Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Zoe Brooks, "Fool's Paradise"

After living in London for fifteen years Zoe Brooks returned to her native Gloucestershire to write and grow vegetables. Her collection Owl Unbound was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020. Her long poem for voices Fool’s Paradise is published by Black Eyes Publishing in May 2022. 

For fifteen years, Zoe divided her time between the UK and the Czech Republic, where she lived in a farmhouse under the shadow of the forest in the edge of the Sumava Mountains. Her blog Adventures in the Czech Republic recounts her time there and her love of that country. 

Zoe is a member of the management team for Cheltenham Poetry Festival. She set up and runs the Poetry Events in UK & Ireland Facebook group and enjoys performing poetry.

About Fool’s Paradise

This book-length mystical poem for voices was written following a visit to Prague immediately after the Velvet Revolution, a time which Zoe describes in her blog Adventures in the Czech Republic:

"... My friend was renewing old acquaintances and exploring business opportunities and so I just took the opportunity in her absence to explore and soak in the atmosphere, and what an atmosphere it was. It is now hard to explain what it felt like back in early 1990. I had no guidebook and instead just walked, following my instinct, often going over the same ground time and again. I was completely breathless with the beauty of the place and felt the city's history – both glorious and sad – reaching out to me from alleyways and courtyards, through the railings of the Jewish quarter and from the facades of once rich buildings. Now the visitor finds the route from Charles Bridge to Town Square lined with hawkers, shops crammed with souvenirs and frankly often tat; then it was quiet and powerful. The statues on Charles Bridge stood alone and silent, without the accompanying flash of cameras and chatter of posing tourists.

"On a number of occasions and at a number of places I came across small shrines of candles and flowers, set up to those who had been murdered by the oppressors. In Wenceslas Square there was a large makeshift memorial to Jan Palach – the student who had burnt himself to death in 1968 as a protest against the Russian suppression of the Prague Spring. Here there was a constant stream of people bringing flowers and lighting candles. It all felt hugely personal. I felt a voyeur watching the people's bowed heads. How could I comprehend what I was seeing? How could I share anything of the emotion that hung like incense in the air? And I was angered by other non-Czech visitors who stood around and took photos of it all.

"I regularly made my way back to the lights and warmth of Cafe Slavia either to meet up with my friend or to drink black Czech coffee and eat the Cafe's rich cakes. Energy and wits refreshed, I would then venture back on to the streets. I do not know whether it was the caffeine or the intensity of emotion in Prague at that time, but I increasingly found myself unable to sleep. In that heightened state I found angels everywhere – statues, in frescos, in pictures. I sensed too a presence in the air: the angels of Prague were weeping and rejoicing."

The poem that followed may have been inspired by that visit. It is not, however, about Prague. The city is in some ways a fusion of Prague and Istanbul, where Zoe had had another inspiring experience. 

The Czech friend who features in Zoe's blog and who introduced Zoe to the Czech Republic was Hannah Kodicek. Hannah, who died in April 2011, was a multi-talented writer, actor and artist. In the latter part of her life she was a story editor – working on the Oscar-winning film The Counterfeiters and advising on Danny Scheinmann's Random Acts of Heroic Love. The monoprints used in this book were created by drawing with acrylic paints on glass and were created in response to the poem. For more about Hannah's life and work see here. To see more about Fool's Paradise by Zoe Brooks, see here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the work. Please click on the individual pages to read them. 

From Fool's Paradise, by Zoe Brooks

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Laura Sygrove, "Three Poems"

Laura Sygrove is a recent graduate of the Creative Writing MA programme at the University of Leicester. She loves mythology and folklore, horror games and graphic novels, and is currently looking to break into the publishing industry. Her poem ‘IC-4593’ was published on NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory blog in 2021. You can read it here

Below, you can read three poems by Laura. 

About My Poems, by Laura Sygrove

These poems are taken from my MA Dissertation, a creative study on the effects of consumerism, and rooted in my experience working in retail and customer service. Consumerism as a system is built upon the backs of the working class – many of us actively participating in the exploitation of others through no fault of our own. Purchasing consumer goods or services in the market is unavoidable, and arguably essential in sustaining a happy and healthy lifestyle under capitalism. 

With these ideas in mind, ‘A Supermarket in Connacht,’ ‘SCO-117,’ and ‘Wood Wide Web’ were composed as short allegories, exploring themes of hospitality, greed and excess, autonomy and compassion. ‘A Supermarket in Connacht’ details the downfall of an ancient Irish warrior-Queen, whilst likening a trip to the grocery store to a kind of spiritual experience (one often encompassed by the phrase ‘retail therapy’); ‘Wood Wide Web’ conveys the idea that we, as consumers, are led, as opposed to being well-informed and in control; while ‘SCO-117’ addresses the role of machinery and technology in the workplace, displacing blame and responsibility onto inanimate objects. 

A Supermarket in Connacht

     I’m a regular at the Empyrean – 
The ollmhargadh down the road –
     I burn as six-wingéd seraphim
clothe my feet, mouth, and nose.

     Like Queen Medb, ruthless
And revered by all – 
     Risk it for that prized stud,
Stand by as men brawl;
     Raise babe and army 
As far as Donegal.

     Home is Éire – 
Where open-air
              spirits roam;
                                  Trace the gibbous moon         
by the cruel light of day,
      Waning       at the summit of Cnoc na Ré – 

I am equal to him if I possess equal fortune.

     Sip black coffee with syrups
And shop-bought jams;
     Climb man-made cairns,
Fall prey to internet scams […]

     You crazy babe, Bathsheba  – 
Indulgent in earthly riches – 
     Suckle forbidden faery fruits,
Rotting figs in pale juices;

     Pinch the flesh 
from fuzzy skins,      Savour pulp fiction 
And trashy magazines;
     Reality TV on livestream.

     Swim out from Galway Bay
to Love Island,
     Make haste and mate
Atop the Celtic moors;

     Pull me aside for a chat – 
Avenge my sister, 
Tit for tat;
     I am felled by a piece of cheese.


           Do you think I am an automaton? – a machine without feelings?
    - Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

     I have as much sovereignty as you – 
As much jurisdiction, and as much purpose!
I am a pillar of industry – 
     What have you to contribute?

I am phenomenal 
     Qualia of consciousness;
Saunter supermarket aisles 
with Psyche, my Soul – 
     A spectre chained to an endless present.

I am fleshless, full-bodied;
Sinewy nuts and bolts – 
     A tightening in my chest 
as you tinker and tarnish.

“Do you wish to continue?”

I only accept card payments, sir – 
Do not burden me further with loose change/  
                                                                    mere pittance. 
You’re all the same!
     You push my buttons,     finger 
                                             my slots,
     Play with parts of me you shouldn’t touch.

~ please insert absolutely nothing here ~

I am the future.
     I insist:     You cannot continue.

Wood Wide Web

          Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, 
          For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
- Hebrews 13:2

     Droplets of atropa belladonna 
on eyelids – Emerald iris          
infused with ink black,     And blinded –     
     In anguish, think of me;
Seek sanctuary.
     Surf mycorrhizal markets,
fungal fibres laced with lipids –     Sidestep symbiosis 
                                  and slurp the sugared soil.    
     Stop, thief! – Translucent tears 
do wilting flowers weep;
(Ne parles pas, parasitic ghost pipe! – 
     Undead snowdrop! – Feign sleep!)
With bated breath, and tree roots 
                                           Feel your way – 
                           Hack mycelial networks and infiltrate
the mainframe.

    Brainless mould – More bold than I – 
Traverse the showroom floor with ease – 
     Ankles swathed in yarn-like shackles;
To loosen, soak the knots in LSD.

With tentacles that sift and tend
     to self-service warehouse,     Descend – 

Confide in slime to reach the labyrinth’s end.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Nina Walker, "Blooming"

Nina Walker is a third-year student and Leicester University. She enjoys writing, rug making and Ray Bradbury’s short stories. She’s been writing poetry since she was sixteen when the only person reading it was her mum. The dream is to be published eventually. 

Nina performed the following poem at the Creative Writing Student Showcase at Literary Leicester in March, 2022. 

About the poem 'Blooming,' by Nina Walker

The following poem was inspired in part by my paternal grandmother Wendy Walker, who worked in the hosier industry that was huge in the Midlands, as well as an article I read about the disgustingly long waiting list for people in this country needing cancer treatment. Since my grandma died of cancer during 2020 the two seemed thematically close. I wanted to try and get across the sense of loss I feel when I think about my grandma and the industry she used to work in. 'Blooming' is part of a larger collection I hope to publish about England’s past and how it affects our understanding of the present, as well as how we can come to love such a deeply troubled country.


The alley behind Debenhams sells discount granny bras 
And I want to cut off my hair
Watch the threads slip down the drain
One by one

I keep reading about our collapse
Makes me sick, stomach full of all this bile
So I eat cleaner

But I still feel rotten, soft like a pear gone brown in the middle
Soft like the skin round a lump
Growing plump
In the glands in my chest
An anxious spasm

The city is not our friend
Doesn’t recall our names like a bad teacher
Fumbles with our futures like a bleeding pen
Blubbering like the lady behind Debenhams 
Or on the market 
With her cheap elastic bloomers 
When I’ve lost my job and my hair
I hope she’s the only millionaire 

Something about these people with their day jobs and money makes me feel faker than tan.
I can’t carve away at the pain we’re all stuck to like plump blue bottles
Can’t make work mean more than pennies counted
Can’t remove the tumours

We work till our fingers can’t pick out the stitching anymore 

Till they’ve worn us out like Primark trainers 

My grandma worked with her hands 
Just like the woman did
But a tumour took my nan and a tumour is taking the woman too
But it's not in her body
So I can’t cut it out

The tumour is barren 
Stripped us of our tools 
Left us arthritic 
So we send our projects abroad to children with quick fingers 
Blank eyes

Your nan will live
Or not
They don’t really care if she makes a living 

Never mind the back alleys and soft flesh, it’s our conscience we should be searching.
If this country was a dog I’d shoot it out of mercy.

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Jonathan Wilkins, "Utrecht Snow"

About Jonathan Wilkins, by himself

I am sixty-six. I have a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons; I love to write. I am a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstone's bookseller, and former Basketball Coach. I taught for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously.

Up until Covid, I regularly taught Creative Writing workshops in and around Leicester and also via zoom. I currently take notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University.

I have always loved books and reading, but nine years at Waterstone’s nearly put paid to that!

I’ve had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council, and had several non-fiction pieces published traditionally as well as fiction online. I have had some of my work placed in magazines and anthologies and also exhibited in art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station Waiting Room. I have my writing on various blogs. I love writing poetry.

I enjoy presenting papers at Crime Fiction conferences. It keeps my mind active through the research process and is a great way to meet new people and gain fresh ideas for writing.

As well as my Utrecht Murders Trilogy, I am writing a crime series set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s. 

My website is here

About Utrecht Snow, by Jonathan Wilkins

In Utrecht Snow, a crime novel initially written as my MA Creative Writing dissertation, we meet widow Caes Heda, Hoofdinspecteur at Kroonstraat police station, and his daughter Truus, a student at the local University. Caes is head of crime whilst his daughter is fed up with her studies and links up with private investigator Thijs Orman. Girls go missing from Utrecht and the police and Truus investigate kidnapping and murder. This is the first of a trilogy set in the beautiful city of Utrecht.

From Utrecht Snow

Caes Heda was normally about six foot two inches tall; but today he was hunched up against the cold and felt like a goblin, at half his normal size. He shivered yet again and breathed out the cold air, imagining it freezing on his neatly trimmed beard and moustache.

Caes could just see the Gothic Dom Bell Tower outlined against the grey morning sky. It was towering above everything, and it made him smile. Even as the snow feathered down it was still the centre of their universe. It watched over Utrecht from a height of what, over one hundred and ten metres, and could more or less be seen in Utrecht from wherever anyone stood, whatever the weather. True, it was a bit faint today, covered as it was in snow. No melting due to no heat leaving the building, the Dom was always cold, always frozen, it mirrored how he felt. Cold and alone, he just wanted to be alone. All of a sudden, Caes just didn’t fancy going to work. He just wanted some peace and quiet and to be left on his own, to wallow in his sudden misery.

Unfortunately, all his defence mechanisms didn’t stop the woman from sitting next to him - well, almost sitting on him in fact, as the bus picked up from Bleekstreet. She wedged Caes against the window and started talking to herself, or was it to him? He opened his left eye and taking a closer look, saw what it was. Dirty faux fur coat and then the sickly smell of snowy dampness and then, yes it was urine. Caes had to start breathing through his mouth to try to avoid the smell. He couldn’t get his arm away from her; he was stuck and she muttered on, words incomprehensible to him, Greek? Russian? He couldn’t tell, maybe it wasn’t a language at all; he was suddenly too tired to think. The half hour it took the bus to get to his office on Kroonstraat was a torment, where had she arrived from? He’d never seen her before on this route, though to be honest he did spend most of his journeys to work with his eyes closed.

It was such a welcome relief when she stood and got off the bus. Her smell, though, was hanging in the air. He hoped it wouldn’t hang on his clothes. The pressure on him at last relented as she moved; typical, it was also his stop. She shambled to the exit. Caes followed the smell.

He got off and found himself trailing the woman as she shuffled across the road and through the snow. Her muttering increased, talking to no one but everyone. People avoided her, even in the snow they could see her and they must have thought she was mad. She was going his way; in fact, she was going all the way. She entered the Bureau at Kroonstraat. Caes followed.

Caes Heda was Hoofdinspecteur in Utrecht. Thirty-nine and in charge of Crime at Kroonstraat Police Bureau, not committing it obviously, but tidying up after it had been committed. If he could catch them great, but he felt there was not much chance of stopping them all. It was a full-time job!

He did enjoy it, though, it was a bit like a game, but he was never sure who was winning. They had success and then the criminals had a win. They locked some up, but more and more were getting community service and prisons were closing due to lack of customers. He had always thought that saving money this way was a false economy as there seemed no deterrent anymore, but there again, he was but a simple policeman.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Ian Pople, "Spillway: New and Selected Poems"


Ian Pople, photograph by Mark Epstein

Ian Pople was born in Ipswich and educated at the British Council, Athens, and the universities of Aston, Manchester and Nottingham. He has taught English in secondary and higher education in UK, Sudan, Greece and Saudi Arabia. He taught at the University of Manchester for over twenty years. 

About Spillway: New and Selected Poems, by Ian Pople

Ian Pople is a man of the world. He has travelled and taught in the UK, Greece, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. His poems explore England, the larger world, and how changing perspectives readjust the sense of England and home. They deal with borders, crossings, closing boundaries. They are about transitions in space and time, the ways life and relationships change and adapt to illness, love, estrangement and loss.

The traveller changes identities as he moves, responding to different surroundings, and the early poems collected here provide a varied retrospect, moving through Africa, Europe and Asia – so that we read the more recent work from a different perspective. The travel poems explore the range of reactions, appropriations and misappropriations as physical and psychological boundaries are crossed. More recent writing responds to music and the visual arts, using assemblages or bricolage to convey the painfully familiar experience of displacement, dislocation. There are poems that answer back to figures from jazz history, Roland Kirk, Dupree Bolton and Pat Metheny among them. It is wonderful to encounter such an accomplished and varied a body of work which shares with us its vivid spaces and tones. Pople, one of the most lucid critics of modern and contemporary—especially American—poetry, is an original artist in his own right.

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

From Spillway: New and Selected Poems, by Ian Pople

The Aerodrome

This is rain in the Home Counties.
It falls on station platforms, on bicycle

helmets, on magpies that strut
on the grass, among the crows that spool

from the tops of trees, and winter
wheat as it appears in the field,

the field corner with its weed and rubbish.
It is raining from the corner all the way

to the horizon, to where the ‘no’
is divided from the ‘yes’; and beyond

to that transfiguration, and to you,
old aerodrome among fields, runways

among grass, broken frames, Nissen huts
that rust among the silver birches.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Amanda Jennings, "The Haven"

Amanda Jennings is the author of six psychological dramas and short stories, published both in the UK and abroad. Her debut, Sworn Secret, topped the Italian bestseller list, and was a UK kindle Top 5 bestseller, while In Her Wake was a W. H. Smith Fresh Talent pick. The Judas Scar, her second book, was optioned and is due to be rereleased later this year with HarperCollins. Her books are set in Cornwall, where her family originates and where her heart lies. The Haven came out in March this year in hardback, ebook and audio, with the paperback due out next spring. The Financial Times called it 'hypnotic,' while Lisa Jewell said it has 'spine-tingling ending that will take your breath away.' Amanda and her husband have three daughters and live in Oxfordshire with a menagerie of animals. Her website is here.

About The Haven, by Amanda Jennings

Winterfall Farm, spectacular and remote, stands over Bodmin Moor. Wanting an escape from the constraints of conventional life, Kit and Tara move to the isolated smallholding with their daughter, Skye, and a group of friends. Living off-grid and working the land, they soon begin to enjoy the fruits of their labour amid the breathtaking beauty and freedom of the moor.

At first this new way of life seems too good to be true, but when their charismatic leader, Jeremy, returns from a mysterious trip to the city with Dani, a young runaway, fractures begin to appear. As winter approaches, and with it cold weather and dark nights, Jeremy's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. Rules are imposed, the outside world is shunned, and when he brings a second girl back to the farm, tensions quickly reach breaking point with devastating consequences ... 

From The Haven

They lie together, limbs entwined, her body warm against his, his arms looped around her, their breathing synchronised. Somewhere outside an owl hoots. The dog responds with a half-hearted bark then the house stills. The silence is so loud it rings in his ears. He didn’t realise how much he’d missed this stillness until now. When he was a child he’d often creep out of the house at night. He’d lie in the rowing boat moored on the lake or hide in the soft grass in the fields, and stare up at the stars, a billion balls of fire a billion miles away, and imagine he lived on one. This place, this farm, is one of those stars. A new world. Somewhere they can be free. Somewhere he can build a home for his family.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Sarah James, "Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic"

Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer, also published as Sarah Leavesley. Her poetry has featured in the Guardian, Financial Times and Poems of the Decade 2011-2020: An Anthology of the Forward Books of Poetry 2011-2020, as well as in a café mural, on the BBC, on buses and in the Blackpool Illuminations. She is the author of eight poetry titles, an Arts Council England-funded multimedia hypertext poetry narrative > Room, two novellas and a touring poetry-play. Winner of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2020, the manuscript for Sarah’s latest collection Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic (Verve Poetry Press 2022) won the CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021. In her spare time, Sarah is a keen walker, cyclist and swimmer, especially enjoying nature outdoors. Meanwhile, her spare room is home to V. Press, publishing award-winning poetry and flash fiction. Her website is here.

About Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic

Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic is award-winning poet Sarah James’s exploration of forty years living with type one diabetes, a life-threatening autoimmune condition that is now treatable, but remains incurable. The collection tracks her personal journey from diagnosis, age six, to adulthood, including the high and the low points, as well as the further long-term health risks lurking in the background. These are poems of pain, but also of love and beauty, taking in motherhood, family, nature, aging and establishing self-identity in a constantly updating world. The route to some kind of acceptance and belonging may be troubled by ‘trying to escape’ but it also ‘holds / more light than your eye / will ever know.’ The manuscript for Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic won the CP Aware Award Prize for Poetry 2021 and the collection is available from Verve Poetry Press here.

From Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic, by Sarah James

Thick-skinned, Thin-fleshed

on diabetes type 1

In the old young days: piss
          on diastix, and a glass syringe
twice the length of my palm.

On the children’s ward, I practised
          on thick oranges. Pushing a needle
through the fruit’s peel was so

unlike the ice-cold sting
          of pressing it through my own
thin-fleshed skin, the weight

of glass in my hand, pushing
          the plunger home. This sterilised
in my mum’s special saucepan,

while I played houses, and childhood.
          Later, lighter plastic for injections,
then a cannula and pump.

Blood tests now, for precision.
          Fingertips pricked to a scarred
numbness. For thirty-five years,

the red of life with a glint of steel.
          Each needle’s point etches
my mind; my body’s rubbed hard

by time. I carry the condition’s
          sharp sweetness in my blood;
its other daily stabs as invisible

as genetics. My fingers are a scabby
          black braille of blood-test marks,
and the smell of man-made insulin.

This wet dependence is survival.


He starts with a well-placed breath,
hint of a tingle blown gently
across the nape of my neck.

And again. I am a mouth-organ
with many quivering reeds;
silent vibrations amplify inside.

One by one, he un-hooks each bone
of my spine, lower, lower,
and still no lip-touch, no kisses, not

a single brush of finger on skin,
but oh, the soft rush of air,
the slow – fast, fast – slow press

of his presence. I breathe
seduction in.

Along the Edge

Living beside the canal towpath, every day brings doorstep birdsong, frogs and the water’s glisten, pulling me closer.

Moorhens snip the surface; a swan ruffles up a lace dress with her feather-stitched wake towards her reed-moored nest. Shimmering light hides the fast paddling beneath, the deeper flit of fish, and other sunken secrets – rusted metal re-sculpted by weed.

This evening, the hedgerow is a chorus of bird chatter and May blossom. Snazzy bulrushes and tall grasses sway to the late hours’ slow jazz.

As I watch from the footbridge, the sun’s touch warms my skin: a thin layer of amber silks across everything still within the day’s reach.

Here, I’ve no need for frog-princes – the canal carries my love without spilling.

Before night seals over, time skips a single heartbeat. It’s just long enough for me to lift my arms like wings, and dream the ease of quiet flight: rising as high as a whooper swan, looping and curving with the water, but always returning to this, my reed-moored home.

                                                                                     sleep is a ripple
                                                                                     of unseen breaths; a lone owl
                                                                                     hoots through the darkness