Walking with Mary Shelley 3. – Louise Warren

Walking with Mary Shelley

Mary is stitched into the middle of me-
as she was stitched into my mother
pulling the pieces of us together pinch tight
we try to squeeze to death the quiet version of ourselves.

Blue silk, forget-me-not, chiffon sky
we unpick her with our nails
as we worry, we fret, we unravel her
with our magenta, our hollyhock, our fogs.

Our deep depressions, our electric storms,
our blackest ink. Mary says-
we are not all content to lie between others,
I am narrative, scrawled in graphite,

little matted furs.
Wetness, hair, birth blood, breast milk,
life, death, silver clasped.


Louise Warren’s first collection ‘A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo’ won the Cinnamon Press Debut Prize (2012). ‘In the scullery with John Keats’ also published by Cinnamon Press  (2016.) Her latest pamphlet ‘John Dust’  published by V.Press in 2019.

Spirit guide in the bar – Ramona Herdman

Spirit guide in the bar

Watch the drunk the other side of this drink.
She’s the you you’d be if you drank it.
The you you’ve been before. That your dad was.
The you your children would be
if you thou’d them into existence.

She’s smiling at you. She thinks you look
pretty hot, pretty important,
pretty witty, pretty good fun, exactly
the sort of woman who should put down
her book right now and saunter across the bar

with a devastating pick-up line
and a half-conscious back-up line
in the back of her head, to cancel
tomorrow’s inconsequential commitments.

Ramona Herdman’s latest pamphlet, ‘A warm and snouting thing’, is published by The Emma Press. Her previous pamphlet, ‘Bottle’ (HappenStance Press), was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. Ramona lives in Norwich and is a committee member for Café Writers.

Observing the Dark – Joan Johnston

Observing the Dark

One bird’s tick
in the Rowan. ….There,

hear that? …..Wait
for it again

but no….. it’s gone,
tiny and flown.

This sitting on cold stone
looking hard,

to a tree

as if….. by this late vigilance
word would come.

Since 1997 Joan Johnston has published 6 poetry collections and pamphlets. She has been a writer with the homeless, in hospitals, schools, women’s refuges and prisons and she currently teaches Creative Writing on a freelance basis. 

My Monarch – Paul Stephenson

My Monarch

In his gown of white cotton with intricate brocade,
here he lays, collected and regal, my own medieval

………………………King of England

He’d like that, of England, this his adopted country,
lying in a white cotton gown with intricate brocade.

His nose is finer than I recall, cheeks a little sunken.
Hair beneath the chin, like he’s missed a bit shaving.

Up to his chest, a dark purple velvet with gold trim.
He lays here in white cotton, the intricate brocade.

Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He as MA in Creative Writing from the Manchester Writing School and co-curates the Poetry in Aldeburgh festival.

Caulk – Julian Dobson


I’m smearing white gunge into cracks
again, kidding myself momentarily
that this building need not breathe. It’s best

to use bare fingers, squeeze the silicone
into each hairline crevice, press and smooth. Below,
old ground fails to understand the urge

for regular, unblemished surfaces, skimmed
and sealed, for light to shimmer evenly from walls.
The substrate shuffles. Earth hiccups, itches,

finds more comfortable postures. The house
creaks, settles in response, puts on weight with rain.
We learn its habits, habitats. Let’s call this love.

Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield. His poems have appeared in publications including Magma, Under the Radar, and Acumen, and on a bus in Guernsey.

Hetty’s Room at Hellens Manor – Rebecca Gethin

Hetty’s Room at Hellens Manor

It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane. Hetty Walwyn,
18th century

She was locked in the room
……..a) because she’d run away with a lowly man
………….and no one would ask for her hand.
……..b) because a woman who defied convention
………….should be given shelter but not their freedom.
……..c) because she was deranged with grief and no one had a better idea.

It began with
…………..a) the click of the key in the lock.
…………..b) the gardener thudding a wheelbarrow.
……………….with a squeaky wheel over the cobbles.
…………..c) a terrible row where the parents
……………….couldn’t agree and both thought they’d let her out.

She didn’t know
…………….a) lock-up would last a lifetime.
…………….b) no-one would come even when she rang the bell.
…………….c) if she could have a small fire to warm the room.

She could see
…………..a) a small yard where a robin and a wren sang.
…………..b) the comings and goings of kitchen staff,
……………….tops of heads with bonnets or hats.
…………..c) smoke from chimneys.

Her cell contained
…………..a) a bed, a table and a bell rope.
…………..b) a cupboard to hold her nothings.
…………..c) a roomful of air.

She scratched the sentence on the window
……………a) because no-one listened to her beating on the door.
……………b) to show she was sorry but questioned the meaning of virtue.
……………c) to leave something of herself behind.

Downstairs, guests sometimes heard
……………a) footsteps going back and forth on the wooden boards.
……………b) sounds of crying or screaming and a tolling bell.
……………c) the scratch of her diamond ring across panes of glass,
………………..etching the word she hoped
……………….might release her: Bane, bane, bane.

Note: After an elopement Hetty Walwyn was locked in a room at Hellens Manor at Much Marcle for 30 years. With thanks to Regi Claire for the idea of the form

Rebecca Gethin has written 6 poetry publications. She has been a Hawthornden Fellow and a Poetry School tutor.  Palewell Press published Vanishings in 2020 and Marble recently published Fathom.  She blogs sporadically at www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com.

Meditations on Anxiety Management – Jinny Fisher

Meditations on Anxiety Management

O woman with the reassuring glasses and bun (Zoom box top right), are you the one with the
evidence? If I make coffee, can we huddle into a private screen, and pretend we’re sharing my
milk? I’m sure you have graphs and analysis to offer in return.

Someone tweeted that the heads look like Muppets and yes, there in the third row are Fozzie
and Cookie Monster. I feel like squeaking Beaker; I need someone to be Animal, so we can all
scream along.

This morning, I inspected my hair for emerging roots. I would prefer a full flaunt of bright
white—better than this rat-crawling-from-a-bag-of-flour. The creature is creeping down my
head for everyone to ogle at the next online event.

I’m fretting about blackfly on my beans. There are so many possible remedies— aluminium
foil around the stalks, vinegar water, even dilute detergent—can I learn to live with them? I
harvest some gnarly pods. Bug juice smears my Marigolds black, and stains the washing water

I’m in a box of reinforced glass—I polish the inner surface daily. I have no ICU in my garden.
Dead bodies don’t line up for my tally. Bar charts dance across the meadow and line graphs
hang in tangled clusters from the apple trees. So I seek second-hand data: how far does the
threat travel through the air; what is the best protection for me, my partner and kids; where and
how should I mask?

Bandwidth allowing, next Saturday will be Quiz Night, and I shall wear a bobble hat. O my
friend, Serious Woman with the well-informed glasses and bun, please bring me some
reliable answers.

Jinny Fisher lives in Glastonbury. She is published in numerous print and online magazines and has been successful in national and international competitions — including first runner-up in Prole Laureate 2020. In 2019, V. Press published her pamphlet The Escapologist. https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=The%20Poetry%20Pram

Husband, this will be hard to hear, – Mary Ford Neal

Husband, this will be hard to hear,

but you’re dead, and I hate your ghost.

You died in such small increments that I think
you may have missed your own last breath, but even so,
it was no less the shock to me. Fetal with grief,
I felt such eiderdown relief that anything of you remained
that I encouraged him to hang around, a charm against
the solitude that seemed to seep in under every door.
I thought it might be a bit like having a cat. But
it’s nothing like having a cat.

The blow was realising that he’s really nothing like you,
darling, he’s cold, and when he slides between the sheets
at night, I inch away. OK, I more than inch:
I now sleep in a different room, with lights on, and
he sleeps in what was formerly our bed.
I’ve steadily yielded whole rooms to him, but still,
somehow, he’s always in my way.

I tried with him, truly I did –
I crept from my sleepless room
to ice myself beside him two or three times, but
he was never hungry, like you.
Eventually, I remembered that, of course,
ghosts never are.

Worse still, he does some things that frankly creep me out –
the crawling, the shapeshifting.
And this will be the hardest thing of all for you to hear:
your dog detests him too. I’m sorry,
sweetheart, but you always had two rules:

We must be honest with each other.


We don’t involve the dog in our delusions. It has its own life.

The first of these applies, I think, and so,
although this must be very hard to hear,
I knew you’d want to know.

Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic based near Glasgow. Her debut collection Dawning (Indigo Dreams) will be published in August 2021. She is assistant editor of 192 Magazine and Nine Pens Press, and was Pushcart nominated in 2021.  

Everything Must Go – Guy Elston

Everything Must Go

For Alisa

A nervy, thin man selected
from my library of ancient vellum
parchments, and the scarabs
were packed up in panniers
by a sober-ish lady on a fixie.
A trio of calamitous academics
took the furniture, at length,
while a muscled man with a frog
nabbed the second-hand blender.
The mythical sword Excalibur
went to a good home (a pair
of evil twins with a clear secret)
but a predictably damp sandwich
collected the poetry, trying
to ask me personal questions.
The rest – gloves, gift cards, lacquered
parrots bought in Barcelona –
I stuffed in a box marked ‘priceless’,
placed on the kerbside. Finally
the floating began, and floating, I swam
over the city and its millions
of possessions-obsessed insects,
swarming over condos and hatchbacks
while I counted clouds, unattached,
uncompromised, with nothing
but time; time I spent thinking
what an idiot I’d been not to take
you, and everything you, with me.

Guy Elston is a British teacher and writer currently living in Toronto. His poetry has been included by The MothInk Sweat & Tears, The Honest UlstermanAnthropocene and other journals. He is (sort of) on Twitter – @guy_elston

Featured Publication – Like This by Neil Elder

Our featured publication for August is Like This by Neil Elder, published by 4Word.

What I love most about Elder’s work is the deep sympathy for all he observes, the way his language steers us toward the plangent note but then we are lifted into love, into understanding. These are calm, measured and wise poems offering hard won joy.‘ Daljit Nagra

‘‘Like This’ builds on Neil Elder’s previous collections as these direct, plain-speaking narrators give voice to the fleeting moments that unite and separate us. With humour and tenderness Elder records the things we do to give our lives meaning but often enough epiphanies come when we least expect them. Chaos, rage and sadness are kept in check just below the surface, “There is no cure for the end of summer”, but these poems urge us to grasp happiness, even as it’s slipping from our hands.‘ Lorraine Mariner

Neil Elder’s poems wash over you. They can be deft and unobtrusive, but they stay with you… A poet so sure-handed is irresistible. This is a dazzling collection.‘ George Bilgere

No Reception

After a while we leave the footpath,
continuing in comfortable silence,
each wondering how we can turn today into forever.

Life must still be happening to people,
shops will be open, traffic is stacking up,
and we must believe that there are passengers
in planes that pass overhead.

But out here, where we have no reception,
there’s sky, fields, crow crested trees and us.
The sun is splashing through leaf cover
and I squeeze tight shut my eyes
to see a kaleidoscope rush of yellow and green.

Only when we see the burnt out car,
that’s flattened a path into wheat,
do we feel the tug of our lives,
hold our phones up high
and search for a signal.

Runner-up in the Binstead Poetry Prize 2018

Reading Thomas Savage

Upstairs, I am reading the last two chapters of The Power of The Dog.
It’s another tale of people suffering and struggling
before they get what they want, or don’t.
Downstairs, my wife and daughter are watching I’m A Celebrity,
which also involves adversity and tears.
And although I have enjoyed the book,
its ending powerful and pleasing,
what I will remember most about this evening
is the sound of my daughter howling
with laughter.

The Balance

Sudden low sun in the eyes makes me blink,
and puts in mind the man who sneezed
uncontrollably in the sun’s glare, before swerving
into the path of oncoming traffic,
killing three but walking away unscathed.

I am jolted by the realisation
that I don’t remember how I arrived
on this stretch of dual carriageway,
such is the routine.

Ahead is a day of work and I should be glad,
and indeed, I am. But I shall be glad
when I drive home into the sun,
knowing I shall do this again tomorrow.

Also published in The High Window.

The theme is …

This is where I duck out;
the moon’s too big for just one person.

Give me a tiny moonstone to write about,
or better still, a moon shaped stone
that fits upon my palm.

Like the stone I took away from the shore
the day I gave an urn of ashes to the sea:
a trade that, like the tide,
keeps returning you to me.

Like This follows a run of publications for Neil – Codes of Conduct (shortlisted for a Saboteur Award), and The Space Between Us with Cinnamon Press, Being Present (BLER) and And The House Watches On (Cicero). He is widely published in journals and magazines. Neil lives in London and does his best with what life gives him. Contact Neil on Twitter @Eldersville

Like This can be purchased from either Neil’s website or from the 4Word website here.