Friday Poem – ‘Off the Hook’ by Carol Rumens

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Off the Hook’ by Carol Rumens from her collection De Chirico’s Threads, chosen by our new poetry editors Rhian Edwards and Zoë Brigley.

This cover shows a colourful painting  of two abstract figures by Georges De Chirico

De Chirico’s Threads by Carol Rumens features an unusual centre-piece, a verse-play, fizzing with ideas and surrealist imagery, based on the life and work of the Italian painter Georges De Chirico, as well as distinctive and beautifully crafted individual poems by one of the UK’s best poets.

Off the Hook
For Isabella
In those complicated days, only the rich
Had ‘phones. The rest of us queued
To get into a tall red box: its windows were sticky
And it smelt of damp concrete and cigarette-smoke.
The telephone didn’t look friendly,
Shiny-black on its ledge, a bakelite toad.
You’d pick the hand-set up, and hate the purr,
That rumble of hunger unappeasable.
You counted out heavy pennies, pushed Button A.
Fingered the wheel around and let it re-roll
- Three letters, four numbers. You wanted to run
When the paired rings resounded. How hopeless you were!
You stabbed Button B, and thought you might die.
The money clanked through loudly:
Your voice came out super-polite, as it did in ‘Phone Land,
Leaving your mind quite dead behind one ear,
Telling him you couldn’t come to the party,
You had too much homework. A complete lie.
Some live with their mobiles snug to their lips,
Or melting against their cheeks.
They belong to a different race. They sound so happy.
I bury mine, and panic at its warble.
And only in deepest love would I make a call
And not be relieved when I heard the ‘engaged’ beeps.
But when it’s your voice, Isabella, saying hello,
So brave and clear, with nothing at all phoney
(Ahem) in your yes and no, I see why it’s good
To talk. I wish you a lifetime of easy phoning.
Be mobile-merry, and never mind the bills
Or curse the bells. I’ll stick to e-mail, though.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Day: A Recipe from The Seasonal Vegan

Sunday 23rd January is Sticky Toffee Pudding Day. As this month is also Veganuary, we wanted to re-share this indulgent Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding recipe from The Seasonal Vegan by Sarah Philpott. The perfect way to celebrate, especially when served with hot vanilla custard on a cold winter weekend.

The Seasonal Vegan is a kitchen diary of seasonal recipes with a delicious mixture of Sarah Philpott’s fine food writing and Manon Houston‘s beautiful photography. This guide to eating with the seasons takes a realistic approach to shopping cheaply and sustainably and proves that the vegan lifestyle is anything but expensive. Perfect for long-term vegans and novices alike.

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding with Vanilla Custard

Photograph by Manon Houston

1 hour 30 minutes | Serves 8


For the pudding:

– 250g dates
– 100g soft brown sugar
– 100g vegan butter, plus extra for greasing
– 3 apples, grated
– 300g self-raising flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp ground allspice
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp treacle

For the sauce:

– 150g vegan butter, softened
– 350g dark muscovado sugar
– 1 tbsp black treacle
– 50ml oat milk
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt

For the custard:

– 1 litre oat milk
– 150g white sugar
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tbsp cornflour
– A pinch of turmeric (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the dates in a bowl and pour over 250ml boiling water and leave for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Tip in the flour, baking powder, grated apple, allspice and salt and stir well. Add the vanilla extract and treacle and stir again.

Lightly grease a large dish or tin and pour the batter in, making sure to spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by melting the butter, muscovado sugar and treacle over a very low heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Once the butter is melted, stir gently until everything else is melted too. Now stir in the oat milk, vanilla extract and salt, then turn up the heat and when it’s bubbling and hot, take it off the heat.

Take the pudding out of the oven and leave to stand for 20–30 minutes. To make the custard, put the oat milk, vanilla, salt and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the cornflour and bring to the boil. Keep stirring until you have a thick consistency, then add the turmeric, if using.

Pour the toffee sauce over the pudding and cut into eight slices. Pour over the custard and serve.

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Sarah talks us through her recipe for Beetroot and Hazelnut Soup

Friday Poem – ‘Doxology’ by Dai George

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Doxology’ by Dai George from his collection Karaoke King.

The cover of Karaoke King shows a drawing of a teenage boy wearing a red and brown stripped vest and white shirt. His glasses are crooked and he is wearing a crumpled yellow crown.

Dai George’s confident second collection Karaoke King, addresses the contentious nature of the times. Always deeply thoughtful but also alternately ebullient, angry, curious, ashamed, the poet moves through urban and digital spaces feeling both uneasy and exhilarated. There is a feeling of history shifting, as a younger generation confronts its ethical obligations, its sense of complicity and disappointment. Ecological crisis hovers in the background. Karaoke King also contains numerous reflections on popular culture, culminating in ‘A History of Jamaican Music’, a sequence at the heart of the volume speaking to urgent contemporary questions of ownership and privilege, pain and celebration. 

Blessings flow, through narrow fields, a weir
finds restitution as it falls.
Tightroping gulls, the crumbling edge
is anxious as they slip and cling to show them
peace below. I number the blessings
in a split and democratic sky.
The clemency of inland water.
The resourcefulness of creatures left to try.
Blessings flow, but trouble finds me
in the impasse after rain. I mean democratic
as an argument that neither side can win.
Praise grass from which the pylons ship
invisible cargos that I wait upon
unthinkingly, an emperor inured to the hand
that serves him fruit.
You’ll find little god here but demanding
drifts of pollen, little trouble but a boy
whose dream last night was of a concert
and his frozen voice.
The gulls find trouble in a moment
they can’t trust, a wind that smashes them aloft
then drops beyond the river.
Obstacles and carrion,
fluidity and rest, a hatchling woken
in its nest of foil. The parliament still warring
through its agonies of choice,
the hustle never ending
nor the trouble nor the joy.

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Earlier this year, Dai George put together a playlist of songs that tie in with poems from Karaoke King. Take a look here.

Friday Poem – ‘21. When he tells me I’m not allowed’ by Kim Moore

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘21. When he tells me I’m not allowed’ by Kim Moore from All The Men I Never Married.

The cover of All The Men I Never Married shows a collage of a man made up of small images of nature - butterflies, flowers, leaves

Kim Moore’s eagerly awaited second collection All The Men I Never Married is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

When he tells me I’m not allowed to play with cars
because I’m a girl, I bring his arm up to my mouth
and bite. I’m sent to the Wendy House to pretend
to be good. Blank-faced dolls stare up at me.
Pretend oven filled with plastic fish-fingers.
Pretend windows with flowery curtains
sewn by someone else’s mother. Pretend hoover,
pretend washing machine. Pretend teapots
and tea-set. I watch through a gap in the wall
as my teacher sits in her chair, crossing her legs
in the way she told us only yesterday
we should copy. Be ladylike she said.
Stop showing your knickers. I’m burning in here
as she calls the class to order, waits for them
to cross their legs and settle. I long to sit
at her feet, listen to all the old stories
of sleeping women who wait to be rescued.
The book is a bird, its wings held tight in her hands.
She bends the cover back so the spine cracks,
balances it on one palm, turns to me and tells me
turn around, at once, face the wall.

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Friday Poem – ‘More Context Required’ by Vidyan Ravinthiran

Following our previous guest post by Zoë Brigley on ecojustice, this week’s Friday Poem is ‘More Context Required’ by Vidyan Ravinthiran from 100 Poems to Save the Earth.

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans.

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword from editors Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Vidyan Ravinthiran
M O R E C O N T E x T R E Q U I R E D
There is no clear picture as yet
as to how many tigers were killed or if they were blue
because it’s that
time of year and they did themselves in as you do.
I have been becoming more
and more independent but I’m not a journalist
or the kind of guy asked if I know the score
now it’s hard to remember even if we won or lost,
and who we are exactly. There was
a protest, I remember that, and stories
about women and children
that somehow became about a witch and her cauldron,
or how exactly the tiger got his stripes.
And beautiful computer-generated maps.

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Read 100 Poems to Save the Earth co-editor Zoë Brigley’s guest post on ecojustice here.

Guest post: Zoë Brigley – What is Ecojustice?

In this guest post Zoë Brigley, co-editor of landmark anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth, looks at ecojustice – what it is, why it’s important – and talks about its place within the anthology and in poetry more widely.

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans.

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword from editors Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

What is Ecojustice?

After recently publishing 100 Poems to Save the Earth with Kristian Evans, I received many questions about ecojustice. With resolutions for the new year being made, this felt like a good time to talk about why ecojustice is important, and to spotlight some of the poets from the anthology.

In basic terms, ecojustice links ecological movements to global social justice movements, a move which is necessary because sometimes environmental movements have been coopted by groups with racist or bigoted agendas. (See this article in The Guardian by Jeff Sparrow on eco-fascism). Ecojustice refuses environmental narratives based on restricting or blaming people with fewer privileges, but instead listens to the voices of social justice activists. Very often, groups with fewer privileges experience most acutely the deprivations and hardships caused by climate crisis. Environmental changes are already horribly real for populations in the Global South. There are also, however, more direct connections between the active oppression of groups with fewer privileges and environmental exploitation.

Earlier this year, I spoke to scientist Kerry Ard about economic inequality and pollution, and how certain neighborhoods in American cities (often inhabited by low-income people, often of the global majority) are sidelined when it comes to their needs for clean air and unpolluted water. The obvious example is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan – I strongly recommend the documentary Flint: Voices from a Poisoned City by Elise Conklin. Or you could take for example the oil pipelines in the US that damage Native communities environmentally but also in terms of rising sexual violence against Native women. Here’s an interesting article too that explains the links between #BLM, racial justice and climate justice.

So social justice and climate justice are not two separate projects, and according to Raisa Foster and Rebecca A. Martusewicz, ‘Environmental and social impoverishment can be traced to the same deeply embedded cultural ways of thinking and being that our industrialized systems use and are created from’. Foster and Martusewicz hint at something that many writers have emphasized – see Wendy Wheeler in A New Modernity (1999).  The Baconian, empirical worldview dominating Western thinking has also caused deep, intractable problems.

Foster and Martusewicz describe how dualism in ‘Western industrial society’ has dictated ‘where we locate value’ and ‘what we learn to identify as inherently inferior or superior’. They conclude: ‘Social and ecological violence is born in and maintained by this fundamentally violent hierarchical structure:  culture–nature,  mind–body,  reason–emotion,  man–woman, and civilized–savage’. Thinking in the context of Latin America – a contested site of some of the most biodiverse areas in the world, Verónica Schild suggests that dualistic thinking is inherent in a capitalist society, as capitalism seeks to extract value from sites of nature as well as poor women, both of which exist on the other side of a constructed binary. She also notes that many indigenous activists have already made the connection between the capitalist shaping of nature and the shaping of women’s lives. Although our anthology was mainly focused on writers from the UK and Ireland, we did give a flavour of writing from around the Anglophone world, including indigenous poets like Carter Revard, Gwen Nell Westerman, Craig Santos Perez, and Ellen van Neerven.

"We cannot live / with the seas in our bellies" - Ellen van Neerven, 'Love and Tradition'

van Neerven is an award-winning writer and editor of Mununjali Yugambeh (Southeast Queensland) and Dutch heritage. van Neerven indicated in interview that her work has parallel themes that are ‘environmental’ and ‘anti-government.’ This comes together in van Neerven’s poems as, in Jeanine Leane’s words, ‘In this built-up and built-over environment the poet asserts the continuation of Aboriginal culture’ and ‘Australia is a nation imagined and constructed over many Aboriginal nations.’ Leane sees in van Neerven’s work the importance of ‘the role of women as gatherers of often small but essential items of food that sustain the clan – lizards, insects, bugs, berries, fruits, frogs, seeds, tubers’ but also ‘as gatherers and keepers of family histories, knowledge and secrets from Country that are handed down to nurture and sustain future generations.’

In 100 Poems to Save the Earth, we included ‘Love and Tradition,’ dedicated to van Neerven’s Aunty Nancy Bamaga. The poem is a prayer registering the danger of rising sea levels. Sparsely written, ‘Love and Tradition’ carefully maps out the problem while also calling on the wider community to recognise the effects on the indigenous community. van Neerven poses what Leane calls ‘the everyday activism that occurs in the Aboriginal home, differing from the more public or “loud” expressions of activism’ but posing ‘the home front as a sovereign space of nurture, growth and actualisation.’ 

There are many other poets in the anthology writing about ecojustice. For example, Ross Gay’s poem, ‘A Small Needful Fact,’ emphasizes the nurturing work of Eric Garner at the Parks and Rec, before he was killed in a racist murder by police. Kazim Ali in ‘Checkpoint’ emphasizes the pettiness of customs officials juxtaposed with portentous events in nature which seem to accuse humanity. The Cyborg Jillian Weise explores the body and nature in the context of disability, commenting on the hierarchies and judgements imposed on both. Sean Bonney’s ‘Our Death / What If the Summer Never Ends,’ Erin Robinsong’s ‘Late Prayer’ and many other poems in the anthology call out capitalism and its detrimental effects on nature and people.

"Some of us voted. Some of us put on balaclavas. There were several earthquakes. Endless strategies of tedious indifference. Some major buildings and some statues defaces. Declaration of endless war. Parties in the park. Criminalisation of drinking. Several dead friends." - Sean Bonney, 'Our Death / What If the Summer Never Ends'

Many poems speak of ecojustice in global terms. In interview with Nicholas Wroe, Welsh/Indian poet Tishani Doshi has commented on how transnationally, women often ‘have to navigate economic and environmental hostilities’. In Doshi’s work, concerns for women and for the environment mingle and jostle, and she also challenges the centrality of human beings over nature or the greater-than-human. In ‘Self’, the poem included in the anthology, there is an acknowledgement that the world does not necessarily need people. Also thinking on a global scale, Vidyan Ravinthiran’s ‘More Context Required’ seems to grapple with global circulation of information about climate crisis and social justice, which can’t be fathomed from ‘beautiful computer-generated maps.’ Other poems register how war creates disconnectedness from land and people, as populations are killed by remote control. Mir Mahfuz Ali comments on the violence of war in ‘MIG-21 at Shegontola,’ where a boy riding a bicycle seems to be the only survivor of an idyllic rural community destroyed by missiles.

Some poets speak from a spirit of hope in the face of climate and social injustice. Roger Robinson’s ‘A Portable Paradise’ turns to wisdom from his grandmother about rewilding ourselves – carrying a paradise within us in spite of injustices we may face. Registering awe of the greater-than-human, Carter Revard describes a happy afternoon as two Native boys explore nature in ‘Over by Fairfax, Leaving Tracks.’ The poem extends into networks of global capitalism, across time and space towards a profound thought about how nature might be preserved in our memory – if we survive.

"stippled tracks from soles made / in Hong Kong, maybe with Osage oil. / Lawrence and Wesley pick blue-speckled flints / along our path, one Ponca boy / in braids, one part Osage / in cowboy hat." - Carter Revards, 'Over by Fairfax, Leaving Tracks'

What you won’t find in the anthology are moralizing or didactic poems for the simple reason that we don’t think they are very effective. As we suggest in the anthology introduction, poems that work through clichéd or even moralizing trains of thought can be easily dismissed. Poems that seek to make people – already feeling immense guilt about climate crisis – to feel even more guilty don’t help. People are moved to act far more out of inspiration, hope and – yes! – sometimes fear than out of guilt. What tends to happen more often with didactic writing is that people turn away and put their heads in the sand.

That doesn’t mean that these poems aren’t moving, inspiring, brilliant, or that they don’t work on the reader in significant and subtle ways to make those connections between damage to people and the environment. According to Foster and Martusewicz, ecojustice proceeds ‘from the fundamental acknowledgment that humans are utterly dependent upon a complex and diverse ecological system,’ and ‘damages to the ecological system are damages to ourselves’.

Zoë Brigley

Books and Articles to Read

Leane, Jeanine (2020) ‘On the Power to Be Still’: rev. Throat by Ellen van Neerven. The Sydney Review of Books, August 3rd.

Foster, Raisa and Rebecca A. Martusewicz (2018) ‘Introduction.’ Art, EcoJustice, and Education: Intersecting Theories and Practices, ed. Raisa Foster, Jussi Mäkelä, and Rebecca A. Martusewicz. London: Routledge: pp 1-9 (p. 1, 3).

Schild, V. (2019) ‘Feminisms, the Environment and Capitalism: On the Necessary Ecological Dimension of a Critical Latin American Feminism’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, 20(6), pp. 23–43 (p. 25). Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2021).

Wroe, Nicholas. ‘Tishani Doshi: “I can go out alone at night but the dangers don’t go away.’ The Guardian, 27 July.


This article is based on a paper, ‘Justice, Ecologies, and Transnational Feminist Poetics: What Poetry Has to Say About Ecojustice’ given at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Convention this past October 2021. Thanks to the NWSA for including this paper.

Zoë Brigley is a poet and academic who has three PBS recommended poetry collections: The Secret (2007), Conquest (2012), and Hand & Skull (2019) (all from Bloodaxe). She has also published a collection of nonfiction essays Notes from a Swing State (Parthian 2019) and several chapbooks. She is Assistant Professor in English at the Ohio State University where she produces an anti-violence podcast: Sinister Myth. She won an Eric Gregory Award for the best British poets under 30, was Forward Prize commended, and listed in the Dylan Thomas Prize. She is the current editor of Poetry Wales Magazine.

100 Poems to Save the Earth is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Offering’ by Alexandra Davis

As the last Friday Poem of 2021, this week’s Friday Poem is ‘Offering’ by Alexandra Davis from the festive pamphlet Twelve Poems for Christmas.

Christmas Closing dates

The Seren Offices will be closed for Christmas from Thursday 23rd December until Monday 4th January. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas Nadolig Llawen
for Rufus
After the wrapping, unwrapping.
After unwrapping, the mess.
Through paper wasteland my boy wades;
his hot, sticky hands embrace my face,
pressed like a prayer, gargoyling my smile.
Our brown eyes speak of love.
Along with the giving, the learning.
After the learning, his deed.
Up fairylit stairs he charges, inspired;
above me the ceiling clunks like a factory;
he delivers two papers beneath the tree:
one for his daddy, one for me.
After the folding, the hiding, the finding,
the moment of moment: his hurried gifts.
Each scarecrow portrait, carefully drawn,
guards a faded five pound note.
I accept this gold with kisses.
Later I post the paper money back into his box.
Alexandra Davis

Don’t forget to visit your local bookshop for last minute Christmas gifts. Find your local shops using the Books Council of Wales or Booksellers Association shop finders.

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Friday Poem – ‘The Calving’ by Ilse Pedler

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Calving’ by Ilse Pedler from her debut poetry collection Auscultation.

This cover shows an image of a stethoscope against a white background with an orange butterfly resting on the cord.

Ilse Pedler is a veterinary surgeon who works in Kendal. Her debut collection is Auscultation, which means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. There are poems about vets waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are also poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother.

The Calving
Straw hastily spread
crisps under the frost’s force,
a single dusty bulb
explores the darkness.
She stamps a warning,
twists her tethered head,
the whites of her eyes
moons of fear.
The cowman and his lad
stamp their numbing toes,
thick square hands
freezing on the halter’s buckle.
I prepare ropes and a jack,
roll up my sleeves,
take off my watch and ring,
push them deep into my pocket.
I trail cold gel up my arm
like the track of a snail,
pinch my fingers together to ease
the passage and slip inside.
Following the wall of the womb
I touch nose and ear,
inch loops of rope
over knuckles of hooves,
twist the ends over the hooks
on the jack and start to pull.
She bellows her pain,
crushes my bones on hers.
We both strain to birth
this new life - and only she
and I are warm,
and I am at the warmth’s core.

Auscultation is available on the Seren website: £9.99

It’s not too late to order on the Seren website in time for Christmas. If you’re still struggling for inspiration why not look through our Christmas Gift Guide? Or check out the new Seren Gift Subscription.

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Extract from ‘Just You and the Page’ by Sue Gee

This post features an extract from the opening chapter of Just You and the Page by Sue Gee. Part biography, part memoir, she has interviewed twelve distinctly different writers about their craft. As she examines what has shaped them and their careers, several themes emerge: struggle, inspiration, dedication, and above all, resilience.

Just You and the Page: Encounters with Twelve Writers. Michael Wall, Penelope Lively, Hilary Davies, Anna Burns, Ruth Pavey, Afra, Marek Mayer, Roy Strong, Charles Palliser, Anthony Wood, Darragh Martin, Josie Barnard. Sue Gee.

Just You and the Page opens in 1971, with the dramatist Michael Wall hammering out his plays on a portable typewriter. It concludes in 2020, when the novelist and academic Josie Barnard is teaching students to compose novels on Instagram. Between them are Booker prize winners; a poet whose life was changed by a profound religious conversion; a translator for whom Pushkin has meant everything; a distinguished environmental journalist; a famous diarist; a nature writer who restored a wood, and a political activist who fled her country and is writing now in exile. The perfect gift for aspiring writers this Christmas.

At New Year in 1972 I answered an advertisement and moved from an attic room to a rambling great flat overlooking Highbury Fields, north London. I was living with six strangers, who became close friends: all of us young and idealistic, thinking of money as a necessity, not an end in itself.

It was a turning point in my life, an exceptionally vivid period, and I always knew that one day I would want to write about it. Just You and the Page began as a novel about that time and place but it didn’t work, and one person in particular refused to turn into a fictional character: he was too vividly himself. This was the dramatist Michael Wall, who became the subject of a long essay: this, I found, was a form that worked.

In the end, commissioned by Mick Felton, Seren’s publishing director, I wrote twelve essays, exploring the life and work of writer friends I’ve known for a long time. Some are famous. All, working within different genres, are distinctive. But it is Michael Wall, brilliant, idiosyncratic and very funny, who opens the book.

Sue Gee

Michael Wall outside The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1989.
Michael Wall outside The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, 1989.

The Dramatist: Michael Wall

‘When I write, I want to smash through something – lack of feeling, indifference, cruelty. I’m shocked by callousness or indifference.’


Someone is talking to himself in the bath. It seems that a soldier has returned from the front to find his wife in the arms of another man.

‘But what ees zis?’

Falsetto: ‘I vas going to write you a letter, darling.’

There follows much laughter, and splashing about, then the taps are turned on and the geyser roars. Eavesdropping on the long dark landing outside the bathroom door, I can’t hear what became of this doomed wartime couple, though I’m dying to know.

It is the spring of 1972. We are still in the age of the geyser, and the dreaded pilot light. We are deep in the age of Time Out, with its yards of small ads, and five of the seven of us now sharing a vast two-floor flat on Highbury Fields, north London, have each answered one. We’ve been through a long selection process, as Clare and Anna, old university friends, made their choices.

We each have an airy bedroom. I paint mine purple. With a lowly job in publishing, I’ve come from a tiny attic in a rambling, run-down place overlooking Hampstead Heath, even larger than the one in which I now find myself, sharing with six people I’m getting to know.

Clare – dark curly hair, appealing blue gaze – has a much more impressive job in publishing. It’s the age of Tom Maschler at Jonathan Cape, and she’s copy-editing The Rachel Papers, a first novel by someone called Martin Amis. ‘He’s Kingsley’s son.’ She’s also proof-read Kingsley himself. ‘He won’t let you change a comma.’

Anna has a Pre-Raphaelite cloud of red hair and lovely skin; she’s teaching at Goldsmith’s College, right across the city. Cultural studies, though it wasn’t called that then.

Who else have she and Clare selected to live here?

Jackie is a potter, tiny, pale, with wistful-looking dark brown eyes. Improbably, she has married Jay, a tall, lanky American photographer, who yodels at the kitchen sink and at thirty is older by far than any of us.

Patrick is a post-graduate art student, treating his bedroom as a studio. Tall and loose-limbed, with long curly hair and a gorgeous smile, he spends hours listening to music with Mike: Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Pink Floyd.

It is Mike who talks to himself in the bath. He talks to himself all the time: we can hear him trying out scenes in his room. Brought up on a council estate in Hereford, he left school at sixteen and is the only one of us without a job, living on toast and the dole, and announcing himself as a writer.

There are books on his shelves by writers I barely know, or have never heard of: Jean Genet, Richard Brautigan. On the table there’s a heap of manuscripts in ancient folders. There’s also a chess set, spirited away from his last job: a packer in a giftshop factory. On Sunday afternoons, he teaches me to play. He’s good, and chess means a lot to him.

Mike is of middle height, tow-haired, with little round specs and a moustache. There’s something of E.M. Forster about his appearance. His clothes are ordinary – jeans and old shirts and jumpers – but he has a wine-coloured velvet jacket for special occasions. Wearing this, with newly-washed hair, he’s adorable.

The first time we kiss, the morning after a party, I remark upon the moustache – and is that a bit of a denture? He tells me that he lost a number of teeth while hitch-hiking in Europe without a toothbrush. It’s not until much later that he reveals that he was born with a cleft palate and a hare-lip: the shaggy moustache conceals the scar; the denture hides the wounded, toothless palate.

I have forgotten the cat. The cat is lithe and black and adopts us from who knows where. It’s Mike who gives him his name: Spassky, after the Russian chess champion. It is Mike who puts him down on the electoral roll as a merchant seaman.

But he’s a serious person. ‘I can’t see the point of life without writing,’ he said once.

It’s Mike who will be the first of us to die.

This essay about those distant Highbury days is about him.

It’s about you, Mike, after all this time.

Excerpt taken from pages 15-17 of Just You and the Page.

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Friday Poem – ‘Going to Liverpool’ by Sheenagh Pugh

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Going to Liverpool’ by Sheenagh Pugh from the anthology Newspaper Taxis: Poetry After The Beatles. Congratulations to Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics which won Waterstones Book of the Year 2021.

Newspaper Taxis: Poetry After the Beatles. Edited by Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley.

January 1963. ‘Please, Please Me’ by The Beatles shoots to number one. So begins a new era, in which one band transforms the face of music, youth and popular culture. Taking in everything from the music, their influence, the way we lived then and the way we live now, Newspaper Taxis is a response to the Beatles’ creativity and capacity to influence successive generations. Beatles fans young and old will want this anthology to add to their collection.


I am a middle-aged woman
travelling on business
and I’m going to Liverpool,

where I’ll take time out
to visit Albert Dock
and the museum

where my youth is preserved.
The fashions I followed,
the songs I knew by heart,

the faces that convulsed
my own into screams
and sobs, they’ll all be there.

I’m going to Liverpool,
and it is autumn.
The fields outside Leominster

lie in stubble, the leaves
of Ludlow’s trees are jaundiced
and flushed with the fever

that says they’re finished.
The ticket collector
said Thank you, Madam.

My daughter’s grown up
and my mother’s dead,
and between the pages

of the notebook
where I’m writing this
I keep a yellowed ticket

to a match, a picture
of an actor, Edwin Morgan’s reply
to my fan letter,

and I’m going to Liverpool
because I’m the kind
that always will.

Sheenagh Pugh

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