BT Barra • Kathleen Bell • Isabel Bermudez • Claire Booker • Peter Burge • Arthur Broomfield • Jamie Cameron • Brendan Cleary • Mark Connors • Mark Czanik • Maurice Devitt • Claire Dyer • Jeff Gallagher • Adrian Green • Gill Gregory • Chris Hardy • Hilary Hares • Helen Ivory • Helen Kay • Wendy Klein • Emma Lee • Iris Lewis • Pippa Little • Kathleen McPhilemy • John Muro • Kate Noakes • Jenny Owen • Matthew Paul • Colin Pink • Bill Richardson • Omar Sabbagh • Fiona Sinclair • Mark Totterdell • Annette Volfing • Merryn Williams
THW27: November 21, 2022 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
BT Barra: Two Poems
AFTER HENRY MOORE
An old man in a ploughed field turns
a sheep’s vertebrae in his hands
(or is it a windswept headland,
and a coarse, split knuckle of flint?)
and sees in it his mother,
that first human form he felt
beneath his balled-up infant fists:
rug of flesh stretched over floorboards
of the chest, caught and rumpled
by his livid, squirming love
The old man takes his mother home,
puts her in a box with many others,
takes her out every so often
to start that turning once again:
until that turning of the hands
begins to happen on its own,
as they pick clay instead, or tools,
or hover over lumps of stone,
transmigrating mother elsewhere,
leaving trays of flint and bone
MAKING DOING SAYING
if art is all
that is made
and done and said,
then any person
entering any room
making doing saying
is an artist
already in the room,
gathered in clumps
around its edges,
look up and
a sort of continuous
by all parties
then it is done,
and the artist
in search of
an empty plastic
it is in fact
to forecast the
so that the artist
entering the room
– say it is a
with scuffed parquet
– is always at a
Note: making doing saying contains partial quotes from Herbert Read’s essay ‘The Collective Patron’.
BT Barra is a visual artist and poet living in Leeds, West Yorkshire. A recent Art History and Creative Writing graduate, he works for the Henry Moore Institute in a number of capacities, including as a Curatorial Research Assistant. His work often explores the intersections of poetic and visual practices.
Kathleen Bell: Three Poems
JANE ON EMPIRE DAY
Council school, 1931
Duty, he booms.
The vicar’s arm jerks toward golden script
on an oak board:
“GREATER LOVE HATH NONE
THAN THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES
IN THE GREAT WAR
FOR KING AND COUNTRY”.
requires Duty. Be Responsible.
Show Sympathy. Self-Sacrifice.
Little Britannia shivers. Children stare,
knowing why she was chosen:
her father owns a fish shop;
she has plump cheeks and golden hair,
a smile and brand-new shoes.
Jane hides in the back row.
Though her palm stings
(mute insolence: six strokes)
she grasps her small flag tight,
lets willing, voiceless lips
shape Heaven’s command.
Her daylight blurs. Last year,
she dug her toes through sand’s sharp grains.
Waves tussled with the Empire
and shining in her skinny whiteness
she willed the sea to take her
as the sun blazed.
and drops her garden fork. The vicar booms.
Civilize. Savage. Railway. Now if Jane
could strip the map of Empire
she’d wear its pinkness like a dress
fierce as the words her tongue won’t say.
JANE AT THE PALAIS DE DANSE
Boys never foxtrot like Fred
or slip into song like Bing.
Half-cocky, half-anxious, they lark
in a fume of hair-oil and ash
to taunt the shimmying girls
who shrug their shoulders and fling
their wittiest insults back –
but Jane stares down at the shoes
she polished last night, alert
to the screams of the sax, the violins’
lurch, and Jane joins the girls
who hold sister or friend,
hot breast against breast,
with the ache and the longing
tucked safely away.
Boys may fear being caught
but Jane knows better: that marriage
is mostly a long dull path
of laundry and babies and polishing steps
and letting him have his way
and not letting on so the neighbours won’t know –
but the clarinet rises to urge and insist
that love is the key to a world of delight
and Jane wants to swoon and surrender,
to walk down the aisle as the music swells
just like the movies when words overhead
spell out the truth and assure us
that this really is THE END.
PLACING THE PEASANTRY
National Gallery, London
‘Let them be inconspicuous
but ornamental. Let the foreground hold
plump arms, soft drapes, a goat,
a jug of wine, and cows. Let one full cart
glide effortless uphill.’
When young, Bellotto learned
that wealthy lads pay well,
trailing their tutors, chasing souvenirs:
Do me a Grand Canal to carry home.
Do me a Festival with music, masks
and small, compliant whores.
Bellotto’s prudence is confirmed today
among his uncle’s paintings
where visitors cry out:
Such light! Such water!
Look – that’s where we stayed!
I had a coffee there – eight euros!
but in this foreground
a woman drops her broom
to reach a fallen child.
Another holds her spindle
high in the morning light. A mason
bends to the detail of his work
amid cracked columns
as a tower’s grandeur
gives way to smells
of mud, soap, marble-dust and sweat.
The not-so distant sea
carries a jargon
that tells of dying fish and damaged boys.
The gift shop never sells
the woman propositioned
beneath a beaten rug
but only gleaming surfaces,
of palaces and Grand Canal.
Nearby, flat waterlilies float
and sunflowers smudge
on bags and badges.
There’s not a gardener in sight.
Kathleen Bell grew up on the Alton West estate in South London but has for many years been based in Nottinghamshire. She has at times claimed benefits and has also worked as a dog-walker, a barmaid, a legal proofreader, an audio typist and a university lecturer. Her most recent publications are the lockdown pamphlet, Do You Know How Kind I Am? from Leafe Press and the collection, Disappearances from Shoestring (both 2021). She writes fiction as well as poetry.
Isabel Bermudez: Two Poems
I read about planets
whose locus is between other planets
maintaining their orbit:
studied by scientists,
written about in journals.
Rock among rocks,
serving some purpose
of repulsion or deflection,
tethering a balance.
It must pertain to the laws
the fathoming too
of Density and Volume
scribbled long ago
in a school-book
in pale blue ink.
I know the algebra
of making each side
of an equation equal
by multiplication and subtraction –
at the kitchen table
with my father,
preparing for the Entrance Exam –
but I wish I could remember
the name for it – that law –
like kinetic energy,
the scientific name.
It flew up and out,
white shadow on the bank,
inimitable, the slow beat
of a wing across a field.
We had stumbled
on its quiet place
and that flash,
I’d have that back,
and there was suddenly
before and after
as when, my love,
you said in another life
you’d plant orchards
I saw and see
the blazing springs
the snowy blossom,
the quickening, the rising.
Isabel Bermudez is a poet and embroidery artist who has lived in Orpington, Kent for the past seventeen years. Her latest collection is Serenade, (Paekakariki Press, 2020) poems of Spain and the new World, with illustrations by Simon Turvey.
Claire Booker: Poem
TABITHA, MON AMOUR
Cool-footed sorceress, prowling
my sleep’s undulations –
you carry the turbulence of desert sand,
its dark pharaonic secrets.
How you pounce on my waking
thoughts, send drum strokes into my chest.
The melodious soundings you
take of my heart will make us both wise.
Each slow eclipse of those sphinx eyes
teaches me that love is slavery freely given.
When we part, I’ll pour ashes on my hair.
Be watchful of those nine lives.
Claire Booker lives near Brighton. Her poems have appeared most recently in Poetry Birmingham, Dark Horse, Magma, Mslexia, Under the Radar and as part of a Creative Waves exhibition on Worthing Pier. Her first full collection, A Pocketful of Chalk, is out with Arachne Press. Her pamphlets are The Bone That Sang (Indigo Dreams 2020) and Later There Will Be Postcards (Green Bottle Press 2016) She blogs at www.bookerplays.co.uk
Peter Burge: Poem
‘WORLD’S LONELIEST MAN DIES’
(Headline of an article in Slashdot posted by BeauHD, Tuesday August 30, 2022 from the last-of-his-kind dept.)
BBC Report: The majority of his tribe were killed as early
as the 1970s by ranchers wanting to expand their land.
In 1995, six of the remaining members … were killed
in an attack by illegal miners, making him the sole survivor.
So was he still a member of a tribe?
A son and brother finding names of Tanaru ghosts
full of magic, pulsing exotic at edge of vision,
extending liminal limbs, holding hands with …
his heart? his thoughts?
For 26 years, living alone, he dug traps, hideouts,
wandered vast spaces outside and within his head;
a creature both delicate and resilient, vibrant,
holding a record of his tribe in the lines of his palms,
believing he was accompanied by kin
aiding him in dreaming a world made of whispers
of Sun, Moon, Land in languages spoken
using tongues of winds, trees, grasses,
lisping ground-waters, recorded in sigils
etched upon sky by flights of condors
until found as corpse adorned with macaw feathers,
lying in state? as offering? payment for lives taken?
in a hammock, outside his straw hut.
Tongues we cannot hear, living siloed
in alternate dimension in aboveground dugouts,
deafened by trolls only an Internet wormhole away;
dying in antiseptic wards watching sunsets’ bleach
and fade instead of visions, sinking into a darkness
tolled by slowing heartbeats
’til found alone upon white-sheeted beds
in bum-revealing gowns, left as corpses
sealed in coffins, or on mantlepieces as urned ashes
too amorphous to mourn, robbed of a last chance
to be offering to earth we no longer love or believe.
Tanaru :indigenous area of Brazil in the state of Rondonia which borders Bolivia.
After living thirty years overseas (as a Buddhist monk, teacher, company director, and business consultant), Peter Burge retired to Fremantle, Western Australia. He has had poetry in several literary magazines and poetry websites, including The High Window and Westerly. A self-published collection towards slow-moving days came out in 2019, and he is seeking a publisher for his second collection, while working on poems addressing overseas themes and his experiences in Asia and the Middle-East.
Arthur Broomfield: Poem
It’s a mid-October day,
a man and woman dig a potato patch.
Three young girls watch and play.
Will they, in times of fog,
spurn the sun,
that beaming postman
with bad news in his bag
and dredge beneath
expect to meet,
the life to come?
Dr Arthur Broomfield is a poet, short story writer and Beckett scholar from County Laois Ireland. His works have been published in Acumen, Agenda, Orbis, The High Window, North, Poetry Ireland Review, and in Setu , Indian, US and European journals. He is current Poet Laureate for Mountmellick.
Jamie Cameron: Two Poems
THE GOOD FRIEND
Because I could not admit
to every one of my secrets,
I am to be sealed up in the wall.
The handyman gently takes
my shoulders and positions me
between the masonry block
and the cavity like an actor
to this mark. We chat
as he places brick on top
of brick, sizes up plywood,
mixes the plaster. He shares
the particulars of his life:
a child at home, a wife
he loves. The bit he likes best
is the plastering. With a mirror
he reflects back the stucco he has cast.
It is like a lake on the moon.
Then his voice sinks: turns
to the fearful forgotten things
he has lied about to himself,
to his friends, his family.
Early next morning, I open my eyes
to his commiserating smile.
Then before I can realise:
breeze-blocks, plywood nailed,
the slap of plaster trowelled
over the final peephole.
I stand listening to my heartbeat.
Hours pass, then weeks
MY MOTHER AND THE HARD HAT
after Matthew Sweeney
Out on the street by our door
my mother stamps on a hard hat.
No-one knows exactly why she does it.
Maybe, once, a foreman told her exactly
what he’d like to do to her. Or perhaps it’s part
of a broader rebellion against health and safety.
I can just imagine – as my mother brings
down her boot – that hat sitting above
a hi-vis suit, the eyes between them
gentle, surveying the late-night snooker bar
where he enjoys his time off from the site.
The way he caresses each ball into its opposite
pocket, squinting down the cue with a look
that is easy and not unpleasant, yet.
I watch as the rain fills towards the brim
of the upturned hat. And when I turn back,
my mother, my mother, is nowhere to be seen.
Jamie Cameron is a poet from the Midlands, currently completing a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. He has poems published and forthcoming in Anthropocene, Swamp and The Vanity Papers. Away from writing he makes a living coaching basketball.
Brendan Cleary: Poem
if soft rain falls
dripping off leaves
on frosty mornings
I can’t be specific
but know you’re there
& later under candles
in the back snug
drinking our future
I can hear in the Soul
Aretha or Sam Cooke
your voice a magic charm
Brendan Cleary originally from Co. Antrim has published many collections. His most recent is The Other Place <Pighog/Red Hen Press> 2021. He lives & writes in Brighton.
Mark Connors: Two poems
Today, the swallows are just crotchets on staves,
writing their sad songs before they go.
The rowan berries are too red and too early,
specks of blood against their too green branches.
They clash with the heather, purpling the moor.
Such lurid colours. It’s not every year you can
pick bilberries and blackberries at the same time
and it’s the opposite of a blessing. You’ve said
many times that going for a walk always makes
you feel better, but today you’re not so sure.
For fuck’s sake, can’t we enjoy anything anymore?
THE ROAD TRIP CONTROVERSY
I don’t show you the redwood, so wide
you can drive through it, or the one
where tourists stand in the hole
with their wings stretched out like condors.
You don’t want us to repeat the route
of my first honeymoon, do you?
Besides, the whole state is full of smoke.
We head south, away from the Oregon fires.
We finally put the top down when we reach
San Francisco. We raise our mouths to the air.
Yes, we did come here, but I haven’t told you yet.
At Bixby Canyon Bridge, we’re in trouble again.
The highway splits in two. Cliffs start to crumble.
We’re falling into the Pacific ocean.
You and your terms. Are you happy now?
Mark Connors is a poet and novelist from Leeds. His debut pamphlet, Life is a Long Song was published by OWF Press in 2015. His first collection, Nothing is Meant to be Broken was published by Stairwell Books in 2017. His second, Optics, was published in 2019. His third, After, was published in 2021. He is currently at work on Handwritten, a hybrid, containing poetry, fiction, memoir and travel writing. Mark is a co-founder and managing editor of YAFFLE PRESS.
Mark Czanik: Two Poems
Because I waited too long.
Because my father had had it up to here.
Because I liked the girl on the prospectus cover,
and I turned down that job working as a lifeguard
on the Sea of Tranquillity.
Because the elastic band she flicked idly
from the back of that lecture on Chagall landed silent
as a grasshopper next to my hand.
Because the lane we walked along together
was never the same lane at night
as it was during the day.
Because the broken chord of the wind was singing
in the telegraph wires when she smiled,
and all seven red guiding lights of the mast were visible.
Because she lived alone and the mud sucked
at my city boots as if I belonged there
in that single blinkered armchair.
Because of the way she rocked herself
and seemed to see things when she was stoned,
and I caught sight of her singlet beneath her wide neck jumper,
like the secret blue of a magpie’s wings.
Because I found her sitting outside my campus door,
mine alone, and she fell asleep on my bed
like my old cat who I was cruel to sometimes
when she wanted to be let out.
Because I sat at my desk stitching together love poems
borrowed from yesterday while she slept,
and failed to notice how the shadows were joining forces.
Because the net was not strong enough,
my destination came running
and even ghosts haven’t enough time to do all they have to do.
Because of the poem she handed down to me
about the little silver trout while I made my bed on the floor.
Because she slipped a handwritten note under my door
inviting me to supper that night that said
she was cooking something nice on the open fire,
but neglected to mention it was me she was cooking.
The silence at the edge of the Great Plain
where my father once told me
robbers and murderers lay in wait.
Feral dogs and slow burning wolves.
It dares me to step into it
and lose myself again.
A poem is a lifeline
thrown into the dark.
Mark Czanik was born in the sweet borderlands of Herefordshire, and now lives in Bath. His poems, stories, and artwork have appeared most recently in 3AM, Riptide, ROPES, Atrium, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, and MIR. He is currently, very slowly, walking the south west coast path with his wife.
Maurice Devitt: Two Poems
I read the word and I’m back there
in the front room, surrounded by cushions
and a powdery silence, flocked walls propped
with display cases of Aynsley and Hummel.
A boy in an adult’s world, they have left me
alone in the room, their grown-up lives
orbiting outside. If I hold my breath
I can just about catch short seams
of conversation from the kitchen,
the approaching rattle of delph.
I fear the questions they will ask me,
and how to pitch the answers
to meet their expectations, my shyness
a surprise, to be remarked upon later.
HANSEL & GRETEL
Cornering too tight around the green
the Thompson’s bread man doesn’t notice
his order book slide from the passenger seat
onto the road outside, carbon pages flapping
in the light summer wind.
Curious, you rescue it from the traffic,
pore through the pages like a book of spells,
each order, scribbled in smoky blue,
more tempting than the last –
tipsy cake, eclairs, birthday cake for a boy
across the street – the perfect blueprint
for a cottage in the woods.
Maurice Devitt is a past winner of the Trocaire/Poetry Ireland and Poems for Patience competitions, he published his debut collection, Growing Up in Colour, with Doire Press in 2018. He is also the Curator of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies site, his Pushcart-nominated poem, ‘The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work’, was the title poem of an anthology published by Hibernian Writers in 2015.
Claire Dyer: Two Poems
AT BELLE TOUT
This summer. This
hairdryer heat and parched
grass and us at Belle Tout looking
down at the cliffs, at the walkers,
their dogs, the sun spreading
its setting in flares and us holding on
to the railings, to each other, us
learning the ratio of saving
a life is twelve to one. The twelve –
three chaplains, four coastguards,
two paramedics, the rest police;
the one sitting on the chalk edge
of Beachy Head, hood up,
completely still, facing out to sea.
The taxi driver stops
by the grain storehouses
at Bezirgan. It takes time
for the dust to settle
on the brittle grasses.
A vast sky bends
over us, sewn with birdsong
and heat. He tells us
these structures are a lost art,
stays in the car to check his phone
as we walk, speak in whispers,
touch the quiet, the warmth
of the wood. Our son
pulls away – his skin
gold and in the distance.
There is peace here,
space enough for this goodbye.
I feel it rise, the grief a thermal,
a shimmer against the blue.
Later, I’ll say I love you,
you’ll say you know I do.
The way back, in the village,
the driver inches around a dog
asleep in the middle of the road.
Note: Bezirgan [ber zeer gan] is a village in South West Turkey
Claire Dyer’s poetry collections are published by Two Rivers Press, her novels by Quercus, The Dome Press and Matador. She has a new novel with Pegasus in 2023 and a further collection with Two Rivers Press in 2024. She co-curates Reading’s Poets’ Café Online, teaches creative writing and runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Berkshire. Her website is: www.clairedyer.com
Jeff Gallagher: Two Poems
After several years travelling from an unknown land
beyond the horizon’s end, encountering the new
and the frightening at every turn, and the first
hungry gorging on some warm creature’s milk,
and the first taste of something solid to keep out
the cold and help them settle into a more regular
pattern of sleep, then a gradual awareness that
there was a world beyond their boundaries where
they had to learn a true sense of their importance
and that other people mattered beside themselves,
& locked for so long in their comfortable quarters,
they grew dismayed by the actions of their unreliable
bodies, unable to deal with the rank fluids and animal
smells of their new environment, and the weird
unpredictable nature of those around them who,
refusing to acknowledge them as creatures of higher
status, frequently shouted in their faces or cried at them
in anger or frustration, speaking no language they had
ever encountered but rather a kind of uncontrolled
shrieking accompanied by wild gestures with the arms;
& so at last, better accustomed to the requirements and
rules of their new home, they allowed themselves to be
guided by strong hands and reassuring voices to the
place where their instincts told them something strange
and significant was about to occur, a room full of faces
like theirs, of assorted shapes and colours, and bodies
like theirs, some frozen in fright, some frowning with
intense concentration, some gazing into the dark space
away from the light, their expressions showing fear and
uncertainty and the desire to return to their own homes;
& meanwhile a doll served as a baby, shepherds wrapped
in horse hair blankets carried their toy sheep and the ox
and the ass began to fight over the manger and had to be
led away by the angel who listened to some people read –
but of the Magi in tea towels bearing witness to that light,
each has continued on his journey by a different route,
one a teacher, one a priest, one a seeker; knowing that,
while many of the firstborn are still slain by those who
swore to protect them, enough survive to sustain a world
built on that first vague introduction to true humanity.
The rock and the club and the spark to make fire,
A hide and a carcass, a spear and a knife,
The sowing, the harvest, the store for the winter,
The village, the empire, the civilised life.
Philosophy, culture, the pride of the warrior,
The need for a leader to show you the light,
Indecision, suspicion, the hoarding of plenty,
And fighting for causes they told you were right.
The stake and the axe and the flaming hot poker,
Lies, superstition, false promises, famine,
Rhetoric, lost hope and man made disasters,
The killing of children, the torture of women.
Murder rebranded as collateral damage,
The constant suppression of anything odd,
Like those with a different language or culture,
And those who believed in the wrong sort of god.
Heroes defending what cowards had stolen,
Inequality hidden by national pride,
Swastikas, heraldry, crosses and eagles,
Bright flags and platitudes for those who had died.
Destroying the planet disguised as prosperity,
Dreamers and schemers ignoring the science,
Marketing rubbish as essential to living,
Envy and greed in one more grand alliance.
After desert and snowstorm and flood and pandemic,
The poor go to heaven, the rich go to Mars;
The rest live in caves, find a spark to make fire,
Start another new history, then weep at the stars.
Jeff Gallagher is from Sussex, UK. His poems have featured in publications such as The Rialto, Shooter, Dreich, Littoral and The Journal. He has had numerous plays for children published and performed nationwide. He was the winner of the Carr Webber Prize 2021. He has been a teacher of English and Latin. He has also appeared in an Oscar-winning movie. He has no handles.
Adrian Green: Two Poems
Often first on stage
with pliers, mats and cases
heaved into place, components
for assembly like some glittering
before the audience arrives.
He hides behind the cymbal stands
and hanging toms,
checks his hi-hat pedal, tensions
skins and muffles buzzing snare
before retiring to the band room,
or the bar.
And when the music starts –
a metronomic groove, a shuffle,
bossa-nova rhythms, working
with the bass to underpin
those front-line solo fantasies
the audience applauds,
until the final number
when the drummer gets a solo,
roams around the kit
with brushes, sticks, bare hands,
and all the while foot-pedalling
the hi-hat and the kick-drum
with a beat to ground the whims
of syncopation from his hands.
Then when the audience has gone,
the trumpet and the saxes packed away
and sound crew finished
taking down the rig,
the time-lord’s left alone on stage
to deconstruct his kit,
his rhythm safely cased
for transport to another day.
IN THE MOOD
That pause you think is it,
a sudden breath, and then
as the band continues
with the coda, another
that scaling up
to a final cadence deferred
and the shrill top note
the real applause begins.
Adrian Green lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. His poems and reviews have appeared in magazines and anthologies in England and abroad. His latest collection is All That Jazz and Other Poems from The Littoral Press. He co-edited an anthology, From the City to the Saltings: Poems from Essex for the Essex Poetry Festival. He is a trustee of The Jazz Centre (UK) and has had a long association with the Essex Poetry Festival, the Southend Poetry Group and Open University Poets.
Gill Gregory: Four Poems
ON THE ROAD
A square of uncluttered ground
a man with a violin stepped in
at one end
as I was setting out
from another –
we arrived without words
at the centre of things
no boundary or edge
being aired –
I strike a match to light
in a cave to the south
at the edge
of a beautiful abyss.
The man beside me
has no home
I had not met him
in my life –
at dusk I make room
Come dawn we rush
Understanding the patterns
change and dissolve
you escape me
run clear –
a little bit of red
to call it home –
I see you waiting
by the door
on the threshold
that was long before
we had words –
Gill Gregory is the author of 4 books, including In Slow Woods, Rufus Books, 2011 and The Life & Work of Adelaide Procter, Routledge, 2020. Her poems are published widely in journals, including Poetry Review, The Reader and Stand Magazine. Her podcast, On The Departure Platform (2021), is online at Poetry Exchange. She is a lecturer at The University of Notre Dame and lives in Norwich.
Chris Hardy: Two Poems
Behind the small door above the bureau’s desk,
between alcoves arched with slivers of pear wood,
I keep a pocket chess set cut from bone,
bought in a town on a river down which we sailed
to a beach, where I collected butterfly-shaped shells,
white, pink, transparent, wrapped them in linen
and shut them too behind the door,
with its key I found slipped between panels.
The door cannot be locked because
then the key must be kept elsewhere,
might disappear with all the other keys
lost in cities, towns and lonely houses.
Keys without a lock, lost closures,
the box of keys found in a shed
that once secured a kingdom.
And thinking of these shells picked up
along the white sand shore I recall
how the wild men of the forest came
and hung in the trees above us
from their long red arms, watching
as we lay in the sun and then
went home to shut our doors as they
settled to sleep in the unlocked air.
If I could have chosen
yes or no before I began
would I be here today?
The tide is in, a soft breeze
moves the surface.
Sunlight diffused across the sky
That’s when you call
to ask me how I am this minute
of my birthday,
while I wait to understand
what the flat world
spread before me,
the sea sloping forward
with no one on it,
seeing it again as always
for the first time,
as if I’d just been born.
I said the sea was resting
on a great bed
laid in a white garden.
their long arms move
beneath the sheet,
A hidden tree sheds
on the light grey silk.
I didn’t say this
to you only the sea,
screening itself from words.
We both heard the sea’s voice,
its chattering pebble tongue
that we are here together
blessing the air
befriending the earth
for now here yes.
Chris Hardy has travelled widely and after many years in London now lives in Sussex. His poems have been published in Acumen, Agenda, Stand, The North, The Rialto, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry Review, ink sweat and tears, the High Window and many other places. He has been highly commended in the Poetry Society’s National Poetry competition and was short listed in the Live Canon poem competition 2021. Chris’s new collection Key to the Highway is published by Shoestring Press.
Hilary Hares: Three Poems
WHAT THE GECKOS TAUGHT US
That spring was a year of sea-light and sangria,
long evenings on the loggia sharing fruit and bread
and drinking tantric wine fresh from the bodega.
We watched the geckos plod the ceiling
in their prehistoric garb and spread five chairs
out so your absence wouldn’t leave a gap.
Hibiscus blossomed early, as if this spring
was just the same as last, and when
the bougainvillaea came it found the cracks.
The things we couldn’t say built up like walls,
took all the light, while overhead the geckos
caught the evening flies, reminded us:
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLook up. Hang on.
It’s the year McEnroe is beaten by Borg.
A 16 inch is a big screen, but reception
fizzles out in Rye and we’re on the edge.
My first coy weekend in your new place:
candytuft and marigolds clog the path,
every door-hinge is just off true.
We’re trying to figure out if we’re in
for the long haul. You’re rooting
for Borg, I’m for John. We down
a glass or two of tepid wine, strain
to keep an eye on which blurred speck
turns out to be the ball.
The thing about windows is that
you’re travelling without moving.
They dangle the temptation of
adventure fenced only by horizon.
Take this one, with its perfect,
ordinary view of a small, town square.
Opposite: a slab of slate rooves,
an inquisition of other windows.
Leading away: a lane with its hem
of bright, parked cars.
Above: a hill, resting its belly
against a wall of new sky.
Up there you can feel the world
as it leaves your chest.
Down here, we’re house-framed,
grounded. Only the eye runs free.
Hilary Hares lives in Farnham, Surrey. Over two hundred of her poems have found homes online and in print including Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Stand and South. She has an MA in Poetry from MMU and her collection, A Butterfly Lands on the Moon sells in support of Winchester Muse. She won the Christchurch Writers’ Competition 2013 and Write-By-The-Sea Competition 2018. Her latest pamphlet, Red Queen (2020), is available from Marble Poetry. Website: www.hilaryhares.com
Helen Ivory: Three Poems
Some tellings raise the curtain on old Demdike and Chattox
outwitching each other with herbs and with curses,
and selling protections to put bread on their tables.
Some fix on Alizon and her suckling black dog;
how she begged pins from a pedlar for tacking a dress,
or a love charm. Either way he refused, and she cursed him.
Soon after he suffered a stroke, they say now.
Though in his eyes, to her mind, she witched him lame
with the aid of the dog who spoke human words.
You come here having read all the books
try to reckon treading these rain-dark hills
without Gore-Tex, or the money in your bank to buy pins.
If a dog stood on two legs in the middle of the track
how much would you give him to conjure you back?
What would you trade for the words to set here?
It begins with the nightmare that rides you deep into the forest’s yawn. And the forest at first is all heart with its mothering arms and plentiful kindling. Soon enough trees will fall barren and their branches claw through the skin of your sleep.
You wake gasping and feel the dead weight of her on your chest, her bony knees digging into your flanks. Two shakes later, the vial in her clasp holds your stolen breath. When you check the mirror, it’s a famished sheet of glass, and your body is dead as a body can be.
But, after all, isn’t a bit of witch hidden
in every female?
Mary Wigman, dancer 1926
Not the new-fangled Witch Dance
throwing shapes over tiktok,
this is frank choreography
cast out its line to pronounce a web
on the burnished sprung floor of Suspiria.
To be inside language – the body as prayer,
as incantation, a strike of lightning.
To be earthed and barefoot
to be creature; muscle and cells.
To fly; to know space beneath you.
And who needs music when you have breath,
when you are daughter to the Mother of Sighs?
Put on your rope dress of red human hair.
Paint out your mouth with a broad white stroke.
We are the palace of wands, sticky with silk.
We send you our dreams, little bird undone.
ONE SUCH TALE
After a long night of walking,
the shadow happened upon the tor
and arranged herself nicely
among the high-grazing sheep.
She knew she wasn’t a sheep
but the sheep didn’t craze –
none lifted their heads
from the sweet high grass.
She yearned in her heart to be given a name,
to be called for, to have bearings
so, when the shepherd appeared
the shadow cleared her throat.
What am I? She implored, in a voice
she thought kind as a rockpool.
Oh, but the shepherd was sapling of spirit
and he ran and he ran, screaming pestilence
and thence flew about the village
recounting a dire starless fae
that turned his blood to winter
and ripped at his manhood with her claws.
Helen Ivory is a poet and artist. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and teaches online for the NCW/ UEA. She has five collections with Bloodaxe Books, most recently, The Anatomical Venus (2019). Her mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS, and chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City by SurVision. She has work translated into Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish for Versopolis. These poems are taken forthcoming collection for Bloodaxe, How to Construct a Witch.
Helen Kay: Three Poems
AN HOUR IN STOCKPORT STATION
Since the retro cafe closed down
I press a button for a breakfast latte
at Holiday Inn Express. Lips descend
through layers of white foam as I
read a Heaney poem – the flight Path.
Outside aeroplanes sidle past, dip
to land. A squawking Biffa Lorry chews
rubbish, then leaves. Black cabs peck
about. Three girls banter and laugh
on the next table – Spanish I think.
The breakfast space basks in a chatter
of cutlery. Above silver tureens
of bacon and sausages is a sign
about a Hot Start to the day; cringy,
but a smile sneaks up my cheek.
It’s this crash of language that giddies me.
I’m no longer waiting on a plastic chair
for a clacking Stoke train; I’m a voyager
pretend bags stored behind reception,
all set to board the Dublin flight.
As the sun starts to creosote the sky
the oaks stretch their dripping fretwork
over us. We are looking for badgers.
Today we strode past their swollen setts
where Earth was bitten. Dark holes dot
the wood, neat as test pots of night shades.
Tonight we learn how waiting lets knowledge in,
how twigs crackle when rubbed by fur and claw.
This is our lesson in trusting they are
there, in knowing ourselves here
as they know us, naked and absorbed.
I kneel. Ferns prickle my skin. I sniff
their dusky uncurling. I let my hands
slip into fingers of grass. I am released.
The owl’s cry wipes across my thought.
The badgers will come – tomorrow perhaps.
HANGING ON THE WALL
Today we drive to Hebden Bridge.
The town is numb. A drizzle of pins
is being stuck into the valley.
Crouched grey streets ooze with mist,
but she sees only the sun-caked place
of years ago, with Dad in the Hillman.
She was crunching smoky bacon crisps
He hummed Ten Green Bottles out of tune
to keep her mind off being car sick.
She can’t stop thinking about bottles –
clear glass bodies holding in liquid
or emptied ones that stole Dad from her.
She sees a broken one that did not quite
make the litter bin and a chimney,
a bottle turned to stone, by the canal.
It’s the same with every town we visit.
She pins them to her past until they bleed
or drops them like bottles, broken, cutting.
Helen Kay’s second pamphlet, This Lexia & Other Languages (v.press) was born in 2020. She curates a project supporting writing about learning differences (dyslexiapoetry.co.uk.) She is known on fb for her diva hen puppet, Nigella. In 2021 she was a finalist for the Brotherton Prize and shortlisted for the live Canon collection.
Wendy Klein: two Poems
OTHER PEOPLES’ LIVES
Laddish in Adidas gear, our new decorator —
navy blue jacket with the three signature stripes,
hair upstanding in 2020 quiff, and before
we know it he’s telling us about his wife,
the way she hasn’t left the house for years,
that the kids (teenagers) are getting fed up,
though they’re very good – good kids,
the best. We’re not sure how we got started
on this, just that it’s always happening,
and he’s on to her ‘addiction’ to Pregabalin –
how sometimes she takes a week’s worth all at once –
goes into withdrawals as she waits
for the next prescription. He mentions
her weight — how she used to be size 8
and now she won’t even tell him her size,
but there’s her therapy that seemed to help –
knows the lingo, she does — so smart,
and he’s proud of her, a survivor – won’t let us
remind him that he’s a survivor, too — just laughs,
I get to go to work. Other people’s lives, eh?
dismissing how he used to shop for food
every Saturday, until Ocado, which she manages now,
all on her own, how he loves her so much,
and by the end of his week here, maybe he’ll wish
he hadn’t told us, and we’ll go on puzzling over
the way we get invited into other people’s lives.
I spot him first at Tulfes,
half a head taller than the boys
in the gaggle around him —
such a wholesome gaggle –
glowing with mountain air.
Would I kidnap him?
Amadeus, his face framed
by soft brown hair – Baroque hair; —
strands that seem to arrange
themselves in loose waves.
Here in this place where a son
can be named Amadeus,
his mother is calling:
Amadeus, was willst du? In the café
at Patscherkofelbahn his eyes
are turned to the mountains
as he tucks into Bockwurst
sandwiched in Semmel brὅsel,
oblivious to the specks of mustard
gathering at the corners
of his lips. If his mouth wasn’t full,
he’d burst into song, this Amadeus.
Mutti, Mutti, schau mal,
he choruses, wiping his mouth.
She pats his head as they disappear
into the cable car
to the summit. The hills
fill with song for a boy
well-named, a voice
so sweet, there’s no need
for satin breeches,
a powdered wig.
Wendy Klein is a retired systemic psychotherapist. She is also the author of three collections and a selected, Out of the Blue from The High Window Press. Her pamphlet, Let Battle Commence (Dempsey & Windle, 2020), is based on the letters home of her paternal great grandfather who served as a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War. Published in many magazines and journals in the US and the UK, she is currently wondering how, when, or whether to retire with grace.
Emma Lee: Three Poems
At right angles to the tree trunk, a Golf
has a crumpled engine, lights left on
as a hazard warning. The tree fallen
by a month’s worth of rain. The driver set off
at normal speed, failed to factor in the flood,
perhaps distracted by spreadsheets and workload,
logistics, schedules, not the watered road
under his wheels, until metal met wood.
Insurance will replace the car, but will
the driver notice nature’s decline,
its need for him to change his dull routine?
Or, as the fire brigade clear the road, will
he accept this can’t be put in tenders
to outsource onto someone else’s shoulders?
WHEN THE BRIDGE CRACKED
It was the bridge between school and university.
My eighteen-year-old babbles on Zoom, a chorus
of small screen friends sharing plans, plotting.
If it were us, you’d have been cheerleading,
deflecting questions about the man you called Creep.
Today wobbles: an anniversary, our summer ended
abruptly. My child grows beyond your lifespan.
I WISH I COULD HUG THE ZAMBONI MACHINE
I wanted to do this: feel
a blade connect with ice, the difference
between hockey and figure skate.
A family friend had taken us skating.
My mother had played to a new audience. A teacher,
a deserted mother sacrificing time for her children,
who’d failed to notice when I started falling after jumps,
dismissed observations from others that I was limping,
wrote it off as a bruise when my knee refused to bend,
until a doctor had confirmed cartilage damage.
There was no ‘goodbye’ session. My mother had said
she’d phone my coach. I never heard her make the call.
Now I was standing in a changing room, kitting up
in hockey armour. The blade was just as frictionless.
The rink’s barrier blocked my view of spectators.
I posed for a scrapbook photo. Seen by my mother
who made a point of phoning to ask to see the photo
of me on the ice again. How often had I watched
the Zamboni spread a smooth, new surface
of ice which urged you back up after a fall,
let you freely move, even to let you leave?
But my mother isn’t frictionless.
I feel a familiar ache in my damaged knee.
I can’t replicate the Zamboni’s magic trick.
Emma Lee’s publications include The Significance of a Dress (Arachne, 2020) and Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea, (Five Leaves, 2015), was Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.
Pippa Little: Two Poems
if you just pulled up your roots
in a fistful of long skirt
to take that leap over sere fields and far away,
who or what could be saved before it grows too late
all over again, the way memory sends you tipping
high as the sky, wild and hanging on
for dear life as the swing you’re riding
bucks, almost goes over the bar –
human cannonball, you’re no longer anything
but a wild, dangerous hurtle of atoms
all desperate to be free of one another,
a beautiful explosion beyond
the world’s edge of disapproving pines
who don’t understand how it hurts
to unbend into soft leaf:
how far you might reach
all the while kneeling on family soil
hands cupped around the tips of crocuses’
intimate heat, answered in your blood
at the end of your thumb’s prickling,
sign of one more chance at life.
THE EXACT SPOT
is a couple of minutes beyond the halt
where the rain-silver rails curve out graceful
as candelabra and become many.
I know this place
between coal heap and brick red hut
sprayed in zigzag language,
poem waiting to happen –
the exact spot
where a graceland or gracework of futures explode
as the signal clicks – up –
and the points clack to and fro, connecting
old varieties of chance:
I know this place because, without knowing it,
in scrub and stony ground
my journey tilted and slid slant right here,
coat and hat and case heading south
with my heart and head facing into north’s
imagined welcome. My innocence!
Instead it was here I over-reached,
more slippery than telegraph lines, radio
or telephones, those seabed cables humming
between east and west – I was gone, here,
and I never came back.
Pippa Little‘s third collection Time Begins to Hurt came out in 2022. She is a poetry mentor and a tutor with Faber Academy: she lives in Northumberland.
Iris Lewis: Two Poems
THE WOMAN OF DOLNÍ VESTONICE
fistfuls of loam, fragments
of mammoth tusk and bone
water scooped from the river
kneaded and moulded into a figure
hips and buttocks graced with fat
breasts once heavy with milk
swaddled in ash, hearth-cradled
left to bake black
in the heart of the kiln
her head hooded and plumed
with feathers plucked
from a swan
A gentle bleakness inhabits this place.
On lamb-soft days
it seems an idyll of an English spring;
its lush pasture a labour ward
for ewes. Crows circle
waiting for a chance to peck
at newborn eyes and afterbirth.
Unruffled by hills or hedges,
criss-crossed by the disused runway
and paths of the wartime airfield,
this land colludes with wind
which probes through clothes,
spits rain at unprotected faces.
The memorial stands isolated
at the end of the runway,
the concrete ground broken
and slippery with lichen.
It is not quite forgotten:
a destination for dog walkers,
occasional tourists, and mourners
who lay poppy wreaths
on Remembrance Day.
The church stands alone,
deserted in medieval times
when villagers, driven away by plague,
sought new dwellings more than half a mile away.
Not even the rectory, where Vaughan Williams
was born, is close by.
Modern housing of Cotswold stone
where orchards used to blossom.
No lark ascends from village fields.
Flocks of black-headed gulls
fill the sky with a raucous chorus.
Iris Anne Lewis is published in a variety of print and online publications. History, prehistory and myth often feature in her work. She has been featured in the Silver Branch Series of Black Bough Poetry, won 1st prize in Gloucestershire Poetry Society competition and has been invited on several occasions to read her work at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. In 2018 she founded Wordbrew, a Cirencester-based group of poets. Twitter: @IrisAnneLewis
Kathleen McPhilemy: Four Poems
Diving into layers of old gold,
muzzle and forepaws, dog digs deeper
where autumn drifts against tree roots,
disturbs the fragile bone cages,
skeletal remnants of dead things –
rat, squirrel or a fallen bird;
leaves decay like a child’s painting,
all those colours to dirty brown
meld with the flesh of small cadavers
rotting down to a forest mulch.
Was it like this or was it more deliberate digging
uncovered the exquisitely etched feather
or the old wing of the Ur Vogel,
encrypted data of time before time
when tiny dinosaurs flapped their overcoats
took to the air in powered flight?
Wintry clouds lour on the treeline,
darkness draws down on these late days.
Can we imagine ourselves as fossils,
incised in rocks still unformed,
excavated by chance or purposeful quest?
Can we imagine the light in their eyes
as they gaze at our relics freighted with meaning?
She made it rain last week
and then, again, last night,
just a little, so the grass
would remember to be green.
She sits in her control tower
alone amidst her screens:
day and night surveillance
of her flickering creation.
Flood, fire and pestilence
those self-inflicted evils
haven’t brought them to their senses.
She counts the broken bodies,
sighs, twiddles all her dials
but she can’t break her rules;
she knows that H₂O
and sunlight won’t revive them.
Remember the tired faces of miners
the yellow stickers on jacket lapels
covered in grime and wool fluff
peeling away as support peeled away;
remember the bleak and ruined villages
still hungry after compassion moved on
reporters packed up, cameras left
and the story dropped from page and screen;
Remember the women whose voices began
when coal ended, who hefted the present
imagined the future, whose wounds, still open
are the strong lines carved in their faces.
Good Friday sunshine pours through the window:
hard to imagine waking in dread
as tourists and shoppers spill off the pavements
with clouds that cross the path of the sun
the only hint of darkness in daytime.
Four days later, or two thousand years
a robin lands in the hawthorn bush
his breast still red from the thorn he plucked
from a crown of thorns, the story says,
and goes on plucking where blood is spilt.
Bound by time and his own nature
the robin repeats his robin song
neither sacral, nor in remembrance
he cannot sing the far-off horrors
beyond this garden, this hawthorn bush.
Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Belfast but has spent most of her adult life in England and now lives in Oxford. She has published four collections of poetry, the most recent being Back Country, Littoral Press, 2022. She is currently hosting a poetry podcast magazine, Poetry Worth Hearing.
John Muro: Four Poems
SONNETS TO THE SOUND
Spring is near ending and the Sound still
advances and retreats in the same milk-green
and darker-than-grief grey as its winter waters,
though the inlet’s rising and trying to find its
way back to something approaching glass-bottle
blue. The afternoon sky, cloudless, unravels
luminous above us and arcs unimpeded
towards distant tidelands where it glazes the
swollen crests of incoming tides, though
heaven’s brief blessings are soon squandered,
as wave upon wave seem to take pleasure
in giving up these windfalls of light,
like bequests they keep losing, into the plush
lull of nothingness that sits between them.
With brush in hand, a dutiful wind sweeps
across the slack shoulders of the Sound
as it shakes then adjusts its mournful over-
coat of shale gray with inkblots of cobalt
blue. Tides carry crewel needles to stitch
the frayed fabric before its cast ashore and
porous pockets are emptied of coins, buttons,
crushed shells and the fertile musk of silt,
and in one sweeping motion, it extends
the coat wide as dusk and lies down in
a slumbering space of brindled foam and
diamond dust; then, unable to endure the
gutted heap of summer air, it slips, in muttering
dissolve, back into shallow rivulets of sand.
It’s the hour when daylight tarries and leaks
slowly into night and the moon, late arriving,
floats upon the outspread calm of water like
a buoy, with waves gently rising then leveling
out in impossibly small furrows while moon-
light streams between them before dispersing
into random shimmerings like so many things
that have rushed in and out of my life and only
now realizing how little I’ve truly learned
about matters of love and loss, unaware of
each day’s swift dissolution and the need to
hold on to those things that tend to slip from
our grasp, even as the gears of time grind on
disguised as these tomb-dark waves of water.
DE MOTU CORDIS
Nestled deep within
its lightless hollow,
a disfigured mollusk
expands and contracts,
its freakish anatomy
the size of a clenched fist,
weight of an orange,
texture of liquified twine,
a moist muscle without
constraint of bone
cradled beneath lochs
of lung and floating ribs;
its exquisite engine
in perpetual pulse
with blood its very
breath funneled through
its aberrant orifices and
valves that come together
then apart as if its lips
would swallow writhing
torrents of sweet blue air,
and, with aging eyes,
one might think it’s
teased itself free of
its sacred space and,
buoyant, carried upwards
by some elusive current
in search of rightful
sleep or silence.
John Muro has been twice nominated for the 2021 Pushcart Prize and, more recently, for the Best of the Net. He is a resident of Connecticut and a lover of all things chocolate. In the Lilac Hour, his first volume of poems, was published in 2020 by Antrim House and the book is available on Amazon. Since then, John’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Acumen, Barnstorm, Grey Sparrow, High Window, River Heron and Sky Island. His second book of poems, Pastoral Suite, was published in June of 2022 and it, too, is available on Amazon. Instagram: @johntmuro.
Kate Noakes: Two Poems
LOOK INTO MY EYES
Outside of a serpentarium, the only rattlesnake
I’ve ever actually seen was on a path in Yosemite:
an unremarkable moving twig, which nonetheless
spooked several locals.
We watched for a while, no percussive warning,
little peril, and soon each of us went on our way,
the diamondback to a shelter of fallen pines,
us to a famous valley viewpoint.
A forked flicker surfaces in inkblots,
black mixed with rattlesnake venom overlaid
with the white of its antidote. Impressions of
snakes’ head skeletons, or relics of dissected tissue,
that can, as the artist says, poison you
and at one and the same time, save your life,
though if it’s all the same, I’d rather not let
the dangerous paper prick my tongue.
RUDDERING LIKE CRAZY
Blown in on a hurricane
from Chiltern beechwoods,
a pair of red-tailed kites struggle
over the unfamiliar city,
above suburban gardens
whose trees may be
enough to make a forest,
technically, but not so as you’d
notice on the ground,
or if you were a kite
far off course in Ealing.
Kate Noakes is widely published and the the author of several collections of poetry. Her latest is Goldhawk Road, Two Rivers Press, 2023.
Jenny Owen: Three Poems
There’s a lot to be said for a tall man
beyond the cliché reaching of jars on shelves,
and in the bedroom (where in all honesty laid down
the mechanics are much the same)
This man of mine could
pluck the songbirds from the trees,
lift me high above the heads of other women
place me among the stars.
It’s easier too
to keep secrets from a tall man,
for I am nothing but a head of red hair
a hint of cleavage,
to him. He doesn’t see
what happens at ankle height.
It’s true, perhaps people aren’t always kind
to us, they frighten easily like children, run
at the cyclones of his breath
laugh at his oversized feet
but idle words are blown
away, before they reach his ears. You know
what they say about sticks and stones.
THE BLUE BELLES
You can visit six till ten, but by then,
their stems have drooped into one another,
a head on a shoulder, on their little white
chairs. Feet hover indigo bunting,
above the straw and peanut husks.
They are dressed in bridal gowns,
in seed pearls and yellowing lace, as if
to first communion. Yet, their blue
skin shines and glows against the let me down
hem. They hold hands, improbable living dolls.
They say, they were born in caul, under
the summer moon, that they have no need
for food, they sip only the nectar of flowers.
That between them they pass no breath. Quick!
Watch to see their chests lie still!
It is said, they talk in the language
of sharpened knives, but for now they are silent.
They avoid the gaze of the other children,
with their popcorn eyes, their candy apple
fingers, who ask in too loud whispers
is it true they are Bluebeard’s daughters?
For it is told with glee, that they were sold
to the circus, when he slaughtered their mother
behind a cold locked door. Did they cry
at the sound of the turning key?
THE HALF PENNY DANCERS
Sister sister, remember when
you and I would partner up
in the village hall. When
we’d Latin, Ballroom, and Disco ourselves
across the polished floor, to Uptown Girl
or The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Dressed
in our Saturday ra ra skirt finest, silver
shoes and bangles, we’d chant
heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe
under our breaths, forgetting who
was the lead. Then take turns
with the waltz instructor,
who straight-backed us and said to smile,
ensured our hands were just like so. Just like so.
We’d clump onto his feet mercilessly
then file to the tuck shop, cooling
ourselves with squash and pooling our copper
into Black Jacks and fizzy cola bottles.
We’d feel slightly dizzy and sick
by lunchtime. I think our mother hoped
we would be returned swans,
who could sweep and gracefully twirl
across the car park
but by noon, we’d just be
sweaty goslings with sticky faces.
Sister sister. I miss those girls sometimes
those dances we never mastered
the missteps we somehow forgot.
Jenny Owen has been published in a range of journals and anthologies including The Rialto, Wasafiri, Agenda Poetry, Acumen, Envoi, Tears in the Fence, Magma and Under the Radar.
Matthew Paul: Two Poems
Footbound by your father’s too-small gumboots,
I’m dragged by Maggie, your springer spaniel,
to the body of water bestowing name on place.
Holly-green wavelets lap nearer every day—
they blacken when heftier weather blimps in
from North America: Jesus-rays spoking out
of dark cumulonimbus cracking golf-ball hail.
You crease up as unleashed Maggie whooshes
across the mudbath to lump her walrus weight in,
displacing litres as if Archimedes were watching.
From this, I learn life’s travels are not a river,
but a lake—a Caspian Sea fed by rivers on all
sides—whose antediluvian coldness harbours
sharp-fin barracudas and red-bellied piranhas.
Our new, Australian friends tore up Surrey’s varicose
B-roads, twisting south-west through its swirliest holloways;
me on pillion of Lucy’s Suzuki. Happy days.
We washed down roasts, al fresco, at the Black Swan,
Ockham, a village whose fourteenth-century Franciscan
philosopher, William, wore excommunication
by the Pope as a badge of honour. Riding home, my love
Lillian, up ahead, gripped the gym-sculpted waist of Dave
rather too tightly. I leant into every Dead Man’s Curve
with dozy diligence, except at the lights in Wisley,
where Lucy totally caned it, from nought to seventy,
and I sprang back, puppet-like, almost to catastrophe.
That night, Lillian raved about the cosmic vibes she’d felt
between her legs as Dave lashed his Triumph up to full pelt;
the seismic after-shocks once he’d throttled down to a halt.
Matthew Paul’s collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear in 2017. His two collections of haiku – The Regulars and The Lammas Lands – and co-written/edited (with John Barlow) anthology, Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku, were published by Snapshot Press. He lives in Rotherham, writes essays and reviews, blogs at matthewpaulpoetry.blog and tweets @MatthewPaulPoet.
Colin Pink: Two Poems
SIX O’CLOCK NEWS
We always watched the TV news at six o’clock.
The Vietnam War was played out, like a vivid
tea-time movie. B52s, lumbering condors, crapped
an endless stream of bombs on the North. We ate
beans-on-toast or fish-fingers while machine-guns
rattled and chopper blades thrashed a stormy sea
of foliage. Marines ducked, ran and crouched in the
long grass. Napalm would spread across the screen
in bright clouds of flame. Children ran, naked,
down a thin road, their thin arms outspread,
their thin skin burned off, being saved for freedom.
On May Day the USSR would have a big parade
with huge posters of dead leaders and living ones
standing stiff as statues saluting a solemn stream
of tanks and missile launchers with warheads
asleep on their backs. We ate Angel Delight, our tea
cups brimmed with PG Tips, which was drunk by us
and chimpanzees. Government advice, in case of attack,
resembled tips for camping indoors; if we survived
the blast they told us not to go out, as if nuclear war
was a mere inconvenience, like a sudden shower of rain.
AT THE BUTCHER’S
I remember the thick smell of meat and sawdust.
I was impressed by his skill. The way he wielded
the cleaver, brought it down in just the right place.
His assurance in handling all those gleaming blades:
separating ribs, filleting flesh into easy portions,
weighed, priced. Surrounded by the blank quiddity
of sides of mottled meat, hanging from sinuous hooks,
it told me he knew how to cut the world down to size.
Colin Pink’s poems have appeared in a wide range of print and online magazines. He has published two pamphlets (The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament and Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy)and two full-length collections (Acrobats of Sound and Typicity).
Bill Richardson: Two Poems
Native to North America,
the hermit-thrush never visits Ireland –
but this one did.
Flying east instead of north,
from winter grounds in Mexico,
the lonely wanderer,
frame exhausted from his ocean-crossing,
pitches up on foreign soil,
three thousand miles off course.
Dun-coloured bird with reddish tail,
he drifted to a Connemara bog.
Did his fellows see some tracks,
paths to signal where to go,
signs that he misread?
Or did his radar system fail?
Or did the southwest winds
and Gulf Stream rhythms grip him,
causing him to keep on keeping on,
and in the wrong direction?
Accidental bird who’s battled wind and rain,
there is no mate for you to meet here.
Yours are not the colours of the locals.
Your oddness to the eye and your strange call
make you a target for the hungry hawk.
Your song that has been called
the finest sound in nature
will not save you now.
You will not make it back to Oregon.
I like to get angry with you
knowing we can’t talk,
thinking how it used to be
before you slid away.
Don’t attempt to understand me
when all the words I speak
are echoes of the words
we used to share.
Do what you’ve learned to do,
lift your cup with care,
mouth voiceless shapes at me
and try to focus when I catch your eye.
Oh can you hear that silly bird
warbling from a bush outside?
The notes he makes he makes
to say he’ll miss you.
And now the shuffling’s started.
Night is here.
Bring dreams to bear, my lonely one.
Let the moonlight veil us as we fade.
Bill Richardson is Emeritus Professor in Spanish at the University of Galway, Ireland. He has published books and articles on Spanish and Latin American literature and culture. Poems of his have been published in Irish newspapers, as well as in Atrium, The Galway Review, Pendemic, Vox Galvia, The Seventh Quarry, Amethyst Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Orbis, The Orchards, Book XI-A Journal of Literary Philosophy and the Fish Anthology 2020.
Omar Sabbagh: Poem
DECLINE AND FALL
I am getting old, he tells himself,
then laughs in the corner of a room
that has housed too much hurt.
And the age he tells himself, again
and again, and the age that tells, both for
and against, making for a smallish story
that anyone could read – written as it is
with a certain elegance that befits
the adoration and the need he’s lived
with – proves to be a secret tale
as well that no one ever told him.
But it was only much later, lying near
the ground on a low-pitched bed, set-out
with the whitest cleanest sheets
for him by others, that he saw again
that the man he was talking to
was not himself at all.
Omar Sabbagh is a widely published poet, writer and critic. His last poetry collection was, Morning Lit: Portals After Alia (Cinnamon Press, March 2022). His Lebanese-themed book of narrative verse, The Cedar Never Dies is forthcoming in 2023, as is a collection of his published short fiction, Y Knots (Liquorice Fish). He is currently Associate Professor of English at the American University in Dubai (AUD).
Fiona Sinclair: Three Poems
It could even be heard in Sittingbourne,
a town that slept with one eye open.
And in the village, disturbed at dawn by a dream,
I would lie and pick out: karaoke sparrows,
black bird tenors, blue tit rockers.
In truth, less a chorus, more a vast warming up.
But any nightmares clinging to my waking mind
would be noise blasted back to where they belonged,
then suddenly silence, as if the day had rapped its baton.
In reality, not an ode to dawn, but a chest puffed chant,
staking claim over thickets for roosting, nesting rights.
But today, farmers are selling the family silver,
construction companies grub countryside,
planting acres of new builds with paved over drives
and low maintenance gardens. So wild birds, like council tenants
in premium London boroughs, have been moved on-
Now when I wake at dawn, a lone black bird sounds
the last post for the dawn chorus.
MORE THAN ONE WAY
We are confident our EQ like our IQ is above average.
After all, we wince at boxing matches on the TV,
routinely rattle tins for the local cat sanctuary,
and positively haemorrhage poems for refugees.
Oh, we still feel the same incendiary emotions,
love, hate, jealousy, anger but our weapons
are smarter. Praise for instance is primed,
‘’ How powerful, ‘’ to the many ‘’ very nice’’ to you.
In company, we cleave in half your sentences
thrusting in our own opinions until your words
float away like lost balloons. Then we will close
the circle of our conversation against you.
And should you with dry mouth venture to
challenge us, we will suggest with smirking eyes
‘You are too sensitive dear’, for misreading
what we assure you is ‘really just a bit of banter’.
From our vocabulary’s arsenal we often select
words with multiple meanings that lure you
into misinterpretation, inferring your ignorance
with ‘Oh, that’s not what I meant at all.’
Expert at ambivalence, we lay our terms
like tripwires, their true meaning, opaque
as our language, dancing on the cusp of cruelty,
so, we can never be called out on it.
Like savvy heavies, our going overs leave
no physical evidence. We too are aiming
at internal injuries, but our bruises,
abrasions, bleeds will all be in your mind.
August, the robin swaps its song
to this slow bluesy tune signalling
summer is slipping through my hands.
Not that I have squandered each day’s glut of light.
Doors and windows have been left open
until evening inks the sky.
We have scrambled the bike at a moment’s notice
blasting off down to the coast.
Plums and cherries have been gorged on before
their season’s small window slams shut.
I have stuffed the garden with flirty ‘Hot lips ‘
whose tiny red lip- sticked flowers part to French kiss bees.
Now the wintry mood that was stashed away
with woollies in May, stirs. I have no love for Autumn,
regard it as an arsonist putting a torch to trees
that are burnt out by November.
And even less for Winter when we must adjust again
to a life squeezed into shrunken days.
You have already entered next year’s holidays
and events in the diary with bold black print.
Whereas I have learned to only pencil in the future.
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 .
Mark Totterdell: Three Poems
We exchange few words so there’s no knowing
whether his mind is freighted with the myths
of his calling. We leave old houses, head for the side
where reeds are fading and the wild geese bark.
The outboard hums and mumbles. The flat grey river
is the grey flat sky inverted, but for where
the wake is a skein of geese. It’s mid-November.
Upstream, a viaduct easily spans
the river, the whole wide valley, on sturdy limbs,
but traffic only crawls. The empty lorries
look like the loaded lorries. Matrix signs
glow through the gloom like distant points of fire.
We reach the other side. The ferry nuzzles
thick mud. No coin has passed from my cold hand
to his. Instead, he hands me a device.
It’s getting late now. He does contactless.
This fraying edge of Britain is their winterland.
From a distance, their non-stop yelping is
seventies rock guitar spilling from a tinny radio.
Too messy to call skein, the flock is a broad network
of their angled wings, cast over gleaming mud
and ruffled lumpish water. Each node of the net is
its own unique being; bakelite bill, pliable
soft periscope neck, the dark round loaf
of its belly, the startle of its pure pert stern.
Guzzling the eel-grass, grazing the common acres,
their soundtrack is a hundred squabbles among families
and neighbours, rough tussles for sustenance,
struggles for dominance that don’t come to much.
Next month, they’ll be off across an arc of Earth,
over irrelevant borders to their summerland in Russia.
The sea has dished up a yard-long monster,
just a wide, kelp-brown head, with a tapered
tail the waves keep wagging. A hellish gape,
haphazard with teeth, holds a swollen tongue.
Between blank eyes like paper discs, a snapped-
off aerial sprouts. Other infernal
appendages have been dashed off on reefs.
Splits in the thin plastic bag of its skin
spill pale flesh, undefinable gunk, a
bloated organ like a blown-up cushion.
The skunkish stench of it is an unseen
cloud the size of a whale. Would a fool seek
faultlessness in its rank putrefaction,
and find a perfection in its foulness?
Mark Totterdell’s poems have appeared widely in magazines including Acumen, Ambit, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, The Rialto and Stand. His collections are This Patter of Traces (Oversteps Books, 2014), Mapping(Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018) and Mollusc (The High Window Press, 2021).
Annette Volfing: Four Poems
I HAVE NO STORIES
The one time I went on a march,
and we were streaming
down Piccadilly, I was deflected
by a sale in Cotswolds Outdoor.
The one time I was in Prague,
in 1989, I was too scared
to go to Wencelas Square,
but skulked in snowy suburbs.
That time in the Cairo taxi,
he wasn’t abducting us,
just dodging traffic –
and in the Bekaa Valley,
the shots from Hezbollah
were some way off.
I watch you flopped back
in the Old Man Chair –
which, these days,
is only half a joke.
I watch the way
you hear music.
I hear it too,
but mostly I see it.
I watch your stillness,
how you are maybe
asleep, maybe now
on that dark side
of the moon
where you seem
to like it and I
Most of you look terrible, I mean really,
even worse than one would expect
from this little ellipsis.
I’m the one who stayed on. Yes,
I work here now. No magic for me
in crossing a quad or creaking up stairs.
You are sort of impressed, and sort of
not. You tell me how much I must
love it. It sounds fascinating,
whatever it is I do. Have I thought
of writing a popular book?
You, of course, have retired.
Some of you have been put
back in your old rooms. Good luck
with the single beds and the showers.
I sleep at home tonight.
FINNISH BORDER GUARD (2021)
You check the website over
and over, in several languages,
as though that could make any difference,
as though they might suddenly say,
maybe in Swedish, YES,
yes you can come, yes, do,
for you the skies will be opened,
for you we will cook blinis,
put out Karelian pies.
For you we have strewn salt
on the streets, fed seabuckthorn
into the gin. For you there is no end
of cranberries, for you we have cut
a hole in the ice.
Annette Volfing is Danish but has lived in the UK for a long time. She is an academic teaching medieval German literature at Oxford. She has published two pamphlets (Ecliptic with Black Light Engine Room and Learning Finnish with Paekakariki Press) and her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including The North, Magma, The Interpreter’s House and Under the Radar. She is particularly enthusiastic about Finnish language and literature.
Merryn Williams: Four Poems
(for Ruth Bidgood)
I learned of your death in a crowded seafront café
between trains, flicking casually through my smartphone
as everyone does. I should have expected this news
but didn’t. You’d not have felt at home in this place,
distrusting the sea, turning back to the mountains. So
I went for a last look, and spent a half hour counting
the waves, remembering how I’d watched them crashing
off Hengistbury Head, on the actual day you died.
Sorry to hear of your divorce. But glad
it wasn’t me you married. Strange how news
filters through, long years afterwards, and I
kept quiet, never told them that I’d known you
better than they did. We went back to talking
literature, someone mentioned Angel Clare,
we all laughed. But I thought of that young woman
I never met, and of her children, and how
she panicked, and dropped gasping to the floor
half-conscious, when she saw you really meant it.
Have you ever lived with a crazy person
who reads dark meanings into everything
you say, who interprets each flicker of your features
and thinks they know your impermissible thoughts?
Have they ever gone through Twitter or Facebook
noting all you said years back, and all that you Liked,
and brought it out, triumphantly, to damn you?
Unclean, unclean! Here come the purity police.
DR ARNOLD’S BOYS
Happy, the boys who don’t go to chapel. God’s
all-seeing eye is upon them, and so is the Doctor’s,
whose face is like thunder. Yet those boys don’t care, just
keep heading the ball, or twisting the arms of their juniors.
I hear their distant cries. My knees are aching
upon the bone-cold floor. Hell’s flames are worse
than being flogged, and far, far worse than Latin.
A fearsome red; a demon with a pitchfork
who’s thrusting me, head downwards, into hell.
Then that boy kneeling next to me – I happen
to know he doesn’t pray in private, but
he looks angelic and he stops the sacrament.
The Doctor likes him. God, of course, knows better.
His eye impales me. There is no escape.
Merryn Williams‘ latest collection is The Fragile Bridge: New and Selected Poems (Shoestring Press). She is the editor of Poems for the Year 2020: Eighty Poets on the Pandemic (also Shoestring), and her translation of Lorca’s Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) has just gone into a revised edition. She is presently working on the poetry of Ruth Bidgood for a possible selection.