My mind resists
the heart’s need to travel
from its solitary throne
of bone and skin.
I also know this:
his voice is a castle,
so I pick up the phone
and walk in.
Michaela Ridgway lives in Brighton. Her magazine credits include Magma, Other Poetry, Orbis, The Frogmore Papers, Purple Patch, The Ghazal Page, Obsessed with Pipework & Moodswing. She hosts the monthly Pighog Press poetry night at the RedroasterRead More
Sending Letters to the Devil
Sending letters to the devil by bottlemail,
cork secured forcefully thirteen times (for luck).
We’ve been conferring by waves of blazing air,
discussing our plans for the potential.
He floats over blistering oceans on
anaemic clouds tinted timid.
Loosely gripping the reins as galactic
atmospheres acquiesce in his favour.
Greeting my qualms with a
smile heaved eyebrow-high.
Hieroglyphics guard our
conversation from prying eyes,
intricate yet elegant: refined.
My devil secures his
ashen tie with one hand,
straightening his suit with the other.
I agree to meet him on the
aquatic bed at first light.
I keep to my word,
like the blue to the sky.
Before the sun has wholly risen,
I have already accepted the gift.
Sat cross-legged underneath
prevailing tides of combustion,
I slide the tie around my neck.
Tipping my head back;
the flames laugh with me.
Atalie Scrivener is a female poet from the southeast of England. She prides in being a guilty tea addict; whom stubbornly prefers the wandering eccentricity of her daydreams to hard work.
My Two Fathers
When my father removes his skin
he steps to one side and tidies
the old skin away with a dustpan and brush.
He wants nothing more
than not to make a spectacle
but my mother insists he fill it with stones.
The stone father is anchored
to the armchair, while the other
goes upstairs to his room in a sulk.
The stone father holds the television control,
orchestrates the night’s entertainment.
The other stays asleep like a bear.
Helen Ivory’s fourth Bloodaxe collection Waiting for Bluebeard is out now. She is also an artist, teaches for the Poetry School, for the Arvon Foundation, is a Poetry Society ‘Surgeon‘ and an editor for The Poetry Archive. My Two Fathers is taken from Waiting for Bluebeard.Read More
My nose is pressed close to the mirror but it is as if I am looking at something far far away, past the cathedral and the factory and the fields we once lolled on during the summer months so long ago, sharing the fancy seasonal moments like little rare foreign coins with small animals on them.
The meadows stamped their feet. The flowers tilted their broadsides. The compunction made itself known as the pressure of a great body of water will make itself known to some frail object deep beneath the sea, not out of malice but a stupid kind of love, calling things the same names, doing the same things at the same time, so it renders a colour out of what was once translucency.
But broken umbrellas line the streets on an otherwise cloudless day. They will classify us in the annals as butchers of flowers. Our heads are bare in the face of the deep valley of the blue blue sky, copious but unavailing.
Joe Dresner is 25 and lives and works in London. He was born in Sunderland. He has had poems published or forthcoming in Poetry Review, Ambit, Stand and Envoi.Read More
In a typical year, I read a lot of new poetry, not all of it, including some of my own, overwhelmingly interesting. Now and again, though, a review copy arrives which sets the pulses racing and, for me, Riddance, Anthony Wilson’s third collection from Worple Press, is one such, memorable poems in a volume I couldn’t put down and have already re-read several times. His subject is his response to cancer, more particularly, to the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which he received on Valentine’s Day, 2006 at the age of forty-two and the challenge he sets himself, as he makes clear in a very informative introduction, is not simply to “explain what happens when an individual is diagnosed with cancer” because there are “any number of books” which in both scientific and personal terms do that, but to find ways of “describing the truth for the individiual who is experiencing it”, a truth “often found in more unexpected places: a nurse’s joke as she begins to inject you; a tin of brownies left on the doorstep by a friend; the offer of a lift by a neighbour”.
The collection, which is generous and far-reaching in both content and range, is divided into five parts, the twenty-four poems contained in the first, The Year Of Drinking Water, having been previously published as a separate volume by the Exeter Leukaemia Fund. Part Two, All Lives, All Dances, All is Loud, takes the form of a long poem in memory of Lucy Mason, a friend and designer and maker of textile wall-hangings, whose diagnosis of lung cancer occurred a few weeks before Wilson’s own illness went into remission and who died on All Hallows’ Eve, 2008. Of the remaining sections, Part Three, Riddance, contains twenty-eight poems, Part Four, Three Lifetimes, twenty-two poems, written during what Wilson sees now as the beginning of a return of “normal life” and Part Five, Reasons for Life, eighteen poems begun in note form before his illness but included in this collection because, as he says, “they are an attempt to recover and celebrate all that seems most essential and affirming about the act of living”.
Affirming “the act of living” under these circumstances isn’t, as I know from my own experience of cancer treatment and as other readers will know at least as well, the easiest trick in the book to manage. Being rational, staying positive, are difficult at the best of times, let alone when, “on the ward where they filled me / with life-saving chemicals / which made my hair fall out … We discuss the important things, / like the weather, / but never what happens here, / the binging of the drips.” Nevertheless, it’s the task, as Wilson makes clear in How to Pray for the Dying, to which Riddance is dedicated: “Do not say: ‘Lord, this is not of you,’ / rebuking our tumours / as though we were not in the room with them. / Say instead ‘We are afraid’ / and ‘We do not understand.’ … Pray for the obvious. / Pray we live to see Christmas … Don’t you dare / say ‘It’s not fair.’ / Spare me your weeping. / Try saying ‘Shit happens.’” No sentiment, no self-pity, although, as in Chemotherapy, they’re sometimes hard to avoid: “On bad days you long to be dead. / On good days you think you are.”
For most, though perhaps not all, cancer patients, there are times following initial diagnosis (“It’s probably nothing / most likely benign. / It isn’t, it’s cancer. / There isn’t much time.”) and during treatment when personal survival hangs in the balance and when, with the best will in the world, the doctors can’t be sure of the eventual outcome either. Those days of waiting for test results, biopsies, three or six-month check-ups to see if there’s been any re-growth, are like living in limbo, being neither fully in nor out of either the world of the well or that of the ill, occupying a space in which small things take on immense importance. It’s a view Wilson records frequently, sometimes with a degree of gallows humour, sometimes grateful for what a day has held, always with a total absence of sentimentality or self-pity. A number of the untitled poems in Three Lifetimes make this point well: “I have been standing on estuary sands. / The sky comes to gossip and stretch. / A bus of white heads and coats. / A blue tractor taller than me.” And, by contrast: “Some things are too close to mention – / X’s weight loss, the sudden death of Y. / And yet, today was special: / serviceable hot choc at the station / and there, a display of children’s art. / A poet had taken them to the coast. / The beaks of the birds they saw blazed orange, / a collage of their chopped up tickets.”
Space permitting, I’d like to write at greater length about All Lives, All Dances, All is Loud, Wilson’s long poem (one hundred and ten deceptively loosely constructed couplets) in memory of his friend Lucy Mason. It’s a fine and movingly meditative poem which makes, I think, many of the points I’ve made above, albeit for a different purpose. Addressing Lucy directly, Wilson remembers not only his admiration both for the quality of her work and her total commitment to it, but also the pleasure of shared moments in their creative lives (“You do not need me to tell you / one beholding other is all we require / for communion to take place”) and his conviction that despite its being hindsight that “affords us these luxuries / of looking back and inventing / new-minted previous selves”, she was, in her life, a great deal more than the sum of her parts. How posterity may remember her, on the other hand, or indeed, any of us, is a riddle much less important than the question contained in the poem’s concluding lines:
“like those distant cathedral bells / tolling three seconds / behind the time we live by /
and insisting: That small handful / of life, how did you use it?”
©2013: Ken Head
Buy your copy of Riddance published by Worple Press here
is a tunnelled sea
of black-red bumpers,
thick and stop-start.
Granite arches of yellow
narrow the lanes, from Ulnar
sludging up the traffic
into inky gasps of movement.
So I take the Cephalica
up to the lungs.
I drop some friends off there.
They said “we’re just passing
through. The heart is the place to stop.”
Joe Castle is a third year student of Creative Writing at the University of Northampton.Read More
I was only the French Maid now and again
in a little black dress, stockings and duster.
She was ‘Brigitte’ and I couldn’t do the accent.
I’d have liked to be Ursula Undress with a knife
or any Bond girl with an exciting name
like Trigger or Vesper or Solitaire,
but I was Miss Jones instead, twinset and pearls
and glasses to remove, revealing my beauty,
Miss Jones I had no idea…
She was easier, although I wasn’t convincing
But now I can take part with my eyes shut.
He and I can be doctor and patient –
me lying in bed in a hospital gown and a coma
(dreaming of Dirk) and he Sir Lancelot Spratt
come on his rounds to give me a poke.
And that almost suits us both.
Meg Cox is new to writing poetry but not to reading it – she’s getting on a bit. She lives in Herefordshire, alone with her dogs and a garden and a view but she promises not to write about them and would rather live in London.Read More