The headless mannequin surveys the back garden. Today, she wears Balenciaga. Yesterday, Halston. Tomorrow, Ossie Clarke. Her empty sleeves are ruffs to the elbow. Her three birch legs are wonky, prone to collapse. Her neck is necklace-less, is capped by a varnished plug of chestnut; the grain is her fingerprint, her identifier. Her waist cuts in, signifying she has never vegged out on digestives to Supermarket Sweep, has never borne children. When I put out the light, she is still there in the darkness, her vigil unceasing. She will be the first to see the new dawn rise, though it is of little use to her: the dawn is the dawn is the dawn, the light until the fade, meaningless beside the promise of puffball skirts, band t-shirts, gold-lamé boudoir gowns.
Craig Smith is a poet from Huddersfield. His writing has appeared on iambapoet and the Mechanics’ Institute Review, and in The North and The Interpreters’ House, among others. He is working toward an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University. Twitter: @clattermonger
Oz Hardwick’s tenth collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in late 2022. He has won countless prizes, mostly in raffles, and feels that feeling awkward is close enough to an award as makes no difference. www.ozhardwick.co.uk
James McDermott’s poetry collection Manatomy, longlisted for Polari’s First Book Prize 2021, is published by Burning Eye and their pamphlet Erased is published by Polari Press. James’s pamphlet of queer nature poems is forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books. James’s poems have been published in various magazines including Poetry Wales, The Cardiff Review,Popshot Quarterly, Ink Sweat & Tears and Fourteen Poems.
I don’t tell my new friends about the boy who’d blow his pocket-money on rolls of caps to make penny-bangers, then at dark-fall,
launch them like grenades against the wall of his protestant neighbours’ house, driving them mad, driving them out.
I don’t tell them of the names he’d mutter at the soldiers patrolling check-points and streets, or the freedom songs he’d sing with his mates.
I don’t tell how the boy would feel the impact somewhat less, when the news of another death bore the name of a victim from the other side.
I’m too afraid they wouldn’t understand if I spoke of this boy, and how he’d revolt at the sound of their English tongues.
Niall M Oliver lives in Ireland, and is the author of ‘My Boss’ by Hedgehog Poetry. His poems have featured in Acumen, Atrium, The Honest Ulsterman, Fly On The Wall Press, Ink Sweat & Tears and others.
It emits a disgruntled air as I keep a respectful distance pretending to ignore it.
A rugged look of something monumental used to just standing there
dreaming of acacia leaves, creases worn so deep they concertina up like worry lines.
Of course white rhinos are only white when a full moon washes the savannah.
On days like this they glower dust-baked grey, shades of school vests and stretched elastic.
And black rhinos are not black at all. They lurk in airing cupboards
bleached out, faded, over-wrung, proving the rule all things converge to grey.
Casting a wary glance I take a slow step or two further back
from this brooding hulk of household chores. Although sometimes I dream
the hot hoof of an iron, want its snorting steam to smooth the tired folds
in heavy legs, ease out the ache of all those lonely sleeves, before it is too late.
Emma Simon has published two pamphlets: Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (Smith|Doorstop, 2020) which was a winner in the Poetry Business’s International Pamphlet and Book competition. She was been widely published in magazines and anthologies and last year won both the YorkMix Poetry Prize and the Live Canon International Prize. She has previously won the Ver Poets and Prole Laureate prizes. She works in London as a part-time journalist and copywriter.
Following years of taking deadly risks and defying all the laws of physics,
it was, I regret, inevitable that when a childhood friend finally fell
like a nest from its cradling parent branch, this act of momentum would be his last:
gliding down past clouds the colour of salt and the safety of outcrops of flat rock.
So I invert the image downside up and it can no longer hurt quite as much:
his inhaled gasp, the dwindling avalanche retreating back from the point of impact,
his silhouette now suspended in time, the snow rising through a merciful sky.
Ross Thompson is a writer and Arts Council award recipient from Bangor, Northern Ireland. His debut poetry collection Threading The Light is published by Dedalus Press. His work has appeared on television and radio, and in a wide range of publications. Most recently, he wrote and curated A Silent War, a collaborative audio response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been adapted into a series of archival and educational films. He is currently preparing a second full-length book of poems.
It started out as a cavernous space with no light source. The brief was to make it bright and inviting, to give it soul. I took it, bunker and hideout, and set about making it bright. The clever bit was the upturned sieves for lampshades.
The walls were too coarse to paint; I plastered it in paper mâché from unread papers, back when the news arrived from some distant place and shot past me. This is all about what I neglected.
Up next was colour, the season offered up red leaves for the ceiling, agarica xanthodermus stain for light, a dab of moss and a bottle forest, whilst two fly-tipped mirrors spoke endlessly of windows.
Such cluttering would offset the dense silence fizzing with anxiety. What would an explosion sound like? In the event, I felt it before I heard it and I chose an intense teal to focus on when nothing felt solid.
Stone floors are not as glamorous as they had seemed last season. I salvaged a rug, a few off-cuts of carpet from the loft, and squirrelled them down to the basement. Left them loose, for the dust.
Our centre-piece was an island, half a beer barrel dragged in at the seventh hour to serve as a table. It could fit eight elbows, hold four heads when the news didn’t get through. Next week’s challenge will be based on the theme of Escape.
Julia Stothard lives in Surrey and works at Royal Holloway University of London. Her poems have appeared in various publications including Ink, Sweat and Tears, South, London Grip and Dempsey & Windle competition anthologies.