On the Twelfth Day of Christmas we bring you David Van-Cauter, Antony Owen, Laura Wainwright

 

 

 
Led By Donkeys

Their lies are visible from space,
carved out of sand in vast bold script:
Proditione writ large
Pietas ficta screaming to the sky.

On the ground, our language shackles us:
tongue-tied, we’re led, protesting,
dragged between jagged rocks, sharp drops
and relentless wind
scrambling over Crib Goch
towards a place
where all perspectives compromise –
up is east, west is down, left is right
and compass dials spin in desperate loops
searching for truth in hollow chambers.

Trust, like faith, is dangerous.
The donkeys know where they are going –
they have been here before –
a new year’s echo: sirens and alarms
we cannot hear
over the shrieking.

 

 

David Van-Cauter‘s pamphlet Mirror Lake was published by Arenig Press in 2019.

 

 

 

Tory Blue

Let me tell you of fridges,
the one which made a Grenfell lighthouse –
all the lost ships burnt in their unsafe little harbours
if only Jacob could have been there, the pied piper of Daily Mail rats.

Let me tell you of fridges,
a coffin filled with thirty nine migrants –
a phone with an unfinished text message “I think I’m dying Mum”
the sun above them and a cold cast shadow filled with queuing gurneys.

Let me tell of fridges,
a leader hiding from questions behind milk
like a baby being breastfed by its working class mother
“How am I going to give everything you need in this Britain”?

let me tell you of fridges,
a billionaire in his gold Smeg by cured meats
which one tastes like the migrant or Grenfellian?
how the fuck can you stomach such cruel delicacies?

Let me tell you of fridges,
the ones on Yemen roads blown out by bombs sold by Tories –
a poem should never hide, it must be colder than ice to thaw us.

 

 

With five collections of poetry focusing on conflict Antony Owen is a well respected writer known for investigative poetry which took him to Hiroshima in 2015 to interview atomic bomb survivors. His subsequent collection, The Nagasaki Elder (V.Press) was shortlisted for a Ted Hughes Award in 2017

 

 

 

Talk

Let’s unpick this hard knot
so its fibres fray, lift
the arrested seed, letting cold soil
fall through our fingers, lightening,
releasing, slackening – as earthworms
surface after dim weeks of rain –
to a plain length of parcel string,
an opened gift

 

 

Laura Wainwright is from Newport, South Wales. She is author of New Territories in Modernism: Anglophone Welsh Writing 1930-1949 (University of Wales Press, 2018). She was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize poetry competition in 2013 and 2019. Her poetry has been widely published in magazines and journals.

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On the Eleventh Day of Christmas we bring you Kymm Coveney, Belinda Rimmer, Zach Jackson

 

 

 

Care and Management of a New Year

Hold at arm’s length, remembering how
the predecessor scorched. Raw skin,
ready to heal, flinches under a moonlit
whispering.

Ring ting-a-ling.

Pull an arm’s length of rope, hefting
extra holiday weight. Those bells
need to peal. Shoulder to the wheel
till they swing.

Begin anything.

Stride an arm’s length to start, heel
to toe the only way to go. Forward,
onward. Flap your tattered cobwebbed
lengths of string.

Flicker of wings.

Spread one arm’s length east; one west.
Race Icarus to this sun’s sun, unseen
unstrung. Lasso beams into chords.

Pick, strum, ping.

Sing into being.

 

 

Kymm Coveney was born in Boston, lives in Spain and works as a freelance translator and writer. Flash fiction, poems and translations can be found online and at BetterLies.

 

 

 

Waiting for Snow

He hangs back while the others steal from our bird feeders.
His favourite place: high in a spruce tree
by a stream with a Latin name none us can pronounce.

Battle scarred, a ripped ear and tail, missing a clump of fur,
he’s the only white squirrel around. I feel his difference
as if it were my own, like not fitting in, but fiercer.

I hold my breath when the foxes come at dawn or dusk.
A white squirrel, fur loud as a siren, glaring.
If I hear a frenzied chatter-chatter, I grab a broom

to chase the foxes away, knowing they’ll be back.
Maybe the white squirrel is part cat, of nine lives,
drawing on speed and luck. I’ve followed him through seasons.

This winter is the coldest yet. Our garden thick with snow.
The foxes linger, hungry for prey. For the first time,
the white squirrel sails the trees, comes to the feeder

alone to take his fill of nuts. His difference now has him singing
and stepping jauntily into forbidden corners.
A rapid thaw. I find him

back in the spruce tree
by the stream with its unpronounceable name.
He’s white as spume, as moon, in a sea of green.

 

 

Belinda Rimmer’s poems are widely published. In 2018, she came second in the Ambit Poetry Competition. She was joint runner-up in this year’s Stanza Poetry Competition. She is also joint winner of the Indigo-First Pamphlet Competition, 2018, with her pamphlet, Touching Sharks in Monaco.

 

 

 

  A Round of Robins

Off with your gloves
wanderer-

six miraculous little furnaces
ablaze in the darkling
sockets of the sycamore,
igniting the gloam
like an old newspaper
from its corner.

 

 

Zach Jackson is a writer from North Yorkshire, based just outside the Brecon Beacons national park in Wales. His work has been shortlisted for Eyewear Publishing’s Christmas Fortnight award, and his debut poetry pamphlet was released last year.

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On the Tenth Day of Christmas we bring you Pippa Little, Ilias Tsagas, Callum James

 

 

 

Sparklen Bottle

Grandma’s sparklen
in the winterdark house where I grew up
loved me the best:
I pushed my nose up close
to see fireflies leap and sputter,
glow-worms climb
and fall in tiny squeezes,
flayed hearts of angels –
I know she whispered
so those wandering would come
curious, too close,
then with a swift oblique
twist she’d have them
in. I like to think
it wasn’t wishing
only but in the black mantle
of that house her sparklen
throbs still with hostage stars
and deep-sea  phosphors,
tinsel glitterings of those
she couldn’t kill.

(‘sparklen’ Middle English: also ‘sparken’, to spark)

 Pippa Little runs reflective writing workshops for students and is working on her third collection.

 

 

 

It’s Christmas

Old lady dragged along in the park
the dogs lead the way
their flashing collars
send sparkles into the dusk.

 

 

Ilias Tsagas is a Greek poet living in Greenwich, London. He is a member of two poetry groups (Greenwich Stanza and Lowercase Poets) and he writes poetry primarily in English and sometimes in Greek.

 

 

 

Winterwood

These are the black and broken spokes
of the world. Stopped: not turning.
All wrong-angled in the spacious white.

We have come searching, silent in the snow,
processional: this white bitterness
so hardened we may never awake.

Throat-sore voices of ice-mist, cracked
and petrified, where men have walked
millennia with fur and axes.

“Are we lost or have we been?”
Someone asked, “Are all things
coming to an end? What intervals?”

Not friends these trees but blackened nails.
The white repeats: a chant decayed
to a single note, too bright to see.

 

 

Callum James grew up on an Island and still lives by the sea, in the lea of the South Downs. He writes influenced by landscape, folklore and trauma and magic. His poems have appeared in The Wolf, Glitterwolf, and Ambit.

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On the Ninth Day of Christmas we bring you Alwyn Marriage, Pat Edwards, K. S. Moore

 

 

 

Keeping it private

To escape disgrace,
outrun the wagging
tongues, she took
a break from home
by going to visit
her cousin.
Such happy days they
spent together there,
two young women
with so much to share.

Then he, shy, loving
and ready to accept
that things weren’t always
what they first appeared to be,
made arrangements for
a protracted visit to
his parents’ home.

The pair were welcomed there.
The aunts who had despaired
that he would ever produce
the longed-for heir to guarantee
the future of their family name,

had at the news, shaken their aged
locks in shame, but wouldn’t dream
of censure, accepted the surprising
gift from God, no questions asked,
shared their contact lists of friends
in far-off places, sent them off
with blessings to explore
lands far away from Bethlehem
or nosy Nazareth.

 

 

Alwyn Marriage’s ten books include poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Formerly university lecturer and CEO of two NGOs, she’s Managing Editor of Oversteps Books and research fellow at Surrey University. She gives poetry readings and workshops in Britain and abroad. Website: http://www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn/

 

 

 

Wise men in the city

The Christian preacher is debating with his Muslim brothers about the one true God, while Birmingham’s Christmas market sausage and gluhweins its way towards Black Friday. There are school kids doing surveys, ladies on a jolly and sales staff at pop-up stalls in the arcades earning Oscars for their performances. We keep seeing cute babies today, like their lonely mums only bring them out on wet Thursdays, when coffee shops are quieter and there’s a welcome at the inn. We walk round Selfridge’s for a laugh, only it’s not funny that a gaudy jumper costs eight hundred and fifty quid and a tie ninety five. This is more Three Kings territory and we are just simple shepherds, eyes dazzled by the shiny city. There’s a change of shift at the Christian soapbox and another beggar pockets a quid and mutters. Does any of this matter. Well, just think about it. Shoppers wear their little carrier bags like badges – Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret, even Primark and we walk through the fruity waft of vapers who think they’re saving themselves from lung cancer. I think it matters a lot.

 

 

Pat Edwards is a poet, teacher, reviewer and performer from Mid Wales. Her work has appeared in Magma, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, Atrium and others. Pat hosts monthly Verbatim poetry open mic nights and curates Welshpool Poetry Festival.

 

 

 

Snow was an apparition

Snow was an apparition:
reach out to touch,
it disappears.

Snow spread its wings
for one white day:
flew and landed, flew and landed.

Snow gave us its body
built us to stand pure:
you can make your own impression.

The day I took the thrill
in my chest on a walk
to deliver a snowman,

I didn’t expect the cold
to creep into my boots —
a cold that hurt,

held me still, as I struggled
to trace my hollow steps
to the place I began with hope.

 

 

K. S. Moore‘s poetry has recently appeared in New Welsh Review, Spontaneity, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Stinging Fly and Southword. Work is upcoming in Atlanta Review. Shortlists have included: Trim Poetry Competition and Americymru West Coast Eisteddfod Poetry Competition.

Link: http://ksmoore.com/

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On the Eighth Day of Christmas we bring you Hannah Linden, Neil Fulwood, Kate Noakes

 

 

 

Christmas Politics

I sang with my neighbours today
in our ramshackle way
struggling to find
the starting notes,
so our carols won’t be
too high or too low.

We don’t call ourselves
singers. Really it’s just
an excuse every fortnight
to be together for an hour.

If only we didn’t feel
the need to perform
the Christmas rituals,
the pressure to be
more tuneful than we are.

We’ve missed several weeks
whilst some of us have been too ill,
desperate or weary,
and my voice still croaks
between the cracks
in the floorboards.

We’ve forgotten last year’s harmonies,
and the ease of banter is rusty.

We’re all holding our tongues
until the New Year, muffling
the clash of beliefs about the PM,
and the outcome of Brexit.

We expect radically different outcomes
so we don’t talk politics here.

There’s tinsel, mince pies,
and one woman drumming
an irregular beat against the table-tappings.

We’ve no time to get it right.
So we just pretend it will be
enough somehow.

Some of us pray
for some support from the village
on the dark, rainy nights,

and hope
for miracles,
under different shades of fairy lights.

 

 

 Hannah Linden is and award winning poet, published widely including with Magma, Strix, Under the Radar, Proletarian Poetry, Atrium and the 84 Anthology. She is working towards her first collection.

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

There’s a stillness tonight, a silence. Not so much a sense
of magic in the air or peace on earth settling like the snowfall
you still hope to wake to Christmas morning; no,
this is more the silence of ennui enveloping the estate,
no-one bothering to force a door or steal a car,
no siren or alarm, no searchlight, no helicopter circling.

Silence nudges the mind into overtime, imagination circling
like a drone. Nothing to see here, but sixth sense
smacks down common sense each time. That car –
dented side panel, paintwork the dirty white of driven snow,
aerial snapped off, a car you’ve not seen on the estate
before – behind the wheel: is that someone you know?

Or used to know? Or thought you’d left behind? No:
it’s just your mind and the night playing tricks. Circles
of coloured light reflected back from the one house on the estate
still going for broke with decorations gives a sense
of brightness, of festivity, but otherwise nightfall
is absolute. Streetlights accept defeat. The car

is gone when you look again. Call it a night. Forget about cars
occupied by shadowy figures you may or may not know.
You’ve spent too long at the window, like a child waiting for snow
that won’t fall – not tonight anyway. Snowflakes circling
in the streetlights’ weak penumbra? No sense
holding out for that Christmas miracle. Snow on the estate

came in April; the year before it was February the estate
armed itself with shovels, dug out driveways, cars
fishtailing on ungritted streets, slewing with all the sense
of movement and grace of a new-born foal. No,
it’ll be snow in June next year, winter’s isobars circling
through the summer forecast: frost, low temperatures, a fall

of snow. Soon it’ll be permanent: a year-long snowfall,
great drifting snowbanks barricading the estate,
huge walls of ice sealing off streets, encircling
the city, river frozen to a hard unmelting scar.
White in its endless dirty variations will be all you know.
Cold unremitting. Hands, feet, heart will lose all sense.

The future is circling, unsteady, about to enter freefall.
Dying smoke mingles with incense. Leave the estate,
join the caravan. Adapt. Abandon what you know.

 

 

Neil Fulwood is the author two collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere. Additionally, he has published two pamphlets with the Black Light Engine Room Press: Numbers Stations and The Little Book of Forced Calm. He lives and works in Nottingham.

 

 

 

Season of goodwill

Birdsong caught my ear
in the park this morning:
a blackbird chorusing
the grey sky, sweet as rain
on slate, and robin
in the garden, singing up
the leaves I raked –
a charm against the dark.

The Sainsbury’s manager sang
a tuneless, glassy note:
the broken bottle a shoplifter
crashed onto his bare head.
On his phone he showed me
a photo of the three-inch gash.
He explained glue and staples,
and why he was wearing a Santa hat
to match his Christmas jumper.

 

 

Kate Noakes: Website archived by the National Library of Wales boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com. Forthcoming Non-Fiction – Real Hay-on-Wye, Seren 2020. Current Poetry Collection – The Filthy Quiet, Parthian, 2019

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On the Seventh Day of Christmas we bring you Joanne Key, Catherine Ayres, Amelia Loulli

 

 

 

His Daughters

It wasn’t the life you’d imagine.
Most nights he’d be out,
on the sherry early doors.
Closing time, he’d come back and start.
Exploding over nothing,
he’d throw his tea at the wall,
smash the place up,
scatter elves like skittles.
He slept where he fell
and pissed himself.

We kept our heads down
and got on with the jobs.
There was nothing merry
about any of us.
Not dainty. Not delicate.
We were big girls,
built for the donkey work,
lugging boxes and sacks of toys
from the workshop by day,
nights in the loading bay.
More of a father to strangers,
he’d turn on us and say:
Who’d want you lot any way?
Ugly buggers.

Wild hair flying, clumsy,
we weren’t born for shining
or finery, couldn’t be trusted
with delicate mechanisms
or finishing touches,
but we knew hard labour
and every one of us could lift
a toddler’s weight in trains.
At the end of the day
there’s only so much you can take.

I’ll never forget his face that last time
he staggered in, Jack Frost in tow,
covered in snow, an abominable man,
brandishing a hammer.
I’ll give you bloody Christmas…
By then we’d all come of age –
girls that could turn
skipping ropes into snakes
with a flick of a wrist, each tail
a fist shaking a baby’s rattle.
A rage so great it woke an army
of sleeping dolls. Angel-faced,
they climbed down from the shelves –
all the beautiful daughters
he’d ever wished for,
marching towards him in their clumpy shoes.

 

 

Joanne Key won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition, and first prize in the 2018 Hippocrates Open Prize. She was the winner of the 2018 Mslexia Short Story Competition.

 

 

 

A Blessed Virgin Grows Up
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart – Luke 2:19

There was so much Mary at Christmas.

I, too, was a handmaid,
a quiet girl,
untouched by man.

Advent nights, I waited
to be chosen
by the angel
with miraculous eyes.

Headlights feathered the ceiling.
My open book bloomed  lily-white.

But the next day
always came
with its ordinary dawn.

Once, a man drove one hundred miles
to bring me gifts.
Once, I was with child.

Years drifted
and all prayers were lost.

This Christmas
I will listen to the owls shout.
I will sleep with curtains open
so the moon slides
across my thighs.

What do I keep in my heart?

How far I’ve travelled in the dark.
How no one told me I could choose.

 

 

Catherine Ayres is a poet and teacher from Northumberland. Her collection, Amazon, is published by Indigo Dreams. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University.

 

 

 

While the Wise Men all Gather on Important Business

the women have been left
in stables, unarmed.
By turns they have claimed
what they had to hand, and now wield it
against whoever comes close. By God’s grace

they have been left the stories of great men
small as babies, love songs useful as star signs,
yet this winter they are asking questions, like, how
many daughters did Mary have? By nightfall

the devil has begun taking confessions
and if things stay this way, soon, one woman
will kiss her own arm, remember
what pleasure feels like, and then, even if the men
come home, sturdy and deep as barrels, the women

will push them over, and roll them away.

 

 

Amelia Loulli is a poet living in Cumbria. A pamphlet of her poetry was selected for publication in Primers Volume IV in 2019, and her work has been twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is currently studying her MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University.

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On the Sixth Day of Christmas we bring you Helen Pletts & Romit Berger, Grant Tarbard, Z. D. Dicks

 

 

 

 

Street dog

 

Soft fur, stroke fur
   in each and every fine hair
   your heat and life, best
at quiet, knows ragged
not.
                            And in this hour,
I plunge my hands into your fur
   and they are there. This.
                                               The
   somewhere, where all my blue coat cuff
tales talk of gutters –curved fallow–
through the septal gills of drains.
   In every hour, only your twitching ear
   recounts our losses to the air.
You shake. A momentary pulse-through-fur;
   one side floor-flat, the other
   half-rack my only own.

 

 

Helen Pletts (www.helenpletts.com ) has two collections, Bottle bank and For the chiding dove (YWO/Legend Press – supported by The Arts Council). Bottle bank was longlisted for The Bridport Poetry Prize 2006, under Helen’s maiden name, Bannister. Also published in Aesthetica, Orbis, The Fenland Reed. Working collaboratively on Word and Image (published exclusively by www.inksweatandtears.co.uk) with Romit Berger, illustrator, since 2012. Helen’s poetry was longlisted for The Rialto Nature and Place Competition 2018 and shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2018. Helen’s poem ‘The Grey Seal Speaks’ was selected in 2019 for the climate change awareness anthology entitled Planet in Peril available from https://www.flyonthewall. Helen’s poetry was longlisted for the 2019 Ginkgo Prize competition.

Romit Berger:  “I am a graphic designer. I met my very dear friend, Helen Pletts, in Prague, several years ago. Helen’s inspiration has led my graphic design career into that magical realm which combines illustration and poetry, and our creative wings continue to connect our souls through time and distance.”

 

 

 

extract from dog
36.Dog thought of Christmas as his dizzy child
worshipped in bouncing temples, feeling elastic
by the great shaking belly of the city’s morning bells
and its thousand replying inflections. Dog made us
stand on Primrose Hill for the early, as he called it,
exfoliating of the grand dingdong.
We dressed as barnyard animals,
as dog’s father had taught him.
Then dog ate oysters whilst we played
with the shells. After that we would shoot
love notes into trees, dragging a trolley of booze
to the old people’s home and we’d drink
until gravity didn’t work and stingrays hovered
above the central reservation in serious thought.
Gladys, the tattooed lady, turned into a pillar
of blue bath salts, all tube stations morphed
into a green harmonium and wheezed in unison
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. All the wounded animals
sang along, all paintings of ships at sea found their ports.
When it was time and not before, dog would scoop up
the day’s collection of sleepy voices and boil
in a gentleman’s hat. The electricity in dog’s jaws locked,
his teeth flickered like moths as he hiccupped with liquor
in his paunch— It’s time that intoxicates us, not the puff
of smoke and the rattling of the tambourine.
Christmas snaked away a model of the universe,
framed in the frost of our window.

 

 

Grant Tarbard is the author of Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World (Platypus Press) and Rosary of Ghosts (Indigo Dreams). His new pamphlet This is the Carousel Mother Warned You About (Three Drops Press) and new collection dog (Gatehouse Press) will be out soon.

 

 

 

Krampus

Krampus, as acid in stone
sinks into a scorched wood
his black head frothing steam
branches wince, naked
flutters of embers pile
iced scarred and skinned

His cleft hooves crunch
half goat and demon
depress, burnt leaves
crumbling ash into snow
heavy, cindered, falling
logs pound up smoke

A tongue, worm white
lolls between hook fangs
long, curling down wet
a maggot whip drips
as molten ore
earth moulding slag spit

In one hand, a gift of coal
to mark young faces dirty
with grey-glow to melt flesh
the other holding a rattle
a chain to clink and chitter
thrashing as bonfire cracks

On his bramble hair back
strapped, charred thatch
is rounded into a pit
a barrel of cold to cage heat
empty, save for birch bundles
to tenderise taunted meat

He lopes on the edge
of frostbitten kindling
waiting for no moonshine
nods his horns to a clearing
at a man, emptying his sack
after snores boil in shadow

Krampus awaits a silent reply
Saint Nicolas bows out
gifts left red ribboned
and Krampus takes the waste
up clawed chimney flues
as his brother marches off
in sweat, shudders, shivering

 

 

Z. D. Dicks has been accepted by Obsessed with Pipework, Sarasvati, Ink Sweat & Tears, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Fresh Air Poetry, I am not a silent poet, The Hedgehog Poetry Press plus many more, and is described as ‘a gothic Seamus Heaney’ by Anna Saunders (Director of The Cheltenham Poetry Festival).

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