Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Mike's publications


Mike's poetry collections are as follows. (For more information click on the title)

Poems in the Case (2018)
The Man Who Wasn't Ever Here (2017)
Pictures From a Postponed Exhbition (2014)
Fred & Blossom (2013)
Tradesman's Exit (2009)
Tell It Like It Might Be (2008)
Uneasy Relations (2007)
Inklings of Complicity (2003)
Anglicized by Common Use (1998)


Poems in the Case is a genre-bending volume which places an eclectic poetry selection within the framework of a murder mystery and features ten poets caught up in a classic detective story.

When participants gather at a poetry workshop in rural Kent they are looking forward to a preview of a collection of posthumously discovered unpublished poems by the admired and much-missed poet Eric Jessop. Within a few days however tensions have arisen between members of the group—not least over doubts about the collection’s authenticity. When a very public confrontation is followed by two sudden and mysterious deaths will poetic sensibility prove to be of any use in determining what really happened?

A scene-setting extract from Poems in the Case ...

After Eric Jessop’s death, his partner George Hamblin sold the Devon cottage they had shared and moved to Exeter where he lived alone and eventually resumed reviewing, tutoring and composing the well-made poems of reminiscence for which he was widely admired. In early 1999 it became known that he was one of the contenders for the prestigious and lucrative post of poet-in-residence at the investment company McMahon Associates (often pronounced “Mammon”). His rival for the position was Stephen Prince who, besides being Eric Jessop's publisher at Epidermis Press ( Poetry to get under your skin), was also a poet, specialising in dark, enigmatic narratives.

Opinions among the members of the McMahon selection panel were, in fact, sharply divided. There were some who thought Hamblin’s cosily nostalgic verses carried reassuring implications of investor security while others felt that Prince’s darker, edgier poems suggested positive ideas of enterprise and profitable risk-taking. Their contrasting styles can be seen in two examples presented to the McMahon Associates Cultural Capital (Poetry) Panel ...

NATIONAL TRUST – George Hamblin

I cut along the Cromwell Road towards Ham House. 
A mistress of intrigue lived here in Cromwell’s time; 
and all the staff have fallen half in love with Lady Dysart,
Restoration Mata Hari.

The Kingston bypass keeps its promise, points me on to Selborne, 
in whose car park Rovers will be over-represented. 
(But for me to mention that might be a touch
 too much like Betjeman.)

I’m out to mix with other, older English icons: 
Gilbert White, meticulous In documenting downland flowers  
(never eidelweiss or pis-en-lit);

and Turner, making permanent a moment’s movement, fixing it 
in Petworth light, diffused as if by wind-snatched ashes
scattering across the sun.

I would once have drawn a line at fancying a cup of tea 
and slice of sponge to follow galleries of portraits 
and someone else’s limed-oak furniture.

But by the time I get to Uppark I’ll be feeling 
like the aging peer who married his best dairymaid, 
attracted – as King David was to Abishag – 
by a pair of firm, warm, trusted hands.

[The National Trust properties in this poem form a straightish line between London and the south coast. Events such as Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh’s late marriage at Uppark House are drawn from National Trust websites.]


Jazz and puppetry, she says
are twins. She’s right: harmonic lines
allow as little freedom
as a finger up the spine 
or wires through wrists that push or pull you
into false positions.

I’m a home-made marionette.
She holds the strings. Come here, she calls,
pretending that she doesn’t;
next she’ll brush me with a kiss
or with a lash. I won’t ask which
until I close the door.

Should she cut me loose I’d slump,
a bundle of discordant limbs.
Puppetry and jazz
run risks: alfresco melodies 
divorced from chords collapse, go sprawling
as disjointed notes.

She’s making me negotiate
departures: clean out china/filing
cabinets and clear 
the desktop/bedside diary;
leave notelets for my next/my old

Puppetry works hand in glove
with jazz. My first-choice orchestra
has been marched away
in chains and handcuffs; in its place
a second string quintet rehearses
ersatz hot club music.

The McMahon selectors had not yet made a decision when, in April 1999, George Hamblin and Stephen Prince were booked to lead a week-long poetry workshop at Weald Barn writer’s centre in Kent. The workshop title, “Delighting in the Dark Side,” had initially been proposed by Prince to reflect his own poetic style; but the pairing with Hamblin was suggested by the Weald Barn administrator Julia Nelson. Julia had run the centre very successfully for a couple of years; and, although not herself a writer, she was the kind of efficient manager that “creatives” need but rarely value. She had been tempted by the piquancy of asking the two McMahon rivals to work together and was pleased when Stephen Prince made his surprise announcement of the pending Epidermis Press publication of a posthumous Eric Jessop collection since this would surely generate even more interest in the workshop.


The Man Who Wasn't Ever Here from Wayleave Press extends and elaborates the story of Mike's Irish grandfather which began as a poem sequence in his first book Anglicised by Common Use (1998). 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 Se├ín 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.

And in the words of the back cover blurb

This sequence of poems emerges from the poet’s attempts to find out more about the elusive and enigmatic figure of his grandfather, to ‘fix his likeness’ as it were. Using documented fragments of a private story and his own considerable powers of imagination, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs creates an engaging tribute to an ordinary life that takes him closer to his own roots. It is a narrative that might have passed relatively unnoticed yet which nonetheless is integral to the wider sweep of history as it touches on currently sensitive issues of immigration, national identity and terrorism.

A poem from The Man Who Wasn't Ever Here ....

Press Reports  
Daily Express Bombay Correspondent, 2 July 1917

A widow takes the roughly scissored column-
inches and unfolds their yellowed story.

The passengers were pleasantly engaged,
with lifebelts off and some were playing quoits.  
At just past noon they felt the first explosion.

The ship went down in only sixteen minutes,
in shallow water, with her masts still showing:
but wireless traffic had already ceased
some time before the incident because
the atmosphere that day was much disturbed.

One gentleman, who had secured a place
on lifeboat ten, descended to his cabin,
in order to collect a sum of money.
Discovering the boat had left without him
he went down again to fetch his watch.

As passengers were saved from utmost danger
a well-known theologian jammed his fingers 
climbing in a lifeboat.  Most of those 
who died were in the engine room – six Britons
and fourteen native crewmen.  Thirty mailbags

have been recovered and the search continues.
Also missing is one Parsee gentleman 
of unknown name.  A passenger's pet dog 
was saved and reached Bombay before its master.
It was at the quay to greet him.


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.


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