They told me they found two owls, two dead owls, and they supposed the owls must have flown down the chimney and the owls had no way of knowing how to fly back up the chimney into the night sky. They died a desiccated death and they told me if I’d seen the owls, I would have cried. The owls were barn owls, beautiful and the extraordinary thing was the weight of the owls, incredibly and unexpectedly light. They put the owls in a bin bag because owls are a protected species and this is what the town hall said must be done and to drop off the owls at the town hall. I wanted to know more about the owls and asked if they died together but no one owl died at one end of the loft and the other owl not especially nearby.
Lisa Kelly’s first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, (Carcanet) was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Poetry Prize 2021. She is co-editor of What Meets the Eye, (Arachne Press) an anthology of poetry and short fiction by UK D/deaf writers.
A mouth has been at the bins again. On the District Line, I find egg stuck to my Nikes. Kid in my class asks: they Air Force 1? & I feel my wrinkles. So I wash my face in London’s spit, until Simple is on offer. Am I grown yet? I watch YouTube tutorials from my office chair; catch a flash of grey in my Groovy-Chic mirror; have now realised it really isn’t possible to kick a pigeon. The new housemate is in the shower again. I wish I knew how to look after my damn plants. I could be pregnant right now. The only thing I own of my Oma’s is her hair, in a box. I cry when I miss the 37 bus. They are terribly irregular. How could I have known I would not need all these dresses. The sea is pouring from my wardrobe. Maybe I should get out of the house. Watch the green ducklings, iridescent nappies. A world with more coke products than tigers. My screen asks: Want to add a free drink to your order? I should wake up from my desk now, it’s been two years. John’s been awaiting my email.
Ella Dorman-Gajic is a London-based playwright, poet & performer. Her writing has been described as “impassioned” by The Guardian. Her debut play Trade premiered at Omnibus Theatre in 2022. She’s part of the Roundhouse Poetry collective & alumna of Apples & Snakes Writing Room. https://www.elladorman-gajic.co.uk/
She peels off her summer dress and empties a jug of water over her head. The day smoulders like a smoking wick. She can feel the dying grass beneath her feet; a single bead dripping slowly between her shoulder-blades down to the small of her back. Pale blossoms curl, shrink to a cinder. Now follows the scent of fireweed, honeysuckle and dark peppery nettles. From tall trees a sudden flint-spark of birdsong threatens this whole valley with flame. She smiles. An idle finger teases cirrus-clouds from a tender seam of blue sky. She never wants you to stop watching.
Siegfried Baber was born in Devon in 1989 and his poetry has featured in a variety of publications including Under The Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog Magazine, online with The Compass Magazine and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and as part of the Bath Literature Festival. His debut pamphlet When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid was published by Telltale Press, with its title poem nominated for the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. In 2019, he published London Road West, an ebook of poems and photographs. A debut collection, The Twice-Turned Earth, is forthcoming.
Though it’s the same smell as my mother’s workroom
Vermeer did not paint me.
Please never say, to me, woman with disabilities.
They are not jewels. I cannot put them down.
Nuala Watt’s poems have appeared on BBC Radio 3 and in anthologies including Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press 2017) and A Year of Scottish Poems (Macmillan 2018)
Marion Oxley is originally from Manchester but now lives in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. Her debut pamphlet In the Taxidermist’s House was published in October last year by 4Word Press. She is a Forward Prize nominee for best single poem.
Ask the god to tidy your drawer neat enough that your life is in order
Ask it to arrange you Ask it to sort you out
Ruler, stapler Hole punch, glue
Ask it to stick things back together Ask it to fasten your days
Ask the god for right angles Ask the god for the right angles
Make it straighten stuff Make it equally measure
Then put your life away Then close your life
Paul Stephenson was a Jerwood/Arvon mentee. He has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press) and his debut collection is due next year. He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and lives between Cambridge and Brussels.
It’s almost a cloud sagging its belly on a row of chimneys, barely holding its water in. It’s almost moss with seeds stuffed in its cheeks and hair sprouting from its upper lip. It’s almost a bus seat, stubbly velour clenching a dust storm and too much give in its middle.
It’s almost a fragment of chalk loosening from a cliff face or a plate of ice skidding across the table of its lake. It’s almost a scoop neck popping its cleavage or a phone rubbing a ringtone from its wings or a door slamming shut in the wind when it would rather have whispered instead.
It’s almost a pillow shedding its down or a dog dozing in my empty house or a pot plant that has withered in the desert of forgotten. It’s almost impossible to define but it has moved in for good and keeps its wine in the fridge, beside mine.
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.
Our featured publication for July and August is Panic Response by John McCullough, published by Penned in the Margins.
From the mercurial mind of award-winning poet John McCullough comes Panic Response, his darkest and most experimental book to date.
These poems put personal and cultural anxiety under the microscope. They are full of things that shimmer, quiver and fizz: plankton glowing at low tide; brain tissue turning to glass; a basketball emerging from the waves, covered in barnacles.
Moving beyond the breathlessness of panic towards luminescence and solidarity, this formally innovative new collection sees McCullough at the peak of his powers.
“John McCullough’s fully alive new book experiments with every unit of expression – word, phrase, sentence, line break – as if trying to work out the physics of poetry after the death of John Ashbery. The experience of language here is an intense hallucination, in which the anxious world of the 2020s is both distinctly real and almost weightless, and love and friendship as hard to hold as the ‘salt, dust and recycled breath’ that blows through the poet’s Brighton. But line after line here shines out with its own shape and meaning, and through the unreality runs real feeling, sincere desire for the shared emotion of poetry: ‘to be lost in a new and beautiful manner.” Jeremy Noel-Tod
“I read these poems like a child reads anything for the first time, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ and laughing and being surprised and saddened and enriched and getting zapped with each poem’s unique electrical charge. Queerness, years of COVID-19, tropes of panic, are all themes which arise again and again across this collection, but most satisfying is the point of view of the poet; McCullough is a visionary, a genius polymath. His worlds and miniature observations are deeply satisfying to stumble into. McCullough’s writing feels tender, intimate, zany and yes … cool. A book for our troubled times.” Monique Roffey
Previously published in Poetry Review
Oops, I Did It Again
Self-Portrait as a Flashing Neon Sign
John McCullough lives in Hove. His third book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds, was published with Penned in the Margins and won the 2020 Hawthornden Prize for Literature as well as being shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. John’s previous collections have been Books of the Year for publications including The Guardian and The Independent, and he also won the Polari First Book Prize. His poem ‘Flower of Sulphur’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. His fourth collection, Panic Response, explores personal and cultural anxiety, and the ways people respond. It was published in March by Penned in the Margins.
Copies of Panic Response are available to purchase from the Penned in the Margins website.
In the less sure years he lay under silence and it was so like death I forgot to water him.
That’s when older folk are supposed to bring their watering cans.
It needs tears for sure, plenty of them. The dead are thirsty in their long sleep and the being-alive-again takes time.
Now he is not dead, he’s decided to move into a different room and the windows in this one
look out with my eyes, when I open certain doors, his voice walks through.
After the long winter, spring showers. I feel leaves opening in me pages and pages of rustling joy.
Hannah Linden won 1st prize in the Cafe Writers Poetry Competition 2021. Her pamphlet The Beautiful Open Sky is forthcoming with V. Press. She is working towards a full collection, Wolf Daughter, about the impact of parental suicide on children. Twitter: @hannahl1n