Paul McLoughlin

Paul McLoughlin

Paul McLoughlin was born in London of Irish parents. He continues to teach part-time in a comprehensive school and at university, and plays jazz saxophones and flute; he has his own Quintet, and has provided the music at many poetry events, for example at The Troubadour in Earl’s Court and The Poetry Café in Covent Garden, at which venues, amongst others, he has also read his work. He is engaged in a part-time thesis on the poetry of Brian Jones at Royal Holloway University of London, where he has also been a visiting lecturer.

What Certainty Is Like (1998) was published by Smith/Doorstop, and What Moves Moves (2004) and Forgetting To Come In (2007), both by Shoestring Press. He has written articles, interviews and/or reviews for PN Review, Tears in the Fence, Critical Survey, Hard Times (Germany), Poetry Ireland Review, Agenda and The Guardian.

Poems have appeared in Anon, Atlas, Critical Survey, Cyphers (Ireland), Envoi, The Frogmore Papers*, Hard Times (Germany), The Interpreter’s House*, Magma*, Navis, Nightingale, Orbis, Other Poetry, Penniless Press, Poetry Life, PN Review, Poetry Nottingham International, The Rialto, Seam, Smiths Knoll*, Southword (Ireland), Tears in the Fence and Wandering Dog. Those asterisked may be viewed at the Poetry Library on the South Bank website. The Southword poems may be found at MUNSTER LITERATURE CENTRE.

Poems have also appeared in Singing Brink: An Anthology of Poems from Lumb Bank (Arvon Press, 1987); Paging Doctor Jazz: A verse Anthology (Shoestring Press, 2004); Warp & Weft: An Anthology of Worple Writing (Worple Press, 2007); and Ten Poems About Bicycles (Edited by Jenny Swann, Candlestick Press, 2009). His translation of ‘The Death of Edgar’ will appear in the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Anglo Saxon Poems in Modern English Translation (edited by Greg Delanty & Michael Matto)

See also:


“Paul McLoughlin’s poetry has a rare clarity and exactitude. He writes about private history and its collision with the world of news; of a past which is alive in the present. His voice is poised, and his delight in language shines through the poems.”

Helen Dunmore

“McLoughlin means what he says, knows what to leave out as well as what to put in, and makes his level-headed bewilderment resound like discovery.”

Herbert Lomas, Ambit

“He is unflashy and scrupulous and has a nice gentle wit.”

Michael Laskey

“Paul McLoughlin exhibits an Irish exuberance for the absurd and the askew, illuminated by his unique and delightfully understated tone.”

Anne-Marie Fyfe

“McLoughlin combines a knack for spot-on observation with a willingness to let his imagination wander (sometimes down very strange avenues) and a determination to let readers make their own judgements.”

Matt Merrit, Sphinx

“A sensitive and unsentimental imaginative reckoning of ‘felt life’, understatement and a droll self-effacement are hallmarks of this excellent chap book.”

Peter Carpenter, Tears in the Fence

“The final lines of ‘Whatever Mick Wants’ not only nicely characterise the casual-seeming skills of many of the finest jazz musicians, but touch what McLoughlin’s art does: ‘Your tenor sax speaks jazz with the same / lazy filling out of space / you lead everyone to think you’ll leave unfilled.’ These poems achieve their delicately judged effects with similarly unforced-seeming skill.”

Hugh Underhill, Critical Survey


She climbs out of her shift and pays
ten francs for a lilo to the beach-boss
who has rushed his torso and his
squeaky voice across to share a joke.

She adjusts the ivory teeth about her neck,
ties her hair back, lets her breasts subside
and slides slowly down until her legs
are gentled firmly to a fearless V.

Muscularities are at her feet
like moths for volleyball
but get no closer than retrieving
ricochets, are left to play for real.

The man who picks her up at five
must be her husband, and
the mini-belle their daughter.
She’s serene enough. I don’t watch

all of this each time, of course—
sometimes she’s lying there when I arrive.
It’s possible that somewhere else
you’ve heard about my ritual from her.


The trouble with rhetoric
     is you have to be
on its side – the tragedy
not that they fell bravely
     but that they fell.

Hard-edged, practical men
     have no time
for adverbs. They know
the lessons of the dead
     lie unlearned,

the sparkling of their light
     tranquil and remote
as that of a star. No one
lives long enough to stop
     it happening again.

Texts inside survivors’
     heads conflict
with other texts – it isn’t
fact we store but trauma,
     however it was.

That eighteenth of July
     we were in mourning
for my grandfather, the baker,
sad we couldn’t celebrate
     La Feria.

Fireworks were Franco’s
     guns from Africa.
Blood ran through the streets.
They took the garrison.
     We stayed indoors

and lived on Grandad’s
     flour, flat tortillas
for weeks on end. Butcher’s
knives were commandeered
     and they were right,

but Dad slipped out in Mother’s
     clothes, like others
in the brotherhood, until
the women brought up children
     on their own,
and lived in fear, cheered only
     when the priest
was shot. That fascist anthem
introduced each film. We raised
     arms side by side.

In ’thirty-eight, Azaña said:
     When the torch passes
to other generations, other men,
if ever they feel their blood boil,
     and the Spanish temper

is once more infuriated
     with intolerance
and hatred and destruction,
let them think of the dead
     and listen to

the message of the eternal
which says to all its sons:
Peace, Pity and Pardon.
     It makes me cry.


The yard I can tell you about
with its well and stone, and the walls
veined and resolute against the heat.
The camps were open secrets
yet we slept – I’m sure living
on the faultline hardened us,
but not to unconcern. Our solitude
was jealous, something shared.

The night they shot and drowned
my husband, crushed my son’s skull
with rifle butts and searched the house,
I was hiding in a cupboard, struggling
to stifle my daughter’s screams.
When I let her go I’d smothered her.

They say I’m cold because I married
again – but he helped me back when I
could think of nothing but that night,
until I loved him – and I love him still.
I don’t need telling that he’s one of them
but he was there, on no one’s side

but mine. Oh, I can see how useful
I am now to both their causes,
but I cannot stomach all this talk
about our comfortable peace. If I
spoil their story, they will write it anyway,
so let them write it any way they will.

Poetry in this post: © Paul McLoughlin
Published with the permission of Paul McLoughlin