Jennifer A. McGowan – Four Poems

0991_JenMcGowanJennifer A. McGowan, a poet, was born and raised in the United States and now lives in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. Despite being certified as disabled with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome at age 16, she became a semi-professional mime and performed in five countries. More recently she has worked as researcher, editor, and writer for a UK devil’s advocacy firm. She has taught both under- and postgraduates at several universities, in subjects as varied as English, history, and heritage studies. Her poems have appeared in various literary journals on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Connecticut Review, Gargoyle, Ginosko, Theodate, Envoi, Acumen, and Agenda (which also featured her mediaeval calligraphy and illumination); a chapbook, Life in Captivity, is available from Finishing Line Press. Her work has also been anthologized in Birchsong (Blue Line Press, 2012), A Moment of Change (Aqueduct Press, 2012), and Sounds of Surprise (Albion Beatnik, 2012) and songs she has written have been recorded on several labels. Contact the author and purchase her work through her Web site:



I’ve accidentally Atkinsed myself:
cut out all inessentials; casual friendships;
pavement encounters. The works.
I’m used to a frothy confection of conference calls,
Skype sessions, late-night confessions:
cut like carbs. The roughage of office antagonism—
gone. Not even the base legumes of acquaintances remain.
I stay in. Wan, sweating, blood running fire,
I feast, I gorge, I glut
on the raw protein of your name.

Book of Kells

First, the cross, with its swollen hands
and feet, outlined in verdigris and undimmed yellow.
Spiral closer. Here are cloisonné patterns, rendered
in pigments millennia old. Stepped, geometric figures.
Spiral closer. Filling in where faith should be,
dozens of animals, chaotic, precise—sing
glory to God—their wide eyes panicked, claws grasping,
twisted, woven by man into these exquisite,
tortured shapes. Tongues like phalluses straining—
o glory—towards paws they will never lick.
Eternally racing to a perfect hosanna. Eternally bound.

Trying to Get to London on a Monday Morning

The wait for each (cancelled) train is interminable,
and bad enough in sunlight. Today brings a deluge,
the only thing that makes me believe in the heavens—they’re open.
Rank upon rank of us stand, lean or sit, shifting uneasily
on ill-made modern art they call benches, wishing
shoes weren’t so tight, or so grown-up, or that we had remembered
to get the soles fixed in summer. All that brainpower
focused downwards on aching feet by exhaustion and gravity.
Each commuter an island unto self, a private world of pain, of boredom,
of cheap sex and misery. This dead time is adulthood. Get used to it.

Finally on the move. Colour is leached by clouds. The stare
and the thrum of monotony as the malls and terraces go by.
And then, a miracle. The walls blossom.
Jaunty rows of letters, jazzy angled As and Ds, names
chosen and displayed like merit badges, proudly,
over and over in painted perfection. The track companies
try to keep it clean, but their white paint cannot hide
the riot. Flash after flash, layer after layer, palimpsests of industry,
snapshots of furtive nights and foxed security. Art and courage.
Triumph and testimony. The wailing wall of youth. I take
their defiance with me, in the darkness of the capital,
where even the trains hide underground.

Beowulf et al.

The songs were blood and thunder:
pliant women and granite-hewn men
standing against the howl
of the wolves and the pressing darkness.
A patch of light: the mead-hall
shining in its instant of time.
Outside: those like Heremod,
fallen from grace, from the code
which governed the (self) righteous.

Not much for me there.
Yes, assonance and alliteration,
careful crafting of weighty words,
but I rooted for the great beasts
whose backs broke the curves
of the whale-roads.

It’s not rebellion,
to argue against stasis
or conformity. It’s survival.
You’d think they’d understand that,
there in Heorot. That there’s more than one way
of fighting. Warriors today
are poets, their songs rockets,
fireworks, landings on the moon.
Screams for freedom; cries for peace.

Poetry does not come wrapped in bows,
though you can unwrap it, tease out
the skeins of stanzas, unravel
the webs of words.
Or you can eat it,
poetry like bread
for everyone.
Teach everyone
to travel through darkness,
to listen to monsters, to
those who warn. To navigate metaphor.
Then see them
become the heroes
whose backs break the curve
of the world.


Aside | This entry was posted in News, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.