mawddach estuary is a glittermouth.
sand breaches both land and sea, half-waves.
coming from two islands supposedly in enmity, i relate.
javanese keep our knives at our backs,
sumatrans at our fronts; is middle ground
a chest prepared for both to pierce.
is seawater planetary blood overflowing. 

would make sense then, what they say will happen,
water’s haemorrhage into habitation. the threatened bajau
have had us all beat, as ocean-based peoples.
i close my eyes and imagine a bajau boy
who knows how to hold his breath until
the body quietly demands inhalation, who could survive
floods, heat, and isolation in white spaces
simply by going for the swims that are birthright,
each gulf a bay of earth-wound spilling welkin-tint
blood, a harbour in which to grieve and return.

by Khairani Barokka

News from the Centre: we’re delighted to say that tomorrow (Tuesday 20 April), this week’s poet, Khairani Barokka, will be giving a talk (via Zoom) at an English and Modern Languages Research Seminar at Oxford Brookes. Her talk is entitled ‘What We Owe the Dead: Multisensorial Materialities, Poem-Ethics, and Digital Surveillance’. The event is free for anyone to attend, and if you’d like the full Zoom details, visit the Poetry Centre Twitter account or contact Niall Munro (

The latest Poetry Centre podcast is now live! Poet celeste doaks talks about her wonderful chapbook American Herstory (Backbone Press, 2019), which explores Michelle Obama’s time in the White House and her choice of artwork for the White House walls! Listen via our website or via the usual podcast providers. 

‘barmouth’ is copyright © Khairani Barokka, 2021 and is reprinted here from Ultimatum Orangutan (Nine Arches Press, 2021) by permission of Nine Arches Press. You can watch Khairani Barokka read poems from her collection on the Nine Arches YouTube channel, where you can also find a recording of the launch of her new collection.

Notes from Khairani Barokka and Nine Arches Press:

In the poem, Bajau refers to sea-oriented peoples in Southeast Asia. As with other sea-based indigenous communities, their way of life is continually threatened by environmentally and socially destructive processes.

Khairani Barokka’s second poetry collection, Ultimatum Orangutan, is an intricate exploration of colonialism and environmental injustice: her acute, interlaced language draws clear connections between colonial exploitation of fellow humans, landscapes, animals, and ecosystems. Amidst the horrifying damage that has resulted for peoples as interlinked with places, there is firm resistance. Resonant and deeply attentive, the lyricism of these poems is juxtaposed with the traumatic circumstances from which they emerge. Through these defiant, potent verses, the body—particularly the disabled body—is centred as an ecosystem in its own right. Barokka’s poems are every bit as alarming, urgent and luminous as is necessary in the age of climate catastrophe as outgrowth of colonial violence. 

You can watch Khairani Barokka read poems from her collection on the Nine Arches YouTube channel, where you can also find a recording of the launch of her new collection.

Khairani Barokka is a writer and artist from Jakarta, based in London. Her work has been presented widely, in over 15 countries, and work from her Annah, Infinite series of performance installations has been an Artforum Must-See. Among Okka’s honours, she was a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change, an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow, and Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-in-Residence. She is currently Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing and Research Fellow at UAL’s Decolonising Arts Institute. Okka’s books include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis; Vietnamese translation, AJAR Press) and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (as co-editor; Nine Arches), and debut collection Rope (Nine Arches). Find out more about Okka’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 one hundred 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.