This issue of London Grip features new poems by:
*Neil Curry *Nabin Kumar Chhetri *Roy Marshall *B.Z. Niditch *Deborah Tyler-Bennett *Fiona Sinclair *Marjorie Sweetko *Ian Parks *Thomas Roberts *Siobhan Campbell *Margaret Hollingsworth
*Nancy Mattson *Maggie Butt *Donald Atkinson *Shanta Acharya *Wix Hutton *Stephen Oliver *F.M.Brown *Katherine Venn
Copyright of all poems remains with the contributors
This issue’s cover picture shows the ruins of the cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The image relates directly to Wix Hutton’s poem about a walk through the city’s “Red Zone” where reconstruction work is far from complete.
Many of the poems in this issue refer to upheavals and damage of various kinds. Some deal with breakdown of physical or psychological health or with fractured personal relationships. Others face up to the harm caused by political turmoil and revolution. A significant group of contributions – either by serendipity or the subtle working of the zeitgeist – consider the consequences of war, both for those who go to fight and for those who stay behind to receive them when they come back injured or (apparently) unhurt.
The mood however is not relentlessly sombre. There are some poems – like Donald Atkinson’s tanka – that raise a smile and others, like Maggie Butt’s impressions of Umbria, which allow us to stroll or sit in peaceful and sunlit places
It is a pleasure to present work in this issue by some fine poets who are new to me and – since several of them come from overseas – may also be new to many of our readers. We are continuing to try and widen London Grip’s base of contributors and its audience. If you, the reader, enjoy the poems in this issue do please pass our web address on to someone else.
Please send submissions for the next issue (June 2012) to firstname.lastname@example.org, enclosing no more than three poems and including a brief, 2-3 line, biography
We received favourable reactions to our experiment of providing a printer-friendly version of London Grip New Poetry and so a hard-copy of this posting can be obtained at LG new poetry Spring 2012
A Student of Waves
Just as nightfall sometimes intensifies The scent of certain flowers, so at first The very isolation of the island Deepened the savour of his contentment there; Then, as the years passed, he found himself Becoming a student of waves: Observing the rise of each slow drawn intake, How it would curl to a poised surge of menace, Before that deliberate topple-over and roll And the whiter-than-ever-snowfall-was Spillage and rush that rattled the pebbles And grey stones round his veined and scrawny feet.
Neil Curry’s Selected Poems Other Rooms is published by Enitharmon Press and his latest book is Six Eighteenth Century Poets published in December 2011 by Greenwich Exchange
Nabin Kumar Chhetri
The snow is terrible this year. The road towards the library takes longer than usual. I keep the books home, waiting, for the roads to clear up. Buses drag by, with chains on their wheels leaving long monotonous marks. Smell of raw pines and chimney smoke brings your memory back in the thin December air. The train shrills past every day slicing the air between the hill and my house. Your memory touches like wind, and halts, at that moment when you left; like one of those winter evenings. The snow has been terrible this year. The days longer without you. Next year, I will wait, when they clear the snow. I will wait at that same station. I feel you in each passing train. Please tell me, when will you come? I will watch from the hilltop when your train comes slowly, waltzing and whistling, from the bends of summer hill.
Nabin Kumar Chhetri is a Nepalese poet. He is a member of Scottish PEN. His poetry has been published in Aquapress, Cynic magazine, Penny Dreadful and Tower Journal (US), Weyfarers and Fade Poetry Journal (UK), Ricepaper Magazine and Mawaheb (Canada), The Sun and Quest (India), Nosside Poetry Anthology (Italy), Spiny Babbler (Nepal) and Poetry Quarterly (China).
It’s a fridge cold Minnesota day. The poet crunches to Washington Avenue Bridge, looks down on the glaze beneath the iron span. He turns to wave at a young woman, a passer-by whose face will freeze and drain in the time it takes to climb the rail and drop his flapping shadow through the thick-skinned Mississippi.
I could see the line of her spine through her coat as she crouched by my garden path, so I rapped the glass until she stood, pockets sweet-bagged with stones, then lifted her hand as if to wave and walked quickly away towards the Ouse.
Behind the curtain London sits, brittle in a wrap of fog. She has long since kissed the children, written a note to call Dr Horder, pressed her forehead hard against the frozen glass. She moulds wet towels and muslin like putty along the gaps. There’s nothing more to do. A milk-float rattles past.
Roy Marshall is based in Leicester and has only recently begun to send work to magazines. He has had work accepted by The Rialto, Magma, Staple, Smiths Knoll, The SHOp and elsewhere. His pamphlet Gopagilla will is published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012.
for Phillip Larkin, 1922-1985 Your memory twice buried a dotted loss daring another double cross. Who remembers what waits for the modern neither Eliot Yeats or Auden.
B.Z. Niditch is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and teacher. His work is widely published in journals and magazines throughout the world, including: Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Art; The Literary Review; Denver Quarterly; Hawaii Review,; Le Guepard (France); Kadmos (France); Prism International; Jejune (Czech Republic); Leopold Bloom (Budapest); Antioch Review and Prairie Schooner, among others. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Title adapted from the 1965 album, Kinda Kinks
‘See here it is – I hold it towards you’ –John Keats, ‘This Living Hand, Now Warm and Capable’
Keats House reveals time’s glitchery again, half day’s workshop over in a hand-stretch. Now, outside the Euphorium Café we’re sipping coffee, watching passers-by skirting the Heath in unexpected heat. ‘Time-swallowing happens here’, you say, ‘expect the unexpected’.
As if to illustrate, there’s Ray Davies from The Kinks, sentinel by unlikeliest orange van …
…We laugh, Ray Davies on a sunny afternoon.
Keats’s friend, Haydon, could have thumbnail sketched songwriter’s sun-cut silhouette, us soon turned to clafoutis aux cerises, bitter- cocoa torte, and latte … crumbs of this Hampstead summer almanac.
While, at Keats House, as clocks go winding back, an orange van steals by. As lovers stand for photos against Keats’s mulberry, the poet stretches out his, tenderest, hand.
Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s first collection was Clark Gable in Mansfield (King’s England, 2003). Her second, Pavilion (Smokestack), set in Brighton and the world of the dandy came out in 2010. 2011 saw the publication of Revudeville (King’s England), and the chapbook Mytton … Dyer … Sweet Billy Gibson (Nine Arches Press). KInda Keats was written as a result of a Poetry Lives Here residency at Keats House, Hampstead, in 2010.
On the road, uncle’s sat nav commentary directs us back to his salesman days, I’ve stayed there often They always bought tea towels.
At Chichester Cathedral I insist on photographs of aunt and myself , because - discounting chavs , petty criminals, and those who keep us at Christmas card distance - she is my only relative, and time, like a bowling ball is scattering her 70s.
After lunch at Bosham Quay, we lose an hour in a bijou boutique ransacking clothes rails and daring each other to buy, whilst outside, uncle has the engine running.
Pointing the car homeward he enquires Quick route or pretty? I try to squeeze the last dregs out of the trip suggesting tea and a look round Lewes.
But over a pot for three and cake, we catch each other’s yawns and are relieved to find that outside the day has already been snuffed out.
Fiona Sinclair’s work has appeared in numerous magazines. Her second pamphlet A game of hide and seek will be published in early 2012. She is the editor of the on line poetry magazine Message in a Bottle.
My oncologist is in remission
My oncologist’s shoulders trumpet the results: the new lump turns out to be a lump. He’s straightened up, colour improved, though of course we don’t talk cures As for the radiologist, I’ve seen through his facade: inside, he glows. I have to say I’m pleased with the way my ophthalmologist responds to stimulus. He thinks I see better; I think he looks better. My osteopath’s in cracking form: unobstructed energies and everything in place. Even my gynaecologist’s looking up; making steady progress, he emerges from the depths to comment on the inevitable pain of this recession.
Marjorie Sweetko is British and Canadian and lives in Marseille, where she edits English language texts for publication. MHer poetry regularly appears in British journals such as The North, Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, South, South Bank Poetry and Obsessed with Pipework.
Cat and Man
The story as I heard it went like this: a knight was riding home from the crusades when something fell and fastened on his neck - a wildcat waiting in the woods that dropped so sudden, screeched so loud
the knight's horse reared and bolted at the shock. In the mile between the ambush and the safety of the church he fought a running battle, dripping blood. The cat would slink off then come back.
Next morning, when they found them in the porch the stricken man had stiffened as he died, crushing the cat against the sandstone wall. They buried them together as you would, raising a wooden effigy to mark the spot.
I edged in from the sunlight as a child. Scaffolding was holding up the spire. Six hundred years had passed and still the bloodstains deepened on the flags. The knight was very dead: his hands
were pressed together as he prayed. The cat still had some life in him. He looked as if he'd wake up with a snarl, spring through the window of the local pub where the drinking miners told a different tale.
In the middle of the twelfth century, according to local legend, Sir Perceval Cressacre was returning to his manor of Barnburgh when he was set upon by a wildcat. The dead body of the knight and that of his assailant were found next morning in the church porch. (A History Of Barnburgh by Paul Jenkins.)
Ian Parks was one of the Poetry Society New Poets in 1996. His collections include Shell Island, Love Poems 1979-2009 and The Landing Stage. Poems appear in The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday and Stand. In 2012 he will be writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library.
Reports of casualties have been confirmed by authorities in Afghanistan. The soldiers’ next of kin have been informed. A renewed Summer offensive is feared say intelligence sources in Helmand. Reports of casualties have been confirmed.
I know one of their number, he was famed at school for chess, all-in-all a quiet boy. The soldiers’ next of kin have been informed.
I see him in stillness, his silhouette fired before the fury of a red-raw sun. Reports of casualties have been confirmed.
We were close, but our childhood friendship frayed, its threads stretched beyond common boundary stones. The soldiers’ next of kin have been informed.
The bulletin sears with the heat of a flame that chars the fabric of being human. Reports of casualties have been confirmed. The soldiers’ next of kin have been informed.
Thomas Roberts is a poet based in London where he also works as a lawyer. He is originally from County Antrim in Northern Ireland.
Have you seen him, the one who came back, hot under the collar he wears to steady his neck? He hears beyond the word, sees far into gesture – even a hug is laden with dislocation. Contingency is in his tenseless verbs. He is not good at judging distances. Behind his pores, the other ending lurks leaking when he can’t find the remote. Did He not cause their war to end in confusion? He tells me this is from the Qur’an. I am confused but dare not tell him so. It has to be enough that there’s return.
Siobhan Campbell’s latest book is Cross-Talk from Seren which follows her Michael Marks Award shortlisted chapbook That Water Speaks in Tongues (Templar). She currently lives in the USA where she lectures on the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing for Kingston University London
His second woman pulls the nets aside hoping he’ll notice her. It’s not right, not right, she thinks, but it’s his choice. All this is his choice? Who am I to say? She’s in his bedroom, he’s down there, digging up the lawn, making a pond. In Norwich. Whistling, shirt sleeved, sweaty, he’s showing off his strength. He slams the spade into the soil performing for his wife, down there in her red hat. She’s like a garden gnome. I’ll buy a plastic bag of fish, his second woman thinks, jiggling the nets. I’ll buy a plastic bag of fish like those I got him at the fair when he was nowt but two legs and a head of hair. He’ll grow them in his pond. Last time he put them down the lav. I’ll buy three herring first and cook their tea tonight. The sea’s not far from here, he says. I’m miles from home. Cod’s not on his menu any more. When he cooks fish it ends up raw. His second woman’s down here from the North to wave him off, on Tuesday night he’ll start his second tour. I cook Nan, cooks don’t fight we do the odd surveillance and that’s all, he says. Cook or cock, he used to kick and bite and all lad’s like to tumble, like to fall. Now Nan, he says, now Nan I’ll give it to you straight, the lads look after me; if I go, everybody starves, even in Helmand crewmen have to eat. His second woman hopes he’ll stay inside his tent and never leave and fry up egg and chips until his tour of duty’s spent. I promise Nan, when did I ever fail? Cooks come back. I guarantee you, I’ll be home. He laughs. You have my word, I live by the skillet not the sword. She’s at the window looking down, behind her back his empty trousers hang in plastic from the picture rail. Things shift, she thinks, and yet they never move. Down by the hole he’s dug he hugs the gnome and calls her wench, and on the window ledge his second woman’s fingers clench. Go home, don’t fret, he says, I promise you, with me and half the Air Force on the job, in five month’s time the Taliban will be a joke And promises are pie crust. Easy broke.
Margaret Hollingsworth grew up in Sheffield and London. She visits London frequently and currently lives in Toronto. Formerly a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, she is primarily known as a playwright and has written for film and television and published a novel and collection of short stories. She is currently working on a poetry collection.
She kept a cigarette tin of thumb-tattered cards a closed set of answers to probes about the past
No ploy could surprise her no wish or pleading move her from her place at the yes-no click her finger poised on the catch
Someone said the world has seven basic stories: she told her life in four with thirteen variations
no jokers or wild cards to warp the spin off-true each story told with a deep drag on a Player’s, the ash drooping
She dealt out the plots so often our eyelids ached our tongues went cloth our ears glue
We learned to exist off-heart, off-mind whenever the talk turned to history
Yet she kept a chocolate box of letters from Karelia for us to decipher after she’d gone one way or another
The classic method, invented before the Bolsheviks, worked equally well for the Soviets. Peel them raw or slip off their skins after boiling and dipping in cold water. Dice their flesh to the same size peas would be if peas were cubes: potato cubes, carrot cubes, beet cubes, pickle cubes, swede cubes, finn cubes, polish cubes, kraut-or-jap-or-ukie cubes, traitors, jews. They’re all the same on the cutting board. Place them in a clay bowl, cool them in the icebox to 37.6 degrees, no more no less. As the tongue of the tsar was tender, so our party leader prefers nothing too hot or too cold. Mix ingredients well. Mask identities with mayonnaise. Forget names, numbers are more precise: vegetable 1, vege 2, veg 3, 4, 5 and so on and so forth, but the total must be odd. Serve on circular plates in off-centre domes. This is the joy of salad cubes, our leader’s favourite dish, the relish of reconstruction: vegetable perestroika.
Nancy Mattson is a Finnish-Canadian writer who has lived in London for 21 years. Her third full collection, Finns and Amazons, will be published by Arrowhead Press in early 2012. Her previous collections are Writing with Mercury (Flambard 2006) and Maria Breaks Her Silence (Coteau 1989).
The Other Holy Places of Umbria
Fonti del Clittunno
Willows bow down and poplars raise their arms around clear pools, astonishing blue at Curacao depths, as if kingfishers have dived and given up their turquoise essence at a spring which bubbles for the river goddess, old as faith. Perugia Cathedral
Among the suited, sunglassed men, heavy with threatening aftershave, one younger, knowingly handsome, with long wavy hair, pauses to check his own reflection in the smoked glass doors to the Duomo. British and commonwealth war graves cemetery, Rivotorno
Assisi is strung like a rosary of pink and cream around the hill where Francis prayed for peace and preached to ancestors of birds who sing here now in this green field below the town. Neat rows of white marble stones etch silent names and messages, a corner of a foreign field… and at the going down of the sun… he was our world… and love from mother. And bones of boys sigh into the soil. Portonovo
White pebbles chosen from snow-dazzle beach where time is measured in the rhythm of small waves sucking back the shingle. They speak of long-slow humbling in waves to conjure smoothness; how small the precious thing may be, picked from a beach of millions. One stone, palmful of heaviness, curved smooth by tides. One circular and flat, the third an egg, laid by a mythic reptile, laden with promise. The fourth is chipped, and there within, a gallery of stars, a diving depth of quartz, worlds within worlds. Montefalco 1
Magnolia: a tree of pale cupped female hands raised in supplication, waiting for the rain. Each petal as it falls resembles a silk slipper the pattern for a Roman oil lamp, ready for light. Montefalco 2
The fire-flies flash and flicker round us in the jasmine scented dark. A holiness of nightingales within an olive grove. Lake Trasimeno
open the window let the dawn-rinsed air rush in with a river of song along the lake shore light amplified by water peace unfolds its wings
Maggie Butt’s poetry has been widely published in magazines and her three collections are Lipstick (Greenwich Exchange, 2007), Petite (Hearing Eye, 2010) and Ally Pally Prison Camp (Oversteps, 2011).
At the Leaning Tower, civilisation divides into age-old tribes: us, holding it up; and those daft buggers, pushing it down. Conversation
In this washed evening sunlight, the stucco'd house-fronts on opposite sides of the street, decide at last to come clean with each other. Li T'ai-Po
Old man's house so high on the hillside, home from town can't get back, too steep. Now must choose: up here, among trees - or down there, with the girls!
Donald Atkinson grew up mainly in Sheffield and Enfield, and followed a career in teaching – mostly English & Youth Theatre, with a bash at headmastering now and then. His poetry was first published by Jon Silkin in Stand in 1985. Three years later he won both the Peterloo Poets and the Cheltenham Festival TLS poetry competitions, whose judges included Carol Ann Duffy, Tom Paulin & Fleur Adcock. He won the 1990 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize for best first collection with A Sleep of Drowned Fathers (Peterloo). In 1994 he was awarded First Prize in the Sheffield Thursday competition, judged by E.A. Markham & Mimi Khalvati. He has published four more collections, all from ARC, the latest being In Waterlight (2004).
Find Your Level
The slip of a stream sliding down mountains, gathering pace, confidence bouncing up boulders disappearing into crevices exploring the landscape of her birth -
The glacier’s head where the sun sits smoking idly all day long watching the world -
Rehearsing to roll over scree, mud, clay, hills and falls, gathering momentum.
If you wish to go fast you must go alone she hums as she skips along.
A river in full spate later, she surveys her tributaries spread across vast plains swollen by their siblings’ strength, as they meet, part and meet again, powerful currents moving in symphony.
If you want to go far travel with others they sing in chorus holding hands.
At the confluence cross-currents coexist, the waters merge flowing as one mighty river.
The memory of her mother’s song echoes in her veins as she flows finally into the sea -
Fed by earth and sky, buffeted by fire and air, learn to overcome loneliness, find your level.
Shanta Acharya was born in India, educated at Oxford and Harvard, lives in London. An internationally published poet, the latest of her five collections is Dreams That Spell The Light (Arc Publications, UK ; 2010). www.shantaacharya.com
You are now entering the Red Zone
Major earthquakes shook Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010 and February 2011, followed by thousands of aftershocks. A no-go area in the inner city, the Red Zone, was cordoned off. In November 2011, a viewing route opened amongst the ruined buildings and became known as the Red Zone walk. “Drop, Cover and Hold” is civil defence advice on self-protection in the event of an earthquake.
Of course I’ve seen it all before. On TV night after night after night after night But we’re here in Christchurch for the weekend Might as well do the Red Zone walk See things for ourselves. Where do you get in? Oh yes there at the top of Cashel Mall What used to be Cashel Mall Where the sign says ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK
Those guys in hi viz vests There’s a cash donation box there It doesn’t cost anything to go in does it? I mean I’m just walking through the Red Zone How much is that going to cost anyone? I’m just looking, thanks. I can see weeds growing Where we sat last time, I remember Outside Starbucks in the Square. Look there’s a camera tripod – quite expensive That’s worth real money, a good bit of gear like that It’s lying there out of reach just where he must have dropped it And fled for his life Ooh did you feel that an after shock that was scary back and take my hand Don’t look – that woman is crying Holding onto the fence where the sign says DROP, COVER, AND – something Crying And the silence There’s no noise None at all People don’t talk This entire crowd is Just looking. Wait a minute I want to put a coin in the donation box. Look, there are people not putting any money in The cheapskates –
Wix Hutton lives in Nelson, New Zealand, where the strongest Christchurch earthquake shook her house only very gently. She writes poetry, short stories and full length fiction, as well as emails to friends in England assuring them New Zealand is safe.
A short blunt street that cuts between two longer streets back from the riverbank. The street does not matter. Nothing begins or ceases here. Nothing matters. One house. A tumble-down brick chimney smokes because it is winter. An old house fallen into ruin with the smoking chimney late winter. A house long fallen into ruin with its grey plank walls. Planks with gaps between them. Along the side of this house, as if to contrast brightness with despair, is set one single, tall window hung with pure, snow-white curtains. Curtains of fine, filigreed lace, pure and white and forever new. Behind those snow white, lace curtains a young woman in her bedroom dreams and dreams. She dreams of all that these snow white curtains promise, behind a window that is never opened. She dreams, unseen within her bedroom, through the lace curtains which fill the room with light that is fresh and cold as water. In the ruined house of grey planks, with gaps between them, under the broken chimney, the young woman dreams. She is caught within the glare of her snow white curtains. They and she become the dream, this will never stop, it is forever bright.
Stephen Oliver is a New Zealand / Australian author of 16 volumes of poetry. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian and New Zealand Literature. His recent poetry collection is Harmonic (SPD Books).His latest chapbook is Apocrypha (Cold Hub Press)
A concrete path; dulled black wrought iron gates Wide open, but no invitation offered, A rusty arc shows where the drop-bolt grates – Once a home in which hands worked, hearts suffered. Old-fashioned bays and yellowing net curtain, A concrete path, dulled black wrought iron gates, The family car its service now uncertain – A rusty arc shows where the drop-bolt grates. A thirties' semi, shreds of earlier pride, Old-fashioned bays and yellowing net curtain, The ill-painted garage vainly tries to hide The family car, its service now uncertain. Number six, a house without a name, A thirties' semi, shreds of earlier pride, But fading fast, old age, neglect and shame The ill-painted garage vainly tries to hide Wide open, but no invitation offered, Number six, a house without a name, Once a home in which hands worked, hearts suffered But fading fast – old age, neglect and shame.
F.M. Brown was born in Yorkshire but came south to Bedfordshire and subsequently began writing poetry – some of which has been published in Other Poetry and Interpreter’s House
This city, this street, this back garden, now; the glossiness of new ivy leaves and the single, solitary boldness of a red tulip I didn’t plant. Sat on the wooden bench we built ourselves I can hear two clarinets rising up like cigarette smoke, like the twined fingers of lovers new to each other and to love. Our front door opens onto the street, which opens onto the park, scene of afternoon strolls – ‘Lovely evening now. Completely blue sky.’ Children pedal bikes up and down the road. Under the eaves, a wasps’ nest; and beyond, the quietly humming city, ringed with fields.
These evenings when I sit on plastic chairs in a garden filling up with weeds, or through the night at my desk, labouring with the window hitched wide open to the faces of the houses opposite I hear them screaming before they veer into view – their insect-like cry – and watch them as they slice their way across a tracing-paper sky winging it in aerial trigonometries and wonder at their unnameable call and other nights, that they make no sound at all.
Katherine Venn studied for a Masters in Creative Writing at UEA in 2009/10, then returned to London to continue working part-time as a commissioning editor. She has just finished her first novel, and produces the literature programme for the Greenbelt arts festival.