Mark J Mitchell – three poems

One A.M. Concerto, Saturday

A dying man floats up into your store
on whisky tides. Elgar’s cello piece haunts
him, lifts him, propels his one perfect choice.
His wounded breath, staccato as applause,
embraces bottles. Eyes slide from the floor
back to liquids. A thin smile—petulant—
a tenor’s—betrays his sandpaper voice.
He coughs to cover your too polite pause
and points. The malt’s as old as you. “Let’s pour
some.” Shrug. “Why not.” He pays. You splash. He wants
one last adagio, one final, moist
concert recap. Nightcap. The long dark law
awaits. He seals the flask and drinks. “We’re done.”
he laughs. Shakes your hand. “It’s been a good run.”


Fatima Ghazal
For Anne and Todd

Form is exactly emptiness
—The Heart Sutra

The shrine at Fatima
is an empty glass box.

The devout arrive on their knees
to pray at this empty glass box.

Close by, factories churn out
statues to remember one empty glass box.

Houdini would have worshipped
the emptiness of that glass box.

And for decades comfort
flowed from this perfectly empty glass box.


Public Eavesdropping
(Laundromat)

Tuesday his ex-friend’s best ex-wife just calls
like 1989 never blew up.
Says coffee or some such. He hems and haws—
so he says. He meets her for a quick cup—
you using this cart? Thanks. She probes his wounds
like some evil surgeon, but she pretends
it’s about her ex, he should see him soon.
Dumb crap. But he tumbles. Sure, they were friends
once. Needs one more quarter. I can see it—
She leans forward bouncing those new fake tits.
He’s sliding down the rabbit holes. He falls
like old oak. Grab that corner. Her tuned thighs
ready to split. And he splits. Never called.
Oh, yeah— she has Pre-Raphaelite eyes.


Mark J. Mitchell’s latest novel, The Magic War just appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work has appeared in the several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. Three of his chapbooks— Three Visitors, Lent, 1999, and Artifacts and Relics—and the novel, Knight Prisoner are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He lives with his wife Joan Juster and makes a living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco.

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Louisa Campbell – three poems

Bulky Waste Collection

The bin men groan under the weight.
I feel so girly, handing up the cushions.
By the truck, I had expected
crumbs, pen tops, maybe even 10p,
but not the old cellophane wrapper
from his cheap fags.

The kindest thing he ever did for me
was to go outside to smoke.
Now I picture my tatty sofa, teetering
on the tip of a slagheap-sized mountain
of rubbish, and him, seated on it,
king of all he surveys,
lighting up.


Killing him
for #MeToo

The only thing that really helped
was the offer to send some people from Brixton
to teach him a lesson.
And I wish I’d said yes

when I picture him
bloodied, bruised;
being asked why –
stuttering up a lie.
But he would heal.

The more I file him in a drawer,
slam it shut
and on just one word,
with it flying open
he jumps out on a spring,
hands waggling,
chuckles in my face,

I wish I’d said yes.


Westward Ho!

He couldn’t build a tree house,
or hoik a spider from the bath.
His job was too boring to remember.
He couldn’t even swim.
His words of wisdom were all borrowed
from perky concert hall comedians
and he lost his temper much more
than any dad should.

Not for him, the Padstein hoorays;
he liked a real town,
a take-me-as-I-am town,
a dogs-in-the-lounge-bar town,
a corner-shop-in-your-dressing-gown town.

In soft sandy coves, dumpling hills,
he paddled and played his childhood away.
Munched squidgy pasties,
all-butter scones with the jam on top
of the cream, to shimmer in softened sun.

I come back to Devon
where nobody minds
if you use an exclamation mark –
even when naming a town;
I’ve just been called m’dear again,
and I realize why he was my hero:
it must have been the Devon in him,
simply the Devon.


Louisa Campbell has been published in a variety of print and online journals. Her first pamphlet, The Happy Bus, was recently published this Autumn by Picaroon Poetry. She lives in Kent, England, with her husband, daughter and two rescued Romanian street dogs.

Rob Smith – two poems

Mod Life Crisis

Going grey with a workplace pension
But still a symbol of youthful rebellion
45 Fred Perry polo shirts from Debenhams
He’s been keeping the faith (since 2011)
Northern soul meets southern tongue
and a flavour of the far east.
That Harrington was made in Taiwan.

This roundel ringmaster is out to impress
his wife’s friends outside pizza express
sold the Volvo for a Vespa and the rest,
parka on, parked up with what (little) hair he’s got left.
A carefully researched moptop mess.

Thirty years’ time he’s got a new image
never seen him in a better way
that skinhead in a zimmer frame.
Back in my day,
Britain was for the British.
We had real style, listened to real music
I was a real authentic.
A scorching sideburn icon at forty-six
or was it forty-three?
But nowadays it’s all their fault
crushing our culture, taking our jobs.
KEEP THEM OUT
By royal decree
from the last king of the Mark’s and Spencer’s Mods.


Boxfresh

The dress code at Opium Barcelona is one of the strictest in Barcelona especially on weekends. No sport shoes are allowed’

(Barcelona, 17/07/17)

These were quite white once.
Before I learnt to tie my mind in double knots,
tuck it under the tongue can’t let it fray
down on your home front
you need me tight
up on my feet again.

Before this suede became
speckled with scorching orange stains
equally sweet and sour takeaway
from nights spent talking, forcing
down the fire of hungry days
trying to love the scales again.
Weighed down from winning
all those almost silver medals,
as empty as yesterdays crumpled foil tray.

Before I earnt my three red stripes
stitched on from this tin we’re still spilling
trying ourselves for size to a different rhythm
that night. Before every step was
silenced by the swarms, 4am notifications.
Before both these soles were riddled with red dots
bullet holes, burning buckshot translations.
remorse coded messages after the tone stopped,
of your shoestring hanging up on self-appreciation.

We’re not quite boxfresh
If that’s not good enough
we’ll just stagger on to another club.

I love your mud.


Rob is 18 and from Colchester, Essex. He was initially inspired to write by performance poets such as John Cooper Clarke and Luke Wright, as well as the lyricism in alternative and rap music. He’s just begun studying for a degree at the University of Sussex and is looking forward to performing his work locally.

Kathleen Strafford – three poems

Snapshot of my Son Momentarily Stopping

as the sun pierces through
black clouds
haloing your hair
clutching your bottle in one hand
……………..Mickey colouring book in the other
………………….on your way
……………………..into the faded
…………………………..monochrome of grey
…………………………………..your knees
……………………………………….slipping into its crease


Leaving for the Airport

No windscreen wipers

The car ahead strikes
a cat with a glancing blow
………………….launching it
…………………………..spinning 360 degrees
……………..and then some
its tail jutting, fur spiking
…………..blood spraying
leaving a crimson circle
we watch
……..the cat’s legs refusing to accept
………………..its helicopter death
………………..ready to high-tail it
…………………….across the highway

Strange how shock
will keep your head spinning
…………..& your motor running
……………………when all is lost.

that’s why I’m leaving you


Vacation photo

I am the girl
biting her lip
It’s the only time I
put my arm around her waist
I was 10.

Mom’s got an oar in each hand
as we pose on the dock
My little sister with her fake smile
and lopsided pedal pushers
raises her eye brows
when she spies

a tree shaped like black dog
in the background
on its haunches ready to pounce
she calls it by name

I try in vain to rub away
the dark spot trailing down
her forehead

She is marked.


Kathleen Strafford is a student at Trinity University in Leeds studying for her MA in creative writing. She hopes her first collection of poetry will be published this coming year after graduation. She has been published in magazines & online: Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog, Algebra of Owls, Fat Damsel, Ink Sweat and Tears, Panoply webzine, Prole, Cinnamon Press’ Reaching Out anthology and a number of Trinity’s own publications.

Jennie Farley – two poems

Vintage

Dinner, and he’s floundering like a drowning fly.
The wife’s parents, and Mr and Mrs Whatsaname
who’ve just moved in next door.

Impatience slinks around his neck.
He makes a point of glancing at his watch.
The dog jumps up, wags its tail.

From the kitchen he takes the wife’s
Saturday-job key from its hook, his mac, torch.
A brisk walk, one turn of the key, and he’s in

the midnight shop he calls Rosinaland, where
torchlit spangles twinkle, satins slide and shift.
Rosina awaits him in her scarlet gown,

blonde wig and bowler hat. Off with his mac,
outdoor shoes, trousers, golf jumper, socks,
On with the gown, the wig, the hat.

A slick of Coral Kiss. On with the heels.
The backlit mirror flaunts his catwalk twirl,
a tip of the hat… The dog yawns.


Vanilla Slices

I wouldn’t say no to a vanilla slice,
says my mother in a plaintive voice.
She is only a ghost so I leave her
sitting on the sofa by the fire,
put on my coat, and go up to the Coop.
Returning, I put my shopping on the table,
two vanilla slices,and a bottle of vermouth.
Whoopee! cries Mum, waving
her legs in the air. She’s turned
into a flapper with newly bobbed hair.
I sit down beside her, flipping
my georgette skirt, raise my
glass in a toast to us both..
Tomorrow we’ll go shopping…


Jennie Farley is a published poet, workshop leader and teacher. Her poetry has featured in magazines including New Welsh Review, Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Prole and several anthologies. She has performed her work at Cheltenham Literature Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Swindon Poetry Festival. Bristol Poetry Revue, The Everyman Theatre, and various local venues. Jennie founded and runs NewBohemians@CharltonKings providing regular events of poetry, performance and music. Her latest collection is My Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2016). She lives in Cheltenham.

Gill Lambert – three poems

The Countryside Code

Plan ahead, be prepared;
so you’re ready for anything.

Follow advice; if you think
it will serve your purpose.

Consider other people;
then forget them, instantly.

Keep yourself under control;
try not to behave inappropriately.

Some gates need closing;
kissing gates take care of themselves.

Follow paths; especially
if you’re not sure where they’ll lead.

Leave no trace of your visit;
go home, act normal.


Beautiful
after Carole King

And when they asked,
she didn’t have the words
for how they’d moved together,
choreographed by understanding;
that they’d found harmony in the familiar.
Or to describe the pin-pricked sky –
tapestry canvas held up to the light.
She couldn’t tell them how she’d stayed
in bed all morning the next day,
so that the night could find its way
inside her head. And if they asked –
and they did – if the earth moved,
she only said it had been beautiful.


The Sickness

It gave you an aversion to coffee,
washing powder and new-mown grass,
made you want to hurl your tea
as soon as it went down. You remember
this time of year, because of the sickness.

With each one it was different.
One of them made you crave cheese
(a love you’ve never lost) another one
expensive orangeade (the cheap stuff
didn’t cut it) and they all put you off fruit.

It was the sickness made you realise.
Before blue lines, or ultrasound, one month
in, one month missed. Twice
it was the answer to a prayer, once,
the delivery of a fear you’d tried to ignore.

But they all came anyway, bringing
shit and sick and noise. Turning you
into a different version of yourself.
Each one chipping a bit more off;
adding something, somewhere else.


Gill Lambert is a poet and teacher from North Yorkshire. She has been published widely in magazines and online and her pamphlet, Uninvited Guests, was recently published by Indigo Dreams. Gill runs the Skipton-based poetry night Shaken in Sheep Town and compères at Word Club in Leeds.

David Cooke – two poems

Getting it Taped

When I couldn’t keep up with the cost of music,
I found a solution: the second-hand
reel-to-reel I picked up at a snip –
a Philips most likely or maybe a Grundig,
some brand I thought would last.

Its clickety counter gave no insight
into the digital age. It couldn’t remember
or shuffle a thing. Pre-CD and pre-cassette,
it lacked a remote or any inkling
of the bells and whistles to come.

To make a start you wound the tape
onto the empty spool, then let it
run to take the slack. Engaging
its five sturdy controls
required decisive pressure.

And once you’d hooked it up to the radio,
you only had the space of a song
to change your mind and reset it,
ready for the next one, your dithering clunks
recorded in that seamless stream.

So I gave up on Pick of the Pops
and ‘Fluff’, its pop-picking deejay,
but left it purring quietly to the John Peel show,
his musical taste consistent,
his mumbles, yeah, laid back.


In Search of Lost Time

From the north of France to Mayo’s a stretch,
but in the way that often one thing leads
to another I got there reading Proust –
or, if I’m honest, by failing again
to read him beyond his hero’s bedtime.

Buttoned up, fretful, a delicate child,
he had never dammed a stream with sods
or pulled up a ladder into the hay
where he had his lair and listened to rain
clattering down onto a hayshed roof.

Accumulating his endless pages
– an invalid and a scribbler, cooped up
in his cork-lined room – it wasn’t the smell
of bread, baked in a pot in the embers,
that took Proust back to his earliest years

but a madeleine soaking in a cup
of weak tea. Free-falling into the past,
he never mentions creamery butter,
eggs with shells streaked in dirt, or the sizzle
and spit of sausages seasoned in smoke.

Lights out plunged him into creaks and shadows
and, on the nights he missed his mother’s kiss,
an agony of sleeplessness. Voices
climbed the stairwell. In a three room cottage
I awakened when the craic was mighty.


David Cooke’s poems have appeared in many journals, including Agenda, Ambit, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, Magma, The Manhattan Review, New Walk, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Stand. His most recent collection, After Hours, was published in 2017 by Cultured Llama. He is co-editor of The High Window.

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs – two poems

Feeling the cold
Edwardstone, Suffolk, Winter 2012
For Daveron Mulberry

Whatever may be true, I’m sure
enough to tell myself
I’m treading where my forebears used to
trudge across hard fields
towards the sandstone certainty of church
to huddle in a winter congregation,
pinch-faced and jostling like penned cattle.

I guess the chancel’s barely changed.
Dust drifts among the sallow smells
of wood and wax. It carries memories
and remnants of their breath
to mix invisibly with mine.

Snow and gospel, visiting again,
disguised as new arrivals,
hide the graveyard’s hardened scars
and dress its half-healed wounds.

Sharp cold’s a pain that’s eased
by stamping feet and fire
and meat and ale and company
when squire and parson sanction them.

Blunt grief must make do
with less substantial consolations:
a father’s hasty, muddled blessing
muttered in a husky voice
with a hand laid on the shoulder
of a rough-made coffin.


When The Photograph Was Taken…

…. he was almost out of shot
and standing in that other room,
whose shelves were packed with almanacs.
He clasped a chair back in both hands
while staring through the leaded window.
…………..Snow was melting down the glass
…………..but clung to kinks in twigs, like sherbet
…………..scooped from pre-war paper bags
…………..in the crooks of small boys fingers.

… the women wore bright summer frocks
yet it was wintry where he stood
and gripped the chair with shoulders shrugged
in very far from unconcern.
His back was hunched against a cold
refusing to explain itself.
…………..Frost and mist had turned the house
…………..across the road to black and white –
…………..a mirror-image doppelganger
…………..mockery of home from home.

… he was drawing breath to tell
a story, waiting for his opening
sentences to come along
the gravel path between the graveyard
and the hospital, like parcels
in a Christmas postman’s sack.
…………..Behind him there was choral music
…………..spread across a piano stool
…………..positioned so it blocked a door
…………..which no one was supposed to open.

And while his back was turned he missed
that failed attempt to document
his absence and he never knew
a wish to show he wasn’t there
was why the photograph was taken.


Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is poetry editor of London Grip and helps to coordinate the Islington reading series Poetry in the Crypt. His new pamphlet collection The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here is due from Wayleave in late 2017.

Laura McKee – four poems

the button tin

I remember that I had forgotten
the button tin

full to the brim
I can feel again

the pulse of a hard wave
that would break up

in the scoop of my hand
fall into spume pieces

……………brocade….satin
….RAF brass
……..abrother’sprefectshield
……………rose…..stitched
……………………………………cotton….pearl

all with the loop waiting
to be threaded on to something
to slot again through a button stitched hole


we notice the stars are all dying at once
(in memory of 2016 and all who were lost)

It’s like that thing
that year
1518

where everyone started dancing
and couldn’t stop

except now
it’s dying instead that they’re doing

All of the stars we look up to
one by one by one
with hardly time to catch our breath
in the space in between

The dancing plague seems more appealing
on the surface of things

but they all died too in the end anyway
from exhaustion

So then it’s true to say everything leads to it
A gravestone I passed said the person was
suddenly called
For a while I worry whenever the waiter has my number


she jumps in the air

grains of salt
grains of sand

a backdrop of something
maybe sky

it has no colour
and it’s not clear

where it starts
where it ends

she jumps anyway
I can’t see where she’ll land


I disappear down Love Lane

here lies love of olden
here lies love of then
here lies our love
if it had ever been

in the long grass
beaded with rain
in a small black and white bird
she opens her throat

calls out three times
in a nettle’s stubble kisses
in a gurgle over a boulder
in a pink ball still caught up

in the river’s wind
in the cars’ moan close behind


In another life Laura McKee worked in a record shop. Her poems have appeared in journals including The Rialto, Butcher’s Dog and Under the Radar, anthologies including Mildly Erotic Verse (Emma Press, 2013), and on a bus, as a winner of the Guernsey International Poetry Competition. She has been twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and was nominated for The Forward Prizes. Laura is mysteriously known as @Estlinin on that there Twitter.

Mark Connors – four poems

Today’s post

The usual glut of take away litter,
a brown envelope with my new tax code.

A letter about PPI which states
I’m running out of time to make a claim.

A CD from Amazon (Thrash Metal Classics)
to remind me of simpler times.

A letter I should not have sent, sent back,
three letters for someone no longer at this address.

A Decree Nisi.


After the fall

You lose your pack to local girls
unsure who has hunted who
as they pair up under strobe and mirror ball.
You leave for the murk of an undead city

where small hour ghosts give you giant berths
but you’re only a threat to yourself,
negotiating cobbles in the un-consoling fog,
a lone wolf walking like a lame duck.

You find your solace by the train station,
a kindred griever behind glass, displayed in white.
She beckons you with weary eyes.
You just want to talk but have no concept of the cost.

Every woman reminds you of your mother
so you stumble in to work it through.
She pats the bed, like an apology;
it takes an age to reach her outstretched arms.


For Whom

Forty years.
Always one on the go.
Why? Brevity, he said.
My father, who doesn’t know me,
reads Hemingway again,
for the first time.


Another dawn like this
for Gill Lambert

My stepson joined me once or twice;
the novelty wore off. I can’t recall a single time
I was accompanied by a lover on a morning jaunt like this.
But when a postman’s lad meets a baker’s daughter
they’ll be out there, catching worms.
We’re too early for the sun, too impatient
for the dawn to break at Ingleton.
We are too late for the stars.

But look, look what’s coming in above the viaduct,
A big black flying thing from Lord of the Rings,
that some would think a heron;
But never has one sported such enormous wings,
and black, black as the night we hardly slept through
in the B & B. We watch it land on a stepping stone
far too small to host it, watch it calming into balance.
It stills itself, begins its one-eyed-peer into the monochrome.

We walk towards the falls, giddy-wired, our stinging eyes
from lack of rest, adjusting to the pre-dawn light,
and there’s little else to see but one another.
But day is bleeding in. We hear a rumour of a deer
above the tree line of the river. Nothing transpires
so we impersonate that other early riser, still ourselves,
peer into a landscape of fading silhouettes, waiting
for colour, movement, waiting for something to reveal itself.


Mark Connors is a poet and novelist from Leeds, UK. His poetry has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, both in the UK and overseas. Mark’s debut poetry pamphlet, Life is a Long Song, was published by OWF Press in 2015. His first full-length poetry collection, Nothing is Meant to be Broken, was published in 2017 by Stairwell Books. Mark is also a managing editor of Half Moon Books based in Otley. For more info, visit www.markconnors.co.uk