Miriam Gamble

Northern Irish poet; miniaturist; likes to see things skew

Born in Brussels, Belgium. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

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Originally from Belfast in Northern Ireland, Miriam Gamble lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh.

She won an Eric Gregory Award in 2007 and published a pamphlet, This Man’s Town (tall-lighthouse) in 2008; in 2009 her work was featured in the Bloodaxe anthology Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century.

Her full collections are The Squirrels Are Dead (2010), which won a Somerset Maugham Award in 2011, and Pirate Music (2014), both published by Bloodaxe; she is currently working on her third.

She has also received the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award and the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize.

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Extract: 'Bower Bird'

All year
he gathers in
the mesmerising curios,
arranges – here –
no – here –
and rearranges
to his taste,
in its base
most eminently solid –
writ clear
in colour texture odour –
that flower, this
fragrantest of dungs –
though it’s subject in
the ordering
to x-fold variations –

permutations, combinations,
it’s not quite, no it’s not
quite perfect yet –
had he fingernails
he would scratch his head
feathers quite away –

and then there are always more –
more things, more
glittering phenomena
to be appended to his stack –
to the well-gauged
light and shadow of
his amour-shack –
this womanwork is never done –
they file by,
they doom to
ensnare him by
the ear
the eye
the nostril,
and before
he’s aware of what
is happening
the place is
a sorry mess –

he begins the job again;
he will sprain
what intellect’s
amassed in
his tiny skull
toying with the heavenly
and unanswerable question
what a feathered female wants,
what may be guaranteed to bag one –

and she comes
and it is not quite
what she had envisaged,
personally, in her heart
of hearts –
down the leaf-strewn path there is
a better one –
the flower was
a fatal error –
and suddenly, so
his work is done;
he sleeps the vacant sleep
of eunuchs;
sweet bird
the heat of the sun
or do not fear the heat
of the sun –

From Pirate Music (Bloodaxe Books, 2014). Reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.


Extract: 'The Flaying of Marsyas'

It’s said the Muses judged the contest –
that they were pleased by Apollo’s superior craft.
His ability to lift the pelt in a single stroke
was greatly lauded. ‘See how beautiful the work,
clean as the average man would skin an orange!’
they remarked among themselves. ‘Not even a wound
disturbs his fearful symmetry.’ Meanwhile Marsyas

lay on, his life force startlingly undiminished,
limbs gesturing in disbelieving contract
with the world. ‘This for a stupid pipe,’ he roared,
for Marsyas, Ovid relates, possessed the gift
of consciousness: ‘for this they cleave me from myself!’
But nobody beyond the forest heard his cries,
and Marsyas’s body, reverting now to the status

of a brute, dumb animal, went on in hopeful
disbelieving, heart thumping away in the blue furnace
of itself, lungs fighting leafy crusts (an organ,
so anatomists tell us, so wonderfully porous
it survives in the transfer from a body to another body),
tears stinging his flittered cheeks, for a full
half turning of the sundial before darkness came

upon him, and he curled into position like a dog.

From The Squirrels Are Dead (Bloodaxe Books, 2010). Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.


Extract: 'Marsias desollado'

Se dice que las Musas juzgaron la contienda –
y les plació la habilidad superior de Apolo.
Su don de sacar la piel en un solo trazo
fue muy aplaudido. ¡Miren qué bella la faena,
tan limpia, como el hombre común que monda una naranja!’
se comentaban entre ellas. ‘Ni una lesión
interrumpe su temible simetría.’ Mientras tanto Marsias

seguía tendido, su vigor notablemente sin disminuir,
sus miembros gesticulaban en incrédulo contrato
con el mundo. ‘Y por una maldita flauta,’ rugió,
porque Marsias, relata Ovidio, poseía el don
de conciencia: ¡por eso me hienden de mí!’
Pero más allá de la floresta nadie oía su quejido,
y el cuerpo de Marsias, revirtiendo ya a la mudez

y la brutalidad de un animal, con esperanza iba
descreyendo, el corazón latiendo en el horno azul
de sí mismo, luchaban los pulmones
contra una costra de hojas (un órgano,
nos dice los anatomistas, tan poroso
que puede sobrevivir el transplante de un cuerpo a otro),
lágrimas que picaban sus palpitantes mejillas, por toda
una media vuelta del reloj solar antes de que lo

cubriera la oscuridad, y se acomodó, acurrucado como un perro.

From 'Antropófagos en las Islas: Novísimos Poetas de Gran Bretaña' (Espacio Hudson, 2016) Trans. Ben Bollig and Alejandra Crosta. Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher and translators.