Underfoot – a new haibun by Gerald England


After tea I notice the magpie again. It is on the driveway, looking around. It waddles up to the rose tree which has a number of hips visible  among the branches. It turns, crosses the footpath and on to the lawn.

Before disappearing into the bottom of the hedge, it pauses and looks up at the willow tree.

I spend some time on the computer. Around 8pm I am reminded that I haven't yet put the wheelie-bin out for the binmen who come tomorrow. Looking out, I see that it is still pouring down with rain. I gather up the household rubbish into plastic bags and park them by the front door, hoping the rain will ease off.

Just before midnight, I put on my anorak,  collect the bags and take them out to the bin which I then wheel to the end of the drive.

in the dark
crunch and crack of snails
under my boot

Didn't see them guv', honest. In the dim light I saw a dozen or more objects across the driveway.  Rosehips dropped by the magpie, I surmised. Only the cold light of day reveals reality.

• Gerald England, as writer and editor, has been around on the small press scene for almost forty years. His website is at www.geraldengland.co.uk/ and his personal blog is http://ackworthborn.blogspot.com

Read More

Civilised ways – two poems by Gary Beck

Aging Vessel

My brittle skeleton
is trapped in the prison
of my festering flesh
and keeps my soul an inmate,
clinging to my splintering bones

Philosophic Ramblings

In the coincidence of life
we postpone death daily,
yet rarely seek higher purpose.

Now that we have been mastered
by the seductive video screen
we are victims of electronics.

Evil conspires with gravity
and pulls us down, down,
as we substitute spectation
for entangling alliances.

The grievances that rasp our hearts
devour the pleasure of our days
and stir seething cauldrons of hate
that will spill on our tomorrows.

Man is the cruelest animal
exceeding any creature of nature
in torture, mayhem and destruction.

We are raised in the garden of greed
and become trapped in the ghetto of need.

The unkind earth eats us all.

Death smiles when chill creeps in our bones.

Humanity, our dysfunctional family.

• Gary Beck's poetry and fiction has appeared in numerous publications. His chapbook The Conquest of Somalia will be published by Cervena Barva Press. His plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produced Off-Broadway.

Read More

The Book of Blood – reviewed by Dot Cobley

The Book of Blood by Vicki Feaver
Cape (2006)
66pp, £9.00
ISBN: 0224076841

It has taken twelve years for Vicki Feaver’s third collection, The Book of Blood, to appear. The ‘Blood’ of the title includes the blood of murder, sacrifice, menstruation, ancestry, and of wild creatures shot for food. As in her previous book, The Handless Maiden, she draws on classical mythology and fairytales, paintings, female sexuality, sex and death, but there are new themes here too: love poems, and others dealing with mental illness. This is a wise, wide-ranging, excitingly uneven book, with occasional disappointments, such as ‘Borrowed Dog’ and ‘Spider’.

Women who turn to murder are a recurring theme in both collections. In The Handless Maiden Judith, grieving for her murdered husband, ‘rolled in the ash of the fire/ just to be touched and dirtied/ by something’ (‘Judith’). This idea is picked up in ‘Cinderella’. Feaver’s Cinderella rolls in the ashes then:

I print the shapes of grief

open mouth

onto fine linen sheets.
This impassioned defiance finds a chillier echo in ‘Blodeuwedd’, a poem based on an ancient Welsh tale, blodeuwedd being the Welsh word for owl (literally, ‘flower face’). The narrator, a woman fashioned out of flowers, tells how she conspired with her lover to murder her husband, then was turned into an owl as punishment:

Sometimes, I lunge at your lighted
windows: printing the glass
with breast, talons,
outstretched wings,
flower face of a desperate girl.

‘Blodeuwedd’ is only one of many poems where people turn into birds or animals, and vice versa. ‘Bufo Bufo’, where the fable of the frog prince is turned on its head, starts as a seemingly straightforward description of a toad in the narrator’s cellar, then we are told that it’s spring, the toad’s mating season: ‘But he’s my prisoner – soft, warty stone// who at night swells/ to the size of a man.’  

‘Glow-Worm’ is the first of a dozen love poems at the heart of the book (in both senses). This is a deftly controlled piece, full of assonance and half-rhymes – shine/immune, lawn/palm, butt/cigarette – with rhythms that start to run forward, then are pulled gently back. The charged restraint of the writing, the hints of budding intimacy, and the symbolism of the title all combine to make this probably the sexiest poem in the book. This is Feaver at her best: well worth the wait.

• Reviewed by Dot Cobley. In a fortchcoming anthology Dot Cobley says of herself “I’ve got six different jobs, I attend four assorted poetry groups, and do most of my writing between 5:00 and 6:30am.”

Read More

Jazz and tattoos – two poems by Colin Cross


a jazz musician
is someone
who takes a familiar
and using all his skill
and talent
makes it as unfamiliar
as possible


I have noticed
of late
how many women
have tattoos
on the small
of their backs

as though
they've been branded

like cattle

• These are the second batch of poems we've published by Norwich-based Colin Cross.

Read More

CROW by Gwilym Williams

CROW flew just once
in a straight line
the hooded one
living in my garden
straight as a shoulder-fired missile
brought down the escaping harrier
seen circling CROW-EMPIRE
rammed it side-on
knocked it spinning out of the blue
the red bird fell tumbling to earth
and out of sight
for entertainment CROW plays with the wind –
CROW soars and tumbles
                             circles and zigzags
CROW dives and darts
and drops  
                              and dances
                like  a scrap of windblown blackbag liner
in spite of all that straight as the crow flies propoganda
but today's the long grey day
when echoing silence reigns
so CROW won't fly this day
he'll simply sit in his tree
with his silver eyes blinking

• Gwilym Williams says “Oh yeah, about me: I was in the Boat House, Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas used to live, when a poltergeist tried to bash me with a curtain pole. Thinking it was a message from the other side, I decided to pen the odd verse or two as a kind of insurance. I'm just on the right side of 60 and I'm a retired cop.”

Read More

Moonlit Burrowing – Little Gods reviewed by Matt Howard

Little Gods by Jacob Polley
Picador (2006)
51pp, £8.99
ISBN: 9780330444200

Polley’s excellent debut The Brink, published in 2003 was a remarkable critical success. The collection was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T S Eliot, Forward and John Llewellyn Rhys prizes. In Little Gods Polley presents a much more unified collection; work that is, as the blurb states, guided by ‘old-fashioned lyric inspiration’.

The poems here are persistently concerned with the end of a relationship. Whilst there is not a stringent narrative in the sequencing of the poems, Polley has taken care to present a collection that starts in ‘April’ and moves towards ‘October’; the middle of the collection hinges on two poems neatly placed on opposite pages, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Morning’.  The overall feel is of a difficult landscape, each image or emotion is sensitively explored; easy or sentimental conclusions are avoided. Indeed, the voice is disarmingly naked and direct, in ‘Dor Beetle’ the conjured ‘shit-eater’ is commanded ‘At the end of love, start burrowing'.

It is to Polley’s great credit that poems from the seat of such emotion are harnessed into affecting lyric forms. This lyric impulse is a significant departure from The Brink, this new collection includes some truly wonderful sonnets – opening poem ‘The Owls’ is likely to be much anthologised. Polley’s ear is present in abundance, he is unafraid to use full rhymes to drive pounding rhythms, take the close of ‘The Cheapjack’ (Forward Shortlisted for best single poem 2006):

                                    …Here’s my nod,
         Here’s my wink,
         Here’s my blood for the ink.    
    I’m begging you now; my life for the lot.

The unforgiving landscape of Little Gods is littered with common images; owls, beetles, rain, the moon and glass all reoccur as powerful symbols. There is the distinct feeling of the occult in the poems, there are allusions to witches and goddesses but this is not to say that the poems follow old tropes. There are striking individual images that endure such as ‘Rain’s inconsequence to the sea’ from ‘Rain’ and in ‘Black Water’ the bitter conclusion ‘your heart’s no more than meat’.

There are instances where the writing falls flat, ‘Mirror’ for example seems more like effort waiting, unable to shift gears. But such lapses are rare and each such piece is in tune with the unsettling world of the collection as a whole.

Little Gods is a work that opens the door on deeply intimate emotions. That Polley can engage so forcefully for a full collection is testament to the quality of his writing. There is no easy sentiment and no saccharined ending reached; by ‘October’, the last poem listed in the collection’s contents, Polley can only conclude:

    Each mind’s a different, distant world
        This same moon will not leave.

(There is an unlisted, short lyric buried at the close of the collection – you’ll have to buy it to find out what it says.)

Jacob Polley has talent in spades. After two full length collections it is clear that there is real purpose to his writing. Future work from him is eagerly awaited.

• Reviewed by Matt Howard

Read More

Words that bleed by A.D.Winans

Words that bleed

She was the knife in the
hands of Jack the Ripper
in a heavy fog bank
in a back alley
in old London Town
slicing dicing her way through the
canvas of my heart

She was the pearl-handled revolver
in the hands of Dillinger
that begged to be fired
but never got the chance the
night he was gunned down
in a hail of bullets

She was a keg of gunpowder
waiting to be ignited
Betrayed by a wet fuse the
night I awoke naked and vulnerable
Feeling like a voyeur walking in
on two strangers making love

My thoughts a mosaic tattoo
on public display
These wounded words that drip blood
Lying still as a beached shipwreck
in the bone-yard of a stranger's dreams

• A.D. Winans is a regular contributor to IS&T.
He is
a San Francisco-based writer and poet who became involved in the West
Coast Beat scene in 1958. One of his friends, the late Charles
Bukowski, said of him “A.D. Winans can go ten rounds with the best of

Read More