Kelwyn Sole was born in Johannesburg in 1951 and has lived in Windhoek, London and Kanye. At present he is a Professor in the English Department of the University of Cape Town. Absent Tongues (Hands-On Books, 2012) is his sixth collection of poetry. His other collections include The Blood of Our Silence (Ravan, 1987), Projections in the Past Tense (Ravan, 1992), Love That is Night (Gecko, 1998), Mirror and Water Gazing (Gecko/UKZN Press, 2001) and Land Dreaming: Prose Poems (UKZN Press, 2006).
A stammer that passes for language
Driving all night …
on my radio
just one maudlin singer
to replace another –
crackles of static –
to make sense
of each augmented beat,
every concussive affectation
each time your bravado passes,
going the other way on
much faster wheels
– until finally
prayers and curses,
as the scalding voice
of an ambulance flares red
between the fields.
– What did you want to say to me?
I wanted to say
we share meaning
only as bodies in collision:
picking through strewn wreckage,
looking for a limb to recognise,
hoping to take it home.
Autumn works away like a carpenter
dismantling the promises of spring –
our shelters brought so slowly down
it’s hard to recollect when each wall
fell, foretell when each corrupt plank
will crumble. Too lush a green
is the colour that warps away
from the grass to leave a yellow
dull as urine from a spiteful god,
but a reference we are used to.
To go on living, here, requires a house,
a cat, and an expectation at least
about a future where the eggs
can poach, the cat heave its body
with a thump through the small door
that human hands have sawn for it;
requires a house, preferably of stone,
squatting its grey toad weight on the land
and refusing to budge for anyone.
Such houses are no longer built.
All that remains is a sky
migrating birds fly up towards
like wrenched-out nails, a moon
that bristles with convulsions of cloud
too scrawny to bring more rain
– the dry centre of our hearts laid bare –
and stars dipping nearer to a horizon
over which they will soon loiter.
Cold batters on each face exposed
with all of its bleak hammers:
there’s just no way to smile left
but to keep squinting upwards like a fool
even as our doors unhinge, eyes
turn to mirrors of broken glass.
The only way to keep warm now
is to build a dwelling out of air,
draw invisible blankets to your chin;
painstakingly think your home around you.
Mine will have already open doors,
too many rooms in case of children –
I’ll call high windows into being
(to watch the sky plait a million blues)
add a family room for everyone
who may choose to be related.
I’ll put a tin roof on my dreams
for any young ones with stentorian boots
that’s silly enough for love. Even though
the cupboards open to only an echo
passers-by will stop amazed
that such a house can take a shape
– though never, I know, in envy.
There. Now I’ve no recourse but to live.
This is the house my hunger built:
the pain hides where you want it.
from Absent Tongues (Hands-On Books, 2012).
Order Absent Tongues from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Kelwyn at Poetry International Web.
Born in 1969, Karen Dennison’s passion for poetry began in her early thirties. Her poems have been published in South, Orbis, The New Writer, Ink Sweat and Tears and poetrywivenhoe 2011. Karen won the Indigo Dreams Collection Competition in 2011.
“Karen Dennison’s first collection, Counting Rain (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2012), is a quiet and moving series of poems, in which the most recurrent theme is the loss of childhood, and the way it lodges in the memory. ‘Here’ she writes, ‘are the rooms of our childhood,/ the walls where we wrote our names’. This is a skilful, perfectly disarming series of pieces, in which disquiet and tension lie just beneath the surface, held there carefully while the writer investigates moments of loss, love, discovery – the whole collection is like a stealthy and imaginative search for the way the past and present impact upon one another. Its timing and its imagery are exceptionally exact: this is a life that we recognise, in which the writer uses her own experience to make us think about our own. It’s wonderful – a genuine journey, trodden and re-trodden, one that’s a privilege to share.”
– Bill Greenwell
“Karen Dennison’s poems explore both the vastness of space and the intimacy of what passes between people in the cycle of birth, death, and what happens in between. She has a scientist’s concern for precision, but a poet’s ear for lyric. Her poems are direct and powerfully emotional in their desire to seek a pattern in chaos and to wake the ghosts of memory. An exciting debut.”
– Tamar Yoseloff
“Dennison’s poems bristle with disquiet and transformation. Her images leap off the page and look you right in the eye.”
– Helen Ivory
Your belly is rounded, palimpsest of moon.
Feet-up, you wait, eyes scanning the flickering screen.
The grainy transmissions are like the silvered crater
of my skull, the muffled chambers of my heart.
Through egg-shell skin, I see
a hazy light, turn like a heliotrope.
As he takes his momentous step, you feel
me kick. We’re almost weightless, he and I,
suspended between worlds. But I resist
the pull of earth, the first breathless glimpse,
begin one last slow-motion somersault,
not yet ready to breathe for myself.
123 Corbyn Street
Whatever the time of day or year
the house is drained of light:
only your Jack Russell is excited
on his invisible trampoline.
We follow shuffling feet,
shined shoes that creak,
brace-striped shoulders, hunched,
the back of your waxy head
(past the front-room saved for best,
ghosts around the piano seat).
We sit at the table,
next to the veiled window, you shouting
‘When’s he gonna cut his bloody hair?’
You disappear into the scullery
with its dinted tarnished pans
and falter your hands over tea.
Nan is shrunk into a soft,
high-backed chair, blanket on knees,
stockings crumpled like loose flesh
around her slippered feet.
Her brittle legs blossom with bruises, her hands
flutter like injured birds.
Her eyes tussle with me, under
thin black curlered hair.
‘Is that you Olive?’ she says.
As we leave, we glimpse
a door of light, a terraced row,
a treeless street, a block of bleached sky, the sun
just out of reach.
She examines her feelings with a microscope,
measures her pupil dilation with a ruler
and traps her laughter in a vacuum in a bell jar.
She hangs her dreams on the wall,
pinned and classified like butterflies,
next to anatomical drawings of her heart.
She cries onto strips of litmus, stoppers
desire into test tubes, heats it over a bunsen burner
and scorches her fingers in the blue-green flames.
With a scalpel, she cuts at the emptiness in her cells.
We bicker in the car, heading east
to the Strood causeway, winter biting our tail.
The tide is low, the white-fenced road
dry and clear, flanked by stubbled fields.
We agree to disagree amid the clink
of sail-less masts. The boats are moored
in creeks, hung with ropes.
Paint-chipped wooden prows
lean between Blackwater, Colne, sea.
Silenced by the rhythm of our steps,
we pass dog-walkers, kite-flyers,
couples hand-in-hand, parents with children
in hats and mittens, windsurfers, beachcombers,
a row of pastel beach huts, padlocked for winter.
The salted air rushes our lungs
as we walk the sandbars and shingle,
crunching shells underfoot,
erasing footprints with footprints.
Shouts and barks and voices fade to wind.
The darkening mudflats stretch
beyond wooden groynes heavy with seaweed
out to a bank of metallic sea
glistening with possibility.
Two oyster pickers bend over buckets,
dark figures amongst golden pools of cat-paws.
The sun, swung low, huge in a cloud-flecked sky
dazzles us, bleaches our memories.
White heat glosses the cool sea
and Bradwell is like a ghost ship on the horizon.
Turning back, we stop to hear a curlew, and its trill
seems to rise from our throats, like a spell.
Previously published in South 40.
from Counting Rain (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2012).
Order Counting Rain here and here.
Tim Cumming was born in Solihull and was brought up in the West Country. His poetry collections include The Miniature Estate (1991), Apocalypso (1992, 1999), Contact Print (2002) and The Rumour (2004). His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Forward’s Poems of the Decade, and Bloodaxe Books’ 2010 anthology of poetry from Ireland and the British Isles, Identity Parade. He made the acclaimed Hawkwind: Do Not Panic documentary for the BBC in 2007, has shown his film poems at cinemas and festivals in the United Kingdom and writes regularly about music and the arts for the British and international press.
“The Rapture (Salt Publishing, 2011) is the most visceral poetry collection of the year, from one of Britain’s leading cult writers, an acclaimed music journalist, filmmaker and a star of the small press scene for more than twenty years. His first collection since 2004, and drawing on a decade’s work — from the metaphorical delights of the Improvisations via the intimate, confessional poetry of Chapel of Carbon to the rich loam of landscape and memory fuelling First Music’s evocation of Dartmoor’s wild landscape — The Rapture is Tim Cumming’s strongest and most captivating book to date.”
“Tim Cumming’s The Rapture is a feast of juxtapositions. Through this most painterly of lenses, the reader finds vast panoramas and wonderfully observed detail, turbulences and stillnessness, pasts and present, the ordinary and the magnificent. In these poems, all five senses are engaged; no constellation escapes their ambitious sweep. These poems convince and delight by their extraordinary naturalness, inventiveness, cadence and intimacy.”
– Annie Freud
“Tim Cumming is a brilliant poet in many senses of the word: his poems are urbane, intimately well-observed, and evince a true wit in the sense that would have been understood by Swift or Pope: for instance as with his celebrated one-liners. The poems in The Rapture shine with an aesthetic that is pure in itself and pure satisfaction for the reader. But his work is nearly unique amongst contemporary poets in that, within this artistry, his subject matters, as they consider how a person may deal with a range of experience, are sensitive and profoundly humane. His is a perfect voice of the new times where art meets the heart.”
– John Stammers
“Tim Cumming’s urban landscapes are original, dreamy, surefooted with an intense filmic narrative. An acute sense of time and nature burns through these inspired poems.”
– Martina Evans
It was the morning after the house party.
Everyone had gone to work and she was rooting
through her handbag for cigarettes
and pills. I raised my head from a book
of Impressionist art I’d used for a pillow
and nudged a blister pack in her direction.
She bent down low and let me see her breasts
swing loose in her boyfriend’s work shirt.
‘Impressionism,’ she said, ‘The most
boring art movement in history.’
She was into abstract expressionism,
artists with a hairy back. She took a pill
and gave me a look. Chaka Khan was singing
in the kitchen and that’s how the day started,
falling open like a loose gown or prophetic book.
I pushed the book away, sat up and watched
her walk across the room on bare feet
and drop onto the sofa under the window,
legs falling open like the women in late Picasso,
the line of their haunches jerking
like a cardiograph, a catch on the line,
scribbled shapes bulging like tubers from the mind,
mouths agog, pulling her rosy mouth
to mine, lovers knotting through
the exhibition catalogue.
Brass fanfares from the land of
complementary drinks and every
table nailed down. I can’t find
the colour for my colour. Her
reflection in too many mirrors.
It’s a cloudless blue morning
in September, the kind of day
that starts straight and ends late,
unfurling its sails from the sunset,
the bottle in its bucket of ice
tilted to the cross hairs
of plane trails and true north,
the silent movement of cables
below the surface. From this
point on it’s reclaimed land,
the marks on her wrist
like musical scales.
We’re singing in the shades of
Southwark, a bottle apiece and too
much echo, the heart loosening
like well-trodden boards,
the valve opening and closing
as if the world turned on a hinge
and nights it does, bolts of white cloth
spilling at her feet and no reason,
just a small turn of the shoulders
humming down the high wire,
the full frontal under the greatcoat,
the emperor’s clothes floating
down river, the strong room empty
and the mouth wide open, the heart
beating away at itself like the birds
under the station roof at midnight
fluttering over that famous clock.
He looked back twice, put his foot in it.
The cards were good. The reading
put a crown on his head and
sat him among the harmonies of
The Byrds’ first album, the bar chords
covered in fine dust. No one had
visited for seasons, the dead skin
under the mattress could have reconstructed
Monterey Pop. He loved those early Byrds LPs,
the mono soundboard, the Cold War passed
from speaker to speaker, frame to frame,
musical chairs of the Aquarian age.
He returned to the hotel and slept heavily,
bit his lip on lucid dreaming. Late the next
morning he’d put all that ribbon in a box
and close the lid on it, put a call through.
There was no distance she couldn’t untie
and lie out beside him as if it were the most
natural thing, like two pairs and an ace,
a winning combination.
White City Improvisation
The White Cities were the queens
of France in the books of Joseph Roth,
Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer from between
the wars who died of drink and left us the legend
of the holy drinker and many other books.
I gave one to a lover on her birthday;
Confessions of a Murderer. When she gave
birth to twins her husband threw a big party,
handing out cigars and whistles and striding
around his view of the world like the ship’s
captain from Now, Voyager. I felt more
like Captain Bligh on Mars Voyager,
no new species discovered, just old gods
in hand-me-down shoes. I stood in the hallway
on the edge of nightmares too numerous
to mention, buffeted by the windsock
of the heart’s disease. The ease with metal
of really powerful storm systems rippling
from the jet stream was nothing to my love
for this woman. When we met that winter
it was a world gone mad, packed
and delivered for a flat fee, the stitching
worn from its shoes, the dimmer switch
on the whole scene like the resolution of
some improbable plot device. Backing tapes
were being changed, Hampstead cafés emptied
of old Europeans from the novels of Joseph Roth.
The road ahead had been cordoned off
for a murder investigation, forensics
and emergency bands, the traffic lights
acting as if nothing had happened.
There was no news from her news.
The moon was two days from full,
rising into the London sky from southern seas,
pulling to the curtains of the Pacific.
A water main had burst and I hung a right
down Polar Street, crossed the Harrow Road
into Kensal Rise and kept going, bullet holes
in the walls of the Magdala pub by Hampstead
Heath that winter night, going and gone,
the ghost of Ruth Ellis swaying in
the saloon. They put a rope around her neck
and watched the world turn away
over the depot buildings near the Grand Union
Canal where Eurostar carriages were cleaned
and sent back to service, the Scrubs across
the water and every traffic light turning green
across the city. She left with more than was started.
New characters, combinations stepping out of
the crowd that night, slipping into the
White Cities of Joseph Roth, the bag
on her shoulder, the tinny disco of earphones
full of love songs and flashbulbs, the voice
of the official guide from a long vanished tour
of the palace by the river, home to the king’s
own whipping boy. ‘His lordship
forbade windows from the rear.
He did not like to be overlooked.’
Three Dartmoor Tales
The wind had dropped as the prison
medical officer turned onto the
Mortonhampstead road from Princeton
that night. He could hear the movement
of unseen animals, heavy livestock
on the long tarmac curve towards Bellever,
June 1921 speckled in a dressing mirror.
The writer’s valise is carried to his room,
the fire lit by the landlord’s boy Silus Sleep
and a lamp burns at the window. He reads over
the young woman’s account of the night’s events.
‘I awoke in the morning at three, overtaken
by a feeling of intense cold and creeping dread.
We’d parked for the night by the clapper bridge
near the old gunpowder works and there on
the glass I saw a huge pair of hairy hands
climbing towards the open window.
I remember the air was quite still and silent.
I screamed and made the sign of the cross
and just as suddenly, the hands disappeared.’
The prison medical officer was less articulate.
His daughters survived the accident
by jumping from the sidecar
and they too spoke of a fall in temperature.
The authorities blamed the road’s camber
rather than the girls’ talk of another
pair of hands taking control
As for the driver of the bus that left
the road at the same spot by the old
clapper bridge some 60 years later,
Powdermills in the rear view mirror,
he was dazed and said little immediately
after the accident. ‘Some thing grabbed
the wheel,’ he told the officer.
‘There was no one there but some thing
Other than me drove that bus off the road.’
The Ripe Charge
your ground is not solid.
Shelter from expectation
and select for your fire willow,
juniper, dogwood, birch.
Burn, crush, blend and churn
with sulphur, lead, saltpetre,
and you will have your ripe charge.
Keep it in mind. There are days
like these when we drift
through time, and memory
travels infirm, gathers like kelp,
shapes beneath the tide, time
rubbed in like an aromatic herb,
persistent images knocking
at the brain stem as if they
held the spike of creation,
battering thought in the
grease of self conception.
from The Rapture (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order The Rapture.
Watch Tim’s videos.
Adrian Slatcher was born in Walsall in 1967 and grew up in Norton Canes, Staffordshire. He studied English in Lancaster and Creative Writing in Manchester where he currently lives. He works as a project manager primarily helping the arts to understand technology. He writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction and regularly blogs about literary matters at http://artoffiction.blogspot.com.
“From urban nature poems to noir nightmares Adrian Slatcher’s Playing Solitaire for Money (Salt Publishing, 2010) provides a new take on our globalised experience, seeing us as small parts in ‘a colossal machine’. The poems range from the dark to the surreal to the amusing, and are deeply engaged with understanding our fast-moving information-rich world.”
The Death of the Grand Gesture
Something was broken with us, early,
Like a hairline crack in an antique vase,
Unseen at that time,
But now that it’s broke, we can see was always there.
Five years earlier and we’d have been the luckiest brood,
Avoiding war, and getting funded through art school,
Free love, denim, David Bowie and punk rock.
Five years later, and we’d be brimming with alcopops
Raving in Ibiza, Ugg boots and iPods.
What broke in us, was a collective curse,
Like we were ladybirds in a jar,
Shaken for fun. Sick with the motion—
Born for one world, yet not ready for another.
Only now, do we see the damage, not all of us,
No way. There are survivors of the disaster,
Just as there are the survivors of any catastrophe,
Living with their unearned guilt, quietly mourning
The death of the grand gesture.
And I am sick with it still, like radiation;
We couldn’t avoid the taint
However often we marched. Our struggles are sadder
For being our own, not validated by history.
In 1983 we look unlike our memory of ourselves.
It is long enough now to be a distinctive past.
The colours have all but faded from the photograph.
Demi-perms and tight jeans of a low budget movie poster.
None of us could have weighed more than ten stone.
The last generation to grow up before consumerism took hold.
There is innocence there, and the limits of our ambition.
The space shuttle launched—reaching escape velocity.
But we never had that sense of propulsion. The suburbs
We were not a golden generation, but solid bronze, steady metal,
And we reconnect the random friendships of that time
Through a photograph posted on a website.
These two have married. And this one died.
The low quality scan of a 5 by 3 original
Cannot offer more than a surface image.
Memory, more than any photograph, has the deeper root.
Love and Death in the American Novel
Cars like buzzards preying on the carcass of the prairie;
Ragged Indian scouts broke-boned with ageing;
Slim orphans running the decks on the Mississippi paddles;
And the stiff-lipped patriarch seeing out his years;
Knowing only that with his death, so the Confederacy,
With its flag no longer flying but in tatters, burning;
The Chicago Irish and the New York Italians—
Or was it the other way round?—are gambling
At the ball game; clambering for a stake in Vegas;
Watching Jay Gatsby bet all on snake-eyes;
Cacti flowering in a desert canyon, snow-caked hills;
Lazy trailer children doing hop and for a dime
Stripping every stranger of his innocence.
It came to me in a picture house watching Fonda
Playing against type as Leone’s bad cowboy;
That whatever comes, comes to him that dreams . . .
Migrant victims of hope and war and money’s weak
Sense of what is good and right and true;
Of life and hate in American lives and
Love and death in the American novel.
A Problem with Genre
Or was it a farce? I would like to think I played some part in
A thousand ships for Helen! Well, for you a thousand more,
And the men to sail them—but we were more a short,
Forgotten, shown for two nights only on a tiny screen,
I extemporised, preferred to work from the director’s mark,
Never that good at learning lines, I wrote them down—
You were wanting a film for all the family,
Whilst I had adult themes in mind.
Always you had a problem with genre, after all,
You’d played opposite a romantic lead, and I was merely colour—
A jobbing actor: worse, the second-line writer,
Coming in to doctor a script already beyond repair.
And had we done good box office and been showered with awards
I guess we could have stayed that way, a golden couple.
But the audience did not want to see you playing against type,
Ditching your domestic roles, unbecoming as the vamp.
from Playing Solitaire for Money (Salt Publishing, 2010).
Order Playing Solitaire for Money.
Visit Adrian’s blog.
You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book (Pindrop Press, 2012) is Sarah Salway’s first poetry collection. She is the author of three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything and Getting the Picture) and a collection of short stories, Leading the Dance, as well as a collaborative flash fiction project, Messages, with Lynne Rees. Her poems have won prizes in competitions organised by Poetry London, the Essex Poetry Festival and The New Writer, and have appeared in publications including the Financial Times, The Virago Book of The Joy of Shopping, Mslexia, PEN International and Poetry London. Sarah is the Chair of the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society and her website is at www.sarahsalway.net. She is a Royal Literature Fund Fellow at the London School of Economics, and the current Canterbury Laureate, where she is running a community writing project for university students and trainee teachers, and writing a book of literary responses to gardens in Kent.
“Subtly angled glimpses of love, sex, marriage, which reveal them as they really are: matters of life and death. There’s a quiet sizzling underneath the surface of these poems, which can make you smile and wince at the same time.”
– Philip Gross
“Sexy and tragic – my favourite combination.”
– Will Hermes
“Sarah Salway gets under the skin of your secrets and makes you squirm in delicious recognition. I come undone when I read her words. Her poetry slays me.”
– Susannah Conway
“A dissection of the secrets, desires and addictions that haunt contemporary relationships; darkly funny at times, Sarah’s poetry shows us the extraordinary richness and complexity lurking just below the surface of so-called ‘ordinary’ lives.”
– Catherine Smith
“Sarah Salway is an astonishly smart writer. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
– Neil Gaiman
Love and Stationery
Tonight, women dream of stationery;
well-thumbed catalogues hidden
in bedside tables, falling open
at filing solutions. Some promise
this will be the last time, one final gaze
at industrial size staplers, hole punches.
Others take it further, chasing private
rainbows edged with Post-it notes
husbands can’t understand.
At lunchtime, propelled out by a need
for highlighters, their fingers brush
sellotape dispensers as they imagine
being held by paperclips,
protected by bubblewrap,
wiped clean with Tippex.
In quiet moments,
they will pull out new journals,
those blank pages waiting
to be filled – who knows what magic
will result from an organized life?
And when the ink runs dry,
you will find a woman standing
in front of an open stationery cupboard,
the flutter of her heart stilled
by the weight of correspondence-quality paper.
When I tell my daughter I’m working,
she nods, pulls her chair right up
to mine, elbows out, breath hot
with cheese and onion crisps.
She chooses a red pencil, starts
chewing, sighs over her blank paper,
tells me to shush. She draws us, stick
mother holding stick daughter’s hand.
Look, she says. I try to concentrate
on my work but she’s learnt
from me too well. Really look.
Clumsy fingers twist my hair
until we fight. I say she has to go now,
to let me get on with Mummy’s work.
Outside she sits so close to the door
I hear every rustle, every sigh so loud
that the note pushed under my door
comes like a white flag. Dear Mummy,
my daughter writes. This is me.
Through Carved Wooden Binoculars
1. I want to carve you some wooden binoculars.
2. I want to sew you a suit from slivers of bark.
3. I want to run up and down your body like an ant.
4. I want to take each one of your feet and bury it in earth.
5. I want you to stand still until you feel your soles bursting
as you take root.
6. I want to sleep under the canopy of your whispers.
7. I want to wake up every morning and think, Why not?
8. I want to paint each of my fingernails a different colour
just to make myself smile when I type out these words.
9. I want to watch my fingers making rainbows over
10. I want the words to keep their coloured shadows once
11. I want you to see how SEE ends on such a yellow burst.
12. I want orgasms wrapped in blue silk.
13. I want to untie them with gold ribbon, so so slowly.
14. I want to open several blue silk parcels every night.
15. I want to think, Oh I can’t, but then I will.
16. I want to make a celebration from every day, especially
this one, this day.
17. I want a day where no news media uses the words,
The problem with girls.
18. I want to run my fingers through the hair of this man I see
on the train.
19. I want nothing else from him, especially not conversation.
20. I want there to be a slight tangle, for my fingers to get
caught, to have to pull and then set it free.
21. I want to have brushed my daughter’s hair every time
22. I want to have left my chores, my cooking, my work and
picked up the brush.
23. I want to have used the silver-backed hair brush my mother
inherited from her mother.
24. I want to keep my hair long, even when I’m an old lady.
25. I want my daughter to brush my hair in my hospital bed.
26. I want to use my mother’s silver brush.
27. I want to eat a dictionary today.
28. I want to take my time, to taste the particular sharpness
of P for Pain and the slipperiness of C for Circumvent.
29. I want to be able to put my hand on my leg so I can feel
where Confess, Honour and Truth have got to.
30. I want Pleasure in my belly.
31. I want no words to hide in my heart.
32. I want to be wearing a sleeveless red dress on a hot summer
evening, I want to be luxuriating in the sensation of sun on
my skin, and I want the friend I’m with to let out a gasp.
I want to say, What’s the matter?
33. I want her to point to my arm, in the flesh of my upper arm,
where letters are appearing.
34. I want them to be in Bookman Antique.
35. I want my mother.
36. I want to look up into the sky for so long I start to see
the stars behind the stars I normally see.
37. I want some people, the people I care about, to look at me
that carefully, to see the heart beating behind my heart.
38. I want to smell wood burning and think this is what
the cavemen would have smelt. Exactly this.
39. I want a perfect pear, sliced into four and eaten on a
40. I want to spread rose petal jam on dark rye bread.
41. I want to really believe that to be greedy is to be sexy.
42. I want people to walk into my kitchen and stand still for
a moment before saying, Hmmm, cinnamon and lemon
43. I want to feel my blood as it runs round my body.
44. I want to stick a label on each part of my body denoting
previous owners: my mother’s index fingernail, my father’s
nose, my grandfather’s feet.
45. I want my body to have doors that creak open at the stomach
like an old-fashioned wooden wardrobe.
46. I want to look inside and see the labels, ‘Great Grandfather’s
sense of humour’, ‘Great Grandmother’s strong lungs’.
47. I want people to say, No one in her family has ever done
a thing like that.
48. I want those coming after me to think, Well, I can now.
49. I want all the separate parts to come together like a portrait
painted with a single brushstroke.
50. I want to know what I want.
from You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book
(Pindrop Press, 2012).
Order You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book.
Visit Sarah’s website.
Ira Lightman makes public art in the North East (the Spennymoor Letters, the Prudhoe Glade, the Gatesheads) and lately Willenhall and Southampton. He devises visual poetry forms and then asks local communities to supply words that will bring them alive.
He is a regular on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, celebrating Bob Dylan as poet by singing extracts and accompanying himself on the ukulele, or the anniversary of John Milton by writing iambic pentameter blindfold for a week.
His previous books are Duetcetera (Shearsman, 2008) and a raft of out of print chapbooks.
“The man who can make
the moment turn itself
inside out gathers all his
here. The result is a
revisiting of just what it
is that makes language
bump and bang, slip and
slide, thrill and squeal,
enrage and entrance
and, to put it simply, just
— Peter Finch
No precision to it, so I quit the job
of making up songs on the spot
over a hard blues riff
and accepted my guitar player’s lift
to the end of the street and
the bus-stop. That “and”
got postponed, though, as the mustard-hew mini
conked out when we slowed —
to let another car turn — not twenty yards out
from the off. We pushed our car left
where we’d meant to have crossed, as if
on that other car’s trail, free-wheeling down-
hill, twisting the car-key
never far enough round to fire up
and stay roaring. Braking
we went back for help. If I missed
my bus, I would miss my train, so I left
that story to finish itself
and walked to the stop. The timing tight,
the bus arrived, and we headed
for the great noun BIRMINGHAM,
its centre. My father
once lived here, or via, post the
divorce and I dreaded
to dwell long, in it or on it,
an historian’s wait for the next
train to Norwich: pleased, then, to catch
the planned train, a minute to spare.
Releasing, I let myself feel
how tired I’d got, as the two-carriage
train pulled out of that city, skimming
east-central England, syntactic,
propulsive. Everything’s true, true
and packed in small compass
in the England we several
roll through, a huge-windowed carriage
enclosing a space with its own laws
of speed. It is some kind of head,
big-eyed, many-personed, rhythmically moving
through empirical flatland, over which
we look sideways, as the train hurtles on.
I can see yellow fields
partitioned by green. I cannot not think
NORWICH CITY — the football club’s
colours, and a journey through England
is like that: a grammar
that’s linking up puns. Even I was a word
endowed with new meaning
when Ben, my guitarist, when
we last met in London, worriedly
called me “too thin” — something I’d been
ever since, though I’d eaten
and fattened up hurriedly. This weekend
he said, when a song was not working,
“you’re looking much better”. A word
and a curse, simply lifted.
and without a pen all day, I crave to bed you
with whatever words — but damn all words!
Reader of Carver, of Mina Loy, of the poet of Pearl,
I crave to silence you
in my bed, so that you may see me,
cry with me, silence me.
No silent girl
haunts me like you who, unobtainable,
perhaps, make me sweat, stretching for you, cry,
as light scattered in water falling
criss-crossing filigree showers
is streaming “outside”.
I’m learning from you
not to trust too soon,
to have the courage
to feel hurt.
When I’m interrupted
or neglected, me
I’ll ride along
with the other
kidnap of attention,
turn to who you
conversations they have
are bullshit, but
dare to let them know
I think so, as you show
you do, the
up on your earpiece,
simply looking down.
what you have described there
is having to survive throughout childhood
a father with mood swings
this is the latest depth of my therapy
I’ve found that I’m not out of hell
that as an adult leaving home
was the dark wood awaiting
by giving it context you’ve found my text’s secret
always in fear of his mood changes
then, now the same in your flatmate
you’ve picked to touchstone this stage of the purge
secretly writing of secrets you know
Reverie for a birthday
Shall I fall asleep again, I wonder,
thinking that a dream about
being fired as Oliver Stone’s
personal assistant does not need
to be recorded, and I think no,
and wake up to record it.
5am. And I forgot
I had a birthday card to post
and had meant to post it
late last night, but forgot,
and can’t be sure to catch
the right day’s post if I don’t
post it now. For an act of transmission
there’s a lot of retrieval,
really, isn’t there, as I coat
myself, in my bedclothes,
with my winter jacket,
turn a quiet key in the lock
deferring to my neighbours.
At the box I think
“7am? Someone might deliver it
today!” But I know the Royal Mail’s
extremes, and think myself safe.
I step back from the box
and look at a sole cloud form
at “12 o’clock”, a thumbprint
disc, in TV signal lines, of the right
summer morning’s frequency. It reminds me
of Honolulu, and every other dawn
I’ve faced at the refuel stop
of an overnight flight, the
low intensity pink-shot light
the earth is rolling into
the whiter heart of for a day.
A rook (it sounds nice
in the sound of things)
flaps at another speed horizontally
south to north across a sky scrolling
west as the earth rolls east. I’d forgotten
there were cars till the first
carries its heavy trundle past, left
off camera, like the first car in the world.
I look up, the thumbprint
thickened and diffused since I looked
and shot out streaks. In fact the
upturned bowl of perceivable sky
was full of thin cloud, now
dawned upon, and each is like dreams,
though they are the most minimal dreams,
aloft on the sky
through trapping a share
warmer than outside air
and therefore lighter. They are yesterday’s
today’s are thicker, starting to rise,
among them noon’s among them
from Mustard Tart As Lemon (Red Squirrel Press, 2011).
Order Mustard Tart As Lemon.
Read a review of Mustard Tart As Lemon.
Read Tony Williams’s review of Mustard Tart As Lemon and Phone in the Roll here.
Read more about Ira here.
Mark Waldron’s first book, The Brand New Dark was published by Salt Publishing in 2008. His work appears in Identity Parade, New British and Irish Poets published by Bloodaxe in 2010. He lives in east London with his wife and son.
“The Itchy Sea (Salt Publishing, 2011) is an extraordinarily vivid collection of poems which are, above all, entertaining. The poems each have a kind of freshness and cut-through that will hold the reader’s attention in a world that’s full of dazzling distractions. They are a protest against the well-founded idea that poetry has to be dull. Their concerns are sex, death, the soul and a chocolate car. Beneath their shiny surfaces they are an intense but carefree therapy session for all our infantile ids.”
Were I to jump
or to fall, or were I pushed to my death
from a high window of an apartment block,
or from the edge of a cliff,
then, at the end of that fall, the ground will act
like a sieve, keeping my flesh and bones to itself,
as well as my clothing and any other belongings
which I may have about me,
such as my keys, coins and wristwatch,
while my soul (which I am riddled with)
will continue its downward journey for a little distance
(perhaps for a metre or so, depending on the height
of the preceding drop).
And then, relieved of its hot nest,
it will wear on its face the most abject expression,
not that of the exposed oyster as it’s sucked, sobbing
from its shell, but rather,
that which the fledgling wears underneath its feathers,
when it takes its flapping plunge into maturity.
Some Time Afterwards
Perhaps it was a sense he had
of missing something which made him realise
he’d handed her a weightless ball
of complicated moving light,
which looked, admittedly, very like
a special effect from that period.
It was of a size that would slip perfectly
into her palm (every slip is Freudian),
and when she looked down it lit her face
in a way that was reminiscent of a scene in a film.
The rest of the world’s light seemed then,
and still seems now, unaffected by what he did.
There is so much that is real,
such an abundance of it, that a tiny piece
of innocent spell like this is sanctioned
by the usually stern laws that govern things.
Everyone, even I, turned away
so he could give her his glowing, analogous stone.
Make Use of My Poem in Any Way You Like
Make an origami goose. Cut fine holes for the light
to glint through. Fabricate a paper chain of convivial men.
Make a dart, or a hat for a biggish bird or a cat.
Doodle freely in the margins if you will. Go ahead, jot
little notes on the more salient passages, cross-referencing
them with passages in other works of mine, picking up
on themes maybe, and noting how respectfully,
as well as snugly, it slips into a long-held-vacant slot
in the wider canon. (Notice, by-the-way how it somehow
seems to soften its important neighbours with an easy,
self-deprecating charm.). Make copies of it. Feel free.
Hand them out to special friends, maybe fold and slip them
into their shirt pockets saying something simple
and mysterious like, Check it out. Deconstruct it, help yourself.
Take it apart piece by polished piece, to see how it works,
to watch the keen little engine spin, lit with innocent heat.
The Porcelain Dog
The porcelain dog,
despite his unruffled exterior,
despite his apparent serenity,
suffocates for want inside
his tight and glossy bag of glaze,
and so it is with me,
beneath this painted sack
that is my cloak of visibility.
from The Itchy Sea (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order The Itchy Sea.
Fiona Zerbst is a freelance journalist who covers an eclectic range of topics, including wildlife conservation, physical fitness, and personal finance. Poetry aside, she is passionate about running and martial arts, and she recently completed a Field Guides Association of South Africa beginner snake course. She writes a minimalist blog.
The making of the carpet
It was made in Baluchistan, by hand,
where sky is dry, like sand. Heavy
with reds and tawny thread, it was rolled,
a saddle of sorts, for an old man on a camel.
Over the stones, the pebbles, dusky roads,
dustier by the hour, held at borders
on the night routes to Baluchistan, then freed –
centre of gold and ivory, warm as light,
blue and aubergine fringing the white
and gold where you touch it. Know it could fly,
this carpet, over the thrice-nine lands
where princes lie waiting, the seller said,
fables wry on his tongue, long-worn.
Its pedigree may be dubious, yes:
brown threads, greased wool, knots, the whole
knuckled lot woven in huts, but fashioned
of light like chipped sky. Look at it, here:
midnight warmth of a tangerine flower,
honeyed, giving its fragrance to air.
It becomes the colour these fingers made,
like a miracle, fresh, unseen before.
Like the gasp of life, like sudden blood
that feeds a vein: amazing, amazed; and just
like all life, suddenly possible anywhere.
Of an afternoon, you can catch
the clasp of this beautiful Chinese box:
trace hexagonal dragons over
the edge, or fix a pattern of thread
that’s meant to be fire, blooming always
out of the curls of pearl-polished snouts…
When those dragons glide off the lid,
they scratch against you, claws in your fingers,
breath in your hair. In one afternoon,
they’ll slide into you and give you fire.
This is no myth: you’re scratched and singed,
spattered with red. Though you’ve hidden
them once again – that box on a high shelf –
you could still find them. Ecstasy. Dread.
Akmatova: a photograph
And that woman dancing there will eternally burn.
You’re looking back on evening
from night, and hardly breathing,
as though the air were stone.
Perhaps your eyes are tender
and shrewd with new surrender
to love, but you’re alone.
When Leningrad is burning
the proudest heads are turning
from what has gone before.
And half of you is grieving
as half of you is leaving
the bonfires of the war.
They say you stand, pretending
love, without defending
those angered, sadder souls.
But sadness is a crime so
your eyes can never show
why swallowed words are coal.
‘Photographer unknown: Chinese courtesan (?) c 1875’
He’s no more unknown than you
although his face is out of sight,
and you’re not your features’ sum,
caught by lens, intention, light.
Such is your round and powdered mask:
like a plate without a name
or number, tinctured by a past
unknown, engraved within a frame.
Wallpaper flowers bloom beside
the carved bench where you partly lie,
beneath a lantern, on your side
though frontal in some cynic’s eye.
You’re bound in silence. When and if
your trade, like his, is of such ilk
as makes you court exposure, know
he’s hard: you’re timeless, made of silk.
Sir Stanley Spencer, 1891 – 1959
They called you “the likeable eccentric” –
even as a boy it was the Bible
and Bach in the evenings. You had to be
a painter of the still, heavy things:
“The Farm Gate”, “The Last Supper, Cookham”,
and “Cookham from Englefield”. Always
you clung to the earth of your birthtown,
turned it incessantly to staunch
some longing for the holy. Painted it
the scene of a final resurrection:
introduced wan, washed figures
pushed up through lilies and roses:
the dead, emerging like neighbours,
knowing each other, not eroded.
Sacred things were somehow too perfect.
Flowers unearth and unwreathed
from graves heaved open, the shabbiest
beiges and greys of your landscapes,
show us how nearly you came
to knowing the beautiful unsaved.
Ever unchanged in advanced age
you occupied what you described as
“an interesting, lonely furrow” –
your grave life throwing its shadow
along this book where your loved ones
are ferried across leaden Thames
and onto the green banks of Cookham.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1869 – 1935
Scanning the faces of another time
to fill your lines with character and pain
you search, beyond them, for the mark of Cain,
the fatal flaw, the gestures of a mime.
Your men and women, like the bloodless leaves
of winter, sodden in the darkening rain,
stick to your pages; uneasily remain
to illustrate what each sick heart conceives.
Your dazzling suicides, divided men
and hermits relishing a dream of sin,
the crises of your heroes, tired of light:
these things compel you to take up your pen,
to pause, and sadly smile, and to begin
to wash the stains; to understand the night.
In praise of loss
Until the loss
Lose at cards.
Refuse to play.
That it doesn’t matter.
The men you know
To other women.
Refuse to play.
It’s no shame
To spare your neck.
Let it in,
Of this loss
That is dying, living.