William Bedford – Featured Poet


i.m. Walter Bedford

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,*
the chauffeur’s son showed me the attics,
long empty corridors and servants’ rooms,
net curtains blowing at cobwebbed windows.

‘They might find us,’ is what I wanted to say,
imagining the crack of autumn guns.
‘They’re away,’ he scoffed, reading my mind:
the family, the servants, priests on the run.

In the library, a visitor worked at his books:
a priestly recorder in a pennyfeather mood,
a yellow waistcoat and hot complexion,
crouched at his words like a smith at the forge.**

In the grounds, under oak and hornbeam,
my father hit the ball to the boundary,
shouting ‘Yes!’ as he raced for the wickets,
still running when the umpire called for tea.

In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
all that was begun ended. Our brief goodbye
and a wave, then the plane taking off
like a cricketer running for the boundary.

*William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman.
**A friend of the Brownlow family, Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor to Belton House, where he liked to work in the library.

(Humber Estuary: 1955)

The last thing our Guy Fawkes will see
is the sea coming to rescue him.
But the sea won’t reach. The rockets
and Catherine wheels will reach,

but the tide is too low to dowse a fire.
Shrivelled to penny eyes and shells for teeth,
his ashes will drift to the estuary,
his wide mouth leak the oils and tars

of Sheffield’s industrial froth.
Push-netters shrimping the shallows
might have helped if they had hearts,
but they’re ranters and levellers to a man.

Everybody loves a bonfire.
Everybody loves to see Guy Fawkes burned.
The crowds will pay sixpence for fresh crab
and shrimps in brown paper bags.

The last thing our Guy Fawkes will see
is the cocklers and inshore fishermen,
warm in tarred oilskins and sou’westers,
pretending they are boys again,

shouting for the death of the straw man,
the fire of belief in their eyes,
the fists of the future in their hands,
a dance of screaming crowds in the sea.

William Bedford is a prize-winning poet and novelist. Red Squirrel Press published his The Fen Dancing in 2014. His poem ‘The Journey’ won First Prize in the 2014 London Magazine International Poetry Competition. Another poem ‘Then’ won First Prize in the 2014 Roundel Poetry Competition. In the autumn of 2015, Red Squirrel Press published The Bread Horse, a new collection of poems.

Sally Douglas reviews blueshift: Art from Poetry – Poetry from Art

blueshift: Art from Poetry – Poetry from Art, edited by Karen Dennison

blueshift is a beautiful little pamphlet consisting of a sequence of fifteen pieces of artwork and poetry, each by different writers and artists, and each responding to the one before: a chain reaction of visual and textual imagery which is a delight to experience.
The poems and the artworks are all very different, each a free and often tangential response to the previous work, and this is part of what makes the reading of this book such an exciting experience. However, even when the relationships are quite oblique, there is always a linking thread, like a strong but very fine wire, glinting from under the surface of the text.

The first poem in the collection, Rebecca Gethin’s ‘Wolf Moon’ responds to ‘Corvus’ by Emmy Verschoor, a mixed media work featuring a wolf silhouette against a background of abstracted greens and blacks. The poem tells of

a landscape weeping into another form
of itself – leaf vein to bird’s song, forest to river valley

and this could be seen as a metaphor for the pamphlet itself, the way in which each work transforms and transmutes some aspect of the one before.

Lizanne van Essen’s cut-and-fold artwork ‘Wolf Moon’ takes the ‘dark labyrinth’ of Rebecca Gethin’s poem and transforms it into a sharp layered monochrome forest with the wolf a barely visible dark shadow baying at a low translucent moon. Saras Feijoo’s ‘She Who wanted to Fly’, transmutes the wolf moon of Agnes Marton’s poem ‘Captain Fly’s Journey to the Wolf Moon’ into the soft blues and greens and greys of pastels and graphite. This then is taken up by Stephanie Arsoska and becomes ‘The Girl in Blue’ whose

…song is a dark needle

reaching to where sky
hems the land

and these images are in turn interpreted in a stunning textile work by Tessa Frampton.


Throughout the pamphlet these reinterpretations shift and breathe as the different poets and artists pick up on something from the previous work and take it to a different place. One of the things I found very satisfying was the way in which the colours move through a spectrum as the series progresses. We start with blacks and whites, cold greens , blues; but after ‘Blueshift’, the poem by Pam Job which was chosen for the title of the series, brings in flamenco and mantillas and Lorca, Pete Kennedy’s digital collage ‘Sifting the words of your siguirillas’ incorporates a flash of fire, and suddenly the heat rushes into the collection. Karen Dennison’s ‘Guitar Dreams’ is full of light: a ‘face engulfed / by white flames’, doves’ wingtips ‘singed/ by noon sun’ and lips ‘scorched […] pomegranate red’.

From this point on the poems speak more of an interior space. Claire Collison runs with the pomegranate image with an acrylic painting of uneasy red seeds packed into a jar and a powerful poem about illness, in which the speaker, because the experimental drug she is taking is called ‘Persephone’, dreams she is making pomegranate jam, dropping ‘pink gobbets into sterilised jars’ :

Your aunt tells you to sieve it, but you say no,
it’s not to eat, it’s to look at.


(Emmy Verschoor)

Another stunning image, Sheena Drayton’s ‘Persephone’s Mistake’, leads Becky Cherriman into memories of art classes art school where ‘parts of me rotted dark in corners’, and the final image, ‘Frustration’ by Sam Smith, beautifully rounds off the collection by drawing all the colours together in a surreal oil painting of a green pear impaled by red, orange and blue coloured pencils.

One of the great pleasures of reading this book is the physical beauty of it. The production values are superb: each image is beautifully reproduced on high quality paper, and each poem is given plenty of space to breathe. It is a pleasure to look at and to handle, which is important, since these poems and artworks make the reader want to keep going back to find more and more resonances and relationships between them.

blueshift is the second pamphlet produced by Karen Dennison to have its genesis in an ekphrastic chain of responses. In fact, it is a continuation of the first, since Emmy Verschoor’s ‘Corvus’ is a direct response to the final work in Book of Sand, (2014), E.E. Nobbs’ fabulous poem of the same name.
This is a collection to be read and re-read. I do hope the series continues and there are more to come.

Sally Douglas is a Devon-based writer with a particular interest in visual art. Her first poetry collection, Candling the Eggs, won the Cinnamon Press 2009 Poetry Award, and her poems have appeared widely in journals. She blogs at sallydouglas.blogspot.co.uk.

Rebecca Gethin #antibullyingweek

Out of politeness

… he said it wasn’t something he’d had
to do before… something bad
in her blood, or the hands she’d
inherited that made the food she cooked

inedible. Nobody wanted to be
friends now that she wore long
sleeves. Not something she could
talk about. She’d cross the road. He followed

behind. She was possessed by someone
other than herself and so must be
disciplined. It was a refrain,
a baby left crying, an uncleaned

lavatory bowl. It was the pattering
of rats’ feet in the roof space,
or was it in the wall, or across
the floor? She shovelled the snow

while he watched telly programmes
for the messages he received. When
someone said it was time for him to move
on she begged him to stay, on

her knees, weeping till her hair was wet.
She was so daft she walked into a
door one night. When the baby
arrived, no one sent a card.

Rebecca Gethin won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award with her first novel, which was published in 2011. Her first poetry collection, River is the Plural of Rain, was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. What the Horses Heard, A Handful of Water and Liar Dice are published by Cinnamon Press. Oracles, a poetry pamphlet to be published by Three Drops from a Cauldron in 2016. She has worked as a creative writing tutor in a prison and currently works as a freelance creative writing tutor and writer. Blog

Karen Dennison reviews Smashed Glass at Midnight by J V Birch

Smashed glass at midnight cover imageThis chapbook of twenty poems is published by Picaro Press, an imprint of Ginninderra Press. It is notable for its narrow shape, egg-shell-like cover paper and transparent endpaper. The poems are about loss in a number of contexts, including failing relationships, childlessness, hospital admissions and dementia.

Each poem brings a distilled image with an intense focus where the abstract and the unseen often become embodied things. For example, in Sense of an ending – ‘The air between us is tired/wants to lie down/dream of doors being open’ and In What the old house thinks ‘my yellow’ is a living thing that once danced and sang and has now been stolen.

Emotions also become living entities, through the use of visual metaphor, that communicate with, possess, and control the speaker. In Offspring loss has its own will, taking the form of an unwanted companion, and ends up being carried in the speaker’s handbag and releasing itself as a ‘god-awful sound’. And in Instinct, ‘..it stood awkward at her door/ in a uniform it couldn’t breathe in.’

The poems also have the feel of a dreamlike distance as if the speaker is looking back on the past,  detached from an earlier self where there was a sense of loss of control; where her body, hands and mouth had their own minds. From Admission – ‘her hands restless spiders make nests in her hair’ and she ‘moves her words to her fingers/ touches her mouth when she wants to speak’. Loss of control also features in Body where ‘many women have choices/mine are made for me.’

The image of the mouth punctuates these poems, recurring like an archetype where sounds and words are involuntarily released and then purposefully held-back. In Release, ‘I peel down/unravel myself./ Start with the flap at my mouth that’s teased for too long.’

Paper and folding also feature as metaphors for fragility and acceptance / closure. In Revelation ‘you thin me to paper’; in What the new wife does ‘she folds into routine’ and in Leaving ‘I place my goodbye on the table/ seven years of tears/ line dried, folded in pairs’.

This collection really resonated with me and its images stayed with me long after reading, a reflection of their strength and symbolism. I highly recommend it.

To end, here’s 17 years in full which I have chosen because of the stunning ‘moths that martyr the windows’.

17 years

Our mouths are no longer in love
they forget their place
what they used to be.

After rising I pair lonely hellos
spend the day elsewhere
although you left some time before this.

And still we return
to goodnights like moths that martyr the window
until we fold into ourselves.


Karen Dennison is a poet and artist. Her website is here.

J V Birch is a British poet living in Southern Australia. Her website.

Barbara Cumbers #antibullyingweek


The fat child stands in the woman’s reflection
fingering parallel marks on thighs and belly,
pale vanes bedraggled in folds and creases

of overstretched skin.
− Did she eat too much and become graceless?
− Was she graceless so she ate too much?

It doesn’t matter which. The vanes
aren’t those of feathers, weightless strength
that can hold the air – the fat can’t fly.

The fat child plays alone by the lake
where the swans do not call her names.
She sees white water elegance

and its loss in a change of element –
a flat-footed flapping run like a fat child
struggling, then the lift

to sing in the air, heaviness dropping away
like the park and the lake
under outstretched wings.


Barbara Cumbers earned her living as an information officer in the NHS and is a former associate lecturer in geology for the Open University. She lives in London, with a husband and two cats. Her first full collection, A Gap in the Rain is due out from Indigo Dreams next month.

Prole Laureate Competition

Winner: £200, Publication in Prole 19 in April 2016
Publication on the Prole website
2 x runner up prizes of £50, possible publication in Prole 19
Publication on the Prole website

KateWe’re thrilled to have Kate O’Shea as our judge this year. One time tabloid hack, Kate is probably the best-known unknown poet in Dublin and is widely published in international journals, anthologies and online. Her latest publications were in The Saranac Review, Orbis, Cyphers, Outburst, and Prole. Her chapbook, Crackpoet, is available on Amazon. She was short listed for the Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition and the Patrick Kavanagh Award twice. Most recently she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in America. Kate’s work has featured on radio and has been translated into several languages.
Eight new poems will be published later this year in three anthologies.
To read some of Kate’s recent work, click here and here.
Entries will be anonymised before being sent to judge.

Time scale
We will receive entries from October 1st 2015 to January 31st 2016.
Winners will be announced in issue 19 of Prole in April 2016 and on our website by April 20th 2016.

We are, as ever, open regarding style, length and content. What we are after is poetry that epitomises the editorial values of Prole: to make writing engaging, accessible, entertaining and challenging. Quality is all.
All work must be the original work of the writer and be unpublished.

£3.00 for first entry, £2.00 for any subsequent entries.

For full details of how to enter please see our website:

What Sarah Salway is reading

pink_mistPink Mist by Owen Sheers published by Faber.

Pink Mist follows three friends from Bristol, who join the army and have just returned from Afghanistan. The three men all cope – or don’t – in different ways, and it’s poignant to read how Sheers researched through interviews with soldiers and their families before writing. Pink Mist was commissioned as a verse drama by BBC Bristol, but works on the page (although there are bits I can’t resist reading aloud):

Just this high ringing.
Like something left on too long.
That was all I could hear.
I remember the sky too.
Blue, clear.
But that was all.

I’m partly reading it to marvel at it, but I’m also working on my own verse-drama (on a completely different subject) so it’s fascinating to see how another writer has managed the form so well. It’s a masterclass at conjuring different rhythms, sensibilities, experiences and voices – not to mention mental states – using our only material: words.

For further info on Sarah have a look here.

What Clare Best is reading

MarkOn the poetry side, at the moment I’m revisiting one or two earlier collections by Mark Doty as well as dipping into his latest, Deep Lane (Cape 2015, £10), which I’m finding delicious in the way it looks at maturity – head on but with such grace and joy. I heard Mark read at the Aldeburgh poetry prom in August and I’m enjoying the sound of his voice in my head when I read the poems on the page. ‘Spent’ is my favourite poem in Deep Lane and I keep returning to it, relishing the mix of pathos, humour and skilled craftsmanship

I’m also reading Send – a new novel by Kay Syrad (Cinnamon Press 2015, £9.99) which almost counts as poetry because the experience is very like reading poetry. It’s a wonderful book – humane, intriguing, beautifully written, full of sparkling ideas, with plenty to chew on.


Another book I’m currently spending quality time with is The Book as Art:book art Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, edited by Krystyna Wasserman (Princeton Architectural Press 2007/11, $34.95). This is a gorgeous volume – superbly produced, rich in illustration and with insightful essays by Johanna Drucker and Audrey Niffenegger.

I could go on… and on… but I’ll stop there for now.

Further information about Clare can be found on her website.