Our theme for submissions in June relates to the heavens — the sky we can see every day, and solstices which are turning points on how long we see a bright sky, and how long we see a dark one.
Thank you to all who submitted, whether published or not.
Poems published in this feature are by: Ama Bolton, Chris Hemingway, Christine Griffin, Clare Starling, Helen Openshaw, Iris Anne Lewis, Isobel Shirlaw, Laura Mejias Ortega, Laurence Morris, Nelson Jong, Robbie Martzen, Sharon Webster, Sylvia Sellers, Ted Gooda, Wendy Webb.
Ama Bolton, former member of The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, convenes a Stanza group in Somerset, where she lives with a sculptor and two hens. Her poems have featured at festivals, on Radio 3’s The Verb, on local radio and in magazines and anthologies.
the garden’s parched
the sky a burning-glass
it takes three men to move the stone
the well draws us together
it silences us
we see our upturned faces
a circle of reflected sky
the close-set stonework of the wall
we breathe the cool and mossy-smelling air
of that place between the worlds
Chris Hemingway is a poet and songwriter from Gloucestershire. He has two published pamphlets available; paperfolders (Indigo Dreams) and Party in the Diaryhouse (Picaroon Poetry). Chris has worked as a volunteer for Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Gloucestershire Writers Network, demonstrating quite a wide span of strengths and weaknesses.
X Stands for the Unknown
The Engineer wakes
and calibrates his dreams.
They dart across the page,
as he struggles to impose rows and columns.
Combinations of facts and fictions multiply,
approach a working infinity.
The mathematician traces future tangents,
lines, lightly touching curves.
And in his mind, X is not unknown.
More of a midpoint
between emptiness and certainty.
The astronomer points his lenses to the sky
and wonders how to tell the future.
From stars that shone so long ago.
He cries out for answers,
Are we alone?
More pertinently, is he?
But the universe will not answer,
and all stays cold.
Uncaring as a muttered lullaby.
Christine Griffin loves all forms of writing, particularly poetry and short stories. She is widely published both locally and nationally. She has performed her work at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
We heard rumours of course –
talk of a baby, angels,
signs in the heavens.
Why should a baby from a desert land
come here to save all men?
Babies perish in this kingdom of ice and fire.
Rumours only – no threat to us.
Their chroniclers would do well to fear my fighters
on our wild hunt through dark northern skies.
Bred for war, we have no time for sentiment.
For have my warriors not dragged fear
through the winter heavens,
as the sun cowered, waiting for our call?
They say their skies were filled
with singing spirits at this baby’s birth,
chanting of peace.
What use have I for peace?
Only the strong will survive through time,
not a baby, some farm animals,
a couple down on their luck.
Yet some among us whisper of new ways —
love not war, peace to all men.
They say this baby is the son of man,
Well let me tell you this.
There is only one sun rising.
I and my night- warriors call it into birth
in deep midwinter.
None other has that power.
As I say, no threat to us.
In Norse mythology, the God Odin is associated with war, death and victory.
Clare Starling lives in Northwest London, close to Willesden Sports Centre. She is a gender equality policy expert and a graduate of Goldsmiths College London. She survived cancer aged thirty-five, and is the parent of an autistic son. Her poetry explores how our complicated relationships with each other and with nature influence our daily experiences of pain and beauty.
The Sky Over Willesden Sports Centre Running Track
The gate’s not locked, so you edge in.
Here is the orange loop, the perfect white lines
real and clean as an advertisement
One hundred metres straight, one hundred on the bend
you can ride high on your racing legs, until,
heart heaving, your limits pull you down
Gasping as you pass the kids’ club clumsily
long-jumping into the sand pit
and it’s OK to do whatever you can
But, truth is, it’s that area beyond
endurance that really carries weight, as you
circle out again, lonely, and it’s far
That’s where you hurl out everything
you wanted to pound into this fake surface, and
at last you fold over at the finish line
Roll back in the grass. And you had forgotten
how the sky is gentle and enormous. Birds are playing in it
and everything is open, open, open
Helen Openshaw is a Drama and English teacher, from Cumbria. She enjoys writing poetry and plays and inspiring her students to write. Her work is in Words in Green Ink Poetry magazine, Words and Whispers magazine, The Madrigal, Fragmented Voices, Forge Zine, Roi Faineant Press and The Dirigible Balloon magazine.
Standing in twilight
I question the moon,
a discarded Cupid’s bow,
whilst twilight sings,
playing out the pulled pieces of the day.
a stoked red fire,
a signature of your grief.
Iris Anne Lewis 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
Under Kempsford skies
The sky is rarely postcard blue –
this village shuns the picturesque,
boasts no quirky Cotswold names.
Top Road, Middle Farm, High Street
serve it well.
Its air is often rank with chicken stink
or choked with aviation fumes
as bombers idle on the runway,
roar into flight.
Tourists do not flock to see
its gravel pits or walk along
its pot-holed paths.
But once a year
bollards stand like sentries.
Gantries line the road for miles around,
point towards this humdrum place.
Still the village
does not boast its fame.
For though it plays the host
its name is not displayed
on official signs.
claims the airbase
as its own.
But that moment
when Red Arrows fly,
vapour ribbons – red, white, blue –
streak across the Kempsford sky.
Diamond Nine, The Corkscrew,
and favourite of the crowd –
children’s eyes light with awe
as if they’ve just glimpsed Paradise.
My mother was a kite that couldn’t fly
after Charles Simic
Pegged down in the valley with the laundry,
she cranked the old mangle into life.
A clothes horse, hung with damp washing,
straddled the kitchen fireplace.
One day I ran off,
headed up the mountain.
The path led into dark woods,
wound round rocks.
I reached the summit.
The sun skulked behind clouds.
A heap of rags, petal pink, apple green,
lay huddled on the ground.
The stillness became a breeze,
a rushing wind. The clouds cleared,
revealed the sun, diamond-white.
The rags rippled,
billowed into life.
Rising to reach the blue
of the sky, a kite flew,
trailing blossom in its wake.
Isobel Shirlaw won the Fresher Poetry Prize, 2019, was highly commended in the 2019 Poetry Space competition and has appeared in wildfire words. She has written for The i, TLS, Daily Telegraph and Bangladeshi New Age and Daily Star. She is writing her first poetry collection and novel. Twitter: @isobelshirlaw.
The Dying Cloud
Laura Mejias Ortega started writing poems in Spanish, her mother tongue. It felt, for Laura, that there was more she needed to say, and the words started to flow better in English. She became a songwriter, cowriting with James TW for his song “Lipstick”.
The Sun Always Rises
It takes a bit more to wake up when it’s dark;
It is harder to feel colours when all you can see is grey;
It is more difficult to paint a smile when it feels like raining inside;
It sucks to wait for a sun that won’t come out.
I get it;
It hurts when you’re expected to speak, but all you hear is silence.
It’s frustrating when you try to move and every step seems like a milestone.
It really sucks to wait for a sun that won’t come out.
Laurence Morris works in academic libraries and is a Fellow of the UK’s Royal Geographical Society. His poems consider shifting relations between people and place, and have been published in Confluence, Snakeskin, Shot Glass Journal, Spelt, and elsewhere.
A picture of winter
If winter is any particular place and time
it is a North Sea salt-marsh in the gloaming
as pines starken against the horizon
and detail recedes from foreground clay,
day reduced to a dilution of the night.
Movement is for form not purpose now
a windmill’s creak through a pewter sky
the sea oozing for grounded skiffs
where snow dissolves on salted timber.
Yet infusions of life remain in the water
as crumbling dykes and virgin tidal runs
sketch the latest pool and mudflat leylines
and shifting reeds exhale suggestions
of the safest passage through the mire
should some lost soul wish to persevere.
There is no space spare for colour here
not in the sky, the sea or a love run through
not when all is drenched in solstice monochrome
and the sense that nothing matters anyway
although, as a redshank cry breaks loose
the seascape moves like a delta channel
and rhyme and reason reshape again
vital music sounding out along the shoreline
with the promise of a second chance.
(after Kathleen Jamie)
There will be a night train
away from sullen fields,
again to mountain snow.
Granite will rise in shadow
from the burn to the skyline
where a mad hare chases
and icicles fall like stalactites
from petrified bog-wood
as I thread a path in heather
until safe within the pines
whose memory sheltered
even the longest winter.
Only then will I turn back
to consider the horizon
and all which lies beyond.
Parting the veil
The hills are a camera obscura,
parting Schopenhauer’s veil
to reveal life as a rippling horizon
with a whisper of communion,
no such thing as time and space,
just here and now, you and me
and all else in true connection.
I used to look for understanding
in history not mountains,
but of history and mountains
it is the lonely details which remain,
and while I do not know
each pathway through the vale,
the time might come to dream them.
* Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) suggested, among other things, that the world is comprised of illusions.
Nelson Jong has been writing poems since studying English and Indonesian literature in college. Now working as a physician, writing poems help him reflect on strong emotions, relationships, and meaning of life.
Let’s talk about the weather
gales and wind up to sixty
she waited beneath the tree
expect heavy rain and rouge waves
her voice the sky
played hide and seek
with murderous clouds
expect sunny spells
with zero shadows
trapping warm breeze
for unwanted children
tomorrow low pressure dominates
God’s unreliable aim
we talk about the weather
too much —
let’s talk about war
Robbie Martzen lives in Luxembourg. He has published a small number of poems and stories in anthologies and journals, mostly in his native country, and has been long- and shortlisted at various competitions. Some of his writing can be found at www.blackfountain.lu and www.cahiersluxembourgeois.lu
The jury’s still out, but it
seems I’ve been doing it all wrong:
skimming the daylight clouds
scanning the midnight sky
But the sky
is more patient
An honest mistake
at the maternity ward
where I should have been
a minor planet.
I would have been very good at circling the sun.
A sun. Any sun.
Or a moon, a barren rock
longing for leaves
to rustle upon
these watery thoughts.
Sharon Webster lives in Cheltenham, where in recent years she has been able to indulge an earlier love of writing influenced by the natural beauty she finds around her and her innate curiosity.
We Are Sky Gazers
We sit on coloured towels
and patterned rugs,
folding bits of wood,
and solid benches,
look out from
brown, barren cliffs,
and wind-blown beaches.
We watch from margins,
scrutinise from edges.
they concentrate our minds,
the what’s, the where’s,
the who’s, the why’s.
And these preoccupations,
we lay them down,
place them gently
at the feet,
of this great union
of the earth and sky
Sylvia Sellers wrote her first poems in 1969 and 1988, numerous thereafter following Writing Courses and Poetry Workshops. Inspired to write poems about anything that stirs some kind of emotion, right down to her search for the perfect fish and chips, where the fish is so fresh it falls off the fork.
The Summer solstice moon
On this the longest day of the year
Sheila is being buried
and I’ll be in the church looking at her coffin
wondering what life is all about.
On this the longest day of the year
where is Sheila?
The moon was banished at daybreak
giving way to the sun,
turning night into day
in swathes of pinks to reds
yellows to orange,
and on this day
she stays awake ’til late
until the moon takes over once more
hanging there, golden, in a star-studded, indigo sky.
On this the longest day of the year
where is Sheila?
Her body is burnt
but what of this thing inside our heads
that lets us think all manner of things,
gives us skills.
We’re all good at something.
On this the longest day of the year
I think of a respected friend called Betty,
who used to say we should leave a window open
in the room where we breathe our last breath,
so that our thinking bit
can leave the body
in a puff of smoke
and go somewhere.
Into the body of a new-born baby
Betty would say.
Ted Gooda’s poetry has most recently been published by Sentinel Quarterly, Infinity Books UK and Writers Bureau. Sussex-based, she is the ghost-writer of a series of memoirs about foster carer Louise Allen (Trinity Mirror/ Welbeck Publishing). Eden’s Story reached the Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers in February 2021.
the gauze thinned
so briefly between two worlds
and we felt liminal: caught out
in the spinning tilt of the globe that winter
when planets aligned
for the great conjunction at an unequal equinox
but found no universal fix for the longest darkest
epoch we have known still summer brings
cataplasm of possibility in its solstice poultice
of long sky spread taut
over the smarting skin
of swollen earth
Send in the clouds
I want blue sky,
cloudless air blue,
lush green canopy of oaktree blue,
dazzling blue of yellow sunflowers,
sweet, smooth blue of vanilla ice cream,
red-chequered picnic-cloth blue,
golden blue of beer-garden pint,
graceful, swooping kite-tail blue,
rich sand-between-the-toes blue.
But I know
I need the clouds
to pearl the summer,
ripen the green,
true the blue.
The daisy and the bellbind
The grass could do with mowing.
Daisies cluster with their sisters.
White bellbind trumpets triumph
in twining blasts along the wall.
Purple florets unfurl white
soonest in sunny hours,
easing each new day’s eye. Bolder
rhythms embroider fresh chains of time.
And daisies smile of old time:
smooth faces tilted skywards
lying in fields, making loose
chains; mouthing multi-futures.
Do new fortunes still exist
when, mid-June, time slips its shackles?
I leave the grass. Instead, to curb
those trumpet bells heralding
days’ ends, I cut their clockwise
strangling bindweed stems.
Wendy Webb wrote her first poem, aged 11. A prolific poet, she’s learnt many rules of traditional forms, free verse. She’s devised her own forms, including the Davidian and Magi. Recently in: Littoral Magazine, Meek Colin, Lothlorien, Crystal, Quantum Leap and Reach Poetry.
Solstice like yesterday
I remember that day so well, like it was yesterday,
the day forever after when the Beatles’ song moved me
to nostalgic tears; unsuitable at my age.
Sky so dark; the night I laboured into the shortest day.
Night felt like the longest, to deliver a firstborn.
Proud mum. Blue-eyed, blond-haired boy.
Mystique deep-breathes the blood-shot moon
in – you know – THAT month. I could make this happy,
but you wouldn’t believe me. How could you, unless…
Simply, I will say, he was beautiful.
Self: beaming for England, husband drove home
that day. The summer solstice, the longest day
Except, for me, the longest night and the shortest day.
Learning to change first nappy, breastfeed successfully;
sleep eventually; full of hope, the future.
I could say there were 19 happy years that followed;
we traversed Stonehenge regularly (or the M5/M4).
Would you believe me? How could you, Except, if you…
They were happy years. Hellish as life itself.
We learnt – everything.
(Oh, there are special mums out there; they say, no way…).
For us, he was our whole world.
Each sunrise/sunset, like the Mona Lisa:
perfect, impossible to explain, argue over
and yet; beautified on moonshine,
starbright, sunless days. Contemplate your own.
They were enough.
No ‘Tyger, Tyger’ was as wild: diagnosed autistic, aged 4 ¾.
Icarus-bright with symmetry and fall (aged 19).
Lying by sea sand. Beneath poppies. Beyond hotels (like houses).
Yes, it was the shortest day; the longest night. No sky.