On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Cliff Yates, John Greening, Amlanjyoti Goswami

 

 

 

I’ve Just Invented the Tai Chi Sprout Stalk Form

Boxing Day and I’m in the garden
practising the Tai Chi Spear Form
with the curtain pole that Andy found
for me in the tip. The kids are watching
through the window over breakfast.
I’m just doing the final moves:
Bright Rainbow Soaring to the Sun,
Lying Tiger Diving Dragon,
Plum Blossom Opens Five Petals,
Celestial Horse Walks the Skies…
when Luke opens the back door
and lobs the sprout stalk at my head.
‘Watch out, Dad,’ he says. I rescue
the sprout stalk from the fig tree
and spontaneously invent and perform,
there and then, the Tai Chi Sprout Stalk Form.
I even have names for the moves:
Tai Chi Sprout Stalk Beginning Style
Wet Dishcloth Wings Through Damp Air
Helicopter Hovers Over Sycamore
Dustbin Lid Exits Coal Bunker at Speed
Rocking Chair Becomes Disagreeable
Dual Carriageway Gets Up and Walks
Bag of Flour Explodes at Bus Stop, there are Casualties
Rubber Ball Bounces in Dark Subway
Sash Window Slams Shut on Ring Finger
Coat Hanger Exacts Revenge on Privet Hedge
Windmill Plays Saxophone in High Wind
Banana Smashes Pineapple on Lino
Telephone Wires Entangle in Radio Waves
Ironing Board Makes Sandwich with Secret Ingredient
Public Library Saves City from Avalanche
Warehouse Fills Sky, Sky Exacts Revenge
Sherbert Dab Takes Umbrage and Spins
Tai Chi Sprout Stalk Completion Style
I lean it against the fig tree. Now – breakfast.

 

 

Cliff Yates‘ various collections include Henry’s Clock, which received the Fenton-Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was overall winner of the Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition.

 

 

 

At Christmas

All Easyjet flights
are cancelled – only
difficult journeys now.
Three in party hats
come dragging their presents
over a snowy car park.
A few attendants shepherd
them into a building:
the call to desert places.
Looking up for a moving
light or at Sky
News. Stasis over
the business empires.
A child has made an angel
by the automatic barrier
and a mother feeds her baby.
This breathtaking, breath-
making fall.

 

 

John Greening is a Cholmondeley, Bridport & TLS Prize winner, he’s published over fifteen collections, including in 2019 The Silence (Carcanet) and Europa’s Flight (New Walk). He is currently editing Iain Crichton Smith www.johngreening.co.uk

Down times

 

 

 

Down Times

No cake, this time.
Onions 140 a kilo.
Eat bread someone said, no cake.

We circle the crust with chocolate
Borrowed from the nearby store.
Colour the insides – brown, deep brown, black.

Punch holes for eyes,
A curve of sun for a smile
But forget to toast, bread or sunshine.

This time, those to call my own
Are with me.
That is cake.

The whole world is a friend
This time.
Even that pig nuzzling against my door

Asking to be in, this cold dawn.
I was dreaming – onions, milk, a whole month’s supplies
And a little note saying – don’t give up- from Santa.

 

 

Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poetry has been published around the world, in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, the UK, USA, South Africa, Kenya and Germany, and in the anthologies, 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post Globalisation Poetry (Poetrywala), A Change of Climate (Manchester Metropolitan University, Environmental Justice Foundation and the University of Edinburgh) and the Sahitya Akademi anthology of Modern English Poetry. His poems have also appeared on street walls of Christchurch, exhibitions in Johannesburg and buses in Philadelphia. His recent collection of poems, River Wedding, has just been published by Poetrywala and has been widely reviewed. He grew up in Guwahati, Assam and lives in Delhi.

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas we bring you Julia Webb, Joanne McCarthy, Karen Little

 

 

 

Christmas List

Is this the dream we have had all year –
the whole house smelling of burnt toast,
the black and white cat sitting on the bottom stair
chewing tinsel while the ginger tom looks on,
a floor littered with screwed up paper,
tights from grandma – a size too small,
plastic soldiers lying in wait for stockinged feet,
raised voices in the kitchen,
the clatter of baking trays dropped on the floor,
a half empty selection box under the tree,
three kids lounging on the patched brown sofa,
one reading, one making a gun with his fingers –
aiming it at the dog, and one staring into space,
twizzling her hair round her finger, sucking her thumb,
waiting for permission to turn on the TV?

 

 

Julia Webb lives in Norwich where she teaches creative writing, mentors writers, and works for Gatehouse Press. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse and helps organise Cafe Writers. She has two collections published by Nine Arches Press – Bird Sisters (2016) and Threat (2019).

 

 

 

1984, Clonomara

There is tinsel and a lantern coloured in red
and green crayon. There are fags in honeymoon
ashtrays, a picture of Santa Ponsa clouded under
smoldering  Sweet Aftons. There are playing cards.
A matchstick currency. What’s the count now?
There are numbers shouted at players.
Bottles of stout. Circulating bottle openers.

There are my childhood hands collecting stout
caps in a shoe box treasure box.

There are men and moans about played cards.
There are stand offs about cold and reneged
cards. There is my mother making hot whiskeys.
Talk of a turkey drive.
Would you let the fire die down woman
for the love of God.
There is the ossified uncle shouted down
as he starts on the rebel songs.
Would you fuck off with your Boolavogue.

There is being noticed and sentenced to bed.
There is rain sleeting off single glazing with wind
rattling through panes. A stash of teddies.
It’s your turn now. The blue one is my favourite.
You go first.
There is coughing into darkness and an evening
played out in my mind. My father is winning.
My mother is laughing.

There is a jolt. I clamp my eyes shut and force
my thoughts to a halt.
You have to be a good girl for Santa to come.
There is the bedtime count.
One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep.

 

 

Joanne McCarthy is a poet and spoken word artist who writes in English and Irish. Two of her videopoems featured as part of the 2019 Modwords Festival, Waterford. She is published in the current edition of Visual Verse,Vol 07 Chapter 2.

 

 

 

*

I’m sprawled over
the cigarette machine—
snogging David Barlow—
when Mum marches in,
hauls me home.
It’s the seventies, I’m 14—
still expecting a rake
of presents, nut roast
and all the trimmings
to magically appear
while I’m down the pub,
being all grown up.

 

 

Karen Little has exhibited her artwork internationally, and is widely published as a writer in the UK and further afield.

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On the Third Day of Christmas we bring you Alison Binney, Kathryn Alderman, Carole Bromley

 

 

 

Christmas Eve in Dad’s kitchen

and now only I know which bits of Delia
we follow, which we skip, and what

The Dairy Book of Home Cookery (1968)
still knows best. I know to find the stump-handled

jug for the cranberry jelly, and why eight pints
of milk is probably just enough, factoring in

bread sauce and white sauce and people
wanting extra cups of tea because so much

rich food is bound to make them thirsty.
I know how to arrange the little cottage

on the cake beside the bald tree, and Santa
listing up the piped path, know even to dib

the two sets of hoof-prints behind his reindeer.
I know when to fetch the turkey from the garage

to warm up, and what she would have done
with the giblets, which I won’t.

When everyone’s asleep, only I know
I open the jar of cloves she sealed last year

and breathe her in. It almost works.

 

 

Alison Binney is an English teacher and poet from Cambridge. This year she was longlisted in the National Poetry Competition, Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize, and had two poems published on buses in Guernsey. Her website is: https://alisonbinney.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Season’s Greetings from the Heart

When you greet me at Arrivals
I see that you are broken.

Outside Aeropuerto de Barcelona-El Prat
rainy streets hemmed with aerial lights
Shopping Gods gorged on good cheer
relentless, joyous tunes –
but we’re indifferent
to their raucous carolling
press on past cutsie gluhwein huts
glutted shop windows –
their Chi Chi headless manikins.

I match your step – feel
your arm seek mine – know
all you want for Christmas
is him.

I tell you that a promise can dissolve
as a passion on the lips
can turn to mist
what’s real is life dropped at the doorstep
to come running.

We leave the glitz
for alleys silvered in puddles of moon
forage for lost scraps of heart –
we’ll pocket them.

 

 

Kathryn Alderman:  Publication online and print includes: Amaryllis, Atrium, Bonnie’s Crew, Eye Flash Poetry Journal, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Cannon’s Mouth. She won Canon Poet’s ‘Sonnet or Not’ (20120. She co-chaired Gloucestershire Writers’ Network (2016-19). https://kathrynaldermanwriting.poetry.blog/

 

 

 

 

Feast of the Epiphany

And any minute now those kings will come
crashing in with their unwanted gifts.

Today our beautiful daughter is twenty-one
and we are having a party. You have opened

far too many bottles of wine, I have bought
the wrong flavour of crisps. Her tearaway years

are over. She’s a woman now, there’s no denying it.
Soon she’ll be a wife, maybe a mother but always

she will be ours. She has your hair, my legs,
our sense of humour. She loves the sea,

like a mermaid on a warm rock,
she loves Keats. I read it to her in the cradle

because no lullaby would pacify her.
She loves log fires, badgers at nightfall.

She is in love, you can see it in her eyes,
she cannot hide it but then, we didn’t raise her

to deceive, she has that innocence that, if you breathe,
the bloom is gone. But she does not breathe,

never did. She did not happen. She is only
a fairy under a hedge, the first snowdrop.

 

 

Carole Bromley lives in York where she is the stanza rep and runs poetry surgeries. Winner of the 2019 Hamish Canham Award, her most recent publication is a pamphlet, Sodium 136, about the experience of brain surgery. https://caldervalleypoetry.com/book-shop/ https://www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk

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On the second Day of Christmas we bring you Roberta James, Carol A. Caffrey, Maeve Henry

 

 

 

Christmas Cards

I posted them. Piles of envelopes into
a letter box alive with curls, mouth wide.
I pushed them in, then skipped a beat, startled
by the thud, that ricochet of drum and heart,
before they settled, each envelope in wait,
their flaps fixed by spittle of my dead mother.

They’d sat beside the phone when I toured the house.
I’d hesitated, wondered what they were,
then halfway down was mine, my name inscribed
with rounded Ds and Bs, the fullness of her As.
My envelope was plumper than the rest.
5 days later it arrived as if she lived.
I scored the top with care, removed the card,
the single folded note, delicate as skin.

 

 

Roberta James lives in London and works in television. She has had poems published in magazines and online. Twitter @Robertawriter

 

 

 

Snowblind
I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept

Hoar frost on the trees.
Breath clouding the window pane.
Listen.
Squeak your fingers across the glass to
scrutinise the sky, an astronomer in ankle socks
deciphering the stars.

Spool back to the letter on the fire,
sucked up the chimney in a flash –
A-doll-a-pram-and-a-tea-set,
a pair of skates, a skipping rope –
the dash outside to catch the ashes on the wind,
smoke signals drifting over rooftops.
Roll forward through the years
and other words gone up in smoke –
We went to your mother’s last year;
not in front of the children.
It’s bad news, I’m afraid;
the first Christmas is the hardest.

All the Christmases roll together, all the voices
that have gone, blown skyward on the wind,
always snow at Christmas.
Memories gather
as a snowball gathers snow.
I hear them
as the child hears sleigh bells in that
close and holy whiteness.
I wear them
like a coat, turn my face towards the sky,
accept the falling flakes of snow.

 

 

Carol A. Caffrey is an Irish writer and actor living in Shropshire.  Her work has been published in a number of journals and anthologies and her debut poetry chapbook will be published by 4Word Press in 2020.

 

 

 

Christmas Day, 1848. St Michael’s Church, Haworth

She sits in the family pew, head down.
Her father’s words fly from the black rock
of his pulpit like fieldfares, chasing up the nave
high above bonnets and caps, quarrelsome, lively,
ignored. She will not listen. Not today. A space
of cold air in the church where warm bodies
once pressed her close. Hidden in her glove
the withered spray of heather searched for
on the moors, too late. Those fierce eyes
were grown indifferent, unrecognising; the fight
was lost. No need now to tremble for the hard
frost and the keen wind. Her sister does not feel
them. She will write, later of God’s comfort –
today the new birth in the bleak hill village
is unaccompanied by any light.

 

 

Maeve Henry lives and works in Oxford.  Her poetry has been published in various magazines and anthologies.  She was shortlisted for the inaugural Brotherton Prize in 2019, and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize in 2018.

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On the First Day of Christmas we bring you Beth McDonough, Chris Hardy, Jane Burn

 

 

 

Walking to the Solstice

I raise you a bunch of haws’ tight fists,
darkly reluctant to quit thorns.
I compliment you in frosted drips,
mash, sticky from orange-bright hips.
I give you hard burgundy brambles
never destined to grow soft or more ripe.
I slip down strange chocolate-bittered fruits,
hungover by tenacious crab apples.

All your light sharpens these short hours
ignites, then doubles the Tay.
You flare in the rip
fired through the lifeboat pier.
We curl into your copper bowl news,
keen for the year’s last turn.

 

 

Beth McDonough’s poetry appears in Magma, Poetry Salzburg Review and elsewhere; she reviews in DURA. When not writing she is to be found year-round, in or by the Tay. Lamping for pickled fish is newly-published by 4Word.

 

 

 

Midwinter Invitation

Though the sun stands still and cold
darkness seems to lengthen, deepen,
despite being trimmed a fraction.
On a foggy morning, barometer rising,
almost invisible sparrows play in the wood
like small falling leaves that sing.
They don’t mean to teach me but they do,
so I’ve hung a hotel on the shed for them
next Spring, or sooner if snow comes.
In due course the sun will pause again,
but this time overhead at noon,
and the busy team chasing
across the road will still be here,
living on scraps of dust and air.

 

 

Chris Hardy lives in Sussex and has traveled widely. His poems have been published in many magazines, anthologies and websites. He is in LiTTLe MACHiNe www.little-machine.com ‘The most brilliant music and poetry band in the world’. Carol Ann Duffy. His collection Sunshine at the end of the world, was published by Indigo Dreams.”A guitarist as well as a poet Chris Hardy consistently hits the right note, never hits a false note”. Roger McGough.

 

 

 

The Advent Calendar of Most Useful Things

Behind door no. 1   A stranger’s smile cut from a magazine.
Behind door no. 2   The feeling of approaching rain.
Behind door no. 3   A healthy mushroom dome.
Behind door no. 4   A bradawl’s point.
Behind door no. 5   Broth mix.
Behind door no. 6   Some obsolete currency.
Behind door no. 7   A tawny owl’s inclination.
Behind door no. 8   Your favourite carol sung tuneless and loud.
Behind door no. 9   A lucky horseshoe.
Behind door no. 10  An atlas of made-up lands.
Behind door no. 11  Permission slip for a pantomime.
Behind door no. 12  One outlandish moustache.
Behind door no. 13  Two slices of wholemeal toast.
Behind door no. 14  A dish of trifle with no calories.
Behind door no. 15  A squished Chapstick stuck with pocket lint.
Behind door no. 16  Empty (to encourage Seasonal Perplexity).
Behind door no. 17  A genuine vintage Babycham glass.
Behind door no. 18  Your child’s first tooth.
Behind door no. 19  A unicorn made from driftwood.
Behind door no. 20  A matchbox full seaglass from the beach.
Behind door no. 21  A stout torch.
Behind door no. 22  The brackish taste of an icicle.
Behind door no. 23  A friend’s name from your past.
Behind door no. 24  The smell of a blown-out candle.
Behind door no. 25  An Arctic hare the shape of your mind.

 

 

Jane Burn‘s poems have been published in many magazines and anthologies, have been placed in numerous competitions and have been nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prize. None of this is as important as love for each other and for the positive power of words.

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, we bring you JS Watts, Kerry Darbishire and Nicky Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

White Blessings

The moon looks down from her bed of winding sheets.
Her glance is white, both a blessing and a curse.
It howls of weddings and funerals,
vast icy distances;
impersonal, chillingly serene.

Great snowfields reach up to kiss a bleached bone sky.
The white hare runs with speed and grace.
Whatever you do, don’t look at her.
Veil her eyes with the soiled nets
of winter fog crawling in
on gusts of inertia.

Unsullied potential glares defiantly
from the new year’s calendar;
smooth as untouched cold cream.
It could be anything, many things, nothing
reflected in the blankness behind sheeted eyes.

 

 

 

J.S.Watts’ books include poetry, Cats and Other Myths and  Years Ago You Coloured Me, plus multi-award nominated Songs of Steelyard Sue and a shiny new pamphlet, The Submerged Sea. Her novels are A Darker Moon and Witchlight. See www.jswatts.co.uk

 

 

 

The Twelfth Day

Before glittery robins, deer and pines
laden with snow flew through my door,

before tree lights sparkled the dead-air days
and tinsel decked the corners, I was writing

a poem about you – wrapped
in the joy of cards slipping

off their strings, hoovering pine needles
the man on the market promised wouldn’t

drop, the spit and crackle of parched
holly dismantled in the grate, you

glowing in the satisfaction of taking Christmas
down, snapping shut the rusty hinges

of an old leather suitcase brimmed
with paper chains, lanterns, the nativity, then

from underneath a bed, lifting out
the scent of blue and white hyacinths.

 

 

 

Kerry Darbishire lives in Cumbria. Her poems appear widely in anthologies and magazines and have won several prizes, including shortlist Bridport 2017. Her two poetry collections, A Lift of Wings 2014, and Sweet on my Tongue 2018 with Indigo Dreams.Twitter: @kerrydarbishire

 

 

 

Changing the calendar

Squalls bluster recycled streamers
up into spirals; rain, relentless,
drives as puddles deepen;
muddy streams pour off fields;
lanes flow like rivers;
clouds hang low as skies close in.

Yesterday, similarly soggy,
was last year, last day,
speeding to midnight’s ringing in.
Today, with everything new,
feels old – no herald of change,
no stirring under water-logged soil.

I ditch December, with its unused
prompts for procrastinating poets,
substitute a flawless year,
a gallery of vintage typewriters,
each date, each key poised,
ready to deliver the unexpected.

 

 

 

Nicky Phillips lives in Hertfordshire. Her poems have been published in magazines and online. In 2017 one was nominated for Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her pamphlet Jam in Aisle 3 was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018.

Note: This poem was first published in Benington Parish Magazine, January 2017

 

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On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, we bring you Ken Cockburn, David Van-Cauter and Bethany W Pope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midwinter Wishes

I wish you midwinter darkness
the better to see the stars.

I wish you midwinter silence
the better to hear yourself think.

I wish you a midwinter forest
to lose your way in.

I wish you a midwinter fog
to attend to what’s closest.

I wish you midwinter snow
as a page for your footprints.

I wish you midwinter ice
so the thaw when it comes
cracks all the louder.

 

 

 

Ken Cockburn is a poet, translator, editor and writing tutor based in Edinburgh. 2018 saw the publication of a new collection, Floating the Woods (Luath), and his translations of Christine Marendon’s poems Heroines from Abroad (Carcanet).

Note: This poem appears in Floating the Woods (Luath, 2018)

 

 

 

 

Folly

after TS Eliot

So whose idea was this?
To come all this way
through endless fields from the manor house
to this colossal thing?

We trod past mounds of dung,
forbidden pastures,
tracks that led in circles,
bridges and barbed wire,
rows of trees like pews before the hill

and the honeysuckle path
and the blue-smeared animals, oblivious,
and the ditches that we crossed,
so full of mud that it seeped through our shoes
and the people, just as lost,
asking us how to reach this folly.

We stepped up here together,
hot and haggard,
to this crumbling castle – picture perfect
from the manor dining hall.
But here we see the wooden struts,
the boarded windows and the painted-on cracks,
the weeds seeping up stone,
paper-thin and damp.

Whose idea was this?

 

 

 

David Van-Cauter is a personal tutor and editor from Hitchin, Herts.In 2017 he was runner-up in the Bradford on Avon festival competition and highly commended in the Bare Fiction competition. He was shortlisted for a previous IS&T Cafe Writers Commission.  A pamphlet is forthcoming in early 2019

 

 

 

Ho Ho Ho

I remember being seventeen,
safely in college, away from home,
in a place with guaranteed meals, where I
could spend large chunks of the last years of my
minority reading books and showering
as infrequently as I liked, without
the threat of a return to the place
whose name I still (all these years later)
cannot pronounce without nausea.
I remember waking up in the night,
still wearing the jeans I had on the day
I moved in, watching the moon shine in,
magnified by atmospheric ice-crystals,
sweating and nauseous from one of those dreams.
I remember sliding into my favorite
gray hoodie (I never did buy a jacket)
and toeing past the warm lump of my roommate
who seemed to exhale vanilla, effortlessly,
from all her small pores. I remember
the always-on lights of the hallway.
I remember the shock of air, harsh,
as though the world were freezer-burned, as I
slipped out of the door. Out the door. Up the hill.
Past dining hall and mail room, thinking, ‘Ten
more days till Christmas Break. Then five weeks.
But two of those weeks are in Florida.
It won’t get too bad, in Florida.
Not with everyone around.’ I remember
the track, outside the gym. It was lit all night,
too, and the white frost lent the tarmac
silver. My hands hurt, until they went numb.
My feet hurt, in their Birkenstock sandals,
until they suddenly didn’t. Sometimes
my toenails would peel off when I changed
my socks. And I would walk, at a fast clip,
around and around, until my blood beat
the thought of Christmas from my skull and I
could go someplace a little better, where
I could dream for a while. I’d fight crime,
save the world, dress all in black leather
and generally charm the hell out of everyone,
until the dawn seeped in, weak and gray,
from the edges of things and the same three
crows (who always seemed to be watching me)
shook themselves from the branches of their pine
and started grazing in the centre
of my orbit. The bell would ring, somewhere,
on the hill, and I’d slog back to the place
where scrambled eggs (made from powder) steamed
greasily in their trays and I would read
a free copy of the newspaper
before trying to write a couple of lines
about the way the needles of the pines
looked, in the night, sheathed in their casings
of jewel-like ice. It’s amazing, to me,
exactly how much of my life’s been spent
escaping from any kind of thinking.
It’s amazing how far I’ll go to try
to earn the better kind of dream.

 

 

Bethany W Pope has won many literary awards and published several novels and collections of poetry. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s latest collection as ‘poetry as salvation’…..’This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.’ She currently lives and works in China.

 

 

 

 

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