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.
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.
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
Excerpts from Gum Arabic
Daily he’s cursing
Under hostile breath
Numbers of turbans,
On his local high street -
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
On acacia sap
Harvested in African
The Sudan, for instance...?
His daily hate is
By the red top
Which smear his
Framed for him -
Muslims, Gypsies -
Make him hate them
Even more than
He hates himself,
Life, his property-
His fruitless pursuit
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
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…
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,
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
(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
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…
appeared in The London Magazine)
Two Yellow Birds from Hyderabad
For Prakash Kona Reddy
My far flung friend
Of lower castes
In priceless poems
And magical prose,
Forgotten that day
You visited me
In Hove going
Out of your way
Before you attended
Up in the big smoke,
When you brought me
Gifts crafted by
I still have those
Painted yellow birds
Sporting grey beaks,
Wings, perched on
A miniature tree
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...
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
Aminu Kano and the Indigo Dye-Pit Worker
In his white robe, Aminu Kano turned
towards the old man: “Malam, spread your
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
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
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.)
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
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
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.
for Brian Patten, Adrian
Henri and Roger McGough
Light floods the room.
for an instant - peacock,
orange tip, holly blue, brimstone.
Moments illuminated by albums
left in their sleeves
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
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?
On the Rocks
What coil of suffering entwines
those who fall from grace to the rocks
impelled by some self-worn
sense of doom, they trek the cliff path
to stand momentarily fixed,
tempted on the temple
ledge, gazing down on all that swirls
we cannot share their last
whirlwind of being, the final
step from foothold
into wild air, stripping all sense
only marvel at their
act and note the wicker basket
of bent flowers marking
of the last to fall
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)
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?
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?
about the weather forecast.
Is that a sketch of your mother-in-law?
- No, it’s a sketch of my vacuum flask.
from Notes on a calendar (hung on a demolished wall)
A box of Quality Street a constant marriage
a murdered girl under
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
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
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/)
a watercolour by W.H. Allen
That year, there was a shortage of reapers.
It rained so much after the wheat was cut
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.
seldom we’d complete
a crossword –
always that final clue
a score of possibilities
only memorable for
the tranquil atmosphere
in which we’d deliberate
agreeing nothing seemed to fit
tensions would rise
and words would be exchanged
down to both of us trying
to get our own points across
deciding we’d be better off
going to bed
just to sleep on it
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;
tea; tatti-panni; malts – women; skimmished – drunk)
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
“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.
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
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
What do you see?
There, it is yours,
(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.
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
on the outfield
a pram by the square, a rug, a radio
a mother, a toddler
a good length
and the grassed-up sightscreens: unmoved
and it’s as if the DRS referral is still ‘upstairs’
whilst we remain
in the space between the sudden roar
of the ‘soft signal’
and the umpire’s finger
Gently Does It
In Stubbs repose, tan-jacketed,
Two amiable horses deepen matt
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”.
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
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
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
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
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
Page 126 of the Marathon Runner’s Handbook - Visualization
It is about sticking to the plan,
it is about not
it is about sticking to the plan,
it is about not giving in;
is not giving in,
on and on and on,
Tower Bridge and down the Mall,
all the things that can still be achieved,
sticking to the plan and
not giving in.
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
bare floorboards . . . blinded mirrors
lockdown and recessionary flotsam
of fixtures and fittings
flung in the back of a van
splintered spars of wood
flakes of white paint
sprinkled in the gutter
a naked headless mannequin,
two stiff dummy amputees:
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
and those who served
behind the counter?
their pockets and their futures now as empty
as the bankers’ bonuses
are always full