On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, we bring you Ken Cockburn, David Van-Cauter and Bethany W Pope










Midwinter Wishes

I wish you midwinter darkness
the better to see the stars.

I wish you midwinter silence
the better to hear yourself think.

I wish you a midwinter forest
to lose your way in.

I wish you a midwinter fog
to attend to what’s closest.

I wish you midwinter snow
as a page for your footprints.

I wish you midwinter ice
so the thaw when it comes
cracks all the louder.




Ken Cockburn is a poet, translator, editor and writing tutor based in Edinburgh. 2018 saw the publication of a new collection, Floating the Woods (Luath), and his translations of Christine Marendon’s poems Heroines from Abroad (Carcanet).

Note: This poem appears in Floating the Woods (Luath, 2018)






after TS Eliot

So whose idea was this?
To come all this way
through endless fields from the manor house
to this colossal thing?

We trod past mounds of dung,
forbidden pastures,
tracks that led in circles,
bridges and barbed wire,
rows of trees like pews before the hill

and the honeysuckle path
and the blue-smeared animals, oblivious,
and the ditches that we crossed,
so full of mud that it seeped through our shoes
and the people, just as lost,
asking us how to reach this folly.

We stepped up here together,
hot and haggard,
to this crumbling castle – picture perfect
from the manor dining hall.
But here we see the wooden struts,
the boarded windows and the painted-on cracks,
the weeds seeping up stone,
paper-thin and damp.

Whose idea was this?




David Van-Cauter is a personal tutor and editor from Hitchin, Herts.In 2017 he was runner-up in the Bradford on Avon festival competition and highly commended in the Bare Fiction competition. He was shortlisted for a previous IS&T Cafe Writers Commission.  A pamphlet is forthcoming in early 2019




Ho Ho Ho

I remember being seventeen,
safely in college, away from home,
in a place with guaranteed meals, where I
could spend large chunks of the last years of my
minority reading books and showering
as infrequently as I liked, without
the threat of a return to the place
whose name I still (all these years later)
cannot pronounce without nausea.
I remember waking up in the night,
still wearing the jeans I had on the day
I moved in, watching the moon shine in,
magnified by atmospheric ice-crystals,
sweating and nauseous from one of those dreams.
I remember sliding into my favorite
gray hoodie (I never did buy a jacket)
and toeing past the warm lump of my roommate
who seemed to exhale vanilla, effortlessly,
from all her small pores. I remember
the always-on lights of the hallway.
I remember the shock of air, harsh,
as though the world were freezer-burned, as I
slipped out of the door. Out the door. Up the hill.
Past dining hall and mail room, thinking, ‘Ten
more days till Christmas Break. Then five weeks.
But two of those weeks are in Florida.
It won’t get too bad, in Florida.
Not with everyone around.’ I remember
the track, outside the gym. It was lit all night,
too, and the white frost lent the tarmac
silver. My hands hurt, until they went numb.
My feet hurt, in their Birkenstock sandals,
until they suddenly didn’t. Sometimes
my toenails would peel off when I changed
my socks. And I would walk, at a fast clip,
around and around, until my blood beat
the thought of Christmas from my skull and I
could go someplace a little better, where
I could dream for a while. I’d fight crime,
save the world, dress all in black leather
and generally charm the hell out of everyone,
until the dawn seeped in, weak and gray,
from the edges of things and the same three
crows (who always seemed to be watching me)
shook themselves from the branches of their pine
and started grazing in the centre
of my orbit. The bell would ring, somewhere,
on the hill, and I’d slog back to the place
where scrambled eggs (made from powder) steamed
greasily in their trays and I would read
a free copy of the newspaper
before trying to write a couple of lines
about the way the needles of the pines
looked, in the night, sheathed in their casings
of jewel-like ice. It’s amazing, to me,
exactly how much of my life’s been spent
escaping from any kind of thinking.
It’s amazing how far I’ll go to try
to earn the better kind of dream.



Bethany W Pope has won many literary awards and published several novels and collections of poetry. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s latest collection as ‘poetry as salvation’…..’This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.’ She currently lives and works in China.





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