Michelle Penn

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the poet

Michelle Penn’s debut pamphlet, Self-portrait as a diviner, failing, won the Paper Swans Prize in 2018. Her poetry has appeared in Perverse, MIR Online, 192, The Rialto, B O D Y, Poetry Birmingham and other journals. Michelle plans innovative poetry / art / music events in London as part of Corrupted Poetry. She’s also a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.

the poems

In air

00:00 / 01:58

She  sees  only  the  flies,  flies  flitting  about  the bed in the

operating   room,  Field   Hospital   C,  Danang,   the   name

echoing   like   two   bells,  chiming   then  fading   to  stone,

replaced  by a  distant beep and  the flies, flies and a slurred

recollection   of   her   daughter's  voice  on   the  telephone,

something   about    after,   something   about  Thailand  and

the flies,  their  wings   like  rotors,  a  strange sound for flies

but  maybe Vietnamese  flies  move  in  a  different language,

and   they’re  flying   while   she  lays   still,  encumbered  by

strings    or   wires,   trailing  from    her    nose,   her  arms,

something  beeping,  and   the   flies  with  their rotor wings,

darting  squares   in   air,  landing   on  the   tray  where  the

scalpels  are  spread,  then   taking  off  again,  and  why do

they trace  hard  squares  while  their  wings  are  rotors and

rotors are round, none of  it adds up  and  maybe  she’s also

a fly,  somehow  snared in  wires  and  strings, a fly tethered

to  a  bed  or  maybe  the  earth  while the  others beat their

wings,  the  steady  rhythm  of  rotors  but  then  the  flies all

land  at  once,  their  feet  tickling her  face,  her  hands, no

more  rotors,  just a  soft  buzz  and a  distant beep then she

is  lifted,  hot air, a  deep  cool, a cloth  brushing  away  the

flies, flies  fluttering  silent  wings  and  disappearing  into  a

clean  white  wall,  then  a white bird  surfaces, a featherless

bird,  whispering,  you're  in  Thailand  now,  your  daughter

is  flying  over, and her  daughter,  flying from far  away, she

hopes her daughter will wear her feathers.

talking philosophy

00:00 / 00:40

we were meant to discuss eternal return

but the fires were blazing again & the riots

& it all felt —

the sunshine a bit too bright & the last time

we said this has to be the last time

we’re all in the same storm but not

in the same boat, not in the same ghost

things have to change, we say

& take to the streets yet again but

I've heard how sometimes

firefighters join the flames, how they

become so entranced, they burn

Hotel October

00:00 / 01:21

the woman has become her blue-tint portrait

            another autumn in this room

                         season oblique as the underside of a chin, the hard corner

            of a table, October tricky-sweet, like liquorice on the tongue


                         outside, the gentle mobs dissect her life

            ten-second censors, all of them

                         and yet she longs to believe

in the attraction of thing to thing, life to life, each drenched

                                                              in some god’s love


another October in this room, another fall

            fall, that Americanism, so blunt, no Latin gymnastics, just fall,

                         from the Old English for fail, decay

                         the Old Norse for sin


                                      gravity always feels strongest in fall

                         an apple tumbles from a branch, the moon plummets

                                      towards Earth, space and time collapse into one another


                         withering leaves sink in conspiracies, autumn

            the moral to summer’s fable, October

                                      asking questions to which she is the ghost

Publishing credits

In air: The Rialto (Issue 94)

talking philosophy: 192 (Issue 2)

Hotel October: The Alchemy Spoon (Issue 1)

S h a r e

© original authors 2021

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