Birmingham Canal Navigation

Here’s my new collection of poems, Birmingham Canal Navigation, a pamphlet published by Knives Forks & Spoons Press. Thanks to Alec Newman. In some ways it’s my most cohesive collection, with the Birmingham connection running through. And thanks to Scott Thurston for the blurb: ‘If Roy Fisher famously said “Birmingham’s what I think with”, Cliff Yates would probably say “Birmingham’s who I eat with”. These lucid and nimble poems effortlessly thread in and out of the quotidian, always alert to the transformative power of the everyday seen clearly. History is here too, but faced lightly, alongside tributes to key influences like Fisher, O’Hara, Raworth, Sheppard. Yates’s art is a fully embodied one (look out for the hilarious Tai Chi Sprout Stalk Form!) which moves – exuding a wry, wise vitality entirely its own’ – Scott Thurston

Online Poetry Workshops

I’m guest tutor on a handful of the online ‘Writing Together’ poetry workshops for the Poetry Business this month, alongside Michael Laskey, Jackie Wills and River Wolton. I’ll be running sessions on Wednesday 13th May, Wednesday 20th May and Wednesday 27th May, all at 11am-12.30pm. And with River Wolton on Saturday 30th May, 9.30am-1pm. Details of all the sessions and how to book are here. The blurb for my workshops:

“You just go on your nerve” – Frank O’Hara. We’ll be writing in response to the kind of poems that make you want to pick up your pen and write, in exercises that set out to surprise you into going on your nerve, into writing about things you might not have thought of, and in ways you haven’t written before. That’s the plan.


I’ve been asked by Andrew Taylor to answer three questions for his creative writing students at Nottingham Trent University and thought I’d post a couple of the answers here.

How has the current Coronavirus crisis impacted on your practice?

 I had bookings which have been cancelled, including workshops in Paris with teachers in International Schools. I was hoping to schedule a poetry reading there, at the same time. I was leading a Royal Literary Fund reading group, which has been suspended.

A fair bit of my writing is done on the move, on trains and walking around art galleries and such, including a high proportion of the poems in my new pamphlet, and I won’t be doing that for a while.

At the same time, it’s giving me space to work on the forthcoming collection and to re-evaluate what I’ve been doing. I’m restless, when it comes to writing, always thinking I’m about to start writing in a completely new way, so maybe now I will.

Reading. I’m re-reading the marvellous Roy Fisher. The best poems make you feel more alive, and Roy’s work does that for me every time. Reading feeds into the writing – you can’t help being affected by what you read.

 As we are forced to live in a different way due to Coronavirus, how do you deal with the so-called ‘new normal’ 

The lockdown? I’m OK with relative isolation because I often work like this anyway. Writing’s a solitary act – there are social dimensions, and they’re important, but ultimately, it’s you and the blank page. It helps to have a good routine, and meditation undoubtedly helps (I’ve been practising TM since the 1970s). I’m catching up with people I’ve not spoken to for ages, and getting emails out of the blue from people I was about to contact. I guess it’s made me focus on what’s important, like everything’s stripped back. Although this is a hugely difficult time, I think this crisis is a tipping point. It feels to me like things could no longer carry on the way they were – the inequalities, the exploitation of the planet – and this is a wake-up call. Things are changing.

As you prepare for your next pamphlet, due later in the year, can you share some tips about getting it all together?

This was the first question – answer to follow.