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Writings and Witterings


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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

Original published in 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

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)


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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