London Grip New Poetry – Summer 2019

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This issue of London Grip New Poetry features:

* Ceinwen Haydon * Kathryn Southworth * Tom Sommerville * Joan Michelson * Stuart Gunter 
* Elizabeth Smither  * Gillie Robic * Claudia Court * Mat Riches * Gareth Culshaw * Brian Docherty
* Stuart Pickford * Jane Frank * Geraldine Gould * Michael O’Brien * Phil Wood *Frances Jackson
* Teoti Jardine * Sue Wallace-Shaddad * Ian C Smith * Thomas Calder: * Jan Hutchison
* Keith Howden * Oliver Comins * Tim Love  * Jane McLaughlin * Anne Ballard * Hilary Mellon
* Glenn Hubbard  * Stuart Handysides * Andrew Shields  
* Jack Shaw * Keith Nunes * Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Copyright of all poems remains with the contributors
Biographical notes on contributors can be found here

A printer-friendly version of London Grip New Poetry can be found at
LG New Poetry Summer 2019

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

SUBMISSIONS: please send up to THREE poems plus a brief bio to poetry@londongrip.co.uk
Poems should be in a SINGLE Word attachment or else included in the message body

Our current submission windows are: December-January, March-April, July only & September-October

Editor’s notes

Many of the poems in this issue are set, deceptively, in mundane domestic surroundings – a living room glimpsed from a train, a hallway full of boxes packed and ready for a move, a dining table with remnants of an interrupted meal, a doorstep being approached by an unwanted caller. The poetic imaginations of – among others – Elizabeth Smither, Gareth Culshaw, Jane Frank and Stuart Handysides conjure up unsettling possibilities lying behind very ordinary doors.

Elsewhere, readers will find a clutch of poems about writing poetry.  This is a theme that is sometimes over-used but on this occasion we are confident that Tom Sommerville, Joan Michelson and Stuart Gunter have approached the subject with freshness and insight.

To precede all the above, our selection begins with a piece of out and out fantasy from Ceinwen Haydon – although our readers should easily discern that this is speculative fiction with a satirical edge.

We conclude with a small but important house-keeping notice.   Due to the editor’s travel plans, the submission window for the next issue of London Grip New Poetry will consist only of the month of July so we ask potential contributors please to refrain from filling up our inbox during June.

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs
London Grip poetry editor
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Ceinwen Haydon: Time-Traveller B

Anonymous man posing in women’s underwear c1896 [Wellcome library]

    The Secret Life of Time-Traveller B

You long for everything 
you’re not, attributes you haven’t got. 
A slim waist would be nice,
laced corset-tight, cossetted in silk, 
and frilled thongs to ride high 
over your manly buns and thighs.
Your deficient height (five foot eight
though not short – is quite small), could sway
on shapely heels, a fetish to deliberate.
Leather gloves could clutch and rub
the rough snake beneath your truss
as you think of nanny. She smacked you 
for your rudeness when you panted aloud
your boyish desire. Most of all, you’d kill
for a lovely head of curls. Then maybe
Mam-ma would love you, put down 
her paintbrush, cuddle you, smile 

and listen
to tunes from your tone-deaf soul.
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     Time-Traveller B at Work

All the bikes and red buses in London
will not assist your escape.
Your reputation stalks you, in and out 
of your enclaves, paths of division and hate.
Your loose tongue, acid mind,
pallid morals and pointless, priapic dick
drive trucks of chaos and ruckus 
through reasoned debate. Yet know this,
you will not escape. Voters are watching
America’s Forty-Five: they’re wising up
to dangers that lurk under a crass hair-cut.
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     Time-Traveller B as Politician

The trick is in the oat bran ingested 
each day to clean your blood,
move your bowels, function
as a human should. Waste leaves
as fast as it builds, in you

too fast 

what you stuff in your mouth
passes, hurtled by bursts of gas
leaves no nutrition
only bottomless greed 
for ballast
to fill holes and vacant places.

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Kathryn Southworth: Frailty

     Where the shale slides dangerously

He never dropped the ball before —
even when greasy with dew or mud —
his grasp was sure.

He never dropped the ball before —
his run was effortless, he’d dodge and weave
as easily as walking through a door.

He never dropped the ball before —
he’d sail across the line and dive in triumph
and be up for more.

He never dropped the ball before.

     Wary of rubble and falling stones

But after that, the possibility was always there,
and though his skills and flair were still unquestioned 
he’d come to fear.

There was so much to lose — how could he dare
embrace the moment, like a longed-for child,
once he had learned to care?

Like water as it nears the weir
speeds up, then hangs a moment —
the loss would be too much to bear.

He hears the weir.

     The path narrowing

He was the perfect strategist, as they all said,
possessed a football brain — without the legs
to carry him, leave all the rest for dead.

Like a wise grandfather, to mentor was his forte,
no hands-on parenting, no heavy lifts,
no plunging in the fray.

He wasn’t up for kicking in the air
and chasing for the catch —
the game that he’d prepare

was winding down the clock.

     The way blocked at last

He hadn’t dropped the ball before,
had never missed a pass, forgot a place,
until the curving strands of mind began to tear.

He hadn’t missed a beat till when
he lost the rhythm of his thoughts,
shut down the irksome effort to remember them.

He hadn’t looked for peace
that comes from wanting nothing any more —
that last release.

He never dropped the ball before.

The italicized sub-headings are taken from lines in Roethke’s poem “Journey into the interior”.

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Tom Sommerville: Dry Thoughts In A Dry Season
…and not breed one work that wakes

Where are the right words? The words have all gone:
the images blanked, but the clichés remain,
leitmotifs have lain out too long in the sun.
I wish some kind muse would send my roots rain.
I think that my poetry’s a race that has run;
I can’t even sonnetise my nagging pain.
I’ve got it so bad, that a measly pantoum
might be enough to bring light to my gloom.

In the stanza above, I broke all the rules,
iambics crumbled under my awful stress.
I belong among charlatans, dunces and fools; 
line by line I keep on compounding the mess.
I know lots of words, and all the right tools
but the end results don’t now effervesce.
Once I was fluent, but fluency collapses:
old age playing hell with my synapses.

What a moan, you might say, and you would be right;
but don’t be too smug, it could happen to you.
All I want is a theme, a phrase, an insight,
a mellifluous sound, a shrewd aperçu,
a flash of pure unexpected delight:
a last hurrah before saying adieu.
And, as a wee extra, some fire in the belly
like Yeats and Macdiarmid but maybe not Shelley .

Who will I learn from? Perhaps Ozymandias,
I know what I said, don’t look so quizzical.
There’s Andrew Marvell’s eloquent randiness.
and Keats, a star, but awfully pthisical.
Swinburne, perhaps for metrical handiness.
John Donne, of course, so sexily physical—
but, my god, when he got religion,
he turned from an eagle to a wood pigeon.

I hear you all thinking what dreadful drivel:
such angst because your muse did a runner,
all woe-is -me-ness and deplorable snivel,
you sound like an archetypal Scotch scunner.
Write or don’t write, be decisive, don’t swivel.
Suck up to your muse; you seem to shun her.
As the man said, I can’t go on…I’ll go on.
I’ll heed good advice…blah, blah and so on.

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Joan Michelson: Tom’s Poem 
(Year Two Class Assignment)
 
Tom (seven) had to write a poem about autumn.
Katy (mum) found it sad while Lars (dad) 
loved it for its perfect mood of Swedish.
When I asked Tom if I could hear it, 
he said, ‘If you like I could read it now.’
At the moment he was on his scooter
but we were nearly at his front door.

However, first he had to demonstrate the features
of his Razor A3 scooter. He hurled it down
and kicked it hard to scratch against the asphalt.
He righted it, then edged the fender in to scratch 
against the front brick wall. He explained, 
‘It’s much more cooler. You bang up your scooter
so it looks really battered.’

I got the schoolyard picture. And now the door
was opened and Tom push-rode his scooter in.
He dropped it beside the couch. Then he took
Katy’s phone to read his poem out to me.
It was fine tuned music. The words crescendo-ed from
the short vowels in autumn-orange-fall-down—flowers
to the high i in his last line, Flowers die. 

Tom said it wasn’t thought. He just wrote it fast. 

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Stuart Gunter: What I Think About When I Think About Writing
For Ron Smith & Brady Earnhart

The blank page. The sharpened pencil. My
mind wanders right away. To the woodpile
where the old axe leans against the stump, ready
for me to split some fatwood. What shape will
this poem take? Will it be depressed, like Ignatow’s,
or will the reader read it like it’s supposed to be
read: Collins urging us to waterski across its surface?
No, I don’t think about that. I think about Carver’s
living room furniture out on the lawn and why didn’t

I think of that first? Or Dr Johnson and his broken table.
My main man Gilbert wants it to resemble a rectangle.
A rectangle with something to say.  I think about everything
else other than what the writing is doing. The clouds in
the sky. The moon.  Especially the moon. So, I will write
this rectangle, put it in the drawer for a while, send it to
my friend Brady for editing and excising, and then send                   
it off into the ether, to be accepted or most likely rejected,
and then, perhaps, just maybe, read by dozens and dozens.

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Elizabeth Smither: Day after a poetry reading

I sit in the hotel dining room eating a late breakfast.
French toast, coffee, and a plate glass window
to look through at a yellow tree whose leaves
seem like a payment in gold for poetry.

But here comes the real payment: two ladies who
must have been in the audience when eight poets
had ten minutes each (two went over, the
last was short-changed, the first discursive)

but nothing matters, everything is obliterated
each poem gone to make a flowing stream.
The two ladies smile at me and wave and I wave
back as if poetry could be called down like rain.


Elizabeth Smither: Family in a London suburb

From the passing train I cannot tell whether
it is a sofa they are sitting on or a divan
five backs, five heads in a row
from the largest to the smallest
lined up in a row to be briefed
by the father who stands in front of them.
Perhaps he has an invisible mantelpiece
(no coal in the grate, they are poor–
being lined up suggests this: a battle plan
to get through the day unscathed). The train
goes swiftly past. It is shabby too
running on its rails between house backs
and allotments with vegetables and weeds
litter and skips, soil that is said to be acid
and yet I find myself thinking of Rodin’s
‘Le Penseur’. Were there time the father
might hand them food while they listened
grapes and water melon, croissants and jam
a cup of milky coffee from a cafetiere
as they angled their bodies to lie like Romans.

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Gillie Robic: she said it was ok

	that she just left the room
when her brother shouted
at his little daughter
	that she left the house
when her father hit her 
mother    turned on her

she said it was ok
	that she left her job
when the boss made more
than a pass
	that she left her partner
when things became messy

she said that was ok
	but when she brought food 
for her child she would find
it rotting beside the empties
	on her next visit

she said being homeless was    ok 
but she missed being able to cook
	that she could stay on 
night buses or tube it to Heathrow
	use the clean facilities
	doze near bored travellers
waiting in the warmth

she said that was all ok
	until they stopped 
turning a blind eye
	told her to move on 
not unkindly    pushing her 
bags along with her as she left

she said it would be ok
	as soon as she could  
get lost documents replaced
lost benefits renewed
lost digs re-assigned
her lost life resumed

	but found she could not 
imagine it


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Claudia Court: Thinking without Trace

The lisping child has early seen 
that life is seldom fair.
But when I reach your age, he cries 
your age will not be there.

The lisping child makes brave attempts
to keep his world a womb -
force feed him with a sibilant,
he’ll spit it on your tomb.

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Mat Riches: Settling  

I bought a telescope to show our child the stars
beyond the built-up roofs, training it every night
on a cottage by the sea. It’s hard to focus.

We’ve been here for six years and find ourselves falling
into orbit, then locking in on school routines,
familiar commutes and certain mobile signals,

and these anchors have us converting lofts to keep
the pace with the pinch from new demographic groups,
Plywood and Anaglypta curls build up in skips.

Our neighbours had their first baby six months ago;
half the street watched it come home. We’ll ask the parents
its name when we’ve taken down all our scaffolding.

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Gareth Culshaw: Packing Up The Light

The sky has fallen onto the land.
Blocks of blackness shorten 
the eye. Stars glimpse light, 
and the moon, aching to reach
its other side, moves in slow
motion. This is how things are 
down here, lost in the darkness
of hope. Boxes are sellotaped
once full.  Ornaments dusted, 
glasses cleaned with fairy liquid.
We’re filling the house with boxes
of the unknown. Adding weight
to the hands. Whispering words
that may never be heard. 
While a sky hedge grows around 
our view, until it flicks on the stars. 
And we have to sit and wait, 
for a council letter to give us a new horizon.

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Brian Docherty: A Day Will Come

When you have to be good to yourself
because nobody else is going to do it,
perhaps because there is nobody left,
having outlived everyone you ever knew.

Or left all your friends & family behind,
or because the love of your life is gone,
and you have lived without love in your life
and you are truly a pilgrim and a stranger.

Even if you feel stranded where you live,
or imagine yourself trapped in your home,
surrounded by things from a previous life,
and have a drawer full of still-wrapped objects,

Time is now, you are older but not yet old,
you could move to the city of your dreams
and start again, giving your furniture away
isn’t giving yourself away, that comes next year.

There will be a next year, and another,
who knows who you might meet there,
walk on friend, you know the rest of the song
and believe someone waits to sing with you.

Let yourself be passion-struck by someone,
know you are still alive, if they are oblivious, 
let it wash through you, if they do not want to 
do this dance, say “At least let us be friends.”

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Stuart Pickford: Jigsaw

After he’d gone, she noticed
the sun moving shapes up the wall;
found a jigsaw in a cupboard,
a thousand pieces in full colour.
 
Margate Pleasure Beach: endless
sand a peroxide blonde, turquoise
rolls of waves with frayed edges,
children jumping the days of the week.
 
And a pier so long you could walk
to Southend. Taking in the fresh air,
a pastel couple holding hands,
a fisherman casting a line in the deep.
 
She didn’t begin with the four corners,
the edges, sorting according to colour.
She thought she’d start with the centre
where sea and sky were the same pieces.
 
As the sun pinched and pulled shadows,
the picture became clearer. She recalled
something about the pier being wrecked
and the army blowing up the girders.
 
Yes, everything went but, somehow,
the end of the pier survived, far out
in the greys; like a shelter in the park,
fancy bargeboards, spikes of rust.
 
She paused at the last piece of the puzzle,
the face of the prom clock. Instead
of putting in the hand to tell the time
with her arm, she swept it all into the bin.
 

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Jane Frank: Still Life with Captions
 
This evening feels like a date with Braque –
lamplight monochrome, bottle and plate
tessellated, crumpled napkin broken into glass
shards, tablecloth shapes interlocking,
 
overlapping. Until I ate them, the chicken
and broccoli were perfectly spaced on the plate.
I peeled onions for the sauce that fell in trans-
lucent layers like days, but when I diced them
 
they became just a formal element on the
page. Even my thoughts are captions in papiers
collés: just words in typed letters like Remember?
and Wouldn’t it be nice?  Perhaps it’s a trick
 
of the light, or wishful thinking, but the salt
and pepper shakers are moving slowly now like
planets to the edges of space, away from
ordered patterns within the confines of this frame.

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Geraldine Gould: Getting Beyond

All is physics says the physicist.
Gravity keeps your feet on the ground,
physically intact, relatively speaking.
Only the turmoil within reflects 
what you cannot transform. 
Force meets reaction,
you trundle bravely on.

All is psychology says the psychologist.
You are the driver and the passenger and the car
of dreams. But the vehicle is not moving.
You press the pedals from the back seat.
There is no direction forward, 
no direction home.

All is love says the song.
It’s all you need, there is nothing 
that can’t be sung.
The notes pledge pathos and promises 
to kind hearts,
but you are unseen, unsung. 
The distant chords remember when
all could be redone.

All is timing says the clock.
The metronome keeps on going,
perfect time, but if you miss 
the beat you miss 
the beat, out of time, locked
in expectations of what used to be.
Tick tock.  

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Michael O’Brien: Translucent Rope
 
Baby Penelope sitting 
in a tiny tub
waiting for her bath and
playing with the stream of water 
coming out of the faucet.
A thin translucent rope
clear and straight.
like an icicle.

Penelope keeps trying 
to grab that rope,
her laser hand
with magical powers
cutting through
the rope each time.
A magic hand that
will not grasp.

She can’t comprehend.
It’s a liquid that only
looks like a solid.
Trying to hold, trying to hold.
All her aspirations 
are to grab that ungraspable rope.

As you get older, Penelope 
you’ll encounter many 
optical illusions.
You’ll learn not to put
all your hopes
into that one 
Impossible
dream.
The one that can
never be held.

I hope not.

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Phil Wood: Tides

Pools closest to the edge are best. Salt water
     where the hares – sea slugs – graze on gut weed.
Squelchy things shrivel in the sun further up the beach.

The latest dad clocks a hermit crab in a periwinkle shell.
    They can't grow their own, he says.
I scoop the squatter into mum's Tupperware before it scarpers.

This dad thinks he knows stuff that I don't. They all do.  
   A starfish has no brain, heart or blood. If a predator
grabs an arm, it drops off and escapes. It grows another one. Fact.

And starfish are not happy out of the water. The tips of the arms
   curl upwards when they're stressed. The new dad
has a mermaid tattoo on his arm. It doesn't look like mum.

He's wearing flip-flops. Trip-traps when you clamber barnacled rock
   and over these slippery tongues of  bladderwrack. I should know.
I find him a Mermaid's Purse. He's a definite maybe. Like the last one.

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Frances Jackson: freshwater mermaids

freshwater mermaids
discovered in lido
announced the local paper
one morning in june

it did not go down well
with the freshly shaven father

what a load of twaddle
he declared, slamming
the paper shut
and went back 
to his overdone toast
as if that were that

fingers already dark 
with the words
that had so disquieted him
he scratched at the
the blackened surface
with the butter knife

but the chlorine 
would play havoc
with their beautiful hair
just think how green
it would end up
said his wife, a silly woman
nipping at her coffee

bitter
no sugar
she was trying to lose weight

mum, they’re freshwater mermaids
not that disney rubbish
they don’t have beautiful hair
they live in marshes
all dank and muddy 
bet you it’s because of the drought
everything’s probably dried up
where they’re normally found

it was true
the ground was parched
the grass withered and dry
barefoot
it hurt to walk across the lawn
once her father’s pride and joy

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 Teoti Jardine: The Edge

Where once we felt balanced,
leaning towards each other,
feeling safe and
secure.

That security and safety
now wrenched from us,
leaving no place to
balance.

I had lived in Christchurch for the past 9 years and wrote this on hearing about the shooting of the people 
in their Mosques. The Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue I had visited, and the Linwood Mosque is just around 
the corner from where I used to live. 

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Sue Wallace-Shaddad: Sunday Morning
Sunday 1926, painting by Edward Hopper. 	

Head in his hands,				
the man sits alone
on the sidewalk.

He hears the rumble of the El
in a nearby street
but his own—
deathly quiet.

He replays the image, 
fixed in slow motion,
when bicycle met boy
all those years ago—

the terrible sound
of head hitting road,

the stain of red.

The rusted frame
still haunts the alleyway.

He has no hand to hold.

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Ian C Smith: Trying not to stare

To my shame I walk past a woman sitting in fine rain set in, face lined, hair dark-grey
with silver jewels of raindrops, a low cloud glowering in disapproval day shielding
aircraft skirting nearby Heathrow, shrieking jet traffic invisible.  Upright on a rug
spread over a grass verge, gradient gentle to a footpath and busy road, she appears
unaware, jets, lorries slamming by on an overpass, wet tyres’ whine a sound of tomcats
squabbling, rain and diesel fumes sharp in the cold; sits, silent, her few possessions
exposed, saturated.

Pregnant to a man not her husband, a betrayer, breaker of promises, of hearts, she
clings to belief in him because she has no-one else, waits, interest in life ebbing, a
fallen lady fell from the louring sky.  He said they would meet here.  He is hours late.
He will never come.

A gipsy beggar, face trickling with rain, one of John Clare’s unprotected race, hitch-
hiking to the north, argued with a lorry driver who expected her to pay for the ride
with her body.  He pulled over, swearing, she scrambled free.  Silver lights glinting in
dark hair, dark eyes furious, nostrils flared, she breathes battlefield cordite.

Illegal, evicted, she has come to a stop, sodden, ill, in pain, broke, bereft of language
skill, ideas.  She vows never to return home, and if she changed her mind, could
never find her suffering family, scattered, dislocated, gone.  Stoic, she remains here
until she collapses.

This woman on a wet rug demented by grief, careworn face frozen in anguish, breath
catching but, alas, continuing, oblivious to rain, the cold, to all exposure, remembers
her child who was killed here, a time of innocence, tears misery mingling with soft
rainfall.

Pinpricks of diamonds adorn a woman’s greying hair.  She runs from the havoc of
marriage, weary, putting miles of road between her and the old life, must remain
hidden, but the going is hard, situation grave, with much hardship ahead.

An earthy smell rain releases from soil and vegetation mixed with industrial fumes
stir this resting woman’s memory.  She has left the melancholy north to seek better
paid, brighter work in the south, expectation high.  Rain stops.  Skies will be blue
again.  There is no wind.  She shall reach shelter tonight, setbacks dealt with.

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Thomas Calder: The Malady of Melody

My mother was a strict, steely woman.
The most passionate advice she ever gave was
Never, Ever,
Fall in love with a Tenor.
They’ll spend their entire lives,
And all the families money
Fighting their way up the musical ladder.
Higher and higher up the scales,
And further away from the relationship.
And believe me,
They always want help getting down.
He will have has his way with you,
Consume your womanhood during the intermission,
And toss you aside, Before the encore.
Precious child,
If you simply cannot escape
The seductive magnetism
Of the musical breed,
Please, I implore You,
At least find yourself a nice, humble
Bagpipe player.

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Jan Hutchison: My Mother as an Almond Tree

     Her Disappointment

The almond tree leaning
across the fence
in Hector Street
blossom spilling from its shoulders
could be my mother
on the day I left home
for good
               the wind rose a little
flowers blotted  or rather
 smudged every space
a stalk tripped me up

     Her Cunning

Because my mother fetched
a silver knife
because she cut a groove
on the trunk of an almond tree
because she slid
 a bud with a bitter scent
inside that groove
                         I remembered
looking up at the branches
my mother was minus
one daughter

     Her Endurance

My mother would be an almond tree
and bear another daughter
yet the sun had already
gone to a northern country
             I said to her my story
shall be your story

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Keith Howden: Apples for a dying man
  
‘He loves to sit among his apple trees.’
Alice told spreading orchards to cheer
his illness. ‘Out in his summer-house.’
Arthur was watching from his lawn’s square
a match of wind and bloom. Six lean trees
were losing badly in an enclosure
of concrete, on that poor pitch, for his
last season’s game. Fragile, immature
blossom was being kicked to defeat.
His hair had greyed, his cheeks sunk and thinned, 
the bull-neck lost its force. He nodded at
the trees’ flimsy bloom.’ If you come round
a bit later, I’ll give you some fruit.’
Wind butting urban sunshine culled
unfruiting seed. Sucking at bottled
stout for his health, he raised his glass to pour
badly, spilling liberal froth that rode
towards the trees. Bottle and flower
conflicted in his mood. ‘Guinness is good.
What did I win but relegation?’
Seen from his shelter, the match had run
to its result. The bitter question
blew from his mouth, like the froth 
among the dead leaves and the birdshit,
latent to spur a richer life. Maybe.


Keith Howden: Blackberry and apple pie
 
‘He can have his home-grown apples with them –‘
She poured the berries slowly and they ran
like blood in an enamelled sunstream,
pulsed liquid and uncurdled, from one
bag to another. ‘Yes, it’s cancer.’
Thin plastic squealed where her fingers fought.
‘Blackberry and apple pie.’ Her anger
held all malignant nature in garotte.
She screwed the neck, with deliberation
tightened it, to burst the berries’ blood.
Ribbons of juice spurted a profusion
for vicious lubricant to her mood.
‘With his own apples –‘ Jewelled sun lurched
on fruit debauched, bulging as she strained
to scorpion anger where she arched
and stung herself. Under her blenched hand,
swollen and tight, the red membrane burst
to spurt slush fruit. I heard her scream
of anger the distending bag released.
‘What use are fucking blackberries to him –‘

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Oliver Comins: Bramble Jelly
For Nell…

Bramble jelly is not the same
as blackberry jam.
There are no pips and roughage
is almost non-existent,
but a smear on fresh bread,
still warm from the oven,
leaves me purring.

You pick fruit in moderation,
to cook at home upon returning,
where your scratched fingers
might smart, squeezing each lemon.
Next, an aroma of hot berries
is allowed to permeate
the whole house.

After slow oozing overnight
through muslin, a purée	
of pulp and seed remains.
Underneath, in a saucepan,
some purple juice glints,
waiting for its dose of sugar,
heat from a gentle flame.

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Tim Love: A night out

Just as a weed's only a flower in the wrong place,
so ugliness just needs the right setting to blossom.
A flash of flesh goes a long way, especially
after a drink or two. So I avoid skin cancer with her
in a dingy pub that somehow survived the smoking laws.

I let the colours drain from the stained glass windows.
By the time we've finished talking about Tangerine Dream
and Clockwork Orange it's sunset everywhere.
Her eyeballs glow yellow, like cold creamy rice pudding,
burnt round the edges. My favourite.

"I don't want to cry," she says, smearing her mascara
as she opens her bedsit door, "I want all my emotion to go
into my songs. Without them I'd be like Milton Keynes without
traffic lights." "I hate cycling there after rain," I say,
"in case the puddles are pot-holes. In the end I avoid them all."

"Like people," she says, "I mean, you never know.
Any man could be a rapist. Want to hear my latest song?"
She grabs her guitar, strumming to check the tuning.
After, I don't need to lie when I say I like it. I get up
to open the curtains. If it's pouring, I'll ask to stay.

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Jane McLaughlin: Stars

ventricular red plush slides into darkness

                   rippling curtains
   move through rainbow light

dust dances in a shaft of silver

lips Max Factor red 
     quiver wide as a road on screen

the teeth are diamonds

a cigarette holder in enamelled fingers
    smokes
into the peopled midnight
where bodies rustle

                   a ballet skirt plunges into air

                   mushroom cloud over an island
   
outside pink flowers root in rubble

between Saturday afternoon and rationing
    mouths remembering how to smile
    go home 
through lighted streets where no bombs fall

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Anne Ballard: Young for my Age 

yes     bit sore today     hurt my back
aerobics class      yes I go 
with my daughter also spinning      yes
hard work but cool  
do think it’s important
to keep in shape      exercise
good for my arthritis      no not age-
related just heredity 
and stress you know

no I don’t dye it highlights cover 
the odd strand of grey       of course 
they’re all my own just a few crowns 
in front       yes still the same dress size 
as in my teens       yes I know
I look remarkable
I’m always being told so      genetic
possibly but       yes I do 
look after myself well

not dating at the moment 
no       I met a man last week 
a party my son’s friends       yes cool 
of course I was among the older       yes
much younger forty-five in fact
and separated        yes like me 
we had a wicked night       oh yes I still      well 
sometimes        said he’d ring 
and we’d go out        not yet        no 

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Hilary Mellon: Woman In Landscape

i am lost in all this
this marriage
this merging

without agency or root
i stumble perpetually across desert
a tumbleweed in high wind

my life is spring-trapped
caught in a new mindset
a new language

today i wear camouflage
in stormy shades
of grey and rust

look how they reflect the minor disturbance
of sandstone
of dust

now look
oh look now
look how the colour suddenly changes

sour yellow
bleeding into orange
sharp as a throwing knife

watch how it catches the sunlight
falling from the sky
and cuts it

slicing it over and over and over into thin bitter strips

Hilary Mellon: Somewhere Near North Walsham

Somewhere near North Walsham you missed the sunset
Glancing up and through
the carriage window, you
were just in time to see the very last lick of it
ice-lolly red 
vanishing 
inside the earth’s dry mouth

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Glenn Hubbard: HVO Sniper

Suds on the river Neretva.
Bar of soap near an open hand.
Damp clothes on a stone.

She came down at dawn,
hoping it was true,
what they said.

About drunken soldiery.
About late night singing.
About dawn being best.

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Stuart Handysides: Dawn raid

He knocks the door hard, insistently.
Before I’ve had time to click save
he’s knocked again
and I want to tear him off a strip
but sense he wouldn’t get it.
He’s got a job to do, got to dump
it somewhere, get to the next place.

OK. I’ve not met number nineteen
just seen a small cat in the window;
it’s a chance to say hello.

Your name? And surname? No please.
Fuck you, I think, I’m doing the favour.
But I contribute my bit of big data,
too honest to make it up.

Stuart Handysides: Devaluation

It’s always in another room
or I’m upstairs, or in the garden
and I abandon whatever it is
hurry to the un-ignorable
summons. Because it might be
important, or someone nice
I wouldn’t want to miss.

But mostly there is silence
not so much as heavy breath
a recorded invitation heralded with “Hi!"
or the fake familiarity
of the mountebank
the salesman whose fingers travel.

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Andrew Shields: Numerology

One person called me to ask for a donation.
Two were at the door to talk about the Bible.
Three stood at the bus stop with earbuds in their ears.
Four waited in line at the supermarket.
Five sat at the next table in the cafe.
Six road workers had dug a hole in the street.
Seven horns went by in a marching band.
Eight children were dawdling home from school.
Nine people were injured in a multi-car pileup.
Ten died alone in furnished rooms.

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Jack Shaw: A stranger comes knocking 

A burst on the doorbell                                               
not the old paint I’ve grown to hate –
something much closer,                                     
so close I can feel its breath
down my neck

Hide behind the bookshelf
a finger on pursed lips, 
a hush is an ambush –
the cacophony of silence
rips my pulse to shreds

And yet,
the knocking doesn’t cease –
The black mess begins
to creep from under floorboards,
The tar that sucks the colour from eyes

I bolt the door,
that old double lock
to keep out the nothing that comes knocking
mocking with its fleeting follies,
like war without the noise

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Keith Nunes: Attire

The cadaver
Wore a cravat

His name is Chris
Was Chris
Will always be Chris 

Christopher and Catherine Kline
She swept him away
He wasn't the same when he came back

The Klines 
Inclined
Toward bettering themselves
Till they couldn't get 
Any better

Then she banished him
And his cravat

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Deborah Tyler-Bennett: Laying the Ghosts

“They’ve got that display, look, in Exotic Pets,
Dinosaurs -  Veloceraptorsaurasus,
and see, them chicken things that run about in groups.”

She hasn’t paused for breath since Hack Lane.

“You know, I see things here, they take me back.
That’s Westfield Road.  We lived in Westfield Drive
in Skeg.  During the war.  You know, went there 
to me Grandparents.  I travelled back a month or two ago,
they let me see the front room, it’s for dining.
But the room where we slept as kids, was all for guests,
I didn’t ask to look … wouldn’t have been right.”

We stop at traffic lights.

“Went there to lay ghosts.  I’ve laid ‘em.
You laid yours?  You want to!”

She breathes in, starts again.

“Course, the Government just wants to tek it out of you.
It’s all a plot.  Think back, when we were kids and hadn’t owt.
Then came the ‘paper this’ and ‘paper that’,
we’re following a bleddy paper trail.
Soon you’ll need a chit, just to mek bracelets in a factory.
Think on.  That cleaning job, I have-to show a form.
The Boss chucks paper on the floor, to see me sweep it up.
Bastard!  Recall, how dog licensing came in?
Just after Hitler.  Med you pay to have a dog!
Still do.  You know what sums it up?”

He doesn’t.

“Mars Bars.  Used to be bigger, and more caramel.
But now.  Well!  We all know, 
they cost more, but they’ve shrunk.
Yes, sums us up.  Eh, I’ve got our Janine’s Christmas Box
down ‘ere.  Won’t give it her ‘till Friday week,
she’s itchy fingers.”

“Will she like it?”

“Probably, who knows.  Look, see that shed?
That’s where they make them lattices we have for lunch.
‘Bit thin on the filling, and they’ve shrunk n’all.
They’ll mek a killing, that’s one factory on the ball.
Come on, our stop, get Janine’s box,
That’s it.  And like I said, recall,
you lay them ghosts, before it gets too late.”

Ringing the bell at Wetherspoon’s, and shuffling off,
he’s fraught with bags, she’s talking still,
melting into darkening streets, becoming shades
of Christmas past, shrinking, becoming shades.

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Contributors’ biographical notes

Anne Ballard lives in Edinburgh. Her poems have appeared in Acumen, Magma, Orbis, and other magazines and anthologies. She won first prize in the Poetry on the Lake Competition, Formal category in 2018. Her pamphlet Family Division was published in 2015.

 Thomas Calder is an Australian based creative with a background in music, film-making and creative writing

 Oliver Comins lives and works in West London.  His first full-length collection, Oak Fish Island, was published by Templar Poetry in 2018.

Claudia Court recently reconnected with her early love of poetry after a long career in journalism, during which she also managed to study with the late Michael Donaghy. She currently attends Caroline Natzler’s workshop at the City Lit and has had work published in South Bank Poetry.

Gareth Culshaw lives in Wales. He had his first collection out in 2018 by Futurecycle called The Miner. In 2020, his second collection, called Shadows of Tryfan is released. He is currently on an MFA at Manchester Met. His biggest poetry fans are his two dogs, Jasper & Lana.

Brian Docherty has published 6 books, most recently Only In St. Leonards: A Year On The Marina (Special Sorts Press, 2017).  He now lives in the Hastings area, as the Beach Bard of St. Leonards.

Jane Frank is a poet who lives and writes in Brisbane, Australia. Her poetry has appeared most recently in The Ekphrastic Review, Not Very Quiet, Meniscus, Stilts Journal and The Poets’ Republic. It is also forthcoming in Cicerone Journal, Antipodes, Hecate and an anthology titled Pale Fire: New Writings on the Moon (The Frogmore Press,2019) in celebration of 50 years since the moon landing. She teaches creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University

Geraldine Gould was born in Glasgow and studied Italian at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently completing a Masters degree in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee. She is a regular contributor to the Dundee University Review of the Arts and she has read her poems at Live Wire in Dundee and Shore Poets and The Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.

Stuart Gunter is working toward a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling and lives in Schuyler, Virginia. He likes to paddle the Rockfish River and play drums in obscure rock bands. His poems have been published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Streetlight, Gravel, Deep South and New Plains Review, among others.

Stuart Handysides’ poems have appeared in PresenceLondon Grip New Poetry, Pennine Platform and South. He has run the Ware Poets competition for several years.

Ceinwen Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published on the web and in print. She was Highly Commended in the 2018 Blue Nib Chapbook Competition, won the Hedgehog Press Poetry Competition ‘Songs to Learn and Sing’. [August 2018] and was also shortlisted for Hedgehog’s Neatly Folded Paper Pamphlet Competition in October 2018. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University (2017). She believes everyone’s voice counts.

Keith Howden writes “I spent my youth in a moorland village a few miles from Burnley. National Service 1949-1951 took me away from there and following that, I didn’t return but worked casually for almost two years as a laboratory assistant and playing minor league football. By sheer chance, in 1953, Leeds University accepted me despite my ridiculously poor qualifications. I married in 1960, had my first poems accepted by Harry Chambers/ Peterloo in 1978 and in the end, retired from lecturing at Nottingham Trent in 1958 to return again to the moorland where I must suppose it all began.”

Constantly surprised by his ability to write poems that people enjoy, Glenn Hubbard has lived in Madrid for 31 years and has been writing poems since 2012. Though fluent in Spanish, he is poetic only in English and has had poems published in a number of magazines. Last year one of his poems was submitted for the Forward Prize in the UK

Jan Hutchison lives in Christchurch and is published in a variety of publications and has recently been accepted in an anthology on the Christchurch terrorist  attacks.  Last year her fourth  book of poems was published, entitled  Kinds of Hunger.

Frances Jackson is originally from the northwest of England, but now lives in Bavaria. Her translations and poetry have appeared in places such as B O D Y, Nine Muses Poetry, The Missing Slate and Your Impossible Voice.

Teoti  Jardine is Maori, Irish and Scottish. His tribal affiliations: Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, Kai Tahu. He attended the Hagley Writers School in 2011. His poetry published in the Christchurch Press, London Grip, Te Karaka, Ora Nui, Catalyst, JAAM and Aotearotica Vol 3. Short stories in Flash Frontier. Guest Editor for Pasifika Issue Flash Frontier March 2018. He and his dog Amie live in Aparima/Riverton on the beautiful southern coast of New Zealand.

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches Press).  He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. He blogs at http://litrefs.blogspot.com/

Jane McLaughlin writes poetry and fiction.  Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. Her poetry collection Lockdown won the Cinnamon Press debut collection award and is available from them.  Her story ‘Trio for Four Voices’ was  included in Best British short Stories 2018 (Salt Publishing)

Hilary Mellon  has been involved in the poetry scene for many years, read at venues all around the country and judged several poetry competitions. Her work has been published in over ninety different magazines and anthologies, four pamphlet books and one full length collection. She runs writing workshops in Norwich.

Joan Michelson’s recent collections are: The Family Kitchen, 2018, The Finishing Line Press, KY, USA, Landing Stage, 2017, (publication prize), SPM Publishers, UK and Bloomvale Home, 2016, an Original Plus Chapbook, UK.  The poem here  is from a collection-in-progress, poem sketches of London neighbours

Keith Nunes lives in tiny Pahiatua (New Zealand). He has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2019,the Pushcart Prize and won the 2017 Flash Frontier Short Fiction Writing Award. He’s had poetry, haiku, short fiction, Asemic Writing and Foto-Poetry published around the globe.

Michael Terence O’Brien is a playwright, poet, singer/songwriter, and artist who resides in Chesterfield, New Jersey with his wife and daughter. Produced plays include The Curb and Verbal Prostitution, and published poems  include Am I lost, Placed on Pegasus, Only One Dance, and Lonely Stars and Stripes. He has BA in political science and a Masters of Teaching degree in Special education and currently works as a teacher of young adults with Autism.

Stuart Pickford works as a teacher in a comprehensive school in Harrogate. His latest book is Swimming with Jellyfish published by smith/doorstop.

Mat Riches is from Norfolk, but lives in Kent. He works for ITV. His work’s been in Poetry Salzburg, Under The Radar, South, Poetry Scotland, Poet’s Republic, Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems and Algebra of Owls. He’s on Twitter as @matriches and blogs at https://matriches76.wordpress.com/

Gillie Robic was born in India, came to boarding school in England and studied at the Sorbonne and Art School in Paris and London.  She spent most of her working career as a Puppeteer, working in stage, television and film, directing and designing as well as performing. She returned to writing about 15 years ago and has become more and more happily immersed in poetry since then. She has won or been placed in a few competitions and been published in magazines and anthologies here and in the States.  Her first collection – Swimming Through Marble – was shortlisted and published by Live Canon in 2016.

Jack Shaw writes “My name is Jack, I live in the suburbs of Nottingham, and I’m debating whether to tell you I’m 17, as the perception of youth is that of ignorance. I’ve always written poetry to deal with emotions and change, so i thought what better way to have my voice heard”

Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields released the album Somebody’s Hometown”in 2015 and the EP Défense de jouer in 2016.

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Poetry New Zealand, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Elizabeth Smither’s latest publications are a collection of poems, Night Horse (Auckland University Press, 2017) which won the poetry award in the Ockham Book Awards 2018 and a novel, Loving Sylvie (Allen & Unwin, 2019)

Tom Sommerville writes “I am a retired lecture in English and Scottish Literature. I was inspired to read and like and write poetry by my English teacher who not only persuade an unlikely number of boys to enjoy a wide variety of poems but also brought the poets in to the class room: mainly Scots poets (Macdiarmid, Maccaig) but I vividly recall the presence of Louis MacNeice. Work followed but retirement renewed my interest in writing the stuff.”

Kathryn Southworth is a retired academic who lives in London and Gloucestershire. She has published in a number of print and on-line magazines and her first collection Someone was here (Indigo Dreams) came out in November 2018. Her pamphlet Wavelengths: a dialogue on light and sound with Belinda Singleton will be published by Dempsey and Windle in June.

Deborah Tyler-Bennett has had eight volumes of poetry and three of linked short stories published.  Her current volume from King’s England Press being Mr Bowlly Regrets (poems, 2017).  Her forthcoming volume, Ken Dodd Takes a Holiday, is out from the same press in 2019, and she’s working on her first novel for King’s England, Livin’ in a Great Big Way.  She regularly facilitates workshops and performs her work.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad has had poems published by Ink, Sweat and Tears, Poetry Space, The French Literary Review and The Dawntreader as well as featuring in several anthologies. Sue is studying the MA in Writing Poetry (Newcastle University/Poetry School, London) and is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society

Phil Wood was born in Wales. He works in a statistics office, enjoys playing with numbers and words. His writing can be found in various publications, including: The Poetry Shed, Snakeskin, Ink Sweat and Tears, Allegro Poetry.

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