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‘The man who turned to paper’ — and three more new poems.






The Man Who Turned to Paper


Dear Sydney, just
what position
does the page put me in

when I walk
its white steppes
not counting

if they move towards
or away
nor whether here

there is a front
coming in from within
that takes our temperature

for what other
ambles in than
that kin

we dream meeting
even when
loved ones knock

on the membrane
of the poem that forms
an unintended shield.


Sydney, comics
taught me the word
alone in the frame

trembling ’cross the gutters
my first stanzas
little wonder

I am the man
who turns to paper
in no telephone box

nor cave.
Who knows
the kinship to page

the composition
of the poem
as costume

and why this second skin
becomes the medium
to think and feel in.


Try To Be Good you would say
hardly a heeded call
from the justice league

to slip from the shadows
and save the city
from its inner workings.

Sydney, where
and what are the villains
we turn towards

when scratching
at our paper skin
tight with obligation.

There is no question mark
here in the stretching material
I am clad in.


I think of Ted, how
the world’s furious song
flowed through his costume

how Jack faked out a frontier
for Billy to hide in
when he shot people

and know I turn to paper
neither for refuge nor immunity
but to reach

something between graft and raft;
form a white craft
of would and could

that beckons now-ward
across everyday aspic;
setting for small mysteries

masked in bodies, secret
agents all. Pale epidermis
I turn to this.


I lose the address. Sit
or walk around a bit
bisect leaving and meeting.

In this space craft I tend, toil
and bend small things
into other shapes

and what I put here’s
for more than safe-keep:
this paper out-house

annexes outlines, diagrams
thought’s trajectory
as it leaves the body

and steams
in the new climate


I think how Ovid sang his report
of shapes taken and vacated
yet never tackled the passage

wood → tree→page
and its opening
into no-placed space

beyond the orbit
of lusty Gods. Grant us
this new substance

that both holds
and moves
the dimensions of intimacy;

gathering the pleats
and fringes; the life-frames
and gutters

you step across
white promises
snow between us


think the page
some kind of surrogate sky
we slowly assemble
an origami crow’s nest.

The poem
sends you a present,
a soft gift
wrapped moment-thick.

You dock your craft
on occasion

beyond the orbit
of Newton’s black pips
and the curl
of Nikolaev’s petals

step out, a watermark
trembling the surface
with an attitude for making

days so soft underfoot
they are kneaded
and rise.

Life Expectancy

i.m. John Berger

Let’s open a gate.
Let it swing into the life of things
full of the will-to-be-seen.

Say a shape. Sound
the late note it makes
falling into form.

Catch the drama of the drawn
– not beckoned, not cajoled –
but dealt into drawing

holding its own. John,
we’ve never met
save in this page-pocket

I hope you meet nothing
full in the face;
that nothing

housing painted animals
on flickering cave walls;
that dark membrane,

tremulous current,
touching distance
in the playing light.

Scout out that territory
that we might know it
as life expectancy. Sense

that place, leaning in
for the approach
ahistorical as hope

held and holding.
Let’s open a pocket
good for nothing.

Conversations with Goya’s dog

Dog, didn’t we cross once, a lostime ago,
both conspiratorial in sartorial dusk

accusing the ground under
of over-exaggeration. My nose

wetter than yours – the competition
gave you cause to huff and shake your jowls.

And didn’t we share, as a result,
a slobber-coat? So, dog, you maintain

above matches below
in gradations of chalk-dusted jaundiced yellow.

You maintain such mottled light’s
the illumination of worldly fright, the turn-out

of dark pockets; that blind night’s much safer,
maintain that head juggles upon neck like

a landslide; that sea and sky
hide their borders, fake their papers

in the guise of neighbourly allies
who shake their words like a detainee

until they’re empty. Dog, permit me
the grace of your nose as it inclines

away from its captor ground, as it lifts
a little towards the powdered play

that gains and games with shape
in the profligate conviction it makes for us

such forms of kindness; holds us keen
for the tug at sleeve

for the kindred twitch at taut lips
as we witness our unspoken acts

hatched, but not served. Dog, you’ve observed
much. I note your felt head’s moulded

– by kindly pats or cudgels? I follow
the draw of your imploring gaze

up the world’s curve, round the bend
over ditch’s lip, above tarred water, across

charcoaled sand; and it’s still not met.
It stretches beyond the House of the Deaf Man

Stares down demons. Dog
keep peering at the distance

hope mislaid, bone-shaped,
and buried in a neighbour’s yard.

Theft Ode

The poem buries itself in the folds of the page,
and a white hunt begins.

Scale these wood-pulp skins
and sail this thin, layered organ

we think across. These are tender
sentient seas

rippled like a cat’s back
rubbed wrong-way-up.

They flex
and we roll and stumble,

teeter on cartoon crests, topple.
The poem dumps us

in tubular bins. There are worse things
than the tumble of gravel

seeping down the tunnel
of the inner ear. There is more to fear

in the creeping distance work
and family insert between you and your lover.

You ache for the poem
to cover that, to eat at it

slather corrosive lather
on all binding straps; let this sea

return us the mystery of touch
in its foamed passage.

Let limbs be thought things
dousing for the human

stolen, a paper changeling
submerged under words

heard only in vacuum-sealed rooms
that breathe policy

to a paper constituency. Dear poem,
out all we can be

when hope’s wattage
invents new circuitry

and we speak it
in the bedrooms

and early kitchens
at weekends, in the lull

before the crushing hull of Capital
greets us

and the carpeted corridors hum

Simon Perril’s poetry publications include  Beneath (Shearsman 2015), Archilochus on the Moon (Shearsman 2013), Newton’s Splinter (Open House 2012), Nitrate (Salt 2010), A Clutch of Odes (Oystercatcher 2009), and Hearing Is Itself Suddenly a Kind of Singing (Salt 2004). He has also appeared in magazines such as P.N. Review, Jacket, Poetry Wales, Shearsman and Angel Exhaust. As a critic he has written widely on contemporary poetry, including editing the books The Salt Companion to John James, and Tending the Vortex: The Works of Brian Catling. He is Reader in Contemporary Poetic Practice at De Montfort University, Leicester.

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