Government press office, 26th Jan.

Here’s the way to spin it, boss.
Go out there, look glum,
say you take responsibility.
Don’t mention Dido, dad, or Dom
for god’s sake. Steer clear, too,
of remembering the time you said
that a good outcome at the end of this
would be 20,000 dead.
That’s history. Tell the hacks
you’ve acted promptly at all times.
Forget trying to ape Churchill. No wise cracks
in Greek or Latin. Avoid care homes,
airports, late lockdowns, PPE.
Stick to the script. Talk of your sorrow.
Back to business as usual tomorrow.

© Steve Pottinger. 27/01/2021

written as the death toll from Covid in the UK reached 100,000.


two months in, he can barely remember
a time before, has pared life back
to weekly shop, the bins, a newspaper
that yellows on the kitchen table
puzzles half-finished, headlines unread

he sleeps late, wakes early
snoozes in the afternoon
his hours, it seems, all out of season
the structure of his life dissolving
like tissue paper in long-awaited rain
lacking any rhyme or reason

he talks to ghosts
swears he rolls over in bed
and finds the weight and heat of her there
reaches out to nothing but cold memory
switches the light on, creaks downstairs,
stands in the back door
letting the night in
and waits for sunrise

by day, he shares crumbs
with the blackbird and robin
who come into his kitchen for food
names them, tells them stories
of his childhood, chuckles
of course, that were before your time
is rewarded with birdsong

twice he has snapped to
standing at the window
clasping a mug of sugared tea
he can’t recall making
and wouldn’t drink for the life of him
has poured it away,
boiled the kettle for coffee
found himself later sipping
once more sugared tea

those first long ago weeks
he thirsted for the bar, for evenings
marked by the smooth glide of a pint
now he watches bees get drunk on nectar
loses himself in the slow rhythm
of poppies opening
and the antics of squirrels

in the early hours, alert and sleepless
he walks the town as streetlights
click off one by one beside him
holds his breath as the dog-fox
trots home to curl and snooze and dream
so close he can hear
the pad pad pad of paw on pavement

in the east, colour starts to bleed into the sky.
he wonders if he will ever quite return
from this new normal.

© Steve Pottinger

This poem was commissioned by Multistory. It has also been published as part of Carol Ann Duffy’s #WWWAN project.

The incredible excuses of Dominic Cummings

The dog ate my homework.
I did not have sexual relations with that band, ABBA.
The dog is called Fido, er… Tyson, er… Boris, no… Dog.
Your homework is in the cat.
My wife has always known me as Barnard.
I do not recognise that allegation.
I do not recognise that castle.
My dog has no name.
I’m everywhere and nowhere, baby.
Schroedinger’s bladder.
Fuel tanks the size of Mars.
A big boy did it and drove away.
I do not believe in homework.
I have no dog.

© Steve Pottinger. 26 May 2020

going viral (with teflon dom)

Like Saul on the road to Damascus
when Jehovah stopped for a word and held forth
Mary Wakefield met Lord God Almighty
on the A1. In March. Heading north.
In a car with something quite deadly
(who was apparently feeling unwell)
his road paved with the worst of intentions
off to Durham, or – hopefully – hell,
coughing and sweating and whining
like some self-centred, sociopath scrote
Dominic feared for his life, scribbled Mary
in the newspaper column she wrote.
Mrs Cummings said he fell so ill
she dropped and knelt in prayer,
while conveniently forgetting to let us all know
when and how and where….
Did they pull into the hard shoulder
so she could have a word with God?
Was it in a petrol station forecourt?
Did the attendant think it odd
to see her babbling by unleaded
while texting The Spectator
to say she’d got a world exclusive
and she’d have it with them later?
Was it at Scotch Corner services?
Perhaps in Costa? Or the loos?
260 miles of possibilities,
so which one did they choose?
Did she genuflect through Grantham
strapped to the roof rack or packed in the boot?
while Classic Dom listened to Classic FM
shedding virus the length of the route.
Did she mutter her prayers on the back seat
as she haggled her word count and fee?
As they entered the Land of Prince Bishops
was Mary still down on her knees?
Or is it all a charade, a wee fiction,
a fairy tale packaged for fools
by two people out dancing to ABBA
who know The Winner Takes It All and don’t follow the rules
God’s just another hired help, like a cleaner,
there to pick up the mess, and be gone
like those lickspittle Cabinet ministers
insisting today that Dom’s done nothing wrong.

© Steve Pottinger. 23 May 2020

the government defends its record on PPE

these numbers on a page
are a testament to british ingenuity
a familiar fairytale of sharp teeth
wolf as grandmother
remember people would die anyway

in a matter of weeks, we will roll out
fire crew with the aspiration of a hose
the formulae for foam and water
in this, as in all things
we are following the science

this drawing of a blood transfusion
can be used in all settings
without the need for training
some of you may lose loved ones
this is not the time for negativity

families can proudly heat their home
with the memory of gas flames
sate hunger with an empty tin of beans
which feeds a family of four
and can be endlessly recycled

communities are now knitting their own doctors
cutting out placebos from last week’s news
across the country this is the new normal
we are scaling it up to unprecedented goals
the decisions responsible are on furlough

it is not responsible to speculate
on the medium-term prognosis
of our fallen heroes
we cannot tell you their names
we are ramping up each day that passes

it is vital that we focus
on our precious NHS
the feel good of millions
remember, we have done our best
ministers do not recognise those numbers

other nations marvel at our success

© Steve Pottinger 28 April 2020

Searching through the 1911 census returns for Co. Kerry, looking for a needle you aren’t even sure is there to be found.

Two hours, in, you hunger for what isn’t there,
the flesh on their bones, the life behind the names.

Reduced to entries in a ledger, lines of copperplate
you could be looking at a relative, then turn the page

past your mother’s mother’s mother, or her da’
or someone who knew them, nodded as they passed

on the way to church, or standing at the bar
or as they worked the fields, watched approaching rain

blessed the day for the promise in it, bent their backs again
to toiling the earth, ditch-digging, cutting peat

who made the census-taker welcome, gave him the seat
by the fire, answered his questions in the Gaelige

and who spat on the ground when he’d gone, for marking
them down like cattle, for knowing nothing of their battle.

© Steve Pottinger.

highly commended in the Plough Poetry competition 2019


And so, it comes.
That winter morning when you wake
and find that you have had


You will give it up, you tell yourself,
retreat to the hills, the coast,
a cottage, a boat, a hut
some place out on the edge of it all.
Anywhere but here.
Anything but this.
You make plans to see out your days
walking beaches
scattering resting gulls
climbing mountains
to stare at far horizons.
You tell yourself
you will tend vegetables
grow old by the heat of a fire
lose yourself in books
and the view from a window.

Let the rich and the furious
have the world for themselves.
Much good may it do them.

There’s no shame, you tell yourself,
in howling your grief
into the roaring wind
at the stars, the moon,
anything that listens,
in finding solace in the bottle
or the bottom of a pint.
There’s no shame in walking
away from the fight,
throwing the towel in.

Just let the rich and the furious
have the world for themselves.
And much good may it do them.

You tell yourself all of this and more.
You even believe it.

And then, one day, it comes.
That morning which has always
been written into your bones
woven into your future
that morning when you wake
and find that you have had


and you roll up your sleeves
and set to once again.

© Steve Pottinger. 13th December 2019

the punch that never was

Laura’s snaffled an exclusive
freshly minted by the Tories
a left-wing thug has punched a bloke!
she tweets, ignores the story
about the PM and the photograph
the crisis in our NHS
kids on drips curled up on floors
the current government’s heartlessness
you see, a stolen phone is nothing
when you’ve a brand-new lie to share
about the punch that never happened
by a mob that wasn’t there
in a city where foodbanks aren’t needed
in a country of streets paved with gold
where any negative talk comes from traitors
and the right thing to do is just do what you’re told

and where Laura has got an exclusive
freshly minted by CCHQ
it’s the whiff of a Cummings, the stench of pure bull
but Laura won’t check if it’s true
you see it gets her mate the PM out of trouble
throws the slavering tabloids a bone
because this Bullingdon bully, this chancer
had stolen a journalist’s phone
after refusing to answer a question
about a boy on a hospital floor
and he desperately needs a distraction
a dead cat or two, maybe more

and so Laura has got an exclusive
from sources who tell her because
they know that she’ll tweet what they send her about
the punch that never was
by a mob whom footage conclusively shows
were nowhere to be seen
and the kid on the floor with no hospital bed
is forgotten by her, like he’s always been.

© Steve Pottinger. 10th December 2019

the drunken Polish labourer, homesickness, and the 529

if there is god thinks Piotr
then this bus will not stop
at sentchiles sick tempull
places which he cannot name
places which all look the same
bus will not leave him in darkness
on dog-shit chip-box puddle pavement
cold flat waiting

if there is god, bus will drive through night
head south, east through towns
villages neon cities lit by rain
will fall idle only on boat, engine cooling
Piotr will swig at beer through sunrise
turn up music on his phone
see autobahn and kirche
from top deck front seat window

if there is god
bus will deliver him to dark bread,
barszcz, kielbasa, kopytka,
wódka, wódka, wódka
Piotr gazes out into blur of noo slain
knows bus will deliver him home
if there is god
if there is fockin god

(St Giles, Sikh Temple, and Noose Lane are stops on the 529 bus route from Wolverhampton to Walsall)

© Steve Pottinger

runner-up in Prole poetry competition 2019


I did not know you.

I did not know you and I was not there
when Tuesday morning burst in upon you,
kicked down the doors and stormed
into the flat, when a dozen men with guns,
– policia doing the work of the cartel –
dragged you to the cars that waited,
idling outside, dance tunes on the radio,
drivers tapping their fingers, humming along.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they drove you to a nameless faceless place
built of breeze blocks, nightmares, fear
of hours that stretch forever
and the death of strangers
I was not there and when they did to you
what men with brutal minds and guns
have always done to women
I still didn’t know you. I still wasn’t there.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they set you free
when you stumbled back home
I was not there and I do not know
if you leant chairs against the broken door
to close out the world and its guns and its hate
I do not know if you curled up on the bed and sobbed
or stood under the shower for dripping hours
hoping to wash away hurt and sin and shame
I was not there when you sat at the table and shook
when you smoked one trembling cigarette after another
when you cursed the god who lets these men
– these malditos culeros – run free
when you prayed to our lady,
to anyone who’d listen.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they came back
when they came back
and took you away again
when the car waited, idling outside,
driver tapping his fingers, humming along
when they wrote your name in sand and blood
in the long long list of desaparecidas

I did not know you and I was not there
and it’s not enough, it will never be enough
but I write this poem
to keep alive your name
to light a candle of words,
a small but steady flame
that burns bright in the howling dark
and remembers you.

© Steve Pottinger. 21 Jan 2019

over 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, victims of drug cartels, the police and state authorities who often work with them.

published on Proletarian Poetry. 6th March 2019

the tipton jedi

at her terminal in the library
of a small, forgotten planet

she wonders who the others are
and how they made it here

when it closes, she walks to the stop
finds the 42 left a long, long time ago

sees the young girl chattering on her mobile
hair up, Princess sequinned on her T

the warrior monk striding to the bookie’s
firm hold on a can of Tysker and his staffie

and the delivery driver who steers his truck
through a hold-your-breath gap

as the school crossing lady parts afternoon
traffic with her lightsaber lollipop

he’s a heart-stopping whisker from disaster
grins, drops his payload, motors on

when the bus comes, she boards
for the far-off galaxy of West Brom

and a date with a man who claims
he’ll take her places, has a pal

who knows a Wookiee or two, gal
she stares through the bus window

passes the young lad as he downs another pint
tries to get his head around the news about his father

In the 2011 census, fifteen people in Tipton put their religion as ‘Jedi’.

This poem is taken from ‘Tipton Tales’, commissioned by Multistory and featuring work from ten Black Country poets.
You can buy it here.

on hearing of the financial difficulties of a peddler of hate

This morning, you have forgone
the sullen trudge to work,
spring – two at a time – up bus stairs,
whistle as you settle into a seat
at the front with the world’s best view.

The grey skies are wonderful,
the traffic a joy, one long beautiful
bless it!
nose-to-tail going nowhere
a symphony of horns
and idling engines.

The city has been washed brighter
overnight. You smile at strangers, cyclists,
policemen, wish chuggers a cheery good day
offer your breakfast pastry
to a figure curled in a shop doorway.

Cackling, you play hopscotch
the length of the high street,
vow to laugh at the boss’s lame jokes.
Vow to try.
Some days, you tell yourself,
are truly magical. What times,
what times, what times to be alive!

© Steve Pottinger

published in Morning Star’s ‘Poetry on the Picket Line’ column on 11th October 2018


(with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

‘Twas Brexit, and the slithy Gove
did frottercrutch in dwarfish glee;
he snicker-snacked the Camerove,

Beware the stabberjock, my son!
The empty eyes, the robo-glint!
who fellobrates the Murdocrone
the Ruperturtle übergimp!

He pallerised the BoJo cloon
they chummed upon their sunderbus
emblazoned it with fibberoons
and bambulluntruthoozled us.

The tousled toddler slaughterchopped,
his destiplans an Eton mess,
the slubbergubby gollumgove
a shadowhand of viciousness.

O gipperchund! And vomberblast!
The skitterchit of slick and sly
the snicker-snack of backstablades
the scrabblage to ruthlerise.

The bubberchut of charismissed
the turdletruck of banalbore
is patterfrondled on the head
a pawn upon a checkerboard.

Beware the stabberjock, my son!
The empty eyes, the robo-glint
who fellobrates the Murdocrone
the Ruperturtle übergimp.

© Steve Pottinger. 3 July 2016