Editor’s Choice

Editors of the workshop magazine are asked to identify three favourite poems from their edition.

Sue Spiers, Editor of OUP 201, selected the following poems. Congratulations to Barbara and Nigel.

In the forty-first year of our marriage

we sleep in separate rooms
on separate floors,
use separate bathrooms

There is only one living room
which at the moment
is exclusively yours.

How to disinfect soft furnishings?
We take turns to use
the single kitchen, and swab

all surfaces before and after.
We hear each other often
calling from our parallel worlds.

The cat, confused, goes from one
to the other with affection
or infection, quite possibly both.

How distant our ruby weekend
now seems - an expensive hotel
in Bath, with staff who,

knowing the occasion,
plied champagne and chocolate.
How we walked hand in hand

along Georgian terraces.
admist careless crowds
breathing the same air.

How long it was that we dared
to touch, to feel our skins flex
and merge as if we were one. 

Barbara Cumbers

Psychopathogen

I'm a globetrotter,
skipping over
borders unannounced,

travelling incognito
though you'll know
I have arrived

when my hand
hooks into yours,
and won't give up

its grip;
when my breath corrodes
your throat;

when my weight
falls upon your chest
as your lungs flood.

President or pauper,
you're all the same to me
just numbers in a sum.

You'd like to wash
your hands of me,
but you'll need to catch me first

and I'll ensure you do,
then slip away unseen
from the siren scream

to keep the total
climbing, the records
crashing, the headlines

coming and be
for eternity
the measurement of time.

Nigel Kent
from his pamphlet, Psychopathogen, Nigel Kent, Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020. 

Eric Karoulla, editor of the milestone edition OUP 200, selected the following poem. Congratulations to Nigel.

Kimberley Pulling, editor of OUP 199, selected the following poems. Congratulations to the poets.

Make-up bag

I am plastic and prettily floral
made from evil petrochemicals
like too many past contents.
I hold her 'must haves', they've changed
decade by decade; rouge,
pale lipstick, eye-liner and mascara
in the Twiggy years;
smokey shadows a la Dusty Springfield,
Cathy McGowan, the exotic Chrissie Hynde.
Claggy slap in her corporate era
with dark lip gloss, concealer: can't go out without it.
Always the rouge, her first purchase,
a livener applied by brush, renamed blusher, remains.
 
Blusher is now accompanied by kohl
—mascara's gone—
the contents have changed but we're the same,
she and I, the same.
My creases hold traces of silica,
a pink stain from the brush
a few smears of black that resist
her cleaning cloth.
My zip sticks on occasion.
Scars and scuffs on my faded flowers
but no more slap,
good riddance to that.
 
Polly Stretton © 2019
The Red Address Book

Half-closed doors, An old address book,
Silhouettes in a light outline,
And you peer through at corridors;
Where you have walked are skeletons,
Shadows are climbing up a wall.
 
The sun is low. What is the name
Of the house you are standing in?
Is that a crime scene you perceive?
The uncrossable lines of time.
Across the river floats a dream.
 
There are figures I never knew
From an age that’s vanished from me:
That I can say sincerely, though
Their footprints are crossing the page.
Have I made the past a taboo?
 
My thoughts are damp; the words are dark.
Strike a match in a muted room;
It flares briefly, then sputters out.
I take a box of memories out,
Though there is water near my feet.

How they flared once, these vanished days!
I rifle pages: those dry sticks,
If I can make them dance again,
Will throw some light on my grey face,
Though the wind blows me inside out.

Rob Lowe

Us
 
Herring-ghosted, the gutters fill with water
And the penny falls sound their alarms over the North Sea.
 
The old kingdom of nets disgorges its bodies here and there,
Bloater, Woodger and Sons, kipperers, harvest, smack,
All under erasure, all smiles
In broken and unbroken kinship that once made the world,
That washed these words from the Friesian islands
And made this place.
 
In the caff an order is made for bûter, brea en griene tsiis,
And passes not unnoticed;
Because all is ill enough to dream again in Anglo-Saxon,
And all is ill enough for nightmare to ensue.
 
To find ourselves like this,
As we always do in our longships
Of menaces, chips and rage and gravy,
Is to find ourselves ironically not drifting,
But docking with England, first,
Uninfected,
Disaffected,
Watching in a phantasy of tides
For the guttural homecoming, uniglossic, pale,
Picking over the seaweed, the Syrians, the kids,
White eyed and up, up the beach to the settlement,
And then to the burial at Mucking,
Where we say we know exactly where we are,
Where what we say is no more than we are,
When what we say is pressing us
Beneath the sea, beneath the ground.
 
Jacob Lund

Nigel Kent, editor of OUP 198, selected the following poems. Congratulations to the poets.

  Cessation

 White on white.  A paler shade, she
 wore it, 
 not with pride.
 A mask
 of red, may well have proved
 a truer place to hide.
  
 White on white.  In drifts, it fell. Abandoning
 the trip,
 red boots discarded...
 hope?
 Perhaps we might
 avoid this censorship.
  
 White on white.  So crisp, so clean.
 This sterile air offensive, 
 why
 such purity should wear 
 red pearls,
 where sanctions live - but none apply.
  
 Jane Avery 

 Wilko at The Railway - Roxette
  
 Called from the bar at the local pub
 six years after the medics
 said he wouldn’t be here
  
 he owns the stage,
 talks through the verse
 and rolls back years
 in the middle eight
 with that toe-heel shuffle
 and staccato charge
 across the floor
  
 the staring eyes
 and machine-gun stance
 guitar aimed at the audience
 whose mobile phones are raised 
 as if to deflect the shots 
 while filming every chord
  
 “Just another Sunday”
 someone said
 at the Railway in Southend,
 as over forty years
 are brought again to life
 and somehow
 there is magic on the stage
 from the man who has the tricks
 to get his business fixed.
  
 Adrian Green 

A Jug of Flowers

 We picked nothing that mattered
 but she was entranced
             We wandered the garden
 looking   Pink was her favourite colour
  
 She needed help to find stems 
             that were long enough
 It was hard for her to break them
  
 She's gone back now
             to a stiff new uniform
 and the first days in a classroom
  
 Only the flowers are left
             the hydrangea   
 partly battered by the wind
  
 chive flowers with stalks 
 too tough to eat
             and a weed
 which my book informs me is marjoram
  
 In the small brown jug her flowers fade
             Exhausted 
 I can't bring myself to pack her toys away
    
 Jenny Hamlett 

Julie Gilligan, editor of OUP 197, selected the following poems. Congratulations to the poets.

Always in my heart

They emptied the shed first,
I heard them breathing in my grandad's life
and coughing it out in vulgar jokes.
Suffocating his gentle tobacco with
their sweat and bacon rolls.
They carried his life away in a careless crocodile
of glue pots, door handles and towering jars of nails.
They dropped his treasured vase
and walked across the shards like so much rubble,
my grandma gummed to their boots.
After they had gone the shed was bare.
I said sorry to his shadow and whispered my love
to his favourite jumper, darned and abandoned on
the dusty floor.

Diane Schofield
The walrus and the elephant

While sitting on the sea one day
I heard a walrus sing
an aria of Don José
about the joys of spring.
 
He sang of bees and flowers
though all around was ice.
He sang for hours and hours.
It sounded rather nice.
 
An elephant flew past apace
trumpeting his woe.
“That song” he said “is out of place
and far too loud, you know.”
 
The walrus glanced at him and said
“It’s sad my heartfelt song
fails to move your trunky head
though I sing the whole day long.”
 
The walrus and the elephant
argued long and loud.
Their voices were so vehement
they attracted quite a crowd.
 
A carpenter who wanted quiet
told them to make peace.
“That walrus needs a change of diet
and then the noise might cease.”
 
He took the walrus from the group.
They walked off hand in hand.
to where a little oyster troupe
was dancing on the sand.
 
The rest you know, a saddish rhyme
of greed exploiting trust,
the commonest unpunished crime.
Alas, ’twas ever thus.

Barbara Cumbers
Impression of an autopsy

labelled
carcass split
groin to throat
to ear that takes
no note cage
protecting
lungs
and heart
unlocked
as ribs are snapped
systems now removed and
drawn with skill apart are laid
out side-by-side black blood lumps
to slab as disassociating hands peel
mask from skull crack its crown then
pluck the person-kernel from its
seat anatomic bric-a-brac complete
the wagered weight's confirmed
rashered now examined slice by
slice in search of maggot death
that sucked life from this
meat left it cold and foul
mortician's labour done
the belly offal-stuffed
is stitched the
scrubbed corpse
hosed and dried
flesh made clean
hair made neat the
documented task's
complete now
shrouded white
the carrion's
despatched
to rituals
and tears
so worded-
earth may
strip these
bones of
tampered
flesh

Peter Meredith-Smith