Summer house – J V Birch

Summer house

The first house I owned was in my nan’s back garden. Claimed
maybe better, because no one else—nan, my brother or mum—
wanted to know about the spiders and their secrets, dust-dark
corners where worlds waited, the still, lifeless air. It used to be
blue but the timber took it back, as though colour was some
alien thing. The sliding doors always stuck, having gained weight
from lack of use, and the cloy of sunburnt wood made my eyes
water, daring me to stay more than a few minutes, which I did,
hours in fact, to escape in my head where a boy was falling
in love with a girl. Much of my teenage angst was spent there
—writing, thinking, longing, needing—looking out onto tidy grass,
careful flowers, full, quiet fields, that had never known such want,
what dreams were for.


J V Birch lives in Adelaide. Her poetry has been published in anthologies, journals and magazines across Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. She has three chapbooks with Ginninderra Press – Smashed glass at midnight, What the water & moon gave me and A bellyful of roses (poems about endometriosis) – and a full-length collection, more than here. She is currently developing her next and blogs (occasionally) at www.jvbirch.com.



Horizons : Collected Poems By Jo Rippier reviewed by Mary Evans

HorizonsJo Rippier

Horizons: Collected Poems
Publisher: Colin Smythe Limited

Length: 160 pp.
ASIN: 0861405048
ISBN: 9780861405046

The collection Horizons draws on the work which Jo Rippier has been publishing for several decades, work of great elegance and simplicity. His poems are seldom longer than a page but within that brief space they contain a great deal which speaks to the everyday, common, experiences of melancholy.

In the case of Rippier’s work, what should be noticed is that the form of melancholy which is so acutely observed in the poems is not the more dramatic aspects of loss or change or disruption but that of the ordinary repetition of those states. The poem entitled Eating Alone is a good example of this aspect of Rippier’s work: a situation that the statistics tell us is increasingly the norm for many people ( whether young or old ) is rendered, with great economy, as a vivid reminder of the reality of being alone. This poem also takes us to the theme of the values and expectations by which we live : we should not, of course, ideally be eating alone but it is just one of the norms, such as a daily active engagement with the world, which may be quite foreign to many. That feeling of ‘living outside’ what is expected of us is echoed in the poem Self Discipline; again, what we should be doing is not always not just what we don’t do, but which may well be something which there is little point in either doing or worrying about.

What these remarks hopefully draw together is the overall sense of a challenge to the given, the assumed, that Rippier suggests. One of the ways that is most clearly stated is in the poem Mansfield Park, about Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. Austen is of course one of the great canonical figures of English literature, to question this iconic figure is hardly conventional. Yet in the poem, the line ‘imperatives are implied’ suddenly illuminates that loss of freedom which Rippier has identified as central to the purpose of fiction. Students of Austen are well aware that Mansfield Park has for many the most problematic heroine of all of Austen’s fiction, but here we are asked to consider the idea that readers are ‘let down’ by the novel’s conclusion.

That view is contentious, but the strength of the poem is not about whether we agree with it or not, but the economy and precision with which complex ideas are expressed. That same ability shines through all the poems in this volume, a collection which is rich in the variety of the themes that are its subjects, all illuminated by an assured understanding and confidence that poetry is a medium in which we can express the lifetimes that we live. That last point is crucial: Rippier is above all else a poet less of the immediate than of the continuity of our lives.


Mary Evans is an English academic whose published work crosses boundaries between the social sciences and literature. Published work includes studies of Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Austen and gender inequality.


Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition extends deadline until 7th February


Because of problems with their PayPal account, they have extended the deadline for the 2020 competition to 7th FEBRUARY 2020 at midnight, GMT. This is because the Paypal couldn’t accept payment.

OIPThe Judge is poet Carrie Etter, author of Imagined Sons, Divining for Starters, and The Tethers, and she will read all the submissions.

First prize: £1,000
Second prize: £300
Third prize: £100
Plus 4 x £50



Air Lyrics by Eleni Cay

Air Lyrics

And to think that rain is only about water
is to think that silence is only about absences.

Listen to the patch of bark from the maple trees
it sings the perfume of copper leaves.

Sometimes a June dragonfly carries their melody
swerving through the awakening summer.

At times, their top tones collide with a sky hole
turning nothingness into wonder.

Let their song fill you up,
rainbow your soul.



Eleni Cay is a Slovakian-born poet living in the UK and Norway. Her most recent poems appeared in Acumen, Atticus Review, The Cardiff Review and Poetry Ireland Review. Eleni is known for her filmpoems, dancepoems and multimedia poetry, which have been screened at international festivals and featured on Button Poetry. Her award-winning first collection was published by Parthian Books and her pamphlets were published by Westbury Arts Centre and Eyewear Press. Her second collection ‘Love Algorithm’ is forthcoming by Eyewear Press in 2020.


On the Ward by Stephen Claughton

 On the Ward

On the geriatric ward,
everyone makes sense
of their own reality.

That man’s name being called
over and over again
isn’t going to bring anyone back.

The woman singing songs
thinks she’s in a pub
on which time was called years ago.

Your neighbour I thought was sane
now tells me her father’s coming
(she’s eighty if she’s a day).

And you, Mum. How are you?
Not in such a good place.
You seem agitated today.

“Swirling!” you say — and, “Dark!”
grasping the sides of the bed,
as if something’s sucking you in.

Will waking you make it worse?
Are you actually asleep?
It’s hard to tell these days.

I lean over to clasp your hand,
though I know you’re out of reach
and way beyond rescue now.

Stephen Claughton’s second pamphlet, The 3-D Clock, from which this poem has been taken, is due to be published by Dempsey & Windle in March this year. It contains poems about his late mother’s dementia and will be launched at a D&W Showcase reading at the Poetry Café in London on Thursday, 21st May. His first pamphlet, The War with Hannibal, was published by Poetry Salzburg in October 2019.


Artlyst Art To Poetry Competition


Artlyst in association with The Poetry Society are pleased to launch a new international award for poetry based on works of art. 

The awards are made possible by Artlyst and Frances Segelman (Lady Petchey) in association with The Poetry Society

From ancient times poets have been inspired by art. Ekphrastic poetry has given us some of the most celebrated poems in the English language from Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, to W.H. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux-Arts’, based on Brueghel’s famous painting of Icarus falling from the sky. In each case, what has been created is not a mere description but a fresh insight, a new world, an autonomous work of art.

The Artlyst Art to Poetry Award celebrating ekphrastic poetry is open to all poets worldwide aged 18 or over. Entrants may submit as many poems as they wish so long as they are based on an artwork. This can be in the form of a painting, sculpture installation, video, or fine art photograph.

The competition’s judging panel will include poet, novelist, and art critic Sue Hubbard, and judges from Artlyst and The Poetry Society. There are awards of £1,000, £300 and three runners-up prizes of £50. There will also be a special young peoples’ which is free to enter if you are 11-17. All winners will be invited to an awards ceremony at a London art gallery and be published on Artlyst and The Poetry Society websites.

The competition deadline is 11.59 pm on 2nd March 2020. All entries must be made online via The Poetry Society’s submission portal. Enter Here 

It is recommended that all entrants read the rules carefully before entering. Read the full rules Here  

Top Photo: Antony Gormley Royal Academy Photo by P C Robinson © Artlyst 2019


Triage by Abigail Kirby Conklin – reviewed by Karen Dennison


This collection is full of pain and anger as the speaker confronts a past trauma and battles to cope with its pervasive effects. It begins with Brutality, a poem about longing which takes the reader along a certain path and then blindsides with an unexpected and satisfyingly ironic ending. It’s followed by a poem about wanting revenge on an abuser, being permitted to take it and fantasizing about the form it would take –

I want to eat your
freed heart raw—
I hear heart meat is good for you, 
and it’s far cheaper than steak.

This poem in particular reminded me of recent high-profile rape cases, in a culture of sexual violence in American university campuses, where abusers are given lenient sentences.

Throughout, the speaker battles against and confronts abuse and abuser, sometimes with self-destructive coping mechanisms. In My Father and I Talk About Drinking

I nod into the phone 
as if he can hear me because, 
when I drink,
my whole body forgives 
itself. I feel the heart
in each marrow hollow 
in each bone
slow. I can see
for miles. I am impossible.

In Elsewhere the speaker imagines alternative realities for herself where –

I am having regular, consensual sex, 
receiving prompt replies to text 
messages, and talking about systemic 
corruption over bad drinks and suspicious popcorn.

There’s A Way to Love That Does Not Also Ask That You Undo Yourself is also full of re-imaginings of a different life just out of reach.

There are some poems which are the opposite of what their titles suggest and are full of hard-hitting irony. New York, Mon Amour is a sort of anti-ode to the NY subway, Longshoreman is an anti-love poem and in Wonderland there is a Cheshire cat with no grin, no magic, no Alice.

Feminine takes us into the battlefield of women’s bodies in which we’re told to get used to being ashamed and Indehiscent (which means not splitting open to release seeds when ripe) uses images of fruit and seeds to speak of sexual violence –

You tongue the curve 
of my calf, tracing
to where skin meets fruit, 
and tear, as you would
a dried apricot
cured with sulfur, the better 
to keep its color.

In Long Island City Landing is a tender and heart-breaking poem about memories of being with the last man the speaker loved –

We cradled a peace between us 
like a child unwilling to wake.

The collection ends with Seasons, a poem about Persephone in the underworld. Amongst her suffering, there is a message of healing and hope, a returning to life and a coming home.

But I imagine her, each spring, crouched 
below the openings in the Earth
with palms upturned in faith 
that spring will come.

These are raw, visceral poems full of wounds and hurt. They are also gutsy poems of strength, survival and endurance which turn a mirror on the face of abuse. A powerful read.

Karen Dennison won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011 resulting in the publication in 2012 of her first poetry collection Counting Rain. Her second collection, The Paper House, was published in March 2019 by Hedgehog Poetry Press.

As an artist, she collaborated with poet Abegail Morley on her pamphlet The Memory of Water – her photoshopped photographs feature on the cover and inside. Karen is editor, designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand, Blueshift (longlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2016) and Free-fall. She has designed book covers for a number of poetry anthologies.

Karen is Co-editor of Against the Grain Poetry Press.


Emergency Mints – Paper Swans Press – reviewed by Rennie Halstead

Emergency-Mints-front-coverEmergency Mints – Karen Jane Cannon

Paper Swans Press £5:00

Karen Jane Cannon’s debut pamphlet  focuses on a childhood and coming of age by the sea. Only the passage of time and the transition to adulthood takes the poet away from the coast.

Emergency Mints is seen through the eyes of children remembering a father sailing the English Channel and packing packets of Polo mints, labelled EMERGENCY MINTS in case he runs into a disaster.

He is their:

            polar explorer,
arctic adventurer.
We charted your route, coloured
the curved waves of land, solid
blue slab of sea.
And after his return the children are enthralled by exciting tales:

we listened to your stories of basking
sharks and places orcas go to die, or you lashed
to the mast in a great wild storm, sucking
mints like tiny life belts.

Daughters of Thor has a very different take on life by the sea, from the perspective of three girls watching a storm unfold.

We watched for the flash of electricity
that split the sky so wide-
once we climbed a jagged fork of light,
crawled inside. We stared down

at the channel churning below, marbled as a tombstone,

saw the look of horror on the faces of sailors
trying to turn into the wind.

They watch the coastguard:

slip from his bed,
his life neatly rolled up on the shore.
After the storm, the girls’ mother:

swept up the debris,
sewed the house back together again.
She tried to fix the sky split
with a plastic first aid kit, rolls of lint.

But on a bright day
you can still see the scars.

Wavelengths picks up  the joyous freedom of summer on the beach, with three girls racing across the ridged sand wondering:

                        if this is how you age
the Earth — count the rings
on connecting shores.

The sand turns:

                        from soft biscuit crumb
to sleek whale skin, silent thuds
become wet spatters on bare legs.

Dolphins in the Lido has a much more end of childhood feel, with the girls beginning to consider their environment from a different perspective. The three dolphins in the lido:

making waves
in borrowed water…
alphabet letters, dived to cool blue tiles, nosing
grilled drain covers, spinning and twisting
up for air.

But along with the appreciation of their beauty and graceful movement dawns the realisation that the dolphins are captives:

I wished they could lift
those covers, follow drain tunnels, one by one…
…and reach open sea.
…Could they smell the sea, just feet away? Feel
the pull of the coastal tide, the call

of some distant pod?

The girls grow up and another group of poems references the sea from a more mature perspective. In Tears of the Sea we learn how the sea fills the imagination:

I saw a baby iridescent
in a rock pool, looking up
at me, saw myself lying in a circle
of spat stones, heard a gull cry.
The sea kept the rest of me,
just gave me back my face

The sea and beach has filled the persona here.

doll spat from the sea – I haunt
the shore, too old to be newborn.

In Along the Shore we watch two donkeys on the beach where the sea breaks her silence along the shore and the sand bar is lost in the mist that never lifts. The donkeys pause:

to nip the saltgrass tufting along the shore.
Almond eyes outlined with the ash of past lives,

We pass the memorial bench, with references to the ship’s surgeon, The Ruler of the Waves and The Breaker of the Rules, and see the gulls:

wheel and fall
into the waves that break, break, break along the shore.
The hissing shallows call my name, draw me
weightless as echoes, along the shore.


We move away from the sea with another group of poems that trace aspects of the wider family. The found poem If you will be kind enough is taken from a letter to the author’s grandparents from the National Children’s Adoption  Association in January 1937. Not normally a fan of found poems, I liked this spare and moving account of the adoption process. The official language with its business-like coldness contrasts with the implicit emotion of adoption, and captures the tone of the time.

Ellen, has a cold and Matron asks:

Would you be kind enough
however to telephone her
tomorrow morning,
when she will let you know
how the baby is.
Her number is Park 4601.

Advice follows about the clothes that need to be bought for the new baby: warm woollen things and the offer of help:

But any clothes Mrs Buttress
has not got yet
Matron will be glad to lend
if you will be kind enough
to return them to her
when you get home.

Family matters return in the very amusing Postcards from a War Zone which follows a post war journey across Europe by Grandfather and the family in 1951.

Grandfather stuffed pound notes into cavities in his Ford Prefect to drive across war torn France to Switzerland. They passed through:

flattened villages of Normandy,
roads heaped with rubble.
German helmets with bullet holes
still lay by abandoned pillboxes.
French ‘peasants’ came out and shook his hand
thanking him for winning the war.

The family sleep in tumble down farmhouses, over the cattle byre, negotiate Switzerland’s hairpin bends, and photograph everything on their box brownie camera. The most memorable part for Grandmother, however, does not appear to be the devastation they have passed though so much as the beauty of Switzerland, with:

            an alpine horn blowing.
It sounds lovely!
We are higher up than an aeroplane.

Most moving of the family poems is the account of old age and decline in Hells Bells & Buckets of Blood where we meet a much loved and struggling parent. The poem has great tenderness:

You walk slower now, spine curved
into a question, holding on.
And again:

I chat, though I know you can’t hear me…
…We walk in a silence deafening everything
…You stumble, clutch me, swear –
that same old pirate curse on your tongue,
clotted as Cornish cream.

Emergency Mints has a richness and variety of subject matter, from the intensely personal to the exuberant memories of childhood to the sadness of decline into old age.

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


Nancy Charley’s The Gospel of Trickster reviewed by E.E. Nobbs

The Gospel of Trickster by Nancy Charley
with illustrations by Alison Gill
Size: 44pp, W125 x H140mm, full colour throughout. First edition, limited to 300 copies, signed by the author. ISBN 9780957273801

Nancy Charley’s and Alison Gill’s  The Gospel of Trickster (Hercules Editions, 2019)  is a hip, prose-verse illustrated version of stories from the New Testament Gospels. In mythology, the Trickster spirit is cunning, untrustworthy, breaks the rules of normal behaviour and morality, and likes to cause trouble, which means they make things happen, thus bringing about change.

Trickster and the Jesus-character act as foils for each other as the story is told. An interesting twist is that we get only Trickster’s point of view.  The Trickster characters make for unusual, sometimes wickedly funny and probably unreliable narrators! The Trickster spirit inhabits a numerous and surprising cast of players over the lifetime of Jesus. Trickster instigates events, confronts Jesus, often through small actions, and when Jesus responds the consequences are profound.

I don’t want to give out spoilers, so I’ll only post one excerpt to give a sense of Charley’s clever writing and word-play, and the chapter/verse formatting reminiscent of the bible.


The Gospel of Trickster is chock full of illustrations by Alison Gill where she interprets parts of Charley’s text, giving almost a graphic-novel feel. Here’s a portion of one.



The Gospel of Trickster is fresh exciting adventure that is witty and with danger, humanity and the promise of change.



E.E. Nobbs lives in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The prize for winning the Doire Press Second Annual International Poetry Chapbook Contest (2013)  was the publication of her first poetry collection,  The Invisible Girl  which is available to order directly from her.

Doire Press

The Invisible Girl  and her author’s page are also on Goodreads. Become her friend at Goodreads so you can share reading lists, and if you’ve read her chapbook — please consider adding your rating and comments. Thank you.