Poetry Centre

Episode 1: Tolstoy at Astapovo Station

  • I

    A graphite line, impulsive
    as fever, flees down tracks
    of iron. Six hundred miles to slice
    through winter: the distance

    of escape. His breath clatters hard,
    rhythmic: inhale – exhale. Blood-soaked
    lungs suck hot soot in the third-class
    carriage; cradled by peasants’

    murmurings and the schisms of children.
    For the love of God on Earth, just one breath
    without a wife, no matter how brief.

    Lights in the night.


    The iron frame of a borrowed bed
    under a birch-pale roof; stout walls red as
    revolution. Kerosene dark. His hand scrawls
    across the diary; empty across the sheets,

    writing his private pencil line: its grey thread
    spools through telegraph wires to all Russia.
    He can’t go unnoticed. Acolytes and enemies gather
    in the woods. In his veins, camphor and morphine.

    In the frowning candle-light, his wife,
    her love tight as a snare, counts
    his battered breath: inspire – expire.
    Forbidden masses sing a forbidden mass.


    A graphite line on the stationmaster’s wall
    traces bedstead, forehead, beard,
    clasped hands. A writer’s outline, empty
    above as below, floats on ochre posies.

    by Claire Cox
  • This is the first in a series of podcasts with local authors. Each poet reads one of their poems and then discusses the work with Niall Munro.

    The theme music for the podcast, entitled ‘Leaving for the North’, was composed by Aneurin Rees, and played by Aneurin Rees (guitar) and Rosalie Tribe (violin).

    Having completed an undergraduate course in Music and English at Oxford Brookes, Aneurin Rees is moving on to postgraduate studies in modernist literature and culture at York this autumn. His first singer-songwriter album, available in June, draws upon a broad selection of musical and poetical influences, driven by a passion for both art forms. Alongside composing and studying literature, Aneurin enjoys acting, and writing poetry and prose, with a strong belief that influence comes from every direction. He is always looking for opportunities to write soundtracks and work with other artists. For more information on current projects or to contact Aneurin, visit www.aneurinrees.com.

    Claire Cox has been writing poetry for several years and is a member of MsCellaneous, a women's poetry group based in Oxford. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Brookes, and was recently awarded second prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly (online) magazine poetry competition judged by Miles Cain.

    ‘Tolstoy at Astapovo Station’, the poem which Claire reads and discusses here, was awarded first prize in the 2011 Barnet Arts Council Open Poetry Competition, judged by the poet Christopher North.