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Peggy Duthie – Identification

Identification

An animal on an Edo scroll
looks to me like a cat. An expert says it’s a tiger;
Deon calls it a dog. His twin
curls her lip, says anyone can see
it’s a bear, stupid. Their mom
of course steps in with “Don’t call people ‘stupid.’”
Daya plants her hands on her hips, replying,
“Sometimes people are.” Her name means
sympathy or compassion in Sanskrit
and holy wow is she ruthless. I’m glad
I’m merely an aunt—and not a “real” aunt—
just the old friend who drags them to museums
so mom—Diana—can remember what it’s like
to sit with a fancy coffee drink
after visiting pictures inside frames and cases.
Today by the time we reach the café,
the conversation’s ancient history. Deon and Daya
race to the lawn with their popsicles,
giddily squabbling over whose tongue
looks more like their chow’s when it’s blue.
Diana hovers over the lotus
drawn on her latte, not quite ready
to be its destroyer, even though it
was never made to last
for longer than a glance. I think about
the creature on the scroll: so big, so furry,
and such a sweet face, a half-naked monk
gazing into its eyes as if it could understand.

 

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Peg Duthie is the author of Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Rattle and Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, at the CDC Poetry Project and the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and elsewhere.

 

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Dominic James – The Harrow

The Harrow

Levered from our native soil,
cleaned of rust, stain of oil,
we retired the ancient harrow
to a tall, museum window,
its time is done. Captive engine
of the fields, bog-juggernaut,
turner of the fertile crust,
plougher-in of men:
leave the sun to paint its wheels,
expose the iron prongs
cordoned off from childish hands
until the shears dull.

No shadow in the sun
On the lawn’s green sward
not a hand grenade but the frayed remains
of a gardening glove
black and fingerless,
hard to recognise, without the merest
seam of reflection
being out of place
by the apple tree, just a fluke of light –
its sudden darkness
in the afternoon
had the look of eyes behind drawn curtains
or the young blade’s knife
in sunny Tottenham –
with its measured spite, burnt-out core of night
toad-like with no lustre
in the total warmth
of a garden, how we spot with dread the thing
unknown or unexpected.

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Dominic James lives in Chalford, Glos with his partner, Helen. He attends poetry meetings up and down the Thames Valley and is a member of the Bright Scaf group. This summer he has poems in Obsessed with Pipework and The High Window. His collection ‘Pilgrim Station’ was published by SPM Publications in December, 2016.

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Jean Atkin – A Charm Against Uncertain Borders

pendant.jpg

A Charm Against Uncertain Borders

For I run and Raven on the thong knocks his beak
against my chest. For luck, I touch his eye.
Is he Huginn? Is he Muninn? That would
be hard to say, as thought
roosts close to memory

Tomorrow I ride the edgelands of the Danelaw
keep close what lies at Raven’s back.
For knifed into the bronze, my troll-wife
leads her horse down these same paths.
All night her long hand bridles him
with snakes to make him tame

Her long eye is my old amulet
she is the secret dark
inside of barrows

now it is my time
to bridle them
with snakes

 

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Jean Atkin a poet, writer and experienced educator, based in Shropshire. She’s worked on a variety of residencies in both England and Scotland and provide workshops and readings to schools, festivals and community organisations. She is Poet in Residence for Hargate Primary School in West Bromwich and work there regularly and also makes poetry in health and wellbeing contexts, including Social Prescription, and am experienced in working with the very elderly, and people living with dementia. She likes to work in collaboration with other artists and organisations when the opportunity arises.

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Phil Wood – The Curator’s Confession

The Curator’s Confession

And then I swept the dust away
with Jenny’s trusted broom. Besides
the pot was not a fitting tomb.
No antique could bury that lust
for laughter, thirst for gin, that spice
of briny tales. An urn’s no shrine
to foster ghosts, to web a hush
of her. She was the crash of waves
wetting the shore, the rush for more.
No ornament could bin our Jen.
And when I swept her dust to air,
and when I smashed the artefact,
I heard that blue blush of sea
dashing pebbles against my door.

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Phil Wood works in a statistics office. He enjoys working with numbers and words. His writing can be found in various publications, including: Autumn Sky Daily, London Grip, Ink Sweat and Tears.

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Against the Grain Press launch Jane Lovell’s Metastatic on October 19th at The Poetry Café

Metastatic: traversing a dark and uncertain landscape

performed by

Jane Lovell and Timothy Adés

Against the Grain Press is delighted to launch Jane Lovell’s Metastatic at the Poetry Café on October 19th at 7pm. Special guest readers include Alison Brackenbury and two poets from ATG’s 2019 list, Graham Clifford and Michelle Diaz. We are also pleased that Timothy Adés is joining Jane on stage as narrator.

“Jane Lovell’s writing charts mysterious, unsettling trajectories: the invisible paths of bees, the journey of dead light, the routes found in folded and untied landscapes. These poems unmoor us, find beauty and strangeness in the everyday.” Helen Mort

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JaneJane Lovell is the Poetry Society Stanza Rep for Mid Kent. She has had work published in AgendaEarthlinesPoetry Wales, Magmathe North, the Honest UlstermanDark Mountain, The Lonely Crowd, Ink Sweat & Tears, Zoomorphic and Elementum.

Jane’s poetry has also appeared in various anthologies including Templar’s Mill, In the Cinnamon Corners from Cinnamon Press, Liquorice Fish Books What Lies Within,  Zoomophic’s Driftfish, Diversifly from Fair Acre Press and One for the Road from Smith Doorstop.

New work is forthcoming in The Hopper, Riggwelter, Mslexia, The Interpreter’s House, The Fenland Reed and Coast to Coast to Coast. Her poetry is to be featured in the autumn issue of The Curlew.

Jane was awarded the Flambard Prize in 2015, won 1st prize in the South Downs Poetry Competition 2017 and won the Wealden Literary Festival 2018 Writing Competition.  in 2018 she was also joint winner of the Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition. She has been shortlisted for the Basil Bunting Prize, the Wenlock Poetry Prize and Canterbury Poet of the Year and has been a runner up in the Poetry on the Lake’s Silver Wyvern award, the BBC Proms Poetry Competition, the Bare Fiction Prize and the Wisehouse International Poetry Award.

Read more on Jane’s website:  https://janelovell128.wixsite.com/janelovellpoetry

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Zoe Siobhan Howarth-Lowe – The American Museum

The American Museum

And here, the birthing bed,
museum-tagged cotton sheets,
smell of moth dust
and placenta.

Half-crescent nail-marks
bruised into the oak flesh.

Imagine: an ivory wedge;
almost bitten in two,
the smell of boiled water.
A Mother –

Willing the head and shoulders
of this child to erupt from her,

willing that this child,
unlike the last,

will struggle and kick;
elbow its own way free.

The child –
blood smeared
over closed eyes.
Fists clenched,
fighting.

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Zoë is a Poet and Mum from Dukinfield. She has an MA in Poetry from Bath Spa University.

Her work has appeared in Magma, Atrium, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Picaroon and The Black Light Engine Room amongst others.

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Kersten Christianson – Curios

Curios

Welcome to the Museum of Marvels!
Come in from the mizzle,
into the making of moonlight.
where the masqued mummer spins

a frozen pirouette.
Mog into the annex, note
the kitschy painting of the maroon
bowl mud sliding its rim with blue mussels

and sweet mazzards.
Like the muezzin calling the faithful
to prayer, the mockingbird medlies
a magical tune from the maze

of a musty annex. Meditate
upon the diorama exhibit
of a taxidermal muskox,
museful in its wide

meanderings of muskeg.
Come! Muddle through a mystic’s
archive of stuffed mallards, of mammoth
tusk. Curate your mango-sweet
curiosity.

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Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Anchorage). Kersten has authored two books: What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) and Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017). She is also the poetry editor of the quarterly journal, Alaska Women Speak. www.kerstenchristianson.com

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Hannah Brockbank – Bloodlines

cover HBI recently read and very much enjoyed Hannah Brockbank’s Bloodlines published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and as a couple of poems in it feature objects I thought it would be perfect to get some feedback from Hannah about their evolution.

I am grateful to all the poets who submitted to the museum theme and hope this brief  behind-the-scenes look at two poems gets us all creating more. I am also grateful to Hannah who has taken the time to share her poems and creative experience….

Bloodlines was born out of a desire to explore my experience of growing up without a father. I still have many unanswered questions about my biological inheritance and tried to deduce what I could from photographs. In fact, not knowing my heritage provided a creative opportunity to imagine a set of likelihoods, but what I really needed was an object, something physical, to explore and convey my emotion in a less abstract manner.

When I saw the skeleton and evidence of its historic tooth grinding (an awful habit of mine too), I knew I’d found my object. Its discovery felt serendipitous and I think for most writers, it is difficult to ignore these moments. The skeleton became my poem’s catalyst, but who did the skeleton originally belong to? Whose bones was I looking at? It was odd observing something that had made the transition from life to death, that had so much metamorphic possibility.

I made some observational notes which felt both intrusive and dangerous. As I looked at the skull, I simultaneously realised that my biological father could already be dead, and if he wasn’t, he might not be what I’d hoped for.

HUMAN SKELETON

It’s not unexpected, in this place of bones,
to find a human skeleton fastened in place,
posed between a Slender Loris,
and a Flying Lemur that’s pinned
into an arc of flight.

I step towards your skeleton,
we meet eyeball to socket,
blood and flesh long run off
reveals a jagged fault line,
the meeting of cranial plates,
frontal bone giving way
to hollows as deep as my thumb.

If I could rewind time,
I’d hear you grind ridges into your teeth,
I’d see your eyelids twitch and open
to glare back at me.

But here and now,
I stare at the insides of your drilled bones,
threaded on wire, an intricate beadwork
reassembling everything;
your femur, patella – a smooth pebble
of protection.

Your feet, rooted by steel cables,
imprint soft clay beneath you.
Underneath, the label reads;

Human Being, Humanite, Humanis.
Range: Worldwide
Status: Widespread, and dangerous.

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Martha is the name of the last known passenger pigeon. When she died, 104 years ago in Cincinnati Zoo, her species became extinct. I first learnt about her in a museum and became interested in what led to the extinction of passenger pigeons and also, what it must’ve felt like for her keeper to see the last of a species die.

I began to do a great deal of research, trying to shoehorn myself into the past, examining testimonies and photographs to aid my description of Martha. It became readily apparent that Martha was eminently symbolic of survival against the odds. Once I had a series of clear images, I stopped researching and started to draft ‘Martha’ the poem.

Initially the density of images weighed down the lines. I think this can be a common consequence of research, sometimes you can have too much information. I redrafted and aimed for 10-12 syllables or fewer per line. I found the nimbler lines carried the emotional freight of the poem more efficiently and that core images weren’t lost in the unnecessary loading of words.

One of the main themes of Bloodlines concerns departure, in particular the precise moment when someone leaves, sometimes permanently.

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MARTHA

The curator shows me a light boned bird.
It is the length of his leathery hand.
The pale rufous throat no longer bobs.
The small, stuffed head, more buffish blue than grey.
Glass eyes, the colour of dried blood,
puncture its head.
Pillowy feathers yield to my touch.

They used to gather in billions.
Once, a flock 300 miles wide,
blackened the skies above Ontario,
and took hours to pass.
They fed on crops, could drink mid-flight
and roost in trees until the boughs snapped
under their weight.

Hunters sold the pigeons’ deep pink breasts
as cut-rate food for slaves.
Their feathers were plucked for dowry beds.
They ruptured the pigeons’ carmine eyes
with sharpened sticks;
they were left to stumble, blindly
along the edges of forest,
while airborne pigeons swooped low
expecting food, but found nets
and the slash of blades.
The hunters poked nestlings out of branches.
They shot higher nests down
with blunt arrows.
The young fell,
spilt open on the forest floor,
their mouths leaked crop milk into the dirt.

Martha, the last passenger pigeon, lived on in captivity.
As I leave the museum,
I don’t think of her loneliness,
but of her keeper.
How did it feel,
in those final, fleeting moments
to see the last of a survivor, before they disappear?

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Hannah.jpgHannah Brockbank was born in South Yorkshire, but grew up in West Sussex. Between 2001-2004 she read English at the University of Chichester. She then pursued a career in librarianship and studied for an MSc Econ in Information and Library Studies at the University of Aberystwyth. In 2013, she returned to the University of Chichester to undertake an MA in Creative Writing. In 2016 she achieved a Distinction and was awarded joint winner of the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize. She is currently studying for a Ph.D and is working towards a full collection of poems about motherhood.
She writes, paints, and lives with her husband and two children near the South Downs.

Photo: Natalie Miller
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Jan Ball – objects from childhood

objects from childhood

There weren’t many objects in the room,
no walls filled with leather-bound books
bought in quantity from anonymous E-Bay
or individually discovered, selected lovingly
at yard-sales across the city, no albums
filled with baseball cards placed showily
on the bottom shelf of the coffee table, “Oh,
yes, this is my baseball card collection,” or
flo-blue china dispersed around the walls
in artistic arrangements, meant to catch
the soothing, evening light, rather just
a hollow metal elephant that felt cool
against your cheek whatever the weather
and a pink conch shell that held the ocean.
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266 of Jan Ball’s poems appear in journals such as: Calyx, Connecticut
Review, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, and Phoebe, in Great Britain, Canada, India,
Ireland and the U.S. Jan’s two chapbooks: accompanying spouse (2011) and
Chapter of Faults (2014) were published with Finishing Line Press. Jan’s
first full-length poetry book, I Wanted to Dance with My Father was published
by Finishing Line Press in September, 2017. When not working out, gardening at
their farm or traveling, Jan and her Australian husband like to cook for
friends.

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Judi Sutherland – In the Dream Museum

In The Dream Museum

A corridor of smooth stone, where two
high windows let in brilliant blue.
At the far end, a pithos stands, as tall
as me, or taller. Glass cases line the walls.

More rows of cabinets in a dim side-room
part Burrell Collection (underwater gloom
and multiple reflections) part Pitt-Rivers
(shrunken heads and capes of ostrich-feathers).

People in shorts with cameras walk about
silently among exhibits. I move out
into another, brighter gallery, where the wall
displays a crevice, seismic and diagonal,

I slide my hand in, expecting mortared stones.
but pull out organs; liver, lights and bones,
Something I once knew makes sense of everything;
the rubble inside a wall is called the ‘hearting’.

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Judi Sutherland is a poet based in Barnard Castle, County Durham. Her pamphlet ‘The Ship Owner’s House’ was published in spring 2018 by Vane Women Press.