The First Day of Christmas – Catherine Ayres and Ken Evans



Advent service

Three o’clock and the hall is a collapsed lung.
Candles glow through a fug of Lynx and condensation.
God is with us. He is ready for a song.

The boys in the back row are weary. They have writhed
through the rituals of celebration and now their necks rest
on the backs of chairs, legs splayed like scissors.

The piano uncoils its rusty spring and they sit up slowly,
like a ward of old men expecting medicine.
The boys don’t want to sing; the girls are watching,

filling the cracks in their voices with the edges of sly smiles.
But they know I’m unashamed, a fallen woman in a cardigan,
a God-fearing atheist swollen with strange devotion.

They tuck their embarrassment under my unfashionable voice
and we creak forward, a carnival float of dishevelled praise.
We open our mouths to bleak midwinters, fall on earth

as hard as iron, swallow the water that’s like a stone.
The candles flicker like departing lovers, like bald heads in the
hospital and I’m spiralling through alleluias, back to where all that’s past

is yet to come, untouched as a Christmas sprout, a little Our Lady
looking for the Lord in every bedroom ceiling light- streak.
The music stops.

In the needle’s eye that stitches silence to song
there’s a low thunder, the thump of a thousand hearts.
Sleet is veiling the windows in a desperation of grey.

“Bloody hell, it’s a deluge” says a small voice beside me.
Christ, I think, it’s like applause.





Catherine Ayres lives and works in Northumberland. Her poems have appeared  in Ink, Sweat  & Tears, Spontaneity, Domestic Cherry, Prole and The Moth. She recently came third in Ambit magazine’s “Under the Influence” competition.




The Man in the Street

A man in a Santa hat, not obviously out of it,
antlers on, tacks down the street,
fills our pavement with bandy-leg confidence.
No warning, he flings his sails wide,
sings out, ‘You’re beautiful,’ to the tarmac host
a shoal that swerves round his turbulence.
‘Don’t worry, mate, you’ll get over it,’ he laughs,
eyes me. Doesn’t even bother to warn me off,
I’m safe, no threat in tie, overcoat, a suspect lack
of bags. There’s the sudden gain of apathy, it’s Christmas again
and I’ve still let down every side there’s ever been.
I scramble for the tongue in my pocket
the shoal wheels round, expectant. I am sucking
in air in a too warm suit. The moment passes,
he walks off laughing. Now he’s gone I want to be him,
taking on the world for fun, singing because
it’s a sunny lunchtime in December, because he can
because he felt like it and no-one’s arrested
Christmas Eve unless they really want to be.


Ken Evans is a Creative Writing Master’s student at Manchester University. He featured in The Interpreter’s House and on Morphrog9 this summer and was placed in the Poets & Players Competition 2014.

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Josh Ekroy




I, Calluna

am bog vegetation born from acid
like to be grazed, invite burning.
Kallunein I’m called, to sweep up,
I have been a thousand besoms in my time.
Each one of me  – Beoley Crimson,
Boskoop, Firefly, Long White

display florets that peep through the snow
to famished deer and sheep.
Willow Grouse and Red Grouse peck
on me.  Lochmaea suturalis
can kill me, and I become all beetle.

I dyed wool yellow and tanned leather.
I was gruit, brewed heather-beer,
my fungus is hallucinogenic.
I am a jelly until stirred, and
if you leave me alone, I will set again
to become honey.
Leave me in my comb.

Remember me as you receive
the thrusting gypsy hand:
Hamlet Green, Saint Nick,
Pearl Drop, Elkstone White,
Dainty Bess, Pennymore Gold,
Blazeaway, Darkness, Horsefeather…
The luck I bring you
will last for no more than a minute.


Josh Ekroy‘s debut collection Ways to Build a Roadblock was published in May 2014 by Nine Arches Press. He lives in the City of London.


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AM Spence




Poetry God

The air is full with thick-rain,
pavements an inch in rain
-water runs into roads to
the brim of the curb
as trees drip
like beach brollies
where pigeons on a shop-step
like a pair
of saturated boots
watch as poetry god
renews today
till life in it is peaceful.


AM Spence was born in Manchester and read literature as an undergraduate at The University of Manchester UK. In 2009 she completed her MA in creative writing in poetry at the same university.

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D DeHart





Yes, dear, I know you are
dizzy and if I could be
your sweet cotton, I would
make this world comfortable.
I would be the barrier,
the hedge, between cold dark
earth and your lovely craft.
I would chain up this world
and make it do your bidding.
It would surely tap dance for
you, this absurd globe.
Since I am not a god, we will
take a moment and slow down.




D DeHart is the author of the chapbook, The Truth About Snails.  His blog is and he is a staff writer for Verse-Virtual.

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William Bedford




The Stove
i.m. Eleanor Grey

The stove in the sunken classroom
burns coke to a yellow glow,
warming your storyteller’s murmur.

St Wulfram’s spire chills the room,
graves and gargoyles
grinning to the ravens’ croak.

You kept a fireguard round the fire,
reading at the end of each school day:
faraway trees and magic circles,

the gate into the secret garden,
the lonely traveller at the moonlit door.
The stove has been taken away,

and the children who sang in a choir
at the side of your cold grave
have already left the classroom –

where you sit in your old chair,
and the stove burns coke to a yellow glow,
warming your storyteller’s murmur.




William Bedford’s selected poems, Collecting Bottle Tops, and selected short stories, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, were both published in 2009. A new collection of poems, The Fen Dancing, was published in March 2014.  This year he won both the London Magazine International Poetry Competition and the Roundel Poetry Competition.

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James Naiden




Blank Slate

for Eric Lorberer

A poem confronts itself.
Why am I being written
In this busy gallery laden
With scattergun gaiety, soon-
To-be forgotten gossip,
No matter the frozen veins
Outside – ah, who is to know?
In ten weeks, a change of seasons.
For now, a sibyl of fear rises,
The raw wind a serrated knife.




James Naiden’s third novel, The Chafings of Mortals, was published in 2011. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a regular reviewer for IS&T.

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Grant Tarbard




blind beggars

on Ronnie Kray’s funeral


The great madman, trapped
in a headache, whizzed
from weeds pulled out of
the soil’s bunting, a
bouquet of red fire.

Florid petals pour
grotesque painted skulls
and trombones played in
the disjointed songs
of old pearly dears

passing between life
and disfigured death
on the old kettle
creeping boulevard,
the wolves will scent the

mould whitening meat.
Poor crimson petal
covered madman with
his cheap black suited
East End funeral,

the mourners all had
stained glass Chelsea grins.
Yellow skeletons
leer into the hearse
and wither all the

wreaths. The unfound dead
march like soldiers and
raise their heads again
ticked in seaweed cockles
and headlong concrete.




Grant Tarbard has worked as a computer games journalist, a contributor to football fanzines, an editor, a reviewer and an interviewer. He is now the editor of The Screech Owl. His work can be seen in such magazines as The Rialto, The Journal, Southlight, Sarasvati, Earth Love, Mood Swing, Puff Puff Prose Poetry & Prose, Postcards Poetry and Prose, Playerist 2, Lake City Lights, The Open Mouse, Miracle, Poetry Cornwall, I-70, South Florida Review, Zymbol and Decanto.

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