Two poems by William Bedford

Two poems i.m. Florence Winifred Bedford 20.10.1915 – 09.09.2008


 
Early Arrival

She came a mite early by the calendar,
fuelling gossip and glee in spiteful eyes,
an autumn surprise for court fourteen
in rack-rent Brightside’s cuts and ginnels.

The landlord thrived on stolen lives.
But the horses she saw pulled carts of flowers,
and early morning milk hot from the cow.
The neighbours jeered behind her back,

a child born the wrong side of the sheets
like a music hall chorus-line high-kicking
into a blind future. So she lied to change
the picture. Told stories of better dreams.

Even the landlord might have preferred
her dreams to his own: early morning moors
and tors windswept by a cloud of skylarks.

(published in London Magazine, June/July 2013)
 
 
The Bell

They couldn’t afford to buy you a bike,
so bought the bell instead, a Christmas present
wrapped in last week’s newspapers. It still rang.
You clanged it round the house for hours,

then up and down the cobbled yard outside,
excited by all the promise a bell implies.
They never managed the bike. Lost interest.
Forgot it then said you were too old.

You kept the bell instead of photographs.
Photographs can tell lies, those summer smiles
on Sunday School outings, picnics with no cider
and sandwiches of bread and margarine.

You did buy a bike, the year you married,
and kept a promise nobody else knew,
riding the long clouds of purple heather.

(published in The Warwick Review, July 2011)
 
 
William Bedford’s selected poems, Collecting Bottle Tops, and selected short stories, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, were both published in 2009. An essay on ‘Ted Hughes and Translation’ will be coming shortly from the Ted Hughes Society Journal. A new collection of poems, The Fen Dancing, was published in March 2014.

Two poems by Brett Evans

 
Scarecrow

Reaping nothing from what’s been sown,
arms outstretched, forsaken,
he wears his unkempt crown; king
of the hand-me-down. Dressed
forever in the same tattered rags

that suck the wind through or hang
from his frame with the weight
of the morning’s rain, he sways;
a metronome to an orchestra
of gale and sleet. This son of Man

is blind to purpose, rooted in solitude
and cannot find a voice to yawp
back into the squall; no sermons,
no parables, no disciples or flock.
Not even the birds.

(first published in Other Poetry series 4, number 4 Oct. 2011)
 
 
Poem for Larry McMurtry

My John Ford of the page, it seems our heroes
have always been cowboys. And whenever Ramblin’ Jack sang
I’m sure we rode with him on the trail of the buffalo.
Yet the crew I hooked up with knew nothing of Mustangs,
could sing lonesome songs but broke no broncos,
and their faces, though aged by weather, were reddened, not tanned.
They never chewed tobacco while riding the Llano;
the furthest they dared to move when smoking was banned
was to slide their arses off barstools and head out westwards
(the young and the old, the able, the fat and the thin)
to be silhouetted in doorways like Ethan Edwards.
Your Texas towns and this Welsh one could be twinned.
If I rode west, would adventures wait for me
in Colwyn Bay, Bangor, Holyhead, Dun Laoghaire?

(first published in The Interpreter’s House #51 Oct. 2012)

 
Brett Evans lives, writes and drinks in his native North Wales. His poems have featured in various small presses and he was a runner up in the 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Competition. He is co-editor of Prole.

Two poems by Amy McCauley

 
Avocado

It’s the most confidential fruit,
though it may not be a fruit at all.
This is the source of its delicious androgyny.

It will part with itself in ways we can’t.
The exterior self and interior self are compatible.
It behaves privately and makes a rich oil.

When the time comes it loosens,
a ripe piece of soap, clean and medicinal.
Its final word is the perfect stone.

(first published in The North (Issue 48: December 2011)
 
 
No, Mon Amour

My breast
(the right one)
shrinks inside its pouch.
It is pale,
toadhearted.
The lesser breast
suffers the most.
Poor relative
of the breast with the franchise,
specially commissioned theme tune
and gift shop.
How often people presume
that the agony of the breasts
is double!
No, mon amour.
While the left
is crushed and petted,
the orphan right
silently hungers.
The animal slopes
back to its room.
If only the scenario
weren’t so
laughable.
If only the left
didn’t swell
with each hard twist
of the nipple.

(first published in The Stinging Fly (October 2013)
 
 
Amy McCauley’s poetry has been widely published and in 2008 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her current project involves reworking Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus as a collection of interlocking poems. She is studying for a PhD at Aberystwyth University, where she also teaches.

Three poems by Lesley Quayle

 
December 2010

He’d been clearing snow from the path.
Others, younger, grunting curses, smashed ice
thick as his wrist with car-jacks and crow-bar,
their breath draped over the air like gauze.
I’d waved through a window feathered by frost,
glad to be inside with the stove and hot, sweet tea,
content to watch an old man shovelling snow.
That was the year when water froze in pipes
beneath the road, when rabbits came down
from the fell and died, crouched in their shrivelled
skins like refugees, the year that eighty-two
stopped in its tracks and an ambulance
couldn’t make it up the dale.

 

Gold

gold – noun:

a precious yellow metal

a glint, scattered like pollen grains, glittering constellations panned from a creek’s sandy scree.

Symbol – Au

a creeping seam, this ochre ore pinioned between platinum and mercury, bedrock-bullion, wild nuggets for hammer and pick-axe to harvest.

Atomic weight – 196.967

clank of anklet, cuff and torque, spill of sovereigns, doubloons, pieces-of-eight, the chime of rings struck for love, ingots for eternity, a heart, a fever, a fool’s rush for dust, the elusive crock.

Specific gravity – 19.3

a shallow lake full of moonlight or the emerging sun working its metamorphosis over dark hills, eagle feathers cast on purple moors, the eye of blackbird, shimmering gorse flowers, the one exquisite seed.
 

The Gatherer

He leaves no tracks
in fields laid flat by winter,
this way and that
over bare, black soil,
pulling his coat closer
to fend off the cruel wind.
He carries a lantern
and a scythe, a sack slung
lightly, rolled and tied
with thin twine.

He moves like fog,
quiet and cold, and each night
field mice, rabbits, voles,
freeze in his wake, hares shiver,
bats and owls retreat
to barns and steeples
as he steps into the air.

The old ones tell of the Gatherer,
come to rob you of your light;
he’ll say he’s a young man but,
if you dare to meet his sloe-black
gaze, you’ll see what he’s seen –
a thousand snows, a thousand, thousand
moonless nights, the wheeling stars
dissolving, bearing witness
to his harvesting eyes.

He’s the ragged shadow
hung, fluttering, between
darkness and glass, the shapeshifter,
night-visitor, come to steal day,
to erase the shining ledge of morning
leaving only endless sleep.

(first published Aesthetica Anthology 2013)

 

Lesley Quayle is a poet and folk/blues singer. Widely published in magazines, including Tears In The Fence, Pennine Platform, Prole, Acumen etc., she was co-editor of Aireings Poetry Magazine for ten years. Now living in rural Dorset, she has just finished her first novel and her most recent collection Sessions came out last year, courtesy of Indigo Dreams Press.

A poem by Dan Stathers

 
Yellow Man

The last time I saw you out of bed
you were searching for fossils,
two hundred million years of them -
older than the stone they were found in.

We were half the sum of each other,
the weight of your footprints lessening
as bones began to surface
and the distance grew in your voice;
light
still hurtling across galaxies to find you
and air still rushing to soak your lungs.
Outside your window
the wisteria sulked in your absence,
wild flowers frowned and bees refused to dance.

When the last of the colour abandoned your cheeks
you remained cordial; writing your dreams,
sipping on oranges and listening to the world
through a bedside radio. People would stop me
to ask how you were, expecting the worst,
knowing your age better than I did and saying
it was no age at all.

We skinned your medicine,
placed faith in roots not doctors,
pouring morphine down plug holes
and running you shallow baths.
Dogs were allowed on your ward;
dogs, shamanic healers, herbalists
but definitely no travelling relatives,
they would be as welcome as the jaundice.
I’d visit you with bowls of brown rice,
finding you drifting on the cut grass breeze.

The morning you didn’t wake up
the whole house shook and we all began digging.

They carried you away in a cardboard box
through the blackberry lanes to a quieter place
where people remembered you well,
and we left you there, behind stone,
for the next two hundred million years.

(first published in The New Writer 2014)
 
 
Dan Stathers is from Kingsbridge, South Devon, and currently a poetry MSc student at The University of Edinburgh (distance learning).

Two poems by Claire Walker

 
Animal Guess Who

It makes the car journey
shorter. My daughter picks, I ask the questions
and she fills in the gaps. I discover
they run fast, have soft fur,
they look friendly, they don’t bite.
I guess, her strawberry curls
tumble over her smile as she nods. My turn.

I think of parrots – their primary coloured
loudness; the willingness to imitate,
effects of learned behaviour.
I think of kangaroos; their built-in papoose,
the way a child warms a stomach.
I think of elephants; their grounded solid feet.
How they hold such weight
on their backs.
 
 
Broken Biscuits

After the first fell to crumbs in my hands
I undid the wrapping.
They’d looked so solid in their foil
when I plucked them from the shelf
but I wasn’t careful enough
when I took them home.
I tried soothing one with Earl Grey.
It fell apart, sank without trace.

They were just the last thing to crumble.
Only biscuits: production-lined
and mute. Not hearts
like yours and mine.

Tomorrow I’ll visit the corner shop,
pick more wisely next time.

(Broken Biscuits won third prize in the 2013 Southam Lions Poetry Competition and was published in an anthology accompanying the competition).
 
 
Claire Walker’s poems have appeared in various print and online publications including The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat and Tears and Kumquat Poetry. In June 2013 she won third prize in the 2013-2014 Worcestershire Poet Laureate Competition. She blogs at thegirlwhogrewintoacrocodile.wordpress.com

Two poems by Stav Poleg

 
Birth

Again I was dreaming, but it wasn’t just me.
There were all the creatures, incognito, the sky and sea unseparated,

and the skilfully miscast protagonists, running towards or away from each other.
You ask who I was? I wasn’t

him, or her, or the one who tricked her into it, using consonants and vowels. And even
though it was my dream, I wasn’t the one turning the world, or

whatever-it-was, upon them, saying: if this is what you really wish for, you may as well
match it with words.

I was the apple. The wrong and right, the bad and good, the all rounded
world-in-a-palm-of-your-hand, someone’s

hand. I can’t recall who held me first, or second,
to find out I was all-rounded, but God, miles away from complete. To fall

with nothing but blood-soaked skin, high-pitched and hungry,
pulled and pushed and trying to curl as round as I’d known, until I completely

forgot, was that according to the plan? Or was there a plan? Or an apple? No one said
it was ever an apple, or that if it was, it was

falling, heavy with knowledge, into so many shaken arms
and hands.

(first published in The Rialto, Autumn 2011)
 
 
Leaving London

Once again, it’s last year’s summer.
Outside, the city cities air and air

of traffic daylight and some skies. We sit upstairs
and watch the window open like an open

question. We talk of leaving and leaving but
it feels like paper plans, the kind of plans

that aren’t supposed to last the summer,
which, once again, is here. But it’s November,

and we let the rain’s staccato
and the wind of outside’s proper winter

try out the glass. Our first visit since we left,
we’re almost tourists but unlike tourists,

there’s this feeling we could take the Northern
Line back home. In fact, we walk

as if we feel at home in what
they call King’s Cross St. Pancras,

Euston road, Charing Cross, whichever
of this city’s intensities pulls or pushes

us like paper-cups, back here, where even
the rain falls into place. Look,

I start to realise last year’s summer
is going to roundabout for some time,

until I’m ready to leave it here, where
I tried to put our things in clear-cut bubble

wrap or recycled papers or anything,
but everything closed and open-ended.

Back at King’s Cross, an extra shot to-go,
I tell myself it’s us who chose to leave,

but as we take the train away from the cities of London,
I feel, again, as if the city’s leaving me.

(First published in Horizon Review , Autumn 2011)
 
 
Stav Poleg’s poetry has appeared in magazines such as The Rialto, Magma, Poetry Wales and
Gutter. Her graphic novel shorts Dear Penelope (with artist Laura Gressani) has been
acquired recently by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Three poems by Gregory Leadbetter

 
Masts

The air is not itself today:
it can no longer rest. The last
free molecule has just been put to use.

Our alpha-waves are butterfly-brained.
Sleep, in any normal sense,
has not been possible here for months.

I carry an egg for safety now.
I came too close the other day:
it cooked in my pocket, good enough to eat.

(previously published in The Body in the Well , HappenStance, 2007)
 

Feather

Here is the feather that knocked me down
that dead-sky morning, no other trace
of the wing it lifted from the ground

but the swan-stark remnant that I found,
which gave its colour to my face.
Here is the feather that knocked me down.

There’s knowledge we don’t know we carry around.
I can only hold this feather displaced
from the wing it lifted from the ground.

It left me with nothing that day but the sound
of my blood beating into empty space.
Here is the feather that knocked me down.

My father is not so old as I am now.
This feather’s perfection cannot replace
the wing it lifted from the ground.

But there’s enough in its vane of barbs to astound
his absence, just enough fragmented grace
to find in the feather that knocked me down
the wing that lifts me from the ground.

(forthcoming in CAST: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets, eds. Simon Armitage, Joanna Gavins, Ann Sansom, Peter Sansom (Smith/Doorstop, 2014).
 

Black-Necked Grebe

They say it escaped from a cunning-man’s coop,
dived into air one midwinter and left him
without spell or sight – to live unseen
in its own season behind the wind and water,
waiting for the right crack of light to make
its crystal feather – the black and rufous thing you see.

I once came close. Heard its whistle shear
off into the world that dogs can hear –
that brings them running or drives them mad.
What I’d give for a gold quill dropped
from its head, or what the old man heard it whisper.
On the Fal, in cold weather, they come to pan for its eyes.

(previously published in Birdbook II: Freshwater Habitats, ed. Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone (Sidekick Books, 2012).
 
 
Gregory Leadbetter’s pamphlet The Body in the Well was published by HappenStance in 2007. His book on Coleridge’s poetry, the transnatural and the dilemmas of creativity, Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) won the CCUE Book Prize 2012. He has written radio drama for the BBC, and was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013. He is Reader in Literature and Creative Writing at Birmingham City University, where he leads the MA in Writing and the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing.

Three poems by Alasdair Paterson

 
Age of gold

Burnish the armour.
Drench the altar.
Flourish the treasure.

Or walk out
into a flare of sunlight
that’s all that matters
here, this moment.

Those gods you named
and brought to life
seem to like you.
Days like this, you might
expect to hear from one.

Pellucid, bright
as a rock-pool at sunrise
is how oracles speak
the day before
the age of second thoughts.
 
 
Age of bronze

You gave the wounds.
You took the wounds.
Not all the wounds
were at the front.
Nevertheless.

You shared a sorceress’ bed.
You wore out your welcome
with another sorceress.
The sorceresses were chalk and cheese.
Nevertheless.

You swore an oath.
You broke an oath.
Your words blew away
like spindrift.
Nevertheless.

Nevertheless
the wound you survive
is the scar you can live with;
sea-winds cancel spells,
salt spoils honeycomb;
and when it comes to
undertakings and offences
your memory is only
as short as anyone’s.

Agreed.
Now and at last,
you’re ready to go home.
 
 
Coastal path around some lines by Lee Harwood

A thought came to me back there:
how Alpine the seaside is, white crests
that sweep in like fast-forward geology,
gardens abseiling down the cliffs in slo-mo.
Then the thought whistled off towards
oompah bands and paramilitary youth camp,
so I waved it goodbye and took the cliff path.

Gulls shriek in the air above the rock
while below thrift and small orchids flower
in that awesome hush between the waves breaking

And this is where I am now, Lee.
It’s that salty dog breath hits me up here
and I shouldn’t look down. I look down.
A hush, another skirmish; every day
and night the sea’s at the white cliff
taking back its dead, but there’s no hurry.

It’s where I come once in a while
to listen to my disappeared, knowing
they’re never short of a word or two.
I’d say they like it here, so far above
the dim, cold strand, beyond amours
and griefs strung out along the phone lines.

There’s no hurry; they’ll stay as long as I sit,
one hand clutching grass, my life in the other.
I look down. They say: your life, you’ll
remember how heavy it is. How light.
 
(All poems from Elsewhere or Thereabouts, Shearsman Books, 2014)
 
 
Having won an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry in 1975 and published collections in the mid-1980s, including The Floating World (Pig Press) and Brief Lives (Oasis Books), Alasdair Paterson returned to writing after a 20 year gap with On the Governing of Empires (Shearsman, 2010). His latest collection from Shearsman, published in 2014, is Elsewhere or Thereabouts. He is now retired after a career directing the work of academic libraries in Britain and Ireland; during those years he also travelled extensively, particularly in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. He lives in Exeter, where he co-presents the monthly poetry reading Uncut Poets and is an organiser of the Exeter Poetry Festival.

Two poems by David Cooke

 
Faro

We’re two hours’ flight from a northern spring;
the impassive sky we’ve left behind us
a canvas primed but still awaiting
some splash of inspiration;

the grey pavements underscoring
routines we cling to; but here
our touchdown lights a spark in a town
whose name suggests a beacon

and where all winter, unknown to us,
the orange trees on the Largo da Sé
ripened slowly, revealing now
a constellation of sweetness on a coast

whose warmth detains the storks
that headed once for Africa;
and as if plonked recklessly
on rooftops, ledges, hoardings,

their nests rise from platforms
of branches, twigs and rags,
growing bulkier year by year –
ancestral homes they sublet to sparrows.

But when we get too close, climbing
the bell tower, we find ourselves
in a perfect storm of beak
and wings like loose rigged sails.
 
(previously published in Cake, Issue 4)
 
 
 
To the Lighthouse

To make it out to the lighthouse
you’ll first unravel the headland road
as it winds round a boardwalk
pounded by the beautiful
– power walking or jogging beneath
peerless sky – and then past
the villas peeking coyly
through subtropical leaves.

And when you’ve arrived
as far east as roads can take you,
park up beneath the outcrop
of Wollumbin or Mount Warning,
sacred still to men who have won
the right, belatedly, to trundle
barrows of sand and stone
up and down its pathway.

You, too, will make the ascent,
skirting unnameable growth
and a wind-sculpted tree,
until, dazed by distances,
above your head you’ll see it,
bone-white, transcendent,
asserting benignly its own
claim to permanence.

With its eight tons of prism
afloat in a pool of mercury
it smashes sun to fragments
each afternoon when the angle
is right. At night it’s a cauldron
of light, an oracle, revealing little
beyond the certainties
of white fellas who built it.
 
(previously published in New Walk , Autumn 2011)
 
 
David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published his first collection, Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing and a collection of more recent pieces, Work Horses, has recently been published by Ward Wood Publishing. His poems, translations and reviews have appeared widely in journals including Agenda, Ambit, The Bow Wow Shop, The Critical Quarterly, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, Magma, The North, Orbis, Other Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand.