Fiona Sinclair reviews ‘Fred and Blossom’ by Michael Bartholomew- Biggs









The history of the aeroplane becomes the third character in Fred and Blossom’s story in this tender, largely biographical collection.  From the outset Fred and Blossom were bound to collide even though they grew up in very different worlds.  Blossom came from show business: ‘born backstage and cradled in a costume basket’ while Fred’s father owned a laundry business. Part of the work’s charm is its layout – the opening poem places details about the two side-by-side suggesting the inevitability of the two lives joining. Similarly the birth of the flying machine is mentioned on the same page emphasising the link between them.  The useful notes at the back of the collection tells that the characters are real and this is indeed their biography. Such knowledge draws us closer to Fred and Blossom as their lives are revealed.

We are shown Fred and Blossom’s early years including Blossom’s misfortune of she losing an eye as a reaction to vaccination. The characters’ lives are not without sadness yet what stops the poems from being maudlin is a skilfully deployed optimistic tone through the collection, reflecting the  philosophical attitude of the players to what fate throws at them.

Bartholomew-Biggs does well to twine the characters’ lives alongside the development of flight in the 20th Century. As Fred makes his career in the nascent aircraft industry what is revealed is a great deal of aviation history, which comes alive when linked to the lives of Fred and indeed Blossom. In Learning to Fly we are shown the thrill experienced by the woman as ‘today she is learning to fly’. This is all the more contrasted by her Second World War experience when she and many women like her were discouraged from flying or indeed, designing. A found poem based on an article on women and flight from a 1939 issue of The Aeroplane clearly reveals how galling this must have been for Blossom: ‘the menace is the woman who thinks she ought to be flying a high speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly.’

Blossom’s life is perhaps the most extraordinary, as she, notwithstanding her partial-sightedness, becomes a keen aviator herself. Moreover it is revealed that she became integral to the design of aircraft. Bartholomew- Biggs emphasises the ramshackle held-together-with-string details of the first planes and the danger involved in flying such planes. The history of the plane reaches its climax in the Second World War and the poems dealing with this are charmingly nostalgic, not least the poem Workers Playtime which skilfully uses the idioms of the announcer and the responses of the workers revealing a good ear for realistic dialogue.

When Blossom learns to fly with Fred as her instructor, the two fall in love. There are obstacles, as with all great love affairs, not least the fact that she is already married. But running parallel with their love affair is their love for flight and aeroplanes. After the war, Fred continues to work in aviation however the poem Fred takes a back seat is touching in its gentle sadness – a sense that Fred has been side-lined in the firm he works, whilst Blossom is consigned to the role of wife and mother. The narrative then reveals that the company goes bankrupt and the poem Disused aerodrome 1963 is a fine tribute to all the disused airfields now lying quietly around the country.

The final section of the collection deals with other aspects of aviation history outside the dominant narrative. Interesting as they are and indeed skilfully executed, I feel they are mopping-up poems that did not fit the driving narrative and as such seem a little superfluous.



Order your copy of Fred and Blossom  by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs (Shoestring Press £9) Here


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Katy Thornton




The room smells of old cigarettes and stale whisky. I know he has been here, can see him sat on the bed flickering through my books, breathing in my perfumes, tasting my designer cigarettes. He would have held the silver framed photograph of my mother and me that I keep on my bedside table. It was taken on the day of my graduation. A beautiful day during which the sun had warmed our faces and my only concern had been where to eat and how I would spend the summer. That was before he had come into our lives, before he had moved into the house next door.

Uninvited visitor
Roaming the private world
Of my bedroom



As an MA student in Creative Writing at Swansea University Katy Thornton discovered her love of Haibun and Haiku poetry while participating in her first poetry class. She draws on her previous experiences travelling in her writing.

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Reuben Woolley




not this year


leaves move bravely

dancing in the face

of no wind like kids

playing on the rails

ain’t gonna get me

not falling to the ground

not this year


I shall take my legs

and dance on the graves

of no time like a kid

old man bone man

ain’t gonna get me

not going missing

not this year



Reuben Woolley teaches English in Spain. He started writing again in 2013 after a long period of absence and refuses to stop. In an earlier poetical incarnation, he was published in Candelabrum magazine (1971-73) and has recently been published in a Forward Poetry anthology, the 2014 Gold Dust calendar and in IS&T Twelve Days of Christmas, 2013-14.

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Jennie Christian


Last Tango on Archway Road

The 143 was stopped at The Winchester
when the driver ran onto the top deck holding a sequinned stiletto
in each hand and a red rose between his teeth.

The last time Mrs Losely took the bus
a man in a fedora who said his name was Ché
told her she had beautiful eyes.

So, she was not surprised when a rose dropped into her lap.

Jennie Christian is based in London. Her poems have appeared in publications including Agenda Poetry (Rilke issue 2007), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (#162 Winter 2012-13), SOUTH (issue 48, October 2013) and Obsessed with pipework (January 2014).

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Kathy Gee




Control Garment

Madam, this is recommended:
Sherwood’s Adjustable Bustle and Skirt.
Eliminates compression
from the female spine and heart.
Or Thomson’s Patent Glove Fit Corset,
First For Comfort, almost undetectable,
gives graceful contour to the form
with added snaps and latch for safety.

Virtuous young women welcome
busk, suspenders, whalebone, lacing.
For the sake of reputation,
Madam, this is recommended.



Kathy Gee only started submitting works for publication in 2011. She organised the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings poetry trail in 2012, enjoys performance, and her blog    is an experimental vehicle for occasional video poems.

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John Murphy




Poetry Workshop

He puts the at the end of the
line, sprinkles too many

and’s around for their liking.
He likes fuzzy poems, a bit rough

around the edges.  Make ‘m work
is what I say. A bright idea turned

cartwheels through his mind.
Something about Hiroshima

and war, but ended up as a poem
on the ordinariness of milk floats.

They fail to see the connection.
In the long silence he writes a haiku

about his pet snake,
how it feels warm, not slimy.


John Murphy is a retired Lecturer and musician. His poems have been published in various magazines and journals. He is the editor of The Lake, a poetry webzine.

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Suzanne Jean Johanson



My Small Envies



The girl at the grocery counter

who sees your polite smile.

The extra door key you trust

will be there if you need it.

The spoon you search for

when you need a spoon.

The books anticipated

in your Amazon basket,

and the one from the library

you wish you could keep.

The pen you try to keep track of.

And the alarm you sweep

your thumb over every morning

just to silence it.



Suzanne Jean Johanson lives in a yellow house with a black roof, which if on fire, she’d grab her dappled porcelain pony, her green ceramic elephant and her white-rimmed, dye-cast 1951 Ford truck. She’s been published in Antiphon.

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