Pantry Prose: King Melvin and the Green Castle by Andrew Williams


It’s hard work being a king. At least, that’s what kings would have you believe. All those heavy crowns and the repetitive strain injury from all that royal waving. I imagine at least one king must have met his end after toppling from a balcony, too (though it’s quite plausible that some assassin gave him a push).

Yet, somehow, I think kings have it easier than they make out.

Kings are lazy. That’s all there is to it.

Even on the chess board, the king is the laziest of the bunch. Those bishops and rooks are zipping all over the board. The knights are the champions of jumping. The queen – well, she’s the busiest of them all. Even those slow moving pawns can be forgiven, as they march slowly into the jaws of certain death. But the king? Not him. He’s skulking at the back, hiding behind his army, never moving more than one square at a time except for darting into the shelter of his castle.

No. The average king is only interested in doing the least he can get away with. Work? That’s for the peasants. The occasional gala event, perhaps opening the odd library or hospital, and spend the rest of the time on hunts and at balls and feasts. No sense doing anything that might upset the people.

Once in a while, however, a king breaks the mould. A king takes power with energy and enthusiasm and some downright bizarre hobbies. They inspire their subjects, terrify their enemies and put all the other kings to shame. They don’t tend to last long. Regal duties soon crush their outgoing spirits and leave them as bitter, twisted old men, if they don’t get assassinated in the meantime. That balcony is looking particularly tempting tonight, your majesty…

And sometimes, cruel irony alone is enough to bring them down.

One such go-getting, unusual king went by the name of Melvin. I know, I know. You can’t believe there could ever be a King Melvin. The history books do tend to overlook him, it’s true. They tend to skip over the gap between Henry XVIII and his uncle’s wife’s grandson, Henry XVII (what can I say? I think the scribes lost count – it was a confusing century) and declare that either one Henry ruled longer or the other started earlier, or even that the kingdom spent three years in anarchy. Perhaps historians prefer it that way. Trying to explain King Melvin is… difficult.

For one thing, Melvin refused to wear a crown. He had the most magnificent hair, which he kept on a stand by his bed at night so he wouldn’t crush it in his sleep, or vice versa; a bouffant wig some six feet high and home to three birds, a family of dormice and a small butler that could attend to his every whim should the regular butler be off on holiday. A crown, he said, would be taking things too far. On royal occasions when a crown was demanded, the royal potato wore the crown instead. (Sorry to disappoint you, but the potato was a Maris Piper, and not the King Edward you might expect. That would just be silly.)

King Melvin was a kind and friendly king, often throwing gold from his castle windows to the starving peasants below. This went a lot better after the first attempt, when he started first taking the coins out of the sacks that held them in his vault. Three peasants were crushed in that first deadly display of generosity.

He also had a fondness for nature. At the start of his reign, it was not uncommon for King Melvin to be seen going for a gentle jog in the forests around the castle. This was brought to an equally gentle end after three bears, two wolves and a confused badger had to be executed for threatening the life of the king. Melvin was sad about all of these, especially the badger, and he proposed an alternative – he would live in a brand new castle, made entirely from nature, and he could smell the fresh grass and the woodland flowers without ever leaving his home.

It took two years, but the finest architects, weavers, forestry experts and farmers found a way. The new castle was not so much built as grown. The walls were a light frame of saplings strung with ivy, the carpets were the freshest of spongy forest moss and the walls were clad with tall reeds and grasses from the river banks. The entire castle was a living sculpture, every blade and petal still living and growing. Birds nested in the parapets and insects buzzed happily over the canopy of leaves that formed the roof. The people were immensely proud of the Green Castle. Even Versailles could not compare to the grandeur of this bold undertaking.

And perhaps all would have been well, if it were not for King Melvin’s unfortunate hobby.

I said before that these more… active rulers pursued pastimes that were a little strange. King Terence III held yodelling contests during his reign. Queen Alfreda was so fond of cake that she ate six cakes for breakfast every day. When she finally died of her outrageous obesity, collapsing with simultaneous liver failure and heart failure just as she was walking down the aisle to marry the Duke of Pembrokeshire, even the wedding cake was in tiers. Compared to the knife juggling King Michael IV or the Elvis memorabilia so loved by King Phillip IX (not the singer Elvis – this was long before his time – but Elvis Cooper, the bawdy jester), King Melvin’s obsession was positively tame.

King Melvin loved to collect thrones.

Small thrones, large thrones, gold thrones, silver thrones, bone thrones, lone thrones, twin thrones, trombone thrones, moaning thrones, groaning thrones, home thrones, work thrones, thrown thrones, lost thrones, found thrones, thrones of swords, thrones of skulls, thrones of games… he didn’t care. Whenever he found a new throne, he had to have it.

Soon every visiting dignitary or merchant looking for a favour knew what to do. Buy the king a new throne, and he’d shower you with gold, and he’d even take it out of the sack first. The floor of Green Castle was packed full of royal seating. The annual festival’s game of musical chairs could last for days as there were far more chairs to take than people to sit in them.

As the throne count went up, Green Castle grew ever more cramped. Finally, something had to be done. The king summoned the architects, the forestry experts, the farmers, the weavers, the thatchers and told them that the castle needed expanding. They needed more throne room.

A quick survey of the surrounding area ruled out the land to the north (too rough, too rocky) and the south (arable farmland, vital to the kingdom). The western expanse was no use – that’s where the old castle still stood, and several armies over the last three centuries had failed to take it down, so demolition seemed unlikely. To the east, the old forest still called Melvin for a last jog. He didn’t have the heart to cut it down.

There was only one direction left to build, and that was straight up.

Construction work began that very day. An old weeping willow, spiralling up from the floor, served as a staircase to the upper level, where two lines of young oak trees provided a second floor via a network of branches. A carpet of foliage covered these branches. With space to move at last, King Melvin ordered his collection of thrones moved to the upper level. Downstairs, the business of ruling the kingdom could finally proceed – and the next game of musical chairs would be over in less than four hours.

Perhaps, in hindsight, they should have known. The King of Monaco, on a flying visit from his homeland, was so impressed by Green Castle that he gifted King Melvin with the largest, most extravagant throne that had ever been built. Mahogany framed, lined with gold and jewels, cushioned with the finest down from the fluffiest of pipistrelle bats, it was a dazzling and irresistible gift. Twelve footmen were needed to drag it up the curving willow to the upper level, where it was given pride of place in the very centre of the upper floor.

There was a lot of ominous creaking, and then came a mighty crash. The new throne had proved too much for the delicate natural timbers of the castle. As it came crashing down, so too did dozens more thrones of all kinds. The castle groaned and shivered, and then the sapling walls and the grass cladding folded in on itself. To the horror of all who watched, Green Castle collapsed inwards. King Melvin, along with his retinue, was crushed to death beneath his own throne collection.

King Henry XVII took over the kingdom, moving back into the main castle. He didn’t collect thrones, or indeed collect anything – aside from dust, and taxes. He lived another fifty years before falling off his balcony, but he was one of those boring kings that never did anything special beyond that. He’d learned a valuable lesson from his predecessor.

People living in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

Poetry Drawer: Between Jobs & Not Me by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Between Jobs

I don’t have long in this world
My wife will keep me going for a while
and I’ll keep her
But then it will be as she suspected
and as I suspect
Again I’m drunk in the afternoon
on red wine
She’s at work
I look out the back window
The forest rises like a mountain
The mountains rise like the white-capped waves
coastal travelers see

Not Me

I made you pregnant
Early the next morning you suffered nightmares
Hideous Parisians were coming after you
men with shaggy wolf heads
Huge black men cut the air with glinting sickles
I took a meal in an elegant restaurant
I thought of everything in the world with equanimity
A golden waffle with very small holes
was served on a china plate
Coffee was served in a gilt-edged cup
I made you pregnant
Early the next morning you twisted in bed
suffering nightmares
We were at my parents’ home
When I got up to piss
my mother trapped me in an alcove
and persuaded me not to marry you

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over fourteen-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes, and was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, is based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Inky Interview: Author Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois from Denver, Colorado

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Poetry Drawer: REQUIEM FOR A DEAD COMPUTER by Robert Demaree

Our desktop, age 12, expired quietly
Last night, after a long illness,
Surrounded by loved ones.
Win32k.sys
Address BF801276…
In its declining years
It was still able, slowly and with
Great difficulty, to find
The best price on gas,
The route to Nova Scotia.
But twelve is pretty old, even in doggy years,
So when we saw the dire language
On the blue screen,
We despaired of heroic cures
And entrusted it to the Cyberhospice
Who thought they could save
My e-mail list, some files;
Other things gone,
Like certain memories, irretrievable.

I used the library’s computer today—
New operating system—
And saw a list of files
Not meant for my eyes:
Resume update,
Draft for Mum’s obituary.

If our new computer should last twelve years…
Better not to speculate.
I do hope they’ll return the
Old hard drive.
I plan to keep it
In an urn
On the mantle.

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders, published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.

Poetry Drawer: Two Poems by Isabelle Kenyon

The tutor

I listen close, knotting thread through my fingers,
focus on the disruntled cock of your head:
“you’re fidgeting again”,
shrug the shiver of wanting to hold comfort in my grasp
but fuel thirst for scrutiny.

Tremor of hand, you analyse to alienate me until–
I feel my limbs disconnect and
fall heavy
weighted by your speared pupils:
a broken woman picks, picks, picks away
at the fleshy upturned belly of a young girl,
soft skin–with time
she will grow the armour to fight this woman.

Florence tourist

Quiltwork faces collide
we witness, feel
stomach swelling
toasting, square
stuffed with selfie sticks –
there a man lies supine painting film
her slow-motion street dance,
flashing backdrop of cathedral.
Brash voices shoot code
new language of Google maps
hands navigate bars to golden doors
future
worship flicker on Facebook
as night pales to calls
distinctly English
we wonder where locals hide
from storming feet.

Isabelle Kenyon is northern poet and the author of Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House). She is the editor of Fly on the Wall Press. Her poems have been published in poetry anthologies by Indigo Dreams Publishing, Verve Poetry Press, and Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her book reviews, articles and blog posts have been published in various places such as Neon Books, Authors Publish, Harness magazine and Five Oaks Press.

Poetry Drawer: if i was an optimist: when an old woman: single in my forties: but as the light fades: no desire to even think by J.J. Campbell

if i was an optimist

i can see in her eyes
she will kill me one
of these days

if i was an optimist

i could see a future
a house, children
playing with the
dog in the yard

i’m not an optimist

i see a drained
checking account,
credit cards used
without my knowledge
and the threat of more
violence if the other
demands aren’t met
soon

when an old woman

my dirty brain laughs
when an old woman
checks me out

even if it’s just for
a second

i can’t help but
wonder if i would

it’s been over
a decade

of course, i would

single in my forties

the darkness inside of me
kills everything it comes
into contact with

at least that is how i’m
going to think of being
single in my forties

i could lament having
no fucking luck with
love or i could drink
away the pain

i’m sure there are better options

but i never set foot in
anything resembling
a better life

i’m comfortable in filth
despair and the usual
sad moments of agony
and pain

sunshine gives you cancer
and there is no gold at the
end of a fucking rainbow

beethoven plays in the distance

all the angels are out of mercy

they look out of place here
anyway

unlock the case and load

every ending is a new beginning

or whatever bumper sticker
works for your ending here

but as the light fades

she was the kind of woman
that had already lived a
couple lives before you
walked into hers

she never wanted to
fall in love and you
never wanted to like
the pain

but as the light fades
like a soft angel peeling
her lips off an old soul

she’ll teach you the
horrors of gin

of cocaine after three
in the morning on an
empty stomach

of what happens to
the hero in a land of
assholes and disease

depravity never lets
the sun shine

be careful the first time
you see your shadow

one false move
and she’ll haunt your
dreams until you die

no desire to even think

i remember
thinking i
was going
to die in
my twenties
when i was
a teenager

i never even
thought my
thirties were
even a
possibility

there was no
planning, no
desire to even
think it was
going to
happen

and now i’m
acing life in
my forties and
figuring out
how to die
while poor

indoors is the
best i can come
up with

J.J. Campbell (1976 – ?) is currently trapped in suburbia, plotting his revenge. 
He’s been widely published over the years, most recently at Record Magazine, The Dope Fiend Daily, Horror Sleaze Trash, Synchronized Chaos, and Chiron Review.
His most recent chapbook, the taste of blood on christmas morning, was published by Analog Submission Press.
You can find him most days on his mildly entertaining blog, evil delights & Goodreads


Poetry Drawer: My dreamy manifesto under the starry sky, cometward by Paweł Markiewicz


Attention: This manifesto has in itself a magical power and it can finally refute the communist manifesto (1847/48) and its successors in the form of communist states.

It burns a peaceful campfire!

I am part of the pink eternity.
I enchant the poetic stars.
I dream with ghosts of melancholy.
I am a magician of dawn.
My wing is called Apollo.
I’m so enchanted, so dreamy.
I am a sky dreamer.
I am shrouded in the most beautiful enthusiasm.
My dream enchants the beautiful world.
There is a magic dream in my wings.
My wings can do magic.
I like my dreams.
My dream is hotter than feeling.
Philosophical thoughts are waiting for me.
Philosophical sparks shimmer at me.
My philosophy is infinity.
I am in love with the infinity of politics.
I like a druidic fire.
I want to become a druid priest.
Modern druids beautify my existence.
An eternal spark rests in my poetries.
I am spiritualized thanks to poetry.
In politics you can be poetic.
I never quarrel with muses.
I fly in pairs like muses.
My wings would need starry rays.
With beautiful sounds fulfilling my dream of melancholy.
Poetic moments enrich my soul.
There is an Osiris chalice in my soul.
My friend Loreley is a philosopher like me.
In tender tears my magic life takes place.
I sometimes quarrel with tears of finiteness.
I would build a school for Druids.
The imagination unfolds in the moon.
I adore Osiris forever.
My friend Osiris likes the original beauty.
In my chalice there is Osiris’ soul.
I fly to the land of Osiris.
I write a legend to the Osiris.
I drink a dew of eternity.
In the dew, I can refresh my soul like muses.
I warm myself in a gentle dew.
I cool my wings in the magic dew.
In the dew falls my little shooting star.
Ambrosia is eternal for my sake.
In Ambrosia I feel infinitely beautiful magic.
I love to perpetuate this Ambrosia.
An idea about the Ambrosia is waiting for me.
My tender thought must be enchanted by Ambrosia.
I, sitting, wait for spiritualized moments.
I sit there as if I were a musical angel.
I philosophise as if an angelic muse had touched me.
In the wind, my moment becomes like a star-shaped existence.
This touch reflects my eternity.
The tender poetry becomes my temple.
In the most beautiful stamp of feeling I belong to you.
I can love all the fantasies of the dawn.
I’ll show you my freedom of mindlessness.
I like to collect coloured shooting stars of the angels.

Pawel Markiewicz was born 1983 in Poland (Siemiatycze). His English haikus and short poems are published by Ginyu (Tokyo), Atlas Poetica (USA), The Cherita (UK), Tajmahal Review (India) and Better Than Starbucks (USA). More of Pawel’s work can be found on Blog Nostics.


Pantry Prose: Cherry Scones by Sally Shaw

Once there was a slip of paper, folded into four. It sat in the pocket of a heavy green overcoat.

Dorothy hurriedly fastens the large buttons on her heavy green overcoat. The click of the lock signals a release. She slams the front door of the detached house.

***

Dorothy flinches as she eases the white turtle neck jumper over her head, and down the contours of her shoulders and back. She picks up the black stirrup pants from the bedroom floor and sits back onto the bed. He turns towards her; opens his eyes before drifting back to sleep.

***

The kitchen welcomes him with the smell of freshly cooked: eggs, bacon, baked beans, and fried bread. One place set; one napkin, Daily Mirror, one cup and saucer.

***

Dorothy is on her knees scrapping a mixture of smashed plate, eggs, bacon, baked beans, fried bread and blood into a dustpan.

She holds her breath as he dips the fried bread into the yolk of the egg, he pauses: “Perfect, now why couldn’t you do that the first time?”

She pours the tea as he swallows his last mouthful of breakfast; removes the plate and places the cup and saucer before him. Her grip intense on the plate – as he slurps the tea she closes her eyes – waiting “Spot on.”

A silent sigh as the plate sinks beneath the Fairy bubbles. She watches as the grease floats to the top. If allowed to smile, she would at this image, as it impersonates her underlying feelings.

The chink of his china cup alerts her to be swift. A neatly wrapped package swops places with the china cup and saucer. He picks up the greaseproof paper package, held together with string and smells it: “Salmon?”

Dorothy nods. She hands him his flask of tea. He places the flask on the table; unwraps the neat package to reveal two perfect white triangles. In silence he selects one triangle; peels the bread apart, exposing the pink flesh. He rises to his feet; takes four deliberate steps towards Dorothy. He throws the triangles at the toes of her suede boots and places the heel of his black Oxford shoe onto the pink flesh and twists: hissing through clenched teeth; “It’s Monday.” A fine shower of spittle shocks her eyes. He turns around hesitates glances at the clock, puts on his collar and leaves.

***

“Ladies it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Mrs Darby our speaker this evening and judge for the best scones competition.” Dorothy stands up. “Thank you, madam chair…my talk this evening; ‘Life as a vicar’s wife.’

***

“In third place Mrs Blackburn, in second place Mrs Smith’s cherry scones and in first place Mrs Green.”

“Thank you, Mrs Darby, a delightful talk and I hope you will join us for tea and scones.”

***

She closes the front door and leans against it. A shard of light glows under the parlour door, her body is frozen with dread, a moment to realise. She hangs her green coat next to the black overcoat with the velvet collar and goes to make a pot of tea.

He grabs her wrist as she sets the tray down, his eyes seeking what is not there. Once released she sits down and drinks her tea. The mantle clock chimes ten, Dorothy clears away the cups and goes to bed to wait.

***

Dorothy waits in the Little Blue Café on the high street staring out of the window, she thinks to herself, what secrets are the people that pass by hiding. Gentlemen hurrying along in their over coats and trilbies; are they kind to their girlfriends or wives? Young ladies laughing and chatting rushing to work; are they truly happy?

The waitress brings, her toasted teacake and milky coffee. “I thought it was you, it is isn’t it…Mrs Darby?…you probably don’t remember me, I bet you meet loads of real ladies being married to a vicar and all…”

Dorothy recalls that evening of course she remembers her, it’s the cherry scone lady; Mrs Smith who should have won first prize if she wasn’t the vicar’s wife and it wasn’t the WI.

She remembers, she remembers him coming up the stairs, his dark shadow over her and then she felt the heaviness of his darkness.

Mrs Smith orders herself tea and toast and tells Dorothy about little Billy and his verrucas and Nellie and her nits. Then she stops and asks: “So, how are you?” No one has asked Dorothy this for so long it takes her breath away. She finishes her coffee and starts to talk.

Mrs Smith listens, she does not try to make Dorothy feel better, she is not shocked. Dorothy knows she is not alone. Mrs Smith has lived the same life. She understands the fear that stops her fighting back, keeps her in check. Mrs Smith does not question; she writes her name and address on a slip of paper and carefully folds it into four. She takes hold of Dorothy’s hand; pressing the paper into her palm. Mrs Smith pays her bill and leaves.

***

Dorothy hurriedly fastens the large buttons on her heavy green overcoat. The click of the lock signals a release. She slams the front door of the detached house; hesitates, then runs towards the Underground Station. She takes the Northern Line not knowing where she is going.

She slides her hand into her coat pocket; pulls out the slip of paper – unfolds it and reads the address. Dorothy steps from the train at Warren Street.

Sally Shaw is a full-time MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and poetry, gains inspiration from old photographs, history, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros and Liz Berry. Her short prose, A School Photograph, has been published online by NEWMAG. She worked as a nurse for 33 years and lives in North Warwickshire with her partner, three Pekin Bantams and Bob the dog.

Books From The Pantry: The Last Thing She Told Me by Linda Green: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

There are babies.” I looked up. I hadn’t expected to hear another word out of her. I took her hand again. Her eyelids flickered open. “Babies? Where?” I asked. “At bottom of garden.” I frowned at her. Maybe this was a sign that she as at the end now. “No, Grandma. Fairies.” I said. “You’ve got fairy statues at the bottom of the garden. The ones I used to dance around when I was little.” There wasn’t a pause on her part. “Not fairies, babies,” she said firmly. “Look after my babies for me.”

I always get a huge thrill out of reading books that perhaps initially I have glanced at and thought to myself ‘Oh no, this isn’t going to be my thing at all’. Followed, three minutes later, by being completely awed by the author’s writing and, by page two, knowing for certain that I’m reading something very special. Linda Green’s book, The Last Thing She Told Me, is such a treasure.

Linda’s plot weaves a superlative trail across the pages of her novel. Written from a first person perspective, we follow Nicola, a wife and mother to two girls. Initially, we meet Nicola as she gently cares for her grandmother, Betty, who is experiencing her final moments of earthly life. Before her grandmother slips away, she tells Nicola that there are babies buried at the bottom of the garden. From that mind-blowing revelation, Nicola’s world is turned upside down, as she investigates her grandmother’s bizarre claims.

This is my first experience of meeting Linda Green and it’s very clear from the opening page that she is an excellent writer. Her carefully chosen words weave everything together very tightly and the fast pace of the action keeps readers on their toes, or at the very edges of their seats. The sense of mystery is maintained right through to the concluding chapters; again a firm testament to the author’s literary talents. The balance between ‘show and tell’ is absolutely on the mark, meaning that all characters, and their wide range of expressions & actions, are very memorable; living on in our minds beyond the final page. Each character’s voice is strong and depicted with utter believability. Furthermore, each chapter is separated with a thread that goes back to wartime Britain in 1944. Over time, this thread becomes a vital part of the overall plot and helps the reader to gain further insights into the actions of the characters.

He had woven a web and I was trapped in it. It was my stupid fault for getting caught in the first place. When the knock came, I walked to the door, opened it and let him in. He wasn’t carrying flowers this time. There was no need for pretence. We both knew what he had come for. “Best get the kettle on, lass” he said. He drank his tea, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Right then.” he said. “Better go upstairs, unless you want world and his wife watching.”

Linda’s ability to portray realistic voices is another testament to her impressive writing ‘toolbox’, with characters ranging from small children to much older facing the end of their days. The secrets that many characters clutch painfully to their hearts is a vital aspect of the story, as Nicola turns detective and seeks to uncover many skeletons; both metaphorically and literally. The links and connections between all characters are made clear and the reader is left in no doubt as to who is who and what is happening; again a display of fine talent for a story line that bobs and weaves at a steady pace throughout the novel.

It’s very clear that Linda has researched this novel extremely well. It’s also a nice touch to have a short explanation from the author at the end of the book, describing her initial reasons behind writing it.

Because Linda has achieved a fine balance in the action and portrayal of characters, the pages turn very quickly and, for me, it is a literal definition of a ‘page turner’. We care about the characters because Linda makes them important to us, ranging from the background characters to the main protagonist who is relaying the story to our eager eyes.

This is a brilliant read across all three hundred and sixty-five pages and I thoroughly recommend it. I would also dare you to put it down, once it has utterly gripped your literary mind.

Linda’s Website

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Poetry Drawer: The bee in the calyx by Paweł Markiewicz

The bee in the calyx

there was a tender
muse-like moment of charm, such an Apollonian tear
when the cute bee set down on a noble rose
in the kind calyx of the bloom, full dreamy splendour

the gentle sun smiled, at that time, at it fairy-like
oh, a sweet morning gracefulness of rays,
the owl stayed with the courage that is in the habit
of flying into an ancient forest homewards

there was endlessly angelic-beautiful early spring
a tender March like a breath with pleasant smell of hummingbirds
and in bright nightly moonlight which is fulfilled in splendour of butterfly
the ghosts of open fields are dreaming incredible with the gleaming time of fantasy

dreams about the morning star and this steeped in legend Venus
boasted about the dreamy bee with marvellous native glow
because it experienced something very old such a butterfly-like feeling
as if it had been infinite fledged as the heavenly she-daydreamer

that bee wanted to relish only the dew
take a few drops of an eternal water to itself
easy drinking and its wings dipping

yes the rose was knowing in a gorgeous dream of the primeval delight

as soon as the insect looked in the mild kind dew
it saw there an enchanting minute small mirror

through the mirror the bee observed the dreamful nature
the hidden spring mermaid from an other time as trace of ontology

that was the boundless wonderful eagle-like eternity
what a melancholic land of spring dream-magic!

the mermaid with the harp was a young poet of muses
that youth forsooth with a thousand warm lights of hearts

the bee dreamed like an Apollonian rider
through the March into April

meanwhile the soul of the bee became tender
willing to a starry flight as well as worth the ambrosia

the while in rosy calyx and mermaid´s observation
have enchanted forever the dream of the eternity

Pawel Markiewicz was born 1983 in Poland (Siemiatycze). His English haikus and short poems are published by Ginyu (Tokyo), Atlas Poetica (USA), The Cherita (UK), Tajmahal Review (India) and Better Than Starbucks (USA). More of Pawel’s work can be found on Blog Nostics.

Inky Interview Special: Poet Linda Cosgriff

Linda, congratulations on your debut poetry collection, Hormoanal, published by Matthew James Publishing, and launched at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. What made you decide to write about the menopause?

Hi Deborah, thanks for having me!

Hormoanal is actually a collection of two halves: the first deals with motherhood. Those poems were written organically, inspired by my children as they grew up. That’s my favourite way to write, listening out for poems as I live my life. The second half was written much more intentionally: when I realised I was on the menopause I thought (grumpily), ‘Well, if I’m going through this for the next five years or more, I’m getting something out of it’. I made a point of thinking about the symptoms instead of simply enduring them. I love to laugh at life, because laughter makes everything more bearable, so the decision to poke fun at the menopause was easy.

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

The Perils of Making a Baby

Stretch marks march over homegrown hills.
Ankles, feet, even knees, swell.
You love this child created in love.
You hate the heartburn, snoring, nausea
but – most of all – your unencumbered mate.
You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet.
It’s scary: no one will say what happens at the end,
down there amongst the hair…
They say all your brains go into the first baby;
you can’t concentrate enough to disagree.

You want this child but sometimes,
you just can’t stomach it.

It was difficult to choose representative poems because part of my style is to write in as many different ways as possible, so some poems rhyme, others don’t; some have irregular stanzas, some are regular forms; some are short, some are long; some are punctuated, some are not; some have regimented syllable counts, others don’t, and so on. Plus, I’ll mix it up so that very few poems have the same elements. When I write thematically, I like to approach the theme from as many angles as I can think of.

I chose this poem in the end because it shows my love of wordplay. As an example, this line: ‘You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet’ plays with two meanings of ‘miss’ and allows for a punchline. The use of ‘stomach’ on the last line operates in the same way.

The poem also shows how I treat supposedly sacrosanct subjects (in this case, the reverence in which society holds pregnant women) and makes fun of them, using myself as the source: I did love being pregnant; but I hated it, too. I was often grumpy and unpleasant to my husband. Being pregnant does not make you a Madonna, and we should stop buying into that stereotype.

A Visit From Auntie Flo

I had a little show
But it is not considered good
To have an unexpected flow
Of private-area blood

My preventative device
Should have stopped it at its source
It wasn’t very nice
I have to blame the men-o-pause

My poems are often visual and don’t always lend themselves to reading aloud. In this one, I use italics to represent whispers and the way we mouth embarrassing words and use euphemisms. I’m a bit of a preacher, there’s no doubt, but if I make a point, I try at least to be amusing.

It’s Hard Being A Woman

When panty liners curl
and stick to your hairs,
it frickin’ hurts.

This is my favourite poem in the book, and is most representative of my personality and my style: I have no filter, I tend to blurt things out without thinking, but I make you laugh (sometimes against your will). This poem always gets a laugh, though it’s usually shocked laughter.

I’m not great at metaphor and going around the houses to say what I want to say, which is a problem for me, as that is kind of the point of poetry. I remember writing a poem as a teenager, lamenting that poems don’t say what they mean or mean what they say: the meaning/intention of my poems are almost always obvious to readers. A poet for whom I have huge respect once told me that my poems don’t make the reader do any work. She was right; and I’m okay with that. I write for myself but my poems often have an audience, and that audience is most often made up of people with no interest in poetry; if they have to work for it, they don’t enjoy it. If they don’t enjoy themselves, neither do I.

You are part of the excellent Write Out Loud poetry collective. Tell us more.

I attend Stockport WOL at Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery. WOL is the largest poetry organisation in Britain and has a fantastic gig guide and poet collective on its website. WOL encourages everyone to have a go at sharing their poetry in a safe space.

Stockport is a little unusual in the WOL family in that, though we are classed as an open mic night i.e. anyone can have a go, we don’t have an actual mic, and there’s no stage and no audience; rather, we sit in a circle in the upper gallery. It’s intimate and safe and we welcome newcomers.

We are heavily involved in the Stockport arts scene, collaborating regularly with other groups. Last year alone, we wrote and performed ekphrastic poems inspired by your own Mark Sheeky; we participated in a commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I, and published an anthology of specially written poems; we supported Marple Book Week by attending their open mic nights as a group. We also support the art gallery each year for World Poetry Day, providing readings and workshops; and right now there is an exhibition of work in the gallery from a collaboration with Stockport Art Guild.

It’s fair to say that Hormoanal wouldn’t have been published without WOL. Matthew James Publishing organises Marple Book Week and they invited Stockport WOL to their first open mic night at the Samuel Oldknow pub. Terrified at the idea of attending a ‘real’ open mic night, but encouraged by the group to give it a go, I did, and I had a blast. One of the publishers approached me afterwards and asked me to send them some of my work; the rest, as they say, is history. I would encourage all poets to attend open mic nights because you just never know who’s listening…and start with us! We’re a friendly group.

Where did you study Creative Writing? Have you any advice for budding poets?

I’ve been writing poetry since primary school but only began to take it seriously when I took a creative writing course as part of my Literature degree with the Open University. Eager to hone my skills, I attended several creative writing courses at local colleges, plus any free writing workshops I could find. One of those – coincidentally, held at the art gallery – led to the creation of Stockport Writers, which we run as a workshop at the Hatworks once a month. Free to attend, we particularly welcome new writers. Finally, thanks to the recent availability of student loans for second degrees, I have just graduated from MMU with a Masters in Creative Writing.

I learned a lot from all of this, of course, but the real learning for me came from writing, reading, and editing. Sitting at my desk each day and writing something – not necessarily a poem; reading poets I like and, more importantly, dislike (I have so many poems inspired by my hatred of Larkin, there’s probably a second collection all ready to go); leaving poems for a while and then coming back to them with a critical eye: these habits taught me to think critically, helped improve my work. As with any skill, practice is how we improve. My advice (I have lots of it) would be to read and write as much as you can; to keep an eye out for free writing workshops; to look online for free writing courses – many universities around the world offer them online (known as MOOCs; simply Google ‘creative writing moocs’) and the Open University has some excellent ones available via OpenLearn.

The best resource for newer writers, however, is to find some like-minded people and set up a critiquing group. I learned a lot by submitting my work for critique; but I learned even more by critiquing the work of others because I had to justify my comments i.e. think critically, and so often I would suggest to another poet the reason why their poem didn’t quite work, and realise that, actually, I made the same mistakes in my own poems.

As you grow in your craft, be an encourager, a mentor, for those who come after you: watching other writers blossom has been a great joy to me, and I often learn from them in unexpected ways.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, there are times when the words won’t come, so do something else. I think of non-writing times as my brain lying fallow, like in crop rotation; eventually, the words will come again. They always come again. Fretting about it is counterproductive.

Finally, do it because you love it, because you have to. It’s difficult enough to create something from nothing; if it’s a chore, why are you bothering? Go do something you actually enjoy instead.

Who inspires you?

People are going to laugh at my inspiration, but I swear this is true: The Two Ronnies. Listening to Ronnie Corbett’s shaggy dog stories inspired my blog writing style; and Ronnie Barker’s clever wordplay is something I try to emulate in my poems.

My favourite poet is Roger McGough; he’s funny, clever, topical. I read his work as a teenager and realised that poetry didn’t have to rhyme or be serious to make a point or to be enjoyed. I also love Wilfred Owen, but his influence is more about didacticism than style.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Elizabeth Bishop at the moment. I discovered her on the MA and I spend a lot of time listening to her recite her work in You Tube videos. ‘One Art’ has displaced Owen’s ‘Disabled’ as my all-time favourite poem. I’m also re-reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Her didacticism is wrapped in a deceptively casual style and I absolutely love it. Andrew McMillan’s Physical is another fabulous read. He writes about a world of which I know nothing and makes it accessible; he is blunt, and that appeals to me.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

What’s next for me? Time off. I’ve been so busy for the last two years, completing the MA, preparing Hormoanal, working with various community groups (I deliver poetry readings and writing workshops around the borough), that when I had a recent health scare, I was glad of the enforced rest!

I have two complete collections that I want to shop around; they are very different from Hormoanal, though each is themed and both have humorous moments. I also want to improve my submission rate – women are notoriously bad at submitting their work; Hormoanal would never have happened if it had been down to me. I would also like to get back to sitting at my desk each morning as I haven’t written seriously since my poetry dissertation. But I’m not worried; it’s just a fallow period 🙂

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