Mark Joseph

I’d like to be the young Robert Mitchum or a Portuguese sunset.  

I used to write songs for The Electric Sphincter and The Bryce Wintergreen Experience, and occasional CD reviews e.g.

I drifted into poetry, and was taught by the poet John McCullough, who was mentored by Roddy Lumsden. This was extremely fortunate.

Nowadays I write poems – occasionally – but most of the time I don’t. 

The first four poems here are a few years old, and you can see me learning about technique (caesura, enjambment and slant rhyme etc.), and promptly forgetting again. As a youth I was a bit earnest, occasionally suicidal. In my thirties I fancied myself as a playboy (I was alone in this). Nowadays I like cooking and going to bed early, and music that doesn’t trigger my tinnitus. I seem to be interested in food, friendship, love, sex, sport, politics, science, art, cinema, rubbish, decay, riddles and jokes – and am especially fond of people who make me laugh.  

I’m fascinated by the sonnet and other classical or ‘retro’ forms…I like the idea of untrammelled free verse, but find it a challenge to write, and to read. (My ideal poem is semi-skimmed). 

I’m looking around for a large theme. I’m provisionally writing on detritus and the throwaway, mainly because I’ve been seduced by the title ‘This is Rubbish’.  My last collection was about the ocean: I grew a long beard, ate with a harpoon and slept with a pilchard on my pillow. Please email me if you have an interesting topic, I do like the idea of writing to a commission. 

Contact: mark joseph,



To the Other Side


Half a mile ahead, at the river bend. Come on lad,
you said, and stripped down to seasoned Y-fronts.
We hung our clothes on a high water willow
by the treble clef of a salmon skeleton. Jaws agape.

You tossed your glasses on the grass, Be my eyes,
your breaststroke strong and cultured. I hung on.
Hunched muscles, scrum damaged collar bones
and tussocks of white shoulder hair, flattened wet.

Cold brisk crystal, rippling discursive eddies
and a darting chub, refracted and multiplying,
weaving through the rushes, a spinner’s shuttle. We drifted
over deep down stones, on a long diagonal.

Running barefoot back over the bridge, we ambushed
the womenfolk with our mud daubed cheeks.
Fly half, Historian, Headmaster, Fabian, Rotarian.
Your Comanche whoops died under their eyes in a Hollywood moment.





I watch you sleep. My hand skimming
waves in a rumpled bed. A scented caress
of Rive Gauche and nocturnal ferment
surfing eyelashes, hips, and clefts.

At the temples, beneath foundation, I stop
at a constellation of flickering scars,
trace the pinholes, and fret for the damaged
battle-scape seen from afar.

A beauty now, but freshly painted, the stigmata
has been your salvation and history, perhaps.
I kiss the overgrown battlefield. Comrade in acne,
connoisseur of texture and gaps.




Digging Up

The index finger screws, rootles and excavates.
Questing probe, sightless flesh mole, driving
nail hard into over-hanging twin bore caverns
with their trove of mucal gems.
All the colours of the rainbow, except blue:
flaked emerald, baked gold, blood flecked rubies,
and loose guano – the un-split white. And by nightfall
wind dried onyx – in crusted black.

If the seam dries up go deeper or swap shafts.
Stay alert for gas pockets, the forewarning
backdraft and thunder cloud of steam. Some gelignite
avalanches, launching prospects pell-mell into a vast canopy.
But their blastings are an unseemly yellow jelly,
and the residue – an uncollectable echo.




Darwin College Cambridge: a Misjudgement at High Table

Sherry was served at the Master’s Dinner and the economist from Boston Mass.
said he’d make us grits for breakfast. 

I asked the woman to my right what she did, ‘Cephalopods, PhD, I spend half the year
in Hawaii’. She had a gentle rippling beauty. 

‘They are the smartest invertebrates; a brain perched on top of an eight fingered hand’,
and she detailed tests with jars and fishy rewards.

Over coffee we moved onto our favourite things. This went swimmingly, until
I mentioned crispy calamari. Her warmth dispersed, the Pacific clean ebbed away,

her spectral grass-skirt and snorkel faded, and I was stranded in the cold of the Fens, flailing
in an upturned jar, aware my chances of a tasty treat were receding.

She took a clipboard, wrote ‘limited adaptability, cognitive deficiency’ and ‘unresponsive
subject’, and put me back in the tank with a dexterous eight fingered hand. 

I turned toward her but was met with a cloud of sepia as she changed colour, gathered
her skirts, and jetted off in the direction of Boston Mass, and grits: true or otherwise.




Un making: in Papier Mache

A blue balloon: colour irrelevant.
Your letter cut into long strips.

A cup of water and one of flour mixed to a paste
with wallpaper glue. Then ‘I need more space’
squeezed between an article on overcrowding
in Dagenham, a heaving cleavage, Pringle packets,
butcher’s choice sausage wrappers, a gas bill,
ten joint bank statements – shredded
and stories of rogue sewage spilling across The Mail.

On with the face paint: a whitewash, spiked with ketchup
to capture your blush, and gravy granules for summer freckles.
And now a ruched relief map of flesh coloured terrain,
the smile uncertain, with badly drawn corners.  

Your old dun scarf down the back, hacked to streamers.
No lips, no eyebrows.            A shame that. Easier to forget.




Dinner with the Poet

I came ‘round yours for dinner and all I got
was a single cherry tomato
served on crisp white linen. ‘A generous margin’
you said ‘breaking all expectations
                              of a plate’.

I thought hard on its crimson ripeness
and on other plinth-worthy items of veg:
the tight pearly petticoats of an onion,
a scrolled leek, a cloddish turnip
and the inward-looking eye of a potato.

I’d seldom thought of food that way,
                            thank you. 

I had a doner kebab on the way home.
Thrown together in a cascade of spiced pickles:
purple cabbage juice, onion sweat,
chilli sauce, thick mayonnaise, lemon squeezings
and hot lamb fat which ran down my shirt
with the abundance of prose.




I Speak. No Words.

Were you ever kissed by a mouth artist?
The nibbling of a fawn, the dainty two-step
on a damp navel. Lips shaping up
from satsuma segments to thin hard pink.
Up till then had it been sloppy hoover
or dry goodbye peck?
This giving of water, a life’s imprint
and taste of another – calibrated
from vole’s lick to crush of calamari –
is a whole new language of mute skirmish
and intimacy. And once learnt was your mouth
hungry for other mouths – north and south –
to push and pucker the surge of liquid ecstasy?





Fond of calisthenics in moist warm cellars,
on occasions stands proudly to attention.
Red in face, with veins throbbing in the neck.
Has a tendency to steer conversations

and can be rather one track once roused.
A balding afro on top of a double goitre
and head cleaved down the middle with a blowhole
that spumes two ways: lemon tea or crème anglaise.

When asleep resembles a curled water vole,
and on a warm day smells like a fish pie
with a cheesy topping. I used to follow him
but now the roles are reversed. He cries at night
is more sedentary, and seldom spits unbidden.
He’s ditched the mackintosh which is a relief
                                                                and isn’t. 




South Seas Comet, Twickenham Train

The prop forward with cauliflower ears
is all grins and two train seats wide;
trough jawed with quadruple shoulders,
he enjoys being bison-sized.

A small girl touches his haunch of thigh
then runs back to her dad,
a rugby fan, who wants him to sign
the programme from the match

but sits there dumbstruck, smashed
by a smile. He’s shyer than his tot,
as flashbacks of man muscle slam
the bulldozing Tongan god

and stampede the pastures of his mind,
wreaking heaven – from the other side.