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

 

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.