Two poems by Michael Brown

Water lilies

We are watching the sun’s slow dive
into the Wirral. You want to touch
the water-stars of its last light.
Soon it will be time for us
to separate .

Outside this frame of hush
that weightless walk back
from the Tate —
where I had wanted to fall
inside the green water lilies
that lay like time
or surface tension.
Do you remember them
caught in paint,
their lawlessness of oil ?

And here a ferry from Ireland
skulks home to Birkenhead,
its gentle wake of damage
some force fetched to land.

Welcome to Liverpool

I want you to stay
like this. In the time
that remains before the train —
I must hold, hold this.
(placed third in the York Poetry Competition, 2015, judged by Carole Bromley).
The Exhibits at Helmsley Castle

Arrowheads that pierced an armoured man in 1644.
A bodkin tooled to perforate a civil creature’s heart.
Ochred iron earths (thunderballs) lobbed into the heat
of a siege and then there’s these —
monstrous keys for unremembered Keeps
their cleft teeth outlandishly unique
and unfeasible.

Ludicrous, then, that I think of you here.
Your soft turmoil in this green dead world —
that smile that has locked me in its strange history —
Just what are you looking at now?
(published in the Live From Worktown 2015 Anthology )
Michael Brown’s work is widely published. In 2014 he won the Untold London Brazen Valentine Competition. Recently he has collaborated with Maria Isakova Bennett and The Walker Gallery in Liverpool for Light Night. His pamphlet, Undersong (published in 2014) is available from Eyewear Publishing. @Mike_Brown65

Two poems by Maria Isakova Bennett


It’s November and half way through the Our Father
when Richie lifts his head and slurs ‘Halloween

be thy name.’ We serve plates of food –
little rescue rafts on an uncertain sea.

Even the homeless centre reminds me of you:
the way you talked to the man on the street in Dublin,

bought him a meal in The Bleeding Horse and told him
you’d just lost God. I didn’t know who was helping who.

Richie shovels bolognese, his head hits the table.
Coaxed into standing, he slides

backwards and forwards in unlaced shoes,
‘Come on lad! Come on mate!’

A bruise for a face. He falls and rises, slips
and staggers away between unsteady men.

The chairs are wiped, the floor is brushed,
we wash our hands, and the room steadies.

I remember O’Shea on the steps of The Merrion Hotel –
clean-shaven, his hand out for money, his soft voice.

I gave him five euros just to listen to his story
and wondered if he knew you:

the Good Samaritan from Fermanagh
clutching National Geographic shouting

‘There is nothing. Only this.’

(‘Adrift’ won first prize in the 2014 Ver Open Poetry Competition judged by Clare Pollard, and is published in Maria’s first pamphlet Caveat)
Loch Súilí

with its palm open
holds an island of folded red flowers,
bowed heads a halo. The shore is an edge,

a border between, water set low
in the landscape –
every reflection a prisoner

between bars of birch. Red flames
are forced out of shape
by a waft of breeze. I lost the way,

but a candle remains –
a solitary flare, a call for help,
a lone whisper faltering.

I try to return: to the path tasting of salt,
to a wood full of laughter after tears,
to the genesis of light.

Loch Súilí: Lough Swilly.
Lough pronounced, ‘Loch’. Translation: Lake of Shadows

(‘Loch Súilí’ was published in 2015 by Abridged 0_38, The Never Never Issue)

Maria Isakova Bennett is an artist and poet living in Liverpool. During 2014 Maria was highly commended in the Gregory O’ Donoghue Poetry Competition, and was awarded first prize in the Ver Open Poetry Competition. Earlier this year, Maria’s debut pamphlet Caveat, was published by Poetry Bus Press in Ireland. @MariaIzaB

‘We Prayed for a Man Without a Beard’ by Judy Brown

We Prayed for a Man Without a Beard

‘My Tooth broke today. They will soon be gone. Let that pass I shall be beloved—I want no more’ (Dorothy Wordsworth, Grasmere Journal, Monday 31st June 1802)

As the hygienist scrimshaws round my gum
I stretch my small mouth wide as horror.
She learned on a metal skull with white teeth
painted with a black stain to be scraped clean.

When she grew exact, they covered the head
with a rubber sheath – lipped, eared, with hair –
which hugged the mouth’s airy cathedral,
its cloisters full of the breath of winter.

For months a hand scaler was all she held.
In the exams they were tested on people:
We prayed for a person with a big mouth
and small teeth; we prayed for a man without a beard.

I feel my face grow tight, and sickening
as a mask on my skull’s frame. After death
rot will strip it down to show the teeth I held,
coddled by the hygienist’s intricate decades.

Then the cool breezes off the fells will blow
over the roots. My phantom head smiles:
free at last of the pornography of skin.
I pray for a man to kiss me, while I live.
(published in One of the Summer People (Wordsworth Trust, 2013)
Judy Brown‘s first collection Loudness (Seren) was shortlisted for both the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh best first collection prizes. Her second collection, Crowd Sensations will be published by Seren in early 2016. Judy was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust during 2013, and a Gladstone’s Library Writer-in-Residence in 2014. She has won the Manchester Poetry Prize and the Poetry London competition, and her first pamphlet was a winner in the Templar Pamphlet Competition. Judy’s work has been anthologised in Hallelujah for 50ft Women (2015) and Identity Parade (2010), both from Bloodaxe. She lives in a churchyard in Derbyshire, and gives Poetry Surgeries in Derby for the Poetry Society.

Two poems by Sheenagh Pugh

Different Corridors

A moment ago, while you still slept,
they were all in the same story:
the ship, your mother, that job you left.
Now, as the room comes back, they are beginning
to unravel: you catch at a fact, a face,
but they slip by, each diminishing down
a different corridor, calling round corners
like children playing chase in some old house.

And your mind cannot help but go
to the author who is losing the plot,
who stood on the rostrum staring down
at the page where his words had come loose
from their meanings, had freed themselves so far
as to become not even patterns but penstrokes;
he liked the curly ones best, but how to turn them
back into ideas was beyond him.

It is an old house; some rooms we have not seen
in years, and the time is coming
when the way home, old friends, names of things
we have always known, our own children,
will be off down different corridors,
laughing round corners while we stand puzzled.
How random are these dreams, that seemed to fit
so well together, while we were sleeping.
Letter to Dr Johnson

Dear Dr Johnson, I am writing this note,
if you’ll excuse a stranger’s approach,

beside the statue of your cat Hodge,
whose eyes are fixed on your old front door

as if you might come out with an oyster
or two. That odd thought of yours

won’t leave me: we shall receive no letters
in the grave
, however companionable

we be, however desperate for people
and their news, their voices. I shall seal this

and slip it under your door, just in case
on the other side, disembodied but portly,

a dishevelled ghost is waiting daily
for a letter to land on the mat.
(previously published in PN Review)
Sheenagh Pugh now lives in Shetland but lived for many years in Wales and still publishes with Seren. Her latest collection is Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014). She likes writing about northern landscapes and odd corners of history. She blogs here.

Two poems by Richard Price

A stepladder in a white room

A stepladder in a white room –
                    the beginning of an alphabet.
That was… forty years ago.

That was
                    twenty years ago.
That was tomorrow was it? Is it
the beginning?
I caught my fingers in the hinge.
I caught my daughter’s finger in the hinge.
Watch the, watch that simple mechanism.
It’s only aluminium but watch the hinge.
A swan on a dark loch –
                    the end of an alphabet.
I am not… visiting a friend.
I am not
                    going into that hospital.
I am visiting a friend. I am so
                    going into that hospital.
Is it the end? Is it
the simple end?
A step ladder in a white room.
A swan on a dark loch.
                                                                                Stepladder / swan.



to contain fury
                              to keep the restless peace
to protect
                    this family        risk release
to contain contagion
                                                        to let
                                                                                   laughter breathe

to protect

to. let. light. leave.
Richard Price grew up in Scotland, just southwest of Glasgow. His collections include Lucky Day, a celebratory collection which pays homage to his daughter, who has Angelman’s Syndrome; Rays, a collection of lyrical love poems; and Small World, which won the Scottish Poetry Book of the Year. It’s a collection which explores the complexity of modern families and relationships at the point of crisis. He is Head of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library. @InfoPrice

‘Clearing Out Mum’ by Julia Webb

Clearing Out Mum

It’s like unreeling
yards and yards of tangled wire,
or finding mice in an attic
you never even knew you had.
It’s like the wash-off, run-through,
bleed-right hours of sorting.

It’s like squirreling backwards,
or finding yourself back in the town
that you spent years getting out of.
It’s like a thousand keys without a lock,
(or a thousand locks without a key).

It’s the unravelled jumper syndrome
of clutter-mouth, skip-face, charity-bone.
It’s those sweets in a bowl that your Nana saved.
It’s the pencilled words in the book
that you gave your mother and she defaced.

It’s like a shoe-shine crystal avalanche,
an amalgamation of days and nights and nights and days.
It’s hair on a brush and teeth in a bag.
It’s a dirty bathroom and unwashed plates.
(an earlier version of this poem appeared in the anthology Ten Poets: UEA Creative Writing Anthology 2010, (Norwich: Egg Box, 2010).
Julia Webb lives in Norwich. She is a graduate of UEA’s poetry MA and a poetry editor for Lighthouse. In 2011 she won the Poetry Society’s Stanza competition. Nine Arches Press will publish her first collection Bird Sisters in 2016.

‘The Cord’ by Maggie Sawkins

The Cord

When I thought of what she was carrying
I imagined it the colour of silt,

and if it had eyes then they were the eyes
of a fish long out of water.

I imagined it soulless, like a stone
(a stone cannot haunt one’s dreams),

so that if it was taken from us,
we’d be glad to be rid of it.

I hadn’t reckoned for the sound
of its unborn heartbeat

that was the heartbeat of a colt
cantering towards grass

or when it came, its mewl –
the physicality of detachment.

When the nurse asked if I would cut it,
I could not cut it.

(first published in Magma)
Maggie Sawkins won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her live literature production Zones of Avoidance . She lives in Portsmouth where she works with people in recovery from addictions. Her previous collections are Charcot’s Pet (Flarestack), and The Zig Zag Woman (Two Ravens Press).

‘Another box of nipples arrived today’ by Char March

Another box of nipples arrived today

The hospital computer’s gone mad
– that’s the third box this week.
You stick them on the fridge door,
the phone, the handle of the kettle.
And we laugh. Then you are sick again.

This evening you sit in your usual chair
in the bloat of chemo, your breath really
bothering you. And me, if truth be told.
You are darning pullovers neither of us
ever wear – and even Oxfam won’t take.

What if I could give you a new pair?
That will always pass the pencil test, even
at 90; with dark areolae and pert
tips that tilt cheekily, but don’t
show through your tennis dress.

You are muttering about camels
and licking the thread for the nth time;
specs half-way down – in your usual chair.
I don’t see hacked-at womanhood,
that you’ve sobbed salt-herring barrels for.

I see you. Darning your way to normality.
(previously published in The Thousand Natural Shocks,
and in anthologies by Bloodaxe, Indigo Dreams and Templar Poetry.)
Char March has won loads of awards for her poetry, short fiction, and as a playwright. Her credits include: five poetry collections including The Thousand Natural Shocks (Indigo Dreams Publishing); six BBC Radio 4 plays; and seven stage plays. She is regularly published in literary magazines, and in poetry and short fiction anthologies. She grew up in industrial Scotland, and now lives in the Yorkshire Pennines. She has been active in the Disability Politics Movement throughout her adult life.

A poem from ‘Sunspots’ by Simon Barraclough

Violet violent as an ‘ultra’
or inviolate as a saint?

The reverbs from a viola
playing purple passages.

A Parma Violet on your tongue,
like the contents of your grandma’s handbag,

reminding you that childhood
is neither sweet nor sour

and never tastes quite right;
the elusive umami of mommy and daddy.

A triolet seems apposite
but th’imperial cloak

will not be hemmed by this pattern,
will not colour inside the lines.

Better daub the darkness of caves,
mumble morosely in mauve,

crack the shells of sea snails,
extract some unseeable snaily gland

and set its juice in the Sun’s rays,
for UV maybe to make violet.

Who thinks of these things?
Who knew you could eat a sea urchin?

Violet guards one border of the visible,
scans your retina, takes your inky prints

and lets you pass.
I could write a book about violet.
Simon Barraclough is the author of Los Alamos Mon Amour, Bonjour Tetris, Neptune Blue and, most recently, Sunspots. He has just spent a year as poet in residence at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory and is about to begin touring his multi-media show Sunspots, which features film, music, and songs as well as poetry.

Three collage poems by Helen Ivory


Helen beasts

Helen electricity

Helen blindfolds


Helen Ivory is a poet and assemblage artist. Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is the semi-autobiographical Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013). She has co-edited with George Szirtes In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry (Salt 2012). She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is tutor and Course Director for the new UEA/Writers Centre Norwich online creative writing programme. A collaborative Tarot pack with the painter Tom de Freston is due from Gatehouse Press in 2015 and she is currently working on a book of collage/cut-up poems for Knives Forks and Spoons Press.