OPEN MIC POEMS

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.

     

 

 

 

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

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.)

 

 

 



 

 

OPEN MIC POEMS

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.