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Denise Bundred – Two Poems

Anatomy Theatre
………………..And She had a Heart! – E. Simonet
………………………………………..oil on canvas 1890 *

Simonet asked to observe my autopsy. I refused.
I know he painted her. Perhaps
more than just her face.

Internally, there’s a different intimacy.

Dark nipples suggest what I now fear to find.

No bruising on her neck or arms.

…………………………Down her back
livid stains show how she lay after death.

I am anxious to explore her heart.
It repeats its cadence in my ears.

I trace a line from throat to diaphragm,

………divide breast bone, splay ribs,

………………………….reflect pleura and retract lungs.

Their sponginess is lost in a congestion of blood.

I dissect veins and arteries to free the heart
from its attachments.

……….I lift it from the cavity.

A draught from the high window shivers gaslight
onto silver pericardium. Its fibres are impenetrable
to all but the sharpest blade.

I hold a troubling heaviness in my hand, recall murmurings
from my stethoscope in her shadowed room.

…………The weight tells of a fault I failed to hear.

I suspend the scale on a hook

………….and place the heart in the bowl below.

The needle swings and loses equilibrium.

.
*
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Enrique_Simonet_-_La_autopsia_-_1890.jpg

3rd place, Ledbury Poetry Competition 2019
https://www.poetry-festival.co.uk/ledbury-poetry-competition/

.

When the heart fails

fluid fills the interstitial spaces of newborn lungs.
Perihilar shadows appear on the X-ray.
Serous liquid leaks into air sacs.
They whisper together, our sponginess is lost
in a congestion of blood.
From the first breath, we want to cry
‘It’s not our fault’ but lack vocabulary
and the vocal cords are immobilised
by a tube reaching into the chest.
Their susurration is audible in crepitations.
The clue lies in careful auscultation.
Artificial ventilation cannot remove carbon dioxide
or improve oxygenation.

………………..In the kidneys, renal arteries do not provide
…………….….adequate forward flow.
………………..Venous stasis dilates capillaries
………………..inside each glomerular cup.
………………..The drip of urine drops to a trickle.
………………..A million nephrons falter,
………………..we cannot form our liquid words
………………..to pretend we’re working well.
………………..We neither absorb sodium nor excrete
………………..potassium, creatinine or water.
………………..Hyperkalaemia tickles the heart
………………..into extra-systoles.
………………..It tells us we’re not pulling our weight.
………………..We shrug metaphorical shoulders
………………..and try to hold the acid-base steady.
………………..Consultants shake their heads together,
………………..increase the infusion rate of epinephrine.

In the liver, hepatocytes necrose.
The intern reports hepatomegaly
from portal vein obstruction.
Marked elevation in the serum levels
of bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase
and the transaminases
are no surprise to anyone.
Coagulopathy complicates the picture
and fibrinogen is administered
in aliquots of ten millilitres.
Remaining liver cells advise,
someone should make a decision soon.
We understand open heart surgery
is under consideration.

………………The cor culprit slows
……………….to an erratic lub-dub, stops.
……………….It starts again in a lower gear
……………….but without momentum.
……………….In far off fetal times my myocytes contracted
……………….to grow liver, kidneys, lungs
……………….but I disordered myself early on
……………….when I failed to produce a left atrium
……………….or ventricle so I’m only half hearted.
……………….I’d just like to say,
……………….it’s up to the surgeon now.

.

Denise Bundred was a consultant paediatric cardiologist in Liverpool and has an MA in Creative Writing. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and won the Hippocrates Prize in Poetry and Medicine in 2016, coming second in 2019. She came third in the Ledbury Poetry Festival Poetry Competition in 2019. Her poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and she has poems in Envoi, Under the Radar and Magma. Her debut pamphlet, Litany of a Cardiologist, will be published by Against the Grain Press in 2020.

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Against the Grain Poetry Competition 2019 – Judge’s top tips for your entries

COMPThe very talented poet, short story writer and editor, Sarah James, is judging this year’s competition. Check out details of entering HERE.

She is passing on some top tips to help you on your way for entering this year’s competition. I posed a few questions to Sarah to find out what a judge wants from a poem and also what the poet can do to ensure their poem gets further and further up the shortlist pile.

What do you look for in a poem?

I try to come to poems openly and with as few expectations or pre-conceptions as possible, particularly as a competition judge. In terms of what I’ll be looking for in this competition, I’m only really going to be able to answer that afterwards. Things that I might anticipate finding in a poem I’ll love include striking imagery and lines that resonate long after I’ve read them. A sense of surprise that I don’t see coming but that in retrospect fits so perfectly that it seems inevitable. Admiration that makes me wish I’d written the poem myself, and feeling changed in some way after reading – the transformative power of a strong poem. I love words, so I tend to notice language choices. But having said all this, it’s probably important to add that all of these are possible without great drama or an overly flamboyant style – unless those are naturally part of the poem. In other words, everything needs to fit together to create something that’s totally unique in its own way.

Some people talk about “competition poems”. Do you think there is such a thing?

Yes. No. It depends. This is another hard one to answer. It’s probably easier to turn it around and say that I do think there are poems that are NOT-competition poems. Any ‘discrepancies’ in an otherwise stunning poem, that might easily be picked up by an editor before publishing, are likely to fall flat in a competition setting, for example. A competition like any other poetry arena has its constraints and opportunities – but these can be as particular to the competition as submitting to journal a rather than journal b. Obviously, there’s what the competition rules have asked for and the judge’s subjective tastes. I’d anticipate a competition-winning poem to include needing to stand out all by itself in some positive way on first reading, without knowledge of the poet or the context of other poems that might encourage re-reading of some wonderful poems in a different setting.

Personally, I’ve found the notion of ‘competition’ combined with ’poem’ most useful though when applied to the writing process for every poem. My adaptation of this is not about poems being in competition with each other, though this may also happen at a later stage, but against their own variations and earlier drafts until they reach the best version they can take. There is a kind of success or winning for every poem that completes this process. Then, the chance to assess where they go next, be it to a magazine, competition entry or somewhere else.

Have I actually answered your question here or given my own slant on it? Another trick of competition and other strong poems may be to find, create and maintain the ‘best’ slant (whatever that might mean for that particular poem) on something universal that most readers can engage with.

What are your top tips for people submitting?

1) Ignore everything I’ve just said! I’m both kidding and not kidding in saying this. My advice is well intended and based on past experience. But the best advice should come from the poem itself and remaining true to it. External input may inspire a successful new slant, but forcing something on a poem that it doesn’t want to do is more likely to destroy it.

2) Double check everything, and then again, one more time. Even better, asked a trusted friend to proofread for any typos, misplaced punctuation, unnecessary words, confusions…that writer familiarity with the poem may have blinded out. (Yes, it’s a cliché. But, seriously, when I start reading competition poems, I’m going to be looking for what’s good about them. By the time I get to the nth whittling down of possible winners and still have too many to choose between, I’m going to be looking for the smallest things that let any of them down, however stunning the rest of the poem.)

3) Be brave and have confidence – in the poem, in the letting go of it and in the fact that whatever the final outcome of the competition, simply preparing poems for competition is a creative process in itself and one that’s likely to make a strong poem even stronger. (And the great thing about competition anonymity, of course, is that every eligible poem also stands on its own merits, regardless of what the poet may have – or have not – written, had published or won before.)

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ATG Poetry Competition 2019 – Top Tips

COMPThe very talented poet, short story writer and editor, Sarah James, is judging this year’s competition. Check out details of entering HERE.

She is passing on some top tips to help you on your way for entering this year’s competition. I posed a few questions to Sarah to find out what a judge wants from a poem and also what the poet can do to ensure their poem gets further and further up the shortlist pile.

What do you look for in a poem?

I try to come to poems openly and with as few expectations or pre-conceptions as possible, particularly as a competition judge. In terms of what I’ll be looking for in this competition, I’m only really going to be able to answer that afterwards. Things that I might anticipate finding in a poem I’ll love include striking imagery and lines that resonate long after I’ve read them. A sense of surprise that I don’t see coming but that in retrospect fits so perfectly that it seems inevitable. Admiration that makes me wish I’d written the poem myself, and feeling changed in some way after reading – the transformative power of a strong poem. I love words, so I tend to notice language choices. But having said all this, it’s probably important to add that all of these are possible without great drama or an overly flamboyant style – unless those are naturally part of the poem. In other words, everything needs to fit together to create something that’s totally unique in its own way.

Some people talk about “competition poems”. Do you think there is such a thing?

Yes. No. It depends. This is another hard one to answer. It’s probably easier to turn it around and say that I do think there are poems that are NOT-competition poems. Any ‘discrepancies’ in an otherwise stunning poem, that might easily be picked up by an editor before publishing, are likely to fall flat in a competition setting, for example. A competition like any other poetry arena has its constraints and opportunities – but these can be as particular to the competition as submitting to journal a rather than journal b. Obviously, there’s what the competition rules have asked for and the judge’s subjective tastes. I’d anticipate a competition-winning poem to include needing to stand out all by itself in some positive way on first reading, without knowledge of the poet or the context of other poems that might encourage re-reading of some wonderful poems in a different setting.

Personally, I’ve found the notion of ‘competition’ combined with ’poem’ most useful though when applied to the writing process for every poem. My adaptation of this is not about poems being in competition with each other, though this may also happen at a later stage, but against their own variations and earlier drafts until they reach the best version they can take. There is a kind of success or winning for every poem that completes this process. Then, the chance to assess where they go next, be it to a magazine, competition entry or somewhere else.

Have I actually answered your question here or given my own slant on it? Another trick of competition and other strong poems may be to find, create and maintain the ‘best’ slant (whatever that might mean for that particular poem) on something universal that most readers can engage with.

What are your top tips for people submitting?

1) Ignore everything I’ve just said! I’m both kidding and not kidding in saying this. My advice is well intended and based on past experience. But the best advice should come from the poem itself and remaining true to it. External input may inspire a successful new slant, but forcing something on a poem that it doesn’t want to do is more likely to destroy it.

2) Double check everything, and then again, one more time. Even better, asked a trusted friend to proofread for any typos, misplaced punctuation, unnecessary words, confusions…that writer familiarity with the poem may have blinded out. (Yes, it’s a cliché. But, seriously, when I start reading competition poems, I’m going to be looking for what’s good about them. By the time I get to the nth whittling down of possible winners and still have too many to choose between, I’m going to be looking for the smallest things that let any of them down, however stunning the rest of the poem.)

3) Be brave and have confidence – in the poem, in the letting go of it and in the fact that whatever the final outcome of the competition, simply preparing poems for competition is a creative process in itself and one that’s likely to make a strong poem even stronger. (And the great thing about competition anonymity, of course, is that every eligible poem also stands on its own merits, regardless of what the poet may have – or have not – written, had published or won before.)

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This Tilting Earth by Jane Lovell – reviewed by Rennie Halstead

This Tilting Earth - Jane Lovell.docx

Published by Seren Books (www.serenbooks.com)

Winner of the 2018 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition.

Jane Lovell’s latest pamphlet has an elegiac quality. She looks at a past studded with cruelty and sadness, documenting Man’s inhumanity and lack of care for their fellow creatures. Her words are carefully chosen, creating spare, clear and highly visual images of the scenes she describes and the people and animals she portrays, leading our imaginations to engage with a past made vivid and real.

From the outset, Lovell asks us to reflect on Man’s place in the universe. In The Song of the Vogelherd Horse she takes us back to the creation of a beautiful artefact from 30,000 years ago. She imagines the early men who:

[] smoothed my lissome back
that carried me against her skin;

another who buried me in soil,
em>stamped it down.
 
and reflecting on the passing centuries observes:
The gilding sun calls skies and hillsides
to my mind’s dark eye,
my spirit bones.

I was here before your god.
Cherish my broken form.

A similar preoccupation runs through Limousin, Lascaux which focuses on the finds at the famous French cave, now closed to the public to protect its 17000 year old paintings. Lovell celebrates their creation:
Of charcoal, and cinnamon ochre,
umber burnt and blown through bone or reed,
they balance on mist, unwilling to tear the ghost-silk.

Lovell brings the vitality of the paintings to life:
Coats steam, tails flick, tongues lunge;
a stone sky rests on curled spears of ash, horns
of black manganese.
 

She finishes the poem with the irony that the beauty of the cave and its wonders attracted the visitors who would have marked its destruction:
We breathe and they may disappear.
 
Lovell examines a more recent loss to the animal world in Godolphin’s Stallion, the famous Arabian stud horse that was one of the founders of the modern thoroughbred. The horse is buried on the site of his stables near Cambridge. Lovell writes of:
[…] the sleeping giant, bones white as hazel,
Godolphin’s stallion shifts and twists
with the turning of the Earth […]

She pictures the ghost of the horse:
Late June, early mornings, some say,
they flinch at the thundering hooves, the salt
and stench of champed grass as the stallion passes,
eyes wild with triumph.
 
Lovell also focuses on the little told stories of less well-known people from history. The Last Leap of Sam Patch chronicles the sad or possibly foolhardy end of the man known as The Jersey Jumper who found fame after jumping into the Niagara River at the falls. Patch jumped from a variety of buildings, bridges and platforms, and earning money from the audiences who gathered to watch his exploits. His jump at the Niagara Falls was watched by an audience of 10,000. His final jump, on Friday, November 13th 1829 was a 125 feet jump into the Genosee River with his pet bear. The jump went badly wrong, with Patch failing to make his usual feet first entry. Some bystanders suggested he may have had a little too much to drink. He never surfaced, and his body wasn’t found until the following spring when the frozen river thawed. He was 22. Lovell describes the leap:
He remembers, briefly, plummeting,
tilting slowly like a tree through stinging spray
to land amazed,
the last breath slammed from his lungs […]

Sam is dragged down river:
[…] hidden underwater
from the still-expectant crowd stamping at the frost,
the bitter light, he dreams of breathing.
 
Algae quietly invades his brain, bloom inside his bones.
 
The bear meets a similar fate:
Rats tumble past, bloated gourds of fur and cunning,
bellies full of bear-meat,
carrying in their eye-gleam the flash of the great canines
as the head lifted, rolled, then sank upon the flooded chest.
 
Lovell takes us through the daredevil madness of Sam Patch, and creates a vivid picture of what it must be like to drown in a bitterly cold river, describing how:
Winter stills the edge of the Genosee,
permeates his clothes, remaining skin, distending
every cavity, bursting every organ and capilliary.
 
He stares out through the long, cold water, eyes of a pike.
 
Lovell comments that Sam Patch’s epitaph reads:
“Here lies Sam Patch, the Yankee leaper
brave and mad and drowned.”

But the bear:
[…] snarled in his chain, was soon forgotten;
his carcass, bitten white as willow, never found.

Salt worker, Sečovlje remembers the generations of salt workers who have harvested salt from the lagoons in Slovenia for a millennium. Lovell puts us alongside a salt worker from the past, working the lagoons by hand. She creates a vivid image of the landscape:
………………………………[…] a land
brimming sea and salt blooms
above carpets of petola,
quiet pans of algae, gypsum, clay
where egrets pick their way
through cubes of sky.
 
Lovell describes the timeless continuum of salt production through generations of workers:
He does not move.
A rime of salt blisters his lips,
gathers in his desiccated bones.
 
Eight centuries of shift and hiss;
he closes his eyes,
balances against the light.

Tallow picks up the sense of historic industry with a vivid imagining of the soap making process from the rendering of fallen cattle to the mixing of tallow with the corrosive lye to produce tablets of soap.The poem opens with the boiling of a cow’s carcass:
Her eyes bleach the colour
of milk, head coming up blind
and turning.

Lovell goes on to describe the process: cooling the tallow, adding beeswax and lye:
stand back from its boiling and hissing,
do not breathe until it stills.

The end of the poem celebrates the selection of the animal chosen for rendering as a sacrifice:
It is light tonight, cloudless.
We carry her flesh to fire, break bread,
sing her name.
 
Tomorrow the women will roast the bones,
use the crushed chalk to make buttons
and beads.

and finally:
She was our chosen one, our beauty.

This is an exquisite collection of poems. Lovell brings the past to our attention with a vivid clarity. Every word is chosen with care, in this highly polished award-winning pamphlet.

Rennie Halstead has been writing since he was eleven. He writes reviews, poetry, flash fiction and short stories.

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Jessica Mookherjee reviews Brain Fugue by Claire Trevien

BRAIN-FUGUE-COVER-SAMPLESQ-3.png
I forgot what a fugue was when I started reading Trevien’s pamphlet of 24 poems all well presented and designed, published by Verve Press. I assumed it was a psychiatric term for temporary amnesia and ran through the poems in Trevien’s pamphlet one after another with this in mind. I was struck by the deftness and the sonic play Trevien is master of, the rhythm and control she executes and was marveling on how she weaves control and being out of control so playfully and only much later – when I encountered the title poem did I laugh to myself and realize that Trevien has out run me, of course, the Fugue is music – the same musical theme circled by different voices and I was delighted. As that is exactly what she has done. I kissed Claire Trevien’s brain and I liked it (sorry Katie Perry).

As a poet with an echo of languages lurking in my hippocampus and amygdala I was drawn to Trevien’s multi lingual and layered imagery. “Do I sweat French?”
What impresses me is the deftness and mercurial quality the poet brings both to the subject matter’s jammed metaphors and the control over the language and form. I feel, despite the nuanced and darting subject matter, in safe hands. This is because Trevien is adept in translation. She translates herself from page to page, she translates herself into a brain, a city, a garden, a tree, a computer, a home and tells us carefully, loudly, to be careful because she is still running, fast both with us and past us, though language and through trauma and through life. ““Say this opening is unhollow, say it is an opening,/ say open, say low.” (From ‘Brain Hard as Hares’).

Trevien’s skill as a poet is evident at the speed at which this pamphlet can be read and the coherence it as – just like a piece of music. This is no mean feet given the subject matter. Trevien announces the pamphlet in her first poem “Sick or Sad” and tells it as it is, these are poems of language, the body, consciousness and the need to run towards and from something that can not be spoken in anything other then the language of poetry “Here is my stomach full of rams fighting about fleeing”.

Trevien is a British-Breton writer and currently living in France and it would be too easy to wax lyrical about her roots in surrealism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Where the word, meaning and consciousness are interwoven in desire and body and that meaning is seductive and illusionary and elusive. Yes, Brain Fugue is all that, and like those old French philosophers of consciousness, Trevien’s work is very clever. However it is more then that. In her pages I am also in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and in the Welsh Mabinogion, a series of changes and transmutations and translations where the goddess chases the poet and he becomes a salmon, and she becomes an eagle and he becomes a hare and she becomes a fox and so it goes in a race for becoming, coping and surviving. In the “Brain at Home” Trevien writes “the street sits in the bathroom the bathroom sits at the crossroads”. Like quicksilver Trevian’s “Brain as Forest” takes my breath away. I loved this poem. It’s amazing first line “the collective noun for a tree isn’t forest; it’s a flooding.” captivates, and was so convinced me I had to google it to see if it was. It is here that Trevien shows us the brain is part of the organic world and as such wild and full of “ you are spelling MOUTH with brambles/ broom, heather, sessile oak, hawthorn./ your tongue is teeming with insects/”.

The small collection of poems belies their importance. There are clues inside, small hints that become bigger and bigger of what the Brain Fugue is masking, coping with. “I understand your situation, you are your mother” and ““you dance like rusty scissors, moving closer”. One of the most ‘chilling’ poems is Brain Freeze where the melding of a tight staccato rhythm, simple language and alliteration “bar to beat/ sea to switch” and “cold container of a car”, the assonance of the last lines “the right levers to move, to drive, to way” all make me hear the beauty, logic and art of a poet in control despite the subject matter. It makes Trevien’s skills in honing play all the more unnerving when the conclusion of the pamphlet is reached.

There are so many delights in this collection of poems. Ruth Padel calls it “Playful, beautifully curious” on the back of the pamphlet. I think of the poem “Air Brained” where Trevien brings us back to the fugue as memory and loss “my memories have vanished”, and she is in an organic city of thoughts “my questions are sending questions to each other to pass the time”. She brings us menace in the “chipped ceiling” where she abandons herself. The poet changes substance – from air to water, “I want you to know, if you are reading this, that I am trying to drain the water.” But she also trusts that the healing will take place on its own, as a plant grows. She switches also between organic and machine so she can choose which shift to take next, which direction to turn and how she translates truth in the final devastating poem. Brain Fugue is a beautiful, musical collection demanding to be read and translated into the reader’s brain and body as a work of art.

.
Jessica Mookherjee is a poet of Bengali origin. She grew up in Wales and now lives in Kent. She has been published in many print and online journals including Agenda, Interpreter’s House, The North, Rialto, Under the Radar and Antiphon. Her pamphlets are “The Swell” (TellTale Press)And Joyride ( BLER). Her poems appear in various anthologies including Best of British and Irish Poets 2017. She was highly commended for best single poem in the Forward Prize 2017. Her first collection is ‘Flood’ (2018, Cultured Llama) and her second Tigress by Nine Arches Press 2019. She is one of the three editors of Against the Grain Poetry Press.

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Launch of Claire Walker’s Collision – Poetry Café September 28th at 3pm

Come and join us for the launch of Against the Grain’s wonderful poet Claire Walker.

collisionClaire is a poet, writer and editor based in Worcestershire. She is the author of two poetry pamphlets, The Girl Who Grew Into a Crocodile (2015), and Somewhere Between Rose and Black (2017), both published by V. Press. Somewhere Between Rose and Black was shortlisted for Best Poetry Pamphlet in the 2018 Saboteur Awards. She is Co-Editor, with Holly Magill, of Atrium webzine.

 

 

Join us and guest readers Cheryl Pearson and Sarah Doyle.

 

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“Claire Walker’s subtle and confident poems display a lightness of touch. Fine technique has resulted in work that is both supple and robust. Images of water predominate, its power and inhabitants serving as metaphors for permanence and impermanence and the shift of human experience. Walker reflects on connections and collisions between land and sea, female and male, childhood and adulthood, myth and nature. Compelling to read, each of these pieces is concise and delicate yet strong enough to elegantly support themes of emotional weight.” Roy Marshall

“An enchanting and lushly lyrical pamphlet full of startling images and mesmeric narratives. In poems that wash over you like a warm tide, Claire creates an immersive and compelling world, part magic realist, part poignantly recognisable. These are perfectly honed, imagistic poems full of a language that dances on the page and lines that sing in your head long after you have put the book down.” Anna Saunders

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Penance by Jessica Whyte

Penance

She keeps a surfeit of compassion
in a shoebox,
slips it from a shelf
regurgitates the day’s gatherings
before they tighten in her lungs
like a bloom of tear gas,
her fingers held in little, careful fists.

In the small hours the box thrums
pocket-heavy with sacrifice.
She sleeps soundly,
spent with the surge of other people’s loss,
floating on a sea of boxes
stuffed under the floorboards,
seething with suffering and should-haves,
gifts she will never give.
.
.

 

Jessica Whyte is a freelance writer with an English & Creative Writing degree from Manchester Metropolitan University. She is trained to use creative writing for wellbeing in community settings. She is a published writer of short stories and poetry and is currently working on her first poetry pamphlet and a novel. She tweets @whyte_jessica