Monthly Archives: June 2010

Simon Barraclough’s Bonjour Tetris

Simon Barraclough

Simon Barraclough is originally from Yorkshire but has lived in London since 1997. He won the poetry section of the London Writers’ Prize in 2000 and his debut Los Alamos Mon Amour was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2008. His work has been published in Poetry Review, The Guardian, The Financial Times and Magma, and he is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 and 4. Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins, 2010) contains seventeen poems commissioned between 2008 and 2010.

Jurassic Coast
The house had grown too small for us and so
we spent that final summer in a tent.

At first we interlocked our sleeping bags,
each row of teeth zipped into place like cogs,

our limbs and fingers nightly interlaced.
But due to condensation and the dew,

the zips began to snark and twist apart
and you unhooked them, torch between your teeth,

and bundled up your bones in a cocoon
and shifted inches, light years, out of reach.

Your tongue became a pebble, smooth and mute,
mine frayed, a salty beach towel on the strand.

You found an adder’s egg by Durdle Door
and hatched it in your polyester nest

while in the gloom I rode to Casterbridge,
the pages greenly lit by your turned back,

that glowed a weedy hue right through
the segments of your gently humming sac.

I didn’t wait to see what you’d become
but turned my eyes to hard-baked Dorset Knobs.

You scissored your way out. I felt the draught
of autumn winds and newly minted wings.

My heart froze like a goldfinch in its cage
and Chesil Beach began to feel its age.
from Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins, 2010)
Order a boxed, limited edition copy of Bonjour Tetris.
Visit Simon’s website.

Floss M. Jay’s A Drawer Full of Flowers

Floss M. Jay was born in 1948 and grew up in the KwaZulu-Natal Midands. She was educated variously at Gem’s Farm School in Dargle, St John’s DSG and Girls’ High School in Pietermaritzburg, the University of Natal in Durban and in Pietermaritzburg, UNISA and the University of the Witwatersrand. She has taught Drama and English at schools and Universities, trained teachers and now practises from home as a psychotherapist in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. She lives with her husband, John Morrison, in Pietermaritzburg, and has three children: Emma, Alice and Guy.

Floss M. Jay

About A Drawer Full of Flowers

Here is a generous volume of poems that invites the reader to experience the “unguarded immediacy, intimacy and frankness” of a poetic voice described by her editor, Lionel Abrahams, as that of a “priestess of feeling”. The language she uses is akin to that which may be used in a sensitive woman’s letters to her intimates but is distinguished as poetic by the expressive imagery used.
Floss M. Jay has selected poems written over a time-span of thirty years and arranged them in four sections. Each section reflects a theme coalesced in moments of feeling. In the notes “About the Poet”, flowers are seen in her life as metaphorically present and blooming, absent, lost and dead or as a living part of her being. The sections take their titles from poems included in the volume and, in turn, they manifest exhilaration (Eating Jewellery), the necessary structures of human living (Bones), the very dark passages of human experience (In the Belly of the Whale) and the gentling acceptances we may be fortunate to arrive at sometimes (Bridged with Stillness).
Summer Paintings in Europe
Floss M. Jay

June, 1993
Oh – and these are not paintings:
This shoulder of wheaten gold
tumbling across the low hill
susceptible to breeze and wind
as Van Gogh predicted.
And these three brides with their men,
festive and naïve,
across the warm cobble-stones,
trailing yards of white lace,
trains of children, friends and strangers
across the dust,
weaving a visible serpent of Romance
through the village
to the wedding feast:
these are living within my grasp.
This small metal sculpture
Giacometti made
standing free of the page
in a courtyard,
its thin edges clean
against the light:
it is a man
with attitude
manifesting cautious, poised loss,
it is cold and real
against my skin.
And the girl
framed in the coffee-shop door
reading a book
dark cool behind her,
cream hair lighting her shoulders
and the sun bathing the courtyard that divides us:
she is flesh and blood.
At this distance,
home trickles imperceptibly away
taking on a waiting role,
somehow in the wings,
painted on memory-pages.
from A Drawer Full of Flowers (Selected Poems 1980 – 2010)
(umSinsi Press, 2010)
Order A Drawer Full of Flowers.

A conversation with Grace Wells

Grace Wells

Grace Wells was born in London in 1968. Formerly an independent television producer, she moved to Ireland in 1991. Her first book, Gyrfalcon (2002), a novel for children, won the Ellis Dillion Best Newcomer Bisto Award, and was an International White Ravens’ Choice. Other publications for children include Ice-Dreams (2008) and One World, Our World (2009). Her short stories and poetry have been published widely and broadcast. She reviews Irish poetry for Contrary, the University of Chicago’s online literary journal, is a freelance arts administrator, and teaches creative writing. When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things (Dedalus Press, 2010) is her first collection of poems.

Grace, in an interview with Angela France in Iota magazine (Issue 85), George Szirtes says: “Poems are a feeling waiting for a first line.” How do poems come to you?
I agree with Szirtes, the entry of a new poem into my world is often preceded by a sort of tingling feeling, a kind of heightened awareness that seems to be seeking form within a poem. These days I’ve started to think that poems come to particular poets for reasons of resonance, something in the world that hasn’t been articulated, and needs to be, resonates against a particular person, and the energetic hum between the subject and the poet results in the poem.
I associate that type of calling with a creative freedom that’s only possible when the duties of the quotidian world have backed off a bit. Often I’m teaching, or just scrambling around in life, and poems have to be born more pragmatically. In class I give writing exercises, which I take myself. A lot of my work has been produced that way. Of course I’ve set tasks that interest me (or have already begun calling), so I have a bit of a head-start, but I think there’s quite a balance between inspiration and of perspiration. Also I’m a prose writer, I work in a large notebook and carry a small one in my bag. I write an amount of free prose most days. Often I’ll be writing in a rather random, trance-like way and poems can be born within the prose. Then I whittle away the excess of words to find the clean bones of a poem within.
Where is your favourite place for writing?
My writing career has been entirely peripatetic. For the first time ever I have a study, but it’s still too new to be favorite: I’m only just out of the boxes. For years my writing self was homeless. I scribbled in cafes, on trains, at the kitchen table. My first children’s book was written in a freezing cold house, in a hat and gloves, at my feet the world’s most nauseous carpet pattern. My first official writing space was a little shed at the bottom of the garden. No phone, no interruptions. It was bliss, but damp, so paper curled and wilted if you left it there over night. Still, in summer, with the flower beds at my back, and my meadow stretching beneath the window, it is paradise and still my favorite place to work.
What is the physical act of writing like for you? Do you write first drafts in longhand or type them directly onto your computer?
I used never to write anything directly into a computer. I believe in the hand and the pen (I’m almost fanatical about this). With the hand there’s a kind of curl like the beginning of a spiral which moves from the heart, through the lungs, along the arm, to the hand, as the pen moves you spiral deeper into serious matter, unwinding into the subconscious.
I write second and third drafts out by hand, re-writing the whole poem as I go. I’ve found it helpful; you sink deeper into the poem.
Working with a computer is about brain energy, it’s faster, more electric. It engenders a ‘clever’, sharper, almost cruel mood. Sometimes when I’m reviewing I’ll just work on the laptop, but I’m wary of the kind of writing it produces, there’s enough of that ‘look at me I’m so clever’ writing in our culture without my adding to it.
Do you find each poem suggests its form as it emerges?
No, not really. Form is often the last thing to make itself known. Form often changes as the poem develops. I think I’m more guided by the words, the meaning, the sounds, then form last of all. This probably mirrors something about myself; I’m not fond of the formal, of routines, of convention. I’m more open to the rebellious, the anarchic, it’s almost as if I see form and have to question it instantly, or run from it swiftly. But with poetry there is always a sense of relief when the form does make itself known. Even the anarchist has to live somewhere; form is a poem’s skin, like its home.
When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things is in five parts: ‘Love in all its forms’, ‘The Princess and the Fox’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘The New Life’ and ‘In Such a City’. I’d love to hear a little about your arrangement process.
The arrangement really wrote itself as such. The poems are very autobiographical, even if I take on other voices or invade other characters, I’ve mostly written about my own experience. Of course poetry writing isn’t linear, the poems didn’t come to me in the order they are placed in the book; but their arrangement allows for a more natural narrative. I did try sending the work to one publisher with the poems in a completely random order, but the manuscript was rejected and I’m not surprised, the collection really asked for the structure it has now.
‘Love in All its forms’ is a kind of introduction. Then the poems (and the poet) decline into the experiences explored in ‘The Princess & The Fox’. ‘Pioneer’ is about recovery from that time. ‘The New Life’ is about the redemptive power of love. But it didn’t seem right to end the collection there, this isn’t Hollywood. The last section, ‘In Such a City’ is concerned with where I am now, where the world is; how I sit with the terrible beauty and chaos all around us.
Would you give me your thoughts on the roles of literature, storytelling and writing in the healing process?
One of my lines is “The only medicine is words”. I fundamentally recognize that literature and storytelling are very ancient forms of human medicine. Fictional tragedy resonates with us because human tragedy is all around us. Life imitates art and art imitates life. As a species we are bound up with words, whether it is through literature or song. As an audience we take the dramatic journey too, and somehow, in an almost shamanic way, the process heals us. Certainly gives us the faith to continue.
The act of writing is similar but different. Natalie Goldberg wrote, “writing is not therapy”. But I disagree, writing is therapy and an excellent one at that. But just because someone writes something therapeutic or cathartic, it doesn’t mean it belongs in the world as a published piece. It isn’t enough to just spew it out. Craft, intelligence and art need to be applied. These disciplines are rigorous, they take years to learn.
Ultimately our ability to take a difficult life situation, write about it and transform that writing into something palatable and effective is probably the most healing achievement of all. The creation of art is the most profound way to restore human dignity.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you think there is still a need for feminism?
Yes on both counts. Yes I’m a feminist, yes there is a pressing and urgent need for a new wave of feminist energy. The situation is complicated. As with most things, there is the internal and the external: the self and the culture. For my self, feminism is about many things, a primary one being my ability to be capable, to change a tire, to use power tools, to handle a chain-saw when I have to. But there are also deeper, more distressing and urgent matters of the psyche that I have to address. What does it mean to be female? When faced with difficulties, personal or global, how should I behave as a woman? Where is my female god? How can I temper vulnerability and strength? Where I am safe to be wild? How can I use my anger to bring about change?
Women are still not equal in the house of power. We are not in government. We don’t make decisions for the world. We have token figures in place, nothing more. Violence against women is endemic. Our culture permits us to be sexually devalued. Female-defined sexuality and spirituality are still unvoiced. To have these forces unarticulated is very dangerous to a woman’s sense of identity. Sensuality and spirituality are elements very close to our core beings. Without access to vibrant sexual and spiritual debate and positive visual references in both areas, girls grow up without any sense of wholeness. We lack any sense of core female strength. Without a sense of wholeness and strength, we are easily pushed aside, undermined or over-ruled.
We see the consequences of that everywhere. War, crime, environmental destruction are not female impulses, yet they surround us. I often think it is female passivity colluding with male aggression that makes the world the way it is. If women protested, acted, went on strike en masse, then things would change over-night. But it doesn’t happen. It seems to me the feminist debate has been internalized: while there is an increased sense of female equality in the world, there is also a greater sense that women are alone, succeeding and failing with the dramas of feminism in isolation. Now each woman has to be her own feminist priest and congregation. I feel my task, as a writer, is to enter our areas of absence, female spirituality and female sensuality, and throw a torch into their darkness. Maybe it will be of some help.
But I’m also a realist. As the mother of a teenage daughter, sometimes all I can do is watch her being swept into the make-up–high-heel–thong-wearing mêlée. I am daily reminded that I have failed and succeeded as a feminist. But I’m grateful, this is a legacy I inherited from women who fought all the way through the 1900’s. This ordinary ability to fail as a feminist is a luxury that many of the world’s women still don’t have. So yes, there is much work to do.
What prompted you to write ‘For Everything Which is Infinite’?
Well, it is something of a ‘found’ poem. Everything in it happened. My then ‘new’ partner, Richard, brought me to Venice, Italy. The whole trip was very healing; Venice is a maze of beauty. I had wandered deep into it, when suddenly, looking up, I chanced to see through a lit window a woman drawing a playing card from a fan some invisible hand held toward her. As I watched, she drew out an ace. The poem is about luck, it’s a celebration of my great good luck, even though I’ve lived a difficult life, I still feel I pulled the ace.
Tell me about your wonderfully evocative poem, ‘Aşure’. How did you discover that Aşure “is the Turkish name given to the last dessert Mrs. Noah made before boarding the ark”?
Again this poem is to do with the great good luck of meeting Richard, who is passionate about Istanbul and Turkey as a whole. Early in our courtship he brought me to that amazing city. In the restaurants there, they have dishes of Aşure lined-up on the dessert counter. It is a strange, jelly-like dish full of “stuff”, you have to stare, there are raisins, chick peas, lentils, nuts … I don’t know who invented it, but everyone seems to know that this is the dish Mrs Noah made that last night before the rains came. Because she was emptying her cupboards one final time it contains an amount of everything.
I was struck by the whole idea, it really entranced me and seemed to speak to me because plenty and bereavement seem to converge in that dish. It was like a little mirror to our own situation because all new love affairs are tempered by the threat or fear of loss, of losing the other person. I think my fear of loss got entangled with Mrs Noah’s more real loss. Plenty and bereavement converge in our relationship and in the poem, where the domestic acts as an ideal vessel to convey the bittersweet nature of love.
Would you name five of your favourite poems? Why are they important to you?
I consider this an impossible task! We could talk all day about great poems. Still, I’ll try to name some important ones. First I’d say Raymond Carver’s ‘Lemonade’. I left school loathing poetry, thinking it was unintelligible torture. Then some years later someone showed me ‘Lemonade’. It changed everything. This poem opened up the entire world of poetry; even, eventually, leading me back to the unintelligible torturous stuff with a more generous eye. It’s an amazing poem, beautifully crafted, well told. It’s about a boy who drowns in the river and how his father can’t heal. I love it still, decades later.
Also, soon after ‘Lemonade’, I discovered, Annie Cameron, whose work I admire greatly. I love ‘Sea Fair, Powell River’, which is a very elegant, outspoken poem. In the queue for food at the county fair, Cameron’s lesbian lover suddenly starts “hollering” about child abuse. The man in front of them, who is evidently guilty, turns redder and redder. Soon another woman, “in a voice nearly choked/ silent by conditioning” joins in, then another and another until the whole queue has something to say on the matter, one old woman going on about how it was “back on the farm in Saskatchewan”, where “you took a tom cat and shoved him head first into an old gumboot”. It’s a brilliant piece of political poetry.
I also love Coleman Barks translation of Rumi’s ‘The Guest House’, which is a great poem for moody types to keep near to hand. It’s a poem I’ve cherished for years.
I think Mary Oliver’s poems ‘Wild Geese’ and ‘The journey’ are somewhere in the top ten too. I blow hot and cold about Oliver, but these two pieces have done more for poetry and for ordinary people’s lives than many others have managed in centuries. I think that’s what poetry should be about, the ability to touch lives and affect change. I have huge respect for Oliver on that account.
The final poem I’ll mention is Paula Meehan’s ‘Troika’, which is a much more recent find. In this account of her growing up in tenement Dublin, Ireland, she combines beautiful language, exquisite craft, searing honesty and tremendous art. The lines shock, draw the breath and ultimately heal. It’s an act of total generosity, and a hugely powerful poem. You finish it in awe of the poet and poetry. I could go on about favoured poems all day, but I think I’ve said enough. I love poetry, I just hope there are enough days ahead for all the poems out there.
Thank you for your time, Grace, and all the very best with your collection.
Thank you too! Thanks so much for having me here on Peony Moon; I loved your questions. Best wishes for your own life and work.
Order When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things.
Discover more about Grace and her collection at:
Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s Women Rule Writer
Rachel Fenton’s Snowlikethought
Brandon Wallace’s Julius Speaks

When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things

Grace Wells was born in London in 1968. Formerly an independent television producer, she moved to Ireland in 1991. Her first book, Gyrfalcon (2002), a novel for children, won the Ellis Dillion Best Newcomer Bisto Award, and was an International White Ravens’ Choice. Other publications for children include Ice-Dreams (2008) and One World, Our World (2009). Her short stories and poetry have been published widely and broadcast. She reviews Irish poetry for Contrary, the University of Chicago’s online literary journal, is a freelance arts administrator, and teaches creative writing. When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things (Dedalus Press, 2010) is her first collection of poems.
For Everything Which is Infinite
Grace Wells

In Halloween dusk we came. Small witches had gathered in the campo by the church of Mary of the Miracles. Mist reigned in the lagoon. We moved into blue November’s gilt mosaic, bowed by the Byzantine, humbled before icons. A decade in Europe’s last dark place had put out my eyes. I had forgotten beauty.
You led the way, Torcello, Carpaccio, Bellini — each tile a glint on the path. You gliding us down the Grand Canal: the Gritti Palace, the white marble of the Guggenheim. Slick, black gondolas teaming turquoise water. You, birthing me back to life.
My task was to navigate our thoroughfare, our moth-flutter at windows, the weave through merchandise, diamante and velvet, shot-silk and brocade, our studious pauses with book-sellers; I pulled us on, in, deeper into the old maze.
Let me live here, I prayed, in these streets: my own flowers by the door, laughter and wine and work, someone practising the piano in a room nearby. Let me live here, I said and let go your hand to find my future street. I could have walked forever, beguiled, inwardly singing; charting the labyrinth; in the heart of it paused beneath a lit window: a woman’s smile, the fan of cards, a hand drawing out the ace.
Grace Wells

          Aşure is the Turkish name given to the last dessert
          Mrs. Noah made before boarding the ark. Because
          she was emptying her shelves one final time, it
          contains an amount of everything.

Let me grate almond for you this night.
While gulls wheel their floodlit vigil above the Blue Mosque
let me shred pistachio green as limes from the Bazar.
Let me rub coconut to powder. I will take raisins crated in Tarsos,
yellow sultanas by the handful.
Grant me the İznik bowl I forbade you buy,
for it alone could hold this night, this Aşure.
Let me empty these cupboards the way Mrs. Noah
emptied hers that last night before the rains came.
Baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar.
Clove against toothache, mint for digestion,
thimble of brandy to ease our grief.
The light is low in this room. Soft brown
sugar. Nutmeg. Scent of cinnamon on my skin.
I will rasp orange rind, stir a syrup
thick with corn flour, arrowroot, gellatine;
cut an apple sideways to reveal its star.
Mrs. Noah took chick peas, the last rice, last
scrape of pearl barley, so who would notice
the salt from these tears? Let them fall
as I beat egg white, whip cream, fold in flour.
Jet bead of currant, maron glacés, crystal ginger,
nothing too good for this night, this Aşure,
so if there is a wail, a keen in the mouth
tart as lemon, let it be the morning call to prayer,
for they are laying you in the best sheets, my love,
your boat is leaving, everything ship-shape
and ready, every last thing prepared.
from When God Has Been Called Away To Greater Things
(Dedalus Press, 2010)
Order When God Has Been Called Away to Greater Things.

Naomi Foyle’s The World Cup

Naomi Foyle was born in London, and grew up in Hong Kong, Liverpool and Saskatchewan. Having written a chamber opera libretto, Hush, while an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, she started writing poems while backpacking through Europe in 1991 with a copy of the Collected Rimbaud. She has also travelled in North and Central America, Asia and the Middle East, and she is currently living in Brighton while completing her PhD in Creative Writing at Bangor University. Her first poetry collection, The Night Pavilion, was an Autumn 2008 PBS Recommendation, and she intends to develop her ballad pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers, into a live literature production. In December 2009, Naomi travelled to Cairo as a member of the Gaza Freedom March, and in April 2010 she co-founded BWISP (British Writers In Support of Palestine).
About The World Cup:
Naomi Foyle’s The World Cup (Waterloo Press, 2010) is simultaneously the Holy Grail of a female football fan; an oceanic chalice of tears; and a brimming goblet of history, culture and myth. In a kinetic sequence of poems that journeys from Mexico and post 9/11 New York, through the conflicts in Ireland and the Middle East, to a no-holds barred game of love thrashed out in London, Brighton, Amsterdam and Greece, Foyle amply displays not only her abundant lyric and narrative gifts, but also a winning warmth and humour. Though its honest brew of self-reflection is at times almost painfully intimate, The World Cup comes laced with astringent socio-political comment, and is stamped with the trademark Foylean wit.
“Subtle and wild, passionate and wise, Naomi Foyle’s second collection will bring her yet more admirers. Whether she is writing of the indigenos of Mexico or the state terrorism Israel practices on the people of Gaza; whether she writes of love and its mazes and despairs; the mishaps of a gangly footballer; or the free spirits of her home town Brighton, Naomi Foyle shoots both from the heart and the head. A vivid, pacey raconteur, with a sharp eye for satire, unusually, she shines at the longer narrative poem, burnishing a minor crisis into something wondrous, always with a relish for the pleasures of life whether serious or absurd. Warmth, curiosity, human sympathy are the base notes of a poetry commanding dramatically different themes and settings, and a variety of forms.”
– Judith Kazantzis
“Naomi Foyle’s brilliantly detailed, sensually absorbed, light-saturated mix of personal findings and their extension into the political, make her poetry my sort of poetry. Naomi is her own subject, whether swimming in a scarlet two-piece at Land’s End, sitting in a restaurant window, arriving at Brenda and Isabelle’s object-littered flat, or acutely noting how ‘The sound your swollen finger makes/ plucking at the mouth/ of the soda water bottle/ gives my cheekbones definition.’ Naomi Foyle injects concentrated visual imagery into re-casting a world in which ‘men are sharp as lemons; women sting like limes.’ I go to her poems to see things shine clear as the light in a diamond.”
– Jeremy Reed
Postcard Sent By Someone Else
I would have called last week, but
there was a riot at a football game, the police
shot a woman and her child, then the crowd
set fire to the post office and ripped
all the phones in the zocalo
out of their sockets …
I would have told you that this jungle
is the maw of the world—its hot breath
steams you open in your sleep, then, like
a trickle of army ants dismantling a palm tree,
a screech of howler monkeys shaking
the afternoon rains from the canopy
above your hamaca,
                            its enzymes
start breaking you down …
Poem for a Greek Anarchist
So, Yannis. Democracy is a joke
unworthy of your swift laughter. Peace
is a euphemism for lobotomising the First World
and starving the Third. Arthritis
is an degenerative disease
my mother tells me strikes young people
too stubborn for their years. Patience
is the most infuriating quality
of ‘grounded’ men,
and when we eat in your Dad’s pizzeria,
my facial muscles feel compelled
to comment on your every move.
The sound your swollen finger makes
plucking at the mouth
of the soda bottle
gives my cheekbones definition.
Your saliva falls
in a long slow arc to the patio
like an egg
cracked open by a skyscraper chef
hitting the fry pan
without breaking its yolk
― and my jaw follows
with its own moist curve.
And if my brow gathers
when you stroke
those pomegranate lips with your collar,
it’s not because I’m plotting
to overthrow the State. No,
I’m only involved with that soft cotton,
echoing its furrows
above the night vision eyes of ‘Naomi the Cat’ —
eyes that look at your lap
and see a bomb
in my bed.
[and 13 Israelis]
‘In 23 days: over 1300 Palestinians were murdered (over
400 children and 100 women) and 5300 were injured.’
Donate your status:
Donate your status.
Donate your despair.
Donate your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your husband, your wife.
Donate your children.
Donate a hospital.
Donate one thousand three hundred and thirteen candles.
Donate a match.
Match a donation.
Donate the fine line between you and your neighbour.
Donate a bucket of soil, a packet of seeds.
Donate a truckload of doughnuts.
Donate a moment of doubt.
Donate your most sophisticated haircut.
Donate a crate of sophistry-detectors.
Donate your will to survive.
Do not do nothing.
Donate your body temperature.
Donate your kidney.
Donate your library.
Donate your deepest desire.
Do not fear ridicule, rage, isolation.
Donate a kilo of rice.
Donate a tenner.
Donate a round table.
Donate the freedom you’d forgotten you had.
Donate your shopping list – your love of avocados, Sharon fruit
     and dates.
Donate the sweater your grandmother made you.
Donate a winter of warm, sleepless nights.
Donate a new notion of ‘nation’.
Donate a persistent belief that, despite all evidence to the
     contrary, everyone, everywhere, is extraordinary.
Donate an hour of your day
to stand up and demonstrate
peace is a process of learning to listen,
and giving is not ‘giving in’.

God Save Our Noble Team
It’s not just the wiggling hips of the Nigerians,
the young dog stamina of the South Koreans,
the street urchin haircuts of the Irish,
the sultry glowers of the Azzurri’s finest,
or the pristine thighs and jaws
they all possess by right.
Nor is it all down to Beckham’s honeyed torso,
Quinny’s height and lilt,
Rivaldo’s shark-like teeth,
Rio’s languid flair —
or even Fabien’s bum being spritzed with cold spray
during a particularly constipated bout with Italy back in ‘98.
It’s almost but not quite the Argentines’ black socks,
long locks and grizzled chins,
and it just, just barely isn’t the passing fancy
of being hired to alleviate Harry Krewel’s groin strain
with Tantric warm-up exercises
that traps me in front of the telly
each time a World Cup football match is played.
Yes, footballers are sexy.
Some are compact and keep their shape
—except in the second half—
some have ‘individual skills’ to die for,
others keep clean linen sheets.
And even though their shorts were shorter
back in Guadalajara,
their kit is really cute and shows off their physiques.
And yes, they run around in the heat and wet,
stripping off their shirts
every time they score.
But truly, it’s the game they play that turns me on.
It’s the time football takes,
the beautiful, agonising length of it—
two or three hours prone on my futon,
waiting, wanting, yearning for one elusive goal,
never knowing how or when
the next stroke of panic, misery or euphoria will fall:
all attention focused
on the flickering of the screen, the flicking of the ball.
It’s the lull of knowing there is nothing more
and nothing less important than the voyage of that ball,
hurtling like pleasure, like pain,
from player to player,
down the electric green grass
in search of the back of the net
one goal
being sometimes technically sufficient,
but never quite enough.
Yes, football is sex.
And with its side netting, woodwork and offside traps,
it can get pretty kinky.
But it is also love, history, religion, commerce, politics, art,
     war, dance,
and a way — for now — to keep the Americans in the dark.
A sport so simple little plastic men can play it,
so epic that every four years it hurls nations into riots
of bloodlust, revenge, inspiration, celebration and bitter cursing
     of the gods.
Football gathers up like sweaty rags
the orgiastic revelry of the fans,
the irrevocable decisions of the referees,
the irreversible moments of good or bad luck —
and on the solipsistic reverie of the screen
wrings out a passionate meditation upon fate.
Football is a bad marriage in a Catholic country.
Football is the sanctity of human error.
Football is the tedium of the commentators’ inane obsessions
crowding out one’s own.
Football is a game played on dirt in the townships
the temporary triumph of the immigrant labourers
and the brutal crush of the media machine.
Football is a gladiators’ ring of fancy boys and immortals.
Football is NAFTA with cleats.
Football is a rum-soaked trifle,
a Christmas tin of Quality Street chocolates,
lobster and champagne.
Football is Seaman’s tear-stained sheet.
Football is Escobar’s own goal.
Football is the letter you shouldn’t have opened.
Football is the speed at which you realise
your entire life has been undone.
The Pablo Neruda Barbeque
Poets, singers, newly weds,
gather on the beach,
share olives, wine, guitars,
books and bits of Spanish,
poke sausages with skewers,
orchestrate umbrellas.
Softly rumbling clouds,
charcoal, seared with gold,
fill their bellies with our smoke.
And when the sky splits open
a tender ray of sunshine
warms our faces as we read
poems of love and tomatoes,
elemental odes ―
the white lips of the sea
sucking at the stones.
from The World Cup (Waterloo Press, 2010)
Order The World Cup.
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Magma 47

I’m delighted that my prose poem, ‘Along the Corpse Road’, is included in Magma 47. The issue is guest edited by Annie Freud with the assistance of Roberta James and the theme is ‘the devil and all his works’.
The launch reading will be held on Monday, 21 June, at the Troubadour, 265 Old Brompton Road, London SW5, at 8 pm. Magma showcase poet, Dorothea Smartt, will be reading alongside Jo Shapcott, Matthew Sweeney and a number of poets who appear in the issue. It’s sure to be a memorable evening.
You can buy Magma 47 here.

The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street

Tony Williams’ first collection The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street is published by Salt. He grew up in Matlock, Derbyshire and now lives in Sheffield, UK. He has published poems in a range of print and online journals including the TLS, Poetry London, Shearsman, Rialto, The London Magazine, nthposition and Shadow Train. He works as a graphic designer and teaches at Sheffield Hallam, Salford and the Open Universities.
Praise for The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street:
‘from all our cultural loam and junk, Williams has made real magic’

Frances Leviston, the Guardian
‘voice with a unique lyric heft, its subtle praise-making poised between pity and dislocation’
W N Herbert
‘very, very likeable’
Matt Nunn, Under the Radar
‘An inventive, incisive first book’
Ben Wilkinson, Times Literary Supplement


Tony Williams

Great Edwardian
Tony Williams

A cock-pheasant on the steaming muckheap:
Prospero admiring all. Those deep inks,
the bludgeoned, sexual midnight and a pope’s
vermillion, are his interiors. He stands,
coat-tails trembling in the breeze, and smokes
and gazes out across the wooded sea.
Mock-Tudor dragonfly, he delays his flit.
Behind him are the lit boxes of his ease,
where guests and sisters sit and wait.
His mind is gaslight. His gaze travels over
the flocked regimental walls, the farm’s brickwork:
it seems as if he is about to speak.
The meal is ended. Watching the evening droop,
he hears the clearing of the plates, the tinkle
of a pianola, stubs his Rey del Mundo
in a jardinière, and puffs his breast.
A cloud-mass dulls the sheen of his regalia.
He shivers: his island has grown suddenly cold.
A Missing Person
Tony Williams

Where else do people start to look
for their loved ones but in themselves?
The nip to the shops, the route to town,
a place they stop with the wheelie bin
and just look and think of somewhere else—
the rhododendrons in the park,
the alley where you might have been
wherever you were going, why,
and who to meet; and then they think
of the jeans you might have worn, the pink
T-shirt and what its slogan, I
Don’t Know You, quite what that might mean,
and while they’re rummaging upstairs
to see what’s dirty and what’s clean,
which of your things are indispensable
and still there, they start to wonder where
you’d go if you were you. Or run,
according to the sort of trouble
you were in. And then they think
obscurely of the hardware shop
whose awning shades the silent street
below the town hall’s hulk of soot,
grandfatherly advice, the stink
of metalwork and rubber clips,
and how from there a path might drop
between a graveyard and a gritstone wall
towards the centre of the place,
the domes of cobbles on the slope
pressing their feet, an infant school’s
high hubbub out proclaiming peace.
A laughter in the local accent
floats across the pond. They sit
till nightfall at the swings’ stilled
pendulums, watching a face concealed
by sky and mortar, stone and light.
I’m here, you say. The town. I’m found.
from The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street (Salt, 2009)
Order The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street.
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Visit Tony’s website.

Gift from the Sea

“Intermittency — an impossible lesson for human beings to learn. How can one learn to live through the ebb-tides of one’s existence? How can one learn to take the trough of the wave? It is easier to understand here on the beach, where the breathlessly still ebb-tides reveal another life below the level which mortals usually reach. In this crystalline moment of suspense, one has a sudden revelation of the secret kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here in the shallow flats one finds, wading through warm ripples, great horse-conchs pivoting on a leg; white sand dollars, marble medallions engraved in the mud; and myriads of bright-colored cochina-clams, glistening in the foam, their shells opening and shutting like butterflies’ wings. So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when the encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea (1955)

Welcoming the world

Tonight, the FIFA World Cup™ Kick-off Celebration will be staged at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Tomorrow, the Opening Ceremony will be held at Soccer City Stadium followed by the opening match between South Africa and Mexico.
Welcome to South Africa!
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

Xhosa and Zulu

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.
Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,
Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

Poetry for children and the young at heart

Angela Topping draws her inspiration for her children’s poems from her bookish childhood full of make-believe and fairy stories, her work with children, both as a poet-in-schools and an English teacher, and as a mother of two lovely daughters, now grown up. The New Generation (Salt, 2010) is her first collection for children, however, she is the author of three poetry collections for adults. She is also known for her educational resources, critical books and as a reviewer.

Angela Topping

“A lively collection that will capture the interest and imagination of young readers.”
– John Foster
“To quote one of her poems “It’s kids stuff – but I like it”. Except it isn’t just for kids. Rich in language, tone, style and voice, the variety of subjects that matter ensure that adults and children alike will find much to delight in.”
– Paul Cookson
“Among the whimsy that sometimes passes for children’s poetry, Angela Topping’s new book stands out. It is witty and technically inventive. Like most of the best poetry, it stands at a slight angle to the world.”
– Fred Sedgwick
Aunt Jane
Angela Topping
My Auntie Jane is a funny old stick:
She’s been alive for ever.
She likes to wear a long black dress,
a hat with a raven’s feather.
Her skin is pale like marble,
her teeth are gleaming white,
her eyes are hard to fathom
She’ll go out only at night.
She chooses crimson lipstick,
pointed shoes upon her feet,
her hair is swept up high.
I’ve never seen her eat.
I’m not allowed to visit her
without my mum and dad:
she has some quaint old habits:
my friends think she is mad.
Her house is quaintly spooky.
It’s old fashioned, dark and cold.
She hugs me very tightly,
I can’t escape her hold.
She always keeps the curtains drawn
and does not like the light,
there’s not a mirror to be seen
for she claims she looks a sight.
She tells me how she loves me
She’ll eat me up, she cries,
What pointed teeth my auntie has
What terrifying eyes!
My parents say it’s time to go
And wrap me in my coat
They take such special care to tie
my scarf around my throat.
They say Aunt Jane’s eccentric
and is better left alone
with her spooky castle of a house,
her bed carved out of stone.
Angela Topping

He was a tall black Arab,
She was five years old,
the first black person
she had ever seen.
It was love at first sight.
He was big and gentle,
sat her on his knee,
called her a little lady,
taught her strange new facts.
His list of continents began with Africa.
They were always together.
In his home he was a teacher.
She loved his beautiful skin,
his soft curly hair.
Now she knew the world differently.
Walking in the garden
she only reached his knee,
Her small hand resting
in his huge strong fist.
He sent her postcards for years.
Only later did she know
how her father had
defended him from
people in the street.
How could anyone not love
Nasr Hassan Abbas?
His very name was a poem.
A shelter from any storm.
Now she knew the world differently.
from The New Generation (Salt,2010)
Visit Salt Kids, the home for children’s poetry.
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Visit Angela’s website.