Author Archives: acaciapublications

Because of the War

It is an immense pleasure to introduce this month’s poet Aziz Dixon. We first met, just a few years ago, on a writing day with Peter Sansom of the Poetry Business. I immediately admired the economy of his poems: a great deal is expressed through some well-chosen words. Much is unsaid, between the lines.


Aziz has been published in The Curlew, Moon Magazine,  Panoply and Perspectives (Ontario), The Fat Damsel and The North). His collection North Wales Pilgrim is available on Amazon. His work featured in Best of Bolton, November 2017 and Burnley Creative, September 2019.


Early June Aziz launched his poetry collection Because of the War, published by https://www.maytreepress.co.uk. The stunning cover photo Remembrance is by Ian Ladbrooke. Here are the title poem and four other poems, reflecting on different aspects of war.

Because of the War


On holiday none of them liked us.
I was seven when I found out.
When we open our mouths
they hear screams,

my father said,
because of the war.

Now I know what they did,
my people to yours. You reach
across the toast crumbs,
catch my eye. 
We share today, you say,
because of the war.

Metro

The metro runs from Aleppo
to Bury. Bullets for breakfast
pepper the door. She glimpses

the hills beyond, snow
but no mountains here. Market
on Thursdays, but the souk

has been razed. Already
her children have friends,
speak English, except

in their dreams. She screams
less often at night, but
still he calls out to her.

One day they will need her less,
but she will not see him again,
on the metro, in Aleppo, or bury him.

Tuzla

Coal smoke thickens the sunset,
shrouds the dank park where
this bright morning she garlanded

her only son. Each day
he dies to her
these twenty-three years.

Maybe tonight it will rain,
dissolve at the edges
the bomb blasts inside,

wash from this salt-spa town
another speck of history,
twenty-four hours of pain.

(The poem refers to the cemetery for young people killed by shellfire in a square at the start of the Serb attacks on the Bosnian town.)

Veteran in the gallery
after Under Windsor Bridge on the Irwell, Manchester, by Adolphe Valette
Manchester Art Gallery

Under the bridge in fog
you stood, but could not see
your face in the dead canal.

Back from the front, you hung
in a painting one floor up;
but today I met your eyes

where you slump on the street
on a bed of card, with a cup
for coins, and I saw

the battle paint you grey
like the desert at dusk
when life and the sun drained away.

Geese come home
Ty Newydd

Geese flood east above a walnut tree,
their haunting caught in a spider’s web
spun on the autumn leaves. The migrants’ cry

echoes from this Mediterranean tree
on a buffeted Celtic shore. Mountain-love,
dawn-blessed shapes rise misted out of the sea,

and my heart goes out to those who flee
with no imprint spelling sanctuary.

Fokkina McDonnell

The Poetry Shed

Field

It is morning, too early to know
if the breeze will turn into a horse,
standing still, eyes closed.
If it were to become a lost dog,
you’ll see it running, yelping the length
of that black drystone wall.

A field like this could be anywhere.
Think green, think clouds. Think winter.
In my memory, it’s early evening, sunny.
The ropes of a hot air balloon stretched taut.

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Fokkina’s poems have been widely anthologised, successful in competitions, and published in a range of magazines, including Orbis, Magma, The North, Poetry News, Little Mslexia, erbacce, Strix.  Her debut collection Another life was published by Oversteps Books in 2016. Indigo Dreams Publishing will publish a second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous later this year.  http://www.acaciapublications.co.uk

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poetry shed

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Abseiling – a poem

 

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Photo credit: Elias Sch via Pixabay

 

This coming week would have been the birthday of Bill Huddleston. My second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams) is dedicated to him. In one of the poems I wrote:

Bill’s last words were always Have fun, so I will.
He was a very good father, Bill, though he wasn’t my father.

Bill and I first met in 1986 when we worked on an Outplacement project in Scotland. In his 60s Bill retrained as a hypnotherapist, and for many years he and I had a peer-supervision agreement – meeting monthly to discuss our clients.

From a poetry workshop on Working the Body I had the marvellous poem Climbing my Grandfather. It’s a first-hand story by a child, starting at the brogues (shoes) and ending on top of the head, the summit, with the slow pulse of (the grandfather’s) good heart. Here you can read the original poem by Andrew Waterhouse, a poet and musician, who was passionate about the environment. He suffered from depression and, aged 42, died by suicide in 2001.

 
Abseiling Bill

 
The grey hairs combed back are too few to attach the equipment,
so I slide down slowly to his glasses, see close-up the grey hairs
sprouting from his ear. I think of rabbit holes, hear scuttling
sounds as his amazing brain is shifting, growing, learning.
I move carefully down his cheek where I can hear humming
from his sinus. Suddenly I’m dangling as he turns his head
to hear the other person better. His chin is smooth and
soon I reach the safety of his dark green cardigan,
all bobbly terrain and the round boulders
of its leather buttons. I can slide across his chest
where his large warm heart is housed, my feet
feel the rise of his breath lower down as he is
slowing to pace the other person.
It’s an easy journey now onto his chinos.
I walk across his upper leg, sun lights
my path. I rest in the folds of his knees.
From here I can see his steady feet
in the solid grey trainers and I land
without a hitch, safely.

Knitting – a poem

 

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Photo credit: cocoparisienne via Pixabay

In this region, schools will start tomorrow. Everywhere, there are large white banners up reminding drivers that children are about, on foot or on their bike. For various reasons, I don’t have good memories of my time at primary school. When I think about knitting, or see someone knitting, my stomach contracts. But, don’t you love the bike?

 

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Photo credit: Foundry Co via Pixabay

Did you knit this yourself?

It would have been a morning.
Glasses, graying hair in a bun,
typical spinster teacher.

Why ask a question to which you
already know the answer?

Because you had never been able
or willing to show me left-handed knitting.

The few centimetres my mother
had added during the week stood out:

too smooth and regular, too clean,
easily done in her click-clack rhythm.

I watched you unpick it, leaving
me sitting with a pile of curly wool.

Hacker – a poem

Keith Lander

 

It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet Keith Lander. We first met early autumn 2004 in the Village Hall, Manchester where the poet Linda Chase was running a weekly poetry course, on behalf of the Poetry School. The Poetry School is the UK’s largest provider of poetry education, offering a wide range of courses at all levels.

Keith Lander was born and grew up in Manchester. At school he studied sciences and went on to gain a B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Wales, Bangor. This led him into the IT industry where he worked as a software engineer and for several years was a consultant for Siemens in Munich.

He has had poems published in a number of anthologies and magazines including The North, Envoi and Obsessed with Pipework and has been long listed three times for the National Poetry Competition. He has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The three poems feature the mysterious “Milo” character. You can find all three in the pamphlet Pandemonium, published by Yaffle Press in 2019. For more information about Keith Lander go to his writing website.

 

Hacker

This morning Wu Mian of Guangzhou province,
Zen hacker extraordinaire, Milo’s big buddy,
will smash through Mr C’s firewall
using a password provided by Milo.

He’ll be sitting alone in his garden
surrounded by clematis and acacia blossom
listening to the music of the fountain
while reading Lu Chi’s Wen Fu.

A trojan horse will appear out of cyberspace
and release its hidden hoard of phisher men
who’ll slide into the fountain,
hack their way into his heart
and steal his deepest secrets.

 

In theatre: Milo’s view

Milo tells me I won’t feel a thing.
He on the other hand will be awake
monitoring the situation.
He’s seen the videos on YouTube,
how they stop the heart, cool the body, pump
the blood through a machine. No way is he

going to get trapped in that infernal thing.
So he stays out of the arteries, surfs
from lymph node to lymph node, watches the surgeon
remove the right saphenous vein through a hole in my groin,
peeps gobsmacked as they graft it in place.
And how he cheers when they remove the valve,

the choked old squeaker. How sweet the bovine
replacement smells—green grass, fresh pastures.
He has to cling to a rib while they staple
the sternum back together, but then passes out
when they shock me back to this world.
Milo was right: I didn’t feel a thing.

 

Pandemonium-cover (002)
Retirement

After a shit life horse-trading with wankers
down back streets of shady deals
he sought nirvana
in a kingdom of ticky-tack and sushi
finding it here, in this place,
with its parity of peace.
The psychedelic visions of his gullible youth
have paled into shades of white.
At last he’s immune to most earthly hazards,
but at night, in his boxroom,
he’s started to have visions
of a black shadow—
Milo in his cave lurking just out of sight.

Birds on Paper (2)

 

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Photo credit: Susanne Jutzeler, Suju Foto on Pixabay

More birds: here is the second half of the sequence Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds. The inspiration for these short poems came from different sources:

* The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. I decided I needed at least one blackbird poem, but there are two.
* i – Almost complete poems is the title of a poetry collection by Stanley Moss. It is published by Carcanet who (used to) send postcards with pictures of their books with your order. The cover image of the book is Still Life of Grapes with a Grey Shrike, Antonio da Cavalcore. I keep dozens of art postcards in a box, in case there is no inspiration.
* ii – Painting The Sea-Birds’ Domain by Peter Graham in Manchester Art Gallery. The reproduction doesn’t show it clearly, but my dialogue is with the bird on the rock that is nearest to the viewer.

 

Graham, Peter, 1836-1921; The Seabirds' Domain

Graham, Peter; The Seabirds’ Domain; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-seabirds-domain-205095

* v – inspired by reading Jaan Kaplinski, Estonian poet.
* vi – observation from my attic window.
* viii, x and xii – a short writing exercise from workshops with Ann Sansom, the Poetry Business. She often does these just before a break. Mostly six or seven lines with restrictions, for example line 1 must have a day of the week, line 2 a building, line 3 no rules. Written against the clock, some small jewels may appear.
* ix – observation from sun lounge window.
* xi – inspired by that phone call. The tanka was published in Blithe Spirit, the magazine of the British Haiku Society, some years ago.

 

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Peregrine falcon, Photo credit: Ray Miller on Pixabay

vii
Pocked and pitted stone
visible only to the peregrines
that nest on this cathedral –
a grimace carved by the stonemason
who used to beat his apprentice.

viii
Sundays summer and winter
we went to church at least once –
If I was that tiny sparrow
I would slip out, circle the white
spray, marram grass, the endless shore.

ix
Blackbirds nest in the ivy hedge,
as one comes in with food
the other exits at the side –
I remember those empty rituals
well-meaning suitors spurned

x
All around fields are planted with dill,
among the fronds an anklebone.
Just one pale bone.
Scrawny canaries fly across
the aria Verdi never composed.

xi
My friend calls:
an orphan
at sixty, suddenly
I hear blackbirds sing
thin, feathery clouds.
xii
A lost parakeet, friendly face
against turquoise wings
paper notice on the mat –
small birds are a comfort stone
to be carried around in a sombrero.

Meeting Bruckner in Friedrichschafen – Fokkina McDonnell

FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

I

A group of bronze geese flanks the church.

J S Bach: an organ lesson on the balcony.

Friedrichshafen is where radio hams meet,

though my brother told me more than once:

Father never visited, but he may have spoken of it.

The museum (1930s square and white)

on the edge of the Bodensee is closed.

From a Konditorei, warmed by tea with rum,

I have a view of both.  Small wooden

boats rest in the curve of the bay.

The Hindenburg has often figured

in my dreams. But the screams 

may have been from drowning sailors

or a composer going mad.

II

In my dream I am in Friedrichshafen.

It is Monday again; I blame myself

for forgetting the museum will be closed.

The waves on the Bodensee are small.

Now yellow leaves surround the geese.

I expect Bruckner to be in the church,

but he steps…

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Birds on Paper

 

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Photo credit: Foto Rabe on Pixabay

 

The last few months the poet John McCullough has posted many colourful images of amazing birds on Facebook. Other days he shared helpful advice about writing poems. It is fitting that his third poetry collection Reckless Paper Birds was recently awarded the Hawthornden Prize – the oldest of the major British literary awards (established 1919).

Reckless Paper Birds has been described as “dazzling” and a “celebration of abundance”. It was published by Penned in the Margins last year.

 

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Photo credit: Manfred Richter on Pixabay

When I was putting the manuscript together for my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, I came across several short poems about different birds. So, these became a sequence: Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds. Here is the first half of the set.

Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds

i
If they’re honest
most poems are almost:
the nearly-there bird,
bowl of glowing grapes,
sun, this still life, silence.

ii
You don’t belong here
she seems to say.
Two small black eyes peer
straight at me.
There is a shadow over
the bowl of her belly,
a pale-blue shawl for wings,
feet firmly planted
on an outcrop of black rock.

Gannet, you are wrong, I say,
like you I’m mostly in the air,
white spray, white clouds,
lifting and landing.
The in-between domain
often cold and steep.

iii
In her dreams that night angry birds
came and pecked at the cherries,
small red stains on the grass –
it was a summer slowly
shrinking at the corners.

iv
On the shingle barnacled white
fishing boats lie on their side.
Standing above its reflection,
a gull stares straight ahead.
The gulls are tucked into their own lives.

v
The honking of homeward geese,
hush of flags half-mast on a building,
the crunch of fresh snow underfoot.
In Estonia planets were venerated,
I am Stella Maris, the planet’s interpreter.

vi
Squawking draws me from my emails.
I see two magpies closing in
turn on a young blackbird
peck      peck      peck
This bird gave its name to an opera.

Southwold, Suffolk

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Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk

Later today, I’m on a ‘virtual’ writing weekend. Part of the preparatory work was to write a 16-word poem about a place on the coast, but not about Whitby – which is where we will be based ‘virtually’. That brought back memories of my many visits to Southwold in Suffolk. The expensive beach huts there are legendary. The smell of beer brewing at the local Adnams Brewery is an acquired taste!

Several times we rented Shrimp Cottage, at the front. Whoever stayed in the main bedroom on the first floor, had a view of the sea from their bed. We were the women I met on holiday in China, as one of our regular reunions. I’ve also stayed there with friends from Manchester and, twice, my brother and his family in the Netherlands got the ferry to Harwich and made the short drive up the coast.

Southwold Sailors Reading Room

 

I visited Southwold in all seasons. There was just one house between Shrimp Cottage and the Sailors’ Reading Room – a Grade II listed building from 1864 and still a refuge for sailors and fishermen. Another forty footsteps took us to the Lord Nelson pub. The poem is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd  in November 2019.

 

Southwold posts

 

Nautical miles
The sign outside the Sailors’ Reading Room is

a series of thin wooden planks, painted white:
Den Helder, IJmuiden, Hoek van Holland.

Across the horizon, they are less than a hundred
nautical miles from Southwold in Suffolk

where the narrow beach of pebbles –
grey, brown, black mostly –

is held together
by couplets of groynes, slimy green.

Both our languages have the word strand.

 

 

Celebrating creativity …

marigolds

Too many gardening programmes can seriously damage your health! They said if you plant out your marigolds you will get a splendid display, but Nigella hasn’t had a single flower. Monty Donkey. What does he know?

During lockdown, the first thing I did after breakfast was to go to Facebook to see what my poet friend Helen Kay had come up with that day. As Helen explains:

“In 2016 I wrote some poems about chickens. I hit the road and read my poems to local groups, but something, or someone, was missing to bring a spark into my performance – and that was how a hen glove puppet came into my life – you could call it puppet love. I had no idea that my lively alter ego would become more popular than me, delighting all ages with her lively mix of bright-eyed innocence and femme fatale. She even has her own little book of poems called the Nigella Monologues- it’s all about me.

In 2020 lockdown came and Nigella and I left our home to live with my 99-year-old Aunty Phyllis. It was all very sudden; our packing was mostly food parcels, a laptop and a couple of books. Hidden away, we wanted to help others. Facebook seemed awash with anger and sadness, so Nigella and I decided to do a funny daily photo on the theme of keeping Sane & Safe. People liked it, so we ended up doing 103 posts. We made scenery using toilet rolls and old paint in the garage. Aunty Phyllis home schooled Nigella about the war and dug out bits of fabric. People added their own puns and quips and chatted to each other. The last week Nigella had her own art exhibition, then left us for the stars in her A Pollo 103 Spaceship. Out of the dark a star was born. Who knows what next?”

Nigella 2

Home School and the pecking order. Today maths: some things are more equal than others.

The posts brought me joy and gave me a cheerful start to the day. Some posts included references to very British phenomena: those Marigold gloves, Monty Don, a well-known TV gardener, Orwell’s Animal Farm. The wit was a bonus. The posts showed me how curiosity and creativity are a fundamental part of our survival kit. Let’s finish with a celebration!

NIgella 3

Celebrate May Day with a social distancing activity. Don’t get yourself in a tangle.