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The sacred and profane - poet Julian Bishop

Julian Bishop is a London-based poet whose first collection of eco poems called We Saw It All Happen was published last year by Fly On The Wall Press. A former environment reporter for the BBC, he’s currently working on a collection of poems about the life and times of the Italian painter Caravaggio.


I guess if you’ve read my unlikely poem about a lobster in the fabulous Transformative Power of Tattoo anthology, you won’t be surprised to know that my first collection was about climate change and its impact on the natural world. What might be more surprising is the subject of my second collection which is very different in both theme and register.


The poems look at the life, works and my response to the work of the Italian painter Caravaggio. If there’s a common trope between climate change and Caravaggio, it might be the sense of impending calamity underlying both. As you might know, it didn’t end well for Caravaggio, dying on a remote beach after years on the run for killing a man in Rome. Most of the facts about his life come from police records – he was a notorious brawler.


Set against this, those sublime paintings – ground-breaking, constantly pushing boundaries which one critic describes as “sadistic ballets”. And it’s this polarity that attracts me as a poet – the coexistence of the sacred and profane, tender and violent, all of which find echoes in his own character and behaviour.


And the paintings are wonderfully transgressive, many commissioned by a Church lamentably opposed to same-sex relationships yet containing a blatant homo-erotic charge. I’d suggest some of them come close to depicting male rape – put that in your cassock and smoke it.


So plenty to go for. And here’s the great bit – I write this at the end of an art tour called Caravaggio On The Run which takes in Malta and Sicily (I’ve already done the Rome/Naples leg). It’s 20 degrees in March and the Vino Rosso here is thick as blood. Whatever the subject of Julianne’s next anthology – nudes, smut, penises, anyone? – there’ll be a poem for that.


Read my poem The Mechanics of Killing a Man:



Twitter: @julianbpoet

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