Three haiku by P-T Diep

A steel meat hook
Clink-clanks onto the tile floor;
Dead ears don't hear

# # # # #

TV aerials against
The evening sky
The smell of supper

# # # # #

The smog and grumble
Of cars returning home
Wakes the streetlamps

* Phuoc-Tan Diep is a poet and a histopathologist hidden away in North Norfolk. He came to the UK from Vietnam when he was 3 years old.

Read More

Angela Topping reviews Penelope Shuttle's 'Sandgrain and Hourglass'

Sandgrain and Hourglass by Penelope Shuttle, Bloodaxe Books, £8.95 128pp

What I love about this collection is that all the poems here arise from genuine experiences which urgently insist on being spoken about and shared. The elegiac poem is an important genre both for working through the process of mourning and because the death of a loved one is a profound experience. Shuttle demonstrates here that elegies need not be unmitigated misery; in writing about the death of her husband Peter Redgrove, she brings joy to the reader both through her apt imagery but also a sense of redemption that has nothing to do with religion, and so is open to all. For instance, ‘Birthday Gift’ imagines that Redgrove is still alive to enjoy his 76th birthday. There is a wry amusement at the impossibility of giving the gift she’s chosen:

I wish I could give this present of Time,
I know it’s just what you wanted.

But no shop stocks it,
no merchant offers it.
The poems are carefully ordered to take the reader through the mourning process, from the opening poem ‘Each Tear’, starkly beautiful in its simplicity, to the final poem ‘When Happiness returns after a long absence’, separated from the others as a Coda. I find this poem moving, beautiful and true. The imagery for happiness grows from an ant to a spider, with the hope of it turning into a wren, smallest of birds, at some time in the future. The last stanza is brave and witty:
I don’t ask for an outbreak of joy so major

the police are called to quell it,    
just your wren-song
drawing each no-longer-endless day to a close,
chanteuse of last light,
such modest happiness I think I can bear.

What works so well here is that the last stanza is a hoped-for destination, and by describing the opposite of present reality, Shuttle gives the reader a hopeful ending whilst keeping between the lines how very far from that modest happiness she is at present, how the days are in fact seemingly endless, the sorrow unremitting. Shuttle writes without a trace of self-pity or sentimentality. The honesty is searing, but dignified.
All the poems in this collection are perfectly crafted, sure-footed and touching. They all deserve detailed comment, but in this limited space I will select a few at random. ‘To a Singing Master’ asks a series of questions to the ghost of the loved one, expressing the feeling that in death, we are made helpless and strangers carry out necessary tasks instead, which perhaps in history would have been part of the letting go:
But who shaved, washed

and dressed you for the pyre?

Did they handle you gently,
or treat you like a piece of meat?

‘The Keening’ remembers in detail Redgrove’s body. This longing for the physicality of the dead person is so sharp and clear with heart-aching imagery: ‘the vineyard of you’, ‘the fallen mast of your spine’. Not every poem is so naked in its grief. Shuttle is not guilty of deifying her husband. ‘I Think It Will Happen Like This’ she teases him and brings out his faults in a loving way, for example she imagines he would cook a meal for her but with a less pleasant side effect:

every pan and dish we own
     stacked, unwashed, in a bowl
         of greasy lukewarm water.

The simple truth of this delights the reader, for there is always one spouse who does this in any given pair. Such moments leaven the grief.

Not every poem in this accomplished collection is about Redgrove. There is also a loving sequence in memory of her father, and a range of other poems including some ekphrastic poetry. I love the poem ‘Bread’ which is about being a poet which includes a sense of what a magical thing this is, how unknown relatives can be conjured up, and yet ultimately how humbling it is. The second stanza has elegant imagery:

I work hard at listening

to what my left hand whispers to my right,
and at folding swans back into ice.
Shuttle is well read, evidenced in the wide frame of reference she chooses, but she wears her learning lightly and the poems are always open to readers. These poems are all love poems, but written in different circumstances. They are also poems of coming to terms with loss and making the best of things, as we must. The directness of language, the wit and invention and sheer love of life and people shines through in every word. Sandgrain and Hourglass is a triumph. I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are in love, grieving or love good poetry, then this is the book for you.

…Reviewed by Angela Topping


Read More

Mari Binx says this is what passes for happily ever after

Love Me

Love is never enough
so build me a bed out of all those romance novels
where happily ever after is the result
no matter how it's written or hidden behind other words.
Spread the blood that has pumped from every broken heart
that never was mended by love,
saturate the pages
and take the tears that fell from eyes
(eyes like the ocean, eyes like the night sky, eyes like whatever)
that no one stopped with gentle fingers
or kissed away with soft loving lips
and use those tears as lube while you degrade me.

Don't make love to me

fuck me atop it all
record it to put online or show to your friends
that pathetic woman that did whatever you ask,
and when it's over don't give kind words
don't cuddle or touch me and certainly don't utter
false promises of love and caring.
No, take that strike anywhere match
and tear it across my alabaster breast
(the one that had heaved with desire or sobs before,
I can never tell which anymore)
and light that cigarette you'll smoke.

Don't offer me a puff, or false promises of a later call,

just sit and watch me critically in the glow of the ember
and I'll lay there and watch you
compare you to prince charming who never comes
and you can compare me to those broken dolls of porn stars
perfect bodies belonging to imperfect souls.
We'll part our ways from that blood soaked bed
knowing that if we see each other again
like strangers we'll pass by
each pretending not to notice the other
yet judging, ever judging
because that's what passes for happily ever after now.

* Mari Binx is a 23 year old who began telling stories the moment she could speak, and writing them down as soon as stubby hands could hold oversize pencils. Her blog is at

Read More

Two poems from Esther Morgan.


For once when you asked

I followed without question,

brushing through the sour nettles

that choke the gap in the hawthorn hedge

to stand at the edge of this moment

you have led us to:

full and clear

it rises like music over the wheat.

Far off a back-yard dog

starts barking at the stars

and is answered in kind –

We are this far apart but not alone.

Across the bone dry fields

a farmhouse window is shining like home

as a light will always shine

when seen from a great enough distance.

Hide Nor Hair

By lunchtime the fields and private woods should be echoing,

the doors of barns and outbuildings dragged open,

their rusted machinery exposed to the sun.

By dusk it should be serious as the river.

It takes until nightfall to become a dream –

the creak of dark stairs, the back door sticking

for the last time, that ring of mushrooms on the green

blooming in the moonlight like a soul.

*Esther Morgan's third Bloodaxe Books collection Grace, will be published next year.  She recently won the Bridport Poetry Prize and was placed third in the Mslexia Poetry Competition.  She is Historic Recordings Manager for The Poetry Archive and her own Poetry Archive recording can be heard here.

Read More

Helen Ivory on the Eric Gregory Awards

Fifty Years of the Eric Gregory Awards

This year sees the 50th Anniversary of the Gregory Awards, a legacy of publisher and art benefactor Dr Eric Gregory who died in 1959.  The Awards, overseen by the Society of Authors, aim to encourage and benefit a handful of British poets under thirty every year and past winners include Adrian Mitchell, Penelope Shuttle, Don Patterson and Lavinia Greenlaw.  More recent winners are Tom Warner, Jen Hadfield and Helen Mort.  The full list is a very impressive chart of British poetry, though some of the names are much better known than others.

When I won mine in 1999, (I was 29 and just limboed under the age limit) the Awards Ceremony was at the wonderful Kensington Roof Gardens, complete with flamingos and fountains and copious wine.  It felt pretty special to be at a huge party with lots of famous authors – which were like mythical creatures to me.  My fellow Gregories were Matthew Hollis, Owen Sheers, Dan Wyke, Andrew Pidoux and Ross Cogan, and there were a huge sense of camaraderie…before I had to get the early (but latest!) train back to Norwich whereupon I disappeared back into the Norfolk countryside never to be seen again until my first book appeared three years later.  These days, Roddy Lumsden (a 1991 winner) is making more of a splash for the poetry debutants – organising readings for them and so on.  He has also taken it upon himself – with no external funding – to put on 50th Anniversary celebrations.  

Last week, I went along to the Betsey Trootwood in Farringdon, to read with a group of other Gregory winners from the past 12 years.*  Roddy asked us all to write a poem themed around the year we won.  Other readers included Clare Pollard, Sasha Dugdale and Sam Riviere, and it was a pleasure to read in such talented company.   My first instinct for a 1999 poem, was to try to mash in some of Prince’s Party Like it’s 1999 lyrics, starting “I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray.”  But intertexuality just isn’t me, so I just flailed around for a while, till I came up with the mildly apocalyptic poem below.  It ain’t sassy like Prince, but then most of the young people in the room (I was the most senior Gregory) probably wouldn’t have got it anyhow. (Increasingly I find this with cultural references and young people. Sigh) I had to leave before the end of the readings to catch the early train back to Norwich.  Plus ça change.


These are the days before

the days of counting backwards;

planes wait to fall from the sky

as birds eye them suspiciously,

measuring the year

in leaves and twilight hours.

Deep in the heart of every computer

a disease waits for the stroke of midnight

for white mice to turn their wheels

widdershins, and unborn us

without so much as a twitch

of a whisker.

So fireworks will draw hieroglyphs

in the sky, so a dog will bark

from its chained-up place in a yard.

And night-roosting birds

will cast out like swimmers

in a broad open sea.

*There will be a larger Gregory Awards Celebration at the South Bank in the New Year.

Read More

Maureen Weldon is passing by the old Ash Tree

The Old Ash Tree
           Rhydymwyn Valley, North East Wales

I walk this bend of tarmac road.
Here the River Alyn
flowed past you, old sleeping Ash Tree,
feet firmly on the bank.

What do you dream
in this thin November sun?
Do you hear a thousand voices,
heavy shovels heaving earth,
the whisper of a miner’s prayer?

Do you dream of searchlights
weaving patterns on the night,
droning aircraft, screeching sirens?
The Valley’s secret work of World War Two,
which they, like you, could not divulge.

But you go back so much further,
to a time of children’s laughter.
Did lovers sit under your cool wide boughs
planning their lust for life?

Today you do not have a single leaf,
the grain of your boughs’ dull green.
Yet, the air is blue, and thin white clouds  
float like daytime ghosts.      

As shadows creep like silent ships,
through the tips of your branches,
a just discernible sickle moon.

* Maureen Weldon lives in North Wales and has been widely published UK small press magazines and elsewhere. She was commended for The Flintshire Poetry Competition 2010 and recently gave a poetry & music performance with Onya Wick at the Chester Literature Festival.

Read More

Three haiku by Dan Bowan



Summer’s last day

Exactly as summer’s first

A sinking feeling.


# # # # #


September’s shadow

A black cloud that follows me

The sun still hiding.


# # # # #


New love and new life

Create warmth within my chest

Breath becomes steady.

* Dan Bowan lives in South East London and mainly write
prose/poetry, as well as short stories/flash fiction. He adds “I
have been writing for 14-15 years and work a day job to pay the rent.
I've also performed at The Poetry Society in Betterton Street and a
couple other places.”

Read More