Wednesday, 30 December 2020

From The Brexiad

The high streets filled with franchise brands                                                

all stocked with food (though most of it in cans).

Expensive imports rotted on the shelf -

beyond the reach of even those with wealth.

In place of pasta, chilli, foreign fare,

the diet turned tasteless, bland and spare,                                                                  

and though it made our food taste quite delicious

using garlic now was deemed to be suspicious.

Fried bread, pickled herrings, tripe and ham,

sprouts, nettle tea, cabbage soup and spam -

and for a very special birthday feast                                                                          

toast with Marmite made with brewer’s yeast.

Ah! How did England come to such an hour

when there is no more sweet, but only sour?

Italian, Chinese, Indian, Jamaican, Thai -

all luxury cuisines from times gone by -                                                                   

their cookbooks added to the growing pyre

of publications heaved into the fire,

alongside poems, novels and non-fiction

that utilised too smart and clever diction,

not to mention any writing in translation

(unsuitable stuff for a sovereign nation).

The poles of taste were well and truly shifted

and art and music too were strictly sifted:

no rock, no roll, no jazz, no hip-hop, rap,

and no abstraction, no “expressionist crap”.

Folk dancers took charge of the Royal Ballet,

a bagpipe troupe replaced the Manchester Hallé

and theatres staging Ibsen, Beckett, Chekhov

in no uncertain terms were told to feck off.

Even homegrown hits like ‘Cats’ and ‘Evita’

were banned for using non-traditional metre

and stories written by Yanks or from abroad,

where - obviously - of taste they’d never heard.

What joy it was to be alive when culture,                                                                  

thrown aside, was left for hungry vultures!

And not the kind who jewellery they’d rattle

or stand in foyers, glass in hand, and prattle

of stars they’d met or sundry vacuous things

while nervous actors waited in the wings -

but those who aim to strip art to the bone

and leave it standing on the brink, alone.

Tom Phillips


Monday, 30 November 2020

Conversations on poetry, translation, identity and travel

 It's been my great pleasure over the last week to take part in online broadcasts with both Pankhuri Sinha and Sujata Pal - two writers living in India who have very generously invited me to join them in conversations about poetry, translation, identity, travel and much else besides. Both conversations - which really consist of me talking a lot in answer to their questions! - are available to watch online. You'll find the one with Pankhuri, from Saturday 28 November, here and the one with Sujata, from Monday 30 November, here. The pandemic has closed down our lives in so many ways and yet both the initiatives that Pankhuri and Sujata have set up - these regular broadcasts with individual poets and also international online poetry 'gatherings' - are building new connections and opening opportunities despite everything.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Up in the air with Frank

Why is it, Frank O’Hara, I’m thinking of you
in 1950s New York at 35,000 feet over Europe
and my watch says it’s 9.05, but we’re no longer in England?
Piled clouds look benign. Another jet hangs still
against the paling sky. Out of centrespreads,
pictures of the baths in Budapest spill.
No news on the poets in Ghana, needless to say.
I’ve not been long away, but the man beside me
sounds like a regular from the corner shop
that closed down when we were packing that day.
Or the bouncer of the bar we went to at Christmas
when smokers got round a foyer window ledge
so they could get round the smoking ban.
Outside this window there’s only weather,
and that isn’t ours right now.
If we were over the sea, furling ships’ wakes
streaking white across blue would be something.
It can’t be different for others …
Although I can also hear you saying:
‘Art shows on long flights might be an idea.
Or not lifejackets but poetry collections
to be reached for under your seat.’
Heading east, not west, the towers of Manhattan
aren’t going to emerge, bristling, from the Hudson,
as they did four decades ago when my father swore
he was never mugged because of the raincoat he wore.
Not that being anyone has changed in that sense
while still learning to live in durations unmeasured.
At this altitude, my ears refuse to adapt to the pressure.
But what’s not such a far cry from seatbelt signs
is my father ignoring their insistent warnings
to show me the Badlands unfurling below.
Because such things did occur – as did
him saying he wanted to come back as a seagull
so it’s likely he’s come back twice now –
once as a seagull and then as
whatever a seagull aspires to be.
Tom Phillips

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Seven years on

Everything you need for a poem

Crossing Sofia Field,

we’re wondering aloud who’s left

travelling mementoes –

flip-flops, empty olive cans –

underneath the seat

of this slow and screeching train.


A girl who went barefoot, perhaps,

down the carriage steps,

fingers greasy with oil,

complaining, like my own daughter,

about her “bloody shoes”;

or one like your friend who brought

beer and coats to the train

for cold and thirsty hikers.


We’ve slowed to a crawl in time

for kaleidoscope light effects

beyond your violet mountain.

You’re going there, Vitosha,

on the day I’m due to leave,

but for now you’re pointing out

sunset, derelict stations

traces of pathways, sky flares,

willow growing up through a bus stop:

“It’s everything you need –

everything you need for a poem.”


You’re right, it seems.

Evening villages, cans, old shoes –

they constitute the scenery

for what I’m hoping will do more:

betokening gratitude, perhaps,

for whatever else is forming

in this shrieking transit and I can’t tell.


Tom Phillips

Всичко, нужно за едно стихотворение

Пресичайки софийското поле,

чудим се на глас кой ли

е оставил сувенирчета от своето пътуване –

джапанки, празни консерви от маслини –

под седалката

на този стар и скърцащ влак.

Няко босо момиче е слязло, може би,

по стълбичките от вагона,

с изцапани от мръсотията пръсти,

оплакваща се, като дъщеря ми,

от „тъпите ми обувки“;

или някой като приятелката ти, която носеше

във влака бира и дрехи

за зъзнещи и жадни стопаджии.

И влакът бавно запълзя навреме,

за да видим като на калейдоскоп светлини

над виолетовата ви планина.

Натам си се запътила, към Витоша,

в деня, когато трябва да си тръгна,

но сега сочиш към

залеза, запуснати гари,

следи от пътеки, небето проблясва,

една върба прораства на автобусна спирка:

„Това е всичко, от което имаш нужда –

всичко нужно за едно стихотворение.“

Права си, изглежда.

Селцата привечер, стари обувки –

правят пейзажа

на нещо, надявам се, по-голямо:

може би са знак за благодарност

за нещо, което се заражда

на това странно транзитно пътуване и не зная какво е.

Превод от английски език:  Юлияна Тодорова

Sunday, 23 August 2020

And Now Rousing Music pamphlet

It being August, the time of year when I have previously put together a little pamphlet of poems from the last 12 months or so, here's the latest - 'And now rousing music', poems from the months preceding and one or two from the months during the Covid-19 outbreak. As with both its predecessors, 'Foreign in Europe' and 'Present Continuous', it's free to download and you are more than welcome to do so by following the link here.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Recent online manifestations

The last few days have seen a little flurry of online appearances -  in Two Rivers Press's ongoing Poet of the Week series and in two international online readings.
The Two Rivers Press piece includes two poems of mine plus some thoughts on writing and a video of me reading the poem 'Portishead' from my TRP collection 'Recreation Ground' in our living room in Sofia. You can link to that here.
On Sunday I was one of more than 30 poets who took part in the United World of Poetry event online. Poets from Japan to the USA, India to Brazil and many a European country took part, reading their work in English, their native language (with translation into English) or both. You can watch the whole thing or dip in and out of the recording here.
And on Saturday I joined another international reading, Prozor u svijet (Window on the World), this time mostly with poets from SE Europe, as well as Italy (and SE European poets living elsewhere in the world), so most of the readings are in one of the Slavic languages, with some English readings. Again, you can watch the whole thing or dip in and out of the recording by following this link.

Sunday, 19 April 2020


In the absence of the right temperament,
I’m astonished by the arrival
of a pair of black swifts,
screeching towards early evening,
disappearing, appearing again,
heralds of summer, of change,
here in a world that’s already changed.
The path from fear to irritation and from
irritation to longing’s unknown to them,
just the route between suns,
one over Africa, one over here.
Faced with their clean energy,
I’m ashamed: my inertia
on another long slow afternoon.

It can’t be the beginning
because nothing has ended.
Time passes unpredictably
and attempts to understand events
are like attempts to sew
clothing without needles and pattern.
And right here on the abandoned pavement
between home and the non-stop shop,
it’s as if the only things
which might make sense
aren’t ordinary human sounds,
but the sweet shrieks of these birds
that are winding through the sky
like signs of an alternative future.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Archaeological dig

Boots thud cobbles, march time, match day; things best not to be messed with. Received lack of wisdom. Xeroxed polemics. Keep it simple - the message. Let actions emerge with no instruction. Tactical denial possibilities, strategic rebuttal. Frayed denim, tattooed skull, fixed grimace, sweat: what, us, your honour?

And thus the aforementioned does hereby and justly request an occasion for the restitution of honour in accordance with the constitution, deeds, articles and clauses of our respective guilds and societies, namely …

Cul-de-sac lock-ups. Concrete chipped on girders, rust patches, sheened puddle, dog crap, grass sprouts. Arrays of warriors, improvised weaponry. The stand-off, reiteration of causes and entitlements, the shout, alarums, the charge. Imagined as Agincourt.

Attestations in annals in the form of: witness statements, police reports, hospital records, personal medical records, police statements, news-in-brief articles, legal affidavits. A notable absence of: eulogies, elegies, odes, battle hymns, epic poetry. Graffiti citation found with scuff marks, skid marks, stains, splinters, shards, bone fragments: Ere we do em (erased).

Saturday, 14 March 2020

The Populists

And now: rousing music.
A cadre of recruits sing
‘Oh, to be in England!’
as if not already there.

Tiresome rhetorics
speak on our behalf,
sustained by violins –
cadenzas swell to embrace
dawn over the shires
with audible relief tones –
though something always
keeping out of reach.

"And so let us receive blame,
each according to our tribe,
and may those exonerated
forever receive beatitude
each according to their preferences:
mown lawns, canal banks, lupins,
share dividends, King Edwards,
warm dark ale.

"But let those be cursed
who substitute
stern oaks,
lakes, lochs,
thatch, ketch,
for that which
fetches us now
slip road,

"Out, damn’d modernisers, globalists.
Let there be no illusion.
Let there be no allusion –
least of all to
foreign accents …"

Allow us our own miseries
in bleak, windswept patches.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Definitions of a crisis

Swim out now into that blue/azure sea,
you're either a tourist or a refugee –
where you were born is everything
or nothing if you happened to be born
in places where such things don’t matter.

I have a passport: it’s changing colour
even as we speak. And the headlines bark
like stray dogs, like rabid warnings
of what we’re expected to believe –
and the easy allocations of blame.

Somewhere over the city clouds form,
but the mountain adopts autumnal promise –
completely out of season –
which is what this man crossing the road dismisses.

March 2020

Friday, 31 January 2020

In passing

The first sight of dry patchwork rolling out beneath us
or unfamiliar words murmured at zinc bar counters;
peeling skin on my back like an unfolding map
or yellow acres of sunflowers facing up to the sky;

sporadic glimpses of a slow-moving river
through slits set into the curves of a staircase;
terracotta pigeons on terracotta tiles
or icons glinting through incense and gloom;

a late tram rattling through lamplit suburbs
or an early plane flying over low city rooftops;
those spiralling conversations lasting all night
or the plangent musk of newly poured wine;

the passing last whistle of a passing last train –
those days we needed nobody’s leave to remain.

31 Jan 2020