum
this in until you’re drummed in,
my name, as it is. Remember it.

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CREDITS

Producer/host: Annie Muir ~ @time41poem

Editor: Jack Rientoul ~ @jackrientoul

Music: JANSKY ~ @radiojansky

Artwork: Max Machen ~ @maxymachen

This podcast was made using funding from the National Lottery, through Creative Scotland. 

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More about Nia Davies: https://niadavieslit.com/

More about Urban Roots: https://www.urbanroots.org.uk/

“I’ve just never connected with any poetry before”

The second episode of my podcast is available to listen now on SpotifyApple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, or on YouTube!

In the first part of this episode I talk to Jane Yeh: a poet and Creative Writing lecturer, originally from America and now living in London, whose third poetry collection Discipline came out with Carcanet in 2019.

And in the second part I talk to poetry-sceptic Lydia, who has just finished a Masters in Service Design from Glasgow School of Art. 

Lydia tells me that although she is often “around people who admire and enjoy poetry,” she has “just never really connected with any” herself. In the end she connects with this poem a bit too much, and I need to tell her to calm down!

Please leave a comment below with your own interpretation! And leave a review on Apple Podcasts if you get a chance!

Self-Portrait as a Spinster

The macadamia nut of sunset blanketed with a strawberry breeze.
Such moments are infrequent in our sugar-substitute days.

Like the texture of shiny wallpaper, without good taste.
So melodious in the pima cotton night is the song of the maidenhair cat.

To be unloved is like listening to a progress report on courgettes – for months.
My feelings, propelled in a Victorian swimming cage over a rocky beach.

I decanted my sincerity into a carefully-labelled trunk.
I wilted like a leftover chicken wing in the crispy light of day.

It was awful to be unloved, like having an embarrassing disease.
(Somewhere on the moon, a Clanger emits a distant, mournful chirp.)

I pretended to be carefree yet salty, like a seaside wench.
The Bakelite earring of summer swayed to and fro, to and fro.

It was okay to be alone, like a sausage in a garden full of flowers.
In the caramel air, a Labrador stared kindly at my meaty display.

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CREDITS

Producer/host: Annie Muir ~ @time41poem

Editor: Jack Rientoul ~ @jackrientoul

Music: JANSKY ~ @radiojansky

Artwork: Max Machen ~ @maxymachen

This podcast was made using funding from the National Lottery, through Creative Scotland. 

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More about Jane Yeh: https://www.janeyeh3.com/

More about Lydia: http://www.lydia-stewart.com/

“Just tell me what it means!”

The first episode of my new podcast is here! You can listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, or on YouTube.

In the first part of this episode I talk to Arji Manuelpillai: a poet, rapper, and educator whose debut poetry pamphlet Mutton Rolls came out with Outspoken Press in 2020.

In the second part I talk to poetry-sceptic Andy, a team leader for the unemployment charity Apex Scotland, about Arji’s poem, ‘credit card’.

Although Andy describes poetry as “not [his] thing” and wishes someone would “just tell [him] what it means”, we manage to come to an understanding of this poem together – discussing identity theft and the perfect leek and potato soup.

Please leave a comment below with your own interpretation! And leave a review on Apple Podcasts if you get a chance!

Arji Manuelpillai, photo by Martin Brown
credit card

someone pretended to be me
filled my details out online
intercepted the card as it arrived
and went to Morrisons. Someone

in a red sweater, NY cap
black jeans, pink socks
spent 200 quid on
groceries I imagine, booze

toothpaste, noodles, coco-pops
definitely leeks and potatoes
for a leek and potato soup
(crème fraîche to stir in)

that someone then caught
the bus, the 343 perhaps, went
to that Peckham café
on the white side of Peckham

sat on a shared table
had tea and carrot cake
read the paper, leant
back in their seat

so their hands fell to their sides
and the lady to the right
casual as breathing
pulled her handbag close

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More about Arji Manuelpillai: https://www.arji.org/

More about the charity Apex Scotland: https://www.apexscotland.org.uk/

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CREDITS

Producer/host: Annie Muir ~ @time41poem

Editor: Jack Rientoul ~ @jackrientoul

Music: JANSKY ~ @radiojansky

Artwork: Max Machen ~ @maxymachen

This podcast was made using funding from the National Lottery, through Creative Scotland. 

Coming next week!

Hello! I’m very excited to share the trailer for my new podcast, launching next Wednesday!

To make the podcast, I interviewed 12 poets from across the UK about how they got into to poetry, and 12 Glasgow-based poetry-sceptics about why they didn’t!

I chose a poem (by one of my poet-guests) for each of the poetry-sceptics, and we went through it together and came to a sort of understanding of it.

And the result is this 12-episode podcast series: each episode features one poet, one poem and one poetry-sceptic!

Every week when the podcast comes out, I will put the poem we talk about on the blog so you can read along and leave comments with your own interpretations of the poem.

I hope you like it!

PODCAST!

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!

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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”.

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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?”

 

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…” 

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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
essentially
it is god

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

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

 

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Matins

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?