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.

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

Politicizings
  
 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
Lightheaded,
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
                                                                                                              senses
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.

K.J.Barrett

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 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.

K.J.Barrett

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