“Was your day OK?” It’s just you look away and I don’t bee line to your honey smooth forehead. I don’t see your worries – those collected in blemishes or bags or even uneven sags that I don’t see. You are not Exhibit A or B or even C to be looked at like a commodity. You are more, my eternal amour. You are my best sounding-board friend and the perfect true love; my lover in dreams and in each creamy rich chocolate waking hour and day. The only one with that timeless girl’s heart – like the laughter of bicycle rides – and that sunrise smile as you nurture other smiles around you. You wear it loosely, care-free as you ‘pay it forward’ or tightly tied back on those few fraught long days. Your happiest actions outshine all that is outward as they come from somewhere softly ageless and inside. So, let me now ask you, please. You are important to me, “Are you alright?” “Was your day OK?”
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020, he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.
residents oldish some younger than me most yoked to challenges – me blessedly free for now at least
I fretted to select poems didn’t want to swamp lovely folk with hard words dense works I couldn’t make them sad lost in miscomprehension
I did my normal thing – I’ll read unless I have a volunteer expecting no-one then
your quiet cracked voice said I will your wife stared at you soft through dementia’s mist alerted by your gentle confidence
and you read Frost’s A Time to Talk with your whole deep-timbred heart claimed its meaning read friendship’s rhythm in rich-seamed Geordie tones
Ceinwen lives near Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing [Newcastle 2017]. She believes everyone’s voice counts.
Robert Demaree: At a workshop in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, in August 2017, Marilyn Nelson introduced us to poets we were not likely to know—poets from the Middle East, Native America, Gary, Indiana, poems that spoke of addiction, alienation, anger. Then she explained to us the “golden shovel” prompt or exercise, created by National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. We were to write a poem in which the lines should end, consecutively, with words from a line by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer in poetry and serve as Poet Laureate for the U.S. We were offered a choice of three lines by Brooks, and I selected “I shall create! If not a note, a hole” (from “Boy Breaking Glass”). I was able to follow the directions for one of the two stanzas below.
The participants all look alike this morning, and I Think of the syringes, which we shall Not know, even if we create Poems of pain and exclusion, even if We were to experience, as we have not, The chilling look and touch of a Security guard, his voice a strident note Of smug assumption, a Clue to the we-ness of this American hole.
Then I remember being pulled out of the line Returning from Canada, Luggage searched at random, they said, But we suspect for prescription drugs, Targeted for our years, A group not mentioned In this morning’s verse.
Looking back sixty years It seems so like them That my parents chose a place Called the Chateau Overlook, A modest auberge appropriate To a schoolmaster’s means And outlook on life. I remember the tour at The Plains of Abraham, and a man Lobbing a half-dollar U.S. over the Heads of the crowd, a tip for the guide. It fell in the mud at his feet; He paused for a moment, Then picked it up.
I went by myself to the Place d’Armes. Returning, I asked the concierge In my false, wooden French, “Où est ma mère?” “Oopstairs” was his reply.
Last summer our daughter and her son Drove to Québec. The Chateau Overlook is gone. Philip stepped into the lobby of The Chateau Frontenac, Something I had not done, And rode to the top floor Where he took a picture of The Plains of Abraham.
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 festivals. What’s not to like? Books, events, workshops, performances. The chance to meet other writers, share ideas and get inspired. For me, one of the best things about poetry festivals is the sense of community, and the first time I went to Verve Festival I was instantly hooked. Verve is back next month and I managed to catch up with festival organiser Stuart Bartholomew to ask him all about it.
How did Verve start? How long have you been involved?
I am a founder member of Verve with my original co-director, Cynthia Miller. I secretly think Cynthia always intended to persuade me that a Birmingham City Centre full-spectrum poetry festival was necessary, but she insists she didn’t. I was running Waterstones in Birmingham and we wanted to do more with events, but until The Emma Press brought a group of poets to the store for a small event for Valentines in 2016 – headlined by Liz Berry – I had no idea how amazing live poetry could be. It really set me off, and with Cynthia encouraging all the way, I’d programmed a full four day festival for the store by the end of that summer and secured arts council funding to help make sure we broke even. I think the things we were trying to fix were – Birmingham Literature Festival not programming enough poetry (to our tastes anyway), our favourite poets never coming to Birmingham, our favourite Birmingham poets never being picked up by poetry publishers, many poetry events seeming exclusive particularly if you are from a minority or too young, and the separation that exists between excellent performance poetry and amazing page poetry in terms of the scenes and poetry consumption. It felt like Verve could help us to address ALL these things.
How would you describe Verve to someone who has never been before?
It is a city centre full-spectrum poetry festival which celebrates poetry in all its forms and welcomes poetry fans of all ages and levels of experience to join our annual poetry party.
Verve is a festival packed full of workshops, poetry and spoken word performances. How do you begin to organise an event like this?
I have a lot of help. Birmingham poetry people love having the festival and always lend a hand. In terms of the programming, I find it incredibly easy. The idea is that events will run end to end on Thursday & Friday evenings and then all day on Saturday and Sunday, so that no-one needs to miss anything, unless they are in one of our six workshops a day. I keep a running list of all the poets I need to bring (which relates quite closely to poets I need to see myself), and another list of poets I’d like to come back or get more involved, and there are always more poets on both lists than I can possible fit into a single weekend. I am committed to the four day structure of the event – I think when festivals drag on over more than one weekend, it becomes difficult for people to do the whole thing. I like the idea of our audience drowning in poetry for a few days – staying as long as possible, and heading home fully sated, feeling like they’ve done it properly. Others of course can dip in and out, but there are a sizable chunk of people who do the whole thing.
seems that the festival grows in popularity and strength every year.
What can we look forward to seeing this year? (I’m looking forward
to the lecture with Yomi Sode).
I think you’re right. Our audience has grown by 33% each year for the first three years, and I think it gets stronger because we learn lessons each year about what works best. So for instance, the venue change this year is going to be a big plus, both in terms of visibility but also solving the accessibility problems we had last year, particularly for workshops. And we have moved our competition event (which is always my favourite event) from the Saturday morning to the Sunday to pump a little more energy into that day (the commended poets who come and read at that event get a free day pass to the rest of that day – it will be lovely to see what they think of it all.)
I think you’re right to be looking forward to Yomi’s lecture. That’s a really great regular addition to the programme that we came up with in conjunction with Poetry School. I really struggle to come up with highlights, because as programmer I tend to love everything, but if I were to pick a single event, it would be the Saturday Early Evening Headline Event featuring Jay Bernard, Mary Jean Chan and Caroline Bird, and hosted by Jo Bell. But really, there will be Birdspeed, Rachael Allen, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Salena Godden, Jaspreet Kaur, Fathima Zahra, Heather Phillipson, Mimi Khalvati, Deryn Rees-Jones, Jonathan Edwards and many many more amazing poets at Verve. Whatever time you’ll come, you’re sure to see something amazing.
The festival has its own competition, this year the theme was diversity and was judged by Andrew McMillian. Have you been pleased with the response?
I love the competition, mainly because I love the competition winners’ event. It allows the three winners, twenty one commended poets and three-four commissioned local poets, the opportunity to read at and attend Verve and not only meet but be hosted and introduced by the judge. Andrew had been a pleasure to work with and it is always fun and interesting to see what the judge picks and why. The competition is completely anonymous at point of judging, so it’s fun to to let the judge know who they’ve picked. One of the remits of Verve is to involve emerging or even brand new poets and this event, along with the workshops and open mics is that main way that we can do this.
seen some fantastic poets perform at Verve and The Verve Specials. Do
you have a favourite Verve performance from the last couple of years?
(I have particularly enjoyed performances from Romalyn Ante, Salena
Godden and Kaveh Akbar.)
Yes, I loved all three of these, although the one that sticks out in my mind was the Special that featured Lindsay Hera Bird. We teamed her up with two amazing local poets – Jenna Clake (who is bringing a collection out with Bloodaxe in 2021) and Hannah Swingler, and it was such an incredible night and such a thrill to hear her read and talk. At the actual festival, I loved hearing Sumita Chakraborty read her long poem ‘Dear, beloved’ in it’s entirety at last year’s event. It was a half an hour long read, and it was breath-taking, and other poets such as Vahni Capildeo and Jane Commane were sitting in the audience watching and just lapping it up!
would you like to see the festival develop in the future?
really happy with the adult element of the festival, although I’d
like it to continue to develop and evolve – I have this idea of
having a living magazine element at the festival in which an event
contains a talk, reviews as well as readings with multiple poets, but
I’ve not quite found the way to make it happen. An easier fix will
be to relaunch a kids element to Verve. We tried having a kids
festival run alongside the adult one during the first two years and
it was wonderful but really hard to make broad enough for different
age-ranges. We’ll be looking at kick starting that side of things
up again in 2021.
you have a wish list of poets you would like to see at Verve?
Of course. It’s vast. I’m desperate to get Malika Booker along – also AK Blakemore and Emily Berry. And I’d like to do something with Flipped Eye.
you have time to enjoy the festival?
I always enjoy the festival – it makes me so happy to see so many people enjoying poetry and to meet so many amazing practitioners. I get to sit in and see a lot of it as we have such a great team. Apart from the workshops – I’ve no idea what goes on in there.
A lot of our readers are new writers. Do you have any advice for inspiring poets?
I do. Read lots of poetry. Lots of different kinds of poetry. Form sharing poetry communities, whether that’s small groups learning together or regular open mic nights. I think a lot of poetry is made in isolation, but I think the sharing part of poetry is the most powerful element of it. There are so many possibilities that are impossible to discover on your own.
can people get tickets and keep up to date with what’s going on?
Yes, tickets are up on the Birmingham Hippodrome website
We have our own website at but the best way of keeping in touch day to day is on Twitter
In the run up to the festival, we never shut up on Twitter! 😊
the terrors of the night the worst imaginings of what might happen
war, rumours of war end of civilization nuclear war and other horrors ripped from the headlines
fade away into nothingness with the morning light and the love of my wife who is always by my side I regain my sight
and begin regaining my smile and my life
until the next nightmares consumes my dark imaginings
Dora the Intergalactic Explorer
Dora the intergalactic explorer Is travelling to the strangest planet of all the known worlds
she is traveling incognito with a video crew making a documentary
the planet earth is known as a planet of intelligent monkeys
not much is known about them as very few have ever been there
the inhabitants are described as blood thirsty insane creatures ruled by hidden sexual and political passions following incomprehensible religious dogmas following Gods that clearly do not exist
the inhabitants are just on the verge of developing intergalactic travel and the galactic empire is worried that they will be driven to try to conquer the rest of the universe
driven by their needs to impose their religious dogma everywhere in the world
the planet is divided into large tribal groups governed by corrupt elites corrupt businesses destroying the planet in pursuit of profit
and the locals are little more than wage slaves barely making a living addicted to alcohol, drugs gambling pornography and illicit sex
and their main land is ruled by a clearly delusional madman intent on poking a fight with all his alleged enemies
Dora assumed the appearance of a character from TV and will pose as a journalist trying to make sense of it all
but she was afraid that she if found out could face the worst consequence
her ship crash lands and she is outside the capital
of the non empire empire called the United State of America
Dora gets her crew together and walks into the city staring at all the strange sights as the monkeys go about their daily activities
she stops at a restaurant tries the coffee the chief drug of choice
and is instantly addicted wow no wonder these people are crazed
she tries the local booze and smiles perhaps she could become an intergalactic merchant introducing the world to the galaxy
her thought are interrupted as a mad man armed with weapons of war bursts in and starts shooting yelling at people
and she is shot dead the authorities are shocked
when they recover the body and realize that she is not a human as she reverts other original form
sort of a giant feline like creature two legs and arms and clearly from an advanced civilization given her gear
what was she doing no one knew as all the aliens died in the gun blaze
the world is shocked at what had happened and fearful that the aliens were coming to invade their world
the galactic senate decides to contain the humans declaring them a threat to the global civilization
and the humans vow to discover the secrets of interstellar travel and travel to her land
to enter into business arrangements and spread the one truth faith to the heathen space aliens
thus ended Dora’s excellent adventure in the crazed world at the edge of known civilization
Mocking Faces Staring at Me
Mocking faces hunting my dreams Hundreds of faces morphing into one after another
Faces I knew The dead and the living
women I knew friends I missed enemies I did not
One after another Marching in my room Staring at me
I tried to run They laughed
They said that there’s nowhere to escape my cosmic fate
My time is coming prepare yourself the grim reaper has your name
and once he has your name your fate is sealed and you will soon join us
whether in heaven or hell is not for us to say
be warned though you will be judged and no one can escape their cosmic karmic fate
a wild man sits in a gilded cage
a wild man sits in a gilded cage a cage made out of chains of his wife’s love
a cage made out of chains of his wife’s love the wild man yearning to be free from his cage
the wild man yearning to be free from his cage wondering how and why he was now tamed
wondering how and why he was now tamed dreaming dark wild dreams of demented freedom
dreaming dark wild dreams of demented freedom the wild man looks about his prison cage
the wild man looks about his prison cage wondering whether he will ever be free
wondering whether he will ever be free a wild man sits in a gilded cage
2019 The Last Year of America’s Greatness
2019 was the last year of America when the proverbial chickens came home
when the proverbial chickens came home to strut about the decaying landscape
to strut about the decaying landscape as the world begins to burn and die
as the world begins to burn and die led by the mad great leader and his merry men
led by the mad great leader and his merry men the whole world lay in shock and awe
the whole world lay in shock and awe at the destruction of the America they knew
at the destruction of the America they knew when the proverbial chickens came home
John (“Jake”) Cosmos Aller is a novelist, poet, and former Foreign Service officer having served 27 years with the U.S. State Department serving in over ten countries including Korea, Thailand, India, Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Spain. He has travelled to over 50 countries, and 49 out of 50 states. He speaks Korean, Thai, Spanish and studied Chinese, Hindi and Arabic.
What sort of plumage is my exuberant words, words whose foliage no Autumns could scourge, whose leaves still flutter in speech and verse with eloquence?
With what sort of rhythm the word bells resonates, a word that chimes with vespers and faith, with Edgar Allan Poe’s metallic tales, with Sir Betjeman’s Archibald and Hampstead plains, with St. Mungo’s grace!
What sort of thrills are embedded in wings, an ode to agility in fowls and fins, a vision of freedom in inward things and flights within!
What clusters of stars reside in smiles, a word whose luster with galaxies vies, a beam to de-shroud the downcast brows, to rob them of frowns!
He drove me to work slowly in his own senile style, a couple of black dice instantly caught my eye, dangling from the rearview mirror, a taxi-driver’s charm, with threes engraved in gleaming white and numbers one and four on half-hidden sides.
I am used to seeing beads, fresheners, and ornaments that some believe can distract the evil eye but dice was a novelty that enflamed my mind.
What if these numbers are an encrypted message from the sky! What if nothing is random in our complicated lives! I pondered over their significance like a bewildered child, then added the numbers up to figure some meaning out. Eleven, the outcome, is double one, the number I adored as a child, but the appearance of its twin at that stage in my life multiplied interpretations of what it could signify: the twin pillars of Solomon’s Temple, or a roofless gate to the other world! Perhaps parallel lives, but if so, what parallels mine!
Charlotte Mew, a Nemophilist
Who but Mew heard the grasses bashfully mate, the cry of an angel admonishing the butchery of trees, the agony of London’s ubiquitous planes in every massacre enjoined by the modern age, a sacrilege.
She evoked the spirits that dwelt in wood, the oak-housed elves, the consecrated yews, the venerable beeches, the beloved sycamores, a sentient, sacred world.
She dreaded the three-headed monster that inhabited Europe, machinery, democracy, and science with their torture tools, the axe, the rope, the amputating saw, that manufacture unhallowed roods.
The Essenes once settled on the Mount of Sion, the sacred site the Templars were bound to woo, over which many races their disputes would brew, now a blood-stained metaphor for modern wars.
Edessa, the Syrian gem in the north, upon whose throne a Nazarene monarch had ruled, a Fisher King in the most purple of robes, had lost its hallowed crown of thorns.
The Nile whose ripples had Moses borne, in whose mirror Nefertiti and Cleopatra viewed the resurrection of Osiris from a sunken tomb, is now a battleground for water feuds.
And Notre Dame de-Paris, the grail of stone, who frowned upon Jacques de Molay’s doom, the immolation of a knight whose Order had bloomed, now stands disfigured and badly scorched.
Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde with a Ph.D. on the work of D.H. Lawrence. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in multiple venues including Adelaide Literary Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, A New Ulster, Crossways, The Curlew, The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ink Pantry, Mad Swirl, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, and Down in the Dirt.
Hello Linda. Firstly, thank you so
much for finding time for this interview with Ink Pantry. It’s
always a joy for us to learn from established authors. I’d like to
start by taking you back in time. What were your first literary
inspirations/heroes? How active were you as a writer at school and
during your adolescent years?
I was pony-mad at primary school so my
favourite books were Jill’s Gymkhana and Black Beauty
but I do remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
and being utterly engrossed by Narnia and the world C.S. Lewis had
created. I wrote my first novella aged 9 but I think I was a bit
ahead of my time with a pony-based time-travel thriller! I had some
wonderful teachers who encouraged my writing. When I left primary
school, one of them wrote that she looked forward to reading my first
published book and she wrote to congratulate me twenty five years
later when it happened!
Recently, I was honoured to read
your excellent novel, The Last Thing She Told Me. Can you
share some insights into the initial inspiration for this book and
some of the research that you undertook to give you further insights
into the characters?
The idea actually came from something
my 92-year-old grandmother said just before she died. She told us to
look somewhere after her death, and when we did so, we found
something which suggested she had suffered a secret loss and had
tried to mark it. We will never know what her secret was, but it got
me thinking about women of her generation and the secrets many of
them took to their grave because of the shame they had been made to
feel. When I researched the subject, I came across many heartbreaking
cases of secrets and losses which had come to light only after
elderly female relatives had died. I knew I wanted to write about
several generations of women in the same family and I also realised
that women of different generations had also been shamed, though
often for different things. All of this came together in the plot of
The Last Thing She Told Me.
Many of our readers are aspiring
writers, poets and novelists. What advice would you give to anyone
who seeks a similar career path in writing, or indeed to anyone who
simply aims to write because they enjoy the process?
The key thing is to learn your craft and continue to hone it. I’ve just finished my tenth novel and I like to think I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started, and I like to think I’ll be a better writer still after my 20th novel! There’s lots of advice on the writing process and how to get a novel published on my website under the ‘about getting published’ tab. Improving your writing needn’t be expensive, there are lots of good books on how to write available from the library. If you want to get a book deal, be prepared for rejection and persevere – I had 102 rejections from agents before I was taken on. And if being published isn’t important to you, then please just enjoy your writing!
Linda, in terms of your
organisation, are there set aspects for your literary work? Do you
always write in the same location? Do you use music as a background
tool, or silence? When you are developing a new book, do the
characters tend to come first, or the general plot line to the story?
Ideas for my stories often come from
real life events and issues I feel passionate about. It’s about
finding a premise that keeps me awake at night and will hopefully
keep readers awake too! I’m very much a plotter and a planner, so
do lengthy characterisations and write chapter plans and do all my
research before I’m ready to start writing. When I do so, I mainly
write at home (in a spare back bedroom which is now my writing room)
and generally in silence. But I also write in libraries, cafes and on
trains, anywhere where I can find the time.
Whilst on the topic of inspiration,
has this always been a strong aspect of your writing, since
childhood? I’m sure many people will be interested in how much you
perhaps found ways to ‘push’ yourself – to have ultimate
faith/confidence in what you were writing and to believe
wholeheartedly in your literary journey. How difficult was it for you
to maintain this journey, despite possible rejection(s) from
I’ve always had a very active
imagination and used to write lengthy and rather crazy stories as a
child. I’d wanted to be an author since I was nine, but had a ten
year career in regional newspaper journalism before I went freelance
to try to write my own novel. It took seven years and 102 rejections
before I finally got a book deal. It was hugely difficult to keep
going at times but I did so because I wasn’t prepared to give up on
my lifetime’s ambition and I did believe I had the ability to
achieve it. But you must always be looking to improve your writing
too, which can be a difficult balancing act!
In terms of contemporary writers,
who are you drawn to and why? Do you tend to stick to strict reading
genres, or are you more interested in the writing style of the
I read quite widely and in different
genres, as long as a book has heart and soul, and well-written
characters, I’m there. Margaret Atwood is my favourite author and I
loved The Testaments. I’m also a big fan of Rachel Joyce
(The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) and am looking forward
to her new novel. I’ve also enjoyed Leonard and Hungry Paul
by Ronan Hession and Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls recently.
They all write stories where the characters are intensely real and
their novels are so well-written.
Thank you so much for sharing your
valuable insights with our readers, Linda. Finally, what does the
future hold in terms of new works? Will you stick with novels, or are
there perhaps new creative ‘doors’ that you wish to explore?
I love writing novels and would also like to write a children’s novel at some point soon. And I’d love to write a play, so they are both on my to-do list for the future!
On Krampusnacht, bad children quake as anti-Santa stalks the streets, cloven-hooved, with a chain to shake. On Krampusnacht, bad children quake and rue each sin and sad mistake, receiving swats instead of sweets. On Krampusnacht, bad children quake as anti-Santa stalks the streets.
Our judge Claire Faulkner writes: A strong example of writing to a theme within a set form. One of the shorter entries, but a still story full of imagery.
Tracy Davidson lives in Warwickshire, England, and writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications and anthologies, including: Poet’s Market, Mslexia, Atlas Poetica, Writing Magazine, Modern Haiku, The Binnacle, A Hundred Gourds, Shooter, Artificium, Journey to Crone, The Garden, The Great Gatsby Anthology, WAR and In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights.
Our tale takes place on December the Fifth, On a suitably freezing cold night, With a creature you’ve heard of, from olden day myth, Eyes aglow with malevolent light.
The snow is disturbed by his cloven footsteps, His grey beard, all matted and long, Swishes as he stalks past the darkened doorsteps, To the houses of those who’ve done wrong.
A red hooded cloak covers up his horned head, Fur trimmed, just like old Saint Nick’s, His first victim, cowering under her bed, Gets a swipe with his great birchwood stick.
The next, vainly dreaming of presents and sweets, Hears the deafening clanking of chains, Downstairs, not Saint Nick, but Krampus he meets, And the blood freezes inside his veins.
The third, hoping for a bit of good luck, Squares his shoulders, prepares to attack, But Krampus’s claw swiftly snatches him up, And then bundles him into his sack.
Just like this it continues, and when dawn draws near, He retreats, a full bag on his back, Hurls the wicked children down to Hell for a year, Then enjoys an ice cold glass of Schnapps
Judge Claire Faulkner writes: I enjoyed the style and structure of this poem. I feel that it tells us everything we need to know about Krampus using fantastic storytelling and imagery.
Amy Cresswell lives in Yorkshire, England, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She writes short stories and poetry for fun, and is currently writing a novel. In her spare time, she’s usually playing videogames, baking really sweet stuff, or throwing toys for her cat.