Stav Poleg's 'Athena of the City'

From Athena of the city

Athena of the city,

there’s no Acropolis here, in what August
makes out of this place,

upturned umbrellas and wind of high-pitch, the summer
of sales and last-chances.

So I try and travel the cities of London
as if you’ve never left. In every street and site-specific,

under the sky’s uncertainties of moon, I look for
all the things you are: actors wakeful as cities, eagles of the sea,

or tour-guides as things-on-hold. But when you finally arrive,
looking like a miscast leading-lady

in a city with no particular protagonist, exchanging smoke
for stories, but holding the plot like the wings

of a restless horse, I know it’s you, it must be you,
but I can hardly recognise your face.

Boarding card, occupation

Where should I start?

Showing the way from Troy to Ithaca. (Tour-guide?)

A young girl. A shepherd. An image. (Actress?)

A northern wind. A cloud. A sea-eagle. (Winter?)

Goddess. Let’s put it as goddess. (Goddess?)

Home was it?

– Where have you been all this time?  
– I’ve been showing Odysseus the way, haven’t I?

– I thought he’d already –
– He never finds it.

– But according to the book –
– You and your books and ideas
                          of people looking for home, ending up

                          finding it. It’s August. Everyone’s away and
                          everywhere. Go outside, order Kir Royale to start with,
                          celebrate something outrageous, or
                          failing that,

                          go for outdoor activities. Not so much as
                          out-of-doors but out of here, whichever name
                          you’ve given it. Home was it,
                          or memory?

Instead of reading

– I went to the British Museum
– That’s not what I meant.
– to look for you.
– I once went to the pool to look for myself.
– Past the upper-floor galleries
– I hoped I’d fall in love with the image,
– and the changing-displays,
– but there were so many images,
– and the ceiling of cast-iron and sky,
– so I jumped in.
– and back to ground-floor level-zero,
– Although I can’t say it felt like falling
– where lots of people gathered,
– from one place to another.  
– but I couldn’t find you.  


My head of a horse is in London,
my legs and my hands running through another
city, running like the child bursting out
of her father’s headache,

and I’ve never even liked Athens,
but it was somewhere to put my wings up
in the blue Acropolic air, bathing
in the Heliotic sun, as if the sun stretched-out

to be sky itself, letting my grey-eye draw back
in my sleep, or half-sleep, or daydream, if
you’re willing to believe dreaming’s possible
under a 40-Celsius sky

*Stav Poleg’s poetry is published in Magma, The Rialto, Horizon Review, Nthpositon, and Brand Literary MagazineAthena of the City was recently performed (reading) at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of Words, Words, Words new-writing event. 

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Four haiku from Todd Grant

fog rolls along the moors
a chilly night in Sussex
Mrs.Woolf's library

grandpa's old watch
found in a dresser drawer
it's been 1:30 pm forever

night time silence
one car passes by
the crickets stop chirping

the bleakness of winter
watching the snow fall
my hair turns white

*Todd Grant has had  works published in different anthologies such as Arborealis and Grassroots. He belongs to The Ontario Poetry Society.

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Nikolai Duffy's 'Plainchant'

Plainchant (Voyages)

All day we travel and the way is hard going. For fourteen weeks and two days we have been those souls in the wilderness. But now must we pack up and be gone from this thicket. Take this way and be good. When the mountain is in view all will be well for there or thereabouts we will come across a stream and our guide will be waiting. We will rest a while and read from the Book. Only then will we move on. All of our progress depends on the will of others. It is imperative that one’s boots are comfortable.

O Lord, hear me, Lord, hear my prayer.

Each day the blending of voices in this hiding hole, the sound of my soul, of all that I am and must be. And all these voices together in such a small space, so close to my heart. How we come together is singular and perilous.

Help, Lord, or we perish.

One afternoon, it was the middle of October, the sky was leaden and broke over itself and then us. We walked in furrows along the edges of what once were crops. Four flocks of crows, not always easy to make out, took their own paths between the fields and trees. When they nestled among the leaves all for a moment seemed gone.

‘O Lord, Lord, this night and all these nights the long lasting of my prayer.’

For long hours already we have walked north along byways while they lasted and then, when they gave out, we have taken to the mud. Let it be remembered how we have travelled, talked, eaten and slept with a chorus almost constantly in our ears.

You have redeemed us, Lord God of Truth.

And then this night, suddenly and without seeming spur: all this history, once learnt by rote, by stern necessity; long desks stained with wax and ink and the scribe of human hands, all these long hours of learning the fabric of what I already believed and knew without need for counsel the way a voice encountered on an otherwise unassuming day carries with it a name in your heart.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

When going our separate ways at the mossy stones, knowing things I did not perhaps or just the anxieties of his name, our guide held me by the shoulder, the coarse wool of his cowl brushing my cheek in that damp breeze, his palm pressed like glass to my shoulder, and said, ‘Please be careful.’ I looked at his face, hair whitened by sky and skin sodden with salt. I said, ‘Believe me, I am.’ And sitting by a gorse bush soon after I heard his words again and I knelt down and I prayed.

*Nikolai Duffy teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published various poems essays, and reviews in various magazines and journals. His chapbook, the little shed of various lamps, was published by Red Ceilings Press in September 2011.

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Bill Winchester's 'The edge of a continent'

The edge of a continent
I’d filled the XL fast food soda cup with 2 Budweisers and I walked out of the motel to the beach.  There was no one out there except for the seagulls and sandpipers.  The waves came up over the beached sea weed and then went back out.  It did it over and over again. I’d been told in elementary school that it had something to do with the moon, the way the waves worked that is.
It was about 3 in the afternoon.  The city where I lived was way behind me on the highway.  I’d left suddenly.  I found that I did that sometimes.  It confused people that I knew, they’d call me up and say, “hey, let’s get some Italian food.”  And I’d say, “I’m not there.”  And then there would be a long pause and I’d have to make up a story about the whole thing.
So, I sat there on the beach, with the Italian food and the phone calls way behind me. I drank the beer through a straw and I watched the moon pull the water back and forth over the surface of the Earth.  In elementary school they’d taught me the surface of the Earth was called the crust.  It was thin and right below it there was fire, fire, fire.

*Bill Winchester writes fiction and poetry

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Robin Houghton's 'Night Visitors'

Night Visitors

We come when the moon looks away,
when cats crouch unblinking under cars
and we know they won’t talk, or care,
when people are watching TV, as the street
claims a moment of peace. You might hear
a noise outside, something closing, a cough.

Ours is a private ambulance, half parked
in your blindspot, on yellow lines, we are
too busy to be noticed, in our black suits
and soft soled shoes. First the knock, then in
with our bag, upstairs through the murmuring
white faces, offers of tea. We come for Joan.

Everyone’s glad she was here, at least
in her own bed, even dried out like this,
a broken bird. Our work is gentle, discreet.
Just when you look away, we leave.
Don’t trouble yourself about Joan, or us –
we’ll do the same for you, one day.

*Robin Houghton has had work in The Rialto, The North, Iota, Agenda and other magazines. She is a a copywriter and internet marketer and is based in Lewes, East Sussex. Her poetry & photo blog is at

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Charles G Lauder's 'Tree of Desire'

Tree of Desire

Were there ever a tree of desire
ladened with the fruit of temptation
it grew in her back garden.

Juices streamed down beaks
stained feathers like drops of rain
when the peach flesh was pierced.

Tin can lids and mirror shards
tethered and twirled from the branches
like music   lured the rooks

with visions of a lusher crop
their beaks denting against glass
and metal   while some pause

to stare and groom their glossy
darkness   still others keep away
the glare of their greed shames them.

The old lady who set the trap
waits rifle in hand   as she waited
for the neighbor’s dog who came

to steal her chickens. Her granddaughter
sees from the kitchen window a tree
of icicles in the middle of summer

a shimmering white dress of reflective
stones she hopes to wear some day.

*Charles G Lauder, Jr, was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and now lives in south Leicestershire. He has been widely published internationally in American, British, Irish, and European journals. His pamphlet, Bleeds, will be published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012.

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William Bedford reviews Alice Oswald's 'Memorial'

Alice Oswald, Memorial (Faber and Faber, 2011) pp.84, £12.99p

Alice Oswald’s Memorial is “a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story”. That Oswald is a classicist – she read classics at New College, Oxford – and a distinguished poet herself is obvious throughout this exciting work. Critics since Arnold have tended to praise the Iliad for its nobility, but in attempting to recreate the atmosphere Oswald is concerned with what ancient critics called Homer’s enargeia, or “bright unbearable reality”.

To achieve this enargeia, she has abandoned the Iliad’s narrative drive in what she uneasily describes as a “reckless dismissal of seven-eighths of the poem”. But the focus on brief biographies of the dead derives from the Greek tradition of lament poetry, and the similes owe their form to pastoral lyric. Opening with a list of over two-hundred names of the dead, Memorial “presents the whole poem as a kind of oral cemetery”, with the inevitability of death removing any possibility for narrative drama. But it is precisely this accumulating elegiac effect which creates the “unbearable reality” Oswald is trying to evoke.

An example will have to serve to give a sense of this extraordinary work:

Come back to your city SOCUS
Your father is a rich man a breeder of horses
And your house has deep decorated baths and long passages
But he and his brother weren’t listening
Like men on wire walking over the underworld
CHAROPS died first killed by Odysseus
Then Socus who was running by now
Felt the rude punch of a spear in his back
Push through his heart and out the other side poor Socus
Trying to get away from his own ending
Ran out his last moments in fear of the next ones
But this is it now this is the mud of Troy
This is black wings coming down every evening
Bird’s feathers on your face
Unmaking you mouthful by mouthful
Eating your eyes your open eyes
Which your mother should have closed

Like when the wind comes ruffling at last to sailors adrift
Trying to manage the broken springs of their muscles
And lever and lift those well-rubbed oars
Making tiny dents in the ocean

Like when the wind comes ruffling at last to sailors adrift
Trying to manage the broken springs of their muscles
And lever and lift those well-rubbed oars
Making tiny dents in the ocean

A family comes alive in the memorial lament, but the facts of death could apply to any fallen warrior, even the absence of conventional punctuation helping to generalise the experience. Oswald has chosen an almost prosaic language to register the horrors, a form of courtesy allowing the horror of the last five lines their full force. A force given added dignity and gravity by the repeated similes, a kind of Greek chorus commenting dispassionately on the details of the lament, again serving to generalise the experience.

is a lament for the dead of all wars: the friends who die side by side “In a daze of loneliness/Their conversation unfinished”; the boy who was a famous hunter but dies “Wanting to be light again/Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted/And carried on a hip”; an only child whose loving parents “didn’t think he would die/But a spear stuck through his eye/He sat down backwards/Trying to snatch back the light/With stretched out hands”; a young warrior full of life “Running at a man thinking kill kill” only to die himself, and be left so that “In years to come someone will find his helmet/Shaped like a real head.”

Oswald succeeds magnificently in evoking a “bright unbearable reality” which has chilling relevance for us today. It is a reality where everybody is “Somebody’s darling son”; the orders for massacre clang with dreadful familiarity: “kill them all/Even the unborn ones in their mothers’ bellies”; men who were “not really” fighters at all but “more” farmers floundering clumsily on the battle-fields until death “Tin-opened them out of their armour”.

A live performance of Memorial would be an astonishing event. The force of the repeated similes only fully comes to life when read aloud and following their individual laments. And even here, Oswald shows her technical mastery. Hector’s is the last death to be lamented, but Hector “died like everyone else”, a passing remark which reveals the deeper significance of the work. And as if to allow the poem to enter our memories forever, the similes which follow Hector’s death are not repeated, but printed singly page-by-page, surrounded by the white silences of death. We can hear the gradual fading of the voices. But they are not gone.
This is truly the terror of war:

Like when a dolphin powered by hunger
Swims into the harbour
Thousands of light-storms of little fish
Flit away to the water-shaken wall-shadow
And hang there trembling.

….reviewed by William Bedford

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