Category Archives: Competitions

Desire in the Cheap Seats – a poem by Robin Lindsay Wilson

Robin Lindsay Wilson

Desire in the Cheap Seats

smoke entertains him
as foolish chorus girls
lift it to their bosoms
with a scoop of feathers

it pulls a strap out of place
then crosses the limelight
to make him swallow

as it shakes and sways
in the body-heat breeze –
climbing the dead smiles
of half naked starlets
he wants to applaud

a half turn and a high-kick
sends smoke tumbling
along red velvet aisles
to twist under trouser legs-
flipping loose the buttons
on his swollen crotch

when percussive pink hips
lift his soul with a roar
and drum the male ovation
from the Pit to the Gods
he bursts into tears

as the orchestra moans
falters then beats a pulse –
he stands inside the fug
to shout out his demons

***
‘Desire in the Cheap Seats’ was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2016) judged by Terry Jones.

Two poems by Ross Cogan

Ross Cogan

Loki as falcon

I slide the skin on over my own skin;
cold, corpse-like it is and cratered where quills
stand in their inkwells. A savage eye
I shrug on too and a barrage of sharp moons.
My new flesh knows the call of a thermal,
the joyful song of the ploughed field I can ride

real as a stream while this raiment of sails
sets and trims itself again and again
with each new note. Caves have been cut
in my bones; my shriek splits clouds like the shrill
scrape of iron on whetstone. When I return
youth lies in my talons, tight as a nut.

In your hands

I wonder at the small bones that you keep
locked in your hands’ chapel, tight in their sleeves

of skin like the white chalk under downland.
And I wonder at the way they mesh, side laid

on side, tips touching like a clinker keel,
or fall open showing boundary, canal.

Lend me your palms’ heat; let me reorder
its small muscles, tangle my own fingers

in yours, neat as the beams beneath the slate.
Cast your dice for me. Show me my fate.

***
‘Loki as Falcon’ and ‘In Your Hands’ by Ross Cogan won the Second and Highly Commended prizes in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2016) judged by Terry Jones.

Foetal Cues – a poem by Andy Eycott

Andy Eycott
Foetal Cues

The comma hangs,
An ash heavy cigarette,
Taped to the skin of my lip.

It hangs condemned,
A brief stop gap,
A breather.

A connection
From one word
To the next.

It hangs with
The patience of light
From a burnt out star.

A bent nail
To catch lucky horse shoes
Thrown across oceans.

The oscillation of a fan blade
Onto my palette,
Dry as a seagulls’ cry.

The arc of a bridge,
The precision of a fish hook,
The worry of a question mark.

A hinge to connect
One thought to another
One world to the next.

‘Foetal Cues’ by Andy Eycott was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2016) judged by Terry Jones

Fighting the Biography of John Clare – a poem by John Gallas

John Gallas

Fighting the Biography of John Clare

How dull and vexing is it, that each man,
though free to plough, still turns the self-same ditch.
I looked for more. At Helpstone yesterday,
I threw myself onto a stubbled field
with half an apple and the Book of Clare
to read a store of Verslings with the bees,
the careless mouse, the brook, the flibbling trees,
the hedgehog and the lark, the nimbling hare
and all the bosky fronds and friends revealed
by half a sun in wigs of clouds. The hay
stood stacked in stooks, and down the half-flowered twitch
the planted pylons strod. So I began.

Begin in gladness.
Pass to madness.
End in sadness.

Did I expect some other life, to lead
my troubled share about another earth?
Some root-and-branch re-making of our years?
It rained: I stayed. The rawky pages blopped
with disappointed summer, and the wind

disturbed to little frenzies all the tops
of witchen, whin and woodbine, and the copse,
with dark green mouth agapen, ducked and dinned
upon its cracking brig. Enough. I dropped
my core into a thurrow. Word and rhyme,
leaf and line have had their pennyworth,
and common died amongst the common weed.

Begin in gladness.
Pass to madness.
End in sadness.

*
‘Fighting the Biography of John Clare’ by John Gallas was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2016) judged by Terry Jones.

Moon-egg – a poem by Camilla Lambert

Camilla Lambert
Moon-egg

Where the beach
had pushed the sea
down and stretched out
in ribbed sand to the rocks,
he bent down, picked out a pebble.

A pale moon,
he told himself,
feeling its curve nestling
in his palm. Or a hungry star?
Its pocked skin smelled of cold space.

He turned it over,
assessing the weight.
Or a sandpiper’s egg?
He tapped, sifted thoughts.
No, this one must be a moon-egg.

He laid it down
on a nest of blackened
bladder-wrack as waves
flickered across the sand
to lick around the cratered shell.

He left it circled,
resting behind the world,
as neap tides slid to spring
Only the dunlin flocks were there
to see a new moon slip up above the sea.

‘Moon-egg’ by Camilla Lambert was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (August 2016) judged by Terry Jones

Star Gazing with the Green Man – a short story by Lynne Voyce

Star Gazing with the Green Man

Calling it a love story doesn’t quite explain it. It was a collision: his world of nature went smash-bang into my world of commerce. Of course, he couldn’t stay.  Still, sitting here, miles from the city where we met, round bellied and sleepy, the January sun reaching through the dirt dappled window, I can’ help but reminisce.

It was the first Tuesday of March, Shrove Tuesday.  In a seven o clock dash around the supermarket, stinking of printer ink, fingers aching from bashing at a keyboard, I bought the ingredients for pancakes. I would make them in my narrow kitchen, douse with lemon and sugar then eat them with my fingers, standing up in stockinged feet, washing it all down with a bottle of soave.  Slut that I am.

‘Pancake Day’ had been big in my family.  But while other villagers celebrated it then observed Ash Wednesday and Lent with excited self-sacrificing zeal, we simply gorged ourselves with fried batter and sugar then gave up nothing after.  Winters were always hard in such isolation, so, for us borderline heathens the celebration of its end with a feast was necessary rather than religious.

So many bleak, bitter winter nights had been spent by a draughty window, staring at the mist hemming in our cottage, that I seem to have missed life as a teenager.  I longed to get out and lose myself in a city full of fascinations.

Then, there I was, slam bang in the middle of the metropolis.  But I was too busy to be fascinated by anything.  My world was as small and grey as ever: my flat, to the underground, to the office and back again. Morning and night.  And while my bank account grew, my life shrunk even more.  I could barely breathe; it wasn’t the city smog that stopped me but the suffocating pressure and alienation.  I was drowning among a tide of papers and monitors.

So, when I stood in the checkout queue, pancake ingredients in my basket, ravenously eating a sandwich I’d yet to pay for, I was incapable of feeling anything.  I wasn’t even ashamed when the checkout girl shook her head in disgust as she scanned the empty butter stained sandwich packet.  It might as well have been a flag emblazoned with the phrase, “lonely workaholic who was too ‘busy’ for lunch”.

I was still licking the egg mayonnaise off my fingers when I stepped out of the supermarket and into the underground station next door. It was then I saw it: a midnight blue poster pasted to the pale green tiles, silver pinprick stars spelling out, ‘Star Gazing.  All Welcome. North Gate of the heath, 9 p.m.’ It was a dreamy, magical notice, shimmering and childlike.

I hadn’t looked at the sky for months.  I didn’t even know you could still see the stars in the city, with all the light pollution.  And surprisingly, even to myself, in that moment I decided to go.

So, after pancakes and wine I put on a coat, hat and perfume.  I didn’t have any gloves.   Somehow, I hadn’t felt the London winter merited buying them, although there’d been moments that year when it seemed as if my fingers and toes would snap off like icicles.

When I arrived at the North Gate of the heath, there was a small gathering of people, breathing streams of steam, each pretending to be an adventurer.  I placed myself in the ring, smiled; there were nods and return smiles.  But the smiles disappeared, when at eight o clock exactly, in the clear dark, there was a shaking beneath the grey tarmac, as if a slumbering earth was shifting in her sleep.  And to add to the excitement, the moment the gasps and terror subsided there was a rustling in the copse that formed that end of the heath.   The low branches of the oaks and beeches began to tremble; the squat bushes at the edge of the wood shook and parted. Our guide emerged, rising from the undergrowth as if he had been there all along.  He strode towards us wearing brown and green, as if for camouflage.  A tall, young, bearded man with shining malachite eyes, illuminated in the shaft of light from the street lamp where we gathered. His sanguine smile only served to delineate our sense of disquiet.

“Did you feel the tremor?” one of the group asked as he joined the circle, right next to me.

“I did.  It’s just the earth shuddering from all the punishment she takes.”

His intoxicating scent of grass and coltsfoot along with his powerful presence were a heady mix.  I swayed towards him.  Then, as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do, he scooped up my right hand.  “Your fingers are cold.  Don’t you have any gloves?”  His sonorous voice swept past me; I had to listen hard to catch it.  He lifted my fingers to his lips, his warm breath making them tingle – the whole of me tingle.  The rest of the circle just looked on.  It may have been just a passing moment to them, something a young, free outdoors man might do to a city woman as she stood on the pavement, waiting to be shown what wonders the natural world still held. “My name is Ingram,” he said to us all, “there are some fascinating constellations visible tonight.” Then we went through the North Gate.

At the end of that night, after staring at the sky long enough for the pin prick stars to appear from the haze of streetlamps and lit office buildings, the group arranged to meet again at the weekend. Ingram said the sky would be slightly darker then, so it would be easier for us to see.

That weekend was the first time I hadn’t worked a Saturday for as long as I could remember.  During the afternoon I went for a walk, bought a bunch of daffodils, made a meal with vegetables from the local greengrocers and climbed onto the roof of my block of flats to smoke a cigarette I’d found at the bottom of an unused handbag.

I arrived at the North Gate, clear headed and relaxed, joining the waiting circle.  Ingram silently walked towards me from the direction of the wood, immediately taking my right hand in his. I didn’t pull away, rather I let his warmth envelop me. We held hands for most of the night.

I kept returning to the star gazing circle for the whole of March and most of April; no longer was my Saturday spent at work.  Instead, I’d wake early and go about my domestic business while noticing every last detail around me: the shifting clouds; the shade of the sky; the daisies pushing through the gaps in the pavement.  I let my skin feel the wash of rain and the kiss of the spring sun.  The world was alive again.

By mid-April, Ingram and I were seeing each other alone.  We would walk on the heath, or around the garden squares, or stroll beneath the hornbeams and plane trees that lined the avenues off the high street. We watched the bare branches take on their clothes, a whole palette of greens, splashed with pink and white blossom.

By the end of May, the wood that bordered the heath was thick and dense again.  We negotiated it with a torch one night, Ingram leading the way, holding my hand.  At its very heart, in a place invisible to the road or path, we stopped.

“Why are we stopping here?” I said.

Ingram didn’t answer.  Instead, he took his pack from his back, pulled out bed rolls and blankets.  “It’s going to be a dry night.  Let’s sleep here.”

“But we can’t see any stars,” I murmured, feeling foolish and a little afraid.        “Yes, but we know they are there.”

“I’m cold”

“I’ll make a fire.” Almost instantly he set about clearing the leaves and undergrowth, creating a stone circle with found rocks.  I stood in the clearing with the torch, wondering whether to turn and run.

Soon, we were in the orange glow of the flames, stretched on the blankets, a ring of darkness around us.  His daytime scent of grass and coltsfoot still lingered and there was a crackle of magic that seemed to have come alive with the dancing fire.  He leaned over, put a hand on the curve of my hip, kissed me.  His warm, sweet tasting mouth was soft and insistent.  It was a potent sensation.  He smelt earthier now, and when I reached up to his hair, I could feel waxy leaves tangled in the soft curls.  I cannot remember the details of what happened next but I remember the feelings.  We made love and it was, by all accounts, the most thrilling, profound night of my life.

When I woke, to the song of a blackbird, even in the densest part of the wood the stippled sun shone through.   Ingram lay next to me, his face glowing gold, the blanket over his shoulders strewn with emerald leaves and vegetation.  He opened his eyes, they shone a hypnotic black.  “How do you feel?” his voice was a whisper.

“Alive,” I said.

“You know what I’m going to tell you, don’t you?”

I nodded.  I had always known.  His leaving was inevitable.  Yet, I wasn’t bitter or even upset; instead I felt an overwhelming sense of liberation.

“I’m sorry. I have to go.” I sensed his regret; I think he wanted to spend the summer with me.

“I won’t forget you,” I murmured as I stood.  The mellow, woody air was sensual against my nakedness.  He just lay there and watched as I pulled on my clothes.  I turned to leave. But as I was about to step out of our enchanted circle, I looked back to say a last goodbye.  I could barely make him out against the verdant carpet of spring.

On the High Street, the rising sun bled orange across a clear sky.  The early shopkeepers and marketeers wore shirtsleeves and thin jumpers.  Vivid fruit and flowers were being unloaded from the back of vans. There seemed to have been a change.  It was the beginning of summer.

And what a splendid summer it was, hot and sultry. I yearned for Ingram but I didn’t feel alone.  The streets were busy; people in the neighbourhood I had rushed past so many times, were friendly to me now.  They’d beckon me for pavement coffees, invite me for beer garden drinks.

It was September before I realised I was pregnant.  Upon my discovery I momentarily wished for Ingram but that gave way to rejoicing at his precious, parting gift.   Even though I was alone, in a small city flat, I felt nothing but hope and excitement.  I trusted – and still trust – that fate will provide for her, just as fate and nature gave her to me in the first place.

Soon, despite the city glowing ochre and bronze in the autumn light, the pavements strewn with amber leaves from the steadfast trees, it no longer bewitched me.  I resolved to move somewhere a child could be closer to the earth, could see the uninterrupted stretch of night sky that is the canvas for the constellations.

Now, here I am in my narrow, rickety cottage in the midst of winter, the raging fire merely biting the ends of the draught from the ill-fitting front door.  The frost is thick and hard across the garden.  The nearest shop for milk or a newspaper is a fifteen-minute walk, but I can walk at my own pace and breathe again.

Every so often I feel the fluttering shift of tiny hands and feet inside me, then a bold, boisterous kick.  She will be born in February. Her name is Muna.  All I can do is hope that one day, next spring, he will return to see her. SLQ

Lynne Voyce

Lynne Voyce

Lynne Voyce has had more than fifty short stories published in books, magazines and online. She has won and been placed in many competitions.  Her first solo short story collection was published in December 2014 by Ink Tears Press.  It is available from their website and on Amazon in first edition hardback and Kindle.  Lynne is currently working on her first novel and blogs outlining her journey.  She lives with her husband, two daughters and various animals in Birmingham, where she works as an English Teacher in an inner city comprehensive.  She is an avid reader, watcher and talker.

Star Gazing with the Green Man by Lynne Voyce won second prize in the Sentinel Annual Short Story Competition 2015 judged by Alex Keegan.

Hutton’s Unconformity – a poem by David Smith

David Smith

Hutton’s Unconformity

The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.’ John Playfair, James Mutton’s companion, 1788.

It took time to find the courage to attempt the scramble
Down, the cliff path being as treacherous as a kiss.
And once down, the scramble for the words begins.
But they are as slippery as the slope. I fear the worst.
Rocks …… sharper than a serpent’s tooth
Piled haphazardly like an ill-kept country churchyard,
Grey as a winter’s shipping forecast, visibility poor,
Topped with pinks, like a virgin’s blush.
Told you so. Words as stale as a teacher’s coffee breath
Jostle for attention, just like his unmanageable class.
I pick through the jumble, knowing they are worn, second-hand, possibly soiled,
And yet I must make-do and mend and create
If not something beautiful, at least something I would be seen dead in.
Around the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.

I see and feel defeated. But, you, sir, looked
And as you looked you knew that we had been staring
Down the wrong end of the telescope all this time.
You understood what these mute blocks and slabs were trying to say:
That time itself was not a murmuring stream meandering
To nowhere in particular but an ocean.
Or rather ocean after ocean after rolling ocean stretching
Further than the mind can see. Multitudinous.
And I bet that knowledge jabbed you with all the force
Of that gannet’ s beak, bayoneting the waves.

High above me, swallows swoop and dive and gather
Around the ruins of the abandoned church;
Below my feet, the sea, always an attentive lover,
Relentlessly, timelessly, licks every nook and cranny in the rocks.

I look around and see with your eyes, sir,
But I hold this pen in my own left hand and write.

 

Hutton’s Unconformity by David Smith was Commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competition, May 206, by Mandy Pannett.

The Markfield Tomb – poem by John Gallas

John Gallas

The Markfield Tomb

Though it’s April now, when even shades are bright,
what was A Fine & Noble Wife Below remains unsprung.
Her monument in leafy tongues battered out of stone declares
that The End of Time is the Beginning of Eternity.

So she waits, in a lapidary swimming-pool with four
stone pineapples, departed, but not there yet,
for the Fiery Crane, and watches while she floats,
to the north, south, east and west.

The silver birches hold their silver breaths :
under the pavement Eternity counts – seventeen million
six hundred and fourteen thousand eight hundred
and ninety two. An angel sucks his trumpet.

Sometimes up, sometimes down, from pinkish coffin cliffs
to wet, black, corky beds, the Noble Wife treads water.
Down we go : the lawnmower is coming, tossing wisps of hay
into the springing air. The birches glitter on the wind.

The Markfield Tomb by John Gallas was Commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.

Slapton’s sand trails – a poem by E K Wall

E K Wall
Slapton’s sand trails

I laid you to rest decades ago,
wrapped in a kid-smooth shroud,
put down in poetry’s casket, festooned
in an adolescent seaweed-string of syllables.
Words filled the gaps between your wax body and
the edges that we never got a chance to go beyond.

I buried you there, in that stretch between
happiness and pain, where the sky
meets the crushed sand and
you cannot hear yourself scream.
Surrounded by days out, debris, remnants
you seemed happy to be let go of.

Digging with a broken plastic spade,
I placed you amongst crabs’ claws, barnacled
limpets, a child’s sandal
unbuckled and useless now.
Love marked the spot, before the tide
turned, and afterwards too.

Ever so gently, I pushed you down
through people’s discarded things,
beneath disposable knives, seagull
droppings, traces of warfare,
centuries of storm.
Rinsed in tears, unable to damage anymore.

With you, I laid all of the things that you
didn’t say, your fingerprints from the
small of my back, an exercise book full of
questions, my grey-schoolgirl anonymity,
your noticing, the way that you made
my little world big.

Yet, still I open my stiff wardrobe sometimes and
find a handful of Slapton sand beneath the
outfits that you loved me in, or
dusting the bottom of the tiny box
where your letters live, breathing their metaphors
into the hanging space where my current life resides.

Sand trails that always lead back to what
we held, like water, in our already full hands.

“Slapton’s sand trails” by E K Wall was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Civil War – a poem by Richard Law

Richard Law

Civil War

You skitter like lizards through fallen
leaves, kick crisp clouds of red and brown
to scratch the autumn air. Quick! Duck!

A passing drone moans below the mound
that bucks with your bodies, whinnying
ghost-shells. “Once more onto the beach!”

Over the trenches, you whistle a warning
to your brothers in arms – keep your nose
out for Napalm – jumping

from the juddering machine gun.
In the fumbling ecstasy,
no harm’s done, but Harry is hit,

gutted – denies it. Offering peace,
you pick a twig to sew
in his shoulder socket. He fires

a final round of lasers – whining
like a crow dying – into the arms
crossed over your chest,

before the battery gives in.
We sit outside the war zone,
Grandad and I. We’re too grey

and stuffed with Sunday lethargy
and roast beef to be conscripted.
Our old man has survived

all the battles he can, yet barely sees
through the Sabbath without his eyelids
drooping over some tabloid. His nose –

a split-ended clover – falls silent
onto foreign surf, lies still
by a red body that you could cup

and warm in your hands.
Harry is wounded; his habitual
strategic stomp softens, and shadows

the silence as he slouches
like a prisoner toward the firing line:
something has lodged deeper

than your weightless bullets.
“All’s fair,” you say, tonguing
the air to take aim:

a red light moth-flickers
on Harry’s arse. And I don’t know
whether to raise my hand

or surrender to the smile
rising slowly like a pistol
to my childish face.

“Civil War” by Richard Law was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.