John Mackay was born in Yorkshire and lived for most of his childhood in West Cumbria. He spent years in sodden fields, building walls and planting trees, before moving to London in 1988 to become a journalist. In 1999, he completed an MPhil in Poetry, focusing on Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters.
He has read at venues in London, at Tongues & Grooves in Southsea and Havant, and the Derwent Poetry Festival in Derbyshire. In 2008, he won a Best Individual Poem Award in the Templar Pamphlet and Collection Competition, and his work is published in the Templar anthology, Buzz. He has also had work published in many magazines, including Stand, The Frogmore Papers, Seam, Acumen, Trespass, Quattrocento, The Interpreter’s House, and Brittle Star.
John organises regular readings at the London Irish Centre in Camden, featuring six poets and live music.
She is my History teacher, suddenly revealed
to be made not of stiff tweed but stretches
of smooth flesh and black Speedo, and she treads
water in the deep end, expecting me to fail.
The Battle Of Passchendaele, The Beer Hall Putsch,
The Break-Up Of The British Empire and now this,
my very own Suez, glassy and unfathomable
as the expression on Miss Brewster’s face.
Every week, between classes, I listen
to the older boys boasting about what they know:
pushing 40 and divorced, she has, they say,
given Neil Parkin a lesson he will never forget.
For me, there is just an initiation to water —
her hand firm above my waist as I claw forward,
barely breathing. She makes me watch as her legs
describe a perfect ‘V’ under the surface.
But when I try to remember this, shivering
in shallowness, I see only the stuff that lies ahead
with its horrible questions, and the woman
waiting at the other end, ready to swallow me up.
First published in Seam, Spring 2008