Tying the bowline
Slipped back on itself through the first loop, the rope
forms a round window. You’re halfway in. Slick
as a snake charmer you guide your needle point
to pierce the eye, that tooth-shaped space, as words
unravel me until nothing is real: half-hitch, hangman,
hammock knot, and your unflinching fingers spread
to show your workings. Then comes the twist – like this,
then that, your shape-shift hands have me tongue-tied
to the end and again, and again I miss how you do it.
Robin Houghton has been widely published in magazines. She won the 2013 Hamish Canham Prize and the 2014 Stanza Competition. Pamphlet: The Great Vowel Shift (Telltale Press, 2014). Blog: http://robinhoughtonpoetry.co.uk/ Twitter: @robinhoughtonRead More
Solar Farm, Sudbury
Two boys balance on a five-bar gate.
Ready for take-off, they lean into a field
where an alien crop has sprung up
among native hedgerows and trees –
row upon row of solar panels supplicate
southwards like deckchairs on a beach.
Behind the mirrors of photovoltaic cells,
an alchemy of light is taking place
and the air hums with electrons
releasing like a bottle losing its fizz.
One boy flings a stone, waits for a hit,
to see if stuff comes oozing out.
There’s nothing more than a tick-tick-tick
as the stone skitters, then falls
among dust-choked wildflowers and cables
Mark Done completed an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University in 2015. His work has appeared in two student anthologies and online at LeftLion, Nottingham’s culture magazine. He was awarded a merit in the Nottingham Open Poetry Competition 2014. Twitter: @markdone1.Read More
It went right down to the wire, but we can now announce that January’s ‘Pick of the Month’, and our first for 2016, is Mike Farren’s ‘Electricity and void’. Mike is a freelance writer and ex-IT consultant. He lives near Bradford and has had poems published on the Leads to Leeds website and in anthologies from Beehive Poets, most recently alongside Ian Duhig, Steve Ely and others.
Electricity and void
We are mostly electricity and void
and, mostly, it suits me to believe
matter illusion, time a mystery.
But on this warm-cold night in early spring
you lay your material, electrical void
next to mine, and nothing is important
but the solid and the here – unless
it’s the memory of the breeze that lapped
at our mezzogiorno sweat,
before standing at the window,
looking down on the whitewashed wall,
teeming with insect life,
ready to sing like angels.
Voters comments included:
It’s my kind of poetry. Reminds me of Douglas Dunn; almost Larkin. Very Farren too, no doubt.
One of those short pieces of prose that, as you read it several times, you come to gain a very vivid image of a place and time that holds great personal meaning to, and left an very enduring impression with, the writer. Very uplifting, and I love the final line.
A resonant poem sharing a touching personal moment; what it means to be present and alive to our experience and the world beyond.
The imagery seems familiar but is a challenge. I am hoping that my mezzagiorno sweat also goes when I stand at the window.
This poem has a resonance that I find deeply appealing
It stayed me with for days.
[I liked] the imagery and the sense of life
Captures the pain and beauty of being alive
Mike’s poem captured a very human moment, describing a great feeling of tenderness and hope in a few lines.
The unexpected imagery and the distance it travels.
Comments on the rest of the shortlist included:
Diana Brodie, Happy
Spare and precise expression, moving and surprising, mysterious and thought-provoking.
…it left a mark in my mind which remained with me long after I had finished reading all the poems.
Zelda Chappel, Exhalations
I love the way Zelda takes a relationship & turns it into something tactile – something that gets into your bones
The language, the way it sounds spoken out loud, the flow, the rhythm, the force of it.
Kitty Coles, The Thin Woman
Imagery that instantly grabs attention and is memorable; good robust language.
reminiscent of Sylvia Plath but different and very visual
Daniel Roy Connolly, Des bons mots
Such technical brilliance, such mordancy
‘All things considered takes ages.’ Simply the best opening line I’ve ever read.
Seth Crook, Three Years
Pure and limpid voice, restrained emotion, for me it’s word perfect.
One word leads gently and flawlessly into another, building an intimate world that nevertheless allows me to participate in it. It’s a loving, sad poem that makes me feel warm and loved.
The Brain’s Last Days
Cracked brain, down a backstreet,
side alley, bottom of the dumpster.
The accumulation of years of thought has
broken your spirit Like Hemingway’s,
you’ve had enough and the cold gun
barrel can’t come soon enough.
Memory’s no salve. And the heart
can’t get through that New England
granite. So brain, why waste good blood flow?
And the body keeps lumping you here and there.
Even relaxed bones can’t turn the
old man in the head around. Sit
and comfort attacks. Stand and
muscle sends in the bearded janitor
who speaks little English to painfully swab
those neuron decks. Cracked brain
but the senses keep assigning you puzzles.
What’s the square root of alphabet soup?
Who’s in the strawberry patch with Einstein?
You watch birds fly. Ultimate jealousy.
Why can’t you do that? Strap a pair of
wings on all that thinking and you’d
be in Greenland in no time. And what
about fish? Breathing underwater. Nice work
if you can get it. But cracked brain would
just sink. And you can’t run like gazelles either.
You just sit there like a hunk of meat on a neck pole.
One crack, two crack, three crack, four.
The arbitraries are moving in. Likewise, the
deadly ruminations. Maybe a belfry for
bats could be your best trick. Or storage space
for hallucinogenic drugs.
What’s this? Someone’s asking your opinion on something.
Voices are so damn uncaring.
No brain would treat you this way.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and Sanskrit with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Owen Wister Review and Louisiana Literature.Read More
Trading Places, Changing Spaces
She decided that everything had to go. Absolutely everything. She wanted no reminder of him, not even a speck of dust made from his dead skin cells.
She began with the furniture: the office chair and desk with the wonky leg, the cheap-looking wardrobe and bedside cabinet with the Japanese-inspired decor. All of it was junk, cluttering up her rooms, the spaces she had allowed him to share. He had been difficult, forever demanding extra space, space she didn’t have.
Izzy tried to compromise offering him her precious garden instead; if inspiration was what he needed, being exposed to nature would suit him down to the ground.
Except it didn’t.
‘The view is crap,’ he said. ‘And I’m certain there are people spying on me at the back. I keep seeing their curtains twitch. No, I’d rather have my own private study.’
She had given in and soon the cupboard under the stairs had been converted. At least now she didn’t have to see his miserable face every time she looked out of the kitchen window. He was out of the way…for now.
If anything though, the space beneath the stairs only amplified Danny’s whinging.
‘It’s too small. I can practically touch the walls with my elbows. Don’t you know I’m claustrophobic?’
So Izzy began to take her space back.
‘You can’t put your canvas in there,’ she said, when she caught him one morning eyeing up the downstairs toilet. ‘Where on earth will my artificial flowers go?’
At first Danny resented Izzy’s plans. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, he grew confused.
‘My lilo, lawnmower and metal detector have all got to go in there.’ She pointed to the space which had formerly been his study. ‘There’s no room for your stamp collection. Sorry.’
Izzy even snapped up the attic.
‘I need this space to meditate. I can’t be disturbed, you see.’
Except he didn’t.
Danny proposed that they extend the house.
‘What about a conservatory?’ he suggested.
‘I’ve always wanted my very own greenhouse,’ she said. ‘We could grow some tomatoes in there. What do you say?’
Danny hated tomatoes and scrapped the idea.
Soon, every room in the house was fulfilling a function: the living room became a leisure centre, the kitchen a sauna, the bathroom a health spa, the bedrooms an office and sanctuary respectively.
The space beneath the stairs went neglected with Izzy’s junk.
‘Can I have my old study back?’ he asked late one evening, his fingers crossed behind his back.
‘But what about your claustrophobia? Can claustrophobia be cured?’
‘Sure it can.’
‘Don’t be silly, love,’ she said. ‘You said yourself the study was too small.’
Danny resigned himself and headed upstairs where a single mattress lay waiting on the floor.
The final straw for him came when he was turned off his mattress a few days later.
‘You’re blocking me from getting past,’ Izzy said. ‘You can sleep in the shed instead.’
The wallpaper came off surprisingly easy. Strips of mint and gold found their way into bin bags. Izzy preferred the house like this, stripped back. She pictured Danny’s face the day he was taken away. Attempted arson, the authorities called it. At least he was in safe hands now. The doctors would know what to prescribe, what treatment he needed.
Let’s hope they do the right thing, she thought. And give him a place of his own.
Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham, loves rainbows and is often drunk on inspiration. Her work has been published in print and online by Firewords Quarterly, The Fractured Nuance, Spelk and Storgy Magazine where she is a contributing writer.Read More
thrashing arms threshing air
or snowdrop on the bright horizon.
Lost to night,
spinning like the wheel of a ship near wreck
or ponderous, arms on a clockface.
A crucifixion on the hill.
breaking across the Earth
with the dawn.
James R Kilner’s first collection of poems, Frequencies of Light, is out now. He is a former newspaper journalist and holds a PhD from the University of Leeds. Originally from Yorkshire, he now lives on Tyneside. Please visit www.jameskilnerwriter.wordpress.com
Some words strut about
like tragedians on stage. Alas!
Or bit part play the page
quietly stealing scenes.
Words on stilts shout
above the rabble of the street.
Speech is peeling from meaning,
the lute’s gold leaf
all but flaked away. Antique.
Nothing new to say.
Close the piano’s lid.
I am calm without words.
I smother them at birth.
My smile in the hand on my mouth.
Gary Jude is from London, and divides his time between the UK and Switzerland. He has previously had poems published in Acumen, Iota, The Wolf, Orbis and Poetry Salzburg.Read More