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Poetry Archive Now / YouTube: Films of "Loop"

Sunday, 20 September 2020 at 14:47

Tasmanian Tiger

A YouTube film of me reading my poem "Loop" about the last Tasmanian Tiger in captivity, is available on the Poetry Archive Now: Wordview 2020. YouTube doesn't appear to let me link directly to the film, but the search-term "Cliff Forshaw Loop" on YouTube will take you to it and also another earlier, short, more professionally-produced, film of me reading "Loop" intercut with the footage of the loop of film itself:

It comes from a sequence in my collection Vandemonian (Arc,2013) which also appeared in the chapbook Tiger (Happenstance, 2011). Several other poems from that sequence feature on the Vandemonian portfolio page, There you'll also find links to the Arc website featuring Vandemonian as well as links to the earlier film, and an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio programme about the Tasmanian Tiger to which I contributed. All that is here:

The poem was a Guardian Poem-of-the-Week, chosen by Carol Rumens, and appeared in her anthology Smart Devices (Carcanet, 2019). To read Carol's commentary, see here.


Here's the poem:


(62 seconds of the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger on film.)

Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera — or gurns up close, turns
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.

It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.

You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched
together in a loop of black and white.

Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out.
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition
compulsion, like… like reincarnated light.

The Real Moby-Dick

Wednesday, 2 September 2020 at 16:57

No Text
Things have been rather slow over the last few lockdown months. I got out to Spurn Head over the Bank Holiday and thought, following the recent Filey Brigg sequence, I should add some more coastal poems to the blog. Here is a sequence that first appeared in Drift, (Humber Mouth Festival, 2008). The project included an anthology and a short film, with poems by David Kennedy, Christopher Reid and David Wheatley. It was David Wheatley who pointed out that the only real whale in Moby-Dick was in stately house not far away, and took me to have a look at it. The sequence later also appeared in Pilgrim Tongues (Wrecking Ball Press, 2015).
The Lord Paramount Looks Seawards
The Lord Paramount of the Seigniory of Holderness may claim any cetacean washed up on the coast from Spurn Bight to Flamborough Head. In 1825 a beached sperm whale was taken to Burton Constable Hall, where its skeleton was displayed, inspiring passages in Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839) and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851). In 2007, the reassembled skeleton was exhibited in the Great Hall of Burton Constable.
“… in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale… Sir Clifford’s whale has been articulated throughout; so that like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony cavities...” Moby-Dick.
1. A Cabinet of Curiosities

Rhino horn, coco-de-mer, shark jaws,
tailfins, swordfish swords, sawfish saws,
quadrants, astrolabes, a huge “book camera”,
manuscripts, microscopes, a Concave Mirror
all of Twenty-Four Inches in Diameter,
antiquities, dried reptiles, thermometers,
fossils, rocks, minerals, shells, the Claw
of a Great Lobster, a Tooth-brush from Mecca,
the Leg of an Elk two Foot two Inches long,
a large Sea-Tortoise from the Isle of Ascension,
fowling pieces, a carbine with an extending butt,
     perfectly balanced forty-bore hair
-triggered duelling pistols with silver escutcheon
     and the motto Ubi Libertas Ibi Patria.

2. Sir Clifford’s Whale

The Lord Paramount of the Seigniory
of Holderness looks down and oversees
these bones brought in by downstairs and scullery
staff from their long exile in lean-tos, sheds,
from their chilly diasporas in glasshouse and stable,
the outhouse earth into which they’d sunk. The head,
big as a Ford Transit, has been garaged under
tarpaulin for decades. But his Lordship’s vision
is more than just this fleshless resurrection
the sun shines through; it is the huge skeleton key
to reunite drifting land with inconstant sea.
His mind ponders how blubber has bubbled off:
how bones are bars detaining nowt; how flesh,
long on the run, winks through, fugitive as light.

3. Carnival

What’s suffered a sea-change here’s the coast itself;
turned inside out, all that is solid melts into air.
Even this thing now hugely spine and jaw
is an idea in thrall to the carnival
whose tides hold the whole of Holderness in its maw.
Forget the chance encounters of sewing-machines
and umbrellas on dissecting-tables, once more
Surrealism’s at the service of Revolution
and the elephant in this room, though not yet white,
is moving there from black. Trace its evolution
as the articulated folly of its bones
glides from sea through cetology, from a surgeon’s
prose to a Merman’s Leviathanic museum.
Misrule: now you see it, now it’s gone.

4. Pelagian

A rabblement of bones has breached the Hall;
something huge and hugely hurt has crawled
in from winter – its great wounded bawl
must have foghorned in another world – and died.
Left here, all we have’s this x-rayed sprawl.
Across the floorboards of this ancient pile,
a pile of pitted uncommon bones are spilled;
up there on pilastered walls, narwhal tusks
masquerade as unicorn horns, meanwhile
the portraits (Elizabethan, Jacobean,
in jousting armour, classically robed,
or a wild Victorian filly riding to hounds)
look down on a wrecked ossuary, smile
slyly at the carcass of this pelagic meal.

Behind Four Walls: corona virus anthology and interview

Friday, 10 July 2020 at 13:59

No Text

A poem of mine "Fade" will appear in Together Behind Four Walls,an anthology of poems and short stories in aid of Marie Curie Nurses. All the money raised by the book will go to the charity.

The loose subject of the book is poetry inspired by confinement and contains work by, among others, John Hegley, Roger Robinson, Wendy Cope and Peter Finch.

I was recently interviewed by the editor Francis Powell. You can get it here on Facebook: ttps://

If you are not on Facebook, the link to the actual interview is:

For further details of the anthology, including invitations for submissions:

Filey Brigg

Friday, 12 June 2020 at 14:10

Filey Brigg
Here's a sequence I wrote at the time of the huge floods in Hull and along the Yorkshire coast and elsewhere in summer 2007. I'd been out walking with a group, led by the poet and archeologist Peter Didsbury, which brought together writers with naturalists and other experts on various aspects of the environment. During the walk the rain became very heavy, and continued for days. The sequence appeared in the Humber Writers' collaboration Hide (2008) and later in Pilgrim Tongues (2015).
Filey Brigg
Field trip with voices.
1. Under the Cliffs

A tiny stunned green star: freshwater newt
washed out of the cliffs by rain.
“Saltwater shock – needs to rehydrate.”

Drop him in a bottle of store-bought still;
watch as that outstretched skydiver floats
the leg-long half-mile to our feet.

Later, we put back a tiny jade trinket
or a god, dead-still, in a rain-wet niche.


2.Soul Music

Catch wind-snatched boom-box:
spray flicks break across some
crossover flava-diva’s groove.
Keep your booty in neutral,
feet unsure to tap on the tumbled rocks
of what some say’s a Roman quay.

Dogs shake themselves free of sea.
Children taste the fishy fingers of the spray.
The elders stare out where water’s cut by light,
wait a beat, then one scatters ashes
as wind turns, bears off that track’s
slick power-build to its middle eight.


3. Brigg

End of the spit,
dogs, kids, rags of wet tissue:
outfall, shit.

End of chat.


4. Guillemot

What stops the chat
is someone spots that dead bird on a rock.
Then the beach is littered with “Guillemots,
razorbills, and that’s a little auk.”
Twenty, thirty, forty plump twists
of black and white along that stretch.

The naturalist squats to check:
“No broken necks … what you’d expect
if they’d been caught at sea,
ripped free by fishermen from their nets.”

He thumbs feathers back to skin for wounds,
below for shot. Nothing: it’s a mystery.
Photographs one or two in situ,
is on his mobile to the RSPB.


5. Roman Signal Station

Digging down, they found some bones,
but no larger animal skulls or feet,
which they take to mean the meat
was slaughtered elsewhere, carted here
to a garrison of single men.

Nothing else came to light,
except much later tiny bones of mice,
shrews, voles, compacted into pellets,
which must mean that while land and sea
swapped places and the Roman pier just sank,

there was nothing here but that tower
crumbling on the edge of the spit,
and, staring down from its walls through whole dark ages,
only (swoop, shadow, flit) owls, owls, owls.


6. Rain

What’s new and wet’s all still seeping in: drips,
drips, down to beach “…the oolithic shore.”
Pipefish, gutweed, velvet swimming crabs.
We have guys who know it all on hand:

the geologist talks sediment, striations, rock;
the naturalist gives us weed, nerve, feather;
the archaeologist mentions Romans, bones.
We point at stuff, get the low-down, get its names.

I’d like to know about the earth, the sea;
the names of things and how they live;
why the land I live in’s rumpled just so;
where and why the past keeps poking through.

That was the first day of the rains.
Next day, and the next, it kept it up,
worrying gutters, soffits, roof,
insinuating dark patches in ceiling, walls.

Monday morning, woke to floods.
Went out to work, got soaked.
Flooded basements, backed up sewers,
offices sealed off, the server down.

I’d meant to find out how – why –
those birds had fallen from the sky.
Never did, but, looking up, was struck
by just how dark the heavens had become.

The Spaceship

Monday, 1 June 2020 at 07:53

The Spaceship

I've just finished the painting I mentioned in a previous post. I wanted to contrast the concrete modernist structure and texture with its lakeside context. As I worked on it, the reflections became more shimmering abstract patterns. After Easter I could no longer return to the university, and as I worked from photographs and sketches, the painting became more of a composite, constructed from a series of observations over a couple of weeks in early spring.


Wednesday, 27 May 2020 at 18:37

Cyclist York University

The Corona virus lockdown has meant that I've been reflecting on work much more than getting on with it. Here is a painting  I started before Easter when I was visiting York University as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow two days a week. This view of Central Hall (also known as "the Spaceship") had been languishing on my easel too long, and it seemed time to get back to it and piece something together.

A week or two back, I decided the building needed something and added the cyclist. It's not quite finished yet. Over the last few days the reflections have become more abstract patterns, to contrast with the building itself, which retains some pencil mark construction points to echo an architectural plan.  


Wednesday, 27 May 2020 at 17:17

No Text
In the spirit of letting some old poems see the light again, here's a piece that appeared in Trans, and also the excellent but long defunct Leviathan, edited by Michael Hulse. Michael was also the editor of The Warwick Review, which also bit the dust a while back.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark16.17-18.

Through the dusty garden, dusk
and the trickle of snakes: serpientes,
culebras, víboras, cascabels.
Each sloughed skin leaves a caged tab,
hardened to a pea in the tail's husk.

Next morning, down by the well,
a tiny baby rattler, still dumb,
sunning himself: innocent,
curious, flicking a thumb's
up - an AOK to the day.

Elsewhere, peeled-off stockings nailed to trees.

Bangkok snake-farm.
Lost up some klong,
a man, one-armed,
teases while another grips.
Venom spat into a perspex cup.
Accomplished blackmail smile,
the twitch of muscle under the shirt arm
that's not pinned to his breast.
Long ago, in the sudarium,
strigils scraping off the sweat
while a hypnotic queen
mesmerizes herself.
Noblesse oblige - the sting within
the basket of bidden fruit.

In the Church of Jesus
With Signs Following,
the Lord has moved me
to take up rattlers,
copperheads, diamondbacks.

This thing accursed
above every beast,
condemned to go upon its belly,
eat the dust,
locked up tight
in my black ply box.

Downtown Babylon,
I saw a whore
poured like gasoline
into a flame-red dress.
She wore snakeskin shoes
and a silver necklace,
its snakeshead clasp
coiled at her breast.

Put me in mind of the evil life
I led before
I went to the river,
took my new name.

Now when the combo crashes into stride
and Jesus speaks like its true backbeat,
I walk to my smiling Saviour
in tough and polished hide.

Open up my case, unknot
the nest of vipers,
and with an open heart
dance and sing as the spirit moves
to shake my body,
echo on my tongue.
And hope and pray
my faith’s right good.

In darkened houses,
Irish and Spanish, Italian and Mexican,
I’ve seen that plaster Virgin;
out of the blue,
her sandalled foot
bruising the head that tapers
like a coffin.


They pour themselves
as if through a spout.
I dam their flow,
pin them with a hook,
grab close and tight
behind their head,
guide them to the darkness
of my burlap sack

Once in a while, I take a bite.
Goes with the territory, I guess.

They can’t hear, but they can feel.
If you’re afraid wear big boots.
Stamp on the path and they’ll slither away.
To get them out of holes
I lower in this vibrator
tied to string.

A bough from the tree,
the whisper of leaves branched into promise.
It hung, testing the breeze,
curled along the rough bark,
leaving an ivy caress hugged tight as poison,
as it dripped from itself,
gave stuck roots the slip.

So many words made flesh,
but this verb is sleekness incarnate,
sloughing what it outgrows in itself.
Slick with confidence, it licks the world’s lips
with the gloss of possibility.

Slithering the grass between the industrial busy-ness
of societies that are all arms and legs,
it has stripped itself of the banality of work or care.

Pure ego, shimmering I,
useless limbs lopped.
Slick torso, liquid stave,
erectile pillar of vanity
completing the circle of itself.

Skinned back,
what was secret as a glans
is now new mind,
sharp as peeled fruit,
a spiral of green skipping through the rope of itself,
wearing an inverted heart on its sleeve.

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