Robert Nisbet – three poems

The Fruits of His Labours

Fruitless now, or nearly so,
the apple tree my father planted,
just after the Second World War.
Plenty of leaf, but a lichened bark,
the tiny apples on the sour side.

He was proud of his russet miracles,
in a past, more certain age.
They were so sweet he’d know and fear
that the boys from the streets around
would come scrambling over the wall,
to scrump and thieve. He put up a sign:
This fruit is sprayed with gastrocrapulol,
and will cause prodigious runs.
The hanging apples prospered.

Like fathers in fiction, he was free
with sayings and instances, damning me
for smuggling in a copy of Chatterley,
cursing those demos and protesters all.

He exhorted in the cause of graft,
tradition, steady ways, an uprightness,
hard work, a good malt whisky,
the decent old boys he met, on the farms
and in the pub. He had little time
for chapel, church and ceremony,
and none for Maggie the Prime Minister.

I’m glad the apple tree’s still there.
I applaud its gnarled and weathered body.

Side Window 
Being driven out of Edinburgh city centre, one August morning at eight o’clock.

Down a theatre street, purring,
past a huddle of Shakespeareans, clad
for Romeo maybe, a Rosalind, a bleary Cleopatra,
and a fool, in motley, pig’s-bladder-bopping
young heads so stuffed with verse.

Past a corner shop and two fine silverheads,
their copies of The Record, and an unheard
dialogue, such shafts and sallies.
A woman then with a quiver of scratch cards,
spinning her fortune’s wheel, a blank, blank, blank.

And soon a tall front door, and a greybeard,
with his girl, maybe a decade younger,
assisting her in. Step in, m’dear. And he,
quite clearly, clamping his hands around
plump buttocks, in brilliant day.

O Greybeard, man, such cameo, such cameo.

Night Train

Ferried by night, train out of Cardiff, ten.
I wasn’t drunk or drugged, just stunned really,
by travel. On the last leg now. I wanted to doze,
close eyes and brain to two hours’ racketing traffic.

Football fanatics spouted gladsome sound,
through lamp-lit Wales. Some Cup game, the boys,
Josh and Corky up for it, cracking goals, Jesus.
The ref routinely bastardised. Good game.
Around Port Talbot, the steelworks’ fiery red
glistened on the dazzled face of drink.

Half-heard, the girls. Mainly mutterings,
the hims, he saids, threads of the intimate, twisting,
as Swansea briefly shone, to their manager, Jane,
the woman’s good name quite vehemently stuffed.
The stream of the conversation glimmered
in night’s reflections and the flickering smiles.

The guard was soothing. Just at times I felt
a shiver of exposure, down among the castaways,
and he’d be there, station by station, loud, benign,
Welsh-vowelled, regularity’s presence.

And we all slobbed out on to Carmarthen’s platform,
blinking in a wavering orange light.
The fans looked dopey now, like little old men.
The girls looked younger though, quite coy.

‘Night Train’ appears in Robert’s new Prolebooks pamphlet Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes

Robert Nisbet, a creative writing tutor, has been sending poems out from Haverfordwest, West Wales, for just over ten years, with many publications in the USA and in Britain, including frequent appearances in Clear Poetry. He recently won the 2017 Prole Pamphlet competition with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, a short collection of 35 poems which has just been published by Prolebooks.

Robert was the first poet to appear on the site, and his work has come to epitomise the sort of writing I chose to publish. It’s fitting that his is the last post on Clear Poetry.

Carole Bromley – three poems

One of these Days

We really will turn out the loft.
There’s an old pram in there gathering dust,
a suitcase of baby-clothes, a ping-pong table,
those paper cranes Tom made in Japan.

Various wedding handbags in bright pink,
emerald green and that black suede one
Jo’s dad spilt gravy on while filling me in
on the big disappointments of his life.

I know there’s still a tea chest from the move
and in it old love letters, that photo
of you smiling awkwardly at Caversham Lock
before the Head of the River Race.

Somewhere in there, too, is the wooden jeep
John made for the Action Men
with a bonnet that opens up
where we kept all the odd Sindy shoes.

I picture the last Action man
dressed in the sweater mum knitted,
propped, leaning back in the driving seat,
eagle eyes staring into the dark.

My Case

Its abandoned doppelganger
goes round and round on the carousel
long after the crowds have left.
I curse myself for not tying on
a sparkly Christmas ribbon,
for not painting a Union Jack on it
like we did on our tortoise.

I walk through Nothing to declare
and out into bright sun, in my hand
Ted Hughes, The Unauthorised Life,
a banana, crisp new euros in a purse
I never use, and sunglasses.
I hail a taxi, feeling oddly weightless,
my knickers, my six ironed T shirts gone.

A breath

We can’t say they haven’t warned us.
The path is beautiful but treacherous

but we go anyway, slithering and falling
through the woods and up the rutted track

where the air is suddenly cold
and so sharp it takes our breath away,

and we’re too busy admiring the view
to give a thought to getting back

through the gathering dark, our signals dead,
to the meal already on the table.

Carole Bromley has three collections with Smith/Doorstop, A Guided Tour of the Ice House and The Stonegate Devil for adults and a new collection for children, Blast Off! 

Ian McMillan – two poems

Salt, Pepper, Vinegar, History

Steaming chip-shop and the red-hot chips
And me shaking salt, pepper and vinegar
All over them like I’m some kind of weather.

‘Do you want history with that?’ The woman
Behind the counter asks. Her tattoo is laughing
Or maybe it’s just the way steam makes the shop

Shiver in and out of time. ‘No thanks’ I say,
‘I’ll eat it here’ and she puts away the history,
Beside the pickled eggs on the top shelf.

After My Funeral

I knocked on the window of the community centre,
Reincarnated as an owl. There was loud laughter

Inside, and a telling of stories and singing of songs.
One person told that story about me and the ring.

One person told that story about me and the tractor.
One person told that story about me and that teacher

Who gave me a dustpan and brush that time. We’re all
Stories, remembered later. ‘Look, everybody, an owl

At the window!’ Someone said. My knocking grew louder
And someone pointed at me with a long loaded finger.

Ian is poet-in-residence for The Academy of Urbanism and Barnsley FC. He presents The Verb every week on BBC Radio 3 and he’s appeared on BBC Breakfast, Coast, Countryfile, Pointless Celebrities, The Yorkshire Dales and The Lakes (amongst many others). He’s also been a castaway on Desert Island Discs.

His To Fold the Evening Star – New and Selected Poems was published last year by Carcanet.

Previously, Ian was resident poet for English National Opera, UK Trade & Investment, Yorkshire TV’s Investigative Poet and Humberside Police’s Beat Poet. Cats make him sneeze.

Ian’s website is at and tweets to his 38,000 followers @IMcMillan

Catherine Ayres – four poems


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.


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.


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.

Julia Webb – three poems


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


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.


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
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.


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.

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.


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