Mark McGuinness

back

next

the poet

Bristol-based Mark McGuinness has had poems in Ambit, Anthropocene, Brittle Star, Magma, Oxford Poetry, The Rialto and Stand. He was awarded third prize in The Stephen Spender Prize 2016, and commended in the Ambit Poetry Competition in 2021. Mark hosts the poetry podcast A Mouthful of Air, where he invites poets to read a single poem and discuss the inspiration and process behind it – as well as reading classic poems and talking about what makes these work. Mark also collaborates on concrete poetry projects with the sculptor Sheena Devitt.

the poems

The Opening Lines of
Troilus and Criseyde
by Geoffrey Chaucer

Translated by the poet from the Middle English

00:00 / 03:38
SoundCloud_Sharing.png

            Before we part I want to speak about

            Prince Troilus, son of Priam King of Troy,

            And how his destiny in love played out

            In double sorrow: from misery to joy

            Then out of bliss once more. Lend me your voice,

            Tisiphone – help me to compose

            These woeful lines, that weep as my ink flows.


            To you I call, you goddess of sharp torment,

            You cruel Fury, eternally in pain:

            Help me, who am the sorrowful instrument

            That helps all lovers, voicing their complaint;

            Because it suits, to speak the matter plain,

            A wretched man to have a gloomy fellow,

            And a tragic tale, a face that’s full of sorrow.


            For I, who serve the servants of the Lord

            Of Love, daren’t pray to Love for my success

            On pain of death; I have so many flaws

            And languish so far from His help in darkness.

            But nonetheless, if this may bring some gladness

            To any lover, and advance his courtship,

            Give him the thanks and leave me with the hardship.


            But all you lovers bathing now in gladness,

            If any drop of pity be in you,

            Remind yourselves of any former sadness

            That you have felt, and also of the woe

            Of other folk; recall the times you too

            Felt Love affronted you with misery

            Or that you won Him far too easily.


            And pray for those caught in the same condition

            As Troilus, more of which you’ll shortly hear,

            That Love will bring them heavenly salvation;

            And also pray for me to God so dear,

            That I shall have the skill to make it clear

            Through Troilus’ own unfortunate adventure

            What pain and sadness all Love’s folk endure.


            And also pray for those left in despair

            Of love, with no chance of recovery,

            And all those lovers, whether him or her,

            Whom wicked tongues have done great injury.

            Pray thus to God, from his great charity

            To grant them passage from this earthly place

            Who lose all hope of Love’s redeeming grace.


            And also pray for those who are at ease

            That God will grant their love shall long endure

            And give them all the gift to please their ladies

            According to Love’s honour and His pleasure.

            For so I hope to make my soul more pure:

            To pray for those who wear Love’s livery,

            And write their woe, and live in charity,


            And feel for each of them the same compassion

            As though I were their own devoted brother.

            Now listen to me with your full attention

            For now I will go straight to my main matter

            In which you’ll hear the double sorrow suffered

            By Troilus when he loved the fair Criseyde

            And how she left her love before she died.

Lockdown

00:00 / 01:22
SoundCloud_Sharing.png

            We’re cooped up with ourselves. Alone together

            for weeks or months until it’s safe to breathe.

            The virus crosses continents like weather.


            For now we’re stuck here, wondering when or whether

            we’ll get back to our everyday routine.

            We’re cooped up with ourselves, alone together,


            the death toll rising, falling, like a feather

            at the mercy of an idle breeze.

            The virus crosses continents like weather.


            As days drift by we find new ways to weather

            boredom, frustration, solitude and grief.

            We’re cooped up with ourselves, alone together,


            and some of us are at the end of our tether,

            and some of us are sinking week by week.

            The virus crosses continents like weather.


            Has life as normal vanished altogether?

            Once locked up, can we ever be set free?

            We’re cooped up with ourselves. Alone together.

            The virus crosses continents like weather.

The Illusionist

00:00 / 03:57
SoundCloud_Sharing.png

            The theatre’s gilded like a music box.

            The lights go dim and someone takes the stage.

            ‘Good evening everyone, I’m Arthur Fox.’

            We know he’s not. The real one’s still backstage.


            The lights go dim and someone takes the stage.

            He looks the part; we gingerly applaud.

            We know he’s not. The real one’s still backstage.

            ‘And here’s the man you’ve all been waiting for!’


            He looks the part; we gingerly applaud.

            The curtains part. The curtains close again.

            ‘And here’s the man you’ve all been waiting for!’

            ‘Thank you all for waiting in the rain.’


            The curtains part. The curtains close again.

            We troop back slowly to our starting spots.

            ‘Thank you all for waiting in the rain – ’

            ‘Sorry Arthur – the pillar blocked the shot.’


            We troop back slowly to our starting spots.

            The cameraman walks sideways through the crowd.

            ‘Sorry Arthur – the pillar blocked the shot.’

            ‘I know. It feels a bit disjointed now.’


            The cameraman walks sideways through the crowd;

            we part and close behind him like the sea.

            ‘I know it feels a bit disjointed now.

            The whole thing will look seamless on TV.’


            We part and close behind him like the sea.

            He reappears behind the left-hand door.

            ‘The whole thing will look seamless on TV.

            I know the repetition’s such a bore.’


            He reappears behind the left-hand door.

            His eyes are covered; both hands firmly tied.

            ‘I know the repetition’s such a bore.

            Please take your time, examine every side.’


            His eyes are covered; both hands firmly tied.

            The dazzling spotlights keep us in the dark.

            ‘Please take your time, examine every side

            and let the camera see it, clearly marked.’


            The dazzling spotlights keep us in the dark.

            The volunteer does everything he’s told.

            ‘And let the camera see it, clearly marked.

            That’s right. Just there. Now cut along the fold.’


            The volunteer does everything he’s told.

            We half expect to see him levitate.

            ‘That’s right. Just there. Now cut along the fold.

            The time has come. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait ... ’


            We half expect to see him levitate.

            A moment’s pause that seems to take an age.

            ‘The time has come. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait ...

            and look whose name is written on that page!’


            A moment’s pause that seems to take an age.

            He takes the sheet and holds it up as proof.

            ‘And look whose name is written on that page!

            I’d like to ask you all to raise the roof!’


            He takes the sheet and holds it up as proof,

            although the mechanism isn’t clear.

            ‘I’d like to ask you all to raise the roof:

            please give a big hand to our volunteer!’


            Although the mechanism isn’t clear,

            we’re still transfixed by what we’ve all just seen.

            ‘Please give a big hand to our volunteer!

            Just wait until you see yourself on screen!’


            We’re still transfixed by what we’ve all just seen:

            a show that never actually took place.

            ‘Just wait until you see yourself on screen.

            The stops and starts will vanish without trace.’


            A show that never actually took place

            will be assembled in the cutting room.

            ‘The stops and starts will vanish without trace.

            When Charlie gives the signal we’ll resume.’


            We’ll be assembled in the cutting room.

            ‘Good evening everyone, I’m Arthur Fox.

            When Charlie gives the signal we’ll resume.’

            The theatre’s gilded like a music box.

Publishing credits

The Opening Lines of Troilus and Criseyde: placed third in

  The Stephen Spender Prize 2016

Lockdown: first appeared on author's SoundCloud

The Illusionist: The Rialto (No. 80)