Three poems by Gregory Leadbetter


The air is not itself today:
it can no longer rest. The last
free molecule has just been put to use.

Our alpha-waves are butterfly-brained.
Sleep, in any normal sense,
has not been possible here for months.

I carry an egg for safety now.
I came too close the other day:
it cooked in my pocket, good enough to eat.

(previously published in The Body in the Well , HappenStance, 2007)


Here is the feather that knocked me down
that dead-sky morning, no other trace
of the wing it lifted from the ground

but the swan-stark remnant that I found,
which gave its colour to my face.
Here is the feather that knocked me down.

There’s knowledge we don’t know we carry around.
I can only hold this feather displaced
from the wing it lifted from the ground.

It left me with nothing that day but the sound
of my blood beating into empty space.
Here is the feather that knocked me down.

My father is not so old as I am now.
This feather’s perfection cannot replace
the wing it lifted from the ground.

But there’s enough in its vane of barbs to astound
his absence, just enough fragmented grace
to find in the feather that knocked me down
the wing that lifts me from the ground.

(forthcoming in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets, eds. Simon Armitage, Joanna Gavins, Ann Sansom, Peter Sansom (Smith/Doorstop, 2014).

Black-Necked Grebe

They say it escaped from a cunning-man’s coop,
dived into air one midwinter and left him
without spell or sight – to live unseen
in its own season behind the wind and water,
waiting for the right crack of light to make
its crystal feather – the black and rufous thing you see.

I once came close. Heard its whistle shear
off into the world that dogs can hear –
that brings them running or drives them mad.
What I’d give for a gold quill dropped
from its head, or what the old man heard it whisper.
On the Fal, in cold weather, they come to pan for its eyes.

(previously published in Birdbook II: Freshwater Habitats, ed. Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone (Sidekick Books, 2012).
Gregory Leadbetter’s pamphlet The Body in the Well was published by HappenStance in 2007. His book on Coleridge’s poetry, the transnatural and the dilemmas of creativity, Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) won the CCUE Book Prize 2012. He has written radio drama for the BBC, and was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013. He is Reader in Literature and Creative Writing at Birmingham City University, where he leads the MA in Writing and the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing.