Read a selection of my political poems

The ballad of Lampedusa

a cold storm throws foam & stones

on the coast of Sicily

a grecale blows

nothing to hinder it

between here & the Peloponnese 

& I sit by a window translating 

a poem about people drowning

half-way to Africa

almost in Tunisia

in Lampedusa


geography is indeed a destiny

that waterless rock

those warm seas

the dead come ashore like drowned birds

halfway to Africa

in Lampedusa


the oil-black flotsam of my childhood

gannets & gulls clogged in crude

the rainbow slick under a summer sun

Europe is a prison not a fortress

we know it now

we who chose it

here on the old Greek shore

or halfway to Africa

in Lampedusa


an old storm tumbles us

onto a stony road

the dim light of a house

has no welcome

what language do they speak

what angry or timorous gods

by what secret or social code

do they greet poor strangers

halfway from Africa

in Lampedusa


I met a man from Senegal

he came the good way he said

don’t they all

he sold small animals of wood

& the toys of another world

in which children play with things

our children throw away

& he did calculus

on a table napkin

to prove he had a right to be

halfway from Africa

almost in Europe

in Lampedusa


dear friends our hearts are cold

two hundred years of the Rights of Man

what once was Europe

broke on the Bundesbank

& this storm breaks

on Etna’s ancient lava

it must be cold in Greece now

this wind falling from the white head

of Olympus

chills our old future

everything is different today

no more dreams of Arcady

we are so far from Africa

from Lampedusa


From The Yellow House (2017)

Via Antonio Gramsci



a bright line beyond black sea

there are bad days too 

on the Levantine Riviera

on Via Antonio Gramsci

dry lightning beyond Punta Chiappa

the boats have their nets out

what fish come to them?


the poet lord was happy on that point

there is a pleasure in the pathless woods

& another in the lonesome shore

oh Byron what a lad

when he was in digs

with Count Suchandsuch

this is before the Russians came

the oligarchs

but essentially the same

in the feudal heat

I love not man the less


up behind us at Saint Prospero 

it is vespers

above the bent heads of the monks

furies whirl in the dust


& someone singing Bandiera Rossa

sotto voce



over in Predappio

in the Romagna

they say someone wants 

to build a museum 

to fascism

as if it were over

asccoltate o popolo ignorante


my father was a fascist

when he was young & ignorant

& went to prison for it

met a communist there

& never went back

though his family didn’t approve

of his conversion to the light

it’s people like me

he used to say

who made all that happen

ordinary people who didn’t understand

who built the tanks

who built the planes

who built the camps

who built the gas chambers

& filled the graves

that Hitler made


but this is Ireland I’m talking about

& we had our fascists too

our petit-Mussolini

& we had Hobson’s choice

vote for the Blueshirts

or vote vote vote for De Valera


also Mother Ireland

giving birth

time after time to the old dead

the undead & the unborn

Lazarus springing forth 

every fourth year

with increasing tedium

it’s called public service


though why we should say Mother

& all that family of metaphor

when it is uniformly men 

who fucked us up

likewise the old sow

as Joyce would have it

eating her farrow

Ireland is more Kavanagh’s Maguire

pissing in his yard

not Connie Markiewicz

or Mary MacSwiney

all that ignorant goodwill

& nightly arguments

might have been better

because of course Willie

got it wrong

he always did


history is not a gyre to perne in

or a gentleman poet

but an unpleasant relative 

always in the bathroom

trying not to be noisy

waiting for a good moment 

to cough & flush

& come out 

with unwashed hands

as Spaziani says we all have 

a peasant grandfather

a suitcase in the attic 

tied with rough white string

I come of peasant stock





in London I see ghosts

Uncle JJ out of uniform

his navy kitbag on his shoulder

in Cable Street

& the London underground

but also old Tom Elliot 

pursing his lips

at the great unwashed 

crossing London Bridge

unreal city 

& Dante astray 

in rush hour

asking a policeman

the way to Baker Street

the curse of a Christian 

Brothers education


better Paddy Kavanagh 

in Bayswater

watching the fiddlers

dreaming of home

or my aunt walking to her digs

from St Thomas’

in her nursing cape & titfer


better my sons 

freewheeling after midnight 

down Tottenham Court Road

or watching the bankers 

waving fifties

at the G20

face to face with the police cordon

& the simple structural 

violence of the state


& from the shadows

of the money towers

over St Catherine’s Dock

a child waves



the bailiff stalks the land again

the hammer & the ram

the knock on the door at four am

& the knock on the roof

& we are unprepared

to take our third class ticket

to the nineteenth century

where are you now Antonio Gramsci

when we need your like againiv


in the pizzeria this evening

we were the only customers 

not members of a building gang

it was very civilised

but where did they come from

their dialects like the susurrus 

of swallows’ wings in the early morning

we hear them

strafing the garden 

for late-returning mosquitoes

& someone singing Bandiera Rossa

sotto voce


this is our new beginning

between the mountains & the sea

oh such a mighty cap of cloud

from Genova La Superba

to Connemara

all Europe under its shadow

I see the flashing madness & later 

I hear the great shaking & rolling

gunfire over the sea

where are you now Antonio Gramsci

when we have need of your like

& someone singing Bandiera Rossa

sotto voce


no one lives in Via Antonio Gramsci

the way lies between two blank walls

traces of old windows & doors

the dirty little beach at one end

the Imperial Hotel at the other

all bougainvillea & trompe l’oeil

& someone singing Bandiera Rossa

sotto voce


we miss the sense of journey

the pleasure of knowing

departures & destinations

the certainty of the struggle

we still have the courage of the fight

but we lack the words to fight with

oh Antonio Gramsci send us

a thousand new words like redshirts 

to storm the island of our days

& this time no surrender

a thousand mad bastards 

to make a new real

& someone singing Bandiera Rossa

sotto voce


From The Yellow House (2017)

Ghost Estate

women inherit

the ghost estate

their unborn children

play invisible games

of hide & seek

in the scaffold frames

if you lived here

you’d be home by now


they fear winter

& the missing lights

on the unmade road

& who they will get

for neighbours

if anyone comes anymore

if you lived here

you’d be home by now


the saurian cranes

& concrete mixers

the rain greying into

the hard-core

& the wind

in the empty windows

if you lived here

you’d be home by now


the heart is open plan

wired for alarm

but we never thought

we’d end like this

the whole country

a builder’s tip

if you lived here

you’d be home by now


it’s all over now

but to fill in the holes

nowhere to go

& out on the edge

where the boys drive

too fast for the road

that old sign says

first phase sold out


From Ghost Estate (2011)

Job in Heathrow


with the frightened crowd 

for whom every new alarum

is an authority

queuing in drifts

between levels

the so-called waiting lounges

of the so-called world


the word is out

there are bombs

in the whiskey

no carry on

this is the last straw


& nervous people

& nervous men in stab vests

& nervous men in puffa jackets

& no smoking signs

& this is a silent airport

you pay the man

& you wait for a sign

there the prisoners rest together

the small & great are there

studying departures

in a state of heightened alert

code somewhere close to titian


a man holds his woman in his arms

& another watches the door expectantly

& the enemy comes on his own feet to his grave

we are a trifle unsettled

we think about sodoku & the crossword

as though minding minutiae

the universe will look after itself

this is the world as it is habibi

it’s all we know

try to step off 

& the man will bring you down



master I cried

who are these bastards

do we have any idea who these people are

willowy women in Gucci shoes

men in silk leather jackets

they circulate freely

in the recycled air

must we do homage

or will a simple nod be enough

a greeting ex gratia

do they expect to be questioned

to assist enquiries


water-boarding even

look here comes one crying

hopeless hopeless  hopeless

& are we supposed to sympathise

when the gentry find themselves in the same boat

or plane

as everyone else

or at least in the same lounge

love brought her down she says

according to her biography

it was a chance encounter at a drug-fuelled orgy

in somebody somebody’s motor yacht

the coke blew her away

blew her brains away

& opened her legs

& wore her sinovial membrane down

it all sounds a little hollow now

with the end of the world upon us

& bombs in the whiskey

love love love she says

so much for all you need is love



they come & go like cranes

restless creatures look

& their pale limbs against the azure sky


I see myself in you

a sly oriental craft

sails on the water


& are we supposed to sympathise

& who are these people



there in the upper circle

the automatic doors

are automatic from the outside only


we see them as it were through a tinted glass

wringing their hands

begging admission


these troublesome ghosts

what was it Marx said in the famous opening

something haunting


a man had his left hand chopped off

for with it he slew his master

& he begged a pipe of tobacco


& then he died

the ultimate manumission

in those days they knew their place


he was a slave & his place of execution

is here

upon this fatal shore or landing


at least Virginia apologised

they come & go like cranes

restless creatures look


& they make their homes in marsh & useless ground

& leave when they can

those Turks Hector & Heraclites 


& Euclid the Egyptian

Pythagoras the fundamentalist

& all the gang


Avicenna the metaphysician

thinking about his credentials

they don’t let Uzbekistanis operate on Christians


even in Hell

someone is tuning up

old Ali Farka Touré on the air guitar


a session

come on boys

when did you make a run for it


no running here

cancer of the bones

death comes like ice


the heart of the moon

where you come from they get that

on a bad day as I remember







& somebody says the loo is blocked

dear god

what will they think of next

they’ve closed off the last line of escape

another safety valve

what will become of us


my father gave me Marcus Aurelius

on the last day of my holidays

& the old emperor stood me in good stead you know

communing with himself


at Gallipoli

we ran our ship ashore into the sand

we saw tesseræ in the parados

& I said to my sub I said


six or seven thousand years of this

& here we are again attacking the Turks

will it never end

meaning we the philhellenes


& that idiot Bean

is that a light I see on Tenedos

I’m dying for a smoke dear boy

& I’m too old for this


a decent education makes it all worthwhile

knowing what we know et cetera

this one is a beauty

see how he walks


don’t you love an Arab

oh the Sheik of Araby

if I don’t take a leak 

I shall leak


& my sub said to me

an ignorant child

it’s all this Allah business sir

that gets to me







that girl bled to death

a million tiny wounds

& everyone said how well she looked

jammed against the partition

her pants still around her knees

a note of caution

peace accursed woolf

or words to that effect

they would not give her the last rites

the blacksuit serpents

mal dare e mal tener

they look after their own

but she is a beauty no mistake

they eat each other

round & round they go

her state is blessed

out of this world at least

poor child

they direct the almighty guns

against self-harmers

she was my daughter

your daughter too







the guards wear sunglasses

a society of spectacles as the man said

like the dark ground of a cameo

except in reverse

their faces are blanked by their eyes

if someone farts we’re dead

see their trigger fingers

& the somnolent insouciance 

of the human face

if we had an air force

we would send you bombers


for I do not know whose voice is crying

when I cry

never look back at the border

the furies follow behind

never poke fire with a knife

never piss into the sun

abstain from beans

these few precepts mark you well

what of the isles of the blest

not for us my son

not our kind


they look at us

& we look at them

there’s bush that vicious mole

another non-statement

of what he thinks

another good one about axes

or the coalition of the willing

not the coerced

do we have to have TV everywhere

fly sky news news sky fly

o for a universal remote


please note the automatic doors

are no longer automatic

access to the open areas is restricted

arrivals is closed

all unattended baggage will be destroyed

nervous people

will be arrested

please note

the contrapuntal strains

of childhood & exile

we are all strangers in one sense or another

depending on each other





our children are hungry

they look up

& are not fed

not even a complimentary coke

the cost of living

higher than expected

year on year increases

sometimes out of reach

never easy to make ends meet

but what can you do

the grey wolf

walks the steppes of the heart

every father

every mother

knows the sound of his passing

his fierce eyes

but one day you must let go

you just let go



From Ghost Estate (2011)

The revolution will come

but not here

heads will roll

but not on my watch

and there will be noise

and there will be lamentations

and there will be a better world

and everyone will know

that the bastards got what’s coming

even if new bastards come

they will be our new bastards

and not the old bastards who kept their boots

upon our necks and smiled and smiled

and the air will be cleaner 

and the sewers will run red with blood

so much the sea will darken

the whole island surrounded

by the colour of sunset

on a way of life that was not ours anyway

and above all

there will be singing

the invention of entirely new ways 

of being together and apart

and new ways of remembering

but not here


From The Yellow House (2017)

The great chorus of individualism



in our suburban trailer parks

our caravanserai of permanent buildings

& outhouses & public houses

our fixtures & fittings

our rooted & fortified impermanency

our pastel shades & other troublesome shades

our futures & our children’s futures

& our contracts for difference

our tremulous faith in reserve

our twenty four carat bankruptures

our infantile amnesia






the individuals not The People

that troublesome spectre

we the herd but not the crowd

teamwork but not solidarity

moving forward without movements

DIY tycoons & shareholders & placeholders

endlessly repeating the static of our stasis

on talk shows & dumb shows & no-shows

as if it were an ontological proof

that we





in our profound & articulate silence

our chattering night & day classes 

& self improvement & self-storage

& our classless societies & private clubs

our spirituality & our charity & our philanthropy

& our coffee mornings

& our bourgeois insensibilities

our givings & our takings & our float

our annual general morality 

our accountancy

our Christian ledger & legerdemain

our feel-good factors & motor factors

& our conscientious subjections

& our social unconsciousness



we don’t 

we don’t give a shit

oh we just don’t go there

you know?

we just don’t



From The Yellow House (2017) 


for Rui Zink


I missed the flight

because of the terror alert

that has terrified everyone


I had some liquid in my pocket

that they thought 

might be explosive


just the artificial tears

I have begun to use

because they come easier


& less painfully

& while I waited for my tears

to be decommissioned


the other passengers said

who would think of taking

tears on a journey


during the war on terror

& where did I think I was going

& who would I use them on



From Ghost Estate (2011)

We imagine the police

We imagine the police

‘In the dark times, will there also be singing?

Yes, there will be singing

About the dark times.’

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Motto to the ‘Svendborg Poems’



we imagine the police

cameras catching other people

doing things that irritate us

in their cars

this is the police state

of mind

& we are sensible citizens

of the commonsense

as we shop in the late evening

in the supermarket

that never closes

not even for God

& we try to remember what we want

& we try to buy only what we need

& desire keeps getting in the way

we genuflect

before other people’s shopping

in aisles sacred

to the memory of home

cooking & detergent

& the kind of things your mother baked

& as we are occasionally electrocuted

by the metal

we begin to believe

that bread belongs to today

that there are different qualities of white

that there are no preservatives

that the meat

is prime

& the supermarket cares for us

& that every little helps

it is chip & pin

in the late evening

under the watchful eyes

we imagine

people using our cards

to buy things we would never buy

in places we have never been

on a day or days

without our express


this is the police state

of mind

as we drive home in the night

with a car full of things

we scarcely believe are real

our past haunted by

kitchen paper rolls

cans of asparagus tips

stick & click LED lights

mosquito candles in case

we get global warming soon

disposable barbecues

fruit psychosis

& probiotic yoghurt

& canned salmonella

& thawing petits-pois

& lawn weed ‘n’ feed

& a nest box

& a special kind of notepaper

that has forget-me-nots

& a memory stick

& a device for opening

reluctant cardboard cartons

& a fold up tent

for when we fold our tent

& a wallet-full of promises

that there will still be shopping

no matter how dark the time


From Ghost Estate (2011)