portsmouth poetry 

From A Borrowed Biro

Joanna Lilley

'Endlings' Turnstone Press Available in print and as E Book

A beautiful, moving examination of our destructive cruelty

The pleasure of Portsmouth Poetry is that we get to meet, to know and to work with talented writers and artists to play a small part in their development and the increasing awareness of their work. One such is Joanna Lilley, a poet and novelist from the Yukon in Canada. Author of a collection of stories, a novel and two collections of poetry, her third collection, “Endlings”, was published in March by Turnstone Press and is available in the UK from April 15th.

The release of this collection in the midst of a world pandemic known to have originated in part from the trade in endangered species, is chillingly apposite. Yet to be recognised by the OED, the word ‘Endling’ refers to the last individual of a species facing or having become extinct. As she says in the opening pages, “It is probably only a matter of time” before the word is included; it is painfully relevant to the time in which we live.

Copiously researched, Endlings is a collection of poems outlining the fate of 63 animals lost to our benighted world. From the Woolly Mammoth, past the Dodo, to the Yukon Horse, the Tasmanian Tiger, the Falklands Island Wolf and the St Helena Earwig!


                              “You are not the only ones

                                who need tools, who,

                                without them, would be

                                as obliterated as me.”

                                    [Flightless Bird of Mauritius – Dodo]

Powerful, controversial topics like the environmental crisis easily become polemical, uncomfortably moralistic or cliched. The poet may be politically driven and angry (so many of the greats have) but the soul of poetry requires the tender subtlety of approach witnessed in, for example, Wilfred Owen’s approach to war to find a way to enable us to ‘feel’ the issues explored and to experience them through the eyes of those they touch. This is what Joanna has done with this remarkable collection of poems. These are not simple diatribes against stupidity and destruction, they enable us to experience the tragedy and to understand the loss. So much so that, in the end, it is ourselves we understand too; our callous disregard for the world we co-habit and the tragedy we heap upon ourselves. As the Canadian environmentalist and science broadcaster David Suzuki says “This book is a reminder of what we have lost within human memory”.

If reading these tender, beautiful poems were to leave you feeling frustrated and righteously indignant they would have been timely and worthwhile. If they moved you to re-examine your own interface with the rest of our vast planet that would be success. But they do more than that. They produce a sadness that had me both tearful and ashamed.

There is a carefully structured anger and empathy in these poems as when Joanna lays out the psychopathic cruelty of the Lepidopterist

© Photograph by Michael Edwards 

                                     “The man will carry me in his jar as far

                                 from shore as his collection.

                                 He’ll pinch my middle with his thumb

                                 and forefinger to stun me

                                 stop me

                                 from flapping, damaging myself

                                 so that he can

                                 relax me to death”

No slight achievement to let you feel the terror of an insect!

These poems examine not just the callousness of our kind but the incomprehensible stupidity that often attended the loss of these creatures and continues to do so.

                               “But all we know for certain is that cave bears are extinct                                      and too many soldiers die in wars and Germans plunder                                      the caves because they needed phosphate so they could                                          blow more people up.”

A few days ago, there were bees and terracotta butterflies in my garden, blackbirds and little birds in the thorn tree singing. Such commonplace beauty. So needed in viral isolation imposed to fight a killer that our continuing abuse created. You will probably, need to read this collection in sections. The tragedy they bring the reader to feel, the anger, sadness and guilt they induce would be overwhelming if you read the complete collection in one go. But read it you should. When we finally emerge from our current crisis we will need to question everything about how we have lived and find new routes to our own happiness and security. “Endlings” should be essential reading in that desperate rethinking of ourselves. We should be glad this poet had the sensitivity to examine the world of the Carrier Pidgeon or an earwig!

Joanna grew up in England and has lived in the Yukon, Canada since 2006. She has an MLitt in creative writing from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, is a Humber School for Writers graduate and helped to set up the Yukon Writers' Collective. Her first poetry collection, 'The Fleece Era', was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her novel, 'Worry Stones', was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award. Her poems and stories have been published in Canada, the US and the UK.

“Endlings” is published by Turnstone Press and is available in the UK in print and Kindle Edition Her previous books are also available.


The Fleece Era (Brick Books)

The Birthday Books (Hagios Press) Stories

If There Were Roads (Turnstone Press)

Worry Stones (Ronsdale Press) Novel

Endlings (Turnstone Press, 2020)


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Emily Priest
"Nicotine and Napalm"

Emily Priest

[a.k.a. Emily-the-Writer]

Is a freelance writer, consultant and stand-up poet

She has a BA in Creative and Media Writing

Emily lives in Portsmouth

You can catch her @   http://emilythewriter.co.uk



Emily Priest – Nicotine and Napalm

Emily Priest is one of the most exciting new poets I have encountered.

Poetry is a condensed communication. Poets say things in a few lines where other writers take chapters, even hundreds of pages to say. The mechanisms poets use to do this are designed for brevity. But this makes reading poetry difficult. The intensity of poetry makes it hard to consume in large batches, the literary equivalent of over eating a rich meal.

I read poetry constantly but I can rarely read more than a few at a time before I am overwhelmed even with poets I know and love.  So ‘Nicotine and Napalm’, the first collection by local ‘stand-up’ poet and writer Emily Priest, is a unique experience.

Last year, Portsmouth Poetry co-curated the headline event of Portsmouth Festivities, “20 Love” marking the twentieth anniversary of the founding of this annual 10 day arts event. Poets were invited to produce and perform works inspired by each of the poems in Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair”. We were commissioned to find two rising poets on the stand-up circuit. I almost despaired finding a young writer locally when I discovered Emily. Not only is she a talented poet, her work is similar in style and content to Neruda. 

And she can perform. Video clips of her reading her work are breath-taking in their passion and crafting. Around the time she was involved in ’20 Love’ in June 2019, Emily published this first collection in print.

I took a copy with me on a train journey expecting only to start reading it. I began late on a cold November night coming home from the annual memorial for Dylan Thomas at Westminster Abbey.

But this time it was not just a handful of poems! Captured from the first pages, I read slowly and intently through to the end and I was genuinely blown away! I knew Emily was talented but was not prepared for how amazing this collection is!

Nicotine and Napalm chronicles the path of a doomed relationship from its initial intensity, its growing frustrations and disappointments, through break-down and break-up, the nagging aftermath, to its final resolution. 

It is an account of the passion, joy, disappointment and re-growth that leads to a new strength.

It is frank and honest, sometimes painfully so, sometimes explicit in its openness. Few women write about the exhilaration and despair of love, emotional and physical, with such clarity and intensity. The parallel with Sylvia Plath may sound exaggerated but it fits. Few poets of any gender dare to be so honest, to be prepared to investigate and lay bare what it means to love, to struggle with love that is not equally and fairly reciprocated, to admit to the page the short-comings and disintegration, the delicate and needy aftermath before the growth that is the positive result of pain. 

The final poems are in contrast to the doomed trust and dependency of the failed love. They include stunning statements of female empowerment and courage. (I am reticent to call them ‘feminist’ only because too often such writing is more polemic than poetic.) They are determined, angry poems from someone who has found strength through heartache without letting it deter her from loving.

I would encourage you to read these poems and to read them in a single sitting so that you follow the path of the poet’s growth and the narrative that connects them. It is a work all women would understand and identify with. A collection you would want to give to your daughters before they plunged into the maelstrom of love, sex and relationships. And, like Plath, it is a work all men would benefit from reading!

Josh Brown Copyright 2020

Nicotine and Napalm is available to buy on Amazon at


or contact Emily through her website

Robert Burns 1759 - 1796

As well known as Shakespeare, the first poet to have a national day in his honour, popular around the world more than two centuries after he died, author of the song millions use to greet the new year. Burns is so much more than a tartan and haggis cliché of Scotland. Poet, songwriter, national hero, the original rock ‘n’ roll bad boy. His work has influenced other artists and world leaders. Burns proved Shelley’s claim that poets are ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ the poet who wrote about freedom, inequality and injustice and helped shape modern democracy and its values! 

Eddie Reader performs Burns' love poem "My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose"


A 2018 BBC Scotland documentary “Rabbie’s Bairns” told of a school project with 8 year olds. One girl was from an Iraqi Kurdish family resettled by the government in Scotland. She talked of the horrors her family had witnessed and how happy she was in Scotland, speaking in perfect English and with a beautiful Scots accent. Her school runs a competition for the children to learn a song or poem by Burns. Burns was a loving father who taught his own children and wrote several songs and poems for children. In the documentary the little girl practiced her song for her parents, bursting into giggles when she mispronounced a Gaelic word! It was impossible to watch without admiration and sympathy or the thought  that Burns work is still as popular and, sadly, as relevant today as it was more than two hundred years ago!

It was more than a love of his homeland, more than a love of poetry and song that drove Robert Burns, he had a world to challenge and to change!

Burns the National Icon

But the trouble with being a national icon is that everyone wants a part of you and pick the parts that suit their agenda!

Recently voted "The Greatest Scot" of all time, to Nationalists he stands with Bonny Prince Charlie and William Wallace. But this overlooks his distrust of politicians and decidedly international beliefs. 

To Scottish Tories his praise of the Highlands fits comfortably alongside Royals in Kilts but they chose to ignore his criticism of class, wealth and the exploitation and cruelty of industrialisation and his opposition to blood sports like fox hunting. 

To the Left he is the poet who voiced the anger that led to the labour movement; conveniently ignoring his membership of the Freemasons and his less than admirable history with women.

To Freemasons he’s a welcome piece of good PR to counter the trouser rolling and accusations of Dan Brown style conspiracies.

And to Visit Scotland, the official tourist board for the country, he is the ultimate marketing cliche gazing out from postcards and tartan boxes of shortbread!

And Burns has his critics.

MeToo era feminists condemn his admittedly deplorable treatment of women, the blatant affairs and the three illegitimate children he fathered but overlook his friendship with Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the first and greatest feminist tract “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and that he challenged Tom Paine’s “The Rights of Man” with a poem “The Rights of Women” arguing against warmongering and that freedom is an only be achieved when everyone is equally free.

"While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,

The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;

While quacks of State must each produce his plan,

And even children lisp the Rights of Man;

Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,

The Rights of Woman merit some attention."

Others point to the fact the Burns planned to emigrate to Jamaica in a time of slavery but ignore the crippling poverty that that drove centuries of Scots to emigrate, that he wrote poems against slavery both at home and abroad and helped the actress Elizabeth Kemble to raise funds for the anti-slavery movement well before Wilberforce! His poems inspired American abolitionists including Abraham Lincoln.

The Truth is that there is far more to Robert Burns!

Never Call Him Rabbie!!

To begin, he was Robert Burns, not Rob or Robbie and certainly not Rab or Rabbie! 

Burns hated diminutives of his name, even his family and closest friends were only ever allowed to call him Robert. The Scots dialect was regularly mocked by the English and Burns considered Rab or Rabbie a deliberate insult!

He was born in Ayr in 1759 the son of a poor tenant farmer. By his 20’s he was working the family croft and already famous as the Ploughman Poet. Though he turned his hand to other occupations, his was a hard and short life. When he died aged 37, he had written over 500 poems and songs and collected for posterity many others by unknown authors.

Burns has been hugely influential on poetry, literature, music, politics and attitudes. Along with William Blake he was the first of the ‘Romantic’ poets and his themes of poverty, inequality and injustice inspired those who came after him; some of the greatest British poets – William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley. He influenced the work of the woman Shelley married, Mary, who at the age of sixteen wrote “Frankenstein” one of the greatest novels ever written. So much more than a horror story; an allegory against unfettered power and science without morality that’s even more relevant today. The influence of Burns on Mary Shelley was inevitable, her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft.

The 'Romantics'

George Gordon

Lord Byron

Percy Shelley

His "Masque of Anarchy" was written to protest the Peterloo Massacre which has its bi-centenary in 2019  

William Wordsworth

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

She wrote "Frankenstein" when she was only 16!

That influence continues today. Both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen cited Burns as the poet who led them to become songwriters and his poems have inspired everything from pop to heavy metal, including Michael Jackson and Iron Maiden. 

Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen

Michael Jackson produced an album of Burns poetry while Metallica are just one band to write songs inspired by Burns

There are Rap versions of his poetry. A Cambridge professor has written that Eminem stands side by side with Burns in both style and message. (Mr Mathers is of Scottish descent.) 

Edinburgh Hip Hop artist Drew Devine (aka 'Werd') raps Burns "To A Mouse"

You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A720pCwaHVs

The great American novelists J D Salinger and John Steinberg were heavily influenced by him. Steinbeck's “Of Mice and Men” takes its name from his poem To A Mouse”

“The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy! 

The theme of the novel, human kindness in the struggle against poverty and prejudice, are pure Robert Burns.

Burns has not just influenced two hundred years of literature, the values he wrote about shaped modern democracy and he gave us one of its most poignant expressions that applies as much today – 

“Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn”

Abraham Lincoln loved the poet. He recited the his verse as he traveled the circuit from court to court during his days as a lawyer and the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater, he had a book of Burns poetry in his pocket. 

Nelson Mandela shared the books he was given during his 27 years imprisonment. He kept only two in his cell on Robben Island which he read constantly for inspiration. —“The Diary of Anne Frank.” and a volume of Burns poetry. 

For these reasons, Robert Burns is popular all over the world. Countless thousands of Burns Night celebrations take place in many continents from the USA, Canada and Australia to Iraq, Russia and Turkey (where incidentally haggis is also a national dish). There are towns named after him and over 60 known statues and memorials of him across the globe. He’s as well known and more popular than almost any other poet in history.

Poetry & Song

Burns wrote in English, Gaelic and Scots Dialect a kind of pidgin mix of English and Gaelic. Like Cohen and Dylan, he was primarily a song writer. In late 18th century Scotland few could read or write. Burns knew that writing songs in the language of the common people would ensure they became popular and known to most of his fellow Scots. He chose tunes that were already popular and gave them new lyrics and he was stunningly talented in choosing the music that best suited his words. The result is his best and most famous work.

Among these is the poem which, in many nations, heralds in the new year an honour not even Shakespeare can match. But Auld Lang Syne is not flippant nostalgia it’s an elegy to loss and the duty to remember. Its original tune, (not the sentimental pap William Shield set it to 50 years later) reflects the sadness that forced countless thousands to leave Scotland.

Paulo Nutini sings the original version of Auld Lang Syne

You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glraj7d3O2E

Two old friends meet to share a dram or more, pledge their enduring friendship and not forget those they have lost. The opening lines are a challenge not a statement – “Should auld aquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, should auld aquaintance be forgot for auld lang syne – the passage of time? And in contains one of the most humane lines of poetry ever written – 

                 “we’ll tack a cup o kindness yet”

Burns did not actually write "Auld Lang Syne". It's a song he heard an old man sing and copied down the words to send to the Scots Musical Museum. He was an avid collector and sent several hundred songs during his life. But he almost certainly 'improved' the lyrics and probably chose the original pentatonic folk tune it was originally set to. The line 'a cup o' kindness' is probably his.

Despite the dialect and more than two centuries passing his work is still painfully relevant. Take just two extracts from his polemic “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”

It was first published anonymously to prevent Burns arrest for treason! Not the only time he put himself on the line and risked the consequences!

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,

Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;

Tho' hundreds worship at his word,

He's but a coof for a' that:

For a' that, an' a' that,

His ribband, star, an' a' that:

The man o' independent mind

He looks an' laughs at a' that

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a' that,)

That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.

For a' that, an' a' that,

It's coming yet for a' that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that.

Alongside these vehement statements of moral and political principles, Burns wrote lovingly of Scotland and rightly too for it is a land of heart stopping beauty and centuries of crushing oppression.

He also wrote some of the greatest (arguably the greatest) love poetry ever penned and much of it as beautiful songs.

The Greatest Song of Lost Love and Despair:
Aye Fond Kiss

In 1787 the 28 year old Burns was a national celebrity and travelled to Edinburgh to promote his work where the handsome farmer poet enjoyed rock star status particularly with the Edinburgh ladies. Here he met and fell for Agnes McLehose known as ‘Nancy’, a strong, indpendent, educated woman who was separated from her husband James a Glasgow lawyer and abusive bully. Every bit his equal, the couple embarked on a lengthy and passionate affair but Nancy was too smart and to respectable to fall too readily to Burns charm.

The couple exchanged letters for over a year sometimes writing to each other twice in one day using, at her insistence, the psuedonyms 'Sylvander' and 'Clarinda' to protect their reputations. The passion of their relationship and her struggle with propriety is clear in their letters.

In 1791 angry at his failure to care for her servant he had got pregnant, Nancy ended their relationship in order to sail to the West Indies to try to retrieve her marriage. Burns response was to write for her possibly the greatest song of lost love and despair and his greatest work, “Aye Fond Kiss”

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;

Ae farewell, and then for ever!

Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,

Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,

While the star of hope she leaves him?

May no more cheerful twinkle lights me;

Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,

Nothing could resist my Nancy:

But to see her was to love her;

Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov'd so kindly,

Had we never lov'd so blindly,

Never met-or never parted,

We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-well, thou first and fairest!

Fare-thee-well, thou best and dearest!

Thine be ilka joy and treasure,

Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!

Ae farewell alas, for ever!

Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,

Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Eddie Reader - the best recording of Aye Fond Kiss from her album of Burns songs

You Tube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMmtBgMaF5I

Nancy’s hopes of reconciliation were short lived. Her husband was still a brute and now cruelly working slaves. After a few months she returned to Edinburgh where she lived quietly and alone for the rest of her life.

Though they exchanged a few friendly letters the affair, such as it had been, was over. Burns died four years later with a picture of Nancy still in his possession but she lived on for over 40 years dying in 1841. Six months after her death, her nephew found Burns original copy of Aye Fond Kiss still in its envelope hidden inside her bible.

Like many women of her time and class, Nancy kept a diary. It details the daily life of a respectable Edinburgh woman and is now a valuable resource for historians and scriptwriters producing films set in the C19th. But among the details of Victorian life -- who came to tea, the arguments with the butcher, who married, who died -- is one exception. Every year on the 6th of December she wrote the same single sentence. “This day I shall ne’er forget for this is the day I last saw Robert Burns.”

So we should raise a glass to Robert Burns, to freedom, to justice, to compassion, to friends, to loss, to love and to Nancy.


Paulo Nutini sings a rousing angry version of Burns greatest song of protest and democracy, A Man's A Man For A' That

You Tube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWHIfSjQaUA

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