Archive for James McKay

Poetry by James McKay

Posted in Poetry with tags , on August 22, 2012 by C.C. Beissert


Cumberland Arms, Byker

Frozen, the rain
whistles white as noise
down between the bridge
and the old brick pub.

Unemployment weather.



Song of Concern

Cocaine is a serpent
in a room full of faces.

An orchestra of soloists,
their wriggling clarinets’
nostril fangholds.

Look at them,
alone in the pressure
of their own skulls.

Mind you, lines is lines,
poetry’s no better.

And once you acquire
a taste for the good shit,
just as expensive.



Even the Orchestra is Beautiful

translated from the Latin
of the Appendix Vergiliana
(1st century C.E.)


She’s from Syria,
her hair’s done up Greek fashion
and she knows what to do
with her hips and her rhythm section,
leaps lush and horny through the
bar smoke fair rattling for a fuck,
so what are you going to do?
Bake and grind out in the dirt
or sink into a nice boozy sofa?

We’ve got mixers, shakers, flowers,
pipes and fiddles on a shady terrace
cool beneath the reeds.

Hear that flute?  Pure country style,
the way they play it in Arcadia,
where the wild things are.

There’s wine, a little basic but on tap.
Water clatters quietly in the brook.
There’s crowns of violets and saffron,
roses woven red against the yellow
of the clover, lilies brought in willow
baskets fresh from the virgin stream.

We’ve got special guest appearances
from lovely Mother Earth
and Love and Ecstasy in person.

There’s little rustic cheeses dried in straw,
plums ripe as an autumn afternoon,
chestnuts, sweet red apples,
blackberries and grapes in lazy bunches
and the cucumber hangs greenly in its frame
beneath the watchful eye of the god
in the garden shed with his great big chopper
(don’t be shy) and a tremendous hard-on.

Pilgrim, come inside,
that poor knackered animal of yours
is dripping sweat, have a heart,
even donkeys are sacred to
some god or other.

Meanwhile, the noise of massed cicadas
in the orchard reaches bursting point.

Meanwhile, the lizard hugs the cool
beneath the thornbush.

If you’ve any sense you’ll sit back with your pint glass
(though we have fine crystal, if you prefer)
and get yourself completely drenched…

Isn’t this nice? You’re tired,
you shade yourself and rest beneath the vines,
wrap your heavy head in roses,
nibble at the mouth of some pretty young thing
and forget the old raisers of eyebrows,
whoever they are.

You think we’ll smell the flowers and be grateful
when we’re dust? You really got your heart set
on a tombstone with a fancy crown?

Bring on the wine, the dice. Care about tomorrow,
you deserve everything you get — that’s Death,
end of all parties, catching your ear, Go on, live,
he says. You know it’s only a matter of time.





During these days, by custom,
beneath the glamour of the northern hills
all the little objects glare and flutter,
seethe and dance to the singing of the world
in all its weaves and pores, grains and fibres.

Here’s to beauty coming on through the walls
of a dark house and arrives like a body blow,
or a screaming puncture.

Here’s to rare connections that grow
deep with the seasons and more strange,
and rarer still.



— These selections come from James McKay‘s debut poetry collection Quiet Circus, published by Vintage Poison Press in 2011.


From the book’s jacket blurb:

“The poet is also a teacher, tour guide and translator, equally at home in the post-industrial wastelands of Tyneside or of east London, traveling across Europe, or not leaving the room.

In this collection, he sits in cafés; he sweats on dance floors; he walks in the park; he shops for groceries by the mouth of the Tiber; he learns strange new alphabets; he prophesies the death of cities, and makes his lover smile.

Over the last 10 years, these poems have been written and sent on postcards, declaimed to large halls and festival crowds, told late at night by campfires, heard in dreams. Some were released, with musical accompaniment, on the album Follow On by The Morris Quinlan Experience.”