Tag Archives: Arc Publications

Sunday Poem – James Byrne


Diagnosis Inc. – James Byrne

You are two oranges shy of sangria
You chumpchange in a clackdish
You the flensed soldier, egg-runny on the inside
You frogging deadline after deadline
You caught in a Swiss chokehold
You feeding the duckboards of Venice
You the expert on television newswar
You at maximum voice
You at the squall above dead deerling
You the clarion-call of the id
You the barbaros of Juarez
You who want to wake up forever
You on page 65 in bubblegum PVC
You yelling at the meathook
You yet to make your wheelspin mark
You clapping at family stones
You who would rather be scalped standing
You as screw of the week
You eiderhanded as a spider
You in the stocks and wanting it more
You salted for planet jellyfish
You among the angels crisp as butcherpaper
You scissorless, cutting the line to ribbons
You the livid escarp
You the apostle of gutlove
You with a black and fraying candlestick
You hard to prove but terminally alluring
You an owl away from the topmost branch
You mad as a star
You who would shoot first

Today’s Sunday Poem is by James Byrne, who I met very briefly at Stanza in March this year, and then spent a lot of time with last weekend at the Winter Warmer Festival in Cork.  The poem comes from James’s second full length collection White Coins, published by Arc Publications, a fantastic publisher based in Hebden Bridge, publishing a small selection of English-speaking poets and a larger selection of translated poetry from all over the world.

James read this poem during his reading in Cork and that line ‘You mad as a star’ made me sit up.  I don’t know if anybody has this, hears a line of poetry that they know they will carry around with them forever,  Other examples? ‘I kill it because I can’ (from Jo Shapcott’s ‘Scorpion’) ‘I do not believe in silence’ (Clare Shaw’s poem of the same name) ‘Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me’ (Thomas Hardy) and ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall’ (Tennyson).  There are others but I don’t want to be here all night, and I want to talk about the rest of James’s poem.

I think the title is very interesting with the use of the word ‘diagnosis’.  The dictionary definition of this word is a) the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms or b)  the distinctive characterization in precise terms of a genus, species, or phenomenon.

So, according to the title, we should believe that the poem is ‘diagnosing’ somebody – either what is wrong with them, or what exactly they are. To this end, it is a long list of descriptions which are detailed, colourful and full of imagery. At first I thought the poem was full of made up words – but when I google ‘chumpchange’ I find it is a ‘small and insignificant amount of money’ and a ‘clackdish’ is a ‘dish with a movable lid, formerly carried by beggars, who clacked the lid to attract notice’.  I liked the poem when I thought these words were made up but I like it even more now!

Each line is like a small box that you can unpack and extract more meaning from.  ‘You frogging deadline after deadline’ gave me an image of the ‘you’ managing to leap over or avoid deadlines, but then the next line ‘You caught in a Swiss chokehold’ gives the image of the ‘you’ being trapped or held down by somebody.  The poem is full of these contradictions, and in the slippery way that poems do, we are left with a sense of this person’s personality, but would never recognise them if we met them on the street.

James Byrne is a poet, editor, translator and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.  Blood/Sugar was published by Arc Publications in 2009 and White Coins was published in 2015.  He is Editor of The Wolf, an internationally renowned poetry magazine.  He has c0-edited various anthologies, including Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century with Bloodaxe and Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, published by Arc.  He is the International Editor for Arc Publications. Thanks to James for letting me publish this poem on the blog!

This week I’ve managed to have a couple of evenings where I’ve had nothing on which meant I could catch up with admin and emails.  I normally try and keep on top of emails as I go along, but after being ill a couple of weeks ago and then being away for over 7 days in the past month or so, it had become impossible.  So that has been one nice thing this week.

It hasn’t really been quiet though – I went to judge the Queen Katherine School Poetry Slam on Tuesday night – well I was one of the judges.  I was really excited by the talent and performances of the young poets.  When I was fifteen, I could barely walk into a room on my own and yet these young people are standing up and reading and reciting their poetry. They were so switched on and politically engaged in a way I found really surprising – these are teenagers who care passionately about gender equality, refugees, going to war – and the poems were really good – exploring these subjects in memorable ways.  The eventual winner of the slam was one of my young writers – hurrah! I should hasten to add that there was no possibility of me being able to vote and get my young writers through, even if I’d wanted to  – there were four other judges and ten randomly selected members of the audience.

On Friday I had a lovely session with the young writers where we talked about everyday feminism and how we ‘minimise’ outrageous and sexist things that are said to us as women.  They all had shocking stories of things that have already happened to them and I read them a poem that I’ve recently written about a rather creepy taxi driver who decided to inform me that ‘all artists are crazy in bed’.  They wrote some fantastic poems about their experiences – and I’m really pleased they are aware of these things already.

I then drove like a madwoman straight from Kendal to get to Leeds where I was reading at WordClub at The Chemic Tavern.  Mark Connors was hosting and there were ten open mic slots, pre-chosen who were really entertaining.  There were lots of friendly faces in the crowd, poets that I met through David Tait and through performing at Poetry By Heart in Headingley over the years. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me as I lived just round the corner when I was a music student in Leeds. Helen Mort was the other reader and it was great to hear some of her new poems, as well as old favourites from her collection Division Street.

Clare Shaw offered to put me up for the night in Hebden Bridge, so I then drove to her house and met her two lovely pet rats, whose names I can’t remember.  I didn’t expect to like them, not being a particular fan of rodents, but they are very cute.  One of them has a little snuffle and she climbed onto my leg a few times, as if I was just there for her convenience, which in her world I was.

I went to see Tony and Angela at Arc Publications for a cup of tea and a biscuit after I left Clare’s, before making my way home.  I met Tony and Angela last week in Cork and we got on really well.  The problem is I could sit and talk to them all day and then I wouldn’t get anything done!

I went for a rather windy run today and then I’ve spent the whole day working on poems.  I haven’t written any new ones, but I have been editing and re-drafting and trying to push the poems that I’ve started a little bit further.  I feel like I’m getting back into my stride with writing now.  Tomorrow I’m running in the morning and conducting the junior band in the evening, but I’m hoping to get some more writing done in between those things.

My other project that I’ve been working on is putting on a series of monthly workshops in Barrow in Furness.  Barrow is very isolated, and I want to build up a bigger community of poets here.  I know there are a few poets like Kate Davis and Jennifer Copley who live in Barrow, but they are already very experienced writers.  I want to create a workshop for people that might not have written any poetry before.  I’ve got the next two workshop dates for January and February already booked, so if you know of anyone who might be interested in attending a writing workshop and is within travelling distance of Barrow, do send them my way! There is a group page for the workshops on Facebook – it’s called (rather inventively) Barrow Poetry Workshops.



Sunday Poem – Josep Lluís Aguiló


Evening all.  I’m writing this in daylight for once.  This week I’m determined not to be doing this at midnight, hovering between being asleep and awake while I’m typing.  In my new house I can hear birds singing away outside, real birds, not just the seagulls which  patrolled my old street who had a nasty habit of divebombing you in the months when their chicks were hiding under the parked cars.  We do get seagulls here, but they tend to congregate around a house down a long lane because the woman who lives there feeds them.

The beginning of last week seemed to pass by in a blur of tiredness.  I was really suffering from poetry festival hangover, which should be a recognised condition and has nothing to do with alcohol (or maybe not very much to do with alcohol) and everything to do with the kind of mental fatigue you get when you have spent three days concentrating and listening and talking about poetry and then you are thrown with little ceremony (apart from the five hour train journey) back into your real, normal, every day life, which involves going to work, which involves thirty trumpets and valve oil and stuck mouthpieces and exam preparation and once again, poetry is squeezed into the edges of each day, or sometimes, if I’m honest, squeezed so much it just *poof* disappears from my life for that day.

You find poetry in the strangest places though.  This week the husband and I went to a funeral of Andy, one of his closest friends from childhood who died aged 45.  It seemed such a terrible waste of a life, which I know is a cliche but it hit me so hard at the funeral.  I’ve been to three funerals in the last year or so and although each one was sad in a different way, this one was the worst.  I felt like there was a band tightening around the front of my head – I thought I was getting a migraine, which I’ve never had before, but I remember thinking, this must be what it feels like.

I hope none of Andy’s friends or family would mind me saying on here that Andy struggled with alcohol all his life – and when I say struggle, I mean it.  Sometimes it had hold of him and nearly dragged him under – other times he seemed to be winning but he was fighting it even ten years ago, when I first met him.  It has been a struggle for me to watch this over the years so god knows what it has been like for his family and his friends, like my husband who knew him before all of it started.

We have been really down today, thinking about what we could have done differently, whether we could have done more to help.  I suppose there is always more you can do and that is the problem.  We are left behind thinking of all the times we didn’t help because it was inconvenient, because it got in the way of what you were doing, because you were too busy.

Andy was a wanderer – someone said at the funeral everywhere was a home from home for him, which was true.  He would come in for a cup of tea and sometimes he would stay for two minutes, sometimes he would stay for two hours.  Then he would decide it was time to go and he would set off, to the next house, the next set of friends to pay a visit.  I would often bump into him while I was walking the dogs and he would walk them with me.  He never ran out of things to say, or stories to tell.  ‘Here’ he would say, touching your arm to get your attention, but the word ‘here’ would sound ‘he-are’ in his accent.

I wanted to go up to his daughter at the funeral and tell her how proud Andy was of her.  I don’t think I ever saw him without him mentioning her name, telling me what she’d been up to at school, showing me a text message she’d sent him.  If she told him she loved him by text he would show anyone who would listen – it meant everything to him.  I’m sure there were times he let her down because of his illness, but I hope she knows how much he loved her.  I didn’t go up to her  – I don’t know why.  I thought about it, and then turned to speak to somebody and when I turned around the moment had passed.  I keep thinking now I should have.

Chris says that when he first came back to England after living in Australia for a while, in the days before mobile phones were invented, Andy met every train coming from down south with a cup of tea in his hand, in case Chris was on it.  He was always generous and would lend somebody his last fiver and leave himself short.

But back to finding poetry in the strangest places – I know it is not that unusual to hear poetry at a funeral but the funeral was full of poems – two famous ones that are probably often read at funerals, but also Andy’s stepdad had written one for Andy and so had one of his friends which I found incredibly touching – it is  well documented about people turning to poetry in times of grief, but I’d never seen it in action before.

So Friday was pretty traumatic really – I stupidly hadn’t cancelled what I was doing for the rest of the day – I think I thought, I’ve been to three funerals, I’ve read eulogies at two of them, I can handle it.  So I didn’t cancel my young writers workshop and was in a bit of a state by the time I got there.  However there is nothing like having to get on with things to make you get on with things.

Other than that this week, I managed to write up a poem to take to Brewery Poets on Friday evening and I’ve been spending my spare time planning for the residential.  Although it is still a couple of weeks away, I have limited time now.  I’m flying to Croatia on Wednesday to take part in the Goran’s Spring Poetry Festival.

I’ve been chosen to take part in the Versopolis project, which you can find out more information about by going to the website.  Versopolis is a European poetry platform that creates new opportunities for emerging European poets and is supported by the European Commission’s Creative Europe programme.  What this means in practice is that there is the possibility I’ll be invited to read at up to two European poetry festivals per year.  For each festival I read at, some of my poems will be translated into that language and made into a pamphlet.

On the website, the 55 poets from various countries all have a profile page with a biography and poems, so it is basically like a free international anthology.  I spent an hour or two on there last night reading through some of the poems – it is a really interesting website.  Mine can be found here. The other UK poets who are taking part are Harry Man, Liz Berry, Eleanor Rees, Adam Horovitz and Meiron Jordon.

One of my favourite readings at Stanza last week was one I went to because the lovely poet Allison McVety was reading and I wanted to show my support and to hear the wonderful ‘Lighthouses’ poem which has featured on this blog here.  I wasn’t disappointed because she read it beautifully.  However, the other poet I hadn’t heard of, but I always like hearing translated poetry so I remember vaguely being confident that it would at least be interesting.

Josep Lluís Aguilós charmed the audience with his apologies for his (very good) spoken English, and his obvious connection and admiration for his translator, Anna Crowe.  It was one of my favourite readings of the festival, maybe because it is exciting to discover a new poet to admire.  You can find Josep’s work in an anthology produced by Arc Publications called ‘Six Catalan Poets’.  So far I’ve only had time to read Josep’s work in the anthology, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the poems.

I could have chosen any one of Josep’s poems, but I’ve decided to go for The Devil’s Bridges.  I really enjoyed this poem, which has the air of a yarn being spun or a tall tale.  I like the lovely touch of bringing in the ‘I’ in the fourth stanza:

‘I wonder what he does with his collection/of shadows and beasts’

which almost made me feel sorry for the devil, sitting surrounded by shadows and cats who are probably ignoring him.  When I googled Devils Bridges Wikipedia tells me that Devils Bridges are found all over Europe, and are so called because they represented a significant technological achievement for them to be completed.  The devil in this poem however, is a character to feel sorry for, always outwitted, never learning from his mistakes.   There is a lot of humour in the poem as well – the swindlers with their ‘shocking hobbies’ of putting ships into bottles and painting watercolours.

In the introduction to the selection of Josep’s work, it says that his poems are often peopled with fairytales and myths and in the short selection in the anthology, there is a poem about The Flying Dutchman and the Minotaur.

Josep Lluís Aguiló (born Manacor, Mallorca, 1967), poet and businessman, works as a marketing and advertising director. In 1986 he published his first collection of poems, Cants d’Arjau (Songs from the Helm), which he wrote when he was between sixteen and eighteen years of age. After an interval of eighteen years, he published two further collections, La biblioteca secreta (The Secret Library) and L’estación de les ombres (Season of Shadows), both in 2004. His collection Monstres (Monsters, 2005) was awarded the Premi Ciutat de Palma Joan Alcocer Poetry Prize in 2005 and, in 2006, the National Critics’ Prize for the best book of poems written in Catalan, while it also received a special mention from the jury of the Critics’ Prizes for Catalan Writers. In 2007, the Manacor School of Mallorcan Language gave him its Recognition of Merits Award for his work in writing Catalan poetry and helping to make it better known. The University of the Balearic Islands has published his collection Antologia Personal (Personal Anthology). In 2008, Josep Lluís Aguiló was the winner of the literary competition Jocs Florals de Barcelona with his work Llunari (Calendar). His writings have appeared in several anthologies and have been translated into a number of languages.

I hope you enjoy the poem and thanks to Josep for allowing me to post it this week.

The Devil’s Bridges – Josep Lluís Aguilós

The devil builds bridges and afterwards
demands payment for them.  Those who carried out the work,
invariably more wide-awake, always outwit him.

He always demands that he should carry off
the first or the last to cross the bridge.
If he has asked to be given the last one
then the final one to cross says to him, “grab this,”
pointing, cunningly, at his shadow.

If he has demanded the first, they let an animal cross over to him.
Often it’s a cat or a cock, a dog
is too much part of the family to be given away
to anyone, however much of a devil it might be.

He never learns, I wonder what he does with his collection
of shadows and beasts.  Probably nothing.

The devil, no doubt, enjoys building bridges.
Swindlers have shocking hobbies:
putting ships into bottles, painting watercolours,
writing chronicles of wrongs done,
hunting.  When one gets bored he comes and builds a bridge
and considers speaking about himself to generations
who will boast of how their ancestry
knew nothing of hydraulic works
but a lot about swindling devils.