POETRY PROPER

Issue 4

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POETRY PROPER
Page Returning, We Hear the Larks Isaac Rosenberg Poems by: Roddy Lumsden Adam Crowthers Rebecca Tamas Josh Ekroy John Whale David Tait Jane McKie 4 10 14 16 20 21 23 3

Featured Poets: Matt Kirkham James Womack 28 39

Photographs: Shirley Bork Paul Maddern Cover / 8 / 18 26 / 37 / 44

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Returning, We Hear the Larks Sombre the night is. And though we have our lives, we know What sinister threat lurks there. Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know This poison-blasted track opens on our camp— On a little safe sleep. But hark! joy—joy—strange joy. Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks Music showering on our upturned list'ning faces. Death could drop from the dark As easily as song— But song only dropped, Like a blind man's dreams on the sand By dangerous tides, Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there, Or her kisses where a serpent hides. Isaac Rosenberg, 1917

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At Whitby Abbey Precision skims, since grey and green are fine cogs of the same simmering machine as friction grims between each aim and sky intuiting intention's alibi as vigour wells and withers in accordance with the licking flame of my affordance belief in which is no less easy than the songbird's two note claim: I am. Roddy Lumsden

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Farewell to Dumplings —Danube Strand, Novi Sad I was off. I had entered the lands of the eagle, of the bear, of the eagle-and-the-bear. I wrote down 'a horse and cart is more or less a centaur'. I wrote 'what looks like smoke on the horizon', then corrected that to 'smoke on the horizon'. Mid-afternoon and I veer toward the bridge. Рοди. Radi. I swot the international language of the magpie, of floristry, the international language of the crotch. I recall the mantra, 'write what you hear, say what you see'. The eyes are drawn to a squeal of brakes, to a squall of coffee. To the bridge! The Danube was floating a rosebud, was drowning ants. Every stone kicked or stick thrown changes our world, or so I think. The eyes are drawn to texting drivers, indoor smokers, to a poet accepting a prize, in trainers. In the shadier nooks of the strand I practise a smile – too old to learn. Better (just) to praise a small nation than to dispraise. I was all but new to the lands of the double-headed eagle, the double-fisted bear.
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I checked my preparatory vocab from Vedrana: Thank You, Good Day, Cheers, Good Music, Yes, Beer, No, Ajvar. The Drunken Clock looms from the fortress river-over. I practise Da li y ovome ima pšeničnih sastojaka (brašno itd)? Does this contain wheat products (flour etc)? For wheat grows in any new garden, Novi Sad. Now Sade climbs the basement bar steps onto Newlyweds Square. Jer ne smem to da jedem. Because I cannot eat them. The Jelen stag bells its latest bell. Now Metallica follow Sade up those steps. A quid a beer. But I can't resist the dumplings which come with Zoe's goulash. I inhale half of one, like a dying gangster at his last cigar. Farewell slim dictionary language of clootie dumpling, minority language of har gau, dead language of tortellini. I weigh the hotel's 'fading elegance' against my own. Maultaschen, manti, pantruca, karanji: I never knew you, girls I did not kiss. Sometimes I worry that every room I am not in contains a party. A party at which I would think much and say little. I was born like that. Roddy Lumsden

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Lines on a Young Lady's Facebook Album Unsauced, unseated and on the wrong timeship to be other than a bit part in your maybe show, yet my numbed and thudded fingers find the grip on the eye of a needle I thumbed in some years ago. The darkest eyes. I see them scroll through screens, your fingertips enlarging some young man you're doting on. Misfortune hogs such scenes. Old men have suffered so since men began. Roddy Lumsden

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A Small Photograph of the World Changing Sorry didn't used to be an easy word; we screwed our fists, we counted ten, rightly loath to say it. Now it flies from our mouths; near strangers pass notes with that single word penned in red. We love too easily and it tails and scuppers us. We forgive too easy and we become unpeople. The ones I worry most for are those who say they fear losing worry's touch: one writes what hurts is being loved too well, another is sick with the thought of another year of waking, solved and happy. It seems they feel such things, they bear such things, then they write them down. Long before I forgave you, which can never happen, long before I loved you easy, which I never did, I found in the pit of your bag, down in the plunder, a small snap which made the world drop through me and I was a piglet who at last understood words and petting me you said, you're a silly baby I can eat. Roddy Lumsden

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Refine I would be crude. There is a fly in the ointment filming the camera lens, and the day chained in the chamber of the eye or viewfinder is sprung from its bonds with a suggestion of thunder as the black cloud of the black box flashes, but this is all in silence; all in silence, the process of the winter scene being unmade anew. Distracted by a dissection of wings and compound eyes, what could be less pure than this refraction of a billion days into a white light’s single abstract, and who seeing it now could ask for better than this overdrive of cobweb and brainstem, the crazy-paving of the world as it is, the sproutings of honeysuckle and the constellations of firework and pinprick? Must we be metaphysical? This snow is no quilt of quiet, but the silver discharge of a feedback system. Adam Crothers

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The Bone Fire Well-dressed good-time guys and dolls caught in flagrante, hot under the collar in the land of plenty, dusting the body of the bone fire for keepsakes, keeping our insides warm with swigs from a hipflask. You discarded a dog skull, its tongue black ribbon, and dug deeper, settling on a horse’s thighbone, which you’d use for a year as splint, taper, poker, a ward against death, a sword put through the Púca. The good pickings were gone when at last I plucked up my fledgling feathers and put it in my pocket: a small claw that crooked too much like a man’s finger for comfort. It thrummed at my thigh, warm nail-ember, and I trekked to the heart of a conifer wood and scratched your name, birthing smokestumps and loud fireweed. Adam Crothers

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Three Cuckoos I Pity the cuckoo. Not, that is, the adult, compelled by the need to upset the tilt of other lives, but the hatchling when it leaves the nest. For as long as it can remember it has been unwitting child to unwitting parents; now it numbers the days until it grants this state the status of the done thing.

II Sound drums in wood, tumbles through the woods, comes to a head, dies, and is reborn. This is cuckoo spring, this the brain pressing against the cup or nest of the skull. The brimming of wonder at the heaps

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of evictees, outgrown, called out, piled like fool’s gold pennies, false hopes, at the base of every tree.

III The cuckoo is a pretty bad son-of-a-bitch. It watches you make your bed then lies in it. It sows its wild oats in your rose garden, and with one swoop of its wing swaps a measure of molten rock into your best china. You drink at your peril, but thirst is thirst, and if you take it on the chin that cooled lump might rest in your mouth like a pearl. Adam Crothers

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Barn Owl Cream blot in the darkness read as a soul of death a cold grave keeper, by people afraid of its silence afraid of the silence the owl swims in But I see him as a point of light, the way he knows the black, sees through it and past it In the hot night he is a slip of ice, the spot at the back of your head that is merely truth that is merely putting your head above water and taking breath sanity of fact that you have eyes and can see from them When he flies over steaming pits, bombsites barbed wire calmly not stopping or helping he is not blunt uncaring but has to keep moving— he can’t plummet headfirst to be crushed fall into tar and drown
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he must hold himself tight over broken bones eyes huge in his moon-face, and perhaps as you stumble from the smoke coughing you will look up at his clear particulars lift your gaze from the dirt to remember beauty that defies the brute weight of land The way skin heals, without grief untactful wondrous not letting hurt be the end of it, he flies he is not afraid of darkness coming and the clarity the pain of seeing everything Rebecca Tamas

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Everybody is Building Crates Hillocks of plywood and board are brought in, the going rate for hammers and nails soars. Self-proclaimed crate fashionistas construct a wooden toy metropolis. The crates of millionaires are beamed in bright teak, lined with tough sailcloth, the knots and rings are smoothed, polished away. Into their crates go futons, chaises-longues, bathchairs, figurines, commodes, tapestries, glass bowls, stuffed lizards, a miniature of Milan Cathedral, gilt-framed wedding photos, shells, fishing rods, artificial flowers, knitting needles. The poor have to knock their crates together with warped beams, cracked plywood or hammered tin from olive oil cans. Don’t look inside them. It’s not done. Their raggle-taggle crates squat in doorways, backyards, garden sheds, without hope. The crates of the rich stand proud in the streets, soon to be carted off to the port. This ripe city has the resin smell of forests. Hammer-taps argue from twilight till dawn. Children grab off-cuts to play their crate-games. One day the wood-city becomes a stain on a bland ocean. Some crates have sailed home. Josh Ekroy

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Ascension Day 1961 One week into my first term it was a full day’s holiday, a gaping sea of nothing to do. I walked up to Chanctonbury Ring, listened to the wind tickle the leaves, play with the branches in one continuous caress. I didn’t know I should really be watching Doris Day at Worthing Odeon, my hand in Watson’s pocket, didn’t know the secrets of pleasure and when I came to know them found I preferred my own blubbering -yes, even the self-flagellating kind that was piety then. If I’d stopped to ponder - but maybe I did felt the enormous betrayal -my peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you - and the creeping gladness in the idea that you die alone and that nothing need touch you, only then could you spirit yourself away into a dark wood and never come back. But of course I did. Josh Ekroy

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The Restroom ...Running off this corridor, on the left, is a row of nine small cells, each 3ft by 7 ft, with a prisoner in each. At the end of the corridor, are two offices, a computer room, and a restroom for the torturers.

The selection of magazines leaves much to be desired. Tattered back numbers of Good Housekeeping lie in heaps, Horse and Hound, and Country Life. The tea in the aluminium pot is dark, acidic and not unpleasant. A lemon, with blunt knife, is placed on a saucer near the hob. When a button is pressed, the coffee machine hiccups a tepid beige liquid. On the wall hangs Van Gogh’s “Boots”. The air smells of White Sage joss-sticks. On the brown carpet is a trodden-on digestive biscuit. There is a supply of kitchen roll and a notice: please clean up after yourself. Josh Ekroy

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Privet He chewed the privet leaf in private within the hedge of which it was a part. Its crisp, green, and glossy bitterness tasted as good as the brief shrill note it made when folded back against itself. The cinder filled his palm with air caught in a million pockets. He saw it hover in his mind as if held up in outer space before he licked its perforations. As the brittle yellow paint broke up and the dissolved lettering of HB littered his lips, he felt the sweet crunch of the splintered lumber give way to a heady seam of soft metallic lead. The book had a sailor’s face upon the front. He flipped it open with his thumb and ran his tongue along the standing row of crimson match-heads, their chalky lipstick bleeding on his teeth, their little flames lit deep inside him. John Whale

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The Election and the Black Snow Not for a second the elegant snow that dusted us in Prague, that stopped cars back home, but a shreddered thing: snow that sheds from burning too much, as when, on the road to Nabokhum both kerbs shone fire and the air was thick with it. Today I stood as the election truck blared past, barking out candidate’s pledges. It was then that I spotted the first black grain drop through the sky like bits of film negatives, or bin bags bringing themselves back. I stood there until air scratched, until the sun resembled the moon, until all I could think was blurred and the truck’s words were soft as ash. David Tait

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Suffolk In each warm lunch-break I’d walk through the narrow lanes of Blaxhall, traipse to the church at the edge of the town or to Iken – take the path around the Maltings – then out to the place pilgrims went, past an estuary where a skerry navigates occasional tides, where egrets stalk the shallows, where I’d go fishing on a pier as the boy I never was. And what else was there? A hut with jam, an honesty box, coils of bright adders, pylons, wheat that whispered, long rows of onion fields, and crickets – crickets that sang all the way to November, until nights seemed endless, until nightjars hoovered up what was left of the summer. David Tait

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School Train The 08.23 The train is mucky with sleep— the seats’ coarse velvet waxed by heads, aisles carpeted by crumbs. When I wake, and I barely ever wake, my window is plastered with estuary mud, only one eyehole. With my foot, I push a sachet of Sweet’N Low towards the child opposite, hoping this will feed him. There’s such a long way to go. Geography The river delta— I feel it in my lungs, welling up, a great alluvial opening, batik colours bleed me into a blue-sere sweep. I am outside and above myself. History On the book cover: the Kings and Queens of England. Faded, they jostle Henry the Eighth who commands the book’s spine, his beard an evening cirrus. On the back: antique timelines like flies stunned against a sunlit pane.
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Music Spiro, the angry man. All those thrown seats. The class laughs. At him? Yes. But also from nerves. I close my eyes and try very hard and finally see the artist in him and the irritant in me and see the school hut, not as a symbolic space, but as a jumped-up caravan set down on a field, in the English rain.

RE When you called Concepta a black devil, I felt the burn of something I couldn’t name, like your ‘faith’— all words too slight, too feeble, tame— Let me start again. Eleven-year olds are purgatory. The land-locked sea was red in my dream. As you walked it, naked, you grew in substance, taking on extra skins like an onion. You crossed the shingle without a mark to your soles. Stay where you are! I called. I wouldn’t want either of us to touch, or hurt. This is as close as I can get us, Miss, to a happy ending.
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Biology On a desktop resinous with fingerprints an extraordinary thing— a wild ox’s heart. It loves our Sex Ed teacher, Miss Conti, shivers every time she breathes, counts her capillaries, beat after beat. It is afraid—terrified—and cold. Perhaps she won’t use the knife (and it so wants to be dissected). Perhaps she won’t even try to describe it, preferring the organs served in the family restaurant. She refers to these others as her dear calamari. Her brothers tease her affectionately about her monstrous appetite. PE A hundred house-points for a forward-roll across the horse. Not a real untamed horse, giddy mount, its antithesis— a brown suede box, stocky as a sea defence, made for sticking blades into. A hundred house-points— what treasure this! The green, the yellow, the blue, the red. These rivers of colour become our bloods and we divide each unto his tribe, but the castrato horse outlives us all.

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Art I reach into my chest and yank out flag after flag. This is art, not a trick. Too many to wave, let alone keep. How many children, how many flags, until we make a circus tent? Maths It’s simple, isn’t it? Something plus something. And if you continue for x minutes in direction y, how many miles would you travel? Here comes the 08.23 again. And again. The lolloping train unable to judder beyond itself. I wake once more to peer through half-closed lids: the mud is gone. In its place, estuary light. Jane McKie

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Featured Poet: Matt Kirkham Ovid’s First Haibun Before the hybrid Lexus of the Emperor's agent had reached the bend in the country road I had set my laptop on the table by the cottage window and my carved wooden horse by the laptop, looking over the letter Q. Should I need to describe it in translation to one of the poets of the East where they see our alphabet as something raw or ill-refined, something lifted from nature, from its basic shapes, I would set out for Q an image of an old pond and the path of a frog's leap into it before we hear the ripples. It is the grey heron's eye and her beak that pierces the pond's meniscus and plucks up the frog. It is the inland sea and the flight of the heron towards it, drawn by the tides and the habits of the small fry. It is the wheel and the exhaust of the Lexus on a peninsula road charged with mayblossom and on the steering wheel the hand and wrist of the Emperor's agent tasked with driving the poet here into exile and with telling him that the book that obsesses the people here could either be the lexicon of its unique geography or an atlas of its strange dialect. Neither poet nor agent look up to see the heron flying above them. It is the thumb and forefinger of the Emperor's Chief of Police as he passes the agent a pen drive with a list of poets to be exiled and their offending lines, and it is the ring on the Emperor's ringfinger, the ring he turns and turns as he tries to remember lines from the poems the chief of Police told him, the one about the family as cursed as the Emperor's own, the Emperor of another empire who imprisoned and raped his wife's sister and was fed his own son stewed by that son's mother, the family that turned at the prayer of the women from the rooftops and the forests into nightingale, swallow, hoopoe, and then the other poem, the one about the old pond and the frog. still as she can be heron marks the mother shore looking for movement

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Poem to be Read in a Submarine Everything, everyone starts with a submarine. The way a voice is wrapped inside a phone this begins as charged air wrapped in the sacks of your lungs wrapped in flesh wrapped in charged air wrapped in steel and its buoyancy wrapped in water-wrapped salt. Look back down the long periscope at the eye of Jules Verne, a gap-toothed storyteller in his grinning turban wrapped in the Thousand and One Nights, the way at this time of year a mild shower is wrapped in the sunlight of a week of showers wrapped in sunlight. It's been adrift in the lough for months, him wrapped in the warmth of his submarine wrapped in undersea currents but now Jules' sub is beached at low tide. He opens the hatch, crawls out in search of seabirds, waders, the way they overturn language on the exposed mudflats. In his belly a dunlin sits wrapped in a sandwich tern wrapped in a black-headed gull wrapped in an oystercatcher wrapped in a widgeon — you know, you understand, you are wrapped in the idea of being wrapped in the idea as if you inhabited the lungs of a naked swimmer
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who finds each of her hairs wrapped in salt water. But the feast — widgeon wrapped in a curlew wrapped in a grey heron wrapped in a Brent goose wrapped in a cormorant. Jules' boat floats and dives and drifts away without him. From the shore he watches its propellers turn in the tides, light the towns and when he opens his mouth it's to free a parliament of birds brushing the surface of the lough as one bird. A child points with one hand while the other stays wrapped around her toy submarine.

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Killing the Child Seeing it ahead, he couldn't imagine what bad luck the badger cub had caught, curled on this narrow road in that way they have in sudden death of looking to be snug and in their sett, dark under welcoming earth and it came to him he was seeing himself as a child, always wanting that bigger slice of cake, whispering to himself I will do it to them when I'm big, wrapping himself in his electric blanket marshmallow grey and white, where he'd stayed, inside his skull, wrapping himself tighter whenever they said no, how the child was not his father, how the child was so much older than he was, how the child was dead, killed suddenly on this country road in the morning, how young he was now, perfect mist still cosying the fields, how very young.

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The Sick Sow She turns the straw and dust around her and turns till she's outside to puke at a staggering world. Glass beads sit in her eye sockets. Five months of rainwater, the dryness, the meal in her mouth, it all rises up from the heart of her guts, all the way back to her mother's milk and tastes of wrestling for muddy teats, the feeling that was her sisters' trotters scrabbling and kicking against her belly. She pukes up the history in the dry scrape of the man's spade against gravel, bricks and pavers, debris from the twentieth century turned up where he dug the postholes for the fence she'd scratch her fat back against if she was well. She pukes up the nineteenth century maps with their outline of the house that stood in this corner, its outline in the buzzard's eyes. She pukes up the books that mention her breed in the Civil War camps. She pukes up the sun that sits low and cold yellow beneath grey cloud in the sick sky. It tells her that she will be well when it rises well.

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Yellow Dog You were walking home from school with Lisa, must have been when you were eleven or twelve and the afternoon all dirtyfair hair and freckles, sun-soft tarmac and the weight of homework in the shoulders when I followed you home. No more then than a puppy, frisky and way too insistent, the tail beating it out: Look at her. Now look at me. Look at me. Your parents acted like I wasn't there. Your sisters cursed me, found my slavering disgusting. So you kept me in your room. Waited for me to show you something. And I've been with you ever since. Am I an embarrassment? You don't find my wet nose endearing, butting in when you're trying to talk seriously: There, look at her. Now look at me. Look at me. If you want a dog, you say when you kick me, it should come when you call, and when you say go it should go. Your wife, she says she wants to sleep next to you, would cosy up if it wasn't for that shitty dog, the smell, the tats in my hair, the way I have of waking a body in the morning when a body doesn't want to be woken.

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I've heard as a man gets older his yellow dog may go and not come back. Or I could hang on, sicker, jaded, looking after what's called your body when your mind's not there to, making a scene in front of the nurses, no one with the compassion to put me out of my misery. Or you out of yours.

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Poppies If I carry no man's land out of my head what is left is a flag and if I carry news from Helmand out of my head what is left is a sore and if I carry every waste land out of my head what is left is no more than a correction which is not the colour I should see so one by one I carry those things and their colours out of my head to leave me only the colour and the stalks like the frame of a building like the skeleton of some sea creature so I carry the architect and the diver and their geegaws out of my head their designs too and I'm left with only you sated and sleeping in them and I'm whispering to you let me back into my head to be that field.

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Smoke If Skype fails, and the fibre optic and the wireless fail, and the broadband fails and the network's down,if the landline fails, the shortwave wireless, the C.B. fails too, and the walkie-talkies and the wire fails, cramming your voice and image into a squashed box, an envelope and losing it in there, pinballing photons off leaking tunnel walls, whispering through the walls, streaming in from round the world, Leviathan on a parchment ocean eating his own tail, nothing but white noise and deathly humming, all crackle, no stations, no handles, no wilcos, all dashes, no dots, I'll reach under the cot for the axe, make my way down to where the sycamore lost its unread and hollow limb, leaving its shoulder socket exposed to twenty feet of air, to the Easter storm that tipped the neighbours stables on their planks and half drowned the meadows and put a day into cleaving space between the sinews of the dead tree like spaces between words on the letters we sent before the post failed, till I've carved out for myself a cord of firewood, seasoned since that Easter, from which I can take an armload to the fireplace, tie papersticks out of last week's news, get the flames going, wrap a blanket round my shoulders and take a chair from the tableside to give me a boost as I clamber up onto the kitchen roof and over slates to the roof ridge,
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sit legs around the chimney and let you know all I need to with these smoke signals. ( We'd like your feedback. How would you rate this call? Was the image clear? Was the audio clear? )

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Featured Poet: James Womack Late Television Q. Do you really believe this? A. I am president of Belarus. I know this. I cannot sleep, my pillow is stuffed with a litter of porcupines. The sofa is cool and television lets the world in: a world not mine, though I have known people with those eyes and that closed smile. No one prescribed them a country to run. Whatever he says, the subtitles say I am Duchess of Malfi still.

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My wife just broke her little toe kicking me on the shins. What you lose on the roundabouts you make back on the swings.

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Listen, Friday was crazy… Whoever has looked into the mirror drunk has had for a moment to see that flicker— the hovering ghost of truth silent between himself and the reflection— that even the exact copy is untrustworthy; someone else’s eyes, you’re imitating yourself. But what do I know? (I’m just a bear.) Look, Friday was crazy, I’m not normally like that, now, the clouds like dumplings in a soup-blue sky. Then, the black skirts of my umbrella; that grey-white frou-frou, rain over the mountain. ‘A great signe it is, of heart burning, when one will not doe so much as looke at another’: so how could we not then talk about the weather? and gradually hide ourselves in the thicker trees as the rain rolled up its meaningless fairground patter. But we do not admire the rain for its eloquence.

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Rocks, and stones Now, I don’t know why, I prefer the gorgon’s smile— petrified forests, the carvings at Montmajour Abbey, the green blending into the grey. Let a hundred chalcedonies blossom, let a hundred 1922 Committees contend!

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A few weeks ago, my doctor said to me: ‘NO MORE METAPHORS! NO MORE METAPHORS! NO MORE METAPHORS!’, which I thought was fair enough, but today I spent a good ten minutes shovelling catshit into a bag from Le Pain Quotidien.

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L. Z.-A. What is this naked bloody thing that lies open in the living body of a wolf? Photographer-writer, your world seems grainy, seen through a so-small aperture, but the grain is the grain of the world, the sky is pointillist, all of this—the whip, the devil, the midnight dances of the abandoned girls— all of this is dabs and blots of memory, all of this composed towards a single question!

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POETRY PROPER
Editors: Miriam Gamble, Paul Maddern, and Alex Wylie
Please Note: POETRY PROPER is keen to encourage submissions in Irish and Scots Gaelic (poetry, short fiction, or critical works). We are extremely grateful to Pàdraig MacAoidh for agreeing to act as editor for these submissions.

Enquiries and submissions to: editors.poetryproper@hotmail.co.uk

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Submissions (email only)
We do solicit material but your submissions are welcome.

Work is unremunerated. Copyright of all work remains with the authors/artists. Please attach poems and/or articles in one Word document and also include the work(s) in the body of the email. Receipt of your submission will be acknowledged by email. We do not publish contributor‘s biographies and do not require you to send one with your submission. Just your name will suffice – along with a declaration that the submitted work is yours and that it is available to be published in POETRY PROPER. The editors‘ decisions are final. Advice or comments on work will not be offered. Poems: There are no restrictions on subject matter, length, ‘styles‘ or ‘schools‘. That being said, 75 pages in Broadway sized 16 font (and the like), will not be read. Translations are welcome, as long as they are accompanied by the original. Articles / Essays: We encourage the submission of reviews and commentaries of up to a 1000 words. Essays will also be considered. However, please send us, initially, only your proposal/abstract/description. We will then confirm suitability, format and timescales with you. Artwork: Please send work in high resolution (300dpi+) JPEG format only.

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