Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Twenty Four » BELIEF SYSTEMS


Tamar Yoseloff

My poem ‘Belief Systems’ was occasioned by the exhibition The Bard: William Blake at Flat Time House, in February 2020. I was one of six poets invited by curators Chris McCabe and Gareth Bell-Jones to respond to illustrations Blake made in 1797 for ‘The Bard’ and ‘The Fatal Sisters’ by Thomas Gray. Gray’s work was a revelation for Blake, and through this commission he saw a way to begin to create his own complex illustrated poem cycles. Flat Time House was the home of the artist John Latham, who, like Blake, developed a total world view that shaped his artistic practice. Latham considered FTHo ‘a living sculpture’, and the initial notes for my poem were written in Latham’s kitchen – the ‘body zone’ of the house – one dark January afternoon. ‘Belief Systems’ stitches together phrases from Blake, Gray and Latham but is also situated in the moment of the poem’s birth. Storm Brendan was about to hit our shores, and the terrible result of the general election was still an open wound. On my way back to Peckham Rye (where Blake had a vision of an angel) I saw scores of homeless men huddled in the passages outside the station, and a connection formed between their bowed figures and the figure of Blake’s Bard. It seems appropriate that these random sightings came together, considering Latham’s idea that every occurrence is an ‘event’ and that all events happen simultaneously, hence the concept of ‘flat time.’ The poem is a tribute to simultaneity.


 We are absolutely committed to not knowing.

An act of faith it was once called. We put up a guess.

– John Latham


The storm is here. They give him a name.

The wild winds weep, we stiffen our limbs

to a winter with small consolation.

The night cloaks men in ceremonial duvets,

winding sheets, their beards entwining

as they sleep. They might have been

bards or kings fallen on hard times,

that’s what they say, as if time

has surface, a rigid ground

that breaks the body as it hits. 


Only events can fling us from our beds.

Events goosestep over concrete. 

Events purge words of power,

the gutter press pressed thin against

windows to buffer wind.

                                          Old news –

over before it’s ink. We can only guess

what’s next. An act of faith.



We take to the virtual streets, waving

emoji fists. The revolution is on our phone,

the event inside our pocket.


Hours of folly are measured

on Facebook, where cats demand worship,

arch their shaggy backs and hiss,


poomogis run for president,

punch-ups fade into the ether,

the dead update their status;


we tell the cloud our secrets

so it will hold our voices

when we lose solid shape:


nothing we’ve made will save us

from what we’ve razed. When the foaming

flood hits shore

                                our time is up.




The storm collects our waste.

Circuits bared, like maps to nowhere.

Analog screens, their ancient stars

trapped in static. All of it shipped

to Surabaya; farmers ditch failed crops,

sift plastic for gold. There’s profit in junk.




The book lies face-down,

we’ve lost our place, the speech

learned by rote but never made.

Not worth the paper on which it’s printed

when there are Trees to Save.

Chuck it on the fire,

we’ll need its blast of heat

when refineries fall into the sea.


The guts of continental bullies

are strung on the loom of hell –

We’ll weave a commemorative quilt

to celebrate our freedom.

The warp and weft of doom

will keep us warm.



If we are blame, how to fix our faults?


If we are blade, we’re deep in love with blood. 


If we are brain, we’re plagued by tumour.


If we are broken, we’re past repair.


If we are bible, we’ve lost faith.


If we are birth, we’re also grave. 


If we are bird, we crow for meat.


If we are breath, we’ve ceased.




Through dark open mouths

climbs a sound unrelated to word –

             A quaver that skips the stave,

             quivering on breath.

             The wail of veiled women at a grave.

             The scream of falling Icarus slicing air.




The book lies face-down,

keeps its counsel. Pick it up

or chuck it on the fire. It’s been here

for years, collecting dust, the author

long dead.           

                                His time was up


but now he takes another shape,

his voice pressed like a flower in the page,

asking us to speak to him, to bring him

back to life.


                              Just a matter of time

they say, as if time has mass and weight

like bricks – we build a wall each day,

demolish it each night, then

build it up again, brick by sodding brick.

Our stocks are made of air

and spit; they black in smog.




The thoughtless world ticks off its inventory:


four births two deaths every

second, eight million heartbeats every

second, seventy-five Big Macs every

second, five hundred WhatsApps every


              Four thousand new stars every

second burst into gravity; we know

but can’t see.

                         All of it adds up to

one: a belief in what we think is true. 







In the nick of time they say, a chip

off the clock, what happens

before what might have happened –

disaster halted, or simply held

for another day.

                                Your time is up.




The storm grabs what it can –

gated estates jerry-built on fault lines,

makeshift hospitals, highways

carved into crazy paving.


The host of daffs break ground

for Christmas, the blackbird sings

all night, hypnotised by LEDs.




The book lies face-down, an open fan,

a cabbage white, or so the poet said:

everywhere, nowhere, vanishing from sight.


His tomb is laced with praise,

his slim volumes are what remain,

cluttering glum shelves.


The book lies face-down. Pick it up.

Text riddles the page, fencing the pure

white field with strokes.


They say the poet spouts a lot of

rubbish: things that are like things,

instead of things that just are.


Things have volume, occupy space.

Words balloon over our heads,

pop in the stifling air.


                                     Full      stop.




If we are blood, we’re clot.


If we are blue, we’re bruise.


If we are bile, we’re humour.


If we are bind, we’re tied together.


If we are bread, we’re mould.


If we are blench, we cheat.


If we are billion, we’ll increase.


If we are breath, we’ve ceased.




No more boom, just bust.

No more room, go home.

No more hands across the channel

once we dynamite the tunnel,

clinging onto inflatable dinghies,

reliving Dunkirk pluck.


No more odes, just prose.

No more love, just lust.

No more meat, less protein –

no sitting when we must stand.


No more time. We’ve run out,

as if time is a tarmacked road

that simply ends – what’s ahead

is unmade.

                  Better to stay

confined inside our crumbling palace

to seethe and rot alone.


No more milk and honey,

just flat beer. Get used to it.

The storm is here.







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