Anthony Costello :The battle of the sexes

A strange treatment onlove, with echoes
of Sirk and Rosselini: anachronistic sex
in a cable car above some alpine state,
a pencil-skirted, platinum blonde … American?
A dark-haired man in suit and tie … Italian?
She considers their fleeting romance ‘platonic’
but, empathetic to his character and need,
hands the gentleman a handkerchief.
She turns her back and he turns his,
as- cut to mise en scène – he masturbates.

As an act of kindness, it seems
enlightened, unlike the attempted rape
of Athena, the shot load of Hephaestus,
her foster-son, on her virgin’s thigh.
Wiped off and dropped to earth
on a scrap of wool, a boy germinates,
who is reared by Gaia and placed,
on Athena’s orders, into the box where
he grows to the length of a serpent:
frightening to death the women who lift
the lid and look inside, the kind of half-man
half-snake that curls around your neck.


John Duffy:   Gravity and the bairn

” I didna ken whaur I was, or what I was daein,

nae mair nor a soukin bairn. H. Hunter, Edinburgh. 1894″

Gravity grips the moses basket,

pins the baby to the sheet –

holds us to the Earth,

cradles Sun and planets.

Brick, stone, cement and wood

shelter this flight of stairs, this room;

stand tensed against that weightiness

and the baby, who knows none

of the words for gravity,

waves arms in the air, kicks off

the quilt, lets the hand teach –

reaches, grasps a toy, lifts and squints:

inside the skull, sparks leap

from lobe to lobe; beneath the skin

nerves, sinews, veins churn,

roots in a springtime meadow.

One day she’ll stand, this bairn,

speak and sing and cry and laugh;

rattle the bars; put down the mighty.



Wendy Pratt: Pluviophile


When it comes; thick and soft

as the pelt of an animal,

I am grounded, brought down

to calm in the smell of damp earth.

We wait like the wet starlings,

under tree cover, their song-work

undone in the shallow hiss

of leaves and rain. I am paused,

smelling the green of the grass,

the hung heads of daffodils,

watching the plough furrows

fill with water. A dog barks

somewhere, on one of the farms,

the spaniel lifts his wet head, waits

as I wait, we are communed,

marooned, standing peacefully,

watching the water make mud

out of soil, movement out of stillness.


Laura Potts:  Yesterday Calling


a gull snaps its wings

and laughs

as I stretch out the past

to the city with its dark heart

and us,

splitting our skins for a kiss.

On the rim of a memory,


we fizz

like silver pins

on that street

or this.

My lover’s words I remember


like globed pearls on tepid stars

the hot dark of torchlight


from the pavement


as he went.


with eighty-six years in my face,

I read books

and play cards

and years have dried up,

slow prunes

in a vase.

But last,

in my crabbed hands his skin,

doused with river lights,

no foul breath of wartime but

a whole lost world of long-kissed nights,

thin films of eyes candled bright

in the lobes of my palms,

the four-medal arms deliberate,



Afterwards, the distant salute of a bomb.


Stephanie Bowgett: Baba Yaga’s daughters

You never could tell us apart,

that one in the mirror and me.

Wolves in the forest howl, yellow as yolk

and Bublik, we know you are one of their ilk;

why else would we languish, pine for you here

in a house that struts on the legs of a hen?

And this is a riddle

I riddle for you:

Why have one girl

when you can have two?

Listen! Our mother is pounding home

grinding stars in her mortar.

She wants you

for a lampshade

on a post by the door,

And we agree, me and the one

you mistake for me. Cornered,

your eyes are wide as a girl’s.

We giggle, kiss your loose lips,

pass you from tongue to tongue

dissolve you like sherbet,

me and my sister, the silver needle,

threaded behind my lapel,

She stitches you up in the hem of my skirt.

Swing there heavy, while I clap,

clap, clap to the balalaika;

arms akimbo, pirouette;

stamp my feet in little red boots

Hold tight, Bublik! One of us you’ll wed

but both of us you’ll bed, and Mother,

oh Mother will never know.

And this is a riddle

I riddle for you,

why have one girl

when you can have two?

In the dark they say,

all cats are grey

So too, my dear, are wolves

So too, my dear, are wolves



Yvonne Reddick :   V. Resteau, Geologist Manqué

His treasures: eyeflash of tourmaline

in a matrix of white,

wink of gwindel crystals

their shade a warlock’s smokescreen,

an iron rose, the weight

of angular petals,

the blood-lustre garnet

a dark vein between us.

I turn them between my fingers

and see a man with my eyes

make the slow climb from Göschenen to Airolo

across the divide between rivers,

the watershed of languages.

He sips a Ticino red at the Ospizio –

nerves steadier, he hauls on

boots and rubberised Mackintosh,

the miner’s lamp still quavering in one hand.

The cristallier unfurls the rope ladder

and my great-grandmother’s grandfather

shins down to the blind-end fissure –

squirms his head and shoulders

into the cavity of mineral fangs.

An hour later, he emerges,

whiskers thick with dust,

face beaming. In his hand,

a dusty lump of spikes.

He returns to Evian

with the worst torticollis

his doctor has ever seen

and du quartz fumé magnifique.

His peeling specimen-label reads

St Gotthard, 1859.

Still, his careful hand

beckons in sepia ink, to the keyhole pass

So there we are; all our guests from 2016. Thank you, each and every one of them, and thanks to you for turning up throughout the year and being an audience that makes the writing worthwhile. I’m already looking forward to the guests of 2017. Hope you’ll join me. xxx

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