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.

Featured Publication – Suitcase by Kevin Reid

Our featured publication for December is Suitcase by Kevin Reid, published by 4word.

These poems are the real thing. Gritty, honest, vernacular, funny but also at times startlingly moving. Reid writes equally movingly about a mother’s deathbed (he wasn’t there. He was away being a fuckin’ artist) or a daughter’s move to Glasgow. The loss which he carries with him to a new life in Athens is so skilfully evoked you can taste it long after you close this lovely collection.‘ Carole Bromley

Kevin Reid’s poems view the world from an angle which renews and revitalises the everyday. Here pigeons have ‘tones of stone’ and ‘the devil in your feet’. These are tender poems alert to the way the objects that surround us can summon our greatest losses. ‘the twitch of twigged words / woven into chicken wire’ one speaker notes before turning to ‘Your easel: a girl in a white dress, / her unfinished wave’. Careful and evocative, Reid’s lines shimmer with the unspoken.‘ John McCullough

How long has it been since a Scottish poet wrote at any length about Greece? By my reckoning it was Alexander Scott in 1971 with his pamphlet Greek Fire. Even then, he wrote as a tourist and many of the poems were damp squibs about retsina tasting worse than hemlock. Here, Kevin Reid tackles the lot of the self-imposed exile, trying to outrun grief and the grim legacy of the past with all its bigotries and religious baggage, only to have to confront it finally in poetry. Reid shows us that little worthwhile is come by easily, that it is the struggle to live a truthful and meaningful life that is worth all the hardship.’ Richie McCaffery

The Church of the Red Telephone Box

was open to all,
baptism wasn’t a requirement,
but loose change was. Confirmation
took place when you were tall enough,
strong enough to open the door.

Communion wasn’t a sacred host
or fortified wine, only the occasional
unholy offering of a half-eaten chip butty
and the dregs of a can of McEwans.

Confession wasn’t face-to-face, back then
the messenger wasn’t Skype. The operator
was supportive, but not always forgiving,
no matter how often you said sorry or swore

because they couldn’t connect you.
Their absolution and penance of hang-up
and redial, often led to immediate lapse
like leaving the receiver off the hook
or kicking-in a window.

A sanctuary of sin, this is where sex
could take place before marriage if
you didn’t mind shameless voyeurs
or the holy order of an unexpected ring.

Previously published in Prole 29

On Dying and Being an Artist

As your brain bled could you hear
my sisters bicker over who was
and wasn’t allowed at your bedside

Did you feel dad’s hand in yours
he said you still had a firm grip

Did you smell him leave the room
hear the family tell him not to

As he reached your side they told me
you opened your eyes for the last time
for the first time in twenty-four hours

Did you know I was on the other side
of the country at an arts festival

giving an artist’s talk
being a fuckin’ artist

Suitcase: A Traveller’s Companion

As vital as a bible can be to a Christian,
with its must-haves and recommendations.

Its attention to toilet bag detail:
dental floss, mouthwash, toothbrush
and toothpaste, hemp soap, cotton buds,
Jean Paul Gaultier, shampoo, shower gel,
razor and razorblades.

Its highlighted note on the essential
spare pair of glasses to replace those
you could lose in a dark room
full of naked men and women.

The sans of the underwear passage
has worn-out, faded from bold black
to greyscale, the value in updating
smalls barely readable. A reminder
of how much you can wear, wash, expose

five pairs of socks and boxers to sunshine
before they become dog-eared and unwearable.

The Brightest Song My Arms Have Ever Held

…call it home. It wanders, yes, but it is still yours.
………………………………………………..Rachel McKibbens

If I could summon joy today
I’d remove the thousands of miles
between Athens and Glasgow

I’d have Aegean sunsets
over the Isle of Arran
eat Greek with Glaswegians

Instead – I remove the years
between adult and child
between now and you singing
Bird On the Wire

Kevin Reid travels and works between the UK and Europe. In 2018, he was commended in The Bangor Literary Journal Forty Words competition for his short poem Four Walls
and an Absence of Livestock.
His poetry has been published in various online and
printed journals including, Prole, The Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat and Tears and Under the Radar. His mini pamphlet Burdlife ( Tapsalteerie ) was published in 2017 and his first UK pamphlet Androgyny (4word) was published in May 2018. Suitcase (4word) was
published in September 2020.

Suitcase is available to purchase from the 4word website.

Featured Publication – Lamping For Pickled Fish by Beth McDonough

Our featured publication for April is Lamping For Pickled Fish by Beth McDonough, published by 4Word.

Discovering Beth McDonough’s poetry is a genuine pleasure. Shine a light on her poems and they reflect that light back on the reader, sometimes more brightly, sometimes strangely distorted, but always leaving us with distinctive, unforgettable images and additions to the vocabulary of the world. Words collide and fuse to make new ones, ideas and insights are layered as she looks for meaning in nature, family and the quirks of human behaviour. Her poems range from polished and lean to richly abundant, with flashes of exploration and experimentation in how poems can communicate themselves. Beth is a distinctive voice, fully engaged with her subject matter and bristling with ideas and the tools to explore them.‘ Andy Jackson

Lamping for Pickled Fish is a book of sticky, sensual poems, that hook and tangle the reader; beguiling folk recipes and closely observed detail of daily life as densely woven as a bramble thicket. McDonough’s finely wrought sound-pieces are rooted in human feelings, failings and fears – under the carefully woven forms a voice tempered by humour and pain grows in strength and urgency. This is a collection packed with flavours – complex, dark and earthy, with occasional bitter flashes and drops of sweetness; tastes to reward the forager and linger long on the tongue.’ Nikki Magennis

Beth McDonough’s work is in search of a kind of holistic mapping of clear mind and right action onto the matrices of language and environment. These are vibrant poems of hiking, gathering, swimming, and, above all, seeing. Her language is grounded in the volubility of Scots but mesmerised by the precision and power of naming: plants become spells as she forages for their associations as much as for their berries and roots. This green-fingeredness of the imagination extends to her way with verbal music, which lends her work a distinctive and compelling blend of energy and yearning, as she seeks out the galvanic connection between rhythms of nature and the word.‘ W.N.Herbert

LampingForPickledFish cover

 

Marmalade

Seville bright, this morning’s sun grins,
rolls her confident complement
against January skies. Let me zest

what I can, then knife through
fluff thickened pith, to score
an acidic aroma, studded in pips.

I finger out segments, let nip
juices loch onto boards then cut;
need to keep this essence, not slight

that necessary sharp under sicken-sweet
covers. A season keens, pierces high
through any resistance of frost.

 

In all the wrong places
 
Afraid, I anticipated him – reckoned
killer boxes in the owner’s shed. I sensed
that macchja dense with his lives, head-rattled

all those words he’d claimed – scratch
scuttle, rustle, scurry, gnaw. He glutted
my dark. Nightly, I fretted him,

sifted seeds for scat. On the lane’s camber
I tensed, stared riddles at stink-wide
bins for humped moves. No shadow shot

from flag leaf drains. I detected no presence
in dykes. No quick through briar thicks. None. I
opened myself to planets and stars. There –
 
Rat, sleek along telegraph wires,
cork oak to cork oak, smooth
on summer low cables. Linear acrobat.

Previously published in The Scores

 

Peloton Mallorca, 2018

All hairpin legs, a sweat of serious cyclists,
clackers on stone. Venting over-shoulder shouts,
they’re intent on giant beers. And maybe cake.

In a synchronised de-helmet,
paper-bag faces, screwed hard at sun,
crumple further, seek the bar’s shade.

Now hear how these men
have conquered mountains, powered up just
by their fine-tuned unfettered strength

and some of those particularly fantastic
plastic-wrapped chemical snacks,
sixty rafts of fortified water. And

subtle adjustments to saddles,
minutely engineered accoutrements, then
lovingly curtailed dérailleurs…

and tiny fixed screens to tot up points,
compare the gradients’ percentages,
profile difficulties of hills. With stars.

Most of all, credit to that Vaseline
honeyed thick on unsunned parts
and regularly reapplied.

And those logos; tattooed really large
on blister eye bright Lycra, which now peels
thrillingly from over-greasy bits.

Add in their greatest near-misses –
old ice-cream lorries, atrociously
heading for Soller. Or what about

that rosary-counting pilgrim string
the team almost took out entirely
on a bend at the outskirts of Lluc?

Our natural heroes, who’ve had to pedal so fast
past all the Tramuntana’s high wonders.
Thank heaven their exploits are all Strava’d now.

They need that beer, that cushioned-up seat
and chunk of the cafe’s apricot cake
as they re-learn how to walk.

Previously published in Gutter

 

We need a name for what we want

Not quite Italian – their older, closer
Mezzogiorno tongue trips out some word
for those fierce greens fat turnips sprout.

Waiting for winter’s greedy sheep
and now the trugs of careful cooks – fat roots
turn up in lines on the hairst’s lost field.

My Paesano friends don’t understand
why Scots will stew that lumpen fleshy bit
of turnip, swede, this misshapen neep

but ignore its freshing shoots, bright
in nipping leaves. Rapine keen enough
for hand-formed orecchietti.

A passing farming man can’t quite believe
his own ears at their risked request.
He just laughs, perplexed. They’re welcome

to walk his land, for however long
they want, fill their tucked-in bags
enjoy whatever they covet and glean.

Previously published in Causeway

 

Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing and Jewellery at Glasgow School of Art, and taught Art in various sectors for many years. Approaching her half century, she returned to Dundee University to take an M.Litt in Writing Study and Practice. Her poetry is published in many journals and anthologies, and in 2016,  with Ruth Aylett, she wrote a poetry duet pamphlet, Handfast (published by Mother’s Milk Books). Her work has been placed in several competitions, including those held by the John Clare Society,  YES Festival, MMB, Compound Competition at Cheltenham Festival. Her work won first prize in the Off the Stanza Competition 2017, and in 2019, her poem ‘Samphire’ won first prize in the Science Poem Competition, held by St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She reviews for DURA, and was poetry editor there for five years. She produces the small magazine Firth, and Between 2014 and 2016, she was inaugural Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Currently a Trustee of Ochil Tower School, she is a huge supporter of the Camphill Movement.

Lamping For Pickled Fish is available from the 4Word website.