Monday, December 31, 2012

...the winner of the ryedale poetry competition 2012 is...


I’ll want my navy frock that sweeps the knee,

vermilion lipstick, brogues; today, you wait

in dishwater civvies, whistle, scuff gravel

at a corner baked with salt and rubble

where, underfoot, streets are thin gravy:

blood, energy, khaki have streaked into the sea.

When I read your telegram, I remembered

how caramel bubbles, then hardens.

Bittersoft edges burn my fingers.

Now I plunge through daylight’s

sifted sugars, towards you: rinse out

the unwound clock, cobwebs,

simmering next-door-neighbours,

chicken bones that boil too soon.

Read the other prizewinning poems and the winning short story here:

And on the York Press website:

This is what the judge, Andy Humphrey, had to say about my poem in his Judge's Report:
'Homecoming, the First Prize winner in the Adults’ competition, is a particularly clever poem because it never actually tells the reader what it is really about. It relies entirely on imagery to tell the story behind the poem. The poet paints a domestic scene: cobwebs, caramel, a lady putting on lipstick. An unwound clock, thin gravy and chicken bones suggest a time of austerity, perhaps wartime; references to telegrams, blood, khaki and “civvies” lead the reader to the realisation that the lady in the poem is waiting for her husband or lover to come back from military service. Every image in the poem hints at the emotions that the narrator is keeping bottled up; but at the end, the reader is left guessing, just like the narrator is.'

I am delighted to have won a poetry competition, and especially one that is linked to a festival that is so involved with local writers and the local community.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

open college of the arts in cambridge: poets on the radio

At Darwin College, Cambridge, last month, I co-tutored a poetry workshop for Open College of the Arts students with tutor John Drew, who will be a featured poet on this blog in the New Year.

We were recorded and interviewed by Cambridge radio presenter Simon Bertin, who also took part in the workshop.  His lively Cambridge arts show, Arts Round-Up, is a must-listen for anyone interested in the arts scene in Cambridge.

The December show, which is here, features snapshots of the OCA day, an interview with me about what the Open College of the Arts offers, student Catherine Foster, John Drew and I reading out poems, and part of a famous Chinese poem read out in Chinese by PhD student Yang Guohua. Many thanks to Guohua and Simon for taking such an interest in the day.

My blogpost about the day is on the Open College of the Arts blog.

One of the best things about 2012 for me has been that I have had opportunities to work with other tutors for both the OU and the OCA, to tutor distance learning students face to face for short, intense periods of time, and to collaborate with other interested parties.

We were asked to translate the famous Chinese poem 'Leaving Cambridge 1927' by Xu Zhimo. This is my version of part of the poem, which I read out for Simon's radio show: full year, one boat, one bright star.
Speckles of starlight sing themselves free.
But I'm unable to sing my own star free.
Quietly I steal away from reed pipe, flute,
summer insects. Now I sink into silence,
as this Cambridge evening sinks
into silence. This is how I leave,
quietly, just as I arrived, quietly.
I wave one sleeve, wave another,
walk away, don't leave myself
one slice of cloud.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

poetry snapshots revisited: david cooke


Lost in growth – and like an abandoned

burial mound you’d never notice,

but for the sign that names it,

taking your eye toward the planks

of a door into the earth.

For years it housed its glistening hoard

before technology passed it by,

making miracles ordinary.

Paid a pittance, until redundant,

servants stoked a glassy furnace.

Imagine stepping from endless

summer into that compact

lifeless core; and the way you’d

stoop to gain some purchase

with your pick and spade,

leaning in to the harvest

of its sullen, grainy crystal –

its dead leaves, dead seeds and insects –

savouring, too, its squelch and give,

its rasping slither into pails.

Lugged across that sweep of lawns

and past the lightsome gestures

of their pagan sculpture,

it is left down with a breathless

grunt onto the pantry floor.

In a room where all is brightness

they are laying out fresh linen;

will adjust to the nth degree

of seemliness a table fit for the quality –

the talented mistress of their king.


The closest my dad ever got to poetry

was when he savoured some word

like pugilist, or the tip-toe springiness

he sensed in bob and weave,

his unalloyed delight at the flytings

and eyeball to eyeball hype

that went with big fight weigh-ins.

I, too, might have been

a contender when I did my stint

in the ring, my dad convinced

I had style and the stamp of a winner.

But in the end I just got bored.

You had to have a killer’s instinct

to do much better than a draw.

In the gym the lights are low.

It’s after hours. I’m on my own.

The boards are rank with sweat

and stale endeavour. Shadow boxing

like the best of them. I will show

him feints, a classic stance,

trying always to keep up my guard.

'Shadow Boxing' appears in David's latest collection, Work Horses.

David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984. His poems and reviews have appeared in many journals such as Agenda, Ambit, The Bow Wow Shop, Critical Quarterly, The Frogmore Papers, The Irish Press, London Grip, The London Magazine, New Walk, The North, Orbis, Other Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2001 by Night Publishing and a further collection, Work Horses was published by Ward Wood Publishing in 2012.

Monday, December 03, 2012

december special feature: tim ellis and robbie burns

Delighted to have as our December special feature the work of creative team Tim Ellis (poet) and Robbie Burns (artist with a poetic name).

                                 Cruz del Condor. A viewpoint on the Colca Canyon near Arequipa, Peru.

El condor no pasa

Dawn was a slobber drooled from fangs of giants.

We willed the canyon clogging mist to shift.

The Colca River roiled beneath the silence,

muffed in cloud. Snow-caps snarled. We got shoved

about by tour groups, guffawing and looking miffed

to see no condors. Us, we found some plusses,

hummingbirds, sierra finch, Andean swift,

but naturally the guides were worse than useless.

They shrugged and steered their clients back towards the buses.

The trippers file to their seats, muttering as if

they’d booked the birds to soar about this haunt.

The coaches throttle up and grumble off.

A crowd of hawkers wait the bus we want.

The veil of mist dispels. Three condors flaunt

their power of flight, wattles wobbling. They tease,

I swear to God, they spread themselves to taunt

the coaches as they distance down to toys,

primaries splayed like stiff fingers flicking Vs.

From Tim's book 'Gringo on the Chickenbus', published by Stairwell Books, and available online at Tim's website.

        By day he is a self-employed gardener who tends the luxuriant privet hedges of Harrogate, but Tim Ellis is also a well-known face on the Yorkshire performance poetry circuit. Last year was a good one for Tim: in a single week he scooped both the first prize in the Huddersfield Literature Festival “Grist” Competition, and was crowned York Poetry Slam Champion 2011. Not long after, he was briefly featured on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, reading his favourite slam poem, “Around the World in 3 Minutes”. His second collection, “Gringo on the Chickenbus”, published by Stairwell Books, was listed as one of the 20 best small press poetry collections of 2011 by Purple Patch magazine.    

Robbie Burns grew up in rural Essex. She gained a 1st class Degree in Illustration at Camberwell School of Art, and worked as a freelance illustrator with work appearing in the Radio Times, the Spectator and the Observer magazine. Since meeting Tim in 1991 she has lived in Harrogate and travelled widely. She currently has two pictures on display at the Open Exhibition in Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery.

Friday, November 09, 2012

shortlisted for the 2012 bridport prize

My poem, Priceless, has been shortlisted for the 2012 Bridport Prize.


I used to cross-stitch with Roger Moore.

He’d pull up an embroidered chair,

avoid the gold chick, long-stitched,

upper right-hand side. Instead

he’d perch, all dress shirt and tux,

at the edge, with a wooden frame,

thread magenta, cinnamon, aqua.

I taught him blackwork, Algerian eye.

We’d speak of ex-wives, agents, teas;

Priceless, he’d mutter, skipping a stitch,

then start humming: always Shirley.

His favourite designs? Flowers,

back-filled English summers;

young Roger, one of the chaps,

chaining daisies on the sly.

This is the second time that my name has appeared on the Bridport Prize 'long shortlist'; the first time was in 2009, with Coffee with an Ex.

This photo was taken by Chris, from a boat near Tobermory, in 2007.

Friday, October 26, 2012

poetry snapshots: carolyn o'connell


Memories are laid like islands populating

the river of the brain they stand proud

of the water, sometimes wooded by

trees of time where events become

leaf-cased, people twisted to wildfowl

others have been inhabited, and houses

rise to be accessed in dreams

or when silence causes the mind to

stop cavorting in the present.

Those born by rivers are Neptune’s children

at home as Glaucus in its element.

Born by the Thames memories of water are

conjured reflections: pulling the sails of a dingy

against the wind the boat flying,

diving into dark water no thought of what lies

beneath or the currents flow;

even the twisting of a bike becomes

an eddy in the stream of thought.

Only when Lethe’s waters surge punching

holes through the mind’s banks to flood

its islands do memories fade.

Carolyn O'Connell lives in Richmond on Thames. Her poems have appeared in various magazines including Envoi, Partners, Interpreter’s House, Poetry Showcase, and the anthology Genius Floored. Find more about Carolyn on the poetry pf site, and the Second Light Live site. She is a member of the Ormonde Poetry Group, and attends the poetry events Bright Scarf in Richmond and Rhythm and Muse in Kingston.

Monday, October 22, 2012

poetry snapshots: alison hill

Bingo Wings

A tight smile held it all in –

skimpy top rising over

puckered midriff, flesh

laid uncomfortably bare.

She must concentrate

on the dancing numbers,

eyes down, head bowed,

smile again if necessary.

Candle flicker emotions

played across her face.

If only this night could

be hers to remember,

to pull out and savour

as winter stripped the trees.

Yet she felt that familiar itch,

sensed her spreading arms

rise of their own accord,

take charge of her life.

She must give in –

let bingo wings carry her

through the open window

towards the dazzling light.

Peppercorn Rent, Flarestack, 2008

Alison Hill runs Rhythm and Muse, a monthly poetry and music night at the Ram Jam Club in Kingston on Thames. Her work has appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies and her pamphlet, Peppercorn Rent, was published by Flarestack in 2008. She has just completed a full collection, Slate Rising. Alison was Kingston Libraries' first Poet in Residence (2011-2012)

Friday, October 12, 2012

fiction snapshots: elizabeth kay

At my delayed reactions this week we are very lucky to feature an extract from Elizabeth's new Kindle e-book, Beware of Men with Moustaches:

“I forget to say,” said Ivanka, turning round in her seat as the driver took both hands off the steering wheel to light a cigarette. “Your poetry group is very welcome to Karetsefia. Our versifiers keenly anticipate your readings.”

“We’re honoured to have been invited,” replied Steve expansively, “and we hope to take something of your country back with us.”

“Not icons,” said Ivanka. “You cannot take back icons.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I meant the spirit of the place.”

“Yes, vodka you take.”

They drove for a long time, past woods and fields and immense graveyards, full of garish plastic flowers. Once, an enormous bird rose from the roadside verge.

“Good grief,” said Steve. “Golden eagle.”

“I forget to say,” said Ivanka. “Because you go back different way, you must buy return ticket in person, as soon as possible.”

Ferris raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because,” said Ivanka, “that is the way it is.”

As they approached the city, Julie noticed that both the buildings and the potholes were getting larger. Impossibly long roads stretched before them, with blocks of flats joined together like the Great Wall of China; no break between them, every door and every window exactly the same. And then they were into the city proper, with its older tenements and its extravagant churches and its tramlines cunningly hidden between the cobblestones.

“Everything’s in Cyrillic,” said Sybil indignantly, looking at the shop signs and the street names. “We’re going to have trouble finding our way around. Some of the letters are similar, though. There’s a P.”

“Pronounced like an R,” said Ferris.

“And the H?”

“An N.”

“Forget it,” said Sybil.

“I didn’t realise you actually spoke Karetsefian, Ferris,” said Julie, impressed.

“I don’t. I did Russian at school.”

Sybil laughed. “So you’ve had thirty years to forget most of it?”

“Twenty-seven, Sybil, be fair.”

“I thought I was being generous, actually,” said Sybil.

They pulled up outside a hotel.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” said Steve.

But the inside was a real surprise. The staircase wouldn’t have looked out of place in a palace; nor would the chandeliers or the parquet flooring.

They checked in. Ivanka translated, although both she and the glamorous receptionist looked very worried when Sybil and Julie said they were sharing, and Steve and Ferris said they were doing the same.

“We’re all just friends,” Julie explained, suddenly aware that her jeans and trainers looked far too androgynous out here.

“Yes. Indeed,” said Ivanka uneasily. “You are in Room 69.”

Ferris burst out laughing. Steve allowed himself the measured smile of someone who felt himself to be a national institution, but broad-minded with it.

The lift wasn’t big enough to take more than three of them, so Julie, Sybil and Ivanka went up first. Sybil unlocked the door, and was presented with a second door barely two feet further in. The key unlocked this door as well.

It wasn’t a room; it was a suite, fit for a visiting head of state. Antique furniture, windows the size of church doors, a life-sized painting of a man with a moustache on a sleigh, driving crazed horses through the snow with a pack of wolves in hot pursuit.

“Blimey,” said Julie.

“Bathroom,” said Ivanka, throwing open the nearest door.

“Hot water?” queried Sybil.

Ivanka just laughed, shut the bathroom door, and moved on to the next one.

Elizabeth Kay has had a varied writing career, from radio plays and short stories to poetry and novels for both adults and children. She has won a number of prizes, including the Cardiff International Poetry Competition and the Canongate Prize for short stories, and lists as her hobbies travelling to obscure destinations and trying not to get eaten by the local wildlife.

Review of Beware of Men with Moustaches:

Four British poets accept an invitation to make a cultural visit to a little-known ex-soviet country and soon find themselves in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of mistaken identity, fake email addresses, impossibly high stilettos and impossibly cheap vodka. Clever, inventive and funny, Beware of Men with Moustaches twists and turns its way through the literary and scenic highlights of Karetsefia, as its characters gradually become aware of their own insularity in a country which is struggling to come to terms with its new identity – and where people have more to worry about than whether or not their next poetry collection is going to be published.

Caroline Taggart, best-selling author of I Used to Know That

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

fiction snapshots: carys bray

Dancing in the kitchen

She is sewing pips of reminiscence in his fertile mind, selecting scenes for the reel of his memories. She is the Director, Writer and Makeup Artist. She would like to be the Film Editor too and supervise the relegation of her inadequacies to the cutting room floor. She would like to censor any shameful language: ‘You stupid boy,’ ‘I can’t take you anywhere,’ ‘I should have thought twice about having children.’ She does this in her Director’s Cut. In this version she is always smiling. She makes delicious, nutritious meals, irons his favourite clothes in time for him to wear them, patiently explains homework and never shushes him in the car because she is listening to the radio.

But she does not have final cut privilege. He is The Editor of this portion of her life. He selects rare, single-take footage of her shouting and crying. He creates miserable montages of her mothering misdemeanours. ‘Remember when I really wanted to go on a donkey and you wouldn’t let me?’ he asks. ‘Remember when you said I would have to sleep in the loft with the wasp’s nest if I kept getting out of bed?’ he enquires.

She is determined to expunge her failings. She selects a location, prepares the storyboard and applies makeup.

Take One: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is loud. The dance is a comedy combination of moves she used to perform in earnest several years ago. The noise will draw him to her and her exuberance will proclaim: I’m so happy to be your mother that I’m dancing in the kitchen. I love you so much; let’s dance in the kitchen, together.

Take Two: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is louder. This time he will forsake the television in order to investigate. He will burst into the kitchen and join in the dance. They will laugh together in a way that allows her to begin sentences with, ‘Remember when we danced in the kitchen?’

Take Three: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is moderately loud so as not to irritate him. He will come into the kitchen eventually, when he wants a drink or to ask what’s for tea. He will chuckle at her dance.

Director’s Cut: In the Kitchen

The radio is on. Eventually he comes in. She sends him such a smile. Perhaps he will remember it.

Carys Bray's prize-winning short stories have been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals including Mslexia, Dialogue, PoemMemoirStory, Black Market Review, The Front View and New Fairy Tales . Her collection, Sweet Home won the 2012 Scott Prize and will be published by Salt in November. Carys teaches at Edge Hill University. She is working on a PhD and she is a co-editor at Paraxis.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

poetry snapshots: andy fletcher

meeting you

i go to the station to meet you

the train stops at the buffers
passengers with suitcases and bags get off

i look through the faces for yours

the next day
i go to the station to meet you

pigeons flap into the air as the train pulls in

people step off wave to relations
light cigarettes hug loved ones

every day
i go to the station to meet you
soon from the mass of faces
i know you'll appear and smile

years pass

the station's refurbished
old trains are replaced by new ones
timetables change

still i stand on the platform
litter blows towards me
plastic bags rise from the tracks

each day
i go to the station to meet you

Photo credit is here

Andy lives, works and writes in Hull. He graduated in Law but has since had a varied career as a machine operator, bus driver and currently part time worker with Social Services. He was the founder and only member of Revegtisana (Revolutionary Vegan Tigers Supporters against Nuclear Arms)! His work has appeared in various UK magazines including Bete Noire, Tears in the Fence, Iota and The Reater and was anthologised in Old City New Rumours (edited by Carol Rumens and Ian Gregson) and The Hull Connection (edited by Peter Knaggs) both 2010. His collection ‘the mile long piano’ was published by Ragged Raven Press in 2007.

Monday, September 17, 2012

poetry snapshots: shanta everington

To Die For

Half a packet of raindrops and

as much ice cold water as

you can drink for your body

to warm up and burn. He

pinches half a millimetre

of flesh on my ribs and says,

You need to take better care

of yourself, my dear. I peer

through the veil of my fringe and

nod my head three millimetres,

picturing my picture in the papers.

I  can be ready in a week. I peek

at the tick next to my name.

Next. My smiling eyes roll

down over the twigs of my toes

and all the way to the park where

I will perform a hundred star jumps

and remember how your skin

used to shine when you laughed.

For you understood it was important.

First published in Seeking Refuge, edited by Jan Fortune-Wood, Cinnamon Press.

Shanta Everington is the author of literary novel, Marilyn and Me (Cinnamon Press) and YA novel, Give Me a Sign (Flame Books) Shanta’s first poetry chapbook, Drowning in Cherryade, will be published by Bedouin Books later this year and she has two YA novels forthcoming for 2013 - Boy Red (Musa Publishing) and XY( Red Telephone Books).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

poetry snapshots: rose drew



1. Kings Crossing

He walks his daily tightrope,
head dropped forward,
eyes tight to floor tiles,
arms hugging sides,
cramped shuffling walk;

all in black, simplicity
for dressing in the mornings.
I hope he has splashed out in grey,
or a mild blue,
tho' the black black jeans,
black jacket, black trainers give me doubt.

But he's out there.
He manoeuvres, firm control,
one tube station to another,
one obligation to another,
rising brave to lunge into the frightening crowds,
traverse the large and noisy spaces,

II. Victoria

Her eyes gleam
with tales of the children she tutors, two days a week,
two hours a time,
homework, role playing, practical sessions
on how to survive.        How can you work with kids like that?
she is asked, but I know how, 
the frustrations, rewards,
how always searching for another way
to explain the world
teaches you more than you bring them.

Fresh from Argentina,
she travels Europe alone, on recast Honeymoon
now the fiance has failed,
and her children,
the ones she loves,
will feel vague peace
when she returns.

Besides, you never know:
the one who is lost may grow
to own a dozen matching jeans
in future closet:
learn to trek the underground,
head down, arms stiff with effort,
oyster card safe within a fist.

Rose Drew, from York via Miami, is finally wrapping up a PhD involving human skeletons and will decide what to do next.

Rose is addicted to hosting open mics, co-founding three in two continents: York’s Spoken Word is now in its 7th year.  Her work, mostly poetry, has been published in anthologies, newsprint, and journals starting in 1977; her favourite place to be is in front of a large audience, performing. 

Rose co-owns small press Stairwell Books and is delighted that all the hard work, especially from partner Alan, demon book designer, is finally paying off. Her own first book, Temporary Safety (Fighting Cock Press) was No 9 of the 2011 Purple Patch 20 Best Individual Collections. Rose collaborates with composers and musicians at the Sounds Lyrical Project Website  and she can be seen performing her poetry on Youtube.

Friday, June 22, 2012

poetry snapshots revisited: dominic james

My Photo

Nevada Crossing

In Jan… in back of a pickup,

black spots blotting out

horizons: only night and rain

eating up Nevada,

grazing hills and foraging

like the mythic antelope,

only cold and rain

but our sense of occasion

marked closeness in a tribal land

of cropped-up dreams.

Our driver was an older man,

indigenous American,

he stared ahead, said nothing

even when we stopped and Jen,

riding up-front in the cab -

trading stamps for dollars

drinking vodka in a can

topped from a paper bag

lost the plot – pushed wide

the door, pissed on it and inside

like he was leaning on the wind:

while we paused, like the old man,

uncertain of our luck, hunched up

against a painted backdrop,

headed for Reno, leaving behind

the islands of the salt flats,

heading on for Circus Circus

with ten bucks between us

broke, like that, gamblers in the wind

we’d hold or run like children

riding on the moment, sure,

then scatter in California.

Most recently Dominic has been published in the new American periodical, Kudzu Review and Sentinel Champions #8. Having written short stories for several years he now devotes his time to poetry, pointing out, it doesn’t much matter that he’s started late because it is the best thing. Dominic’s blog:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

poems up at djamespoetic and ink-sweat-and-tears

I have two poems from Centuries of Skin up at poet Dominic James's blogspot. Dominic is a fine poet, and will appear on this blog as a 'Poetry Snapshots' featured poet soon.
Check out his poems, plus powerful poems from Alison Hill, who has had a poem nominated for the prestigious Forward Prize.

I also have a poem on the new ink-sweat-and-tears site, plus five poems in the latest issue of Sarasvati, and one poem in the April issue of Reach.

Monday, March 19, 2012

pat livingstone: compositions on soundcloud

Composer and collaborator Pat Livingstone now has some tracks -and photos - on SoundCloud, including Birdsong. Enjoy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

poetry snapshots revisited: mavis gulliver

The Postman’s Washing Line

When I think of Eigg

it's not the bulk of the Sgurr

or Rum's Coolin's

dominating the western horizon;

but the scent of primroses,

the constant willow warblers' song

and, on the dune edge,

strung between two driftwood poles,

a chorus line of socks


to the blue Atlantic.

Mavis Gulliver is based on the Isle of Islay in Scotland's Hebrides. Her poetry centres around landscape, islands and the varied aspects of the natural world.

Her poems have appeared in numerous poetry magazines including Iota, Envoi and Poetry Scotland; as well as in Grey Hen anthologies; and the 2011 Polygon anthology 'These Islands, We Sing'.

York Literature Festival HUB 2018 event, Tuesday, 20th March

I'm looking forward to my first event for absolutely ages - at the York Literature Festival HUB. Many thanks to YLF and Valley...