Poetry Drawer: Foire à Tout (The fair has everything) by Faye Joy



It winked sporadically, of course, I knew it was winking at me.

I filled my house with twinkling plastic, a remedial action, a riposte

to the rain-sodden weeks and the sight of dim figures, faces

like waning moons in dark interiors, sheltering, wringing hands

in pulled-down sleeves. I spied those orange wheels in indigo pools,

the fat blue snout, with yellow helicopter blades and wings, among

the sodden stalls and covered chattels. Then, with a burst of nursery songs,

the blades whirled and that red neon bedazzled. I knew it was winking,

waiting for me. I bought it, bought all the potential winking lights,

filled my house, filled my life with one heck of a wink.


Inkspeak: The Cusp Of What Is Blue by Mark Sheeky




We lie on the cusp of what is blue
up and round, to express
our hearts is destroy them,
and in understanding we gain a transient peace,
The forest is dark, the brown shack of
music glows with party dwellers.
It is warm here, the damp American rain,
the toads sing their heavy song.
It’s no wonder that this sound
was born here,
this cusp of what is blue.

Poetry-Prose Drawer: The Cardiologist’s Waiting Room by Faye Joy

Wartezimmer mit Bilderrahmen und Sthlen

A man walks out of one inner door, enters another. There’s a bundle of motoring magazines on a low table. For the six minutes I wait, I wonder what he is doing. I sense I am being watched. I look up to the ceiling – leak stains in dusty pink. I walk through the other door he has opened for me, tall man in grey suit. I sit facing him, look up to another dusty pink ceiling and across to a remote camera next to his computer. I see myself in pink lingerie reaching for a porno magazine from the pile on the low table. There are three others similarly dressed, watching me.


Poetry Drawer: Coracle by A. K. Hepburn



He drifted up the spine

of the Pennines.

Peaks jutted from the water,

vertebrae of a long-dead whale

breaching the surface

to suck salty air

through a phantom blow hole.


The vessel spun,

reluctant against

the waves which stirred

and broke

over the skeletons of old oaks

littering the sea floor.


Above, seagulls

swooped and cried

in tongues learnt

from vultures, waiting

for an updraft

to send the tiny boat

skittering upturned

into the ceaseless ocean,

leaving a morsel

to fill their caged sides.


Poetry Drawer: One Time She Just Watches by Faye Joy




One time she just watches,


another time she whisper-strokes his scared-crow shoulder,

slides fingers under the lapel, lifts the grimy cloth,

fixes his rheumy-red eyes, you wear too many clothes,

the sun is fierce old Daniel. The habitué shifts wearily.

With a hint of a skewed smile he shuffles on until he disappears,

becoming again the essence of the hedgerow, the verge, the hill.


Inkspeak: 50 Words For Sun by Matt Hassall and Deborah Edgeley



50 Words For Sun
















The Light

Orange Alarm Clock

Paint Splodge

Yellow Glitter


Moon’s Buddy

Sky Baron

Dark’s Antidepressant

















Spectacle Dictator

Solar Powered

Not Moon


Ray Party


World’s BFF

Hat Wearer

Rainbow Accessory


Jollity Injector

Pantry Prose: Hire Hari by Robyn Cain


The Auntie from India knew nothing about telephone etiquette. Whoever picked up, she kick-started a fast spiel like a child who’d had a full day at the fun fair.

‘Hellooo. All okay? So hot here. . .’ Information on her various religious excursions to temples followed by social and local news moved quickly to problematic. ‘…and the thief solicitor, he’s demanding more money. I paid him that ten lukh Rupees we talked about. I reminded him we agreed the figures before he took on the case but now he is asking for more – ’

‘Auntie.’ I finally got a word in. ‘I’ll get Mum for you.’ Taking the instrument I tried handing it to Mum who was chopping the onions, mouthing Auntie.

‘Put it on loudspeaker.’ I noticed Mum grimace and knew it was because her sister regurgitates the same verbal diarrhoea. Fortunately, Mum was not timid at interjecting. ‘I told you not to pay up front.’

‘But…he came recommended,’ Auntie said defensively.

‘Probably bribed people to say it. Don’t pay the chura anymore. Solicitor indeed!’

‘But…he can’t carry on working the court case if I don’t pay another five hundred Rupees. At least that’s what he says.’

Mum cleared her throat, and leaned forward confrontationally. ‘They are like blood suckers taking everything from the poor people.’ She sighed. ‘Tell him a bit now and more when the case is finished.

‘Sister, can you transfer more money?’

‘Why do you want more when there’s still plenty in the account?’ Mum snapped.

‘Juswant…took all…he’s emptied the bank account.’

‘You gave him our pass codes? Why?’ A long cringe-making pause. ‘Why’s your son done that?’

Another slice of silence, then Mum let forth a stream of words that slapped whip-like against the air. All of a sudden it was difficult for me to breathe. A few more moments and my ears would start buzzing. Hearing Dad at the front door it was as though he’d brought fresh air with him, and I breathed again. And then wished I hadn’t. He was waving a wafer-thin airmail letter.

My sister and I are both Daddies’ girls. He is the cool moon to Mum’s hot sun, and, to tap into a cliché, our closeness is envied by all because we eat, sleep, drink and watch everything together. His startling explosive swearing shocked Mum into ending her conversation. Looking from him to Mum who’d paled, I decided it was best to remain quiet.

‘This is blackmail.’ The letter sounded like a rustling leaf in late Autumn as he scrunched it. ‘I’d rather pay someone else than be related to their kind. Marriage? What, because I have two daughters? Never!’ He continued expostulating as Mum successfully prised his hand open, retrieving the paper with its neat, densely packed lines formed by the Hindi lettering. ‘I don’t want her, or-or her worthless son, or his loutish, any-any of his associates anywhere near my family. How dare…they’re snakes. You can’t trust any of them there…and they want to come here!’


I helped with dinner. Multi-tasking, Mum alternated between giving me instructions and telling Dad the latest news from family and friends.

‘It’s a good family. Sorting out a marriage could help take the pressure off all of us. The engagement can be soon,’ Mum said.

‘Someone getting married?’ Shyna had descended to take a mini break from revising for her History exam.

‘Yes,’ Mum said evasively. ‘Add half a teaspoon of garam masala. And butter the roti. Hurry, they’re getting cold.’

‘If we’re going, can I wear a mustard-coloured lehenga? And get my hair straightened?’ I asked.

‘No more questions!’ Deftly flipping and browning the final roti over the gas flames, she added it to the pile.

Betair we’ll tell you when you need to know.’ Dad’s lips twisted familiarly in a wry smile, softening Mum’s impatient glare at me. Had she then stormed out he’d have given the usual unnecessary explanation: ‘Your mum is bravely keeping sane for all her family.’ Or: ‘You know she only raises her voice when she’s right and we’re wrong.’ Shyna and I can’t wait for the time when she’s wrong. The one good thing to come out of recent events was bearable captive family time after our evening meals; engrossed in their issues, Mum and Dad nagged us less.

‘Why do you believe everything she tells you? Drug dealers? That’s what happens when you spoil your children. What does she want us to do? We can’t stop him. They are not my responsibility!’ Dad gulped down half his lager and, taking the remote control off me, started flicking through the television channels.

‘They could kill him…’ Mum pointed out.

Dad scratched his bristly chin thoughtfully. ‘That’s easy over there. I hear it’s less than five hundred pounds nowadays. Stabbings used to be popular but now tablets are more popular.’

‘Oh, that’s all right then,’ Mum said sarcastically.

Mum got her way and another money order was sent to Auntie. That was months prior to sorting visas, legal papers and booking tickets to India.

Thankfully the great day of departure arrived. While we stuffed ourselves inside it, the usual amount of labelled luggage was loaded into the taxi’s boot by the driver. For once, the train was packed. Standing close, Shyna and I sent coded texts to one another and had nothing to complain about at the journey’s end.

After Mum’s luggage covered the short distance between being tagged and put on the conveyor to disappearing through the plastic flaps, we accompanied her to be frisked by security. As a female uniformed officer was patting down Mum’s salwar-clad outside leg and up the inside, she beamed back at us and said very loudly, ‘My plan will get rid of them for good.’

Thankfully it was in Punjabi otherwise there could have been a number of deductions that the airport authorities would have made – some good, some bad. And of course she may never have got to board her flight.

Startled, we looked at Dad. ‘What plan? Dad, what’s Mum talking about?’ I asked.

‘You’ll find out when your mum gets back,’ he replied and added, ‘What are my lovely girls going to cook for their old dad tonight? Only joking. How do you say, you know, when the cat is away…?’

Either side of him, we hooked an arm through his and urged him along. ‘While the cat’s away the mice will play,’ Shyna said.

‘A-ha. Tonight is special time off so we get a takeaway,’ he said. ‘And we don’t tell your mum.’


Our welcoming her back in Britain again was double-edged. We’d enjoyed Dad’s no rules but we’d missed Mum’s strictness. Her cases by the wall looking like open-mouthed gargoyles, we sat together listening to Mum, and it was like the three weeks without her had never been.

‘Juswant’s really in trouble. He’s got in with the drugs cartel people from the next town. I had many long talks with the family. Everybody had ideas. Bring Juswant here. Or to another of our family in America or Canada. Or marry him off so he becomes a man. Anyway, it’s going to be difficult but we can sort it all. Shyna, pass me my bag.’ A quick rummage and Mum handed an envelope to Dad. His can of lager mid-way to his lips, never made it as she took it off him.

‘What’s this?’ Perusing it, he burst out laughing. ‘Hari Hound?’

‘Are we getting a dog?’ I asked excitedly. I had been expecting one every Christmas just like in the adverts on television.

Dad pursed his lips as he scrutinised the paper without his glasses. ‘Hm. For all your life’s complicated needs, there’s Hari the Hound here to help. Need help to find your other half? Missing information? No job too small or big. Just like bloodhounds, we sniff out the problem and get any job you need doing, done. Lots of needs in that. What, because they need it?’

‘Oh, does that mean we’re not getting a dog then?’ I asked but was completely ignored.

Dad asked, ‘And what’s he going to do? You trust all this…this Hari stuff?’

‘My gut said so. Dad went to Ludhiana with me specially to check them out, and met Hari. He thought the trip worth doing.’ Mum sounded self-satisfied.

It was Shyna that dropped the bombshell the next evening. Obeying parental orders I went to fetch her. Taking the stairs two at a time my rushed entry to her room was foiled. The door was locked.

‘Shyna, what you doing?’ I pressed down on the handle and pushed but nothing budged. She never missed her favourite television soap. Hunkering down to peer through the keyhole, I just about made out her form on the bed. Not a good sign for someone as exuberant as her. Standing up and tapping lightly, I called, ‘It’s me.’ All the locks in the house were well oiled so I barely heard it turn. She let me in but returned to her previous position. ‘You okay?’

‘I’m being married off.’

‘You got to be kidding. And you’re not old enough. You’re not, are you? And they can’t really make you…can they?’ Her immediate thump on the pillow with balled fists spoke for her.

She snorted. ‘Legal age is sixteen, and I’m nearly that, and in two years you’ll be too and we’ll find out then, won’t we!’

What a horrible thought. ‘But…how do you know…I mean, when did they tell you, ’cause I’ve been around the whole time and…’ I didn’t want to believe it.

Undoing her plait, she scraped back her hair and started re-doing it tighter than necessary. ‘They don’t need to tell us, do they…anyway, I heard Mum onto one of her friends and then she and Dad were arguing about it. That’s her big plan, remember? You know what Mum’s like, she’ll make Dad do what she wants.’

‘He doesn’t always give in.’ It sounded weak even to me. ‘At least not every time.’ With anything parent-related, Shyna and I were usually thinking on the same rung of the ladder. Mum could be evasive and talk with double-tongue, keeping everything open to conjecture. Dispiritedly slipping out of my pink rabbit-headed slippers, I joined her and sat lotus style.

‘She was saying, Mum that is, that she had heard good things about “the boy”.  Makes sense now why Dad didn’t go with her to India. He stayed behind to spy on us.’ There was a catch in her voice. She rubbed at the point on her throat where it hurts if you stop yourself from crying. I always did the same.

‘We’ll have to get Dad on our side. Then they can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do.’

Shyna’s look was disparaging. ‘It’s nothing to do with “they”. You’ve been wanting a dog and have you got one? No, because Mum doesn’t want all that mess and cleaning. She’s the boss. I told you I thought they were up to something, didn’t I? And now the big day’s here. That’s probably why Auntie’s visiting.’ She twisted her lips exactly like Dad did, her voice bitter. ‘For my wedding.’ Pulling at my ponytail, she thrust it away forcefully stinging my skin. ‘Get it?’

I nodded and rubbed my cheek. ‘And she’s bringing – ’

‘Her son and a couple of his friends here,’ she completed for me. ‘I haven’t got much time. Wouldn’t mind but Dad doesn’t even like any of them. It’s all Mum’s fault.’

I didn’t understand what she was saying but I felt the dread move along my legs. My feet had already gone numb. ‘I don’t think Dad will let it happen. Besides, don’t they come here and you’ve got to be married there? Not the other way around.’

‘Doesn’t matter. They’ll make me. How can I embarrass them and say no? I think the best thing is to pretend to be sick tonight. And in the morning they can’t make me go to the airport with them. Then I’ll pack and stuff.’ All of sudden energised, she sat up with alacrity. ‘We know Mum puts her cash in the old toffee tin. You go get that while she’s watching television and I’ll check online.’ She took a noisy breath. ‘There’s bound to be places for vulnerable girls. Plus, we’re Asian. Look, go back downstairs. Tell them I’m not feeling great. Tell them I…I’ve just been sick in the toilet. Just copy me in the morning, okay?’

‘I can’t take her…it’s Mum’s money and it’s stealing.’

‘If you don’t we’re going to starve. You want to die? We aren’t going to find jobs straight away, are we? Take just a bit then so she won’t notice, eh? Look, I’m thinking on my feet here.’

I was about to tiptoe into Mum and Dad’s room, when Mum summoned us. Shyna motioned for me to go down while she hurried into the bathroom, locked the door and started coughing.

‘Where’s Shyna?’ Mum asked.

‘In the bathroom. I think she’s not well. Feeling sick she said to say.’ Whenever Mum looked at me I couldn’t do untruths. Mum passed me on the stairs to check for herself.

I don’t know how Shyna passed the lying-to-Mum test but she was believed. It’s a pity because as well as Eastenders she ended up missing out on her favourite dinner too. With the visitors from India coming, Mum had prepped loads. In addition to the saag, she’d made spicy lamb meatballs, and instead of roti to go with them, she did something unhealthy – puris. Dad and I made sure they didn’t go to waste. I even beat him by eating three fresh green chillies to his one with my dhal. It was worth it because he gave me five pounds.

As the evening wore on, my stomach started churning and I just couldn’t get myself to look at Mum and Dad. All I could think of was how much I’d miss them. When everything was cleared away and I told Shyna about Mum making a feast, she just laughed and said I wouldn’t understand even if she told me and then said, ‘It’s like the ritual of the last supper. I’m the sacrificial lamb.’

I had numerous suggestions ready to leap off my tongue, the prime-most one being telling Mum and Dad everything. In the morning, a very happy-looking Mum forced a terrible-looking Shyna to eat some dry toast. Acting like a martyr, Shyna nibbled and swallowed slowly but did whisper, ‘I’m starving,’ as well as opportunistically grabbing quick bites of mine whenever Mum had her back to us.

‘Girls, hurry up. We’re walking to the station and what with them working on our line, we can’t afford to miss our train.’ Dad was already wearing his coat.

‘But, Dad, I don’t feel – ’

‘Coat, Shyna!’ Mum interrupted with the voice, and Shyna was frozen. I followed suit hurriedly.

Safely ensconced and speeding towards Shyna’s doom and gloom future, I couldn’t help noticing the distorting effect of Mum’s face reflected off the carriage window; with the slightest of movement her expression was Machiavellian, one minute angelic the next devilish. I nudged Shyna, drawing her attention to it. She nodded obliquely.

As if she knew, Mum’s lips stretched a litter farther, deepening the creases either side of her lips. Some smiles were like laughter you couldn’t help mirroring. Our mum’s were as rare as the opportunity to lick a bar of gold.

‘You okay?’ Mum asked Shyna. Caught off guard my sister nodded. ‘You tell me straight away if I need to get you anything. I’m going to need both of you well and helping me take care of our visitors.’

‘Or we’ll never hear the end of it.’ Dad grinned but Mum’s glance wiped it off.

‘Good.’ Mum nodded, and the action caused her lime-green and orange diamond-patterned head scarf to slip. We had been waiting years to see it disappear but its colours refuse to fade. Her brows knitted together in a frown. Tutting, she pulled it up, shooting a silencing glare at us as if knowing that one of us was going to comment on how the hideous thing matched nothing in her wardrobe. The remainder of the journey was made in silence, broken only occasionally by the occasional comment from Dad about Hari Hound to Mum.

‘Ten weeks is so long,’ I couldn’t stop myself from saying when we got to Heathrow Airport. ‘I mean…every day…’ The enormity of what was about to happen had finally hit me.

‘They are not going to be with us all the time. They’ll be doing sightseeing. And going to stay with other relatives. Don’t worry…it’ll pass really quickly.’ Dad’s face didn’t match his reassuring words or tone.

Shyna spoke up. ‘Even with short stays with other relatives, it’s still a lot of days spent at ours. Aren’t they going to be stuck in their ways? Won’t they turn us into their servants?’

My sister was right. Indian hospitality was hard work.

‘You girls should have worn your Indian clothes.’ Mum seemed distracted as she looked at the signs for directions. All of a sudden she grabbed Dad’s arm. ‘We don’t all need to go. It’s only a few calls. I’ll meet you back at that cafe,’ she said to him and headed for the public telephones. She was gone for a long time but when she joined us she was like the feline who’d trapped her mouse and was anticipating the play to come.

‘You managed to get through then?’ Dad asked.

‘Yes. Everything’s sorted. I spoke to you-know-who.’ She leaned forward and when we followed her cue, she laughed and touched my cheek. ‘He said be careful here and make sure we’re not overheard. Just good precautions.’

‘Okay…but are…ahem…arrangements in hand here? Are they ready?’ Dad whispered loudly.

‘I went and checked. And Hari has been good. Efficient. All the information they need he’s given them. Including what they’ll find secreted. Just wait.’ Mum looked over at the people queuing for food. ‘I think I’m a bit hungry. Hm…a full English will keep me going until my sister and her entourage lands. Anyone else hungry? Shyna?’

We kept a close eye on the notice boards and were ready and waiting at the right place and time. Mum spotted her sister and managed a royal wave. The two young men nearest her were deep in conversation. They stopped briefly to cast an interested look in our direction.

I moved closer to Mum who put her arm around me. Something about them didn’t feel right. I could feel the knot inside my stomach and the onslaught of indigestion. ‘Mum, Shyna can’t marry either of them,’ I said urgently.

‘Marry? Who said so? Of course she isn’t.’ Mum looked from me to Shyna. ‘You’re too young for a start. What on Earth makes…’ She was looking in the distance. Airport security officers were leading the three newly arrived Asian people away.

‘Right, time to go back and kill more time,’ Mum said.

‘What’s going on, Mum? Dad?’ Shyna asked.

‘The officers must suspect them of carrying something illegal and trying to sneak it into the country. Or of course something else they shouldn’t,’ Dad said. ‘Not going too easy on whichever of them is the culprit, eh?’ He winked at Mum.

‘I totally agree with you.’ Mum nodded. Hearing her mobile ring, she answered. ‘Hello. Yes, Hari. Oh yes. Exactly as you said. Into the luggage? Uh-huh. Very good. Thank you. There’s no point in waiting for my sister, is there?’ She smiled back at Dad and pulled me close. ‘Yes Hari. I’ll definitely be recommending your unique services. The second half of the payment by bank transfer okay? Good. Bye bye.’

Inky Xmas Special: Ian McMillan


Carol Ann Duffy described you as ‘world class, one of today’s greatest poetry performers’ and The Observer as the ‘funniest, quirkiest, sharpest poet, comedian and broadcaster in the business’. Can you tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a performance poet? How did you get to this stage of greatness?! Well, it’s been a long journey, but I think the two qualities I’ve got are consistency and enthusiasm; if you can be enthusiastic about any project you’re involved in then, that goes a long, long way.

You were a drummer in a band called Oscar the Frog, and part of a folk/poetry duo called Jaws, with Martyn Wiley. How important is rhythm in poetry? Would a poem work without rhythm? Have you a preferred form? I think rhythm is vital, from the heartbeat to the rise and fall of the sun, to the changing of how seasons, and all that, leads to the rhythm of language.

Apart from humour, what’s your secret to a good poem? It must do something that no other form could do.

Have you any advice for budding performance poets? Read lots of poems, and when you write poems, read them aloud. Go to as many open mic sessions as you can to hone your craft.

Tell us about the Circus of Poets and Versewagon. Circus of Poets was just a gang of four lads who wanted to stand up and perform, and Versewagon was an old Dormobile that we took to rural areas that may not have had a writing workshop, already.


Describe one of the best days of your life. So many. Too many to say.

You present The Verb on Radio 3. Tell us about a typical day on set. I arrive at 08.30, go through the script with the producer, devise and refine the questions, the guests arrive at 13.00, we record between 14.00 and 15.15, and then I record the retakes.

At Chester University, when you were guest speaker at the Cheshire Prize for Literature awards, you mentioned that you were writing a libretto for Chester cathedral. Can you tell us more about this? It’s just a new carol with my composer mate Luke Carver Goss for Chester Choral Society. I like writing with composers!

You have written for children. How different is it to writing for adults? Is it more difficult/restrictive, or just fun? Does it teach you anything? What advice would you give to artists who are considering writing for children? Maybe just write poems, and test them out: this would show you whether they’re for children or adults.

Ian McMillan's welcome to his Bewdley Festival performance!

If you could change the world, what’s the first thing you would do? Make sure that rich people paid plenty of tax and reverse the spending cuts.

What are you reading at the moment? This week’s New Yorker magazine: always a favourite.

What are your plans? What is next for you? I want to write more with composers in 2017!



Picture Credits:

Barnsley FC Oakwell Stadium

Adrian Mealing

Bewdley Festival: Ruth Bourne





Books From The Pantry: Waiting Spaces by David Hollywood: reviewed by Kev Milsom


‘What is contained in this book is a collection that responded to moments in time, or urges to express desperation, or are a simple observation of sometimes everyday experiences and aspirations that I yearn for. Hopefully they will sometimes gladden you, the reader, and on others annoy you, or make you sorrowful, and maybe through a couple of examples, terrify the life in you.’

Waiting Spaces: A Collection of Poems Describing our Life’s Thoughts, Feelings and Experiences covers an impressive total of seventy-eight pieces of poetry by the Irish-born poet, David Hollywood; each ranges in length from a few lines to much longer pieces.

As a reader, my initial impressions focused on the simplicity of the poetry. Sometimes, the rhyming patterns involve a basic a-b, a-b or ab-ab style, although this is by no means indicative of the whole book. Personally, I absolutely loved this element as it emphasises a key aspect of why I enjoyed the essence of this book.  

Namely, it is easy to read. It allows – and effortlessly draws – the reader into the mind of the poet’s thinking and expression, something which always personally alerts me towards the skill of the writer. For me, this is summed up in one of the two essays written at the beginning of the book, one focusing on the question of ‘What is Poetry?’ and another asking ‘Is Poetry the Poor Relative of Prose?’ In the latter introductory essay, David Hollywood creates a poem which I found to be very poignant and reflective of the book ahead.

What has happened to worn chairs and wooden tables?

With a carafe of wine and old oranges,

In a garden together with friends,

Who greet you with their welcome,

And support of each other.

It belongs to some other time!

Imagine a walk through a thin wood,

To the edge of a rise,

To discover the finest of views in the morning,

Finding dew in the middle of your thoughts,

And the sun has already started to warm.

At the end I should love the world to be elegant!

To know that my company was anticipated,

Enough to say ‘good day’,

Fine manners and good behaviour,

With the best of company,

And only that which is true and noble.

And nothing of these times!

The carefree world that the opening lines create sum up the essence of this collection of poetry, for each poem holds a tone which suggests not someone preaching their intensive views to an audience, but rather the gentle voices of friends meeting in a relaxed, tranquil setting, sharing thoughts and laughter over a glass of fine wine and enjoying the company of kindred souls. As such, everything is easy to understand and relate to. At no point does the reader wonder where they are, what is happening and why.

Ultimately, creating poetry appearing to be so simple and straight-forward perhaps runs the criticism from some quarters of lacking literary skill or craft. Certainly not so here, for David Hollywood’s words shine out from every piece, ranging from the shorter, four-line creations, such as ‘Past Tomorrows and ‘Traffic Jams’ (‘When driving in Dublin…Avoid the Quickest routes…Because they always take you…Down the slowest streets’), to longer pieces such as ‘Youths for Profits, Without Sin’, covering a wide range of thoughts and emotions, including poetry involving the complexities of love and romance, towards more philosophical and contemplative topics.

Again, within each poem, David Hollywood’s inner voice is loud, yet never overbearing…deep, yet never remote, and, as previously stated, best consumed in the company of one’s finest allies, easily inspired by exposure to excellent poetry.  

Waiting Spaces: A Collection of Poems Describing our Life’s Thoughts, Feelings and Experiences may be one of the longer titles we’ve covered here at Ink Pantry, but ultimately this collection delivers – doing exactly what it says on the tin.


Inky Interview Exclusive: Staffordshire Poet Laureate Bert Flitcroft


Can you please tell Ink Pantry about your role as Staffordshire Poet Laureate?

As you would imagine, it’s an honorary position but the county appoint a Laureate formally, after an application and interview process. The brief is essentially to promote poetry within the County by giving readings, running workshops, etc, with existing poetry groups, and where possible to find new poetry readers and establish new poetry groups. There are also some commissioned poems to be written. Beyond that I’m free to do as little or as much as time allows.

I have chosen to devote a lot of my energy to supporting libraries. All libraries in the county are currently developing a ‘poetry space’ which can serve as a platform for local groups and schools to exhibit their writing as well as raising the profile of poetry generally as an art form.

We are also putting together at the moment The Staffordshire Poetry Collection (contemporary poems written about where people live) which will be exhibited around the County.

You ran residential poetry courses for sixth formers in Staffordshire, working with Carol Ann Duffy, Adrian Henry, and Linda France. What advice would you give to writers who are trying out poetry for the first time? How do you inspire people?

I don’t think there is one single piece of advice you can give, and I know mine is far from original, but I think the most important thing for a ‘beginner’ is not to be too ambitious in the early stages. Each person should be free to write what the need to write about personally, and then write something which satisfies themselves first and foremost. If it works for them, that’s the most important thing. There should be a joy in writing so it’s important not to make it a test and try to satisfy other people.

I also advise people to write in the early stages about what they know, from personal experience, whether that’s their job, their love life, domestic details, whatever. In doing so they will begin to ask questions and examine their lives, which for me is the first stage in ‘finding your voice’. There will be plenty of time later for ambition, philosophy, learning how to write ‘better’ poetry.

In the early stages, form and serious crafting, the technical side, are the least important things.

I’m not sure that I do inspire people in any particular way. I do know that I try to take away the fear of failure when writing poetry – that question of ‘but is it any good?’ should be replaced with ‘but does it work?’ which I feel is a more important question. And I do stress the question of joy quite often, the importance of not losing it. And I guess (obvious though it is) that there will always be something positive to say about a piece of writing: we should recognize that sitting down to write something is in itself a positive and affirming act.

After that, I would say go and start buying poetry books and subscribe to well-established magazines, read lots and lots of poetry, both traditional and contemporary, to see how other people write – that’s the only way you will ever develop a sense of perspective about your ‘work’.

Can you tell us about your time as Poet in Residence at The Southwell Poetry Festival?

Southwell is a delightful poetry festival. It has both a seriousness of purpose and a sort of intimacy, which makes it a lovely experience. I gave a reading from my two poetry collections combined with discussion, but the best part was just spending time in the (library) venue and being available for anyone  to pop in and chat about their work or poetry generally. I love that informal situation where people can just approach you and feel relaxed about it. I often think that’s where the real pleasure of being involved in the poetry scene lies.

What are you reading at the moment and what is your favourite novel?

At the moment I’m reading one of Bernard Cornwall’s historical novels, ‘Warriors of the Storm’, but essentially I’m a Trollope fan and shortly about to embark on a second reading of his complete works. I guess if I had to pick one favourite novel it would be ‘The Warden’ but it would be close call between that and E.M. Forster’s  ‘A Room With a View’.

The warden is the sort of thoroughly moral and good character I feel we should all aspire to emulate. ‘A Room with a View’ is a novel with hidden depths that spoke to me personally on so many different levels when I first read it.

Have you a preferred form of poetry to employ, or does the form naturally evolve?

No, I don’t really have a preferred form of poetry. While it’s important to understand and develop the discipline of writing in traditional forms, (know the rules so that you can break them with impunity), personally I’m more interested in what a poem is saying, as long as it is said effectively. I find that when I read a poem I like, it usually stands up to some degree of critical analysis anyway.

In my own writing I always allow the poem to find its own form, but it is surprising how often I seem to edge towards the sonnet, usually the Petrarchan, and I do like to feel that most of my poems on the page stand up to a certain amount of critical analysis.

What is your creative space like?

I have a sort of small study filled with poetry books and a PC, but I often go out to write. I need a change of scenery, so I have 4 favourite coffee bars and hotel lounges – I like a comfy armchair when I’m pondering or reading.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What have you performed there? What other literary/art events would you recommend?

I love the Edinburgh Fringe. Blackwell’s Bookshop run a series of literary evenings with invited guest readers, both novelists and poets, sharing the stage. I was lucky enough to be invited to read and have been invited back on two further occasions to read from my two poetry collections, ‘Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink’ and ‘Thought-Apples’. I’m told that’s exceptional as Blackwells do heavily promote Scottish writing, so I feel quite lucky and privileged.

I will pop along to Southwell and Buxton and Wenlock when I can, but there are three festivals I go to most years (as well as Edinburgh):

The Ledbury Poetry Festival

The Ilkley Literature Festival

The Birmingham Literature Festival

Can you tell us of one of the best days of your life?

Not really. I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few.

Have you invented any words yourself?!

I will occasionally come up with a portmanteau word or use an adjective as a verb, that sort of thing, but I’m not sure they really count. I think it’s more valuable to come up with an original image or conceit rather than a word.

Which poets do you like and why?

Thomas Hardy, for the beauty of his rhythms, his rhymes, and the strong emotional content of his poetry.

Thom Gunn and Philip Larkin because they show how successfully you can write about motor bikes, supermarkets, the nitty gritty of everyday life.

Mary Oliver for the depth of her feeling for the Natural World.

Billy Collins for his humour and accessible style, and his randomness.

What themes keep cropping up in your work? What do you care about the most?

I care most about people and the lives we all lead, so I tend to write from emotional impulse.

Themes which do crop up I guess are marriage and family and age, but science, maths, railways and history frequently break through and become the vehicle for a poem. These things are latent interests from childhood and schooldays, so they are lodged pretty deeply. I don’t actively seek them out when writing; they seem to force their way in and take over.

Can you please share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the ideas behind them?

Here are two poems I have become fond of, partly because people often ask me to read them again if they have heard them before, so I guess they speak to people in a pleasing way.

Sonnet to a Bacon Sandwich

You, with a nappy gripped in one hand,

flung the plate over my head.

I remember how the white bread

took its own trajectory like a startled bird.

You yelled something about pulling and weight.

Me? I was at the table waiting to be fed.

Hadn’t I been working all day?

And wasn’t that the wife’s job anyway?

These days, at each anniversary we still

chew over that bacon sandwich,

our only serious row, and how

we both had to learn to cut off the rind,

to butter each other’s bread from time to time.

To listen for the spitting under the grill.

‘Sonnet to a Bacon Sandwich’ arose out of a real incident and is one of those poems in which a single conceit becomes the focus and provides unity, but also acts as a metaphor for what the poem is really saying. As I indicated earlier, the sonnet form arose out of the content – I certainly did not set out with the idea of writing a sonnet.

Waiting for Anna

This Moses basket fresh by the bed

is waiting,

like a promise, like a Truth

about to come true.

Not for a casting off among the reeds

but for a coming


To open a door, to enter a room,

is always to begin again.

Already the basket’s empty space,

the very air inside it,

is sacred.

There is nothing more to say.

Silence has a voice.

Emptiness is eloquent.

‘Waiting for Anna’ is a deeply personal poem and I think I’m fond of it as an example of how a single moment, a small thing, can capture something much bigger. And in this case it illustrates, I’d like to think, how very often ‘less is more’.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I have another year as Staffordshire Poet Laureate, and I have no real poetry plans beyond that. I shall be quite happy just to continue writing for the pleasure of it. If people happen to enjoy what I write and invite me along to share it that’s a lovely bonus and I’m grateful. There are a lot of good poets out there.


Bert’s website