The Craft 3: Paul Brookes

I’m really pleased to have Paul Brookes here. He’s a lovely poet – his poem Our Spired Unicorn was one of my favourite advent calendar poems. He’s also immensely generous to other poets – he regularly opens his blog for ekphrastic challenge months and for themed days, and supports other poets on Twitter.

Paul is a shop assistant, who lives in a cat house full of teddy bears. His first play was performed at The Gulbenkian Theatre, Hull.  His chapbooks include The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley, (Dearne Community Arts, 1993). The Headpoke and Firewedding (Alien Buddha Press, 2017), A World Where and She Needs That Edge (Nixes Mate Press, 2017, 2018) The Spermbot Blues (OpPRESS, 2017), Port Of Souls (Alien Buddha Press, 2018), Please Take Change (, 2018), Stubborn Sod, with Marcel Herms  (artist) (Alien Buddha Press, 2019), As Folk Over Yonder ( Afterworld Books, 2019). Forthcoming Khoshhali with Hiva Moazed (artist), Our Ghost’s Holiday (Final book of threesome “A Pagan’s Year”) . He is a contributing writer of Literati Magazine and Editor of Wombwell Rainbow Interviews. Had work broadcast on BBC Radio 3 The Verb and videos of his Self Isolation sonnet sequence featured by Barnsley Museums and Hear My Voice Barnsley. He also does photography commissions and his family history articles have appeared in The Liverpool Family History magazine.

Here he is, talking about his craft:

I was really excited to see your Alice poems – I love the way you approached them. How did they come about? 

I am not a Martian. Their poetry is too much like Anglo-Saxon riddles. In my collection ‘A World Where” the reader knows from the title what is being turned upside down. They are not riddles. I wanted the same for my Alice poems. When choosing classic texts I am always surprised what I find when I alter the titles: “The Wonderland In Alice” immediately had the narrative shape of young woman finding herself. I have no problems with accepting absurdity in my writing, or in life, increasingly so as I get older. Absurdity is a different way of looking at the world, but it must have some relation to everyday life. Too often, when absurdity shifts into riddles and puzzles it becomes too clever for its own good. That stuff puts me off, Big time

And what are you working on at the moment?

A pamphlet of sonnets

Have my pamphlet of serious whimsy, to be called “A Wonderland In Alice”, or “A Bag Of Mashings” published

Finishing my detective novella whose styles vary from gritty realism to wildly surrealistic.

Completing my life and laughter confirming companion pamphlet to “Port Of Souls”

Assembling poems and artworks for a pamphlet about my late mam and dad and family history.

Completing the story of my ancestor Captain Charles Teft Laurence, each chapter deals with a ship in which he was a nineteenth century Merchant Mariner.

Assembling an exhibition of my photos.

And a few things in preparation I can’t talk about now.

You are very active and generous to other poets on social media. How did your “theme days” come about? What has been your favourite so far?

It is an idea that arrived in my head as a carrying on of the campaigning work of the late Jamie Dedes and Reuben Woolley. I have no favourites. I am lit up by theIr imagination and creativity of others that I love to enflame. All writers should be encouraged and supported in as many ways as possible.

You’ve been writing for a long time. What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

I have a Youtube site called “Poetry Is My Bag For Life”. While other sensible school children played football, I sat on the side with a big green book of empty pages and filled them with pale imitations of William Blake and Dylan Thomas. My dad made sure I imbibed the Burton version of Under Milk Wood from an early age.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?

All poets I correspond with are part of my conversation with poetry. Each provides something new and refreshing.

If you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

William Blake, Dylan Thomas and the sadly missed Peter Reading

Do you have a writing routine? 

No. I wake up and go to sleep with a constant stream of voices in my head asking to be heard.

What about editing? How do you go about it?

I call it “mulling”. It happens subconsciously, most of the time. After writing for so many years your brain kicks into editing abd proof reading mode. Mistakes glare out at you like mirror stains.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

I hope to engage their imaginations so they have confidence to write themselves. 

How do you find your inspiration?

In all and everything. Walking helps me mull over stuff. Working in a supermarket introduces me to the stories folk tell. Engages me in confrontations and makes me a witness to the life of the High Street.

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

My adoration for the rude and ribald. My delight in Yorkshire dialect. My love of fantasy, science fiction and thrillerish gritty realism. My abhorrence for inhumanity.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it?

To coin a phrase I have a poem about that:


Nothing to write down,
I wake up, pay attention
to life around me.

How is she dressed?
Why is she here?
How does she move?
Where is she going?

This fly, this ant, this cat,
this woman with a child.

Who should I interview next? And why?

Tough question. Ankh Spice, Tim Fellows, Laura Potts, or choose any of those I have interviewed over the years.

Here’s a poem from Paul:

In World

without corners the curve becomes an edge.
Go so far over the roundness and you
will fall. Nothing is sharp, just rough, aged.
There are no thorns, nothing to catch, cut through.

No scissors or other ways to open.
The world seems padded, coddled. Comfortable.
If something breaks, examine the broken
bit to find roundness like a fresh bubble.

All windows are spherical. No pins,
needles. Bowls, cups and plates have rounded
rims. You can’t impale anyone, anything.
There are no nails, no staples. This grounded

world is to us a well kept taxi, all
soft sounds, clunks and clicks, bouncy, a soft ball.

If you want more of Paul, you can find him here:

Twitter: @PaulDragonwolf1




He’s a lovely reader of poems. And he’s doing an ekphrastic challenge for NaPoWriMo – starting tomorrow, on his wordpress site. There’s still time to sign up.

The Craft 2: Siobhan Mac Mahon

Introducing Siobhan Mac Mahon. I’ve known Siobhan for many years – she’s a great friend and a wonderful poet. However, we only really know each other in real life! I’ve got a blog and I do Twitter. Siobhan is on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram. There’s not much overlap!

Siobhan Mac Mahon (MA Creative Writing) is an award-winning Irish  poet who has been writing and performing her poetry for over twenty years. Siobhan has collaborated extensively with other artists to create Spoken Word projects, combining poetry with music, dance and with film and has been awarded Arts Council funding twice for her collaborative projects. Much of her work celebrates the Sacred Feminine and our deep connection to the Earth. Winner of WOMAD Open mic and the Ilkely Lit. Open mic, she has performed widely in the UK and in Ireland, some highlights include: the Southbank Centre, London, Stanza Poetry Festival, Wicklow Arts Festival – Ireland, The Brigid of Faughart Festival, Mountshannon Arts Festival, University of Vienna – Austria, Artemis International Festival – Spain, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Italy, as well as numerous venues in Yorkshire. Shortlisted for the Hennessey New Irish Writing Poetry award 2018, She has been published both online and in print, most recently in a Bloodaxe/ Raving Beauties Anthology – Hallelujah for 50 Foot Women, the Irish Times and in Skylight 47.

I was lucky enough to do a live workshop with her just before lockdown started last year, and did a second one over Zoom during lockdown. Her workshops are very much like her – warm, inspiring, nurturing and a little bit wild. 

Let’s start with a poem:

Advice for my Daughter

They will try to keep you small.
They will warn you about the dangers
of being too loud, too clever,
too wise, too ambitious.
Too much.
They will mutter words,
darkly, under their breath, such as:
strident and over-emotional,
hormonal and over-sensitive.
They will threaten you
with ancient memories
of asylums and burnings,
they will issue dire warnings
about upsetting the apple cart,
about gaining a few pounds,
about dressing like a tart.

Ignore them all.

Don’t play by their rules;
you’ll never win.
Make up your own rules –
tip the whole feckin cart over,
make cider from its sweet juices,
throw a wild party,
invite your sisters
and your brothers,
put your red dress on
and dance until dawn
on the dying embers
of the Patriarchy.
Speak your beautiful mind,
flaunt your wild wisdom,
be a brazen hussy
with the truth
that you know,
encoded in your DNA.
Hear generations of women rising
from their forgotten graves
applauding you;
clapping their bony fingers in delight.

Go on girl get up
on your high-horse –
you’ll have a magnificent view from there.

I haven’t seen you since just before lockdown! In terms of writing, what have you been doing over the last few months?

I’ve been doing a few different things over the last few months. During the lockdown before Christmas I began really using Instagram as a platform for my poetry. I am very much a Spoken Word poet and Instagram is a great way of getting my poetry out there, especially in these times when we can’t perform to live audiences. I filmed the first poem from my local woods and said I would post a poem every second day during lockdown – from the woods. So, that was that! – hail rain or shine I filmed all the poems from the woods, which added a whole other lovely dimension to the videos, bringing nature and the changing season into the project.

And are you working on any projects at the moment?

For the last few years I have been travelling to Dundalk in Ireland to perform my poetry at the wonderful ‘Brigid of Dundalk Festival’ which takes place around the Celtic Spring festival of Imbolc, meaning ‘in the belly/womb’. Much of my work is a reclamation and celebration of the Sacred Feminine and of our deep connection to the earth. Brigid is revered in Ireland as both Goddess and saint. She is Goddess of  healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration. Her name means “exalted one” This year, of course we can’t gather in person, so I am in the middle of getting some new poems finished and working out how best to pre- record the poems for the festival, to make it feel as ‘live’ as possible – so I’m going to have to master a few tech. skills!

What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

Poetry to me is a way of trying to express the magic and mystery of this extraordinary world we live in, to bring back stories and wisdom from, what the Irish would call  ‘the other worlds’ It is a way to wrap words around the invisible, the sacred, the numinous so that we may catch a glimpse of it.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to?

There are so many poets I respond to and I have shelves of poetry books! I’m also involved in a very lively poetry scene in Leeds (online atm) and I love to hear poets read/perform their own work.

And if you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

It would be very hard to choose only 3 poets – but, if I had to, I would have to include Paula Meehan, David Whyte and Mary Oliver.

I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea! 

Do you have a writing routine? 

I don’t have a writing routine– I keep thinking it might be a good idea! 

What about editing? How do you go about it?

I am a very slow poet and will usually do numerous drafts. I find I need to leave poems ‘to rest’ for a bit in between drafts. If I begin editing a poem too soon after the first draft, my critical mind can be too forceful. I have learnt, over the many years I have been writing, to have a delicate (but rigorous) touch when editing. I find if I ‘go at’ a poem too much I can ‘kill it’ The final decision for any line or verse is always made by speaking it out loud, often recording the poem and listening back.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

First and foremost, I hope to connect with the reader/listener.. I would hope that a poem will touch a chord inside the reader/listener, perhaps bringing them closer to something they already know deep inside themselves. I would hope that the reader/listener may feel moved: to tears, to laughter, to outrage at some social/moral injustice

I know you’re a great performer of poetry. Is performance poetry different to page poetry? 

Yes, I think performance poetry is different to page poetry. With performance poetry you are really dealing with energy, with sound, with rhythm and silence as much as you are dealing with words. It’s more like music and it is also a two-way thing, between you, the performer, and the audience, you both participate in the live experience. 

How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes when it comes. It’s a gift, not something I can make happen. It’s more a process of clearing out the busyness of my mind which can then make space for inspiration to arrive. I find being in nature and trying to be present, rather than thinking, is often conducive to a poem ‘arriving’ Or taking a lovely long bath, or making soup! A poem usually arrives with just a few lines and I like to write it down right away and then leave it for a bit before I begin making a poem from the initial inspiration. 

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

Yes, I definitely have recurring ‘themes’ I write mostly about the Sacred Feminine. Initially (over 20 years ago) I was I was trying to ‘find’ any hint or trace of the Sacred Feminine, I was scrabbling around in the dark trying to even language what I intuited deep within; that She even ‘existed’ So much of the Sacred Feminine has been banished and obliterated from our consciousness, let alone our culture and any of the patriarchal religions. So, my work was an unpicking of much of what I had learnt and imbibed. It was also very much a reclamation of the sacredness of the body, and of the earth and our deep connection through the body and through nature to the Divine.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it? 

Sometimes I feel blocked and it’s often when I am trying too hard or when a new ‘voice’ is beginning to appear in my writing, which I am not yet familiar with. To unblock I walk in nature, make soup, garden in the Summer – just let it be for a bit….

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given? What advice would you pass on to others? 

I think one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I have been given was by my tutor during the MA in Creative Writing I did. I had written a strong poem which very much pushed my point of view on the reader and he asked me whether I could ‘allow space for the reader to enter the poem…?’ At first I disregarded what he said, thinking that I didn’t want to dilute the ‘passion’ of the poem – but then I began to grasp what he had said; the gift and value of inviting your reader in rather than bludgeoning them over the head with your words! And I discovered that  poems are, paradoxically perhaps, much more powerful when the reader is given space to ‘enter/participate’ in the poem.

If people want to read more of your work, where should they go? 

The best place to listen to/read my poems is probably on my Instagram account or my YouTube account (my website is currently down) I am so much more a performance poet than a written poet. Or just google Siobhan Mac Mahon poet and you’ll find links to my work/performances.

Instagram :Siobhanmacmahonpoet

Who should I interview next? And why?

Kathleen Strafford is a wonderful poet up here in Leeds (though she is American) and she runs a regular poetry night (now online) –  Runcible Spoon. I don’t have her e mail, but if you want to contact her I will get it for you.

Storms and rainbows are quite different things

Rainbows need sun and softness, ambiguity,
but here the storms come raging in from the west,
flash floods and the shrill sound of car alarms,
and the trees whipping back and forth –
and we name them – why do we name them? –
Ellen, who always sang alone, that pure voice,
passing it on to Francis, like the pope,
who seemed so nice, we liked him, then
he hit a woman, back at the start
of this mad year of fires and fevers.

You show me the shape of the storm,
but I can’t feel the logic of it, just the wind,
and the noise, and the utter darkness,
and half an hour ago it was still,
and now the wind is winding up again,
and what can we do? Gather up windfalls,
check the fences, close the windows,
breathe these small spaces. Wait.

For Brendan at Earthweal. Check it out.

Walking at the edge

In this summer of long walks and silences,
closeness and distancing,
small explorations – we pick our way along
the very edges of the field, through thistles,
and green grass, where the wheat
peters out, and small flowers,
bright in the sunlight.
We’re good visitors. We walk the margins,
respect John Barleycorn.

I like the smell,
the raw green smell of wheat,
and the colour, green edging
into gold – sun-warmed, sun-bleached,
sun-fed, sun-ripened, taking us
joyfully and inevitably into autumn;
and I like the sound, small waves
rolling rolling, and I like the movement
of the wind sweeping the heavy-headed wheat,
the ripple of it – water, silk, fur.

I like the life in it.

Rosemarie Gonzales is hosting at dVerse tonight, and we are exploring wheat.

Writing – a haibun for dVerse

This is the book that stared me off. A Christmas present from my parents when I was seven. On the back it starts off by saying “This is a book to grow on. It is also a book to grow with…”, and that’s what happened. There are poems in here that have become part of me. It’s a children’s anthology, but here is Robert Frost, both the Brownings, Yeats, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Dickinson, Whitman – so many great poems, so many great poets. Poems that have been absorbed into my bones, that sing in my blood. Poems that still influence my writing, because of their simplicity.

But why do I write? I write because I love it. I love the shaping of words, I love capturing a moment, a mood, an atmosphere. I jokingly say I write because it’s better than meditation – and that’s the truth. When I’m writing, I’m totally caught up in what I’m doing, in the act of creation. Does that sound grandiose? I don’t care. I write because I’m a writer.

Rook sits on the wire
Naming the world with his gaze
Black feathers on snow

Toni is the guest host at dVerse tonight. She asks us to write about the Who? What? Why? of our writing, our earliest inspirations. 

NaPoWriMo 28 – a Skelton

What the hell!
A ghazal?
No puzzle!
I’m away!
On it!
But this theme
Makes me scream –
Rhyme scheme
Nilly –
Too silly! –
Tight beat:
Two feet.
This thing
Won’t sing,
Can’t string
It out.

A Skelton about Skeltons. A meta-Skelton, if you like. For NaPoWriMo, which is hurtling downhill now, towards the finishing line.

DIY building – for dVerse.

Beach house

We made a shelter on the beach that day –
do you remember? We walked the shoreline,
gathering driftwood, sea-smoothed, set it
just so, here and not there, building
our sea-shack. The undulations
of the wood let in the bleached
ocean light, and the shadows were knife cut.

Your gannet eyes peered through the cracks.

We sat, backs to the dunes, watching the sea,
the waves forming and folding. We ate yellow cake,
drank hot sweet coffee, warmed our cold hands,

until the tide turned, and the sea came in,
and we wound our way homeward through the dunes,

leaving our shelter for the waves to play with.

Sara McNulty has painted the bar purple, and is looking for poems about our dream homes. This isn’t quite that, but there may be something else later, so it will have to do for now. DVerse, always lives up to its name. Check it out. 

Eagle – for dVerse

I’m all coffee-ed up. I’m so caffeined
I don’t know what to do with it.

I twittered, but you never read me,
I facebooked, but you never upped your thumb –
I’ve me-ed it in the corner for a long time, baby,
But now I’m us-ing down the middle of the street:

See that sky? I’m going to sun it –
See that road? I’m going to bloom it –

Because today I’m lipsticked
In the red fire of anger,
I’m booting in bare feet,
I’m loving, joying, dancing –

I’m so super, just watch me nova,
And when I spread my wings –
I eagle.

Watch me.

A poem of verbification for Lillian at dVerse. I was surprised at how many of the nouns I thought of have been verbified already. Language moves and grows and transforms itself in our mouths. 


Back then I danced above the void

Dazzling myself with my daring

So delighted to be young

And strong, defying gravity. I posed,

One hip forward, like some

Model for a fashion shoot

On the Eiffel Tower, offering

Courage, my courage,

The bridge all gapped and gaping

And the river churning far below,

And me, in the dignity of youth,

The pride of me, here, now.

Me there, then, distant,

Laughing at fear, eyes on the far side,

Only the air below me.

This is for Lillian at dVerse who has asked us to write about bridges. Sort of.dVerse is a nice place to hang out. Check it out.