Signpost Twenty-Four, When Someone is Singing, Kim Moore


This poem is from Kim Moore’s prize-winning collection, ‘The Art of Falling’. Published by Seren Books, you can buy it here:


I love this book because, not only is it a wonderful read, it has given me several ideas for my own poems. It was difficult to choose one for this blog, but here’s the poem I decided on, reproduced with the kind permission of the poet:


When Someone is Singing

When someone is singing the old carols –
the earth hard as iron, snow on snow,
when cold brings the world to silence,
when the name of the city we lived in is spoken,
when lorries are parked in lines at service stations,
when making a decision, when another year ends,
when a coach ticks to itself in the heat,
when I see a couple arguing in public,
when I hear someone shouting or swearing,
when I see boats or think of the sea,
when I remember I know how someone can break,
if somebody spits on the pavement, if somebody spits,
when I stand at a bus stop, when I visit the doctors,
when I get in a car with someone else driving,
when I see bouncers in nightclub doorways,
with the taking and giving of pain, when I’m afraid,
it’s only then I think of him, or remember his name.




This is one of those poems that initially looks straightforward, almost pedestrian, but turns out to be so much more. In fact, this poem is more evocative than, erm… a Very Evocative Thing. It carries you from the poignant carol, through cold winter weather, to a city, lorries, service stations: these we feel, or see, but then the list becomes internal, with decisions to be made, and more abstract, with the ending year.

Then sounds: a ticking coach, and suddenly heat, and another sound; this time an arguing couple, augmented to shouting and swearing, then we’re off to boats and the sea, then again, the more abstract and painful line, “when I remember I know how someone can break”.

(I just need to say here that I hate “explaining” poems like this, as it’s like explaining a joke and, in doing so, ruining it, but this poem is so clever I can’t help myself. Anyway, onward….)

The structure of lines beginning with “when” is broken, with the line, “if somebody spits…” and this, I think, displays one of the most brilliant features of Kim Moore’s poetry: she manages to get the raw internal world of thought out onto the page for us. This break in structure reminds me of when you’re trying to explain something important to someone, and suddenly a thought comes tumbling out that you haven’t yet fully acknowledged, or even understood, but it’s important, and you say it a second time, qualifying it with the repetition (in this case, the spitting doesn’t need to be on a pavement, it can just be spitting in general).

The poem moves on in its story with the mention of the bus stop, the doctors, the “car with someone else driving”, all of which I feel are telling me something terrible has happened, then the bouncers, then we’re slammed with,

“the taking and giving of pain, when I’m afraid,
it’s only then I think of him, or remember his name.”


We’re left devastated, and almost overwhelmed with the enormity of being shown what has been felt by the poet, as if we’ve been taken on a tour of the inside of the poet’s mind.




I’m just going to calm us down a little, by telling you that Kim Moore is a superb poetry teacher, and you can learn more about her, including opportunities to be taught by her and to buy more of her work, from her blog:



For our own poems, try thinking of smells, sounds, images, places, that remind you of a particular person or incident. Remember to use all the senses, and add some abstract images, thought processes or ideas.

N.B. For those of you who are new to poetry and who maybe don’t already know this, you must beware of plagiarism. If you were to decide to write a poem with the majority of lines beginning “when”, like When Someone is Singing, you must acknowledge the poet who created this structure by writing “After Kim Moore” below your title. If you do not do this, you will be despised and ridiculed.

Not wanting to end on a negative, I’m always thrilled to hear from people telling me they’ve written a poem as a result of reading this blog, so feel free to tell me in the comments. You can even post your poem there, if you like!

Signpost Twenty-Three, The Emptiness, Maggie Sawkins

Maggie Sawkins is a brilliant poet and all round good egg, teaching creative writing in community and healthcare settings. She won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her live literature show, Zones of Avoidance, based on the book of the same name. I was lucky enough to see the show in Lewes recently. (Check out the Zones of Avoidance website, which tells you more about the show, and about Maggie:

I’d recommend getting your hands on anything Maggie Sawkins has written. It’s always great value, as you’ll want to read it again and again. I’ve been reading and re-reading Maggie’s latest book, Many Skies Have Fallen, written in memory of her daughter’s partner, Janusz Jasicki. It’s a beautiful, poignant book, and I want to share it with you.

All profits from sales of the book are being donated to the Lough Ree Sub Aqua Club. Click the link to buy it here:


book many


I’ve chosen this poem because I love it, and because it gives us ideas for writing our own poems, which is, of course, the purpose of this blog. It’s reproduced with Maggie Sawkins’ kind permission:


The Emptiness

Then one day you’ll carry the whole sack of it into the rain.

You’ll carry it past houses with doors flung open
but you won’t step in.
You’ll carry it past trees
but you won’t stop to shelter.

There’ll be faded mansions on every corner, with juke-boxes
blaring. There’ll be canned laughter, crocodile tears,
but you’ll carry on carrying it

past stray dogs lapping in sudden puddles,
past gamblers and loan sharks drowning in pop-up pools,
but you won’t fall in.

You’ll carry it with your eyes set beyond the horizon,
beyond the glass glaze of the sun

until you find the right spot to cast off your sodden clothes.
And you’ll lay down your weight and your shadow beside it
and the rain will drain through you
and the rain will drain through you.






For those of you learning to write poetry


I don’t want to spoil this poem by dissecting it too much, so I will simply point out the delicious variety of surprising images that go off in our minds like little fireworks: the juke boxes, canned laughter, gamblers and loan-sharks. Also notice that as well as the images, we have a variety of sounds, and the feeling of rain and being soaked. And the beautiful repetition of the last lines, which gives the poem a feeling of an incantation and adds a mystical spell, or hymn-like depth.

One of the first lessons we learn in poetry is not to use abstractions. An abstraction is something that exists only as an idea, or a theory. Typical examples to avoid in the lines of our poems are words like “love”, “fear”, “despair”, “anger”, “loss”. But what works brilliantly, as this poem shows, is to write a poem about an abstraction as an object. Here, we have emptiness being carried, and the poem shows us exactly what it feels like to be “empty”. You could write about emptiness being juggled, or love being carried, or fear being sat on, or eaten, or… you get the idea. Maybe make a list of actions, e.g. carrying, boxing, eating, shopping, then a list of abstractions, and try pairing them up. See which pair works. When you get a whoomphy feeling in your stomach, you’ll know you’re on to something.

Not a poem: a memoir! Sectioned – a life Interrupted, by John O’Donoghue


I interrupt this poetry blog to bring you the news that John O’Donoghue is going to be reading from his book, Sectioned, at the launch of my poetry pamphlet, The Ward, tomorrow (12th July) in Tunbridge Wells.

I have no idea how it’s going to go, because he’s just emailed asking me to bring him tubes of only blue Smarties. He also sent these replies to my interview questions I sent him, in an attempt to be all highbrow and literary. Ahem. Anyway, here goes:

  1. How did you go from being a user of Mind day centres to winning the Mind Book of the Year competition?

Sheer effrontery. I was going along to Islington’s Links Club, run by Mind, back in the late Eighties. I was coming to the end of a 12 year spell on the psychiatric merry-go-round – asylums, a therapeutic community, a large hostel for homeless men, squats, the streets, Pentonville Prison, where I was remanded for reports when unwell – and knew I needed to make big changes in my life. Fortunately, I was in a halfway house where one of the workers, Martin Lunn, helped me apply to university. I got into UEA and life then took a very different turn

  1. What was it about you book, Sectioned, that made it a winner?

Luck. I think the judges went for a first-person account of someone’s experience of a world that has largely gone, the world of the old Victorian asylums, and that is why my book – in a very competitive field – was awarded the prize.

  1. Are there any books or authors that have influenced you?


  1. What projects are you involved in at the moment?

I’ve just finish drafting a novel about two poets, John Clare and Robert Lowell, both patients in the Northampton Lunatic Asylum, or St Andrew’s in Lowell’s day. I voice each poet in alternate chapters, and in Clare’s unorthodox orthography.

  1. What is it about The Ward that made you agree to support it by reading at the launch?

Its utter brilliance.


John O’Donoghue is the author of the poetry collections Brunch Poems (Waterloo Press, 2009); and Fools & Mad (Waterloo Press, 2014); and the memoir Sectioned: A Life Interrupted (John Murray, 2009). Sectioned was awarded Mind Book of The Year 2010 by judges Fay Weldon, Michele Roberts, and Blake Morrison. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, and teaches Creative Writing at West Dean College, Chichester.

Sectioned: A Life Interrupted (John Murray, 2009) is available from all good bookshops.

Details for The Ward can be found on the “About” tab of this blog.





Signpost Twenty-Two, Advice to a Traveller, John Foggin


There are many poetry books I’ve found entertaining, intriguing, interesting, but every now and then I come across one I want to hold close and never let go. Advice to a Traveller, by John Foggin, is one of these. Published by Indigo Dreams (in fact, and unsurprisingly, their joint Poetry Pamphlet Prize Winner 2017), you can buy it here:

That link also tells you a little about John. I can also tell you he’s a warm, thoughtful,  man with a cuddly soul. This probably goes some way to explaining how he writes adorable poems. There’s a resonant depth to the stories written and pictures painted with the lines. This blog’s not a review, though; it’s a record of poems that have inspired me to write, in the hope that they inspire you, too. I’ve chosen the title poem because it bursts with ideas. Here it is, reproduced with the kind permission of the Great Fogginzo* himself:



Advice to a Traveller

It is pointless to pack;
if you must, take a loaf.
You will find what you need as you go.

Disregard nothing –
a needle, a handkerchief,
a comb, a pinch of salt, a flask of oil.

You are the youngest of three.
Wait until the older two have left.
They will be well-provisioned
and well-shod. Then you can go.

Listen to all you meet.
They will give you wishes.
Go with a clear heart.

Do not be surprised when:
your bread stays the hunger of wolves,
the comb cast down becomes a thicket of thorn,
the handkerchief a lake,
when the oil unseals the iron gates,
the salt seasons the banquet of a king.

All will be well.

If you are in the right story.



I’m not about to ruin this poem by dissecting it and explaining it. Read it a few times and you’ll work out for yourself more than I could explain to you.

For our own poems, may I suggest:

  • Consider writing a poem that’s a list of instructions. It could be for anything: getting married; going to a strange country; dyeing your hair; buying new shoes; becoming a unicorn….
  • Think of a favourite story, choose one of the characters and advise them on whatever you think might be interesting, or fun, or meaningful, or all those things.
  • Find a poem you’ve written that you’re not happy with yet and try rewriting it in the second person. Especially any poems written in the first person that risk being self-indulgent.
  • Think of some objects, the equivalent of the loaf, comb, salt, etc. in ‘Advice to a Traveller’, and write them into a poem.


As I always say, if this blog post has inspired you to write a poem, please say so in the comments. Especially of you’re one of the blog followers in a country that seems to me to be incredibly far away and different, like, for example, Azerbaijan.



Once again, buy this beautiful pamphlet. You won’t be disappointed and I’m sure it will inspire you to write your own poems.



*The Great Fogginzo is a reference to John Foggin’s poetry blog; always a great read:

Signpost Twenty-One, Canis Familiaris, Mori Ponsowy


Look away, cat people: it’s a dog poem! A beautiful dog poem, from the book Enemies Outside / Enemigos Afuera, published by Waterloo Press, Hove.

Mori Ponsowy was born in Argentina, grew up in Peru and Venezuela, but now lives back in Buenos Aires, where she works as a freelance editor. With an MA in Political Sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing, she has had several books published, including novels, and translations of poetry by Sharon Olds and Marie Howe.

Enemies Outside is a stunning collection of poems written by Mori Ponsowy and translated by Mori Ponsowy and Naomi Foyle. It is beautifully presented with the poems in Spanish on the left-hand and English on the right-hand page. Last night, my lovely poet friend, Susan Castillo, offered to read it in Spanish, and it was hypnotic!  Meanwhile, you’re stuck with me, so here it is in English, reproduced in full with the kind permission of the author:



In the beginning, a dog
sniffed the air, the earth, the trees,
then told me which way
the red deer had run.

When I learned that seeds could yield
wheat, barley and corn,
he herded my cattle and sheep,
guarded the entrance to a hut made of mud.

He delivered messages from village to village,
hauled sleds over snowy tracks, watched me
make pestles, mortars and grindstones,
barked when I danced,
whimpered as I prayed.

At Pompeii, he tried to save my flaming child
I found them together –
the boy’s cries buried in ashes and lava,
my dog curled on top.

I named him King of Norway, Forced his subjects
to pay tribute, stoop before him, to submit.
He seemed not to notice – kept wagging his tail
in the mornings, licking my face and my feet.

He’s guarded the gates of the underworld,
guided the blind, Talked in the movies, served
as a test-site for human induced illnesses –
haemophilia, nephritis, von Gierke’s disease.

I launched him in a rocket to space. Strapped,
uncomprehending, destined to never return.
Biological data came back for a week
before the air provision ran out.

Across Sherman Road today, he looked me
straight in the eyes. I wanted to tell him I knew –
but we walked past each other. Closing our souls
and forgetting. Moving on with our lives.




So, when you’ve read the poem a couple of times and reached for the Kleenex, I’d like to say that the first time I read this , I found it heart-breaking – the way the dog has been with us throughout history, laid down its life for us, and yet we’ve mistreated it, ignored it, and how we may lose its companionship altogether . The third time I read it, I saw it as a depressing allegory of how we use, not only dogs, but all animals, including other people… well and minerals and vegetables, I suppose, to our own selfish ends. It can be a political poem, as well as a poem about dogs. I let myself feel desperately sad, but then I cheered up a bit and decided that we need to fight back against our selfishness and do what we can to save dogs/animals/the planet. Of course, you can also look at this interpersonally, at how we treat people we know, too. Am I preaching? Enough preaching!

Thoughts about the poem:

  • What a great idea to look at a subject through history! Paintings, history books, stories, movies, news items, medical research have all been used to give an epic backdrop to this poem.
  • The narrative is cinematic – we can see it, as if on a screen in our heads. The dog is active; sniffing, telling, herding, guarding. “…barked when I danced, whimpered as I prayed” gives us sounds, images, a sense of the dog’s camaraderie.
  • The mood changes from stanza to stanza, the interesting historical facts, the shocking Pompeii images, the bizarre King of Norway stanza, then the bringing up to date with movies, medical testing, space travel, and the painful stanza that takes place “Across Sherman Road today”, bringing the poem right up close in time and place.
  • Following on from the last point, I’ll always be grateful to Ira Lightman for telling me a poem should “soar”. This one picks up speed both emotionally, and through its narrative, propelling us to the powerful ending.


So, for our own poems, try writing about a subject through history and see what images and ideas come into your mind. Try some research, to add richness and interest to your poem. When I was first learning to write, I remember being taught that research is an important part of writing, so I rushed off to the local museum and came back with wonderfully dark images to write a miserable piece with a spooky Victorian background.



I could have chosen several poems from Mori Ponsowy’s gorgeous book, Enemies Outside, but plumped for this one because I’m a dog-lover and currently raising money for street dog rescue (details on my Facebook page). The beautifully-produced book can be bought from Waterloo Press from the following link:


Signpost Twenty, ‘Way Out’, Susan Castillo Street

This blog is to keep a record of poetry that I’ve enjoyed and that’s inspired me to write my own poems, in the hope that you’ll enjoy them and be inspired, too.


Born and raised in Louisiana, Susan Castillo Street’s voice retains a little of that Southern drawl, even after living in Europe since her twenties. I’ve just realized that when she speaks, a  memory of Scarlett O’Hara emerges, not of the doe-eyed Scarlett, simpering at Rhett Butler, but the survivor, who made a gown out of the curtains to try and fool Rhett, and vowed she’d never go hungry again. Susan is no fool. There’s very little worth knowing about American history that she doesn’t know. She’s appeared on BBC Radio 4 talking about the Salem Witch Trials and Pocahontas. She’s Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College London. I know that – not because she likes to swank about it – but because she offered me a “pompous academic reference” (her words) for a university application. She’s kind, she’s helpful. She’s a wonderful storyteller. And she’s a gun-runner’s daughter.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m currently thinking a lot about “voice” in poetry.  Although the idea can conjure eye-rolls at the whole pretentiousness of it, I’m learning that the more I throw caution to the wind and write whatever I want, the more I am discovering my own voice, in the sense that I’m writing poetry that sounds like me talking – something I would say in conversation. When you read Susan Castillo Street’s Gun-Runner’s Daughter it is just like sitting on the sofa in her house in front of a crackling fire and listening to her telling stories.

The Gun-Runners’ Daughter is divided into three sections. The first is about Susan’s own life, the second about historical characters, and the third, words of wisdom and observations on life itself. It’s not simple, but it’s beautifully easy to read. It’s published by Aldrich Press. You can buy it from this link:


To the poem!


Way Out

At a certain age, one starts to think
about the way we’d like
to leave this Vale of Tears.

No slow drip of poison to our veins.
No exploding planes.
It would be far more fun

to go in burst of glory,
frolicking with a lover
heart to heart, skin to skin,

or topple over dancing
under the glitterball, lights flashing,
drums pounding in our ears.

Or fade to gentle night when sitting on a beach
smiling, waves
flowing in out, in out,







I’m terrified of dying. Not the way in which I’ll die, but that I will have missed out – wasted time with unsuitable partners, not paid enough attention to my children,  argued too long with idiots, followed the wrong paths, and – yes, mucked about too long on Facebook instead of writing.

At first glance this poem is about the actual moment of dying, but then you realize it’s about how to live our lives. It’s not sickly-sweet. Life is described as a “Vale of Tears” and the horrors of “poison” and “exploding planes” are mentioned, although this is followed immediately with the importance of “fun”!

How romantic, that description of making love “heart to heart”, so it’s not just a stanza about having sex. In the following stanza, I can’t explain why I enjoy the word “topple” so much, but I do. This stanza is surely about living life to the full, with “glitterball, lights flashing, drums pounding”. And aren’t the different meanings of the title all making sense?

The ending, though! The “fade to gentle night” is cinematic. You hear waves flowing “in out, in out”, and that stanza break and single last word/stanza “out” is breathtaking.




So, for our own poems, try writing about how you would like to die. As ‘Way Out’ shows us, this need not be miserable or depressing.

Failing that, try simply being yourself and telling a story. Maybe from your childhood, or of someone you know or knew, or a story from history. See what comes out!


Just a mention that if you write a poem inspired by my blog, I would love you to let me know! You don’t have to post the poem. You can use the “contacts” tab if you like.



Signpost Nineteen, ‘Woodsmoke’, Anne-Marie Fyfe



Did you know that the amygdala and the hippocampus in the brain deal with emotion and memory? Did you also know that, whereas sound and vision do not pass through these areas, our sense of smell does? This might be why Anne-Marie Fyfe’s perfect little poem, ‘Woodsmoke’ is so successful and gives you the tingles. If you don’t know what I mean by “the tingles”, you haven’t found the right kind of poetry for you yet – I urge you to keep looking.

‘Woodsmoke’ is the final poem in Anne-Marie’s collection, Late Crossing, published in 1999 by Rockingham Press and available from this link:

Check out Anne-Marie’s website, /,  which tells you all about her poetry collections (most recently the stunning House of Small Absences), her workshops and readings, and not least about Coffee House Poetry at the gorgeous Troubadour Café in London  (Go to the workshops if you can.)

Back to the poem. I chose it because this blog is simply to showcase poetry that inspires me to write, in the hope that it will inspire you, too. I remember being told in a creative writing lecture to pay attention to all the senses. This one manages to include sight, sound, and taste, as well as scent. Maybe it even includes the sixth sense: extrasensory perception. Here it is, reproduced with kind permission of the poet:



The thought comes to me today –
suppose I were to die
for an hour or two, rest
with you on Chapel Road:
in that chasm we’d breathe
September’s woodsmoke, catch
the russet tang of apple.
We could listen to the river
rill over granite
then quicken for the open sea.
We wouldn’t speak. No need.
Just to look on you again
and you to look on me.



(Tingle, tingle, tingle.) Please note how every line has an image or thought and how ideas and emotions are beautifully condensed in this poem.

The first line makes you want to know what the poet was thinking, and read on. The second line is such a shock – see how brilliantly the line break is placed between the second line and “for an hour or two”, whereupon we exhale a little with relief, then have that gentle word, “rest” carrying us to the next line, “with you on Chapel Road”. Not “the road”, but a specific road, which shows us there is relationship with the poet and the person to whom it’s addressed. Perhaps they walked to chapel together every Sunday? To me, there’s also the possibility that the “you” of the poem is buried in the graveyard next to that chapel.

The next line has the super-clever word “chasm” – perfect to describe a place where someone could be dead just for a few hours to meet a loved one who’s died, followed by the word “breathe” to give us a little air. Then “September’s woodsmoke” and “the russet tang of apple”, bringing thoughts, images, tastes of Autumnal (yes, I’m going to have to say it) “mists and mellow fruitfulness”.

Then the delightful word “rill”, but not a pretty babbling brook down a verdant valley; this one runs over “granite” – harsh, cold, dark and grey. Followed by “then quicken for the open sea”, which gives the poem movement, sound, and a feeling of water rushing and the expanse of oceans, as well as the whole imagery of the sea, its waves, and its relationship to the circle of life, the moon and time.

Then the little line we two short sentences that grab you by the heart:

“We wouldn’t speak. No need.”

And the last two lines, so lyrical with their beautiful rhyme.




Can you see why this poem chose me?

For your own poems, look for astonishing first lines to grab the reader’s attention, then memorable last lines. Look for movement in your poem, or a way to make it soar, as this one moves from dying, resting, breathing, listening to a brook quickening for the open sea. Try and express as many senses as are necessary to the poem, and remember how scent goes with memory and can be potent. Use rhyme sparingly and in keeping with the poem.

There are so many prompts that can be taken from this poem: the sound of brooks, the sea, smells, memories, loved ones who’ve passed away and what you’d like to do again with them, or maybe someone you hated, or had a bittersweet relationship with.

As always, if anyone’s inspired to write a poem after reading this, then please let me know via the comments tab.

Signpost Eighteen, two poems from The Sky is Cracked, Sarah L. Dixon

Lock 15e

Sarah L Dixon is the Quiet Compere, bringing poetry events to the North of England. You can read more about her at and from the links below.

Reading the poems in her first pamphlet, The Sky is Cracked, I was struck by their apparent fragility and strength.

I’ve chosen two short poems from the pamphlet, to illustrate how a poem doesn’t need to be about an epic event, or story, but can simply encapsulate a few seconds in a person’s life and show the beauty and importance of that moment.

‘Pruning’ and ‘Bridge 38, Lock 15E’ are reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.


A hedge has been cut down
at the local graveyard.
It is as if it was never here.

The words on The Bowling Green Inn are clearer.

The trees stand taller.

It was pleasing to me when I noticed.
But it took me several days to realise
what the difference was.


The simplicity of language, rhythm of the words and spaces between the stanzas are gently compelling. We assume from the previous poems in the pamphlet that this is a poem about moving on from a broken relationship, but it could equally apply to moving on through other stages in our lives. I enjoyed the idea of it seeming as if the hedge “was never here” and I somehow saw a hedge that’s not there as I read the poem. I like the words being “clearer” and that “trees stand taller”. The last line cleverly highlights the shift in the poet’s perspective in a subtle, intimate way that brings you closer in to the poem.


Bridge 38, Lock 15E

 I hold my tongue
as we approach,
bite my lip,

Don’t tell you
of the opening up
that comes with the view
across the fields to Titanic Mill.

The soft slope of hills.
The chimney with a tree growing out of it.

I let you take it in,
without a word,
as I did.


This begins with quite a sensual feel, with “tongue” and “lip” and not telling. Then the “opening up”, the “view across fields to Titanic Mill” give a panorama and a feeling of space. “The soft slope of hills” is again, a lovely sensual line, then “The chimney with a tree growing out of it” is quirky and intriguing. The last stanza is delicious.

I particularly enjoyed the poet’s restraint – letting the person she was with discover the view without the poet smugly pointing it out and possibly spoiling the moment.  There’s also the idea of holding back here; of being unable to say something you’re aching to say.


So, for our own poems, try thinking of significant moments in your life. For example, a first day at work, or a last day at work; how a place visited with someone you loved felt completely different with someone you’d only just met; the moment you knew you were in love, or noticed you weren’t any more. There are rich pickings here for poets, as life is – of course – made up of moments.




The Sky is Cracked is published by Half Moon Books and available from this link:


The launch for the pamphlet is on 24th November in Leeds. The Facebook Event page can be found on this link:






Signpost Seventeen, ‘Echo and Narcissus’, Siân Thomas



‘Echo and Narcissus’ is  from Siân Thomas‘ Ovid’s Echo,  a stunning collection of poems retelling stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Please note, you don’t have to be an expert in classics, or even to have read Ovid to enjoy this collection. Several of the stories are known to most people and there are notes on the poems at the end of the book to help you. It’s worth buying the book simply to have the brilliant potted versions of Ovid’s stories, so you can sound clever at dinner parties, or while having sausage & mash with your mates at Spoons, whichever is your comfort zone. I found it extremely difficult to choose one, but was helped by the decision that it had to be one of the poems with one of Johnny Marsh’s poignant illustrations. I eventually chose ‘Echo and Narcissus’. Here’s the note from the end of the book, and then the poem below,  both reproduced with the kind permission of the author:

“Jove employed witty Echo to distract Juno from his infidelities. When Juno found out, she cursed the nymph, so that Echo could only repeat what other people said. Narcissus, Echo’s beloved, was a proud young man. Another nymph who loved him too was so hurt by Narcissus’ lack of attention that she prayed to Nemesis to make him feel the same pain he had caused others. Nemesis cursed Narcissus and he fell in love with his reflection in a pool. Echo, who had followed Narcissus, could only repeat his words of self-love. She became a disembodied voice and Narcissus changed into a daffodil.”

(Apologies – the poem covers two pages, so a big gap, which should just be a stanza break, appears between the two where I’ve scanned so that you can see the lovely font and illustration.)

Echo & Narcissus page 1Echo & Narcissus page 2


Now the purpose of this blog is not to dissect the poem, or review it, but to help you (and me) to write our own poems. I shall therefore point out some of the poet’s super-clever ideas. I may jump up and down a bit, because Siân’s ideas make me a little excited:

  • Quite frankly, Ovid’s Metamorphoses is crying out to have poems written that are inspired by it. It’s a great idea to go hunting for stories – from any genre or period – to help you find ideas to create your own poems. I’ve been floundering for inspiration for one I need to write about a particular mental illness for a new pamphlet, so I’m going to use the story idea and go looking as soon as I’ve finished this blog entry.
  • Look at the poet’s compelling use of the second person, addressing the poem to you to grab your attention,
  • and the imperative – she orders you, “Find him…Reach for him…unbutton him”!
  • Look how sensual the words and images are; the undressing, unzipping, pressing, holding.
  • Back to, “Titian reaching for the hand of Christ”. This gives the poem a depth that’s Biblical, historical, ancient and important, all in a seven-word phrase, which is also desperately sad and conjures the hopelessness of the unattainable.
  • A “diptych” ( a folding, two-part hinged art work, often an icon, found in churches), also has some of this ancient importance to it, but is so useful in showing a connection and folding together between Echo and Narcissus, or, indeed, between you, the reader and whoever you might want to fold together with. Gosh!
  • “Cast a circle” makes me think of magic and adds yet another dimension.
  • “so sharp you could cut a falling feather” is frankly, sublime.
  • ‘Art gives you what you cannot have’ is breath-taking, and the last stanza,
  • “Now untie your life. Leave it by the pool. You can breathe under water,” literally takes you breath away.


There is so much to this poem. It has clearly not been chucked on a page in an afternoon, but mulled over, slept on, developed. The poet has collected ideas and words to create a feast of ideas and feelings. And the effort has paid off. I’m running out of adjectives, so I’ll desist.


Ovid's Echo cover


A note on the actual, physical book. It’s published by Paekakariki Press, a letterpress printer. It is gorgeous to look at and hold and would make a lovely gift. Have a look at Paekakariki’s website, where they explain how they came to be and how they chose to print poetry (of course they did):

You can buy this sumptuous collection from this link:


Signpost Sixteen, ‘What Lies Within’, Claire Dyer


Oh, I have such a treat for you! This stunning poem is from Claire Dyer’s deliciously multidimensional collection, Interference Effects, published by Two Rivers Press in 2016 and available from this link: (as well as all the usual places that don’t need to be mentioned here).

You can learn more about Claire and her writing (novels as well as poetry) from her website:

A bit of insider info. for you, too: Claire Dyer’s the sort of person who shares her chips with you, makes sure you have a seat in a crowded room and introduces you to everybody. She also has wonderful hair with happy curls. Call me a weirdo, but I think generosity of nature and sparkle of smile beneath happy hair are the sort of things that leak into a person’s writing. Do buy the collection!

I had the pleasure of meeting Claire at the South Downs Poetry Festival, where she facilitated a workshop on first and last lines. I’ve just dug out my notes from her workshop and I’ve written:

“First – shocked    lulled    find something of yourself

Last – surprise, but also make you want to read it again”

Let’s have a look at the poem and see if Claire’s followed her own advice (!). Here it is, reproduced with her kind permission:


What Lies Within

Like when you’re outside and the lights are on
inside churches and whatever faith there is
is fidgeting under the transept window
and you’re back with Nan, slipping fifty pence
into the collection box, fanning
the gilt-edged pages of your hymn book;

or when café chairs are stacked
and striped by sunlight behind the railings
of Pizza Express before it opens
and moorhens are splitting the blue water
of a river nearby and a waiter lights up
his first cigarette of the day;

or when there’s a row of shaving mirrors
at the barber’s, each tilted to an angle
a few degrees different from its neighbour
so there’s always another view of the sky,
another view of a woman smiling at something
the someone she’s walking with said;

or when, stepping from a taxi, you see
the fizz-torn dazzle of a streetlamp
in the buttery yellow of a pavement after rain
and girls’ heels chatter as umbrellas
are folded away and a maraschino cherry
gets dropped into a cocktail glass;

or when you dip your hand into a pond
at Kew and the koi flick and
tremble and whittle your fingers
with their cheese-grater teeth and you stare
and stare into the back of their eyes
looking for what lies within.


(See? I said it was a treat, didn’t I?)


The first line is clever, starting with “Like when” as if you’re in the middle of a conversation with the poet – it draws you in.  The last line is stunning, suggesting the dimension of the soul and – yes – it makes you want to go back and read the poem again. When you do, you see the soul is in the city, as well as in the carp, and how cool is that?

I’m not about to go through the entire poem, picking out all the words and ideas that make you go all tingly, because you’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself and it would be annoying, but I can’t help myself point out the brilliant idea of faith “fidgeting”, which leads me to also point out that this poem has lots of movement, which adds to the excitement you feel reading it – as well as “fidgeting”, there’s “slipping”, “fanning”, “splitting”, etc.

The sounds are wonderful, too. I can hear the plop of the maraschino cherry being “dropped into a cocktail glass”. And notice the satisfying rhythm of this poem and how it’s laid out with attention paid to the subject of each line, with the pleasing repetition of “or” at the beginning of each stanza.

On a personal level, the joy of this poem is that it reminds me of when I was recovering from depression and I’d realised how difficult it is, when you’re depressed, to acknowledge good things. I was outside Waterstone’s in Deansgate, Manchester, with a friend and I winced at a parent shrieking at its child. My wise friend said, ‘Yes, but look across the road – there’s a mother smiling at, and cuddling her baby!’ The point I’m making is that, if you want to, you can find beauty all around you. This poem finds it in the glow inside a church, the gilt edges of a hymn book, the sunlight through railings on the chairs stacked outside Pizza Express, the shaving mirrors at the barber’s.

In a way, it feels a bit of a cop out choosing this poem. There are many more “difficult” poems in the collection. I nearly plumped for the poem, ‘The Weight of Two Eggs’, which is surreal and beautiful and poignant all at once, and takes some thinking about, which then leads to that gratifying penny-drop moment. But in the end, I had to choose this one, because it fills me with such joy and I wanted you to experience it, too.

A little note about the featured picture, which is of a Morpho butterfly. There’s an explanation of the collection’s title at the beginning of the book, which reads:

“The wings of the Morpho butterfly reflect incident light in successive layers, leading to interference effects that produce colours which vary with the viewing angle.”

And, finally, for your own poems: pay attention to your first and last lines, consider sound and movement, and remember to take your notebook with you everywhere to note down the beauty you see, as you look at the world with poet’s eyes.