A stitchwort shift, a bluebell shawl

Been far too long since I blogged: life’s been busy and I’ve been concentrating on fitting in poetry writing when I can – mostly inspired by Jo Bell’s ongoing 52 project. 52 has kicked my poetry up a gear (well, I think so, and that’s what matters) and I’m not sure I could have written the poem I mention next without its impetus:

Absolutely delighted to have a poem, Cwmmy Crab, in the first poems to go live on Ledbury Poetry Festival’s Poetry Orchard blog project, mentored by Paul Henry. An honour to be in the company of Sharon Larkin, John Edwards, Simon Barraclough, Jane Spray, Brenda Read-Brown, Paul Adrian, Christine Stibbards, Jonathan Mayman and Paul Henry himself. The first workshop’s brief was to personify a Herefordshire apple variety – to write as if that name were a person – in a similar way to that in which The Spoon River Anthology, 1915, by Edgar Lee Masters used fictional characters’ grave stone epitaphs to recreate a community in poetry. The Ledbury project brief has been widened to using one of apple’s names as the title for a poem, a springboard to something based on the area and/or apples/orchards.

Cwmmy Crab was a poem I struggled to write so I’m particularly glad it’s found its home on the project site. I tend to gather connections, basic facts, other notes for a poem idea before a line or an image drops into my mind and the poem itself sparks into life. With Cwmmy Crab I had a feeling for the character and atmosphere I wanted, an idea that it would be across the seasons, but no concrete image nor line came to mind for several weeks. I ended up with twelve pages of assorted notes (including a four page print-out of Wikipedia’s list of Herefordshire place names; how prosaic!) before, up early on a visit to old friends in rural Devon, the chorus repeat arrived. By breakfast I had the bones of a poem, suitably earthy; it then took a great deal of shaping and polishing and a little help from friends (thanks to Jen McGowan, in particular) to get to its submitted version as a dance.

Here are the first two verses (if you want to read the other two verses, and all the other poems, see the LPF Poetry Orchard blog):



A stitchwort shift, a bluebell shawl,
I’ll cast aside in dancing;
hart’s tongue moist, fox gloves tall,
blossom frail, confetti fall,
I’m eager for the asking.

For I can call the fat cuckoo
from Broomy Hill to Dol-y-Cannau;
smooth frogspawn for my lover’s pillow
down in Dinedor’s dells.



Eels easy slip damp meadows soft;
barn owls ghost, unseen;
badgers dig for brooding wasps,
scatter paper, fluster moths,
to feast upon a queen.

For I can see fey gloworms beckon
along faint tracks from Leinthall Starkes,
sisters beyond coiled adders’ bracken
down in Llangarron’s valley.


This week the bluebells are almost out up here on the Hills. Old Hollow is dusted with a blue haze and Black Hill will soon be a mass of flowers.

Here’s a Cwmmy Crab-ish picture of stitchwort and bluebells:



Here’s Old Hollow recently, steaming in the morning sunshine:


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More pictures from ConFab Cabaret recently


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The Upside Down Jesus and other stories

Karen Jones launches her short story collection, The Upside Down Jesus and other stories today so I’m delighted to be able to blog it on FoxTales. The title story was a Mslexia winner and she has won or been shortlisted for numerous other awards. Karen was one of the first people I met in the online writing a decade ago and since then we’ve met in “real’” life quite a few times, even though she’s based up in Glasgow and I’m in the West Midlands. (Karen, with a bunch of other kind writers, nurtured and mentored me through my novel attempts and they are probably rather relived I’ve been concentrating on poetry lately.)
About the book:

The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories is a collection of published and prize-winning short stories, flash fiction and micro-fiction giving voice to a variety of different characters.

A child struggles to overcome her fear of the upside-down Jesus, a man dons his “egg-stealing coat” once a week, a teenager becomes obsessed with the colour purple, an old man keeps his wife closer than others would like, a psychiatrist considers the folly of his patients, and a little girl watches her neighbour slowly disappear.
Tracy Chevalier, judge of the 2010 Mslexia Short Story Competition, on “The Upside-Down Jesus”:

“ … a heartbreaker leavened by a gorgeous young Scottish narrator … the girl’s voice is beautifully sustained and so we feel we really know her by the end.”
Annemarie Neary, judge of the first quarter 2013 Flash 500 Competition, on “When No One Is Looking”:

“… close to perfect … expert writing – tight and rhythmical … deft evocation of the childish sense of impotence, of no one listening … excellent work.”



The Upside Down Jesus and other stories is available as a paperback from Lulu at £6.99 HERE. It will be available from Amazon soon. You can buy it direct from Karen for just £6 plus pp: email her at joneskaren902@googlemail.com for details.

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ConFab Cabaret’s first anniversary PARTY

On Wednesday night Malvern’s ConFab Cabaret celebrated its first year. Named partly for its original venue, ReCon (RIP) it’s been peripatetic since that venue closed. Last night’s party was hosted in the fiery red of Oliver’s Bar, Belle Vue Terrace. If unfamiliar performance surroundings might be stressful ConFab’s for organisers, Amy Rainbow and Catherine Crosswell, they gave no hint of it during the show.

The open mic – “Prepare to Share” – two minute slots were a good mixture, as always, kicked off by a party visit from Spoz at his ranty-filthy-est best. The main acts were Birmingham’s quartet of superb Decadent Divas (a diva down but performing extra decadence to make up) and then finished with the wickedly funny five-piece acapella group Men In General.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been to all the ConFabs Cabarets, and to have been doing Fox Pops – “some kind of audience involvement” – since the second. Since I am also naturally lazy, these days I just hand out paper and get the audience to write a poem – well, a line or two each that can be sticky-taped to together. I start as I mean to go on, by making the audience decide its subject for the night. “Parties” came out tops last night for some reason. Though someone in the Brum contingent was apparently yelling “Benedict Cumberbatch’s arse” and I missed it. Consequently, there were a few rebel couplets on that subject. I can only apologise in advance to Mr Cumberbatch should he come upon them here.


Roll up! Roll up!
it’s party time:
ConFab Cabaret
quite sublime.
Energising atmosphere in the red room
as the party swings into full bloom.
Various poppers and balloons;
pop, pop as banners festoon;
young and old imbibe the tunes
while neighbours decry their intruded rooms.
Cars parked across my drive.
lots of noise as people arrive.
Laughing, chatting, full and hearty:
they all are off to someone’s party.
Gate-crashing the party
with my friend Marty.
Party party party woop woop!

My daughter said a party MUST be good,
I wish that I could square that with the BNP
or UKIP.
Labour, whig – couldn’t give a fig.

And Jasper says you’re wearing no knickers.

Chips, dips and chicks with whips;
pills, thrills and players with grillz;
all paid for with dollar bills.
Cameron’s a twat
George Osbourne is a pillock.
The Tory party’s fucked
and Labour are not much better.

And I’ll cry if I want to…

Party me hard and draw me out
make me roar with a full throat shout.
Birthday, present, tense…
all tomorrow’s parties, spent.
Vicars and Tarts for a hearty party.
I don’t want to get there too late
but I don’t want to peak too soon;
I’m making no apologies for
the wrong choice of pants
but I can blame them if I swoon.
Dance on the table
with Aunty mabel.

It’s an Elgar Party Knicker:
it makes you go real quicker.
Sitting on the toilet with
my boobs out
Something wobbles on the laundry
bags and bundles.
Crooked floors, smiles and wobbly walls.
Cake up the wall, bodies in the lo;
what will it be like when they’re two?!
I like cake far too much.
Wine and cheese?
Oh yes please!

I’m such a tarty-farty
when at an arty-party.
Benedict Cumberbatch,
if I was a chicken,
all my eggs you would hatch;
I am the cottage, you are the thatch,
Benedict, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Oh beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch
you could tempt me away from “snatch”;
some men are fit but you are fitter –
I’d gladly take you up my [at this point
Fox Pops was overcome with emotion;
a brief pause while the audience calmed]

Is a party to do with parting?
Because I gotta!
One for the road with this party.
On my way to Castlemorton Common – a road
– I took a wrong-un … and ended up in Bath
– instead.


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I trudge the last steep reach of Wearyall:
at my feet puddles double as a county,
a map I cannot fathom.

Still Levels rising, horizon rain-close
where eels feed in easy streets
and sticklebacks the size of whales
might lek on village cricket pitches.


Another ‘52‘ poem, this time on last week’s theme of ‘weather’.

Scale as in scaling a hill, fish scales, scale of maps and plans … and a nod to the ubiquitous ‘area the size of Wales’ (and Father Ted, perhaps, ‘small … far away’; hard to resist).

Born and bred in the West Country (Wearyall Hill is close to Glastonbury Tor, looking over the Somerset Levels), now living near Worcester and the River Severn, the scale of inland flooding is almost mind-boggling, let alone storm damage to coastal areas of Britain and beyond.

Meanwhile, apparently California has a drought, Australia is still counting the cost of its heatwave / bush fires and central-northern America is frozen solid. Climate change – whether man made or not – is happening. We will have to cope with it’s capricious uncertainties.

Cameron’s ‘money is no object’ suggests that even Tory slashers now realise that infrastructure is vital so there is a tiny gleam of hope from all this. Perhaps we’ll invest in creating, building, mending instead of the wealthy becoming wealthier as everything else withers. Perhaps.

Here are some pictures of Upton Upon Severn at dusk last week. The Malvern Hills are in the distance in the first:


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Spring Sunshine

Four weeks into 52 and there are some amazing poems in the group. Meanwhile, here’s  my attempt to tackle week 4′s theme, Invitation.


Invitation to Spring Sunshine

Please come soon.
You can’t be too quick –
surprise me.

I’ll welcome you,
fling open doors,
shuck off vesty layers,

dance on the hilltop
naked, receptive
to your deft touch.

Children may shriek;
neighbours may blink,
blinded by skin’s albedo,

but, with you, I’ll be fearless
careless of exposure –
“I love you!” I will sing.

My mood will soar;
dreary bickering
brighten to cheery banter;

smiles will include eyes,
backs will be straighter.
Everyone will shine.



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A Journey with Dragons’ Breath

When I discussed Jo Bell’s poem Hoary Alison a few days ago, I should also have mentioned her New Year-launched project, “52”, a website to encourage poets – of whatever ability/experience – to WRITE at least one poem for every week of this coming year. Being as it’s Jo’s initiative, the themes are well worth pursuing and the sample/prompt poems are a fabulous mix of thought-provoking poetry.

There is a 52 FaceBook group for FaceBook-using poets to join if they wish. It’s a “closed” group, which means than non-members cannot see what is posted there and nor can Google searches find anything (so contents are “unpublished” if you might want to polish and submit your poems to magazines or competitions). However, at the moment, there are more than 250 members in the group; at one poem per week each (even if not everyone participates), that’s a lot of poems to assimilate.

Week 2’s theme was to look at a journey; so many possibilities in response.

I went for a walk up and around the Malvern’s North Hill. I’ve been contemplating writing something about the brothel that may or may not have existed in Happy Valley but, looking out over the frosty vale, my “dragon breath” steaming in the chill air, I thought of the poem below.

I give you two versions: yesterday’s immediate response to my walk and then today’s edited revision so you can decide if I have improved or spoiled the poem. It’s still not quite what I intend but, now it is technically published – visible to anyone here – it’ll do.


Rampaging dragons don’t
exist, except in hills’

mythology. Yet quantum,
existential beasts persist,

aestivating beneath beech
tree roots, in broken concrete

gaps or capped colliery shafts
until snapped awake

by biting cold. Overnight
they stretch shrivelled wings –

hear grey scales slip-scritch
through holly thickets;

hot claws whisper-sizzle
in tarnished puddles;

hiss of close breath
misting this indigo dawn.



Dragons don’t exist,
except in hills’
mythology. Yet quantum,
existential beasts persist,
aestivating beneath beech
tree roots, in broken concrete
gaps or capped colliery shafts
until snapped awake
by brittle cold.

they stretch shrivelled wings:
grey scales slip-scritch
through holly thickets.
Listen, shh: hot claws sizzle,
in burnished puddles,
with a whispered hiss
of close breath
misting this indigo dawn.

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