Friday 26 August 2016


I wanted to capture different experiences of waiting in a poem without turning it into a list. I have nothing against list poems, they sometimes fit the bill, but I suspect they are an over used form.
A few explanations:
Half day closing [for those of you not as old as I am] was the practice of shops closing at lunch time one day in the week to enable the staff, who would work Saturdays, to have time off. In Widnes, where I grew up, it was a Thursday, across the river in Runcorn, it was a Wednesday. I do not know when the practice stopped. I would suspect in the 1980's.
When I was a child the only shop open on a Sunday was the newsagents. There were laws about what could be sold on the Sabbath and as I remember nothing on the television, save religious programmes. 

Different Types of Waiting

Queues are too obvious an example,
even though there are only five minutes
before the last train will leave this station,
and there are five people in front of you.

A childhood in Widnes provided many opportunities:
half-day closing;
shut down Sundays;
and endless afternoons of school rugby league.

Clock watching at work may indicate
an over familiarity with the task,
or signal that it's time to find another job.

Then there's waiting for a miracle,
as I have been doing these past days,
hoping the blood vessels in your head will heal
and stop their relentless destruction,
this ceaseless kaleidoscoping of your personality
into an infinite parade of anxious strangers.

And there is the time before the ambulance comes
to take you to a place of safety,
now they have found you a bed.
This last seems the longest,
with every minute stretched to the horizon.
This is still very much a work in progress.
I was aiming for the power of the poem to be in the final two stanzas and hoped that the preceding three lulled the reader into a false sense of security.

On a lighter note I am delighted that Brooke Sharkey has completed recording her new album and that it will be released in October.
You can read my interview with her here, and my review of her last ep here.
Here is a sneak preview.

Saturday 20 August 2016


Judged by Alison Brackenbury

1st Prize £200, 2nd Prize £100, 3rd Prize £75
Prizewinners will also be invited to take part in a special Reading in Taunton

Closing date 31st October 2016 for online and postal entries

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953, and comes from a long line of skilled farm workers. She now lives in Gloucestershire and has published nine collections of poems. Her work has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award. She reviews poetry for leading journals, including P N Review and Poetry London. Her work has been broadcast many times on BBC Radio, and she has been interviewed in the national press about her interest in promoting poetry via the Internet, especially on Facebook and Twitter.

Her latest collection, Skies, was published by Carcanet in 2016. Skies has been featured in The Guardian, The Independent, The Poetry Book Society Bulletin, and on Radio 4’s arts programme, Front Row. The award-winning poet Helen Mort has called it ‘her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’. Skies has also been selected as The Observer's Poetry Book of the Month. Kate Kellaway, the reviewer, wrote ‘The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection'. 
More information, including new poems and a blog, can be found at Alison’s website: NB: Alison will read all the competition entries.

Fire River Poets Open Poetry Competition 2016 – Rules

Closing Date: 31st October 2016

Prizes: 1st Prize £200 2nd Prize £100 3rd Prize £75

Fee: £4 for one poem; £3 for each additional poem up to a maximum of 6 poems

  • Poems may be in any style and on any subject. They must be the entrant’s original and unaided work; in English and not a translation; have a maximum of 40 lines per poem excluding the title and be printed or printable on one side of A4 paper.
  • Up to six poems per entrant may be submitted, provided each is on a separate sheet and the correct entry fee is paid.
  • The entrant’s name mustnotappear on the poem.
  • Poems must not have been published (in print or online), or have won a prize in a previous competition, or be currently submitted to another competition or for publication.
  • Members of Fire River Poets and their immediate families are not eligible.
  • It is regretted that entries cannot be returned.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence can be entered into. 
  • Submission of a poem implies the entrant’s acceptance of the rules.

Postal Entries (with cheque or Money Order
  • Poems must be accompanied by the correct payment and a sheet of paper giving titles of poems, entrant’s name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
Send to: Fire River Poets Poetry Competition 2016, 2, Deane View, Bishop’s Hull Road,
Taunton TA1 5EG.  (Please ensure sufficient postage is paid.)
  • Please make cheques and International Money Orders payable to FIRE RIVER POETS. We can only accept pounds sterling (GBP).
  • If acknowledgement of entry is required by post, send SAE marked ‘A’ for acknowledgement.

Online Entries (via PayPal)
Please see our website for full details of how to enter online:

We will notify prizewinners by the end of January 2017. A list of prizewinners and
winning poems will appear on the Fire River Poets website as soon as possible after
this notification. Copyright remains with the author.

Friday 19 August 2016


Two brief poems of praise this post.
The first was written recently and is about the end of summer, the cycle of the seasons.

The rain surprised me,
ambushed as I was
by my own indolence.
The summer, falling hot,
had led me to believe
such days as these
could go on forever,
until outside of Exeter,
the rain began to freckle the train windows.
The first intimation of what is to come,
the axial tilt and the fall
towards the shortest day.

There is a symmetry here – rejoice.
The second is an older poem that I have been working on for a number of years. That is to say I have never felt that it worked and every so often I pull it out from the pile of half completed poems and fiddle with it some more.
Here is the latest version:

now my four hour drive is forgotten
this winter afternoon
a string of starlings circle the bridge
they wheel and flow in beauty
I praise The Creator
who makes such things possible
I had driven back to Widnes from Taunton, a journey of usually three and a half hours, it had taken me over four and I was feeling fed up. In the afternoon light that winter's day I did see a murmuration of starlings and the journey was worth that moment.
I have been in a Mountain Goats frame of mind this week but I leave you with Vidar Norheim. He has an ep out on the 25th August. You may know him from his work with Lizzie Nunnery
You can read my interview with Lizzie here, and my review of their second album here and their last ep here.
Until next time...

Friday 12 August 2016


A love poem today. 
I was asked to write a poem for my sister-in-law's renewal of her wedding vows. This was to mark the twenty five year anniversary of her marriage to my wife's brother. Such briefs can be difficult, no words may flow, or the deadline leads you to settle for second best. Happily this was not the case, though I spent a good two months pondering, searching for the right image.
When it arrived it gave me the first stanza and the skeleton of the second.
Again I have to thank the Secret Poets for their support and insight.

On the roof of the garage,
opposite my bedroom window,
from out of an abandoned sandbag,
I have watched two poppies
explode into blood red beauty.

Love can erupt anywhere,
and if we are blessed it will stay.
It may not be easy, the soil too thin,
the sun and rain capricious,
but love will find a way.
The Secret Poets discussion centred on the use of the poppy as a metaphor for a robust, happy marriage, as it usually signifies death in war. I liked the idea of recasting the metaphor. 
The renewal was a wonderful happy affair and the poem kindly received.
Recently I was Poet in Residence at the Warwick Folk Festival having been invited back from 2015. I ran a number of interesting workshops, the first on transforming a set of directions into a poem and the second attempting to capture something big by writing lots of little poems.
I decided on the ocean, and here the best of my endeavours.

across the inlet she could hear the sounds of her wedding feast as the tide bore her away

molecules of water slide over one another, a fluid dance we mistake for ocean

we carry the ocean inside us, created as we were to allow water to walk across the land

she had sailed across the globe before she recognised the same difference of the oceans

fallen from space, this is not the first place the congregations of the ocean have met 
I like the idea of the bride hearing the wedding feast as she flees the celebration, the idea has legs I think. At present I am working on an idea inspired by the line "the coal boatman's daughter" and it may well dovetail into that. Watch this space.
Here's Anna Ternheim with My Heart Still Beats For You.

Friday 5 August 2016


Apologies for the silence. Life has a habit of getting in the way, even of a poetry blog.
The poem this post is a recent one and it unfolds as the experience did in real time. Sometimes I tinker with the sequence of events to give more contrast but not in this case.
Taking the Tow Path from the Allotment

Just before the main road crosses over the canal,
on a day so still,
it could be a ribbon window on a submerged world,
I see a tent under the water,
all taut with tensioned poles.

The days after the flood must have been like this.
The works of man obliterated,
less debris each sunrise,
each corpse a feast for the fish
who would suffocate in their turn.

I watch the tent slide by, silent, top heavy.
Decide on a photograph,
reach for my phone,
then realise there is a man
camped under the bridge,
sat stock still in the chaos of his life,
and I stop.
He stares into the pellucid waters,
his face tells his story,
and I walk on,

beyond his tragedy,
past the three people with the bottle of Lambrusco
and little else, not even a plastic cup,
through the skaters clouds of weed,
back into my own life.
I do not think the tent belonged to the man under the bridge. I would have heard or seen it enter the water. I suspect it came from the green space by the locks. People camp there and it could have been thrown into the canal by someone wanting to move those people on.
I leave you with more Anna Ternheim.
The next post will be the 11.8.16.