Tuesday, June 08, 2010


It is June and I am moving again.
I have forgiven the broom its shortcomings
and allowed it to foul its old whiskers.
I have pardoned the own-brand sponges
which themselves permit the bathroom tiles to come
clean, drying out whiter and whiter
with each sweep. Now, with the furniture
pushed to the wings and calmly awaiting
their cues, I will exorcise the memory
of this place as I have those places
no respectable atlas still recognises.

It is June and I am eulogising
a country I never knew and owes me
nothing. And without any warning
but this one, my grandmother, herself
homeless, sweeps her way from one June
to another with all the lightness, the delight
in motion only moths and arrow-like
lapwings can know. Without stopping, she takes
my hand in her firm hand, and when she opens
her mouth to speak it is the sound
of water running from one place to another.

Monday, May 31, 2010


After forging both our signatures - Mrs and Mr
on the hostel register, the hostel somewhere

between limbo and hell, but all we could muster
with sunrise already red-spattering the air -

we rose as if in worship of each other,
intoning in the tongue of lovers or lovers'

image, and if we already shared a language
pre-existing and only to be gouged

from us as from a stone, then her mouth
was a wellspring where air met earth,

and on her tongue that was every river,
or black-reflecting puddle we had earlier

tripped over, was every drop of sweat
or condensation from every dancer and bar-light,

and in the light of a new year we were hesitant to face,
her dim eyes, her Indias of spice

glanced down at the feet that were never my feet,
then the eyes that were only mine, and yet -

even as the doors of our twin cells closed
and sky paled to eye-blue above the clothes

we had discarded - I settled down in my casing
and simmered to the accent I still have trouble placing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I found him on the beach, half-starved on his driftwood
raft, barely able to form the sound of his own name.
Once he could, I heard his story, broke bread for him,
hardly gave him credence, led him to the palace
nonetheless. Nausicaa came later. But the day
I recovered overnamed Odysseus, naked
but for a leafy loincloth and flotsammed beard,
became the night I met you. Everyone we knew
crammed in a sandy cove, the bonfire's drowsy light,
the big man's susurrent tone, lulled me to agony.
I was ready to grab a bottle and vamoose

when I caught your steady, uninterested gaze
and the universal two-finger sign for 'smoke?'
You asked who he thought he was, whether his story
were fiction or recollection, his or someone elses,
what difference it made? And answer were overlong,
but mine was studied, earnest, and as far beyond
my recall as your pine-green shawl, your eyes pine-green,
even his raven-ish beard and his hands tucked behind
himself like a raven, weren't. These fragments coalesced
one night in dream as a sensuous whole. As for all
that happened next, you remember as well as I.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Côte d'Ivoire

As if there were nowhere in the world
but the ten-or-so yards before his back line,
Kolo Touré might yet hold his position
(kitted out in orange and still more orange)
somewhat better than another Ture,
Samori, who, in circa eighteen ninety,
saw his French-styled legions driven
by French legions east and further east,
his turf not so abandoned as removed
from the place between two European stones
that had once been his own back line.

As if the whole story could add up
to more than a matter of lines,
as if a field of battle could become
little more than a field of play
marked by bunkers and fox-holes
that might once have been called home,
as if this scorched and salted dirt
might yet show signs of blooming,
Kolo, in a white-and-green change
kit, fills the hollow in his defence
as if he might yet hold his position.

Friday, April 30, 2010


I followed the echoing voices and found the place
four teenagers, three boys and a girl, were skateboarding
in the august courtyard outside a bank, or an office-
block, the glass was too dark to tell. One skater fell
on his ass. Adam had taken our cash to look for food,
he’d return minutes later with salami and bread, cheese-
flavoured crisps, a cold fizzing bottle; I’d found a spot to sit.
I’m good at that. My cards didn’t work on the continent,
he doled out absurd IOUs, actual pocket money.
The kids hunkered in a bunch as one by one
they rumbled toward a staircase and by magic kicked

into silence, briefly, before the board skited off
on its lonely trajectory. Before recovering it
from the decorative bushes, hung low as if ready to ripen,
he shared a solemn high-five that cracked round the square,
holding on for a moment after the strike. I couldn’t read
his eyes. I couldn’t focus on the map I was pretending
to read. Then Adam returned with salami and bread
and I stung his hand with my own, he asked what for,
I almost said I loved him. We sat and ate,
a boy pushed off across the marble slates
and launched himself beyond what was under his control.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

These Days by Leontia Flynn

Leontia Flynn’s These Days is an exciting book. The opening poem, “Naming It” not only does the work of placing her immediately, but not subordinately, in the realm of Longley/MacNeice and their concern with lists and names of things, but grounds the collection in its self-deprecatory and curious voice that is comparable to no other writer I can think of. Granted, Jen Hadfield springs to mind, particularly in their interest in Morgan, but Flynn is far more steeped in urban (suburban?) life, more wrapped up in the elaborate mundanity of being (variously) a student, a godmother, a waiter, a lover, and – very strikingly – a clued-in reader of poetry. There is a cluster of four poems, “When I was Sixteen I met Seamus Heaney” (“I had read The Poor Mouth – but who was Seamus Heaney?”), “My Dream Mentor” (“don’t write about anything you can point at”), “Snow” and what feels like its partner poem, “Nocturne” (“Whaddya mean already written? What? / Louis? Louis who?”), that make up something not unlike a centrepiece to the collection, a kind of hub from which the others radiate. Behind the humour is a playful up yours to her poetic forebears, a desire to evade the long shadows of Heaney and the rest. Flynn handles her influences lightly – besides the impulse to name and include everything, she also adapts Longley’s preoccupation with extremely short poems: “Doyne”, “Bridges”, “April, 7 P.M.” and “The Morning After Ruth’s Going-away Party” all clock in at six lines or under, while the book's first twenty-four are variations on the Longleyean ten-liner, in which his otters and herons are subbed for pints and pick-up lines. They are no less lyrical or gracefully poised for the change in subject matter. The collection is also littered with poems of one or two long, syntactically complex sentences that throw the reader off at odd angles. Look at “The Furthest Distances I’ve Travelled” – “why, if I’m stuffing smalls / hastily into a holdall, I am less likely / to be catching a Greyhound from Madison to Milwaukee // than to be doing some overdue laundry / is really beyond me.” Lingering only briefly on how sumptuous a platter of rhymes is likely/Milwaukee/laundry/beyond me, this poem is probably the best, or at least most memorable, of the collection, and bears a closer look.

It cracks off with “Like many folk”. This is a lie. Leontia Flynn is not like many folk, no matter how she might try and signal it. The poem’s delicate play with rhymes, line-breaks/lengths, its exotic vocabulary of places (“Krakow / and Zagreb, or the Siberian white / cells of scattered airports”) make it tricky to take everything in at the first go – the impression remains of a landscape shrinking, becoming intimate, finding uncommon nooks and hideyholes after the initial motions toward escape and dispersal and anonymity. That the poem breaks that particular word over a line doesn’t seem like a cheeky reach for rhyme – “anony / mity” feels rejected as a concept in what becomes a strong tribute to home, however mutable that concept might become during the poet’s “routine evictions”. The last few stanzas are the most formally consistent in the poem, and look and sound more recognisably like metric quatrains than the slippery early ones. Here they are in full, again, just two sentences draped over multiple lines:

when, during routine evictions, I discover

alien pants, cinema stubs, the throwaway
comment – on a Post-it – or a tiny stowaway
pressed flower amid bottom drawers,
I know these are my souvenirs

and, from these crushed valentines, this unravelled
sports sock, that the furthest distances I’ve travelled
have been those between people. And what survives
of holidaying briefly in their lives.

“[A]lien pants” might be my favourite thing in any poem. While you could argue that the last couplet sounds just a touch neat, I think it earns it. It feels more like an addendum – the full stop (rather than a comma) after “people” should be the end of the poem, but it keeps going, makes room for the scraps and physical memories of time spent trying to escape.

The collection has a heap of great moments. On the other hand, the brevity of each individual poem (and maybe the collection itself – 54 pages) makes it feel occasionally, if only momentarily, bitty or shallow, or lacking in broader significance. But Flynn seems alert to this as a potential difficulty – in “Satis House” she describes “[her] usual gift for avoiding ‘the issues’ with humour” – and provides too engaging and energetic a voice, too various a critical mind to let these instances detract from the book at large. Who knows what’s coming next?

Friday, March 12, 2010


Gettin' fewer and further between these things. I'm on twitter now, of all things, @roxyreadings, and also shoutouts to Aiko who is going to be on the next SPL podcast which will update in the next day or two. While you're there, check out Stuart Kelly's cast, it will make you think. I have no idea what this poem is about, and while I probably say that about most things, I've got a much clearer idea that I've got no clear idea about what this one's about. Here it is.


The voice at night said, “Don’t
mind me. Don’t run each mistake
across your tongue like a spoon
of crème brûlée. Don’t slide open
the overflowing bottom drawer.

“Don’t unfold the neat green throw
that holds the red-wool plaits
from her hair as the air
of her scent expires, packed
with a snap shot of her smiling,

“flattered to be found. Don’t
go out. Don’t leave me here.”
I posted my keys through
my own locked door, walked
to the hilltop and eyed the spot

where the sea began. The water
tainted pink with the sunrise
as if bleeding from the strain
of making day. This won’t be
easily solved, or soon.

When we are rich, me and You –
you, still nothing but potential
until we decide who you are –
when sushi is not a reward,
when we’ll consume nothing but sushi,

we will raze to ashes each building
between our home and the sea, so
wading birds and otters will make
the trip unhindered to our door –
even otters have second homes –

when we’ll throw away our keys,
yes, and strip off our clothes
and our phones, our hair and skin
and dander, should the fancy take us,
to the spot where the sea begins,

then keep going, have the talk
that will take the rest of our lives,
and not drown – to drown is painful,
and pain too much like hard work –
but become that shadowy kingdom,

forgetful, forgotten, notched by
the claws of the herons on our skin,
admit the otters’ late retreat
to their hovers in our alcoves,
safe in the grass and close to home.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Suddenly! Three Weeks Later!

I've given up on trying to give titles to these friggin things. I kind of feel like I'm letting my children down, but I just want them to grow into their names, let their names choose them. God.

Anyway, this was inspired by a painting by George Braques, which at this point down the creative road is almost irrelevant, but still just relevant enough to warrant mention. Check it out here. Poem here:

How many of those candles flashed their small semaphore
that night, how many tussled in a bag by the fridge
that night, when the fuses shot in the bar and by candle-
light we searched the shelves like Diogenes,
and the colour in the glass was only candle-made.

How could we compete with that marbled darkness?
A man giggled as we totted change in the glisteny haze
and carried a gift of tea-lights to his girlfriend’s table.
And then the angles the candles lavished seemed to constellate
a new scene where the candle was a row of candles, and then a row

of rooftops candlelit, where we slubbed together for heat
and shared the icy fuzz of sweat on our cheeks in a gesture
as simple as the brocade on her duvet. I touched her hair
as I might a candle that catches but refuses to hold a flame.

Oh oh oh and and there's the Bowery/Roxy thing tonight. COME SEE COME SEE.