MARCH/APRIL 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings are prohibited, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple
of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre or the Library in Chichester.
OF THE MONTH: NAOMI FOYLE
Naomi Foyle is a British-Canadian poet, novelist and essayist. Her many poetry publications include The Night Pavilion (Waterloo Press), an Autumn 2008 PBS Recommendation, and Adamantine
(Red Hen/Pighog Press, US/UK). Also the author of five SF novels, she has read her work in the UK, Ireland, Canada, America, Europe and Iraq. She lives in Brighton and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Chichester.
says: 'Hello Everyone and thank you Barry and Joan for arranging, in lieu of our planned celebration at Chichester Public Library, this online gathering of poems. I’m sending two poems from my lyric sequence ‘The Cancer Breakthrough’, which
forms the second half of my new book Adamantine. I wrote the sequence while undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2016-17, an experience that gives me a particular perspective
on the Covid-19 pandemic. Though cancer isn’t contagious, it is an endemic existential threat that asks both individuals and society to question and change the way that we live. I offer these poems in the hope that, as my illness was for me, the coronavirus
may yet prove to be humanity’s medicine.'
If It Is a War . . .
for Sara ‘FizzySnood’ Cutting
The war on cancer is fought in furtive exchanges
of stained rayon frocks, loud ties, frayed leather belts,
left against orders in plastic bags at the doors of closed
steam-cleaned in back rooms, tagged and hung
by immigrants, retirees, transwomen and students,
fingered by party girls, single mums, lads between jobs,
lecturers on zero-hour contracts
who don’t earn enough to Gift Aid.
The war on cancer is waged by athletic baristas,
weekend cyclists, half-marathon runners,
cake-bakers, crochet vest-makers; their media queen
a beaming bald veteran, posting bad jokes and fab pix:
a kooky carousel of tiaras, tinsel and fruit fascinators
her stubble, she commands: dig deep,
past the shrapnel for a fiver, a tenner –
Armies of scientists chase
generals clink champagne flutes at celebrity dinners –
but from control rooms to trenches, everyone knows
the war on cancer will be won by the dead:
anonymous names engraved on brass plaques
screwed to ice-cap machines and hospital walls,
commemorating lumps with lump sums,
in thanks, in memory, in hope for us all.
Will not take place in a lab
or corporate boardroom;
won’t foam in a test-tube,
blink in code on a
be hawked for mega-bucks
by big pharma,
or flood the world’s RSS feeds.
The cancer breakthrough
is happening now
again, and again ―
in the echoing space,
that cold ocean of years,
between one heart
The Grace of Gloves
Once this was a high-class shop
called Handleys of Southsea,
where my mother took afternoon tea
as a lady’s companion before the war.
It’s closing down now.
In her memory
a pair of pale pink leather gloves;
such luxury she would have loved
at a greatly reduced price,
nothing so vulgar as
a bargain buy back then.
How she must have scrimped.
try them on, feel the touch
of sumptuous, soft, kid leather
on my bare skin, remember
the grip of her small, warm hand
as we waited to cross the roads.
I wrap them in crystal tissue,
lay them in a drawer,
think of her cold manicured hands
in her coffin, my last kiss –
lips to her fingers;
the grace of gloves.
There is a Time Everything Must Go
There is a time for everything when
Everything must go. This is the time. Amen.
A time for taking sides and sitting on the fence,
A time for taking stock and taking offence,
A time for moral panics and panic buying,
A time for outing and for othering,
A time for pulled pork, a time for gammon,
A time for tea and Tetragrammaton,
A time for witch hunts and casting stones,
A time for glass houses and empty homes,
A time for plasma screens
A time for taboos and Youtube vlogs,
For verbatim Tweets and verboten blogs,
A time for panic rooms and comfort zones,
For echo chambers and isolation booths,
Weighted blankets and anxiety bracelets,
time for the woke and the wilfully blind,
A time for rainbows and unicorns,
A time for food banks and poverty porn,
Facebook petitions and Twitter storms,
A time for snowflakes and shrinking violets,
For bearded hipsters,
and shaved-head varlets,
A time for outdoor smokes and indoor vapes,
For schoolchildren eating toilet paper crepes
And picking apple cores out of bins,
A time for sinning and losing SIMs,
A time for calling out and cancelling,
A time for blacklisting and whitesplaining,
For hate-emboldening and virtue-signalling,
For xenophobia and victim-blaming,
Self-isolating and social distancing,
A time for psephology and crystal balls,
For pop-up shops
and flat-packed malls,
A time for chiliasm and existential threats,
A time for hedge funds and hedging bets,
For occupancies and pop-up protests,
A time for scapegoats and grotesques,
A time for yellow roses and yellow vests,
A time for throwing milkshakes at fascists,
A time for starting your answers with 'So',
A time for everything when everything must go...
Empty Streets Are Full
How can such emptiness
be so full?
So full of
Awe and beauty.
How can such
Stampede with such
Be so gently
Like this, I guess.
Like words on a screen
Tap dancing out from
This is how worlds are made.
In the empty
Take its place
Upon the stage.
When she was very young
All she had was a leather case; inside, a tattered book −
poems by A.A. Milne − and a faded quilt, hand-sewn
crazy-work, scattered shapes spun
across at random
like crackled glaze on earthenware scullery pots.
Each day she is washed and dressed, curls beneath the quilt,
gazing at the patches. They fit some blanks in her head:
a Sunday frock
of sprigged muslin floats against her legs,
Nanny holds her hand through shadowed Paris streets;
on a Cornish terrace her elder sister sits watching the sea,
yellow braid round the neckline of her peasant blouse.
People visit this strange room, they read aloud; she nods
in time, to They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace
gleefully repeats What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She is ninety three, and ‘When
we were very young’ is now.
A Spectral Review
The world’s greatest touring show has this massive star.
Who never fails to deliver a compelling
It’s best to arrive early and enjoy the anticipation,
then marvel at his majesty, commanding our devotion.
A show for all the world to see and different times to suit.
Free tickets, and two shows a day –
A heavenly lightshow, the best I’ve ever seen.
The first act celebrates hope, everything is possible.
Let wonder settle where the eye falls, make your merry dream.
The curtains of darkness are drawn back, action
How the weary worries of the day, somehow melt away.
The interval is welcomed, a time to meet with others,
for sustenance, our toilet and all that we must do.
The second act regards appreciation. A thank
for all the mini joys we’ve shared, the laughter and the beauty
now applauded. For in their harmony they connect us all.
A final stage exit, the changing hue of each tableau,
with the calmest encore which does not leave
but inspired and being grateful for this pause, we let it go,
resting in the certainty we’ll see it another day.
Like the greatest celebrity he’s more than what we see,
an off-world perspective
of his heavenly body,
as if it were us this wandering star revolved around.
The sunrise illuminates a truth and we awaken in bliss,
a daily reminder with every rise and curtain fall,
that we only play a minor role, a walk on part
we never take the lead. Most of all we realise
this show will continue long after our own sunset,
that in this theatre nothing of what we do remains.
What we say and do may rub off on one another,
but our Grammys
and Baftas will be forgotten.
A thought which leaves us open and ultimately freed.
The origamist comes flat-packed.
But the evening unfolds
and his many sides appear,
now shy, now bold; now quiet,
now sharing our delight
as his cranes multiply
and flutter down.
His eyes are on us
as his fingers crease and
fast and free as a pianist
watching the conductor.
penguins tottering on the table edge,
a man playing a double bass, …
till, last of all,
he gives us each
raising his eyes to heaven as if to hang above it
the question mark of the child creator
on the First Day.
is it about Wisteria?
Edwardian beauty, décolleté, languid
Over arches and pergolas, stately tall
On walls, your colour
Impossible to pass by without a second glance,
A secret lover's touch, cupping
Heavy blooms, an avid inhalation of that spring incense,
silky confection of warm vanilla, nutmeg and cream.
Beneath the safety of an English sky, more lilac
Than the lilac, you hint at the exotic,
Moorish pendants in
cool mosques and
The breath of spice that wafts from secret cedar shutters.
And as your touch strokes my skin, perfume, nature’s reminder,
Rushes me back to a
tendril tap on a child’s
Half-open window, and an awakening
In a twilit room.
Restoring a Ruin in
It's comforting to think
that in that old dead house,
beneath the dust and dirt of years,
there was a hidden home,
a living place that we could disinter.
Where once was
we brought in light,
where once was damp decay
we lavished thought and care
and step by step we breathed new life
into sleeping stones and wood.
We filled the hearths with blazing logs
and opened up
the shutters wide
to let the sunlight in
together with the songs of birds,
the barking calls of wild deer
and the distant sounds of village life.
Music, love and laughter
replaced the sighs of ghosts,
rustling wings of birds and bats,
became the echoes of those times long gone,
when other people lived and loved and maybe died
beneath that ancient roof.
Pilgrims of Night
In an age which is defined by its faith
when even apostate Swinburne was interred
in holy ground, laid to eternal rest
amongst public outrage in a neat row
with pious relatives who had knelt
on assured, cold-stone
we can imagine that lost souls seeking
salvation were stirred by the glowing glass
which luminesced above their bared heads
and fervent supplications for grace.
In this sequestered church of St. Lawrence,
separated by scouring tide and crumbling cliff
from the moss-aged beauty of the old abbey
and its spruce Victorian off-spring
where the reviled prince of pain still lies
in Bonchurch, we can detect an air
of studied neglect
in the dusty
display of angled aisles, dark-grained pews,
solemn slabs of memorial tablets,
hand-sewn kneelers and famine appeals.
What vision remains in this temporal age,
whose currents rush by the latched
when only occasional visitors
step from the world into this quiescent
solitude? It is the glass which catches
the eye with sinuous swirls of living
lines that at first engage and then impose
We see the sick and dying
reaching out for succour, pilgrims of the night,
transfigured by the fickle wash of light.
Seen From The Garden (evening ) Take Two.
In a pool of lamplight
She’s there at the sink
Pushes back her sleeves
Runs water, tests its warmth
Reaches for her yellow gloves.
Soap bubbles cling
to glasses and bowls
are rinsed and stack
Her gloves removed
Leave only a dust
She crosses to the kitchen table
where papers are piled, she sits
picks up her pencil and writes.
“In a pool of lamplight
She’s there at the sink
Pushes back her sleeves
Runs water, tests its warmth
Reaches for her yellow gloves.”
courtesy: your wise old eyes
still crinkle with amusement
at every casual jest, yet
one senses the abiding absence
held in check—the face remains
a surface decorating blankness—
like dusty sunlight falling
on the weed-choked platform
of a long-abandoned station
as trains grind by
towards so many urgent destinations
that now don’t interest you at all
Two Sides of a Square, Tenerife
To the north, against the black cathedral,
Five Puerto de la Cruz boys play kickaround at midday,
The ball ricocheting from 200-year-old walls,
Sometimes at angles as taxing as Church theories
And doctrines which, 80 years on, still bounce towards me
Twenty metres away, on the steps, it’s Mother Teresa’s daily rite
As the mock-saint figure, in familiar
blue-touched white habit,
Congeals statuesquely in the warmth, an inviting basket at her feet.
Calcutta’s world mother would, I suspect, smile wryly at
The cheeky compliment and walk briskly on,
Hands out to balm the pain
and fear of the dying.
Saints’ feet hardly touch the ground.
Smoke and Mirrors
(like candles in the wind)
I saw us in the mirror,
candles wrestling air,
small spears of spluttering light
for the mysteries to play with.
Not noble like trees,
just flickers of uncertainty,
our endless scurrying proof
we were mere mice aeons ago.
Now in a candle’s
I see the hourly contest with life,
always too busy to notice
time’s unwavering eye
casually marking our progress,
observing without caring,
primed with a deep breath
to extinguish our glow.
With a flicker and gasp
we stutter and fail,
fragile as gossamer-sleep
plummeting through a dream.
The trick of life unravels feebly,
silent as forgotten vespers,
thin as puzzled smoke escaping
a solitary blackbird sings
from light in lock-down, and sleep slips
silence, with song-words
that touch age-taught ways
Sixty dogs dead in a fire,
a boy accused of arson.
Four men sit in outpatients,
to drain strong tea, hoping
they’ll go home today
without a catheter.
Two men are here with wives,
the other with his daughter,
like my father and me. I stop turning
pages, to watch sudden
Spitfires, Messerschmitts, flying over the hospital,
old sound through glass. My father tells me
what they are, how he remembers diving
under hedges, playing strafing.
Everyone is watching.
The other daughter vomits
on her father’s trousers. She sags,
unconscious. A nurse slaps an alarm.
We slide, my father and I, closer
to the wall. A dozen staff arrive
in the waiting room to put the daughter
a stretcher. They take her away.
The mother she was waiting for returns
from her appointment, sits next to her husband
who’s changed into blue medical trousers.
She tells him, Alfred, to ring Kenny.
all right, says Alfred on his mobile.
She’s gone to A and E.
I put my sunglasses on because I’m crying
and watch planes fly across blue sky.
Our cups and saucers rest on the broad arms
of our soft seats. I eat my father’s biscuits.
He’s worried they'll put the catheter back in
if he can’t pee, I know. My father tries to smile
as one of the other men leaves with his wife.
None of us is watching
that’s showing us how to cook.
New Spring 2020
Spring is not a thing we can line up along with Summer and the others like standing
nor a place on the other side of our orbit that we move into once a year on our way into
We do it.
The winter trees hazed with green standing in bluebell floods and snowdrop carpets, young
badgers and suicidal rabbits now roadside corpses, alarmed blackbirds, sudden thrushes,
hedgerows alive and mounds and piles of yellow gorse, flitting tits and finches, dunnock flocks
and flocks of crocus, tall daffs, yellow dandelion bursts
and white spheres, heavy bees and
bluebottles, sheep flecking fields, fine kept horses, bright forsythia and fullest pinkest
magnolia, even the tall grasses in slanted sun, then late snuffling hedgehogs and nocturnal
vividly, extravagantly, promiscuously, outrageously, licentiously, profligately, superfluously
and all at once
The gulls, whose last year’s chicks both died, now do it again nonetheless
and stand facing
sunrise on their roof ridge among the suburban chimneys,
among the vigorous dawn chorus, among the blossoming and freshly budding trees,
This is living.
This creating and recreating, bubbling and bursting
making of more, full and outpouring,
is of and for itself worth living for.
Then, between the rising and the falling is the hiatus,
gravity free and exertionless when there is fulfilment:
a momentary, dreamlike moment
of no motion before the
fall, when the fullness of the heart empties and the heart’s singing stops.
Music turns tinny and dance absurd, limbs awkward, friends strange, love hollow, talk
and all the
days are too long.
Spring is not a thing we can keep
nor a place which we can rest and find peace in
nor a purpose to be inserted into souls.
We do it, like the gulls, again and again and again until finally