Born in Dublin, Pratibha Castle now lives in West Sussex. She had childhood successes as a writer - won a national Cadbury’s essay competition at the age of nine; wrote, directed, and took part in a play presented at her current school. But her confidence was shattered by an incident with her father who made her rip up a school essay revealing her parents’ employment as live-in cook and butler. It was only on her mother’s death that she returned to writing at the age of almost sixty, studying on a BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. In 2011 she graduated with a first-class honours degree and continued studying on the Creative Writing MA.

Pratibha says, 'Though early on, I had a passing love-affair with poetry through the works of T. S. Eliot, poets of WW1 and E. E. Cummings, I only rediscovered poetry on the BA, although at that point, and on a subsequent Creative Writing MA, my priority was prose (a novel set in 1960s Notting Hill and India). It was 2019 before Mary Oliver’s passing redirected my back to poetry, both the reading and the writing of it.

 Music, dance, writing, art, drama, crafts, cooking, gardening. My life has been filled with creative endeavour of one sort or another. My work as an holistic therapist and facilitator of meditation and healing retreats for women sensitised my to the emotional life, a quality that finds an outlet in poetry described as being ‘of the heart’. Music has been my love since the age of six when my mother took me to a performance of Swan Lake.  I played piano, guitar, auto-harp, trained as a classical singer at the now defunct Trinity College of Music, all of which I feel influences how I hear the flow of words.

 Joint winner of the Hedgehog Press Competition Nicely Folded Paper 2019, my work appears in Agenda, Dreich, HU, Raceme, London Grip, Saraswati, Reach, Dawn Treader, Blue Nib, Panoply, amongst others. Winner of the NADFAS poetry competition 2009 (age range 13 - 17), long-listed in The Bridport, and Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize 2021, and the Gloucestershire Poetry Society Competition, she received special mention in both Welsh Poetry and Binsted Arts Competitions, my work was Highly Commended in Sentinel Literary Journal and Storytown 2019 Poetry Competitions, short-listed in Hedgehog Poetry Press Postcards from the Hedge: A Bestiary of the Night. A regular reader on Wilts Radio, The Poetry Place, my poems appear in a number of anthologies. My second pamphlet is seeking publication while I work on a full collection. I often wonder, will I ever complete the novel?

 I relish period dramas, spicy food, long walks in nature, the ocean. Sweetly scented blossom. Tchaikovsky, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash. I also loves to converse with animals and birds, but have a hard time with the heron who swoops out of the dawn, hopeful for a snack ofcarp. Most of all, I love poetry.'


Sparrow Love


The female flirts her tail,

flamenco flounce

of a doyenne cute

at charm. Thumbs

up for the male, a coy


first timer, by the looks

of his several efforts

till the deed is done.

When she whisks

into the nest to sort,


I presume, the housekeeping,

he is quick to follow, now

he’s got the hang of things,

no doubt eager to improve.

A flutter, till he arrows


from beneath the eaves

to return in a tail’s flicker

to the drain. Where he struts,

the bon mot of a small white

feather in his beak, proof 


to the Beloved how fine

a catch he is. As I dream

of its kiss against my

cheek, the cot this snowy boon

will fashion for its prize of eggs,


brown speckle glazed

with the suspicion of a sheen,

an image drowns my heart.

My father, his eyes behind 

black rimmed glasses shiny


with incipient grief. Tears I caught

the hint of once, the day my mother

bundled me into a taxi, scrambled after.

Not a mention of it, ever, in the access hours


I idled with him at the flicks, over

milk shakes in the Wimpy Bar,

doughnuts, ice-cream cones. Apart

from that last day in St. Michael’s hospital.

Two weeks and not a word.


His eyes opened. Vron, I’ve missed you,

an ocean streaming down his cheeks.


Padraig – Who Drove the Snakes Out of Ireland


At the allotment, daddy

forked the crumbly black earth 

till the air quaked

with anticipation of excess, 

me sifting stones 

in search of treasure;

the robin sat, pert,

on the lip of the bucket meant 

to carry spuds or cabbages,

the occasional giggle-tickle carrot 

back to placate the mammy. 


The bird’s eye bright 

with a lust for worms,

his song a crystal cataract 

of merry; though none 

of the seeds we sowed 

ever showed head 

out of the sly earth 

and we saw nothing 

of the slow worm 

daddy promised so that,

his name being Padraig too,

I guessed he must be a saint, especially 

when he himself vanished. 


Though he turned up

months later 

at the end of school 

again and again and again 

till I had to tell the mammy 

where the books and toys came from 

and that got me sent off

to board at St. Bridget’s convent 

where the head nun was nice to you 

if your mammy gave her fruit cake 

in a tin, bottles of orange linctus sherry, 

a crocheted shawl like frothy cobwebs, 


none of which my mammy could afford,

Padraig having banished more than snakes.




In the Confessional at school’s end

the priest’s face has the sheen 

of the girl’s Mary Quant 

nude lipstick. 


She fidgets on the hassock. 

Incense thralls her, and a fantasy

of hands milking themselves 

behind the grille. 


Words hiss. Tell me, my child, 

tongue-click over cracked lips, 

flicker in the priest’s groin:

exactly what did yous do with him?


Three times the question.

Three times her reply.

A Judas crow.

I slept with him.


Shegabbles through the penance,

Hail Mary twenty times,

seethes down the nave,

through a sea of sleepy motes,

scents of lilies, unctuous echoes. 


Candles in the Mary chapel 

gutter, flare; Our Lady

tails her from under 

lidded eyes. Mute. Cold stone.


The church door groans, clangs shut 

as she steps out into the yard, 

out of her flaunt of piety, 

out of Mother Church. 


A crow on a grave stone 

ruffles its wings, cackles 

applause. Breeze tousles her hair. 

Baptism of apple blossom, absolution. 


Wild Lass of Kells


She shuffles on the kerb outside O’Shaunessy’s, corner of Kelly and Dunleven Road. Her eyes the colour of Our Lady’sveil, scorched bluer by her copper curls. On the lookout for the Da. Her task of a Friday night to wheedle the wages off of him before he sets out on the lash.Glad of a break from the chores. Socks like a flock of crows, forever jostling, hand me down frocks in need of hems, pantssnagged on barbed wire, nails, atop of farmer’s walls and fences. Herself, the firstborn of a baker’s dozen; endless mopping up of spats, snail snots, scabby porridge pots.


Licks of laughter, yellow light, sidle out the gaping door into the night, let out by culchies on their shuffle to the bar. Eejits with purple slurs for eyes, glances tossed her way


collection plate

clink of small change at

Sunday mass


The odd time, a flash of lust; the most times, shame. A rare smile to build her up, Sure aren’t you a dote now, Delia, looking out for yer Mammy. God bless yourself.


Eyes cast down, pious daughter of The Virgin, Lord luv the child, in her wilting dress, miraculous blue medal clipped to the chest of her tatty cardigan. An occasion of sin, to be sure, sleveens might take advantage of. Till she glances up. That glare, brazen as hell’s fires, from the child of Maire of the Scry Eye, seventh daughter of a seventh son.


flame hex

of a

wild blood tinker


Skipping off home to a last scald of the pot, wedge of soda farl thick with dripping, her pocket is a clatter of coins, only the lighter by a bleary-eyed pint.


The Only One Who Loves You


Spurning words that echoed like a curse,

I stuffed a duffel bag with blister packs of pills,

Mary Quant minis, fantasies of girls

threading daisies in the muzzles of guns;

fled to the Big Smoke. In a bedsit


by Kensington Gardens, I massacred steak

with the mallet of hate, a year on, turned vegan;

pioneer in ’68 of pity for pool-eyed cows,

sheep, slate stare plaice.

Feigned compassion.


Strove to prove to myself

that I was worthy of love.

Strutted the nights away

with flautists, a harpist

whose healer’s hands

strummed my strings;

drummer, his silk tipped stroke

nimble on the snare; callous guitarists

plucking tunes from out of smoke drifts.


Chanted mantras with Ram Dass

in a basement in Notting Hill,

dossed in a Maida Vale squat;

candles, calor gas stove, the one tap

drip drip in the bog beside the back door.

Made out, off my head, with a sweetheart

leaf Philodendron, burnt joss sticks

to placate Kali’s horde of swords,

sweeten the vibes, man,

stench of cat lit no-one

from the Highgate commune

I crashed in next, ever emptied;

spooned marmalade from a jar half-full,

recycled from a skip.


Almost believed myself deserving of love,

till come the morning, I forgot. My heart

tenderised with grief discovering

the night my mother died,

love is an ether you can choke or float in.


On Reaching Heaven


Your eyes the bubble sparkle

of a Moet sláinte,

you’ll float across

in that cherry cardigan

you favoured towards the end.


Stuck at home, you

toasted the hours with

a click of needles knitting

socksfor friends. I dropped by,

or phoned, less often than I later

wished though that last time I brought

the cake. A treat we’d baked together years

before; your strong hand on mine steering

the heart beat symmetry of the wooden

spoon through an anarchy of icing

sugar, butter, splash - or more,

dependant on the mood -

of Bewley’s coffee.


The spill of your

song fizzing

the shadows

of the basement

kitchen as I jammed

together sponges open

hearted as your love.


The glory of walnut halves tallied

one to ten onto my palm

to be set with caution

on the buttercream

glaze. Baked

in honour

of the day,

the sun with its

celebratory gleam,

unseasonable. Tenth

of the tenth. The date

you and I each entered

this world and that you

even with your sixth

sense never guessed

would be the day

you’d leave.





SPRING 2022: We are resuming live open mic events in 2022. Please see our What's On page for up to date listings. Meanwhile, scroll down to enjoy our archive of monthly listings by guest poets.

WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain difficult because of covid precautions, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.


Mandy says: I'm often asked how I first started writing poetry. I think one way I came to it was by writing song lyrics, something I enjoyed doing many years ago when I lived in south-east London and musician friends were keen to have words for their melodies that they could perform in folk clubs. Through this I came to appreciate the sounds of words - hard sounds, soft sounds, words as images to create associations and trigger memories. I still find this fascinating. Recently I heard someone talking about the importance of pitch in poetry and describing, as an illustration, Dylan Thomas' wonderful poem about his father where the power of the line 'Do not go gentle into that good night' is emphasised by the DGNGN sounds.

I'm very lucky, for a number of reasons, to live in Sussex, by the South Downs and near the sea as well. Either as a cause or a consequence I find the setting of a poem or a story is important to me. I have a strong sense of place and enjoy trying to create that in my writing. I also like experimenting with the layout of a poem, using white space to suggest not only a pause but an atmosphere. I I have tried this, I hope effectively, with several of my poems in The Daedalus Files.

It's good to have the opportunity to include some of the Daedalus poems. I didn't know I could write 22 poems around one theme until I tried. Neither did I realise how deeper meanings and contemporary relevancies in a myth would reveal themselves as I gradually explored the ideas through many drafts and edits.


I’m including four poems from my poetry pamphlet  ‘The Daedalus Files’ (SPM Publications. March 2021). This is a sequence I’ve been writing on and off for a few years with growing fascination. I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Daedalus, inventor, craftsman and designer of the labyrinth which held the minotaur and where teenagers from Athens were brought as sacrifices until the monster was slain by Theseus with the guidance of the king’s daughter, Ariadne. After this, Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned in a tower by the king but Daedalus designed wings made from feathers so they could escape. Both managed to fly for a considerable distance but Icarus went too close to the sun, his wings melted and he fell, drowning in the sea.

So much for the story. I first became interested – later obsessed – by Daedalus a few years ago when we were staying with friends on the beautiful Greek island of Tilos. Somehow we started talking about Icarus and the Icarian Sea named after him and maybe it was because we were so close to the blue, shimmering water that the sad tale began to feel real. While we were there a boatload of refugees from Syria tried to land on the rocks but was intercepted and scores of men, women and children were later brought down to the harbour to wait for a ship that would take them to a holding centre in Athens. It was tragic to see and to think about. Daedalus and Icarus were trying to escape, these refugees had wanted to escape. The two things connected in my imagination and that same day I began the sequence.

Over the years I have explored the myth of Daedalus, discovering threads of loss, betrayal and abandonment, the nature of monstrosity, how scientific invention can be used for good and ill, the down-treading of women, the need for refuge and the desire for flight. A myth is more than an ancient, half-forgotten tale; themes in the story of Daedalus feel as relevant today as they ever were.



Monologue in a Labyrinth


this is a dangerous place

                        but nothing

                                    to be scared of    stop trembling

monsters are pure myth



a dead end    we’re in a mine    the mine’s heart

or the dead zone of a tunnel


                                                            we need to crawl    this bit

is like a drainpipe    smelly as a sewer   

you can wander underground in a sewer    so they say    if there’s a grating

and people squat down they’ll see you



                        easy to peer into hades

through a crack in the upper earth   



                                                can you hear birds    we must be somewhere

near daylight or dusk    this low roof is like a pier   

the underside where starlings fly out and there’s

seaweed on your face and cold wet sand in your shoe 



            somewhere    there’s a way out



Daedalus in the Edgelands


He improvises his steps like a line

from Bye Bye Blackbird, or a long loose

thread from a ball of wool. Content

to be lost he turns left, right, strides

to the south; one measure north brings

a feeling for soil, strata, ancient


dances and rain. He is glad to stroll

among the unkempt and dingy, the rubble,

the trash and unclaimed, and relieved, now,

for the moment at least, of voices that growl

do this, do that, invent an animation, befuddle

the lusty queen with a wooden cow.


A pause in time, an empty space which is never

really empty, a break from the outer

clamorous world – he thinks of his quiet

hideaway, his den in the cliffs, his haven

where he can study the king’s ships without

fuss. The blackbird sings in the tree; one last note.



An Athenian Mother


They are born to be hostages, our children, hostages to fortune

from the quickening day. Always the joy, and always

the terror of loss.


Often I’d get up at night to check my daughter breathed,

touching her cheek with my finger until she whimpered in her sleep

and stirred.


And many times I called her in from play, too early

and unfairly. But I needed to know she was safe from danger

and under my roof.


We celebrated with a feast the day she left childhood behind.

Green olives, figs, a scatter of herbs and warm baked bread,

wine for the blessing –


wine that soured with the taint of a curse as ten days later

they took her away, left me screaming on the quayside, and her,

trying to be brave


but crying for me as they were led, our young hostages,

onto a ship with a sail of despair, a tall mast ripping the sky

and my heart with it.



For Those Who Are Falling


for you are falling winglessfrom a high tree

into the space between air


and the soil


which is nothing but space


a headlong drop


to plummet through in darkness

and be hurt by




you find yourself caught on a branch     

budding and green


which holds you as if with a prayer

for the coiling and binding of leaves or twigs of grace


while above you a small bird rises

with a song cool as raindrops


un-parching your earth and offering such stillness


you do not need to fall into the dark

wingless and hurt


Open Mic Poetry – May 2021

Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Denise Bennett, Kevin Maynard, David Cooke, Timothy Ades, Richard Davies, Tina Cathleen MacNaughton, Tony Wheatley, Geoffrey Winch, Christine Rowlands, David Slade and Piers Rowlandson. 


Denise Bennett

Prometheus Plays with Clay


Put down yourfire Prometheus

and make a maquette of man.


First bend some thin wire

to shape the skeleton;

rib-cage, knee-caps, pelvis.


Then take your warm clay,

remember to let your hands dance

as you cover the bones. 


Put down your fire Prometheus

and make a maquette of man.


Feel the texture beneath

your fingers, the soft slip

as you twist the limbs;


use your spatula and rake

to create the head – make it

more beautiful than your own.


Put down your fire Prometheus

and make a maquette of man.


Fashion a model of life

and energy – make his shoulders

strong enough to bare


the weight of the world.

Give him joy, sorrow and hope,

arms to embrace love.


Put down your fire Prometheus

and make a maquette of man.


Kevin Maynard

Bean Patch


“I planted beans below the southern hill;

Weeds flourish; bean sprouts are few.”

                                      Tao Qian (tr. Ronald Egan)


if you could tot up all your borrowed time

a hill of beans is all it would amount to

three score and ten the Good Book’s paradigm

barely as much as this small child can count to


children, like dogs, live mainly in the present

while those consumed by age haunt their own past

what this one has is what this other hasn’t

but all haves vanish, though our losses last


how few these beansprouts, tiny flags of green

the fragile pennants of some future meal

smothered by weeds of sorrow and defeat


from feast to fast the mouths that crave to eat

from bliss to numbness flesh that craves to feel

from Must-Be to Perhaps to Might-Have-Been


David Cooke



Her perfume lingers

-Memoir of comfort,

An aftermath of fire.


She’s gone;

Design of his desire,

Clattering down the stairs,

Blowing single kisses

At his goodbye door,

Hurling a happy

Fond farewell


Over her carefree shoulder.


His face feels empty;

The consequence

Of unused laughter.

He is replete,


He thinks,

Makes him complete.


Now he perceives

A change of mood

In equilibrium of desire

And solitude.


He savours the minute,

Inhales the memory,

Excludes all thought,

Exhales his happiness.


She skips away,

Dancing on feathered feet.

Older, he stays, and prays;

To freeze the time

Where all true lovers meet.



Timothy Adès


Violet calls on me to compose a sonnet

a translation of Lope de Vega 1562-1635


I’m keeping busy! Now, I have to frame

a sonnet, by command of Violet.

In sonnets, fourteen lines are what you get:

the first three make it look an easy game.


I thought I’d find no word that ends the same!

And now I’m halfway through the second set:

but, thinking forward to the first tercet,

the quatrains are comparatively tame.

The first tercet is starting, I’ve just spotted!

Off on the right foot first I entered on it,

so in this line the same is duly slotted.


I’m on the second tercet of my sonnet:

already thirteen lines are crossed and dotted.

Count up – fourteen, I fancy – yes, I’ve done it.


Richard Davies

Blind Light


Light is blind and cannot see

the beauty it creates,

existing merely to display,

for our enquiring eyes,

and for our pleasure too,

the intricate constructions

from which our world is made -

the lines, the curves,

the shining sun,

the shadows of the moon.

and the sanctity of shade,

How sad it is that light

can never know

the love that it bestows.


Tina Cathleen MacNaughton

Paint the sky red


Just when I was fed up

with the lack of joy and colour

in my world, I glanced

out of the window

and saw You had painted the sky

with red, a brushstroke of promise

and hope, a reminder that

tomorrow may be magical.


Tony Wheatley

Downland Dowsing


From soil through foot to heart, mind, soul,  

Earth shifts her latent spore.

In touch with grounded mysteries,

We root into her lore. 


Ancient tracks, primeval force,

Copse, spinney, rife, sea-lace,

Myriad greens pierce weaving mists,

Chalk-white’s a holy place.


Sheep-shorn hills boast sacred rings,            

Tumuli ten-fold.

Past toat and limmer ponds we tramp

To relics of the wold.


Fertile, sensuous legacies

Find elemental course,

Invisible, umbilical,

In ley lines, lavant source,


Dense, dark woods on sloping trails,

Dry clods next marshy ways,

Signs, homing energies perforce -

Mystic, vibrant rays.


Clay-flint stodge spawns musheroons,

In circled, sanctus field.

Hallowed paths by knuckerholes

Vibrating magic yield.


Polarities of tingling art

Pulse secret empathy

To children of the Downs made whole

Through downland mammary.


Geoffrey Winch


Canon in D: Johann Pachelbel, c1694

The Rose Hip: Ric Sanders, 1988


So captivating this canon: a hit

originally at wedding feasts

when starry-eyed guests loved

to gigue to violins engaging

with its variant repeated chords. 


But eventually all dancing to

its refrains and basso-continuo



and its counterpointed

melodies slept for centuries 


until aroused

by Aphrodite’s Child whose

tears and rain precipitated through

those counterculture mists, so 

regaining it a place in repertoire,

albeit at a moderated pace.   


Timely too, for at a wedding

it would meet a modern melody –

offspring of a jazz and slip-jig

virtuoso fiddle-player –    

a measured tune evoking romance

of summer-gone, yet glowing still  

rich with colour

and they slow-

danced so well together.


(Aphrodite’s Child = Vangelis, Demis Roussos etc.

Ric Sanders: member of Fairport Convention)



Christine Rowlands

Dancing on Zoom.

Lucy, our Yoga teacher suggests we dance
in our class today.
“Some of you tell me you never dance!
Choose some music, something you like!
I’ll mute you all.
Let’s dance!”

We shimmy and stretch/shake our shoulders/
wriggle and wobble and wave our arms.

Later we share our choices-
Cathy wafted to an American folk song.
The two sisters played an Indian raga.
Caroline Zoomed in from a Greek island,
twirling to Nana Mouskouri.
Lucy grooved to Fairport Convention.
Mary swayed with Bob Dylan.
I hummed the Locomotion with its easy beat.

We -move-to-our-own-inner-rhythm and...
It’s FUN .....Zoom dancing



David Slade

Tommy Brettall’s New Ritz Revels 1938


The white jackets with the red facings

were as sharp as the notes they played.

Those six straight backed, instrument armed

musicians have been sitting in my father’s cupboard

waiting for a new intro these many years now,

but I know the call never came – well,

not the one they were expecting anyway.

Little did they think then, that in a few months

their uniforms would be khaki and the sands

of the Dunkirk beaches and The Western Desert

would take the place of The Majestic Ballroom.


They were not as close a knit group as their music

suggested and there were moments of disharmony.

Milligan was never one to fall in line with instructions

and there was a certain strain on his face even then.

Tommy was always apart – the organiser, the arranger,

the multi-talented musician, the one who held the glue

and stuck the mixed personalities back together

when the dust had settled – after the last dance –

and a warm beer and a Woodbine allowed

the adrenaline rush to slow down a little.


They all came back when it was over.

The white coats were by then, a seedy cream,

and the facings had faded along with

their enthusiasm – they’d all seen

too much red in the intervening years.

And anyway, jitter-bug was now all the rage.

Jitter-bug and piano accordion are poor bedfellows.

The sharp edges of the thirties were blunted

and ‘swing’ seemed utility-makeshift now.


Uniforms and the music stands were consigned

to the dustcart and the instruments’

only outings were in the privacy of

the family Christmas get-together.

Then, a wetness around the smoke filled eyes,

was the only evidence of memories 

of the late nights, the glitter and the pretty girls.

The photo is now as faded as the jackets were but

the richness of the melodies still echoes

through the years and stirs the dust

at the bottom of my fathers’ cupboard.


(Slipstream Workshop led by Paul Ward

on using photographs as prompts.)



 Piers Rowlandson



Lovers parting:

“We have all the time in the world.”


Do the dead follow us down the years,

through the mists of time?

Try to leave the dead behind.

They surprise you:

at the gate into the field,

on a lazy summer afternoon.

“The yellow flowers are poisonous to ponies.”

The voice is as clear now

as it was fifty years ago.

“Only when cut down;

leave the flowers alone.”


In the estuary,

an old fashioned boat

approaches the shore

where blackened twisted trees

mark the receding bank.

It’s the smell of the seaweed

that brings back

those two sailors.


The line of the Downs

echoing a coachman’s whip.

The chalk white fields,

fringed by dark woods

The old open topped car,

the smell of hay,

waiting to be baled

He’ll make us

brandy eggnog

when we get home

to the farmhouse kitchen:

“You boys need warming up.”


We are hurrying onward.

Ghosts have all the time in the world.



APRIL 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.


Deborah says:  I’m a European poet and short fiction writer living in Leicestershire but who (current restrictions permitting) spends some time each year in Brighton and East Sussex.  Thus, Brighton and the South Downs are abiding influences on the colours, textures and sounds of my work.  As are vintage clothes and hats which I collect and wear.  I currently have eight volumes of poetry, and three books of linked short fictions published by various presses including Shoestring, Smokestack, Kings’ England, and Nine Arches.  Volumes include Pavilion (Smokestack, set in Brighton) and Mr Bowlly Regrets (Kings’ England, 2017).  I was also fortunate enough (in 2010) to be offered a residency at Keats House, Hampstead, which influenced the volume Kinda Keats (Shoestring).

Before the pandemic, I performed my work a great deal, and currently still do this for various festivals and events online (my most recent being for Storytown, Corsham in 2020).  Brighton venues I’ve read at include Castor and Pollux on the seafront, Brighton Pavilion for Sussex Day (where I read to individual tables and performed on balconies and under portraits, upstairs, in my favourite historic building), Pighog Poetry at the Red Roaster Café, and AT Open House for the Brighton Fringe - reading in a lovely garden alongside other performers.  I miss performing live at such welcoming and inclusive venues, and my poetic work for art galleries and museums.

During the past few months, I’ve been teaching my usual Adult Education creative writing classes (online) for the WEA but have also been sending work out to small presses and projects.  Newly published pieces include work for Writer’s Café (online), The Hunterian Museum’s Edwin Morgan Poem (online), Imminent, David Severn’s poetry, music, and photography web pages - Songs of Solitude, The Black Lives Matter Anthology (Civic Leicester, 2020), and in various projects for City Arts, Chichester Poetry and Durham Festival’s Murmuration Project amongst others.  This year, I have a new poem coming out in Dear Dylan, an anthology dedicated to Dylan Thomas, for Indigo Dreams press.  As with many poets, writing poetry, and organisations such as South Downs Poetry and this site, have been lights in the shadows during these difficult times.


Poems: ‘A Dance in the Dark …’

The poems I’ve selected for the Open Mic are ones I feel sum up my poetic career thus far.  ‘West Pier Serenade’ and ‘Regent’ were both published in my volume, Pavilion (Smokestack, 2010), and are set in Brighton.  I’ve performed them often.  In the first one, I tried to convey how the ruined West Pier has continued to haunt my imagination.  I thought a lot about sound, and filmic imagery when writing it.  In the second, ‘Regent’, I travelled the poem to the Royal Pavilion with it’s astonishing array of colours, textures, and ghosts.  For me, the Pavilion’s one of those structures that provides a feast for the soul.  In these hard times, just thinking about the unlikeliness of its art and design gives me a lift.  I’m sure, I’m not alone in that.

Given the wonderful You Tube film for Keats’s Bi-Centenary from South Downs Poetry and the University of Chichester, I thought I’d also include a poem from Kinda Keats (Shoestring, 2013).  ‘John and Tonic’ was about a reading by John Hegley that I attended at Keats House.  Events at the reading (watching two birds flittering outside as Hegley read) seemed very Keatsian.  I was lucky enough to have the poem also placed in a Keats House anthology edited by John Hegley, (Here We Go Round the Mulberry Tree, Keats House, 2013, pg.40), illustrated by Quentin Blake, one of my favourite illustrators.  In Kinda Keats, I wrote many poems directly about Keats’s life and Wentworth Place, his shared house, but felt this one really summed up a spirit of place as it exists now.  I’m so happy to have it re-printed here, for his Bi-Centenary. 

Lastly, there’s a new, hitherto un-published poem, ‘Short Pantoum of the Foxes.’  Watching through my bedroom window, recently, I saw two foxes playing in the snow on a garage roof.  These bought to mind the lovely James Wright poem ‘A Blessing’ and Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ – both poems involving joy brought by the natural world, or maybe secreted within it. 

As with ghostly couples dancing at the old Pier, the Regent refusing to leave his outrageous palace, or parakeets courting outside Keats House, those foxes are my ‘dancers in the dark’ and, I hope, provide the reader with images of poetic endurance in stressful times. 

Deborah Tyler-Bennett: Poems


West Pier Serenade


There’s a dance going on, in the dark, above our heads,

men pressing women against laundered suits,

a girl’s surprised to find her older partner dances

better than boys, a woman leaves imprinted lips

staining the bar-tender’s milky cheek.


Above us, the burned-out Pier against evening’s

Guinness-black curtain, where feet shuffle in rhythm

(a few toes getting stepped on) and maybe this

close-stepping’s what we’re made for,

hands tight against gabardine or georgette clad backs.

It may be the sea, or the dancers’ suggestive whispering:

“At last, at last, at last …”


Above our heads, pier-bones lost to night,

where phantoms clutch each other.

Only the sea?  Or a woman breathing to her partner,

before kissing him: “I wish tonight would last,

would last … would last.”


From Pavilion (London: Smokestack, 2010), pg. 9.




Ghosting the Pavilion, struggling to catch your eye

as you study pock-marked mirrors I knew new.

Shock of my floury, moon-pie

face, hair seeming too small and not well curled,

spirit of better times, bereft of dogs … parties … mistresses …


Hoping to make tourists, like yourself, recoil

my impressive form’s refracted

in one hundred

knives …           forks …                spoons…

Shudders in and out of compotes

hefty with wax fruit, whorls eyes

of porcelain Mandarins

                                     to no effect.


Through gift shop shelves I squish,

tinkling pot-bellied Christmas baubles,

juddering gewgaws, rattling shrink-wrapped postcards

(depicting regal under-drawers that can’t be mine

too large, sink me, too large)

and think of breathing times

when trifling debts were trumpeted

around the house, and penny-sheets lampooned me

fat enough to sport those mighty under-drawers.


Listen.  Sore phantom feet squelched

into silk Chinese slippers for eternity

task your steps.  I call … I call …

nothing sounds against empty air …


Outside, exotic borders roaring with a thousand scarlet Dragon-tongues.


From Pavilion (London: Smokestack, 2010), pg. 52.


John and Tonic


Tonight, as John Hegley sang poems, him coaxing,

Keats House chorusing (happily, scarily, uproariously)

bright green parakeet, g-and-t’s slice of lime,

bounced into trees with tomato-billed, fractious mate.


Readers … audience digging ribs: “Did you see?”

Unconcerned, his own deft poetry

dainty-clawed parakeet hung upside down,

mate off, soaring.  


Passing gilt Music Room as I was leaving

saw through framing windows, beaming

faces, their interior candles.  Gazing

netted trees, caught love bird laughter.


Kinda Keats (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2013), pg.13.



    Short Pantoum of the Foxes


    My window watch, as snow had dropped all day,

    night’s inky blanket muffling the street,

    starred fall vanishing on garage roofs,

    and then I saw the foxes’ silhouettes.


    Night’s inky blanket, muffling the street,

    as cub hailed cub, scissoring the dark,

    and then I saw the foxes’ silhouettes,

    shadow catching flakes out of the void


    as cub hailed cub.  Scissoring the dark

    sibling faced sibling, leaning from the white,

    shadow catching flakes out of the void,

    limbs bracing in a moment of pure joy.


    Sibling faced sibling. Leaning out from white,

    my window watch, as snow … had dropped … all day …

    limbs bracing in a moment of pure joy,

    starred fall vanishing on garage roofs.


Open Mic Poetry – April 2021

Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Barry Smith, Chris Hardy, Kevin Higgins, Greg Freeman, Camilla Lambert, Richard Williams, Geoffrey Winch, Raine Geoghegan, Christine Rowlands, Denise Bennett, Alan Bush, Kevin Maynard and Piers Rowlandson. 


Barry Smith

Noli Me Tangere


At nine just after breakfast on this

Good Friday, I step into the garden

for a breath of fresh air in the shrubbery

with spring sunshine bouncing off

the jaunty celandines, all pert angles

and generous in their Easter giving,

the bountiful camellias are fully

alight with bright pink Donation’s

spent petals spilling across the grass,

Guilio Nuccio replying in regal red

and soft-white Magnoliaeflora

offering its perfectly formed coronets,

the bluebells in long-leaved sprawls

of green are calmer now after the night’s

smothering wash of sickly-sweet perfume

and the tiny birdseye blue flowered alkanets

are bullying their way to prominence

at every corner of the pathways.


This morning’s emails bring the cathedral

newsletter, a line of communication

in this time of lockdown and isolation,

and there on my screen I see Sutherland’s

incandescently orange and turquoise

image of Mary Magdalene reaching up

to the gardener on the spiral steps above

the tomb, compelled to keep her distance –

Noli Me Tangere, touch me not.

At six today, as every day now,

we will brew a pot of Ceylon tea

and take our seats in the front room

turn on the television news and listen

as the overnight tallies of the dead

accompany the shots of enveloping

blue gowns, gloves, visors and masks

carrying the crayoned names of those tending

the cocooned forms on their beds of white.


(Easter, 2020. First published in Chichester Cathedral Newsletter and subsequently in Littoral Press magazine, Spring 2021.)


Chris Hardy

An Unkindness


On the hill where I

cut thistles in July,

cut them then

and they will die,

I followed a white rooster

up and down                  

while axe-billed scavengers

mocked us in the sky.

He kept running knew

he’d outrun me

but didn’t know

he couldn’t last

and couldn’t fly.


White tailed cockerel

you crowed

in Summer dawn,

woke us both

too soon.

We don’t need you

in our field,

there will be eggs

in hedge or barn                     

when hens declare

look where hay lies warm

and my daughters run

to find them

in the sun.


They laughed at me

with my long pole

unable to catch

a small white bird

and when I did

they stopped a while

but then forgot.

We didn’t put him

in the pot,

left him laid out

for the ravens

that let souls lie                       

until noon.


The couplet near the start 'Cut them in July and then they will die' is part of a piece of folk lore about controlling thistles ('Cut them in June that's too soon' etc).

A gathering of ravens is an 'Unkindness' .. that's not the only unkind thing here of course.

The setting is Radnorshire, In Greek myth Ravens are associated with the souls of the dead ..

Apparently they are back at Chichester Cathedral. But I have not seen them or the Peregrines recently ..

Chris Hardy


Kevin Higgins

Artists For More Of The Same



When the regime begins auctioning

your children off to the Chinese,

and cremating the homeless;

for everyone who goes marching or writes

shouty poems against such things

there are others, like us, who quietly

welcome such reforms.


Our plans have been independently costed

by the Office of Budget Irresponsibility.

All the Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre’s

hairdressing needs will be paid for

by raising the retirement age

for garbage disposal workers

to seventy five.


For their fortieth birthdays, all novelists

of no discernible consequence

will receive a knit-your-own

Martin Amis kit, and the ability

to cause nausea and bloating

in others.


For their fiftieth, members

of the National Academy of Arts and Letters–

and those who consistently liked

the right Facebook posts –

will receive a Jowl Development Grant

(payable annually) and a toothpick

with which to remove

any of the Minister for Culture’s pubes

which may have become

lodged between their teeth.


Greg Freeman


Mick shrugging off the starstruck teenagers

told by the director to get up on stage,

concentrating more

on his moves than his miming,

holding it all back on Little Red Rooster.


Cilla’s face lit with wide-eyed astonishment

that all this was really happening.

Sixteen-year-old Lulu

descending a staircase

knowing exactly what was happening.


Them, led by him.  The Beach Boys

in their striped shirts; strangely,

not very hip at all. Gerry crossing

the Mersey; the robotic Dave Clark Five;

a lost and left behind Billy Fury.


Dusty at her happiest

in her Motown comfort zone

trying too hard to transmit her joy.

Martha and the Vandellas,

Heatwave in all its glory.


Camilla Lambert

Thoughts on the weight of a soul   


Does my soul

weigh more than yours,

a fat cherry

not half a blackberry? 


When it comes to judgment day

will my soul-mate

lend me a slither

to weigh down the scales?


Or perhaps a lighter soul

can more speedily girdle the earth,

seek out nectar, sustenance

for infinite time.




All I could do

when my mother died,

each arm light as a swallow’s skull,

was gather up my threadbare belief


and pray her soul be untethered

to swim with a company of seals,

in easeful peace

away from the storm.




I met a melancholy soul,

staring at a wolf moon

on the cusp of midnight,

poised to leap skywards.


I questioned it delicately:

where did it came from

or want to be?

It could not answer


nor could the black-haired child

thrown out from the sea

over sea-weedy rocks

on the edge of the shingle beach.


When I lifted them up,

soul and child,

they rested feather-light,

equally balanced.



Note: in 1907 Duncan MacDougall, a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts hypothesized that souls have physical weight. He attempted to measure the mass lost by a human at the moment of death. One of the six subjects lost three-fourths of an ounce (21.3 grams).



Richard Williams

Butterflies in the Age of Dinosaurs


Such fragile wings entombed: 

fragments for our imagination, 

we press faces to the past, 

sluice colour into the ghosts of veins, 

from there to the shadows of bone. 


In the time that was before flowers 

moths and butterflies drank sap 

from the weeping bark of trees, 

then forests laid down and died, 

a layer of world renewed. 


Here in this cathedral to the dead 

rows of display case cabinets, 

exhibits long extinguished 

like the trees that hold these fossils, 

such base material to reform. 


Or the sand melted into panes of glass. 

Or the copper and zinc refined to brass. 

Or the stone that held such treasure. 

So much there was to extract. 

So much fuel to burn.



This first appeared in South last spring.

It came from a news article about the discovery of butterfly fossils predating flowering plants by millions of years.


Geoffrey Winch

Answers to your Unasked Question 


Because when I’ve answered 

your questions before with

questions of my own,

you have never answered. 


Because things we said

in company remained

the same but different

when we were alone. 


Because when stakes appear

too high it’s necessary

to believe bluff

has a part to play.   


Because now we’re back

in the real world, there’s  

no need to leave it so long

before we leave it once more.  


Because certain experiences

are better rehearsed only inside

the head: best not to review ethics

so soon after making love. 


Because known answers 

do not require questions 

to be asked.


Raine Geoghegan

The Lungo Drom                             



blistered feet.


She walked

over stone

on grass

through thicket and brush

in water,


flowers and mud.


Her hair grew long,

flowing like a river.

Tiny silvery fish latching

onto each tendril,

longing for the open sea.


At night

she slept in bushes, caves, beside trees.

She dreamt of fire.


She drank from streams,

picked heather, lavender, rosemary for healing,

exchanged them for bread,

kept on walking.


Her hair turned white.

Her bones thinned.

Her body bent over

and her eyes grew weak .

Still she kept on moving.



One early morning under a mottled sky

she stopped.

The moon shone in her body.

Light fell on the ground

and she knew

this was her atchin tan.


(Romani jib (words):  The lungo drom  -  the long road; Atchin tan  -  stopping place/home.

Published in Words of the Wild Anthology 2019)


Christine Rowlands

Kitchen Know How

Peel, plunge
Discard, dice
Separate and slice.

Lift, layer
Sift, stir
Season add some spice.

Beat, blend
Skim, score
Scatter, mash and mix.

Crush, drain
Chop, toss
Arrange and serve and



Denise Bennett

Tulip Kiss

45th wedding anniversary 14th June 2020


he takes the wood

     in his arms


a bough fallen

    from a tulip tree


in the churchyard

    and with his


sculptor’s hands

    fashions an image


of lovers

     caught in a near kiss



Alan Bush

One life
(after Caroline Bird)


bolted down, burning
a clean version
of me, each cloud
a shadow

a shrill name with still air
flickered in the instant
blackness of a frozen
river, and the balcony

of the sun
filled the sky
like lampshades
with your body

a rush of ash
from someone else’s dream
that said ‘it’s how
you win’


Kevin Maynard



the whole estate’s asleep now but one tall silvery lamp still 

flutters amber light in a flickering circumambient pool 

revealing a furry lump of something wholly feral with a twitching tail . . . 


casual, coolly incurious, curled up beside a Lexus in our car-park’s 

a shamelessly, comfortably coiled-in-slumber she-fox; 

from the bedroom window I fiddle with the focus on my binocs 


and admire the near-perfect triangles of her white/black/russet face 

the near-perfect smaller triangles of her white/black ears 

and the sudden red of her yawn—as if bored by our stupid dead cars 


by our predictably prissy, mundane and diurnal lives, as if proud 

of her own free nocturnal domain, an outlaw away from the crowd, 

but in no way furtive, no, a brigand queen, quick teeth and sudden blood . . . 


her head twists lazily back and round, she stretches two dainty black paws 

and for a moment rolls half over in an elegantly fidgety daze 

before nibbling the snuff-coloured fur on her back, foraging maybe for fleas . . . 


‘foxes have holes’ . . . and you may have one down by the river, it seems . . . 

Reynard, tod-lowrie, dodd, volpone—oh yes, you’ve quite a few names: 

you’ve surely nested in me and burrowed your sharp snout into my dreams 


and maybe that’s why in China the fox is a most spooky creature, 

often a beautiful woman: but if you, say, reach out and touch her, 

she’ll let out a bark and a yelp and reveal her true otherworldly nature 


as this etherial vixen lifts herself, flicks up her delicate brush and is off 

a long lean silently gliding shadow slicing the dark like a knife 

and then through the frosty air (my breath smokes white) comes a distant cough 


which is all that she’ll grant me now after flitting away like the thief 

in the night that those who classed her as vermin would coarsely harrumph 

as with horncalls they rode out to hounds to ensure that their hencoops were safe 


and it’s left to us ignorant townfolk to see her for what she most certainly is 

a kind of nocturnal divinity haunting the streets where she flows 

from shadow to flickering shadow, fleet shadow herself under the guttering stars 





                                                        Piers Rowlandson


Country Churchyard I


The headstone is up there,

By the hedge. Yes, the white one.’

and of his beloved son



I can see you’re doing the maths.

“Only twenty three.”

You seem surprised.

Twenty two, I reply.

He never reached his twenty third birthday.


The view is south, across the valley.

But you can’t see the estuary

Where our memories were made.


The wooden scow.

The Fireball: out on the trapeze.

The smell of the mud

And of seaweed rotting in the sun.


The trees have grown tall.

You can’t see the Downs

Where his ashes are scattered.


There’s nothing more to say.

Or perhaps just one last thing,

A favourite saying of his:

“Let’s go faster”


MARCH 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.


Robin says: These days I’m fortunate enough to be (pretty much) purely a writer. I was what was called an ‘early adopter’ in all things internet - leaving a traditional marketing career to take an MA in Digital Media in 2000, then running a business helping other businesses with their online marketing.  Like many poets, I started writing when at school, but then the day job got in the way. When I took it up again in my forties, I started reading contemporary poetry and realised I needed to work a bit harder if I wanted to be published!  In 2014 I got together with Peter Kenny to form Telltale Press, a poets’ publishing collective, and with three other members we published our debut pamphlets and ran regular readings and events. That was a wonderful springboard and since then I've been lucky enough to have poems in many magazines, and to win some competitions, including the Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition in 2018 and the Live Canon pamphlet competition in 2019. I'm a member of the Society of Authors, the Poetry Society, Hastings Stanza and the Needlewriters collective in Lewes. I'm currently studying for an MA in Poetry & Poetics at the University of York.

 For the last few years I've been compiling a quarterly list of UK and Irish poetry magazines including details of their submissions windows which I send out free of charge. I've also written A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines, first published in 2018 and a second edition updated and expanded December 2020. Only £6 including UK postage, available at

 Although I'm a South Londoner by birth I'm very fond of Chichester and my family has a few ties to the area - my parents retired to Aldwick in 1982, and my sister trained as a teacher at the old Bishop Otter College. Oh, and I've sung Evensong at the cathedral several times with my group The Lewes Singers.


 About the poems

 'The summer we went to funerals' was published in The Rialto in 2017. I think it was probably inspired by the many times I've been to funerals at crematoria. Also possibly I was thinking about a wonderful 1996 Czech film called Kolya, in which an organist takes his little boy to work with him when playing at the crem. Eventually he stops doing it when the boy makes a little 'theatre' model to play with, complete with coffins disappearing behind curtains.

 'Ladies Hour' was written for Poems and Pictures, the blog of the Mary Evans Picture Library. The blog features poems inspired by some of the thousands of images in the library's collection, from historic photos and paintings to advertising material. It's a fascinating archive. This poem was written in response to an illustration from a 1912 White Star Line brochure for the Titanic. It depicts the indoor swimming pool on one of the first class decks, and a number of elegant ladies sitting and paddling. There was a poignant irony to the idea of these ladies practising their swimming, unaware of the fate of the ship.

 First published in Prole, 'Before the Splicing' is a little sonnet about having second thoughts before a wedding. Come to think of it, my first published poem was on a similar theme. Possibly a reflection on my first marriage!

 'All the relevant gods' is the title poem of my second pamphlet (Cinnamon, 2018) and it dates from the period when I was working for adidas at its German headquarters. I found my German colleagues as cold as ice, and feeling rather lonely, I made friends with the Latin American office down the corridor. I used to often find excuses to visit them. One friend in particular was a big-hearted woman who I call Sagra in the poem. She saved my life I think.


The summer we went to funerals


your suit smelt of floral tributes

and crematorium smoke - just one fag, you said

during Sheep May Safely Graze.


I learnt the importance of names –

Old Blush, Home Sweet Home

fashioned into one big DAD  –

craning at the window of a hearse

holding up buses on the High Street.

You told me the cars must be immaculate.

All that glass. Respect is in the details.


I pictured Dad polishing his boots by the back door.

And later, his waxwork face framed in silk.


I came to recognise the rituals –

lads standing around awkward in black

old aunties looking for an arm

everyone waiting their turn in the sun.

Mourners fingering hymn books

not knowing the words, desperate for a drink.

The flower show as they left, cursory reading

of labels handwritten by strangers.

The chapel filling and emptying

a ballcock priest bobbing on eddies of grief.


But you shut me out of the real business –

the night visits and all that happens

between a last breath and the first flame.

You said I wasn't ready for that.


 Ladies' Hour


It's good for the bust

just a gentle stretch or two

then small steps in


it's warmer than you think

it's deeper than you think

I love the blue fear of this –


down, down – watching my leg

disappear, and the other,

in up to my waist, my neck –

that's it


between me and the sea

just the smell of steerage,

the low belly of boat, the swell.


It's good for the bust.

I will do this. Reach forward,

take a breath. I believe


I will float, I will glide,

just a push with my foot,

my little foot, and let go



Before the splicing


Once she's cut her rope from the spool

it has a job to do: it may tie a boat to a cleat,

secure a headsail in fair wind, bind a spell

to teach her standing from her working end. 

The line is her friend. She's witnessed time

and again the trouble caused by a hockled

lay, how hard to untwist, unmake the same –

worked so many nights, twined and reeled,

shaped-shifting coiled sisal and greyed hemp,

she's whipped up frays and braided edges.

So why does she fear the heat of the lamp

and the slipping loose of a thousand fastenings?

She will dig out the core, feed a new line through,

strong for the passing and the coming-to.



 All the relevant gods


Sagra’s office walls flare chilli and lime.

To enter is to firewalk:

my dry skin puckers.


If Sagra’s mood is aflame, she’s up

and at me, black flap

of hair shake-shaking

Sagra is whiplash of Carnival,

staccato rage and/or joy

more shout than song

gravelling my face

with Spanish expletives.


I’m as passive as the laptops

around us. But Sagra is tall,

higher than the jungle canopy

up on a pyramid,

high on chocolate

with Itzamna and Inti.


She breathes rainforest

and speaks sky, more miraculous

than the giant hummingbird

drawn in the desert grit

and I know this:

every morning

her sly lump of an English boyfriend

must grope out of Sagra’s fragrant bed,

examine the cold play of mirror

and thank all the relevant gods

for whatever it is she sees in him.



Open Mic Poetry – March 2021

 Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Mandy Pannett, Denise Bennett, Raine Geoghegan, Joan Secombe, Rodney Wood, Barry Smith, Geoffrey Winch, Paul Stephenson, Terry Timblick, Kevin Maynard, Richard Williams, Christine Rowlands and Piers Rowlandson.


Deborah Tyler-Bennett                               


Keats’ Bedroom


Hardest to be here, near his bed,

pen-and-wash light of this slight room.

Visiting Severn’s death-sketch, webbed

ink suggesting ‘wake him’.  Catacomb’s

stark day-lily, poet’s white mask shakes

as if the sickly, living, John’s still here,

gaze flickered-insect caught in lace,

‘do stay’ he whispers.  There’s a moth tear

on his night-shirt, I consider comic

stories for him, tales of friends,

some diversion from this chronic

silence, thinking moth-holes won’t mend,

stare at his shirt.  ‘Better now … You go …’

Young smile’s flame gutters from view. 


From ‘Kinda Keats’ (Nottingham: Shoestring, 2013), 20.



Mandy Pannett






crystals, leaves,

petal-full flowers,

tiny hexagonal chambers

of the honeybee, perfect spirals of ammonites,

Man’s DNA, these codes are inbuilt and intuitive, an ancient underpinning.






famous names:

Phidias’ Zeus,

Fibonacci, man of Pisa,

Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci,

architects: Le Corbusier, the music of Satie, Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau.







with the Ratio,

his passion for the number twelve –

apostles, months, the Trinity, tribes of Israel –

his Last Supper’s dodecahedron fills the room like a spaceship, a vessel of light.



Denise Bennett

Remedy for Winter Blues


on black-edged days

un-bottle the robin’s song

and listen


pull a soft woollen shawl

about your shoulders;

feel the warmth


buy a blue hyacinth

for your window ledge

inhale scented breath


see the green linnets


on the bird feeder, laugh


take a quiet walk

by the water’s edge

and look for haiku


rest on a bench

by the harbour wall

by the hanging baskets


purple pansies

flecked with snow

shiver in the wind


let your sadness

be carried on the tide,

swish of grey dance-dress


anyday now

the blackthorn

will burst into white lace



Raine Geoghegan

Dark is the Forest


Dark is the forest and deep.

In times gone past it’s where we’d sleep.

Under the oaks or the Hawthorn tree,

drop our covels, our minds roam free.


Dark is the forest and deep,

For dukkering, our malts will keep,

a small gold ring tied with string,

around their wrist or in their fist.


Dark is the forest and deep,

where foxgloves grow and deer do leap,

our plans are spun and boar will run.

We take our time, we ‘ave some fun.


Dark is the forest and deep,

we pass by patrins for those who seek,

to keep in touch with folk that are dear

and pass on news of birth and fear.


Dark is the forest and deep.


(The title is taken from a poem No 131 – Poems 1916 by Edward Thomas; 

Romani words (jib) covels – belongings; Dukkering – fortune telling; Patrins – signs left along the road, can be leaves, string or stones.)



Joan Secombe

Lockdown Lent


It crept up on me this year, in the absence of

the usual Sunday reminders -

Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima;

those haunting words of ritual and rhythm

familiar from my youth.


Shrove Tuesday surprised, but

I threw a pancake or two

grateful that online shopping had

inadvertently delivered the requisite goods.


Ash Wednesday then and no solemn communion -

of any sort. Remote worship,

Too remote for me.

I want to be enfolded by God’s architecture,

stone under my feet, monastic chanting

echoing to the vault.

I’d rather walk in the garden meditating,

loosely, under the sky than sit and stare

passive, at a screen.


Lenten discipline:

Sugar, chocolate, alcohol now

not important enough to make

their lack a penance.


I will read,

as reading has been a fitful,

fickle comfort to me of late.

So I will read.

And I will read Revelations

because it has not yet revealed itself to me.

And in this uncertain world I would like

to try to make sense, albeit ineffable sense

of Something.



Rodney Wood

Sonnet with Jawbreakers


The front room where I played blossoming with glass

jars packed with sugar-coated jawbreakers,

the hard Black Jacks, Peanut Brittle, Pear Drops,

Mighty Imps, Sherbet Fountains, Gobstoppers.


While still a baby I grabbed a sweet, held it

in my little fist and cried when they wouldn’t

come out to join my toothless mouth. Dad’s

laugh said everything will be alright. When a few


years later, Mrs West, the fish-monger’s

wife bought in her baby for us to see

I burst into tears because I was

no longer special, no longer the world’s


youngest person. When I told them mum and dad’s

laugh said everything will be alright.



Barry Smith

Deep Water


A woman is weeping

by the sea-shore

as so many have done before

she wants to go home

she sobs and rocks

the skin of her knees

peering through the frayed

denim of designer jeans


a bearded man hefting

a loaded backpack

looks on, his face a mask,

rigid, helpless

he’s lost

she’s far away

weeping at the sea-shore


we gather awkwardly

offering help

she clasps a woman’s hands

locking onto human warmth

she wants to go home

but doesn’t seem

to know anymore

where home is or was


I’ll be alright, she says

I’ll be okay

you’re so lovely, she says

and weeps


the bearded man is stiff

he tries to touch her

curling shoulder

he asks for a light

for his roll-up cigarette


but we have no light to give

and we cannot help

him to reach her

or her to get back home


(First published in London Grip)



Geoffrey Winch

Reality of Fiction


He created her

to be the sole occupant of his novel;

placed her under the impossible strain

of formulating his original philosophy.


At first she was silent –

a silence akin to death

but then her ideas began to blossom

like lilies.


Her origins may have been conventional

but she developed unchallenged

until she became his superior

and there was no argument: he admired her.


Every time she emerged on a new page

it was as if he opened his door to a stranger

wearing a mask –

a stranger who could be looking for someone

to stab in the back.


Published in Linkway magazine in February 2001



Paul Stephenson

The School of Athens, a jigsaw


Plato’s autonomy is lost.

How can I make sense of ancient thoughts

when the heads that held them are shared

with bits of masonry and fabric?


Pompeii engulfed,

the moment is precise but arbitrary:

a hand stretched out, a finger raised,

a pair of compasses stopped mid-arc,

the theorem half-proved for eternity.


The only thing that moves,

I wander from group to group.

The means to their halting resurrection

is in my doubtful hands.


Ashamed, I do not meet the one-eyed gaze.

I walk with eyes cast down,

oblivious to rank, observing only

gradations of hue and tone,

the consistency of a strip of braid or tilework.


The integrity I seek is also mine.

When all is done and I am of a piece,

I shall reanimate the hall

and voices will rise again to the high arch.



Terry Timblick

The Longest Shadow


Less a heavens-wide wheeling murmuration,

More a dozen-strong chatter of starlings,

Sits newsily atop our community’s horse-chestnut.

 But do they know their roof-high roost,

Made a trinity with aligned elms on a crocused bank,

May not stand another year’s canker?

A ten-year-old liquid amber sapling-in-waiting

Looks up at its towering neighbour

And harbours awe, gratitude and acute apprehension.

Rot, die-back, assorted diseases and planning departments…

Trees have their own versions of Covid.



Kevin Maynard

New Deal


The cropped head, hollow sockets, jutting chin,

The caved-in cheeks, beak-nose, the scant red beard,

The torn and faded denim jacket,

Claw hand and stick-like arms . . . So this is where

Your dreams have brought you, borne on the wind

Across the prairies with big scudding clouds:

Tossed like tumbleweed over the widening dustbowl

Of a Great Depression through flat scrubland

Down long roads of disappointment and fatigue—

Till the good air, promise-crammed,

Stopped dead forever and the hungry words all dried.

Peace to your bones.  The New World,

Like the Old, delivers everything but luck

To those who live for tomorrow without a today.

You have the dignity granted to those who rest

After their labours took their only pride.

Ants forage in the soil beneath your hair

And reap the crops you never got to share.


Based on a photograph by Edward Weston



Richard Williams

The Next Station Is


Portsmouth and Southsea then Fratton and Hilsea, 
clattering over the creek to the points at Cosham
west to Southampton, Salisbury and Cardiff,
east to Brighton, north to Waterloo. 

And you will catch your breath in her reflection, 
watching the world from a window seat,
as seasons concertina in ripening fields. 
Commuter belt villages and old market towns,
reels of film on a cutting room floor;
are the scenes we keep the ones we’d choose?

And she will be returning here in your arms, 
like yawning workers on the stopping train
memories slurring as carriages sway,
past Bowlplex, Vue and the lipstick tower.

Morning always loops home to this place.
dawn into day into dusk into night.
A circle aching still to be filled
with children’s laughter like marker pens.
Love and hope in permanent ink;
this city by the sea and all that you need.


From Richard’s first collection, Landings (Dempsey & Windle, 2018)



Christine Rowlands

Winter Weather Words

Wet, needle fine, icy drizzle
Bucketing down, dreary, soaking siling...
A deluge of rain.

Rain makes ground sodden,
flooded fields, grass submerged,
deep ruts, motors revving, wheels spinning.

Sticky, slimy, smelly, squidgy, sloppy,
gloopy mud!
Covering our boots, splattering our clothes...
While a cruel wind blusters and blows.
Winter weather.



Piers Rowlandson



I have not written these books for people who have not asked themselves,“Where does reality begin?” Lawrence Durrell


                                                  The Chinese Emperor dreamt

he was a butterfly,

dreaming he was an Emperor.

He decided that in reality he was a butterfly.


A man was waiting to be hanged.

His crime: believing the emperor

was an impostor, and saying so.


“What news from the Palace?”

he asked his jailor.

“The Emperor is a butterfly.”


“Then I won’t hang,”

said the condemned man,

who was a missionary.


“The Emperor has decided

to put things to the test.

He is going to climb a high tower

and jump off to see if he can fly.”


“Good news indeed,”

said the condemned man.

“Not really,” said the jailor.

“You are to go with him

and jump first.”


At the top of the tower

they paused.

“I’ll see you on the other side,”

said the missionary.


said the jailor.

The Emperor smiled his wicked smile.



Mike Jenkins

With Keats: Sit and Wait

we sit together
the world moving around us
with an uncertain almost
astonished gait

here we sit on curve of
Eastgate square and

for that spark of unifying fire
that leaps from window ledge above
cradles child curling about your burnished leg
stops passers by who may
in brackets wonder
(who is he?)
in stillness kept serene
what are those words about the curve
what does it mean to dream
of high romance?

Ah… look
with eyes of heart and see
him here alive
in you
in me

Stay awhile and breathe to fill
in clouds and spires
in streets of moving still.


FEBRUARY 2021: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.


Geoffrey says:  I was born and raised in Reading, Berkshire, and left at the age of 21 when employment in surveying and highway engineering with local authorities took me first to Hampshire and subsequently to Warwickshire.  My wife and I lived near Royal Leamington Spa for 7 years then in the town for 27 years until I retired from full-time work in 2001 having completed 40 years local government service. During that same year we relocated to Felpham and I continued to work as a part-time consultant to West Sussex CC until 2010.  Soon after moving to Sussex, and having achieved some success as a small press poet from 1992 onwards, it was a pleasant surprise to be invited to join Slipstream Poets (then based in Pulborough, but now in Storrington) and I have remained a member ever since.  For several years I was also a member of Silk Road Writers (Littlehampton), and am currently a member of River Poets (Arundel) and the Chichester Stanza groups. For the past ten years or so I have also read regularly at Chichester Open Mic, and I’m grateful, as I’m sure we all are, to Barry and Joan who have ensured the Open Mic continued throughout 2020 in its current online form.  I also thank them for inviting me to be the first ‘Poet of the Month’ for 2021.  No doubt we all share in the hope that this year will bring with it a return to normality, and we are all looking forward to the time when we can share live Open Mic readings once again. 

Velocities and Drifts of Winds

Since moving to Sussex my poetry has been published in a wide variety of magazines, anthologies and journals, both print and online, and Velocities and Drifts of Winds (Dempsey and Windle, 2020): is my sixth collection.  Most of the poems have been previously published, and I have read earlier versions of some at the Open Mic. Following its publication I was interviewed by Nnorom Azuonye for Sentinel Literary Quarterly, and this can be read by following the link . My previous collections have all been themed and, as the title suggests, the theme this time is ‘winds of change’. The collection is set out in four parts beginning with historic winds of change and ending with those that can often affect personal relationships. My influences are many, and styles wide-ranging from free verse to short forms (haiku, tanka etc.) as well as haibun and tanka prose.  All appear in the collection, although I have selected below one free verse poem from each part. ‘Burned Out’ is about the great fire of London influenced by observations Antony à Wood recorded in his journals.  ‘Tables for Ladies’ is based on Edward Hopper’s1930 painting which reflects some advances that were being made in the feminine cause in America at the time.  In ‘Meadowland Eclogue’ I consider not only a landscape as a trysting place but elements that might influence its moods; and in ‘Mary, Mary’ I fondly recall a young lady who I dated for only a few weeks in my youth but because of certain circumstances I was unable to bid her a fond farewell!  I have also selected two short form poems, a Tanka, and a Cherita – both of which speak for themselves. 

Burned Out 

“a lamentable fire broke out in London

in the morning, it being Sunday” 

Anthony à Wood: September 2nd 1666


apparently an easterly

with an impish bent turned up

Pudding Lane


intent on meeting with

a few bright sparks that fell

from a baker’s oven


there to engage in frivolous

conflagration without meaning 

to set the city ablaze  


as ultimately more malicious

forces would;

     or for Farriner’s bakery

to enter the annals of infamy –  


yet for three days here in Oxford

we’ve had billows blotting-out our sun, 

the same bloodying our moon  


drawing our eyes all night 

to the hills’ candescent horizon –

now in their hundreds they come


the bewildered, the footsore, the lame:  

some on dung-carts with no chattels,

some without names


blistered and scarred,  

the scared-beyond-their-wits

telling of inferno and its capacity

to burn a city –


blood flows cold

through our veins since we’ve seen

how easily flesh will burn     


( “the hills” = the Chilterns Hills)


Tables for Ladies

Edward Hopper: oil on canvas, 1930


It is no dream, 

just a welcoming sight

this row of grapefruits displayed

in the window of a place to eat with 

a pineapple as centre-piece of a basket

over-brimming with fruit – and two ladies 

working, cashier and waitress, reflecting

on their new-found status now single

ladies are able to book a table

to dine alone or with who-

ever they please, here in

New York at least.


And the lady diner –

we’ve met her before, alone

and vulnerable with a coffee in

the automat; and the theatre with the

gentleman she’s dining with now when 

taking their seats beside the aisle – the lady  

we saw enjoying chop suey with her

female friend: now, with her back to

us, it’s his face we see reflecting

on this altered state – she

booked the table and

invited him to eat.


Meadowland Eclogue 


Meadowlandsoil: I, your idyll’s

engine room fashioning filaments

with my worming machine to stretch

up from my nourishing depths

to caress your lover’s hair. 


Meadowlandscape: I, the festival

of flora; grower of leaves of grass

to mow – with naked leaves I dress

hedges   flowers   trees,   and clover

your unclothed lover’s hair. 


Meadowlandsky: I am the spying

sun and cloud watching how you

make tall grasses wave as you ride

therein and upon – with butterflies

I highlight your lover’s hair. 


Meadowlandsong:  I, the harmony 

of avian flocks and insect hordes, 

harmonising chorus with beehum

to become the refreshing breath

that sings in your lover’s hair. 


 Mary, Mary 


after the sun had sunk

I remained focused on

her ship – its dark plume 

bending to the breeze, lights

shimmering in its wake – 

and still I saw glinting flecks

of circling gulls even in

the mizzle of dusk


and Mary at the taffrail, her

hair wild and black, and her

scarlet dress almost dim as if

a farewell flag – saw her

give me one last wave, 

blow me her final kiss,


so I lowered then my telescope

and waved back to the night . . . 


but, I’m just a romantic and that’s

not how it was – when Mary went 

it was sudden, not even planned

or discussed – just failed to keep

our date one night and all her friends

ever knew 

she and her family had upped sticks

and moved too many miles



and I’ll never know whether or not

it was simply better to end that way


 Tanka 6


morning contrails

crossing the coast

every day

people going places

some back to where they began


 Cherita 2


how desire 







in yesterday’s bêtes noires


Open Mic Poetry – February 2021


Please scroll down to read this month's poems by Myra Schneider, Stephanie Norgate, Denise Bennett, Timothy Ades, Barry Smith, Camilla Lambert, Kevin Maynard, Margaret Wilmot, Richard Davies, Ken Jones, Mandy Pannett, Christine Rowlands, Greg Freeman, Alan Bush, Holly Parton, Richard Williams and Deborah Tyler-Bennett. 


Myra Schneider

Looking at Light


You watch it alight neatly as a dancer

on this bottle of water where it implants flecks

like a series of intense kisses on the neck


and captivates the flowers speckling the mat

underneath, multiplies them in the bottle’s

transparent interior. Another feat:


as the sun emerges it starts running

pinkish streamers over the park’s blue

frostbitten grass. Paleness will disappear


as it douses the air with a sense of gold.

All your rooms will awaken and you’ll long

to keep lucidity but nothing will stop


crimsons and violets from spilling over the sky

to herald darkness. When the day dies though

you’ll gaze at dazzle-needles which the bottles


on the bathroom window ledge have snatched

from the streetlights, at the electric red

splashed on the panes by a passing car 


and for moments illumination will fill you.

Later, you will wake to a chill nothingness

but you’ll find a lemon pool of moon


on the landing carpet, wish you could kneel

and gather it up in your arms, wish

its certainty could wipe out all grief.


(From Myra’s new collection, Seige and Symphony, scheduled for publication in autumn 2021 to support the Woodland Trust.)



Stephanie Norgate

to sing of soap in desperate times


in spite of palm plantations,

felled rainforests and effluence,

in spite of plastic dispensers,

in spite of nitrogylcerine,

in spite of a name that categorises

life-long dramas


to sing of soap is to sing al-galy,

wood ash that lends its name to alkali,

to sing rainwater and to sing oils,

olive, vegetable, sesame, and not to mourn

an absence of tallow - for who wants

to rub the fat of a cow on their skin?


to sing some soap names but not others,

to sing Pears, Dove and Lifebuoy,

but not Imperial Leather, a name saddled with empire,

whose legacy refuses to be washed down the plughole


to sing of the soap my daughter gave me,

nettle and seaweed, astringent shore,

field margin, seawater, kelp, ribbon of nori


to sing soap is to sing my grandmother lathering

a slip of Palmolive for skin and laundry and then

to sing the green unrinsed forgetfulness

streaking her long white hair


to sing my sister’s gift of a bar of soap

is to sing a fourth dimension containing

the bloom of two lavender bushes


to sing soap is to sing a child

sifting pink stars through fingers

in a bucket of water and soapwort

at the living museum


to sing soap was to choose on days

when the French market still came to town

from les savons de Marseille

fenouil, citron, or les muguets des bois,


to sing soap is to sing Happy Birthday twice

congratulating yourself like a prime minister


or to watch Gloria Gaynor washing

her hands, singing ‘I will survive’

for twenty glorious seconds of being alive         


(First published January 2021 in The Oxford Magazine and forthcoming in The Conversation, Blloodaxe, 2021)



Denise Bennett

The Escalator

A contrapuntal poem


Sometimes I feel her standing next to me

in the department store;

I feel her take my hand

as we step onto the escalator;

remember how she taught me to ride safely,

to hold on tight and when to jump.

I can smell the scent on her clothes.


 Learning to Fly


It’s over sixty years since we both stood here

at the foot of the moving stairs.

She’s all dolled up,

tailored suit, newly permed hair.

The fragrance of gardenia takes me back

to that first time I learnt to fly

her gloved hand holding mine.



Flying with My Mother


Sometimes I feel her standing next to me;

  it’s over sixty years since we both stood here

in the department store,

  at the foot of the moving stairs.

I feel her take my hand.

  She’s all dolled up,

as we step onto the escalator,

  tailored suit, newly permed hair.

 I remember how she taught me to ride safely;

   the fragrance of gardenia takes me back –

– to hold on tight and when to jump –

  to that first time I learnt to fly.

I can smell the scent on her clothes,

  her gloved hand holding mine.




by Victor Hugo


Translated by Timothy Adès


The fog is cold and the heather is grey;

The cattle-herds go to the drinking-troughs;

The moon breaks out from behind black clouds,         

A brightness coming as if by surprise.                           


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


The traveller walks and the moor is brown;

A shadow behind and a shadow before;

There’s white in the west and light in the east;

Here dusk, and there the light of the moon.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


The sorceress sits and her lip goes long;

The spider fixes her web to the tile;

The will-o’-the-wisp has a goblin glow

Like a pistil of gold in a tulip’s bowl.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


There are ketches and coasters out on the sea;

There’s shipwreck in wait for the shuddering mast;

The wind says: to-morrow! the water says: now!

There are voices heard and they speak despair.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


The coach from Avranches to Fougères

Has a crack of the whip like a lightning-flash;

There’s many a noise grows loud from the dark,

And they mingle together, to float on the air.

I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


In the depths of the forest, bright torches shine;

A graveyard clings to a mountain-top;

Where does God find all the blackness he pours

Into nights that fall, into hearts that break?


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


There are puddles of silver that shake on the sands;

The osprey is close to the cliffs of chalk;

The shepherd is watching across the wind

The devils in vague and monstrous flight.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


There are plumes of grey from the chimney-stacks;

The wood-cutter passes, bearing his load;

The noise of a stream in spate is heard,

With the crashing of branches, dragged along.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.


The great fierce wolves have a starving dream;

The river is racing, the cloud takes flight;

Behind the panes where the lamp is bright

Are the glowing cheeks of the very young.


I don’t know where and I don’t know when,

Old Yannick was blowing his chanter and drone.   



From How to be a Grandfather (Hearing Eye),

a translation of Hugo’s L’Art d’être grand-père. 



Barry Smith

This Way Up


You know how it’s going to end

for the old girl in the wheelchair ahead.


Her bearings have gone askew

she’s off on a twitching fox-trot


her head lolling like a nodding dog

bouncing, then drooping to the side


where her husband’s wispy grey hairs drift inland

washed ashore by the piano’s narcotic flow


her hands worrying the frayed shoulder-strap bag

looped across her back, desperate to get it off


somehow as if that act would free her

as once she unloosened her stockings and slip.


The pianist’s hands swoop and slide

plucking the dancing pulse of the fugal line


but they’re off on a different kind of trip

shuffle-stepping towards the edge


the chandelier casting light from another age

on the wheelchair’s steely backrest where


you can just make out the scuffed black letters -

this way up, it says, this way up.


(first published in the Ver Poets Anthology)

You can read Barry's poem The Masks of Anarchy on Culture Matters - follow the link:



Camilla Lambert

Midwinter ache


December twigs,

black, sharp-angled,

are hung with angels;

they eye each corner of the room,

as they spin, quivering,

while blue peacocks

tinsel the lower branches,

flare sparkles from their tails.


Why are they all so mute

no blare of brass

from the trumpets

held out

in unison

no raucous exchanges

of thine and mine

between the peacocks?


I ache

for sounds of celebration,

listen out

for the slightest quaver

of life- a soft tread of steps

on the stair,

doors’ closing click,

a rustle of paper unwrapped.


The windows are open

to catch the peals

of joy for the world

shaken out

from the squat tower.

But the air weighs heavy

cannot take the load

of a distant owl hoot.


What will rouse

the angels

to raise their trumpets

and send a carillon

around skeleton trees,

brushing away

ice-drops, and on,

up into the frosty sky?



Kevin Maynard

the wherewithal


please madam, sir, do tell me please what is

this wherewithal you say I am without?

the stars shine still without the wherewithal,

the tides come in, come out, frost falls without

the wherewithal, anoints my hair and brow,

it cracks my boots, furs white with diamond crystals

all my cardboard bedding, sheds a sparkle

glissading over paving slabs, lamplights

blaze and Christmas glitter fills the glutted


shops that shut me out, though they all have

the wherewithal, and so do you, where can

I find the wherewithal?  not in the hurried

steps, averted eyes, held noses of those

who pass me by, determined not to share

the wherewithal, their precious wherewithal:


my whys and wherefores plucked by winter winds

and blown the length and breadth of Whinnymuir


—the unconcern you give for granted gone—


for I’m the rubbish in the rubble of your dreams

I’m what you stumble over as you pass

and you’ll remember me until you die:

the dead are those who lack the wherewithal


their lack, sweet lack, is what we always share—

we lacklove, lonely, luckless, landless, damned



Margaret Wilmot



His slender neck fills her with tenderness,

long lashes on a cheek. Ten years old.

He spreads his toast with jam, juice-glass in hand.

Artless his words, calm. I’m never having children.

She takes a sip (coffee just right today).

Six months since he came? Too many kids

need homes. Like him. Stressed by all

the fights, he asked Granny if he could stay.


But now he jumps up, agitates, puts car-keys

by her cup. The front door slams. Flustered, she gulps,

wants to weep. Life gone amiss, all frantic scramble,

and then some. Coffee half drunk again.

It shouldn’t be like this. Yet even

his desperate punctuality fills her with tenderness.



Richard Davies



When I look at myself in a mirror now

I know that what I see,

lined and tired and weather-worn,

is not the face of the dreaming boy

who planned to travel in foreign lands,

climb the highest peaks

and conquer all the deserts of the distant world.

Instead I see grey-haired man

left with few, if any, goals to meet

I've been to many places,

seen a thousand things,

and, though I've left few traces,

the buccaneer in me remains.

I still yearn for open roads

and one day soon I hope to find

my Xanadu, my Shangri-la.

They could be very far away

but maybe they are closer

than I imagine them to be.



Ken Jones

Fairy Tale


Once upon a time

  I knew

     a truth

when I heard it:


because veracity

came with

no health warning,

   no bias

      no edge

         no prejudice …


once upon a time

truth was a statement

   of what is;


opinion free ...


once upon a time

I heard that truth

had become a construct;

   definition free,



absolute universal meaning;

variable, not constant ...


and now such a thing





enshrouds me.



Mandy Pannett

Not in the Book

You are doing well with your life:

a massive, inherited stately home,

your memoirs high in a best-seller list,

an immaculate wife.


Tourists write It's a fabulous house.

I would scribble my message in red:

I loved you first.


This is a difficult room.

Watery vistas and one who has painted

himself in a mirror.

Outside there are shrubs and rain.


I am not in your book.

Not a word that you loved me, loved me first.

I shall buy a postcard then.

A souvenir.



Christine Rowlands

Stand and Stare

I tell myself.
Be in the moment
Feel the floor under my feet
with each step.
Smell the earth and the grass
as I walk each day....
Smell the soap
And the hand cream
Think of things for which I’m grateful
Be creative -dance, sing, draw, paint, sew, sculpt,
write, cook.
Look for the good in each day
Be aware of how I visualise the day ahead....
Say I will
Say I can
Have positive thoughts
Banish negative ones
Set a good tone for the day
Be kind to myself and others
Each evening look back and ask ....
How did it go?Can I do better?



Greg Freeman 

Dusty on the Dansette


It wasn’t a soft-porn movie.

But yes, she was a Danish au pair

in my Methodist nana’s front parlour

while Dusty’s Son of a Preacher Man

played on the Dansette.


Miniskirt, boots; first, necessarily

brief but genuine encounter. Ah,

but she had a bit of a cold

that night. Inexpert as I was,

I could tell she was just being polite,


that her heart wasn’t in it. Our tryst

ended when she blew her nose loudly.

Sometimes I remember her when I hear

the song. I’m a big Dusty fan. But

Aretha’s version is superior, I have to admit.  



Alan Bush

Richard Hamilton

Swingeing London ‘67



With Mr Richards’

Witterings raided


Mick Jagger’s right

handcuffed to Robert


at a Magistrates’

where the Judge Block


insists his swingeing

penalty on swinging London-


by-the-sea is necessary

at an exact lifetime


later, we’re left

with a copy-painting


secured to a gallery

wall, and a graphic     


moving on, by

an empty Court 



Holly Parton



My heart leapt today,

For in the quiet of the night, spring had returned.

A new pink blossom has broken,

And like the first evening star,

It made me catch my breath.

For where before there had been emptiness,

Now there was life.



Richard Williams

Holiday in a Portsmouth Garden


I bought my dreams of the open trail

beyond the humdrum thrum of city traffic,

but how these tracks were calcified,

as criss-crossed skies of wing-tipped stars

were cleared by a future that few could see.


Our lives made rivers filled deep with silt,

mouths dry from the loss of expectation,

so fragile this man-made dissonance,

we can’t see what we already have

for fear of what might be lost.


A blackbird sings two gardens away,

trills above near silenced streets.

Forty days straight I have heard his call

as batteries drain down on racing time,

all this energy spent chasing clouds.


Belted in tight on my rolling road

paying for a journey I couldn't afford.

Now harmonies soar over warming walls,

the lilting notes of spring forgot -

so much I knew but did not know.


My open trail a trial no more,

aeroplanes grounded I travel at home.

All the mountains I leave unclaimed,

all the seas that I’ll not sail,

slipping away with this blackbird’s song.


Deborah Tyler-Bennett

My Life as Cinema Français


 I’m wandering spent reels of black and white,

 down Cocteau-mirrored corridors

 arms form torchères, it’s rustling, my Dior,

 frilled just below the knee, and then I see

 them – Grandma’s legs, stick thin,

 shrunk to a wren’s, off-set by courts,

 squared heels (this frame could

 cut to tartan, clichéd, slippers).


 Realise, looking up, I’ll catch her face,

 neck tight, eyes scrutinising choice

 of frock without shop-overall protection

 (how much the cost, and will it wash on low?).


 Subtitling will spell all out below:




DECEMBER 2020: WELCOME to our new virtual open mic poetry! While public gatherings remain unsafe because of the current pandemic, we plan to continue our monthly open mic sessions online. Each month we will have a featured guest poet who will start things moving with a couple of poems. This will be followed by one poem for each open mic contributor. The plan is to post the Open Mic Poems on the last Wednesday of each month when we would normally be meeting at either New Park Centre, the Library in Chichester or elsewhere in the South Downs.


Terry says: A 12-line poem about a job interview, used in a rival Croydon paper, was my first (unpaid) publishing success in the late 50s, and not till the early 90s, as a fugitive Fleet Street features editor, were poetic instincts  reignited, here in Chichester. The spur was a creative writing course at Bishop Otter College (now Chichester  University), led inspirationally by Vicki Feaver, covering verse forms from traditional to limericks and haikus. Then, about 10 years ago, I “discovered” Open Mic at the New Park Centre with its monthly offering of frequent amusement, occasional provocation, and constant friendships. That regular framework, with the need, ideally, to produce a fresh item each time, was the discipline I needed. In recent years Open Mikers Christine Rowlands and Richard Davies have contributed to poetry anthologies I’ve produced. In 2012 my wife and I wrote “A Picture of the South Downs”,  son Simon has co-authored a book on “Coronation Street”, and son Paul has published a fictional account of his Ethiopian wife’s experiences in “No Lipstick in Lebanon”. In October  I was second in Shoreham Wordfest’s 10-word story competition. My entry was based onthe last lines of “Versibilia’s” “To End All Wars”.


Of the 40 or so poems in Versibilia, the latest is “A Psalm to David”, a climate change endorsement directed at our great knight  Attenborough.  He’s charmingly acknowledged my effort. Another response has come from my niece-in-law, admitting tears on reading “Waiting for the Fall” about her father, among  the most deeply personal verses I’ve ever written, as too are “Doddy Just Called…”, “Sweetheart of 60 Summers” and “Just the Once”. There are plenty of local landmarks and events scattered through the collection: John Keats  in Eastgate Square, our oh-so-progressive library, Virginia Woolf at Pallant House, and Tangmere (a pivotal day from history), and long-time favourite destinations Sidmouth and Tenerife (encounters respectively with Betjeman and Mother Teresa). PS:  mustn’t forget Prague and Ogden Nash.

(“Versibilia”, all proceeds to Save the Children - £8, £10 posted - via Terry:    01243 537812)




Huge, new sub-Saharan dustbowls,

Glaciers shrinking from continental  significance,

Sea levels rising as scarily as fever temperatures,

Clean air a metropolitan memory –

Signs enough surely to jolt any 21st century complacency?

Few can equal the singular clarity

Of your rationale about planet Earth.

But even unflappable you, cool hero of

Countless telly encounters with amorous gorillas and alien creatures,

Are unable to reason away spectres of apocalypse.

Your Solomon wisdom is a positive virus we need worldwide,

So keep the even-voiced passion full blast, David,

Ere the hourglass morphs into a coffin.


TARGET TANGMERE  (August 16 1940)


A day like no other…

A perfect blue-washed morning

Became an afternoon of black and scarlet.

But Valkyrie-thundering skies could not cower

Southern England, which rose up to face

The onslaught.


At 13.10, above the coastal plain near a Binsted

With poppies and cornflowers about its bare ankles,

The sky suddenly super-midged with murderousness.

Close-packed Junkers and Stukas,

Spitting fire and dumping terror,

Wreaked rapid, shocking destruction on RAF Tangmere.


The death-harvest smoke

Darkened local earthbound spirits

Till steadying voices said, “Jerry is burning too! “

 And four days later a bulldog snarled and exulted to Parliament

About conflict, sacrifice and “The Few”.

Immortality had been plucked from the flames.




It was a bit like seeing a nurse wearing stilettos on duty,

Or Beluga offered on the lunchtime trolley.

Wards for the “rather poorly” aren’t usually abrim with jollity,

But there was no denying the burble from Eric’s bed at the far end:

It flowed past fellow-patients and surprised the visitors,

Swept over charts with mainly down-marching trajectories,

Past tender ministrations of underpaid angels,

And bounced off windows looking out on misting yesterdays.

It was the unlikeliest moment of the day –

“Happiness” sung with a croaky, triumphant exuberance,

A ghost with terrified hair and bucked teeth grinned

And headed contentedly back to Knotty Ash.


(In memory of Methodist minister Eric Blennerhassett who died, 96, in St Richard’s Hospital,

Chichester, May 2018. Ken Dodd’s “Happiness” topped the charts in 1964)




Always, on his Eastgate Square bench,

The boyish weathered figure sits alert,

Bronze-proofed, gaze fixed on the cathedral.

And St Agnes’ Eve inspiration.

Read his verses and most of all his letters to

 “Dearest girl”,

” My sweet creature”,

” Dearest Fanny”

And you may sense that the sculpture

Embodies his deepest animations:

A love for her that lung-ruined death in Italy

Could not suffocate, and, supremely, a love of beauty.


Next time tell John that Fanny

Still sends the words “Good night”.

He always wanted to put them under his pillow.

Perhaps he’ll tuck your message beneath the bench.




Andy Waite



I am perhaps too in love with

this hooded half-light,

embracing its indefinable contours,

dipping my toes in moonlight,

wearing shadows for clothes.

It feels right though to be here in this

small vessel made of trust,

sculling criss-cross, curious fish

whose concerns, as small and big as my own

are consumed by this kind black veil.

I am not heading anywhere,

there's no destination that would move me

and no current or past to surrender to,

pushing me one way or another,

there's just the dipping of wood on water,

the empty spaces between a bird's call,

and sweet scent from a late bonfire,

soon to be charcoal with which,

should I return home,

I may make a drawing of a

man adrift at night on a lake.


(Winner of the Sussex Together poetry competition)


Jeremy Page


 (after Confucius)


Do you remember when people materialised

on doorsteps, clanged saucepans and clapped

as if their lives depended every Thursday evening

when the clock struck eight? And the sun shone

day after day when all there’d been for months

was rain of every kind – drizzle, hail, the sort that

smacks windows and leaves gardens spongey underfoot,

and there was suddenly so much less to do,

unless you were essential, and one day dissolved

into the next, and time became a stative verb,

and in the streets people decided whether or not

to greet the advancing stranger, but gave

the widest possible berth anyway, exchanging looks

that saved them oh so many words, and neighbours

hollered cordially across the garden fence.

And if you listened to the news you’d learn that

only one thing was happening, because all the rest of life

had paused. And every night you’d have

the weirdest dreams, as if plague drip-fed

your unconscious all day, stirring the pot the while.

Those were interesting times. The toll was heavy.


Maggie Sawkins

Water will wear away Stones


we will meet in a hollow

            we will bring our light


and our words will follow

            like logs caught up


up in a stream without knowing

            where they’re going


we will stay for a while

            in plain sight


of the land that cast us

            like a stone


from a hollow

            from the homes


we left where a light remains

            beyond the stream


of words cast off

            without knowing


if we’ll meet again

            we can only watch


from the plain

            as others follow



 Pratibha Castle



I had one as a child.


Just a toy, still,


out of real fur,

you could make believe

to clutch a panting life,

feed eucalyptus leaves

into a pink moist mouth.


Black nose, leather claws, eyes


glass, like the marbles

daddy as a lad

shuntered round granny’s yard.


A game he craved

to resurrect

about the kitchen

floor had mammy

not objected.

To crash

my measly

cache of Popeyes,

cats eyes,

beach balls

with the payback

of a copper-sparkled Lutz. Slate


beneath a grown man’s knees

atonement for the folly

of assuming

he could reach

back to reclaim such

smoke screen memories,

and the child

snatched too soon

from his embrace.


I had one as a child.

Black nose, leather claws, eyes

glass that never wept.


 and our words will follow

            like logs caught up


up in a stream without knowing

            where they’re going


we will stay for a while

            in plain sight


of the land that cast us

            like a stone


from a hollow

            from the homes


we left where a light remains

            beyond the stream


of words cast off

            without knowing


if we’ll meet again

            we can only watch


from the plain

            as others follow


Alun Robert

A New Build Like No Other


Towering edifice sprouting

from the west bank of the Rother,

wild testament to vision and

commitment to conservation with


sweet chestnut cladding

as if raised in situ

rather than locally sourced

in the county of East Sussex

standing proud in the desert

vistas across to Camber, the sands

while the River on bis in diem trips

twixt Rye and the Channel cries


under an endless sky endowed

with avocet, egret, guillemots

and the swooping herring gull focused

on a battle for survival replacing

offspring of portacabins, modest

on the route to the shoreline

created from blood, sweat

and years tending the Reserve

from Rye Harbour to Winchelsea

through gravel pits, reedbeds

saltmarsh, saline lagoons

and ravages of seasons

with tracks across shingle

orange, pink, blue boulders

chattering, hissing, singing

through inclement weather as


massed mankind passes by

the cyclists, dog walkers,

pushers of buggies, singletons and twins

pausing to admire and stray point

near stationary artists and poets

with senses on overdrive

holding meandering eyes open

to the abundance of nature with


no better Discovery Centre rising

in the centre of a horizon;

a spirited step forward

as a new build like no other.


Timothy Ades

Oak Ash and Thorn, by Rudyard Kipling


A song for anybody to sing

without avoiding A, I, O, or U


Of trunks and boughs which Luck allows

Fair Albion to adorn,

Naught is so grand in all our land

As oak and ash and thorn.

Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.


OAK on our clay saw stop and stay

Troy’s pious lord forlorn;

ASH on our loam saw Brutus roam,

An outlaw put to scorn;

THORN on our down saw young Troy Town,

From which was London born.

Thus all may know that long ago

Stood oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.


TAXUS grows old in churchyard mould
And spawns a mighty bow;

ALNUS is put on snug-shod foot,

FAGUS to cups will go;

A kingdom’s built, a bowl is spilt,

A boot’s cast off, outworn:              

You shall go back for what you lack

To oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.


ULMUS abhors mankind, and waits

In calm, if not in storm,

To drop a limb on top of him

Who trusts that shady form.

But any lad who’s spry or sad

Or high on hops from horn

Cannot go wrong by lying long         

In oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn

Good folk shall sing, no paltry thing,

Of oak and ash and thorn.


Blurt to no parson of our plight:

A parson calls it sin,

Our frolicking in woods all night

To summon long days in.

Glad tidings pass by word of mouth

Of joy for cow and corn,

For now Sir Sun strolls up from south

With oak and ash and thorn.

- Sing oak and ash and thorn, good sirs,

All on a long day’s morn:

Fair Albion shall not pass away

With oak and ash and thorn!


Barry Smith

Looping the Loop

(Lines on the Execution of a Tyrant)


When you stand on the trapdoor of eternity,

Rough bonds biting into your wrists, black silk scarf wrapped

Around your neck to provide the final purchase

For the rope which drapes like an umbilical cord

Coiled around your neck, sustaining still your tight breath

For a few shocked seconds more, what do you recall

Of your terror-filled years when a cursory nod

Or faint flick of a finger would condemn those who

Trembled before you: gun or knife, garrotte or rope,

Whatever came to hand or took your quick fancy.

Now the gritty, grained images of some mobile phone

Play forever your exit scene, the jeering chants

Of your captors preserved, your mumbled prayers cut off

In your sudden lurch into immortality.


(First published in The Journal, issue 60, summer 2020)


Nessa Gibbons

After Lockdown                                                                                               


A gentle sweep of hills and valleys

Undulates ahead -

Swaying, aqua and sun-tipped

In the soft morning light.


A soothing breeze lightly

Skims the surface as it

Saunters through the chill air.




Then they come, dropping quietly

From the light grey sky.


Raindrops: slender, silver, almost suspended

In their slow descent into the expectant

Water until, like dancers, they leap

Joyfully upward – higher – then pause,

Bestowing sparkling coronas of

Droplets in perfect circles around their

Graceful heads.


After lockdown: swimming in the rain.


Camilla Lambert

December Solstice


She went looking

for intimations of light,

fizzled away

between gaps

in the tumulus line,

seeped through chalk channels

into the high dew pond.


Views east to Chanctonbury

north to Blackdown

lay obscured

by heavy air,

so she raked the dead slopes

for any bright speck

or glimmer:


white mouths of dead-nettle,


where barned-in bullocks

shifted on straw,

red cheeks of pheasants

in flurry over flints

exposing pale grey scars.



She went looking

for spring signs,

combed the ridgebacks,

spied into shadow-folds,

on a day when the rare sun

slid away

from the solstice.


All she could see

were left-overs:

shocking pink spindle berries,

fluff of old man’s beard,

flopped maize leaves,

a century-old yew

standing guard by gravestones.


But above hedge-less fields

stretched out

into flattened sheets,

sectioned thinly

by wire, 

she found honeysuckle vines  

crusted with buds.


 Christine Rowlands

Irene’s Fruit Pie

 Down the garden

we pick the plump berries

staining fingers and lips...

We fill basins and pans.

In the kitchen...

she tips the fruit into a bowl

covers all with water

adds salt until insects rise to the surface.

Busiest herself with flour,

Marge and sugar

gathers all together,

flours and rolls it

on a coolness of marble

sags the dough

across a blue enamel dish

then into the oven

until partly crisp.

The rinsed fruit, free of crawlies

is saucepanned  and warmed to

a purple bubbling mass

she adds all to the pastry case

and tops with a lid prettified

with pastry leaves

leaves I’d cut out

with a blunt knife on that

same cool slab.

Into the hot oven it goes.

While we wait

the smell fills the kitchen.


 Geoffrey Winch

By the Way

 (from his new collection Velocities and Drifts of Winds)


had you taken that other way

and found it to be narrow with

a deep flowing ditch to one side

and undergrowth, saturated

and overhanging, on the other

leaving no room to easily pass   


in the event of a confrontation

it would have been necessary

to decide whether or not to

make a stand, give way or

awkwardly pass while

the other silently interrogated

your integrity and imagination

(and you the same)  


possibly then having to agree

whether or not to just gaze ahead;

turn your heads; engage your eyes;

smile sweet smiles or involve

your tongues in order to pass a little

or longer time or even the remainder

of your lives in continual confrontation

or civilised conversation  


and probably now you would still

be wondering whether the decision(s)

you made would have been the same

if, on that day, the sun had been shining;

the rain hadn’t been unceasing, and

that buffeting wind hadn’t had a part to play 



Denise Bennett

Little Palaces

Portsdown Hill Portsmouth


I passed them on my way to school:

pocket-handkerchief gardens,

neat lawns, netted windows –

imagined the spic and span

clean as a new pin sitting rooms

bright with coal fires –

the scrubbed kitchen floors

you could eat your dinner off.

My friend Jennifer lived in one.


These were shadows of war,

symbols of peace 

built on fertile farmland

after the Luftwaffe left –

single story prefabs nestling

at the foot of the hill;

quick-fix house-kits,

bolted together to make homes

for broken families.


I didn’t know much about the war.

We were forbidden to mention it.

After all,

everyone knew someone

who’d lost someone –

so that me and my friends

could skip safely between

the rows and rows

of the little white, post-war palaces.



Mandy Pannett

A Chain of Words for Roseanna



What balm or salve for a child in Orange Row


Did you hear the applause Roseanna for the queen in her Pavilion while

you paddled in puddles of shit and sickened on water and grease


Salvaged by wedlock for a pebble of time


Was there dirt in your nails Roseanna as you dug hard earth on the graves

of your girl and your boy


There was always the slamming of gates


A Camberwell workhouse and later the shame of Cane Hill


Whose lunacy was this


salve        salvage        lunacy       


Asylum        asylum        nomass for your soul       

no Salve Regina        no Salve Roseanne


salve        salvage        lunacy        asylum


No roses are named after you


Kevin Maynard



sun-stippled, sun-dappled the path—

lips and fingers empurpled: sweet berries


twisted boughs of old oaks by the shore

gesticulating red bark of dark yews


cooing of wood pigeons, collared doves

soft breeze threading whisper of dry leaves


delicate and tranquil bubbling of the curlew’s call


reed sweet grasses, tall pink pampas grasses

swaying and rustling as if confiding together:


one discarded white mask hanging from the oak-tree’s

branch like a bra from your clothes-rack at home . . .

strange fruit indeed . . . strange freedoms for strange times


deep menace of an autumn evening by the sea

as your next lockdown looms: house arrest for the elderly—

though no one under forty seems to care:


‘Let the coffin-dodgers perish!   Who’ll miss their

foul breath, sagging breasts, food-stained clothes, their

dribbling at meal-times, dithering at check-out tills,

appalling driving, or all their antiquated blather anyway?’


meanwhile lurchers and black labradors still

lollop joyfully along the dusty path


they stop from time to time to circle round

each other and, tails wagging, sniff each others’

interesting bottoms

                             their hoarsely wheezing


owners—ball launchers poised and wobbling,

plastic bags inverted in their other hands,

like extra anti-viral gloves, all of them

so public-spirited, so eager to scoop up


the freshly steaming poop when it pops out—

lumber never far behind: friendship for a pet

asks no greater guarantee than that: ‘Clean up

my shit behind me as I go!’


                                          pandemic blues

seem very far away: pub chatter and the cheerful clink

of gathered-in beermugs, the clatter of clean cutlery

on trays and tables . . .


                        but what of homo sapiens,

(homo sopiens more like, as we sleepwalk

our world towards disaster)?  who cleans up

the planet after us?   after our cast-off filth?


(and maybe—just maybe—COVID has the answer)