Tag Archives: Mandy Pannett

Editorial Note | SLQ October – December 2017

We are selling the metal that kills / so we can afford the spoons that feed our children; / then killing them with the metal that we’ve just sold / feeding them with the blood on the spoons from happy meals. (Matt Duggan ‘Metal’)

 

The poems. The short stories. The play. The Essay & Reviews. They come together in this issue to reflect on what we are doing to our world and to ourselves. We encounter the tricks and the subterfuges of personal relationships. We enjoy the struggles that come along when life-changing decisions are made at the risk of tearing apart families, separating loved ones, and we are thrown into a dance of jubilation as people change, make room for adventure, and somehow, just somehow, love and unity find a way, even as we cannot help the aftermath of wars and their enduring devastations.

 

The IDF in Nablus walk through walls / eviscerating living rooms, inverting geometry. / Where streets prickle with barricades / walls become the easy street, mapped / by laser, admitted by C4. (Noel Williams ‘Lethal Theory’)

 

We celebrate our Sentinel Champions from our August 2017 poetry competition judged by Oz Hardwick; the specially mentioned Kelly Nunnerley ‘Surrender’, L Thompson ‘Your windows’ and Sharon Phillips ‘Labile’. The commended Michael Brown ‘Our Father’, Kathleen Strafford ‘Swinger’ and Jim Friedman ‘Some have entertained angels unawares’. The highly commended Maria Isakova Bennett ‘Frozen Ringtone’, Diane Cook ‘The Softening’ and Sharon Phillips -again – ‘What does the heart mean in popular culture?’. Gabriel Griffin ‘Vanitas’ (third prize), Greta Ross ‘In transit’ and Noel Williams ‘Lethal Theory’ (first prize winner.)

 

Think about Travelling without Moving by Jamiroquai, when you read the play ‘Out of the Night’ by Geoffrey Heptonstall. Theatre of the absurd does in your head the way this play chips away at our minds and patience. Yet we recognize that out of the ashes of war, out of the coldness of prison cells and the loneliness of institutions for the mentally ill rise many Alans and Doloreses. We know it is time to change the way we live, the way we talk, the way we treat each other.

 

As we publish our last 2017 issue of Sentinel Literary Quarterly, we give many thanks to our poetry editor, Mandy Pannett, for her untiring love of this magazine and the sacrifices she makes to ensure we keep on publishing amazing. Many thanks to our subscribers, the generous individuals and institutions who pay for this magazine despite its availability at no cost online. Special appreciation to those faithful participants in our writing competitions. Many of you have been with us right from the beginning, through the times we have been strong and the times we have been troubled. You have stood behind us (whether your poems have placed or not), and the little margins, when we achieve some are plunged right back into publishing this magazine. We give our love too to those who have just recently discovered Sentinel and are building a relationship with us.

 

Finally, we owe the teams at The Poetry Library (London), The Poetry Kit, The Poetry Society of New Zealand, Writers Reign, Prize Magic, The Poetry Can, Orbis, Writers Editors, The First Writer and Christopher Fielden for all the free and regular promotion they give our competitions and magazine.

Merry Christmas.

 

Nnorom Azuonye |Publisher & Managing Editor

editor@sentinelquarterly.com

Call/Text/WhatsApp +44 (0) 7812 755 751

Landing Stage

Author: Joan Michelson
Publisher: SPM Publications
ISBN: 978-0-9935035-6-6
Pages: 65 pages
Price: £7.50
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT

Landing Stage by Joan Michelson won a well-deserved third prize in the SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition 2016. It is a highly original book which deserves to be read many times, cover to cover, to appreciate the full impact of the themes of displacement and alienation from the 1930s to the present day.

In her Preface, Joan Michelson describes the ethos that underpins the collection and asks how individuals and members of a community can live with and learn from devastating tragedy and trauma. One possibility, she suggests, is to build on feelings evoked in response to situations and images. In Landing Stage she does just that, capturing ‘individual moments caught in the crosshairs of place and time.’

The collection is divided into three sections vastly different in content and layout but which overlap in terms of theme. The first section Reportage begins with these striking lines entitled If Not I, Who?

‘With no right, I step into your life.
With an ‘Alright’, I assume my right
to cross the border of your voice.’

The thirteen poems that follow are fragments of some of these borders, echoes of their sounds.

The overall tone is laconic and detached, the style of a news report but written in the speech rhythms of individuals in different cultures trying to convey their stories through unfamiliar English. Schoolboy, Serbia, 1992 is a strong example of impact achieved through detachment: ‘We lived in a block/of flats. My friend Moamer/was killed by a grenade. My/friend Aldin was killed by a/bullet while he was sleeping.’

This extract from Syrian Mother, Berlin 2016 where a whole family waits in one room for the asylum process to be completed, is poignant in its bleakness: ‘I say/that it is better than to be in/the streets and in tents. Just/we are waiting… And I leave my parents/because they are old enough/they can’t go with us… ‘As soon as/possible I need them because/I miss them too much. I am/afraid. They are not safe. I/don’t want them to die/before I see them.’
Some of the most tragic and telling words are spoken in Syrian Woman, Lesbos, 2015 which gives an account of forty-eight people being landed from a boat: ‘So dark. We arrive with/too many dead. All refugees/think here is heaven. Here is/nothing.’

Form and style are different in Section II The Reach of War but the feelings are the same. One poem that is heartbreakingly effective is Bosnian Girl which begins with the brutal lines ‘When they had finished with her and her mother/she climbed a tree and hung herself’ and ends with the narrator’s fantasy of turning back time so that she might free the girl by unbuckling ‘the woven belt she slung around a branch./Her slim bare legs are swinging down./Feet on earth again, up she springs and runs.’

This section is rich in striking poems but possibly the one that I’ll remember most is Half an Angel. Here a woman, sixty years after the war, tries to find out about her father ‘who was never mentioned.’ To her horror she finds a photo of him in SS uniform being condemned for war crimes. The poem ends with this:

‘She finds some solace in a witness statement
that describes her father as ‘half an angel’.
He allowed caps on during roll call.
And sometimes, he kept the killer dogs in check.’

The final section of this book is called Fire Goddess and adds an element of myth and folklore to the story of Bets whose father died in an Occupation Camp while she and her mother suffered a year in solitary confinement. These poems are multi-faceted and shift between narrative, reportage, letters and the lyricism of a poem like Oranjehotel where Bets dreams that her Oma (grandmother) is singing ‘And she woke./And saw the prison walls./And heard herself singing ‘Soo – lee – ram,/the song her Oma/used to sing to her/when she was small.’

Landing Stage is one of the most powerful and effective poetry collections I have read. Joan Michelson says she hopes that ‘feelings will rise from reading these poems’. They certainly do for me.

Buy Landing Stage here

Mandy Pannett, author of All the Invisibles</em> (SPM Publications), is the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly

Oranges in January

Author: Pansy Maurer-Alvarez.
Publisher: Knives Forks And Spoons Press.
ISBN: 978-1-909-44377-8
Pages: 119 pages
Price: £9
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT

It is always a pleasure to read the poetry of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez and I appreciate this chance to review her latest, beautifully produced collection, Oranges in January.

A key feature of all her writing is its musicality. As she herself says in an article ‘poetry is first and foremost music … the brain automatically, instinctively, makes associations without one having to think.’ It is the sensuousness of the poetry and the intuitive awareness of connections that appeal to me. May, Apparently from a Calendar begins with a medieval pageant crossing a bridge into a crowded town ‘unnoticed’ by a ‘you’ who is one of a boating party on the river. Simon Bening’s painting shows May as a green month – an ‘allover green’, a ‘profusion of green’ but the predominant colour is red which becomes the link between the medieval calendar and the intimacy of a present day phone call as images mingle and shift as gradually as the river light in both scenes.

The poem, In Memory of the Unclaimed, is a perfect example of the subtle use of concept conveyed through metaphor. The unclaimed are the thousands who died during the heat wave in France in 2003 and whose identities were never acknowledged by their next of kin. Apart from a footnote no facts are given but the tragic events are depicted through the metaphor of ‘birdness’ which is ‘removed’ with the loss of air, flight and song. ‘This summer’, we are told, ‘the sky has dropped its birds/and doesn’t know them anymore.’ They are poignant lines.

Central to the poems in Oranges in January is the theme of memory. There is the kind that is both collective and personal, built into ‘Neolithic landscapes of/awakening and wonder’ where ‘our bones/retain a memory of living: of clouds/of things like jasmine/or milkweed;/a foot sliding into a shoe on a /grey and rainy (again) day;/of places that were dark and cold,’ (Spring’s Sudden This Year and Things Change). There are memories that are random, triggered by something as natural as ‘reflections seen in street puddles’ or ‘the swish of wet cars’(Coming and Going in Rain). In Particular (for snow) memories like this evoke other, deeper moments, precious as ‘bright petals/buried two years now in the snow’. Especially moving and beautiful are memories of the poet’s father, some elicited in dreams ‘as darkly coloured as water at night’, (Valediction), others that are tantalisingly elusive as in Draw Me Closer where ‘I listen for your story remembering the voice I know best but it has lost/ its face like one misplaces an earring’ and ‘I know you’re telling me something important enough to remember./You’re describing a picture that isn’t a picture. You aren’t using/ colours. You aren’t using words.’

Memory, then, is an important theme in Oranges in January. Possibly the poem that I find most meaningful is Water-Meadow with Birches where a video installation shows the reservoir that ‘served the kitchens and latrines of Birkenau’. Here the surface of the wind-moved water might stir the imagination into summoning up ‘living/memory’ of ‘nightmare shadows’ but, at the same time, ‘life/ goes on and people live nearby/Not everything comes to the surface of the water/Not everything is said or stops’.

It is this sense of a living memory that I find significant in Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’ poetry. Memories, she implies in Particular (for sunrays), are more than just a re-visiting of the past, more than a moment of nostalgia for ‘that yellow light’ in ‘our daisy fields’. They are a new experience, a source of ‘knowledge’ to be treasured and stored as if in an ‘exquisite box of/inlaid Japanese lacquer’ and glimpsed from time to time. ‘Inside is where we need to go’, she says, describing the source of her own creativity and inner life in ‘my personal compartment/inside the music where the poems go – where they run with the river alongside me/when night is low, the destination clear.’

The poems in Oranges in January are multi-layered, rich in imagery and shifting moods, personal and moving, mysterious, dreamlike, contemplative, elemental (especially evocative of air and water) – there are many, many facets to enjoy and linger over.

Buy Oranges in January

Mandy Pannett, author of All the Invisibles is the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly.

Review of ‘nothing more to it than bubbles’ by Jane Burn

‘nothing more to it than bubbles’ by Jane Burn
Indigo Dreams Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-910834-13-8    £7.99

…..Jane Burn’s nothing more to it than bubbles scintillates in its poetry. Images of light, movement and shining things abound – pearls, birds, stars, winds and clouds are gathered up and connect in metaphors of the sea in its many forms.
….. Linguistically, these poems sparkle as well. I love the poet’s deft phrases such as ‘lap the scald off tea’ (Come On Me), the image of ‘hook-in-a-fish-mouth sharp’(Byssus), the description of wolves as ‘Grey snarl, loll-tongue, teeth and sly’ (Path), the ‘thinning air and wizz’ of the final poem Perlemorskyer.
….. One aspect of this collection that most appeals to me is the range of tones and stylistic variations. There is humour with a bite as in I paid for love in pearls where the mermaid, treated as an expendable object, is forced to submit to human men ‘unclasping my clamshell bra’ as she faces rejection and the loneliness of being an outsider because  ‘You cannot take mermaids to tea shops/we do not know how to hold cups.’ In Till Death Do Us Part on the other hand the technique appears to be a simple narrative about lovebirds, who are ‘mild with adoration’ and croon ‘themselves to tameness’ in a idyllic pastoral scene. Yet this pretty tale has a sting to it for we are told, in the last lines, that these birds are suddenly dead, slain casually for sport by an insensitive boy:

‘I was sorry for the bodies on the grass.
I was sorry that a boy could want
to fill their souls with lead.
Could fire pellets into their hearts
while they were singing.’

…..Sometimes the tone is bitter and aggressive. The author has nothing but contempt for the followers of ‘the Daily Hate’, for people whose judgements are stereotypical and based on ill-informed bias and prejudice. There really are people like this,’ says Jane Burn. ‘They are right/in front of you in buffet queues.’ (The sea keeps company).Then there is the sadness, the telling lines and phrases that lament waste, loss, and unthinking cruelty. ‘The shanties only last for a moment’ says the narrator in I paid for love in pearls. The collection begins with a statement that there are ‘invisible balls of grief … the size of boiled eggs’ (I have this theory that’). Throughout the poems this invisible grief is the fate of the downtrodden, the refugees, the homeless and unwanted. ‘There is no place/for a stickleback on your streets’ says the mermaid towards the end of I paid for love in pearls. No place for the outsider either, is the implication.
…..One of the longest poems in nothing more to it than bubbles is The sea keeps company in caves and we have breakfast at Tonia’s. An intriguing title and an equally fascinating poem which I keep re-reading, discovering new surprises and gems of detail each time. The six sections are linked by an exuberant  character called Rocky who makes his home in a cave but this is not just narrative – there are many layers to this poem. ‘Everything here is unmasked,/whittled down to its raw …A brass tacks, bottom of the pits place’ says the narrator, describing both the cave and the pain of a broken relationship.  ‘This is the place you come to sort out Bad Things’, she says, ‘nurse the burst ribcage of a marriage, talk about/the state of your brain.’ In another section the writing strikes me as mystical, almost visionary:
‘Do not look for pity. The blocked tunnels are blinded
eyes, stopped mouths. The dark soup of water holds
the breast of an occasional bird. Walk so far
that the children are as small as a fingernail, walk
back and they become the size of a thumb, a hand.
Back until they are big enough to fit in the clasp of your arms.’

…..When I discovered, from the acknowledgment page, that this poem was written for and published by Writers for Calais a number of ideas and concerns in these poems began to connect. There is a wealth of themes and metaphors throughout but I feel that at the heart of the collection is a compassion for ‘groundling things’ who exist only ‘For hawks to press their talons to.’ (Kite, Above). There is an unforgettable image in The sea keeps company in caves and we have breakfast at Tonia’s where the narrator finds a glove on the shoreline – ‘a glove, that at some point had a hand in it.

…..This is a beautiful, rich and revelatory collection of poems. Read it for yourself and see.
Mandy Pannett

Review of Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by John Freeman

Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by John Freeman

Published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-909443-85-3    £6.

Review by Mandy Pannett

johnfreemanbookNow here’s an intriguing title to conjure with – who is this Strata Smith with the dare-devil name that makes me think of Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee? What is this weighty-sounding Leviathan of an Anthropocene? What kind of a book is this?

Superficially, it is a slim booklet of thirty-seven pages divided into thirteen passages each one concerned with an aspect of geology. William Smith and his famous map of 1815 forefronts the narrative as the dilemmas and questions induced by the Anthropocene, (the human-influenced epoch of present geological time), provide  a constant background. This is the apparent content but, if one digs deeper as if into layers of rock, there is more. Much more.

My immediate pleasure in Strata Smith comes from the multi-faceted writing which moves in and out of the subject connecting threads and thoughts. We have biography interspersed with personal anecdote, poetry, philosophical questions, fascinating information on fossils and rocks, digressions into social history, quotes from writers ranging from Shelley to Bill Bryson – a huge variety of style and subject matter in a short space.

‘Green is the colour William Smith chose to represent chalk on his 1815 map, ’ says John Freeman at the beginning of the first section Smith Honoured. To me it feels as if this mention of green with all its political and literary connotations provides the keynote  for  the thirteen passages. There is springtime in this era that man is creating, a growth of catkins, celandines, daisies; colours of red and green are vivid on trees and there is an ‘intensifying light’ in life itself that is determined to survive, that will outlive ‘us, and all our sources of pollution’. (Springtime in the Anthropocene’). Yet there is always menace and ignorance, an earth that is ‘bruised’ with a ‘cut lip, swollen cheek’, the dread of being wiped out so that today’s geological time will be just one more ‘layer’ marking ‘the sixth mass extinction’.

The ‘horizon of the Anthropocene’ is grim and John Freeman makes no pretence of hiding the grimness. But this is an author who knows his craft exceptionally well, can treat a heavy subject with lightness, is able to make the abstract vivid and detailed. What I particularly like is the awareness that there are no simple answers and we are ‘a collective too numerous for any definitive narrative.’ (Mapping the Collective). I love the metaphor that is used of interactive maps in Paris Metro stations where the pattern of direction may be changed with the touch of a button. In the same way opinions and viewpoints change, says John Freeman, and ‘the trouble is there are so many’.

Strata Smith and the Anthropocene is profound and thought-provoking but also a joy to read in the way it touches on interactions, small significances, understandings that grow ‘from inklings to hunches, to theories to be tested, to almost complete certainties by stages.’ (Smith Obstructed).
I highly recommend it.

Mandy Pannett

John Freeman’s new collection, What Possessed Me, was published by Worple Press in September, 2016. It is his first verse collection since A Suite for Summer (also from Worple), in 2007. White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems was published by Contraband Books in 2013.  Earlier collections include The Light Is Of Love, I Think: New and Selected Poems (Stride Editions), and Landscape with Portraits (Redbeck). Recent magazine appearances include The Rialto, London Grip and Tears in the Fence, which also recently printed his essay on the poetry of Jim Burns.

An interview with John Freeman in which he discusses ‘Strata Smith and the Anthropocene’ may be read here http://sentinelquarterly.com/2016/05/john-freeman-interviewed-by-mandy-pannett/

 

Review of Knowing My Place by Bob Horne. Published by Caterpillar Poetry.

Review of Knowing My Place by  Bob Horne   Pub: Caterpillar Poetry 

ISBN 9780957504028

There is much to appreciate in Bob Horne’s collection and I find it hard to know where to begin. Maybe with the cover photo which, in sepia tones, shows the poet’s bicycle leaning by a road sign that is backlit by sunlight over mountains and rocks. Or maybe the title itself, ‘Knowing My Place’, is the starting point for these are poems rich with a sense of place – in Honister, for instance, there is a strong feeling for slate, the power and the painful toil of it:

‘I jog down the grassy toll road to Seatoller
following, too late by centuries, Joe Clarke,
who once shifted five tons in a day. Behind us
Honister Crag, worked-out, takes the sun full face.’

Place names and details throughout the poems bring immediacy. Charlie Soothill’s chip shop which supplies the ‘Best batter in the land’ is ‘Below the Wesleyan chapel, across from Smallwood’s farm,’ while the rabbit caught by a stoat ‘shivered an instant,/sagged and died on the edge of Holwick Fell/ below High Force, teeming after days of rain.’ (Odd Man Out’)

There is always a recognition of the value of things, however small – for the simplicity of ‘the donkey field/at the far end of our street/over by the railway …us, climbing thorn trees,/lighting fires from dry grass’ (Raw Material) and for ‘empty blue-black shells’ which, to Bob Horne, have ‘a significance/beyond my understanding, single-minded limpets/clinging to their piece of planet.’ (Rock Pool).

A vivid sense of place and time – and of the light which reveals and inspires.  The first poem in any collection, surely has a status of its own and this one, Exposure, speaks through the voice of William Poucher who was a leading British mountain photographer. Here we see him ‘loitering for light’ and declaring ‘Soon, with luck, sunlight will slant along the lake./ I am ready, lens focused at infinity.’ In the poem No Matter ‘the sun shone low/over Great Mell Fell/on the amber leaves of Autumn’ and we are given the extra detail that it was
‘late afternoon/that thirty first of October.’

Light – but shadows too. The boy’s shadow in firelight against a flickering wall is huge, hinting at what his ‘grown-up shadow’ may be (Living Room). In Likeness this shadow has become ‘a darker self against blue moor-grass, /time smoothed to an outline’.

There are shadows of life as well. The poem Neighbour ends with the death of one who has, the papers record, ‘been depressed for some time’. On his way to this final ‘focussed moment’ the man ‘scratched his hands on the brambles/as he climbed the embankment/and lay on the Ilkley line/in front of the evening train’. Christine, the name of Charlie the fish and chip man’s daughter, is an equally poignant poem for she, a Downs child,  may have ‘Laughed when we offered a seasoned chip,/laughed at summer sunsets, snow,/ dust blown down the street on darkening days’ but  is still isolated, always ‘on the other side of the glass.’

There are a great many poems in ‘Knowing My Place’ that I like but I want to comment on two in particular. The first is Friends Reunited where the narrator meets up with one who may have been a teenage sweetheart although their encounter came to little more than listening to songs from West Side Story and the Glen Miller Band with the ‘approval’ of the girl’s mother. Half a century later, in the ‘perspective of decades’, the memory has ‘tapered’ to a girl in a yellow PVC raincoat making her way from the 41 bus to where the boy lolled
‘combat-jacketed,/by the Gents in George Square’. There is both the sweetness of nostalgia and the sadness of time passing in this memory.

The other poem I find stunning in its impact is Old Road, a poem about war although the specific battle in this case refers to one from the English Civil War when Fairfax’s men were defeated on the nearby Adwalton Moor. These following stanzas, these metaphors, speak poignantly about the tragedy of war – any war.

‘A soldier throws his pike
amongst the daisies and docks,
draws his sword, slashes a sapling

clean through its young stem,
sprawls among the wild oats
that have grown here a million years

or more, as an age’s unfinished birdsong
is scattered from oak to ash,
barbed branches of thorn.’

 
At the beginning of this review I mentioned the sepia look of the cover photo and I realise how much this is intended to enhance the atmosphere, the motifs, of this whole beautiful collection. In The Cricketers at Keswick the mood seems timeless, ageless. The landscape is the one seen by the Norsemen, by Wordsworth, by men in the thirties, by the players now and by Bob Horne himself. ‘Light on the wind and the eye’, says the poet watching the cricketers,  ‘in their mayblossom whiteness they seem like a newsreel’. A perfect image that sums up a perfect book.

 

 

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.

Still Life – a poem by John Darley

John Darley

Still Life

Remember the good one by Caravaggio? The leaves
with scars that spell their histories
on the pallid wall. It told me
do not do; not
do not. Two by two, browning fingers eke
towards the start of something new.           (Hideous).
I push myself towards the fruit at the centre
and wait for the rest.
Somewhere                                     (out of frame)
the crowd screams for peace. An apple at each mouth,
puckered with deep kisses. The fall
of I do, I do, I do: grapes in-hand, sour
and still moving, still not quite themselves. The table plots
a sweeping plane across the x axis; raw
and no sound or silence or balanced
                                                            zero
but the joy of foot-warm granite. I am uncomfortably finite,
and, like my fist of glossed pulp, fail to distract from the fact that the fruit died weeks ago.

Between the figs and the grapes and the pale
sweet pear, a torched car like a heart. Its beat dwindles
from contracting steal and cracked plastic puddles.
The arteries were cut off
nine days ago, so someone               (still out of frame)
is boiling saltwater. Inside the apple
the crowd screams for one more song.
                                                                  (A wedding in a crater)
                                                                  (A bombshell for an eye)
                                                                  (A vacation to war)
A violin plays itself through a closed window
– the air-con turned up full – and a fruit basket
where next-door used to dry their linen, split
open, still empty.

“Still Life” by John Darley was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.