Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tade Ipadeola: Three Poems

Tade Ipadeola is the author of two volumes of poetry – A Time of Signs (2000) and The Rain Fardel (2005). He has also published short stories and essays. In 2009, he won the Delphic Laurel in poetry with his poem ‘Songbird’ in Jeju, South Korea. He is currently working on his third volume of poetry provisionally titled The Sahara Testaments, a sequence of 1000 quatrains on the Sahara. Tade currently serves as the President of PEN Nigeria Centre and lives in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he writes and practices law.
Maputo Olive

          for Lisa Combrink
Your poem nails home horseshoes,
wears hat, mounts steed,
does not look back.
And longing strives but cannot cross
the field. Like Zeno’s arrow.

From now on, the miles
are marked with milestones
of sapphire and a bush
of flowers each
a different fragrance, each a note
from your music that wore a hat
and spurred my wistfulness

into the terraced night.
Marrakesh is a hummingbird standing still in the sun,
A thesis in motion, stilling tongues and dialects.
I have watched as her streets dissolve in fun
At night, a Mobius rendering of joy’s analects

Leaving Casablanca and its dreams unfurling
With the calligraphy of seismographs, we try
For a trail left by old Almoravids, night calling
The party to a closet of camphor, bracing and dry.
The Radius
The radius of love spans
Beyond the fringes of light,
It spans the darkness
And all the world that’s yet to come –

So I love this land,
I love the loam,
I love the clay,
The streams and rivers.

I’m in love with the rocks
And trees, the green grass,
The wind when it blows
Across the land.

Love brings my buntings
Of goatbell orchids and guava scent
Strewn along the paths
Whenever dawn breaks –

Love is my bunting
When I mulch planted yam sets –
When I hoe and gather grass,
To shape into halos.

Liquid is my love
When I spill in tears
On plots of careless green
And parched tomato patches.

My love provides the incense
When we pay respect
And we become reconciled
As the aged depart,
As chiefs persevere onwards.

Love is the fire that lights the pyre
When nothing of the earth
Can hold a gallant more
When nothing idle
May ever more proceed.

The radius of love spans
The stretch of the universe
And time cannot contain
The melodies that love makes.

Tade on Fiditi at African Writers Online.
Molara Wood reviews The Rain Fardel at Sentinel Poetry.

Sharon Black’s To Know Bedrock

Sharon Black is originally from Glasgow but now lives in the Cévennes mountains of southern France. In her former life she was a journalist; in her current one she runs a holiday retreat and organizes courses that include creative writing. After studying French at Aberdeen University, she taught English in Japan. Lesser but equally entertaining jobs have included being a Pizza Hut waitress, cinema usherette, shop assistant, au-pair, interpreter, language tutor and pressing fliers for dodgy Spanish timeshares onto British tourists. Her poems have been widely published and won many prizes and are collected together for the first time in To Know Bedrock (Pindrop Press,2011).
“Sharon Black’s poems are meditations on memory and family, on the way the present triggers images of the past. But they are also gentle explorations of the skin and bone of bodies, and the oddities of landscape, deft and highly tactile: a series of deceptively quiet lullabies to the inner and outer world. Hidden among the gentle, teasing and tender images – of love, of birth, of dying – there are also suddenly disturbing moments, as in a poem about a terrorist bomber, which make the reader want to go back and search the poems for the little inklings of pain as well as the sensory delights. This is a really absorbing and pleasurable first collection, with a constant enjoyment of the individual power of words.”
– Bill Greenwell 
“Whether she’s writing of birth (real or metaphorical), of love or of journeys, Sharon’s voice is an original one: tender, tough, imaginative. She doesn’t flinch from the harsher aspects of being alive: the unborn child, breast cancer and loss all figure in her work. Here too are passionate, visceral poems that hold together both love and death. Many of her poems are rooted in her native Scotland, with the Hebrides a recurring motif. There’s a mysterious Other in some of her work – one perhaps of and in the land, perhaps beyond it. Her work might be that elusive treasure brought to the surface in the ‘net of the moon’ trawling ‘the sea of the night’.”
– Roselle Angwin
(i)     Circling
She spends her days
     in their flat above The Gala
listening for his tread,
     pacing the worn Kashmiri carpet,
twisting the gold band
     round her finger.
It circles her henna-painted skin,
     the red knuckle
of a life led in-waiting;
     it circles her flesh
like a hawk, like a dog
     chasing its tail,
like the hands of the clock
     above her kitchen sink,
like the moon, Chandra,
     that keeps its distance
while roulette balls below her feet
     narrow their target
in ever-decreasing circles
     and everyone stands
an equal chance.
(ii)     Shopping
Six months in Scotland and her sari’s lost
its scorched scent of spices:
star anise in open baskets,
cardamom pods crushed into
pots of steaming chai,
plumes of cumin-tinged smoke
rising from the chapattis spun thin
by crouching women.
The coloured silks brushing her ankles
are rain-smeared, grey
as she makes her way
to Chadni’s Cash’n’Carry.
She’s fading from the outside in.
(iii)     Air Mail
She struggles to understand
the man behind glass
pushing the parcel back to her.
His words rush like a monsoon through slums,
churning silt and mud
until she feels she’s drowning.
Please, madad karo, she says,
the phrase trickling over her lip
like the holy water at Tungnath temple.
But he doesn’t help –
waves her on, shaking his head
as another customer pushes past.
A poster of stamps reads
Birds of the World,
each depicting outstretched wings –
she thinks of ioras swooping and diving
above her village shrine where she used to lay
sweetened laddu, rose petals.
from To Know Bedrock (Pindrop Press, 2011).
Order To Know Bedrock.
Visit Sharon’s website.

Genna Gardini: Two Poems


Genna Gardini is a writer based in Cape Town. 
Horses Heads: 
Try sit me by the Afrikaans boy,
match our stretchmarks with tongues,
and watch, we will only learn to love each other
rud-fisted, phonetically.
My mother didn’t understand the teacher,
who kept a china-plate in place of her palate
but, then, she couldn’t follow all the implied italics
in the harp-dipped mountains, either,
so we didn’t move back to the old country
(which it really was,
the plane-full of your Zias,
gold-rimmed and permanent, even in economy
looking the way they always did to you:
like money on a farm)
or stay in the tickertape dentist’s office
that was her Harare,
settling out and up, instead,
monkeys, and Michele, wild in our acre.
Please don’t chastise me
for having read my olive-skin off
like you think if I aired all my sun’d linen
I’d be any less of a white.
First published in New Contrast.
Mister, you crinkle off my broeks
like a yellow sucker wrapper,
calling me precious
(or, precocious, I can’t tell which
with the crackle of this cellophane hymen
caught snapping like a lid on your mouth).
You are as thready as a wear in the leather,
puffing from the crook of your collapsed chin,
asking to “let me run one of your powder stockings,
cobbled, down my shin”
until, with one fowled swoop of your sciatic,
hip-replacement-in-the-attic arm,
you sit me slap on your knee, how old are we?, say pretty,
pretty in your yellow dress!
(and, of course, you can guess the rest).
I am bucked and perched, my ‘bit chest fresh,
my patent white feet swinging wide-soled and sweet,
while one finger, thick and sticky as a popsicle,
is slid in to check if the dough is ready.
But you like to crack the inside soft,
with a little time to spare,
and I find your tweed hands itching and
plying my two dumpling knees apart
as if to trace by heart a start on a sore
that isn’t even a scab, yet.
I could slip you in, flaccid, to the side, I offer,
but it seems there’s cutting in you still
(or at least, enough to slick one smooth slice between).
So I seep you all out, mister, yellow and mean.
First published in POWA 2007
Breaking the Silence: Murmurs of the Girl in Me.

Wintering, A Novel of Sylvia Plath

“This engrossing debut novel depicts Sylvia Plath’s feverish artistic process in the bitter aftermath of her failed marriage to Ted Hughes—the excruciating yet astoundingly productive period during which she wrote Ariel, her defining last collection of poems.
In December 1962, shortly before her suicide, Plath moved with her two children to London from the Hughses’ home in Devon. Focusing on the weeks after their arrival, but weaving back through the years of Plath’s marriage, Kate Moses imagines the poet juggling the demands of motherhood and muse, shielding her life from her own mother, and by turns cherishing and demonising her relationship with Hughes. Richly imagined yet meticulously faithful to the actual events of Plath’s life, Wintering locates within the isolation and terror of Plath’s despair remarkable moments of exhilaration and fragile hope.”
“Kate Moses, against all odds, has produced an admirably just and unexaggerated work of psychological empathy. She succeeds in making her readers feel what it must have been like to be Sylvia Plath while sympathising at the same time with Ted Hughes and his perplexed response to his wife’s desperate needs. Everyone who seeks a valid, impartial explanation for Plath’s suicide should read this book.”
– Anne Stevenson, author of Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath 
“Kate Moses knows everything on record about Sylvia Plath, but her novelist’s imagination takes us into those crevices of Plath’s mind where no one else has ever penetrated. No other version of those mysterious nine months before Sylvia Plath’s suicide goes so far to restore to life the poet, the woman, whom I knew.”
– Peter Davidson, author of The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston,
   from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath, 1955–1960 

“The poems of Ariel that swarmed from Sylvia Plath as her marriage collapsed form the point of departure in this beautiful novel, which is exquisitely attuned to the strange half-life of the nerves produced by shattered intimacy.” 
– Diane Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton: A Biography and
   Her Husband, on the marriage of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
“She knows, too, something about the movement of the poems as a body, how they rise like a startled flock, flying as one, wheeling, spreading chaotically across the sky, finally alighting in the same tree. She knows the story she wants them to tell. It is her story. It is where she wills herself to go; it is an incantation. She’s giving shape to her life, past and future, with these poems. Like the arrangement of cards in a Tarot deck as they are turned up, it is not just the poems but their relation to each other that matters. She knows where she wants to begin.
The first poem is “Morning Song”; its first word is “love”.”
Kate Moses was born in San Francisco in 1962 to a British father and an American mother and grew up in various parts of the United States before returning to California to attend college. She subsequently worked as an editor in publishing and as literary director at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts. In 1997, she became one of the two founding editors of’s Mothers Who Think website, which led to the American Book Award-winning anthology Mothers Who Think, coedited with Camille Peri. which in turn inspired the nationally bestselling, American Book Award-winning anthology Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood (Villard 1999, Washington Square Press 2000) and Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves (HarperCollins 2005, 2006). In 2003, her first novel, Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath (St. Martin’s Press, Anchor Books 2003) was published to international acclaim. Translated into thirteen languages, Wintering received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and a Prix des Lectrices de Elle in France. Her latest book is Cakewalk, A Memoir (The Dial Press, May 2010), the result of a lifelong love of sugar and stories. 
Kate is a contributor to several anthologies, including Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave edited by Ellen Sussman, The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath edited Anita Plath Helle, and The Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors edited by Laura Miller. She has been a MacDowell Fellow, an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts, and the recipient of an Everett Helm Research Fellowship from the Lilly Library at Indiana University. She lives in San Francisco with her family — journalist and founder, Gary Kamiya, and their two children. 
Order Wintering, A Novel of Sylvia Plath.
Visit Kate’s website.

Secrets and Lies by Margie Orford

So, I fly up to Jo’burg to take part in celebrations for Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer’s 88th birthday. The taxi driver, who took me and the group of writers I was with, was pulled over and extorted in central Jo’burg. An enormous man with muscles rippling up the back of his shaved head climbed into the front of the minibus and told our driver to get out and hand over cash. The driver, a sensible and experienced man, did so at once. He peeled off notes three times before Muscle Head let us go. It made me feel dirty, knowing that it is so easy to be rolled over and ripped off.
But be that as it may, last Friday was the day the Mail & Guardian did the time warp. They blacked out a story about arms, secrets and lies that they had been prevented from publishing. The reason? The journalists were threatened with arrest for publishing a story that was clearly, fairly and squarely in the public interest. The censored pages were an instant flashback to the 1980s when censorship by a vicious and paranoid state, aware that power was slipping from its bloodied hands, reached a feverish pitch.
The laws governing freedom of expression and the press were draconian then. They were designed to silence the public and to keep secret what officials were doing. That was all swept aside in the euphoria of the early nineties, and freedom of expression – the right to the truth, I suppose – was enshrined in the constitution. We all should have lived happily ever after but there was to be a twist in the ending of this tale.
It was called ‘The Arms Deal’. Despite a lot of complicated detail, the story is mind-numbingly simple in essence. Senior party members and government fleeced a trusting and hopeful nation by ordering obsolete, unnecessary weapons at inflated prices. Kickbacks from arms manufacturers were brokered and money flowed into Swiss bank accounts. It has felt a bit crazy for a while. They know they did it. We know they did it. They know we know they did it. We know they know we know they did it …
It’s enough already because the arms deal, a dark, vampiric twin has shadowed South Africa’s democracy since it was brokered. The arms deal, I’ve heard it rumoured, goes back as far back as 1992. This venal deal was struck between nasty businessmen representing European governments and arms manufacturers, and the revolutionary wideboys whom they’d assiduously courted with the single malt and Cuban cigars.
It’s almost twenty years that this malignant party-spoiler has lurked. Most of us – the fleeced – wished that they – the blustering fleecers – would go away. That they would go to jail without passing Go, without collecting more money. That was too much to ask, as became clear after Shabir Shaik went to jail briefly on behalf of everyone. Those within government and the prosecuting authorities who worked to prosecute those involved were sidelined or silenced.
The garments of ethics and trust are fragile. The high temperature wash required for money laundering shrunk the rainbow-nation garments we all invested in. They no longer stretched over the plump, governmental bellies. Hubris, however, has seen the politicians clinging to power, clogging the arteries of public life.
There have been frantic fig leaves of spin, but all of us looking at this tawdry spectacle can see that the emperor is naked. So are many of the courtiers, the jesters, the pageboys, the lords and ladies in waiting. And after such a long, sustained journey on the gravy train, they are not looking good.
Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and from where I am looking it is not pretty. It is also too late for a cover-up. No amount of nipping and tucking of the truth can hide the extent of the rot. It is this knowledge that is behind the ANC’s sustained attempts to push through the Protection of Information Bill, the ‘Secrecy Bill’, through parliament. This legislation, a toxic mixture of the dystopian visions of Kafka and Orwell, will hide naked greed and corruption under a cloak of secrecy and ‘classified’ information. It will criminalise those bringing governmental wrongdoing, corruption or plain ineptitude to the public’s attention.
There will be no recourse. This legislation does not even have the flimsy protection of a ‘public interest’ clause to protect the body politic. The Secrecy Bill is the legislative equivalent of a date rape – an intimate assault on a trusting public by a democratically elected government.
Visit Margie’s website.

PEN Expresses Concern over Secrecy Bill Passed in South African National Assembly

“Cape Town and London, November 23, 2011 — South African PEN and PEN International today expressed alarm over the passage of the Protection of Information Bill by the National Assembly, saying that the bill, if enacted into law, represents ‘a retreat towards the secrecy that characterised South Africa before its democratic transition’.

‘The Protection of Information Bill’, said Margie Orford, executive vice-president of South African PEN, ‘will make it both difficult and dangerous for writers and journalists to do their work. The bill contains extreme penalties – up to 25 years in prison – for anyone who holds or publishes classified information. This has grave implications for writers and journalists, as much as it does for social justice activists and ordinary citizens, because of the absence of a public interest defence clause. The powers of classification remain too broad. We are deeply concerned that this bill will be used to cover up corruption and abuses of power, both of which are rife in South Africa, and that critical voices will once more be targeted and silenced.’

The Protection of Information Bill, popularly called the Secrecy Bill, would eliminate whistleblower protections, force journalists to reveal their sources, and criminalise the withholding of classifed information. The bill does not allow for a “public interest defence”, meaning that journalists would not be protected for leaking information even when exposing government corruption or misconduct. Sentences may be as high as 25 years. The bill was introduced in 2008 and has met with strong civil society and media opposition. Pressure from Sanef (SA National Editors’ Forum), PMSA (Print Media South Africa), lawyers, other civil society organisations and the Right2Know campaign – a broad coalition of organisations – forced the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to withdraw earlier text and narrow the scope of “organs of state” that could classify information. However, the most restrictive provisions remain in place.

Last week, the ANC leaked that it would reintroduce the bill in parliament, despite assurances that the party would seek civil society input. The bill was quickly debated and passed by a significant margin. It now has to pass through the National Council of Provinces, among other procedures, and to be signed into law by President Zuma.

‘Respect for freedom of expression and a free press makes for a stronger society and often improves the work of government’, said Laura McVeigh, director of PEN International. ‘This secrecy bill denies that freedom of expression and is a step backwards for South Africa.’

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now comprises 144 Centres spanning more than 100 countries. Our programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers for global solidarity and cooperation. PEN International is a non-political organisation and holds consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO.”

For more information contact: Margie Orford of South African PEN,
t.+27 21 465 2496, m.+27 83 556 9168

Visit PEN International’s website.

Visit South African PEN’s website.


Lorna Thorpe’s Sweet Torture of Breathing

© Image by Andrew Hasson

Lorna Thorpe is the author of three poetry books. Her first publication, Dancing to Motown (Pighog Press) was a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. She followed that with her first full collection A Ghost in my House in 2008 and her latest collection, Sweet Torture of Breathing in November 2011. Both are published by Arc.
These poems are feisty, ecstatic, wry and allusive. The book might be a reflection on a near-death experience the author had in 2005 but the energy of the poems and Thorpe’s direct, plain-speaking voice makes sure that, as Linda France says, while the collection ‘toys with death and disappointment it is ultimately on the side of life, love and the perfect Martini.’
Thorpe holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she studied fiction with WG Sebald and Andrew Motion. Poetry came later. Attending a poetry workshop to help her through a difficult patch in the novel she was writing, she was encouraged to keep writing poems. She recently moved to Cornwall where she works as a freelance business and feature writer. 

‘Don’t still, my beating heart’ Lorna Thorpe writes in her second collection, Sweet Torture of Breathing (Arc Publications, 2011). It’s a sentiment that reverberates throughout a book that deals with her close brush with death following a cardiac arrest, and the psychic death that preceded it. Here are poems that take a wry, feisty look at therapy, meditation, drug smuggling, acupuncture, angels, sex in hotel rooms and the platitudes of self-help books.
The central section is a series of poems about people who died before their time, among them Janis Joplin, Maria Callas, Virginia Woolf and Ethel Rosenberg. But Thorpe is still here to tell her tale and she concludes with a section that shows her feeling her way back to life in poems that celebrate the sensual pleasures and chaos of love and living.
As before, cultural references – from Cabaret and The Corpse Bride to Six Feet Under and Atonement – layer her work and extend its autobiographical reach. Plain-speaking and engaging, Thorpe’s distinctive voice is carved out of the defiance and vulnerability of a survivor who isn’t afraid to laugh at herself.
“Life keeps breaking into Lorna Thorpe’s poems, complete with shoplifting, therapy, gravestones, sex, and the ‘cool silver of heavenly ideals’ – all of it washed down with ‘a bottle of cheap red’. This is, quite simply, a roller-coaster of a book.” 
– Alison Brackenbury
“These are chameleon poems, restless poems, poems to read in the dark, ‘wild and self-contained all at the same time’.” 
– Linda France
“… a remarkable assembly of memories, invigorated by a style as apparently raw and colourful as many of the depicted encounters, conquests and crises … But her earthy sensuality is not the product of an uncrafted style. A resonant voice ensures that these poems are grounded by the integrity of lithe diction and figurative invention. … Here is a book that is propelled by an authenticity matched by skill, in the hands of a writer who judges instinctively how to emblazon the inextricable link between events and emotions.”
– Will Daunt on A Ghost in my House 
This is your life
Once my life was buying hot rolls from the Jewish baker
in Waterloo Street at three in the morning; waking
to find the bed on fire because the candles I’d lit
before crashing into a coma had toppled over; dancing
on the tables of the Café de Paris on Sunday afternoons;
bricking it en route to the Spanish-French border
after flushing Chillum Dave’s private stash down the loo,
the petrol tank of his Volvo packed with 25 kilos of hash.
There must have been dull moments, too, bill-paying,
phone calls to utility companies but I don’t remember
ring-fencing an oasis of time in which to read
or watch an episode of Six Feet Under, worrying
I should be doing something else. I don’t remember
worry at all and even guilt only showed up
at the appropriate times, when I copped off with a guy
my friend fancied or slipped a pair of hot pants
into my bag in the changing room of Peter Robinson’s.
These days I’m as good as bloody gold but I’m forever
glancing over my shoulder in the Nothing to Declare lane,
counting minutes like Silas Marner, hoping for more
moments like the night my lover slid his hand
beneath the silk of my dress, rolled my stockings
to my ankles, told me to raise my leg and place my foot
on the chair, a moment that was so Cabaret I swear I heard
Joel Gray whispering: Here even the orchestra is beautiful.
Distressing a mirror
They must see it all, those mute confidantes:
the junior assistant flicking ash from his chest
while his boss pulls on her trousers, failing
to disguise her haste; the middle-aged woman
on her second honeymoon, tetchily removing
basque, stockings, Russian Red lipstick
while her husband snores; the naked couple
admiring the action as he takes her from behind;
the salesman jerking off to Greased and Oiled
on pay-per-view; suitcases snapped open to reveal
stacks of notes, packs of heroin, hash, cocaine;
and now and then, a knife, a smoking gun,
a body bleeding into the mattress that last night
hosted a drunken threesome from Bulgaria.
Naturally, they all get their fair share of nose-picking,
nasal hair trimming, blackhead squeezing;
rehearsed speeches declaring love, confessing betrayal;
splatterings of water, toothpaste, cum.
I no longer have the mirror in front of which I died
and was resurrected but it must have been a treat,
a respite from the routine, that daytime soap opera
fading out into a scene from ER, complete
with defib paddles and a hot paramedic in Aviator shades.
Mind, body and spirit
In the literature of self-help
there are no empty whiskey bottles,
no cigarettes rolled from fag ends
salvaged from 3 a.m. ashtrays, no fools
in love. There are relaxing bubble baths
and scented candles, of course,
there are people turning cartwheels
in the sand, women in white
boosting their immune system,
drinking Celestial Seasonings Wellness Tea
but no chipped green nail polish,
no one sitting at the dining table
with their boyfriend’s daughter,
three bottles of Chardonnay down,
chair-dancing to The Supremes.
There are quests by the dozen,
heart warming tales of triumph
over tragedy but no biting satires,
no comedies of error.
There are angels, spirit guides,
and mystic healers to help you navigate
the path to peace and harmony
but no Eeyore, Scarlet O’Hara
or Don Draper. As for Madam Bovary,
she’s signed up for a twelve step programme
with Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous,
where she’s sharing how she gets her kicks
from romantic highs, learning that she uses
them as a way to sidestep intimacy.
Crime of the century
Burning up inside, Ethel Rosenberg gets dressed
as if she’s going to a gala. For one bright moment
everything forgotten: her brother’s lies, evidence –
typewriter, console table, notes burning in a frying pan –
as flimsy as her nylons. She remembers only Julie’s touch,
his pencilled love letters, the arias she sung him
from an adjoining cell. And then he’s there, her husband,
and the room has no screen and they charge and grasp,
mouths, hands, flesh. Prised apart by guards. Julie’s face
so smeared with lipstick he looks as if he’s bleeding.
That last hot evening, their fourteenth anniversary,
they finger kiss through wire mesh, blood trickling
down the screen. At 8.06, just before the setting sun
heralds the Jewish Sabbath over Sing-Sing, Julius is dead.
Minutes later, Ethel, in a green print dress, settles
tight lips into a Mona Lisa smile. Says nothing,
winces as the electrode cap makes contact with her skull.
It takes five shocks to kill her, the oak chair made
for a man, Ethel so petite the helmet doesn’t fit, so fried
witnesses see coils of smoke rising from her head.
She dreamed of being an opera singer but who was she
to have such dreams, product of the Jewish Bronx,
a mother who belittled her, said she brought it on herself?
Anyway, her mouth would never open wide enough,
except to kiss him, her beloved Julius. His crime?
Handing over minor secrets. Hers was finding love
one New Year’s Eve, just before she went onstage to sing.
He cooled her flaming nerves. Never having known such caring
she hurled herself into her role – loyal wife, so insignificant
to the KGB, she didn’t even have a code name.
from Sweet Torture of Breathing (Arc Publications, 2011).
Order Sweet Torture of Breathing.
Visit Lorna’s website.
Launch details 
Date:  Friday, 25th November 2011
Time:  19h30 for 20h00 
Venue:  Red Roaster Café, St James St, Brighton
Entrance fee:  £5/3 
With Charlotte Gann.
Music from Simon Beavis and friends.
A Pigbaby festival event.
Date:  Wednesday, 7th December 2011
Time:  19h30
Venue:  Crown Inn, Lanlivery
Free entrance.

Keith Armstrong’s The Month of the Asparagus

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he has worked as a community development worker, poet, librarian and publisher, Keith Armstrong now resides in the seaside town of Whitley Bay. He is coordinator of the Northern Voices creative writing and community publishing project and has organised several community arts festivals in the region and many literary events. He was also founder of Ostrich poetry magazine, Poetry North East, Tyneside Poets and the Strong Words and Durham Voices community publishing series.
He recently compiled and edited books on the Durham Miners’ Gala and on the former mining communities of County Durham, the market town of Hexham and the heritage of North Tyneside. He has been a self-employed writer since 1986 and he was awarded a doctorate in 2007 for his work on Newcastle writer Jack Common at the University of Durham where he received a BA Honours Degree in Sociology in 1995 and Masters Degree in 1998 for his studies on regional culture in the North East of England. His academic study of Jack Common was published by the University of Sunderland Press in 2009.
His poetry has been published in magazines such as New Statesman, Poetry Review, Dream Catcher, and Other Poetry, as well as in the collections The Jingling Geordie, Dreaming North, Pains of Class and Imagined Corners, on cassette, LP and CD, and on radio and television. He has performed his poetry on several occasions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at festivals in Aberdeen, Bradford, Cardiff, Cheltenham (twice at the Festival of Literature – with Liz Lochhead and with ‘Sounds North’), Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Greenwich, Lancaster, and throughout the land.
In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cold War), Denmark, France, Germany (including readings at the Universities of Hamburg, Kiel, Oldenburg, Trier and Tuebingen), Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya. 

The Month of the Asparagus (Ward Wood Publishing, 2011) spans some thirty years of writing and heartfelt commitment to the craft of poetry. It is a colourful journey from Armstrong’s roots to the far corners of the world. He has a strong feeling for ordinary folk in all their complexity and demonstrates this in his lyrical grasp and desire to sing wherever he may be in his incessant poetic touring. This is the work of a rampant internationalist who never loses that local touch, combined with a sensual flair.
“In another part of the field, another field, let’s face it, sits Keith Armstrong’s rakish gaff. His poems are rooted in the Tyneside music hall tradition, closely behind which is the august balladry of the Borders. His is an unashamed bardic stance, actor rather than commentator. Throughout the collection, the authentic lyrical note of this northern poet is struck.”
– Michael Standen 
“This is a man who conquers, with his poems and charms, pubs as well as universities. He has always been an instigator and an actor in social and literary projects, an activist without whom the exchanges between the twin towns of Durham and Tübingen would be a much quieter affair. That he is a friend of many friends, able to open the most amazing doors for his guests, can be taken as read.”
– Uwe Kolbe
“There are those who tell the terrible truth in all its loveliness. Keith Armstrong is one of them, a fine poet who refuses to turn his back on the wretched of the Earth. He is one of the best and I hope his voice will be heard more and more widely.”
– Adrian Mitchell
Maud Watson, Florist
bred in a market arch
a struggle
in a city’s armpit
that flower
in your time-rough hands
a beautiful girl in a slum alley
all that kindness in your face
and you’re right
the times are not what they were
this England’s not what it was
flowers shrink in that crumbling vase
dusk creeps in on a cart
and Maud the sun is choking
Maud this island’s sinking
and all that swollen sea is
the silent majority
Two Poems for Thomas Bewick,
Celebrated Engraver on Wood

Amen Corner

The starlings en masse
roost here now.
They blend with the dark trees
in the twilight
by Bewick’s shadowy workshop.
Under the cathedral spire
they shriek and gossip
in the chill;
chit-chat of more weather.
Thomas, I think that
you could speak to birds,
knew them as you drew their words
in woodblocks.
You coaxed them from their very eggs,
uncaged them –
let them sing on the page.
Return to Cherryburn
clear of the city
you carved your name
in dog barks
and bird cries.
Your infant eyes
kept seeing
the devils in bushes
and the gods
in thrushes.
You loved
to scratch a living.
Avoiding the faces
of strange places
you dreamed of always
being a boy,
a bird or a fish,
awash in the light
of a dark wood:
a cherry burn.
Footprints home
to remember.
Tales of Spittal
This small space
for tall tales,
the leprous tongues of centuries,
hospitalised gossips,
words drifting out of ward windows
on a dripping wet afternoon.
Church reduced to a hung silence,
closed hearts
ready for a drink.
And there’s this man
like a tea leaf in the corners
of the Blenheim or the Red Lion or The Albion.
He’s gagging for a chat about the old days,
it’s on the lips of driftwood
swirling in the blown down days.
Tug the fruit machine,
wallop down a pie-eyed dream.
The ghosts of Victorian ladies
hiss along the promenade
as we are hit in the face
with sepia breezes.
They come from North Sea places
and from Kelso,
Selkirk and Hawick;
they ripple the surface of the sea
and the leaves in the border forests.
Take the ancient waters,
sips of iron and sulphur,
bathe yourself in history and grime.
Pellets of sleet,
hail a watery charabanc drive,
run a hot bath
down the prom prom prom.
And let the keen and callous wind
whip up the skirts of the Tweedside girls
so you can dance for your lives.
We are the Spittal folk,
the old Pierrots,
our songs are shattered
on ancient rocks.
Our children skip through the clutter of news.
Bless them,
bless young hearts.
Splash in Bishop’s Water,
in fishing places,
songs of herring and of salmon.
Spittal Rovers
sing again.
Leap for breath
in the ways of spring.
Keep an Eye on the Martini Tower for Me
Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I struggle with my life.
I still miss the smell of fish
and the smoke of the Huis de Beurs.
I will be back, with another song,
for Mister Wilcox’s Liberation Tour.
I will be ready for that Pancake Ship
and the drunken stools of O’Ceallaigh’s.
Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me
while I work out which view to see.
I will be shouting in a twin-town
and killing my name with romance.
I will be smashing through politicians
and drowning in red lights.
I will be rehearsing poems,
forgetting how real life hurts.
Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I’m tearing up coasts to meet you.
You’ll see my ghost in Schipol,
with a pint of strong blood in a glass.
I’m on my way back to Groningen,
with the smack of three kisses on me,
to shake the warm hand of a city poet,
to piss in the face of a heckler.
Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
I was happy in the Land of Cockaigne.
I could see clowns on a dismal day
and blondes in a sea of black.
I met a Grey Man with a girl of nineteen
and I asked him to show me the way.
I saw an old hand hack the guts from a beast
and sucked a cigar to be kind.
Keep an eye on the Martini Tower for me,
don’t let her fly away.
I need her to hold my life together,
I crave her to show me the way.
I want her to lean my fragile bones against,
I need history to guide my feet.
I have left a careworn scarf with you,
keep it warm for when I come back.
from The Month of the Asparagus (Ward Wood Publishing, 2011).
Order The Month of Asparagus.
Visit Keith’s blog.

Angela Topping’s I Sing of Bricks

Angela Topping is the author of three poetry collections and one children’s collection (The New Generation, Salt 2010). She has edited two books and is the co-author of several GCSE English Literature textbooks for OUP. She has written two critical books for Greenwich Exchange, with a third in the pipeline. After a career in teaching she now writes full time. Married with two adult daughters, she lives in Cheshire. 

Angela Topping’s poems are full of joy, tempered by sadness and unflinchingly honest. She writes in a range of voices, always concentrating on the human experience, sometimes through unusual routes, like bricks, shoes, a single glove. These are poems in which the senses inform the striking imagery, where love is measured in actualities, and observation is close and truthful. Her feet are firmly rooted to the earth, though her head may be full of dreams and memories. Her working class childhood combined with her subsequent immersion in Literature, and passion for writing from an early age, combine to make her work accessible as well as poetically exciting. I Sing of Bricks (Salt Publishing, 2011) is her fourth book for adults.
“Angela Topping has the knack of making the reader see things anew, of reinventing lyrical forms, and of disarming sceptics like myself with the ‘unexpected love’ which occurs throughout this carefully ordered and original work.”
– Rupert Loydell
“These are poems that come alive as they negotiate the small details that make meaning in a life, meeting the end of love and lives with compassion and feeling.”
– Deryn Rees Jones
“Angela Topping sings of bricks and cups and perfect grapes. She sings of the concrete, the power of objects, like a spell to ward off loss.”
– Helen Ivory
Rosemary Chapel
i.m. Matt Simpson
          A poet dies. Or not. Words
          He wrote resonate somewhere.
                    — Edward Lucie-Smith
There should have been a wake for you,
a night of howling, whisky-soaked farewells,
a chance to steal a lock of your white hair,
recite your tender poems about death.
Not these jumbled words in Rosemary Chapel
where death is made polite and funeral guests
are silent in stiff suits, while some of us,
your dearest ones, imprison sobs in throats.
And there’s your photograph, with teasing eyes,
always game for laughs, or some daft pun.
It can’t be right that you have gone and yet
the phone is quiet now, the emails stopped.
Your image watches over us, as if
waiting for the punch line, the reveal
when you’ll jump out and giggle ‘gotcha’. But no.
You stubbornly insist on being dead.
Now the wake begins. We have to believe
you’re never coming back, except in dreams
or in the echo of a melody you loved
and finished black words on a white page.
How to Capture a Poem
Look for one at midnight
on the dark side of a backlit angel
or in the space between a sigh
and a word. Winter trees, those
elegant ladies, dressed in diamonds
and white fur, may hide another.
Look for rhythm in the feet
of a waltzing couple one, two, three-ing
in an empty hall, or in the sound
of any heartbeat, the breath of a sleeper,
the bossy rattle of keyboards in offices,
the skittering of paper blown along.
You could find a whole line
incised into stone or scrawled on sky.
Words float on air in buses, are bandied
on street corners, overheard in pubs,
caught in the pages of books, sealed
behind tight lips, marshalled as weapons.
Supposing you can catch a poem,
it won’t tell you all it knows. Its voice
is a whisper through a wall, a streak of silk
going by, the scratch of a ghost, the creaks
of a house at night, the sound of the earth
vibrating in spring, with all its secret life.
You have to listen: the poem chooses itself,
takes shape and begins to declare what it is.
Honour the given, else it will become petulant.
When you have done your best,
you have to let it go. Season it with salt
from your body, grease it with oil from your skin.
Release it. It has nothing more to do
with you. You’re no more its owner
than you hold the wind. Never expect gratitude.
from I Sing of Bricks (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order I Sing of Bricks.
Read Mark Burnhope’s review.
Read Afric McGlinchey ‘s review.

Max Wallis’s Modern Love

Widely published in magazines and journals, including Popshot, Cadaverine and Soul Feathers (alongside Carol Ann Duffy and Leonard Cohen), Max Wallis has found recognition early. Between October 2010 and March 2011 he took part in the Barbican Centre’s prestigious Young Poets Scheme and proved himself as agile on stage as his work is on the page. Max is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester where he is working on a début novel and a full collection of poetry. He also runs the project ‘somethingeveryday’ which brings award-winning authors, poets and artists together to challenge their craft through a daily discipline. At twenty-one, Max Wallis has been described by David Hoyle as the future of poetry. Modern Love (flipped eye, 2011), his début pamphlet, gives weight to that claim.

In his début pamphlet, Max Wallis traces the year-long course of a love affair and all its constituent parts: sex and sensuality, longing and loneliness, desire and disappointment, heady beginnings and inevitable endings in a world dominated by high street brands, text messaging and social media. Featuring trademark acrobatics with language in an attempt to grapple with this fast, feisty world, Modern Love recasts love in a sincere, vivacious voice.


Modern Love – originally the title of George Meredith’s 1862 book of 16-line sonnets, thenceforth known as Meredithian sonnets – looks to trace the year-long course of a passion as echoed through contemporary manners and languages such as texting and Facebook. The subject may, of course, equally be filed under desire, need, obsession, ecstasy, insecurity and fear, but then these are the chapters of the discourse of love. Inventive and intense at best, the discourse here has an urgency that refuses to settle.”

– George Szirtes
“Max Wallis shows that modern love is the same as love ever was. The heart beats in the same way, the silences, kisses and stillnesses shared by lovers are as they ever were, ever will be.”

– Helen Ivory

“Max Wallis’s Modern Love is a year long cycle of youthful love and its twists and turns. He mixes everyday images with tight observation and flashes of beautiful observation as metaphors of entanglement. Hope brightens, then drops its hand as the cycle moves into the gentle melancholy of loss and not knowing.”

– John Siddique

Modern Love presents love absent of all its Hollywood romanticism. It’s visceral, liminal, alcoholic and all the more romantic for it. Disturbingly sublime.”

Popshot Magazine

Thinking Infinity

All the days to tread till I meet you. All the miles walking together around kitchens, homes and showrooms clutching our Tesco/Morrisons/Waitrose-trolley-full-dreams. Swearing whilst our kids watch us, getting in a huff over what type of juice is good. I’m young; I’m old, still thinking this. Every stolen pillow is a memory out of reach on a shelf with steampressed showers, clammyfucked meek and sweet. On that ledge there’s your bottom shaped in tea leaves, stained mugs and all the silent faceless dreams I’ve had. In nightcoiled alleys you’re lamppost-flashing, winking a morse code language from a daylight, daybreak, future-never-seen and there at a place I can’t reach you’re dancing, smiling all-knowing because my feet can’t walk through time yet. Try as they might I can’t get the dance right. This could be five hundred poems, and it has and it will, every sky I’m under is over you, too; every time I sleep I’m eyetight, thinking of you clearly. All these drinks I’ve drowned, toasted dearly, dear. Every moment spent ticks towards our meeting, starbound, trapped, heavy, heaving. Kissing. Like this. x. And this. x. And this. x.


Modern Love: Texting

We send each other text messages at work.
Discuss what we’re having for lunch.
Ether-joined by unlimited messages and pixel screens.
Two minutes after saying goodbye on dates
our phones jangle, vibrate,
‘I had a lovely time tonight :-)’.

The little xx means more from you.
You give me fewer than my mum.
I look and linger at them, there,
at the end of your miniature letters.
Save the sweet ones in a folder
and read them when down.

‘These are the reasons I love you.’
‘Do you want to go to the cinema at four?’
‘I’ve never felt this before.’
I smile when I see your name appear.

The lump is a plastic pebble in my pocket
heavy with the weight of expectancy.
Linked to everything, almost sentient
it throbs with the lives
of so many people a button press away:
Facebook, e-mails, Google
and you.

When people are gone: vanished.
Ephemeral ghosts that exist
but don’t. That breathe,
but don’t.
The wishing wells in which we shed our coins.
Our thumbs linger over ‘DELETE’
as though they’ll disappear from memory, too.

Punch. Gone. The love letter’s dead.
Think that’ll make us feel better.
When our hearts turn red again,
we’ll wish we had the numbers still
to say
hello, hi, how do you do.


All The Words

All the words forgotten,
words never said to strangers
on buses too shy to summon courage:

All the words I’ve lost
in time, death, life,
bundled up in bodies not my own,
words I could have used and never will.

All the words I’ve played games with
     ‘love’, ‘forever’, ‘everthing’,
and been forgiven for playing.

The words I’m no longer afraid of,
          ‘I’, ‘us’, ‘we’.

Those I’ve found,
yours is the word that never dies
but burns and burns and burns.


I Walk The City At Night To Find You.

I walk the city at night to find you.
Clockworked windup feet carry me
on buses, through alleys,
away from crowds.

Absent, I drift.
Night time’s a clown
rubbing off its make-up.

Every face
     this is you sad
     this is you happy
     this is you black

I walk and walk and walk.
Buildings are trees.
There’s no GPS or breadcrumbs
for a beating heart.

I sit by the wheel for ten minutes,
wait, watch,
then leave.


Allow yourself this one day

hungover from love. To sit in your sad cocoon
bed-lain on lemon bon bon sheets and sick with ache,
cuddling your bones. Let the day roll into night.
Do not fret about the red numbers in your account,
about deadlines and business worries; pick up three
books and do not read them. Wallow in coffee,
or simply nothing, as you tap-tap through Twitter feeds
and text messages and nonsense mad thoughts.
Let yourself reek with the unwash of sleep-sweats
and salt tears. Eat the mirror on your wall.
Play the unhappy songs that in bed you kissed,
had sex, made love to, that time, when sex became
heart-bare: skintouched, and those eyes.

Tomorrow you can sit in the warmth of a bath
clean your nails, pluck your brow, shave off the fluff;
eat, drink, clean your room of your last meals
and bed-locked naked picnics. Tomorrow you can sail
in fresh linen and clothes, listen to happy songs
with no meaning but pop-tones, through a new day;
today is today, this day, my love.

from Modern Love (flipped eye, 2011).

Order Modern Love here or here.

Visit Max’s website.

Follow Max’s Arts Council funded project The Wedlock Winter.