John McCullough is the next guest on the podcast talking his Costa Book Awards shortlisted poetry collection, Reckless Paper Birds published by Penned in the Margins. Here’s one of the poems you can hear him read and discuss.
It’s true: there is a light at the centre of my body.
If I could, I would lift aside a curtain of this flesh
and demonstrate, but for now it is my private neon.
It is closest to the air at certain moments,
like when buttercups repair a morning’s jagged edge.
Other times, a flock of days descends
and my soul flickers, goes to ground.
Without light, I’m all membrane; each part
becomes a gate. I pour across each margin
and nothing has enough hands to catch me,
my teeth knocking so fast I daren’t hold any piece
of myself near in case I start a banquet.
I’m only eased by accident. On the drenched path,
I pick up snails and transport them to safer earth
then feel a stirring. I watch as rain streams
from lopped-back elms, my face teeming with water
and―hello stranger―my soul glides to my surface
like it, too, belongs there; like a bright fish rising to feed.
John McCullough lives in Hove. His first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs (Salt), won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012 and was a Book of the Year for The Independent. This was followed by Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016) which was a summer read in The Guardian and shortlisted for the Ledbury-Forte prize. His latest book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins, 2019) was recently shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. The judges said “This collection – hilarious, harrowing and hyper-modern – offers a startlingly fresh insight into vulnerability and suffering.”