Breaking Kayfabe by Wes Brown

Breaking Kayfabe: An Interview with Wes Brown

By Craig Smith

It takes awareness, intelligence and creativity to compete professionally at sport. Its exponents have to process multiple sources of ever-changing information in real-time and react accordingly, trusting their body to back their decisions. It’s arguable sportspeople are not given enough credit for how good they have to be to compete at the highest level; they are judged on post-match interviews and PR-filtered press conferences, and only their counterparts and opponents truly know what it takes to survive and thrive in any given sporting arena.

Some sports are given more licence than others. No one is surprised when a cricketer speaks eloquently about landscape painting, nor when a loosehead prop quotes Greek, but these are sports most readily associated with expensive educations. The wider world expresses amazement when a Rugby League player has Grade 8 piano, or a footballer is studying GCSE Maths. There’s snobbery involved.

Professional wrestling might be the sport we expect least of. For many people, wrestling is Mick McManus fighting Kendo Nagasaki of a Saturday teatime, or a mulleted loud-mouth from Idaho smashing a tea-tray across an opponent’s head. We don’t imagine there are participants deconstructing the sport, examining its many layers of reality, and dreaming new ways to blend its combination of performance, athletics and theatre. There are people who don’t believe it hurts.

Wes Brown is a professional wrestler from Leeds, the son of wrestler Earl Black; he’s also a novelist and poet, and the Programme Director of the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. Wes grew up grappling with his brother in his dad’s front room, and piling through book after book at Leeds Modern, the alma mater of Alan Bennett and Bob Peck. His novel, Breaking Kayfabe, published by Bluemoose, is a retelling of his career as a wrestler and his growth as a writer, as he developed his strong style of wrestling and his ‘no style’ of writing.

Were you always a writer?

I began to get creative in my teenage years. I was in a short-lived band that didn’t go anywhere. Film was my main thing. We made a short film that was the only non-funded short film to be included in the Leeds Young Persons Film Festival.

But the bother of getting a location, getting equipment, working with people: it was a logistical nightmare every time I wanted to create something new. It got too much. You could have a vision for a piece but it might require a CGI budget of $700 million, or something ridiculous, yet if you write ‘thunderstorm’ in a story, there it is, a thunderstorm. I realised I didn’t need all those other people.

So that’s how I started writing. I wrote poetry to begin with, and weird genre stuff. I saw an advert for an Arts Council-run writing programme called the Writing Squad, that was open to writers in the North. I got on as a wildcard entry. They’re still going today. It’s become a bit of an institution; all sorts of writers have come through it. There’s an analogy to football, to a youth academy, the idea that you can take people’s skills to another level if you create an intensive environment to support them. Otherwise, they’re left to their own devices.

From the age of 16, I had some poems published through the online version of Sheath magazine, which was connected to Sheffield Uni.

Was that run by Ian McMillan at the time?

It was, yeah. I also had poems published in Aesthetica, and one or two other places. When I was 18, I sold a short story as part of an anthology for Route publishing, who were a Pontefract-based fiction publisher who switched to publishing music books. I did an internship with them. I was quite young – eighteen, the same age as Wayne Rooney. I’d sold a story for 50 quid. I was the Wayne Rooney of the writing world, both breaking through. Nothing could stop me.

And then there was a period in the wilderness where I was experimenting, writing nonsense. When I was 24, I published a novel with a small press. And it was just bad: the novel wasn’t fully finished, I didn’t like the production, there were proofing issues. It just felt fake.

Round that point, there were other things going on in my life. I had a massive identity crisis for a few years, which lasted till I was offered the opportunity to train as a pro wrestler. The Writing Squad offered to pay my training fees, so long as I wrote something about it. And I thought ‘I’ve got nothing better to do. I’m pretty depressed. I’ll go be a wrestler’.

I got into wrestling training and literally became another person, Or at least, I pretended to be.

Wes Brown
Wes Brown

Were you still writing?

I went to Birkbeck at the back end of that. Doing my MA got me back on track with fact-based fiction, blending fact and fiction, as I felt that’s where I needed to be. The novelly novels and the fiction I had written felt cartoonish and fake. Birkbeck got me into a space where I felt my writing was a lot better. And that became the book, Breaking Kayfabe.

What was the benefit of the MA for you?

I spent a long time not being able to control my writing. Some good stuff would come out, and some bad stuff would come out, too. And people would be into the bad stuff or pretend to be. I thought people were Kayfabing me. I was thinking, ‘Do you really think this is good? Or are you just being nice?’ I had that doubt.

I was doing what a lot of new writers do, where they want to show that they can write. They don’t write normal sentences, because everything has to be about dazzle. And nobody is impressed. ‘That’s all very well, but tell us a story.’

And it wasn’t until I went through the workshop process on the MA that I realised what people really thought, and found I knew what I wanted to do.

Describe the connection between strong style wrestling and no style writing.

Sometimes I’ve wanted to write in a high literary style, and people have gone, ‘but that’s not you’. It suggests that if you’re southern middle class, you can write like that but, if you’re from the north, you can’t, and I thought, ‘Well, what if I want to have a literary style?’ But on the other hand, there is a kind of truth to it.

And through the MA, when dazzle didn’t work, I developed this new style that I call the ‘no style’ style. I wanted to write invisibly. I didn’t want my fiction to feel laborious. I wanted it to be a rush that I got into, that didn’t feel like writing. Weirdly, people reacted better to ‘no style’. I have a no nonsense, direct, colloquial way of speaking that I’ve grown up with, which I bring to my style of literature. It’s that flatness that makes the style different and literary in a way.

So I wanted to be strong style in the ring. And I wanted to be strong style on the page as well. In wrestling, there’s a phrase that no one’s going to believe it’s real but you want to make people forget that it’s fake. I wanted an MMA vernacular that would be plausible, that would be realistic and would look like it might hurt somebody, something you may use in a fight, to create that reality effect.

And so that’s what the ‘no style’ was. I wanted it to seem spontaneous, to deliberately not write well. And that was a risk because if you want to purposefully write with a little bit less gloss and a little bit less polish, it could come off like you just can’t write. But I wanted it to be a bit rugged, you know.

William Regal is a British wrestler who trained people in a WWE Performance Centre. For him, the aesthetics of good wrestling should be a little ugly. It shouldn’t look too choreographed. It shouldn’t look too clean, because it should still look like a proper fight. That’s what I wanted in the book. I wanted it to be a bit ugly. I wanted it to be a bit sort of rough and rugged. It wouldn’t be too pristine.

There was a macho man match in WrestleMania 92, or something like that, where they choreographed every single movement in the match. That was largely unheard of at the time, but it went over really well. Over time, that has become the template. Everything’s highly choreographed.

The alternative is to do it spontaneously. You call it on the fly. You feel the crowd. You feel the story of a match and just run with it. And I wanted some of that spontaneity in the book because I love calling it on the fly. In the ring, it adds a sense of unrehearsedness. There’s the thrill of the real.

And with the book, I wanted that flow. I wanted it to flow out of me. And it wasn’t always possible because it’s a difficult state to get into, but I didn’t want to do it in too cogent a way. So for the most part, Breaking Kayfabe doesn’t have chapters, but it’s got collections of scenes that constitute chapters, and I wrote each in one go. I did everything in one sitting. And if it didn’t work, I did it again the next day. I just did it again until I got it. So almost all of it is written spontaneously. I tweaked it a little bit, and the editors added stuff, but by and large, that’s how it came out.

If you’re blending fact and fiction, does that affect the reader’s assumptions about you?

There’s a Nabokov quote: ‘You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose’. And you can always count on a pro wrestler to be an unreliable narrator. They’re slippery and you never know when a pro wrestler is working you or not. That’s one of the joys of the book for me, because people don’t know. I like to see how much have I worked you. This could be a work, it could pretty much all be fiction. It could be a shoot – this is a wrestling term where it’s legit – or it could be a worked shoot, where I make it look like it’s a shoot, but it’s actually a work. Or it could be just a shoot, that I’m pretending is a work. Or it could be elements of all those things.

And people will want to know how much of it is true or not. One reviewer said I was greedy because I was trying to have this pro-wrestling character protagonist, who is also literary, making literary allusions. And I’m like, I am Dr. Wes Brown, literary critic, novelist, programme director of a Birkbeck MA: it would be unusual if I weren’t to think of literature. What am I to do, self-censor, just because he wanted some sort of wrestler who doesn’t think about these things?

Pro wrestling likes to introduce real-life elements, or sometimes real life intrudes into it as well, when people start fighting for real or real feuds come to the fore.

I want that slippery slope of how much of this is real, and never really give a conclusive answer.

Breaking Kayfabe by Wes Brown
One of the things that made me think the story was true to your life was the short story you drop into the middle of the narrative. It seemed such a writerly thing to do: you’d written the short story and didn’t want it to go to waste, so you found a home for it.

At the time I was writing that section, I realised it was about my dad. So, the current protagonist in the story feels like it should be my dad, but actually that’s me. And the bear is my dad. And I let go of the bear, foreshadowing what’s to come. But also at the time, that was a very fictionalised way of dealing with some of these same things.

The whole story is a search for approval – as a writer, from the narrator’s father, from his girlfriend. It’s that about validation and acceptance.

It’s to do with status, and family as a micro society. You’ve got your own status in there: I’m now really important to those people. I’ve got people who depend on me, who I need to take responsibility for. I’ve got people I need to, in the best possible manner, be a dad for. I need to be a husband. I need to be a more whole person. Status is huge.

And I think, coming from a lower social status, and having difficulties in your upbringing – it’s not directly coming from my parents, but from circumstances as well, that you weren’t really wanted. Nobody really thought anything of you. It was all polite and there’s nobody really actively discriminating against you, it’s just nobody thought you were special. You were nobody’s favourite.

And you wanted to be the man you want to be. You wanted to be the champion. And then growing up in the big shadow of somebody like my dad: when you’re the son of a wrestler, that’s all you are.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a true crime book about Shannon Matthews, who was kidnapped by her mother. This happened in Dewsbury, not far from where I grew up.

The book started out as faction, as a David Peace-style story, which had the same themes as Shannon Matthews’ story, but which was not specifically about her. But I could never make it work.

And then I tried to make it an oral history, like Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, but I found nobody in the community would talk to me.

I ended up doing it as some sort of true crime thing. I was worried it would be artless, merely a document of what happened, but actually, what I’m finding is, in writing this way, even though it’s nonfiction, all my skills as a novelist are coming to the fore. I’m trying to let the story come through the characters as the events happen, so the tension builds and any reflection or knowledge is revealed naturally. I’m not necessarily going into the heads of the characters because obviously I don’t have access, but you can safely assume that say, this person finds out this given fact at this given point. And I’m gradually pulling the story out, like a string, and not just bombing everything with exposition and knowledge and opinion.

I moved to this format because I wanted it to be as real as possible. I wanted nothing to be fictionalised.

That’s why it’s taken me 13 years to write it.

Breaking Kayfabe is published by Bluemoose Books



I Have Nothing New To Say by Sinéad MacInnes

On your whistle-stop tour of the Highlands
and Islands our whispers are said
to be heard by native ears

O Dhia
dè rinn iad?

              Oh God
              what have
              they done?


The Barabhas moor on Lewis is empty.

Leòdhas – far an do rugadh mo sheanair

              Lewis – where my
              grandpa was born

I have nothing new to say. And yet
perhaps I echo the emptiness they pronounce
as they roll in brazen on bulldozer. As if it is a tank.
Nothing to see here! No sign of life.

The shaft of ephemeral light hits the same spot
on Donald-John’s rowing boat at the same time of day,
each day this season, as we continue to live
in the shape of our shadows, lapping against low tides.


Uibhist a’ Tuath – far an do rugadh mo shinn-seanmhair 

              North Uist – where
              my great-
              was born

My grandpa sits atop a rock on the Cnocaire at number 10, Bàgh a’ Chàise/highest hill point above the croft/I am small enough then to still be sat atop his knee.            

His walking stick props up the rock next door to our stone throne
its head gracefully carved by Duncan Mathieson of Kintail
into the face of a bird
whose wife force feeds me biscuits and strokes my cheeks

(Duncan Mathieson’s wife does, not the graceful bird walking stick),
twice a year when visiting on our way home to croft from city,
Duncan Mathieson being distant cousin on my grandpa’s father’s side
this delicate web of sloinneadh they trace

through every ceilidh as we sit in their tiny dwelling
set into mountain face of a cleared valley of
broken and uninhabited homes and
listen to the last of our tradition-bearers spitball stories that

mix with tinkling laughter,
peat and cigarette smoke and reverberate round the room.
We drive away. A sad echo
follows us through the Glen.

Now, back on the Cnocaire we survey our Kingdom,
mo sheanair and I, the sea on three sides.
Nothing between here and Canada, a Shinéad, dìreach ocean.
I imagine I am falling off the edge of the world right into its centre.

Gusts of wind blow my hair across my face
grandpa hums the Addams Family theme tune,
we giggle. He squeezes me tighter against the breeze, points,
seall air an sùlaire. Dreamily we watch gannets dive for fish that way they do,

high up at our hilltop-eye-level, they circle,
we watch in wait – and then
– a sudden plunge! Turning like a whisk as they plummet down
into quiet splash, we yelp in delight spotting squirming fat fish in its beak

I ask, small chin tilting up to his,
how can they see under the water from all the way up here?
Survival, he replies.
With a slight shake of his head.


I have never seen anything more unpropitious
– said Sir Walter Scott of the Harris skyline (from his boat)

Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh – cò às a thàinig mo sheanmhair            

              Berneray, Harris –
              where my granny
              came from

They made maps with no place names
numbers instead, to demolish
our townships, already poor in soil
now drifting nameless through their cache

In this desolate land

Eyes flash cash, hand grips stick, miss what sits
in front of them/hold on to your breaches boys and away we go!
Screech into hearth holding hearts encased in stone
bleed out into rich purple heather staining it brown

Sinéad, come on, time to move on – I – flinch/gut/choke on my own knowing/freeze in disappearing/shout or run/shout or run/shout or run/I –

swallow. Hundreds of years stick fast in a throat taught to sever our speaking,
to dance carefully round drunken hopelessness. All in the past.
Sit quiet/feel the weight on my chest/moors burn/flames lick hot on our backs
And you do not exist.


O Dhia/Ar n-Athair a tha air nèamh

              Oh God/Our Father
              who art in Heaven


where great grandfather, the minister,
and great grandmother, the healer, are buried,
far from home, dead amongst the ghosts
of 7,000, never to return.

Run over our bones until they turn to dust and you can say – See?
It’s empty here.

Hear the psalms swell we call and we respond
wrapped in shrouds of bitter judgement
pray our resistance away/arrive starving from Barra
shock the city/draped in the famine they made.


Cò as a tha thu?

Where are you from?

Literal translation
who are you from?
The land springs forth the people
not the other way round

so remote, how wild,
so rugged, how free

freedom is in the eye of the beholder when
they proclaim the people of a place are pretend.


My mamaidh, mo mhathair, text me yesterday,
Six eagles circling over Bagh a Chaise this morning with a golden moon
going down in the shell pink Western sky
Eagle emoji eagle emoji
Shell emoji
Love heart

Tha gaol agam ort
              I love you
Literal translation/I have love at me on you
sits between us/as eternal offering.

all the men in my story are dead now.

land was never meant to be a possession
and I have nothing new to say

nothing I could translate into this tongue, anyway.

For all erased and dispossessed people and lands.

Many thanks to Catrìona MacInnes for the photos and to Fiona MacIsaac and Yvonne Irving for checking over the Gaelic

Sinead MacInnes is a writer, facilitator, actor and performance poet based at Birkbeck, University of London, where she is studying for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. Her work straddles the creative-critical seam, exploring shame, trans generational trauma, colonial legacy and the Gaelic world

‘A defining message of education and acceptance’ : Dale Booton in conversation with Matt Bates on his debut poetry pamphlet, Walking Contagions.

Dale Booton, Walking Contagions, Polari Press, 9781914237102

MB: Walking Contagions strikes me as being not just a beautiful suite of poems, but also a political act through its – to quote the blurb – ‘defining message of education and acceptance.’ How did you begin to conceptualise the collection and where did your research take you?

DB: When I accepted my own queerness in my late teens, I went on an research expedition into queer history. Obviously, a huge part of recent history has been the AIDS epidemic. It has been a medical, emotional, social, economic, and political topic for so many including those we have lost, and those living with HIV/AIDS who are still stigmatised today. I read everything I could on the subject and watched as many documentaries and films as I could. I just wanted to know everything, nerd that I am! There was a whole history that had been kept from me in education, so I had to find it.

When I sat down to plan the pamphlet, I made so many notes, little scribbles of oh, what about this… or this? I accumulated quite a stack of random pieces of paper, and then, after a couple of my previous poems about HIV/AIDS had been published, I decided to write Walking Contagions. I wanted to mark a journey from the 80s to present day, drawing on the experience of the past to investigate how the medical, emotional, social, economic, and political segments of the epidemic might have changed – or not – over the last few decades. Because I had already written a few poems about HIV/AIDS I didn’t want to just repeat the same content. I had an idea of what I wanted to include: aspects of sexual health, of pain, trauma, a family scene, loss; but I also wanted to have some poems in there that explored queerness in society today as well as the educational side of HIV treatment.

Finding a publisher like Polari has been amazing. Peter Collins, who runs Polari Press, was so wonderful and kind with my work, and Polari have created an amazing cover for the pamphlet. Polari is a queer publisher run by a queer person publishing queer things – what more could a queer writer wish for? The pamphlet I originally sent was very different to begin with, and whilst editing I destroyed some poems completely and wrote new ones because I didn’t like what I had created. Then I sat back down and started to write again, looking at the gaps I thought I had missed, or where I thought I had strayed too far from my concept. My final editing was done over one weekend. I locked myself away in my flat and rewatched AIDS: The Unheard Tapes, then re-read the poems. It took a lot out of me until I was eventually pulled out by some friends and taken out for the night. I just sat in a local club crying, thinking about all those who were lost because society was too ignorant to care and too unaccepting to help.

I wanted to write in a way that was bold, brash and blunt. I didn’t want to overuse metaphor but to say what I really thought on the matter. If my pamphlet expresses an element of the ‘defining message of education and acceptance’, then I have succeeded in what I wanted to do.

MB: A number of the poems are in dialogue with other poets’ works. I really enjoyed the way you use a line from another poet to “push off” into your own poems, offering a multitude of new possibilities by evolving a line. Can you tell us more about this method and how it helped you shape the collection?

DB: I think poets are at their best when they consume other poets’ work, internalise what they appreciate about the poetry, and, – because not everything fits everyone – what they might have done differently if the poem were their own. This is something I have done with various poems and poets’ work, whether that be a specific poem idea or a form, or even just the poem itself. For example, my poem ‘Blood’ is after the poem ‘Blood’ by the wonderful Andrew McMillan, who was such an inspiration when I first started out as a queer poet. Previously, I just rambled on about society and randomness and avoided all ideas of my own queer identity. Reading Andrew’s Physical really helped me to come out of my poetry closet, so to speak. I had moved back to Birmingham for university, I was trying to take my own poetry more seriously, and Andrew’s poetry really helped with that.

So, when I decided that I was going to try and work on more poems in relation to AIDS. The first, ‘Journal Fragments ’82 -’86’, had been published in the We’ve Done Nothing Wrong. We’ve Got Nothing to Hide (2020) Diversity anthology by Verve so I was inspired to keep with the theme. Lockdown had just hit, and I was suddenly very aware of the time that I had to write. I had been re-reading Playtime by Andrew McMillan, which discusses sexual identity, and there is a poem in the collection called ‘Blood’ that I just adored. It explores sex, sexual health, and AIDS history in such a contemporary way. At the time, it had been announced that the twelve-month deferral ban on donating blood for gay and bi-sexual men would be decreased to three months of celibacy, and it really made my blood boil. There was still so much stigma around queer sex and HIV/AIDS, so, I wanted to try educating people about HIV/AIDS through poetry.

I have many friends who are HIV+ and there is still such a lack of education for those that may know little about it. And, sadly, there is still a lot of ignorance within the queer community too. If anything, you should feel safe within your own community, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. The poems are also for those: the ignorant amongst us who perhaps need some education and reflection of their own. Stigma is dangerous; knowledge and education can help eradicate that. Education is the key, but unfortunately there are people that fight the kind of education that can help save lives, whether that be about HIV/AIDS or about the queer community in general.

I read Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell in lockdown, which is about love, loss, and the destroyed possibility of happiness as being interconnected with another person. As soon as I read it, I thought of Grindr. I wondered how I might merge the two together in some form; and I ended up keeping the title and stealing the first two lines from Rimbaud’s poem.

I did a similar thing with ‘Exposure, Part II’, taking the last lines of Wilfred Owen’s stanzas and using them in a reconstructed effort to show model the “fighting a war but losing the battle” adage, exploring the onset of the AIDS epidemic with activism and an ignorant government. The poem plays on Owen’s ideals of being neglected by those who you once thought might help you, until you are just sat around waiting for death.

‘Wounded I Stand’ is after زخمستان (wounded-i-stan) by Suhrab Sirat. I fell in love with this broken idea of society and efforts within war that Sirat discussed within his poem. It was for a Young Poets competition – as was ‘Exposure, Part II’, actually – and I started working with the ideas of queerness being broken throughout history by those who want to oppress and eradicate, but still we carry on, we fight on, we love on…because we must.

As for ‘Epilogue’…well, that began in a workshop with the magnificent Joelle Taylor, whom the opening line belongs to – from the poem ‘Got a Light, Jack?’ in C+nto & Othered Poems – and it is one where I left the workshop thinking ooh, I’ve really got something here. It didn’t have a title at first, but as I started editing the poem, I knew it would be about passing on from life, in an oddly sweet and sensationalist manner, rather than some negative damnation of misery. The poem rather encapsulates how I would like to go, looking back at life, love and intimacy, rather than in fear of what is beyond the eternal darkness. Quite a few of the poems throughout the pamphlet are rather morbid, but I wanted to end on a note that was looking back with joy and gratefulness for all the men one has known, rather than regret.

MB: ‘Another Season in Hell’ and ‘Epilogue’ seem to express an acute disappointment with the instantaneous sex-based apps of today (such as Grindr), whilst also feeling simultaneously resigned to them. Do you see there being a tension between digital spaces and the (lack of) physical spaces today such as the bar, club or cruising spaces?

DB: I think that a lot of social activity is now done online – there is no denying it, whether that is merely communication (like Twitter, etc.) or for other forms of gratification (such as Grindr, etc.). We are in a technological age, and that often forces us to struggle with the reality of what is right in front of us. In particular, with recent global events, such as COVID-19 and lockdowns, we have been forced to find new ways to stay in contact with those we care about. Coming out of lockdown and going back into bars and nightclubs, I think there was a bit of shift in how life is approached. I mean, I have seen gay men messaging each other on Grindr while being a metre or so away from one another on the dancefloor and I just think, why don’t you go talk to each other and dance? Then again, I wouldn’t be the person to go up to someone in a club really, either, so, I’m a bit of a hypocrite like that!

I don’t know… perhaps it is a safety net, that idea of possible rejection: it isn’t so bad when it is conveyed in a message rather than to your face. These poems sort of fall into the modern idea of intimacy through anonymity. There is always a risk that comes with social media and dating apps, and sometimes that risk is isolation or mental health issues, but we still use them, delete them from our phones, reinstall them, use them again. It is like a little cycle of hope and despair at finding something in a place that perhaps we know might not be good for us. Like the Rihanna song ‘We Found Love’, we move with the times, and sometimes that means putting yourself out there in ways you never though you might, just as one does with poetry.

Dale Booton

MB: Following on from the previous question, I was very moved by the narration in ‘Encounter’ which connects sexual joy to sexual terror under the shadow of HIV. In a state of fever, the narrator sits ‘like The Thinker recounting the faces | of the men I have loved and have been loved by for a night’. There seems to be a further tension on display here between promiscuity and the search for love…can you expand?

DB: Promiscuity is believed to be a very modern idea, and it is also very much connected with the queer community. There is this idea in heterosexual society to find a partner and settle down – but that is utter garbage. Promiscuity has been witnessed throughout history for all sexualities. There is no gene coding for promiscuity. Levels of promiscuity change through a person’s life and emotional states. Some people may have sexual intercourse with one person in their life, others may have sexual intercourse with thirty, seventy, three hundred. Neither is a problem – so long as you are knowledgeable.

By this, I mean, safe sex, regular sexual health screenings, communication with the partner. Promiscuity may have been scarier during the onset of the AIDS epidemic due to the risk that was associated with it, as well as the stigma that wasn’t only caused because of AIDS, but because of the sexuality it was most closely aligned with. However, I do believe that fear has led to queer people being more educated on sexual health than perhaps a lot of heterosexual people. Often, as I have discussed with numerous university friends and secondary students, because a lot of heterosexual people believe that sexual health isn’t something for them to worry about. There are times when students have said to me: “Only gay people get sex diseases.”

Education is a tool, but often it is not being used correctly. Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) has come a long way, but it still has so much further to go, and poetry can help with that. I wrote ‘U = U’ after a conversation with a HIV+ friend of mind, and they described the virus as being trapped in a rosebud that doesn’t open, which I then took, used, and developed. I did an assembly for World AIDS Day last year at my school, and I was deeply shocked by the minimal information at hand, lack of understanding, and, indeed, tolerance around HIV/AIDS from staff alone. Undetectable means Untransmittable, and that is a message RSE and Biology lessons need to reiterate.

As for love – I wouldn’t say I am very successful with that topic. My poems – although they do have romance throughout them – often fail to attribute anything to anything as definitive as ‘love’. But maybe that is what love is – as it is very different to everyone – an undefinable abstract that is woven throughout what we do, rather than projected and instilled in one person or poem. Within ‘Encounter’, perhaps it is that desperation for love that defines the speaker: I am fully aware of my longing for love in my youth, of the desire to fall head-over-heels for a guy, to feel a connection…but, it doesn’t always work out that way. The poem holds that anticipation and fear of what comes next? especially for the poem’s setting in the AIDS epidemic.

MB: I love how this collection of poems is in dialogue with the past, present and future. Focusing on the past, for a moment, I was reminded of Heather Love’s (in Feeling Backward: Loss & the Politics of Queer History) argument that narrations of queer suffering are an embodiment of queerness itself. For Love, texts that narrate queer suffering and ‘insist on social negativity’ can be useful because they ‘underline the gap between aspiration and the actual.’ How do you feel your collection both memorialises the past and articulates a hopeful future?

DB: For me, history in words is a current we have captured, contained, and given a new home. My pamphlet is a little home – it houses change as well as lack of change. To me, queer history is an essential part of growing up as a queer person, no matter when you are born. Perhaps I’m just a nerd but I think that you need to know the history of your own community.

At school, you are taught history – often flawed and Eurocentric – but history, nonetheless. Why then, when you discover who you are, do you not want to know that history, too? There are many young queers oblivious to the history that our queer ancestors have fought through and for us in order for the freedoms we have today, and that fight still goes on. I can’t understand how you wouldn’t want to know about all that. It should be taught in schools as a part of history. I know that in the school I taught at, there wasn’t even an LGBTQ+ History Month until I developed a scheme for it; and that was in English, not History. Queer history is a part of history, so it must be taught.

While my pamphlet mostly deals with HIV/AIDS, there is a current of development and change within society. For example, the development of treatments has meant people living with HIV can live long, prosperous lives…something that those in the 80s didn’t have. Education and activism are the couple that can end the stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS around the world, which is exactly what we need. As I said before: Undetectable means Untransmittable. Education is the key.

MB: More generally, which poets do you particular admire and draw inspiration from?

DB: As I said earlier, a huge inspiration for me has been Andrew McMillan and to whom I am very grateful to for blurbing my pamphlet. He has been very kind about my work, and he is someone I always go back and read. Andrew also introduced me to the work of Thom Gunn and Mark Doty, both of whom have been inspiring. Their exploration of the onset of the AIDS epidemic, of loss, but also of love, is actually really chilling. Their poems aren’t poems that are quick to leave you.

I mentioned Joelle Taylor, whom I adore. Jemima Hughes. James McDermott. Caleb Parkin. Mary Jean Chan. Ocean Vuong. Jericho Brown. Danez Smith. Fiona Benson. Raymond Antrobus. These are all poets I constantly go back to, are constantly re-reading and they aren’t all queer. They each have a different purpose to me, if that makes sense. For example, if I am writing about mental health, I return to Jemima Hughes; if I am writing about family, I re-read Mary Jean Chan or Fiona Benson; queerness…I have a whole deck of poets to keep going back to and re-reading. I always try to think: What have they written? What haven’t they written? What can I write?

I also have some poetry friends and acquaintances that I draw inspiration from such as Piero Toto, Simon Maddrell, Stanley Iyanu, Juliano Zaffino Ashish Kumar Singh, Luís Costa, JP Seabright. These are people I talk to about poetry: their own, my own… or some that I just read the poetry of and adore.

MB: Finally, what’s next for you Dale, writing-wise?

DB: I am currently editing a second poetry pamphlet, which will be published with Fourteen Poems early next year, exploring queer friendship and nightlife. It is kind of based around some of the events in the past two years of my life, moving away from a relationship and falling into a safe queer space. I haven’t really written any poetry in a while, so it is good to push myself back towards it through some editing.

I also have an idea for a novel, but that is something that will need fleshing out before I start writing it. Hopefully, in the near future, it will become a little clearer in my mind…

Dale Booton (he/him) is a queer poet from Birmingham. His poetry has been published in various places, such as Verve, Young Poets Network, Queerlings, The North, Muswell Press, and Magma. His debut pamphlet Walking Contagions is out with Polari Press; his second pamphlet is forthcoming with Fourteen Poems in 2024.
Twitter: @BootsPoetry
Matt Bates is the Poetry Editor of MIR.

Neptune’s Projects: An Interview with Rishi Dastidar

Neptune’s Project is the third collection of poems by the poet and editor, Rishi Dastidar. It looks at climate breakdown from the point of view of Neptune, the Roman god of fresh water and the sea. It is published by Nine Arches Press.


What’s your background as a writer?

Briefly, as I have been at this lark for a while: lots and lots of student journalism, then a failed dabbling with actual journalism for a few years, before I discovered copywriting for advertising and brands. While that was (and continues) to pay the bills, I was trying and failing to write fiction, and trying and failing to write essays. And then when I was about 30, I discovered poetry. Still failing at that, but remarkably, readers appear to be prepared to join me as I do.

How did you get into the concept behind Neptune’s Projects? What were the stages in its development? How did you settle on the idea of using the voice of a God to explore the destruction of the planet?

There was no planning or forethought. About 2018 or so, a few poems emerged that had the sea at their centre, as an object to be ruminated on (not much like what I was writing at the time) – sea as confessor, sea as destination to bring lovers together. And then when ‘Neptune’s concrete crash helmet’ arrived, that was when a light bulb went on: is there something in adopting the voice of a god, but giving him very human qualities and frailties? It turned out that adopting a persona that revolved at once about both being powerful and powerless was a great parallel for exploring subjects like climate change.

I should stress: I didn’t set out to write eco-themed poems; they came from this voice, and diving into it. Clearly my subconscious was worrying away, but it wasn’t like my conscious brain was telling me: you must write this. The book is a result of some of my far more submerged fears rising without being bidden all that much.

Rishi Dastidar
Rishi Dastidar

What can poets hope to achieve in the fight against the destruction of the planet? Do artists have an obligation to contend with the issues of society?

On the latter question: no, they don’t at all, and I’m not going to go round telling other artists what to be concerned about. But for me, as someone living and working in a society that feels – is – fucked up in so many ways, but with so many wondrous things that would have baffled and delighted our ancestors, too – why would you not want to examine that? Bluntly, I don’t think me and my travails as an individual are all that interesting; I’m far more interested in turning my creative energies and insights on what’s around me, and asking: what’s going on? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Does this thing make you feel what I feel?

On the former: short of retraining as wind turbine engineers and/or living off grid? Practically – not much. But then: no one ever turned to poetry for policy-driven solutions for anything. We’re here to do what we always have been here to do: to tell stories about who we are as humans, what it means to be humans, to be in the world around us, the one we’ve inherited, the ones we’re making and destroying; and to make some noise about and around all of that. Confirm a few priors, shatter a few prejudices; make people think, look again. Expand the imaginative possibilities for all of us, about how we might live, and not destroy our civilization in the process. All of that helps at the margins of change, I hope. But I’m pessimistic as to how much that actually does to avert the wars and societal collapses that I think we all know are coming. All of us need to pull our fingers out to make a dent in that challenge.

There’s a palpable anger in this collection, but also playfulness and humour. How do you balance the two? Is one a function of the other?

I think so. The balance between the anger and the humour was a happy accident, but the striving for humour was not. It was a very conscious decision I took as Neptune’s voice was emerging. I felt that, through being sarcastic, world weary, through exaggeration, overclaiming and declaiming, maybe even the odd one liner or two, I could access and approach subjects and ideas in ways that I hadn’t see done before in poetry that looked at the environment.

A parallel: from my work in advertising, I well know that humour is a tool, an approach that can be deployed with some success when it comes to raising awareness, attempting to persuade. If we agree that the climate crisis is the most important challenge facing us as a species, why wouldn’t we use every potential tone or shade on the communicative register, to try and reach people? Maybe, just maybe, a black, gallows humour might change a mind or two. I appreciate that might be as useful as giggling into the apocalypse, but I felt – still feel – it’s worth a try.

Are there particular ecologists you look to to help you understand what’s going on in the world?

As hinted at in the book’s subtitle, ‘Now That’s What I call Hyperobject Ballads’, it wouldn’t exist without the work of Timothy Morton, and especially his Being Ecological. I think one of his successes is to show us that we are not separate or unconnected from what is around us. We might think – act – as if we are destined to forever bend the world to our species’ desires. But we’re not. And we’re starting to be able to see that, through the fact that we’re realising that some of what we have created – the hydrocarbon industry for example – is both bigger than we can grasp, and has more ramifications than we realised – emergent, unintended consequences.

I’ve found his way of foregrounding the fact that what we are thinking about is so big that it can’t be looked at in a straight-ahead fashion actually liberating. To me it means that we have to take – and accept – a kaleidoscope of views, approaches, beliefs that we’ll need to save us: which, when you think about how diverse humanity is, isn’t actually all that surprising. Yet it still can feel that way.

What is your attitude to form?

If I tell you that, right now, what my brain is mostly thinking about is: “I haven’t written an Onegin sonnet for ages…” that hopefully gives some indication. I’m neither virulently against form nor frothingly for it. I am boringly prosaic in that I hope that, as the language emerges, it gives a clue as to what it wants to become: a sonnet, a prose poem, a sestina (though if it is going that way, I do feel the need to give the words [or me] a bonk on the head, to tell it to stop being so silly), a roll of free verse down the page… In some pieces the pentameter or tetrameter hits you quite quickly, and it can be hard to resist finding the vessel for that; others are much more opaque, and so the listening and looking for the ‘what are you?’ clues are a lot harder.

What I love doing, whatever form I end up working in, is see how much I can cram in before the structure breaks; not for me one perfectly observed moment of stillness. Rather, the hope that the lyric is groaning full of goodies. Life is full of information, I like poems that are full to burst too.

Neptunes Projects
Neptune's Project, by Rishi Dastidar

There’s a movement toward collections of poems with a strong concept, theme or narrative. (for example, Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Psyche, Joelle Taylor’s Cunto, Helen Mort’s The Illustrated Woman, among others). Neptune’s Projects is similarly an extended work. What are the advantages of building a collection around a single idea?

That’s interesting, as I’ve not been thinking of ‘Projects’ in that way, rather poems that are brought together – and maybe closer than I might have otherwise thought – by the voice deployed… are there advantages to this? Hmmm. To me? It’s hard for me to frame it in that way. I certainly didn’t set out to write a whole series of themed poems dealing with the end of the world in a bumptious voice; as mentioned above they emerged, or rather Neptune’s voice did; and when I realised then, it was that I leaned into rather than the subject.

The fact that that voice is capacious enough to handle planetary heat death and football relegation battles is a happy chance, and I suppose that is advantageous to me as an artist, to show that you can have many variations in approach, attack, perspective as you circle around whatever the big idea is. All that said, I’d hope there is some advantage to a reader – a clarity about what they might be picking up at least – and then hopefully lots of surprises as they move through the work.

Which contemporary poets do you particularly enjoy? Any specific collections that have moved you of late?

So many! Right now, what’s lingering includes: The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang; Will Alexander’s Refractive Africa, which is language put in the service of an intellectual pursuit in the most dazzling way; and Holly Hopkins’ The English Summer is still making me laugh. Oh and Michael Conley is a voice new to me, but one I’m very excited by. Absurdism and political satire delivered with a deft, winning touch.


Five Poems from Speculum, by Hannah Copley


All through Tuesday the air smelled like one big orange slice

as if I could dip my fingers in the bedroom wall and bring them back coated in syrup.

I could eat all the oranges I wanted:
I was twenty-one and home for the summer and my dad was dead and love was oranges and the dark red post-box
rusting on the corner of the street

and I was pregnant by mistake.

It was like I was sick and oranges were the cure. Oranges and women’s magazines with names like Time for a Break and Chat that had spa day giveaways

next to headlines like Drugged and Raped
by Jack the Ripper’s Ghost! and Married to my Mother!

and My Amazing Sex…with a Wall!

that I could skim while I pressed my thumb nail
into another orange globe. I didn’t even need to look up

to make a hole big enough to suck out all the juice.

I could just put my mouth to the rind and keep going until there was nothing left inside.


Speculum [2]

Problem (2) is one of metaphor.
What is the appropriateness of fistula
to describe the hole in the archive
between the body of writing and the body of the patient?

Follow the sign for the tunnel between
the perfected gynaecological procedure
and the agony of the bondswoman whose vagina
is repeatedly penetrated by the curved end of the spoon.

This is a test. Perhaps only the description of the act itself,
as in, I am free enough to ball up my writing hand,
and tear my way to sympathy. Sonnet as hand-

crafted speculum tried and tried again;
as curved needle and gauze. Here I am placing fingers
in other people’s wounds; here I am wounding.

Speculum_Hannah Copley
Speculum: Hannah Copley. Published by Broken Sleep Books, (9781913624556).

Polish Aubade

for Stanislawa Leszczyńska 1896-1974.

To never wish
    through two

Polish winters
    for morning

is astounding.
    But then, why

would anyone
    when it arrives

in black boots.
    And why would

anyone when
    it only speaks

in numbers
    and why would

anyone when it
    brings the barrel

to drown them.
    There are so few

ways to be unruly
    when there are

no rules, but better
    frost lit black

than an iron-
    wrapped sun.

You say later
    that when

the second gong
    sounds and

the lights
    are put out

you are free
    to watch

each icicle glimmer
    you are free

to watch
    them shine

as a great crystal
    chandelier in an

extinguished house.

no a hundred
    branches growing

through the roof.
    One for every five

Patients to pull
    down and suck.

Better moonlight
    to lay kidney bowl

and scissors
    and your labour

out on the stove
    and work

And when
    they come free

in the darkness
    you can wrap

them up in paper
    rag     and hand

and place them
    down onto

the quiet bodies
    that bore them

small ice cold


Lost boys

“I can say that without fear of contraception”. Hylda Baker, Nearest and Dearest

At Brinsworth we do the cabaret
every other Wednesday. I’m wheeled in
for the ‘stimulation’ and the nurses say
give us one, Hylda, tell us another
even though they know. I’ve lost
them all. They’ve taken off and left me
like every other scoundrel in a pinstripe.
They were always so ready
to unzip, always so eager to leave.

Go on, the others heckle,
as if they could get up,
leering from their wheelchairs
like black-robed judges from the bench,
You know, Y’ know, and the silence chimes
like a pin drop through my empty head.

I’ve lost enough lovers to fill
The Queen’s Theatre twice through.
Some ran on foot, others sped away
in the Bentleys they were meant to chauffer,
their buffed hats left on the hallway table,
aftershave mingling with the others on the sheets.
Many simply couldn’t keep up.
One tried to take my Cha-Cha with him
when he ran. All those lost Cynthias. All gone.

And I lost a child once, and then I lost another
. I kept them safe in all the wrong places,
mislaid them like keys hidden in a fireplace.
They were stones in a champagne flute
, I was always bound to smash.
But they were there for a while,
hanging on, two faceless punters waiting
for the gag, and then it all slipped out
of me as easily as a giggle. Once is a mistake.
Twice is careless. By the end of it
you could hear a pin drop in my heart.


An Archive

Named Extreme Cure, or, On the Misnomer
of the Term Heroic Medicine. There is a rolling stack

dedicated to the wax each child dons to face the crowned light.
Cabinets for all the coaxed substances: colostrum, milk, placenta,

the shed lining of a womb. A microfilm that discusses how blood
can cover a table and a floor without the presence of a blade.

One file records how pushing is its own emetic – during,
and later, gingerly, amidst a fractured tailbone and each raw wound.

There is a city of death certificates, with new tower blocks
built every year, and a room with an ancient projector that loops a film

on how the women used to midwife and do still. Thirty hours
of work produces forty-eight centimetres of bawling result;

of vellum skin tucked into its proper place. See in this file
this spooling marvel of vernix and flesh.

Scarlett Sabet

Poem and Interview: Scarlett Sabet

Poetry exclusive for MIR and interview with Scarlett Sabet.

A Flag for Hope

Revolution and execution,
obscured the view
of a land
my Father would never return to
the lines of the body a battle ground,
strands of hair a flag for hope.
I can feel it when words are close,
reach out
hold a seance between pen,
finger and thumb,
resurrect the relatives whose voices came undone
and remember,
all the blood that was shed
before I was an idea
in my Mother’s head

Thank you for sharing your new poem, ‘A Flag for Hope’ with MIR. What led you to writing this poem?

Poetry is the language and form that is the most immediate to me, it is magical and enables you to express what is difficult, what is dangerous. What is happening in Iran is heart-breaking, and this poem is testament to that, it is also paying homage to my Father and my Persian heritage, of which I’m so proud.
Normally, all new work I save for the next collection I release. All four books that I’ve self-published since 2014 are kind of like time capsules in that sense. This poem and its message have a sense of urgency, so I wanted to release and share it immediately, so I’m grateful that you have published it and given it a platform.

Writing, for a lot of people, is very insular, though poetry seems to be a much more performative way of writing. Do you enjoy the performative element? How did you find the difference between reading live – performing to an audience, and doing readings online over lockdown?

Performing and writing are different animals, but they feed each other, and I love both. I’ve always been happy in my own company and a bit of a lone wolf, so to have a day alone to write is an exciting prospect. I’ve written a lot whilst travelling also, on trains and planes, because whilst you’re on a journey, in some sense, time is suspended and you’re in a vacuum.

During lockdown, I recorded a poem every week and shared it on Instagram, it was a fun way to share my work and reach out to a community of poetry lovers, and really it was incredible to have technology during that time, to connect creatively, and to facetime with family members you couldn’t see. But I was so happy to be back to in person readings, there is an energetic give and take with the audience that’s powerful.

That performative element was very much a part of the Beat poet scene, could you tell us a bit more about your interest in the Beat poets?

My parents had a lot of Bob Dylan albums on vinyl in our home, and I grew to love him too, through Dylan, I learnt about Allen Ginsberg, read his poem Howl. I wanted to discover more about the Beat poets, and then I went to my local library and borrowed a copy of On The Road, and it had a profound effect on me.

How did you get into writing poetry? What were some of your first influences?

As a child I was an obsessive reader, I read all the books my parents had in the house, my mother had a lot of Margaret Atwood novels, I read the Handmaids Tale, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath when I was about 12. When I was 16, I got a scholarship to a really wonderful college, that was particularly good for the arts. It was whilst studying English A- level there, that certain poems really started to fascinate me. We were studying the classics, Coleridge, and W.B Yeats, and then I was asked to attend Advanced English which was a great excuse to read even more and not leave the library. I really enjoyed analysing the written word, trying to work out its alchemy. I’ve always written a kind of diary, a non-linear, random lyrical documentation of my life, experience and perspective. My poems were rooted in that and crept out. Poetry just became the language that made the most sense. I organised my first poetry reading at the World’s End Bookshop in Chelsea in 2013, I was ready to finally share the poems I’d been writing, that night was really important and clarifying, because I knew I would dedicate my life to poetry, and walking home that night back to my apartment, I cried, because I just felt very grateful.

You’ve had a busy year! How was performing at Cheltenham Literary Festival alongside Geoff Dyer, A.M. Holmes and Daniel Hahn?

It was an honour to be invited to perform at Cheltenham Literary Festival, and also talk on a panel and discuss the impact of Kerouac’s work 100 years on from his birth. What was interesting was that all of us accessed On The Road at around the age of 19, that book in a way is a rite of passage. It was really interesting to discuss Kerouac’s impact and hear the perspective on the legacy of his work from the other writers, who are all so prolific and talented. During the course of the discussion, I shared that when I first read On The Road, I put myself in the shoes of the lead male character and experienced the book from his perspective and journey, A.M Holmes concurred that she had felt the same when she first read the book, when I got the train home, I was approached by a woman who attended our event and she said she also related to that. I think that is the power of books and writing, your own life dissolves, you forget yourself and you go on a journey through a character, and experience a different perspective. Books such as To Kill A Mockingbird are testament to that as well, that book made me cry and is one of my all time favourites.

You also performed at the Kerouac Centenary festival in Lowell, how did that come about?

It was my third visit to Lowell, in 2017 I was invited by Dan Chiasson who is the poetry critic for the New Yorker to read at Wellesley College where he is also a professor. As we were in Massachusetts, we made the pilgrimage to Lowell, as I was interested to see Kerouac’s hometown. We laid flowers at this grave and visited some monuments dedicated to him. In March 2018, I read at City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco, which was a dream come true, after the reading a man from the audience called Chris Porter, invited me to perform at a festival he was creating, called “The Town and the City”, that he was holding in October that year in Lowell to celebrate Jack Kerouac. In the run up to performing at “The Town and the City” festival I wrote my poem “For Jack” as a kind of elegy, that was also featured on Catalyst. Chris was helping organise the celebration in Lowell for the centenary of Kerouac’s birth, and invited me to read with Anne Waldman and Paul Marion, it was great to be back in Lowell and part of the celebration there was a wonderful atmosphere

How was it putting out an album as opposed to a pamphlet or book? Was it more daunting releasing it into the world?

When we released Catalyst we were both so ready for it to be out in the world, I was just so proud and excited. Around the time I released my first collection of poems in 2014, Jimmy said it would be interesting to do a record together, in 2019 he said he wanted to create something radical and create a sonic landscape that focused on the power of the spoken word. It was a really intriguing idea, so, I was happy to follow his vision. As well as creating and producing one of the greatest bands of all time, I also really loved the work Jimmy had done with Françoise Hardy, Marianne Faithfull, and Nico, I found those tracks really beautiful. He has created some really original and avant-garde film scores too; he’s a genius. Creating Catalyst was one of the best weeks of my life, it was so much fun, so inspiring, and also a real privilege to see Jimmy in the studio in his role as producer. The end result was unlike anything anyone has done before, we’ve made a new kind of language. I gave a reading at The Library of Congress last year and then Jimmy and I spoke about creating Catalyst together, that was a surreal moment.. the first track on Catalyst is called Rocking Underground, I wrote it on the District Line tube one Sunday night back in 2012, I certainly couldn’t have imagined then, that one day a version of that poem, would be played at the Library of Congress.

Who are some contemporary poets that you’ve been enjoying recently?

I bought “Things You May Find Hidden In My Ear” by Mosab Abu Toha, which was published by City Lights, it’s a collection of beautiful, haunting poems, I really recommend it.

What can we expect from you in 2023?

I’m looking forward to writing more new work. I spend most of my free time with family, so I’m looking forward to more time with them, and also spending as much time as I can in nature.


Photo by Scarlet Page

TWITTER: @AMY_RIDLER by Ilias Tsagas



Ilias Tsagas is a Greek poet writing in English and in Greek. His poems have appeared at the Sand Journal, The Shanghai Literary Review, the streetcake magazine, Tint Journal, the Away With Words Anthology (Vol 4) and elsewhere. He was also a runner-up at the Briefly Write Poetry Prize 2021.

Flow and More Delay by Craig Burnett


Thumbs pressed together at his breast,
fingertips a tingle or two apart, lips
a soft horizon of grief, eyes absorbed 

in the haze of space we all inhabit, –
between a breath and what happens next –
a right leg pushed hard into the earth

with enough force to match the tree
at his side. We watch as John tips
a bowl of infinite flow over his hair.

I don’t care about god. That’s not why
I’m here. Piero shows us the pink
in his cheeks, how beak and stream 

echo above his head, the reticent love
of John’s left hand, the man pulling off
his tunic above the water’s still surface, 

lush with inverted hills, cloaks and clouds,
an opaque veil that hides the current 
until you let your eyes drop into the sky.

More Delay 

I woke up on a patch of yellow grass
in the middle of a sun-baked town square.
Two feelings overwhelmed me: I had a train
to catch. There was no station. The sea glinted
in the distance. A fishmonger displayed
his icy banks of harlequin death, offering
a future that will always elude me. I heard
the toot and shuffle of trains on other planets.
I sought shelter in an abandoned skyscraper
festooned with busted clocks, stuffed
with ghosts who wouldn’t shut up. 

The erotic life of impatience will plot
its own course. When the choreographer
came to town he demanded a swoop of the arm
from everyone, articulating a need to harmonise
all our aches and limitations. Dancers filled
the streets, flaunted a mood of pointlessness
and play. I wonder if you could do me a favour:
Pack all my hesitations into the back of a truck,
take them on a ride.

Craig Burnett is the author of Philip Guston: The Studio and Bucolic Stop, a chapbook. He lives in London. 

Baptism by Elizabeth Gibson



The water will be gentle on your hair, or maybe apple blossom

if the season is right, or a handful of paper snowflakes, bubbles

or just words, sung as a candle burns, scented with honey and pine.

Your name will be whispered, let go, to disperse like a dandelion

– you can reel it right back in and have it for the rest of your life, 

or pick out a new one like a perfect shell from the shoreline, 

or a piece of pink sea glass – you can keep picking and dropping, 

just tell me how to make you happy. I will bake an enormous cake 

with layers of frosting, white not for purity, but a page to start 

filling with scribbles of colour. I will cut the biggest piece for me.

We will take so many pictures, fill up a wooden treasure chest

to keep under your bed, decorated with crepe paper and feathers. 

You were born a being of utter cosmic wonder, and you will be 

no different after we have done this. But maybe I will be different.



Elizabeth Gibson is a Manchester poet, playwright and performer, inspired by queerness, body image, mental health, city life, nature and folklore. Her work has been accepted by 404 Ink, Atrium, Confingo, Lighthouse, Magma, Popshot, Queerlings, Under the Radar, and anthologies from The Poetry Business and The Poetry School. She was awarded a DYCP grant from Arts Council England in 2021 to further explore queerness through poetry and performance. She debuted her one-person spoken-word play, The Reason for Geese, at Turn On Fest at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, in 2022. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @Grizonne.

Shiva by Miranda Gold



Tears at evening prayers – they weren’t mine:

hot and strange as the skin I slipped outside 

looking on at you looking on at grief staged

with crystal tumblers waiting for whisky

and anecdotes told by White Rabbits.


A hollow Alice sparkling faint hears 

too late of a woman who was and was not

you – a woman I had never met, introducing me

to my own mother – Mads, Maddy, Madeleine. 


White paws on my arm, mouths move

catching words too long after they’d been said 

words I might have said – not yet conscious you’d come

back and back again for me – not yet conscious of how I should

have loved you as I tried to love you while I had the chance.


Time of death: 1.30. Two days after Christmas tinsel 

draped round beds and paper crowns discarded –


Such a shock, the chorus said –


only you’d been preparing us for thirty years

waited until we’d stopped waiting 

living by your broken clock

tip toes in 


Through the cemetery under winter sun,

noting headstones on the way, names 

ten, twenty years engraved, reopening

lives we can only just begin to grieve 

whose absence we’ve only just begun 

to feel, a fresh coffin lowered

in the milky light.



The Athenian Women make grief seem grand work

not this vague sense of no – the hovering not yet – not 

yet before I’ve loved you as I should have loved you

while I had the chance.



Miranda Gold’s first novel, Starlings (Karnac, 2016, Sphinx 2019) reaches back through three generations to explore how untold stories about the Holocaust ricochet down the years. Her second novel, A Small Dark Quiet (Unbound, 2018) was selected by The University of New Mexico Press for their Best Peace Fiction anthology (2021). In her review for The TLS, Caroline Moorehead commented on its ‘bold attempt to portray the greyness of growing up without roots or identity, cast adrift in an uncomprehending and uncertain world.’ Miranda is a creative writing tutor and workshop facilitator at Skylight, Crisis, supporting members to voice their experiences through poetry and prose.