Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Welcome to the website!

Mike Bartholomew-Biggs ( is a semi-retired mathematician and fully-active poet living in London.

He is poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip; and co-organises (with Nancy Mattson) the reading series Poetry in the Crypt.

For details of Mike's forthcoming readings see Mike's readings

For details of Mike's poetry books, see Mike's publications and for more biographical information see about Mike

Mike's new pamphlet collection will be The Man Who Wasn't Ever Here to be published by Wayleave Press in Autumn 2017

Mike is available for readings and festivals and can be contacted via
Forthcoming events:

September 19 2017 Frogmore reading with Kitty Coles and Jeremy Page at Lumen, Kings Cross, 88 Tavistock Street
Doors open at 6.30 for 7 pm start

November 16 2017 Poetry & Jazz at The Vortex, Dalston with Jacqueline Saphra and Jo Davis

March 23 2018 Fourth Friday at the Poetry Cafe with Carole Coates

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs was born in Essex but grew up in Middlesex, near Heathrow Airport.  A youthful aptitude for sums and symbolic manipulation caused him to embark on a mathematical career, first in the aircraft industry and then in research & higher education.  After publishing two text books and many research papers in the technical literature, he retired from full-time academic life in 2008 and is now Reader Emeritus in Computational Mathematics at the University of Hertfordshire.
He began writing poetry in the late 1980’s and found valuable early encouragement at the Toddington Poetry Society.  His work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies and some of his poems can be found on-line at  poetry pf and in the Poetry Library archive.
His work also appears in on-line magazines such as Writer's Hub, Fulcrum, The Bow-Wow Shop, morphrog, Penniless Press, Message in a Bottle and Ink Sweat & Tears and in print magazines including Acumen, Assent, Critical Survey, Envoi, The Frogmore Papers, Interpreter's House, Other Poetry and The SHOp.
He has also been a guest reader at the Torbay and Essex Poetry Festivals.

His first chapbook, Anglicized by Common Use, appeared in 1998.  This was followed by Inklings of Complicity (2003) and then by Uneasy Relations (2007) in which he allowed the two halves of his brain to cooperate and produce poems which link mathematical ideas with subjects as diverse as hill-walking, portfolio theory, sexual politics and the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
His first full collection Tell it Like it Might Be (2008) searches for “what really happened” behind familiar stories such as lovers’ protestations, government statements or the Christian gospels.  His second book was Tradesman’s Exit (2009) which mixes elegy with personal recollection to test the links between who we are, what we do and how we might be remembered.

His latest full collection Fred & Blossom, published by Shoestring Press in summer 2013, is a narrative sequence set in the world of aviation in the 1920s and 30s. 

A chapbook Pictures from a Postponed Exhibition was published by Lapwing Press in September 2014. This is an “evolution myth” which features paintings by the Australian artist David Walsh.

Although he still has some involvement with mathematical research, he now spends most of his time writing, reviewing and editing.  He is poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip and, with his wife, the poet Nancy Mattson, he helps to run the Poetry in the Crypt reading series at St Mary’s Church in Islington. 

Mike's publications


The Man Who Wasn't Ever Here from Wayleave Press continues the story of Mike's Irish grandfather which first appeared as a sequence in Anglicised by Common Use. As the book's preface tells us:

Our forebears leave few traces of themselves, unless they stumble briefly into the roving spotlight of recorded history. Thomas Ovans was born in Ireland in the 1850s but came as a shipyard worker to Middlesbrough, where he changed his name to Evans and got married (one small step towards becoming my grandfather). He later went to sea with P&O as a ship’s engineer; and family folklore, supported by a little photographic evidence, says he formed a shipboard friendship with the opera singer Nellie Melba. It is fact not folklore that he came from the same part of County Leitrim as Seán MacDermott, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. Thomas himself became a posthumous news item in 1917 when his ship hit a mine in the Indian Ocean.

Pictures from a Postponed Exhibition (Lapwing Press, 2014) is Mike's collaboration with artist David Walsh . The poems give voice to the small figures which fleetingly inhabit Walsh's hot, fierce landscapes.
They tell stories that are partly evolution-myths and partly parables about colonization.

Reviews can be found on Emma Lee's blog and in London Grip and Lunar Poetry

A poem from Pictures from a Postponed Exhibition ....

In an arid landscape, slender figures
curved as question marks
enact bewilderment at being
found beneath acrylic sky.

Space is what the sun can burn
and time’s the tallying of drawn-out days
on brittle limbs of stunted trees.

Painted figures cannot speak
but they can mime and want
stiff gestures recognized.

So extract a narrative
from each now in front of you
and a dozen thens remembered

or imagined down the gallery.
Ignore the hundred nevers
missing from the catalogue.

From the blind side of survival
sudden gusts come perfumed with suspicions
groves of foliage were left behind
before there was a word for garden.

Fred & Blossom (Shoestring Press, 2013) is a narrative sequence based on the true story of F.G. Miles and Maxine "Blossom" Forbes-Robertson. Their romance began in an aeroplane and throughout the 1930s they were at the centre of the fashionable world of light aviation. The poems touch on the beginnings of airline travel, the British class system, the Spanish Civil War and early attempts at supersonic flight. They also give glimpses of such figures as Douglas Bader, Joseph Stalin and Peter Pan and let us hear the distant voices of Rudyard Kipling, Louis MacNeice and John Betjeman.

The Fred & Blossom cover image is a detail from a painting by Howard Fritz.

I love this book and I love what an obvious labor of love it was... the amazing story, the different forms of poetry, the prose-poems based only on words from articles written at the time. Fred & Blossom, besides having a consistent narrative voice, can also do the characters in different voices. - Murray Bodo

This is stunning ... [I] enjoyed it enormously and feel much better informed about ... history, Englishness, innovation, romance, adventure and much more. [The] choice of poems/forms/found material is wonderful - Jane Kirwan

A great story and tremendously well done. It’s ambitious and beautifully turned, and much of it is masterful. The treated texts are a delight. There was clearly relish in the telling: I do get the sense of a poet enjoying his craft. - James Norcliffe

... gloriously eccentric ... an improbable triumph - Jeremy Page in The Frogmore Papers

... precision of language is what makes Bartholomew-Biggs's volume tick - Deborah Tyler-Bennett in Under the Radar

For an on-line review by Paul McLoughlin see London Grip and another by Afric McGlinchey at Sabotage Reviews

A poem from Fred & Blossom ...

How to make yourselves an aeroplane

Fred can be the fuselage. He’s broad and blunt.
Old cars and lorries earn his living:
in return they get his tenderest attentions.
His touch and hearing can detect
distress in engines, sensing when a thin high note
is pleading for the revs to drop
or warning of a worn-out bearing. He has grown
green fi ngers with machinery.

For wings, use Blossom’s outstretched arms.
Her proper name’s Maxine but she is always Blossom
to her friends – that’s everyone
who’s anyone in London Theatre. From them
she’s learnt to ride on optimism –
or its simulation by that certain magic
mix of attitude and movement
always on the brink of generating lift.


Tradesman's Exit (Shoestring Press, 2009) tests the links between who we are, what we do and why we are remembered, mixing personal recollections with tributes to an array of master craftsmen in fields as diverse as sport, music, art, film and literature.

The book's striking cover image is by Shelagh Hickman .

"Bartholomew-Biggs has a particular gift for witty allusion ... his wit, however, is coupled with judgement." - Glyn Pursglove
" ... sometimes jolting our memories or suggesting something just beyond our knowing" - Barry Cole

An on-line review of Tradesman's Exit appears on Eyewear

A poem from Tradesman's Exit ....

For R.S.Thomas
For years the coal-black priest
tried by the dim light in his head
to reach the surface of existence
where God’s big hand for ever
splits infinity
like slate, His small hand
pointing always to midnight or to noon.
For years he worked as well
at the bone hard face of Huw Puw
who would not tell the time and who cared nothing
for all the spiral wisdom
of the galaxies,
whose hands were only raised
in anger, or to cut another swede.
Can anything be won
from such unyielding ground?
No answer.  He choked on dust
and coughed up blood-streaked poetry.


Mike's first full collection was  Tell it Like it Might Be (Smokestack Books, 2008) which both celebrates and questions the value of human imagination as the source of both grand designs and private fears.

The cover image is a detail from a painting by Howard Fritz.

"This is vigorous and wide-ranging poetry....Here is a book to be welcomed and savoured, by a poet who not only looks but sees"  - Peter Bennet
"If my house caught fire and I had to run out very quickly I would reach for Tell it Like it Might Be - it's serious work from a very able poet." - Other Poetry

A poem from Tell it Like it Might Be ....

     Eleventh Floor

     Candy is my weakness.
     The grey-pink wall around your high-rise balcony
     yielded as my fancy pressed against it
     like nougat to a tongue
     and, stretching into sticky strands, it bulged
     to tilt me slowly outwards
     just before your grip upon the camera failed
     at the instant when the shutter tripped
     and it went plummeting
     to photograph its own destruction
     in a zoom lens shot
     that ultimately missed the lady on the street
     turning pirouettes as laboured as
     a drowsy ballerina
     or a skater in a space suit
     who thought she was concealed
     by sidewalk shrubs that altitude had simplified
     to jumbles of brown smudges, just as if
     the city’s landscape artist
     had rummaged in a box of chocolates.


Mike's poetry has also appeared in several anthologies - among the most recent are

Orni-thology (Poetry Wivenhoe 2016),
Poems for Jeremy Corbyn (Shoestring 2016),
50 Ways to Fly (Rhythm & Muse, 2017 ),
Poems for Stanley Spencer (Two Rivers, 2017)

Mike's full collections were preceded by three chapbooks. 

Uneasy Relations (Hearing Eye Press, 2007)  contains poems which play with themes drawn from the author's career as a professional mathematician but also touch on myth & fable, the arts of prediction and preventive maintenance, hill-walking, financial portfolio theory and the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

"... elegant and relevant - even to non-mathematicians" - Sphinx

"He poses ... questions that are unanswerable, scary and fascinating" - Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society.

Some of the poems in Uneasy Relations first appeared as space-fillers in two mathematical text books published by Springer -
Nonlinear Optimization with Financial Applications and Nonlinear Optimization with Engineering Applications.

Links between mathematics and poetry in these books are explored in a London Grip article.

A poem from Uneasy relations ...

     Mission statement
     means a quest for best answers
     with the least trouble.
     Optimism means
     believing both objectives
     are achievable.


The poems in Inkings of Complicity (Pikestaff Press, 2003) dip into the undercurrents beneath everyday experience which may - or may not - explain what happens at the visible surface.

"Impressively peopled with detail" - Envoi

A poem from Inklings of Complicity ...

     Criminal tendencies

     I was talking in my sleep to this policeman.
     What it is, he said, is this. You trust your judgement.
     You get real close in up against your suspect
     then you lean on him
     (and here he rubbed his face on mine)
     and you notice his reaction.
     You can always tell the guilty ones.
     Does it stand up well in court?  He didn't answer
     but applied his cheek again and I could feel
     reactions that were asking to be noticed.
     So I made an effort.
     What I want to know, I said,
     is how many of the people
     get to pass your test and walk away?
     None of them, he smiled, and that's the point.
     That's the way we know we've got it right.


Anglicized by Common Use (Waldean Press, 1998) explains the author's tenuous but genuine claim to Irish nationality through a speculative poetic history of the life and times of his grandfather from County Leitrim.

"A superb first collection" - Iota

A poem from Anglicized by Common Use ...


     Grandad drifted
     to Liverpool from Leitrim – changed his name –
     mis-spelled a parent
     on his marriage lines – and last was posted
     Lost at Sea,
     two years younger than he should have been.
     Such evidence
     as this is all there is and barely fills
     the donor’s card,
     that's propped, dog-eared, beside the quart of blood
     which he bequeathed me.
     Yet, like Isaac’s kiss, it does the trick.

     I’ve got the passport
     but I’m waiting for a destination;
     and plaited flex
     is hanging frayed beyond an old exchange
     whose faulty relays
     send silences to haunt my answerphone
     by cutting off
     his calls suggesting that we celebrate.
     If this corkscrew
     he’s slipped into my fist is ever used
     perhaps the past
     will crumble as I draw it back towards me.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Poetry in the Crypt

Poetry in the Crypt is an occasional reading series which takes place in the crypt below St Mary's church on Upper Street, Islington. (A short history of Poetry in the Crypt can be found here).

Next event: Saturday November 18th at 7 pm with featured readers Hilary Davies, John Mole & James Norcliffe

There will also be floor spots (sign-up on arrival - numbers may be limited) and free coffee, tea & cakes at the interval.

Admission £5 - all proceeds go to the charity Hospice Care Kenya

For more information contact

Poetry in the Crypt has its origins in a series of informal poetry reading evenings arranged by Graham Claydon, vicar of St Mary’s
church in Islington.   Nancy Mattson and Mike Bartholomew-Biggs took over the running of these events when Graham moved
on to another church.   

Mike and Nancy introduced the idea of inviting one or two guest poets to complement the contributions from church members.
At the same time – and with the support of the new vicar, Graham Kings – they began charging a small entry fee to help raise funds
for “Mary’s”, a project run by Tom & Barbara Quantrill to offer meals and support for the homeless.   In return, Tom and Barbara took on responsibility for providing refreshments at Poetry in the Crypt readings – and thus began the famous “free coffee & cakes” tradition which continues to the present day. 

The Mary’s project came to an end in 2006 when St Mary’s crypt was closed for extensively redevelopment.  This meant that, for a couple of years, Poetry in the Crypt became Poetry “in” the Crypt  and took place in the Neighbourhood Centre next door to the church.  At the same time, Tom and Barbara decided, reluctantly, to withdraw from refreshment duty.  In their place, Mike and Nancy were able to recruit a team of “poetry elves” who take it in turns to help with creating a welcoming poetry cafe and bookstall. 

With the closure of the Mary’s project, Poetry in the Crypt switched to providing support for two members of St Mary’s congregation, Paul & Claire Furbey, who went to work with HIV-affected women and children in a refuge at  Purnata Bhavan in India.  Money from Poetry in the Crypt was earmarked for a fund which enabled Paul and Claire to provide birthday treats and outings for the children in their care. 

In 2009 Paul and Claire’s work at Purnata Bhavan came to an end; and Poetry in the Crypt  (by now back in the crypt again) began supporting Hospice Care Kenya  (with whom St Mary’s  has a connection through congregation members Liz Salmon & Sally Hull).

Thanks to the ongoing support of the St Mary’s leadership and the current vicar Simon Harvey, Poetry in the Crypt has now been running for more than ten years – as can be seen from the list below which shows all the events since 1998.  There are usually four or five events a year, mostly taking place in spring and autumn.  The present format of a Poetry in the Crypt evening involves three guest readers, who each have about 25 minutes of reading time (In two slots either side of the interval), together with some (very good) readers from the floor.  Audience size varies of course – for instance when an Arsenal home fixture disrupts local transport – but is usually between thirty and fifty people.  The audiences are always very attentive, appreciative and willing to buy books.  This last is important because guest poets agree to forego a reading fee and it is good to see them go home with some material reward as well as applause ringing in their ears.

Poetry in the Crypt at St Mary Islington since 1998

1998 November                    Christmas/Advent theme - no advertised readers

1999 November                   Graham Claydon (at Camden Head pub)

2000 November                   Christmas/Advent theme – no advertised readers

2001 May                            Ascension/Pentecost/Spring theme – no advertised readers
2001 November                  Graham Kings, Peter Daniels, actor Tom Mannion (reading Shakespeare &
          Edwin Morgan), Rhona McAdam

2002 February                      Actor Janet Henfrey reading Elizabeth Jennings
2002 June                             Carol Hughes, Nell Keddie, Philip Wells (The Fire Poet)
2002 October                       Sarah Lawson, Godfrey Rust, Caroline Wright
2002 November                   Micheal O’Siadhail (from Dublin)

2003 May                             Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, Cahal Dallat, Jehane Markham
2003 November                    Homegrown theme – no advertised readers

2004 May                        Shoestring publisher John Lucas introduces Ann Atkinson,   Michael Bartholomew-Biggs,
  Malcom Carson, George Parfitt & Deborah Tyler-Bennett for Take Five 04
2004 July                              Mario Petrucci
2004 October                       Martyn Crucefix
2004 November                   Donald Atkinson (from Hebden Bridge), Sue Hubbard

2005 March                         Stephen Watts, Tamar Yoseloff 
2005 June                            Perse Peett, Jo Roach 
2005 October                      David Loffman, Micheal O’Siadhail (from Dublin)

2006 February                      Leah Fritz, Angela Kirby
2006 March                         Anne-Marie Fyfe, Paul McLoughlin
2006 June                            John Weston, Carol Hughes
2006 November                  Nancy Mattson, Rhona McAdam (from Canada)
2006 December                   Shoestring publisher John Lucas introduces Nancy Mattson, Ruth O’Callaghan
      and Rosemary Norman for Take Five 06

2007 March                           Peter Bennet (from Northumberland) & Chris Beckett
2007 May                              Martha Kapos & Kathryn Maris
2007 November                    Myra Schneider, Jacqueline Gabbitas, Katherine Gallagher, Valerie Josephs & Sue Rose
     from Images of Women

2008 May                              André Mangeot & Robert Vas Dias
2008 June                              Mimi Khalvati & Alice Major (from Canada)
2008 October                        Siobhan Campbell & Robert Seatter
2008 November                    Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Graham Kings, Hugh Underhill

2009 January                         Brian Docherty, Anna Robinson, Hylda Sims
2009 March                           Shanta Acharya, Maggie Butt, Danielle Hope
2009 May                              Judi Benson, Todd Swift, David Perman
2009 September                    Anne Berkeley, Cahal Dallat, Siriol Troup
2009 October                        Claire Crowther, Wendy French, Maurice Riordan

2010 February                       Linda Black, Andy Croft, Deborah Tyler-Bennett
2010 March                           Joanna Boulter, Phil Kirby, Katrina Naomi
2010 April                             Alan Brownjohn, Peter Daniels, Mary Michaels
2010 October                        Murray Bodo (from the USA), Sue Rose, Susan Utting
2010 November                    Tim Dooley, Rosemary Norman, Penelope Shuttle

2011 January                         Philip Hancock, Allison McVety, Samantha Wynne-Rydderch
2011 March                           Mike Barlow, John Lucas, Jane Routh
2011 May                              Wendy Klein, Jeremy Page, Anne Stewart
2011 October                        Martin Figura, Helen Ivory, Eve Pearce
2011 November                    Jane Duran, Jane Kirwan, Ales Machacek, Cristina Viti, Stephen Watts

2012 March                           Elizabeth Cook, Glyn Maxwell, Cheryl Moskowitz
2012 May                              Liz Berry, Jenna Butler (from Canada), Nancy Mattson
2012 October                        David Black, Murray Bodo (from the USA), Sheila Hillier
2012 November                    Pat Borthwick, Martina Evans, Norbert Hirschhorn

2013 February                       Peter Daniels, Jacqueline Saphra, Lesley Saunders

2013 March                          Tamar Yoseloff (substituting for Ian Parks) and Robert Stein

2013 April                              Maggie Butt (substituting for Maria Jastrzebska), John Godfrey and Jane Yeh

2013 September                  Sharon Morris & Maitreyabandhu

2013 November                   John Greening, Maria Jastrzebska and Pauline Stainer

2014 March                         Clare Best, Robert Chandler and Jean Sprackland

2014 May                             Rebecca Goss, Hannah Lowe and Alan Murray

2014 October                       Peter Daniels ( presenting Vladislav Khodasevich),
                                    Emily Jeremiah (presenting Eeva-Liisa Manner & Sirkka Turkka) and Paul McLoughlin (presenting Brian Jones)

2014 November                     Yvonne Green, John Harvey and Lorraine Mariner

2015 May ...............................Katie Evans-Bush, Kate Foley & Michael McKimm

2015 October ........................Fiona Moore, Allen Ashley & Roisin Tierney

2015 November ................... Barbara Marsh, Kit Wright & Ian McEwen

2016 March ........................... Derek Adams Alison Hill & Christopher Reid

2016 April ........................... ....Matthew Caley Sarah Doyle & Vishvantara

2017 March ........................... John Freeman, George Szirtes & Ruth Valentine

2017 April ........................... ... Don Atkinson, Lynne Hjelmgard, Kay Syrad

London Grip


London Grip is an on-line cultural magazine, originally founded and edited by Patricia Morris in 2007. 

In September 2011 the magazine was re-launched with a new look, under Stephen McGrath as managing editor, and Mike took over the poetry editorship from Robert Vas Dias.

The latest posting of London Grip New Poetry can be seen at

London Grip also features reviews of recent collections and anthologies at

Submissions for London Grip New Poetry are most welcome.  Please send up to three poems plus a brief CV to poetry@londongrip,
Mike is also very happy to receive offers of poetry reviews.