Karen Dennison reviews Andy Armitage’s Letters to a First Love from the Future

aaaaaaLetters to a first love from the future by Andy Armitage charts the birth, life, death and aftermath of this first relationship that begins at school and is a heartfelt, honest and moving memorial of words.

The speaker’s love is portrayed as a form of religious worship which is betrayed by doubt and throughout the poems there is a foreshadowing of the relationship’s end and its psychological wounds.

The collection begins with Snapshot, a blurred image of which is also included before the contents page, where the couple are in the playground “heads leant together in idiot hope”. The speaker describes his hands at his sides “like the hands of a stopped clock”. Here is a longing to stop time and preserve this moment, not just its image.

The next poem, Sally, begins “on the last day I didn’t love you” and takes us to a specific moment of a specific day when love struck and shows a clear demarcation between two eras, a point of complete and utter change to his world.

In Moonstruck

“My mind had caught hold the string
of your rising moon,
buoyed me to such heights,
letting go was suddenly unthinkable.

And so, drunk with sleeplessness,
I hung about the stars
admiring your wonderful

Among school children recalls a “year of hours” of trying to get her attention by things like acting up in class until he finally gets up the courage to speak to her. Poems that follow cement the relationship with stolen kisses and illicit meetings but also how he “snares” her with laughter and acts the clown to entertain her. Et in Arcadia ego brings his future eye to the past, foretelling their parting with references to death –

“We know nothing of years or distance.
Your eyes are brimming with dead stars.

Do not let go my hand just yet.”

In Cross Gates Station, where she lives is “the holy place where I’d alight each school night” and there is allusion to the symbolism of crucifixion. In The Playing Fields images of hidden death and wounds begin to become stronger, juxtaposed against his enduring love –

“………………………… I held you
tight as a bud holds its flower
and tried to staunch the wound of myself
as you unfurled in my hands.”


“……………………There are broken wings
and little skulls under the thickening hedgerows
but to me it is as though nothing has ever wintered.”

The collection moves to the couple together in his first bedsit and there is a kind of desperation to hold onto her which becomes claustrophobic – “But you could not bloom/ in the stony ground of my petty/ ambitions.”

The wound alludes to Thomas the Doubter who needed to touch Christ’s wounds to believe in his resurrection. In this poem the speaker reflects how his doubt was part of what seeded the impending split, how he needs her physical presence to believe she is with him –

“I just couldn’t believe you’d come back
until I’d touched the wound under your ribs.”

In the next phase of the relationship she leaves for university and there’s the Dear John ending followed by trying to let go and start a new life. Hoarder begins

“It’s difficult knowing where to start,
clearing a space to live in
among the clutter of the heart,..”

A longitude of longing is a particularly moving and beautiful poem underpinned by a strong metaphor. In Eurydice, with reference to the Greek myth, it’s as if in looking back on the past he is losing her all over again – “so let these songs stand in for what I lack/ because I could not but look back.”

At the end, Eucharist returns to love as a form of bodily worship – ”But know this – I have been faithful/ as a widower in my old religion,// keeping your candle alight.”

This is a universal story of love that most people will relate to and yet of course intensely personal in a beautifully honest and very approachable way that draws the reader in and elicits empathy and understanding. It’s also a story that’s been told many times but it’s never tired in this author’s hands and the images are clear, fresh and poignant with a particularly effective use of religious, memento mori and mythological imagery/references which bring extra layers of depth and symbolism. Highly recommended.


Karen Dennison won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011 resulting in the publication in 2012 of her first collection Counting Rain. Her second collection, The Paper House, will be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in Spring 2019. Karen is editor and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand and Blueshift (longlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2016). 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 co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press. Her website is https://kdennison.wordpress.com/


Gene Groves – Limestone Fossil In The Great North Museum, Newcastle.

Limestone Fossil In The Great North Museum, Newcastle.

This grey galaxy is crowded
with constellations of crinoids.
The longer you look, the more you see

space debris, a biplane, a whirl of windsock,
a ladder longing for infinity,
wasp nests that buzz

with unseen life. Chinese paper lanterns
to set alight this night dark Derbyshire limestone,
sea lilies, carboniferous jewels.


Gene Groves lives in Northumberland but is originally from Rhyl, Wales. She had 35 poems in Flambard New Poets 2. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines including New Welsh Review, The Interpreter’s House, Orbis, Obsessed With Pipework, Prole and Pre-Raphaelite Review. Poems online on Diamond Twig, Writers’ Cafe and Three Drops From A Cauldron.

She enjoys reading at poetry events and is working on a collection.


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Two museum poems



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Mon 20/08, 16:23


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Hi Abegail

I have attached 2 poems .


Gene Groves lives in Northumberland but is originally from Rhyl, Wales. She had 35 poems in Flambard New Poets 2. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines including New Welsh Review, The Interpreter’s House, Orbis, Obsessed With Pipework, Prole and Pre-Raphaelite Review. Poems online on Diamond Twig, Writers’ Cafe and Three Drops From A Cauldron.

She enjoys reading at poetry events and is working on a collection.


Fiona Larkin – Shiny Devices

Shiny Devices

Perhaps the compass grew more precious as the sea
of faith withdrew, prized in its brass binnacle
and tethered to the deck, needle oscillating . . .
did father, son and holy ghost lose their lustre
to cardinal pointers: north, south, east and west?
The starburst of the monstrance lies tarnished
on the shore, its consecrated bread intact
and gently staling, pale inside its mount.
I trace the rose-gold trapping of the smartphone
in my hand, feel it frame the same question
as binnacle or monstrance: where am I, where
am I going? — and do we always burnish doubt?


Fiona Larkin’s poems appear in journals such as Magma, The North and Under the Radar, and anthologies including Best New British and Irish Poets 2018 (Eyewear) and In Transit: Poems of Travel (Emma Press). She has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, and is working on her first collection. https://fionalarkinpoetry.wordpress.com


Louise Taylor – Human remains, papyrus, pulp, wood and paint: from Ancient Egypt to the Ashmolean

Human remains, papyrus, pulp, wood and paint: from Ancient Egypt to the Ashmolean

This impossible knowledge that you seek,
is it here among the gawping, masticating
Perhaps you’ve found it in the nicely-coloured papers you consult
or the gentleman’s voice flowing, as the Nile, into your ears.
Did you glimpse it even as your breath clouded
my glassy tomb?
Rub a spy-hole, why not
admire what was never meant for you:

Here are my painted eyes,
my scarlet lips,
my golden breasts.
I am no chrysalis; I am butterfly on the outside
and pupa within.


Louise Taylor’s poetry is often inspired by the natural world, history, mythology or some combination of the three. Publication credits include Synaesthesia, the Woven Tale Press, Silent Voices and Bonnie’s Crew. She is co-editor of Words for the Wild and tweets occasionally at @Sar1skaTiger.


Belinda Rimmer – In a Museum with Frida Kahlo

In a Museum with Frida Kahlo

It comes to us all. For me it came in a museum
with Frida Kahlo in the dead of night.

Shadows fell from her paintings,
slashed my pool of light.

Frida in chains. At play with a monkey.
And in a hospital bed.

The groan of cooling walls
accompanied me to the top floor.

I glimpsed Frida again in photographs –
her long neck strained, eyebrows arched,

eyes dark as my own.

No star-filled sky or lure of Lisbon streets
could wrench me from Frida.

It was my son’s voice. How he wasn’t coming home.
Not then. Not for a long time.

It comes to us all. Missing children.
For me it came in a museum with Frida Kahlo

in the dead of night.

Belinda has worked as a psychiatric nurse, counsellor, lecturer and creative arts practitioner. She has an MA in Fine and Media Arts and a doctorate in Women’s Voices in Contemporary Poetry.

Her poems have appeared in magazines: Brittle Star, Dream Catcher, The Dawntreader, Sarasvati, ARTEMISpoetry, Obsessed with Pipework, Here Comes Everyone, Eye Flash and The Cannon’s Mouth. Other poems have been published in web-zines; one was recently nominated for poem of the month on Ink Sweat & Tears.

In 2017, she won the Poetry in Motion Competition to turn her poem into a film which has since been shown internationally.


Natalie Scott – Prisoner whilst in Cell

Prisoner whilst in Cell


three shelves like a
cornered in the cell

blankets: pair of, pillow, pair of sheets, rug,
………horse-hair mattress, hammock,

spoon: wooden, plate, gruel tin,
…….salt-cellar: wooden

combs: two, hymn-book, prayer-book,
…………….floor-scrubber, Bible, brush,

not one item out of place
except me, the misplaced bride


From a forthcoming collection, Rare Birds: Voices of Holloway Prison


Natalie Scott is a Teesside-based poet and educator with a PhD in Creative Writing. She has collections published by Indigo Dreams, Bradshaw Books and Mudfog, as well as many appearances in literary journals including Ambit, Agenda and Orbis. Her collection Berth – Voices of the Titanic was awarded runner-up for the Cork Literary Review Manuscript Competition, 2011. Her latest project Rare Birds – Voices of Holloway Prison was awarded funding from the Arts Council of England.


Kirsten Irving – White dress with blood

White dress with blood

Take this sad salvage. Broderie anglaise
splattered with a batwing patch. Most likely
jugular spray. It’s gummed together
the Princess Elisa floral collar, so you can hardly
make out the trademark petals. A shame.
The iron smell is very prominent.

The puff sleeves would have lime slashes
normally, but here the satin inserts
(you see?) are brickdust and stiff.
To find early maidenwork
soiled thus, ruined – it’s heartbreaking.

It’s a coming-out number. Summer.
The wearer would have been 16, maybe 17.
Wealthy. The embroidered swallows
would have taken weeks and several hands.
If you tilt it, under the crust you can see
a courting couple under the willow.


Kirsten Irving is a poet and voiceover, and one half of the team behind collaborative poetry press Sidekick Books. She has edited and co-edited several anthologies, on topics as diverse as birds, video games, robots and Catullus. Her own writing has been published by Happenstance and Salt, widely anthologised and thrown out of a helicopter.



Nic Stringer – Caiaphas


November 1990, workers find a limestone box
while paving a road in the Peace Forest,
South of Jerusalem. Human remains frame
a legend, chip-carved Aramaic longhand –
remains like the graffiti of the industrial zones
and the nightclubs beside the Peace Forest,
South of Jerusalem. The Searcher, convenient,
practical in a bone box across the Hypocrites’
path, risen to the surface and illuminated
by the sweat of men, who see with His skin,
push and swirl through one another, bleed
for the Peace Forest, South of Jerusalem.

From A day that you happen to know, first published by Guillemot Press 2017


Nic Stringer was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes 2018 for her first collection A day that you happen to know (Guillemot Press) and has been published in anthologies, magazines and journals such as Magma and Structo. Nic also won the University of London Prize for Creative Writing in 2016 and is a member of the sound collective Fractured Strings. See and hear more at www.corruptedpoetry.com


Maggie Butt – Address book

Address book

Here names hide in the leaves
like scorpions, ambush you unawares
in the middle of the morning. Names
which scorch, their voices silent.
And what to do? Ink out?
Obliterate? The violence of night.
A truth too far.

Tippex would cover them as graves
in snow, a bump of scar tissue
reminding of the wound it hides.
A simple cross then, furled white sails
of evening, beyond which the name
remains, glimpsed as through a gate,
which opens to another time, another world.

(From petite (Hearing Eye) 2010)


Maggie Butt’s fifth poetry collection was Degrees of Twilight (The London Magazine 2015). She is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Middlesex University where she’s taught Creative Writing since 1990. Previously, she was a journalist and BBC TV documentary producer. www.maggiebutt.co.uk


Fokkina McDonnell – Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.

There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her ear rings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.


Fokkina McDonnell’s poems have been published in over 20 anthologies and in magazines, such as Magma, The North, Orbis, Poetry News, Strix, Erbacce, The Journal. Several have been placed, commended or shortlisted in competitions. Fokkina’s debut collection Another life was published by Oversteps Books in November 2016.