Sparklers – Mat Riches

Sparklers

Free booze and hanging mistletoe
had lit our touch papers, sent us
flying into a dark corner.

We exploded across dance floors
like two speeding Catherine wheels
—burning brighter than all the rest.

Stopped at red lights too far from home,
I see you pushing buttons, and pause.
The rain across the windscreen’s filled

with fireworks from neon shop signs.
The hot potato of my heart
tells me not to go back.

Mat Riches is ITV’s poet-in-residence (They don’t know this). Most recently he’s had work in Wild Court and Finished Creatures. He co-runs Rogue Strands poetry evenings and has a pamphlet out with Red Squirrel Press in 2023.
Twitter @matriches Blog: Where The Fox Hat.

In Praise of Disney Villains who Refuse to Retire – Angela Readman

In Praise of Disney Villains who Refuse to Retire

This is for the women who disguise their frowns with flames, the dusk of
your eyelids and opera of fingertips constructing churches and knocking
them down.

It’s for mothering that rook on your shoulder, a praise for crows’ feet and
your mirror of hecklers, the hours of boiling lost loves into lipstick and mist.

It’s for your pageant of age, strapping a crown over horns. This is for
peeling a lonely night off the window and wearing its cloak, ripping your
spleen

to kibble left out for wolves. It’s for your disgrace, putting on that black
dress, letting it flow like a dozen bridesmaids holding the night.

If age is just a number, this is for calling it in the small hours and breathing
do me into its ear. It’s for making each stumble a dance with lightning and
showing us a cane can conduct skies.

Here’s to you, for making purple a sports car and sharing the map that lets
us go roaring into the dawn.

Angela Readman’s poetry collection The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches. Her chapbook Cooking with Marilyn, poems after Marilyn Monroe was published by Blueprint Poetry in 2020. She also writes fiction, her novel Something like Breathing came out in 2019.

What I learnt in woodwork – Jon McLeod

What I learnt in woodwork

That a spice rack makes a cradle for misery.
That you can saw for days without reaching
enlightenment. That left-handedness counts
as a curse from God. That carpentry is an art
practised by priests in overalls with a cigarette
and alcohol habit who select a wall plug
as if their whole life’s creed hangs upon it.
That a lathe may rob you of an arm.

That hewing starts with a child asleep
inside a trunk. That you can go against
the grain but the grain will always haunt you.
That you can age a severed tree
by its rings yet some moments leave you
with their smoking brand.

Jon McLeod lives in the North West of England. His poetry has appeared in the The North and The Frogmore Papers. His work also featured in a recent anthology of poetry on the theme of running.

I remember when I walked out onto a surgical ward – Sarah J Bryson

I remember when I walked out onto a surgical ward

for the first time, dressed in the blue of a student nurse.
I remember the not-yet-knowing, the smell in the throat
the top-down view of allotments from the sixth floor.

I remember sister-tutor, in her burgundy uniform-dress
edged with white, who cajoled my group out of shyness
showing us the way to shake down the mercury

with a determined wrist-flick and telling us how, in her day
the cost of a broken thermometer would be deducted
from a nurse’s monthly pay. Let’s do a set of obs, she said.

First of all, take a pulse. So our team of four spread out
in the bay, one for each man in fresh pyjamas
seated by his neat bed. Mine smiled kindly, put out his wrist

for my nervous grip. A hairy hand and arm, but the underside
where I placed my fingers, below his thumb, was smooth.
I remember how his pulse rippled beneath, full and slow.

I remember how it made me blush.

Sarah is a writer of poetry and prose, a nurse and a keen amateur photographer. She is interested in words, words for well being, people and nature and the connections between these aspects of her life. 

My Imaginary Mother – Paul Waring

My Imaginary Mother

My imaginary mother has eyes that clock all,
whispers down from lavender clouds, warns
me away from crocodiles with stapler mouths,
says never trust a taxi driver in a dicky bow –

speaks the language of local birds, gossips
about randy bees in flowerbeds, mouse-hunt
all-nighters frequented by cha-cha cats and
foxtrot foxes; shoplifting habits of squirrels.

Knows colour maths by rote – brown equals
yellow times red plus blue, plays late-night
cards with poker-faced crows, tells dirty jokes
to adolescent gulls; makes them laugh like drains
at the one about Shergar and rocking horse shite.

Paul Waring’s poetry is published in Prole, Atrium, Strix, Ink, Sweat & Tears, London Grip and elsewhere. Awarded second prize in the 2019 Yaffle Prize, commended in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition, his pamphlet ‘Quotidian’ is published by Yaffle Press. www.waringwords.blogTwitter: @drpaulwaring

Spit On Your Face – Camillus John

Spit On Your Face

He spoke to me with no spit
for the first time in about 10 years.
Each time we’d spoken in the past
he’d showered me with saliva,
passionately making his point
with arse-tight logic and Pythonesque humour.

I never minded. I enjoyed getting washed
with the back and forth of a robust argument.
but apparently he didn’t.

He regretted wetting the world
with his conversation and felt humiliated.

Sometimes when he spoke to me during lunch
there’d be bits of nuts or meat or vegetables in the spit
he’d cover my face with by accident.
Like peculiar acne.

Turns out he took tablets to dry himself out on the inside.
They worked a treat. He didn’t spit any more.
Or talk much for that matter.

I told him to stop taking the tablets.
That I liked the acne in brine
he gave to me and the world
when he spoke.
He said no.

Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin. He has had work published in The Stinging Fly, RTÉ Ten, The Lonely Crowd and other such organs. He would also like to mention that Pats won the FAI cup in 2014 after 62 miserable years of not winning it.

Conversation with a Cavewoman – Vic Pickup

Conversation with a Cavewoman

No, we don’t get many sabre-toothed tigers,
food stores are reasonable at our local Tesco Extra,
my partner has no need for a spear or knife –
he uses a thing called a Mac to sustain his brood,
and firelighters, individually wrapped.

I have not lost any children to the cold or hunger –
nobody wants to take them in the night or kill them.
My milk didn’t dry up in a drought;
when our son had a cough we drove to the A&E in town
and didn’t have to wait long.

But I lie awake at night,
dread what I cannot stop.
My inability to forage, find fresh water or control my fears –
that my children will live like me, talk like me
be frightened of this world.

I worry I don’t show love as other people do,
that they will need pills or to pay someone
just to talk.
On days when the cloud-base is low, and the list
of what’s needed unravels, as I so frequently do –

I want to swaddle their peach skins
in animal fur, smother them with my scent –
have enough fuel to keep the fire strong
and the glow in their faces, knowing
I can take on the world.

Vic Pickup is widely published and a previous winner of the Café Writer’s competition, the 2020 Cupid’s Arrow Competition and shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth contest. www.vicpickup.com

First Kiss – Judith van Dijkhuizen

First Kiss

The light hangs low over the table,
glances off the glass-fronted cabinet
where she keeps his childhood photos.

She goes out for butter.
He holds my head, kisses me.
You’re a pretty girl.

So this is what grownups do.

The door opens.
He springs back, winks.

We pick at the bread and cheese.
I glance into the darkness
beyond the edge of the table.

Judith has been writing for 20 years, and has an MA in Creative Writing (Bath Spa).  She has taken part in readings in Bath and Cheltenham and has won prizes in the Ottaker and Faber and Gloucestershire Writers’ Network competitions.

On Pelmets – Paul Stephenson

On Pelmets

Lounge

seven pewter tankards (engraved) – a box of Swan Vestas (three left, all struck)
– a halfpence piece (bent into a hinge) – a tiny splinter (from kindling) – soot

Kitchen

a paper clip (pulled straight) – a bin liner string (pink) – a milk bottle top (folded
into a half moon) – a recipe for moussaka (torn from a magazine) – peppercorns

Bathroom

a yellow squeezable plastic duck (no quack) – a shower curtain hook (snapped)
– a finger plaster’s backing (peeled off) – nail clippers (blunt and rusting) – talc

Our Bedroom

a convoy of vintage cars (Dinky) – a porcelain pig figurine (chipped) – a Panini
football sticker for swaps (Ipswich Town captain) – a safety pin (rusted) – sherbet

Their Bedroom

a white goose feather (missing barbs) – a spare trouser zip on cotton back (black)
a square beer mat for Carlsberg lager (wine ringed) – a gold band (plain) – dust

Paul Stephenson grew up in Cambridge and studied modern languages. He 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 co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and interviews poets at paulstep.com. / Twitter: @stephenson_pj / Instagram: paulstep456

Featured Publication – Dressing for the Afterlife by Maria Taylor

Our featured publication for November is Dressing for the Afterlife by Maria Taylor, published by Nine Arches Press.

Dressing for the Afterlife is a diamond-tough and tender second collection of poems from
British Cypriot poet Maria Taylor, which explores love, life, and how we adapt to the passage of time. From the steely glamour of silent film-star goddesses to moonlit seasons and the ghosts of other possible, parallel lives, these poems shimmy and glimmer bittersweet with humour and brio, as Taylor conjures afresh a world where Joan Crawford feistily simmers and James Bond’s modern incarnation is mistaken for an illicit lover.

Consistently crisp and vivid, these poems examine motherhood, heritage and inheritance,
finding stories woven in girlhood’s faltering dance-steps, the thrum of the sewing-machine at the end-days of the rag trade, or the fizz and bubble of a chip-shop fryer. And throughout, breaking through, is the sense of women finding their wings and taking flight – “and her wings, what wings she has” – as Taylor’s own poems soar and defiantly choose their own adventures.

‘Maria Taylor’s new collection is exhilaratingly bold. These imaginative poems strike at the edges of form and emotional experience to uncover glittering seams: ‘Winter made me a Wall-Street crash’ announces one speaker while another finds herself ‘ice-skating / into someone else’s life’. They are consistently surprising, a horse revealed as Dustin Hoffman, a married woman irritated at discovering Daniel Craig in her bed. It’s also a beautifully structured book, the film stars who people its pages forming a cohesive gossipy backdrop. By turns hilarious and stirring, Dressing for the Afterlife is a cinematic gathering I know I’ll replay again and again.‘ John McCullough

‘Taylor’s art is surefooted, with a quiet command of line length, a gift for choosing the right detail to illuminate her slyly weighty subject matter and an unsentimental but affecting directness of address. Her poems are firmly rooted in the day-to-day complexities of familial ties and duties, but her extravagantly vagrant thought paths lure us on to follow fancy into unsettling and exhilarating territory.’ Kathy Pimlott

I Began the Twenty-Twenties as a Silent Film Goddess

On the first of January I threw away my Smartphone
and wrote a letter to my beau in swirling ink.
I bobbed my hair, wore a cloche hat and shimmied
right into town for Juleps. I became Clara.
I became Louise. When I became a vamp, the boys
fell dead at my feet, I threw petals over their heads.
I dined on prosperity sandwiches and sidecars,
leaving restaurants with a sugar-rimmed mouth.
In summer I was a night-blooming flower.
By autumn I was a hangover. Winter made me
a Wall-Street Crash. Talking pictures were my ruin.
At last I had a voice but no-one wanted to hear.
Forgotten sisters. Oh Vilma, oh Norma, oh Mae.
A musty headdress of peacock feathers. Defiant silence.

She Ran

I took up running when I turned forty.
I opened my front door and started running
down a filthy jitty and past my parents’ flat.
I ran through every town in which I’d ever lived.
I ran past all my exes, even a few crushes
who sipped mochas and wore dark glasses.
I ran in a wedding dress through scattered confetti
and was cheered by the cast of Star Wars.
I ran through the screaming wind, rain and cloud.
I ran through my mother’s village and flew past
armed soldiers at the Checkpoint. I ran past
my grandparents and Bappou’s mangy goats
with their mad eyes and scaled yellow teeth.
I ran straight through Oxford and Cambridge,
didn’t stop. I saw a naked man in Piccadilly Gardens.
I ran through high school and behind the gym
where gothy teens smoked and necked each other.
I passed an anxious mother pushing a pram
and a baby that kept throwing out her doll.
Seasons changed; summer turned into autumn,
I couldn’t get as far as I wanted.
The lights changed. My ribs, my flaming heart
and my tired, tired body burned.

Loop

Maybe time moves like a figure of eight,
surging forwards then back on itself.

Light returns from exploded stars.
A grown woman could turn a corner
and see herself crying as a girl.

Newsflash: our world ends again.
The disappearing forests of childhood
disappear again.

……………………………………………The path curves.

It takes the woman back to a dimly-lit bar
where she meets the same lover again and again.
She risks everything once more.

They’ve already met
before they’ve said a word.

Unfinished Business

Like the ghost who never realised
he was dead, or the unending record
stuck in a groove, or the comedian
who forgot the punchline, or the bud
spoiled by frost, or the last Rolo,
or the half-painted living room,
or Beethoven’s draft of his tenth
chucked out by the cleaner,
or the bottle of fizz never opened
for a special day, or the rainy day
that rained all year. Who’s sadder?
The man waiting at the bar,
or the woman who won’t walk in?

Previously published in The North

Maria Taylor is a British Cypriot poet who has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2020. Her poetry has been published in Magma and The Rialto, among other publications. Her latest collection Dressing for the Afterlife, is out with Nine Arches Press.

Dressing for the Afterlife is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.