The House of Thirst

Image result for mpt house of thirstWe had a wonderful weekend in Ledbury launching out LGBTQ+ issue, ‘The House of Thirst.’ The title, from a line by Alice Rahon, feels extremely relevant in this heatwave. So many marvels in it, but as a taster how about this poem, ‘Geography’ by Jayan Cherian, translated by Richard Scott? Richard read it so beautifully at the launch – many thanks to Richard, Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Lee Tsai for making it such a lovely event. If you want to read more, do think about subscribing, it’s only £23 a year.

The weekend was full of other highlights too, including the Ukranian poetry duel; Jericho Brown; this poem ‘Magdalene – The Seven Devils’, by Marie Howe; catching up with friends over cherry cake and cider in hospitality; being given an envelope of nicotiana sylvestris seeds as a souvenir after breakfast in my host’s garden.

I’m enjoying these long summer days: lollies on deckchairs, helping Cate make jars of perfume. We ordered some caterpillars and set loose a netfull of butterflies (called: Cherry, Watermelon, ‘Nana and Peach). I went to Hampton Court Flower Show with my mum, mother-in-law and daughter, and we looked at halls of dahlias, peonies and roses. I’ve developed a taste for iced coffee. In my writing time, I’ve been working on Fierce Bad Rabbits, my non-fiction book about picture books, and looking at Ladybird fairytales, Meg and Mog and the Flower Fairies.

Later this week I’m heading to the Hargeysa International Book Fair to help launch Asha’s book, then onto Port Eliot where I’ll be reading in the poetry tent and doing my first talk about picture books for The Idler Academy. Hope you’re all enjoying the summer too, and maybe I’ll catch up with you soon on my travels…


I had a wonderful time in Bucharest last week, discussing MPT and editing as part of a panel chaired by the wonderful poet Magda Cârneci. It was great to catch up with fellow editors James Byrne and Tony Frazer, as well as Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson Pearce from Bloodaxe, and to meet Claudiu Komartin who edits Poesis International, and Lilana Ursu (whose exquisite volume A Path to the Sea was in my handbag for most of the trip, conjuring a Romania of green darkness and ‘the shy red of wild strawberries’.)

The City was enjoyable and fascinating too – lovely beer-halls, frescoed churches, graffiti, Brâncuși. We visited Ceaușescu’s Palace of Parliament, the ‘heaviest building in the world’ according to Wikipedia, absurd in its enormity and banality, 70% empty with gilded, silk-draped conference room after gilded, silk-draped conference room.  I read about how Ceausescu’s government in Romania monitored women monthly for pregnancy, and made contraception illegal for anyone under 45 who had not borne four children (an inspiration for Gilead). We visited the village Museum, with its beautiful, various homes; its celebration of the rural life the Communist Regime tried to eradicate – wooden, tiled, painted, carved, half-buried, thatched; windmills and wells topped by witches’ hats of tiles. We drank good wine and ate stuffed vine-leaves, carp, polenta and smoked sausages.

I flew back and was straight on the train to Huddersfield to participate in The Motley Muse, where it was great to hear Vahni Capildeo, Chris McCabe and Zaffar Kunial read amongst others – and Jay Bernard’s performance of their sequence about the New Cross Fire and Grenfell was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen all year. I also really enjoyed the display of Hughes archive material – this hand-drawn map showing the precise location where Hughes became a poet caught my interest:


Many thanks to Steve Ely and the Ted Hughes Network for organising such a great day. Sandeep Parmar sadly had to cancel, but in her absence I bought Threads, by Sandeep, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil – an lyric essay/collaboration published by Clinic. Beautiful and essential.

It was a relief in a way to get home on Sunday and mess around outside with the children (splashing in the paddling pool; making a fairy garden; constructing a ‘den’ out of a sheet and sunloungers). Our peonies are on their last, bright, overblown days; yellow roses have made an appearance. I planted rainbow chard seeds and chucked a few snails over the garden wall.

A busy few weeks now – this Thursday I’m going to be in Oxford, going through the MPT archive at Queens and then onto perform for the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre ‘Think Human Festival’, at the Crisis Skylight Cafe, Old Fire Station at 7.30pm.  Then Gruff’s half term is upon me. I’m also about to send my second issue as editor, The House of Thirst, with a focus on LGBTQ+ poetry, off to the typesetters. We’ll be launching at Ledbury on July 7th with Richard Scott, Mary Jean Chan and Jennifer Lee Tsai (and we’ll also be partnering on a Ukrainian translation duel organised by Sasha Dugdale that weekend, so it should be a wonderful weekend).

Profound Pyromania

Translation has been occupying my time this month. I facilitated my final workshop for the Poetry Translation Centre – you can read my blog about it here. I’ve also done a couple of talks, and then there has been preparation for the launch of this beauty, which is out this week (cover image by Sophie Bass):


Here’s a taster – a blistering poem by James Noel, trans. Serafina Vick called ‘Last Stage’.

If you haven’t already, it would be a great time to start subscribing!

As it’s World Book Day (and I’m snowed in with Cate) I thought I’d put together this list I’ve been meaning to do for a while. As you know, I’m currently writing a non-fiction book for adults that tells the stories behind our picture books. One of the stories I planned to tell was about how picture books got more diverse, starting with the stunning The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (planning to try these snow angels once Cate wakes from her nap).


It’s one of the most beautiful picture books I own, with that heartbreaking moment when Jack checks his pocket for the snowball and finds it empty.

Ezra Jack Keats was white though, I recently realised, looking through the book again and coming to the author picture. And I started googling the authors and illustrators of all the other classic picture books with diverse protagonists I had planned to include – Handa’s Surprise, Amazing Grace, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – and realised they were all white too. Which is not to detract from these books at all – I’d highly recommend all of them, and am glad artists don’t just automatically reach for the pale pink when they’re creating a new character. But diversity in picture books surely has to mean diversity of writers and illustrators too. It’s about creating from a different place, out of a different set of experiences. Who gets to tell society’s stories is important, because they get to shape our children’s way of seeing the world. I don’t want to write a whole book in which the only BAME author I mention is Taro Gomi who wrote Everybody Poos. (Though it is a total classic).

Anyway, lots of people on Facebook very generously sent suggestions and so far I’d urge you to get hold of these five books:

1) FULL OF LOVE, Trish Cooke illustrated by Paul Howard

About a big family Sunday lunch at Grannie’s house this has become an instant all time favourite at our house, featuring tropical fishes and ‘buttery peas, / chicken and yams, / macaroni cheese, /potatoes and ham’. Also lots of hugs. Gruff thinks it’s ‘really cute.’

2) MALALA’S MAGIC PENCIL, Malala Yousafzai illustrated by Kerascoet

Malala’s own story, skilfully turned into a picture book via her childhood dream of a magic pencil. This pays children the respect of telling them the truth – there are pictures of children scavenging on rubbish piles, and dangerous men lurking with guns on her way to school. But it’s defiant and hopeful. ‘One book and one pen can change the world.’

3) THE YOUNG INFERNO, John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura.

Or everything by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura really – they were the most recommended writer and illustrator. I realised I already had a Kitamura book on my shelves, the superb Angry Arthur, but I hadn’t read Agard’s children’s poetry and it is a marvel. This book features a dream team then, AND IT RETELLS DANTE’S INFERNO IN FULL TERZA RIMA! It stars a teenager in a hoodie with no mobile charge, and the circles of hell include one for bling and one, the City of Dis, where everyone disses everyone else. Too sophisticated for toddlers perhaps, but sophisticated enough for pretty much everyone else to relish.


For slightly older kids again, 4+, but a fascinating African tale I hadn’t heard before – a kind of fairytale narrative in which two sisters are morally tested. And the pictures are absolutely sensational, with a luminous hyperreal quality.


Allen Say tells the story of his grandfather’s journey from Japan to the USA in a very simple, profound book. The pictures of America have the quality of fine art – you are stunned, like his grandfather, by the pink sculptures of the desert, the oceanic west fields; the rivers ‘clear as the sky’; the bewildering, churning factories. The last page is one of those that you’ll find hard to read out loud without your voice cracking.

Also recommended to me (which I haven’t bought yet but collate for your reference):

Any books by Tamarind or Firetree

The illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon

Clever Carmel by Henrietta Nwagwu-Rochford

I am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith

Our Incredible Cow by Ruchi Shah

My Mother’s Sari by Sandhya Rao

The Streets are Free by Kurusa

Hush, a Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho

Japanese Children’s Favourite Stories by Florence Sakade


Hope that’s useful. Cate is stirring now so will get back to our snowy day.

Two Books, Twenty Years

Apologies for being so silent this year – I’ve been busy putting my first issue of Modern Poetry in Translation together – more to follow very soon. But I did just want to note that 2018 is the 20th anniversary of my debut The Heavy-Petting Zoo! (Twenty years as a poet, wow, that’s almost like a career or something.) I wrote the book in sixth form; it came out at the start of my second year at university.

I read it again recently, and it has a few awkward poetic fumblings. The cover is also perhaps a bit on the nose – a, erm, literally heavy pet. (But this was before the internet, and the only relevant image I could find on the shelves of Bolton Library in half an hour whilst my mum did a supermarket shop).

Still, I think it stands up as testimony to teenage yearning and I’m generally pretty proud of my young self (I still find myself reciting snatches of ‘Breakfast Poem’ when I have a hangover. ‘I’m strawberry-jam sickly; I’m bacon dead. / It’s always morning when the ghosts appear -‘)

The University of Bolton is currently putting together a literary map of the town and I’ve been asked to read at the launch on April the 19th (details to follow), so that sounds like a fitting occasion on which to celebrate HPZ‘s birthday – Boltonians do put the date in your diaries and we’ll get nostalgic over drinking Diamond White and jumping around to Supergrass in Hawthorns….

By coincidence, 20 years ago I also met Hannah Sullivan, who interviewed me about The Heavy-Petting Zoo for Varsity at university. We enjoyed our conversation so much we carried it on a few weeks later over absinthe at her college, and it has never really ended. So I should also say that one of the absolute highlights of my year so far has been attending the launch party of her debut, Three Poems (Faber).

For the twenty years I’ve known her, Hannah has been working towards and living with these sequences which tell the story of her (our) adulthood. They’re really like nothing else out there. If you’ve not yet listened to this recording of her reading ‘You, Very Young in New York’, do – it’s crazily good. But it also feels radical for such keen intelligence to be applied to motherhood in the brilliantly titled ‘The Sandpit after Rain’: ‘This is the world and the entropy of things, / The plugged dyke and the sea coming in, / The emendation and the unforced error, / The floor before a toddler’s pasta dinner’…



Very pleased to announce I have a deal to write a nonfiction title for adults about picture books for Fig Tree – the stories behind our childhood stories… Featuring nonsense, Flower fairies, the Mr Men, Babars suits, the invention of flapbooks, Miffy’s virgin birth, thumb sucking, roasted grasshopper with ladybird sauce, nazism, matchgirls, chinese burns, poo, the naming of pets, tragic affairs, ‘That’s not my Princess’, Dogger, wraggle-taggle gypsies, my father’s psychic abilities, wild rumpuses, universequakes, nudity, the mum in ‘the Tiger who Came to Tea’ and forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree.

Thanks to Jenny Hewson who is now representing me at RCW.

Santa is getting Cate a lot of books this year. And if you see me over the festive season I’ll be talking excitedly about why ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ was banned in Communist China.

Mood: The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast


(illustration by Hilda Boswell)

Submit / Subscribe

Modern Poetry in Translation is now open for submissions through Submittable. It’s going to be permanently open. If you translate a poem, I want MPT to be the first place you send your work, whether you’re a professional translator or it’s your first attempt.

I’m extremely pleased to announce my first issue of Modern Poetry in Translation is going to have a Caribbean focus. I’m planning to follow that with an LBGTQ issue in summer. Do please spread the word!

And if those issues sound as exciting to you as they do to me, please think about a subscription for yourself or someone else this Christmas. An annual subscription is a mere £23, for three completely beautiful 128 page magazines that will enhance your poetry shelves (I mean, the paper), plus full access to the digital catalogue. Every issue will give you insight into different poetries – new forms, radical approaches, fresh voices. If it’s a gift we can also send you a PDF that folds into a lovely card.

On Friday at the MPT away-day we were treated to a look at the archives at the British Library. I loved the handwritten, earliest correspondence from Ted to Daniel Weissbort – particularly the advice that: ‘The lifeblood of poetical translation is this: not to change a good poem into a bad one.’


The magazine has such an amazing history, that we all have a chance to participate in. We need more subscribers to carry on our work – allowing poetry to bear witness; giving voice to the silenced and excluded; creating an international community of translators and readers. This feels more important than ever in the wake of the UK Brexit vote.  So please, do support us! (Also, if you need further present ideas, this Jeremy Deller towel would make a good gift).