Two poems by Jo Bell


A word made scant by frequent use.
I like it for its urgency and spit, for its
necessity. I like it for its oldness,
for its slingshot certainty.

I like it for its plainness; for belonging
to the Northern tongue behind my teeth.
I like it for its fighting talk.
The known. The tribe.

Something I can recognise:
something that recognises me.
I am not who I think I am
but who you know me to be.

A dark man gave me this, and it was everything:
a cabin twelve by six, and Severn rising limitless.
No romance, no quarter; little rest.

In his coffin bunk, our skins, the channels of my wrist
were specks of engine oil and wine, small piracies of self.
We made a travellers’ pact to go wherever water let us pass,
together until each stood in the other’s way.

His second gift was a clean parting. Love passes,
water stays. Inconstant: always borrowed, never spent.
A better woman would be sorry now.
Jo Bell is a boat-dweller, archaeologist and internaut whose projects include the mass overhearing event Bugged and global workshopping group 52. Formerly the director of National Poetry Day, she is now the Canal Laureate for the UK, appointed by the Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust. Her book Kith can be ordered here.