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Writings and Witterings


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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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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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Sunlit Still

In response to the sepia photograph prompt at The Mag which was a new find for me in 2012 – now taking a bit of a break – this ekphrastic poem:

Sunlit Still

Captured for
all time
in the silent
shadows.

A sunlit room,
snapshots
in time
in a snapshot of time.

Unlit candles
cast darkness on sills.
A frozen head
observes
time stands still.

It is 10:30.
It remains 10:30.
It will never be other
than 10:30.

Polly Stretton © 2016


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Repetition

Move away from the waste paper bin.
Move away from the waste paper bin.
Little dogs mustn’t go in the waste paper bin.
Little dogs mustn’t go in the waste paper bin.
I know it’s fun, all that crinkly paper.
I know it’s fun, all that crinkly paper.
Move away from the waste paper bin.
Repetition becomes tedious.
I am patient.
I am patient.

Polly Stretton © 2016

Mabel Passport size photo


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…Never Was

Each year, since 23 May 1973,
she remembers the child who never was.
The child who is and never was.
She hears the nurse say, ‘don’t look.’
How could anyone not look?
As if by not looking, he could be forgotten.
Forty years on
the shroud of grief cobwebs yet;
tightens her chest, tautens her neck.
Babe dead, mother dying inside.
She still sees his fingernails, perfect hands and feet.
Legs curled, foetal,
just as he lay inside her.
Still wanted, still loved, still missed.
Each year she thinks of the child
who never was.

Polly Stretton © 2012


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Beans For Tea

Scarlet Robin

I am a little robin
Sitting in a tree,
Mamma says I have to fly,
But I am scared, you see.

My L-plate is affixed
To feathers quivering proud,
Flying lessons start,
We gather quite a crowd.

The ground is such a long way down,
My wings are brown and small,
I tell Mamma that I am scared,
She doesn’t care at all!

Pappa says ‘Fly or else
I’ll shove you off that bough,’
My little body shivers,
‘But Pa,’ I say, ‘tell how?’

‘You’ll be all right, my pretty,
You have a go,’ says he,
‘You’ll fly easy – feathers, wings –
Just think, baked beans for tea.’

I’m launched by his ‘thwack’
My wings stretch gingerly,
I can’t help looking back,
I plummet, dangerously.

The L-plate spirals wildly,
I downward tumble and flap,
My eyes are spinning in my head,
And then I feel a tap.

‘Come on love,’ says Mamma,
‘Give those wings another try,
One – two, one – two, you can do it
Look upward to the sky.’

And then I am away,
Into the blue I soar,
The L-plates fall away from me,
All of their own accord.

My Pa is crowing loudly,
He is so proud of me,
He shouts out as I flutter by,
‘OK love!  Beans for tea.’

Polly Stretton © 2012


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Audio—The Robin Song

Happy Sunday afternoon to everyone.

Lindsay said she’d like to hear The Robin Song so you’ll find an audio file here dedicated  to Lindsay.

I’m still experimenting with the visuals for audio files and am very much learning about how to do this, hints and tips would be welcome.

I would also like to hear your thoughts on whether audios add a dimension to or detract from the poem in its written form.

So, you will see below a link entitled ‘audio file’, which, if you click on it, should open up in YouTube.

Audio file