Summer Showcase – June 2016

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Susan Castillo StreetGuest ediitor: Susan Castillo Street


Poems by Lizzie Ballagher, Gill Lambert, Annest Gwilym, Tony Hendry, Julie Sampson and Pauline Harrowell

Photographs by Chris Sims. Bunty image Clipart.

• Archive of all Poetry Space showcases


Editor’s overview

I was very impressed indeed by the quality of the poems submitted to the Poetry Space Summer Showcase.  Choosing only ten was not an easy task!  In the following poems, I found intelligence, poetic craft, and the ability to surprise and delight the reader.

Please scroll beyond the poems for my feedback.





I hold the weight of light upon my palms:

Sprays and strands of wine-dark pearls strung

Perfectly from alchemy of rain & sun,

The pulse of summer’s hot & running blood

Shining, clotting on my fingers.


The heat of August sweetens, stains my hands

With fragrant orbs: purple, jewel-like (however small).


For now, I am summer’s queen again,

High on the handle-bar, riding aloft

Between rows & ripened rows of blackcurrants

On my father’s rotovator: around me the whiff

Of petrol & oil, the comfortable putt-putt

Of the churning motor as it chugs & chews

Through weeds & trampled ground.


With grubby hands I grab for currants,

Snatch at the light between the leaves.


Both escape my clutching fingers.

The dapple & ripple of green-starred growth

Flickers, skitters between them with nothing left

But the crimson smear of juice upon my skin:

The dazzling, fizzing, dizzy taste of fresh blackcurrants.


Lizzie Ballagher





The summer I was nine, I stumbled on her,

hiding in the cupboard with the doors

that had been chopped up for firewood one winter.

She came from a world where girls made homes,

cooked and had adventures wearing ‘slacks’.

She offered tips on babysitting, jam making,

spotting garden birds and identifying British flora.

Old and musty, her thick buff pages bore blots of tea,

a smudge of coal – fingerprints

of the sixties pressed into her pages.


I spent hours with her, my only interruptions

mid-day mince and a sweet-run to the shop with twenty-p.

I cheated on her with St Clare’s and The Chalet School,

curled up, I read for whole days ’til September –

where real life – the boring ordinary summoned me

back home. There, Jackie, seduced me; Cathy and Claire

gave advice on teenage spots and kissing boys,

and Look-In! dictated that I  blu-tac posters

of the two Davids (Cassidy and Essex) to my wall.


But back at Grandma’s in the holidays, I returned

to her. The Four Marys lead me back into a world

where girls ruled. Heroines that swept me off

on journeys, taking me away, out of my life,

into their more thrilling one. A romance that by now

I daren’t admit to, lulled me into sitting still.

Now, years later, I remember bits of the advice

she gave, the smell of her damp pages and hours

and hours spent doing nothing but what I wanted.


Gill Lambert

empty room


And Lie Beneath


I thought I heard your call last night in sleep,

your spider’s touch like lace upon my cheek.

I open doors in endless halls of loss,

where marble floors are sepulchred in dust.

In empty rooms a phone is ringing out,

its strident cries unheard lament in vain.

The naked window frames a tattered moon,

a lonely dog is barking far away.

At times in crowds I seem to see your face;

it fades, a frosty stranger’s takes its place.

Relentless as the stars the cycles turn,

but still I wander winter’s frozen wastes.

They say I must succumb to the belief:

we come and walk the earth and lie beneath.


Annest Gwilym

bleak landscape



at dusk, that


colour spill


a fizz of Catherine wheel.


High up,


the turret



sizzles star-

shrivelled ash –

oh, gasps

on our heads.


(We’re snugly wrapped

under your black coat.)


It tried to split us.



the heat

the heat

as you kissed me,



we gazed

up at sky,

our face


splintering the spectrum

of rainbows and


leaving dark

our absorption that night.


Julie Sampson





The Last Laugh


Gently he takes her hand,

a lover’s touch,

the fingers cool and pale as Ophelia’s;

the others hold their breath and wait.


The hand that consoled, and wiped away tears,

minded the fire and tended the loom;

created life and warmth, and helped a friend,

but still knew the moment to recoil,


would never now draw back

from such a love as this.


Gone the perfumed days of youth,

domestic smells of bleach and bathroom,

and now the last austere scent

is pungent and ascetic.


How sweetly skin and flesh part

beneath the scalpel’s bloodless kiss;

“And here we see the tendons of the hand…”

He demonstrates how they work;

but her finger showed what she really thought.


Pauline Harrowell

Library Boat


The Library Boat


Your media circus has no clowns

and no trapeze, but if it did,

I still believe this small crowd

would turn away to greet the boat

that nudges the banks of the Laos.


Celebrations begin, the children grin

welcomes to the crew of three

who unpack boxes of books. One boy

catches your attention, his hands

are like yours might have been once.


Reaching out, his pudgy thumbs

form pincers with his forefingers,

discovering adventures on each side

of the page and his eyebrows raise,

his mouth turns up at every new encounter.


He takes his book and sits in solitude,

savouring his haul – a small

curled hermit. Your camera goes on

filming him, until the light fades

and Cancer’s moon rises.


You bring me this boy’s silhouette

one stormy Sunday in December

as I contemplate a turbulent week ahead.

I watch as his book sails him far

from a place I’ll never visit.


And as he wrestles with unfamiliar words,

I wonder, if my tears are for that boy,

who has nothing, yet is satisfied,

or for myself, and this narrow,

cluttered life I have no chance of escaping.


Gill Lambert




I am at your thigh again

in an uncased, unlocked phone


pocketed in faded blue Levis

tight enough to speed dial me.


Footsteps, mutters, barking,

swish-swish and owl hoot.


Vexed shouts to our two dogs

who are playing up as usual


on the Frith Wood walk at dusk.

You cannot hear my yells,


and I am a helpless guardian

in a weekday hotel bedroom,


so after a minute I hang up

for fear of being your bad luck.


I could text, call you dearest clot,

but even that could be bad luck.


A punctiliously modern man,

I warn of risks of solo walking


but never insist that you stop.

You are insouciant, and I worry.


The basset hound and labrador

just lick the hands of strangers,


so I ask for the old wood’s help.

Frith is peace and sanctuary,


and, in Anglo Saxon theory,

nobody could harm you there.


Tony Hendry

old wood


You Wouldn’t Know …

That when he woke this morning
he turned and pressed against her,
she smiled in her sleep –
asked for five more minutes.

That he spilled his coffee, tie-dye
on the pristine white, he took
the staircase two steps at a time
to see her naked; stopped to kiss her.

That tender fingers tucked the label
in the collar of a clean shirt,
smoothed the fabric down over
the contours of his shoulders.

That when he crossed the road
and turned into the station,
he was looking at her picture;
her smile was all that he took with him.

That in the moment of the bomb blast,
he was thinking of his children,
the things they’d do that weekend,
though it was only Tuesday.
Gill Lambert





Straw to Gold


Skedaddle! Out with you, Brothers Grimm—

You and your scheming scimitars,

Your poisonous pouch of nightmares,

Your wicked sickle blades—get out, grim reapers!

Don’t peddle any grimy story near us here:

Of a nameless miller’s daughter dusty with corn husks,

Hair bleached fair as finest barley flour

Repeating her father’s shameless lie

To greedy royal ears that she could turn

The common straw to golden thread

When not one stalk could she so spin.

Go! Wind your broken spools of goblin yarn & take them off

Down stifling alleyways to other village inns

Where gullible fools believe such tales.


The boot’s now on the other foot, you know. It’s not

Poor womenfolk who spin the straw to gold these days:

Not mincing, soft-shoed cobblers’ lasses;

Not singed & sparky blacksmiths’ girls;

Not doe-eyed, millers’ daughters;

Today the hayfields’ wealth is spun to gold

By sinewy, sunburned men with furrowed brows

And crinkled eyes below a denim baseball cap,

Who sit aloft in spacious air-con harvesters

That thresh unbroken narratives

Down satellite-mapped alleyways of grass

And then spill out, spin out

The half-ton reels of gleaming bales:

Fine gold from summer’s yellow fields.


No Rumpelstiltskins spoil the party now:

Only a surly storm or two, glowering, scowling over downland cliffs & folds.

And—in between the hedges and the cottages—

Great curving, curling rolls of gold.


Lizzie Ballagher




last night

last night, moth to the flame
I open my medicine drawer
a litany of comfort
Fluoxetine Quetiapine Zopiclone
as pretty as posh girls’ names
fresh from finishing school

maybe a pack and a quilt
under a sliced moon and wait
for the tide, let driftwood currents
carry me away in silver lamé waves
cradled and tumbled in coral mansions
a rhythm of flux, a briny pavane
a fluid spell to break pain’s realm

like Lady Lazarus, my luck
run out, though not one in ten
gentlemen, ladies: my polished bones
my seaweed hair, my eyes that ebb
and flow, my brittle heels
my terracotta heart

out of the swell I rise like a siren
with a comb in my hair
into the singing air


Annest Gwilym




 This poem is a festival of the senses.  It is rich in visual, tactile, auditory, savoury and olfactory imagery.  The sounds are lush and joyous.  An absolute delight in its evocation of sensory impressions and elegantly articulated emotion. Sumptuous sounds.


Here we find a poem that evokes an era brilliantly, while simulataneously subverting our stereotypes regarding domesticity in the past.  There are some wonderful images of a young female reader discovering ‘heroines that swept me off/on journeys, taking me away, out of my life.’  Feisty, intelligent, and sophisticated in its apparent simplicity.

And Lie Beneath 

 This beautifully crafted sonnet evokes loss with power and delicacy.  There are some marvelous phrases and images here, e.g: ‘your spider’s touch like lace upon my cheek,’ ‘The naked window frames a tattered moon.’ Gentle and melancholy.


 This poem evokes remembered love so well.  I particularly liked the short lines and Laurentian rhythms, which convey physical urgency, and the images of exploding fireworks and rainbow colours (rockets, Catherine-wheels) which evoke bedazzlement.  Sexy and tender.

 The Last Laugh

Witty and delightfully macabre.  Initially, the reader expects to read a sentimental poem about a departed mother, only to discover that what we’re looking at here is a dissection taking place in front of an audience (possibly of medical students).  In the poem’s third and final turn, as the surgeon slices through her hand, in a reflex reaction the corpse gives the doctor the Finger.   I loved the way in which the rug is jerked out from underneath our own preconceptions not once but three times.  I liked the wicked intelligence of this a lot.

 The Library Boat.

This poem skillfully inverts the camera’s gaze (and the poet’s gaze), with its focus on a child filmed reading a book.  In the ending,  the direction of the lens is reversed to evoke the limitations of the poetic subject’s own life.  Sophisticated and nuanced.


 The first line of this poem (‘I am at your thigh again’) sets the scene beautifully, of a man who is physically distant from the woman he loves, who is concerned about her safety as a solitary walker, yet does not wish to rein her in by ringing her mobile phone.  The appeal to Frith, to peace and sanctuary in the ancient wood, is delicate and tender, and describes so well one of the dilemmas of modern masculinity: how to reconcile our respect for the freedom of those we love, with our wish to keep them safe.

 You Wouldn’t Know

 This poem will haunt me for a long time.  The juxtaposition of the sensuality of routine and of everyday life, with the bomb blast in the last sentence, evokes so vividly the fragility of all our lives and of our imagined futures. Powerful.

Straw to Gold

 The poem begins with splendid invective: ‘Skedaddle! Out with you, Brothers Grimm–/You and your scheming scimitars/Your poisonous pouch of nightmares’ in order to challenge the myth of the beautiful virgin who could spin grain into gold, and to portray the reality of hard work in the fields, as well as  the beauty and poetry, of farming today.   So many lines jump out at the reader: my personal favourite is in the final lines (‘…in between the hedges and the cottages–/Great curving, curling rolls of gold.’

Last Night

 A dark poem describing the infinitely seductive quality of thoughts of self-destruction.  There are resonances of Plath here, but the poet takes this theme in new directions, e.g.: ‘Fluoxeline Quetiapine Zopiclone/as pretty as posh girls’ names/fresh from finishing school,’ ‘my polished bones/my eyes that ebb/and flow, my brittle heels/my terracotta heart.’


Susan Castillo Street is  Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita, King’s College, University of London.  She has published three collections of poems, The Candlewoman’s Trade (Diehard Press, 2003), Abiding Chemistry,  (Aldrich Press, 2015), and Constellations (Three Drops Press, 2016), as well as several scholarly monographs and edited anthologies. Her poems have appeared in Southern Quarterly, Ink Sweat & Tears, Messages in a Bottle, The Missing Slate, Clear Poetry, Three Drops from a Cauldron, Foliate Oak, and other journals.