Wednesday, February 11, 2015

25 Edge Hill Poets: Cliff Yates


1. Boat

In the morning she found a boat marooned on her pillow      

she couldn’t hear the survivors       
she couldn’t hear the sea.

The boat on the back of her hand, the size of a shell, and light.

She glimpsed it again through a window at work
holding up the traffic on the by-pass.

She could barely hear the typewriters
for the noise of the storm
in her head…

                    more land than sea
birds and more birds, a crow
on the topmost roof, the door onto the balcony…

The cloud-sized boat capsized in the evening sky
the wide open sky, everything piled beneath it.


She rocked and she rocked asleep and awake
                  to the crashing of waves.

2.  Foot

In the boat near her foot, a young man
in pyjamas with a voice
like Edgar Allen Poe.


A man who looked like an overcoat
with a pale face and a wide hat,
                                                  her foot
with the toe and the scars
orange and white like a Penguin.

Less blemishes than art, less art...
like preparing a meal –
breaded mushrooms and garlic.

You can't do anything about this
she decided but did nothing anyway
and waited for the inevitable:
                                                       the storm
over Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard,
climbing the rigging...

See – she knew all the words
they were in her blood, swimming around.

3. West

He stirs, shakes his head
it rattles

like a bucket of snails
found in the lettuce after a night of rain.

A bucket like the bucket on deck
slopping now

 as he shakes his head
                                      sailing for Rapallo
where Pound fed meat to the mythical cat            

                                      sailing for Europe
a raven in the cage swinging from the masthead.


'Boat' was part of an online collaboration with Eleni Sikelianos, commissioned by the editors of Likestarlings. This revised version apears in my pamphlet Bike, Rain (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2013) and Selected Poems (ebook; Smith/Doorstop, 2014).

I embarked on a PhD in Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill in 2001. Two years previously, I had published my first full-length collection, Henry's Clock (Smith/Doorstop) and the handbook commissioned by the Poetry Society, Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School. I was a member of the Poetry and Poetics Reseach Group at Edge Hill, which was stimulating me to clarify my poetics, and the PhD seemed the logical next step. Completed in 2006, my PhD thesis consists of a collection of poems which subsequently formed the basis of Frank Freeman's Dancing School (Salt, 2009), a critical study entitled ‘The Poem of Process: Frank O’Hara and Tom Raworth’; and 'Flying: A Poetics'. A revised, trimmed-down version of 'Flying' was subsequently published in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: Manifestos and Unmanifestos, edited by Rupert Loydell (Salt, 2009). Here is an extract from the opening:

Flying: A Poetics

It is useful to distinguish between two approaches to writing. The first is to write about a particular subject, to record, explore, analyse or express it. The second is to write in such a way that the poem itself is the experience, or the subject. It is the second approach that I am concerned with here.

‘In writing, it is not a matter of a certain material which is there, as a fixed thing, upon which the writing feeds and works. The act of writing also serves to nourish the material. When we speak of something, we affect it. It isn’t quite the same. As we cannot altogether ‘will’ what we would say’ (Turnbull, 1962: 27).

The process is improvisatory: to write without a set idea of where the poem is heading. As if the poem has a life, or energy, of its own.

‘I just get hung on the energy. Like the way the energy goes through it’ (Raworth, 1972: 12).

The poem attracts material to itself. Or, to put it another way, during writing, material finds its way in. The poem is the important thing at this stage and the language of the poem, whatever is going on in the environment, whatever thoughts occur during the writing (including memories) can dictate the direction. 

Any experience prior to the writing of the poem is ultimately irrelevant to the poem, though the poem can ‘contain’ or allude to dozens of experiences.

A poem does not have to depend on the idea or experience which may have given rise to it; the idea or experience can ‘merely’ be the starting point.

‘The poem is more than the poet’s intention. The poet does not write what he knows but what he does not know…. Words are ambiguous…. The poem is not a handing out of the same packet to everyone, as it is not a thrown-down heap of words for us to choose the bonniest. The poem is the replying chord to the reader. It is the reader’s involuntary reply’ (Graham, 1946: 380-381).

A poem does not have to ‘say’ anything.

‘I // have nothing to say and I am saying it / and that is poetry’ (Cage, 1961: 183).




My website/blog:

 Selected Poems ebook:

Collaboration with Eleni Sikelianos:

Other poems online:

Cliff Yates is a freelance poet, writer and teacher. His latest collection is Selected Poems (ebook; Smith/Doorstop). He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

He was previously introduced to Pages readers here:

(He has a review of my The Poetry of Saying here:

Expressions of interest in poetry and poetics PhDs may be made to Robert Sheppard at