Please join us on zoom for live readings from Sean O’Brien, Joelle Taylor and our first IS&T intern Memoona Zahid,  on Sunday 3rd January at 4pm GMT

This is part of  our monthly  ‘Live from the Butchery’ series, hosted by Helen Ivory and Martin Figura from their home, and IS&T publisher Kate Birch.

Email Kate Birch at before the Sunday for meeting details.


It Says Here

That the way through the woods runs out in a blizzard.
That the ocean does not, is eternal,
And still for a while you may cross the great ice-dome
By dog-sled, though at your own risk.
That the book you are reading is one of a kind,
That its door opens inwards and cannot be closed.
That the train going over a bridge at night
Has somewhere to get to that even the driver,
Heroic and faceless and bathed in the heat
From the firebox, never discovers.
That the sky is a page where with a flourish
The birds write the truth in invisible ink
And the eye is too slow to be certain
That this word and that word are never to meet,
Or the poem will sicken and die.
That when you glance up from your reading
The rivers divide and divide till at last
You step down at a halt in the woods
With its name painted over,
And there in the evening the bride and the gamekeeper
Wait with their faces averted, wait
For the signal to shift and the lamp to glow red
And a train to arrive, but not yet and not yet.
That though this is August the snow is beginning.
You blink, and the woods are half buried,
And the travellers gone, and as for the fire and the rose
That it now seems you set out in search of,
That is a different story, or so it says here.



Sean O’Brien’s tenth collection, It Says Here, was published by Picador in September 2020. It’s two books in one – a collection of new poems plus the dream-vision Hammersmith. Other recent work includes Abai, his translations of the complete poems of the Kazakh national poet Abai Qunanbayev (Cambridge University Press), and a second collection of supernatural tales, Quartier Perdu (Comma Press). His poetry has received numerous awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.





Anthem of the Unbelong

(i)    daughter

we are all born grieving/ that is why babies cry

i am birthed/ walking backward into the wind/ apologising/ making peace treaties/ with my skin. see a small girl/ haunt a television. see a small girl tap dance/ across knuckles.

strangers take their faces off when I enter rooms/ I am unborn/ sing the Unbelong/ swim against the tide of tongues/ I am the girl with the face of a man/ crack thin/ cold as school corridors/ I am tangled cotton/ speaking in knots

but I have two hands/ each of them dog/ I teach them to fetch/ to hunt/ retrieve. they sleep curled at the bottom of my bed. my dogs strain at their leash. bite children. when I open my mouth/ a bugle led hunt streams out

violence is its own mother. mother breast feeds fists. violence is a girl backed up against herself/ everything about her/ ghost.  everything/ bed.

when I leave home, it follows me.

(ii)    mother

the past is always slightly ahead/ peering around a red brick corner/ warming the wet bed/ smoking a cigarette.

i rent a separate flat for my body to live in/ while I write myself into the world/ feeding thin slithers of raw promises/ to the empty mouths of purses/ watching flocks of pockets/ disappearing over the skyline

there are girls who have nothing to eat but themselves/ their small spines flagpoles/ stuck into soft mattresses in Brixton bedsits. let us sing their anthem/ let us sing the Unbelong.

all of our mothers are warnings.

in the morning/ I dress in the reflection of the class ceiling/ careful colours/ the shade of the Unbelong/ I am my mother in my father’s suit/ still the girl with the face of a man/ still wrong-walking.

(iii)    Sister

my sisters/ who taught me/ to throw punches like life rings/ into bad water/ my sisters bowling kisses like hand grenades

my sister/ bomb shelter/ my sisters giving birth to battlefields/ my sister a battlefield

my sisters excavating chests/ thick sediments of silence / worn as pearl necklaces/ my sisters archaeologists/ my sisters who tamed my fists/ had them vaccinated/ spayed

my sisters unclipping their shadows/ and setting them free/ my sisters whose graves give birth/ my sisters/ who keep their smiles between their legs

my sisters/ who stroked my face/ back into its kennel

my sisters/ who taught me to pluck the weeds from my tongue/ pull the pin out of a poem/ and cover my ears

my sisters/ listen: can you hear?

outside/ dogs have begun to bark their real names/ and no longer flinch when kissed.

my sisters/ see:

a small girl walks into her body/ and turns the bedroom light on.



Joelle Taylor is an award-winning poet, playwright and author who has recently completed touring Europe, Australia, Brazil and South East Asia with her latest collection Songs My Enemy Taught Me. She is widely anthologised, the author of 3 full poetry collections and 3 plays and is currently completing her debut book of short stories The Night Alphabet, with support from the Arts Council. Her new collection CUNTO & Other Poems will be published in June 2021 by Saqi Books. She has featured on The Verb (R3), Power Lines (R4), Poetry Please (Radio 4) Educating the East End (ITV), and We Belong Here (BBC). She founded SLAMbassadors, the UK’s national youth slam championships, for the Poetry Society in 2001 and was its Artistic Director and National Coach until 2018. Her work is taught as part of the OCR GCSE syllabus, and she has received a Change Maker Award from the Southbank Centre in recognition of the effect SLAMbassadors had on British culture. She has recently been commissioned to develop her spoken word theatre show Butterfly Fist to tour throughout 2021/2022 and is the founder and Artistic Director of a new inter-European spoken word project ‘Borderlines’. She is a Fellow of the RSA and was longlisted for the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship 2017 and 2019. She is the host and co-curator of Out-Spoken, the UK’s Centre’s premier poetry and music club, currently resident at the Southbank Centre Purcell Room. A Radio 4 documentary about her art and life as a masculine woman, Butch, was broadcast in May 2020.