Wednesday 23 February 2022

Charles G Lauder Jr, "The Aesthetics of Breath"

Charles G Lauder Jr was born in San Antonio, Texas, lived for a few years each on America’s East and West Coasts, and moved to south Leicestershire, UK, in 2000. His poems have been published widely in print and online, and in his two pamphlets Bleeds (Crystal Clear Creators, 2012) and Camouflaged Beasts (BLER, 2017). From 2014 to 2018, he was the Assistant Editor for The Interpreter’s House, and for over twenty-five years he has copy-edited academic books on literature, history, medicine, and science. His debut poetry collection is The Aesthetics of Breath (V. Press, 2019). He is on Twitter @cglauder

About The Aesthetics of Breath, by Charles G Lauder Jr

The Aesthetics of Breath, my debut poetry collection and most recent book, focuses on history, both public and personal. Some of the poems are about well-known historical figures like Einstein and Napoleon, as well as America's past, whereas others are about my Texas childhood. Quite a few explore masculinity and my relationship with my father, and what it means to live as an ex-pat for the past two decades. The book ends with a sequence of a dozen poems about family relationships and home.

From The Aesthetics of Breath

Time and Distance

There’s a doppelganger in my house,
taller, slimmer, mistaken for me
over the phone. He cries like I do

but that serrated tongue can cut
those closest to him, hissing out
when he’s cornered and angry.

He brings up Star Wars and Doctor Who,
he knows I like to talk about them,
as if he’s learning, but avoids girls and sex.

He won’t swear, prefers the sweetness
of sugar and fudge; at fourteen,
I was dared and haven’t stopped since.

I protest I am more than number tricks,
facts and figures about space and light,
or what Tudors ate for dinner. Maybe

he is more than I ever could be.
Friends say he’s a time traveller,
that he’s really me from the past,

but surely I would remember this.
Is he proof of a parallel universe 
bleeding into ours? I know what’s next:

rebellion into booze, weed, and speed,
though he can’t stand the taste of beer.
He’ll discover his father’s feet,

gravity-tacky, are made of clay,
have never left earth. There will
be time and distance between them.

Sir Walter Raleigh of Bexar County, Texas

Returned from England I bestow this gift of grandchildren
like valuable treasure laid at your feet   you the king and queen
          and I magus explorer buccaneer spy
          blown in from the cold of the New World
                   after seven eight years
                   with natives half-naked half-crazed.

Their DNA is a cypher spelling out rough and tumble gorse
          hawthorn and bramble shredding the balls of thumbs
                   ancient ponds where witches floated and innocent drowned
                   great warriors asleep underground await to be woken
                              steed-shaped headlands stampede into the sea
                                        seawater spewing from black nostrils.

The dead   revered in song and story around the fire of a once
magnificent empire trading in flesh opium and tea
           lost generations buried in mud   burned by mustard
           dance as shadows on these chalky faces wild as dandelion and nettle
             she on all fours roars and hisses      scratches at the air
                     he poised and on guard   finger pointed and cocked.


On the journey here through Detroit to Oklahoma
then a two-storey train down into Texas
           they marveled at how high we were   mountains of snow
           replaced by a sun so hot it burned their ears as we landed.

Wires crisscross overhead like a cage   snakes hide at their feet 
at the museum they circle round mammoth and saber-tooth
           hunched down and looking for the moment
           to spring   then pose beside their fresh kills.

Your feast of grilled cheese sandwiches tastes of rubber
pickles too bitter   bacon thin and greasy   their first doughnut
            takes them two days to finish before they finally give up
                       and chase each other for miles.

Night is as bright as day   lit up door to door with Christmas lights
front-lawn inflatable Santas snowmen and kings   they clap
            and shout    try to catch fake snow on their tongue
                        but turn down your offer of church.

You notice a change of accent when I translate
that I’ve lost my bearings   how to find the corner store
            my old school   where old girlfriends lived.
            America has grown small in my absence
                       a fear and hysteria grips the kidneys
                       so hard no one can piss
                       without a loaded pistol in hand.

You think he’s gone over   painted his skin
bowed down to trees and standing stones
           tossed coins and armour into the river
           to appease angry gods    and take me to the preacher
                      who tells me there is no saviour but Jesus.

What should I confess? That I stood naked in a circle
about the fire handfasted to a daughter of Mercia
            calling forth spirits of the forest
            to fill my limbs while I fill her
                        with my seed and the air
                        with mud-moon howls,

yielding this ragwort   this cornflower   their fevered heads
buzz with my memories of glass and steel cities   fibre-optic
            highways    of drive-thrus   drive-ins    gated driveways
                      of starting over   the pelts from their backs
                      traded for new clothes   new name   new face.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Alison Brackenbury, "Thorpeness"


Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953, from a long line of domestic servants and skilled farm workers. She won a scholarship to Oxford, where she studied English Literature. In 1977 she moved to Gloucestershire, where she worked in a technical library, then, for 23 years, (in a blue boiler suit!) for her husband’s tiny metal finishing company. Since her retirement in 2012, she has given readings at many festivals and other poetry events.

Alison’s work has won an Eric Gregory and a Cholmondeley Award. She has broadcast frequently on Radios 3 and 4, either reading individual poems or narrating poetry programmes which she has scripted. Gallop, her Selected Poems, was published by Carcanet in 2019. She would admit to having spent far too much time on animals (especially horses), and far too little on books, including her own ... Nevertheless, Thorpeness is her tenth poetry collection.

Alison is disgracefully active, as a poet, on the Internet. She posts poems and nature photographs on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. New poems can be read at her website here.

About Thorpeness, by Alison Brackenbury

Thorpeness is the place which Alison Brackenbury intends to reach. On the way, often in the tiniest of poems, she meets birds: the heron rising from a startled suburb, the fieldfares on the stony hills. She sees our planet sailing into darkness. She walks in woods, and thinks that we may survive. Thirty-five years of horse-keeping crumple to the ground with one old pony. But, in a time of fear, she re-discovers love, in a field strewn with blue willow pattern. She recalls the people of her past, with their Christmases and sugar mice. 

A treasured black oilskin notebook gives to the poems of Thorpeness (and to an acclaimed Radio 4 feature) the recipes which marked the life of Dot, her tiny, indomitable Lincolnshire grandmother: ‘Vinegar Cake,’ from war-time, ‘Oat scones’ made for children, and the jam-veined, steamed richness of ‘Flamberries Pudding.’ Brackenbury never reaches Thorpeness. But her swallows fly beyond it.

Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Thorpeness


Does anyone wear ‘buttonholes’?
We made them for the village fete.
So I was sent up to the gate

of the old man who would have gone
to ‘Grammar,’ if they could have bought
a crested cap, soft shoes for sport.

He passed from village desk to farm.
The one girl he had waited for 
ran to an airman in the War.

His sister kept the tiny house.
A courteous, clever man, all said.
In June heat, at a long lane’s end

through the blue gate, on a grass path
I stepped beneath the roses’ cloud.
I saw him bend to stakes, head bowed

by billows of asparagus fern
for farmhand’s collar, or the Queen,
webbed, spread like hands, its tiny veins
crisp as dead leaf, all green, so green.

Willow pattern
a lockdown walk 

Town’s edge. A lane. A bridge. A field
marched by the battered stumps of maize,
lit by hills, broad as the moon.
The cracks in April clay will yield
rich oyster shells to feed poor days;
pipes; pigs’ skulls; best, we find soon,

smashed pottery. And most is blue,
slipped from quick hands, a child’s, a maid’s,
to floor. Were harsh words spoken?
I brush a latticed rim while you
scoop one white scrap whose two blue birds,
smudged lovers, soar unbroken.

In Victorian England, oysters were a cheap food. The ‘Willow pattern’ on china depicts the story of two lovers, one rich, one poor. After death, the lovers are re-united as birds.

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Scarlett Ward Bennett (ed.), "Elements: Natural & The Supernatural"

About Elements: Natural & The Supernatural, ed. Scarlett Ward Bennett

Elements is an anthology of poetry inspired by the natural and supernatural elements of the universe and beyond. From the molecular chaos of running water and the impatient budding of leaves in Spring, to the whispering aether that fills the darkness of night, this anthology explores and celebrates the natural world, spiritual entities, and the forces at work all around us. It is the first title published by new publisher, Fawn Press, and is edited by Scarlett Ward Bennett with the help of Lexia Tomlinson and Konnie Colton.  

About the editor

Scarlett Ward Bennett is a poet, workshop facilitator, editor and Director of Fawn Press. She founded Fawn Press in August 2021, with a vision of helping to bring beautiful poetry anthologies, pamphlets, and collections into the world. Her debut poetry collection Ache was released in 2019 with Verve Poetry press, and her work has featured in Under the Radar, Eyeflash Poetry, and Burning Eye. She is a workshop facilitator for Writing West Midlands and Homegrown 31, and visits schools around the country to deliver fun and engaging workshops to young people. She has worked as editor for On Your Doorstep Magazine and has worked as an editor for single-poet projects. She came runner up in 2019’s Verve Community competition, judged by Joelle Taylor, and the Wolverhampton Literature Festival Competition, judged by Roy McFarlane. Scarlett was nominated for a Sabotage Award for Best Spoken Word Artist in 2018, and in 2016, her poetry evening Cafe Del Nino was nominated for Best Spoken Word event.

About the publisher

New publisher Fawn Press aims to publish beautiful books of exceptional poetry, as we believe that poetry has the power to change lives through that transcendental connection between writer and reader. Storytelling lies at the very soul of our experience as human beings, connecting us since the dawn of time. We hope to be a platform that welcomes all writers, rejecting elitist and pompous attitudes to publishing in favour of an inclusive approach, whilst maintaining a high quality of exceptional writing that excites and inspires: “Poetry that takes you by the hand and leads you into the woods.” Fawn Press emerged from a passionate love of books and literature, as well as the recognition that the world needs more representation of new and under-represented poets. We are dedicated to the continual growth, education, and application of diversity.

Below, you can read two sample poems from our new anthology.


From Elements


Think of a million mouths pursed into an O
and inhaling together, one giant in-suck.

Forget that dream where you always wake
gasping and clutching at your throat.

Think of bubbles rising in a lake –
like them we must release ourselves towards air.

Now that the cool has come, the edges
have softened in the garden a little, our wren

is at ease with herself and we of late
have taken to sitting out, fanning ourselves

and watching the deepening shadows.
There is an art to this – to breathing easy;

half lung-capacity and half blind faith
that the next breath will come, 

that we will not flounder and choke
on our filthy emissions, on sticky particulates,

that we will, somehow, mostly, get it right.
Not unlike like that river fish, the pike,

who lords it over his river underlings,
his green slime-shimmer stalled among the weeds,

his razor- jaws, so cruel, so cannibal,
his habit, or if you like, his trick

of flicking his prey to swallow it head first,
and whole, and live.

How he only rarely misjudges, gags,
thrashes a little, turns belly up and dies.

- Róisín Tierney

Ode to the Mirror Carp

Look! How they spin, fins vibrating and O-mouthed, 
scales beating in a blood-rush. 

Mother asks: have you ever heard a fish scream? 
It’s like a body rupturing, eating itself whole before re-entering the womb.

This is how girl becomes woman.

There’s a burning in their stomachs only death can cure.
Their hunger? Watch it rage, it’s the only thing that draws fish out of water. 

See their bodies pirouette for the last time,
they’ll stop squirming soon. 

This is how a woman lives. 

Mother reels them in. 
I have her hands – I know, mine are just as impossible to hold.

Dinner will be served soon. 
I open and close my mouth, and swim, and swim. 

This is how we survive. 

- Nabeela Saghir

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Kassie Duke, "Word Bath"


Kassie Duke was born in Oakland, California and grew up writing mostly silly poems in her mom's birthday cards. She is very excited to be debuting her first collection of poetry with Word Bath. Kassie has a love of words in all forms having produced her first stageplay The Play in 2015, followed by earning her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester in 2017. Over the years, she's served as a script reader for agents in Hollywood and as a finalist judge for screenwriting competitions in the Los Angeles area. She's currently a full-time proofreader and is in the process of a coast-to-coast relocation from Southern California to Florida, USA. To follow her literary endeavors, you can check out her casually updated blog here.

About Word Bath, by Kassie Duke

Word Bath is a new collection of poems to read tucked in that small corner of the room, nestled in a favorite chair, at the end of a long day. A departure from the usual heart-wrenching territory of verse, it’s a short, sweet walk through the mind of a writer as she puts pen to paper and finds simple joys in the wonder of words.

Three brief chapters explore almost every mood but melancholy. Hoping to give readers a taste of something more in their poetry, “Not About Love,” “Not About Loss,” and “Not About Lemons” are journeys that range from hopeful, to lovestruck, and just plain silly.

Any reader looking for an alternative to deep-cuts, but also a thoughtful love letter to poetics will enjoy Word Bath

From Word Bath

maybe now is when we’ll see
the driest flowers smell as sweet
these old October growths


In a while, I won’t be ice anymore;
able to melt with the murmur of a warm breath.
I’ll be a river running, moving with the might of the wind.
The spring of my soul will wash away the flows floating downstream
and I will dream— not of the time I spent in winter—
but of the sun coming up with the steam.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Michael W. Thomas, "Sing Ho! Stout Cortez: Novellas and Stories"

Michael W. Thomas is the author of eight poetry collections, two short fiction collections and two novels. His latest poetry collection is Under Smoky Light (Offa's Press, 2020); his latest fiction collection is Sing Ho! Stout Cortez: Novellas and Stories (Black Pear Press, 2021). His work has appeared in The Antigonish Review (Canada), The Antioch Review (US), Critical Survey, Crossroads (Poland), Etchings (Australia), Irish Studies Review, Irish University Review, Magazine Six (US), the TLS and Under the Radar, among others. For many years he was poet-in-residence at the Robert Frost Festival, Key West, Florida. He has just completed a new novel, Nowherian, the memoir of a Grenadian exile's time in England.

About Sing Ho! Stout Cortez: Novellas and Stories 

A Grenadian exile in England receives distressing word about an old friend, a much-troubled troubadour. Thumbing through a photo album, a woman is ambushed by long-forgotten horrors. Hernán Cortés and Grace O’Malley, conquistador and pirate queen, grant a builders-yard labourer an hour of improbable glory. A young schoolboy, victim of incipient abuse, steals the family car and drives into December darkness. In the novellas and stories that make up Sing Ho! Stout Cortez, Michael W. Thomas gives eloquent voice to time and chance. Old and young, his characters confront life-changing moments. More, they make fresh discoveries about themselves, act in ways they would never have imagined, reshape their destinies or embrace whatever fate has in store. From big picture to the smallest detail, these are compelling journeys through lives and places, studies of the human heart in all its richness.

Speaking of the collection, Michael says: "All of these pieces were written within the last four years, aside from Esp, which was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award, 2015, and which enlarges on the experiences of Henderson Bray, first encountered in 'Misshapes from Cadbury’s' in my story collection, The Portswick Imp. An early working title for the present collection was Timely Voices. What seemed to unite the pieces here was the sense that, in each, the narrator or main character works towards (or stumbles upon) a crucial time in their life: a time to discover, confront, act or somehow honour a long-standing rendezvous with something—a feeling, a nugget of knowledge—whose importance can no longer be dodged.  I think that such a theme still holds good. Reading through the pieces again, however, I’m also struck by another one: escape from current circumstance. In some pieces, characters literally do just that (all hail to the car and the open road). Of course, once a story ends, it’s lights out and curtain. But it’s been observed that every exit becomes an entrance elsewhere. So I can only hope that, however these characters act, whatever prompts their changes or departures, they will find what they’re looking for (or something as near as makes, in the end, no difference)."   

You can see more details about Sing Ho! Stout Cortez on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample from the book. 

From Sing Ho! Stout Cortez, by Michael W. Thomas

Extract from Esp: The Voice of Grenada: A Novella

Henderson Bray, a Grenadian working for a year at a care centre in the English Midlands, receives a letter about an old school-friend, Esp, a wayward troubadour and troubled soul.  The letter transports Henderson back to his early years: particularly, to Esp’s rise as self-styled Voice of Grenada ...

When he wasn’t enraging Restless Headey, our unspeakable English teacher, Esp was into the guitar. He got pretty good, too. His favourite players came from all over. But there was no face among them from any Caribbean island, no Dwight Pinkney, no Fitzroy Coleman or Flores Chaviano. His heroes came from lands where, we thought, folk had permanent colds or got moved on by the cops for looking like that instead of this; then, too, they were coeval with our older brothers, our youngest dads, which made them even mistier.  Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix tussled for Esp’s golden crown, though they got shunted off at times in favour of, say, Pete Townshend’s windmill arm or the precise snap of Mark Knopfler. And he went yet further, in time and oddity. My Uncle Padmore, a limited but flamboyant picker himself, got wind of Esp’s doings and dug out a cassette of Les Paul and Mary Ford whose quality spoke of a mike prodded against a mono-speaker:

‘Pass him this.  “How High The Moon,”  boy. One listen and he’ll be flying there.’

He was right.  Their take on the song enraptured Esp—the whole swamp-toned album did.  He saw a giddying challenge in Les Paul’s multi-track wizardry.  Clapton and the rest were great, no doubt of it, but they played one guitar. There were times when they defied it, outraged it, melted it, but it was still just a single thing in their hands. This Les Paul, said Esp ... and his wonderment would stream out in a long whistle. He became the pioneer’s gospeller. 

The business of reproducing what Les Paul had wrought with miles of tape—who knows, even cried over, while Mary supplied beer and handkerchiefs—didn’t faze Esp in the least. At an audition for a school show, he constructed a singular hommage to ‘How High The Moon,’ playing a tape he’d recorded of the chord progression and then—with art and elegance, the rest of us thought—playing the same progression live but with a sweetly-timed delay to catch something of the original’s fat echoes. Now and then he threw in mouth-guitar, a line of juvva-da-juv juvs which jostled sparkily with the live chords ...

Thursday 3 February 2022

Sarah Barnsley, "The Thoughts"

Sarah Barnsley grew up in the Midlands where her dad was a firefighter. A winner in the Poetry Society Members’ Poems Competition (2021, 2018), her work has appeared widely in magazines including Poetry Wales, The Rialto and The White Review. Other publications include a pamphlet, The Fire Station (Telltale Press, 2015), co-editorship of Truths: A Telltale Press Anthology (2018), and literary criticism. Sarah is Senior Lecturer in English and American Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, Contributing Editor to The Understory Conversation and lives in Hove. Her website is here

About The Thoughts 

An assured and inventive debut, The Thoughts explores different manifestations of intrusive thoughts as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) before navigating through the twists and turns of recovery and love. These poems inhabit therapists’ treatment rooms, waiting rooms, and everyday documents, appearing in such varied forms as emails, research proposals and kids’ puzzles. Compassionate and at times painfully humorous, The Thoughts is an act of advocacy, giving voice to critically underrepresented experiences of illness through poems that are as peculiar and creative as they are arresting.

You can read more about The Thoughts on the publisher's website here. You can read a review of The Thoughts on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From The Thoughts, by Sarah Barnsley

This horse

There’s this horse
that can’t eat apples.
It’s not that the horse
doesn’t like apples
or that its castle of teeth
can’t crush them
or that its leather-satchel tongue
can’t collect the bits
or that its upturned welly of a throat
can’t tramp down the chunks – 

it’s that one day,
as it drew up an apple
of no distinction,
the horse had a thought:
What if I choke on this?
And the more the horse tried
to swat the thought away,
the more the apple grew,
and the more the thought grew

until the horse felt it had Jupiter
and all its moons in its mouth
and it couldn’t breathe
and it was gagging
and its owner tried to reason with it,
but the horse wouldn’t be told
and over the course of a year
the horse visited the vet
every Wednesday at 12

and the vet advised the horse
to try an exercise where the horse
had to choose a small globe 
from a bagged assortment
and hold each one in its mouth
in a series of graded steps:
a robin’s egg for one minute, 
a beetroot for two, 
a cannonball for three;

and the horse had to 
commit to the process
and tolerate the discomfort
and by all means note down 
its thoughts and feelings
but not respond to them
and none of this worked
and the only thing for the horse
to do was to eat oats and practise 
radical acceptance
of apples as something eaten
by other horses 
in another place and time
as if all the apples in the world
were locked behind
glass cabinets
in a museum
with all the other things 
the horse’s thoughts had
forced it to give up: 
cool pools, 
hugs of mud, 
low-hedged fields.

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Valerie Bence, "Overlap"


Valerie Bence finished her doctorate in her mid-fifties and completed a Poetry MA at MMU in 2017. She was shortlisted for the Poetry School/Nine Arches Press Primers 4 in 2018, the Fish Poetry prize in 2019, and longlisted for the Ginkgo Prize in 2019. Her first collection, Falling in Love with a Dead Man, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2019. She is a mum and nonna and lives and works in Buckinghamshire.

About Overlap

Valerie Bence’s debut poetry pamphlet is a testament to ordinary lives, and a meditation on grandmothers. Part memoir, part family history, Overlap is a series of vivid vignettes from the poet’s childhood, courtship, motherhood and grandmotherhood, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries.

Bence’s grandmothers Winifred and Harriet are at the heart of this book. She reflects on their hardy, steadfast lives as she too becomes a grandmother, in very different times. Stranded from her family in the Covid-19 pandemic, the poet conjures up their ghosts, walks in their footsteps and – sometimes – feels herself become them.

You can read more about Overlap on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From Overlap, by Valerie Bence

From my vantage point under the kitchen table
I watch her knees as she walks by – dimpled,
thick stocking’d in summer and winter,
slippers with holes at the toes,
crossover pinny pockets full of scraps
and peelings for chickens. Grandma Harriet.
We mash tealeaves and bran for the rabbit,
the sweet aroma fogging her glasses, and every day
she scrubs bloody butcher’s aprons
for five shillings a week.
We take the clean ones back on the bus,
until the day she faints outside Boots in the rain,
sliding down the wall like in a cartoon,
her wartime hat slipping over her eyes.
Thinking she is dead I run into the chemist’s;
a man brings her a glass of water.
Sipping it she squeezes my arm –
Don’t tell him she says, pulling me close.
This will not be difficult, as in all my seven years
he has never spoken to me.