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Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma – reviewed by Pat Edwards

debra almaIf it is possible for poems to have their way with you, then that is just what this compelling, well-crafted collection has been and done to me. I feel somewhat bruised yet strangely amused and lifted by the wit and sincerity of a ride through a string of relationships with parents, lovers, friends and family, where survival has had its costs and left its mark.

Alma is neat but never tied by form, choosing stanzas not always of equal lines, sometimes couplets, to set out her words and messages like the very items of dirty laundry she shares with us. The writing is rich with metaphor, usually accessible, that is always fresh and deeply affecting.

Opening with a poem dedicated to the late Jo Cox, we immediately know Alma is a political creature, a home-maker who loves to grow things and keep animals. This is evident in poem after poem redolent with the nurturing of a mother and wife. But make no mistake, this care-giver will not settle for the “oh of ordinary” as in Nearly Love, or even the romping, gorgeous sex of Cattle Lorry Lover. Shaped by her mixed-race up-bringing, Alma strives to learn the hard way and to seek out pure pleasures like pressing “bare feet…to the sheep-bitten grass” as in Troll, and the parity of loving a well-matched partner with whom she can have fun as in The Dog Knows its Mistress.

Alma knows her own power as a woman and bravely lets us in on the secrets of her sexual confidence. “Once I could get lids from difficult jars with my thighs” she tells us in Thighs, and in both Getting It and I put a pen in my cunt once, she is fearless in her pleasure seeking. Perhaps it is in The Magic Spell that she admits the limit of her powers and her acceptance of the ageing process, when she appears to pass on her prowess to a young woman on a train, bidding her “Open this envelope. Take what you find there.” The generosity and poignancy of this selfless act shows the maturity of a woman comfortable in her own skin and ready to move to another phase in life.

The poems in this collection offer sad reflections on relationships held together for the sake of children and the priority given to everyone else as in Deep Pockets where there are “four dainty cakes and five of us.” There are frightening glimpses of the horror of an abusive partner such as in Dissociation where the light behind a shouting man’s spittle “would shine through…like tiny pearls strung along a woman’s throat.” In Seeing It Coming, there is deep irony in the woman who wants to avoid approaches from the wrong kind of man by using “rear-view mirrors for walking” in the hope she can “see whatever might come from out of her blind spot.”

The wit and humour that permeates many of the poems is at its most arch in The Head of the Church in Rome where Alma ridicules “the penises of the popes”, some of which are “tiny” or even “missing”. Although her childhood was not always easy Alma, a fair-skinned girl in a house full of darker skinned siblings and mother, wryly describes the swapping of eyeballs with her sister in Everywhere We Looked: “we popped out our eyeballs, slipped them into our mouths to moisten them, before slotting into familial sockets, left with little chance of rejection, each looking into our own eyes.”

For me, the triumph of the collection is summed up in the last poem She describes herself like this, where Alma says, “sometimes I can see beyond” (my) own reflection. Alma admits, “I have had many lovers and I have been many times loved. When I come I cry out, and I am the sound of the wind in the trees and I am the rain on the roof when in love, or falling.”

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Dirty Laundry is published Nine Arches Press and is available HERE

Pat Edwards is a writer, teacher and performer from Mid Wales. Her work has appeared more recently in Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, Magma and Deborah Alma’s #MeToo Anthology. Pat runs Verbatim poetry open mic nights and curates Welshpool Poetry Festival.

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Foodbank poets donate to Nourish!!

Joint winners Rachael Clyne and Sara Carroll – well done both! (an offline “like” from Pollygonia who couldn’t vote online went to Belly First). The top votes went to these two poems. Well done poets!!!!

Delivery

Bill, home from hospital –
only a six-week wait for benefits.
Kim, in a halfway house, hopes
she’s done with rough sleeping.
Somewhere, the local women’s refuge
has a new mother and child.
It’s a steep climb to the organ loft
to boxes marked V, F or S –
(vegetarian, family, single).
Laden with tinned & dried goods;
I head to Morrisons, for veg, fruit,
cut-price mince; bread and no fishes.
Unlike most foodbanks,
we supply a week’s worth
of breathing-space, of dignity.
I try to gloss over the shame
of twenty-first century handouts.
I deliver, but do not save.

by Rachael Clyne

 

Belly First
People are falling through the cracks in a system not made to hold them.
The Guardian, April 2018

The day he fell through the crack he went belly first;
tumbling through dark space to land on
chicken bones, fish bones, used tea-bags,
two black pennies – enough to drop on to a church plate.
He put his hands together, called out to anybody there,
and in the silence, tried to climb out.
The sides were pillow-soft, nice,
if you wanted to sit down, watch telly, enjoy
a cup of tea and a biscuit, which he had,
but his mug was empty and before he knew it
he had fallen from a place that was not made to hold him.

by Sara Carroll

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Foodbank poems finale!

Thank you to all the poets who have generously given poems to support this project. The poem with the most “likes” (votes by clicking on likes on your favourite poems) will have a cheque for £50 sent to Nourish Foodbank in the poet’s name. The final count will be midday Sunday 16th July.

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Nourish Community Foodbank provides emergency food and provisions to people in crisis on a referral only basis. Since 2012, they have provided over 110,000 meals to local people costing them on average £3 to provide a meal.

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Food bank poem by Johanna Boal

This competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends soon.

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At the Foodbank

The shop seems dingy and a lack of air,
only opened four hours a week.
Morrison’s supermarket donated yesterday’s bread,
someone from the allotment gave potatoes.
The windows plastered with posters saying,
long-life milk, tinned fish, baby food, toiletries.
The shop is tiny, yet it seems cluttered
two tables in the middle of the floor
and queuing, desperate looking people hand in letters
from the doctor asking for food.

The foodbank has not forgotten its manners
on those tables is a teapot, milk, sugar and a plate of biscuits,
but why do I feel like I am in a funeral parlour?

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Food bank poem by Pippa Little

This competition raises money for Nourish Foodbank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends soon.

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A Nation of Animal Lovers

Of the two cardboard tubs
at Sainsbury’s main door
the one on the left,
‘Cat and Dog Shelter,’
gets fuller, fills quicker
than the one on the right.
I ask the manager, does it seem ok to you
setting them side by side?
He says he’s received no complaints.
But I am complaining.
It’s bad enough
day after day, week after week, year after year
depending on someone leaving a
can of beans or going hungry. Shame
does the heart in well enough without
a tub full of dog-food cans
next to the almost bare ‘Food Bank’.
What have we come to
that this seems ok?

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Food bank poem: Carolyn O’Connell

This competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends 12th July 2018.
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The Worker

She left home at six without breakfast
took the bus to her first client
washed him, served him bread & butter,
tea and ensured he was safe before she left.

For six hours she knocked at new doors
helping those who depended on her
as she drank water to keep going,
she was the only person to care

until her shift was over. She stopped
at the dark door to collect a box
of donated food, with a short shelf life,
from a stranger in a Food Bank jacket.

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Food bank poem: Steve Walter

nourishThis competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends 12th July 2018. Only two more poems left to read….

Food Bank

There’s a shortage of food in the world
like there’s a shortage of money
but there’s more than enough of both to go round…

Call the shortage greed
and you’ll have a taste for what could change.

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Food bank poem: Angi Holden

This competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends 12th July 2018.
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Journey

The night he came home complaining of the flu
she helped him to bed with enough whiskey to fell an ox,
knowing she had just one chance to make this work.
As he snored she packed the children’s bags,
no more than each could carry and enough space left
for a love-worn elephant, a frayed and floppy rabbit.
At five she brought him tea, more whiskey, paracetamol.
She made him comfortable, waited till he drifted off again.
Then she woke each child in turn, eldest first,
shushing their sleepy bodies into home-knit sweaters,
thick socks, stout shoes, best overcoats; sitting them
in shocked silence as she briskly dressed the next.
The baby she carried to the car, his nappy soiled, afraid
his angry cries might wake the dead, or heavy sleeping.
Brake off, she rolled the car downhill, towards the town,
starting the engine only when she saw the blue-black port,
the island ferry stolid, roped tight against its mooring.
At half-past six she stood on deck, watched the dock recede:
ahead a dullache day of wind-rough sea, of rail and road,
of hope the refuge that she’d read about would take them in.
A decade later, packing boxes at the local foodbank, she sees
another family, like hers back then with less than nothing.
Remembers that first meal: donated tins of tuna, sweetcorn,
plum tomatoes, with mashed potato mixed with forks;
her hungry children slurping tea from gaudy mugs.
Knows that nothing will ever taste as sweet as freedom
and the generosity of nameless friends she’ll never meet.

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Food bank poem: Helen Harrison

This competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends 12th July 2018.

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Land of Broken Dreams and Custard Creams

Disheartening with no money left after bills are paid
Among those using food banks are workers on low-pay
Donations lack in nutrients that busy people need
Being burnt-up with worry requires more than tins of beans…
While grateful for basics provided by volunteers
The recipients are aging rapidly far beyond their years
Prone to diabetes as they consume custard creams
With highly sugared cereals in this land of broken dreams
For the many volunteers education would be of help
So donors could contribute items suitable for better health
Ask themselves which ingredients they need for balanced meals;
Recipes which provide less processed food for new fresh appeal
When diets are improved so is general mental health
Sadly lacking in societies with divisions in wealth.
So let the food bank users have an input, and a say
Those the ones that eat it at the ending of each day.

 

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Food bank poem: Maggie Mackay

This competition raises money for Nourish Food Bank. The winning poem, by public vote, has £50 sent to Nourish in the poet’s name. Voting is by “likes” and ends 12th July 2018.
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Empty Shelves
She can last a week without eating.
Her wee girl needs new shoes, you see,
but the hours were cut to zero
and the benefit’s not come through.
Those empty shelves break her heart.

The food bank gives you a great cup of tea,
she’d tell you, if it didn’t make her blush with shame,
and that chocolate biscuit is smashing,
just for that moment as it sits on her tongue.

She smiles for once. They listen to her story.
The bag pulls on her arm and she’s glad it does.
The weight of food, the measure of compassion,
three meals a day for three days,
until, please no, there’ll be a next time.