When the removal men come, they use cotton gloves and masks for
the books.
“It’s the dust,” he shakes his head, like we were in Nagasaki instead
of Tooting.
Penguin classics, their black spines cracked with effort, slip in beside
Elmore Leonard.
It’s Boll to Cocteau in the next carton and a dog-eared frottage of
existentialists.
Elsewhere, Middle Earth meets middle class. Narnian queens spoon
Truman Capote.
Carver should have his own box but he’s joined by Tour Guides from
The Lonely Planet.
Aristotle, Hobbes and Locke nuzzle Jean Rhys smelling of church and
whisky bottles.
Thin, interesting pamphlets from the Poetry Book Fair jam between
Chekhov’s women
and fifteen Oxford Histories that remain impregnable as Dame Vera’s
bluebird cliffs.
All the damned verse cramps up in sizes so diverse they say it must be
flat-packed.
Then they’re gone – in their tottering truck with the boxes stacked in
sugar cubes.
Off to storage with the rest of us for an uncatalogued period of sorting
shit out
while our dust still grips the empty shelves like finger marks left on
a window ledge.

Published in the 2017 Live Canon Anthology

Your Grace,

I will require you to wear black which will move under my paint
because your enchantment is never still.
I ask that your red scarf drapes around your waist like a general
returning from war against an old enemy.
I will place you under a southern sky the blue of bird’s eggs
on common ground where hunters and thieves might stalk.
A path will wind between bushes lightly stroked as if in early mist.
You will stand not as a duchess but a dancer of the Tarantella
with the air itself parting in applause.

On your visit to my studio you said I reminded you of a cat
leaping across rooves between sleepers and their dreams,
slipping on starlight and using my brushes for balance.
Let me lift you above the crows and winged hauntings of your grief.
I will frame you for as long as watchers choose to wonder.
In return you will point to the earth under your gold silk shoes,
to one name,

Solo Goya.

Winner of the Ruskin Poetry Prize, 2017

Toy Town

They had nailed him to the wall, palms first
his plastic feet cracked under hammers,
just out of reach, still wearing combat pants
with a crew cut and a scar on his cheek.
A day later he was joined by a bearded one
in khaki, also pinned the way of the cross.
Naturally, everyone was expecting a third,
but four cruciform Barbies materialised
in veils and full bridal wear, accompanied
by a row of pastel Kens dressed for golf,
impaled into brick through their stomachs.
The healing started after the scented candles
and flowers left in vigil as crowds gathered
to sing Elton and Robbie, swaying as one.
A former footballer who’d been paralysed
in a cup tie against Burnley walked again.
A mother and son juggling act from Leeds
qualified for the Britain’s Got Talent final.
A cat in a coma retuned to life on Facebook.
A bald financial adviser grew realistic hair.
In a week, the wall was a fretwork of limbs,
twisted heads, tutus, bazookas and ponies,
cordoned off by community policemen.
But no amount of uniform or striped tape
could have stopped the lit cigarette butt
flicked from a joyridden Astra GTI to nest
in the rubbery frogman crotch of a GI Joe.
Within seconds a fireball raged, the faithful
ran screaming and, like a cheese from hell,
faith bubbled into the gutters and drains.
From an acrid cloud, a new wall emerged,
bright with nails and moonlight.

Runner-Up in the 2017 Poetry Society Stanza Competition announced on National Poetry Day

They will never have been so beautiful
as they are here by the pool taking selfies
on a stick in their wedding clothes together,
white tulle misting over blue water,
morning suit as faint as distant smoke
as the candy stripe golf cart edges into shot.
Years later they will have asked who’s the man
with a gloved hand in pink plaid shorts?
Will he have been the secret agent who was sent
to the resort by one of the agencies of despair
with marital bed bombs and mortars of remorse
Or just another questing American
who had lost a ball and needed the nearest bar?
They will never have been so complete
as they are here by the pool taking selfies
on a stick in their wedding clothes together,
white mist, distant smoke, interrupted.
Couples many times more married gaze on,
slung up between palms in rattan hammocks
sipping hi-octane cocktails mid-afternoon,
waiting for the cicadas and salted snacks.

Commended by Brian Patten in the Milestones
international poetry competition, 2017

i.m. Jo Cox M.P. for Batley and Spen

Over the Kazakh steppes
an Englishman drops from space
in a frilly white jellyfish
landing with a powder puff.
“The smell of Earth is so strong,”
he reminds us before he’s carried
to safety like a baby, woozy
with ozone and wonder.

In Yorkshire, Hate stalks the lanes,
spraying petals into the gutter
because kindness frightens Him
more than death or insignificance.
A thousand Poundland candles
now blaze like daisies in the rain
making felt-tipped condolences
run to mascara upon the grass.

But we’re still too wobbly
with stargazing to hear Hate rage
in court “Freedom for Britain!”
Freedom for the misfit triangle
that slipped off its Continent
to drift in a moist blue ball,
snapped at 5 miles per second
by adoring astronauts.

I entered via his red silk tie at the weekend.
Access through other orifices will now be denied.
After the Intervention and a light sleep
he fed sparrows some cake in the Rose Garden.
His recovery is progressing better than expected.
The copy of The Bell Jar that he placed by his bed
he discovered in the White House Library.
It carries a dedication and kiss from Jackie Kennedy.
His new veganism will come as a surprise to many.
Expect Executive Orders giving federal support
to lentil and chick pea production in the rust belt.
His planned beard should follow his current hair
with backcombed sideburns and ginger soul patch.
I’m pleased to say he took easily to the pink mankini
in which he’ll dress for next week’s press conference
with a new mascara and rouge he’s modelling
for new Secretary of Homeland Security, Shakira.
The proposed repeal of both the death penalty
and the 2nd Amendment he intends to celebrate
with a concert by Neil Young and Henry Rollins,
sponsored by Patron tequila and Mexico Tourism.
The final appointment to his all-women Cabinet,
Sharon Olds, starts her Senate hearing next week.
The First Lady has been released back into society.
She plans to devote her life to elephant welfare.
The President will be meeting Justice Secretary
Toni Morrison to reinstate facts as a benchmark
for truth: alternative facts will come with warning
from The Surgeon-General and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
All scientists are requested to emerge from hiding
to return to their labs and classrooms immediately.
I hope you enjoy putting your new President to work.
Please take care with Democracy going forward
and don’t mention pee-pee. We can’t afford a relapse.

The lad reads Camus like Sisyphus,
every Penguin page so inclined
that the meaning might roll back
with a groan into cerebral rubble.
He says truth’s just a bigger boulder,
harder to shoulder, shape or throw,
gathering speed but no moss…

(moss)
which older men should mould
as a felten hat to cool their brains
or sport as a velveteen jacket to dine
in places with strict dress codes
so that they may complain about
the dreadful amount of piss
the ruling class leave on the loo seat…

(loo seat)
the last porcelain bastion of thought
on the digital plains of distraction
where cats battle it out with cakes,
side-boobs and Presidential candidates
all as sweaty and convicted as crusaders
waving their many pouted Selfies
like Madonnas…

(Madonna)
whose cult is overdue a comeback,
– Joseph’s wife, not Guy Ritchie’s –
to be venerated with roadside shrines
by bus stops, piled with stone cairns
showing how far our myths have come
since Sisyphus, Prometheus and
that fire the Gods still want back.

Shortlisted in the 2016 Live Canon Poetry Prize