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
magenta.

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.

And,

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.

Ethel Jane Cain – Stephen Bone

Ethel Jane Cain

The search for the girl with the golden voice
ended with Ethel Jane Cain, a telephonist
from Croydon, who beat all others
to give time a tongue and face.

Movietone finds her an English rose,
a Marcel waved emblem of the politeness of kings,
never be late again the campaign ran. To be fast
or slow a thing of the past.

The switchboard jammed the first day
the glass disks turned; the lonely rang in
for company, insmoniacs for a sort of lullaby,
others found in her crisp correctness a certain charge.

The tick of Ethel’s heart stopped at eighty-seven,
but archived, her debutante vowels survive,
winding back the clock of herself
to our parents’ long coffined days and nights.

Stephen Bone has a ‘Stickleback’ pamphlet due from Hedgehog Press in 2021.

The witch hair – Ramona Herdman

The witch hair

It’s the strongest shoot of me,
the devil’s mark. It hooks
its seed-serpent fang out
from the scar under my chin,
fetching my finger to its itch.
I pull it out and burn it.
It comes back like a bone
turned up by the plough,
glinting its hard little head
out of the scar-line’s crest.
It teases for a week –
too short to tweeze.
I see its silhouette on Zoom
and its wink in the mirror
as I mad-dog brush my teeth.
I pull it out once it’s long enough.
It comes back with the new moon.
Sometimes it raises a helmet
of neon green pus
as its egg sac, curling inside
like a shark foetus swimming.
The devil is subtle.
He believes in the minuscule.
The world is falling apart
and still he has the time
to come to me at night,
his flea-jaws working,
suckling at the one wrong hair,
giving it life.

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. ‘A warm and snouting thing’, is available from The Emma Press website.  
www.ramonaherdman.wordpress.com twitter: @ramonaherdman

Milk bottle – Olga Dermott-Bond

Milk bottle

My mum is standing at the kitchen sink
pressing the silver coin down so carefully

with her left thumb, a dented heart that beats
two days, until it joins the pretend pennies

scattered on the window sill. Above me,
the fat-rimmed lip of the bottle; I can almost

touch the frilly collar of cream that my sister
drinks. My job: to take the empties. I dare

to carry them one-handed, letting their bodies
reverberate, a juddery hollow of sound curling

through my fingers and sliding into their open
throats. I have been taught not to answer back,

not to question the world of empty men,
tight-necked, stout-shouldered. When I reach

the front door, I silence them with a rolled-up
scroll, filled with my very best handwriting.

Olga’s first poetry pamphlet apple, fallen is published by Against the Grain Press and her second collection is to be published by Nine Pens Press later this year. She is a teacher and has two daughters. @olgadermott

The White Horse – Anthony Wilson

The White Horse

The rain is my grief for my mother.
Like this train heading west

through rain
I travel into it

learning about loss
as I go.

Last night my father
conked out in his chair –

he has so much
to think about –

which is what I have just done
Pewsey, Westbury, Castle Cary

floating by
in a dream

a very grey dream.
You only need to visit Venice once

because it never leaves you.
At Paddington

my flat white was not flat
nor was it white.

Anthony Wilson’s most recent books are The Afterlife (Worple Press, 2019) and Deck Shoes, a collection of essays (Impress Books, 2019). In 2015 he published Lifesaving Poems (Bloodaxe Books), after his blog of the same name. www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com

Art for a Little Sister at Eighteen – Olivia Tuck

Art for a Little Sister at Eighteen

Day unfurls on the conservatory roof,
and you sit, chewing your pen, blinking.
You flinch at the flit of the tiger moth
on your windowpane – wonder why she stares
as you watch the sky become peach parfait.
The essay title is your name. You search
a thesaurus for post-club burger grease,
an exam hall clock’s fast heartbeat, the stall
of a car engine. All the rest is hidden
behind bathroom mirror fog. You didn’t see
the arcs of those days before you existed.

The sun leans in. I look at you; open my mouth –
unveil each work in my exhibition:
you at birth, head capped with coconut bristles,
your fist an apricot against your cheek.
At two, scattering the crushed-stone dust
of a pepper grinder across a tablecloth.
At ten, riding an inflatable dolphin
over wave-swells, Atlantis at your toes.
Now, your hair is autumn-infused, your eyes
are blue lace agate, your skin brandy butter;
your laugh is the smell of ginger, of cloves –
it could thaw an ice age. Don’t be afraid
to burn like Venus at dawn. Don’t be afraid
to spit out sunrises, to sing. Don’t be afraid
to run full pelt down the stairs – through the door,
into the quivering light of child’s-moon morning.

Olivia Tuck’s poetry has appeared in print and online journals including Under the Radar and Ink Sweat & Tears, and Tears in the Fence, where she is also an intern.Her pamphlet, Things Only Borderlines Know, is published by Black Rabbit Press. Find her on Twitter: @livtuckwrites