The Eleventh Day of Christmas

The Winter Outing of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club, December 1870

The ladies of the party are helped over the stile
by whiskered botanists fond of a well turned ankle.
Miss Taylor draws a notebook from her beaded reticule
and writes “The bunch of mistletoe was so large
that it could be exceedingly well seen from the lane.”

The Reverend Johnson climbs the ladder
“placed with thoughtful consideration” amid banter
from the men about Druids, golden sickles
and garlanded white yearling bulls.

The Reverend drops the felted sticky bundle
and “small sprays of the heaven born plant
unpolluted by any touch of earth” are given out
to “all the ladies present”. Miss Taylor holds
the wishbone sprig with its smeary fruit.
Her whalebone stays are biting, her chilblains
ache, her hem is iced with mud.  She smiles
(Mama says she must always smile).
In the dwindling light the botanists are advancing.

Lydia Macpherson

thursday night on the corner of grange road

the streets here are slippery with leaves.
a cyclist struggles to stop, skidding
the bicycle carefully across the pavement
until the momentum ceases. a pedestrian
glares across his shoulder as he sidesteps
and says you shouldn't cycle on the pavement,
you know. it's bloody dangerous. especially
in this weather. especially at night. and where
are your fucking lights, asshole!

i tip my umbrella at a forty degree angle to get rid
of some water and watch the cyclist put up
a middle finger in the direction
of the abusive accuser: it stands out tall
in the flush of fluorescence from the street lamp,
a fat little lightning conductor sucking at the sky.
but the young man with the civic sensibilities has stalked off
towards the next cup of light without looking back
again. bloody cyclists fucking morons asshole.

it rains harder and there is a new sound – i think
i can hear the dull and soggy creak of leaves
shatter slightly under the weight of each hit.
i think i can hear the drops enter the river, driven
deep into the mystery-green flesh of the cam.
and moss grow. i think i can hear moss grow.

on the periphery of all this the cyclist has dismounted,
and is now pushing the bicycle warily across a shiny
film of winter debris towards the corner of grange road.

marcelle olivier

*Lydia Macpherson was born and brought up in the Yorkshire Pennines. 
She now lives near Cambridge.  She has an MA in Creative Writing from
Royal Holloway University of London.  Her work has been published in
various magazines.

*marcelle olivier is a South African-born writer and archaeologist
living in India. You can read more of her poetry in, amongst
others, Oxford Poetry, New Contrast, and Carapace

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The Tenth Day of Christmas


Winter comes with the half-remembrance of rain
and the sudden opening out of the city
into wide white vistas of snow.
A trail of footprints through unsullied whiteness,
brings a memory of shuffling home frozen-footed
where orange street light
created pools and shallows in icy gardens
and birds had left their twiggy signatures on the tops of cars.
Tonight will freeze the city beneath a brittle crust,
skid the cars onto frozen pavements,
wind the city down to “slow”:
as if it’s had its mouth stuffed full of snow
or the night has raised a finger to its lips to hush us,
as if the sky has whispered “no”.

Julia Webb


Those were our summer days
but some were  wintry
as snow
somehow we continued to  grow 
as men made
from snapped sticks
and  stones
so far as I know
most are still standing
though  some

over or
as angel  wings

Paul McGrane

*Julia Webb is a poet living in
Norwich. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Norwich University of
the Arts and a Creative Writing MA from The University of East Anglia.  

*Paul McGrane's poems have been published in Aesthetica, city lighthouse (the current tall-lighthouse anthology), The Delinquent, Nutshell, South Bank Poetry and Alight Here, the online project finding poems and images inspired by each of London’s 270 underground stations.

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The Ninth Day of Christmas

Eight Maids-a-Milking
Lord knows what happened when
he double-clicked on ‘Ornamental Milkmaids.’
He swears he only ordered one.
On Monday, eight cows arrived. They clattered
 down the ramp and he signed for them
 ( I was out at the time) then herded them
lowing, into our double garage.
He was upstairs, rearranging the loft
for the milkmaids when I came home.
As I slammed the car door I heard
desperate moos and who knows what
the poor beasts would have undergone
had the milkmaids not tripped down the path
in their snowy aprons, each clanking a pail
and calling the name of her favourite cow.
I managed to activate the up and over door
and the cows came swaying out, teats hard
as carrots. The garage smelt like a city farm.
From that moment life changed; vets’ bills,
the milk round, experiments with cream,
lines filled with petticoats. We woke at four.
As time went on, the  three-legged stools
made holes in our lawn, already threadbare
from grazing, and something was happening
to the milkmaids. They grew listless and wan.
Most evenings we found ourselves
hosing the stalls while they went clubbing.
In the end we made rules. They must only
go out at weekends and and be back by eleven.
We urged them to mix in better company.
Then luck took a hand and I wept through sheer joy.
Eight fairy-tale weddings to leaping Lords, cows
happy in Cornwall, cars back in the garage.

Ruth Smith

Spam Sandwich

Every year Christmas creeps then leaps
the year’s span like spam makeshift

my father’d fry in batter; it was cheap
excitement especially his cooking it.

We used to prize turkey, its spastic
legs braced, throat ripped and murdered

but now it’s hens-come-home, bloated
with water, or battery Bernard Matthew’s

pre-packed and calibrated, trundling off
running machines that exorcise all

moral decorum; so nothing sacred, nor chuffed
for treasuring the treat beyond our Fall,

just hi-tech, hi-risk spendthrift, hi-di-high-ness ranks
this holiest of times replete truly with sans

this, sans that, sandwich merely cups
the long-lingered year’s stagger to its stop.

Dianne Aslett

*Ruth Smith says: “I used to teach English but now spend my time travelling and writing poems. Poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, most recently ‘Magma’ and ‘Orbis’. Other work has appeared in anthologies including ‘Entering The Tapestry’ produced by The Poetry School. One has recently been accepted for an anthology in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.”

*Dianne Aslett says “I have been writing poetry since I was young and
have had a modest number published. I regularly perform my poetry in
local Birmingham venues.I have been a school teacher and now I am an
Energy Field Healer.  It's quirkiness that makes life worth living.”

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The Eighth Day of Chrismas


Hungover in the cow-fresh air,
they leave their after-party friends
to stuffing frosty cars with leftovers
and sleeping children. She wishes
that they had a dog, or tartan travel rugs.
The pub is mulled and mistletoed,
ashine with polished warming pans and holly.
The Sheffield Pipe Band skirls into the bar and out,
unlikely in their kilts. The landlord smiles at her.
The band leader, the men in bright new scarves,
the other fireside lovers: everyone is smiling.
She removes, too late, the reindeer hat.

He heaves her uphill to the torpid castle:
kisses her against the wishbone walls,
scowls at glockenspiels and trumpets
blarting up through crow-filled trees.
They march down singing Wenceslas.
This is going to be a fruitful year,
she thinks. Or better than the last.

Jo Bell

New Year Canticles

The new government is the old government,
The new year is the old year in new shoes,
The new testament is the old one reversed,
The new man is the old man newly cursed.

The new poor are the old poor plus a few.
The new itinerant is the old bum.
The new lie is the old lie, and then some.
The new Titanic steams on through old scum.

When they blew away the dust they found
a brand new darkness underneath.
It surprised them. They prodded it with sticks.
It didn’t move for ages, then it stirred.
It wanted naming but they couldn’t find the word

You think of your children in the early light
of the new era. You think of birds in flight.
You think of a cup in the kitchen in the broad
sunlight of mid November, of the faint noise of the road.

You think of the rhetoric of time
as a faintly bombastic ticking. You think of buds
ticking away in the branch under the rime.
The emblematic delicacy of soap suds.

And the notion of an uninterrupted passage
towards happiness, the joy of the unkissed moment
waiting to fly past you, reassuringly off-message,
like a ludicrous, airborne, angelic monument,

Cupid on a bender, a sweet urgent gust
of well-being. Love among the just.

George Szirtes

*Jo Bell works across the UK on a huge range of poetry projects, including National Poetry Day and Ledbury Poetry Festival. She has no sense of humour at all so won't be adding a witty comment about her hobbies.

*George Szirtes: Intended scientist, drawn into bad company of poetry and art, leapt into translation. Published shelffuls of books, won some glittering prizes. Bits of radio and telly but only in an obscure kind of way. Talks a lot.

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The Seventh Day of Christmas

In Cold Dimensions

I study the lives on a leaf: the little sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions

A strange way to see.
A stranger’s way.
Her garden is an exhibition
with lit rooms, masterpieces,
and her rooms are parterres;
the shape and size of their levels
calculated to the soil-grain,
the spaces between shadowed
gnomons; those data-breaks
called seasons hold
hallmarks and prints:
temperature’s drafting.
She explains that there are masters
as there are spadesmen,
that both are speculators;
that the gruff grafters
who break soil, sieve weed,
are the salts of creation. Yet
that is not the actual work—
this arises by intangible
skill, by flaw, flawed
experiment even, and her own
interventions. The stranger:
she must always be welcomed.
These then are her gardens.
Her four-shadowed sundial.
Scent of snow on the breeze.
Sun pawing on your shoulders.
Ripe buds quelling colour
before they broadcast leaf
as if to foreshadow winter.
A strange, constant season.
The moon sails in a wrack
of steady cirrus and sleet.
On the lip of that world
she turns to take your hand.

Now, from her black soil,
storytellers and artists
begin to erupt: cramoisy
abstracts from peony and poppy,
dripped inks of algae
igniting on a dew-pond;
butterfly narratives
of flight, where they settle
to sip, unfold wings
on illuminated parchment
on a comparison of palettes,
on the wherewithal of pattern.
There, come her rich fables
in which lacewings balance
against ground-level winds:
the viewless khamsins,
zephyrs and haramattans,
that sway towers of digitalis;
and in the foxglove mouths
humble-bees move
edgily at their easels;
dragonflies, hummingbirds
freeze and spurt above oils,
histrionic, in counter-worlds.
Now are her apprentices
to works in progress:
under the pearl pond’s surface
bent brushes of fly larvae
on canvas below a lily’s pad:
two poles of a planet –
one in loom, one in radiance –
half-conceiving of the other;
a toad hunkers over them,
a levitating Brahma,
lax tutor of the green school
of watercolour, of water.

Here, her miniatures move
into sight: the eye delves
hinterlands where the unmanaged
survive under a slew of brick
lobbed by the first gardener.
Lever the frore mortar
to parallel cities of red ants,
woodlice, gaunt generations
of black frost and feelers,
unnoticed deaths, languages,
births, ice architecture.
Their great roof falls back.
At length, among the etching
blades of spear and couch
grass, the factions of colour
freeze to clear light.
A solitary, strange season.
In her lit outline
the garden shows a wall,
then a gate to the space
where she will let you
stand apart from yourself.
At the lip of the world.
She releases your hand.

*David Morley
’s new book is Enchantment. His poetry has won 14 awards. 'In Cold Dimensions' is from his previous collection The Invisible Kings (a PBS Recommendation.) His ‘writing challenges’ podcasts are among the most popular literature downloads on iTunes worldwide. He writes for The Guardian and Poetry Review.


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The Sixth Day of Christmas

Living Yule

I was there, when men squatted on haunches

to chip flint and weave webs of belief
 from seasons
and circles of death and growth.

The stink of boar-grease stiffening my braid

and blue whorls whispering under my skin 

offered hope that darkness could end.

I put on homespun robes and tonsured my head
to walk the years when dogma stalked faith;
smoothing old ways and old faces to new shapes,
nudging builders to find safe spaces in stone arches.
Heedless of changed names for the turns of the year,
I watched the ploughman bury cakes for first cut,
crooned the song of seasons round to seed-time.

I’ve paced the years’ life and I am still here to die
ever again. Hide me beneath plastic and tinsel,
dress me in red, fatten my cheeks, sweeten my story;
the scent of old circles clings to the shade of man.

Angela France

More through a faint vibration of the air
on our skin than by the ear,
we feel his arrival and hurry out –
leave the unfamiliar house for a darkness that
to our urban eyes is solid pitch,
nothing close, no middle, no sense of distance,
just a freezing rural December night
and whatever we can feel beneath our feet.
And there he is, rear wheels slipping in the mud
frictionless as any proper god –
come with the intent of supplying us
with food and drink through the winter solstice.
Rotund, in the spill of his van’s light,
a pair of plump hands on hips, legs apart,
he stands there laughing at his predicament,
then punches away at the faint
signal on his phone but the place is too remote.
We offer to help him out –
begin to stumble to and fro in the lane,
in his rear-lights each like a crimson-faced clown –
trying gravel shovelled from the farm drive,
trying terracotta roof tiles
someone has tipped beside the bramble hedge.
We search for anything we might wedge
in the black slithering mess under his tyres,
straw, cardboard, logs, ironic prayers.
But the van still snarls like a tethered beast
and rocks to and fro like a helpless
child that fights the confines of its cradle . . .
Then he dismisses us with a smile.
He sends us back to light and warmth,
saying something like it’s what I’m here for.
We shut the door, relieved, to be honest.
We leave him to the closing vice of frost
and next morning scarves of mist
replace the dark that with him have vanished.
Wheel ruts, gravel, red tiles broken:
we laugh in daylight – did this really happen?
Outside, there is so little evidence to show.
Inside, shelves overflow.

Martyn Crucefix

*Angela France has had poems published in many of the leading journals, in the UK and abroad. She has an MA (with distinction) in ‘Creative and Critical Writing’ from the University of Gloucestershire and is studying for a PhD. Her second collection, Occupation is available from Ragged Raven Press and a third will be out with Nine Arches Press in 2011.

*Martyn Crucefix's  prizes include a major Eric Gregory award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He has published 4 collections, including An English Nazareth
(Enitharmon, 2004). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies was
published by Enitharmon in 2006, shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for
European Poetry Translation. His new collection,
Hurt, has just been published by Enitharmon. 

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The Fifth Day of Christmas

Bad Quarto

It seems my Folio’s out of joint
with the version that you scribbled down
while sub-plots drew the spot from kings
and courtiers waltzed on from the wings
or were bottled off by groundlings.

My favourite scene? The woodland spree
when, sappily, I carved your name
into the bark of every tree
and vowed I’d never love again
if love were sundered by Act III.

But in the Quarto that you stage
you leave the bloody business on the page:
of how I called the surgeons round
to hack the lumber to the ground,
revealing five pale rings per trunk,
scorching the salted earth’s black stumps.

Simon Barraclough

An everyday liturgy
I wouldn’t want to be you now, not even now
At this festive time of year, when you hit the headlines
In glitter and guilt, and with our sins of omission we trudge
Into dank stone gatherings of the annually faithful.
I wouldn’t want to see all this through your eyes, this life
Of shoppers, sinners, squanderers, and savers (but few saviours;
It’s not a well–paying position these days and we tend
To hack at the clay feet of former gods and nearly all idols).
I wouldn’t want to feel what you feel, or what you ever felt,
That height of altruism being beyond me, my days mostly spent
Keeping heads above water and wolves from the door,
Making ends meet and not meeting my maker just yet, but
Wondering all the same if you are somewhere, still, like me,
Clinging to a cross and hurling imprecations at the sky.

Brett Hardman

* Simon Barraclough is the author of the Forward-shortlisted Los Alamos Mon Amour (Salt Publishing, 2008) and the limited edition boxed mini-book, Bonjour Tetris (Penned in the Margins, 2010). Bad Quarto'  is published in 'Bonjour Tetris'

*Brett Hardman is a
British-Canadian. She recently completed the Bath Spa MA Creative
Writing, lives in Wiltshire with her husband, and is writing a
collection of short stories based on her experiences working at
racetracks in North America.

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