Jane Burn

Jane Burn

Jane Burn is a poet, based in North East England.

Canzone to an Underground Flow
Friday, 22 May 2020 17:29

Canzone to an Underground Flow

Published in Poetry

Canzone to an Underground Flow

by Jane Burn

There is a river underfoot. The road bears
above it, thickly set. Every while, a square
of red-iron drain, skidded worn – pinned below spins
of tready-rubber, spin wheel repetitions.
Blinkered to the water’s secret flow, they lie
their metal eyes, choosing the upwards pale sky,
its woeful dull of weary, stagnant dusk drawn
and definite. Veiled by the small-town, yawning,
slow-sleeped settle, she is loud, the tingled Pont –
hums despite the gravelled, tarry skin. She haunts
the dredge of evening, sing-song telling of flow,
unchecked. How large the cavern? Echoes – I know

by sense the unmeasured space. I check for cracks
in such manufactured crust. Trusting its back,
buses, cars, bikes drive unconscious of the spring
that worries, cold and winnow-fresh. Untamed thing –
one flooded flash, gorge of storm, one glutted melt
too much and she will rise, fury formed and felt
for the years of narrowed confine. Liquid spine
arched to the nearness of freedom, she streamlines,
veins groping for weakness, for chinks, for ways out.
The walls of Watling Street are sure of their grout,
roof slates certain of their placement on the beams.
The bungalows make plumply silent globes, steam

from coal-fired chimneys, tableau of dark innards
unshaken, supper-scenes as normal. In yards
where lurchers curl in kennels and spool their bones,
shadows lean from doorways, tilt shapes of gravestone
across each mean patch. Rain starts its mizzling, damp
on my cheeks, weighs the light from the line of lamps.
The pavement becomes a mysterious place –
a pathway of spooks, leading me on. A trace
of my feet, a moment then gone – I exist
for the time it takes to dissolve. My lips, kissed
by tastes of absorbed smoke, soil, are filthy-slicked –
the dark has turned the roads to oil. All is licked

by subtle tongues – the moon sheens, the greedy swell
soaks the surplus wet and grows. How is she held?
Travel forced to just one track, she bides – has worn
her route through endless chafing. Meniscus torn
on rough rock she forms, reforms – has contemplated
cheap lives, wasted to television, sated
in dwellings sat so smug above. When she chooses,
she will bring the buildings down – shudder, loosen,
burst the surface, spill radiant snow, geyser
the wreck. While we might run screaming, stand or freeze
as if we just saw angels in the waves, drown,
face-upward, written with peace or scrawled with frowns,

liquid lung-full, she will shudder away last
traces of her imprisoned hell. Floating past,
bloated vermin shimmering next-day’s sunny
reflections as they float the deluge, honeyed
like ships made from leaves. A panicked whinny races
the sullen distance. All we owned, every place
we lived lies doused and dull, deep and lost. Filthy
human waste, fatted froth is put to new tilth –
one of ripple not blade. A moorhen gives vent
to joy for this new land. The dead sleep, content
for they know no more of handbags, clocks or bread.
Our bodies cease fighting. Undulate instead.

 Note: this poem is dedicated to the river Pont, Leadgate. A section of the river runs underneath the ex-mining village near Consett, County Durham and can be heard as you walk above. The photograph is of Watling Bungalows, Leadgate.

Look at me, lingering outside this murdered church
Friday, 31 May 2019 15:56

Look at me, lingering outside this murdered church

Published in Poetry

Look at me, lingering outside this murdered church

by Jane Burn

Open your lids, you coal-smut, bitter thing. Undraw the blind
that your plunged doom has set in the lead of your eyes.
Too many years of chimneys, licking their filth on your bricks.
Nobody comes to pluck at your weeds. Look at the pair of us,
our caverns unused. Methodists didn’t build for beauty –
face like a mortuary slab, barren grim of harsh white walls,
let me in and I’ll sing you some saints. God, for me has not
been enough. If I am to believe, daub me some vivid grief,
gouge this wasted cave with a burning of Sacred Hearts.
I will treat this bare render with my own crude litter of faith.
You were laboured, foundations up by your devout, by the skill
of women and men – they met and worshipped, passed
the plain, small wealth of the humble plate. Against your shell,
I hear the memory of Sunday School, feel the holy flattening
of my arse after hours spent pressed to the hard-wood seat,
colouring between the lines of Gentle Jesus, playing with
the brittle thin of simple, twisted palm. Thus we were made
by a plain religion. I craved the gibber of rosaries, the veils,
the fondant of Communion gowns, the thurible swinging
the fume of dedication up. The wailing visions of Virgin’s smalt,
the tabernacle with its myth of Saviour’s blood. My prayers
will splatter your emptied crypt with a mess of devotion.
My hymns are huge. I am an exorcism. Am here to spew
my devils at your altar’s feet, did not expect to find
the slam and hasp of ailing Gothic doors. I make
what I think is the requisite sign, poking my relic of belly
and tits. An empty cross to show that I already suffered and won.

Open up, you barred and bolted thing.

First published in Strix.

Share the segments and abandon yourself: two poems by Jane Burn
Friday, 21 December 2018 10:09

Share the segments and abandon yourself: two poems by Jane Burn

Published in Poetry

The Orange in the Stocking

by Jane Burn

The scent of citrus fills the quiet room
as socks swing from the radiant mantelpiece –
a conga line of Nora Batty’s legs. Warmth

from the fireplace rises, dances them in its drift –
when we are asleep on Christmas Eve, they make
their own celebration, kick like a chorus line,

jingle their inner treats. Inside each toe, a bulge –
year after year, tradition places it there. It waits
to be discovered, to offer its sweet to our lips.

Hull it as you would a brightly packaged gift.
It’s sharp, delicious taste cuts through this day
of bloat and richness. Here are vitamins,

here is something not foil-bound, not factory-bred,
its bauble plucked from a laden tree. Pips swim
the juice of its breast, tell a story of birth. It’s wrap

will nourish compost, not clog up landfill with scrap.
Thumb the centre, pare away each jewel. The segments
were made to be offered. It asks to be shared.


The Year of Abandoned Self

by Jane Burn

I am become entirely used to the things my head invents –
they might be visions of futures, of secrets, of hell. They might
be prophetic – I ought to be writing them down. William Blake

saw angels in the trees – if it’s alright for him, it ought to be okay
for me. Ezekiel saw wings and faces, wheels in wheels. I saw
this murky figure unfurl beneath a motorway bridge, clung like a bat,

one time I was tired near Gatwick, late at night. His lips were bone,
his spew of garbage laughter spilled like sick – I think he was waiting
for me to crash. I saw bundles of sheep as I walked on the path,

candy rainbow colours fleeced their happy backs – they were made
from pixels, tiny squares of bubble and bright, like a Super Mario zoo.
They smiled as I put my boot to their heads, trying to tamp them down –

it was a mockery. I saw a leather wingback chair melt around my friend,
the burgundy run like blood – she had no idea, just drank her tea,
told me this and that, all nonsense, of no matter fluff. I thought

I want to go home. If I stay longer, she’ll drown. I have given up
thinking I have edges – I am soft as sea-mumbled stuff. I am meld.
Listen to my rambling. All the ghosts – infestations in the corner

of my eyes like wisps, like smoke, are with me all the time. I’m
a poor man’s Gormenghast, bargain basement Gundabad – come
to the home of the cracked. I saw road signs pluck from tarmac roots

and run along with my car, grins on their flat metal faces, mouths
made of zeroes, eyebrows made from fives. We sang it’s a small world
after all, that Disney thing – quite merry, considering that I’m properly

fucking mad. Imagine keeping such secrets when you are dying to tell.
The dogs help root through the woodpile for clues – they believe
in everything I say, that’s how I know I’m right. I can’t remember

stashing all this broken glass. The woodlice nest like a plot, flit
like troubled consciences, out of sight. I am paranoia, I am Armageddon.
I’m beautiful, I’m a dungeon. I’m the second coming of Christ.

This poem was first published in Strix.

Durham Miners' Gala 2018
Saturday, 14 July 2018 20:45

Durham Miners' Gala 2018

Published in Poetry

Gala Day, Durham Miners

by Jane Burn

At eight-fifteen, the band stands up in regimented lines.
July, before the schools break – the morning lull broken
by the stray parp of tuning notes, loud and sudden
through nets ghosting open windows. It’s a signal
to get up, throw cardigans over nighties, join the exodus
of neighbours slopping feet in slippers, scratching bed hair.
Slovenliness forgiven, this once – right now it means more
to be outside, listening to them play.

CJ1 5206   CJ1 5214

CJ1 5253  CJ1 5260

Dorothy – bitched about me once, with them at thirty-one,
but if I cannot forgive her that, what use as a person am I?
Her Arthur, taken by cancer in less than a year. Marie, last
of three sisters; a street full of women outliving their men.
Sleepy-eyed kids, hurried out of their beds to hear the opening
bars of Abide With Me, see The Banner, tassels of gold and red;
For The People By The People. Your history, I tell my sons.
Your village, see? This is why we don’t forget.

CJ1 5268   CJ1 5333


CJ1 5565   CJ1 5589

We were children when we lived through the last of the mines.
Thatcher – strikes, scabs, picket lines; Arthur Scargill
in Barnsley. The Dearne Valley villages – always the backdrop
of pit-heads, men in donkey jackets, orange panels bright among
allotment leeks. The scent of sparking fires – the sharp, oily smell;
powder, staining everything it touched – grimy on the coal man’s
hessian skin, sooting the sacks on his flat-bed truck. Dad, quitting
before it got too late, did not want the blackness settling on his lungs.

CJ1 5801   CJ1 5808

CJ1 5946   CJ1 5947

Wath Main, Wombwell, Hickleton, Manvers – given to nature now,
flat under birds. Nineteen eighty-four. The corridors of our local comp
overrun with cameras from the BBC – kids sticking two fingers up
for the telly. Tracy, from my year at school is missing and so are
her brothers; Darren and Paul have been killed, while scavenging
for slack on Goldthorpe coal-tips. The funeral – playing the schools
dented brass, my tongue dried up on the mouthpiece, metallic
with tears and tin. Brothers don’t die – they do not die beneath

embankments of smother and soot before they are sixteen, bursting
their lungs under slag; their fathers fingers digging through the scree,
nails split, skin torn. Blood and choke. The drummer strikes the skin
of the bass drum. A sonic boom, as if Gabriel himself is smiting
the roofs of our estate. The troop moves down the hill – people,
magnetised like iron filings follow the flag; dwindling to a last
earful of airborne notes, clear as crystal tears. Left behind,
we swallow the thick in our throats; faces lit by zealot’s blaze.

There is nothing left. Stranded here and there a winding mechanism;
giant upturned bogie wheels framed against the sky. Beamish tunnel
to gawp at – to remind us of kiddies pulling up half-ton coal tubs
in the dark; their lives lit by the whim of a candle's flame.   

Gala Day, Durham Miners was previously published by Proletarian Poetry and is part of Jane's pamphlet, Fat Around The Middle.

All photos of Gala Day 2018 by Carl Joyce, www.carljoyce.com

as if they are normal folk
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 15:33

as if they are normal folk

Published in Poetry

as if they are normal folk

by Jane Burn

Shops.      Imagine them wanting
shops.       Wanting to buy stuff      as if
they are normal folk.      Wanting to be
just like us,     with our popping out for bread
and milk,      fags, sweets, bsicuits, pop.
Whatever.      Imagine them needing
food like that.      Libraries.      Imagine them
wanting to read.      As if they care about words,
want to educate      their children, pass
the time.       Time on their hands?      What
do they want time on their hands for?      Surely
they should be out       working or something else.
Cafes? Cafes?      Like they are bothered about
meeting up, sharing conversations,      maybe even
make friends.      As if,      as if it is
fucking Butlins!      I mean, are they ever going to
go home if       they’re living in some sort of
holiday camp?      They have a nightclub now.
A nightclub.      Imagine them wanting
to sing and dance?        Kara-bleedin’-oke?
We like our revellers British, ta very much,
our piss-heads        local.      This church,
this beautiful, fragile, plastic sheet and wood-slat church,
painted up with illuminated angels, simple cross on top.
What's the actual?      These scroungers are not
Christians.      Step off our white-skinned, fair faced
God.      Swathes!      Swathes of them.      Rats.
Well done France,      Stephen from Rugby says.     
Londonzone - hiding under an alias - is brisk.      Good.
The comment crows.      Now finish the job.  

Written in reaction to a newspaper story
about the bulldozing of the settlement at Calais.