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LOVE AND LOSS AND OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF by Jonathan Pinnock – reviewed by Valerie Morton.

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So often a reader can be seduced by a brilliant cover but disappointed by the words within. Not so with this collection – the seduction continues with each turn of the page.

Pinnock clearly has a healthy irreverence for rules and trends and his debut collection is no exception. I soon realised that I would need to read between the lines to find the ‘Important Stuff”. For a start his titles are deceptive, almost designed to mislead the reader. The opening poem ‘Lost for Words’ is very tongue-in-cheek as here is a writer who is far from ‘lost’ for words :

He ordered online
and the words were delivered
by a man in a van
with expansive
rear cleavage.

………

He signed for the words,
and the delivery man left,
then he shouted ‘Wait!
How do I mix it
all together?’

The answer to the final question is that Pinnock produces a delicious mixture of rare ingredients – hilariously funny in many places, macabre in others, and heartbreaking on occasions. It is a fast moving collection that jumps around with alarming speed as the reader is thrown from one familiar theme to another: the daughter who runs away with the circus (‘Moving On’), a parody on the round robin Christmas letter (‘Between the Lines’), a stereotypical librarian keeping up her reputation (‘Professionalism’).

But it would be wrong of me to see this work as all spoof and cynicism because underneath the often bland and misleading titles are gems of deep and conscious connections with sorrow and pathos which jump out at the reader, as in:

‘Back to School’

Peter’s going back to school,
wondering who knows
and who doesn’t.

It was only a few days
after all – hardly a long break
in the grand theme of things,
but Peter knows that everything

has changed. No-one says
a word – he didn’t expect them to –
but he gets an easy ride in his
French test and he knows it.

He still hasn’t shed a single tear
and he’s proud of that. Didn’t
want to let his father down. And yet
one day in his rage he will try

to remember her and wonder
how he ever coped.

In taking a humorous dig at the present poetry scene Pinnock reveals how that scene invites such cynical appraisal – he nonchalantly flings in the occasional ‘forbidden words’ (‘shards’ for one), overused phrases and clichés and very questionable line breaks (pronouns, verbs and adverbs left hanging). He ends poems with their title (as in ‘Exquisite Torture’). And has lots of fun with rhyming. Yet despite all this wordsmith rebellion there are some serious messages, some very strong connection with what it’s like to be human.

I cite a few tidbits to tempt you to invest in this collection – a call to a mother after a child is cloned at school through an accident in the biology department:

‘School Uniform’

We didn’t notice what was wrong
till it was far too late.
You began today with just one son,
but you finished it with eight.”

‘A Dissonant Love Song #2’ :

I loved you like a psychopath,
as lustful as the Pope,
a one-track-minded polymath
with a solid sieve of hope.

And St. Peter at the pearly gates – (‘Paradise Found Wanting’):

I beckoned to St Peter,
who was lounging
by the gates. Stubbing out
his roll-up, he sauntered over

…………

I hope you will be tempted to discover what happens next?

And to the ‘Postscript’

…… please make use of
our twenty-four hour
helpline, Dial-a-Bard.

Press 1 for rhyme
2 for free verse,
or 3 for random form
chosen at the councillor’s
discretion.

Haiku are also
available but only
during working hours.

We all on occasions need to laugh at ourselves, As poets particularly as there is a tendency to take it all too seriously as if it is a sport and we need to win every time, and in so doing lose the very purpose of a connection with the people who really matter – the wider readership.

This collection is worthy of a place on any bookshelf – it will entertain but at the same time offer the reader much to think about and perhaps question the way in which they see themselves. That is no bad thing from time to time. Jonathan blogs at http://www.jonathanpinnock.com – well worth a read.  Published by http://silhouettepress.co.uk

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Valerie Morton has been published in various magazines and anthologies, and won or been placed in a number of competitions. After completing an Open University degree in 2011 she taught Creative Writing at a mental health charity. Her two collections (Mango Tree 2013 and Handprints 2015) were published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.  Since 2015 she has been Poet in Residence at the Clinton Baker Pinetum in Hertfordshire. Her most recent endeavour was publishing A Poetry of Elephants in aid of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (2016).

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Bradford on Avon Arts Festival 2017

Bradford on Avon Arts Festival 2017 – In association with Words & Ears

Flights of Fancy – Poetry Competition – Judge: Carrie Etter

Competition closing date: 30th July 2017

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Poems of up to 20 lines are invited on the theme of Flights of Fancy (see full entry details, below). Shortlisted poets will be invited to read their entry at a prize-giving event at Bradford on Avon Arts Festival on Sunday September 17th, which will also feature a reading by competition judge Carrie Etter.

American expatriate Carrie Etter has published three collections: The Tethers (Seren, 2009), winner of the London New Poetry Award; Divining for Starters (Shearsman, 2011); and Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society. She also edited Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets (Shearsman, 2010) and Linda Lamus’s posthumous collection, A Crater the Size of Calcutta (Mulfran, 2015). She has lived in the West Country since 2005 and is a Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

First Prize: £500 – Second Prize: £150 – Third Prize: £100

Plus seven Highly Commended and a local prize for entrants in the BA15 postcode area.

Logo2  Enter here

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Agenda Poetry Magazine

Agenda is edited by Patricia McCarthy, who co-edited the magazine with William Cookson for four years until his death in January 2003. She is continuing, as Seamus Heaney said, ‘to uphold the lofty standards of Agenda’.

He went on to say, “…as the title insists, does several things that need to be done if literary culture is to stay in good shape. First of all, it stimulates and sponsors new poetry by poets whose writings and espousals have given the magazine its personality from the beginning. Agenda has a second important function which it discharges by doing work of critical advocacy for poets of marked or under-rated achievement, living and dead.”

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As well as a whole host of poems from writers such as Omah Shabbagh, Andrew McMillan, Sasha Dugdale, Tess Jolly and Zoë Brigley-Thompson, a recent issue contains an article by Martyn Crucefix on The Five Forward Prize First collections and Patricia McCarthy interviews Sarah Howe.

And it’s not just a fine print publication. The Online Broadsheet features poetry and artwork from poets under 30 years and from this magazine, lucky poets are chosen to appear in Agenda, with a spread of up to six poems.

JoBalmer-finalLettingGocover-page-001Agenda’s own publishing house produce small, beautifully packaged limited editions; the newest, Letting Go: Thirty Mourning Sonnets and two poems by Josephine Balmer is due out this month.

For more information on Agenda in general or submission procedure follow this link, or email Fred for subscription queries.

 

Clare Best’s poem (below) appeared in the Web supplement in tandem with
The Power of Poetry issue of Agenda, Vol 50 Nos 3-4


You Ask Me How I Know All These Things

and I tell you. I know these things
in my fractured heart.
Because things can be known
in spite of the dark,
since mine is the skin I inhabit.
I know all these things
from the green sun rising,
because of the flames in my head
when sleep comes. And again when I wake.
With my bones. With my wise bones
I know all these things.
Because. I wanted. To grow. Beyond you.

Because I wanted to grow beyond you
I know all these things
with my bones, with my wise bones,
when sleep comes and again when I wake
because of the flames in my head
from the green sun rising.
I know all these things
since mine is the skin I inhabit
in spite of the dark.
Because things can be known
in my fractured heart.
And I tell you, I know these things.

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Atrium Webzine

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Here’s a new kid on the block – and they’ve certainly got off to a sprinting start. What a good way of keeping up-to-date with work from new and established poets, and it is neatly delivered to your home twice a week. What could be better than that?

Atrium is a poetry webzine based in Worcestershire, UK who aim to publish a quality new poem twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The web address is http://www.atriumpoetry.com and full submission guidelines can be found there.

“The word ‘atrium’ has two main links – to the heart, and to spacious central areas in buildings that are open and light. With this is mind, we want to publish poems that allow our readers to think, feel and see things in a new way.

We are currently open for submissions and have no set “windows”. We have been amazed and delighted with the response we have received so far and are currently scheduling posts as far ahead as the autumn months.”

Claire Walker and Holly Magill – Editors

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BREATH-TAKING: A GEOGRAPHY by Jeffrey Loffman, reviewed by Luigi Marchini

lofIt is rare indeed nowadays to encounter a poetry collection which exudes the traditional values of the art form. This is such a book: it displays an effortless precision of language along with significance, traits which seem to have become increasingly out of fashion, such is the penchant for the new or innovative.

Breath-Taking is a joy to read and whilst Loffman does not attempt anything fancy, there are some poems that required several readings. In these he is more experimental than in the rest of the book whilst still displaying considerable skill and control: I will come to one of these poems – a marvel – a little later. The overriding feeling I have now as I reflect back on the collection is the passion that illuminates each poem. The reader cannot help but be swept along with the sincerity, the conviction displayed.

Aptly titled and subtitled (breath is referenced frequently and the reader is taken on a journey encompassing many places on this world and beyond) the book displays, effortlessly, a full range of poetic techniques. Witness the consonance at the very start of the book:

Moonscapes
i

‘alone
crusty silica seas
around the crescent light above;’

and the personification in the same poem;

iii
‘no laboratory work
discovers the gods’.

The syntax used throughout the book is judged to suit each poems mood admirably, e.g. ‘to ballad’ and the wonderful ‘but sleep comes too early for the impatient’, both found in ‘Moonscapes.’ Or how about the oh-so-right ‘eighty-eight years in her stare’ from ‘Beyond the Wall’?

Although Loffman demonstrates a keen sense of place in his poems, his love of England, his despair for what has become of it, shines through. In ‘Which Eye Sees’ the narrator describes his colleague as enthusing ’For this is Eden, this is England.‘ at the start but by the end after a revealing climb (the poem is a take on an M.R.James story, almost certainly ‘A View From a Hill’ ) the narrator thinks ‘this cannot be England’.

Of course Loffman is not just rooted in his native country – the collection is subtitled ‘A Geography’ after all – and he takes us to Africa, Asia, Europe, detouring to Ancient Greece and even the cosmos. These poems are the most political in the book: the ‘new wailing walls’ of Gaza in ‘Nakbah, Nakbah’, the ‘vacant space’ of Tiananmen Square in ‘I Bow Before You…’. the ‘ barbed bodies’ of ‘Walls May Fall’; the important thing to note though is that he is not didactic. Yes the poems are critical of regimes, of horrific events, but Loffman’s immense skill is that he denounces these subtly, relying on his adroit use of language to underpin his thoughts, his intentions.

This fine collection contains eulogies, ekphrastic poems, interpretations, nature poems as well as very personal pieces and not once did I feel overwhelmed by verbosity or mawkishness. This came as a surprise because when I first received the book there was a great similarity in terms of form and layout; consequently I expected a ‘dense’ read, a ‘bit of a slog’ if you like. Nothing can be further from the truth. Of course the subjects are weighty but Loffman’s touch is light in the right places so each poem is a fluid and engaging read.

There are two highlights for me and I will focus on these now. ‘On Dungeness Beach’ crept up on me almost surreptitiously. To be honest when confronted with a poem about ‘nature’ I have the tendency to grimace, shout in despair and run away. And that is how I approached this poem, with a pre-determined view that I would not like it. Of course, I was greatly mistaken. The poem is nigh on perfect in its use of imagery and hooks the reader from the opening lines:

‘Sixty, or seventy, gulls standing still
meet in complete silence over me,’

Immediately I am reminded of Du Mauriers ‘The Birds’ and a feeling of menace is instilled. Looking at the wording carefully and Loffman’s skill becomes clearer. If it had been a definite number of gulls at the start, sixty say, the certainty in the narrators mind would transmit to the reader. Instead the uncertainty in the narrator sows a seed of doubt in the readers mind, causing an unease that is intensified in the second line where we find all those birds not only silent but standing over the narrator.

Half way through this first stanza, the narrator asks ‘why do they stand so still?’ a question simultaneously repeated silently by this reader. This occurs at the end of the first sentence and earlier Loffman has beautifully detailed the surroundings on the beach with its ‘debris of rubber tubes’, and ‘old net wires’. The stanza gains momentum in the second half with the onomatopoeic ‘rusted rail-tracks’ and the alliteration of ‘with the wind sipping the seas’ And the stanza ends with:

‘Black wings, the gulls hunt parallel
to the surface of the sea, forays
every five minutes.’

The implied doom at the start of the stanza is therefore carried through to the end with the apt syntax used by Loffmann, ‘black’ and ‘hunt’.

In the second stanza the gulls seem to be no longer menacing but, instead, are ‘statues’ acting as

‘a vigil for all the fisherwives
who made fires at four in the morning ‘
and the stanza ends with,
‘or the men who worked the lifeboat
where you’d cling to rigging, to the dead’.

These two extracts demonstrate the beauty and the skill of Loffman’s writing. The ominous imagery of the first stanza is replaced by assertiveness; now the narrator knows why the gulls are still and there is tenderness here: the hunters are now keeping vigil, a salute to the fishermen and wives. The phrasing is lovely-‘who made fires at four in the morning’ is wonderful as is the half rhyme of ‘cling’ and rigging’. Sons and daughters are ‘buried’ and now we are in the reality, the concreteness of life and the allusions of the opening stanza are now fully comprehended.

The final stanza starts with:

‘Two hundred names saved in sixty
years; sixty gulls stand still…’

We surmise that each gull-there are definitely sixty now, not the sixty or seventy of the previous two stanzas-signifies a year in the life of the Dungeness Lifeboat Station and the poem continues to carefully detail life by the sea. It ends powerfully:

‘…we are thrown
by a passing stranger into the water.
into the stone piles, into our past.’

The ‘past’ here, the ‘dead’ at the end of the previous stanza and the black gulls hunting at the end of the opening stanza, Loffman has intricately crafted ‘On Dungeness Beach’ to a naturally satisfying conclusion.

The second poem it is essential to look at is ‘Trying to Find Charles Olson’s House’. This is one of the experimental poems I mentioned at the start but it is only experimental in its length (eight pages) and the loose structure when compared with the rest of the book. It is a tour-de-force of a poem, a work which rewards many readings and, perhaps, deserves to be published on its own. It also deserves an in-depth, detailed review for which we have no time here. But I will do the best I can in the space left.

It reminds me, at times, of ‘The Wasteland’ such is the awe Loffman’s poem has inspired in me. Like Eliot’s masterpiece ‘Olson’ seems to me to go far beyond a concern with modern civilisation and mankind’s place in it. Loffman’s treatment of character is similar to Eliot’s and verbally there are echoes for me. There is extensive use of myth, archetypal patterns, and literary parallels.

Charles Olson, as a poet, championed ‘Projective Verse’ with its emphasis on writing ‘by ear’, ‘breath-conditioned’, and here Loffmann seems to endorse this way of writing. Look at the start for example:

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‘But where is it? in the space between
ink and vellum, the end of the line
Black Mountain myth Black Mountain Maximus
where the letter, stress and syllable on the page
……….these were my thoughts as i prepared for sleep.’

Here Loffmann demonstrates how he means to continue, with form as an extension of content, in the way Olson championed.
Highlights in this first section include:

‘not an easy journey then,
…………………………………….across
………………………the sea, the restless sea
no turning back’
and:
‘Is this war, is this wisdom? Some say that this
is the human condition’

Wonderful writing and the idea of myth is fully realised at the start.

Loffman’s search for Olsons house is really a metaphor for his admiration for and his exploration of Olson’s work. Therefore he references Moby Dick (‘Call Me Ishmael’ is a famous Olson essay), red wheelbarrows (he was seen as a link between Williams and Stevens, and the New American Poets’, Derrida among others in this first part.

How about this:

‘I wandered; bluebells hazed in their crowd’.

Loffman has succeeded in this poem in giving life to words, to subvert what is expected. it is almost perfect both as a poem and as a homage to Olsen. The ending,

‘the song you sing,
..the beat you played,
the line you made,
….the breath you gave’

beautifully encapsulates this.

Breathtaking is a collection I highly recommend. It is not perfect-what is-as there are some poems that, fine as they are, do not add much to the book- ‘At Branwell’s Dressing Up box’ and ‘There is a Mountain’ work well on their own but seem to be lost here. The best compliment I can pay the book is that once finished for the first time, I picked it up immediately and read it again.

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When the Americans Came by William Bedford

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WHEN THE AMERICANS CAME
USAF Hemswell: North Lincolnshire 1962

When the Americans came,
they didn’t take to our gardens:
the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,
foxgloves growing among the runner beans.

‘Do you have vampires around here?’
a visitor from Carolina asked me.
It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,
nodding wisely as though apologising

for the ill manners of King George,
the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.
But come the softe sonne,
there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,

forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,
lettuce and spring onions for a salad.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat*

I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,
and didn’t care to listen to a boy.
They preferred the red rosehips
we used for making wine.

Danced outside the village church
round the maypole Jack Parnham made.
Now they’re gone,
the wild garlic has returned.

*W.B.Yeats, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter.’

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William’s poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in over a hundred magazines worldwide. His Collecting Bottle Tops: Selected Poetry 1960-2008 was published in 2009. His selected short stories and non-fiction, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, was also published in 2009. He was on the Editorial Board of Poetry Salzburg Review from 2007 to 2016, and was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Oxford Brookes University from 2008 to 2011.

Recent collections include The Fen Dancing and The Bread Horse.

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Braided Wire by Janet Sutherland

 

Braided Wire

 

I wasn’t there. I heard this second hand, much later,
but textbooks show the methodology, the diagrams
for several presentations and for monstrous deviations

from the norm. For calves long dead in situ and for those
just recently deceased. For calves too big or those
whose odd shape makes their birth impossible.

So, let’s return to games with butter at the kitchen table
carving summer scrolls and corrugations, watching
beads of sweat emerging from the surface.

Look at the four of us, you’re telling the story.
My chair on two legs tilted on the dresser, and yours
steady by the Rayburn. You can’t remember much –

was it by the cedar of Lebanon or in the beech wood?
You mime the act of sawing. I wasn’t there
but I recall the field which had that slope, so steep

it made the little Fergie roar. The throttle out so far
the blue smoke coughed in rapid puffs and plumes.
The vet had laid his tools out in the field:

two buckets full of lubricant, three of warm water,
a hand pump, krey hook and a calving chain,
a length of braided saw wire with its introducer.

It was raining, water trickled through her hair.
Your hand on her flank felt the fat she’d come to,
her vulva swollen with two feet emerging.

Hooves, dew claws, pastern joints all faded yellow,
like the white rat I’d dissected in biology. She lay
in the copse under the beech trees, I wasn’t there

but beech mast crunched each time you moved your feet.
I’ve read how it’s done. I know the technicalities,
the rough dismemberment, and what that leaves you with.

(First Prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Competition 2017)

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Janet Sutherland was born in Wiltshire and grew up on a dairy farm. She has an MA in American Poetry from the University of Essex. Bone Monkey (April 2014) is her third full length collection. Her poems are widely anthologised: from The Virago Book of Love Poetry and The New British Poetry 1968-88 (Paladin) to The Apple Anthology, Nine Arches Press 2013. Her essay Reznikoff and his Sources appeared as an afterword to the recent Black Sparrow (US) and Five Leaves (UK) editions of Reznikoff’s Holocaust. A founder member of Needlewriters writers cooperative, she lives in Lewes, East Sussex.

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Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year Competition | Closing Date: 19-Jun-17

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This is the 11th year of the Competition which has grown considerably from those early days. It has become a respected competition worldwide and a major part of the Festival year. Last year saw entries from all over the world alongside many from local poets.

The Competition is generously support by the School of English at the University of Kent who donate the University of Kent Prize of £200 for the winner, £100 for second and £50 for third places, £25 for the People’s Choice and the Best Read poem receives a bottle of sparkling wine courtesy of the Wine Room, Tankerton. The Awards Evening will be on 2 October 2017 at the Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, further details will be announced in due course.

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Further details here

Last year’s joint First Prize poems:

Midsummer Landing
Instead of looking at the moon that night
we just slept as the silver cylinder touched down
wobbling like a novice ballerina en pointe.

We woke late and wandered out across
Midsummer Common and I remember
the daisies and Julie’s weightless green minidress

and her new freckles, as if pollen from the sun.
It was hot. They had already opened
the hatch like a fridge door and lowered steps.

Near the bridge crossing the Cam I found
a £5 note on the ground, and we danced
into the Fort St George to spend it.

On the bar was a screen showing what seemed
a snow or underwater scene in a SciFi film
in black and white. We ordered pasties,

an expensive Pimms and a pint of beer
as the grainy figure hesitated
then slowly took a small step, then a few more.

David Attwooll

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Love (Through Lidded Eyes)

the banal of us, this blandness, truly love?

Such portent in that word, and yet it seems,

no heavenly flame ignites us from above,

just rare protracted light, in scattered beams.

The socks, the mowing, nested garden chairs,

throw shadows between every slatted blind,

yet love, the word, proclaims such grand affairs,

shedding silver sparkles left in trails behind.

In truth, it glows with subtlety; not ablaze,

a mutual glance, a smile, a flaring phrase,

the safely looping arms encircling waists,

old promises, in memories, each encased.

If love is this, it flows through familiar tracks

light from this is brighter, through the cracks.

Jen Syrkiewicz

 

BON CHANCE!!

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David Cooke

coverThe latest collection from David Cooke, After Hours is just out from Cultured Llama and comes hot on the heels of the successful Two Rivers Press collection, A Murmuration, which received notable reviews in various publications including London Grip and the TLS.

Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published his first collection, Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing and Work Horses in 2012 by Ward Wood Publishing.

 

 

 

LE NU PROVENÇAL
after Willi Ronis

She is like Eve in exile,
awakening each morning
when the sun has risen,
then rising herself,
shackled to the day’s routine.

She opens a shutter,
and the light sweeps in
across the uneven stone floor –
her summons to the tasks
that lie before her.

But first a strip-wash,
the astringent purity
of her ablutions. Leaning over
a basin, the chill water
unseals her eyes.

Still only half awake,
she takes in the tarnished
mirror, a chair; and sees how little
is needed to live
on the far side of paradise.

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ORNITHOLOGY

Here, where no one seems to walk,
they couldn’t give the name of a bird
whose loosely gathered congregation
sweeps the mild midwinter sky
between Miami and Boca.

And so I noted down the details
to help me find it later: the lightly
coloured head it’s hard to see
beyond its dark expansive
wings, the blunt edge of its tail.

The one time I saw them grounded
I sensed how even they were anchored
to necessity, their trailing wings
the robes of Rembrandt scholars
around some broken thing;

and stripping out its sinews
in a clueless, botched dissection,
they had their fill and rose again
into the swirl of the air
like charred scraps above a bonfire.

(Florida.)

David Cooke is co-founder of The High Window (a quarterly review of poetry) along with Anthony Costello.

After Hours explores mortality and transience in the lives of Irish migrants that settled in England in the first half of the 20th century, and the generations that followed them. At the heart of this collection is an elegiac sequence of poems in memory of David Cooke’s father-in-law, a larger than life Irishman who met illness and death with good-humoured resilience.

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