Friday 29 October 2021

Julia Bird, "is, thinks Pearl"


Julia Bird grew up in Gloucestershire and now lives in London, where she works for the Poetry Society and as an independent literature producer and promoter at Jaybird Live Literature. She has two poetry collections with Salt – Hannah and the Monk (2008) and Twenty-four Seven Blossom (2013) – and Now You Can Look, an illustrated poetry pamphlet, was published by The Emma Press in 2017. 

You can read a review of Now You Can Look on Everybody's Reviewing here. Julia's website is here.

About is, thinks Pearl, by Julia Bird

Step into Pearl’s world and take a tour around her faded seaside town, past the graffiti walls, bus stops and the old mattress factory. Except – with Pearl as our guide – the colours suddenly pop and every tiny detail becomes rich with interest. From the lido to the hair salon, to the Christmas shop in June, the ordinary becomes magical and every bit of wildness, weirdness and tattiness is whisked into the foreground.

“Pearl” is an alter ego of the poet: she’s a character who observes the minutiae around her and whose thoughts are a pleasure to follow. This pamphlet follows Pearl as she rollicks around, making her way through a townscape similar but not identical to the too-small-to-be-cities of poet Julia Bird’s 70s & 80s childhood.

From is, thinks Pearl

Helium Pearl

The man who stands all day in the high street
selling helium balloons is, thinks Pearl,
weighed down by the cumulus of gas and foil
capping low above his head. The drag on him
of a hundred fat cartoons tugging their leads
like young dogs: what if he doesn’t sell out,
what if his mate doesn’t show when he said
he would - how could he herd this tangling
and bumbling stock to a sandwich or a coffee shop?
Pearl knows that even one small silver pup,
its two dimensions startled into three, will not
sit still in the changing room, sit still on the bus:
it only wants to drop and dive back to the sun.
Pearl thinks that, when the time comes, this
is what it might be like to mourn, to tie each
elevating death with a ribbon to your wrist
and feel its unexpected weight every time a door
revolves, or you’re at the cinema in a front seat,
or you’re putting on or you’re taking off your coat.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Alexandros Plasatis (ed.), et al, "the other side of hope"

By Alexandros Plasatis

the other side of hope is a UK-based literary magazine edited by refugees and immigrants. We publish fiction and poetry by immigrants and refugees, and non-fiction, book reviews, and author interviews by anyone as long as the subject matter sheds light on migration.

We do not charge submission fees and we pay our contributors. For our first print issue we offered £100 per contributor, and for our forthcoming online issue we offered £50 per contributor. For writers who are seeking asylum and have no bank accounts, we offered the same amount as a gift card. 

Our first print issue has now been published, and features refugee and immigrant writers from around the world. The reader of the magazine will find prose and poetry about our hopes, dreams, fears, realities, nostalgia, trauma, about our accents, our laughter, and what home truly means. The cover image is an original artwork by George Sfougaras. Our first print issue includes: 

  • Fiction by Qin Sun Stubis, a Chinese immigrant living in Washington DC, Radhika Maira Tabrez, whose home is split between Delhi, Dhaka and Penang, Marina Antropow Cramer, born in Germany, the child of Russian refugees from the Soviet Union, who emigrated with her family to the United States, Madalena Daleziou, a Greek writer living in Glasgow, J.B. Polk, Polish by birth, a citizen of world by choice, and Musembi Wa’ Ndaita, a Kenyan writer based in Philadelphia.
  • Poetry by Atar Hadari, an immigrant, Bingh, a refugee from Vietnam who lives in the US, Kimia Etemadi, who moved from Iran to England as a baby with her mother, who fled political persecution, Amer Raawan, a Syrian refugee who lives in London, Middle Eastern Women’s Friendship Group, a group of refugee women writers who live in Edinburgh, Alberto Quero, who fled Venezuela and now lives in Canada, Flower, who arrived in the UK from Africa and was held at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and Bänoo Zan, an Iranian immigrant who lives in Canada.
  • Non-fiction by Dan Alex, who arrived in the UK from Eastern Europe, Murzban F. Shroff, who lives in India, Jhon Sánchez, a Colombian-born writer who arrived in New York seeking political asylum, and Sahra Mohamed, a Somalian immigrant who lives in London.
  • Book reviews by Lucy Popescu and Kathryn Aldridge-Morris.

The magazine can be ordered from the website here

Our first print and forthcoming online issues were made possible with National Lottery funding through Arts Council England. We are thankful for the financial support from ArtReach, and the continuous support from Journeys Festival International, the annual refugee arts festival taking place in Leicester, Manchester and Portsmouth. We are grateful for the support of our patrons, A. M. Dassu and Lord Alf Dubs.

We hope that people will get a copy of the magazine and that they will enjoy reading it. For those who can’t afford to buy it, we will publish an online issue that will be free to read on our website, and will feature different immigrant and refugee writers from around the world.  

About the editors

Founding & Lead Editor Alexandros Plasatis is an immigrant who writes fiction in English, his second language. His first book, Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness: A Novel in Stories (Spuyten Duyvil, 2021), is shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. Stories from this book have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net. His work has been published in US, UK, Indian and Canadian magazines and anthologies. He has a PhD in ethnography-based Creative Writing, lives in Bolton, and works with displaced and homeless people.

Fiction Editor Hansa Dasgupta is an Indian writer. She has authored Letters to my Baby, The World Beyond and After the Storm. Her short stories, articles and chapters have been published online as well as in various journals, anthologies, books and magazines in India, UK and in the States. Some of her short stories, short films, short scripts, and feature length screenplays have been shortlisted, nominated and won awards over the years, including nomination for the Culture and Heritage Award.

Poetry Editor Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi activist, academic and poet. She has a Masters degree in Arabic Literature from Kufa University in Iraq. She is currently undertaking an MA in the Politics of Conflict and Violence at the University of Leicester. Her debut poetry collection, Birds Without Sky: Poems from Exile (Harriman House Ltd, 2018), was longlisted for the Leicester Book of the Year award in 2018. 

Non-Fiction Editor Maria Rovisco is Associate Professor in Sociology at the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds, UK. She has research interests in cosmopolitanism, new activisms, citizenship, migrant and refugee arts, and visual culture. Among her recent publications is Taking the Square: Mediated Dissent and Occupations of Public Space (2016). She is currently writing a book on cosmopolitanism, art and the political imagination, and co-editing a book on visual politics in the Global South.

Interviews and Reviews Editor Rubina Bala was born in Albania just after the fall of the country’s Communist regime and grew up through a chaotic political scene that has shaped her passion for writing and ensuring the right stories are told. She then immigrated to the UK where she completed a first-class degree in Creative Writing and Journalism. Since then she has worked as an interpreter for asylum seekers as well as participating in writing projects in marginalised communities.

Design & Art Director Olivier Llouquet is a French visual ethnographer, designer and filmmaker, based in Nottingham. He studied in Freie Universität Berlin and conducted a year-long ethnographic research in Leicester, engaging with refugees and asylum seekers through creative projects and filmmaking.

From the other side of hope, issue 1

To the Editors*  
By Bänoo Zan

If my poem glorifies Islam
you accept it—
but if it critiques my fellow Muslims
you reject it

If it invites sympathy for the displaced 
you publish it—
but if it exposes violence in immigrant communities 
you reject it

If it denounces a Western politician 
you feature it—
but if it denounces the dictator in my home country
you reject it

In your pages
My religion is perfect
My community is perfect
My country is perfect

You exercise 
self-critique—the authentic critique—
but deny me the same right 

No one is healed
by claiming they are healthy 
and have the lie taken for truth

No community is perfect—
neither yours nor mine—

I wonder how long it will take
for my people to question our ways—
to stop murdering, torturing, raping ourselves—
to stop oppressing ourselves—
to stop our unending exodus 
to your part of the word—

only to be told
we cannot criticize ourselves

Meanwhile, dictators
sincerely thank you
for your support 

*Note: many North American and Western literary magazines have disclaimers to the following effect on their submission pages: ‘We do not publish work that includes racism, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, etc.’ 

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Myra Schneider, "Siege and Symphony"


Myra Schneider has had ten full collections of poetry published. The most recent one is Siege and Symphony, in Autumn 2021. Other publications include pamphlets of poetry, books about personal writing, notably Writing My Way through Cancer (Jessica Kingsley, 2003) and Writing Your Self with John Killick (Continuum, 2008). She has also had three novels for young people from Heinemann. Her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3. In 2007 she was shortlisted for a Forward prize. She is consultant to the Second Light Network for women poets, has co-edited anthologies of women’s poetry and she has been a poetry tutor since the late 1990s, mainly for The Poetry School. Her website is here.

About Siege and Symphony, by Myra Schneider

The main theme of Siege and Symphony is celebration and endurance. This is reflected in the long title poem, which draws on original sources to write about the hardship people suffered in the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War and Shostakovich writing his 7th Leningrad symphony. The poem concludes with a section about the symphony being performed in the city by a depleted orchestra in the middle of the siege. The main theme is further explored in the first part of the book in poems about the state of the planet, and also later in the book in personal poems, poems about other contemporary issues such as homelessness, and poems about women. 

From Siege and Symphony

Let Us

throw open splattered windows 
and allow light to stream into rooms, 
not shine dimmed to a sullen grey
by a skyful of cloud, not the mean rays
of reason which enumerate facts and faults,
kill compassion and make us hide fears 
in cupboard dark, not bright beams
chilled by hatred with more bite
than the east wind – 
                                 none of these. Let us
open ourselves to today’s unstinting light.
It’s bringing the warmth of ripe apricot skins, 
the happy go lucky orange of marigolds,  
the clarity of extra virgin olive oil,
the glory of sun alighting on the waters
of Chania.
                Look, it’s kindled the kitchen walls 
and awakened cushions in the living room
so let us breathe – let us breathe it in 
as it glides up the stairs, smiles 
on worn carpets, calms worried beds.
Listen, it sounds like bees murmuring 
to the rampant brambles out in the garden.

Becoming Plastic

The morning starts with a tiresome battle to slit 
and peel skin that fits smoothly as a seal’s.
It’s encasing two tubs of vitamin capsules 

but my fingers can’t find leverage and anger 
blazes as the sleek containers continue to cling
in their see-through wrapping like inseparable lovers.

Nowadays, everything arrives cosied in plastic: 
sultanas, tissues, pears, jumpers, knickers, 
the mattress that was tricky to manoeuvre upstairs,

those newly-erected six-storey flats I scanned
yesterday as I walked over Regent’s Canal, each
swaddled in the stuff as if it couldn’t cope with rain.

In the night I dreamt I struggled through a wild sea 
to an island of unrotted rubbish and weakling palms.
A sound of laboured breathing rose from the debris

and I knew plant roots underneath were striving 
to survive. A dead grouper stared from a pram
which had lost all its wheels, someone screamed.

I turned, was just in time to see a woman 
on a bed with legs parted and a midwife plucking
from her womb a baby sheathed in plastic sheeting.

Monday 25 October 2021

Catherine Rogers, "Element"


Catherine Rogers is a co-director of Haarlem Artspace. She ran her own creative business for several years before working in arts development and local government. At Haarlem Artspace she is researching the practice of storytelling as a method of curating  as well as writing short stories. Some of these have made their way into collections, including the award-winning Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, edited by Jonathan Taylor for Salt Publishing. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

About Element, by Catherine Rogers

Element is a collection of short stories written by Catherine Rogers, inspired by Haarlem Artspace artists. It is the second publication from Haarlem Artspace following Woven/Ground by Geoff Diego Litherland published in 2020. Haarlem Artspace is not just a building, it is a community of fascinating individuals who change year on year. These stories are an attempt to capture an essence of their stories and the story the space holds. The wonderful artists whose work is featured are people who have shared fragments of their own stories, inspirations, motivations that make them who they are. The weavings that have come from this sharing are an attempt at an abstract form of storytelling - with one exception, the story that is the element of air, which is from the artist Chantal Powell and is her own creation. 

You can see more information about Element here. Below, you can read an extract from the book

From Element

Under Earth

Under her bare feet, seeds swelled in the furrows. She brushed her hands over the vines in the fields, and they responded quivering, knowing the weight of the fruit they would soon bear. Shimmering in the sun, the grass heads waved their purple feathered plumage in gentle greeting. Swallows dipped and darted around her, chattering all the while as the bees passed, noisily going about their business. The young goddess breathed in the sweet heady air of the summer sun and baked earth, gathering into a posy the papery scarlet poppies, forked purple cornflower tongues, delicate queen’s lace with peppered foxtail, haloed plantain, sweet vernal and cocksfoot grasses. Her skin connected to each cellulose fibre, and she felt the spongy warmth and hum of the land vibrating with life.

As she made her way through the fields, the hum grew deeper and the vibrations began to shudder through her body, into her knees, then her hips and up to her breasts and shoulders. Her heart was beating faster and faster, when all of a sudden, the earth beside her cracked like a huge stone in a hot fire. It created a wide mouth with its craggy teeth of unearthed rocks showering soil like breadcrumbs, sending the creatures who hide from the light scuttling for cover as the cavernous hole opened wider.

Then from the darkness poured a river of fiery larva carrying with it a golden chariot pulled by winged creatures with scaled skin, spiky horns, and sooty snouts breathing fire. Driving the chariot was the king of the underworld with his dark flowing hair and eyes burning with the blue heart of a furnace. She felt her entire body open when he spoke, his voice unused to shaping words in her tongue,  

‘Glorious goddess, come and join me as my underworld queen. I offer you my people, my life, my home which is as different as it can be, but as wondrous as this. I have watched you wandering the fields and seen your tender caress of the earth and I know you have what my people need, and what I most desire. I hope that I can offer you something that is equal and as powerful in return. My love for you is intense, as deep as the darkest canyon and with it comes the power to heal the broken and lost. This is what I offer to you in return for your hand.’

She stood still, weighing up the enormity of the moment and answered, ‘This is my home, I cannot imagine a life without the sky, the clouds, and the fields. So, charioteer, tell me about your world, your people, and their stories and I will come with you for a time.’

He then told her his stories and his people’s stories, he told her about death, destruction and transformation. He painted for her the mysteries and hidden depths, the wheel and cycle of all life and death. As he took her on this magnificent journey she knew somehow this was her path, her heart longed for the otherness of this world and the clouds and fields became memories in her dreams.

Above, her mother wandered the earth in despair, looking for news of her daughter. She came to the goddess of the night, of magic and witchcraft, the guardian of the past, the present and the future. The night goddess described to what she had witnessed.

‘As the world turns and the sun grows weaker in the northern hemisphere, the air crisp and the ground colder, your daughter is with her husband in the belly of the earth. She rules as queen of the underworld and of the dead. She was out in the golden fields gathering flowers when the god of the underworld came in his chariot and offered her his love. The earth roared apart and she took his hand, stepped into his chariot and the earth enveloped them both. I watched from my gathering place as the meeting took place and witnessed the fire between them. This is the story of how it was and how it is. I will journey to the underworld to carry your wishes to your daughter and bring you news of what will be.’

The witch prepared herself for the journey to the underworld, a passage she took often enough. She carried a scarf for the younger goddess, woven from fine hedgerow cobwebs and shining with dew pearls and rosebay down. Into it she whispered her secret, the stories of their ancestry passing from goddess to goddess. The frosts were already in the fields as she set out making her way to the caves with their luminous lichen eyes to guide her on her quest. Her familiars accompanied her as she travelled to the court of  the underworld deities, where she was welcomed and respected. 

The underworld queen immediately wrapped her mother’s gift around her, and the memories of the earth and its abundance flooded her senses. Mourning the loss of her old life she asked the dark goddess to tell her what she saw in the future. She brought out a leather skinned bronze pomegranate and with a sharp knife split its skin, the juice dropping to the stone floor like blood from a gaping wound. She pulled the two halves apart to reveal its jewelled seeds perfectly encased in their ruby settings. Her hands now covered with juice, she squeezed the seeds into a bowl which she offered to the queen, who in turn took out six. The witch closed her eyes and spoke,

‘The six seeds are the six months of the year you will be together, mother and daughter, nurturing the earth and bringing new life as the Spring and Summer. Then you will  return to the underworld, bringing the Autumn and Winter to the earth above. As the wheel turns, there will be these Seasons.’

As the witch saw it, so it was and so it is. The queen left the underworld and as she stepped above ground her skirts swept the bleached bones of the wintered lands bringing the brush of acid greens and pinks as the Spring came forth. The earth had rested and from its dormancy new life was now shining. Her mother opened her arms wide with joy at the return of her daughter. Her loss had almost overtaken her, but eventually she had slept with the earth, fasting in her winter hibernation. Now she unfurled with the ferns and danced in the growing season.

Then just as Spring had arrived so came Summer with its abundant green and the days long and hot. The earth became dusty and the bees lazy, so it was time for the queen to return once again to the under earth, to her husband and her people. On her return there was such partying, a mycelium feast, a myriad of fireworks and the pulsing hypnotic beats from the core of the earth. The partying lasted many days and nights, and being underground, there was no beginning and no end, just a looping continuum of making and unmaking until it was time for the wheel to turn once again.

Friday 22 October 2021

I.M. Julie Boden, 1960-2021

By Jonathan Taylor

On Tuesday 28 September 2021, much-loved Midlands poet, performer and literary advocate Julie Boden passed away, following a long illness. 

Julie was born in Sutton Coldfield in 1960. She worked as a teacher, Creative Advisor and then full-time poet. At various times, she was Birmingham Poet Laureate, Director of Poetry Central, Poet in Residence at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, a Director of Warwick Words Festival, Founder of the Oasis Café Theatre and a Fellow of Hawthornden. As a passionate spokesperson for poetry, she toured and performed nationally and internationally, nurturing and promoting the work of hundreds of other writers, of all ages and experience. She organised and ran workshops, readings, events, lectures, poetry competitions, and interdisciplinary collaborations – between, for example, musicians and writers. 

Julie’s poetry is musical, emotive, humorous and approachable, with a wide range and appeal. Almost uniquely, it manages to ‘sing’ both in performance and on the page, in the reader’s mind’s-ear. Her books included Beyond the Bullring (2001), Cut on the Bias (2002), Through the Eye of a Crow (2003), Wasted Lives (2003) and Bluebeard’s Wife (2005). She edited and co-edited five anthologies, including Bluebeard’s Wives (2007), with Zoë Brigley. A selection of her poetry, entitled Aheenthi, was translated into Gujarati by Adam Godiwala and published in India in 2006. Her poems and articles were widely published at home and abroad, and featured on BBC Radio and TV. 

 As well as her own work, Julie will be remembered for her enthusiasm, kindness, humour and unique ability to communicate those qualities to others. She enthused everyone who she met about poetry, and fostered new connections and collaborations between hundreds of artists. She will be hugely missed by all whose lives she touched. Like so many other writers in the region, I was lucky enough to call her a friend. Thoughts are with her son and daughter.

Here are two beautiful poems she wrote for children:

Happy Day

Today is a good day
A yellow day
A golden sparkling silky day.
A smile day
A play day
A let’s jump up and sing day.
A chocolate day
A strawberry day
A birdsong all day long day.
A cuddling your pet day
A never to forget day
A feeling like a Queen day.
A warm glow in my tummy day
A ‘Look how good you’ve been!’ day
An everybody loves you day
A yellow day
A shining day
A good to be Alive day.

Sad Day

Today is
A sad day
A dark day
A bad day
A grey day.
A bleak day
A weak day
A coarse hair blanket scratchy day.
A broccoli day
A rainy day
A something in your eye day.
A bad egg day
A lemon day
A nothing in my tummy day
A porcupine to touch day
A creeping down the stair day
A whisper to my bear day
A grey day, a sad day
A please give me a hug day.

Thursday 21 October 2021

Pete Green, "Hemisphere"

Pete Green is a poet and musician who writes about place and identity, finitude, coastlines, cities and landscape change, trains, birds, and sleeping on someone's floor after playing a gig in another city. Their new short book Hemisphere and pamphlet Sheffield Almanac are published by Longbarrow Press, and their poetry has also appeared (or is scheduled to) in Under the Radar, the Fenland Poetry Journal, Stand, Anthropocene and elsewhere. Pete was longlisted in the 2020 National Poetry Competition and shortlisted for the 2019 Brotherton Poetry Prize. They live in Sheffield on the side of a very steep hill. Visit Pete's website at and follow @petenothing on social.

About Hemisphere, by Pete Green

Hemisphere is a long poem in a short book, telling the story of a circular voyage which proceeds from the Hebrides around the north Atlantic, Alaska and Siberia, then finally back to Europe. Along the way the protagonist visits a doomsday seed vault, a giant qwerty keyboard, a boundary between Tuesday and Wednesday, the world's largest island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island, two pubs and an Arctic coffee bar. 

These are all real locations on an impossible journey. Ultimately Hemisphere is a sort of meta-travel narrative which poses questions about who has permission to practise place writing, and explores the power of imagination to push back against our ongoing personal lockdowns. 

You can read more about Hemisphere on the publisher's website here. You can watch a short trailer for the book here:

Below, you can read an excerpt from the book.

From Hemisphere

43°06’43”N 131°52’55”E

Was it a crash or a signal failure? Was it
the whim of some fastidious ambassador
that bore you here? Was it that metallic
clang, unexplained, that rang out between
the islands at the Bering Strait’s midpoint
like the song of a valley floor steelworks?
A deleted vault at the radar’s perimeter
fence? Whatever. Your hand is returning
to your jacket’s inside pocket, where your
ticket radiates assurance. Steel blue-clad
officials have already trooped the length
of your carriage several times; their gaze
interrogates the space you occupy, as if
you are not there. Across the aisle, though,
a woman’s complexion is fresh snowfall;
her eyes are feline, opalescent, much like
Kate’s, and they watch you checking out
the space. Your seeming aplomb prevails.
Your research’s thoroughness outweighs
all the Transsiberian-based thrillers where
naïve westerners are doomed to succumb
to menace or the mere threat of menace,
but you were caught out by the railways’
adherence nationwide to Moscow time
which, at this longitude, gave seven hours
to contemplate the famous hipped roof
of the station, the massive red characters
of its Владивосток sign, their unwieldy
ornateness, the earthenware flagstones
brought from Japan, painstaking mosaics
of berries, fruit and horsemen – all of it
biography of Russia, layered narratives of
regimes, of reinventions and revisionisms,
the wool that’s tugged down over eyes,
the emollient layers of pearl that cancel
disagreeable grains. You know the power
of opalescent eyes, of vodka, of people’s
own readiness to swallow what is served.
For you the cracks appeared back when
the bankers tanked the whole shebang
and chancellors and governors discreetly
summoned bailout billions from the ether
with mouse clicks and commands while
the clinic closed its doors on you during
that fragile first trimester. The ticket man
comes through from the first-class coach;
with him the notion of an upgrade, using
a little quantitative easing of your own.
You imagine requesting the kitten-eyed
woman to join you, knowing full well
that for better or for worse you will do
no such thing – and that’s one more life
thrown under one more cancelled train
of thought. So was it a crash or a failed
signal? Was it one more hardware glitch?
Your vigilance will bear you on through
Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, the room’s perishing
cold account for Omsk, Novosibirsk, and
the frustrated force of all your bloody-
mindedness can see you through the rest.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Kim Moore, "All the Men I Never Married"

Kim Moore’s pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2011 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition. Her first collection The Art of Falling (Seren 2015) won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second collection All The Men I Never Married was published by Seren in 2021. Her first non-fiction book What The Trumpet Taught Me will be published by Smith/Doorstop in March 2022. Kim is originally from Leicester. Her website is here

About All the Men I Never Married

This eagerly awaited second collection of poems from Kim Moore is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

From All the Men I Never Married, by Kim Moore

No. 32.

You lived there for a week, in a country
you will not give a name to, not because 
of what happened there, but because
you do not want this story to be changed
into a story of a country, you want it to be
the story of a man, or one-night-of-a-man, 
a story of a hotel, or maybe the story of a lift,
the faded carpet, mirrors on every wall, 
and his insistence, standing too close 
and smiling, both of you pretending 
you’re good friends, maybe this is the story 
of the corridor, how he asked you 
where your room was, and you, stupid,
stupid, said down there and even pointed
and maybe this translated to follow me
to the room with birds fluttering behind 
the walls, the room with birds living 
between the walls, the room of curtains, 
heavy, floor-length, blocking all the light, 
the corners where nobody cleaned, 
dust and the dead battery of a wasp, 
you said my room is down there and then
kept walking, put your key in the lock 
and he was right behind you, you felt
his breath on your neck so you turned
and put your hand on his chest
which may have looked like an invitation
except you were pushing, pushing him back,
who knows if you said no or if you said
I want to go to sleep or if you said both
but when you backed through the door
and slammed it closed, you remember it felt rude 
to shut a door like that, so close to his face,
your heart beating in your chest
as if you’d been running very fast,
you remember thinking you were lucky,
luck got you out of it again, you sank
to your knees in the room of the birds,
you told yourself it was nothing 
though it felt like something very bad
had almost happened, you swore
this would never happen to you 
in silence and stillness again.

Monday 18 October 2021

Robert Hamberger, "A Length of Road: Finding Myself in the Footsteps of John Clare"


Robert Hamberger has been shortlisted and highly commended for Forward prizes, appearing in the Forward Book of Poetry 2020. He has been awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship; his poetry has been featured as the Guardian Poem of the Week and in British, American, Irish and Japanese anthologies. He has published six poetry pamphlets and four full-length collections. Blue Wallpaper (published by Waterloo Press) was shortlisted for the 2020 Polari Prize. His prose memoir with poems A Length of Road: Finding Myself in the Footsteps of John Clare was published by John Murray in summer 2021. His website is here.  

About A Length of Road: Finding Myself in the Footsteps of John Clare, by Robert Hamberger

In 1841 the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare escaped from an asylum in Epping Forest, where he had been for four years, and walked over eighty miles home to Northamptonshire. Struggling with his mental health, Clare was attempting to return to his idealised first love, Mary, unaware that she had died three years earlier.

In 1995, with his life in crisis and his own mental health fragile, Robert decided to retrace Clare’s route along the Great North Road in a punishing four-day journey. As he walked he reflected on the changing landscape and on the evolving shape of his own family, on fatherhood and masculinity, and on the meaning of home.

Part memoir, part nature writing, part literary criticism – with original poetry – A Length of Road is a lyrical exploration of class, gender, grief and sexuality through the author’s own experiences and through the autobiographical writing of John Clare. 


From A Length of Road

I suddenly find Clare’s milestone:


in chiselled and black-painted letters on a thigh-high pale stone pillar. Nettles and goosegrass surround its base, edging the tarmac walkway. I yank away the stems of an elderflower bush to uncover its face, like it could be an honoured monument. A line of ants is tracking across its foot. Its crown is spattered by a few mustard medallions of lichen, and a rod of iron must be staked through its centre, as I pick at a small black button that won’t budge. I rest my back against it and reread Clare’s account, to make sure it’s the one he mentioned. His journal carries a footnote: On searching my pockets after the above was written I found part of a newspaper vide ‘Morning Chronicle’ on which the following fragments were pencilled ... Wednesday – Jacks Hill is passed already consisting of a beer shop and some houses on the hill appearing newly built – the last Mile stone 35 Miles from London. In fact 34 is carved, but what’s a mile between friends? I feel certain Clare paused here to scribble that note. He couldn’t stop writing, even through his exhaustion, and pencil on a scrap of newsprint would suffice. 

I snap a photo like a tourist, lay my palm on stone for blessing. I imagine it, every midnight, spelling its message to foxes and whoever else may be passing. Whereas I’m usually hobbling behind Clare in the long shadow he’s cast, for this minute stopped at a marker where I’m sure he stood in 1841, our shadows briefly cross.

Friday 15 October 2021

Alison MacLeod, "Tenderness"

Alison MacLeod, photograph by Kate MacLeod

Alison MacLeod is the author of the novels The Changeling, The Wave Theory of Angels and Unexploded, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, and two story collections. Her new novel is Tenderness. She is the joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer's Award 2016. Her work has been awarded the Olive Cook Award, shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award, the Sunday Times EFG International Short Story Award, the Edge Hill Prize and Canada's Governor General’s Award for Fiction. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester and lives in Brighton. Here website is here.

About Tenderness, by Alison MacLeod

D. H. Lawrence is dying. Exiled in the Mediterranean, he dreams of the past. There are the years early in his marriage during the war, where his desperation drives him to commit a terrible betrayal. And there is a woman in an Italian courtyard, her chestnut hair red with summer.

Jacqueline Kennedy and her husband have already been marked out for greatness. Passing through New York, she slips into a hearing where a book, not a man, is brought to trial.

A young woman and a young man meet amid the restricted section of a famous library, and make love.

Scattered and blown by the winds of history, their stories are bound together, and brought before the jury. On both sides of the Atlantic, society is asking, and continues to ask: is it Obscenity – or is it Tenderness?

From Tenderness

The dead could look after the afterwards, but here, here was the quick of the universe: the town lifted from sleep in a vast net of light, and the Mediterranean, five miles away at Cagnes, flickering like a great opal. He’d woken early and had watched the dark gravity of the night yield to daybreak. Now the streets were a mirage, half-dissolved in the dazzle of morning. Even the town’s ancient walls were erased, while a barking dog in the road below was more bark than dog. On the balcony, among the geraniums, he squinted: the coastline as far as the Cap d’Antibes shook and shimmered. It was impossible to say where sea turned to sky. The smudge of an ocean-liner materialised at what might have been the horizon, while light streamed – the run-off from the warp and weft of the world. Nothing the day touched remained solid, nothing held, nothing except the geraniums and their defiant fists of red.

The previous day, upright in his underwear in the medical bay, the exile had learned that he was, even still, five feet nine inches tall, or that he was when the state of his lungs allowed him to straighten. He would have been cheered by this fact had he not weighed in at forty-five kilos on the French scales, and one hundred pounds on the imperial – or not quite seven stone. He had insisted on both scales, but the two nations were agreed.

It meant at least that he could go, almost literally, where the wind blew him. The almond trees of the town were a pink-and-white froth of blossom. The breeze, slight as it was, had a reviving salt tang. He needed only his hat and shoes. ‘Are we ready?’ he called into the room.

Thursday 7 October 2021

Andrew Taylor, "Not There - Here"

Andrew Taylor is a Nottingham based poet, editor and critic. He has published three collections of poetry with Shearsman Books: Radio Mast Horizon (2013), March (2017) and Not There - Here (2021). Pamphlets of work include Silo (Red Ceilings Press, 2021), at first it felt flying, with Charlie Baylis (Indigo Dreams, 2019) and The 140s (Leafe Press, 2018). He has collaborated with musician Nick Power, Lowdeine Chronicles (erbacce-Press, 2019), and is currently working collaboratively with Welsh based artist Julie Jones. He is the author of Adrian Henri: A Critical Reading (Greenwich Exchange, 2019) and is currently editing two volumes of Peter Finch’s Collected Poems (Seren, 2022). He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. His website is here

About Not There - Here

Continuing the themes of travel explored in his previous Shearsman collections, Radio Mast Horizon (2013) and March (2017), Andrew Taylor takes the reader from England into pre- and post-Brexit Europe, negotiating the arrival of the nightingale, European breakfasts, fast trains into Paris, and the ‘beautiful drift’ of weaving grasses. The reader is treated to the minimalist notion of moments in time alongside the traversing of travelators in Montparnasse and the intricacies of the 280-character form.

From Not There - Here, by Andrew Taylor


lookalike smiles
the first offering of the day

it’s 16.25 in Montparnasse
the travellator is broken

Orange priority tag shifts
waiting room makeover

light catches gold dances on
a pillar like Seahorses on Broadway

it’s 17.21 in Montparnasse
& TGV 8389 departs on time

this second city petite moineau
spires & towers

recognisable routes track curves
& date stamps

(first published in Adjacent Pineapple)