Sunday Poem – John W Sexton

Evening folks.  It’s only been a while since the last post here – but in between the last post and this post I’ve read at a breastfeeding festival and been hiking around Rydal Water.

On Saturday I read at Ulverston Breastfeeding Festival – the main reader was Hollie McNish, whose poem about breastfeeding went viral on YouTube (

I must admit to being slightly reticent about this gig before hand.  I was worried because I didn’t have any poems about breastfeeding, or having children, not having breastfed or had children.  But it was a great night – my friend who does have a child came with me (without the child) and another local poet Kate Davis was performing too.

Hollie was lovely – very friendly but very professional.  She read three poems first and then I read for about 15 minutes.  Then Kate read for 15 minutes, then Hollie read another poem to finish the first half off.

At the interval, Hollie already had a queue of people waiting to buy her book.  I managed to sell nine of my wolves which I was quite pleased with because NONE of the audience were poets.  There was no one there who normally comes to the poetry events that I go to – I think most people there were there for the festival or had come down just to see Hollie – one woman had come from Manchester.  I always get a warm glow when I sell any poetry books – but especially so when it is to people that aren’t poets.  The audience seemed so positive – I think they had a really good night and hopefully this will encourage them to come to more poetry events maybe.

In the second half Hollie did about 45 minutes from a show she is writing about the experience of being pregnant and then having her daughter.  Normally this kind of stuff really wouldn’t interest me – because I don’t have children I kind of tend to switch off from it…but she writes about the experience in a really clever way and brings in politics and feminism and humour – and the way she performs is so good you can’t help but be interested.

Today I’ve been hiking with the hubby and the dogs around Rydal Water- we were going to go up Skiddaw but the forecast was horrendous so we bailed it.

And tomorrow – glory day! I’m off to Ty Newydd – it feels like this place is my second home!  I went on my first residential poetry course there – that was with Sarah Kennedy and Nigel Jenkins as tutors.  I think that was 2007.  Then I went on a Poetry Masterclass one with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke.  That must have been 2008.  And then I think I went on a course in 2009 with Fiona Sampson and Alan Jenkins.  And then I went on a course in 2010 with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra.  And I haven’t been back since then – in 2011 I got married in the summer of course and swanned off on honeymoon for most of the holidays which meant no writing courses for me.  And in 2012 – I went on a writing course at Holland House with the Second Light Network.  The tutors then were Mimi Khalvati and Myra Schneider.  And tomorrow I’m off on one again – the tutors are Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel.  I’m really looking forward to it – going on writing courses was one of the best things I’ve done – meeting other like minded people is just as important as the tutors really…and now I’m co-tutoring on writing courses..which I love just as much as going on them!

But that is tomorrow – and there is still a bit of Sunday left.    Today’s Sunday Poem is by John W. Sexton, a poet that I met on my recent trip over to Fermoy in Ireland.  John was a great laugh and a pleasure to hang out with but it was a relief to find he is also a great poet too!  He was born in 1958 and is the author of five poetry collections: ‘The Prince’s Brief Career’ (Cairn Mountain Press, 1996), ‘Shadows Bloom’ (Doghouse, 2004), Vortex (Doghouse 2005), ‘Petit Mal’ (Revival Press, 2009) and ‘The Offspring of the Moon’ (Salmon Poetry, 2013).

I bought Vortex, Petit Mal and The Offspring of the Moon from John in Fermoy – (what can I say, I got a good deal on all three!)

and haven’t read the first two yet, but did read The Offspring of the Moon in one sitting – a couple of days after I’d recovered from the poetry hangover.

The main feature of the book are these strange poems which are almost like riddles, except the answer is in the title.  There are lots of these throughout the collection.  The first poem in the book is called ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’ and starts

‘We’re those lopsided puppets awkward
in motion through the air.  Our wings
are fractured windows of pale glass looking
out, looking in, to nothing.’

I really liked this poem – later on the daddy long legs are described as ‘Ghost Needles’ – that is beautiful isn’t it?  And I quite like having the answer to the riddle in the title because I’m too lazy to work it out.  Written in the same vein is ‘Frog’, ‘Sunlight’, ‘Pulls’, ‘Cat’, ‘Sandman’, ‘Comb’, ‘Grass’, ‘Crow’, ‘Badger’, ‘Brain’ and ‘Bog Asphodel’.  They’re spaced out throughout the book and they were a real delight – very inventive language used throughout.  And then the other thing about this book is a vein of fairytale/fantasy/folk lore running through it – a twist of strangeness which I really enjoyed.

The poem that I’ve selected stands out from these two concerns that run throughout the book and I think that is why I like it.  I was all set to ask John for one of the wonderful riddle poems and then I got to this poem, which is near the end of the collection and it kind of jumped out at me – delightfully bonkers and as in a lot of John’s poetry – the title is of utmost importance to the reader’s understanding of the poem – it gives us insight.  It almost feels like the writer has let us in on a secret  that we are not supposed to know!

I think this poem is very funny and very sinister at the same time.  You can’t help but laugh – but then you feel uncomfortable for laughing.  I love the line ‘for they could not be/forced to do anything against their will’.

If you would like to buy ‘The Offspring of the Moon’ you can buy it from his lovely publisher here

I hope you enjoy the poem!

On the Morning a President Ordered the Invasion of Iraq – John W. Sexton

Fascinated by the ants in the sugar-bowl first thing
in the morning, black-helmeted and moving about
as if pedalling on low and invisible bicycles,
he tried several experiments, starting with feeding them
to the goldfish; but found the goldfish disdainfully
disinterested.  More fascinating was the fact that
the ants appeared unable to break the surface of the water
and paddled shallowly from one end of the fish-tank
to the other.  Admiring of their perseverance he
rescued them one by one, gave them all a chance to dry out
on the window-sill with a heap of sugar to keep them
focussed.  Then he tried to see how many he could keep
in a teaspoon without them crawling out, but found it almost
impossible to put them in there in the first place, for they could not be
forced to do anything against their will.  All in all
he spent over an hour playing with the ants, found it difficult
in the finish to leave them and make his way to work.  The last he
glimpsed of them was a swirling spiral of black dashes with legs
busying themselves around the tipped honey-jar he’d left
on the kitchen floor.  He watched momentarily the viscous golden mess
spreading out along the tiles, then turned his back and made his way
towards the car and his dull job.

1 comment on “Sunday Poem – John W Sexton

  1. I don’t have kids either – but yes, Hollie is a fantastic performer, and a helpful attitude changer.

    John’s poem is very clever, and yes I guffawed at the end too. I like how he sues titles. Coincidentally – just the other day I was trying to help an ant get out of my room at work (using a jar), but he/she wouldn’t have any of it… so, in the end, I just left her to it… so maybe I was barking up the wrong tree too… just like the president!

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