Sunday Poem – James Caruth

Evening folks.   I’ve had quite a nice weekend – I’ve been in Sheffield at the Lyric Festival.  On Friday I was reading as part of a Poetry Business event with Ed Reiss, Mimi Khalvati and Michael Laskey.  It was a really lovely reading.  I tried some new poems out as well as reading some from the pamphlet.

Afterwards Liz Venn and I went along to the pub with Peter and Ann Sansom, Seni Seniviratne, Michael Laskey, Mimi Khalvati and River Wolton.  We were sat with Seni and Michael and although I’d heard of them both as poets, I hadn’t met them properly before, but they were really easy to talk to.  Seni has one of the most interesting life histories I think I’ve ever heard, and when she gets round to writing it as a novel, I’ll definitely be buying it – and Michael – well, Michael used to edit Smiths Knoll, which is now not being published.  Smiths Knoll was an amazing poetry magazine that published new and established writers.  When I was first starting out it was one of the first magazines I subscribed to, and one of the first I submitted too.  And boy did I submit.  Smiths Knoll was famous for replying within a week, sometimes within days.  I think I submitted maybe twenty, thirty times – and I used to get these lovely little notes on the rejection slips – Michael would always tell me which one or two poems had the most promise, and this would give me a boost of confidence and I would package those poems off to a different magazine and send poor Michael six more.  I don’t know if he got so many different submissions that he didn’t notice that I was obsessively submitting.  I think at the time I thought he wouldn’t notice it was the same person submitting with sometimes no gap at all.  Maybe he didn’t – but his rejection slips were always so positive that I never felt despondent being rejected.  In fact it had the opposite effect! So Smiths Knoll was important for me in my development as a writer, although I was never published in it, I always harboured a secret soft spot for it.  I think the literary scene is the poorer for it not existing.  However, it may also mean that Michael will have more time for his own poetry which is pretty wonderful as well, and this can only be a good thing.  Anyway – Michael listens when people talk.  I realised how rare this was when I spoke to him.  He really listens.  Not in a ‘I’m waiting till you finish your story so I can tell my story’ kind of way.  He listens because he’s interested – he’s interested in people and this makes him easy to talk to.  Especially when you’re like me and you don’t stop for breath!  I think he is a contender for the Nicest Man in Poetry Award.

So that was a nice night on Friday – I stayed at Liz’s on Friday night in Glossop, and then Saturday was a full day workshop at the Poetry Business.  It was a great day – and nice to catch up with lots of poets – Rachel Davies, John Foggin, David Borrott, Roy Marshall, Maria Taylor, Carole Bromley, James Caruth – also met Becca Audra who I’ve only spoken to on Twitter – so that was great.  Then we went to a Wetherspoons, had something to eat and went to more readings for the Lyric Festival on Saturday – Tishani Doshi and Priscilla Uppal again ( I know, I’m obsessed) and then a break and another reading – Jacob Polley, Lavinia Greenlaw and Paul Farley.  By this time I was shattered and ready for bed – so got back to Barrow at after midnight – so quite tired!

So today I just sat on the sofa all day and read poetry.  I read Mimi Khalvati’s new pamphlet, which is brilliant, called Earthshine, published by Poetry Business.  I read some of Ted Hughes’ letters.  I watched Dirty Dancing and cried at the bit where her father won’t speak to Baby and she starts crying.   I mooned at Patrick Swayze and thought about how that film (and Grease with John Travolta) sets young girls up for so many disappointments.  How come women I’ve not met one man that tries to be like John Travolta in Grease or Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing yet the media supposedly has a massive effect on the way we behave, look, think etc…

Anyway!  Today’s Sunday poem is by James Caruth, a man with such a lovely accent that he could read a Wetherspoons menu and make it sound like a poem.  I first met Jim at the Poetry Business workshops – he is a great guy, very humble and a real poetry lover – not just a poet.  What I mean by this is that he loves poetry – he gets excited about poetry, he likes talking about poems, not just writing them.

I’ve been meaning to have Jim as the Sunday poet for the longest time now – and the poem I’ve chosen is ‘Pinky’ from Jim’s recent pamphlet from the Poetry Business called ‘Marking the Lambs’.  A lot of Jim’s poems are elegies, or if not elegies, they are laced through with a wistful yearning.James Caruth was born in Belfast.  His first collection, ‘A Stones Throw’ was published by Staple Press in 2007 and the pamphlet ‘Dark Peak’ appeared from Longbarrow Press in 2008.  Jim’s poetry is very lyrical and musical and I would urge you all to get yourself to the Sheffield Poetry Festival in June (yes, Sheffield has TWO poetry festivals) where he will be reading with Bernard O’Donaghue.  The festival programme can be found at and they have lots of brilliant poets coming.

If you would like to order Jim’s pamphlet you will find it at


Here is the Sunday Poem –

Pinky – James Caruth

im. Patrick McKenna

He drank whiskey like John Wayne,
throwing it down his throat in one slug.
I once asked him if he’d like some water in it
and the answer came back like a shot –
Water’s for washing your face, son.

Now his face fails to live up to his name,
livid as raw fish, he lies stretched out
between the candles and the sandwiches<
dapper as always in his Sunday suit,
pressed white shirt, dark tie.

When I go, I want it to be like Pinky,
with whiskey and lies and people
whose faces I can’t recall, saying
my name in their prayers or talking
about me behind their hands –
another old gunslinger shot in the back.

And after, they’d sing legends
of things I’d never done,
so full of bravado and balls
that I’d be happy to swear
every single word was true.


2 comments on “Sunday Poem – James Caruth

  1. lines you wish you’d written (one of several thousand in an endless series) : ‘between the candles and the sandwiches’……. that makes me sit up and pay attention. I want to hear it read in a W. Belfast accent

  2. Just discovered James Caruth! Just heard from you I missed hearing him and his voice and Bernard O’ Donoghue in Sheffield. I do so miss SK and those lovely little rejection notes from Michael L. Thanks for your post. best wishes

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