Back Story

So I made myself a seagull
dyed everything grey and white
glued sexless feathers to a Weetabix box
and circled the school carpark                                                           

bombing children with lip-shaped
sweets if I liked them
and smaller creatures’ eggs
if I didn’t                                                           

hovered by the gates studying
how girls in bunches became bananas
still green and hard
but not as hard as me                                                           

I was an unblinking seagull
always out of reach
I was the chip-stealer
the sky-klaxon                                                           

a squawk so loud
nobody would want
to hurt me
couldn’t if they tried                                                   

and I beat my wings
till the white vans and boys
in their bad uniforms
blew out out out to sea

by Helen Bowell

Happy World Poetry Day! It’s a busy week for the Poetry Centre and we invite you to join us for one (or both!) of the events we have coming up. Tomorrow (Tuesday) from 6-7pm online, the Oxford Brookes Poetry Showcase will gather together Brookes poets from undergraduate to PhD level to share a sample of their work. Join us to hear a wonderful range of writing. To register and receive the Zoom link, please visit this Zoom page.

Then on Friday from 7-8pm online, as part of the university’s Creative Industries Festival, we’ll be hosting a panel about independent poetry presses. We’ll be in conversation with three of the leading indie presses in the UK: Bad Betty Press, represented by Amy Acre; Out-Spoken Press (Anthony Anaxagorou); and Nine Arches Press, represented by Jane Commane. We’ll be discussing topics such as how presses select poets, editorial policy, funding models, markets and sales, and how we enable people from a broader range of backgrounds to get involved in publishing. To register to attend, visit this Zoom page.

‘Back Story’ is copyright © Helen Bowell, 2022, and is reprinted here from The Barman (Bad Betty Press, 2022) by permission of Bad Betty Press. You can read more about the pamphlet on the  press website.

Notes from Bad Betty Press:

Helen Bowell and The Barman form a relationship from which you won’t easily look away. This debut pamphlet is a sharp, witty exploration of the nuances of a sometimes reluctant co-dependency. At times it feels like you are the third housemate, unashamedly pressing your ear to the wall to hear conversations as intimate as they are absurd. Bowell deftly interrogates what it means to feel both othered and adored, comfortable and wary. The Barman is an introduction to a poetic voice unique in its ability to subtly express its desires, leaving enough room for the reader to find parts of themselves in the world it creates.

You can read more about The Barman and buy a copy on the Bad Betty website.

Helen Bowell is a poet, critic and producer based in London. She is a co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society, a live literature organisation which ‘resurrects’ women poets of the past. Helen is a Ledbury Poetry Critic and an alumna of The Writing Squad, Roundhouse Poetry Collective, London Writers Awards and London Library Emerging Writers Programme. Her work has appeared in MagmaThe NorthPoetry WalesAmbitharana poetry and elsewhere. Since 2017, she has worked at The Poetry Society.

You can read more about Helen’s work on her website, follow her on Twitter and watch her read from her work in this Creative Future Writers’ Award video.

Bad Betty Press is an independent publisher of new poetry, born in 2017 and run by Amy Acre and Jake Wild Hall. Our authors include Gboyega Odubanjo, Anja Konig, Charlotte Geater, Susannah Dickey, Tanatsei Gambura, Matthew Haigh, Kirsten Luckins and Tom Bland. Our books include PBS Pamphlet Choices, Poetry School Books of the Year, a Telegraph Poetry Book of the Month, Laurel Prize longlistees and BAMB Readers Award shortlistees. We’ve been thrice shortlisted for the Michael Marks Publishers Award, named The Book Hive’s Indie Publisher of the Month, and described by The Big Issue as ‘the epitome of bold independence’. Find out more about our books  here and follow Bad Betty on  Facebook,  Twitter 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.


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.