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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
Chilled window glass
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.
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:
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.
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 rise and fall together.
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.
I drift, a dandelion clock breathing through sunlight, waving to daisies, my elderflower years have begun. Once, there were duster yellow petals, green leaves shiny and new, when I had you. Seasons change.
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
The bench is warm,
as graffitied as her heart.
Love holds her
like the mist—all pervasive—
toads and crickets mock,
A moonbeam strikes
Clouds steal onwards
and soon the lawn
is shown in a puddle of silver light.
She puts pen to paper.
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.
Another beautiful collection
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can just see the poem imprinted onto the soles. I took the photo 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.