Saturday, November 10, 2012

The New Writer

In 2011, my submission was highly commended in The New Writer's Collection Competition. This Autumn they published the following 3 poems from that submission. They are all poems set in Crete, and I love the way they set them out all on one page - thank-you The New Writer, I feel honoured!


                                   It was easy to find
the herb garden. A boy, dark-skinned, 
puts down his hoe to show us round 
beds of rose bergamot, cinnamon trees,
five varieties of sage, a bank of blue hyssop. 
He picks us leaves that taste of chocolate, 
sprigs of things to sniff - savouries, thymes and mints -
pointing out subtle differences
like someone born to it. 

‘Did you grow up here?’
No, he’s from a place in Northern Pakistan,
famous for cricket. He’s walked here, 
he says. Had to. Eldest son. 
No, not Afghanistan, he almost laughed,
too dangerous. Through Iran.
Arrived in Thessalonika. No work.
Athens. No work. Terrible, he says.
A friend brought him here.

 ‘So you’re safe here?’
I see him hoeing, watering, harvesting
the healing herbs. ‘It's paradise in Crete?’ 
He shrugs, looks at the soil on his feet.
‘I live over there,’ waving vaguely 
at mauve mountains.
‘I cannot live in village. Police. 
No papers. Papers only by marry.’ 

I pinch out a smile.
Tagetes are piled on the drying nets,
bloody as sunsets, behind him. 
The thyme is on fire, seething
with bees.

Easter Monday

Morning air still
has the chill of spring 
in its veins

but we wake bleary
from too much blood of God
in ours  

still heavy
with Easter’s
spit-roast sacrifices.

We drink the blood of two oranges,
breathe basil
and singed cypress wood.

Spun light pulses
between geranium and lavender.

Paired doves 
make love with same three notes 
an interval apart.

The single yellow iris 
cuts its quivering chiaroscuro
out of carob shade

for the baritone drone
of the bee

to sense an entrance, 
lever the velvet sepal, 
bumble in, 

and leave,
in its purpose.


September. School is back. 
I'm on the beach, biting the flesh
of a soft, sun-ripened peach.
A cicada tuts from a tamarisk tree.
I think of my grandma, who once, 
on a Greenline bus in Hertfordshire, 
after the war, when I was four,
announced her disapproval of peaches.
'All skin and stone. 
Nowt between worth the money.'

Hanna, sumptious as a peach, 
sprawls sultana golden on a beachbed
borrowed from an old man 
toothless and walnut skinned,
who watches her all day 
from under his tamarisk tree. 
Hannah doesn’t mind. Whatever 
turns him on. She has a bed: 
he, food for fantasy.
Both have their peaches, free.

Autumn 2012

Published in The Interpreter's House 51, October 2012

I love The Interpreter's House because it's a treasure trove of mostly shortish poems, mostly just one per author, and also because they always seem to choose the poem from my submissions that I thought least likely to be accepted!

To keep it safe

I could slab up blocks of clay
to sculpt the memory of this bay. 
I’d leave roughcast edges 
jagged against screens of scenery blue.
Lower down, I’d whittle away
a curl of lip, sphincter, vulva,
blow-hole and cave-mouth
for molten glass
precious as marbles, to fill.
Winkle out slithery things:
a scuttle of crabs, a starfish,
a twitching slippage of squid.
Further out in indigo blue,
shoals, oh shoals and shoals
of nib-sized fish would be writing
epic novels of the deep dimension,
illuminating pages with ghosts 
of living oceans past.

Rhyme and Reason Writers have published a beautiful desk diary of poetry and prose on the subject of Seasons, in aid of Ian Rennie Grove House Hospice They have been raising funds in this way for 22 years, which is phenomenal! It's a lovely book to dip into through the year, and would make a lovely present at the modest price of £5! Poet Gerard Benson judged the poems, and this one of mine was chosen.

Four Seasons: Notes

Winter evenings sweat wet woodsmoke
and a bitter tar drips from the zomba’s chimney.
Ravens crunch the air like split kindling.
By midnight, sharp moonlight
carries salt on its tongue, stings 
with new snow from the mountains.
I hear Death and the Maiden.

Spring sweeps in with a hiss 
of swifts, unzips its hoard of golds:
sunspurge, crown daisies, Jerusalem sage,
in a Hallelujah chorus. And I’m listening
for jasmine, but what I get is orange blossom:
notes flagrant as the cadences of a kora
or that aria from Tosca.

Summer is brittle, splits pods, spits pellets
to a raucous chorus of cicadas.
A sexy armpit stink slithers
through open car windows, from the sticky 
weed that stays green when the rest is straw.
Mastic oozes. Scents are deep as carob honey, 
dark as Desert Blues.

Autumn’s first drops on hot earth release
pheromones of hope, stir sea onions 
to send out spires of light. But too early
and they spoil the grapes with mildew,
sour the wine. Half-dried sultanas rot.
Fermenting figs drop on the road, stick
in the ribs of our soles. Thunder,
distant drum rolls.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Sheffield Anthology

The launch is on September 29th (10.30am at The Spiegel Tent) - not to be missed if you're in Sheffield (I won't be unfortunately!)

Here's my contribution.

Saturday Live

This is what boys are for! To strip 
to the hip-sagging baggy pants;
shrug, slouch, then somersault to the brim
of the fountain; cat-crawl the wall,
cartwheel, lazy-vault a stone plinth, 
bend knees and flat foot it free-style, 
frog-fashion, down all seven levels
of stone sliced by blades of water. 

This is what boys do: brace
on the handrail of city steps, spring
so that two feet lunge up to stand 
on the next rail. Let go, drop back, land 
squarely in size 12 trainers on the pavement.
Stroll back to the crowd, unflinching, 
unsmiling, like no one’s watching. Cool
as this cutting edge curve of water on steel.

This is what public sculpture’s for: to mirror
these moves. This is what public spaces are for. 
This is what this Saturday afternoon’s for:
sliding down stone bannisters on one hip, 
September not quite here. This
is what boys are: poems freed in air
above the sandwich wrappers in Sheaf Square
breakfalling among pigeons.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Grains of Sand

This poem had just been shortlisted in a Friends of the Earth competition, Earthwords, and will appear in an anthology (details of how to obtain this when I know!)
Synchronistically, this exquisite photo was posted on Fb by Clare Turner, and the photographer gave me permission to attach it to the poem on my blog. The only colour not in the poem is the blue spiral that unifies them all...I think these photographs could inspire a lot more poetry!
This poem was inspired by being in the desert in Arizona last year and seeing the plants and plant dyes used by the Navajo people for their weaving. That combined with a fragment of poetry I'd written years ago when idly sifting sand on a beach in Greece, and the idea of writing a poem set in the future.

The colour of wet

We had our one blanket, and the colours still
in it had names. Names of the plants from this land
in the times when the desert still flowered. 
So, we could name all the colours of grains of sand.

The yellows: rabbit brush, cliff rose and snakeweed.
Browns were onions, oak bark and tea.
Deep red was juniper, but most precious of all
was a pink from a shrub called purple bee. 

These grains were so few, they were kept in the skull
of a grasshopper the wind had spun in. And we’d ask
and ask, what were rabbits, what were bees,
what was a snake, and what the colour of grass?

A brighter, cooler colour than we’d ever dream,
they sighed. The colour of wet, the colour of clean.

Images and captions by Dr. Gary Greenberg, Author of A Grain of Sand
shell sand
The tip of a spiral shell has broken off and become a grain of sand. It is opalescent from the repeated tumbling action of the surf. Surrounding the shell fragment are five other sand grains, from top middle clockwise, (1) a pink shell fragment, (2) a foram, (3) a microscopic shell, (4) a volcanic melt, and (5) a bit of coral. Image Copyright © 2008 Dr. Gary Greenberg, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Published in 2012


You’re moulded in the hot hole of your bed
like any creature that is not of the night.
But the creaks and crashes that wake you
aren’t of the forest, and you’re not holed
in the stable earth or safely nested 
in the bole of a tree. You are asleep high 
in the pink house on the edge of the hill, 
with flimsy fixtures straining for a fling
with this North Westerly who’s a knack 
of unclasping shutters that slam 
against windows, the trick
of slapping awnings, slinging screens 
and shaking doors that ache to unhinge. 

So, you must drag your sleep-sodden 
limbs from their second skin, stumble 
downstairs, wrench open resistant windows, 
let the beast in, fanged and freezing. 
You must fight to fend off its force
while you clamp the stiff catches closed
again, wrench and secure the latches
in their cold metal beds, then burrow back
to the weak, wasted warmth of yours.
It’s what you do. Wake up, slough off
the sleeping animal, work out
what in the world needs doing.

This one was shortlisted in the Ver PrizeCompetition judged by Mimi Khalvati, and appears in the Ver Prize Anthology. It's not set in this English summer, but in a Cretan January!

Nothing Sacred

The warning tape was scattered ragged in the wind.
Her machete rang on stone, then stuck in space.
She heard stuff hit water.
The language didn’t sound like modern Greek.
Nor were the sounds quite like a modern lute.
A kingfisher skimmed by: they’re territorial.
She knew more about birds than ancient sites.
The cave contained five graves of female saints.
‘For heaven’s sake, what now?’ she heard one sigh.

This poem came out of one of Peter Sansom's more quirky exercises and has just been published in the wonderfully vibrant Other Poetry, of which the editor James Roderick Burns boasts, ' We have never had a house style - poetry is too diverse and surprising for that'. It's a refreshing, sparkling read of poems and reviews 'from the North East of England and the Known World.' Worth more that a fiver! Go to 

Monday, April 2, 2012

2011 - a good year for short listings!

It was fun being feted by Holland Park Press at their celebratory event as one of five shortlisted poets out of 900 entries to their Angels and Devils Competition on the subject of family relationships. Also good to be there with Rosie Garland and hear her read her winning poem. Thanks to those lovely people.
I was chuffed to be commended in The New Writer’s Collection Competition - among the top ten entries. As a result, some of my poems will be published in The New Writer later in the year. Definitely progress from the Honourable Mention they gave me in 2010! 
And in the prestigious Cinnamon Poetry Collection Competitiion, my collection was longlisted.
The poem ‘Slackening’ was shortlisted in The Grey Hen Competition, and two poems were shortlisted in The Second Light Competition.

All very encouraging, as is an invitation by Oversteps Books to submit a collection at the end of this year.

Plenty to work towards, then! 

Thanks to all of you who've looked at my published poems from 2011. I hope to add many more in 2012.