Skip navigation

poet ● novelist ● arts collaborator ● teacher

Sample Poems and Readings


with thanks to Heather Parnell, Pocket Remains

Beyond the softnesses of squirrel, sable, 
the more liquidly flickering kinds 

of weasel, there is mouse-whisker, 
down-feather of cloud-pheasant, newborn baby’s hair.

Don’t credit the word ‘air brush’. There is nothing 
to be said with that in your calligraphy. 

But look into the fire.

Pick one flame. Watch how it licks 
itself, its frayed point, to the finest  

definition. Try to read, 
then to write, what is sketched by that tip. 


				In the lost script of the silent people, 
				thirty one characters seem to refer 
				to shades of being
				absent – e.g. 

				‘the sense that someone has just left a room 
				where they were never present’ or 
				‘the state of having left what 
				is no longer there’.

				There is a possibility 
				that you will understand them. 
				You have been warned.
				Do you want to read on?


Among the rakings out of last night’s bonfire, 
this: a flicker book of stills, 

half way to negatives, each brief exposure 
of maybe an almost a face as it twisted away 

but not before its glance burned in
as her or his face turned away might scorch the other 

to the heart.  Here’s a snap of the heart,

its heat print on the moment, here's its ash-print 
on the air. They’ll keep the albums, the two 

matching albums of each other, see each other's faces 
riffled by in all the windows of a passing train. 


				As if the most mundane 
				and crumpled of us might reveal 
				in the body one day
				what the mind hardly dared

				suppose: spontaneous 
				combustion – every cell 
				resolving, in a kind of Rapture,
				God's equation, e = mc2


With a lighter-than-thinking brush-point, 
a less-than-a-finger-tip’s flick, in an eye’s-blink,

a kiss to the page: a mark left without pigment 
or ink – the almost weightless imprint 

in the grass, the pad-scuff in sand 
where life brushed past us, so close: signs

the old bush people knew. Ten thousand years 

they shared the land with wildfire 
in its season. Untended now, it stalks 

the gardens of the suburbs, leaving crude 
graffiti we can’t read beside our looted bins.


				Where the angel of fire passed over 
				and did not stop
				to knock: 
				a darkening... 

				Where it came low, slowed 
				and let its wingtip brush
				between the streetlight and the blinds:
				its shadow, with us...

				Where it hesitated on the gable: 
				in the bricked-in chimney,
				its grit on the page...

				In the morning a scar, a charred 
				hole burned clean through 
				where it entered: as close 
				as we'll come 

				to beholding the face, 
				to transcribing the one 
				and unsayable 

From Between the Islands, Bloodaxe 2020

From A Part of the Main

	old Gogmagog lies crumpled 
on the beach, like the buckle-kneed 
	girders of the rusting pier. 
old gun-emplacements, rather — 
	the sinking East coast 
of this skew-whiff island 
	wears them jauntily 
until the final slither.  ah 
	well, let the old dog 
off the lead, watch him lolloping 
	down to the tide line, 
barking at the crash, recoiling, 
	and barking again.
we hardly see 
	that the horizon’s faded, 
sea mist rising, until 
	a faint whickering chink 
of rigging says: look up 
	— white sails in the mist, 
and voices, too close,
	small and flinty clear,
the way mist does.
	this is another border. 
we are not quite anywhere.
Philip Gross · Old Gogmagog...

From A Part of the Main, Mulfran Press 2018

Cormorants on the Taff

Mulfran: mule-crow:

half-heraldic, mixmatched, mongrel, 
a sturdy first cross
of cool-eyed snake and canny corvid 

— a bit too much neck 
quite to know what to do with at rest –

four or five in a hunch midstream above 
their shuddering reflections 
on a hummingly 

high tension cable,
un-scorched but 
as if pre-shrivelled by the shock 

of time (think archaeopteryx, 
think a fossil in flight) 

and what became of us : 

our sagging power lines, 
large-bore pipes, 

whole towns of thirst and wastage 
cross-lacing the course of the Taff, 
like a body rusting 

past retirement age, 
all its workings on show. 

Say crooked
and you've got the mule-crow wrong.
That one straight flight 

upstream or down 
(just cutting a meander here or there)

is the measure of things, 
whatever water does 
the true meridian 

round which our dry fields 
our papery brick plains 

warp and flutter,   
sheets pegged in the wind.   
Blown away.  Now 

the mulfran unfolds,    
is off 

up to the far bright water-bodies 
of the sheep-despoiled uplands 
or down to the high tide   

held in  
we would like to think forever

by the bonny 
trumped-up buttress 
of the Bay.  
Philip Gross · Cormorants on the Taff

From Troeon: Turnings, 2021


Just a wish out of place — the first click 
	starts a ticking backwards: one pop of a pod
		of balsam, like a caught breath, like a sigh 

in-sucked, and its blush-blooms, in popsicle-pink
	and all over us briefly, start acting their age 
		now, retracting their flip asides; they shrink  

into something like shame. Go dark 
	like a playhouse in Puritan times. The buddleia 
		shrugs off its easy disconnected butterflies.

But this will be nothing to the tearing 
	up, the snap-crackling of roots. First that sad 
		defeated carnival of rhododendrons (and who 

would defend them?) herded from the hills; then 
	the other non-natives, one by one... The pears 
		may try to merge in with the apples, yes, 

the crabbiest of them, until they're denounced
	and we'll wake to the rumble of the sycamores 
		retreating; London planes stripped of the name,

leaving squares bare and pitted. They make for the sea, 
	hoping to unpick the trade routes, wind the tides
		back, all the accidents that brought them...  

Now the lights are going out all over 
	Europe's gardens. Bird migrations locked out. 
		Silence deep enough to catch the drift 

like smoke, like snow, of the murmur of gone
	approaching: wildfowl flowing south, the grunt 
		and lowing of the ice sheet crumpling into place. 

Almost as if we'd wished it. As if it had never been away.

From A Bright Acoustic (Bloodaxe, 2017)


			 : a heart-
		shaped scorch-
	patch in the bracken.
Today a spat of Valleys rain has stopped it there 

but each Easter makes tinder of this hillside,
a swathe of crisp brown question-marks, 
fire in them itching to run where it will

and how could you resist it, being fourteen 
and full of the slack of the day, of the nothing 
to go home to, with a lighter in your jeans, 

the others looking on? A fair wind, luck, 
and there'll be sirens this evening, smoke- 
signalling We were (are still) here 

where they'll already be too late, 
those flatfoots in vizors and fire suits, 
cartoon spacemen in the wrong film. Watch 

them chasing the last of the flame-snakes, 
wriggling here, there. Different greynesses 
into the night sky: smoke and steam. 

That's a good day, when everyone wakes 
to sodden rakings-over, world restored
to black-and-white, shoots shrivelled

to wisps, bared rocks and birch trunks 
scorched, a stink as alkaline as birdlime, 
valley like a morning-after ashtray 

(yes, you in the dinky estate by the station, 
we'll rub your noses in it), like a riddled grate 
of clinker, where coal was.  Not far 

beneath the skin of new-turfed green, 
		dug under but still 
			smouldering, the 
				heart. The scar.

Back to top

From A Fold in the River (Seren, 2015)

A Love Song of Carbon

For six years, on a high shelf in an upstairs bedroom, 
	she was the only one who did not change. 

Down here, in the oxygen economy, we came and went, 
	our carbon still mixed with water, breathing, moistening, 
		drying — yes, even our youngest, there, etching in breath 

on the glass, now a smiley or down-in-the-mouth-now  
	moon-face dripping. He took time, the eldest, withering   

without her, needing ointments for his thinned 
	and flaking skin — the sores on his shin did the weeping, 
		the chemical bonds coming loose, letting parts of him go...

As patient as she'd learned to be in life, she 
	waited, dressed and contained — in leather-textured 

cardboard round a screw-top urn. Six years till the day 
	they could meet in all simplicity, at last, entirely 
		conversant with each other. Ash into ash 

lifts from my broadcast scatter, and into a wet wind
	for winnowing, chalkier flakes dropping free

into wire-rooted ling, small gorse, bell heather, 
	rabbit scuts; the finer grains fetched up (we 
		flinch, then stay, yes, why not let them dust us)

lifting towards Sheepstor, North Hessary Tor, 
	Great Mis Tor and the deeper moor beyond 

whatever skyline he and she had ever reached. 
	The rain clouds come up over Cornwall like the grey 
			Atlantic. Generations. Wave on wave on wave. 

									for JKG and MJAG, 10.06.12

From Love Songs of Carbon (Bloodaxe, 2015)

Flying Down Wales

The wind bucks
but it doesn't refuse us
— does us no favours either,
no more than it would a moderately
			successful bird.
The land, though, gives little away

from bird height.
(Swans, calmly rowing,
aren't unknown at 20,000 feet.)
Not dark yet, but the edges of things
			begin to blur
as age will loosen our grip first on names,

nouns, days, 
then on all definition... 
We track down the knobble-
back spine of a difficult country — 
			surly wrinkles 
in the grey, the sun withheld, till all at once 

and suddenly
every tarn, stream-
capillary, oxbow and stippling
reed-bed, each least bog-seep is gold-
			tooled script, 
is fire-spill from the smelting furnace. Or 

say: we see
what the birds see
with their thousand miles to fly 
and steering by the flicker-compass 
			in the genes: the stateless
state of water, on the frontier between day and night.

Back to top

From Later (Bloodaxe, 2013)

Vocable, part 19.

for John

Ninety now, you're adrift on the vowel-stream,
the crisp edge of all your five languages gone

and we're back to the least of language. It's all one,
your, his or my slight modulations of the bare
vowel of animal need (though even there 
how they give us away, our vowel sounds: 

class, place, family secrets, the wrong 
school or side of the blanket or overstayed 

visa, let slip, between one consonant 
and the next. 

a fence of plosives, dentals and fricatives 
as we will... in times of war and weather 

we can't stem the vowel-flood; it will swell, 
barely articulate. No border can contain it;

it will seep, erode, find 
cracks; it will break through. 

From Deep Field (Bloodaxe, 2011)


On the uniqueness of the individual 
there is plenty said, so let us sing 

Same — the perseveration of pylons 
shuffling to likeness on their clod-bound feet

whatever the slope. Each quirk of a bolt 
here, there an extra bracing, is a symptom, 

scar or affectation — in short, personality. 

Like the knee-doctor who makes conversation 
(gravely smiling) with this lesion, that dwindling 

bone density, or the therapist or the priest
nodding to the same old hungers, two or three 

same shames, same bruises, we come to the wood 
of common being through the trees of detail 

case by      case by        case by            case.

Back to top

From I Spy Pinhole Eye (Cinnamon, 2009)

Sluice Angel

 Low tide at the sea lock,  	
		a forty foot drop to muddy shallows... 		
				One boat's width   	
		of channel that the dredger grubs up 		
				daily... Silt to one side scored in circles   			
					where they dragged for don't ask what...
The tall shut doors of the hall  	
		of the world at which the weight of water,  		
				of incipience, does not need to knock:  	
		feel it there like a shudder  		
				of difference, the engine of change.   			
					Now, almost soundless, hinges shift.   
With a gradual calibrated rip  	
		like a concord of lathes, with a crypt smell,  		
				two green-grey-brown stiffening blades   	
		of water fold in. They curve, feathering  		
				themselves in free fall:         wings    			
					flexed, shuddering, not to soar   
but to pour themselves down, to earth 	
		the charge, liquid solid as rock 		
				and untouchable, trouncing itself   	
		to a froth, to exhaustion, till with a sigh 		
				the gates can open, and the world,  			
					our world, small craft, come through. 

From The Water Table (Bloodaxe, 2009)

Fire Forms (1)

My father had a way with fire:
the candle-flame cupped in his hands

as if he'd given birth to it.

It was a man thing, this 
familiarity. My mother winced away. 

He tamed it with a slow stroke 

of his finger through the flame
which did him no harm; no, it curled 

to his touch; it rubbed itself against him

till he licked his thumb and finger tip
and pinched its life out, gently, at the root.

This gift could be mine too, like a son's 

right... I just had to be sure —
hesitate, and you're burned.

It looked like a chance not worth taking

and I didn't... until thirty years later 
with my son's eyes watching me.

And it did hurt, and I didn't say.

Back to top

From The Egg of Zero (Bloodaxe, 2006)

The Abstract Garden

I come back more often these days, where I've never been:
         the Almohad garden. The idea of it — cool 
		proportions in the formless heat, 

a reticence of arches, the pierce-patterning of shade
	like my great-aunt's pepper-shaker. Raised 
		paths, sunken ground 

kept under leaves, a shared secret, and the pond bed 
	dry... with glints, a surface, courtesy
		of last night's spiders. 

But the aqueducts are crumbling as we speak; 
	the hordes of After have let it all go 
		like an unsolved equation,

the court of al-jibr, where the known and unknown 
	terms converse, the guests of zero.
		Imagine it gone, 

as good a place to start as any, a ground plan at most
	in the lie of the parking bays out back 
		of the new mall. Imagine 

yourself, arriving, tourist in another language, 
	to be told you're years too late... 
		turning away, exhausted 

by the flight, by missed connections, misdirections, 
	too many faces, camera-flash, screens,
 		windscreens and oh, 

the longing to peel off the film-thin veneer 
	of your self from yourself and


    	it occurs; one moment, that 
sufficiency of light through screens, of unseen 

		paths in combinations 
	masterful as chess or Go, so simple
you could spend a lifetime in them, ways we might

		walk, even at this late
	date, peaceably, alongside anyone, 
with not a common word between us. No, closer than that.

From The Abstract Garden (Old Stile Press, 2006)

All The Weather You Can Think Of

No, I said, this wasn't what we ordered

but it was delivered to our window: dawn
came with a flash, then slow considered thunder,

then a cresting wave of wind, hail chittering,
some dark like night again, and all of a sudden

the sun! Six impossible things
before breakfast... where the TV weather girl

was being sweet and bright and keen
like a child with something for the Nature Table

though we all know what she's in
is a blue space, and she's gesturing

in trust that everything needful
to make sense of her is being digitally mastered

in. This wasn't what we ordered. Don't
you know what day it is? I asked her

with the sound down, and her hands and eyes
said Yes, said Yes to everything

as if she would have married me
and all of us, us and our weather, there and then.

Which sent me out into silvery streets,
with flashes of discarded sunlight everywhere:

pavements, gutters, passing windscreens —
here, blue sky, and there a black cloud propped

against a near horizon, and a rainbow stump,
just the base of one under construction,

like more than a miracle (for God it's just
too simple), like the work of human hands

together, our joined hands, today.
This wasn't what we ordered

but we won't say no.

Back to top

From Mappa Mundi (Bloodaxe, 2003)


She spent winter and spring 
in her chrysalis, a strait world 
shrunk and puckered like a mis-stitched scar. 

Inside it held a breaking down of things 
like a drop of original swamp sea. 
Which is one way not to speak 

of unopening windows resigned to the view 
speedbumped drive; the coded sign 

among so many casualties; 
the swabbed smells and the sounds off 

like that sobbing on legs 
down the corridor, and the dribbling 
overspill from the padlocked pool 

where a green beach ball scuds slow 
eccentric orbits 
to the pipe and back and round...


Hawk moth caterpillars 
dropped from the limes in our street, 
pointless manna she'd save 

like the good girl she was, 
on damp earth in a jamjar. 
They shrank to sealed flasks 

for the usual great experiment. 
We found a blood-brown drip 
in the husk where one vanished; 

another that, shrink-
wrapped too tight in itself, 
couldn't ever split free.

So seeing her now
rise from the station subway
with bags marked for home, 

to the lip of the crowd, and hesitate, 
not a child now, and not any image 
I could make to hold her, 

I can't call her name, 
I can't find words for her, 
I wouldn't dare.

From Changes of Address: Poems 1980-98 (Bloodaxe, 2001)
... and previously in The Wasting Game (Bloodaxe, 1998)

Finding Philip Gross's poetry online

The Poetry Archive is a splendid library of readings by our best contemporary poets. Click on the Full Tracklist to hear extracts from a wide selection of Philip's poems, and cheaply download the ones you'd like to keep, link here.

Philip Gross is one of a small number of poets who have separate collections in the Archive for their adult and their children's poetry. Click through for his young people's work.

Back to top