Angela Topping is the author of eight full poetry collections and four pamphlets. Her work has won several prizes and appeared in over 100 anthologies, been included in Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, The North, The Interpreter’s House and many other such magazines. Poems have featured in BBC Radio’s Poetry Please and set on the A level syllabus. She is a former Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library. Based in Cheshire, she is a freelance poet and author. Her website is here.
The Five Petals of Elderflower
What is the riddle of this hill?
It tells of secret graves, of bones.
It sings of granite, rabbits’ homes.
Records of battles are scribbled on grass.
Blood fattens bulbs for spring.
What is the legend of this tree?
The heartwood knows important things.
Its shade is where the lovers sighed;
its branches where thrushes feed their young.
The oak means ships and England’s pride.
What is the codex of the sky?
Its meaning changes by the hour.
Its tongue no-one can understand.
Its daily dialectic tells one truth:
nothing is definite against the dark
She has an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University. Her pamphlet After Eden, was published by 4Word Press in May 2018 and is available from www.4word.org
Alice in the Laundry Asylum
Fallen. We were labelled,
as if we’d snapped,
keeled to earth like rotten trees,
sending shock waves through the forest.
They dragged us off like lumber,
an eye to our limbs which were pliant,
fit for grafting.
As our bodies grew
our worlds shrank.
They stole our ballast
to steady the rocking
of someone else’s crib,
left us hollow as dugouts.
We’d never spoken to time
until they locked us in,
made us haul the sheets
from an ocean of tears,
the ticking of a thousand beds
making and unmaking our years.
Night is a fallen woman paying out
the dark sails of our fears.
How easy it was to fall,
to slip down a hole into the wrong story.
We look through the glass,
see ourselves on the rocks,
shadows searching for lost girls.
My birth day came with a fall
of spring snow, those restless flakes,
unable to settle in the pulse
of a nascent earth, a dove
in the flagged yard, fussing
over scattered grain, broadcasting
kernels like myths into the cracks
Daughter of Eve, I’m bred
for domesticity, conditioned
to home. Given a ring to distinguish me,
I learned the cramp of being woman,
lofty mother, builder of nests.
Sometimes, I fancy I’ve never known
this lumbering frame, its slavish attraction
to earthiness. My impulse throbs
in the bloom of the dove’s breast,
yet it seems, no matter how wholesome
the flesh, there’s always a grubby
worm that eats away at the core.
‘Whore,’ they call me, if I strut my stuff,
puff out my breasts, sing too loudly,
so I mapped the skies,
navigated the small lives of men,
through the compass of her eye,
the homeliness of her nature.
It’s the need of my flesh that keeps me
returning to my niche. Released,
I’d beat my angel wings,
let the restless feathers fall,
watch them settle like snow on the garden,
vaned messages of a spirit set free.
In support of The Women’s March 2017
A blustering wind presides over the house,
storming up walls, battering sidings,
bluffing and huffing at trees, tearing strips
from roofs, bellowing down chimneys.
She floats her white sheets, letting them settle
like feathers over beds, tucking in edges,
making pillows of box hedge,
an eiderdown of puckered earth.
She likes the steady fall of a still night,
to spread herself on the rise of hills,
to lie in limbs of trees, enfold roofs,
melt in the chimney’s breathy whisper.
She favours gentle persuasion,
the irresistible pull of a full moon,
a frosting of stars to anneal her gravitation.
Her cold war is a quiet gathering,
an accretion, flocking streets,
rounding corners, a swelling drift,
silently laying down its law,
majestic, primordial, transfiguring.
Tomorrow, waking to a dazzling world,
children will revel in her presence,
impress her with angels,
men will curse her, sweep her aside.
In this cold war she will harden her resolve,
fold the world in her wings, bide her time,
until the hollow wind
Wendy Pratt is a full time poet, freelance writer and workshop facilitator working on the glorious North Yorkshire coast, just outside Filey. Her poetry has been published widely in magazines and journals and she is the winner of several prestigious awards. She is poetry correspondent for Northern Soul and the coastal columnist for Yorkshire Life Magazine. Her latest collection, Gifts the Mole Gave Me, is available from Valley Press. Find out more about Wendy, her work and upcoming courses and events on her website: https://wendyprattpoetry.wordpress.com
She uses stencils to draw rounds
tucks sounds into these pictures,
lays pencil borders round and about.
Her world is one where fire is flat, a roundabout;
a circle with a centre. Flowers turn in rounds
over and over, the same design. Her pictures
are bird seed on her path. Those pictures;
one day I’ll try and show her what it is about,
how fire takes hold in the soul, does the rounds,
half burns you away, curling the edges of pictures.
You wear your death like dance slippers,
taking them out of their coffin-box
at the barre. You arabesqueand plié,
allegrolightly round the room, touch the mirror,
turn, feel your feet bleed into the blocks,
assembleon your own edge, bitter
and full of remorse. The dance becomes a quick-step,
a flamenco, a stream of soft tap, a fox-trot.
The slippers lead. But you are no black swan.
Someone needs to stop you, pull you back, help,
Crows take flight, sliding onto the dawn
in a rasp. They are the loose shale of the woods.
There are three miles of trees and dry stone walls
that bristle in the grass,and at my hip: Bay bolete,
Birch polypore, Field blewit, Chanterelle,
Horse fungus. Lifted gently,fingers hooked
beneath their gentle heads,touching the secret skin
of their gills, I pickand pickagain. I am a reaper
and I lay them out on my cool kitchen marble,
counting their pale limbs into my red pan.
Daphne Gloag worked for most of her career as a medical journalist and editor, though she had previously read Classics and philosophy at university. She has had a longstanding interest in the sciences, especially cosmology, which she built on in her long poem Beginnings (in her second collection). As well as the many poems published in magazines and anthologies (with several prizes and commendations) she has had three full collections published, two by Cinnamon Press. Most recently Cinnamon has published a sequence of poems on time in a pamphlet entitled How Long Is Not Long? Extracts from this were commended in the last Artemis long poem competition.
Orbiting the Sun
And there it was hanging in the dark
as I opened the door, lighting the years
of its journey round the sun, lighting
the years carved from time.
What happens, he said once, when a comet
passes the sun? Might it disintegrate,
or else vanish into darkness? Lose
the possibility of light?
Now when I open the door, interrogating
the dark he’s become a part of, I ask questions
of my comet. Does it show signs of dimming,
or does it shine strongly
on years full of circumstance, full of shapes
captured from time? How many orbits will it make,
coaxing moments from darkness, before it loses
the possibilities of time?
But now it is still making a difference to the dark.
The Giant Sequoia
It was a kind of pilgrimage we made
together, to meet a giant sequoia standing
at the top of a hill like a climax. Over three millennia
it had grown towards the sky. I said, It is not
years of a tree we’re celebrating here,
it is the years of time. We stood inside
the trunk as if it were a house, we stood
in awe of time. But he said, The more
the years pile up the nearer it comes to the end
of time, its time. We were quiet, feeling the fear
of that great trunk no longer making inroads
on the sky but lying across the road
of time, feeling too the fear for ourselves
of what would fall across our time, the road
blocked by a stop sign.
Julie-ann Rowell’s first pamphlet collection, Convergence, published by Brodie Press won a Poetry Book Society Award. Her first full collection, Letters North, was nominated for the Michael Murphy Poetry Prize for Best First Collection in Britain and Ireland in 2011. Her latest collection, Voices in the Garden, is a sequence about the life of Joan of Arc, published in 2017 by Lapwing Publications, Belfast. She has been teaching poetry and mentoring in Bristol for ten years and has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She’s won several awards including first prize in the Frogmore Poetry Prize and the New Writer Poetry Competition Short Collection prize, and was a runner-up in the Bridport Prize, and in the Mslexia Poetry Competition (three times). She has recently been short-listed in the Strokestown Poetry Competition.
Jeanne recounts the apparition of St Michael
He was all fire
I shielded my eyes
I’d looked for a heaven
I could recognise
gilded my body
There was nothing
I could do
but be his work of art
He breathed sun
into my lungs,
poured sparks of iron
to drift through
caught in my throat
like a fish hook
four plain, one of great artistry
recovered from Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois
on your instructions. You once smote a whore
on the back with it and the king was displeased:
‘The sword is anointed as you are.’
A white harness
each piece perfectly moulded to your body,
the greaves, knee plates, hauberk and cuirass,
spaulders and the gauntlets,
the polished breastplate fitted with an arret de cuirasse.
A gambeson of horsehair.
The spurs you never required.
Two silver rings.
One from your mother inscribed Jesu Maria.
Both confiscated by the English
and most likely melted down.
A white embroidered banner of boucassin
fringed with silk,
worked by careful women in Tours
who kissed every stitch.
A wooden spoon and bowl you scraped
food from, frugally, burned on the pyre
with your shoes.
The bascinet you wore into battle,
behind glass in a museum in New York City.
The plain cross in your tent
though you needed no reminding of God
who lived in the light of the fire
that so happily consumed you.
What the fire said to Jeanne
I have come to lick you goodbye
to melt your heart and blind you,
seal up your mouth, test your bones,
flicker where no man has been
with their ever greedy cocks.
I have access to all parts of you,
the intimacy you wouldn’t allow.
Even your breasts are mine
to turn to cinder and your bold
hands will wither. I am not kind.
I’ll scorch the innards
that only God has seen, your bowels
and your liver. All I will deliver intact
to the executioner are your teeth.
He will smash them on rocks by the Seine.
Reuben Woolley has been published in Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House and Ink Sweat and Tears among others. Published Books: the king is dead, 2014, Oneiros Books; dying notes, 2015, Erbacce Press; a short collection on the refugee crisis, skins, 2016, Hesterglock Press; broken stories, 2017, 20/20 Vision Media Publishing. Forthcoming, some time we are heroes, The Corrupt Press. Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Prize, both in 2015. Editor of the online poetry magazines, I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind.
broken stories was originally a pamphlet manuscript which won the 2nd prize in the Overton Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2015. Since then he has worked at length on it, editing the original poems, eliminating some and adding quite a few more. He finally decided it should be taken away and it was kindly accepted for publication by Rhys Jones of 20/20 Vision Publishing.
£9.50 + p&p
20/20 Vision Media Publishing
He was also runner-up in the Erbacce Prize, 2015 with the corresponding chapbook now published by Erbacce Press, called dying notes: http://www.erbacce-press.com/#/reuben-woolley/4590077522
& all that jazz
i’m wrapped in night
wired & stretched out
to flow in steel & brass
the air blow strong
i wail in layers
break in tides
i play a moon
oh give me an honest word
haven’t got a glad man’s shoes
no fancy steps just the old
let that horn play
down the street
is no splinterman
to hinder us
the breath beats
of rolling chords
we go in time
a liquid tone
there’s nothing new
i don’t remember.just
blow that horn for now and now
the blue violin
(for Caroline Mitchell)
playing a blue
for frayed strings
& old violin
the air vibrates
just so slightly
this is how i play
it is my business
to be dangerous
i do it in crescendo
listen the silent notes
the long lines
do they play
in your heaven
where bird flies
& do we die here
the notes they didn’t play
John Foggin has been a teacher, lecturer and LEA English/Drama Adviser. He lives in West Yorkshire where he jointly organises Puzzle Poets Live in Calderdale, and writes a weekly poetry blog, the great fogginzo’s cobweb. His work has appeared in The North, The New Writer, Prole, and The Interpreter’s House, among others.
His poems have won first prizes in competitions including The Plough [2013,2014], and The Mclellan  He has authored four pamphlets : Running out of space , Backtracks, Larach[Ward Wood Publishing 2014], and his latest is Outlaws and fallen Angels [Calder valley Poetry 2016]
John was one of the winners of the 2015 /16 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition with his pamphlet ‘Much Possessed’.
Because there were three grandparents I never knew,
because of that, because all I have is photographs,
nothing with heft or texture but one five shilling piece,
because of that I need the tags and rags of stories.
How Grandma Ethel drowned. How Grandfather Alfred,
the journeyman housepainter, died of Hodgkinsons
lymphona before he could join his comrades at The Front.
How Granddad John disliked his children
bringing people in the house, how he would lock the door
at ten each night; whoever was not in by then stayed out
till morning. I can live with that.
But my father who I lived with, ate with, who watched
boxing every Friday night, who took photographs,
who knew the names of birds, of flowers, grasses,
who did not like my mother very much at all, who sang
tenor in the chapel choir, who owned binoculars, him
I never knew. He never told me anything about his life.
Not one for stories. I don’t know the houses he grew up in,
nothing of his brothers, sisters, and him the eldest of six.
I don’t know what he hoped for, if he dreamed.
I’ve met men who told me
he’d catch trains to London most weekends,
that he liked a bet, knew a thing or two
about the horses.
This man I washed
as he lay dying, who I shaved,
whose hand I held,
who never said a thing,
who never once let on.
And why did I not ask.
Maybe I take after him. Maybe that’s it.
pinioned in a parchment sky,
his mind a kite-string ravel,
he stares at distressing
white comets’ tails of feathers,
down at his dwindling son.
He knows so much.
The structure of a bird’s wing,
the melting point of wax.
He can navigate
the fibonacci spirals of a conch
with thread, an ant, and honey.
He understands everything
about a body’s hinges,levers,
fulcrums, the way it works.
He has traced the ridges
of a human brain, the whorls
of fingertips, and dreamed
He can calculate velocities;
knows how a falcon slices
through blue spaces
and why a boy can not, and how
the lucid air turns loud and brutal
and why the cross-hatched sea
becomes a butcher’s block;
he is learning
it’s the sleep of the heart
He could mend a broken clock.
Under the skin
[for Polly Morgan: artist and taxidermist]
She keeps mynah birds and fledgling sparrows
in the freezer. Knows just how feathers lie
in a wing, the small fine down of the breast,
the jewel scales of thin reptilian feet,
the pitch of muscle, all its give and stretch.
She knows about incisions, scalpels, cuts,
how skin can tear, how to tease it from the skull
like a latex glove from a surgeon’s white hand;
translucent films and also oysterish flesh,
the strength of tendons, elasticicities,.
She is comfortable with the smell of alcohol,
the sweetness of decay and thaw, the sharpness
of formaldehyde. She is deft with waddings,
patient re-clothings, fine stitching, the smoothing
of plumes, and the way a beak must sit, just so.
Sometimes she looks at the backs of her hands,
imagines the bones she has never seen; imagines
the spongy maze of her lungs, the ruby kidneys,
the packed grey intestinal coil, the lens of her eye;
she thinks of her plump-muscled heart.
If there was a photograph, I’d show you.
I’m sitting on a suitcase. There are long queues
at the barriers. Everyone has a suitcase.
Everyone. The air is loud with whistles,
hiss, doors; blurry with steam, coal smoke.
The sky is a huge dark arch. Picture me.
I wear a raincoat too big for me. Sandals.
Everyone is grey. A man in a hat says: smile.
He points a big black camera. Come on,
he says. Smile. But I don’t. I get off
the suitcase, find my mother. If there was
a photograph, I’d show you. You’d see
a small thin boy on a suitcase. Grey queues.
You’d have to guess the noise, the smell,
the dark arches. You might tell yourself
a story. You know the one of a small boy
in a too-big cap, wideeyed, hands raised
in surrender, the grey soldiers, their guns.
The one of a man in a well-cut suit
begging for bread thrown from a tank.
You know the one of a fighter on a hill
under a white sky, falling backwards,
arms flung back, rifle spinning away.
Every picture tells a story.
You see a small thin boy, a suitcase.
You’d know exactly what was going on,
Denise McSheehy’s, prize winning first collection Salt was published by the Poetry Can. She received an Arts Council bursary for the development of work in progress & her poems have appeared in many magazines and been successful in major poetry competitions.
Two recent important anthologies, Her Wings of Glass and The Book of Love & Loss, included her work. She was awarded an Author’s Foundation Grant (from The Society of Authors) towards her second collection. She currently lives in Devon.
after Ladysmith Black Mambazo
They begin with the body
what it can do
unafraid of its
intimate noises, spasm of nerve
gut and flesh.
Use the shape of the throat
make sound grainy
Release it slowly
in murmurings, soft-pedal sighs.
from a hundred different points
with little whinnies
hiccups and trills.
Trawlers in sound
erudite in the vocabulary
of inflexion, they explore meaning
with a sweet
adjustment of mouth and tongue.
Their narrative – the human heart.
He is quite still.
Such a little breath, a little flutter, a little
spring of the arms.
Head like an Easter egg
the one blue eye that opens and shuts once
to take me in.
Now I stroke with a finger only.
He sleeps and will not feed
his skin tinged yellow.
And my heart
that I have not always recognised
squeezes and swells.
I watch her watching
take her rounded brown arm
between my hands to keep her safe
and guard my thoughts.
And guard my thoughts.
cleanness of this
like bleached bone
only wanting to be still
letting the coming back
the exact certain repeat
where you thought
there might be none
light in my head
this slim haul of breath
Susan Jordan moved to Devon from London a few years ago and enjoys being close to Dartmoor and the sea. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes both poetry and prose. Before joining Jo Bell’s online poetry group ’52’ in 2014 she saw herself mainly as a prose writer, but since then poetry has played a greater part in her writing life. She has had poems published in a number of print and online magazines and is an active member of the South Devon poetry group Moor Poets. Her website, The Belated Writer, is here.
Her debut collection, A House of Empty Rooms, was published recently by Indigo Dreams and you can see it here
Memories of you are not quiet:
how you slung your keys over your shoulder
as you sprinted off, turquoise shirt chiming
with the smile in your eyes, to do your job quicker
and better than anyone else;
how you flung the door back when you came in,
your long spoon grinding sugar into coffee
thick with condensed milk; how you clicked
the lock of your secret cupboard and scuffled
through your notes and diagrams;
how your radio aerial snagged under the table
spoiling Mozart and Rachmaninov;
how your laugh always made me laugh;
how your camera snatched the small moments
you could never bear to lose.
You knew I’d let you down, understood
what I couldn’t – I was too young then.
That last night beside me, your skin
cooling, you still gave me warmth.
In the long dark I heard your snores
sink into acceptance. Next day
you let your hands lie idle, surrendering
before the final silence. At the end
I wasn’t there. You said to me once,
‘I can forgive you anything, buddy,
even being you.’
I remember how my daughter learnt to sew, the way the seams
got twisted out of true or a bias-cut inset wouldn’t lie at ease;
how she’d bring home a goldfinch captured in a cage, keep it
beating against its house arrest until I let it free.
Nature is all my work. When I found out the earth is made
to travel round the sun, I had to say it. That was my nature.
The truth I knew hung in my body straight as a plumb-line.
It did not compromise the God I know, who is never a liar.
Unlike me. They made me swear their truth, a sad affair
of fusty books and hand-me-down ideas, was what was true.
Their God, small enough to fit into their lists of calumny,
knows only what they know. No one is beyond their power.
They let me have my work. Here I am no more unhappy
than my daughter in her convent. My clipped wings reach
no further than my cage. Nature has not been forbidden me,
only the one truth I have sold to them in return for nothing.
One day it will not be hidden. Their God, misshapen no longer,
will let us reveal all we dare to know. For now I do what I can,
an old man whose crooked back can never straighten again.
Silenced though I have been, I still repeat: eppur si muove.
My mum wouldn’t eat bacon. God said
you weren’t supposed to, so my dad
wrote it backwards on the shopping list.
That way the Jewish neighbours wouldn’t know
we bought the things they bought backwards too.
I liked it crisp, reddened, the fat browned
so you could crunch it, the rind a dark chewy
stripe, a mordant smear of mustard that stung
my mouth, with ketchup globs, sliced cucumber
– crisp green, sweet red – a tomato fried black
at the edges, butter-soaked white toast.
God said you mustn’t have meat with milky things
but bacon wasn’t kosher so it didn’t matter.
When you had crunched, it had an undertaste,
animal, unclean, our foreign English breakfast:
God telling us we shouldn’t be eating pigs.
Rose Cook is a well-known South West poet who performs regularly at festivals and poetry events. Rose co-founded the popular Devon poetry and performance forum One Night Stanza, as well as poetry performance group Dangerous Cardigans.
Hearth is her fourth book of poetry.
And here are three poems from Hearth
When his mother died, Seamus Heaney
wrote a poem about folding a sheet with her.
So many days I have lifted sheets
from the line with my own mother.
She taught me the way of folding.
Together we would dance to and fro,
handing the cloth to her as she made
the final fold, a pat and sigh,
that slight smile to meet my eye,
then on to the next.
I never wanted it to end.
After the Fall
He was alone
and it was dark when he fell,
pitched down to stone steps, unnoticed.
Asleep, I am as far away as is possible to be,
until the call comes, its shrill scream
shatters unconscious diving.
I break the surface, gasp for air.
I can’t catch my breath,
can hardly hold up my neck.
He fell, flew for a time,
but it is me, me, who is drowning.
July rolls into August, combines busy in fields,
the muted space station of ICU.
We are quietened by the restriction placed upon us.
When we get home, draw comfort around, watch him
keenly as a baby, the wound winds around
from a lung, right up to his wing bones, arcs.
He fell, flew for a time,
but it is me who is drowning.
He has to learn again how to love the air,
how to hold the word suspended in the cave of his chest,
feel the heave of his ribcage.
He stands by a window, so light falls on his back,
(my beauty, my son). Though he heals,
breath catches in my chest.
He fell, flew for a time,
but it is me who is drowning.
At the Boathouse
We are talking about death,
the quick shutter of it,
the here then not-hereness of it.
Of the dead. Our dead.
That they are not here.
How it is frightening, but perhaps it needn’t be.
We may just leave
as we once left school,
left a job, a house.
Over your shoulder, I can see a bird,
a young crow, taking a bath in the leat.
Backlit by sun, it leaps into the runnel, splashes,
opens its wings then hops out to the side.
After a shake, it jumps back, bathes, wings wide.
Again and again, the mud banks golden with sun,
boats leant at odd angles, red buoys sitting in a line,
the black bird leaps into fire water,
flurries his feathers, flies straight up to a tree,
Anna Kisby is a Devon-based poet. After growing up in London she studied Literature and Film at the universities of East Anglia, Sussex and Paris-Sorbonne, taught English in Prague and sold cowboy boots in Massachusetts, then trained as an archivist and worked with women’s history collections. Her poems are widely published in magazines including Magma, Mslexia and Poetry News and anthologies including 154: contemporary poets respond to Shakespeare’s sonnets and Campaign in Poetry. In 2017 she was part of the collaborative poetry performance Somme Suite – a First World War commemoration. She won the BBC Proms Poetry competition 2016, the Havant Poetry Competition 2016 and was commended in the Faber New Poets Scheme 2015-16.
Her book, All the Naked Daughters, can be found here and below are some poems from the collection.
Grandmother was a Showgirl
She wore a skirt like a staircase so he climbed it, pawed at the cabinet of her bosom
when she twirled him.
He flicked her with his tiny tongue as they spun, slid down the bannister
of her hip and thigh.
Her gold court shoes were piano pedals going oompah oompah! She wore the boy
like an ankle-strap o-me-o-my!
Any moment she might high-kick him into a sky where some big hand
was chalking aeroplane lines.
He could hear the two Marys over the fence and the notes jumping pah pah pah
out the open back door, washing falling off the line.
His whole life he will never dance like this again with any other dame,
never so held or so high.
When she sets him down two magpies, slick-suited, hop to him and enquire
May we too come to the ball?
The fuchsias jingle fleur-de-lis fleur-de-la! and the world won’t stop
Just Like A Woman
Of course I’d been to Paris
before, but not without supervision.
And if Dylan ever had a dry patch
this was it, which meant the club
was intimate, tickets cheap
and the young among us shoved
upfront, thrilled, skin on skin.
Electric guitar, him in a lurex suit
tootling at the piano a while. So close
my fingers could’ve been crushed
by his white patent rock-star brogues
stamping a beat. And what I know is
at the first strums of my favourite song
(which would lose its shine when
I got fired up about misogyny
but that was later, not then) as he filled
his lungs to sing Nobody feels any pain
he looked directly at me –
with Dylan I was living the phrase
we locked eyes – at which point
in the story my husband always replies
Yeah right. But he was late on the scene
the one I married and green-eyed
over the Legend who saw me first:
nineteen, alone in Paris,
singing my heart out without
the slightest inkling of ache or break.
Boating under the Northern Lights
for Sara from Nunavut
The way she tells it, the sky is a peeled nectarine.
We wear bear leather, row an umiak of stretched skin
smelling of the tar that holds it together, make ripples
like salmon on the lake.
I think she is the seagull husband and I the goddess Nerrivick
whose fallen fingers turn to whale, seal and caribou –
as she talks her eyes slice through the walls of the rented room
in King’s Cross. All day we waitress; each night our hair streaks
the sink enamel with the dirt of London’s heatwave.
The northern lights are the colour of kumquat,
she says, it’s enough to make the world blush
with pleasure. I remember her foot against mine cold as ice
cream, rippled through and through with frozen berries.
Robbie Burton lives in a small village in Flintshire where she stares out of windows. As stanza rep for Cross Border Poets, the Poetry Society’s North East Wales stanza, she runs workshops, arranges poetry events and stares at a long stretch of the Clwydian Range out of a Clwyd Theatr Cymru window. Her poems have appeared in several magazines including Poetry Wales, The North and Magma, and in anthologies A Speaking Silence and The Book Of Love And Loss. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Someone Else’s Street, is available from HappenStance Press.
Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz
bubbled through Welsh washdays
like hot tarmac in Bad Piano Street.
No, that’s not right. Steam
and the quarry-tiled kitchen are true
but any jangly discords or whiffs
of envy were mine.
Damn, but my cousin could play. Passion
flew out of the iron-framed piano, shot
through two doorways and found
a route in.
For years I felt it
softening me up for love.
I didn’t know iron had flowed in too
waiting for the day.
They asked me to write you into a love poem.
I said I couldn’t do it, not knowing enough
about the bend and stretch of your sinews
and why a single hair grew in the middle
of your chest. I wasn’t prepared to tell them
about your irises going fuzzy
or the way your face changed shape that time
you were trapped inside a room with strangers
turning you into someone I’d never met.
With you inside a love poem, I said,
music would blast through the words letting out
bus engine rumble and the thud-thud-thud of boats.
Surely they could see that a love poem with you in it
would really be about me.
From the other side of the hedge
a sh-shh rustling. It stops
when we stop. Starts
when we start. Hawthorns
grow darker and taller.
Soon there’s nothing
but our urgent feet
and that soft insistent rustling.
On her side of the hedge
the cow tugs at long grasses.
She hears nothing
but the sh-shh rustle of supper.
She doesn’t see fear
place stones in our hands.
Cheryl Pearson lives and writes in Manchester in the North West of England. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Guardian, Southword, The High Window, Under The Radar, Poetry NorthWest, Crannog and Envoi. She won first prize in the High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature 2016, and third prize in Bare Fiction Magazine’s national poetry competition in the same year. She has been shortlisted for the York Literature Festival Prize and the Princemere Poetry Prize, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her first full poetry collection, “Oysterlight”, is available now from Pindrop Press.
Note: Between 1944 and 1992, at least forty-three female typhoid carrierswere kept in a secure isolation unit at Long Grove Hospital in Surrey. Despite having recovered from the disease, the women were deemed a public health risk as they still hosted the bacteria, and were kept incarcerated on this basis.
Imagine if you’d known in that first flush of fever
the time you’d endure in centimetres. The geological age
between Christmases. How sick would become monochromatic.
White. All white. Except for the scratched brass, and the green
that rises when they say Make a fist. And the blue eyes
above the white masks. You tell yourself
you cannot lose what you can still name, say yellow in earnest,
yellow, yellow. Later, daughter, into your pillow.
Your body – they repeat this – is now a bomb. You must keep
to paper slippers, a single room. They are afraid of bacteria.
You only of tedium. Once, you found a spider crouched in the sink,
and cried for the exquisite joy of something new.
Sometimes, you think you cannot bear
the weight of one stopped minute more. One single hour.
But then you do. And then you do.
Lluvia de Peces
You’ll speak of it for years:
the day the fish fell, like stars or prayers,
a finned rain filling the sky with silver.
You’ll say phenomenon. Say miracle. Say
fish out of water, which is how you felt
with your two feet sharing the same firmament.
Rainbows carving the air.
You never knew how many plates
held skydrowned bones that night,
could only guess from the smell
that swam through empty streets –
fat and seaspit greased with butter, dressed
with twists of lemon, salt – as though
each asphalt-dented swimmer
had risen from insult on a tide of steam
to breast again that current up
to cloud and star. Glutted with light.
Gravel-scarred. And in the air,
a hundred wakes as bright as comet-tails.
And on your hands, a scattering of scales.
The Water Dowser
Running through generations like a river, alongside
the gene for red hair, and the family name: this gift
of summoning the earth’s weather. A humming
in the wrists, is how he describes it. I picture his hands,
like knuckles of ginger, thrumming with bees: tiny harbingers
browsing his tributaries, raising the alarm
in the hand/arm hinge. In the old days, they called it
witching the water; walked their switch of hazel, switch of willow,
waiting for the dip and twitch that meant they’d struck gold,
and clear-running cold would follow. Years ago, a palmist
on a seaside pier winnowed a future from the forks of my hands.
I believed in magic. Now, I stand in a dry field watching
a man draw water like doves from his sleeves.
He tells me, Some people don’t trust this, spits, then grins.
I think of moons. Salt lines in the sand. My blood
‘Dragonish is my first publication — the pamphlet is published by The Emma Press (it was published in March this year).
I’ve returned rather later to writing – but kickstarted things by going on an Arvon course for my 40th birthday. It was an amazing experience. I was also lucky get selected for the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme for 2015/16 – where I was mentored by the enthusiastic and endless energetic Caroline Bird. It was a fantastic year – and really helped me focus on my writing.
I was also part of Jo Bell’s 52 – another formative poetry experience. Quite a few of the poems in Dragonish did start life there.
I’m interested in writing about myths and stories – and how these filter everyday experiences. I also have a bit of a soft-spot for dramatic monologues – so there are a few of them in Dragonish.
I live on the outskirts of London. I juggle writing with working part-time as a copywriter and freelance journalist. I’ve two kids, a husband and a large and demanding cat.
I wish I had some interesting hobbies — like keeping bees or restoring vintage motorbikes. But my time seems to be filled with all of the above. When I get a chance I like walking or cycling in Epping Forest which is nearby.
I’ve been published in various magazines and anthology – most recently I’ve been in the Writing Motherhood anthology by Seren, and have had poems in The Rialto, Under The Radar and The Interpreter’s House (I think it was at their launch there I met you Becky! At Albion Bookshop – you were telling me about the Hawthornden Fellowship).
I’ve also won the Prole Laureate Competition (2013), was second in Cannon Poet’s Sonnet or Not Competition (2014) and was commended in the Battered Moons competition (2015).’
Here’s link to pamphlet online: https://theemmapress.com/books/the-emma-press-poetry-pamphlets/dragonish/)
It was a double-page colour spread:
the man, the rock, the penknife
used in the desert to sever his own arm.
I worried at phrases:
‘torn edge’, ‘widening wound’
like a tongue prodding an ulcer.
He had to break the bone before he could
slice through. I rolled this fact
around my mouth for hours.
At that point I didn’t know which way
I would be split: hip to hip or vaginal tearing,
unlike the man and his bluntish penknife,
the Utah sun, a body heat of rock,
sick smell of seeping cactus,
the yellow marrow cradling the bone,
the sand rust red, the scree, the sweat, the dust
and hour after hour after hour, sawing.
“Being a non-native hybrid there is no mythology or folklore associated with the London Plane…
despite being the capital’s most common tree.” The Woodland Trust
They grow in dark spaces between street lights,
root through concrete, creating heart-stress egg cracks
that unsettle suburban homes. Camouflage bark,
it peels like banknotes, mulch for bluebells
blooming in the shade amid the dogshit.
When the pollen count’s thirteen and a sickle moon
pokes through the clouds of diesel fumes
dryads emerge, hesitant at first, dizzy
as Blitz-bombed housewives or wayward clubbers,
shaking out limbs that ache from holding.
They tiptoe past statues stood at park gates
to dance havoc in streets drained of the day’s worries.
Some nights you’ll hear their laugh: gurgle
of sap rising, riot of leaves
calling beneath the traffic drone, like dreams
of elsewhere you can’t quite shift next morning.
The slow-worm to work. Look up! Look up!
Finger-tipped avenues are closing above.
The End Of The End Of The Pier Show
Call it the Titanic Spirit: tonight
we have a show to end all shows,
kicked off by our teenage xylophonist
performing ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ blindfold.
Be dazzled as El Niño, East Anglia’s premier
flamenco troop, perform their showstopper routine —
testament to our unshaken belief
in Victorian riveting, balustrades and glitter balls.
Yes, we have stood by, watched struts
that held up Yarmouth’s ice-cream shops erode,
waved goodbye to penny-slot telescopes
sloshed away in last year’s high spring tide.
But your tears are now no longer enough
to resalinate the oceans — so tonight
let’s raise the roof of the Cromer Pavillon:
Resist the Great Storm Surge!
It may be too late for the Andaman Islands,
but money raised from ticket sales
will help those forced to flee bungalows
on the English Riviera.
And if we become unmoored midway,
drift out on this boardwalk ark to darker seas,
don’t panic, ladies & gentlemen,
our Michael Barrymore tribute act is first aid trained.
Enjoy our award-winning stage hypnotist.
The house band — the King Canuters —
will play loud and long into the night,
as we sail on, towards uncertain morning.
The Parts Of Ourselves We Leave With Former Lovers
Hush, hush my little sunflower, such noise
at such an hour, I thought — well, never mind
now what I thought — be soothed. The other ladies
of the house are sleeping, you do not want them
trampling down here in their bare faces before noon.
But what’s this package at your feet, the one that seeps
like oil? An ear! There, there, it is a shock I know,
but not the worst we’ve seen. You give them locks of hair,
the illusion of desire, but some, perhaps those who cannot
pay in full — or see the world through strange shadows —
have this urge to give much more. Severine received a finger
once. The fat signet ring attached like a tourniquet.
The smeared gold, we said, reminded us of summer sunsets
over Arles. And Babette, she swears she could string
charm bracelets from hearts proffered on plates. Then Marie,
remember the English gentleman, the one with the cane,
the shriek she gave when she found his —
But look, you are upset again. Let’s wrap it back up
in the cloth — carefully — not to disturb the perfect whorl,
or pattern of the blood stippled on the lobe.
Look at the raggedness of this edge. It’s not just eyes
that let us peep into the thoughts of men. Take it upstairs
to the cabinet — the Wunderkammer —
that is beside my bed. We keep such trinkets
in the drawers. It was moved from Claudine’s room —
the sound of souls tapping against the wood,
like palsied bluebottles she said, kept her awake
and disturbed the night-time callers.