Saturday 27 April 2024

Imtiaz Dharker, "Shadow Reader"


Imtiaz Dharker, photo by Ayesha Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and video film maker, awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014, Chancellor of Newcastle University. Her seven collections, all published by Bloodaxe Books, include Over the Moon and the latest, Shadow Reader. Her poems have featured widely on BBC radio, television, the London Underground, Glasgow billboards and Mumbai buses. She has had eleven solo exhibitions of drawings and also scripts and directs video films, many of them for non-government organisations working in the area of shelter, education and health for women and children in India. 

About Shadow Reader
Shadow Reader is a radiant criss-cross of encounters, messages and Punjabi proverbs, shot through with the dark thread of an unwelcome prophecy. The poems bind this looming curse to the occupation of countries, the earth and its creatures, those who own the story and those who redirect it through art or artifice. ‘Does the warp look back at the one who is weaving and say, This is not how I remember it…?’ Imtiaz Dharker’s collection pays attention to wilful erasures, exclusions and also to places of sanctuary. This is poetry as music, as momentum, as the texture and taste of languages, joyously sensuous and rich in images. While it acknowledges the everyday and its shadows, it is also an irreverent, playful celebration of life.

You can read more about Shadow Reader on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Shadow Reader, by Imtiaz Dharker

You write a window 
This is how you labour through the night
at the kitchen table, tallying up again,      
again, to get the merciless numbers right.
You weigh the loss against the gain,

the  plumbing or the heating, the buzzing thing
that has to be plugged in to work, switched on
to keep the household running. You are writing
your life in figures. He is gone                           

and you are awake in the sonnet of a window,
the chiming of a house where children come
and stay. The paper blazes white. The shadow
at your shoulder knows your will. This room,

this page is the sum of all you have to say
and all you have to give, you give away.

With empty hands

It’s life that is the visitor, it comes and goes,
a guest with many faces.
It flickers for a second on the face of time
and brings no gifts for the host.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Michael W. Thomas, "A Time for Such a Word"


Michael W. Thomas’s latest poetry collection is A Time for Such a Word (Black Pear Press). His latest novel is The Erkeley Shadows (KDP / Swan Village Reporter). He has published nine poetry collections, two collections of short fiction and three novels. His work has appeared in, among others, The  Antigonish Review (Canada), The Antioch Review (US), Critical Survey, The London Magazine, Pennine Platform, the TLS and Under the Radar. He is on the editorial board of Crossroads: A Journal of English Studies (University of Bialystok, Poland). From 2004 to 2009, he was poet-in-residence at the Robert Frost Festival, Key West, Florida. He contains no (well, few) additives. His website is here. His blog is The Swan Village Reporter.

About A Time for Such a Word
"A time for such a word" is taken from Macbeth, which might suggest an attempt to doom this collection from the start. True, there are dark corners here and there, but they exist for good reasons and are most carefully explored. And there is also much light and hopefulness. Visiting different points of time and space—now a desert island at dusk, now a log-store with an out-of-season moth, now Grenada, now a suburban house as it unbuilds itself—Thomas’s speakers reflect, speculate, even reanimate what seems valueless, a lost cause, a scene of no account.  The collection’s final line is "You’re alright, you, you’re alright." Now quietly, now emphatically, A Time for Such a Word insists that the world might just be so. 

You can read more about A Time for Such a Word on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From A Time for Such a Word, by Michael W. Thomas

The Orphans of Midsomer
          (Midsomer Murders, ITV, 1997 onwards) 

And every so often
a young person stares unseeing
over and around the last five minutes.
The Inspector pats their shoulder,
the DS gives a smile his heart
can’t really afford, because already the next case
is among the foliage, the credits are antsy
at the foot of the screen.  Doors must slam.  
The unmarked car must drive 
into this time next week.

So the young person
without so much as a neighbourly hug
is left to stand outside what they’re stuck with:
a cottage in which the odours have to stoop,
a mansion where the chill huddles into itself
at corniced junctions – 
Death’s pay in kind, there being no other family,
not truly, mum or dad having hooked it
before the episode began,
the other one having been fed to the plot,
even unmasked as the murderer
brewing more grudges than all the hot dinners
touted in the breaks.

A proper wrong ‘un
will always fight the glove
that seeks to pilot their head
through the squad-car’s rear door.
So it is now, before the orphan’s unmendable heart.

The DS and Inspector
will make off through ending’s dusk,
fade in step with their tail-plate.
The supporting cast will tumble
into the run-off down the sides of the script.
Only the orphan remains and is real,
standing before a house whose secrets
will never now stop yakking.
Maybe they’ll pray for their own tomorrow
(though veiled as yet by that fight of names,
key grip, location bod, gaffer…) – 
even tell themselves they can almost see it,
like a hometown glimpsed as a train slows,
half-melted in an indifference of rain.


A blackbird stands on a branch
above where philadelphus
makes the path feel less alone.

It’s the moment when day
starts threading down hand over hand,
stuck about with the odd small glory.

The bird sings the whole mad run of the world
to the second it opened its beak.
War and pleasure bubble in its notes.

Late rain clicks at the greenhouse
as though an irradiated man hides there
and the elements baulk at his wormy blood.

And now a plastic bag
cartwheels past the gate to the lane.  
The blackbird sees off its tale of the hour just gone

and flies.  Imagine them rising together
wet with the first tears of night,
making for what doesn’t know it will be dawn.

Imagine the bird dropping notes into the bag
like unstrung pearls with no floor for their skitter.
Imagine the bag as a singing moon…

…till they swerve apart,
the bird to rise on,
the bag to cascade the knockings of a song

that someone might assemble as they wear against the dark
and try through once or twice…and find
a yes, small and improbable, itching at their heart.

Monday 22 April 2024

Rory Waterman, "Come Here to This Gate"


Rory Waterman was born in Belfast in 1981, and grew up mainly in Lincolnshire. His fourth full-length collection, Come Here to This Gate, has just been published by Carcanet Press. His other collections, all published by Carcanet, are: Tonight the Summer’s Over (2013), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for a Seamus Heaney Award; Sarajevo Roses (2017), which was shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize for Second Collections; and Sweet Nothings (2020). He is also regularly a critic for the TLS, PN Review and other publications, and has published several books on modern and contemporary poetry. He co-edits New Walk Editions with Nick Everett at the University of Leicester. He has a BA and PhD from the University of Leicester. Since 2012, he has worked at Nottingham Trent University, where he is Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature and leads the MA in Creative Writing. He lives in Nottingham. His website is here

About Come Here to This Gate
Come Here to This Gate, Rory Waterman's fourth collection, is his most candid and unexpected, personal, brash, hilarious, and wide-ranging. The book is in three parts, the first a sequence about the last year of the life of his father, the poet Andrew Waterman, against a backdrop of recrimination, love and alcoholic dementia: "your silences were trains departing." The second consists of poems that open various gates, or are forcibly restrained behind them, from the literal North and South Korean border to the borders between friends, and those imposed by photographs, memories, and paths taken and not taken. The third opens on the poet's rural home county of Lincolnshire. He rewrites several folk tales into galloping, sometimes rambunctious ballads for the 2020s: what happens when imps, ghosts, and a boggart who looks like a "doll left behind at Chernobyl" must reckon with the modern world and the people who lumber through it.

You can read more about Come Here to This Gate on the publisher's website here. You can read a review of the book on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Come here to This Gate, by Rory Waterman


T-shirt weather today: a bumble bee bumps
the window, and the door of the visiting room
yawns and nudges a pot. We could go out,
sniff freedom over the fence. You’d rather not.

‘You’ve come to take me home?’ No, Dad. I’ve come
to bring it to you, blind on your piss-proof seat
on wheels, most of you a line of little knots
beneath a blanket. Stop-gap Clov to your Hamm – 

you’d get that, and it wouldn’t help – I ask 
someone to bring your sippy cup, some biscuits,
and you chew them in the back of your open mouth
in quiet, ‘thinking,’ too afraid to talk.

So I watch the ridge of your forehead, feel my own – 
for impulse, or connection, which doesn’t come
until a nurse does, panting, to the door, 
to tell us darlings we have five minutes more. 

         (first published in the Times Literary Supplement)


‘Keep the reunified Korea in your heart’
an old man had said, palming his chest. And 
okay, I do. And there it stays, doing nothing 

as flight KE 907 to London lifts 
from a (re)claimed island, over (re)claimed islands
stacked with containers: a concreted sarcophagus,

the memorial to Operation Chromite,
which has no other memorial. A child beside me
pulls down her mask, is chastened, frumps.

‘We’re progress,’ he had added. See it down there,
a phosphoresced capital washing round its hills,
a land of neon chaebols and kimchi jars

where new friends complete the circuits
of their lives for Samsung, Lotte, Hyundai,
as I complete this circuit for Hanjin.

See the sea ooze the yellow they don’t call it 
here – there – with silt from China, as we skirt
North Korean airspace. This land is your land

I hum before noticing. Far towns are like colonies
of barnacles; dark fishing vessels ply 
what looks turbid. And when we start to cross

the safety of China, from where this – that – 
is ordained, a city (Shenyang?) shifts, 
a molten web in new night. Now there will be

nothing but black, the dark familiar nowhere, 
and then the grind of lowering, the misted plots
of ruined nametagged earth around our lives.

Monday 15 April 2024

Vic Pickup, "The Omniscient Tooth Fairy"

Vic Pickup is the author of Lost & Found (Hedgehog Press, 2020), What Colour is My Brain? (co-written with Jules Whiting, Hedgehog Press 2022) and The Omniscient Tooth Fairy (Indigo Dreams, 2023). She has also edited an anthology, Reading Poets, forthcoming in June 2024 from Two Rivers Press. Vic is a co-organiser of Poets Café Reading and the town’s Stanza group. Her website is here.

About The Omniscient Tooth Fairy, by Vic Pickup
The Omniscient Tooth Fairy documents the decade following the poet becoming a mother: from hospital visits and melted Easter eggs to viewing world news through new eyes. Exploring old vulnerabilities and discovering new strengths, this collection observes the daily rhythm of holding on and letting go that comes with adjusting to parenthood, and change. The poems illustrate the world in all its beguiling complexity, enticing us to both absorb and shield from it, taking what’s needed to find faith and purpose; pursuing the quest to know ourselves better.

You can read more about The Omniscient Tooth Fairy on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 


From The Omniscient Tooth Fairy

Him, building me a bookcase

Sixteen chunky shelves, propped on blocks
of pallet wood, sliced like angel cakes –
each one a different shade.                         
A dusty finger pins the glossy pages
of a how-to book. Cautiously, he drills,
but soon his eye is fixed, unblinking.
The bar turns, the wood secured in its vice.                         
Lines of sinew flicker in his forearm as he saws,
then blows and smooths the debris clear.
He measures with one eye shut,
improvises in places where
the spirit level would not go.
He gives purpose to timber fit only for the fire,
a hand-me-down drill and screws
from an ice cream tub on a garage shelf.
Having masked the edges, he applies three coats,
wearing war paint of magnolia, the glean of cream
laden thickly on his brush.
We stand and my hand slides
into his back pocket, already wondering
which will go where and in what order.
He doesn’t know, but this is my greatest wish:
not the having of a place
or a way to keep things, only this –
Him, building me a bookcase.    
The longing of Judith Kerr

What if you could give them back
their hats, coats, scarves? Place
a knitted glove onto each small hand.
What if you could return their hair to them,
for plaiting, threading with daisy chains;
pull from the sack the toy train,
hand-carved, and old bear,
a travelling companion – exactly the one,
with a bright blue bow around his neck
frayed from too much love?
What if you could put them all back
into the right hands, find the shoes,
a perfect pair, buckle the feet, all tucked up
in woollen socks? What if you could fill
their cheeks until red and ruddy,
make rounded tums and dimpled legs,
scatter freckles on faces with the touch
of summer, then place in one gloved hand
another, bigger? What if you could give them
a mother; give them back a father too,
smiling down as button eyes look up?
What if they could hold hands and step back
on board the train, this one with red velour seats
and a warm welcome from the lady
with the trolley, who offers jelly sweets
and apples and a storybook,
about a tiger who came to tea?
Note: Judith Kerr’s Creatures (2015) is dedicated to “the one and a half million Jewish children who didn’t have my luck, and all the pictures they might have painted."

Friday 12 April 2024

A. J. Lees, "Neurological Birdsong"


Andrew Lees was born on Merseyside and is a Professor of Neurology at The National Hospital, Queen Square and University College London. He is in the top three most highly cited Parkinson’s disease researchers in the world and included in Thomson Reuters 2015 List of the Worlds Most Scientific Minds. He has written the authorised biography of the Arsenal and Liverpool football player Ray Kennedy who developed Parkinson’s disease in his early thirties (Ray of Hope, Penguin 1994) and which was made into a television documentary, Liverpool the Hurricane Port (Random House 2011) a book about his home city, Alzheimer's: The Silent Plague (2012 Penguin) and William Richard Gowers (1845-1915) Exploring the Victorian Brain, a biography of William Gowers. His book, Mentored by a Madman: The William Burroughs Experiment (Notting Hill Editions) published in 2016, explains his unlikely association with the author of Naked Lunch and his curiosity to find neurological cures. Brazil That Never Was, an investigation of saudade, was published by New York Review of Books in the USA. Lees's quest for a new viewpoint in the Amazon led to an unlikely linkage with Ciro Guerra’s film Embrace of the Serpent and a joint presentation with him at the premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. His previous book, entitled Brainspotting: Adventures in Neurology, was published by New York Review of Books in April 2022 and was a plea for a return to soulful compassionate medicine. Lees has also written essays published in Dublin Review of Books, Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Tears in the Fence, The New York Review of Books, The Polyphony, and the Scottish Review of BooksHe is a free thinker who has dedicated his recent years to reminding the scientific community that medicine is an art and that literary and science fiction can inform understanding.

About Neurological Birdsong
In Neurological Birdsong, Dr Andrew Lees documents a career’s worth of insights into neurological practice by reformulating his most profound tweets into poetic form. The aphorisms collected here touch on a host of related topics, from the right approach to diagnosis to the importance of a "soulful neurology" in the art of healing. They will interest everyone: the suffering patient, the young doctor or nurse, the medical administrator. Neurological Birdsong is the beautiful expression of one doctor’s wisdom.

You can see more information about Neurological Birdsong here. Below, you can read a few sample aphorisms. 

From Neurological Birdsong, by A. J. Lees

Favourite Twoosh's and Twaikus
You cannot reduce the clinical picture
to a series of scales and tick boxes,
administered by health care professionals
who have not been taught clinical skills during their training.

The medical history is part of the romance.
We must keep a patient’s life close to our souls.
Science underpins modern medicine but healing is an art.

The daily practice of neurology strengthens the mind 
But it is by attending,
and in the art of healing,
that it becomes soulful,
as well as stimulating.

Question everything,
and if necessary fight back.
No blind obedience.
No e-patients.
No life-threatening rules.
Do what you know is right.

Last week in the Vega
I understood that Lorca had seen,
in his torn-up garden,
the same green winds and roses of blood,
that Cajal had described,
deep in the human brain.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Daniel Lawless, "I Tell You This Now"


Daniel Lawless is the author most recently of The Gun My Sister Killed Herself With; his current book, I Tell You This Now was released in March, 2024. Recent poems appear in FIELD, Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Poetry International, Los Angeles Review, upsteet, SOLSTICE, Manhattan Review, Massachusetts Review, JAMA, and Dreaming Awake: New Prose Poetry from the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., among others. A recipient of a continuing Shifting Foundation grant, he is the founder and editor of Plume:  A Journal of Contemporary Poetry, Plume Editions, and the annual Plume Poetry anthologies.

About I Tell You This Now, by Daniel Lawless
I Tell You This Now, although un-sectioned, and addressing any number of miscellania, concerns itself most prominently  with memories of his youth in Louisville, Kentucky, including sundry elegies, narrative and lyrical, composed in a variety of  styles - "definitions," as well as  prose, list, and ekphrastic poems.

You can read more about I Tell You This Now on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three sample poems from the collection. 

From I Tell You This Now

Family Photographs: My Brother, Solar Eclipse, 1965

In a year, Haldol, ECT, the closed gates of a sanitarium. 
But for now—how happy you were. To be eleven and unconcerned
For once with school, the Cubs, who punched who.
For a few minutes to be unlearned, to be taught
A new world. O, distant boy, how marvelous 
It all must have been, to be turned into a ghoul with your friends, 
To spurn the murmur of grown-ups with their highballs and hair
On the deck for a lowering sky burned sepia, orange. 
At three o’clock to feel yourself disappear inside yourself —
To cast no shadow. And – so long ago now 
how did you put it? —the delicious, insistent thought
What if it stays like this? To yearn and yet not to know yet 
What that yearning meant. 


Freudenschreck, or "intense pleasure-fright" – leave it to the Germans   
To coin a word for the fleeting sense of being seized
By such an inexplicable joy it verges on terror. 
Or maybe it’s inexplicable terror pretending to be joy. 
Also, a physical phenomenon: neurologists say the amygdala 
Glows red as a jack ball whether subjects gaze at images of planetesimals or gallows.
Picture a joyride, the Appalachian pin-brides of Eugene Meatyard. 
Put yourself in the shoes of Aiyana Clemmons, 44,
Of Peru, Indiana, a long-time congregant of the End Days 
Christian Church according to the Gazette, who may have had a seizure 
That caused her to "shiver all over" although another passerby reported
Hearing her shout "Praise Him!" or "Praise God!" before "she sort of rocked him" 
Before casting that beautiful child into that cold river.


Though childhood is not what a child would know
To call it—her corpus callosum isn't quite
Connected yet—and anyway why would she want to?
When you're six you're a ghost inside another ghost,
Un-pierceable by anything in the substantial world,
Where this and this and this keeps happening.
A knob of milky quartz juts out of a rock.
There's a man on the moon, a box of matches adorned with a key.
You wear your life lightly
As the dog you name wears the name you name it.

Monday 8 April 2024

Carrie Etter, "Grief's Alphabet"


Carrie Etter, photo by Fabrizia Costa

Grief’s Alphabet is Carrie Etter’s fifth collection of poetry. Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals and anthologies internationally. She is a member of the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Bristol, and she also writes fiction, essays, and reviews. Her website is here

About Grief's Alphabet
Grief’s Alphabet is a memoir in poems of the poet’s relationship with her adoptive mother up to her unexpected death and the long work of mourning. The book might also be described as a book-length elegy, trying to articulate the magnitude of this loss.

You can read more about Grief's Alphabet on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From Grief's Alphabet, by Carrie Etter

Why I Didn’t Save One of Her Lighthouses for Myself

          In May 2022, the Queenscliff Maritime Museum held a competition for
          a collective noun for lighthouses.

At last I faced her lighthouses, the smallest the size of my thumb.

In dozens on shelves either side of the TV. 

Which Christmas did Nancy and I give her lighthouse calendars?

I could not find one to represent the whole.

All those portals for she who. 

A relief of lighthouses.