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Poetry Worth Hearing: Episode 25

This episode will be the last before the autumn, and also the last before the general election. Appropriately, therefore, the theme this time has been 'political'. My feeling is that in a time when people are turning away from traditional political parties and universalising grand narratives, political poetry as powerful and engaged as that of Blake, Shelley and Keats is being written, but that it is more social justice or single issue politics which are inspiring passionate poetic responses. It seems to me that some of the best and most innovative (rather than merely gimmicky) writing comes from environmental activism, the fight against racism and violence against women, and also from the exploration of a queer aesthetic.

In this episode you will find poems which address the horrors of our time, from the wars in Gaza and Ukraine, to the displacement of people, the terror of sexual violence, and the relentless destruction of environment. Most of these poems arise out of strong feelings of shock and hurt; some are hortatory, some simply bear witness. Political poetry is of its nature occasional, a response to the moment. Some of the poems here reflect the urgency of our present moment, others are more reflective. There are a couple of lighter moments and we also have an interview with Rip Bulkeley, poet and editor of two powerful political anthologies,


The poets in this issue are Jenny Lewis, Rachael Clyne, Richard Price, Carl Tomlinson, Caroline Jackson-Houlton, Pat Winslow, Heather Moulson, Jacob Mckibbin, Claire Cox, Diana Bell and Sarah Watkinson.



Jenny Lewis is a poet, playwright, translator and songwriter who teaches poetry at Oxford University.. She has had eight plays and poetry cycles performed at major UK theatres, including the Royal Festival Hall, the Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre in Russia, the Cockpit Theatre, London and Pegasus Theatre Oxford. Jenny's fourth book of poetry, Gilgamesh Retold, was a New Statesman Book of the Year and Carcanet's first audiobook. Her fifth collection, From Base Materials, has just been published by Carcanet and is on the London Review of Books Bookshop best seller list.



Both poems by Jenny Lewis in this episode can be found in her new collection, From Base Materials, just out from Carcanet. Her first poem is accompanied by Malcolm Atkins and Lizzie Spight -see below.

The poem for Sarah Everard previously appeared in Poetry Ireland Review.

'Jenny Lewis says she has always had a fear of rape and violence which led to this tribute to the lfe of Sarah Everard who, when she was 33 and walking back from seeing a friend in March 2021, was accosted by Wayne Cousens, a serving Metropolitan Police officer, who arrested her for breaking lockdown rules (which she wasn't) then drove her to Dover where he raped and strangled her then burned her body and disposed of the remains in a nearby pond.'


Malcolm Atkins founded and runs the Confluence Collective. He says 'I am a lapsed Marxist European composer/performer perturbed by the corporatisation of learning and the privatisation of compassion instrumental in the decline of the small island I inhabit. My main interest is in bringing communities together through sharing the combinations of sounds and movements that define our cultural identities. I have all the expected paperwork - diploma, degree, MA , PhD etc and a very nice garden.' Lizzie Spight says 'have been born and brought up in Northern Germany, and live in the UK since 2005. I am professionally trained as a dancer, choreographer and dance movement psychotherapist. Also, following my passion for music for many years, I have been playing various kinds of flutes as well as performing, recording and writing as a singer. My special interest is in cross arts projects, working with visual artists, poets, dancers and musicians.'




Rachael Clyne


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A Woman walked

 

A woman walked into a barman                     who convinced her she was fat

A woman walked into a metal bar                  she said it was an accident

A woman walked into a wall of silence         and her case was dropped

A woman walked into a nude photo               and her BF shared with his mates

A woman walked into a priest for help          and he helped himself

A woman walked into a free meal                  and paid with her vagina

Ten women walked into ten bars                    and never came home

 

 

 

 

Growing Old is

 

when the gap between your century and this             is the wake of a ship sailing away

when that which you thought beautiful                      no longer tastes sweet in today’s mouths

when your cherished hopes are so much plastic        in the face of this generation’s future 

when you realise your privilege was bought              at the cost of everything

when freedoms you fought for                                   are reversed, or irrelevant

when your body                                                          is a dictator tightening its screw   

when your wisdom                                                     is so much blah blah

when your memory                                                     is critically endangered

when your favourite song                                           is a care home activity

when your underarm                                                   sways like a hammock

when the soul you strove to cultivate                         dims at the edge, glows hot at the centre

 

Please Don’t Mention the…

 

I want to mention it, but

even though I think about it

all the time, I won’t,

because talk

 

only fires missiles, turns

into border-checks,

where the wrong opinion  

leads to a firing squad.

 

Even families erect

walls overnight, sandbag

each other, shove dissenters

behind wire, collapse in ruins.

 

So I don’t mention it,

while its shrapnel ricochets

around my heart,

its fallout catches my breath.

 



Rachael Clyne’s prizewinning collection, Singing at the Bone Tree (Indigo Dreams 2014) concerns our broken connection with nature. She has long been a campaigner on eco issues. Her latest collection, You’ll Never Be Anyone Else, covers themes of identity and otherness, including her Jewish migrant heritage, sexual orientation and relationships. https://www.serenbooks.com/shop/Poetry  https://rachaelclyne.blogspot.com/

 



Claire Cox


Their Weapons are Makeshift 

 

 

A car’s burning carcass. Barricades.

Bricks that checkerboard the streets,

 

jammed under bus wheels. Petrol syphoned –

can to glass bottle – a pale umbilical cord. 

 

They shuttle shopping trolleys for water,

food. A snatched embrace. A facemask kiss.

 

Camera on a selfie-stick. Smoke skying.

Downtown, office hands are raised,

 

five demands, fingers splay in the air.

Arrows of flame. Grey uniforms, tear 

 

gas, live bullets. His body curls

fetal. A baton swings. The jerk

 

of sneaker-feet. Blood and handcuffs.

The island of my birth has besieged itself – 

 

umbrellas its flimsy shield. Steel

masses at the border. No surrender.


 

Portrait of my House as a Mangrove Swamp

 

You’ve had to learn fast about change:

drought/drown    salt/fresh    ill/well.

 

Silt-gatherer, shark-nest, refuge for fish

and egret, you shelter me.

 

Frugal now in my feeding, I’ve adapted  

to eat air. I emerge at low tide

 

wave one outsized red pincer  

in terror/hope.

 

 


 

Vigil

   i.m. Sarah Everard 

 

a candle in red glass

a gesture of light

 

the city being barred to us

the streets to reclaim being barred to us

 

we stand up for the streets 

from behind our living rooms’ closed doors 

 

see the bandstand   

the flowers

 

the torch-phones at dusk 

her twisted arm   her face on the pavement    

 

same city long ago   his grip   the tip of his knife  

my face pushed to the coping stone  

 

his voice telling me to stop 

screaming   in my hands

 

tonight   a candle in red glass

our gesture of light

 

 



Born in Hong Kong, Claire now lives and works in Oxfordshire. She is co-founder and Associate Editor at ignitionpress, winner of the 2021 Michael Marks Publishers’ Award, and has completed a practice-based PhD studying poetry and disaster. Her poems have been included in Primers: Volume Five (Nine Arches Press, 2020) and she was winner of the Wigtown Alastair Reid Pamphlet Prize, 2020.


 Pat Winslow


A Man May Sell His Boat

 

A man may sell his boat

for a small fortune.

 

Who knows

what his days are like

 

when he can’t meet the eyes

of his children.

 

He may turn from the sea

and become a digger of earth.

 

A man must do something

with his hands after all.

 

But a sower of men

is no better than a man

 

who hauls human remains

in a net of bluefin tuna.

 

The man who lands a baby

 will turn over and over

 

in the night till his wife

screams for him to stop.

 

The man who digs

stuffs his eyes and ears with dirt

 

and makes a tomb

of his mouth.

 

A man may sell his boat

as most have done.

 

If he refuses, it is something,

but not enough.






Amongst Strangers

 

Not knowing the language

she feels that if she spoke

 

it would be like a cat’s cry sawing

through the early hours

 

her need to be stroked

and let into bed for the night

 

each word a head butt

against their legs.

 

A kick is all it takes.

 

They might laugh

like her grandmother did.

 

A cat rolling down the stairs

is nothing when war

 

is raining all year round

and the river is full of bodies.

 

 

 


 

After

 

The soldier who stripped naked

to wade in and wash the blood off

was not someone she knew or cared about

 

if he was one of them or one of her own

he was young and careful.

 

Who knows what they’d made him do or what he’d seen.

She watched him bend down and scoop the water.

His penis was like a mouse tucked inside a nest.

 

Give a boy a gun and he’ll do

almost anything.

 


 

There

 

We’ve been sleeping in corridors

dreaming of hyacinths and bread and coffee.

 

We’ve grown used to craters and upended carts.

Even so, the sight of a dead horse can shock.

 

There were apples as firm as fists in our orchards

and cherries and plums in the trees.

 

When did you last hear a frog sing at night?

Remember dancing, how we gathered in the square

 

by the schoolhouse, the squeaky bike

and the boy  with his smart lapels and cap?

 

 If we had a bicycle we could ride out of here,

you on the handlebars, me on the back

 

making wobble tracks in the snow.

We’d be long gone before they realised.

 

It’s soap I miss the most

and the view from my window.

 

I was writing a letter before this started.

I put a sheet of paper in the roller and the sirens began.

 

Someone else is there now, drinking my tea.

Tell me who’s more ghost, me or the soldier billeted there.

 

If he’s not dead by now. If there even exists.




The Gift

 

303 acres of land on the western bank Allegheny River was given to Cornplanter, chief of the Seneca on March 6th 1791 by Thomas Mifflin, the first governor of Pennsylvania.

 

 

A bark canoe paddling the broad flow,

a span of tumbling sunlight between

stands of cottonwood and pin oak,

 

years of thaw and melt, sounding

the white waste in winter, a spike

and a saw slicing through ice, a long

 

grey fish slimming into view, a spear

and a knife, deer hide stretched tight,

drying by day; by night, a fire,

 

pale smoke in the mornings, the creak

of saddle leather; silver dollars in spring,

thick pelt of beaver, otter, bear; a hawk

 

circling a planter’s moon, ears of corn,

beans, squash and melons, tobacco,

small quantities of oil for medicine.

 

A gift that’s not put to good use

is just asking to be taken back

say Stockburger, Kinnear and Noyes.

 

A blast furnace is built, a foundry,

a mill race, a warehouse, a landing stage.

The gift passes to the Graff Hasson Company.

 

Drake’s well is sunk, churches rise, a dam,

a bridge, a railway, roads, realtors, banks.

Quaker State and Penzoil move in.

 

In 2006 the city celebrates with fireworks

and a rock concert on the shore line.

But the economy’s shot and folks

 

are closing down and selling up.

For those who stay, there’s little left

apart from rust, food stamps and hope.

 

 


Pat Winslow has published seven collections, most recently, Kissing Bones with Templar Poetry. A winner of several notable competitions over the years, she enjoys collaborations with film-makers, composers and artists as well as developing her own writing.

 


 

 Jacob Mckibbin


LIFESTYLE CHOICES

 

Making a choice doesn’t always mean that you have a choice. Someone

might choose graffiti as a pillow when their other choice is the pavement.

Suella writes on X that living on the streets is a lifestyle choice. That many

of those who sleep rough are from foreign countries. The parts of this town

that I write about are a foreign country to you Suella. Are a foreign country

to many of the people who live in this town. Someone who doesn’t even

choose the colour of their sleepingbag isn’t making a choice about where

they sleep. Making a choice doesn’t always mean that you have a choice

especially when your sense of control has been taken away. Suella I don’t

know if you will ever understand this. Suella I hope the next room that you

walk into makes you feel homeless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CATALOGUE OF HOMELESS NICKNAMES

 

Sticks 

Beatbox

Crash

Shaman

Fly

Snowy

Coffee

Bodybag

Yogi





Jacob Mckibbin is a poet from Oxford. Previous work has been published in Propel Magazine, Oxford Poetry, The Rialto and elsewhere.


 


 


Rip Bulkeley was born in Devon in 1941. He is a maritime historian with degrees from Adelaide, Bradford, London, and Oxford Universities. He founded Oxford’s Back Room Poets in 1999; the group still thrives today under different management. His collection War Times was published by Ripostes in 2003, when BRP also held a splendid poetry festival in Oxford. He is a libertarian socialist and lifelong peace campaigner, and has edited several anthologies of political poetry: Poems for Grenfell Tower (Onslaught Press, 2018), Rebel Talk (Extinction Rebellion Oxford, 2021), and Dungheap Cockerel (Culture Matters, 2023). He has published several poems in sci-fi magazines, and is currently writing poems set in a future hybrid, human-AI society.




 

 

Carl Tomlinson

Hairline


Facebook wants me to shave my balls.

Or at any rate

purchase a razor

specifically for this task 

as, apparently, 

no-one wants bits of pube on their chin.


Perhaps because I wet shave

my first thought

is ‘Wouldn’t you just change the blade?’

instead of ‘Don’t you dare to tell me 

that bits of my body won’t do.’


In a slight sad way 

I’m grudgingly glad

to glimpse for a second and no more -

a few weeks before I hit fifty-four

what it might be like

to have to find ways of ignoring this shite

for most of your life.



Carl Tomlinson lives on a smallholding in Oxfordshire. He works as a business coach and virtual finance director. His work is widely published online, in print magazines and anthologies. His debut pamphlet, Changing Places, was published by Fair Acre Press in 2022.


 

 Heather Moulson



Impolitic


Early one morning, before porridge,

Mum told me we had a new prime minister.

But she couldn’t  have forecast the bitterness

of a three day week

Power rations

candle-wax burnt fingers

Coming home to a cold tea

 

When Mr Heath went to the country,

I imagined a cosy cottage in Norfolk.

On the TV, someone threw red paint

on his suit. I fretted that it wouldn’t come off.

But not for long.

I was having fun with Slade records

and yearning for a Trevira coat.  

 

I’d barely noticed Mr Wilson creep back in,

and by Crisis, what crisis?!,

I was living it up in the Mediterranean.  

What winter of discontent?!

When I heard a whisper

of a woman prime minister,

I was dancing abroad. 

My only worry being what dress

to buy.

 

 

I eventually returned home,

 broke and unemployed

in a turbulent political climate.

I swung from extreme Don’t Know

to the far Don’t Care,  

as I queued up at the Labour Exchange,

still wearing my false eyelashes.   




Heather Moulson has been writing poetry since 2017.  She has performed extensively in London, particularly Celine’s Salon and Soho Poets, and Guildford and Woking.   Her debut pamphlet Bunty, I Miss You was published in 2019. Heather won the Brian Dempsey Memorial Award in 2020.

Heather is part of the Booming Lovelies who performed at the Guildford Fringe last year. 




Richard Price's most recent collection, Late Gifts, was published by Carcanet in 2022. You can hear Richard talking about and reading from his work in PWH, Episode 20. Information about his publications can be found here, in the post for episode 20.



Diana Bell


Bird Wisdom


The birds are talking to me.

The robin sings about working together –

‘You dig the earth and I will eat your slugs.

This is how the world works’.

 

The great tits are chattering in a crowd.

They sing about families –

‘We must all look after our own.

This is how the world works’.

 

The blackbird is more cautious

and keeps her distance high in a tree –

‘Take care who you are involved with.

This is how the world works’.

 

The pigeons talk quietly

waiting for their opportunity

to swoop, to take, to steal -

This is how the world works.

 

And the kite soars high above,

silently watching, seeing all

and saying nothing.

 

This is how the world works.



Diana Bell is a multi-media visual artist including sculpture, installation and painting. She has won awards for her sculpture and for her work in hospitals. She has always written poetry and worked with poets, but has only recently begun publishing.



Caroline Jackson Houlston


BALANCING ACT

 

What the moth wanted was modest:

less than .0001% of sweater to fret into

the small drab silks of its new family.

 

For the few—white-haired, war-bred—

the shirt too shameful for Oxfam

is washed and quartered

and buried in the triangular crypt under the stairs,

with a sleeve for the Windolene, and, for the brass,

half an underpant.

 

Some of it is sheer wanton tidiness.

Some of it is gourmets cutting corners off sharks

or swapping river dolphins for a hydrodam

that checks the floods of red silt bleeding from

the scarified bald hills.

 

Greed is a god worshipped in pretexts.

 

Every year, to be comfortable,

I need to eat a forest the size of Wales.

 

Let us cut the pie in half,

half for me and half for the world.

That leaves half a pie.

Let us cut the half in half.

That leaves a good slice of pie.

Let us cut the slice in half,

half for me and half for the world.

 

This is called ‘balance’.

 



Caroline Jackson Houlston is a retired English lecturer who has been a member of Oxford Stanza 2 for seven years. She likes to think of herself as an eco-poet, or even by that unfashionable label a nature poet. She has just completed a short pamphlet of her poems about Otmoor and is finishing off her accompanying illustrations.


Sarah Watkinson


Habitat Loss                                                                         

 

Was it lost, or never found,

the thousand-flowered tapestry 

the public good, the common ground?

 

The bay where herring queens were crowned

the quiet sky, the fruitful sea 

was it lost, or never found?

 

Small city squares to stroll around,

accidental, open, free 

a public good, a common ground.

 

Translucence of a glass-dark pond

amphibian diversity

was it lost, or just not found?

 

A wood where chanterelles abound

that’s not some shooter’s property,

a public good, a common ground?

 

A stranger welcomed to the round

untallied generosity

was it lost, or never found

the public good, the common ground?  





Sarah Watkinson is a poet, Oxford University plant scientist and emeritus fellow of St Hilda’s College. With Jenny Lewis, she ran SciPo 2016-2020 and led O.U. TORCH SciPo New Network, 2018-2020. She was inaugural writer in residence at Wytham Woods 2019-20. 

She has published two pamphlets: The Woods of Hazel, 2020, with Romola Parish; Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight, Cinnamon, 2016.  

Her first full collection, Photovoltaic, originally published by Graft, has just been reissued by Valley Press. I am very grateful to be allowed to republish this poem, which first appeared in Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight and Photovoltaic.



 

It is also available on Audible and Apple podcasts.

Please listen and share. Comments and suggestions welcome and should be sent to poetryworthhearing@gmail.com.

Poetry Worth Hearing will be back in September when the theme will be 'inside/outside' to be interpreted as widely as you choose. More information later, here and on the Facebook page.

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