And our Pick of the Month for December is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’ by Ali Whitelock

 

All you want for December’s Pick of the Month is ‘the cumquats of christmas past’. This strong and beautiful poem by Ali Whitelock had a profound effect on the voters and, for many, left a powerful impression long after reading it. It was, quite simply, an ‘incredibly moving’ picture of grief.

Ali’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals. Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.

 

the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror. i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
began
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.

 

 

Voters comments included:

The grief is palpable. The writing easy but descriptive and efficient. Almost overwhelmingly sad but controlled,acknowledged and accepted

The cumquats of grief that’s why – how they pack in more around Christmas, preserved, ever jammed.

The concept of Ali’s grief being squished down like cumquats in a jar totally hit the note – and spooning them out at Christmas just about finished me…! Absolutely loved it.

Very evocative language! What a wordsmith!!

Ali’s work really captures the crystal prisms of December

I love Ali’s breathless ramblings that cut closer and closer to the bone with savagely unscrambled line. Great stuff

Very emotional felt the grief of the writer

A quirky, punchy and powerful poem. Works very effectively – love it!

I can see, smell and taste the cumquats.

love the syntax, imagery, emotion

It punches me in the stomach and I love it.

Ali’s voice is so original yet speaks to the heart of what is Universal. She’s a thrilling find!!

it was the perfect portrait of the cab driver. such compassion for him while drawing this ghastly portrait.

The poem dealt with grief in such an original way. Many of the lines stayed with me long after I read it. Very original and moving. Would love to read more of Ali Whitelock’s work.

This poem combines wonderful lyricism with a visceral use of the vernacular. It is an intimate telling which is what poetry should be

Brilliant, brilliant soulful writing!

I adore her quirky poetry, it makes me want to read more (and get to know her!)

I love the way this poem flows, without rules and she captures the approach of death in a sad and unique way

This poem resonates emotion … the grief is palpable but not obvious in the chosen words. Original. Creative. Yet totally relatable.

Simply a wonderful poem that does the very tricky thing of making another person’s loss and grief so tangible and visceral to the reader. The details: eg. making sure pyjama sleeves were clear of the taxi door which is then pressed close like the lid on the jar of cumquats. Breathtakingly good.

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On the Ninth Day of Christmas we bring you Tom Kelly, David Charles Gill and Sarah Watkinson

 

Deluge at the Angel of the North

Rain petals the car windscreen, carnations appear
near-translucent as if holding the world’s tears,
takes them with dignity, asking for more as they fall
on concrete and are lost like the past I meant to call.

The air is stifling; everything is here and soft breath love
is whispered to someone, somewhere, their hearts rise above
the sky and refuse what the day will bring as rain broods
then clatters on my car roof in this sudden deluge.

 

 

Tom Kelly is a north-east poet and playwright with eight collections, his most recent, Spelk, published by Red Squirrel Press.

 

 

 

Yule Tree

The storm that stayed a day ago
has found the shaping done last year.

It’s taken until now for lifting limbs
and walls of blasting ocean air
to set the apple thinnings free.

Each fork and knot and swollen joint
the frictions found in cracking bark
ancient bleeds which would not part
refused to help the hanging dead.

It’s taken weeks of pagan sun
winter-weakened     hour-starved
to crisp the tined and ripened moss
and breeze each roll of thatch away.

It took last Tuesday’s sudden snap
to show the blackbirds where I spiked
stored fruit on paring stumps
along the nearest of the trunks.

It took a closing afternoon
the third before Epiphany
to find the silence in its shape
the forest in a festival
the stand above a patient scent
the circles in its frozen height
the verses in its ornament
the setting of each winter light.

 

 

David Charles Gill studied with distinction on the creative writing MA at UEA where he held the 2016 Bryan Heiser Memorial Bursary. He has been published by Haverthorn Magazine and Holland Park Press. His first play Nineteen Short Scenes for Sons is being produced in Norwich next February.

 

 

 

 

The Vision of St Eustace in a Wood near Witney

I’m in Cogges Wood, on the land of a vanished abbey,
in rain and the A40’s Christmas shopping drone,
the last hour of daylight. I loose my Labradors
to nose the dying bracken for a scent. Then

in a mist-hollow down where the stream floods,
high in the hedge, a tree-crowned head
takes shape from winter-darkened quickthorn
and locks me in its gaze. I feel judged

like Pisanello’s hunter Placidus, when,
lymers at a loss, horse spooked, alone
with no one to gawp at his extravagant pink tack,
draped golden cape, or the yards of azure silk
elaborately twisted on his head,

the stag turns at bay, in splendour,
and puts him in his place.

 

 

Sarah Watkinson’s prize debut pamphlet Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight appeared in 2017. Her work appears in magazines including Antiphon, The Rialto, Litmus, Under the Radar and Well-Versed.

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On the Eighth Day of Christmas we bring you Bobbie Sparrow, Frances Browner and Mike Gallagher

 

 

 

Mistletoe

There were men with fat wallets
in our Christmas eve kitchen
they sat with legs spread    hands in pockets
caressing car keys    their laughter
competing with Frank Sinatra on vinyl
and the clink of ice in Gin
they would see two roads on the drive home

I played good daughter
to make parents proud    I went
to pour and hand    smile
gaze drops from eye
to breast
to waist
to knee
familiarity an excuse to put a hand on lower back

I slip away to hunt for brothers    but
turn to see him grinning under mistletoe
too polite to run    too young to make a dance of it
I see my fear in his sweat
Happy Christmas!    his alcohol lips assault

the cold wall I back into is small relief
a punch line bursts my shock
raucous roars swell from the kitchen
as he returns to the party

 

 

Bobbie Sparrow is a poetry writing Psychotherapist.  She was long listed for the Over the Edge new writer’s award 3 times and short listed for the Galway University Hospital Poetry Competition 2016. Her poems have been published in both national and international journals including Orbis, Picaroon and Skylight 47.  Bobbie was the Featured reader at the Over The Edge open Mic August 2017.
She lives on the shores of Lough Corrib, Co. Galway with her husband and their two fine sons. Bobbie finds a good poem to be a good friend.

 

 

 

Fairytale of New York

Thanks Ma for the twenty Christmases
You rushed forward in Arrivals
When I burst through the sliding doors.

For the drive home to Dun Laoghaire
The two of us like chipmunks chattering
The sky a fiery gold.

For the rasher and sizzling sausage breakfast,
The hot water bottle and electric blanket
Toasting my bed.

For the sneaky hot ham sandwiches after
Midnight Mass and a surprise under the tree
Long after Santa stopped coming.

For the fruit cake topped with almond icing
The sherry trifle shivering on the sideboard
Mince pies flaking in pastry.

For soaking the plum pudding with whiskey
And lighting a match to see my face glowing
In the blue flame.

For saying that Christmas began as soon
As the Pogues were played on the radio
And my flight was booked.

Fairytale of New York used to remind
you of me
This year, it will remind me of you.

 

 

Frances Browner grew up in Dublin; spent twenty years in America, and now resides in Wicklow. Stories, poems & memoirs have appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies; short-listed for competitions and broadcast on radio. She tutors creative writing & history.

 

 

Christmas Morn, Dulwich Irish Club

Shortest session of the year,
that gathering between twelve and two.
Queuing up for opening time,
pilgrims from afar; a brother,
down from Manchester, a sister
from Dumfries; Danny’s estranged
daughters, all the way from Birmingham,
‘How’s your Mum – tell her I miss her;
Ah, no, I wouldn’t expect her
to have me back’. Paul’s father,
crosses the city from Stonebridge Park,
like every other year, see the grandkids,
‘My, oh, my, how they’ve grown’.
Three wise men from Cavan came,
bearers of no gifts,
babes in swaddling clothes, their first showing
‘Aw, isn’t she lovely’ or
‘He’s surely got your dimple!’
Bridie’s two, home from Uni –
‘They’re doing great’, says she,
‘If only their father could see them now’.
The gathering of the Hickey clan,
The Boyles, Hartney’s, O’Keefes
O’Mahonys, Gallaghers, Ryans,
old stock, came off the cattle boats,
second and third generations now
more Irish than the Irish themselves;
Joe Thornton in the corner; ”Do you know
Mulranny at all – my grandfather came from there,
settled in Yorkshire; amuses the kids
with his now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t
mouse-in-a-hanky. Tralee Patsy
reminisces on a town of horses, carts
and Black and Tans – never went back;
you remember those who have gone,
and those that you have left behind.
Frank Becker speaks of crazy times
on the road with the Pecker Dunne,
sings ‘Sullivan’s John’, Henry plays
the box, lashes out some mighty reels
with John and Mary, a military two-step
for Micky and Peggy – I see them still,
gliding across the maple floor.
But only in my dream. All gone now;
The Jims, Shannon and Burns,
have shooed us out the door one last time,
‘Let’s have your glasses, boys and girls’.
No home from home to go to, anymore.

 

 

Mike Gallagher, an Irish poet and editor, has been published and translated worldwide. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce award in 2010 and 2016, the Desmond O’Grady International award in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Hennessy award in 2011.

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On the Seventh Day of Christmas we bring you Geraldine Clarkson, Alexandra Citron and Jay Whittaker

 

 

 

Through Sludge to Nirvana

Let us go sludging then, the sledges put away,
the snow a dirty sorbet over city streets
and suburban hills. Let us sludge to our hearts’
discontent, Mr Frost tweaking our toes in spite.

Let us manufacture brief heat as we flit, and flirt,
between sheltered spots, plant kisses
on numb-sore faces, chapping lips. And if I stop
on a drear deflowered path, losing my nerve,

you can chivy me on, a step and a step,
in the hope of a sudden valley over the brow,
beyond now, where easy and smiling the old ones
pour sunlight like tea from voluminous sleeves.

 

 

Geraldine Clarkson has published two pamphlets: Declare (Shearsman Books), which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, and Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (smith|doorstop), a Laureate’s Choice.

 

 

 

Let Streetview take you home for the holidays

Hitching a white arrow up Saffold Way
the trees are all too tall. It’s garbage day.
The blue door to the old house stands ajar
but should be orange and the street wider
where in summer small feet ran over searing
asphalt for a dare. The birch in the front yard’s
gone with the brown Toyota and begonia beds.
A man in shorts is heading to go in,
his chores complete. I shadow his retreat
back to the kitchen on his left. Ahead
the L-shaped room and stairs, perhaps a cat
scratching the corner of a chair. You are
outside on the balcony, let’s say,
just out of sight, calling us in from play.

 

 

Alexandra Citron was born in Washington DC and moved to the UK at 12. An editor by day, she is a Poetry School student, member of the Blue Side Poets and published in Mslexia, Visual Verse and New Boots and Pantisocracies. @AlexaCitron

 

 

 

Happy Christmas, 1978

Not expected: a glossy book
with satisfying new-paper tang,
The Human Body. I am ten
the year my parents gift me sex ed.

Respectable, published by M&S,
although it contains pages
of blood vessels, skeletons, brain,
what rivets me

(sitting amid ripped-off paper,
posh chocolates, tiger-feet slippers,
hoping no-one spots my interest)
is a diagram, cross-section: fucking.

 
Edinburgh-based Jay Whittaker’s debut poetry collection, Wristwatch, was published by Cinnamon Press in October 2017.  She writes about transition, resilience, grief, breast cancer, and LGBT+ lives (including her own). Her poems have been published in a wide range of magazines. https://jaywhittaker.uk @jaywhittapoet

Note: this poem was originally published in Wristwatch, Cinnamon Press 2017

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On the Sixth Day of Christmas we bring you David Van-Cauter, Seth Crook and Laura McKee

 

 

 

Snowgrip

The snow has come
my car wedged in

its inches of icing
pockmarked with bird tracks

Under blanket and dressing gown
I watch others graft

with shovels
enabling my escape

They scrape away cold scraps
hack at raw earth

I feel friction in the window pane
and through the net

I and my cats assess
the pickings of the day

Above us, countless flakes
breathe in a holding shape

until slowly
they release their brakes

 

 

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 the last IS&T Cafe Writers Commission.

 

 

 

THE WINTER HERONS OF LOCH SCRIDAIN
DON’T BELIEVE IN GOODWILL TO ALL MEN
OR WOMEN (OR NON-BINARIES OR WHATEVER)

Like deft officials of some secret order working on The Bigger Plan.
As if all will be revealed, but only on the final Boxing Day,
when the loch drains away, seals flop, crabs scuttle, moored boats

drown in the dry; when their majesties stretch out into true form;
when we glimpse, at last, the point of the beaky plot–shout
“Oh God, No!”, look for holes of hope in their mesh, flap like sprats.

 

 

Seth Crook loves puffins, has taught philosophy at various universities, rarely leaves Mull. His poems have most recently appeared this autumn in The Rialto, Envoi, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Scotland, in the Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons) and Landfall (Federation of Scottish Writers) anthologies.

 

 

 

battery dead watching the snow

thinking how I was missing out
on a slomo film

three days before
I had found out I could do this

and turned a wave
into a slow waggle of fingers

anyway I tried
to just slow it down with my eyes

 

 

Laura McKee has some serious boots for the snow. Her poems can be found in journals including Under the Radar, Prole, The Rialto, Molly Bloom, and Pouch. You can contact her on Twitter: @Estlinin.

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On the Fifth Day of Christmas we bring you Ali Whitelock, Jane Burn and Nicola Slee

 

 

the cumquats of christmas past

you hailed your taxi tuesday the eight––
eenth of february 2014 at four twenty seven p.m.
i watched it approach swerve to the kerb
its back doors fly open––if this was death i saw it
crouched behind the wheel & jaded as a night
shift driver full of red bull & no doz & cheap 7/11
coffee ten thousand cigarette butts spewing
from its ashtray’s filthy mouth
the driver bundled you in––no fanfare
no prayers no bach cantata sung in sotto voce
that might accompany you on the fresh black
tarmac of your new road ahead––& nothing
soft for you to lay your head on
just a cracked vinyl seat stale cigarette
smoke a strawberry scented christmas tree jiggling
like a tea bag from the rear view mirror.  i lay my
hand on yours leaned in whispered something like
i’m sorry made sure your pyjama sleeves were clear
of the door before pressing it closed as the first
bubbles of fermenting sadness rose in me
and i forced them down like cumquats into a jar
filled with brandy in preparation for christmas
which was still ten months away & for weeks i kept
cramming till the skins of my cumquats tore
their flesh bled out & you could no longer
tell where one cumquat ended & another
began
& when finally christmas came i half
decked my halls whispered infrasonic compliments
of the season too low even for a passing whale hung
empty stockings from the mantle their gaping mouths
speechless by the un-kindled fire & when finally
lunch was served & those of us left were gathered over
turkey & ham i took my jar of preserved cumquats
from the dark of my pantry, made my way around
the table & heaped everyone’s plate with a side of my
compressed orange grief.

 

 

Ali Whitelock’s poems have been published in several magazines and journals.  Her memoir, poking seaweed with a stick…. was published to critical acclaim and her poetry collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can will be released in 2018.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas, Mixie Rabbit

Mistletoe furls from hawthorn, apple and oak,
births its berries – each one a bubble of snow,
a blister of milk. Birds lift them off with a beaky kiss,

relish their burst of bliss. The bared timbers sleep,
hearts tucked and dreamy, inside, deep. For them,
a biding – the patient knowledge of next year’s buds,

of baby leaves. For the evergreens, a show of plush
against the spangle of frost, joy at the coming ascension
of night and the soon-wearing of stars along their arms –

a clarity of tar-blue air balanced between needled hands.
In the sharp of dusk, the drunk smell of winter haylage,
pungent dung. Bundled in a nook of roots is a hazel body,

mute as a stone. Blind and clinging to this illusion of safety,
the dogs see it long before me. Fix their murder upon it,
ask to be unleashed. As we pass, it feels the shake of the path

beneath our feet, hears our noisy breath – the best it can do
is hold still, try to un-scrunch its pink-stuck eyes. It is praying
for invisibility, for us to pass. When twilight comes,

a fox will take the rabbit, quick and quiet as flight. The trees,
bald or fleshed with green will swallow its small cry. The berries
will shine cold as moons. I hope for succour for those that hurt –

peace for hearts that beat through the dark. Let drifts be kind
to whatever lies frozen below. Let the coming year open its face
to light. May pity be shown to all defenceless things.

 

 

Jane Burn is a poet based in the North East. Her poems have featured in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies and her first collection is available from Indigo Dreams.

 

 

 

 

It’s a girl

The news spread like wildfire.
Sages were perplexed.
Astronomers recalculated their stars.
Shepherds sloped back to their charges.
Only the midwives smiled their knowing smiles.
And the angels crowded round,
singing ‘Glory! Glory!’

 

 

 

Nicola Slee is a poet theologian who has published 3 collections of poetry and prose (Praying Like a Woman, The Book of Mary and Seeking the Risen Christa, all published by SPCK) as well as numerous poems in anthologies and journals.

Note: First published in Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality by Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton and Nicola Slee (Ashgate, 2013)

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas we bring you Alwyn Marriage, Megan Pattie and Jenny Hill

Sensing the stable

New-born eyes don’t focus for a while,
but warmed by the breath of animals
and the love of a young girl,
the baby gradually became aware
of a cow that woke him when she lowed,
a donkey nibbling straw, the breeze
whispering through the door to ruffle his hair,
clouds of sparkling dust that made him cough,
the fragile peace pierced as anobium punctatum
punctured the wooden feeding trough
that was serving as a cradle.

He smelled the stable’s bitter pungency,
laced with the sweet scent of hay;
heard scratchy rustles as a mouse
dragged a husk of corn across the rough
stone floor, warm mumbles of a dove
shifting her feathers in the rafters.
He felt straw prickle on his skin, tasted
the sweet milk of a mother’s love, cried
for the lost Eden of her womb; then chuckled
at the donkey’s bray and cockerel’s fanfare,
the chuntering of chickens, two butterflies
that fluttered by and the ant that tickled his toes.

 

 

Alwyn Marriage’s latest two books were published in 2017: a novel, Rapeseed, and a poetry collection about mediaeval women, In the Image. She’s widely published in print and on-line, gives readings all over the world and is Managing Editor of Oversteps Books

 

 

The Innkeeper

I watched them into the barn
thinking, at least I had not turned them away
wholly. I heard nothing as he was born.
I was blind to the star’s rays
that brought the kings gift-laden.
No angel came to bid me prepare
for the babe born to a mother-maiden,
so I had no room to spare.
But as I watched from my window
the perfect scene arranged as if by rule,
I knew that this is just how these things go,
and every story must have a fool.

 

Megan Pattie lives on the North East coast of England. She was a Foyle Young Poet in 2009, and her work has appeared in several online and print publications, including Snakeskin and The Emma Press Anthology of the Sea.

 

 

 

Shepherd
after Rembrandt’s ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’

Time has its own pulse in the pastures,
where he can dovetail into the hush,
allow the night to swallow him
into her expanding rooms.

He has lost count of the births he has seen
under the passionless stare of the moon;
he has no fear of the smell of blood,
the slime, the seething afterbirth.

But here in this stable, he finds himself shy
as the light of this child’s nakedness
draws the darknesses out of him like stillbirths,
and re-animates them as light.

 

 

Jenny Hill was first published in the Netherlands in 2003.  2016 saw her first full collection Voices of the First World War, (Available at Amazon) which raises funds for Help for Heroes.  Jenny has appeared in Orbis & Strix journals, and is a recent winner of The Poetry Society’s members’ competition.

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