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Jo Burns

the poet

Translator and medical writer Jo Burns has scooped awards in the Magma Poetry Competition, Poetry Society's Members' Poems Competition and Irish Writers Festival Shirley McClure Prize. Placed and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Aesthetica Creative Writing Award (among others), Jo's also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry is published in numerous journals – including The Stinging Fly, Poetry Ireland Review and Oxford Poetry. Her pamphlet Circling for Gods, was followed by her debut collection, White Horses.

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the poems

Summitting Kalapattar

Deeply, seeing the lotus's blossom,
Bowed that man, and smiling Kamala thanked.
More lovely, thought the young man, 
than offerings for gods ...
~ from Siddharta by Hermann Hesse ~
00:00 / 01:12

I tried to feel the words Siddharta wrote
to win a kiss from the lips of Kamala,

the taste of figs to a parched samana tongue
amorous to taste hot riverblood.

Which words caused a courtesan to part her lips
for whom kisses were bread, night held up by wine?

Origin to night suitors, co-ordinates, which words 
could boil a frozen pond to desire?

Trekking past Khumbutse, Changtse and Lhotse–
all eminent yet paled by Everest’s black summit,

this huge echo of range begs for the same words
as the coloured mantras hung from peak to peak.

They call O White Lotus and so, tired in this womb
of the world, I crawl then kneel. I’m sick

of the old stories of horsemen and clouds. I crave
revelations like this where words defeat me.

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The meaning of oceans

00:00 / 01:21

The Pacific with its screaming sixties,
erotic nightmares for every sailor,
shouts Adventure! for adrenaline seekers,
and discoverers taking on the Humboldt.

Whereas the Indian is all about arrival,
not departure (that’s the grey Atlantic)
De Gama’s rigged stasis and suspension,
lashing foreign flotsam into metre

where parrots gossip, dance in their throats,
the crows are vernacular, without decorum,
sparrows serenade aubades to the sun,
anklets jingle at sea, you can hear Tagore.

The Atlantic, the one I know by heart,
cliffs and mists, it’s filled with longing.
A cliché of old myths. I’d have to start
at the beginning, so I’ll move on to this––

It’s just one water of failed trajectories, 
unsailed vendée globes. We’re saline stars, 
buoyant, blind—same old compass and desire: 
to sail smoothly through love. It’s an art.

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Maya's soliloquy

00:00 / 00:47

When you leave, it is only fair and right
to clear the table once set with laughter
and tip the wine glasses into the sea
then mix a drop of blood in salt water.

When you leave, please feed your paint 
to the fish. Leave the front door ajar for the wind 
to bring me the breeze. It’s simple etiquette, 
when you’re going and determined.

When you leave, please throw your anchor away,
lose my portraits, and burn all those written lines. 
Remember from your swaying, wind-blown deck
to point your spinnaker squarely to horizon.

Publishing credits

All poems: White Horses (Turas Press)

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