from “Cairo Compression”*


Jude Cowan Montague




*Two of four poems responding to the photography of Jason Larkin.  This work was set by Steve Layton and recorded for “The News Agents” on Resonance FM.  EP available from netlabel Linear Obsessional. 




Trails of Gold



I was scuffling in white dust

          under pylons

                 when my city sprang into the near distance.


         Sun on my face,

                  peeling my orange,

          I’m shining,

standing on a billion bunkers.


I am shaking the river,

         tyre-rolling, earth-munching,

                lugging the largest bag I can find.


I chill,

where the subcutaneous dump

         has been scooped

              — wouldn’t ice-cream be nice for a change? —

by a voracious digger.


I am sheltering under a plastic sheet

        poked up on sticks

             in the grass-fringe


                 tall, feather bird heads

          commodity watching.


Have you spied the skyline

         from the exposed side

         of a reef burning in the afternoon?

         It hums electricity,

         streams electrons.


              Our powerpumps, they’re thirsty.


Kids who swing on a wire fence

        or cup dust buildings

             fingers rubbing sunklines,

                   playing at gods playing with people on the tarmac

in the empty road —

           you can always play —

I say — at living.


Fragile lakes evaporate

                leaving rust puddles;

                           dishes have been discovering

                           no metal

                   worth a good sieving.


Tired, mudspotted

           seekers turn up late,

                 packs of thin, bare dogs

                          drawn nosedown through outblown rockpit.

             Those skinny bastards

won’t stop till they hit meat.





cairo sandwich



he dug his heels in                      and grabbed nonexistence


when stiletto sank into the desert

                                    he tensed back the pin

                                    of metal to try to pierce the sky

                                    and shouted


we are forgotten like our forefathers and mothers


but my children are opportunists

and    lay    rows     of    red     bricks

grid    marking   the   waves   of   dunes


watch out for the king’s propaganda.

           he has seduced men to drive into

                    the stove on a mission

           to find brands and ghetto-blasters

                   six-packs pecs and perfume


the messily dug sand-earth casts a shady respite

         for any creatures quick enough to scuttle into its shadows


stuck in this unmanaged muck

          elegant geometric struts

                         section sky into triangles

           beyond 1 2 maybe 100 dunes

                        the green grass cloth of a golf course

           keeps down the gook

                          bunkers are too easy here


some houses collapse

before                             they are made

slip into                          ecru grit

wooden girders              that shuttered

concrete                         in place tip

and land                         in bonfire style piles


they are the grand               children of the ship

builders’ planks                   afloat down the Nile

blown down the                  sand river


we love to move but we hate wind

                           for the sand becomes an          aeroplane

              gathers its body

                            and arabesques into                 djinn

         who’ll smash in our faces

                          their collective                          magic


                                             we keep low

                                             walls be our protectors

                                             walls define our manners

             keep us safe


                     this is your wheelbarrow and it is your job

                     to shift these concrete blocks

                     and pile them around my empire's edge

                     we have to erect beauty in gold and white

                     to show the world that we are not a land of peasants


egypt smells oily

          as america of the 1920s

          suckled on gilded urbanism

         we spit it out to pull

         its sticky strands into

         liquid city, rock-rolling,

         our destination pours a heavenly     colour



        we must have more of these

        for they are                                   both

        picture and wall

        they will stop the                          sand

        stop the sand

             it is not our                       friend

             we must manage its         horror

            it will overwhelm us        poor people



egyptian will vanquish         sand

egypt won’t vanish               under sand


ladders                                 stilts

rise high above the monotonous plain

speaking a word I heard in a dream










Jude Cowan Montague is an artist, writer and composer with a multi-media practice that crosses disciplines.  She is active in new printmaking, installation, poetry, prose fiction, film history, vocal work and performance.  She is known for her innovative work with international news agency output.  This practice developed while working as an archivist for the Reuters Television Archive.  Her first collection For the Messengers (Donut Press, 2011) re-formed edits from the Reuters output during 2008 as individual poems.  Her album The Leidenfrost Effect (Folkwit Records, 2015) was co-composed with Dutch producer Wim Oudijk and reimagines quirky stories from the Reuters Life! feed.  She is a broadcaster and curates and hosts The News Agents a weekly hybrid news-arts show on Resonance 104.4 FM.