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Ben Ray is an accomplished young poet from the Welsh borders whose work ‘has a unique ability to look at the complexities of the human experience, creating something that seems both to expand and enclose the human heart’ (Rebecca Tantony).
Since releasing his first collection ‘After the Poet, the Bar’ in 2016 (Indigo Dreams) Ben’s work has appeared in an array of journals and websites, and he has gone on to explore a wide range of poetic disciplines. From performing at sold-out venues to mentoring, from leading poetry groups to giving talks and workshops with young people in schools, Ben is a versatile and accomplished poet, performer and mentor.
Ben honed his craft in the back rooms of pubs of Oxford, where he graduated in 2017. Since then he has been organising events and giving readings across the country (including a run of shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), as well as spending time under the tutelage of award-winning poet Fiona Sampson.
He is passionate about writing and performing poetry, and about sharing the joy of the written word with others.
138 x 216mm
£8.99 + P&P UK
What I heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World
Part apocalypse, part time travel, part romp through those odd gaps within our everyday lives, ‘What I heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ is a fascinating, surreal journey through a plethora of poetic worlds. Follow a twisting journey past a drowning man off the coast of 15th century Gdansk, beyond the day they decimalised the words, and even down the path that leads off the Silk Road…
“A fresh and original poetic voice – full of wit, twists, surprises, echoes and challenges.”
Author, journalist & former editor-in-chief The Guardian newspaper
"Ben Ray’s new poems have the gleam and muscle of the river fish he writes about with such feeling. They are story-telling, risk-taking and exact in all the right ways.”
Professor Fiona Sampson MBE FRSL
Poet, editor & biographer
"Playful but profound, poignant yet humorous, vibrantly experimental and singing with lyricism, Ben’s new collection is intoxicating.”
Poet, founder of Cheltenham Poetry Festival
The day they decimalised the words
Yes, I remember the day they decimalised the words:
library queues that echoed of soup kitchens
as they curled around the street corners
everyone waiting to exchange their old, jaded letters
for fresh syllables, crisp and hot off the dictionary.
I remember how they tasted of newness and possibility
as I tucked them neatly into the back of my throat.
The older generation, they didn’t understand –
they cried when they opened their mouths
and their old, familiar sounds wouldn’t work.
Even years after, embedded in my new tongue
I’d still come across ones I’d forgotten all about
fossilised – tucked in between the leaves of books
or carefully hidden on stained shopping lists
for shops that no longer existed.
And whenever I found one, I’d hold it up to the light
see how those now-strange symbols danced
and feel a nagging, empty sadness
for everything that had been left unsaid.
Geese at night
On the Thames, the geese all float
a thousand silent beak-tipped boats
an ochre-painted motley crew
asleep upon the drifts, where you
can count them, one by two, by rote –
those weathered, feathered geese afloat.
On sopping, brackish, grass-crowned crests
is where they choose to build their nests
and those of a more patient mind
will sit and wait, and hope to find
one day a squawk, a telling squeak
of life anew – but now, all sleep.
And they seem to know they’re in the right
these landed, candid bulks of flight
for when all is done and heard and said
why are we too not both abed
wrapped up tightly, between the pillows
as they all are, amongst the willows.
So let us go, and find our place
remainder of the human race
awake at such ungodly hour
and, if it is within our power
in slumber, find an inner peace –
to be, in short, more like the geese.
Something beautiful in Café Nero
In the antiquated palace of my memories
the frescoes are all in primary colours
and there are doors that I fear to look behind
for fear of structural collapse.
So when you strode back into my present
and pushed aside the walls to finally let in light
I was so utterly grateful that you were still You.
Glasses on, bag slung back, a smile in corporeal form.
We sat down and opened up the dam
swapped our pasts, our love lives and love of life
and found, with relief, that the waters hadn’t ebbed
that our shorelines were still recognisable.
And I’m left thinking, thank god you’re here –
there is too much tea and too much talk in this world
for you not to exist in mine.
Greenpeace’s final strategy
We have to plan not only for our children, but for our children’s children. - Greenpeace activist interviewed on the BBC
When all the ancient ruins in Rome have been destroyed
when Eastern Europe crumbles, and the soldiers are deployed
when the Med’s sea waters are poisoned and over-fished
and the rainforests all go the way the corporations wished
when Australia’s fully eaten up in raging rogue bush fires
and all that’s left of Venice are tips of lone piazza spires
when China plucks up courage and finally nukes the West
and reduces all our governments to puppet states at best
when America walls its borders to create a living tomb
when the population rises and we die from lack of room –
then where the fuck are we going to go on holiday
This is where he likes to come
when he finds he is lost again:
up to this point where trees don’t dare tread
and the rock liquidates into wind.
He has a job – somewhere
where there’s so much glass he can’t fathom
in which direction he’s meant to be looking
and the coffee and the smiles and the handshakes
are lukewarm and dry out the tongue.
But that doesn’t matter now.
He’s driven through the night and most of the morning
to join this rupture of geological impropriety
where red sandstone bursts out from millennia
in eternal attempts to become airborne
Penybegwn. Massif in all meanings, he’d said
and she had chuckled, leaned into him –
two figures on the edge of the Black Mountains
surveying a kingdom of possibility.
Just watching the river Wye curl lazily below them.
The historian lights up
This smoke will go down in history.
A nod, a tilted head: some secret sign
and the game begins.
Into the pocket, out with the hallowed packet
held aloft in a showman’s flourish
my friend, in years to come
people will be singing about this, its wisps
passing into legend. They will tell in hushed tones
of the subtle way your fingers danced,
spooling out the waiting rolling paper
gently scattering flecks of tobacco
the satisfying slot of the filter.
Know this: the firelight will flicker in the eyes of storytellers
as though reliving that first, virgin flick of the lighter.
Up to the lips now, breathe in, slow, slow…
that first draw is the best, always, you say
the devil’s divine blend tongue-wrapping around
loosening the mouth, the muscles, the mind
it has the taste of good conversation.
My friend, this smoke will go down in history
but for now, it is just us and we are here, together
so let me have a pull, will you?