Sunday, 24 November 2019

Readings in Birmingham, Oxford and London

This coming week promises to be pretty busy: I'll be reading at Poetry Bites in Birmingham on Tuesday 26th November, where I'm the featured poet, followed by a headline slot at Poetry at Pembroke in Oxford the next evening (Wednesday 27th November) and topped off by our second Rogue Strands poetry reading in London on Thursday 28th November. I'd love to see you if you could make it along to one of these terrific events!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A poem by Neil Elder

Over the past three weeks, I've been posting a poem by each of the poets who'll be reading at the Rogue Strands event on 28th November (see Facebook page here like always), and this is now the final instalment. I do hope that these varied poems not only provide something of a snapshot of the U.K. scene, but also that they whet your appetite for what promises to be a terrific evening of poetry.

Neil Elder's our man today. His work is characterised by its clarity, understatement, keen observation and subtle juxtapositions that encourage his readers to reach their own conclusions, and this piece is no exception. Details are gradually layered, building up to a terrific ending that reverberates back to the beginning. That's always a sign of a top-notch poem...!


It was obvious he’d gone.
Twenty minutes later he emerged;
a year older (and an inch shorter),
for every minute he’d been before the boss.
Never seen a man so reduced.

For an hour he stood and stared at the car park.
Something had left him;
none of us knew what words to offer his shell.
Then Shivali asked if he’d still sort the Lottery
and Dave wondered if an office would be free.

The following week
hushed conversations stopped
whenever he came into the tea-room.
Might as well have rung a bell.
He ate alone, untouchable.

Then his desk was empty,
though his screensaver still showed
a picture from the Christmas do;
dressed as an elf with Leanne on his knee,
he always liked a laugh.

Emails arrived with the words rationalise,
downturn and downsize.
It was like a damp we couldn’t stop from spreading
and it seeped from his department into ours.
Just now HR Jenny smiled at me;
my appointment's Thursday, half-past three.

(First published in Acumen)

Monday, 18 November 2019

A poem by Clarissa Aykroyd

The poets I most admire tend to be the ones that don't follow trends, that are in this for the long haul, that don't have any choice but to be in this, that plough their own furrow. Suffice to say, Clarissa Aykroyd is one of those poets, which is why I'm so happy she'll be reading with us on 28th November (see Facebook page, blah, blah...).

Her poem today is sinuous. It's written in clear-cut language yet it hints at contradiction, ambiguity and ambivalence, dropping clues into the mix, layering them like the plot of a thriller...


This is the room. I am the client
who has waited for an hour.
The skull, the bullet holes, the files
are fading but the sound of footfalls
on the seventeen steps is clear.
This is the dream. I know
he can’t solve this, but I’m still here. 

(First published in Lighthouse)

Friday, 15 November 2019

A poem by Robin Houghton

I've long been a fan of Robin Houghton's poetry, which is why I'm very pleased she'll be reading with us at Rogue Strands on 28th November (see Facebook page here, etc, etc...). Moreover, today's poem provides us with an excellent example of what makes her work different.

This piece invokes thematic tensions - inner and outer, open and closed, animate and inanimate, city and country - and ramps them up via a subtle control of line endings and stanza breaks. All these qualities contribute to a deceptively profound, implicit meditation on life in one of the biggest capitals in the world...

30 St Mary Axe

Sun boots up from the ArcelorMittal
Orbit, swings a low arc to Wembley –
no place to hide when you're
this high.

The temperature inside is set fair. Inner
and outer airs kept apart. No-one
feels a draught or needs to breathe
in the city.

On rainy days you look from below
and it’s gone in a trick of the eye, enough
to tremble hearts, turn heads to check
for St Paul’s.

Its stories are etched from diamonds,
a thousand or more – its panes unable
to open, unlikely to break: strong
as a threat

so no-one inside may throw stones,
or listen for the honking of Barnacle geese
flying east in a V, or mistake the sky
for sea.

(An earlier version of this poem was first published in Brittle Star).

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A poem by Rishi Dastidar

When we read any poem, it's informed by the poet's job (even if that job involves teaching poetry!), but sometimes their working environment is especially relevant. I would argue that this is definitely Rishi Dastidar's case.

One of our featured poets at the Rogue Strands reading on 28th November (see Facebook page here), Dastidar works as a copywriter, which means he firstly has an eye for register and sentence structure, along with a keen awareness of their effect on the reader (both of these qualities are present in his verse). However, I would also argue that his obligatorily corseted use of language in his working life leads him to shake off those shackles when writing poetry, playing with register, rules and norms so as to reinvent the everyday and mundane, so as to challenge our received expectations, as in the poem I'm featuring today...

New planet who dis?

of course poems that start ‘oh this was a dream’ are dull but honestly this was a better than average one in that i dreamt it 38 years ago and i still not only remember it but carry it with me like a good luck charm though once i tell you about it you’ll more likely think of it as an amulet of doom         anyway           i must have just watched 2001 and you know how fucked up that – and so our future – is i digress but i’m pretty sure the film triggered the dream though at this distance who knows or cares right?       anyway           there i am floating about not space walking space drifting space mooching space loitering oh hold on i’ve remembered what might be a contributory factor / input strand to this dream reading a book of disasters – hang on what was a book of disasters doing in a school library i mean was it a conscious attempt at priming us that violence mayhem fate and the unpredictable alliance between all 3 and the resulting random outputs are the only constant in life so get used to it kids –    anyway           in this book was an account of how on their return from space some cosmonauts were incinerated because the hatch on their capsule didn’t shut properly and of course i should go to wiki to tell you more but this isn’t that kinda poem and right now i’m kinda out of love with footnotes i mean how much baggage am i actually meant to carry on this whole living trip anyway           i’m space loitering space hanging about when i start falling falling not dramatically with a flourish arms waving that kinda thing no more like the proverbial i say proverbial he did actually drop one didn’t he? stone pebble that Galileo dropped next to the feather like that straight down spirit level down plumb line down lift shaft down oh maybe Towering Inferno is somewhere in this mix too remember all the flames up the lift shaft making Faye Dunaway’s eyebrows shoot up      anyway           the point is down i’m going down and i’m going and going still inside the space suit no rotating or piking or somersaulting just arrow ramrod cannonball whatever sonic boom through all the wispy hair bits of the atmosphere not slowing down even though i know the physics says i am and not burning up either just a white heat Michelin Man with a body hoover and grudge and on and on even though it makes it sound endlessly slow which it wasn’t because then there is a desert no canyon type thing arid not sandy and definitely a cactus and land without leaving a mark on the ground not a trace a thud on impact a sound not a dust mote an atom disturbed and i pop the visor on my suit and find i have become a coyote hyena a wolf                  what you want a moral too? fuck off

(First published in Visual Verse)

Monday, 11 November 2019

A poem by Mat Riches

Apart from being the co-organiser of our upcoming Rogue Strands poetry reading on 28th November (see Facebook page, etc), Mat Riches is also an excellent poet. His work has made huge strides over the past two years, as has his consequent publishing record in high-quality magazines and journals. Riches is an example of a poet who's taken his time, found his own route and is now building a readership that seeks out his work.

Today's poem shows us why. It strikes an inimitable, idiosyncratic tone, flowing with a deceptive ease that's underpinned by a keen ear...


You find you’re carrying
a cairn in your pocket.

You’ve been to some hard places
before and found yourself

looking down on the rocks
you stole as talismans.

A bespoke quarrying,
they were transported home

in a pocket and turned
over and over, flipped

through fingers like gymnasts
looping round balance beams.

Before you pick your point
short of the horizon,

consider more than just
saving trouser linings.

Take careful aim, winding
up and back, then release

to watch each brief puncture
and skip away lightly.

(First published at the Poetry Shed)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A poem by Katy Evans-Bush

We tried to get Katy Evans-Bush on board for the inaugural Rogue Strands poetry reading, but a clash of dates meant that she was unable to make it. I was therefore delighted when we managed to sign her up for the second one on 28th November (see Facebook event here!).

Katy is charismatic. She's charismatic in person, in conversation and in how she reads her poems in public (I very much enjoyed hearing her when we both read at an Ambit launch a few years ago), but she's also charismatic on the page, and very few poets are capable of such a leap. Her lines brim with life, brio and elan, all in all a class act, as demonstrated by today's poem:

To the Sea Party

Go that far down and you’re moving through night:
you part the world’s lead-liquid atmosphere
thick with death and shit and flakings from above –
last particles of oxygen gasp and implode –
and see nothing. You’re blacked out past your red,
your bluey-grey, your scales or skin or frond.
Passing squid provide your only outerwear,
from who can say where.

Further down, the smaller crustaceans wear their day.
Phosphorescence flashes while they dance
like Gatsby in colour and never stop. The noctiluca
form in tiny shining swarms and are both canapé
and Chinese lantern. It’s their party. Down here
you eat the prey that shines, while you shine on your prey.

First published in Broken Cities (Smith-Doorstep, 2017).

Sunday, 3 November 2019

A poem by Rory Waterman

I first met Rory Waterman in 2011 when we both read at a Days of Roses event in London (organised by Declan Ryan). If his reading that evening is anything to go by, then we're in for a treat at the Rogue Strands event on 28th November (see Facebook for more details), where he'll be one of our featured poets. Suffice to say, I was delighted when he accepted our invite!

Waterman stands out among the poets of his generation in the U.K. not only for his awareness of form and his technical control but for how lightly he wears them. His use of language is so natural that the reader is carried along by the cadences of his lines without any need for extraneous resource or recourse. 

His poem today, first published in the Times Literary Supplement, provides us with a terrific example of Rory Waterman's art:

Where to Build

I never thought I’d have a home
but then I’d built one up from the bay,
a shrub-scrubbed cleft half-hiding it,
a plunging stream behind the grate

and locals pointed up, or down,
to where I lived beside myself
for years, with all I’d wanted most,
building a greenhouse, annexe, shelves,

and made it all I knew to want
and drowned the voice that said I don’t
with all I’d always done for this
and grew tomatoes, seed to light

and ate them, happily, every night,
and fixed the leak that drew the rain
and fixed it when it sprung again.
Well, I knew of rock across the bay –

a skerry? – green-topped, curving round
to out of sight behind near rock.
But rain set in, the endless rain,
and through the sheet of endless cloud

a jet of sudden light cracked down
across that further hunk of land,
which glimmered ginger. And it stayed
for seconds, minutes, hours, days,

the whole life of my house away.

Friday, 1 November 2019

A poem by Ramona Herdman

I've been a fan of Ramona Herdman's excellent poetry for several years, but I wasn't aware of just how good she is at reading it until I attended the HappenStance event at StAnza last March, where she was exceptional. As a consequence, she went straight on our hit list when Mat Riches and myself started discussing the line-up for the forthcoming Rogue Strands reading in London on 28th November (see Facebook page here, plug, plug, plug...!), and we were delighted when she agreed to feature.

Moreover, the poem she's sent as a taster of her work is also top-notch. It represents so much of what makes her work special. Her control of line-endings and stanzas is delicate, working in perfect tandem with the build-up of semantic tension. And then there's her treatment of the contents themselves: this is highly personal poetry but never confessional in tone, and its emotional impact is consequently greater...

‘Wake up: time to die’
(Blade Runner)

It’s supposed to be digitally remastered
but it’s pixellated to shit still, luscious
city smog, rain, light blare like morning mist.

The year my father knew he was dying,
every film turned out to be about death.

Blade Runner the worst: built-in
obsolescence and a four year life-span
in the near-distant future of 2019.

I must have watched it yearly since
and every time Harrison Ford gets younger.

I don’t remember whether dad liked it
but every time Rutger Hauer dies for our sins,
too perfect to imagine, I think of watching it
with him: the oxygen tank, the tipping

chair the NHS lent him and how that year
he was too ill for his lifetime trip to India
so watched TV all day. I don’t care

if Deckard is a replicant or not.
I just hope he makes it to the mountains.

This evening, I am grateful to watch
yet another Director’s Cut, to wonder
at Pris (your standard pleasure model),

Daryl Hannah‘s tender immortal quarter-
century inner thighs – self-sustaining miracles.

I am grateful that you are here
again to snicker with me when Deckard fails again
to persuade anyone that he’s still quit,
to toast life as it is and still being part of it.

(First published in Under the Radar)