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Reckless Paper Birds

John McCullough

"Dazzling, synaesthetic ... this collection guides us through a world of déjà vu, doubt and rapture"

Helen Mort
winner of the 2020 hawthornden prize
shortlisted for the 2019 costa poetry award

Surreal, joyful, political and queer, Reckless Paper Birds is a collection to treasure by Polari Prize-winning poet John McCullough.

These exuberant poems welcome you into a psychedelic, parallel world of ‘vomit and blossom’ where Kate Bush mingles with a weeping Lady Gaga, a ‘fractal coast’ full of see-through things: water, mirrors, glass pebbles.

With a magpie’s eye for hidden charms, McCullough ranges across birdlife, Grindr and My Little Pony while also addressing social issues from homelessness to homophobia.


Our price £ OUT OF STOCK
RRP £9.99
Please note: due to the recent change in tax regulations, we are currently unable to ship to EU countries.
83 pages
ISBN 9781908058638
Published 15 May 2019
Cover design: Peter Barnfather/PITM


‘Such transformative magic! Here is a poetry collection where nothing is what it seems – where Leviticus transforms into a flock of origami birds and Post-it notes are pornographic! McCullough’s poetic terrain is one of subtly-rendered and political surrealism, ‘where mauve armpit hair and sparklers / are ordinary’ and a Pterodactyl can heal bruises. Here are meditations on the vulnerability and uncertainty of bodies, where a body is both ‘gruesome vase’ and ‘deluded hero’, and here are prayers for the bodies ‘[we] will grow into’. Reckless Paper Birds is a timely and necessary collection which vibrates with protest; these poems are talismans against hate that suggest of queerness, ‘our origin is in fire. We are invincible’.’
Richard Scott

‘John McCullough’s dazzling, synaesthetic third collection charts the ways our lives move inexorably towards ‘somewhere we do not recognise’, through shifting territories of love, intoxication, loss and knowledge. In these visceral, political poems, history ‘presses its mouth’ to our bodies and whispers strange secrets—McCullough has listened and found a language for them. This collection guides us through a world of déjà vu, doubt and rapture, a place where ‘each fingernail is a screensaver of somewhere’.’
Helen Mort

‘John McCullough is a poet you need to know.’
Sarah Howe

'Mindblowingly excellent. It left me breathless.'

'The poetry of reckless flight is joyful – it offers freedom and life, in contrast to the suffering and frailty of the body.'
Maria Taylor, The Poetry School

McCullough is a tenderly open poet. [...] Reckless Paper Birds embraces the formal as a means of interrogating the body, specifically in a state of queerness which by nature also allows for certain fragilities literalized.
Alexandra Marraccini, Brixton Review of Books

John McCullough has a reputation for crafting lyric poems of the everyday with a surreal twist. In Reckless Paper Birds, the familiar yet strange is rarely more than a stanza away. As if Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems jumped headlong into our 21st century, McCullough's lines sing of Lady Gaga, Instagram and house music.
Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian

A celebration of abundace ... a secular litany of life in its fullness and fragility.
Rob Mackenzie, Poetry London

The vitality of the poems, their nimbleness, their wit and their music combine to mark Reckless Paper Birds as a rare literary phenomenon. The book, for all its undercurrents and complexities, is a frank and militant declaration of joy – gay in a double sense of the word – and should be taken very seriously.
Christopher Reid, Judge of the 2020 Hawthornden Prize

About the author

John McCullough’s first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs, won the Polari First Book Prize and was a Book of the Year for The Independent as well as a summer read in The Observer. His most recent collection, Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016), was named one of The Guardian’s Best Books for Summer and shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize. He teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Brighton.

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