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

00:00 / 01:19

      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

00:00 / 01:04

      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

00:00 / 01:16

      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