Geoff Stevens is going ratting

Earlier this week there was a documentary shown on UK TV about King Edward VII. By coincidence, regular IS&T contributor Geoff Stevens has submitted a poem inspired by one King Edward's more infamous social put-downs – when he saw Lord Harris in a brown bowler hat and tweeds in the Royal Enclosure at
Ascot, the King quipped “Morning Harris, going ratting?”

According to King Edward
it’s turning up
for the Royal Enclosure
wearing tweeds.
These days, it’s asking for egg & chips
in The Chinese.
It’s not eating pizza
or wearing jeans.
It’s going to Margate
for your holidays.
It’s not wearing a red nose
or giving to Comic Relief.
It’s being quiet in libraries
or asking for a beer
at a book launching.
It’s not buying The Guardian.
It’s owning an iPod
or using your laptop on a train.
It’s calling a railway station
a railway station.
It’s not shaving off body hair
or having a tattoo
It’s not liking hip-hop
or spinning on your head.
It’s not having a loyalty card.
It’s paying cash
It’s being quick.
It’s singing Rule Britannia in schools.
It’s having common sense
instead of being politically correct.
It’s greater than winning the lottery
or being voted in as a MP.
It’s someone asking
“Going ratting, Harris?”
it’s a badge of honour
it’s better than a MBE.

is a regular IS&T contributor, who as well as being a painter and poet, has run the Purple Patch magazines for may year. Last year he was awarded The Ted Slade Award for
Services to Poetry.

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Michelle McGrane is at the festival of dolls

Hina Matsuri

The morning after
the festival,
a sigh stole through the alcove
where the doll altar

In the pavilion, the tiny lord
bowed his head, a fist
curled at his side,
a hand upon his lady's shoulder.

She dried
her eyes
with a trailing sleeve, her mouth
a red “oh!”, her fan
in the folds of her kimono.

The ladies-in-waiting
away the saké trays;
the forelocked minstrels
ceased drumming and

The mandarin trees
shed their quartz blooms;
porcelain dogs
hid behind the palanquin.

Ears cocked to the
they waited for the girl, the caskets
and the mothballs.

Hina Matsuri, the Japanese Doll Festival

* Michelle McGrane's
collection, The Suitable Girl, is forthcoming in the United Kingdom in
2010. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and blogs at peony moon

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Andrew Hughes is worried that Mavis is in a spin

In the

Mavis was locked in her flat again. She was not a trafficked woman, nor was she
the partner of a manipulative and cruel significant other.She could have left
the flat without even using a key. She had
the key if she needed it.

She wanted to take the dog to the park. The dog liked to walk and Mavis liked
the park; she liked the fresh air and the open space.

Mavis had cleaned the bathroom floor, washed her hands and dried them. She took
the towel and put it in the washing machine. She realised, with a lurch in her
stomach, that she had not taken a clean towel to the bathroom. She took one
from the cupboard and returned to the bathroom.

As she opened the door, the dog darted in. Mavis made a sound between a scream
and a groan. The dog cowered. Now she would have to clean the bathroom floor
again; wash her hands, already red and raw and cracked.

She felt trapped again. Like a sock tumbling around in the washing machine.
Clean, wash, dry. Clean, wash, dry.

* Andrew Hughes says “I live in Norfolk with my partner. I also love to write and to garden.”

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Matthew Howard looses a bull on the bowling green

The Bull on the Bowling Green

We carried the bull’s head all summer
like a standard. That brute weight of clay,
rough-rendered though stout-horned –

I’d worked after Picasso in art class.
The end of school; for our passing-out
we camped by the disused rail tracks,

deep-cut, beyond the smear of town’s lights.
We drenched ourselves in cider and sherry
while the bull’s head darkened with us

by the fire. Past midnight I remember
how we blew into town for fast food,
craving salt and the chance of a girl.

That town of sheltered accommodation,
benches around the bowling green;
Pensioner’s leagues, pressed whites,

summers of iced lemonade.
Someone spoke of the rules, the pin,
the need to work with the bias of each bowl.

Who kicked-in the picket gate
I don’t know, although we all danced,
stamped our rough flamenco on the green –

each footfall a cornada; marked
the lawn with such passion; loosed
the humid reek of earth to the night.

* Matthew Howard lives and works near Norwich and is currently taking the Poetry MA with MMU, has had poems in magazines including The North, Magma, Stride and The Rialto.

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New flash fiction: Eric Suhem is liberating fruit

Liberated Fruit
In the supermarket, the little watermelon cubes sat, docile, next to the plastic containers housing honeydew melon cubes, doing time in their own small square sections. Like cats de-clawed, under the buzzing fluorescent lights, the melon cubes’ spirits languished, cut off from their natural environment. Nearby, the cantaloupes were stacked in their section, the piped-in Muzak vibrating off of each melon’s skin. Slowly, the cantaloupes started shaking, more and more actively. One of the cantaloupes near the bottom of the pile had glimpsed the outside world, through the smudged glass of the supermarket’s exit door, and was becoming excited. It began to slowly bounce around in its cramped position, causing the whole stack to shake.

Eventually the cantaloupes at the top fell to the floor, and began to roll along the linoleum. The melon that had first spied the sky outside also dropped to the floor and quickly rolled to the head of the line, leading the other cantaloupes toward the exit. The cantaloupes were cheered on by the small boxed melon cubes, who were unable to move, but could vicariously experience this event. Over the rubber mat of the electronic door the cantaloupes rolled, along with a head of lettuce that decided to join the procession, and the door instantly opened, as if it had been waiting years for the melons to approach. One by one, the melons rotated out of the supermarket into the mid-morning sun, freedom at last! They paused in the parking lot then maneuvered towards the avenue, their leader at the fore.

At that precise moment, Rhonda turned the corner in her car, her eyes off the road, reading dog-eared anarchist tracts, as the lead cantaloupe rolled tentatively into the street. A sudden squashing was felt under the left front wheel, as the melon was crushed, plastering seeds and orange inner fruit across the pavement. That inspirational visionary cantaloupe would soon become a martyr, and the other melons in the group, along with the head of lettuce, Iceberg Lettuce #38, would go on to lead productive existences, making pilgrimages to other supermarkets to spread ‘The Message’.
She glided purposefully through the blueberry bushes, filling a brown paper sack with plump berries. On her grey sweatshirt was a large ‘H’ made from neon green tape. “The ‘H’ stands for ‘Humanity’,” she explained to anyone she encountered. Rhonda had nearly filled the bag with berries, and left the forest, heading towards a cliff by the side of the ocean. On the cliff she had set up a rickety card table, which was already supporting a large bowl of nectarines. Rhonda poured the sack of blueberries into a bowl on the card table at the side of the cliff. “We now have balance between nectarines and blueberries,” she cooed, staring at the two bowls. “World, feel the power within your soul of this sacrificed golden fruit, and be healed!” she declared, pouring the bowls over the cliff.
Iceberg Lettuce #38 was removed from the supermarket counter to observe all of the actions of its consumer, Rhonda. First, she placed it into the plastic bag, then into the shopping cart. Next, Rhonda carried it along the sidewalk, and into the apartment, where it would be placed on the cutting board for shredding. But before so, it caught a glimpse of the pieces of paper on the wobbly-legged card table, outlining Rhonda’s plans for focused nuclear attacks, as her attempts to heal the world had been frustratingly ineffectual. The head of lettuce remembered ‘The Message’, which was that the vegetation and fruit would spring from the ground in a last defiant movement. “You have not heard the last from us!” they would all sing, strangely on-key, as the mushroom cloud would expand to extinguish their physical manifestations, but not their life force.
However, none of this turned out to be necessary, as the latch of the refrigerator clicked, and a honeydew melon rolled out onto the kitchen floor. While Rhonda paced the linoleum, reading an anarchist cookbook, one of her spiked high heels impaled the melon, sending her to the floor and into the hospital for six months of casts, slings, pulleys. The bowl of fruit was always by her bedside.

* Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his
vegetable juicer. He can be found in the orange hallway

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Ken Head reviews Helen Mort's ghosts

a pint for the ghost
by Helen Mort
tall-lighthouse –
ISBN:  978 1 904551 73 7, Paperback:  £5.00, 42pp

Five-times winner of the Foyle Young Poets Award, recipient of an Eric Gregory Award, winner of the Manchester Young Writer Prize and with a debut pamphlet the shape of every box (tall-lighthouse 2007) behind her, Helen Mort is clearly a poet from whom much is expected and this, her second pamphlet, doesn’t disappoint.

Written in part as a performance piece of the same name, it takes the form of seventeen poems about ghosts, the origins of which she discusses at  This aside, though, her foreword alone makes clear the roots of her interest:  “Whenever I think about poetry … I’ve always found myself coming back to the idea of ghosts:  people and places we once knew, characters we’ve never met, stories we overhear and wish were ours. I’m fascinated by those ghosts and how a poem can reinvent them, encounter them in unlikely places”.

Not that Mort is simply a teller of fireside tales. On the contrary, her poems resonate with echoes and memories of a wider, deeper past, the landscape of her childhood, perhaps, her sense of its importance in illuminating her present, distilling her sense of what she wants her poetry to represent. She says as much in the haunted and haunting after hours:  “I belong / to starless nights: / the six black boulders / up at Harthill moor who dance / like women till the cockerel crows / and morning freezes them again.”

Typically, the language here is deceptively simple, absolutely clear and that incantatory phrase, “I belong”, repeated at the beginning of each stanza, goes to the heart of what is good about the entire collection:  its sense of identification with a lost world of people and places, skills and trades, valued bygone ways brought back to life, as in a vodka for the working ghosts, through memories and words:  “Have pity, then, on long-dead steelworkers, / whose curse confines them to the northern quarters … or pace beside the working girls / who don’t look up … for evermore, at home, and helpless in this town …”

Making poems out of pasts we haven’t lived can be dangerous for poets;  our writing becomes twee and sentimental, deteriorates into nostalgic goo. Mort, however, avoids this trap. Though often darkly moving, her ghosts aren’t sentimental. She knows well enough that, however precious, the past is another country where Time’s already been called and the poet herself has become a ghostly watcher:  “And I know / even before I’ve passed / the butcher’s shop, the corner store, / the park’s black railings, / slick as spears, I know / that when I reach my parents’ house / it will be overgrown / with waist-high nettles, choked / by ivy, hidden by thorns.”

An exciting collection, one I’d enjoy writing about at greater length. Not to be missed.

… reviewed by Ken Head

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Fiona Sinclair is a time traveller

Time traveller


The girl on the underground is a sartorial time traveller.
Navy high waisted pencil skirt tightens over her ripened
bottom, blue pinstripe shirt, demurely buttoned up to the
collar, sets her rocket breasts on a youthful trajectory.
Despite the carriage’s bumper car jolting, she balances on
death defying stilettos like an accomplished trapeze artist.
Although her Siamese cat’s eyes peep out through letter box
spectacles and her harvest of blonde hair is gathered into a
generous bun, this girl is not waiting to be transformed in a
‘Why you are beautiful Miss Jones’ revelation, because like
Marilyn in that dress, she is more erotic in her 50s costume
than standing stark naked on the tube. Yet there are no Sid
James remarks from the suited men, builders in dusty denims
and youths in shorts, who surrounded by casual girls oozing
flesh like a gallery of Reuben’s nudes, stare only at her and pant.

* Fiona Sinclair has had work published in numerous reputable magazines. Her
first chapbook
Dirty Laundry was published by Koo Press in
February 2010.

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