Ruth Irwin


Ruth Irwin is a poet and short story writer from London. Her poetry has previously been published in the 2012 Tower Poetry anthology ‘Earth – Quiet’, and has appeared in the ezines Spilt inc and Annexe.

She has also written prose for Spilt inc, and in 2013 - 2014 was commissioning editor at the Queen Mary Undergraduate History Journal (QMHJ). Her poetry and stories are frequently preoccupied with history, specifically our ever-evolving relationships with the past. As well as writing poetry, she is currently working on a historical novel set between 1834 and 1781, which features a transgender sailor.


View as PDF: Ruth Irwin - Poetry


In our trench I found a body

foetal in a fifteen-hundred-year-old rubbish tip


the cemetery was down the hill

the corpses there stretched proud and long

coins about their ankles

and bangles round the flaking wrists


it took four days to brush him from the ground

thin hips betrayed gender

with each emerging bone I knew him better

as, knelt under voices discussing

the punitive nature of this burial,

I fought the boredom of repetition

with a will not to snap or splinter


my man had oyster shells for coins

the discolouration of rotted rope

prettied the structure of his once-tied hands

and through long August hours it seemed the head was missing


eventually I turned it up, feeling rude, as

I stroked away the soil from his skull

found its curve cut


my careful finger tracing the fissure

from which the flow had



A London summer night between thunderstorms

and the bus is diverted by a

pair of fluorescent policemen

rooted in the Walworth Road


we slide down a side street and roll half a mile

before the driver lets me off

only official stops allowed

and so here I am in the depeopled Heygate Estate

brutalist blocks marked out for the bulldozer


the thunder seems closer


knowing I’m near home,

but not quite how to reach it,

I turn into a pub, the type where every drinker’s white

and sour stains stick feet to carpet,

to ask the way to Fielding Street


are you alright walking home this late at night, love?

I can call you a taxi…

I say thanks, I’m fine, and start to leave when

I’d walk you home myself if I wasn’t so fucked

slurs a bar-stool Charlie

you better watch out for all them darkies


minutes later I’ve come out by the market,

like the sober one said I would, and the thick air shifts melody.

I register Bob Marley, then realise it’s Christian reggae:

No, Jesus, no cry

No, Jesus no cry

Do you remember,

When we used to sing…

half the street is humming, from those same policemen

to the junkies outside the 24-hour shop


round the corner, kids play catch with a bursting grapefruit

the tall one laughs and lobs

glass breaks

they shriek

and run


sweeping the shards up

I tip them into the centre of an old newspaper

and wrap, holding today in my hands


the sharp-sugar-juice on the window-sill

the singing and the roadblocks

the blokes drinking lager

the jobsworth driver

the patient coppers


the need for rain.

On those cold December evenings

Well you can just fuck off!

you say as I get 94

for ‘indicate’ across a triple word score


I cackle

you sniff


always we act our way through

bad poker faces

elaborate sighs


strategic trips to the cupboard

for more whiskey

give delicious seconds

for savouring whether

the opposing party

has irritable vowel syndrome

or the makings

of a seven-letter



our rules have been essentially the same

since you made my phone say

‘bint’ instead of ‘silent’

when we were thirteen:

an abundance of well-meaning piss-taking

has made us siblings

something neither of our mothers

can quite understand


I am sat by the window

that is a ridiculous dog

you laugh and come to look

half peke, half poodle? we speculate


you linger

we hug

a quiet kind of



seven and out.