The submissions for Backwards & Forwards include poets from Canada, India, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Poets selected for the feature to date are Alwyn Marriage, Aneesha Shewani, Brenda Read-Brown, Christine Griffin, Christopher Cuninghame, Iris Anne Lewis, Jane Spray, Jeff Parent, Julie Wiltshire, Kate Copeland, Laura Theis, Maggie Mackay, Mandy Macdonald, Margaret Kiernan, Matt Thomas, Michael Harbour, Nigel Hastilow, Nina Lewis, Peter Wellby, Robbie Martzen, Ruth Aylett, Sandra Howell, Sue Finch, Tessa Gordziejko, William Wood, Vicky Hampton, Zara Tagnac
Our prompt for the month of January relates to Janus the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, time, duality, gateways, and endings. It encourages poets to explore the duality of time past and time forward from now.
Janus is the inspiration for New Year by Imogen Osborne, winner of our New Voices First Pamphlet Award 2021. In her introduction to the book, Imogen writes:
“Marking the New Year in some form is possibly the most universally acknowledged ritual on the planet. . . I believe that New Year is renewing all the time, and is a place we can always return to, should we so wish.
The title poem — New Year — starts:
Until the stone cools,
becoming heavier as light drops from its centre
until the sound of water rises
higher than the lines that marked the ancient floods
Thank you to all who have submitted to Backwords & Forwards.
Please keep the poems coming. The submission window closes on 31 January.
6. He loves painting airplanes. Sleek silhouettes piercing dawn’s warm glow. Sweeping along the surface of clear jewel seas surrounding his island home. He hopes that one day his vibrant colors will blend to fit the tastes of the laughing Yankees on the bright screen of his boxy TV.
19. The frigid frost of his first winter is almost as biting as the man who yelled “go back to your shithole, nigger!” on the way home from his second job. Another graveyard shift. He still struggles to accept how New York’s streets aren’t paved in gold, as he was told.
32. He is on another island, along with his astute wife and curious children. His family forms the dense rock keeping him afloat in the rolling sea of white suburbia. Struggling against the waves exhausts him. Sometimes, it seems easier to succumb to the relentless currents intent on swallowing what’s left of his spirit. Intent on telling him he’s nothing in comparison to these vast waters to which he does not belong.
46. It comes out of nowhere. Perhaps from a distant memory of his childhood in a lush land where the insects erupted into nocturnal symphonies. It comes out of nowhere. This urge to add color to the quiet. It’s been so long since his art leapt farther than the crevices of his heart. But who has time for wings and skies when there are colleges to which his children must apply? One thing he’s learned in this cold country is that nothing is free. He does his best to ensure his children succeed, even if it costs his own dreams.
63. Would he make his mother proud, if she could see him now? Yes. He has elevated himself in society, but what does that mean? He bleeds envy. Not of a family member, nor friend. He is ashamed to admit, it’s his own children. For the miles to school through hills and gullies they’ll never have to walk. The dozens of immigration forms they have no need to complete. No threats of encroaching superpowers. He’s given them the gift of a world that comes first, and resents them for it.
71. His hand trembles too much to hold his paintbrush. Yet another piece of himself he had to give up, but his resolve is firm. It’s his turn. With patience and practice, he wills it steady. There’s no going back now. He is ready.
80. There is no better day for new starts than today, they say. He’s glad he listened. His heart glistens with pride as his peers’ eyes grow wide at the sight of his paintings. His quaint gallery attracts passersby no matter the time of day nor night. His wise wife clasps his hand as she leans into him with a grin. She whispers This is only the beginning.
Margaret is a Nominee to The Best of The Net Award, 2021. She writes prose and poetry. She is published internationally for both. Her background is in Human and Social Rights.
Wheel of shadows
Gestation in progress
He waits, that deity Janus
Like a midwife, towel ready
At the extremity of Heaven
Passages open at war, eager to birth.
Patiently He waits for peace
To transition to the yellow glow of Spring
When grey shade falls away
Leaves behind the persistent internal
Intuited moody feelings
Now full known
Steps-out through that doorway
To the ritual invocation of Earth rising
In heat from Sun that always shines
When shadows become light
External stimuli turn the solar wheel
Keeping track of time, convivial
So faces smile outward in joy
Arrive at the minted coin
Seek an omen of new Love, or
Forecast the outcome of military deeds
Bare faced to the sky
Janus woodland walk
I walked by you today
that winter introspection
the language all your own.
You stood tall, bare faced
branched upwards, reached for the sky
with its dull moody drab roof
pulled from the ground.
You wear your silver light so well
those flashed blue shadows
flit upon the trees
help you to stand out
I crush and pull some
burnt sienna bark peel
tweak away some bits
my fingers close to frozen.
I reach around and I hug you.
Later, I rest my back into a crevasse
of a giant Beech tree while I wait listening
to the roots as my eyes seek
Catkins fall limply from the Hazel tree
I smiled to see scarlet elf-cup fungi
blush upon the ground while
lichens lay about the pools near wet hollows
where the Marsh marigold will soon awaken.
Wood anemone with the Bluebells
will crowd out the space.
Peter read English at Oxford and then taught for 40 years. He has been writing poetry seriously since he retired on a very wide range of themes, forms and tones. He now has so many poems that he needs to publish some to make more room for storage.
Pert, arctic snowdrops ring in the new year
like snow-blanched magic mushrooms, armed with gear
of lop-eared helmets, sporting slender spears.
Lent comes early for redwing and fieldfare:
red hawthorn, holly, sweet berries are spare.
The church, frozen in moonstruck silver cloak,
its belfry’s great bronze thimbles mute as oak,
sees two-faced Janus turn our lives amiss:
fear of tomorrow, fret for yesterday,
stone blind, ears stopped at blessings of today.
Twelve months the Spirit broods over our sphere
plump as a smooth egg, filled with promises;
now the shell cracks and a fresh hope is here,
this, the first white month of the new-hatched year.
Nigel is a journalist by trade. He has written a few novels (now working on one about the English civil war called “The Man Who Invented the News”). He’s written one poetry pamphlet, to zero acclaim, called “High Water.” See also www.halesowenpress.co.uk
In the beginning
Somewhere in the empty void of nothing,
Someplace not a place, everything was not.
Nothing happened everywhere and nowhere,
In the height and depth, in the length and breadth
Of absence, of darkness, in the vacuum,
Somewhere – nowhere – something must have happened.
(‘Have happened’ or is happening right now?)
Something, not nothing. In infinity
Of time and space, a moment, a flicker,
A pulse, a spark, a definite something.
There! There! Then – and now – and now. A shiver
A speck, a nanosecond, a spasm,
A stab of light. Plucked from nothing, unseen,
And yet the void gave an unforced shudder,
A twitch, a sound, something upon a time,
Out of nothing, first moment of something:
A noiseless noise, sightless sight, a dusting
Before stardust. Nothing comes from nothing.
Jeff writes poems. He has been published by The Fiddlehead, The Quarantine Review, Shrapnel Magazine, IceFloe Press and others. In 2020, he was shortlisted for Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s Wild Poems competition. Jeff’s chapbook, This Bygone Route, was recently published by 845 Press. He lives in Nova Scotia, Canada
Remember how this feels
This open deer
is a crawlspace,
the hollow lure of it
red and velveteen.
You could imagine
the curve of a fox there.
Snow will come soon
and bury the heath
but the carcass will live on,
dry and taut, staring
into its last humid season
and every eager threat.
There is no ceremony here.
This is a summons
A jay calls.
Remember how this feels.
At 72 years of age, Julie has just completed her BA (Hons) Hum (Open) specializing in English Literature. Two years of that was creative writing, mainly poetry. She achieved this whilst being a full time carer for her husband with cancer. Poetry is my passion.
The weather of the heart
In the unpredictable weather of the heart,
In the cold pitiless attrition,
A fluttering of memories silently drift.
Angels lay their snowy pinions,
Upon the unforgiving earth,
Of my mind,
To ease the insuperable pain.
Trapped in the bleak tenebrous days,
Of my deep midwinter, I shiver.
The rush of short days,
Catches my breath.
And in the ruins,
And the ticking tides of time,
I search for a release,
Amongst the cold strange light.
On the blank white pages,
Of frozen fields,
My lonely footprints,
Maybe spell out my fate.
The pages of my future,
Before me lay wordless.
The tyranny of frost,
Is apparent in my face.
I hold out my hand,
For the bud that must appear,
In the lap of spring’s light.
I await the stretched-out days,
And the soft kisses of the sun.
I await in anticipation,
A new beginning,
A new love.
In winter’s bleakness,
Wrapped up in a scarf of himself,
My malapert man departs,
Along with the old year.
Sandra started creative writing after retiring because of ill-health. She turned to poetry after writing flash fiction and theatre reviews. Her first publication was in 2020, poems read by actors on You Tube. Collage Arts then commissioned a Lockdown diary, published online as Life Cycles at www.collage-arts.org/the-lockdown-diaries
The best-laid schemes
We all make plans
Shopping lists, tickets for a show, prepping ingredients for a meal, booking flights for a holiday, dentist or optician appointments, arranging meals out with friends.
Robbie you were right when you wrote, ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men’ can go wrong.
The loss of a close friend who achieved a lot, but was so young she had much more to look forward to, ended her plans and ruined the plans of her family and friends in 2021.
My admission to hospital in late December scuppered my plans.
Robbie, I still plan because I have hope.
I hope to recover so that I can plan
To prepare and cook meals
To see friends and family
To go to the cinema, theatre, art galleries, on holiday
To sing in my choir
To go kayaking
William, a Cumbrian recluse, has published poetry, fiction and non-fiction in English and in French. williamwoodswords.wordpress.com
Anna in spring
I’m under no delusion
We’ll ever meet again
In any kind of afterlife.
Today when Spring’s renewal
Is so urgent and so lovely
Especially so lovely
I cannot face another year
Without you at my side
Rather I would join you now
In the nowhere where you hide.
You drifted into space
And there was nothing
Nothing I could do
But hurtle on in orbit
Round a world no longer
Time and Distance
Whenever I wind the grandfather clock
Whenever I put out the bins
Or hang out the washing on the line
Whenever I turn the calendar’s page
And numbly watch the seasons change
Time pushes us further and further apart.
Aneesha works as a full-time technical writer and editor in India. She is an avid reader and frequently blogs at http://www.bluepenstrokes.com. Her poetry and short stories are published in various anthologies. She is also a book reviewer for Reedsy Discovery. She loves to crochet and watch Netflix.
Savouring on chapped lips
Crusty winter moments
With a sting of frosty nights
On pale, cold-kissed cheeks
Seeking the truant warmth
Rising from smoky tendrils
In delectable hot cocoa swirls
Toasty hands in woollen gloves
Warm with crocheted love
Naughty flakes in wisps of hair
Tender chill in the frozen air
With coffee roasts, mulled wine
Crumble pies from wrinkled recipes
Colours, aromas, and some stories
Recollections in painted cookie jars
Scraped memories from baking tins
I fill up the stark winter days
Like a log in a fireplace
Delightful warm embrace
Of a greying partner in
Frosty winter evenings
Memories of a lifetime
Rolling in with the mist
As we snuggle tenderly
Under winter Afghans!
Alwyn’s twelve books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction, – most recently The Elder Race (novel) and Pandora’s pandemic (poetry). Her new collection, Possibly a Pomegranate, will be published spring 2022. Formerly a university philosophy lecturer and CEO of two international literacy and literature NGOs, she’s Managing Editor of Oversteps Books. www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn
Happy ever after
Sunsets are responsible
for so many happy-ever-after lies:
the lips that move towards each other in slow motion
to meet against the backdrop of a rosy glow;
the silhouetted couple walking hand in hand towards
a fiery ball; the dashing horseman effortlessly
lifting up the heroine, and heading for the skies.
Why not concentrate on misty murky evenings
in which the characters know each other well and realise
the future will not be a bed of roses – or chrysanthemums,
that monsters lurk unknown in shady corners,
that golden hair fades into grey and no princess remains
a sylphlike beauty or retains her optimistic innocence,
that even handsome princes can be boring, snore all night,
and wise old men tell lies?
Maybe we should change the endings of the stories
to take away the Hollywood romance
from boy meets girl, or even the familiar tale
of man and woman choosing to commit themselves
to one another. Most of us are pretty well aware
that life is likely to be better if we shed
But even if we introduce a healthy dose of realism
into the forming of relationships,
we’ll probably find that after all
the arguments, unpleasant revelations,
and the dark times when we wonder if we’ve made
the right decision, the gentle voice of love can still be heard
reminding us in quiet subtle ways
that it’s all worth it at the end of day
which anyway, however pink or grey the sky
will turn into a shared tomorrow.
Janus in Italy
Look signora, specially for you:
genuine Gucci; see.
I will give you good price. No?
What will you offer me?
If you want two
I can sell them even cheaper.
Look at the quality.
Not wishing to buy anything, I ask
what country you come from.
Senegal you say; but when
I speak to you in French, cannot reply;
instead you explain in Afro-English
that you never went to school.
Perhaps, as some say, you are in the pay
of mafiosi; or maybe you just know
someone who sells these fake goods to you
for a song.
Is this really worth your while?
I haven’t seen a single purchase yet.
If no one buys your goods today,
will you have anything to eat tonight?
You look into my eyes, attempting to persuade
me of a need I know I haven’t got,
that a fake Gucci bag is just the thing
I lack in life.
Then suddenly you face the other way,
responding to an instinct that it’s time
for you to move along.
Swiftly you gather all the bags into your blanket,
look back along the way that I’ve just come,
give three short whistles, urgent, loud,
then bowed beneath the weight of unsold goods
you sink into the crowd.
So much was left behind, of course I felt regret:
that’s why I glanced back just for one last sight.
I’d repeatedly warned my husband not to let
himself be influenced by his guests last night
but as it happened, I was given no say
even when he offered our daughters to the men
instead of the strangers. Here, have your way
with these young virgins, he called out; but then
disaster fell on them and on the wicked city
partly as punishment for their attempted rape.
Now I’m paralysed by bitterness and pity
instead of gratitude that we made our escape.
It didn’t dawn on me that this was my own fault
until I realised that the bitter taste was salt.
Christopher lives in north-east London and often writes about how he sees natural worlds connecting in an urban environment. He has published poems in print and online.
Of a dance
Two heads are better than one, they say –
If coupled quote-marks don’t impose upon.
Sketches of dancers, arms half-moons,
Their eyes rested in each other’s,
The reckoning’s made with gravity’s force.
The lock is a gone-away present,
Its high chant singing after them;
To hold the clicking of a finger,
A flick of the neck, to send them spinning.
Clutched threads control opposites, blank-faced again.
If they could make it simpler,
Let’s say more like an amoeba’s cell
Twisted into a Moebius ring,
To follow the perfect line all round,
All the way back to its perfect start.
Or there’s taking a middle way,
A taking from the middle of the road.
This side, of the argued fox’s infinite gaze:
This side, of the badger’s argued wreck.
In somewhere’s night they may both curve, uncurbed, to the tango.
Ruth lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland, and her poetry is widely published in magazines and anthologies. She has been known to perform with a robot. Her latest pamphlet, Queen of Infinite Space, was published by Maytree (https://maytreepress.co.uk/) in late 2021. For more see http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~ruth/writing.html
What if, when you jumped the flames of midnight,
the mechanisms of hours really shifted
and clicked into a new count from zero?
Would you wonder who you now are,
repeat the self-conscious lurking
at the edges of dance floors?
Hear your voice making it all up:
stories of false futures, imagined pasts,
journeys along twisty paths with no vistas,
just surprises round each turn?
Those grey rocks hinting at cities
you once lived in, now only glass.
Long rains rot the grass
into brown hollows, the air is raw.
Janus stands halfway along the path
across the Links, liminal,
looking up and past me.
Maybe he can see
the sparkler trails with which
I wrote your name
into the darkness, bonfire night;
further back the van lights
vanishing up the road,
taking your body away.
Further still, the slack and toothless
face with which you died,
your aging smiling self at birthday meals,
mother on the beach with child,
that laughing girl with 40s perm.
I see these photos every day
sliding across my computer screen;
in my head your resolution drops,
the pixels spread and blur.
I pass and look into Janus’ other face
impassive but bleak-eyed.
He sees the other parent,
after sixty years, unpaired,
who sometimes weeps for you and
sometimes calls me by your name.
He sees the age that bleached
an anxious heart into compulsions,
bleach another into grandiose assertions,
future triumphs, trips he’ll never make
to see old friends, now dead.
And in the distance Janus sees
my children walking down the hill
for me and feeling just as sad.
The streets are silent
in the candid winter morning
exits made in the early hours
entries yet to come with waking.
The morning-after debris,
bottles, carry-out wrappers, cans,
trodden into the muddy grass,
examined carefully by gulls,
An old year jettisoned
into a landfill archaeology.
This blanched empty sky
waiting for our fresh graffiti.
Brenda worked for many years as an IT project manager. She gave this up in 2001 to work as a full-time freelance writer. Brenda has won many poetry slams, and has performed in venues all over the United Kingdom, in Copenhagen and Texas.
I couldn’t find my keys,
so I stayed at home;
realised I had no inclination
to go anywhere,
no leanings to do anything.
So I stood straight, in my hallway –
not out, not really in:
I could have stayed there for a hundred years,
or at least until my next birthday.
A statue; a monument to myself,
or to indolence or indecision.
Indoors, I wouldn’t catch anything,
but I’d have to drop everything.
I wouldn’t fall over:
no roots sneak across my carpet,
no kerbstones rise.
But I wouldn’t climb anything:
the stairs were as far away
After a month or two
I remembered where my keys were,
or rather, I heard them jingle to me
from the kitchen. My trouble is
I’d bend over backwards
to avoid disappointing anyone.
Action was knocking at my door
and opportunity flitted
past the window.
Each step we take
is inherently unstable,
but when one foot moves
the rest follows.
I walked to the kitchen,
picked up the keys and left.
It wasn’t difficult.
After a career in teaching, Christine returned to her first love – writing, particularly poetry and short stories. Christine is widely published including in Acumen, Snakeskin, The Dawntreader, Graffiti Magazine, Poetry Super Highway and Writing Magazine. She has performed her work at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
Magic is dismantled, packed into boxes,
hauled into lifeless attics.
Elves and reindeer, tired of suburban living,
take flight to their Lapland homes.
Houses shed winking stars,
Santas tumble from rooftops,
a camel deflates with a hiss
on the grey path.
Trees no longer sparkle
through festive windows
black-curtained against the dark.
Angels wing their way
to realms of glory as
the Holy Family flees to Egypt.
Wearied, the Wise Men
begin the hard trek home.
It is a long slog to spring.
But on St Agnes’ Eve,
a clear winter sun lifts
above the roof tops,
on the frosted grass.
The feast of St Agnes falls on January 21st
My Dead …
… are folded in butterflies’ wings,
hazed in jewelled flitterings.
They are a drift of dragonflies,
a glimmer of glow-worms in smoky twilight.
They are the willow’s tears,
shape shifters, smoke spirals
swirling from haunting autumn pyres.
My dead count their backward steps
through tick-tocking, tolling days
stretching, amorphous, clinging
to rainbow dust.
They are ebb and fluid- flow,
name -whispering ghost- travellers.
My dead are the plaintive curlew’s call
on lone salt marshes.
They are the mournful foghorns
at the cold channel’s edge.
They used to call it cockcrow
that insistent calling to relentless toil,
in my early-dawn suburban garden,
my clock-ruled world.
The smock-clad peasant standing
on this once rough-stubbled field,
cursed as he heard it, stumbling
to coax the oxen to the plough,
their snorting breath white on the frosty air.
The woodman here before him heard it too,
shouldering his tools, watching leaves
spinning in the first winds of autumn,
calling his stripling lads from their beds.
Beneath his woodland, ancient fields lay
ridged and furrowed. Here a hooded serf,
roused at dawn, harrowed, hoed,
forced turnips from the stony ground.
He could not know the mud-encrusted
bone-sliver lodged in a gnarled root
was once prized by Octavia
combing her hair at cockcrow
in her villa beneath the land where he stood ̶
where I stand now.
Tessa is a writer, producer and theatre-maker who recently moved from Yorkshire to South West Scotland. In 2019 she received funding from Arts Council England to develop her creative practice and has been engaged in social dreaming as a tool to dig deeply into a shared unconscious and communal stories.
“When all this is over” we say “and we return
to normal…” thinking that there will naturally be
a shore or river bank to which bridges that won’t burn,
reach across a channel, estuary or sea.
We are standing on the beaches waving,
not drowning, not us, not yet, but for the grace
of some or other god. Some will set sail, braving
currents and storms in small boats, to reach the normal place.
We sit under willows, by rivers of Babylon
singing to the unbelievable rule of law,
usual, regular, custom, habit, keep calm and carry-on
ordinary lives, histories, exiled from ‘like before’.
Halfway up my window frame
the hill swings against the sky
as it greys to end of year, four o’clock dusk.
Below, suspended khaki, charcoal scrub
of moorland, winter trees, rock.
Further down, iron modernity sags
with traffic and yellow electricity.
The old gods knew enough
about oracles, the heaviness of stories,
the volatility of millennia
to teach these new deities –
divinities of hashtag, screen, picture, text –
a thing or two. Like the circular holes
in pebbles collected from the shore:
hag stones, placed above the door,
protection on a shaking, racing earth.
Like the clear sea, level water,
where a child – beautiful aquatic ape
forbear who filled her daylight wading, fishing,
gathers angel wings in shallow waters –
looks into the sun,
cracks shellfish on the rocks.
The horizon tips us out of the old year.
We need weight to steady time, the universe,
past savannah or waterside,
or future campground, red planet,
in the present tilting moment.
But we have too much to shed: clothes, bedding,
a jumble sale’s bulk of stuff
that divides house from household,
woman from man, black from white,
nation from continent, human
from beyond-human, land from species. We have nothing to lose,
all to relinquish. Nothing to keep,
all to retain: memories, shawls, ancestors, clocks
and tiny gods.
The skyline topples into black, the moon rises
on a counterweight with the dying day.
Draw the curtains, breathe. Do not derange the season
or lose balance with the hours that face the night.
You are here
You have arrived.
We followed the map all right,
it says we’re here, but
there’s nothing recognisable in sight.
We’re looking for – this point, this garden,
this historical landmark, this maze,
this turning in the road, this centre of attention.
Can you tell us, stranger, where it is?
Inform and educate us.
You’re in it. You are here.
It’s more a state of mind than anything else.
Maybe there’s something we can’t see,
a place we can only feel
with our eyes closed. Maybe, a feeling
we can only smell, a perfume
that is discernible only
when the wind changes
and it’s time to fly away. Midnight,
the glass slipper falls,
smashes into a thousand
deadly, purple shards.
Maybe we are not able to think
about new beginnings
or alternative endings.
Nina Lewis is a former Worcestershire Poet Laureate, her poems are published in a variety of magazines, anthologies and online including Abridged, Ink, Sweat & Tears and Under the Radar. Her pamphlets Fragile Houses (2016) and Patience (2019) are published by V. Press. Twitter: @Neens07
The God of beginnings need not name
any time before. He is war and peace,
wears both faces to be sure of it.
Everything in place for a new start,
from top rail to middle –
there will be sequence, measured steps
of equal strength, movement
across lock stile will open the fresh day.
As we troop towards the threshold
and the world that gapes beyond,
we turn to peace, enter on quiet foot,
hope the gates will not close this year
without transition forward.
We’ve all learnt to identify the sun
and light, open our hearts to the moon.
We feel time inside our bodies.
Let our legs pass, help us to the pristine
start line so we may follow your motion.
Master Unknown Forces
Hit the days where it hurts.
Charge like a Berserker
right into the fray.
The past two years
were trapped in birthing pain,
I can’t take a third.
I promise myself
a sun ritual, dawn walks.
It’s dark now, there’s rain –
I won’t start resolutions.
I will flow. Look up often,
see sun and bathe in stars.
Jane lives in the Forest of Dean. She has had poems published online, in several magazines, and in anthologies e.g. in Unravelling (Alba Publishing, 2019), Dear Dylan (Indigo Dreams, 2021) and Walking with the Wye (2022) speaking up for the polluted state of this river.
Janus at the Chippy, January 2017
Early January, the weather has turned.
The two-faced god
comes to the queue at the Jolly Fryer.
He stands in the doorway
as we shuffle along, with the batter crisping.
Two curly beards:
ice crystals in one;
what could be breakfast,
and a touch of grey, in the other.
He wears a broad, fleecy, bobble-hat
keeping all four ears from the cold.
Still hears everything, – past murmurs, future dreams.
Below the neck, a bit of a Roman
throwback in one direction; in the other
a spacey holographic gleam.
Lazarus is on the rise
and the Black Star. Button Eyes
strains to know an existential heaven.
Leonard, too, ever the gent.
‘You want it darker.’
Darker still, and darker; and so he goes.
While Trump and Putin, in some desert bar
are face to face:
Vladimir and Donald, tipsy together, making
mirror babies, arm-wrestling.
Back of this god’s mind,
the two-by-two hemispheres,
time’s music flowing
through the synapses of now;
and from now on,
or even looking back from here,
the way is not so clear.
Around Imbolc, just
when the snowdrops show
and ewes, they stutter into milk
let’s take it slow, slow, slow…
Brigid, of new beginnings
dance with us, by this frosty fire
as we, in solemn-merry ceremony
let go old habits, outworn desire.
Dance with flames around
this earth, and sun, moon, stars.
Death, life returning, all one dance –
the sleet, and the resilience of flowers.
A Writing For Wellbeing facilitator, Vicky runs Poets In Progress (PIPs) in the Forest of Dean which she founded 6 years ago. She has performed at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, won ivarious poetry competitions, including the Welsh International, and has been published in numerous anthologies.
Janus at the Wassail
In the middle of each Mari Lwyd cheek-
bone, spirals: a triple moon, like a paper-
wrapped bon-bon, represents a maiden,
a mother, a crone; and a whirling triskele,
the realms of earth, sky and sea –
pretty pagan symbols coupling past and
present-day touchstones. And in the gap
between the skulls’ teeth, which clack
and clack, black plaits dangle down
to the handler who, beneath beribboned
sheets and shawls, snake and shake the
heads of long-gone horses, rear them up
on twisted sticks, like demons, manes
of ivy flying all around the town, eyes
fearsomely lit and flashing. They are led
by clog-shod, winter-skinny women in
the buxom colours of ritual, all headed
by a herd of black-faced Morris in shreds
and bells dancing to a fiddle and a bright
penny whistle. At the orchard by the castle
they wait for the Wassail. The cup comes,
and up goes the bread to the wind and
branches, the rounds of “Drink, hail!”
shouted to fright the sprites while
the pale Mari Lwyd champ and stamp
their delight and the hollow air’s bright
with the clashing of peeled white sticks.
And, so it goes, ’till Great Hare is satisfied
and only Janus remains. He’s at the bar
of The Green Man, standing in the liminal:
one face forwards looking to his next pint
and full to the brim with beneficence,
the other on its honeysuckle twister,
leaning slack-jawed and backwards
on his shoulder, staring past the years
into some myth-filled distance.
Kate’s love for words led her to teaching & translating some sweet languages. Her love for art, lyrics & water led her to poetry…with publications & readings sealed alright! Kate was born in Rotterdam some 52 ages ago and adores housesitting in the UK, USA and Spain.
Get ready (pdf download for original layout)
my hands unravelled the telephone wires
that anchor our terraced houses, the ones
in the middle of the street
the ones useful for my master plan.
And while familiar windows show
some outgoing smiles,
the amber evening lights, still
it is our night that blackens the room,
turns my tea bitter.
And while I play the records of the dead people
I wonder where my older nights have gone,
and your supernatural-vision-eyes eye me, soberly.
The thought hits my palms,
they cringe together like a family of birds, taking wings
after a long-lived summer that suddenly leaves me
more dead, unafraid
and beyond frozen shutters.
I am nearly sea
and will laugh, soon enough,
over beautiful grief, over the wind
falling out with my coat, over
your tears as pearls.
And while the water shows me
how to cry with arms wide open,
the sky, my eyes, the weapons I need, I see
the wires, your wishes heavier
than my existence.
Laura’s debut how to extricate yourself (Dempsey&Windle) was the winner of the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize. Her work has been widely anthologised, appearing in Poetry (forthcoming), Rattle, Aesthetica, Strange Horizons and Mslexia etc. Accolades include the Oxford Brookes, Mogford, and AM Heath Prizes and an Elgin Award.
Do you know that kind of joy which returns
to your fingernails with a crackle?
The budding daffodils
peeking out from under the sofa?
The first smell of spring
right there next to your bed?
Or maybe if you imagine the far-away whinney
of a shire horse from the inside of your pocket?
Or, in the dark of the ocean,
the gleam of a single incisor?
A big toe spray-dancing and then
returning serenely to shore?
Or no, maybe this one comes closest: a lost eyelash
lying very still beneath a corkscrew birch in the park.
She is precisely like that.
Princes Street Piano
A burst of sudden tempo elicits a tremor
from the creaking old piano.
It’s as if it’s trying to gently protest being woken
like this from its long unintentional slumber
like a grumpy and aged
fairy tale princess.
It had become unaccustomed
to the pounce and caress of musicians’ fingers
upon its keys during the long months
it lay fallow.
It is no longer used to this sort of
exuberance after a sad year of neglect.
It knows nothing of the reason
for its isolation: the dread of the human pandemic.
It only knows that it has to relearn
the delicate dance of submission and melody
that is always required from instruments
no matter their age or exhaustion.
And there is joy to be gained from it, pride too,
as it finally gives up its whole aching being to the song.
Robbie lives in Luxembourg. He has published a small number of poems and stories in anthologies and journals, mostly in his native country. Some of his writing can be found at www.blackfountain.lu and www.cahiersluxembourgeois.lu.
Looking back with a vengeance
while the hand hesitates to mark down
looking back like Orpheus
only this time
with nothing to lose.
A pupil is a pupil
is a reflection
of a doll in the dark,
on the watershed
and the eternal question of
what to do with the
rest of one’s lies,
while the janitor softly whistles,
hangs up his boots and brooms
and spits on the frozen ground
for luck and
Sue lives with her wife in North Wales. She tweets at @soopoftheday. Her debut collection, ‘Magnifying Glass’, was published in October 2020.
Where was the Tenderness Lost?
There were two hundred and seventy-two
but I do not believe it could have been
in the first ten or so.
We were not even bored then,
even though we knew there would be a stiffness
and a restlessness as we travelled on.
Perhaps it was when our bladders
began to stretch
and we dismissed the services
that we once thought smelt bad.
Words of blame could have rolled
down the window,
thrown the tenderness to the hard shoulder.
But I don’t recall words being uttered
or the air coming in.
When this fuel shortage is over
I will fill my tank with petrol,
drive the roads at midnight
Did you know if you cup the tenderness
in both hands,
remember not to brake suddenly,
you can bring it back whole?
Sometimes it makes its own way home
like a cat lost for days or weeks
but if you don’t hear it
late at night soon
I will lock the door behind me and drive.
Iris Anne Lewis
Iris is published on-line and in print. As a competition winner, she has been invited on several occasions to read her work at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. In 2020 she was the Silver Branch featured poet on Black Bough Poetry https://www.blackboughpoetry.com/iris-anne-lewis
Deer at Hannington Bridge
The Thames, more stream than river,
is stilled with ice.
Swaddled in fog, sheep huddle
in fields brittle-cold.
A pale sun rises, thins the fog.
Through crystal mist a white stag bounds.
In his wake, a troop of deer – a flowing fleeting pennant.
Isolated from the herd, a doe
trots on fragile legs. Alone,
she stops at the water’s edge,
pricks her ears, sniffs the air.
Alert, wary, poised for flight.
The Dragon in my Attic
No sinuous serpent, he.
His body flat, flaccid, crumpled
under a jumble of toys tumbling
out of Santa’s sack.
No smoke curls out of that snub-nosed snout.
His head, scarred and battered
by repeated slaughter
lies pillowed on a black-tailed coat.
No glint of evil in those blank eyes.
He stares, unblinking, at the jewelled mask
and golden gown of the
King of Egypt’s daughter.
No fire breathing dragon, he.
Lying in the loft, lifeless, dead
until the Kempsford mummers come.
Inhabited, he slithers into life.
His skin shimmers green, his eyes glow red.
He slinks into corners, lurks in shadows
Then puffs out smoke and shouts
‘In comes I’,
takes centre stage to fight St George
Maggie enjoys a good malt and jazz. Her collection’A West Coast Psalter’ is published by Kelsey Books,2021. One of her poems can be found on the Poetry Archive in the Wordview 2021 permanent collection. Twitter @Bonniedreamer
The Passing of the Year
On Old Year’s Night she misses
Callum’s nonsense during the Daft darkening days.
Patient light waits on the Northern horizon.
It’s her first turn into a Manitoba January,
no Duncan, first-footing at the midnight door,
no coal, black bun, drop of whisky, no neighbour, not yet.
She blesses home, here, and over the sea,
imagines Tommy and juniper scent, its smoke.
She’s sprinkled water around the house,
now sweeps old clean, opens doors to the unknown,
no rowan branch this year, only willow
to fend off evil spirits. A kettle sings, full of Het Pint.
Joyous foghorns blow on the Red River,
chorus to fur traders’ whistle with panache.
She prays the old place is readied for Hogmanay.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
the flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Auld Lang Syne for absent friends.
Based in Aberdeen, Mandy hopes that music and poetry will help her survive the 21st century, but cultivates an allotment just in case. Her work appears in anthologies and journals in Scotland and beyond. Her pamphlet ‘The temperature of blue’ is available from Blue Salt Collective http://bluesalt.co.uk/the-temperature-of-blue/index.aspx)
(Christopher Wren & Robert Hooke, 1671–7)
I never really cared what lay between
Monument and Bank, up there at street level,
never thought to get out of the Tube and look,
never had the time;
until one locked-down January day when
a sudden longing for my own city
five hundred forbidden miles south
clenched my heart so fiercely
that I googled it.
A Doric needle of fluted stone,
at its top a baroque brazier, a gilded orb
set almost too high to see.
Part elegy, part ode, its height exactly
the distance between its foot and Pudding Lane,
birthplace of the Fire.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever see it now.
But when there is a Great Flood in London –
which there will be, make no mistake –
all they’ll see above the risen waters will be
that strange floriated ball,
crowned with bristling petals of flame,
its gilded copper verdigrised,
seeming to float, untethered, on the bay
that once was London.
Michael is a relatively new poet and artist. He had his first poetry book, Poems From an Empty Mind, published in 2021. His poetry is drawn from various philosophical views and perspectives, particularly Zen practice and spirituality. He has developed poetic styles that aim to engage the deeper consciousness.
Beyond the Winter Clouds
Curtaining the void
Grey swirls and curling plumes
Of woolly cotton absorbing
Dank moisture misting
Shedding fine granules
Of dewy juicy drips
Crying tears of mock
Floating serene and gentle
To the unconscious face of earth.
Seek above inclemency
Peek beyond the cloud
Emerging light splashes
Dashing vivid, Aurora
A warm healthy glow
Come come beckon
Embrace and open
Discover the fathomless love
Its there, eternal, blissful hue,
In the right now waiting for you.
New Year Gate
So alluring is the gentle sway of the swinging gate,
The entrance beckons mind awake and innate.
Placid, motionless, the stainless clarity so bright,
Spotless purity, the void intuitive insight.
Arrive in this stillness with your blessed earth mother,
Brilliant, abundant without self or other.
Years ago, Matt read in slams in Seattle cocktail bars, published poems on city buses and in long defunct zines. Now, he reads and writes in Plymouth. He runs Royal Adelaide Art & Yoga with Nic, a Yoga teacher and collagist.
Like a day that can’t decide
what it’s doing,
I’m a dull ache,
standing up here
Next to me a map,
etched onto a steel disc
mounted on a fluted
points at what can be
seen from the hilltop
in any direction,
but indicates no useful path
from this moment
toward the next.
January has polished the surface
of the water to a high,
painful shine that’s more
chemical burn than reflection,
but still inviting. Sunlight
splits the sea, opening
a silvery, blinding gap
from the horizon almost
to my shadow, and everything
dissolves into it, shimmering.
Boats, waves, resolutions,
gulls disappear into
the brightness only
to reappear seconds later,
as if from nowhere.
Sometimes We Sleep
tuned to the wind,
fat with potential,
bundle up warm,
now the skin
by rosy firelight,
sharpened before daybreak
to look for waymarkers,
the flight paths of crows.
air with edges,
clouds gather, linger,
we wait, with steaming breath
to break over us.
peer through surfaces
to see other surfaces,
what looks like a rainbow
might just be
an incomplete memory.
we fly by instinct
and hope to arrive.
sometimes we sleep.