A Poem for Barry

A poem for Barry MacSweeney, in time for Sunday’s BBC Radio 4 documentary (4.30pm). This is from my collection How To Build A City and was written, I think, in 2003.


On Kinder Scout


All the skies are leased anyway
– Barry MacSweeney, Pearl


We marvel how the peat bog got this high and black,
pause by the whitewashed trig point.
Bold wiry sheep sneak between boulders
where the wind is like a papercut or a slap in the face,
where I have lost all comfort of companionship,
where alliances wane, treaties wrench
under a few words’ stony hairline fracture.

Consider loneliness : the absence of anything to say
but isn’t it beautiful up here in the sidewinding rain
and isn’t it time to turn back off the moor,
find a spot to camp. I hadn’t gauged our selfishness.

Up here in cowberry, crowberry,
moonwort and asphodel
it’s a fishbone in the throat
and I wish for pylons and concrete and railway tracks
where we are content with lines and with each other.

This language is not our own:
all the oxygen makes us mad.


I hope as many people as possible are able to tune in to the documentary. I am an unashamed evangelist for Barry’s work, which is astonishing, challenging, funny and dark. Also featured in the programme are the writers Iain Sinclair, Terry Kelly, Sean O’Brien, Jackie Litherland and Paul Batchelor.


It’s National Poetry Day

… and I’m featured in a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears & Poetry’ today at 11.30am. I’m talking to presenter Patience Agbabi about my residency at Bishopsgate Institute.

Then tonight I’m heading off to the Whitechapel Gallery for Plum – an excellent fiction / live lit night. I am giving a talk on the extraordinary poet Barry MacSweeney, and will be playing some previously unheard audio from Barry’s last ever reading.