‘The lucky little girls’ by Claire Askew

The lucky little girls
 
The valley was filled with things that should have frightened us:
leeches in the Bowmont, ticks clinging in the grass.
Combines dipping like warships through the ripe wheat,
green clouds over Kelsocleuch, their guyropes of lightning.

Nothing was forbidden but the ruined
shepherd’s cottage on the Law,
the gubbed skull of its walls
like a smudge in the high trees.

It felt like miles from the village, dragging our pre-teen boredom
past the roofless barn with crossbeams like a warning,
stink of rotted hay inside. Autumn, and that track ran like a beck.
Summer whacked our legs with goosegrass stalks.

We called it the haunted house, as though its family
of imagined ghosts were why we weren’t allowed.
Every winter ripped more slates out of the roof
to stand up in the dirt like little graves.

Did we ever go inside? My memories
are of waiting at the nettled fringe beyond the fence,
and looking in at peeling tiles, a fireplace,
doorjambs hanging sagged and wrong.

We knew nothing. Too young to read the paper, doing homework
through the TV news. The worst things that happened
to children we knew involved bruises, or tattoos made with biros
and a tailor’s pin. We laughed in the face of a fucked world run by men.

But we felt it there, a click or so away from home,
each egging all the others on to go inside.
Fear: real and glassy as a lake,
though reassuring sunlight zazzed on everything.

We were the lucky little girls, I know that now. We’d find
a reason to turn back – the sound of thunder up at Kelsocleuch –
a thing we could outrun. Lucky to grow, and learn to be afraid,
before that house became the famous site of something bad.
 
(previously published in This changes things, Bloodaxe, 2016)
 
 
 
Claire Askew’s poems have appeared in numerous places, including The Guardian, The Edinburgh Review, PANK, and on Radio 3’s The Verb. Her debut collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016, and shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award. Claire is also a novelist, and her debut novel in progress won the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. She is currently at work as the 2017 Jessie Kesson Fellow, lives in Edinburgh, and can be found on Twitter @onenightstanzas.

Two poems by Sally Douglas

The Night I See Myself

The car is a parcel of breath;
the road unrolling
like a bolt of black crêpe.

I drive like I’m in green-screen
and nothing outside is real:
all I can see is a false moon

crowing at my shoulder,
and a curd of light behind the hills
where the town and the hospital lie.

Sometime soon I must dress myself in owl.
There I swoop, a pale winged glimmer,
my own face ghosting from the trees.
 
 
  
The City of Courage

The people here are tall as beacons.
They seem flat-faced and cold, like watered glass,
but at night they fold into their families,

light fires to find their deepest songs.
By such means, they say, the crust of the earth
is persuaded to yield its metals and its soul.

The land itself is soft and marshy. They build
palaces and temples on stands of sun-baked clay,
and bridges are made zig-zag, to offer homes

to ghosts. The roads have beds of cotton,
gutta-percha, brick-shaped glass; molasses
to bind the red and flighty sand.

Their greatest literature is carved on cliffs
three days’ ride away. Their art is terracotta panels
and slipware of stretched faces; while philosophy

is built into the corridors and quadrangles
of the senate. Here there are just three entrances,
guarded by dragon-headed sentries set in pairs.

In poetry, they strive for epic, but their lyric mode is small.
On rest days they study intricate buttons, or the corners
of green tables, listen to the spaces in the weft.

They have no religion, but they love the distant sea.
At daybreak their hands begin to tremble:
they dream of waking in white immaculate rooms.
 
 
 
 
Sally Douglas’s first collection, Candling the Eggs, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2011. She is currently working on a second collection and studying for a Creative Writing MA with Lancaster University. She was a winner in the 2017 Kent and Sussex Open Poetry Competition and won First, Third and Fourth Prizes in Poems on the Move, Guernsey’s 2017 International Poetry Competition judged by Gwyneth Lewis. Recent work has appeared in Tears in the Fence, Clear Poetry, and Antiphon. On Twitter she is @SallyDPoet.

Two poems by Clarissa Aykroyd

Holmes in Florence

‘…a week later I found myself in Florence, with the certainty that no one in the world knew what had become of me.’ (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Empty House)

When I came to Florence it was morning.
I stumbled through the hills and lay down
on the hard bed in the pensione. Outside

the swallows fell past the window
again and again. I slept for three days
or what felt like it. And when I woke

I lay there like a polished stone.
It was a grey morning. In the window boxes
the red geraniums whispered through the rain.

Everything was there. The things that wouldn’t leave me.
The man I killed, the blur of hate and fear
in his eyes as the rope of air

sawed through his fingers. And Watson’s face.
That was when my frozen self felt pain.
He thought he’d failed me,

he didn’t know that I failed him again and again,
that I was here, a living liar.
I walked across the piazzas. Habit

flowed through me: that Englishwoman
has come looking for love. That man
is a spy, on the trail of another.

But nothing mattered. My feet
traced the streets to a dark courtyard,
the trickle of some Medici fountain.

Water, water. The sense of falling.
Who am I? How do I atone?
Where’s the clue to my life?

 
 
 
Sherlock Holmes in Antarctica

At Rothera I saw the moon,
at first impossible, then merely improbable.

Then the penguins, the little Adélies
who ask no questions. They have the answers

and aren’t talking. But Rothera
was just the threshold. It was the clock at Waterloo,

the restaurant where we smoked our cigars
then plunged into darkness. And then I went south

and plunged into lightness. I might as well
have been a blind man. I couldn’t read the angles

of the seracs, and what the killer whales wanted
was all too obvious. No locks to pick,

no one leaves the guilty ash on the snow,
the footprints run away on the wind.

A motiveless place. Guiltless. Without innocence.
The last thing left to me was God,

the last witness, the one I hadn’t called.
 
 
 
Clarissa Aykroyd grew up in Victoria, Canada and now lives in London, England. Her work has been published in journals including Shot Glass Journal, The Island Review, The Ofi Press, The Level Crossing and The Missing Slate. She was one of Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her blog is www.thestoneandthestar.blogspot.co.uk. Twitter: @stoneandthestar

Three poems by Matthew Stewart

Home comforts

Until you’ve lived in a country
full of kitchens full of saucepans
that slowly creak to the boil,
a kettle won’t seem to whistle
like the owner of a loose dog
calling it back, calling it home.
 
 
 
Twenty years apart

With a synchronised swivelling of necks
and a coughed silence, they welcome me in,
wincing as I order. Once I’ve sat down,
a soft hubbub resumes.

Ignore the smells, swap Spanish for English,
back streets of Villalejo for Oxford.
Muttered stories mirror muttered stories.
I’m still in the background.
 
 
 
The ex

There’s no time for
dress rehearsals.

Miscast again,
I’m straight on stage,

and gulp. How long
should phone calls be?

How couched? Just what
is cordial

when it’s at home?
Where is home?
 
 
Earlier versions of these poems were first published in Ambit, The Next Review, The Frogmore Papers and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016
 
 
 
Matthew Stewart lives between West Sussex and Extremadura, and works in the Spanish wine trade. These three poems are taken from his first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, due out in June from Eyewear Publishing. He blogs at http://roguestrands.blogspot.com

Two poems by Kate Noakes

Salomé in the mirror

I find myself calling for your head
on a brass platter from Bernese
the kind I can make into a table

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

There will be no church
or mosaic shrine
on the spot where this happens

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

I’ll take just your cheek       slashed
The slip of your occasional razor
will do it       for now

I smile
I smile
manic       delighted

You are no saint
and my veils are not translucent
I can’t dance that way anymore.
 
 
 
Penelope: identity theft

I chose the hardest fibres
to strip my skin
jute, copra

to slice the whorls
from my fingertips
hessian, raw flax.

I am weaving lead.

Forth, back
the shuttle flies
the cloth wefted red.

Right, left
the pedals tread
my legs, my legs.

Sundown, yards done
well, not yet.
I sink on my bed
my head, my head.

The clamour from
the waiting boys too much
“Wed me.” “No, me instead.”

In darkest night
I cut the warp and pull
unthread, unthread.

My new skin
pricks with dread.
 
 
 
Kate Noakes’ sixth collection is Paris, Stage Left (Eyewear, 2017). She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011 and her website (boomslangpoetry.blogspot.com) is archived by the National Library of Wales.

‘Keep Digging’ by David Atkinson

Keep Digging

We Irish have a reputation for being handy with a spade,
digging potatoes and turf; and when the potatoes stopped growing,
no matter how much we dug, we planted our children in the ground.
When we grew tired of planting our children we left for England,
and when we arrived they gave us a spade and we dug
roads and railways the length and breadth of the country,
and when they needed someone to do bit of digging in France,
we said we were the boys for the job, and off we went, digging.

Being such experts why did it take so long to dig that particular hole,
was it so hard to break the ground, to find what was buried at night
without prayer or pity, piled high like straw in a pit for piss and shite?
This digging needs to be slow, respectful, lifting the soil in layers,
finding bones so small a head could fit on your hand, and crying,
eight hundred holes before we turn the soil to the sky for the last time.
 
 
 
 
David Atkinson is a Belfast-born poet who has had his prize winning work published nationally and internationally. He has published two collections of poetry, Thomas (2004) and Black Eyed Peace (2014), which includes the Pushcart nominated poem “Hunting for the Aurora”. Twitter @ablackeyedpeace

‘Beyond the Pale’ by Ann Leahy

Beyond the Pale
(in West Cork)

I commit a minor act of appropriation –
pick plants whose names I don’t know
from the ditches to try and make my own
of the unfamiliar:
the rise ahead in the road
the peak of Miskish behind me
the arthritic finger of Coulagh bay before me.

In my field guide I always seem
to be going over the same ground:
Heath Speedwell, Scabious, Lady’s Bedstraw.
Words from a language I speak
that remain as foreign as the names
for parts of speech: possessive pronouns,
complex prepositions – the past imperfect.

I consult ‘O’Donaill’, roll the Irish names
around my mouth like bulls eyes:
Annulach, Cab an Ghasáin, Boladh Cnis.
Words that sound familiar
from a language I don’t speak,
whose sense is raw around the edge –
plucked stems themselves.

Note:
Annulach – Speedwell – lit. arrogance
Cab an Ghasáin – Scabious – lit. toothless mouth of the sprig
Boladh Cnis – Lady’s Bedstraw – lit. smell of skin

‘Beyond the Pale’, appeared in the collection, The Woman Who Lived her Life Backwards (Ann Leahy, Arlen House 2008)
 
 
 
 
Ann Leahy’s first collection, The Woman who Lived her Life Backwards (Arlen House, 2008), won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Individual poems have also won national awards (the Poetry on the Wall, and Clogh Writers’ prizes and others) and have twice been commended in the British National Poetry Competition. Her poems have been published widely in journals (Stand, AGENDA, Orbis, Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, New Welsh Review and others) and anthologies (Best of Irish Poetry 2010; The Echoing Years: An Anthology of Poetry from Canada and Ireland, 2007 and others). She has taken part in writers’ festivals in Ireland and Germany, and received a Culture Ireland bursary for a reading tour in the U.S. She grew up in Co. Tipperary and lives in Dublin.

‘Songs of the the Sea’ by Eleanor Hooker

Songs of the Sea

At Kilmore town ancient carols are sung,
legend says the sea will drown their town.
Casting stones into the sea is wrong,
storm-crested waves drag silent sail down.

Legend says the sea will drown their town,
a silver coin beneath the mast brings luck.
Storm crested waves drag silent sail down,
church bells sound when sinking ships are struck,

A silver coin beneath the mast brings luck.
true to say, what the sea wants, it gets,
church bells sound when sinking ships are struck,
a curlew’s flight makes fair-wind sailors fret.

True to say, what the sea wants, it gets,
casting stones into the sea is wrong,
a curlew’s flight makes fair-wind sailors fret,
at Kilmore town ancient carols are sung.
 
(published in The Shadow Owner’s Companion, Dedalus Press 2012)
 
Author’s note: I was fascinated to hear from a fellow RNLI crew that in Kilmore, legend has it that unless their beautiful ancient celtic hymns are sung every Christmas, the sea will take their town. There are many superstitions around sea lore, but this one fired up my imagination. The hymns are haunting, slow and chant like, I was trying to get that sway and rhythm in this pantoum. The Kilmore Carols.
 
 
 
 
Eleanor Hooker is an Irish Poet and Writer. Her second poetry collection A Tug of Blue (Dedalus Press) was launched October 2016. The Shadow Owner’s Companion (Dedalus Press) is her first collection of poetry. Twitter @EleanorHooker_

‘Dair Ghaelach (Irish Oak)’ by Carol Caffrey

Dair Ghaelach (Irish Oak)

The heft
and reach of him
through mountain bog and field
earthed bark to leaf-lit canopy
true north.

(i.m. Seamus Heaney.)
 
(previously published in Shrewsbury Stanza’s Anthology 2015)
 
 
 
Carol Caffrey is an Irish writer and actor who lives in Shropshire with her husband and two grown-up children. A former teacher and full-time mother, her work has appeared in Bare Fiction magazine, the Fish Anthology, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Lunch Ticket (Antioch University Review) and the Galway Review . She tours a one-woman play by Irish poet and playwright, Paula Meehan, called Music for Dogs.

‘Aisling’ by Adam Wyeth

Aisling

Beautiful girl
with a broken harp
who plays on the side
of the street through wind
and rain, her open case catching
coins that flicker as leaves on a lake.
Her plaintive notes which float like pleas
then flee into a whooshing diaspora of rush-
hour traffic as she plinks and plucks more
hay-wire chords that shudder down the
roads and spines of passers-by who do
not know her out-of-tunes have
nothing to do with dexterity
but are due to her harp’s
disrepair. Yet she
continues to play
through wind
that blows
her song
away
and rain that collects in her case,
and, because of this, is beautiful.
 
(from The Art of Dying, Salmon Poetry 2016)
 
 
 
 
Adam Wyeth is an award-winning poet, playwright and essayist living in Dublin. His second poetry collection The Art of Dying was published with Salmon in November 2016 and was named as an Irish Times Book of the Year. In 2016 he was a selected poet for Poetry Ireland Review‘s Rising Generation.