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The Heads on Poles by Niall McDevitt

Irish poet Niall McDevitt lives in West London. He is the author of three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010), Porterloo (International Times, 2013) and Firing Slits: Jerusalem Colportage (New River Press, 2016). His work appears in Wretched Strangers, an anthology of non-UK born writers; Urban Shamanism, poets from north, west, south and east London; Diamond Cutters, poets in Britain, America and Oceania; and the STRIKE! Anthology. He is a walking artist who specialises in the historic poets of London, particularly Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud/Yeats. He blogs at In 2013, he read at Yoko Ono's Meltdown in the Future Exiles: Poetry and Activism event. In 2016, he was invited to read his work in Iraq at the Babylon Festival. His book BABYLON (a neoliberal theodicy) And Other Poems is forthcoming from New River Press.

Photograph of 'Southwark Needle', courtesy of the author.


(a masque)

Francis Bacon: As for triumphs, masks, feasts, weddings, funerals, capital executions,

and such shews, men need not to be put in mind of them; yet are they not to be neglected.

1st head:

why hanging? why drawing? why quartering?

what for?

the national self-interest?

the holocaust of the poor?


it was for Christ,


the schism of England

my entrails

eviscerated like a fish

in front of thousands

my privy

parts enflamed

2nd head:

this failure

this head pinned on

as badge of defeat

by a peeler state

uprising, underground

die in the grimace

I once smiled through

this show of teeth

this toothlessness

3rd head:

the living heads look at me

dropping tears of pity

retuning to their meals, their indenture

I have no followers


who would follow me


4th head:

I behold the vaults of power


not praying but hating

their schemes their stratagems

the 'little ease'

of their religion

please hate them too

crossing the garden bridge

carting me with you

into the bowels of Rome


‪Wiliam Blake: Bacon supposes that the Dragon Beast & Harlot are worthy

of a Place in the New Jerusalem Excellent Traveller Go on & be damnd

chorus of heads:

black sheep warped in our natures

imagining we could outmanoeuvre

the black shepherds yonder without the pen

witness the petrification in iced eyes

as dragged and swung as pressed and cleaved

ghosts were deciphered from our bones

rocks smashed backs

ropes singed necks

blades cut bladders

maw and colon

(it was much better

than it is on television)

our message is



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