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On the Ward by Stephen Claughton

 On the Ward

On the geriatric ward,
everyone makes sense
of their own reality.

That man’s name being called
over and over again
isn’t going to bring anyone back.

The woman singing songs
thinks she’s in a pub
on which time was called years ago.

Your neighbour I thought was sane
now tells me her father’s coming
(she’s eighty if she’s a day).

And you, Mum. How are you?
Not in such a good place.
You seem agitated today.

“Swirling!” you say — and, “Dark!”
grasping the sides of the bed,
as if something’s sucking you in.

Will waking you make it worse?
Are you actually asleep?
It’s hard to tell these days.

I lean over to clasp your hand,
though I know you’re out of reach
and way beyond rescue now.

..
Stephen Claughton’s second pamphlet, The 3-D Clock, from which this poem has been taken, is due to be published by Dempsey & Windle in March this year. It contains poems about his late mother’s dementia and will be launched at a D&W Showcase reading at the Poetry Café in London on Thursday, 21st May. His first pamphlet, The War with Hannibal, was published by Poetry Salzburg in October 2019.

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Artlyst Art To Poetry Competition

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Artlyst in association with The Poetry Society are pleased to launch a new international award for poetry based on works of art. 

The awards are made possible by Artlyst and Frances Segelman (Lady Petchey) in association with The Poetry Society

From ancient times poets have been inspired by art. Ekphrastic poetry has given us some of the most celebrated poems in the English language from Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, to W.H. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux-Arts’, based on Brueghel’s famous painting of Icarus falling from the sky. In each case, what has been created is not a mere description but a fresh insight, a new world, an autonomous work of art.

The Artlyst Art to Poetry Award celebrating ekphrastic poetry is open to all poets worldwide aged 18 or over. Entrants may submit as many poems as they wish so long as they are based on an artwork. This can be in the form of a painting, sculpture installation, video, or fine art photograph.

The competition’s judging panel will include poet, novelist, and art critic Sue Hubbard, and judges from Artlyst and The Poetry Society. There are awards of £1,000, £300 and three runners-up prizes of £50. There will also be a special young peoples’ which is free to enter if you are 11-17. All winners will be invited to an awards ceremony at a London art gallery and be published on Artlyst and The Poetry Society websites.

The competition deadline is 11.59 pm on 2nd March 2020. All entries must be made online via The Poetry Society’s submission portal. Enter Here 

It is recommended that all entrants read the rules carefully before entering. Read the full rules Here  

Top Photo: Antony Gormley Royal Academy Photo by P C Robinson © Artlyst 2019

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Triage by Abigail Kirby Conklin – reviewed by Karen Dennison

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This collection is full of pain and anger as the speaker confronts a past trauma and battles to cope with its pervasive effects. It begins with Brutality, a poem about longing which takes the reader along a certain path and then blindsides with an unexpected and satisfyingly ironic ending. It’s followed by a poem about wanting revenge on an abuser, being permitted to take it and fantasizing about the form it would take –

I want to eat your
freed heart raw—
I hear heart meat is good for you, 
and it’s far cheaper than steak.

This poem in particular reminded me of recent high-profile rape cases, in a culture of sexual violence in American university campuses, where abusers are given lenient sentences.

Throughout, the speaker battles against and confronts abuse and abuser, sometimes with self-destructive coping mechanisms. In My Father and I Talk About Drinking

I nod into the phone 
as if he can hear me because, 
when I drink,
my whole body forgives 
itself. I feel the heart
in each marrow hollow 
in each bone
slow. I can see
for miles. I am impossible.

In Elsewhere the speaker imagines alternative realities for herself where –

I am having regular, consensual sex, 
receiving prompt replies to text 
messages, and talking about systemic 
corruption over bad drinks and suspicious popcorn.

There’s A Way to Love That Does Not Also Ask That You Undo Yourself is also full of re-imaginings of a different life just out of reach.

There are some poems which are the opposite of what their titles suggest and are full of hard-hitting irony. New York, Mon Amour is a sort of anti-ode to the NY subway, Longshoreman is an anti-love poem and in Wonderland there is a Cheshire cat with no grin, no magic, no Alice.

Feminine takes us into the battlefield of women’s bodies in which we’re told to get used to being ashamed and Indehiscent (which means not splitting open to release seeds when ripe) uses images of fruit and seeds to speak of sexual violence –

You tongue the curve 
of my calf, tracing
to where skin meets fruit, 
and tear, as you would
a dried apricot
cured with sulfur, the better 
to keep its color.

In Long Island City Landing is a tender and heart-breaking poem about memories of being with the last man the speaker loved –

We cradled a peace between us 
like a child unwilling to wake.

The collection ends with Seasons, a poem about Persephone in the underworld. Amongst her suffering, there is a message of healing and hope, a returning to life and a coming home.

But I imagine her, each spring, crouched 
below the openings in the Earth
with palms upturned in faith 
that spring will come.
 

These are raw, visceral poems full of wounds and hurt. They are also gutsy poems of strength, survival and endurance which turn a mirror on the face of abuse. A powerful read.
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Karen Dennison won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011 resulting in the publication in 2012 of her first poetry collection Counting Rain. Her second collection, The Paper House, was published in March 2019 by Hedgehog Poetry Press.

As an artist, she collaborated with poet Abegail Morley on her pamphlet The Memory of Water – her photoshopped photographs feature on the cover and inside. Karen is editor, designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand, Blueshift (longlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2016) and Free-fall. She has designed book covers for a number of poetry anthologies.

Karen is Co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press.

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Emergency Mints – Paper Swans Press – reviewed by Rennie Halstead

Emergency-Mints-front-coverEmergency Mints – Karen Jane Cannon

Paper Swans Press £5:00

Karen Jane Cannon’s debut pamphlet  focuses on a childhood and coming of age by the sea. Only the passage of time and the transition to adulthood takes the poet away from the coast.

Emergency Mints is seen through the eyes of children remembering a father sailing the English Channel and packing packets of Polo mints, labelled EMERGENCY MINTS in case he runs into a disaster.

He is their:

            polar explorer,
arctic adventurer.
 
We charted your route, coloured
the curved waves of land, solid
blue slab of sea.
 
And after his return the children are enthralled by exciting tales:

we listened to your stories of basking
sharks and places orcas go to die, or you lashed
to the mast in a great wild storm, sucking
 
mints like tiny life belts.

Daughters of Thor has a very different take on life by the sea, from the perspective of three girls watching a storm unfold.

We watched for the flash of electricity
 
that split the sky so wide-
once we climbed a jagged fork of light,
 
crawled inside. We stared down

at the channel churning below, marbled as a tombstone,
 

saw the look of horror on the faces of sailors
trying to turn into the wind.

They watch the coastguard:

slip from his bed,
his life neatly rolled up on the shore.
 
After the storm, the girls’ mother:

swept up the debris,
sewed the house back together again.
 
She tried to fix the sky split
with a plastic first aid kit, rolls of lint.

 
But on a bright day
you can still see the scars.
 

Wavelengths picks up  the joyous freedom of summer on the beach, with three girls racing across the ridged sand wondering:

 
                        if this is how you age
the Earth — count the rings
on connecting shores.

The sand turns:

 
                        from soft biscuit crumb
to sleek whale skin, silent thuds
become wet spatters on bare legs.
 

Dolphins in the Lido has a much more end of childhood feel, with the girls beginning to consider their environment from a different perspective. The three dolphins in the lido:

making waves
in borrowed water…
 
                        …leapt
alphabet letters, dived to cool blue tiles, nosing
 
grilled drain covers, spinning and twisting
up for air.

 
But along with the appreciation of their beauty and graceful movement dawns the realisation that the dolphins are captives:

I wished they could lift
those covers, follow drain tunnels, one by one…
 
…and reach open sea.
 
…Could they smell the sea, just feet away? Feel
the pull of the coastal tide, the call
 

of some distant pod?

The girls grow up and another group of poems references the sea from a more mature perspective. In Tears of the Sea we learn how the sea fills the imagination:

I saw a baby iridescent
in a rock pool, looking up
 
at me, saw myself lying in a circle
of spat stones, heard a gull cry.
 
The sea kept the rest of me,
just gave me back my face

The sea and beach has filled the persona here.

                                    Broken
doll spat from the sea – I haunt
the shore, too old to be newborn.

In Along the Shore we watch two donkeys on the beach where the sea breaks her silence along the shore and the sand bar is lost in the mist that never lifts. The donkeys pause:

to nip the saltgrass tufting along the shore.
 
Almond eyes outlined with the ash of past lives,

We pass the memorial bench, with references to the ship’s surgeon, The Ruler of the Waves and The Breaker of the Rules, and see the gulls:

wheel and fall
into the waves that break, break, break along the shore.
 
The hissing shallows call my name, draw me
weightless as echoes, along the shore.
 

 

We move away from the sea with another group of poems that trace aspects of the wider family. The found poem If you will be kind enough is taken from a letter to the author’s grandparents from the National Children’s Adoption  Association in January 1937. Not normally a fan of found poems, I liked this spare and moving account of the adoption process. The official language with its business-like coldness contrasts with the implicit emotion of adoption, and captures the tone of the time.

Ellen, has a cold and Matron asks:

Would you be kind enough
however to telephone her
tomorrow morning,
 
when she will let you know
how the baby is.
Her number is Park 4601.

Advice follows about the clothes that need to be bought for the new baby: warm woollen things and the offer of help:

But any clothes Mrs Buttress
has not got yet
Matron will be glad to lend
 
if you will be kind enough
to return them to her
when you get home.

Family matters return in the very amusing Postcards from a War Zone which follows a post war journey across Europe by Grandfather and the family in 1951.

Grandfather stuffed pound notes into cavities in his Ford Prefect to drive across war torn France to Switzerland. They passed through:

flattened villages of Normandy,
roads heaped with rubble.
German helmets with bullet holes
still lay by abandoned pillboxes.
 
French ‘peasants’ came out and shook his hand
thanking him for winning the war.

The family sleep in tumble down farmhouses, over the cattle byre, negotiate Switzerland’s hairpin bends, and photograph everything on their box brownie camera. The most memorable part for Grandmother, however, does not appear to be the devastation they have passed though so much as the beauty of Switzerland, with:

 
            an alpine horn blowing.
It sounds lovely!
We are higher up than an aeroplane.

Most moving of the family poems is the account of old age and decline in Hells Bells & Buckets of Blood where we meet a much loved and struggling parent. The poem has great tenderness:

 
You walk slower now, spine curved
into a question, holding on.
 
And again:

I chat, though I know you can’t hear me…
 
…We walk in a silence deafening everything
 
…You stumble, clutch me, swear –
that same old pirate curse on your tongue,
clotted as Cornish cream.

Emergency Mints has a richness and variety of subject matter, from the intensely personal to the exuberant memories of childhood to the sadness of decline into old age.

Rennie Halstead has been writing since he was eleven. He writes reviews, poetry, flash fiction and short stories.

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Nancy Charley’s The Gospel of Trickster reviewed by E.E. Nobbs

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The Gospel of Trickster by Nancy Charley
with illustrations by Alison Gill
Size: 44pp, W125 x H140mm, full colour throughout. First edition, limited to 300 copies, signed by the author. ISBN 9780957273801

Nancy Charley’s and Alison Gill’s  The Gospel of Trickster (Hercules Editions, 2019)  is a hip, prose-verse illustrated version of stories from the New Testament Gospels. In mythology, the Trickster spirit is cunning, untrustworthy, breaks the rules of normal behaviour and morality, and likes to cause trouble, which means they make things happen, thus bringing about change.

Trickster and the Jesus-character act as foils for each other as the story is told. An interesting twist is that we get only Trickster’s point of view.  The Trickster characters make for unusual, sometimes wickedly funny and probably unreliable narrators! The Trickster spirit inhabits a numerous and surprising cast of players over the lifetime of Jesus. Trickster instigates events, confronts Jesus, often through small actions, and when Jesus responds the consequences are profound.

I don’t want to give out spoilers, so I’ll only post one excerpt to give a sense of Charley’s clever writing and word-play, and the chapter/verse formatting reminiscent of the bible.

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The Gospel of Trickster is chock full of illustrations by Alison Gill where she interprets parts of Charley’s text, giving almost a graphic-novel feel. Here’s a portion of one.

 

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The Gospel of Trickster is fresh exciting adventure that is witty and with danger, humanity and the promise of change.

Tricksteropenbook

 

E.E. Nobbs lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The prize for winning the Doire Press Second Annual International Poetry Chapbook Contest (2013)  was the publication of her first poetry collection,  The Invisible Girl  which is available to order directly from her.

Doire Press

The Invisible Girl  and her author’s page are also on Goodreads. Become her friend at Goodreads so you can share reading lists, and if you’ve read her chapbook — please consider adding your rating and comments. Thank you.

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Mark Connors reviews The Forward Book of Poetry 2020

Forward

The Forward Book of Poetry has long been regarded as an annual barometer for the state of contemporary poetry published over the preceding year in the British Isles. 2020’s edition once again exemplifies UK poetry is in rude health.

Out of the nominations from both Best Collection and Best First Collection, two poets writing about the deaf experience, and in very different ways, particularly stand out.

Nominated for Best Collection, Ilya Kaminsky’s poem, ‘Deafness, an insurgency, Begins’ skilfully converts deaf experience to a position of absolute defiance against the brutality of war: ‘Our country woke up next morning and refused to hear soldiers.’

The young women in the poem, so often victimised and repressed under such regimes, are yet more defiant:

‘When soldiers compliment girls in the alleyway,

the girls slide by, pointing to their ears.’

 

And later,

 

‘…arrests begin.

Our hearing doesn’t weaken, but something silent in us

strengthens.’

This subversive idea of silence as a strength is echoed in the final line of the poem before a sketch of the fingertips of two hands together concludes the piece:

‘In the ears of the town snow falls.’

Raymond Antrobus, nominated for Best First Collection, uses deaf experience in a more personal way. The title poem of The Perseverance, named after a pub his father used to regularly frequent, deals with the poet’s feelings of isolation as a boy hard of hearing, waiting outside the pub, while his dad popped in for a drink or two:

‘I’m outside counting minutes,

waiting for the man, my father

to finish his shot…

His father gives him 50p to make him disappear ‘…like a coin in a parking meter before/the time runs out. How many minutes/will I lose listening to the laughter/spilling from THE PERSERVERANCE/while strangers ask, where is your father?

And like so many kids with drinking fathers, the boy is forced to make excuses for his father’s conduct and explain his own temporary isolation and abandonment:

‘I stare at the doors and say, my father

is working. Strangers who don’t disappear

but hug me for my perseverance.’

The regular appearance of the word, ‘perseverance’ in the poem, suggests an ongoing battle of putting up with a flawed father and the boy’s own frustrations at the hearing world around him.

A brilliant example of a poem reflecting the state of the world we live in is Lavinia Greenlaw’s  quietly devastating ‘The Break’:

‘Deep in the dark of that year

I issued a warning, I’m going to break, I said

but quietly and so often that it sounded like a refrain.’

And later:

‘You have every reason to be in such pain.

They had looked inside me and found reasons.’

While this poem suggests this pain is physical as well as mental, it speaks to us in the wider context of our own fears of breaking in such turbulent and divisive times.

There’s also the obligatory short poem that always seems to sneak into Forward anthologies. These poems usually centre around a startlingly simple idea that other poets, at whatever stage of their writing journeys, will inevitably rage to themselves, ‘I could’ve written that. What’s so bloody good about this poem!’  One might recall an inclusion of a poem in a Forward anthology a year or two after September 11th which more or less went like this: ‘Woke up. Watched the news.’

In 2020’s edition, the short poem most of us could have seemingly written was penned by Scott Manley Hadley:

Untitled

Poetry

Is a lot like sex

With a long time partner

You’re not in love with anymore:

Even when it’s good

It’s still kinda boring

Of course, while many of us could have written this poem, we didn’t. Scott Manley Hadley did. And such poems obviously speak to the judges precisely because they are so simple and say something about a particular subject which resonates and lingers long after such poems have been read. One might glean from the inclusion of ‘Untitled’ that the judges loved it’s gentle mockery of this often misunderstood art form that the wider public indeed find boring, despite poetry’s recent resurgence. The poem’s inclusion might also inadvertently reflect that, despite the increasing popularity of performance poetry, exciting the likes of big publishers, Picador (perhaps because such poetry is certainly not boring to the wider public judging by the books sales of such poets), one rarely finds such poets within the pages of a Forward anthology, with the odd occasional exception of Luke Wright and Kate Tempest.

Elsewhere, the anthology is heaving with many exceptional contributions from poetry heavyweights such as Carol Ann Duffy, John Kinsella, Hugo Williams and  Liz Berry. It does seem to be a year when the bigger names have returned in force. Time will tell if more performance poets make their way into this annual barometer of what’s happening in poetry in The British Isles because their absence seems to be particularly obvious in this latest edition. Maybe it’s because poems written with performance in mind rarely work as well on the page. Whatever the reason, the notable absence of such poems in an anthology that purports to reflect what’s going on out there in poetry in The British Isles, will continue to raise questions as to why such work is consistently ignored.

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Mark Connors is an award winning writer from Leeds, UK. He has had over 170 poems published in magazines, anthologies and webzines.

Mark’s debut poetry pamphlet, Life is a Long Song was published by OWF Press in 2015.  His first full length collection, Nothing is Meant to be Broken was published by Stairwell Books in 2017. His second poetry collection, Optics, was published in 2019 by YAFFLE. A joint collection, Reel Bradford, written with fellow writers from the team behind poetry publishers, YAFFLE, in partnership with Bradford City of Film, will also be published in 2019.

Mark’s debut novel, Stickleback was published by Armley Press in 2016. Stickleback was long listed for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His second novel, Tom Tit and the Maniacs was published by Armley Press in 2018. It was selected as one of Culture Vulture’s novels of the year.

Mark is a writing workshop facilitator and bibliotherapist. He is the managing editor of the independent poetry publishers, YAFFLE.

You can email Mark at mark@markconnors.co.uk

 

 

 

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Fomo by Olga Dermott-Bond

FOMO

They clatter back in high heels, short skirts, espresso dregs of eye makeup,
knock up fried egg sandwiches, spill milk; leaving me clinging
to their curdling sticky smell upstairs in my cardboard room.

They steal all the screenwash from my car and make cocktails with it,
keeping the little umbrella sticks to slide beneath my eyelids
every splintered night, so that tissued darkness dances itself ragged.

They play ceilingless music that pulsates its ways into my muted
dreams of attrition. When I crawl past the edge of sleep they
push me off staggering cliffs and don’t tell me how to fly.

They rip open the last teabag in the box so when I drink it,
the morning after, they leak sagging soil into my mouth while their
sun creeps like a closed headache around edges of curtains.

They leave, intrepid alleycats, banging the door too loudly
behind them. I listen to their orgasms of laughter convulse down the street.
They linger under my skin as I wash up their dead plates.

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Olga is originally from Northern Ireland and studied English Literature at the University of St Andrews. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Magma, Strix, Cordite Review, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House and Paper Swans. Two of her poems are included in the Smith/Doorstop’s anthology The Result is What You See Today: Poems about Running. She was the winner of the BBC Proms poetry competition in 2019 and is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021. You can listen to her poetry on the podcast Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, episode 2. She is a teacher and has two daughters.

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Pheasant Plucker by Benjamin Cusden

Pheasant Plucker

I’ve never been a fan of the corpse. As a child
my mother’s tan wool coat would shield me
on butchers’ trips from pigs and lambs hook
hanged, scraped out – silent, xylophone ribs exposed.

Face buried in small of back, eyes squint, nose flat,
repeating ‘LALALA’ – senses diminished to touch.

Tourists drive like arseholes down Cornwall’ s
country lanes. Like unleashed dogs onto ewes
and their babes. Sense left behind with speed limits
and manners in Macclesfield, London or wherever

they’re from. They career around corners without
comprehension of tractors; combines or cows.
Their arrogance, however, sometimes counter tips
in my favour and they leave a surprise behind.

The bird’s fire is doused but its fiery copper breast
burns heavenly on mottled chestnut brown.
It’s carefully tendered into rucksack’s open mouth,
black pulled tight by drawstring, now a secret
on my back, and I become the same as you – a man
on a holiday hike – nothing less, never nothing less.

Birds are not hung in camped woods or held
for long decay, that’s the rich man’s way – plucked
quick, bloodied tail feather totems for homeless
hats; guts separated between edible and unthinkable.

I worked in a kitchen once – before eviction orders,
before living rough on the land – washing dishes,
straining gravy, creating salad for sides.
Prepping roadkill isn’t easy.

Badgers are always off menu and treated with respect.
In death, buried back in the haunting grounds of woods
and copse. Night time’s shy, fierce spirit is given prayers
and a fresh blanket of earth.

But all other fauna, dead or lame, is always fair game.

First published in the Live Canon 2019 Anthology (shortlisted in the top 20 of their International Poetry Prize judged by Zaffar Kunial), October 2019.

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Ben has been both an award-winning broadcast television editor in London and homeless within the Cornish countryside – this change in circumstance and the landscapes he’s lived in are often reflected in his poetry.  He was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2016 and is a regular MC for Ruth O’Callaghan’s Lumen and Camden poetry groups, raising money for cold weather shelters for the homeless.