Richie McCaffery’s second poetry collection is a vivid exploration of place and displacement, boundaries and borders, creativity and doubt. As he writes about anxiety, loss and dislocation, he asks us to consider what it means to belong, and how we find our place in life, in love and in language, and in our pasts.



I want to write something that will be
more important than any official document
relating to me. I live in a maze of symbols,
always in two places at once.

Droppings from the house martin nest
fall like wax from a blazing candle,
the branches of a tree look like a bundle
of walking sticks searching for terra firma.

I pull unsavoury thoughts from my head
like stranger’s stray hair found in food.
A crumpled up rejected poem on paper
unfurls in the bin like it’s flowering.

There were doves in the street before
and naturally I thought of peace
but a car back-fired and they were off –
that’s where symbols get us.

Balancing the books


In second-hand bookshops in England
the price is pencilled in the front
of the book, but here in Belgium
it lurks on the rear end-paper.
One wants you to buy the story
on faith, the other on inspection.


My mother made the shelves for me
when I was little, from old doors sawn in two.
When she put them up, she knocked on walls
as if someone behind might answer.
I write this facing books and behind them
more books and behind them bricks
and behind it all, time and distance,
there she is, knocking
on the other side of the wall.


I’m spending too much of my life
in old bookshops.
They’re places displaced stories
are just trying to find their way –
giving it one last go,
hanging onto a fragile belief
in their own residual relevance.

I take a book off the shelf
and splay its pages
like a pigeon-fancier with
a prize bird, knowing fine well
it might never make it home.


Author portrait © Gerry Cambridge

Richie McCaffery is from the small Northumbrian village of Warkworth. Until recently he lived in Ghent. He studied English and Scottish Literature at Stirling University and in 2016 received a Carnegie grant to do a PhD in Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets, Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012) and Ballast Flint (Cromarty Arts Trust, 2013), and the editor of Finishing the Picture: The Collected Poems of Ian Abbot (Kennedy & Boyd, 2015). His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as The Dark Horse, Stand, The Rialto and The Best British Poetry 2012. His debut collection Cairn (2014) and his new collection Passport are published by Nine Arches Press.
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