taking off billy collins’s clothes

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

Welcome back to Poetry Breakfast ~ at home!  I’ve had a lovely month off, spending lots of poetry time with my grand-children, and eventually getting up to the Western Isles and enjoying a couple of weeks in our lovely Berneray Cottage.

Now I have to remember how to build a blog again – somewhat daunting, but I’m getting there, slowly!

I have the best of new starts  though, with the intriguingly titled ‘Taking off Billy Collins’s Clothes’ based on a poem by our guest poet this month, the wonderful Katrina Naomi who I first heard at one of Liz Lefroy’s fabulous Shrewsbury Poetry evenings. With this as our leaping off point, we have poems about clothes, and seduction, and growing up and growing old – and more as well.  It’s been great fun for me, and I hope you find something here to enjoy.

And just to start us off – here’s my all time favourite song about seduction (what’s yours?). This is by Mary Coughlan – see if you like it.

I want to be seduced

by Mary Coughlan | The Whole Affair



Dear Readers,

Everything (I hope!) written in red, or on a red background, is a clickable link to another page – it might be a copy of the poem online elsewhere; it might be background information to a poem or a poet; or to the publisher’s page for a particular book etc. Each link should open up in a new page, so that when you’ve finished looking at it you can close the link and you won’t have lost your place here. Some images will also be ‘clickable’ – particularly if they are of a poet or a book, for example.  Do explore and have fun!

Also, this blog is best read on a laptop-sized screen.  The formatting should transfer to tablets and phones but my design skills (such as they are) suit the bigger screen so to see it as I see it, may I suggest: a good chair at the table; a warm fire/shady spot (weather dependent); a very good cup of coffee/tea/glass of wine (remember this is a Poetry Breakfast though!) ) and a good half hour or so …


Taking off Billy Collins’s Clothes

It will be morning.
I will ask him to place his second cup
of espresso back in its saucer
as quietly as I know he can
and rise from the typewriter.
I will lead him to another window
where it will be snowing –
this and the horses distract him
while I ease off his jacket,
pull his lemon cashmere sweater over his head.
He will scarcely notice while he listens
for the sound snow makes, slipping away
to a reverie of landscapes he’s yet to visit.
As I unbutton his jeans,
his coffee breath
blurs the glass momentarily.
I cannot tell you everything
but he kicks away the crumpled denim
as if shrugging off something half-remembered
and I feel that he’s stopped himself
from murmuring something wry,
sensing I may prefer silence.

by Katrina Naomi, from Wild Persistence, Seren, 2020

NB Billy Collins has a new book, Whale Day, coming out in the US this month.

Charlotte Brontë’s Corset


I’m sorry Charlotte for this disservice.

Of course, your corset is discoloured,

these padded cups no longer coral pink.

Strips of whale plunge the depths

of your bodice, the slightly rusty metal

strip grips from breastbone to wasp-waist.

I feel like a tabloid reporter, sniffing around 

the armholes of your life.

                                               I once wore a corset

in my late teens, black PVC over a black skirt,

fishnets and suede stilettos. I didn’t know

a lot of things then, hardly knew who I was,

had barely heard of you. So what gives

me the right to go searching through

your smalls, to lay out your stays

in the library?

                            I don’t have so many scruples,

can’t be tight-laced. I need to breathe

the length of my lungs. And I do know

I’ve made your body so much larger 

than in life. Forgive me, my waist

is so very different to yours.

by Katrina Naomi, first published in Charlotte Brontë’s Corset, (The Brontë Society), 2010

Poem in which she wears her favourite wedding dress


which is a marriage of sea and birds.

Saints are all about her. Herring and mackerel

flit from the frothing nets of underskirts.

As it drips, the dress has many moods –

more than velvet, more than silk.

It is a ruffled dress, a dress in which to swim,

a dress in which others pray. It is a dress

of some import, a dress which reels

through her arms, covers and uncovers her head.

As the tidal collars retreat, choughs fix their nests

in her windy hair, their bright legs and beaks

ornament. This is a dress for accordions and fiddles.

This is a dress for a storm – a dress of gold and white,

and blue and red, and black. In this dress,

she senses she is half-Christian, believes

in the old names – those she loved,

those she lost – Alef, Cadoc, Dungarth, Salomon.

With the itch against her skin, she lets

the fabric fall, becomes mythology. Landscape.


by Katrina Naomi, first published in Poems in Which and here taken from Wild Persistence, Seren, 2020

Katrina keeps in touch with a regular newsletter for writers and readers, aptly called short and sweet – you can read the September edition here.

Thank you Katrina for these thought-provoking and moving poems, and thank you so much for being our guest this month.

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast, Wenlock Books Events

You will, I’m sure, want to read Billy Collins’ poem ‘Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes’, as it is, after all, the starting point for all of this.

You can read it here.

I refuse to take off Billy Collins’s clothes and discover his inner meanings or anyone else’s this time.

However as it was Tim who got me reading Billy Collins after one of his readings at Poetry Breakfast in Much Wenlock, I propose two of his poems: Vade Mecum and Saturday Morning from Questions About Angels which I cannot find online. This makes me laugh every time I read it and is for anyone who has ever had a hangover.

NB: See also: https://wenlockbooks.co.uk/poetry-breakfast-11/ for more about Billy Collins.

Hilary Tilley

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

by Matthew Arnold

Philip particularly wanted us to read Dover Beach, followed by ‘The Dover Bitch’ by Anthony Hecht.

Philip Browning

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Thank you Pauline for this cheeky celebration of older love and the unravelling that leads to flight, and freedom … ?

Taking Off by Pauline Prior-Pitt


they make it easy for each other
she no longer wears a bra

and he arrives commando
in his jeans

and sock-less

the taking off of socks
is so much bother

the ease of slow undressing
gives such pleasure

you will want to know

the view out of the window
is all of sea and sky

but a drawing down of blinds
adds mystery

later although I cannot tell you

they giggle like two teenagers
up to their tricks

what I can tell you

is that she is almost eighty
and he’s just seventy six


Pauline Prior-Pitt

Acknowledging the wonderful poem by Billy Collins called “Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes”.


Wool Coat by Pauline Prior-Pitt

She finds the cast off stitch
and pulls

unravels tight-knit hems
row on row of worn grey wool

snips off all the buttons

unpicks both shoulder seams
the sleeves

loosens knotted patterns
round her neck

unwinds till all that’s left
are skeins of wool

long unpicked threads

light enough to fly unwound
and lift into the wind


Pauline Prior-Pitt


Our Poet-at-Home

Taking off Billy Collins’s Clothes

I’ll pass the notebook
fallen from the ink-stained inside pocket
of the jacket worn for outside gigs.
Advise him that red/grey combo he wears for TEDtalks
negates the idea that poets notice important stuff.
The V-neck sweater tight & tricky for a man of letters
sparks off static setting his hair on end
generating Van de Graff memories from a lab top boyhood.
I’ll negotiate his specs through the black hole of the top,
lost in the polyester dark without them.
The T-shirt printed with Emily Dickinson
will lie below the open-neck shirt.
I’ll ask why he doesn’t wear ties
like Paul McCartney worn mid-slung
in that photo with George Plimpton.
The Y fronts will be a surprise /
Bugs Bunny Boxers the favourite
in the Poets Underwear Handicap Stakes at Amherst.
I’ll ponder on the year from underwear pulled off with teeth
to reincarnation cleaning oil from bicycle cogs like J-cloths.
Even without any clothes
Billy won’t be really naked until I take his specs off.
Unless by this undressing he wears contact lenses:
wider clearer view to focus his writing.

by Steve Harrison

Poet at Home

Some notes: ‘lab top’ refers to the science lessons where the Van de Graff generator made hair stand on end

and the forward slash ( is there a name for this ?)  – I think it looks like part of a pair of Y fronts..!

Looking forward to seeing the site later x

Steve Harrison

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

My (eclectic!) suggestions for September Poetry Breakfast at Home are:
Of course, Billy Collins’ ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes’, the title of his Selected Poems (2000) Picador
Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ I have it in The Oxford Book of English Verse (1966) The Clarendon Press and
Thom Gunn’s ‘Three’ from his collection called Moly (1971) Faber and Faber.

Ali Redgrave

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books & Much Wenlock

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The two poems below are both about older love. Liz’s poem is one I’ve loved since first reading it in Mending the Ordinary – there are so many different ways of reading it and it delights and moves me every time. Ross’s poem is from a sequence of love poems in The Blue Dressing Gown, called ‘The Heart, No Valentine’, which is a line from a poem of the man himself, Billy Collins, so a very serendipitous choice for this month. But also, the title poem from that book is the one which won the Wenlock Poetry Prize and first brought Ross all the way from Australia and into our lives.  Ross is also publisher of Mark Time Books which will publish Liz’s forthcoming new book (which I, for one, am very excited about!), ‘I Buy a New Washer’ later this year. Do visit their websites to learn more.

In the queue in the Waitrose Café, I meet my love

The man next to me in the queue is gorgeous.
It starts with him telling me I’ve dropped my pen,

and I pick it up, though it’s not mine.
I’m almost sure he knew that anyway,
so we talk about pens and dropping things.
I ask for a cappuccino, and we’re on to poetry.
As the milk is frothed, he says for him
it’s about what rhymes with daffodils.
I tell him about my rhyming dictionary.
He says, “So you’re a clever girl then!”

I smile, say, “No” then “Yes” to chocolate.
We laugh as I hand over a five pound note.

“If I were fifty years younger, I’d fall in love with you.”

He says this as I hold out my hand for change.
All this in minutes, and I already love him.

He’s eighty-five, but I won’t believe it.
He looks at me from the corner of his eye,
gives a nod of knowing, asks for two cups of tea,

hooks his stick over his arm to pay.
I say, “Lovely to meet you,” walk to a table
past a woman who is smaller than him,

creased into a chair and wearing pink socks.
I look up at them from time to time. 

I see their silence.  It’s just been a long time. 

It’s been a long, long time. 

by Liz Lefroy, from Mending The OrdinaryFair Acre Press in 2014

with her

and last she comes to bed
the blue nightie
caught below her knees
and as she bends – like. girl picking flowers –
her breast moves with the movement down
her falls to one side

there’s a scent of rose and jasmine
and her night cream glows
as she switches off the light
and climbs towards me
while I wait in my singlet and skin
with a useless book and glasses

nearly sixty
yet we slide between the sheet
like children slipping beneath the first wave of summer
and its she who turns first
to hold her hair before it’s caught
as I turn to hold her
my palm floating across her back
pausin then stroking again – like soothing something young and wild
shifting her thigh across mine
kissing her lips like a kiss before sleep
when it’s really hello how are you tonight?
as she sighs and says
this is nice
and our bodies move together
like an answer

by Ross Donlon, from The Blue Dressing Gown & other poems, Profile Poetry, 2011

Ross has read at festivals in most parts of Australia, and also in England and Ireland as well as other readings in the U.K. Norway, Romania and Poland. His forthcoming books are. ‘The Bread Horse’ and ‘For the Record.’

I read The Afterlife by Billy Collins and the last two lines struck a chord with a short poem by Walt Whitman which is a favourite of mine.

A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Joyce Watson

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

Anne Frank’s High Heels ~ a sonnet after Philip Levin

I remember being fifteen in the fifties,
looking forward to growing up, couldn’t wait.
I wanted a boyfriend and to buy my own clothes.
I didn’t even know then that there would be
mini-skirts and sex and London
in the Sixties, the ‘Stones’, shared bedsits,
luminous stamps on the backs of our hands
in low-lit basements.

When I was thirteen I looked forward
to stockings not socks, hihi jelly shoes
not flat Clarks’ sandals
and wearing them to coffee bars.
When Anne Frank was thirteen she looked forward
to wearing high heeled shoes.

from Looking Over my Shoulder at Sodom by Meg Cox, Hen Run, (an imprint of Grey Hen Press) 2014

I worked on the basis of if you do take off Billy’s clothes then he will end up Naked and Nude and Robert Graves has just the poem for that. I am also attaching a piece that I have written which is taking off some of his (poetic) clothes from his Nine Horses collection, whether it is something that should appear on Poetry Breakfast I leave up to you (Billy Collins has seen it and has no objection to my (mis)use of his titles.)

Anyway, here they are for your consideration.

Bert Molsom

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books, Apprentice Poet

A poem found in the contents of ‘Nine Horses’ by Billy Collins (with great thanks and apologies)

When I wrote the night letter to the reader

I was living in the country, outside the velocity

of the town.

Now the radio plays “More than a woman”,

a cry of aimless love. In the absence

of better music

I switch radio stations to see

if Royal Aristocrat has won his race

in Paris.

If he has I  will travel to

Istanbul and fall in love

with langour.

But the obituaries in the paper

bring me back and today I bid

ave atque vale

with roadside flowers, as if

to demonstrate an eclipse of

their lives.

The trompe l’oeil of creatures

on the chapel wall becomes the

tipping point,

as my tears flow for your birthday

which last year we spent in


You were a study in orange and white

as you wandered those rooms with the

nine horses.

What a litany of disasters it then became

when the return of the key

was required


by the listener to your tales

of the literary life as told to,

you said,

the great Walter Pater whilst sitting

by a swimming pool outside


You said that was in the Bermuda

Triangle which I put down to practised


Then there was that death in New Orleans,

a romance that had failed whilst she played

air piano

and I was drawing. But under my obligation

to my patron I had to do some writing in

the afterlife

but before that I joined in the parade

held on the only day in


of the unicorn, who we discovered

in no time was made of balsa

wood and glue,

and was swept over Elk River

Falls and fell to earth in


So lying in bed in the dark

I silently address the birds of


with thoughts from Bodhidharma

and the tale of the rain that fell on the

Christmas sparrow.

The stare I got from the sparrow

was a surprise. He told me it just wasn’t

poetry, getting wet!

by Bert Molsom

So, we are thinking about taking someone’s clothes off, are we?! My thoughts immediately went to Robert Herrick and his apparent helplessness in the face of feminine flesh… I have always found The Vine to be quite shocking as well as funny, and Upon Julia’s Clothes is brief and vivid, but I think the one I’d choose here is Delight in Disorder – I like the lines ‘A winning wave, deserving note, / In the tempestuous petticoat’ – just the idea of a petticoat being tempestuous tickles me!

I remember my Dad being very fond of the brief Adrian Mitchell poem, Celia, Celia
For some reason I always link this poem with Herrick…

Nicky Bennison

Readers Retreat, Leicestershire Shared Reading

Delight in Disorder by Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress 

Kindles in clothes a wantonness; 

A lawn about the shoulders thrown 

Into a fine distraction; 

An erring lace, which here and there 

Enthrals the crimson stomacher; 

A cuff neglectful, and thereby 

Ribands to flow confusedly; 

A winning wave, deserving note, 

In the tempestuous petticoat; 

A careless shoe-string, in whose tie 

I see a wild civility: 

Do more bewitch me, than when art 

Is too precise in every part. 

First time

She slips the clothes from my warmed body.
Our mouths are dry as they meet.
We stand in the falling half-light of her attic,
she fully clothed, me naked – and getting cold.

I sit, quickly, on the thump of futon,
the duvet feathers my thighs.
I can’t believe this is happening and,
in the same moment, hold, believe, every frame.

I watch her watching me and gather up my dress,
re-occupy myself with its silk, feeling, otherwise,
I am betraying her – being so comfortable with skin.
I slide under the feathers. She sits on the pine boards,

rolls a cigarette, her smooth fingers teasing
out the tobacco. And we talk. Our words
make moist flows in the chill air. Soon
she shudders, even in her jumper.

“Jumpy” she says.
“Lie down with me” I say.

She risks taking off her shoes, her socks.
I am hoping hoping she won’t get cold feet.
Her cheekbones rise a rose brightness,
she won’t meet my eyes.

I lie absolutely still. Her bravery is a physical presence
beside her. She turns, squirms her jeans to the floor,
places her watch to tick beside the pillow, then manoeuvres
stiffly in. She doesn’t appear to be breathing.

We pause.

Then I ask her
if she feels
she can discard
her bra in bed.

By Char March

Two very different poems from Char March – one full of the tenderness, courage and gaucheness of the ‘first time’, and the second? Well – a joyful call to be Scottish, with the tiniest of references to clothes! Way to go, Char!

101 ways to be Scots

be chieftain o’ the puddin’ race
be tartan; be sporran
be bunnet made o’ the pie-crust; be tammy wi’ a ginger wig
be ironic leather mini-kilt
be Soor Plooms; be tablet
be peat-smoked wild salmon; be deep-fried Mars bar
be clarsach; be bagpipe; be crack pipe
be Kelvinsidey; be I’m-proud-to-be-a-Scot bumper sticker
be Castlemilk; be East Windy West Endy;
be Dunblane; be Lockerbie;
be Bannockburn; be Culloden
be clearanced; be Wallaced and Bruced;
be Margo MacDonald; be canni-agree-oan-the-colour-ae-shite
be ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’; be Makar
be Gay Gordons; be Glasgae kiss;
be Mod; be acid house
be Bay City Rollers; be Annie Lennox; be Shooglenifty
be heedrum-hodrum; be Kenneth McKellar
be Gael; be Sassenach; be Doric; be reiver; be teuchter; be Lallans
be Local Hero; be Braveheart; be Trainspotting
be Black Watch; be Cameron Highlanders
be Islay single malt; be meths and a gas canister
be Old Firm; be shinty
be a high heid yin; be a heidcase
be a stoater; be a hoor
be a jannie; be a jessie
be a Wee Free; be a Piskie
be a Fenian bastard; be a Proddy bastard
be a lad o’ pairts; be a lang-luggit
be a pan-loafie; be a numpty
be auld claes and parritch; be in the Cabinet
be anti-English; be European
be abroad; be The Caledonian Society of Eastern Samoa
be Daily Record; be Scotsman
be Oban Times; be People’s Friend
be Monarch of the Glen; be Rab C Nesbitt
be Jamessh Bond; be Gordon Brown; be The Broons
be laird; be gillie; be Oor Wullie
be having a wee dram; be puggled; be well on; be pished
be fou; be guttered; be miraculous; be wellied; be steamin; be fleein
be stoatin; be honkin; be stotious; be blootered; be steamboats; be plootered
be paralytic
be plans ganged agley

 By Char March

How I love that Billy Collins poem and many others he has written. And how I wish I’d known before about your deadline. Because the poem I have I believe to be the perfect one for this occasion, though not alas the copyright I fear. Please try, you may be lucky, Liverpool poets’ hearts are warm.

(And indeed, I had a lovely warm reply from Brian, and permission to use this poem … Anna)

Dressed by Brian Patten

Dressed you are a different creature.
Dressed you are polite, are discreet and full of friendships,
Dressed you are almost serious.
You talk of the world and of all its disasters
As if they really moved you.
Dressed you hold on to illusions.

The wardrobes are full of your disguises.
The dress to be unbuttoned only in darkness,
The dress that always seems about to fall from you,
The touch-me-not dress, the how-expensive dress,
The dress slung on without caring.
Dressed you are a different creature.

You are indignant of the eyes upon you,
The eyes that crawl over you,
That feed on the bits you’ve allowed
To be naked.
Dressed you are imprisoned in labels,
You are cocooned in fashions,
Dressed you are a different creature.

 As easily as in the bedrooms
In the fields littered with rubble
The dresses fall away from you,
In the spare room the party never reaches
The dresses fall from you.
Aided or unaided, clumsily or easily,
The dresses fall from you and then
From you falls all the cheap blossom.
Undressed you are a different creature.

from: Collected Love Poems, (the extended version of the earlier Love Poems), Harper Perennial, 2010
More information about Brian’s work can be found on his website: www.brianpatten.co.uk

Thank you Brian, for your kind permission to include this poem.

Maureen Cooper

Readers Retreat

Balthazar Bakery, Spring Street

Curious how your urge to be up and out of here

supersedes your desire to leave me a note

but as I lie listening to your tip-tap-toeing between

shower cupboards     dresser       and what I call loo

my unwillingness to engage in anything morning-like

with you is overtaken by thoughts of Medialunas and

Galette des Rois down at Balthazar Bakery on Spring Street

where in the miserly hours

we saw men in full-length sky blue aprons

drizzle focaccia and boil bagels and two held

great cream bowls of batter

for hazelnut waffles and buckwheat crêpes and the son Françoise

– dark eyed and already in the street –

leant over to write on the board:

                              Confitures du Jour –

                              Fraise des Bois

                              Grenade et Citron Vert

                              Cerise Noir

I know he’ll smile as I step from the cold in 10 a.m. slingbacks with

my oyster evening coat over uncovered legs and I know he’ll enjoy

the colour filling my face and my hands tearing

a tartine and my eyes holding his

over that first Chocolat Chaud.

by Rosie Shepperd from The Man at the Corner Table, Seren, 2015

Thank you Rosie for this mouth-watering mix of food, clothes and seduction!

I’m pretty sure I first came across ‘Which of us Wears the Trousers’ by Maria Jastrzebska in the late eighties in one of my copies of Spare Rib and Maria tells me it was also included in the Spare Rib diary for 1990. I love it! And I find this poem of Pauline’s about the ‘Black Dress’ both sexy and moving.  Thank you both for allowing me to include them.

Carol Ann Duffy has given me permission to include one of my favourite poems, ‘Warming her Pearls’ – gorgeous!

And then lastly, a poem from Imitiaz Dharker with a very different tone. I first heard Imtiaz read this at the Poetry Parnassus in Much Wenlock in 2012 and it has stayed with me since.  How lucky we are to have such a wealth of poetry to dive into: poems of passion and power.

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast, Wenlock Books Events

Which of us Wears the Trousers

Behind the liberal politeness
You’re dying to know
Instead of the chat about societal attitudes
What you’d really like to ask is
Which of us in this relationship
Wears the trousers.

I’ll tell you
Since you want to know so much
And since it’s really very simple:
I do
And then again
She does
And then sometimes
Neither of us
Wears any trousers at all.


by Maria Jastrzębska

Black Dress

In her wardrobe hanging
lonely, separated from the rest,
a black silk slip of a dress,
minute beads on finest threads
fanning out like spider’s webs.

She danced with nothing on beneath it,
rather shocking, just black stockings.

Her wrinkled hands caress the dress,
the nothing on beneath his body
hard against her bone, the silk thread,
beads of sweat, the black dress
crumpled on the floor.


By Pauline Prior-Pitt, first published in Addresses and Dreams, Spike Press, revised 2004, then collected in Be an Angel, Longstone Books, 2017

Warming Her Pearls  

for Judith Radstone

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress

bids me wear them, warm them, until evening

when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them

round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk

or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself

whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering

each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She’s beautiful. I dream about her

in my attic bed; picture her dancing

with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent

beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot,

watch the soft blush seep through her skin

like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass

my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see

her every movement in my head …. Undressing,

taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching

for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does…. And I lie here awake,

knowing the pearls are cooling even now

in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night

I feel their absence and I burn.

By Carol Ann Duffy,  from Selling Manhattan. Copyright © 1987 by Carol Ann Duffy.  Reprinted by kind permission of the author.

Honour Killing

At last I’m taking off this coat,
this black coat of a country
that I swore for years was mine,
that I wore more out of habit
than design.
Born wearing it,
I believed I had no choice.

I’m taking off this veil,
this black veil of a faith
that made me faithless
to myself,
that tied my mouth,
gave my god a devil’s face,
and muffled my own voice.

I’m taking off these silks,
these lacy things
that feed dictator dreams,
the mangalsutra and the rings
rattling in a tin cup of needs
that beggared me.

I’m taking off this skin,
and then the face, the flesh,
the womb.

Let’s see
what I am in here
when I squeeze past
the easy cage of bone.

Let’s see
what I am out here,
making, crafting,
at my new geography.


By Imtiaz Dharker, from The World Record, edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby (my gorgeous sort-of-niece!), Bloodaxe, 2012.

Call for poems!

So – our next Poetry Breakfast will be published on Thursday 8th October and our guest poet will be the marvellous  Jonathan Davidson who has chosen the theme: Apples, Bricks and Other People’s Poems. So let’s see where that takes your poetic imaginations …  Please do contribute: all published poems are accepted, and providing copyright is cleared, they will be included.  To aid that process – please email your suggestions to me by midday Thursday 17 September. If you are not sure whether or not your contributions are wanted – let me tell you that if you are reading this, they are!

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These blogs are free and always will be, but they do take an enormous amount of work! If you would like to buy me a cup of coffee, or put something towards my next paperback you can do so right here: thank you!

Thank you!

Huge thanks to all our contributing poets for permission to include your poems; to everyone who wrote in with poetry suggestions and to all of you for reading this.

Please use the comment function below and share this post wherever you can! Thank you. And do please think about ordering your poetry books from The Poetry Pharmacy if you possibly can! (And if you’ve not been to visit Deb in Bishops Castle yet – why not?!)

Bye for now,

Anna x

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast & Talking about Books, Wenlock Books Events

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