Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Poetry from the Backroom 80: Marjorie Lofti Gill

I have made no secret of my belief that poets should be in charge of everything with the possible exception of public houses. Our guest today, Marjorie Lofti Gill, is a poet and the chairperson of the Wigtown Festival Board, and she epitomises the internationalism and creative spirit of  Scotland's National Book Town, Wigtown, and the Wigtown Book Festival.

Wigtown Book Town has been a very good thing. It has transformed a severely depressed Scottish country town into a thriving community linked by books and by an annual festival in which I have, over the years, been much involved. The bloke who I spoke to once in the Galloway Arms who said “this used to be a dump and now it’s a dump with a Book Festival” shows that seismic changes don’t always work for everyone but Wigtown is an international arts venue which has attracted folk to live and set up business from all over the world. This sometimes has its disadvantages: last year when I was trying to find a Scot to read a poem one had to be imported specially from Whithorn. Art speaks best about coming and goings, however, belonging and temporariness, and the deserted ports and villages of the Machars seems a good place to discuss these matters.

Marjorie Lofti Gill, writes beautifully about these themes and is qualified to do so, having been born in New Orleans, spent her childhood in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution, then lived in San Diego, Washington DC and New York before moving to London in 1999 and Edinburgh in 2005. Her most recent collection 'Refuge' published by Tapsalteerie in 2018 addresses the position of the refugee with wistful and lyrical power. 'Ask how I can have forgotten Farsi/and the sound of her voice bidding me, night/ after night, to sleep, to let the day go.' Her poetry is about identity, lost, splintered, transplanted.

Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s poems have won competitions, been published widely in journals and anthologies and been performed on BBC Radio 4. She was commissioned to write 'Pilgrim', a sequence about migration between Iran and the US, for the St Magnus Festival; and 'Bridge', a companion sequence about a woman’s migration within Europe, for the University of Edinburgh.

Marjorie is one of the first recipients of the Scottish Book Trust’s Ignite Fellowship, a fund that supports substantial on-going projects.. She has also been Writer in Residence at Jupiter Artland, Spring Fling and the Wigtown Book Festival.

Marjorie founded The Belonging Project, exploring the refugee experience, and is a founder and director of Open Book, a charity reading in community settings across Scotland.

Here she reads 'Aibe Nadare' from her nook 'Refuge':

Many othyer links, poems and information on Marjorie's Website here:

Poem and audio recording here:


Her grandfather always said
that everything she’d need
was beneath the grey of its shell;
the signposts of winter would come
from its height, the strength
of its spine, how long it resisted
before nodding its head to wind.
When she left, she took nothing
but the seeds, their rattle in the tiny
tin better than money; no one else
would know the shade of soil
for planting, want flocks of birds
for friends. Now, she sleeps with them
under her pillow where they grow
into her dreams, stakes to lean against
on each crossing, and wakes
picking at yellow petals
tangled in her hair.

(First published in 'Refuge', Tapsalteerie, 2018)

Packing for America

He cannot take his mother
in the suitcase, the smell of khorest
in the air, her spice box too tall
to fit. Nor will it close when he folds
her sajadah into its cornered edges.
He cannot bring the way she rose
and blew out the candles at supper’s end,
rolled the oilcloth off the carpet
to mark the laying out of beds,
the beginning of night. He knows
the sound of the slap of her sandals
across the kitchen tiles will fade.
He tosses the framed photographs
into the case, though not one shows
her eyes; instead, she covers her mouth
with her hand as taught, looks away.
He considers strapping the samovar
to his back like a child’s bag; a lifetime
measured by pouring tea from its belly.
Finally, he takes the tulip tea glass
from her bedside table, winds her chador
around its body, leaves the gold rim
peeking out like a mouth that might
tell him where to go, what is coming next.

On seeing Iran in the news, I want to say

my grandmother was called Nasrin,
that she died two years ago in Tabriz
and I couldn’t go to say goodbye,
that she knew nothing of power,
nuclear or otherwise. I want to say
that the fires for Chahar Shanbeh Suri
were built by the hands of our neighbours;
as children we were taught to jump
and not be caught by the flame. I want to say
my cousin Elnaz, the one born after I left,
has a son and two degrees in chemistry,
and trouble getting a job. I want to say
that the night we swam towards the moon
hanging over the horizon of Caspian Sea,
we found ourselves kneeling on a sandbar
we couldn’t see, like a last gift. I want to say
I’m the wrong person to ask.

(Reprinted from Acumen)

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Poets from the Backroom 79 : Gerry Loose

I’m fascinated by stones and the messages they have or don’t have for us. In spurious vein for my next book I’ve translated Pictish Symbol stones into text speak but a far more serious project is involved in Gerry Loose’s new book 'The Great Book of the Woods', published by Corbelstone Press just a few weeks ago. Gerry Loose’s interpretations or translations or transliterations of the ancient Ogham script found on stones in Scotland and Ireland are evocative, lyrical and powerful. They are the legacy we wished to have, thought we had with Ossian, maybe do have. I know I'm a historian by training but history waves a wand for the imagination.

Ogham is a language that is also a codex for a pastoral society and a high caste of poets. It involves linear scratches, often on the edges of stones. The name itself might derive from 'sword cut'. It looks like a code and might well have been designed as such to deceive the Romans, the Christians or whoever. It dates from as early perhaps as the 4th century and exists in over 100 varieties. Excitingly, untranslated Ogham stones in Scotland might point to the vestigial traces of Pictish: the elusive ghost language of our earliest inhabitants. Below, Gerry reads two of his transliterations from Ogham and links to buy his fascinating book also appear below the video.

Gerry Loose lives on the Isle of Bute and works primarily with subjects from the natural world. His work is found inscribed and created in Parks, Botanic Gardens and in natural landscapes as well as in galleries, hospitals and on the page. Among his publications are 'Printed on Water, New and Selected Poems' from Shearsman Books and 'That person himself' and 'Oakwoods Almanac' from the same publisher. His awards include a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, a Creative Scotland Award, Kone Foundation Award and a Hermann Kesten Fellowship.

His work has been translated into many European and Asian languages and he regularly reads at international poetry festivals.

In his Oghan inscriptions, and in some of his other work, Gerry Loose's poetry has a shifting dreamlike quality and walks that liminal division between the seen and unseen, between the human and the natural world, each succeeding image seeming more and more like parts of a story you once knew and should remember again. A marvellous poet.

Here he reads 'Plague', which is copied below, and two Ogham transcriptions: 

Gerry's website here: 

More Poems here:

Interview with the Scottish Writers Centre here:

Link to buy his Latest book:

The Plague

that first night thrushes woke & sang
old Tam left three eggs at the door
with these I kindled the yellow light in furze
on the second day oyster catchers piped
then flew to the roof of the abandoned school
the moon was not lit
on the third evening at eight o clock
people went to their windows
and applauded silence
when the fourth day arrived
we found the world had grown larger
hollow creel boats bobbed affirmation
after that was the next day
we told stories from beyond and behind
stories of yet to happen and end times
the sixth & Peg left a bottle of beer at the door
or maybe that was the seventh at dusk
and maybe she left a sea woman’s purse
the eighth day brought pennies to our eyelids
and seraphs who masquerade as wild geese
yes the eighth day still dawned still at dawn
the seventh day or perhaps the sixth
we all rose from where we had been
the youngest and then the oldest

Transcritions from Ogham

Church of the 3 Brethren Lochgoilhead

little saint of whitethorn
little quencher of wolf spark
welcome to the burial mounds

dear confessor of blood-red berries
sweet dweller of beehive cell
oaks make good gallow-trees

my heart

Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #1

son: to leave
friend: to stroll among trees
work: to ride horses
killing: to be swift
father: to shelter the hunted

Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #2

skinsilver birch
rowan of pillage
heather the udder brusher
poplar the horse trembler
oak of hill & adze

Scoonie, Fife
no name for        them
they grow deep within
tree proud bush proud
urgent     they ’re allies
though     they groan
shrivel         in the hunt
still bigger than a horse


coltsfoot the apple that suckles
sun hoof the vine that strangles
sun horse the yew that sickens


manifold the wheel
honey bees dancing
blush of the dying
breath of horses
wood brands burning
warriors at the breast
trees green leafing
world wheel whirling


begin with honey
& fellowship of trees
one third of a spear
& a shroud

return salmon
return sun
return spring well
bees are dying

Mains of Afforsk

beauty’s a boast
& kinship with saplings

with a glow of anger
& warriors’ gear

cherished hazel
& grace disappear

cypher unknown
& wisdom undone

(From 'Poems and Poetics')

Monday, 1 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 78: Ali Whitelock

I first met Ali Whitelock in Edinburgh at the Poets Republic occupation of the Scottish Poetry Library last year. Over a couple of days which saw some amazing performances from a squad of writers from all over the world, her reading stood out as a highlight. This was my first experience of the Ali phenomenon which I will forever associate with the acronym OMG, so often is it deployed in her direction.

Ali has taken the music of the Beats and converted it a to a brash, funny, extravagant contemporary female narrative. She is the natural, anglicised, inheritor of her fellow Scot Alison Kermack (Flett) and has the same need to be 'writin like a bastard'.  It’s a mix of poetry and stand-up and its subject matter is the common gist to our mills: heartbreak, death, simple messing-up. Ali is the sound-track to our increasingly confused and complicated lives. She strikes countless chords. And performs her work brilliantly.

Ali Whitelock is a Scottish poet and writer living, like Alison Flett, in Australia, in Ali's case on the south coast of Sydney. Her debut collection,‘and my heart crumples like a coke can’ was published by Wakefield Press in 2018, with a forthcoming UK edition by Polygon next year, and her second poetry collection, ‘the lactic acid in the calves of your despair’ has been published by Wakefield Press recently. Her memoir, ‘Poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell’ was launched to critical acclaim in Australia in 2008 and the UK in 2009. 'this is coal don’t be afraid', her 'found' response to the bushfires in Australia received astonishing public attention, including from the former PM of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull. There is a link to this below. 

Her poetry is 'Brilliant. Funny, heartbreaking and a bit wonky' said Graeme Macrae Burnett, just one of many storming reviews. We agree! 

Here she is reading Part Two of 'not much of a mother in four parts':

Lots of information, poetry and reviews on Ali's website here:

Interval with the journal 'Backstory' here:

'this is coal dont be afraid', Spotlight article by Wakefield Press here:

not much of a mother in four parts:

part II

after the hysterectomy my seventy year old friend Hamish
asked if it would affect my ability to have children. under
normal circumstances i’d have laughed, taken out my highlighter
drawn a fluorescent yellow circle around his stupidity. this time
i merely nodded, thanked him for asking and the waiter brought
the scones, the danish, the strong black coffee. i ended up getting
two cats. there were six kittens in the cage to choose from.
i chose the two that sat alone in opposite corners to each other––
each of them staring out into their own very separate horizons.
i have always gravitated in the direction of lovelessness.
this relationship i’m in now has love on demand. it is a two litre
carton of full cream milk that sits in the fridge, there is no best
before date, the level never goes down and i have yet to pour
my cornflakes into my morning bowl only to open the fridge
door and suffer the crushing disappointment of no milk.
sometimes i don’t know what to do with love like this.

who’s a pretty fucking boy then?

how is your soul? your unleashed fears that too
quickly filled the corners of your mind before 
the too fast river of them burst into alcoves 
and crannies you didn’t even know you had and budgie 
mirrors on chains swung violently from side to side with the chaos 
of your terror spraying bird seed from here to hell 
as your worn out beak tapped out an SOS on the cuttle
fish of your confusion and the tiny bells tied
 to your cage tolled as your justified despair
 magnified through the +10 lenses of your tears
 spilled over and filled the room like an oversized 
elephant saying who's a pretty fucking 
boy then?

(Reprinted from 'Bareknuckle' Journal)

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 77: Chris Powici

Being locked down in the wilds is not unpleasant and not, to be honest, much different from ordinary life (my part of Dumfries and Galloway has been social distancing for 250 years) beyond the fact that treks to the two pubs within ten miles, the very traditional Farmers Arms in Thornhill and the zany and creative Craigdarroch in Moniaive have been curtailed. Having lived in D and G my whole life apart from university my contacts with writing - and very important contacts they were- were mostly through literary magazines. This was how in the old days, before the faux validation of Facebook, you gauged whether you were any good or not. My golden age of submissions entailed wonderful journals and magazines: ‘Cencrastus’, ‘Lines Review’, ‘Gairfish’, ‘Chapman’, ‘Northlight’, ‘West Coast Magazine’, ‘Rebel Inc’ , ‘Zed 2o’, not to forget ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Markings’ from the south of Scotland. What a thrill if you were accepted and a hand written letter arrived from Raymond Ross, Tessa Randford, Duncan Glen or Joy Hendry! It was proper validation. Nowadays we look on a magazine scene in Scotland that is, apart from Gerry Cambridge’s ‘Dark Horse’, and ‘Gutter’, a shadow of its former glory. One long term survivor though is ‘Northwords Now’ which I think began 15 years ago under Rhona Dunbar and has gone through various changes of format but maintains the astonishing achievement of being a classy and inclusive mag that is both widely distributed and free.

Which brings me to Chris Powici who served as Editor of 'Northwords Now' for about half of its existence. He lives in Dunblane and has worked at both the Open University and the University of Stirling where he is a Literature and Teaching fellow.

Like Em Strang - and many others in the #plague, Kim Blaeser just the other day for instance-his poems about nature reflect its spiritual aspect, it’s inner lights which are simultaneously banal and wonderful: ‘everything’s as ordinary and holy as bread or rain” (Lamlash Night). His poetic eye ranges over his environment with a light touch, leaving it sometimes to speak for itself - “the wind that shakes the birch tree’s leaves” (The Deer) - at other times employing an image that is arresting in its effectiveness and simplicity.

Chris had a previous collection with Sally Evans' excellent but defunct Diehard Press. His latest is ‘This Weight of Light’ published by Red Squirrel in 2015.
Here he is reading 'Gorse', a new poem in response to these times:

His profile at the SPL here with two poems here:

An Interview with 'New Linear Perspectives' here with several more poems:


We have watched peewit flap and glide
over the bright, sheep-trodden fields
the fierce yellow gorse spill
over the broken backs of drystane walls –
and we have come home to TV news
that twenty-two people have died in a care home in Paisley
that’s twenty-two ways to walk in the rain
or glance at the moon
or nudge a lover awake
gone for good behind closed doors
behind ordinary, quiet, terrible doors
but we don’t have a word for it yet –
this strange, new hurt –
we don’t have a name
so we think, we need to think
about peewit scattering
their high, reedy cries on a soft wind
about the wild April gorse
how it rises and blooms.


When it comes to the after-life
I’ll settle for the Calmac terminal
on a spit of Hebridean rock
after the ferry has sailed.
A lobster boat tugs at its rope
and beyond the pier a gannet rises
from the low swell into the cold cradling waves
and quick air.
Evening falls.
All through Scalasaig kitchen windows fill with light
and I imagine vases of pale tap-watered lilies
gleaming down from plate-heavy shelves
on lives of tea and talk, bread and breath;
quiet, island voices, unhurried
as the slap of the tide on the harbour wall
while some ewes graze the shore grass
and an oystercatcher dabs for shrimps
among the mussel shells and bladderwrack
at the rain-drenched edge of the world.

(Reprinted from 'New Linear Perspectives')

Lunan Bay
For Helen

You knelt at the tide-edge
and built frail cairns of whelk and mussel shells.
Above the waves a wave of gulls
hung in a blue shock of September sky.
A boy roared an ancient Honda 125
between the river and the dunes.
Sand flared from the wheels, the gulls screamed

and still you probed and nudged and tweaked
as if you’d waited all your life to feel
each grit-clogged smithereen
each dirty glittering scrap
pass through your hands and become
something known, something seen. 

(From 'This Weight of Light')

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 76: Chrys Salt

Chrys Salt is cultural royalty down our way. The Bakehouse, her Scottish headquarters in Gatehouse and Fleet, is a home, exhibition space, mini theatre, and the venue since 2007 of world class reading events. It is now also the focus of an expanding regional Arts Festival called Big Lit. Everyone should visit the Bakehouse, as Chrys' hospitality is legendary.  

Chrys Salt has a background in drama. She was an actress, and still writes for and about the theatre. She has been a producer and impresario. She has won a Fringe First, and her organisation of a series of world class performances by Globe Touring in the grounds of the Crichton Campus  in Dumfries left a lasting impression on me and many others, particularly young folk who had never seen such stuff before.  In 2014 she was awarded an MBE for services to the Arts.

She is, however, primarily a poet and, as you would expect, an excellent performer of her own work. She has published five full collections and five pamphlets, had her poems published in magazines and anthologies and broadcast on Radio 3 and 4. She has performed world-wide, most recently at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival. Her latest collection, 'Snookum Jim and the Klondike Gold Rush', the product of a visit to the Yukon sponsored by Creative Scotland, has just been published and you can buy it from the link below.

Chrys' poetry ranges far and wide and she doesn’t shy away from very big topics like ageing and war though her stuff can be powerful and personal too. sometimes both: the poem she reads below was written in response to her son's service in the army in Iraq..

Here she is reading 'Seascape':

Her website here:

A recent interview here:


There are no maps for poets in this country.
The compass finger, mindless on its post
will not direct us on this dangerous journey.
An unfamiliar landscape tells us we are lost.
Above the bramble and the rambling wood
the technicoloured dragons wheel for bones
of luckless travellers who have misconstrued
the alien symbols on the milestones.
We have nowhere to go but where we are,
our options closed, the exit double locked.
We may not take direction from a star.
The stars are out and all the roads are blocked.
How can we dare this nightmare territory?
the shifting contours of the hills and coasts.
the gibberish signposts and the season's enmity.
What hand our touchstone in this land of ghosts?

Hymn to Mastectomy

Here’s to the woman with one tit
who strips down to her puckered scars
and fronts the mirror – doesn’t give a shit
for the pert double breasted wonderbras
sneaking a furtive gander
at her missing bit.

‘Poor lady,’ they are thinking
‘can her husband bear to touch her?
Will she ever dare to wear
that slinky low-cut sweater’?

Here’s to the woman with half a bust
who wears her lack of symmetry
with grace and moist with lust
offers a single nipple like a berry
to her lover’s tongue.

Here’s to the single breasted ones
come home, victorious from their wars
wearing their wounds
as badges on the chests
of Amazons.

‘She ought to cover up
its embarrassing, its shocking.
I’m sure she thinks she’s very brave
but everybody’s looking’!

Here’s to those wondrous affrontages
out on the scene in sauna, pool and gym
those who when whole were dying –
now less than whole
become themselves again

Poems from the Backroom 75: Tom Dewey

"Be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk!"

I'm reminded of Baudelaire's words often, and in fact the first video poem I saw of today's guest, Tom Dewey, was entitled 'Bottles'. In it he leans against a city wall drinking beer. "Before I open my mouth you hear this bag clunk" he says. "I am a hostage to hedonism, a doorway to nowhere." All that stuff really attracts me, of course, because I love that wee strange liminal feeling you get after a (small) drink and because I know many a poem has been born there, in that half light. Tom also inhabits the grey area between poetry and spoken word, between image and the page, and he occupies it confidently. His poems therefore live in various ways at once, poem, performance, technical feat,  image. Having come to the poetry poem as a performance piece in a rather cynical vein these pieces, and others I've come across in the Plague, have impressed me hugely. 

Tom Dewey is a 24 year old poet and playwright from Bristol. Tom began writing in 2015 and became the youngest ever regional spoken word champion. He’s had his work featured on BBC iPlayer, and BBC Radio. performed to a sold-out Roundhouse and delivered a TEDx Talk, a media platform that broadcasts talks online for free distribution as long as the idea is interesting enough. Tom's talk was on mental health. Tom works closely with the Bristol Old Vic and was selected to close the weekend-long celebrations of their 250th birthday. He is a passionate advocate for creativity in his native city. 

Here he reads 'Kites' , "Flattering the future with footprints".

An archive of Tom's video poems here:

Here is 'Bottles'


@tomjamesdewey on twitter & Instagram.

dinner for one

you grip the spoon and stir the kuzhambu

raising the heat, honing the flavour to a swelling specificity that baptises 
meat and perfumes the kitchen you’re afraid you will die in, but won’t
you wonder why you cook for an empty house, wonder why you’re haunted 
by hungry mouths who feast on your offerings but when it comes time 
never speak of their leaving just leave like alcohol burning away from the wine you share with your food
the two of you perish five bottles a week
the lady in the shop asked if you knew it was two-for-one and your stock was reduced to famine

now there is music in my hands

the rhythm of my lonely has a little more kick, a little more swing to the 
tune of my torture —— all around me, nameless agonies give up the ghost 
and whistle along, forgetting their oath of immortality 

we dance all night, bodies burn into the shape of something the shape of closure
we fall to the ground —— our drunkenness melts into wisdom now the party is over
my bedroom is rife with sleeping ghosts,
i am to be the sole recipient of sunrise
i wipe my eyes, turn to my instrument and translate dawn into pure epiphany

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 74: Bob Beagrie

And so let Friday and Saturday be the days of the English. Ochone ochone. But we are not displaying narrow nationalism here, let us hearken back to the days of the early Stuart Kings, when every nationality was welcome to Scotland without a passport. Except the English come to think of it, so that's not a very good example. 

Our beards have grown long in this process but we've actually already, away back, featured a very fine English poet,  Jean Atkin, though I’ve always believed she had some kind of joint citizenship. Over the next two days we’re featuring two excellent poets who will also be welcome as honorary Scots when we finally depart the unnatural construct of our political union - and poets will always be welcome residents because poetry knows no boundaries and poets should be a perpetual multinational force, like UN peacekeepers, circulating round the world dampening conflict, showing there's another way.

 The first of these is Bob Beagrie who made a tremendous impression on me when I saw him in action in the Scottish Poetry Library last year? Was it really last year? He was reciting from ‘Civil Insolences’ a series of poems based on the Battle of Guisborough of 1643 in the Civil War and I don’t know whether it was his backing track or all the drink I’d had at lunchtime but it seemed at some very vivid points like we actually all were in the 17th century. I love historical poems and I love the power to communicate them and give yet another level to what might already be supposedly a weel kent story. And also to give history not just relevance but credit for being in very many senses part of the present.  Particularly working class history, or the stories of ordinary people. In this respect I would recommend to you the extraordinary 'Leasungspell' written partly in Old English about Oswin, an uncelebrated monk, charged with a mission of no real consequence, adrift in the strange wilderness of the Dark Ages and we're with him every step of the way.

Bob Beagrie lives in Middlesbrough and is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University. He has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently 'Civil Insolencies' from Smokestack in 2019, 'Remnants' written with Jane Burn  from Knives, Forks & Spoons Press in 2019,  'Leasungspell'  from Smokestack in 2016 and 'This Game of Strangers' – written with Jane Burn  and published by Wyrd Harvest Press in 2017. He has collaborated with musicians, he has also worked closely with visual artists on public artworks and with theatre company Three Over Eden and and is a founder member of the experimental poetry and music collective Project Lono. His work has been translated into many languages.

Here Bob is reading Sutra from 'Civil Insolences '. 

Lyke Wake

“Where am I hurried! What sanguine place
Is this I breathe in, garnished with disgrace?”

John Quarles – An Elegy upon that Never 
to be Forgotten Charls the First, 1649

The broken men yield, after the blizzard's rage,
 to the scandal of disorder, tainted by the taste
 of this new age and grub about for tales to give 
account for their phantasmagoria from ordinary 
house-holder, groom, apprentice, tinker, gent, 
undisciplined idler rendered citizen-soldier, 
hystericals, histrionics, mama's boys, bastards, 
brewers, patricides – although there is so much 
they'll not meddle with, including themselves, 
having been shunted out of grammar’s backdoor
 into the vulgar dirt of unpronouncables, the fylth- 
riddled freedom of formlessness, succoured on 
an homeopathy of killing. Their dark nativities 
bubble with ramblings to take back control
 in defence of the state as Cartemandua, Frigg
 Britannia, safe-guarded, wearing the familiar
 mask of mother, sweetheart, favourite whore
 – each of them a springhead of fresh anxieties, 
labour pains for a post-term Kingdom Come.

(from Civil Insolencies)

Self Portrait With Body Works
(after Gunther von Hagens)

Photography is not permitted so I make mental snapshots of everything
as I mooch around the exhibits and scribble a coded reference
in small pencilled letters in the lower left hand corner of each print
before filing it away in its proper place which I will no doubt forget
because it is not the Dewy Decimal Classification system that I use
far from it – you only have to take a glance at my book shelves to see
how that would never suffice but rather a rubric of many random
associations which only makes sense in the moment before filing
and which makes retrieving books and mental prints time consuming
frustrating but ultimately more interesting in the rediscovery of subtle
alignments and as I walk quietly through the half-light from consenting
monster to saint from fisherman runner tight rope walker and lover past
the human sliced thin as honey roasted ham bought over the deli counter
I am studying my own hands the skin old scars sub-dermal boulevards
then looking through my own face reflected in the glass of the display case
superimposed upon the catalogued cadaver with its spinal column
drawn back and out sprayed like the tail of a peacock – when I swallow
I notice how my laryngeal prominence rises and dips like a wary seal
in scummy waters by the jetty at Bran Sands although I always vanish
whenever I blink so I learned from early childhood to do this quickly
to avoid disappearing completely as gas moves somewhere inside me
I recall the leaf skeleton I picked up at the end of a winter while cutting
through the cemetery when the last snow had retreated holding out in
low gullied pockmarks in the hills and which I later placed delicately
but deliberately between the pages of a chosen book before sliding
the book back into its proper new place on one of my sagging over-
stuffed shelves which has so far managed to avoid being rediscovered

(Reprinted from 'Ink Sweat and Tears')