Monthly Archives: September 2013

James W. Wood’s The Anvil’s Prayer

James Wood  
James W. Wood was born in Scotland and educated at schools in Canada and the United Kingdom before studying English at Cambridge, where his first pamphlet, Swingtime, was published with financial support from the university.

After leaving Cambridge, he won a scholarship to work with 1992 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Derek Walcott, in the United States. Since leaving North America for a second time, James has worked as a copywriter and media executive on four continents. He has also reviewed for The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry Review, The London Magazine, The Daily Telegraph and many others, and his poems have appeared in the above journals and further anthologies, including Faber and Faber’s First Pressings (1998). James is the author of two further pamphlets, The Theory of Everything (HappenStance, 2006), and Inextinguishable (Knucker Press, 2008). He is married with a son and currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
 The Anvil's Prayer
The Anvil’s Prayer (Ward Wood Publishing, 2013) finds magic in the ordinary, heroism in the average person and beauty in the least likely places. Celebrating the wonder that surrounds us, James W. Wood’s first full-length collection turns from praise to elegy and exaltation in language which is as understated as it is precise and daring.”
Reviews of earlier work
“James W. Wood’s The Theory of Everything negotiates the daily business of living with insight and feeling.”

– Carl Phillips, winner of the Solomon Guggenheim Memorial Award
“James W. Wood’s The Theory of Everything is an exceptional first volume of verse, full of an awareness of the richness of everyday lives.”

– Professor Emeritus Brian Cox
“James W. Wood’s poetry couples a finely tuned ear with a remarkable mix of passion, idealism and down-to-earth good sense. Indeed, ‘The Song of Scotland’ – a powerful piece by any measure – may well be this century’s first significant state-of-the-nation poem.”

– Andrew Philip
“James W. Wood is a talent to be reckoned with: both lyrical and humane, he has a technical ability with language that shines through every poem and a versatility that enables him to range effortlessly from elegy to satire.”

– Jane McKie
“James W. Wood cares about the precision and possibilities of language and about honest when dissecting the subtleties of human emotion, neither one to the exclusion of the other. His work is a pleasure to read and, when questioning or provocative, none the less pleasurable for that.”

– Rob Mackenzie
The Same Page
Our hands hold the book: a poem
I must have read a hundred times before,
this your first time, eyes scanning
the page, stumbling, unsure. You listen

as I mouth rhymes I know too well,
rushing through them as though reading
a timetable or manual. You discover things
I should have seen but never spotted,

new points about this old poem
that will enrich our future. My eyes
fix on the last word on the page,
my heart races as you get near the end

and I wonder what this poem means to you –
I want it to say what I cannot find
the words to tell you as I catch my breath,
waiting for you to make up your mind.
The Wandering Horses
The eyes of a horse in a field:
our animal other for fifty centuries,
now she’s a curious, distant beast
chewing remorselessly in rain. Conscious

of our presence, she keeps her thoughts
to herself, those truths we would deny
or mire in delusion. But for her
there is no doubt: birth comes quickly, death

too often too slowly, and life
a blur of joy and work in her world,
too fast and fast forgotten. Somewhere
beyond what we see, her folklore

riddles these fields: there, where she foaled
one early summer, or there, where
her head first dipped for fresh shoots,
and always will until at last she lies down

in her last place. Though she lives
far from our endless, panicked rush,
she knows our world too well:
the box that comes and carries her,

the needles we stick in her,
the metal shoes, the spurs and leather,
those instruments of a ruler, or so
we’d like to think. Lucky us

that she can’t speak, can’t say
how unexceptional and pointless
our worries are, how unattainable
the peace we seek without sorrow

or at least the patience to bear it –
something we used to learn
down all those centuries from
the eyes of a horse in a field.
Amphigorey Story
(Edward Gorey, visual artist: 1925 – 2000)
It begins to snow. In Chicago
a baby boy is born. A cow lows
behind the ha-ha: a snail crawls
across the ceiling, scything sideways 9s.
His mother’s eyes, his father’s hands
hitting. Drinking. Screams press the boy
to drawing. A pen and ink,
roads open for escape, leading
to Harvard. A heart smoothed
to stone, tennis-racquet nerves
taut. Miss Eunice Slipper
picks up teacups in a house
called Collapsed Pudding in Mortshire;
then he’s outside the publisher,
building that long dark stair
up to a room in his heart’s mind
where bleeding he lay beaten
until his mother came in greeting,
come-for-tea’ing him. Warding off Ed
and all those Gorey details. Then fame,
children swallowed in the beasts
of imagination, the breast beaten,
sloping heads and unstrung harps. A man
alone in age, all one to him. A pen
again. Black ink and ten cats, he gains again
all that he wanted to ignore in us:
If something is worth
anything it isn’t worth
defining. Fur overcoat and tennis shoes,
black wire specs hid what no-one knew,
copies of the Daily News, the New York
City Ballet season. Haunted
by his father’s weeds, words,
deeds, over grown, going
over: a boy with a horror
of hands. When he unwoke up blue
and cold found outside it was still

(IM James Wood, 1903 – 1978)
At fourteen years old he put to sea
in his father’s trawler. He hauled the nets,
watched the ropes freeze, rolled his cigarettes.
When the fishing shrank he came to shore
and policed the streets of the South-East.
After that came marriage, then a war:
he sent his wife home and signed up
to delve the bomb-swept seas around the Azores.

          What makes our time better than the past?

You couldn’t say he was ignorant
or judge him by books he hadn’t read –
the Pelman Course for Self-Improvement
was his university for the untutored.
Think of everything he heard and saw,
so unlike those Pathé newsreels in your head:
dolphins at play with seals, gulls keeping score,
the heat-cracked deck, the spray, men killing or dead.

          Did they call that combat stress?

After demob he worked for the GPO, silent
about the scars he’d seen. His medals
slept ranked in the sideboard, a store
of silver for a grandson too little
to understand or bear them. And at the last –
an oxygen mask, mint imperials in a dish,
gasped phrases, cancer his unwelcome guest,
an old sailor too ill to change the TV channel.

          Who puts our bravery to the test?

So as you think on, ask yourself why
history gets written by those who are left
and not the ones who bear it witness?
In our panic-blind age, he’s still here
with all the pressing ranks of dead
who wish us well, watch our errors with regret –
if only our antiseptic online lifestyles
could bring us half his courage and strength:

          What makes us think we know best?
          What makes us think we know best?
The Craws
William Rodger, 1910 – 2002
Alexander Wood, 1918 – 1998
                                        One for sorrow.
I see them wherever I go:
birds perched on the prow of a ship,

oblique letters wheeling over the waves,
sunlight glancing off them as they dip

and rise above the postcard landscape
we know as home.
                                        Two for joy:
all my life you were there, when I was
taken in to the old men, ‘this is Bobby’s loddie’,

in the cold, deep houses, their faces battered
by rain and tobacco, hands turned to stone

and scarred from the nets. Cans of Tartan
or whisky’s warming, talismanic glow

in a short glass. Your ever-present packet
of Players’. Your wristwatch and lighter.

                                        Three for girls, four for boys.
That time
at my sister’s wedding, I had to bite harder

on my lip to stop the trembling when you said
‘Hurry up Jamesy and get merrit

or I’ll no be aboot tae see ye do it.’ Five
for silver, six for gold. You never envied

the hordes who left for London
or further abroad; you never strayed

much further than Kirkcaldy or Leven,
home the anchor you would not weigh.

Seven for a secret never to be told –
sixty years on from your wedding day

you kept smiling, still in love
with your wife, bowling and drinking,

watching a passing world. You were
no prizewinner, sportsman or great thinker,

just a man like any other, and one
whose life asks us for little grieving.

I make this for you not just
to mark your leaving, but because

the birds in the harbour won’t sing
the same since you passed on:

the boats sit too high in the water,
and the whalebones guarding the town have gone.

But those gulls still watch from the rocks
near the graveyard, guarding your headstone,

chiselled letters all that’s left
of a life that stays with me, like the crows

that fly overhead here in London,
calling out to me, chasing me home.
Catherine Wheel
A hand and a key. Eyes aflame
as you babble about Rilke
and his angels. The engine starts – why

did you do it? No-one
you could talk to about the depths
you were driving into, no-one else

in that silence, only trees
and blackness and your mind
like a firework wheeling crazily

in the middle of that sunless wood
where you stopped the car, full of pills,
and fixed the pipe. You knew no God

except the one you spoke to privately,
struck dumb by the world, praying
to a dead poet whose angels wouldn’t come

as the fumes filled your car
and your head slumped forward. There
was no sound, no sound but your machine,

an engine turning over in the woods
with no-one to see it or care: you were
a Catherine Wheel blazing brilliantly

in a ploughed field at midsummer, a spark
that might have cloaked us all in fire
if only we could have seen it.
from The Anvil’s Prayer (Ward Wood Publishing, 2013).

Order The Anvil’s Prayer.

James reads ‘Departures’ at his Poetry Café launch.

James reads ‘The Parting’ at his Poetry Café launch.

Poems from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’

For Rhino in a Shrinking World 
For Rhino in a Shrinking World, An International Anthology
Published by The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013
Edited by Harry Owen
Illustrated by Sally Scott
All proceeds from the sale of this volume go, via the Chipembere Rhino Foundation, to support the work of fighting poaching and protecting our gravely threatened natural heritage. 
“What we need in the world today is to hear within us
the sounds of the earth crying”
(Taken from a Zen Poem)
Man’s connection with the earth is a mystifying confusion of physical, chemical and spiritual beauty. The depth and complexity of nature’s secrets has scarcely begun to be understood by the overwhelming tide of human beings. To be able to appreciate and take care of the abundance of life on our planet has always been a challenge.
Life has always been a mystery that many of us scarcely take the time to consider. The poets bring glimpses of a reality beyond our known sense and the beauty of their words lingers for centuries, be it Virgil, Wordsworth or Rupert Brooke. As we fail to understand the depth of the natural world, we place ourselves at risk.
The poets who have contributed to this book forcibly bring to mind the terrible plight of the rhino in the modern world. We applaud their efforts.
Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.
The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond to the “sounds of the earth crying”.”
– Dr Ian Player and Andrew Muir, Wilderness Foundation
“The deepening crisis faced by our rhino threatens to overwhelm us as we are assaulted daily by rotting images of animals mutilated at the hands of greedy man. The gruesome account of just two of the victims of poaching has reached into the hearts of these writers and resonates back on us from across the world. A challenge for us all to react. Our simple personal responses as caring custodians in the face of such a daunting reality, is all that stands between life and extinction.
Who will join this global collection of humane reactions? Will there be enough to express our value for the natural world? Are we able to focus fear, anger and bitter sadness into those simple abilities we have been blessed with and create the change on which we all depend? I trust the power of the written word gathered within this wonderful collection, inspired by Harry Owen as an expression of his own journey, is enough to change our hearts and ignite us into action.”
– Dr William Fowlds
Contributors: Hannah Armour, Natalie Armour, AE Ballakisten, Shabbir Banoobhai, Mike Barlow, Brett Beiles, Marike Beyers, Alison Brackenbury, Roger Bradley, Peter Branson, Mark Burnhope, Chloë Callistemon, Veronica Caperon, Hélène Cardona, Alfred Corn, Richard de Nooy, Dónall Dempsey, Gail Dendy, Bandile Dlabantu, Jordan du Toit, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Margaret Eddershaw, Chukwudi-prince Ehilegbu, Roger Elkin, Nola Firth, John Forbis, Myfanwy Fox, w. Terry Fox, Lance Fredericks, Hailey Gaunt, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Matt Goodfellow, Elizabeth Gowans, Geraldine Green, Kerry Hammerton, Rosemund Handler, Geoffrey Haresnape, Caroline Hawkridge, Silke Heiss, Denis Hirson, Linda Hofke, Phil Howard, Louisa Howerow, Chris Jackson, Simon Jackson, Lorne Johnson, Madeleine Begun Kane, Peter Kantey, Andy Kissane, Valerie Laws, Stuart Thembisile Lewis, John Lindley, Pippa Little, Alison Lock, Moira Lovell, David Mallett, Chris Mann, Andrew Martin, Agnes Marton, Ian McCallum, Fokkina McDonnell, Jeannie Wallace McKeown, Joan Metelerkamp, Sonwabo Meyi, John Mhongovoyo, Bill Milner, Ian Mole, Norman Morrissey, Mary Mullen, Tendai Mwanaka, Philip Neilsen, Kate Noakes, Edward Nudelman, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Harry Owen, Val Payn, Pascale Petit, Pauline Plummer, Joan Poulson, Ron Pretty, Sheenagh Pugh, Wonga Qina, Lesego Rampolokeng, Andrew Renard, Susan Richardson, Mark Roberts, Amali Rodrigo, Sam Schramski, Sally Scott, Richard Slater-Jones, Dennis Slattery, JD Smith, Annette Snyckers, Leih Steggall, John Stocks, Adam Tavel, Michael James Treacy, Megan van der Nest, Ellen van Neerven-Currie, Marc Vincenz, Elmé Vivier, Wendy Wallace, Brian Walter, Mal Westcott, Tony Williams, Phil Williams, Jennifer Wong, Ruth Woudstra, Dan Wylie and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.
Dear Rhino, love from Hippo
Tony Williams
With skin like ours, friend, the usual
          insults of a rivalry descend
          harmlessly as confetti or the blossom of trees
          we rub our backs against.
Nor would expressions of sympathy survive
          the foul tempers of our readership. Instead
          I’m sending you this chatty letter, a crocodilian
          sickle of courtesy in the poisoned soup,
          which might worry you if crocodiles did.
          Be assured of my continuing hostility and indifference.
In the past month
          I have eaten a rare fly, a wristwatch,
          a silhouette, odd chunks of my rivals’ chins
          and a vast tonnage of hay which you,
dense hoover of the midday sun, missed
          when the eternal salad drawer of the night
          clanked open as you slept. Or are you
          nocturnal too? It’s hard to see in the dark.
You doomed swordsman, me cloven-hoofed
          and cackling like a whale. You unicorn,
          me Cadillac bumping up
          against the blond girl’s legs.
Whatever happened
          to your ambition to become a freelance illustrator?
Every time I pass the hospital
          done out like the concourse of an old European station
          with the pediments high up based, unattributed,
          on your sketch of an elephant’s toenails
I think dommage! and of the royalties we’d claim
          if I’d ever passed my law exams and you
          weren’t such a raging and wretchedly cantankerous drunk.
At least we don’t owe money to the giraffes.
Down at the waterhole it’s O’Casey
          the lion this O’Casey
          the lion that but it’s us
          they come to when the drains are blocked.
You, woodcut engraving from the days of the plague,
          me poster paints printed by a dipped-in bum.
Listen, priapus-face, I’ve been
          divining the future in the map of illness
          disclosed in my own used nappy.
I think you’d enjoy a cheese and pickle sandwich
          if you dared to enter a deli. I think the jackals would swoon
          like spinach wilting if only you’d show them The Dance.
I’ve been listening to local radio over the internet.
          I’ve bid on a doll’s house and
          a signed photo of Lothar Matthaus.
I’ve heard a grown man singing falsetto
          for the amusement of chumps.
Thanks very much for the library card. I’ve read of
          isotopes, anarchists, artistic foibles of heretical sects.
I’ve read a few classics, and enjoyed your waspish annotations.
          (I dreamed I saw your initials
          carved into the brickwork of the Bradford Alhambra
          but didn’t inform the police.)
You tin opener, me turtle without a shell,
          you me, me you. How long
          will we put up with being haunted
          by the ghosts of all the antelopes
          mistaking us for mobile crypts to hole up in?
Now that I’ve developed the transmogrifier
          we could go anywhere, do anything –
          spend a century as a standard lamp, become amoebas
          in the eye-sockets of a monkey, and get elected.
So don’t get pettish. Sling your keys in the bowl.
          We’ll put our heads together, become a
          get a scholarship to university, mend a motorbike,
step out one morning after a pot of tea,
          carrying a cudgel, thinking
          how the sky’s colour reminds us of approaching evening,
          how the deaths of our loved ones will become
as quaint a topic as the weather and the history of the Anabaptist Church
          which we might tease open with a little sullen laugh
          over a tall glass of Pernod.
You’ll never become a rhinoceros, really you won’t …
you haven’t got the vocation
(‘Rhinoceros’ – Eugène Ionesco)
Susan Richardson 
There comes a day when making donations
and signing petitions isn’t enough,
when braver decisions are needed.
So you practise detachment
from your knees,
trample the lunchtime prattle of fat loss
and anti-wrinkle creams.
You commit to omitting to moisturise,
will your skin to thicken,
thrill to fashion callouses and warts.
When the first horn forms, it triggers
second thoughts, till you use it to gore
your twinges of caution.
From raw veg and fruit, you move
to woody shrubs and thorns,
snort through weeks
of stomach cramps and wind.
But the wallowing’s a breeze,
and the shift to horizontal’s eased
by your umpteen years of yoga.
Next to varied breathing speeds
and scent-marking middens of dung,
texting seems so naive. In fact,
if you still had fingers and thumbs
you’d just use them to pinch yourself,
for you’ve done what none
can believe. And while the strain of raising
your head has led
to chronic pain in your neck,
your brain hums with infrasonic success.
As you roam your home range,
oxpeckers divest you of ticks
and outmoded emotions,
though you insist they must not strip you
of awareness
of your rare, endangered state.
Crushed Dragon Bones
Marc Vincenz

          Tiger Claw Apothecary, Shanghai, 1999
Quan leads me through an array of popping scents,
this lingering whiff of Bombay spice bazaar,
medicine healing scars, prehensile fungi, blooming
rhino horn, white deer antler, mandible of stag beetle,
snapping tail of scorpion, turtle snout, all crushed to steep
in clear hot liquids bubbling right into the very centre
of the maze where a woman in a nightdress waits patiently.
Here he goes whispering in the corner.
Lady behind the counter turns flushed-cheek red,
titters under her breath, holds her hand to cover her teeth.
Eyes him apprehensively. Eyebrows arch-raised,
coughs in syncopated answer. Fiddles with her stethoscope.
Another woman looks me up and down: Hey you, big nose?
Want me check your pulse? I sit down across the counter.
She applies the leather-puffing contraption to my left biceps.
Pumps until I feel my left side is ready to explode.
Aha, take this. She fiddles a powder, rattling grains from
that drawer, granules from another. All marked in red.
Grinds the mixture in mortar humming some old love tune.
Flips the dust into a paper bag. Hand palm out:
Fifty yuan. Releases the catch and Ssssss spins down.
Quan’s smiling ear to ear and we’re out the door
through the hedgerows and into haze of open space.
Quan rumbles something about bones old bones.
Crushed dragon bones for the little man inside.
No problem like you, he says. This will keep me going all night.
The Dead are Bored
Philip Neilsen
We the dead are bored with your concerns
your endless talk on radio and TV about diet and pets
your fear of impotence
your fascination with genealogy
your colour photos taken on holiday in Africa:
speak for us now
or condemn us all by your tiny fears
your politeness about customs and magical beliefs.
Listen, only this is magic – human and rhino
conjoined. When we depart
and clumsy birds mop the plain
you see there your own remains.
‘Best Selling: Father and Son Hunting Package Deals’
Valerie Laws
The world is big and wide, son.
It’s ours to rule and ride, son.
Come hunting the Big Five, son,
It’s all about male pride.
Game animals are grand, son,
And you must understand, son,
They are ours, as is the land, son,
It’s all about God’s plan.
The elephant, the lion, son,
The buffalo and leopard, son,
The rare and savage rhino, son;
Stalking them is hard.
So beautiful they are, son,
Most dangerous by far, son.
Come hunting with your Pa, son,
For nights beneath the stars.
I promise you it’s fun, son,
With servants and two guns, son,
We’ll bag them every one, son,
Until the job is done.
They’ll snap us with our Five, son,
Propped up as if alive, son,
Then carve steaks with their knives, son,
For us to feast upon.
And when you eat your fill, son,
Of meat and see blood spill, son,
And when you’ve learned to kill, son,
You’ve learned a manly skill.
We’ll fly back home to Mom, son,
With washing to be done, son,
And trophies to be shown, son,
The skins, the horns, the bone.
It’s a kind of conservation, son,
These beasts need preservation, son,
So we shoot them on reservations, son,
So you can take your son.
Why Save The Fckn Rhino, Harry?
Richard de Nooy
Let’s face it, Harry, every fckn war we’ve ever
fought every nation squashed and generation
stolen each pre-fckn-cision bombing and
concentration camp the man-high heaps of
napalmed children grotesque decapitated
privates draped over barbed wire and women
raped for days on end the in-fckn-terminable
talks of peace and cease fires that only serve
to replenish and prepare for world war fckn
eight hundred and thirty-three the scorched
earth blacker than Satan’s arsehole into which
the orphans creep in search of cover and
AK-47s, grenades and mines to
blow their barren fckn world to kingdom
fckn come and every martyr strapped with
semtex every broken life and drop of fckn blood
endless inventories of collateral damage poorly
hidden mass graves that all reveal ma-fckn
-cabre human treasures displayed in grinning
rows and each and every other fckn act of
violence albeit somehow vague and indirect
was perpetrated for one reason only so
that rich men’s cocks would grow or stay erect.
So why only save the fckn rhino, Harry, why?
Your Tour Guide Speaks
Harry Owen
6.00 p.m.
Hi, everyone!
We trust you’re enjoying your sundowners.
A few short years ago we couldn’t have
played you this record of the plains
in such blissful comfort, for then there was
no road. The Great Migration, they called it,
of wildebeest and zebra, but what use
was that when none of us could watch such stuff
as now we do in air-conditioned calm?
Those days are gone, thank God, the Great Migration
is no more, but life moves on and we adore
our Serengeti Roadshow.
We drive through early evening into night,
deep darkness of the range about us now,
for why should we need detail? These eyes
that surge and leap on us in acid whites
and bloody reds are really all we’ve travelled for.
Let’s tick them off our Big Five species lists –
elefords in the middle of the road,
buffamercs and those sleek white rolls-rhino,
our latest ivory, newest muti.
Mara will spawn the mitsubishi hippo,
more deadly in the dark of the moon than
this fat catillac, king of all the beasts.
We speed past the cheetatas (be quick with
those field guides!), placid audilope alert,
and the smarmy Black Market Wildebeest,
noting the occasional ponderous
VWDungbeetle, thought extinct
but making a slow and ponderous comeback.
But it’s getting late. Recline your seats
and rest: dream of wild Africa.
6.00 a.m.
Good morning!
Just ahead and to the left, ladies
and gentlemen, boys and girls, where our coach
slows for the flashing amber light, you’ll spot,
grazing at the roadside verge, a small herd
of white ute-bakkie, once extremely rare
on these vast plains but now plentiful
from Arusha to Lake Victoria.
Always at their most striking in the haze
of early morning when our Tanzanian
sun sears itself, so languid in the smoggy east,
they rev – so have your cameras ready.
And look, presiding over that scrapyard
to our right, a splendid pair of blue cranes!
Yet, though this is indeed the Road That
Never Ends, we’ve glimpsed our destination:
last chance to pause before the journey ends.
Here is the world famous Pick-up Pit Stop –
and what better breakfast than its cool
Kikwete Fast Chowmein (KFC for short:
you’ve seen their logo all along the road,
the friendly huge red grinning Colonel Croc),
the only one with chopsticks fashioned
from authentic acacia wood. Alas,
this morning all that’s left for us to poach
are the eggs of kites and vultures pulling
at the putrid flesh of roadkill corpses.
The rest is out of stock, so please don’t ask
to see the manager – he’ll likely be
in some important meeting.
Or at a conference.
So thanks for sharing your World Heritage
Safari Experience with us. Do
enjoy your omelette – and have a lovely day!
Stone by Stepping Stone
John Lindley
From ‘landfill’ to ‘lapwing’
requires more than a dip in the alphabet,
more than just a leap of faith
yet it begins
and it begins not letter by letter
but hedge by fattening hedge.
It begins as small as a bird table
and grows as wide as a field, as long as a ridge.
It begins amongst foxgloves and figwort,
in a morning of meadowsweet
and though no wild boar witness it
it is noted by hairstreak and peregrine,
by badger and owl.
It begins stone by stepping stone
and who would have thought such stones
could be engineered and sown?
Who would have thought
they could be dreamt, mapped and moulded
into more than fancy, more than symbol?
Still, it begins. From Frodsham to Bulkeley Hill.
From corridor to green corridor
a land found and refashioned
reclaims itself and swells until each corridor
is no longer measured by the wing span of a hawk
but by the circumference of its flight.
Born of a glacial shift –
a sandstone ridge,
red raw with promise,
skirts hill fort and castle.
A raven hunches like age
against the gathering mist.
Put an ear to the earth,
hear a seed splitting with new life.
Cast an eye to the hills,
see elms able again to stretch and touch fingers.
Woodland and heathland –
all are a heartland
and it is a heart that beats from Beacon Hill
to Bickerton and beyond.
It is a heart thought still,
jumpstarted by other hearts:
by landlord and farmer,
by owner and tenant,
by craftsman and labourer,
by the you and me we call a community.
It is a heart that drums
in the small frame of newt,
the slick casing of otter,
the sensual hide of deer
and grows louder,
like the echo of those lost skylarks
who went with the grassland
but now sing of recovery, sing of return.
Sheenagh Pugh
Two miles below the light, bacteria
live without sun, thrive on sulphur
in a cave of radioactive rock,
and, blind in the night of the ocean floor,
molluscs that feed only on wood
wait for wrecks. White tubeworms heap
in snowdrifts around hydrothermal vents,
at home in scalding heat. Lichens encroach
on Antarctic valleys where no rain
ever fell. There is nowhere
life cannot take hold, nowhere so salt,
so cold, so acid, but some chancer
will be there, flourishing on bare stone,
getting by, gleaning a sparse living
from marine snow, scavenging
light from translucent quartz, as if
lack and hardship could do nothing
but quicken it, this urge
to cling on in the cracks
of the world, or as if this world
itself, so various, so not to be spared
as it is, were the impetus
never to leave it.
from For Rhino in a Shrinking World
(The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013).
Order For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  
Visit For Rhino in a Shrinking World’s website
Visit the Chipembere Rhino Foundation.

Jennifer Wong’s Goldfish

Jennifer Wong
Jennifer is a Hong Kong-born writer, translator and copywriter currently living in London. She is the author of two poetry collections including Summer Cicadas (2006) and Goldfish (2013) published by Chameleon Press. Her poems have appeared in literary journals including Eyewear, Morning Star, Frogmore Papers, Warwick Review, Orbis, TATE ETC, UCity Review, Cha, QLRS (Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore), Dimsum, One Night Stanzas, Iota, New Writer, Rising, as well as poetry anthologies including Oxfam anthology of Young British Poets by Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood (Cinnamon Press, 2012), World Record: An Anthology edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), Prairie Schooner – Fusion online journal edited by Kwame Dawes and Agnes Lam (August 2013) and Asian Poetry in English forthcoming from Math Paper Press. She is a regular contributor to Asian Review of Books and Sphinx Reviews.

Jennifer studied English at Oxford and received an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. In 2012, she took part in the Poetry Parnassus festival hosted by Southbank Centre and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. She worked as writer-in-residence at Lingnan University in Hong Kong for Spring 2012, and is an associate board member of the UK literary magazine Magma Poetry.
“From childhood memories, fairy tales, taboos, deep-rooted faiths to translated truths, Jennifer Wong’s dream-like and surreal second collection reveals the changing landscapes of Hong Kong and modern China.”
“‘I know my home is not a country anymore, just a festering colony of the mind’ says the speaker of Jenny Wong’s poem, ‘Gift’. But the colonies of the mind are full of life, of pleasure and melancholy. The modern city of Hong Kong with its crowd of lingerie departments, coffee, Xerox machines and stilettos, merges into the voices of ancient and modern China in a set of fine translations … fleeting images of the world from Mexico to Berlin, where ‘Life is a solo act,/ a casual scooter’. It is a poignant, tender, free-flowing colony we move through, handled with great sharpness and delicacy.”

– George Szirtes
“Jennifer Wong records the colour and detail of the world around her with great precision and delicacy, and reinvents the commonplace as something surreal. The poems are deceptively simple, but yield rewards with each reading, like magic boxes that reveal new treasures and hidden secrets.”

– Tamar Yoseloff
“With her tender, subtle evocations of place and relationships, her work represents a distinctive Hong Kong poetic voice we keep returning to with insight and delight.”
– Prof. David Parker
“Poems written with sensitive delicacy … Jennifer knows the cosmopolitan worlds of urban Hong Kong and London as well as the solitudes of her own heart.”
– Tim Wells
Love in the Time of SARS
We met in the year I looked
rather awful with my braces.
You offered to help me with maths
which became our common excuse.
On weekends we’d go
to Sai Kung, Stanley
or ice skating at Festival Walk,
glad to be on our own.
When my dad fell sick you went
with me to the hospital,
waiting about patiently,
peeling oranges.
For a year or so after you left
for Canada, we kept up with
our letters, but recollections
of what we went through
dwindled, as someone else
held my hand in the cinema,
your IDD calls and MSN messages
reduced to a nearly nothing.
With a pang of nausea I removed
our sticker photo from my cell phone.
He wasn’t as good in hiking or sports,
but he wrote me a song based on Eason’s
‘The Ferris Wheel of Happiness’.
We walked along the waterfront, drinking Vitasoy.
Meanwhile, decrepit buildings
were pulled down like useless teeth
to make way for the new.
For months I listened to news
on the sudden death of birds,
the closure of Mai Po.
Some of our faiths were shaken.
We learned to hide our sorrow,
struggled with late night revisions,
and mulled over choices of university.
Before long the precious years
would pass us by, sooner
than we hoped for or realised.
Paper Stars
A tall jar full
of paper stars,
rainbow coloured.
‘I hope you like them,’ I murmured,
walking in a circle,
feeling the weight
of long origami nights,
rehearsing my line.
On Time
Waiting on the platform
of the JR Yamanote line,
my friend explained,
‘Trains here are seldom late
until someone jumps onto the tracks.’
The afternoon crowd increased.
The digital panel and broadcast
confirmed our suspicion.
Commuters glanced at their watches,
staring blankly at an absolute nothing.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
The news column tomorrow would be brief:
name, age, metro line, passengers affected.
Minutes ago the jumper was with us.
Perhaps she already had lunch—
miso ramen or teishoku—perhaps not.
Did she put on any lipstick?
How did she make up her mind
on the station, section of the track?
Someone must be left to deal with
her cell phone and gas bills.
The train finally arrived—
the jumper was with us, she’s out,
we’re in—we filed in one by one,
all the time holding on to our masks
and the metal handrails.
Gobbling Down Auspicious Chinese Dishes
It’s feeding coins into the fruit machine.
It’s a national race, greed, a feast
of all-you-can-eat lucky homonyms.
Say abalone: fat pockets of prosperity.
Say prawn noodles for laughter in the house
and lettuce sounds exactly like money-making.
To maximise profit, try raw fish salad.
Tuck into the whole chicken,
symbol of family unity.
In the new year it’s unimaginable
to skip the most auspicious dish:
dried oysters with black moss
that reek of fantastic news.
As for dessert, help yourself
to ‘smiling sesame balls’
and if all these aren’t enough,
buy a paper windmill from the temple,
give your money to the poor,
wear red underwear, drink pomelo juice.
Embroidering Chinese Pin Cushions
We start with a satin circle,
fill it with wood shaving or cotton,
steady the centre, cut out
six square cloths to make
six little dolls whose hands
almost touch.
Grandma lets me draw their eyes,
their meek smiles. She teaches me
how to braid their hair.
From early evening until midnight
we’d sit, talking as we work,
the kerosene lamp glowing in the dark.
We’d make enough to fill
a red-and-blue tarpaulin bag:
three cents for a cushion. A fortune.
Next day we’d bring our satin work
to the missionary church
where the sisters would teach us songs.
Looking at the stained glass windows
and the brass eagle on the altar, we’d hide
our blistered fingers in jingling pockets.
from Goldfish (Chameleon Press, 2013).
Poems reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
Order Goldfish here, here or here.
Visit Jenny’s website and culture blog.
Visit Chameleon Press.