New Poems from Mike Barlow



When it rains in the hills


the river churns its long tongue through the town,

brings with it stumps, logs, fence posts, the carcass

of a badger, torn fertilizer sacks.


I picture gaberdine cloud ripped on the moor’s edge,

heather shaking in hail, the quicksilver trickle

of sky through the peat, sheep, their rumps

to the wind, cattle ankled in mud.


Like lightning swollen becks flash hillsides, swell

the river so it licks shale lips, prises

makeshift bridges from their roots.


I hear your heavy boots slap puddles, your coded knock.

From beneath the bent peak of your cap, its screen

of drips, you wink – two trout

slip from the pocket of your coat.


There was a day you leant over our garden wall,

pipe in your mouth the wrong way up, enquiring,

neighbourly like, how long we’d be staying.


When it rains in the hills the river down here

sings a wild song, foams at the mouth,

twists its tongue on the messages it brings,

keeps us in our place.





Sparrowfat, wren’s bones,

broth of birdsong.

The weight of air

displaced by the cranefly,

hawk-moth, beetle.


Rustle of dried grass, a bark

from invisible deer, mottle

on the hatched shell,

sycamore keys spin-gliding,

guggle of a broken land-drain,

blueflash jay, buzzard’s mew.


The world’s fingers touching,

thumb and index making that

O just so mudra – and you,

you’re its built-in

sense of itself, feedback loop,

the twist in a mobius strip.





“I wish that I might be a thinking stone.”

Wallace Stevens


Earthlump, gravity’s fist


with a lichened eye

the sky’s traffic,

crystalline labyrinths


for the dumb rush

of an owl’s flight,

or a distant drone

like thought

coming and going.


Unfound in a field,

a harvest

nobody can reap,


remembers sowing,

time enough

to consider the exact angle

of a blade of grass

or the actual moment


throws it into shadow.


Knowing nothing of innuendo.

All weight

and pressure on the earth

to mark the place

you make your mark.


to know you from another.

Nor hear you

nor speak your name.



Sumburgh Head


Above the ceaseless crash and suck

of ocean, the feathered

burins of grey wings engrave

the air’s bowl, a signature of grace

scored on something solid and unseen.

















MIKE BARLOW lives in rural North Lancashire, on the edge of The Forest of Bowland but also likes to spend time on Scotland’s west coast, The Hebrides and Shetland. He has published three full collections, the first, ‘Living on the Difference’ (Smith|Doorstop 2004) was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for best first collection. He has won a number of competitions, including The National Poetry Competition 2006. He currently runs Wayleave Press, an independent pamphlet publishing venture.


Illustrations by DESDEMONA MCCANNON, illustrator and Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. Desdemona’s artwork can be found here.

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