And suddenly the plagues
are the most interesting parts
of a city’s history.

1635 stands out as the year
Yersinia Pestis
 took another tithe
from Amsterdam’s population
and Doctor Tulp published his pharmacopoeia
to counter all the bad plague literature. 

Later, he made a Book of Monsters,
wherein blacksmith Jan de Doot
sharpened his knife
and cut out his own bladder stone. 

Tulp signed the fitness reports
for the first Manhattan settlers,
whose ancestors are still singing
Trip a Trap a Tronjes
(The father’s knee is a throne)
four hundred years on –
the old rhyme meaning as much
or as little
as Ring a Ring a Roses.

I imagine a hotel bed,
two plane seats,
empty, waiting.

A space in front of ‘Wheatfield with Crows’,
where he will be overwhelmed by beauty
in a way I am trying to understand
while I brim with dark blue connective ribbons
obscuring, or highlighting,
the place where the path
meets the horizon.

by Kate Fox

News from the Poetry Centre: tune in now to hear ignitionpress poet Belinda Zhawi imagine life as a southern African plains zebra in the Becoming Animal series on Radio 3’s The Essay programme. It’s available to listen to on the BBC website.

‘Pharmacopoeia’ is copyright © Kate Fox, 2021 and is reprinted here from The Oscillations (Nine Arches Press, 2021) by permission of Nine Arches Press. You can read more about the book on the Nine Arches website, and register for free to attend the book launch on Eventbrite (please sign up by 12pm on Thursday). If you can’t register in time, you can still watch the launch by visiting the Nine Arches YouTube channel from 7.30pm.

Notes from Nine Arches Press:

The poem ‘Pharmacopoeia’ begins poet Kate Fox’s distinctive new collection The Oscillations. The book explores distance and isolation in the age of the pandemic, refracted through the lenses of neurodiversity and trauma in poems that are bold, often frank and funny but also multifarious, dazzling and open-hearted in their self-discoveries. Fox’s poetry explores difference and community, silence and communication, danger and belonging – and a world that has been distinctly broken into a ‘before’ and ‘after’ by the pandemic. Throughout, a strong voice sings of what it means to be many things at once – autistic, creative, northern, a woman. Fox measures not only distances, social or otherwise, but how we breach them, and what the view might be from beyond them. 

Read more about the collection on the Nine Arches website, and register to attend the online launch on 25 February via Eventbrite (or tune into the Nine Arches YouTube channel from 7.30pm).

Kate Fox is a poet based in Northern England who has made two comedy series for Radio 4 and written and performed numerous broadcast poetry commissions as a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb and Radio 4’s Saturday Live. She won the Andrew Waterhouse Award for poetry from New Writing North in 2006. Her previous publications include We Are Not Stone (Ek Zuban, 2006), Fox Populi (Smokestack, 2013) and Chronotopia (Burning Eye Books, 2017). She completed a PhD in performance in 2017 from the University of Leeds, researching Northernness and comedy. She loves swimming outside, spaniels, Doctor Who and big skies. You can read more about Kate’s work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have published over ninety poetry publications. Read more about the press here and follow Nine Arches on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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.


Thanks be to the map-makers that they have devised
Signs, a whole system, intelligible to all comers
To denote what’s locally there. Leave the B road
At a level crossing, head north, enter a mixed wood

Catch hold of its stream and in less than a mile
You will emerge on a steepening slope. Outcrop
Scree, a small lake… Thank them for that
But more still for the space they let you into

Through every pictogram. Two hundred miles away
You can tell whether the church in question
Has a tower, a spire or neither, but not
Whether listening to the sermon you’d have been distracted

By mermaids and green men. Behind the sign
Into the vacancy, oh the inrush of presence
The holy particulars! The map-makers have represented
Some of the many incarnations of water

But not my drying your chilled feet in a handkerchief
Nor the licks of salt. Reading the map afterwards
Assures us of our hinterland, all we got by heart
Through our boot-soles from the braille of the terrain

And all that our fingers learned by digging in
And hauling up our bodyweight. There it is
Our route, very public, anyone can follow it
But only the walkers know it for a song-line

With undertones. Thanks be then to the makers
Of agreed markers, conventional signs
Among the current place names. In any company
I can say aloud, Yes, she is my friend.

by David Constantine  

Some news from the Centre: the Poetry Centre recently announced that pamphlets by three new poets will be published by our ignitionpress in the summer. The poets are: Katie Byford, Zein Sa’dedin, and Fathima Zahra, and you can find out more about them on our website. You can also read about – and buy! – the fourteen pamphlets we have previously published (including Isabelle Baafi’s Ripe, the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2021) on this page. 

‘Maps’ is © David Constantine, 2020 and is reprinted with permission from Belongings (Bloodaxe Books, 2020). Find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site, where you can read further sample poems. You can also watch David read from his collection.

Like the work of the European poets who have nourished him, David Constantine’s poetry is informed by a profoundly humane vision of the world. The title of his eleventh collection, Belongings, signals that these are poems concerned both with our possessions and with what possesses us. Among much else in the word belongings, the poems draw on a sense of our ‘co-ordinates’ – something like the eastings and northings that give a map-reference – how you might triangulate a life. You can read more about the collection and buy a copy on the Bloodaxe website.

David Constantine was born in 1944 in Salford, Lancashire. He is a freelance writer and translator, a Fellow of the Queen’s College, Oxford, and was co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2004 to 2013. He lives in Oxford and on Scilly. In December 2020 he was named winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2020. He will be presented with the award in 2021. 

He has published eleven books of poetry, five translations and a novel with Bloodaxe. His poetry titles include Something for the Ghosts (2002), which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award; Collected Poems (2004), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation; Nine Fathom Deep (2009); Elder (2014); and Belongings (2020). His Bloodaxe translations include editions of Henri Michaux and Philippe Jaccottet; his Selected Poems of Hölderlin, winner of the European Poetry Translation Prize, and his version of Hölderlin’s Sophocles, combined in his new expanded Hölderlin edition, Selected Poetry (2018); and his translation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Lighter Than Air, winner of the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation. His other books include A Living Language: Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures (2004), his translation of Goethe’s Faust in Penguin Classics (2005, 2009), his monograph Poetry (2013) in Oxford University Press’s series The Literary Agenda, and his co-translation (with Tom Kuhn) of The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht (W.W. Norton, 2018).

David has published six collections of short stories and won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2013 for his collection Tea at the Midland (Comma Press), the first English writer to win this prestigious international fiction award.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978 and has revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, our authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. And books like the Staying Alive series have broken new ground by opening up contemporary poetry to many thousands of new readers. Find out more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s website and follow the press on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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.