Monthly Archives: July 2013

Amy Ekins’ Nonplaced

Amy Ekins 
Amy Ekins is a poet based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her debut chapbook was published with erbacce-press in 2013 and she is a 2013 Northern Writers Awards New Poets’ Bursary winner. She has contributed to Catechism: Poets for Pussy Riot and Fit to Work: Poets against ATOS. When not writing, she’s a project manager for an academic publishing company and a Kindle addict.
“North East poet Amy Ekins’ debut is an inventory of absence. In this sequence of short poems Ekins imbues the most benign of objects and places – a fish tank, microwave, back yard – with an unseen other, or rather with their lack. The ambition of these poems is to ‘kick out […] the root’ of a lost love ‘like a wobbling tooth’, to make the object of the poems ‘decades past’. In recognising what is ‘not here’ Ekins propels us to see what is. This inventive first chapbook introduces a talented young poet, who is at once playful and understated, and who is most definitely ‘here’.”

– Amy Key 
“These poems have the obsessive quality of Jack Nicholson’s eyes. Intent on logging every detail, each page is a melancholic remembrance, or eulogy, a reminder that we can never really erase anybody. Ekins’ stored snippets are ghost pain, post-amputation, and we’re not ready to move on, or give in. And maybe we won’t be, like, ever.”
– Amy Mackelden

You are not here.
This does not surprise me.
Microwave meals are the conserve
of the lonely, the partial,
whereas you are whole, a sphere of heat in and of yourself.
Kitchen drawer
You are not here.
Nonetheless, the spoons are aware of you,
as I talk of you to them when scooping cream
onto scones – no jam, that would be obscene –
just cream, and thoughts of you.
You are not here.
I look, though, wondering of your #location.
Perhaps you are hidden
among the celebrity pages –
a pale smudge in the shadow of a dress.
You are not here.
I hear licks of lyrics from bands
you used to tell me about, and t-shirts billow
on the washing line, names of those
you didn’t take me to see.
You are not here.
Stubs of trips worn to slips
that fall as I look for change.
Passport photo kept behind my own,
creased with kisses passed.
You are not here.
I wear your pyjamas, and roll pillows
into body parts beside me. I press feather-you against me,
allergies flaring – the sheets are alight
and I am alone.
from Nonplaced (erbacce-press, 2013).
Order Nonplaced here and here.
Visit Amy’s  website.
Visit Amy’s Tumblr site.

Khadija Heeger’s Beyond the Delivery Room

Khadija Heeger 
Khadija Heeger was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She was raised on the Cape Flats in the township of Hanover Park. She is a well-known and popular performance poet.
In 2007 she was commissioned to write a multidisciplinary theatrical poetry piece in collaboration with indigenous soundscape artists, Khoikonnexion, for the Spier Poetry Festival in 2008. These performances were greeted with standing ovations. The piece, Stone Words, was later taken to the Grahamstown Festival in 2009 (funded by the National Arts Council of South Africa). Stone Words is the first part in a trilogy called Separation Anxiety. She is currently writing the second, Blood Words, following the crooked lines of DNA. Khadija has also performed in Amherst in the United States as part of an artist exchange programme.
Beyond the Delivery Room 
“Heeger’s is a poetry of sincerity and acumen, searching for nuanced understanding and meaning among the welter of public clichés and private rationalisations by which most of us live. In a country where people are ‘vrek van pille roek met ‘n apartheid spoek’, these declarative, propulsive poems urge us to renew a process of reflection, self-examination and action.”
– Kelwyn Sole
“Khadija Heeger is a mould-breaker, a contemporary South African griot of the ancient tradition of griots described as poets and storytellers whose “wit can be devastating and knowledge of local history formidable”. In her poetry Heeger reconstructs and re-imagines vital histories. From the raw and personal to the locally relevant and globally political she unflinchingly names what has been intentionally erased, overshadowed or forgotten.”
– Malika Ndlovu
I have to draw maps.
I have to ride my feet like chariots.
I have to speak like stone and rock.
I have to see like water.
I have to love like mother tongue.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead.
I have to wade through the sands, leap through the dungeons
so I feel,
so I feel as I wonder through my life
not knowing me, not knowing now.
See my mirrors and my footprints dance,
me my back to the wind posing in the cracks of my winded smile.
See my questions barren, black shoving marks against these walls,
burning holes in charcoal dreams.
I am here but seldom seen.
I am here,
I am.
I have to draw maps.
I have to ride my feet like chariots.
I have to speak like stone and rock.
I have to see like water.
I have to love like mother tongue.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead.
I have to wade through the sands, leap through the dungeons
so I know,
so I know the dust-stamp footfall,
a murmuring earth call,
knowing where, knowing how
knowing me, knowing now.
I have to draw maps
to make the swindler mute
to sound the horn
to speak by using my own tongue and annihilate the mutant words.
I have to ride my feet like chariots
to win her back
to find her soles and grow my own
in the new places I call home.
I have to wrestle with the bones of my dead
so I may live here in their stead
carrying their wisdom on the lean road
learning the lessons by which I am led.
I have to wade through the sands,
leap through the dungeons
to find her footprint, to find her footprint
to make a footprint
to make a footprint of my own
so I will know
that I am
from Beyond the Delivery Room (Modjaji Books, 2013).
Order Beyond the Delivery Room from

Matt Merritt’s The Elephant Tests

Matt Merritt 
Matt Merritt was born in Leicester in 1969, and lives in Whitwick. His debut chapbook, Making The Most Of The Light, was published by Happenstance in 2005, and full collections have been Troy Town (Arrowhead, 2008) and hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (Nine Arches Press, 2010). He reviews for Magma, New Walk, Under the Radar and Sphinx. He studied history at Newcastle University, and works as the editor for Bird Watching magazine. He is the editor of Poets on Fire, and blogs at
The Elephant Tests 

The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013), the third collection of poems from Matt Merritt, takes sheer delight in the full possibilities of language in this study of birds and natural history, travel, personal and universal memory, and even of the occasional elephant too. In the process, it captures the quiet wonder of the fleeting moments that amaze, puzzle and trouble us.

Eco-poetry and exploration are met perfectly with myths and epiphanies; the wide, wild world outside is precisely spoken for, just a moment before taking flight or merging into dusk. This is poetry unafraid of new territories; Matt Merritt pushes out the boundaries of each poem without ever once losing the humour, grace and gentle melancholy at their heart.”
“A poet’s talent follows no maps. Insight, rueful humour and a perfectly tuned ear make Matt Merritt’s The Elephant Tests an exceptional collection, whose poems absorb and startle. Here are elephants, benign or brooding, hares, ‘sharp against the last sun’, humans, who ‘lie and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom’, birds, imagined and real: ‘Rain bird (see also yarrow, yappingale, yaffle)’. Each poem reveals its own richness: ‘and the last thing you see / will be the last thing you ever expected’.”

– Alison Brackenbury
“I’ve become a pretty ardent Matt Merritt fan in recent years. A more observant and articulate poet is hard to imagine. The Elephant Tests is at least as strong as its two predecessors, whilst also being thematically and stylistically his most ambitious and varied book to date.”

– Rory Waterman
He’s gazed at the fanlight since the day
I took possession, god of the mantelpiece
and cold open grate. One fixed point
in an ever-changing pantheon

of ballots and bills, letters expecting no reply,
clusters of keepsakes long since shucked
of their carapace of context and meaning.
His trunk snakes left to take a proffered sweetmeat
(we’re united in disdain for the virtues of self-denial).
Unwitting recipient of every prayer for easy living,

I catch him, aloof and golden in the sunrise.
Later, by lamplight, he dances alone
in the shadows of possibility to the tune
of his thousand names, each one an increment
between vighnakartã and vignahartã,
creator and remover of every obstacle.

He greets each suspiciously-familiar tomorrow
with the same open hand,
ready to welcome good fortune
when it finds its way up the garden path
and swings the old door wide on slow hinges.
Long, close August. We sleep with the window open to the street, wait for promised storms to cut the bullying heat back down to size. Cars clatter over sleeping policemen. Ambulances draw up at the nursing home, unhurriedly. Sometimes, we catch the cries of foxes in the cemetery, the ghost-written call and response of owls. And now wake to sounds, distant and rhythmic, I take for a flock of Canada Geese, migrating; a thing unheard of this side of the Atlantic. Only after several minutes does it become apparent, they’re next door in our neighbour’s bedroom. We lie, and wait for the ceiling rose to bloom, a sound widening between us in the cold ocean of the sheets, wondering if maybe it’s the man we’ve seen painting her front door and carrying flat-packs in from the car, listening as a tailwind takes them faster and higher, out over the flow country, Cape Wrath, the firths, calling to maintain contact across the wide North Sea, descending now to Svalbard, the mountains bright with meltwater, the tundra with saxifrage, crowberry, bell-heather, in the 3a.m. sunlight of the Arctic summer.
Patsy Parisi’s Blues
It won’t be cinematic. No camera will linger
over meaningful glances cast in anticipation
of epiphanous plot developments. No tracking shot
will follow your elegantly curved trajectory

through a perfect simulacrum of the old neighbourhood.
The light will always be harsh enough to pick out
your every scar and blemish, or else so low
as to stubbornly refuse a clear view

of your most private face. Music will fail to rise
to the occasion, emotion will be left to sing
itself, low but incessant as the hum of power cables
strung across scrap-sown hinterlands.

Above all, the next lines will refuse to write themselves,
the unrehearsed words of snatched conversations will betray
all of your best intentions, and the last thing you see
will be the last thing you ever expected.
Note: The line “It won’t be cinematic” is spoken by the character Patsy Parisi in the TV series The Sopranos. A rather mild, scholarly-looking ‘foot-soldier’, he uses it while assuring another character, Gloria Trillo, of her fate should she fail to co-operate.
Red Centre Blues
There is no middle of nowhere
here. It’s everywhere, starting no more
than a couple of hundred yards
beyond the last house, mile on mile

of parched bush and an earth-tone
that’s all that allows the brain to take in
the panache of colour, the enormous light.
And you walked, one crackling dusk,

playing the past out behind you,
a frayed line strung with the lights
of the bottle store and car wash, cheap motels
and the last fuel for 300K. You walked

until the town was no more
than the embers of last month’s wildfire,
and the night multiplied to an unbroken smear
of hopelessly distant probabilities.

You’d dreamed of standing on the edge
of tomorrow, watching it appear over the hill
like an army come to lift a long siege
yet it seemed impossible it would ever find you

amid such relentless space, so you walked
yourself past weary and the last
scattered outliers of exhaustion, walked
yourself to dust, until the unblinking sun shone

straight through you and the insistent iamb
of your gait was all that reminded you
you were still here. You walked back
to a bare room, the possibility of sleep, and

woke up this morning.
Memory abhors a vacuum. It seeds a coarse grass
between every bloom, floods the misty fen
around each steepling moment, spools
and loops to fill the gaps corrupted by routine.

Walking high on the forest one frozen dusk
with friends from school, our dazed delight
at the dash of a hare sharp against the last sun, two snipe
exploding from the ground beneath our feet.

And every occasional – no, worse, each single shining
instance like this – clones to a fond, false permanence
even as it disappears beyond us. One friend is dead now,
the other long since drifted from this close orbit,

hare and snipe are entries in a book, but still we’d say
it was always this way. The mind can’t carry
all that’s offered down from the summit, or if it can,
can’t believe it. Maybe this happened again and again,

maybe just that once. We can live by such uncertainty.
Seeing The Elephant
Each night the world ends, weathered and threadbare,
but by morning is replaced by a perfect facsimile.

Far from creeping intimations of mortality, each of us
wakes to undeniable evidence of our own continued existence.

From this heady vantage, the mountains are like the stars:
close enough to reach out and touch, or else

uncountable miles away. A few claim glimpses,
and all suppose him somewhere in the vicinity,

though not a one can supply a convincing likeness,
explain exactly what we’re looking for.

And since forgetting is so much of what we are,
sometimes we can live the way we did before

we wandered into his territory, but remembering
is his second nature. Do not imagine kindness

in those lazy lashed eyes, or see them as too small
to notice your every move. Beneath that dome

of weathered granite is a record of every bullet
you ever left under your own thin hide

and an estimate of how long it will take
to work its way to your heart.

You still don’t know what the elephant looks like,
but today looks a lot like the elephant.
Note: The phrase “seeing the elephant” was used in the USA in the 19th century, particularly by pioneers making the wagon-train journey across the Great Plains (although Civil War soldiers also used it about their first taste of combat). It carries more than a hint of ambiguity – the people concerned wanted to see the elephant, and were convinced that it was a potentially life-changing experience, but generally ended up at least a little disappointed and disillusioned.
from The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches Press, 2013).

Order The Elephant Tests here or here.

Visit Matt’s blog, Polyolbion.
Read ‘Chirimoya’ and ‘The elephant in the room’
at Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim

EPSON MFP image 

Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
Translators: Ian Haight and T’ae-yŏng Hŏ
White Pine Press, 2012
Korean Voices Series
ISBN: 978-1-935210-43-6

Co-translator Ian Haight introduces Magnolia and Lotus
Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234) was the second Patriarch of the Korean Buddhist Chogye Order and the first Zen Master dedicated to poetry in Korea. The book’s title, Magnolia and Lotus, is taken from a poem within the book:
          Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees

          Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
          looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
          How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
          this tree has no comparison.
I like this poem for a number of reasons and, at the translator’s ever-present risk of presumption, believe it captures the voice of Hyesim. There resides so much Buddhism in these four simple lines: the non-judgmental doubting of what is observed, and how shifting perspective reveals different possibilities in assumptions; the idea of the blossoms themselves – both lotus flowers and magnolias as representations of wisdom, beauty, truth, and enlightenment; the appreciative acceptance of not knowing what a flower is because its fixed form cannot be determined, and how this understanding could be applied to everything comprehended by the mind; finally, a penetrating recognition: that there is nothing to compare with the singularity of what is observed – everything under the sun has uniqueness. A train of thought that is simultaneously paradoxical and circular couched in deceptive simplicity – yes, this poem feels very Buddhist. The poems in this collection present a world observed with reverence and admiration by a monk who lived more than 700 years ago. It feels natural to identify the collection as a unified voice of Hyesim.
Why title the book Magnolia and Lotus? The answer lies in the poem ‘Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees’. Consider a poem as an image of perspective; or the idea that language, a poem, a translation is a shifting continuum, both having and lacking permanence. And yet, somewhere among these possibilities is a node that remains distinctive, if even for a moment – something we can give a title to, calling it a poem or perhaps even a book. Under this Buddhist way of thinking, naming the book after the poem feels appropriate.
The poems in this book are built around an imagined life of Hyesim and his purpose for writing poems. What did Hyesim experience in meditation? How did his wisdom grow with progressive enlightenment? What did he place importance on in life; as a monk; as an early founder of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, the Chogye Order? If he eventually relinquished this position, what did he then do? What were his thoughts in his final years? Each of the translated poems, attentive to the nuances of Hyesim’s Buddhist and Confucian background as well as the landscape of Korea, posits the point of view of Hyesim, his voice, and his time. My hope is that this collection – utilising metaphor, rhythmic language and imagery – invites a reader into relaxed companionship with Hyesim and his life. 
Ian Haight 
Ian Haight was a co-organizer and translator for the UN’s global poetry readings held annually in Pusan, Korea, from 2002 – 4. He has been awarded five translation grants from the Daesan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute and Baroboin Buddhist Foundation for the translation, editing, promotion, and publication of Korean literature. Ian is the editor of Garden Chysanthemums and First Mountain Snow: Zen Questions and Answers from Korea (2010), and along with T’ae-yŏng Hŏ, the translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Hŏ (2009) both from White Pine Press. Ian’s translations, essays, poems, and interviews have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Writer’s Chronicle, Quarterly West and Hyundae Buddhist News, among many other publications. For more information, please visit Ian’s website.
T’ae-yong Ho 
T’ae-yŏng Hŏ has been awarded translation grants from the Daesan Foundation and Korea Literature Translation Institute. With Ian Haight, he is the co-translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Hŏ Kyun and Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim. Working from the original classical Chinese, T’ae-yŏng’s translations of Korean poetry have appeared in Runes, New Orleans Review and the Atlanta Review.
“Korea’s first Zen Master-poet wrote simple yet elegant poetry of the world he inhabited, both physically and spiritually, and of daily insights—a pause along the way for a deep clear breath, a moon-viewing moment, a seasonal note or a farewell poem to a departing monk. His poems speak softly and clearly, like hearing a temple bell that was struck a thousand years ago.”
– Sam Hamill
“Hyesim’s poems: transformative as walking high granite mountains by moonlight, with fragrant herbs underfoot and a thermos of clear tea in the backpack. Their bedrock is thusness, their images’ beauty is pellucid and new, their view without limit. The shelf of essential Zen poets for American readers grows larger with this immediately indispensable collection.”
– Jane Hirshfield
“Reading poems from another language, culture, and century, I often feel like a foreigner excluded from the original’s subtleties. Not so in Hyesim’s miraculous time-traveling poems, which might have been written yesterday or tomorrow, and anywhere. There’s not a single opaque word in the book. The poems are Buddhist, yes, and Zen (Sŏn) in particular, but they’re written for anyone interested in human consciousness: what it is, how it perceives the world, how it can be transformed, and what pure perceptual clarity and joy result from the realization of its ultimate transparency. Through eight hundred years Hyesim’s voice delivers the gift of his wisdom, modesty, humor, and profound understanding of the human mind. These are important poems.”
– Chase Twichell
Leaving Home to Enter the Priesthood 
I have longed for the School of the Void,
to learn with my mind of ashes to sit in Sŏn.
Fame is fragile as a clay rice-cake steamer—
even after success, the effort for fame has been in vain.
Riches and honors, sought uselessly—
the poor also have this affliction.
I have left my village home
and sleep calmly under pines.
A plantain is an unlit
green candle of beeswax
the spread leaves, a vernal coat’s sleeves
desiring to dance.
I see this image in my intoxicated eyes
though the plantain itself
is better
than my comparisons.
Curves of Incense
Threads of incense drift upwards
unending in my silent room—
a smoky portent, like cracks on a tortoise shell—
nine perfumed plumes twist.
An old mirror hides light with darkness—
embers flare within sullen ash.
The many folds of my silk curtain part—
what is most precious faces the wind.
Saying Goodbye to a Monk
One who leaves home to be a monk must be completely free—
how many times have you entered the gates of enlightenment?
Walking alone, wandering outside the world of humans—
a refined heart looks from afar upon the world.
The body, lively, like a single cloud—
the mind, quiet: a mistless moon.
With the simplicity of a bowl and set of old clothes—
a bird ascending 10,000 mountains.
Replying to Mr Kal’s Poem
Spring silkworms spin threads, strangely tying themselves—
flies content themselves with their vinegar-pot world.
If you want to escape your bonds and reside outside common
turn your head as soon as possible. Practice Sŏn.
Together, with you, I am bound—
once freed, why should a crane linger to fly?
The lustrous moon reminds me of your promise—
on which day in the mountains will we practice Sŏn.
Again, a Poem Given at Departure
The somber sky portends rain—
the miserable mountain bears a weary face.
Fortunately, friends of the same practice release clasped hands
but with such heartfelt friendships, it is difficult not to shed tears.
October 1231, I Pass by Growth of Humanity Temple
Borrowing a Poem Written on a Wall
A stand of bamboo unifies a garden—
a salutary breeze drifts below a fence.
In the season of golden leaves, I regret the day’s brevity—
this night of silence—I want it to last.
Sun showers surround the Abbot’s quarters—
humid air entices the land.
Five days I’ve stayed, resting my staff and shoes—
such a delight when the world’s grace endures.
Water Clock
A breeze of winter—
the months of this year draw to an end.
Every leaf in a forest eventually falls, yellowing a mountain—
only pine and bamboo retain an inborn breath of emerald.
How many years will a human live?
Time is fleet as lightning.
Details of self ought to be examined—
then the empty dream will not endure.
from Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim
(White Pine Press, 2012).
Order Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim.
Visit the White Pine Press website.
Visit Ian Haight’s website.

Valerie Morton’s Mango Tree

Valerie Morton 
Valerie Morton returned to poetry after a long break and in the last ten years her poetry has been published in various magazines. She was runner up in the 2011 Essex Poetry Festival. In 2012 she won first prize in the Ver Poets Ten Liner competition. She has appeared online in Ink, Sweat and Tears and The Poetry Shed. In 2011 she completed an OU degree which included Creative Writing, and since then has run a Creative Writing Group with a local mental health charity. She is a member of Ver Poets and her poems have also appeared in three anthologies to raise funds for charity. Mango Tree (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013) is her first collection.
 Mango Tree
“The inspiration for this short collection is one man and one country. Written through the eyes of a young Englishwoman travelling to India for the first time in 1967, these are unashamedly intimate memories, helped by diaries and letters, of the vibrancy, mystery and cruelty of a country where waking up each morning is an epiphany.”
“These poems are at once subtle and evocative, delicately poised between personal and universal in a way that only good poetry can be.”
– Joel Stickley
“We walk with Valerie into an unknown, wondrous place, where we are invited to stroke the skin of India, read it with our fingertips, hold it in the palm of our hands.”
– Abegail Morley
“Enigmatic and intoxicating, Valerie Morton’s India is steeped in contrasts, ‘a palette that turns cities pink, temples gold/ and throws shadows longer than the night’. In poems of displacement, discovery, apprehension and enchantment, she weaves memories of enduring love. Mango Tree is a poignant tribute and a sensory delight.”
– Michelle McGrane
Mango Tree 1   
You gave me India
spread it out before me
in the clashing colours of sarees
drying on the banks of the Ganges –
a chaotic palette of lights
and darks – a palette
that renews itself each morning
out of noise and disarray,
blistering heat and boisterous rain –
a palette that turns cities pink, temples gold,
and throws shadows longer than the night.

Mango Tree 2 
New Delhi
The waking city bursts into a circus
daring acrobats on a river of bicycles.
A single scooter holds a whole family, clinging
like coral plants, chunnis waving in colours
too bright to imagine. We brush past bullock carts
that trundle as if history has forgotten them.
Close your eyes – your voice is gentle,
but limbless beggars are already remembered.
We slow only for cows chewing on garbage
as if the middle of the road was a lush meadow
half a world away. You speak names:
The Red Fort, India Gate, Connaught Place
but in the taxi I sit trim as an English lawn
while horns give way to a tree-lined road.
There are dhobis ironing in the shade and a man
leading a bear with a ring through its nose.
I try to tell you, but you are talking to the driver
in a language I can’t understand.
She lies in the gutter among rubbish, pushed
that way by hurrying feet. One small hand pokes
from under filth – a perfect hand with finger nails,
a hand I want to take in mine, but you pull me away –
away from flies that feed on her.
I can’t go back to cover her, to protect her
nakedness from casual glances.
You say there’s no room for sentiment
and I don’t know you – a Pied Piper
who leads me through a gaudy market,
where gold flashes like a jester’s teeth.
I wander through a day of strange sounds –
locked out by my own voice.
Relatives come, curious about the woman
who’s crashed into their lives.
Hindi voices rise, then lower as I pass.
I stray outside to the letter box,
hoping to find that familiar aerogramme.
I trace my fingers over English names
in the telephone directory
for any flimsy connection.
After a steamy, sleepless night
I watch him from the balcony,
an old man bent
under a heavy shawl.
Until now he’s been the tap tap
of his stick, the puff
of his whistle;
the unexpected comfort
of knowing he’s there.
He doesn’t look up,
but fades into the morning
Subha kucha thikka hai
“All is well”.

Mango Tree 3   
The Queue
I stand at the tail end of a queue
at the post office – the only blue
in a line of sparkling white,
of smiles and namastes.

Little boys squat to clean my shoes;
little girls touch my tights, giggle

then run away. No-one comes behind
but still I stand and wait

while the smiles grow longer and wider
and I feel my feet take root
in the dry soil.

Mango Tree 4 
Going Home
Goodbye is strange – no words –
just my eyes glued to yours
over a sea of well-wishers.
I’ve only stroked the skin of India
but she has opened her folded hands
to me and I’m not ready
to leave the rains that quench the dust
or the peacocks that strut
their ritual dance in fast-falling dusk.
Instead I take with me the scent
of dung fires, sandalwood
and rose-red cities in a suitcase
heavy with departure. I put on
my homebound face and shrink
into the bustle of Palam Airport
clutching a ticket that says Return.
I know it will be raining in London.
from Mango Tree (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013).
Order Mango Tree.
Read Abegail Morley’s interview with Valerie.

Rob A. Mackenzie’s The Good News

Rob A. Mackenzie 
Rob A. Mackenzie was born in Glasgow and lives in Leith, Scotland. He has published two pamphlets, The Clown of Natural Sorrow (HappenStance, 2005) and Fleck and the Bank (Salt Publishing, 2012), and two full collections, The Opposite of Cabbage (Salt Publishing, 2009) and The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013). His poems, reviews and articles have appeared in The Financial Times, The Guardian, Magma, New Writing (Granta/British Council), Poetry Review and Sphinx.
The Good News 
“Today you turn up
     five habits to quit for happiness:
criticism, control, complaint, excuses, expectations,
     without which you’d be happy, bland
and unbearable.
(from ‘Thirteen’)
Is the attempt to secure happiness worth making? Or is it simply a fast track to inevitable disenchantment? Rob A. Mackenzie confronts such questions in The Good News, his second full collection, but it’s no self-help manual. Fate, faith, travel, love, politics and death are woven into taut, affecting poems, which reveal new layers with every reading: a professional sceptic tries in vain not to become too certain of his own doubt, angels weep in Spanish into their designer coffees, and a hundred Scottish poets are enlisted to articulate the trials and tribulations of their nation at a key point in its history. The book’s central section is a sequence concerning autism’s effect on family life. Poets have written about autism before, but no one has written anything quite like this.
Mackenzie offers a typically versatile collection in style and form, combining an inimitable sensibility and imagination with a secure command of tone. These poems confirm his growing reputation as one of our most intriguing and alluring voices.”
“Rob Mackenzie’s The Good News truly is good news for readers of contemporary poetry. He has a wonderful ear, a wide knowledge of literature in several languages (beyond the Italian he translates from here) and a voracious appetite for the world’s frustrations and rewards. He writes with great intelligence and music, can be politically astute then immediately playful; his work is inventive, humane and welcoming. This book will surely confirm his reputation as one of the best Scottish poets of his generation.”
– Ian Duhig
The following poems are from the collection’s central section,
‘Autistic Variations’:
Torino in Furs
We persevered with mismatched floor tiles and Rai Due
          in our claustrophobic flat;

through the walls the unmistakable sound of Italian
          Teletubbies and Sesame Street,

and across the courtyard the young engineer’s CD:
          Learn English

from 1950s BBC Newscasters, phrases like ‘I’m sorry,
          this is not your shower,

it is my shower,’ decadence we brushed against otherwise
          only in the gelateria

of imagination. From antiseptic pillars and ladies furred
          for autumn strolls,

the city thrived on appearance and threat: nearly everyone
          drove a Fiat,

not usually from choice. We prammed you to the Cafe Zelli
          and on your tongue

ritually dabbed espresso, as if this could consecrate you
          bilingual more readily

than daytrips to the swing park, where you unflaggingly
          cold-shouldered any child

who approached with a ‘Ciao!’ Not that it happened often;
          even the Torinese

tots seemed to know that alien kids were best observed
          with suitable tact,

that playing among and playing with could appear the same
          to untrained eyes:

a whole city with Asperger Syndrome, which is perhaps why
          it began to feel like home.
Rai Due is an Italian TV channel.
But Not Hyperlexic
We read, you watched, and when the time felt right
          you made your mark

on nursery, reading a book to an astonished teacher
          from start to finish,

aged three. How long you feigned an inability
          and how you learned

the intricate decoding from sign to sound,
          we never learned,

although we learned the word, hyperlexic, and why
          it didn’t apply to you,

and more likely words coding intractable conditions
          in root positive.

Half in hope and half with the desperate aspirations
          we despised

in parents of young tennis prospects, we imagined
          you a savant

decades on: the recitation of Juvenal’s complete works
          backwards in Latin

to a packed Royal Albert Hall and no one thinking
          dead language

a waste of time. But your intelligence was reserved for
          a different world;

this one demanded contact on first name terms,
          eye to eye,

to read its script. You feigned interest in learning
          the pointless dialogue.
Your hot waterbottle is liturgical, the latest ritual
          we need to follow

before you fall asleep; waterbottle by your pillow,
          waterglass on the wardrobe,

a drawn-out watershed, which elongates in silence
          or hours of to and fro –

any excuse to stay awake and see the constellations
          demythologise the dark

psalm of the sky. You aim to arrange stray mysteries
          the more unruly

the rules become, the more illegible and cracked
          a face appears

if reading it is required. But you are more difficult
          for us to read

that Proust translated into sixty-seven languages
          or gossip mags packed

with undistinguished stars, who span the earth
          like water, logged

but hard to account for, with depths and limitations
          resolutely immeasurable.
Consequential Egg
You prefer the murk of details to the vision complete,
          incident to plot,

incidental to mainstream. You like books for hilarity
          halfway down page 17,

oblivious to consequence. You don’t care who lived
          happily ever after

or how a mystery is solved, and closure is important
          only for the satisfaction

of completion. All this is why, on the number 12
          heading for your ninth

birthday party, I eavesdrop on the conversation
          behind us –

how a conceptual artist assembled a giant egg
          from ten thousand

eggshell pieces – and imagine you building an egg
          from splinters,

each selected according to your personal aesthetic,
          fascinated by the fit

they make, the gaps and incongruities, building
          patiently for weeks

until an egg the size of a bus wobbles on a tiny cup.
          How does it end?

An ending would be a betrayal. Already you have
          begun the next egg.
from The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order The Good News.
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
Read Rob’s pantoum ‘The Point’ in The Guardian.
Read ‘Locus-a-Non’ in The Scotsman.
Read ‘Bladerunner’ online at the Scottish Poetry Library’s website.
‘Music, Memory and Subversion: Two Scottish Poets’ Second Books’, Robert Peake interviews Rob and Andrew Philip.
Autism links:
Visit the website of the National Autistic Society.
Contact the Autism Helpline in the United Kingdom.
Visit Autism South Africa.
Contact Autism South Africa.
Look up Autism organisations around the world.

Caroline Davies’ Convoy

Caroline Davies 
Caroline Davies’ collection Convoy is published by Cinnamon Press. She was born in Norfolk to Welsh parents and spent much of her childhood by the sea. She studied East European History at the University of London and Creative Writing with the Open University. Convoy was inspired by the experiences of her grandfather, James ‘Jim’ Honeybill, who served on the Blue Funnel Line ship M.V. Ajax during the Malta convoys and also by her mother’s stories of growing up in North Wales during the war. Her poem ‘At Sea’ won an Honorary Mention in the 2011 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition.
She blogs occasionally at

Photograph by Sergeant Bill Lazell

Photograph by Sergeant Bill Lazell

“A compelling narrative sequence documenting the dramatic events of the Royal Navy’s Malta convoys to supply the besieged island in the Mediterranean Theatre in the Second World War.
Malta’s significance was its position as a strategic base from which British sea and air forces could interrupt the flow of men and resources to the German armies in north Africa, which in turn threatened Egypt, the Suez Canal and British controlled oilfields. Severe naval losses were sustained and as German bombers and submarines tightened the sea blockade, Malta’s situation grew more desperate. By mid 1942 the island urgently needed supplies, including fuel and food, and had temporarily ceased to be an effective offensive base. Against terrible odds convoys attempted to get through, including the M.V. Ajax, on which Caroline Davies’s Welsh grandfather served. Charting a narrative from the point of view of her mother as a child who has come to see her naval father as a stranger to the voices of the men who often gave everything to see the convoy through, Convoy is not only distinctive and meticulously researched, but powerful and moving. Skillfully incorporating a wealth of found material, recordings and interviews, this narrative poetry sequence captures a slice of history with visceral clarity, engaging audiences who might otherwise never engage with poetry as well as poetry lovers.”

© Tony Randell

© Tony Randell

Convoy is a fantastically ambitious book and a great concept for a poetry collection. Terse end-stopped lines, brilliant images and minute descriptions of war from right in the middle of it, as well as a semi-experimental feel using technical language, combine so that the reader gets a sense of the people.”
– Katy Evans-Bush
“This is a fascinating and unusual collection of poetry. It is, indeed, a modern epic poem about a theatre of war about which relatively little is now remembered: the vital role of the Merchant Navy in convoy duties. It is authentic, told from the point of view of the men who were there, from records and verbal testimony of their experiences. As such it has much in common with Nordic sagas, which record for posterity deeds from long ago. Both factually accurate and emotionally charged, Convoy is an historical document as well as being a first class collection of poetry.”
– Judi Moore
“With a deep regard for precision of language and lucidity of voice, these powerful poems honour the memory of the Malta convoys in WWII – the ships and the men who served on them. Davies writes with great compassion and empathy, but not an ounce of sentimentality. Carefully researched, beautifully written, she has crafted a compelling and moving collection. ”
– Vanessa Gebbie
“I read Convoy in a single sitting. In a series of vivid poems Caroline Davies lets us hear the voices of those involved in the Malta convoys. We feel the swell of the sea, watch as ‘the sky trembles’ under the onslaught of bombers scouring the ships of the Merchant Navy scattered over ‘deep unprotected water’. A wealth of research gives these poems strength and authenticity. Moving and honest, these poems are never mawkish or sentimental. They form a fitting tribute to these courageous men – and those left at home.”
– Caroline Gilfillan
Written on Board the Ajax
South Stack.
Three hundred and ninety-nine steps.
Wind spits soft rain.
The Blue Funnel Line,
two days out from Liverpool.
Four hours on. Four hours off.
Cape Town.
Pineapples and water melons. Sent home
postcard of Table Mountain.
Coconuts and curry. Half the crew
down with dysentery.
Four on. Four off.
Coming back via Suez.
Malta. Sky dark with thunder.
Oil on the water.
Gibraltar: turning for home.
The Irish Sea – rain – a wet slap.
No light from South Stack.
Coastline for miles, dark.
Liverpool: Seventy two hours in port.
No time to go home.
Packing Cases
          Monday, 10 June, 1940: Declaration of war by Italy
350 bombers: Cants, Savoias, BR20s.
200 fighters: CR42s, Reggiane 2001s, Macchis.
First-class airfields sixty miles from Malta,
skilled pilots trained in Spain and Abyssinia.
Assessment of Maltese air defences.
Three airfields: Hal Far, Takali and Luqa,
none fully functioning.
Seaplane base at Kalafranc. No aircraft.
Chief Admin Officer’s report:
Have located packing cases on slipway at Kalafranc
Marked H.M.S Glorious, Norway.
These contain component parts for naval Sea Gladiators.
Air Commodore Maynard
to Admiral Cunningham at Alexandria:
Request permission to unpack crates
and make use of your planes to defend island.
Granted with the most cordial approval.
Don’t expect to get them back intact.
What odds – what fun.
Our few against five hundred and fifty.
Ours sturdy biplanes.
Theirs modern fighters.
We form a fighter flight of seven:
Squadron Leader Martin.
Flight Lieutenant Keeble (Pete).
Flying officers Hartley (Peter),
Waters (John), Woods (Timber).
Pilot officer Alexander (Peter),
and Flight Lieutenant Burgess
(George) – that’s me.
Our planes can turn on a sixpence
can climb like a bat out of hell
They have no vices at all.
More of the enemy than I can count
but we’ll give them a good fight.
Formations of Savoias
approaching Valletta
at fifteen thousand feet.
We climb and climb
till we are above them.
Get in a good burst at 200 yards.
Fire returned. I break away.
Machine guns behind me.
Go into a steep left-hand turn.
The Macchi dives and fires.
We circle tightly
til I get him in my sights.
Full deflection: he goes down,
black smoke pours from his tail.
Straight into the sea at Grand Harbour.
Malta is no longer defenceless but
The Italian bombers are faster. So our only chance
is to scramble and climb quick as we can.
Hope to get four or five thousand feet
above them by the time they reach the island.
Then dive on them from the beam.
Bastards are throwing everything at us.
Massed formations, decoy planes
shadowed by packs of fighters.
Stragglers falling out of formation
to tempt us into a fight we can’t win.
Over a hundred raids and we’re still airborne
but not unscathed. Land with tail unit
dangling by a single strut.
My Glad’s a colander with bullet holes.
Landing wheels shot off.
We struggle on.
I’ve enough St Christopher’s
to keep me on the ground,
and the prayers of the Maltese.
Operation White, November 1940

          The range of a Hurricane MK II (tropicalized) in still air,
          at 130 knots, at 10,000 feet is 521 miles.

                    – Pilot’s Handling Notes
We need more planes.
We’re defending the island with only
one Gladiator, four Hurricanes.
‘Operation White to proceed. Admiral Somerville to escort Argus and her Hurricanes to within flying distance of Malta; aircraft to take off in two sub flights of six, each led by a Fleet Air Arm Skua (with observer to plot best course for the island). Air Officer Commanding Malta to have two Sunderlands waiting over the island to escort the Hurricanes for the final stage.’
Subflight 1: Flying Officer J.A.F. Maclachlan, DFC
Speed 150 mph, height 2,000 feet
Am dropping smoke floats.
The wind has changed. Dead ahead –
will be hard pressed to reach Malta
before we run out of fuel.
Sea mist thick,
a patchwork of fog and cloud.
I’m flying blind.
Forty-five miles short of Malta
I hear the engine of another Hurricane
cut. Stone silent.
She spirals into the sea.
I break formation and follow.
The pilot floats, a dark blob
amongst the waves.
I call up the Sunderland and fly
low over the pilot, rocking my wings,
until the Sunderland on the sea
hauls him aboard.
Four Hurricanes ahead
following the single Skua.
A veil of cloud: only
three come out.
Two minutes later,
Luqa’s dusty runway.
We plummet, manage to land.
There’s not enough fuel left in my tank
to cover an upended sixpence.
Subflight 2
‘A tragic loss of vitally needed planes’
No sign of the island.
No welcoming Sunderland.
Where are you?
Overseas Posting
I pretend they’ve got a sudden posting
overseas. We’re abroad already
but they’ve gone on ahead.
To Egypt probably, harrying Rommel’s army.
The fact they took off with us but didn’t land
can be ignored.
They’re in another officers’ mess
somewhere. Still cracking jokes.
Phelps with his pipe.
His wife back in Blighty
with a baby on the way. I tell myself
he’s there with her,
getting ready to lean over the cradle.
The baby will have his blue eyes
and lopsided way of smiling.
So I never write the letter to tell her
I’m sorry he’s bought it.
Sign of the Cross
Based on the account of Squadron Leader P B ‘Laddie’ Lucas,
249 Squadron
This island’s all limestone
rough, arid, rock-strewn.
Nowhere to force land.
Smoke from the engine thickens the cockpit –
I should step out into a limitless sky.
Fear clenches its fist at the back of my neck.
At a thousand feet a green glimpse
– a small field
beyond miles of limestone.
Wheels up, flaps down,
I slow almost to a stall,
hold her into the wind.
My Spit settles into soft earth, engine smoking,
a few yards short of a blunt stone wall.
I scramble clear.
Three Maltese women in long black dresses
stumble over rough ground.
Each clutches a hessian sack filled with soil
for the burning engine.
I signal them away
with my hands like an explosion.
They step back, shake their heads.
The oldest, to judge from the lines on her face,
walks slowly to the Spitfire.
She pats its wing and comes back towards me.
Gentle, she touches my forearm,
makes the sign of the cross,
Glimmer of Light
10th August 1942 126 Squadron
Pilot officer Jerrold Smith flying with a sergeant pilot
standing in as wingman for his brother, Roderick.
Jerry who was always top of his class
who was only a year older
who always carried an electric torch.
There are reports of a parachute descending
east of Grand Harbour.
It’s dusk but Rod asks his flight commander
for permission to search the eastern approaches.
Going over and over the darkening sea
in the hunt for a glimmer of light.
from Convoy (Cinnamon Press, 2013).

Order Convoy

Visit Caroline’s blog, Advancing Poetry.
Ruth Downie interviews Caroline
Judi Moore writes about Convoy’s launch.
Vanessa Gebbie interviews Caroline
Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn interviews Caroline
Rebecca Gethin features Convoy
Caroline provides biographical sketches of a few people
in Convoy:

James Honeybill, Merchant Seaman – 8th March 1903 – 12th March 1993
Percy Belgrave “Laddie” Lucas, RAF Pilot, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC, (2 September 1915 – 20 March 1998) 
Captain Thomas Sydney Horn, Merchant Seaman, OBE, 5 May 1899 – June 1971 
Thomas Francis Neil, DFC*, AFC, AE 

Lieutenant Commander Roger Percival Hill, DSO, DSC – 22 June 1910 – 5 May 2001
Margaret Ann ‘Greta’ Davies, née Honeybill – 20th May 1933 – 5th April 1991  
Caroline Davies 2