Featured Poet

On 29 November we will be back on Zoom and will be joined by Iain Whiteley and Stewart Carswell. To help us get to know them both a bit better we asked them some questions.

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

IAIN: If we can guarantee the weather: golden hour in Loweswater in the Lake District. There wouldn’t be much to watch, but we’d be swimming so it’s fine. There’s a little bothy, which I’ve never stayed in, so perhaps we’ll stay the night there, too.

STEWART: Well I’m currently away at the moment and writing this from a cottage in the Forest of Dean, which is the only place I’d want to be right now. I grew up here, and it still means a lot to me. It’s a beautiful place to be.

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

IAIN: Berlin. The west for the lakes and forests of the Grunewald, which I love running and swimming in; and the east for the polar opposite: gritty streets and scuzzy clubs. The weird meat smell on the u-bahn. The history. The plattenbau. The TV tower! I’ve almost moved there so many times, but I think that time’s now past.

STEWART: It would probably be the Pennines. Or more specifically, the thin line of the Pennines as defined by the Pennine Way, Britain’s original National Trail. It’s a stunning and challenging walk, exploring some of the bleakest and wildest and remotest upland areas of northern England.

Pen and paper or keyboard and app?

IAIN: Notes, voice notes and apps to catch ideas and fleeting titles as I go; keyboard for writing. I know pen is romantic and can have its uses for getting ideas to flow, but it’s so much easier to draft, redraft and play with shape and form on the computer.

STEWART: Pen and paper. It keeps it simple, and it’s faster. Plus there’s a greater connection between my body and what I’m writing—if I want to write the letter A, I physically move my hand in an A shape.

What book have you re-read the most?

IAIN: Well, apart from poetry books, I don’t think I usually read books more than once. I’ve definitely read Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ a few times though.

STEWART: For poetry, it’s probably North by Seamus Heaney. It’s been a big influence on the poems in Earthworks, and every poem in there contributes to the vision of the book.

Prose, the writer I come back to and re-read a lot is Jeffrey Eugenides. There’s something beautiful and haunting and simple about the way he tells his stories, especially Baster, and The Virgin Suicides.

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

IAIN: Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom because then I would be a really hot adventurer and academic. Or Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, because being a cartoon would be cool.

STEWART: Probably either the guy or the girl (they are never named) from the film Once. I could write songs and follow my dreams and live happily ever after.

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

IAIN: I find paying for a poetry course is a very good way of driving me to write! That aside, I love that moment when you are in the zone and time disappears and something is working for you, and then when you’ve started the puzzle, you have to keep coming back to it until you’ve ‘completed’ it – which could be days, weeks, months (or even years in some cases) afterwards. All the usual reasons as well: to capture a joyful moment; to vent anger and despair; to cope with feeling like an outsider; as a way to make sense of this (ever more) ridiculous world.

STEWART: Partly the sense that it’s gone on too long and I’m in too deep to stop now. But mainly it’s curiosity and discovery—my background is in science, and that desire to observe something, understand why it’s happening, and communicate it symbolically is how I approach poetry.

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

IAIN: A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson. I still can’t read it without welling up.

STEWART: I have a short poem “A map of stars”. It’s 8 lines, it’s easy to follow, and it’s a damn good poem.

We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go

IAIN: I’ve been thinking about this question for days and I haven’t got a clue. Too many options. Seeing as how I can only observe, I’ll choose a club or a gig or a festival. Let’s go with the Monterey International Pop Festival so I can see if the 60s really was as good as the 90s. – Can I add a second option to going back in time?! I decided in bed last night that I wanted to go and watch the Big Bang – especially since my ticket includes guaranteed safe return! 

STEWART: That’s a difficult one. A lot of my interest in the past comes from the mystery of it. So if I was to go back, it would be to a time when I knew what happened. So I would go back to December 1983 and watch one of the Talking Heads gigs that got recorded for their Stop Making Sense live concert film.

Iain is a freelance copywriter with poems in The North, The Poetry Archive and The Friday Poem.

His collection, Ping!, is published by Write Bloody UK, with whom he is touring this November. 

Stewart grew up and went to school in the Forest of Dean and currently lives in Cambridgeshire, where he co-hosts the Fen Speak open mic night. He studied Physics at Southampton University, and has a PhD from the University of Bristol. His poems have recently been published in magazines including Under the Radar, Dreich, Ink Sweat & Tears, and The Fenland Reed.

He has a pamphlet “Knots and branches” (Eyewear Publishing, 2016), and his debut full-length collection is “Earthworks” (Indigo Dreams, 2021).

Find out more at https://stewartcarswell.co.uk and on Twitter @stewcarswell

PREVIOUS FEATURED POETS

On 25 October were in the pub and were joined by Andy Breckenridge and Simon Maddrell. To help us get to know them both a bit better we asked them some questions.

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

SIMON: Between 10-40m below the surface in Galapagos.

ANDY: Right now? Glasgow. Galleries, pubs, Partick Thistle games at Firhill, Mother India’s, meeting friends and family in the Horseshoe, Grove or Carnarvon Bars. Long walks around the city. Chipping in to a band practice with the wonderful Moes, in East Kilbride. With perhaps a day out to Oban, my hometown.

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

SIMON: Kenya.

ANDY: Compton Bay campsite on the Isle of Wight; a family favourite. I love the country walks to pubs, the beach with drinking chocolate brown sand and the butterflies carpeting the downland. Also the sunsets over Tennyson Down, and the Isle of Wight shaped shortbread from the Coop in Freshwater.

Pen and paper or keyboard and app?

SIMON: Pen and paper first 97% of the time (unless not possible) and only to the keyboard after I’ve tricked myself into believing I have a good draft — usually four drafts in.

ANDY: Keyboard and app predominantly. Pen and paper for free writes and first drafts – phone and keyboard for redrafting.

What book have you re-read the most?

SIMON: Tao te Ching

ANDY: An Inspector Calls by JB Preistley – for work reasons. I’m not a great rereader although I did revisit Milkman by Anna Burns which was incredibly good. I keep coming back to Iain Crichton Smith (who taught my older siblings English at Oban High School) Norman MacCaig and Tomas Tranströmer’s collected poems. Always on the lookout for new stuff. Partway through The Kids by Hannah Lowe (excellent) and really enjoyed discovering Frank Ormsby’s work over Christmas.

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

SIMON: Toto, Cinema Paradiso

ANDY: Somebody from the band in Aki Kuarismäki’s wonderful Leningrad Cowboys Go America. A balalaika player or something. You get a ridiculous, narwhal-esque quiff, a massive coat, travel the US playing songs about raising cattle on the Steppes to very small and indifferent/hostile audiences, while getting paid in onions. Until you hit the big time playing a Mexican wedding where tequila is drawn from a tiny tap plugged in a cactus.

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

SIMON: Answering Rilke’s question to the young poet, “This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”.

ANDY: ideas, images and phrases arriving at the most inopportune of times. I don’t wait for the muse but write regularly and hope it’s a bus I can get on. The worst that can happen is a dodgy free write with a couple of salvageable lines for another time. 

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

SIMON: This be the verse – Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   

    They may not mean to, but they do.   

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   

Who half the time were soppy-stern

    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

    And don’t have any kids yourself.

ANDY – Always been very fond of Andrew Young’s perspective challenging A Dead Mole, or Sinead Morrisey’s brilliant Genetics. John McCullough’s recent poem about his science teacher which I heard and read at a Zoom event last year would floor the most resolute of the refuseniks. John Cooper Clarke was pretty essential to my original interest in poetry. Maybe Beasley Street? (Which, incidentally, can be just about sung to the tune of The Big Rock Candy Mountain.)

We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go?

SIMON: To meet James Baldwin, anytime, anywhere — with Malcom X, Martin Luther King, after that Cambridge debate, In Paris — but probably my favourite would be a night out with him and his friend Marlon Brando in the 70’s

Simon Maddrell is a queer Manx man, thriving with HIV and living in Brighton & Hove. He’s published in fifteen anthologies and numerous publications including AMBITButcher’s DogInk Sweat and Tears, The MothThe New EuropeanThe Rialto, Long Poem Magazine, Poetry Wales, Stand and Under the Radar. Simon’s debut, Throatbone, was published by UnCollected Press in July 2020. Queerfella jointly-won The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition, 2020. Simon, Vasiliki Albedo and Mary Mulholland wrote All About Our Mothers, 2022 and All About Our Fathers, 2023 (Nine Pens Press). Simon’s third pamphlet is The Whole Island (Valley Press, July 2023).

Andy Breckenridge is an English teacher living in Brighton but originally from Oban. His pamphlet, The Liquid Air, was published by Dreich in July 2021. He also has work published by Acid Bath,The Common Breath Poetry Blog, Dreich Summer Anywhere and Zoo anthologies, Flights (Flight of the Dragonfly), Green Ink, Nutmeg Magazine, The Poetry Map Of Scotland, and the Shoreham Wordfest Anthology. Themes include self imposed exile, place, relationships, memory, and poems often include fish and water.
He has a full collection The Twenty Four Hour Water Clock looking for a home, and another with the working title of The Fish Inside which he is currently filleting. Twitter handle @drbafc

Phil Vernon and Niki Strange will be joined us on 27 September

To help us get to know them bot a bit better we asked them some questions.

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

PHIL: Points of arrival and departure are wonderful places to watch the world tick past. You see wanted and unwanted greetings and leave-takings; stress, excitement, confusion, fear and anticipation; and travellers in that in-between space we allow ourselves when we’re alone and without our usual reference points. Can I combine this with being in a beautiful, outdoor, warm location? A Mediterranean port, perhaps? 

NIKI: My husband is Australian so we’ve spent a fair amount of time there visiting close family and I love the soundscapes (I’ve still got a recording of cicadas on my phone that I like to listen to now and then). Nature is so present and technicolour – for a girl from Tottenham, it’s still thrilling to see Rainbow lorikeets and listen to kookaburras cackling. So a trip to Hyams Beach please – though I’d be just as happy sitting on Brighton and Hove beach after a sea dip drinking a cuppa. 

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

PHIL: There’s a small corrie lake up in the Cairngorms I haven’t visited in almost 40 years. Looking at the map, I think it’s the smaller of the two Lochan an Uaines – the one below Sgòr an Lochain Uaine  (aka Angel’s Peak). In my fuzzy recollection, you have to walk a few hours to get there from Loch Morlich, then descend steeply down to the stony lake shore, with a magnificent view. It’s both desolate and welcoming; intimate and grand. A glorious place to wake up in the morning and drink ice cold water. I never saw another person there. I keep meaning to return, and planned to do so in May 2020 when COVID 19 came along and scotched that plan along with so many others.

NIKI: I’ve always loved France – it’s the country I’ve visited more than any other and I wonder if there’s a calling in my blood. My ancestors were Huguenot silkweavers who fled religious persecution and settled in the Spitalfields area of London in the 17th century.  I still have samples of the silks my family wove including from a dress for Queen Victoria and I keep trying to get a poem out of it!  I hitchhiked round the whole country at 20 with just a rucksack and tent but since then I’ve favoured rather more salubrious modes of transport and accommodation! For our honeymoon, my husband and I got the train to Nice which was fun – there’s something so romantic about long rail journeys in foreign lands.

  • Pen and paper or keyboard and app?

PHIL: I jump between them. Depending on where I am and what else is going on. Sometimes when I’m stuck writing a poem, I find a change of technology helps: printing out a draft I’d been writing on a laptop, then editing with a pencil; transposing printed to handwritten copy, or vice versa.

NIKI: I often start with pen and paper, jotting notes or free writing, but do find the voice memo app on my phone really useful as it’s amazing how many ideas pop into my head when I’m walking my dog, Betty. Then I end up on the keyboard, typing furiously but inefficiently as I never did learn to touch type.

  • What book have you re-read the most?

PHIL: I seldom re-read novels but I’ve read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha four times. Well, it is quite short! I sometimes re-read parts of the gospels at Easter time. The poetry book I’ve re-read most often is probably either Larkin’s Collected Poems or Eliot’s The Four Quartets. I doubt I’ll ever mine the latter fully, even if I read it 100 times. I don’t even like all of it – some of it even seems quite prosy – and perhaps some of what were original insights in the 1930s and 1940s became rather commonplace after the 1960s. But some sections are still amazing and it always repays re-reading. Larkin’s poetry never fails to draw me in again, both as a reader and a poet marvelling at his technique.

NIKI: I tend to favour biographies and other non-fiction books as I’ve got older – not sure if that’s reflective of a diminishing attention span or simply changing tastes – so I tend not to re-visit many books. Poetry-wise though, I’m forever re-reading work by Dorianne Laux, Hannah Lowe, Billy Collins, John McCullough, Pascale Petit, Emily Dickinson, the list could go on and on…

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

PHIL: Crikey. A hero or heroine who saves the day? Someone who did something really terrible? Or both? Someone who survives? Someone who dies? Probably someone as different as possible from me. But I don’t really know who, nor which film it would be. 

NKI: Argh that’s a mean question to ask someone with a Film Studies MA. It’s probably a toss-up between Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Ripley in Alien or a combo thereof. They have more in common than you’d first think. Independent, intrepid and resourceful with a big old portion of tenacity. And who could argue with the combination of sparkling ruby slippers and a flame thrower!!

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

PHIL: I like to have at least one poem I’m actively editing, on the go. Until it gets to the point where I’m either happy with it, or simply give up on it, I’m somewhat obsessive, like a dog with a bone. As for starting new poems, I often spend a long time thinking about the poem – perhaps reading up on the subject matter, then drawing mind maps on large sheets of paper – before I get started on actually composing it. I often find the initial moments of composition quite daunting, trying to work out form, flow, register, etc. So making notes and mind-mapping is a good way of putting that moment off. The theme that most often drives me to poetry seems to be the need to explore us – people – in our social, political and physical landscapes, and our relationships across space and time.

NIKI: Often it’s a memory or phrase that’s stuck with me and that I need to make sense of and/or lay to rest. My poem I can write myself is about the transformative potential of writing – in that case following cancer treatment and the realisation that I could write myself into places and states of being no longer possible in my everyday life. 

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

PHIL: I’ve shared Edward Thomas’ Like the Touch of Rain, as well as Larkin’s Aubade, in that situation before, with mixed success. Recently I gave a friend who claimed he didn’t ‘get’ poetry, a copy of Patient Watching by Judith Wozniak (Hedgehog Poetry Press), and that worked.

NIKI: I love Muriel Stuart’s The Seed Shop – it’s an accessible poem with a straightforward form so is a pretty ‘safe’ route in but she so deftly paints incredible pictures, taking the simple seed as a starting point, I think you’d be hard pushed to be unmoved by it.

  • We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go?

PHIL: My parent’s wedding, Lavenham, Suffolk, 1954.

NIKI: It has to be back to the early 1960s to watch the Spurs team do the double. I’ve been a fan for 45 years and there’s been way too little silverware won in that time, though I was lucky enough to be at White Hart Lane to see us lift the UEFA cup in 1984. And it’d be great to witness first-hand the paradigm shift in attitudes and culture – fashion, art and music especially – of the early 1960s. Or I’d love to drop in on my great grandparents in London in the late 19th century as I never met any of them and it’d be great to get a tiny insight into who they were and how they lived. I know my great grandmother Sarah had 14 kids and a veg stall in Hoxton but that’s about it. Hang on, there’s must a poem in there too!

Phil lives with his wife Tebo in Kent in the UK, where he returned in 2004 after spending two decades in different parts of Africa. He works in the international humanitarian and peacebuilding field. His poems have appeared in magazines and websites. His version of Stabat Mater with beautiful music by Nicola Burnett Smith has been performed at St Paul’s Covent Garden, and in Edmonton, Canada. This Quieter Shore, a micro-collection, was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2018, and a full collection Poetry After Auschwitz was published by Sentinel in 2020. A second collection, Watching the Moon Landing, was published by from Hedgehog in 2022. Phil is also one of three poets featured in Hedgehog’s forthcoming River of Stone. He is currently working on a series of poems linking conflict, place and peace, which he aims to finalise during a Hawthornden Fellowship in November this year. 

www.philvernon.net/category/poetry.

Twitter: @philvernon2

Niki  rediscovered poetry when undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2019 and is passionate about poetry’s power to support health and wellbeing. She won Arts Council funding in 2020 to create work as poet in residence at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, also devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer. She’s since read at Sussex Poetry Festival, Dragonflies, Second Light and Cheltenham, won a couple of second prizes (Sussex 2019 and Second Light 2021) and been published Artemis, Flights and Lighthouse. Recently Niki won a micro pamphlet competition with Hedgehog Poetry Press and her Stickleback XXXI is available here: www.nikistrange.co.uk. She’s super delighted to be featured in the ‘Take Flight’ Anthology published by Flight of the Dragonfly in 2022 and to be publishing her first collection with them later this year. She lives in Brighton.

Follow Niki on Twitter twitter.com/NikiStrange

John McCullough joined us on 14 June.

To help us all get to know him we asked him 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? 

Somewhere with moving water. I guess a tropical beach would be ideal though, actually, I find the sound of rain very relaxing if I’m indoors and I don’t have to be anywhere. I quite like to sit by the window with a cup of tea and just listen to its gentle chatter.

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

It’s Tokyo all the way for me. I’d wanted to go since I was a child, when Japan initially entered my life as the land of Nintendo and anime. I was obsessed with martial arts as a teenager and have a First Dan in Shotokan karate too. I first visited Japan for a few weeks in 2014 and it didn’t disappoint. Tokyo is a giant city but people are so friendly and polite, and it’s endlessly interesting for anyone with a keen sense of the visual. A lot of care and imagination goes into architecture and city planning, plus I love all the mascots and the proliferation of colour and cartoon imagery. I went back in 2017 and hope to return soon.

Pen and paper or keyboard and app?

I have to begin with pen and paper just because I find I can write faster and it somehow captures more of the emotional intensity. I try not to transfer a poem to a computer until it’s at the first draft stage as I find there’s a danger of it looking more polished than it is.

What book have you re-read the most?

In terms of comfort reading, it would probably be something related to Doctor Who like The Television Companion. The poets whose work I go back to most often include Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Carson, Frank O’Hara and Emily Dickinson.

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

Probably Dory in Finding Nemo as this wouldn’t be a huge move away from my day to day mindset.

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

It tends to happen most often when I’ve found a surprising image or phrase I can’t get out of my head, something I find poignant or joyful without understanding why. Investigation is a key part of writing for me, exploring the unfamiliar. 

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

Frank O’Hara is quite handy for such circumstances. Perhaps ‘Having a Coke with You’ or ‘Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]’.

We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go?

I’d probably spy on Shakespeare while he was writing to see what his methods were really like. It would be good to find out more about who he was given all the debates over the centuries about who he was and his sexual preferences. I’d just be nosey about all the little things too – his favourite food and furniture. That sort of thing.

John McCullough lives in Hove. His third book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds, was published with Penned in the Margins and won the 2020 Hawthornden Prize for Literature as well as being shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. John’s previous collections have been Books of the Year for publications including The Guardian and The Independent, and he also won the Polari First Book Prize. His poem ‘Flower of Sulphur’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. His fourth collection, Panic Response, explores personal and cultural anxiety, and the ways people respond. It was published in March by Penned in the Margins.

Julie Stevens and Stuart McPherson joined us on 17 May.

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

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

JULIE: I would head for Iceland and find some snow, as we never have it here in Cambridge, UK…well hardly any and certainly not filling welly boots sort of snow. I holidayed there a few years back and went on a skidoo. Exciting and it was all white.

STUART: I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to travel a bit over the last few years, and one place that always sticks in my mind is Huntingdon Beach, California. I’m not sure it’s the most relaxing place in the world, but it has this bizarre mix of surfing, punk rock, monster trucks, tattooists and skateboarding. I’d love to wander around there again, and just take it all in. It has such a diverse mix of cultures. It was a very cool place!

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

JULIE: Sorry, but I need to say Iceland again, as I was very adventurous there and have special memories of stunning landscapes and being able to do things. Cold weather is good for me, especially with the exhilaration of a snowy scene.

STUART: North Yorkshire, without a doubt. I don’t know what it is about that coastline, but I’m just drawn to it. Places like Whitby, just the huge expanse of sea and sky. In fact, my favourite time to go is during a stormy winter week and just go and walk down the pier and watch all the huge waves breaking. I usually get into trouble with my wife and daughter who are constantly telling me I’m going to get swept away! Awesome place though. I can see my self living there one day like a leathery old fisherman!

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

JULIE: Every poem used to go in my notebook, but it was harder to edit, so now I’m on my laptop and jotting ideas on my phone when out and about.

STUART: Keyboard and app. I like the freedom of being able to edit as I go, to quickly make changes, change the structure of a poem. I just feel like it makes for a more fluid writing process. Not only that, but I often write quite sporadically, or have ideas or a few lines appear at really inconvenient times (usually in the middle of the night) and it’s just easier for me to write it into phone notes before I forget what it was! Plus my handwriting is awful. It hasn’t changed since I learnt to write and in fact, it’s probably getting worse. It’s like a spider has fallen into an inkwell and run across the page. I can’t read my own handwriting it’s that bad.

What book have you re-read the most?

JULIE: Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom (well I did used to be a teacher and this was my favourite all time read). More recently, poetry: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel.

STUART: This won’t be a surprise to anyone, but it’s ‘Crow’ by Ted Hughes. I’ve definitely read that more than any other poetry book. To me, its just such a gargantuan expression of anger & grief, its almost overwhelming. I can imagine it just completely melting people when it was first published. I think it achieves something almost indescribable, almost biblical. I love the bleakness of it, it’s completely uncompromising and I guess that’s why I love it so much. I probably pick it up once a month at least! An absolute masterpiece.

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

Definitely the Artful Dodger in Oliver! I never got the part in the school play. I know, it’s a boy, but I would have been good and sometimes girls do play boys parts in the musical.

STUART: Well, seeing as Home Alone is one of my favourite films, I’d probably have to say Kevin McCallister. That way I could eat what I want, watch what I want, and set loads of traps for potentially innocent strangers walking by or near my house. I could also put tarantulas on people. 

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

JULIE: I feel like I’ve lost an arm if I don’t write. It’s part of me and I mope around if I don’t get to. I guess there’s usually a poem shouting at me in a collection I’m reading, or something has happened nearby to get me going.

STUART: For me, poetry is the only way I think I’ve been able to properly express myself, and I think it’s a great way to process the world, whether that be beauty, horror, suffering, joy. It’s because of this that I think that writing has infinite possibilities, and I find it one of the best ways to tap into and share the human experience. Now, I don’t mean that every single piece of poetry has to be understood word for word, but it might resonate in different ways, in more musical ways that still give meaning. I also like the thought that poetry is political, not in the strictest sense of the word, but politics of identity, of sexuality, of trauma just as examples. Through my own writing I like to think that I’m not only expressing my own reality, but also tackling and challenging such subjects, such as ideas and norms of masculinity. It’s for all the reasons that keeps bringing me back to it, and why I keep writing it.

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

JULIE: Of my own ‘If I Can’t’ from Quicksand and maybe Digging by Seamus Heaney, Do not go gentle into that good night, Dylan Thomas, The door, Miroslav Holub, The Shout, Simon Armitage, Sylvia Plath, Balloons…too many to choose from!

STUART:

I’d probably answer this question differently at any given time based on what I’m currently reading. So I’d go with something by Lorca, such as ‘Landscape’ translated by Alan S Trueblood. It’s an Autumn poem and is just so simple and beautiful I think it could speak to anyone.

Landscape

      By mistake the evening

had dressed in cold.

      Through the mist on the panes

all the children

watch a yellow tree

change into birds.

      Evening is stretched out

all down the river.

And the flush of an apple

shivers over tile roofs.

We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go?

JULIE: Tudor England. I used to love teaching this, so much blood and gore!

STUART: OK, I’d want to go as far into the future as possible. Call it morbid curiosity but I’d want to see how it all goes down! Like, how badly did we mess things up or were we able to save ourselves? Does good prevail over evil? Is there a rapture? Did we find life on other planets?  Maybe there will be no one left and we’re all on a giant spaceship floating through nothingness. Maybe an asteroid hits the earth…Zombie Apocalypse? Cats and dogs, living together…MASS HYSTERIA! Who knows!  Maybe this is my apocalyptic side, but I want to see! At least then if I know I can come back and hopefully try and reassure people or if things are going to go badly, try and tell them to get their act together!

Julie Stevens writes poems that cover many themes, but often engages with the problems of
disability. She is widely published in places such as Ink Sweat & Tears (Pick of the Month, Oct 2021), Fly on the Wall Press, The Dawntreader, Café Writers (Poem of the Month, Nov 2021), Dear Reader, Flights and Acropolis Journal. Her winning Stickleback pamphlet Balancing Act was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press (June 2021) and her chapbook Quicksand by Dreich (Sept 2020). Her next collection Step into the Dark will be published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press later this year.
Find out more about Julie’s work at: www.jumpingjulespoetry.com

Twitter @julesjumping

Stuart McPherson is a poet living near Leicester, UK. Recent poems have appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Osmosis Press, The6Press and Acropolis Journal. His debut pamphlet Pale Mnemonic was published by Legitimate Snack in April 2021.

The pamphlet Waterbearer was published in December 2021 by Broken Sleep Books. A debut full length collection Obligate Carnivore will be published by Broken Sleep Books in August 2022.

S Reeson and Mark Coverdale joined us on 5 April

To help us all get to know them we asked each of 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?

S Reeson Paris, without a doubt. I’d be outside in cautious early Spring sunshine with a notepad and pencil, probably sitting at a particular cafe in Notre Dame. It’s where my husband proposed, where we honeymooned and where I celebrated my 50th birthday. There is nothing that Paris cannot fix or improve. It is a universal panacea, and lives with joy in the other place in my heart… because I know what you’re going to ask next…

Mark Sarajevo, a slightly off the beaten track Café bar, having toasted the old boys with Šljivovica and coffee in the morning, after breakfast with Ania, after the exhibition, enjoying the fuzz of an afternoon of watching folk, panic translating, beer tasting, learning and spider scribbling, before the journalist joins, and the politics begin. 

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

S Reeson New York is the other space I never want to lose or forget. When I finally leave this planet for the great beyond, one of the kids (don’t mind which) or my husband gets to scatter the ashes off a Staten Island Ferry. It seems only fair somebody else has a holiday in the place that I would happily call my second home if I were a) a better author and b) as a result more successful generally. There is still time, of course…

Mark If you could adjoin Newcastle and Warsaw I’d slightly cry at the artistry, architecture, self-deprecation, brutalism, confidence, warmth and nearing countryside (weather has never bothered me) and sheer life of what that district could be. 

Pen and paper or keyboard and app?

S Reeson Both, and more. I use a Phone app for when instant intuition strikes, pen and pencil for leisurely consideration and editing, computer for long form… plus a tablet to PDF read. I don’t think you should ever have favourites when writing, it’s a dangerous precedent, and restricts creativity. I’ve written on napkins and bus tickets too, PostIts, envelopes, even a wall or two in my time.  There was a month’s worth of poetry for a project a few years ago which involved writing on vegetables, my own skin plus getting creative with a Scrabble board. Inspiration happens everywhere.

Mark Pen & paper for free writing, but my handwriting is not to be trusted, so I take notes all the time on my phone. I’ve written on the back of beermats in the snow of Saddleworth Moor before, as my memory is terrible, so anything I can put it down on works. Having said that, I’m a bit obsessed with layout, so it always gets digitised for a good formatting later.

What book have you re-read the most?

S Reeson John Wyndham’s ‘‘Consider Her Ways’ and Others.’ Most of my repeat reads are sci-fi: I’m currently crawling through Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ again. I’m neither classically or well-read: there is a continuing struggle to hold interest with long-form adult fiction, I mostly defer to non-fiction instead. Right now I’m reading 90% poetry anyway, because it really does help to keep looking at other people’s ideas to kickstart my own thought processes.

Mark Probably A Start in Life by Alan Sillitoe. Up to the age of 16, I was, to my shame, never a big reader. I started going out, long-distance with a well-educated lass from Cambridge (not that I wasn’t, but in slightly a different way, let’s say). To keep on a ‘par’, I asked my Ma to lend me some decent literature. That book opened my eyes big time.  To name a poetry book, it would be Three Clicks Left by Katerina Gogou. 

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

S Reeson Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway from ‘Contact’. It’s hard to believe that movie is coming up for being thirty years old. If you’ve never seen it I urge you to seek it out, because it is as relevant now as it was when it was made.

Mark Oscar Werner as Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451. He gets, to fight fascism within the system, run around a daft 1960s modernist future with a great hat selection and hang out with Julie Christie in the woods. A lot to like there. 

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

S Reeson I am never satisfied with my output. There always has to be a better way to write, or a smarter means by which you get your message across. It makes no sense to me that people settle with being reasonably capable or competent: I always need to be learning and interacting, listening and growing. It probably stems from my recently-discovered love of lifting very heavy weights and being stronger physically. Maintenance is for other people, but not for me. I live to see and feel progress. It needs to happen every day. Then it is inescapably obvious you are moving forwards.

Mark Since I ever started writing poetry, there has never been a lack of, tories, hipsters, daft bastards in pubs, snippets of overhead conversations down the street, injustice, a flow of inspiring books, odd international cinema or obscure band lyrics. As Chip from Poetry on the Picket Line would agree, take your headphones out, walk down the street, get the bus, tune in, there’s poetry everywhere and that’s what makes me pick up my pen. 

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

S Reeson ‘Pessimism is for Lightweights’ by Salena Godden. It’s a battle song about how life has always been a journey and we are part of something far more important than most people ever realise. If you want to succeed at life, you need to turn up and do the work.

Mark Paul Birtill has a specific wit and dark humour that is both absolutely poetry and ‘is that even poetry?’ at the same time, like no one else. 

No Interest

I popped into my local library
and asked the staff if their stamper
was working properly.
 "Yes it is," said the woman.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because no one's borrowing my book."
"Well that's poetry," she said.

We’re giving you a time machine, one guaranteed safe return journey, you can’t and won’t change any history, you can only observe, when/where do you want to go?

S Reeson Vienna between 1913 and 1914 where, in the same few square miles you would have bumped into Freud, Trotsky, Stalin, Franz Ferdinand and that bloke who ended up starting the last World War. I often wonder what might happened if any of these people had not taken the paths they did, and how it would effect the outcome of so much… Freud and Trotsky inhabited coffee-houses literally opposite each other. Those conversations alone would be worth eavesdropping…

Mark It would have to be back to the 1960s, London specifically (it was a bit underwhelming elsewhere) to see the bands, go to the clubs and buy the clobber. Take in the art and design and hook up with my old bandmate Kieran (who very sadly passed away in February) for the club scene in Blow Up (he was there!). That sounds dandy.

S Reeson [she/they] is 55, bisexual and married with two children: they have suffered anxiety for all of their life, and started telling stories as a ten-year-old in order to help them cope. Now, they write and record poetry, short stories and episodic fiction, whilst dissecting their unique creative process using both video and audio as the means to continue coping.
After winning a Poetry Society members’ contest (and reading that piece at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden) they attended the inaugural Mslexicon in 2019 and took part in their first Open Mic. In that same year they wrote 24 poems about their home town for the Places of Poetry online initiative, one of which is included in the official anthology published for National Poetry Day in October 2020 by Bloomsbury and subsequently reproduced by the Sunday Telegraph.
Their work has been published by Flights / Quarterly ejournal, Green Ink Poetry, Fevers of the Mind, Acropolis Journal, Selcouth Station, Black Bough Poetry and Flapjack Press plus they have participated in a number of Zoom Open Mics, including the Gloucester Poetry Festival, Flight of the Dragonflies and the monthly event at Wordsworth Grasmere. They’ve also learnt and grown creatively in poetry courses run by Apples and Snakes, Kevin Higgins, Wendy Pratt and Jonathan Davidson. A self-produced poetry chapbook was produced in November 2020 and in 2021 they read at the Essex Book Festival.
They enjoy living online, but also find great joy from lifting heavy weights, running and cycling in the meat-space. With what free time remains, they are pursuing an ASD diagnosis on the NHS.

www.internetofwords.com
@InternetofWords on Twitter

Mark Coverdale is the Art School Mod Poet / Founder of Tonic Sta Press / Publisher of Football is Poetry

@cov_ar

@TonicStaPress

tonicstapress.bigcartel.com

Linda Jackson and Andy Breckenridge joined us on 22 February

To help us all get to know them we asked each of 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?

LINDA – If I could be anywhere in the world now to chill and empty the head, it would be the Bonsai Garden, Almunecar in  Andalucian Spain. Bonsai and carp fish fountains below flats with clothes flying on washing lines bring me a touch of my Scottish childhood in a place that is so other – Japan and Spain together.

ANDY – Right now? Glasgow. Galleries, pubs, Partick Thistle games at Firhill, Mother India’s, meeting friends and family in the Horseshoe, Grove or Carnarvon Bars. Long walks around the city. Chipping in to a band practice with the wonderful Moes, in East Kilbride. With perhaps a day out to Oban, my hometown.

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

LINDA – The places that take my heart are North of Lochinver in Sutherland. This is a bit of a paradise and if you have not been, go. Forget the route story, just get to Stoer Lighthouse and Clachtoll Beach. Never to be forgotten.

ANDY – Compton Bay campsite on the Isle of Wight; a family favourite. I love the country walks to pubs, the beach with drinking chocolate brown sand and the butterflies carpeting the downland. Also the sunsets over Tennyson Down, and the Isle of Wight shaped shortbread from the Coop in Freshwater.

Pen & paper or keyboard & app?

LINDA – Pen and paper – often on travels, much prefer notebooks on beaches and wandering about.

ANDY – Keyboard and app predominantly. Pen and paper for free writes and first drafts – phone and keyboard for redrafting.

What book have you re-read the most?

LINDA – Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Maybe not for the character of Clarissa Dalloway but for the contrast between that interior life and the surrounding public take on events: the government (!), the celebratory tone at the end of ‘war conflict’ and then these characters: Septimus and Clarissa. Readily translated to the now I’d say.

ANDY – An Inspector Calls by JB Preistley – for work reasons. I’m not a great rereader although I did revisit Milkman by Anna Burns which was incredibly good. I keep coming back to Iain Crichton Smith (who taught my older siblings English at Oban High School) Norman MacCaig and Tomas Tranströmer’s collected poems. Always on the lookout for new stuff. Partway through The Kids by Hannah Lowe (excellent) and really enjoyed discovering Frank Ormsby’s work over Christmas.

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

LINDA – Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Looked so much fun and that Robina Hood thing kind of appeals. I would have left out the smaller hauls, however banks? – Aye.

ANDY – Somebody from the band in Aki Kuarismäki’s wonderful Leningrad Cowboys Go America. A balalaika player or something. You get a ridiculous, narwhal-esque quiff, a massive coat, travel the US playing songs about raising cattle on the Steppes to very small and indifferent/hostile audiences, while getting paid in onions. Until you hit the big time playing a Mexican wedding where tequila is drawn from a tiny tap plugged in a cactus.

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

LINDA – I pick up my pen when I have been ‘thrown’ by something/someone/someplace whether the impact is positive or negative – whatever the emotion. If I feel a bit vacant, I write to help ground myself and I write when a ‘place’ takes my heart to higher ground – the North Sea on a wild day for sure.

ANDY – ideas, images and phrases arriving at the most inopportune of times. I don’t wait for the muse but write regularly and hope it’s a bus I can get on. The worst that can happen is a dodgy free write with a couple of salvageable lines for another time. 

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

LINDA – The Poem, I Fear by Cairan Carson is one which I think reaches everyone in terms of our crazy vulnerabilities and our real terrors. NB Both, maybe the same. The anaphora style is relentless and perfect for this piece because intense fear attaches to everything and feels overwhelming, like the high stress of recent Covid times perhaps.

ANDY – Always been very fond of Andrew Young’s perspective challenging A Dead Mole, or Sinead Morrisey’s brilliant Genetics. John McCullough’s recent poem about his science teacher which I heard and read at a Zoom event last year would floor the most resolute of the refuseniks. John Cooper Clarke was pretty essential to my original interest in poetry. Maybe Beasley Street? (Which, incidentally, can be just about sung to the tune of The Big Rock Candy Mountain.)

What would you ask of a friendly squid? 

LINDA – I would ask a squid about his 3 hearts – does that help in January?

ANDY –

Is there a bitter rivalry between you and the octopuses? 

Are you often confused with wet fireworks?

Linda Jackson is the founding editor of Seahorse Publications (www.seahorsepublications.com), her own work includes The Siren Awakes (2020) and The Cabinet (poetry collection by Red Squirrel Press, 2021), she has been published in various anthologies, including New Writing Scotland. The second memoir, Siren: Wild in Me will be late this year as will her novel, The Mark of the Rose, she is one of 4 poets in the recent collection, Wanderlust Women. An academic in a former life, her doctorate was a comparative study of Virginia Woolf and Friedrich Nietzsche. she has been a teacher and a writing tutor for forty years, she has been a lifelong musician. www.lindajaxson.com

She has 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

Andy Breckenridge

is an English teacher living in Brighton but originally from Oban. His pamphlet, The Liquid Air, was published by Dreich in July 2021. He also has work published by Acid Bath,The Common Breath Poetry Blog, Dreich Summer Anywhere and Zoo anthologies, Flights (Flight of the Dragonfly), Green Ink, Nutmeg Magazine, The Poetry Map Of Scotland, and the Shoreham Wordfest Anthology. Themes include self imposed exile, place, relationships, memory, and poems often include fish and water.
He has a full collection The Twenty Four Hour Water Clock looking for a home, and another with the working title of The Fish Inside which he is currently filleting. Twitter handle @drbafc

Estelle Price and Oak Ayling joined 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 lucycrispin.com, 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. www.ozhardwick.co.uk

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.

Christina

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? 

Darren

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: christinathatcher.com 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
2022.

www.vicpickup.com

T: @VicPickup

https://www.instagram.com/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 https://deuxiemepeaupoetry.com/  where you can buy his poetry collections

His podcast website & book review blog is https://eatthestorms.com/

His Instagram handles are @damiboy and @eatthestorms 

His Twitter handle is @deuxiemepeau

His Tiktok is @eatthestorms and his YouTube channel is 

https://www.youtube.com/user/deuxiemepeau