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Liz Berry

Award-winning Midlands poet enchanted by voices, stories and dialect

Born in Wolverhampton, England. Based in Birmingham, England, UK

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Poetry

Languages spoken

English

About

Liz Berry was born in the Black Country and now lives in Birmingham. Her debut collection Black Country (Chatto, 2014) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. Liz works as tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Writers' Centre Norwich and is currently working on her second collection. 


Listen to a podcast with Liz Berry on the Poetry Archive website.

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Extract: 'Bird'

When I became a bird, Lord, nothing could not stop me.

               The air feathered
                                              as I knelt
by my open window for the charm –
                                             black on gold,
                                         last star of the dawn.

Singing, they came:    
                             throstles, jenny wrens,
jack squalors swinging their anchors through the clouds.        

                   My heart beat like a wing.

I shed my nightdress to the drowning arms of the dark,
my shoes to the sun’s widening mouth.

                                      Bared,
  I found my bones hollowing to slender pipes,
           my shoulder blades tufting down.
                 I   spread    my flight-greedy arms
to watch my fingers jewelling like ten hummingbirds,
my feet callousing to knuckly claws.
             As my lips calcified to a hooked kiss

                     silence

               then an exultation of larks filled the clouds
and, in my mother’s voice, chorused:
        Tek flight, chick, goo far fer the Winter.

So I left girlhood behind me like a blue egg
                                                       and stepped off
                                from the window ledge.

How light I was 

as they lifted me up from Wren’s Nest
bore me over the edgelands of concrete and coal.

I saw my grandmother waving up from her fode,
                               looped
     the infant school and factory,
                      let the zephyrs carry me       out to the coast.

Lunars I flew

                         battered and tuneless

       the storms turned me insideout like a fury,
there wasn’t one small part of my body didn’t bawl.

Until I felt it at last          the rush of squall thrilling my wing
                   and I knew my voice
was no longer words but song       black upon black.

I raised my throat to the wind
                                       and this is what I sang…

 

Black Country/Standard

throstle/thrush

charm/birdsong or dawn chorus         

jack squalor/ swallow

fode/yard          

Extract: 'Birmingham Roller'

“We spent our lives down in the blackness… those birds brought us up to the light.”
(Jim Showell – Tumbling Pigeons and the Black Country)

Wench, yowm the colour of ower town:
concrete, steel, oily rainbow of the cut.

Ower streets am in yer wings,
ower factory chimdeys plumes on yer chest,

yer heart’s the china ower owd girls dust
in their tranklement cabinets. 

Bred to dazzlin in backyards by men
whose onds grew soft as feathers

just to touch you, cradle you from egg
through each jeth-defying tumble.

Little acrobat of the terraces,
we’m winged when we gaze at you

jimmucking the breeze, somersaulting through
the white breathed prayer of January

and rolling back up like a babby’s yo-yo
caught by the open donny of the clouds.

 

yowm/ you are           

cut/canal         

tranklement/bits & bobs or ornaments          

onds/hands         

jeth/death          

jimmucking/ shaking    

babby/ little child            

donny/hand