OPEN MIC POEMS

APRIL 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: DEBORAH TYLER-BENNETT

Deborah says:  I’m a European poet and short fiction writer living in Leicestershire but who (current restrictions permitting) spends some time each year in Brighton and East Sussex.  Thus, Brighton and the South Downs are abiding influences on the colours, textures and sounds of my work.  As are vintage clothes and hats which I collect and wear.  I currently have eight volumes of poetry, and three books of linked short fictions published by various presses including Shoestring, Smokestack, Kings’ England, and Nine Arches.  Volumes include Pavilion (Smokestack, set in Brighton) and Mr Bowlly Regrets (Kings’ England, 2017).  I was also fortunate enough (in 2010) to be offered a residency at Keats House, Hampstead, which influenced the volume Kinda Keats (Shoestring).

Before the pandemic, I performed my work a great deal, and currently still do this for various festivals and events online (my most recent being for Storytown, Corsham in 2020).  Brighton venues I’ve read at include Castor and Pollux on the seafront, Brighton Pavilion for Sussex Day (where I read to individual tables and performed on balconies and under portraits, upstairs, in my favourite historic building), Pighog Poetry at the Red Roaster Café, and AT Open House for the Brighton Fringe - reading in a lovely garden alongside other performers.  I miss performing live at such welcoming and inclusive venues, and my poetic work for art galleries and museums.

During the past few months, I’ve been teaching my usual Adult Education creative writing classes (online) for the WEA but have also been sending work out to small presses and projects.  Newly published pieces include work for Writer’s Café (online), The Hunterian Museum’s Edwin Morgan Poem (online), Imminent, David Severn’s poetry, music, and photography web pages - Songs of Solitude, The Black Lives Matter Anthology (Civic Leicester, 2020), and in various projects for City Arts, Chichester Poetry and Durham Festival’s Murmuration Project amongst others.  This year, I have a new poem coming out in Dear Dylan, an anthology dedicated to Dylan Thomas, for Indigo Dreams press.  As with many poets, writing poetry, and organisations such as South Downs Poetry and this site, have been lights in the shadows during these difficult times.

 

Poems: ‘A Dance in the Dark …’

The poems I’ve selected for the Open Mic are ones I feel sum up my poetic career thus far.  ‘West Pier Serenade’ and ‘Regent’ were both published in my volume, Pavilion (Smokestack, 2010), and are set in Brighton.  I’ve performed them often.  In the first one, I tried to convey how the ruined West Pier has continued to haunt my imagination.  I thought a lot about sound, and filmic imagery when writing it.  In the second, ‘Regent’, I travelled the poem to the Royal Pavilion with it’s astonishing array of colours, textures, and ghosts.  For me, the Pavilion’s one of those structures that provides a feast for the soul.  In these hard times, just thinking about the unlikeliness of its art and design gives me a lift.  I’m sure, I’m not alone in that.

Given the wonderful You Tube film for Keats’s Bi-Centenary from South Downs Poetry and the University of Chichester, I thought I’d also include a poem from Kinda Keats (Shoestring, 2013).  ‘John and Tonic’ was about a reading by John Hegley that I attended at Keats House.  Events at the reading (watching two birds flittering outside as Hegley read) seemed very Keatsian.  I was lucky enough to have the poem also placed in a Keats House anthology edited by John Hegley, (Here We Go Round the Mulberry Tree, Keats House, 2013, pg.40), illustrated by Quentin Blake, one of my favourite illustrators.  In Kinda Keats, I wrote many poems directly about Keats’s life and Wentworth Place, his shared house, but felt this one really summed up a spirit of place as it exists now.  I’m so happy to have it re-printed here, for his Bi-Centenary. 

Lastly, there’s a new, hitherto un-published poem, ‘Short Pantoum of the Foxes.’  Watching through my bedroom window, recently, I saw two foxes playing in the snow on a garage roof.  These bought to mind the lovely James Wright poem ‘A Blessing’ and Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ – both poems involving joy brought by the natural world, or maybe secreted within it. 

As with ghostly couples dancing at the old Pier, the Regent refusing to leave his outrageous palace, or parakeets courting outside Keats House, those foxes are my ‘dancers in the dark’ and, I hope, provide the reader with images of poetic endurance in stressful times. 

Deborah Tyler-Bennett: Poems

 

West Pier Serenade

 

There’s a dance going on, in the dark, above our heads,

men pressing women against laundered suits,

a girl’s surprised to find her older partner dances

better than boys, a woman leaves imprinted lips

staining the bar-tender’s milky cheek.

 

Above us, the burned-out Pier against evening’s

Guinness-black curtain, where feet shuffle in rhythm

(a few toes getting stepped on) and maybe this

close-stepping’s what we’re made for,

hands tight against gabardine or georgette clad backs.

It may be the sea, or the dancers’ suggestive whispering:

“At last, at last, at last …”

 

Above our heads, pier-bones lost to night,

where phantoms clutch each other.

Only the sea?  Or a woman breathing to her partner,

before kissing him: “I wish tonight would last,

would last … would last.”

 

From Pavilion (London: Smokestack, 2010), pg. 9.

 

 Regent

 

Ghosting the Pavilion, struggling to catch your eye

as you study pock-marked mirrors I knew new.

Shock of my floury, moon-pie

face, hair seeming too small and not well curled,

spirit of better times, bereft of dogs … parties … mistresses …

 

Hoping to make tourists, like yourself, recoil

my impressive form’s refracted

in one hundred

knives …           forks …                spoons…

Shudders in and out of compotes

hefty with wax fruit, whorls eyes

of porcelain Mandarins

                                     to no effect.

 

Through gift shop shelves I squish,

tinkling pot-bellied Christmas baubles,

juddering gewgaws, rattling shrink-wrapped postcards

(depicting regal under-drawers that can’t be mine

too large, sink me, too large)

and think of breathing times

when trifling debts were trumpeted

around the house, and penny-sheets lampooned me

fat enough to sport those mighty under-drawers.

 

Listen.  Sore phantom feet squelched

into silk Chinese slippers for eternity

task your steps.  I call … I call …

nothing sounds against empty air …

 

Outside, exotic borders roaring with a thousand scarlet Dragon-tongues.

 

From Pavilion (London: Smokestack, 2010), pg. 52.

 

John and Tonic

 

Tonight, as John Hegley sang poems, him coaxing,

Keats House chorusing (happily, scarily, uproariously)

bright green parakeet, g-and-t’s slice of lime,

bounced into trees with tomato-billed, fractious mate.

 

Readers … audience digging ribs: “Did you see?”

Unconcerned, his own deft poetry

dainty-clawed parakeet hung upside down,

mate off, soaring.  

 

Passing gilt Music Room as I was leaving

saw through framing windows, beaming

faces, their interior candles.  Gazing

netted trees, caught love bird laughter.

 

Kinda Keats (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2013), pg.13.

 

 

    Short Pantoum of the Foxes

 

    My window watch, as snow had dropped all day,

    night’s inky blanket muffling the street,

    starred fall vanishing on garage roofs,

    and then I saw the foxes’ silhouettes.

 

    Night’s inky blanket, muffling the street,

    as cub hailed cub, scissoring the dark,

    and then I saw the foxes’ silhouettes,

    shadow catching flakes out of the void

 

    as cub hailed cub.  Scissoring the dark

    sibling faced sibling, leaning from the white,

    shadow catching flakes out of the void,

    limbs bracing in a moment of pure joy.

 

    Sibling faced sibling. Leaning out from white,

    my window watch, as snow … had dropped … all day …

    limbs bracing in a moment of pure joy,

    starred fall vanishing on garage roofs.

 

Open Mic Poetry – April 2021

Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Barry Smith, Chris Hardy, Kevin Higgins, Greg Freeman, Camilla Lambert, Richard Williams, Geoffrey Winch, Raine Geoghegan, Christine Rowlands, Denise Bennett, Alan Bush, Kevin Maynard and Piers Rowlandson. 

 

Barry Smith

Noli Me Tangere

 

At nine just after breakfast on this

Good Friday, I step into the garden

for a breath of fresh air in the shrubbery

with spring sunshine bouncing off

the jaunty celandines, all pert angles

and generous in their Easter giving,

the bountiful camellias are fully

alight with bright pink Donation’s

spent petals spilling across the grass,

Guilio Nuccio replying in regal red

and soft-white Magnoliaeflora

offering its perfectly formed coronets,

the bluebells in long-leaved sprawls

of green are calmer now after the night’s

smothering wash of sickly-sweet perfume

and the tiny birdseye blue flowered alkanets

are bullying their way to prominence

at every corner of the pathways.

 

This morning’s emails bring the cathedral

newsletter, a line of communication

in this time of lockdown and isolation,

and there on my screen I see Sutherland’s

incandescently orange and turquoise

image of Mary Magdalene reaching up

to the gardener on the spiral steps above

the tomb, compelled to keep her distance –

Noli Me Tangere, touch me not.

At six today, as every day now,

we will brew a pot of Ceylon tea

and take our seats in the front room

turn on the television news and listen

as the overnight tallies of the dead

accompany the shots of enveloping

blue gowns, gloves, visors and masks

carrying the crayoned names of those tending

the cocooned forms on their beds of white.

 

(Easter, 2020. First published in Chichester Cathedral Newsletter and subsequently in Littoral Press magazine, Spring 2021.)

 

Chris Hardy

An Unkindness

 

On the hill where I

cut thistles in July,

cut them then

and they will die,

I followed a white rooster

up and down                  

while axe-billed scavengers

mocked us in the sky.

He kept running knew

he’d outrun me

but didn’t know

he couldn’t last

and couldn’t fly.

 

White tailed cockerel

you crowed

in Summer dawn,

woke us both

too soon.

We don’t need you

in our field,

there will be eggs

in hedge or barn                     

when hens declare

look where hay lies warm

and my daughters run

to find them

in the sun.

 

They laughed at me

with my long pole

unable to catch

a small white bird

and when I did

they stopped a while

but then forgot.

We didn’t put him

in the pot,

left him laid out

for the ravens

that let souls lie                       

until noon.

 

The couplet near the start 'Cut them in July and then they will die' is part of a piece of folk lore about controlling thistles ('Cut them in June that's too soon' etc).

A gathering of ravens is an 'Unkindness' .. that's not the only unkind thing here of course.

The setting is Radnorshire, In Greek myth Ravens are associated with the souls of the dead ..

Apparently they are back at Chichester Cathedral. But I have not seen them or the Peregrines recently ..

Chris Hardy

 

Kevin Higgins

Artists For More Of The Same

#Right2MoreOfTheSame

 

When the regime begins auctioning

your children off to the Chinese,

and cremating the homeless;

for everyone who goes marching or writes

shouty poems against such things

there are others, like us, who quietly

welcome such reforms.

 

Our plans have been independently costed

by the Office of Budget Irresponsibility.

All the Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre’s

hairdressing needs will be paid for

by raising the retirement age

for garbage disposal workers

to seventy five.

 

For their fortieth birthdays, all novelists

of no discernible consequence

will receive a knit-your-own

Martin Amis kit, and the ability

to cause nausea and bloating

in others.

 

For their fiftieth, members

of the National Academy of Arts and Letters–

and those who consistently liked

the right Facebook posts –

will receive a Jowl Development Grant

(payable annually) and a toothpick

with which to remove

any of the Minister for Culture’s pubes

which may have become

lodged between their teeth.

 

http://www.manifestopress.org.uk/index.php/publications2/48-the-minister-for-poetry-has-decreed

 

Greg Freeman

THE WEEKEND STARTS HERE

Mick shrugging off the starstruck teenagers

told by the director to get up on stage,

concentrating more

on his moves than his miming,

holding it all back on Little Red Rooster.

 

Cilla’s face lit with wide-eyed astonishment

that all this was really happening.

Sixteen-year-old Lulu

descending a staircase

knowing exactly what was happening.

 

Them, led by him.  The Beach Boys

in their striped shirts; strangely,

not very hip at all. Gerry crossing

the Mersey; the robotic Dave Clark Five;

a lost and left behind Billy Fury.

 

Dusty at her happiest

in her Motown comfort zone

trying too hard to transmit her joy.

Martha and the Vandellas,

Heatwave in all its glory.

 

Camilla Lambert

Thoughts on the weight of a soul   

 

Does my soul

weigh more than yours,

a fat cherry

not half a blackberry? 

 

When it comes to judgment day

will my soul-mate

lend me a slither

to weigh down the scales?

 

Or perhaps a lighter soul

can more speedily girdle the earth,

seek out nectar, sustenance

for infinite time.

 

           *

 

All I could do

when my mother died,

each arm light as a swallow’s skull,

was gather up my threadbare belief

 

and pray her soul be untethered

to swim with a company of seals,

in easeful peace

away from the storm.

 

             *

 

I met a melancholy soul,

staring at a wolf moon

on the cusp of midnight,

poised to leap skywards.

 

I questioned it delicately:

where did it came from

or want to be?

It could not answer

 

nor could the black-haired child

thrown out from the sea

over sea-weedy rocks

on the edge of the shingle beach.

 

When I lifted them up,

soul and child,

they rested feather-light,

equally balanced.

 

 

Note: in 1907 Duncan MacDougall, a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts hypothesized that souls have physical weight. He attempted to measure the mass lost by a human at the moment of death. One of the six subjects lost three-fourths of an ounce (21.3 grams).

 

 

Richard Williams

Butterflies in the Age of Dinosaurs

 

Such fragile wings entombed: 

fragments for our imagination, 

we press faces to the past, 

sluice colour into the ghosts of veins, 

from there to the shadows of bone. 

 

In the time that was before flowers 

moths and butterflies drank sap 

from the weeping bark of trees, 

then forests laid down and died, 

a layer of world renewed. 

 

Here in this cathedral to the dead 

rows of display case cabinets, 

exhibits long extinguished 

like the trees that hold these fossils, 

such base material to reform. 

 

Or the sand melted into panes of glass. 

Or the copper and zinc refined to brass. 

Or the stone that held such treasure. 

So much there was to extract. 

So much fuel to burn.

 

 

This first appeared in South last spring.

It came from a news article about the discovery of butterfly fossils predating flowering plants by millions of years.

 

Geoffrey Winch

Answers to your Unasked Question 

 

Because when I’ve answered 

your questions before with

questions of my own,

you have never answered. 

 

Because things we said

in company remained

the same but different

when we were alone. 

 

Because when stakes appear

too high it’s necessary

to believe bluff

has a part to play.   

 

Because now we’re back

in the real world, there’s  

no need to leave it so long

before we leave it once more.  

 

Because certain experiences

are better rehearsed only inside

the head: best not to review ethics

so soon after making love. 

 

Because known answers 

do not require questions 

to be asked.

 

Raine Geoghegan

The Lungo Drom                             

 

Bare,

blistered feet.

 

She walked

over stone

on grass

through thicket and brush

in water,

snow,

flowers and mud.

 

Her hair grew long,

flowing like a river.

Tiny silvery fish latching

onto each tendril,

longing for the open sea.

 

At night

she slept in bushes, caves, beside trees.

She dreamt of fire.

 

She drank from streams,

picked heather, lavender, rosemary for healing,

exchanged them for bread,

kept on walking.

 

Her hair turned white.

Her bones thinned.

Her body bent over

and her eyes grew weak .

Still she kept on moving.

 

 

One early morning under a mottled sky

she stopped.

The moon shone in her body.

Light fell on the ground

and she knew

this was her atchin tan.

 

(Romani jib (words):  The lungo drom  -  the long road; Atchin tan  -  stopping place/home.

Published in Words of the Wild Anthology 2019)

 

Christine Rowlands

Kitchen Know How


Peel, plunge
Discard, dice
Separate and slice.

Lift, layer
Sift, stir
Season add some spice.

Beat, blend
Skim, score
Scatter, mash and mix.

Crush, drain
Chop, toss
Arrange and serve and

EAT.

 

Denise Bennett

Tulip Kiss

45th wedding anniversary 14th June 2020

 

he takes the wood

     in his arms

 

a bough fallen

    from a tulip tree

 

in the churchyard

    and with his

 

sculptor’s hands

    fashions an image

 

of lovers

     caught in a near kiss

 

 

Alan Bush

One life
(after Caroline Bird)

 

bolted down, burning
a clean version
of me, each cloud
a shadow

a shrill name with still air
flickered in the instant
blackness of a frozen
river, and the balcony

of the sun
filled the sky
like lampshades
with your body

a rush of ash
from someone else’s dream
that said ‘it’s how
you win’

 

Kevin Maynard

VIXEN 

 

the whole estate’s asleep now but one tall silvery lamp still 

flutters amber light in a flickering circumambient pool 

revealing a furry lump of something wholly feral with a twitching tail . . . 

 

casual, coolly incurious, curled up beside a Lexus in our car-park’s 

a shamelessly, comfortably coiled-in-slumber she-fox; 

from the bedroom window I fiddle with the focus on my binocs 

 

and admire the near-perfect triangles of her white/black/russet face 

the near-perfect smaller triangles of her white/black ears 

and the sudden red of her yawn—as if bored by our stupid dead cars 

 

by our predictably prissy, mundane and diurnal lives, as if proud 

of her own free nocturnal domain, an outlaw away from the crowd, 

but in no way furtive, no, a brigand queen, quick teeth and sudden blood . . . 

 

her head twists lazily back and round, she stretches two dainty black paws 

and for a moment rolls half over in an elegantly fidgety daze 

before nibbling the snuff-coloured fur on her back, foraging maybe for fleas . . . 

 

‘foxes have holes’ . . . and you may have one down by the river, it seems . . . 

Reynard, tod-lowrie, dodd, volpone—oh yes, you’ve quite a few names: 

you’ve surely nested in me and burrowed your sharp snout into my dreams 

 

and maybe that’s why in China the fox is a most spooky creature, 

often a beautiful woman: but if you, say, reach out and touch her, 

she’ll let out a bark and a yelp and reveal her true otherworldly nature 

 

as this etherial vixen lifts herself, flicks up her delicate brush and is off 

a long lean silently gliding shadow slicing the dark like a knife 

and then through the frosty air (my breath smokes white) comes a distant cough 

 

which is all that she’ll grant me now after flitting away like the thief 

in the night that those who classed her as vermin would coarsely harrumph 

as with horncalls they rode out to hounds to ensure that their hencoops were safe 

 

and it’s left to us ignorant townfolk to see her for what she most certainly is 

a kind of nocturnal divinity haunting the streets where she flows 

from shadow to flickering shadow, fleet shadow herself under the guttering stars 

 

 

 

 

                                                        Piers Rowlandson

 

Country Churchyard I

 

The headstone is up there,

By the hedge. Yes, the white one.’

and of his beloved son

Richard.

1949-1972

I can see you’re doing the maths.

“Only twenty three.”

You seem surprised.

Twenty two, I reply.

He never reached his twenty third birthday.

 

The view is south, across the valley.

But you can’t see the estuary

Where our memories were made.

 

The wooden scow.

The Fireball: out on the trapeze.

The smell of the mud

And of seaweed rotting in the sun.

 

The trees have grown tall.

You can’t see the Downs

Where his ashes are scattered.

 

There’s nothing more to say.

Or perhaps just one last thing,

A favourite saying of his:

“Let’s go faster”

OPEN MIC POEMS

MARCH 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: ROBIN HOUGHTON

Robin says: These days I’m fortunate enough to be (pretty much) purely a writer. I was what was called an ‘early adopter’ in all things internet - leaving a traditional marketing career to take an MA in Digital Media in 2000, then running a business helping other businesses with their online marketing.  Like many poets, I started writing when at school, but then the day job got in the way. When I took it up again in my forties, I started reading contemporary poetry and realised I needed to work a bit harder if I wanted to be published!  In 2014 I got together with Peter Kenny to form Telltale Press, a poets’ publishing collective, and with three other members we published our debut pamphlets and ran regular readings and events. That was a wonderful springboard and since then I've been lucky enough to have poems in many magazines, and to win some competitions, including the Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition in 2018 and the Live Canon pamphlet competition in 2019. I'm a member of the Society of Authors, the Poetry Society, Hastings Stanza and the Needlewriters collective in Lewes. I'm currently studying for an MA in Poetry & Poetics at the University of York.

 For the last few years I've been compiling a quarterly list of UK and Irish poetry magazines including details of their submissions windows which I send out free of charge. I've also written A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines, first published in 2018 and a second edition updated and expanded December 2020. Only £6 including UK postage, available at http://apoetsguide.co.uk/

 Although I'm a South Londoner by birth I'm very fond of Chichester and my family has a few ties to the area - my parents retired to Aldwick in 1982, and my sister trained as a teacher at the old Bishop Otter College. Oh, and I've sung Evensong at the cathedral several times with my group The Lewes Singers.

 robinhoughtonpoetry.co.uk

 

 About the poems

 'The summer we went to funerals' was published in The Rialto in 2017. I think it was probably inspired by the many times I've been to funerals at crematoria. Also possibly I was thinking about a wonderful 1996 Czech film called Kolya, in which an organist takes his little boy to work with him when playing at the crem. Eventually he stops doing it when the boy makes a little 'theatre' model to play with, complete with coffins disappearing behind curtains.

 'Ladies Hour' was written for Poems and Pictures, the blog of the Mary Evans Picture Library. The blog features poems inspired by some of the thousands of images in the library's collection, from historic photos and paintings to advertising material. It's a fascinating archive. This poem was written in response to an illustration from a 1912 White Star Line brochure for the Titanic. It depicts the indoor swimming pool on one of the first class decks, and a number of elegant ladies sitting and paddling. There was a poignant irony to the idea of these ladies practising their swimming, unaware of the fate of the ship.

 First published in Prole, 'Before the Splicing' is a little sonnet about having second thoughts before a wedding. Come to think of it, my first published poem was on a similar theme. Possibly a reflection on my first marriage!

 'All the relevant gods' is the title poem of my second pamphlet (Cinnamon, 2018) and it dates from the period when I was working for adidas at its German headquarters. I found my German colleagues as cold as ice, and feeling rather lonely, I made friends with the Latin American office down the corridor. I used to often find excuses to visit them. One friend in particular was a big-hearted woman who I call Sagra in the poem. She saved my life I think.

 

The summer we went to funerals

 

your suit smelt of floral tributes

and crematorium smoke - just one fag, you said

during Sheep May Safely Graze.

 

I learnt the importance of names –

Old Blush, Home Sweet Home

fashioned into one big DAD  –

craning at the window of a hearse

holding up buses on the High Street.

You told me the cars must be immaculate.

All that glass. Respect is in the details.

 

I pictured Dad polishing his boots by the back door.

And later, his waxwork face framed in silk.

 

I came to recognise the rituals –

lads standing around awkward in black

old aunties looking for an arm

everyone waiting their turn in the sun.

Mourners fingering hymn books

not knowing the words, desperate for a drink.

The flower show as they left, cursory reading

of labels handwritten by strangers.

The chapel filling and emptying

a ballcock priest bobbing on eddies of grief.

 

But you shut me out of the real business –

the night visits and all that happens

between a last breath and the first flame.

You said I wasn't ready for that.

 

 Ladies' Hour

 

It's good for the bust

just a gentle stretch or two

then small steps in

 

it's warmer than you think

it's deeper than you think

I love the blue fear of this –

 

down, down – watching my leg

disappear, and the other,

in up to my waist, my neck –

that's it

 

between me and the sea

just the smell of steerage,

the low belly of boat, the swell.

 

It's good for the bust.

I will do this. Reach forward,

take a breath. I believe

 

I will float, I will glide,

just a push with my foot,

my little foot, and let go

 

 

Before the splicing

 

Once she's cut her rope from the spool

it has a job to do: it may tie a boat to a cleat,

secure a headsail in fair wind, bind a spell

to teach her standing from her working end. 

The line is her friend. She's witnessed time

and again the trouble caused by a hockled

lay, how hard to untwist, unmake the same –

worked so many nights, twined and reeled,

shaped-shifting coiled sisal and greyed hemp,

she's whipped up frays and braided edges.

So why does she fear the heat of the lamp

and the slipping loose of a thousand fastenings?

She will dig out the core, feed a new line through,

strong for the passing and the coming-to.

 

 

 All the relevant gods

 

Sagra’s office walls flare chilli and lime.

To enter is to firewalk:

my dry skin puckers.

 

If Sagra’s mood is aflame, she’s up

and at me, black flap

of hair shake-shaking

Sagra is whiplash of Carnival,

staccato rage and/or joy

more shout than song

gravelling my face

with Spanish expletives.

 

I’m as passive as the laptops

around us. But Sagra is tall,

higher than the jungle canopy

up on a pyramid,

high on chocolate

with Itzamna and Inti.

 

She breathes rainforest

and speaks sky, more miraculous

than the giant hummingbird

drawn in the desert grit

and I know this:

every morning

her sly lump of an English boyfriend

must grope out of Sagra’s fragrant bed,

examine the cold play of mirror

and thank all the relevant gods

for whatever it is she sees in him.

 

 

Open Mic Poetry – March 2021

 Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Mandy Pannett, Denise Bennett, Raine Geoghegan, Joan Secombe, Rodney Wood, Barry Smith, Geoffrey Winch, Paul Stephenson, Terry Timblick, Kevin Maynard, Richard Williams, Christine Rowlands and Piers Rowlandson.

 

Deborah Tyler-Bennett                               

Sonnet                              

Keats’ Bedroom

                         

Hardest to be here, near his bed,

pen-and-wash light of this slight room.

Visiting Severn’s death-sketch, webbed

ink suggesting ‘wake him’.  Catacomb’s

stark day-lily, poet’s white mask shakes

as if the sickly, living, John’s still here,

gaze flickered-insect caught in lace,

‘do stay’ he whispers.  There’s a moth tear

on his night-shirt, I consider comic

stories for him, tales of friends,

some diversion from this chronic

silence, thinking moth-holes won’t mend,

stare at his shirt.  ‘Better now … You go …’

Young smile’s flame gutters from view. 

 

From ‘Kinda Keats’ (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2013), 20.

 

 

Mandy Pannett

Vessel

 

Seen

in

snowdrops,

crystals, leaves,

petal-full flowers,

tiny hexagonal chambers

of the honeybee, perfect spirals of ammonites,

Man’s DNA, these codes are inbuilt and intuitive, an ancient underpinning.

 

 

There

are

many

famous names:

Phidias’ Zeus,

Fibonacci, man of Pisa,

Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci,

architects: Le Corbusier, the music of Satie, Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau.

 

 

And

take

Dali’s

obsession

with the Ratio,

his passion for the number twelve –

apostles, months, the Trinity, tribes of Israel –

his Last Supper’s dodecahedron fills the room like a spaceship, a vessel of light.

 

 

Denise Bennett

Remedy for Winter Blues

 

on black-edged days

un-bottle the robin’s song

and listen

 

pull a soft woollen shawl

about your shoulders;

feel the warmth

 

buy a blue hyacinth

for your window ledge

inhale scented breath

 

see the green linnets

trapezing

on the bird feeder, laugh

 

take a quiet walk

by the water’s edge

and look for haiku

 

rest on a bench

by the harbour wall

by the hanging baskets

 

purple pansies

flecked with snow

shiver in the wind

 

let your sadness

be carried on the tide,

swish of grey dance-dress

 

anyday now

the blackthorn

will burst into white lace

 

 

Raine Geoghegan

Dark is the Forest

 

Dark is the forest and deep.

In times gone past it’s where we’d sleep.

Under the oaks or the Hawthorn tree,

drop our covels, our minds roam free.

 

Dark is the forest and deep,

For dukkering, our malts will keep,

a small gold ring tied with string,

around their wrist or in their fist.

 

Dark is the forest and deep,

where foxgloves grow and deer do leap,

our plans are spun and boar will run.

We take our time, we ‘ave some fun.

 

Dark is the forest and deep,

we pass by patrins for those who seek,

to keep in touch with folk that are dear

and pass on news of birth and fear.

 

Dark is the forest and deep.

 

(The title is taken from a poem No 131 – Poems 1916 by Edward Thomas; 

Romani words (jib) covels – belongings; Dukkering – fortune telling; Patrins – signs left along the road, can be leaves, string or stones.)

 

 

Joan Secombe

Lockdown Lent

 

It crept up on me this year, in the absence of

the usual Sunday reminders -

Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima;

those haunting words of ritual and rhythm

familiar from my youth.

 

Shrove Tuesday surprised, but

I threw a pancake or two

grateful that online shopping had

inadvertently delivered the requisite goods.

 

Ash Wednesday then and no solemn communion -

of any sort. Remote worship,

Too remote for me.

I want to be enfolded by God’s architecture,

stone under my feet, monastic chanting

echoing to the vault.

I’d rather walk in the garden meditating,

loosely, under the sky than sit and stare

passive, at a screen.

 

Lenten discipline:

Sugar, chocolate, alcohol now

not important enough to make

their lack a penance.

 

I will read,

as reading has been a fitful,

fickle comfort to me of late.

So I will read.

And I will read Revelations

because it has not yet revealed itself to me.

And in this uncertain world I would like

to try to make sense, albeit ineffable sense

of Something.

 

 

Rodney Wood

Sonnet with Jawbreakers

 

The front room where I played blossoming with glass

jars packed with sugar-coated jawbreakers,

the hard Black Jacks, Peanut Brittle, Pear Drops,

Mighty Imps, Sherbet Fountains, Gobstoppers.

 

While still a baby I grabbed a sweet, held it

in my little fist and cried when they wouldn’t

come out to join my toothless mouth. Dad’s

laugh said everything will be alright. When a few

 

years later, Mrs West, the fish-monger’s

wife bought in her baby for us to see

I burst into tears because I was

no longer special, no longer the world’s

 

youngest person. When I told them mum and dad’s

laugh said everything will be alright.

 

 

Barry Smith

Deep Water

 

A woman is weeping

by the sea-shore

as so many have done before

she wants to go home

she sobs and rocks

the skin of her knees

peering through the frayed

denim of designer jeans

 

a bearded man hefting

a loaded backpack

looks on, his face a mask,

rigid, helpless

he’s lost

she’s far away

weeping at the sea-shore

 

we gather awkwardly

offering help

she clasps a woman’s hands

locking onto human warmth

she wants to go home

but doesn’t seem

to know anymore

where home is or was

 

I’ll be alright, she says

I’ll be okay

you’re so lovely, she says

and weeps

 

the bearded man is stiff

he tries to touch her

curling shoulder

he asks for a light

for his roll-up cigarette

 

but we have no light to give

and we cannot help

him to reach her

or her to get back home

 

(First published in London Grip)

 

 

Geoffrey Winch

Reality of Fiction

 

He created her

to be the sole occupant of his novel;

placed her under the impossible strain

of formulating his original philosophy.

 

At first she was silent –

a silence akin to death

but then her ideas began to blossom

like lilies.

 

Her origins may have been conventional

but she developed unchallenged

until she became his superior

and there was no argument: he admired her.

 

Every time she emerged on a new page

it was as if he opened his door to a stranger

wearing a mask –

a stranger who could be looking for someone

to stab in the back.

 

Published in Linkway magazine in February 2001

 

 

Paul Stephenson

The School of Athens, a jigsaw

 

Plato’s autonomy is lost.

How can I make sense of ancient thoughts

when the heads that held them are shared

with bits of masonry and fabric?

 

Pompeii engulfed,

the moment is precise but arbitrary:

a hand stretched out, a finger raised,

a pair of compasses stopped mid-arc,

the theorem half-proved for eternity.

 

The only thing that moves,

I wander from group to group.

The means to their halting resurrection

is in my doubtful hands.

 

Ashamed, I do not meet the one-eyed gaze.

I walk with eyes cast down,

oblivious to rank, observing only

gradations of hue and tone,

the consistency of a strip of braid or tilework.

 

The integrity I seek is also mine.

When all is done and I am of a piece,

I shall reanimate the hall

and voices will rise again to the high arch.

 

 

Terry Timblick

The Longest Shadow

 

Less a heavens-wide wheeling murmuration,

More a dozen-strong chatter of starlings,

Sits newsily atop our community’s horse-chestnut.

 But do they know their roof-high roost,

Made a trinity with aligned elms on a crocused bank,

May not stand another year’s canker?

A ten-year-old liquid amber sapling-in-waiting

Looks up at its towering neighbour

And harbours awe, gratitude and acute apprehension.

Rot, die-back, assorted diseases and planning departments…

Trees have their own versions of Covid.

 

 

Kevin Maynard

New Deal

 

The cropped head, hollow sockets, jutting chin,

The caved-in cheeks, beak-nose, the scant red beard,

The torn and faded denim jacket,

Claw hand and stick-like arms . . . So this is where

Your dreams have brought you, borne on the wind

Across the prairies with big scudding clouds:

Tossed like tumbleweed over the widening dustbowl

Of a Great Depression through flat scrubland

Down long roads of disappointment and fatigue—

Till the good air, promise-crammed,

Stopped dead forever and the hungry words all dried.

Peace to your bones.  The New World,

Like the Old, delivers everything but luck

To those who live for tomorrow without a today.

You have the dignity granted to those who rest

After their labours took their only pride.

Ants forage in the soil beneath your hair

And reap the crops you never got to share.

 

Based on a photograph by Edward Weston

 

 

Richard Williams

The Next Station Is

 

Portsmouth and Southsea then Fratton and Hilsea, 
clattering over the creek to the points at Cosham
west to Southampton, Salisbury and Cardiff,
east to Brighton, north to Waterloo. 

And you will catch your breath in her reflection, 
watching the world from a window seat,
as seasons concertina in ripening fields. 
Commuter belt villages and old market towns,
reels of film on a cutting room floor;
are the scenes we keep the ones we’d choose?

And she will be returning here in your arms, 
like yawning workers on the stopping train
memories slurring as carriages sway,
past Bowlplex, Vue and the lipstick tower.

Morning always loops home to this place.
dawn into day into dusk into night.
A circle aching still to be filled
with children’s laughter like marker pens.
Love and hope in permanent ink;
this city by the sea and all that you need.

 

From Richard’s first collection, Landings (Dempsey & Windle, 2018)

 

 

Christine Rowlands

Winter Weather Words

Wet, needle fine, icy drizzle
Bucketing down, dreary, soaking siling...
A deluge of rain.

Rain makes ground sodden,
flooded fields, grass submerged,
deep ruts, motors revving, wheels spinning.

Sticky, slimy, smelly, squidgy, sloppy,
gloopy mud!
Covering our boots, splattering our clothes...
While a cruel wind blusters and blows.
Winter weather.

 

 

Piers Rowlandson

Reality

 

I have not written these books for people who have not asked themselves,“Where does reality begin?” Lawrence Durrell

 

                                                  The Chinese Emperor dreamt

he was a butterfly,

dreaming he was an Emperor.

He decided that in reality he was a butterfly.

 

A man was waiting to be hanged.

His crime: believing the emperor

was an impostor, and saying so.

 

“What news from the Palace?”

he asked his jailor.

“The Emperor is a butterfly.”

 

“Then I won’t hang,”

said the condemned man,

who was a missionary.

 

“The Emperor has decided

to put things to the test.

He is going to climb a high tower

and jump off to see if he can fly.”

 

“Good news indeed,”

said the condemned man.

“Not really,” said the jailor.

“You are to go with him

and jump first.”

 

At the top of the tower

they paused.

“I’ll see you on the other side,”

said the missionary.

“Really?”

said the jailor.

The Emperor smiled his wicked smile.

 

 

Mike Jenkins

With Keats: Sit and Wait

Here
we sit together
the world moving around us
with an uncertain almost
astonished gait

here we sit on curve of
Eastgate square and
wait

for that spark of unifying fire
that leaps from window ledge above
cradles child curling about your burnished leg
stops passers by who may
in brackets wonder
(who is he?)
in stillness kept serene
what are those words about the curve
what does it mean to dream
of high romance?

Ah… look
with eyes of heart and see
him here alive
in you
in me

Stay awhile and breathe to fill
in clouds and spires
in streets of moving still.

OPEN MIC POEMS

FEBRUARY 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: GEOFFREY WINCH

Geoffrey says:  I was born and raised in Reading, Berkshire, and left at the age of 21 when employment in surveying and highway engineering with local authorities took me first to Hampshire and subsequently to Warwickshire.  My wife and I lived near Royal Leamington Spa for 7 years then in the town for 27 years until I retired from full-time work in 2001 having completed 40 years local government service. During that same year we relocated to Felpham and I continued to work as a part-time consultant to West Sussex CC until 2010.  Soon after moving to Sussex, and having achieved some success as a small press poet from 1992 onwards, it was a pleasant surprise to be invited to join Slipstream Poets (then based in Pulborough, but now in Storrington) and I have remained a member ever since.  For several years I was also a member of Silk Road Writers (Littlehampton), and am currently a member of River Poets (Arundel) and the Chichester Stanza groups. For the past ten years or so I have also read regularly at Chichester Open Mic, and I’m grateful, as I’m sure we all are, to Barry and Joan who have ensured the Open Mic continued throughout 2020 in its current online form.  I also thank them for inviting me to be the first ‘Poet of the Month’ for 2021.  No doubt we all share in the hope that this year will bring with it a return to normality, and we are all looking forward to the time when we can share live Open Mic readings once again. 

Velocities and Drifts of Winds

Since moving to Sussex my poetry has been published in a wide variety of magazines, anthologies and journals, both print and online, and Velocities and Drifts of Winds (Dempsey and Windle, 2020): is my sixth collection.  Most of the poems have been previously published, and I have read earlier versions of some at the Open Mic. Following its publication I was interviewed by Nnorom Azuonye for Sentinel Literary Quarterly, and this can be read by following the link https://sentinelquarterly.com/Geoffrey-Winch-SLQ-Monday-Writer-14-September-2020.pdf . My previous collections have all been themed and, as the title suggests, the theme this time is ‘winds of change’. The collection is set out in four parts beginning with historic winds of change and ending with those that can often affect personal relationships. My influences are many, and styles wide-ranging from free verse to short forms (haiku, tanka etc.) as well as haibun and tanka prose.  All appear in the collection, although I have selected below one free verse poem from each part. ‘Burned Out’ is about the great fire of London influenced by observations Antony à Wood recorded in his journals.  ‘Tables for Ladies’ is based on Edward Hopper’s1930 painting which reflects some advances that were being made in the feminine cause in America at the time.  In ‘Meadowland Eclogue’ I consider not only a landscape as a trysting place but elements that might influence its moods; and in ‘Mary, Mary’ I fondly recall a young lady who I dated for only a few weeks in my youth but because of certain circumstances I was unable to bid her a fond farewell!  I have also selected two short form poems, a Tanka, and a Cherita – both of which speak for themselves. 

Burned Out 

“a lamentable fire broke out in London

in the morning, it being Sunday” 

Anthony à Wood: September 2nd 1666

 

apparently an easterly

with an impish bent turned up

Pudding Lane

 

intent on meeting with

a few bright sparks that fell

from a baker’s oven

 

there to engage in frivolous

conflagration without meaning 

to set the city ablaze  

 

as ultimately more malicious

forces would;

     or for Farriner’s bakery

to enter the annals of infamy –  

 

yet for three days here in Oxford

we’ve had billows blotting-out our sun, 

the same bloodying our moon  

 

drawing our eyes all night 

to the hills’ candescent horizon –

now in their hundreds they come

 

the bewildered, the footsore, the lame:  

some on dung-carts with no chattels,

some without names

 

blistered and scarred,  

the scared-beyond-their-wits

telling of inferno and its capacity

to burn a city –

 

blood flows cold

through our veins since we’ve seen

how easily flesh will burn     

 

( “the hills” = the Chilterns Hills)

 

Tables for Ladies

Edward Hopper: oil on canvas, 1930

 

It is no dream, 

just a welcoming sight

this row of grapefruits displayed

in the window of a place to eat with 

a pineapple as centre-piece of a basket

over-brimming with fruit – and two ladies 

working, cashier and waitress, reflecting

on their new-found status now single

ladies are able to book a table

to dine alone or with who-

ever they please, here in

New York at least.

 

And the lady diner –

we’ve met her before, alone

and vulnerable with a coffee in

the automat; and the theatre with the

gentleman she’s dining with now when 

taking their seats beside the aisle – the lady  

we saw enjoying chop suey with her

female friend: now, with her back to

us, it’s his face we see reflecting

on this altered state – she

booked the table and

invited him to eat.

 

Meadowland Eclogue 

 

Meadowlandsoil: I, your idyll’s

engine room fashioning filaments

with my worming machine to stretch

up from my nourishing depths

to caress your lover’s hair. 

 

Meadowlandscape: I, the festival

of flora; grower of leaves of grass

to mow – with naked leaves I dress

hedges   flowers   trees,   and clover

your unclothed lover’s hair. 

 

Meadowlandsky: I am the spying

sun and cloud watching how you

make tall grasses wave as you ride

therein and upon – with butterflies

I highlight your lover’s hair. 

 

Meadowlandsong:  I, the harmony 

of avian flocks and insect hordes, 

harmonising chorus with beehum

to become the refreshing breath

that sings in your lover’s hair. 

 

 Mary, Mary 

 

after the sun had sunk

I remained focused on

her ship – its dark plume 

bending to the breeze, lights

shimmering in its wake – 

and still I saw glinting flecks

of circling gulls even in

the mizzle of dusk

 

and Mary at the taffrail, her

hair wild and black, and her

scarlet dress almost dim as if

a farewell flag – saw her

give me one last wave, 

blow me her final kiss,

 

so I lowered then my telescope

and waved back to the night . . . 

 

but, I’m just a romantic and that’s

not how it was – when Mary went 

it was sudden, not even planned

or discussed – just failed to keep

our date one night and all her friends

ever knew 

she and her family had upped sticks

and moved too many miles

away,

 

and I’ll never know whether or not

it was simply better to end that way

 

 Tanka 6

 

morning contrails

crossing the coast

every day

people going places

some back to where they began

 

 Cherita 2

 

how desire 

 

overcomes

inhibitions

 

discovers 

pleasures

in yesterday’s bêtes noires

 

Open Mic Poetry – February 2021

 

Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Myra Schneider, Stephanie Norgate, Denise Bennett, Timothy Ades, Barry Smith, Camilla Lambert, Kevin Maynard, Margaret Wilmot, Richard Davies, Ken Jones, Mandy Pannett, Christine Rowlands, Greg Freeman, Alan Bush, Holly Parton, Richard Williams and Deborah Tyler-Bennett. 

 

Myra Schneider

Looking at Light

 

You watch it alight neatly as a dancer

on this bottle of water where it implants flecks

like a series of intense kisses on the neck

 

and captivates the flowers speckling the mat

underneath, multiplies them in the bottle’s

transparent interior. Another feat:

 

as the sun emerges it starts running

pinkish streamers over the park’s blue

frostbitten grass. Paleness will disappear

 

as it douses the air with a sense of gold.

All your rooms will awaken and you’ll long

to keep lucidity but nothing will stop

 

crimsons and violets from spilling over the sky

to herald darkness. When the day dies though

you’ll gaze at dazzle-needles which the bottles

 

on the bathroom window ledge have snatched

from the streetlights, at the electric red

splashed on the panes by a passing car 

 

and for moments illumination will fill you.

Later, you will wake to a chill nothingness

but you’ll find a lemon pool of moon

 

on the landing carpet, wish you could kneel

and gather it up in your arms, wish

its certainty could wipe out all grief.

 

(From Myra’s new collection, Seige and Symphony, scheduled for publication in autumn 2021 to support the Woodland Trust.)

 

 

Stephanie Norgate

to sing of soap in desperate times

 

in spite of palm plantations,

felled rainforests and effluence,

in spite of plastic dispensers,

in spite of nitrogylcerine,

in spite of a name that categorises

life-long dramas

 

to sing of soap is to sing al-galy,

wood ash that lends its name to alkali,

to sing rainwater and to sing oils,

olive, vegetable, sesame, and not to mourn

an absence of tallow - for who wants

to rub the fat of a cow on their skin?

 

to sing some soap names but not others,

to sing Pears, Dove and Lifebuoy,

but not Imperial Leather, a name saddled with empire,

whose legacy refuses to be washed down the plughole

 

to sing of the soap my daughter gave me,

nettle and seaweed, astringent shore,

field margin, seawater, kelp, ribbon of nori

 

to sing soap is to sing my grandmother lathering

a slip of Palmolive for skin and laundry and then

to sing the green unrinsed forgetfulness

streaking her long white hair

 

to sing my sister’s gift of a bar of soap

is to sing a fourth dimension containing

the bloom of two lavender bushes

 

to sing soap is to sing a child

sifting pink stars through fingers

in a bucket of water and soapwort

at the living museum

 

to sing soap was to choose on days

when the French market still came to town

from les savons de Marseille

fenouil, citron, or les muguets des bois,

 

to sing soap is to sing Happy Birthday twice

congratulating yourself like a prime minister

 

or to watch Gloria Gaynor washing

her hands, singing ‘I will survive’

for twenty glorious seconds of being alive         

 

(First published January 2021 in The Oxford Magazine and forthcoming in The Conversation, Blloodaxe, 2021)

 

 

Denise Bennett

The Escalator

A contrapuntal poem

 

Sometimes I feel her standing next to me

in the department store;

I feel her take my hand

as we step onto the escalator;

remember how she taught me to ride safely,

to hold on tight and when to jump.

I can smell the scent on her clothes.

 

 Learning to Fly

 

It’s over sixty years since we both stood here

at the foot of the moving stairs.

She’s all dolled up,

tailored suit, newly permed hair.

The fragrance of gardenia takes me back

to that first time I learnt to fly

her gloved hand holding mine.

 

 

Flying with My Mother

 

Sometimes I feel her standing next to me;

  it’s over sixty years since we both stood here

in the department store,

  at the foot of the moving stairs.

I feel her take my hand.

  She’s all dolled up,

as we step onto the escalator,

  tailored suit, newly permed hair.

 I remember how she taught me to ride safely;

   the fragrance of gardenia takes me back –

– to hold on tight and when to jump –

  to that first time I learnt to fly.

I can smell the scent on her clothes,

  her gloved hand holding mine.

 

 

EVENING

by Victor Hugo

 

Translated by Timothy Adès

 

The fog is cold and the heather is grey;

The cattle-herds go to the drinking-troughs;

The moon breaks out from behind black clouds,         

A brightness coming as if by surprise.                           

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

The traveller walks and the moor is brown;

A shadow behind and a shadow before;

There’s white in the west and light in the east;

Here dusk, and there the light of the moon.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

The sorceress sits and her lip goes long;

The spider fixes her web to the tile;

The will-o’-the-wisp has a goblin glow

Like a pistil of gold in a tulip’s bowl.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

There are ketches and coasters out on the sea;

There’s shipwreck in wait for the shuddering mast;

The wind says: to-morrow! the water says: now!

There are voices heard and they speak despair.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

The coach from Avranches to Fougères

Has a crack of the whip like a lightning-flash;

There’s many a noise grows loud from the dark,

And they mingle together, to float on the air.

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

In the depths of the forest, bright torches shine;

A graveyard clings to a mountain-top;

Where does God find all the blackness he pours

Into nights that fall, into hearts that break?

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

There are puddles of silver that shake on the sands;

The osprey is close to the cliffs of chalk;

The shepherd is watching across the wind

The devils in vague and monstrous flight.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

There are plumes of grey from the chimney-stacks;

The wood-cutter passes, bearing his load;

The noise of a stream in spate is heard,

With the crashing of branches, dragged along.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.

 

The great fierce wolves have a starving dream;

The river is racing, the cloud takes flight;

Behind the panes where the lamp is bright

Are the glowing cheeks of the very young.

 

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.   

 

 

From How to be a Grandfather (Hearing Eye),

a translation of Hugo’s L’Art d’être grand-père. 

 

 

Barry Smith

This Way Up

 

You know how it’s going to end

for the old girl in the wheelchair ahead.

 

Her bearings have gone askew

she’s off on a twitching fox-trot

 

her head lolling like a nodding dog

bouncing, then drooping to the side

 

where her husband’s wispy grey hairs drift inland

washed ashore by the piano’s narcotic flow

 

her hands worrying the frayed shoulder-strap bag

looped across her back, desperate to get it off

 

somehow as if that act would free her

as once she unloosened her stockings and slip.

 

The pianist’s hands swoop and slide

plucking the dancing pulse of the fugal line

 

but they’re off on a different kind of trip

shuffle-stepping towards the edge

 

the chandelier casting light from another age

on the wheelchair’s steely backrest where

 

you can just make out the scuffed black letters -

this way up, it says, this way up.

 

(first published in the Ver Poets Anthology)

You can read Barry's poem The Masks of Anarchy on Culture Matters - follow the link:

https://www.culturematters.org.uk/index.php/arts/poetry/item/3615-the-masks-of-anarchy

 

 

Camilla Lambert

Midwinter ache

 

December twigs,

black, sharp-angled,

are hung with angels;

they eye each corner of the room,

as they spin, quivering,

while blue peacocks

tinsel the lower branches,

flare sparkles from their tails.

 

Why are they all so mute

no blare of brass

from the trumpets

held out

in unison

no raucous exchanges

of thine and mine

between the peacocks?

 

I ache

for sounds of celebration,

listen out

for the slightest quaver

of life- a soft tread of steps

on the stair,

doors’ closing click,

a rustle of paper unwrapped.

 

The windows are open

to catch the peals

of joy for the world

shaken out

from the squat tower.

But the air weighs heavy

cannot take the load

of a distant owl hoot.

 

What will rouse

the angels

to raise their trumpets

and send a carillon

around skeleton trees,

brushing away

ice-drops, and on,

up into the frosty sky?

 

 

Kevin Maynard

the wherewithal

 

please madam, sir, do tell me please what is

this wherewithal you say I am without?

the stars shine still without the wherewithal,

the tides come in, come out, frost falls without

the wherewithal, anoints my hair and brow,

it cracks my boots, furs white with diamond crystals

all my cardboard bedding, sheds a sparkle

glissading over paving slabs, lamplights

blaze and Christmas glitter fills the glutted

 

shops that shut me out, though they all have

the wherewithal, and so do you, where can

I find the wherewithal?  not in the hurried

steps, averted eyes, held noses of those

who pass me by, determined not to share

the wherewithal, their precious wherewithal:

 

my whys and wherefores plucked by winter winds

and blown the length and breadth of Whinnymuir

 

—the unconcern you give for granted gone—

 

for I’m the rubbish in the rubble of your dreams

I’m what you stumble over as you pass

and you’ll remember me until you die:

the dead are those who lack the wherewithal

 

their lack, sweet lack, is what we always share—

we lacklove, lonely, luckless, landless, damned

 

 

Margaret Wilmot

Breakfast

 

His slender neck fills her with tenderness,

long lashes on a cheek. Ten years old.

He spreads his toast with jam, juice-glass in hand.

Artless his words, calm. I’m never having children.

She takes a sip (coffee just right today).

Six months since he came? Too many kids

need homes. Like him. Stressed by all

the fights, he asked Granny if he could stay.

 

But now he jumps up, agitates, puts car-keys

by her cup. The front door slams. Flustered, she gulps,

wants to weep. Life gone amiss, all frantic scramble,

and then some. Coffee half drunk again.

It shouldn’t be like this. Yet even

his desperate punctuality fills her with tenderness.

 

 

Richard Davies

Self-portrait

 

When I look at myself in a mirror now

I know that what I see,

lined and tired and weather-worn,

is not the face of the dreaming boy

who planned to travel in foreign lands,

climb the highest peaks

and conquer all the deserts of the distant world.

Instead I see grey-haired man

left with few, if any, goals to meet

I've been to many places,

seen a thousand things,

and, though I've left few traces,

the buccaneer in me remains.

I still yearn for open roads

and one day soon I hope to find

my Xanadu, my Shangri-la.

They could be very far away

but maybe they are closer

than I imagine them to be.

 

 

Ken Jones

Fairy Tale

 

Once upon a time

  I knew

     a truth

when I heard it:

 

because veracity

came with

no health warning,

   no bias

      no edge

         no prejudice …

 

once upon a time

truth was a statement

   of what is;

      objective,

opinion free ...

 

once upon a time

I heard that truth

had become a construct;

   definition free,

      arbitrary

         without

absolute universal meaning;

variable, not constant ...

 

and now such a thing

as

 

outrage

 

enshrouds me.

 

 

Mandy Pannett

Not in the Book

You are doing well with your life:

a massive, inherited stately home,

your memoirs high in a best-seller list,

an immaculate wife.

 

Tourists write It's a fabulous house.

I would scribble my message in red:

I loved you first.

 

This is a difficult room.

Watery vistas and one who has painted

himself in a mirror.

Outside there are shrubs and rain.

 

I am not in your book.

Not a word that you loved me, loved me first.

I shall buy a postcard then.

A souvenir.

 

 

Christine Rowlands

Stand and Stare


I tell myself.
Be in the moment
Feel the floor under my feet
with each step.
Smell the earth and the grass
as I walk each day....
Smell the soap
And the hand cream
Think of things for which I’m grateful
Be creative -dance, sing, draw, paint, sew, sculpt,
write, cook.
Look for the good in each day
Be aware of how I visualise the day ahead....
Say I will
Say I can
Have positive thoughts
Banish negative ones
Set a good tone for the day
Be kind to myself and others
Each evening look back and ask ....
How did it go?Can I do better?

 

 

Greg Freeman 

Dusty on the Dansette

 

It wasn’t a soft-porn movie.

But yes, she was a Danish au pair

in my Methodist nana’s front parlour

while Dusty’s Son of a Preacher Man

played on the Dansette.

 

Miniskirt, boots; first, necessarily

brief but genuine encounter. Ah,

but she had a bit of a cold

that night. Inexpert as I was,

I could tell she was just being polite,

 

that her heart wasn’t in it. Our tryst

ended when she blew her nose loudly.

Sometimes I remember her when I hear

the song. I’m a big Dusty fan. But

Aretha’s version is superior, I have to admit.  

 

 

Alan Bush

Richard Hamilton

Swingeing London ‘67

1967-8

 

With Mr Richards’

Witterings raided

 

Mick Jagger’s right

handcuffed to Robert

 

at a Magistrates’

where the Judge Block

 

insists his swingeing

penalty on swinging London-

 

by-the-sea is necessary

at an exact lifetime

 

later, we’re left

with a copy-painting

 

secured to a gallery

wall, and a graphic     

 

moving on, by

an empty Court 

 

 

Holly Parton

Spring

 

My heart leapt today,

For in the quiet of the night, spring had returned.

A new pink blossom has broken,

And like the first evening star,

It made me catch my breath.

For where before there had been emptiness,

Now there was life.

 

 

Richard Williams

Holiday in a Portsmouth Garden

 

I bought my dreams of the open trail

beyond the humdrum thrum of city traffic,

but how these tracks were calcified,

as criss-crossed skies of wing-tipped stars

were cleared by a future that few could see.

 

Our lives made rivers filled deep with silt,

mouths dry from the loss of expectation,

so fragile this man-made dissonance,

we can’t see what we already have

for fear of what might be lost.

 

A blackbird sings two gardens away,

trills above near silenced streets.

Forty days straight I have heard his call

as batteries drain down on racing time,

all this energy spent chasing clouds.

 

Belted in tight on my rolling road

paying for a journey I couldn't afford.

Now harmonies soar over warming walls,

the lilting notes of spring forgot -

so much I knew but did not know.

 

My open trail a trial no more,

aeroplanes grounded I travel at home.

All the mountains I leave unclaimed,

all the seas that I’ll not sail,

slipping away with this blackbird’s song.

 

Deborah Tyler-Bennett

My Life as Cinema Français

 

 I’m wandering spent reels of black and white,

 down Cocteau-mirrored corridors

 arms form torchères, it’s rustling, my Dior,

 frilled just below the knee, and then I see

 them – Grandma’s legs, stick thin,

 shrunk to a wren’s, off-set by courts,

 squared heels (this frame could

 cut to tartan, clichéd, slippers).

 

 Realise, looking up, I’ll catch her face,

 neck tight, eyes scrutinising choice

 of frock without shop-overall protection

 (how much the cost, and will it wash on low?).

 

 Subtitling will spell all out below:

 

AGE SCRIPTS SUCH DREAMS – THE PAST IS ALL WE KNOW.

OPEN MIC POEMS

DECEMBER 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: TERRY TIMBLICK

Terry says: A 12-line poem about a job interview, used in a rival Croydon paper, was my first (unpaid) publishing success in the late 50s, and not till the early 90s, as a fugitive Fleet Street features editor, were poetic instincts  reignited, here in Chichester. The spur was a creative writing course at Bishop Otter College (now Chichester  University), led inspirationally by Vicki Feaver, covering verse forms from traditional to limericks and haikus. Then, about 10 years ago, I “discovered” Open Mic at the New Park Centre with its monthly offering of frequent amusement, occasional provocation, and constant friendships. That regular framework, with the need, ideally, to produce a fresh item each time, was the discipline I needed. In recent years Open Mikers Christine Rowlands and Richard Davies have contributed to poetry anthologies I’ve produced. In 2012 my wife and I wrote “A Picture of the South Downs”,  son Simon has co-authored a book on “Coronation Street”, and son Paul has published a fictional account of his Ethiopian wife’s experiences in “No Lipstick in Lebanon”. In October  I was second in Shoreham Wordfest’s 10-word story competition. My entry was based onthe last lines of “Versibilia’s” “To End All Wars”.

INTRODUCTION TO THE POEMS:

Of the 40 or so poems in Versibilia, the latest is “A Psalm to David”, a climate change endorsement directed at our great knight  Attenborough.  He’s charmingly acknowledged my effort. Another response has come from my niece-in-law, admitting tears on reading “Waiting for the Fall” about her father, among  the most deeply personal verses I’ve ever written, as too are “Doddy Just Called…”, “Sweetheart of 60 Summers” and “Just the Once”. There are plenty of local landmarks and events scattered through the collection: John Keats  in Eastgate Square, our oh-so-progressive library, Virginia Woolf at Pallant House, and Tangmere (a pivotal day from history), and long-time favourite destinations Sidmouth and Tenerife (encounters respectively with Betjeman and Mother Teresa). PS:  mustn’t forget Prague and Ogden Nash.

(“Versibilia”, all proceeds to Save the Children - £8, £10 posted - via Terry: terrytimblick@gmail.com    01243 537812)

 

A PSALM TO DAVID

 

Huge, new sub-Saharan dustbowls,

Glaciers shrinking from continental  significance,

Sea levels rising as scarily as fever temperatures,

Clean air a metropolitan memory –

Signs enough surely to jolt any 21st century complacency?

Few can equal the singular clarity

Of your rationale about planet Earth.

But even unflappable you, cool hero of

Countless telly encounters with amorous gorillas and alien creatures,

Are unable to reason away spectres of apocalypse.

Your Solomon wisdom is a positive virus we need worldwide,

So keep the even-voiced passion full blast, David,

Ere the hourglass morphs into a coffin.

 

TARGET TANGMERE  (August 16 1940)

 

A day like no other…

A perfect blue-washed morning

Became an afternoon of black and scarlet.

But Valkyrie-thundering skies could not cower

Southern England, which rose up to face

The onslaught.

 

At 13.10, above the coastal plain near a Binsted

With poppies and cornflowers about its bare ankles,

The sky suddenly super-midged with murderousness.

Close-packed Junkers and Stukas,

Spitting fire and dumping terror,

Wreaked rapid, shocking destruction on RAF Tangmere.

 

The death-harvest smoke

Darkened local earthbound spirits

Till steadying voices said, “Jerry is burning too! “

 And four days later a bulldog snarled and exulted to Parliament

About conflict, sacrifice and “The Few”.

Immortality had been plucked from the flames.

 

“DODDY JUST CALLED…”

 

It was a bit like seeing a nurse wearing stilettos on duty,

Or Beluga offered on the lunchtime trolley.

Wards for the “rather poorly” aren’t usually abrim with jollity,

But there was no denying the burble from Eric’s bed at the far end:

It flowed past fellow-patients and surprised the visitors,

Swept over charts with mainly down-marching trajectories,

Past tender ministrations of underpaid angels,

And bounced off windows looking out on misting yesterdays.

It was the unlikeliest moment of the day –

“Happiness” sung with a croaky, triumphant exuberance,

A ghost with terrified hair and bucked teeth grinned

And headed contentedly back to Knotty Ash.

 

(In memory of Methodist minister Eric Blennerhassett who died, 96, in St Richard’s Hospital,

Chichester, May 2018. Ken Dodd’s “Happiness” topped the charts in 1964)

 

 A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS  

 

Always, on his Eastgate Square bench,

The boyish weathered figure sits alert,

Bronze-proofed, gaze fixed on the cathedral.

And St Agnes’ Eve inspiration.

Read his verses and most of all his letters to

 “Dearest girl”,

” My sweet creature”,

” Dearest Fanny”

And you may sense that the sculpture

Embodies his deepest animations:

A love for her that lung-ruined death in Italy

Could not suffocate, and, supremely, a love of beauty.

 

Next time tell John that Fanny

Still sends the words “Good night”.

He always wanted to put them under his pillow.

Perhaps he’ll tuck your message beneath the bench.

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

 

Andy Waite

ADRIFT AT NIGHT ON A LAKE

 

I am perhaps too in love with

this hooded half-light,

embracing its indefinable contours,

dipping my toes in moonlight,

wearing shadows for clothes.

It feels right though to be here in this

small vessel made of trust,

sculling criss-cross, curious fish

whose concerns, as small and big as my own

are consumed by this kind black veil.

I am not heading anywhere,

there's no destination that would move me

and no current or past to surrender to,

pushing me one way or another,

there's just the dipping of wood on water,

the empty spaces between a bird's call,

and sweet scent from a late bonfire,

soon to be charcoal with which,

should I return home,

I may make a drawing of a

man adrift at night on a lake.

 

(Winner of the Sussex Together poetry competition)

 

Jeremy Page

 INTERESTING TIMES

 (after Confucius)

 

Do you remember when people materialised

on doorsteps, clanged saucepans and clapped

as if their lives depended every Thursday evening

when the clock struck eight? And the sun shone

day after day when all there’d been for months

was rain of every kind – drizzle, hail, the sort that

smacks windows and leaves gardens spongey underfoot,

and there was suddenly so much less to do,

unless you were essential, and one day dissolved

into the next, and time became a stative verb,

and in the streets people decided whether or not

to greet the advancing stranger, but gave

the widest possible berth anyway, exchanging looks

that saved them oh so many words, and neighbours

hollered cordially across the garden fence.

And if you listened to the news you’d learn that

only one thing was happening, because all the rest of life

had paused. And every night you’d have

the weirdest dreams, as if plague drip-fed

your unconscious all day, stirring the pot the while.

Those were interesting times. The toll was heavy.

 

Maggie Sawkins

Water will wear away Stones

 

we will meet in a hollow

            we will bring our light

 

and our words will follow

            like logs caught up

 

up in a stream without knowing

            where they’re going

 

we will stay for a while

            in plain sight

 

of the land that cast us

            like a stone

 

from a hollow

            from the homes

           

we left where a light remains

            beyond the stream

 

of words cast off

            without knowing

 

if we’ll meet again

            we can only watch

 

from the plain

            as others follow

 

 

 Pratibha Castle

Koala

 

I had one as a child.

 

Just a toy, still,

fashioned

out of real fur,

you could make believe

to clutch a panting life,

feed eucalyptus leaves

into a pink moist mouth.

 

Black nose, leather claws, eyes

 

glass, like the marbles

daddy as a lad

shuntered round granny’s yard.

 

A game he craved

to resurrect

about the kitchen

floor had mammy

not objected.

To crash

my measly

cache of Popeyes,

cats eyes,

beach balls

with the payback

of a copper-sparkled Lutz. Slate

 

beneath a grown man’s knees

atonement for the folly

of assuming

he could reach

back to reclaim such

smoke screen memories,

and the child

snatched too soon

from his embrace.

 

I had one as a child.

Black nose, leather claws, eyes

glass that never wept.

 

 and our words will follow

            like logs caught up

 

up in a stream without knowing

            where they’re going

 

we will stay for a while

            in plain sight

 

of the land that cast us

            like a stone

 

from a hollow

            from the homes

           

we left where a light remains

            beyond the stream

 

of words cast off

            without knowing

 

if we’ll meet again

            we can only watch

 

from the plain

            as others follow

 

Alun Robert

A New Build Like No Other

 

Towering edifice sprouting

from the west bank of the Rother,

wild testament to vision and

commitment to conservation with

 

sweet chestnut cladding

as if raised in situ

rather than locally sourced

in the county of East Sussex

standing proud in the desert

vistas across to Camber, the sands

while the River on bis in diem trips

twixt Rye and the Channel cries

 

under an endless sky endowed

with avocet, egret, guillemots

and the swooping herring gull focused

on a battle for survival replacing

offspring of portacabins, modest

on the route to the shoreline

created from blood, sweat

and years tending the Reserve

from Rye Harbour to Winchelsea

through gravel pits, reedbeds

saltmarsh, saline lagoons

and ravages of seasons

with tracks across shingle

orange, pink, blue boulders

chattering, hissing, singing

through inclement weather as

 

massed mankind passes by

the cyclists, dog walkers,

pushers of buggies, singletons and twins

pausing to admire and stray point

near stationary artists and poets

with senses on overdrive

holding meandering eyes open

to the abundance of nature with

 

no better Discovery Centre rising

in the centre of a horizon;

a spirited step forward

as a new build like no other.

 

Timothy Ades

Oak Ash and Thorn, by Rudyard Kipling

 

A song for anybody to sing

without avoiding A, I, O, or U

 

Of trunks and boughs which Luck allows

Fair Albion to adorn,

Naught is so grand in all our land

As oak and ash and thorn.

Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.

 

OAK on our clay saw stop and stay

Troy’s pious lord forlorn;

ASH on our loam saw Brutus roam,

An outlaw put to scorn;

THORN on our down saw young Troy Town,

From which was London born.

Thus all may know that long ago

Stood oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.

 

TAXUS grows old in churchyard mould
And spawns a mighty bow;

ALNUS is put on snug-shod foot,

FAGUS to cups will go;

A kingdom’s built, a bowl is spilt,

A boot’s cast off, outworn:              

You shall go back for what you lack

To oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.

 

ULMUS abhors mankind, and waits

In calm, if not in storm,

To drop a limb on top of him

Who trusts that shady form.

But any lad who’s spry or sad

Or high on hops from horn

Cannot go wrong by lying long         

In oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.

 

Blurt to no parson of our plight:

A parson calls it sin,

Our frolicking in woods all night

To summon long days in.

Glad tidings pass by word of mouth

Of joy for cow and corn,

For now Sir Sun strolls up from south

With oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Fair Albion shall not pass away

With oak and ash and thorn!

 

Barry Smith

Looping the Loop

(Lines on the Execution of a Tyrant)

 

When you stand on the trapdoor of eternity,

Rough bonds biting into your wrists, black silk scarf wrapped

Around your neck to provide the final purchase

For the rope which drapes like an umbilical cord

Coiled around your neck, sustaining still your tight breath

For a few shocked seconds more, what do you recall

Of your terror-filled years when a cursory nod

Or faint flick of a finger would condemn those who

Trembled before you: gun or knife, garrotte or rope,

Whatever came to hand or took your quick fancy.

Now the gritty, grained images of some mobile phone

Play forever your exit scene, the jeering chants

Of your captors preserved, your mumbled prayers cut off

In your sudden lurch into immortality.

 

(First published in The Journal, issue 60, summer 2020)

 

Nessa Gibbons

After Lockdown                                                                                               

 

A gentle sweep of hills and valleys

Undulates ahead -

Swaying, aqua and sun-tipped

In the soft morning light.

 

A soothing breeze lightly

Skims the surface as it

Saunters through the chill air.

 

Silence.

 

Then they come, dropping quietly

From the light grey sky.

 

Raindrops: slender, silver, almost suspended

In their slow descent into the expectant

Water until, like dancers, they leap

Joyfully upward – higher – then pause,

Bestowing sparkling coronas of

Droplets in perfect circles around their

Graceful heads.

 

After lockdown: swimming in the rain.

 

Camilla Lambert

December Solstice

 

She went looking

for intimations of light,

fizzled away

between gaps

in the tumulus line,

seeped through chalk channels

into the high dew pond.

 

Views east to Chanctonbury

north to Blackdown

lay obscured

by heavy air,

so she raked the dead slopes

for any bright speck

or glimmer:

 

white mouths of dead-nettle,

eye-glint

where barned-in bullocks

shifted on straw,

red cheeks of pheasants

in flurry over flints

exposing pale grey scars.

 

                                 *

She went looking

for spring signs,

combed the ridgebacks,

spied into shadow-folds,

on a day when the rare sun

slid away

from the solstice.

 

All she could see

were left-overs:

shocking pink spindle berries,

fluff of old man’s beard,

flopped maize leaves,

a century-old yew

standing guard by gravestones.

 

But above hedge-less fields

stretched out

into flattened sheets,

sectioned thinly

by wire, 

she found honeysuckle vines  

crusted with buds.

 

 Christine Rowlands

Irene’s Fruit Pie

 Down the garden

we pick the plump berries

staining fingers and lips...

We fill basins and pans.


In the kitchen...

she tips the fruit into a bowl

covers all with water

adds salt until insects rise to the surface.


Busiest herself with flour,

Marge and sugar

gathers all together,

flours and rolls it

on a coolness of marble

sags the dough

across a blue enamel dish

then into the oven

until partly crisp.


The rinsed fruit, free of crawlies

is saucepanned  and warmed to

a purple bubbling mass

she adds all to the pastry case

and tops with a lid prettified

with pastry leaves

leaves I’d cut out

with a blunt knife on that

same cool slab.


Into the hot oven it goes.

While we wait

the smell fills the kitchen.

 

 Geoffrey Winch

By the Way

 (from his new collection Velocities and Drifts of Winds)

 

had you taken that other way

and found it to be narrow with

a deep flowing ditch to one side

and undergrowth, saturated

and overhanging, on the other

leaving no room to easily pass   

 

in the event of a confrontation

it would have been necessary

to decide whether or not to

make a stand, give way or

awkwardly pass while

the other silently interrogated

your integrity and imagination

(and you the same)  

 

possibly then having to agree

whether or not to just gaze ahead;

turn your heads; engage your eyes;

smile sweet smiles or involve

your tongues in order to pass a little

or longer time or even the remainder

of your lives in continual confrontation

or civilised conversation  

 

and probably now you would still

be wondering whether the decision(s)

you made would have been the same

if, on that day, the sun had been shining;

the rain hadn’t been unceasing, and

that buffeting wind hadn’t had a part to play 

 

 

Denise Bennett

Little Palaces

Portsdown Hill Portsmouth

 

I passed them on my way to school:

pocket-handkerchief gardens,

neat lawns, netted windows –

imagined the spic and span

clean as a new pin sitting rooms

bright with coal fires –

the scrubbed kitchen floors

you could eat your dinner off.

My friend Jennifer lived in one.

 

These were shadows of war,

symbols of peace 

built on fertile farmland

after the Luftwaffe left –

single story prefabs nestling

at the foot of the hill;

quick-fix house-kits,

bolted together to make homes

for broken families.

 

I didn’t know much about the war.

We were forbidden to mention it.

After all,

everyone knew someone

who’d lost someone –

so that me and my friends

could skip safely between

the rows and rows

of the little white, post-war palaces.

 

 

Mandy Pannett

A Chain of Words for Roseanna

               

 

What balm or salve for a child in Orange Row

 

Did you hear the applause Roseanna for the queen in her Pavilion while

you paddled in puddles of shit and sickened on water and grease

 

Salvaged by wedlock for a pebble of time

 

Was there dirt in your nails Roseanna as you dug hard earth on the graves

of your girl and your boy

 

There was always the slamming of gates

 

A Camberwell workhouse and later the shame of Cane Hill

 

Whose lunacy was this

 

salve        salvage        lunacy       

 

Asylum        asylum        nomass for your soul       

no Salve Regina        no Salve Roseanne

 

salve        salvage        lunacy        asylum

 

No roses are named after you

 

Kevin Maynard

Parole

 

sun-stippled, sun-dappled the path—

lips and fingers empurpled: sweet berries

 

twisted boughs of old oaks by the shore

gesticulating red bark of dark yews

 

cooing of wood pigeons, collared doves

soft breeze threading whisper of dry leaves

 

delicate and tranquil bubbling of the curlew’s call

 

reed sweet grasses, tall pink pampas grasses

swaying and rustling as if confiding together:

 

one discarded white mask hanging from the oak-tree’s

branch like a bra from your clothes-rack at home . . .

strange fruit indeed . . . strange freedoms for strange times

 

deep menace of an autumn evening by the sea

as your next lockdown looms: house arrest for the elderly—

though no one under forty seems to care:

 

‘Let the coffin-dodgers perish!   Who’ll miss their

foul breath, sagging breasts, food-stained clothes, their

dribbling at meal-times, dithering at check-out tills,

appalling driving, or all their antiquated blather anyway?’

 

meanwhile lurchers and black labradors still

lollop joyfully along the dusty path

 

they stop from time to time to circle round

each other and, tails wagging, sniff each others’

interesting bottoms

                             their hoarsely wheezing

 

owners—ball launchers poised and wobbling,

plastic bags inverted in their other hands,

like extra anti-viral gloves, all of them

so public-spirited, so eager to scoop up

 

the freshly steaming poop when it pops out—

lumber never far behind: friendship for a pet

asks no greater guarantee than that: ‘Clean up

my shit behind me as I go!’

 

                                          pandemic blues

seem very far away: pub chatter and the cheerful clink

of gathered-in beermugs, the clatter of clean cutlery

on trays and tables . . .

 

                        but what of homo sapiens,

(homo sopiens more like, as we sleepwalk

our world towards disaster)?  who cleans up

the planet after us?   after our cast-off filth?

 

(and maybe—just maybe—COVID has the answer)

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

NOVEMBER 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings are unsafe because of the current pandemic, 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: MYRA SCHNEIDER

Myra says: I grew up until I was twelve on the west coast of Scotland and then, after a spell in London, we moved to Chichester where I went to the Girls High School which no longer exists. I studied English at London University and lived in London ever since but I still feel a strong affinity with Chichester which I visited often while my parents were still alive. In fact, I gave readings from my first two collections in Chichester Library back in the 1980s. I’m married and have an adult son. I started writing poetry in my teens but I found the poetry scene in 1960s London very unsympathetic so I gave up on it for several years and wrote fiction instead. My first publications were novels for young people. I came back to writing poetry in the 1970s and have since published ten full collections, most of them with Enitharmon Press who sadly stopped producing poetry in 2017. I’ve also had some pamphlets published. For many years I ran sessions at a day centre where I taught severely disabled adults. Since the 1990s I have been a poetry tutor and I’ve run seminars for The Poetry School for over 20 years. I am consultant to the Second Light Network of women poets.

 Introduction to the poems:

 I write on a wide range of subjects: personal experience, women’s lives, the natural world, meditative poems – for example about different perceptions of time. I also draw on the surreal. In the last few years many of my poems look at how we are treating the planet and other contemporary issues. I tend to think visually, and this has a strong effect on my work which includes ekphrastic poems.  From my days of writing fiction, I’ve retained a strong interest in long narrative poems. For this feature I’ve chosen a group of three poems from my most recent collection, Lifting the Sky which was published by Ward Wood Publishing. The book’s main theme is survival which is explored from different angles. I’m also including the poem, August in Arnos Grove, from my new collection, Siege and Symphony, which is due out next year. Three of the poems below look in different ways at contemporary issues. The other poem, 3AM, is personal.

 

SEAHORSES

 

They look unfishlike and so unlikely, upright

in the water, could easily be taken for cousins

of stick horses with their tapering tails,

ribbed spines and equine-shaped snouts.

 

No surprise they swim poorly but the internet

reveals they’re full of surprises: the bones 

circling their heads to form coronets,

their courtship that begins with partners bowing

 

to one another, a prelude to linking tails

and waltzing serenely as a couple in the glitter

of a stately ballroom, then hours later

rising in spirals from the seabed. I smile

 

as I watch a pair in a video that’s so fairytale

I wonder if they’ll metamorphose into a prince

and princess but the facts of their unexpected story

outdo fantasy. A real gentleman, the male

 

receives his mate’s eggs in his mouth – yes it’s he

who takes on the pregnancy and how touching

that his sweetheart visits him each morning.

Their lives, meandering edges of the sea

 

and anchoring themselves to its trailing fronds,

seem idyllic so I don’t want to discover

that seahorses are over-fished, often end

up as dinner delicacies and Chinese remedies,

 

don’t wish to know they’re likely to disappear.

I want to daydream, as I luxuriate in shallows

among shells and underwater grasses,

I’m in a world where it’s safe to forget fear.  

 

3 AM

 

I’m moonless as tonight’s sky, helpless

as a rabbit’s blind and furless kits

and in my body’s cave misgivings hang

from the walls like folded wings. To combat

 

thumping pain and racing fear, I picture

a Matisse-red room with French windows,

potted palms and a half-naked woman

lounging on a sofa, then the yellow surprise

 

of the first drifts of daffodils trumpeting

spring to morose February this morning.

It doesn’t work and the silence is implacable

as the dark – I wish it purred like the cat settling

 

her warm self into the curve of my spine

to sleep but the black cat has long gone.

A tremble in the air – and there are my friends,

shadowy at first beyond my bed. Their outlines

 

slowly fill out with muted colours and now

they’re facing each other in two rows

as if for a formal dance. They reach out,

join hands across the divide. I gaze

 

at their arms which seem to form the ribs

of a boat, the kind ancient kings were buried in

but this is no death ship – it’s a hammock

they’ve created for me. The moment I lie down

 

it takes my body’s burden. No one speaks

but touch has its own language. I let go

of distress and feel such lightness of being

I could lift off into the blue like a damselfly.

 

AUGUST IN ARNOS GROVE

 

Determined, I suppose, to lap the holiday sun,

he’s made his pitch the post box by Sainsburys,

is patting his sad-eyed collie that’s a hotchpotch

 

of about five breeds. The dog’s in good nick

but he is flabby and somehow seems hollow.

He refuses the sandwich I offer but asks for milk.

 

An aged so-and-so I sometimes pass in the street,

who always asks: are you twenty-one, beautiful?,

appears out of nowhere and butts in, voice

 

that of a patronizing child: say thank-you,

then drifts away. The milk makes my fingers

so cold I picture them falling off as I wait

 

in the tiresome queue to pay. Outside, he puts

the milk in an elderly holdall, wants to chat.

I nod and nod but ceaseless heavy traffic

 

is blundering down the road and I only catch

the odd word, notice he has no teeth, guess

he’s younger than he looks. When I go he waves.

 

Flowers spilling from the florist shop greet me

with crimson and yellow laughter, a row of pink

watermelon mouths beckon from the minimarket,

 

at the café’s pavement tables they’re all gorging

on hot sun but I’m worrying if the milk will sour

and how long he can stave off the dark.

 

I PEGASUS

 

lift my hooves for gallop,

rise as my white wings open.

Wind rushes into my pricked ears.

Excitement whinnies from my mouth,

ripples through my flanks, drives me

towards a place that’s always cloudless.

Below me are snow-spattered peaks,

valleys where rivers wander, where trees

are laden with oranges, small suns

which pay homage to the sphere above.

Below me are huge cities with domes,

spires and innumerable buildings,

the tallest invade the blue of sky.

I miss nothing: the glassy stare

of cars stampeding like maddened cattle,

humans fleeing from burning towns,

forests felled like mighty armies,

the sea hurling itself in fury

at the land, barren fields thirsting

for water, skeletons of starved creatures.

I choose a verdant slope when I land,

hoof its milky grass and a spring

bubbles up from earth that’s rich

with squirming worms. Then I rejoice

for I am the breath in and the breath out,

I am the quickening which comes unbidden           

to the mind, blossoms into words

that tug the heart, I am sounds which bell

the air and enthral the ear, shapes

and colours which come together

to sing. I counter hatred, destruction.

I will not be stamped out.

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

 

David Swann

Midsummer on Tenantry Down

 

The thing that hates walls also has it in

for fences, sheds, frames, fruit-nets,

 

and this bish-boshed thing I’ve named

The Stage, where we’d sit to salute midsummer

 

if it wasn’t cracked down its centre

and tilted at some ski-slope camber.

 

Our allotment’s surrounded by structures

like it, huts fished from skips,

 

greenhouses reclaimed from the shame

of Eighties glazing. And some of the work’s great,

 

like the oven our neighbour forged

from brass plates and sunk in a chalk slope

 

to bake flatbreads in, or the cold-frame,

fashioned from beachcombed bottles, tied into lines

 

by bean-canes and string. Mostly, though,

these structures have failed their makers’ dreams –

 

and so what? Midsummer’s meant for dreams,

surely? For the magical inconsequence

 

of our trough, agleam now with warm rain,

or that short hop to the neighbour’s shack,

 

where a nest of wrens lie tucked in the corner,

singing their doo-wop to the mother’s

 

seeds and nuts. There, if you’re charmed,

you’ll see slow-worms writhe free

 

from tarpaulins, set down to smother brambles,

which dandelions have headbutted holes in,

 

as if they were drunks at the kebab shop

on the road down the hill, where I hear

 

sirens now as the wind shifts. The thing

that hates walls is hard at work,

 

stitching bindweed in every seam,

threading viperous cables through soil.

 

But it’s midsummer so forget all that,

forget the spores and cracks. Look –

 

I’ve made a sunbed from onion sacks

and old pallets. It’ll drop to bits

 

in a few hours, so – quick! – lie back

and watch the sky, bluer now

 

than the sugar-spun wings of the damson-fly

that has gone by like a thought

 

and taken the thought with it.

 

Swordfish

Richard Williams

 

Just in earshot

over the hush now shush of traffic,

all the rumours of a city,

fully awake but not.

 

Swollen sea churning,

brown black blue black

steel black

black,

 

White black white.

 

Swordfish 

 

pebbles kiss,

 

Swordfish

Swordfish.

 

November 1940

a blue grey steel grey sky,

she is still waiting,

still hoping,

knowing and not knowing

 

until ’83,

 

A memorial service;

washing away,

forty years’ silt

in a brine-filled blink.

 

 

(The above poem was turned into a film by the team behind the Places of Poetry website.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrZcNMi3xQY)

 

 

Pallant House

Christine Rowlands

 

A hush in the Galleria

then low voices....

Snatches of music drift

from another space.

In dimly lit rooms

visitors, perfumed and well heeled,

peer at exhibits...

at the writing on the wall...

at oil paintings in golden frames.



There’s a portrait by Sir William Rothenstein

of Barnett Freedman, an official War Artist

He spoke of life on a submarine of

“wearing any old clothes,

eating pickled onions, listening to

mouth organ music, laughter

and friendship...perfect.”


His work is painstaking

detailed, familiar, varied and

profuse.


In the old house it’s cooler

the wax polished staircase creaks.

On display a collection....

Manet, Hockney, Andrews,

Blake and others.

Paintings brought together

after years of separation.


Visitors peer at exhibits....

assess, consider, compare

and admire.

 

They head for the cafe, and

comment on the work, the

building, the weather and

ask each other why they

had never heard of

Barnett Freedman before.

 

Naomi Foyle

On watching the statue of Edward Colston

get dumped into Bristol Harbour

 

 

   was there a poem

    in the long grass

           today? 

                in the black-spotted blood drop

                     of a ladybird

                             claiming a stem?

      the reticence of nettles

                                            at a distance?

          that enormity of sky

beneath which other people marched

          from Minneapolis to London

                Amsterdam to Accra?

if so, I didn’t

                      find it, nestled

          as I was, on the crest of a hill

    between tower block and garden centre

                     spiderweb and iPhone

                         failure and elation

       a white friend with an elderflower posy

                     acknowledging her fear

             of black men on the street at night

           and, at my back, licking its blue lips

                  the history-hungry sea

 

Geoffrey Winch  

Anne

 

resided diagonally opposite

my pal Steve – we perceived

she considered herself to be

a cut above.      

 

Flatties accentuated her

dancer’s feet as she set off,    

straight-backed, for convent school

though slightly backwards she slanted  

to make sure her fair hair sashayed.  

 

Her sky-blue eyes that only ever looked

ahead, said, “Look-if-you-must-but-

do-not-cross-to-my-side-of-the-road.”   

 

I called on Steve early one Saturday –

“Still in his pit” his mother said so

I climbed up to the shambolic attic  

where he slept and shook him until

he opened his bleary eyes, whereupon    

 

one hand stretched out from his jumble

of covers to extract two Park Drive

from their open pack.  I struck a match

and lit our cigs then, as he exhaled smoke

from his first deep noxious drag, he sighed:

“Dreamt I was on a date with Anne!”  

“So dream on!” I advised.  

 

Denise Bennett 

Unveiling the World War 11 Memorial

4th December 2018 St Mary’s Portchester

 

Seventy three years on.

Today a plaque is unveiled

to honour local men who died;

 

the church teems with top brass.

Sir Timothy makes a speech, twitches a string,

Bishop Christopher says some prayers,

 

and we stand to sing Eternal Father,

me and my brother, dry-eyed

We have the best seats in the house,

 

as if watching a play about our own lives

with bits missed out;

it’s all boxed up in pomp and glory;

 

I want to say –

 

Let me tell you about my brother,

left fatherless at eight weeks –

about the telegram –

MISSING PRESUMED DEAD

received and read

folded re-read and re-folded

for seventy three years.

 

Let me tell you about our widowed mother

who mourned for a grave, a place

to lay flowers, and how we have carried

her grief all these years.

 

Let me tell how she imagined

his torpedoed ship,

the Frigate Tweed, blown to bits,

imagined her husband drowning –

and how, in her dreams,

she thought she saw him swim …

Even in old, old age, she still called for him.

 

At the end of the service,

the clergy, the gold braid, Sir Timothy

and dignitaries, file into a private room.

My brother and I queue for tea.

We do not speak.

 

Barry Smith

Elizabeth, Expectant

 

You get used to them coming and going,

a week at home and always under your feet

 

or drinking all day down the Fox with the men,

rowdy songs splintering the unquiet night

 

and you breathe a sigh of relief when they’ve gone,

getting back to mending clothes for the bairns

 

and worrying about new shoes for the winter.

But this time it was different –

 

we knew it was too good to be true

heading off to sort out Kaiser Bill,

 

back home again in time for Christmas.

When the knock came, it wasn’t him

 

but a telegram that signalled his return,

though they couldn’t really bring him back,

 

just did what they could where he fell.

That was in late November’s muddy days,

 

no point in hoping now, no bustle or baking

to welcome him home, just waiting

 

for January when the waters broke

and his farewell gift, my last little one,

 

slipped squirming into the breach.

 

Kevin Maynard

Litten Gardens

 

‘well-born’ toff and ‘common’ Tommy

each had a name, each one a face

one voice ‘coarse’, the other ‘plummy’

equal now in Death’s embrace

 

Wilfrith Elstob, Maurice Patten

took the shilling, went to war:

war, whose hammer both would flatten:

they lost what nothing can restore

 

not bugle calls or solemn prayers

or bright parades with flags and hymns . . .

one uniform of clay each wears

no victors now—just old victims

 

this statue or that plaque condones

the politics that did for them

we won’t forget?  memorial stones

say, don’t forgive . . . condemn, condemn

 

Chris Hardy

SICKLE

 white sharp

   edge to blue
      untrodden floor
        reefs of scallop
          oyster shells
             fill hollows
               in the ridge

              

                    salted oak grey
                       standing baulks
                          rust bolts
                             soaked
                               orange stain
                                 green sea moss

                                     

                                      through a wood
                                          a cuckoo sang
                                            cool ruthless
                                              song
                                               the shingle
                                                rises where
                                                the path
                                                and trees
                                               stop                                            

                  
                                             waters fold
                                            as light airs
                                          shake out
                                        a dress or
                                      blue silk
                                    conceals
                                 a snake                 

        

                              loose stones
                          underfoot
                       settle firm
                     stand
                  on broken
               mountains
             safe in the sky
           for a minute
        out of mind
     we two

  who no one
knows

 

 

Greg Freeman

THE Battle of Hastings, as Seen by Roy Keane

 

Look at it not so much as a game

of two halves – although it was that,

too – but the result of fixture congestion.

Pure and simple. Two crucial matches,

far too close together. A great win up north,

despite Tostig’s last-minute transfer

to the other side. Then the rush south.

 

Even then, the game could have been won.

Tight defensive set-up worked well

up to the break. It was a good plan,

if only they’d stuck to it. But they got

carried away, thought the Normans

were there for the taking, lost their shape,

got bogged down in midfield, left themselves

 

wide open at the back. Those tricky Normans

took full advantage. I don’t blame the keeper,

he never saw it coming. But there was no need

to celebrate in that way. Everyone here at Sky

condemns the scenes that followed,

the repercussions of that defeat.

These foreigners coming over here

 

bringing in new rules. Droit de seigenur?

What’s that all about? The bastards.

Excuse my French. It’s the ordinary

fan I feel sorry for. I might get

into trouble for saying this, but October’s

far too early in the season. No need

to dismember the manager, in my opinion. 

 

Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Smith and Son’s Golden Gallopers*

 

Watching them closing, night after night,

magic cloth seeming to appear just as

you look elsewhere, couples begging one

last ride after the floor’s swept.

 

Strains float hotel wards: ‘Joshua …Joshua …’

Grind then halt.  Above limned pinks and jades

flaring bulbs light: FOR YOUR PLEASURE.

 

Midnight, it starts anew, dropped cloth

revealing cloche-hatted riders, kimono-coats,

men’s deckchair stripes and boaters, holiday

Escalado.  Steeds named Owen … Elsie …

 

rise and fall to ‘Joshua …Joshua …’ over

beach pebbles.  Free of barley-twist poles,

pounding kinetic waves, lit by the moon’s

magic lantern.

(*Dating back to 1888, built in King’s Lynne and now a fixture on Brighton seafront.)

 

Richard Davies 

Refugees

 

It is hard for us to comprehend

how the mud and the rain,

the squalor and the pain

that they now know

could be better than the life

they left behind.

But that was a life

where bombs and guns

and fear held sway,

a life that drove them on

to seek another

in another land

where even poverty improves

on what they had before,

even if the loss of a child

was the price they had to pay.

 

Mandy Pannett

Close Enough

 

yesterday     a feather by the fence      dusty with grit     

no hint of the bird that wore it      but then

there never is    

 

featherbrain      featherweight      featherwit     

a figment     a part

 

of the sorrows of Lear

 

no breath on the feather

no breath  

 

a feather’s for memory 

not the loss of it      not

the loss

 

today      two feathers

 

unmistakeable

magpie     

 

separate but close enough

for joy

 

 

Joan Secombe 

Rainbow at Cwm Ivy

 

Climbing the hill from the tiny teashop at the end of

The back of beyond, with its Grand Circle view

Over the salt marsh and its sure-footed sheep

Called in from the tide,

A green leaf-smell suffuses the air

Hedged in the narrow lane.

 

Summer rain

 

A blessing, a baptism

Has briefly passed over

And sunlight sparkles the tarmac, jewels the leaves,

Brings out the birdsong,

Enriches our spirits, dampened in uncertain times.

 

And there, as we turn into the field,

Above the five-barred gate, is

A firmly painted promise,

A perfect quadrant of hope.

 

Margaret Wilmot

Eight Weeks into Lockdown

 

The man at the Garden Centre sells me a trowel

through the fence.

 

The garden is positively thriving despite no rain.

 

On the phone I forget to ask the price of things.

 

Voices float over the hedge from people

on their walks, chatting across a width of road.

 

There are six buds on the orchid I moved to a north window.

 

An old mill has got its wheel going again, grinds flour

for local bakers – whole wheat, every particle used.

 

A friend rings who tells of the pleasure of leaving

a plate of yeast waffles by a helpful neighbour’s door.

 

I remember in childhood the batter was left out overnight

on the kitchen counter, working.

 

TERRY TIMBLICK: POETRY COLLECTION AVAILABLE  (proceeds to Save the Children))

Chichester Open Mic regular Terry Timblick  has produced on behalf of Save the Children "Versibilia", a collection of some forty poems across 30 years, many of them new to friends in our group. Topics include John Keats, Tangmere Fighter Station, unorthodox theology and David Attenborough. £8 via a Terry delivery; £10 by post.  Tel. 01243 537812

terrytimblick@gmail.com  See forthcoming Chichester Observer interview.

 

 

OPEN MIC POEMS FOR NATIONAL POETRY DAY

NATIONAL POETRY DAY 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! We are delighted that this edition is supported by the South Downs Poetry Festival to celebrate National Poetry Day, which this year has a theme of Vision. 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: ALAN MORRISON

Alan Morrison is author of several critically praised poetry collections including A Tapestry of Absent Sitters (Waterloo, 2008), Keir Hardie Street (Smokestack Books, 2010), Captive Dragons (Waterloo, 2011), Blaze a Vanishing (Waterloo, 2013), Shadows Waltz Haltingly (Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 2015), Tan Raptures (Smokestack, 2017) and Shabbigentile (Culture Matters, 2019). He is founder and editor of The Recusant and Militant Thistles. He was one of the winners of the 2018 Bread and Roses Poetry Award. His poetry has been awarded grants from the Arts Council, the Oppenheim-John Downes Memorial Trust, the Royal Literary Fund, and the Society of Authors.

Website: www.alanmorrison.moonfruit.com

 About Gum Arabic

Over Xmas 2019 I was contacted out of the blue by Dr Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, managing editor of Indian poetry imprint Cyberwit, who said his press would like to publish a collection of my poems after having read some of my work online. I just happened to have a fair number of uncollected poems which I was able to quickly form into a broadly thematic collection and redraft and get up to scratch in a matter of weeks. So Gum Arabic was born. Being also a book designer, I almost always design my own covers, and for this particular book I wanted to go for something purely typographical and simple, the distinctive lettering of the book title, in Algerian font, is meant to resemble that of RIZLA cigarette papers. Although it has its fair share of political poems, much of this collection is deeply personal.

Gum Arabic: Poems

The poems that make up Gum Arabic form an amorphous patchwork of overlapping themes that fundamentally address the complexity of the cosmopolitan human condition at a time when multiculturalism is under increasing threat from nativism, nowhere more so than in "Brexit" Britain's "hostile environment" against immigrants. Poverty, homelessness, racism, Islamophobia, mental illness, imperialism, spirituality, mythology, socialism, capitalism, colonialism, consumerism, immigration, are among the challenging themes in this uncompromising collection.

A mixed assortment of historical and literary figures populate this patchwork landscape: William Blake, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gordon of Khartoum, Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, Victor Tausk, Jack London and R.D. Laing among them. But the polemical tone apparent that has typified much of Morrison's poetic output for the past few years is here tempered by a more personal touch. These poems help remind us of our spiritual and psychical interconnectedness as human beings, something above and beyond the accidents of our nationalities, or faiths.

Gum Arabic binds its subjects together like the substance it's named after, which is used on cigarette papers to make them stick when licked.

Excerpts from Gum Arabic

 

 Gum Arabic

 

Daily he’s cursing

Under hostile breath

At the ever-increasing

Numbers of turbans,

Hijabs, niqabs,

Burqas embarking

In dogwhistle-daylight

On his local high street -

“Bank robbers”

And “letterboxes”

He parrots the prime

Minister, for he’s one

Of Boris’s blue collars...

Does he ever think

As he takes a lick

Of the cigarette paper’s

Seam of Gum Arabic

That his daily smoking

Habit is dependent

On acacia sap

Harvested in African

Islamic countries,

The Sudan, for instance...?

 

His daily hate is

Spoon-fed him

By the red top

Newspapers

Which smear his

Familiar enemies

Framed for him -

“Scroungers”, immigrants,

Muslims, Gypsies -

Make him hate them

Even more than

He hates himself,

His unaffordable

Life, his property-

Worship, his

Prostration before

Home ownership,

His fruitless pursuit

Of fulfilment

Through consuming,

For the red tops

Know if you throw

Enough mud some

Is bound to stick

Like Gum Arabic...

 

 Summer Without Monika

 

The cancer has crept up through her lungs like acrid damp

After forty-odd years on sixty fags a day,

Her emphysema-hampered lungs have long been wrung

By choking pistons of cigarettes and now she

Wants to fade away for there’s not much fun in life

When every hour is a fight for breath, the itch on

The tongue still ignited by the thought of a lighted cigarette

In spite of there being so little in her air-pumps left

To appreciate the drag and pout, the luxurious smoke,

The sting of nicotine, tickle of tar at the back of the throat –

Everything nostalgic is brocaded in tobacco…

 

She’s nearly delirious now, still chimneying away

As she gasps for breath, and her memory’s dismembering –

She never learnt to speak chic English like the rest

Of her aspiring generation of Swedes, and yet,

Apparently, this afternoon she started singing songs

In perfect English, lyrics she’d not learnt consciously,

In a foreign language strange to her ears which sounds

To Swedes as if it swallows the ends of its words,

Now she speaks it, spins it into music, her scorched

Ochre fingertips accompanying on air-piano–

A mystery fluency perhaps sourced from her smoky

Unconscious now suddenly unchained, catching on her

Enchanted tongue just as soon to learn in any case

The lingua franca of absence, stubbed out in an ashtray…

 

Footprints in the Snow

 

My mother used to say when a Robin hops into your house

It does so as an omen forewarning coming doom

(For one of her grey uncles had passed away soon after

Playing enraptured host to such a rubecula visitor);

The Redbreast is a fleeting guest, a chat come unannounced

With unassuming friendliness, trusting in the gloom

Of winter, bringing colours, fire-brief orange, white and mouse-

Brown, seems to make itself at home in human room,

Its feathers quite unruffled under unfamiliar roof –

That there’s nothing to fear in this sprightly portent’s surely proof

That the darkening change it augurs gently falling soon

Like softly silent snow, is no more something to dread

Than a sudden change of wind, or the coldness of a bed,

Just brushing off a breath, or a through-draft with a broom,

In a moment, one of trillions that made us who we are;

Everything we think and feel and touch and love and know,

Our memories, experiences… footprints in the snow…

 

 (Previously appeared in The London Magazine)

 

Two Yellow Birds from Hyderabad

For Prakash Kona Reddy

 

Dear Prakash,

My far flung friend

From Hyderabad

Hindu-Catholic

Heartfelt socialist

Poet, academic,

Philanthropist,

Documenter

Of lower castes

And untouchables

In priceless poems

And magical prose,

You reinvented

Yourself for

The bookshelf,

I have never

Forgotten that day

You visited me

In Hove going

Out of your way

Before you attended

The conference

Up in the big smoke,

When you brought me

Beautiful artisan

Gifts crafted by

Impoverished hands

Of Hyderabad,

I still have those

Two exquisitely

Painted yellow birds

Sporting grey beaks,

Crested heads

And zebra-striped

Wings, perched on

A miniature tree

Textured like bark,

A nest in-between

Cradling two eggs

Strewn with dry grass

On its green plinth,

Which I’ve kept ever since,

Perched on a shelf

Yet to take flight...

 

Nasturtiums

for V.S.

 

They used to say “be nasty to nasturtiums”

For these flashing red and orange flowers thrive on neglect,

Blossom hardily in dry soil with little watering –

Except as comes naturally with noncommittal rain;

Unsociable but boldly coloured, growing on their own

(No commingling except with unassuming weeds)

Especially well when picked and arranged in a vase –

Nasturtiums have been known to drink water so fast

That other flowers bunched with them wilt from thirst,

But this is no malice, more a clumsiness, a quirk,

An unintended consequence from brutalising bloom;

Nasturtiums are the ruffians of flowers, harsh

But beautiful, indefatigable, self-reliant, tough

But fragile, as glass, monstrously sensitive

To unfamiliar comforts– with little nurturing

They grow up to expect nothing, are wise in

Their distrust of fuss, fragrances and strangers;

They suffer for their feistiness but are successful

At flourishing where other plants wither –for

They know nothing but harsh environments,

Are most at home in inhospitable beds; bashful

Flowers; cautious, hyper-vigilant, they mostly

Dread the wind that shudders through their petals,

Though this shuddering’s disguised behind carefree façades;

A fundamental guardedness camouflaged against

The greenest gardens, lushest foliage –of all

Flowers nasturtiums are the most traumatised...

 

Gum Arabic can be ordered here: https://www.cyberwit.net/publications/1402

 

OPEN MIC POETS FOR NATIONAL POETRY DAY 2020

Scroll down to see poems by Hugh Dunkerley, Chris Hardy, John Haynes, Camilla Lambert, Greg Freeman, Barry Smith, Maggie Sawkins, Martyn Crucefix, Robyn Bolam, Geoffrey Winch, Raine Geoghegan, Patrick Osada, Joan Secombe, Richard Davies, Christine Rowlands, Alan Bush, Terry Timblick, Isabel Blyskal, Richard Williams, Denise Bennett and Kevin Maynard.

 

Hugh Dunkerley

Touch

 

We’re forbidden the language of touch,

can no longer translate our need

into hug, kiss or simple handshake,

must keep our distance and breathe

through masks of dumb cotton.

Every other body is a potentially

lethal weapon and must be treated

as such. We live on screens, pixelated

simulacra of embodied selves,

voices reanimated through the witchcraft

of the digital, but it’s no match

for an arm of comfort on a shoulder,

the syntax of a caress, the bliss 

of one body speaking to another.

 

Chris Hardy

Inner Life

 

Mist in the lane,

the moon’s breath.

 

Sometimes, if you can find it,

life is worth the work.

 

A sound like rain is leaves on leaves,

then rain begins to fall like rain.

 

This iron rod from roof to earth

buries lightning in the ground.

 

Today the horizon stopped moving away

and began moving back towards us.

 

Morning’s unlined page outside,

a day we can go into.

 

If you should find me dead

close my eyes so I can see.

 

John Haynes

Aminu Kano and the Indigo Dye-Pit Worker

 

In his white robe, Aminu Kano turned

towards the old man: “Malam, spread your hands

and show us,” and his palms were blue, “are stained

not just with indigo: with education,

what he does, how his hands think, the man

Allah has made, has stained.”  And later when

I came to bow before I left, “Yes, I’m

a teacher,  too,” he said, “but then, I mean,

what is it anyway, ever, to learn

you have to ask,  what does it ever mean

for some equation to become a line

of  symbols made of tissue in your brain

and yet as abstract as Allah’s own mind -

and where is the exam for that?” he grinned.


(Aminu Kano (1920-1983):  Nigerian socialist politician who opposed British Rule in the 1940s and led the People’s Redemption Party in the 1970s.)

 

Camilla Lambert

The Colour of Storms

 

What’s your favourite colour? Blue like wave-tops.

What’s your favourite colour? Green as waves turning over.

And yours? White like the underneath of parasol mushrooms.

But they aren’t white.

Not if they’re in snow, but next to blackberries on my kitchen table they are.

What’s your favourite? the smoky taste of butterscotch.

And yours? Rapunzel in her tower.

But you don’t have long hair. No, but I know a witch.

What colour are you? The colour of a wasp wing.

What’s that? I have no name for it, no sound, not even a whisper in a cathedral.

How about you? red and yellow and blue, like my best bouncy castle ever.

What’s your best ever? My squeaky rocking chair, my hot water bottle at midnight.

And yours? My favourite colour and the fluff in my belly button

and the gingerbread man running as fast as he can.

But he gets eaten by a pig. In my book it’s a fox.

Why is grass green? It’s to do with chlorophyll, something that makes it green.

Why is chlorophyll something? It just is.

Why is grass green? I did tell you before.

Perhaps you’ve changed

I don’t change. Well, colours change

Is a crow always black? Sometimes black crows look purple

And sometimes purple is the colour of storms, not crows.

And sometimes storms are deep-sea blue.

 

Greg Freeman

BRIMSTONE

for Brian Patten, Adrian Henri and Roger McGough

 

Light floods the room.

Butterflies glimpsed

for an instant - peacock,

orange tip, holly blue, brimstone.

 

Moments illuminated by albums

left in their sleeves for decades,

songs open doors to pictures

of girls in afternoon sun.

 

Cheesecloth shirts, loon pants,

hot pants, short-lived maxi-skirts.

It dawns on you, it couldn’t

have worked, how it all went wrong.

 

You wake from the usual pm doze.

Those hot-blooded incoherent teenage

poems inspired by Mersey’s poets of 67.

Why, now you’re sixty-seven,

 

does this coven of Cathys, black hair,

flashing eyes - girls you’d forgotten

for years - tap on the window,

flutter into your quarandreams?

 

Barry Smith

On the Rocks

 

What coil of suffering entwines

those who fall from grace to the rocks

below

            impelled by some self-worn

sense of doom, they trek the cliff path

to stand momentarily fixed,

like Christ tempted on the temple

ledge, gazing down on all that swirls

beneath

               we cannot share their last

whirlwind of being, the final

step from foothold security

into wild air, stripping all sense

and care

                 only marvel at their

act and note the wicker basket

of bent flowers marking the edge

of the last to fall

                             and gaze

above to where a weathered stone

measures grief from another age

and beyond to the stark barrows

that stalk the ancient chalk-face ridge

completing the arc from sky to sea.

 

(reprinted from South 62, Oct. 2020)

 

Maggie Sawkins

Seven Questions you might ask an Artist

 

Which do you prefer to paint or draw?

-          Why do you ask?

 

Have you drawn the short straw?

-          No, I’ve drawn a junkanoo mask.

 

Will you finish the 1000-piece jigsaw?

-          Too much of a task.

 

Which of us has a tragic flaw?

-          The woman in green wearing a basque.

 

Have you painted seagulls on the seashore?

-          Yes, wearing a birdcage mask.

 

What’s your way of dealing with a bore?

-          Talk about the weather forecast.

 

Is that a sketch of your mother-in-law?

-          No, it’s a sketch of my vacuum flask.

 

Martyn Crucefix

from Notes on a calendar (hung on a demolished wall)

 

A box of Quality Street       a constant marriage

a murdered girl under a bridge

a rustling then no more to be heard

a job on the precision parts bench

 

a language you’re both familiar with

a microwave ping

a mouse’s paw caught in the trap

a new care plan to be introduced

 

all night a light burns on the landing

almost midnight—strangers mostly

a well-cut lawn      apple trees in the garden

as at a disused level-crossing

 

at 6.30 then 4.30 each afternoon

bedding plants shrivelling

before bed a sweetened drink      birds doing

what birds do      blue lights urgently circling

 

chairs and stools a low coffee table

chaos of dissolving townships

clamour of carers      clarity at the sink

moving right to left into cleanliness

 

(This poem first published by PERVERSE poetry https://perversepoetry.tumblr.com/)

 

Robyn Bolam

The Cornfield

a watercolour by W.H. Allen

 

That year, there was a shortage of reapers.

It rained so much after the wheat was cut

that grass started to grow in the furrows,

sap green on umber; stray grains set off shoots.

 

Dawn after the storm, it could have been worse,

though some sheaves leant as if drunk, dishevelled,

while others, sprung out of their ties, were frail,

collapsed, like weary gleaners on the ground –

 

but the shorter stooks survived, bright, intact,

spiky and proud, upright as bold youngsters

fanning out gold, back to back, standing firm.

The trees were, again, in their old places,

 

dead branches lighter, and the nimbus clouds

that brought the storm which changed so many lives,

cared nothing for our old ways. They swept through

uneasy dreams and travelled on to town.

 

Geoffrey Winch

Solutions  

 

seldom we’d complete

a crossword –  

always that final clue

 

we’d discuss

a score of possibilities

only memorable for

 

the tranquil atmosphere

in which we’d deliberate

before

 

agreeing nothing seemed to fit      

then tensions would rise    

and words would be exchanged

 

down to both of us trying

to get our own points across

before

 

deciding we’d be better off

going to bed       sometimes

just to sleep on it

 

Raine Geoghegan

they lit fires, moved in close

 

          dikka kie my carrie, come and sit yerself down

          yer look dukkered

 

me granny used to sit by the yog all the time

rubbin’ ‘er ‘ands then movin’ ‘em close to the flames

‘er skin turned dark and she said that the fire did it

 

dark raddi’s with no moon

only the brightness of the yog

 

great aunt bethy tellin’ a story

the one about ‘er great great granny Margret

who drowned in a ditch drunk as a lord

her face down in the water

‘alf a dozen piglets runnin’ around and over ‘er

them not seemin’ to notice

 

‘ands ‘oldin’ saucers of mesci with drops of tatti-panni in ‘em

 

all of the malts slowly gettin’ skimmished

 

 

 (Romani words:  dikka kie – look here; dukkered – done in; yog – fire; raddi’s – nights;

Mesci – tea; tatti-panni; malts – women; skimmished – drunk)

 

Patrick Osada

The Reading Test

 

It takes an age for you to move

From Blue Badged car to waiting chair :

Those alien legs refuse to work 

Leave you tottering on the brink

Of actual or imagined falls…

 

But today’s visit is for eyes

At Opthalmology, First Floor.

You brave the lift, there is no choice 

And soon you’re wheeled into a room

With lights and lenses, screens and lists.

 

A grey haired woman, half your age,

Conducts the tests that measure sight

And sits to hear you read from books.

“Try this …and this…Well done!” she says,

Marking success with ready praise

 

As you had done those years before

When you had taught her class to read.

 

Joan Secombe

An Optional Poem

During the early pandemic there was a debate over whether poetry was too difficult for G.C.S.E. students reliant on distance learning and should therefore be an optional area of study.

 

The only option is

I have chosen to do this -

Sit here, think, pen in hand,

Scribble, think, sit here, scribble -

This First of All our verbal arts

This heartbeat of the rhythms of life

 

Always we have walked with verse;

Hand in hand with its sister, music,

It has lullabied us to sleep

Formed the rubric of our playground games

Fixed our memory with clever tricks

Pressured us into purchases

Marked the rites of life

 

Is important enough to deserve

A day of its own…

 

Thus poetry is not an option

Almost unwitting we invite it

Into our inner ear

Where it sets our thoughts to rhythm

And echoes our minds in rhymes

 

No need to struggle

It is not an equation that needs to be solved

 

So take a poem, any poem, off the page

Unwrap it

What do you see?

There, it is yours, now

Forever.

Poetry

No problem

 

Richard Davies

Wild Oats

(In memoriam - Dom Moraes)

 

The problem with sowing wild oats

before you are twenty,

is that in the sterile ground of brief affairs

all those drunkards, robbers, turncoats

whom you knew a-plenty

somehow stay with you

snapping at your heels in dreams

like fractious dogs,

reminders of your youthfulness

and of time you might have better spent

doing something else.

 

Christine Rowlands

Saturday ...... Thinking Aloud


“Sunshine brings out butterflies and motorbikes” I say, thinking aloud.

“Write that down“ says my son, “because of the..... the?”
“Juxtaposition“ says Dad.
“Yes, that’s it.”

“But, motorbikes are all shiny chrome, powerful and heavy, speeding
with a great racket” I say, “whereas butterflies dance on the air, graceful and delicate.
A silent whirling mystery!”

“Yes” they say as one.
“AND SUNSHINE BRINGS THEM OUT!”

 

Alan Bush

New Cricket

 

people distanced

on the outfield

a pram by the square, a rug, a radio

 

a mother, a toddler

on a good length

and the grassed-up sightscreens: unmoved

 

and it’s as if the DRS referral is still ‘upstairs’

whilst we remain

here, lingering

 

in the space between the sudden roar

of the ‘soft signal’

and the umpire’s finger

 

Terry Timblick

Gently Does It

 

In Stubbs repose, tan-jacketed,

Two amiable horses deepen matt shadows

Beneath oaks in a divotty field.

The Warnham winterscape is twenty miles

And an anguish of betting slips

From Goodwood’s glossy high summer glory

Amid gaudy silks and muscular intensity.

Honour old deeds by carrot and caress,

The threadbare old couple deserve gentle years

In a field called “Dunracin”.

 

Isabel Blyskal

Theatre Sestina

 

Anything can happen in the Seeing Place

The only rule is something must happen

Art is not a mirror to reflect reality

But a hammer with which to shape it

And if theatres close and become dark

Who knows when we’ll see the light again

 

In a while life will seem normal again

A return to unity of time and place

Ministers keeping audiences in the dark

Comedy masks worn tight so nothing bad can happen

Write a tragedy and then bury it

Now whose role is it to shape our true reality?

 

NHS headlines are the new reality

Applaud for nurses then lower their pay again

Listen to lies; pretend we don’t believe it

We love the NHS; in our hearts it has a special place

Where nothing bad could ever really happen

Keep wages low; keep homesteads in the dark

 

Nurses and actors tread the boards in the dark

No prompts, cues, just walking shadows in this reality

Ever hopeful that something will happen

Illuminating ward and stage again

Hospital theatres with PPE in place

The surgeon sweats her hour: no-one applauds it

 

Live through a performance and partake in it

Meander home on public transport in the dark

Drunk passengers, masks akimbo, out of place

Acting up, acting out scenes from their reality

The play was a wild success again!

The audience a disaster!  This can happen

 

Remember theatre where anything can happen?

Seek it, chase it, find and recover it

Nurse it, direct it back to health again

Which play will ease the anguish of the dark?

Which play’s the hammer to shape reality?

Nothing happens without a Seeing Place …

 

The light shines again where life can happen

Actors in their place; audience sees and believes it

Sitting in the dark, participating in reality

 

Richard Williams

Page 126 of the Marathon Runner’s Handbook - Visualization

 

It is about sticking to the plan,

it is about not giving in,

it is about sticking to the plan,

it is about not giving in;

 

remembering

remembering

                        is imagining

                                          is believing,

remembering

                       is not giving in,

running

running

remembering,

on and on and on,

Tower Bridge and down the Mall,

believing

all the things that can still be achieved,

sticking to the plan and not giving in.

 

Denise Bennett

After the festival


we always stopped

on the top of Hay Bluff

to listen to the skylarks.


It wasn’t the wisdom

from the books or words

that we carried home,


but the birdsong we heard

in the clear blue sky,

which caught our throats -


the ascending prayer

of those melodious notes

floating on soft summer air.

 

Kevin Maynard

Lockdown Knock-On

 

bare floorboards . . . blinded mirrors

 

lockdown and recessionary flotsam

of fixtures and fittings

            flung in the back of a van

 

buckled plastic

            splintered spars of wood

 

flakes of white paint

            sprinkled in the gutter

 

a naked headless mannequin,

             two stiff dummy amputees:

                                       forcibly abducted—

 

they utter not a word

            mouths as dumb

                                    as eyes are blank and blind

 

limp garments swathed in cellophane

            and hung from rails

 

                        wheeled out, swinging

 

                                    swiftly bundled,

                                                manhandled away

 

and those who served

            behind the counter?

 

 

their pockets and their futures now as empty

                     as the bankers’ bonuses

 

                                                            are always full

  

 

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

JUNE/JULY 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! We are delighted that this summer (June to September) edition is part of the Virtual Festival of Chichester and supported by the South Downs Poetry Festival. 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, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.

POET OF THE MONTH: JOHN HAYNES

John Haynes: Winner of the Costa Poetry Prize, 2008

John says: I have published four books of poetry: Gari (London Magazine Editions, 1974), the second First the Desert Comes then the Torturer (RAG Press, Nigeria, 1986), Letter to Patience (Seren, 2008, won the Costa Prize for poetry), You (Seren, 2010), shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize).  Several further books are in the offing.  My parents were performers (Mum singer, Dad pianist) in seaside summer shows and pantomimes.  I went to private posh boarding schools which I loathed, and dropped out of public school when I was sixteen to work as a deckchair attendant in Southsea, a stage manager at the Theatre Royal Southsea, a teacher, then it was King Alfred’s College Winchester, then Southampton University, eventually lecturer for eighteen years at Ahmadu Bello University, and on return infants school teacher.  My Nigerian wife and I live in Cowplain.  Our two children have left university and are working.

 Introduction

I began with an undergraduate passion for Ezra Pound, and also Herbert Read’s Jungian conception of free verse, in which the force of feeling gives shape to the poem.  This shapes the poem The High Jumper.  In Nigeria I learnt much from translations African poetry in and derived from the oral tradition.  You can see that in the poem Dan Foco, originally written under the Nigerian name of Idi Bukar.  A while after I’d returned from Nigeria, I began writing in my own versions very old forms with Letter to Patience. Paradoxically the ‘restriction’ of metre gives the poet great freedom, I found.  

The High Jumper

(from Sabon Gari)

 

I’m the high jumper:  I guard my innocence.

I have a theory about my centre of gravity.

And there’s a moment lying out along the bar

when I’m a sleeper with one knee bent under me

and one cheek melting into my forearm.

Then I’m dropping into my shadow forming in the soil.

I erect flimsy barricades.  I make pure air.

 

Dan Foco*

(from First the Desert Came Then the Torturer)

 

When the paid newsreader was announcing his death

someone noticed him watching the screen

someone glimpsed him on the bush road

someone was listening to his lecture

before the rag and kerosene lit blackboard

 

How could they have expected to kill him

 

So many disguises

so many ordinary heads to look out of the eyes of

so many moving feet

so many hands and hands and hands working

so many bodies

each with the common blood circling inside them

                               

hardly known of

 

 (*Dan Foco:  an imaginary  Che Guevara-like figure)

 

 from Letter to Patience

 

                   XLVIII

 

Another dream:  Ayo under the trees

sprawled barefoot on the front seat of his taxi

reading South the stereo on, his keys

 

with Che’s head dangling from them HISTORY,

he’s had somebody paint for him, STILL RIDES

WITH US.   But not in the academy.

 

In the same letters on the other side’s

ALLUTA, nothing else.  “Our classroom farce’s

over man, he grins.”   The Datsun slither-slides

 

through motor park mud and muddles, passes

meat hawkers, holdalls, touts calling.  We come

to gates and now the road.  Slouch hat, dark glasses,

 

flower shirt, he guns the engine; thrum

turns ragged fart;  dust fills the rearview;  tink

of winkers, bare foot right down.  Now we’ve swum

 

out wide to overtake, but no, flash blink-

blinking headlamps and a tanker’s iron wall

                        rises in front of us.  Okay, we jink

 

back in, fast whirls of steering wheel, all

easy elbows, though, then right at our brake

lights suddenly another caterwaul

 

of parp and parp.  Amazingly we make

it and slide out again, out into emptied

pure  blue road just waiting there to take

 

us in, and clicking Fela on to plead

his “Follow follow follow” Ayo goes

for it, up to  his bare shin-bone in speed

 

 

Faking It

(in memory of my father)

 (from Poetry & All That Jazz magazine, 2020)

 

Grandma said that, as a baby he startled when he first

heard the key of a piano struck. Something in him

matched the frequencies of notes. He always said he liked

the chords to be an orchestra, with great handfuls of tenths,

and upbeat with a bit of crunch, despised that Jimmy Gross

who had to have a secret double bass to do his left hand for him. 

Dad had no time the smiling showmanship of fakes.

 

Sometimes I sit down at the keys at night and try to play

some of the tunes he showed me chord by chord  and bar by bar.

As if it’s in his memory.  Although I never hear

the sounds before my fingers touch,  as he would have, 

and although,  yes, I forget chords,  chord inversions, whole bars,

I muddle on just for the sake of being with him still, 

however flawed it is, however much, alas, I find I have to fake.

John Haynes

 

Stephanie Norgate

Sweet Woodruff

 

Remember sweet woodruff in armfuls

stuffed between the mattress’s linen

or piled under hemp?

 

A scratchy softness for a body to lie on

in the ache between work and morning,

a dream floating in farm-dust

before waking to straw-lines of thatch.

 

How comforting the gathering and strewing

in the days when woodruff scented our skin

and ticked on in its crackle,

a rough life slowing to a dryness of stems.

 

When the body twitched and itched,

we could look for hope in a garden.

 

Ancestors, take us now

to a bed of sweet woodruff,

and, in the cutting and gathering,

soothe us with thoughts of a cure.

 

In the touch of our hands on a plant,

whisper your lore.

 

Barry Smith

On the Rise (Transubstantiation)

 

I met Elvis on the rise at Brighstone

tending the frisky black-faced Shropshire lambs

on the sweet spring grass opposite the Mill Pond.

 

I knew it was him because of the quiff

and those trademark sideburns, though he was dressed

in blue overalls and horn-rimmed glasses.

 

He was separating the twin black sheep

from the flock, his favourites, he said,

although they were all bred for the table.

 

Later that evening, I saw him again

in the bar at the Sun in Hulverstone,

watching the sunset bleed over the white cliffs

 

with eight black-garbed priests sitting in a line,

down from the seminary at Mottistone,

relishing their braised lamb and rich red wine.

 

To see Barry perform this poem with the Charlotte Glasson jazz trio, click on youtube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLc0SkBsR1M&feature=youtu.be

 

Naomi Foyle

The Other Naomi

 

She’s blonde, Japanese, Black British,

Palestinian, a Jewish New Yorker ‒

but still people get us confused.

 

She’s famous, an icon,

falls off catwalk runways,

lives on a small island in the Salish Sea;

 

speaks from podiums to thousands,

was beloved of Nelson Mandela, leads

the Marxist, feminist, anti-Zionist revolution,

 

writes universal poems about kindness,

and prize-winning bestsellers

in a genre I have modestly attempted;

 

she rides horses,

sternly corrects people

when they mispronounce our name –

 

but when I joke she is the Greater

to my Lesser, she looks aghast

and protests No . . .

 

When people get your name completely wrong,

I want to ask the Other Naomi,

do they call you Fiona too?

 

And when the Other Naomi’s

mother dies,

even though I never met her

 

I’m invited to the funeral

and travel hours to attend.

 

Richard Hawtree

Rocking Horse Ghazal

 

In one ear, out the other. Brain like a rocking horse,

mother would’ve said; up on his high horse –

 

give him a ball, he’ll be happy till doomsday.

Mind you, hasn’t time flown. Only horseplay,

 

always mixing business and pleasure. Here today,

gone to grass. Thinks he’s the business.

 

It’s all mixed up in that Doomsday Book head of his.

He wouldn’t listen: even to the hoarse

 

canter of apocalypse on judgment day,

on the very last day of the very last days.

 

Maggie Sawkins

Ibis

 

“At the end of March the government wrote a letter to the leader of every local authority in England asking them to accommodate all people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough and to find alternative accommodation for those in “shelters” where they could not easily self-isolate by the end of the weekend, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Local authority rough sleeper accommodation guidance

 

This is what I heard:

you are holed up in a hotel

named after one of the first birds

 

Noah released from the Ark

and, confined to your room,

you are going slowly berserk.

 

I imagine you cloaking

the corporate eiderdown

around your shoulders,

 

stepping to the window,

blowing cigarette smoke

into the uncommonly quiet

 

city street.  A strange break,

it must seem, to have been sent

here to protect others

 

from the virus lurking in doorways.

Perhaps I should write

a letter from the heart,

 

letting on that I share your fear;

reminding you of the hope

I still have, as precious as flight.

 

But for now, I will include your name

in a prayer to a God I barely

believe in. It’s a start.

 

Mandy Pannett

jonah

 

he will never be a whaler     the stench of fish lasts a lifetime in the nose

he is the son of truth and the living proof of stink

 

he lives inland

nightmares come less in the spring     a blink or two

and summer lightning

is gone

 

 

the first day

 

put yourself in his place     imagine

a shoebox     a labyrinth     a puzzle box

a cell

 

the first day is for terror

wallow in it and relish the echoes     the doubleandtriplescreaming echoes

 

or finger the wall and find

a ladder of ribs

 

mind your head on the heart

this heart has four chambers and they are all

pounding

 

 

the second day

 

foetal

you pray     to anything

everything

 

grovel     gibber and dribble

slip and slide in blubber

 

you promise to make the world repent

london     beirut     tokyo     all shall fall to their knees

sheep must fast and cattle shall be robed

in sackcloth     their foreheads

anointed with ash

 

anything

 

Chris Hardy

Stitches

When I was ten I went to a new school.

One thing I remember about it was the food,

how I hid slabs of liver between two plates

and how the Headmistress wished

to beat me on the hand for this,

(my mother put a stop to that).

 

There was one girl I liked,

and I told her on the way to the bus.

She swung her small square case at me,

its sharp edge cut me over the eye,

the blood stained my grey glove black

as I rode home on the top deck.

 

The conductor and the doctor laughed,

even my mother smiled,

when I told the story

about how I found out

that a girl hits as hard as a boy.

 

Andy Waite

The Offerings

I cannot find them now, the circle of trees

in the margins of this dark wood,

that I've so loved and yearned for,

where the moon weaves a song

in the uppermost branches

and the dust on the wings of sleeping moths is

only unsettled by the rising of sap.

 

I looked long and hard for it was a sacred place,

wrote notes on leaves saying

“lost, one failure of imagination, if found please return”

and waited for the night creatures to report any sightings.

 

An owl as white as myth and rich as myrrh flew close,

said the forest has grown but you have not changed

and engulfed with this philosophy

I sat quiet awhile to consider,

only to find I was naked and cold.

Two deer drew near, one antlered one not;

he bowed his head as if divining an underground stream,

she carried a dress of golden light on her back.

Beautiful offerings, and I tried to call out

but a monastery of silence fell from my lips,

I could not accept such extraordinary gifts.

 

You're a fool whispered festoons of ferns and

so I ran and ran to catch up with kindness

but I stumbled and fell, cut my knee on the metal of others

and with a stick scratched the words “come back, come back”

in the sky in my blindness, knowing they were long gone.

 

Walking home through trailing branches I was troubled,

how was I to undo this straitjacket I'd stitched to my skin,

to needle out the cruel splinter’s pinch,

to unfold this too tightly blanketed night.

 

So from deep in my pockets I took out some shortcomings,

held them in my hands a while, then let them fall.

 

Turning at last I could just make out a halo of light up ahead

and caught the moon again, a scythe of silver etched deep into ink.

 

Eve Jackson

When the World Was Quiet

A distant thrum; a generator, an engine, something

that forgot to stop or be stopped as I watch

birds embolden across the margin

 

of their usual edgy presence; pen themselves:

sparrow, wren, finch; that one blackbird

scatting in jazzy colour all his wants and wishes

 

across my morning. Bird-space refills

wing by wing, each flap counted; a measure

of how far they have come; can go.

 

Below, a dunnock picks up secrets in full view

of the window. A pigeon hunkers on the fence;

sunset swell of each steady breath.

 

Bedstraw and ox-eye daisies yawn

across tarmac. Buttercups, not under

the chin, but enough yellow to seep beneath skin.

 

Splashes of white-light on leaves that trickle

from trees, to fall on these overgrown paths,

where I wade waist high through the quiet of an afternoon.

 

Christine Rowlands

Lockdown TV


Here are the characters

I recognise them

The military man

The femme fatale

The maiden aunt

The gigolo

The ingénue



But.. they gather together!

They shake hands

They hug

They stroll, arms linked

Or sit close

Lean in to whisper

To confer

To kiss



I feel nostalgic

Once life was like that

No masks

No gloves

No distancing

No queuing at a safe remove



Now there’s PPE

Endless hand washing

Distant greetings

Fearfulness

And loss



We will get used to the new normal

Won’t we

Won’t we?

 

Raine Geoghegan

A Memory of the Hop Fields 

She is in the front garden

bending low, picking bluebells,

wearing her old red apron,

with the Spanish dancer on the front.

 

She stands up, rubbing her lower back,

her mind shaping a memory.

The hop fields,

her mother lean, strong,

 

picking the hops as quick as a squirrel.

Her bal in plaits, tied on top of her head.

Her gold hoops pulling her ears down.

Ruddy cheeks, dry cracked lips.

 

Her father pulling poles,

sweating, smiling,

his gold tooth for all to see.

 

At the end of a long day

she would stand on top of an apple crate,

comb his hair, kiss his neck tasting of salt.

 

He would pick her up,

Swing her high, low and say,

    

    ‘You’re the prettiest little chi there ever was.’

 

 (Romani words: Bal, hair.  Chi, daughter/child)

 

Geoffrey Winch

A Vintage Affair 

glass perfume bottle

with silver collar and cover,

Chester 1917

 

I slowly rotate this aged

and emptied globe of glass, fondle

its graved swags and ribbons, feel

for meaning in its laurel garlands

and petals of rose;

 

wonder who the lady was

who coddled it so frequently 

she polished its silver cover smooth 

 

did she turn it as gently as I  

in order to reveal its stopper?  

 

the stopper that resists my easing

until I discover her toing-and-

froing technique that eventually lets

escape traces of her garden flowers:

 

flowers with such a wildness

about them that I imagine her

perfuming her warm skin, 

can almost feel myself

caressing it –

 

       so! 

     she must have been a lady

who loved to tease  

 

 

Richard Davies

The Wakeful Hours

The tell-tale signs of passing years

are not the lines now etched upon my face,

nor the limbs and joints that ache when I arise.

It's the way that memory haunts

the wakeful hours

when my mind eludes

the blandishments of sleep

and I wallow in the images that hide

within the corners of my mind,

images of happy times long past,

of friends long lost

and of idle dreams still to be fulfilled.

 

Patrick Osada

From Lockdown

(Dreaming of the River Tresillian)

 

The stillness of this place is quite profound

when water’s slack beyond the wooden quay,

just wind and silence are the only sounds.

 

A heron stands inert as if becalmed,

no curlew’s song or gulls’ cacophony —

the stillness of this place is quite profound.

 

Across the mudflats egrets can be found,

white dots in clusters perched in Merther’s trees;

here wind and silence are the only sounds.

 

Tresemple Pond now flanks this path and ground,

its trees and bushes hold faint sounds of bees;

the stillness of this place is quite profound.

 

Spiralling buzzards turn and turn around,

circle St. Clement’s Well, its scrub and ivy,

yet wind and silence are the only sounds.

 

This spot is where tranquillity is found

with mind and nature joined in harmony;

the stillness of this place is quite profound

when wind and silence are the only sounds.

 

 

 Paul Stephenson

 The Orrery

 

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars , ... .The children

follow the little balls round their concentric paths.

If they could turn the wheels themselves,

they would command the world as God must do!

 

Night falls. Time to go home.

The closing door sweeps their light away

till the blackness yields one tiny silver point.

How far it must be if this is a world like theirs!

 

No longer gods, their little bodies shiver.

 

 

 Denise Bennett

 Kindergarden

 

 19th March 2020

 

Here is a festival of flowers;

children in a garden playing in winter drizzle,

or seated on logs, drinking milk,

holding on to each other, laughing.

The whole world is full of fear.

 

A-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down.

I write a prayer in my notebook.

Please God, keep them safe.

 

3rd June 2020

 

They have come out to play again

in soft summer rain. I hear their laughter;

the garden has been so silent.

I look through the trees

and pink dog-roses in the hedgerow,

to see them.

 

A-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down.

I write again in my notebook.

Please God, keep them safe.

 

 Marian Foat

 Daydream

 

How important it is to daydream

To break free,

Abandoned,

running through grasses

and the froth of cow parsley

Alive as the pulse beats out

the song of bird and bee and air

Awake to notice the world of small things

drifting in a maze of mote and dust

To feel a tumbled mess of hair

touching face and lips

To lie on the grass

To see the cirrus clouds

stretch and slide into a

kaleidoscope of warmth and chill

as sun and shade collide into a

space of uncertainty where nothing

seems normal and everything is transitory

To Wail

To be

Still

Allowing a new order of things.

 

Richard Williams

Cacophony at Gunwharf Quays 

 

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MAY/JUNE 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.

POET OF THE MONTH: RAINE GEOGHEGAN

Raine Geoghegan writes poetry, monologues and short prose. She was born in the Welsh Valleys and is half Romany with Welsh and Irish ancestry. She worked for many years in the West End and London Fringe as an actress and dancer. She toured both England and Ireland with her own dance troupe working with many artists including Shakatak, Vera Lyn, Chas & Dave, Tommy Cooper. She founded Earthworks, an experimental theatre company in the 1990’s. She also taught theatre and movement at a number of Drama schools. In 1996, a severe illness and accident put an end to her theatrical career and she turned to writing. Her poems and prose have been published both online and in print. She was profiled on the Romani Arts website for International Women’s Day as a high achieving Romany artist and was featured in a documentary film called ‘Stories from the Hop Yards’. Her debut pamphlet, ‘Apple Water – Povel Panni’ has been published by the Hedgehog Press and was previewed at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2018. It is based on her Romany Heritage.

"These are poems of Roma memory and survival brought to life through beguiling lyric and dramatic telling. They bring a way of living, of thinking, listening, seeing, into immediate and natural focus.

 - David Morley, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry.

Raine says: Dear friends, I hope you are staying well and safe during this challenging time. I am thrilled to be the featured online Guest Poet for May, although I will miss seeing you all in person. My husband Simon and I are now settled in the Malvern Hills and I have been busy writing and working on an exciting new project. My first poem, ‘The Greenhouse’ is from my latest pamphlet, ‘they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog’ and was also published in the Poetry Ireland Review, Winter Edition 2018. I got to read it at the launch in Dublin, where I met the amazing Eavan Boland, who was then the Chief Editor. She sadly passed away just recently, so this in her honour. They really know how to throw a launch party in Dublin, it is an event that I will never forget. The second pieces are two triolets, both reflecting the sad demise of the cuckoo, although I seem to be hearing of various sightings of late. These too are from my book, the first was also published on The Clearing, Little Toller Publishing in 2018, the second one in Under the Radar, also in 2018. Enjoy and go well.

The Greenhouse

Mourners spill out into the alleyway. Amidst the black are flashes of purple and red of women’s scarves and men’s ties.

My uncle, a staff sergeant in the army and just back from Germany is dressed in his uniform. He leans against the kitchen wall, having a smoke. We drink tea laced with whiskey. My aunts dry their tears on freshly pressed white handkerchiefs.

I go into the sitting room and see my sister sitting on a stool, her hands clasped tightly on her lap. The coffin is open. Grandfather is in his best suit. His pocket watch hangs from his top pocket. A family photograph is tucked into his waistcoat, close to his heart. His old hip flask lies at his side, no doubt there will be a little whiskey in there. He still wears his gold ring. He looks as if he’s resting, as if he’ll sit up at any moment. I place my hand gently on his …

Grandfather and I are walking down the path to the green house. I am six years old. It’s a hot day. I’m wearing my shorts. Weeds and wildflowers tickle my ankles. He pushes the door open, ushers me in, points upwards. ‘What d’ya think of the grapes my gal?’ Tilting my head back I see huge bunches, deep red, ready to be plucked. He reaches up, pulls a few down, rinses them in a bowl of water then places them in my hand. I bite one and the juice runs down my chin. I eat two more. ‘They’re lovely Grandfather.’ He smiles, opens a can of beer, takes a mouthful and says. ‘Do ya see these grapes? Do ya know why they’re so tasty?’ I shake my head. ‘Well, it’s because the Mulo watches over ‘em.’ He laughs, I laugh but I’m not sure who the Mulo is.

I finish my cup of tea and tell Granny that I am going down to the greenhouse. The door is slightly ajar, the white paint faded, flaking. I push the door hard, go in and smell sawdust, stale beer and decay. There is an open can of Pale ale on the shelf, alongside three broken brown pots. An old knife with a blue handle, its blade stuck in the wood. It’s the one he used to carve the wagons with. I bend down; pull an old crate out and in front of me the unfinished wagon. Taking a tissue from my pocket I wipe the dust off. It’s painted red, green and yellow. Tiny faded net curtains hang limply against the small windows. The front door has minute horseshoes attached to it. All the Romany’s believe them to bring good luck. I would love to have this wagon. Before I leave I look up to where the grapes used to grow in abundance. All that is left is a dried, tangled vine hanging loosely from the roof.

Koring Chiriclo (i) 

(When the Romanies were forced off the roads into houses, they were saddened by the fact that they could no longer hear the cuckoo sing)

I’ve loved to hear the cuckoo sing.

I’m a Romany, always travelling,

from Huntingdon to King’s Lyn.

I’ve loved to hear the cuckoo sing.

since I was a chavi in a sling.

Summer, autumn, winter, ah sprin.,

I’ve loved to hear the cuckoo sing.

I’m a Romany. Always travelling. 

(Romani words: Koring chiriclo – cuckoo;  Chavi – child.)      

 

 Koring Chiriclo (ii)

Jel on me dad would say.

Pack up yer covels, we’ll be on our way.

Take our time, get to Frome’s ‘ill by May.

Jel on me dad would say.

The cuckoo’s callin, untie the grai,

up onto the vardo. It’s a kushti day.

Jel on me dad would say.

Pack up yer covels. We’ll be on our way.

(Romani words:  Koring chiriclo – cuckoo; Jel on – move on; Covels – belongings; Grai – horses; Kushti – lovely.)

Raine Geoghegan   

 

Camilla Lambert

No Cornish summer

 

Instead of rainy westerlies a weighted surge

of air swept up from the south. Its long hot

gusts tore coltsfoot flowers into bullion dots,

bleached grass struggling from the hard earth.

In the cove blackbirds pecked at dry seaweed;

I swam early, languid in clouded water, spying

on a green-glossed cormorant taking flight,

low over waves. Sea-beet had gone to seed;

In the walled garden the June drop of apples

lay un-rotting, shrivelled. Boats from the Haven

returned with slim catches, mackerel’s dappled

backs still with a sheen of silver. Sheep stayed

huddled in hedgerow shade on the gorsy slope;

from high above came a cruising raven’s croak.

 

 

Terry Timblick

Cornered

 

Terror of terrors – alone, moated in self-absorbed solitude,

In an Edward Hopper picture.

Are there softnesses to offset that bleak, sharp-edged saloon bar?

Are all such apparently detached melancholy-bubbled figures humming

“Make it one for my baby, and one more for the road”?

What images wearily effervesce at the bottom of the glass –

Lost loves, inopportune windows, earthbound dreams?

None of that cosmic half-full, half-empty philosophy here,

It’s the artist that’s drained – of cheer and optimism.

“Get out a bit more, Ed.”

 

 

Pratibha Castle

refuge 

 

i tend a wild garden

a bawdy house

of scent 

and sound

and shade

where roses  

toss their manes

in the manner

of New Forest nags

marigolds scorch the soul

with orange rage

nasturtiums writhe

with promiscuous

lithe ache

about the willow

where a blackbird

sentinel of whispered trysts

and the pond’s gold wiles

bugles a salute

to gypsy snails    

emerald jewel beetles   

tumble bees squiffy

on the damask malt

of antirrhinum

jasmine

thyme

 

wind sigh of long tailed tits

woodpecker  

bully of the fat ball

acrobatic finch

 

sparrows in the bay bush  

sputter certainties

and seeds     

 

in a deckchair

by the pond

Kali on my lap

a furry shell

the grind of traffic

in the distance

slackens to a  purr 

 

Paul Stephenson

Elegy

 

Within the brain of the serial killer

negotiations proceed.

He only knows that, somehow,

the parties must be reconciled

with the tree in the prison garden;

much as it twists, growing upwards cell by cell

with the slow measure of light upon it

shared those twenty years.

 

Among its leaves the finches celebrate

a nameless aspiration.

In the brain of the finch no voice is raised.

It is free to tune to the pulse of the world.

 

He would divine their secret,

trace back the Nile of innocence to its source.

For a journey in time a prison has no walls.

But an inch within the skull he is turned back

and must begin again. For Sisyphus,

the record of adventure is a loop of tape.

 

He should have been a gardener,

hands creating the newness of the day,

brain, the promise of it.

 

Outside the finches sing.

Within the brain of the serial killer

loud voices drown them out.

In his silent watch, the tantalising dawn

grows bright beyond his reach.

 

 

Kevin Maynard

Kisses for the Milk Fund

 

A little kindness in a cruel world

to slake the suffering of cracked parched lips—

 

and this you freely granted, Norma Jean,

transfigured by the lens to Sugar Kane:

 

sugar for all poor hungry suckers eager

to die of sweetness on the milky dugs of lust . . .

 

Who hasn’t thirsted for your Milk Fund kisses,

sick with longing for your honeyed loveliness:

 

you knock your lookalikes, the Blondies

or Madonnas into our cocked hats—

 

And yet, there’s ‘Mary’ in your Marilyn

and how you mothered all our fantasies . . .

 

mother inviolate, cause of our joy

house of gold, star of the salty sea

 

there’s art in each performance that you gave,

and that dumb blonde routine was all for show.

 

‘She had a kind of elegant vulgarity:

and at the first rehearsal she was perfect—

 

absolutely perfect.  With everything she did

there always was this thing that came right through . . .’*

 

Of all the avatars of Venus you were queen:

white goddess of the shining silver screen

 

across which deathless shadows come and go,

forever young and beautiful and free,

 

shared deathless dreams, white dreaming in free-flow . . .

unlike your mortal flesh, which could not last,

 

unlike the light you blazed, which could not last . . .

 

nor could the happiness you made us feel.

 

* Billy Wilder, as quoted by Cameron Crowe (words slightly recast for metrical reasons)

 

 

Greg Freeman 

The Junk Room

 

I go outside for a change of scene

to the room we still call the garage.

Most of the stuff’s been cleared;

there’s space on the futon again.

 

A few of your mother’s

porcelain ladies remain,

waiting for gentlemen

to take them to the dance.

Last orders? A clutch

of your father’s prize tankards

we borrowed for the last panto,

awarded for golfing achievements.

 

It’s still a bit of a junk room,

but now’s there’s space to breathe.

I settle down to read poetry,

listen to Steely Dan on vinyl,

look out on spring in the garden.

 

The nearest place I know

to somewhere else.

 

Barry Smith

Willows

(after Ivon Hitchens)

 

sometimes

you can hear the voices in the woods

sighing by a sycamore tree

singing of a green willow,

streams of light filtering the riverbed,

the tangled pool, the linear stretch,

the gate between shadowed waters,

the leaf, the path, the veins,

the patterned willow boughs

gently curling grey-green leaves

flowing from olive-brown arcing stems,

sometimes

you can see the music in the woods

 

 

Lindsay Rebbeck

Consolation

 

Clothes swinging on the line

Pegged by rabbit ears

Which made me smile

For a while

Before I fell back

Into my comfortable hole

Pulling the earth in

Over my head

 

My life in lockdown

Sifting time into a baking bowl

Diverting my fears

And comfort eating

Through the afternoon

Focus on the little things

That’s what they said

 

 

Joan Secombe

Slow Worm

 

I would not have noticed but

hose spray caught the light, silvered its smooth skin

as it circled itself in the dying afternoon warmth.

 

A little disturbed, but taking its time, it uncoiled

elegantly, slipped into the damp darkness

of its sanctuary under the shed.

 

Slow worm. One of my garden friends.

I’ve missed them.

I should have known they were back,

absence of slimy pests proof enough, but

they work so silently

I did not notice.

 

A memory thread unspooled.

The first time there was a nest

in the disorderly compost heap

apprehensively uncovered.

But you knew not to be wary, delighted

by the intricate knot of kin.

All nature spoke family to you.

 

We watched out for them then;

upset when mower caught

and the cat teased,

pleased by the rare glimpse of them at work,

the not-snakes snaking through

the green and dank of the herbaceous border,

our very own eco-warriors.

 

So I really wanted to tell you they were back…

 

but I had to tell your photograph instead.

 

 

Denise Bennett

Bidbury Lane

 

Walked to Old Bedhampton

where water purled over pebbles

in the clear stream,

where Tom sailed his model boats.

 

We kept our distance.

 

Remembered, as we passed

the locked church,

how the crowd thronged here

on our wedding day.

 

Cherrie Taylor & Geoffrey Winch

Going Places

(responsive tanka)

 

the moon 

lights the way 

towards the place 

I hold

back 

 

Reading: where I grew up 

has so much changed – 

memories 

no longer feel settled 

in the place it has become 

 

the ferryman takes me

back to the place

where I was born

I breathe in the

same salt air

 

the chain-ferryman 

carried only those who paid 

across the Avon – 

I recall him landing me safely 

not far from The Other Place 

 

not yet born I travel

from Bankside to Looe -

a place of safety

I see the mothers

waiting   smiling

 

after my parents moved

to Sherfield-on-Loddon

I drove there one night

safe without headlights

so brilliant was the moon

 

 

Geoffrey Winch

 

Haiku

navigation lights

overhead passengers

seeing how we glow

 

Haiku

the fog lifts

nothing

has changed

 

Senryu

new fence

our neighbours

now more distant

 

Senryu

hanging pictures

your eye always

better than mine

 

Senryu

glaring at me

the ornamental dog

I forgot to dust

 

Tanka

I walk

through the woods

to share my troubles

with the trees

who whisper sound advice

 

Tanka

two days after

the argument

our quieted lips

touch

and your eyes smile

 

Tanka

my stone

plunges in the lake

ripple after ripple

I watch my influence carry

to the furthest shore

 

 Mike Jenkins

Otherly Love

 

Otherly and

Southerly and

Occasionally lovely

I cross the Atlantic Ocean

And worship a Saint

In my shower

 

He says he does

Not perform miracles

But being otherly

I know other wise

 

I’ve seen the sun rise

In his eyes and

Set soft below

 

Bless the others

In disguise

Gliding through the sea of streets

And sheets of greets and heats of meets

Graceful as a tea clipper

Carrying a cargo of choirs in his heart

And a symphony in his skin

 

Where to begin to convey

The miracle of the everyday

 

Hidden in plain sight

In a Hackney carriage

Amid the night

 

Like a jewel in a vast empty ocean

A haven for the traveller’s plight

An isle for my otherly love

To rest from flight.

     

 

 

 

 

APRIL/MAY 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.

POET OF THE MONTH: DENISE BENNETT

Denise Bennett has an MA in creative writing and has taught this subject for Portsmouth College for 28 years. She is a published poet with three collections: Planting the Snow Queen and Parachute Silk by Oversteps Books and Water Chits by Indigo Dreams. She runs poetry workshops in community settings and is currently working on her fourth collection.

 Denise says: Hello Barry, Joan and all poets. Thank you for allowing me to be the online guest poet of the month in lieu of the planned April Open Mic Poetry session at the New Park Centre, Chichester. Here are two poems from my ‘Water Chits’ pamphlet collection published by Indigo Dreams. I like to use local history to inspire my work, so the poems I am offering are: ‘Water Chits’ the title poem, based a letter written by a Royal Marine Bandsman who served at Gallipoli, seen at Portsmouth Museum of the Royal Navy, and ‘The Baby’s Bottle,’ a poem prompted after attending a lecture about the artefacts on the Mary Rose.

Water Chits

Gallipoli 1915

 

I joined the band to play the flute

to chivvy the men to war –

but mostly I was lackey to the medic,

sent out with the water chits;

scraps of paper with the words,

please let the bearer have some drinking water;

sent out to the lighter

to fetch the water shipped from Egypt.

Even in dreams I can hear

the medic’s call –

water, water – we need more water –

as if by magic, I could conjure up

eight kettles of water to wash

the wounded, to cook the meal,

to clean the mess tins,

to give ten dying men a drink.

In all this dust and heat, no one

said we would have to beg for water.

 

Denise Bennett

 

 

The Baby’s Bottle – Mary Rose

Artifact found in the surgeon’s cabin on The Mary Rose which sank in 1545

 

Eight pints a day each man had,

barley mashed to make the brew,

swigged from a gallon tankard

by every one of the crew.

 

 

In the museum I hold a wooden vessel,

            shaped like a baby’s bottle,

 

found in the surgeon’s cabin

            used to feed sick sailors –

 

 men with gaping facial wounds,

            or those too weak to eat;

 

made in three separate pieces

            with a maple teat to suck,

 

no spilling of rations allowed;

            thin ale was poured inside,

 

the wooden nipple put to the lips

            of injured men to drink, 

 

slake their burning thirst, this

            for some, their last sup on earth.

 

Denise Bennett

(From the collection Water Chits, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2017

ISBN 978-1-918034-35-0)

 

Richard Hawtree

Bricolage

 

The news is bad, but woodland viola

clusters beneath your garden bricolage.

 

So rhizomes of a hardy Damask rose

settle themselves beside green Maris Piper,

holding out for sudden gin-pink moons.

 

 

Camilla Lambert

What to watch out for   

 

Forbidden to play by the rusted seat

at the orchard edge, near pampered rows

of orange dahlias for the village Show,

we went only on apple shift, Bramleys to eat

with handfuls of blooded blackberries mixed

into soft greenish flesh. Most September days,

late morning, clouds spilled rain across the bay,

driving us back. ‘Run home quick, you’ll risk

a lightening strike if you shelter by the oak’.

Grandmother’s voice was steady, but her eyes

sought danger everywhere, slither surprise

of adders, diamonded with black, feet soaked

by a seventh wave, touch of jelly-fish

she called by her childhood name: mermaid’s dish.

 

 

Julia Cole

Cold Easter

 

In the casting metal light the beeches are tall,

Before even the buds and leaves. This Eastertide

The wind is cold, running among the clouds,

Taken as a spring in winter, or a glimpse of Heaven,

Before the dark door closes like a vice.

 

And the snow is small and bitter as it blows in

Down the hill, crossing the path. Each flake a

Frozen petal from a great tree of blossom

Beyond our sight. It cuts across our way

In a scud of blooms too cold to catch.

 

But this bitter Easter will not last.

The summer will claim the hills

And fields and we’ll walk here again.

Because we have been here before,

Even when we were strangers,

And love came gentle on the breeze.

 

Paul Stephenson

Ersatz

 

Round a Biergarten in the Ruhr

there runs a dry stone wall,

an evocation of the Yorkshire Dales

- if only it did not flap.

 

So I tell my host,

“VR is better than vinyl,

give your drinkers headsets

and theirs shall be

the whiteness of sheep and clouds,

the greenness of hills and fells,

the yorkshireness of the jolly farmers.”

 

“We would inquire ‘Wie geht’s?’

and they would say ‘Middlin’

or ‘No’ but middlin’

or ‘No’ but very middlin’

or - in extremis -

‘No’ but just’.”

 

“Next week it could be pipers in Scotland …”

“… or puffins in the Farne Islands”,

my wife adds sarcastically,

remembering when

high winds had stopped the sailing

and we’d had to be content

with cameras steered remotely

from the Seabird Centre.

 

On loan from the Hermitage

sits a vase in a glass case.

You smash with your gemmy

but there’s nought to grab:

the hologram’s still there.

 

Is it really you reading this poem

or a bot? I need proof

of your identity: a laugh, a curse,

a coffee stain on the white page.

 

At least tick the lines

containing Yorkshiremen.

 

Kevin Maynard

In Time of Pestilence

 

rain so small, so thin I’m not even sure,

from my window, that it’s really falling:

but flags on the ground grow darker:

magnolia blossom glows with a brighter pink

 

in the car-park below, a couple’s purloined

metal trolley — bags in its basket tumescent

with plunder — oh, the relief on those faces!

in aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf plucked bare:

 

civilization so thin, I’m not even sure

I can see it tearing apart — it takes a pandemic

to show us how fragile we are, how swiftly

we panic, how smoothly we slip back through time

 

the graphs climb higher, keep pace with our rocketing fears

Gaia is culling the species — preserving our planet? —

if not for us, then for more innocent life-forms . . .

modelling outcomes, the experts spew brittle statistics

 

while we, who are none of us numbers,

but real flesh and bone, because we are older

and frailer, are one by one starting to die:

which, to be fair, we would have done anyway,

 

sooner or later, our three-score-and-tens

well behind us —puffy hands, shrivelled lungs,

stiff joints and weakening blood

— and now the rain thickens and falls

 

with a sibilant roar . . . some of those petals

are ripped off and some of them stay . . .

and white-masked Spring goes trundling

Winter by on a gurney, sheeted and pale . . .

 

 

Richard Davies

Take this stone

 

Take this little stone,

this slip of chalky flint,

spit on it and rub away

the dust and dirt that  hide

the traces of another life.

There, for all the world to see,

like insects locked for all of time

in an amber carapace,

are the outlines of a tiny shell,

a scallop shape preserved

by God knows what device

a million years ago.

 

It lay concealed the while

waiting for my clumsy boot

to root it out from where it slept -

a tiny trace of life,

that came before this grassy hill arose,

before the wind and ice and rain

carved out the rolling downs,

and the march of man and beast

turned the tranquil soil

to beaten paths and fields.

 

How wonderful this is.

 

Barry Smith

Supplicant

 

As if called to midday prayer he hunches

on all fours, his back turned from the abbey

 

where angels and pilgrims blithely

ascend heavenwards gripping stone ladders

 

flanking iron-studded oak doors

while solemn attendants collect entrance fees.

 

The crouching man kneels in convocation

vision fully engaged with grey pavement

 

as a blackly-bristling wire-haired terrier

stands guarding his singularly suppliant master,

 

sole immobility in this crush of busy shoppers

hustling beneath civic Roman colonnade

 

rising in fluted stonework above.

No-one pauses or seems to witness

 

no hasty handful of change clinks by his side,

only the pool of liquid spreads

 

slowly suppurating the patch

between recusant dog and man.

 

Joan Secombe

Empty Buses

 

Most late afternoons, I avail myself of

My allotted exercise.

 

Urban dweller that I am, can only walk

The semi-desert of the city streets,

Passed by occasional lycra-ed cyclists,

Side-stepping the few like-minded

As in some long-forgotten folk dance,

Listening to confused seagulls

Complaining bitterly to the fruitless pavements.

 

All this is strange enough,

This Whovian episode,

Where nothing would surprise,

Not Cybermen standing to attention at the market cross;

Not Daleks, gliding up South Street, promising

A different kind of extermination;

 

Yet what chills me most is - the once unimaginable,

The eeriness, - empty buses.

 

Empty buses still working their routes, sticking

To the routines of their numbers,

Like a sort of modern day Sisyphus,

Condemned for ever to circle to their beginnings

Past stops unhailed, unladen, unfulfilled,

As if the city is some giant model railway

And the buses, for once like clockwork,

Go blindly round and round into futility.

 

Richard Williams

Erosion of Trust

 

A surf-wall of shingle,

sinuous waves now stilled,

lured into suspension.

 

Sun-blessed glass,

brilliant white buildings

to face off each tide.

 

Wave-caps collapsing,

this repeated call

always toils on through.

  

Harvested stone

will eventually yield;

and so with us, with us.

 

 

Sue Spiers

Call Out

 

I thought myself hardened,

able to go serenely through crisis,

stoic and getting on with it.

 

Two women in nurse-type tunics

were putting on gloves,

pulling pedal-bin pinnies from their boot,

preparing for a house-call.

 

On the other side of the road,

exercising as per government permit,

I burst into applause.

The women smiled, said, ‘Good morning’.

 

My eyes stung and my throat tightened.

It took about thirty paces

to recover control.

 

 Alan Bush

Environmental Impact

 

Even the East Street Seagull

seems non-plussed as I stand

my turn outside the Minimart

his rounded breast towards me

the dark tips of his primaries

crossed behind his back, waiting

the regulation two metres

from the scuffed chalk of my

position before he steps, stops

again and flares the orange

behind the hook of his bill

as his head swivels awry

as if to empty the space between

us of stare, of hunger so that I can

fling him the crumbs of Greggs

I usually have ready to discard

but I, and all my kind have none. 

 

Isabel Blyskal

Weeverfish 

 

Even in August

Getting into the sea is

Hard work.  The worst part.

 

Lapping cold and grey

Inviting yet repellant

Waiting to bite at

 

Toes, arches, ankles

Shins, knees, thighs and other parts

Hidden underneath.

 

Over those small stones

The sea works for centuries

Smoothing razor sharps.

 

Jellyfish jelly

Ugly shoe on tender foot

Seaside assurance.

 

Pebble, grit and point

Give way to softness and calm

Soothing sandy floor.

 

But still, gritty shell

Gets stuck between tender toes:

And jellies are off!

 

Oh freedom of foot!

Jellies flung askance, a shore.

But what lies beneath?

 

A pebble or two,

An innocent bides its time.

Lesser weeverfish.

 

Terrible wee fish

Buried in sandy waters

Especially low tide

 

Shallow.  Calm.  Waiting.

Stings most likely in August.

Discharges venom

 

Spine to tender skin

Carrying neurotoxin

Pain.  Sick.  Breathe.  Calm?  Scream!

 

Boiling hot water

Brings on denaturation.

Protein based venom.

 

Sometimes in August

Small is big and big is small -

Little weeverfish.

 

Christine Rowlands

There’s Poetry In It


There’s poetry in the wearing of a mask.

Not as a burglar or bank robber might

Not for a grand ball or carnival 

Not as a surgeon or dentist would

But to keep everyone safe.

It’s a global community effort

and for self preservation.



There’s poetry in the washing of hands

Sluicing away invisible germs.

Poetry in the singing of a little song

Twice over to time the action

Poetry in the elbow bump

Not a handshake, in smiles not kisses.


There’s poetry in taking care

Though when so many are lonely

It’s sad that we should keep

Our distance.

We must do the right thing

And behind our masks

We can all be superheroes.

There’s poetry in it.

 

Raine Geoghegan

Up Early

 

She walks the three mile journey in all weathers, pushing her empty barrow through the station yard. Burt the Guard, is always there to greet her, he lost a hand in the trenches and she calls him a ‘dear, blessed man’. Dressed in her green pinafore and coat, her side pocket tied around her waist, and wearing a purple head scarf, she sucks peppermints.

Pushing her barrow up the ramp she enters the carriage at the end of the train, standing all the way from Feltham to Waterloo. Once there, she walks swiftly out of the station and over Waterloo Bridge then onto Nine Elms market where she buys the freshest, most colourful loolladi. This is where she uses cunning to get what she wants, never paying the full price. She bumps into ‘all sorts of characters’. There’s Joey who runs the café who gives her tips on the horses. There’s old Mrs Kray who sells tulips when they’re in season, a relative of sorts.

       Spanish dancers

       blood orange dahlias

       soaking in water.

 

Ooh, yer can’t beat ‘em.’ She also loves carnations. ‘ow much do yer want fer these cars?’ The seller says, ‘Two pounds for you Amy.’ ‘I’ll give yer one pound fifty and not a penny more and I’ll ‘ave another two boxes.’ He tries charging her more but she’s not having it. She walks away, he calls her back. ‘Alright Amy, they’re yours.’ The barrow is filled box by box, she ties them tight with string then says, ‘I’m off ‘ome.’ By the time she gets home to ‘anarth, she’s worn out. A bowl of oxtail, a drop of whiskey and she’s ready for bed. Her husband wraps his arms around her waist. She says. ‘Go to sleep Alf, I’m dukkered.’

 (Romani words (jib):  Kushti – very good; Lolladi – flowers; Dukkered – exhausted.)

 

 

 



 

 

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.

POET 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.

Naomi 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.'

Naomi Foyle

 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 shops,

steam-cleaned in back rooms, tagged and hung

by immigrants, retirees, transwomen and students,

fingered by party girls, single mums, lads between jobs,

worn-out 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, hill climbers,

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

crowning her stubble, she commands: dig deep,

past the shrapnel for a fiver, a tenner –

#NowGoCheckYourBits!

 

Armies of scientists chase magic bullets;

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:

their 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.

 

The Cancer Breakthrough

 

Will not take place in a lab

or corporate boardroom;

won’t foam in a test-tube,

blink in code on a screen,

be hawked for mega-bucks

by big pharma,

or flood the world’s RSS feeds.

The cancer breakthrough

is happening now

and again, and again ―

in the echoing space,

that cold ocean of years,

between one heart

and another.

 

Denise Bennett

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 I buy

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.

I 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.

 

Alan Morrison

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 and iphones,

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,

A 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...

 

Mike Jenkins

The Empty Streets Are Full 


How can such emptiness

be so full?

So full of

Awe and beauty.

So full

Of life.

How can such

Stillness

Stampede with such

Promise?

Or peace

Be so gently

Raucous?

So unassumingly

Audacious?

Like this, I guess.

Like words on a screen

Tap dancing out from

The surrendered

Blank page.

This is how worlds are made.

In the empty

Space

Where form

Take its place

Upon the stage.

 

Camilla Lambert

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.

 

Luke McEwen

A Spectral Review

 

The world’s greatest touring show has this massive star.

Who never fails to deliver a compelling performance.

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 – no matinee.

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 bursts forth.

 

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 you,

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 us saddened,

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 at best,

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.

 

Paul Stephenson

The Origamist

 

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 crimp,

fast and free as a pianist

watching the conductor.

 

Swans, apes,

penguins tottering on the table edge,

a man playing a double bass, …

 

till, last of all,

he gives us each a square,

raising his eyes to heaven as if to hang above it

the question mark of the child creator

on the First Day. 

 

Joan Secombe

 What is it about Wisteria?

 

Edwardian beauty, décolleté, languid

Over arches and pergolas, stately tall 

On walls, your colour

Complimenting the sky.

 

Impossible to pass by without a second glance, 

A secret lover's touch, cupping

Heavy blooms, an avid inhalation of that spring incense,

That 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. 

 

Richard Davies

Restoring a Ruin in France

 

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 darkness

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,

and the 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.

 

Barry Smith

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 certainty,

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 wooden door,

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

their narratives. We see the sick and dying

reaching out for succour, pilgrims of the night,

transfigured by the fickle wash of light.

 

Christine Rowlands

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

All are rinsed and stack

Her gloves removed

Leave only a dust

Rubbery smell.


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.”

 

Kevin Maynard

Widower

 

such practised 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

 

Terry Timblick

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.

 

Michael Sherman

Smoke and Mirrors

(like candles in the wind)

 

I saw us in the mirror,

two 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 breath

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 surrendering flame.

 

Alan Bush

And Still

 

a solitary blackbird sings

from light in lock-down, and sleep slips

silence, with song-words

that touch age-taught ways

through the days’

lengthening

 

Joanna Lilley

Waiting room

 

Sixty dogs dead in a fire,

a boy accused of arson.

Four men sit in outpatients,

waiting for their bladders

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

thin newspaper 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

on 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.

She’s 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 the television

that’s showing us how to cook. 

 

Will Forsyth

New Spring 2020

 

Spring is not a thing we can line up along with Summer and the others like standing stones

nor a place on the other side of our orbit that we move into once a year on our way into

summer.

 

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

foxes,

all vividly, extravagantly, promiscuously, outrageously, licentiously, profligately, superfluously

and all at once

erupt.

 

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,

springing.

 

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

tiresome,

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

we stop.