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Roundel, Tonbridge – Jacquie Wyatt, Rennie Halstead, Jenny Herbert and Charlie Bell


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Based in Tonbridge, Kent, Roundel was formed in 2012. We meet twice monthly, on a Wednesday morning and a Saturday afternoon, to develop our skills, and critique our work. In September 2021, Abegail led a workshop for us exploring the epistolatory form. Some of the poems here are the product of that session..

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Dear Saturday Market Stallholder

I was infused with the nettle fizz
of jeopardy. What if you were
no longer there? Might you appear
the same but be lost to me?

Sorry, but your face makes me
think of a halved lemon
dripping yellow clarity.
Seeing you reminded me
of sliding a much-used boat
in to calm waters.

All the hair’s gone from your head,
now it’s a white forest curling
out of your shirt. You raised an eyebrow:
And where have you been?

I couldn’t think of an answer.
Last year’s events, people and places
scaffolding for this moment,
now dissembled.

Jacquie Wyatt

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Harris Tweed

The jacket hung on the bannister post,
rough Harris Tweed, blue lovat plaid
faded to a mottled grey.

I’d bury my nose in the rough
texture, wool softened with age,
run toddler’s fingers through the ripped lining,
my silky. Leather patches sewn on
worn elbows. Shapeless pockets,
the button hole with his union badge,
remembrance poppy
or a flower from the allotment.

He wore it on cool evenings,
not wanting a coat, or going fishing
for winter pike, or digging when
the ground was hard with frost.
Some days he would wrap it round me,
threaten to carry me off to the frozen north
to adventures with whales and polar bears.

On dark nights I’d slip it on
in the hallway in secret,
search pockets for treasure:
his silver hip flask, flower seeds,
Fisherman’s Friends, once a fish-hook
snagged under my finger-nail, his cap
rolled up, and once a packet of condoms,
the embarrassed cough when I asked
how they worked.

Rennie Halstead

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Rennie writes poetry, flash fiction and reviews poetry for London Grip. He lives in Kent.

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Bliss

Beneath a jaunty umbrella
the baby, six months now
heavy in his sling
heavy on her back.
Her thoughts already
on a hot cup of coffee
and hopefully a sleepy child.

Not so long ago she was smart
organised, respected, in demand.
Now only dishes wait,
the laundry basket full.
The smell of damp clothes
permeate the house.

She longs for her mother’s smile,
her arms to rock the baby
soothe his hunger cries.
She yearns to lie beneath
ironed sheets to drift and dream.

Team meetings where her word
was law, admired, respected.
A large salary three holidays a year,
life was pretty good.
Her high powered partner away again.
Paris then Amsterdam. Only ten days
this time he said with a smile.

The sinking feeling in the pit
of her stomach, a smile on her face
as she waved goodbye.

Now the days are long the weather grey,
what should be joy feels anything but.

She pulls the blinds down.
The baby sleeps, she sleeps.

Jenny Herbert

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Dear Colonel
We didn’t even know we were friends

It was a grisly way to go,
and in a ghoulish sort of way I foresaw it all.

That Saturday, three weeks before,
when I was clearing the lush dense jungle
of your old chicken run.
Do you remember?

At the back I had found your chicken hut,
slowly going to pieces but still serviceable,
just like your own arthritic, bent-backed house.
The roofing felt had partly blown off
in sympathy with the tiles on the house roof,
stripped during the hurricane.

Poor old house.
It’s ancient fabric daily
collapsing in on itself,
just like your body was slowly
collapsing in on you.
I could see that life had become one long battle
to stop things falling apart.

On that clear cold day,
even though it was worth saving,
I poured paraffin over the chicken hut
and set it alight, before piling against it
the rest of the rubbish.
I’m not quite sure why.

I didn’t have to do it, things just got out of hand.
The air was full of the stench of burning dampness,
of scorching green stems as the skin peeled back,
of paraffin and bitumen.
The world crackled, spat, showered, scorched, melted and charred.
Dense smoke choked the air.
For a moment I stood transfixed, eyes out of focus,
face, clothes and skin almost alight.
Inside, I knew I should not be doing it.

When you arrived the knives of fire were eight feet high:
the structure white hot.
I could see the disappointment in your eyes
through the haze of gin,
through the medication,
but apart from a mild comment, you did not rebuke me.
You knew you wouldn’t be keeping hens again.
Another of your cherished dreams finally meeting reality.

Poor old colonel.
I didn’t want to be the one
to destroy your ramshackle dreams.
I wasn’t to know that,
only a short time later,
you’d set yourself on fire with exactly the same stupidity
as me torching your chicken coop.
I wasn’t to know that on that coldest of cold days,
when you changed the gas cylinder
it would ignite in a ball of flame
and set alight the faded, dry as tinder curtains.
I could not foresee that instead of getting out of the room,
you would try to remove the flaming cylinder itself.
I could not foresee your foolish, stumbling end.

Still, I know all about the foolishness of playing with fire.
And I don’t have the excuse of being full of painkillers,
and getting on in years.

The house,
a crumbling collection of bits from the scrapyard of your life,
stood, charred, silent, mourning, for over a year
before the bulldozers moved in.

I dare say that the owners of the new mansion
will not want to keep chickens.
The grounds will be groomed with nail scissor precision.
There will be no place for the clutter of your garden room,
the chaos of your greenhouse,
the wilful wood at the end of the lawn,
the overgrown, sunken rose garden,
the collapsing weather-boarded garage:
the detritus of your sadly broken lifetime.

So, I miss you, Colonel
and the pain of your going haunts me still,
even though I hardly knew you at all.

Charlie Bell
Charlie is a well-known Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells author, poet, and creative writing tutor. He regularly runs one-man shows and in four years has raised £3000 for charity. His next show, ‘Selfie – This Old Man’, an examination of the ageing process, will be held early next year.

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Remains

This is the case with the casts from Pompeii:
the bent and huddled shapes that cowered in fear
as the ash fell, choking and singeing, trapping them.
So they lay for two thousand years, until
after the uncovering, casts were made
of their body shapes so we could see
their last tortured hours.

And here, behind glass in the hot sun
lie those ancient shapes, while in the corner
a small sparrow, hopping in for a curious moment
could find no escape for himself
so shares their tomb;
the same that baked him alive
keeps the dead safe.

Avis Eaton

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