The morning after my fortieth birthday, I met
a bright arc of water. It was thirty feet high. 

The source: a cracked pipe under the road,
the point of emergence flanked by barriers. 

Our gleaming street was shut.
I couldn’t help it—I had to bounce.
It was pure force, that singing curve,
racing up regardless, liquid stamping down. 

It was the best guest: late, theatric,
one I never thought could arrive 

at anyone’s party. Happy Spurt Day, John!
What more could I have needed 

in that moment, I who didn’t know there was
such thirst in my life till that maverick 

showed up and scotched it, till surprise
watered my defiant grey hairs? 

by John McCullough

The Poetry Centre has launched the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition for 2021! Our judge this year is the fantastic poet Will Harris, and as usual there are two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. Winners in each category receive £1000 and runners-up, £200. For more details and to enter, please visit our website.

‘Jet’ is copyright © John McCullough, 2021, and is reprinted here from Ten Poems about Getting Older (Candlestick Press, 2021) by permission of Candlestick. You can read more about the collection and buy a copy on the Candlestick website.

Notes from Candlestick Press:

Being old isn’t what it used to be. Sixty is the new forty. The world is full of expressions designed to make us feel better about the inevitable passing of the years. This fascinating mini-anthology of poems selected by John McCullough looks in both directions; backwards to heydays of young love and time deliciously misspent, and forwards to the perils and thrills of middle age and beyond. It includes poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Rita Dove, Mark Granier, John McCullough, Frank O’Hara, Alasdair Paterson, Elvire Roberts, Judith Shaw and Jackie Wills. Find out more about the pamphlet on the Candlestick website.

John McCullough is a poet and poetry tutor living in Hove. His third collection Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins, 2019) was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature. His two previous collections are The Frost Fairs (Salt, 2011) and Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016). You can read more about John’s work on his website and follow him on Twitter.

Candlestick Press is a small, independent press publishing sumptuously produced poetry pamphlets that serve as a wonderful alternative to a greetings card, with matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message. Their subjects include Clouds, Walking, Birds, Home and Kindness. Candlestick Press pamphlets are stocked by chain and independent bookshops, galleries and garden centres nationwide and available to order online. In 2019 Candlestick sold over 100,000 pamphlets, supporting its nominated charities with donations equivalent to around 49% of pre-tax net profit. Since 2008 nearly 600,000 pamphlets have been sold, which means that some six million poems have been read via its publications.

Find out more about the press on the Candlestick website and follow 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.

Some Days I’m Visited by a Church of Rain

The building wanders around the sky
then falls on top of me. Clouds are its ceiling,

droplets the choir. Inside, stones
achieve the ardent shades of stained glass.

Jagged pines melt and glitter. The broken air
remembers and I listen in the steam and hiss

of psalms for voices I have lost. I dream of striding
down the pavements’ dazzling aisles for years.

Then I meet the clean smell left behind, recall
how only through forgetting can the church arrive,

and I come back to my small garden,
its chalky earth young, forgiven.

by John McCullough

Acclaimed poet and teacher Tamar Yoseloff will be visiting Oxford to lead a ‪poetry writing workshop entitled ‘The Space of the Poem’ on Saturday 22 October. Inspired by the exhibition by Pan Gongkai running at Brookes’ Glass Tank, we will look at examples of Chinese painting, concrete poetry and text-based sculpture as a way of generating new poems – participants will be encouraged to share their first drafts during the session. You can read more about the workshop on the Brookes website, where you can also book your place (please note that those places are limited and there are only a few left!). There is a reduced price for Brookes students and staff.

‘Some Days I’m Visited by a Church of Rain’ is copyright © John McCullough, 2016. It is reprinted from Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016) by permission of Penned in the Margins.

Notes from Penned in the Margins:

Spacecraft navigates the white space of the page and the distance between people. Margins, edges and coastlines abound in John McCullough’s tender, humorous explorations of contemporary life and love. Encompassing everything from lichen to lava lamps, and from the etymology of words to Brighton’s gay scene, Spacecraft is a humane and spellbinding collection from the winner of the 2012 Polari First Book Prize. You can read more about the collection and hear John McCullough discuss the book and read from it on the Penned in the Margins website.

John McCullough’s first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs, won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012. It was a Book of the Year for The Independent and The Poetry School, and a summer read for The Observer. He teaches creative writing at the Open University and New Writing South, and lives in Hove, East Sussex. You can find out more about his work on his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Penned in the Margins creates publications and performances for people who are not afraid to take risks. The company believes in the power of language to challenge how we think, test new ideas and explore alternative stories. It operates across the arts, collaborating with writers, artists and creative partners using new platforms and technologies. Read more about its work on its website. You can also follow Penned in the Margins on Twitter and on Facebook.

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.