Catherine Ayres – four poems

Sanctum

I understand why you left; not because
of moorland behind your eyes, snow packed high
as walls against a track, broken places,
pine stretching through fire into the sky. No,
you left because I tilted maps, slanted
fields until they yearned for sun, every
tree at twilight the remains of a dance
in dust. Forgive this ache for the unloved.
I know you need an altar, hilltops lithe
with light, your shadow’s spire across the fell.
I fray these edges gold, torment your heart
with fragile sacraments. My love, walk on.
You worship blink of distance against stone;
I kneel at puddles’ shrines. We pray alone.


Woman at dusk

The day slips its skin.
A line of beech waits for the moon.
Birds are mousey in the hedge –
a small one aches across the sun.
The sky is a chrysalis,
then a molten line like the lip of the sea,
then too much fire to be sad.
The woman steps inside.
From her kitchen window, stars.


Return

If I could take back the first time you touched me.

Light swells my spine,
the horizon aches.

Up here, only land and sky.

I have come to birth our ghosts on this fell.

A grouse chuckles in the gentle-bleak.
The curlew sings her madness to the stars.


Cul-de-sac

Yes, I am lost.
But on the lawn
by the circle of cars
a slant of dusk
finds the tree.
I watch it flare.
Sometimes there is
just enough light.


Catherine Ayres works as a teacher in Northumberland. In 2015, she came 3rd in the Hippocrates Prize and in 2016 she won the Elbow Room Prize. Her debut collection, Amazon, is published by Indigo Dreams.

Advertisements

Julia Webb – three poems

Threat

the day was fust
there were no birds winging
across the wrung out rag of sky
no tree-rustle or wind-hum
just the flamesome worry
and the persistence of planes
whomping through hungover clouds
it wasn’t a festive outing
nothing was cheery or brightly clean
the heavens were alive
with all the wrong kinds of possibility
we didn’t dare turn on the news
but waited wishing for shelters
contented ourselves
with torch batteries
counting tins


Bypass

But the river keeps on flowing, choking up with weed like always. There might be fish here if you look hard enough, if the brickworks haven’t left it too polluted. You slept here once, years ago, on the pine-needled ground, food kept in an old metal shopping trolley to deter the rats, his hands on your waist – the hands that would later, the hands that would try and make you take the blame. Why do they have to keep carving up the land, hacking it apart like an old carcass? Here is where your teenage aunt and her longhaired boyfriend tried to scare you; twigs cracking like gunshot behind your back. Nothing exists now but the roar of traffic. Where is the second weir where the boys rode their bikes off the high concrete bank, dropping like stones into the river below?


Office Romance

He is a desk-jockey and no mistake,
riding the nine to five swivel chair,
each working day a rodeo steer
to be lassoed and broken.
Here is an escaped afternoon boiling
over into the people-dense street;
here is a lift stuck between floors.
He is hardwired to the keyboard,
all qwerty-fingered.
When you speak he turns his blank- screen
face towards your voice. A software crash
rolls across the space between you –
everything in an instant frozen.
You are a blip he can’t quite register, a rogue cursor.
After lunch he saddles up again,
and as he gallops past you in the corridor
there’s a momentary flicker.
You find his emails in the spam filter later,
press delete without reading.


Julia Webb is a graduate of UEA’s Poetry MA. She is an editor for Lighthouse, and she works as a creative writing tutor and for Gatehouse Press. Her first collection Bird Sisters was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016.

Maria Taylor – three poems

When the Cat Gets My Tongue

I’m tiger-striped – prowling lonely alleys
after dark. Tail high, screw you eyes.

The moon dances to a feral song,
she’s drunk again, tottering into bins

and full of herself, circled by a Tom,
gin-heart and knuckle-tough.

My back arches into a scream,
feline talk for a word between

hurt and joy; translating clouds
into howl, the rustle and shimmy

of branches. I tell you everything
through a gust of night. You hear me

via Venus and the Seven Sisters
under your spotless linen.


Unfinished Business

Like the ghost who never realised
he was dead, or the unending record
stuck in a groove, or the comedian
who forgot the punchline, or the bud
spoiled by frost, or the last Rolo,
or the half-painted living room,
or Beethoven’s draft of his tenth
chucked out by the cleaner,
or the bottle of fizz never opened
for a special day, or the rainy day
that rained all year. Who’s sadder?
The man waiting at the bar,
or the woman who won’t walk in?

First published in The North.


Jenny

There was always a Jenny.
Jenny no.1 wore a roll-neck top,
beige and ribbed. She was so quiet
she’s only a face now, unlike
Jenny no.2 who was cuckoo
and told fibs. Her one truth
was that she was adopted
and was moving to Llanelli
which sounded made-up.
Next was Jenny Monaghan,
the talented one who knew
how to Lindy Hop and did so
on Blue Peter. Then Jenny no.4
who didn’t actually exist.
A boy called me Jenny,
at a bus stop in Leamington Spa.
I was so taken aback,
I nodded and rode home
with a different name.

From Instructions for Making Me, HappenStance, 2016


Maria Taylor is a poet and reviewer from Leicestershire. Her first collection, Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012), was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. Her pamphlet, Instructions for Making Me, came out in 2016 with HappenStance Press. Her poems have been published in a range of magazines including The Rialto, Magma and Ambit. She is Reviews Editor for Under the Radar magazine and blogs at Commonplace.

Wendy Pratt – three poems

Escherichia coli
After W.H. Auden

“Always trust a microbiologist because they have the best chance of predicting when the world will end.” Teddie O. Rahube (Microbiologist)

My darlings, I have kept you warm
for one day and one whole night.
I’ve kept you dark, and seen you’re safe,
and now I take your plastic
universe, the cosmic sheen
of condensation falling
from the lid, and raise up the roof
of your world so I may see.

You have been spoilt. You have dined out
on sheep-blood and soy digest;
lived your lives in all-inclusive
exclusivity. Your sun
has been the dome of a heat lamp,
your beaches salted with eight
percent sodium chloride, you
have had a good long summer.

Grow, my little ones, grow out
across the red sheen, expand
your single cells into the bright
wheels of yellow colonies,
pit the plate in your rush and run
the great race to the edge
of your world. And find that there is
nothing more. I will provide more.

Tomorrow I’ll lift a select
few from your earth. It will be
your Rapture. You will ascend
and be baptised in sterile
H2O. A bijou bottle
will be an ocean of tears
for you. Hold on, you are going
to a better place. Hold hands,

entwine flagella. You must face
apocalypse. You can not
know who will survive, who will die,
how the antibiotic
discs will decimate your numbers;
will dissolve through the agar
that you’re living on, will force
upon you infertility,

a weak cell wall, metabolic
incompatibility,
death. I would like to think your lives
were not unbearable. You
have come from very distant lands,
explorers from the bland bowels
of some old lady, of some small
and helpless child. I needed

the knowledge of your deaths to send
back to your homeland. I am
a cruel deity. I have played
your hand for you, have ordered
every second of your free will.
Forgive me. When I am gone,
I will bequeath myself to you,
and your faith will be renewed.


Macey Draws

She uses stencils to draw rounds,
tucks sounds into these pictures,
lays pencil borders round and about.

In her world fire is flat, a roundabout;
a circle with a centre. Flowers turn in rounds
over and over, the same design. Her pictures

are bird seed on her path. Those pictures;
one day I’ll try and show her what it is about,
how fire takes hold in the soul and does the rounds,

half burns you away, curling the edges of your pictures.


Gifts the Mole Gave Me

My own face staring down,
the arc of a horizon
framing my head
like a portrait. The world
staggering backward behind me,
the dog curved to a streak
on the convex  mole-eye.

The memory of sleep,
the plush of a velvet heart,
the scraping away, day
after day, enough soil
to glob a mouth shut,
shut a world in,
pick treasures out.

The title poem of Wendy’s latest collection, available from Valley Press.


Wendy Pratt was born in Scarborough, 1978, and still lives there today. She is a fully-qualified microbiologist, but also has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Creative Writing, and is working towards a PhD in poetry. She is the author of Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare (Prolebooks, 2011), Museum Pieces (Prolebooks, 2014) and Lapstrake (Flarestack, 2015). Her latest full collection, Gifts the Mole Gave Me, is published by Valley Press.

Richie McCaffery – five poems

Derick John Milburn (1954-1997)

A ‘demonstrator’ gravestone
for an undertakers
that went out of business,
if you can believe such a thing.

They were chucking it on a skip
and I took pity, planting it
at the foot of a tree in my garden.
People think I’m mad

but I can’t tell what’s worse:
mourning a man who never existed
or mourning the life of someone
real who never really lived.


The Cup-Ring Olympics

On the top of her oak bedside cabinet there’s a handful
of white cup marks overlapping like the Olympic rings –

from the all times she brought herself tea in the late-rising
mornings after his death, thinking To hell with coasters.

I’m not sure what her event is, but it must have taken
stamina and endurance. With most of her friends dead

and her husband too, perhaps she’s beginning to think
the last one over the finish line might not be the winner.


The broken cobblestone

Although the road doesn’t go
anywhere special, a man is on
his knees as if in prayer,
putting in new cobblestones.

I watch him for a minute
and one of the granite blocks
breaks under his hammer
like it won’t yield to the will

of anyone or anything
other than itself, that it would
rather shatter than be beaten
into a place far from its quarry.


Ballast

You complain about your size
and I’m never happy about mine.
Even if we’re thinner since coming here
we’ll still have put on weight
in ways that don’t show on scales.

The thing is, I need your weight
right now, and you need mine –
all of it, as ballast to stop
the whole thing from capsizing.
I never entered into this lightly.


Swiss Army Knife

Sitting with him in his last days
I had a Swiss Army knife,
warm in my pudgy little palm.

The knife was supposed
to be good for all eventualities
so I took it with me to visit him.

I opened it like a red banana.
He gave me scraps of paper
to cut, showing the knife’s keenness.

I sharpened a pencil that didn’t
need sharpening. It was just
a toy of imaginary survival.

He played along gamely.
It’s been in a drawer since he died.
I’ve only needed the corkscrew.


Richie McCaffery lives between Scotland and Belgium. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets as well as a collection, Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). His second collection is due out in 2018. He is busy working on an edited volume of essays on the work of Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975).

Rose Cook – three poems

Watching them dive

The first thing that attracts me is the glide.
A company of gannets, each the shape of Concorde,
white and wide, riding the wind’s waves
to pass one another in the air,
give an aerobatic show of tilted wing tip,
such speed to gather to wing lock, power dive
a plunging of gannets.

Then the terns come, sea swallows,
a cotillion of tumbling snowflakes
at play with the southerly wind.
The sea is rough and cold, but full of fish.
They bundle, flock, dive with quick jabs,
call to each other, sharp music,
light as glass.

At dusk, a cormorant flies home,
black, heavy outline against dark sea.


Paper Round

Ted Hughes had a paper round
and so did I, in the Calder valley,
toiling through winter mornings,
so dark it felt like night, with an awkward bag
heavy on my shoulder, stuffed with papers
and their acrid newsprint smell.

I’d get up at six, before anyone else,
I still like that, the house to myself.
The empty streets felt surreal, lit and shadowed.
I met foxes, moved between worlds,
lost a sense of myself as girl, became stronger,
bolder, lone adventurer, unobserved.

Each house offered difference: a gateway
or steps, a door with a letter box, a landing
or hatch. Occasionally a dog barked.
I knew each one – how often to fold,
how hard to push. A daily odyssey,
two miles or more, with one simple goal,
to deliver them all, get home for breakfast,
then walk to school.


A Whale in my Window

She swam by my window,
imagine that,
a whale so close.

That was when a humpback
came to the bay on my birthday
and to eat the shoals of silver
that swirled and flew the wintry sea.

When you speed up the song
of a humpback whale,
it sounds like birdsong.


Rose Cook lives in Totnes. She co-founded the popular local poetry and performance forum One Night Stanza, as well as poetry performance group Dangerous Cardigans.

She is one of Apples & Snakes‘ poets and has performed at many venues from the Soho Theatre in London to the Blue Walnut in Torquay.

Her latest book, Hearth, is published by Cultured Llama.

rosecook.wordpress.com

Kevin Casey – three poems

A Simple Gift

Before I left, I resented every minute
spent cleaning my room, feeding the dog,
dragging the trash to the curb. Any request
that encroached upon my idle time
was an unbearable sacrilege.

A year from home, and I’m back visiting,
shearing a jade maze behind a lawnmower,
humming along to the drone of its motor,
smiling at finches as they labor at the feeder
while I sweep my parents’ porch.

All that was so dear about my time
has been scrubbed away by the wider world,
and a day that’s clear to chip at a list
of chores now seems a simple gift.

Whatever heaven might be, I’d be willing
to come back down for a while
and do nothing all day but wipe off
counters and wash up the dishes,
and the sound of my mother’s gentle chiding
would be a rain that rinses the morning clean.


Bluing

Within the porcelain cauldron of her new
electric washing machine, his wife
would work her alchemy–rinsing the smell
of silage from his socks, the stomp and tramp
of six generations of dairy cows
from his dungarees, adding a few drops
of bluing to the load of his white shirts.

Cooked dry in the sun, edged with the iron’s heat,
these shirts would hang cooling in his wardrobe
like frosted forms huddled in an icebox.
And then the work week’s transformation,
the alchemy complete: the farmer’s son
turned office clerk, a scarecrow plucked
from its field, driving toward the city
each morning in those fresh white shirts
made whiter to the eye by her indigo potion.


Black Rat Snake

From the pines behind the shower house,
it cut through the campground beach like a drop
of midnight poured back into the lake,
bisecting families that shrieked on their towels,
parting the stillness of that summer day.

Fifteen years old and weary of vacation,
I watched, admiring the panic
this five-foot stockwhip lashed across the sand
before writing its escape on the surface
of the water in a flowing script.

How enviable to fashion chaos
from your presence, to be both dangerous
and beautiful–a single strand of terror,
an onyx fuse that might detonate the day.


Kevin Casey is the author of Ways to Make a Halo (Aldrich Press, 2018) and American Lotus, winner of the 2017 Kithara Prize (Glass Lyre Press, 2018). And Waking… was published by Bottom Dog Press in 2016. His poems have appeared recently in Rust+Moth, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Connotation Press, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Ted Kooser’s syndicated column ‘American Life in Poetry’. For more, visit andwaking.com.

(Almost) The End

Dear friends,

Earlier this year, after a great deal of thought, I decided that Clear Poetry will cease publication at the end of December 2017.

As the sole editor, I’ve spent many hours over the past three years reading and responding to submissions, as well as running the site itself using a mix of WordPress, Facebook and Twitter. I’m not complaining – after all, I took it upon myself to launch Clear Poetry at the end of 2014. But to put it simply, I need to devote more time to my own writing.

Having made my decision, I waited until all available slots for the rest of the year were scheduled before hammering a piece of 4 x 2 firmly over the submissions inbox.

But don’t despair, there are still several weeks’ worth of brilliant poems to be published before Clear Poetry goes into deep hibernation. I’m also putting the finishing touches to this year’s free e-anthology, which will feature one poem from each of the poets who appeared on the site this year.

I’ve loved editing the site and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Clear Poetry will remain online in suspended animation for the foreseeable future (as well as on the British Library’s archives), so please feel free to peruse the marvellous roll-call of poets who have helped me to make it the success it is today.

Cheerio for now,

Ben x

Millicent Stott – three poems

Leaving

Crushing a smooth, ripened peach,
bird song ripples like anger and delight in the early hours.
Sparks escaping a roaring fire,
vulnerability and power –
flowers left abandoned on a grave,
guilt lies unkempt, a nose bleeding into a sink.
Electricity, blue skies hazy with pain,
an empty barn, sweet, sharp straw,
chalk on your hands,
fear in your heart.
Travelling, the smell of new carpets
and soft ice cream, melted before it reached your lips.
Hoping,
for pink skies instead of grey.


A Different Home

Knocking on a door the colour of fresh cherries,
acidic paint fumes and falling leaves,
static in my hair from the trampoline.
Mournful bird song at sunrise,
a patio door left open, counting up the squares of my wallpaper.
A piñata, in bright, lime hues,
singing along to brightly coloured songs in the kitchen.
A still, unfinished house,
a street perpetually in Autumn.


Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen, she glitters like shattered champagne flutes,
rosy lips, stained sweet like fruits.
Sixteen, I wrote,
will taste like crushed violets and cream,
Merely a means to an end,
sparkling, clean.
Blonde hair, cocktail glasses,
golden hoops and a chandelier smashes.
In my head she was sequinned and tasselled,
time stands still,
her stance embattled.
A head full of thoughts unclean,
a necklace blue, aquamarine,
oh, how I wanted to be
sweet sixteen.


Millicent Stott is a fifteen year old writer living in the North East of England. She’s a lover of small animals, stars and feminism.
You can follow her blog at millismusingsblog.wordpress.com
and she Tweets at @millismusings

Amy Kinsman – two poems

Artemis Bathing

You’ve seen her here before, but never so clearly
as now amongst the unsheltered picnic benches
damp with an afternoon’s rain. She’s drinking cheap cider,
red pigment bleeding from her lips onto the cold glass.
What? She’s asking, her doe eyes turned upwards
into yours. Perhaps you look like the outline of her
father. It’s just your face in the moonlight. She laughs
down into her boots, sloshes her pint over the
tabletop. They ask me for ID every time. And your
hair is greying, going, the skin of your old man’s hands
folding into deep grooves. Where’d a pretty girl like
you get callouses like those? She holds out two fingers
before her, draws them back into her chest. But
of course it’s Orion on the pint glass, the design beneath
her lipstick stain, the kind of boy you’d been at that
age: strong-armed, sleeping on the floor of the forest
with the thinnest twigs of girls tucked under your torso.
The M.C. calls you in from the night sky to the
microphone, and maybe if her cheeks hadn’t risen to
such a colour, if some lad or other had been there
with her, you wouldn’t have done it – yet you draw,
in baritone, her naked image slipping into the water
to cleanse the paint from its features, soothe the bruise
against her right breast and leave her flawless beneath
your gaze as you brush the curtain aside ever so gently.
She doesn’t need to speak. Just downs the drink and
strides out into the open air, her calves and knuckles
tight, brows low over her eyes. Don’t say Have you
ever thought about dating someone a little older,
someone with a bit of money? Stop kidding yourself.
You’re another old fool upstairs in the pub,
wishing words would make him a more impressive beast.


Islands

I want to take you to Crosby beach
to watch that cast iron legion disappear
into the Irish sea.
You can’t swim there,
the water’s colder than the air in February and
you already wear two pairs of trousers
smoking on the fire escape,
hand cupped around your tiny flame
to keep it lit
while your fingers ice down in their bones,
but I think you’d like it there
watching the tide wade in towards them
and us.

You’re a warm island boy and
I know this place doesn’t feel like home yet.
Spend fifteen minutes in the water
in this season
and it will stop your heart,
twenty a year get caught out like that,
so we became a nation
of sailors instead of swimmers.
We went in search of oceans
clear enough to see the bottom,
climates where the air never cuts your cheeks
and fills the wounds with the cold salt of sleet,
found them
and felt the wanting still.

We belong to these dirt and pebble beaches,
silent, empty, thankless
as their waves heavy with the weight of duty
pull the wreckage onto shore:
Shipping containers full of motorcycles,
half-drowned Spaniards
and all the Gods that strayed from their sacred rivers,
the way all that cocaine washes up
with the steady breath
of the tide just as ceaselessly on yours.

I want to tell you that I’m sorry
but I’m not sure what for –
some old sin
beating steady
as the pulse in my neck
that you kiss and kiss,
this mark of yours rising
against my pale skin.

Let’s call this continental drift.


Amy Kinsman is a poet and playwright from Manchester, England. As well as being the founding editor of Riggwelter Press, they are associate editor at Three Drops From A Cauldron and the host of Gorilla Poetry in Sheffield. Their work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Picaroon Poetry, Prole, Rust + Moth, Up The Staircase Quarterly and Valley Press.