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Writings and Witterings


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Swifts

From the Malvern Hills section of Growing Places

Swifts

Silence and solitude unbroken drops
a sense of stillness, soundlessness flutters,
no soul to disturb the cool, calm hilltop,
Midsummer Hill smothers sighs, hushed, shuttered.
And then from the west come the saucy swifts,
swooping and singing, playing today, while
they wait to migrate, chase, drift, flit and lift,
wings skitter, dip and dance to the sundial.
What joy in aloneness, how glad the sight,
a ballet of darting, diving divas
so rare, a flock of sure swifts in full flight,
they plunge, lunge and soar in joie de vivre.
There’s none to disturb the cool, calm hilltop,
Midsummer Hill sighs in silence, shuttered.

Growing Places (Black Pear Press, 2021)


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Dad always did like Pam Ayres

For my loved and much-missed dad on Father’s Day.

Eric Dudley Dawkins at his Grandson's wedding

Dad always did like Pam Ayres

A shadow of his former self,
my dad, in a hospital bed,
he’d broken his hip and a bit of his mind,
I’ll tell you what he said.

His close-mouthed lips formed these words:
‘Me teeth, me ruddy teeth!’
     ‘What about them Dad?’ I sighed,
‘Me teeth, me ruddy teeth.’

His face looked loppy-sided,
he didn’t try to grin,
I peered, to find the problem,
for sure, his teeth were in.

‘They’ve give me someone else’s,’
he lisped, with an air of dismissal,
     ‘Let me see,’ it made me smile
that when he spoke, he whistled.

His teeth were in, but upside-down,
he’d played these games before,
I liked this one a lot better
than searching for teeth on the floor!

Polly Stretton © 2018


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Raw

I think of feet that tramp and tread waved hills,
of stories, songs and poems stone tracks inspire,
of creatures great and small, the shouts and trills,
of men, myths of monsters, faeries, giants.
A million years and more, they’ve stood to brood,
a vale eruption, ridgebacked, raw and proud,
they beckon, call upon us to intrude,
and haunting bluebell oceans trumpet loud.
Yet when I climb those taxing slopes once more,
to see the valleys spread out far below,
it is like searching for an ancient shore,
that seeing through a spyglass cannot show,
the light and shade illuminated when
my eyes are dim and I shan’t come again.

Polly Stretton © 2019

The Poetry of Worcestershire (Offa’s Press 2019)

Malvern Hills from Crown East

Malvern Hills


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Her Gift

Mary gave it to me in ’73,
Lauder’s parfum solidifié,
a cameo lid, carved and proud,
a Grecian face, raised, endowed
with curls and plaits
in ivory on terracotta.
Scent set in finely-etched gold.

Mary gave it to me.

Fast forward to 2013, a bad year,
when that thing happened
that all of us fear.
Mary, my friend,
she lost, failed, went.
I don’t forget her,
still use the same scent.

Polly Stretton © 2014


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‘Chatterton’ – Prologue

He learned to read from a black-letter Bible,
was thought a backward boy, no scholar.
Lonely, close and comely,
poor boy was deemed a dullard.

He forged his first letters
from illuminated capitals;
cutting consonants, reviewing verbs,
giving names to nouns.

Memory on memory make his story,
they talk of it still sighing their sorrows.
Merciless London, no crumb offered,
the baker rebuffed him for begging a loaf.

Chatterton (Black Pear Press, 2014)
Available as an eBook

Chatterton Front Cover–Stretton


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Blue Iris

A Facebook challenge for March 2022 was to write a poem
about Spring, or the seasons, in a post climate change natural
environment–it brought out ‘the dark’ in me…a post-apocalyptic poem, with a hint of hope.

Blue Iris

Gaia, science says you repeat
and revel in climate change.
We wonder why
acidic dust clouds sigh
over the river
black weeds choke
in dry mud
the world is a desert
with ashes of bones.

Scabby man tinkers with technologies,
focusses fading eyes.
Lungs tingle, mouths dry,
every breath
splits a head pain,
lips crack and bleed;
eyes tear, ears hear the ventowaves
that tell peace is declared
they do not believe
the disembodied voice:
‘This is the World Service, 11 August 2389.
‘Reports are coming in…shsssshsssh…’

Flakes fall from faces,
wounds drip pink viscous fluid,
seared air clogs failing vision,
dust cloys, a rash of pain is inhaled,
cinders bite cold, nip and pinch exposed skin.
Movements are sensed rather than seen,
a stumbling gait, shuffle, scrape, shuffle, scrape.
The stench of burned flesh, pig roast,
weak legs, search for food, water.

‘Where are the bodies?’
Debris and dust billow over the arid riverbed,
hair and scales float like petals from a cherry tree.
There, on the baked bank,
a single blue iris waves its flag.

Polly Stretton © 2022


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Cailleach Beare

The divine hag drops rocks for stepping-stones.
From Samhain to Beltane she’s the goddess of winter,
at Samhain she’s hideous, blue face, sharp teeth, rank haired bag of bones;
by winter’s end, she’s transformed to a block without splinter;
over time she grows ever younger
until by Beltane she’s a beautiful maiden.
First, her veil drapes, her magic staff turns green to grey,
she carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys,
makes a white bridge from Ireland to Scotland,
gathers firewood to last through the season.
Foul weather means she’s asleep.

Locals shelter her in the glens; the glens become fertile and prosperous.
When she leaves, she gives stones with a promise:
‘As long as the stones are put out over the glen at Beltane,
‘back into the shelter and secured for Samhain,
‘then the glen will continue, verdant, potent, plentiful.’

To honour her, wear blue,
cover your altar with a cloth yellow as the sun.
Place a blue candle and a bowl of snow in the centre.
The candle burns, wax shrinks, snows melt,
give way to warmth and light.
Pour water from the snow outside to rejoin the Goddess
and usher in the dark half of the year.

Polly Stretton © 2022

The Alchemy of 42 (Black Pear Press, 2020)

In Gaelic mythology, the Cailleach is a divine hag, an ancestor associated with the creation of the landscape and with the weather, especially storms and winter. She’s also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.


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Winter Solstice – The Year Turns

The turning point
Great Trilithon’s smooth flat face
looks
 to winter sun
slanted light becomes stronger
the days become longer
we celebrate rebirth
Yule

The sun stands
its shadow
 barely changes
sun dials seem static
at solstice
low in darkening skies
the darkest time
Black

Eat drink carouse
slaughter cattle
feast
quaff new-fermented wine
light candles
for the sun’s winter sleep
Sleep

Cleanse the house of evil spirits
look at Loki’s mistletoe
an arrow in the heart
tears become berries
symbols of love
life returns
every ending
leads to beginnings
New beginnings

Polly Stretton © 2021


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Frost at Christmas

Chilled window glass
frozen grass
glitter in the aftermath
a smatter of snowy crush
ice sparkle blossom blush
in the dawn a silver flush
of sequin stars on blades in yards
cobwebbed bushes on boulevards
listen to the birds.

Polly Stretton © 2021

frosty grass-deviantart.com

Acknowledgement to http://www.deviantart.com


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Pale Horse

Pale Horse was one of two poems that were part of the Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis’s project back in 2018 when she asked poets in Worcester UK and Worcester USA to collaborate in a Call and Response project. To see the poems that were published, click on the image below:

Contour Call & Response 2018

I was lucky to have been paired with Beth Sweeney from the States. We got on well and came up with four poems that we were both proud of 😄

NB: The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque is a bronze plaque known as the dead man’s penny. They were issued to the next of kin of those who died serving in WWI, nearly a million individuals. Only 600 if those plaques were issued to women who died.

Pale Horse

Heels down. Head up. Look
where you’re going.
Go to a place
where you can hear your heart;
listen to the beat,
forget the drub of a thousand pale hooves
and the horsemen of the apocalypse.
We rise and fall together.

Grandma had a penny to remember you,
a bronze memory she Brassoed weekly,
cast in physical prowess, spiritual power,
in devotion to the triumph of good,
Britannia faces left, holds a laurel wreath,
there’s a box beneath, holding your name in raised relief,
and you, a man of miracles.
We rise and fall together.

A circular coin made whole, inscribed:
‘He died for freedom and honour’.
You are a man, who has gone,
yet nonetheless lives.
Your Penelope still waits.
Put the littered marshy slew behind you,
put it behind you.
We will start again.

Go to a place
where you can hear your heart;
listen to the beat.
No pale horse snickers,
no harbinger rides quicker,
no more horseshoes, trench fever, heat.
We sleep.
We rise and fall together.

Polly Stretton © 2018

Published in Contour WPL Magazine Issue 3 https://issuu.com/ninalewis3/docs/special_edition_contour_atotc_issue by
the 2017-2018 Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis for her call and response project: A Tale of Two Cities

in Openings 36 the annual anthology of the Open University Poetry Society

and in Growing Places (Black Pear Press, 2021)

Here is an audio recording of the poem.


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Boxing Hare

On a bleak November day, here’s an Englyn–a Welsh poetry form–from my very first collection of poetry Girls Got Rhythm to remind us that spring will come along soon…😄

Boxing, racy, hatted hare, mad in March,
much startled air. Take care!
Long ears and nostrils full flare,
strong limbs, swift, free, outrun scare.

Polly Stretton © (Girl's Got Rhythm, Black Pear Press, 2012)

Raku Hare PS

Just to clarify, for the purists out there, this is an Englyn unodl union. The straight one-rhymed englyn. This englyn form (there are at least eight different versions) consists of four lines of ten, six, seven and seven syllables. The seventh, eighth or ninth syllable of the first line introduces the rhyme and this is repeated on the last syllable of the other three lines. The last syllable of the first line is rhymed with a syllable early in the second.


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Somme Song, and, Remember the Animals

To commemorate Armistice Day, here are two of my WWI poems.

Somme Song

You smell the fire and sulphur,
you see the flames and fear;
according to the date you died
you’d been there just one year.
One year of mud and mire,
stink of trenchfoot’s black-dead-rot;
of wondering if you’d get home,
fearful you would not.
Letters from your girl,
back in good old Blighty,
you read how proud of you she is,
that she prays daily, nightly.
The seeping chill, the icy times,
the nights’ illumined shocks,
the bullets’ hateful murky crimes
which your mind surely blocks;
dead men all around you,
scattered in dark ditches,
littering the ground,
fury’s fathomed riches.
You got home part way through
they thought you fortunate,
you lasted two months more,
but came back far too late.
What did your life have in store
that you could not have found?
What more could you have given,
as you lay, on cold bleak ground?
You fought for us to have a life,
you fought for King and Country
you gave your life, and, God knows,
this is duty…most ugly.

Polly Stretton © 2016

First published in ‘Remembering The Somme’ (Black Pear Press, 2016)

Remember the Animals

Hold your horses, cuddle the cat,
when you’re alone, this is where it’s at,
creatures of comfort, of work, of play,
living beings to help through the day.
Carrying water, food and meds,
helping the men lying low in their beds.
Ammunition, so needed in trenches,
dogs delivered, using their senses.
Canaries detected poisonous gas,
the rabid rats never got past
dogs and cats who patiently waited,
and cleared away all of the hated
rodents.
Monkeys and foxes, pets and mascots,
cleaning wounds, clearing foot rot,
they raised morale, provided solace
amidst the hardships of war endured.
They worked, they played: they played their part,
we remember them with all our heart.

Polly Stretton © 2018

First published in ‘The Unremembered–World War One’s Army of Workers–The British Story’ (Black Pear Press, 2018)


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Review of OU Poets’ 40th Anniversary anthology

Rodney Wood has written a review of the celebratory edition of ‘Openings’ for Write Out Loud ‘a…hub for participation in poetry, encouraging everyone who writes poetry – from still-too-nervous-to-do-open-mic to Nobel Prize winner – to share their words with others.’ ‘Red Letter Openings’ marks the occasion with 52 poems from members and founder members.

To read the OU Poets post, click here.

To see the full review click here.

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Jon Gray’s debut novel

So pleased to see that Jon Gray’s long awaited first novel has been published. ‘Dead Line’ an exciting spy thriller.

‘Doing MI6’s dirty work has cost Charlie Dangerfield his soul. While recruiting his best friend for a treacherous assignment to North Korea, he hides the fact it’s a one-way ticket. But the hardened British intelligence officer’s unfazed, until his friend’s sister hits him with a gut-punch to his conscience.’

The main character ‘Dangerfield’ is fascinating, reckless, sardonic…give yourself a helluva ride, thrills and spills, and read this one…You can pick up, for just £2.99, your Kindle edition here 

Deadline - Jon Gray

DEADLINE is the first book in the gripping Charlie Dangerfield spy thriller series. If you like gritty heroes, intricate plots, and high-octane action, then you’ll love Jon Gray’s edge-of-your-seat race against time. Buy DEADLINE to dive headfirst into danger today!’


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Review of ‘Fragments and Stages’ by Ross McGivern

Fab poet. Fab review.

Nigel Kent - Poet and Reviewer

In writing this review I must declare an interest. I first met Ross McGivern on an Open University Poetry Society workshop four years ago and was immediately impressed by his talent. I have also had the privilege to be able to witness the development of Fragments and Stages into the impressive chapbook that it is. As he explained in his fascinating drop in last week, it charts the challenging year that he and his wife faced, when she underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One might expect such subject matter to be unrelentingly grim, but I found the work to be both life-affirming and uplifting.

Yes, it’s true that McGivern does not shy away from conveying the horrors of cancer treatment. There are vivid portrayals of its physical effects: the ‘hair loss and sickness’, the ‘fatigue and dropped weight’, the fact that ‘you’ll feel shit before you feel better.’  (Known…

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Letter Writing in the Moonlight 

For National Poetry Day 2021, a poem from my recent collection.

‘Letter Writing in the Moonlight’ was written for the Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis’s 2017 project ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in which Worcester UK poets were matched with Worcester USA poets and created ‘call and response’ poems.

Letter Writing in the Moonlight 

Beneath the apple tree
all is still.
Night, as dark as her lover,
veils the lush grass;
bramble and thistle
scratch, inscribe the ground.

A mist hovers,
loathe to leave the river,
low down in the depths of the garden
where mud oozes
and the odour of damp
settles.

The bench is warm,
as graffitied as her heart.
Love holds her
like the mist—all pervasive—
toads and crickets mock,
‘Write’.

A moonbeam strikes
through cloud.
Clouds steal onwards
and soon the lawn
is shown in a puddle of silver light.
She puts pen to paper.

From Growing Places (Black Pear Press, 2021)