Members' Poems 2009: in every issue of Poetry News, we ask a leading poet for their pick of members' poems on a chosen theme


AUTUMN 2009

Theme: Heroes & Heroines
Judge: Kathryn Simmonds

“Grandmothers, matinée idols, fallen soldiers and various cast members from classical mythology all helped to get Poetry Society members writing. I particularly enjoyed a striking ghazal, a ‘found’ poem and a poignant picture of boys playing war.” 

 

 

 

Pete Halliwell
Ghazal : Sister

i.m. Sylvia Rivera (d. 19 February 2002)*

Drunk, she could be one ugly old sister
and so, often out in the cold, Sister.
 
And the taxi blow-jobs for straight johns
were done to live, for money – not bold, Sister.
 
But on dark winter’s nights she’d fight for young
queens to be brought in off the roads, Sister.
 
Sure, she’d broken the rules a few times
but she required them to break the mould, Sister.
 
Not to exclude the Fight’s early vanguard,
just bring them back into the fold, Sister.
 
Take care with what you might hear said about her,
don’t believe all that you are told, Sister.
 
O that the bitch on wheels was back.
So that Pedro might say: Lo and Behold – Sister.

*Rivera is rumoured to have thrown the first beer bottle at the New York Police during the Stonewall Riots forty years ago.

 

 


 

D A Prince
Heroes of Our Islands

 
Dust jacket: faded (sun)
and water stained; torn,
front and back, repairs
(amateur); cracked spine
and wear to corners.
Cover (linen) worn.
Dog-eared, furring on all sides.
Maps partly crayonned in
and marginalia (juvenile).
Some illus., black and white; defaced.
 
Inscribed: To dearest John,
to speed you in their footsteps,
love
from Auntie Joan,
and kisses, Christmas 1959.
 

 


 

Suzanna Fitzpatrick
Handwriting

 
I prise a pen into your one good hand,
though even this is now a chilly claw
incapable of grip; its only strength
the sudden spasm, unpredictable,
whose fierceness drives your nails into your palm.
You cannot make your fingers understand
your mind’s intent, and all those years of school
are come to this; a faint and painful scrawl.
Yet you insist on dotting every i,
and scratch out tired kisses, bleeding ink,
beneath your message in the birthday card:
My darling Michael, all my thanks and love,
Hazel xxx. I will not cry;
we both know you can’t do this, but you try.
 

 


 

Pat Watson
Meeting Moon

 
Keith Moon, the drummer? Yes, I met him once.
He topped the bill at Rag Week in our town,
and played those drums with infinite panache,
a crazy angel with his sticks on fire,
but that was at rehearsals, early on,
and only slightly drunk, his beat precise.
I interviewed him in his dressing room
for next day’s local paper, with his mate,
Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Doo Dah Band.
They made a double act of it, half lies,
half fantasies, and all of it made up.
I said I’d come back later. When I’d gone,
they must have settled down to drink all day.
 
That night when I returned to see the show,
I watched him from the wings. He dropped his sticks,
fell off his stool, and finally lurched out
to catcalls from the students out in front.
And yet that morning he had made the drums
fill all the theatre with a blaze of sound
beyond imagination. Now they’re gone,
both he and Viv, the pair of them are dead.
Not long ago, in Brighton, on a wall,
I saw in letters painted two feet high,
some words which brought that whole night back to me.
Graffitied in his memory, those words
said, ‘Moon the Loon is King’. And so he was.
He had his faults, like anybody else.
Who hasn’t? But I'm glad I met him once.

 


 

Anne Welsh
The Summoner

 
Given the acid from a single orange, I’ve seen you conjure electricity,
biros fountaining across the nylon shirt work issued you,
the heat of your skin transfiguring them to cheap bic thermometers.
 
Given a lever, you could move the world, have literally
moved our garden shed from one end of the lawn to the other
on rollers, my new Christmas bicycle and all your tools
still locked inside.
                                                              Even your hair never lies flat –
you are the static charge of a thunderstorm,
the bold of lightning tearing from cloud to cloud
over the Clyde Estuary, unearthed by shingle sand.
 
When you ask me who it is I’m seeing in London,
how can I tell you they're nothing but iron filings to my magnet,
that you’re my lodestone still?
 

 

Patricia Hann
Exit a Princess

 
You had it all, they said, allure, wit,
All the wealth in the world to go with it,
And – so the story went – lightness of heart.
We rustled our programmes, willing the play to start.
 
But waiting in the wings were the usual rout,
Trolls, ogres, genies fizzing to get out,
The griefs, the ghosts wringing their saintly hands –
No expense spared, a cast of thousands.
 
Fumbling and stumbling – that’s how most life is,
But royal stumbles are state circuses.
Tall shadows haunt the palace and the plot;
They get you in the end, princess or not.

 


 

Martin Figura
Victor

‘True Stories of Men at War’

As fathers stroll home from work
there is no birdsong and the November light
is all but gone.
 
Small boys run amok in avenues,
take cover behind privet hedges –
the smell of cordite, heavy in the air.
 
Over the traffic, the sound of battle:
grenades whistling overhead, the sporadic
rattle of toy guns from doorways.
 
At tea time, those whose turn it is
break cover, make a zigzagging run for it
shouting – ACHTUNG ACHTUNG.
 
They go down in a hail of bullets
competing for the most dramatic death.
The pavement is so littered with Germans
 
the men must pick a way through
to reach their gates and take their sons
down paths into quiet houses.
 

 


 

SUMMER 2009

Theme: Contact
Judge: Tim Wells

"Submissions explored all aspects of contact – physical, mental and emotional. Many were reminders that even in the midst of an involved life we are often alone. I enjoyed Austin Lawrence’s ‘Panel Beater’ as contact is between both the hammer and the anvil.”

 

 

 

NW McGaughey
Keepsake

 
Her glove on the seat,
(A little loss,)
She smiles at him,
The bus moves off.
 

 

Charlie Millar
Consumption

 
During our landmark week
in that panelled flat
overlooking the Spanish Steps
All You Need Is Love,
flower sellers,
carozzas fleecing Americans,
we took turns to sleep on the
sofa in the hall or in the bed
above the room where Keats died.
The old codger
in his grey
nylon tuxedo
and brilliantine parting
imparts tales
of those last gasping days.
We store up sonnets, artichoke
hearts, porcini in olive oil.
Burnt coffee, soul kitchen.

 


 

Tiffany Tondut

Young Female Spectator, circa 1890

 
At dinner his eyes run over me like gravy. Duck skin
crackles under the silver embracing of forks;
fragrant meat, soft as steam, slides off loose as silk in a heap.
 
My new mistress is kind but she likes to drink and talk
too much in petite banalités: “organic ovenware – the  newest in”.
Sauvignon Blanc?
He lingers, tilts his glass towards her and her mouth shrinks.
It seems she can’t take his eyes off me.
 
Makes me think how he’d first discovered me in the games room.
Escapist animal, thrashing on my back –
paws pretending, plaits unpinned and the flouncing thwack
of a gay puppy’s tail, played up to by my taffeta tease.
 
‘Girl with a Pekinese Dog’, he might have called me,
were it not for his lacquer-cracked boots butting in on our game,
my little friend cowering off and me, upright on my knees –
his iron-clad feet steaming red hues into my cheeks like fillets of apple.
 
I see you’ve met Ana. My mistress finally concedes.
Poor neglected... couldn’t bear to leave without her.
Found her hanging in a barn. The artist must have known
who she was – I mean, it lacks interesting composition, but...
 
Wine rushes into his mouth; together our palettes burn.
How carefully he touches me with his eyes.
How we might embrace, could my locks only curl about those fingers.

 


 

 

Dennis Stukenbroeker
Costa

 
The clean smell of the local
next to him on the coast bus
the smell of cheap perfumed soap
applied in an inconvenient
bathroom with trickling cold water
in the early warm morning
before the bake heat of the day
before the trip to work in the
tourist hotel/café/shop
repetitious ritual
on service on duty
on a long shift long after
he’s forgotten the encounter
but in his languid afternoon
in tepid air conditioning
on the other side of the
table/bar/counter
he notes they do things
differently here.
 

 


 

Harriet Torr
Hope

 
I’m sitting here on the city street
waiting for contact, that moment when
a pair of eyes tells me I’m it.
Not the eyes of a shepherd reflecting
the lovely landlines of unlit valleys
where birds burn their wires;
nor the lunatic eyes of lovers
replaying the fingered foreplay
to the final f___.
Not the eyes of a dead man
before the ointment and the stitch
watching my fear scuttle his lip;
nor the eyes of the gunman
to whom each blink
is a frontier lifted
but the eyes of a blind man
when light, like a leopard,
strikes.
 

 


 

Michael Swan
Must keep in touch

 
I ran into myself
at a party.
There was definitely
a certain rapport:
ground shared,
tastes in common,
attitudes
not all that far apart.
But –
well,
you know how it is at parties.
After a bit
we shuffled our feet,
started looking around,
swapped cards,
said
let’s meet for a drink
one of these days.
Must keep in touch
old boy,
must keep in touch.
 

 


 

Katherine Gallagher
The Dance

 
All around, islands of girls waiting
to be asked – cherry pinks, fern-greens, lilacs,
offsetting lines of dark-suits,
half-shy boys: one by one, couples swirling
away, following each other into the sea
of that crowded floor – everything suspended
in the thinning air, the school dancing on its toes,
Exhibition Swing pumped out by an imitation
Victor Sylvester Band, unsmiling, but practised
as a row of puppets,
a whirl of sedate moves, under spotlights,
and me, ready to step
out of that loop.
 

 


 

Austin Lawrence
Panel Beater

 
It isn’t what the hammer does but how he wields it
and the trajectories he controls,
and it’s something of a man’s anticipation
knowing the final shape he has to make.
It isn’t where the sheet is placed upon the block
nor how it slides with careful hands,
but how the final curves will always look
and whether weighted blows will stretch or tuck;
he simply makes a shape the craftsman’s way,
manipulating smooth sheet metal,
a thin steel skin curving under a hand that
feels a soft grain hardening through the hammer.
 

 


 

SPRING 2009

Theme: Machines
Judge: Roland John

"The theme was interpreted in many ways other than by obvious mechanical devices. June Hogwood wrote about a machine 'that hasn’t been invented yet', while Tracey Martin reminded us of our fraught relationship with the PC: 'You have performed an illegal operation'. I made my final choices from those where I felt the form suited the chosen machine."

Michael Swan
Not Clear

 
It comes in two basic styles
and a limited range
of rather drab colours.
 
Breakdowns are frequent.
Repairs are difficult,
spare parts unobtainable.
There is no guarantee. vThe manufacturer
has gone out of business.
 
The instruction manual
is written in an unknown language.
The diagrams refer
to an earlier model.
 
It does not work well
(though at times
you would swear it was guided
by some sort of intelligence).
It will do nothing
for long periods;
then suddenly lurch into action,
move in random spirals,
end up
trapped in a corner,
or zigzagging towards a cliff edge.
It is not at all clear
what it is for.
 

 


 

Emma Danes
Breath

 
I come back to the metronome:
its pent up nag of a prim aunt,
finger set to wag, bossy tuts
buttoned to the clip at its throat.
 
I have always known how to wind
it up, that rack of the key, those
clicks like a stick along railings
of the weight up the pendulum rod.
 
I like it tongue-tied on the shelf,
while late summer gardens let go:
branches laden with damsons,
sheets that soar and plunge on the line.
 

 


 

David Blaber
Theatricals

 
Relax: why do you
feel obliged to know how storm
clouds part revealing
 
in a flash, a thunder crash,
the starry Queen of the Night?
 
or how light alone
can simulate the granite
walls of Valhalla?
 
Better keep the mystery,
the innocence of your eyes.
 
If you must, then bray:
‘So, that’s the stage, illusions,
tricks, just like the world’.
 

 


 

Frank Dux
Storm at sea

 
Losing my way one heaving, stormy night,
I blundered onto the bridge – where perhaps
I was not meant to be – and there took fright:
the wheel untended, no one there! Who keeps
the watch? my former naval voice called out,
unheard by winking, clicking instruments.
Green water shuddered ship and me. I sensed
my body then, the self-adjusting beat
of pumping blood, the intake and exhaust
of breath – which all was being done for me
as it has for decades, faultlessly.
So where and when do I come in? The tossed
and trembling ship! and who is meant to man it?
And who or what has just composed this sonnet?
 

 


 

Jane Kitsen
Revolutions

 
Come, sit closer child,
let’s share our warmth as the fire dies.
I will tell you how it used to be.
 
First there was the wheel,
to help us and our beasts
carry great burdens for miles.
Then the cog, which we put into
ferocious machines to do more work.
Next, the circuit gave a softer life
to some of us. And last the chip,
that led us to forget how things are made.
 
Now it is for you to reinvent.
 

 


 

Cedric Fox-Kirk
Switch over

 
With a turn of my wrist the spring winds with a twist.
Figures of Saints and Apostles parade from door to door
While inside the clockwork dances a twelvesome reel,
Turning hands to tell the hours for those who mark them.
Church and Barony alike regard me with suspicion.
People gaze in wonder and in awe. I am the Magician.
 
With a flip and a twitch I flick over the switch.
Inside the boilers tamed fires burn, fed by deep-delved coal,
Then the great engine breaths steam, massive shafts revolve
And pistons hiss and thrust to drive the wheels of Empire.
I am fêted by the good and great; politician and peer
All admire my technical skills. I am the Engineer.
 
With a rattle of keys my applications release
A blizzard of code. Plug in the box, the screen, the mouse –
Electricity flows as do orders down the line
To digital slaves that run the turbine or the till.
Never used a spanner, nor ever used a hammer –
People take me for granted. I am just the Programmer.
 
No key, no switch, no wheel. Nothing to move or touch or feel.
The hum of countless connections controlling the universe;
Power without limit, from an isotope’s decay
Making, remaking all my material parts as need requires.
Created adamantine, ever to remain pristine,
I have no need of people for I am The Machine.
 

 


 

R.N. Allan
Exorcising the machine

 
‘I’ve come to exorcise the machine,’
He said, handing me his cloak
And scarf. His clerical collar
Gleamed in the dim, badly-lit hall.
I led him to my exercise bike,
Which he straddled with his large,
Overweight frame and began to
Pedal, slowly at first then
Furiously and as he pedalled,
His whole body began to fade
Until he disappeared altogether.
Hastily, I seized the brakes and
Gradually the priestly form
Emerged. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I rushed to recover his cloak
And scarf and as I helped him
I saw how his clothes hung on him,
How slimmer, almost ethereal he was.
He must have noticed my astonishment.
‘It’s the ghost in the machine,’
He said, as he left by the back door.
 

 


 

WINTER 2008

Theme: Self Portraits
Judge: Colette Bryce

"Judging by the many self-portrait poems we received (quite a few faces magnified in shaving-mirrors), Poetry Society members are a scary-looking bunch. These are the poems I liked best, reflecting the theme in memorable ways."

 

 

 

 

Emma Danes Profile
Self-portrait as a drop of water

 
To be the drop that ricochets
from a snag of rock, pits its kick
 
and spit, its one-time trick, against
that instinct of all things to fall.
 
Below, the rest of my body
swarms and clatters down the hillside
 
leaves me naked and glistening,
a muscle slicked with oil – intact.
 
Cold beats from me, equalises
in the warmth of gorse and heather.
 
I speak for the sun in its tongue
of colours, see all that holds –
 
valley, horizon, the sky – curved
in perfect thumbnail on my lens.
 
Spray drifts up like dry ice – before
freefall, the stream’s imperative.
 

 


 

Brenda Leckie
'Las Meninas' includes the Artist

 
He placed us carefully as peaches in a bowl of fruit,we stood
where he had marked the floor with chalk;
except for the infanta, too young to understand
how not to move, or so her parents said, although we knew
she could not be commanded to keep still
by a mere artist, so we spread her dress to catch the light
and Doña Maria offered her a cup of sugared orange juice
while Doña Isabel prepared to sing her nursery rhymes.
 
My work was simply to be there, and let my heavy face
make a contrasting shadow to the bright princess’s
although my hair, I like to think, was once as gold as hers.
I watched the painter as he skimmed the brush
over the picture, intent and focussed as a hawk
hovers above a rabbit, now and then his hand
stabbed at the portrait or reached out to grab
a different paintbrush. For me, it wasn’t hard to watch.
 
When that day’s work was over, I crept voyeur-like
towards the easel and tipped my head on its short neck
to view the painter’s thoughts. We were all there, outlined
like ghosts, and he was in there too, among the royal group
claiming an artist’s privilege no-one had tried to claim before
his dark face firmly drawn, his skin substantiated by paint
he looked out full-face from the canvas, bold and undisguised –
I wondered if he’d leave himself in there, or wash a colour over,
or tactfully withdraw into the background, like a guest
who’d arrived too early and must wait.
 

 


 

Suzanna Fitzpatrick
Self-Portrait in a Tea Urn

 
A sudden apparition, veiled in smears
from tired dishcloths, tracked with limescale tears
and tannin freckles, imperfections healed
 
by condensation, turned by curving steel
to pale ellipsis set with eyes that stare
brewing darkness in a frame of hair.
 
I don’t like mirrors; why should they be truth?
I choose the chance reflections that appear
free from glass, ephemeral but fair.
 

 


 

Patricia Morgan Profile
Woman in a Film

 
I took a photo of a woman in a film,
she was sitting at a lamp-lit table drawing
on a paper pad angled 45 degrees
from her knees to the table edge
sipping white wine
and put a photograph of my face over hers
 
to see what it would be like
if I was real
 
and do as she did
like meet up with railway enthusiasts
in the sun and be offered chocolate
and refuse then change my mind.
 
I have choked on yes,
stayed when I wanted to go
and in no time at all
there is little left over
to do anything with.
 
I’d like to paint a picture of Jonah
as he escapes from his whale
in a gush of salty water
or dance on wet grass
in rain as black as blackberries.
 

 


 

Jane Morley
Gemini

 
Odds had been against us ever meeting.
We found ourselves drifting in the same circles,
then gently bumping into one another.
I learned to feel you; a tiny thigh,
a heel a toe, we learned to dance,
 
went about life at the same pace
until you took the lead out into the bright light.
Separate we seem much closer;
you are my silvering. I can’t deny
the narcissism, the desire to gaze.
 

 


 

Clare Best
Self-Portrait Without Breasts

 
Tangled hair, charcoal-socket eyes,
mouth slack after one more long night
restless on my back; this body’s fenscape –
manscaped, hills removed -
the meaty joints still livid, tight shut mouths
where distant territories were stitched
 
in touch. Blood seeps in deltas over ribs,
yellow and purple track to the waist.
You’re even more beautiful now, you say
and I believe, for though I never was, I am
explorer, seeker – I’ve travelled,
and I have an ear for truth.