Guest Poet

Estelle Price and Oak Ayling will be joining us on 26 October.

To help us all get to know these lovely poets we asked them a few questions.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past? 

ESTELLE – It would have to be the Llyn Peninsula, maybe the beach at Porth Iago but not as it was on August Bank Holiday! Usually it’s very quiet but the world and all his wives, children, aunts and uncles were there that day. We often walk to Porth Iago west from Porth Colmon, the views are spectacular, on a clear day you might see the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland and the beach is a cove backed by grassy cliffs. 

OAK – Well this is a romantic question, and I suppose if I were to give a romantic answer I would say a vineyard, not far from a small welcoming town in Israel. Somewhere where were you to stoop down and touch the earth you would be truly feeling it, clutching it in thick handfuls, feeling it cling to your fingers in reciprocation. This would be a very good place to be.

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

ESTELLE – My heart lives with the shells on Penllech beach, also on the Llyn Peninsula, but I’m probably not allowed that as we live there part of the year. It’s possible I left bits of my heart on the west coast of Ireland when we had a holiday before lockdown. The Dingle Peninsula, the Blaskets, Skellig and Dursey Island. All so wild and beautiful. Hoping to go back before long to explore Connemara.

OAK – There is a lake, I pass now and then while driving, which I have never been to. It is so scenic and practically kaleidoscopic that it has earned itself quite a mythical status in my view.

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

ESTELLE – Ipad and phone. My handwriting is terrible and there’s not much point writing with a pen if even I can’t read it! 

OAK – I’m afraid I subscribe to the keyboard and app method. I tend to think quite quickly and require both hands in order to keep up with my rapid train of thought and record what I can of it.

What book have you re-read the most?

ESTELLE – I hardly ever re-read a book. I heard someone calculate how many books you might have left to read in a life and it panicked me! No time to re-read. Having said that I have just re-read Iris Murdoch’s The Bell for a Book Group. I read it first in my 20’s and clearly missed a lot….

OAK – Hmm, now this is a good question, I am a dreadful re-reader, I often times re-read a book to a point and stop, inevitably because I’d prefer that the story doesn’t end. The two that I have frequented the most are Lightning by Dean Koontz and The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Time Travelling Romance is something I couldn’t possibly get enough of.

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

ESTELLE – Maybe Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind but she was quite mean. 

OAK – Well there are countless classic movies that I simply love, however to live one, this is a rather more difficult conundrum. I think I would be most content in a musical, and one of my favourites is Meet Me in St. Louis, so I think I would have to step into Judy Garland’s shoes and play Esther.

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

ESTELLE – There are two ways I write poems. If I have a project then I will research and read until an idea forms and hope that the poem will not stutter too much. Much easier is when a poem arrives on its own. If I knew what prompted that I’d be very glad. I’ve noticed that when I’m walking or cycling sometimes a thought comes but it needs to be written down very quickly or will be forgotten. Also if I listen to poetry (has to be listen rather than read) then it’s as if my poetry tap gets turned on. 

OAK – Yearning. It sounds cliché doesn’t it? But I truly feel that sense of dissatisfaction which nigh constantly chafes at the soul is what drives a lot of us to do anything. Whether good or bad, there is a wrestling within us all between gratitude and hunger, and more often than not I believe that is the feeling which compels me to write.

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

ESTELLE – I can’t imagine sharing one of my own! Too shy. The Peace of Wild Things by Wendall Berry is so comforting and accessible. But also something of Jane Hirschfield, Jane Kenyon, Emily Berry, Adrienne Rich, Alice Oswald, Eavan Boland, Louise Gluck, Sharon Olds. The list is long and it seems mostly female. 

OAK – Oh delicious, I have never had opportunity to challenge a sceptic, though I have many friends who simply cannot get their head around the genre. There are literally dozens of poems which I absolutely adore and would happily ply a willing reader with, however if my mission was to convince them of something, of the significance and purpose of poetry, I think I may refer them to Steve Scafidi’s Triumph of the Jabberwock.

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

ESTELLE – Please don’t eat me. 

OAK – I would ask it if the animal kingdom as a collective knew something for certain that we as humans were unable to perceive or be confident of.

Estelle Price divides her time between Cheshire and the Llŷn Peninsula. She began writing poetry in 2014 and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. Her poem iii won the 2021 Welsh Poetry Competition and is part of a sequence of poems about the Bloomsbury Group. Estelle was the winner of the 2018 Book of Kells Writing Competition and her poetry has been placed or listed in the National Poetry Competition, Bridport Prize, Canterbury Poet of the Year, Much Wenlock, the London Magazine, Yorkmix and other poetry competitions. Poems have appeared in Poetry Wales, The Lake, Marble Poetry, the Alchemy Spoon, Crannog (forthcoming), the Stony Thursday Book, the Smith |Doorstep The Result is What you See Today anthology, Macunian Ways Anthology and Deep Time Volumes 1 and 2.

Oak Ayling (she/her) is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet and semi-professional human. Her debut pamphlet ‘With Love from the Curator’ is out now from Indigo Dreams Publishing and her other works can be found in various anthologies and literary magazines. 
She also tweets and posts little squares @oakayling


Lucy Crispin and Oz Hardwick joined us on 14 September.

To help us all get to know these lovely poets we asked them a few questions

If you could travel abroad anywhere right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

LUCY – By a lake in northern Ontario, swimming and talking and being with my nephew, who I haven’t been able to see for 2 years.

OZ – I’m not good at relaxing, and I’m one of those people who travels to see and do stuff. If I could get on a plane to anywhere tomorrow, it would probably be Iceland. I’d always wanted to visit but somehow never got around to it, but I had one of those “significant” birthdays in January 2020 and my wife and I spent it in Reykjavik. It was absolutely wonderful, and the landscape was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. We’d love to go back during summer and visit the north of the country which was just inaccessible in winter. 

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

LUCY – Most stretches of wild water in Cumbria

OZ – Bruges. From the first time I stopped off for a couple of hours just passing through, I really felt at home there – much more so than a number of places in which I have actually lived. I’m very northern European in general, I love medieval art and architecture, and those streets just wrap their arms around you. It also has the best beer and chocolate in the world. In all honesty, it’s where I’d be now, given the chance, but I didn’t want to give the same answer to two questions (and I really do want to go back to Iceland).

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

LUCY – depends what for! Pen and paper for poetry, no question.

OZ – Pen and paper or keyboard. Not “apps” though – I’m not a techy person at all for various reasons. Are they anything like apes? 

What book have you re-read the most?

LUCY – Middlemarch

OZ – Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar. His best novels are effectively prose poetry, and this is the most sustained of them. One of the first casual questions one asks of a novel is what it’s about: In Watermelon Sugar is about simple language arranged in quietly startling ways. It’s haunted me since I first read it forty-something years ago and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it,

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

LUCY – George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. He gets some good help learning to grieve, accept and rejoice in what is. Pretty important life tasks.

OZ – As you haven’t specified that the character has to be originally from that movie, I think I’d be Obi-Wan Kenobi in Casablanca.

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

LUCY – the urge to connect, with myself and others.

OZ – Compulsion. My brain’s wired that way. 

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

LUCY – Ooh, that’s something I actually do a lot, so I’ve got a long list. Depending on the context/individual: ‘Verse for a birthday card’, ‘Giving up Smoking’ or ‘Tich Miller’ by Wendy Cope; ‘This be the verse’, Larkin; ‘Things’, Fleur Adcock; ‘The Summer Day’, Mary Oliver; ‘Say not the struggle naught availeth’, Clough; ‘I praise my destroyer’ Diane Ackerman; ‘Friendship’, Elizabeth Jennings; ‘Meeting Point’ Louis MacNeice; ‘I must go down to the sea again’, Spike Milligan… shall I go on?!

OZ – Of my own, “… to Station,” from Learning to Have Lost (2018). Of someone else’s, it would change several times per day, but at this moment I’m feeling frivolous, so I’d go for John Updike’s “V. B. Nimble, V. B. Quick,” first published in The New Yorker (1955).

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

LUCY – show me round your world!

OZ – How it decides which arms to use for specific activities. Are they all equally versatile or is it effectively an organic Swiss Army knife?

Lucy Crispin is a former Poet Laureate of South Cumbria and has been published widely in print and online, most recently in Anthropocene, Pennine Platform, Channel, Drawn to the Light and The York Literary Review. A passionate believer in shared reading, she facilitates poetry-based groups and works freelance for the Wordsworth Trust; she also loves performing. You can find information about forthcoming events and access past performances at, where you can also find her regular poetry column. wish you were here and shades of blue were published in 2020 by Hedgehog Press.

Oz Hardwick is a UK-based poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and most recently the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2017) with Miles Salter, which was a UK National Poetry Day recommendation, and The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz has held
residencies in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia, and has performed internationally at major festivals and intimate soirees. As a photographer, Oz has had work on many album covers, as a musician he has played at Glastonbury as the Summer Solstice sun rose, and as an academic he has published extensively on medieval art and literature: however, he wishes it to be known that not one item on this list is as impressive as it sounds. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.

Zoe Brooks joined us on 10 August.

To help us get to know Zoe we asked her a few questions.

If you could travel abroad anywhere right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

It has to be the Czech Republic. I had a home there for 15 years, and I miss it terribly. To be precise I would like to be sitting beside the Vltava River in the Sumava Mountain, watching the sun on the fast flowing water and hearing a gentle wind in the birch trees. 

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

The Forest of Dean. My granny lived there when I was very young and I go as often as I can to forage for mushrooms, walk and be in touch with nature, There is something very special about the ancient forest.

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

For poetry – always pen and paper, to be precise lined paper and a black ink pen. For prose – keyboard. 

What book have you re-read the most?

The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov – I love its surreal humour, wickedly satirical and profound.

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

Jane Eyre. Like many teenage girls I identified with Jane, and now I am older I still do. 

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

The natural world, even if the resulting poem is not about nature per se.  

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

It would depend on why they felt like that. There are many reasons why people are put off poetry – because they were badly taught, because they think it is only for white middle-class people, because they think it always has to be complex, because they think they can’t relate to the subject matter… I would choose the poem to suit them. 

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

Can I have some of your ink, my pen’s run out?  

ZOE BROOKS’ collection Owl Unbound was published by Indigo Dreams (2020). Her work has been extensively published in magazines, including recently in ARTEMIS Poetry, Birmingham Poetry JournalInk, Sweat and TearsProle, and Fenland Reed. Her award-winning long poem Fool’s Paradise is due to be published in 2022. Zoe has gained a reputation as a performer of poetry, and has recently been a feature poet at The Wirral Poetry Festival, Fenspeak/Ely Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Gloucester Poetry Festival, Evesham Festival of Words.

Zoe Brooks

Christina Thatcher joined us on 29 June along with Darren J Beaney (OK – not a guest, but DJB will be took a guest slot to launch his new pamphlet).

To help us get to know Christina we asked her some questions. Barbara asked Darren a different set of questions to the ones we normally use.


If the world was ‘normal’ right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

I’d love to go to some European city and sit in a café for hours. I’d love to simply be among people enjoying their day: sitting close together, eating tiny cakes, enjoying strong coffee. I’d want to see commuters rushing through the streets, friends waving hello and hugging.  If the world was ‘normal’ right now, I’d like to travel to a new place and just do normal things there. 

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

My heart belongs to so many countries but a big piece has been left in Croatia: the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still hear the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park. 

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

I think I’ll have to say the keyboard and the Notes app on my phone. I do love pen and paper but my handwriting is so tiny and difficult to read that I often abandon my notebook in favour of my laptop.

What book have you re-read the most? 

I think it’s a three way tie with these poetry collections: I Know Your Kind by William Brewer, The Zoo Father by Pascale Petit and Autopsy by Donte Collins. I spent countless hours with these books when working on my PhD which explored, in part, how poets write about disenfranchised grief.

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

This is a very difficult question! My favourite classic movie is Harold and Maude and I may just be a mix of these two characters. As a former teenage Goth and a current bereavement researcher, I am drawn to Harold’s dark humour and obsession with death. As someone who is upbeat and optimistic, I also identify with Maude’s zest for life and her passion for making the most of it.  

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

I am often driven to write because of a desire to understand an experience or idea – writing helps me make sense of the world.  

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

Gosh, there are so many I could choose! I think I would initially pick a poem like ‘Good Bones’ by Maggie Smith or ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver. These pieces have already proven that they can speak to people who claim they do not like poetry. Once the reader is hooked, the door can be opened wider.  

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

What makes you happy? 


Your forthcoming collection is The Machinery of Life, what inspired you to write these poems?

I am a sucker for love poetry and a hopeless romantic to boot! I wanted to write a ‘follow up’ to Honey Dew as I knew I had more love poems in me. I had to produce an anthology for my MA dissertation, so most of these poems were written for that.

What started you writing poetry?

I heard Simon Armitage on the radio in 1994 and was blown away by his poetry, I had never read or listened to poetry before. I bought his book and after reading it a couple of times in occurred to me that I could try writing poetry as the ‘rules’ as I saw them had been erased. It proved a great outlet to my many issues at the time and certainly helped me offload and change course.

What keeps you writing poetry?

My head won’t switch off! I read poetry most days, I see things or hear words that I make a mental note of and eventually go back to. I am a member of two writing groups that provide inspiration.  I love writing and it keeps me sane.

You have an MA in Creative Writing, why should a writer go to class? What do they gain?

Exposure to other writers is invaluable, be that your peers or the writers that you read as part of the course. Reading and hearing others makes you think about your own style, form and use of language. The biggest gain is sharing your work with others and getting feedback and guidance. I know that many of my poems would never have got to the printed page without input from others and some may never see the printed page because of feedback from others (even though I thought they were OK).

Whose poetry do you go back to read the most?

In no particular order: Caroline Bird, Luke Wright, Kim Addonizio, Mark Waldron, Ross Sutherland, Luke Kennard, Catherine Smith, Bobby Parker, John McCullough, Tara Bergin, Tim Wells and (early) Simon Armitage.

What’s the best piece of advice to give someone trying to write poetry for the first time?

Read a lot of different poets, then go for it – just write. Don’t feel that you have to fit some classic poetic template. Read it aloud and if possible, share with others and most of all listen to the feedback.

You’re known for enjoying a pint and some live music. If you could be in any pub in the world with any band playing in the corner, which pub and what band would it be?

It would be no fun to name many of the pubs in Brighton that I drink in, some which often host live music, so I’ll go for somewhere that I am unlikely to go to again – Milo’s Craft Beer Emporium in London, Ontario. I spent eight days in London in 2019 for work and found Milo’s on day two.  The atmosphere was awesome as were the staff and other drinkers. They had a great selection of beer and did really good vegetarian food (no mean feat in Canada). I spend a few evenings and two afternoons off in there and wrote a lot of poetry (I even got a Milo’s t-shirt). In terms of bands, easy – Eastfield.

If you could only keep one of your 100+ t-shirts, which would it be?

The hardest question of all to answer. After much deliberation I reckon it would be an Eastfield one (I have nine), and I think it would be ‘Eastfield 20’ which was produced in 2016 to mark their 20th anniversary. Or maybe it would be….

Christina Thatcher is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She keeps busy off campus as Poetry Editor for The Cardiff Review, a tutor for The Poetry School, a member of the Literature Wales Management Board and as a freelance workshop facilitator across the UK. Her poetry and short stories have featured in over 50 publications including The London Magazine, Magma, North American Review, Planet Magazine, The Interpreter’s House and more. She has published two poetry collections with Parthian Books: More than you were (2017) and How to Carry Fire (2020). To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website: or
follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.

Darren J Beaney is one half of Flight of the Dragonfly. His new pamphlet Machinery of Life will be published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press on 5 July 2021. He is excited to unveil it at Dragonflies. His bio can be found on the About the Dragonflies page.

Vic Pickup and Cathy Carson joined us on 11 May 2021

To help us all get to know these lovely poets we asked them a few questions

If the world was ‘normal’ right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

VIC – I’d take a visit to the main square in Sarajevo (the Baščaršija), in late summer. I’ve been twice, and have a very happy memory of sitting, drinking Turkish coffee and watching the elderly locals playing giant chess in the sun. A taste of culture and somewhere removed from my life appeals.

CATHY – It would have to be Malta.  For the medieval walled cities, the history and the crazy little yellow buses that the bus drivers decorate ‘ creatively ‘.  Been there three times and longing to go back .

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

VIC – Montreux, Switzerland. I am a big Queen fan, and as Freddie Mercury said “If you want peace of mind, come to Montreux”. The serenity of the place, the water and the mountains beyond it, is so special. We named my first born after Lake Geneva (and my cat after Freddie ☺).

CATHY – We got married in Tobago in 2006.  Back then we found it really non commercial and full of charm.  We were married on a beach as the sun went down. So that place will always be special. 

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

VIC – Pen and paper, absolutely. I’m a scribbler and I don’t trust technology, although I appreciate it when it works! I do, however, find that when I need to get ideas for a poem down before they escape my head, I type much quicker than I write.

CATHY – Oh app. Voice app. No keyboard or pen and paper if I can avoid it. For me, it’s all about standing in the power of the words out loud and how they feel and sound. I record phrases on my phone and keep adding and editing orally until I feel it’s right.  As someone with a childhood stammer, it is still an absolute joy every time to get my words out. 

What book have you re-read the most? 

VIC – A poetry book, ‘Stressed/Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind’. My husband bought it for me back in 2017 and after a decade of not writing, it brought me back to poetry. I’m very interested in bibliotherapy, and this is produced by the Re-Lit foundation, with the aim to provide a body of poetry which can provide solace or encouragement when most needed. Everyone should have a copy. 

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

VIC – Probably a weird choice, but I quite fancy being Superman. Christopher Reeve’s version, obviously. Being able to pull off a lycra all-in-one (pants on top) would be fun – and having the ability to fly around the earth backwards to rearrange history would be a bonus. Second choice would be Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham in ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ – such a great role. Granted, also not an obvious choice!

CATHY – It has to be Alexandra Owens  from Flashdance ( I apologise ).  In my former life I was a breakdancer, a hip hop dancer and at one stage a podium dancer in Ibiza.  The scene at the end when she breakdances her way into ballet school is brilliant and ridiculous all at once.

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

VIC – Everyday life! The utterings of children, quiet observations of the ordinary. Also, we have a subscription to The Economist and there are so many well-researched articles in there which have provoked a poetic response.

CATHY – I’m very lazy and only create when something moves me, usually humanity or the lack of it . I always want to leave the audience with a new perspective where possible.

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

VIC – One of my favourites is ‘Breath’ by Adrian Rice. It is devastatingly good.

CATHY – So many favourites but need to mention Gaynor Kane’s “ Circling the sun “.  For me it is a poem about showing what you can do and who you can become when you beat the odds and prove the doubters wrong.   I have it framed in the room where I rehearse, it never fails to put a fire in my belly.

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

VIC – I’m a bit phobic of tentacles. So I’d politely ask it to observe the current rules concerning social distancing.

CATHY – I hear there is a squid festival every year in Japan where they do a squid dance. So I would ask him to show me some moves.

Vic Pickup’s poetry has featured in a number of magazines and webzines. She is a previous
winner of the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow competitions. Her debut pamphlet Lost &
Found was released by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2020 and featured as Atrium’s publication
of the month in January this year. Vic is a regular reviewer for Sphinx, Everybody’s
Reviewing and BBC Berkshire. She will be taking over as co-host of Reading’s Poets’ Café in

T: @VicPickup

Cathy Carson is a cancer nurse, counsellor and spoken word performer from Co Down in Northern Ireland . She has performed at festivals and for radio and television.  She has also featured on podcasts.  The subjects in her work have also led to commissions and performances for charity events.
She is published in “ The Bramley Anthology “ editions one and two and in “Her other language”, an anthology highlighting domestic violence.
Her performances have been described as “ raw, honest and unflinching “ and focus on exploring human connection and condition. 

This year she has headlined at: Pic n mix, Oooh beehive, Crafty Crows, Fragmented voices, Stamford poetry and Lit up

Sue Burge and Simon Maddrell joined us as our guests on 30 March 2021

To help us all get to know them we asked each of them a few questions

If the world was ‘normal’ right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

SUE – I’m desperate to get back to Paris where I do a lot of my writing.  I’m two thirds of the way through a new collection which I can’t finish without a bit more fieldwork in the city and long to be wandering the streets with no particular place to go, stopping in wonderful cafes for hot chocolate, coffee, champagne…notebook in hand, ready to absorb the world again.

SIMON – Between 10m and 40m below the surface of the Red Sea

Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

SIMON – Kenya

SUE – I quite often leave my heart in San Francisco!  I’ve been there a few times and absolutely adore it – the wonderful districts, the ocean, the ferries to brilliant bay locations, the fabulous Castro cinema…

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

SUE – Pen and paper first to get a stronger connection to my subconscious and then to the keyboard for a bit of an objective step back as the editing process starts…

SIMON – Always pencil & paper first for a day or a few weeks, then Pages on my iPad, transfer to Word for submissions

What book have you re-read the most?

SIMON – Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu but must also mention Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiongo’

SUE – Elizabeth Goudge’s “The Little White Horse” – it’s beautifully descriptive, spiritual, has a feisty heroine and is also a great adventure story.  My favourite book in childhood and beyond!

If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

SUE – It has to be a character with a fabulous death, so either Anna Karenina or Madeleine/Judy in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”!

SIMON – Toto in Cinema Paradiso 

What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

SIMON Ideas, memories and things I observe

SUE – External stimulation – an overheard comment, a bit of research, a headline, a statistic, something that sows that kernel of curiosity…  Deadlines drive me to pick up my pen too, of course!

What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

SUE – I defy anyone to not like the fantastic poetry of Ada Limon!

SIMON – It would depend highly on the person — I might show them Joelle Taylor performing or Danez Smith or Sam Sax.  If all else failed [Buffalo Bill’s] by EE Cummings

What would you ask of a friendly squid?

SIMON – Tell me what your favourite marine animal is that solely exist below 40 metres?

SUE –  What is the secret of not getting caught?

Simon Maddrell was born in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1965 and brought up in Bolton, UK.  After twenty years in London, he moved to Brighton & Hove in Feb. 2020.

Simon writes through the lens of a queer Manx man, thriving with HIV. 

In 2020, Simon was first runner-up in the Frogmore Poetry Prize; highly commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition and longlisted for both The Rialto Nature and Place Competition and the Poetry London Mentoring Scheme. His debut chapbook, Throatbone (UnCollected Press, August 2020) was longlisted for the Poetry Book Awards.  Simon also appears in The Sixty-Four: Best Poets of 2019 (Black Mountain Press, Nov 2020) 

Queerfella was Joint Winner in The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition and published in Dec 2020.

Sue Burge is a freelance creative writing and film studies tutor based in North Norfolk.  

Her poems appear in a range of publications including The North, Mslexia, Magma, Under the Radar, Strix, Tears in the Fence, The Interpreter’s House, The Ekphrastic Review, Lighthouse and Poetry News.   She has featured in themed anthologies with poems on science fiction, modern Gothic, illness, Britishness, endangered birds, WWI and the current pandemic. 

Her first collection In the Kingdom of Shadows (Live Canon) and debut pamphlet Lumière (Hedgehog Poetry Press) were published in Autumn 2018, followed by her second pamphlet The Saltwater Diaries in 2020.  Her second full collection, Confetti Dancers, is forthcoming with Live Canon. 

We were joined by Damien B Donnelly on 16th February. Damien rocked Zoom with his superstar delivery of some vey fine poetry and bought the house down with his wonderful short story about an excursion to Aldi with his mother.

To help you get to know him we asked Damien a few questions –

1: If the world was ‘normal’ right now where would you like to relax and watch the world tick past?

I lived in Amsterdam for 10 years, working as a pattern maker in the fashion industry for Pepe Jeans, G-Star and Calvin Klein and, at one point, I lived on a boat on the Lijnbaansgracht, one row away from the busy canals where only occasional tourists, who had taken the wrong route, sailed past me, a little lost, a little out of their depths. I lived on that former barge, now cable-connected to the land for about a year, frozen in winter, burnt like pizza in an open oven in summer but in between I would sit up top, watch people pass over the bridge ahead of me, tourists walk along the street across from me and the water move on all around me, always wondering where it was going, while I just sat there, amid all that movement, anchored down on something that was meant to sail away by some other thing I couldn’t quite reach. If everything was normal right now, I might go back there for a while, sit back on the tin top of that boat called Rival, my feet on a basket, my head on a cushion from Hema, considering what really goes into the bitterballen while knowing that I did eventually find a way to move along with the stream.

2: Excluding anywhere you’ve lived, what place holds your heart?

South Korea, which I visited for 3 weeks in 2018, it holds the part of me that I was before I started to have panic attacks and also the person I became, afterwards. Weaved into its soil, somewhere between Seoul and Jeju, there are the final threads of the relationship I was in at the time, the last unravelling, an entity no longer tangible, shedding its skin like a shape in search of something shinier; two boys climbing mountains of dysphoria, one trying to see beyond the sex and the other; trying to make appointments to cut a part of the sex off. We travelled from the north of South Korea to its very south seas where women, older than our hold would ever be, dove, beyond the breath, into the ocean for conch and abalone. It was here where we climbed a dormant volcano, saw the sunset, missed the sunrise and somewhere in between, back on the mainland, we broke bread and shared freshly ground coffee with a blue-eyed Buddhist Monk in a tiny temple that seemed to float above the ground. It was here, also, in this land of palaces that held space in place of polished pride, that we laughed and cried before we flew back to Paris and left so much of our shadows behind, on 300 tiny kimchi plates, under ashtrays on terraces of cocktail bars behind hidden doors that served cups of warm chicken soup while you considered what you wanted to taste of, next.

 3: Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

I don’t hold thoughts in my head long enough to be able to write them down, at least I don’t have enough room to store them, like my iCloud that keeps telling me there’s not enough space; I must pay more to keep what I have or suffer the consequences! So I’d say keyboard and app as opposed to pen and paper and, these days, I’ve just discovered that Word has Dictate and I’m not quite sure if that’s laziness or the best way to go. Of course, it dictates but then it decides where you’re from and writes things down that definitely did not come out of my mouth. Pen and paper sounds romantic and I do feel that I’m a romantic; I’ve been in love 20 million times which proves I’m romantic. I’ve had my heart broken 20 million times which must also prove I’m romantic, or gullible, or irrepressible in my down-right fool-hearted dedication to keep going back, or just a fool, and right now I’m the fool who uses Dictate and reads it back and can’t understand for the life of him what it means. 

4: What book have you re-read the most?

Two years ago, I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, I probably read it five or six times, not diving back in at the beginning the minute I had read the last page but because I had to keep putting it down and coming away and running out and buying more tissues and kitchen roll and handkerchiefs to dry my eyes in, but I couldn’t go back to it immediately because I was so emotionally disturbed so I’d give it a month or two, perhaps slightly forgetting what exactly had happened so I’d go back a chapter or 2 and then try to read at least 3 or 4 chapters before the crying would start again along with the whole process; climbing down the ladder from my mezzanine bedroom, onto the main floor, into the kitchen, into the corridor, down five flights of dodgy stairs because I lived in Paris and not of all buildings have lifts (at least not the ones that are condemned, but you don’t know its condemned because your German landlord is renting illegally a top floor apartment that might one day fall down, you learn this much later!) and down the road to the local supermarket (where the check-out assistant will not make eye contact with you but will take 2 hours to check out your one item and don’t get me started on folks writing their cheques for 7 euros and getting out the carte d’identité to verify who they are and the number has to be written down, by hand, on the back of the cheque and then scanned and FUCK!) to buy more tissues and kitchen roll and handkerchiefs so it can start all over again.

When I was a kid, every time I was sick, I read Duck Tales, it was my sick book, it wasn’t that it was a sick book, just that it was the book I read when I felt sick. It was familiar, my go-to, nothing changed in it. I always knew the same pictures would be on the same page, the same words beneath the same picture while I was growing and twisting and turning and changing but the book didn’t. I trusted the book probably more than I trusted anything at the time. 

5: If you had to be a character in a classic movie, which movie and character would it be?

I was probably about 12 when I first saw The Omen, the original; the 1st and 2nd as we really don’t talk about the 3rd, sorry Sam Neill. But the 1st and 2nd was all about the boy, the kid, the coming of adolescence, identity, acceptance and a surrendering that this is what you are. Damien, son of the devil, mothered by a Jackal, born to be King. Well! I was 12 at the time, knowing I was adopted, trying to figure out why I didn’t get tingles down my back when the girls held my hand but was intrigued by the boys that I feared. I remember clearly, buying a double-sided pocket mirror and standing in the bathroom, feet on the bathtub’s edge and leaning over to the bathroom cabinet mirror with the double-sided mirror held up behind my head trying to find the number 666 under my hair. It wasn’t there, of course, but there was a time, at 12, when I was being bullied and spat upon by the boys I was so curious about, right then there was a time when I really wanted to be the star of the film, the boy on the other side of the screen who’s name we shared, so I could imagine standing in the school corridor and staring at the boys who bullied me, and imagine hurting them with a stare, the way they hurt me with their words and their saliva that often landed just to the side of my lips, lips that wondered if they would ever know a kiss. 

Otherwise I would like to be Dory, best mates with Nemo, which would mean I would be a better swimmer. It would be nice not to constantly worry about drowning.

6: What consistently drives you to pick up your pen (or keyboard)?

The idea that there’s too much going on in my head to be able to hold all this information in or not enough time in that moment to be able to digest all this information sufficiently and therefore I need to be able to put it down so that I can consider it later because, if I don’t get to write it down, it will disappear, another thought will come along, a bigger thought and it will eat the first smaller thought like a bigger bird because before that there was probably a smaller one that eat the previous one that was even smaller and if that’s the case then there was another one before that and so on. I think inside of me there are many, many Russian dolls all making lots and lots of noise as their middles try to break open like mouths in the centre of their tummies, clack, clack, clacking like the sound of clapping at an actual Russian wedding where the men are squat dancing and everyone is shouting. This is why I need to pick up a pen and let the crazy out. 

7: What poem (of your own or someone else’s) would you share with someone who claimed not to like poetry?

Oh this is such a tough choice to choose from. There are a couple at the moment, one is Vic Pickup’s poem Him, Building me a Bookcase and I defy anybody to read it and not see beauty in poetry, it is so simple and commonplace and yet magical and exquisite at the very same time. I would also say Cathy Carson who’s poetry has a flow to it, like the run of a wild river. Her poem I am Sorry/I am Thankful which is another love poem, one that strikes me as something that once you hear it you cannot fail to be moved by it. For myself, of late, Tattered Brown Trousers has had enormous response from both poets and non-poets and again it comes back, I think, to its simplicity. Poems are just stories told with less words than novels just like some of the best moments in life; those tiny ones that you can barely hold, so small, so delicate, so fragile that they just take your breath away 

8: What would you ask of a friendly squid?

If I had a friendly squid I think I would ask him if he was good at dictation so therefore he would be using his best attribute as in his ink and I would be able to unravel my thoughts which I can never really keep up with, but if Friendly Squid could dictate/translate while I was mumbling, perhaps I could be more articulate. I try to type on phones; I do texts and Tweets and they are forever filled with spelling mistakes or other words that the phone chose for me because my fingertips, even though my hands are very small, my freaking fingertips seem to be quite big and I tap the keys always adjacent, under, above or over from the key I actually want and I’m so excited about what I have to say, again because I think I’m going to lose it in about 20 seconds, that I just press send and then I read it back when somebody comments and I think how did they understand it because there are four spelling mistakes in it. Using a pen would be so much easier but a squid, a friendly squid called Ian, who has ink in an endless supply, yes, for him I think we’d get along fine if he could dictate and I could just ramble. 

Damien, 45, returned to Ireland in 2019 after 23 years in Paris, London and Amsterdam, working in the fashion industry. His writing focuses on identity, sexuality and fragility. His daily interests revolve around falling over and learning how to get back up while baking rather delicious cakes.

     His short stories have been featured in A Page from My Life from Harper Collins Ireland, Body Horror from Gehenna & Hinnom and Volume 3 of Coffin Bell. His poetry has appeared in many publications online and in print including Eyewear, The Runt, Black Bough, Barren Magazine, Impspired, Neurological, Fahmidan Journal, Prismatica, Anti-Heroin Chic and Fevers of the Mind.    

      His debut poetry pamphlet Eat the Storms was published by The Hedgehog Press in Sept 2020 and he followed that up with a Stickleback micro poetry collection Considering Canvases with Boys in January 2021, also from The Hedgehog Press. He is the producer and host of the weekly poetry podcast Eat The Storms which is on Spotify, Apple, Podbean and many other podcast platforms and is currently working on his 1st full collection which will be a poetic/photographic diary of his years living with Paris.   

His poetry and photography blog is  where you can buy his poetry collections

His podcast website & book review blog is

His Instagram handles are @damiboy and @eatthestorms 

His Twitter handle is @deuxiemepeau

His Tiktok is @eatthestorms and his YouTube channel is