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 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.’ ‘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 TUNISIA (I) 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 in eyelids of a royal face. We sip tea In the geranium scented afternoon Exchanging addresses, The email never sent. TUNISIA (II) 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. TUNISIA (III) 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 Brimstone 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 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.
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.
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.
Impression of an autopsy
groin to throat
to ear that takes
no note cage
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
hosed and dried
flesh made clean
hair made neat the