This is not a sales pitch

This is not a sales pitch. This is a confession. But this is not a confessional: I have nothing to be ashamed of.

In May Test Centre will release my second collection of poems. It’s been six years since I published How to Build a City. It is an understatement to say that I have waited long enough. I am pleased with the book, but of course I am also anxious about its reception. These poems are my way of speaking out from interior places. This is not a sales pitch.

Poets talk about ‘finding your voice’, which I have always found faintly repellent. Its almost gnostic suggestion of a revealed truth or essence. Its sly rejection of multiplicity, of the poet’s capacity for ventriloquism. Not to mention its reinforcement of the notion of serving a ‘poetic apprenticeship.’

Dark Islands is not bound together by one unifying voice or theme, but instead is governed by a dense cloud of ideas and images that, through their accumulation and interaction, I hope create pleasing or troubling or powerful effects. That is, at least, my desire. This is not a sales pitch, though selling is in my blood. Money is one of those ideas that filters through this book, its register of loss and profit interrupting and destabilising the lexicon.

The island is the metaphorical apparatus of my book. Poems are islands, drifting in a sea of white, guarding their limits against the tide, governed by their own internal rules. The human body is an island: a unit of meaning as much isolated as it is self-determining. This is a book against loneliness.

And when the poems speak of ‘the black Madonna spinning on the Lazy Susan‘ or recall a fascist march in Aldgate, they chart my own faulty, faltering pathway back to faith and forgiveness. Good people do bad things. But this is not a confessional. Poetry brings me to my knees.

A publisher who rejected an early manuscript commented: ‘I would like a little more warmth, vulnerability and emotion overall, more of the poet who is currently hiding behind his words.’ I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or indignant. Because on one level, they were right: the masked man appears throughout my poems, a shadow of myself perhaps, or a childhood fear? I am interested in the hidden places; and in those things which are not as they appear.

But this is a book of vulnerabilities. More than ever I want to share the things that hurt. It’s just that, sometimes, I am compelled to conceal them within a joke or a riddle. That’s my protection. It’s not me, it’s you. ‘I bruise as keenly as a supermarket fruit.’

The city is there too. Its dense histories and pressure cooker atmospherics provide a backdrop to the poems’ very modern neuroses: protestors outside St Paul’s ‘in the costume of the dead,’ City boys ‘on bonus day in Cornhill,’ ‘the swashing potage of the Thames.’

This is not an advertisement. This is a pitch into the dark.

Poems from Dark Islands

Island of Voices (The Island Review)

Ecosystem (Wild Culture)

The Herbals (3:AM Magazine)



  1. Jordan says:

    This is not a sales pitch you say. Yet I am sold. At least on the authenticity of your expression. It peaks through the words. I would love to see your writing on Prose. a community that would appreciate your voice. This is not a sales pitch. This is an opportunity.

  2. Billy Dean says:

    Your comment that “Poets talk about ‘finding your voice’, which I have always found faintly repellent. Its almost gnostic suggestion of a revealed truth or essence. Its sly rejection of multiplicity…” resonates with me.

    Partly because my own poetry is evidence of more than one voice inside me, whoever that is, but also because of something Sam Keene called my attention to in a book he wrote:

    “Few of us know the fantastic characters, emotions, perceptions and demons that inhabit the theaters that are our minds. We are content to tell a single story, to construct a consistent character, to fix our identity. We are thus defined more by neglected possibilities than by realized ones. We rehearse and repeat a monotonous monologue while heroes and villains, saints and madmen, ascetics and libertines wait in the wings for a chance to seize the stage and run wild. Be all those characters who wander around in your head. Discover your many selves. You become authentically public only by going to the depths of your private.”

  3. Victoria Field says:

    Dear Billy Dean – do you have a reference for the Sam Keene quotation? It’s brilliant.

    1. Billy Dean says:

      “Your Mythic Journey” which I read sometime in the 90s. And I misspelled his name. Should be Keen, not Keene. Sorry about that!

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