Staying Human is the latest addition to Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive series of world poetry anthologies, offering a broad, international selection of 500 more ‘real poems for unreal times’. The range of poetry complements that of the first three anthologies: hundreds of thoughtful and powerful poems about living in the modern world; poems that touch the heart, stir the mind and fire the spirit; poems about what makes us human, about love and loss, fear and longing, hurt and wonder; talismanic poems which have become personal survival testaments for many. The three poems below offer a snapshot of the individual’s struggle to hold on, stay connected and find meaning in an increasingly polarised world.


We have everything we need
by Selina Nwulu

We have each become a small world,
spinning from one collision to another.
We scrub cities off our skins and watch
its roads leave tracks in the bath.

Damp rises, rent rises, high-rises.
Look how the cities’ silhouettes grow
new forests for us. What new constellation
of stars guides us home?

We are tower-block light flickers
come evening, crammed into shoe boxes,
basements, living room-come-bedrooms.
Stretch out our feet to turn the TV on.

We reach for our phones, our faces made radiant
by its birdsong. Someone somewhere is mining
for the next iPhone but we can’t be sure,
we are compassion in 280 characters.

We are lying lonely next to each other
between paper thin walls. We know
our neighbours’ shouts and moans,
an echo chamber of coughs and scrapes.

Rent rises, heat rises, sea rises.
Put the kettle on, scald dinner in microwaves.
Droughts happening somewhere, but we can’t be sure.
Tesco Metro fluorescence – open 24 hours.

I wonder what will this all look like in 50 years’ time.
How will our cities will exhale then?
How will we wear our loss?
How will we sleep when we cannot turn off the alarm?


Flight radar
by Imtiaz Dharker

From the top of the Shard the view unfolds
down the Thames to the sea, the city laid
by a trick of sight vertically in front of me.
At London Bridge Station, trains slide in

and out in a long slow dance. It is not
by chance that I am here, not looking down
but up to where you are on Flight 199,
coming in to land. I have learned to track you

on my mobile phone. However far you go,
I have the app that uses the radar to trace
your path. There you are now, circling down
around this spire where I stand, my face reflected

over your pulse in the glass. You cannot see.
You have no radar for me, no app to make you
look back or down to where I am lifting my hand.
Darling, I will track your flight till it is a dot

that turns and banks and falls out of sight, looking
into the space where you were. Fingers frozen
on the tiny keys, I will stay where I am
in the dying light, the screen still live in my palm.


Call Centre Blues
by Jasmine Ann Cooray

The only thing lonelier than silence is talking
to someone who hates you. The tables are a skyline
of energy drinks, wet wipes for the headset mic, though
we fall ill anyway. Cackling microbes leap into our mouths
from the plastic like gap year teens into a lagoon.
Mr Poole in Swindon doesn’t have any money
for Syria and anyway what about the problems here?
Nobody wants to hand over cash to a voice
pumped with an anus-rocket of commission
and aspartame. You speed through the script
until Captain Dave up front pulls you up to listen
to your call, pausing to pull apart each cheery phrase
as if parting a scalp for lice. You can hear crumpling
in your insides, the strained pep, the pistol
of an overdraft at your temple. Listen to Tabitha,
says Dave. While Panto season sleeps, Tabitha’s here,
permanently rouged, her faux-cockney gabble
like a trampoline you want to cut a hole in, though
this you don’t say, because Tabitha is queen here,
high fiving newbies, lapping the room at each sell.
You get back on your calls, hunger for natural light.
You want, so desperately, to take no for an answer.

from the anthology Staying Human (Bloodaxe Books, £12.99)


Neil Astley is editor of Bloodaxe Books, which he founded in 1978. His books include novels, poetry collections and anthologies, most notably Staying Alive (2002), Being Alive (2004) and Being Human (2011), which were followed by Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy (2012). Staying Human, the fourth anthology in the series and a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation for Winter 2020, is published in paperback by Bloodaxe Books.
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‘We have everything we need’ by Selina Nwulu was commissioned by the RSA for their Climate Change poetry series, 2015.
RSA Replay

‘Flight radar’ by Imtiaz Dharker is from the collection Luck is the Hook (Bloodaxe Books, 2018).
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‘Call Centre Blues’ by Jasmine Ann Cooray was first published in The Rialto 86 (Summer 2016).