The Autumn 2020 issue of London Grip New Poetry features:
*Zoe Brooks *Colin Pink *Tony Beyer *Leona Gom *Daniel Bennett *James Roderick Burns
*Jack Houston *Tom Phillips *Moya Pacey *Mary Franklin *Curtis Brown *Peter Kenny
*Angela Kirby *Kathleen McPhilemy *Ruth Valentine *Marie Dullaghan *Molly Burnell *Tanner
*Jane McLaughlin *Jennifer Johnson *Mary Robinson *Marion McCready *Fizza Abbas
*Bethany Rivers *Nancy Mattson *Jane Kirwan *Julia Duke *Phil Connolly *Pascal Fallas
*Alison Campbell *Shikhandin *Robert Nisbet *Rosemary Norman *Robin Houghton
*Sarah James *Ian C Smith *Fraser Sutherland *Phil Kirby *Stuart Henson *Emma Neale
Copyright of all poems remains with the contributors. Biographical notes on contributors can be found here
London Grip New Poetry appears early in March, June, September & December
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LG New Poetry Autumn 2020
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Our submission windows are: December-January, March-April, June-July & September-October
Welcome to the second – but probably not the last – posting of London Grip New Poetry produced entirely in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus may not figure explicitly in many of the poems but its presence probably explains a note of foreboding that runs through this issue. We begin with large-scale themes of totalitarian dictatorship but soon move to more personal and domestic territory. Even here however the topics are darkish: reflections on memory & mortality; relationships under strain; cross-cultural tensions; struggles of growing up. And we end this issue with a handful of film noir vignettes. What these varied poems have in common as that they are all engaging, well-crafted and perceptive. It is gratifying that so many gifted poets are willing to entrust their work to us; and it has been a far from easy task to make the final selection that is now in your hands/on your screen
London Grip poetry editor
Forward to first poet
Zoe Brooks: Perhaps That Easter there were angels everywhere, electric in the air, a frisson of freedom, a lamentation of song. Perhaps it was the poet president racing through marble halls on a child's tricycle, arriving at meetings with a squeak and a crash; perhaps it was that cold spring wreathing the statues with garlands of mist, a spring that had been so long coming, arriving only with a jingle of keys; perhaps it was the candles guttering in Wenceslas Square, tears bejewelling the flowers with ice, the women bowing before the black and white photograph, that made us believe that this time history would not repeat its cruelties, that Prague's angels would not prove to have leaden wings. And there I was, so obviously alien that I walked in the middle of the pavement, without looking over my shoulder. In the warm light of Cafe Slavia, drunk on long black coffee, I asked about the future. And the answer was always the same – “Perhaps.”
Colin Pink: The Problems of Philosophy after Bertrand Russell The table I write at appears solid, smooth and polished; reflections of light glow white on its surface. If I turn my head the colours change, the highlights skate across the top; one edge looks longer but isn’t. Depending on your point of view it all looks different. To the painter these things are important. Russell’s elegant prose claims we always experience a veil of appearances, never reality; and to make it sound scientific he calls it ‘sense data’. That world seems to be reliable, dependably the same, tomorrow as it was today. And yet, we’re like chickens who everyday are fed by the farmer at the same time. But one day instead of feeding the chickens he wrings their necks. This is known as the problem of induction. And not a lot of chickens know that. And neither did I. Colin Pink: Never Accept Words from Strangers Did you pack these words yourself? Has anyone given you words to carry for them? Have you left your vocabulary unattended at any point in your journey? As they snap on the rubber gloves to probe, persuade and intimidate you realise you’re costive with words that aren’t yours. Don’t accept words from strangers however well-meaning they appear. Remember: Cui bono? Cui bono? Remove their hand from your crotch/purse/mouth; rip out their fake smiles with your teeth. There’s violence folded within everyday phrases: Take Back Control, Economic Migrants, Make [INSERT NATION HERE] Great Again.
Tony Beyer: Turn the new leader’s dead eyes don’t change expression while the question is asked or as he intones his answer the impression this gives is that anything he says must be obvious anyway to anyone with any sense he’s not interested in those who aren’t listening to him it’s the troubled and fearful of change who are his target unless it’s the change back he’s already announced to perks and entitlements for those who favour him his aim is to control a population more than half of whom won’t concern him once the votes are in he needs losers to help his winners feel affirmed withholding the charitable glad hand for photo ops snipping open the ribbon on a track through the bush or cannily distributing cosy appointments these are the purposes for which his upright carriage his impeccable menswear were calculated
Leona Gom: 62 Billionaires 62 billionaires own as much wealth as half the world’s population —Oxfam report, 2016, cited in Beyond Banksters, by Joyce Nelson They could all fit into your house, these owners of the world. Imagine them there, not that comfortable and not exactly friendly but agreeing to give it a try. But what could you talk about? The weather? Of course they own that, too, so the subject is not as safe as it sounds. And what as a good hostess could you possibly offer them? Even a glass of water already belongs to them in a way you can barely understand. The ones that talk might be willing to answer a question or two about their favourite possessions: a favourite wife, an island, a sled, a government. They might even express a certain bewilderment at how they have become this rich. It seemed to take no effort at all, they admit. At some point it was so easy to buy the laws and the lawmakers they could do it in their sleep, and they did. Perhaps they even blame you, wondering why you did not stop them. Now, of course, it’s too late. They murmur about algorithms and portfolios beyond their control. When they leave they will be polite. They will smile, collusively, across the room at each other. At you the smile is something else, but not pity, not any more. Pity is always an early divestiture, and it, too, is no longer under their control. Leona Gom: The Lenins —after reading Budapest, by Rick Steves Back to back now or facing each other across the memorial Budapest park, moved from their pedestals in city squares and courtyards, from government buildings, to this graveyard of communist statues, stately or with arms raised, looking up, looking down, holding a flag, a book, a gesture, brought here while the nineties hammered their century shut. Overnight gone from honour to disdain, not pulled down in retribution but parked in a garden of broken ideas, not turned to honest rubble but to warnings, to kitsch for the tourists happy to pay and take their comical selfies and get back on the bus to capitalism. What do the Lenins murmur to each other in the winter evenings when the park is closed? What messages of regret and sadness? Stalin, they whisper, you there in the east corner, all your fault, you insane bastard, who knows where we might be now without you. The snow falls into all his death, all that silence.
Daniel Bennett: The Panda The sounds of the house begin above him, a family waking. He thinks of Stalin preferring a sofa to a presidential bed, of the ace of pentacles gleaming from the apocrypha of a bookshelf of the bottle of Cahors he drank last night, a black wine, dark as a tarot reader's smile. He winds the blanket tighter, but sleep has vanished for another day. Stalin lay dead for days because lackeys wouldn't wake him. Lucky Stalin. He considers how all things are rare and fleeting: power, ambition, sleep, the ephemera that crams inside a head, even the emptiness that ensues when loves disappears. Already, this day is spoiled. Through the glass door of the lounge, his daughter watches. For how long he can't tell. Her gaze moves from the space he occupies, back upstairs, towards his former habitat. A radio sounds, a song about hips meeting, kisses, the rest. He lifts himself with the blanket wrapped about him, smiles and waves, because captivity should be safe for all. The girl retreats. He sees his reflection in the shine on glass: his pot belly, eyes dark from sleep. New footsteps press on the stairs, subtle and hesitant. He begins to dance across the cage, his claws scraping on squeaking boards, his tongue probing a shred of green bamboo.
James Roderick Burns - haiku Two dogs boxing in the park – dusting of blossoms Muggy day – beyond blackbird hedge, a patient cat At the insect’s approach, a lilac-bush begins to quiver Hard wind – pawnbroker’s eagle itches to fly Sun-warmed rat, war-memorial plinth all to himself
Jack Houston: sparrows there’s at least corn flakes a dozen mixed nuts in the fish fingers bushes near the end bananas of our avocados flats flitting coffee goat’s cheese in and those little yoghurts out of the kids like the foliage splitting whatever they’re Marmite doing between each washing up other food probably liquid the finding of the search for olive sustenance oil there one mustard moment gone the raisins next I haven’t time to stand and oat cakes watch them though
Tom Phillips: Unfair assumptions about pigeons The pigeons strut across what’s left of the lawn like generals or politicians inspecting frontline mud on the day after the last shot sounded in a war. They’ll glean nothing from this compacted earth. A smaller, prouder finch has its tail feathers up. It knows when it’s under threat and does its best to make a voice heard above mechanical coos from the frog-marching, land-grabbing pigeons. As if in an allegory, our downstairs neighbour appears. He plugs a hosepipe onto the garden tap and turns a sudden spurt of water over parts of the yard he’s doing his best to cultivate despite the birds. Later, when the sun slides down apartment facades, bats will hurl their soft, dark bodies through free air. 10 April 2019, Sofia
Moya Pacey: Birders Instead of smelting steel or driving forklifts at the port, men are buying bird books, spotting, making blogs, competing. Last week, Pete scored a willow warbler. Harry beat that with an orange-breasted whinchat. Wildlife Centres springing up where smokestacks once belched hot air and muck. Dads and grandads walking lads out over marsh, telling tales of birds’ long journeys. Places where they fed, watered, rested in sanctuaries now disappeared. In the hide, men whisper names— shoveler, pochard, lapwing, redshank—once a glossy ibis. The lads are their apprentices. Men help them to adjust the lenses of binoculars, so that when they close one eye and squint, they see the world changed for birds and men.
Mary Franklin: Lost and Found Clearing space in the attic for another box of books the skirling of swallows under gathering clouds warns me of the onset of a summer storm. I lean an arm on the windowsill, watch a squirrel scurry up three-sided, blue-green needles of a tamarack, then vanish among its mysterious foliage. My foot touches something odd. A child’s memory guides me to a voice I loved that for years I have heard only in dreams and I stare down at an old vinyl record, the label torn, destroyed by damp and time.
Curtis Brown: Between Lines Should I read the lines of your life I fear I may neither find myself amongst them nor indeed between them despite having written them with you throughout our many years so I sing my own song to you as we embrace my tears falling down your back onto the horizon shimmering a mirage of salt water yet I count this painful blessing more favourable than the fear of a stranger in your eyes as they gaze upon my face and search for it between the fading lines...
Peter Kenny: The door in the wall Orange bollards, the bus gridlocked. From its top deck I see a plane tree’s shadow; how distinct leaf shapes shoal over a wall of whitewashed brick, and a green door. I fox this page with a memory: a summer when I, a boy from the flats, trespassed through bramble, stingers and Bramley trees, into private gardens. I climbed on damp, back-broken sheds, parachuting bindweed trumpets into the spiders’ Germany of flowerpot towers and wood-loused tenements of rotten wood. I tried every door, hoping to steal into a story, a walled garden perhaps, where a woman is waiting with the book of me open on her lap, my choices forking through its pages.
Angela Kirby: Rain Sometimes in those long wet northern summers a solitary child wanders out into the sodden garden and makes her way through a dripping arch of golden hops to the long wood which only a few short weeks ago she’d seen awash with bluebells. Now she finds that one well-hidden clearing from which to see a thin grey swab of sky, and lying on the damp earth she offers herself up to the rain till all her lonely pain is washed away and she feels whole again, redeemed by this secret baptism. Angela Kirby: 3 AM no moon, no stars, no sirens no cat yowls, no dog howls only a small clear voice persists ‘On whose walls will your pictures hang, where will two thousand books find home, who will then dust the Staffordshire, Chelsea, Spode Crown Derby, Famille Rose and those Meissen figurines?’ Lying here, one thing’s for sure - when I go – which may be soon I’ll no longer know nor care
Kathleen McPhilemy: Months of Sundays It was not (to start again) what one had expected. What was to be the value of the long looked forward to Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity And the wisdom of age? T S Eliot, East Coker Desultory whistling from the garden next door the rumble of a neighbour’s lawnmower: Sunday again; Confined to my category I can hardly be bothered to name the days. I don’t think I can get used to this. For all its imperfections I miss the world we had. When I considered age and death I expected to grow old in the world I knew; I thought when I died I would leave a me-shaped space and others would carry on around an emptiness they recognised accepted and remembered me by.
Ruth Valentine: At Mortlake For ten minutes I was not living my own life though somebody stepped down from the train to the platform it was a day in spring not raining not quite sunny somebody crossed to the far side of the line however you cross there waited a gap between lorries threaded herself into the alleyway and out onto the towpath not flooded that afternoon then at the gate into the cemetery somebody became me but I tell you I was not living that life in those minutes I was walking back along the river towards the city downriver to Kew or sitting in the sun on the green watching a small girl run after a pigeon or I was hitting someone or fucking someone in the non-existent station underpass or writing a poem or lying in bed with you half asleep in your arms I wish I had been lying in your arms those lost minutes the doctor says sooner or later I will lose much more Ruth Valentine: Cloths Used For Oiling May Spontaneously Combust* along with elderly shopkeepers in Dickens, hayricks, things focussed through a piece of glass, people in lockdown. Spontaneous combustion: a useful skill we all should aspire to. The fat cremation fees you'd save your estate! And think of the satisfaction of selecting when and where: the local park, that dress shop where they looked at you like dirt, which you'll be once the flames die down. Or Downing Street. I'm rehearsing already: sitting out in the sun, overheating the bedroom. I just need to know I can, when the time comes: a fortnight of driving rain, say, or politicians claiming Everything's under control, and smiling, smiling. *warning on a bottle of Danish furniture oil
Marie Dullaghan: Smoking We waited long minutes under dark clouds. When the time came, my sister could not enter, stood instead among the screened rubbish bins. My son went to her, placed a lit cigarette between her lips. I broke protocol; entered the building first. Those who had gathered, followed, awkward, hesitant. In the centre of the room, a flutter like bird wings in my chest. Anxious. Oh God! How alike these cousins! I never noticed – the beard, the nose, the hair, the younger outside with his aunt, cigarette smoke struggling up through damp air, the other in here, godless voices in unfamiliar prayer surround his coffin. Then the rain. Loud fat drops, beating the roof, the doors, the windows. Strangers in black suits fastened the lid.
Molly Burnell: Fragility You look up from your cigarette as a black horse gallops by, burning a flickering orange-yellow tail into the dark, into your eyes. A mane of flailing flames upon its veined neck, disjointed wisps of fire-tips dying into sooty air. You stand and you watch, before relinquishing the paper pinched between your index and middle, like it isn’t there, letting it fall onto a paper path and scatter its glowing ashes on the wind, into paper trees, paper grass and your paper self. Every edge curls into the dark because everything is thin and prone to catching fire, falling to tiny pieces at the slightest touch, the caressing and consuming of yellowing fingers and blackening nails. Molly Burnell: Secrets Tear me to secrets like I’m paper etched with words that won’t ink out of my mouth onto the air. You can chew on an untasted cut of me in your head, over and over; a slice of stale bread broken into smaller, easier-to-swallow chunks. But if you do swallow and the taste brings tears, don’t feed me to the ducks scattered through the park like crumbs, or the homeless man swept into the doorway of the boarded-up Chinese takeaway, on your walk back to your parents.
Tanner: you have to give her that she’d be crying when she’d tell you you’re too short or you don’t make enough money or you’ll never be a writer she’d be crying as she said these things and she’d be nodding and to everyone else in the bar it would look like she was agreeing with something hurtful you were saying to her and when a couple of white knights who’d been watching would come over she’d look away embarrassed inadvertently showing them the walnut bruise on her cheekbone she got from falling down drunk and then she wouldn’t say anything.
Jane McLaughlin: Way In please enter your Pin number please enter your password please enter your username please enter the second, sixth and eighth letters of your memorable word please enter your grandmother’s shoe size please enter your last cholesterol reading please enter the name of your window cleaner’s wife please say five Hail Marys and one Our Father sorry your details have not been recognised please click on this link to reset your password please select a memorable question what is your mother’s maiden name? what is the name of your first school? who is the muse of lyric poetry? in what constellation is the star Deneb? who wrote the Almagest? why are you bothering to answer these questions? why do you want to spend your money on products produced by slave labour on the other side of the world? please enter your email address sorry that email address is not recognised please register your details here to set up a new account sorry that address is already in use please enter your username sorry that name does not exist sorry your identity has been deleted from cyberspace Abandon hope all ye who fail to enter here
Jennifer Johnson: Passages In this coastal town white poverty protects itself with flags and dogs. Visitors climb to the fort that guarded against strangers for millennia, look down on ferries that feed this port. Underneath the castle lies chalk of the sort teachers taught and frightened me with, rock worm-eaten by defensive passages carved out in countless wars. These chalk tunnels dig into my memory, my childhood obscured by Sudanese sandstorms. A plane simply flew my family into clearer weather, first to Malta, then London. Are those head-scarfed women sitting on the bench tourists or have they made one of those epic journeys you see on the news crossing shifting sand dunes, Mediterranean waves? It makes no difference to the tattooed drunk pulled by his metal-chained fighting dog. He swears into the coastal gale that takes away his voice. The women put on dark coats, cover their bright clothes.
Mary Robinson: Beirut for Josie The trees would have been greening up impossible places in empty houses and on roof tops it would have been spring in the city but on the mountains snow she would have come at the same moment you took out your phone outside the French café just down from the Armenian church with its pock-marked yellow stone and rose window she would have been standing behind me in an ankle-length robe patterned in gold and purple the hem soiled and frayed by the Beirut streets strands of ash-grey hair escaped from her scarf her knuckles poked through her tissue skin and one eye was clouded over like marble she would have been carrying a child.
Marion McCReady: Her Hair is a Landscape of its Own for Ruby I am scaling the cliff face of her hair to reach her - my summit-daughter, hair-raiser, my blood-stone girl. She is a cut asterism adorning an armour of hair. When I loosen her pleats, a storm rises. February gales batter our windows, Clyde squalls tie ships to their harbours. The cinnamon falls of her hair engulf me, follow me like notes plucked from a guitar – each string vibrating through the air songs from a girl's hair. The girl is my ten-year-old daughter. Daily I traverse her jungle; snakes squirming between us. Growing for so long, brushed, combed, the hair of my daughter is her signature. The hair of my daughter wraps her up in a hair parcel – all bows and ribbons with the bite of a feral dog. The hair of my daughter is her doppelganger - her image caught in its many folds. It knows the language of pony tails, braids, bands and bobbles. Her hair has been dyed red, dyed purple. Her hair hangs around her, a thick veil coiling when it senses danger. The hair of my daughter is as old as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, mysterious as the riddle of the Sphinx and the riddle is growing day by day.
Fizza Abbas: The Unburnt Toast A pale, brown woman with unkempt tresses walks along the pavement. The asphalt and concrete cracked with age: A barren thoroughfare of desires - A road to hell in-the-making Her black eyes look around the remnants of a half-eaten apple look tempting. She hides it secretly inside her cleavage - A feeble attempt at a brutal revenge Those once altruistic soldiers become mannequins. My poor Pakistani mother in a slum Too has feelings, too has rage. They say have patience, you will get the aid you deserve. Don't they know the toast has burnt and the jam is now wet?
Bethany Rivers: Awaken In a bombed-out street, wind moves the lips of a politician on a poster. Ilya Kaminsky This is not a bombed-out country but the hospitals are suddenly full of dying black women who do not know a word of English. They are older than Snowdonia, the Pennines, Ben Lomond, Ben Nevis. Yet they are as young as you or me. The doctors can’t seem to diagnose any sickness, yet their vitals are fading fast. The papers are full of the news, thousands of black women who know that truth is dying. They have given birth to generations of Africans, Australians, Americans, they know where blood comes from. They don’t know what a mobile phone is or any kind of computer, yet they’re all connected, every one of them loses another breath, another heartbeat, at the exact same hour, across the land. They breathe as one together. They die as one together. The doctors don’t know what to do. The papers are full of the news, thousands of black women who know the truth and don’t speak our native tongue, are dying. Deep within, we know their ancient wisdom, but we’ve forgotten it. Our only hope is to dream their dying breath into us, breathe their truth into our dreams, awake with their language on our lips. Bethany Rivers: Once upon a voice It was a dark ink spot, dried many years ago, at the back in the far corner of an old fashioned school desk. It looked black at first, but upon closer inspection, it was navy blue, spreading like a Rorschach blot to lighter shades. The desk was hidden in the wings of the school stage, the school itself closed down decades ago. snapped rulers long corridors to whistle down I liked the smell of the desk, the squeak of its hinge as I opened it. I liked the quiet rebellion of the ink, not finding the page to articulate words, but to be quietly raucous, spoiling any books or papers that may have been there. The ink learning to find its own shape. kiss the grain of wood sink in deeper
Nancy Mattson: Student Mobilization Order, Fire Prevention Unit Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 [After photographs by Hiromi Tsuchida] That we cannot find our children And we trained them to prevent That blackness fell in flakes And the ashes were That the world went silent And our tongues * That I found Akio’s jacket hanging And nothing else on the tree That the badges I sewed on the arms And the threads held That I can hold his jacket, its torn shoulder But not his body, my first-born son * That I found Yokisho’s water bottle, twisted But not her body, my only daughter * That I found Reiko’s lunch box, intact Her peas and rice uneaten, carbonized * That we are breathing into our lungs Our children’s bodies, vaporized
Jane Kirwan: Mystery His homework is to make a time-line of the crucifixion – what is a time-line? Grandparents must have taken him to church in Enugu, have knelt with him before the altar. Surely he noticed the silence once the heavy door shut leaving the heat, red dust, crowds outside? He can’t remember a priest or any incense – maybe there was singing – no memory of pictures: journey of a man to his death. How to explain the Stations of the Cross? He knows train stations in South London, which ones to avoid but how to keep him safe, this gentle boy? How to explain the point – the viciousness behind the group over there or those there, throwing dice – of religions: crown of thorns, nails driven in, a crowd jeering, cheering the murderers on. How to learn about suffering: shuffling from image to image, slowing the breath, constricting the chest. He’s eleven, lives with Roblox and Minecraft and police tape, and gangs. How to explain the rage, the blindness, slide of a blade as it slices into the dying man’s side.
Julia Duke: The Wrestlers inspired by 'Wrestlers' (linocut), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, c. 1914 Intimacy hovers, poised at the point of a knife: the artist's decision, skilful incision, will shape the outcome of this skirmish. When a scuffle breaks out among boys who knows where it will end. No easy brush strokes; each cut made with purpose. Each thrust of the knife a new thrust in their struggle. Each twist of the torso a deep violation, a mute exhortation, a tentative knowing. Interwoven, interlocking, grasping and gasping, panting and rasping, poised on the cusp of success, almost basking, then a plunging, sudden lunging, interlinking, almost sinking. Blood runs deep. It's thicker than water. They grapple and tussle, inextricable tangle, convolution of limbs, a contortion, a wrangle. Caught up with each other in the search for a brother.
Phil Connolly: Granite Zachary Rock ‘ard Zach to his mates. He’s cock o’ the class by a chasm and needs to be to put his fists up and defend the honour of his perfectly normal nose against the lies of friends, so called, whose baiting would persuade him, from the wariness of distance: Zach the hooter, Zach the conk, yer sneck’s as long as an elephant’s trunk. But chants are trance-inducing. Plus clear numerical advantage makes them bold. Lifting a shoulder towards their cheeks, raising and dropping that arm, charging towards him they’re doing the elephant – charging towards him retreating and charging they trumpet and scram, trumpet and trumpet and scram. Zachary collars each in turn, blackens and cracks, fattens and thickens and smacks an eye, a tooth, a lip a lug a gob until, for want of breath, the action stalls. Zach’s unmarked but smarts: betrayed. The bloodied, battered and bruised affect a grin. They might declare the score a draw, if this were just a game.
Pascal Fallas: The Letting Go I know you lie in the dark still moving around the wild topography of school and humiliation. Wind-blasted and sore on some borderless moor of adolescence with no fixed end, no moment where you say: yes, now this is an adult’s life. You know I also swallowed those gruff years whole like adder eating vole. Hurt from a quarter century back sometimes cries like curlew here in the night and echoes between our mirrored backs. And you tell me without hesitation that curlews don’t cry in the dark, but did I say that out loud and is it really true? Besides what I mean is not that but instead: why are we still thigh-deep in the cotton grass of forming personalities? Why are we still perched on those high youthful outcrops reliving errors that freeze me now? Do you feel this too? Are you also stopped by the danger and shameful behaviour that lies and revives in the mind? Do you know I have such thoughts that pull with the density of a fell and land as ice-sharpened rain which sheers across the landscape to meet my face? You too have this owl-dish opened to signals from the past: flattened cheeks, broad bones, ears expansive and locked onto distant noise beaming, booming. You retain everything and the children are out there now, roaming through their own moorland of heather and flooded streams, lonely abandoned farms and sodden ground, collecting and storing it all, wind-blind and ignorant. Should they forget nothing too? Perhaps after everything we are all the same, here in the dark, fuller than we know and moved to a halt. We are stuck here lying, lying still.
Alison Campbell: Off sick from work In bed, my daughter sleeps away her illness. I sit reading In the swivel chair by her table. The noon sun falters; snow is imminent. I turn the chair to catch more light, turn a page over. It’s like this time over – we sit with children sleeping, watching, waiting for them to catch themselves. But unlike reading. this quiet seems fragmentary, like snow – soft, deep, never immutable. My arms and head rest on the table. We breathe in tandem. She curls over, sighs. I pull the blind against the snow dazzle and drift into a sleep of sorts. (Tiredness has made reading pall.) There’s a pull to try and catch the essence of her being. I catch my breath as she flails an arm. The table creaks as I stir. The book she’s read falls to the floor. The cat starts, jumps over her foot. She doesn’t wake from the sleep she needs; recuperative. It’s now dimmer. Slight wind drifts the flakes of snow against the pane. Does it bring dreams, or catch you unawares – pull you into a deeper sleep? The cat springs up, comfortable on the bed again, kneading the quilt over and over, till he nests down. I read into this an acceptance, a readiness to claim sleep as his right, too. Snow falls faster, covers gardens. Day’s over. The sun dips, just catching the standing mirror, tilted, on the table; a shiny dream-catcher reflecting sleep. The snow soothes – it’s inevitable. We catch the day, then it’s over. Sleep comes – we’re more than ready.
Shikhandin: Snow From Your Cell Phone You hold up the irregular pentagon you scooped up from the sidewalk. You promise not to eat it. The road swings as you walk. The path you take to college, to your rooms. The store where you buy sifted rye flour, and I googled to find out if chapattis could be made from it. Broccoli is cheap here, you say, a satisfied smile lighting up your snow-kissed face. Thank goodness they speak English here. But you’ve learnt to say ‘tack’ and a few other words already. Neither of us had seen snow before. So, you show it to me again. Its edges melting into your mitten-warm hand and off the screen. You wave and I see the snow falling like possibilities from the trees. You aim at the ground. Your footprints on the talc-like surface, so deliciously clean. And then up, towards cloud-bright sky with a tatting of blue. European crows gather – a murder of crows, right? – near a snow dusted bench. A red truck slides forward. Your canvas. A lock of your hair swings out of vision. My canvas. Our brown irises eat picture-postcard beauty. Indian plum is a February fruit. We offer it first to our Goddess of learning, who rides a snow-white swan. You have shown me snow, but I’ll never show you my hidden snowstorm. The rink of frozen tears where I skate my anxieties away. My knees shake like leaves. The fruit’s sharp sweetness nips my tongue. I show you its white flesh beneath smooth green skin. You pretend to lick your ice-clod. You throw a balled-up challenge at me before you go in to your laboratory. Your world shuts its door. But your voice lingers long after my cell phone has turned darkly mute. I shut your room. It feels so distant now, and cold. I hold the ball of yarn I’d meant to crotchet into a scarf. A piece of lint wafts. A sunray catches it. Softly. Like a footfall in the snow.
Robert Nisbet: Blue Stockings She goes to London University in 1935 Phrases like depravity and lusts of the flesh and abomination were mercifully absent from the minister’s remarks, that summer evening when the chapel marked her departure and wished her well. He simply spoke of a plethora of new experiences. The envious called her Bluestocking. She read for her BA in history, she talked of Marx and Fox and Pankhurst, the still-suspect Darwin. She bought blue stockings too, a lovely pair, on one of her dawdles down Petticoat Lane. One evening Michael laid embracing hands on stocking and leg. Their breathing was wet with wine, and the hint, the whiff, of a hitherto unknown communion.
Rosemary Norman: Symphony Jane There was a blackbird on the lawn singled them out the instant she was put into his arms as any child might be, and that’s a well-known omen though of what, he saw no consensus online. He named her Symphony, for a life long, complex and with various discords eloquently placed. She had mumps, measles and glue ear and was Simmie at school. She came downstairs with such sureness he knew this was a tryst not a date. She hugged him and was gone to that young man he must suppose has sable plumage and eyes rimmed with gold.
Robin Houghton: Hazel is fascinated by space When you kick that football to the edge of the lawn and ask where should I put the tennis ball we talk about relative size and distance and relative scale. There's no room for the sun in this garden or even this town so we stick with planet Earth and Moon. Out comes the tape measure just about here I say. We contemplate the balls. The moon is bigger than I thought but I'm loath to tell you this for fear of breaking your reverie or letting on that the more you know the more ignorant you feel. Instead I tell you about the mini-moon the size of a family car just passing by when Earth pulled it in. No-one knows where it's driving from or to, or quite how long it's been hitchhiking— a dot of a thing, with pretentions—smooth arriviste spooling away while the real Moon, blue moon, lovely moon of all our dreams and nights hums its own song, looks to its shadow, assesses the cesspit of its universe with all the satellites, abandoned bits of craft, landing gear, sundry items dropped by astronauts, the whole orbiting junkyard necklacing our planet just out of reach. I want to tell you it wasn't always like this, it wasn't about us. Meanwhile mini-moon, baby-moon, emergent with hope and pathos on its egg-shaped path, is soon to be flung away, yet again.
Sarah James: Marcasite The watch Nan gave me never worked longer than a few months. The trick, she reminded me, was to keep it wound, but not over-wind it. Whatever colour her wig, Nan’s curls were always sleek and tight. She’d clutch my wrist, tell me I was her favourite – her first, prized eldest grandchild, though perhaps she said likewise to my sister and cousins. She smiled, toothy as a polished watch-cog, even as she grew thinner and shorter, even as she out-survived one daughter. Her intricate silver-linked watch hangs loosely on my wrist, unticking. I finger the strap; each tiny marcasite still shines as bright as her eyes did.
Ian C Smith: Inside a Room Hopper glimpses through one of the many windows in this city, a man hunched forward who reads. A woman sits, turned away from him, one finger on a piano’s keys. His newspaper casts shadow on a round table separating them. Framed pictures within this frame in the background blur like some memories. Between viewer and foreground, unseen, lies Greenwich Village’s resting pulse, all that has happened, shall happen. We see what might be a closed door, but no handle, perhaps the bedroom. The night washes them in angled light. What scents pervade this room? Does she pick out a favourite composer? Satie? Something elegiac, or the strain, Santa Lucia, from the recent movie, A Farewell to Arms? A Mills Brothers song? Has hearing her solitary notes become his habit? . Now, here, her name kissed gone dancing with ghosts of lust body heat lingers.
Fraser Sutherland: The Scandinavian Detective He wakes early, finding darkness in the dawn. He hasn’t slept long or well. He makes himself a cup of tea, a restful time before a restless day. For some years his wife’s been absent, she couldn’t take the irregular hours of a dedicated detective, the uniformity of his dourness. He looks out a window on the street. It’s snowing, though it will soon change to rain, hail, fog, or sleet. He hopes his old car will start, but doesn’t expect it to. He’d get another if he could afford it. His key doesn’t make it go. He’ll have to walk to the squat grey building with one light burning, his office waiting for him, desk strewn with uncompleted paperwork. He pours the first of the many cups of the toxic coffee in which the squad room specializes. They won’t get better. As the hours pass he checks the office of a colleague to see if he’s in. He isn’t. He never is. Nor is his boss, the police chief, she’s on another floor, making a statement to the press. Back at his desk he reads again a daily thickening file about the bones, the friendless bones he broods about awake or in fitful sleep. Nobody knows where they came from, or how long they’ve lain, caked with earth, in the unearthed hole. He should go out to lunch but orders instead a sandwich. Then he’ll have to tell his team to meet and hear of nothing new but they’ll keep on doing what they have to do. He’ll get answers eventually but won’t like them when he does. He reads the file again, then puts it aside. As he often does, he ponders getting a quiet place in the country, the acquisition of a dog.
Phil Kirby: A Model Wife How she becomes his masterpiece with every stroke, each subtle daub of blue or green on her bare arms, beneath one eye, that shadowed flesh almost concealed by rose-blush tints applied to each cheek. Instructed by him in every pose, she sits – in a plain dress of his choosing, hair styled and tied to his desire – as he creates her public face: the shallow smile and haunted look that some critics will interpret wrongly, calling it dispassion, while remarking on the artist’s skill in capturing her likeness, her spirit, in two dimensions.
Stuart Henson: Every Breath You Take A hit based on a misconception. Well, people hear what they want to hear. So now when fear stalks like a predator greedy for TV’s lurid disconnects, hot to emerge and shake our hands like one of Juke Box Jury’s waiting bands and words get twisted to the sinister each time the experts turn their thumbs it’s harder still to fill your lungs, to hum along, like when some jumped-up minister coughs out statistics from an autocue… Yet all the while you know I’m watching you, helpless, ear-wormed, undone by that song— and its insistence that we read it wrong.
Emma Neale: Arrhythmia The young physician jogs the tree-canopied avenue white earphones hutched in his ears, old blue iPod clutched in a fist that he holds a little aloft as he presses the small metal song-box against the air’s clammy ribs his expression abstracted yet intent as if he’s never not on shift: with the smallest of stethoscopes auscultates our era’s serious irregularities.
Back to poet list…
Fizza Abbas is a Freelance Content Writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She is fond of poetry and music. Her works have been published on quite a few platforms including Poetry Village and Poetry Pacific.
Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been published in numerous places, including Wild Court, The Frogmore Papers and Poetry Birmingham. His first collection West South North, North South East was published in 2019.
Tony Beyer writes in Taranaki, New Zealand. He is the author of Anchor Stone (2017) and Friday Prayers (2019), both from Cold Hub Press. Recent work has appeared in Hamilton Stone Review, Landfall, Mudlark, NZ Poetry Shelf and Otoliths.
Zoe Brooks lives in Gloucestershire. She’s had poems recently published in Birmingham Poetry Journal, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Prole, and Fenland Reed. Her collection Owl Unbound will be published by Indigo Dreams in Autumn 2020. She is currently working on a collection about her time in the Czech Republic
Curtis Brown is a British, London-based creative who believes in the promiscuity of poetry. He uses various art forms to tell tales, and is excited by the fact that poetry inevitably permeates them all.
Molly Burnell is based in the Northamptonshire countryside, she’s intrigued by the beauty found in the ugly and vice versa, with special interest in anything and everything ecological. She’s appeared in several issues of The Dawntreader, the university anthology, Heritage, and soon to be featured in Sarasvati, as well as Slice of the Moon Books’ anthology, Earth, We Are Listening.
James Roderick Burns’ fourth short-form collection, Height of Arrows, is due from Duck Lake Books in 2020. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The North and The Scotsman. He lives in Edinburgh and serves as Deputy Registrar General for Scotland.
Alison Campbell, from Aberdeen, now lives in London. She is a teacher/counsellor with poems in publications, including Obsessed with Pipework, The Curlew, The Poetry Village, Dunlin ‘Port’ anthology and Reach. She was shortlisted for Segora Poetry Prize, 2018 and commended in the Barnet Poetry competition 2017, 2018. She has work forthcoming in Dawntreader and Sarasvati.
Phil Connolly is married and lives near York. He taught for many years in North Africa and the Middle East. He was shortlisted in the Wordsworth Trust Competition and has been published in several anthologies and magazines including The High Window, London Grip, The North and Dream Catcher.
Julia Duke is a nature writer and poet who has found her inspiration living in England, Wales and the Netherlands. She has written a regular literary column for the HagueOnLine and published poems in various magazines and anthologies, including Fifth Elephant (Newtown poets anthology) and the Suffolk Poetry Society magazine Twelve Rivers
Marie Dullaghan was born in Dublin. She is a retired education worker, fine arts photographer, musician, actor, writer and poet. A long-term member of both the Poeticians and Punch collectives in Dubai, she has performed regularly at events including the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. Has work has been published in The Shop, The High Window and elsewhere.
Pascal Fallas is a writer and (occasional) photographer currently living in Norfolk, UK. His poems have recently appeared in The Fenland Poetry Journal, Brittlestar and The Alchemy Spoon. For more information, or to make contact, please visit www.pascalfallas.com.
Mary Franklin’s poems have appeared in numerous print and online magazines and anthologies including Bonnie’s Crew, Ink Sweat and Tears, Iota, London Grip, Nine Muses Poetry, The Stare’s Nest and Three Drops from a Cauldron. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Leona Gom was born on a remote farm in northern Alberta, Canada. She has published six books of poetry and eight novels, and her work has won several awards and appeared in many anthologies and translations. Her novel The Y Chromosome has recently been reprinted by Cormorant Books
Stuart Henson’s most recent collection is The Way You Know It, New & Selected Poems (Shoestring 2018). A book of sonnets sent on postcards, in collaboration with John Greening, is due from Red Squirrel this November.
Robin Houghton’s most recent pamphlet Why? was a joint winner of the Live Canon Pamphlet Competition in 2019. Her poetry appears in many magazines including Agenda, Magma, Mslexia, Poetry News, The Frogmore Papers and The Rialto, and in numerous anthologies. Awards and competition successes include the Hamish Canham Prize and the Poetry Society Stanza Competition.
Jack Houston is Hackney Library’s poet in residence. His work has previously appeared in a few anthologies and Blackbox Manifold, The Butcher’s Dog, London Grip, Magma, Poetry London and Stand.
Sarah James/Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her most recent project is > Room, an Arts Council England funded multimedia hypertext poetry narrative. Collections include How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Poetry Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015), both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Award. Her website is at http://sarah-james.co.uk
Jennifer Johnson was born in the Sudan and has worked as a VSO agriculturalist in Zambia and later as an editorial assistant. She has a pamphlet Footprints on Africa and Beyond (Hearing Eye, 2006) and a book Hints and Shadows (Nettle Press, 2017).
Peter Kenny writes poems, plays, short stories and, as Skelton Yawngrave, adventures for children. His poetry includes The Nightwork (Telltale Press 2014) and A Guernsey Double (2010, Guernsey Arts Commission) a new pamphlet Sin Cycle, is due this year. Find him at peterkenny.co.uk
Lancashirep-born Angela Kirby now lives in London but has also lived in France and spent much time in Spain and the US. Her poems are widely published, have been read on Radio Four and TV, and have appeared On the Busses. She gives frequent readings in the UK, Europe and the US. Her 5th collection, Look Left, Look Right … came out in April 2019.
Phil Kirby’s collections are Watermarks and The Third History. Poems since in Poetry Ireland and others. A teen novella, Hidden Depths, is available on the Kindle platform. He has been organising ‘Writers at The Goods Shed’ in Tetbury
.Jane Kirwan’s latest poetry collection was published in 2019 by Blue Door Press. The poems move between a village in Central Bohemia and one of a similar size in the West of Ireland, between a Goose Woman and a grandmother
Marion McCready lives in Dunoon, Argyll. She is the author of two poetry collections – Tree Language (Eyewear Publishing, 2014) and Madame Ecosse (2017).
Jane McLaughlin’s poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies (including London Grip). and The New European. She has received awards and commendations in national competitions including the National Poetry Competition long list, Hippocrates Open, Torriano, and Torbay competitions. Her collection is published by Cinnamon Press. She also writes and publishes short stories.
Kathleen McPhilemy grew up in Belfast but now lives in Oxford. She has published three collections of poetry, the most recent being The Lion in the Forest (Katabasis, 2005).
Nancy Mattson’s fourth full collection is Vision on Platform 2 (Shoestring 2018). She contributed the title poem for Her Other Language, an anthology of Northern Irish women’s writings on domestic violence, ed. Ruth Carr & Natasha Cuddington, (Arlen House 2020).
Emma Neale is a writer and editor based in New Zealand, who has had 6 collections of poetry and 6 novels published. She has a collection of short stories due out later this year. This year she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet and sometime creative writing tutor at Trinity College, Carmarthen. He has published widely and in roughly equal measures in Britain and the USA. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee for 2020.
Rosemary Norman lives in London and has worked mainly as a librarian. One poem, Lullaby, is much anthologised and her third collection, For example, was published by Shoestring Press in 2016. Since 1995 she has collaborated with video artist Stuart Pound. Her poems become soundtrack, image, and sometimes both, and she has performed live with film. The work has been screened regularly at film and video festivals, and is on Vimeo
Moya Pacey was born and grew up in Middlesbrough in what was then Yorkshire. She now lives in Canberra, Australia. She published her second collection: Black Tulips (Recent Work Press, University of Canberra) in October, 2017. She co-edits the on-line journal, Not Very Quiet notveryquiet.com. Her next collection will be published by Recent Work Press in 2020.
Tom Phillips lives and works in Sofia, Bulgaria. His poetry has been published in a wide range of journals, anthologies, pamphlets and the collections Unknown Translations (Scalino, 2016), Recreation Ground (2012) and Burning Omaha (2003). His plays have been produced by theatres in Bristol and Bath and he currently teaches creative writing and translates contemporary Bulgarian poetry.
Colin Pink’s poems have appeared in various magazines such as Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen, South Bank Poetry, Magma, Under the Radar and Poetry News. He has published two collections: Acrobats of Sound, 2016 from Poetry Salzburg Press and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, 2019 from Against the Grain Press.
Bethany Rivers has two poetry pamphlets: Off the wall, from Indigo Dreams; the sea refuses no river, from Fly on the Wall Press. Author of Fountain of Creativity: Ways to nourish your writing from Victorina Press. She is editor of the online poetry magazine As Above So Below. She mentors writers from the start of their projects through to publication.
Mary Robinson’s poetry publications include Trace (Oversteps 2020), Alphabet Poems (Mariscat 2019) and The Art of Gardening (Flambard 2010). A poetry/photography collaboration Out of Time was exhibited in 2015. She lives in North Wales. www.poetrypf.co.uk/maryrobinsonpage.shtml
Indian writer Shikhandin has been published worldwide. She has won awards in India and abroad. Books include Immoderate Men (Speaking Tiger) and Vibhuti Cat (Duckbill-Penguin-RHI). Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Shikhandin/e/B07DHQM6H5/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1533117978&sr=1-2-ent Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorShikhandin/
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, 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.
Fraser Sutherland is a poet, editor, and lexicographer. He lives in Toronto.
Tanner was shortlisted for the Erbacce 2020 Poetry Prize. His latest collection Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers is published by Penniless Press
Ruth Valentine is a writer & an activist for migrant & refugee rights. Her latest publications are Rubaiyat for the Martyrs of Two Wars and A Grenfell Alphabet. She lives in Tottenham