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Writings and Witterings


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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

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)


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Thank you, Carrie, and thank you, Beth

It’s always good to see a review from over the pond, and extra special when it’s a friend well met years ago when I first started posting my poetry online. This review for Growing Places is from Carrie Rubin, who’s just published the third in her Benjamin Oris series about a man of science who faces otherworldly situations, The Bone Elixir, read all three, they’re great reads.

So good to see other reviews of Growing Places coming through, the latest from “Mad Hatter Reviews” written by Beth O’Brien, you can see it below.

Reviewed in the United States on September 29, 2021

“As with all of Stretton’s poetry, one is immediately drawn into her evocative prose and the worlds she creates. The places of the poet’s past leap from the verses, as if the reader is visiting these rich landscapes of England themselves. Add to this the elements of nature, as well as the human characters Stretton brings to life, and the reader is easily transported away:
 
 
“Find the Persian pebble-edged river,
cross the candyfloss bridge
to pure graph paper.

 

“And:

“Rust green spires spring
over yellow tilted shades,
hear bombus choirs sing
above parasol parades.

“Delicious! And proof yet again of why Stretton is one of the few writers who can get a novel-fan like me to read poetry. Highly recommend.”


A Mad Hatter Review

Hot on the heels of Carrie’s review came another, this one from the fabulous Beth O’Brien for Mad Hatter Reviews. Here’s an extract from Beth’s review of Growing Places:

“From the child’s understanding of her parents, to the closeness of two sisters, the poems establish a firm ground of loyalty. ‘Her girls’ is one of my favourite poems of the collection, which opens with the lines ‘We do not share blood, / we share memories’. These memories are of an inseparable nature, of makeup experiments and the ‘hottest, burniest’ holidays. Stretton’s poetry seems to speak delight from the page, the short lines and rhymes making it a joy to read as well as feel.

“Of course, place is very important in this collection, which is divided into sections accordingly. As part one, ‘Malvern’ moves to part two, ‘Malvern Hills’ we escape into nature, silence, slopes, and echoes. The short poems in this section are like bursts of memory, contained like ‘Moonlight in Jars’, held up one by one to show off something else that is beautiful.” Read Beth’s full review here.


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Thank you and ‘Growing Places’ news

Many thanks to all who came along to the Zoom launch of Growing Places. It was a delightful afternoon with Tony Judge also launching his children’s book Lost.

Growing Places is finding its own place in the world and it’s been wonderful to receive comments and reviews. The latest to arrive is from Neil Leadbeater on behalf of Write Out Loud. 

Growing Places - front cover

As one with complete belief in life long learning, I’m thrilled to sixpence with Neil’s review, he read and understood the poems—total comprehension that is a joy to see. He says, “Stretton writes that this collection is a sequence of poems where she grew. Interestingly, she chooses to settle for “grew” rather than “grew up” because these are not only the places where she grew up but they are also turning points, places real or imaginary, where the process of growing never ends.” He concludes, “Reading this collection I was struck by Stretton’s lightness of touch, rhythmic vitality, sense of humour, and ability to make even the most domestic of scenes come to life. Her subjects are imbued with a magical quality—“faerie folk” catching “moonlight in jars”, goddesses like Amphitrite, the majesty of the Malverns and the wisdom of trees. This is a collection that really sings. Fully recommended.” The full review can be read here.

A huge thank you to Neil. I hope that you will read his review and get your own copy of Growing Places from Black Pear Press.


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So excited…

I’m getting more apprehensive / excited with each passing day! It’s the launch of ‘Growing Places’ at 4pm GMT on Sunday 22 August, a joint book launch with Tony Judge who’s launching his children’s book ‘Lost’. You’re invited to come along and can find the link to the online event by clicking here on the day.

I’m delighted to say that Charley Barnes and Nigel Kent will be my guests and Tony has guests too, plus there will be Q&A sessions.

If you’d like to pre-order one or both of these beautiful books, go to: Black Pear Press where you can save a little on P&P by ordering both books together.

Hope to see you on Sunday 😄


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Croome Court Projects

It seems incredible to me that the first post I wrote for the various Croome Court projects I was involved in is dated 22 May 2014 – was it really so many years ago? The evidence is online at Polly at Croome where you’ll find a record of what happened as the project unfolded, and the poems that came out of it.

I hope you’ll enjoy looking through my memories of working with people at Croome Court.

Here’s a photo of the ‘William’s Footprint’ installation and the poem, one of my favourites from that time.

William’s Footprint is a poem about William Dean, who arrived at Croome in about 1796 and was Head Gardener to the 6th and 7th Earls of Coventry for nearly 40 years looking after the walled kitchen garden and the park. He wrote a book, an historical account of Croome that includes a plant and tree index gloriously referred to as ‘Hortus Croomensis’; a magnificent index of every plant and tree. This poem was written as part of the Soul-to-Sole project and is shown on the sole of William’s shoe in the shoe rack in the basement.

William’s Footprint

If soles could talk
what tales they’d tell
of statues—alive!—
hot walls and wishing wells;
of a serpentine river
and a man-made lake,
of Quercus ilex
and poison Mandrake.

If soles could talk
what tales they’d tell,
of the walled kitchen garden
and glass cloche bells,
of boys of seven
who stoke the heated wall,
while the dipping pond
is their longed for call.

If soles could talk
what tales they’d tell,
of the Druid and Sabrina’s
trysts in the dell;
of mischievous Pan
piping high and sweet,
the goat-god spies on them
in the grotto where they meet.

If soles could talk
what tales they’d tell,
of the nymphs at Croome
and wooded islands where they dwell.
Here’s head gardener Will
wielding spade and pruning hook;
he is grounded and ready
to write his book.

Polly Stretton © 2014


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Growing Places

I said I’d let you know the date for the launch of ‘Growing Places’. It’s now been confirmed as Sunday 22 August 2021 starting at 4pm. I’m delighted to let you know that my new poetry collection is available for pre-order from Black Pear Press and here’s a photo of the cover, read the poem ‘Walk’ to see one of the connections 😁

Growing Places - front cover


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A taster…

From my soon to be published collection ‘Growing Places’—here’s a taster—I’ll let you know when there’s a definite launch date. This poem was written as part of a project run by Nina Lewis, former Worcestershire Poet Laureate, when she ran a workshop at the Jinney Ring Sculpure Trail, one of the exhibits was a huge head carved from limestone.

Head—Alone

I am ancient art or the apocalypse,
I don't see your footsteps 
I hear the disturbed gravel.
You breathe your bumbling tones,
wonder if I'm sleeping or dead.
You say I look soft-boiled

I feel your fingertip 
bones on my rumpled skin
as if touching parchment
—serenity—
yet...not skin, but limestone

Bees and bugs my bedfellows, 
my egg of a head lies alongside
the fragrance of lavender
and fresh,
pitiless,
spikes of grass.

Polly Stretton © 2021


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Smoking Bastille

Alain Bashung, a famous French singer, was such a fan of Gauloises Disque Bleu, it is said he refused to quit even during his chemotherapy. This poem was written for Bastille Day, 14th July—the day that gives the perfect excuse to eat much cheese or smoke yourself silly (if that’s your bag). It’s been updated this year.

Smoking Bastille

Voltaire could neither put up nor shut up,

he famously said, ‘Let us read…let us dance…’

François-Marie Arouet,
imprisoned twice in the Bastille,

his delight at the fall

of the smoking Bastille

would have seen major celebrations,
had he been around for the smoke.

Fast forward to:
Gauloises Disque Bleu,

elegant,
cool,

(show-off) smoking.

Gauloises Disque Bleu.

Cough your way through them
prisoners of nicotine,

echo Voltaire

in the Bastille,

Bruce Willis in Die Hard,
neither put up nor shut up;
Bashung, so hooked that
chemotherapy was enjoyed

smoking Gauloises Disque Bleu.

Polly Stretton © 2021


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Midsummer Eve

She is Sabrina, wending through Worcester,
gestures: splashes rock
in moonlight on windborne scents
of cow parsley and whispering waters,
her shadow caught by the clan.
Paths millions of years old
age around smooth muds
trodden by man.
She snakes through four counties,
visits the fairest cities,
leaves her sister to landscape
purple hills and golden valleys,
but she never strays far
from the haunts of men.
All this we know as we hear of rivers
swooping and dancing, see eyes close
romancing and glancing at words
to celebrate the place in which we stay.
It’s midsummer – midsummer eve.

Polly Stretton © 2015

I’m a little late posting this as it was written to celebrate the River Severn on Midsummer Eve. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share it, even if four days late 😄


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Congratulations Ade Couper – the new Worcestershire Poet Laureate

Four finalists battled for the laureateship yesterday and the judges reported a tough decision, but the one they made was fitting. Ade Couper delivered two splendid poems which set him up for a year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2021-2022.

Many congratulations, Ade.

Also, congratulations to all the successful Young Writers who entered the WLF Young Writer competition – many of their stories were read out and enjoyed by so many. They were lucky to have the good offices of Kevin Brooke, the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Youth Ambassador to introduce them to the competition and support them while entering.

Ade Couper


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Formication…Itch

Yuputka (Ulwa) A word made for walking in the woods at night, it’s the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin.

Au contraire!
Be aware
of an English word for yuputka,
an Ulwa word meaning the phantom sensation of some…thing,
crawl…ing,
on your skin.
Some…thing,
creep…ing,
crawl…ing,
on your skin.

Ulwa? You ask…
The language of around 400 people of Karawala,
in Nicaragua,
where snakes and lakes abound,
in the forest,

and Karawala means ‘dry fish.’

But what of the English?
The word is, formication.
OK, so,
the Ulwa word somehow includes
reference to walking in the woods at night
in the pitch black darkness.
Whereas, the English, oh, the English word is clear as daylight,
defined,
refined,
assigned,
aligned,
confined to
that feeling of some…thing,
crawl…ing,
on or under your skin.
Some…thing,
creep…ing,
crawl…ing,
on or under your skin.

A medical term, specific to a set of sensations called
Paresthesia.
Tactile hallucinations, of insects or bugs

creep…ing,
crawl…ing,
sprawl…ing,
on or under your skin.

Feel the itch.

A tingling, burning, pins and needles, kind of itchiness;
leads to twitchiness,
tickly,
wriggly,
squiggly,
makes you sickly,
itchiness.
Caused, they say, by use of cocaine, amphetamines,
crystal meth, aka,
“Ice,”
“Glass,”
“Chalk,”
“Crank,”
and a side effect of prescription drugs.
Suffered by some during “power surges”,
(that’s to say, menopause;)
the list goes on, diabetic neuropathy,
diseases of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, and
extreme alcohol withdrawal …
it’s a common yet illusory complaint,
which leads some to cut out the ‘worms’ with scissors.

Derived from formica, (Latin for ant,)
this word is
extant,
present,
surviving,
existing.
sufferers often get delusional parasitosis.
in extremis, people have ‘gathered’ the bugs
in matchboxes and demanded investigation.

Not to be confused with the English word in which ‘n’
is the fourth character.
the word is, formication.

Some…thing,
crawl…ing,
on or under your skin.
some…thing,
creep…ing,
crawl…ing,
on or under your skin.
Some…thing,
creep…ing, creeping,
crawl…ing, crawling,
sprawl…ing, sprawling,
slimy slithering,
wriggling, wiggling, squiggling, tickling,
sickening,
on or under your skin.

Polly Stretton © 2012

This poem first appeared in ‘Girl’s Got Rhythm’ (Black Pear Press, 2012)


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OU Poet shortlisted for Saboteur Award, 2021

A well-deserved nomination for OU poet Nigel Kent

OU Poets

Congratulations to OUPS member, Nigel Kent, who has made the shortlist for the Saboteur Awards 2021. His weekly blog promoting the work of up-and-coming poets has earned him a place on the shortlist for the prestigious Reviewer of Literature Award.

In his blog Nigel publishes a fortnightly cycle of drop-ins and reviews. In week one he invites a poet to reflect upon one of the poems from their recently published collections and in week two he writes an in-depth review of the poet’s work.

He started this feature to help new writers publicise their poetry, though occasionally he does review the work of more established writers.

Since starting the project in August 2020 it has attracted over 1,300 visitors to the website.

For more information about the Saboteur Awards click here. To checkout the feature click here.

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Spring Morning Steps

A walk in the morning, a fine spring day,
eight little legs prance through dew in wet grass,
they ignore drops and drips, they run and play,
Mexican stand off, bow to each other,
chase round the meadow, chase birds and squirrels,
sniff at March scents, searching for who knows what?
This is walking dogs on a fine spring day.

Polly Stretton © 2021


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Mothering Sunday 2021

The kids flew the nest long ago
their chicks are grown
and have chicks of their own.
All send something–
a text with a kissing emoji,
‘There’s a bag by the gate.’

Lockdown.
Mum texts, ‘Thank you,’
adds a hug, sends love,
collects the bag before it gets damp.

A tear
trails through blusher,
marks make up
that no one will see,
splashes onto her best blouse.
She thinks of other mums,
fingers tremble,
she puts the TV on,
switches it off.

A cup of tea and sit on the sofa
surrounded by gifts and cards,
she opens the cards, alone,
reads,
misses faces,
misses hugs,
will open the packages later.

Polly Stretton © 2021

😘


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Brown and Blue

We live in canvas bells for five days’
sweat-clammy shelter,
hot in fields of hay,
as a great war rages.
Anne and I become snake
and snake charmer around a smoky campfire.
The menfolk ‘on the front’
– some of our dads –
kill.
My dad’s a Local Defence Volunteer. He has a gun.
We have a singsong, Pack Up Your Troubles for wide-eyed mothers,
nurses, head-scarved land girls,
and munitions factory workers, canary-faced women
who feast on fat pork spitting
splitting sausages that stay
on the tongue with charred onion breath, for hours.

We wonder what it’s like
on the bloody muddy Western front.
Will jam jars and cotton reels really help?
If You Were The Only Girl In The World
our mothers’ eyes shine.
Big blue-garbed Girl Guides
tease us because we’re brown
– few gongs yet –
Me, arms akimbo, in a khaki sleeping bag;
writhing, serpentine, up and down,
side to side,
while Anne tootles, fluting on her recorder,
face dark with gravy browning.
In the trenches guns shatter eardrums, pop eyeballs, make mush of bones.

The big girls give out rubbery gas masks
– hard to breathe –
they send messages using small flags;
wrinkle soapy fingers in hospitals; lather and launder dressings;
roll bandages; prep stretchers for bleeding bodies.

We collect warm hens’ eggs, harvest cabbages and keep our chins up,
knit socks and scarves for the Tommies,
and hope our mums don’t get a telegram.

Polly Stretton © 2014

This poem was published in Remember, the Paragram Poetry Anthology 2014, I mentioned this in conversation with my friend, Mike Alma, who has sent me the photo below to show what the Girl Guides looked like in the early 20th century. Many thanks Mike. Here is Mike’s photo of Doris and Peg, bet they loved camping.

Mike's mum as a Guide circa 1920

Mike’s mum as a Guide circa 1920


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A Flower Growing in the Wrong Place

A soothing blue cumulus of cranesbill clusters beneath laurel, the petals grey veined, stretching for sky under a leaf green canopy. Pecking flowers clamber up tangled with a sweet clingy weed, you know the one, with sticky burrs later in the year. There’s an empty bed with last year’s faded, crumbling woodchips; the scent lingers still. Look again, the bed is not so empty—a crumpled weed control membrane lurks partly hidden by compost, held down by terracotta bricks butted up to decking. Silverly shining, a meshed pit shows off yellow ragwort; a flower growing in the wrong place addresses the buzz and clatter of a chainsaw in the park.

Polly Stretton © 2021


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Dear Reader…

I am delighted to say that my poem ‘The Seasons Turn’ is featured in the February online ezine ‘Dear Reader’. I really liked the picture prompt that they provided, saying that it wasn’t mandatory to write to the prompt. I found the image inspiring, wrote an ekphrastic poem, and…well…they liked it! You can read it by clicking here 😄 And here’s the gorgeous picture (with acknowledgement to Dear Reader):