Poem by John Calvert





Who punched me on the nose
To spite my face?
Broken, I blink down lines of sun
I stiffen my profile

I sniff the sea
Stanlow”s sweel, Fiddlers Ferry fumes
My powers are older
Outliving the fossil
In my Devonian bone

I felt the legions
Yomp over my back
Saw the plodding saltsters hooves
Then the traffic”s tinnitus
Hissed towards the coast

Some pause in my shadow
For burgers, for unleaded
In artics or hatchbacks
They glint out of time
I set into stone

Rain sands me down
Energy to entropy
Eras slip from my grasp
My face will come and go
See me in this light

John Calvert


Poem by Angela Topping, for Valentine’s Day


Because I love you, I offer you
this old glove.
Wait. Do not cast it
aside. It has held my hand.
Its soft felt embraced my fingers,
covered my palm.
Its partner is lost.
Take it to remind you, how you and I
could lose each other.
It fits me perfectly.
Keep it under your pillow.
Perhaps it will
reach for you in the night.


Note: WordPress does not like the indentations in this poem, so it’s lost its shape. It was first published in my collection I Sing of Bricks (Salt 2011). I think of it as slightly spooky but others see it differently, which is fine. Maria Walker made some art using this poem and the remaining glove.

Seasonal Poem by Sean Body

why is this night different from all others

as if the stillness conjures it
or some unacknowledged loss

an ancient voice deep and sonorous
somewhere between question and affirmation

why is this night

a wrong note harmony
so right it silences

rising in the bone, the hulk, the killing field
fills the night with forgiveness

why is this night different

because promises were made
and seen to be kept

the blood of the lamb barring death
from the dwellings of Jews

dressed for a journey–

by Oświęcim’s abandoned track
how still the candles flame

a choir of exclamations
singular as stars

why is this night different from all others

answers with its repetition

an ineluctable why
rends the still air with lamentation


in the mind a place for wings
Seán Body
From Shouldering Back the Day (Lapwing 2013)

Christmas Story by Angi Holden

Distressed Fairy

I admit to being a touch smug. When the assistant reached for the carrier bag and whispered to her colleague that my purchaser was ‘that world famous artist, you know the one, always in the papers’ I began to feel that the weeks of cardboard cartons and stockrooms and shelving displays had been worth it after all.
Expectation is an interesting thing, don’t you think? Christmas is always a time for anticipation, for children and adults alike to speculate what might be in those brightly wrapped and beribboned packages. Who of you can resist the temptation to pick up a gift from under the tree, to squeeze it or shake it in some attempt to guess its contents? For most of us it’s the reverse, of course. Every gift is wondering what it’s like on the outside of the paper: who will unwrap us and whether we’ll be appreciated by our new owner.
And for Christmas Tree Fairies, it’s a slightly different experience. We’ve been specifically chosen by our new owners. We know we are wanted. More than that, we know we are so valued that we’ll be in pride of place, at the very pinnacle of the festive decorations. As we are jostled from hand to hand, swung along the streets in our John Lewis carrier bags, our anticipation is one of geography and scale. Will we be part of the welcoming party, watching the guests shed their worsted and cashmere as they transform into dinner suited, silk-gowned social butterflies? Or will we be in the heart of the action in a busy living room, surrounded by family and friends exchanging perfume and jewellery, books and CDs and leather wallets. Will our tree be massive, but in a draughty hall? Will our tree be small, but ideally placed to observe the lingering kiss, the hand held a moment longer than entirely necessary?
One thing I was certain of was style. I had been chosen by a world famous artist, so I was assured of that at least. My new home would be chic, impressive, on trend. The rooms would be filled by with guests of culture and sophistication. I would listen to articulate conversation, eavesdrop on intellectual debate and genteel gossip. It would be magnificent.

So the workroom came, as you might imagine, as something of a surprise. I was unfamiliar with the term ‘grunge’. And not a little alarmed by the sight of several craft knives and what appeared to be a cheese grater. My artist lifted some bottles from the shelf: bleach, pva glue, Indian ink. And then she slid those graceful, slender hands into a pair of rubber gloves and reached out for me. The delicately stitched layers of my net skirts offered little resistance, surrendering easily to each cut and tear. I wept at the sound of fabric ripping. I thought for a moment that she intended to unplait my hair; a cloud of pre-Raphaelite curls would perhaps have been bearable. But instead she dislodged a number of my blonde strands with a crochet hook, before running them between ink-blackened tissue. She left me on the workbench to dry whilst she answered the phone.
‘Yes,’ she said, pulling off her gloves as she spoke. ‘I’m doing it now.’ She reached out and touched a sketch that was pinned by one corner to a board above her desk. The paper was creased, as if it had been folded into an envelope. The artist ran her fingers across the lines of a delicate fairy. The creature’s dress was torn and shabby, her hair tangled and matted, her face dirty. She had lost her shoes, and her stockings were snagged and laddered. Even her wings were tattered, as if she would never fly again. But for all that, her eyes were shining.
The artist returned to the workbench. It wasn’t quite the kind of anticipation I’d had in mind; I knew what was coming.

So here we are, a few days before Christmas. The tree stands by the picture window, its decorations not the haphazard accumulation of years of baubles and plastic icicles or the stylish red and gold arrangements that you see in magazines. There are fairy lights, but they are faint and uncoloured. The branches are draped in wool fibres, off-white, grey and black – as if they’ve been gathered from a mountain hedgerow – and caught in among the strands are tiny silver stars.
Wired to the top of my tree, looking for all the world as though I’ve been pulled through that same hedgerow, I gaze out over the minimalist room. There is little besides the tree to suggest Christmas. A pair of heavy silver candlesticks on the mantle shelf hold fat white candles. Five white roses in a glass vase are supported by twigs of holly. A roaring fire in the grate warms the room.
I hear a key in the front door, the creak and clunk as it swings open and slams shut.
‘I’m home!’ a voice calls and I hear the thunder of footsteps down the staircase. There is a furry of conversation – how was your journey? are you hungry? get yourself warm by the fire – and then they come into the lounge. The girl is still shrugging off her backpack and coat when she sees the tree. She pauses for a moment before dumping her things on the floor. She gazes up at me with the wonder of a small child.
‘Mum, she’s beautiful,’ she says. ‘She’s exactly as I imagined.’
The artist gathers the girl into her arms and kisses her lightly on the head. She is brimful, holding back tears.
Like the fairy in the sketch, I’m sure my eyes are shining.

Note: This came from our Christmas workshop session led by Angela Topping and Rosie Topping.
The image is included by kind permission of Helen Ivory, poet and artist.



Christmas Snow Poem by John Calvert


All day we met the snow, on every curve
Each locked white cutting, as we heaved the weight
Three coupled engines, plough at either end
We sliced the edge of air with loco breath
Rasping as pistons kicked compacted white
And stuttering drive wheels spun on skidding rail
As snow lobbed handfuls past our tarpulined dark
We crept back, til we charged blankness, again
We rammed, we thudded , winter nudged aside
There on the footplate steam and steel rejoiced
And in that emptied landscape, nothing moved
Along the tick of telegraph and fence
A struggling afternoon drew evening down
Already freezing on our driven line

John Calvert 2015



Poem by Julia McGuinness

Ship Gate from Chester City Walls

The hole in the Wall was not cast aside
but borne, piece by piece, to the Park,
a stone’s throw away, and re-assembled
as breath held across a path.

Its grainy sandstone frame, braced
against weight of sky, rainbows
an open space that lacks the gate
to separate ship from city.

Scabbed over with slabs, the Wall
is unsettled as all torn places
when mended. Gaps, transplanted
to discreet glades, lace through lives.

They seep memories, mapped by scars,
wince under strangers’ stumblings,
are anointed by their listenings. Spaces
honoured, enfleshed alike by sun and rain.


Poem by Carolyn O’Connell


I still see you sitting on the old chair now you’ve gone;
your back supported by pillows that remain in place,
your brown hair was falling over your shoulders as
the sun sets behind you. Curved arms embraced
you in a cane cuddle sweeping down the legs.

I recall those long gone days before you painted it
to match your pale pink room when you were a girl.
The cane had shone with planes of polish spread
by generations of women; a wicker diamond woven
into its back was patterned blue, red and green.

Looking now, I want to restore it, return it
to how I remember when you were a baby,
so it will glow again as the evening sun glances
with a kiss through the window replaying the day
you sat there reading, the child inside you – growing.

I knock softly, listening for you voice,
you are seated again in the old chair,
your head bent over, lighted by
the morning sun seeping through blue curtains
throwing sapphire patterns over your hair,

shading the pillow laid on your knees,
you’re bent over nursing your new daughter
as I once nursed you on that chair:
daughter has become mother, mother, grandmother
each life woven as if warp and weft of the cane.

Carolyn O’Connell
Timelines_front_300 (1)

Blaze poems on line


Follow the link to find the poems we wrote in response to some of the work displayed as part of the open art show at VAC, following John Calvert’s workshop on cinquains.

Phosphorescent Grapes, a poem by Edwin Stockdale


A sombre figure in russet
like an autumn leaf of buckthorn.

She has been reading Persuasion observed
by fieldfares in the garden.

Her elderberry eyes search the surroundings.
What is she thinking?

She gestures to a blossoming orange,
the tree her captain brought

from his travels. In a bowl a bunch
of grapes, phosphorescent as moonstone.

A whippet, black-muzzled, begs
at her feet. She rises,

a Queen Anne figurine,
removes herself from the room.

A Poem by Jan Dean

In the Moroccan garden

in the green shade
five tortoises
eyes shut slits
toes tucked
into shiny shells

when they wake
they are lumbering stones
their claws click
on blue tiles

their slow jaws
gently mash
pale lettuce

beside them
the fountain sings
like tiny glass bells
and the tortoises
dip their heads
and drink the music

Jan Dean
(From The Penguin in Lost Property; Jan Dean & Roger Stevens; Macmillan 2014)


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