Chris McCabe’s work crosses artforms and genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama and visual art. He was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 and his five collections of poetry are The Hutton Inquiry (Salt, 2005), Zeppelins (Salt, 2008), THE RESTRUCTURE (2011), Speculatrix (Penned in the Margins, 2014) and The Triumph of Cancer (Penned in the Margins, 2018), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. His first novel, Dedalus, was published by Henningham Family Press in 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize. His latest novel is Mud, a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set beneath Hampstead Heath. His non-fiction work includes an ongoing series of books which document his search to discover a great forgotten poet in one of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries; titles include In the Catacombs (2014), Cenotaph South (2016) and the The East Edge: Nightwalks with the Dead Poets of Tower Hamlets, all published by Penned in the Margins. He is the co-editor of The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayward Publishing, 2015) and the editor of Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages (Chambers, 2019). He works as the National Poetry Librarian.

His poetry is, by turns, romantic, politically engaged, elegiac and funny, and often takes its inspiration from current events – this is easily heard in poems such as ‘The Hutton Inquiry’, ‘The Pete Doherty in Prison Poem’, and ‘THE RESTRUCTURE’, which personifies the 2009 financial situation in the figure of its central character. But the events that are current to the poet are also the personal ones that do not make the national press, and through this reading a listener is invited to overhear ‘A Proposal’, to be present at ‘The Nuptials’, and, in the latter poem, is even offered space to “enter your name here” to witness the marriage.

In an interview, McCabe has spoken of the ability of modern audiences to grasp the moments of synchronicity and randomness as an influence on his writing, referring to “Poetry as a potentially more meaningful form of channel-hopping.” It is no surprise, then, that many of the poems in this performance skip from image to image, idea to idea, daring a listener to stay alert so as to keep up with the quicksilver presentation. But there are also sonnets devoted to locations in London and Liverpool, the two cities he describes as most important to him, a poem in the shape of ‘A 98p Voicemail Message to Blaise Cendrars’, and a form built around the repetition of “the Scouse word ‘like'”.

Iain Sinclair has described McCabe’s work as “brisk and self-confident”, and the quietly forceful reading style in this performance would encourage any listener to agree. The important events that are significant to a piece are flagged in his introductions, as are any unusual stylistic decisions, making this a reading that welcomes its audience into its exhilarating blend of urgency and passion.

Chris McCabe’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“When one begins writing poems one joins the sheepy mass and runs the risk of being swept along with it to drown in the ocean of habit. To illustrate this process… I shall refer to a drawing by Gary Larson in ‘The Far Side’: we see a long, thick column of woolly sheep rushing one after another, head down, into the raging waves of the sea. One of them is wearing water wings.” – Jacques Roubaud (tr. Guy Bennett)

“Because poetry contains the future of language, language appears strange, unusual, difficult in the poetry of the present.
Language appears strange in extreme / contemporary poetry because it presents certain future traits.
Language appears strange in extreme contemporary poetry because it presents certain forgotten past traits.” – Jacques Roubaud (tr. Guy Bennett)

“It is not the business of POETRY to be anything” – Stephen Rodefer

His recording was made on the 16th January 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington

Poems by Chris McCabe

#800: ivor cutler - Chris McCabe
The Pete Doherty in Prison Poem - Chris McCabe
Headliners - Chris McCabe
A Proposal - Chris McCabe
#1336: 1938 - Chris McCabe
Chris McCabe in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Chris McCabe



shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award

Prize website

Dedalus shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize

Prize website