Editor’s Choice

Editors of the workshop magazine are asked to identify three favourite poems from their edition. If the poets agree to their publication, they are published here.

Barbara Cumbers, Editor of OUP 210, has selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Polly and Sally!

Precambrian Dragon 

We are alive on a sleeping dragon
our breath cuts in short bursts
where the path is steeper greenery gets deeper.
We aim for the top where igneous rock
allows a slip and clamber over scrub grass, 
the silky reservoir ripples, 
sparks in sunlight below.

This Precambrian dragon
formed mega-million years ago
where magma, once cooled 
by cold sea water, coagulated
and volcanic lava made bedrock
unthought of beneath our feet
on these secluded slopes.

Pheasants' ground-nest,
we move on and sit quiet, rest,
scents of bracken, valerian, thyme drifts.
Soon rabbits romp on distant rises,
a hawk, a buzzard, a flock of joyous swifts
cut the morning air in screaming parties,
catch insects on the wing.

Adders and grass snakes feel
too many feet on this desiccated earth,
bewitched by bluebells in May,
enchanted in echoes of church bells'
thrumming tintinnabulation,
symbols of beginnings, endings, 
a call to order a command or warning
conjuring spirits of giants long gone.
CS Lewis 'communed…'
Elgar made symphonies, Tolkien's Shire Ditch,
Auden's 'The Malverns' 
and ever Waum's, Clutters, the Giant's, man-made Cave.

Turmoil of bygone years
when the earth roiled and boiled,
rock sprayed and played a tumultuous
chaos to be drowned 
and reappear
as if by magic.

Polly Stretton © 2022

The Bombing of Liverpool

 I remember the words my mother said.
“They must be bombing Liverpool tonight.”
I saw the skyline ablaze, flaring red,
fires were spurting in the dark, bleeding bright.

She clutched my baby arm in shocked despair.
“Some poor souls” she sighed then I felt her pain,
her body tremble, heard her silent prayer
knowing lives would not be the same again.

Forever ingrained in my childhood years
are memories of words my mother told,
the tightness of her grip, the silent tears
and on the horizon, flames dancing bold. 

Over seventy years have passed yet still,
those flames of war still haunt me, at their will.

Sally James

Nigel Kent, Editor of OUP 209, has selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Liz, Tim and Denis!

High Price

His face was sharp as an owl
glasses glinting with malice
oozing unjustified superiority
sniffing round the office
like a stray dog
dripping drops of criticism
barbed comments      designed to puncture and wound.

Not the boss, but sky-high pretensions.
His long legs, javelins he never got to hurl
my notice dispatched.
Later, his promotion chances dashed
career stalls then falls
into a place of nowhere.
The bully became the stray dog.

Liz Power

Insomnia Despite Comfort

Comfort’s elusive on an August night,
Weary yet wakeful, a torturous plight,
Lying alert, restless, yearning for sleep,
No joy in the futile counting of sheep

Fresh, crisp, linen sheets are cool and smooth,
But there’s something rough they cannot sooth,
Despite softest pillows, bolster, mattress,
Unwillingly wakeful, restless, hapless, 

Try every head and limbs positioning, 
Good ventilation, air conditioning.
Yet something decrees conscious forever,
Some obstruction to Lethe’s tranquil river.

Hear some radio market analyst.
Sniff stuff sold by a dodgy herbalist;
Passionflower, lavender, glycine,
Valerian root, diphenhydramine 

Aromatherapy, potpourri,
Drambuie might do more for me
Ginkgo biloba - Rocky Bilboa?
A scrambled idea at dawn’s aurora.

Against Morpheus the odds are stacked
Tried every soporific? Face the fact;
They’re all illusion, pitiful nonsense.
True sleep won’t come without a clear conscience.

Denis Ahern

Morecambe Bay – dawn early December

Sea ruffled by white horses riding in;
wind shouting incessantly from behind;
water scoured to the colour of sand
before crashing its chill cargo on land.

The horizon creased with distempered clouds,
fanning to a stretched layer of off-white
with just a hint of some blue sky beyond,
turn sections of sea into slate-grey ponds.

No ships trailed a wake, no birds hung in air;
distant blades sucking energy with glee,
and against the short stoic stone pier there,
the waves had set the tide-bell ringing free.

No soul on the promenade anymore;
cowered in the distance, the canopy 
is pulled down hard over the café door:
white horses ride in on the ruffled sea.

Tim Field

Polly Stretton, Editor of OUP 208, has selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Jenny, Kate, Jim and Julie!

Pilgrimage to Croick Church

Nervous we begin at Braentra
walking slowly uphill 
against the voice of the river
as it stumbles and crashes its way
towards settlement, towards humanity
and common sense.

Oak, ash and rowan lean over the track
letting sunlight filter through leaves
like a blessing. Now, planted evergreens 
march beside us blocking light.
At the fence we break out 
into moorland and mountains.

In the cold, the wind and the rain
they waited for the men to return.

The distant Loch a’Chairn 
becomes our first stop.
We are still six miles from
our halfway point.
A solitary gull sweeps back and forth 
across the dark water.

Questions, startled by distances
fly through my brain.  Is there a gate
in the deer fence?  Is there a bridge
across the Alt a’Chairn?  Mountains
stretch beyond my map.
The weather darkens at the second bealach.

Mothers and babies, elderly and children 
waited without shelter.

Down in Glen Calvie 
bare moors are replaced by rich grass
and black cattle.  There must be people:
a bridge, but the rope is fraying,
plenty of houses but their roofs are gone.
Their emptiness is deafening

They would not enter the church to eat or sleep.
It would be sacrilege to step out of cold, wind and rain.

until we reach the lodge, 
its grand gardens and, in the distance.
a tractor mowing hay.  We step aside 
for an enormous car followed by 
a Land Rover, its roof stacked with silver fishing rods.
Perhaps nothing has changed.

They crouched in rough shelters
huddled in the lee of the church.

We walk on along the metalled road
where grass is patched with yellow stalks
and trees are sparse, a tight-skinned landscape.
Hard to scrape a living from this dry ground.
At last we reach the church tucked into a hollow;
a few wind-bent trees struggle around it.

Babies and children clung to their mothers
as they kept company with the graves.

We run our fingers over the window panes
trying to make out the thin spidery lines
which tell their story.  
‘Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here
May 24th 1845’, written in their second language
to communicate with English speakers.

Even with the late night sun, wind burst
round corners, rain dripped dissolving hope.

We too sit behind the church for lunch,
imagine their plight, “poor Highlanders ...” 
“so broken in spirit by such scenes ...”
A car stops.  A couple appear round the side
of the church: “we thought you were corpses”.
They glance in the church, drive away.

Chilled by the cold wind 
and with twelve miles to walk 
we mustn’t sit too long.  We go back 
into the church, take photographs, read about 
“this most heartless wholesale
ejectment”.  We, at least, have a bed tonight

out of the cold, the wind and the rain.

Jenny Hamlett

(Italic phrases enclosed by “...” are from The Times June 2nd 1845) In 1845 the last crofters were cleared out of the glen to make way for sheep. They waited in the churchyard because they were not members of the Church of Scotland while their men sold their animals.

Mother Chooses Heartbreak 
(Kabul, August 2021)

In the strangled heat of Kabul
I watch a mother lift
a bundle over the wall
into a soldier’s upturned arms.

The clip plays on repeat.
I freeze the screen
to enlarge the image
until the dot becomes a child.

She is tiny. Her black leggings
dangle from a white smock
of crumpled cloth
stiff against the khaki seam.

She is like an origami towel
in the shape of a swan,
the sort left on a hotel bed
as a gift from a stranger.

My eyes mist over,
fingers itching to unfold her.
I want to un-parcel the love,
to iron out the creases.

Kate Young
Katrina on her first hot day

She spellbinds me
(and her not three
with her whirligig of zest
and guileless sortilege…

Ah, yes!
She jangles giggles,
coaxing also me
to be not three

She jiggles by me,
newly sun-free,
she bustles and
she busy-bees,
all hurly-burly
joie de vivre
on this dog day
               and me
within myself...not free,
light years away….She roundelays
and sashays her own
samba sun-dance -
               little one,
and me reviving dry
aspiring plants…
and rows to hoe…
and grass to mow…
                 vital things…

She rounds me,
snares me,
bobby-dazzles me,
and her...(and me !)
not three

Jim Lindop 

Julie Stamp

Julie Anne Gilligan, Editor of OUP 207, has selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Colin, Karen and Kevin

An Unsuccessful Whale Cruise in the Inner Hebrides 
Ian leaps from his boat 
holding the piece of rope, 
ties it up 
and helps me off. 
We face each other. 
‘Oh well,’ I say, trying to make light of things, 
‘Seems like it wasn’t my day.’ 
He sniffs like a disinterested cat, 
and lights a cigarette, 
‘Well,’ he says from the corner of his mouth, 
‘We saw seals.’ 
‘True,’ I reply to avoid silence. 
He tilts his head upwards 
and blows a cloud of blue smoke. 
I look up, 
high above I see a bird glide. 
‘An eagle?’ I ask hopefully. 
‘Seagull,’ he says without looking,  
‘they’re big round here.’ 
He fixes his gaze to my left  
towards the pub. 
Should I offer to buy him a drink? 
His oilskins begin to tick like a clock, 
it’s raining. 
‘Well,’ I say, ‘thanks, anyway’. 
I almost offer my hand, 
but keep them deep in my pockets, 
‘Bye,’ he replies, 
as I walk to my car. 

Colin Rennie

The berry bus, 1975

The berry bus clatters through Dundee
every summer. Open topped,
decrepit blue, picking up
anyone who needs
a few quid to see them through,
redundant workers, travelling folk,
kids from the council schemes.
Our street’s the last before it hits the fields.

I get to go this year
with the strikes being on. Me and mum
and a load of neighbours;
we’ve all got someone on the picket line.

It’s the rasps this week, a freak
July scorcher. I’m too wee
to be much help. I pop
only perfect berries
into mum’s punnet, watching
the nabblers fill three at a time.
I rest in dust under tall green canes,
listening to the women chatting,
batting wasps away,
and sneak low-hanging booty
to squash with stained teeth and tongue.

A four o’clock, it’s back on the bus.
I’m asleep on mum’s knee, pink 
all over with sweet berry juice
and sunburn. I’m a worker now.

Karen Macfarlane


New morning is clapping hands,
We argue over names of birds
Whose songs we do not know.

In the nervous dawn
Tourists mobbed by shadows
Fluttering like sparrows
Anxiously snap a photo.

We are caught up
In old time pandemonium,
The squeal of tramlines,
The fanfare of horns,
Taxis, buses, and trucks,
Vying for street inches
With touts, pedlars, hustlers and beggars.

From darkened doorways,
Pimps and dealers cry out:
"One night of heaven,
with my beautiful virginal sister".
"Hashish Monsieur only the finest.

Where mighty Hamilcar and Hannibal once stood,
Not a tree or stone remains,
Broken grandeur leans from the sky,
And in the mud lit room
Flies dance on eyelids of a royal face.

We sip tea
In the geranium scented afternoon
Exchanging addresses,
The email never sent.


Solitary like a Roman centurion,
A falcon watches the desert
Embroidered with shapes of men
Who lived long ago,
We hear the clash of steel on steel
And the rattle of shields,
Their blood meeting the thirst of Emperors.

On holy streets threaded with silence
Light catches the back of each delicate skull,
Heads folding like flowers
On broken stems
Lean towards the imam.

Street hawkers draped with beads
Beat a path to our table,
Flaming poinsettias thrust under our nose,
The perfume mingling
With the scent of fresh oranges,
Tobacco and burnt rice.

We breathe on glass
Watching the flight of the stork in soft focus,
Silent movies slip and slide past windows,
Rows of cacti set as hedgerows,
Black shawled women
Carrying baskets between olive trees,
Curious eyes staring from dark robes,
At the grave side 
The widow bent in prayer,
Her scarf twitching in the wind.


Where Hadrian possessed the water
Statues breathe and walk
Among moss draped stones,
The nymphs invisible
Behind a mask of roses.

Where twelve winds meet,
We stand in footprints of ancient poets,
Blue skies encircle rooms without walls,
Their poetry written in mosaic.

The theatre is alive with shadows,
The tragic chorus
Still singing in the colonnade.

Silhouettes of big birds
Congregate at the temple,
The sad ruins
Bent and bowed,
Barren wheat fields,
And stunted olive groves
Rank with weeds.

In a war cemetery
Tourist poets
Awkward and conspicuous
In old chinos,
Trespass where white haired men
Leaning on sticks
Visit names carved on headstones.

K.J. Barrett.

Karen Macfarlane, Editor of OUP 206, selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Ross and Susan.

Hangover Hill

Old knees swell by the swollen burn,
wet underfoot until the soggy bog splits
by the dry stone wall.
Left at the tomb of sunbleached bones
Scramble up sharp, pinned by gorse claws.

Dry limbs, wet brow, 
dry breath, wet sleeves, 
dry lips, wet eyes,
dry heave.
The hangover hits
high over Tweed valley.

Sunk in my inviting cairnstone, 
the summit smoke clears.
Low in the Tweed valley
the river burbles its ancient song
I listen out for its lyrics,
fall back and hum the melody.

Ross McGivern

I sniff a whiff of brimstone in the tone 
Of smooth effusions oozing from his tongue. 
A lick of sulfur clings like stale cologne  
To slickest syntax eloquently strung –   
Smooth, glossy pearls to wrap around the throat 
That swallows every sickening cliché. 
The polished bleating from a cheating goat 
Is honed to lead the sweetest sheep astray. 
I hear his cloven hoof tap to the beat 
Of hapless hearts all fed the plumpest pledge –  
That putrid fruit the duped are lured to eat 
From lips that nudge the sanest to the edge. 
The nightingale croons by a moonlit thorn. 
Another politician has been born. 

Susan Jarvis Bryant 

Julie Stamp, Editor of OUP 205, selected the following poems

Congratulations to Susan, Karen and Adrian.

Ode to an Octopus 

Shape-shifter of the sea, I’ve come to love
Your strange sophistication; out of place
In liquid labyrinths – your form sings of
Odd creatures from the sphere of outer space.
Yet here among anemones and fish,
An ocean star shines beautiful and bright.
Your flirty skirt of legs skims past a reef
In colors conjured by an inner wish
To hide your blushing pulse of pure delight,
As awestruck eyes look on in disbelief.

Houdini of the blue, you shrink and slink
Through crevices defying common sense.
Contortion and a dirty squirt of ink
Hoodwink eel and shark. Your skill’s immense!
From jiggle-jelly soft to craggy rock,
You morph from smooth to rough with ease and speed,
Invisible to those who crave your taste.
The predators, they circle, and they flock;
Your flesh so sweet, they’re driven by their greed – 
A frenzied greed your guise will lay to waste.

Some see you as a gorgon of the waves;
A devil of earth’s salty, surging swell,
A digger of dead sailor’s briny graves,
A slimy siren crooning men to hell,
A Kraken sucking rasping gasps of breath
From lungs that burn for draughts of quenching air.
Once I feared you.  Now I understand.
I see a soul, defying threat of death
With triple-hearted grace and wicked flair, 
Fair mollusk of the surf and golden sand. 

Susan Jarvis Bryant

VIP ticket

As stars begin to fade, I take my seat,
before the gold horizon is yet drawn.
A cliff-top bench, the sea below my feet:
a priceless, front row ticket for the dawn. 

A fishing boat is first to breach the wide
and silent silver crescent of the bay.
A sleepy robin duets with the tide
and gulls awake to fret and scold the day.

The sun creeps up and shapes begin to form,
a sundial shadow from the lighthouse grows.
Distant rooftop tiles are kindled warm,
a tiny chapel’s stained-glass window glows.

I get these tickets, gratis, every morn
but most of them I’ve dropped or lost or torn.

Karen Macfarlane
Walking on the Beach

Walking on the beach
there is a moment
when the tide is not ready
to start its ebb

and the world beyond
that space between me
and the water’s reach
has ceased to exist.

That moment between
the promise of then
and the mystery to come
stretches to infinity

and is gone
when the water recedes.

Adrian Green

Nigel Kent, Editor of OUP 204, selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Karen, Julie and Ross.

Looking inside 

Wait for me at the olive oil shop, he said. 
He always calls it that. Who cares 
that they sell pesto and wine,
prosciutto, sliced fine as silk stockings,
fresh figs dripping with honey. 
It’s the olive oil shop, 
he says. I wait,
staring through the window at shapely jars,
mounds of sweet little bites laid 
out on display. I wait, 
stamping his preferred shoes on frozen ground,
winter breaths swirling round my head. 
I wait.
Inside, warm bread loaves, all sizes, 
pulled, pressed, shaped  
then exhibited 
like prizes. I wait. 
Vinegars lurk at the back, 
darkly acid 
in the weak Christmas Eve light. 
I wait, 
and as twilight makes 
a mirror of the glass,
I notice 
the olives at the tops 
of the jars glow 
bright and wholesome. Below, 
they’re suffocating 
in flaking dregs of skin.

I wait. 

Karen Macfarlane

 I am all for good, for good and all
 Founded in democracy                                         
 I do not favour those who stall
 No cupboard skeletons will enthral
 All’s openness and honesty                                   
 I’m all for good, for good and all
 Those accusations were proven false
 That episode’s ancient history                              
 I will not favour those who stall
 My policy’s no tale that’s tall 
 It’s a lesson in bureaucracy
 I’m all for good, for good and all
 I’m all for food and feeding all
 Depending on geography
 I will not favour those who stall
 I’m one for all, it’s the voters’ call 
 I will not embrace hypocrisy
 I’m all for good, for good and all
 I stand for freedom, free for all
 Unless it suits my policy
 I’m all for good, for good and all
 And never favour those who stall 

Julie Anne Gilligan

 Pointless Walks to Familiar Places
 Rigid soles, unbroken leather
 laces noosed high above the ankle
 readied for a journey into the known.
 An appreciation of the mundane
 in celebration of stunted ritual.
 A slow creep along a slower straight.
 One lethargic concrete mile twisted
 into new shapes by pavement ridges 
 cracked by roots that know their path.
 One more tired tarmac mile
 stepping off the same abrasive kerbstones,
 scooping the same sweet, overgrown lavender
 that unpick locked memories
 of an insomniac's oil-stained pillow.
 And then the road ends.
 And I am transformed
 Frames of references spread, perspectives expand.
 Before me, the plane breathes.
 Horizons vibrate,
 clouds burst their seams
 skeleton trees stretch their arms
 beneath a textured, breaking sky.
 Grey-tint blues steal the form
 of barren-black trees and companion birds.
 Below the line break of the agricultural page,
 planted impressions of rich sap green 
 and pumpkin orange smear 
 claggy depths of heaving brown,
 a heaviness of land which hauls
 solid bodies of stork-white turbines
 towards earth with impasto flair.
 And then Horizons ceased to vibrate.
 And clouds restitched their seams.
 And I retraced my lethargic mile.
 Ross McGivern 

Sally Charnock, Editor of OUP 203, selected the following poems.

Congratulations to Fred, Lauren and Nigel.

The Cutting Room Floor…

We have already
Seen through it
What we called
This Sporting Life
Where you have let down
The side, where
There was no side
Or to play in
With no sporting
Chance in, no endymion to
A man of such
Slender means
Appraised, not by the couch
But by the director’s cut
A word in a world
Our only slant a given
The checks and balances
Found on the cutting room
Floor of the director’s cut
Only to us ever the world
In the film anymore.
Fred Turner
                    Again, for Sylvia Plath.
I am in your repose rested in a speckled rose grave,
         A tomb in a canopy of willows weeping,
Your bejewelled soul is purple and enticing my fountain
                  a pen weaves willow within it.
An entombed fragrance can be so sweetly stoned,
         Ablaze with your lights legal and purple,
   My pen murmured and ejaculated on a page
                    ‘poetry is the blood jet.’
                              You said

Nigel Pearce

Come Up For Air
The days you spent wondering
Why you were here
Will all make sense when you
Come up for air.
But whilst the surface grazes
The top of your head,
Nothing will ever make sense
As you hold your breath.
Over time you become
Spent far too long underneath
Where you should be.
Time to kick your legs,
Untie the weeds from your ankles
Drift up towards the shine of the sun
And breathe.
L. S. Brown 

Eve Stripp, Editor of OUP 202, selected the following poems. 

Congratulations to Jane again and to Hilary and Katherine.
And yet
There was a moment
more than a moment
her lips almost lifted, but Almost was there -
strangling her words and her thoughts
in despair she looked up
and the cloud-lines were forming a word, but in whispers
she couldn’t make out
they wouldn’t be heard
Almost was laughing, she heard it, its words
‘go on – shake off the dust’
but knowing it’s purpose, she bit down hard
relinquished the words that were foaming and rushing
and placed them back under the pillow
not trusting
for Almost was weighing and sharpening its knife
it was waiting until opportunity knocked
though quiet, she heard it – and ran to the door
but Almost was waiting and got there before she could come to her
then walking on air, it patted the albatross
hanging from where her shoulders once lived,
but gave up the ghost
on account of, in hope of, and fear of, Almost.

Jane Avery

The Lift is a liminal space
She caught the line coming from the radio
loved the sound of it the feel of it on her tongue
then paused until she’d thought it through
realised of course that it was true
That was when something else hit her
hit her like a banged door
something she’d not considered before
A startling and profound suggestion
that somehow she’s always in transition
Not just moving between floors lift-like
but also because of how she’s moved
backwards and forwards between spaces
between one life and another
one reality and another
one excitation and its elation
and then the always next
So that was why she stole the line
and why she grabbed it and dragged it
clumsily up the steep and narrow stairs
to that jangling space inside her head
where sometimes poems came from
 Hilary Mellon
The Peering Monn
How you stare seductively
Lady Moon
Coming closer to enchant
But the tides are jealous
As they suck inward long and hard
With a rage that explodes in waves
Which could engulf five continents
Lovely lady
Goddess of the skies
Withdraw to your boudoir
Behind a silk veil of cloud
Bedeck yourself with a necklace of stars
Incline your face to your solar companions
Venus enhances your beauty
Mercury  your wit and intelligence…
Whilst Pluto waits for your attention
Your mysterious allure is the more avid
If we view you from afar
Our salty tides are full of tears
With which they wish to drown us
In petulant revenge
If you embrace us mortals to closely
Katherine Rawlings

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

The Miracle of Reshma Begum

Nine A.M. Rana Plaza, Dhaka Bangladesh,
April 2013

The tearing and ripping of concrete,
Sounds of cracking limbs,
Screams cut short
By choking dust.

Then silence.
Flames lick the sky,
Rain dimples the powdered clay;
Under the rubble
The days are long and dark,
She wanders among shattered corpses
Recognising a contorted face
She searches through lunch boxes
Like a starving dog scavenging for a bone,
Drops of rain water dribble into her mouth;
And through a broken pipe
She greedily sucks in the air.

Three P.M. on the seventeenth day;
A soldier hears tapping on metal,
And a faint cry from beneath the debris;
Voices of hope breach the silent gloom,
She is raised back to light, to air, to life,
The sun splashes against her skin,
The wind stings her face
Her hands still clasped in prayer.


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


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 OUP 200, selected the following poems. 

Congratulations to Kevin and Nigel.

Twenty-Seven Signs of Spring

Today, I recorded twenty-seven hazel catkins,
And think of John,
Found dead in a police cell aged twenty seven,
And of the heroes that became legends.

Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix,
Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison,
Amy Winehouse, and Kurt Cobain,
All dead at twenty seven.

And today,
I count the wing beats of a butterfly,
And think of John.


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

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,
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.


 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...
 Perhaps we might
 avoid this censorship.
 White on white.  So crisp, so clean.
 This sterile air offensive, 
 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
 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

carcass split
groin to throat
to ear that takes
no note cage
and heart
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
to rituals
and tears
so worded-
earth may
strip these
bones of

Peter Meredith-Smith