This anthology showcases poetry from the leading poets in the 2023 competition for a Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award:
Abigail Ottley, Aisling Bradley, Bel Wallace, Charlie Kite, Charlotte Murray, Christopher M James*, Clare Starling, Cos Michael, Dave Simpson, Elisha Gabb, Glenis Moore, Heather Cook, Helen Scadding, Helena Goddard Janice Booth, June Webster, Katriona Campbell, Kay Feneley, Lana Silver*, Laurence Morris, Marie Papier, Michael Parsons, Michelle Kempson, Neil Douglas, Peter Howard, Peter Wellby, Rachel Goodman, Sarah Jane Rees, Sarah Macleod, Sheila Lockhart, Trish Kerrison
indicates one audio of a poem written by the poet. * prefers not to have audio.
Double-edged sword of survival
I’m in my here and now
protected by a veil
where shadows don’t dance
but move silently
blind, half formed things
that cower and dissolve
a mutant past
with a brutal breath
that ripples the fabric
Cos Michael wrote poetry when younger, but paused to earn a living. Recently, having sorted out her priorities, she started writing. Her themes explore growing up and life now, from an autistic perspective. Cos is a Londoner, now living in Norwich. She has had poems published by Grindstone and Atrium.
These days I hardly see him
hidden in shadow
between the jade plant
and the Christmas cactus
his scalloped lotus
beside their lush growth
His brass butter lamp
crusted with dead flies
topknot flame of wisdom
dull with dust
the begging bowl
balanced in his palm
holds out an offering
of spider’s web
If I could write
one true thing about him
I too might sit perfectly still
with a half-smile
to look about me all the time
eyes open just enough
to let in some light
My Sister’s Self-portrait
Project of a lifetime she calls it
some might say her masterpiece.
Once a year she puts it on the easel
for adjustment she calls reworkings.
Her blouse at twenty-something
was zinc white flecked with cadmium.
At thirty-five, she switched it to magenta
added the turquoise beads she bought in Nepal.
Last year, she smeared a hint of algae on the cheek
a madder streak down the bridge of the nose.
Her ginger curls unruly from birth
snake ever further across the canvas
like paisley wallpaper in a Seventies kitchen
or a painting by Kehinde Wylie.
Eyes blue as alkathene stare out at you
a little wider year on year.
as if astonished by what they see.
She thinks she hasn’t aged as well as me
I know this from the dab of viridian
that’s recently appeared on her lower lip.
When he’s gone
she’ll chop onions
with a knife-sharp smile,
flash of steel in her eyes,
squeeze the last red drop
from the tube, like a murderess
feeling for the heartbeat.
She’ll eat her meal slowly,
taste the blood hot
on her tongue, teeth
tender, nostrils swollen
with the smell of meat.
At night her unborn children
will come to her one by one
and name themselves.
She will sweep them up at sunrise
like so many dead leaves,
pull down her sleeves to hide
the mottled fingerprints,
spray her hair to its customary stiffness.
Then she’ll phone to arrange
for the locks to be changed,
rehearsing in her mind how many
steps to take from the kitchen
to the front door.
Sheila Lockhart is a retired social worker living in the Scottish Highlands. She started writing poetry about five years ago and has been published online and in print in anthologies and magazines, including Northwords Now, Nine Muses Poetry, Twelve Rivers, StAnza Poetry Map of Scotland, Writers’ Cafe, Words for the Wild, The Ekphrastic Review, Re-Side and The Alchemy Spoon.
N-dimensional cartography for lovers
This is the shape of our shared space.
This will move. That will not.
There can be no negotiation.
We are here, we go this far.
Our limits are facts, they are not values.
The closer we get, the more we jar,
until we add a new dimension
where we can explore and trace
the new shared limits of our shared space.
The closest I get to flight
Cycling downhill in the dark
is the closest I get to flight.
Windows and lamps spin past me
in streamers of stretched out light.
It’s the closest I get to flight –
the soft air ribbons right through me
in streamers of stretched-out light
that disorientate and delight me.
The soft air ribbons right through me,
a rushing of wind fills my ears,
it disorientates and delights me
with the hint of a summertime chill.
A rushing of wind fills my ears
louder than the absence of traffic,
with a hint of a summertime chill
in the warmth of this deepening night.
Louder than the absence of traffic
my heart beats with the downhill thrill –
in the warmth of this deepening night
I’m the closest I get to flight.
Katriona Campbell lives and works in Cambridge where she spends her time writing and dancing. She has recently completed an MA in creative writing at Goldsmiths. Her poetry has featured in Magma, The Lighthouse, Butcher’s Dog and on a Guernsey bus. She has a pamphlet forthcoming with Paekakariki Press.
The glacier who challenged a writer to a staring contest
It was almost six pm when I saw your silhouette outside Waterstones.
Your laughing eyes made it appear as if you had just been kicked out
of a bookshop. You waved your gloved paws. Your wavy blonde hair
looked like you’d been rolling in sand, contemplating a wordless sea.
If I had to summarize you in two words, it would be stray dog or still peach.
I smiled at the new woolen jumper you bought
from the charity shop, an old soul never goes out of trend.
Stripy as the lack of sleep below your eyes
Sorry I haven’t been around much; I’ve been doing lots of writing
Then your face went pale as the Waterstones paper bag in your hand
as if it were a briefcase on the way to work, stressing you
to the bone underneath a smile. Were you:
trying to work out if the blank page was a glacier about to melt
reading the silence in-between you and your garden window
Trying to translate messy feelings into neat paragraphs with no room to squirm?
Trying to capture the right words like scribbling notes on birds?
Trying to write down which ones they were before they vanished from the view?
You never gave up believing in the things that make you strong
even if you fell down enough stairs, you’ve forgotten which way is up
I always reminisce about the cafes we use to drink at, one of us ordering
but both of us having coffee, laughter shiny like the glittery morning river
close to Arnolfini. You’re a writer, so we give you parcels of time and tea,
and you open them with the colored scissors you find in a nursery class
following your creative dreams, rooted from a crayon-colored past.
The long savasana of frost
Savasana is a final rest pose in yoga where you lay on your back in stillness.
Mist hung over water
like a white linen curtain
The fabric softener of sea
hinting at eucalyptus leaves
The frosty lake was in the bathroom
of January, mist leaning against the
buildings, rubbing out the city structures
like a wrong answer in a maths book
and frost in a long savasana
along the wooden deck leading to the boats.
I came here with my problems,
And I’ll leave with my problems and hope
The frosty lake beneath me
Is full to the brim with fresh air
The heart has enough solitude
to make a kinder wish.
And as I remember who I am,
I watch the freezing lake blush
into pink fish.
Lana Silver lives in Cardiff and is studying a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her poetry lives in a few anthologies including Renard Press’ Spectrum: Poetry Celebrating Identity, Secret Chords from the Folklore Poetry Prize, and Barbican Young Poets anthologies. She was commended in the New Voices First Pamphlet Competition 2021, and longlisted for two of her entries in Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Competition 2023.
I watch him picking strawberries
oblivious to summer trickling down his chin.
He checks the tautness of the twine,
fingering beans as bright as fresh-sloughed snakes,
stakes up fat unlikely blooms
with a patience maddening to see.
I know he’s smiling as he sees the apples form
and rests his earthy hand upon the trunk
as if to reassure a much-loved friend..
I realise the trunks of trees are green and grey
and idly wonder who else knows.
While we sleep in double-glazed denial,
a rogue storm sucks the ocean dry,
flings it screaming at soft summer plumpness,
trapping the lawn beneath a tracery of twigs.
At dawn we peer together through the glass,
latticed overnight by glistening pathways;
I see him later in his rough old coat,
holding a severed rose against its stem
as if by caring he might make good the loss.
His daughter organised it; cleared the clutter,
smuggled boxes to the hospice shop.
She left him standing in an almost empty room,
the dog pressed tight against his leg.
Two women came, bright and bracing,
filling the tired house with frightening smells.
Their energy shed spider blood,
scuttled woodlice into nothingness,
sucked powdered corpses out of corners.
The carpet writhed, unused to unimpeded light.
Only the windows twinkled with unreasoning joy.
The walls seem colder now, the sofa harder;
the dog more worried, whimpering in his sleep.
The man seems smaller, slightly lost,
as if he wished they could have changed the future
and left him with the comfort of the past.
Apples in a wheelbarrow
There was a time in late September
when softness veiled the apple trees
and blessed my mother’s face.
My father, wobbling on a ladder,
caressed each sun-flecked fruit
and touched her hand in passing it
through tangled leaves.
Locked in russet self-sufficiency,
they needed no-one else.
I should have been more pleased
to see them at their ease,
and proud of that shared harvest
glowing in the rusty barrow;
to see my father almost boyish,
my mother laughing at the twig
that snatched her headscarf;
but I shivered in the shadows,
too used to their unhappiness
to trust this fleeting glimpse of joy.
Heather Cook is recently retired and relishing the time to indulge a passion for poetry, including taking part in open mic events. Heather has been shortlisted and commended in several competitions, including Buxton, Ware, Wildfire Words and Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival and won the Hysteria Poetry competition in 2022.
In the eye of a lesser god
I stand in the open beneath disappointed sky,
puppy paw clouds imperceptibly moving,
the sun losing heat, but not much.
I hear the familiar, unlearned whistle
and look up.
There, silhouetted in the sky, is a kite,
sunshine filters through its rusty wings.
Though it can see for miles, it hovers close above me –
its feather-light frame resting on air, trusting.
Its eye is focused on me, examining, staring,
I feel scrutinised, somehow –
I feel chosen.
We gaze at each other, transfixed with the other’s being.
He hovers like a drone. I stand firmly on the earth,
in the eye of a lesser god, perhaps.
Mesmerized by the imposing simplicity of it all,
I grasp fleetingly the reckless fantasy of Icarus,
defying limitations, heedless of his father’s caution,
over-reaching his boundaries for the chance to fly.
I look, rooted to the ground, gripped by the desire,
but my wax won’t hold – I know that.
Michael Parsons has come to writing poetry later in life but enjoys the discipline. He is fascinated by words, imagery and the universal sense that personal writing may engender.
I dropped a jelly bean today
mango, I think
and it rolled across the parquet floor
and scurried somewhere beneath
(I did try
to find it.
I thought no more
of that lost bean,
nestled somewhere in the dark and grey
with the dust bunnies squatters.
the sofa will stand a little higher
and we’ll feel a fervent jabbing between the cushions.
We’ll look beneath and find
the sprouting of a jelly bean
all yellow, with spots of pink
along the trunk, a natural spire
like an oak standing tall on a heath.
And days will go by
full of their usual
bore and sorrow
until we have our very own
jelly bean tree
that bursts out in a spiral ballet
through the grey furniture.
Luminous leaves that shake to their own breeze
the scent of jasmine, of summer evenings
whispers of dreams whipped in whisks.
We’ll laugh at our luck, at our
magic living room tree.
It will rain down sweet seeds
and we’ll eat
until we’re sick
Charlie Kite is an off-centre, cross-genre writer focusing on folklore, communities in change and mental health. Last year he won the Pomegranate and Larkin Poetry Prize, and has been published by Litro, 3 Of Cups and Forget Me Knot. He’s currently studying Creative Writing at Oxford University.
A kindness of ravens
you fly, so outrageously,
upside down, zipping
the shrink-wrapped sky.
For Tlingit and Haida
you are healer and trickster,
and you answer in numberless voices
questions yet to be asked.
Unruly Grandfather Raven,
keeper and maker of truths.
Smokey bringer of light,
shape-shifting through the seasons.
Great ceremonial gate-crasher,
the Shaman’s friend.
Spirit of creation
without beginning or end.
Through Cornwall and Wales
you were sacrosanct,
ragged shadow of the once
and future king.
Viking redeemers of battlefield corpses,
feared but revered.
Masters of second sight
tattooed on banner and shield.
For Odin drew power
from his Raven Knowledge.
His all-seeing partners,
Huginn and Muninn,
twinned demi-gods of
memory and promise,
of history and of hope.
Companions in crime and in cure.
A bird on each shoulder,
Beyond good and evil
the burden of both.
The Raven now stalls,
waiting, perhaps, for the earth
to turn beneath her.
And slowly she blinks,
unhitches the moon.
But where does she go
when she already holds
three thousand withered worlds
within her left retina.
Peter Howard lives in north Cumbria, where he works in Wildlife Conservation. He has been writing poetry since his youth, and has had many poems published in poetry magazines. In recent times Peter’s writing has been largely driven by the Nature and Climate Crises, and he also has a book of Nature prose published.
Christopher prefers not to have audio
A bullet train scratches out the thin street cracks,
their silence of lineage. Momentary neons betray
the calligraphy of lives whose home space is measured
in tatami mats and sliding doors. In the mountains,
time pretends to go both ways: the cryptomeria
and hinoki cypress planks stare over the shoulders
of the master craftsman. He cuts into his own body,
each time reassembled, drawing the wood planer
into his viscera, his saw teeth angled to purr
by a pulling motion alone, towards, never away.
.* traditional Japanese wooden houses
Christopher M James is a British/French poet, based in Paris. Recent poems have appeared in Aesthetica, Orbis, Dream Catcher, London Grip, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Best new British and Irish poets 2019-2021. He has also been widely anthologised and has won several competition prizes: Sentinel, Yeovil, Stroud, Poets meet Politics, Wirral.
our rivalry slides off the plastic chairs
while a junior doctor tries to get a line
into our mother. He is sweating. We
are holding hands, we want her to avert evil.
She is a water creature, surfaces briefly
when shifted to a theatre trolley, announcing that she
swam four times this summer – not twice!
as we had told the nurses over her out-of-it body.
We have time to kill. We wander the corridors
pale and dispossessed. Sisters searching for life
and sugar. Costa is still open at 3am.
We drink hot chocolate we don’t really want,
coating our tongues like the sticky words
subdural haematoma. And we eat doughnuts –
this is the time to overdo it, while they are making holes
in her head, sucking her back to her senses.
We used to wound our dollies with lipstick blood
and bind them up with kitchen roll, pull out chunks
of their hair, exposing rows of dots, lay them down
in shoe-box hospitals on grey hanky blankets.
Now dolly has a white mohawk and tubes
sprouting from her skull. Beautiful
and terrifying. Medusa
asking for a cup of tea.
Rachel Goodman is a poet and painter living in Norfolk. Her poems have been published in Magma, Aesthetica, Under the Radar, Finished Creatures, The Alchemy Spoon, Ink Sweat & Tears, Fenland Poetry Journal, Tears in the Fence. She was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2017 and 2021.
At high tide
the sea crashes against the waiting rocks,
spume flying high into the air.
The grass and pink thrift at the cliff’s edge
are wet and salt-laden and
as you walk back down the village road,
you can still hear the roaring waves
and the cries of the hovering gulls.
At low tide
the sand is a golden silk-smooth carpet
leading to a lonely fern-strewn island.
The rocks dry out hot and grey
their quartz veins sharp and almost upright.
The thrift is nuzzled by bees in the breeze
and the shouts of children accompany
the gulls in a chaotic dance.
Glenis Moore has been writing poetry since the first Covid lockdown. When she is not writing poetry she makes beaded jewellery, reads, cycles and sometimes runs 10K races slowly. She has been previously published by Dreich, Wildfire Words, Riverbed Review and Seedling Poets.
When I am told I am dying
I feel bracelets of veins
twisted bindweed in my wrists,
sense rush of blood
vibrate into night corners;
As my body sings its dusk-song,
breath trapped in a secrecy of thorns,
my skin of butterfly wings
trembles in quicksilver dawns
looped in mirrors of light.
I long for potions of nectar and honey –
they give me possets of poison,
ask for saffron and sunflower seeds –
they give me infusions
until I speak in tongues.
until I sense soft tufting of scapula,
pennate of brow, ribs sharpen to quills;
my mouth stretches, hardens
to a beak; my voice is birdsong
as my arms feather to wings –
Advice from another planet
Soon you will not hear the hummingbird thrumming
his drill, nor the great tit rock his seesaw.
You will not hear the woodpecker nailing the tree
as he flaunts his scarlet cap like a wound.
As your marbled earth spins round, listen
to its sighs as it lies in the cot of the universe;
as your earth waltzes round, admiring the view,
rosewoods bleed and oak trees weep –
you have work to do under the setting sun
that knifes the sky with warning blades of red.
It’s up to you.
Sarah Macleod from Abingdon near Oxford has had poems published in various magazines and anthologies (plus Wildfire Words’ ‘On the same page’), longlisted twice for Cinnamon Press pamphlet, shortlisted for Cinnamon Literature Award and Hedgehog Press pamphlets, commended for Indigo pamphlet. She is a silversmith, makes crazy chandeliers and automata.
Thunder over Blair Atholl
I have dreams which are born of hills,
sustaining echoes of the enduring force
of that first mist-kissed glimpse
of an elusive summit, or of spying,
down from an ice-crowned pinnacle
to the twisted path of an upland river,
a brief prospect of a different world.
Fleeting visions it is true, and far from lucid,
but still enough to power me
down the turnpike roads and bring life
to the sapping office hours,
memories as precious as the primroses
I once surprised, bright with life
and snug in the clasp of a Knoydart glen,
or the thunder I heard, late one summer,
tolling loud above Blair Atholl.
And if, as I was told today,
there is no remaining solitude
but mere degrees of poverty,
and if God will not complete creation
until the last man and woman is truly dead,
and if isolation is by now impossible,
there is still a quiet and certain solace
to chart the course of streams
and dream on hills,
to know both space and rapture.
Laurence Morris works in academic libraries and is a Fellow of the UK’s Royal Geographical Society. His poems have been published in Confluence, High Window, Ink Sweat and Tears, Scottish Mountaineer, Snakeskin and elsewhere. He lives in the north of England.
We watch from the balcony as sunrise kindles
itself from clouds, burning away our past lives.
The day will be as hot as your anger, bright
as my shame. But for now, the sea is gentler
than we deserve, the gulls not yet woken.
You grip the bottle and I see the shattering
before it happens. Chips of forest green
across terracotta tiles. In my bare feet
they are little pieces of your disapproval.
One day the sea will wear them smooth.
As you rise, your shadow eclipses the cliffs
and just for a moment, you are their equal.
All else lies still, burrowed or buried. I long
to snap like a brittle twig. Already darkness
reaches for me, sharpening the air to a point.
Charlotte Murray is an archivist and writer from West Yorkshire. In 2021, she won second place in the East Riding Poetry Competition, Bangor Literary Journal’s Forty Words Competition and Lucent Dreaming’s Poetry Competition. Her poems appear in various magazines and anthologies including Mancunian Ways and Dear Life.
I am the barefoot fool who knew at least
how to set out, with my beechwood staff and this bundle
of jests. I pluck a white rose and breathe in its scent:
all the places I haven’t yet been. The six
human senses mingle in me, but I have no inkling
of the cliff-edge ahead as I chase the speckled
butterfly. The one whose wingbeat changes the weather.
I am the place beyond place, the womb you all come from,
the abyss for which you are heading, the omega of the Greeks,
the cifra of the Arabs. I am yin plus yang,
yet my head is empty. You may see me in a flash
of beginner’s luck when I trip over the event-horizon.
I am the hero who is zero.
I float as I fall.
Bel Wallace is a carer who practises yoga and enjoys long walks. Her writing has been short-listed for the 2022 Bridport Poetry Prize and the 2023 Janklow & Nesbit Bath Spa Prize, and published in Ink, Sweat and Tears, Raceme, Lighthouse, Allegro and Magma (forthcoming). In a previous life, she was a teacher.
Your hair is a wild mushroom
no – a squirrel’s nest
the colour of Heinz Tomato
the colour of orange leaves, you look
like a child in oils, lavishly
ringleted, who has travelled
in time – through a hedge – and
glares out, weird as the world.
Your fork-in-the-socket frizz attracts
praise in the Temperate House, but
at school, rules are rules, and you’re an
explosive reaction of copper.
Tie it back or cut it
is a declaration of violence
your personal Bastille
you bitterly reject the guillotine
You’re incorruptible, while I
whisper on about self-care, gagging
my fear-fuelled fury lest I come at you
at night with blades. Instead
I pressure you with my soft
tectonic weight until you give me
thirty seconds with the scissors,
no time for neatening up
so you remain shock-headed
and who says you shouldn’t be let out like that?
They should see your sapphire eyes
the worlds that curl out from you
sitting between my legs, warm in pyjamas
birthing new planets, monsters and gods
while I comb spray through your snarls
trying not to hurt you
When you cry
I gather it in like a wide red ribbon
it keeps coming, like when you press
print on a thousand page document
If I put out a hand, you’ll take it
let me lead you up the stairs
the ribbon looping out
between the banister spindles
I gather it in my arms as you
battle against each item of uniform
the ribbon spurts out between
bursts of the electric toothbrush
It fills the car as I drive
it spills out shiny as blood
when you open the door
it gushes, then at last it stops
you cross the road into school
you give me a little wave
and I think what am I going to do
with all this ribbon?
The Bee Saver
You always spot tired bees
and then we can’t move on
until I’ve got out my card holder
they clamber on, waving their feelers
we scout for flowers between
brick walls and spiny city planting
into this untended patch
of mallow and borage
crawls the bee
early spring, you saw one
on the way to school
I could not rush you past
I offered it my card. It roused itself,
climbed on and rode with me.
I made up sugar water
tipped the damp bee until it rested
one weightless leg upon my finger
leaned in, unrolled its tongue
drank its miniscule fill.
I left it in a patch of sun
in an hour the bee had gone
perhaps a queen waking
from her winter sleep
to begin a new nest
you were so proud of me
you called me The Bee Saver
I think it was the honour of my life
Clare Starling started writing poetry when her son was diagnosed with autism during lockdown. Her poems have appeared in Sarasvati Magazine, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Erbacce, Obsessed With Pipework and elsewhere. She particularly loves writing about our connection with nature, and about how neurodiversity can give different perspectives on the world.
Gifts for the dying
Gifts for the dying recommend foot cream.
But I bought you a butter dish.
There was comfort in butter,
soft but solid, cradled in utilitarian china.
We tried to add weight to your thin frame,
ate mash and hot cross buns in bed,
stayed under covers, left the curtains drawn,
licked knives, brushed crumbs from dirty sheets.
The cost of your new glasses snagged
as we made calculations of life afterwards.
We loved like strangers, hiding
mutual disappointments in silence.
Now I regret the longevity of that gift,
its white cow still innocently grazing on top.
I leave it clean and empty by the bread bin.
Sometimes I lift and replace the lid.
Let me tell you a story
about a river
where white-breasted dippers fly up
from the rushing weir,
where elvers stroke stones
under coppered water
filled with the underside of sky.
Let me tell you a story about a river
and a woman who remembers
that girl with the gap tooth,
frowning into her fringe,
who ran into a sunny room,
her arms full of roses,
dropping them all to reach for a kiss.
Let me tell you a story about a path,
along a river walked by a woman who is followed
by a robin
that stops and follows,
stops and follows
and how the woman still dreams
the robin may be a dead man.
Let me tell you a story about a river path
that follows a railway track
and the station guard
with his frayed cuffs and collar
taking his time to pace along the platform,
with its new asphalt and pansies,
to unlatch the gate,
who pulls back the oiled bolts,
clanks down the signal lever,
lets the tonnage of steaming metal
cross the road, unobstructed,
Let me tell you a story about a river
and a railway track, where a woman walks
waving at strangers’ faces
passing in carriages going somewhere else,
where cobwebs of dew hang between teasels,
where, above the oaks, two buzzards mewl
and in a city far away a young man cannot sleep.
Let me tell you a story about a river.
If you fold the land in half
the shores would almost touch.
Two rivers: where mud slabs roll
to the sea like harems of fat seals.
Mud that drags down an unwary dog,
run off the lead, eyes now wild with fear.
Marshland, neither ground nor sea,
tenuous, it cannot hold, except to preserve.
The Severn, fickle as a teenager
glittered-up blue to the hills of Wales,
then sulking in a grubby grey,
prickling with the wind.
A lego land of boating
lakes, picnics, sundaes
The sea unreachable.
The Stour, a straight run
from West to East and back.
Thin black sticks mark silent creeks
as the boat slides the shallows.
The moon slips from the Ness,
the tide murmurs in
filling the dark channels
thick like oil.
This border land between
the green and blue
is difficult to cross.
The sea either reaching in
or out, leaving
fissures in the mud
deeper than the ice-holds
of rusting iron trawlers.
I draw lines linking these and other shores
that once were home.
A zig-zag of a life.
Then fold and bend along the lines
looking for meaning.
I make a sort of angular bowl
that could, perhaps,
Helen Scadding is a Devon poet, recently selected as one of four poets by Literature SW for their emerging writers scheme. She has been published by Ink, Sweat & Tears, Raceme, Orbis, Artemis, Tears in the Fence, South and Reach Poetry and in a number of anthologies, including the new Unearthing Dartmoor
If a poet leaves her body to science,
imagine, found in the autopsy, poems
lodged in each dissection, scored into cells,
along the fissures of the cranium, scribbles
grafted onto bone; words embedded in the walls
of arteries, tucked taut in organ membranes
as if secreted into pockets. There might be
a love sonnet hidden in the vast atria of the heart
or a bright refrain floating in the dark rafters
of the ribcage, a song thrush in high branches.
Suppose, in the lobes of the brain, synapses
are threaded together by filaments of delicate verse
or in the bowel, a churn of doggerel.
In the spiral corti organs, listen out for villanelles.
Anticipate pert haiku inked in spinal fluid
onto vertebrae, wistful cantos hiding in the eyes.
Perhaps surprises, like a rondelle round the belly,
mighty waterfalls of free verse pooling
in the kidneys. Look at the imprint on her soles,
the rhythm of persistent feet. You might release
a rap from silent lips. And what’s the final resonance
that catches on the tongue’s cold tip? Ghazal?
Once you have noted all, don’t analyse or stress.
Write your post-mortem: here’s a poet,
(mock-heroic), who composed herself.
Her life’s work is the body it is written on.
Searching for my Father
I trespass in the pockets of your gabardine,
the one you never liked, still hanging
in the wardrobe where we’ve left it
undisturbed for years. There’s evidence of you:
two Swan matchboxes filled with blackened embers,
a tube of Trebor Extra Strong, the three mints left
sealed by your twist. I find you in the stuff
you never meant to save: the ticket stub that shows
you placed a £5 bet each way at Fakenham;
another, that you passed through Fulham Broadway
to a toy fair as a VIP in 1991; a typed agenda
for the Bowls Club Annual Meeting.
Here’s your annotated Chairman’s speech,
Apologies for Absence underlined.
I turn the pockets inside out, dig at the seams
for more. Your absence travels through me
and my nails fill up with grit. Tobacco shreds
spill on my palm. There is no whiff, no pipe,
but I recall the way you tamped shag
in the brandy bowl, the pop pop sound
your lips made on the shaft.
I’ve taken photos of the relics: tickets,
expired mints, the matches struck.
Tried on the coat – so big a space, am lost inside.
Janice Booth’s work has been commended in The Hippocrates Prize and published in journals including The Interpreter’s House. She was joint winner of the 2011 Battered Moons Poetry Competition and in the 2012 Bath Poetry Café Competition, her poem was chosen as Foreword to The Listening Walk anthology (Bath Poetry Café, 2013). Janice has practised and lectured in Chinese medicine for 30 years.
Medical for an unaccompanied minor accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
‘ Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis’
(William Osler, Father of Modern Medicine)
He told me he was from Eritrea.
He told me he was sixteen.
I asked if he had any symptoms.
He told me his tongue was sore.
He told me they paid the driver with hashish
to take them across the desert.
He told me the driver was stoned.
He told me after filling the petrol tank
the jerry can was filled with water
for the passengers to drink.
He told me the dunes were like a mountainous sea.
He told me they had clung to the boards.
He told me his friend had fallen from the truck.
He told me his friend was left
to the sand and to the rocks.
He told me he had called out.
He told me it was the gasoline
that had burnt his tongue.
Empathy for the Devil
With a gentle loving hand apply the sticking plaster to my flesh wound, doctor and show me how much you care. Care for me with an open heart. It’s all I ask for doctor. I am broken. I am broken and I need you to fix me. Fix me good, then tell me why, with kind words soft-spoken, I feel this insistent crying shame. Would you do that doctor? I expect you could try to reach out to me, take away this pain, mend my spirit, doctor. You should. You should gather shards, piece me together again. I demand. I command you. Heal my soul. And I, in return, will consume you whole.
Neil Douglas worked as a GP and Community Paediatrician in London’s East End and is currently studying for an MA in Life and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College. He has published work in magazines and anthologies in the UK, North America and Hong Kong. He was shortlisted for the Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Competition in 2022.
The boys back home were stolen from me.
Borrowed by college,
loaned out to girls,
lost to wives and mortgages.
Soft bellied and thin haired.
Changelings. Each and every one.
I hold their younger selves.
They belong to me still.
They cannot dance, tell stories or sing.
Those secret Holy Joes,
taking the Eucharist,
and crossing themselves past the church.
Bog water brimming in their throats,
rusted turf cutters for teeth,
diggers for hands.
Voices flatter than the land.
Cut in half by the Shannon,
All caught forever in the reeds.
Remember when you were on your back
in a bathtub,
full of your own vomit,
like a dung beetle
dwarfed by the task
of gathering the components of your life,
of rolling them forward.
Him, asleep or feigning sleep
as you expunged the stomach
contents out, wet dog nose drip
of grains and grapes.
You preferred this. The gargantuan
task of getting back upright,
of peeling off the sullied robe,
pyjamas and negotiating a 4am
Squatting alone on the kitchen floor
watching the machine
like an ocean in on itself.
Taking all your own filth away.
Remember you prefer this.
To being on your back
under his love.
Aisling Bradley is an Irish poet and visual artist based in Brighton. Her poems
have been included in Abridged magazine, Shift magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, the Roscommon Broadsheet and the Roscommon Anthology of Contemporary writing 2013 – 2018. She was shortlisted for the 2016 GRCC poetry competition and the 2016 Roscommon New Writing Award.
Out of Eden
Audio voiced by Howard Timms
Summers, I played in the permitted outside,
bounded to the east by our kitchen steps
to the west by the coal house door.
I was mindful always of the slender-leafed peach
where once I’d gathered flowers for a love-gift.
A fruitless offering. My stern-faced mother
applied patience, artfulness, glue.
All is well. Daddy never knew how my innocence
robbed him of his harvest. Though he often remarked on
the absence of peaches.
Mummy said the tree was too little.
Not to tell the truth, she said, sometimes
wasn’t quite a lie.
Audio voiced by Howard Timms
The first time I visited, the floorboards creaked.
Some parts are dangerous, you said.
A dealer in second hand furniture
your dusty apartment was over the shop.
Damp three piece suites, drop-leaf tables
hall stands and old-fashioned mirrors.
Mattresses with suspect stains
Left to air on unwanted beds.
I felt my way through the cobwebbed dark.
I had no desire to fall through.
The lighting was poor, totally inadequate—
frankly, there wasn’t much to see.
A mattress, bedclothes, a suitcase, closed.
A standard lamp. Not one book.
But way up there, hanging from a rafter
a pink kimono. Silk. Brilliant as a geisha.
Its beauty stopped my breath.
Neither of us mentioned it.
Abigail Ottley is based in Penzance. Her work has appeared in more than two hundred outlets including Sylvia Magazine,The High Window, Trigger Warning, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and The Survivor Zine. She contributed to the Duff anthology (2022, Invisible Borders (2021) and Morvoren: the poetry of sea-swimming (2022).
This room is empty,
this room is not empty,
I am in this room,
she is in this room,
she is not in this room.
A bed is in this room.
She is in this bed,
she is not in this bed.
An ECG monitor is in the room,
the ECG monitor was lub-dubbing,
the ECG monitor is not lub-dubbing.
A nurse is now in this room.
A doctor is now in this room.
Palliative Care team are now in this room.
A dialysis machine is in this room,
the machine was humming,
the machine is not humming.
She was attached to this machine,
she is not attached to this machine.
The doctor switches off the ECG monitor.
The nurse turns off the dialysis machine.
The doctor leaves the room.
The nurse leaves the room.
Palliative Care team leave the room.
Two people are still in this room,
one has left already.
This room is not empty,
I am in this room.
This room is empty.
* kenopsia n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet . . . [The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig (Simon & Schuster)]
June Webster is a retired Account Manager. Her poems have been published in South Bank Poetry, Dulwich-On View, Morley Poets First Anthology, Lighten Up Online, Second Light live, Mary Evans Picture Library, Dreich Magazine, Green Ink Poetry, Bud & Branch & Haiku Journal. She was short-listed for Plumstead Poet Laureate, a finalist in Living our Dying competition by Autumn Voices.
From Chalvington to Ripe
We walk the familiar walk
from Chalvington to Ripe
from Ripe to Chalvington
and I try to conceive
the void of you.
Swallows still will
stitch the shroud of the sky
with inexplicable joy
in loops and stalls
over tremulous grass.
by the church still wave in bewildering radiance
between graves, camomile stipple the field
with herb-apple scent and snow
as the west wind bowls
over Caburn’s shoulder.
Your Downs will
undulate still to the south
from Firle to Windover Hill,
with a permanence we only played at.
And what does it matter now?
The dog will falter and check,
stop and look back for you.
And we will quicken together
by the breath of your passing.
Peter Wellby read English at Oxford then taught in Malaysia, Sweden, Israel, England, Denmark and Rwanda. He has been published extensively online and in print, was a runner-up in the BHAC Poetry Competition and highly commended for a Poetry Society Members’ poem. Maintaining a relatively low poetic profile, he now has so many poems in his head, that this must change.
Your body evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.
And now I am pregnant with something that has earlobes,
and gums intended for teeth and for the tooth fairy.
My body knew how to grow you, out of dried pasta shapes,
glitter and glue, because it was how our ancestors were made.
Trying to build a human heart over a decaf coffee
is hardly any effort at all.
Your heart will do more than pump blood.
It will flutter at the sight of a peacock,
flapping its tail around just for you,
and it will ache the first time someone turns you away.
Mine will ache too, watching your hurt from the distance.
You and me share cells,
And hear, and taste, because your ancestors wrote
those instructions inside your veins, in fountain pen, or charcoal.
You’ve been waiting for time to start.
Running, flying, dragging.
I used to think little babies were blank slates, unoccupied states.
Until I met you. They held you up, and I saw the wonder of ten
thousand years. Your birth dug up old bones, stuck back together
without a map. I think you know. When I see the scattered light
of your big blue eyes, scanning the room,
I am sure you must know.
Michelle Kempson’s current poetry focuses on the topics of fertility, pregnancy and motherhood. She has previously had poetry published in anthologies, and writes because of a love for language.
The Rooted House
Sheltered by the mountain
our house grew
like an oak in the valley’s soil.
We flourished in its foliage
suckled its sap, discovered
the names of stars.
Birds taught us to sing.
Our baby talk grew into a chorus
when our parents joined in.
When we touched the ground
earth and grass became toys,
we plaited flowers to crown
our heads, made friends with
water and stones, heard the words
world, work, money,
climbed back to our attic rooms
where angels waited
with their wings opened.
Marie Papier is a French poet-novelist who has lived in England since the seventies. She has attended LPS poetry workshops, master classes and seminars, is a member of Bristol Stanza.
Marie writes and reads poetry most days and her poems have been published in a number of poetry magazines, & read in various venues, online & anthologies.
I announce the end
Our marriage can’t go on
I told you
then looked at my hands
You worked through
while I looked at my hands
Snot everywhere, I couldn’t,
so looked at my hands
Your confusion turned to
as I looked at my hands
I would not negotiate with
what was finished
instead, I looked at my hands
I dared to move
Kay Feneley lives in London where she writes in many forms, some as a civil servant but also poetry and essays to point out what otherwise might not be noticed. While she has been writing for two decades she has only recently started seeking publication.
Here you are
and already a world without you
We have been folded together
with a baker’s care
into the bowl of life.
You are vernix frosted,
anointed with blood and microbiome.
A perfect pink confection,
light as spun sugar,
miniature fingers and toes iced
with pearlescent half-moons.
Your first mews are honeyed,
softening to snuffles
when you are placed on my chest
to begin the breast crawl.
I breathe in the powdery newness
of your skin, warm and soft as dough.
This first bite of
All faces that gaze on you will light up
as if pressed to a Patisserie window.
I feel a pang of greed, the urge
to keep you to myself;
all mine to devour.
Sarah Jane Rees is a Welsh writer living in the South Wales Valleys. The theme of motherhood features strongly in her work, as well as mental health and our connection to the natural landscape.
A packetful of highlights
Saturated cotton-wool ball
is marshmallow in a steel bowl,
streams of runny strawberry blotch vanilla fluff;
well and truly trolleyed; We’ll put in a new line,
sorry about this Mr D,
plasters criss-cross an arm and hand,
lunch debris on a tray and give you something
for the pain. Shackled skin’s dried fruit
opposite a row of floating nod tea drinkers,
shipping containers lined up for export,
Would you like some water or coffee? A biscuit?
talking lips outline Digestive above gaggles of wires
plus monitor, Hello orange halo
greets peppermint slender hands consultant,
Try not to move sits on blue bedside chair,
You’re on this to prevent further blood clots
her voice an ocean without waves;
tubes on the bed are oil pipelines spilling truth
into dreams pre-occupied with crunchie bar ice cream.
We share a packetful of highlights;
editing pips and stones, healing begins.
Dave Simpson won a Corsham Poetry Prize in 2022 with a poem from a sequence that reflects on a late 1950s-early 60s childhood. Dave writes a ‘concentrate’ of moment, exploring significant episodes and reducing them to a sequence that is, hopefully recognisable. Recently, they draw on life as a cancer patient.
Last night I dreamt of Berners-Lee
At first, we were hopeful as he because the fetid
caves lay deep underground and though full of extruded
excrement were largely single cells that did not seem
to be joined together. It was still possible to dance,
dance barefoot, to lie down with love, with eyebright,
groundsel, the common grass, though now I look back
fine threads were already winding round the ears of some
who presented them daily for webbing, the taut globules
fattening from lobe to helix so voices were either trapped
inside a skull or left homeless outside it. It was the first
aperture to go. In this way my second son had his pinna
stuffed with grey; he upturned like a diver from a springboard,
powered down through soil headfirst, determined as birth;
I grabbed his ankles, guarded them in an embrace, cheek
chafing against the back of his shins – but he chop-kicked,
vanished below. When he emerged, he had a fresh umbilicus
in his forehead, teeth scrimshawed with fearful images of the
encroaching other – offered to protect me even though he could no
longer hear me. After the descendings, disgorged tunnel earth
smothered the hillside, memory slackened. The cloaca caves
now one vast city, females felled and filled, voided veins moiling
mud that sheen that sheen did we used to temper chocolate?
Helena Goddard was one of the judges of the Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Competition 2023. Full details of Helena and her book published by Frosted Fire are here.
Brown bodies, friends bodies, your body on my body. The lines gone that split me from you lot, from my roots, from one day I was losing myself to the next I’m smiling – but the journey is long. Looking in the mirror like who am I. I’m ugly. I’m ugly because I’m brown. Because the way I look hurts more than the way you look. And how you look at me, is how a mother looks at their child when they fall. But I’m standing now. And you think I’m beautiful and you think this is natural but it’s not, it’s years of beating myself up – to make sure no one else would. To protect myself in as many ways as I could. So my skin is thick, but I’m gentle, but my skin thick, and I’m kind, but my skin is thick. So don’t mistake this for grace and flow. These are bent lines that had nowhere to go, that cried at night and almost let herself go.
Elisha Gabb is a mixed raced from North London. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University. Elisha’s poetry focuses on identity, race and health. Her writing is influenced by her teenage years where she travelled the world representing Great Britain as a junior tennis player.
Saint for a Day
7.16 am: I have patience enough
for a saint. I respond to all requests
without so much as a huff
no matter how often a hand
needs moving up, down, left, right, forward,
back to the start because one millimetre
makes all the difference.
I say ‘just a minute’ and mean it,
suppress the urge to finish his sentences,
ignore sarcastic comments
but only under my breath
10.34: I am not a saint,
a very good actor.
Trish Kerrison has been writing poetry for a decade. She is a member of Nottingham’s Writer Highway, focussing on writing and performing poetry. She is a regular contributor to Reach magazine, and has had poems published in Artemis, Brittle Star and Pennine Platform.