10 March, 2016, a new poem by Colin Bancroft

 

Up in the Air


There was a rupture of Barnacle Geese

In the distance, over the Solway Firth,

Blotting the sky like ink flecked from a pen,

As we watched transfixed from Caerlaverock,


That flew like our caps at graduation

At Salford, Edge Hill MMU,

As we tossed our mortarboards up like buzzsaws

Cutting out black squares of sky in photographs.


Black sky that fizzed with colour,

When we would go down to Heaton Park,

On bonfire night, watching the fireworks

Blossom in the sky like molten flowers


And the falling autumn of my clothes

That you threw at me down the stairs,

Turning in mid-air, caught in a turbulence

Twisting, like a body hit by a car.

 

 

 

10 December 2015, two new poems by Jennifer Hockey 

 

When you leave by the back way



  

it's always a climb, a mustering



for the high-step route through kale,



cabbage, beans; to boundary sheds,



bikes padlocked in hope, a scatter



of spades; to the sombre nook of a gate



in the wall where a privy sat - wrought-iron



where the cistern hung, a door unhinged



for landfill or fire; the bank beyond



and up to a nettled wood, leaf-mould deep



where Glowdoggie collars tango at dusk



marking a way for owls to glide

 





and plunge, sobbing like prey



if you leave by the back way



at 3 am - when it's too late for sleep,



too soon to wake. It means the call



has come. You're under adrenaline's



jittery thumb as you lean to the slope,



climb moon-whitened grass to catch 



a world off guard, its sentinel cars

stilled, planes that burrowed clouds



grounded now your child has pains



that might be the start of her time - or



a voice down the line suggests you come,



while loosening tubes from somebody close.




 

 

May Day Morning

 



in streets empty of start-the-week,



everyone in bed. Just stray whimpers



of sleep, the slow passage of souls


 



going canny on stairwells and stoops,



just the sound of my soft shoe shuffle



over the cobbles' curves; time to travel



down to a funeral church


where wind once wanted in too late


for your perished lungs; wind


wistful as a cat put out.



 

 

 

13 March 2015, a new poem by Ian C. Smith 

 

State of Emergency


Temperature in the forties, this state ablaze

despite naysayers' scorn of climate change,

trees threshed by fierce wind below cloud

dark with smoke, plumes ten miles from my window,

a low pressure change heads my way

like the old-time proverbial cavalry, perhaps.


Branches falling, light a hellish yellow,

from my gate I see my neighbours on their hill

leaving, silhouetted by shifting smoke.

Driving past looking my way oddly, they wave.

I watch them disappear, sit under a melaleuca

where six charcoal and red galahs

roost silently just above me, feathers ruffling.


I feel almost as helpless as a crushed bird.

Brittle leaves, small branches, crunch underfoot.

My neighbours return, stop outside my gate.

By phone we have been advised to leave.

Although reluctant, I assure them I will,

aware of my deserved caste as an old recluse.


The wind change hits, favouring my position,

cooling me and galahs but imperilling others.

I play the fire warning message, dial loved ones.

My city son tells me to get going. Now.

The cats, all my books, my cherished journals.

This beloved place when soft rain falls.

I close windows, doors, take wallet and glasses.


  

 

29 August 2014, a new poem by Stuart Pickford

 

Water Lily


Don't stand on the rake.

You give me a sideways look

as we eye up the little job

with the assorted tools

you'd dug out of the shed.


On the surface, the lily's

just getting on being green,

no open-palmed flowers

with their candle-lit centres.

This isn't the garden at Giverny.


I haul out yards and yards,

a fleshy lump spilling

like a beached man of war,

then check with you:

Just get the bugger out.


We take five on the bench.

As water flattens-

there, on the stone edge,

newts turning inside out

in the squirming light.


We pick them up on leaves:

It'll please your mother.

To finish off the lily,

I dredge the bottom. You skim

the surface with a net.


Armsful of stuff comes up

from the depths, tentacles

that had been growing

in the murk for years.

Later it fills the whole bin.


But for now we take ten,

happy as pigs in sludge,

our arms gloved with stench,

knowing the jobs a good one,

drawing out its end.

 

 

23 July 2014 

Elegy

for John Hartley Williams 1942-2014


What would you make of the four drunkards

with their cans of beer and plastic bottles

of plum brandy, home-distilled, 50% proof,


grouped round a stone cross dedicated

to Saint Obscure the Barfly beside a river

rain has turned from a sidle into a rout


and engaged in earnest conversation

like a sideshow in a School of Athens canvas

painted by a minor baroque master,


one stressing with excessive emphasis

the wrong syllables in complex words,

the second listening as though he might


disapprove of Socrates, the third stuttering

objections and the fourth staring away

his mouth gaping as if the void possessed him?


Possibly nothing, John, though you're no longer here

to spare them a glance, scoff or grin in assent.

You might point out that the philosophers


seem to be speaking in a language

entirely new to the human race

though it might just be the river growling


fifty yards away from where they discourse.

Perhaps I should join in and tell them

that a friend I never met face to face is gone


and that they should look at the river

to see how dangerous the floating world can be,

that tumbling willow stump, that doll without a head.


They might offer me a long hard pull

from the darkest-tinted plastic bottle

and then I'd speak in unknown tongues, too,


before stumbling back home for an early sleep

waking later to gaze at the speechless stars

as they recede from me very fast.

 

James Sutherland-Smith

 

14 March 2014

A poem from: The Way and the Power of Berenice

a new version of the Dao de Ching by Martin Crucefix


Discipline


Often, you'll hear it loudly pronounced:

what the country needs is a dose of discipline.


Then, as often, in the very next breath:

of course, if you want success-fight dirty.


But influence over anything is achieved

more effectively by letting it alone . . .


The more laws passed, the more evasion

and so the more wasted people become.


And the more glittering of top brass,

the more darkness falls across the nation.


The more cunning skills are devised,

the more frivolous stuff on the market.


The more crimes inscribed in statute books,

the more crooks and thieves increase.


Yet when Berenice takes a back seat,

those who are ready transform themselves.


As she cleaves to stillness, someone else

discovers the way of their own accord.


Through the deed undone, indirect direction,

people prosper. As much as she refuses


to impose her preconceptions, so they

return to the condition of the uncarved block.

 

 

 

14 March 2014

Two new poems by Robert Etty 

 

Four Bridges Road


There are three bridges on Four Bridges Road.

You drive between one bridge's steel parapets

as you leave the substation behind.

The second's a brick humpback half a mile on,

over a stream they've been clearing.

Soon after this you change down

for the third, a humpback again near the post box,

where bulrushes chafe in the wind. Another,

the fourth, is looked for sometimes

by drivers who think names need explanations

and couldn't rest if they left without one.


Four Bridges Road has a bridge too few -

unless, on a map no one bothered to keep,

a watercourse bridged by the road was marked (Piped)

and it's crossed a hundred times a day by tractors,

lost plumbers, mothers with troubles, and pheasants

indulging a death-wish. That was the other side,

this is this, and neither's been letting on.

It's one of those roads that take you the distance

under false pretences. You count three bridges

over three streams to the sign at the end

that points out you shouldn't be certain.


Closer Apart


When mist and sun in their ancient wisdom

draw a veil over what's ahead, it isn't

easy, these midwinter days, to judge

the direction a silhouette's moving in


further along the path: it seems for a time

to be coming your way at the pace someone

might in their weatherproof clothes with a sagging

dog, but then, next minute, you see you were


wrong, that it's gradually decreasing,

becoming less like a plodding figure

and more like a stump or gateless

post. There it goes, separating


you, not slowing to shatter

two solitudes, or face

the problem the

mist hasn't


cleared,

of which

way the other

walker's walking.

 

 

 

14 March 2014

A new poem by Ian Seed 


Parenthood

I have just discovered that I have a son, now a grown man. While I wait at the station to meet him for the first time, I wonder how vulnerable he must have been growing up without his father.

But my son turns out to be a tall, strong woman. Over coffee she tells me that she makes her living as a priest and as a comedian. 'Everyone is full of such contradictions,' she says, 'but few of us have the joy of living them out.'

She makes me realise I no longer need to hide so much away. So I take my newfound son to my mother's house.

'My God, isn't she beautiful!' my mother says. Then she gives us the news that she herself is pregnant. Soon I will have a baby brother or sister.

  

 

9 January 2014

A new poem by Terry Jones


                                 Man Who Could Smell Time

 

Scented moments most; whose odours bled

like parma violets or strangled daisies;

as if their elements were released to air

so something of their essence floated there,

bud-crushed, breath-like, self-cancelling -

though most were sweet as mayflies or as snow.

Minutes were different, less elaborate and more;


a line of these was seaweed on the shore,

bladderwrack, starfish, a swaying smell,

both young and old, and at the same, combined

with brine and gold so he took a hint of Neptune

fused with horse; wave-like, their scents would wash

and flow as others in a breaking course came by,

presenting newer aspects to his nose: amber, silver,


perfumes redolent and coarse, sea subtle.

Hours detained him in a brandy store;

he sniffed a forest swelled out green and broad,

or lay amongst the roots and dreamed instead

of peat and Pan, of heather, tar and sloes;

but some he knew, though dark, were immature,

and cried their sap or sighed scents undisclosed


as if there were old mirrors in their souls.

Longer times were more than he could say:

the complex compositions of a day

eluded him; he knew how they were nothing like a rose,

and wished he were a fine poet of the nose

better to order them in fugue and song -

Sweet time, run softly, for your scent is long.

 

 

6 September 2013

A new poem by James Sutherland-Smith


Folk Songs


The songs have little to do with clouds

Although clouds change shape and lurch

Like old women in layers of black skirts

On Sundays clutching their prayer books to church.


Nobody is cloud-struck or looks beyond their nose.

Their gaze is earthwards and they sing shadowed

By years of hunger, drought and flood,

Joy never easy, always to be winnowed,


Johnny home from the wars and coughing blood,

Black-eyed girls sulky with discontent,

Swallows squealing their signals from elsewhere

As the clouds dawdle and fragment.

 

 

 

30 August 2013

A new poem by Rodney Pybus 

 

Capt. Trouble and the Silvery Fish

 

'Still cursed with sense, their minds remain alone,

And their own voice affrights them when they groan.'

Alexander Pope, The Odyssey


The lacunae were big enough to poke a pencil through.

I can remember the gaps, but whatever came between


(the words all run together as if in Greek so old there were no need

to pause, the lines so graceful they could pace themselves)?


I'm long-jumping decades here - more than three to get me back

to where I'm standing in a concrete library at the end of the world…


all humming electric quietude, and, outside, there's eye-screwing sunlight

our hero would have recognised, and a sea as dark as


navy blue shiraz coasting in to a continent of lotus-eaters,

chewing hard on anxiety as if it were the only wishbone.


The man from Ithaca's come too far south, and real nostalgia's nothing gentle,

believe me, but a poignant pain the homesick get stuck with,


right in the heart. Not for nothing does 'paper' reach back to 'papyrus'.

A bit of mummy-wrapper, pinned under glass, has barely


a dozen moth-eaten lines, but they can take me right back to

the age of gas-fires hissing blue murder, and wooden desks


with deep scars and inkwells soggy with missiles.

That little patch of sedge-pith shows me a fragment


of the finest stuff we've ever made in telling tales.

The crafty one, who pulled fast ones over Cyclops and Circe,


might have thought up a plan or two to fill in the holes

that each ten-year trip can introduce among those texts


we call our memories. They get more tatterdemalion than

'the rigging on a Homeric ship' (there's a picture here


in my Merry 1948 school edition of his odyssey).

He never never forgot his Penelope, just as his old flea-ridden Argos


never forgot him: after twenty years, he gave a wag of the tail, and died.

I can't bear to open a book now and find words I learned at twelve


not making so much sense, their lovely combinations wasted by

visitors who never seem to get enough of us, the silverfish minutes.

 

 

19 July 2013

A new poem by John Hartley Williams

 

GCHQ

 

Tonight you will be spied on.

Don't tell us this is news to you.

Be not vexed. We are your friend.

Spotless as our desk tops, we never

soil our tea cups, or salt

the smallest talk with wit

for we are flavourless, immaculate.

and stringing innocent mendacities

into a guilty mesh is what we do.

With what loving brio

do we capture ill-judged sentences

and stitch them up to form

your limitless incarceration!


Don't pretend you didn't know.

We have new names for all that

confidential gush you whisper in our ears:

Illimitable Outflow, Untold Ooze, Eternal Spate,

Everlasting Spout, Interminable Trickle, Unsurpassable Effusion.

You see?

Although we have no friends, you are our friend.

What need of trust when we are here?

Trust does not exist. Trust us instead!


The world belongs to those who know its secrets

and we encourage you, the people, to betray your own.

We note that corner of the bed sheet

where you scrawled LIES! LIES! LIES!


We like the triple emphasis.


Without conceding for a single democratic moment

your right to vain opinion,

we must ensure it rises in this bee hive of our work:

a glittering rotunda of alp-defying size

harvesting your breathed secretions

to make a perfect model of your whispers

like your mad aunt's strung-out knitted jumper fitting

no one but the many-armed, Shiva, the

execrable one, your double.


Ah, what frank exchange of views

shall litter our negotiations!

 

Of course we must betray you.

That's our pastoral role.

By all means feel this insult on your spine.

Let it feed a pride in so-called singularity,

encourage you to recklessness.

This will help us to record

your poverty, its dates, its names, its goals.


Tell anyone about us,


YAW DED

 

 10 July 2013

 

Three lyrics from 'An Orange Tree - Poems from the Greek

Mountains' by Sebastian Barker

 

The Buttercups

 

The dark storm provokes the buttercups

To close their golden bowls

 

All night long, through its ups

And downs, as its inquisition rolls. 

 

A Rock

 

A rock falls from the certainty

Of where it was, to be

 

A stone on the road

Leading us to heaven

 

Like a sturdy chair to which

No human thought has been given.

  

The Hornet and The Elephant

 

There's a hornet in my eye

Teaching an elephant to fly.

 

He hovers like a hummingbird.

Was ever teacher so prepared?

 

His sharp proboscis is the wand

He points in one direction, and

 

Then another, turning round

A gyroscope above the ground.

 

The elephant, of course, is unimpressed.

For long ago his soul was dressed

 

In all that raiment Hebrew kings

Would not exchange for waxy wings.

 

 

27 June 2013

A dramatic monologue by Philip Morre 


Mirror, Mirror


I love this hour of the morning, neither early nor late:

Pietro has taken the girls to school, he'll be at the gate

in an hour. I adjust my tie; it will be tugged straight

by Tanya again at the door - but for now all's aligned,

in its place, and right. Thanks to Bettino, the malign

whisper, but if true it's only the way things combined.

If not he then another. God knows, I've my own

little leeches. I stayed loyal longer than most: alone,

the shit round my ankles and rising . . . Then Marylebone,

a decade of quarantine in London, buying and selling,

not to make money, though I did, but patiently expelling

the taint. Here and there I made myself useful, helping

the elect with their offshore accounts. Until the call came:

this Special Initiative 'tidying' toxic waste. The arcane

technicalities are challenging and I relish the game

of keeping a tithe at least of my budget for purpose.

But the minister's new to money. His greed is dangerous.

'Enough' was omitted at birth from his lexicon. Those

of us who intend to prosper, or at least, survive

will need to see him queen, and soon, of some other hive.

It's like the motorways: however soberly you drive

- and Pietro's as safe as they come - you can't curb the idiots

kissing tails in the fast lane. Of course I have regrets:

the leukaemia, the researcher we had to . . . deflect.

I'm not a monster. On my side of the coin, the children,

the leeches and theirs, Pietro's ever-ramifying kin,

His Fatness's twins (one assumes innocent). And then

Father Mark's trecento tastes. An analogium he wants now

- with luck an agreeable day at the Basel Show:

a change from creative accounting. What continues to flow

from the East! I've garnered exquisite things for myself, while

feeding the father's aesthetic. I'm not so without guile

as to confess to him: he must know it's no straight mile

from waste to a lectern. Are we damned? With curiosity

I study my double. He sighs: the Lord must lack pity.

Were it otherwise, He'd not have created toxicity.