Monthly Archives: April 2021

Sci Fi

This month I am featuring poems by Martin Zarrop. We met some years ago through the Poetry School workshops and are also members of one of the Poetry Society’s Stanzas. I start by congratulating Martin: the 2021 Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition got 450 submissions. The results came out a few days ago – Martin’s manuscript was in the top five!

Martin is a retired mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing poetry in 2006 and has been published in various magazines and anthologies. He completed a MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2011.

His pamphlet No Theory of Everything (2015) was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition and his first full collection Moving Pictures was published by Cinnamon in 2016. His pamphlet Making Waves on the life and science of Albert Einstein was published by V. Press in 2019. His second collection Is Anyone There? was published by High Window Press in March 2020.

The five poems are all from Is Anyone there? Where Martin’s poems refer to science, they do so in an accessible way, often poignant, often with humour. Like Martin, I first came to Manchester in the early 1980s – a place where now around 200 world languages are spoken. I hope you enjoy this selection.

Sci Fi

The aliens are coming.
I can see them flicker in the flames
as I stare into the coal fire
and my mother asks me if I’m happy.
Has she been taken over by Martians?
I must take care not to fall asleep.

And here I am covered in mud.
The invisible predator can’t see me
as I try to leave the exam room.
Failure isn’t an option but the exit signs
are hidden under ectoplasmic goo.
The ice cream man ignores my screams.

It is bursting out of my chest cavity,
this other me I don’t want to know.
Why is my name missing from the credits?
Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the Z’s.
Out in the foyer, zombies are waiting
for the next show.

First Impressions
Manchester 1980

People talk to you here
but not in English
and the rain is cold
on the grim streets
that run for their lives
past empty Victoriana,
lost empires.

At night, the city
strips to its bones, lies
unwashed in the glow
of fag ends, crushed
and dying among
claggy debris,
northern mouths.

published by The High Window

Missing

She must be in here somewhere.
He turns another page and stares
at shapes, the outline of a face
and almost smiles.
The hair’s not right, he says.

Under his thumb, images move,
some not even close to human.
This one looks like a centaur, this a lion.
He knows how much he wants her
but he struggles to join the dots.

Across the table, the astronomer,
sympathetic despite the late hour,
is accustomed to darker matters.
Try this one, he grunts, and opens
another star catalogue.

Hands

UK’s first double hand transplant awoke from
a 12-hour operation with two new sets of fingers

(Guardian 23.07.16)

It’s not like wearing leather gloves.
This is for real, the weld of tissue,
bone to severed stumps; white flesh
imbibes the ruddiness of life, then
shudders at an alien command –

a finger twitches. It displays no loyalty
to donor meat, no tear or thought,
no dumb relief not to be ash,
no memory of goodbye waves,
past loves held close.

The patient chews his nails,
flexes each knuckle as if born to it,
admires blotches, childhood scars
from scraps he never fought,
holds out his hands.

To My Nineties

You’d better get your skates on
or at least your boots
and get out there, old dribbler,
before it’s too late.

I may not meet you in the hills
struggling through Kinder peat.
Thirteen miles, fifteen?
No problem!

Or so I thought as hair thinned
and Christmas followed Easter
as if in a time machine
that ate old friends for breakfast.

You stand patient near the finish line
as I pull myself up for the final sprint.
Nothing lasts forever, not hips,
not brain cells. I need a project.

I’ll make you my project.
Wait for me.

Piecework

Credit: Andrew Martin on Pixabay

Today’s poem is another childhood memory, related by a fellow teacher to my friend, poet Kathleen Kummer. I find much to admire and like here: the first line which places it so precisely, the questions in the first stanza, that use of the word ‘goosestep’ in the second stanza, the sensory details – sounds, images, smells. The end rhyme is often subtle, and I particularly like the ending. How our view of a person can suddenly shift through something we learn about them.

Piecework

At the age of two or three in wartime London,
under the table she played alone to the hum
of the sewing machine. Did she ignore the coil,
pastel-coloured, which lengthened with the shadows to fall
over the edge, soon reaching the floor? Or was it
her job to alert her mother when the pink or blue fabric
touched down and risked getting dirty? That this was a lifeline,
she understood: with carrier bags, they arrived
and departed, the strangers who counted out with care
the sixpences, pennies, halfpennies, so much a pair.
Until the table was needed, she built, then demolished,
towers of silver and nasty-smelling copper.

Her mother worked late. She would hear from her bed
the goosestep of scissors through felt or satin, the thread
as it snapped at the end of the long line of shoes, soft shoes
for babies, for feet in mint condition, unused.
Had it seemed like magic the first time the puckered cord
which dangled over the table’s edge was transformed
and became tiny shoes, some with pearl buttons, some
with rosebuds, perfectly paired? That the strangers would come
and take them away, was what she remembered, and her mother
dividing the money, putting some of it in tins for another
rainier day – which is more or less what she told me,
the colleague I hadn’t warmed to previously.

Saturday mornings

Maison de Bonneterie, Amsterdam

On Friday I had my second vaccination (Pfizer). I have felt ok, a bit tired and feverish. By way of a treat, a good childhood memory.

The “selling fur coats” took place in Amsterdam, in Maison de Bonneterie: a small chain of high-end fashion stores. The building in Amsterdam was designed by a well-known Dutch architect with an interior in the style of Louis XVI (the Sun King of France), an imposing staircase and a glass roof.

It closed in 2014, after 125 years of uninterrupted service to the elegant public. The Amsterdam store is a national listed building and now used as a location for events.

Saturday mornings


We’ve been waiting in silence.
It’s just the three of us.
Mother’s away in a city, selling fur coats.
The radio crackles, but here comes father
with blue beakers, hot chocolate,
curled cream on top, and the bread
he has baked on his day off.

Tomorrow he’ll be on the balcony
playing the organ; we’ll be below.
Today he is the son of a master baker.
We’ll have the bread with butter
and jam, red strawberries,
shiny against the golden crust.

Eating a Croissant in a Graveyard

St Mary’s, Totnes in Devon

For Easter Sunday I have chosen this poem by my friend Kathleen Kummer. The title is intriguing, the details are precise: we sense they are based on the poet’s own experience. Then there is the reference to that well-known Stanley Spencer painting of the Resurrection. You can see it here

I asked Kathleen about the graveyard. It’s part of St. Mary’s Church, a Grade I listed building in the centre of Totnes, Devon. Perhaps, I could have worked it out for myself: the poem mentions the iconic ‘steep hill’ in Totnes. Kathleen and I have walked up and down it many times, and hope we can do so again soon. Easter Greetings to you all!

Eating a Croissant in a Graveyard

I’m eating a croissant in a graveyard, grassed over.
People come here to rest, eat a sandwich.
(I wish I’d bought something less flighty, like
a scone or an Eccles cake.) The graves
are few and not recent. There’s a table-top tomb,
ideal for a picnic, but respect is shown:
low voices, no chirrup from a mobile phone;
people sit on the wall or the grass. I’m expecting
that Labrador to cock his leg, but he doesn’t.

Across the street, the bustle of the market
just reaches us, and I think of the dead
around me, of how this town was theirs,
that they walked up the steep hill, stopping
to speak to their friends about their simple,
complicated lives. When I close my eyes,
I see them clambering out of their graves,
as in that Resurrection painting
by Stanley Spencer, looking dazed,
but as if their discomfiture won’t last long,
with the green hills they knew around them,
the sky blue and summery. And surely
the warm-hearted townsfolk will welcome the dead.

It’s as if I’ve banished them by opening my eyes.
The place is empty, but for two men
in wheelchairs, parked with their backs to the view.

High Street, Totnes in Devon