The Trouble with Reindeer by Sarah James

The trouble with reindeer

First, the antlers’ prods. Then the eyes:
wide, cute, crowding out her spotlight.
As for the red nose…Mary can hear Rudy
sniffing loudly, closely, behind her.

All’s rosy for tapping hooves and singing
Santa’s sleigh onward, but no use for Jesus,
and Mary’s arms closing tightly on air
where there should be a special baby…

At the edge of the stage, an expectant
rustle like wings, as Miss Gee appears,
tinsel star in hand, fluttering nervously
now she’s noticed the empty crib.

Turning quickly to six-year-old Sam,
Mary grabs his shepherd’s headdress,
then cradles it in a small bundle
to her chest, “ joyful and triumphant”.


Find out more about Sarah here

Truth Stone by Dawn Bauling

Truth Stone 
(to my children at Christmas)

Even if I had not
given you a portion
of your life

Even if you did not
hear the sigh of the world
as you each first breathed

Even if you had been
made adult
as you are now

and knowing –

I believe
some gentle god
would have brought you
to me anyway
like a seed on air
or a star
so I could watch you live
and navigate.

Even though I am not
this thing I know –

It is my truth stone.

(from Shippen)



Find out about Dawn Bauling here

Pomanders for the Manger by E.E. Nobbs


There’s that moment
in the movie
when you offer the gift

made so carefully
while listening to Cohen
instead of old carols

— an orange stabbed with cloves,
sweet smelling, enduring
and precious, then Mary

shakes her head, says
politely — No, thank you.



Find out more about E.E. Nobbs

Live Canon’s Project 154


To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, Live Canon invited 154 contemporary poets to respond to the 154 sonnets. Each new poem sits facing the sonnet from which it took inspiration.

The resulting anthology is a stunning collection of contemporary work in its own right, and a fitting celebration of the inspiration Shakespeare has given to latter poets over the last 400 years.



Robin Houghton was one of the poets selected to respond to a sonnet and having read hers I asked her about the process.

“In autumn 2015 Poetry News had a call out for poems responding to one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and I wrote two in response to Sonnet 86, the last of the ‘rival poet’ sequence in which the writer bemoans how another poet is attempting to outdo him in the affections of his muse. It’s addressed to the youth – ‘all too precious you’ – and although it seems to praise the skill of the other poet who he claims writes ‘above all mortal pitch’ no-one is fooled. The sonnet is crammed with sexual innuendo and thinly disguised slurs, with a morose if slightly whiny ending:

But when your countenance filled up his line,
Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine.

In terms of writing a response, the sonnet appealed to me partly because it wasn’t one of the obvious ones to choose, and because I enjoy the wit and melodrama – the sonnet is addressed to the muse and yet meant for the rival poet to read, and we (the wider audience) get to see dirty linen aired in public for our entertainment. We can also speculate on the identities of the characters and the hidden meanings in the verse. Opinions on the poem are split, different arguments offered, sides taken. Reality TV for the Elizabethan era.

My first response poem was in the voice of the ‘ungrateful’ muse, accusing the poet of professional jealousy rather than love. It was straightforward pastiche, in Shakespearean sonnet form but conversational language, a bit jokey. I wasn’t surprised that this didn’t appeal to the Shakespeare scholar who judged the Poetry News entries!

The second poem, from the point of view of the rival poet, was first entitled ‘Sharing the Muse’. I kept to fourteen lines, but in couplets as part of the binary theme. I had in mind the Biblical test of maternal love in Solomon’s offer to split the baby. Each stanza works through the body parts of which there are pairs, until we reach the heart of the muse.

This poem didn’t make the Poetry News cut either – but I subsequently received some insightful feedback on it in a Hastings Stanza workshopping session, which resulted in some fine tuning. It was thanks to Antony Mair, the Hastings Stanza rep, that I was invited to submit to the 154 anthology. He had been at a Live Canon event and Helen Eastman asked if he would contribute a response to a Shakespeare sonnet for a forthcoming anthology – and he kindly suggested she invite me too. So I submitted the worked-up version of ‘Sharing the Muse’.

The final poem clearly owes a debt to Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ and I hope the change of title reflects this. If the poem conveys a modicum of dark humour in the spirit of the original sonnet, and even a tiny fraction of its sly wit, I’d be very happy.”

A Suggestion from The Rival Poet

I see you are in pain, but no-one needs
a pair of anything, it’s too much. So – let’s share

his beauty. One all too precious blue eye
each, I’ll take the right, since the plan is mine,

and you are (as you say) the lesser poet,
so you shall have what’s left. Likewise his hands –

I hear your own preferences verge on sinister,
and he may stroke me all the better with

his right. Let him stand on one leg for you,
the other for me, for he is – oh! – a mean

hopper. Then the body’s long lean muscles:
fillet his thighs and scythe his chest apart,

let’s watch the dark life of him quiver as we
fight over and feast on his splintered heart.


Robin and a number of poets are reading from this collection on Monday 28th November at The Troubadour.

Isobel Dixon also contributed to the anthology and she explains her involvement:

“I love commissions and the way the imagination is fired in the crucible of a deadline, but in a very busy time after agreeing to the 154 commission, I dithered about my choice of sonnet, until there were only a few of the lesser known options left. Castigating myself for indecision and my hubris in accepting the task and way too close to the deadline, which I was also now cursing, I sat down with Sonnet 148 and its opening lines:  “O me! what eyes hath love put in my head,/Which have no correspondence with true sight!” – and then that mysterious force of the subconscious did the rest, more swiftly than I anticipated. If only it were ever thus.”

“What use is the eye to the one who loves?”

On Sonnet 148

What use is the eye to the one who loves?
May as well stumble blindfold from the first,
knowing how keenly light and shape deceive
when the heart is gripped, how much what’s wished
is what’s perceived. The line of a wrist, his crisp,
white sleeve – whole cities have fallen for less
than this. And wandering, lost, in ardour’s mist,
you miss the vital signs: that sigh, curled lip,
how ready suddenly he is to up and leave.
But that’s to come. This rumpled sheet
flags your surrender, you breathe the cleaving
essences – for now, love, ignorance is bliss.
The steady gaze you once believed you had
is just a fallacy. You close your eyes to kiss.

Isobel Dixon

Sonnet 148

O me! what eyes hath love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight!
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote
Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s: no,
How can it? O how can love’s eye be true,
That is so vexed with watching and with tears?
No marvel then, though I mistake my view;
The sun itself sees not till heaven clears.
O cunning love! With tears thou keep’st me blind,
Lest eyes well seeing thy foul faults should find.

William Shakespeare


Contributing Poets:
Mark A. Hill, Antony Dunn, Doreen Hinchliffe, Michael Kelleher, Seán Hewitt, Lorraine Mariner, NJ Hynes, Miriam Nash, Mel Pryor, Becky Cullen, Ali Lewis, Christopher North, Andrew Rudd, Miranda Peake, Andrew George, Maeve Henry, Tim Richardson, Abigail Parry, Peter Kenny, Konstandinos Mahoney, Jon Stone, Rosie Shepperd, Marcus Smith, Conrad Kemp, Mark D. Cooper,  William Wyld, Pat Borthwick, Anita Pati, Oliver Mantell, Mike Di Placido,  Eoghan Walls, Becky Edwards,  Matt Barnard, Marilyn Daish, Charles Evans, Sue Wrinch, Nick MacKinnon,  Sophie Reynolds,  Arji Manuelpillai, Iain Batchelor, Gordon Fudge, Graham Goddard, PJ Heinz,  Robert Powell, James Nash, Kelley Swain, Jo Reed Turner, Richard O’ Brien,  Liane Strauss, Bill Haugse, David Bowe, Francesco Aresco, Mark Leech, Anthony Fisher, Edwina Attlee, David Underdown, Matt Riker, Antony Mair, Matthew Stoppard, Mark Fiddes, Stephen Sharkey, JL Williams, Rachel Barnett-Jones, Di Slaney, Miles Salter, Sarah Diamond, Jacqueline Saphra, Simon Scardifield, Jonathan Davidson, Arrianne Destiney,  Henry Stead, Paul Helliwell, Tim O’Leary, Jane McCarthy Wilkinson, Hitomi Yu, Kesha Sandon, Jo Brandon, Joshua Ip, Deanna Rodger,  Rachel Plummer,  Katy Evans-Bush, Emer Gillespie, Theophilus Kwek, Alexander Velky,  Robbie Burton, Robin Houghton, Kate Venables, Sue Rose, Richy Campbell, Pooja Nansi,  Nick Makoha, Mary Jean Chan, David Clarke, Mandy Sutter, Hilary Watson, William Doreski, Aileen La Tourette, Geraldine Clarkson, , Mark Huband, Helena Johnson, Van Badham, Hamid Khanbhai, David Attwooll, James Peake, Penny Boxall, leoemercer, Rebecca Russell,  Ann Kelley, Gus Simonovic, James Penn, Shomit Dutta, Anna Kisby, Amy Neilson Smith, Simon Barraclough, Stav Poleg,  MD Anson,  Lesley Saunders,  Charlotte Amos, Mo Jones, James Miller,  Siobhan Harvey, Oz Hardwick, Fats White, Rosie Johnston, Nona Charles,  Natalya Anderson, Valerie Darville, Mab Jones, Loraine Saacks, Charles Barber, Brian Deen, Emma Stirling,  Jaz McKenzie,  Nick Eisen, Gillie Robic, Muhammad Salim,  Jo Sanders, James Trevelyan,  Anne Smith, Josephine Corcoran, Arthur Fox, Debby Grayson, Charley Alldridge,  Tessa Foley, Isobel Dixon, Nick Alldridge, Suzannah Evans, Barney Norris,  John Challis, Rosamund Taylor, Emma Simon




Currently in its ninth year, the 2017 Guernsey International Poetry Competition is organised by the Guernsey Literary Festival. It is recognised as a significant and well-respected international poetry competition, attracting over 700 entries per annum from around the world.

The competition is a great opportunity to have your poem read by thousands, on the move in beautiful Guernsey. The winning poets will get the chance to see their poems on the island’s buses as well as at Guernsey airport.

The Winners Reading will be hosted and judged by a renowned poet and will take place during the next Guernsey Literary Festival in May 2017.

You can also email them at or write to us at

Poems on the Move,
Guernsey Literary Festival,
P.O.Box 174,
St Peter Port,
Guernsey GY1 3LG.

Joan Michelson – Bloomvale Home chapbook launch

Bloomvale Home by Joan Michelson is a new chapbook to be launched on 30 November at Hornsey Library, Haringey Park, London N89JA 5:30 -6:45pm

Joan will be reading and there’s the added bonus of flute performance by Katy Bircher.

Joan’s publications were primarily essays, reviews and fiction before she turned to poetry in 1998. Her chapbook, Letting in the Light, won the Editor’s Prize, Poetic Matrix Publishers, California, 2002. Her first full collection, Toward the Heliopause, was published by Mad Jock Publishers, Liverpool, 2007, and in an updated edition, Poetic Matrix Publishers, USA, 2011. In 2010, the collection appeared in Eng/Rom translation in the online journal of the University of Bucharest’s MTTLC project

Eva Borrisov

Once a week Dr Borrisov flies
Boston-Newark for a day of teaching.
Never mind that she’s eighty-nine.
She loves her work. This is how she lives.
When her life ends, it’s swift. Two nights
she paces the corridors of Bloomvale Home.
She stops at her own door. Farewell to furniture
and she walks on. She sees no future. The surgeon
poopoos her worry. He tells her only last week,
he removed a tumour from a man of ninety-four.
It makes no difference. Rose does not recover.
Her daughter passes on her lumber pillow
to Professor Charles on the floor below.
The professor takes the pillow everywhere
until, like Dr. Borrisov, one day it disappears.

from Bloomvale Home, “Eva Borrisov’ first published by ‘Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine’ autumn issue 2015


The Dulings

Both in wheelchairs pushed by helpers,
the Dulings, new arrivals to the Home,
are delivered to the table for breakfast.

Where have they come from? Rosie seems
to know but in her mouth words stop.
She says, her voice up, then down, ‘Oh well.’

She turns to look at Dan, ‘Where DID we live?’
He says, ‘We didn’t always live in Framingham.
Remember Cresskill?’ He softens, ‘Sweetie, Rosie.’

This time her voice reverses, down, then up.
She says, ‘Uh huh?’ And she grins – lopsided.
Someone asks what happened to their house.

He says, ‘We sold the house.’ She says, ‘I thought
it was a rental.’ Then he adopts her words
as if she’s the one who knows what’s true

and he’s the one who’s more confused.
He corrects himself, ‘It was a rental.’
When he’s finished eating, he taps her wrist.

‘Ready? Rosie?’ He tells the table that they’re off.
He smiles broadly. ‘We’ve had our scrambled eggs.
And our bacon’ (although there was no bacon)

‘and our toast. Everything is just dandy.’
He turns to Rosie. “Sweetie, we’re going home.
Remember? 3-G. Second floor south.’

Most days they leave in a parade of two.
But sometimes, like wind that brings the outside in,
their son Matt arrives. He sits with coffee,

making conversation until they’re ready.
Then he stands his father on his feet,
takes his father’s hands and places them

on Rosie’ chair so Dan can wheel her out.
At this the past takes hold. Again he is
Principal of Cresskill Elementary School.

He nods and smiles, then addresses the table
to end with a charming quip. Matt smiles.
Rosie, who’s turned her head to look, claps.

published by ‘The Journal’ issue 54, 2015




Joan Michelson, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, lives in London. She holds a BA Honours Degree in Literature from Brandeis University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and an MA in American Studies from University of Sussex. From 1980-2003, she was Senior Lecturer, Head of Creative Writing and Holocaust Literature, at the University of Wolverhampton.

Overhearing a Conversation in The Flowerpots, Cheriton by Rogan Whitenails

Overhearing a Conversation in The Flowerpots, Cheriton

There was a power cut in the pub last night. All light but the fire’s glow went
Out, and in the discontinuance, I mumbled, murmured, “Winter of Discontent”,
“The 70s” and “Jeremy Corbyn”, to parody the two men at
The next table, who, up until this outage, had been enjoying a chat
About the economy, each affirming the other’s assertions that
All employees in the public sector are over-pensioned, indolent
And unprofitable. No one knew me well, and, excepting the fire, this veil meant
I could beard, and would satirise, bold enough not to belie the charming
Ale, as I am loath to misrepresent the pleasure I get from drinking,
With these barely-barbed rhubarbs, without fear of someone identifying
The source. Peripety-lumen, propelling the dark forward to foment
Uneasiness and consternation, my presence murmured darker yet, excrescent.




“Laureate by seditious self-appointment, writing mainly in rhyming couplets, in relative isolation, in compliance with the guidelines, I collate my poems and set out my track record of previous publication to reify my suffering.” RW

Repetitive nursery rhymes such as Ten in a Bed and I Know an Old Lady undoubtedly shaped Rogan’s voice. He writes poems, almost always using end rhymes, and prose poems in a style that is unique and recognisable, not of any particular time. The themes of his work, however, are very often about the time and place he lives in, and his persona may evanesce to experience places of current social and political significance, with humanist empathy and a seer’s pity.

For many years, Rogan was a regular contributor to the poetry magazine Monkey Kettle. He was appointed the official poet of National Shed Week, 2008. His earlier work was published by Indoor Fighting Press in two anthologies: Failure Crawled Up My Leg and Ghostly Sightings of the Pornographic Lady.

As a synesthete, Rogan sees colours whenever he hears sounds, and has been collaborating with emerging and mid-career painters. Extracts from his poem Lines for Farkhunda were included as an epigraph in the catalogue for Canadian painter Andrew Salgado’s 2015 exhibition A Quiet Man. Rogan makes his work available to read on his blog:

Stiwdio Maelor Poetry Competition 2016


Annual Competition – Poetry Competition 2016

In 2015, Stiwdio Maelor started an annual competition, the aim of which is to enable an artist to win an opportunity to complete a residency at Maelor. Each year a different technique/medium is chosen. 2015’s winners were David Begley (artist film) and Sue Mara (photography).

The two competitions for 2016: Works on paper and Poetry.

The prize for each award is a two week residency at Stiwdio Maelor with gift vouchers from local businesses.

Email for entry form or download from their site:

Closing date:  25 November 2016.



Caroline Carver – ju ju baby and more


Caroline Carver’s latest publication, ju ju baby has just been published by Indigo Dreams Publishing as part of their pamphlet series.

Caroline won the National Poetry Prize in 1998 and since then has published five collections, Jigharzi An Me, Semicolon Press (in West Indian dialect), Bone-Fishing, Peterloo Poets, Three Hares, Oversteps Books, Tikki Tikki Man, Ward Wood, Fish Eaters, Plymouth Univeristy Press… and now ju ju baby.

As with Caroline’s other publications, ju ju baby has richly painted characters who step out of the book and look the reader directly in the eye. Their stories are deeply moving from the very beginning and tension rises throughout the narrative until your skin tingles:

ju ju sits on his new bed
draws a line in his book
thin as a filament of life

(looking for the wind)

I watch you
roll on the ground
as if it belongs to you

(burial ground)

the child looks out of the window
sees smoke soldiers dragons

he looks at his parents sees threads of feeling
worn thin at the elbows


In his endorsement Michael Swan sums up this book in a much better way than I can:
“Caroline Carver not only creates myth; she uses it in startling ways to illuminate reality, without letting either have the last word. ju ju baby is a remarkable work by a remarkable writer.”



They don’t want to by Alex McMillan

They don’t want to

None of the things they told me
Would make me happy
Ever did

Going to school
Not talking back
Fasting for lent, being
An altar boy in church
Joining a football team
Always being honest
Respecting my elders
Keeping my head down
Working hard
Paying my debts, trying
To get good grades
University, shame
Admitting my fear.

Then the other ones told me
The other things, which
Though wasn’t

Having sex with strangers, smoking
Taking pills and
Cocaine, being
Penniless, clubbing
Meeting lots of people all the time
Talking girls into
Caring, not
Caring, getting
Wasted all the time
Drinking games, going
To parties, new
Music, gyms,
Protests, indie films
Magic mushrooms

But now, quietly
A glass of wine or
A few beers a
Book, a little music,
Relaxing, reading
Reading, letting it
Go, a notebook,
A pen, sometimes
A little face, a little

I try and tell them
Some of them, they don’t
Listen, then need to move
Move, and I realised
They don’t
They don’t want to
They need the
Fear, the
Shame, the
They bought it all between
Those first and
Second advice
Givers. It’s too much for
Them to realise
It isn’t real.

They don’t want to
Be happy. They want to
Find some new idea
Of what happiness is.
And so they chase
Chase, and

Alex McMillan lives and teaches in Lima, Peru. When not teaching he reads and writes poetry.”