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'