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'

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The Festive Backroom 9

 Merry Christmas to all and a better New Year! 
Thanks to all who have supported the #plague and all those who choose to spend time reading and writing poetry. It’s the best way I know of defining and trying to make sense of ourselves in this, or any other, time.

The Festive Backroom 8: Liz Berry

Liz Berry's first book of poems, 'Black Country' (Chatto 2014), described as a ‘sooty, soaring hymn to her native West Midlands’ (Guardian) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. Liz's pamphlet 'The Republic of Motherhood' (Chatto, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and the title poem won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2018. A new book of her collaboration with photographer Tom Hicks will be published by Hercules Editions in 2021. 

'Blue Heaven'  is what we need this morning and every morning, a prayer to the past but also a poem to the bustling, vibrant, tragic, temporary blast that is the human spirit, that is love. Liz Berry is a fine poet (she wouldn't be in the Backroom, otherwise) but she is also an ecstatic poet, so let us enjoy this moment of fierce reflection and joy, inspired by one of the photographs in her new collaboration.

Blue Heaven 

Our poem which art in blue heaven, 

give us this morning, 

daffodils spilling Spring's song like yolk, 

moss sporing on the guttering, snug 

for wet-the-beds; jenny-wren and weeping birch 

watching over us, our unanswered emails 

and half-built Lego palaces, milk cups 

and toast crumbs, photographs of us 

in the nineties, drunk and so in love 

we look like children. 

Give us griefs and small kindnesses, 

wunce apon a time in clumsy boy's hand 

on the back of a phone bill, 

library books and Germolene, sanitary towels 

soaked with clotted rubies, 

pyjamas shed beneath the bunkbeds 

like adder skins, money spiders, stories, 

the nights we touch in darkness 

with that wild honeymilk of recognition. 

Tenderise our hearts to all that is holy: 

the dog and her blanket, the playgroup collage, 

and forgive us our trespasses - 

pulling tight the shutters on our hearts 

when others are knocking, 

cussing in the night when we stumble to the cot. 

Teach us to love each other as the tree loves the rain, 

never wasting a drop. 

Liz's Website:

Liz on Frank Skinner's Poetry Podcast:

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Festive Backroom 7: Eoghan Stewart

Fantastic to squeeze another young Gael Into the Backroom, proof of the language’s continued vitality. Here’s Eoghan Stewart introducing himself and his poems:

“ Here's a wee pair of poems, both improvised whilst out walking, they kind of sit together in my mind. I'm not really one for writing in response to "These Times" but what the alast few months has given me is the opportunity to explore far an wide around the formerly indigenous Gaelic speaking areas of the Aird between Beauly and Loch Ness, so I've got a lot of mileage of seeing the Gaelic words come alive. I hate using the twisted anglicized spellings so I'd rather do an awkward ENGLISH gloss where I can. That's probably where the first poem Indigenous Summer comes from, a proper "Indian Summer" day and seeing those broken spellings on the map. The second one is just about the joys of being in the Highlands on a cold winters day even in a crappy world. Anyway bud hope you like this stuff. What can I say about myself, I reckon I'm pretty much the late noughties early 2010s Arsenal of Gaelic Poetry, polling consistently 2nd or 3rd in most poetry prizes, but never winning the big deals most of the time, just playing this game for the sheer love of writings, not taking it too seriously and just loving the craic, in Northwords Now mostly. I'm a Gaelic teacher and broadcaster who loves the shinty, been brought up all over the Scotland but I'm an indigenous voice with a big interest in land rights and indigenous language rights. Should have my first collection Beum-sgeithe out next year on Acair fingers crossed."

Samhradh Tùsanach

chaidh mi a-mach 
taobh Ach a’ Phobuill
ach bha an geata glaiste
ag ràdh ‘rathad prìobhaiteach’

air Slighe a’ Ghlinne Mhòir
lorg mi slighean eile
’s thàinig mi gu Coire Foitheanais
tuathanas - baile - air fhàgail

ghabh mi an rathad
a dh’ionnsaigh
Baile a’ Chreagain
‘s lorg mi 
poit-stil fhuadan
ann an caochan fìor

bha mi air m’ iùl
tron a’ mhonadh
le sanasan air an cur
le daoine saor-thoileach
agus mapa an airm

ràinig mi mullach Càrn na Leitire
thug mi sùil a-mach air tìr
a tha air a cur an cèill
le faclan cam cèin

Indigenous Summer - I went out by (THE FIELD OF PEOPLE) but the gate was locked saying ‘PRIVATE ROAD’ on the GREAT GLEN WAY I found other ways and came to (CORRIE OF MEANING OBSCURE) an abandoned farmstead I took the road toward (THE TOWN OF THE ROCKY PLACE) and I found a mock up black still in a true (STREAM HIDDEN BY BRACKEN)I was guided through the mountainside with signage planted by diligent volunteers and the Ordnance Survey map I reached the (STONY HILL OF THE HILLSIDE) and looked out upon a land expressed in crooked alien words

Geamhraidhean Gallta

shuas mu Bhlàr na Seann Chrìche
far am bi an crodh ’s na preachain
eadar Innis a’ Chatha ’s Mam a’ Chatha
agus A’ Chaiplich Mhòr
’s eu-coltach e 
ris na geamhraidhean gallta
a chosg mi air sràidean gruamach
ann an Glaschu, Dùn Èideann, Lunnain

shuas mu Bhlàr na Seann Chrìche
tha an t-àile glan ’s tha an iarmailt glas
thoir dhomh an talamh cruaidh
thoir dhomh an talamh iarainn
thoir dhomh an deigh, an reòthadh, an fhuachd
thoir dhomh an t-siorraidheachd uaine seo
agus gealladh geal a’ gheamhraidh Ghàidhealaich
’s ceò mo bheatha ag èiridh mu mo choinneamh 

Lowland Winters - today around the PLAIN OF THE OLD BOUNDARY where the kye and the kites are between THE MEADOW AND THE PAP OF THE BATTLE and THE HORSE PLACE it is so dissimilar from the lowland winters I spent on grim streets in glasgow, edinburgh and london
today around the PLAIN OF THE OLD BOUNDARY the air is clean and the sky grey give me the hard earth give me the iron earth give me the ice the frost the cold give me this green eternity and the white promise of the Gaelic winter and the mist of my life rising before me

Monday, 21 December 2020

The Festive Backroom 6: Elizabeth Jacobson

I am so pleased to feature another brilliant voice from across the Atlantic today, a poet from New Mexico. Elizabeth Jacobson is the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico and an Academy of American Poets Poet Lauerate Fellow in 2020.  Her most recent book, 'Not into the Blossom and Not into the Air', won the New Measure Poetry Prize, and the 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for both New Mexico Poetry and Best New Mexico Book. Her other books include 'Her Knees Pulled In' (Tres Chicas Books, 2012). She is the founding director of the WingSpan Poetry Project, a not-for-profit which from 2013-2020 conducted weekly poetry classes in battered family and homeless shelters in New Mexico. Elizabeth is the Reviews Editor for the on-line literary journal Terrain.org and she teaches poetry workshops regularly in the Santa Fe community.

 Here she reads two wonderful poems about our interactions with the natural world, interactions which reveal of course as much about ourselves:  'Curator of Insects' and 'Canyon Road'. 


Curator of Insects

I started asking questions about how human bodies held together.
Already I was of a certain age,

and not seeing any usual patterns.
My mind had become fuzzier,

mirroring the now fuzzier vision of my eyes.
I read about hymenoptera vision,

how paper wasps and honeybees
can remember the characteristics of a human face.

And since a dragonfly had remembered me,
I knew that this is true for them as well.

Some insects live only a few hours
or a few weeks,

30 days for a fruit fly,
2 months for a horse fly.

I saw the age of the body
might never again match the stretch of its will,

and like Keats, who remarked on the fading animation of his hand
at the end of his life,

there grew a sadness for this former vivacity,
yet unlike Keats, I had joy in its release.

Some of the things I do seem to move backwards.
Others feel as if they have a spherical momentum.

As I grow older, it all appears to taper,
yet there is also a broadening,

and although this is illogical,
this is what happens to people.

The dropping away leaves space,
which quickly floods with small things

like blue-eyed dragonflies in flight,
facing me in the early morning,

or saving an ant from drowning
in a puddle of warm rainwater.

I cultivate flowers and trees for a small variety of bees,
offer them aspen and willow for when they are ailing.

They scrape the resin off the leaves
and secure it to their back legs.

A box elder bug has been resting on the base of the desk lamp for days,
his tender black limbs secured around the cord.

He is close to death, and waiting.
All my life, I tell him, I have been told I should not see the things I see,

the way I see them.
It is too late for all that now.

He turns his head and thorax toward my voice,
his opaque bead eyes red with inquiry.

From Not into the Blossoms and Not into the Air by Elizabeth Jacobson. (c) 2019 by Parlor Press. Used by permission.

Canyon Road

Driving on black ice—
I braked too hard,
spun into a 360

and then two more.
Like a boom of a sailboat,
the back of the car

slammed a dog.
In the midnight darkness
I got out to find a coyote,

his abdomen torn open.
The canine held my gaze
as I cradled his head,

one palm above his brow
the other on his snout,
and hugged him to my thigh

until the chasm
of his breath closed.
An aloneness,

not loneliness
came from the animal—
yellow flecks inside his eyes

flashed for an instant
before they turned to ice.
I tucked the coyote’s cooling body

under pine brush,
covered it with snow.
Nothing is made less by dying.

Walking the next morning,
in the early fog,
I watched a Cooper’s hawk

fly up and up, above the road
to scan the world for prey,
then spiral down, effortlessly, 

as if it were a single feather—
hollow shaft travelling
toward the white frost.

Canyon Road first appeared in Zocalo Public Square 

Her Profile and more poems in Academy of American Poets:

Her Website: