Thursday, 28 June 2018

A poem by Lesley Quayle

Grand Climacteric

De-tuned from the sharp, metallic ring
of menarche to this molten pop and bubble,
the sly click of bones,
ears in the wrong key,
eyesight’s descending scales.

My tongue sprouts bent wings,
clatters like dropped knives
or puddles to earth like a broken kite.
Words are snapped strings,
fingernails scraped down a blackboard.

I bring you seagulls tied up in bin bags,
rain on the roof, the smash of glass,
the slippery hollows of hot sighs
and sting of salt-smacked lips,
a whole orchestra of horny dissonance.

My finale almost brings the house down.

Lesley Quayle is a widely published, prize-winning poet and a folk/blues singer. Her work has appeared in The Rialto, The North, Angle, Tears In The Fence, Strix, Riggwelter and The Interpreter’s House, among others, also on BBC Radio 4 and in the Yorkshire Post. She was an editor of Leeds based poetry magazine, Aireings, for almost ten years and now spends her time helping to organise a folk club and music concerts. She has a pamphlet, Songs For Lesser Gods (erbacce) and a collection from Indigo Dreams, Sessions.

Monday, 25 June 2018

A poem by Susannah Hart

Steve’s party

Next to the vol-au-vents and sausages
there’s a cluster of pressed flesh and cleavage,
a general squeezing in of belts and bulging
out of bellies. Less hair now on the men,
but where it’s there, it’s slicked back, flattened
to the retiring scalp. Over the golf course the sun’s
doing that thing it does, that melting ice-cream
raspberry ripple stuff that grabs something inside
you, so you want to shout stop stop stop
turn the music off break the windows burst
the balloons. The kids can’t bear to watch
the beerish leering and Pete dancing with Sue
and the dads’ hands on the mums’ posh-frocked
backsides. They think you’re beyond that now,
beyond the sex and the chase, empty seedbeds
grateful just to have got this far. And all at once
you recognise what miracle is, this extraordinary
banal miracle of the body surviving, still here
still singing, raising your dry white wine and
singing unabashed Happy Birthday dear Stephen
as outside unnoticed the sun sulks off to bed

Susannah Hart is a London-based poet who is on the board of Magma and is the co-editor of Magma 70, The Europe Issue. She also works as a brand consultant. Her poetry has been widely published in magazines and online, and her first collection Out of True is due to be published by Live Canon later this year.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

A poem by Marilyn Francis

Visions of Angels at Mornington Crescent

forget not to show love unto strangers for thereby
some have entertained angels… Hebrews 13.2

Norah Wake, The Queen of the World,
now residing at Camden Town, speaks with angels,
sometimes she sings, not angelically, but well enough
for the few coins she ignores, because a Queen
does not use money.

She does not need the things of this world
when she can converse with the angels who
float above the chewing-gum and dog-shit
ground. They surround her in perpetual
adoration. So she says.

She won’t say whether they bring messages
from God, or whether they simply amuse her
with gossip from Heaven. I have a feeling that
her angels are all six-winged blokes: Gabriel
Raphael, Uriel, Michael.

Norah will not tell what the angels say
though they occupy her days, and keep
her warm at night on the pavement
outside Mornington Crescent Station
a place that only angels know.

Marilyn Francis lives in the industrial south west of England quite near to Midsomer Norton where murders take place on Saturday nights. She’s been writing poetry for ages and some of it has been published, though most of it hasn’t. She keeps on keeping on. There was a collection, red silk slippers, published by Circaidy Gregory Press, but that was a while ago.

Monday, 18 June 2018

A poem by Jean Atkin

The Ketley Tiger

In rain a tightrope walker leads a boy from Ketley through the tents.
She sways her hips down horselines, says, You want to see the tiger?
In lantern-light the great cat rises, black and orange as paints.
In rain a tightrope walker leads a boy from Ketley through the tents.
He bangs his stick on iron bars. Tiger! he calls. Oh Tiger! Its eyes are stripy flints.
The tiger springs, the cage is smashed. Its spine is snapped. There’s thunder.
In rain a tightrope walker leads a boy from Ketley through the tents.
She sways her hips down horselines, says, You want to see the tiger?

Another year, an urban night, a tired driver in an Astra takes
the roundabout, third exit into Ketley. A full-beam tiger in the headlight
paces its cage on the grass. The driver is afraid he is awake.
Another year, an urban night, a tired driver in an Astra takes
a breath, a tiger in his brain. The foundations of his suburb shake.
He clutches tea, says to his wife, Its stripy eyes were burning bright.
Another year, an urban night, a tired driver in an Astra takes
the roundabout, third exit into Ketley. A full-beam tiger in the headlight.

Jean Atkin has published ‘Not Lost Since Last Time’ (Oversteps Books), five poetry pamphlets and a children’s novel. Her poetry has been commissioned for Radio 4, and featured on ‘Best Scottish Poets’ by the Scottish Poetry Library. Her recent work appears in The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Lighthouse, Agenda, Ambit and Poetry Salzburg. She is poet in residence for Hargate Primary School in West Bromwich and works regularly in schools and on community projects in partnership with a wide variety of organisations.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

A poem by Andrea Witzke Slot

What I Saw on the Heath Today,
                       June Fourteenth, Two Thousand Seventeen

                                                            Lines composed the morning of the Grenfell Tower fire,
                      11 days after the London Bridge attack, 23 days after the Manchester Arena bombing
 Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.   
       — Martin Luther King, Jr

Consider this a missive to every terrorist, every murderer,
    every person past and present who has visited anguish
    on this teeming, heart-breaking, pulsating city of London
    and on so many of its sister cities throughout the world,
a missive to every hater who has caused innocent people
    to have been injured and slaughtered and slain
    in the communities of so many countries and so many lands,
a missive to every loser who will cause more horror and pain
    before I finish writing these words—
    or before you, reader, can finish reading them—
a missive to those who have been caught, and the many more who haven’t,
a missive to all those who cause suffering by design or neglect,
a missive to all those who don’t give a shit if they cause suffering by design or neglect,
a missive to all those who do give a shit but who fail to act when they know they
    could have and wake to find it’s too late, way too late,
a missive to all those who inflict suffering in myriad, malevolent, ill-advised ways,
a missive to all those who’ve ripped sorrow like bullets through the flesh of the world. 

This is a message to you.

But this is not your poem.

Whoever you are—reader good and reader evil—come with me. 
I want to show you what I saw on the tree-lined paths of the Heath this morning,
    on this, a sunny June morning as the news of flames and terror and smoke
    filled the screens of our phones and televisions and computers and minds,
    and yes I was running madly, with fury and frustration and tears
    but there is so much to tell you, so much I saw. 
I saw men and women, and women and women, spreading blankets on the grass.
I saw bicycles and runners and walkers and babies in prams streaming past. 
I saw men and women, young and old, swimming in ponds in parallel lanes.
I saw children in shallow pools splashing water at the adults who watched them,
    adults ready to catch these small humans should any harm come their way, 
    and I saw many small hands holding grownup hands.
I saw black mothers laughing with white fathers with many tattoos near playground slides, 
    and I saw children of many colours, running side by side, and I saw men with arms linked   
    and I heard at least three languages and many more accents,
    and I saw a woman in a beautiful red sari, and I saw a group of Chinese students
    observing a patch of flowers near an ancient Oak, and I saw a man in a turban
    listening to music, and I saw a white-bearded man
    with dirty jeans sleeping peacefully on a bench.
I saw a group of young women in hijabs laughing, and blonde girls laughing, 
    and two redheaded boys grinning, and so many people holding hands.
I saw grandparents calling out names gently and small people with fat legs running 
    towards their open arms.
I saw a small black boy pushing his small doll in a miniature pushchair, smiling
    as he headed in the opposite direction to the mother who called to him.
I saw an elderly Indian man holding a toddler’s hand and I saw that boy smiling
    at everyone who passed, his head turning with theirs,
    and then with mine as we both grinned.
I saw dogs swimming and owners calling and dogs shaking their fur wildly and towels rumpled.
I saw dogs rolling together on the ground and I swear those dogs had big smiles on their faces,
    and I saw people carrying loaves of bread and bottles of wine.
I saw people dotted all over open lawns as if in a Renoir painting but with darker colours too,
    many colours, many-coloured faces and clothes and feet without shoes.
I saw a young girl reading a book on a fallen log and I saw a man sitting in weeds 
    painting a watery scene before him, and I saw a scarred man in a wheelchair with legs   
    bandaged chatting in Polish to the woman who pushed him, and I saw two large white
    women sitting on a bench laughing as they smoked cigarettes, sweating even more than me. 

And they too know.

They know flames are rising and ashes are smouldering. 
They know people are missing and families are crying even as brothers and sisters
    and sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and friends and lovers
    continue to weep from the egregious tragedies
    of last week, last month, last year.
And they know people are still recovering in hospitals from bloodied Borough Market   
    knives and that families and friends are still mourning loved ones hit by vans,
    that families and friends are still mourning loved ones who died trying
    to save people they’d never met on London Bridge.
They know Manchester survivors are still hurting and that families are still grieving
    as they watch the news of today’s horror unfold on phones and televisions 
    and computers in homes and in shops and in office blocks
    and in hospitals and clinics and schools and cafés and parks,
    and they know children are still aching, and that teenagers are still in torment
    as they stare up at pictures of Ariana Grande taped on their hospital walls,
    her perfect white teeth shining kindly, and maybe these young people
    are at this very moment tapping their feet to her music, to melodies that play over
    and over in their heads, even as, just hours down the road, families in London
    are fighting fire, crying in pain, screaming out at the impossible distance
    to the earth below, to life as it once was, to life at all,
    and loved ones are standing on the ground looking upwards, helpless,
    powerless to stop the frenzied teeth of flames as it rips into the hearts
    and bodies of so many loved ones, rips to shreds every trace of life as it once was,
    every toy, every photo, every small picture a child once drew for them,
    and soon we will know more of the horror of human loss, 
    the incredible toll, the human cost. And still the flames rise and still the ashes
    are smouldering. And it won’t be long before we know of the phone calls that carry
    the last trace of so many loved ones. So many loved ones. 
Gone, wiped from this earth, rising to the sky in smoky ash. 

And it is not that we forget that people are crying out in anguish elsewhere
    when tragedy unfolds in our own streets and neighbourhoods.  
It just becomes more real, more poignant, more agonizing when so close to home, 
    so damned close to those we love,
    so damned close that we could—and do—reach out to touch it. 

But it is still morning in this poem and the news is still unclear and there is much 
    we will later hear but we know that a building is on fire and that smoke
    is streaming upwards and that people are screaming, and still we carry on,
    and I cry as I write this and yet what lies before me is a blanket spread like a sunny day,
    and so many people are in front of me and beside me and behind me holding hands,
    and I am running home to write this, and here I am sweating and panting and crying
    but I had to run quickly, you see. I had to find pen and paper to write it all down,
    to tell you the news. The incredible, unbelievable news. 

Happy is alive. Despite the pain and evil in the world, Happy is the rebel, the insurgent
    who refuses to hide. Happy is alive and well and full and fat and I saw it with my own eyes
    and I saw how it reached out to slap the face of evil’s ways. It is a tank blasting through
    war-torn fields, a war cry among war cries, and it bulldozes the world’s cruelty and hatred
    with courage and fortitude and might no matter how brutal the times.

Happy is audacious and resilient and a devil-be-damned storm of valour and hope,
    and I swear it’s running around everywhere like those dogs on the Heath 
    who dream nightly of jumping and swimming and splashing and playing 
    in the commons and greens of London, near the Heath’s waters, 
    in and beyond the Heath’s borders, on any number of sunny lawns and parks,
    and I swear it is superhuman, as strong as humanity itself, and maybe it is humanity itself.

And yet Happy is not stupid. It knows heartbreak. It knows heartbreak is everywhere. 

But that does not mean Happy is going anywhere. 

For Happy is as old as the world itself
    and as wise, and as obstinate, and as stalwart and towering as an ancient Oak,
    and as infuriating as an anthill shaken,
    and as relentless as a constant apology—an unremitting act of mercy—
    for all it cannot stop, for all it will continue to blast through and through—

See it? Happy is opening your door, taking you by the hand as you move out
    and along your neighbourhood streets, streaming its warm energy upwards
    along the Thames, pouring its life-blood into every community from the West to the East,  
    from the South to the North, steering its love upwards along the motorways to Manchester 
    and on to other cities, jumping on board quickly-moving trains
    and ferries and ships and planes, travelling onwards and outwards to a thousand
    other towns and homes and parks and schools and nightclubs and malls and calm country  
    lanes and loud city streets, and silent spaces too where people keep dreams,
    where they worship and pray, where they make love and cry and eat and sleep,
    and it is curling up in every place two or more are gathered, and in every place
    one cries alone, squeezing its way into every cavity of this great earth, every crevice
    soaked or not with the blood of humanity’s wounds
    and its great tears of grief.  

Yes, Happy survives and thrives and has claws and fangs, too.
It is there and it is here and it will be there and here tomorrow.
And it will be there and here the day after and the day after again. 
And Happy has a thousand faces, and sometimes it is not so loud, sometimes
     it is as subtle and quiet as the sun on an outstretched palm,
     an apple tree’s pink blossom,
     a bus pulling up in winter’s rain.

Go now. Quickly. Stand on any street or park in any town. You will see it! 
People shaking hands. Saying How do you do. They really are saying I love you. 
And you might just smile through your tears, through all the damned news, 
    through the smouldering ashes, through the great sorrow and despair,
    and you might just hear the words of the beautiful stranger we’d later hear
    on the news, This has shown how much people care,
    and still the ashes are smouldering, and still people are crying,
    and still there is so much pain,
    rivers of hurt and streams of tears, and yes the heartrending despair
    will continue and remain, walking and living and breathing among us
    for weeks and years and centuries to come, but Happy digs its roots
    into the soil of our souls even as it reaches its great arms outwards
    and pulls the sky towards its great chest, and Happy knows the pain will not go away 
    but Happy refuses to abandon us, no matter how much this world takes
    and destroys and breaks and hates,
    and Happy is children and friendship and kindness and madness, and
    it is stubborn, and it is power and delight, fury and fright. Despite every loss,
    every murder, every human life cut short, every act of hatred and rage and evil,
    however large or small, however near or far, Happy is by god the dragon
    with feathers and is the Olympus with a million trees that burst into a billion leaves
    that crown the rebirth of buds that release their dust-like pollen
    to blow outwards like tiny parachutes, like hope, like stardust in the summer wind,
    floating along the very streets in which we breathe and die and flourish and fail
    and do you hear what it is saying? Do you hear what it is saying
    over and over and over again?  

It is a message that spites every terrorist, murderer, man and woman of evil and hate.
It is saying, I love you. It is saying, I love you. It is saying, love as I do. 
And it is not saying it is a panacea or a final cure,
    but it is saying, love others too, for love feeds change and change feeds truth.
And it is saying, others might or might not love you. 
And it is saying, it matters not whether they don’t or if they do. 
It is saying, I love you. It is saying, I love you and you and you and you and you,
     and you, reader, you, reader, you, and you.

Influenced by trees and a lifetime of vivid synesthetic dreams, Andrea Witzke Slot is author of To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press, 2012), a mixed-genre poetry collection inspired by H.D. in title and form, while her second book of poetry was shortlisted for Eyewear Press's Beverly Prize. She’s won prizes with Fiction International and Able Muse, and recent work can be found in such UK and US journals as Ambit, Acumen, American Literary Review, Meridian, Mid-American Review, Southeast Review, and Under the Radar, among many others. An American expat and permanent resident of the UK, Andrea lives in London but visits Chicago regularly. Her website is

Monday, 11 June 2018

A poem by Rebecca Irene

Dodo Show

Sailors spit out gristly dodo meat, smashed one-egged
nests, cut down dodo legs mid-lazy-dodo-waddle,

yet in the sky above the earthly one, dodos finally love their ugly
heads and eat no more meals of iron and stones.

Dodos titter and tut over butterflies for breakfast. Excitement mounts
over larvae for lunch. Finally, across onyx heavens, the movie’s blaze.

The dodo show begins as it always begins— on Mauritius,
long before ships arrived. Food— plentiful, comfort— plentiful,

predators— few. Wings were long and lovely. Dodos shriek
delight at scenes of morning dodo mating in the sand.

Groans resound as time-lapse footage reveals night after night
of slumber, wings winging away, feather by gold-green dodo feather.

Cinema lengthens, time lengthens.
Understand— the reedits never end with dodo extinction.

Past the Indian Ocean, the sailors’ descendants wake: plump-bellied,
curly-haired, wide-eyed, waddling babes. Human food— plentiful,

human comfort— plentiful, predators— few. Conversations long
and lovely. The dodos clack, sob, stomp their dodo claws.

Dodos who recognize the ease and greed of evolution. Dusk after dusk,
they watch our children grow: TV, tests, twitter, texts.

How they mock us: our complacency, our years of minute subtractions.

An earlier version of this poem appeared in Stanza, Summer 2015

Rebecca Irene is a graduate of Swarthmore College, and recently received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work can be found in Sixfold, and elsewhere. She lives in Portland, Maine, where she supports her word-addiction by waitressing.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

A poem by Dipo Baruwa-Etti

My Beige Scarf 

My beige scarf has become an Etti.
It shapeshifts through the autumn, winter, and spring,
contorts sans any mourning aches
and morphs into a pavise
then looks beyond the dust-clad window
only to observe the zealot
climbing up the stairs with nakedness.

My beige scarf quakes.

Dipo Baruwa-Etti is a London-based playwright and poet, whose work has been showcased at venues including Arcola Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, and Old Vic Workrooms.

Monday, 4 June 2018

A poem by Lisa Kelly

‘When I Lose This Tooth, I’ll Age Twenty Years in Half an Hour’

Why do I laugh? At the truth about her tooth,
and immediately I know I will put it in a poem,
but am cautious about rhyming tooth with truth.
Should I extract truth? And immediately
I am cautious about punning. And look at
how far the truth has stretched from the tooth –
how this woman's remaining front tooth
is somehow a precarious totem for her youth
(I am less cautious about rhyming tooth with youth)
which hangs by a thread, and immediately I am cautious
about cliché (but I do like totem) And later, I read
malocclusion in a poem by another poet, and plan
to include, and immediately I am cautious
about plagiarism. And I think back to the inspiration
for the idea of a poem over a dinner of pizza
with a stone-baked crust, which she could not eat,
and how the inspiration immediately took me away
from the immediacy of the brilliance of her line,
When I lose this tooth, I’ll age twenty years in half an hour.
And immediately, I am bored of that line, and perhaps
not immediately (who can ever say when?) I think,
Why half an hour? When I re-write this line, it will read,
When I lose this tooth, I’ll age twenty years in half a second.
And immediately I am cautious that in the future,
just as there will be no tooth, there will be no poem.

Lisa Kelly is half Danish and half deaf. She is Chair of Magma Poetry and co-edited ‘The Conversation Issue’ and ‘The Deaf Issue’. She hosts poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House, London. Her pamphlet Bloodhound is published by Hearing Eye and work has appeared in PN Review, Ambit, Antiphon, The Spectator, South Bank Poetry, The Rialto, Prole, Urthona, Brittle Star and Tears in the Fence. Anthologies include Asterism; and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back. A selection of poems feature in Carcanet’s New Poetries VII. Her pamphlet, Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) is forthcoming 2018.