Digital Distractions

So I haven’t blogged for a long while, I know, but home-schooling whilst trying to work has left me without much (any) writing time. Instagram is about the closest I get nowadays. Having said that, like most people, I have been enjoying various digital distractions. I sadly haven’t managed to watch a National Theatre production online yet, but my children have been loving online art classes like #DrawwithRob and Jim Parkyn’s #communityclaytime, and when I haven’t been glued to Duolingo or the Guardian Coronavirus Live Feed, I’ve been excited by the digital possibilities for poetry, attending readings on Zoom and seeing all sorts of interesting classes and projects happening.

At Modern Poetry in Translation, we’ve now launched our Japan focus, Dream Colours.


In case you’re looking for digital distraction too, we have two things going on this month I thought I’d draw your attention to. Firstly, tomorrow at 7pm we’re having an online JAPAN ISSUE LAUNCH on youtube – I’ll be chairing and Polly Barton, Jeffrey Angles and Sayaka Osaki will be joining me (the latter from Japan in the middle of the night!).

We also have this fabulous, spring-themed, blossomy haiku translation workshop online, set by Alan Cummings. It’s free, and the perfect way to try your hand at translation (no language necessary). We’re also suggesting people try and translate into other mediums – could you translate one of these haiku into an animation, piece of music, photo, Tik Tok, emojis, a sketch? It would be a great activity for kids too (hint hint)

And whilst I’m here, I was very honoured to be included in my favourite feature on the Poetry Society’s website – their poetry mixtapes – as part of Amy Acre’s Lucky 13 Mixtape, alongside legends like Miroslav Holub and Jericho Brown. Do check it out (and the whole archive of poetry mixtapes) if you need some lockdown reading.

The Gift

20191205_poetree-2897-2048x1332Children perform ‘The Gift’ at this year’s Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting up ceremony. Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.

It is hard to feel hope at the moment. But of course, hopelessness is exactly what the wealthy and powerful – the fossil fuel industry, Silicon Valley, the oligarchs, the white supremacists, the right-wing press, etc – want us to feel. They want us pliable, grateful, anxious, mean. Those who dream of frictionless markets do not like resistance. Hope is a glitch in their system.

This year I was given the honour of writing a poem for the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree, along with London schoolchildren, as part of the Poetry Society’s Look North More Often programme. It’s one of the most famous Christmas Trees in the world – an annual gift from Norway – and the poem is on a banner at the bottom of the tree and was read at the lighting up ceremony. I chose the theme of Hope, because I felt I needed it, and my children need it. I was thinking, I suppose, of Rebecca Solnit writing:

Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.

Anyway, after I accepted the commission the election was declared, and now it feels we need hope even more deeply. And then so many people complained about the shape of the 90-year old tree it became international news. But let’s not listen to the ugly, calculated din of faux-furious opinion.

It was very moving to work with the schoolchildren’s words. They wrote such astounding images, comparing darkness to ‘a broken home’ and ‘an injured look’. They imagined hope gorgeously too: as a parrot, a sunflower, a cheetah, a cake with sprinkles, a young girl… This is our poem, ‘The Gift’.

Hope is our present, for now at least.

The Gift

By Clare Pollard, with thoughts and images dreamt up by London schoolchildren

I walk through Winter’s city,
my footsteps stain the snow.
The darkness shuts like curtains.
It’s later than I know.

Dark is a heart that’s breaking,
Dark is a dream you lose.
Dark is a pounding headache
that makes the world a maze

and then a speck of something,
I see a candle-flame –
a tiny seed that flickers.
I hear Hope say my name.

The seed becomes a golden flower
of pouring light, a gift.
I need you to believe, Hope says.
It’s you makes me exist.

I feel bright feathers lifting.
I hear a tiger’s roar.
I’ve taken many forms, Hope says –
changing is what I’m for.

At Christmas-time I settle
into the shape of tree –
alive, sharp, resin rising.
Hope shines and darkness flees

and I can see a future
as clocks chime their late hour
for Hope will be our present,
and Hope will give us power.

The Smeds and the Smoos

the-smeds-and-the-smoos-16x9It absolutely baffles me that a new picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler – whose previous collaborations have sold many millions of copies and become part of our nursery culture – can be published, and yet there are no substantial reviews of it anywhere in the mainstream media. It’s like not reviewing Frozen II. This is particularly bizarre in the case of their new work, The Smeds and the Smoos, which was explicitly trailed as ‘a Remain book’, and is dedicated ‘To all the children of Europe.’ Donaldson and Scheffler clearly agree that, as I try to argue in Fierce Bad Rabbits, all stories are political.  Yet millions of children will be bought a copy of The Smeds and the Smoos this autumn by adults who haven’t taken a moment to analyse what it says. (Having said that, I do enjoy the thought of those who voted Leave being forced by their children to read this over and over.)

It is, as expected, a lovely and brilliant book. It’s basic premise is a Romeo and Juliet in space, where a red Smed and a blue Smoo fall in love, which ends – not in tragedy – but with a purple baby. Scheffler seems to be enjoying the freedom alien landscapes allow him, and there are some memorable details: lurid orchid-like flowers; a planet knee-deep in neon slime; another fecund with roses; birds with eyes on stalks; a wonky ‘squoon’ instead of a moon. Edward Lear is obviously a deep influence on Donaldson and she has previously written a sequel to ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’, but whereas that tipped more towards (intentional) pastiche, here she uses Lear-esque nonsense to gorgeous, joyful effect, with the Smoo, Bill, living on a ‘humplety hill’ and then meeting our Smed, Janet, in the ‘Wurpular Wood’ to nibble the ‘jellyful fruit’ of the ‘jerberrycoot’.

It’s interesting to think about the story’s moral though. It begins with a border between the Smeds and the Smoos, made up of red and blue pebbles, and with deep seated prejudices (‘Never never play with the Smoos. / They sleep in holes. They wear strange shoes.‘) In the end, simply by being thrown together and getting to know each-other everyone ends up getting along. If it’s a story of Europe then, it’s closest to the story of the founding of the EU – a moment of increased freedom of movement across borders; freedom to fall in love or make a home; a new culture of sharing.

However, Smeds and Smoos are also reds and blues – very political charged colours. It’s hard not to see in them left and right; remain and leave. And it’s very interesting that in the book it is the grandparents who show the most prejudice (it is the grandmother who says ‘Never, never marry a Smed.’) Donaldson and Scheffler seem to be saying something about the generational aspect of Brexit. However, on this level of course, the argument that sharing space with people with different views to yourself will lead to understanding starts to fall down. I think we all know that families split between Leave and Remain do not tend to come over to each-other’s viewpoints when forced to spend time together at Christmas, so believing that Bill and Janet’s grandparents start to get on because they’re cooped up together in a rocket is a stretch.

‘Dream of the Smeds and dream of the Smoos’, the last line of the book informs us, with a picture of reds and blues happily singing and dancing together, but the vision of international friendship and harmony it portrays feels sadly alien. We did take down borders, but closeness bred resentment. Now we’re putting them back up. The book’s optimism seems to belong light years ago.

bad betty

Last night I was honoured to launch my first pamphlet, The Lives of the Female Poets, at a wonderful event organised by Bad Betty Press in Dalston. All the performers were absolutely brilliant but I have to say I hadn’t heard Amaal Said’s work before and she completely blew me away – my mum and I were both streaming with tears in the front row.

The Lives of the Female Poets is one of their single-poem Shots series, and tells the stories of female poets who have been erased from history and the canon. Do buy the full set of pamphlets from Bad Betty’s online shop, with their beautiful interlocking covers designed by Helen Nicholson – they really are doing good and exciting work at the moment and deserve your support. (The Shots are limited editions of 100 too, so Pollard completists should hurry!)

Wild Rabbits!

reviewFierce Bad Rabbits is out in the wild… Thankyou everyone for all your lovely messages and support. I was actually pretty anxious last week, but everything seems to have gone okay – I managed to get through Woman’s Hour without saying anything foolish (I’m about half an hour in) and I’ve had some very thoughtful reviews from Lucy Scholes in The Sunday Telegraph and Emily Bearn in The Spectator, as well as a small but sweet one in The Observer (‘Delight is the secret ingredient in poet and playwright Clare Pollard’s captivating first book’). An extract from the book about how much I love Dr Seuss’ ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ featured in The Telegraph. And @LRBbookshop did a thread on the book, and Burglar Betty in Burglar Bill! At the weekend I had a lovely event at the Arts Over Borders ‘Wilde Weekend’ in Enniskillen, talking picture books and ‘The Selfish Giant’ with Sheena Wilkinson in Wilde’s old school, overlooking the statue he based ‘The Happy Prince’ on.

It’s not completely launched until I’ve had my launch though – it’s going to be at the awesome Review Bookshop in Peckham next Thursday, the 15th of August at 7pm – £5 ticket includes wine and money off the book. Everyone seems to be on holiday so there’s still space. Please come and celebrate with me (and my mum, one of the stars of the book, who will be there too!)

Summer already.

My hollyhocks are blossoming; the courgettes flowering. Cate is making jars of perfume; Gruff mainly beating me at one-a-side games of football, with watering-can goalposts. They eat rocket lollies on the loungers after school. The cuddly toys have picnics. We had a lovely long weekend in the South Downs recently, visiting Ditchling and the Seven Sisters, and sleeping in a campsite with a firepit (Cate’s one take-home anecdote being that she put her foot in a melted marshmallow). The steam fair came to the common, and Cate rode her first galloper; Gruff his first ghost train. At the school’s summer fair last week, Gruff jumped on the bouncy castle in a narrow sliver of shade; a crocodile stole Punch’s sausages; and I was a complete winner at the bookstall (Ha Ha Bonk and Cops and Robbers by the Ahlbergs, Fungus the Bogeyman, some Shirley Hughes books I didn’t have).

Workwise, I have written my first poem since Incarnation was finished at least three years ago. It’s a long poem called ‘The Lives of the Female Poets’ and I’m thrilled Bad Betty Press will be publishing it in the autumn as part of their limited edition Shots series (it’s my first pamphlet, bizarrely, despite over 20 years in poetry…) Work on Anna Szabo’s translations continues. The first copies of the summer issue of MPT have arrived, with their beautiful cover by Moroccan illustrator Merieme Mesfioui. It has a Maghreb focus, begun in Tunisia last year, and some truly gorgeous translations – look out for our mini-tour in September.

An actual hardback of Fierce Bad Rabbits arrived in the post too last week, and I was stunned by how beautiful it is (my first hardback). It’s really helpful if you pre-order apparently, and if you’re trying to break your Amazon habit Hive is offering it for a very reasonable £11.35, and offer free home delivery or your can collect from your local bookshop. I have been recording the audio book for Penguin, and was slightly startled when they said it would be at least seven hours long (I’ve never listened to audio books, and tend to gulp down books much more quickly than that). It’s been fun though, apart from anxiety about how to say ‘Babar’.

Now festival season is beginning, and I have a few dates I thought I should put on the website.

Firstly if you’re in Ledbury for the poetry festival this weekend (July 6th-7th) I’m involved in three events. There’s a dramatic monologue workshop that I think might be full, but also a Modern Poetry in Translation Duel on Saturday morning (Burgage Hall, 11am) with German poet Odile Kennel translated by both Jen Calleja and Annie Rutherford. It’s a very sensuous, sticky sort of poem and it’s going to be great fun. Do bring your coffee and join us to wake up your weekend. I’m also chairing a very important event on Rohingya Poetry (Burgage Hall, 5pm), with Shehzar Doja and James Bryne launching their new anthology for Arc, ‘I am a Rohingya’. And I’m looking forward to so much other stuff too – Hannah Sullivan, Yu Yoyo and A.K. Blakemore, and Ilya Kaminsky and Sandeep Parmar all sound highlights.

And then I also have three events coming up for Fierce Bad Rabbits:

Saturday 13th of JulyIdler Festival – I’ll be doing a lecture on the picture book trope of ‘animals in clothes’, and also – in my capacity as Idler poetry editor, introducing Will Harris, AK Blakemore and Amy Key reading spell poems. And Louis Theroux headlines! Day tickets available.

Sunday August 4thA Wilde Weekend – on the week of my official publication date, I’ll be talking about Wilde’s children’s stories and Fierce Bad Rabbits with Sheena Wilkinson (Enniskillen Royal Grammar (i.e. Portora), Fermanagh, 12.30pm)

Thursday August 15th – HOLD THE DATE – I will be having a London launch of FBR at the Review Bookshop, Peckham, more details to follow.

Finally, on Saturday 17th of August I also have a rare reading of my own poetry as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, at an event on the poetry of motherhood with Janette Ayachi, Liz Berry, Toria Garbutt

That’s all for now, I think! Enjoy your summer…




I was in Berlin last month, launching Jan Wagner and Federico Italiano’s new European anthology Grand Tour at the Haus für Poesie with Luna Miguel and Sergej Timofejev. I also managed to fit in a visit to Brecht’s grave in the rain and have a long lunch with my friend, the Hungarian poet Anna Szabo. I’m currently working on co-translations of her Selected for Arc, more news to follow soon I hope. Since then the UK issue of MPT has come out, which I’m really proud of, do check out our poetic map of the United Kingdom, put together by our brilliant digital editor Ed Cottrell.

Otherwise I’ve just got back from an Easter break with the family in Tobago. It was relaxing (or at least as relaxing as a holiday with a 2 and a 5 year-old can be), with lots of swimming and sand; lots of nature. We breakfasted on papaya, mango and melon every day whilst bananaquits hopped on the tables and pelicans flew past. We swam in a waterfall, and took Gruff on his first rainforest adventure, where he saw leaf-cutter ants, termite mounds and a fruit bat, and held an ancient fish called a ‘jumping wabeen’ that leapt from his palms. There were many, many hummingbirds, fencing flowers for sweetness, and hermit crabs, and geckos, and once our hotel phoned our room at one in the morning, and I dragged myself out onto the beach under the stars to watch an enormous leatherback turtle lay eggs like pingpong balls in a deep hole, blinking tears from her dinosaur eyes.

In the evenings, I’d read Gruff a tale from Trish Cooke’s brilliant Tales from the Caribbean and then have a rum and ginger on the balcony. Lovely food too – corn soup, little juicy chick-pea and tamarind wraps called doubles, shrimp, crab curry and dumpling, lobster. And great taxi drivers who played very loud music – the family favourite was ‘Hookin Meh’ by Farmer Nappy, if you fancy a blast on sunshine…

Back now, for my final term at Essex with the RLF (the woods are full of bluebells), and hard at work on the summer issue of Modern Poetry in Translation, which has a Maghreb focus, and a small, secret pamphlet project, which means I’m finally writing poetry again after a hiatus of (at least) three years – wish me luck…

Belated New Year Post

Apologies this blog has gone quiet lately, but am hoping to reignite it in the summer, once my RLF fellowship has finished and I’m not spending endless hours commuting to Essex and back two days every week. It’s been a busy 2019 so far. I was part of the glamorous and stressful process that is judging the T.S. Eliot Prize; we’ve been copy-editing Fierce Bad Rabbits and trying to chase up the final permissions (a complete administrative nightmare); and I’ve been putting together the UK Languages issue of MPT, ‘Our Small Universe’, which ended up a huge job – so many brilliant submissions. Anyway, that went to the typesetters yesterday, and I’m very much looking forward to launching it in Swansea on International Women’s Day (March 14th), with an amazing line-up including Sabrina Mahfouz, Menna Elfyn and Liz Berry.

I’m also very excited about Fierce Bad Rabbits becoming real. The whole process is very different from having a poetry book published. I’m having to put my first ever index together at the moment, ready to slot the page numbers in when the proofs come (my favourite run is: Hedgehog crisps; Hemingway, Ernest; Hello Kitty.). I have bought a Miffy T-Shirt ready to hit the festivals, and the cover and blurb is up on the Penguin website (eek). So I’m hoping 2019 will mainly be me talking about Dogger and Meg and Mog… 


Tapas and Cider

I’ve had two very different weekends away in the last month. For my 40th birthday, Richard took me to Madrid for the first time. There was a bit of culture – I posed by a statue of Lorca; read Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station; went to see Picasso’s Guernica at the Museo Reina Sofia; looked at Goya’s palpably evil Black Paintings and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado. Mainly though, it was just a three day tapas crawl through markets and tiled, stand-up bars, washing down polpo served on potatoes, tortilla, croquettes, prawns in bubbling garlic oil, ham (at the Museo del Jamon), sea urchins, gazpacho, chipirones, padron peppers, salt cod and snails with albarino or little glasses of vermouth. A very lovely couple of days (although I definitely felt 40 when I got home)

Then there was Aldeburgh, my favourite poetry festival. Despite an unpleasant cold, I lugged my MPT banner and a suitcase full of copies of the new issue onto rail replacement buses to get there, and it was definitely worth it. The sun was smashing into the sea on my arrival. My New Writing North mentee Maria Isakova Bennett had installed a beautiful exhibition of hand-stitched sea views in The Lookout; poems scribbled on pebbles were piled outside. I caught a few readings, including the marvellous Sophie Herxheimer and Chris McCabe doing their Blakean double act from their new Hercules Editions book The Practical Visionary, managed a quick bag of chips, and then it was time to launch In a Winter City: Focus on Ted Hughes and Hungary, with Chrissy Williams, Zaffar Kunial and George Szirtes all doing sets (and Sasha Dugdale with some amazing revelations about why Ted Hughes’ planned Hungarian issue never happened…) Afterwards I was also really happy with the MPT LGBTQ+ workshop with Kostya Tsolákis, who helped us create a new version of Vassilis Amanatidis’ poem  ’09. [escort: the trick]’ over wine and nibbles. And then The Cross Keys, of course, jammed with poets and poetry gossip, where they serve Aspalls cider on tap which I can never resist…

The next morning I had lost my voice, but managed to attend Will Harris’ brilliant lecture on line-breaks and grab a free coffee. If you haven’t been reading Will’s blogs, on everything from the poetry of Yang Lian to shampoo branding and Keanu Reeves, I couldn’t recommend them more highly, he’s such an interesting critic.

A little lull now in my Modern Poetry in Translation schedule, whilst I try and finish up edits for Fierce Bad Rabbits by the end of the month. But soon I’ll be starting putting together the British issue, so please do think about submitting before December the 14th. We’re accepting both translated poems and poems in dialects, and want to represent as many of Britain’s language communities as possible, from Scots to BSL to Angloromani to Arabic to Yiddish to Cockney rhyming slang.





This week I read how the word ‘lügenpresse’, meaning ‘lying press’, which was used by the nazis to discredit any media outlets which were against them, has experienced a revival in German discourse. Those who use it are emboldened, of course, by the fact that another good translation of the term might be ‘fake news’, as used by Donald Trump. Confusing people, so that they are no longer certain what is true, is one way to ensure complicity in fascism. When they are confused, too, people often look for a ‘strong’ leader. Making our own moral choices, taking responsibility, thinking – these things seem too difficult. It is much easier to be obedient, although a cursory glance at history tells us obedience is not a virtue.

These are frightening times. Today is the launch of the Extinction Rebellion, an international movement using mass civil disobedience to force governments to respond to the ecological crisis. I have no doubt that in the future those who are arrested will be seen, like Sophie Scholl of the White Rose movement, as heroic, as will those who have taken part in Black Lives Matter demonstrations, or anti-fascism marches in Charlottesville, or anti-fracking action in Lancashire. Those of us who are not so brave must reckon with ourselves. This poem I wrote a few years ago seems relevant.  ‘Amtssprache’ means ‘official talk’ and was a term used by Eichmann during the Nuremberg trials. Asked if it was hard to send those tens of thousands of people to their death, he answered: ‘To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy.’




So what would you pay to have your family safe

in that house with the garden and the clean running water –

and you walk in and hold them and kiss their faces?

Your life? Too easy, and nobody’s asking.


How about the life of an Afghan child,

a city, the birds in the sky?

Would you turn a blind eye? Would you turn off the news?

Would you run the trains to death camps?


Of course you would. You do.

You do these things.