Ben Banyard • Dan Bennett • Andy Brown • Ron Butlin • Susan Castillo Street • Colin Crewdson • Tony Curtis • Karen Dennison • Julian Dobson • Frank Dullaghan • Robert Etty • Brett Evans • Ian Heffernan • Chris Hutchinson • Keith Hutson • Brian Johnstone • Gill Learner • Mark Mayes • Greg Miller • Tim Miller • Esther Morgan • Kate Noakes • Robert Okaji • Gerard Smyth • Paul Stephenson • Paul Stubbs • Mark Totterdell • Heidi Williamson
Ben Banyard: two poems
Drowning sea-lubber, the gulls’ rush
sought the gills’ blood;
splayed fin-to-fin on crushed ice
we judge your milky eyes,
blotting the horror of your final gape.
Remember the reel’s scream,
the upward whip a startle
where once was fly.
Encased with glass stare,
your disdain fixes
bragging carousers below.
Skimming neat gravel through
a plastic portcullis you bob
to nibble softening flakes.
Gold shimmering on the wall
you trail a forgetful spindle.
Skinless and boneless in tin,
not what the bear juggles
for fun on the bank,
or teeming silver
in the trawler’s decked nets.
GREAT AUNTIE KATE
Upstairs, a little warden-controlled flat
off Kings Heath High Street.
Modern, but it might have been the mid-50s.
I remember fags and a budgie:
the tang of John Player Specials,
Jo-Jo’s beak grinding cuttlefish.
Desiccating heat and a red pull-cord,
melted chocolate wafer bars,
foil meals-on-wheels cartons.
She was no great age by today’s standards
but to me, at ten, it seemed implausible,
a precarious high-wire life,
how someone so paper-thin could have resisted
all those years of mortal destiny;
that her humdrum moments
might be snuffed like birthday candles.
Afterwards, we took the budgie on,
hung his cage on a hook in our lounge
which the cat slunk beneath, expectant.
Ben Banyard lives and writes in Portishead, near Bristol. His debut pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in February 2016 and his poems have appeared in The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Popshot, RAUM and Lunar Poetry, amongst others. He blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com and edits Clear Poetry, an online journal publishing accessible writing by newcomers and old hands alike: https://clearpoetry.wordpress.com
Dan Bennett: Two Poems
The vagaries of free time define us.
A firework leaking saltpetre
above the playground, a lost phone
ringing on the tennis court
the bitterness of skunk grass
rising through autumn leaves.
Pressed for time, out from the station,
we ignore an offer of silverskin onions
plundered from the supermarket,
we can choose bagels or baklava
or perfectly seasoned arancini
but the landscape of our sorrow
waits impatiently, like the men
outside the Algerian patisseries,
a near miss in front of a 19 bus.
It’s there in discarded espresso glasses
and saffron tins, a miniature of bourbon.
It lies intact, like the pigeon egg
found near the match day off licence
which we collected with wonder
though the membrane had rotted
and we had to throw it out.
‘A poem of a hat’
Train days. The morning ride
beside a frozen creek. Silver wind
and the shiver of steel. A journey
through slumbering countryside
where you measure life with rape flowers
and a barn owl on white wings
until London increases itself
through the umbilicus of brownfields
and stalking flyovers, suddenly,
to arrive at Waterloo.
I followed a man from the station,
a felt hat worn proudly on his head.
Such a gorgeous avatar of style
lighting up all our Mondays
until a sneaky gust of wind
peeled the thing from his head
and cast it into the Thames.
Even now, years later, I can see
the way he stopped on the bridge
his hand still shaped
around what had been taken from him
for a second toying with the idea
of a more forgiving world
where he might follow it down.
Dan Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have appeared in a number of places, most recently in Antiphone, Structo, The Stinging Fly and The Manchester Review. He is also the author of the novel All the Dogs.
Andy Brown: Two Poems
for Eleanor Rees
The River Teign, from the Anglo Saxon Teng, ‘a stream’. Related to the pre-Roman Welsh Taen: ‘a sprinkling’.
I. A Sprinkling
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a Birder lifts his lenses for a hawk and sees
a Neolithic woman at Teign Head, beating
her fists on her chest as she buries her dead.
The body lies beneath a moorland cairn,
but the risen water transports the soul
under the clapper bridge at Teigncombe.
Over at Grey Wethers, a cider-soaked farmer
mistakes the circled stones for sheep
and freshens up his face in the riffles
of the joining southern stream. From a corrie,
through loose schist left by prospectors,
the flume plunges down an inclined clough
to where the mountain avens grow and shed
their burrs on the fur of indifferent dogs
as they run through the stone huts and reaves
abandoned now to wind and the merging cries
of Vikings and monks at the burning Abbey.
Along the levels past Teignharvey and Teignmouth,
trains speed inland to the moor, their passengers
gazing on the river through their own reflections,
at mussel pickers boot-high in alluvium,
at flounder fishermen beside their tripods –
the rods of their hopes pointing to heaven,
their baited lines weighted and waiting. A child
points out a harbor seal with mermaid eyes
hunting for mackerel and bass between the boats.
The train runs through a sprinkling of towns
with their manoral halls where scribes sign off
the deeds of the Great Court of Tinners,
the peat-cutting contracts and records
of villages overcome by Black Death,
their bridges crossed by fleeing villagers –
the wooden bridge that once conveyed
Norman footmen; the red stone bridge
across the Domesday salt marsh;
the pristine white stone of the Roman walkway;
the 70s viaduct with her eleven spans;
the Victorians crossing at Shaldon
in boaters, parasols and Sunday best.
At the confluence with Walla Brook,
flowing from Hangingstone Hill,
a man crawls through the Tolmen Stone
to cure his rheumatism, his arthritis,
chafing off disease on the stone’s rough skin.
A child was passed through here. Another
through hooped brambles. And one more still
through a hole in the ground. Reborn.
The Birder shifts his viewfinder to watch
two farmers shaking hands through the ring,
to seal a binding deal on tups and wethers.
Beside a waymarker, a pilgrim cups his hands
and stares back at the Birder through its void
to gain second sight, a future beheld, a glimpse
of heaven on the way through Fernworthy.
He leaves the moor along the Hunters’ Path
past Bovey and her ball-clay works, the ghost
of the old power station puffing into the air,
as her turbines cool down in the current,
out to the estuary, the tidal Whitelake Channel
and her kaolinitic canals, concreted over
for a retail park near the weekend racecourse.
surd: a voiceless sound
The sun’s high arc warms up the mingling tides.
Light vapours rise around the anchored yachts –
a longing that seems to climb from the creek,
up around the pillars of the bridge
that cinctures the waist of the river
at the cusp between inlet and marshland,
where warblers chitter in the willow carr
and spark the air like the chattering voices
of hedgers and osier cutters who twist
withies and pleaches beside their bothy.
Out on the saltings, where the inlet’s mud
breaks-up like the cracks on a canvas,
a conclave of waders watch a Bronze Age
fisherman navigate his coracle
over to a niche in the rocks. He chants
his hunting prayer and parts a veil
of seaweed to reveal cormorant squabs
awaiting a parent and fish for their gullets.
Downstream the overflow pipe lets slip
its secret, jarring song into the sea.
MY LAST SEASCAPE
Thomas Luny, maritime painter, born in Cornwall 1759. Luny lived in Teignmouth where, despite crippling rheumatism, he painted some 2,200 paintings until a year or so before his death in 1837.
‘Neptune taming a sea-horse.’
‘My Last Duchess’, Robert Browning
Here’s my last seascape hanging on the wall.
See how it brings the shifts in light and shade
up to the fore in tricks of textured pigment;
the ever-changing aspects of the sea,
the marbled sky, the knots and swags of rigging.
I finished it from memory in my room.
My male attendant used to wheel me out
to take the air in my perambulator
down to the Den, or over to the Point
where the Teign joins the sea in crossed currents,
and there would station me at my easel,
set up my cabinet of colours, brushes
and watch me start to block-out the rough shapes
on canvases for rich merchants and sailors –
the Viscount of Exmouth; Admiral Tobin;
Old John Spratt; Captain Brine and Captain Wight.
I’d sell them back their own heroic deeds,
‘The Battle of the Nile’, ‘The Bombardment
of Algiers’, or a soft sketch of a storm,
the river Teign and Shaldon by the Ness
with vessels coming in and out of harbour,
the Parson and the Clerk by Dawlish cliffs,
pack horses bringing red rocks in for building…
But what’s the point in painting summer scenes
Sparkling with pleasure boats and packed ferries;
what point, when the melancholy ocean
presents itself: a gale, a hurricane,
the stricken Madelina drifting ashore,
her bowsprit and her masts destroyed, her crew
all five-hundred perished? I have known
the indifferent sea, the behaviour
of ships in every form of wind and weather,
the place and use of every cleat and rope;
the friction of those ropes against my skin.
And what hands are these that can no longer hold
a brush? My fingers bent in on my palms,
clutching the paint-laden thing at arm’s length
between these useless fists. Dabbing. Dabbing.
I sense the falling of the sun across
the sea and stoop. What will they say of me?
Will they say that he was fair and florid?
Of medium build? That he was taciturn
but kindly? An elderly invalid
with paralysed legs and a naval pension?
I have signed and dated my last seascape
there on a block of floating wood, a spar.
See how it drifts. I’ve spent my best days here.
Now lay me down to rest in Devon soil.
Andy Brown is Professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Exeter. Recent books include: A Body of Work: an anthology of poetry & medicine (Bloomsbury, 2016); Watersong (Shearsman, 2016); Exurbia (Worple, 2015); The Writing Occurs as Song: a Kelvin Corcoran reader (Shearsman, 2014); The Fool and the Physician (Salt, 2012); Goose Music [with John Burnside] (Salt, 2008), Fall of the Rebel Angels (Salt, 2006), and the novel Apples & Prayers (Dean Street, 2015).
Ron Butlin: Four Poems
A HISTORY OF THE GLASS KINGDOM
Back then, High Priests would breathe on every surface
of our sacred heart-stone,
lesser priests breathed
on the everyday transparency of streets,
buildings, billboards, trees, grass
and falling rain.
They breathed and they polished,
they made our precious kingdom shine!
(Beyond our borders lay a thanklessness
of darkness and division
where local deities clawed at the sky,
and stamped on the earth
to get attention.
Matters of life and death were settled
by divine clumsiness.
Small gods and smaller men – envy
gave them strength.)
Meanwhile, the light streaming from our
sacred heart-stone’s core purified
and protected us.
Our dreams were forgiven,
our longings and regrets (the mess
of fingerprints we’d smear on whatever
were painlessly erased.
Contented years, contented centuries. Until –
This morning, the sun has come to a standstill.
Beneath us, the permafrost contracts.
We feel it crack.
Feel it split.
Glaciers and polar icecaps are
breaking off, slipping
(so far away from us, we hardly
hear a sound)
into the warming waters.
Our priests assure us they continue to breathe
and to polish every single moment
of every single day.
They say they breathe and polish harder
than ever before.
They have new incantations, they tell us,
Do they think they can move the sun?
Computer simulations show our kingdom
catching fire. Such an electronic crackling,
such a roar from the surround-sound speakers!
See-through roads and bridges melt.
Glass-hard girders buckle in the heat.
History’s a sentence left forever
incomplete . . .
REHEARSALS FOR THE END OF TIME
Room heaters switched off, and all lights.
Doors locked, steel shutters pulled down,
benches removed. Arctic winds and
North Sea sleet scour every surface
of its history.
No pyramids, no Renaissance,
no rise and fall of mighty empires –
not now. Not ever.
Only this battened-down brickwork. Only me
I’m sure it was a summer’s day when I came across
the metal footbridge. I remember sunlight.
Mid-January now by the feel of it,
and the clock’s hands stuck
at a quarter-past ten . . .
(Once upon a time I lived in the warm hills
I’d stroll each evening beneath shower upon
shower of falling stars. So many wishes to make,
so many lifetimes to look forward to . . .)
These are Scottish stars hammered
into east coast darkness,
right up to the hilt.
Bringing the Cosmic Wheel to a standstill.
An RAF jet hangs silent and motionless 100ft or so
above platform 2 –
had it been planning to liberate someone,
somewhere? Was it en route to yet another country
to help them become
just like us?
No train in sight, nor hope of any.
Rehearsals for the End of Time
take place, it seems,
here at Leuchars station.
JAMES HUTTON LEARNS TO READ THE HIEROGLYPHICS OF THE EARTH
While walking on Salisbury Crags, James Hutton [1726-97] came across rock formations that seemed to contradict Bishop Ussher’s accepted chronology of the world’s creation in 4,004 BC. Hutton, ‘the Father of Geology’, published his findings during the years when the French Revolution was at its bloodiest.
Woken once too often by the rattle-clatter
of tumbril wheels on cobbles, the click . . . click . . .
click of distant knitting needles,
James Hutton decided never to go
to sleep again.
Then, by the light of several Edinburgh Council moons
(spares, in case the heavens were taken over
by the church), he tip-toed past storm-wrecked
Holyrood Abbey, went striding down
through undreamt-of walls and doors where
Scottish Hope would one day
be cemented into place
(the bars across its parliament windows
wooden, just in case).
The Park . . . Salisbury Crags . . .
where several hundred million years ago,
the Earth had cracked itself wide open –
Detailed as a map of Man’s undiscovered self,
zigzag Time lies flat-packed,
for everyone to see . . .
Stacked magma, olivine, dolerite chilled to glass,
eternity crushed to lines of slowly
spelled-out hieroglyphics, and cut
in blood-red haematite.
. . . and Hutton sees it. He’s the first!
First to know he walks upon an ancient ocean floor
(God’s Flood, the merest puddle in all that vastness).
First to hear the stone-hard heartbeat pound-pound-
pounding out Existence.
Elsewhere, Revolution has taken to the streets
with an accusation and a scream,
a guillotine-swish . . .
French clocks run backwards to Year One.
Sunday 23rd October 4,004 BC?
All in the blink of a biblical eye! says Hutton.
Meanwhile, you and I continue turning
on our axis to the tick . . .
tick . . . tick of Time that never
started Once upon a . . .
And will surely never, ever –
Ah, these strata, these infinities glimpsed between!
ALL THAT WE HAVE
Before I’d learned to speak I heard and saw only
what there was, and all there was
So many years and so much understanding
later, I catch sight of you applying
a touch of lipstick, say,
or leaning forward to brush your red hair . . .
And the longing for all we cannot have
and all that we do have,
Ron Butlin has an international reputation as a prize-winning novelist and was, until recently, Edinburgh’s Poet Laureate. He was made Edinburgh University’s first Honorary Writing Fellow, together with Ian Rankin. His poetry and fiction have been translated into over a dozen languages. Ghost Moon, his fourth novel, was nominated for the prestigious IMPAC Award 2016. Next year he will publish a new novel, a novella and a book of verse for children. He lives in Edinburgh.
Susan Castillo Street: Two Poems
My mother wanted a daughter with blonde ringlets.
My hair was wild and straight. She marched me off
to the beauty parlour. “Odile,” she drawled in honeyed tones,
“can you give this child a permanent?”
Odile put in bristled rollers, stabbed me with bobby pins,
slapped acrid purple goop over my scalp,
the smell so strong it scorched my lids.
Like a doomed saint, I endured the fumes
for what seemed forever. Then Odile lathered,
rinsed, dried. In the mirror I saw a head,
twisting gorgon mane, cold burning eyes.
I am three years old.
Outside the house, the old magnolia tree
stretches high into the sky.
Foot on branch,
hand over hand
I climb up toward the clouds,
believe that I can fly,
breathe in the thick perfume
of floating waxy blooms.
From the second floor window
My father looks out,
sees my reckless grin,
blanches, races downstairs
stands there tall between the roots .
I know he’ll always catch me
if I fall.
Susan Castillo Street is Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College, University of London. She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry, (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poems have appeared in Southern Quarterly, Ink Sweat & Tears, Messages in a Bottle, The Missing Slate, Clear Poetry, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Foliate Oak, The Yellow Chair Review, and other journals and anthologies.
Colin Crewdson: Poem
SHOWING IT IN SHEEP STREET
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton
They ruled the world
convinced by ambition
then proved it
from the holy stones of crusades
to show it
shored up by favoured Gospel texts
and scribbled plans from Jerusalem
that survived the stink
of adrenalin-stained journeys home
found more than one answer
in architecture’s algebra
not just castles.
But home itself
a realm of strangeness
with a conflicted band of half-brothers
and a roar of holy relics.
around the air’s vibrations
the bells dangle
a mobile of clangs
and round sounds
to be plucked like apples
by the faithless.
Colin Crewdson lives and works in Devon, writing seriously only in the last 3 years. He’s had poetry published in The Open Mouse, The Journal and Ink, Sweat & Tears.
Tony Curtis: Poem
THE CIRCLE OF OAKS
Some Sundays, when I am able,
I make my excuses – a chill, cramps,
what her Ladyship calls “vapours”,
and go not to worship but to this tree circle,
which is all the church I need,
for Williams the footman reckons
that is where they buried her.
A day old at most, she was.
I was taken with high fever
and can remember little of it
but her gripping my finger,
then cook’s cold flannels and warm broth;
the slow recovery and the healing,
she says that will some day be complete.
Un-christened, except for the water
I bring most times in a kitchen cup
to sprinkle these tree roots each in turn,
for I know not under which she was lain.
They say there have been other serving girl’s mistakes,
so I bless them all with my sprinkling
and my kneeling prayers.
From our quarters under the roof
I watch the stars rise over these woods, listen
to the owls, a hawk taking a leveret;
fur and bones on the morning lawn.
I skirt the rose borders they have planted,
all the flowers that may offer girls a name.
And beneath each tree, clock fashion, I say them.
Tony Curtis is Emeritus Professor of Poetry at the University of South Wales. His New & Selected Poems: From the Fortunate Isles is published by Seren in October 2016 to celebrate fifty years of writing and publishing. He will tour the book with readings in the UK and the USA through 2017. www.tonycurtispoet.com
Karen Dennison: Four Poems
To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.
To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a newborn child her mother’s face.
To unlearn the boundaries of skin,
to know how mass and energy
are twins, that all matter
knows light’s touch in its seed;
that light, knowing
nothing of time, is the ruler
we use to measure it by.
To unravel our limits, navigate
liminal space like ancient ocean explorers,
galaxies our candles, guides,
sails stitched by light.
THREADING A MEMORY
I peer into the past
through curls of smoke
and scalloped glass,
corpuscles of light;
try to focus a blur
of shifting shapes, scraps
of shade, a dusty jewel
rays pulse through.
Eyes shut, I’m fighting
brambles of light, veins
creeping like ivy, strands
of black woven with arteries.
Threading these thoughts
through a needle, I’m pulled
back to the whirr
of a Singer machine,
her shoeless foot pumping treadle,
skin-tone stockings, hem
of a rib-knitted skirt; the clot
muscling its way to her brain.
He came to be alone with the stars,
to bask in a wash of blue-violet sky
before the ferry would take him, trawling
its net of foam, its v-shaped wake.
He set the camera to long exposure,
sat as still as the tripod, a fisherman
baiting constellations; caught the world
spinning, stars as needles of slanting rain.
Morning’s first light leapt in his stomach
like salmon spawning, the sun a lantern
searching the docklands horizon.
It rose, burning in his throat, inevitable
as death, as going home.
FINDING US IN DARTMOOR
We left the grime of the city for the road
that followed dry-stone walls where sheep
grazed, locked on barren hills.
Place names wrote themselves on the map
of our journey – Believer Forest, Clapper Bridge.
Shepherd country took us in, herded us down
narrow ways, showed us skies we’d never known.
We circled an argument in Scorhill Stone, turned it
into a song, each monolith a different note, buried
our worries in ragged clouds over Sitaford Tor, washed
the wounds of words in Cranmore Pool, abandoned
our former selves to the ridge of Cut Hill.
Karen Dennison’s poems have been widely published in magazines such as The Interpreter’s House and Agenda and in several anthologies. Karen’s collection Counting Rain was published by Indigo Dreams in 2012. She is editor, designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand and Blueshift and her digital images/photos feature in Abegail Morley’s pamphlet The Memory of Water (Indigo Dreams, 2015).
Julian Dobson: Two Poems
I used live matches once. Bismarck and Scharnhorst,
grey as Atlantic waves. It took forever,
the glue nearly made me faint. The shed
was bitter, January gales and all.
The missus wouldn’t let me do it
indoors, and to tell the truth
that hut was a boiler-room to me.
I don’t mind cold, not much.
Light was more my problem,
the windows spidered till you couldn’t see
owt but cobwebs. I had a lantern,
old style, like a big tin with a wick
and paraffin. Not a good combination
with those boxes of Swan Vestas.
It had to be Swans, it paid respects
to Mum. She wouldn’t use another,
even for her last cig. I thought of her
the day the Bismarck blew. The shed, too
– that’s what finished me. Now
there’s just that model on the mantelpiece.
Recognise it? It’s Victory. Look, there’s Nelson.
given that we are mostly it
and it is slippery, running
through fingers, vanishing
when the kitchen gets too hot,
returning uninvited, as
black mould in the bathroom;
given that, and given too
that swallowed, it is not consumed
and in or out, it hides itself
in blood or piss, or other fluids;
and moreover, in its natural state
it can be a wall, a well, a whirl,
can ebb or eddy, and when solid
is most likely to upend you;
is it any wonder
can be so close
Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield, Yorkshire. His poems have appeared in publications including Brittle Star, The Interpreters’ House and The Poets’ Republic, and he is the winner of the 2016 Guernsey International Poetry Competition. He tries to post a poem a week at 52poemsinayear.wordpress.com
Frank Dullaghan: Four Poems
I like the way she is moving her hips,
her back to me, the orange fabric
of her skirt tightening on one side and
then the other. She is rocking a small girl
in her arms – dark eyes, black curls.
I was in the mood to grumble at the world,
the waiter slow, the day promising
to be troublesome. But now I am lulled
into a kind of peace by the sway of her hips.
The child’s eyes are closing. I think
the woman is singing to her but the café’s
too noisy to hear. I could reach out –
the woman is just a few feet from my table –
I could reach out and touch. But I know
that would stop the world, that everything
would still and would never start up again.
Immaculate. But now she’s put on weight.
It started light, a flash of gold
at her wrist, hair extensions. Then
it was winter clothes, a coat with bone
buttons. She is beginning to feel
her own presence. A wooden yoke
cushioned on a towel around her neck
like a cross. The diving boots she nicked
from a maritime museum, the oxygen tanks
were financed from her savings.
Weight makes her real. She’s emptied
her bank account. She’s threaded stone
statues onto a rope and wears them.
She’s learned to balance an urn as big
as herself on her head. She can see herself
approaching a half mile off in the large
central window of the post office. Steel gauntlets.
A wrestling champion’s belt. An iron mask.
She grows more and more substantial.
It takes her four hours to dress to go out
but you’d not miss her now, you’d not
ignore her. Now she’s more
than a mother. A Roman breastplate.
A shield. An anchor. The earth holds her
closer. The sky will never steal her away.
She’ll have no such assumption.
PRAYER FOR RAMADAN
May your body be a knife –
if it can bear the weight
of so much lightness –
paring slivers of appetite
There are places inside
that only echo when empty.
Let them sing, let their sounds
dance. Let night fall like a prayer
Let your table be burdened
with nothing but its own shape.
Let your cup wait a moon-beat
to spill over,
one note at a time.
When night falls
may love come upon you
in all of its names. May it fill you.
May it fill you up
All summer I’ve been old, nothing’s new, Marie,
when there’s only myself. It’s all the same sound & hue, Marie.
Back in the day, we would play hide & seek
and I would come searching each nook for you, Marie.
But my journey has taken us into the heat
of this Dubai summer – too much for you, you withdrew, Marie.
So we talk now on FaceTime and phone, meet
on the airways, the net. What else can we do, Marie,
we’re stuck with my work? But here I can reap
enough for an end that befits what I sew, Marie.
Look, summer is now cooling its feet
in the ocean, the breezes are blue. It’s time to renew, Marie.
Now you tell me that you’re booking your flight.
It’ll be a relief, let me tell you, to return to being two, Marie.
So when you disembark and call Frank in your bright
clear voice, I’ll be the one edging up to you in the queue, Marie.
Frank Dullaghan holds an MA with Distinction in Writing (University of South Wales). He co-founded the Essex Poetry Festival, when he lived in the UK. His third poetry collection, The Same Roads Back was published in Oct 2014 by Cinnamon Press. He lives in Dubai and is currently working on his first novel. A poetry pamphlet is expected later this year from Eyewear Press.
Brett Evans: Poem
SLOTH AMONG CLARINETS AND BRASS
Sloth is approached as vocalist
by The Wafting Duvet Jazz Band:
no one’s as laid back as Sloth
since Leon Redbone, they say.
And that Sloth has an affinity
for the blues. Sloth claws his greenness,
questions the colour-blindness
of his instrumentalist admirers, yet wallows
in temptation: to be lifted by a force of sound
alone and the irony to croon Sporting Life.
His lids begin to droop;
Realising his rudeness in not yet replying –
the founder members stand open-mouthed
at the idle ball scratches, uncontrollable cock twitches –
Sloth is suddenly struck by the hostage situation
of being placed between cornet player and trombonist;
such up-close noise pollution. And the concept
of exercising one’s voice is alien to simple
Sloth, who can not help but feel pain and pity
for The Wafting Duvet Jazz Band, him now slipped
through their fingers. A yawn in perfect b-flat
is the first note that drifts Sloth
off to Frenchmen Street for the afternoon or week.
Brett Evans lives, writes, and drinks in his native north Wales. His debut poetry pamphlet, The Devil’s Tattoo, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2015. Brett is co-editor of the poetry and prose journal Prole.
Robert Etty: Two Poems
ALL-TIME FOOTBALL STORY
When Leslie Nesbitt from 4 Walmsgate Road
told us about being Sheffield Wednesday’s
all-time top-scoring outside-left, I swallowed it all
as gospel truth, but my dad said Leslie
wouldn’t have the skill to boot next door’s
flaming cat out of our kitchen. Leslie lived
with his mum and dad, and we lived with ours,
but Leslie was forty. He watched our kickabouts
down in the cow field, but never took part,
so as not to show off. When we fixed up a match
against Real Cleethorpes, our outside-left pulled out.
Leslie was having his hair cut that morning,
so he wouldn’t be free (unfortunately)
to score nine or ten for us. We’d heard about Leslie’s
quick-fire sprints, but his tactics lagged well behind
and, when it turned out that the barber had flu,
he dribbled himself straight up the blind alley
that led to our changing hut, ten-fifteen, with a slap
of grease on his hair. I picture him now, a twig
on the touchline, buttoned inside his usual shirt
(Wednesday had kept his blue and white striped one),
observing the action sagaciously
and never quite moving near where the ball went.
That day we smashed all-time humiliation records.
We still hadn’t lived it down at Christmas,
and the goalkeeper took up fishing instead.
A man with legs like an albino godwit
could never have been a footballer,
but I might well have gone on believing
if the barber hadn’t had flu. Leslie
deserted the cow field and us, but we’d spot him
shopping now and then. He wasn’t what he said
he was, and that made him something else.
What it made him my dad explained clearly,
and I wish that had blown the whistle on it,
but it left me with doubts about adults,
face values, trust, Sheffield Wednesday
and what you should say about yourself.
This poem’s attempting to touch on those things,
and it’s true. Quite a lot of it. Gospel.
WETHER IN WINTER
The wether, who had been watching, backed off.
The blind old ewe had rolled down the bank
and lay under hawthorns, wagging her legs.
We slithered to her, our boots spraying snow.
She let us clasp her ankles and start
to haul her over ridges upwards, pausing
to steady her and ourselves. We rested her
on the track at the top, her eggshell eyes gazing up
towards stars and the moon and a dutch barn roof
against the indigo sky. Knuckling her backbone
inside the wool, we raised her and swung her
to face the shed the other ewes had trotted into
the long way round. “She’ll make it,” he said.
“Or she won’t. Leave her to it.”
In frost at eight in the morning we found her
dead by the corrugated door.
The wether would be the one to know how
she’d crossed the ice and hock-deep mud
to where she liked to shelter.
We brushed the frost off her nose and her fleece.
Not until the driver barrowed her
over to where he’d parked his pickup
did it occur to either of us
that she wouldn’t have noticed the dark.
Robert Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His latest collection is A Hook in the Milk Shed (Shoestring Press), and a selection of his work appears in Something Happens, Sometimes Here: Contemporary Lincolnshire Poetry (edited by Rory Waterman for Five Leaves Press). He is a member of Nunsthorpe Poetry Group.
Ian Heffernan: Two Poems
LITTLE LAUGHING BUDDHA
Someone called you Little Laughing Buddha.
My pear-bellied trisomique, that’s odd;
It’s hard to see you as a deity:
Leaning on the cabinet’s edge there,
Head tucked in the crook of your arm
And dressed in clothing of extinct designs,
Moonflask face angled up towards the light,
Its skin a blotch of pinks and whites,
Your low-slung lip alive with slaver,
Your eyes two nearly-stagnant pools
Where obscure colours hunch and merge,
Your hair combed back and grey as fact,
And your breath the distant rasp
Of a drunk man sanding down a wall,
Blended with the crepitus of ice;
Or seated eating from a bowl, the sound
An old horse chewing grass at night,
Topped by a pastorale of burps,
Then gesturing stiffly to yourself,
Since only you can understand
That terse calligraphy of arms.
And always, through each housebound day,
The wordless monologue of raspberries
Your long-dead father made you learn
Is broadcast through these corridors and rooms.
An indicator of enlightenment?
The tell-tale sign of an Awakened One?
Most likely not, I’d say – to me
It means that life mislaid itself in you
And never rectified its carelessness,
Or maybe that impossibility
Contemplated you and winced, then shrugged;
Or – panning out to give a wider view –
That all of us are vacant at our core,
A lack concealed within a fallacy,
Thin strands of nothing spread against the dawn.
Light out of nowhere
Thickens on forgotten clerestories
While winter shifts nervously
Through its aspects.
Our lives become like this,
As if they were shorthand
For something we fail
Woodsmoke seen through trees at dawn,
Thin morning rain on a French caserne,
Sand martins which race over a lake at lunchtime
xxxxx on the wild wire of themselves,
The rapid lifting of geese from an afternoon field,
An owl crying its wound to the small of the dusk,
Voices in a Polish courtyard in the early hours,
Russia below laying out its wilderness.
In Regensburg and Salzburg it is snowing.
It is snowing in Vilnius, Krakow and Prague;
On the Moskva River and in Beijing.
Extinct radio stations echo cleanly in the airwaves,
Old songs reassume their melodies,
Crowds collect in avenues and squares.
Then the snow stops, the sky clears
And the stars tumble down like keys
From the pockets of a drunk.
They are gathering in the West Garden,
Quietly setting out preferred designs:
Dragons over seascape, bats in cloud,
A turtle and a red-crowned crane,
Liu Hai dancing on a three-legged toad,
Two scholars playing chess under the moon,
Lotus flowers, phoenix, bamboo groves,
And shanshuihua, shanshuihua…
What you were guarding
Was a stockpile of nothing;
A sorrow like endless windows
Empty of reflection.
Ian Heffernan was born in 1965 and grew up just outside London, where he still lives. HeI studied at University College London and the School of Oriental & African Studies. He works with the homeless.
Chris Hutchinson: Two Poems
My poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog. It’s very beautiful all the same and it’s this which I’d love to have been able to convey. All in all, I am very unhappy.
– Monet, in a letter to a friend, August 11, 1922
Beneath the blank canvas sleeps a mist
of possibilities, his mind suspended in air like backlit spray
before loss ushers in this other atmosphere. In Giverny
in sabots and tweed, stuck inside his studio
shuffling the length of its moldering floor, he half-
listens to the white noise cascading from a sky
gone black above his iris beds.
For now, hesitant to bestow
the underside of footbridges with crepuscular blues
and indigos, his only guide one appallingly woolen eye
with which to enthrall each small curve and shade to sheer feeling––
yet he still expects to get some sketching in
on the backside of this weather front, which has been warm
even as it pours down in silver cords, drowning the land
in early spring, flooding ditches and ruining the oats to favor
fields and pastures, leaving them richer for grazing, and redolent
of the sluggish, dull earth-tones of the Seine.
But when his beds all turn to rain-spill, his mood
slips from overcast to inglorious
to hurt, dampening his dreams of beekeeping
or strolling thru the clay-cushioned orchards
or motoring off to Étretat for the sunlit lichens of its palisades . . .
And when the deluge thins to fog, it infiltrates
his studio, rots his beard’s russets to whitish foam
picks the lock of his rosewood armoire and streaks with mildew
all the ancient correspondences stowed there
before ghosting along the ever-decomposing black
walnut floor soon to become more treacherous than water
gone bright as the flesh of apples around the cataract.
JONAS IGNATIUS HALLGRIMSSON THE THIRD
I see it all now, but only at night, my days
Flying by, the pressing imminence of future
Regrets, the impoverished luxury I’ve grown into with time
The oceans of wine, and this consumerist state
Of soporific waking, of coming to in anxious waves
Forging receipts, shoring up pretexts
For more debt, baboonishly scratching my ass
And staring down from my west-facing bay window
Across vacant backyards to the NO VACANCY sign
By the arched iron security gates that keep safe
The Roman-style fountains, loggias
And feather-strewn pools of this shiny new
Urban community rise––
Mistaking shadow shapes
For crows, crows for grackles, grackles
For magpies, magpies for bedraggled ravens
In tailcoats, and early fall sunlight for the cinematic adoration
I pretend not to crave––in my off-hours
In the distilled rush of being alone, still waiting
For the booze to hit, for that buzz I imagine
I used to enjoy, but whatever it was that once helped
Ease this vague yet unshakable sense of having missed out
On all things lucrative and pure
I can’t recall––like a name
On the tip of the tongue it escapes me
The harder I try to pluck it out of the air, deceives me
The more I find that my fate is not the pre-purchase dream
I’d bargained for, and that all the grackles and crows
Are really just pools drained of light
While the ravens in tailcoats turn out to be
Magpies stealing away through the wound-colored dusk
With my wedding ring, money clip, cufflinks, and keys —
Somewhere some hidden nest glowing
With all the small mislaid things
Of my otherwise life. What’s left?
Only my mind, which I narrow each night
To an unthinking point until I’m overcome
By the iron taste of this greater dread of simply being
Until the stars in my window are specs of salt
And I see my house is made of nothing but windows
Within windows, like waves reflected on the underside of waves —
Chris Hutchinson was born in Montreal and has since pursued various livelihoods in such places as Vancouver, Dawson City, Kelowna, New York City, and, most recently, Houston, where he is a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston. He is the author of three books of poetry, plus his most recent book, Jonas in Frames, which has been variously described as a ‘picaresque novel’, a ‘novel in verse’, and ‘an epic poem disguised as a novel’. Visit online: http://chrishutchinsonblog.blogspot.com
Keith Hutson: Four Poems
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED
i.m. Frankie Howerd 1917-1992
Every quip fresh from the quipperies!
Fresh? Alright, let’s just say pre-loved,
but you try being new, looking like me –
the man who lied about his age, adding years
to match the lines. Try sweating for six decades –
comeback after comeback since your first
No! Missus! Nay! Thrice nay! Titter ye not!
Before the flops, I thought who wouldn’t flock
to watch a gossip in a toupe waffle?
What’s not to like? Face like a bankrupt nag,
a critic said. My mother, actually.
Bless her, we shared so much. But even she
had no idea her son was gay: in those days
it was bitter out. I hid it well. No?
I must confess backstage perhaps I fell
a little short of coy. Clinically depressed,
it seemed to help. What didn’t was a shrink
from Harley Street who fed me LSD
before a romp around his attic every weekend.
Best cure for your stage fright,
he would cackle, catching his breath.
Triumphs? Frankie Howerd Meets The Bee Gees
wasn’t one. Thank God for the Oxbridge set
who dug me up again. Alternative, they called me –
how we laughed. A judge dug up my lover too.
Exhumed him from our mock-Egyptian tomb.
Now there’s a tale that might have packed ‘em in.
Too late – my lips are sealed.
i.m. Harry Worth 1917-1989
That star-shape you made of yourself,
in the right-angle of a shop window –
how many of us must have copied it?
Perfectly puzzled, you replied,
I’ve really no idea. Two dozen?
But not your dad – a mining accident
when you were one finished him off.
Thirteen years on saw you go down
in Barnsley darkness too, passed fit
to work the same field where he fell.
A decade helping black-faced brothers’
laughter cough the coal-dust up,
then you took off at twenty five –
but just to Burma, where the Japanese
weren’t fabled for their sense of humour.
Back home, wanting better, you borrowed
a library book, Teach Yourself Ventriloquism,
built two dummies, bombed so bad
at the Mechanics’ Institute, a friend suggested
Wait till they’ve forgotten you, then try again.
Like others, you discovered Swansea
accepts anything, all summer, and the night
you lost your props but muddled through
as three, Stan Laurel wiped his eyes
and classed it a sublime catastrophe.
You gave us ourselves, getting worse, with
STATION MASTER: A return ticket? Where to?
HARRY: Well, back here, I suppose.
and left a seam of riches for your ‘sons’,
John Shuttleworth, Count Arthur Strong.
THE RAY CONNIFF SINGERS
That style Cleo Laine employed
without relent – let’s call it song
alarmed. Now picture twenty five
in orange polyester, turning
Perry Como’s And I Love You So
into close harmony hysterics.
Add a family at the cabaret: son affronted
that this hyper-choir were not in hot-pants
(even Nana Mouskouri had a pair);
daughter, older, shoulders shaking;
mum smiling on the ensemble
like she’d been trained in group placation;
dad nodding along and loathing it,
spirit settled in his Parker Knoll back home
and semi-conscious with The Likely Lads.
We’d no idea this was music at its peak,
more advanced than Mantovani
or a marching band. The only sound,
when not resisted, that could send you
to a state of elevated apathy,
like how religions describe death.
I found out the night that followed,
on my paper round, by trying Paranoid,
Black Sabbath, the bip-di-dee-whap way.
Phenomenal: the shoulder-strap,
the deeper pain of Sharon Duffy’s legs,
that half-out-of-a-hundred in the maths exam,
all syncopated into hiccups on the way
to a far better place, a world
where ordinary words won’t do, be-do!
BETTER OUT THAN IN
i.m. George Formby Snr. 1875-1921
Not the sunbeam with a banjulele
but his dad. Born to a violated child,
he spent more nights than most in sacking
on the doorstep, when they had one.
She’d be inside, out of it. A man,
sometimes about, turned his attention
to whoever was at hand.
Ten when a foundry took him on;
thirteen, tubercular in pubs,
The Wigan Linnet and his chest
played as a double-act that rattled
between chin-up ditties.
Coughing champion tonight! he’d chirp,
lost in a costume Chaplin snatched.
At forty six, backstage, Newcastle Grand,
the peoples’ invalid made light
of bringing something black up with a spine!
Then what was left of him collapsed,
leaving a diary full of future,
a book of hits unheard, a healthy boy
to make them better out than in.
Keith Hutson has written for Coronation Street and many well-known comedians, as well as running a large landscaping business. His poetry is widely-published in journals including The Rialto, The North, Magma, Stand, Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Salzburg Review and he has won a Poetry Business Yorkshire Prize judged by Billy Collins. He delivers poetry and performance workshops in schools for The Prince’s Trust, and hosts a monthly poetry/music event, WordPlay, in Halifax. He’s a former amateur boxer.
Brian Johnstone: Two Poems
DESERT ISLAND DESERTER
You’ve played every one of the discs,
till the needle’s all but worn out;
read the books from cover to cover
till they’re lodged in a mind
you’re verging on losing. It’s the hell
of the tastes you once had,
a limbo you cringe to remember.
Were it not for your solitary luxury,
the pencils and paper you chose,
you’d have flipped. Time’s
fast running out on this island
nostalgia’s turned into a jail,
sunsets as red as a novelty single,
the one you’ve become, holed up
with these eight bad examples
you’ve slowly accepted you hate.
Trace out their number in sand
with your toe. All you see is a digit
that morphs as you stare
to infinity set up on end, an hourglass
whose ceaseless drip of a grain,
forty-five to each minute, you bet,
reckons just the one measure
you dread. Now wait till the needle
gets stuck in a groove. Rip the lid
off the gramophone. Launch it.
You’ve the good book to guide you,
you have paper for sails.
Those eight paddles won’t see you
go wrong. Now move on.
A LATE GAINSBOROUGH
What he makes defies description but he will attempt it
in paint. Meanwhile, he must construct
enough of it to satisfy the eye,
to lend to candle light the angle of the sun, to stones
the mien of cliffs and gullies, all in scale,
where he will place the fronds
that mimic trees and bushes, mossy banks, to form
the prospect he can see inside his head
but weather, age and temperament
prevent him seeking in the wild. Paper then, he glues
to canvas, binds around the battens
of the stretcher, prepares
its surface for the brush and sets his new-made world
just so, the country he’s created, boxed in
to prompt his latest work,
a journeyman of landscapes to the last. Enough of one
that when the earth received him, everything
was set out in the rain,
lashed by all the weathers he’d avoided in infirmity,
the wasted products of an art his family
deemed little more than trade.
Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer whose work has appeared throughout Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, in North America and Europe. He has published six collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014) and his work appears on the Poetry Archive website. His memoir Double Exposure will be published by Saraband in 2017. He is a founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. http://brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk/
Gill Learner: Three Poems
Shops ran out of candles. We dug out
red Christmas nubs and tiny spindles
bought for birthday cakes. We raided the shed
for camping lanterns, bike-lamps; bought batteries
by the score . This was winter, 1974 – electricity
was rationed so we hoarded light.
we filled a pail in case of accidents, carried mirrors
from upstairs, stood our candles by them. We made
a novelty of bedtime gloom, pulled curtains wide
to let in moon and stars. Hot-water bottles
were filled earlier and swaddled. Downstairs
we hovered near a Superser.
not to grumble, had to remind ourselves
of the men who fired our power with sweat,
crawled through dripping tunnels, risked black lung,
fire-damp, prop collapse. While we watched
their gritty faces, heard the defiance of their wives,
we felt compelled to cheer them on. In the dark
we weren’t so sure.
Tors topped with logan stones, downs with horses
blazoned in the chalk; clough, moor and chine.
Gashed open, scarred, it’s raised cathedrals,
cottages and byres. On lattices of motorways
we speed to forests bluebell-bright and shy
with deer, glacier-grooves of sheep, scarps
of acrobatic choughs. Our Vibram-ed feet stamp
drovers’ roads, towpaths, pilgrim trails. We fill
our lungs with cleansing air, heads with quietness.
This land belongs to us.
A lawn, a scabby apple tree; anemones to zinnias.
Finches bullying bluetits at the feeders, red kites
prospecting overhead. I battle powdery mildew,
slugs; struggle with August-arid tilth and frozen loam;
take delight in stag beetles, hoverflies and frogs.
I watch a mouse whisk back beneath the shed,
catch the russet dart of fox, hear a hedgehog
snortling through dusk. There’s history to trowel up –
fossils, farthings, horseshoe nails – but for now
this land is mine.
for Jen & Jim
It was our own ‘brown god’ – slow and slightly dangerous.
We didn’t know its name, what route it cut, it was just there;
the towpath and slopes were our long, thin park.
Parent-free we laughed the twenty-minute walk
to the bottom of the road. But it was a long haul back
dragging a sledge with hot-ache hands after rides
down the sand-quarry’s lumpy cliffs. When stretches
between bridges froze we watched posh people
skim the grey, forbidden glaze and egged each other on
xxxxxxxxxto risk the edge.
More than once we were unsettled by lurkers
who held wide their khaki macs, but we never let on at home.
Under the red-brick aqueduct we called ‘the docks’,
gypsies used to camp. Their horses tugged at
embankment grass while men whittled willow pegs
to be hawked by the women from door to door.
Barges with brown-faced kids and mysterious loads
oozed by, propellers stirring duck-feathers and leaves.
We talked of how one day maybe
xxxxwe’d wind the drawbridge high for our own boat.
Gill Learner’s poetry has been published in a wide range of journals and anthologies and won several awards including the Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize 2008 and the Buxton in 2011 & 2012. Her first collection, The Agister’s Experiment (Two Rivers Press, 2011), was well received; a second, Chill Factor, from the same publisher, appeared in June 2016. Her web pages are at http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/gilllearnerpage.shtml.
Mark Mayes: Poem
SWIMMING BACK WARDS
The cold no longer mattered.
The sun was sinking into the sea.
Tan cliffs watched us.
The stony beach, emptied of middle-aged couples, dogs, us.
The cold no longer mattered.
The soft falling,
or the sudden drop
into the necessary shock of water.
The sea and sky and sun and land
owned their colours,
cannot be painted in words,
only by themselves.
The some clothes we wore
became a darkened skin,
and still the sun,
bleeding down the sky.
We swam to where
nothing met our gently kicking feet.
This is where I want to be,
where nothing is beneath.
And we adjusted ourselves
to the world, and it to us,
and the sun crying slowly into the horizon,
a burning orange at the limit of mind.
Something was pulling us out,
together and separately.
Side-current buffeted me into you,
into more us.
For a moment,
I considered going out there,
too far to return,
lush tiredness before the final struggle.
But then I saw you swimming backwards,
to the undefeatable urge to walk this life.
And I turned and headed for shore.
and the cold no longer mattered.
Mark Maye’s début novel, The Gift Maker, will be published by Urbane Publications in spring 2017. He has published stories and poems in the Unthology series (#5, #9, #10) Unthank books, The Waterlog, True to Life, The Interpreter’s House, After Nyne; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; The Shop, Staple, The Reader, Other Poetry. His work has been broadcast on BBC Radio and he has been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize. He also writes songs, some of which may be found here: https://soundcloud.com/pumpstreetsongs
Greg Miller: Three Poems
Shit and Honey
The pill lit me up from the inside out,
Threw my brain pan’s light switch. My mother’s father
Jerking the chain, clicked it, his milking parlor’s
Pre-dawn dark gone, cows bowing to the yoke
That fixed them to their feed troughs while he slipped
His silver suction cups to their veined udders,
Locking the lone kicker’s back leg with a clip.
I slipped through manure and piss he hosed away
Down a sloped concrete groove on the parlor floor.
The antagonists bawling and slamming to kick
Trust’s door down did the trick: my mere migraine,
My chair’s near heart attack. For me, a pill
Was not enough in their petty, dribbling dark
To throw me safely back in honey light,
Swimming black bowl of stars, from his back porch steps,
Knowing he was there, inside my head.
A heron in black tie freezes, watches me
Wade in, a grinning rib-skinny boy
Warns me the water’s cold (creamy
Silt in my toes), I feel the flow
In the river’s heart carry me fast
Between the bridge piers until
I snag the little metal ladder on the far side
That leads up stone steps I know:
I climb the bridge. The boy’s grandfather fishes
At a distance now, steam clouds rise from twin
Cooling towers up the high blue sky,
Wood ducks below me chasing minnows,
Orange beaks, rust rings, teal heads,
Frog-like webbed legs
Under water clear as air, warm sun
On my wet shoulders and hair, trapezoidal
Shadows fretting the river bed, light
Strumming the eye’s tympanum. I’m
The high note of a run somebody sang.
Grief died in me as if
at 3:13 an August
I need no longer
render unto Caesar
The Fortunate Isles
grant me egress and entrance.
Breath, stirred leaves,
flash by day. I dream,
cool breezes waft
from the garden.
Burning wheel of days,
why am I suddenly happy
for nothing in particular?
What sky flashes
when the mirror sways?
Greg Miller has published three books in the University of Chicago Press Phoenix Poets Series, one with Mercy Seat Press, and, most recently, The Sea Sleeps: New and Selected Poems 2014) with Paraclete Press. In the last few years his poems have appeared in VQR, Tikkun, Spiritus, Slate, and other journals. He currently works as an editor at Sheep Meadow Press and is a professor emeritus of English at Millsaps College.
Tim Miller: Three Poems
STAR CARR (8500 BC)
Beneath an assembly of birch and aspen
they settle the red deer, dead, on the ground.
His meat is mindfully removed, salted, and stored,
the rest of him slipped with dread and respect
into the good lake, with all the others.
Such deer crowd their bellies like nothing else,
and so crowd their minds and crown their heads, too:
skull cap removed and some bone scraped away,
skull cap perforated and a strap pulled through,
to fit the head of a human being,
antlered, weighed down, overwhelmed and aware.
And wearing that helmet, that other head,
did they commune there, out on the water,
did they tremble on the platform made there,
and made with more care than their living space,
this door to all the deer that had fed them,
the deep lake, the submerged hunt magnified?
PYTHEAS IN THE SHETLANDS (325 BC)
I imagine him in energetic
middle-age: young enough to be stupid,
seasoned enough to make it from Marseilles,
and wise enough to want it at all, to
circle Britain from the tin mines of Cornwall
to the Irish Sea, and the cold islands north.
An ancient Greek who never saw Athens
but who may have walked much of Albion,
amid people and tongues already passed
into myth and exaggeration. But
he saw them sigh at the rain, saw them
quiet and real and lauding the seasons
in a thousand confidential gestures,
and in the Shetlands may have heard travelers
like himself—pilgrims worn by the hard sea
and the long ache of lonely navigation—
rise to rumble about further islands,
further north, further east, further west—and ice.
All the old stories have their fire houses:
hostels, banqueting halls, stopping places,
some of them leading to the Otherworld,
some of them made of iron, all of them
set afire, mansions made into ovens,
severed heads begging a drink of water.
I thought I saw this, driving home at dusk:
there was an old house, set back off the road
and surrounded by the summer nightfall,
but what I took for flames were forked tree limbs,
backlit by mere electric light spilling
from the TV, the kitchen, the bedrooms.
We do not know the note of invasion
we don’t believe in any Otherworld.
Where is there any great liminal space
some resting place found on the borderland
where we might meet with every difference,
with true refreshment, or awful violence?
Tim Miller’s most recent book is the long narrative poem, To the House of the Sun (S4N Books). His other fiction and poetry have appeared widely. He writes about poetry, history and religion at www.wordandsilence.com
Esther Morgan: Six Poems
THE SMALL HOURS
I want you to come closer
like the deer that graced my garden one summer
advancing cautiously along the path
its hide flickering in the noonday heat
to almost within reach of my touch.
But you’re shy, being dead,
not easily glimpsed or lured
no matter how still I keep, how watchful –
the moon of milk set out on the lawn each evening
still full at dawn.
Not that I blame you
after everything you’ve suffered –
the lamps left on when there’s nobody home,
all the nights you’ve spent bumping softly
against the lit glass.
In your only photograph
your feet are firmly planted
in their regulation issue
heavy duty leather,
their blanched tenderness hidden
like something grown underground.
They say some men
walked towards the enemy lines
in a kind of trance,
their minds half-shot,
turning the collars of their great coats up
as if the bullets were a kind of rain.
Since then you’ve walked the length of a century
the way a new-born mother,
otherworldly after a sleepless night,
takes each creaking stair –
barefoot and lightly
through the dawn’s rice-paper quiet.
Mostly you’re a space like a wood
featureless as the cratered earth
from which you were wiped
except for one surviving story
your daughter kept polished
like a button or medal – bright proof
of your existence.
She told it like a handful of verses
from a gospel –
the father racing home early
knowing only it was serious
to find her laid out pale and still
as if she’d already slipped away
until love dragged her back again –
the face we keep coming round to
swimming towards us
through the blood and stars.
It’s as if I’ve always been calling you
the way those women stood in their doorways
sometimes on summer evenings
calling the names they’d agonised over
trusting they’d carry –
xxxxlike owl cries or lowing –
as far as they needed to –
the length of the village then further,
skimming the weir like swallows and into the woods.
And you’re here, if you’re anywhere
in the gap between love –
xxxxthe wheat field listening with its million ears –
and its answer
galloping out of the dusk, laughing,
mud in her hair, wanting to know what’s for supper.
NAMING A STAR
It feels like the right gift for you –
your scattered ashes gathered at last
to a single pin point
in all that bright field
and instead of a cross
an unknown woman bringing the washing in at dusk
who tilts the pale dish of her face to the sky
the faint light of your dying
still travelling towards her.
If it’s true our spirits survive
for as long as anyone utters our name,
a kind of recalling
that keeps on hauling us back to this world
perhaps I should hold a service of forgetting
towards the end of a hot summer’s day
pausing half-way across a set-aside field
to let the coastal wind whistle through me
while your great, great granddaughter passes the time
stripping seeds from the flowering grasses.
Esther Morgan has published three collections of poetry with Bloodaxe. Her first, Beyond Calling Distance (2001) was awarded the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her second, The Silence Living in Houses, appeared in 2005, again to much critical acclaim. In 2010 she won the Bridport Prize for her poem ‘This Morning’, subsequently included in Grace (2011). She is currently working on her fourth collection from which the poems above have been taken.
Kate Noakes : Poem
THE SUN MAKES ME
want to head north
flee the jobs that need doing
in the land of midnight
and wish for repose
in the hut of six aspens
leaves silvering the breeze
under its roof of peat
moss and saxifrages
flecked blue by hair bells
on implausible stems
and wish for wood smoke
wild thyme to scent
my thin shirt in a shiver
as I cradle a mug of tea
and look for coming night
its charged promises
its dance of light
and wish to leave the ladder
unpainted, just two rungs
stained as green
as the short-lived grass
where it hides its feet.
Kate Noakes’ is Tattoo on Crow Street (Parthian, 2015). Her website, boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com, is archived by the National Library of
Wales. She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011. She lives in London and Paris.
Robert Okaji: Two Poems
I recall nothing before my eyes captured
the horizon and the looped whorl of night’s
afterglow, the first crow-plumes
crossing from left to right, awakened to
everything but my history and what
preceded the morning. By midday
I had mastered the secret language of
corvids and learned to interpret the wind’s
folly. When the sun eased below the hills,
I divined the angle of declination and tilted
my head to true north, thinking this is my
calling, to point the way. But how few
of us bottle our life’s cause to sip as
needed. Later my dark friends whispered
the truth, and we laughed among the
rustling stalks as I pointed the way
not to the Alhambra or even Wichita,
but to the choicest kernels. Placed here
for one purpose, another claimed me.
I am the future without past, the present
decaying, tomorrow’s joke, impermanent
and shadowed. I am anomaly, risen.
Da Vinci maintained that sight relies on the eye’s
central line, yet the threads holding my
ocular buttons in place weave through four
holes and terminate in a knot. My flying friends
perceive light in a combination of four colors,
unlike the farmer, who blends only three. The
octopus knows black and white but blushes
to escape predators, while I remain fixed,
evading no one. Certainly my sense is more
vision than sight, and not the result of nerve
fibers routing light. Crows choose colors
when asked, but a certain shade of yellow
eludes them. And who would hear, above
the flock’s clamor, my claim to see this world
as it is? Grayscale, monochrome, visual
processing and perceptual lightness measures
mean little to one whose space accumulates
in uncertain increments – what is a foot to an
empty shoe? If I painted, which hues would
prefer my attempts, which would distract or
invade my cellulosic cortex, resulting in
fragmentation or blindness? Fear is not
limited to the sighted alone. I look out over
the field and perceive the harmonious
interaction of soil and root, leaf and sun,
the beauty of atmospheric refraction and
the wonder sprouting daily around me. Then
as one entity the crows explode into the blue,
leaving me alone with the shivering stalks,
questioning my place and purpose, awaiting
the next stray thought, a spark, a lonely
word creeping through this day’s demise.
Robert Okaji lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs, and some books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clade Song, riverSedge, Steel Toe Review, Eclectica and elsewhere, and may also be found at his blog at https://robertokaji.com
Gerard Smyth: Four Poems
THE TARKOVSKY SEASON
At the bus shelter this morning
when I sniffed the air
the bad smell of winter had gone.
We stood in our different solitudes,
still with collars up: the factory worker,
the scholar with his hands
in his pockets, the soldier home
from a peace mission,
the mother who rushed out the door
without breakfast or vitamins.
But the one I noticed first,
the one with the serenity of a dreamer,
looked to me like someone
who might have a ticket
for the Tarkovsky season.
There is grass in the city too
in the cracks between pavement slabs
and where the dandelion struggles to last
more than a day; grass in municipal gardens,
in the park under the steeple,
and where a wild seed blew
onto waste ground near the council flats.
Grass eases the way
on Kavanagh’s canal bank margins –
scraps of it that dogs claw back to the roots.
The city pastures are mapped in green –
the Georgian squares and acres
free from brick and mortar
and given to the people.
Grass in the forsaken wilderness
behind forbidding gates
and grass worn away beside the grave
where a mourner returns day after day.
But what I like most is the spiky frost-grass
of mornings we go out
buttoned to our necks, with gloved hands
to meet the freezing darkness.
IN HER PARIS SHAWL
In her Paris shawl she walks with me
through the rain-rinsed, sun-scorched middle of the week.
She has come the way of the Wild Geese
to be with me where May and June are well defined
and every museum is a museum of desires,
back to where we came in the least of our days –
that summer we turned and missed
Baudelaire’s christening church but saw his early grave.
Like Louis Armstrong in his wonderful world
we are lost in too much of everything good:
the Honey Locust appearing like a third-day miracle
and in the Louvre young Rembrandt’s eyes still glistening.
Gone are the barricades and gone the man who played
with sweet finesse his twangling instrument –
six sombre strings sounding wistful –
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxone breaking like a wishbone.
Gerard Smyth has published eight collections of poetry, including, A Song of Elsewhere ( Dedalus Press 2015), and The Fullness of Time: New and Selected Poems ( Dedalus Press, 2010 ). He is co-editor, with Pat Boran, of If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song ( Dedalus Press, 2014).
Paul Stephenson: Two Poems
a stray bullet through
an open window
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxkilled on the spot as
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxit struck in the back
where he lay all weekend
unfound in his flat
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhis family finally
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxraised the alert
their concern at having
received no word
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxa restaurant worker
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxquick taking cover
when three attackers
stormed the theatre
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxthe last body
in the wake of
a week of
i.m. Stéphane Hache, 52.
LEVELS OF ALERT
Raise security levels to face real yet uncertain dangers,
through measures that are local and minimally disruptive
of normal activity, while preparing to switch
to “orange” or “red” within a few days.
Take measures against plausible risks of terrorist action,
including the use of means that are moderately disruptive
to normal public activities, while preparing to switch
to “red” or “scarlet” on short notice where possible.
Take measures against a proven risk of one or more
terrorist actions, including measures to protect public
institutions and putting in place appropriate means for
rescue and response, authorizing a significant level
of disruption to social and economic activity.
A risk of major attacks, simultaneous or otherwise,
using non-conventional means and causing major
devastation; preparing appropriate means of rescue
and response, measures that are highly disruptive
to public life are authorized.
Vigipirate is the French national security system, created by President Giscard d’Estaing in 1978. Its five levels of alert (including white—‘no danger’) were recently reduced to two: ‘vigilance’ (yellow) and ‘attack alert’ (scarlet). Vigipirate is a portmanteau of vigilance and pirate..
Paul Stephenson grew up in Cambridge and studied modern languages. He published several poems in Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins 2012) and in 2013 took part in the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme. In 2015 he won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet competition judged by Billy Collins. His first pamphlet Those People was published by Smith/Doorstop. His second, The Days that Followed Paris, has recently been published by Happenstance.
Paul Stubbs: Two Poems
THE SPIRIT OF GRAVITY
‘We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is a supernatural intervention.’—Simone Weil
An amnesia of seconds, a three-headed eclipse and brain-dust
upon the gallows of pure space, with a vanishing in leg-muscle
leaving not one torso left in eternity alive enough to accept back
xxxxxxxxxxxthe weight of he who,
xxxxxxxxxxxin man’s imagination, seems
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxto remain, de-deified…
from human approbation,
xxxxxxfrom common urges
xxxxxxxxxxxthat, or trade in the skeleton for
xxxxxxxxxxxan eternal pause—
(a priest’s word now suddenly working its way
back through the cosmic carrion of God’s body,
until locating it the bone of the very first idea)
xxxxxxxxxxxthe lungless, the nil in gravity,
(unable to reject or re-purchase their bodies)
they arrive here finally to say:
xxxxxxxxxxx‘we have now no face in our mind’
xxxxxxxxxxx(dropping down the lift shafts of
one wrong soul to the next),
those now holding their theological breath forever
xxxxxxxxxxxwhile bearing away on their shoulders
xxxxxxxxxxxhuge pieces of unwanted Biblical vertebrae,
xxxxxxxxxxxthe bone-pulp of everlasting wings…
Until when, man (again?) he reaches it: no-time,
where gravity itself finally it manages to resist us,
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxresist us and stop clocks
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwhen, onto a new planet plain,
RETURN TO THE COSMOLOGICAL CROSS
(or: first song of a new and infinite hymn)
‘Between me and him there is the thickness of the universe—and that of the cross is added to it.’
—A miscarriage of is, and a burial of now,
upon a pre-biblical prototype of a planet,
where deity after deity
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthey fail to outlive the cross
xxxxxxxxxxxxxdragging an always
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbreaking pelvis back into the void.
(the unlimited map of the cosmos peeled back
now from the unrealizable reality of God’s skull)
and an ascetic, frozen in mid-prayer, for aeons
finally to thaw and awake
xxxxxxxxxxxxxinto a body unlooked-for by faith…
theology it is purified of its own theological
will to create, gods…
xxxxxxxxxxxxxamid the first, second and tertiary
xxxxxxxxxxxxxphases of man’s new death —
three spouting jets of blood that arch into a basin)
as the five billion year-old scab of man chafes and chafes
at God’s still terminal wounds…
xxxxxxxxxxxxxbefore the still-to-dry polytheistic head-moulds
xxxxxxxxxxxxxand Christ’s true face are dragged back suddenly
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthrough the bloody and far-off celestial branches
of whose burnt tree?
—Until reaching it finally this end-point in the universe:
xxxxxxxxxxxxx(the first yard past theology)
xxxxxxxxxxxxxwhen Christ’s body biblically?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxit flies off past the wafer, and survives…
Paul Stubbs is the author of four poetry collections, The Theological Museum (Flambard, 2005), The Icon Maker (Arc, 2008), The End of the Trial of Man (Arc, 2015), and The Lost Songs of Gravity (forthcoming), and of two long poems, Ex Nihilo and Flesh (Black Herald Press, 2010/2013). With Blandine Longre, he co-edits The Black Herald, a bilingual international literary magazine based in London and Paris.
Mark Totterdell: Two Poems
‘A call like tearing linen’?
I’d stretch it to say
it’s a rip in the fraying fabric
of an autumn day.
This freelance forager
among old oak trees
is a furtive acorn-planter,
making unauthorised copies.
Its rump is a small area
of unpainted canvas
in a landscape of amber,
burnt sienna, ochres, umbers,
the bulk of its plumage,
unseen in the gloom,
the brown-pink of the underskirts
of a just-picked mushroom.
Unseen too, but bright
in my memory’s eye,
the wing (an image filched?)
inlaid with lapis lazuli.
If the swifts knew how,
they’d build their nests in air,
of air, to float unanchored.
Their bubble eggs would burst
into perfect offspring,
ready-feathered for the sky life.
That way, no swift need ever
set stubby foot again
onto this damned hard
underworld of ours.
Mark Totterdell lives in Devon and works as a copywriter. His poems have appeared in many magazines including Stand, Ambit and The Interpreter’s House. His first collection, This Patter of Traces, is published by Oversteps Books.You will also find him here: http://marktotterdell.moonfruit.com
Heidi Williamson: Four Poems
Trucks, with their landscaping paraphernalia, are parked
in the showground field, ready for the next day’s work.
Today is Sunday: the Rayburn rumbles out heat
and I lean against the rail for the warmth to support me.
In a moment I will go outside with my mug of coffee,
sit on the bench by the wall, facing the showground.
It will be cold and bright, the sun will be still low in the sky.
Spring is weeks away. The sound will be what gets me
first, the drum and drone of something coming.
A way off yet, I won’t make out if it’s a car, a truck,
some sort of electricity. I’ll be sipping my coffee
and not noticing what’s in the distance, until
the hum becomes urgent, and fierce, and forms itself
into a giant atom of bees orbiting each other
as they progress across the field towards the houses.
For a moment I will take it all in – the dark mass hanging
and moving my way, the green bright grass that needs cutting,
the cold wooden bench beneath my jeans, hot coffee
steaming particles of moisture noiselessly towards my hair
– and just before the point of leaping up, running inside,
slamming the door, coffee cup broken on the patio,
I’ll have an instant of pure consciousness
of adrenaline prompting my blood to a choice.
Water of the land, water of the sky.
I break this day down to rain;
imagine clouds beneath the loch,
squalling the steamer on its way.
The birds are loud and dark
across the sky. I cannot frame them.
I cannot frame the day.
A small bird lands on the edge
of the loch and looks at the water so.
Its ringed leg suggests belonging.
The fish keep their counsel
beneath dense waters pecked by rain.
Is a breath against a window:
constant, concentrated; changing
arrangement according to the elements.
Hot breath, cool breath, no matter.
What matters is the breath, the window.
Grief is the breath. You are the window.
Work buses keep to their routes,
but slow as we pass the flowers
fading field-high on the pavement.
Everyone’s come far.
Heidi Williamson’s second collection The Print Museum came out with Bloodaxe in March 2016. Her first, Electric Shadow (Bloodaxe, 2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. She works as a writing coach, mentor and tutor for organisations including Writers’ Centre Norwich and The Poetry Society. www.heidiwilliamsonpoet.com