("Voice Recognition, Leeds 2011, with Lilly Mossini, Claire Pollard and George Szirtes). 

If you want to rest your eyes, then listen to "In the Space of that Year" (Head On 2012) performed by actress Lyndsey Marshal on Sound Cloud. If not - then read on ...

from "Head On": Bloodaxe 2012

I do not believe in silence.

Because, tonight -

however I try - I cannot get downstairs

without waking my daughter

I do not believe in silence.


Because of the Warboys enquiry,

because of the two hundred-plus women he raped –

because of the policeman defending the findings

unable to utter the word -

“this (herrrrm) crime, this (ahem)

assault, this category (cough)

of offence” –

I do not believe in silence


because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;

the sound of the lock

and my hand on the door - the fifty-tone creak -

the magnificent echo of light-switch and click -

I do not believe in silence


Because of Neda - and everyone’s sister -

and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;

for the sake of my daughter, because of the burkha,

because of the patter of rain;

because of two hundred-thousand years

of human history,

thirty-seven of them my own –

I do not believe in silence


for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.

With respect to my legs

and my belly and chest

and the comfort long due to my throat


because of nightclubs at one am

and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit

and shops that don’t shut;

because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;

because of Levi and Akhmatova

because of the blue-lipped prisoner;

the itch and the scratch of my pen;


I believe in the word.

I believe in the scrabble of claws

on uncarpeted floors.

I believe in my daughter’s complaints. 

I believe in the violin, the E-string,

the see-sawing bow; the cello

straining its throat.


I believe in the heart and its beat

and its beep and the dance of the trace

on the screen, I believe in the volume

of colour turned up, and my blood

which was always too loud.


Because of nights, and the sweats,

and the same rowdy thoughts;

because that one afternoon

when I nailed my own voice to the air

and because there was nobody listening

and through it all


and the sound of cars passing -


I do not believe in silence.




(for Niamh)


are the size of a large strawberry

and around you, I am

world. Quite

literally. My belly is bedrock

and all the night sky.


 And though you don’t know

the feel of the breeze yet,

I am rain, and all of your weathers.

What light you have

is through my skin.


 Now you have ears,

I am a country in progress around them. .

In me, strata are formed and exploded.

I am river

and the way all waters move.


 Soon, you will be the size of a lemon.

And above you, I will be landscape

where factories hum and small towns fume

and votes are cast

for the wrong kind of people.


 Small fruit, you

are my mineral wealth

and you will not be exploited.

My heart is an industry

that never shuts down.


My bad knees are Atlas

supporting the planet, and my hands

are huge ships

that will carry you, sleeping,

into the night, out


 into the starlit world.




It could have been

(first published in The Guardian, July 25th 2009)


 Ali, son of Abdul. 16 months.

Rocket on house, Sadr City 16.5.2009.



Ali, but for some detail of history,

this day could have been yours.


It could have been you this morning,

stood at the end of your bed,

eyes still shut, arms held up for your mother,

who makes sun and all things possible,

who could, little Ali, be me.


Tony Edward Shiol, 5 years.

Kidnapped, found strangled, Shikan 12.05.2009.



If God had sneezed or been somehow distracted.

If that ray of light had shifted

and you had landed –

the small, metallic thrill of conception -

as I walked down Euston Road,


this could have been your morning.

It could have been me inhaling

your breath straight from sleep,

the smell of hot lake and woodsmoke, could have been

my tired arm under your neck.


Unnamed baby son of Haider Tariq Sain.

Car bomb, Nawab Street, Baghdad 7.04.2009.



It could have been your voice 

shouting “carry”

at the far top stair of my stairs -


hello stairs

hello breakfast


- your feet in these shoes

which do not contain ants;


Unnamed daughter of Captain Saada Mohammed Ali.

Roadside bomb, Fallujah 20.4.2009.



biting soap

which smells good

but does not taste;

the unsteady wonder of bubbles;

throwing water into the light


Unnamed child of Haidar, male, aged 4.

Suicide bomber, Baghdad 4.1.2009


then swimming:

your body held out in my hands;

the pear-shaped

weight of your head,

safe away from the pool’s sharp side


Sa’adiya Saddam, aged 8, female.

Shot dead by USA forces. Afak, 7/8 Feb, 2009


It could have been

me on that street

with my hands red and wet

and my face is a shriek

and my voice is a house all on fire


Unnamed female baby of the Abdul-Monim family.

Shot dead, Balal Ruz 22.1.2009.


but for geography,

but for biology,

but for state and for power and religion,

but for the way things happen.

It could have been


Unnamed daughter of dead couple, aged 1.

US Air strike, West Baghdad, 5.5.2008


you falling.

You holding your hand up for kissing.




The no baby poem

(from “Answering Back, ed. Carol Ann Duffy (2007), Faber)



There will be no ceremony

in a quiet wood for this. Today,

the sun does not matter.

You have simply not made it

into existence. All science, all alchemy

have failed from the start.

There is only this

injury, nameless and wet.



You are everything I know now

of loss, the perfect

grey weight of it, constant,

which has turned down the light

in my face.



Had just one moment

of one month been different,

you would have been born

into winter.

We would have made the drive

in the late afternoon,

past front rooms in Luddenden

yellow with warmth

a jewellery of light in each window

to see you erupt like summer

into our hands.



No-show, non-event,

we have lost you

to a world where there is no word,

even for absence.

Whatever could have made you

is irrelevant. Today,

the slightest breeze could blow me

clean away.



From my first collection "Straight Ahead" - Bloodaxe 2006




About the arguments we had last year


It would have been so easily ended

back then,

the three hour arguments

that left us shaking,



the urgent late night drive,

two other cars on the road

between here and North Yorkshire,

the yellow-grey hedgerows,



the sudden open page

of an owl lifting, and all the way

the right words

and none of them good enough.

My chest was a jar full of fishes

that couldn’t get air.



Without you, everything fell.

Trees rotted soft; the snow melted

and the paths stank.

Words could not speak themselves,

familiar places did not

know me anymore.



That night,

Settle was black with sleep

and empty. There was

a single bleat from the hill.

We lay still in the bed

and your skin was cold.


I remember all that

and spend a minute now


it was over last year and yet

here you are



and the moment comes heavy with light

and dripping, your face

close to sleep and smiling.

Our ordinary bed,

the same song playing



and you,

a candle behind each eyelid,

a fat apple landed

where it was least expected.




like a leopard walked in, glowing

from the wet night

on Back Commercial Street,

to lay with me, breaking



all known barriers of reason and place

to be with me.



Poem from a Bus Shelter


This is not a life, but if it was

I’d say I always lived here.

I’d say this street; this long grey face

of factories, flats; the boarded shops;

the tired, concrete houses, squats –

they saw my first bright day.



I was clean as a breeze,

as cold as glass. I sweated rain,

was slicked by the wind, was beautifully bare.

I filled myself with city sound,

the blur and swirl of good blue air.



When Winter came, and the gale,

and the church roof flapped and fractured like a wing;

when thin trees fell

and shop fronts swelled and bellied –

I stood my ground.



I knew where I belonged.

I was the colour of a dockside warehouse,

blue-grey. The shade of a cold,

an evening cloud, a hangover, a foggy day.

If I had ever had a life



I would say that I was proud

and it could be true.

Come rain or snow,

come the long white corridor

of Christmas;



come crowds with spiteful corners; come

the wet green growl of winter spit;

come fist; come kick;

come the lurch of stolen cars;

come stone; come brick;



come I luv Gaz, Mick,

Shaz; come weekend chips;

come drunken piss; come empty cans;

come the sad pink skins of condoms,

dog shit, sick, come sick –

come morning, I was there.



And if I had ever had a life

half worth the privilege of the name –

if I had not been rooted to this spot

and treated to the things

that other lives spit out



I would be proud

and I would write it –

I would write it clear and loud

in bold black ink

with my bold black hand

I would write it.



I woz ere.





Years ago, when I was young enough

to eat mud and be interested

in stones and clocks and buried bones -

when I was that young,

I found a bird that couldn’t fly.

I picked it up. Its chest was flecked



like the surface of a road;

its wing was blackened straw; its eye

was a kind of corridor.

You can ignore the panic of wild things.

They struggle because

they don’t know better.



I put it in a box and dug for worms;

uprooted the seedlings my father had grown

all winter in his steamy plastic frames.

They were thin green sinews, fragile as ice.

I broke them, and was shouted at of course,

and only three sore worms

and a damp gum of a slug to show for it.



And the bird wouldn’t eat.

The far hole of its eye was misted over

like a sick cat or a


A distance, comfortless as a spider.

You couldn’t touch or stroke it.

It would sink lower



beneath the hollow shoulders

and the eye would echo emptier.

The jamlid of water grew a skin of dust and feathers

and the food crawled and soured.

The bird smelt sick, like bad music.

Like something broken,

a thing done wrong.



But one day I woke

and what came from its throat

was a firework of sound that flowered,

that ran like a river

over stones where fish shimmer.

Quick otters swam in the dark of its song.

Clouds bloomed, sky grew suddenly tall



and the room was yellow with morning.

It was the third day.

The cardboard was soggy as bread.

The bird was all bones. By noon, it was dead.

What am I trying to say?


It just happened. It just happened like I said.