Sunday 19 April 2020

Rory Waterman, "Sweet Nothings"

Rory Waterman was born in Belfast in 1981, grew up in rural Lincolnshire, and lives in Nottingham, where he is Senior Lecturer in English at Nottingham Trent University. He has a BA and a PhD from the Department of English at the University of Leicester. His first collection of poetry, Tonight the Summer's Over, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Prize. His second, Sarajevo Roses, was shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize for second collections. The poems featured below are taken from his third book, Sweet Nothings, published by Carcanet this month. He is also the author  of several books on modern poetry, and co-edits New Walk Editions. You can find out more about Rory and his work at

Sweet Nothings, his new collection, is about absences, how they tempt us, and sometimes what they make us do. An absence is a conjuration, not palpably present in longing, imagination or dream. We are lured on by absences, and how they call to us, in Thomas Hardy's memorable phrase. The poems sometimes come in sequences; always they are in dialogue with one another, responding, echoing - within and between the book's two sections. At times, the leitmotifs are apparently personal, exploring divisions and painful losses. But we also encounter the largely invented academic Dr Bob Pintle, promoted at work since his cameo in Waterman's previous book, an anti-hero of the modern university system. In this book we also find the zero football score, the zero scores in life's more significant conflicts, and an obverse: the desire to settle at nothing, or for nothing less than what life might offer. Sweet Nothings is in fact a book of hopes and passions - quiet and lyrical at times, but also fiercely witty and bold.

Until 28 May, you can get 25% off the cover price of the book at, if you enter the code WATERMAN25 at checkout.

Here are some poems from the collection:


          ‘We need to test harder whether we can take a young 18- or 19-year-old out of their 
          PlayStation bedroom, and put them into a Reaper cabin and say: “Right, you have 
          never flown an aircraft before. That does not matter, you can operate this.”’
- Air Marshal Greg Bagwell

18 or 19 – what was I doing then? 
Well, one day, I biked here 
to RAF Waddington’s ‘viewing point’, 

from where I saw no action –
called by the urgent Tornados
which had skimmed our village 

shocking pliant heads
at intervals of my childhood,
and must have come from somewhere.

Runway approach lights have switched on
and point skywards at nothing 
coming in. A pigeon. A slip of moon.

A screech owl would be too apposite. 
But I saw one once a mile from here,
on Bloxholm Lane. It stalled a moment, 

then beat on past the hedges
tall as houses, living its purpose
suddenly beyond range.

And who knows what they do 
in a concreted cube two hundred yards
behind wires and warning signs,

or who does it – or why
an inch from where it would have died
a sandfly fills its nest?

Grasses by the road 
dip like a million rods 
to a million tiny catches. A saloon

half a mile off indicates 
only to the clouding dusk,
slows to corner the perimeter

on a red route B road to home. 
Nothing to do but follow
at a generous distance.

First published in PN Review

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.

First published in the Times Literary Supplement

Re: Application

FAO Dr Bob Pintle
Senior Lecturer in Professional Creativity, Peterborough University

Dear Robert,
                    The Board regrets to inform
several colleagues, including you,
that your recent sabbatical applications
will not go forward, after review.

The panel felt that ‘Write some poems
I haven’t yet written, so it’s absurd
to say much else’ lacked requisite rigour.
We do ask for ‘No more than 2000 words’

but suitable answers require something close.
We advise you attend our ‘Winning Support for
Sabbaticals Workshop’, when places are open.
There are none at present. We’ll advertise more

when we secure funding. To raise an objection,
write to your Sub-Dean of Sub-Research. State
your grounds for appeal, in accordance with Guideline
11 6 2 (Staff Handbook, page 8).

Ensure your 4* REF Output Agreement
and book contract are both attached to the email,
with endorsements from two Student Reps and your Mentor,
and a piece of your heart. Should your first appeal fail,

we invite fresh applications each year,
though from March 2020, all will be screened
for written support from Lead Industry Partners
linked to our Strategy Goals. We are keen

to support your research. We value team players
and wish you every success going forward.
Lastly, I’m pleased, on a personal note,
to congratulate you on your Teaching Award

(Bronze.) Our Faculty Press Team will write
a blog post next week, and request you take part
in our new poster ad, so congratulations!
Dr Jim Jones
Dean, School of Arts

First published in Wild Court

Re: Re: Application

FAO Dr Jim Jones
Dean of Arts, Peterborough University

Hi Jim, Bob pecks, then deletes. Dear Jim, Oh YES!
I’ll write with that! Those sabbaticals: who got them?
And have those colleagues had thirteen precious years
on what you term ‘the front line’? Anyway, Cheers!
When I find time, I’ll thank you in a poem,
and place it in the fucking TLS.

I see you proclaim in your email signature line
you’re ‘often abroad and send out-of-hours emails,
but rarely expect instant replies to them.’ 
Well, Jim, tonight I marked till 10pm:
Rhetoric essays. I’d give your email a Fail,
you shite-backfilled and heaving cliché-mine.

On a personal note, how are the kids, you knob?
See much of them? Does Nanny wipe their arses?
And what are the call girls like out in Guangdong?
He sighs. Holds backspace till all his work is gone.
The cursor blinks along with his catharsis,
and he stabs Dear Jim, That’s excellent! Thanks. Bob.

First published in Wild Court

You can also watch Rory perform one of his poems here.

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