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.


The World Today – Poetry goes Primetime

There is nothing cooler than being chauffeur-driven across London, east to west, to Television Centre by a requisitioned BBC car. The sense of temporary authority – an invitation from the Establishment – is palpable. As we rose onto the Westway, the outside world was something else, below me – minions, peasants, plebs. They have nothing to say. I am on the magic telly box.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly like that. But I had fun. I was invited – all very last-minute – to appear on The World Today presented by the amazing Zenaib Badawi. Of course, I wasn’t shocked to hear that The World Today not only goes out live on BBC4, but also on BBC World to over 200 countries. No, not at all. I took it in my stride. Obviously.

I was representing/reprezenting poetry along with beat stalwart Michael Horovitz (don’t mention the kazoo); the discussion, whilst brief, was lively and interesting. It didn’t just focus on the Oxford Poetry Professorship scandal (thank god), but ranged more widely into, for instance, the affect of the internet on poetry. I’ve gotta say, Zenaib is a real pro – even managing to handle the kazoo* surprise with style and good humour. Here are a few screengrabs from my fifteen minutes of fame.




* Sorry, I should give Michael’s instrument its proper name – The Anglo-Saxophone.

Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Bishopsgate Institute being interviewed for BBC Radio 3 by Patience Agbabi and her producer Simon Evans. It’s for a programme called ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry’, broadcast for National Poetry Day on 9th October at 11.30am. This year’s theme is ‘Work’ so they’ve been interviewing poets who have been ‘resident’ in workplaces (from April to July 2008 I was the Bishopsgate’s first ever Poet in Residence).

Of course, many artists and writers spend their lives in perpetual guilt that they’re not doing ‘proper’ jobs. Seamus Heaney’s famous poem ‘Digging’ – in which the father’s spade is transformed into the son’s ‘squat pen’ – comes to mind.

In other news – I am soon to move into a garret in Aldgate. True enough.

Berets by registered post, please.