Elizabeth Barton • Isabel Bermudez • Michael Bartholomew-Biggs • Dermot Bolger • Claire Booker • Kayleigh Campbell • Alexander Corrin-Tachiban • Peter J Donnelly • Tim Dwyer • Neil Elder • Ken Evans • Oz Hardwick • Wendy Klein • Gill Learner • Jane Lovell • Jenny McRobert • Konstandinos Mahoney • DS Maolalai • Jessica Mookherjee • Erica Jane Morris • Graham Mort • Jan Napier • Kate Noakes • Jennie Osborne • Ilse Pedler • Rachel Playforth • Lisa Reily • Andrew Shields • Ian C. Smith • Rowena Sommerville • Pam Thompson • Simon Williams • Robin Lindsay Wilson • Rodney Wood • Shirley Wright • Damon Young
THW21: • THW20: December 4, 2020 THW19: September 5, 2020 • THW18: May 4, 2020 • THW17: March 7, 2020 • THW 16: December 4, 2019 • THW 15: September 5, 2019 • THW 14: June 3, 2019 • THW 13: March 6, 2019 • THW 12: December 10, 2018 • THW11: September 5, 2018 • THW10: May 21, 2018 • THW9: March 7, 2018 • THW8: December 6, 2017 • THW7: September 10, 2017 • THW6: June 3, 2017 • THW5: March 7, 2017 • THW4: December 6, 2016 • THW3: September 1, 2016 • THW2: June 1, 2016 • THW1: March 1, 2016
Elizabeth Barton: Three Poems
HIS HARRIS TWEED COAT
I hang from the kitchen door,
forlorn as a wolf hound
pining for its master; at night, I howl.
His huge brown shoes mope
on the tiles beneath me.
I long to walk with him again,
feel the bite of wind, his heart
leaping beneath my seam.
Instead, I stare at the washing machine,
sobbing and churning.
You cannot let me go –
I carry his shape, his scent,
the feel of him, an absence
you can touch.
I am his plain brother,
woven with patience on a treadle loom.
He found me on his honeymoon
in the Western Isles, bought
five yards of cloth.
A tailor sheared me to his size,
a coat for a giant –
with a chocolate, satin lining.
In my twill weave, you glimpse
the grey of a fulmar’s wing,
rich brown of wilderness;
you can almost smell
the peat and heather.
The other day, you found
a white hair snagged
on my collar –
you leaned towards me,
felt the warmth
of soft yarn on your fingertips,
stubble prickling your cheeks.
We missed the signs –
a whisper in the gorse,
the way the wind sucked our breath.
It ripped through bracken,
stripped the silver from the birch,
stole the blue of sky,
sent deer and rabbits panicking
towards the stream.
We stumbled through a ravaged land
of bones and blackened hills,
spikes of trees fit only for crows;
we didn’t know
the whirling smoke would stir
a billion heather seeds.
We thought it was nothing more
than the breeze behind the blinds,
a creeping shadow on the wall.
We put the rustling down
to mice in the attic, tried to ignore
sighs in the chimney breast, unsettled dust.
Strange things began to happen –
the paring knife that slipped,
the mop left out so one of us would stumble.
We heard it in the stillnesses –
footsteps running up the stairs, a creaking door.
It longed to speak to us
but we were too afraid to name it.
It glowered from cobwebbed corners,
stalked our souls.
One night, it lost its patience,
left a shining trail of havoc in its wake –
TV, mirrors, chandelier.
Since then, we’ve learnt to keep it close –
sometimes it rests an icy cheek upon my shoulder,
snuggles up between us.
Elizabeth Barton read English at Christ’s College, Cambridge, after which she worked as a teacher. She has lived in Spain and the U.S. and now lives in Surrey where she is Stanza Rep for Mole Valley Poets. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Agenda, Acumen, Orbis, South, The Curlew and The Frogmore Papers. In 2020, one of her poems was shortlisted for the Enfield Poets’ Poetry Competition and another was commended in the Poetry Society’s Stanza Poetry Competition.
Isabel Bermudez: Three Poems
Young Jack he was a journey-man,
he roved from town to town,
and when he’d done a job of work,
he lightly sat him down…
xxxxxxWest country folk song
And what of those
who did not take the boats?
Who roamed the country?
Or went to the wars?
Like Thomas, a saddler
who married Margaret in Salisbury
and had three children,
in St Columb,
Newton St Cyres and Kentisbeare.
He roved the hills
up and down for work
and stole when the wage fell short.
Then begged. Men like these.
Their trade could not save them;
they dug up roots from hedges
to light their meagre fires,
supped on rose-hips,
potatoes and fat-less milk.
of the by-ways and bridle paths,
they foraged in the fields
and knew the nettle-dust.
Men like James Gubbins,
by the exigencies of thrift,
who fell, at last, to words.
And told the Justice
‘I am tired of this life’.
have the dullness
of unsung things,
while the feathers shine
and what must be
under the weight of all that
hardly seems worth
for the men
who in blind hunger
turned to poaching.
strung on the gallows
of village doors,
in the looseness of death
a red stain
of a small country
spreading slowly but surely…
Caught red – handed,
straw in their hair,
holes in their boots
seeps the scent
of the peaty bog
and the smoke
of the distant ,
THE DEEP FIELD
for the deep field;
took to the road,
the drudgery of the plough
and school room slate,
the lean years in backwaters.
After the eldest were waved off
to the red and white uniform of the wars,
the journeymen slipped away,
taking with them the tools of their trade:
scraps of village songs
passed on from tongue to tongue
and learnt from the hard crib
beside a hearth whose morning ash
is the after-light of farm-cart tracks
after rain. . The road out
beckoned them, always beckons.
Glinting like ditchwater
in sullen sun.
Isabel Bermudez won joint First Prize in the Coast to Coast to Coast Pamphlet Competition in 2018. Another pamphlet, Serenade, poems evoking Spain and the New World, is published with illustrations by Simon Turvey and available from Paekakariki Press (2020).
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs: Poem
ATTITUDES TO APPLE PICKING
after a painting by Natalia Goncharova
A simple task has turned out bigger than she’d thought.
Hard work observed while time is thickening
like paint acquires smooth elements of ritual
transcending sweaty efforts in one orchard.
Gathered apples gleam with luminescent ripeness;
white-smocked labourers reach up for more
and higher purposes than plucking fruit.
She’s given each the stoic mask of everyman,
a wooden face imparting dignity
like grafted quince enhancing crab-sour rootstock.
The task is not too much for them. She’s made them bigger
than they need be – and more self-assured
than mere performers in some unrehearsed
and overdressed production of a pie-in-sky
romantic drama to ennoble earthy toil.
Going barefoot in the dirt is not degrading.
Don’t suppose they’re only picking produce
for the marketplace and someone else’s profit:
they will tell you ownership of apples
as an asset has long ceased to be an issue.
I wonder if she watched them come back down to size,
their evening selves revealed as they stripped off
what I would call their shaman camouflage
before they poured out measures of the old year’s cider
with a civil nod in her direction.
If I don’t downgrade these solemn figures
to a pair of amiable yokels
I must face the fact their working clothes suggest
recording angels tasked with harvesting achievements.
Mine are some way short of being ripe.
You can view the painting here: Remove: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/457678380883651032/
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a semi-retired mathematician and a fairly active poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. His most recent books are Poems in the Case (Shoestring Press) – which embeds a poetry collection in a murder mystery – and The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here (Wayleave Press) which is a poetic biography of his Irish grandfather.
Dermot Bolger: Three Poems
Panting slightly to crest the slope to the park gates,
He realised such joys were finite. A day was coming
That was destined to be the last day when he walked
In this park he’d casually traversed since boyhood.
Would he recognise the magnitude of his final walk,
Or would that evening feel like any other occasion,
Unremarkable except for how the incline felt steeper,
The noise of the playing children somehow fainter,
As he grow conscious of a tightness in his chest
Which barely registered, like a distant house alarm
He was too busy catching his breath to bother with;
Too distracted in observing how a sunburst of light
Illuminated the gates so that the entwined sycamores
Which framed the exit created an exquisite curvature
Of dappled leaves. This green arch seemed to conjure
Images of an honour guard lined up at a church door
To allow a laughing couple stoop under fanned hands
And race forward to embrace whatever fate held in store.
THE NIGHT BAKERY
I try but fail to remember the name of the girl I met;
Only how the taste of cigarette smoke and lipstick
As we kissed in a lane off Grafton Street
Amply justified my decision to miss the last bus
And walk three moonlit miles, instincts alert
To navigate corners where skinheads lurked.
Dropping a hard-man slouch, I pause in my walk
At the corner where Jamestown and Clune Road meet,
Knowing this is the place where I finally feel safe.
Part of me still stands there, decades later, sheltered
By a Griselinia hedge and leaves of a silver beech,
Staring at the Downes Butterkrust bakery gates
Where smoke wafts as bakers prepare a fresh batch.
The night air is suffused, just as I am suffused
To my soul, with airborne particles of flour and yeast
That I ingest with exultant inhalations of breath:
The aftertaste of her kiss infused with the scent
Of bread being baked on this sleeping street.
We see the dead as extinct particles of carbon
Or else as elevated to an enlightened status,
Released from the contradictory human confusion
That governed the way they navigated life’s chaos.
We imbue them with apparent wisdom and intuition
To conjure ghostly stratagems to let them assuage
Any doubts and questions still causing us anguish
By infiltrating our dreams with ambiguous messages.
But if they are shorn of human flaws and only retain
The altruistic aspects of their nature, their ability
To make us feel wrapped in radiant love when they
Were not burdened by self-doubt and insecurity,
Then these benevolently and omniscient spectres
Could not be the imperfect beings we cherished,
Who guarded their secrets and nursed anxieties
That festered, unable to ever be openly addressed.
If benign sages are watching down over our lives,
They are not the flawed souls whose absence
Grieves us. We will have irrevocably lost them,
No matter in what state of grace they may exist.
Dermot Bolger is the author of fourteen novels published by people like Penguin, Picador, HarperCollins, etc., a clatter of plays (the most recent staged by Ireland’s National Theatre, the Abbey, in the very different world of the 2019 Dublin Theatre Festival) and various books of poems. Further information, there is a list on http://dermotbolger.com/bibliography/
Claire Booker: Four Poems
DREAMING OF SANDRA
I bullied her when I was ten, fed her
minnow-body to the butch girl
with the grip I dreaded every lunch break –
traded my pain for another’s.
Now she’s landed in my lap, full grown.
An awkward fit,
though she seems happy enough,
here in Studio 3, cameras rolling, working
from the same familiar script.
I’m praying it’s the final cut.
The star’s all cocky, strolls up, six foot six
in his stockinged feet,
makes her an offer: Hollywood’s
the place for love. It’s what she always wanted –
piña coladas, the happily-ever-after.
She tells him she’ll consider Liverpool.
She liked it there: the Wigwam, waterfront
buzz, Scouser wit.
But even Liverpool seems too far for a kiss.
Will I ever be shot of her?
MY MOTHER’S LAST MEAL
I open the front door to
something withheld, as though
life itself has become the intrusion.
Inside, the air feels cordoned –
hallway blinds still down,
the clock oddly loud,
her stick fallen against the stair.
The kitchen door’s ajar,
as if she’s on the other side, waiting.
It’s a hefty weaning –
her final meal still mapped on pine:
a solitary sardine,
soup bowl tide-marked, empty glass,
the radio tuned to France.
Beside it, Le Monde unfolded
(in her heart she never truly fitted),
filling the long hours with grace,
always waiting to set an extra plate.
ON THE CENTENARY OF MY TEA CUPS
I get to thinking of mouths –
people who sipped on roses, their lips
skating fine bone china.
So many tongues passing time
in the orbit of these fragile moons:
weddings, wars, wakes,
unpacked, re-packed, into which sideboard,
awaiting which removal van?
A century of ritual has worn their gilded rims
like the camber in cathedral steps –
tide upon tide of lives engraved, the ebb
and flow of small eclipses.
BRINGING YOU BACK
A sheaf of poems, signed in your quiet hand.
I sit by your Tibetan Vajra bell,
a single candle, lit. No longer ballasted
with breath or bone, you surface
from the flimsy dark
strung magically on your own notes.
The months disperse, like a sea mist lifting:
those mornings I followed you
further and further out along the spit –
your diminishing form
bent in awe of shells I crushed
You wrapped you words in paper.
How freely you offer them to me now.
Claire Booker lives in Brighton. Her poetry has appeared on postcards, the side of Guernsey buses, been set to music, and filmed by Aberystwyth University. Her pamphlets are ‘The Bone That Sang’ (Indigo Dreams) and ‘Later There Will Be Postcards’ (Green Bottle Press). She was commended in the Poetry Society’s Stanza Competition and has won three of its Members Competitions. Her work has appeared in Ambit, Magma, Morning Star, Rialto, Spectator and Stand among others. More information at
Kayleigh Campbell: Two Poems
The house is always loudest when alone.
It’s all creaks and pin-drops.
White noise humming from another room.
I prop up a pillow as a therapist.
Ask her to tap my the back of my
hands like I’m home from Vietnam.
After five minutes passes slower
than the last eight years, I thank
the therapist and say I’ll call again.
I step outside my room and everything
is tiny. Dolls house furniture,
small boxes of eggs.
I stick the tip of my little finger
in a glass of water.
The ghosts have shrunken too.
We say this too shall pass
because our bodies experience
seasons like the earth.
As the spring blossom opens,
we may feel the coldness
of deep winter beneath our skin.
But everything passes
and we can wake with lightness
again, blow through streets
like a late summer breeze.
Just as determined
just as aimless
Kayleigh Campbell is a third year Ph.D candidate at Huddersfield University and a member of the editorial board for Grist. Her pamphlet Keepsake was published in 2019 by Maytree Press and her work has appeared in the likes of Butcher’s Dog and Ink, Sweat & Tears. Her debut collection is forthcoming.
Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana: Three Poems
PORTRAIT OF A GAIJIN
I have brown eyes but some of you
have rendered them blue
and made me a blonde.
I am not ‘black-eyed’ like you.
You oil-paint me for the citizens’
public hall project, Foreigners.
I am gaijin of the week, English,
my portrait to be displayed
in Shizuoka City Library.
I understand your terms.
I hear shibo and kiniku,
is that fat or muscle on her arms?
NOTE: Gaijin: foreigner; literally ‘outside person’
HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!
I’m singing Titanic
arms stretched out
at the karaoke box
swaying side to side
bellowing into a gold mic.
Hiroyuki Morimae is behind me
arms around my waist
mouth gaping open
Pink felt hearts frame the shot
with words cut
from rich origami paper stuck in a scrapbook:
Happy Happy Happy!
Like the little messages
pink and white
on fizzy Love Heart Sweets
children love to share and read.
Lake Motosuko, September 2003
You dressed for the occasion albeit in double denim
but that was you, born in 1960
my 43-year-old Japanese Travolta with Night Fever moves
and me on your arm.
Walking around Motosuko
we stopped circling the issues:
you were a chonan, eldest son,
I wanted a future in Britain ––
impossible! We’d talked
of a Sushi-ya san in London
you, a fishmonger’s son,
could slice the oily underbelly from a Hokkaido salmon.
Staring into the deepest
of the Five Lakes
of Fuji-san, we ended.
Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana taught in Shizuoka, Japan, for 10 years. She holds MA qualifications in Writing Poetry and in Japanese Language and Culture. In 2020, she was third in the Open category of the Oxford Brookes International Poetry competition and Commended in the Winchester and Buzzword competitions. Her recent work is published in The Moth, Artemis, Fenland Poetry Journal, Tears in the Fence, Orbis and Obsessed with Pipework.
Peter J Donnelly: Poem
You knew it was the last time you would see me
even if I didn’t, the day after we moved
and I walked across town to our old street
to wish you a merry Christmas. I should have,
maybe I did really. I could have managed it
for a few months, it wasn’t as far as it seemed.
I wasn’t looking far ahead, not thinking
of how hard it would become once I got a job,
my own place, or, as you feared, met someone.
You would have been ninety-nine today,
I’d have bought you something nicer
than the cheap copy of Emma I got you
for what I know now was your eightieth birthday,
or the tape of Elaine Paige I copied
from my CD for your seventy-sixth.
I wish I could say I still had the letters
you wrote to me at college in far away Ceredigion,
postcards of the moors and Robin Hood’s Bay.
Even the one of a pheasant in a frame
did not survive my last house move,
though I had it on the wall in the kitchen
all the years I lived in Malton. When your daughter
called with the news some time next February
I can’t pretend I wasn’t relieved
that you’d been spared the strain
of knowing my visits were over.
Now I wonder, were you really spared?
Peter J Donnelly has been published in magazines including Southlight, South Bank, Poetry Village, The Beach Hut, Dreich and Writer’s Egg, as well as various anthologies. His poem ‘The Second of August’ was recently a joint runner up in the Buzzwords Competition. He has degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wales Lampeter, and lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary.
Tim Dwyer: Four Poems
Your voice rises
from the kitchen below.
I hear no words,
feel rhythm and sound
as you hold your daughter’s
far away voice,
on the other side
of the telephone line.
Old Greenwich, Connecticut
The weather report says
it is a warmer Christmas here
than in Los Angeles.
Across the Sound,
the tip of Manhattan shimmers,
a fading mirage—
we could have seen
the Towers falling.
Walking past memorial benches,
here is a plaque for Jason,
forever in his twenties,
small stones on the arm rest
polished by the sea,
stacked in ancient tradition.
Along the pathway,
scent of sweet birch,
yet no tree.
A few steps either way,
the scent is gone.
When first I heard it
a wintry Sunday morning
after the first late night
of my young life,
then, as now,
a lullaby soothing me awake.
It makes me feel better
each time you begin
calling me home,
My tinny transistor radio,
my narrow room
above the subway line,
the ledge I sat on
in the middle of the night.
Gram’s voice was a tether
that held me for another day.
NOTE: ‘It makes me feel better…hickory wind.’- from the song, ‘Hickory Wind’ by Gram Parsons, 1968. He died in 1973 from a morphine and alcohol overdose at the age of 27.
You can listen to it here by clicking on the link to the Byrds’ Sweethearts of the Rodeo album
LIFE OF A WINTER HEDGEROW
A place before history,
I peer into where I cannot go,
a lattice of chambers and passageways,
flutters and fleeting shadows.
You are a plain, brown bird
smaller than a house sparrow,
cocooned in the bush,
looking at me.
My face touches the tiny leaves,
my beard blends with tangled branches.
Tim Dwyer’s chapbook is Smithy Of Our Longings (Lapwing). His poems have recently appeared in Cyphers, Live Encounters, and Hold Open The Door– the Irish Poetry Chair commemorative anthology, and forthcoming in Atrium. He was raised in Brooklyn by parents from Galway. He recently moved from Connecticut and now lives in Bangor, County Down.
Neil Elder: Four Poems
AFTER THE KLAXON
Holly and Matt are answering questions
on Food & Drink, What type of fruit is a pink lady?
Matt thinks he knows. He is laughing
at something the host has said. Those teeth.
Holly isn’t sure, she is laughing as well. Her teeth.
It’s the other couple’s turn now, the subject is TV -
Which soapstar has been in Eastenders the longest?
Chris isn’t sure. That tan. Amy hasn’t a clue. Her teeth.
They are smiling and Amy is touching her hair.
Time is up. Their teeth. Chris wants to go on holiday
with any money they win.
Round two is worth double. Smiles.
They are glowing, happy living life
on television, tanned and shining. Teeth.
The host is asking Matt to tell his anecdote
about something funny that happened at work.
His teeth. His smile. Holly is laughing.
Her story is very funny. Her teeth.
Chris is laughing. Amy is laughing
at Holly’s story about how she met Matt.
It is time for the mystery prize. They glow.
Their teeth. What links a comb and a mouth?
Everybody is laughing. Find out after the break.
You know all the answers to these questions;
you watch the show each night.
Then brush your teeth and go to sleep
with dreams of Matt and Holly.
But what no one knows is what might happen
to those smiles, those teeth, that tan,
when the klaxon sounds.
A LESSON LEARNT
Having bought paint, a roller, new brushes and masking tape,
we really should have got on with painting the hallway that weekend.
Instead we took so long to get around to it, a month or two at least,
that by the time the paint was on the walls we’d fallen out of love
with Sugared Lilac, and realised we should have stuck
with Frosted Plum, the one we’d liked at first.
Our children cannot understand
how it is that we have changed our minds.
Not when we appear so sure
of what is wrong with the government,
the music you should like,
and how we want our eggs.
They try to suspend the end of summer
with one last trip to the sea,
race to immerse themselves,
and hope this final dip provides
protection against the chill of winter.
The views of big skies and wide seas
let them believe in possibilities
that keep dark nights away.
But returning home
they taste salt on lips,
and those vast horizons now show
the smallness of their lives.
There is no cure for the end of summer.
Sudden low sun in the eyes makes me blink,
and puts in mind the man who sneezed
uncontrollably in its glare, before swerving
into the path of oncoming traffic,
killing three in the vehicle he hit
then walking away unscathed.
I am jolted by the realisation
that I don’t remember how I arrived
on this stretch of dual carriageway,
such is the routine.
Ahead is a day of work and I should be glad,
and indeed, I am. But I shall be glad
when I drive home into the sun,
knowing I shall do this again tomorrow.
Neil Elder is widely published in poetry magazines and journals. He won the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize with Codes of Conduct, and then won their debut collection prize with The Space Between Us. He has a chapbook, Being Present, with The Black Light Engine Room, and in 2020 published And The House Watches On. https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/
Ken Evans: Two Poems
THE HOUSE OF SHUTTERS SEEN FROM THE LINDEN TREE
From my silver undersides, a drip of honeydew.
I look down on a man’s bald crown, the line
on his skull where a grey cap with black band
should sit, damp hair sticking to his scalp,
the cap discarded in sunshine; buttons open.
In his gun hand, a bottle of weissbier.
Lids half-shut, he sees where he’s mown,
the primped borders of a garden he keeps
to welcome and calm them. From up here,
nothing to see, only birds in the endless blue
of the sky, a scent of lemon and honey,
my flowers turned to milky, morning air.
The bees up to their stings in the petals,
the children, as many as my green layers
queueing, a murmuring in their minds.
A dog plays with the children, baring teeth,
just as he runs to fetch a branch thrown
by the Unterscharführer, in holiday-mood.
Over the wall – strain as I might – I cannot
make out the detail: a sound of wood, maple,
ebony, rosewood, spruce, made music by men,
the sad sawing of their grain passing through
thin air, thickening the cloud. Shouts, barking,
a dust of confusion that yellows my branches.
Smoke from the trees nearby that are my cousins,
cut down by men, small as ants, for their fires.
‘Eine schöne Zeit’, the label in his own hand,
‘A beautiful time,’ written on a photo album
in the garage they search later, cobwebs on bottles,
him riding to a camp perimeter, taking the air.
‘The House of Shutters’ was one of six euthanasia centres where 200,000 disabled children were murdered, 1941-45. SS Unterscharführer Mentz was later sentenced to life. On release, he became a milkman.
‘Give up any idea of singing with a music group because of what I consider a complete lack of talent.’ (Rear Admiral Morrison to his son, on hearing the first album.)
You see The Doors playing ‘Break on Through’ by clicking on the link.
To imitate your first god, copy his music,
sing like the angel on earth you are.
I’m riding the storm as the lead-singer
in a tribute band, the ‘Trap Doors.’
I’m the Jim Morrison: ‘Later Morrison’,
historians carp, he of the big belly
and the beard sprouting a litre of Jack,
falling over a mic stand, lost, on stage.
‘Later’ is relative if you’re twenty-seven
and gone. No ‘Do you wanna see my cock?’
to fans for me, fifty-odd with youngish girls,
in a squawked age of florid retweet.
‘People are Strange’. That is, if you/we
believe he/I ever did/will do this: do-wop
de-woo, the controversy rolls on. Arrest
and posthumous pardon were real enough,
fleeing to Paris and the 4th arrondissement,
with the promiscuous dead and Wilde and Piaf,
breaking on through to the other side: The End.
I learn to fly from a grounded angel, and wings
hung-up, invent a father who was an Admiral
(mine worked at the Post Office) to send
the first album, but tailor my own retort:
‘People are shit, Dad. Thanks for nothing’.
The Sullivan Show ’67: ‘change ‘Light My Fire’
to ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much ‘better.’ Jim gave
Ed the distant, frozen look of god, says ‘Sure,’
then live on air, sings the vocal as he meant it.
Ken Evans started writing after donating a kidney to his sister who has lupus. In 2018, he won the Kent & Sussex competition. Poems have featured in Magma, 14, Under the Radar, Envoi, The Frogmore Papers, Lighthouse Literary Journal, The High Window, Obsessed with Pipework and The Interpreter’s House. In 2016, Ken won Battered Moons Competition and was runner-up in Poets & Players. A first pamphlet, The Opposite of Defeat, appeared in 2016, and a first collection, True Forensics, in 2018.
Oz Hardwick: Two Poems
THE COMING OF THE COMET
Comet trails of fragmented nursery rhymes abrade the sky, close enough to touch, though you decide not to for fear of burning your fingers. Whatever happened to the ducks who never came back? Why was it so important to that spider to make it up the spout, and how did it feel when, rain-shivered and exhausted, it blinked in the bathroom light? These are things you think you should know, should have understood when parents, siblings and teachers repeated them over and over until you were word perfect. But like Perceval before the Fisher King, you never asked the right question, never even suspected that there was a question. And now there are portents in the eastern dark, flaming like dragons, demanding that you step in and do something where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have failed time and time again, and that you find that little piggy wherever he’s hiding and make him face up to his responsibilities. And you nearly reach up to grab hold of something, but all the people who bow like worms in the church with the steeple turn their blank faces to you, as the Grail procession passes, the red dragon writhes with the white, and the sky turns brittle as burnt books.
While others heard music in the rain, I always heard animal voices, urgent and arrhythmic. In the house my friend’s grandfather had built on a blunt promontory, the night was kept awake by the light from distant factories, the urgent business of insects deep in the mattress. Paperbacks with lurid covers lined the walls: cheap Pan thrillers from the 70s, chaste romances, memoirs by astronomers and archaeologists. Incomplete packs of playing cards offered a Tarot of sorts, though we ignored their predictions as the storm bundled like bears across the roof, grunting and spitting, murmuring its hunger. In the bright morning, a stranger stood on the lawn, naked but for a dead bear, huge upon her shoulders. When she spoke, we didn’t understand a word, but the clouds in her eyes cried in the language of our aching loins.
Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, musician, and academic. His chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and his most recent publication is Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, most recently The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.
Wendy Klein: Three Poems
HOUSE WITH DEN
after Robert VanderMolen
Pansies on a throw rug,
hooked by nervous hands
their purple petals, their little faces
smug – freckled noses
Desk with tooled leather top
that made a dividing line between
the living room and what she called
the guest bed where we sat together
Dining room, weighty with antiques —
table lumbering on too-stout legs,
the overhead light a fake candelabra,
bulbs too bright, showing too much and too little
xxxxxxxa chair where my uncle spanked me once
A galley kitchen, too small for anything
but forced intimacy, voices
snorting with laughter, who did it swinging
from whose chandelier and when? Did what?
xxxxxxxThe clatter of washing up and on the counter
a rusty beer opener, a half empty glass,
xxxxxxxa yeasty fug
something ugly in the air
Hall – a row of Gaudet prints – bustles and satin gowns
the colour of someone’s living room curtains
mauvy-grey, faded elegance
Pens and pencils in pots, a portable typewriter
its ribbon fraying, a tea-stained gold-rimmed cup
The rumpled guest bed
where I slept a few times
tear-stained cushions tucked away
THE MEANING OF SCHMALZ
after Henry Shukman
Reading this poem in a first flush of Mamloschen
I thanked him for restoring my faith in chicken soup,
for reminding me of that elusive‘mother tongue’,
and how it gets distorted by time and diaspora,
for which read homelessness. Disappointingly,
the first definition of Schmalz offered by Google is
‘excessive sentimentality in art and music.
Reading this, my Yiddische Mama soul
is irate, but suspicion rises like hot broth
in my pukka poet consciousness and I’m starting
to ask, Are you playing a game with us, Henry,
in this poem of rescue from Nazi bombs?
by melted poultry fat from the preparation of chicken soup?
Surely this is the mouth-watering epitome of Schmaltz?
and what a triumph to see it elevated to the LRB?
I’ll ignore the third definition, ‘ear wax’ – L’chaim!
RETURNING TO THE DUCK ISLANDS
after John Burnside
i. En route
Snow gentians, mineral blue and perfect,
on the road to the Brensholmen ferry,
show you’re in Norway. This close
to the arctic circle the ferry only runs in summer.
And along the way: marshland,
water between fields
where two types of bog-cotton grow
torvull and duskull; along with lady’s mantel:
Alchemilla mollis; marikἅpe – the strength
of naming in two languages, stronger yet in three —
how we relate to the rest of creation by naming.
On the high road over the pass
purple orchids and closer to town, cornflowers,
kornblomst; blἅklokke, skubbaer, fuglevikke,
bluebells; dogwood; purple vetch
a characteristic listing, poet to poet – testing
the power of the name to renew our wonder
at those things themselves.
ii. In situ
This place once dubbed ‘paradise preserved’
is where the eider trades shelter from people
in return for the treasured down she uses
to line her nest. From here to the snow
on Kvannfjellet, he has named all he can see,
glossing uncertainties: seabirds too far out
to call for sure, unspecific moths,
a chequered wagtail reminding him
of home, calling into consciousness
all he sees, slipping the comfort of night
indoors to renew his questing: moths
and pollen on the Hella road, fieldfare,
redshank, cranesbill, alchemilla – the quest
to make us turn around in the midst
of our own preoccupations.
U.S. born Wendy Klein has lived in England since 1971. She has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, Mood Indigo (2016, Oversteps Books) and a selected, In the Blue, from The High Window Press (2019). Her pamphlet, Let Battle Commence, based on letters from her great-grandfather, written when he was serving as a Confederate soldier in the U.S. Civil War, is published by Dempsey & Windle (2020), and is also available as an illustrated film on YouTube https://youtu.be/L2JlbpAdUcU
Gill Learner: Two Poems
‘The most lovely of all forest trees’, Gilbert White
Before red kites, when buzzards still quartered these chalky slopes,
we started coming here, first with one child, then with two.
In early months, torpedo buds angled from zig-zag stalks and, long
before we saw great swathes of blue, we could smell the flowers.
On bright October days, when mist still hung like steam
above the Thames, we’d all four run, kick up crisp drifts of bronze.
In winter, when cheeks were stung to red and breath clouded
round our heads, the fallen leaves were rimmed with white.
Back then we hadn’t learned that prayers would be whisked
to heaven by the trees or that they’d rustle disapproval if we cursed.
Maybe one gusty autumn day in nineteen thirty-two
a beech nut fell, was swelled by rains and sun, pushed out
first root, then stalk. Scrawny at first, it broadened
and stretched towards the sky. By the time we found
these woods, it would have been ten metres high,
its smooth, grey bark already patched with lichen, moss.
With luck it’s been untouched by fungus and disease
and, in spite of shallow roots, defied late eighties storms
to cling to earth, standing as staunch as you for all those years.
But if this coming spring its time’s arrived then let it go,
measure its length, rot down to feed new growth.
They took his gun and uniform, left him unnerved.
They took his ID card, the affirmation of his place in things.
They robbed him of the pattern of his days.
They trained him as a bricklayer, gave him a ticket
to his chosen town, sufficient money for a month, advice
tied up in phone numbers and acronyms he can’t quite recall.
His shoulder wound has healed although it comes to life
whenever wind blasts from the Low Countries
or thunderheads are gathering. And at night …
At night, among the city’s strays, he swears widows
have stuffed nettles in his sleeping-bag, mothers scrape
nails across his skin, sting the scratches with their tears.
He tries to run, wakes to his own shouts, the curses
of his fellows. He staggers to the gents to splash his face,
crouches in a doorway for a smoke.
You may pass him, cross-legged on his sleeping-bag,
wheezing music from a mouth-organ.
You might worry for his dog.
Gill Learner’s poems have been published in magazines including Acumen, Agenda, The North, Mslexia and South. They have also appeared in a number of anthologies e.g. from The Emma Press (https://theemmapress.com), Grey Hen Press http://www.greyhenpress.com) and Two Rivers Press (http://tworiverspress.com); and won a several prizes. Her first collection, The Agister’s Experiment, appeared in 2011 and her second, Chill Factor, in 2016, both from Two Rivers Press (tworiverspress.com) who are to publish a third, Change, in Autumn 2021. Web pages: http://www.poetrypf.co.uk.
Jane Lovell: Two Poems
THE LOST TOWER OF BABEL add link https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/europe/austria-museums/vienna-museums/kunsthistorisches-museum/the-tower-of-babel/
He begins in the distance,
a lead-white sky, wooded hills a blend
of azurite and lead-tin-yellow, the sea
an exhalation, its flotilla of boats leaning
into the wind.
Flung against cloud, a skein of geese
continues to another land.
On panels cut from Baltic oak
he creates his own heaven and earth.
A ground of chalk bound with bone glue
reflects light falling through paint,
the illusion of depth a luminosity
that steals your breath.
It takes months for the ziggurat
to spiral out of control.
Brickwork baked the colour of sunset
– red and yellow ochres and umber – rises
to balance on rock, its structure barely held
by stairways rising to the temple,
the smouldering altar.
She reclines on golden pillows, waiting.
Only the priests come near.
Doorways are low and hidden,
steps lead to chasms.
He paints clouds to enclose her.
A red-backed shrike circles high above,
cries haunting the wind.
In trees thin as spiders, he imagines birds,
stipples invisibly with his thinnest brush
gangs of crows and jackdaws,
They become shadow, their calls
a darkness no one understands.
(after Joseph Cornell)
You buy a dune shack on Cape Cod,
arrange yourself inside a cabinet
of shells and sea glass,
humming birds in emerald and jade
suspended on a wire,
a china doll with tilting turquoise eyes.
It’s calm here,
the timbers painted with a milky tint
of permanent green light.
Maps obscure the windows.
Time passes only in the rolling of sea,
its fizz upon the sand.
You trace a pathway with your finger
through the muted light of far off lands,
its stopping points. Its folded hours.
Outside, gulls carp and scold,
the dune grass rolls, winds race clouds
of stinging sand along the sound.
All your days bank up against
Your loneliest thoughts you store
in tiny bottles, in a row. Sequential.
Or on slides. Minutiae.
In dreams you measure grains of sand
according to translucence,
the horizon is always blue.
Jane Lovell is an award-winning poet whose work focuses on our relationship with the planet and its wildlife. She is Writer-in-Residence at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Her latest collection is The God of Lost Ways (Indigo Dreams Press). Jane also writes for Dark Mountain, Photographers Against Wildlife Crime and Elementum Journal.
Jenny McRobert: Three Poems
THE MAGICIAN OF LUBLIN ENTERS WINCHESTER
(inspired by the book The Magician of Lublin by Isaac Bashevis Singer)
A sleight of hand that is born of a sleight of living.
At St Giles’s Fair he would work the crowd, slipping
under the net of their disdain. They never knew his name:
‘Yasha Mazur,’ Mesmerist, Magnetist, Hypnotist,
Juggler, Illusionist, Sword Swallower, Master of
Escapes, with ‘special attractions for the ladies.’
The Magus of the damned Magus race,
for a few coins he could tell the future – a time when
every trace of the ‘King’s Jews’ would be magicked away
and people would wander down Jewry Street finding
no commercial hubbub, no beggars or merchants’ houses,
no synagogue, no Jews’ Tower – no need for sanctuary.
Sometimes he dined with rich Licoricia (pity she was married),
or with his kinsmen, eyeing their women as they fussed
over steaming pots, drawing their gasps as he disappeared,
reappearing outside the window, dusting off his clothes
winking and smiling as their aprons flared in his hands,
then flapped into cooing doves.
Other times, gentile maids would come to him, rolling sweaty
beneath his cart, behind a length of fabric tied with thread,
a fragile shield from easy condemnation and sure death.
He had a taste for such women; he had dreamed of the oddity
of freckles – a good enough reason to travel, a good enough
reason to live. No one believed him when he said
‘on Crowder Terrace, axe-marked bones will lie under clacking feet.’
He didn’t say that Licoricia, who had the King’s ear, would join them.
‘You go too far, Yasha Mazur!’
Yasha still walks down Jewry Street, sometimes arm in arm with Licoricia,
sampling the fare at Green’s Wine Bar, the strangeness of Wagamama.
If anyone notices, he can say, ‘Hey presto – I was never here.’
Aunty Anne, with her hooked nose and frizzy hair,
was beautiful. Bird stepping on stilettos,
she would walk with us in the park,
turquoise duster coat flapping round her legs.
Anne’s delicate fingers, nails gloss red, stitched
beautiful clothes in a stuffy basement workshop,
head bobbing up and down behind piles of fabric,
neck mishappen in a permanent seamstresses’ hump.
Within her gentleness we became royal, exquisite
lace gloves on our princess hands, brown tipped
with Fry’s chocolate. We proclaimed her beautiful,
slipped down mossy steps after school,
she raised her head, lit up like a Catherine wheel,
blind to the others – the malevolent hens, smirking
their whispered jibes, behind cowardly hands.
On her left hand third finger, a diamond ring.
She excited us with stories of her wedding –
the cake we would eat, the pretty dresses
she would make us. Anne slept in a doughy bed
with Nana, nightie buttoned high to her chin.
Something ugly grew in her head.
Her naked fingers wilted on starchy whiteness.
We watched her slipping, like silk thread
through the eye of the needle.
‘And he said: ‘who art thou?’
And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid, spread therefore
thy skirt to cover thine handmaid…’
He said I was mad and put me away.
I had only asked him one question:
not if he could stitch the sky into an awning
for our bed, or to place me there like Venus rising;
not if he could take my
tree-root hands and make them orchids;
not to un-cut me and
give me back my sex, the pain of possibility;
not if, for once, he could allow me the driving seat
(I am sick of the wart on the back of his neck),
or even let me sit with my friends,
giggling over secret landays we sing about our men.
I had asked him –
‘when will you ask, ‘who art thou?’’
The breath of the Khamsin was on us, he
closed his Qur’an, sipped the tea that I had brewed.
Making the transition from Psychologist to poet has been Jenny McRobert’s most pleasurable journey. Her poems have appeared in Dream Catcher Magazine, and online Journals: Ink Sweat & Tears, Picaroon Poetry, The High Window and Words for the Wild. Jenny is a founder member and helps to organise ‘Winchester Muse,’ a local poetry platform in association with North Hampshire Stanza Group. She lives near Winchester in a house on The Watercress Way.
Konstandinos Mahoney: Four Poems
Three days, a continent slips by; Dover, Brussels,
Munich, Belgrade, Athens. I’m mobbed at the station,
kissed, hugged, pinched, squeezed, Costaki!
Kαρδιά μου! Xρυσό μου! My Heart! My Golden One!
We drive off like film stars in Granddad’s limousine.
He takes me to pavement cafes, watches me scoff
honey cakes, flicks worry beads as he listens to
my anglo-flow, says he’s never met a boy who
talks so much, asks mum if he can borrow me,
send me to college, learn Greek.
Baptism day, I stand six years tall in a font for
dunking babies, shy skinny schoolboy in white
underpants. Crammed underwater, I surface to a
slathering of olive oil, taste sunshine, soil, mum’s
Dried and dressed; white shirt, blue shorts,
choir chanting, hearts crossed up down, right left,
right left, Granddad leads me three times round
the water, then out, crucifix glinting, into the
dissolving blaze of the cathedral square.
Note: Kαρδιά μου! Xρυσό μου! pronounced: Kar- thee-άh – moo! Khree- sό moo!
He stares at the horizon.
No sign of the ferry;
tips his flitzani
on to its saucer.
Yia-yia could read
see the future in
things she could,
and could not share.
A boy at her elbow,
he’d follow her all-seeing eye,
listen as she pronounced
an auntie’s fate.
Never read your own,
she once warned him.
He upturns his cup,
peers in, sees, gulls,
a capsized boat, stickmen
floundering in the sea.
He puffs on his inhaler,
Outside the ticket office,
a sign – Ferry cancelled.
He finds a room
above a bakery,
from the street below,
women’s voices –
They put them in sieves.
their mothers’ wombs
will rip a second time.
By the little white church on the rocks, we sit at a taverna,
knocking back tsipoura. The dark Gulf churns, the mountains
of Arcadia, mass – Storm Zorba’s on its way.
We order another bottle, half fill tubular glasses, add water,
toast the approaching cataclysm with cloudy lion’s milk.
The trellised vine above us shivers like a tambourine.
Three bottles down, we’re riffing on death – how to dodge it.
We review friends’ drinking habits, speculate on the state of their
livers. Fates, we deal out life spans. We order another bottle.
When the blue’s rubbed out of a blue world, what’s left?
The bleached canvas of beach umbrellas; pale skinned pebbles;
tabula rasa of an alcohol-rinsed mind.
Enthroned on a glistening black bag on
a street corner rubbish cart, paws folded,
she observes me with imperial indifference –
biped in baggy shorts, battered panama,
circumventing the sun-ripe stink of garbage.
A ginger face juts up, glares, fearful I’ll dive in,
devour all the savoury scraps, gristle and bones.
By the bin wheels, a litter of scruffy kittens –
spikey toilet brushes.
London based Greek-English-Irish poet and playwright Konstandinos (Dino) Mahoney, won publication of his collection, Tutti Frutti, in the Sentinel Poetry Book Competition 2017, and is winner of the Poetry Society’s 2017 Stanza Competition. He is also part of Dino and the Diamonds , a group that performs his poems as songs. He teaches Creative Writing at Hong Kong University and is Rep for Barnes & Chiswick Stanza. Recent poems have appeared in in Perverse, Butcher’s Dog, Live Canon, The New European.
DS Maolalai: Two Poems
THE BROKEN PIANO
he carried himself
quite well, I would say,
in the manner of a broken
piano – there was this sense,
I mean, of music there, even
though he didn’t
make music. I admired him;
he was witty, quite literary,
with a good-looking skull
and some well-
defined politics. and he came by
a month ago
and we drank wine
I don’t know
what we said
but we must have said
he moved back
THE STORMS WHICH WEERE SUPPOSED TO BE COMING
my brother was staying with me;
this was kilbarrack
and they’d said
in a circular
that the electric would be off
from 11pm –
something about work
on the lines
and a power station.
and we sat in the sitting room; me on the sofa,
him in a chair
while the dog
walked between us
begging for treats. we had been drinking
since 8, and ordering sandwiches
and both of us had work
the next day. talking about movies
which is what we usually
when there’s something else
to talk about. at 11:05
maybe they weren’t doing it after all
with the storms
which were supposed to be coming.
I was proven wrong.
everything went off
a house alarm sounded. using phones for torches,
and both of us
somewhat pissed, we took our turns pissing
and brushed our teeth together. I put the dog
to sleep in the kitchen.
we felt our way to bed. I didn’t remember
to hit the switch
in my bedroom – woke at 3:30
with the lights
DS Maolalai has been nominated eight times for Best of the Net and four times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden (Encircle Press, 2016) and Sad Havoc Among the Birds (Turas Press, 2019)
Jessica Mookherjee: Poem
When god visits me he’s covered in glitter,
slippery, quiet in his mime costume,
with little to tell me; pretends to cry
at my sad falls, does the trapped-
in-a-box thing with his hands, pulls
on an invisible rope, hangs his head.
Sometimes Prospero, sometimes Miranda,
sometimes Ariel, can’t always tell
if he tries to scare or soothe as prayers
are answered in cryptic clues
and dance moves. Whimsical, he turns up
as a woman clothed in tropical fish,
bower bird or sharp suited magpie
whatever the mood, tells me things
in shrieks and spears a word or two my way,
cut up from magazines. He did fall to earth
in my dream once, dressed as a blue-jay
with a wide brimmed hat, told me secrets,
but I suspect he tells everyone, says knowledge
is the answer and I know that’s a trick
to get me to keep listening.
Jessica Mookherjee is of Bengali origin, grew up in Wales and now lives in Kent. Her work appears in many journals and anthologies Her pamphlets are The Swell (TellTale Press 2016) and Joyride (BLER Press 2017). Her collections are Flood (Cultured Llama, 2018) and Tigress (Nine Arches Press, 2019). She is an editor at Against the Grain Poetry Press. Her next pamphlet will be published by Broken Sleep Books later in 2021.
Erica Jane Morris: Three Poems
Take her ashes to Achencoil. Before the rains,
find the road to the south of Shencottah,
go by bus through the forest to the rest house
on the hill where the silk cotton trees grow.
Follow the rocky trail to return her
to the red soil, the low waters of the river.
There she left her dress on the raised roots
of the fig tree to bathe with her sisters.
They rushed in and out, pretended to dive
from the rough washing stone, palms together,
felt the cloak of the river, sent floating petals
to the temple of black stone, filled coconut shells
with yellow blossom, silt sucking their toes,
saw a silver bowl drifting, a candle burning.
After my grandmother died, my grandfather
could not stop crying – at night, all day.
He had grown runner beans, gooseberries, silverskin
onions, took us to Epping Forest
where we clambered on fallen beech. He bought
a green Morgan. And I heard her: Ted,
Ted, you mustn’t show off. He had saved for years,
working in the foundry, through night classes,
and later, woke early to creeping worry, tears.
She could no longer see. He took her for spins,
sent for audio books for her long hours. Along the path,
he set a line of twine from the backdoor
to the garden bench: she could feel her way,
sit by the hollyhocks. Each summer, they covered
the armchairs and sideboard with old curtains,
sheets. She washed their ornaments, wrapped
framed photographs in newspaper. He swept the chimney,
turning the rod, twisting on another rod,
turning and twisting. Soot, leaves, twigs falling,
spilling out. His eyes itchy, watering. Salty.
Dripping. Ted, Oh, Ted.
THE SPIRIT COLLECTION
A dimly lit corridor, cabinets, life depicted
xxxxxxxon tiles: hawksbill turtle, figeater beetle.
A glass jar of silkworm moths, drowned, wisps inside:
xxxxxxxthreads, white bodies, upturned.
A head of a dogfish – shortspine spurdog, neck cut,
xxxxxxxedge of bone, eyes mottled, stare.
A fox showing teeth, submerged in amber liquid,
xxxxxxxbody dark, hunched to the curve.
A vessel of cutthroat eels: a snarl of grey tongues,
xxxxxxxno ends, one jaw ajar.
A midwife toad suspended in pale yellow – swollen,
xxxxxxxeggs encrusted on legs, his back.
A manta ray, wafer-thin. Black knots, unformed eyes,
xxxxxxxa ridge of cartilage, protruding.
A rat, head twisted at the bottom, feet grasping, tail coiled –
xxxxxxxFound dead outside the Spirit Building, 1999.
Erica Jane Morris has an MA in Writing Poetry from the University of Newcastle. Her work has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2020, and has recently been published in Channel, and Lunate. She grew up in the South of England, studied Psychology at the University of Sussex and gained her doctorate at The Open University, UK. She works in higher education on degree standards. She loves to run and swim.
Graham Mort: Four Poems
The church spire cedar clad, backlit
against morning’s screed of cloud.
Waters lifted skyward, a swart veil
before the mountain speared by rays
at the occipital ridge, ash trees already
in bud with the hazy imperial purples
of spring. Christmas Day, so you greet
dog walkers, the bereaved, those who
live alone with damp fires in iron grates
dinner for one lamplit in the oven’s
shrine. Now God or Lucifer has flung up
gulls that twist as a swarf of bright
illusory chaff, their wings turning to
the sun, a decoy angel, a single thing
falling and rising, myriad lives. Your
hand bones press into unredeemed
flesh, you watch its mile-high theorem
sunder, reform, then fracture again.
Almost February. I’m packed to travel back to
Africa and there’s a fox looping below Frounts
Barn tracking some relic scent the way a jackal
follows spoor on the veldt. It’s a big fox, gone in
a moment, leaving you wondering if it’s holed up
in the old shippens, foraging at night when you’re
sleeping and the village is a halo of lit mist.
You’re calling from the window that overlooks
our garden where the shed is sodden, the green-
house clouded and snowdrops come in stooks
of green. You say It’ll be something to remember
us by, this glimpse of wildness, when I’m under
Table Mountain and a grey iris of ocean stares
at me alone again in that country where my mind
goes feral, darting from shelter to the open then
back to memories that make each moment dilate.
When we look again there are lambs, their plastic
jackets crackling in the wind. Will we quicken to
that sudden spurt of flame – both of us apart in
the same recollection – lint of its tail hanging
eyes flaring when the only sounds are the bypass
hissing, night birds you try to name, those words
of Xhosa, Zulu or Afrikaans muttered in streets
where my neighbors are quietly walking home?
Moon smoulders in sycamores, gloaming
xxxxxxxxon the weir that lets down water’s bridal lace.
Gloves of snow dropped on the hill, cattle
xxxxxxxxmoaning, the milking sheds humming, pumps
suckling, pipes warm with body heat, their
xxxxxxxxcalves already three months gone. We’re
arm in arm, wrapped against cold that licks
xxxxxxxxour marrow bones. You’re sneezing fox yelps
the virus at work in you, copying the master
xxxxxxxxworks of our forgotten God. Your fingers sly
in mine, night’s purse net tightening when
xxxxxxxxwe turn to watch that beckwater downfall
its adder tongues luminous in failing light.
xxxxxxxxHeadlamps nail us, halogen beams swinging
in our faces, scaring us into darkness that
xxxxxxxxwill outlast forever. Now a meteor shower:
blue burning ice darts flirting from night sky
xxxxxxxxgone before they’re truly here or anywhere.
NIGHTS IN OBSERVATORY
Isobars are crazy as cats that fight
xxxxxxxxor fuck across rooftops, their footpads
waking me at 2.00am, night wind
xxxxxxxxslobbering at the windows, the cats
ripping out throats in orgasms
xxxxxxxxof joyous rage, arriving in the morning
with torn ears, blood clots, missing
xxxxxxxxfur and limping paws, beseeching me.
When I Skype with you, we’re hours
xxxxxxxxadrift, that sense of you spinning in space
until you’re flat on my screen.
xxxxxxxxThere’s a lot I mean to say but somehow
don’t. I’m fearful of sleep, of what
xxxxxxxxthe cats bring in, how being away always
takes me back to the same place –
xxxxxxxxthat childtime house where I lie awake
trains pummelling the gradient
xxxxxxxxpouring sparks, a piano thrumming
downstairs, wind in the wires
xxxxxxxxthose smoking feline throats ablaze.
If nothing else we knew the
xxxxxxxxlineage of strays, our halfwild tom
calling under a scabbed moon, night
xxxxxxxxsweats, my dreams of stifled sex and hate.
Now the muezzin’s call across rust
xxxxxxxxred roofs; now the new, the holy, day.
Graham Mort lives in rural North Yorkshire and has published ten books of poetry and three books of short fiction as well as writing for BBC Radio. Visibility: New & Selected Poems, appeared from Seren in 2007, when he was also winner of the Bridport short story prize. His book of stories Touch won the Edge Hill prize in 2011. Black Shiver Moss (poems) appeared from Seren in 2017. Like Fado and Other Stories, a new collection of short fiction, will appear from Salt Publishing in December 2020.
Jan Napier: Two Poems
If Ravens are calling around the house, it is a sure sign of death,
for the Raven is Satan’s own bird.
Lady Jane Wilde, 1887
Sifted by wind, they glide skies sour with cloud
fly the lingering melancholia of rain,
shadows ghosting over shingle roofs wet
to silver seeding dusk with presentiment.
September birds come unsummoned, circle
casual as leaves amid Autumn’s pare and gaunting,
stark calls haunting the forlorn with omens
of aloneness, the sorcery of unbecoming.
More raucous than Sunday bells, they perch
in churchyards, clutch at boughs thin as mouse bones,
slant legends to ill ends. Chimneys plume blue while behind
drawn curtains, bolted doors, crucifixes are kissed.
September birds spread feathers crisp as Winter’s thrill,
an umbral rush over the moon, the hills, the railway’s
long steel scar, specks of coal dust tossed, lost,
darkness diffusing with distance.
I do not know aloneness as the dying know it
though I have travelled white tundras,
learnt that in seasons where stars track dark,
stones too will eat of song.
I do not know aloneness as the dying know it
though I have watched sons fly like swans,
seen mothers throw cloaks of green nettles
across shoulders already turned away.
I do not know aloneness as the dying know it
though I have walked far from gossip pots of kin,
into lost pages beyond the firelight
where time paces its chill and patient circle.
I do not know aloneness as the dying know it
but blowing snow now unmakes my tracks and
this heart solo so long falters and greys.
Silence frosts my bones.
Jan Napier is a Western Australian poet. Her words have been show cased in journals and anthologies within Australia and overseas, including The High Window. Jan’s poem ‘Apricots’ recently won the City of Rockingham prize.
Kate Noakes: Poem
GIANT SEQUIOA, CRYSTAL PALACE, 1986
I’m behind glass because I’m rare
but not so precious as to be priceless
Come tap my soft and cinnamon bark,
you curious ones.
Not behind so much as under glass,
I’m in a palace born of the same fire that opens
my seeds, and now, your eyes to my glories.
Yet, only my red coat is here.
Yes, I am a frontier giant, stripped
and sectioned for the long voyage.
Arms stretched, believe my size by extending
your whole family round my girth.
No Barnum mermaid, no monkey fish
stitched to fool you,
I’m the Mother of the Forest,
witness to an earlier world. Come
wonder for yourself before the sideshow flames.
Kate Noakes is a PhD candidate at the University of Reading researching contemporary British and American poetry. Her most recent collection is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019). She lives in London and acts as a trustee to writer development organisation, Spread the Word.
Jennie Osborne:Three poems
It’s those hands that still land
in her nightmares, not the face
she knows will be bent low, intent
on stamping his will on that ivory grin
his cobra back dressed in fusty black
staccato punch, the horde held in.
It’s the hands, shadowed blue
in the blueslight of the dive
alive with sparkle at the cuffs
jumping and jiving
cutting up rough with the white incisors
slamming the black host for standing proud.
Hands tapdancing like bantamweights
battering away at the mahogany frame
extracting its confession
in two four time, no need for the score
no need for the pint glass, its gold measure
bruised blue, its cracked comfort seeping to the floor.
Its those hands that beat out
charivari in her head
hands that play her home
in the dregs of morning
don’t know how
AND THE WOLF
after Kim Moore ‘And the Soul’
And the wolf
if she is to know herself, must find
what manner of beast she is hiding in
learn her pack, and the rules of her pack,
just which lines she must scent
smothered under snow
exactly how her hide
will be torn from her body
for a paw out of place
the precise degree of cower,
when to roll over and submit,
offering her belly to their teeth.
She must learn her howl,
practise it in silence
not to lose it in the chorus
be ready for the night
she takes her own track
into the wilderness of her own self.
I LEARN ABOUT LIDS
My mother is like the frayed cord
on the sash window, nervy, ready to snap.
She has punished the carpet, wrestles
pastry to a nervy submission.
Mornings like this are about discovering
how small a space I can pour myself into
without falling so deep that I fail
to hear her summons, so the lid topples
from the tub of red ants she calls temper.
I am learning the importance of lids,
how war is kept in a metal box, brought
out on Remembrance day, how we lock away
questions about babies, mothers without
their matching pair, all the nervy relations.
Jennie Osborne lives near Teignmouth. She has two collections from Oversteps, How to be Naked and Colouring Outside the Lines. Her next collection will address our relationship with the ‘other’. One of the organisers of Teignmouth Poetry Festival, Jennie runs workshops mentors and loves performing. She is inspired by many things – chance encounters with wildlife, visual arts, music from jazz to Mendelssohn – and of course the messy business of being human, and the sad state of the planet.
Ilse Pedler: Two Poems
It was something about the snugness of the fit
the flattened rectangle of plastic
the sharp snap of the eject button
the way the mouth jutted open keenly
the clatter as it docked slickly
in the slot, locked onto splines
the softer tick of start and the practiced trick
of drum and bass and lead guitar slamming
into the corners of the room, accompanied
by the background hiss, even with Dolby.
Hours spent clicking and rewinding
a high- pitched squabble of voices unspieling
tape stretching pitch on the worn bits
the inevitable stutter and stop
flicking the eject, an unwanted jack in a box
spilling its grey froth of innards
knotted in the depths and there were those
who jerked and threw it in the corner
and those who took a pencil – straightened
and rewound, straightened and rewound.
OUR BODIES FAIL US IN NUMEROUS WAYS
now here in this waiting room
with its orange plastic chairs
I see the consequences;
the cumbersome stability
of walkers and frames, a catwalk
of the lame, frail, breathless.
The design of cartilage could have been so much better.
The importance placed on appointment times
by brittle receptionists,
mesmerised by the authority of computer screens
but the doctor always runs late
how could she not
with all our body’s failings?
Elastic can only stretch so far without snapping.
I choose a seat nearest the door,
check my emails on NHS Wi-Fi,
confirm a conference call
glance away from swollen feet
in Velcro strapped shoes,
shoulders hunched over the rattle of a cough.
Wear and tear are all part of the aging process.
The repeated deformation of discs
those tiny shock absorbers
keeping knuckles of vertebrae apart.
I consult Twitter,
my name is called,
I hear the catch in my breath as I rise.
Ilse Pedler has had poems published in Magma, Stand, The Compasss. She won the 2015 Mslexia Pamphlet Competition. Her pamphlet, The Dogs That Chase Bicycle Wheels was published by Seren in 2016. She was long listed in the National Poetry Competition in 2018 and is poet in residence at Sidmouth Folk Festival . She lives and works as a Veterinary Surgeon in Kendal, her first collection is due to be published by Seren next year. http://www.ilsepedler.com
Rachel Playforth: Three Poems
THE YEAR OF THE NOTEBOOK
Its covers were a blue I’d never seen, deep dyed as if steeped in a bath of ink or ocean,
bloomed with darker patches. Its pages were a thinness almost edible, petal-orange with frayed edges, imperfections pressed like freckles inside layers of pulp. I wrote lightly, trying not to tear the fragile skin, words gathered from all my books and records settling in drifts. My own words crept in later, smaller. And later still the handwriting of other people crowds the margins, messages to an unknown year when we might lift and turn these pages with the hands of all our future selves. Each line looks like a tiny epitaph, our unformed thoughts that circled round that one inexpressible loss, trapped in a blue notebook.
the tall brown world tipped horizontal.
Sky branches fell to meet us,
suddenly our equals, climbable and friendly,
laid out in new maps just our size
playgrounds built by wind.
We began a childhood made of bridges,
staggered the length of a park or copse.
Even the youngest learned balance early,
shared a language of where to meet, to leap
the gaps and stretch from hand to hand.
In pictures we’re always grinning
astride the toppled funhouse ruins
of oak and sycamore, beech and ash.
We loved their crazy limbs and cratered roots,
and only later mourned their ripped-out hearts.
The adult world told its different story,
the storm unlooked for, breaking down the night.
A hundred things they’d built were crushed like toys.
A friend woke up to see the roof torn off,
her attic bedroom open to the sky.
Note: On the night of 15-16 October 1987, hurricane-force winds caused severe damage across the South East of England.
SHE BECOMES AN EAR
In this year of listening she’s
tuned and rotating like a satellite
to all the yelled and whispered problems
of kitchen, bathroom, pillow, chair
until it happens:
the curves of her body open wide
flare into delicate ridges
the sweep and contour
to the deep canal
soft and uncloseable.
Rachel Playforth is a medical librarian, writer, editor and crossword setter based in Sussex. She is a member of the Frogmore Press editorial board and co-edited the wild swimming anthology Watermarks. Her recent poetry of place project, Twitten, is online at http://rachelplayforth.com/twitten/.
Lisa Reily: Two Poems
a small outline in the distance, by the lake,
an insignificant shape
in the footsteps of two teenage girls;
one stops to take your photo.
I feel your presence
coming into focus, narrow frame,
cream body marked in black and white,
patches of caramel.
snow still marks the mountain
hard white, and cold.
step-by-step, eyes ahead,
your frail edges
pause only to receive me,
my hand gentle on your head.
the first pink blossoms in the trees,
crisp sun in the air,
your footsteps on and on;
one after the other, pass you by.
to lap a meagre splash of water
and I follow;
on and on, your eyes ahead,
me beside you,
hands full of food, scattered on concrete,
which you sniff
and continue past,
ribs protruding, eyes to the ground.
the space where you lay,
unnoticed; an outline in chalk
on dirty concrete.
black steel railings and stifled shadows,
messages lost in peeling layers.
you are the faceless woman
who is the one-in-ten
followed home by a stranger,
the one-per-week murdered by her partner.
they said we were the lucky country,
a safe place,
but you were never welcome here.
three women mark your life,
your work in a small room, your mother’s hopes
for a daughter’s dream;
a border around your body, they bring you back,
a single white line
their gentle hands across the cold.
paid a pittance for your handiwork,
family so far away,
you never made it home.
these women mark your life,
live on as the one-in-three
who deserves a beating,
the one-in-five who asks for it;
three women on a filthy floor,
stairs above, uninhabited,
they bring you back.
Lisa Reily is a former literacy consultant, dance director and teacher from Australia. Her poetry and stories have been published in several journals, such as Amaryllis, London Grip, The High Window, Epoch, Panoplyzine, Riggwelter, Wanderlust and The Fenland Reed. You can find Lisa at lisareily.wordpress.com
Andrew Shields: Three Poems
No matter what day it is, Mary begins to digress
whenever she tells a story. Time to make a scene, I guess.
Robert couldn’t suppress his laughter, but wouldn’t say why
he was laughing. He was thinking something obscene, I guess.
What possessed Patricia to keep the news from all her friends?
She’s trying to keep her reputation squeaky clean, I guess.
“These flourescent lights are much too bright,” said Jennifer.
She thinks some things are better left unseen, I guess.
James says yes to anything and everything, as long as he
can get some golf in. He’s on the putting green, I guess.
She’s obsessed with spoilers, but goes to movies
even when she’s heard one. That’s just Nadine, I guess.
Susan might have done it, but she won’t confess
to stealing apples from St. Augustine, I guess.
Joshua lost his temper and another game
of chess to his Turing machine, I guess.
Jessica thinks she knows something about the crisis actors
at the second massacre in Bowling Green, I guess.
William sleeps around a lot, and cries
when he’s found out. A depressive libertine, I guess.
Amanda’s always getting lost, but she can find her way
from Inverness to Aberdeen, I guess.
Anthony’s excesses used to make him happy,
but no more. They’ve all become routine, I guess.
Ashley’s voice is so expressive, but she slurs
the lyrics all the time. One big mondegreen, I guess.
He’s quite stressed out. But Thomas won’t tell you a thing.
He’ll just keep flipping through that magazine, I guess.
Anne drew a picture she wouldn’t let anyone see.
So nobody can tell her what she wanted it to mean, I guess.
TAKE A NUMBER
Täusche dich nicht. (Franz Kafka, Der Prozeß)
Your doorkeeper is standing in his place;
his tailored uniform is neatly pressed.
He seems to have a mask and not a face,
as if this were a ball, and he a guest.
“May I go in?” you ask, as if that were
the only thing you’ll ever say to him,
a formula that uniforms deserve.
His answer’s curt: “I cannot let you in.”
“But will I get in later if I wait?”
“Perhaps you will get in, but now you can’t.”
“So can I take a number while I wait?”
“I’ll give you any number that you want.”
Beside the open door, a scribbled sign
says, “Do not close.” The keeper turns aside
as if to let you see the vague outlines
of figures moving in the muted light.
The keeper chuckles. “If you want to test
your limits, you could even try to force
your way past me, as if this were a quest.
But this is just the first of many doors.”
“But will I get in later if I wait?”
“Perhaps you will get in, but now you can’t.”
“So can I take a number while I wait?”
“I’ll give you any number that you want.”
The keeper fetches you a little stool
so you won’t have to stand there all the time.
As if he wouldn’t have you feel a fool,
he listens to your pleas and takes your bribes.
He lets you joke about your “life of crime”
and tells you stories of the many doors
he’s been the keeper of. You pass the time
as if this sitting never left you bored.
“But will I get in later if I wait?”
“Perhaps you will get in, but now you can’t.”
“So can I take a number while I wait?”
“I’ll give you any number that you want.”
Your eyes grow weak, till you can only see
the outline of the keeper in the door.
As if your breath can’t form a final plea;
you barely mutter just one question more.
“I wonder why nobody else has come
to get in here.” You catch the tone of how
he laughs—as if you were a little dumb.
“This door’s for you alone. I’ll close it now.”
He stands at the blackboard and says
the same things, year by year,
hour by hour — not just that Napoleon
was Emperor from then to then,
that the watersheds in Ohio
flow into Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
He also repeats himself when he praises
or chastens his pupils for answers,
Yet though his words have become formulas,
when he takes up an old yearbook
and recognizes the fading faces,
he remembers so many of them
and the things that made them
themselves: how she held her arms
akimbo and blew away her bangs
at the end of sentences; how he looked
down at the floor whenever he spoke
in class but looked up with eyes
that understood the geometry and genius
of every player and the ball
on every court or field; how those twins
would try to trick him
but he could always tell the one
because of that tiny forehead scar
he never learned the story of
and wondered if they knew it themselves.
It’s all the same thing and the same thing
except when it’s not, at every moment
his voice spins out the words again
while his eyes take in the astonishment
of this group, in this room, on this day, in this world,
inscribed on the flyleaf
of a book that is always being written.
Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems, Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong, was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields released the album, Somebody’s Hometown, in 2015 and the EP, Défense de jouer, in 2016. Twitter: @ShieldsAndrew Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrewshieldspoems/
Ian C. Smith: Poem
TRANSLATING TERROR AUSTRALIS
My bad-tempered mother had a lot on her plate, as she put it, which was what I needed, my extra rations sneaked past her martial frugality from the hoarded past, energy for an uncharted frontier. Emigrating from England to Australia was like the pivotal point in a play, this play being my life. Aussie English was a lingua franca back then. Mother, trouble dogging her life, didn’t get the nuances of local idiom, whereas a boy starting school with wild larrikins absorbs slang quicksmart, as we used to say.
Australians swore. Everyone swears now but back then perhaps the English didn’t. Home from school, ripe language saturating my mind, I playfully called my pre-school brother a little bastard. Mother, face ashen, threatened me with her copper stick, itself the colour of her shocked expression, again. No washing-machines for frontierswomen. Accustomed to patient queueing in blitzed London, she challenged locals waiting for service in a higgledy mob like their sheep, pointing out to shopkeepers when they pushed in, her strident accent overriding soft drawls exchanged with sneers that pierced me.
My new cobbers, clattering bikes against our front gate, come to swap comics, yelled my name, a symphony to my ears, instead of knocking, my mother’s reputation spreading. She complained about their dearth of manners. I said, They’re just singing out. Their phrase for this. She said, There’s nothing musical about that lot.
She thought doing your block meant working hard when it actually meant losing your temper, exclaiming in the presence of other migrants more assimilated who knew her well that nobody could accuse her of not doing her block, her eyes then going from face to face trying to decipher shared yet cautious smirks.
In one year alone during the sorrow of war she lost her mother, two sailor brothers, a grandfather, and her father-in-law, after burying a baby son earlier. Three months after the shock of arrival in Australia she said was like journeying back into the past, her father died, this further morbid news arriving in a blue aerogramme. She loved flowering gum trees, and always the warm weather. No more chilblains. The sand in her glass nearly emptied, her remaining English relatives commented on her raucous Aussie accent, impressive acquired idiom.
Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds, cordite, The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review ,Poetry Salzburg Review, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.
Rowena Sommerville: Three Poems
It’s a perfect afternoon in the Bay,
blue, green and gold.
The sea’s a distant dazzle,
the air’s a hot caress,
bees are trampolining in the honeysuckle,
butterflies flicker through the hedge,
house martins whisper the African news
as they arrowhead my windows,
and next door’s cat is writhing in ecstasies of heat
on the concrete path.
Bay’s got the best gossip
and the worst busker
in the world.
The Last Train to Clarksville
reedily counterpoints distraught seagulls
whose hapless baby has crash-landed in the car park,
and now the parents screech
and strafe unlucky visitors.
I disdain this annual drama,
I shift drowsily,
unwilling to pick up the unputdownable book
and the sun strikes my thigh
I’m pleasurably numbed
by the humming in the garden,
anaesthetised on the lawn.
don’t even think;
breathe the blue, green and gold
of the perfect afternoon.
It’s a perfect afternoon
in the Bay.
ROBIN HOOD’S BAY, JULY
careless of its audience;
the horizon far as time travel,
a hinted line of light.
Noon is brighter, flat mercury
striped with rock;
the horizon smudged darker grey,
boats are tipping off the edge
and a foaming roar
in the stones.
Mid afternoon, tide in,
sea and sky blue opal
stitched along a dove grey spine;
small birds are skittering electrons
and one white seagull
patrols the thermals
in languid circles.
Then the breakthrough of late afternoon,
pale blue sky, denim sea,
the knuckle of rock floating golden fields
above purple shadows;
sea and sky shimmering, distinct,
a clear change of light.
Lastly, dark for the blessing;
the bowl of mirrored moonlight
cupped in black stone,
the silver sea,
the horizon, cut from stars.
THE CRETAN BOY
The Cretan boy danced for the tourists
in black boots, with beads round his head;
the men looked on, lumpen, reluctant,
the women watched, crumpled and red.
The boat gently swayed in the harbour,
the CD was tinny from use
as he leapt in the arc of Nijinsky
enslaving the whole Ballet Russe.
This Ganymede dazzled the boat deck,
his boot heels struck circles of light,
his arabesques greeted Olympus,
he sparked ancient stone into flight.
The boy was transported,
we all were,
we needed no guide for the trip;
his beautiful, savage tradition
suffused every step, every skip.
Rowena Sommerville has written poems and made things all her life, the last thirty years of which have been lived in lovely Robin Hood’s Bay. She has worked in a huge variety of community settings and arts organisations. Having left full-time work in 2017, she is now freelance, both as a creative and as a project producer. She also sings with and writes for the acappella band Henwen which has been performing locally and nationally for a long and harmonious time.
Pam Thompson: Two Poems
ON MOUNT IPSARION
We have driven here in a 4×4.
This couple have climbed the whole way.
Tough Mudder – his teeshirt proclaims.
Soon, Kastro, the deserted village,
whose houses, despite desolate appearances
have not been deserted so much
as temporarily abandoned – holiday homes,
reclaimed every January for the fiesta.
Our guide tells us that black and green olives
are the same olives. I hug a three hundred
year old olive tree –my arms can’t stretch
round its middle. It feels like an ancestor,
a great, great grandparent. The air is so thin
some younger trees have stopped growing.
Those balls of white fluff in the pines
are nests from which caterpillars drop
to cross the forest floor in synchronised formation.
Their toxic bristles could kill an inquisitive dog.
FEEDING THE UNNECESSARY BONFIRE
Our clothes stank the next day from the smoke
but we were proud of our unnecessary bonfire
whose internal architecture of broken floor slats
stayed shapely for our hour or so of primeval watching.
We threw our thoughts into it. All the worries
of the past two months, the phone calls, appointments,
the waiting. The pacing. You wondered who first made fire.
I thought I knew but my knowledge was hazy.
The video I made and sent to our friends. One texted,
you can feel the heat from here. Our voices
overlaid with the crackle and roar, to be replayed
on days when life has shrunk to our garden.
We moved back our chairs, kept a respectable distance
being mesmerised by flames, and then embers.
Pam Thompson is a writer and lecturer based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz ( Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006) and Strange Fashion( Pindrop Press, 2017). She is a recent Hawthornden Fellow.
Simon Williams: Two Poems
THE MINER AND THE PHYSICS TEACHER
‘Work is the energy transferred to or from an object
via the application of a force along a displacement’
Similar interests count for quite a bit,
so when they met they talked into the night,
of drills and pumps, rays and particles.
In the morning, they had moments of inertia.
They got together, bought a house
that needed work. They fitted solar panels
and a windmill for heating and electricity.
The cellar was vast, ran deep.
The few times they argued, over trivia mostly,
like the correct inclination
for the adits in a copper drift,
they had to reach a compromise.
They said ‘We are two forces, acting
in opposite directions. We work at it’.
So what’s with the bat?
Part mouse, part kite,
with a face like a cartoon crash,
she scrambles through air
after nearly all light
has bled out.
In these black shades,
in an undertaker’s waistcoat,
she breakdances over the field,
slipping tabs of gnat and beetle.
Uppers, downers, speed freak.
Ask her to dance;
she never hits the floor.
Simon Williams (www.simonwilliams.info) has been writing since his teens, when he was mentored at university by Roger McGough and Pete Morgan. He has had nine collections published, the latest being The Magpie Almanack (www.simonwilliams.info), published December 2020 by Vole. Simon was elected The Bard of Exeter in 2013, founded the large-format magazine, The Broadsheet and published the PLAY anthology, in memory of his young grandson, in 2018. He is currently developing a one-man poetry show, Cosmic Latte, centred on astronomy, animals and sub-atomic particles.
Robin Lindsay Wilson: Four Poems
sift ambition and other excuses
through the high indifferent buds
until you forget your bad heart
and those wrongs you wanted
let spring crack your private code
let each thought produce a leaf
let your gratitude want nothing
remove your golden watch band
place it around a hawthorn spike
wait for the tick to turn green
it took that long to be pompous
it took that long to train a sneer
and sharpen your blunt animus
with the vanities of a cold season
even when the sky transforms
into a time beyond your time
for a moment you understand
there will always be a blossom
when your corolla means nothing
there will always be your fragrance
when the seasons have vanished
Take a breath in summer dust.
Take a breath of oil and vinegar.
Take a breath sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.
Take long breaths at shorelines.
Take deep breaths in a foreign language.
Take full breaths under an iceberg.
Take a breath never taken before
and replace the spent breath inside
with an avalanche of birdsong.
GIANT IN KELVINGROVE.
He is spread between spires,
microwave masts and hotels.
Half sunk in a flatbed valley
he chews the grit inside rain
to test how things are made.
Crown Circus is a sandy pillow
of offices and townhouses
and in the seams of his hand
rat mothers give nervous birth
to a new generation of tormentors.
Wasp-tails fill his pockets.
On sunless up-turned arms
ant trails scent rich dark veins
making his fat fingers twitch
and his ruptured lips tremble
until there is a gruff chord.
His teeth are yellow shoots.
His skin rests like wet bread
on decomposing bones.
He came to write giant poetry.
But now the slug-damp sky
slips inside unfocused eyes
and he cannot rise or remember
a time without mud in his brain.
A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO SATISFACTION.
work for yourself
work to know yourself
if it has no wings
but do your exercises
do them every day
to be ready for others
need your goodwill
to be keen
need your knowledge
and all the mercies
you can bring
on the back lift
of those bloody feathers
Robin Lindsay Wilson was born in Australia but lives and works in Scotland. He is a lecturer in Acting & Performance at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. He has had three collections of poetry published by Cinnamon Press and his poetry has appeared in many UK poetry magazines and journals His new book, Rehearsals for the Real World has just been published and it is is a collection of short monologues, microfiction and poetry, also published by Cinnamon Press.
Rodney Wood: Poem
THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD
‘Daily life during the Black Death was anything but normal.
When plague hit a community, every aspect of life
was turned upside down.’ Joseph Byrne
She didn’t make it from her mattress
left bread and water untouched.
After two weeks the body spoiled
and only the stench of blood, vomit
and death came from her room.
Who wants to go in there?
No one will put coins over eyes
wash the body, cover in a shroud
or honour and say goodbye to her.
She’ll be dragged out unprotesting
and shoved on a cart to embrace
buboes and gangrenous limbs.
She’ll be lonely no more but tossed
into a pit like so much rubbish
and covered with a bit of dirt
before more bodies are thrown on top
in another obscene layer.
No time for the last rites to be said.
The man who dragged her out
and took her to the plague pit
was walking home, then dropped dead.
Dogs licked and willed their master
to rise but the mongrels also died
– Sturdy, Jakke and Clenche.
Rodney Wood lives in Farnborough, his poetry has appeared recently in The High Window Press, The Ofi Press, Magma and Envoi. His debut pamphlet, Dante Called You Beatrice ( Red Ceiling Press) was published in 2017. He is a Stanza Rep and joint MC of the monthly open mic nights at The Lightbox in Woking, both of which are now Zooming.
Shirley Wright: Two Poems
‘Long after the human animal has disappeared, many species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others yet to spring up. The play of life will go on.’ Prof John Gray: Straw Dogs.
I’m greasing the axles, mending the wheels,
ready for when you lot go to hell in it.
There’s only room for half a dozen, mind,
so you’ll have to form an orderly queue. I work out
every day to build muscle, practise pushing.
The wood’s a bit scorched and flimsy
which means you’ll have to sit still.
No writhing and screaming and tearing your hair out.
My other project is to devise a sign system
for the future that doesn’t rely on words
because who knows what they’ll speak. Or if.
The half-life of Plutonium539 is 24,000 years.
Storage facilities may be deep but,
accidents, you know? Earthquakes?
We’ve got to warn them. Whoever “they” might be.
My mate here is busy on the Ark Mark II
though with 350 billion tons of ice melt a year
the Boss has set a tight deadline. Modern materials
will make it stronger, and it’s bigger inside than out.
Room for all the species you lot haven’t managed
to kill off. By the way, no latter-day Noahs needed.
It’s got the latest driverless technology.
Which brings us back to my old cart with dodgy wood,
not up to several billion treks at high speed
and a bloody soaking. Inundation, eh!
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Right now though
I’m worrying about the perfect sign
to say sorry, ’cos someone should.
Homo sapiens? What a fuckwit – deny everything,
wage war over it, ignore it, blame someone else.
Warring selves weigh me down,
clamber on my back until I’m
Quasimodo, lumbering about on flat feet.
One of me shuffles
to the kettle to make tea –
wife, mother, daughter, friend, boss, somebody,
some layer of accreted self
that bends my shoulders, bows my legs
while I stagger for the vertical.
The Leaning Tower has managed to hold out.
I applaud this. Nearly straight is a good thing,
a personal mantra, you might say.
I hope the Observatory is observing me,
I hope it’s being Freudian, factoring my id into
its calculations, all that conflict with the super-ego.
Mine lurks in the ceiling near
the smoke detector, a great eye
on loan from Mordor
that measures degrees of neediness,
checks spinal curvature,
whispers Come on!
NOTE: The EGO (The European Gravitational Observatory) is located near Pisa in Italy and measures the effects of gravitational waves on Earth.
Shirley Wright is a former French teacher and poet who lives in Bristol . In 2008 her poem, ‘My Father’,won the Sunday Telegraph Poetry for Performance competition, judged by Ben Okri and Andrew Motion. Since then her work has won or been placed in various competitions and appeared in magazines such as The Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog, the French Literary Review. Her two poetry collections, The Last Green Field (2013) and Sticks and Stones (2017) are published by Indigo Dreams.
Damon Young: Four Poems
MEETING DANNY KIRWAN, COACH AND HORSES, SUMMER, 1993
I am 22 and suffering, drawn to decadence
but discovering that I am without the thick
skin or sociopathic glee that one needs to cope.
I am paddling in the legend of this place,
this daytime cove of tripped up bohemians.
A man swivels on his bar stool of frayed gold
fabric and punched in studs to share of himself;
whoring for a refill. His beard is saliva flecked,
the corners of his mouth skin-crisped and sore.
He is coated with the brickdust of street living.
My new drinking partner has the low, disjointed
murmur of pub tosspots I have long indulged,
due to a deep-veined civility to elders and notions
of the path to the palace of wisdom. He mentions
his time in a band, I naturally enquire of their name.
He declares Fleetwood Mac to be his alma-mater and he
sounds like every beer mat fingering fantasist with
whom I have spoken. The band in question mean
little to me, but I know enough of their mythos to have
heard of brain damaged slides into incoherence for
several of that tribe. He mumbles something about
getting on a plane in America when he was 22.
Or not getting on a plane in America. It’s not
terribly clear. The woman for whom I have been waiting
has finished her day’s sex work and she whisks me away.
An article written upon his death in 2018 clarifies
which of the trio of casualties had been my company.
An evasive martyr, yet a well-known Greek Street ligger.
Belatedly I investigate the footage of a radiant, glossy
guitar-slinger with lolloping limbs and a face twisted
by the sharpness of his playing. The delicate harmonics
of ‘Albatross’, the purpose and drive of ‘Oh Well!’,
all but a ghost limb to his late incarnation and all
but unknown to my younger self.
The shuddering blinds and domestic rattle are
a grief tremor that shakes you from silken- sleep.
I am adrenalised by your waking, as lately you
have been stalked by night- amplified anxieties.
I steel to soak up your worry, you give small- voiced
questions about life for you after I am dead.
So I fret that each of our separations feels to you
like a rehearsal of final apartness. I carefully drop
sleep- petals over you; assurances that the purpose
of our time together is to knit a protective cloak
from every finger entwined moment. That, when my death
comes, I will still be there, like Obi-Wan Kenobi guiding
Luke through his most crucial moments. You unknot
and nearly believe that this is not a threat that will ravage us.
We lie and ear-drink nature’s thrilling deep howl.
Slowly, you drift back to sleep.
We wake and I feel a familiar listlessness next to me,
a cutback on openness, a twist to your body and a
hardness to your skin. Itchy, twitchy and bitchy
you call it: a symptom of your disease.
In accordance with your programme, you wish to speak your fear,
‘Josie called you last night and you didn’t say.’
The weight of your implication hangs without further exploration.
I do not chase clarity, but lean into the shadow
of your words and contain my umbrage at the
suggested whiff of indecency. I feel the prick of
self-investigation scanning for the occasions when
my instinctual eye ran over the softness of her hip.
Yet, whilst I met your daughter in the glass- breaking,
beautiful bloom of adulthood, she is your child and so
a child to me too and in any case my desire is wrapped up in you.
Your words are a kick that I quietly absorb,
my eyes reach sideways on the pillow to
ascertain if the dust cloud over this morning
has been dispersed. I must balance
your impulses and respect your disease.
remembers my father’s voice saying,
‘It’ll be gone by the time you are twenty
if you carry on like that!’ As I, a Travolta
obsessed eight year old, constantly quiffed it back.
Now my hair is the rough edge
of a matchbox, it buzzes beneath
my finger-tips and is all root.
I tend to it myself and afterwards
I open the chambers of the
hand-perfect clippers to find
four salt and pepper flecked molehills.
I rinse them clear and as my
hair’s ashes smear their way
to the plughole, they remember
the clucking of my female kin,
bemoaning their own lank
thinness and claiming that abundance
was wasted on me. My hair remembers
the same voices crowing, ‘what a shame’
at the first tidal pull on my hairline.
When my hair grows enough to reveal
symmetrical borders between growth
and pink shine it remembers my Grandad;
his was all gone by the time he reached fifty.
Damon Young was winner of The Alzheimer’s Society Prize in 2019 and was commended in the 2019 Prole Laureate Prize. He has been shortlisted for the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year, The Wells Festival Poetry Prize, The Welshpool Poetry Prize, The Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize and The Robert Graves Poetry Prize. His debut short collection was published by Dempsey and Windle in September 2020.