The first review of the play I’m directing this term in Oxford is in!

Oxford Opening Night

reviewed by Claire Frampton

Directly before being ushered into the auditorium of the Pilch Studio to watch Four Lions, my eyes caught a notice listing of warnings of the play’s sensitive content: explosions, violence, swearing. I primed myself immediately to experience a play the uneasy themes of Chris Morris’ play, adapted from his screenplay of the same title.

The play opens to a series of projections onto the Pilch’s back wall: a woman paces anxiously with a gun. This nicely sets the tone for the violent and war-torn play that follows. Projection is used cleverly throughout the play to evoke different environments, with shots from surveillance cameras used in another scene to create the claustrophic atmosphere of a police interrogation unit.

Four Lions is a play whose exploration of extremism feel painfull relevant today: Morris’s script following the backstory of four terrorists planning an attack. Directors Adham Smart and…

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An old face for a new poem

My poem ‘Arab winter’ which I wrote for Seven Voices was used in an Oxford Writers’ House event celebrating writing and winter, and is now on their website. They asked me for a photo to go with the poem, so I used this picture I quite like of Hosni Mubarak from the heady days of January 2011.

APTOPIX Egypt Protest

Mní wičhóni

My last piece for Seven Voices has gone up on the website. It’s been great fun – and a challenge – to write a poem a week to a theme, and most of the contributions this term have been really cool. If you’ve enjoyed the pieces, like Seven Voices’ Facebook page to stay up-to-date (or, if you’re an Oxford student and fancy doing it next term, send a short bio and some examples of your work to

Here’s my final poem, comparing the etymology of whisky with the slogan ‘Mní wičhóni’, a Lakota phrase meaning ‘water is life’ which has become a symbol of the #NoDAPL protests being held on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota against the monstrosity called the Dakota Access Pipeline. If you haven’t heard about these protests, do yourself a favour and look them up.

As well as making noise about it on social media and with your mouth, another way to help the protestors is to buy them items they need to stay warm, combat the effects of tear gas, and document the protests, from their Amazon wishlist.


Mní wičhóni/uisge-beatha

The gold water poured into thin flutes;
soft lips poring over the tasting notes:

The drink speaks of rivers.

The burning drink that I have swirled,
the septic wounds that it has healed,
the lifelong visions that I have seen
as the fire ferried down my paradise-throat.

Don’t let them hurt my sister, it says,
she is my right arm, and though she is mighty
the great snake infects with stony-syrup
and if it bites her
she will choke
and her people’s land will go up in smoke.
Water is life
says the water of life.

Don’t let the snake seep its milk into their fighting river.
Let them drink it clean.


Six out of seven voices

Only one poem left to do for Seven Voices this term! The last three themes were ‘conceal‘, for which I wrote about Project MKUltra; ‘curiosity‘, a poem about losing my faith; and ‘recursion‘, a nerdy language poem I wrote after seeing the excellent film Arrival, which stars Amy Adams as a linguist(!) whose job is to learn the language of the aliens whose ships have mysteriously appeared all around the planet before humanity self-destructs.

I’ll just post the last poem here because I think it’s better than the other two (and because I want to persuade more people to go and see the film – watch the trailer below to whet your appetite).



I learn from you to speak like underwater.
And the murmurs and the curling black.
And me and him thinking through the swash.
In the middle of the meaning of your words
wrap up the stories in sentences and billowing words.
Oil-speaking soft on the ears,
pooled language – history in a circle,
circles in circles, everything again and again,
the unending unpacking of sounds and sights
into me and you and they want to speak to us.
The horoscope speech, wrapped around.
And in the words thrumming
through the shell of cloud.
At the feet of the smoke-plume
swimming words
every memory:
reunpack and push through the fog.

Are you learning?

Can you read me?

Let’s start with the pronouns.

Doppelgangers rising

This Friday just gone, I had the pleasure of reading at the launch of the 67th issue of Rising, the poetry magazine run by the legendary Tim Wells which cheerfully maintains no online presence. The poem I had in this issue was inspired by Babylon (embedded below), a wonderfully dark and chilling Aardman animation of 1986 about a dinner at an arms dealers’ convention. (If you’re watching it at night, you might want to turn the light on.)


Doppelgangers’ dinner party

Open wide, you guzzling men!
Your throats are rippling with sweet beer.
You eat and drink and eat again,
you snort dreams cut in lines and smear
sickness on the back of your gums.

You electric eels, you sit and gorge
on drunk pears and exploded plums.
In your biggest thickest hands you forge
dragon signatures, spitting guns,
kisses that taste like pencil lead.

You engage the meat ― you suck the bones
and swallow gobbets slick and red,
you smash big fruit into telephones
and wonder why the line is dead,
then look up, licking your mad eyes.

You filthy dribblers, you toothless boys,
you turn off the lights and talk in sighs.
While the world is up to its neck in noise
and people are robbed by dogs in disguise,
you get an amorous feeling between your toes

Doppelgangers fuck doppelgangers –
your rusty love comes to a close
when partisans and weapon-clangers
come shooting up the heaving rows
of doppelgangers banging in the dark.

We’re waiting for you in the square.
In low voices we remark
how choked your mouths are and your hair.
The game’s up, gangers. The street dogs bark;
you’ve nowhere to hide. We’ve nothing to fear.


Last week’s Seven Voices theme was ‘colossus’. I ended up interpreting this a bit loosely and writing a response to this comment on a Guardian article entitled ‘As Emma Rice departs, the Globe has egg on its face – and no vision’. The commenter obviously didn’t think much of Emma Rice, nor of quite a lot of things, it seems. I lifted the wonderfully grotesque line Get an excuse for a working class artist to splatter it with ironic bodily fluids, adapted it slightly, and turned it into a pruntiform; a cousin of the acrostic, the pruntiform is a modern poetic form which uses each word of its first line consecutively as the first word of each subsequent line. It’s quite a sticky poem, so please wash your hands afterwards.


User ID0353779 (Codename: Colossal Prick) reveals his thoughts on the untimely departure of Emma Rice as artistic director of the Globe

Get an excuse for a working class artist to splatter ironic bodily fluids!
An orgy of my fears, the stupid things that I love to hate in my loud voice.
Excuse the mess? I love the mess, I miss the fluids, I’m dry inside, I’d kill
for a cup of the blood that runs in you, a thimble of your full-bodied spit,
a pinprick droplet of anything, I’m so thirsty. I try to feel things but it’s not
working, every time I come close the dogs of scorn start to bare their teeth.
Class consciousness? I flunked it. My horse is so high my head’s in the clouds,
artist-what-the-fuckery spewing out of my ears and coming down as flaccid rain.
To you I’m just another keyboard-biter with a stick up his arse, a
splatter of roadkill opinions with a PDF of Butcher’s Copy-editing who says
“ironic” like it’s a swearword, and I am, but I just want to be picked up
bodily and churned like so much duck butter until I come to a pulp and the
fluids start to flow again. I’m just a thirsty man!

Forever pumpkin love

Happy Halloween! To celebrate, here’s a cheeky poem I wrote on the subject a few years ago.

WARNING: Contains scenes of a sexual and vegetable nature.



One Halloween, a night so dread the chocolates trembled
in their shells, a man and a pumpkin shared their love
to the sound of recorded wedding bells. Congratuceptions
to the happy couple! But, buried in the seeds of mother P,
a gene sequence of unacceptable horror
was on the brood. One pip-swollen gestation season later,
the children of men and legume breached the womb.
It was an ugly harvest, with too few fingers and too much pulp,
but among the writhing roots there lurked
an intelligence of fructivorous proportions. The cream
of the crop, the son of sperm and spore, and Lord,
was he a monster to adore. Father lifted him from the mess,
compared this child with all the rest,
with his heartbreak smile and terracotta chest,
and Father knew him to be the best.

The years carved beauty into him like a sculptor with a chisel
of frozen holy water, but he gave off an air, a pheromone,
that made the girls leave him alone. For under his trousers lay
a secret that he was loathe to bring to light. Between his legs
there sprouted nothing but a mass of nodes and nematodes,
and other vegetalia. This shameful growth remained unseen
until his eighteenth Halloween. At a party where people
paraded with pumpkin masks on their sweaty faces, our hero
tucked himself into a corner, his veins all thick with loneliness.
But then, he caught a splendid scent, and there,
across the room, with hair like the fronds of a golden fern,
was a girl with a pumpkin mask and chestnut eyes.
She whisked him to an empty room left fallow by the guests.
In the earthy dark she kissed his lips, and booming visions
of soil filled his mind. He lifted her skirt with a quivering hand,
and then he knew. She whispered in his ear:
“I have the same foliage as you.”

They ran outside into the frost, shrieking and yelling with delight.
They dug the earth fast and deep, and dug themselves out of sight.
Their vegetable love was more than pollination,
and down they dug,
to live and love,
and forge a pumpkin nation.

This poem was first published in The Cadaverine.

How alien can language be?

David Adger

 Last night I went to an advanced showing of Denis Villeneuve’s new film Arrival, which is showing as part of the London Film Festival (a perk of being on the committee of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain that was a little unexpected!). Linguistics is central to the film, and, it’s very well done. Based on a Ted Chiang short story, the film tells of the arrival of enigmatic alien ships on Earth, and the involvement of Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics, in figuring out the aliens’ language. It’s an intelligent, beautifully designed, and thought provoking film. And the linguistics in it is a real step above what linguists have come to expect of cinematic portrayals of our discipline (thanks in no small part to Jessica Coon acting as a consultant).

The film turns on the visual language of the heptapods, the name given to the aliens…

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Arab winter

While browsing Wikipedia the other day I came across an article on the Arab Winter, which is what we’re calling this tragic period of Arab history: the bloody, crushing aftermath of the outburst of hope and optimism that was the Arab Spring. I’d never heard the term before, and I was very sad to read it; while perhaps not the final nail in the coffin, it felt like a large, crooked, nasty nail nonetheless, being driven into the lid of the coffin in which we buried alive all that hope. Now that this term exists, I can’t help but feel it’ll be that much harder for the hope to escape.

The prompt for week two of Seven Voices was ‘morning’. Spring – morning, winter – night; this is what I wrote for it.


Arab winter

Each Arab morning I am woken up
by thunderstorms; the Arab nightmare.
When dawn breaks over the pyramids
war breaks out in their shadow,
and the fireworks that lit up Tunis
come down as shells in Tripoli.
A million mocked by the Kingdom’s hand.
Aleppo’s heart devoured by vultures.

The hands of the clock complete their tours of duty;
swarms of Arab seconds overrun the tyrant minutes,
each big hand revolution beheads another Arab hour,
and phosphorescence illuminates our history:
the rise and fall of patriots and seasons.

I woke up to an Arab spring
but the falling of a million leaves
choked the Red Sea and the White, and now
when dawn besieges the pyramids
dogs growl with black flags in their teeth,
and the Arab winter clouds my breath in smoke.

Seven Voices

This academic term I’m taking part in Seven Voices, an arts project at Oxford which sees seven students selected each term to respond to a prompt each week in whatever form they like. The challenge of writing something so regularly which also has to meet a theme is a welcome splash of water to the face of my usual writing habits, and I’m enjoying the work that the other voices are producing. You can follow this term’s responses here. Below is my response the first prompt, ‘shelter’, which was posted to the blog on Sunday.


Suck you shelter

Sneak me in – do you feel the heat
yes – apocalypse me in my clothes
compass-pin me to the room four corners
shelter me in your sunset temple
my lips around your second knuckle
sex me here a hundred hands
hell for leather, suck you bed
shelter you fire, burn you lips
fiery lakes we drank to be wicked
your gasps fit like a glove
if you ever breathe I’ll disappear
crumble me into powder
spread me on your lips
shelter me in night places
your body-like-a-glove
mouth me wicked
sneak in me
hear me sex
the burning bed
the hell-soaked kiss
heaven can’t breathe
suck hundred hands
take me galaxies
fit me in you
we fit in sunset
apocalypse mouth
the lava and the magma
I melt in you and we flood the world