John Grey is in a strange town

IN A STRANGE TOWN                                  

How unfamiliar.                                                   
A motel like a one room house I broke into.
Television, three local channels,
feel like I'm stealing another city's news.
A meal in a diner.
Waitress, cook, act like they're begrudgingly
opening up the kitchen for me.
They take my money
but, as I pass it over,
it seems like foreign notes and coins.
I almost apologize for that being all I have.
And there's strangers on the streets enough
to cut a furrow in the brow.
I don't know these people. They don't me.
Never were strangers more an imposition.
I stare in windows of stores I'll never see again,
wasting their displays.
I cross streets with the flashing “Walk”
though if a car hit me it wouldn't matter
because nobody could tell the cop my name.
I return to the room I find only by its number
for its carpet, shades, would never call to me.
Weird colored sheets and blankets. Odd wallpaper.
Off comes my coat and shoes.
Down to something I'm surprised
an alien mirror says is me.
Maybe if I call home.
Maybe if I watch the tremor of my hand
as it wraps around the receiver,
like my nerve ends are trying to
reconstruct me from scratch.
A familiar voice could stake me
to some blueprints.

• John Grey is from Providence, Rhode Island, and has been published recently in Agni, Worcester Review,  South Carolina Review and The Pedestal.

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Frances Gapper has a different perspective on buddleia


It’s hot and the buddleia’s out,
flourishing in waste ground,
along the railway embankments.
Mauve and that rarer dark purple.

It waves in the wind like penises,
if penises were made of tiny flowers,
if they waved in the wind.

I remember my mother in the back garden,
sniffing the buddleia, exclaiming.
I was five at most, but I felt embarrassed.

Now I reach for the buddleia and draw it to my nose.

• Frances Gapper writes very short stories and poems.

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Three shortcuts

We've got three short pieces for your today – by Matt Howard, Janet Thorning and a prose poem by IS&T editor Charles Christian…

Dreaming of magpies all night, I heard one;
he chaked and chaked until I woke.
When I pulled the curtain aside to look
he’d fucked off, leaving some drinker’s kebab.

Howard works in the insurance industry in Norwich and is also taking an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Darkness Overwhelms the Soul

Though the bullet only nicked my flesh
Though my blood only poured a little
Though the doctor said I would be fine
Though the nurses told me how lucky I was
Though the cab driver said his brother was shot and killed
Though the landlady says she’ll make me chicken soup with matza balls
Though my bed is warm and the sheets are clean
Though I can see the moon
I still feel like dying.

• Janet Thorning will complete her long awaited novel soon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Still wearing yesterday’s clothes, walking in to work from an
unfamiliar direction. The subtle ache of unexpected physical
exertion. The taste on your skin of a stranger’s sweat. The
irrepressible smile that lights up your face, each time you rewind
and replay the events of the previous 12 hours.

• Charles Christian wakes up every morning and thanks the gods of creative writing that he never applied for arts council or any other type of public funding, as his days would now be spent dealing with pointless bureaucratic red-tape.

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Poet Laureates

While we wait in the UK to find out who will become the next Poet Laureate – the betting is on Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy or Roger McGough – here's a reading and interview with Kay Ryan, who has just been appointed to the laureateship in the US. The US appoint a new laureate on an annual basis – in the UK it used to be for life (Alfred, Lord Tennyson held the post for 46 years) however the current Poet Laureate Andrew Motion accepted the post in 1999 for a ten year term.

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Chris Major looks at the UK smoking ban

• Chris Major is a regular contributor of concrete poems to IS&T

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New poetry by Sara Crowley


They say ‘She’s out of control.’
‘Someone should do something.’
They phone social services, who send nice women with too quiet voices to soothe and help.
They go away again, smiling,
satisfied that their sensible advice has made a difference.
How lovely for them.
The last one –
‘Just call me Mimi, my name is too difficult for you to pronounce,’
suggested that I express myself in another way.
Stop punishing myself,
stop the cut and slice relief,
give myself a break.
So I have.
Petrol and one match, simple.
Licking, zagging, spreading.
Spitting burns.
Out of control.

• Sara Crowley blogs at

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Julia Bohanna is carrying out some restoration


Blisters of her green paint ruptured wet
under my nail like fat
bladders of seaweed.
The God of all Mildew had blown
bird's egg speckles and flown.
Whoever dressed her, has left her he said.
Sea licked the beach beyond
as I watched them take down
For Sale.
Puckers of wallpaper fell
to the flash of our knives like
flakes of her skin.
An angry nettle army bent its head
passing news of incomers and
the dead
to the salt wind.
Be sure to hack away her past, he said.
Make sure nothing survives.
Skeleton children laughed in every room.
We danced to the music of bones
and stroked each warming wall,
loving it all,
Hoping not to finish too soon.
Then we laid on paint
thick as a geisha ritual.
Pressing seeds into fresh soil,
those imprints of us.
Small hands will
one day touch her, we said.
The sea still kisses the curving coast
and I sweep whispers of dust from
lofty unloved places
as our own whispers fade.
At night we listen to settling sighs,
shiver about children that might have been.
There is nothing else to do.
All is well here
except us
with nothing left
to do.

• Julia Bohanna says “I'm new to this poetry lark, but I have fooled people into believing I am a good short story writer. Enough to give me prizes!” and adds “Making it up is the best way to be… spontaneous, that rush of panic that makes you feel alive. Planning is for duller, less creative souls!”

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