Image by Jack Goffe

Chris McCabe

b. 1977

The lower-case lightness of Tom Raworth and the northern comic realism of Simon Armitage - The Guardian

The Pete Doherty in Prison Poem

Chris McCabe

#800: ivor cutler

Chris McCabe

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About Chris McCabe

Chris McCabe (b. 1977) is a widely-published poet and Joint Librarian of the Poetry Library in London. His first collection, The Hutton Inquiry, was welcomed by the Guardian as evidence of a poet who combined "the lower-case lightness of Tom Raworth and the northern comic realism of Simon Armitage", and has been followed by two further publications, Zeppelins and The Borrowed Notebook.

His poetry is, by turns, romantic, politically engaged, elegiac and funny, and often takes its inspiration from current events - this is easily heard in poems such as 'The Hutton Inquiry', 'The Pete Doherty in Prison Poem', and 'THE RESTRUCTURE', which personifies the 2009 financial situation in the figure of its central character. But the events that are current to the poet are also the personal ones that do not make the national press, and through this reading a listener is invited to overhear 'A Proposal', to be present at 'The Nuptials', and, in the latter poem, is even offered space to "enter your name here" to witness the marriage.

In an interview, McCabe has spoken of the ability of modern audiences to grasp the moments of synchronicity and randomness as an influence on his writing, referring to "Poetry as a potentially more meaningful form of channel-hopping." It is no surprise, then, that many of the poems in this performance skip from image to image, idea to idea, daring a listener to stay alert so as to keep up with the quicksilver presentation. But there are also sonnets devoted to locations in London and Liverpool, the two cities he describes as most important to him, a poem in the shape of 'A 98p Voicemail Message to Blaise Cendrars', and a form built around the repetition of "the Scouse word 'like'".

Iain Sinclair has described McCabe's work as "brisk and self-confident", and the quietly forceful reading style in this performance would encourage any listener to agree. The important events that are significant to a piece are flagged in his introductions, as are any unusual stylistic decisions, making this a reading that welcomes its audience into its exhilarating blend of urgency and passion.

His recording was made on the 16th January 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Chris McCabe's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"When one begins writing poems one joins the sheepy mass and runs the risk of being swept along with it to drown in the ocean of habit. To illustrate this process... I shall refer to a drawing by Gary Larson in 'The Far Side': we see a long, thick column of woolly sheep rushing one after another, head down, into the raging waves of the sea. One of them is wearing water wings." - Jacques Roubaud (tr. Guy Bennett)

"Because poetry contains the future of language, language appears strange, unusual, difficult in the poetry of the present.
Language appears strange in extreme / contemporary poetry because it presents certain future traits.
Language appears strange in extreme contemporary poetry because it presents certain forgotten past traits." - Jacques Roubaud (tr. Guy Bennett)

"It is not the business of POETRY to be anything" - Stephen Rodefer

Additional material and useful links

Chris McCabe & Tom Jenks

youtube - Maintenant Camarade II: Tom Jenks & Chris McCabe. Held at the Rich Mix centre on February Saturday 11th 2012, the second in the Maintenant Camarade series saw eleven pairings of British...!

Poetry School course starting February 2013

'Collaborations' Poetry Course run by Chris McCabe. Click on the link for more information.


Selected bibliography

THE RESTRUCTURE, Salt Publishing, 2012

Shad Thames, Broken Wharf, Penned in the Margins 2010

The Borrowed Notebook, Landfill Press 2009


Zeppelins, Salt Publishing 2008


The Hutton Inquiry, Salt Publishing 2005


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