Safe Passage with the Fire River Poets

Written over the four years following the publication of Too Late for the Love Hotel, the poems in Safe Passage were not imagined as part of the collection in which, last summer, they so happily found themselves. For each poem that reached the book, there was at least one waiting in the wings, unchosen, clamouring, finally uncalled.  Composing the collection was rather like making up a jigsaw from twice the number of pieces that were required.  The final picture was therefore more provisional and tentative than it was complete.

The guest reading slot at the Fire River Poets‘ evenings in Taunton is arranged in two halves, interleaved with the open mic sessions, one half either side of the convivial interval.  I wanted not to repeat the mood of the first half – whatever that would be – but to give Fire River Poets a programme that rose to the opportunity offered by being allowed in one evening to suggest two contrasting pathways through my book.

Preparing for this Taunton guest reading, I seem to have discovered at last what Safe Passage is about.

Uccelli di passo  ( birds of passage ) is the title of the Aldo Patocchi woodcut I chose for the cover design.

Flying to the Light

A wooden surface carved and chiselled away to discover light within the dark plane of the inked-up printing block – this became my personal metaphor for my book on Thursday night. It was important that the cover image was a woodcut rather than a pen drawing : this would have laid dark thoughts/ black moments on a clean white field and made quite a different statement about the lives who passage through my book. My more fortunate characters find ways to discover light in a rather sombre, often alarming world.  Light has to be worked for/ is threatened with extinction/ is found in surprising places/ is all the more dazzling against the background of the dark.

L’amore, la morte, how close they are ….

I ended my first half-reading with ‘Waterlilies at Schönbrunn’, the poem from Report from the Judenplatz twice chosen by Matt Holland for his reading at the cenotaph on Swindon’s Holocaust Memorial Day.  The image of the crowded waterlily leaves ‘imploring light from the indifferent sun’ was the closest that poem dared approach the unbearable truths about what happened to the Jewish citizens abandoned by the gentile populations of the european cities to which they belonged. Imploring light ….hoping for illumination…. imagining a brighter world….the denial of light ….the awareness of the tantalising proximity of light … working towards light …losing the light …that hunger linked so many of the poems in Safe Passage –  I wondered whether it was peculiarly an ex-picture dealer’s way of interpreting the world.

A dealer in pictures is what I am, a poet said…

The light in the Safe Passage poems doesn’t seem to be a metaphor for an otherwordly state of grace. Light is simply standing in for / the visual equivalent of its near namesake, life. The incalculable blessing. The incalculable good. Planning my Fire River reading, I realised that in its quirky, metropolitan, troubled, yearning, rather old-fashioned, unambitious way Safe Passage is a passionately hopeful and optimistic little book.  If you look again at the cover, you can see that darkness does indeed seem to be gathering about the buildings, but the birds are flying, together, out of the dark passage in the left hand sky  and towards the light. 

Life does sometimes engineer the reprieve of her Illyrian nightingales.

I have to thank the Fire River Poets for allowing me to spend such a pleasant evening in their talented and receptive company. But I also have to thank them for making me think properly about my little book.  I suspect every future reading from Safe Passage will be shaped in some way by the March Thursday evening I shared with them.

So I will end this post with the lines that mean so much to me, for very personal reasons, from ‘New Things’, one of the poems there wasn’t time to read….

Look at our lagoon, signori.
Luce sull’acqua. The light of heaven.
The dancing of the water.


Safe Passage is available from Oversteps BooksFlying to the Light

my first full collection

On Monday 4th May, my first full collection, Safe Passage, was published by Oversteps Books.  Not only did it have a brilliant editor in Alwyn Marriage, Managing Editor of Oversteps Books, but it was also hugely fortunate in the poets who offered to endorse it and thus send it not quite naked on its way.  Martyn Crucefix, Duncan Forbes, Lesley Saunders and Linda Saunders – all highly accomplished poets and all very generous and thoughtful in their support.

Version 2Writing the acknowledgements, I realised that Safe Passage for me is not just a collection of  poems, but a record of the five years of my writing life which followed the publication of Too Late for the Love Hotel by Smith/Doorstop in 2010.  The acknowledgments page reads baldly, but every name represents a treasured part of the marvellous journey and the wonderful poetry  friendships which have so enriched the way. So before I start posting about the poems, I want to reiterate those thanks:

“I am very grateful to the editors of Acumen, Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg and The Rialto in which many of these poems first appeared and to Peter Sansom for publishing others in Too Late for the Love Hotel which was one of the prize-winners in The Poetry Business 2010 pamphlet competition judged by the Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion.

‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’, first published in The Rialto, was selected by William Sieghart in 2011 for the Forward Poems of the Decade anthology. It also featured in Cerys Matthews’ Radio 4 programme With Great Pleasure in July 2012.

My writing has been greatly encouraged by Patricia Oxley; Anne-Marie Fyfe; the Ware Poets; Hilda Sheehan and the Bluegate Poets in Swindon; the Fire River Poets in Taunton; the Corsham Poetry Society; John Richardson; Dawn Gorman; A.F. Harrold; Ernie Burns and Jeremy Sallon who have all given me delightful opportunities to read as a guest at their events.

While I have been working on the poems in this collection, I have also had the privilege of organising the Bath Poetry Cafe and of collaborating with the many excellent poets from across the West Country who belong to it. I have been continually challenged and inspired by their talents and creative energy.

The Safe Passage poems have also benefited from the devoted attention of my Italian translators, Giorgio Piai and Giancarlo Caine from Sacile in North Italy. Working with such dear friends produced many new insights and editorial improvements as well as opportunities for joyful misunderstandings and convivial company. It is a great sadness that Giancarlo Caine did not live long enough to toast the publication of this book.”