Michael Bartholomew-Biggs • Robert Beveridge • Rip Bulkeley • Pratibha Castle • Michał Choiński • Phil Connolly • Jim Conwell • Peter Daniels • Sue Davies • Roger Elkin • Linda Ford • Oz Hardwick • Charles Lauder, Jr • Christine McNeill • Kathleen McPhilemy • Mark Mansfield • DS Maolalai • Sally Michaelson • Kate Noakes • Stuart Pickford • Vic Pickup • Edmund Prestwich • D A Prince • Frances Sackett • Fiona Sinclair • Sue Spiers • Victoria Twomey • David Underdown • Polly Walshe • Jim Ward • Margaret Wilmot • Dorothy Yamamoto
THW26 : June 6, 2022 • THW25: March 6, 2022 • THW24: December 3, 2021 • THW23: • THW22: June 6, 2021 • THW21: March 8, 2021 • 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
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs: Two Poems
AN EVEN STRANGER MEETING
– a not quite perfect gloss using words by Charles Sorley and lines from ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen: I am the enemy you killed, my friend./ I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./ I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./ Let us sleep now.
It’s easy to be dead – a poet warns us
not to honour terminated life
above the grit required for mere survival.
The dead can take the clichéd higher ground
from those who pulled a trigger. In the end
a victim’s been set free to set the tone –
of anger, weariness or even mercy –
when he tells one truth that time can’t mend.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
Two adversaries may see eye to eye
if both are baffled victims of events
which undermine assumptions both accept.
So in the same appalling situation
we knew each other’s puzzlement and found,
like two tired swimmers, former confidence
alone won’t keep a struggling man afloat.
Each could have told the other as we drowned
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned.
In mutual panic we forgot the way
we’d meant to meet that theoretical
dilemma: being versus being dead.
I understood your feral scream, the fear
that pulled your arms to raise your gun unwilled;
and you identified with mine. It’s just
that one of us held firmer. So you drove
your bayonet the way you had been drilled
yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
When a heart’s been stopped nobody cares
if it was hard or soft. You can refill
its cavity with shrapnel and a Mills bomb
as a booby-trap atrocity
to rouse revenge when histories are told.
Broken ground breeds poppies: broken minds
are offered morphine’s false amnesia.
Let us sleep now … Before the drug took hold
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
IDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS
I saw one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures…and their appearance and their work was like a wheel in the middle of a wheel…. and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Ezekiel 1:15,16,19
Sceptics guess a dish of magic mushrooms
opened Heaven – or perception’s doors –
and shocked Ezekiel in Babylon
till filled with awe he visualised
the gyroscope and helicopter
in advance of L da Vinci.
Ezekiel did not give diagrams,
wrote prose instead of blueprints so his engines,
while attracting less mechanical
analysis than Leonardo’s,
lend themselves to so much extra
Hence fantasists believe that aliens
who navigate our planet via ley lines
make art deco doodles in our cornfields:
they’d claim space-time travellers
showed Ezekiel a future
three millennia away
as a film-strip glimpse of locust-gunships
stuttering across Iraqi desert,
stop-start – like the freeze-frame hovering
of hummingbirds he’d never known –
and bringing down on Babylon
a blunter form of shock and awe.
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is poetry editor of the on line magazine London Grip. His latest full collection is Poems in the Case (Shoestring 2018) which has its poems embedded in a murder mystery.
Robert Beveridge: Four Poems
At least the output is consistent.
Papers go into the office,
then never emerge. You have been
interviewed sixteen times
over the past ten years, and always
you are told there’s been
a hiring freeze imposed upon
the year’s HR budget.
You are not sure why this affects you
given that you are a bartender.
But they’ve called you again,
and here you sit next to the jukebox,
watch the pyramid at the top emit
random color after random color,
wait for the next in an unbroken line
of middle managers you will never
THE SUN (REVERSED)
The chair is wooden, unvarnished,
sits before the table. The man sits
in the chair, runs his hand through
thin hair every few minutes, stares
at a spot on the wall where the paint
has flaked away, a beige a few
microns darker than the one painted
over it so long ago no one alive
remembers when it was done. This
is all he knows; this is all he
remembers. Someday, he may
reach out, run the tips of his fingers
over the depression, see if there
is anything to pull out, place
on the table before him, use
as currency, sustenance, joy.
every time you
at the only diner
in town still open
at the counter
stares at you
as if the cheese
atop your 5-way wet
is the very last
to be found
in the state
THE LAND THE GODS MADE IN ANGER
The cross is heavy but he
carries it as if he owns nothing
else in the world. The gruel
is thin, but he savors every
scoop as if it were nectar
from the lips of Ngai. The fire
sputters, burns pink, but he
cradles it as if it were
a newborn. The knife
is dull, but he whispers
his secrets to it when the sun
goes away, goes away
and may never come back.
Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Medium Chill, Mulberry Literary, and Remington Review, among others.
Rip Bulkeley: Poem
What is it about these evenings of widowed solitude,
evenings decided without discussion,
for which bedtime is not transition
so much as continuation?
It is the silence, effortlessly
persistent, encompassing the discords
of Schnittke, the truths of Shakespeare,
or the making of a poem like this one;
the indefeasible silence which we slowly learn
is the true substance of life, the matrix
of all culture and knowledge, of sorrow
and joy, of destructive selfishness and
right conduct. To take this into oneself
as a gladness, if fools like me are granted
time enough before we embark on death
which is no quietus since none is needed,
that is the question, Father Will.
Rip Bulkeley’s first publications were with Carcanet in the 1960s. In 1999 he founded Oxford’s still thriving Back Room Poets. His collection War Times was published by Ripostes in 2003, and he has edited Poems for Grenfell Tower (Onslaught, 2018), Rebel Talk (Extinction Rebellion Oxford, 2021), and A Fish Rots from the Head (Culture Matters, 2022).
Pratibha Castle:Two Poems
RIPPING WINGS OFF FLIES
Mammy’s frock was the shade
of the tinned salmon she slathered
over Hovis one Friday afternoon.
A fake picnic she postured as a treat
when, in a sulk at missing hopscotch
with Donna and Denise, I huddled
on the verge of a cul-de-sac close by school,
protected from exasperating grass
by an orange blanket.
My broom-handle back angled
in opposition to the Mammy,
alternating crumbs of dry raisin scone
with nibbles at a nail, up and down my hand
like lipping a harmonica
a lime-tree weeping sugar tears
and pollen on our woollen atoll. Wren’s chitter
from the belly of a laurel, timpani
to Mammy’s wavering confession
how, at term’s end, she and I
would visit Auntie Lizzie
in her Finchley flat, bogus kin,
a son Phillip who ripped wings off flies,
snacked on pickings from his nostrils.
How Daddy would be left behind
we would not return
but would get a cat.
LAYER-ON OF HANDS
There was always one,
making face adjustments
to appear a decent man. A door-opener,
keen to accommodate, assess
a young girl’s skills.
One Sunday after mass he sidled up,
close enough for a napalm blast
of road-kill breath. Draped a python arm
about my shoulders,
squeezed me into his side.
I ducked, sprinted to the rectory
where ma kept house for Father Barry
and the curate who,
one morning, sighting me
in cherub baby dolls as I sauntered
to the loo, blushed and ogled the carpet
as if stricken by an edict from God.
Feast days and Sunday’s, Jean
from Cane Hill Hospital, fish eyes,
smelling odd, dull, steel cut hair, sloshed
dishes in a sudsy sink while python man,
smug treasurer for Vincent de Paul’s,
overseen by the Sacred Heart, laid hands
on the morning’s takings, thruppences,
tanners, sparkly half-crowns,
and in the kitchen, ma wrestled
a hissing leg of lamb, bested the kettle’s
shriek, wheedled take that man
a sup of tea, there’s a dote.
Winking at Jesus, I wobbled the cup,
slopped tea, sullied files
of soldier-stiff sums, his knee,
with girlish glee.
Pratibha Castle’s award-winning debut pamphlet A Triptych of Birds and A Few Loose Feathers (Hedgehog Poetry Press) was published February 2022. Irish born, resident in W. Sussex, she studied creative writing in retirement at University of Chichester in 2009. She appears in Agenda, HU, Blue Nib, London Grip, OHC, amongst others. Highly commended and long-listed in The Bridport Poetry Prize, Welsh Poetry Competition, Gloucestershire Poetry Society Competition, Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition, Sentinel Literary Journal Competition. A regular reader at The Poetry Place, West Wilts Radio.
Michał Choiński: Three Poems
You said you bought it
for both of us.
But you implied
that if I put it together by myself,
there’d be a special treat.
I assembled what I could,
starting with the edges,
trying to make my way
to the centre.
For a while, you watched me
gazing at the pieces,
frowning and computing.
I got so absorbed,
I didn’t notice
your books disappearing,
and the absence
of your mugs,
and your toothbrush.
I kept assembling,
even when your scent faded.
At least here,
all the pieces
are designed to fit.
It’s been two days since
the alien transmissions
were proven to be nothing
but a pulsar signal.
So we’re feeding pigeons now.
The plaza is empty
so early in the morning,
and the cold pierces our coats.
knowing that at home
things will be as they were.
DEATH IN SPACE
In the news today,
they only talked about
that astronaut trapped in space.
His partner grabbed him,
just before he drifted away.
“With his oxygen tank half full,
he would have lasted
almost a day” –
all the deaths
that awaited him there:
radiation, cold and shock.
They explained how his body
but would continue, adrift.
“His death would have been
one professed on air.
I knew I would dream about him.
Michał Choiński teaches literature at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. He has written two books on the history of American literature: Rhetoric of the Revival (V&R, 2016) and Southern Hyperboles (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). His pamphlet, Gifts Without Wrapping came out with the Hedgehog Press in 2019, as a winter of a poetry competition. In 2022, he’ll be a Fulbright Fellow at Yale University, writing his next book.
Phil Connolly: Poem
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
Like flashcards in the teacher’s hand they’re all on high
to raise our sights and watch the babe’s annunciation
bring the Magi; boy grow to man through miracles
and tribulations culminating in ascension into Heaven,
and upgrade to a change of name: Jesus into Christ.
The story never varies, the stars are never bored.
Mary and her entourage of saints and angels pass
the message on in primaries and light above the altar
and the nave.
But what do they think up there in their tinctured wings,
haloed heads and eternal grace, looking down on us
poor mortals straddling the void, blindfold on the tightropes
of our lives, lost in the ultimate pea-soup fog of the stakes –
the hands we were dealt: God in his Heaven, Satan in Hell,
promises, threats, somewhere eternally nice, eternally
nasty, or nowhere at all – something, or nothing whatever, forever and ever, Amen?
Phil Connolly is married and lives near York. He taught for many years in North Africa and the Middle East. He was shortlisted in the Wordsworth Trust Competition and has been published in several anthologies and magazines including Dream Catcher, London Grip, Pennine Platform, Stand, The High Window and The North.
Jim Conwell: Two Poems
UNCLE JOHN’S HAT
My uncle sat an impossible distance away across the room,
reading his newspaper in the armchair,
his hat on in the house and glancing silently at me.
I found myself a corner of the kitchen
where I played with my cousins’ toys,
laying down artillery barrages with their massive gun
and making sure no shell exploded in the living room
where my uncle sat with his hat on in the house.
I never dared to stand by the arm of his chair
and ask him questions,
surreptitiously seeing how close I could lean.
I kept my distance.
His hat told me to.
It was dark and it spoke darkly.
WHAT IS LEFT TO SAY
The men I knew had principles
concerning traditional values
and resistance to the exotic.
But Jim was not satisfied with that.
Maybe that’s what got him
into trouble. Born a generation too soon,
it was not open to him
to doss about in an art college and
– to his cost – alcohol had to be his drug
When he died, he left an envelope
– addressed, even stamped,
but no letter.
I can only guess where the words might be found,
each guess as fruitless as the ones before it
because none of them can lead to what is lost.
Jim Conwell ’s parents were economic migrants from the rural west of Ireland and he was born, and has lived most of this life, in various parts of London. He currently has had poems published in many magazines including Uneven Floor, Under the Radar, Allegro, Bindweed, Bluepepper and Brittle Star. He has had two poems shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize and has work published in two anthologies. He is married to Annemarie van der Meer and they have eight grandchildren.
Peter Daniels: Four Poems
I’m under you now and always. You have to
keep your foot’s purchase on me, keep up
with my speed as I turn daily, you can’t escape
my vortex of air whatever you’ve done,
and I’ll play what I have to now you’ve been
playing around with my weather. I can also
crumble away beneath you and your dwelling
while my continents collide into each other.
But you can thank me, say your prayers to me,
poor creatures, where else do you have?
Mars? Not quite so hospitable. What else is
your time but my time: sunrise on Sydney,
sunset over my other side. Look at what I
offer you, your food, your fears, your final dust.
I’m all your mothers’ mothers, and I’ll be
reclaiming you. I am you: your clay is mine.
These twenty-nine years in one house
xxxxxxxxxxx– where have I put them?
But in case the world won’t
xxxxxxxxxxxanswer the question: I put them
here around me in all
xxxxxxxxxxxthe mess in the room, the old photos,
books I’m half-reading, all I’ve piled up
xxxxxxxxxxxby living days like these,
life giving me things to do, to think about,
xxxxxxxxxxxwhile I sit in my gown,
tended to by my fairy servants
xxxxxxxxxxxwho are dotting around me.
They are the years that serve me
xxxxxxxxxxxevery morning in my rituals
keeping me whole, to stretch
xxxxxxxxxxxmy damaged Achilles tendon,
recall my fading vocabulary
xxxxxxxxxxxand put it to use, make me
grateful for the days I’ve survived,
xxxxxxxxxxxtill I reach what I need.
This morning is rainy, trees bouncing
xxxxxxxxxxxwith spray and bluster.
The day ahead will be slow, a Saturday:
xxxxxxxxxxxI’ll make a start on it.
Faster, keeping time under in the dark, shifting place
to place: it’s nothing. Time squeezes in this long box.
We’ll end up a few minutes early, they like to do that.
Out there, owls float their distance home, over the woods.
In no time it’ll be time to sleep, and then we wake up
and put the day clothes on again, the selves we’ve made.
Distance is what it is, time takes its time. People wait
for what they need then hook it, like whores waiting
for their johns. I find it’s a job to keep that going.
Slowing down now, the perfect approach to the city:
time to embark on what’s to be done with this mess,
and what’s my part in what I’m getting back here for.
Alarms and church bells. The old quiet afternoons
long forgotten, the city continues, a flowing solid.
As the earth heaves, the clatter of syllogisms
where it opens up, logic falls and consequences slide.
Farther than ever from hearth and home, planetary craft
explore each other through the observation slits.
The serpent thumbs his nose at the devastated view:
the mountains of the beautiful spite him, turn to salt.
Beyond all this, the musketeers look down at us:
we see them enormous in the sky, three silhouettes.
Peter Daniels obtained a Creative Writing PhD at Goldsmiths with his third poetry collection, My Tin Watermelon (Salt, 2019). He has translated Vladislav Khodasevich from Russian (Angel Classics, 2013), and wrote the obscene Ballad of Captain Rigby (Personal Pronoun, 2013). www.peterdaniels.org.uk
Sue Davies: Two Poems
AT PITMORE COTTAGE
A rude guest, I drop my bag, and trespass along
the path between beds of Japanese anemones,
phlox, roses, and purple fading buddleia,
An ancient stone with the inscription:
Evil is he who evil thinks leads us into your woods,
Rose, the cat, bounding ahead
her bushy tail held high: Let me show you,
she says. Tom’s tree house, not yet complete
joins ash and oak in natural matrimony.
We look up, threading with our eyes
unfinished walls and rafters, while Rose,
in the mystery of herself, suns her belly on a bench
washing her paws, and you remind me of a forgotten
cat’s apophthegm: When in doubt – wash!
A tiny mouse of clay sits in a flower-pot –
like a whispered confession, an apology,
or the discovery of a beautiful profile of your child
in a sketch book. On return a song
greets us from the house: When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now… Jeff works in the study
listening to the Beatles’ album.
We dine on fresh bread, sweet homegrown tomatoes.
As I listen to the music, thoughts return of when
I was without a narrative – a lover, a home
riotous with children, a room of my own,
then inevitably – loss. Suddenly tongue-tied,
thoughts unspoken, pale as a moon-moth
at your table, I greedily help myself
to your artistry and words, while Rose twitches
asleep, mousing in a dream.
And in the last
of summer’s light, a sense
something other awaits us, maybe
nothing more than a poet’s claim:
The garden is the defence of a broken heart.
Beat iron with your knuckles, feel its retort –
the throwback of needle-sharp pain in your bones.
Pick the lock; imagine you have grown small,
and run between the feet of the lock-up-man
on watch all night who sucks sour beer through
his teeth, streetlights flicking along the urban grid,
pale–faced zombies cruising in closed voids.
Stars shift and wink; the mad moon is complicit –
dust in her mouth, she weeps her slurry of murk.
What are you to make of screams translated
to poetry, the wind sawing branches, keys
jingling in their metal pouch? Your shoulder
hits the door, body welts burn. Time to ride
the leopard, lie along its back, clasp the soft
belly, pelt dark gold, its fur dappled by tiny
rosettes: it trots down alleys, eats garbage,
frightens drunks and cats. At dawn the crow’s flight
shows you to his room, his clothes flung over
the beleaguered chair. Tiptoe close, remember
where the floorboards creak. Crawl in beside him,
shape your body into his, sleep in his sleep.
Sue Davies a prize winning poet and has had two collections published: Blue Water Café in 2014 and more recently Split the Lark in 2021.
Roger Elkin: Three Poems
Strange to think that something
as transparently aquamarine and slicked
with turquoise as the Mediterranean
should be named, in part,
after the Latin for earth
but that was when this sea-cradle
was Rome’s lifeblood, its trade-routes
stolen from Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece
and the Levant; and its imperial money-mould
swapped hands in the markets of Carthage,
Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia and Gaul –
reason enough for this stretch of treachery
at the centre of things to be called
the middle of the earth – that red earth
they fired to amphora, and pan-tile:
Italy’s terra cotta.
And yet, more certain, more contained,
this slippery sea than that terra incognita
where Visigoth and Hun – wolves
circling wolves – grew mean-eyed on envy
and waited patiently for erosions of will.
And not as indefinable, this sea, as that
where Iberia gave way to landless horizons
at the world’s end, so named it finisterre.
Or as divisive as Caesar’s Albion gamble,
that uncertain terra firma made secure
by history’s cliché – veni, vidi, vici –
and lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine
shipped in for centurion and legionnaire
skulking in draughty camps
and getting maudlin-drunk
on memories of warmer shores,
lipped by lapis lazuli seas,
and earth the colour of spilt blood.
What historians, vicars, geographers and mapmakers
can’t help being dumb about, but the locals know …
that our village – coccyx on the Pennine spine
of England – was once a godforsaken place,
otherwise Wesley wouldn’t have crested
the westwards hill, would he, and claimed it
his Promised Land thereby adding method
to his madness in challenging Anglicanism –
the Gibsons, Nixons, Sherratts, Baileys –
with that rash of grit-built chapels
still ambushing the moor …
that for sure, historians, like vicars,
won’t record it as having any other significance;
so we haven’t even got one house that sports
a blue plaque, just a string of gritstone buildings
dwarfed by hordes of sixties dormer bungalows,
their new blood offsetting the inbred families –
the Gibsons, Nixons, Sherratts, Baileys –
who’ve lost more than one sheet in the wind …
that, as for geographers and mapmakers,
they might well lasso us with contour-lines,
pock us with trig-spots, and even mark
in blue and red the Trent well-head,
but they can’t exactly say where the river-spring
rises, though if you ask the locals –
the Gibsons, Nixons, Sherratts, Baileys –
they will know for certain the precise place
in that wind-and-sun-bleached field
where the daughter of the water-god
girds up her loins, lifts her head,
and trills till her heart spills out …
HISTORY’S FOOTNOTE: THE FLY
for Elliot Gittings
For much of the time goes unnoticed
even when, after his zigzag tantivying,
he draws near and lands four squarely
almost in your face, to stand silently, legs angled
and straddled like a riderless horse
but littler than miniature.
So no wonder folk dismiss him
as insignificant, this irritant marauder
clad in his oil-skin blackness with glintings
picked out in slices of light from the dullest
shudders of under-colours verging on
Prussian blue and indigo.
Watch him rinsing his hands
this Uriah Heep of the dunghill,
then sleeking them down his old man cheeks,
grooming his moustache, slicking whiskers,
and brushing back the sides of his head
as if mussing his hair,
all the time holding the rest of himself still,
his bobbled eyes not letting on
his history owns catalogues
of blood, of open wounds, of sores.
He doesn’t even begin to list
the piles of detritus he’s visited.
Or acknowledge that his CV
registers it was his milling siblings
that hosted the ceremonies
when Cromwell was resurrected
and his severed head hoisted
above pikestaff at Tyburn Hill
and the air was bizzingly-filled
with wars and rumours of wars …
Roger Elkin has won sixty Firsts in (inter)national Competitions, the Sylvia Plath Award for Poems about Women, and the Howard Sergeant Memorial Award for Services to Poetry (1987). His 13 collections include Fixing Things (2011); Marking Time (2013); Chance Meetings (2014); Sheer Poetry (2020); The Leading Question (2021). Editor of Envoi, (1991-2006).
Linda Ford: Two Poems
LASSITHI PLATEAU (CRETE)
There is something reassuring
about the insomnia of turbines,
like the circularity of a clock’s
inner workings. As each gyration
fully realised, is then negated
by the next and so on, as though
if you stare too long, you might
WHAT KEEPS US
fronds of new fern,
carcasses of birch leaves riven
folded down the spine.
The brittleness of rust-brown tendrils,
lightening forks of root constellations
and the earth holding fast –
waiting for rain.
Note: ‘Fern with beech roots and leaves’, a watercolour by Kate Nessler.
Linda Ford is a Derbyshire-based poet. Her work has appeared in Reach, The Alchemy Spoon, Diamond Twig and elsewhere. She was a 2021 recipient of the Genesis Jewish Book Week Emerging Writer’s Programme. www.lindafordpoet.co.uk
Oz Hardwick: Four Poems
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
Planes land on the roof with the thump of pneumatic tyres and that familiar uncertain shuffling. In a while the house will fill with tourists, rubber rings circling slim midriffs, blinking behind shades. For now, though, we can take it easy, chat about the war over strong black coffee, then line up bird skulls and owl pellets on their specially-made racks. I wonder if owls taste anything as their prey is swallowed and then, later, makes that short journey from gizzard to proventriculus; and I wonder at what point the vole, fieldmouse, or lizard resigns itself to the fact that nothing will ever make sense in the way that it had always hoped it would. Up on the tiles, passengers disembark, holding hands against the treacherous pitch, though I know they’ll be fine – they always are. Later, we’ll need to check passports, visas, work permits, and biometric data, but there’s no rush and for now we can just enjoy the soft light on beaks and bones, the way it plays on fur and feathers. Planes take off and we can feel the house breathe a little lighter. There is more shuffling to the music of recorded announcements. All doors are open. Welcome.
Before the internet we relied on the mail, pouting into envelopes and squeezing reluctant cats into jiffy bags for the amusement of one friend at a time. Whole lives were lived – births, deaths, and all the accidents in between – with gummed tongues and writer’s cramp, while telephones stood silent as china dogs and TVs fell asleep at midnight. The postie was a DC hero with a sack of miracles and disasters, swinging the scales of inscrutable justice and disappearing to the whisper of textured paper on sisal matting, already in the next street, the next town, striding into the Atlantic in knee-length shorts. Back then, I was one of the millions who had never learned to speak, negotiating the edges of experience with a fine fibre tip as I waited for mixtapes, pressed leaves, and photographs of other people’s meals. I was nearly 30 when my voice came folded in a box of frogs and it’s still awkward in my throat. Sometimes I search eBay for a better fit, but get lost in wax seals and antique inkstands and, every time I click on a link, another postie dies.
A DOG IS FOR LIFE
Black dog in the mirror, anointing its war wounds with Tiger Balm, ruefully rubbing its scratched flanks and torn ears. It’s been a growling, howling night and the morning is nothing but traps and hazards as far as its one good eye can see. There are stairs full of trip hazards and the drugs are still kicking in. Black dog in the kitchen, trashing empty boxes, licking empty bowls, and kicking cans straight out of the window as if they were metaphors. It’s a gut-wrenching morning and the tap water tantalises with the taste of meat. The postman knocks and the black dog spruces up his knife, fork and silver spoon. Black dog in the detail, winking from the penumbra of every innocent shadow, mugging is the background of the vox pop on TV. It’s a sun-starved midday, with curtains closed and every lightbulb blown, doors wedged shut and keyholes blocked with matted fur. Pawprints the size of global conglomerates pattern the slats that are tacked across the windows, and what looks like hyperbole from a distance is, on closer inspection, a lolling tongue and drool-slick gums. Black dog incarnate, incandescent, inside the house with constricting walls. It will be an afternoon of fragments, an evening of incomplete similes, and a long night of picking up the pieces by the light of the black dog’s eyes.
GEOLOGY FOR PHENOMENOLOGISTS
We were listening to what rocks say, because although every child knows that shells speak of the sea, it takes a grown adult – with terminal insomnia, a family album of scars, and an insecure career in spinning out of control – to understand those slow conversations between eruption and erosion. So, there we were, listening to the rocks, with one side of our faces reddening in the unrelenting Sun and the other cold against hard language. You, I remember, expected something profound about transience and meaning, as if basalt was an Anglo-Saxon poet squeezing experience into a new religion, and you kept butting in and ending sentences, impatient for moral and meaning. I, on the other hand, was content just to let them speak, passing time and trivia in the driest days of the decade. You came away with a profound faith that one day we shall all feast at the Lord’s table. I learned that the actor Richard Burton was shorter than I’d previously thought, whereas Napoleon was probably taller.
Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry. His next collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in late 2022. Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University (UK).
Charles Lauder, Jr : Two Poems
IN SEARCH OF SILENCE
When shouting gunfire and fists shatter the air
I want to lie down in a field and disappear,
not with a pistol—nor like the woman dead
on her sofa three years unfound, surrounded
by unopened Christmas gifts and wrapped
in TV din and downstairs’ fish and chips—
but shrouded in bramble and tall grass
like a chrysalis or fox carcass,
their creaking, crying canes to swallow
me within the hedge’s tender shadow
layered in ash leaves and badger shit,
soaked in runoff and crab apples’ split
flesh. Here pheasants will build a nest
and wait and wait for the world to change.
EVENING WALK (BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND)
Beneath a blanket of cloud tucking most
into their houses for the night, I pick my way
as shadow along the lane’s edge—any moment
there could be sirens and spotlights, the spit
of angry dogs. But the only animals who know
I’m here are the foxes who stop their mating
as I draw near—I am a child again
learning about adults and their secrets.
A novel about enslavement and escape
unfolds through my earbuds, how landscape
can conspire in darkness with a protruding
root or rock, how a hole can suddenly
become shelter while clouds bear down
on your head like a stampede of horses.
Charles Lauder, Jr is an American poet (born and raised in Texas) who has lived in south Leicestershire since 2000. He has had two pamphlets published, and his debut collection, The Aesthetics of Breath, was published in 2019 by V.Press.
Christine McNeill: Two Poems
In the dead of night she left them
her long auburn hair
she used to wear in a bun;
she left them her sap-green anorak
with its false fur round the hood
that she used to imagine as a rabbit
taking a free ride on her shoulders
while she cycled home.
She left them her boots,
down-at-heel, but still functional;
her brown woolen tights holed at the toes,
and a red plastic ring on her little finger;
a watch on her left wrist with a Mickey Mouse face
and hands with childhood monsters;
a rubber band bracelet with lucky charms
cut from newspapers.
She left them all that to find in a swampy field at daybreak
together with her body.
They didn’t know who she was,
but as she had gone from this world
and they feared for their own lives in the war,
they dug a hasty grave and buried what remained
before the first burst of the sun.
CHILD OF THE MOMENT
From a neighbouring balcony I hear your squeal
that instantly explodes into a shameless cry.
Just as quickly you change key into a chortle
when a crow drops a nut from the roof.
Four months ago you came into the world,
into another morning, waking into what moves.
Child of this corona summer,
with a wail you demand to be fed:
demanding to keep on living with birds and insects,
with that plane’s condensation trail climbing the sky.
Mother waves off a wasp,
all dangers kept at bay for as long as she can.
Child of the moment: you’re now at her breast.
Birch leaves dance in the air – somewhere
there’s thunder and rain, death too:
but you’ve fallen deeply
into that blissful place not needing a voice.
Christine McNeill has had six collections published; the latest Sehnsucht (Shoestring Press 2020), as well as German poetry translations in magazines and journals.
Kathleen McPhilemy: Two Poems
My dentist urges me to wear a mouthguard
while I’m asleep; better, I suppose,
than a scold’s bridle. He says I clench too hard,
grind my teeth, but what no dentist knows
my gritting, gnashing, grinding’s not at night:
the tightened jaw, the holding of the tongue,
the bitten lip, the stifling of the thought
not fledged to word, that happens all day long.
My mother was another strong-jawed woman;
I watched the muscle flicker in her cheek
as she pressed those lips together, set her chin,
swallowed bitterness, refused to speak
in a festering silence, so we had to guess
the reason for the rancour, hurtfulness.
Around the corners of your words
the what-you-said lurks
like a mangy fox
that slinks behind bins
in the grey before daylight
yet may catch and reflect
redness of sunrise
we won’t see unless
we’re truly attentive.
Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Belfast but now lives in Oxford. She has published three books of poetry. Her poems appear widely in magazines in print and online. She is currently hosting a monthly poetry podcast magazine, Poetry Worth Hearing available on anchor.fm and Google.
Mark Mansfield: Poem
Where are you now? Are you alive?
We lost all touch, but tonight I glimpsed
the gentlest smile I once kissed
and saddest eyes I’ll ever know.
That winter night was bitter cold.
From The Rus,* we huddled in a cab
to the Dnieper where we danced like mad
at Kyiv’s then-wildest disco
til dawn! til dawn! those years ago
until I took you to your train
and in the cab you kissed me once,
then you were gone as mist turned snow.
*The Hotel Rus
Mark Mansfield is the author of three collections of poetry, Strangers Like You, Soul Barker and Greygolden, and one chapbook, Notes from the Isle of Exiled Imaginary Playmates. His poems have appeared in numerous journals in the United States and the United Kingdom. He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. He is a former musician and publications specialist. Currently, he lives in upstate New York.
DS Maolalai : Two Poems
DROPPING OFF CHRYSTY
dropping off chrysty
for dinner – pausing
the car on the temple
bar cobbles, outside
of the stage door café,
where the patrons all laugh
at my silly convertible
mini, the dog on her lap
and us not driving forward
because a pigeon won’t move
and I won’t call its bluff.
I’m not in a hurry –
it’s she’s the one going
to dinner. and this bird
has a breadroll and thinks
I approached it too slow.
the car sits and idles
while we yell back and forth
with the patio bar of the cafe.
these brazilian girls cheer
in support of the pigeon.
they’re all drinking cocktails –
they all throw out pieces of bread.
HER NEXT COLLECTION
people need pride
like the blood on their knuckles
and there was this bookshop
called Frank’s in Toronto –
they’d stock these little
and chapbooks done roughly
on stapled out printer paper,
and they stocked my book
(which wasn’t self-published
but was a small press)
and sold coffee. I think
they made their money
mainly on the that
and I remember often
holding it, hot and bulls-
searching the shelves
for something interesting.
I picked up this one
with a good title
and opened it.
it fell apart in my hands. not
shoddy construction – the staples
and heavy paper – it was just
that the poems
I put it back carefully
and this girl
who’d been sitting
was half out of her chair,
wanting, I guess,
to shake hands. the poet,
and she sat
and started typing
her next collection.
people need pride
in their fingers. otherwise
on the bus. anyway –
in Kensington. hurry –
some of mine
might be left.
DS Maolalai has been nominated nine times for Best of the Net and seven times for the Pushcart Prize. He has released two collections, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden (Encircle Press, 2016) and Sad Havoc Among the Birds (Turas Press, 2019). His third collection, Noble Rot is scheduled for release in April 2022.
Sally Michaelson:Four Poems
JEWISH MUSEUM BERLIN
Too many imposing steps,
slabs of grey stone, sharp angles,
installations trying to express
the Breaking of the Vessels
as though materials like iron, glass
copper wire, charcoal could make
the Sefirot something imaginable
or the Holocaust pictorially fathomable –
a strict German lady tells us
that if we don’t leave our coats in the cloakroom
we won’t be able to take them off ever
but we do take them off in the music cubicle,
warm as a womb, where we listen
to Idan Rachel singing Boee
in Amharic and Hebrew, clicking and whispering
come with me but don’t ask me anything…
the masks we are told to keep over
mouth and nose at all times unmuzzled
so we can sing along and be safe.
EAST AND WEST
A man and woman are having sex
against the bay window
of a third-floor apartment
A man smoking at the window
in the apartment opposite
wonders why they don’t
notice him watching –
guards, dogs, a wall, a wire –
OTTO WEIDT’S WORKSHOP
Otto’s workers are happy not to see
the boar bristles they glue to rosewood handles
used for the upkeep of coarse army uniforms
when they should be the natural accoutrement
for Berliners’ fine cashmere coats –
Otto’s workers operating wire twisters
and noisy machinery are happy not to hear
the cacophony of bombs falling
nor the screech of the cattle train wheels
Note: Otto Weidt owned a broom and brush factory. He employed thirty predominantly deaf and blind Jewish employees and protected them as best he could from deportation to concentration camps by bribing Gestapo, forging papers and hiding his workers.
Parents take their children
to pet goats and lambs
frolicking on the wasteland,
a peacock displays
its emerald and cobalt fan
gaudy as the caravans
flaunting peace and love
under a barbed-wire wall
which like an eye floater
tends to get forgotten.
Sally Michaelson is a retired conference interpreter in Brussels. Her poems have been published in The High Window, The Lake, London Grip, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, Squawk Back, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Jewish Literary Journal, Hevria, The Seventh Quarry, Algebra of Owls, Dreich and Amethyst. Her debut collection The Boycott was published by The High Window in April 2021
Kate Noakes: Two Poems
I – And as for sport, we suggest swimming
which was good, as by the third form of senior school I’d sewed
my gold badge onto my bottle green costume with uneven stitches
and was doing team training twice a week.
Not that I ever swam for the school, but I was once picked
for back stroke style in the end of year gala— that was as much
pride as my chest could puff to.
I’m wild in a wetsuit now, away from all that chlorine
and current advice that it’s bad for the lungs.
II – For music we recommend a woodwind instrument
No girl may play the flute, oboe, clarinet or bassoon
without first and also learning the piano.
For two years I plonked away until a shiny clarinet
was allowed into my hands and even then, it was all
Mozart and no Jazz, not even in the home of Acker Bilk.
No wonder I gave it up for A-levels.
It was as if the only clarinets in Bristol were in Clifton,
the only teachers in my school.
I can still blow and regret my lack of motivation
to give it much of a tune whenever I catch
the opening bars of his popular song.
Your unfurled lungs are the size of a cricket pitch
This is a lie. While the hale and hearty
enjoy the unseason —a warm autumn day—
I hunker from the sun in my sick space, popping
anti-biotics as if they were sweets,
and resting to make something of the evening.
The cough of life’s unfair hand hacks
at my chest like the thwack of ball on willow.
New lungs, please. Or, at least, a pair
that don’t fill with the first sniff of September
not to empty until March.
Decant me, so I can do just some of the things
others consider normal. Like, breathing.
THE INCONVENIENT VILLAGE
If I didn’t know, I’d admire the gasp of water;
reward for the car straining uphill and over
the old rock mountains of outcrop,
scree and violet summer heather,
past the lake made high in a valley.
If I didn’t, I’d pause a while to catch breath
by the bracken and watch the wind
make patterns on the vast surface,
waves and ripples, white horses in gales,
the lake held by tons of stone.
As I can’t un-know the tale of Tryweryn
despite its upland beauty, I feel the ancient anger:
my mother tapping the kitchen table
insistent, still, that Liverpool pays for our
water, whether it used or no.
MOST PEOPLE’S BREATHING
is a flick of the wrist,
dismissed as barely there,
little ins and outs
that happen without notice,
the easiest thing in the world.
My breath is the labour of smithy bellows
where it’s hard graft
to keep the coals alight
and sometimes, more often
than I have ever liked,
it embers my days
as if leather nailed to wood
has split beyond repair.
Kate Noakes is a PhD student at the University of Reading researching contemporary British and American poetry. Her most recent collection is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019). Goldhawk Road is forthcoming from Two Rivers Press in 2023. She lives and writes in London.
Stuart Pickford: Poem
DID SAUL BUY THE COCKEREL?
Depends who you ask. We used
to be mates when he lived next door
and said he sold insurance.
Then he moved to the sticks
for a dose of the good life.
On eBay, he buys a coop—
modelled on Westminster Abbey.
The girls arrive and bingo, more
eggs than you can say omelettes.
When he said insurance, he meant
he’d inherited the family firm.
Soon Katie’s dropping hints
about a pig, after all Saul
had dragged his feet over kids.
That’s when the light goes on.
A black cockerel. It waltzes,
sticks up its hackles, appears
from nowhere like a gift.
Roosting, it never lets sunrise
creep up, has the colours
pinned to its wattle and comb.
The cockerel knows its lines
like a fairytale, three times,
meaning, Girls, let’s shag.
Katie puts up posters. No one
admits to knowing the creature.
When it starts to attack her—
head down, wings flattened out—
Saul says he’ll drive to the farms
where all the locals will stand
in their doorways and look away.
Stuart Pickford is the recipient of an Eric Gregory award. His first collection, The Basics, was published by Redbeck Press and shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection prize. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish was published by smith/doorstop. Stuart lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school.
Vic Pickup: Three Poems
He would ‘gift’ me the contents
of his toilet bowl,
a fresh, unflushed specimen
to start my day.
I’d clean his five bathrooms.
The four unused
required cleaning all the same.
He took offense at the sight
of the bin liner, just visible at the rim.
He’d drawn an arrow on paper
to accompany his Post-It note—
They are there to do a job and remain unseen.
He had a whole room for his white grand piano;
his sheet music:
I’d finish scrubbing the downstairs floors
when he’d stand over me
tell me to start again
he could see in the light
the brush strokes were horizontal
vertical this time, he said.
That day you came home broken,
poured yourself out all over the floor
then rose, rickety as a foal, unsure
of whether you still counted as a man.
After it was over, we looked at the mess together,
the damage done,
assessed what could be put back together,
what we could afford to throw, then
you, armed with a broom,
me, first with a dustpan and brush
and then a mop and bucket,
we set to in the dark
renewing the tiled surface,
surveying the job
we’d not yet got around to doing.
ONE TUESDAY AFTER TEA
I’ve been two minutes too long,
whirling my hands in the washing-up,
trillions of tiny transportive bubbles
dispersing the tacky grease of an afternoon
when I realise
her sobs and protests at an early bath
gripping the architrave,
I pull my body around the corner
into the bathroom and find
a child’s body floating—
an archipelago of pink islands,
at the base of each smooth mound
and bile rises
I grab at her with frantic hands—
her eyes bolt open.
She shrieks, and I breathe again,
our lathers dripping to the floor,
melting into water.
Vic Pickup has won the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow Competitions, and been shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth prize on YouTube. Lost & Found is Vic’s debut pamphlet, featuring Pushcart-nominated poem ‘Social Distancing’ and she has a micro-pamphlet, What colour is my brain?, due out in 2022. Vic co-hosts Reading’s Poets’ Café and Poets’ Café Online. www.vicpickup.com.
Edmund Prestwich: Three Poems
IN A STRANGE LAND
Crammed in mum’s Fiat we headed for the coast.
She drove. Daddy did his best with us children.
Bored and restless on our plastic seat we passed
rocks, thorn trees, gum trees where native women
sat on the naked earth, patient as cattle,
watching the cars full of alien white people.
The first quickening hint of release
was fields of sugar cane, men sweating with pangas
or pausing briefly to stretch and stare.
Then blue between hills. Daddy’s murmur,
‘Thálatta, thálatta,’ repeated the cry
of Xenophon’s Ten Thousand reaching the sea.
For a moment he was gone,
perhaps in his Yorkshire boyhood, snowflakes falling,
fire crackling in the hearth, and Ancient Greek
a force and light that leapt from his book.
Then he was back, evoking for us children
those soldiers running to the sea, waving weapons and calling.
‘Thálatta’ – Xenophon’s word for ‘sea’. ‘Thálassa’ in Modern Greek.
MOODS OF THE MOTHER
Bronze Age Cyclades
Winter woke the winds that all sailors dreaded.
Ocean’s daughters raged, and in frenzied dances
shattered ships, rolled corpses and planks ashore. All
reaches lay barren.
Rain, cascading over the island, emptied
forest, field and square, and their paths became streams.
Light and colour faded to greyness, people
crowded indoors till
sun-warmed earth reopened, unfolding flowers
uttered fragrant calls to the bees, and over
beach and sea light breezes went dancing,
soothing wild waters.
Ocean’s daughters laughed in the light, lay floating,
dived with seals and dolphins or sang to ships whose
sails and oarsmen hurried their supple bodies
into blue seaways.
Gently pitching decks and the sailors on them,
gently smoking earth and the men who ploughed it,
slaves or free, all sang in the sapphire-shining
BEFORE THE ERUPTION
He squatted on a rock with his fishing stick.
The rock was pitted limestone, glittering white.
Green water danced below it, ribbons of light
danced above white pebbles. Utterly still,
alert as a heron watching a pool,
he watched fish graze towards his baited hook,
then struck and struck till his creel was full.
His old blind father, once his teacher,
waited by the spring where girls fetched water.
He knew the Mother would gather him soon.
Under the cicadas’ frenzied shrieking,
listening to the water falling, falling,
he heard how the stream flowed on.
Edmund Prestwich grew up in South Africa but has spent his adult life in England where he taught English at the Manchester Grammar School till his retirement. Now he concentrates on his grandchildren, writing and reviewing poetry and reading generally. He has published two collections: Through the Window with Rockingham Press and Their Mountain Mother with Hearing Eye.
D A Prince: Three Poems
‘… their idiotic human faith in the future.’ Camus — The Plague.
What I love most is its salt distance,
blue and cloudless, its compass needle
fixed to the light—a light both clear
and deceiving, and North never as true
as we’re told. Yet we believe, the way belief
is a cradle no one outgrows, placing it
somewhere near the sea’s horizon. How
it draws the eye, leaves space for levelled questions,
for the blips of ships pricking the sky
before they vanish. How it shimmers, out there,
a beyond we can’t measure, out of time,
erasing the words we pin on calendars. How
out of reach it is; how it could be anywhere,
unfathomed, immaterial. How it’s not here.
THE FOUR OLD THINGS
(Plans to destroy the Four Olds began in Beijing in August 1966 as part of the Cultural Revolution.)
Get out, he said, and take your bags
from our newly happy State.
We’ve no use now for your tattered rags
or sentimental debate.
So Customs clutched at his cloak and went
and struggled with laboured breath
and daren’t look back at the ages spent
on birth and marriage and death.
And Habits left his daily round
for a barren and stony road
and all ahead was unknown ground
and his heart was a heavy load.
And Culture wept in his threadbare boots
as he staggered away from the past
and from people bereft of their ancient roots
who were shorn of things that would last.
But Thinking, though lamed like a tired mule
worn down and burdened with care,
hung on to a scrap he’d carried from school
when he coughed through the mountain air.
For he knew from the times he’d spent in books
since the earliest days of his youth
that the future is never the same as it looks
when your Leader believes he’s Truth
but that Revolutions turn their wheel:
they will find some new-made track.
And by hook or by crook, beg, borrow or steal,
these Four Old Things would come back.
SHOT IN ACADEMT RATIO
The title’s unfamiliar but in the first few frames
I recognise some faces. Not their story, yet
I’m half a beat ahead. I know
she’ll light a cigarette and crash the car
(that vodka, a mistake), that there’ll be woods
and no one saying much. The past
bulks larger than the present, both
in shades of frozen grey. Someone will die.
I haven’t been there but I have, in parallel,
as though watching myself watching
a film in another country and another time.
I wake to see the credits rolling senselessly
like marbles, vowels and consonants
rattling dissonant, helpless to explain.
D A Prince reviews for a number of poetry magazines, including The HIgh Window. Her poems are published by HappenStance Press. Her second collection, Common Ground, 2014, won the East Midlands Book Award 2015. Her third collection, The Bigger Picture, will be published in autumn 2022.
Frances Sackett: Three Poems
I entered the ward that morning
to a stench of excrement.
You were laid low but talked
only of being discharged.
We would wait for the doctors
to come, and fight for it.
You told me of death
in the ward overnight.
Then the curtains were pulled
around beds, porters arrived.
They apologised –
said it wouldn’t be long.
I peered through the curtain,
watched them lift
the body, rolled in a sheet,
and realised the smell was death.
It seemed like a lucky escape
to return to your home:
fresh sheets, a garden
with roses and lavender,
and the wind in the trees
with its hush, hush, voice.
She woke me at 3am
as though to tell me everything
would be all right.
Sailing high in the pale night,
the garden lit with a beam
of feather white,
I watched as she moved swiftly
across a wide contrail
towards the bare-branched oak,
then down at the lawn,
where shadows of branches
etched the grass.
Maybe this is how it is –
that white light the dying talk of –
benevolent and connected;
we could just rise from our earth-bed
towards this beautiful planet,
disappear in mystery.
This mist, this rain, this dusk,
hunkers into pots,
petunias deepen from pink to puce,
buddleia comes out of the dark-room
of the hedge, its purples
emerging like bruises.
The Buddha calm, its gorgon
hair of ivy wild, and falling
from the trees a filigree
of rain cools the garden,
corrals summer weather,
making mysteries of floating flowers.
Frances Sackett’s poetry has been published in numerous poetry magazines including Poetry Review, Acumen, The North, Orbis and The Dawntreader. Also in anthologies on many subjects, most recently in For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Press). Her collections include: The Hand Glass from Seren, Cradle of Bones from The High Window Press and in 2022, House with the Mansard Roof from Valley Press. Now retired, she previously worked in a bank, a bookshop, and as a tutor for Manchester University’s ‘Courses for the Public’.
Fiona Sinclair: Poem
Finally, our diaries align,
we take a trip to Charleston Farmhouse.
Parking up, a sudden down pour
plays percussion on the car roof.
We set about the picnic, silly with laughter.
An elaborate hopscotch, avoiding puddles,
to reach the house. Coo at Vanessa’s gift for
upcycling functional furniture into art.
Outside the sun has switched back on.
Squelching around the cottage garden
we exclaim at the craft behind chaotic borders.
The satnav decides to augment the day,
shuns the savage M25, takes us home
on the tamer A roads through the Weald.
Gushed We must do this again soon.
I pan the internet for further treasure,
but dates refuse to conjugate where work
and family overwhelm and snatched free time
is shared with closer chums. No schoolgirl sulks,
rather an understanding that we are not in the first tier
of each other’s friendships, but supernumerary,
meant for these high days whose antics are
still posted on our memories like indelible selfies.
Fiona Sinclair‘s most recent collection, Second Wind, was published in March 2022 by Dempsey and Windle press. She lives in Kent with her husband , a feral garden and a Yamaha Goldstar motor bike .
Sue Spiers: Two Poems
STOP WAITING FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN
Get off your arse and pimp up your approach.
A Nobel prize so rarely knocks the door.
Don’t live your life competing from the couch.
If rainbow ends are what you want to touch,
no unicorn will stay to eat damp straw,
Get off your arse and pimp up your approach.
To place at Crufts: you’ll need to train a pooch
and breeding pink-fur cats might have a flaw.
Don’t live your life competing from the couch.
Too late to get a Gregory, you mooch,
but what about some creeking or parkour,
Get off your arse and pimp up your approach.
You lounge around to see what you can poach,
Try litter picking flotsam off your shore,
Don’t live your life competing from the couch.
In all of this you may have missed the coach.
You lack the balls to win the Lotto draw.
Don’t live your life competing from the couch.
Get off your arse and pimp up your approach.
BEFORE AND AFTER
it was not knowing how it would be
there was still much to discover
it was, ‘afraid to ask the questions’
it was too late to wonder
it was squeezing into alluring clothes
it was hiding in the comfort of looseness
there was a list of accessories
there was a vault empty of treasure
it was wholeness, desirability
it was taboo and slightly distasteful
it was glorious, earthquakey tremors
it was barely registered aftershock
it was cyclones and heatwaves
there was calmness and certainty
it was taken for granted
it was not loss but life
Sue Spiers lives in Hampshire and works with the Winchester Poetry Festival. Her poems have appeared in Acumen, Fenland Poetry Journal, Dream Catcher, The High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, the North, South Stand magazines. Sue edits the Open University Poetry Society’s annual anthology and supports Winchester Muse hosting events, reading in open mic and occasionally collecting money at the door. Sue tweets @spiropoetry.
Victoria Twomey: Two Poems
you said, for no particular reason,
everyone’s running from something,
leaving me to sit with those two old stones,
silence and the truth
maybe it was the excited children, ringing the bell,
demanding something sweet
dressed like princesses and superheroes
eager to collect and scurry away
or the man and woman, without costumes
waiting at a distance as they ran ahead
or the moon, with its round pocked cheeks
and cardboard skull filled with silver dust
casting long dripping shadows
as the rain fell from the edge of the roof
perhaps it was the sentinel pumpkins, with their eyes on fire
standing guard up and down the street
or the allure of the porch light
to the gathering eclipse of powdery-winged moths
yes, I said, it’s true,
as the wind ran its chilly fingers through my hair
we held onto each other’s hands and watched the rain
the dog barking and barking at nothing
until an angel and a skeleton, treat bags held wide open
hurried up the pathway to our door
I hear heaven is full of ethereal beings
watching over the edge of their stadium balcony
tossing fistfuls of diamonds across the universe,
glittering, like promises, like offerings for the turning worlds below
it is said that when they all cry, it rains,
when they all sigh, the wind blows
is that thunder, or are they are all pounding their feet,
urging me to do better, cheer up and believe?
now they are all holding candles
bright as lightning
swaying in their golden thrones, like a wave
illuminating the sky below their feet
so very far above in their soaring balcony
all of them looking forward, not down, I fear
clapping their shimmering wings
for some glowing star god
bits of feathers, like white confetti
twirling down as snow
Victoria Twomey’s work is written in a direct style, reflecting both a deep emotional well and an intellectual exploration of time, death and their spiritual connection. She has appeared as a featured poet at venues around NY, including the Hecksher Museum of Art, The Poetry Barn, Barnes & Noble, and Borders Books. Her poems have been published in several anthologies, in newspapers and on the web, including Sancturary-Magazine.com, BigCityLit.com, poetrybay.com and AutumnSkyPoetryDaily.com. Her poem ‘Pieta’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
David Underdown:Three Poems
WHEN JANINA DUSZEJKO WAS MY BEST FRIEND
After Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
She taught me to pronounce her name
and we lived in the Giant Mountains in a tiny house
with two rooms and cluttery shelves.
It was smokey and smelled like star anise
and the kitchen cupboard was as big as a wardrobe.
We were experts at translating William Blake
into Polish and inventing shaggy dog stories
and clever traps for local criminals.
Her cat Mabel was our friend
so we could talk to hedgehogs and squirrels.
In summer we made soup from beetroot and cabbage
and pepper so hot it made us sneeze.
We mopped our plates with crusts of black bread
and planned how to solve murders
when neighbours were found dead in the forest.
She showed me how to be by myself
and have nothing that would not fit in a suitcase.
I learned to live with no preparations
and wore old clothes like hers so everybody thought
we were too odd to be bothered with.
If it snowed we would sit on the floor by the stove
and keep each other warm in a blanket.
Even now she’s gone we still swap horoscopes
and silly emails that make me laugh at bedtime.
O our nights were as snug as a lazy snog.
DUST TO DUST
you are how we originate
a master of disguise
for in the years between
in waiting rooms
and builders’ yards
we inhale you
and on Mondays
from the window ledge
so you may settle
in less public thoroughfares
to lodge in the grease
of frying pans
or the deepest pile
of Wiltons and Axminsters.
helpmate of vendors
of vacuums and dusters
upsetter of fastidious minds
we live oblivious
to the wonders
of your multifarious brew
of feet of spider
fray of cuff
discarded flakes of skin
and old men.
Chameleon of the cosmos
of the material world
I found you once
caked beneath my nails
again in drifts
across the attic floor
as the cobwebbed window
admits a shaft of sun
I see your wonders
in a seething soup
in the deserts of the air.
‘WHEN THE DAY CAME FAT’
After Frank O’Hara
Too long ago, those days we
knew were short but didn’t
care, so much summer and no need
to fuss about speedometers.
They blew a fuse while we
watched suns explode. We could
accelerate without clocks, manage
high speed weeks, make cocktails
from trips to the park, lolling out
resplendent in full sight of
envious eyes. Their ice
cold stares and
swivelled heads were water
for our desert paradise. O
can’t you remember how you
and I were
the taste of strawberries, the
sound of Lucy in the Sky, the best
of times free of
all worst times, and all
need to think. You were my
lighthouse in the ocean of our days.
David Underdown has three collections published by Cinnamon Press, Time Lines (2010), A Sense of North (2019) and Jigsaw (2022). He also has a pamphlet, Snig, published by Calder Valley Poetry in 2021. A Mancunian by birth he lived in London and, for over forty years, in Scotland where for seven years he was an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition on the Isle of Arran. He moved to Hebden Bridge in 2019.’
Polly Walshe: Three Poems
SHOULD, COULD YOU
The years have skittered by too fast,
Was it your carelessness?
Should you have swept them up,
Caused a delay,
Or, countering the breeze,
Tried harder to maintain yourself,
Your own soul, whatever it is
You wear now like a hairshirt,
Like a torn jabot?
But how could you have known
What to avoid, or the way
Your heart divides,
Turncoat at dusk, at dawn,
How certain actions, words,
Bounce back and burn?
A wintry fall
Of cold and brackish thoughts,
Of one you thought might care
Is always hard to bear:
A chilling rain –
No great downpour
But worse –
Spills on you momentarily,
AGE OF MOONLIGHT
This moonlight is cold,
Casting aspersions on yellow,
On any fashion of the stars,
Pressing us into the past,
Into the long past’s furrow,
Before words or laughter,
When our souls were smooth,
When our tomorrows
Had not scarred them,
Spun them, coins thrown
Past scornful worlds
Into sun’s kingdom.
Polly Walshe was born in London. Her poems have recently been published in Acumen, Artemis,The Frogmore Papers, Shearsman, Snakeskin and The Spectator. Her poems often address the subjects of nature (in the widest sense), time and pre-history. Her website is at pollywalshe.com.
Jim Ward: Two Poems
SELF ISOLATION, 2003
Back at the house, the business done with;
Mass, the hearse passing old landmarks, and I helped lower the coffin. More prayers.
Still mournful, old friends reminiscing drink tea,
pluck sandwiches from plates dutifully offered by the cousins’ kids.
The solemn duty over, time to chill; family unknot neckties, grip bottles of stout on the porch
and catch up, as the first warmth of spring allows the front door stay open.
– Blood ties?
The day passes. The kids in Sunday best ‘on-your-marks’ now, racing each other
in the cul-de-sac – the joie de vivre of children death can’t suppress.
Away from the gathering I spied him.
Alone on the corner, his back to the house, watching something distant
– like the lookout in a painting of poitín makers I remembered –
my cousin’s youngest.
I felt it was me, me the black sheep the family always spoke about with curious questions
and eye gestures – ‘still drinking’, ‘in and out of work’.
Me, that shamed him.
Years have passed and now it’s dawned.
Too insular myself to act, I could have stood alongside him, looked into distance too, and
– like the wise old mentor in some film – brought him in from the cold with
‘John, I understand. Do you not know I’m adopted too?’
LINES SCRIBBLED IN MOCHA BEANS SALTHILL ON A JANUARY DAY
My tea is served tepid just like outside’s day:
climate-altered January in Salthill.
Horizontal drizzle ghosts past the shopfronts
of O’Connor’s Pub, Fancy Fare and Paddy Power,
like silver sprat carried on the air.
Above the polite and delicate chatter
The Decemberists sing ‘January Hymn’.
There’s a chilled vibe.
– oops the tea’s gone cold.
Through the glass windows I spy worried faces,
hooded, some masked, trailing in and out of shops,
Then you appear.
Pouring the tea, simulating divil-may-care,
my chest holds in the heartbeats like a kettle drum.
You talk of chemistry, and my mind goes to Mr Ryder and atoms.
Awkwardness fills the void of chilled vibe.
Smiling at her like my teeth hurt
– but it’s my heart instead – she tells me.
(Eddi Reader is singing ‘I’m not at home when I’m with you’).
Later, and I’m myself again:
I save a boy from drowning,
rescue a lost dog and win a triathlon. But she’s already gone and doesn’t see.
Having paid the bill as promised,
I dissolve in Salthill drizzle.
Jim Ward is published for poetry and stories in Irish and English. He is the author of two plays, the award-winning Just Guff and Three Quarks (A Trinity of Joyce). His memoir piece ‘Begging from Beggars’ was in The 32, Anthology in 2021. He has just finished a first novel and is a published cartoonist.
Margaret Wilmot: Three Poems
OUR NEIGHBOUR LOVED MEISTER ECKART
She was twelve when the soldiers came,
escaped through a barley field from the flames.
I have spoken heretofore of emptiness,
that is of innocence . . .
They were afraid to say their names.
She serves us strudel with whipped cream
I gaze at the width of world her window frames.
She’d turned to Meister Eckhart when life stressed
since she was twelve.
Decades on her daughter’s tapestries reclaim
old innocence – midsummer-night dreams
escaping across the gallery walls. Shadowless.
The best redress.
Light as a game
they used to play when she was twelve.
I SIT IN THE CROWDED WARMTH OF THE TROUBADOUR
thinking how hard it is
to listen, what practice
it takes, as much as writing,
and the glass of wine hasn’t helped.
But each day holds so much to celebrate!
This cafe from once-upon-a-time.
Poetry itself. A friend’s sixtieth,
and how the silver key-ring I sent
lies embedded in the Alpine-star
she gave me for my twenty-first –
which carried its own rich layers
of songs, and skiing,
and the Dolomites unfolding
in rings of tawny rose and grey.
It was hard but thrilling
to listen to her father suddenly
spout Dante. Thrilling too
last year in Queen’s Lane, Oxford
to find a tune we once sang
in the kitchen on Crest Road,
and her mother, born in a place
so far away and long ago
it’s lost in time, turned
from the stove to say she knew
that song when she was young
OPENING THE FETA
No olive oil in the lentil soup.
No chopped cabbage squeezed with lemon.
Or tomato quarters with rigani rubbed from the bunch
which hangs on a nail against the painted plaster wall.
Retsina from the cask. Feta saltier by the month.
A tiny six-drachma souvlaki was a treat.
In Greece now there are giant souvlakia everywhere,
that burned-meat-smell always in the nose.
No mounds of beans, wide pans of peas or okra.
Yesterday the supermarket feta spurted brine –
I longed for the smell of dry dung on dust,
for the old people with their woven bags.
Margaret Wilmot was born in California and settled in Sussex, England in 1978. She has been published in various British poetry magazines. Smiths Knoll published a pamphlet Sweet Coffee in 2013. Man Walking on Water with Tie Askew, a full-length book of poems, was published by The High Window in June 2019.
Dorothy Yamamoto: Four Poems
THE DAY THAT EVERYTHING STOPPED …
cars halted in convoys
like all the clocks in the city
the drivers’ hands at ten to 2
A removals van froze in its task
of swallowing a double bed
and an unbought newspaper’s headlines
shouted to the empty air
Birds forgot their wings
and hung on wires, dogs paused
a single paw lifted
and a man pointed out a plane
defying gravity, to his stunned young son
WALKING IN BUCHAREST
Some things are the same in every city—
the scaffolding, the pedestrian crossings—
but more are mysterious: the dead wisteria
clinging like long nerve cells
to a building which doubtless has a history,
or ‘MONUMENTUL CORUPTIEI’ white-scrawled on the base
of an ancient hollowed plinth
in the midst of the terrible traffic.
Or a single column, also very old,
towering above brick arches,
inscribed like a totem pole
with lost faces—faces and flowers.
THE JACKDAWS ON THE CHIMNEY POT …
seemed to be discussing something.
The sky darkened.
Beakfuls of rain
spattered from invisible clouds.
Then they all rose
like smoke from fire
whirling in patterns.
We thought maths, we thought
their knowledge beginning
just where ours ended.
IN HOLYWELL CEMETERY
If you were a Martian
you would clock similarities
of stones, of symbols,
and the fact that everyone
seems quite at ease here—even the winged ones
musing insoluble problems.
A field laboratory, you might think, awake too
to the speech of the living,
the twisted, questing ropes of bindweed and bramble,
half-dug burrows among tree roots.
And, if you had to choose—perhaps this young man
with the perfectly sculpted hair
lying on a stone pillow,
a carved dove beneath his feet.
Dorothy Yamamoto grew up in Barnet, north London, where her Japanese father and English mother settled after the war. That divided background is the source of many of her poems. She now lives in Oxford, where she works as a freelance editor and writes non-fiction books about animals as well as poetry. Dorothy has edited Hands & Wings, an anthology in aid of the charity Freedom from Torture, and her pamphlet Honshū Bees (Templar Poetry) came out in spring 2018.