Final Wave of Holiday Poems

Swimming Lessons
by Allison McVety

It rained the whole fortnight,
so my father got it into his head to teach me something useful,
like how to stretch my body out to crawl from doggy paddle,
how to cleave then palm the water, how to skim,
how to drive from the shoulder, the chest, the diaphragm,
how to breathe, regular, on the rim of each third stroke,
and above all how to keep going, to endure the cold,
to enjoy the loneliness, to think of other things besides the swim.

Some days we skiffed the surf with pebbles,
my father’s explanations muffled in the hood of a new anorak.
But the gist of his lesson was this: how flat stones are best,
how they have lift, carry on beyond the dunk of lesser ones.

On the one good day, we picnicked on the beach,
my father spoke of how a tanker ran aground on Pollard’s Rock,
how each successive tide helped retch its guts for miles,
how still, a crude sludge seeps up to meet the press of skin.
I see my mother, how she mops the Torrey Canyon from her skirt,
how her lilac handkerchief isn’t up to the task.
I hear him say how oil smothered kelp beds,
and the gills of fish were sealed like blackened fingernails.

(from The Night Trotsky Came to Stay, Smith/Doorstop, 2007)

Allison McVety has published two collections with Smith/Doorstop, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize), and Miming Happiness (2010).  A third collection, Lighthouses, is forthcoming in March 2014.  In 2011 she won the National Poetry Competition.


by Hilaire
for Nick

If every morning could be like this—
a gentle tipping awake
below deck, rolled in your sleeping bag,
the river happening beneath you,
around you. The anchor embedded
deep, its tight tug a low vibration
through the keel. Snug under layers
of boat smells—canvas, grease,
dew on plimsolls; and, from the galley,
the spit and sizzle of sausages,
your father whistling to the frying pan.
Fifteen. In your holdall
a new exercise book, sharpened pencils,
the beginning of a story.

(published in The Loose Muse Autumn 2012 anthology)

Hilaire is a Melbourne-born, London-based writer of poetry and fiction.


Driving to Switzerland
by Anthony Wilson

The night before my father would lay out
on his side of the bed wallet, camera, maps,
francs, washbag and passports,
meticulous as an assassin. Downstairs
my mother hissed at the kitchen floor.

At five the next morning her hand wobbled on your shoulder
and we sleepwalked through clothes to the car.
Breakfast was cornflakes on the beach at Dover ,
and grit in marmalade sandwiches.
And there’d be a photograph. Nobody spoke.

On the ferry you could want to die.
We’d huddle on deck with thermos and anoraks
while my father unfurled a map deploying us
like tentpegs in a groundsheet.
We churned an unrelenting wake of Englishness.

France was always too hot and lunch was horseflies
and sunburn. Once we parked next to the Metro.
Speaking through my mother at the gendarmerie
my father didn’t flinch when he listed as the contents
of his suitcase twelve ties. It was the maps he missed.

You woke next morning to scooters in alley ways
and women in slippers and dressing gown staggering
under baguettes. Coffee. A man cursing his car.
(This could be Dijon , Lyons or Besançon.)
We slept badly because the pillows were like rocks.

Then that last leg through Pontarlier and the hills.
The highest big town in Europe , boys, the clouds
like a lake in the valley. Finally a door opened
and a new accent would start. My mother ceased translating.
The welcome we had walked into flew straight over our heads.

(from Nowhere Better Than This, Worple, 2002)

Love for Now, my memoir of cancer, is available hereRiddance, my new book of poems, is available here.


by Charlotte Gann

Later we’ll go down to the water, watch
the locals race horses on the sand.

For now, I sit at my expansible keyboard
(neat, black, click clack),

on the verandah of The Sandcastle
drinking coffee

while Steve digs out flowerbeds,
a little Japanese bridge.

I sit on the verandah writing my novel!,
“London Windows”, tanned legs

unrecognisable. I wear
a tiny cotton wraparound skirt, deep maroon

with golden flowers. I never in my life
wore such a thing – until now

on Golden Bay, sitting on the verandah,
drinking coffee,

writing my novel on the neat expansible
keyboard you bought me to travel

while Steve digs out flowerbeds,
a little Japanese bridge.

Charlotte Gann is a freelance writer and editor, who also writes poetry.


The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
by Ailsa Holland

And more gold.
She is in a trance
and has blossoms in her hair.

And anyone who thinks
that this is overblown
that love is not like this
was not there that day

when you read Das Parfum
to me, as we lay
by the stream of sun
in the clearing

we lit upon
in the woods.

Ailsa Holland is the founder of Moormaid Press and Library in the Landscape.  She tweets occasionally at @ailsaholland.


by Carole Bromley

All the Japanese passengers lay down
on the lower deck for a sleep on the floor
with a foam brick for a pillow;
even my daughter had adopted
this strange custom, born of overwork
and a need to fit in sleep around the edges
whenever the opportunity arose.
Their shoes, all facing the same way,
lined up at the edge of the matting.

I was far too excited, wanted to watch
Kagoshima slip away, feel the spray
on my face. I stood at the prow end
watching the sea and the sky,
Yakoshima not even in sight yet
or the smaller islands on the way.
It was not silent; the huge ship’s engine
and the smash of hull on water
saw to that. It was good to be alone.

Then I saw them, the flying fish,
leap, muscle into the air,
perform a wriggling parabola
to defy the Earth’s pull and then
cleave the surface again,
It seemed for a moment they would win
but then the shoal was in our wake
and there was nothing visible
but the rise and fall of that iron railing.

Carole Bromley teaches Creative Writing for York University and writes a poetry blog here


Picturing Ta Prohm
by Kathy Gee

My dark is thick with frog song,
leather leaves slow falling, echoing
the bok bok chorus.

Wait. Allow your skin to breathe
the wrap of humid air, your ears to hear
my tendril roots caressing stone.

Stand still. Watch dawn light up
my canopy, transform my shade
to velvet drapes of moss and lichen.

Stay your shutter finger. Listen.
Feel the weight of my decay.

Kathy Gee was an archaeologist, museum curator and consultant.  Now she writes. Her blog is an experimental vehicle for video poems


Art of Dying
by Julie Maclean
after a visit to the Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm

They do death good
Walk among phantoms
with a spring in the step
Take kids in royal prams
for a picnic Light candles
for night strolls when the snow
falls in duck down Etch
a rock, snip a hedge into
a green armchair Profiles
of Nan and Pa face-to-face
in an almost-kiss.
Even the Angel of Death,
fat cherub, grins from a shingled
roof. Hans Christian looks on
from a plain brown stone,
clipped and smart.
They make it art,
not like Sylvia, but good.
They make it sing.

Julie, from Bristol, UK, is based on the Surf Coast, Australia.  In 2012 shortlisted for The Crashaw Prize (Salt Publishing) and Press Press Prize.  Chapbook, When I saw Jimi published in 2013, Indigo Dreaming Publishing (UK)


Because It Will Soon Be Autumn
by Holly Magill

A palm to her shoulders, her back,
flat-handed, bearing down heavy.
It doesn’t grip, no fingers digging.
They both know she will not move.

It’s glowering over her head too.
Drawstring bag of tautening scalp
swells to topple a limp forward roll
from a nape glazed woozy and red.

The blanket is her stubborn hotplate.
Basking island. Her serving platter.
Sacrificing herself to fickle summer.
Her body’s already been used up.

Behind smeared shades she feels
everything cleanly. Sees the burn.
She stretches arms to hold onto it.
They both know she will not move.

Holly Magill lives in Worcestershire.  She has had poems published by Ink Sweat & Tears, Kumquat Poetry, The SHOp and Crannog.


Going Home
by Susan Utting

Home is not where I come from;
home is where I’m going.

Home slips from my lips without thought:
the fit of an odd number, the ring
of the name of a street, chosen
years ago now, known even then
without learning. There have been arms

like that, warm bodies, easy and close
as my own interlaced fingers.
This morning the sea is a stranger,
another’s salt on my skin,
an unfamiliar address that disturbs

thought, that interrupts sleep
with its breathing. I’m moving away
from this noisy shore, inland, back
to the steady to-and-fro of myself,
back to brick, blossom, tarmac, bud,

click and shiver, skitter and creak,
to the comfort of sounds in the night
that I’ll know like the sound of my
own heart in my ear, that I’ll know
well enough not to hear, not to listen for.

(from Fair’s Fair, Two Rivers Press, 2012)

Susan Utting is a freelance poet and tutor, living in Berkshire, just outside Reading.  Fair’s Fair is her third full poetry collection.


Summer’s End in Hackney
by Abegail Morley

So that she might go unnoticed, she doesn’t turn
on the sitting-room light when the street lights sputter,

announce evening in a sudden gust of white
that catches out the rain. She wonders if it’s okay

to start drinking at four, winter nights creep in
ever earlier. In the kitchen she greets the fridge:

they blink at each other for a minute –
she reaches for the wine, grabs it like it’s ripe on the vine,

the Veneto sun freckling her arms, and the 50 kilo basket
dragging her backwards into the hot earth.

She presses the bottle to her cheek, remembers how
each grape was too low to squat for, too low not to stoop,

and how she spent that holiday, stretched the full-length
of his bed watching the first light distil the dawn,

splash through the shutters, ooze across the room.

(first published in Poetry Review volume 102, Number 4, Winter 2012)

Abegail Morley is a poet and editor living in Kent.