‘Amy, how to write poems’ by Katherine Stansfield

Amy, how to write poems
for Amy McCauley again

in these times of boxes and unlearnt languages
and cats dreaming twitchyleg distress?

I do what the advice books say and write every day
but lately o lately my poems are just lists for leaving:

buy new cat carriers, microchip the cats,
tell the cats about THE MOVE.

The flats behind ours have been knocked down
yet no one will come for the rubble, the rusty washing

line poles. This could be an analogy for something
significant if I could remember what ‘analogy’

means and you know it’s hard to find anything
close to conceptualisation with all this aching

business of marks on the page – o – and what’s
the sodding point of poems anyway?

The cats wake up and I lie about the future.
They smell deceit, and because I can’t bear

their moans of betrayal I head into town,
into my regrets, where people are chalking

death on the hoardings of the unbuilt Tesco
and the wind wants to drag the best laid plans

out to sea. Plus ça Tuesday. I slalom
scaffolding to find you in the Italian deli

but lack lingo wherewithal to order your latte. Mi
! Me, 100% linguistic black hole, and you,

expanding galaxy of words, you who are song,
guess piccolo is probably small – si! Prego. Bingo.

We discuss the Muses who never come round mine.
For all I know they’re in the ruin of the old flats

or haunting the cats’ dreams. For all I know
I know nothing. Not a coffee bean. Nada yada nada.

On the way out we talk cat stress when moving.
The good news is that your cat has recovered

from her trips on the train to Manchester
and when I get home I find half a shrew

on the stairs so I end the day thinking, bach,
things might be OK. In Italian this will be bene.

Katherine Stansfield’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Magma, Planet, The Lonely Crowd, The Lighthouse, Ink Sweat & Tears and The Interpreter’s House, and her poem ‘Canada’ was Poem of the Week in The Guardian online. Her first collection, Playing House, was published by Seren in 2014, and last year she was awarded a writer’s bursary from Literature Wales to complete her second collection. After many years living on the west coast of Wales, which included a stint as a university lecturer, Katherine is currently travelling in North America until she runs out of cash (sadly imminent). Twitter: @K_Stansfield

‘Citizenship Ceremony’ by Caroline Smith

Citizenship Ceremony

Every few months a timetable clash
means the Citizenship Ceremony
and the asylum surgery converge.
From outside the council chamber,
as each new citizen is made,
we can hear the patter of applause.
It is rain to parched, thirsty soil –
every head turns and lifts
towards the sound.
(from The Immigration Handbook, Seren 2016)
Caroline Smith, works as a refugee caseworker. She has been widely published in poetry journals (including Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, Stand Magazine, Agenda and Orbis) and she has given readings at many venues (including Barnard College in New York, the Sudbury Arts Festival, The Troubadour and Dove Cottage, Grasmere for the Wordsworth Trust). Her first publication was the long narrative poem Edith published by Flambard Press. Her debut collection Thistles of the Hesperides was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh Festival First Collection prize. Her most recent book is The Immigration Handbook Seren, 2016. Twitter @csmithpoet

Three poems by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The House of Rest
A History of Josephine Butler, feminist and social reformer, 1828-1906


Then you were here
real as a wound.

They placed you in my arms
with such care I thought you a parcel of feathers

that might fly away.
I stroked your face –

Your eyes were midnight blue.
Time bended to you,

language re-strung its instruments
to sound your name.

Visitors admired your lace-
ears, your peony fists, but they

could not see you as I did –
you slid from your skin

just as you had slipped out of me
and became a shard

of morning light, turning
cobwebs to crystal thread,

the windowsill to a gold bar,
dew on hedges constellations

of delicacy. I knew then
this love was alchemy.

Our bond is not made of that loose
wet rope they cut

but of instruments that show
the unseen and sound the silent,

the heart’s infinite missions
harnessed in flight.
The Telling

Lord, I told Charles this morning about Eva.

Lord, is there anything in this world worse than a boy of seven
watching his beloved sister, his almost-twin, fall
to her death during a game, and learning that she later died?

Lord, his beautiful face was the face of an old man’s,
still as a saint’s, emptied of childhood.

Lord, I pleaded for you to fill my mouth with words to heal
his silence, and I held him tightly and promised him that You
were holding his sister just so.

Lord, he asked if there were games in Heaven.

Lord, I thought on this and told him that yes, there would be games
in Heaven.

Lord, Charlie asked if Eva would be fine during the games in Heaven
or if she would fall as she had fallen yesterday, and the terrible
shriek that had pierced me rang again in my ears, and I jumped.

Lord, I told him that she would never fall again
but was in Your arms. He quietened at this,
looked away, and asked in a voice that wrings my soul:
How could He have let her fall?

Lord, as Thou wilt: answer him.
The Women In My Bed

I am no suffragist
but a womanist, and if there is anything
I cannot abide it is the selling
of virtue for tuppence, and if there
is anything I abhor it is the selling
of virtue for tuppence else a woman will die
of hunger, and if not hunger, she will die
of cold in the street, her feet bare,
her soul too heavy for her body.

                So they are here: five destitutes under our roof,
                five incurables, as we explained to Cat,
                Henry and Charlie. Our friends think me
                quite mad and George even madder
                for permitting it. It is obscene! Five
                prostitutes! They are girls, I replied,
                children of God, and they are dying.
                An acquaintance of George refused to cross
                our threshold in protest. Where are they? he
                demanded, and
                I could not help
                myself. I said,
                upstairs, I should imagine,
                asleep in my bed.

The irrepressible flicker of zeal before
he turned on his heel.
Carolyn Jess-Cooke is a poet and novelist published in 23 languages. Her latest poetry collection Boom! was published by Seren in 2014.

Two poems by Ivy Alvarez


Lo, though he were in Gethsemane, he was also with me.

The thigh bone is strong but, at a certain point, it is like a twig. Even a bird, alighting after a long journey, ruffling its wings in a shiver, could, in shrugging its feathered shoulder, break it.

If I told you I had green wings, you wouldn’t believe me. But I am not a beetle. I am one of the sefiroth.

Ice has formed on my face at high altitudes, the crust like a delicate beard, clinging to my jaw line. Up there, it can frost normal lungs.

Sleep is overrated, though I long for it often.
(first published in fourW in Australia, and nominated for Best Poem in 2010)
Horse-drawn slave

Abide these shackles do I, how horse-teeth tears at me, its mane my bed.
The field needs me to till. Earth churns and turns. The beast is tired.
Wide-gaited for a wee thing. I say Gorse and he turns his head.
See? Gorse. Sometimes dense. How the cold wraps us both, like breath expired.
Mind it, Gorse, and he does. The sea comes and goes out of sight.
Rest for a water gulp. We plough. We furrow, shackle-heavy, blinkered view.
Find fences, rocks. Fairy skirts of lichen! Soon it be night.
Oppressed of sight, poor Gorse. We share apple bite, no harvest new,
complain naught, pointless as a mound. Indentured under reign,
the owner says, and I nod, click my tongue, mud covering me.
(first published in Takahē (#85), New Zealand)
Ivy Alvarez‘s second poetry collection is Disturbance (Seren, 2013). She is also the author of several shorter collections, including Hollywood Starlet (Chicago: dancing girl press, 2015) and The Everyday English Dictionary (London: Paekakariki Press, 2016). A recipient of writing fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden Castle and Fundacion Valparaiso, her work appears in journals and anthologies in many countries and online, with selected poems translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Twitter @IvyAlvarez

‘Letter to my Mother’ by Katrina Naomi

Letter to my Mother

You lie underneath him,
a measure of mud between you.

This was our final argument – his and mine –
your husband/my step-father.

I’m told of a double headstone,
which I haven’t visited,

since I held my niece’s hand,
threw a lily and a tablespoon of chalky soil

on your lid. I can’t talk to you,
knowing he’s also there, listening,

as he always did: the click
of the extension by your bed, the reading

out of my letters and your replies.
All these years, his 17 stones

pressing down on you, crushing
the soil between you.

I talk to you when I cross the Thames,
looking right to Shooters Hill –

Kent’s north edge. I send you my words
in a flotilla of paper boats. I forgive you,

as I always have. I forgive you
for marrying him.

(from The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, Seren, 2016)
Katrina Naomi’s poetry has appeared in The TLS, The Spectator and The Poetry Review, and has been broadcast on Radio 4. Her second collection, The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is published by Seren (2016), following Hooligans, (Rack Press, 2015), a pamphlet of poetry inspired by the Suffragettes. Katrina has a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths. She lives in Cornwall, runs Poetry Surgeries for the Poetry Society, and teaches at Falmouth University and the Poetry School.

Two poems by Emily Blewitt

This Is Not a Rescue

I want to tell you it will not be as you expect. For years you have hammered in stakes, handed men the rope and said consume me with fire. Most have run – one does not burn a witch lightly. This one is water. He’ll unbind you, take your hands in his and say remember how you love the ocean? Come with me. You’ll go to the beach on a cloudy day, watch foam rise from the sea’s churn until sun appears. In turn you’ll say let’s go in and even though he hesitates, this man will kick off his shoes and wade to his shins. Jellyfish, shot with pink like satin dresses, will dance between you, flash iridescent. His body is all whorls and planes like smoothly sanded planks used to make a boat, his ears are pale shells you hear the waves in, he smells of sandalwood and salt, his eyes are ocean. He’ll spot the pebbles that in secret you have sewn into your skirts and give you his penknife to unpick them. You can’t swim with those. He’ll teach you to skim. The pebbles break the surface like question marks. You’ll throw each last one in.
We Broke Up

Because my cat
screamed her passion on our lawn

Because bears
don’t wet their ears

Because great white sharks
swim solitary lives

Because blue whales’ tongues
lie heavy

Because barnacles
have no true heart

Because elephants
mourn their dead

Because dogs
love unconditionally

Because tortoises
feel their shells being touched

Because rabbits
breed like rabbits

Because fox sex

Because ducks
are rapists

Because cows
hold grudges

Because roe deer
lower heads in prayer

Because wild boar
are matriarchal

Because domestic rats
live and die in pairs

Because giant pandas
don’t conceive on camera

Because emperor penguins
clutch eggs between their feet

Because honey bees
die when they love

Because crows
mate for life

Because my heart
made the sound an animal makes

Because of crows, the shadows
of crows
Emily Blewitt has published poetry in Poetry Wales, Ambit, Furies, Cheval, and Hinterland, and has work forthcoming in Prole and The Rialto. She won the 2010 Cadaverine/Unity Day Competition, and was Highly Commended in the 2014 Terry Hetherington Award. Emily also participated in the 2015 Enemies/Gelynion project. Her first collection of poetry will be published by Seren in 2017.