One Poem by Lizzie Ballagher

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Ophelia in Mourning at Evening

Summer seeps away
in a barely moving brook.

Last leaves fall from desolate birch:
those trunks that draw black inks
through the glassy water,
through branchy weeds: runes
signifying autumn’s melancholy
under a sky paling to nightfall.

And not even a twilight-blue wrap
or the gossamer threads
of a needless bridal gown—
now dappled, dank with dew
in evening’s grass—could keep out
sorrow’s cold.

She will go cloak herself, instead,
in widow’s weeds.

 

A published novelist between 1984 and 1996 in North America, the UK, Netherlands and Sweden (pen-name Elizabeth Gibson), Lizzie Ballagher now writes poetry rather than fiction. Her work has been featured in a variety of magazines and webzines: Nine Muses Poetry, Nitrogen House, the Ekphrastic Review, South-East Walker Magazine, Far Eastand Poetry Space.

Two Poems by Robert Nisbet

Reading on the Cardiff Train

Imagine you’re a girl, nineteen years old,
pretty and .. let’s not use the word “normal” but
.. you like dancing, bars, the usual stuff.
And often, in your carriage, Mondays,
early train to Cardiff, there’s this boy, pale,
your age, quiet, seems so serious, reading,
always the same book. James Joyce’s Ulysses.

So you’ve done your ‘A’ levels, you know that’s
a solid uni book, this boy must be a student.
But is this real? Most of your friends would say
he needs to get a life. But you’re not sure,
so you start to glance across, look up from Facebook
to study the white folds, the bit of book he’s read
and what he hasn’t. And yes, he’s moving. Slowly.

But what you don’t know is, he’s nervous. Travelling
is a problem, an anxiety thing, so he’s worked out
if he digs in behind his book (he needs to read it
anyway, it’s on his extra-reading list),
he can stay in himself and safe. He does though
like the book. He finds some solace in the image too,
Welsh railways’ dreaming intellectual.

One busy day, they’re crammed in cheek by cheek
and she (at fourteen she was known as “Bossy”) asks
“Good book?” And he’s gabbling a little, about Bloom,
Dublin, Night-town, she gets about a half of it,
and she’s thinking, Shall I just ask .. what times
does he come back? Coffee sometime, somewhere?
The Cardiff train in April. The promise, the light sky.


In the Carters’ Arms

Two junior academics, shy, near middle age,
they started their trips to the Carters’ Arms
one May/June term in a very hot summer.

The poet they’d meet in the pub’s front bar,
calm-widowed, there for his supper,
seemed to be bathed in contentment.
He’d sip stewed pears, move to the clouds
of a generous pipe smoke, chat poetry with them.

The barmaid, kind-hearted, well-breasted
(or so the man’s phrase described her),
would tell them of her daughter’s hockey.
Front bar, the crony dominoes (her phrase that),
then they’d drink red wine in the hushed back bar,
a brown retreat, with maps and hunting prints.

They loved it there, their local,
maybe because it was a poets’ pub,
maybe for its well-forgotten nature.
It was their pub, a first time in their lives,
their own locality, their own back room.

 

Robert Nisbet is a poet from West Wales who in 2017 won the Prole Pamphlet Competition with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes. His work has been widely published in Britain and the USA.

One Poem by Sheree Mack

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Listen

Listen

… to the geese gathering
honking at all hours, they have arrived
to wait out the winter on these shores

Listen

… as they take to the clear sky
together, in formation, whining, squeaking,
as their wide wings caress the cool air

Listen

… in times past, you have missed
this display, missed their joy, because you
were lost to yourself. Not this year.

Listen. Look. Love.

 

Sheree Mack is a Creatrix living on the North East Coast of England. She facilitates visual journaling workshops, nationally and internationally, supporting women in their exploration of their authentic voices. She is currently writing about traveling and working in Iceland as well as the next instalment of her creative non-fiction memoir. More of her work is available at livingwildstudios.com.

One Poem by Richard Hawtree

A Pair of Red Shoes

The start of your life was the end of empire
as they lifted you to the pyramid’s top
with your wind-up gramophone and desert smile.

The start of your life was a sandstorm
that buried golden plates and suits of armour
strobing through seamless royal palaces.

The start of your life was a pair of red shoes
worn once at a children’s party
where you danced with young Farouk.

The start of your life was the end of trunks
dizzy with dresses for the summer season
your mother, for some reason, never returned to Harrods.

The start of your life was the end of bell boys and tweenies,
the beginning of bombs and doodlebugs, the flattened silence of Hull,
the sonic boom of your memory singing.

 

Richard Hawtree’s poems have appeared in literary magazines including: The Stinging FlyBansheeThe Honest UlstermanSOUTH, and The Penny Dreadful. His pamphlet The Night I Spoke Irish in Surrey was published earlier this year by Dempsey and Windle.

One Poem by Kate Young

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

Ready to Fall

I sense it first,
that old summer breath
musty as compost,
shuffling in on winds
weary of dragging
those bruised leaves
along the mouldy bank
slick with river-spit
and discarded regret

toppling, tumbling
from the fit of spring,
its uniform green
appearing routinely,
buds in place
held tight to chest
preparing for summer
the season of symmetry,
hanging, ready to fall.

 

Kate Young lives in Kent and is passionate about poetry and literature. After retiring, she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in magazines internationally and in Great Britain. She is presently editing her work and writing new material, particularly in response to ekphrastic challenges.

Two Poems by Gary Beck

Lower Learning

When I was young
I didn’t know enough about government
to have any idea how it worked,
who made it run.
Like many other youths
I accepted at face value
what they taught in school,
which made government seem
a lot better than school
with boring rote learning,
teacher oppression, bullying.
But as I got older
I began to discover
school was the training ground
for all the abusers
that plague our nation
and it may have been constricting,
but it wasn’t chaotic
like the land I love.


Dependency

The need to rely on others
is a serious burden
made heavier by obligations
to those being tended,
especially the mentally ill,
infirm, aged, no hope of cure,
just the daily effort
of service, care, attention,
a continuous demand
finally resolved
by emancipating death.

 

Gary Beck spent his life as a theater director. He has 14 published chapbooks, 21 published poetry collections, 4 accepted for publication. He has 6 novels published and 4 accepted for publication, and 3 short story collections published. Also forthcoming is a book of one-act plays. He lives in NYC.

One Poem by Martha Landman

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

A Woman Muses in an Autumn Field

Summer slips away, barely making sound
as it brushes past golden-glowed stems,
silky as her skin. Dressed in cream and blue
she listens. The landscape, shadows listen,
blue clouds listen, lie shallow in the stream.
She misses the silkworms, beetles, the birds.
Her lover’s gone abroad, her neck’s a swan.
She mourns in advance for this paradise
that will soon be blanketed in winter’s frost.
To the grass and the trees, the hills and sky,
to this phantom Eden without snakes,
the words on her lips whisper a soft song —
a song prepared for her lover’s return,
a song for autumn’s mind-twirling wonder.

 

Martha Landman has been published in various online journals and in printed anthologies. She has previously contributed to Nine Muses Poetry.

One Poem by Matt Duggan

The Modern Pasquinade

Knack to all gamesmanship
is to always let the enemy
feel they are winning.
Become the ashes that keep burning;
circles of imbalance will fade
like bubbles of oxygen under the ocean/sea.
You’ll continue to burn brightly –
above sinking mouths
clawing at opened wounds.
Be the echo of the worm,
let them eat the shadows from letters
placed on the talking statues of Rome;
you’ll continue to burn brightly,
their flames will turn
into bottled shades of blue.
Knack to all gamesmanship
is to always let the enemy
feel they are winning.

 

Poems have appeared in several journals such as Osiris, The Journal, The Potomac Review, The Cannon’s Mouth, Here Comes Everyone. Winner of the erbacce prize (2015) and Into the Void (2016). And one of the winners of the Naji Naaman Literary Prize (2019). New full collection Woodworm (2019) (Hedgehog Poetry Press).

One Poem by Michael Caines

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.

A season’s seasons

Autumn, some swear, enjoys its own four seasons.
It has its spring: when the signs of it come in,
beyond the village, the trees arch and glimmer
over the fields, rewarming light fashions.

Evening is then its own phenomenon
down by the neat stream of autumnal summer.
That’s when a soul could notice the slow leaves
gliding over those tall reflections. When

autumn’s autumn arrives at last, it’s calmer
still, as beyond the hills the daylight moves
away; only a hint of loss may linger.
The deep past truly lives; the rest is rumour.

Now winter touches winter. The mind’s hunger
dissolves. As does the joy, the doubt, the anger.

 

Michael Caines lives in London, and has had recent poems commended in the Battered Moons and Culpepper’s Remedy competitions.

One Poem by Jan Wiezorek

Sunflowers

Helianthus annuus sprays
like holy oil from a font.

I sit here, my hands filled
with dirt in a field, watching

these children grown from discs,
creation more than clover.

Longevity is the fruit of
phototropism (facing the sun,

but features will die, I think,
if I take my eyes away).

So, I do little else, or, if I do,
I still think about them,

and if I look further
across the road, I return

here, praying in suspense,
wishing to alternate

this leaf upon that spindle,
lifting backs until they stand

upright, seeing if these eyes see
above a canopy. Even this

is not enough. So, I measure
them all against the fence.

My reality out-struts
the horizon, where you are.

But this is the middle space
where souls hinder, holding us

at arm’s length,
keeping us all spy-crazy.

 

Jan Wiezorek writes from Barron Lake in Michigan. He has taught writing at St. Augustine College, Chicago, and his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming at The London Magazine, Yes Poetry, L’Ephemere ReviewWords DanceTHAT Literary ReviewLeaping Clear, and Cabildo Quarterly. Jan is author of Awesome Art Projects That Spark Super Writing (Scholastic, 2011). He also writes about unsung heroes for The Paper in Buchanan, Michigan, and did so formerly as a freelancer for the Chicago Tribune. Jan holds a master’s degree in English Composition/Writing from Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago.