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Writings and Witterings


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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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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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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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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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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):


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New Year’s Day

At New Year
we stood in the back garden
watched sparkles and flares,
listened to the bangs and screeches
of city and county fireworks.
No scent of cordite marred or jarred
the sweet rural air.
Nothing destroyed the calm of the countryside,
the homes of small animals and birds.
No sky lanterns polluted the night.

We reflected on 2020
—the Covid year—
we’re glad to see the back of it.
This brand new year will be better,
it can’t be worse, we decided.

We thought of dear friends and family,
of lost friends, and unhappy families,
of the marvellous NHS;
of sights previously unseen.
We thought of unthought-of happenings
and poor planning
that made last year dire.

Despite all, we are still human
and so, full of hope.
No breath of snow whispered past.
A touch of frost tweaked noses and toes,
confirmed life.

No matter what, the ceiling
of the country always celebrates
time, people, purpose.
We stood in the back garden
and sipped spiced hot wine.

Polly Stretton © 2021


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New Year

At New Years Eve
we’ll stand in the back garden
to watch sparkles and flares,
listen to the bangs and screeches
of city and county fireworks.

No scent of cordite will mar or jar
the sweet rural air.
Nothing shall destroy the calm of the countryside,
the homes of small animals and birds.
There’ll be no sky lanterns to pollute the night.

We’ll reflect on 2020
—the Covid year—
and be glad to see the back of it.
The coming year will be better,
it couldn’t be worse, we’ve decided.

We’ll think of lost friends,
unhappy families,
the marvellous NHS;
of sights previously unseen,
unthought-of happenings
and poor planning that made the year dire.

Despite all, we are still human
and so, full of hope.
Will a breath of snow whisper past?
Will frost tweak at nose and toes?
No matter what, the ceiling
of the country celebrates time,
people, purpose.
We’ll stand in the back garden
and sip spiced hot wine.

Polly Stretton © 2020


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First Love

piano

The piano is in need of tuning
so it can be played in key
music is my first love
rock opera symphony

I love music sheets tucked inside the seat
of piano stool beneath
music soft music loud music beautiful
uplifting and complete

Dissonance: off key
jangles discord—clang clang
the music chaotic bitter sharp
air disturbed—bang bang

Black keys and white keys
wait proud and still
for the piano tuner’s lever
(here he comes up the hill)

He plays sotto voce
presto forte staccato allegro
adagio tosto tutti vivace
tenerezza eco o o o o oh

A tonic in tune once more
affettuoso read the score
pianissimo dolcissimo
come play me piano implores

Published in Girl’s Got Rhythm by Black Pear Press 2012 and reprinted 2016. Reposted for Poetics – Under the Influence of Music, a prompt from Anthony Desmond, 2014, at dversepoets.

Sotto voce: in an undertone
Presto: very fast
Forte: loud; strong
Staccato: brief; detached
Allegro: fast
Adagio: slowly
Tosto: swift; rapid
Tutti:
all; everyone
Vivace: lively
Tenerezza: tenderly
Eco: echo; an effect in which a group of notes is repeated


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No Small Trifle

T’was the night before Christmas
and, in our house,
nothing was stirring,
no rat, bat or grouse.
But mousse made appearance
and trifle with cream.
It’s Christmas Eve,
time to fantasise, dream.
The tree is waiting
for baubles and balls,
holly and ivy
to deck up the halls.
Home is so … homely
at Christmas
and neat,
with carpets fresh vacuumed
and dusting complete.
Parsnips, potatoes,
sprouts and fine wine,
sherry and cabbage
and walnuts sublime;
bacon and turkey,
pudding and snow,
pigs in their blankets,
tree lights all aglow.
I’ve laid the wreaths for the parents long gone;
yesterday’s garland a baby’s swan song.
Christmas memories of bygone years.
Now, look to the future,
enjoy a few beers.

Polly Stretton © 2013

Merry Christmas everyone 😘 🎄


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He Drinks Blood

You will know him by his powers,
his inhuman speed,
his sinister silence,
the way he can fly at the flick of an eyelid;
by his ability to conceal himself in the shadows,
his talon-like claws,
very sharp;
made for tearing flesh.
Just know that he has to drink blood.
He has to drink blood,
or age fast, falling
to dust if no blood is found.
But then, you will know him by—
he cannot tolerate garlic,
can’t abide sunlight or crosses
and to him, water is loathsome, it dilutes his power.

He drinks blood;
coppery-tasting human blood,
rich, claret human blood,
it is mine he seeks now.

I sense him getting closer,
secreted in the darkest shadows,
concealed by the cloaks in the closet,
hidden beyond the hat stand in the hallway,
stalking slowly up dust-laden stairs
—silent—
he waits for me to fall asleep.
I know it,
yet can stay awake
but for a few minutes more.
It has been 11 days
—264 hours—

I cannot keep my eyes
open much longer,
even though,
I know,
the moment they close
he will siphon the life out of me.
He has tried twice, already,
I am so weak.

Cold, cold, icily cold, he draws the blood from my soul.
He drinks blood;
coppery-tasting human blood,
rich, claret human blood,
it is mine he drinks now.

Polly Stretton © 2020

This poem is one of 42 poems in the 2020 collection The Alchemy of 42. To see more: https://blackpear.net/polly-stretton/the-alchemy-of-42


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Haiku #60

Dusk, and the moon rises,
nicotiana scent wafts
with evening jasmine.

Polly Stretton © 2020

This is the sixtieth Haiku that I’ve posted on a daily basis since napowrimo 2020, and it’s also the last day of June, a good place to pause for the time being as I focus on my new collections of poetry ‘The Alchemy of 42’ and ‘Growing Places’ – look out for them – and thank you for reading and following.