This issue of London Grip features new poems by:
Copyright of all poems in this post remains with the contributors
Welcome to the first poetry page of the re-launched London Grip. London Grip has been publishing exciting and original new poetry since 2008, under previous poetry editors Fred D’Aguiar and Robert Vas Dias and it is an honour to be following in their footsteps. Poems published in previous issues of London Grip are archived elsewhere on this site.
This latest selection (which includes poems chosen by Robert Vas Dias before he relinquished the editorial chair) features work by fine poets from Canada, New Zealand and the USA as well as Great Britain. Readers will find poems in a variety of themes and styles; but they may be as intrigued as I was to observe how many of the contributing poets have chosen to deal in some way with children and childhood.
I hope to be able to post a fresh selection of new poetry on London Grip about every three months. To submit poems to be considered for publication please include them in the body of an email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send no more than three poems; and include at most three short sentences about yourself. (At the risk of stating the obvious, I should point out that we are not able to offer any payment to contributors. We cannot even offer a free copy of the magazine, since London Grip itself is free at the point of use.)
Conjuring for Amateurs
Professor Watson’s student began his paper on Dada
by pretending to shoot himself in the head. He was lucky
to miss: a blank cartridge at close range can fracture the skull.
“If this nonsense is over now, may we have the report?”
My own student introduced his paper on Yeats
by performing three magic tricks and holding a séance.
The tricks failed. Then he and a volunteer crossed broom straws:
if the top straw jumped once, that would be yes, twice meant no.
“Mr. Yeats, do you want to answer questions today?”
The top straw jumped three times, baffling us all.
Maybe it was pulled from a witch’s broom,
or perhaps Mr. Yeats was singing on a golden bough
and left an apprentice in charge of his calls.
Walking late in London one night,
I looked into the window of Watkins Books
and saw Conjuring Tricks for Amateurs:
A Practical Treatise, by Prof. Ellis Stanyon.
That word “practical” charmed me.
The shop was closed, but later the book
appeared on the web as a PDF. What would Stanyon,
who knew how to fold paper into Beefeater hats
or the paddle boxes of a steamboat,
make of having his book from 1901
inscribed in magnetic traces on a spinning disc?
The real magic lay in the names of his exploits:
Wizard’s Breakfast, The Ubiquitous Thimble,
Handkerchief Fired into Gentleman’s Hair,
Baby Linen (unused, I hope) Produced from Hat,
Chameleon Balls, and Sympathetic Ink.
I can close the PDF and envanish the book,
as Stanyon would say, but that’s not as good a trick
as moving a watch, glass and handkerchief
from a paper bag to boxes tied round a white rabbit’s neck.
Bert Almon teaches a poetry masterclass with Derek Walcott at the University of Alberta. He has published eleven collections of poetry.
Tenniel draws Alice in a sea of tears
The salt water must be good for flotation
because neither Alice nor the mouse
looks to be in any real risk of sinking,
and I suppose mice can swim. Rats can.
They have that habit of deserting sinking
ships in their efficiently executed rat-paddle.
I saw a rat swim once. A small inexplicable lump
moving unnaturally across Horseshoe Lake
and only when it climbed a willow branch
dangling on the far shore did the lump reveal
itself to be a very wet rat with excellent water skills.
But we¹re forgetting the paradox of the tears:
Alice, not drowning in, but sustained by her tears
and the mouse beside her as collateral damage.
and more alarmed by talk of cats and dogs,
talk which should have alarmed Alice as well
but she was shocked out of her lachrymosity
by the shape-shifting Micky Finn she¹d been slipped
by the Reverend Dodgson, yet another reminder,
were one ever needed, not to down drinks offered
by dodgy writers nor to allow the consequences
to be witnessed by graphic artists with an eye
to your humiliation: diminished with a wet rodent
and your hair streaming about you like wonder.
The amnesia aquarium
Through the murky water
in the Amnesia Aquarium
forgotten fish flicker in and out of view.
With globular eyes as cloudy as milk
or bleary glass they stare at you open-
mouthed without recognition before turning away
to gutter slowly into a green distance of trembling water weeds.
As they catch the fluorescence of the aquarium lights
their scales for a moment are vaguely recognizable,
round, bright & tessellated like the upturned
faces in a photograph from an old yearbook.
When the yellow-finned tuna is delivered
it is seared on a bed of pickled seaweed.
You smear a smudge of wasabi on the red flesh
but it is of little use –
there are just too many fish,
shoals of them,
wheeling away through the dark water
nebulae you can barely remember
shining in a familiar sky.
James Norcliffe is a New Zealand poet. He has published six collections of poetry, most recently Villon in Millerton (AUP). He has also published a collection of short stories and number of fantasy novels for young readers, most recently the award-winning The Loblolly Boy published in 2010 in the US as The Boy Who Could Fly (Egmont USA) and its sequel The Loblolly Boy & The Sorcerer. His work has appeared in The Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, The Iowa Review and many other journals.
tom waites is missing
we can’t recite our canon of cds
unless we have just three
or too much time on our hands.
but we know them when we see them
like the faces of celebrity saints
from the hello bible.
that tom waites was present,
safe as gospel
between the book of verve
and the books of whitesnake
but he’s not.
the title hovers at the edge of recall
like a maddening psalm. it tests my faith.
i pray for tracks
into empty silence, void.
then i reach that point of
the liberating moment when
i’m suddenly aware
of the loss of
something that was never there.
Roddy Williams is a Welsh exile who now lives in West London. His work has been published in South, The Rialto, 14 and Obsessed with Pipework. His recent obsessions include infrared photography and Thai cookery.
In the world we have created
The statue casts a shadow in the square.
The astronomer’s eye
Of the hour of the day
According to the Sun.
His world is turning
Even as he stands
By his calculations.
He has seen how stars have life,
And that their light may die.
The Earth is not eternal.
God makes bounds to His creation.
He has touched an enquirer’s heart.
In time Madonnas shall weep for him.
A pitiless Inquisitor will smile.
But on this afternoon
There is peace in the colonnades.
The man of learning savours his wine.
A beauty passes the window.
Her face, alert and kind,
Renders the scene so gracious
It may seem the whole truth.
Later he sees among the stars
How no-one need fear
That truth shall ever die.
Geoffrey Heptonstall’s poems have been widely published – recently, for instance, in Adirondack Review, Decanto and Turbulence. He founded Cambridge Café Lit in 2005 and is a Contributing Writer at Contemporary Review.
On leaving Portugal
Time has slowed or I have slowed.
It is almost a month. There are still benches
on which I have not rested. I tell myself
I’ll lift the piano’s lid, this evening
perhaps, or fetch the watercolours
or pedal that bicycle into the woods.
I’m not used to the fullness of village life.
I’ve watched the cargo of tractors,
the women balance loads on their heads –
suddenly taller. I could flag down
the bus or watch this unknown tree
shower the workshop white.
This is what old age will be like.
The first time we saw beauty in their silver
their shimmer their drone as they joyed
on air We’d seen nothing like those insects
which turned into dragons we’d seen nothing
then. Forests and villages offered themselves up
We prayed to the noise as they rose then dipped
through the golden trees Those of us left burnt
incense This I still taste on Ontario’s breeze
Katrina Naomi’s first collection ‘The Girl with the Cactus Handshake’ was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award. She won the Templar Poetry Competition with her pamphlet ‘Lunch at the Elephant & Castle’ and was the first writer-in-residence at the Bronte Parsonage Museum. www.katrinanaomi.co.uk
This recalcitrant ascension
into Jerusalem’s sky
slows its steep arc before it
reaches high heaven’s threshold
Its heart-breaking music’s paused
No saving message for them
No Spirit hovers, no songs
With harp and ten-stringed lyre
They go about their doings
Christian and Jew and Muslim
Unaware that they will die
untransformed, flesh in tatters
when gravity prevails and
the quiet mortar falls
Of the brave open flowers
only broken stems are left
dry and brittle in the wind
For Memorial Day I
left pink roses trimmed in red
yellow lilies white daisies
Sun-drenched triumphant trumpets
in the windless mountain air
I left hopeful all would bloom
When I returned in a week
they’d all been eaten by elk
the stems ragged as old teeth
It’s what I meant but lovely
something actual some thing –
more left behind than leaving
to make the elk lift their ears
Murray Bodo is a Franciscan Friar from Cincinnati whose present ministry is leading pilgrimages to Assisi, Italy, and writing. His latest volume of poems is Wounded Angels (Blissfool Books, 2009); and in 2012 St. Anthony Messenger Press will release the 40th Anniversary Edition of his first book, Francis: The Journey and the Dream. Fr. Murray’s web site is www.murraybodo.com
Like porcelain in pink and Sevres rose, his skin is glazed to an unearthly shine. I observe more than one might suppose. The eye that’s central to this case is mine.
His skin is glazed to an unearthly shine. One eye gleams like marble in the sun. The eye that’s central to this case is mine. My history determines who has won.
One eye gleams like marble in the sun. The other shades itself as if in thought. My history determines who has won. He's in my sights. The very air is fraught.
The other shades itself as if in thought – planning, no doubt, strategically to strike. He's in my sights. The very air is fraught. How much are hidden enemies alike!
Planning, no doubt, strategically to strike, I observe more than one might suppose. How much are hidden enemies alike... like porcelain in pink and Sevres rose.
Child of air
And it is but a child of air/ Who lingers in the garden there. – Robert Louis Stevenson.
‘I built a house
out of adobe.
The pay is good.’
running, she put her father
out of breath
laughing to catch up.
in the wood stove
her bread rose
brown as the tree
she brought to rest.
absorbed, she combs her long hair,
twists an earring through a lobe
in my reflection.
Since her arrival on these shores in 1985, New York born writer, Leah Fritz, has had four collections of her poems published in Britain. Her next volume, ‘Whatever Sends the Music into Time: New and Selected Poems,’ will be published by Salmon in 2012.
The marks that Handel made on paper,
translated into sound
persist, though he and they are underground.
Three hundred years. I see him in his attic,
hear each strong note;
twenty-four days to finish The Messiah,
and he was slowly going blind, but wrote.
I scan the census.
Of all those Mary Smiths and Thomas Joneses,
those male and female infants
whose names are listed in the Foundling Hospital,
by this time, what is left but marks on paper?
a single keyboard
that stood within a long-demolished chapel
in which the children crowded, to sing Handel?
Merryn Williams was the founding editor of ‘The Interpreter’s House’. Her latest work is ‘Effie: A Victorian Scandal’ – the story of Ruskin’s wife.
after the London Foundling Hospital’s exhibition of textile tokens
Each swatch of cloth is a tongue,
a register in warp and weft, a roll
of foundling names. Here, mothers laid
their hearts on scraps: silk or wool,
splayed cards on cotton, each hand
a wager made for losing, or half a heart
rough stitched in red then split
along its plumb, a promise kept—
though most were not. Ledgers closed,
their fabrics claimed by dirt and fray.
Calico birds darken as they sing
of market bales, money owed;
linens that bellied over supple skin
wither in a breath of thyme.
Born in London, Sue Rose now lives in Kent where she works as a literary translator. She won the Troubadour Poetry Prize in 2009 and the Canterbury Poet of the Year competition in 2008. Her debut collection, From the Dark Room, is published by Cinnamon (2011).
for a newborn son
what wakeful work
to jerk out
fists & up to keep
sleep’s transparent maw from
closure though now it
from below to
slow & billow you
spine to chest dampened sense
half-clung to lashes
about to con
densate that jet
sun inverting defence so all
till i see eighty
years hence the cot
-bound time-worn baby
reaching one fist out
for a newborn son
raise an arm to it
as if to be excused
the fall that kick
toward waters long
evaporated to thinly
eerie salts your rage
kin to bared sea-bed
detached & innard-
calm against living
light while rolled on
your side your spine
arches pained to let
skiffy vapours tic
under on last-puff
dread each enzyme
pulling as it must
until the sheet you
worry to cast-off
cloth shrouds you
whitely careless as
though you had fled
breath but were still
so warm no mother
tidal with pity nor
callused hand too
long below had
or could stir in
to trim you
Mario Petrucci has been poet-in-residence at the Imperial War Museum and BBC Radio 3 and his poetry has won prizes in the Bridport, National and Arvon competitions. The poems published here are from his crib sequence which sits within a major modernist project entitled i tulips – one instalment of which was published by Enitharmon in 2010.
This must be achieved noiselessly, don’t draw
attention to yourself, they will count scores
to keep you longer in the dark. Now, pull
hard. But take good care. The shutters are full
of splinters. Gently. That’s it. You can see
green ivy climbing the trunk of a tree,
such fine leaves, so determined; and the slow
water, that’s a kind of green too. As though
someone has added milk. The sun is just
reaching the front steps; as it mounts, it must
penetrate this stone grey room. Come, you’ll say,
it’s been so cold without you. Every day
I’ve worked a little more to let you in,
to feel a remembered touch on my skin.
Award-winning poet Geraldine Paine has been published widely in magazines and anthologies. Her first collection The Go-Away-Bird was published by Lapwing Publications (Belfast) in 2008.
Elke de Wit
Scene Three Times
I tried, several times to pass the man with the swaying walk. His legs flicked outwards with every step. Both had been amputated and the feet in the shoes that walked the pavement were not his own.
A woman on the bus held her baby whilst she fed it. The baby’s eyes were starting to close and the woman shifted in the seat as if to make herself more comfortable before it fell asleep. Her left arm moved further under the child’s body, although in fact it was not her arm.
At the fitness centre the man took my card and opened the file to enter the information. He held the right side of the file down with curved, static fingers that had never felt anything hot or cold or wet, or the love of another hand.
Elke de Wit
The spring clean took ten days whether you rushed it or not. She started in the attic room. Under each bed she found soft down feathers. When she mopped the floors she stopped several times to deal with patches of bird droppings. On the first floor there were more feathers. One bedroom had a large wardrobe with a mirror. When she tried to clean it she realised that the white, erratic marks were not the leftover crayon marks made by the unsupervised child of a guest, but etched-in beak marks. The squiggly patterns started in the centre of the mirror and continued almost to the bottom. She used glass cleaner on them, then cream cleaner, and in desperation, salt. Her hand moved over the offending areas again and again and again. She caught sight of herself in the mirror, frown lines deep between her eyebrows, and moved on to do the dusting instead. On the wooden bedsteads and walls she found more bird droppings. They were smaller and looked more watery than the ones in the attic. A damp cloth wiped them away.
On the seventh day she reached the master bedroom, their favourite room and the one they used when they came to stay. She checked the mirror on the wardrobe for marks, but there were none. She came to mop the floor on her side of the bed, the far side, exactly where she was in the habit of placing her feet to get in or out. There, in the narrow gaps around the chunks of pale parquet, were streaks of red that not even a toothbrush could remove.
Elke de Wit is a writer, film journalist and actor. She was born in Liberia, grew up in Kenya, Tanzania and Hong Kong, and now lives in London. Her prose poetry / flash fiction has been published in Tears in the Fence.