i bend my arms foetal against the cold,
old and crippled,
i am earthquakes
i am rickety mountains
trembling under gravid,
i grow in shadow
though my bones are soft,
even young legs are made of dirt:
shiver while you still can.
Oscar Towe has been writing seriously (and shying away from his real name) for a year or so. Personal, introspective, never growing up poetry. Most of it appears at crowdecidedtotrywords.wordpress.comRead More
On our Sixth Date,
I offer my arm
as a right angle,
and in its taking,
you learn, perhaps,
through the calm pulse
of our stroll,
the way in which,
or the sense
of the way in which,
my hip is set.
Tom Wiggins is a 27 year-old writer from Gloucester. He is an amateur antique dealer and student studying stone masonry in Bath. He tweets @thewigginsboy.Read More
Under the pavements I’ve hidden
My map, drawn in black and carmine,
Saved for my daughters. The lessons
In reading it were secret ones, held early
In the morning: they swore on pain of death
To keep it between the three of us.
The land flushed with light as I wrote
Upon it—the trees sprouted incalculably vast
Blossoms, though it was already autumn.
People said it was the second coming,
The end of the world: why else should we
Be graced with beauty like it? I wrote a book
Explaining that everyone likes to be called
By the right name, and they burned my book
In the city squares, and the trees bloomed
Again, it was spring as you dream of it,
Not as it comes. And during the winter,
The weather was no warmer than usual,
Only more fragrant—as if I’d asked for
Something in return, as if there were love
In the map, not greed. Under the pavements
My daughters are reading the map, they
Whisper it into each other’s ears and
Wait for the world to be swamped with
Unseasonal blossom, the smell of me.
Chloe Stopa-Hunt has twice been a Foyle Young Poet of the Year, and won the English Poem on a Sacred Subject Prize in 2010. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including Magma, Oxford Poetry, and Best British Poetry 2013. This is her website.Read More
The Three Friends
Phoenix, Jade and Maisie, best friends
since Year One, stick together
in their voyage through the Infants.
Phoenix and Jade are in Mrs Clarkson’s
‘Special Class’. Maisie is a mermaid
who swims between the rocks of their desks
while Mrs Clarkson teaches Copy Writing.
Mrs Clarkson takes no notice of the blue sea
washing under her classroom door.
Phoenix and Jade take turns to ride on Maisie’s back
or do her hair with a comb they found
in the Lost Property cupboard.
Phoenix puts a parting on the left,
Jade on the right. They make ringlets
with wetted finger and thumb,
weave seaweed into a tiara.
All this happens while Mrs Clarkson is writing
on the board and the waves are getting higher.
Phoenix and Jade build a stable
in the woods behind their school.
Although they look like little girls,
inside they are made of ponies and can gallop
faster than the wind can blow. Today’s the day
that Phoenix doesn’t see an overhanging branch.
She falls, a bone comes through her skin
and though it isn’t fair, the huntsman has to shoot her
because everyone knows that’s what you do with horses.
Jade’s dad has gone away again, she doesn’t know where.
He writes her funny postcards
but she can’t write back even on his birthday.
She wants to tell him that the pip he planted
in her yoghurt pot is growing, that she’ll soon be in Year Two.
Jade’s mum says he’s not worth the price of a stamp.
Maisie’s tail fell off during the night.
She’s growing legs like a tadpole.
Phoenix and Jade give Maisie medicine
but her tadpole legs cling on,
and her tail, once shimmering emerald,
grows back stumpy black.
Maisie cries but Mrs Clarkson doesn’t hear –
she is using her Swordfish pencil sharpener
which no one else is allowed to touch.
The Accident Book is kept in the Office.
Phoenix and Jade are in it!
They’d made an ice-slide, were slithering
towards each other when they crashed.
Michael Graham said he saw their knickers.
Phoenix and Jade like Michael Graham.
He is in Year Three and has blond floppy hair.
Phoenix and Jade are glad he has noticed them
and that they are in the Accident Book.
Mucky McKenna isn’t in the Accident Book
because she walked into a door at home.
Phoenix and Jade saw red marks on her chest
when they wear getting changed for PE.
They told Mrs Clarkson and Mucky went to hospital
in Mrs Clarkson’s car.
Ten years on, the friends are seventeen.
Phoenix works at Nippy Scissors.
Jade is on a Nail Technician’s course.
Michael Graham went to Afghanistan and got killed.
This Friday is his funeral.
Phoenix and Jade will sit with Mrs Clarkson and cry,
remembering Michael’s floppy hair.
They’ll end up in the pub.
Maisie’s ghost will swim between the tables,
flip her stumpy tail to Nothing Compares 2 U.
Jennifer Copley lives in Cumbria. She has published four pamphlet and three full collections: ‘Unsafe Monuments’ (Arrowhead 2006), ‘Beans in Snow’ (Smokestack 2009) and ‘Sisters’ (Smokestack 2013). She has been placed in many competitions including the Bridport and the Cardiff and shortlisted twice for the Strokestown. She has been published in The Rialto, The North, The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph and her work has been included in GCSE revision papers.Read More
How did they
to make this coffee
taste of fish?
in the uniquely
that makes it sound
as if it’s
all my fault
and asked if
keep a secret before
taking me round
back to a
of liquid in such
that I almost
threw up. One
on the back
into the pool
to tickle something,
a fish-shaped ripple,
a fish, six
two metres wide:
the largest and
I’d ever seen,
its saucer eyes
staring into the state
of being that lies
beyond the manic.
I tutted gently
for me to decide
how I felt about this.
James Coghill has had poems published in The Cadaverine and Popshot Magazine. He is quietly working on a number of projects, not all of which involve animals (some involve cinemas and insects also).Read More
Off the Rails
At midnight, the town
travels, swallowing snake-
joined, dot to dot
houses, breathing through
windows, illusion borne
currents, electric gold,
mirrored and flaming.
In my mind I control
it, a plastic snake
snapping, each click
of each segment
a jut of its hipless,
Holding the train
I throw the trails
from each mapped out
journey, lacing the paths
of luminous strangers,
chained like fairy-lit pearls.
The span of my hand,
a flesh-webbed cloud,
covers their eyes and
becomes their earth,
until I let go and they
hurtle, back into
timetabled stops and changes.
K. S. Moore blogs at ksmoore.com and was recently shortlisted for Blog Awards Ireland. She was a Flash Mob 2013 finalist and has been published in FlashFlood, The Bohemyth and Writing.ie. She has work forthcoming in The Seventh Quarry.Read More
Looking for Larkin is the first full length collection of Jules Smith’s poetry. Handsomely produced, it also contains a sequence of photographs by Dan Lyons which capture some of the monuments, wharves and streets of ‘Larkinland’ in and around Hull. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a poet who has been widely published since the early eighties, this is the first substantial gathering of his work. In ‘the Barefoot Bride’, which opens the collection and is placed alongside a shot of Pearson Park, Smith beautifully distils the influence of his master. Addressing a beloved with the Larkinesque endearment of ‘Darling’, he then describes a bride and wedding group in terms which are clearly intended to echo ‘The Whitsun Weddings’:
She trailed her ivory, wind-ravelled train
across the road to greet guests warmly,
colours sun-mingled as in a kaleidoscope .
Like the protagonists in many of Larkin’s poems, Smith is an outsider looking on, his ‘incline towards the curves of their talk / distanced by not knowing the family.’ Having described the stock figure of the best man sitting ‘on a low wall / like Humpty Dumpty, flirting with women’, he brings the poem to its conclusion with a quietly effective image which rings the changes on the fertility theme which is also important in Larkin’s poem: ‘Behind them all, the garden. Freshly dug.’
In ‘Looking for Larkin’, the collection’s title poem, Smith’s elusive eminence grise actually becomes his subject. Accompanied by an enigmatic photograph of Larkin’s flat in Pearson Park, this is another highly intertextual poem in which Mr Larkin is recreated in the image of his own ‘Mr Bleaney’, so that now the room which once belonged to ‘that novelist chappy’ has been ‘turned over to a well-balanced bloke / unafraid of ghosts, Pink Floyd posters on the walls.’ With a few deft strokes Smith gives us a convincing ‘warts and all’ portrait of the poet ‘almost capering’ to his classic jazz whilst at the same time he is ‘spying on “honeys”’. However, more than this, the piece is also a moving study on the subject of mortality in which the music changes with the decades and thirty years are reduced to ‘30 seconds on “News at Ten”’. Moreover, lest anyone think that Smith is merely an exponent of clever pastiche, he concludes with some bravura imagery that is entirely his own:
Coming and going across Pearson Park
some see orange and pink lamplights,
others luminous Larkinesque socks
against the evening’s darkening suit.’
Having established the Larkin theme, Smith proceeds to cast his net more widely. In ‘She’ he evokes his own adolescence by describing the erotic and ‘fulfilled figure’ of Ursula Andress rising from the waves in Dr. No. It is also the first of several poems inspired by the poet’s love of the cinema. Here, from the film version of King Solomon’s Mines, is the princess Ayesha disintegrating before our eyes:
Then the change in her. Stifled crying out,
corruption showing first on her spotted hands,
flesh jerking past the frames of desire
through such processes only film can fake.
Witty, intelligent, and full of fun, it must also be admitted that the allusiveness of this and many other poems here makes plenty of demands upon the reader. Alongside its cinematic references to Ian Fleming and Rider Haggard, there are echoes of Charles Aznavour, Larkin’s Mrs T, Ecclesiastes, Keats and no doubt others which the present reviewer has missed. Further highly entertaining excursions into the world of the silver screen are ‘Brief Encounter’, where ‘a veil of light separates art from life,’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Hitchcock’ which evokes ‘Female hip and automobile in Fifties curves, / cantilevers of bra and bridge.’
Central to Looking for Larkin is its virtuoso showcase ‘Poets’ Night on the S.S. Manxman’, a dazzling mock heroic epic in which Smith shows himself to be Hull’s answer to Dryden and Pope or, perhaps more appropriately, Clive James. There is no space here, and probably no need, to examine the rich literary heritage of ‘The Rumoured City’, other than to say that, from Larkin, Dunn, O’Brien and beyond, the list of poets seems endless, including figures such as Roger McGough and Tom Paulin who may not be immediately associated with the city, or Oliver Reynolds who started out with Faber in a blaze of glory but seems subsequently to have faded away. Over the years Smith himself has played a not insignificant role in this tradition and, via his long association with John Osborne’s journal Bête Noire, was well placed to observe the shenanigans and foibles of the city’s literati. Extending over twelve pages and featuring some dozens of poets, it would be invidious to focus on individuals in a poem which Smith refers to as ‘a long poem / on a long night, on a long boat. / A work of libel and celebration.’ There is, however, mayhem and bickering aplenty which is frequently fuelled by drink. Perhaps, as someone is alleged to have said about the Sixties: ‘If you can remember, you weren’t there.’ On a smaller scale, but just as hilarious and well observed is ‘Flannnerie’ in which the poet sharpens his scalpel on the Irish literary scene from Joyce and Flann O’Brien down to the more recent days of ‘Famous Seamus, the mud poet’ and ‘Fungus McMahon’.
A poem such as ‘Poets’ Night on the S.S. Manxman is bound to have a particular appeal for those who were a part of the ‘scene’ it depicts, so that those who were not may at first glance feel excluded. However, Smith’s brio and incisiveness, his skill with rhymes and rhythms and his frequently outrageous imagery are very appealing. Poets are, by and large, at least as fatuous and self-obsessed as everyone else and, whether the scene is the Roman Republic of Catullus or the coffee shops of Augustan London, it is always entertaining to see their vanities on display. The S.S. Manxman is a worthy reinvention of the ‘Ship of Fools.’ It would, however, be a mistake to see Smith as merely a gifted satirist and literary annalist. ‘On My Birthday’ is an endearingly nostalgic evocation of a Sixties childhood. Disappointed to discover that his postbox is empty, the poet is taken back to earlier days: ‘Back in bed I’m mindful of ten-bob notes, / riding the range of the back garden under a cowboy hat.’ ‘Shinglers F.C.’ returns to the same period and memorialises the doughty determination of its eponymous football team. In ‘Tomorrow’s People’ the old men ‘tending their allotments’ at the end of their lives are compared to ‘figures in a Breueghel landscape’ who are reduced to merely ‘doing something.’
Finally, if proof were needed that there is more to Smith than postmodernist high jinks and literary knockabout, one needs to look no further than ‘Graduation’, his austerely sustained meditation upon the death of his father:
The ceremony went well. Eulogies,
gowned ritual, a sense of having passed
onto that brief handshake with authority.
A liberation of sorts. Me to play.
Outside, the life of summer transcendent…
As in Beckett and some of the later poems of Larkin, Smith’s depiction of old age is relentless in its awfulness:
Being able to ‘take his drink’ left years
of enfeebled hopping on painkillers,
degeneration towards a chairbound,
legless, sightless, completely finished
dustbin character escaped from Beckett.
‘Cantankerous, humourless, feckless,’ the father is a figure who, having passed on, is ‘no longer / there to be feared,’ yet somehow, too, in spite of the tensions between the father and the son he dismisses sarcastically as ‘sugar plum’, big ‘ead’, ‘the professor’, the poet also recalls moments of togetherness when father and son shared late night ‘steak and kidney pies I wouldn’t eat now.’ Looking for Larkin is a varied and engrossing collection which is, by turns, funny, nostalgic and moving. It is beautifully illustrated by Dan Lyons and doesn’t have a dull page in it.
Looking for Larkin by Jules Smith is published by Flux Gallery Press and priced at £8.95. Order your copy here.Read More