*

This issue of London Grip features new poems by:

* Naomi Foyle *Gary Beck *David Cooke *Phil Wood *Chris Beckett *Peter Kenny * Teoti Jardine
*Pamela Job *Peter Branson *Pam Thompson *William Bedford * David Lohrey *Oliver Comins
*Emma Lee * Stuart Pickford * Robert Nisbet *Richie McCaffery * Kerrin P Sharpe
* Sarah Strong * Brian Docherty * Ben Banyard *Samuel W James
* Julia Deakin  * M J Oliver * Ruth Hanover *Norbert Hirschhorn

Copyright of all poems remains with the contributors

A printer-friendly version of London Grip New Poetry can be found at LG New Poetry Autumn 2017

London Grip New Poetry appears early in March, June, September & December

Please send submissions to poetry@londongrip.co.uk, enclosing no more than three poems and a brief, 2-3 line, biography

We prefer to get submissions in the following windows: December-January, March-April, June-July and September-October i.e. avoiding the months when we are busy compiling a new issue

Editor’s comments

This issue of London Grip New Poetry is distinguished by the presence of two unusually long poems.  We begin with Naomi Foyle’s urgent and heartfelt response to the still-recent Grenfell Tower tragedy; and we end with Norbert Hirschhorn’s more measured – almost timeless – reflections on life which draw on the tradition of wisdom literature.  The poems in between visit five or six different countries and range from pastoral pieces to vacation reminiscences; thus, while they may be somewhat dwarfed in terms of length, they are in no way overshadowed as regards substance or quality. (Sadly, however, David Cooke’s poem about Barcelona has acquired an unwelcome extra resonance since this selection was first put together.)

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

http://mikeb-b.blogspot.com/

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***

Naomi Foyle: Going on Crutches to Grenfell Tower
after Ben Okri

If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
A Nigerian summons me to London from the sea.
A Palestinian gives me directions from the south bank of the river.
As I hesitate at the head of a plummeting escalator
two sharp-suited businessmen turn to help me
descend into the Underground.
It’s rush hour and the carriages are crammed. 
Boarding the train, I shrug off my back pack, 
tuck it with the crutches close to my body,
and grab the overhead rail, realising too late 
all this is difficult, strains my weak arm;
as the force of the train rocks through me,
an Irishman asks if I need any help. 
‘I’m okay’, I say, and lurch against the door.
Quietly, in a gesture that reminds me 
of the formal way South Koreans offer money,
he grips my elbow, holds my arm
between Waterloo and Westminster —
to keep him upright, he laughs
before he hops off 
and I take his place by the plexiglass partition
with its yellow vertical grab-rail. 
‘Will someone give this lady a seat?’ 
a man asks. Not a single person looks up. 
Only one of my fellow passengers is asleep.
‘Charming,’ I murmur. The man repeats his question 
and a woman stands, without a word or a glance.
I sit. I have taken her seat, 
her prized rush hour seat,
but I needed to sit. 
I felt unsafe on my feet.
.                                          *
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
At Baker St Station it strikes me
that heeding the call of the poet 
wasn’t, perhaps, such a great idea.
As I teeter down a flight of stairs
a train arrives at the platform below, 
and a flood of humanity rises toward me,
filling the stairwell, one solid mass, 
I can’t thread my way through or bypass. 
Neither can I turn around and go back.
I have to wait on the step
as people push past me, 
I feel guilty for waiting.
For taking up space. For taking up time. 
I feel stupid for thinking I could cross London on crutches.
I shouldn’t have come. 
I’m no Biblical cripple.
I am not journeying to meet Christ.
I don’t need to be another Grenfell gawker.
I need step-free access
to a train home to Brighton. 
But just as I realise 
how foolish I’ve been, I see
that a small miracle is occurring:
people have noticed me,
are pressing closer together,
and a path has appeared
a narrow, shining hemline 
along the edge of the stairs:
an invitation to continue.
Hugging the wall, I step
on down to the platform
as the physiotherapist taught me:
‘Good foot to heaven,
bad foot to hell.’
.                           *
On the Circle line, a petite Black woman 
smiles, jumps up, insists I sit, 
and tells me about her corrected fourth toe.
She disembarks at Royal Oak, 
and a couple from Colorado get on – 
the woman looks at my big Formfit boot, laughs  
and asks "How long do you have to go?" . . .
and before I know it, the train isn’t underground anymore,
we are rushing over grey streets and grey parks 
and council estates, beneath a dull white sky,
and then we are there, at Latimer Road,
and before the train has even pulled into the station
it is there too. Right there, 
through the window, watching us
with its hundreds of burned-out eyes. 
Watching us go on with our lives.
Will we speed through its shadow?
Or step into its radius...
to enter a crime scene
to come home to a war zone
or to make an unsteady pilgrimage 
to a place we would normally zoom past?

If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
They greet me at the turnstiles. 
Their faces are everywhere.  
From walls, church railings, shop windows, telephone kiosks,
above the stiff queues of flowers,
the perfume of stargazers and rot,
their beauty radiates; an intolerable heat.
A curly-haired girl, on the cusp of her womanhood.
The honey-skinned mother and her five year-old daughter.
The Muslim couple and their baby.
The two young Italians.
Women in bright sweaters, bold prints, smiles and hijabs,
older men clad in dignified solitude.
Steven, also known as Steve. 
Mohammed from Syria . . . please sign the petition.
Poster after poster, please call . . .
If you see . . . 
And behind the telephone kiosk,
that plastered pillar of love,
with its poems and prayer calls
and white paper butterflies,
behind the viaduct
with its incessant trains,
behind the vinyl banner
on the brick-clad new build –
‘Considerate Constructors
Secure Everyone’s Safety’:
It rises. 
The blackness.
The blackness 
I have hobbled here 
to stare at
as if nothing else exists.
The blackness
I will never forget.
For there is nothing blacker
than the windows
of Grenfell Tower
Not the niqab of the young woman
at the zebra crossing
whose dark darting eyes  
are the essence of light,
not the black plastic boot
that protects my shattered ankle,
not the black shell of my laptop
on which I’m writing this poem,
or the fascia of my BlackBerry phone
on which I took grainy photos
of the burned out windows 
of Grenfell Tower,
photos that fail
to show those windows
as they are:
blackness as void. 
Cosmic blackness.
The unfathomable blackness 
we come from and return to. 
Absolute blackness.
Cordoned off by red and white ribbons,
guarded from gawpers
by police in florescent jackets,
but impossible to cover up,
impossible to hide,
yet impossible to approach,
until a man strides by me,
stops up ahead on the pavement
and raises his arms.
Pale, grey-haired, in a grey shirt,
his arms lifted to the Tower
in an open-palmed V
for veneration
he appears to be praying.
mourning, giving healing,
sending love to Grenfell Tower,
communing with the spirits,
he tells me,
of his neighbours 
who went to school with his children,
who didn’t want to leave this way
whose agony lodges in his throat,
whose vanished beauty shines from his eyes
as he turns to go back home.
.                                      *
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
Yes, Grenfell Tower is a mass grave,
a mausoleum, a crematorium. 
It commands our silence.
But go and see it.
Go and see Britain’s black omphalos,
the navel of our failure
to take care of each other.
Go and see London’s real Olympic Torch
our charred trophy of arrogance, greed and contempt,
a monument to everything this country’s leaders do best:
scoffing at basic safety procedures, 
ignoring experts’ advice,
flouting regulations, cutting corners
for the sake of padding bank accounts,
promising improvements, delivering death traps,
telling critics to ‘get stuffed’,
never consulting, never respecting
the people they are paid to represent:
people deemed a nuisance and an eyesore,
a blight on property values,
a threat to ‘social order’,
whose lives are not worth the paper
their missing posters are printed on,
whose inevitable incineration 
has been planned, approved and fully costed,
whose grief and rage and anguish
must be micromanaged
with a drip feed of numbers,
a narrowing of remits,
a stealthy adjournment of truth.
But the truth cannot be hidden,
the truth is there for all to see.
Yes, go see Grenfell Tower.
Go by tube, bus, car, taxi, bicycle, 
wheelchair, skateboard, roller blades,
tap the pavement with white canes, with crutches.
Go and see it. Take flowers, food and clothes. 
Leave a message at St Clements.
Go and see Kensington’s anti-Kaaba,
its site of sacred devastation
rising in every direction we face.
And if you cannot go,
wherever you may be, however frail or far,
let us all, in our hearts,
stand with the disappeared, 
and the survivors,
let us stand with the uncounted, 
the discounted,
at the top of the stairs
on the twenty-fourth floor,
let us demand those responsible
for this preventable inferno
stop their frantic climbing
over Grenfell’s broken bodies,
through Grenfell’s tower of ashes,
over stacks of contracts, legal documents,
to a safety and freedom
they do not deserve.
As the faces of the missing fade
into flickers of memory,
by the candles of our witness 
let us light
a clear broad path 
to justice on the street.
With its hundreds of burnt out eyes,
from its unfathomable void,
Grenfell Tower is watching us.
We cannot fail again.


Naomi Foyle is the author of four science fiction novels and two poetry collections, including the PBS Recommended The Night Pavilion (Waterloo Press, 2008). Her most recent publication, No Enemy but Time (2017), is a pamphlet of poems on an Irish theme.

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***

Gary Beck: Towers of Ascension

New buildings sprout
faster than weeds
in the gardens of Manhattan.
Soaring eyesores
block the sun
undemocratically,
blighting the landscape,
except for the privileged.
Technologically constructed
fragile havens
shelter the comfortable
from reality,
glass structures
barely attached to the earth.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks and 3 more accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions, Fault Lines & Tremors (Winter Goose Publishing). Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order (to be published by Winter Goose Publishing), Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). Virtual Living (Thurston Howl Publications). He currently lives in New York City.

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David Cooke: Gaudi: La Setmana Tràgica

With battle lines drawn between factory floor 
and the ornate altars of Gothic faith
the anarchists crashed and burned in a week 
on side streets and avenues, inciting 
the Murcianos who, seeking work, brought 
from the South their singsong vowels and grudges.

The ‘tragic week’ or a week of glory –
either way he’d watched from his distant hill 
the unbraced columns of smoke collapsing 
above a city whose past he’d sifted 
for ways to shape the future: its churches 
and abbeys, its patriarchal houses.

Their leaders imprisoned or shot – heroes 
and martyrs, briefly – the cowed rioters
slouched back to habitual discontents, 
allowing him to fight his cause again
with jobsworths and planners, the officious 
clerks whose bylaws had always queered his pitch.
.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona: architect Antoni Gaudi

And of all the arts, his, relying most 
on patrons, stalled when profits petered out
in a lost, rebellious Eldorado;
or stiff-necked, imperial blundering 
came back home to roost: the textile barons 
reeling, their real estate gone up in flames.

As gaunt as a tramp or desert father 
neglecting appearances, a few green
leaves mixed with milk sustained him, as he traipsed 
unrecognized, door to door, cajoling
the indigent to make an offering
for the great church none would see completed.

 

‘The Tragic Week ‘ is the name used for a series of violent confrontations between the Spanish army and the radicals of the working classes of Barcelona during the last week of July 1909. It was caused by the calling-up of reserve troops to be sent as reinforcements when Spain renewed its military activity in Morocco. ‘Eldorado’ refers to Cuba, the loss of which in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War signalled the end of the Spanish Empire in Latin America.

David Cooke‘s poems and reviews have been widely published in the UK, Ireland and beyond He has also published five collections of his work, the most recent of which is After Hours (Cultured Lllama Press. 2017). He co-edits The High Window.

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Phil Wood: Picnic with Megan at the Quarry 

This afternoon she's tapping time for me, dancing
until her soles are black like slate; it's as though
she threads a tale within her mime – like Hansel
might feed Gretel with crumbs of cake. 

I trudge on trails above the bells and past
the mirror of ribbon lake. Descending
I thread my joy, spin tales to tell the Crow
of why I came to prayer so late.


Phil Wood works in a statistics office. He enjoys working with numbers and words. His writing can be found in various publications, most recently in: The Lampeter Review, The Open Mouse, Nutshells and Nuggets.

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Chris Beckett: To an infinite line of villagers walking to church 

To you who squint, eyes ruined by sunlight at high altitudes 
to you who pick a way over mountains riddled with hermits 
     or fugitives pretending to be hermits
who surely soon will see again   like the lammergeyer wheeling 
over your heads   a spirit of something bright hanging 
in the air produce her little shred of cotton   fluffy as a hen?

imagine a gentle hand reach out from the rock to dab sore eyelids
     your thin un-watered lips 
your sheep skinny and surprised suddenly look up 
or a straggle of goats stop complaining the whack of a boy’s birch 
and four winds gather to sing the sun’s first touch on noses and chins    
look! even the moon hangs back a little in the sky like a pale stopped clock 

to you who neither distance nor drought hunger niggle twinge
not fissure nor pothole rockslide keep-out sign 
not thief nor demon in a tree nor thorn in the foot 
not governments nor a general crumbling nor dislocation of bones
not the wolf in all his disguises all his shapes
not a lack of thought nor too much thinking either  
not the great laughing bandit with a temptation of offal thrown three times 
     around his neck
has robbed of your warm sweet faith

to you, may it all be revealed


Chris Beckett grew up in Ethiopia in later years of Haile Selassie. His collection, Ethiopia Boy, was published by Carcanet/Oxford Poets in 2013 and his translations of Ethiopian poets have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Review and PN Review. He was short-listed last year for the Ted Hughes Award.

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Peter Kenny: 1,000 miles from sea
Near Oum Hadjer, Chad 

We, the sweating English guests, are shown
to seats of honour. I’m agnostic, 
sour as the drums and guitars start,
as the choir raises its polyphonic praise.   
Can’t Jesus turn song into water?     
Can’t he cascade it through the compound,  
down to that confluence of arid beds?
Can’t love flow, darkening dusty fields,
plumping shrivelled sorghum into life? 

Today’s sermon concerns Peter,   
who dared to follow his Messiah
onto the holy tension of the sea.   
A test of faith. I sink to my chair,   
sink in the stifled box of the church. 
Somewhere, Jesus has rescued Peter
from the scripture’s stormy water.
Panicked, I drown down, still holding
my blessed breath in all the singing.


Peter Kenny is a playwright, poet and freelance creative director working mainly with health and humanity clients. His poetry publications include The Nightwork (Telltale Press 2014) and A Guernsey Double (2010, Guernsey Arts Commission). His latest play A Glass of Nothing will have its third run at The Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh August 2017. He blogs at peterkenny.co.uk

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Teoti Jardine: The Mindfulness of the White-Faced Heron

The right leg lifts, a drop of water falls from the foot and rings the surface.

The right leg reaches forward, breaks the surface without a ripple as the White-faced Heron steps closer to its prey. 

I know it knows I’m here at the water’s edge, yet its head stays still, stays focussed, as the moment’s moment,
passes from one to next.

Its focus reminds me of the Mindfulness Sessions I’d attended at Chisholme House in Scotland six years ago, when
Mindfulness was all in vogue.

The White-faced Heron embodies mindfulness and shines a light on my cluttering thoughts each vying for attention,
as the left leg lifts, one drop of water falls from the foot and rings the surface.

Teoti Jardine is of Maori, Irish and Scottish descent. His tribal affiliations Waitaha, Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu. He completed the Hagley Writers Course 2011 and has had poetry published in The Press, London Grip, JAAM, Ora Nui, Te Karaka, Aotearotica and short stories with Flash Frontier. He lives with his dog Amie in a lovely old house in Linwood, Chirstchurch.

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Pamela Job: Early Evening on the South Downs

When the gold takes hold and spills itself across 
fields, over the cliff and into the sea, sheep 
are left stunned and I find myself trying to ask 
a question the weather was already answering,
something about the brown ploughed furrows 
that were turning green in the new light . . . 

After all, what is the weather's task but to scrape 
a fall of swimming thoughts from blue? I turn 
towards a copse, a word so kin to corpse, and see
this clump as the slumped giant who once roamed 
hereabouts, while the trees are simply clinging close. 
They form a shadow that mimics nearby hills beneath 
skies shifting themselves to evening, causing captive 
clouds to fight to keep the embers of the light.

Pamela Job lives in Wivenhoe and is a member of Mosaic, Colchester Stanza group and Suffolk Poetry Society. She has won awards in several competitions, most recently the Crabbe Memorial Poetry Prize, 2016 which she also won in 2013. She was recently commended in the national Stanza Poetry Competition. She has been published in various magazines including Acumen, Artemis, French Literary Review, London Grip and South Bank Poetry. She has co-edited four poetry anthologies, including KJV: Old Text – New Poetry, (Wivenbooks, 20011), so too have the doves gone, poems on the theme of conflict (Jardine Press, 2014), and this year she has helped produce Ornith-ology, an anthology of bird poems. Her poems appear in Fanfare, an anthology of womens’ poetry, in From the City to the Saltings, a collection of Essex poetry, and in Migrant Waders, published by Dunlin Press in 2016.

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Peter Branson: Village Cricket, September, Odd Rode

Beneath a sailing Indian summer sky,
each time the sun’s blanked by a flying cloud,
you shiver, temperature down ten degrees. 
Their whites ash-grey, the season’s wash and press 
long overdue, apart from where they’re stained 
lime green, mud brown, or pink from polishing 
the ball on thigh and groin, they score below 
three runs an over, no extravagant 
slog-sixes over the pavilion roof, 
new-fangled flicks or sweeps off-side. Sell by 
Neanderthal, Canutes, they strive to play, 
like gentleman and player, the English way,
for king and queen, Empire and Commonwealth, 
Hobbs, Douglas Jardine, Tyson, Peter May.

Peter Branson has been published in Britain, US, Canada, Ireland, Australasia and South Africa: Acumen, Ambit, Agenda, Envoi, London Magazine, North, Prole, Warwick Review, Iota, Butcher’s Dog, Frogmore Papers, Interpreter’s House, SOUTH, Crannog, THE SHOp & Causeway. His selected poems came out 2013, his latest collection, Hawk Rising, in 2016

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Pam Thompson: Noon
after John Clare

The village clock strikes twelve. The cockerel’s gone
to sleep. Some of us are reading in the shade

while others sleep, or seem to, on
sun-beds by the pool. The water’s made

of shadows and reflections. Notebooks
lie open, a hat, sunglasses, a peach stone;

flip-flops kicked off. Across the valley, lit-up
oranges, a house whose owners have long gone –

moved to a city, even another country.
A dog barks. Voices from the kitchen, plates

being shifted, smell of mushrooms. Hungry
for heat, we tilt faces at the sky. Straight

after this, a breeze, grey clouds, and rain,
but only for minutes, and then we’re warm again.

Pam Thompson is based in Leicester. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from De Montfort University and is one of the organisers of Word!, the longest running spoken-word, open-mic night in the Midlands which takes place at the Y Theatre. Her second collection, Strange Fashion, is forthcoming from Pindrop Press at the end of the year.

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William Bedford: World’s End
i.m. John Clare

Where is the end of the world – 
a clown’s question not asked by the learnd,
but asked by me,
no parson’s answer singing like a bird.

I knew they got things wrong,
orison’s beckoning finger
like sunlight falling off a tree,
the promise of the yellow furze stretching

to dawn’s buzzing chittering answer.
I knew at the edge of the world,
I would look down
and see the secret of beginnings,

like heaven shining in a beck’s cold waters.
So eagerly I wanderd on,
wild birdsong leaving no place for fears,
my wonder seeking walking

walking me far from home.
But home ent just a thatch and kitchen,
lamplight and fire.
I walked myself out of my own knowledge.

The birds and flowers seemd to forget me.
The sun seemd to be new though
the sky still touched the ground.
Night crept on like a poacher,

hedge crickets whispering to the village ghosts,
mice nimbling and twittering.
I hurried then. I ran. 
Stumbled.

And when chance brought me home,
back to my own fields,
the village was up and out hunting,
hunting for me,

the lost child lost wandering,
my parents fallen into grief.
I knew then my own orisons.
I knew the questions not to be answered.

learnd: Clare used contractions frequently but not consistently;
orison’s is Clare’s spelling of horizon’s, though he would presumably have been familiar from church services with the liturgical meaning: a prayer.

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William Bedford: Camp Perimeter
USAF Hemswell: October 1962

I bring you Ezra Pound’s poems,
sliding foxily the fox lanes,
cruising

the six o’clock dawn bristle.
But your father opens the door,
stiffening for duty,

ready for war.
The camp is no place for poets.
Military mowers cut the grass.

The air is nuclear.
‘Traitor!’ flares from his mouth. ‘Mad!’ 
I run for shelter.

‘Love,’ I want to shout. ‘Love.’
The dawn’s red lunatic. 

William Bedford is an award-winning poet, short-story writer, children’s novelist and novelist. In 2014, he was shortlisted for the London Magazine International Short Story Competition; won first prize in the Roundel Poetry Competition, and first prize in the London Magazine International Poetry Competition. His Collecting Bottle Tops: Selected Poetry 1960-2008 was published in 2009, The Fen Dancing in 2014, The Bread Horse in 2015.

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David Lohrey: Progress

So it goes. A society can take a lot. Look at the Russians. 
Think of Cambodia. The killing fields are now paved over. 
There’s a Howard Johnson’s next to the Pol Pot Museum. 
You can order a chocolate shake after viewing the torture chambers. 
One can no longer find a good rye in downtown Cleveland, 
but one can order a decent cheeseburger at any train station in China. 

Corporate America reminds us of the USSR with its long lines of people 
and empty shelves. The plumber will be there some time next Tuesday 
between 8 and 5. It’s common practice even at the Emergency Room.
Americans learn to wait. Even dying takes time.
It’s just as well, as there’s nowhere to go. Don’t despair. 
Starbuck’s will send a drone with a donut and a cup of coffee.
It may interest you to know that the coffee was handpicked by native virgins 
on the slopes of Hawaii’s last active volcano. It’s organic. 
The coffee and the donut will set you back $39.95.


David Lohrey grew up in Memphis. His poetry can be found in Otoliths, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Easy Street and New London Writers. In addition, recent poems have been anthologized by the University of Alabama (Dewpoint), Illinois State University (Obsidian) and Michigan State University (The Offbeat). He teaches in Tokyo.

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Oliver Comins: Fish Pie

I expected you here for supper this evening.
Nothing had been said and it would have been
quite unusual for us to be together on a Friday.
However, it was worth the effort, just in case.

So I made fish pie, mixing a few cod cheeks
into alternate layers of potato and plantain
with tomato and pepper in a cheesy sauce.
It cooked to perfection, haunting and fresh.

By the time you hadn’t arrived, I had eaten
all of it (for the purposes of this note) – only
tipping a little into the waste disposal unit
before leaving the dish to soak for a while.


Oliver Comins lives and works in West London. Templar Poetry has published three short collections in the last few years – Yes to Everything and Staying in Touch won pamphlet awards while Battling Against the Odds is all about the sport of golf and the game of life.

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Emma Lee:  Before our meal

The person whose birthday we are marking 
is absent. Two months after 
your fourth birthday without your father 
to help you celebrate. We select a table for two 
and you pick your favourite dinner, 
just as I could have predicted.
But I have promised not to bring up
baby stories or toddler stories 
or how I sat your nine-year-old self
on my knee to tell you your father
had passed away as we knew would happen.
While we wait, the sun pokes through
the clouds, highlighting your long hair
and one strand has broken free
and dangles from the arm of your black hoodie.
I resist my instinct to pick it
and drop it safely to the floor 
so it won’t fall into your food.
So you don’t groan your disapproval
at what you’ll see as my reminder
that you are not a grown up girl
who has lost her father 
but still a daughter, finding her own way
under a mother’s guidance.
The hair loses to gravity,
that imperceptible tug 
towards the earth,
that gentle link that keeps us here
even though you are growing
in preparation to leave.


Emma Lee‘s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015). She was co-editor for Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She reviews for London Grip, The High Window, The Journal & Sabotage Reviews and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com

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Stuart Pickford: Rings
  
Stolen. All four. Cut sun on glass.
Thief, no doubt, a man. The carpet
sprang back, lifted his footprints
as he padded to the bedroom, reflection
 
slipping from mirrors, identikit eyes
picking out rings to put in his face
like a jeweller. Stolen. Her eternity ring,
Yellow gold for a blonde, she said.
 
Her grandma’s ring, thin, buckled
from backhanders. The Ripon market one;
his proposal after their first summer.
No, not yet, she said, we’re too young.
 
Her wedding ring, white gold, a metal
that doesn’t rust. The diamond set
to focus light. The policeman rigged
a smile, Ah sentimental value. All four.
 
Now she doesn’t fuss if stuff gets broken.
The new rings he bought too soon after,
she leaves about the place—on the edge
of the sink—to get lost. All four. Stolen.


Stuart Pickford is the recipient of an Eric Gregory award. His first collection, The Basics, was published by Redbeck Press (2002) and shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection prize. His second collection, Swimming with Jellyfish (2016),was published by smith/doorstop. Stuart lives in Harrogate and teaches in a local comprehensive school.

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***

Robert Nisbet: In a High Street
 
The woman’s held in a web of hesitation.
Jewellery Bought and Sold. She shuffles,
fumbles the cardboard packet in her hand,
as the morning jostles past.
 
Jenkins plumps to a nearby bench,
plants his round arse, wheezes, seems
to contemplate a belch, just as
town councillor Jones, with wife in hand,
pads past, beams public bounty,
quietly ignores fat Jenkins.
 
Two boys, hooded, scrunch past, oblivious
you’d have thought, but one sights, in a crevice,
a clump of paper, looks like a top-shelf mag,
and they root it out, walk on, cackling.
.
At last she goes into the jewellery shop.
Her rings, the wedding, the engagement,
are laid upon discretion’s bed of felt.
The years behind are swiftly cancelled,
the payment made. Nothing now left
but the street outside, and a future
which comforts even as it terrifies.


Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet whose work appears regularly in Britain and the USA, most recently in Common Ground Review, Verse-Virtual and Wilderness House Review. He was shortlisted in 2017 for the Wordsworth Trust Prize

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***

Richie McCaffery: Clutter

My mother uses my old bedroom
to store all the stuff she doesn’t need
but can’t bear to part with.

She downloads herself bit by bit
into every trinket she collects,
trying to get out of her mind.

When my wife and I visit for Christmas,
it’s where we sleep. The atmosphere 
changes. We live in our heads

and the place gets messy with clothes.
I’m different, I’m something she needs 
but has had to learn to part with.

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***

Richie McCaffery: Recalibration

As a retirement gift to himself
Dad bought an expensive watch.
It’s been losing a minute a week
and that’s not good enough, so
he’s sending it back to Switzerland.

He frets over those lost 60 seconds
as he struggles with the computer
or trawls round endless shops
in search of things he doesn’t need.
It’s a year since he survived cancer.

Richie McCaffery grew up in Warkworth, Northumberland and now divides his time between Ghent, Belgium and Scotland. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets as well as a book-length collection entitled Cairn from Nine Arches Press (2014). His third pamphlet collection is due out in October 2017, from Red Squirrel Press.

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***

Kerrin P Sharpe: sinew & snow

the medical train cracks the ice
of a small Russian settlement 
not on any map

a place minus 60
between mountains where the wind
sings like a baritone
to traumatised pines
and cottages wear great coats of snow

with more noise than angels
the villagers find their teeth
open their doors milk their goats
bake red cabbage pies
and meet the train with lunch

they don't want to see doctors
they want to be with them

like Lazarus the doctors
unwrap their patients
and the light wakes bedsores
back pain blood pressure
both trade advice

watch the drink put spittle
on your warts lock up damp rooms

then everyone crosses
the frozen rough creek
to the cemetery

while the oldest babushka
reads the names of the dead


the younger men light birch torches
and sprinkle vodka
over the graves then link arms

with the doctors and dance
and stamp snow and drink to health


Kerrin P Sharpe has published three collections of poetry (all with Victoria University Press): three days in a wishing well (2012); there’s a medical name for this (2014); and rabbit rabbit (2015). Her fourth collection louder, has just been completed and is in the final editing stages. Kerrin has also had her poems published in a wide range of journals both in New Zealand and overseas including Oxford Poets 13 (Carcanet Press UK).

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***

Sarah Strong: Leaving Home
for Luke

That day 106 trees fell down on Hampstead Heath,
October 1987 a wounded lime-tree straddled our street
as though my arm was restraining your departure,
a massive oak lay in Merton Lane blocking
your furniture pick-up place, nature shouting,
there is no easy way to separate.
See me on the mail-boat 1967 heading for London- Euston
from Dun-Laoghaire to join your Daddy,
chomping at the bit to forsake my parents,
terrified, excited, bereft, animated.
Severance like tattered prayer flags,
tail ribbons billowing —


Sarah Strong’s poetry has been published in journals and anthologies including Southword, The Cannon’s Mouth, Silver Streams, Washing Windows: Irish Women Write Poetry. She was short listed for the Fire River competition 2016, her poetic film I Hear Fish Drowning premiered at Merriman Summer School 2014.

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***

Brian Docherty: This Instant
after Francesca Woodman, 'On Being an Angel' 

We are all Angels, some of this world,
some not. How you see me is not who I am,

is never who I am, can never be who I am.
Do you think I live through my photographs,

that I live only in my Art? How foolish,
and how undeserving of my attention.

I’m not like the girls you see in the Chelsea Hotel,
or meet in CBGB’s or Studio 54. I prefer Italy,

where even Mama’s boys know how to behave,
know what is expected of them. I am not Italian.

Like Mr Fabulous in The Blues Brothers, ‘looks Italian, 
acts Italian, but is Jewish’, so even if I was a guy, 

I could never be a Wise Guy, never be a Made Man.   
Hey, you’re doing the ‘Fly-catcher’ pose again.

Would you believe me if I said my favourite record
was Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favourites?

It doesn’t matter, none of it matters, I have already
taken 10,000 photos, more than anyone will ever see.

There is only now, this instant, trapped in the shutter,
and however precise, never quite what I intended.

So I am not your Angel, not anyone’s anything,
am Artist, not actor, now please get out of my light.


Brian Docherty lived in north London for many years, before moving to East Sussex, where he is part of a growing community of writers, artists & musicians, His most recent book is In My Dreams, Again (Penniless Press, 2017)

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***

Ben Banyard: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
 
The deadpan camera still as a watcher;
before it the tide comes in, retreats.
 
Hulot springs on tiptoe, puffs a pipe,
plays tennis, disrupts a funeral.
 
This bleached seaside postcard
snaps a knowing summer, tickles
 
like the giddy breeze wafting in from
a twinkling sea. We know everyone here,
 
see them every time we go away,
hear them call over seagulls and jazz guitar.


Ben Banyard lives and writes in Portishead, near Bristol. His debut pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in February 2016, and a full collection, We Are All Lucky, is due out from the same press in 2018. Ben blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com.

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***

Samuel W James: The Holiday of a Lifetime 

A child is bobbing round the living room floor, throwing blocks. 
She wants her mother to save her from this deep blue carpet, 
but still her mother holds her cup of coffee. 

The block rolls over my toes. It would be rude to interfere 
or to interrupt, so I gently roll it back to the child. 
She continues to throw them away. 
She does not look at the blocks, 
avoids being taken in by the symbols 
painted and carved onto the faces:

spaceships, horses, men in suits, frogs, pianos, burgers, 
painter’s pallets, women in dresses, hammers and nails, 
churches, hospitals, mice, pitchforks, footballs, sharks
—one hits the mother in the shin, the football,

and the mother raises a finger at the child, about to shout, 
then remembers what she was saying, and continues. 
Her coffee has long been cold and half-full.
The finger is still raised. 
She is explaining about the holiday, all the things they saw:

dolphins, puffer fish, crabs, kangaroos, koalas, restaurants, 
piano bars, strange supermarkets, nurses, air hostesses, holiday reps, 
kind strangers, party animals, aboriginals, surfers with bleached hair
—couldn’t get used to the weather though, too hot.

Now, the child screams, stamps, throws—this time aiming higher. 
She nearly hits her mother’s face. It bounces off the wall behind our heads. 
My hand is pressing my upper lip into my front teeth. 
But ‘will you be quiet?’ is all that is said.

She sips her freezing coffee and continues.    


Samuel W. James is a new writer from Yorkshire. He has been published in the following magazines: Allegro, Peeking Cat, Clockwise Cat and Ink, Sweat and Tears.

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***

Julia Deakin: 1970

.                                                                     The
.                                                                first time
.                                                           I had a shower
.                                                       was in Paris. No one
.                                                    I knew had one at home
.                                              or if they did they hadn’t let on
.                                           but I knew the  French had showers
.                                      and continental quilts. It was at the Centre
.                                    d’Accueil des Jeunes et de la Jeunesse which I
.                                practised saying and I noticed there were loads of
.                            showers and they were free so because I was fourteen
.                      I didn’t ask but  just said I was  going to have one.  I checked
.                  the coast was clear, took off all my clothes, turned it on and stood
.            in it for ages because that was what you did. I considered the sensation.
.         First it felt like being out naked in the rain and then like one of those dreams
.     where you forget your clothes. I reported some of this at breakfast to my parents
and brother who had used the sink. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were quite good too.



Julia Deakin is widely published, has won numerous poetry prizes and featured twice on Poetry Please. http://www.juliadeakin.co.uk

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***

M J Oliver: Seeing Squint 

When I  should be working  often it happens I  jot down my dreams  instead like the
 one last night  in which I was  wandering  Penzance looking for you  feeling worried
you might die before I found you because I’d heard you were ill not expected to last
long and a  longing had  arisen  in me to see you  again to look  into those  dark and
uncoordinated  eyes  which  had  been  operated  on  when you  were five  and that
being 1923  was a miracle  in itself the surgeon  actually taking out  one eyeball and
resting it on your cheek while he stretched the rectus muscle causing  strabismus so
severe that you had  been to all intents and  purposes blind and you were thereafter
understandably  squeamish  about eyes always  conscious of the asymmetry  of your
looks  assuming  it made  you unattractive which  it didn’t because  I know for  a fact
you  drove my dad  demented  with desire  as  well as your  mum’s boy-friend  when
you were  only eleven  and the  landlord a year  later which is why  you didn’t let me
wear  high-heels or  makeup not that y ou’d been allowed to that  wasn’t the reason
they’d  violated  you   you  were  hardly  provocative  always   expressing  enormous
gratitude  for  your  sight  and  sympathetic  to  little  girls  who  wore  glasses  to the
extent I  wished I had wonky eyes but  mine were straight  as a die so as I was saying
I’d  developed  this longing t o scrutinize those complicated eyes once more when all
of a sudden there you were on that little island between what used to be The Buttery
and Morrab Studios a  perky pill-box hat that looked Peruvian in the lively colour and
pattern of its  weave perched on your  head which was  odd  because you hated hats
never wore them but this one looked really cute on you and I dashed across the road
took you in my arms said how pleased I was to see you and you said how pleased you
were to see me too making me feel wanted in a way that was new because our bond
had been obscure. 

M J Oliver lives in Newlyn, Cornwall. Her background is in the visual arts but she’s been writing fulltime for five years. Her first collection of poems, relating to her father’s experiences as a Hobo during The Great Depression, in Canada, was recently awarded 2nd prize by New Welsh Review.

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***

 Ruth Hanover: Bystander

If, 
when they beat him 
eight-to-one
we —                
                             do nothing
they learn their beat
                  is nothing
attach                       
                                no wrong
ascribe                 
                        no matter
learn, to beat
harder.

When we stand 
                               mute
we — allow 
give consent,
capacity 
without end.            



The poem was triggered by words of Yehuda Bauer, ‘…never be a victim, never be a perpetrator and never but never be a bystander’.

Ruth Hanover’s writing has been shaped by a degree in English literature, ESOL teaching in Cairo and Stockholm, a duty of care for family (Alzheimers), travel, and being in therapy. She has written a first novel (unpublished), short fiction, and poetry.

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***

Norbert Hirschhorn: Repair Begins With Confusion*
(Remember that true tales are meant to be transmitted —
to keep them to oneself is to betray them. Elie Wiesel)

Creation was a calamity.  At the Big Bang, 
a radiance without end burst into numberless fragments, 
sparks descending to earth, penetrating 
every living thing; each ember solitary, flickering, 
urgent to rejoin into a beautiful flame.

Tikkun — healing, restoration.  So, care for yourself, 
care for the one who has wronged you, 
care for the world about you. 
But why did you need to know about the sparks?

There were actually two trees in Eden: the Tree of Knowledge 
of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Immortal Life. 
As a child I wondered why Adam and Eve didn’t eat first 
from the Tree of Life, and only then, Knowledge!   
They’d live forever, knowing everything. 

That’s just it, they didn’t know. Yet how I came to exist: 
a result of ignorance, whose ways I continue to follow.

Repair begins with confusion.

			***

Chase after Fame, she eludes you. If you flee, 
she pursues -- unless you peek over your shoulder 
to see if she’s still following; even in old age. 

Am I good? How good?  
If I give money to this homeless person 
shivering on the sidewalk, maybe it’s for self esteem: 
I’m the kind of man who gives money 
to this homeless person shivering on the sidewalk.  

Or, maybe If I give money to this homeless person 
shivering on the sidewalk, my companion will smile, 
squeeze my hand. 

Or, because it is a ‘street tax’: 
Good fortune has entrusted me with this money, 
to give to this homeless person, shivering on the sidewalk. 

It is said the Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) 
wrote an answer first, then filled in the question.

Don’t try to be good, it only confuses.
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, said that when the Evil One 
wants to destroy us, it won’t be through our wicked desires 
but through our wanting to be good. We do good at the wrong time, 
with the wrong intentions, and end up doing harm. Yes.

Perfection is unattainable, an obstacle to humility.

I’ve been speaking with my ancestors.  Oh, what did they have to say?
They said my greatest responsibility is to be a good ancestor.

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked some learned men, “Where does God live?”
The men, surprised, replied, “Why God lives everywhere, and throughout.”
“No, he lives wherever we let him in.”
The way each of us stands at the centre of a rainbow, 
so we each stand at the centre of creation,
and must behave accordingly.

					***

Eden’s serpent was cursed with dust and dung,
the way God encumbers the rich with wealth.
Only the poor can afford to be generous, they have so little.

I snubbed the Roma woman selling ‘The Big Issue’, after which 
I fell off a ladder. 
To shame someone is a grievous sin.  

A Hasid once taught, When is it permissible to deny God? 
When someone needy comes to you, don’t say, 
God will provide. By denying His existence, 
you must provide. 

					***

An old man complained to his rabbi that his children 
wouldn’t have anything to do with him. The rabbi threw up his hands, 
That’s how it is. How is it one father can take care of ten children, 
but ten children can't take care of one father?

Someone played a trick on Mother Hen, put duck eggs in her nest.
Brooded and hatched, the ducklings took off for the pond. 
Come back darlings, you'll drown! --- 
Don't worry, mother, we know how to swim!  
How can we know how our children will turn out?

A devout man lost his young son -- trapped in a fire while rescuing others. 
The man wept as he followed the casket to the grave, but he also danced.  
Tears, yes, but why dancing? asked a friend.  
Because a pure soul was lent to me, a pure soul I return. 

Nothing so whole as a broken heart.

					***

An old man in an old century remembered: As long as there were no roads, 
and wolves roamed the forest, you had to interrupt a journey at nightfall. 
Then you had all the leisure in the world to recite Psalms at the inn, open a book, 
have a good talk. Nowadays, you can ride these roads day and night, 
and there is no peace any more. 

An old man in a new century remembers: As long as there was no Facebook 
or Instagram, no Flickr or Twitter, no private music listened through ear buds -- 
then you had the leisure to recite poetry, meet friends at the pub, open a book, 
have good talks with neighbours, family. Nowadays, you’re ridden bareback 
by these doodads, all day, all night. There is no peace any more. 
 
					***

Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak of Berditchev asked, why do books of knowledge begin on the
second page? Because, however much one may learn, a person should always
remember they've not even reached the beginning.  

Why is food so expensive? Because people want to eat all the time. 
If everyone wanted to learn all the time, learning would be expensive, 
food would be cheap.  

To be religious is to worry not about what goes into your mouth, 
but what comes out.

They tell of the poor man who couldn’t read, but knew the letters 
by heart.  On Yom Kippur, instead of shul, he walked out in a field
reciting the aleph bes, one by one, asking God to form the prayer.

Caught me being frivolous or gossiping, my mother warned: 
at birth we are each assigned a certain number of words. 
Once the store runs out, we die.  
Silence is a route to prolonged life.
Silence is the loudest sound of poetry.
Silence commemorates the six million.

				         ***

The difference between a Rebbe and an ordinary rabbi:
A young person came to a rabbi and asked, "Is there a heaven?"
The rabbi consulted the Talmud: this one taught this, that one taught that.
And he consulted the Kabbalah, and he consulted the Shulchan Aruch,
and after some hours he ruled, "Yes, but only when the Messiah comes."

The young person then went to a Rebbe and asked, "Is there a heaven?"
The Rebbe replied, "Yes, but don't wait until then."

The rabbi answered the question.  The Rebbe answered the person.

				        ***

A Rebbe and his young disciple were on pilgrimage to a revered Tsaddik’s tomb
when they came upon a stream in spate. Near them was a young woman in long
dress and head scarf – distressed, afraid to chance the crossing.  The Rebbe lifted
her gently onto his back, strode into the stream up to his waist, and crossed, the
disciple following.

Once on the other side, the men walked silently for a long while until the disciple
said, “Master, pardon me, but you shouldn’t have touched that woman.” The
Rebbe thought a moment, and replied, “I put her down some time ago. Why are
you still carrying her?”

				       ***

In every generation are thirty-six ordinary people, 
the hidden righteous ones, doing ordinary deeds. 
Among them: porters, teachers, sweepers,
carers, aunties and grannies who look after orphans. 
They are God’s emissaries. No one knows 
who among us are elect, therefore we must honour all. 

Pay attention to people on their way up, they will soon forget. 
Pay attention to those on their way down, they will always remember. 

Menachem Mendel of Rimanov taught 
that welcoming guests is a greater virtue 
than welcoming the Divine Presence. 
When Abraham received angels he saw only 
three dusty travellers who were famished, thirsting, 
in need of rest.  

But when Lot welcomed angels he already knew who they were. 
Lot came to no good end: His daughters got him drunk 
and slept with him to have his issue.

					***

The words of Jewish prayer incessantly praising God bore me.  
But I shouldn’t listen to myself praying. 
The moment I hear what I’m saying, I must
stop. Prayer isn't about you or me, not even about God; instead, 
a form of humility, an interior hum.  Pray with your body: 
forwards, sideways, bent over.  Sing, sing loudly.

I keep two notes, one in each pocket. In one, eggs, milk, honey. In the other,
earth, ashes.

A Jew stranded on a desert island builds not one but two synagogues, because 
I wouldn't be caught dead in that other one!  The great Tzadik Elimelekh once
said: Why are you surprised that we argue so much? This has always gone on 
between the people of Israel. Alas for our souls! If this were not so, no nation in 
the whole world could subjugate us!

They tell this story of the Baal Shem Tov+: Some calamity was facing the Jews. 
	(When aren’t Jews faced with calamities?) 
And so he went into the forest, lit a special fire, said a special prayer, 
and the disaster was averted. Decades later, another catastrophe was on the way, 
but we had forgotten how to make that fire. Yet, the prayer still worked.  
Generations later, we forgot the words to that prayer, but we still remembered this 
story, which sufficed.  But now, after what happened to us, we’re frantically trying to 
re-tell the story.

We search fruitlessly for the ‘X’ that marks the treasure of salvation.  But the ‘X’
is always under our feet!  When I go to heaven they will not ask me why wasn't I
the Baal Shem Tov. They will ask me why wasn't I Norbert.


*Adaptations from Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim, Elie Wiesel’s Souls on Fire, and Somewhere — A Master; and other sources.

+ Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, ’Master of the Good Name’ (1700-1760), founder of Hasidism.

Norbert Hirschhorn is a public health physician, commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” He lives in London. He has published four collections, the most recent, To Sing Away the Darkest Days. Poems Re-imagined from Yiddish Folksongs (Holland Park Press, London, 2013). His poems have appeared in numerous US/UK publications, several as prize-winning. See his website, www.bertzpoet.com.

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