Ali Jones – two poems

How to Be Your Father

Comment on the speed of others
and suggest that it’s never necessary, until you put your own foot down
Develop a liking for tweed, wear checks and herringbone together for contrast
Realise that boiled sweets aid the concentration, while driving or attempting the cryptic crossword, always aim to complete it in less than ten minutes
Know the names and ways of garden birds and what to feed them, be the first to hear the Bittern booming when you visit waterlands at dawn
Play regular oracle games with your keys, divine them frequently in unexpected places
Covet a special tin, keep treats in it and hide it badly in plain sight from seeking eyes of others
Study the Telegraph with the attitude of a Guardian reader
Realise you are a socialist, and what little you can achieve might mean the world to someone, so do it with grace
Pour by the finger, a golden liquid, the peatier the better, savour it on your breath, because you know smoking is bad for you
Enjoy the RSC and Spaghetti Westerns in equal measure
Read every night until you fall asleep, never stop learning, always leave the lights on

How to Be Your Mother

Begin to bulk buy margarine, for baking purposes only
Know common flowers and garden weeds by their complex botanical names
Teach your children Latin and Italian musical terminology in equal measure
Talk about language roots and family roots, they all lie under the tongue
Great Christmas wrapping paper when it’s on offer in January, even though you have nowhere to store it
Fight prejudice at every angle, challenge the neighbours’ reading materials, give them something more suitable
Walk the same paths as the seasons turn, map the year in flowers and trees, have the social media evidence to prove it
Lose all self-control around confectionary, consider boxed Maltesers a good meal
Twine string round your fingers and coil in drawers, months later, smugly use it to anchor beans
Feel your vowels sliding due north to grey skies and dancing harebells
Smoke screen the past into fine sepia, skein it around your fingers, needle it into a pattern for others to wear

Ali Jones is a teacher and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three.

Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Mother’s Milk Books, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and The Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016 and has also written for The Guardian.

Paul Burns – two poems


just before your eyes open
when the dream has an intensity
that makes it real
but at the same time magic

because it is before spring
or in the last of winter when spring is sensed
and before the trees ran out
too fast to bud, leaf and fall
before the process is revealed

inked in and stamped
that is the time when your finger feel
they can clutch something
out of the air, diamonds from the light
on the sea, gold seamed among the trees

and you open your eyes

call box

in red kiosks
at the corner of a Bloomsbury square
and in the Isle of Barra,
in a Cotswold village, the cold

concrete bases with flattened butts
piss stink and a view onto
another slow twilight
the black receivers wait

each light a yellow signal
to blackness, in starfields
of other boxes, shelters for one
or huddled couples, waiting

the enemy is not recording them.
He is sheltering from a storm of shellfire
somewhere in the future and we
are futureproofed with vanity, past victories

quiet countryside and stolid boxes
our pale lights flickering now
through summer beech trees,
ignored by London traffic, and
the frozen billions of suns

Paul Burns lives in rural South Cheshire, working with his wife on their flower farm. He plays and teaches guitar and writes when not too tired from carting compost.

Mat Riches – three poems


I don’t mean to run on like a two-bob watch,
but when it hit me, I knew what I had to do:
I had to climb the railway bridge
at the bottom of the loke.
To ascend the embankment;
prove myself and go for broke.

Raiding the stores for supplies I came up empty
but cobbled the essentials together:
An old cycling helmet, a length of rope that went on forever,
a map folded to blindness, of the nearest town,
a life jacket in yellow,
and breadcrumbs to find my way back down.

All packed and ready,
the gate to the road remained closed;
the basecamp plans replaced by tea and toast,
no brio, too young for all the climb entailed.
My own personal Eiger
remained resolutely remote, and un-scaled.

Earlier, having put on my parts
over a load of old squit, after a cuff round the lug,
I declared I was leaving, to no one big.
Snuck out a single sleeping bag-
blue on the outside, pink in the middle –
my only luggage; nothing to drag.

I set off to the overgrown field behind home, unmissed.
Setting up camp, wrapping myself
amid the Cowslips and Lady’s Smocks, adrift
like a sobbing Thumblina, on my own.
I floated home later on a rippled corn breeze,
at my stomach’s call, to forgive everyone.

Notes on Norfolk dialect:
Slarver – Drool, dribble- talk rubbish; Run on like a two bob watch – babble; Loke – Short lane, alley way; Putting on parts – display of bad temper; Squit – Rubbish, inconsequential; Lug – Ear; Lady’s smock – Cuckoo Flower

Kübler Ross

I’m only now just starting to think
we made a mistake
in not burying you, marking a spot,

in committing you to the fire
and floating your dust
away and away to the Broads’ cold bed.

No place left to visit, to be sure,
or bones to check on;
be sure you’re still there, not gone off elsewhere

Stay there as something to remember
and mark with phone calls,
a brief hand held down on distant shoulders

Before the fog rolls right in again,
obscures the view, the way
forward in any direction at all

One solid gust with gusto to clear
and come to our heads.
We breathe in all of our ghosts constantly.

Horsey Seals

We disembark, desperate to air out lungs,
get ourselves halfway down this track.
Seagulls offer a pencil line shrug
on the skyline, following the last trawlers back.

The seals are writing hieroglyphics
on the cold sea-stretched canvas
spread out along Horsey beach;
a constantly moving language.

It’s hard to tell between rock,
driftwood and new parents.
We are kept at a distance
to protect the innocents.

Each being shelters the other
like a Russian doll.
I pull you closer;
spell it out in full.

By day Mat is a researcher for ITV. He has been published in And Other Poems, Obsessed With Pipework, Ink, Sweat & Tears, and was longlisted for Primers 2 via Poetry School/Nine Arches Press.

Blog: Twitter: @matriches

David Coldwell – two poems

High Summer

They found her by the canal
…..beneath the thicket of shrubs
……….that crowded the opposite bank.

Yellow flag iris, now smothered by a rush of bees
…..or hoverflies, I couldn’t tell which,
……….softened the edge of the ditch where

buried by sky, spikes of green disguised
…..pewter skin wet with rain
……….and the flush of red from a newsworthy coat

that the tabloids had copied for click bait.
…..The water was peat black. This was high summer,
……….the busiest time of the year.


Fact one – Morning
The early bird catches the worm.
Listening to birdsong but seeing
only magpies as passers-by watch mist
disappear to sky.

Fact two – Rust
Hinges made from an unacceptable alloy.
Knowing that rust is alive and making
a guess as to how long paint will survive
before red oxide makes another appearance.

Fact three – Letter
An unopened letter left on the dresser.
My name in black on white with no capitalisation
or sender information. The haves and have-nots of household maintenance
and a history of human kind in lists.

Fact four – Sun
The birds are now quiet.
The sun has moved to where I’m standing and the day has become
too hot to paint over rust. The colour, anyway,
I would suggest, would only be temporary.

David Coldwell is an artist and writer based in the South Pennines. His poems have featured in a number of journals including, The Rialto, Butcher’s Dog and Prole. His debut pamphlet, Flowers by the Road was published by Templar Poetry in February 2017.
Twitter: @d_coldwell
Facebook: @davidcoldwellart

Jim Bennett – three poems


after shopping at Tesco’s
built between
landscaped landfill hills
we struggle to get all our
plastic shopping bags
card crates of cans
and bottled water
in the car boot space

our shopping spills over
onto vacant seats
into foot wells
we maneuver
soft fruit, eggs,
cracker packs
to the top

all the time we
talk about poetry
and what we
for posterity

naming clouds

today I watch clouds
and I name them
stratocumulus is a raincloud
thick closely packed
gray dark to light
it IS raining
but just small drops
they come from that cloud
after falling for ages

if I lie on the ground
I can watch it fall
see a drop
in its last moments
the ground makes a point
about solidity
but what is the point
the rain is heavier now
thick cloud thickening
becoming nimbo stratus
dark grey to black

there are only
twelve main names for clouds
but this is black
and brings the night
before its time

today I am watching clouds
naming them
I think I’ll call this one


like Orwell’s crumbs
the disturbed dust moves from
one surface to another
marking time in textured

it covers all the people here as well

the room is cleaned,
the smells masked,
but the dirt is organic
it moves away from dusters
and vacuum heads
escaping to hang
in bars of light
and rest on people.

perhaps this is new dust
perhaps there is more dust here
because skin is dryer
hair looser, more fragile,
in this made up place
than outside
where time still moves
in an understood way

I run my finger along
the dark oak mantelpiece
disturb a million lives
and learn to measure time
as the space between breaths

Jim Bennett has written 74 books and numerous chapbooks and pamphlets in a 50 year career as a poet. Jim lives near Liverpool in the UK and tours giving readings of his work throughout the year. He is widely published and has won many competitions and awards for poetry and performance. He runs, one of the world’s most successful internet sites for poets.

Bryony Littlefair – three poems

Tara Miller

doesn’t have Facebook. I half think I made her up.
If I mention her to my mother, she sniffs, says
that’s the girl who threw your shoe in the toilet.
The one who scribbled on your school report. Her,
who chased me with dandelions; dandelions meant
you wet yourself. But her, too, who threaded daisies
and wrapped them gently around my head, leaning back
to admire the effect. I never went to her house.
A very strange family. Best not. Being friends with Tara
was a desire I couldn’t understand, like wanting
to touch dark, wet paint. Her hair fell all the way
down her back: coarse, wavy, almost black. Once,
when we were changing for PE, Connor and his friend
walked through the classroom: Tara was topless,
in her lilac training bra. I blushed. Tara stared
straight out at them, hands on her hips, unmoved.
I found it interesting, how she wanted me to suffer.
It was a new experience. I spoke of the incidents
as if of a poltergeist, all the time knowing.
Later, I had nicer friends, good blonde girls like me
who put ten pound notes in birthday cards.
Yet when I remember Tara, I remember
her thin white arms around me, her warm,
Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit breath on my neck.
I remember her licking her finger,
and very quickly, almost tenderly, reaching
and rubbing a mark from my cheek.

Sunday mornings

The truth is I’m not sure what I did
those mornings they’d leave, my mother
always in a floral capped-sleeve shirt.
I wish I could say I graffitied the newsagent,
or met with a nicotine-fingered boyfriend,
or learned Bertrand Russell by heart. I didn’t
do any of those things, nor the homework
I’d invented to excuse my godlessness.
Alone in the hefty silence, I felt loose
and endangered, like an undone shoelace
or an open rucksack. I’d pace from room
to room, hands tucked up my sleeves.
I’d play snatches on the piano, or make
elaborate little snacks – crackers piled
with quartered grapes and shavings of cheese.
I was like a blunt knife, failing to cut
and apportion the hours. I’d spin
on the office chair, or curl up on patches
of carpet, pretending to be dead.
I might have put on a CD, shaken
my hips to Run DMC, a jerky
figure of eight. I might have filmed myself dancing.
I’d be choosing another colour for my nails
when the key would turn in the lock:
my parents, whole and returned,
having sung their hallelujahs
and walked back through the cool light rain.

Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant

I’m sorry that my sister will not let you take her blood
for the operation that will save her life.
Sorry for her ratchety stubborn fear,
which will make you late
for your next appointment. Sorry, also,
for the 16k a year, for the commute
from Clapham North to Archway
where the light is piss-yellow
and everyone is angry. Sorry
for the overtime, for the man who asked,
offhand as if in your living room,
where it is you’re from originally.
Sorry for the ten-minute lunch break,
the gulped-down cheese and lettuce
sandwich. Sorry she is snatching
her arm from your grasp,
and leaping up to leave. Because
the way you kneel in front of her now
is so perfect, how you fix her with
your steady yellowish eyes, fierce
with your short hair and scrubbed bare face
and piercings. You’re just the sort of person
who can get away with calling someone
sweetheart, which you do, and my sister
(not a sweetheart, all bones and edges)
blinks like a newborn animal,
slack now from all her jumpy breathing.
Sorry, because it’s not even 8.30, Anne,
and you’re already magnificent
knowing just how to grip my sister’s knee
so her breathing slows and deepens
and she barely feels the needle as it enters

Bryony Littlefair works as a support worker, carer and fundraiser in London, where she also runs her own creative writing group. Her work has appeared in Popshot and The Cadaverine and is forthcoming at Ink, Sweat and Tears. Find her at or on Twitter @B_Littlefair.

Tom Montag – three poems

Look, Tricks!

Look, tricks! they say

their wares. I don’t
listen. It is not

a puzzle. For me
it is sky swallowing

the night; it is
a child asking

for milk; it is
the turn spring

makes to summer.
Put those in!

I say. But they
don’t listen.

The Poet Listens

He cannot hear
God’s whisper.

He listens, but
no — he cannot.

The wind, yes,
wind in the trees,

he hears that well
enough. The birds

singing behind
the leaves, he hears

them too. Yet not
God’s whisper.

All around him
they are shouting,

who think that
shouting at God

will make God
speak to them. No

wonder silence
then, at the end,

when we are taken.

The Turn

As if only falling
through the darkness,

falling through August,
towards autumn. The dry

scratch of loneliness,
and evening deepens.

Everything depends on
something. What I need

are these Perseids, these
fading streaks of hope,

this tearing up of sky,
these last Ahs and Ohs.

Tom Montag is most recently the author of In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013 (MWPH Books, 2014), This Wrecked World (Bitterzoet Press, 2016) and The Miles No One Wants (a free PDF download from Otata’s Bookshelf, 2016). He has been a featured poet at Atticus Review, Contemporary American Voices, Houseboat, and Basil O’Flaherty Review, and has received Pushcart Prize nominations from Provo Canyon Review, Blue Heron Review, and The Lake. With David Graham, he is editing an anthology of poetry about small town America.

Emma Lee – three poems

Turn Up the Volume

She plays the same CD in her car,
matching junctions to specific songs
to monitor her speed to the same daily pace,
the volume always on a prime number.
Everything on her desk has its place.
She watches the soap operas and reads Glamour
so she can talk to colleagues.
Her wardrobe is divided between
pencil skirts and blouses, and block colour shifts.
Make-up from a neutral palette.
She holidays at the same hotel,
sunbathes after breakfast, shops in the afternoon.
Meals are weighed and measured
from a restrictive menu.

She turned down his restaurant invite.
But he knows she’ll marry him.
All he has to do is make small
adaptions to her routine, offer protection
and become familiar enough to be allowed
to undo the zip on her dress.
He thinks he knows what will be revealed.

But doesn’t know about the scar
under her left breast, under her ribs
or what might happen when a mouse roars.

Butterflies at Breakfast

The delicacy of the pattern
on his tee shirt contrasts
with the sleeve tattoos
hardened muscle tone
and callouses from labour.

She has wrapped a spacious
brown cardigan over an LBD.
Hair tugged into a scrunchie.
Make-up shows smoky, smudged eyes,
possibly last night’s toned down
then retouched. Her shoes the flats
that can be squashed into a handbag.

They order a full English:
brunch and a hangover cure in one.
The butterflies on his tee
crowd along the hem
and drift up towards
the neckline where they
become singletons in flight.

All Emmas have a tragic end

at least in pop songs: suicide, overdose,
injuries from a car crash, an empty house
left behind after drowning, sentenced
to hell and silence, the end of an affair
with the lover who saps her strength.
Emma found herself incommunicado,
falling like rain under grey cloud,
a red, Christmas flower under acid tears,
silenced in drunken streets and misunderstood.
She was a blonde angel, a princess, a blue-eyed baby,
who wanted to be a star, who wanted better
who couldn’t see she was all she needed to be,
who wanted to be human, to be loved.
Emma’s the girl known by everyone.

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at

Chrissy Banks – three poems

All Those Parties

Someone trod smoky bacon crisps
and chocolate cake into the pink nylon carpet
and someone helped themselves
to all the bottles in her father’s booze cupboard,
drained them dry and lurched out
into the garden for a piss, threw empties
all over the lawn and into the pond
where the gnomes were poised for fishing.
And someone went upstairs
with someone else’s girlfriend
and wrestled with her
all over the gold parental candlewick,
but the boyfriend crashed through the door
and thumped the kid and thumped him again
till his nose bloodied the polycotton easycare sheets
and the girl screamed and ran downstairs
in daisy-patterned knickers and a flood of tears.
And close to midnight someone said ‘Who’s that?’
and the party girl’s parents marched in,
her mother speechless, her father barking,
‘God in heaven, what’s been happening here?!’

Or so someone told me later.
I was stretched out on the chintz three-seater,
for the first time
with that month’s crush,
the happiest girl alive

till the door flew wide,
all the lights in the room glared down
and A Groovy Kind of Love
scraped to a halt.

When We Were Manx

Manx meant we had sea in our veins,
pulsed with the blood of Vikings and Celts.
The sea fed us: kippers and cod as common as cake.
Our songs were of wrecked ships, our stories
of ghosts in the castle, fairies under the bridge.
In our throats, salt, mountain air, the hit
of burnt rubber and petrol fumes
flooding from motor bikes’ revving throttles.

In our teens, we took holiday work
in the rock factory. The stuff emerged first
in a long pliable strip of flamingo.
We aproned up and rolled it forwards
and back. Tourists traipsed in to watch,
glad to be out of the rain. We cut
the rock in regular lengths,
and after it hardened, packed it away
in a metal box, heaved it along
to the store-room, fending off Peter,
the sleazy storeman. The older girls
were mainly comeovers, from across,
there for the summer, then gone.
Fairy light towns threaded horizons,
called us away to the scattered places
where most of us live now.

The rock was such sweet, sticky stuff.
A three legs of man, like a vein
or a core, ran right through (still does)
the bite white centre,
from left to right, bottom to top.

The Pavement Shrine

I’ve watched it grow a life for months.
First, the flowers and one short note
identifying Jamie as the man who died.

It’s bred an armchair now. A football
and a paper lantern blossom in the tree.
Three books of photos, open.

Two motorcycle helmets offered up,
too late for Jamie, sit gravely on the triangle
of roadside grass where the biker hit a car.

A growing home – for whom? What is it for?
To call back Jamie from the dead? As if
a note, a football, might be all it took.

Or to reassure the living how the dead
live on? Chalked on the pavement’s blackboard
a message reads, See ya mate, Take care.

Chrissy Banks lives in Exeter. She runs a roving Poetry Reading group in Devon and Somerset and occasional Reflective Writing Days. Her last collection was Days of Fire and Flood. More recently, her work has featured in Agenda,the Journal, Antiphon, the Lake, the Rialto, The North and Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Robert Ford – three poems

Clapham Junction

Men with hairy hands are falling
asleep on every blue train picking
its way through the wasps’ nest
of intersecting lines. The manger-like
rocking reminds them, sub-consciously,
of being babies, and sends their smug
newspapers, folded with debatable
truths, sliding to the floor from their
crumpled laps. At home, in placid,
unthreatening towns, anxious wives
are fidgeting all alone, while children
wrestle elsewhere in expensive schools,
desperate to become something different.
A gaunt November evening crashes
down outside, but nothing will interrupt
their slumbering. Whole worlds, apparently
managed yet rarely understood, are
slipping by, just beyond their reach.

Christopher became a chief constable

You once went to his house and
drank milk from plastic beakers.
His mother gave you one biscuit,
and kept the small house tidy,
and you never saw his father,
although you knew he had one.

What you didn’t know then was
just how handsome he would be,
a classical kind of beauty, like an
English actor from the nineteen-fifties,
always smouldering from a uniform;
dashing, yet incapable of empathy.

But you know it now. You see,
in your memory, his elegant nose
and immaculate skin the colour
of bones, the way his brown eyes
judged the world as if they were grey,
made of impossibly precious metals.

None of you noticed. You were all
too pre-occupied with teasing, and
something close to but not quite bullying,
with his bookishness – too dismissive
of the awkwardness in his limbs
to see where they were taking him.

Leningrad, 1990

Even with only seven mutually-intelligible phrases,
we partied on the overnight express north like it was
everybody’s birthday, making a loaf out of crumbs.
Come morning, the train lurched in, to a metropolis with
two heads, neither of them facing in the right direction.

Then it rained three days, in bands of withering judgment,
from a sky heavy with itself and a marathon of history.
Ageing boulevards, redundant with missing teeth, became
tributaries. Palaces gleamed, and naked-headed citizens
in zip-up jackets, streamed along Nevsky Prospect wearing

identical tennis shoes, unaware that another revolution
was rearing like a rodeo bull, in a future already
out of touch with the present. They would soon be
renaming the city again. Back at our hotel, the lights
flickered. They warned us against drinking the water.

Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US – most recently in Picaroon Poetry, The Lake, Liminality and San Pedro River Review. More of his work can be found at