Mike Barlow

…one morning
you’ll leave the house with a light step
and no inkling why.

— 'The Blue'


Mike Barlow won the National Poetry Competition in 2006. Prior to that he won the Amnesty International Competition and the Ledbury Competition. He has also been a winner in many other competitions, including third prize in the 2011 Strokestown International, and was a finalist for the 2008 Manchester Prize.

His first book Living on the Difference (Smith/Soorstop 2004) was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize. Another Place followed and a pamphlet Amicable Numbers (Templar 2008) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.

His new collection Charmed Lives will be published by Smith/Doorstop in 2012.





'Instead of relying on surface effects, Barlow’s work catches the attention firstly through skilful choice of apt yet surprising words and images and secondly because of his knack of finding subject matter which can engage, intrigue and startle his readers. He sometimes writes movingly and with a fresh eye about quite ordinary situations; but elsewhere he draws us into imagined worlds which are not so far from the real one and yet where no point of reference can truly be relied upon.' — Thomas Ovans, London Grip


‘the matter-of-fact becomes surprising; the ordinary sits cheek by jowl with the extraordinary.’ - Paul Groves.

‘as practiced and as appealing as a cyclist on a high-wire. There is something slightly breathtaking about a lot of his work’ - Alan Dent, Penniless Press

‘Time and again, in poems that comment and build on each other, the reader encounters Barlow’s questing intelligence and, best of all, a refusal to accept or offer easy answers.’ - Kate Keogan, Acumen


‘The poems are full of a sense of the ordinary effortlessly made unusual. This is a collection that pulls together as you read it to leave you with that feeling of inevitability and of a unique sensibility…’ — Alan Dent, Penniless Press

‘Whether he’s climbing in high winds, reading about captain Cook or birdwatching on Unst, Barlow’s poems all grapple, in the end, with this question of ‘real life’ – what it is, and what lies outside it.’ — Sarah Crown, The Guardian 



‘There is a warmth running through the whole collection, a connectedness between each poem and a loose narrative arc – as if the pamphlet were a beautifully composed piece of music.’ — Poetry Book Society

‘Barlow’s voice is clear and direct, the space between his lines easily read. This clarity provides the perfect minimalist setting for his stand-out images and fresh perspectives’ — Julia Bird, Poetry London


Pink Floyd, McCartney, Daltrey
thrashing their ghosts for charity.
And how we remember.
How the pledges pour in.  

(how the ghosts inside us all
tap their feet,
click their bones) 

Where do they go to,
the ghosts on the screen,
the famous, the famished,
the vanquished, the vanished? 

(ghosts like family, intimate
and inescapable, everyone
we’ve been or might have been) 

Where do they go
the anonymous ghosts
in their makeshift camps,
their crammed unseaworthy boats? 

(waving our souvenir tickets,
waving our arms
slightly out of time)  

Where does it go, the glitter,
the glamour, the jumping jack
flash of goodwill, the scaffolded stage,
the sea of lit faces, the patter? 

(getting the song’s off-by-heart words
wrong but undeterred,
in our heads and out of them) 

Where do they go, the litter, the flies,
the stick-thin limbs, the queues
in a drought for water? Where does it go,
the news-crew's worn-through footage?



Mike on his work

Poetry has always been an important part of my life. As a child I was introduced to Palgrave's Golden Treasury, where I was paticularly intrigued by a number of poems attributed to Anon. Keats featured in my late adolescent reading, then Lawrence Durrell's translation of The City by Cavafy (found in the notes at the back of the novel Justine) compelled me to learn it by heart and became a sort of tone template.

In my early twenties the guiding stars of Miroslav Holub, Edwin Brock, Dannie Abse appeared, followed by Heaney, Hughes, Plath, W.S.Graham. Currently the writers I admire and return to most frequently are the late Ken Smith for his compelling musical and dark-tinged voice, Philip Gross, for his ability to combine ideas and emotions so that each reinforces the other, and Michael Symmons Roberts for the way he uses grounded imagery to transcend the everyday.

Always an essential activity for me, the writing of poetry was nonetheless constrained for many years by the demands of real life - family, work, hills and mountains etc. Over the last decade or so it's gained more momentum as I've taken it out into the world.

For me, putting together a collection involves working to a broad theme, encapsulated by the title. Over a period of time I do seem to write a good number of poems with a common underlying feel to them, but of course some good poems fail to get into a particular collection because they don't fit and have to await a later opportunity.

In my latest collection, 'Charmed Lives', the word 'charmed' covers several shades of meaning, as in surviving, as in getting away with it, as in posessed, as in fortunate. Whether drawing on direct imagery or experience, works of art, literature or myth, the lives and moments here are about being vulnerable, getting by and sometimes being at one with the world. The title is taken from a particular poem which acts as an epigraph to the whole. Included are some older poems which haven't found a place before, as well as the occasional quite new one. Seeing how poems work as part of the overall flow and tone of the book does wonders for one's powers of editing. Suddenly whole stanzas or passages go, poems are condensed and fine-tuned in a way impossible to manage when considering the poem on is own.

The process takes time and constant re-reading and re-arranging. Inevitably the critical faculties become stale as over-familiarity takes over. I reach a point where things are comin out, going in again and I can't tell the difference. That's the time to let go, cross your fingers and turn your attention back to actually writing new stuff.

Titles by this author

  Charmed Lives
Charmed Lives

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