Polish is spoken here and mountains have appeared behind
the closed down meat pie factory. Bears roll their snouts like drunks,
lumber down the mountains, lick sticky locked-up gates, globules
of gristle stuck in rusted padlocks. All of us, bears, wolves,
humans, raise our heads on windswept days, inhale memories
of bubbling hearts, intestines, ears, blood. Where there was once a
brewery there is now a flood of frozen weather. They’re
playing violins around the edges, frying herrings,
the smell of beer rising as skating couples bite into
the ice. Someone has bought clippers to shave young men’s heads in
kitchens drinking black, Happy Shopper tea. Here is number
for room, for work in nice, clean-smelling factory. Outside
the Catholic Church old women stamp snow, wear fur at their throats,
dab Holy Water like cologne. After Christmas, we will
open our windows, fill our houses with tripe and sweetened
cabbages. New Year drifts in from the sewage treatment works.
*Josephine Corcoran writes poems, plays and short stories. She has had work on BBC R4 and at The Chelsea Centre Theatre, London SW3. Recent poems are in The Bridport Prize Anthology 2010 and forthcoming in Grist 2012.
The wind chill wails through the chippy’s sign,
icicles quiver and drip from the post-office windowsill,
the paper-shop window frills with snow crystals.
Dawn is wide behind the shops
where winter is bejewelled with diamonds on the scrub,
where the early sun softens a rainbow over the stream,
where the cold is purifying.
The angels coated in this purity are stung
with frozen tears, with frosted wings.
Nothing is warmed by these crunches underfoot.
The ice is roaming, catching my breath
I taste the bite. Look, how the bells are still,
how the gargoyles drool is frozen.
*Lynn Woollacott sends a Chinese New Year Blessing: May you have success in all endeavours, may you have peace and health in the four seasons, may your happiness be as wide as the sea, may all your comings and goings be peaceful.
It ends with the boiling of bones.
Flesh leaves the ribs as easily
as pine needles leave dry branches.
An old carcass in grey water
shrouded by its own grease.
It ends with the boiling of bones.
*Rebecca Farmer’s work has been published widely, most recently in The North and The South Bank Magazine. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths.
A Bus Shelter Near Here
Austerity carol made from bits of carols and songs
Here people don’t even know what a chav is. Everyone is a chav.There are no posh folk. Unemployment is rife. ChavTowns website.
In the bleak
In a shelter mean and
The holly and the
Have yourselves a
Deep Pan crisp and
We all like
We all like
So bring us
A poor youngling
Come all ye
And deck the
Let nothing you
We won’t go
Until we’ve got some
And he’s bleeding
On the snow.
The running of the
All is calm.
*Joan Hewitt won the 2003 Northern Promise Poetry award.Her first, late-in-life collection is Missing the Eclipse (Cinnamon). She is a member of the Northern Poetry Workshop, chair Sean O'Brien. Their anthology In Your Own Time arrives in April(Shoestring).
All You Get For Christmas (Is A Caudate Sonnet)
Season of gifts and Brussel Sproutfulness!
The tree is trimmed, the presents all are wrapped –
There’s booze for breakfast (booze all day, in fact),
The kids are so excited, look! Aw, bless…
I watch the family as they try to guess
What’s in those boxes cloaked in stars and tape,
Then Fools and Horses, then The Great Escape.
Do I like Christmas? Sometimes…
So, when I say this, I’m not being perverse –
You may believe these words or you may not;
My gift to you this year will be this verse –
I can’t go spending cash I haven’t got;
‘Cos if I join that retail Push-and-shove,
I might be forced to kill a thing I love.
And, since we don’t believe in God above,
We won’t waste time with “Happy Birthday Jesus”,
But spend our Christmas scoffing lovely cheeses.
*Andy Bennett is a stand-up comedian and a pot-smoking poet. He writes poetry that, two hundred years ago, would have got him rusticated. Andy also likes the word ‘rusticated’.
Setting the Scene
Beggars beg and someone
Blows a tin whistle
For that woman singing softly
To her just-born child
The world does not deserve
Hoping that powerful men
May still wisely kneel
Beside a cradle once again
To know themselves
born in Birmingham, studied in Oxford and settled in Verona, Italy,
working as a translator. Has three books of poems (two in bilingual
editions)and contributes to many UK magazines.
The Bastle House
Emma looks at the moorland as faces fly by. The alpacas are in the middle of the field. She watches as they drift back, their bodies leaving slanted shadows on the white land under yellow sky. The westerly wind drifts down off the moorland and across the South Tyne as faces fly the other way. The giant ash tree shines above the Bastle House. The sun falls behind the barn with the thatched roof. She sits by the opened window listening for the alpacas. Crows and gulls drift across the blue and black shapes of the sky. Lights come on at Partridge Nest and Willimoteswick, and up at Shaw’s.
She goes to the bathroom and locks the door behind her. Water trickles slowly from the tap. She comes back to the window and the moon is shining across the white land, further magnifying the glow. The moorland is glowing, all glowing, the whiteness radiating up and off the ground and glowing, lifted by the moon that hurts her eyes. It is so sharp that she thinks if she points to it she can cut her finger on its curve.
There is a knock on the door, a knock from before.
‘I looked from the train,’ says Tom.
‘Well I didn’t see you.’
‘Obviously not. Anyway I’m here now. Have you made anything yet?’
‘Why didn’t you just walk?’
‘I didn’t feel like it.’
They sit at the old table in their old seats, diagonal to the other with empty place mats opposite. The bare branches of the ancient ash shudder and the westerly slips in through the old windows and stones. Tom splashes gravy across his turkey, drops dollops of cranberry sauce on the side. Emma pushes vegetables around.
The crumpled tree sparkles in the corner, green pins scattered beneath. The tilting angel only has one eye. They turn on the TV and watch a programme longer than usual and less funny.
‘We might as well open them now,’ says Tom, and Emma simply smiles. She gets up and walks to the kitchen for wine as he rips shiny wrapping.
In the morning he opens the curtains. The view is smudged and bloated by ice. He waits for hot water then washes his face in the sink. The water starts to fill the bowl. Water bubbles from the plughole in the bath. He rubs his face on the damp towel; hangs the towel over the cold radiator. He is preceded by his breath.
Opening the curtains downstairs he lets in the sunlight and the draft. The room swells from wine and cigarettes. Emma is a motionless mass under her sleeping bag. He nudges her backside with his foot and she grunts.
He waits for hot water in the kitchen. He stacks the small pile of plates, puts them in the bowl, squirts Fairy Liquid on them and puts the red bottomed glasses in among the suds. He puts on the radio and hears of a casualty in Helmand Province. Later that day there will be a funeral in Wooten Basset.
As the water sinks out of the bowl downstairs, he takes the hot water from the kettle and pours it into the sink upstairs. Reaching down to the side of the radiator he turns on the tap.
He goes to the pound shop in Haltwhistle for some caustic soda. Comes back and pours hot water on it, watches as the white grains smoke. He pours that into the bathroom sink.
Emma is upstairs. She looks from the open window. The alpacas have been moved to another field. She sees shapes, off white compared to the fields. The sheep have lowered themselves on to their knees, and their heads are buried so they look like headless lumps in the field. The South Tyne is black. The westerly wind batters the ancient ash, shaking some of the carbuncles from its branches. The fences around the white fields shimmer in the sun as much as the fields themselves.
Emma moves back to the kitchen, opens the oven door and feels the heat on her legs. She takes the lid off a pan to let steam out. The kitchen window is a clouded glow. She pulls down the pink blind and puts on the fan.
They sit at the table and eat. Two voices that filled the silence are gone. There isn’t as much as a bark in the house. She’s made a curry and Tom watches as she slides it around her plate. With his Nan bread Tom mops the plate as white as the fields.
Late evening. The coal rages like melt water. Tom’s eyes blink open and closed. In an opening he sees the firelight shining on Emma’s arms. He closes his eyes completely for a few minutes and they begin to congeal. He sits upright and blinks into the fire. His body is shaking as though there was no fire at all. He wipes his cheek, gets up and walks over to her, takes the glass from her hand and puts it on the table. He rolls down her sleeves. He bends and struggles to lift her, stumbles over to the couch and lowers her as best he can.
He goes upstairs and walks through the rooms, the white fields glowing through the windows in the moonlight. He closes the curtains of a musty bedroom, switches on a lamp that goes off again almost immediately.
*Neil Campbell was born in Manchester, now studying for a PhD at Northumbria University. Short story collection, Broken Doll, published by Salt. Poetry chapbooks, Birds, and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Short story, Barren Clough, in the anthology, Murmurations. Short story collection, Pictures from Hopper, forthcoming from Salt.
It takes real skill to look both ways.
Notice how I keep an eye on yesterday
whilst deftly skipping over today
onto the thin ice of tomorrow.
I know thresholds, those small events
that happen between here and there.
A small movement and things become,
or end, or twist on hooks of possibility.
Here are their gifts of bread and coal
to appease the cold ghosts of winter.
The slug trail of party poppers to
mark the pathway to a stilled house.
I am at the door that opens or closes
to keep something in or out. I am
the push or pull of air that pistons
on the heart of a transformation.
An old year, a new year, the midnight
when the lock is oiled with promises.
I hunker down on the step and listen
for the key, the slow turn of time.
*Andrea Porter’s collection A Season of Small Insanities is published by Salt. She is also a member of The Joy of Six Poetry group. She has completed one novel and is up to her eyes in the next.
in the drift of another hard summer
we camp out in the shelter. from here
we can watch the baboons creature
around the dry riverbed, scooping
up water from the holes we dig
in the sand; watch the tortoises
smash open on the slope, their surprise
at our trap lost in the glitter of carapace.
nothing is simple about returning.
in the mornings we drink tea matted
with sugar; in the afternoons we study
field guides. i play with antlions, endlessly.
we wash with dust, we make fire,
and on new year's eve we take stock
of the stars and with your smart knife
you cut a brush and you repaint them.
sandstone is a strange canvas.
the ink sighs into the grain –
i imagine a microscope would show
cells grafted together like salt pans,
where runny red ochres mount
and flood and dry – and then, one day, all
the uncertainties of your pen will flake away,
leaving a reading fabricated from stains.
is a South African-born writer and archaeologist living in Cambridge,
UK. You can read more of her poetry in, amongst others, Oxford Poetry,
New Contrast, and Carapace.
The Goose Moon
What are we doing above the poor sea?
Do we dream this bridge of wind
will reach the sour pines of Europe?
Why bother pouring such weather
under the goose moon.
Why bring this denying wing down
from all the worst clocks of the night
to reach no eye, no ear, no lovely wake
of punching sea and chance our white flame
in the hall-less journey here.
Why were we with the ghost snows
so far in the north, in this empty mind
where air peels and pours
in the saintless interior.
And worn out with Jupiter,
beneath our night coal, tip to tip,
we send those scouring messages
for the fat path home, queens of mint air
and the world turns its coarse trim with us
and we are the Christmas sisters
and make the turn and the lit up tide steers us
below the goose moon.
No one is free of the feather dream
and the polished waters ride us
all wing whisper when the call comes to turn,
to break and lead, to return one to another
in the European night
uncovering the jarring saviours
and we imagine human,
unmined and working,
warm with all the land’s resistance,
delivered in houses, in taxes,
in the deaf blood of the roads below.
*Chris Emery was born in Manchester and has published two collections: Dr. Mephisto and Radio Nostalgia, both from Arc Publications. A new collection, The Departure, is forthcoming from Salt. He lives in Cromer with his wife and three children.
Searching for Snow
Press your nose against the pane,
wish for it. Scan the sky. Listen
for the silence of every living thing
braced against the cold.
You want snowmen, snowball contests,
to be snowed in, kept off school.
Some hope, except in dreams
of dragging caked mittens from tingling fingers,
sipping hot chocolate, regressing to ‘Watch with Mother’.
Snow remakes the world for however long it lasts
until the tension goes out of it. As childish
as innocence before grown-up boots stamp it out.
*Angela Topping is a freelance poet and author based in Cheshire. She writes for both children and adults and has four solo collections. 2011 saw four poetry chapbooks released. She is currently working towards a fifth collection. This poem was first published in Voices for Kosovo (Stride 1999)
The sky burns trotter pink,
bladder blue, a skein
of golden chicken skins
pulled taut by giant needles.
Up on the hill the grass grows
as white as my hair, cold
fistful and clumped. I
stalk alone, muttering.
Ancient witches cartwheel
in energetic fury along
the dry skyline, their shadow bones
finger thin and twisting.
I watch them: layer on layer
of charcoal, grey and silt;
rice paper fine, pirouetting
against the setting sun.
* Charlotte Gann's The Long Woman was published recently by Pighog Press. She's had work in The Rialto, The North and Magma, among others.
Hidden from ice scabbed windows
I squat by the slats in the fence wrapped
in Christmas paper –
a hotchpotch of holly and ivy
rolled, sellotaped, tied with ribbbon.
Under its crackle breath drains
my blanched face, Siberian eyes latch shut
to keep out the wind. I want to claw
my way out, see birds swollen with snow
swoop from the coast, hang around houses
in huddles of feathers, trampling on roofs,
gutters, grass; a whole assembly
grubbing for worms, stale bread, sultanas.
They’re too loud; I bury my ears in drifts.
If you tear me open I’ll bare, what’s left
is a torn upper lip hoisted like a sail,
its gash all that remains of a smile.
You tell me not to worry; spring will come,
fill my body with flames. But the evening
is biting and I’m unwrapping: my ivy wilting
and the holly has hitched up her skirt and is
running as fast as she can down the garden.
*Abegail Morley is guest poetry editor at The New Writer. Her collection How to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon
2009) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection
(2010); the title poem was previously nominated for the Best Single
Poem. Her second collection Snow Child is published by Pindrop Press.
How It Hits You
Picking up the Christmas post
from the old house,
I unclench my fingers one by one from the steering wheel,
And in the lowering light
against the hills of someone else’s home,
the yellow advent squares of the train
come close to the road we travelled on.
*Deborah Alma was born in London and lives in Ludlow. She writes poetry, runs poetry workshops for children and people with dementia and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. She is also Emergency Poet in her 1960's ambulance.
Descendants of garden hives
they accrue now in the roof,
the tiles below their ingress
black as char : one Christmas
they sang the Hundredth Psalm to us,
doxology of cisterns and rattle-sash-cords
we crept up into the attics for, my sister and me,
two sets of moon-bare feet following our father
through terrain of leather cases, misted-over mirrors
to a domain where something trembled and hissed
as we drew nearer –
they were singing for us, our father said,
only for us, and held up his finger – sshhhh –
so that black, swarmish choir inflated as one lung,
punctilious, to hold the note, that rising hmmmmmm
behind the flimsy wall. I thought of water’s bursting
roar, a thousand stings to eyes, ears, open throat…
someone must sing the bantling year to life, our father said,
and someone must listen:
I lie in my bed, that rocks as if upon a swell,
*Pippa Little's most recent collection is The Snow Globe from Red Squirrel Press.
The range is lit, and in the kitchen we are talking
about men and things that matter.
Winter in the windows: cherries in a blue dish.
Night wakes on the hills, goes hunting on the moors,
breathes death to little things.
The snow is wild, close by, but leaves us be.
The fairy lights come on.
We leave the old year littering the hillside,
head out half-drunk for the Maynard Arms
sipping wine-dark words, and singing poetry.
*Jo Bell works across the UK on poetry projects including National Poetry Day, which she directs. She writes about 'the important things: boats, archaeology and sex' but some poems, like this one, fail to address these issues. She is currently preparing a second book to follow Navigation (Cheshire, 2008)