Friday 19 February 2021

The February Backroom: Steve Griffiths

We are overdue a fine Welsh poet. Steve Griffiths was born in Anglesey, spent his working life in London, and now lives in Ludlow, where I met him a few years back. Ludlow is a wee artists' town on the border between Wales and England where I discovered, I think, the world's most perfect pub. It seemed to me a great place for poetry to thrive. The town and the pub. Steve has published eight collections of poems, most recently a pamphlet, 'Updrafts' (Fair Acre Press, 2020), and 'Weathereve: Selected Poems' (2019), the fruit of seven collections, all but the first published by Seren and Cinnamon Press. He is one of a hundred twentieth century Welsh poets writing in English featured in The Library of Wales ‘Poetry 1900-2000’ (2007, Parthian Books). 

'Poetry', he says 'holds body and soul together, which has not always been the case.' The poem he is reading here today is about words, an appropriate subject for a poet, but which here take on strange Hitchcockian significance, almost a malevolence. A poet in the stasis of lockdown surrounded, as ever, by a persistent swarms of words.


Don’t get me wrong,
some of my best friends
are words,
especially my own.
There are more of them about

than there used to be:
they stick to your face
and drop to the ground
with odd numbers of legs
protesting at the air.

They don’t string together
on the page and stay there:
like birds on the wire
they abandon you, autumn
can come any time.

There’s no knowing whither
they’ll be bound: perhaps
to the forgotten crossroads
where an adult’s words
manhandled you aside

as you tried
to describe the thunder.
There’s no ceiling to belief
in their power: what they say
goes before they wither.

There is so much hurt in words,
there are not enough
eyes in the world
to flinch from it,
those eyes lit up

that are looking hungrily
for words to do justice to them.
The words are greater in number
than the maggot or the starling,
than the sum of meaning.

Friends tell me, sit and listen
to what’s there where none
penetrate, but they do,
through cracks and keyholes
and channelled down the wind 

in the grass where I lie.
It's a wise man
who can turn away from them.
Even as I look up the clouds are
heavy with little ones.

Steve's Website:

His Author's page at Silverwood Books:

A Video poem Sequence: Late Late Love:

Thursday 18 February 2021

The February Backroom: Philip Hall

I'm very pleased to have Phillip Hall in the Backroom today, a very committed, honest and passionate poet who lives in Melbourne, Australia.

I feel that Australian poets are often far ahead of us in addressing important issues of colonialism and the environment. Phillip Hall has worked in remote Indigenous education at Borroloola, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. During his time there he established Indigenous poets’ groups and festivals and was made a Gudanji man, known also by his skin name of Jabala and his traditional name of Gijindarraji where he is a member of the Rrumburriya clan; he is Jungkayi (custodian) for Jayipa. His collection 'Fume' published by the University of West Australia was a song to the indigenous peoples, an articulation of connectedness and celebration of their custodianship of the land. It is a remarkable piece of writing and an example of the living purpose that poetry can serve to increase understanding and therefore love. 

Phillip Hall is a passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. His publications include Sweetened in Coals (Ginninderra Press), Borroloola Class (IPSI), Fume (UWAP) and (as editor) Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press). He currently co-edits the e-journal  'Burrow'. 

Here he reads a perfect poem for lockdown: we recognise the grunge, the temptations of drink and our ear worm existences. A Mark Twain reference at the end to spend your lockdown afternoon researching, too....


A valetudinarian’s ‘crisis’ in a time of COVID19

  for the progressive bluegrass of Punch Brothers

            arranged in the old-fashioned way

          (on a magic carpet

    around a single mighty mic)


I am indebted in lock-down more than ever to my partner safe at home

but also, more a cock on the lookout

whose ensemble overdrive is measured

in teaspoons of vegemite or crushed garlic

or in mugs of strong black coffee hiding

the bottle of pre-noon comeuppance that makes bearable

the reels and jigs of perfidy and moonshine

soaked up in a sofa’s distressed leather:


I am unshaven, daggy

in worn black and grey tracksuit and

holey woollen socks, shying away from the world

dog-tired from that damned earworm jingle

of what     I’ve become:


               I wish to look at home

in check or plaid or flannel, to be practised

with power tools and solvents whilst commiserating

in a convivial evening’s ‘Hops of Guldenberg’

or amidst other such booze-soaked hymns

but all I now get is an empty inbox

as I turn over and over to ‘punch brothers punch

                                           with care’.

A link to Phillip's poetry journal:

A link to his forthcoming collection:

Wednesday 17 February 2021

The February Backroom: Iona Lee


It's nearly a year since I began this blog for a laugh, the Spring sunshine was on the window of the Backroom, lockdown (for us here unaffected by the disease) a bit of a laugh, a wee slice of a dystopian story you could put down or switch off before resuming real life. Well 170 poems later, here we still are. I've said this before but one of the greatest pleasures for me, a poet in D and G, was becoming familiar with new poets, from all over the world and also, shame on my ignorance, from Scotland. We're pretty much removed from things down here, and the only real performance we have is old Davy arguing with the bloke in the Fish Van every Thursday. We have the woods to dream in though, so disconnected from life we're still connected, in an ethereal, liminal and slowly going away with the fairies way.

Iona Lee is a dreamer and interested in the ethereal too, witchcraft, folk tales, dream and memory. She is also however very much connected to the world. She's 24 years old, an illustrator, musician, writer, editor and spoken word performer from East Lothian. She has been an active member of the Scottish poetry scene for eight years and is currently a part-time Arts & Music editor for Bella Caledonia. She was Scottish Slam Champion in 2016. Her work has appeared in The Scotsman, the Morning Star, BBC, the Skinny, Bella Caledonia, Gutter Magazine, 404 Ink, House of 3, Hatchett Publishing, Polygon, Tangerine Press, Speculative Books, and Spit It Out zine.

Iona is a powerful talent in both spoken and written word and I'm delighted she's agreed to appear here. In this poem her sense of stasis will chime with all of us, and the light and beautiful craft that's displayed throughout but particularly in the last three lines will have us all scrabbling to find more of her work. Links below!


“All things that are,
are equally removed from being nothing”

                                            - John Donne

We leave our indoor ecosystem,
follow the map to where there is the promise
of trees and rushing water. I’ve missed them.

Only had a few square feet of world for weeks.
I want to see something far away, the sun
stride out in glittering ripples,
hear how the chatterbox forest speaks.

We whirlpool with people
and pause for every passerby:
                              a shiny little green beetle,
                              families out for today’s designated slice of the sky.

                              Everyone is saying
                              when this is over.
                              I will, when this is over.
                              When will this be over?

The water is awake with fresh cloud,
dark with waterlogged light.

Sunbathing, my eyes are left ajar.
I watch a dandelion clock as a breeze blows time away.
We have no map for tomorrow - things just are.

Iona's Website:
Home | ionalee

The Poem 'Thresholds' in Transpoesie: 

'Amber in the Alcohol'

Friday 29 January 2021

The Occasional Backroom: Rayanne Haines

These are gothic times of course. When I was in Edinburgh last year it had a ghostly aspect but in the middle of lockdown it must be even more atmospheric. Bad, sad times but a once in a lifetime opportunity to trawl the deserted wynds, closes and stanks free of tourists and even many of the locals. For a poet it is an enviable prospect, especially if it's your first time. 'Edinburgh is a mad god's dream' said Hugh MacDiarmid. 'When I looked out in the morning it is as if I had waked in Utopia' said George Eliot. We should all be pretty jealous therefore of the Canadian poet Rayanne Haines who arrived in Edinburgh recently to pursue her studies and who, having served her quarantine, is now able to poke about and fuel her imagination in this most wonderful. dark and complex of cities.

Rayanne Haines’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from, 'Fiddlehead, Impact: The Lives of Women After Concussion' Anthology, 'Voicing Suicide' Anthology, 'The Selkie Resiliency' Anthology, 'Funicular', 'Lida Lit Mag', and many others. She is the host of the literary podcast, 'An Eloquent Bitch' and is the Alberta NWT rep for the League of Canadian Poets. Rayanne is a 2019 Edmonton Artist Trust Fund Award recipient. Past Executive Director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, Rayanne is a current Masters student focusing on Arts Management and Cultural Policy Research. Her poetry and prose have been shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award and the John Whyte Memorial Essay Alberta Literary Award. Her current work focuses on mental health and intergenerational female trauma. 'Tell the Birds your Body is Not a Gun' is forthcoming in 2021 with Frontenac House.

Here she is reading  'Don’t Fall for Imitation Pearls with Exotic Names', a reverie on time, heritage and remembrance. 'All my memories are wrapped in whirlwinds of adventure....most purchased on the side of a road. i wonder if my sons will hold them dear.' 

Don’t Fall for Imitation Pearls with Exotic Names

in the room where my father
hid his most important memories,

a box sat in the corner filled with my
great grandmother’s pearls and silver.

the items wrapped in white tissue paper
and flat cotton. packed away before her death.

these false mementos of stature. the silver
chipped, pearls flaked, still, more precious than gold.

treasures gifted by a husband she married
while still a girl in braids. her skin darkened

by the sun, hands already callused from working
the land. in the room under the stairs where 

my father hid these things, dust coated
the walls, and the boxes mother forbade us to touch.

in the same room, my mother stored laundry
detergent, cat litter, the good holiday ornaments.

mother would say knowing an object is safe
is more important than having it on display. objects

hold memories you see, and father only had a few.
my sister and i would wrap our necks in these

remembrances when left unsupervised. or hide under
the stairs, dreaming of husbands gifting us with rubies.

the jewellery i own is spread haphazardly across
my dresser. items found on travels to countries

my great-grandmother never visited. but maybe
wanted to. who knows, i never met her to ask.

all my memories are wrapped in whirlwinds
of adventure. all of them worth far more than

the cost of a plane ride. most purchased on the side
of a road. i wonder if my sons will hold them dear.

i often dream of a house overlooking a valley,
built by my great-grandparent’s hands. i dream

they’d sit on the porch sharing whiskey
and cigars. both covered in dust. great-grandmother

reserving her cleanliness for sunday
morning when god and parish paid attention.

This refuge hewn by hard work, before the city
moved in, when the midnight moon was a cotton

ball and coyotes outnumbered people. and the world
was small and we knew how to love each other.

behind their house now, there is an esso
station. in front, a five-story brick apartment.

peoples’ memories stacked upon each other
like cardboard boxes. my great-grandmother, only

ever a ghost to me, is buried in the graveyard half
a mile away. her baubles still hidden under the stairs.

my mother still protecting them.

Find out more at 

Tuesday 5 January 2021

The Festive Back Room: 12th Night with Carol Jane Wilson

12th Night! Heat up the Wassail! Drink 12 pints of it! At this reflective time of year, just when we are at our weakest, and fattest, here comes Carol Jane Wilson to unleash a skilful and poignant villanelle on us. 

Carol Jane Wilson has written poetry and short stories over many years, whilst pursuing a varied working life, including lock keeping on the Thames, training people working with domestic violence, comedy improv, face painting, life modelling and working with asylum seekers. Born in Oxford, she came on holiday to Ireland in 1991, and forgot to go back.

In 1998, she won the North West Radio short story competition, and has had work published in a variety of places.  Carol is a member of the Hermit Collective in the West of Ireland and performs regularly with them. Over a year ago, she was told she had a few months to live, so she had her coffin made, and painted with whales swimming. It’s still sitting in the garage, as she is too busy living to use it yet..

Here she reads 'Fat Women Dreaming':



Fat women also have their dreams
that fill the sky by night and day,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

Fragile and delicate as lace,
strong, mysterious, stark and fey,
fat women also have their dreams.

Fettered by flesh, to you it seems,
yet thoughts soar lightly as they may,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

The eye of the mind dictates us reams
of fire, joy, passion, to sing and say,
fat women also have their dreams.

Ideas are sewn with fairy seams,
fantastic costumes in which to play,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

Blinkered is he who, righteous, deems
Flesh must weight thoughts, to sluggish lay.
Fat women also have their dreams,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.


Saturday 2 January 2021

The Festive Backroom: Kirkpatrick Dobie

Striding up Laurieknowe in Dumfries here in 1984 is poet, Kirkpatrick Dobie.  From his birth to his death at the age of 91 he stayed, worked and wrote in the town of Dumfries. Born in 1908 his life spanned a century in that ‘provincial town’ where as he said ‘no one, it seems, stands out’. A committed though not unquestioning Christian and a member of the small town bourgeoisie- he inherited and ran a seed merchant business- his poetry can be seen at times as a bit starchy but obsessed as he was with the vagaries and contradictions of the human condition he is never anything less than interesting and is always perceptive. He is an example of how the universal can be found in the local, even the parochial. And he displays both intuition and careful craft.

Usually self published locally - often in that excellent print shop on the High St of Dumfries,  Dinwiddies - he found late acknowledgment in a Collected Poems by Peterloo in 1992, 'Poems from a Provincial Town', and an appreciation in the first ever edition of Gerry Cambridge’s excellent magazine 'Dark Horse'. His poems also appeared in ‘The Independent’ and were anthologised in the Forward Book of Poetry in 1993. However, unlike others, he neither sought nor coveted fame or appreciation. He was his own person, dignified, a trifle stolid, a small-town philosopher and intellectual in the age when small towns could be hotbeds of integrity, even genius, as well as microcosms of every other human vice and virtue.

Here he is recalling his father. In the background you can also hear another muse, his dog. 

My Father

My father was a man for stopping horses.
To screams and yells
preceded by a rattling rising roar
the beast appeared,
head reared,
eye rolling black-blobbed swum in white,
battering the cobbles with a bounding cart;
frenzied to freeze the heart.

But at the sight my father's spirit rose
and as the echoes rang
he ran and sprang
high at the rampant head
and bore it down; with all of fourteen stone
muscle and bone
hung! and hung on!

I've never visited his grave.
I could not stand and moralise
or seem to take his size.
What I remember doesn't lie
in any cemetery.
I have his stick
rough-handled, thick,
and now in my own wintry weather,
stumble or slip,
I feel his grip.

Mrs Betty McGeorge

Betty, brought home from nursing home to die-
an old woman- still would cry
for home.
"It isn't home" she'd say,
her fingers plucking at the overlay.

"Sure! Sure it is! There is the tree
you planted. You can see 
the top, and just beyond it's the first tee
at Nunfield.
Listen, and you can hear them at their game."

And she would look and listen,
keenly, but always came
that odd disturbing disavowal;
"It's like it, but it's not the same."

(From Dark Horse, Summer 2000)

This film, and the longer section below, exist as a result of a brilliant project initiated by teachers Pat Kirkby and Gregor Ross in 1984 to record the existing poetical talent in the area.

The longer film on Crump here:

Wednesday 30 December 2020

The Festive Backroom: Catherine Strisik

I'm delighted to feature a remarkable poet in the Backroom today. Catherine Strisik is a poet from New Mexico of Greek background. Her poetry is full of rich imagery, weaving together present and past to create a commentary on her life and on the issues that concern her. She is currently Poet Laureate of Taos, New Mexico. Taos became a haven for a community of artists and writers in the early 20th Century, DH Lawrence writing his novel 'The Plumed Serpent' there. A foundation now organises a huge range of artistic ventures across the whole of New Mexico and beyond.

Catherine is a recipient of 2020 Taoseña Award as Woman of Influence based on literary contribution; is author of 'Insectum Gravitis' (finalist New Mexico Book Award in Poetry 2020); 'The Mistress' (awarded New Mexico/AZ Book Award for Poetry 2017); 'Thousand-Cricket Song', and a recently completed manuscript 'And They Saw Me Turn To Hear Them' which is currently a semi-finalist in the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry, 2021. She has poetry translated into Greek, Persian, and Bulgarian. She is co-founder of the 'Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art'. Catherine’s poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded numerous grants and residencies, and scholarships from Vermont Studio Centre, Lakkos/Crete Artist Residency, and Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Here she works with motifs of femininity, heritage and memory to create a marvellous, sensual mosaic of a poem:


I Wake in Heraklion with Lady Beetles

I am soft with healing after
I am luxuriant with good fortune after
I am cloaked by lady beetles a scent of salted olive, my nature after
all means spacious means rhododendron and a pretty mouth.

If I give the impression of canopied with black spots after
my sorrow believe me when I say I am in pursuit of myself and a kiss and might after
I be a ridge on Mount Ida might local winegrowers and cicadas might my hollow after
deep between my thighs be my greeting braced  ̶

There’s femininity a softening
I’d forgotten.
                                  I’d cherish the softening
Holy is the body

its roundness the flesh
its brine a sweet

secret at age 58
a shuttered

body   a cherished   resumé.
There’s so much song even in heartache   and my heart   the female body after
bird melody my simple request after

the seeded bread I’d bought at the base of Lasíthi flavored with orange rind.
I am a Greek woman’s body I was told in the marketplace after
buying a potato and sea bream
the morning planes flew overhead celebrating Saint Minas when two vendors
said    you are one of us    you look like us    the earthy

Polite. Greek.

And the lady beetles they mean I am composed of a million single cries.

Catherine's website here:

An Interview here from 'Poeticanet':

More poems from 'Drunken Boat 18'