Monthly Archives: October 2012

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot — Part One: Editors’ Foreword and Introduction by George Szirtes

are Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Sandra Alland, David Ashford, Tim Atkins, Andrew Bailey, Sirama Bajo, Richard Barrett, Susan Birchenough, Mark Burnhope, Wayne Burrows, David Caddy, John Calvert, Jen Campbell, Theodoros Chiotis, Karen Connelly, Jennifer Cooke, Rebecca Cremin & Ryan Ormonde, Sarah Crewe, Sarah Crewe & Jo Langton, Alison Croggon, Tim Dooley, Betty Doyle, Sasha Dugdale, Laurence Ebersole, Amy Etkins, Chris Emslie, John Ennis, Amy Evans, Gareth Evans, Katy Evans-Bush, SJ Fowler, Kit Fryatt, Lucy Furlong, Charlotte Geater, The Gingerbread Tree, Jay Griffiths, Hel Gurney, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Steven Heighton, Sophie Herxheimer & Alison Winch, Sarah Hesketh, Jeff Hilson, Adam Horovitz, Ray Hsu, Peter Hughes, Philo Ikonya & Helmuth Niederle, Kirsten Irving, Genowefa Jakubowska-Fijalkowska, Maria Jastrzebska, Tom Jenks, Antony John, Phill Jupitus, Amy Key, John Kinsella, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Deborah Levy, Ira Lightman, Francesca Lisette, M Ly-Eliot, Alex MacDonald, Melissa Mack, Christodoulos Makris, Aoife Mannix, Barbara Marsh, Agnes Marton, Sophie Mayer, Sally McAlister, Michelle McGrane, Michael McKimm, Drew Milne, Helen Moore, AF Moritz, Barbara Norden, Redell Olsen, Sandeep Parmar, Anna Percy, Jody Porter, Frances Presley, Karen Press, Katy Price, Ana Pulteney, Chella Quint, Red of The Vaginellas, Selina Robertson, Sophie Robinson, Shelagh M Rowan-Legg, Fathieh Saudi, John Siddique, Adrian Slatcher, Daniel Sluman, Ali Smith, Barbara Smith, Tom Spencer, John Stone, Andrew Taylor, Philip Terry, Sarah Thomasin, Claire Trevien, George Ttoouli, Gareth Twose, Jack Underwood, Steve Waling, Tony Walsh, Michael Weller, Tim Wells, JT Welsch, Ginna Wilkerson, Alison Winch, Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Veronica Zundel.
Translators into Russian are Andrei Aliaksandru, Vladimir Andreev, Marina Brodskaya, Chicago Translation Workshop, Elena Edwards, Tatiana Filimonova, Sophie Gug, Mary Harrah, Masha Karp, Svitlana Kobets, Sergei Korenevskiy, Nokolai Kozin, Maria ozlovskaya, Dasha McLeish, Cat Paronjan, Tatiana Samsonova, Maria Shukurova, Dmitry Simanovsky, James Taylor, Jennifer Wilson and John Wright.
Editors’ Foreword
Red Letter Day: Poetry and Protest for Pussy Riot
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot is a communion of the visual and lyrical; rhymed, satirical and experimental poetry in tribute to political prisoners of conscience, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. It contains a cornucopia of approaches to freedom and to feminism, from opposing patriarchy to reclaiming pussy from a book of dirty words. It is an offertory for three women whose actions have woken up the need for change, in not just their own authoritarian state, but also in how we address gender politics and all forms of oppression in our own society. Featured poets include Alison Croggon, Amy Evans, Jeff Hilson, Tom Jenks, Amy Key, Agnes Marton, Michelle McGrane, Sophie Robinson, Andrew Taylor and 100 more.
Summing up the work of 110 poets in 110 words is never easy – especially when the poets in question have donated their work rapidly and generously. Our anthology, which includes nearly 100 poems written especially for the band, has come together in under three weeks. What started as a conversation among four friends on Facebook, sparked by a post from EngPussyRiot that provided instructions on how to send letters to the band, has become a transnational conversation of hundreds powered by social media but driven by the same community and generosity among writers that informed the foundation of English PEN, who have supported this project practically and imaginatively from the beginning.
Both the example set by Pussy Riot – fierce, feminist champions of freedom – and the example being made of them by the Russian judiciary has fired something in writers around the world. The band’s punk prayer uses language precisely and powerfully – and it’s inspired the poets who’ve contributed to do the same. They’ve taken risks in recognition of the real legal and physical dangers facing the Writers at Risk supported by PEN internationally.
We have been overwhelmed by the wit, passion, elegance and variety of the poetic protests we’ve received. Some are funny, like Phill Jupitus’ puntastic ‘Girl Banned’ and Sophie Herxeimer’s short and sharp ‘Trollops’ Cathedral’. Others are bold and angry, like Sophie Robinson’s vivid ‘Free Pussy’ and Tim Atkin’s extraordinary ‘I Love the Rich’, which adapts a poem by Maria Tsvetaeva. Many poets, including Sirama Bajo, Steve Waling, JT Welsch and Veronica Zundel, have responded to the band’s Punk Prayer with their own new invocations. Sasha Dugdale wrote from Russia, Sally McAlister from France, and John Kinsella from Australia. Philo Ikonya, International PEN member, has been reading his roll call of unriotous dictators at events in Norway.
The PEN blog, where around 45 of the poems have been posted, along with images of their poets in balaclavas, carried the message further than we could ever have imagined: offers of poems poured in, from poets such as seventeen year old activist Betty Doyle, and feminist performance poets Anna Percy, Ana Pulteney, Barbara Smith, and Sarah Thomasin – often with videos, such as Pulteney’s performance in her church in Totnes, Devon. Twenty-two poets who took part in SJ Fowler’s and Richard Barrett’s Poems for Pussy Riot in London and Manchester shared their poems.
The book, as you’ll see, even includes cut-out-and-wear poem-balaclava masks created by Mark Burnhope, and a stencil by Chella Quint so you can create your own Pussy Riot protest wherever you are. Please read, share, tweet, translate, remix, and keep our prayers for Pussy Riot’s freedom alive.
Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer
by George Szirtes
An anthology of poems dedicated to a political purpose is not so much an anthology of poems as a political act in poetic form.
There is a long history of such anthologies including 100 Poems Against the War, edited by Todd Swift at the time of the Iraq War in 2003, and, about ten years before that, Klaonica: Poems for Bosnia, edited by Ken Smith and Judy Benson. The two were different in that 100 Poems was an act of protest about a war in which the UK and US were the initiators and actors, whereas the second was to raise money for victims of a war faced by others, the contributing poets being helpless observers. The poets in Klaonica were not taking the Serbian or Bosnian or, for that matter, the Croatian side, but donating work to relieve suffering, much as they might donate money.
There are many other causes in which poets might do the same – hospitals, libraries, celebrations, childhood and so forth – but from the political point of view 100 Poems and Klaonica represent the two main kinds.
is of the second kind. It has been rapidly compiled by its editors to protest – from the outside, as it were – against the two-year sentence imposed on Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, three members of a much larger (twelve to fifteen members) punk band known  as Pussy Riot, for staging a brief masked performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The performance, by five members of the band was quickly put up on YouTube and within eleven days, two of the band, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, were under arrest. Thirteen days later Samutsevich was also arrested. The two remaining members of the performing band have, it is presumed, gone abroad to avoid arrest. The song the band was singing at the time was a raucous prayer asking the Mother of God to chase away President Putin. The two-year sentence is due to be appealed on 1 October, 2012.
These are the bare facts but the cause of Pussy Riot is more complex than that.
In the first place the performance was about President Putin personally, and articulated a desire to see him leave the political stage.
Who is Putin? Russians in general have mixed feelings about him. The period straight after the fall of the Soviet Union in President Gorbachev’s time, was followed by a few chaotic years under President Yeltsin. Those years were wounding and humiliating for a people that had felt stable and, in many respects, proud of their role in the Second World War as well as on the international stage afterwards. The Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact was an equal and opposite force to the United States and NATO.
A good part of those who remembered the pre-Gorbachev era, before the dismemberment of the Soviet empire, looked back to those times with a certain nostalgia, because, despite the gulags, despite the secret arrests, despite the censorship, despite the increasing corruption, they felt safe. Given Russia’s history, their feelings about authoritarianism were and remain very different from our feelings about individual freedoms in Europe and the West. The ‘strong hand’ – inevitably a patriarchal hand – was something many trusted. When Putin came along offering just that in a new form in a world of oil and oligarchs, he seemed to them welcome. Anything but the madness under Yeltsin!
But that opinion is clearly not universal in Russia. A good many people have strong fears of the establishing of a new, more corrupt, one-party state in which the state itself is the largest oligarch, a state in which notions of ‘tradition’ are imposed on those who, for very good reason, wish to free themselves from it.
Putin is an individual, the most powerful individual in the state, but Pussy Riot’s performance, as I read it, was not only about Putin – it was also a protest against the kind of power Putin symbolises.
This includes the Russian Orthodox church. The church has an important role in maintaining Putin’s power since it represents a very large conservative constituency in Russia, one that somehow survived the officially atheist Soviet period to prosper after it. The church is an alternative embodiment of the ‘strong hand’ Putin can employ to influence and control the Russian electorate, which is why the performance, including the reference to the Mother of God, took place in a major Moscow church closely associated with Putin. The church is, necessarily, patriarchal.
And the patriarchy – both formal and informal in terms of the family and society generally – is clearly important to a band calling itself Pussy Riot. The performance was, in those terms, a call for female solidarity and rebellion against a state of affairs where Putin’s masculinity is a highly constructed point of appeal. Jack Underwood has a poem in this anthology that comically highlights precisely this aspect of Putin’s power: Putin the macho man, Putin who offers or denies you the power because he not only knows best, but has the means to effect his will. Pussy Riot is a highly intelligent form of resistence to such will: it is a call to disobedience.
Since Putin seems assured of the power, it is rather surprising that the courts should have decided to act as severely as they did. Intended primarily for home consumption, as a warning, the charge and sentence, has been entirely counter-productive in international terms. The charge of ‘hooliganism’ is rather like the one of ‘parasitism’ that was directed at the Nobel Prize winning poet, Josef Brodsky in 1964. It is broadly seen as a charge of convenience. In that sense Pussy Riot has grown from a minor nuisance to a global cause. They are up there with Brodsky. A crushing and oppressive two-year sentence becomes very big news. The result is that Pussy Riot look, as they actually are, highly intelligent while Russia looks cruel and stupid.
For people on this side of the equation the issue is not so much with Putin as with what Putin represents and what Pussy Riot represent. The meaning of Pussy Riot, for many, is as evidenced in the poems published here, less a political incident, more a cross-section of contemporary concerns and passions symbolised by the three young women. The meanings of Pussy Riot in this context begin with what the name suggests, that’s to say feminism in its various forms and moods, from assertion of rights, through core issues of identity, down to protest at an inimical, oppressive male world. This meaning – probably the most intense meaning – involves a conception of the world that is the polar opposite of Putin’s.
Then again, since Pussy Riot calls itself, and performs as, a punk band, the meaning of the group is derived from and invites a punk aesthetic that is partly tribal, partly anarchic, looking to be disruptive of conservative views and manners, in exactly the same way as Pussy Riot were disruptive in the church.
Beyond that, the band is young: there is also the invitation to youth. It is not precisely an old-versus-young battle but, in this case, it is the young, masked and loud, who are in the vanguard. For many they represent the potential for a new and different model of Russia.
Each of these models and antitheses is crude in itself – life, we know, is more subtle than that – but the antitheses remain. Most importantly, trumping all other concerns, is a conception of justice. It is simply wrong to jail people for that length of time for the minor office of disruption. Three unjustly accused individuals stand against a state led by a former operative of the KGB, a state that has seen the arrest and assassination of vocal opponents. In many ways it is like the old days: the repressive state against its dissidents. The corrupt system against those who protest its corruption.
The anthology contains a variety of poems, some, like Andrew Bailey’s, the second of Mark Burnhope’s, Rebecca Cremin and Ryan Ormonde’s, Tim Dooley’s, John Ennis’s, Charlotte Geater’s, Jay Griffith’s and others (the list is too long and I am going alphabetically) address the case directly or refer to it obliquely. More numerous are poems that are born out of a sympathetic feeling, identifying something in Pussy Riot that corresponds with the feeling of the poet in respect of feminism or authority or sheer voice quality. There may be earlier poems now grown particularly relevant. There are poems that appear on a larger map of concerns that happen to find themselves here.
There are poems of various styles including Alison Croggon’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Perpetual’, SJ Fowler’s ‘They’, Kit Fryatt’s ‘Sounds Like Sense’, Sarah Hesketh’s sharp ‘Some Protest Stones’, Philo Ikonya and Helmuth A. Niederle’s ‘Pussy Riot For Ever: The Body’, Amy Key’s ‘Cat Power’, John Kinsella’s ‘Penillion for Pussy Riot’, Aoife Mannix’s ‘The Eye of the Needle’, and so on. I don’t pick these out because I think they are the best poems, only because they are broadly different. I could pick many others.
Like any contributor to such anthologies, I am fully aware that it is unlikely to affect the course of events in any measurable way, though it may perhaps add to the weight of protest that hopes, at some stage, on some level, to influence the Russian court and indeed that part of the Russian people who support the sentence. It might be a consolation to Pussy Riot, and to those for whom they speak, that there are many people – including poets – who listen to them and talk back in support. A book of poems in a foreign language published in a foreign place is rarely a factor in the decisions of a hostile administration, but this is downloadable. It may be a factor somewhere, somehow. Who can tell? One has hope or one has nothing.
Speaking personally it is quite odd for me as an almost sixty-four year old male poet to be writing this introduction. It was odd, but rather nice to be asked on the spur of the moment and to say: yes. Of course I wondered if I was out of place. I am not looking to be cool with those younger than me or of a different gender. I have been on a few demonstrations but never felt it to be my natural place.
I ask myself this: if the world were arrayed into forces represented by President Putin on the one side and Pussy Riot on the other I know which side I’d be on and it wouldn’t be Putin’s. That’s where we are, and that’s where this is. And that is why it is a privilege to write this introduction.
– George Szirtes
All profits from both the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book and print on demand copies will go to the Pussy Riot Legal fund and the English PEN Writers at Risk Programme.

Order Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot.
Download the Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot e-book

Visit English PEN’s website.

Visit English PEN’s Poems for Pussy Riot project page.

Read some of the Pussy Riot poems on English PEN’s website.

Visit EngPussyRiot’s live journal.

Visit George Szirte’s website and blog.

Cherry Smyth’s Test, Orange

Cherry Smyth is an Irish writer, living in London. Her debut poetry collection, When the Lights Go Up, was published by Lagan Press in 2001. A second collection, One Wanted Thing (Lagan Press), appeared in 2006. The Irish Times wrote of this collection: “Here is clarity and realism, couched in language that is accessible and inventive. The title poem, nominated for the Forward Best Poem of the Year 2004, carries all Smyth’s hallmarks: precision, linguistic inventiveness and joy”.

Cherry’s work was selected for Best of Irish Poetry, 2008, (Southword Editions) and The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets (Salmon Press, 2009).

Her third collection, Test, Orange, 2012, is published by Pindrop Press.

She also writes for visual art magazines: Modern Painters, Art Monthly, Art Review and Circa. She is the former Poetry Editor of Brand Literary Magazine and current Guest Editor of Magma.
“Cherry Smyth’s third collection of poetry confirms her as one of Ireland’s new generation of poets. The poems in Test, Orange are intelligent, passionate and lyrical. They move with ease from the tarantella dance of southern Italy to the bombing of Gaza in 2008 to an exploration of the mother/daughter bond in the prize-winning sequence ‘Wishbone’. The poet’s relationship with the female body – how it desires, how it changes – is also examined in the exceptional sequences ‘Six Given Fields’ and ‘Now You’re a Woman’. This exhilarating collection is a tour de force.”
“Cherry Smyth’s poems are precise, tough and full of passion. Whether writing about visual art, war, desire or aging, Smyth doesn’t shy from the world, but embraces it in all its brokenness, confused beauty and pain. Test, Orange continues the poet’s dream to convey the truth at all costs, to take risks, break rules, run red lights. Her poems leave us breathless, at times bruised, but more alive, in the centre of her, our own, lives. Smyth’s work fulfills her own credo: to have the strength to do the heart justice.”
– Ellen Hinsey
“These distinctive poems speak with great clarity about things which are often hard to say. Compassionate, self-questioning, sometimes shocking, Cherry Smyth’s work pays the world close attention, exploring the varied connections between human beings, both those that enrich and those that damage. With their vivid locations, the poems are alive with film, food, love, politics and fable. They are never less than fully committed, unafraid of acknowledging the joy or injury involvement might bring.”
– Judy Brown
“Cherry Smyth’s poetry not only values the abstract but often contemplates the valuing of self. She is uncompromising in her use of her chosen subject matter, often unflinching in her language. Smyth brings her experience as art critic to her work as a poet where serious subjects are given serious attention. Throughout the book, Cherry Smyth reminds us of the ‘bright anomaly’ that is poetry. How it makes us present, informs a life. Many of these poems are rigorously disciplined, concentrated, and use description with both delight and a depth of understanding.”
– Angela Gardner
Reading the Cup
In the cup of fresh verbena leaves
Michal says she can see the sea at Cuas Pier,
the floating, sun-filtered green we dived into.
To me it’s the Chivers jelly shade the green blinds
cast in summer afternoons in Portstewart Primary,
swimming the room in broken rivulets of light,
anointing us with sleepy calm, as if this degree
of blurred daylight was hallowed and our behaviour
had to correspond, like visitors to the continent
who mightn’t be allowed back if we didn’t show respect.

I remember glancing up from my jotter, the trail of wet
ink, like a seal above the sealed swell, to breathe from
the focused hush, before being drawn back down into
its one complete body, and the open-necked indulgence
of Mr Morrison, who would rather have been up the strand
on such a glorious day, getting his lamb-head tanned.

The rare heat, the gentle knock of the blinds against
the windowsill, subdued us in a soft erotic stupor,
like being here, dazzled by the sea, glittering in inlets,
warming on the rocks, hazy with clean air, tongues of sea mist,
the absence of man-made sound. So I stay at my desk,
hot sun sprinkling through a cotton gauze, thinking
of what Louise Bourgeois said – art is made of all
the things you desire that you say no to.
According to Patti Smith
I tugged at a dead rose branch.
It snagged and snapped a healthy one.
I left them to their mess of thorns,
the spread of wither, a dried winter’s red.

A friend carried in a crown of violet,
performed with scissors and vases about the room.
I breathed the squeeze of women’s kisses,
the expensive mist of a small woven lung.

‘When my husband left,’ she began,
‘he shook me free of explanation.
I fell from summit’s air. Then where he saw
merely hurt, I saw his beauty. Everywhere.’

I’d never seen the faces of this coin,
but I could see she kept it in her eyes.
The shine of knowing from unknowing,
the freak ransom in what had come to war.

When Patti Smith lost her husband,
then her dearest brother, pain’s crack
almost broke her until she sensed
their best selves recur through her.

She said that on seeing Guernica, Jackson
Pollock took the drips, just the drips
from the horse’s mouth, flung them out – the blood,
the tears – stood rampant in the joyful scatter.
(for Jacqui Duckworth)

That you could handle film was like touching God. That you could lift a spool in your white cotton fingers from its can, from the tower of cans, and thread it onto the Steenbeck, was like showing how God moves. I watched you in the dark make thousands of tiny decisions of light.

From spool to empty spool, the images clattered, a baggy ribbon of blurred flickers that you paused, lifting the hood and lining the strip with china marker. You pulled the film out of the gate towards you like two elastic arms and settled it on the metal cutting block. You spliced and taped and fed the scene back, a minute shorter. You numbered the end, fastened it to a bull-clip and hung it on a hook on the wall, or slid it into a suspended cloth bag for trims. Then you clicked down the hood and made the movie move again.

We’d flirted at a feminist film group. I’d noticed your walk – a loping swagger on long legs in tight jeans. The static between us made me giggle so much I had to leave the room. You didn’t want a relationship. I made you have one.

You’d sit at the edge of your seat. You couldn’t hear anything else when you were editing. The images were sound that needed an exact rhythm, a melody only you could detect. You knew to cut just before it seemed to need it, your attention surgical. Thelma Schoonmaker sat at your right shoulder. When we watched La Regle du Jeu, I didn’t flinch as the dozen rabbits and birds were shot. You’d taught me to go inside the cuts – 102 in 4 minutes – counting Renoir’s rhythm, defined by Marguerite Houlet, his editor and lover at the time.

We met in unadorned rooms in Soho, in basements, or at the end of a grey corridor where daylight never arrived. The sun burnt a bar of gold on the ceiling or the wall where the blackout curtain didn’t quite close. In these dark and smoky places, you showed me what made you, making sense of every film I’d ever liked, teaching me why, giving my passion a possible world. We never had sex there. You were paying by the hour.

Film buffs were men. With beards and BO. We were cinema fiends. There were no videos or DVDs. There was the ceremony of cinema. A von Trotta Double Bill at the Academy; a Bergman Triple at the Electric; midnight cults at the Scala; Monday nights at the Everyman. We travelled, stayed awake, skived off work because there were films to be seen. I’d smuggle in a bowl of finely chopped, dressed salad, fresh bagels and two forks, and we’d sit silently nourishing ourselves for hours. You never stood up until the last credit, as if by reading each name, honouring each member of the crew, you could absorb their skill, their magic.

You were in love with many women. You appreciated them like a connoisseur of fine liquors with a longing roll of the eyes and a small gasp: Gina Rowlands in Woman Under the Influence, Bernadette Lafont in La Fiancé du Pirate, Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria, Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve in anything. You were a big flirt and a big fan and I didn’t realise then how much humility and forgiveness that required.

You forgave Deneuve her bad plots and her love affairs with ugly, much older men; you forgave me my younger women. You were capable of devotion. You new the difference a 25th of a second could make to a glance across a crowded bar.

You were a celluloid master. I bowed at your feet. Once you rescued a bored porn star from another bad movie, devising a way she could cut herself free from the film strip and escape on the back of your motorbike. No one believed it would work. Or the 16mm feature you made of the threesome you were living in, in a flat in Warren Street in the early 80s. You ate only toast and tepid tea. But women always fed you more.

You gave me a Super 8 to take to Russia, showed me how to use it. I carried it like a baby. I shot blossoms falling in a Moscow park, a gigantic mural on the dull outskirts, a sudden heap of tomatoes for sale on the roadside. I couldn’t film people. The camera was a gun I couldn’t point. I couldn’t see a whole from parts, came home with short unfinished poems. I don’t know where that footage is. In a grey can somewhere, held closed with white tape with my name on it, on a dusty shelf in some cutting room.
Six Given Fields

What will you do when it’s your turn in the field with the god?
 – Louise Glück
When he rushed me off the road to the field,
I forgot clothes, food, all kindness, lies
grew out of me, cover-ups, alibis.
We tore through the crops, insensate to harm,
terrorised by scent, flat-out in mudsheets;
limbs of leaves, glazed, we bent down the cob
to enter us better. We furrowed each other
with the vision of Futurists, desecrated
chapels, blown-off family; taut with return
to our random start, where cells clarify,
float in a cry and the soft-boned body splits
into memory, giving birth to first form,
all the white walls of time collapsing,
left interspatial on a serac of this.
‘Forget the field’, he said. ‘Empty your pockets,
throw away everything with your name on it.’
My heart ran faster after colour and taste.
‘See that wall,’ he said. I did. It was beautiful.
A painting on water, it moved and stayed still.
It reflected me as I’d never appeared.
He taught me to worship it, then he said,
‘Go up and stand with your face against it.’
I did. The nearer I got, the longer I stood,
the duller it grew. I flamed and dropped.
Dust, peeling skin, stains of human and dog.
I wept for our wall – that’s what he was after –
said, in tears, we are strongest, purest matter.
I licked my cheeks, purchased binoculars.
He whistled Telemann below my veranda,
waved a flag of hay to spend in the wind,
drew how rain fell among camels of straw,
dreamt a caravanserai to vanquish my airspace.
Crouching like nudes in a closet-free circus,
we wrestled the light into bone and sepulchre,
made Vorticist love in trains across country,
singing Brecht from windows of Yves Klein blue.
He slowed down the speed and thickness of sight
till holes in the head were slashes in canvas
and the glad of the glade rivered thirty-nine greens.
I was arable in his white, framing hand.
Those scorched by too much of the real would pass
their burning air by the field to be cooled.
He holds my elbow still, trying to usher me
up the aisles of his fields. He grips my wrist
when I speak with too much vigour at dinner.
He thinks I’ve done nothing, been no-one.
He’s surrounded by statues, can’t be budged.
If only I’d take his name, keep to home
and heels. He has names for women like me,
uses them in the bar then in my face.
He paid me to take care of his children
so he could fuck me at the end of his garden.
I followed the red of his cigarette,
wore his wife’s dress. First it smelt of sugar
being baked, then it blackened to smoke. My hair
never grew back. I hide it. He prefers that.
In that field I rarely had to turn up.
I was video-phoned in my court-shoe neckline,
my quirkless beads, as I unfolded my desk,
lit up my terminal and my fingers bled
so I could be human, life expectancy
whizzed in a file to the Head of Risk,
who used two replies – OK or stop!
I ate my lips in alien buffets, fell
under his table of mortality, slipped in
trips to Hong Kong in over-chaired meetings.
He rode his limo, I took the dawn train
among a world of fish I’d never known.
I emerged with a wallet full of new teeth,
powder traces of avarice under my nails.
When he called from the field I pretended I couldn’t hear,
straightened up, widened my eyes,
ignored his Prosecco, his dark walnut liqueur.
He read me Jack Gilbert, Wislawa Szymborska,
said why not go down to the Rhône, swim in its water,
so milk green you’d think it was ice-melted glass.
He led me into the purple vibration
cicadas make in the dark, said hear as one
the rush of the river, the rustle of leaves,
lie down in the stubble and be entered by sky.
He sat still with me till I knew that this body
is it – is not it – is all – is nothing,
that the field will change its colour and texture
and we’ll see clear to Mont Blanc once the leaves fall.
from Test, Orange (Pindrop Press, 2012).

Order Test, Orange.

Test, Orange reviewed at Polari Magazine.

Visit Cherry’s website.

National Poetry Competition blog tour

Welcome to the National Poetry Competition blog tour where selected poets associated with the competition have been invited to submit contributions to various poetry blogs. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts you can catch up with the tour here.
Philip Gross is featured at Jo Bell’s The Bell Jar; Matthew Caley discusses competition tactics at the Writers’ Hub; E-Verse Radio features Jon Stone; Stephen Knight, Julia Copus, Paul Adrian and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch appear at Best American Poetry, and New Zealand poet, Rhian Gallagher, looks back on her success at Rob Mackenzie’s Surroundings.
Peony Moon is delighted to host Zaffar Kunial who won third prize in the 2011 National Poetry Competition with ‘Hill Speak’. Born in Birmingham, Zaffar now lives near Leeds and works as a full-time writer for Hallmark. He is working towards a first collection.
Hill Speak
There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.
Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
… So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana
‘yours’ –
truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.
Getting There
I’d stayed late after work that evening, trying to get my entry together, thinking it would take an hour or so. By the time I relented and clicked send, the cleaners had long left the building, and the lights had automatically gone out. I’d been checking (and re-checking) my poems in the dark.
‘Hill Speak’ started out in 2011, within a few months of the NPC closing date. For most of that time, the poem-in-progress was called ‘Getting There’. It stayed true to its original name. Right up until three hours before the midnight deadline – when I changed the final stanza – I’d never had the feeling it was finished. And even then …
Anyway, it went off at 9.30 pm, along with other poems I thought stood a better chance.
Sending those poems would have been a significant step for me even if I’d never received that surreal phone call – at that same desk, at work, three months later (“Hello, Zaffar? … Did you write a poem called ‘Hill Speak’? … Well, I’m pleased to say …”).
Entering the competition was going to be a first, tentative move towards sending poems out in 2012. That was the plan. For the last few years I had decided I was writing towards a collection, despite not submitting anything to magazines. I’d had some really encouraging feedback from poets I respected enormously, but I was still very slow to think a poem might be ready or finished.
I’m not even sure I knew what I might have meant by this peak state of ‘finished’ or ‘ready’.
By the time I climbed the steps onto the (rather high) platform to receive the award in a very posh room in Mayfair – my first-ever public reading – I was realising ‘Hill Speak’ was now that elusive thing: a finished poem. It almost happened as I spoke the last lines. Reciting, “I can’t put into words…”, I found myself pausing to extend the moment, looking up at the elaborately painted ceiling, before continuing, “… where I’ve arrived”.
I felt the poem speak for itself in those last two words. It was there. Wherever there was.
Ten minutes later, when Carol Ann Duffy came over and said very unexpected, generous things, I ended up bursting into tears, hiding my head on her shoulder. I was blubbing again moments later when Jackie Kay gave me a hug.
I didn’t expect any of this … least of all, when I pressed send that night at the end of October.
And now?
Other poems are starting to seem more finished now, too. I’ve had generous and unexpected responses to them at readings I’ve given at Ledbury – and at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago – and as a guest reader recently at an Arvon course with Ian Duhig and Julia Copus.
… I still haven’t submitted any poems anywhere since the prize. But I will.
Any tips?
Send your entry from Leeds.
About the National Poetry Competition
Established in 1978, the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition is one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious poetry contests. Winners include both established and emerging poets, and for many the prize has proved an important career milestone. Win, and add your name to a roll-call that includes the current UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Tony Harrison, Ruth Padel, Philip Gross and Jo Shapcott.
Read poems by previous winners of the National Poetry Competition here.
The National Poetry Competition is organised by the Poetry Society, one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing poetry both nationally and internationally. Find out more about the Poetry Society here.

The National Poetry Competition closes on the 31st of October. There’s still time to enter.

Selina Tusitala Marsh’s Fast Talking PI

Selina Tusitala Marsh is of Samoan, Tuvalu, English and French descent. She was the first Pacific Islander to graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Auckland and is now a lecturer in the English Department, specialising in Pacific literature. Marsh is the co-ordinator of Pasifika Poetry, a sister site of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre. She was involved in, and wrote the Afterword for, Niu Voices: Contemporary Pacific Fiction 1 (2006) and is currently working on a critical anthology of first-wave Pacific women poets writing in English. Her academic and creative writing deals with issues that affect Pasifika communities in Aotearoa New Zealand and indigenous peoples elsewhere. She lives on Waiheke Island with her family. Fast Talking PI is published by Arc Publications.
Fast Talking PI (pronounced pee-eye) reflects the poet’s focus on issues affecting Pacific communities in New Zealand, and indigenous peoples around the world including the challenges and triumphs of being afakasi (mixed race). The book is structured in three sections, ‘Tusitala’ (personal), ‘Talkback’ (political and historical) and ‘Fast Talking PIs’ (dialogue). She writes as a calabash breaker, smashing stereotypes and challenging historic injustices; also exploring the idea of the calabash as the honoured vessel for identity and story. Her aesthetics and indigenous politics meld marvellously together.”
Half moons ago
people were hollowed-out tablets of stone
spaces were given them
according to spaces they left

some of these spaces were filled with pages
ink leaching out great deeds done
marginalia filled with greater ones

other spaces were filled with fe’e
sliding on story after story
older ones wrapped in thundering fagogo
younger ones rapping ill semantics

other spaces were filled with carved blocks of wood
cocooned in tissue-thin mulberry
these long hollow spaces echoed the beat
of years heavy with folded legs
and the thump thump of old women beating

some spaces were filled with darkness
no light would shine there

other spaces weren’t spaces at all
but blistering mirages
no wind would blow there

other spaces were filled with va
these were warmed with the breath of others
the thrum of matua tausi
even if she was just another mirage

other spaces were hard
suffocating stone eyes

in other spaces hovered pouliuli
te kore, a nothingness, a yawning galaxy
into these spaces the young would dip their forefingers
rubbing the blackness on their lips
a moko mapping where they had been
and where they were to go

some spaces have pink retro bean-bags in the corner
cups of gumboot tea on the floor
upturned books in punched-out hollows

some spaces are filled
with the music of hands
fa’ataupati, not theatre applause
eyes open, mouths clapped shut
but open-mouthed choo-choo! malie!

some spaces are filled with no dancing
no flying fingers soaring wind
no shuffling of hips
no siva
no tau’olunga
no light in the body

some spaces are tied with rubber bands
trying to render control over
black unruly spaces
a parting and a plaiting of space
a twisting of space into a bun

some spaces are filled with sunlight soap
from the kagamea
laughing over rocks into the ocean
where a dead Alsatian floats under a net of flies
caught underneath the makeke pier

some spaces are brown
some are blue
o lo’u igoa Tusitala
je m’appelle Marchant

flow in and out
turning space sinopia
Calabash Breakers
we all know
the calabash breakers
the hinemoas
the mauis
the risk takers
the younger brother
the only sister
the orphan
the bastard child
with rebellious blood

we all know
the hierarchies
the tapu
the boundaries
always crossed
by someone

we all know
the unsettled
the trouble makers
the calabash breakers
they sail the notes of our songs
stroke the lines of our stories
and reign in the dark hour

we should know them
we now need them
to catch bigger suns
Things on Thursdays
If Updike could do it
why couldn’t she?

Surely the forest of books
the cropped rows of frames
lining his house
shouldn’t make that much difference?

Surely if he can rent a one bedroomer in Paris
clear his schedule
six mornings a week
and write
publish a novel
five days after each child’s birth
be inspired by his wife’s art
and write
travel to Rio de Janeiro one week
Geneva the next
and write
pick up a baby
smell her neck
and write
feed the rabbit
watch it jump and run
and write
teach and read
prop up solid oak lecterns
argue with publishers
move house four times
and write
be acclaimed
and famed
and write
wipe the literary slate clean
and write
drop off famous writers
pick up famous painters
add an extension to the house
to write
and write
do parent-father things on Thursdays
and write
speak for money
write for money at The New Yorker
and write
enthuse over critical reviews
and Burt Britton’s drawings
and write
why couldn’t she?

She just needed to
clear the sink
wipe the bench
and write
be inspired by encrusted cups
and write
travel with the vacuum down the hall
into four bedrooms
and write
pick up the kids from school
and write
publish school walking bus committee notices
and write
be inspired by an overgrown lawn
and write
teach and read
to the kids
pick up a baby
smell her neck
and write
change the baby
feed the baby
watch him jump and run
and write
prop up the finances
argue with the parking warden
move house four times
and write
exclaim and rage
and write
wipe the baby tip to toe
and write
drop off the DVDs
drop off the school-age kids
pick up groceries
add a second washing line
and write
be parent-helper on Thursdays
and write
work for money twice a week
6 am to 9 pm
and write
enthuse over her son’s stories
the other son’s drawings
and write
wash bath and feed
and write
clean out the fridge
in the closet
behind the couch
and write
disinfect the toilet
find the missing rolls
get the rego and WoF
and write
read for work
and write
write for work
and write
work to write

yeah right
Guys like Gauguin
thanks Bougainville
for desiring ’em young
so guys like Gauguin could dream
and dream
then take his syphilitic body
downstream to the tropics
to test his artistic hypothesis
about how the uncivilised
ripen like pawpaw
are best slightly raw
delectably firm
dangling like golden prepubescent buds
seeding nymphomania
for guys like Gauguin
thanks Balboa
for crossing the Isthmus
of Panama
in 1513
and pronouncing our ocean
the South Seas
hey thanks, Vasco
for making us
your underbelly
the occidental opposite of all
your nightmares
your waking dreams
inversion of all your laws
your darkest fantasies

thanks for seeing the earth as a body
the North, its head
full of rationality
reasoned seasons
of meaning
cultivated gardens
of consciousness
sown in masculine
orderly fashion
a high evolution
toward the light

thanks for making the South
an erogenous zone
corporeal and sexual
emotive and natural
waiting in the shadows
of dark feminine instinct
populated by the Africas
the Orient, the Americas
and now us
Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach, 1894
you piss me

You strip me bare
assed, turn me on my side
shove a fan in my hand
smearing fingers on thigh
pout my lips below an
almond eye and silhouette me
in smouldering ochre.

I move
just a little
in this putrid breeze
hair heavy to
fuscous knees, still
I’m the pulse
on the arm of this wall
and I’ve drawn her to me again.

Here she comes.

Not liking that she likes me
not liking you, but knowing that she
likes me, not liking you
liking me, but she
likes me and sees me,
but not you,
because you
piss us
Hawai’i: Prelude to a Journey
     for Haunani-Kay
you go then
poppin’ in bubble-gum jeans
you, wrapped bubble-gum teen
knowin’ nothin’
’bout no Hawaiians
not living
in Waikiki
no more

you go then
floating on two-buck sunshine
courtesy of Longs
one of a dozen stores stacked
against a postcard beach
within reach of King Kamehameha’s
you surface from under the slick of tourist

you go then
buy five key rings for ten
two hibiscus singlets for one
free Hershey bars softening in the sun of
Aloha Stadium fermenting
red-tipped toes in jandals
pale chests in floral shirts
necks noosed in fluorescent lei
wrists handcuffed in gold, etched with black enamel
detained by Reebok and Nike

you go then
to finish in Hale Manoa
where student voices
rise above smoking black bean stir-fry
fa’alifu fa’i, tofu and udon noodles
breezing open pavilions
you go then
to class to find friends
kama’aina who surf and protest
he is writing on Hawaiian land rights and kalo
sings at the Royal Hawaiian
for his fees
she is writing on post-’80s sovereignty
like waves lapping a broken shore
we are one we
are more she writes
he is writing on wipe-outs of Kamehameha Schools
surfs Sunset
always goes for the barrel
no matter how he gets worked

you go then
and meet
Pele’s pen
her black ink lava
ever pricking the night

you go then
to hula halau to
the picket sign to the
angry line outside parliament to
Greevy’s photo exhibition to the
kalo plantation to
the valley of stolen waters to the
valley of ground bones and mortar to
the majesty of Kilauea
you go then
smell embered Lincolns
wrapped in kalo leaves
wedged in creases
of Pele-‘ai-honua
eater of the land
     for Alice
I’m a darling in the margins
but you said

be nobody’s darling / be an outcast
take the contradictions of your life
and wrap around / you like a shawl
to parry the stones / to keep you warm

I keep what you said
pinned by brass tacks
against every wall ‘cos

I’m a darling by nature

traitor to the rebel
show me a mould
I’ll fill it, an unmade bed
I’ve already made it

draw me a paper road I’ll sign it
over to whoever says
they need it diverted for a better cause
but you said

be nobody’s darling

and that which casts me out
is cast about me
that which warms my flesh
guards my bones

and when I found
it to be true

the part about freedom
your shawl

became a fall of Huka curls
plunging black through suburban streets

a grey beach cottage firing
paua spirals under its eaves

his hand pressing want under
the wake table

a cocooning quilt pulled back under
the slim promise of sun

a brown woman walking
genealogy swimming her calves

a green dress worn on a blue blue day
because she can

it’s become a map
to get us beyond the line
the justified edge
that breaking page

it’s become a map in my arms
to get us beyond the reef
from Fast Talking PI (Arc Publications, 2012).
Order Fast Talking PI.

Visit Pasifika Poetry.

Lindsey Holland’s Particle Soup

Lindsey Holland grew up in Aughton, on the Lancashire border with Merseyside. She studied at the University of Warwick for several years, gaining an MA in Writing, a daughter and a sideline in photography before moving back to her hometown. She teaches poetry on the Creative Writing programme at Edge Hill University, where she is also working towards a Creative Writing PhD. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Tears in the Fence, The New Writer, B O D Y, Ink Sweat & Tears, Sabotage Reviews, Penning Perfumes, and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. She is currently co-editing the anthology Sculpted: Poetry of the North West, and she is the leader and founder member of North West Poets, a collective of over a hundred published poets who live in, or have connections to, the English region. Her debut collection, Particle Soup, is available from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press and will be launched in Blackwell’s bookshop in Manchester at 19h30 on November 7th (where she will be reading with Angela Topping and JT Welsch). She tweets at @LindseyHolland.
“This is a highly recommended volume by a strong new writer.”

– David Morley
“In this intelligently designed collection Holland plucks patterns from random debris, mapping meaning out of scattered experiences of eros, of the polis. Hers is a delightful poetic science, locating vibrant creatures among the ruins. Particle Soup is a discovery in more ways than one – in the smart poems themselves, and in the way it brings us to the recognition that Holland is among the best young poets now writing in the UK.”

– Todd Swift
“Lindsey Holland writes hauntingly beautiful poems of love and fear and the non-existent space in between. To read her is to be startled by sudden eye-contact from a passerby – a glance that contains a whole alternative reality. Her imagery and rhythms engage and delight and her form thrills in both its mastery and innovation. You feel like you’ve returned from a long journey to find your home transfigured in an eternal twilight – a sense of loss, but of essential gain.”

– Luke Kennard
“Lindsey Holland’s assured debut invites the reader on a mythic and mysterious journey in which past and present are explored. Reading this collection is a compelling adventure: discoveries are made and epiphanies relished. The poems are lush and tactile, inventive yet rooted, spare but with all the right detail.”

– Angela Topping
from In Biopoeisis
Meet the most castle of castles. A marrowbone
frame, all knuckles, cantilever sockets,
a buried skull. I am beetling small and scuttle up
the spirals of the inner ear. At the gatehouse
they sell books about the Count. Rumour says
he breathes through the walls. His purple skin
records footstep itches. He’s been seen
in the window of the Great Hall: an iris
or a smear of DNA. They inherit him here.
And I swallow both pills: the Brufen
dirt they sweep at sunrise
and the herbal fix, a recipe honed
by a line of dead hands. It’s warm
and makes me think of alchemy.
Rooks overhead enjoy the stones’ thermal
or circle the spot where a demon lives.
I pin myself here, pluck a hair and let it drop.
I go to the countryside city
and walk through sandstone streets.

A woman in a blue dress chews her lip
and shop glass catches her

in hard liquid. She folds her arms across
her ribs, and I wonder if she knows

the kind of love that touches without asking,
I turn to see her pass the bus stop

where a network advert – young woman, bright mouth –
connects you everywhere. There are scratches

in the plastic, scuffs, indelible initials,
hearts. Hands have moved across here

and in a room above I note the curtain’s V,
a face pale in between. He sees me and slips

away to someone or something, a table
perhaps, a mug washed and rewashed,

a blonde head, laughter lines, I don’t know.
If I were him I’d do the same.
Some years ago they planted trees and now
parakeets have come like chameleons. 
I pull my hair into a new brown band and run.
I run. And this is everything.
from The Engaging
iv.  Voice in My Head
They completely misunderstood. I know
you recoiled at his whisper, the warm
uninvited breath. Maybe

it would have been better if you’d pushed away,
fixed that skirt, kept your eyes pressed
to the disco ball but really you shouldn’t

have to anticipate. On another night
no one would twitch
and sitting on a bar stool, legs uncrossed

would be less divergent
than a third and final beer. There are people
who do this, have to put

lemons on squeezers; you need
to give them the finger, think of how
you felt his words like sharks.
from Chronomentrophobia
  The Mourning Before
He creeps through the Raval,
keeps to the edges, stops in a doorway,
flips the cap on and off a water bottle.

Four years and those jeans are a pinch,
his T-shirt’s scuffed with black
across the shoulder blades. It’d all be fine

but we’ve been here before and then
he chatted in the Boqueria, gave me
bath salts. They smell so good.

On humid nights, we’d get drunk on Leffe
until the cockroaches’ speed seemed ridiculous
but not enough to beat him.

I don’t ask what happened. Instead
I sip my filter coffee. The grounds
are ash on my tongue.
from The Warring
  Lie Back, Keep Moving
But realistically
you need
to map

new glass routes
and guide

through ghost reflections
of fleur
de lys

and the shadows you carry
your chest.

You can lie by the fountain
in the new
old square

and hit the alarm
quite simply
with a howl.

The pigeons will scare
the patterns

while aeroplanes
keep on
stretching, or

you can tomb like a queen
with your palms
in a temple,

feel yourself doubling,

and think about how
in black spaces

countless bright
but similar
from Particle Soup (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2012).
Order Particle Soup.



Michelle McGrane
He had forgotten how to walk,
the child they found roosting
upside down in the cave depths,
cauled in silence and darkness,
arms folded across his chest.
For years he had gleaned beetles
from the chamber floor, snaffled
moths and mosquitoes in mid-air,
lapped from the silted pool at twilight.
Startled by halogen beams,
spelunkers’ thudding boots,
his family, roused from torpor,
had abandoned its crevices, swarmed
above the harnessed men,
through the hibernaculum mouth
and disappeared into the woods.
Now, monitored by behaviourists
behind an observation pane,
the boy huddles on a cot, his head
against his knees, eyes closed,
squeaking as if echolocation
might guide him home.
Shortlisted for the Sol Plaatjie European Union Poetry Award 2012.

The Melon Programme, Melville

Saturday, 13 October

10h30 to 12h00

Lionel Murcott, Tumelo Khoza, David Chislett, Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Kobus Moolman

16h00 to 17h30

Alan Finlay, Arja Salafranca, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Gail Dendy, Khulile Nxumalo, Michelle McGrane, Gary Cummiskey

Sunday, 14 October

13h30 to 15h00

Kobus Moolman, Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Tumelo Khoza, Gérard Rudolf, Michelle McGrane

15h30 to 17h00

Marcelle Olivier, Lionel Murcott, Khulekani Magubane, Gérard Rudolf, Khulile Nxumalo, Alan Finlay


Chris McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1977. His first collection The Hutton Inquiry was published by Salt in 2005, which The Guardian reviewed as “an impressively inventive survey of the uses of English in the early 21st century”. Zeppelins following in 2008 and his most recent collection, featured here, is THE RESTRUCTURE (Salt Publishing, 2012).
In 2010 he wrote a play called Shad Thames, Broken Wharf about the London Docklands which was performed at the London Word Festival in 2010 and also at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. This has also been published in a limited edition by Penned in the Margins.

THE RESTRUCTURE tells the story, through a series of poems, of the circumstances leading to the conception of a boy and his delivery into a difficult world. Born with a condition that requires long stretches in hospital the author attempts to view the world through the senses of the boy who is yet to learn language. The play of words presents the challenges of the world in a new light. The backdrop of the book is social unrest, but the author and boy – who has 40 different pseudonyms – push back against the monotone order of THE RESTRUCTURE (the all-controlling voice that appears throughout as a public service announcement) through the surreal inventions of words and games. This is a gripping book of contrasts, conjuring a life of extreme polarities that is always striving for a resolution, towards a restructured world.”
“In THE RESTRUCTURE, Chris McCabe’s innovative, dexterous, playful and sinuous poems invite us into a world of fast-moving impressions, of fragmentation and reconstruction, of exuberantly original imagery and a constant willingness to question and experiment. The poems exploring pregnancy, birth and early childhood are both tender and visceral, from a daring poet at the height of his powers. Reading Chris McCabe is like watching an acrobat performing a series of perfectly executed backflips, then land on his feet, barely out of breath.”

– Catherine Smith
Break Of Day
It’s only lights out when you close your eyes,
their amber of yes; eyes
in nakedness still the most part of you,
that you could walk into this room
as dominatrix or lost French maid
and wet, looking behind,
the game would be over –
as the nights draw in the biggest climax ever
you fall asleep in pink across my knees,
I cover you against the cold with no gain to myself,
to my own eyes; the clock like a Barratt crane
builds towards a city decimated, decrowned,
we are forced to leave as another night closes
down. Perfect sexual love was the phrase we found to use,
living too late this does us justice
the crows’ feet ingrained across my face
as evidence that this took place,
I cannot sleep longer than two hours
without speaking across & hearing us,
scents left on your body even as it tires
residues of imagination, desires,
when morning makes this lost & the gales
rotate the dreams we’ve shared to genesis,
across gardens blankets collapse
as interiors after sleep-walked violence,
strange what the sun each day brings to us –
I never believe night past until we enter this.

                    *     *     *

The Pure knows that these are the bliss days.
You say you want this weekend to last forever,
Sundays are endless houses with boards FOR SALE,
your purple poncho drifts the industrial estate
(a crocus we saw in the cracks of the Reichstag),
shredded names form our breath & remain –
Echo, Daphne, Iris / Pavel, Kester, Blaise.
Spring gives the nights less to get lost in,
already on the doorstep a sun of foxing amber
sucks its dogfox offspring into its rays,
a gimpshow of shredded binbags across the street –
a pure pearl bulb & eight dud teabags.

When I thought I’d lost the notebook of these poems
it was like the months had never taken place,
nights of imagined tics scratched off the back
of the year, like Herrick’s vision –
Night to the Record! that was all,
but there it was left under the scanner
open to hear of the pregnancy Yes –
litmus tongue pronged pink in a perfect plus.
When we tested twice does that make twins?
From perfect sexual love our babes are buds,
but The Pure wants you still in silky pinks –
Love give me more such nights as these.
Still unsure if I believe in luck, or ghosts,
I have been unlucky as 13 erotic ghosts.

I started smoking the day before the ban & loved
the cigarette stumps like crushed drummer-boys.

This & other kinds of bitterness pitted a kitsch beauty –
I carried a retro sports bag full of lemons & roses.

Digital zeros at midnight like amphetamine owls –
she says: You can never escape the Taxi Man

(outside two feet crucified by flip-flop
echo & knock against the night black).

At midnight, online, she checks a balance transfer,
I read a book from a dead man’s collection –

her magazine shows the outline of a model in the far flush
of pregnancy, a snail that climbs a salted branch.
Previously published in LIT Journal.
The Midwitches
are sorcerers between science & prophecy,
prick at bone heels to lumin four red moons.
Go door-to-door as sales-people of health
and five portions of frightful vag.
Hands mole over wombs, a search for
armadillos with the shells removed.
Eavesdroppers of heartbeats, a swoosh
of black boots on a poppy tarmac.
So much care taken over sutures to sew
women back together, as if labia
is the label in the pubic sweater.
100% flesh. Keep away from fire.
Grey fusili cord uncoiled & cut with clippers
red-metallic, to be auctioned as keyrings.
Trolley dollies of pethidine & pleaded-for
pain in the hold-up at placenta patisserie.
Then you left the room : came back
to a hijacked child suckling on pork
popsicles of piglets. A midwife called Star
with such advice as : eat pineapple
to make the contractions start. A trade
secret on how to start the woman off –
a hook on a long silver stick. You thought
that was medieval until they unveiled
the weights of sugar-balanced silver scales.
Pessaries inserted with a card dealer’s
confidence, smoke potions up the flesh flue
they chant & turn to face you –
a postnatal door opens a room – a cage of film-noir –
a creel of white hair strung up in the rails.
Previously published in The Manhattan Review.
Pavel’s 1st Art Lesson
[Points at Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

That’s a Van Gogh.

A Van Gogh.

with mousetail cobbles.
flapjack bricks.
pancake tables.
anorak waitresses.
fudgecake shadows.
ecstatic suitors.
chesspiece diners.
branch-armed boys.
piefaced horses.
sausagegreen trees.
flowerbed stars.

[Points again at Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

That’s a Van Gogh.

A Van Gogh.

with mousetail cobbles.
flapjack bricks.
pancake tables.
anorak waitresses.
fudgecake shadows.
ecstatic suitors.
chesspiece diners.
branch-armed boys.
piefaced horses.
sausagegreen trees.
flowerbed stars.

[Points left of Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

Stinging hairs, there, as not there
the light around your mouth in bars –
late ambers play tricks.
Do you know the trouble this could cause?

It fucking hurts for hours afterwards
like mentally, what I do to myself –
are dock leaves apocryphal
or are we talking prescriptions?

The hairs around your mouth & jawline
softer than threads & without essences
or legacies
the danger is in what they could make me do.

The stamen of a tongue
the remembered spoken
lumps under skin for decades.

How do you explain to a boy of three
who’s never been stung
that just to touch green so soft
will rash away his happiness?

Without permission he disbands school shorts
passes water in the triffid shoots
until the cod bone bristles disappear –

to explain how something that isn’t there
can sting
is like his first symposium on the metaphysical heart.

Hairs so feint on a desirous tongue
that went ways outside of easiness
to first furrow for taste – then there
was someone else stood small
in the green-scented room. Someone
who blots up the time it would take us
to kiss. He sings! The words he speaks
in our breath balms the absence

as dock leaves do stings
Previously published in the Herbarium anthology
(Capsule Press, 2011).
from THE RESTRUCTURE (Salt Publishing, 2012).


Sea Pie, A Shearsman Anthology of Oystercatcher Poetry, edited by Peter Hughes

“Oystercatcher Press has published over 50 pamphlets of contemporary poetry in its short existence. It won the inaugural Michael Marks Award ‘for outstanding UK publisher of poetry in pamphlet form’. Chair of judges Ian McMillan praised the press for ‘taking risks with older and newer writers from outside the perceived centre of British poetry’.

This anthology now provides the first opportunity to sample all the poets represented by Oystercatcher Press in one book. It confirms the judgement, made by Ian Brinton in World Literature Today, that Oystercatcher Press offers ‘some of the most exciting and vivid poetry available in England today’.”
About Peter Hughes
Peter Hughes, founding editor of Oystercatcher Press and the editor of this volume, is a poet who is now based on the Norfolk coast. Much of his work is published by Shearsman. His Selected Poems will appear from Shearsman in 2013, alongside a volume of responses to his work.
Contributors include John Hall, Kelvin Corcoran, Emily Critchley, Peter Riley, Ian Davidson, David Rushmer, John Welch, Maurice Scully, Carol Watts, Rufo Quintavalle, Alistair Noon, Lisa Samuels, Gerry Loose, Allen Fisher, Ken Edwards, Randolph Healy, David Kennedy, Alec Finlay, Michael Haslam, Richard Moorhead, Carrie Etter, Simon Perril, Iain Britton, Peter Hughes, Anna Mendelssohn, Catherine Hales, Nathan Thompson, Michael Ayres, Giles Goodland, Sophie Robinson, Matina Stamatakis, Ralph Hawkins, Nigel Wheale, Ivano Fermini, Rachel Lehrmann, Pete Smith, Tim Atkins, Philip Terry, S.J. Fowler, Alasdair Paterson, Tim Allen, Amy Evans, Sophie Mayer, John James, and Simon Marsh.
“In the spirit of the best English poetry of the past, these poets have opted to move on. They make it new without resorting to gimmicks, make it aesthetically potent rather than merely decorative, and make it contemporary rather than modish.
When you are dealing with the very new, as we are here, the merit of individual works of art is bound to be disputed. Some will be ignored, some dismissed, especially by those still relishing the styles of 1956. But, to paraphrase John James, it wasn’t like 1956 in 1956 either.

This is a period of political regression, and of the erosion of opportunities for independent thought in education, and of the remoulding of ‘consumer tastes’ by multinational corporations. In such circumstances it is easy to underestimate the importance of modern art, which begs to differ.

This book displays a series of choices and procedures which are not determined by ‘what the market thinks’. These are individual writers investigating and imagining what is true now. They are thinking for themselves, and writing for anyone tired of official versions.

Readers will notice that these writers are different from each other and do not constitute a ‘school’. Cultures thrive by means of such diversity, and ‘schools’ are best reserved for children, fundamentalists and whales.

Oystercatcher Press got off to a good start. The first batch of pamphlets was entered for the inaugural Michael Marks Awards and won the publisher’s prize. Ian McMillan, Chair of the judges at that time, praised Oystercatcher for ‘taking risks with older and newer writers from outside the perceived centre of British poetry’. We must admit that this took place.

Since then many individual pamphlets have been singled out for praise in various quarters. At the same time, attempts to define a ‘house style’ have generally been thwarted by a new Oystercatcher pamphlet which seemed to be stylistically located on the other side of someone else’s fence.

I think it dangerous for poems or presses to have too clear an idea of where they are going. Just around the corner is a place which is different from where you have been. And it’s more fun checking out the locals and locale than grumbling about how this is not the same as yesterday and why are there no chips.

I hope all the people enjoy some of these poems most of the time, whilst keeping on the watch for what’s coming up next.
Peter Hughes
The Old Hunstanton Vortex
April 2012
Allen Fisher
from Birds
Grey here
many greys but sometimes
you look out at a horizon
and see glimmers
of yellow or orange
you think it must be Paradise
or some kind of promised happiness
better than it’s been here
turns out to be a series
of nuclear explosions
Some think this demonstrates our
spacetime after four fifths of our
existence has been burnt
in fact this has not accounted for
the speed change in entropy
which will indicate we have
far less chance to survive far more
chance to survive once we have further
encouraged a negative entropy
before we get back to a better sense of colour
Richard Moorhead

from The Reluctant Vegetarian
n (1) owl pellet
swollen with
fairy bile; (2) goose
tumour stitched
with burdock; (3) jar
of seal eyes, lustrous
when wet; (4) a mesa’s
moonless indigo;
(5) blue Cambodian
skulls in a punnet;
v (6) to ash
the darkened skin
with chalk; adj (7)
the tight baby eye
of a teenage heart;
adv (8) how innocence stirs
in the mouth first;
adj (9) the taste
of a bitten tongue or
a wrecked planet.
(1) horse strawberry
cinched with
goat sweat; (2) pulp
crumbs drenched
in intimate
blood; adv (3) the way
children teach
adults how to
eat again; n (4) jelly
polyps spiked
with hawthorn; (5)
cat-gut pastilles
tapestried on stab
wounds; (6) the puckered
lips of car-crash
victims; adj
(7) the wretchedness
of the past tense;
n (8) an embolism
and its silent
drift in my
Sophie Robinson

from The Lotion
Flesh leggings
A persuasive blackness of spirit touches
you, & I do not have the answer you
Feel you deserve. Your olive-oil stomach
Is calling out for the thrill of lips, &
Your hurt curls are enshrined in cotton.
Small and puffy by the door, a backless
Vibration falls amongst us, a low-flowered
Anger. You hold out your palms of feel the
Chesty pulses, and soon it creeps in you,
Harping over and over the hands and
Cities. The loving diagnosis of
Your hip shot from grace—a stapler greeted
By skin, broke, fell to earth like a gazelle.
Hunch and Shuffle
The modesty of caramel—burned, earthy
& smashed against my wanton mouth in stickled
smudges—make a meal of my gushing brains, take
my faith as fallen & my delicate curls
unshaven. Pimp your pickles with my bluish
pelvis. I crook myself upon you, dribbling
with an anorexic urgency, and I don’t see
your workload lightening beneath the crusted
halo of your charm, cowboy, so knuckle down.
Simon Marsh

from Stanze
you flounced in water
child half bird half fish
a mermaid’s dreams
one tail slap away
you mulled the sea till clear
felt settled salt soften in your pores
threw back your sodden shank of hair
it hit the surface
rock-thud beat the rumbling sea drum
summoned whales
lost salmon
& the Giant Starfish
plucked from waterless heaven
its trail turned cold so very long ago
December wind booms long
rustles street lamp drips of amber light
tilt your head
lean back
into this hollow
shaped to your return
the Milky Way
a lung too full of stars
see how those foil ball satellites unclip
the zoney congruence of time?
& hark the gong of distant Moon
her notes form frozen spears of light
they fall to Earth as rattling disks
unspun fragmented echoes at your feet
from Sea Pie (Shearsman Books, 2012).

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Visit Shearsman Books.

Visit Oystercatcher Press.

Lucy Sheerman’s Rarefied (falling without landing)

Lucy Sheerman was born in Wales and grew up in West Yorkshire. Her work has recently been included in the Shearsman anthology Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets, edited by Carrie Etter, and The International Egg and Poultry Review (Friends Magazine 2). She also has a commissioned piece of work in Archive of the Now, a digital collection of poets performing their own work, based at Queen Mary, University of London.

She set up the rem press poetry series with Karlien van den Beukel and ran the poetic practice seminar with Redell Olsen and Andrea Brady. She is currently a literature specialist at the Arts Council, working to support the development of writers and new writing. She lives with her partner and four children in Cambridge. Rarefied (falling without landing) is published by Oystercatcher Press.


Lucy writes:

“I wrote the sequence in response to the documentary Apollo Wives, a series of interviews with the wives of the Apollo astronauts. They talked about the experience of being plunged into the media spotlight while their husbands were on the Apollo programme and how they formed strong bonds with each other while living in close proximity on a military housing base.
Structurally I have been using fairly strict constraints to number of lines and number of beats in a line, but these are significantly longer than the palette I used to work with. I find that it has been very liberating to lengthen my lines and it has felt like reintroducing oxygen into the writing to a degree. The ability to let the writing breathe and allow a vestige of narrative provided an entry point into the work which however I felt I could still control. Some of my earlier work had got so sparse that it was almost visual. This shift meant the text became more expansive, capable of including narrative, memory and speech in quite a different way.
Rarefied (Sinatra, misappropriated) was written during a period when I was writing late at night and early in the morning while the children were asleep so I felt I was writing by moonlight and it was quite solitary – my partner tends to disappear during term time, similarly my father was absent during the week. Witnessing and then experiencing that sense of dislocation resonated.
One of the wives talked about looking up at the moon and not being able to believe her husband was really up there. That image of longing became the kernel of the sequence. Another interviewee talked about her attempts to get the lawn to grow in the desert conditions they were living in and how it had been all but destroyed by the paparazzi thronging around her home during the moon landings. I liked the marriage of that domestic concern with the vast abstract experience of staring at the moon. The inability to conceive of her husband being on the moon and the being in the moment of looking down at an untidy lawn suggests why people are more able to believe the moon landings are a hoax, an elaborate filmed sequence shot in a studio, than a real event.
Some of the photographs and the image I had of a woman looking up at the moon linked with the story of Ariadne waking up on Naxos to discover she has been abandoned by Theseus. Catullus’ description of this moment is beautiful, but so is his sympathetic description of Theseus’ memory being distorted, allowing him to leave Ariadne behind because he has been made to forget her. The balance Catullus presents gave me the structure to describe both the experience of the wives and of the astronauts as they left earth. It became a trope for understanding the splitting that took place between the astronauts and their wives and the old world. I loved Catullus’s motif of a weaving shuttle so I used that too. One of the interviewees described the experience of being left and living through the Apollo programme as ‘like being shipwrecked together’. The idea of floating, being set adrift, of being marooned permeates all these narratives.
I used details about the Apollo missions lifted from the NASA and Wikipedia websites and the words of the astronauts and their wives. I used stories and quotations from a lot of different individuals so it doesn’t represent one single narrative, more of a composite. They all bring facets of the experience of being left or of leaving, of strangeness and alienation. I liked the way they combined into a story made up of fragments and although that makes some aspects of the tale short circuit or resistant to forming a satisfying narrative it added to the overriding sense of the normal becoming abnormal as it does in moonlight and when close relationships start to distort.
The interviews and accounts of the landings defer to the potency of images, the experience of being watched and photographed. For example, one of the key scenes of the film is of a photographer posing and shooting the wives in the desert. Families were photographed on the ‘death watch’ as they observed lift off; when Apollo 12 was struck by lightning these photographs seem to mediate the trauma, and make it meaningful for the viewer. On this mission, the NASA ground crew put pictures of Playboy playmates into the Apollo checklists with captions such as ‘seen any interesting hills or valleys lately’ – the moon is a woman, but so is the earth. It’s a simultaneous leaving behind and being separated from the familiar, earthy, for the abstract, echoing the description of Theseus’ departure.
The photographs and memories in the documentary were often distorted by time or by physical barriers. Images of the moon, the earth and other people are obscured or mediated by lenses, television screens, visors, sunglasses, newspaper reports or Wikipedia entries. On one mission the camera was destroyed when it was pointed directly at the sun and no images were broadcast. Nevertheless these images became a short hand for lived experience or feeling. People were watching the moon landings on television and projecting their aspirations or desires onto the astronauts and even their families. It creates a reality in which a stranger’s appearance shapes the emotional responses of others, giving it a hyperreal importance.
The idea of surfaces and appearances also exist in the description of family relationships. The wives reported being told not to quarrel with their husbands when they came home on leave. When they were away on missions the wives held up signs for the media painted with the words ‘thrilled, happy, proud’, things they were advised to say to the reporters who mobbed them. There are photographs of them carrying them like speech bubbles, or placards. One of the astronauts left a picture of his family on the moon. It seems like a tangible abandonment although I don’t think that is how it was perceived.
Many of the marriages ended in divorce – so that metaphorically these leavings or separations were real and became permanent. The alcoholism and depression amongst the men and the women involved underlines the ripping apart from each other, from the world in a way that was irrevocable. It’s the price of the knowledge and wonder they gained.
The motif of surfaces and their fragility is implicit in the risk of the whole enterprise. One of the daughters had a recurring nightmare that her father kicked through the skin of the rocket ship and was sucked into space. It suggests how delicate the ties holding people together were, how easily wrenched or cut. It echoes the damage that happens to the weft and warp of the stories and narratives relayed. The Apollo 10 spacecraft at the science museum is so fragile – seeing it underlines the nature of the leap of faith they all made and how much they had to lose.”
ii.  Theseus
Captured in the rapture of the moment,
the universe shaking the shining stars.
His co-ordinates fixed. Time-trapped. Airborne.
Considering the heavens breathtaking,
finds he takes no special joy in walking.
Each small step a measurement of distance,
mapping out interesting hills and valleys,
voluptuous encounters with strangeness.
He has a finite number of heartbeats –
wasted while looking back. Not halting, he
gains speed. Crash landing into history.

What is man that thou art mindful of him?
When he comes apart in tiny pieces
just like this tiny pea, pretty and blue.
Earth disappears behind his thumb – eclipsed.
He lets all slip from his forgetful mind.
Biddings fading, the image left behind,
obliterated. Only his footprint
lingering near the family snapshot.
A square of memory, plastic coated.
All shaded in his thoughts with blind dimness.

The camera points directly sunwards
and he is lost in a blaze of light. Blinks,
feels the sickening sense of weightlessness
bringing nausea spreading across skin.
These first footsteps last forever almost.
Sensing perhaps he might never go back
he longs for animation suspended,
solitude, paler than the gleam of gold.
Lightness floating across his face like dust,
shimmering. Hand shadowing eyes, he waves.

Back home they can hear the commentary.
Pinned to their seats, eyes fixed upon the screen,
they watch the world as the world watches them.
Aflame with longing for this bright mirage,
guests crowd in close and closer. Avidly
taking speech shorthand, light flashes pulse.
Never minding them if they leave her be,
She grips the cigarette and absently
counts down to the next sip of martini.
Transmission ends, all contact lost. Static.
from Rarefied (falling without landing) (Oystercatcher Press, 2012).
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