Ben Ray

Ben Ray

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the poet

Poet, reviewer and workshopper Ben Ray is a patron of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, and a winner of the 2019 New Poets Prize. His most recent collection is The Kindness of the Eel, and his writing has appeared in a wide range of publications including Poetry Wales and The Oxford Review of Books.

the poems

Epska pjesma for
a new millennium

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You wanted to be an epic poem in the drafting

to sit with Marko, Branković, Crnojević


but our palimpsest homeland had forgotten poetry

gifting us only hoarse voices, bloody footprints.


We stayed at your house, frustrated we could not make history:

but you had inherited from a vanished world


distant stories, new borders that tightened round the neck

and a rusted can of tear gas from some atrocity.


Like good citizens we shut the doors, pierced the cap

and inflicted our country upon ourselves


pushing / staring / turning / running / choking / children

vaulting over chintz sofas in desperation


then outside, gasping laughing – you tore your chest open

found three hearts: around the third, the snake was still sleeping

In October 2000 huge protests broke out in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, against the perceived authoritarianism of the Serbian government, resulting in the overthrow of President Slobodan Milošević. The protests saw a high level of youth engagement.

Sinning with Captain Birdseye

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It really wasn’t necessary. They were just

two fish fingers left sulking

in soggy packaging. But that was the point.

An act of Antoinette extravagance,

a hubristic vote of confidence

in modern society. Was there ever

a better expression of disaster capitalism

than turning on a whole fridge freezer

just for them? No shame: only God can judge

their private fishy palace for two, heated

with North Sea oil to help them feel at home

(Even Anthropocene bad boys have a heart).

Then, of course, the breathless question

on the crowd’s lips: to eat one and leave the other

alone in that icy void? The act of a maniac

the act of a daredevil.

But look at them now. So settled. So happy.

Do you not believe in redemption?

Joke’s on you

I have a tiramisu in my chest freezer

I am a market square
after everyone has left

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I am a market square after everyone has left

all made of loose veg and plastic wrapping,

that pervasive pioneer of untouched spaces.

My breath invigorates paper bags across slabs

rustles drain-locked receipts into chorus:

I am the one who pulls up the cobbles to trip the cyclists.

The heart of a lettuce has never looked so lonely

nor the leaves of an artichoke so fragile

than when I wear them, dressing down

in casual wear that would melt your heart.

If carrots had eyes, they would be Disney-round and doleful

as they roll down the orphanages of roadsides

fulfilling tragic character arcs as they’re pulped underfoot.

I am a market square after everyone has left

grand words like desolation and loss are too big

for my ordinary leftover onion-skin self,

this paper-bag floor-level life – where dashed

organic-grown hopes are swept up by street cleaners

and next Sunday always seems so far away

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb

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