Category Archives: Poetry

Don’t talk to me of snow

Don’t talk to me of snow

Just give me her body laid in Longmire’s
and I’ll show you stillness, silence, chill.

I’ll show you every thread cut through
to heart, limb, brain.

I’ll show you in-and-out stopped up
to speech, song, sigh.

I’ll show you stone no touch or kiss
will every warm again.

Don’t talk to me of snow, of landscape whited out
and all ways lost. Give me mother.

This poem is by Gina Wilson, from her new pamphlet IT WAS AND IT WASN’T, published by Mariscat Press in Edinburgh. Gina’s adult poetry started to appear in 1996 and has been widely published in anthologies and a range of magazines. Happenstance Press published her first poetry pamphlet Scissors Paper Stone in 2010. She was first published as a writer for children and young adults – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape) and picture books (Walker Books). Gina has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Kurt Maschler Award and the Smarties Prize. She is a psychotherapist in Oxford.

Gina and I met in 2012 on the Writing School in Sheffield. She wrote a testimonial for my debut collection. I see our work as similar in some ways: her poems are complex, but they seem deceptively simple. Tough and compelling, no verbiage – no sentimentality Kate Clanchy wrote of her first pamphlet. Below is the poem that gives the new pamphlet its title:


Squirrels spend a lot of time
digging up and reburying their store,
checking it’s still there, taking a bite.
My mother used to be the same
with dates and nuts at Christmas.
Never an unopened box of anything
by the Day itself. Funny how people
can’t quite bury a treasure. My brother
dug up our dead rabbit by torchlight
to see if it was safe. It was and it wasn’t.



Snow, snow, snow…

Under all that snow is a silver lining: last night I made it through snow to our small local writing group where we worked with a poem by Phil James The Eskimos’ Hundred Words for Snow.  It includes some wonderful words and definitions, such as priyakli – snow that looks like it’s falling upwards, and dinliltla – little balls of snow that cling to Husky fur.  There may be some genuine Inuit words here, but the whole poem is a take-off.  So we have tlalam – snow sold to American tourists, and Mac Tla – snow burgers.

This afternoon, while fresh snow swirled outside, I looked up the details.  In his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages, the anthropologist Franz Boas published on his research undertaken in the 1880s.  Later the story of the 100 words for snow was deemed to be just a myth.

But the Inuit language has at least 50 words for snow and sea ice, and the Yupik about 40.  We have matsaaruti – wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and pukak – crystalline powder snow that looks like salt.  That would be the snow then just outside my living room window…

My funny Valentine…

This is not a poem

the editor wrote, this is a list.
and I thought, he must be right,
he is an editor. But then I
thought there are list poems…

from afar, in love with his car,
or his wife, depressed about life,
attached to his money,
or his mother,
or some other pre-occupation,
watches trains from a station,
alcoholic, workaholic,
football high on his list,
never been kissed,
recently converted to church,
leaves you there in a lurch,
Elvis look-alike,
any man called Mike.

But I just had some great news: my poem Quantum has been Commended in the 2017 Barnet Open Poetry Competition and will be published in their anthology.



Hyacinths and biscuits

In Good Morning, America (1928) Carl Sandburg wrote thirty-eight definitions of poetry. My two-day one-fruit detox (apples) has left me a little obsessed with food and drink, so this one stands out:

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

I wrote a poem once about hyacinths (inspired by one of the Louise Glück flower poems), but it’s in a huge pile of So-so poems that I’m going through this week and it may not survive the cull.  As for biscuits, I can only offer broken ones. It’s a long prose poem that was published by Valley Press in their Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry last year. I rarely do politic poems and I rarely do rants…

Broken biscuits

Is there poetry in broken biscuits? Discuss. The short answer is yes, provided it is articulated in the unashamedly Yorkshire, tongue-in-cheek, twinkle-in-the-voice tones of Ian McMillan of The Verb. You need a risk assessment now before being allowed to step onto a soapbox: its size, the maximum weight of poet it may carry. There is the marshal in a fluorescent jacket, carrying a walkie-talkie, clipboard and stopwatch, holding at bay some members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Biscuits. Biscuits are indexed and cross-referenced, generic categories and brand names listed: Bourbon, broken, chocolate, chocolate (milk), chocolate chips, chocolate digestive (Milk Chocolate & Orange Digestive), digestive, dunking….. Specifications are laid out, spelled out and laid down for the packaging of biscuits. Here the blue and orange house colours of McVitie’s nestle up with the listing of the ingredients: wheat flour, dried whey, cocoa mass, along with emulsifiers (soya lecithin, E476, natural vanilla flavouring), raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate, tartaric acid, malic acid). A touch then of the barbarous, barbaric, acidic and malicious. Raising agents might be the euphemistic title for these officials. Some Government-funded scheme would have lifted people off the scrapheap in a cold and distant Northern town; the group photo – five of them smiling in their smart uniform – appeared in the Echo, and now they do their daily rounds: moving beggars along, breaking up groups of young men loitering, or giving the impression that they are, or might be soon. The faded For Sale signs creak in the windy cave of a shopping mall, windows are boarded up and people – young girls in anoraks, smoking, pushing their friends; pensioners with stick and Zimmer frames – queue up in Penny and Pound shops for bags of broken biscuits.




Refrigerator, 1957

To help me get back into writing, I got out 52. Write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going. The book originated in the 52 Project by Jo Bell and guest poets. I opened it at random and got to Prompt No. 15 titled Bell, Book and Candle. This is a prompt on writing about the unnoticed object.

The second sample poem Refrigerator, 1957 is by the American poet Thomas Lux. As synchronicity would have it, today is the first anniversary of his death. He was born in 1946 on the dairy farm his father owned. On, the website of the Academy of American Poets, I watched a short video In Memoriam 2017 which had a picture and a short quote by each of the US poets who died last year.

Adding that date to an ordinary object already makes it less ordinary. It tells us the perspective is that of an eleven-year old boy. More like a vaultyou pull the handle out it starts. There is humour: not a place to go in hope or hunger. Then the poem zooms in, heart red, sexual red, neon red, on that jar of Maraschino cherries. The same jar there through a childhood of dull dinners… Then we go down the timeline to grandparents, pig farm in Bohemia. The poem ends and because you do not eat/ that which rips your heart with joy.






Love and a dry February

Paper Swans Press are going to publish my poem Cromer, August in their Love anthology.  I had a poem selected for Great Britain anthology, so I know Sarah, the Editor, will produce a lovely book.  It’s going to be pocket-sized…

While I was on Lanzarote I didn’t write much, but I read 11 books.  Brought back The Iceberg, in which Marion Coutts writes about the two years leading up to the death of her partner, the art critic Tom Lubbock.  The quote on the cover says “mesmerising, harrowing and radiant” and I understand why the book was awarded the Wellcome Book Prize in 2015.

As I’m giving up alcohol, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about other drinks and am well stocked up with herbal teas:-

Moroccan Mint – with a twist of cardamon

Three cinnamon – a sweet embrace of organic Indian, Indonesian & Vietnamese cinnamon

Lemon, ginger  & manuka honey – a welcoming cup of spicy-sweet organic bliss

Linden flower –  Carmencita Tila (Sp) bought in Playa Blanca

Pure Fennel – the bright yellow flowers of the fennel plant fan out like water from a sprinkler…

When is a list not a poem?





Flash, I love you!

Here are 34 extremely short stories in an anthology of flash fiction published by Paper Swans Press. My submissions didn’t cut the mustard: they were prose poems in disguise and didn’t have that important story arc.

cover flash fiction

I’ve made a handful of resolutions.  One of these is to write more short stories and get into writing flash fiction. Many years ago I had some success with short stories: published in anthologies and broadcast.  I got a cheque from the BBC for £5, that’s £1 per minute broadcast for Diving at Calypso Bay.  I’m a total novice at flash fiction and will study the form closely.  That’s after I’ve submitted some poems to issue 3 of Strix…