“Phillip Larkin turned me off…”

ALL FM 96.9

This week I talked to the poet Janet Rogerson, a fellow Poets & Players committee member, about hating poetry in school, and finally getting into it in 2007 after her forth child was born and she decided to go back to university.

We had a bit of a poetry overload (if that is possible?) talking about Janet’s own poems, the poem she brought to talk about, and Frank O’Hara – who Janet wrote about for the theory section of her Creative Writing pHd. But we made sure to break up our poetry discussions by playing one of Janet’s favourite bands, The White Stripes, and wishing Johnny Vegas a happy birthday.

The poem she brought was ‘Paul Celan’ by Ilya Kaminsky, a prose-poem which plays with the idea of biography in a way I am fully on board with. Janet also read a section of the Paul Celan poem ‘Death Fugue’ translated by John Felstiner. We talked about translation, and heard Janet’s poem ‘Translator’ which, she says, is not based on anyone particular but came from flicking through a book and randomly choosing one word to write a poem about.

I also made sure we spent some time talking about Frank O’Hara, who is one of the poets that initially got me interested in poetry, with his seemingly autobiographical poems about his obsession with art and popular culture (and sex). He also has a really great voice:


Paul Celan

In his youth, he worked in a factory, though everyone said  he looked more like a professor of classical languages than a factory worker. He walked to work as if moving under water.

He was a beautiful man with a slender body which moved in a mixture of grace and sharp geometrical precision. His face had an imprint of laughter on it, as if no other emotion ever touched his skin. Even in his fifties, the nineteen-year-old girls winked at him in trains or trolley-busses, asking for his phone number.

Seven years after his death, I saw Celan in his house slippers dancing alone in his bedroom, humming step over step. He did not mind being a character in my stories in a language he never learned. That night, I saw him sitting on a rooftop, searching for Venus, reciting Brodsky to himself. He asked if his past existed at all.



¿Para qué?

Biblioteca de Cultura Artesana, Palma

This week I’ve been on holiday in Palma, Majorca, where I managed to get myself involved in a Spanish poetry slam! Laia MaLo was the guest poet for the night and somehow got me in the line-up. The slam was judged by randomly selected members of the audience, who wrote scores out of ten on blackboards. I ended up reading first, and didn’t come last, which was surprising because probably only about ten people in the audience could understand my poem (the guy who came last called himself ‘Bonito Del Norte’)!


While I was there I also attempted to read some contemporary Spanish poetry. I bought the book Espejo Negro y Otras Poemas by Miriam Reyes (liliputienses, 2017) and set about translating the first poem, ‘Mi padre enfermo de sueños’ (‘My father sick of dreams’), with a dictionary and my very basic Spanish skills. I checked it with Laia to make sure I got the gist, then set off to hand out the poem in the centre of Palma.

The Biblioteca de Cultura Artesana is a big, air-conditioned public library, attached to the shady gardens of Misericordia, which had this old thing in it:




I gave the poem out in the original and my translation, though I don’t think many people who took it would have needed the English. One woman asked me: “¿para qué?” (What for?) and I answered shakily: “para leer” (…to read) which seemed to satisfy her. I also gave one to an old man sitting on a bench who stared at it very intensely for a while. When I’d handed them all out I came back and asked him if he liked it he smiled and nodded.


Mi padre enfermo de sueños

Mi padre enfermo de sueños
en el asfalto incandescente
de cien mil mediodías caminados
bajo el sol en vertical
perdió sus pies
y apoyado en sus rodillas sigue buscando
el camino de vuelta a casa.

Mi padre sueña,
rendido por el cansancio,
que vuelve a su tierra y planta sus piernas
y le crecen pies jóvenes
y la savia de su tierra negra
le alivia el dolor de las arrugas
y resucita sus cabellos muertos.

Luego despierta en un piso alquilado
a la ciudad de los huracanes de la miseria
y blasfema y maldice y no tiene amigos.
Escondido en la noche
papá llora por las certezas que lo defraudaron.

Del otro lado de su piel
mamá llora por mamá
mamá llora por su casa que ya no habita
y por paz y reposo y risa.

Papá y mamá lloran
cada uno a espaldas del otro en la cama
en el más crudo estruendoso hermoso silencio
que modula en frecuencias infrahumanas
sonidos que se articulan como palabras:
«si aquí no están mis sueños
cómo puedo dormir aquí».
Y que sólo yo escucho
con la cabeza enterrada en la almohada.

Concebida de la nostalgia
nací con lágrimas en el sexo
con tierra en los ojos
con sangre en la cabeza.
No soy lo que soñaron
como tampoco lo son sus vidas.


My father is sick of dreams

in the incandescent asphalt of a hundred million midday walks
vertically below the sun
he lost his feet
and rested on his knees searching
for the road back to the house.
My father dreams
hazy from tiredness
he lies down and lifts his legs and grows young feet
and the black earth’s sap undoes the pain of his wrinkles
and revives his dead hairs.
Later he wakes up in a rented apartment
in the city of the hurricanes of misery
and blasphemy and hate and has no friends.

Secretly in the night
daddy cries for the certainty of disappointment.
On the other side of my skin
mummy cries for mummy
mummy cries for the house she doesn’t live in any more
and for peace and rest and laughter.

Daddy and mummy cry
each one behind the other’s back in bed
in the most raw clatteringly beautiful silence
that modulates in infrahuman frequencies
sounds that articulate like words:
“if my dreams are not here
how can I sleep here?”
And that only I can hear
with my head buried under the pillow.

Conceived from nostalgia
I was born with tears in sex with earth in my eyes and blood in my head.
I am not what they dreamed of
but neither are their lives.


“What the f*** is an ode?”


ALL FM 96.9

On the radio last week I had artist and assistant-curator at the Whitworth Art Gallery Nikita Gill, who did all the work for me by bringing along her own book of poetry to talk about – Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis (Knopf, 2015).

I had never heard of the book or poet, and am very glad I do now. The title is based on an 18th century engraving of a black woman posed as Botticelli’s Venus, which The New Yorker described as ‘slave trade propaganda’. The book is centred around a series of list-poems created out of titles of books/artefacts/anything she could find that include references to black women throughout history.

We talked about one of these poems, ‘Silence, Poise Prayer’ (which I can’t find online so you will have to buy the book), as well as another poem called ‘Summer’. We also talked about my fetish for dyslexics, and the goddess of trainers…



Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin
on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being

postmodern now, I pretended as if I did not see
them, nor understand what I knew to be circling

inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son
to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled

a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance,
His gall—to still expect our devotion

after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed
my son the papery dead skins so he could

know, too, what it feels like when something shows up
at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.



And THIS week I had another dyslexic goddess on my show, artist and graphic designer Rachel Harper, who brought her most recent project along with her – her feather pendants and cards which she will be bringing to Levenshulme Kindness Night Market on Friday 16th November.


She told me all about her rapid creative energy – hence the name ‘pom pom graphics’ referring to rapid gun fire (she does not support gun violence) – and told me about the first poem she ever wrote, about the war in Lebanon, when she was 8 years old.

We talked about the poem ‘Spoon Ode’ by Sharon Olds, from her book Odes (Cape, 2016) – which is one of my favourite poetry books of all time. It is a book full of celebrations, of the human body in all its glory and weakness, sexuality, and…spoons!

When I told Rachel the name of the poem we were going to talk about she exclaimed “What the f*** is an ode?” but by the end of the show she fully got into the idea of an ode to spoons…


Spoon Ode

Spoon of O, spoon of nothing,
spoon of ankh, spoon of poonss,
spoon of the lady at the dressing table,
spoon of  , spoon of female,
spoon of   , spoon of war,
spoon of the world, spoon of War of the
Worlds, spoon of stick figure,
spoon of   girl, spoon of   boy,
spoon of   spear thrower, spoon of fire,
spoon of egg, spoon of egg race,
spoon of dish, spoon of ran away with,
spoon of ran away with and came back, spoon of never came back,
spoon of silver, spoon of gold,
spoon of milk, spoon of Saturn,
spoon of vulva, spoon of vagina,
spoon of Ant, spoon of Bee,
spoon of Venus, spoon of Serena,
spoon of vugg, spoon of vum,
spoon of spider, spoon of sun,
spoon of fee, fie, foe, fum.
Spoon of everyone. Spoon
of the belly. Spoon of the empty belly.
Spoon of the full one. Spoon of no one
hungry. Spoon for everyone.



I will be off the air for the next two weeks as I am going on holiday! But I’m sure you all have some shows to catch up on!

Teenage Dirtbag

ALL FM 96.9

This week I had youth worker/geographer/spiritual guru Rhiannon Redpath on my show to talk about a Chinese poem called ‘Living in the Hills’ by Wang Wei – a child prodigy, painter and Buddhist recluse who was writing at the time of the Tang Dynasty in eighth Century AD. It was translated by Vikram Seth in the book Three Chinese Poets (Faber & Faber, 1992).


Rhiannon brought her entire CD collection (most of them empty cases) and even some home-baked ginger cookies (it’s the school holidays)! So we danced to Earth, Wind & Fire and Wheatus, while reading this short poem together and wondering what it would be like to be a water-chestnut picker or a recluse. Then at the very end of the show, as a warm-down from poetry-analysing, we do some live radio yoga!


Living in the Hills

I close my brushwood door in solitude
And face the vast sky as late sunlight falls.
The pine trees: cranes are nesting all around.
My wicker gate: a visitor seldom calls.
The tender bamboo’s dusted with fresh powder.
Red lotuses strip off their former bloom.
Lamps shine out at the ford, and everywhere
The water-chestnut pickers wander home.




“I’m too nosey – I want to know what that is!”

Arcadia Library Levenshulme & The Fallowfield Loop

This week I gave out the poem ‘Some Definitions for Night’ by Kei Miller, from his book A Light Song of Light (Carcanet, 2010). It is the last poem in this collection, and sprung to my mind this week because I had something to promote – The Handlebards (a troop of actors who cycle round the country with their all their costumes and set on their bikes) were doing a performance of Twelfth Night on the Fallowfield Loop that very same evening. So as well as giving people the gift of this poem, I was trying to encourage as many local Levenshulmers to go down to the pay-as-you-feel performance and give Shakespeare a try!

On my show I had Paul Moss, the producer of the Handlebards, who told me all about how the concept came about (it all started with a pun!) and even performed a bit of Twelfth Night live on the radio followed by a sparknotes style commentary from the top of his head! The poem got us talking about trains and definitions and peeniwallies, and eventually led us onto a story about Paul’s first job as a candle-lighter at The Globe…

Afterwards Paul had to rush off to set up the show, and I had to rush off to get a picnic! I was amazed at the amount of people who had turned up to watch the performance. I couldn’t think of anything better to do on a sunny Wednesday evening (sorry to my football team)!




I couldn’t understand all of the Shakespearean language but there was enough action and silliness to keep it entertaining. My friend Josh (the taxman) even got dragged onto the stage and at one point acted three characters at once!




Some Definitions for Night

— the time which follows evening like the next carriage of a train.
A justification for candles and by extension love whose
pronouncement is made easier in dark spaces, over small
flickering flames and a cascade of wax. …….. Night is a storing
place for creatures that have not been named yet; a mammologist
says of a purple, rhombus-shaped creature – it’s as if it just
stepped out of the night where it had been hiding. …….. Night is a habitat
for dreams, the acre of forest inside us. …….. Night cannot be
measured by the second or the hour hand. It is its own time,
requiring only that we breathe deeply. Night is a large womb,
a spectacularly bloated pregnancy. Entire planets are born from
night. …….. And night is an opening chapter I am yet to write; it
will include peeniwallies, the terrible red-eyed Rolling Calf,
and the following instructions: turn these pages slowly – push
the sun down, down, below the horizon – and a story will
come to steal your breath.


“Do you just do this for something to do?”

Denton West End Community Library

This week I wrote more detailed instructions on my hand and managed to find the library. I was met by an impressive poetry section and a very nice volunteer called Jean (“what are you doing? I’m intruiged”), who told me that this community organisation had been run primarily by four dedicated volunteers since Tameside Library closed about five years ago.

The library puts on a vast range of activities for the community including: a community choir, yoga, street dance, a quiz night, pilates, knitting group, kickboxing, weight watchers AND a film club. So it’s fair to say they’re doing their bit.



It seemed to be a quiet area with more cars than people, which meant the few people that passed were even more confused to see me waiting for them. One lady who was returning three novels back to the library answered my regular question of “do you like poetry?” enthusiastically with “I do, actually!” Another answered, equally enthusiastically, “I’ve not read much poetry!” and walked off reading the poem as she went. And then all at once a woman riding a horse came around the bend, and as I distractedly gave a poem to two young women chatting to each other, one shouted back at me: “do you just do this for something to do?” and when I answered yes she nodded knowingly, “Ahh, nice!”


Remember that nice lady in the spotty dress I met a few weeks ago outside Stretford Library who accused me of “poetry spamming”? It turns out Joanna Hope Bricher is a poet and printmaker who loves goats! Last week I went and met her in The Robin Hood pub and we sat on a tiny bench and talked about letter-pressing and her favourite poems to read before she goes to sleep.


We also talked about the poem ‘Julian of Norwich’ by Rebecca Tamás, from her pamphlet Savage (Clinic, 2017). I was nervous about choosing the poem, because I didn’t have any idea what was going on in it. Luckily Joanna loves anything cryptic, knew who Julian was (an anchoress who published the first book known to be written by a woman in 1395), and could fully identify with the idea of ‘food congealing on the hob’!


Julian of Norwich

Come home if you can bear it, the same divine, familiar beds,
the same wall hangings with your name written in purple,
the same glasses smashing, the same food congealing on the hob.
She fastens milky attachments to your sleep,
cups your head in her hands and sings softly,
cigarette ash sliding down her warm legs onto the bare boards.
God is not the far off, steely mountain gazer, the slick night bus
you missed, crying and retching.
God is already in your arms and breathing up against your face,
so close it hurts. You know the fresh and bloody pith of her,
the damp redness between her legs, the wet tense stomach,
the eyes black and rolling.
Inside her mouth she licks your own muddy spit,
calls birds into the house, breaks hidden skulls,
reads your diary, leaving subtle and deliberate yellow smudges in the margins.
She made you, is remade,
love that’s virulent, ugly, nutshell tight,
love that throws out a tender and extravagant brightness,
calling you with torn crying into vision.

Football (was) coming home…


Denton West End Community Library (failed)/ Levenshulme Arcadia

This week I tried and failed to find Denton West End Community Library – I cycled around for about an hour in the midday sun, and finally got to Gorton station. I asked in a health centre nearby and the lady at reception told me there were TWO Gorton stations! Sadly I was “miles away” from Denton, but I did see this house which made the journey worthwhile…


Not wanting to be late for my show, I gave up and headed to Levenshulme to hand out the poems outside Arcadia Library. In the the wake of the big World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia (try and take yourself back to when we thought football was “coming home”) I decided to give out ‘About The Shoe’ by Croatian poet Miroslav Kirin, translated by Boris Gregoric. I gave out the original and the translation, and like the idea that some of the people who took the poem might be able to read it in both languages. You can read and listen to the original here.

My guest on the radio was taxman and football-lover Joshua Flew, who came straight from work with an England shirt and ‘Football’s Coming Home’ on his USB stick to play at the end of the show (before we headed to the pub to watch them lose).

We talked about why even poets should pay tax, played some songs from the compilation White Boy Blues (So Much To Say), and decided to take a positive spin on the poem – because why not?


About The Shoe

What is a shoe doing in the grass of the park? Ask her at once.
Let her know it is outrageous. Ask her why she’s alone,
where her left or right match is, why she’s not looking for it.
Why she has agreed to be alone. After the shower she’s full of
murky water. At night, insects crawl into her. But that does not
warm her up. Ask her how she got this far, so that she knows not
where her match is. Does she feel no need to meet the other, to apologize
and be at ease afterwards? Ask her also about her sock, someone must have taken her off, because of the heat and the sweat. She must look for her, too.
So that the sock will not feel abandoned. Therefore, search quickly.
The pants are someplace too, the pockets on them, when you turn them
inside out, the ID cards fall out, or nothing at all. The belt, if there is one
on these pants, does he still hold the body, or the body hold him?
The shirt is a leafy tree to him, and a flower, a source of its pride.
But most worthy is the head, if it is still above, knowing where
her left and where her right shoe is. But if the head is missing,
there’s no shoe, neither the left nor the right one,
and the shoe in the grass of the park is just a shoe without its living body,
and that is the sorrow the rain soaks her with.





“I like poetry in small doses!”

Stretford Library

I spent a windy Wednesday morning outside Stretford library handing out ‘Poem on Beyoncé’s Birthday’ from Morgan Parker‘s second collection There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Corsair, 2017). Another poem from this book, ‘So What’, was one of the first poems I gave out in Manchester almost a year ago.

I met one man who told me he liked poetry “in small doses” and another who asked me if I was promoting the poet (“yes I suppose but more like promoting the reading of poetry in general”) said it was “very civilised,” which I think he meant as a compliment!

I also met Jean, who said she likes poetry – especially Maya Angelou – but doesn’t read it that much these days. She told me she keeps a scrap book of poems she’s heard or found, that she is one day going to pass on to her son, who is a shadow puppeteer currently working on a shadow puppet performance with a local spoken word artist!


Today is not actually Beyonce’s birthday, but one of the reasons I chose this poem was because I knew I was going to have some musicians on my show on ALL FM. Two students from the Royal Northern College of Music – soprano Vanessa Guinadi and (maybe) the only lutenist in Manchester, Sara Salloum – came in and played some Elizabethan tunes for me live in the studio.

Listen to Sara’s lute skills and Vanessa surprising me with her Beyoncé fan-knowledge:


Poem on Beyoncé’s Birthday

Drinking cough syrup from a glass shaped
Like you body I wish was mine but as dark
As something in my mind telling me
I’m not woman enough for these days
Colored with reddish loathing
which feels, to me, more significant than sun
My existence keeps going
Ripple in other people’s mouths
Pools of privilege and worship
I want, I keep thinking
I am exclusively post-everything
Animals licking my chin, new leaves stretching
From a palm plant like a man’s greedy arms
Today your open eyes are two fresh buds
Anything could be waiting.







When Rowan Met Annie

Somewhere along the Bridgewater Canal

Last year my friend sent me a little BBC clip of the Door-to-Door Poet saying ‘this looks right up your street’, and today I had him – otherwise known as Rowan McCabe  – on my show on ALL FM.

Currently knocking on the doors of Salford for a project about the Bridgewater Canal, I met up with him along the way and interviewed him on a bench. With the sound of birds and dogs and bikes whizzing past in the background, Rowan performed his opening gambit and one of the poems he’s written for a non-paying customer (his services are completely free). He also told me some of the stories he’s heard so far, including ice-skating to the pub and swimming rabbits…

Then we moved across to a pub where we met a Fentiman’s salesman named Pat who was equally disappointed about the pub being closed (it was 10:30AM). When we told him we were poets, he started talking about how we are all born, all die, and all we can do in the middle is do our best…

We talked about the poem ‘Torso of Air’ by Ocean Vuong, from Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Cape, 2017), which Rowan decided Pat would have loved.


Torso of Air

Suppose you do change your life.
& the body is more than

a portion of night – sealed
with bruises. Suppose you woke

& found your shadow replaced
by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful

& gone. So you take the knife to the wall
instead. You carve & carve

until a coin of light appears
& you get to look in, at last,

on happiness. The eye
staring back from the other side –


“Oh yea, that would be lovely!”

Stretford Library

This week I went back to Stretford and gave out the poem ‘Hyphen’ by Glyn Maxwell, from his first book Tale of the Mayor’s Son (Bloodaxe, 1990). I saw the same librarian (Zach) again who said he’d liked the last poem: “keep ’em coming – I’m always here!” I also gave poems to quite a few happy faces, including an old man in a bright yellow t-shirt: “I’ll ‘av a look at it, lovely”.

My guest on ALL FM was Morgan Williams, a recently retired baker, who had a lot of ideas about the poem. We reminisced about the 90s and the Noughties, and together we broke through the rational structure of the numbers to something much more mushy and real.


That the third digit
of the year I live in
will never be 7,
will never be 6,

occurs to me this
lengthening Friday,
makes me think of
tomorrow and someone –

The second digit
will be a dark 9
then a clear 0.
The first digit

has always been 1,
will always be 2,
makes me think of
tomorrow and someone

adding a year
to the end of a hyphen, then
breaking for lunch
in the brilliant sunshine.


There are also a few radio shows that haven’t made it online until now because of technical difficulties!


Last week I had Moss Side based artist Ekua Bayunu on my show to talk about her residency at this year’s Pankhurst in the Park, and the poem ‘Seawater Stiffens Cloth’ by Jane Hirshfield.

Ekua – coincidentally a cloth expert! – found this poem uncomfortable, and not just the awkward grammar!

Seawater Stiffens Cloth

Seawater stiffens cloth long after it’s dried.
As pain after it’s ended stays in the body:
A woman moves her hands oddly
because her grandfather passed through
a place he never spoke of. Making
instead the old jokes with angled fingers.
Call one thing another’s name long enough,
it will answer. Call pain seawater, tree, it will answer.
Call it a tree whose shape of branches happened.
Call what branching happened a man
who job it was to break fingers or lose his own.
Call fingers angled like branches what peel and cut apples,
to give to a girl who eats them in silence, looking.
Call her afterward tree, call her seawater angled by silence.