Members' Poems 2010: in every issue of Poetry News, we ask a leading poet for their pick of members' poems on a chosen theme

 AUTUMN 2010

Theme: Home
Judge: Jane Yeh

“The idea of home, for most people, conjures memories of parents, children, partners – relationships defined and enclosed by small spaces. In these six poems, the actual place called home matters less than the intricate, intimate dramas that are played out within it. Eve Jackson’s elegant portrait of domestic tyranny in ‘Barometer’ reveals that marriage isn’t always happily ever after, while Paul Stephenson’s ‘On Sundays’ takes a more playful approach to the family dynamic, using linguistic wit to craft a subtle comment on the frustra-tions and familiarity of routines. Written from a parent’s perspective, Sarah James’s ‘Remortgaged’ is a seemingly simple, short poem that packs an enviably outsize punch. Emma Danes’s equally suggestive ‘17’ leaves the reader to piece together its submerged narrative of loss and mourning. On a different note, Carole Bromley concisely captures the ambivalence of returning to one’s hometown as an adult in ‘Pilgrimage’, which ends with a powerful sentence that clatters in the mind long afterwards. Last but not least, Wendy Searle’s sinuous sonnet ‘Coming Back’ finds formal and emotional drama in a couple’s return from a holiday, reminding us that the comforts of home are as often a trap as a blessing. I’d also like to commend Ellie Evans, Matthew Paul, D.A. Prince and Sarah Westcott, whose poems could not be included here."

Jane Yeh is Co-Director of the MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. Her book Marabou was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award and the Forward and Aldeburgh first collection prizes.


Emma Danes

We thought it would be ours – shy-on
to the street, inadequate fence,
blind corners. We learned it by night –
its Braille of angles and doorways,
its patois of rattle and crack.
We dismantled the chimney stack,
offered up wiring and roof slates,
carpentry. We brought it a child.
It bristled with splinters and snagged
nails. We practised to be smaller.
It longed to be empty, tethered
behind the bus stop in the shade
of a constancy of trees. One
dawn we slipped out between the teeth
of the lock we’d fitted, arrived
where even cow parsley’s lighter –
a child’s hands feathered with flour.
Postmen and plumbers attend us.
In the park, no widowed swan guards
the bruise of her reflection.



Eve Jackson

The pressure never alters in our house:
he taps the glass each morning
to remind the golfer in mid-swing to get on with it,
the pink buds posing on the branch be done with blossoming,
falling leaves, swept up and binned;
as for the umbrella, open wide and be of some use or better still
clamp shut on the harried little man who’s about to whinge.
The pressure never alters in our house
whether he is there or not
his presence demands we tidy our voices away
leaving only webs woven to catch our failings in.
One look at mother and our opinions cease mid-swing:
look of someone caught in a downpour,
as if marriage should have come with a weather warning.



Paul Stephenson
On Sundays

Dad dilly-dallies, consummates the garage,
and Mum shilly-shallies inside sieved clouds
while Son self-raises, pulls massive wheelies,
as weeds gather along snapdragon alleys. On Sundays
Dad fathoms Mum’s new-fangled gizmo
and Mum levels Dad’s spirit, holds the pencil
while Son checks out nobody going down
the slide, sees a see-saw horizontal. On Sundays
Dad blows a gasket, regrets screw plugs and Mum
slides a spatula underneath, laments margarine. Come evening
Dad swaps D.I.Y. for I.P.A. and Mum folds in tablespoons
of powder; both get pally pally. On Sundays they forget
to prepare Mondays and by Marmite, Songs of Praise
finally over (thank God), there’s little to show except crumbs
of a half-risen sponge, two hammered dovetail joints
and the extra surface for balancing very light objects.

Sarah James
We pretend it’s a game – moving
boxes and things. When my sons play-
fold me into cardboard, I feel strangely safe,
like a snail that knows home
is always there on its back.
Then they lift the flap.



Wendy Searle
Coming Back

Horizons keep soliciting. Time’s imperceptible:
a shift of lines dividing inky shadow
from hot brilliance, or bells rinsing the hills
at evening, the sign for villagers to follow
donkeys down steep terraces before the land
sinks under a sea of stars. But we must leave,
pining on paths that funnel us to ever blander
roads, accelerate, twisting necks to seize
a glimpse of grandeur receding, disgruntled
by the slap of rain like a sodden blanket
smothering the strait, vistas truncated
to trucks, billboards, shop-fronts reflecting traffic
until we’re back, like outsize Alices,
shoe-horned into the flat, bereft of magic. 



Carole Bromley

The too bright polyanthus on your step,
the rusting wrought-iron gate,
a chip paper blown along the sand.
In the distance the steel works
idle, stark against the sky.
A boy collecting sea-coal,
a cricket match through the arch
of your old school, a lad
with red hair, running, running.
And then the pram-faced town,
the boarded-up shops
like blackened stumps of teeth
and the voices familiar, longed-for.
The almost forgotten accent I strain
to hear; a bill-board clattering.



Theme: Buried Language
Judge: David Morley

“In writing poems, we hear, see and feel every word, space and punctuation mark intimately. We might even find our voice in the spaces between words or the open space around a poem (we may veil our voice in such spaces). The ‘buried language’ of a poem is not imme-diately visible yet words bristle with meanings; they are prickly with histories and usages. It is language within language.

"Then there are the buried languages of our own history, in my case the Romany language with which I have tried to spring the sound and speech of poems. The trick is to bring such a buried language to life so that it becomes part of speech. Buried languages such as this are part of the song of language, not some subsong of a people that, as Romany has it, are chindi-chibengoro – ‘without tongue’.

"This theme proved popular. 300 poems were entered and the quality was excellent; I’m grateful for the chance to read your work. I chose this theme to open possibilities and the final six poems have a good deal of breadth in their approach. I found their energy attractive.

"The memorable ‘Torfaen’ by Philip Williams offers a beguiling argument on the side of the rain and river, the overheard and underheard voices of the natural world. ‘Gosmari, Albertel and Carvoncello’ by Petra Christian possesses a language so lively it revives the dead. Sally Goldsmith’s ‘Received Pronunciation’ visits the territories of idiom with love, humour and poetic judgement. The language of Josie Turner’s 'In' is impressively sparse. She writes from a dark place in which “I want a new nothing / to hang by my side” – a remembered phrase that is disturbing and truthful. Frances Green’s ‘Time Capsules’ is telling and deftly measured, while ‘Postcards for Dorothy Pinkney’ by Lois Wilson has a simple but penetrating audacity. Among other entries, I would like to note the poems by Glyn Essex, Amanda Geary, Dominique Gracia, Nigel Hutchinson, Charles G. Lauder, Gill McEvoy, Emma Must, Lesley Saunders and Jacqueline Tobin."

David Morley’s collection Enchantment, with prize-winning Romany poems that reclaim the magical short story for poetry, is due from Carcanet in November.


Philip Williams



They told us Torfaen – Stone Breaker

was the older name and that our river

only became grey – Afon Llwyd

when they came to cut the coal.


“You could not see it for foam,”

my father said. He remembered its speed,

just as fast as we boys found it,

taking the feet from beneath you, taking its toll.


They all but emptied our valley of magic

when they filled in the fields

between each village to form our town.

Except here, behind Ty Pwca,


where the worn lane rises in its steep bend

beyond The Last Bus Stop and The Fairy’s House:

the Pwca, our Bwgi-Man, your Puck.

And there, where the Candwr Brook –


The Singing Waters – still clears her throat

over smooth, cold stones.

So why, I wondered, from Saxton,

an Elizabethan approximation


of the name we had all used all along?

Had the stream, Torfaen, simply lost her voice

as she broadened to a river

somewhere bleaker, blacker, a place


with spittle in its throat, a rattling in its lungs?

Or did our Afon Llwyd only combine

with Torfaen to form one grey, stone-breaking river

when they baptised us all into one Borough


and gave us each a name we never knew?




Petra Christian

Gosmari, Albertel and Carvoncello


I’m thinking of a church in Rome that sits

upon a clutch of secrets, speckled, rare.

Some sixty foot below, there is a house

filled-in and lost, burned down in Nero’s fire;

on this, the people made another house,

next-door a temple; and these are but roots


for what’s above, four hundred years thence:

a basilica which, in turn, gives rise

to our present, built on its very bones.

Bricolage of ages, stones and frescoes,

St Clement’s thousand years of orisons

hushed up a thousand more of unsung chants,


until men broke daylight back in. And I

fell through the clotted seam of now and here,

descended down these vertiginous pasts,

Time more coldly coating me in each layer.

Dropping through a quadruple tier of ghosts,

– oh, but they were such dead, unshy, lively –


I saw what I had come for: the witness,

earliest, extant, to Italian.

Found in a fresco, flaking on the wall,

half-grown away from its crib of Latin,

the writing goes with a quaint miracle:

St Clement, as saints will, has caused a fuss,


and his arrest is ordered by a lord.

But when the heavies come to take him in

they find him heavier than sin, for they

mistake a fallen column for the man,

arrest, and try to heave, the masonry,

while St Clement steals home, unseen unheard,


muttering (in Latin). What are the words

so precious, with which we glimpse the tilting

of tongues? A prayer to accompany this

comic affair? A bible verse? A song?

It is the nobleman’s demented hiss,

his profane raging at the three blackguards:


– Fili dele pute, traite!


– Go on, you sons of bitches, pull!





Sally Goldsmith

Received Pronunciation


As a boy, my Sussex granddad could

spot the runty dillin in a pig’s litter,

play the fool down the pleached twittern,

cry fainits when he wanted out of the game,

make jokes about the daglets on a sheep’s bum

comparing them to his own number two’s.


From the Warwickshire lot I got

the blart of waltzers at Stratford Mop,

learned to swill the sink after washing up,

to call down the jutty at the side of the ’us –

loud enough to wake the diddikais about whom

my mother said I never should.


In rural Oxfordshire, I wuz moi duck

to aunts who let me tiffle biddy hens

off their eggs, bring in pecked bottles

of miwk off of the step, nudged me

out of looking a sawney, warned me

to avoid the bunt of boys or even a cow.


In Sheffield now with you, flower,

I look after us tranklements, crozzle

my bacon and modge my pudding,

put the door on t’ sneck, go to t’ foot

of our stairs, let da into t’ entry, talk

clarty at neet, lake and love da till ah dee.





Josie Turner




I’m tough, you said, towards the end, knowing

it is hard to stop. The shuttle wants to

weave new cloth – we find words; we slot the tongue

of the buckle into a makeshift notch.


Your old saying – I want a new nothing

to hang by my side – resounds. Its after-

shocks of silence taste bitter in my mouth.

I lick the iron bridle, then spit it out.


We are swayed to be makers. Taken with

the class on a lashing afternoon to

a still-raw dual carriageway that mocked up

the land, with plastic earth on our hard hands

we twisted bulbs into an embankment,

so they might bloom one day in the distance.





Frances Green

Time Capsules


They buried both tins together

somewhere under the apple trees,

to be re-discovered in one thousand years


but they weren’t sure, since he could not

converse with them, that he would understand.

His little sister, bright and brilliant, sucked on a pencil


and decided upon: her last Barbie’s best dress;

her own second favourite hair slide; a photograph

of her and Father Christmas at Selfridges;


and three old unwanted Girl Talk magazines.

His own tin looked empty in comparison.

They smiled at him indulgently:


for his twigs; his grass cuttings; his fallen leaf;

and those two red and yellow sweet wrappers

he had kept under his pillow for months.


They did not see that in the space around these things

lay all the fragrances of spring and summer,

the rich descents of autumn, and the sharp scented crackle


of winter fires. Don’t you want

to put anything else in here? they asked him.

He looked at them, uncomprehending –


because there was nothing else or better to be saved

but he wasn’t sure, since they could not

converse with him, that they would understand.






Lois Wilson

Postcards for Dorothy Pinkney


I imagine him to be a veteran,

An old, surviving man, but in fact

His words are younger than I’ll ever be again.

Those thirty-seven postcards carry

Only thirty-seven times a dozen words.

And they’re enough to gather up my mother’s

Mother’s mother’s worth. Her whole collection

Left to us is just behind that frame, those

Thirty-seven swirling, fading nicknames.

Dearest Pink of Perfection. Nothing more

Or less was necessary then. Now,

Only the pictures are seen. The backs

Are what we memorised before we hid – protected –

Every single one of them behind a screen.





Theme: Dangerous Sports
Judge: Penelope Shuttle

“I chose these poems for their less-expected approach and the ingenious ways the poets found fresh and rich energies in their dangerous sports. Lyn Moir’s use of fencing metaphor is perfectly wielded; I liked this poem’s air of serious mischief that runs the reader through with its wit. In ‘The Apres-ski Was Not What She Expected’, Annie Chance employs images of vulnerability to great effect. Alessio Zanelli’s ‘At A Loss’ is a sombre and compelling poem about Russian roulette, darkly lyric. Pat Murgatroyd’s poem, ‘Lady Sword Swallower’, chooses a sharp weapon, telling with deadpan panache of the woman who has learned how to create her own life armour by learning to swallow a sword. ‘Tide’ by Philip Rush has a powerful narrative pathway. Using list poem technique, ‘Flawed Boxing Metaphors’ by Robin Kidson is a powerful account of life as struggle. I also loved the insouciance of ‘Ghost writing the climber’ by Kristina Close. Finally, Patrick Maddock’s ‘Rout’ is a haunting poem of two mysterious beings in a green world. It reads to me both as a song and a drama, and is also an excellently-realised sonnet.”  

Penelope Shuttle’s latest collection Sandgrain and Hourglass is published by Bloodaxe Books and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Lyn Moir
Cri de Coeur
You come at me from all angles,
ricocheting, high on adrenalin –
you’ve got me climbing the wall...
Just look at it from my perspective:
the oblique approach,
saut de chat, passement, roulade, demitour...
franchissement, frankly,
doesn’t shatter my defences,
dress it how you will in fancy French...
Parkour? Mais merde alors...
In plain English, darling,
take a running jump...

Annie Chance
The Apres-ski Was Not What She Expected
She cocks her head to one side now to listen
when we speak, as she is partially deaf since
her skis hit a pine tree scattering steel stars...
and all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men...  
Eggs all look the same but each one is as unique  
as a soldier in the Emperor Qin’s terracotta army.
Brown speckled eggs remind me of this daughter
with her freckles in summer, her pet name – Ming.
I am driving across North Wales to Holyhead
to catch the Dublin ferry. It’s a quiet evening,
on the back seat of the car sits two dozen eggs
free range, fresh, from our farm in Somerset.
My car hums loudly with the steady throb
of the rescue helicopter. I decelerate.
It was the second day of her skiing trip
tinnitus her après-ski legacy – thin winds
whistling into the high pine trees and round
her head, day in, day out. I drive carefully
with my precious cargo, slow down on bends,
looking forward to soft boiled eggs, soldiers.

Alessio Zanelli
At A Loss
On a mission. A tiny clod amid still, muddy waters.
Alone, no dueller in front, I draw.
Through the cylinder’s bores – the pupil and the gunpowder,
as the cock rests, waiting for the forefinger.
There’s no getting round it, the hour is striking.
A prayer, or a shot in the dark.
Something is sparkling on the burnished metal,
and it’s no glitter one can keep clear of.
Smell and taste – of old, of new;
of without-a-name and without-an-aim.
Everything would end by the bang,
sharp and soon forgotten.
Light, darkness, dusk.
The unconditioned jerk of the eyelid
and the chore of the thumb;
an instant of sorrowful evening.
Loud croaks from all around the spot.
Either big puddle or small pond,
still greedy frogs leap-infest this foul world unseen.
Staring motionless, as if stunned – no smoke from the barrel.
Isn’t it funny? Nothing and nobody is attending,
yet I feel taken by too many things.

Pat Murgatroyd
Lady Sword Swallower
She’s rarer than Lady’s Slipper or Bee Orchids.
She thinks of the minutes, hours, days, weeks –
fingers, spoons, knitting needles, coat-hangers
before the non-retractable solid steel blades
at least two centimetres wide and thirty-eight long.
He thinks of her lips, the pink flesh of her tongue,
soft palate, resistant pharynx; imagines meandering
veins, oesophagus, unpredictable tilt of her stomach.
Even when reduced to mechanics of muscle control
it makes him shudder – an involuntary reaction
that would probably kill her.
Was it only the gag reflex she desensitised?
Tired of blokes wanting to shove their gristly attention
down her throat she resigned herself to living alone.
Which is why on a cold bathroom floor (after-performance
specks of blood not unusual) a perforated intestine
bled her to her knees. But she came back.
Why is impenetrable. Perhaps because a sword
once brushed her heart where no man did.

Philip Rush
It is a fact
that Donald Campbell,
or maybe it was his father Malcolm,
completed a standard mile
on the lane between Arlingham
and The Old Passage Inn
in a fascist-branded Bluebird one day in June 1935,
reaching on the first pass a speed of 321 mph
and then a speed of 319 mph on the second pass
just under a hour later
on the way back to Arlingham village
and a pint at The Red Lion.
At its ebb, the stream between
The Old Passage Inn
and the sandstone outcrop of Newnham-on-Severn
looks from the bank so narrow and so bland
that you imagine
being able to wade across
or to ride at walking pace, even,
on a bicycle from the sandbank
on this side to the slipway on the other.
But in only moments
the time perhaps it takes to say a Hail Mary
the tide turns
and seethes upstream
with its little leading wave
in all respects, precisely
like shoppers having waited up all night
for the sales to begin,
impossible to cross and threatening.

Robin Kidson
Flawed Boxing Metaphors
I am growing a garden on his skin.
I plant an iris in the iris of his eye;
On his left temple, I’m cultivating
A red rose; on his right, a patch of pinks.
Into a trench I’ve dug in his cheekbone,
I sow Pink Fir Apple seed potatoes.
On me, he composes a symphony:
A ratatat of drum beats on my brow;
A piccolo staccato on my jaw;
The slow sonorous notes of a cello
On my spleen; chords of harps and violins
Andante sostenuto to my brain.
I am painting pictures on his body:
A blood red Turner sunset on his breast;
A landscape of blue sky and green-brown fields
In his solar plexus; a Cubist abstract
In the style of Picasso on his ribs;
A Jackson Pollock all over his face.
We drink punches until we are punch drunk:
A glass of chardonnay to his glass chin;
A gin and absinthe to my coddled brain;
Napoleon brandy for his bruised skin.
Then, the evening’s final round: an exchange
Of magnums of the finest French champagne.
Metaphors for boxing don’t illuminate.
They mask the truth of manufactured hate,
Sweat stench, blood smear, all-over-body ache.
A fight is not a poem; a noble art
Does not turn the brain of a noble man
To mush; a punch is a punch is a punch.



Kristina Close
Ghost-writing the climber

That weekend there was an accident.
But this is not about where you were,
the merry-go-rope and sky crack of walnut
boulders, the sheep wool sliding in the rain –
but who washed the blood and grit from your arms,
who listened to the oh-oh story first, and heard
the cows on the far slope roll black and white, black and
white, releasing their full vocabulary of ‘no’.



Patrick Maddock

Days of will we, won’t we. Showers of daisy-petals.
To have judged his character so incorrectly:
to be here with a bunch of weeds – brambles, nettles.
How could she have known he’d spoil her byway
its intimate hedgerows spreading to enfold him?
His footwear soon dragged and his tongue took a sting.
Mud-pats and rotted leaves grew attached to him:
he wiped them in her bed linen, her soft furnishings.
What was she to make of him – manikin, monster?
She unscrewed his arms out of fear of his claws,
set him in the ditch to scrub the hump off his back
and tucked his bared feet coolly into his jaws.
Now militant rooks command the wires above her.
She retreats down the road and leaves them to check.



WINTER 2009/10

Theme: Disclosure

Judge: Tim Liardet

 "Some of the poems submitted concerned themselves with closure but most did not, disclosing so little they merely led themselves into the brambles of non-disclosure. Heidi Williamson's, in evoking the mysteries of vertigo, adopted thebest possible policy – description. A giddy and haunting poem.Emma Danes's 'A&E': ominously exact, spare with disclosure.Sarah Westcott's 'Disclosure' seemed to me - to adapt Heaney'sphrase - helplessly true in its unpretentious diction and sense ofpurpose. Martin Figura's 'Fish' had aunthenticity in abundance, especially in that post-Hughesian "maggoty river-breath". I admired Katrina Naomi's poem for its distillation of a complex idea into a single utterance and finally Christopher North's shamelessly Marquesian 'Bawd at Fiesta San Alberto'.” 

Tim Liardet is Professor of Poetry at Bath Spa University. His collection, The Storm House, is forthcoming from Carcanet.


Heidi Williamson
Above the Alameda Gardens

Why I chose riding the cable car as the moment
I'm still unsure. We were hanging there,
above the Alameda Gardens, all that beautiful flora
 below, with no exit until the journey completed.
The car juddered upwards, we pretended we were
on solid ground, stepped lightly around the metal floor,
swaying around as it threatened to unbalance us,
blinking at the view, trying to take it all in.
A strapping squaddie stood stock still in one corner,
holding the rusted inner rail, his eyes jerking from one vista  
to another like a nervous public speaker.
Conscious suddenly we were climbing the face of a cliff
with rocky outcrops, each abyss flew at me. The air
had gone stale with the strain of small scale terrors.
I told you and you couldn't step back. You eyes widened
as we jolted over the mid-journey fixings. An automatic
reaction, your gaze flicked to my midriff. 'Oh' you said. 'Oh'.
As the floor lurched towards me your hand rose and settled
back at your side. You frowned, and all you said
till we safely landed: 'It's best if you don't look down.


Emma Danes

They see through you, land like peculiar
fish on their monitor the soft dark pad
of blood, the fracture’s delicate fin.
Waiting is an ocean at night. I find
you in its depths, as below an x-ray moon:
gutted, truthful, all your bones turned silver.



Sarah Westcott


How you peered into the weave of your pants,
sitting on the metal C of the school toilet,
spreading the gusset, searching
for bright red dots, splodges, Rorschach faces,
unequivocal as poppies.
How, when it came, it came
slowly, confusingly,
brown as silt, thick
and viscous, a smear
like a mark of mud on your forehead.
How you swooned
from the clanging cubicle,
your secret pressed between your legs,
tossed your hair as you overtook
scrums of oblivious boys.



Martin Figura


I throw a few crumbs, then feel your weight
as you snatch at my barbarous line.
You mouth and mouth as if trying to explain.
All I get is maggoty river-breath. The gilt
of your scales dull in the air. A thumbnail
could easily split your soft underbelly, spill your guts.
I give you back to the river,
its current of brown water.



Katrina Naomi

A Happening At Great Dixter Gardens

Black-red succulents, like a child’s drawing
of a flower, all petals. And now she comes,
anxious, polite, have I seen: a 12-year-old boy
in a red fleece jacket? I say I haven’t.
On these steps to the timber-framed house,
daisies hide the malignant stains
of lichen, among other marks. The cacti
should have been a warning –
their thick, spiked trunks, rude spines.
I just record. I’m just the gatekeeper
for whoever treads down from that world
to this. If the cuckoo saw, it stays silent.
The blackbird chatters, but won’t tell.
The sheep saw nothing. The cacti look on.



Christopher North

Bawd At Fiesta San Alberto

Early evening – the Ukrainians spin on their heels
and their groupies involve us all in the long bare grace
of their legs as they cross the Plaza, arms folded.
“Not enough meat on ‘em,” says the retired sergeant major
as Normandina buys a wooden doll – ¡De Rusia! ¡De Rusia!
she says to the air. It’s a tubular peasant with enormous eyes,
a gloss bigote and rustic smock. Pepe whacks down her cana
then pulls the wooden head and from beneath the smock
a thick matchstick with a red tip leaps forward.
The tractor driver escorting the teacher from East Grinstead,
looks shocked and burrows in her bag of ribbons and beads
as a beer belly churl leans forward to jiggle the head.
¡Ya. esta! ¡Ya esta¡  he shouts, then laughs
like gravel pouring into a galvanized bucket.
Below him a wide-eyed baby intensely sucks a dummy.