Michael Brett

About the Author

'The mode of address in these poems is direct, point-blank. Brett is concerned with parachuting us into seeing what he, with consistently unsentimental eyes, has seen.'
Mario Petrucci, Imperial War Museum, London, Poet in Residence

'Michael Brett turns edgy metropolitan experience into beauty and wit.'
Dr Thomas M Woodman, Senior Lecturer, Department of English and American Literature, University of Reading.

Michael Brett is a past winner of the Scottish Isle of Skye, Iolaire Arts Foundation Poetry Prize, and twice runnerup for the Bridport Prize.

Michael began to write Poetry seriously as a teenager, starting by attending Poetry classes given by Liverpool Poet and Painter Adrian Henri, a much loved Liverpool character and friend of The Beatles.

During the Civil War in the Former Yugoslavia, Michael worked in the Press Section of the Information Centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina in London, promoting US and NATO military intervention to stop the widespread massacre of civilians on all sides. He believed in the multi ethnic state of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a model for the Balkans if not the World.

After the war, Michael became Head of English in two prestigious South London schools.

Links to his poetry are included in the US Library of Congress site, the Poetry of September 11: http://www.loc.gov/rr/progra/bib/911poetry/.

In July 2012, Michael won two major awards in London, England in the Mayor of the London Borough of Enfield's Poetry Competition with his poem 'The A406 is for Lovers' which was nominated in two categories.

In 2014, The Wilfred Owen Association included his poem 'Every Dead Baby is a Baby Croatian' in their contemporary war anthology and the State University of San Diego published his poem 'War Intelligence' in their magazine Poetry International.

In 2011, Random House USA and UK included some of his poems in the Ebury Book 'Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets,' edited by Carol Ann Duffy.

A selection of his poems is also included the 2012 Poetry Anthology ' Enduring Freedom' edited by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.

Michael's Collected Poems, Tomorrow It Will All Run Backwards is available from Amazon.com, Amazon| India, Amazon UK and Amazon Canada.

Web Sites which feature Michael's Work:

www.warpoetry.co.uk War Poetry and Anti-war Poetry. The wide selection of contemporary war poetry on this website is vigorous, moving, opinionated and heart-felt. It is by both soldiers and civilians. -- David Roberts (Editor)

Sampad International Writing Competition Details of the Sampad International Writing Competition (deadline 31.02.2009) Journeys... a real or imagined journey, back to your roots, homeland, or a journey of the heart.

America Magazine

Links to his poetry are included in the US Library of Congress site: the Poetry of September 11:

Internet Poetry Workshop, Guest Editor 2009

(Sudeep Sen, Internet Poetry Workshop Guest Editor, 2006)

Arts for All | Access for All project

Author's Web Site: www.warpoetry.co.uk/Michael_Brett_Poet_08.html

Author's Web Site: www.purplepoets.com/brett.html

9/11 Poem from London (12/31/09)
When this all happened, for reasons I won't bore you with, my wife and I had to go round to see someone in London whose wife had simply vanished. She had been working in one of the dealing rooms and it was if she had never been.

No-one ever talks about the many Muslims killed in this attack. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, wealthier only than places like Upper Volta. People from here managed to scrape jobs as cleaners, and things like that, and may have been supporting entire families with their remitances.

Suddenly, they just vanished, leaving their relatives destitute.
The steel tsunamis will froth back upwards
And become solid.
The planes will be pulled out like javelins
And slide backwards, swallowing their vapour trails.
Afterwards (2/28/13)
And so from everything I escaped:
The years like footsteps filling with flowers
And London streets no longer like rivers brimming
With news and rumours of corpses, gunfire
Scratching like fingernails on the undersides of clouds
Angels (12/22/11)
The sunlight through the church window
Reminds us we are not angels
But that a future-like an unseen coast-
Is rushing towards us, as angels might
Atomic Bombs (1/27/11)
Atomic bombs are shadow cats
That move invisibly amongst us, like angels.
Barbed Wire (6/3/10)
Barbed wire has a kind of immortality.

In the Middle East it multiplies and you can see it in Iraqi and Afghan television news flashes growing-as it were- around American and British camps. It seems to have a life of its own.

Sometimes it vanishes completely, as if it were a dream.

All along what used to be the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, all the barbed wire vanished, virtually overnight, with most of the watchtowers, though a few still stand as old, forgetful giants in fields, perhaps wondering where all their companions have gone and why are they here anyway?

You still sometimes see very old wire in fragments and clumps, like a kind of weed, or scrubby cacti, when you drive down the new roads that go across 1914-18 battlefields in France and Belgium.

I wondered what it would be like-of it were alive- to enter its own world, and its way of looking at things.
Barbed wire is the Esperanto of repulsion:
A written language of jags and scribble-
But no words-
That everyone understands
Below monthly killed numbers for you (4/8/10)
In the London Press Office, we are waiting for the news.
We are Egyptian monkeys playing with graveyard skulls,
Bodiam Castle (on the eve of the Iraq War) (5/10/12)
This is a lovely castle that you would probably recognize from film and television programmes. It is about 60 miles south of London.
The castle guards nothing now but summer:
Standing knee-deep in its moat, silent, like a fisherman
Among its lily pads, its frogs, its willow trees
And buzzing biplane dragon flies.
Bomb Attack (8/20/09)
I witnessed two bomb attacks in London in 1974 and 1982.
Sparrows don't want to die, either.
They paddle as fast as they can,
Away from the sparrow hawk death,
Whose wings are a shadow over the sun.
Bomb Circuitry (12/10/09)
Our last London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, summed it all up after the 7th July attacks on our city. He said that other terrorist groups attacked heads of state or generals, and ordinary people were killed and injured as a result of it.

What makes these attacks so unique, and so terrible -he said-is that they are intended to kill as many ordinary people as possible. The people who plan these things, plan them as some kind of grim artwork, like arranging a vase of flowers.
A bomber is an artist, an electric surrealist
Who sees towers as gibbets, forests as fish bones.
Bomb Explosion (2) (8/16/12)
And I fell down through chambers multifarious as the heart,
And all was heart; blood running in the ears, the hiss
Of muscle connecting with ambulances, hospital nylon pipes,
Telephones; names being called out, the whoop of bells
And sirens, so many lights and sirens;
Boston Bombing (4/25/13)
The darkness, shock and night snapped shut
Like a pocket watch whose machinery
May be glimpsed like anemones
Waving -phosphorescent- on the darkened floors
Of barroom confessionals and consulting rooms
Cadets (8/26/10)
In the sea mist you could see the bullets in flight, in waves,
Like an invisible comb combing an invisible cat
Cerne Abbas Giant (4/12/12)
This is the Cerne Abbas Giant. He is carved into a hillside in Dorset in England and is 180 feet tall: DailyMail.co.uk

There is some debate over his origins. Some experts think he dates from prehistoric times, others speculate that he could have be from as late as the 1640's. In the past, women who had difficulties conceiving children would spend the night sitting on one particular part of him.

I have never read a poem about the Cerne Abbas Giant. So this may well be a first.
He is England's greatest warrior, a sexual Noah
Cast ashore by the hooded gods of geological time
And aimless history
Civil War (3/4/10)
But they never notice us. Our faces are on statues.
Our barracks are the intestines of birds and fish.
Our names are long rebukes on pieces of stonework.
Edvard Munch, The Scream (8/22/13)
In Homer, I think, Odysseus bribes his mother with an offering of blood so that she can tell him his future. Traditionally, the Dead are able to tell fortunes pertaining to the distant but not immediate future. There is a strange part where he stands watching her lapping up blood from a trench at the entrance to Hades with some other ghosts as the price of his consultation. I think he insists on her telling him first as she may not keep her side of the bargain.
Does the figure in the painting scream?
Or does it hear the scream of Nature?
The blue and narrow body,
The sky as red as Turner.
Every Dead Baby is Baby Croatian (11/28/15)
Tom, calm as a sniper, has a plan to buy a tank for Bosnia in Kaliningrad,
Paint it white, remove its guns and say it is an ambulance.
Extreme Violence (5/13/10)
Perverse jukebox which always plays wrong tunes
At the wrong time: Blues at weddings,
Fast Punk at gravesides.
Fear (5/16/13)
I just found this among all the bits and pieces being assembled for the Imperial War Museum. The reference to a fax machine gives its age away. As James Brown used to sing in those days: Baby makes me feel like a (funky) fax machine. It is amazing that none of the office equipment people in America took this up as a theme song.
All the London faxes arrive in the morning, before
The daily shelling begins.
The bombardment has a kind of timetable
As the enemy gunners get drunk every night
And sleep in late.
Feeding the War Gods in this Age of Miracles (7/22/10)
Here, where days once straggled through barbed wire yards
-Sharpened by fear and shaped by death-
The spring trees shout with blossom
And the cat sunshine rolls against memorials, graves.
Geometry Lesson (10/3/13)
Battles and concentration camps are like Impressionist paintings:
Up close-chaotic, the language of fractured brushwork
Working in different directions and elements:
Fear, mud, noise and smell;
Ghosts (8/22/13)
When I was a boy, ghosts kept bursting through newspapers
Like broken pipes below streets, or the Lost Rivers of London:
Phantom aircraft took off -never to return- from derelict aerodromes
From runways filled with grass and potholes
Gin and Tonic War (12/6/12)
Press your head below its waves and troughs
And see what human eyes have never seen.
Great Americans (6/9/11)
Once great men looked like Great Men.
You could not mistake them if you sat next to them on the bus or the subway.
Ivory Coast Pineapples (11/17/11)
Perfect soldiers: here they are packed
Into their boxes like landing craft,
Each one in full armour and green crested helmet.
Strong, silent and able to keep secrets,
The World belongs to them.
Kicking a Mortar Bomb (9/23/10)
Sometimes when the future seems like a cold swimming pool-
And the world a plank-
I think of everything as bombs; as steel webs of cogs and pins,
Straining to explode.
Let our Cities burn together (7/25/13)
If people weep, should not the bronze eyes weep also?
If real people burn should not the canvas ones?
Should the kings and queens on horseback show jump
Over the burning shops and homes?
Should painted faces live when living ones are burned?
Lusitania Shoes (10/11/12)
You turn your back, remove them,
They gather as if dropped by
A hermaphrodite rushing giant millipede
Around water fountains in changing rooms,
Mosque hallways.
Machine Gun (3/24/11)
He is a conjuror.
His bullets are birds' eggs.
He cloaks the theatre in his magic smoke.
He mesmerises people. He cuts ladies in half.
Mad Old Witch: the War in the Former Yugoslavia (1/10/13)
The war is old, senile: it is a sullen sustained fury that cannot find itself
Or make sense of things, has no longer a narrative
Or shape to give events. It wanders, helplessly,
Through days that are twisted sharp
And broken things that won't do what you want anymore;
Me 109 (9/30/10)
He hid until the lion drought, drinking from his pool that summer
Forced him out, neither man nor machine-but something else-
Swimming towards us from The War.
Media Warfare: the Late Late Show (11/12/09)
You all know how he looks.
But nothing, nothing
Prepares you for the noise and the smell.
Missing over the Sea (10/11/12)
I dreamt I could use a blue key to unlock the ocean
And then-as locksmiths do-
Perhaps take slivers of the waves and shells to make new keys
To unlock earth and sky-
Each one inside the other like magic boxes-
And find him, or at least discover
What became of him;
Missing Person (9/17/09)
You would think that nothing could be worse than the loss of a loved one, but not even finding a body is awful. My parents often talked about my father's cousin, an airman, who-with his entire crew- disappeared on a combat mission, and remained missing until two years after the war, when his body was found. It was a nightmare for his family, wondering if he could be alive with amnesia, or in hiding somewhere. Awful. Accordingly, I was very moved by television footage of missing people's families standing by piles of rubble, after 9/11.
There are no roses at the end,
No raised glasses, no speeches,
As a missing person makes the world lighter,
Leaves everyone with a kind of debt.
Mosques and Rockets (2/4/10)
Daily life can only bark in backyards at the stars,
But rockets and mosques point in the same direction:
Counting down in Arabic.
My Crematorium Hair (6/14/12)
For non-Brits a half crown is a large coin that was part of our pre decimal money system that was abolished and replaced with the present decimal system in 1971. It would have reduced an American math professor to tears. One pound was the basic unit divided into twenty shillings. Each shilling was divided into twelve pence. Pennies were divided into halves and quarters...
Inside whales are ghosts
And no matter how much you make yourself at home
They live
Pressed between the third and fourth layers of the wallpaper.
My Sleeping Bag (8/26/10)
The flash and shake of the heavy guns' barrage
Are giant silver elephants in a tutus, thumping
Their hind legs on the horizon's black stage,
Radio City.
Nazi Porn Stars on the Moon (7/8/10)
But Nazi rockets once looped the umbral arc:
Their nude young people oiled racist muscles and their minds;
Had television-and big families too-
But there are no Nazi Porn Stars on the Moon.
Noah's Ark (12/10/09)
This was written in 2005 -I think- when we had this terrible attack on London and about 50 people were killed. The top deck of a London bus had been peeled back rather like a sardine tin by the blast. I remember having to walk home from Battersea to Camden, about ten miles if I had to guess, as the tubes were all shut down and I was too scared to get on a bus.

My neighbour was actually on one of the trains that was attacked. It changed him. He became nicer as a result! Which I suppose was an unforseen consequence. For the next few weeks, I would size up my fellow passengers on the tube. I suppose it is all peanuts compared to what my parents' generations had to put up with in '40s. The most terrible thing of all was listening to a Nigerian woman who had lost her only son in this attack. I have an only son too, and this really was heart-rending.
"To sit down next to a suicide bomber on the tube,
Or a bus? You'd have to be incredibly unlucky,"
Said my friend, an actuary, in the pub.
Often I Dream of the Bosnian Dead
(Information Centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina, London 1993)
Michael found this poem on the back of an old sketch pad. It was probably written in the 1990's.
Often I dream of the Bosnian dead:
All climbing from field and trench and fosse:
Their bare spines clicking like guns reloading;
Their dead hands heaving up through the mud.
People shouting in your face (12/10/09)
The one really useful thing I learned from the Army
Is how to say nothing when people shout in your face.
(In London, people who do this can sometimes be mad
Or carrying weapons.)
Ploughing (2/18/10)
That was years ago.
Now the crows all circle. The tractor comes.
The plough opens the earth's clay volume at my page.
Propaganda Leaflet (5/16/13)
While we slept, on the eve of civil war, the leaflet arrived:
Slipped through the front door, strangely
Disguised like a long-lost relative;
Refugees (1) (10/22/09)
As the searchlights bandaged its dying air,
My mind burned with my city.
Refugees (2) (10/22/09)
And inside all the radios, televisions and kitchens
Everyone is silent because
Smoke from these fires is a gag across the mouth of our world.
Return Trip (9/9/10)
Imagine -then- the fighting on this steep crag whose fingernail top
Tries to scratch Buddha's belly, the North Star: the noise,
The smell of the unburied dead -from miles away.
Snapshots from a Train (1/23/14)
This happened, he said, at Klagenfurt in Austria in April 1945: he was a British Royal Engineer officer of 24 building a bridge when his position was attacked by young kids of about 14 or 15. A British Guards Division Sherman just happened to be there. It was a special one which had been converted into a giant flamethrower. The boys were running across a dry field. 1945 was a warm summer. He used his vehicles to take the survivors for emergency medical treatment at an advanced dressing station. He said everything about this attack was utterly senseless. The war was lost.

He said you did not even bother to disarm surrendering German troops, but pointed them the way down the road to where their surrender could be accepted. He never got over this incident.

Even though his father had died of wounds from the First World War and he himself had been lifting mines, defusing bombs and building bridges under fire in a horrible war for four years, my Dad never killed or hurt anyone. He just did not have it in him.
My father had always the same dream
From his war; not a dream exactly
But a memory of German children
Burning alive in a field.
Soldiers (9/17/09)
Then, the pomegranate men in an armoured column:
Its metal back flexing like a centipede,
Its helicopter whiskers, its burr of drones.
Someone Who Dies Young (4/29/10)
Someone who dies young is like an unkept promise
That everyone waits for; whose photograph
Is like a breath that's held.
Stonehenge Artillery Range (7/12/12)
English people are rather casual about ancient monuments. Stonehenge has a major road right next to it where traffic thunders past, and a Royal Artillery range on the near horizon. At night, it is an odd contrast to see modern starshells arcing up and the flash of explosions behind the ancient stones.
...this was once the roofless palace
Of an exiled Sun who waved time's empty cup
At the drunken soldiers of his stars
Suicide Bomber (12/10/09)
I became a Buckingham Palace guide for death.
The Drowned Woman under London Bridge (8/16/12)
And I should have looked away from such a private moment
As the waves and boats drew around them like a hospital screen,
Or rumour; and the traffic and the River should have stopped
And the waves should have sounded like slow bells;
The Emperor of Snow (12/27/12)
And all that can be heard is secret, forbidden
Hushed up by snowflakes, silent
As Shostakovich pausing over Moon Sea cities
Of abandoned cars, empty chocolate machines
And dialling tones
The Flying Geese (3/1/12)
When I was in Sweden I met many Iraqi and other Middle Eastern refugees whose lives had been torn up by war and invasion, hijacked really. The phrase 'Flying Geese' was originally used for the Irish Earls fleeing the colonisation of Ulster by settlers in the 1640s. This too is rather like the fate of the Palestinians.
Their wings curve as the great barrel vault arches of the sky curve,
Each seemingly carved in stone, only crooning
As swan wings croon, as if stone church angels had found voices
Among icebergs and harbours where fishing boat masts
Stroke the wine glass polar rim
The Frontier Watchtowers
(after Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold)
After I sent you this poem I forgot to add that I was watching American people doing painting tutorials on Youtube and realised that their sensibilities and mine are so different.

Most of the US poets all seem so cheerful and well-adjusted and when you read their poems on this site.

They are all open about their feelings and angry and- by implication- expect others to respond positively to their feelings.

This is so different to my Northern European gloom and habitual fog of despair that informs my work. Even good humour reveals itself as cynicism.

I have been watching Swedish and Danish television lately and they are even more gloomy, pessimistic and misanthropic than the British or French.

You can see this in television comedy. So much US comedy seems to want to reveal the golden heart beneath the face of the grouchy old neighbour; the innate goodness of most people. British people think most others are a total c- who will drop you right in it if it is to their advantage, unless proved otherwise. This is regarded as an iron law like gravity.

This is summed up in the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
They can film us
And the refugees arriving with blurry passport pictures and new papers;
The government activists heading out
In cars with new number plates, beaten, aged, scoured with mud.
The Great Wall of China (11/8/12)
It sits on rock, sunning itself as giant lizards do;
Its battlements and towers like reptile fins and fronds.
The Lost Commander
(Viking Longship Burial in Ardnamurchan, Scotland)
Place your trust in the lost commander
The Protesting Dead (1/31/13)
Let us leave the memorial obelisk
With its single finger raised like the kindly rebuke
Of an Italian saint in a beautiful painting
The Raising of the Dead in Serbia (1/31/13)
This is reworking of an earlier poem on this site.
In the artillery rangefinder, the convoy
Ambles into view: the dead
Are arranged like lozenges beneath tarpaulins
On flatbed trucks
The Return of the Civil War Soldiers (1/12/12)
And the dead awoke in the puzzled soil,
Naked and staring at the horseless earth:
Bald, treeless,
Without dung, lace or carriages;
The Statue of Liberty is a Fire Fighter (7/1/10)
Rectangular silences
Cushion the diamonds in bank deposit boxes.
They fill the spaces between gold bangles and girls' wrists.
The Sunken Cathedral, Dunwich, England (3/25/10)
I can see it through the doorless doorway, ruined,
Or the space where it should be, below the shoreline
Where the old road goes to drown its head
Below the surf in fleeces.
The Surgeon Explosive (9/17/09)
From a big country, in big plane,
I travelled ten thousand miles to be here,
To this bed-sized scrap,to this sick land
My world has shrunk to.
Theatre of War (3/25/10)
You scarcely notice it, or the framed arms factory cheques
And catalogues of prosthetic limbs. You are blinded,
Deafened by cameras and speeches.
Thoughts in a Time of Economic Crisis (8/2/12)
Mull is a Scottish island on the West Coast of Scotland facing the USA, which is about 3,000 miles west, give it or take. There are shipwrecks below the cliffs of Mull which date from the First World War. German U-boats, before Asdic and radar could wait for ships outside their ports and destroy them with relative ease. The ships' crews would make haste for the nearest beach or dry land, where the backbones and skeletons of some of these ships still remain.

I remembered a lighthouse from the Channel coast, about 600 miles south, in England, facing France, and put it there for dramatic effect.

Drama enthusiasts may be interested in the grave of the historic Macbeth which is on the holy island of Iona, which is not far from Mull.
A hundred and fifty years ago, politicians, thinkers,
Heard all the World's Seas ticking in their pocket watches;
Saw Constantine crosses in harbour cranes
And felt a kraken Europe uncoiling to wrap the world,
Make it so rich-thought Marx- it could abolish money.
Time Interview with a Bomb Detonator (8/22/13)
The grandfather clock on the landing says
The house is Fourteenth Century and I am Sixteenth,
But listen to my pendulum still slicing
Time to shreds.
War Intelligence (4/4/13)
So move my desk to the windows so I too can see the angels;
So I too can pick the pockets of the dead
And through their wedding rings see the future.
War without End (10/13/11)
Mars is passing in front of the Sun.
And each now has his own calendars: the private ones tacked to pulse
And fear, the public ones crucified to scales of perfection, to
Dreaming topographies; to new old languages
Exhumed from holy books, kissed into weapons manuals, thrust into
Television directed by Goya
Wartime Time (3/7/13)
Beachy Head is a suicide hot spot on top of the far-famed White Cliffs of Dover and astonishingly popular. In my life-I am 57- I have come across 5 people who have used it to shuffle off this mortal coil. It seems like a miserable way to end your life when you could at least be at home in your warm bed and do it. On that chirpy note, hail and farewell.
Following Alice's rabbit into a folding time and space
That billow as sails do, filling with sadness
Killing King Aegeus and deepening black upon black
Welcome to war's King Midas, its reverse alchemy (2/16/12)
It is through death and its sepulchres that we meet
Our other selves, the ones who stare back at us
From looking glasses; the ones walking towards us
From the future carrying dates and times.
Wootton Bassett (5/26/11)
They buried Gunner Frost beside the church
Where all the Frosts had always lain
In their high tide marks of quiet lives,
But Gunner Frost was not the same:
X (8/6/09)
I wrote this poem in early 1990, when I worked for the Press Section of the Information Centre of Bosnia-Herzegovina in London, England. (It is one of rather a lengthy unpublished collection of war poems.) We used to appeal to the US Government and NATO - all the time!- to intervene in the Balkans. I shall forever be grateful to the United States and its people for intervening in the former Yugoslavia. People forget this now, but it must have saved thousands of lives.
The Sniper is more patient than his mountain.
He has been here for weeks, imagining faces
In the clouds and rocks.
You can only worry about what you can help
(after Uncle Sol by ee cummings)
This is true by the way. My father used to say that only the military would have put a man like this in charge of a big gun.
My mother said he was never frightened
As he had no imagination, luckily,
And she said he was wise in his way
As you shouldnŐt worry about what you canŐt help.
Remember that, she said. ItŐs good advice
You Can Steal From The Dead (6/17/10)
This is unusually angry for me. About three years ago, there was a stream of rather awful news stories in England where seriously disabled ex-servicemen were given pitiful levels of compensation at the same time as a magnificent new war memorial was built in Staffordshire. The last line is taken from Rudyard Kipling's words which were placed on all UK war memorials.
You can steal from the dead, slide
The rings and watches from their hands,
And with the self-same Rolex sweep
Their reputations, partners, plans.