(Image by Orit Yeret, taken in NYC)
Orit Yeret has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Haifa in Israel. She is a lecturer in Modern Hebrew and is currently employed at Yale University. In her spare time she enjoys photography, painting, and writing short prose and poetry in both English and Hebrew. Her work is forthcoming in Borfski Press and Drunk Monkeys.
Monday morning, 6:00 a.m.
The sound of a garbage truck backing up in the alley underneath Prince’s window.
Prince jumps out of bed in a panic. Without putting on shoes or pants, he storms out of his fourth-floor apartment window and climbs down the fire escape. As he makes his way down, he catches a glimpse of his own reflection—his hair is messy, his face unshaven, and there’s a fresh cut above his right eye that, for the moment, has stopped bleeding.
The city that never sleeps seems to be under some kind of spell—half-dazed, half-awake—much like Prince’s current situation, only he is on the move. Skipping the stairs, two at a time, he waves at the sanitation workers who have already started loading up the truck.
“Wait! Wait!” he shouts, begging, as he makes his way down.
“Please!” His pleas become louder as he approaches them.
The two workers stare at him, puzzled. They are wearing long, dark-green overalls with reflective lights. Prince is wearing a white T-shirt and pinstripe boxers. He is now in front of them, trying to catch his breath, crunched down, resting his palms on his knees.
“Whew!” he exclaims as he inhales heavily.
“That was quite a run,” says one of the sanitation workers.
“What happened? Lose something?” the second worker says and starts to laugh.
“As a matter of fact…” Prince begins to talk, slowly. “Yes! Did you happen to see an old bedside table…red wood…sort of vintage-looking…only has one drawer…” Prince looks around.
“Haven’t seen it,” one of them says. “Anything inside, Marco?” he calls out to the other worker, who goes to check the truck.
“Nope!” Marco replies.
“Sorry, man,” the worker says, and starts rolling the trash bin toward the truck.
“Hey!” Prince stops him. “Wait a minute…” He notices the worker’s nametag. “Luke.” Luke and Prince now stand on opposite sides of the trash bin.
“Yo! What’s the holdup?” Marco yells from the truck.
“You have to help me out, man.” Prince holds his head with both hands. “I don’t know what to do!” He stares at Luke with a desperate look in his eyes.
“What’s the problem here?” Marco steps out of the truck and approaches them. He examines Prince from top to bottom and then turns to Luke. “Junkie?” Luke throws his hands in the air.
Prince is now pacing back and forth, barefoot, in the dirty alley. Marco signals Prince to calm down. “We’re not looking for any trouble here; just let us do our job.”
“You don’t understand!” Prince says. “It was in there… It was in there and now it’s gone!”
Luke and Marco exchange a confused glance.
“Sorry, man.” Marco then says, “Whatever it was, there’s nothing we can do.”
Luke and Marco start rolling the trash bin toward the truck again.
“Please!” Prince cries out. “You have to help me!” He falls on his knees.
“Oh, shit…” Marco says. “What the fuck, man?” He turns to Luke. “Get the fuck up, man!” he says to Prince, but Prince doesn’t move and keeps saying, “Please.”
Marco backs up and changes places with Luke.
“Calm down, man,” Luke says to Prince in a soothing voice. “Get up. Come on.”
Prince listens to Luke and stands up.
“What’s so important about that table?” Luke asks, taking off his gloves.
“My dad’s watch… It was in there…” Prince stifles his tears.
“And?” Marco intervenes.
Prince stares at the two of them for a moment.
“This is a waste of time,” Marco says to Luke, but Luke continues to look at Prince without moving.
“And…” Prince finally says, “He died a year ago, and that’s all I have of him…that watch.”
“Pshh,” Marco makes a noise and averts his gaze.
“Sorry to hear that, man,” Luke replies sympathetically.
“So why would you throw the table away?” Marco jumps in again.
“I didn’t!” Prince replies angrily. “My…” he hesitates, “…boyfriend did.”
“Okay.” Marco holds his hands up. “To each their own, that’s what I always say.”
“So why would he…?” Marco starts again, but Luke signals him to be quiet.
“We sort of got into a fight last night.” Prince paces in place and rubs his forehead. He accidently touches the cut above his eye and makes a face as he feels the burn.
“And that’s his handiwork?” Luke points at the bruise on Prince’s face.
“Not intentionally,” Prince explains. “He threw a book at me—my book, actually—and it hit my head… Anyway, it’s all my fault.”
“Oh, good…more to the story.” Marco taps on his wristwatch to indicate to Luke they need to get moving. “We’re on a schedule, you know,” he says to Luke.
“What happened?” Luke asks Prince, curious.
“I…cheated on him…during my latest book tour.” Prince looks away, embarrassed to meet their eyes. “It’s not like I planned it… It happened. He found out and…as you can see, all hell broke loose.” Prince points at the trash bins, which Marco and Luke notice are filled with clothes, broken dishes, and a shattered mirror.
Marco fishes out the pieced mirror from the bin. “Seven years of bad luck,” he mumbles. Luke nudges his arm as a sign to keep silent.
Prince comes closer to the bins. “What a mess…” he sighs. “Truth is, I don’t care about all of this,” he points at the bins, “but the watch—it’s all I have…all I had. He knew I kept it there.” He begins talking to himself angrily. “He knew it, and that’s why he did it…to hurt me.”
“Like you hurt him,” Luke says all of a sudden. Surprised the words came out of his mouth, Marco and Prince stare at him.
Luke mumbles, “I can deduce things too.”
“Hey, buddy.” Marco turns to Luke with a smile. “No one said you can’t.” Marco tosses the broken pieces into the bin and comes closer to Prince.
“Like I said,” Marco puts his right hand over his heart, “there’s nothing we can do… It’s Monday morning, after the weekend…” Marco wipes off his forehead. “There’s lots of trash, lots of trucks around town… Sometimes we do three, four rounds before noon.” Marco turns to look at Luke, who nods at him in approval.
“But you have to,” Prince begs again and, in a desperate move, clutches Marco’s overalls. Marco removes his hand with a swift move.
“Like I said, sir,” Marco continues, “there’s nothing we can do. Start loading up,” he says to Luke, turns his back to Prince, and walks away in the direction of the driver’s seat.
“Please,” Prince tries to appeal to Luke, who is now wheeling the trash bin.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Luke says to Prince.
“I know,” Prince scratches his head. “I didn’t mean to…” Prince points to Marco’s direction.
“Not that,” Luke explains, “your boyfriend—you shouldn’t have hurt him like you did.”
Prince looks at him, shocked. “You’re right, I was an asshole. Shit, I am an asshole.” Prince paces back and forth, just now realizing his feet are cold and wet.
Luke stops wheeling the bin and lifts his head to locate Marco. “This watch,” he then turns to Prince, “why is it so important to you?”
“I told you, it was my dad’s…” Prince explains.
“And he passed away, yeah, yeah,” Luke intervenes, “but it’s not just that, is it?” Luke comes closer to Prince. “See, if it were just that, you wouldn’t be running down the street in your underwear at 6:00 a.m., probably suffering from a concussion, by the look of this bruise, digging your feet in yesterday’s trash, now, would you?”
Prince’s face tightens. “What on earth do you mean? It’s the memory, of course.”
Luke stares at him severely.
“All right.” Prince finally breaks down. “You got me. It’s worth a lot of money, like a lot, a lot…the only good thing I got out of that man. You know he disowned me when I told him I wanted to be a writer? Yeah…and when I came out? He told me I was not his son anymore.” Prince pounds his chest.
“That damn watch,” Prince continues, “worth a couple of grand…enough to get me by for a while…I need it!” Prince recites with fire in his eyes.
“Now, now,” Luke steps away with a satisfied grin. He attaches the trash bin to the truck’s metal arms. There is a loud noise as the bin is mounted and the trash piles on the truck. There are sounds of glass and china being further reduced and crunched together into tiny pieces.
“So, what do you say?” Prince shouts over the noise toward Luke. “Will you help me? I’ll split the profits with you, promise.”
Luke smiles at Prince as he lowers the empty trash bin.
“You know, people look down on us…because of what we do…” Luke wheels the bin back to its location. “But what they don’t realize…is that we know all their secrets.”
Luke winks at Prince and walks over to the truck. He grabs hold of the metal arm and jumps up; he taps the back of the truck twice.
“You have a good day now, sir.” Luke salutes Prince as the truck pulls away from the alley and into the city street.
The Blossom and the Withered One
In the corner of a street
A flower shop facing the road
Displays the lovely, charming ones
From the common roses to unknown
With variety of each kind
In bunches, single or garlands.
The people of the town
Step in out of urgency or eagerness
In their ups & downs during the day
From the children to couples
And aged old fellows
For passion, grim or gay.
One day, while a kid stood in
Before the sight of flowers
Exploring each one in wonder
Suddenly, noticed an old fellow
Thin and feeble with bearded cheeks
Stared at him from a distance.
Smiled slowly as he looked back
And then came in weak steps
‘You are loveliest of all indeed,’
‘And you,?’ the kid asked back
Smiling again the man fingering at a board
The flowers that have withered are in no need
Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.
Childhood alienation and ill-health gave me an early passion for the written word as a vehicle of escape. Being the most elevated form of literary expression, poetry consequently became prominent in my life from an early age. Although I never studied literature beyond A Level, Robert Fagles’ translation of The Illiad is always with me, as are the complete works of Larkin, Yeats, Shakespeare, Brooke and Thomas plus several anthologies of the finest English verse. Since I know many of these masterworks by heart, I like to think they infiltrate my own humble works by some process of unconscious osmosis. Embedding the finest poetry in one’s memory engenders reflexive familiarity with the classic verse forms, metres and techniques, promotes eloquence and generally naturalises excellence. Not that my writing is in any sense excellent; but that is the goal, at least.
In recent years I have begun to experiment with hexameters and alternative verse forms; but metrical form of some type is always maintained as a bulwark against creative chaos. Traditional poetic structures and methods have proved effective across many centuries, so why try to reinvent the wheel every time you write? Engineers or architects don’t dismiss the accumulated wisdom of millennia, so why should poets or artists?
You have published several books, one of which is called The Drunken Bag Lady’s Arcadia. Interesting title! What are your other collections, and where can we get hold of these?
The title is a parody of Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, published in 1580. Instead of a courtly countess, I dedicate my poems to a drunken bag lady; after all, a man’s got to know his limitations. I have two other poetry collections. Cremation, Please is a series of nihilistic meditations in the despairing spirit of Shakespeare’s sonnet 66 (‘tired with all these, for restful death I cry’). The Two Cultures was inspired by C P Snow’s belief that art and science are increasingly opposed realms; these poems humbly try to build bridges between the two (instead of wilfully ignoring science, like most contemporary literature).
Can you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the ideas behind them?
Ten Years Missing (In Memory of Andrew Gosden)
A blizzard of spindrift erratic decisions
A jigsaw jumble, half-clues and vanished traces
Erased footage, unclaimed tickets of no return
Discarded uniforms and journeys leading nowhere
A man lurks in glass, his grainy, grey reflection
Sunk deep in these waiting years. Forever he stands,
Something or nothing, his face in taunting shadow,
A thousand fates or none. Perhaps he is waiting
For a girlish youth lost in wide-eyed spectacles
Lank-haired head full of Playstations, numbers and Muse,
His feet unsteady on the bright rim of desire
Drawn by the city to dreams of another life
And maybe he found whoever he came to meet
Or found another or another fate, who knows?
A razor sharp blue light pervading everything
Ensures no closure here, the case forever closed.
‘Ten Years Missing’ was written in 2017 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Andrew Gosden’s disappearance. He went missing after taking a train from Doncaster to King’s Cross in 2007 at the age of 14. Nothing about the case fits together properly – for example, video footage of King’s Cross and the surrounding area was ignored by the police until the trail had gone cold. Andrew was highly intelligent and a gifted mathematician. It is one of those cases where the more you know, the less you know. A CCTV image possibly shows the reflection of someone waiting for him outside King’s Cross (‘a man lurks in glass’). A year later someone entered Leominster police station in the West Midlands saying he knew what had happened to Andrew, but it was never followed up (‘no closure here’). Despite the extensive police investigation (‘sharp blue light’) the case may remain unsolved (‘the case forever closed’).
My second poem is called ‘Go Missing’ and owes much to my right-wing libertarian perspective. The values you were raised with have no claim on you, especially if they were abusive or dysfunctional. The same is true of people or places. Your sole responsibility is to your rational self-interest and nothing more. You can make the decision to start a new life at any age, old or young. Once the decision is made, it must be absolute; never look back. The use of iambic hexameter is intended to convey a sense of wandering grandeur, as is the line from The Tempest concluding the first stanza:
Write not a goodbye note, depart without a word;
Resolve to leave your life and never once return.
New shoes await your feet, new clothes your back, new sights
Your eyes; new languages are eager for your tongue,
New lands your journeys. You must go missing, then;
And like a vanished dream, leave not a wrack behind.
Give everything away: you will not need such things.
Your life was nothing but a harness of regret,
A coat of faded threads and patches long outworn.
This tapestry is made, and fair its finery;
But little thread endures, and still the Fates spin on.
Now go: and make a better life of what remains.
You are part of the Write Out Loud group. Can you tell us about it? As part of the group, you recently wrote poetry inspired by Mark Sheeky‘s 21st Century Surrealism exhibition at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. Can you give us a glimpse into the event?
Write Out Loud is an online resource and community dedicated to the promotion of poetry at a grassroots level. Although its primary stronghold is the north of England, it is forging links with the international poetry community.
It was a great privilege to be part of Mark’s exhibition. The idea of the different art forms in cultural conversation is one dear to my heart. I haven’t much talent for the visual or musical arts (or the literary ones, for that matter) but I greatly admire those who do. I had already seen a few of Mark’s paintings and figured his daring and original imagery might inspire some vivid Ekphrastic poems (poems inspired by works of art), adding depth and texture to his exhibition. In the event, every painting inspired one or more poems, many of which offered completely different perspectives on the same visual referent. The ideal response would be some counter-Ekphrastic paintings inspired by the poems, of course.
Do you prefer poetry or prose? Have you written in any other genre?
I think good prose can have poetic elements, and often does. However, poetry has to create a more immediate impact on the reader, due to its generally shorter length. Meanwhile, prose has much greater potential for extenuated argumentation than poetry: poetry that sets out to argue the case for or against something is usually bad poetry. Perhaps we could say that poetry is a stream while prose is a river: though they cross the same terrain, they do so in very different ways. Speaking of prose, I have a collection of short speculative fiction entitled Lonely Ways available on Amazon. Some of these pieces are written in a poetic prose style (what Ayn Rand termed ‘romantic realism’).
Lonely Ways is available here:
What advice would you give your younger self?
Become a plumber. Also, remember that a youth without sex is a wasted youth.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m trying to read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. An incredible novel stuffed with fascinating period detail but a sore strain on my feeble eyes and brain.
What advice would you give to budding poets?
Enjoy it as a hobby and vehicle of self-expression but don’t plan to earn a living from it. In fact, don’t plan to earn a living from anything creative unless you are incredibly talented, lucky or well-connected (preferably all three). Rich writers and artists are fallacies of significance. Many notable poets studied practical subjects, anyway (William Carlos Williams was a doctor; Wallace Stevens an insurance lawyer; and Thomas Hardy an architect). So study a remunerative subject and write as a hobby; if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t (and it probably won’t), let it go. At least you’ll have a career and a half-decent life, at the end of the day.
Who inspires you and why?
My primary inspiration is probably the American novelist, Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead (1943) is generally felt to be her greatest work. In this libertarian tale of achievement and self-transcendence, Rand demonstrated that we don’t have to put up with anything that retards our rational self-interest and self-actualisation. Dysfunctional subcultures such as proletarian collectivism and Roman Catholicism have no claim on the individual and can be summarily dismissed. Everyone deserves the best life they can possibly attain.
The American writer Robert Greene is also a great inspiration. His classic 48 Laws of Power has been a huge influence on American rap music and its libertarian philosophy of striving and self-transcendence. Armed with Greene’s unique insights, the determined individual can overcome structural obstacles like poverty, racism and social ostracism to enjoy a successful life.
What’s next for you? What plans have you got?
I’m working on an alternative history novel entitled A Curious Development. This is built on the conceit that photography existed in the ancient world. It contains ten linked stories exploring various aspects of the theme across the centuries. One of these stories was published in the distinguished sci fi webzine, Daily Science Fiction while two more have been published in AHF magazine.
compared to train
speaking for itself
in no language
to what we do not know
plans of distant stars
galaxies floating as
Sneaks under shadows lurking
in corners ready to rear its head
folded in neat lab reports charting
white blood cells over edge running wild.
Or hiding along icy roads when
day ends with sea gulls squalling
through steel grey skies.
Brake belts wheeze and whine
snapping apart careening us
against the long cold night.
Official white envelopes stuffed with
subpoenas wait at the mailbox.
Memories of hot words burning
razor blades slash across our faces.
Fires leap from rooms where twisted
wires dance like miniature skeletons.
We stand apart inhaling this mean
air choking on our own breath.
Wrapped in darkness we can
no longer deceive ourselves.
Our smiling masks float away.
We snake here, there
from one side to another.
How many times do we rip off
blankets only to claw more on?
Listening to zzzzzz of traffic,
mumble of freight trains, fog horns.
Listening to wheezing,
feeling muscles throb.
How can we find comfort?
Say same word over and over
again again falling falling to sleep.
I will stop measuring what was lost.
I will become brave.
Let slumber come covering me.
Let my mouth droop, fingers tingle.
Wishing something cool…soft…sweet.
Now I will curl like a fetus
gathering into myself
hoping to awake new born.
Long Haul Driver
At first he was thrilled by the road
thinking it an adventure to roam
through states and cities. His truck
this massive 18 wheeler winding
through overpasses, snake like
gleaming in sunlight across
ten lane highways.
But then he had to drive
so many hours arriving
only to wait for the next
work order, inhaling fumes
in the cold and in the heat.
Later he felt a slave to the
never ending engine and ugly
concrete. The same signs
everywhere, big box stores,
eating holes and truck stops
with cheap souvenirs.
Weary of this relentless surge of
everything always going forward,
feeling left behind.
riding dark horse nightmare
to prison library
backs up flooding
cages of books
my brains are washed
by a short scientist
detectives trail me
arrested by police
giving up to
now on train
1942 1962 1982
2198 1892 1294
screaming off track
burning 3rd rail
in swamp struggling
to reach green reeds
i am a
*pull trigger*fire pin*thru barrel*into muzzle*
b u l l e t s h o t
Christopher Kuhl earned Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy, and Music Composition, as well as two Masters of Music, and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Arts. He taught English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. He credits his father with his love of language. (“What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock-eater.”) He has published extensively in both on-line and print journals, and written three books, most recently Blood and Bone, River and Stone. He is currently at work on a collection of poems about the Holocaust, and the effects of it on the survivors and the first generation after it. Christopher also occasionally writes short fiction. His story, “Wade,” won Editor’s Choice for Fiction in Inscape Magazine 2016. Christopher’s writings explore the human and natural world. His publisher, Stratton Press, with whom he has a three book contract (which is going to keep him off the streets), is currently putting together a website; it should be up and running in about late November 2018. Meanwhile, you can always check him out on Faebook, including his author’s page, Christopher Kuhl Writer.
No matter our age, our lives are
indigenous to the ashes of memory,
our parents and grandparents,
aunts, uncles, cousins—
their ashes too;
until all of us, those in the war
and their children
born in the new country, where
they are citizens by virtue of birth,
but their forebears are not;
their ashes, their memories mixed
with a bit of Jerusalem dirt,
are scattered into the west wind,
originating from the distant, unknown
territories and running
east across the Atlantic, back
to the motherland.
An inch of wheat field
Tousled by the wind;
A weed clinging tenuously
To a pile of stones,
Then torn off in the storm.
We are born
As we are born to leave:
Our skin has no pockets:
We won’t need car keys
Where we’re going.
the warmth of women
breathing, the enchanting
scent of lilacs,
the musky odor of deer
the remaining crusts of snow:
spring lies centered at
the end of the trail, slowly
rising with March’s eastern sun.
Friday, 16th of September:
First frost of the season. My wife
And I walk down the Farney road,
Away from the house;
I pick up a red rock
Lingering on the gravel,
A souvenir of home.
In the dark before dawn,
Forty-two head of cattle,
Awash in fear, threatened
By coyote, ran down
Part of the fence. They’re not
Ours; we retired, but the land
Is still ours: we rent it out
To local farmers for pasturage:
It was one of them fixed
The fence line before breakfast
And calmed the herd,
While I fingered the rock in my pocket,
A memory of what once was:
Only trees, rocks, dirt,
Even before farms, before cattle, before fences…
The Bottom Of Midnight
We live at the bottom
of midnight, trying
to breathe as the guards
beat us with fiery rods,
heads, shoulders, backs;
we try not to scream
as the rods are heated
over and over to sticks
of fire, branding us, burning
us, flaying us, until our skin
is no more than battered
burnt, broken flesh off
in ragged sheets through the long
hours of death in the cold,
(Photo Credit: Frank Kennedy – Jan’s first public performance reading poetry – Cat Call Festival 2006)
Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.
It all started through my work in healthcare. I was supporting an Asian family in Birmingham caring for one of their daughters with a life limiting condition. The role also involved supporting the other 3 siblings, who would often sit beside me on the sofa after school. One such late afternoon, I started to tell them a fun rhyming poem that popped into my head. They loved it! Driving home ‘Jonathon Dandy’ appeared – ‘looking for Gold – Gold – Gold’! followed by poem number three, inspired by taking all the children to the playground. The mother kept repeating ‘Jan you must write them down’. I did, the journey had begun. A re-location to Swindon, and employment as a medical support worker at Swindon College, was where my poetry really started to take shape, surrounded as I was, with so much creativity in Art and Design. From children’s poetry I moved into other areas, but being true to the way I saw my poetry. Poetry that reached out beyond the page, bringing people in to its words and meaning. Then a move to the south coast took me to more dimensions and performing poetry, and dipping my toes into organising Poetry Readings etc. It was at this time I developed a strong leaning towards poetry of war, conflict and its consequences. There are many special people who have been alongside me; listening, guiding, laughing, crying. I owe them everything.
You have two published collections, Words in Imagination and On Calico Wings. What subjects do they touch upon?
Words in Imagination was my first collection and contained my children’s and lighter poetry, and I self-published it for that mother that encouraged me to ‘write them down’ and for one of my Swindon College art students, Amanda Rapley-Redfern, who became a wonderful friend and inspiration. Amanda passed away aged 21, but she remains in my writing and into the emotions of On Calico Wings, my second self-published collection, which is a journey through emotions; love, life and loss. Dreams. Emotions in conflict. A mix of emotions and inspiration. I originally intended to split the emotions into separate publications, but as in life, they belonged together.
Words in Imagination had to have a re-print! Most copies were bought by elderly patients from a rehabilitation hospital I was working in! I often performed the poems on the wards, to much amusement.
Would you share with us one of your poems and talk us through the inspiration behind it?
My fingers are torn and bleeding
My skin has shrunk to my bones
I have no strength, such is my hunger
Starvation is cruel and unyielding
And the cold, always the cold
There is no heat here in Ho8
‘The tunnels below the earth’.
I swing my pick axe, and a
Small piece of rock falls at my feet
It is not enough; they are angry
The blows from their sticks
Fall upon my shoulders
I tell myself I am immune!
But I am not, and it hurts
I feel unbearable pain
Would my mama recognise me now?
The once proud son she bore?
I think not; I cry out for her
Mama, mama! And they beat me once more.
Close by an explosion echoes
Showering us in red sandstone dust
Now we are not so different
Brothers; eyes locked in fear
For they have a mama too.
The heavy sound of footsteps
Cuts into the moment; they are panicking
I am hauled to my feet
And forced to join the slow moving ranks
Of the lost souls of men
Slaves of the German Third Reich
Leaving their dead behind.
The passage is long and the way unstable
An old man slips and falls
Amongst the polished boots
Desperately his fingers clasp my ankle
He calls to me ‘Comrade, I beg of you’
I ignore him and shake him free
In my single-mindedness to reach the light.
Oh! Such bitter sweet relief
To taste the sweet, sweet air
I close my eyes and am lost in its freedom
My mind elsewhere; I see papa!
Working the land of my birth
But no; it is the old man that is there!
Oh my papa! My papa! Forgive me!
I couldn’t help him! Dear God, I couldn’t help him!
And as the evening sky descends upon me
I fall to my knees in repentance
My darkness is absolute.
I chose this poem because it is very special to me. I had been writing only a few years when I wrote it. It was inspired by a visit to the Jersey War Tunnels, where despite the tunnels and rooms being lit and swept clean; with just exhibits on show, I ‘felt’ the past, the pain, the desperation. I ‘heard’ this prisoner. ‘Absolution’ was written and included in Forces Poetry first published anthology. The anthology was launched in Brighton with Patron Vera Lynn as special guest, and I will remember forever, my reading ‘Absolution’ with Vera Lynn watching and listening in such empathy. From being a member, I am now Administrator for Forces Literature Organisation Worldwide (FLOW) of which Forces Poetry is a part of, and working alongside Mac McDonald on a re-structuring.
(Photo Credits: Giles Penfound)
You are also an interactive poet, working with puppets. Tell us more.
As I mentioned previously I often performed my poems on the wards of hospitals I worked in. This led me to think it would be a possibility to go a step further and go independently into care homes, day centres etc. I did this for a few years as Poetry and Reminiscence, growing into the role and sometimes my husband joined me and we were ’The Poet and the Piano Player. I took the decision early on, not just to do my own poetry, but poetry of others, and began to search charity and second-hand shops for suitable material, gathering poems people would know and recognise; including speak-sing music hall pieces. While many will fully join in and share the whole session; often just one poem, or a few words will evoke a reaction in someone that is normally uncommunicative, a small response; a lift of the hand or raising of the head or sometimes saying words with me as best they can; is all the reward I need, and very moving. I also moved into other areas; with children’s groups such as Beavers and having activity tables at fairs etc., for Wildlife Groups.
One of my early poems ‘Thomas and the Rabbits’ is a conversation between a boy and a big fat rabbit, so I thought it would be wonderful to have a hand puppet rabbit to perform the poem with me. So Jack arrived and was such a success he was followed by Bert Dog and Dinky Kitten; all three having their own special poems, and helping me to deliver others. They often finish their performance with join in songs and then sit on someone’s lap as they don’t like going back in the bag! But they are very well behaved really and are very loved, as many folk have had their own pets. Through my job in healthcare, I was always passionate about the ‘social side’ of care, often overlooked with the pressures of time constraints and routine, yet contributing greatly to a person’s well-being, in their health and mental state. I take time to chat about reminiscence, letting them tell me their memories. For children, sharing the joy poetry can bring and is not a ‘scary word’ is very satisfying, and the puppets break down barriers. In between I do Ladies groups etc., and whatever the ages of my audience, they are all encouraged to join in, reciting, singing, and in the case of Dinky’s poem – ‘When I Grow Up’, act as Big Cats and a little Kitten.
The Wilfred Owen Festival in Oswestry, Shropshire is on until November 17th 2018. How did you become involved in this?
From seeing an article eighteen months ago, in the Oswestry Advertiser about the newly commissioned Wilfred Owen statue and a planned Festival around it. I thought I would like to be involved in that and sent an email expressing interest and my experience as having organised Poetry Readings at book launches, and at The Firing Museum, Cardiff Castle, and my being involved for a number of years with Flow for All. A phone conversation with Head Co-ordinator, Chris Woods followed, with the question ‘would you like to be in at grass roots level? Having said ‘Yes!’ I found myself at the first committee meeting and knew this festival was going to be special. In the course of these months I have organised four events to run in the main festival week 3rd – 10th Nov; including a Poet’s Day, a Women of WW1 day, drop-in workshops; as well as being the main school liaison. Primary schools were invited to choose a handwriting winner to copy Wilfred Owen’s words and senior schools and Derwen College were asked to select a student with a winning poem, to write on a wax tablet, which then underwent a process of being fixed onto the new Wilfred Owen Statue, which now stands in Cae Glas Park. To see the youngsters writings actually on the statue was an amazing reward in itself for the hours of ‘office work’. Schools have also done art work and are taking part in a Poetry Slam!
Have you any projects in the pipeline? What’s next for you?
First step down for a couple of months, long walks with my dog, and clean the house! Just enjoy some open time with poetry friends. Clear the mind for writing poems again, and future planning. Being so busy with The Festival, I haven’t been able to do many Puppets, Poetry and Reminiscence sessions, so I would like to build that back up. It is so much fun and I so enjoy doing it, I have put a cuddly Otter puppet on my Christmas list, to add to the family in preparation! I run my own community writing group in Oswestry, Words’n’Pics Open Writers, and we have recently co-operated with Chirk Writer’s Circle in two joint projects and we are looking to continue to work together to promote community writing. As mentioned in answer to question three, FLOW is undergoing major changes and this will mean devoting some time to a successful re-launch in reaching out to veterans, those with PTSD and their families, and those in the community with wider mental health issues. I have been asked to run some more poetry discussion groups at The Qube in Oswestry, breaking away from Women in War to Women in all aspects of life and other cultures, be nice if this comes off.
I have my debut radio slot on Radio Shropshire 08.05 with the early birds this Sunday to talk about ‘A Poets Day’ I have organised and am running within The Wilfred Owen Festival.
No other major projects in the pipeline – so time to take stock, listen, learn and observe the poetry and writing world out there.
(Photo Credit: Ben Robinson)
Some Mother’s Do…..poems for (un) real people is on Weds 7th November 2018 @ 18:30 at the Portico Library event in Manchester. How wonderful! Can you tell us about it?
Hilary Robinson: We felt the Portico gave us the gravitas our poetry deserves! No, seriously, Rebecca Bilkau, our editor, is a Portico member so could hire the beautiful space at a favourable rate. It’s fairly central, near to tram stops, and therefore convenient for all our poet friends to reach. Doors open at 18:30 and there will be a glass of wine and nibbles — what’s not to like?
Rachel Davies and I were lucky enough to be approached by Rebecca Bilkau who was thinking about launching the first DragonSpawn publication which she was calling a ‘step up to a pamphlet’. We didn’t need any time to think it over — we were both in. For the third poet, Rebecca invited Cheshire poet, Tonia Bevins, who was delighted that her work was to be published. Tragically, Tonia died suddenly in the summer before Rachel and I managed to meet her, but we all thought her contribution to the book should go ahead. Tonia’s friends, Angela Topping and Angi Holden, have been acting on her behalf and they will be reading her poems at the launch in November and we feel this will be a fitting tribute to Tonia.
We have both enjoyed the editing process which has been mostly achieved by email as Rebecca lives for most of the year in Germany. We are thrilled that our ‘Dragon Mother’ will be with us for the Manchester launch.
(Photo Credit: Bill Hibbert)
How long have you been writing poetry? Tell us about your studies with the MMU and your Masters in Creative Writing.
Rachel Davies: I’ve always enjoyed poetry and wrote it, like most people, at times of emotional stress. I loved writing poetry with the children at school when I was a primary teacher/headteacher and often used poetry in my school assemblies to illustrate points. But I didn’t really get into it seriously until I retired from teaching in 2003. I completed a BA in Literature with the OU—I had Bachelor and Masters professional degrees but always wished I’d studied literature at college. I took the opportunity at the end of my career; then applied for and was given a place on the MA in Creative Writing at MMU where I worked with a wonderful team of poets: Jeffrey Wainright, Simon Armitage, Jean Sprackland, Michael Symmons Roberts and, of course, Carol Ann Duffy. I was involved in collaborations with RNCM during my MA which has led to my poetry twice being performed with music at the Bridgewater Hall; I graduated MA (Dist) in 2010; but like many university courses I’ve done in my life, the end is like a cut umbilicus. I was a late starter in higher education, and I have never learned how to stop. So in 2015 I enrolled for a PhD at MMU, researching the mother-daughter relationship. This is creative/critical work; so as well as writing a substantial body of work of my own—several of which are being published in Some Mothers Do… I have also studied poets writing on the subject, most notably Pascale Petit and Selima Hill. I will complete and submit in May next year. I have had several poems published in journals and anthologies, so I am really excited and pleased to be one of the first ‘DragonSpawn’ poets.
Hilary: I’ve always loved poetry. My Dad used to read poems to me when I was little and encouraged me to learn poems by heart. He and my Mum were also very musical and I spent long hours absorbing the words of the songs they’d sing and perform. It’s no surprise then, to be told that my writing has ‘musicality’. I loved to teach poetry writing to primary children and would always have lots of poetry books on my desk to read from in the odd moments waiting for the dinner bell or home time, but I didn’t start to write poetry until 10 years ago when I was recovering from a mental breakdown that had led to me temporarily giving up the teaching job I loved. As part of my recovery I took myself off to the local library where there was a monthly writing group. I had intended to write short stories for my grandchildren but found increasingly that poems came out of my pen. Rachel took me under her wing and off to the Poetry Society Stanza group she runs in Stalybridge. I was hooked, sucked in to the amazing world of poetry that I never knew existed. A turning point for me was joining Jo Bell’s online ’52’ group where she posted a prompt a week for the whole of 2014. I wrote at least one poem every single week. The support of this group encouraged me to apply to Manchester Metropolitan University to do the MA in Creative Writing. My tutors were Michael Symmons Roberts, Adam O’Riordan, Jean Sprackland, Nikolai Duffy and Carol Ann Duffy — how lucky are we to have such talent at Manchester Writing School? I graduated MA (Distinction) earlier this year. During the MA I enjoyed various opportunities such as collaborations with composers from RNCM, having two poems published in MMU’s ‘A New Manchester Alphabet’ anthology and reading alongside Carol Ann Duffy and Liz Lockheed at the Royal Exchange.
Can you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the inspiration behind it?
Rachel: I’m going to share a couple of poems from Some Mothers Do…‘A Three Toed Sloth’ is one of my ‘Alternative Mother’ poems from the PhD portfolio. I have been thinking about ‘the mirror of the other’ through which we come to know ourselves: how we know who we are, and how we should behave in social situations, through the reaction of the ‘other’s’ gaze. The first and most influential ‘other’ is the mother, or primary care-giver when we are growing up. Simplistically, we become who we are through our interactions with others in our various social situations. Then I got to thinking what sort of a ‘me’ would I have been in social interaction with different ‘others’: for instance other women—and men—I knew, or heroines from literature or history. So I have written ‘alternative mother poems’ about Pope Joan and Boudicca; about Alice (in Wonderland) and Alysoun, Wife of Bath. It struck me that I could extend this as a means of getting my own back—against that woman who upset me on the tram, or against people who have bullied my children. The poem I’m reproducing here began life at a workshop in Nantwich last year (2017) run by Mark Pajak. I modified it to fit the ‘alternative mother’ brief: what kind of a self would I be if a sloth was my mirror.
Alternative Mother #7
A three-toed sloth
see yourself as someone who relinquishes
digits to evolution then patents
what you save in your own slow show
see yourself as acrobat
so your ceiling rose is hearth rug
the laminate floor your roof
see yourself as worshipper of inertia
so downtime is your vocation
daydreaming your life’s career
see yourself as passive philosopher
examining the energy of predator
and arriving at the ergo of leaves
see yourself as someone who could be
a human sin but can’t even be arsed
to crack a smile at the irony of it.
My second poem, also in Some Mothers Do…began life in 2007. My partner and I went to Australia to follow the winter tour of One Day International cricket. During our stay we drove the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide, a journey of three days. On the second night of the journey, we stayed in a lovely B&B called ‘Ann’s Place’ in a small village called Robe. Ann was a Dame Edna look-alike, but a very kind and generous hostess. After settling in, her husband suggested we should go into the garden after dark to look at McNaught’s comet, which was visible in the southern night sky at the time: there was barely any light pollution in Robe. So we went out, sat on the garden wall looking out over the sea; and we saw nothing! I only expected it to be a light in the sky or something. Anyway, as we were about to give it up as a bad job and go back indoors, there it was, behind us all the time. It was spectacular, like a child’s drawing of a comet; like being in the Bayeux Tapestry with that beautifully embroidered Hallé’s comet. The tail trailed behind it for ever, and the comet looked close enough to reach up and touch. I fell in love that night. I started the MA in the September following, and I wrote a long and rambling poem about seeing the comet, which only appears every 40,000 years, and how privileged I felt in being there to see it. In the workshop discussion, Simon Armitage felt I was trying to write a love poem and suggested I tighten it up a bit. Now, I had a down on men at the time, and there was no way I was in the frame of mind to write a love poem; so my ‘Love Letter to McNaught’ is a ‘not-a-love-poem’. It’s very tongue in cheek about the break-up of a relationship, the symptoms of which often only seem significant after the event. McNaught, in comparison with that kind of duplicity, is a bit of a perfect lover because he didn’t stick around long enough to break my heart.
Love Letter to McNaught
Southern Australia January 2007
You didn’t take me out or wine and dine me
at Don Gio’s, expect me to laugh at your jokes,
or touch my fingers across the table, or buy me
flowers like ordinary blokes.
We didn’t enjoy a first blistering kiss,
or share a universe-shifting fuck
that makes you wish it could be like this
for ever, knowing you never have that kind of luck.
We didn’t run barefoot on winter beaches
or play hide and seek among autumn trees
or picnic on chicken and soft summer peaches
or laugh at ourselves doing any of these.
We didn’t get married or live as a couple,
and share a life or a name or kids;
so your twice-worn socks couldn’t burst my bubble,
or your morning farts or your pants with skids.
You never once, in post-coital passion
whispered a strange woman’s name in my ear
or came home drenched in your lover’s Poison
or shielded your phone so I couldn’t hear.
You didn’t promise roses and bring me thistles
or when I soared try to tie me to land.
McNaught, you were never a man to commit to—
just a beautifully cosmic one night stand.
Hilary: My two poems are from Some Mothers Do…The first was written in response to Jo Bell’s ‘52’ prompt which was to write about something that almost happened, or could have happened. I remembered a time shortly after the premature birth of my son when I was feeling depressed. We talked about having the ‘baby blues’ back then but now it’s recognised as post-natal depression. It’s horrid and I was fortunate that I wasn’t affected badly, or for very long, but on the morning I refer to in the poem a fleeting thought did cross my mind before I took a deep breath, waited until the road was clear and crossed over to the greengrocer’s shop. When I wrote the poem it truly was ‘the first time I’d spoken about that time’ and I read it to my family before I posted it online. It is the first of my poems to have been published.
On Bridge Street
I’ll tell you this —
in hospital I’d turned into
a lioness, fought to get him
back from Special Care.
My tiny boy and I
Back then the ‘Baby Blues’
were cover for the hopeless days
the waking nights
the apathy, the dried-up milk
I travelled there.
And that’s how I found myself
at pavement’s edge considering
lorries, buses on that main road.
I was calm and never thought
of anybody else.
That day on Bridge Street
I was wearing my blue
raincoat so no-one saw
my baby boy
strapped to my chest.
I haven’t spoken of that time
My second poem is quite a contrast! I wrote it in response to a remark made by Boris Johnson during the 2012 Olympic Games and it imagines a mature couple reflecting on their sex life. It was great fun to write!
Sex as an Olympic Sport
It’s like synchronised diving —
there are different classifications
so you’re never too far out of your depth.
Couples who’ve trained for it
get to relax in the hot tub after it’s over
then mop themselves down with a little shammy.
Those ice dancers spin to an appropriate tempo,
try to last for just 4-minutes
and aim for a set of perfect 6s.
They channel Torvill and Dean,
(their costumes less revealing than they first appear)
and keep each other no more than two arm-lengths apart,
whereas we, our heady days behind us,
are all about the relay team that drops the baton,
the shot putter who oversteps the mark.
We’ve lost our confidence on a four-inch beam
and do not glisten like wet otters**
who play beach volleyball.
We are not clean. I’m all HRT
and you’re all V’d when we can be bothered.
We’re a failed drugs test. No medals this time around.
**Boris Johnson on the beach volleyball:
“There are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto. They are glistening like wet otters and the water is splashing off the brims of the spectators’ sou’westers.”
Who inspires you?
Carol Ann Duffy who was our workshop tutor on the MA course. She is so generous to students with her time and advice, but she takes no prisoners when it comes to what makes a good poem! Selima Hill is one of Rachel’s poetry heroes. Ann & Peter Sansom who run the brilliant Poetry Business in Sheffield. Simon Armitage, who taught Rachel at MMU — we bumped into him once when we were in St Ives on a writing residential run by Kim Moore who works tirelessly for poetry. Liz Berry who writes with such tenderness and authenticity, Alice Oswald, Pascale Petit, Sharon Olds, Fiona Benson…we could go on and on. Rachel is on the committee of Poets and Players in Manchester. They offer excellent workshops with the fantastic poets who read at the Whitworth Art Gallery. We also admire emerging poets like our friends Linda Goulden and Mark Pajak. We both have so many poetry books and pamphlets that we need more shelves!
What are you reading at the moment?
Rachel: Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter which isn’t poetry, but written in very poetic language.
Hilary: Carol Ann Duffy’s new collection, Sincerity; The Forward Book of Poetry 2019; Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood and I have just read Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir, I am, I am, I am.
Have you any advice for budding poets?
Read, read, read poetry! Go to workshops, talk about poetry, share your poetry, go to readings, listen to poetry on the radio, watch it on YouTube. Join a Poetry Society Stanza group — you don’t have to be a Poetry Society member to join a Stanza, and you can find your nearest group on their website. Seek out the community of poets because, on the whole, they are wonderful people whose help and advice will be invaluable. And don’t forget to read lots of poetry!
What’s next for you? What plans have you got?
Rachel: Finish my PhD! I’m almost at the end now. Next, I’d like to publish a pamphlet or collection of my own. I’d also love to have poem published in the North. I’ve had reviews in there, but not a poem.
Hilary: Resist the urge to start a PhD! Like Rachel, my immediate ambition is to have a pamphlet or collection published.
Tonia Bevins (1953-2018)
(Photo credit: Suzanne Iuppa)
Angela Topping: Tonia was born in Blackpool, Lancashire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College where the poet U. A. Fanthorpe was her English teacher. She graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in English & American Literature. She lived in Cheshire since her mid-twenties. After working for the BBC for many years, where she met her late husband Barry Bevins, a BBC producer, she became an ESOL teacher in Manchester and Liverpool. She was very involved in the local poetry scene, being a member of the Poetry Society Stanza, Blaze, and was a founder member of Vale Royal Writers Group – for whom Tonia organised Wordfests at The Blue Cap, Sandiway. She was a regular performer at Dead Good Poets Society’s open mic nights in Liverpool. Some of her poems and pieces of flash fiction have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Tonia was very excited about her first publication of a whole set of poems, but unfortunately did not live to see it completed. Her consolations in life, apart from her passion for poetry, were her cats and her garden. She is greatly missed by all who knew her, well known for her modesty, generosity and reserved nature, her kindness and quiet grace. Hopefully her poems will live on to enchant us.
Tonia was always keen to improve her poetry and went to evening classes at Sir John Deane’s college, later becoming a regular attender at Gladys Mary Coles courses in at Liverpool John Moore’s. Gladys Mary did a lot to build up her confidence.
She admired Paul Farley’s work in particular. She also had a fondness for Helen Tookey’s poetry. Brian Wake is another Liverpool poet whose work she found pleasure in.
She would have told budding poets to immerse themselves in poetry and to read as much a possible, as she did herself. She was a regular attender at poetry readings, and believed in the power of hearing poetry as well as reading it.
I would have loved to have seen her bring out a full collection, which this showcase would have led to, but sadly she is no longer with us to make those plans.
Before I Remembered
On the third day he began his search,
not hunting out but seeking, pacing through the house,
howling like something cast out or dispossessed;
then a purposeful scouring of dark corners,
the spaces behind closed curtains,
clawing open cupboard doors,
scratching at boxes stowed under the stairs,
staring up at the high trap to the loft,
sniffing at the air for the very scent of you.
And I, forgetting,
laid your place at table, cooked too much food
while making a mental note to tell you
about this and that – trivial things.
He wouldn’t sleep on my shoulder.
For weeks there was no consoling him.
But with time your Vladimir became mine
in the changed order of the world.
Sometimes I open your wardrobe door,
free the hostage smells of leather and cologne,
conjure you there in the silent room,
the ridges in nails, arch of ribcage, set of jaw.
For a moment, I can hear
the singular timbre and tone of you,
trace every hair, fleck and freckle of you,
touch the flesh, blood and bones of you.
‘Before I Remembered’, Tonia took it very hard when her husband, Barry, died. This poem is a very personal and moving elegy for him.
In ‘Before I Remembered’ Tonia makes reference to Vladimir, Barry’s cat who ‘with time’ became her cat. Tonia’s cats were very important to her (another makes an appearance in the skin-chilling Miss Thomas!) and the retiring collection at her funeral was in aid of Cats Protection. As Angela says, it’s a loving elegy which uses the cat’s inability to process his master’s departure to frame her own loss. I love it for the sensory detail which recreates Barry’s presence – the smell and feel of him, his touch, the timbre and tone of his voice – and the way it captures that millisecond when she forgot the enormity of his absence.
It’s late September, a full month before we used to go
the two of us, without my father, to spend half-term
huddled among the dunes, shivering in the blast
that roars off the Urals, barrells across the North Sea.
We can’t come all this way and have you not swim.
Don’t be such a baby. Get in!
I’d bob up and and down in shock then run back,
blue-fleshed, numb, gasping into the embrace of the towel
held up in her outstretched arms, gulp hot, sweet tea from the flask.
None of this has made me a more resolute person.
I find myself here again but high above the shore
this wild, ragged afternoon – the tiny, determined walkers far below.
Tankers, container vessels slide past my friend’s window.
Inner Farne hangs on the horizon, in and out of sheeting rain.
When I look out my nearest neighbours are in Denmark
he says. But I think of the grey seals and seabirds, remember
my mother, lamed for life yet game to clamber
down the iron rungs set into Seahouses’ harbour wall,
her faith in our skipper’s grasp as she leapt the gap
to the small boat rising and falling on the swell.
I know her mother had had polio when she was younger, hence talking about her hardiness in climbing down the iron ladder. There are two time frames in the poem: Tonia is visiting the area with a friend, and remembers back to when her mother would take her there for an autumn holiday, and her mother making her swim in the sea, even though it was cold.
Tonia’s mother was a doctor (GP, I think) hence the refs to her graduation in her poem O’Connell St and the neighbour calling for help with his child’s delivery in Blood Moon. No mean achievement to qualify, especially given her disability – I imagine she was a strong woman. I think Tonia wanted to capture that strength of character in Bamburgh, her mother’s determination not to be limited by being ‘lamed for life’ and to step out despite the ‘rise and swell’ of the future.
I had a friend who was a chunk of granite
from the Granite State
She was grey and speckled
and very heavy
She was deceptively strong
I loaded her into my trunk
with some of her brothers and sisters
I was going to plant them in my garden
I thought it would make my garden unique
I lived many states away from the
I didn’t know if and when I would ever get back there
so I loaded my trunk up
As I was leaving the quarry
my rear axle broke
I was wondering if something like that
I’d put my trust in God
but God was not worthy of my trust
It was an old car
It was an old God
This God had a lot of staying power
He was the foundation stone
for a world of stupidity
Obviously, my car didn’t have staying power
It was what used to be called a “jalopy”
It didn’t have any value
The Kelly Blue Book said it was worth 99 cents
the same value as the
autobiography I’d placed on Amazon.com
I abandoned my car at the quarry
Luckily I hadn’t filled the tank for my return trip
It maybe had 99 cents worth of gas in it
I abandoned my life at the quarry too
Altogether I was out three dollars
not enough to worry about
I took a worn sweater out of the back seat
and headed down the dirt road
which led away from