The poets published below, starting with the newest, are:
Chris Hemingway, Annie Ellis, Anthony Watts, Philip Simmons, Kate Taylor, Sandra Howell, Tim Kiely, Clair Chilvers, Marie Papier, Annie Sturgeon, Andy Campbell, Howard Timms, Claire Lynn, Alwyn Marriage, Robbie Martzen, Christopher Cuninghame
It was not a Chinese year,
or a bat borne year.
It was not a MAGA year
or Il Puce’s year of glory
(nothing rhymes with orange,
I think that’s been established).
It was not a zombie apocalypse year
or a blisterpacks in Calais year.
There were no cave paintings on the high streets
though there were mammoth sales.
There was less ice in the Arctic Circle
though it may still be unbroken
there were lambs in Llandudno
though they may have been older.
There were vaccines, and Joe Biden.
It was too close
It is too close
2020 is mid-evening.
Did anyone get through this year
without once waking up,
My pen flows like blood on this page
I cannot hide behind my words.
We have two worlds to live in now.
We all live in little boxes,
tucked out of sight as if we didn’t exist.
Told to go nowhere to meet
as if the air outside is bad.
Looking out to the other space
we are hidden behind coughless windows,
watching birds gathering together
drawing the air with their beaks.
They feel safety in numbers,
we are told safety in pairs.
One of us will get it right,
when our worlds both collide.
Will I Be Released
My wings felt broken,
staring through the bars
of politics, I was trapped in a cage,
a bird who couldn’t fly.
Would all the days now tell me
I was waiting for my fate?
Someone had now spoken
breaking the chains of my scars,
taking out the built-up rage
trying to understand why
I could now become free
and feel in a better state.
Was that a dream I’ve woken
from, can I now look at the stars.
After hiding, I will take centre stage.
Make my world take on the sky
and love everything that I see,
once again before it’s too late.
When the hugging had to stop
and even shaking hands
and we shouted ‘Hello’ to close friends
from the other side of the street
or engaged elbows for the Boris Bump
(the only dance craze of the year)
When we disguised ourselves
as bank robbers and mumbled through a mask
at someone we
could hardly see
because our glasses kept steaming up.
When all other news stopped happening
(even Brexit for a while)
and we learned to say ‘pandemic’, ‘furlough’,
‘lockdown’ and ‘covid-19’
When viruses donned little red baseball hats
and swarmed across America..
Then, as the year limped to a close,
the sky was seen to brighten.
Hope began to dawn,
as there appeared on the horizon
a troop of valiant vaccines
and a good guy called Jo Biden.
Talkin’ Covid-19 Blues
I gave my woman a hug and a kiss.
She sprayed me with Dettol and called the police.
Turns out she’d been watching that BBC News
and that’s what’s got me singing the blues.
Now, when we talk, I gotta give her a ring
cos she’s doing that social distancing thing.
Ain’t never too late to self-isolate
cos there’s nothing so mean as that COVID-19.
I went down to Asda and joined a queue
hoping to buy some rolls for the loo.
I asked a ‘colleague’ (that’s a member of staff).
He said, ‘Mate, you must be having a laugh’.
When I went to the checkout, the girl at the till
said, ‘You’ll just have to use the back of your bill.’
Ain’t never too late to self-isolate
cos there’s nothing so mean as that COVID-19.
I was sat in the garden reading Chaucer
when out of the sky comes a flying saucer.
An alien got out, just like in a dream.
Then he saw my mask and he started to scream.
He got back inside and away he flew
all the way back to Aldebaroo.
Ain’t never too late to self-isolate
Cos there’s nothing so mean as that COVID-19.
On ‘n On
Anon. all combine
on ‘n on to get along;
constant song is
on ‘n on.
On ‘n on
we all belong;
on a phone.
Seems so long
this on ‘n on;
Is it Monday?
No, it’s Wednesday.
Is it May?
No, it’s March.
On ‘n on
as we recall;
glad the roll call
Seems too long this
on ‘n on;
so shortened it to
make it quick.
Make no fuss with
on ‘n on;
‘cept for a tiny
Nowhere to go
Feel lost in the greys
With motivation stalling
And mojo rusting
Like running on empty
With bones so achey
From such deeper digging
And salty sore eyes
From riding the wave
And straining to see beyond
So desperately prodding
The black smoking pit
Til a small hopeful ember
Embraces fossilising memories
And against the odds
Lights up catches a break
And fuels my soul again
. . . still life
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
Mind the Gap?
Empty seats take up all the space
I catch my reflection, as I catch my breath when someone comes near
I gesture from my mask to her face
I have asthma she says, her eyes showing fear
She doesn’t look like she has asthma I think
I catch myself and feel ashamed
I look around the carriage and blink
Let’s not play the blame game
We avoid each other’s eyes even more
Though that’s the only way to gauge the silent mood
My gaze lands on the closing doors
No rushing to board, we are behaving as we should
It even smells different, less body and more tube odours
No one is eating fast food, fruit, or sweets
Months of it weigh heavy on our shoulders
Tube journeys now a courageous feat
There is a creeping sense of mortality
Sitting and waiting for my stop
There is an increasing sense of normality
Will the latest Covid plan be one more flop?
Sing First For The Ones Who Did Not Die
after Esther Perel
Sing them through their shuddering
as they strain to keep their innocence
together in the driving rain. Their need
will be so much the greater; they will need the words
that you did not have when your bones shrieked
in the agony of your first release;
they will need to have all the seasons bend
across their beds to bless and mend them;
for now they will not know the strength
that waits in the rubble, on the far side
of the whole and obliterating night,
of the ones who died and then came back to life.
We turned the Tube Stations
into Temples of Wind
when we couldn’t go outside
Their platforms were altars.
You crossed the gap
a little more carefully
into the crush –
there was still a crush –
of travellers. There was always talk
of restoring the antique
In time the beggars
in venerable posts.
As they sat, the wind
would lift and flutter
their robes, like clouds.
Through winter, he will love the quiet hours
where he can drink the evening, draw with care
the curtains and be nourished on desk-lamp
and breathing pans of stew on his small hob.
He will read books. There will be hungry nights.
This will be no hardship – the shortened days
rely, he knows, on having the world turn
through its dependent spheres, so it can learn
its need for what comes next. Quite soon, the rays
of unimagined days will make their slight
beginnings on his window. When the job
of just surviving, riding out the damp
and cold is done, he will come out, and there
will be the world – a riot of flowers.
After you died, what didn’t change
was palpable. The garden sank
in heat that held us, no less strange
than summer falling, no less rank.
Evening was a dropping kiss,
dark with birds. It’s single star
burned a quiet hole. And this
was the more awful thing by far.
Clair lives in Gloucestershire, UK. Journal publications include: Agenda, Allegro, Atrium, Ekphrastic Review, Impspired, Ink Sweat and Tears, Sarasvati. She won second prize in the Poetry Kit Ekphrastic Competition 2020 and was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize 2020. www.clairchilverspoetry.co.uk @cedc13
The Year of the Zoom-Christmas
Advent in the cathedral
dark except for the flicker of candles
choristers in red robes, socially distanced
no mulled wine in the cloisters
where monks once studied
fingers numbed by the bitter draught
he olive-wood-carved nativity stands desolate
at the cancelled crib service
missing the children’s awe-struck glances
the angels’ wings and shepherds’ crooks
stay on the storeroom shelves this year
as we hover uneasily at school gates
but at home the silver tree
unopened presents at its foot
still shimmers in the dawn light
by afternoon the children are tired
adults a little drunk drowse by the fire
relieved that it is nearly over
marked by absence,
thank-you kisses replaced by zoom calls
jollity muted by the plague
epiphany marks the end
the Magi bring their gift
A Memory Unlocked
The street is quiet
traffic muted, cars drive slowly
as if they know they shouldn’t be there.
The shops dark, closed up
pedestrians pass by
avoiding eye contact.
Today in the park the air is crisp and clear,
the sky blue, leaves underfoot bronze and crisp.
The hole-in-the-wall coffee shop open
people meet in pairs
some walk, coffee cups in hand
others at each end of wooden benches.
I am happy, wrapped warm in my coat and scarf
half listening to conversations
content to be alone –
until I see a mirage.
He is walking away from me
along the broad path
and I am suddenly cold
taken out of the moment
to that time years ago
when he came unexpectedly to see me
with a fine silver teapot as a Christmas gift –
I did not see the forewarning of the end.
A London Poetry School Student for the last 6 years, Marie has attended master classes, seminars with Philip Gross and Greta Stoddart. Her poems are published by The North, Agenda, Stand, Arvon/Daily Telegraph and Poetry Business latest anthology. She is published online, in Calyx, an anthology from Bristol Stanza (a member). A new anthology on Lockdown from Stanza poets is awaiting publication.
“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies”*
I thought myself unique in my small body
the size of a star seen from earth
where I lay oblivious to my origin
the wind played with me sent me flying among the beet
I was caught in a holy ush
lay in a garden patch with leeks and tulips
until I landed in a ploughed field
was buried body and guise
my life has gone in a flash like a meteor
I recall the terror of being swallowed
in the drab soil deprived of light and air
when I felt an itch a pale node grew
on my crown and swelled
pushing its way upwards until I sensed I was
breaking through into another realm
Now I have a bright body
I can look the sun in the eyes
Annie is a writer, and artist, living in NE Scotland. She writes in English and Doric. She’s been long-listed for the Ginkgo prize twice and for the latest Poetrygram prize. Her most recent publication is in The Scottish Book Trust compilation, Future, which is freely available to download.https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/book-week-scotland/future-e-book
Oh, for clear air!
There’s a heaviness to the air now;
it’s harder to breathe.
The dampness of doubt settles, and smells
like a slumped, wet dog too weary to shake.
With stifling humidity,
this covidity crushes like a migraine.
Sweat clings to clammy brows, fogged
by real news and viral, fake news.
There’s a grumbling thunder of negative speculation,
of bitter accusation and darkening clouds of blame.
We need (that dog, and you, and I)
a decisive crack of lightning
to rip this muggy air apart,
to split this stagnant stalemate
into clear ideas we can believe in,
so we can freely breathe again
and feel refreshing rain.
Andy Campbell is a Life Coach, Mental Fitness Trainer and speaker, who uses poetry to help his clients paint a more accurate picture of who they are and want to be. He is slightly addicted to Haiku, but loves longer form poetry too. https://qawah.co.uk @4gone_confusion on Twitter
The decade birthed on that Wednesday morning,
While still blistered from antipodean bushfires
And mourning the tragic loss of
*insert favourite celebrity here*
Was baked in the innocent possibility of all newborns
That the only possible trajectory it can travel
Is to reach for the star-speckled skies
In defiance of all received wisdom and
The experience of onlookers and participants.
Can anyone have seen —
Other than a handful of clued-in
Virologists and frantically panicking ministers —
Ideas of how the year ahead would be
Defined? The final cough of 2019
Spreading a global shift in everything.
And so we all became displaced
Adrift in our shrunken worlds of uncertainty
Hoping for a closure that simply didn’t arrive.
Caught in the excitement of rapid change:
Opportunities to be grasped
Vital new hobbies defined and pursued
In the hope that some sense of achievement can help
Define the temporal cage we found ourselves in.
Nineteen or twenty bucket-list experiences ticked off.
And the year grew old, as years mostly do
Even as time herself flirted with us
Weeks lasting days and hours lasting months
Constantly checking the numbers of dead and diagnosed
Ticker-taping across the bottom of the weather report:
The Grim Reaper’s personal Dow Jones.
And we reached out, desperate in our naivety
For the dawn of ‘21 — which surely will unveil
A destination that makes sense, where we can rest.
Though committed to shielding
aware of social distance
we invite our neighbours round
to share a garden meal.
Soon, Robin argues with Cyril
who runs off, nuts in mouth.
Others watch from afar
then swoop, but not near Robin.
With a little sibilant song
and a bit of nifty dance
the party reawakens
guests entertain the hosts.
Claire’s poems have been placed in the Bridport Prize (1999), the Wasafiri Prize (2017) and Marsden Competition (2019) and have been published in Virago anthology The Nerve, and numerous magazines.
“Invisible Crinolines” was first published in Beyond the Storm Poems from the Covid-19 era under the title “Passing”.
This morning I noticed the path’s widening
the wearing-in of parallel tracks
how we step aside or skirt each other
in our invisible crinolines
the crackle of horsehair-stiffened linen
the swirl of our hoops.
Alwyn’s eleven books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction. She’s widely published in magazines, anthologies and on-line and gives readings internationally. Formerly a university philosophy lecturer and Chief Executive of two literature and literacy NGOs, she’s Managing Editor of Oversteps Books and research fellow at Surrey University. www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn
Anxiety rises when the train slows down
in the middle of a deep dark tunnel
underneath the mountain,
raising questions as to whether
we’re ever going to emerge again
into the light.
We recognise the past is better left behind,
that all was far from well before we were
plunged headlong into this living hell,
and we remember how so much of that world
was spoiled, the grime much thicker than
skin deep, the future grim.
So now we peer ahead as best we can,
hoping to detect the first small glimmer
of daylight on the other side,
daring to dream a little as we wonder
what awaits us there, and whether we might
have gained some wisdom in the darkness,
even hoping that what lies ahead will be
treasured far more dearly, tenderly
than what we’ve left behind.
An empty lung
smoking up the sun
you’ve left us
with your expiry date on
disinfectants and dreams
your black hole of
curfews and lockdowns
tearing through our tomorrows;
you’ve outstayed your welcome
and still you linger on
but we’ll find
of a different kind.
Christopher Cuninghame lives in London and has written poetry for much of his life. He has published only a little – mostly in small-circulation magazines, remote corners of websites and, occasionally, through on stage performance. All this adds to the great enjoyment he gets from writing.
For my mother
Let’s not save much of sorrows.
Threads hold firm that fingers
Once spun for a window’s golds.
If we dwell, then let’s not mope
Over embers and ash, but breathe in
Quiet air taken from cooler hope.
They flutter a while, and her eyes close,
Not to grip tight to demon doubt:
But in dreams stronger than repose.
Loved picture, same story, a broken song –
Collected by her curtained window.
While they are here, they must belong.
Someone, somewhere we thought must have the key to ours –
and if they didn’t, so what? We all had the number so we felt
much the same. Most of us. They didn’t mean too much to us:
we’d prefer to have forgotten them. But those assorted digits
soon became like nails, screws and bolts all jumbled together
in a tin. They rattled around, not so pleasantly, but certainly
as if they should be there. They were useful. A sort of security.
At first, what they represented had seemed special and unique,
as registration plates are on the new car – until half-forgotten,
with all the others you’d got to see, on nose-to-tail motorways,
when squeezed into parking bays alongside suburban pavements.
Still, our numbers had a purpose, not only for our own dog tags,
but as a part of the much bigger picture. They held a significance
that was greater. So, therefore, would we. They’d made things.
Rainbow-shaped coloured graphs. Charts that changed every day.
Our numbers really had made things start to happen. Look at you,
they seemed to say. Only a few weeks back, you’d never believe
it could be like this. In that way, they were like perpetual, winning
lottery tickets. But didn’t someone – after ‘fifteen famous minutes’
didn’t they call it – moan about how soon they’d become sick of it?
It was in the paper, what happened to them. Different queues now,
or swerving to avoid them, and hoping that our number isn’t called.