Image by Caroline Forbes

John Mole

b. 1941

...lie down together, laughing, and let be. (John Mole, from 'Serenade')

About John Mole

In addition to writing poetry for both children and adults, John Mole (b. 1941) is an accomplished jazz clarinettist, and has been known to combine poetry and jazz with other poet-musicians such as Roy Fisher and John Lucas. He has won several prizes for his poetry, including an Eric Gregory award, the Cholmondeley Award and the Signal Award, has been Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and is currently the Poetry Society's Poet in Residence to the City of London. He trained as a teacher and has worked in both America and Britain, and still often returns to schools to lead poetry workshops and readings.

It is not surprising, hearing Mole's adult poetry, to know he also writes for children; the work is full of seductive and unsettling images, voices and rhythms from childhood. His 'Variation on an Old Rhyme' starts in a fairytale mood, but brings in escalating violence that leads to war between nations, while 'The Balancing Man', written for children in the rhythms of a nursery rhyme, is a warning against the coldly political-minded that holds for adults too. His interest in jazz is also influential in his breathless, single-sentence poems like 'Fats', written for Fats Waller and studded with words like "gliss" and "shimmy" that stand out like moments of joy. Joy, or at least happiness, runs throughout Mole's poetry, and there is little lasting sadness to be found - 'Serenade' rejoices in "the best of being here", and even the weeping aunt in 'The War' ends the poem cheerfully chewing gum with the young speaker. However, the haunted Vietnam veteran of 'Coming Home' is a stark image that shows the range of Mole's work.

The poetry on his CD represents Mole's work for both children and adults, and he has also recorded introductions to many of the poems that explain their themes, their form or the inspirations behind them. He is a clear and accessible reader, with a sense of timing clearly informed by his musical interest - and there is often a welcoming warmth audible in his voice.

His recording was made on 30 April 2003 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.

John Mole's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"A poem is, so to speak, a way of making you forget how you wrote it." - Randall Jarrell

"Put poetry on a pedestal and it ends up on a shelf." - W H Auden

"men should know why / They write, and for what end; but, note or text / I never know the word which will come next." - Lord Byron, from 'Don Juan'

"If you want to give your unconscious a chance you must keep your eye on something else." - Louis MacNeice

"Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us." - Wei T'ai

Additional material and useful links

John Mole Poet in Residence - Poet in the City

John Mole is currently Poet in residence for Poet In The City.


1987 Signal Poetry Award <i>Boo to a Goose</i>

Selected bibliography

The Point of Loss, Enitharmon Press, 2011

All the Frogs, Salt, 2010

The Bone in Her Leg, The Happy Dragons' Press, 2009

This is the Blackbird, Peterloo Poets 2007


The Other Day, Peterloo Poets 2007

The Dummy's Dilemma, Hodder 1999


The Wonder Dish, Oxford University Press 2002


The Mad Parrot's Countdown, Peterloo Poets 1990


Boo to a Goose, Peterloo Poets 1987


Counting the Chimes: New...


For the Moment, Peterloo Poets 2000


Depending on the Light, Peterloo Poets 1993


Homing, Secker and Warburg 1987 - out of print

In and Out of the Apple, Secker and Warburg 1984 - out...

Feeding the Lake, Secker and Warburg 1981 - out of print

From the House Opposite, Secker and Warburg 1979 - out...

Our Ship, Secker and Warburg, 1977 - out of print

The Love Horse, E J Morten 1973 - out of print

Take a tour

Mark Grist's tour

Over the years I’ve become increasingly interested in the lyrical nature of poetry. I find that the more I’ve taken in...

Take Mark Grist's tour >