Poem by Iain Sinclair

Considering his prolific output in the realms of fiction, non-fiction, urban satire and – as he puts it – ‘documentary fiction’, it’s sometimes easy to forget how significant and exciting a writer of poetry Iain Sinclair is. I’ve had the Penguin Modern Poets book (Vol.10, 1996) in which he appears, alongside Douglas Oliver and Denise Riley, on loan from the Poetry Library. Here’s a poem from that, hoping that neither Iain nor Penguin will mind the reproduction. Iain’s latest Selected Poems, The Firewall, is available from Etruscan Books; his Hackney tome was published by Penguin last year. Both are excellent in very different ways.


sub (not used): Mountain

prize cicatrix suspended in oil
charts flapping proud from damp walls
which are themselves charts
of islands where swamps are undeclared
the superseded house
brutish topiary of the illegitimate bride
weather systems registering a pigeon shed
my lord at his grouse table
filing his second rank of teeth
will you risk the caretaker’s gamey tape
the black worm that lives reluctant in altar bread
an hermaphroditic pope whose lard fingers
slip their rings

strapped into rented ligatures
he stomps the town
dragging Kent & all her oasts behind him



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.

Gravestones & duffil coats


The Terrors, my sequence of Newgate e-missives, has been completed and sent to the publisher, Nine Arches. It’ll be launched on March 29th. Artist Emma Robertson (who is, amongst other things, behind Littlest Birds) has created some beautiful line-drawings to illustrate the pamphlet. See above.

Also, writer/filmmaker Iain Sinclair has read the sequence and endorses it thus:

Dark London history, dredged and interrogated, spits and fizzes with corrosive wit. Language-receipts sustain the necessary illusion. IT MATTERS. It matters: the weight and pace of delivery, the balance of breath. Tom Chivers understands the risks he risks, the play in a taught rope.

Visions of the City!


You heard it here first…

This series, curated by Bishopsgate Institute’s Poet in Residence Tom Chivers, will introduce some of London’s most exciting poets – writers whose work explores the complex, fluid and multivocal character of the City. Alongside their readings Tom will also premiere his own new work produced during the Residency.

Visions of the City I – Thursday 5 June

Oblique, bleak bloke Tim Wells has supported The Libertines with his riotous ‘Cockney Hell’ poetry show and his collection Boys Night Out In The Afternoon (Donut) was nominated for the prestigious Forward Prize.

Simon Barraclough‘s debut collection of poetry Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt) has not yet been launched but is already creating a stir. According to The Guardian, Los Alamos ‘wheels through forms, moods and locations around a sensual core of love poems’.

Jay Bernard is fast establishing a reputation as one of the UK’s most talented young writers with her poetry collection Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl and has performed at venues across the country including the London Respect Slam.

Visions of the City II – Thursday 3 July

Iain Sinclair is the de factor chronicler of contemporary London. Poet, novelist, essayist, anthologist, filmmaker and former book dealer, Sinclair has been described as ‘incomparable … the De Quincy of English letters’ by Peter Ackroyd. He is the author of numerous books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, the latest of which is London: City of Disappearances (Hamish Hamilton).

Chris McCabe’s poetry is raw, energetic and experimental, covering topics as diverse as Iraq, fatherhood and Pete Doherty. His second collection of poetry is published this year with the provisional title Zeppelins and follows his acclaimed debut The Hutton Inquiry.

Hannah Silva is a young, fast-talking poet, performer and theatre director from Devon. Her City Fragments captures the speed, energy and contradictions of 21st century urban life.

Both events are held in the Bishopsgate Institute’s Library, which has limited capacity, and start at 7pm. Tickets are £7, £5 concessions. Booking is essential (details here).