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)






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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On the Tenth Day of Christmas, we bring you Sarah Watkinson, Ciarán Parkes and Fiona Cartwright










Now the sun knocks off early,
slinks away behind the garage.
You go out to catch the last rays
but he’s gone

so you head up the hill
to the still-sunlit top,
the cart track all mud and stones,
and watch the light turn green,
a star in the corner of your eye.

And the best part is
when you stumble down in the dark,
under a découpage of twigs,
settling hedge birds
and navy sky,

and you push open the door,
kick off your boots on the mat,
and the room is a blaze of light,
the day outside turned shiny black
like a shut-down screen.



Sarah Watkinson’s debut pamphlet Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight won the 2016 Cinnamon Pamphlet prize. Her work is published in Antiphon, Ink Sweat & Tears, Litmus, The Interpreter’s House, The Rialto, Under the Radar and elsewhere. Her twitter handle is @philonotis.




New Year’s Eve on the Moon

You’ve got telescopes. You can see more
than the Great Wall of China. You can measure
the moving coastlines like someone on a train

watching the landscape gliding by, imagining
themselves a tireless runner, leaping hedges,
trees and houses, or in your case, oceans,

continents. The night reveals much more,
like turning a light on, like x ray. You can choose
a city to focus on. It’s almost New Year’s Day

or it’s already been for hours. For one whole day
you can watch the flare of fireworks in the darkness
as cities come alight and, in the distance,

the brighter sway of sunlight sweeping in
over the horizon. On the moon who knows
what time it is, what day or year or month.

What’s to celebrate. What slow tides are moved
by the earth in all those dried up seas.



Ciarán Parkes lives in Galway, near the ocean, writing and taking photographs. His poems have appeared in The Rialto, The Threepenny Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and other places. He writes song lyrics for the Galway band, This Lunar Mansion.






The ice in the lake can’t decide
if it will be water. It chessboards

into squares, opaquing the hills
and monochroming them out

of their purples and browns.
They are helpless against the freeze,

Scaup the colour of black ice
wait. They seem unconcerned,

unknowing, perhaps, of their place
on the edge of things.

A decision must be made. Get it wrong
and go, when they should stay, means death.

The ice rings their chests as a woodpecker drums,
a beating heart in a ribcage of bare hawthorn boughs.

There is no way to know when to go,
a confusion of clues. What do you choose?



Fiona Cartwright is a poet, ecological researcher and mother of two young daughters. Her poems have appeared in various places, including Mslexia, Butcher’s Dog, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Interpreter’s House and Envoi. She tweets @sciencegirl73 .

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On the Ninth Day of Christmas, we bring you Reuben Woolley, Debbie Strange, Luigi Coppola









another blue requiem


see this she says

my autonomous shadows dancing


from any sun i know / a different step

& still


are lights

in all these histories &


grow old & die

just the same she says




Reuben Woolley has been published in quite a few magazines, such as Tears in the Fence, Lighthouse, The Interpreter’s House, IS&T, Proletarian Poetry, and in the anthology The Dizziness of Freedom. He has five books to his name, the most recent one is some time we are heroes with The Corrupt Press. Another book is to be published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2019, this hall of several tortures. Editor of I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind.






fog deepens
the sound of rabbits
nibbling night


on the tundra
caging a winter sky
caribou bones


snowy field
the owls we thought
were stones





Debbie Strange is an internationally published short form poet and haiga artist from Canada. Her most recent books include the chapbook, A Year Unfolding (Folded World 2017) and the full-length collection, Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses (Keibooks 2018). :

Note: these haiku were placed respectively in the following competitions: Grand Prize, 2016 World Haiku Competition: 3rd Place, 2014 United Haiku and Tanka Society Hortensia Anderson Haiku Awards:Honourable Mention, 2017 Irish Haiku Society International Haiku Competition



The Harvester

There is a darkness coming
a little at first, just ahead of the rest

His breath is a slow yawn
it draws in a shade
a cold and a rustling
everything sleeping, drying

An idiot-ox striding
his March drawing blood from flower
herb from hand

The stampede lasts for months

He is the Harvester
hoof and horn
giggling and dribbling

with the sun on his back
and snow in his mouth




Luigi Coppola has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize twice, appeared in Worple Press’s The Tree Line anthology and has print and online publications, including in Acumen, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Iota, Magma and The Rialto  


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On the Eighth Day of Christmas, we bring you Cherry Doyle, Julie Maclean and Edward Heathman










Snow Queen

The snow’s been drifting in her heart for years;
her hair’s the colour of flakes blooming
on the dark road through the valley.
She is the child of shepherds, and miners
with slate-crag shoulders.

She’s seen some winters, this
queen in scuffed boots,
dragged toddlers through drifts – white
piled on white piled on white – frozen milk
and pale fingers in her grasp.

Her son recalls his father’s funeral,
the letter she never saw, the icy smart
of her wedding ring as he takes her hand in the chapel;
weeping into his daughter’s hair
as they lay flowers.

She leaves the armchair, zips her coat.
Ice spreads across the pavement like glue.
Snow blows up into the corners of the window;
feather-peaks that will fall away
and leave mountains in her blood.



Cherry Doyle lives near Cannock Chase. She works and runs a writing group in Wolverhampton. Her work has appeared in Presence, The Cadaverine, Southlight, and more. She has a degree in Creative Writing from the Open University. Find her on social media @ms_n_thrope.




What kind of humbuggery is this?

Via the black hole from heaven
she inches nervously

down the celestial ladder
/aluminium, installed

by the good man/
one cloud box at a time

Trawls through the galaxy
for the showiest bling—

birds in glass orbs, sleigh bells
snatched in the sales

Meteors of lametta
streak their glitzy wake

through her no-mess-
no-drop-needle forest

Last but never least
the Angel of Hope

braces for the conception
Wings shaken loose

at the pinions after
rough handling

impaled nevertheless
on the bristling spine

of old man pine
Cardboard crinoline

stiff with imminence
in a perpetual lean




Julie Maclean is the author of four poetry collections. Joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Poetry Prize with Terry Quinn her poems appear in BODY LitThe Rialto, Poetry Salzburg Review, Shearsman, Poetry (Chicago) and The Best Australian Poetry, among others. Born in Bristol she is resident in Australia.




Their happy murmurs
crackle through the ceiling.
It’s so lovely it’s unbearable.

I’ve been up here all day
with the window aghast
to keep the warmth from downstairs.

Is that a laugh? A snarl
hunches in spidery fashion
and I feel the moody curl

of my sixteen year old fingers.

I could sneak down in my dressing gown
and ruin everything,
if I wanted to.




Edward Heathman was born in 1995 and grew up in South Wales. He is currently studying an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Manchester.






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On the Seventh Day of Christmas, we bring you Claire Crowther, Sue Finch, Sue Wallace-Shaddad







Christmas Party

Falling or rising, staring at my feet,
being so close
to the person who shares the lift –
not wanting to
see whose foot fixes against mine, who stops.
Look at me, girl,
when I’m talking to you. An address to
fair game in hell.

St Michael and the seven headed beast
join their battle
in the lift of heaven, from where a beast
must fly or fall
as must a boy who is feather-winged and
contented with
decapitating seven snarling heads.
We overlap
in a world of falling angels: heads, jaws,
claws, toes, tongues, swords.
Watch wings and tail make one oval, Michael’s
cloak wrap lightly
round the dragon, her biting with her fourth jaw
since her sixth and
seventh heads are severed. Barbara,
saint of arms, here
where your sanctioned guns tumble down, hear who
felled me head first.

He locked the door
and turned the music up. My drink was spiked
with Quaaludes or
something. They queued outside. Mike is no saint,
that tale’s a myth.
If I drop, my family fails with me,
their future falls
prey: kneel, pray for all drunk stumbling men.
They laughed so much.



Claire Crowther has published three collections of poetry with Shearsman. Her next publication will be a pamphlet of poems on knitting from Happenstance. www.clairecrowther.co.uk




His Gun

He shoots.
She is falling,
clutching herself.
Her hip seems to disappear,
she stumbles, hits the floor, stills.
He watches
so silent he stops the air from moving.
her closed eyes flicker to find him.
He searches his words.
They both stare at it hanging from his limp hand.
He meets her gaze, speaks:
It’s just a banana, he tells her.



Sue Finch grew up in Herne Bay. She now lives with her wife in North Wales and enjoys exploring the countryside and coast. Her first published poem appeared in A New Manchester Alphabet in 2015 whilst studying for her MA with Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has also appeared in Ink Sweat and Tears and in The Interpreter’s House. She tweets as @soopoftheday and her blog can be found at: soopoftheday-soo.blogspot.com




The Lodger

Every bit of holly
every red berry
a sharp reminder
of pain
and pleasure
as Christmas moves in

another season
of good will
strained cheer
mince pie indulgence
before this guest
bows out to New Year.



Sue Wallace-Shaddad has poems published by The French Literary Review, Ink Sweat and Tears, Poetry Space, The Dawntreader.  She is studying the Newcastle University/Poetry School MA in Writing Poetry and is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

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On the Sixth Day of Christmas, we bring you Pat Edwards, Marc Woodward, Alison Binney





Mary and Joseph

I saw them in two bottles of cleaning product,
with a stripy cloth thrown over their heads.

I saw them in a swirling cloud formation,
streaks of white and grey becoming figures.

I saw them in the frozen patterns of leaves,
glinting at me in December’s fallen debris.

Mary and Joseph together, not quite touching,
red and brown sauce standing on the table.

They are about as far away as a reluctant carol
sung by tots and teens, by seniors and carers.

They are as distant as the Pound Shop presents
stuffed into charity show boxes for the poor.

They are as out of reach as peace on Earth,
as unlikely as goodwill beyond the festive fun.

But I know I saw them. She was too young
and he overwhelmed by his responsibilities.



Pat Edwards is a writer, teacher and performer from Mid Wales. Her work has appeared in Prole, Magma, Atrium and others. She hosts Verbatim poetry open mic nights and curates Welshpool Poetry Festival.




Midnight, mid-December, in a fake railway carriage diner at JFK

Zoltan Leonardo tells me his spectacular,
improbable name. Says Call me Zolly!.
He’s a painter, a drummer, and Yes, I’m an alcoholic…
Like it’s obvious and beyond his control.

Gaunt and brown, face like an old satchel,
dark hair lashing his forehead. Shirt unbuttoned.
Says he’s owned his scarlet leather trousers
for twelve years, never washed them.

He turns to the bar to order a bourbon
but the waitress bluntly refuses.
She’s already weary of December drunks
and it’s still a long run of night shifts to go.

She says the top bar is closed
but he can have a beer from the bottom.
He stands four bottles of Michelob
on the table like a row of toy soldiers.

We’re not the only ones in the place.
There’s a backpacking couple in the corner booth
their heads down on the unwiped table;
two suited guys at the bar swiping phones.

So you ain’t gonna believe me,
this old girlfriend calls up after thirty years,
says she’s been holdin’ a candle,
wants to see me. Thirty years though..? I mean….

And the big red cherry in her Christmas cocktail?
She’s inherited half a million and a house in LA.
Can you believe that? It’s insane man –
a fuckin’ pad in the city of angels!

So I’m thinking maybe she’s an angel
– but where’s she been all these years, hey?
Whatever…  I’m flying to LA in the morning.
I ain’t got a ticket yet but I’m going, you know?

At this point I’m expecting a request for help,
a contribution to the fare – a ‘loan’ of course.
I’m preparing my rejection but it doesn’t come.
Instead he reaches forward, unscrews two beers.

I mean a house and half a million bucks.
Did I tell you I’m a painter? Palm trees no problem.
So…hey – what’s your name? Let’s drink a toast:
To old angels and monied lovers!



Marc Woodward is a poet and musician living in Devon, England. He has been widely published and his recent collections include A Fright Of Jays (Maquette Press 2015) and Hide Songs (Green Bottle Press 2018).





Every Christmas I wonder what my aunt is thinking
sending us separate cards, in separate envelopes,
with separate stamps, to the same address.

Perhaps the allure of the burly postman,
sweating under the double weight of mail,
will turn my gaze, at last, from your smile.

Perhaps the extra reaching down, picking up,
opening, reading, means today
I will leave for work without a kiss.

Perhaps we will fight over whose card
takes pride of place, fall out, fall silent,
fall into separate beds, separate. Yes, they know

what they are doing, these separate-card senders,
and therefore so must we, sharing cards, homes,
wounds, opening ourselves out.



Alison Binney is an English teacher from Cambridge who has recently created more space in her life for writing poetry. She has been published in ‘Magma’, ‘The North’, ‘The Fenland Reed’ and ‘Under the Radar’.  This poem was mentioned in the recent Seren Christmas card competition write-up.

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