Author Archives: Fiona Lesley

Diane Di Prima – A New Year poem

Hi all, prompted by Robbie’s email to use the website! Here is a poet I am just discovering, a female beat generation poet… I had been thinking, I know about Allen Ginsberg, Frank O Hara and some of the other men but who were the women of that breakthrough movement. Here’s one of them, Diana Di Prima:

The Playhouse

Every show seventy beeswax candles
flicker and burn in the iron chandeliers.
The player’s breath writhes in the flames
a handful of minutes is all it takes
to tell the best and the worst of us
love and betrayal blazes in the eyes
of the crowd. They go home to their own
story, the players wipe their faces clean.
Alone on the darkening stage
a single figure lowers each chandelier
snuffs out the remaining light.


On his eightieth birthday, up at the lake
first snow, ‘ensilumi’,
fell in spirals of white garlands through
the dark branches of spruce and alder.

The old gang of party-makers
climbed out of their station wagons
and picked their way across the ice
towards the old smoke sauna.

Inside, the enormous mound of rocks
spat and hissed, voices swelled
with heat and memories, vowels expanding
to a drone like a tape running down.

He sat among them like a shadow, the thought
haunting his body until it punctured
through the steam and the years: how
she had got herself up there that night,

pain tearing at her young womb,
how she might have welcomed the pall
of smoke, her scream bouncing out
across the unflinching lake.

Poem from open mic night

Come dander through the valley

When summer’s ease has loosed us
we dander through her lanes
sky-wide and tree-tall lush.

Some days when world has noosed us
we spangin through fields
crop-deep and farmer-booted.

But oh my love my heart turns cold
when you are wrapped in winter secrets
and hake and hurl the long way home.

Lift up your head my dear
and though we may buks our way
through hard, dark days, light is near

and though I, all hippit, may hirple
and you bamble and striddle
may we always dander my dear
may we always dander.

Dander – to stroll leisurely (ireland)
Bamble – to walk unsteadily and awry (east anglia)
Buks – to walk with difficulty as if walking through water (shetland)
Hake – to trudge effortfully (yorkshire)
Hippit – stiff in the hips (scots)
Hirple – to hobble (northern ireland)
Striddle – to walk uncomfortably with an unusual gait (northern ireland)
Spangin – to walk vigorously (scots)


Inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s book, Landmarks.

The Verb – poems as friends on the radio!

at the end of the week I was a bit surprised and then terrified to find myself on BBC Radio 3s The verb –  ‘cabaret of the word’ hosted by Ian McMillan talking about The Poetry Exchange. As you know – the project invites people to come and talk about a poem that’s been a friend to them and then we create a reading/recording of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation. We’re adding a new layer to this, writing poems in response to the conversation and the poem that the visitor brings with them – stupidly I mentioned this to the producer and so ended up reading my own poem as part of the programme. I wanted them to concentrate more on the voices of the visitors as this is the heart of the project for me but once the cat was out of the bag I had to go through with it! Anyway, you can hear me talking about the project, a snippet of one of the exchanges and the reading and then me reading the poem I created in response. The episode is available on their podcast  – all the guests were great and there is some lovely music too but if you did just want to hear the poetry exchange ‘bit’ it comes about 31 minutes into the programme.

meanwhile, its really our podcast that gives a fuller picture of the work, you can hear it here:

The Poetry Exchange

Most of you already know about my project The poetry Exchange – talking to readers about poems that have been a friend to them and then creating bespoke recordings of the poem for them? I think I mentioned a while ago we have created a podcast, you can listen to the first four episodes here, and/or use the links to actually subscribe (free) to the podcast:

Each episode is quite different according to the poem and the person that comes along. Hope you enjoy it. If you want to talk to me directly about it or are having trouble with the links do email me:

The Therapist Gets An Eye Test

The Therapist Gets An Eye Test

The circumference of his face
hung like one of saturn’s moons
blurry in the middle-distance
of the two-metre square dimly lit room.

“Look towards me and follow the tiny light”
he spins her gently to the right – swoooooosh
“look up to the ceiling and down to the floor”
rolls himself in apparatus cupping her chin

and their knees come together like scissors.
Proximity Distance Boundaries
things she calculates daily with
verb tense form of address

he has no regard for. She hangs
perpendicular to the chair symmetrical
as a split pear. “The coloured lights
the red and the green the two circles –

which is easiest to see?” She blinks
then blurts “The red?” schlott
a lens is dropped “And now?”
“The green – no still the red” – she’s lost

Schlott “And now?” The lines shudder
as if an earthquake or a tremor
hit the room – years and years
of looking into things but never

have things appeared this unclear.
She squints stares stabs out “The Green!”
but he sees through her empathetic manoeuvre
“No no Miss Harrison it’s what YOU see.

Try again – the red or the green?”



This is not in response to the brilliant April prompt which I will endeavour to have a go at, but is an attempt at a mirror poem, prompted by the great conversation at Monday’s meeting. (i wasn’t sure where to post it)


We are more present
when we go
revealed now in the same etched way as
more than all the bright days of May could ever show;
the ferny-feathered leaves,
the cups of corolla-cradled blossom,
the buoyancy of branch.
So I come to know my neighbour’s laburnum tree
shadowed against white-washed walls
caught in the orange-street lamp
when dusk falls in the alley.

When dusk falls in the alley,
caught in the orange street-lamp,
shadowed against white-washed walls
so i come to know my neighbours laburnum tree.
The buoyancy of branch,
The cups of corolla-cradled blossom,
the ferny-feathered leaves,
more than all the bright days of May could ever show
revealed now in the same etched way as
when we go
we are more present.

Loyalty (this was from the prompt, but it took me somewhere else..)


He was your animal twin, wilful

and independent, nothing

lap-dog about him,

always running on the perimeter of distance a human voice

could call him back from.


Something geometric in the positioning

between you, a kind of invisible thread

making time, distance and solid matter

irrelevant. I swear, when you were away

he slept with one ear slightly raised.


When I failed you and we separated

there was no question of who had custody

but you were generous with visits

and when he went blind and stiff in the hips,

you carried him over the threshold to see me.


We sat together remembering Aberdovey,

how he used to outrun himself chasing gulls

on the sand. At night I watched your head levitating

a millimetre above the pillow on the put-me-up-bed

listening to his struggle beneath us.


In the small hours I came down and found you

crouched at his head, nestling your cheek

into his baby-soft muzzle, I lay my hand,

feather-light with fear, on the staccato

rise and fall of his belly.


He didn’t take his last breath

so much as give it, his green-black eyes

staying on us, seeming to say, ‘understand

love, even loss,

is precious.’