Commiserate June 2016 – Peter Mackay and JL Williams

June 29, 2016

In the run up to a visit to Canada to read in various events at Le 17e Festival de la poésie de Montréal, Peter Mackay, Ryan Van Winkle and JL Williams decided to write a collaborative poem that they could share at the festival. As it turned out, they didn’t have time to read the poem in Montreal so thought it would be nice to share it online… especially in light of recent political events. They hope it conveys some sense of the way language and poetry attempts to cross personal and linguistic barriers, challenge conventional meanings and encourage us to think about the world in new ways.



O Scotland My Canada

A cold wind blows from the north, snow this sunshine day
and a wolf howling in the air above the castle.

And a wolf cloud can break your heart. So, why not
just go back to sleep? The castle closed her eyes

years ago & no longer worries about the bubonic plague,
the hairless breasts of Putin. All this waxing

and waning. Throw-away newspapers scuffle
along old-town, new-town streets, leaving their print.

Throw away fire & kindling, throw rock
so it skims & leaps past the drowsy swans

swooning in the odd heat. Me, I like to keep my feet
moving below the surface, cold as can be, blue

as the wolf’s eyes and her tender paws
padding the spine of a frozen river

so cold the skin of the eye freezes, the heart’s
beat slows, the ears open to chimes and iron

I miss confident church bells, the persistent rise of 8 AM
And Wolf misses the proud trees which have been felled

sent down river, to the bay and shaped into boats
old trunks in new forms at aimed a new world

somewhere nova, somewhere neuve, somewhere ùr

where I first sang O Canada my Canada,
O Scotland my Scotland, O world without borders

whose places are beginnings for everyone,
whose forests are homes for all wolves,

whose stones speak all languages quietly, quietly
beneath the running of water.



bar_1JL Williams‘ books include Condition of Fire (Shearsman, 2011), Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014), the triptych collection Our Real Red Selves (Vagabond Poets, 2015) and House of the Tragic Poet (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2016).  She was selected for the 2015 Jerwood Opera Writing Programme, plays in the band Opul and is Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library.




Pàdraig MacAoidh (Peter Mackay) is originally from the Isle of Lewis, but now lives in Edinburgh. He writes in Scottish Gaelic and English and has written one full collection of poems,  Gu Leòr / Galore, published by Acair in 2105, and a pamphlet, From Another Island, published by Clutag Press in 2010. He is also a broadcaster and lecturer; he teaches at the University of St Andrews and is BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker 2015.

Commiserate — April 2016 — Tessa Berring

April 3, 2016

Take Out Now – April 2016

Tessa Berring & Ryan Van Winkle

FullSizeRender (1)Tessa says: This making of a poem was fun – the way my words came back from Ryan surrounded by or broken up by his words, how we began to develop themes and imagery, how kittens, clocks, and a body suddenly appeared when I least expected them…
Above all I enjoyed the intention to simply ‘write a poem’ together – no other motive or agenda beyond letting language emerge then pushing it to and fro to see what might happen.

Take Out Now

She thinks prayer is an empty bucket,
an empty bucket for God to fill.
But all her buckets have hairline cracks
and God leaks away with her pistol,
all gunslinger & no horse. Or maybe
prayer is more like a pistol.
Don’t load it, float it –
watch it sink, evidence
of a very simple crime.
Guns and God-slingers – oh It is easy
to close one eye, take aim. Easy,
to take two hands & make a frame.
Easy, to press my palms flat in prayer.
Harder to ask, to fill the borders, to shoot.
He thinks prayer is like solitaire –
a game decided as the shuffle ends.
He calls god a deck of cards, pushes
the chips forward – all in.
As if we could hold the unicorn,
as if we were saints,
or angels wearing holsters! –
as if we were virgins lapping
up the gods as if the gods
were poison, as if we dare to risk
the lot with a miniature lead balloon
bringing us down – sinking.
Be quiet! Prayer is a slab of ice,
a cold cabinet, a sliding door,
the mysterious outline
of a body – something sweet,
a kitten mewing at your breast,
a chocolate puppy wagging
for the stick, a six-shooter,
chamber spinning,
the click-click-bang
of Russian Roulette,
an emptiness, a clock.
A clock? Take out the clock.
Take out the clock then take
out time, take out now
and take out never, take out
before and after this happened –
then look at all the horses
still lunging through sawdust
look at the dung beetles
looking for owls.
Look at the warm grease
lathering the windows,
ice melting, the sound
of a prayer’s faint hum —
no gunshots, no burst balloons
to tell a tale.
Bio: Tessa Berring is an Edinburgh based artist and writer. She studied cultural history at Aberdeen University followed by Sculpture and Drawing at Edinburgh College of Art. Her work emerges from both an exploration of the phenomenology of objects, and a playful love of text. Her poems are published in a selection of print and on line journals, and she exhibits her curious objects/installations regularly within Scotland, and further afield.

‘To A Burns Night’ Published in Scotia Extremis

March 1, 2016

Really pleased to have my poem ‘To a Burns Night‘ published on the year-long poetry project Scotia Extremis, edited by Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone. It’s published in week one, with the themes Burns Night and Up-Helly-Aa alongside Roseanne Watt, and you can read it here.

Commiserate — February 2016 — Dave Coates

February 11, 2016

Snapchats of Rain – February 2016

Dave Coates & Ryan Van Winkle

queenDave says: The last time I worked with Ryan on a poem was just after I’d had my application to take a PhD at Edinburgh University accepted – this is one of the only poems I’ve written since then. In between all the thesis-writing, review-writing and, y’know, wage labour, the only poems I’ve been able to write are these little haiku-y things. I like how little space they take, how they feel like they could just go on unimpeded forever like wee flowers with deep roots, that they do a bit of shaking off of the old poet-ego thing. Ryan knows how to give those wee herbs a heartbeat. Cheers pal.x

Snapchats of Rain

in the daily puzzle
we hustle our edges
we build a story


this chest, this mind was yanked out
not exactly wanting to go


you live a hundred deaths a day, she says – grass,
birds, your mother –
you only get one of your own –


so much life is departure
even standing still, ghosts arrive


like teeth, she says, take care
of what god gave you


fire in the water and
the water was warm
as a stubborn calf in june


bring me my timeline of quiet
bring me snapchats of rain
dear friend, whither now our filters?


i take a picture, i make a fire
with my own two hands
wood finding use, again


accidents of feet and knees
this door, this path, this rain, this wind.


all this business about yesterday
when there’s still fuel in the tank


don’t be afraid, he said.
He said, here’s how to stay
permanently surprised.


And here’s how to shiver
here’s how to get cold


seagull feathers at the church door
a little heap of antlers


there’s a little space left
between two well-loved
books. a many-hearted shelf


there’s a little piece
waiting to be placed

Dave Coates is a poetry critic and PhD candidate. He writes poetry crit at DavePoems and on Louis MacNeice and contemporary Northern Irish poetry at the University of Edinburgh. In 2015 he won the Best Reviewer award from Sabotage Reviews.

Commiserate — January 2016 — Ghazal Mosadeq

January 6, 2016

Qué perra es – January 2016

Ghazal Mosadeq & Ryan Van Winkle

1449867030Ghazal says: When Steven Fowler asked Ryan and I to collaborate on a poem for the Enemies Project, I was in Linares, Mexico. So this piece is shaped by back and forth emails. We decided on the theme of distance, travel and time and used some Spanish and Persian words and sentences  I wrote one passage and emailed it to him and waited for his passage to come. The final piece is one long poem with a more or less unified voice rather than two pieces corresponding with each other. This poem was performed on October 25 in the Rich Mix Centre, London as a part of the Camaradfest II in which 100 poets collaborated in pairs on 50 poems.

qué perra es

They say we age slower
if we’re traveling fast
as if time is a stupid dog
chasing after a train, as if

As if is slayable
when it comes to time
so there is el tiempo del sur
and we have immovable time
so I ask ¿qué perra es?

But they say it’s Mexican time
Ten thousand taxies ahead
Making us age like a. should I say?
I just need to know: ¿qué perra es?
It was a hot night and it made me
want know the time
in Lisbon, in Tokyo

They say, ‘he wouldn’t give me the time
of day.’ They say, ‘I wouldn’t piss on him
if he was on fire.’ They say you must know
‘when to hold them, when to fold them’

But what I want to know
is how will your eyes flutter
when the dealer calls
and you must show what you’ve made
of a lousy hand.

You say it was just a burglary
Attempt, but I think you may have gone too far
By shooting a midlevel engineer
and a top baker and not finding
the 23 pound of black tar heroin
under the armchair and not even knowing
how to get home from there


To master Time is to master living.
To master Time is to master dying.
To master time is to disappear
in Monterrey on an independence day party
nine and a half years ago
To master dying by timing living
she masters living


Often I ask a question in a language
I don’t fully understand
the response always returns
at the speed of a back-handed ball
dizzy, unsure where on the street to turn
left or turn right but it is clear one must
make a turn somewhere

pas man be samt-i paayeen peecheedam
and that’s exactly what I did
va chand soal porseedam
as one should
¿qué perra es?
¿qué perra es?
And tiptoed around centro historico
so I just turned from
Isabel la Catótica  into Regina
All  in less than 5 seconds


Zanini Rallebol
wanna ne ne
wanna na na
Tu veux ou tu veux pas
don’t you na na me with your tongue
don’t you ne ne me with your eyes


I have a big old
fashioned bathtub
I hardly use, once
it was my birthday
and I hoped
I could mark it
so I lay there
and counted the lines
on my skin as they appeared

once I walked into a
grand boudoir
and that’s all I did that
day, pacing the floor
barefeet tickled on carpet
naked on starched scratching sheets
licking a pewter candle stick
all the possible comforts, all
the possible violence, all the tourists
clicking pictures, keep shuffling.


Ghazal Mosadeq is a writer and poet (winner of the Bayhaqi Short Fiction Prize, shortlisted for the Khorshid Poetry Prize). Her debut collection of poetry, Dar Jame Ma, was published in Iran in 2010, and her second book of poems, Biographies,  is published in London, UK by Susak Press, 2015. Her fiction and poetry has been published and translated in magazines and anthologies in Iran, Canada, United Kingdom, Poland, Greece and Portugal. She is a PhD research student at University of London, Birkbeck College.

‘Island’ Published in HARK Magazine

December 9, 2015

Really pleased to have my poem ‘Island’ published in the new edition of HARK Magazine: The Death Issue. You can read and download the new issue in a pdf here.

Review of The Good Dark in Magma 63

November 22, 2015

Really delighted to have The Good Dark reviewed alongside Claudia Rankine and Matthew Siegel in the forthcoming edition of Magma Poetry.

“Many of the poems in this profoundly lyrical collection are characterised by long sentences, often breaking across the sense – with short lines and short breaths, which, if you read it as I did, might have the strange effect of making you sigh at regular intervals.”

“But ultimately it is for its sound that I found this collection most enjoyable: it is an exercise in sustained tone, possessing a consistent, melancholy music, a heart-breaking sob in its voice.”

I Look Up Again published in Leopardskin and Limes

November 13, 2015

My poem ‘I Look Up Again‘ has been published in the magazine Leopardskin and Limes, alongside an awesome illustration by Edinburgh artist and pal Faith Eliott.

Poems in translation on Lyrikline

October 3, 2015

So totally delighted to have fifteen of my poems posted in translation on Lyrikline: Untitled (Howe)The Ocean I Call MineWindow, Not SkyUnfinished Rooms, The ApartmentThe FloodI Do Not Want Rain for RainBabelA Raincoat, A Spell of Rain Ago, Oregon TrailMy 100-Year-Old GhostSummer Nights, WalkingUntitled (Lincoln)Waiting for the Ocean, and The Duke in Pines appear in their original English plus translations into Arabic, Turkish, Bulgarian, German and Bosnian.

Thanks so much to the translators for all their hard work, and thanks to VERSschmuggel, Highlight Arts & Literature Across Frontiers who facilitated many of these versions.

I Do Not Want Rain For Rain in Berlin

October 1, 2015

Huge thanks to the wonderful folks at The Reader Berlin for having me over and recording this video of my poem ‘I Do Not Want Rain for Rain‘. Apologies for the dog.

The poem is from my second book, The Good Dark, published by Penned in the Margins.