Bloodlines by Sarah Wimbush reviewed by Rennie Halstead

Seren Booksbloodlineds
ISBN-13: 9781781725948

Winner Myslexia Pamphlet Competition 2020

Sarah Wimbush’s award winning pamphlet is a rich reflection on the history of Gypsy travellers.

Wimbush details simple episodes from a travelling life, reflecting most effectively on the episodes where a traveller’s experience intersects with the life of the rest of us non-Gypsy gorgios.

In Carroty Kate we meet Kate, with “hair the colour of a thousand foxy hawkweeds” who “owns one red skirt and a navvy’s tongue”. Kate makes something of a living telling fortunes, a “kissi belt strapped tight / to my left thigh.” and muses on the way gypsies were treated in earlier times when she might have been:

slapped […] in irons
dragged me to York Tyburn in a hay cart sat on my coffin,
where I’d be dropped
from the Three-legged Mare –
just for being.

I can see Sandbeck Hall recalls a visit to a country house, receiving cast-offs from the “lady housekeeper” in a poem that shows how Gypsies were seen as outsiders, in a scene reminiscent of a 1950’s county house drama:

onion sacks filled with steel pans, rabbit skins, cast-offs,
and the two wide skirts belonging to old Lady Scarborough.

[… ] Daddy doffs his trilby, grease stains round the rim,
like a posh mush in his best gorgio: thank you dear Madam.

The Bittern takes us through the travellers’ autumn and winter and shows us the close link between seasonal work and the Gypsy way of life. The harshness of life on the road drives the family to spend winter in a two-up two-down cottage, whilst their vardo is parked at Big Frank’s place. Autumn has finished:

After the glut of soft fruits,
and oat cakes toasting on the griddle,
and the deluge of Cox’s.

it’s the wintering-over
in a two-up two-down cottage

Winter brings different treasure:

a squall of pheasant and quail
bartered for a tail-end of hogget,
mother schooling us by the range:

The children learn:

how to baste the skins to gold,
how to skim the fat for rushlights
and axels, how to eke the meat out

Wimbush remembers the memorable sound of the bittern as winter turns into:

the hardness of spring.
Bitterns nesting in reed beds,
sweeter than heron —

the male’s deep whoohu-whoohu
like a breath blown over a bottle.
On a still day, I feel that call for miles

Grai describes the death of a horse and it’s recovery from the bog that trapped it. The poet shows us the scene in a matter-of-fact, documentary style that is devoid of sentimentality:

the mare watches you
watching without blinking,
the shire horse dragging her away
like a bundle of rags.

the horse is shot:

[…] the knackers placed the muzzle
behind the dark pool of her eye

a new thought blown
across her vision.

Wimbush describes the attempted rescue:

[…] the shouting                    the shouting
as they had tossed the rope’s hoopla

over the royal sweep of the neck –
the peculiarity of those whinnies


down at the hawthorn’s groin
where the field unearthed a bog

The Ring, my favourite poem in the pamphlet, takes us through the colourful, varied life of the poet’s grandmother on an annual round of fruit picking, horse fairs, selling daffodils and rabbit skins. Wimbush reflects on the change in the way of life for gypsies over two generations:

Imagine. Her hands snatching necks.
Shushi skins pinned into borrowed earth.

How she scrubs the gubbins from her garnet setting,
flogs the pelts to furriers for a bob or two.

We watch her journey:

through fields, lanes, cobbled brooks:
posting rag bills, hawking daffodils

We witness a runaway marriage:

how she grips her lad’s hand as they do a runner
to wed at Tinsley Church. And always that sense
of moving as one.

This is a hard life:

No half-dead frills only her histories
and the seasons: the earlies, the hoe, wheat stooks,
mother’s calling basket, wintering over

Wimbush sees much of Gypsy history in the ring, and through it, her own place in the family tradition:

Imagine this ring – my grandmother’s ring.
Its Gypsy setting. Its golden eye burnished
with all the jib and ancients it has worn thin.
See, here on my finger. How it fits.

Bloodlines is a proud retelling of a family chronicle, a Gypsy way of life that appears rooted in a more agricultural past, with the circle of seasons and farm work shaping a family life that is always on the move. Wimbush takes us into this world with great skill, and without sentimentality.


poetry shed


Lesley Burt – A man recently struck by Holy Communion

A man recently struck by Holy Communion

Hatted ladies cosset him,
mouth lipstick sympathy for the loss
of his mother who, for a while,
he escorted to the altar weekly –

after he’d chilled her in the shower,
force-fed her sausage-and-bacon,
yanked a wiry hair from her wet chin
and chuckled to hear her squeal.

Canon, vicar and churchwarden smile,
remembering their kindness
to bother with the old woman,
how triumphant in their recruitment

of that additional Christian
at Sunday coffee – and now more –
her orphaned son who will share
in sipping from their communal goblet.


Following retirement from social work education, Lesley completed an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry has been successful in competitions and published in magazines over many years, including: Tears in the Fence (TITF), The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Sentinel Literary Quarterly and The Butchers Dog; also online, including by the Poetry Kit, The Poetry Shed, Algebra of Owls, The Blue Nib and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She is a regular member of the TITF workshop and Festival groups.



.poetry shed


Kieran Egan – Bewitched in Dublin

Bewitched in Dublin

Late afternoon shadows in a silent room,
once elegant, and still so, though dust and time
now hang sluggish in the tired air
and small tatters on the velvet curtains
are new since the days I was at home here.
The old and dented fender’s dulled brass is
duller than when she liberally burned coal
that spread gleams of warm gold across the room.
I stand and slowly walk its length and width,
then sit again in the green high-backed chair,
leather more stained and crackled than before.
From the first moment, my favourite room
I thought without thinking — she made it so.

When first we met after running into
Bewley’s from a sodding autumn deluge,
both protecting copies of the same book,
we’d laughed and argued, and been surprised.
Charm, warm smile, yet distracted by something,
looking bleakly out the window.
She was an actress, she told me,
a haunting part which suited her because
‘I’m maybe an ironic Irish witch.’

When rehearsing comic or tragic roles,
playing piano, even when angry,
always in her eyes the ghost of a smile.
She trod an outer edge of irony,
close enough to hold hands with mild madness —
witch or no, she bewitched.
She introduced me to her friends in pubs,
parties, ‘This is my man who knows about hearts —
but only their plumbing,’ with a wry shrug.

Invited to a Texas hospital
to learn new techniques of valve replacement —
‘Come with me, I’m your heart man, after all.’
She said she would hold me here by magic,
that I would cease to exist if I left.
She’d been true to her word —
not one word more did I receive —
emails and letters ignored, phone disconnected.

I’m back, half a dozen years behind us.
The flat is now for sale.
I sit in the green high-backed leather chair
and look around the lifeless room — wondering
would the witch come back and make it live again?


Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver, Canada. His chapbook, ‘Among the branches,’ was published by Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver, in 2019. He was shortlisted for the Times Literary Supplement Mick Imlah prize in 2017 and Acumen’s International Poetry Competition in 2020, and his poems have appeared in the UK in Acumen, High Window, Orbis, Envoi, HQ Poetry Magazine, Interpreter’s House, Dream Catcher, Dawntreader, and Sarasvati, and in the Canadian magazines Quills, Literary Review of Canada, Dalhousie Review, Grain, Qwerty, Antigonish Review, Canadian Quarterly, Ekphrastic Review, Spadina Literary Review, Pace, and in a number of U.S.A. magazines.



poetry shed


Amber Gruner – White Privilege

White Privilege

We live in a racialized society
A socially constructed bubble
Where the colour of our skin dictates our life experiences
A carefully allocated civilisation
Filled with broken promises,
And white privilege
Though we are not to blame for instigating the system,
We complacently profit from it every day
Sat blissfully awaiting an earthquake
Whilst the ground already shakes beneath us
Such trauma is not new
It’s been four centuries in the making
And if you’re not outraged now
Then you’re not paying attention
You can’t criticise the top when you’re on top yourself
White privilege is not class privilege
Confessing it does not dismiss our own suffering
Acknowledging it is not enough to end it
Our defensiveness should not derail the conversation
Our guilt should not befuddle the cause
Covid-19 is just one episode in a 400-year-long history
Of systemic racism,
Ingrained inequality
And potent white supremacy,
That defines what we call society
We have no real practise talking about race
Henry VIII’s six wives at the tip of our tongue
Yet blank on the territorial evolution of the British Empire
We have been given the privilege of a racist system,
Even if we’re not individually racist
And enrichment on the ends of our white fingertips
We have a built in advantage
Whilst millions are discriminated in
The Criminal Justice System

Privilege is walking through the airport security effortlessly
Whilst my two brown brothers are “randomly” stopped each time
Privilege is feeling safe around the police
Privilege is as small as the shampoo bottles in hotels fit for white hair
Racism, the timeworn theme to humanity every year
We move past civil wars, apartheid systems,
Holocausts, imperial governments,
Colonial societies, fascist regimes,
Yet still so many remain a post-slave to the system
Each day shared in monotony and disparity
Filled with oxymoronic dogmas and hypocrisy
We teach children the golden rule
Though we continue to not treat others how we want to be treated
Following the Pied Piper injudiciously down the road,
Swallowing the pattern of assumptions passed down to us
Generation after generation
It’s time we all have an uncomfortable conversation
We are not retreating
We are reloading
It’s our responsibility to educate our ignorance
And learn the history blood-stained by the savagery of white privilege
Convincing ourselves that we don’t see race is not helpful
Plodding through with quotidian mindlessness is not helpful
This is not the time for narcissistic self-flagellation
The goal is not to demonize white men
But to grasp the doctrine of white privilege
There’s a desperate hunger for change in the air
White silence is compliance
We have the luxury of writing about painful reality
Without having to live it
White supremacy is not the edge of a cliff
But the gushing winds around it
Institutionalised racism has been normalised
That we have forgotten what a normal society is meant to be
Without change, the world is not a fundamental place
Change requires us to commit,
To learn, to collaborate, stay woke
And fight to deinstitutionalise the system and distribute privilege
So that our children,
And our children’s children,
Grow up in a world that promotes
Equanimity and justice
Free of bias and prejudice
For all


Amber Gruner is a 26 year-old London based writer. Her work focusses on the topics of mental health, international human rights and politics, in addition to covering everyday societal experiences. She has recently completed an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology and plans to go on to complete a Doctorate in Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

poetry shed


Sharon Phillips – Stay Alert

Stay alert

New alerts show poems, death stats
and delicious ways with lentils;
you wonder how the algorithms work
these things out, then you flit to a clip

of a TV chef and start to get tetchy,
all that pernickety chip-chip-chopping,
ingredients in bowls, lectures on pans:
you’re slap and dash you crack on

to the next task tick it off your list
but that habit became outdated when
time started to stick then lurch past,
days jerking from endless to over

the way lentils turn from firm to mush
while you’re distracted by your phone
and although it is against your grain,
you try to be more attentive

not to rush, not to cram activities in
but to stretch each one out, alert
to its detail, since the time that’s left
could be less than you thought.


Sharon’s poems have been published online and in print, and have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize (2017), the Indigo Firsts pamphlet competition (2018) the WoLF Poetry Competition (2019) and the seventh Ó Bhéal Five Words competition (2020). Sharon won the Borderlines Poetry Competition in 2017, was among the winners of the Poetry Society Members’ Competition in November 2018 and was Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize (2019). She has recently moved to Otley, in West Yorkshire.


Neil Fulwood – Example


I could use the example of a table,
a guesthouse, a burlap sack

or say it’s like the period of stasis
between changing trains
at an out-of-the-way station

in a foreign country, the name of the place
unfamiliar, difficult to pronounce.

Or two fully laden vehicles
in a head-on collision, the fireball
ferocious enough to force

the emergency crew
back from the point of impact.

I only know that the moments of beauty
are small and worth clinging onto
while the day-to-day of it

has drained and discouraged me,
filled me too often with anger.

I would like to use instead
the example of a hot air balloon,
the guy ropes cut, the sand bags pitched out,

the ascent serene,
the air clearer, the sky cloudless,

everything falling away,
the landscape a model railway layout,
movement almost imperceptible

and nothing to be seen
in the way of division.

I would like to think that down there
grappling hooks weren’t being swung,
sightings taken, drones launched,

that one could rise and not be dragged
back down. It would be a comfort

to believe in some form of heaven.


Neil Fulwood is the author of two collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere, with a third title forthcoming in early 2021. He has also published two pamphlets with The Black Light Engine Room Press: Numbers Stations and The Little Book of Forced Calm. Neil lives and works in Nottingham.


Craig Dobson – To the Sea

To the Sea

Shadows in the stone wall down a steep field’s edge.
Weak sun thawing mud and the dun husks of grass.
Wind-cornered frost beneath gorse flower blaze,
gull cry threading us to the white-lipped waves
we walk towards this winter morning,
angry at each other once more.

Following the stream, we cross and re-cross,
taking our sorrow to the shore,
ushering its clarity over rocks
and mosses, past weed beds and willows
till it spills among the wind-brawled sand
in threads we shadow, silver-gold, our words
lit-spray to pearls that hang a moment
in sun-washed distance and the barely begun day.


Craig lives and works in the UK. He’s written poetry, plays, short fiction and a novella. He’s had poetry and short fiction published in Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, The Frogmore Papers, The London Magazine, Poetry Ireland Review, New Welsh Review, The Rialto, North, Magma, Stand and Poetry Salzburg Review among others. He’s got work forthcoming The Dark Horse and THINK. He’s working on his first collection of poetry.


Leonore Wilson – The Matter of This World

The Matter of This World

And sometimes the back hills
spring was blocked and mother
had to reach into the rusted pipe,
reach up to her elbow to remove packed
wet laurel leaves, reaching in as a midwife
might to remove a child; yes sometimes
the pipe was blocked, a straightjacket
maddening color of detritus inside,
fistfuls of it, and then the wild ducks
flew in to sip from the pipe and
concrete cistern, little beggars they were
and the boar and his sow, their plundering
flock, coy little scribes for they had licked
the salt block first and dipped their fat
pink tongues into the pail of soaked oats
and sweet molasses left by the foreman
who ran the cattle. O Samaritan woman
at the well, how you loved this humble work,
this buzzing humming beautiful song,
this brief foray for decades, you loved
the wisdom and sorcery of feeding
the white tailed deer in the late days
hour, the burnished mountain lion,
ratcheting brown bear, the wild astonished
doves with lyre like calls, and sometimes
when I was a young, mother cupped her hands
to make a basin and let me lap the cold
fresh water and wash my country hair;
oh I remember in the placatory meadow,
how the tired mares and nursing foals
dawdled in the young aromatic fungi,
the morning silt and spring mud,
the great piles of fragrant wood,
and the crazed flycatchers in primitive
laughing dactyls arrived with the lucky
bobcats, their thin sharp cries
in the prides of grasses, prophetic aging
against the carnal world; how the beats
of mother’s heart began, two notes at a time,
this desire like an addiction that lives in the hive
of the body, hidden as honey; mother lost
in the statutes of thought, mother scavenging
as if summoning all her strength
for the father of her children was a crude
broad bridge with breaking boards
and rusted nails she had to cross,
divorce papers like scattered stones,
the sanctuary of her good deeds,
a deep rich world of luminous parables
ministering her all the way to court.


Leonore Wilson has taught English and creative writing at various colleges and universities in the Bay Area. Her work has been in such magazines as Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Pif, Madison Review, Upstreet, etc.


The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award – closes 31st July 2020


The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2020 will be judged by the amazing Maura Dooley and Keith Jarrett.

The competition is open to anyone aged 11-17.

The deadline to enter your poem/s is midnight 31 July 2020.

Entries must be written in English, but you can include phrases in your mother tongue or another language.

If you would like to enter an entry in British Sign Language or Braille then please contact fyp@poetrysociety.org.uk.
It is completely FREE to enter and you can enter as many poems as you wish.
All entrants will receive a certificate for participating in this prestigious competition.




Moinak Dutta – Mango pickle jar

Mango pickle jar

The jar under sun is filled with thin slices of green mangoes,

dipped in mustard oil, the prime attraction for us to go to terrace,
my mother’s mango pickle jar
would be the one that would keep us for hours at the terrace,
we would chew those slices which would send a flurry of aftertaste – a curious mixture of sour, sweet and pungent, added to it the burning sensation of dried chilli flakes,

‘But how could you make jar look filled? In absence of slices of
Someone amongst us would ask,
pour mustard oil – sister would quip,

then again we would climb down from terrace,
go to kitchen to collect mustard oil;

my mother’s mango pickle jar,
would give us little adventures in summer.


moiMoinak Dutta is a published fiction writer, poet, teacher. His poems and stories feature in international anthologies, magazines and dailies including ‘Madras Courier’, ‘The Statesman’ (kolkata edition), ‘ World Peace Poetry anthology ‘ ( UN), ‘Spillwords’, ‘Setu’, Riding and Writing, ‘The Indian Periodical’, ‘Teesta Journal’, ‘ Pangolin Review’, ‘ Tuck Magazine’ ‘ Duane’s Poetree’, ‘Story mirror’, ‘Tell me your story’ ‘ Nature Writing’, Oddball magazine’ ‘Soft Cartel’ magazine, ‘ Diff Truths’ magazine, ‘ Mason Street’, ‘ Narrow Road’ ,’ The little journal of North East’, ‘ Ethos Literary Journal’,’ The Literary Fairy Tales” Bengaluru Review’, ‘ Defiant Dreams’, ‘Dynami Zois’, ‘Muffled Moans’ ( a special anthology against women and child abuse, gender violence, published by Authorspress, New Delhi,) ‘Quesadilla and other adventures ( an anthology of food poems published by Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata).
He has written many reviews, notable ones are : on ‘ The Upanisads ‘ ( translated by Valerie J. Roebuck) which can be found at www.blogapenguinindiaclassic.blogspot.com and the review of ‘ The Ballad of Bapu’ ( written by Santosh Bakaya) and essays and articles on education and literature and other topics in both e- books/e – journals and as printed books/ papers (like one on ‘ Amalgamation of social media and literature: pros and cons, published by Viswa Bharati Research Centre and Sahitya Anand), ‘ Erothanatos’ ( academic and literary journal), etc;
His first full length English fiction ‘Online@Offline’ was published in 2014 by Lifi Publications, his second, ‘ In search of la radice’ was published in 2017 by Xpress Publications. He edited ‘Whispering Poeisis’ over 100 poems from 60 poets from India and abroad and published in 2018 by Poeisis.