The Seventh Day of Christmas: Adam Warne, Zelda Chappel



A Christmas Carol From Ovid

He dumped her by text.

She sat outside Costa and read the message:

“i don’t think we should see each other anymore”

What a dick.

She wasn’t going to let him make her cry.

She started to cry.


As she cried

the tears flowed down her cheeks

in burning rivulets.

As she cried

the tears began to burn away her skin.

Fur pushed towards the surface,

a pair of antlers sprouted,

her nose went red.


She cried and cried

until she had forgotten herself

and off she galloped,

leapt into the night

heading north.



Adam Warne: In the past Adam was part of 28 Sonnets Later and performed at Luton Fringe Festival with The Poetry Choir. He got a degree from UEA, organised cabaret nights and his poetry appeared online and in The Rialto. Following these successes, he’s now employed to push trolleys at Asda.




Afterwards we found


space for whiskey-stained ghosts to pass between our lips.

Tonight we’ll mark the days’ shortness with our breaths

and taught skins.  Touching, clouds of whispers dissipate

slow, linger cold as orbs

hung low.


From the pavement, streetlamps pick out laughter with

precision, watch it dance with night ’til we fold mesmerised

by our own noises.  Tonight we are caught moving just out

of reach.  The cold never felt

so warm.



Zelda Chappel is a poet and occasional photographer living halfway between the city and the sea.  Slightly obsessed with fountain pens and tea. Previously published in Popshot, South Bank Poetry and Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2012 (and a couple of others).



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The Sixth Day of Christmas: Penelope Shuttle




London, December

I only love London in winter



Daybright city darts in

for an evening paper,

comes out dark-savvy, neon-wise…


trace the city

in your tilting eye, river

cocking its snook through the post-codes,


idling past fiscal towers,

great  see-thru  slabs  of executive toffee,

shrugging off this faff of a city without a second glance


as one rose-red bus

half as old as time

wheedles its way down Threadneedle Street


and bridges lie low for fear of burning

and a million mobiles raise

their home-bound voices


and forests of Xmas trees,

chopped off at the root, encircle London,

closing in…


Once I knew a man

who wished his house

had two magical doors,


one leading to London,

one to Cornwall –

‘think of the travelling time we’d save…’


But London, my love,

has so many doors

all hitting the nail on the head,


London in its mysterious cloak of dark

not much darker than the light,

city where a painter


can only work on his ‘Crucifixion’ canvas

when he’s blind-drunk,

yes, that’ll be London, I think



Penelope Shuttle‘s most recent publication is Unsent: New and Selected Poems 1980 – 2012, from Bloodaxe Books.  She will be giving readings from Unsent next year at Bristol Poetry Festival, the Charles Causeley Festival and other venues.  She lives in Cornwall.


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The Fifth Day of Christmas: Deborah Alma, Brian Johnstone




Playing Scrabble with my New Lover



So stupid, but I hadn’t remembered

that the last time I’d played

was in the old house,

until I found the two stubby pencils,

torn envelopes addressed to us both

and old scores, settled.



I poured the wine, apologised

for not being much fun,

while he spelt out L..O…V…E.

But his score was only seven

and I said,

you should have kept the V

for another time.



Deborah Alma was born in London and lives in Ludlow. She writes poetry, runs poetry workshops for children and dementia sufferers and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. She is also Emergency Poet in her 1960’s ambulance.



Xmas Present


The present, tense with pressures,
presents itself in gifts mapped
out as these: a sop to fashion,
present pop, tradition wrapped
in sentiment.  And I must choose
the necessary, the trivial, the apt.
Bowed down by bleak present-
iment, browned off and strapped
for cash, I’m feeling hassled,
pressured, feeling present-tense.



Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009). His poetry has appeared throughout Britain, in America and Europe. His poems have been translated into over 10 different languages. In 2009 Terra Incognita was published by L’Officina (Vicenza).


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The Fourth Day of Christmas: Sarah James


On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Four calling birds….

[calling birds is a corruption of the original colly or collie birds – blackbirds]


The Calling


Against winter sun, a Christmas card
seen in a moment’s stillness,
silhouetting blackbirds in a leafless tree.


Then, the breaking open of an instant,

song loosed from each beak, as orange
peel sometimes zesting dry grass,


other times bright with red berries
and claw trails pitting through snow.

Sudden gifts from the hedgerow.


A chimney sweep of tail brushes air

across air, leaves no stain behind

in its undergrowthed wake.


But, observed as it happens: that fall

of leaves, song from a beak,

snow from clouds, night from sky…

feathers from feathers, then rising again,
as one, two, three – shake out that plumage –

four colly birds might right now lift into flight.



The Falling


Bright with summer sun, a postcard
scene of flitting curves and blondness,
silhouette dolly birds upon the beach.


Then, the slipping open of glossed lips,

a-drawl-come-simper-whisper drools

to rest sometimes between their…


Other times, see their trolleys laden

with booze and cherries for cocktails.

Sudden gifts from the silly aisles.


A flamboyant flick of hair brushes air

across lipsticked face, leaves a perfume stain

for those that supermarket in their wake.


But, observed as it happens: that cascade

of ash blonde which never greys, the fall

of nail varnish from a brush…how the penny

finally drops. Then eyebrows rise again,
as one, two, three – shake out that plumage –

four dolly birds might right now drift into sight.




Sarah James’s first collection Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010) won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011. She is a journalist, mum, MA creative writing student and dabbler in art. Her website is at .

The image created in response to poems by Sam Hutchcocks and Julie Haller (of Moonlit Murals)


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The Third Day of Christmas: David Morley


Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation


We are waiting for a Christmas that never came,

each species a friend of a friend of some needle-hue.

All the years, heights and postures are present

like children in a school that no child ever leaves.


Each species a friend of a friend of some needle-hue:

those adolescent spruces prickle with boredom

like children in a school that no child ever leaves.

The infant firs sing to themselves in the snow.


The prefect pines, sky-high, peer down unmoved.

Those adolescent spruces prickle with boredom;

the infant firs sing to themselves in the snow.

We speak through the wind and only then in murmurs;


stretch our limbs into the wind to catch at birds.

The prefect pines, sky-high, peer down unmoved

bartering a bullfinch song for a goldfinch chime.

We speak through the wind and only then in murmurs.


By dusk we are whispers and secret playtime rhymes.

We stretch our limbs into the wind and catch at birds.

Our tree rings are school bells that peal in December

bartering a bullfinch song for a goldfinch chime.


By dusk we are whispers and secret playtime rhymes.

All the years, heights and postures are present.

Our tree rings are school bells that peal for December.

We are waiting for a Christmas that will never come.





David Morley’s recently published Enchantment (Carcanet), a Sunday Telegraph Book of the Year chosen by Jonathan Bate. The Invisible Kings was a PBS Recommendation and TLS Book of the Year chosen by Les Murray. The Gypsy and the Poet is due from Carcanet in 2013 followed by New and Selected Poems in 2014. He writes regularly for The Guardian and Poetry Review. He wrote The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing  and  co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. He teaches at Warwick University where is Professor of Writing.

‘Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation’ appeared in Enchantment, Carcanet Press, 2010.




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The Second Day of Christmas: Andy Bennett, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

Letter to Alfie

On a beach in Alicante,
a hundred days and a thousand miles from Whitby,
Mummy will read the vampire story she just unwrapped.
Because it’s nice to get away once in a while.

Daddy’s eleventh Playfair Annual
is already out of date. Kindle saw to that.
Nights with the boys are scarce these days
and trivia yellows in the sun, unpursued.

Put them both on the shelf, there’s a good lad.
Next to Jamie’s fine.
Careful, though – don’t break the spines!
Don’t crease the covers!
Don’t fold down corners because
sometimes you read when you’re drunk
and remembering a three-digit number
is just too much hassle.

OK, you’re too young to get that.
I’ll explain when you’re older.
Meantime, if you ever need a bookmark,
I’ll take you to the Railway Museum.

Put them on the shelf, thassit.
Treat them nice. They’re Presents.

This, however,
This little thing with a picture of a Tyger on it,
This is a book.
This is your book.

And because it’s your book,
you can chew it, swallow it, digest it,
cover it with the endless snot from your nose,
leave chocolate footprints on its pages,
take it in the bath with Mr Matey,
stuff it into satchels, into rucksacks,
the pockets of blazers,
and the first leather jacket you’ll ever own.

(Don’t try that with Camus.
It won’t impress girls as much as you’ll think it will).

Don’t get prissy about your book.
It’s tougher than you think.
It can take every crease and wrinkle in the plates;
the cherryade splashes from your seventh birthday party;
the black thumb-smudges dark as printer’s ink;
the underlines, sidelines, headlines, bylines,
and little annotations you thought would make you sound clever.
It can handle the mud from six different festivals;
the pages crinkled from lashings of beer and dew;
even the dodgy stain from where you projectile vomited
at seventeen and nothing in your room stood a chance.

Even with a broken spine,
your book will still function.
Your book will grow with you,
and you with it.

And when the ghost of a small triangle
haunts the corner of every page,
and the leaves are thinning like Daddy’s hair,
take a fat crayon, and write your name in it.

Then, leave it at a train station
near where the charter’d Thames does flow
and walk away
singing The Verve.


Andy Bennett is a poet and comedian who hates writing his own bio. So if you could all imagine a bio here that would be grand. Think a 21st Century Lord Rochester with no money and you’re pretty close.


Christmas Catalogue
Luke 11:11


The year he got his model train

he hardly got up from the floor

while three trucks trundled round and round

the clack and clatter sounded real


The year she got her house for dolls

she was hardly off her knees

to move the tiny furnishings.

The chairs and crockery looked real.


The year that both of them got bikes
they could hardly stay indoors
but cruised past frost-soft holly hedges.
When they tried to ride no-hands
the prickles proved quite sharply real.

As adults they can be embarrassed,
looking back on all the presents
many children never got.
Nostalgia can feel tissue-thin
beside brown-paper wrapped regrets.

Old tangled string still fastens parcels
and our hope of someone knowing
what it is we really want –
then giving it. No disappointments
and no tricks that bite or sting.


Michael Bartholomew-Biggs ( is poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip.  He is also a co-organiser of the Islington reading series Poetry in the Crypt.  His next collection is due from Shoestring Press in 2013.



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The First Day of Christmas: George Szirtes, Peter Phelps














Black Dog Running

The dog is running through the snow –

just watch him go!


A word of command and he’s gone

into the woods alone.


There his ilk congregate and bark

to thicken the dark.


But here, clear snow and light,

and no black dog in sight


just snow, just snow.



George Szirtes is a Hungarian-born poet, translator and blogger.  This is his website


Photograph by Clarissa Upchurch




Walk to the wood


Winter’s early, November stillborn,

the path already breathless

beneath inches of pearl snow.


Grey geese beat upwind bleating curses;

the sun’s weighed down and waxen:

it clings to the horizon.


In the wood a feathered silence falls,

snowflakes drifting down to swell

an already burdened brook.


Turning back I scrape my name in snow;

one look at this sky enough:

nothing here lasts.



Peter Phelps is an environmentalist, entrepreneur and writer who grew up in a family of nine children in outback Australia. He travelled and worked for several years in Russia and Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan. He currently lives with his family in North Norfolk.

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