Members' Poems 2008

Winter issue

Theme: war
Judge: Mario Petrucci

‘War: a tough subject for poetry.  Paradoxically – though unsurprisingly – it can lead (too easily?) into rhetoric. Certainly, all entrants avoided Sassoon’s 1917 charge of “callous complacence”. But my greater concern was the strength and subtlety of the language itself: that deepest, truest objector.

David Blaber
Travel Advisory

 

The choice is immaterial:

turquoise waterways or

tracks through white-scarped mountains.

 

Violence now flows, now lurks

lazily awaiting a pretext,

reticular across the province.

 

Refuge may be found in the city’s precincts

and the gated enclaves of the nomenklatura.

Respite may be afforded at random

in settlements prostrate from past mayhem.

But never count on safety.

 

It is now only a dream

in this republic of derelictions,

where freedoms fragment into licence.

 

Mostly you will pass through hamlets

devoid of life except for

small birds singing, but unseen.

 

 


 

Heidi Williamson Profile
France, 1941

 

My mouth will not open for the soldier

seated in my father’s chair. He knows now

 

and inclines his head in polite salute,

indifferent as a cat. I will my bones

 

not to react, reflect; as the impulse travels

through my senses I quash it. I am skilled

 

in the texture of silence. But at night

he eases Chopin into the air, lets

 

the quiet in the music carry. He taps

his pipe and cocks his head to listen.

 

In the stillness of my room

I hold my breath. All the meaning

 

I will not give forms in the air

like lengthened notes, a gift.

 

 


 

 

Sally Carr
Corporal Smith Sees The M.O.

Athletes foot – severe

blisters – several

contusions to left thigh, upper arms, chest

deafness – partial in right ear – temporary?

exhaustion – take more fluids in this heat

flatulence – excessive – bowel and oesophageal

genital warts – see STD nurse

halitosis

itching anus – haemorrhoids?

joint degeneration (right knee)

knuckle inflammation (right hand)

loose stools

mobility problem (left shoulder)

nicotine dependency

oral hygiene – see above, refer dentist

palpitations

question caffeine intake

recurring nightmares

sleep disorders

tremor (right hand)

urticaria made worse by heat – see nurse

varicose vein (left knee)

X-ray due

Yoga?

Zantac.

 


 

Alan Porter
Act of War

All last week in scrubland

the major shouted his drill:

we ate from tin cans, slept rough.

Those damn blanks he fired hurt;

his meagre rations never satisfied;

all that crawling, running, jumping

left you wrecked, cold, dirty, tired.

 

It did the job, I guess: suggested

hardship, deprivation. I need to draw

on that – feel the muscle-ache, the boil

he riled in us by constant barrage.

 

When that clapperboard calls action,

I’ll hear his cursing roar and make it real.

The fear and panic I felt once

reeling in sweat at the back of a bus;

convincing fear, but held in check:

commanding men and my emotions.

 

Intent, directed by imperatives.

The din and thud of metal ripping metal;

the pistol spurt of arterial blood.

I need to keep shouting orders:

“secure the beachhead”, contain the fear

and move, keep moving, focus.

 

Induce adrenalin, believe it’s real:

the silicone, latex rubber, Ecoflux,

a ruby-red gel, prosthetic limbs,

the rigged props, controlled explosives.

They’ll do the morphing and warping later:

play with pixels in computer graphics.

 

I must be the captain. The war hero.

I’ve done my research. Life and death.

Can I fear death? Its violent immediacy?

And war? What do I know of war?

 


 

Phuoc-Tan Diep Profile
A Portrait Of Death As An Artist

Light peels back the night from faces

with prayers engraved on chiselled lips

the mist of souls is teased towards the sky

by the sun that lifts the veil to peep

at death upon the ground

already calling those bodies down

the bodies of boys buried neck deep

in metal tombs no longer draped in laughs.

The water-colours of yesterday have dried,

like oil, becoming water-fast

so time scrapes the scene and scrapes the scene

until all the flesh is gone and bones are stones

that mark the beds of boys that overnight

joined their forefathers in the grave.

The tombs crumble into remnants,

overrun by the forest’s creep.

Green crystals encrust copper,

swords and helmets lie exposed.

Earth draws the greens back down,

reds and golds blur the setting sun.

Black night tumbles from the sky,

pierced by time’s perfect aim.

 


   

Gill Learner Profile
Quartet For The End Of Time
by Olivier Messiaen

It seemed that the horsemen

had broken through the seals.

Men scuffed between huts:

snow creaked under clogs

that gnawed their feet;

breath blurred heads,

settled on patched uniforms

wrenched from defeated troops.

When the aurora borealis flushed the Silesian sky

one Frenchman’s faith hardened.

Because there never was enough

black bread or cabbage boiled to rags,

his dreams rang bright as cathedral windows.

He pinned eternity to a stave,

shaped hope in sharps and semiquavers;

shared his vision.

Cracked lips called birdsong from a clarinet;

swollen hands flicked at piano keys

to conjure gongs and trumpets;

fingers barely thawed

stopped strings

as two bows spun prismatic arcs.

Four hundred men

barbed-wired together

fattened on rainbow music.

 


Spring Issue


Theme: Ecology/The Environment
Judge: Niall O'Sullivan

When having to choose from so many strong poems on the subject of ecology, personal taste inevitably intrudes. While austere and apocalyptic entries had their own power, I ultimately veered towards the subtle, the personal and humorous. 


Michael Swan
A Sort of Ark
 

I’ve had enough of it,
with everything here
being evicted, poisoned,
cut down,
trapped, netted,
wiped out.
We’re off,
the lot of us,
through a wormhole
to somewhere better.
 
Well,
not strictly
a wormhole –
I’ve nothing against worms,
some of my best friends are worms,
but you can’t get a whale
through a wormhole.
 
And the great whales are coming,
believe me,
along with the Siberian tiger,
the red squirrel
the white rhino,
a moth
that no-one has ever heard of,
a marsupial antelope,
a very ugly kind of parrot,
that wonderful tree with buttresses
from Tasmania,
and all the others.
Before it’s too late.
 
All of us,
scooting off through the whalehole
next Tuesday,
 
Will you come?

 

A C Clarke
A Short History of Cooking

 
A forest fire roasted the first haunch.
Someone put two and two together
 
and those who huddled round the hearth
at the first ceremonial feast
 
breathed in the fumes of a thousand chippies
in that prophetic smoke.
 
While their descendants, sticking plastic forks
into their big macs, French fries
 
watch the greasy wrappings skitter
in a December monsoon wind,
 
turn up the heat in the world’s oven.
 


Lynn Woollacott
The Lost Egg of Carretta carretta

 
The locals whisper of her nesting site:
the golden sands of Kaminia beach.
 
She paddles through dark watery dunes

under a moonlit archway,

isolated in a historical time warp

of flippers, shell and beak-like lips. 

 

In the cool of the night-shift,

photographers shuffle and watch

the slushy breakwater.

She appears like a fossilized rock

with ancient eyes that blink in the shadows. 

 

Bright light pierces the beach like mortar fire

again and again over crumbling sandcastles,

littered with cigarette-butt soldiers. 

 

Barnacles phosphoresce on their burdened home,

she slips back into deep water. 

 

At dawn, in a liquid turquoise world,

I hold in the palm of my hand

the last of her lost eggs

like a small unblemished moon.

Snatched by an undercurrent,

tumbled into a reef,

cracked, weeping

and irretrievable.
 



Gill Learner Profile
About the Olden Days

 
Tell me how water magnified the surfaces of leaves
or skittered off. How it spilled from tiles, gargled
along gutters, dropped into echoing butts.
How earth absorbed and hoarded it in lightless caves,
returned it at springs where women left offerings.
 
Talk about cumulus, cirrus, stratus,
and watching thunderheads approach: how light
thickened from gold to green; how water felt
slipping down cheeks to dusty lips; of cycling
in a yellow oilskin tent, head bent against the sting.
 
Describe brollies, wellies, puddles and the smell
of dampened soil; how you would hunt for newts,
pick meadow-sweet, try to spot sundew trapping flies.
Explain drizzle, scattered showers, cats-and-dogs.
Please, before we burn, tell me about rain.


2008 Hamish Canham Poetry Prize winner
 



Helen Overell
Farming the Wind

They ride the ridge on tumbling wings,
dove-bright, their backdrop the slate-blue sky.
 
Bringers of light, they harness the wind,

tug bold on the air with creak-loud sigh.

 

They keep watch, turn on the weather’s whim,

guard us, clear-sighted, lumbering, shy.
 



Barbara Cumbers
A Stag Beetle Lectures on the Futility of Flight

 
Listen, you wet-behind-antennae crawlers,
I’ve flown, I know – it isn’t worth the cost.
We’re big, we’re heavy, armour-plated. Hauling
all that bulk up in the air – you’ve lost
your energy – you could be forced down where
you can’t take off again, long grass for instance,
or even worse, hard concrete where some passing
giant torments you.
                                                   Okay. Any questions?
Dispersal? Where to? Here’s the only oak
around. – To show your strength? Don’t make me laugh.
We lock antlers on the ground – you’re weak
from flying, you’re soon on your back. Don’t ask
me what your wings are for, just keep them folded.
You’ve got to try? Don’t say I haven’t told you.
 
 

Summer issue

Theme: 'The Dance'
Judge: Roddy Lumsden

All manner of dances, real and figurative, were performed in the batch of over 200 poems sent in by members. The most common subject outside of people dancing was insects, with lots of jigging midges and swivelling bees on display.
 

S. M. Hillier
Jack Lattin of Morristown

A wager dreamt up on a noisy evening
with him back from Paris talking in French
in a Kildare accent, calling for oysters,
the candlelight there making everything mauve
but the jet on his waistcoat and round wigless head
black-fuzzed, his huge eyes as bright as a frog’s.
Cloncurry was there, Rahilly the poet,
Lady Mary’s daughters, Begnet and Clare
their hair twined about with organza ribbons,
not blue as expected but indecent yellow.
And all of us laughing as he made the bet
uncrossing silk legs on the tapestry cushion,
bowing towards the ornate velvet chair
then leaping impatiently on to the table,
the rush of his movement extinguished the candles:
“the devil is in me to dance twenty miles,
from this house to Dublin, new steps every furlong,
Larry Grogan come with me, I’ll fiddle, you’ll pipe!”
 
His faced glowed as red as coals in the grate
while I started a reel to get him in practice
and he danced out the door, it was two in the morning with a
summer moon over the silver white road,
and he danced and caught up those going to market
who cheered him, bent down under firkins of butter.
Past hawthorn, past barley, past old Castle Mansfield,
he wore out the patents, insulted the leather
the whistling and cheering frightened the thrushes,
crows flapped away senseless, the liveries alarmed,
no rest at crossroads, no stopping at ditches,
drinks on the move to the gates of the city
and Rahilly, Wogan and Walsh there to greet him.
The work of his heart was more than his years –
this fiddler, this dancer was danced black and blue
he died the next day, not quite twenty-two.
Oro! Oro!, brave Jacky Lattin
 
 

 Emma Danes Profile

 Physio

 

 

A painless breeze

and the first leaves foxtrot

in the arms of trees

with no thought beyond green
 

for the bright shoals netted

on lawns in the shallows

of autumn, as though barrows

of light have been tipped out
 

or how with injury

there comes an elegance –

a poise to the dance,

all colours of the sun.

 

 


Judith Lal
Skydancing

 

The sun forecasting across eastern regions
is on to the female marsh harrier
casting her with bronze so
it is almost forgotten that she died
before returning to its reed beds
with their fresh calligraphy from Chinese water deer.
Her mate, much lighter,
climbs and climbs to reach himself as a dot,
then bulleting his wings
and with each feather working
for the mechanics of love,
he streamlines to a state of grace,
double figuring Gs,
blacks out gold
to race the same sun that touches her.
She ignores him so that he can repeat
his devotions and know just how far he has come.
 
In the old Tibetan quarter
a man would climb a pole
that curved with a sense of perspective
to a platform the size of a small yak milk tea table,
there he would dance in a famously clear sky,
making himself at home,
sometimes using his arms to take the working weight from
           his feet,
putting his best one forward off the roof of the world,
body frothing and damp as the inside of a cloud
here as rare, as real as blue sheep.
He could see how small things really were
from this wafer of atmosphere,
so that all things needed to be praised,
the mountains and each person airing amber and turquoise
that had come to watch in their livery
the various moves he made towards a God.
He knows such practises are dangerous to discuss now.
There is more chance of dying from an open mouth
than falling from an opening in the sky.
 
 

Lindsay Fursland
Tango

 
“You’re young, so full of self, and that’s why
you dance like you’re speed-dating;
you’re a moving monologue, uninterruptable;
but on the floor you must move
like a marriage, maybe for three minutes,
but it’s still a marriage until you’re parted
by the last breath of the bandoneon.
 
I was twelve when I dared stammer to a Master
I’d like to learn, but how to follow
was all he’d show me: night after night
before he’d trust me to lead, for two years
I played the tanguera until I become a tanguero;
and when I changed sex, or rather changed back,
I had a hermaphrodite soul, and dancing
was a timeless conversation full of surprises...
 
If that’s too sublime for your visceral spirit,
consider the pantomime horse:
being the rear-end
for a couple of Christmases,
when you get to don the headpiece
you’ll know the trials and needs
of your seamless partner; the pair of you
will be a four-legged beast – O come here!”
 
With that the Master pulled his grandson close
and steered him reddening
into their awkward adventure.
 

Andy Jackson
Off The Wall

 
Boys, if I could give you some advice
it’s this; don’t wait too long to dance.
Three a.m., they’re kicking on the lights,
don’t kid yourself you never got the chance.
At every disco, theories abound –
I’m guilty too – my own research has shown
that sex is codified in sound,
and proved that Sly and the Family Stone
were not related, that Doctor Hook
was not a real doctor. But watch my lips –
the gnostic gospel of the dance – O holy book! – beatifies the
winding of the hips
and castigates mere flexing of the knees,
for they are not the vessel for the soul.
Okay, so Orbison could cure disease,
his tears the unctuous oil of rock and roll,
but it was in the dances of communion –
the Time Warp, the Slosh, the Locomotion –
I found the rhythmic blessings of the union,
fell, sated by the raptures of devotion.
I came to that corroboree of perfection
they call the hokey-cokey. It was there
I found my pagan purpose, my connection,
embodied by a credo I could share;
You put your whole self in; your whole self out.
In the end, maybe that’s what it’s really all about.
 
 

Harriet Torr
Last Dance
 

It’s not so much the wallpaper’s different
more that the viewing angles changed;
me and Jim high, high in the air
dancing over the bed where our bodies lie
stacked between years of innuendos;
the things we didn’t say or do
whilst we lived in the painted house by the weir.
 
Today, we can get closer than ordinary air can allow;
me in my muslin dress with flesh coloured curves,
you in your high ended black satin,
your skin like jasmine seed, shifting in the moon’s blue,
the pomegranate folds of your fingers cutting me through;
fox-trotting under the rafter of stars, its plasterboard of sounds,
insistent as the weathering of violins in broken backyards.
 
Your mirror’s eye sees me as I was,
a bright girl breaking the branches down
with the swirl of her skirt,
pollen rich for the love of kings
a painted butterfly caught in its truckle and flounce,
deceiving the bumble bee, the fat stave of its heart
crescending from flower leaf to tip.
 
I press my eye closer to your heart
to note its design, the nuts and bolts of its beginning,
whilst the music draws to its close.
I hold your hand, trace your life line
ended now in mine, the hand
I last saw pocketless on a slab
as stern morticians handed me back your glove.
 

 Autumn issue

Theme: Work
Judge: Clare Pollard

Considering we spend the majority of our lives at work, it’s been complained that the topic too rarely features in poetry. These poems prove, however, that toil can be inspiring – ranging from condemnations of the dreary 9-to-5 to imaginative explorations of very different vocations.

 


Liz Berry
The Last Lady Ratcatcher
 

I was the last Lady Ratcatcher,
bore the scar of two yellow incisors
on my wedding finger.
 
Each night I crept out, cage ready,
my mind swift as a trap
on a neck bone, my beauty legendary.
 
I wore a cape of brown fur,
a belt of silver rats running
from buckle to back.
 
Gentlemen followed my scent
to the gutters for a flash of ankle,
the sight of my dainty boot upon a tail.
 
I wheeled the black rats
in a squirming tea chest
round the dog pits of Bow,
 
brought the pretty ones home,
kept them in a golden bird cage
by the bed, gorging on cheese,
 
licking the clotted dregs
from the cocoa cup. I fed them crumbs
from my lips, laid their heads
 
upon my pillow as I slept
in a bone white nightdress, dreaming
of fur, of rough pink tongues.


Liz Berry is 27 and an infant school
teacher in London.

 


Kristina Close
Lara Brown is not available

 

Your seven lemons in the bowl from Faro
have grown small and hard. And asymmetric
 
shadows are rising, walking
the dry afternoon down the stairs.
 
Without you,
there is only a stream of toe scuff
 
minutes, heel/note, heel/note, thin quavers
through the eye of the radio.
 
The red-haired dancer from the other
agency has finally appeared, sheaves
of music in her hand.
 
Outside the window,
the bus arrives
 
and arrives. If you do not come back
by tomorrow noon, I will have hired her.

Kristina Close has an MA in Creative Writing
from UEA and lives in Surrey.


Marianne Burton
Grace Before Meals
 

She grates beeswax, mixes in turpentine,
then rubs with pads of rags the lobby tables
till khaya wood drowns under shine
 
like water under ice. She spells out labels
for supper; scrapes grease drips from the glass
bowls of hurricane lamps; checks air timetables
 
for new arrivals. She picks three-awned grass
for the pillow gifts of flowers and chocolate;
sweeps mating locusts and a dead springhaas
 
off the verandah, then changes her tracksuit
for a fresh pressed khanga, and is in place
at lunch, the handmaid of biltong and fruit.
 
‘Does your baby stay in the township, Grace?’
With my sister. I see him each three weeks.
And here, she taps her head, I keep his face.

Marianne Burton’s pamphlet, The Devil’s Cut (Smiths Knoll),
was a 2007 Poetry Book Society choice.


Martin Figura
The Hospital Machine Shop

 
Frank at work, hanging smoke, yellow light,
the noise of hammers, hot dust in his throat.
 
Engine Lathe Operations and Controls
The pleasure of precision, of calibration tools,
 
the cool shine of gauge wheels.
 
The spindle rotates in both directions.
The tail stock can be positioned along the ways
 
A cast gripped in a machine’s jaws, a carbon tip
dead centre, burrows to its glowing heart.
 
and the quill moves within the tail stock.
The carriage also moves along the ways.
 
Skeins of steel at his feet,
all their sharp edges.
 
The cross slide moves
Perpendicular to the ways.
 
Small black cuts snag in his overall pocket,
fingerprints smudge a white china mug.
 
To keep some of the mechanisms moving
longitudinally straight and true,
 
His rough fingers turn a hand-made cigarette,
his tongue wets the gum-edge of a Rizla.
 
ways are machined on the top surface.
Ways are ground and often hardened.
 
He leans back in satisfaction, inhales,
talks with other men of countersinking.


Martin Figura works in Norwich for New Writing Partnership among others, is a member of the Joy of Six and is working on his collection,Whistle.

 


Dorothy Yamamoto
The Button Box

 
There’s a skill to sewing buttons,
making them sit right, the cloth
 
not puckering. There are handfuls
of buttons in here – navy,
 
bottle-green, shirt colour, mis-
matched tortoiseshell –
 
eyelets clogged with dead thread.
 
Hoarded by my mother, or my grandmother,
sheared from dresses
 
the dresses ripped to rags,
they simply go on
 
for ever expecting the right hole –
 
like the nails and screws my father kept
in coffee jars, for fingers to sort
 
as though we’d have the bounty
of waiting.

Dorothy Yamamoto's Landscape with a Hundred Bridges is published by Blinking Eye.

 


Carole Bromley
DIY
 

Don’t fret about the damp patch
under the window; the baby won’t mind.
 
She’ll not bother her head
about the lagging in the roof-space.
 
The bare floorboards that bring
the sound of your footsteps
 
will do her just fine, that crack
in the ceiling will be her first pattern.
 
She won’t lose any sleep over
the missing loft ladder,
 
the crazed toilet bowl,
the stubborn cold tap.
 
That creosote spilling through the fence
will just be part of all she knows.
 
Listen. Already she outgrows her prison,
drums her heels against its walls,
 
turns turtle, butts her head, blinks,
opens and closes her mouth.
 
Sit down, take up your guitar
and sing to her.

Carole Bromley is a teacher from York.
Her pamphlet, Unscheduled Halt (2005), is published by Smith/Doorstop.


Kate Sealey Rahman
Watercress

 
...as we stamp life into feet, frost-numbed fingers poised to
pounce and flick the unfit (brown or yellow) from the ever-
flowing, chemical-bathing blur of green passing Christ!-cold
along the conveyor-belt of mothers followed by daughters
followed by daughters through the factory doors, slab-faced,
mouths like scars and the clock tick-bloo~y-tocking...
 
 

Katrina Naomi
Bar Girl, Havana, 1954

 
(after Eve Arnold)
 
It’s that time of night when
my earrings pinch like clams,
when my tulle net skirt itches.
Even the Cristal is flat.
 
Not a soul in here,
they’re all at the Tropicana,
where I’m barred.
No manager takes what he wants, but
 
it’s 3 am and Emesto waits
for me to finish this beer,
my knuckles slumped
under my eyebrows.
 
My tab’s running over,
I need to clean this dress,
find more lipstick, fix my hair.
People say there’ll be a revolution.
 
 

Lesley Burt
Down’s

 
Dad: You? Job?
Mum: Never mind, love.
Social worker: We’ll try.
Sainsbury’s gives me a uniform
and says: You are in charge of trolleys.
 
So I sort shallow from deep,
high with baby seats,
the type that fits wheelchairs.
Leaflets and empty bags left inside —
I bin those to stop them blowing around,
then shunt the trolleys together, tidy,
so when I push the lines
I feel as if I am driving railway trains.
 
But people mess them up —
 
pull them out of their rows
 
and leave them
 
any  — 
 
                                            old  —
 
                 how  —
 
then I have to start again.
The boss left me in charge
so he will be cross with me.
But when I ask them politely
to put them back properly,
they walk past; ignore me.
So I have to shout.
 
That makes them look at me,
then away; roll their eyes at each other
and make their mouths round
to say Down's with no sound.
 

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