Tag Archives: 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
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.

A Smallholding in the Fens – poem by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

A Smallholding in the Fens
We began with myths and later included actual events
– Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting

There was an attempt at a pond,
but it was never lined
and the water didn’t want to be contained
by that black earth.

I don’t like to think of the fish,
their gills silvering the soil.

There was a drought one summer.
It made my mother thirsty.

Irrigation dried up most of the dykes,
but I still dreamt of wading birds.

Once my stepfather caught a linnet:
as his hand tightened around it,

it pecked at him,
but it was the small heartbeat

he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.

It was a place of hooks: for fish and for game
(sometimes there was a right hook).

When he was a boy, my stepfather saw a pike:
it was so huge, it had to shunt back and forth
at the river’s mouth in order to turn.

My mother hung game-birds in the kitchen.
They looked like upside-down bouquets.

There was an otter skin on the wall.
My stepfather said he shot it by accident.
Its whisker holes were pink on the inside,
as if it had measles.
The boy we called The Milky Bar Kid
peed himself in the corner
after his dad punched his door,
his room smelt of particle board and vinegar.

Some nights his mum gave him cat-food for dinner.
After he scraped the jelly off
he said it tasted like Fray Bentos.

There are mini-twisters in the Fens.
They bustle along the headland,
chests puffed out like bossy toddlers.

Things about my eighth summer:
I cracked a toe-nail on the pavement.
I bent down and huffed the tarmac
when it started to blister in the sun.
They used a hose on the soles of my feet,
when only sand-paper would’ve done.

“A Smallholding in the Fens” by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.

& Bless – poem by Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

& Bless

            all the illness    people all the streaming
pilgrims’ barren scatter stripling bark             & tender
bless the bandit’s head rolling/ stalling/ staring
moth to moon             dusk to cavern            ebon nail gnawed
&           stub
               &         yes god bless          god bless this packed
plaza today’s & yesterday’s suns’ deep reserve glint &
fracture a fallen woman’s foreign veil & stoned          her kin
deny her/ prostrate for life for living being & bless
the skittered     lifeblood          under the floorboards

between plates & piers             gallanting out bold
before dawn      supine back-wriggle striped
coming                          & going & bless the rift-open aura
illumined           astral pink morning watercolor wash
along the ridge I stammer as a         child my attachments
to objects misunderstood     as linkage as hairy-stalked
kudzu climbs the boxwoods’ backs; lovers     or foes?
           & bless the bumbling bamboo           too ruinous      &
every spring’s speckless ripped blade & bucket & bless &
bless bless the kleptomaniacal          ruling class’s

Panglossian sputter     pompous lapse and unbelieving
slumber            I bless this copse this gussied-up graveside
chat     antipodal woolly muddied smear what drear
measure         what a month            to die & bless
our slave chapel moved over harrowed field &
passion smoothed over hanks            & marrow
             hees & yaws     & wept white amplitude scale & hands
that blind and feed                  some bone some splint some salt
glazed sherd      a shine plucked clean from rubble
silica & sodium vapor dure: the potter’s thumb prints

fired forever in wet smoke & rouged iron
oxide              & bless the hangers-on released
to creep & tarry matched sets paired birds all set
for the Sunday shoot      & bless the frog-of-the-field
            stacked bump-backed & clutching
one atop           another in a bucket on the feeding floor
            & bless this breeding wire this hedged             tendril &
foothold           tension rib & shore & bless the suffocate ivy
clutch & ramble cling-stem stout roof            pitch & mortared
stroke & bless & bless all these crumbling                  castes

“& Bless” by Mara Adamitz Scrupe won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

sylvia plath knew my mother – poem by John Wilks

John Wilks

sylvia plath knew my mother

a single red eye and a flick of ash
she shows me photographs
of men she gobbled but did not swallow
she goes down in a rain of hennaed hair
her fake tattoo a barcode bruise

brute fingers that struggle to squeeze ecstasy
from the marble veins of a colossus
when I see rubber dinghies deflated on the shore
and barbed wire fences unfurled once again along europe’s borders
mother I seek entry to your country
mother I am a refugee at your gates
no need for tear gas in this war on terror
mother let me tell you
god ain’t so great
god runs a polski sklep – a mosque – a cardboard city

your pity is an empty container truck
mother I know you gave a fuck once
I do not find her in clouds of vape
not in the legal highs of love
they cannot legislate against the razorblades

I break on granite wrists
she danced the twist at my wedding feast
that defied a famine
her hair a gamine feather-cut
her hem forty years too short

her thighs revealed as pink as gammon
if she has a god his name is mammon
my verses splutter from my lips like curses
I forego full stops
for they would pierce the page with voodoo pins

prick me and I will not bleed
my skin lies discarded
with those life rafts on a foreign beach
she’s a bitch for thinking I can give her up
cold turkey for the chicken flesh of my husband’s scrotum

worship at his fun-size totem
instead of taste her sacramental flesh upon my tongue
open her lock without a key
that’s how it’s done
that’s how it’s donne

that’s how it’s dun and drear
he calls me sweet she calls me dear
but I am bitter herbs with no day to atone
angel see my blood on the lintel stone
but do not pass by

my true love is the one who lets me die –
– die on my way from a bombed city
via self pity
just to drown in that wine dark sea of ancient renown
I wear death as a crown

“sylvia plath knew my mother” by John Wilks won second prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) judged by Mandy Pannett.

Les Fleurs D’Azur – poem by Jocelyn Simms

Jocelyn Simms

Les Fleurs D’Azur
6th to 8th August 1945, Hiroshima

‘You’ll miss the train,’ I say.
Dallying over a gift from her fiancé,
she laughs, collects her lunch box,
tickets for the journey. Swings
down the garden path. Draped over
her shoulder the lustrous shawl,

embroidered silk: delicate azure,
palest lilac, embellished with tones
of purple, turquoise, threaded gold,
silver, bronze. A filigree of leaves

and roses. Cameos of lovers, children,
lovebirds, wistful watery pearls, woven
into a fanciful dance of pleasure.
I open the window and call to her,

‘Will you make a fan with it?’ She’s
out of earshot. The siren sings its note.
I compose a prayer, bow to our ancestors,
arrange my daily offerings.

Then the flash – ten, or a hundred
or a thousand times
brighter than any light imaginable –

pierces my eyes. Blinded, reduced
to a blank shadow, I become a ghost.
The window shatters. Then silence.
Where is my daughter?

I push on shoes, rush to the station.
A naked girl, torso stripped of skin, cries,
‘Mother, water, I beg you.’ I scurry by.
She is not my daughter.

Bodies strewn everywhere, people
dead or groaning. The undead, open-mouthed,
gulp as globules of black rain fall.

I fasten my hood, hasten home. No word.
Next day my neighbour batters the door,
‘Your daughter. She has been sighted
on the bank of the Ota river.’

I grab a bundle of bedding and clothes.
The bridge is ablaze. So many indecipherable
faces. At last I recognise her voice.

A white liquid oozes from her. Maggots
spawn in yellow wounds. I brush
them away but they multiply.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks.

I wrap her in linen and silk. Across her chest
an imprint of roses and leaves; a blessing
of love burnt upon her peeling skin.

I talk of her childhood, of how we walked
along this same riverbank, of how she’d fish
with makeshift rod, cavort along the edge
catching cicadas.

“Les Fleurs D’Azur” by Jocelyn Simms won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition May 2016 judged by Mandy Pannett.


Results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2016) Judged by Mandy Pannett

Commended David Smith – Hutton’s Unconformity John Gallas – The Markfield Tomb E K Wall – Slapton’s sand trails   Highly Commended Richard Law – Civil War – Richard Law John Darley – Still Life Elisabeth Sennitt Clough – A … Continue reading

John Freeman interviewed by Mandy Pannett

Thanks for this interview, John. Good to talk to you. I’ve just been re-reading the poems you have in the current issue of Sentinel Literary Quarterly where you are the featured poet. I feel they convey a powerful sense of Place, like so many of your poems do. Is this important to you? I particularly love the reflective lines in ‘Gardener’s Friend ‘ where you say to the robin who is watching you dig ‘Isn’t it a strange thing … to be alive and conscious, and not know why?’ Do you feel a strong connection with landscape, inner and outer?

Broadly, yes to these questions.  Through most of our evolutionary history we lived in the wild, the open air, part of the natural world and not apart from it. Our psychic well-being depends on keeping in touch with that heritage. In our modern world that requires conscious choice and activity. To be out of doors, in however humanly modified an environment, offers refreshment, stimulus, food for perception and imagination. It is good to have places that are familiar, some of which are like ‘centres of the world’ to us, and to visit new places, and new kinds of place. It’s like making friends. Each new friendship reveals something you have not known before, or not known so well, and the same is true with landscapes, cities, villages, gardens, and of course, interiors.

As for that robin, and other robins, they do seem to seek a relationship with people in a way that other birds don’t, and to want more than freshly turned soil or food on the bird table. Like us, they seem to have an ache of consciousness. How should we think about the fact that we are here? Of course there are many different answers, some compatible with others, some not. In the tradition of ‘honest doubt’ that unites agnostics and many religious believers, the answers are often tentative, sometimes accompanied by what Thomas Gray calls ‘trembling hope.’ I think most conscious beings carry the burden of this mystery. And people with certainty in this area are often more or less frightening.

You have a new collection coming out this year, from Worple. Can you tell us something about it? Title? Will it be prose poems as in ‘Wings’ or a range of forms and styles?

There are a few prose poems, but this collection is mainly verse. I hope readers will find it both unified and varied in style, approach, mood and subject.

It’s called What Possessed Me. That’s also the title of one poem in it, which is about how, in my teens, for no reason I could have articulated at the time, I took it into my head one spring holiday to go on an absurdly long cycle-ride. On my return my mother didn’t actually say ‘what on earth possessed you to do such a thing?’ but that was what she evidently felt. As my father understood, it was a rite of passage. ‘He wanted to prove himself,’ he said, and it was news to me. But when I put the collection together I saw that several other poems in it were also about being possessed. ‘Something led me to…’ and other words to that effect are a recurrent motif, though it is not always so explicit. And I think of poetic inspiration as a kind of possession. I find the poem resists my having too deliberate a plan of what I want it to be. If I have a topic in my mind I often have to placate the muse by writing something else before I get to it, something I have no idea I am going to write when I pick up my pen. That can free me up to find the right way in to my pre-conceived agenda. Sometimes the unplanned piece is better than the planned one, sometimes not. The whole collection is a record of some of what has possessed me.

After you have a collection published and are beginning to think about working towards a new one, do you let the poems just ‘happen’ or do you consciously have a possible theme in mind? I have tried the latter myself and it doesn’t work for long – I go off on tangents and end up with a hotch-potch of pieces. I know other poets, though, who are able to be disciplined enough to keep an overall theme in mind. Do you have a ‘method’ or does it differ from book to book?

Like you, I admire those who can successfully build a structured collection. I’m a big fan of a relatively unknown but senior American poet, Henry Lyman, who has recently published his first substantial collection, The Land Has Its Say. Each poem in its five sections works autonomously but they build into a structure you can stand in like a cathedral. I admire – and, generally, do otherwise. I write the next individual poem I want to write. I often become aware of emerging themes.  In recent years I have begun to think more often in terms of the sequence, though never abandoning the one-off piece. There is a sequence at the end of White Wings which you could say was governed by Place, though also by Time – the framework was a fortnight spent in North Norfolk. In the new collection there is a sequence about a short stay in Athens, and another about visits to the cathedral at Llandaff and the green space between it and the river Taff, where I have walked often over many years.

In 2014 I was invited by Michael McKimm along with other poets to contribute to the Worple anthology, Map, which was published in 2015 to celebrate 200 years since the appearance of the first ever geological map of a whole country, the essentially single-handed work of William Smith. The invitation stimulated me to find out about Smith and about geology, to reread Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything, and to relate what I was reading to journalism I was encountering about climate change. The result is what I call a sequence, but you might call it a hotch-potch – maybe your own hotch-potch is more of a sequence than you think, Mandy! – which is due to be published as a separate small book called Strata Smith and the Anthropocene by Knives, Forks and Spoons later this year.

Following on from this question, it would be good to know your thoughts on ways of ordering a poetry collection. Poets are often anxious about this – whether to order poems by theme, at random, lighter pieces leading to ‘heavier’ etc etc. I know you gave me an invaluable piece of advice when I was working on Poems for a Liminal Age and wasn’t sure how to assemble all the poems to make them truly meaningful – you said ‘think of it as a series of rooms with one leading naturally into another’. Is this how you work or, again, do you try different ways?

I am glad you found what I said helpful, Mandy. Yes, I think quite hard about the collection as a composition, about how it will read to someone willing to progress through it from the first page to the last, though like many readers I often browse here and there in a new book before I settle down to read it in sequence. I try to give my collections a forward momentum like a story, and I hope each one has a cumulative effect, so that the reader has arrived somewhere and been changed by the time they read the last page. But there are choices to be made, which are not always easy. Should you group poems by theme, or mix them up? Are you a Gertrude Jekyll, or do you prefer Great Dixter? Should an earlier poem about some recent event come before or after a new poem about a childhood memory? In principle, in both cases, either way might work. I hope the poems you have accepted for Sentinel Literary Quarterly are an example of such a sequence, with a development and correspondences between the poems. I did not expect you would publish all six, but I could not help selecting and arranging them to be read as group.

 Finally, how do you feel about the role of the writer in society? Should a poet consider himself/herself as an agent for change and focus on contemporary issues that feel important? There is another viewpoint, of course, that the purpose of poetry is to entertain and offer some respite from the cares of the world. It would be good to hear your thoughts on this. I know you have done a lot of research into the work of Shelley who would often go in all guns blazing. How do you think he might view the poet’s role today?

I would like to unpack the terms of your question a bit. I do think a poet is an agent for change just in the measure that she or he is a good or, I would rather say, a genuine poet. Focusing on contemporary issues is only one way to do this, though an important one. There is not an either/or between that focus and being an entertainer, or as some would say, merely an entertainer. Offering ‘respite from the cares of the world’ is a valid middle term in that opposition, and could be put more strongly: a vision of what life can be at its best may refresh the spirit and refocus our energies. We are reminded by it of what we value, and in that light we are better able to discern what we wish to oppose, and what is wrong with it. This is getting closer to my idea of how a poet can be an agent for change without directly focusing on, say, politics in the broadest sense, including the politics of climate change, which is inseparable from the politics of social justice, though these are certainly concerns of mine.  My writing about landscape and wild life is, I hope, a way of sharing my sense that these things matter and are worth defending. More generally, I am drawn to celebrate in my writing the positive moments in the flux of experience, the epiphanies, whether in the natural, the human, or the cultural world. The more we dwell on things, good or bad, the larger they become in our lives.

I have no doubt Shelley would be a fully ‘committed’ poet if he were living today, striving to make a difference. At the same time, he was aware of the pitfalls. Political poetry can be dreary, self-righteous, hectoring, ignorant, or all of these things. If you are going to engage with public affairs, you had better take some trouble to understand them. And artistic talent does not always go with political wisdom. Shelley knew this, but the poetry he  took the most trouble to get published, together with his essays and plays, has in it, in a borrowed phrase he applies to himself,  ‘a passion for reforming the world.’ He wrote sometimes in a very direct way, such as in A Masque of Anarchy, his response to the Peterloo massacre, and the sonnets ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘England in 1819.’ These poems are deservedly popular, but he also wrote in a more esoteric form, as in Prometheus Unbound, which is both poetically and politically as subtle as it is powerful.  He knew that the audience for work like this would be small, but he hoped it would be an influential and dynamic audience.

Shelley’s way of approaching a poetry of commitment was to contrast the hell of how things are with a vision of the heaven of how they may be in the future, if only we can overcame our inertia and pessimism to bring about change. He wrote several long poems with this pattern, starting with Queen Mab, though you can see it also in all the poems I have mentioned. The depiction of an earthly heaven, of a possible utopia, was as important as the exposure of current injustices, cruelties and absurdities. I would say, with Shelley, that to present an image of life as it should be, whether in a future utopia or as we find it in more accessible privileged moments, such as a walk on a sunny day, is to remind us of why we should resist the forces of darkness that surround us, and motivate us with the knowledge that something better is possible. To depict such moments is in itself ‘to be an agent of change.’  This is especially true when the culture around us, whether popular or rarefied, seems to prefer to dwell on the pathological, the extreme, the violent and the sensational, and to reject what for convenience we can call the real world in favour of various forms of endlessly elaborated fantasy.

There is always an important place for a poetry of direct intervention, though it is hard to bring off as well as Shelley did in the context of post-revolutionary Europe, or as Yeats did in the very particular context of Anglo-Irish history. My Strata Smith and the Anthropocene has a polemical edge, which comes from my sense of urgency about our collective destructiveness, not only towards the climate but towards other species as well as members of our own. In the later sections of What Possessed Me there is a hint of more overt political and social commentary than in my earlier collections. In some of the poems still in draft which may eventually appear in a future collection, this trend continues.

I must add that I was inspired at setting out, not only by Shelley and Wordsworth and other poets of the English-language pantheon, but by modern poets who had a clear oppositional stance to prevailing norms, and conveyed a conviction about how things should be, though their convictions were far from identical: among them were George Oppen, John Riley and Jim Burns. Each of these shone a light on what they deplored around them, and made it possible to see what their own vision of a better world would be like. Each of them, like Shelley, not only wrote but lived – in Jim Burns’s case, he still lives – in the light of their beliefs. I try to do the same.

Lots of thanks, John, for this interview, and for all your poems.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege, Mandy. Thank you for prompting me to think aloud by providing such good and sympathetic questions.