Phil Kirby

After starting his working life in the family joinery business, Phil Kirby trained as a secondary school English teacher, a career which spanned over thirty years. He has been an East Midlands Arts ‘New Voice’ and from 1993-2000 ran Waldean Press, publishing the likes of Amanda Dalton, Pam Thompson, Robert Hamberger and Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, all of whom have gone on to have major collections published.

Along with pamphlets from Waldean and Shoestring Presses, Phil’s collections are ‘Watermarks’ (Arrowhead, 2009) and ‘The Third History’ (Lapwing, 2018).

Since 2018, poems have appeared in Acumen, Dreich, Graffiti, Lakeview International Journal (India), London Grip, Poetica Review, Poetry Ireland, Skylight 47 (Ireland), Stand, The High Window and many others. His work has been placed or commended in the Edward Thomas Fellowship competition and the Gloucestershire Writers Network competition and two poems were ‘selected’ for the Ver Poetry Prize Anthology 2021. He has also read at The Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Writing as P.K. Kirby, a teen novella, ‘Hidden Depths’ (Applefire, 2016), is available on the Kindle platform.

When he’s not immersed in reading or writing, Phil is busy playing bass guitar with ‘Good God No’, a rock-covers band which can be seen regularly gigging in and around the Bristol area.

Examples of Phil’s work are given below
The Carpenter’s Workshop
A Gardener’s Tale
Losing Grip
Room In New York, 1932

The Carpenter’s Workshop

Our father spent long evenings there,
shuffling through scobs heaped around his feet,
his face yellow under oil-lamps,
eyes straining at the angles of his sharpened blades.

Against one wall he set completed frames.
Sometimes I rocked them on the uneven flags,
playing with the balance,
feeling the shift of their weight.

Even now I miss the sound of tools at work;
the smell, sometimes sweet as nectarines,
of sap and resin seeping from the grain;
and scented wood-chips gathered in loose clothing.

Such beautiful hands, one neighbour said.
He couldn’t bear to knock or cut them.
On good days, he would lift me high
onto his shoulders and I would know his strength.

(From ‘Watermarks’, Arrowhead, 2009)

A Gardener’s Tale

Another beginning.
I have dug the dark soil,
burned groundsel and milkweed.
There is earth beneath my nails.

Now I rest on the spade,
think about the beauty of flowers;
about what has grown and gone
and what may come again.

I know her dislike of carnations,
remember that sickly bunch
in a jug but not in water;
and how long the bottled orchids lasted.

So this time I will start with
one blue iris in a plain white vase,
with ladder ferns and ivy;
then fill her rooms with freesias.

And when their scent has gone
we will walk around her garden
between the trees I mean to plant –
walnut, hazel and cherry –

and I will make a pledge to her:
to always remember this feeling,
this sense of starting over,
until they first bear fruit.

(From ‘Watermarks’, Arrowhead, 2009)

Losing Grip

Holding three eggs in one hand, he reads
a long letter written in a little space;
moves towards a battered stool and sits
slowly, actions well rehearsed, knowing
where the seat will be, where to rest his arm.

Outside a horse is being broken; taught
to trot in circles, hubbed by rein and stick.
A tall girl tugs and guides, clicks her tongue
and talks as if to stop the brute complaining.

He doesn’t hear the words – only reads again
of how his daughter won’t be coming,
how it isn’t anything he’s done
but what with work, the kids, the cost
of flying, she cannot manage any more.

He takes deep breaths, shuts his eyes
to picture her: there beneath the sun; here
in plaits, an age ago, cycling round the lawn.
One egg falls from his slackened grip.

(From ‘Watermarks’, Arrowhead, 2009)

Room In New York, 1932
(Stories from Hopper #4:)

Nothing between them but space, and that
little enough in such small rooms.
Her untutored finger feels the weighted key
drop and sound a C. The broken silence
settles, mends itself, hardens.
She does not turn; and though she’s dressed
to catch his eye, still it does not move
from staring at the broadsheet news.

But now he cannot read a word
or lift his head, or find a thing to say
that tells how much he yearns to step
beyond this yellow room into another
distance – like the picture on the wall.
The door seems painted shut;
the only exit is this window,
the ground three floors below.

If she would turn and speak; if they could
find some better way to join things up
than the useless fact that both are leaning
on the little circle of their parlour table.

(From ‘The Third History’, Lapwing Publications, 2018)


Why ask such questions, when the answers
are impossible to know. Even best guesses
must be futile. And yet each one nags,
like a balloon bumping on its string,
to be considered every now and then:
how different the world might have been,
how changed this life, the living of it –
the sounds and colours that mean home
now, all altered by calling out another name:
            Or would it have been Andy,
a boy of casual ease and even more
a sixties child, though maybe less affected
by the decade’s list of great events,
its music, flowers and movements?
Which would you have been the first to join?
What Black Sea shore your preaching ground?

So many futures. So many pasts.
So much escalation of a fruitless task
without ever coming round to why
your skull was never fully formed or how
our parents felt returning without you,
or why your life spanned just four days
and left your name unused.

(From ‘The Third History’, Lapwing Publications, 2018)

(for Dave)

We thought we’d lost them all;
even ones we’d only had since March.
But somehow we have saved them from
the brink of slow and wilting death

and all our accusations of neglect
have proved to be just empty talk.
However badly cut, we’ve watched
new shoots, new buds grow into blooms
so other-worldly they defy design.
And, Sarah, those we got from you
have seen it through – not both to flower
but we will work on it.
                                    There must

be something we can do to nurture them;
if we could just remove ourselves
from all the day-to-day enough
to spend some time in learning how

to read the signs or look out for
the little changes, silent messages
that tell us we should intervene.
Instead, we’ve mostly left it far too late

and found ourselves bewildered that
what we naively thought to be
so green and strong – so healthy still –
has quietly taken leave of life.

(From ‘The Third History’, Lapwing Publications, 2018)