Selected Poems

These poems were selected by poet Caroline Bird to be read at a special gala event on Thursday 5 October.

You can watch the event online here.

Selected poems — adult

A family who nobody knew moved into the house
with no windows and a hole in the roof.

They had hay to sleep on and collected sticks
for a fire in the middle of the room. A refuge

together. They laid the table on the terrace
with cutlery and plates they found in the cupboard

and sat down to lunch on nothing. They’d clink
the glasses and shout Chin Chin but had no wine.

They banged their spoons and knives on the plates
talked loudly of food they liked. When war started

they upped and left and the stones of the house
were lifted to repair damage in others.

when there are no more bruises
or slaps to be borne
the women gather like messages
behind locked doors

tucked in their shoes for remembrance
they float like doves across their yards
wearing their herringbone cloaks

where are they going
away from husbands for sure
away from the graves of mothers
the laws of fathers
the stink of milk & carcass
it was all bull calves and billies this year

it will be different
in another place
where earth smells sweet as sawdust
and no more blood in the lines of their hands

who sees them now
blown by their own shadows
over hayricks and pastures
numerous as starlings
unpenitent as raptors


How now we think of hallways
          that shape our lives with longing —
Their passage calls with polished floors
          and echo walls and stairwell ends
          as stars to rise
And life is in their ceilings
          as lights switched on are heavens
Because wandering through as if by quiet’s dust
          floats unknowing
          with windows reached
          like spirit’s whim
          or hollows
And how the doors where narrows end
          give then to us
And we begin to feel a leading edge
          of startings
          all within
What may display along the way
          With tacks or nails or beveled mirrors
          So be it
          And shoes for scuff —
          The years that learn
          Are waiting
As plaster peels and wires reveal
Along this painted way of being
Vast in view the echoes speed —
This home this hall this long enough
          that calls us

Krople żołądkowe n. Polish (stomach bitters, English)

Krople żołądkowe help for all kinds of pains —
they can release the tightest stomach knots,
pungent, burning your insides.
Mom always told me to have them with sugar,
but healing hurts, so I had them on their own.

Nobody ever tested their effectiveness,
yet we’re all certain that they do work – always.

Krople żołądkowe have serious side effects —
healing bodies, but destroying souls.
They leave unwashable stains,
smelling of Polish meadows, fresh cut daisies
like dandelion seeds carried by the wind,
irritating nostrils.

Physical pain comes out as sneezes and tears,
so it’s good to have them with sugar,
sweeten the taste of longing.

Krople żołądkowe leave stains
in the shape of the time that’s passed.

There is always a place for them
because Mercy and Love allowed
them to have a place for them.
Because they are not a “them” for Them,
they are simply Us for Them.

“They are Us, from inside out”,
gods whisper in the morning.

They are Their dreams, Their desires,
little islands made of forgotten golds,
pure gods forgotten of themselves.
They find their places graciously,
supported by Grace, their friend.

We are them, from outside in”,
the gods sings when they are asleep.

That saltiness in the air, traces of iodine,
ozone, rotting kelp. Today the sea is roaring,
offshore winds rip sailboats across the bay.
Wetsuited surfers find their adrenaline fix
in ten foot walls of water which break
into chantilly cream, dump them and split
their boards if they miss the right time,
the sweet spot on the wave.

Yachts and trawlers head for land –
in the storm they’d sink like doughnuts
dropped in a fryer. Within the harbour
even dinghies are secure. When seagulls
can be heard again above gentle wash
on shingle, the boats will set out.

after Ruth Stone

My life began in a quiet village
a river running through brimmed
with marigolds and trout, warm smell
of scones from my mother’s kitchen,
Dad’s beds of antirrhinums and lupins
planted in military rows. A garden
grown during his rare visits home.
He was married before
but barely spoke of this until after
his third glass when he fell hard
and stripped of all medals.
My life has always tasted of juniper berries.
When he didn’t come to my wedding
I drove away, washed my hands of the river,
evening air smudged with gin.
I found a new life on a fell side, built a hearth
and turned the earth like Dad taught me.
There was safety in foxes and buzzards
hunting crags, comfort in frosty nights, breezes
soft as my mother’s voice in damson trees,
the splintering sound of a beck
I’ll never shake free.

I recently learnt that I can melt cheese under my oven grill.
I lived here three years with butter and jam on my crumpets.
Now, I watch cheddar and mozzarella bubble and spread
across fruit bread, teacakes, pancakes, whatever will take it.

I have my very own place – rented, yes, a shoebox in a stack
of shoeboxes in the middle of a city – but I have grilled cheese.
I have a washing machine that leaks, but washes my clothes:
the suit I bought when I realised I just could, my plaid shirts.

I have an exercise bike. I don’t report to anyone, just turn on
the radio, gulp water, cycle my legs and dance in my head.
I have my fairy lights, my cheap little blue lamp by my bed.
I have a fridge of soy milk and raspberries and dark chocolate.

I kiss the walls whenever I move in somewhere, and whenever
I leave, but that doesn’t seem enough this time, here. All night,
cars whir like the sea, up and down our hill. Trams honk like geese.
I trace the perpetual light behind the blinds, and I know I exist.

The woman with a camera
has left, but not before
pointing to three seals
lounging on stone, which
she’d mistaken for rocky
coastline. Pewter blue sky,
thin cirrus and grey cumulus
tangle above a mountain
ridge, criss-crossing sheep
tracks, single-lane roads, conifers.
Terns angle and swoop,
calling in skittered halloos.
A heron floats past, a cruise
ship gaining speed. The tide
is coming in—high tide in
an hour, and the seals are
porpoising, playing, blowing
their snouts like laughter.

The three seals dip below
the tideline, sun-warmed
coats fizzing as they slide
into shivering random waves.

Refuge was the school library 

at breaktime with Claire from maths. For a while I felt safe from my house, where the walls creaked in time with doors that slammed.   A teacher said choose a book and hold it tight, close your eyes, count to ten and a room will appear with everything you love. In my room there was a ginger cat, asleep by a window that framed the sea. In the corner was a ballerina turning and turning in a jewellery box and I could hear gulls call to each other, as if they knew my name. Years later when I visit my room there is a photograph of Claire, the one they used in the newspapers. I hope my gulls call to her wherever she is    

hope they bring her home.

let me step into the rinsed light
and listen
let the travelogue of migrating geese
carry me away

let the wind bend my ear
for there is so much more to not understand
let distant traffic
unravel into bee-song

let it be a day not marked
on the calendar
a day slipped through the back door
to chase its tail

let the sun show up the dust
on the windowsill
so thick you could write your name in it
let us write our names in it

let it be a day to plant trees
a day to bury hindsight
let it be a day to write letters
that won’t get posted

let it be a day the otters return
for the river to learn a new song
let the heron consider itself
starling smoke twist and curl in the dusk

let me come home
the world’s ear-worm on my brain
weather in my blood
let the look we exchange say it all

My friend, your Czechs ask me
If I have a new poem.

I live with a passport of the country
Where the rockets start,
In the country,
Where the rockets rain down.

Belarusan is the second most hated passport
Across the territory of Ukraine.

I do plan to live here.

So I’d better go and weave the nets,
Experience in writing syllabotonic verses really helps with it.
It is important to keep the rhythm, you know.

Meet you someday at Czech hospoda* “U Kotvy”,
In which we sing Banderite songs with Sashko from Ukraine, right now in the Snovsk siege

I see you grin, it’s hard to imagine these songs in such a place. Many things are hard to imagine, so we grin a lot here too.

Good, that you don’t drink, they serve not the best beer.
Good, that you are not here.
The end of the Good. The end of the message.

03.03.2022, Lviv


*hospoda – a typical Czech pub

translated by Ales Plotka and Corinne Leech

Selected poems — schools

A sad little boy
trying to find shelter
with a dog in his arms
and a long black coat.

So scared and lonely,
the rain starts pouring —
his tears start falling.

He looks up at a
building, wipes his tears
away, He can’t remove
his gaze from a family
playing a board game.

An image of utter
happiness: it gives him
back his strength.
Now he starts for
the big, long journey…

In a world full of lust and horror,

In an agonizing and patriarchal society,

In the Devil’s sick ‘n’ twisted mind,

You were there.

You wiped my tears when the wind slit my eyes,

You held me close when my mother crashed,

Your gentle touch healed my suffering soul,

And you’re what I call ‘home’.

As our hands interwine and the sun is slowly starting to rest,

I look into your eyes and see the heavenly brown trees interlocking with the viridescent grass,

I look at your ravishing dimple smile and chuckle softly,

I run my hand through your silky brown hair, wondering how did I get this lucky.

There’s no other place in this world that makes me feel the way you do.

Your arms are like fences, protecting me from the evil,

Your chest is like a wall, supporting me and my heart held by angels,

Your fingers gently trace my childhood scars, painting a small smile on my face,

I’ve always wanted my own home…seems like I’ve already found it.

I’m breathing too fast,
Thinking too slow.
I’m falling and failing,
With nowhere to go.
Not really, nowhere close.

Where it’s calm and quiet,
Lights turned down low.
Where no one is looking,
Neither friends nor foe.
Such a place doesn’t exist here,
It’s only in my head.

The sun in the sky,
Waves sadness away.
The grass green as ever,
Like someone flicked a lever,
To put a smile on my face,
And transport me to the place.
Where the night never ends,
And the world has no limits,
There’s a swing in the garden,
And a barn full of cats.
All the flowers you could think of,
All the fruit you could eat.
All the space you could need,
All the time making you free.

It’s there I go,
In my darkest hour.
At school, in bed, even in the shower.
It’s a place I’m grateful for,
My gran’s garden, far away
It’s my refuge, my shelter, my perfect place to say.

Special commendations — schools

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Well my grass was browner than brown and was never greener. Always on the move we are to find grass that’s greener but never can I find it because there’s always another side.

Always on the move we are as it seems to be, we’ve passed through countries great and small it’s our destiny.

Through Israel to Turkey from Turkey to Greece, always are we on the move to find our resting place.

This journey has taken us great and far, we’ve crossed so many seas. But one thing I can tell you is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Though the world seems shady so many things grown wall and far reaching ecstasy. But just remember the grass is greener on the other side and yours.

When she was there, she had a smile on
Her face.
From her dog to her books.
And everywhere she looks.
It’s a place she would never replace

We were forced to leave our home last summer.
When the sky turned grey and the iron clad troops marched through the streets,
And our anxieties had served their oppressive purpose,
We were made to leave.

We travelled miles,
Sometimes by train,
Occasionally by boat,
Usually by foot.
Never happy.

And then we arrived at our first camp,
We spent our days covered in regretful mud,
And our nights huddled up in the bitter winter breeze.
It wasn’t comfortable,
But somehow, it was better than home.
What was left of home.

My home is beautiful,
But now it is a misery,
Now I’m going away to live a life of sadness,
To a place so ugly,
To people who can’t understand me,
To find a place in my most feared nightmares,
Cause that one thing ruined me,
I was the only one standing.