Henry's Clock
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Henry's Clock

56pp  |  9781902382210

Price: £6.95

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Henry's Clock was the overall winner of the 1998 Book & Pamphlet Competition, and winner of the Aldeburgh/Jerwood Best First Collection Prize.

‘Poets like Cliff Yates only come along every so often, like eclipses or rare migrating birds, and, like an eclipse or a rare migrating bird, Cliff Yates should be gazed at, parked near, and written about. People often talk about poets being fresh, and they mean fresh like bread, likely to go stale. Cliff Yates is fresh like the very first crack of dawn is fresh: unique, unrepeatable, full of promise.’ — Ian McMillan

Cliff Yates - On Writing Henry's Clock


Porthmadog, in a cottage by the harbour, on the floor in the living room with a pair of scissors, cutting up and re-assembling ’14 Ways of Listening to the Archers’. The kids coming in and out, sand on their bare feet from the beach, sand on the poems.


Hearing the story of the budgie in ‘Meeting the Family’ from some sixth formers in the school library, about a bloke meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time –

Tell me this story.’

We’re not telling you. You’ll just put it in a poem.’

No I won’t.’


I write a poem about walking home one night wearing my dad’s trilby. There’s more to write, I’m sure of it. I read a John Cage interview about 4’33”, and listen to Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale. And then I have it – the second half of ‘Tonight in Kidderminster.’

Writing the first of the ‘Pond Poems’ with Year 8 after setting their homework: a letter from one three-headed pond dweller to another in a neighbouring pond.

Ian McMillan comes into my school to work with the students. He asks me to send him some poems. He writes back, saying send them to magazines: Iron, The Wide Skirt, The Echo Room, The North.

Giving a copy of ‘Bricks in the Snow’ to Rob Todd, my old Sociology lecturer in Kidderminster College, who’s mentioned in the poem. And re-reading the poem after it’s published, realising what it’s saying.

1999, Henry’s Clock wins the Poetry Business book & pamphlet competition and my students at Maharishi School, including our own three children, are still winning every poetry competition going: Foyle Young Poets, WH Smith Young Writers, TES Young Poets... Roger McGough says I need to teach my kids one thing –

What’s that, Roger?’

Writer’s block.’

I’m Poetry Society poet-in-residence and manage to write Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School in six months. I’m teaching full-time, writing poems and there aren’t enough hours in the day. And the postman knocks on the door with a parcel: copies of Henry’s Clock, fifteen years in the making.

The launch of both Henry’s Clock and Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School at John Lyons’ Hourglass Studio Gallery in Hebden Bridge. November, pouring with rain and we’re late because I took the wrong motorway from Skelmersdale. We walk in and everyone claps. It’s like Christmas. Nearly everyone I knew was in that room.

The phone rings. It’s the Aldeburgh Bookshop, talking about copies of Henry’s Clock for their shop window. It takes me a minute or two to realise that Henry’s Clock has won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.

Picking up a copy fifteen years later and reading it, and realising yes, some of those poems I might not write now, but some I could have written yesterday.

Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, walking on the beach eating a bag of chips. This is the life. I feel incredibly lucky. The town’s full of poets. Jubilee Hall’s packed. I think: ‘They’ve come for Ursula Fanthorpe’. Michael Laskey’s generous introduction. Everyone claps and I walk on.

More by Cliff Yates


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