My new pamphlet, A White Year, is a cycle of poems set over the course of a year in the Iron Age lake village at Glastonbury.  Here is the beginning:

 

Around the stub of a nest two or three summers empty, 

a blackbird shores up the wattle 

with beakfuls of bark and moss.

On hands and knees in the sprawl of leaves 

        I forget my mother and father, my sister.

Again and again she returns: 

her blades and her hinges, the sparks of her eyes

which see me and fix me, each of my angles 

and corners measured and matched.

She moves before I move, 

knows how I will move before I do, 

my feet two bowls brimming with liquid peat

 


 

 

A poem from The Blue Cell:

  

Gwladys and Gwynllyw

 
He used to come home and show me
the blood on his hands, the scraps of hair
stuck to his forearms,
 
used to hold out to me his stiffened palms
and smile, tired and shining. 
Those hands: I took them, raised them, kissed them,
 
closer to the men he'd spilled
than their own wives, who waited still
for news in muffled, soot-lined huts;
 
between women, my salute.
All that is gone, since our son
held out his faith, his face above it lit;
 
now each night, between the leafless trees
we wash: the water slices off
our shames, our cruelties. 

I watch my husband's silver chest,
his silver stomach cut up from the lake,
armfuls of water hours from ice

thrown back and forth across the breadth of him. 
He comes to me reeled in steam;
his breath condenses on my cheek.

 

 

 

 

Note: Gwladys and her husband Gwynllyw were infamous warrior chiefs in Glamorgan around the fifth century. They abandoned their violent ways of life after their son converted to Christianity. 


  

 My long poem 'Breadfruit', on the story of Andre Breton's visit to Haiti in 1945-46, can be read on the Penniless Press website here.

 
 
 'Roundabout in the Luxembourg Gardens' won the 2013 G.S. Fraser Prize.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Roundabout in the Luxembourg Gardens
 
 
So there is the door.  At its heart,
the bronze disc that your grandmother gripped
each day of her peace-time Paris life
 
to let herself in from the street
to the hallway, the tiles and the shade,
the blonde arc of courtyard beyond.
 
It must have been above head-height
for you on the step: I suppose
you lifted your arms and stretched,
 
as in the Gardens you stretched,
were lifted and set: the horses,
giraffes and the camels ambled around;
 
the rusty tune crept through its bars.
You seem always, in your stories,
to have been looking up:
 
at sky between blossom,
the ring of white queens on their plinths,
at the swords on your grandmother's wall
 
and the rising floors that faced her window.
She closed the shutters the moment
she turned on the light.
 
The swords shone bronze and gold.
You went to bed when you were told,
and galloped gravely:
 
watched not so much the leap and
fall of the trees, nor the lines of
waiting children in the dust
 
but the beams overhead, and the poles
as they climbed to hook onto the spokes,
the blurred circle about the core.
 
 
 
 
   
 
Three poems from Other Harbours
 
 
 
Homecoming
 
 
When it was over, papers signed
and witnessed, berths arranged,
some of the men sailed back
 
to villages where hens still laid
and bells still swung and nuns,
in steady order, still stepped
down and down the aisle
 
but where, all the same, the pitch
of life had changed: houses empty,
fields overgrown, blots of black ink
pooled in the congregation.
 
Some men did not go back to that,
nor to the factories, or harbour towns
where cats and gulls fought over scraps
on oily seafronts; some men descended
 
from the barns where they'd been held
and learnt the language, charmed the girls,
sent invitations to their parents.
Above the town, they raised a stone plinth
 
with a wolf on top, two infants suckling;
lifted a glass of wine to Rome
and to life climbing on, and walked their
children up the verge to show them;
 
but hot with nettle-stings, palms sweaty,
the children whined for lemonade,
said, 'It looks more like a bear,'
and wanted to go home.
 
 
 
 
The Dance
 
 
I can barely make it out.  Death smiles, slim;
trips round the chapel walls in hand with
knights, bishops and market traders, chapped
and dim.  Perhaps, beneath the newly-painted
 
frescos, children kicked as a priest incanted,
rolled up their eyes and watched the dance
revolve, grew to know each face,
each separate Death skipping in white -
 
it's hard to concentrate.  In a basin
of sunlight at the propped-back door
a beggar woman sits and calls, and calls,
as her children shriek on the outside steps.
 
We see her later, walking, hand outstretched
on Alexanderplatz between the S-Bahn entrance
and the television tower's enormous feet;
someone like her, again, on Kürfurstendamm,
 
with a brown-eyed baby in a pram - 'Speak English?'
the women say, and say; the baby has no language
yet, knows only crowd-sounds, cars and trams,
the frieze of faces far above his head.
 
 
 
 
Penelope
 
 
The ancient Britons never did it for me -
their mudded veg and dowdy wattle-and-daub,
accents that furl up into our own -
 
but the Greeks ran me through, a virus:
Daphne skirted the trip-wires of my bronchioli,
the Minotaur hoofed at each turn of my gut
and Odysseus wrested his oars down my arteries,
winier, blacker than any Greek sea.
 
Their scandals distracted me;
I feared turning bad, as a pear does,
from the core to the skin
 
and I wished for it,
biting my neatly-filed nails at the front of the class,
swinging, swinging my legs from the stool,
 
as I waited to be re-made by love,
to understand what made the Minotaur steam in his cave,
why Apollo pounded for miles after Daphne,
what made Odysseus flounder
 
for so long with Circe,
as Penelope paced at some other harbour
baring herself, day after day,
to the scrape of each empty in-coming tide.