My cheap Zenith spooled ready; long waits
outdoors or at windows all part of the show –
sunsets take time to ripen, fire fruit softened
then swallowed; each slow motion arc around
Basildon Bond sky a balloon descent, circus
of citrus, multivitamin shades spilled layer
by layer. Blood orange, pomegranate, charred
lemon and fig spooned honey-thick down throat
of horizon; eyes widen click by click, tongue
overspent on adjectives until the stage clears –
interval before nightshow moon; up there
somewhere, face behind the curtain.
Paul Waring is a retired clinical psychologist who once designed menswear and sang in several Liverpool bands. His poems have been published in print journals, anthologies and webzines. He was runner-up in the 2019 Yaffle Prize and commended in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition. His debut pamphlet ‘Quotidian’ is published by Yaffle Press.
Lost Below the Surface
Stilled water holds our secrets in silt,
language of sand, leaf,, root,
words lost below the surface.
These are the opening words of the first section of this remarkable book. Sometimes you hold your breath in anticipation of a poetry collection, musing on how the writer will deal with the subject matter. This has been, for me, one such occasion.
Already a very accomplished poet, Alison Lock creates an inspiring and unique lyrical account of a near death experience with her particular emphasis on environment and natural landscapes and how they interconnect with human understanding.
Lure captures the reader, pulling them into re-living her horrendous accident and the surroundings in which it occurred. At no time does the poet feel sorry for herself but rather connects with nature in order to find a path through her predicament in a place so familiar to her, where she was walking with her dog one early morning. Part I is one long lyrical evocation from the moment it happened:
There is the mark
on the place where broken rocks
are my bones, cold meltwater my blood.
Earth, air, water, spirit.
It was early one morning in April
when I entered her waters
in a flash of a kingfisher’s stripe
I might never have seen.
I do not remember. The falling.
It is a tribute to a great writer that she is able to recall observations at such a time, trapped under water, alone, without a sense of panic but rather of seeking a way to become a part of the place in which she finds herself, following roots and branches and debris in order to find a way out. She becomes as one with her surroundings, following the rhythm that can keep her afloat. Until the questions:
Will I ever be found, this weed-bound me
this creature of pond, in plight?
Unknown to me my back is broken. I am truly felled.
I am a wolf, snarling into another life, circling wider and wider.
What follows is a song of place, an intimacy of circumstances, where two lives – that of the earth, the other of a person at one with it, until we reach the end of the first section:
Hands, knees, reaching, inching.
I am the widening side
where the spilled earth
has been lifted, tipped into a pyramid
of brick, a rubble of razing.
I sink, I can go no further,
on, in, pain, dark.
Too cold, too cold, I am too cold.
Part II (I Am Found) consists more of individual poems – each one a part of the long haul to recovery – the hospital, the back brace, the physio – each one a song to nature as if rediscovering not only herself but the world around her – until winter arrives:
Fault lines diminish, as I heal
the honeycomb of bone is mending
with the glue
of collagen, salt, calcium,
phosphate elements to re-create me.
So now I have the words, I have darkness, and I have hope.
The Epitaph – part III ends with the beautiful words:
I leave you the herons by the stream,
their silent flights known only by their shadow.
This book is a song waiting to be sung – I have tried to provide a glimmer of the treasure in store for the reader. This is a one-off, courageous, work about a landscape which held the power of life or death – the reader quickly becomes as much a part of this landscape as the trauma with which it is intertwined. A highly recommended work which will quickly become one you may wish to dip into often – a reminder that life is a gift.
Emily is an English/Dutch writer. Her poetry and prose have been published in various journals in the UK and USA, including Porridge and Fearsome Critters. She is completing her post-graduate studies in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, on the self in the time of selfies, and the value of community and joy in writing.
It is morning, too early to know
if the breeze will turn into a horse,
standing still, eyes closed.
If it were to become a lost dog,
you’ll see it running, yelping the length
of that black drystone wall.
A field like this could be anywhere.
Think green, think clouds. Think winter.
In my memory, it’s early evening, sunny.
The ropes of a hot air balloon stretched taut.
Fokkina’s poems have been widely anthologised, successful in competitions, and published in a range of magazines, including Orbis, Magma, The North, Poetry News, Little Mslexia, erbacce, Strix. Her debut collection Another life was published by Oversteps Books in 2016. Indigo Dreams Publishing will publish a second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous later this year. http://www.acaciapublications.co.uk
What the Owl Taught Me
Lapwing Publications 2020 £11
Annest Gwilym’s first collection is an exploration of the countryside, and especially the wildlife, in her native Wales. The book is loosely based on the tradition of a bestiary, so includes some imaginary as well as real animals. Nature is closely observed and Gwilym brings a great eye for detail to her writing, combined with some very evocative imagery.
In Crows, the opening poem, she says the birds:
huddle like conspirators
in slick black suits
She references their sharp-eyed observation and speed at finding carrion as they:
polished as pickpockets.
Gwilym also creates a sense of the intelligence of this group of birds when she says:
their keen eyes know that
beyond the bright cathedral
of the sky, the dark is deep.
Doorway is one of the few poems in the collection that focuses on plants, rather than animals.The observation is sharp and detailed. I love the idea that:
Sly fingers of ivy
creep darkly over one side
This image captures the way ivy colonises plants and fences when you are looking the other way, and suddenly the plant has made a constricting take-over bid for trees, fences, and in this case a disused doorway. Gwilym also picks up the way ivy provides a home and shelter for wildlife, here describing a butterfly as it:
prints red and black on it,
folds its wings as in prayer
In The Last Woolly Mammoth Gwilym takes a leap of imagination to picture how the final days of the last woolly mammoth must have been. She describes the way mammoth were hunted and scavenged by stone-age man for their skins and bones, providing food, warmth and shelter. She pictures the death of the last mother mammoth:
The mother sinks into permafrost,
trumpets a final cry only he hears
The young mammoth is left alone to survive as best he can:
He keeps vigil; forages, shovels snow
for sweet grasses
Gwilym shows the other giants of the time, safe out of the reach of Man, for the moment:
Out in the bay the only other giants,
bow head whales and belugas
crest the sea like glossy grey boulders
She describes the mammoth’s death:
Alone on Wrangel Island polar night
closes round him
like a shroud.
On a different scale, Green Tiger Beetle is one of the poems in the collection that presents a picture of a small creature, one that could be so easily overlooked, and examines it in great detail:
In a marram forest sweetened by lilac trumpets
of shore convolvulus, a tiny sun-crazed tiger
lies in wait
Gwilym shows us a:
gaudy long legged lady,
in sea-green dress and purple stockings
The beetle is always watchful, always on the prowl. She:
scans the dunes in fearful symmetry;
still as the breath of a foxglove
When she spots her prey:
fast as fire in parched moorland
she sprints after a spider […] across crumbs
of silica and seashell.
The spider has no chance, and the poem ends as:
the six legged slayer […] grabs,
decapitates, gorges with guillotine jaws.
The Moon Hedgehog is a delightful introduction to this well-known but threatened mammal. Gwilym imagines the genesis of the animal:
One night the moon cracked open
and out he tumbled, with newborn spines
that pricked the air in their fire-beauty
She pictures his arrival on earth:
Golden tipped sea urchin, he fled
through looms of leaves fingered by spiders
and night crackling grass
The poem concludes with a close look at the hedgehog’s habits, and the ways he is so useful to gardeners:
A barn owl chafed the caverns of sleep;
all night he snuffled, snaffled slugs and worms,
blackened his lips with soft blackberries,
fell asleep at dawn drunk on moon-juice.
The last poem in the collection, There are Horses looks at the pressures and threats that the natural world faces today, particularly from the demands of planners. Gwilym opens the poem:
There are horses where they wanted houses
where the planning failed, where iron age people
once looked over the strait, their dreamless bones
now polished clean
She remembers the long tradition of early settlers, who also lived on the site, but whose homes have disappeared.:
Gone the round houses smelling of old smoke;
now ragwort, willow herb, meadowsweet prevail
Below in owl-haunted woods trees absorb
the bite of the wind that sifts through grasses
Gwilym comments on the wildlife still living on in the area:
Young hares shiver in forms as a hawk wheels
The poem concludes:
the three horses and their foals,
nuzzled by sun, licked by rain. Those bright horses
of the night canter into my dreams.
This is a hugely enjoyable collection. We meet a great variety of animals, from herring gulls to bluebottles. Gwilym showcases the natural world in a most imaginative way, making us aware of the beauty that surrounds us if we only look closely, and which could so easily be under threat from development.
a translation of ‘Chant d’ouverture’ by Angele Paoli
Death your bit clicking my bones
you brush close you huff
your rotten song up my nostrils
you dance under leafy trees skulk
in cracks of rocks you rasp
your black laugh in the hinges of my hips
– who are you
to scrape barren soil then broadcast
in passing the foul stink
of your winds
who dance dancing with your bones
skiffing and jumping around me
your scythe scores earth
and you swell sky with your cunning
spine flesh gone gulped
– what do you want now
so many corpses don’t they fill you
keep you fat –
I see them sneering
gap-toothed mouth dismantled chin
flung back to earth
still you champ at the bit
Angèle Paoli is a Corsican poet, novelist and translator. She runs the on-line feminist review Terres de femmes and was winner of the Aristotle European Prize for French Poetic Criticism in 2013. Recent publications include La Montagne couronnée (2014), Les Feuillets de la Minotaure (2015), the novel Artemesia allo specchio (2018) and translations of Luigia Sorrentino.
Martyn Crucefix: recent publications are Cargo of Limbs (Hercules Editions, 2019), These Numbered Days, translations of the poems of Peter Huchel (Shearsman, 2019) and The Lovely Disciplines (Seren, 2017). Currently a Royal Literary Fund fellow at Westminster University, he blogs regularly on poetry, translation and teaching at http://www.martyncrucefix.com
This years theme is Post Apocalypse to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the publication of the classic novel Riddley Walker.
The organisers are looking for poems which respond to the themes of this novel. Write about an area, a society, a world before, during or after a nuclear disaster, a pandemic, a deluge or any other disaster. You might narrow the scope to write about an individual’s personal disaster. The mood can be negative or positive.
The moist dark of it:
the rush of bat wings
turning in my face,
the whining of mosquitoes
flooding the door.
The churn of it:
the shallow well
water and small pebbles
crazed by the pump.
The arch of it:
duck or knock-head granite,
the stone cobbles
slipped and bedded
The wild of it:
the rust-toothed shrews,
farm cats on patrol,
and last the marten
peering with terrible eyes.
Zoe Brooks lives in Gloucestershire. She has been published in a wide range of magazines, most recently in Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, Prole, Dreamcatcher, and Fenland Reed. Her long poem Fool’s Paradise received the EPIC award for best poetry ebook 2013. Her collection Owl Unbound is to be published by Indigo Dreams 2020.
Outside rain sounds on
A bluntness of wind
A glorious closing off
I lay here in my bed attentive
To such sound, the thrill of it,
This my own isolation, a disconnect
From whatever being alive is, a sufferance
Willing to shift, unable, maybe
Like my own wantings warming me
The rain in a bluntness of wind
As now I am becoming, absent
As always from dreams of dreams again
The syllables of my name drifting off
I have no knowledge of
And emptied utterly, utterly emptied
John R Cornwall lives in a small town called Great Harwood in the North West of England, its only claim to fame being it was granted a Royal Charter in 1666 meaning that it could call itself a market town. He gained a BA (Hons.) English Literature & Philosophy from the University of Hull and a Diploma (with distinction) from the University of Lancaster in Creative Writing specialising in Poetry. His work has appeared in many online and print collections the most recent being A Contemporary Review of English Poetry alongside Andrew Motion, a former Poet Laureate and Brian Patten.
He enjoys photography exhibitions, the Theatre usually in Manchester until the present lockdown meaning that all events have been put on hold and for what length of time no one can be sure, unfortunately. He is particularly fond of the work of Sylvia Plath the focus of his PhD dissertation, and Carol Anne Duffy whose regular recitals he has attended and the work of Camus, Sartre, Beckett, Alan Bennett and the music of Beethoven, Bach and Handle. He currently lectures at the University of Central Manchester and at times the Universities of Hull and Bradford although during these uncertain times education has had to be put on hold and, again, no one can be certain when the new normal will appear and students can begin to plan their lives out once more.