Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough


A lot of who I am and how I interpret the world is shaped by what I read.  Having just read the wonderful Sharon Olds’ latest collection ‘Arias’ I am struck again by her searing honesty, her meditations on loss and ageing, on mortality [the artist’s best friend and constant companion], on childhood and those sometimes challenging relationships we have with our parents, even long after their deaths.


Moving onto John McCullough’s collection, with a couple of novels between, I immediately felt safe in the hands of a poet who seemed to want to take me with him and celebrate unflinchingly the messy beauty of our lives.  Rooted in place and identity these poems teem with a sensuous and sensual insight.  Poets see metaphors everywhere.  It’s what we do, interpret the world about us, examine fragments of our life and draw wider conclusions and meaning.


From the poem ‘Flock of Paper Birds’


‘I needed the God of my childhood to be useful

so I folded him, shaped his pages into wings.


Cranes at first, then more challenging roosters.

Swallows, owls.  I pinched the edges, split clauses


To make word plumage’.


And birds, real and origami, are constant visitors to this poetic bird-table, infused with close observation of the natural and city worlds about him. His poetry has a witty lightness that rejoices in surface and present beauties but is also prepared to go deeper, to be political and to shout with pain and joy.


From ‘Silkworm’


‘Well my house is small but there’s glitter

And voltage, and you are always welcome in its white rooms’


Sharon and John [cheeky I know] you are both SO welcome to sit on my bedside table during 2020!



John McCullough’s first collection of poems, ’The Frost Fairs’ won the Polari First Book Prize and was a Book of the Year for The independent as well as a summer read in The Observer. ’Spacecraft’ [Penned in the Margins, 2016] was named one of The Guardian’s Best Books for Summer and was shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize. ‘Reckless Paper Birds’ [Penned in the Margins, 2019] is his latest book and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards.


He teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Brighton.

© 2018 James Morgan Nash - Writer and Poet - Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom - 

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