Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 19 June 2019

  • Rise

    the job grinds people down
    until they feel like bits of dust,
    the job they have to keep hold of
    like a dying sparrow in their hands
    grinds people down

    all of the hours spent dipping their shoulder
    and charging at the sun
    carrying this dying little sparrow
    in their hands
    has made them feel bone-tired,
    they are exhausted
    and close to giving up

    the dying little sparrow has almost killed them,
    the bills the CCJ’s
    the rent arrears utility bills dentist bills internet payments
    food roof beer shoes shirts, all of it,
    has almost killed the very centre of them

    the fear of losing everything
    has made them supple enough
    to accept
    almost anything

    but only almost
    because the holding of hands with a woman under a blood-red sun
    and the wine that drips down from rib to rib
    to form puddles in the gut
    and the music
    that lifts sparrows up
    back onto their feet,

    makes them want to rise, burst out of hands,
    head towards the sun, sit
    on wires tin roofs chimney pipes
    to sing sing sing
    about that unconquerable little bit of them,
    how that will never die
    like a little sparrow in a pair of hands
    however tightly they squeeze it

    by Martin Hayes 

    The Poetry Centre has recently launched its International Poetry Competition for 2019! This year we are delighted to say that our judge is the internationally-acclaimed writer Jackie Kay! There are two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language, and the winners in each category receive £1000. The competition is open until 2 September, and full details can be found

    Finally, don’t forget about the final few events in our academic year: firstly, there’s our final reading in the current series on Wednesday 26 June at Waterstones in Oxford, which features Ilya Kaminsky and Shara Lessley. Ilya has been receiving extraordinary acclaim in the US and UK for his latest book, Deaf Republic, and Shara’s collection, The Explosive Expert’s Wife, has received enthusiastic reviews and award nominations. Spaces for this event are full, but you could add your name to the waiting list here. Then join us and an international group of poets and critics for ‘Our Poetry and Our Needs’, a symposium at the University of Reading on Tuesday 9 July. More details here. Finally, we’re launching three new ignitionpress pamphlets by Jennifer Lee Tsai, Joanna Ingham, and Sarah Shapiro on 22 and 23 July. More information here!

    ‘Rise’ is copyright © Martin Hayes, 2018. It is reprinted from Roar! (Smokestack Books, 2018) by permission of Smokestack Books.

    Notes from Smokestack Books:

    Martin Hayes’s new collection is a roar of frustrated rage and pain at the way we live and work in the twenty-first century. It’s a book about 11-hour shifts, sick-days, lay-offs, computer systems crashing and the joy of Friday afternoons. Dermot, Stacey, Shaq, Big Bri, Dexter the old-timer, Antoine, Mohammed, Jim the Letch and Harry the head supervisor work for Phoenix Express couriers, located somewhere ‘between Stockholm Street and Syndrome Way’, making money for other people and trying to make themselves heard above the roar of an economic system that ‘has us in its mouth and is shaking us about in its teeth’. Find out more about the collection on the Smokestack website.

    Smokestack is an independent publisher of radical and unconventional poetry run by Andy Croft. Smokestack aims to keep open a space for what is left of the English radical poetic tradition in the twenty-first century. Smokestack champions poets who are unfashionable, radical, left-field and working a long way from the metropolitan centres of cultural authority. Smokestack is interested in the World as well as the Word; believes that poetry is a part of and not apart from society; argues that if poetry does not belong to everyone it is not poetry. Smokestack's list includes books by John Berger, Michael Rosen, Katrina Porteous, Ian McMillan, Steve Ely, Bertolt Brecht (Germany), Gustavo Pereira (Venezuela), Heinrich Heine (Germany), Andras Mezei (Hungary), Yiannis Ritsos (Greece) and Victor Jara (Chile). David Cain's Truth Street, an epic-poem that is part oral history and part documentary theatre, draws on eye-witness testimonies of the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2019. You can find Smokestack on Facebook and on Twitter.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.