SEVEN WORPLE POETS

We are delighted to present a sample of poems from recent collections by Clare Best, Elizabeth Cook, John Freeman, Diana Hendry and Michael McKimm, and a preview from forthcoming collections by Andy Brown and Tom Phillips.

Worple Press was founded in 1997 and is co-directed by Peter and Amanda Carpenter.

Discover our books at:

www.worplepress.com

Clare Best’s third full collection Beyond the Gate was published by Worple Press in 2023. She is currently collaborating with composer Michael Bascom on a musical realisation of her long poem ‘Salting’ (from Beyond the Gate) and with composer Abel M.G.E. on an audio documentary piece inspired by love letters written during World War II. Clare is an Associate Lecturer with The Open University and a Tutor for The Arvon Foundation. www.clarebest.co.uk

beyond the gate 
in memory of Sarah Everard
and all the others

scots pine and resin-scented air
out here
giant oak next to the path
we are walking

sycamore in sun in shade
holly crowding ragged elder

sweet chestnut spruce fir douglas fir
with us
field maple half-uprooted beech
out here walking

sorbus domestica the service tree
and elm rare elm

blackthorn black with sloes
with us out here
hawthorn hazel leaning ash
and we are walking

ivy juniper cherry poplar
copper beech and twisted willow

so many hornbeam so many birch
out here
stripped leafless by fine sleet
as we are walking

ranks of cypress sapling larch
branches creaking high above

wild plum and wild pear
we are we are
scarred black-leafed still with fruit
walking walking

Self-portrait as boundary oak

A few of us still mark the forest’s edge
though some are dead or tilting.

I’m fonder of bones than I was, proud
of creviced bark, circles of growth, years

enclosing heartwood. Each storm
sways me further out over a sandy field

or in towards crowded and earthy places;
it’s late – I breathe, and I listen to breath.

Shadows pencil my skin this cold afternoon
before the green blooding of spring.
My son’s first leather boots

It’s not the memories they evoke –
there are plenty, but I won’t list them here,
they might escape. It’s not the number 25

stamped on the instep next to a little box
that says Start-rite, nor the crusts of mud
stuck in the treads twenty-four years.

It’s not scuffed toes, heels worn down
in one particular place. Not deep creases
at the ankles where brown polish lingers.

Even if I cherish details, it’s not those.
It’s this: I have to close my door, sit
quietly and alone with love and mystery.

Claire writes:

‘I wrote most of the poems in Beyond the Gate while reflecting on different encounters (my own and others’) with threat, danger and mortality. Many of the poems explore my deep unease with the idea of chronological time and my sense of experiencing time rather as a series of circles and spirals.’

Claire talks to Peter Kenny on the Planet Poetry podcast, April 2023

Listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of The Poetry Bath podcast discussion with Sian Thomas, October/November 2023

Read a review of Beyond the Gate in London Grip


Andy Brown’s books with Worple Press include Bloodlines; Exurbia, and the forthcoming The Big Rip, in which the following poems appear. Bloomsbury publish both his anthology, A Body of Work, and his study of tree climbers, The Tree Climbing Cure. His novel, The Midnight Mechanic, was recently published by Sea Crow Press. He is Professor of Creative & Critical Writing at Exeter.

Quietly in a Room Alone
Tous les problèmes de l'humanité proviennent de l'incapacité de l'homme à s'asseoir tranquillement dans une pièce isolée.

All of humanity's problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées


The year had been a year of meditation,
of filling-in the gaps that lie between
a restful solitude and loneliness,

like the single old fruit tree that divides
the orchard’s loose huddle of saplings
from the open expanse of the wheatfields,

whispering its windblown tale
of the old man who comes to the windows
each night, his fingers scratching the panes
and his breath conjuring clouds

as he squints in at his younger self
sitting alone with his books – his family,
his friends and his lover all gone – listening
for the animal spirit moving in the leaves.
Murmurations

On evenings when the winter sun hung low
we’d drive out west of Chilla
to the broad plantation trees of Cookworthy
and watch the starlings billow-in to roost,
our vigil there a thing of calm and pause.

Beneath the canopy we waited for
their undulating flocks to parse the skies,
silent eddies blackening the air
in cyclones, sine waves, dragons in mid-flight,
their forms of kinship etched behind our eyes.

The Trace

The fox’s ruined body lay across
the frosted verge beside the stubble field.
Rigor mortis set in hours ago, and yet
her brush was plump with life, so seemingly
alive, one of the kids just had to ask
Is it fast asleep? although your dog had
other thoughts, meeting something in his bones
as he sniffed the vixen’s pungent glands.

The next day, when we cycled back that way,
the vixen’s corpse had vanished – buzzard meat –
leaving only a halo of her scent
that the dog tried on for size across his back,
before another spoor pulled him away
to exercise some semblance of himself.

Elizabeth Cook has published two full collections with Worple Press: Bowl and When I Kiss the Sky. She is the author of Achilles (Methuen and Picador USA) – a fiction with a performance life – and Lux (Scribe), a novel which connects the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba with the Tudor poet Thomas Wyatt. She wrote the libretto for Francis Grier’s oratorio, The Passion of Jesus of Nazareth,has been a Hawthornden Fellow and, recently, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Mary University. She lives in East London.

Bowl

Give me a bowl, wide
and shallow. Patient
to light as a landscape open
to the whole weight
of a deepening sky.

Give be a bowl which turns
for ever on a curve
so gentle a child
could bear it and beasts
lap fearless at its low rim. 
Gust

When she considers how long it has been
since another person's large, tobacco-soaked
tongue has occupied her mouth she remembers
the time when their dog picked up the ball
of a curled-up hedgehog and could not get it out
of her soft mouth so they had to prise it
free – all those spines – till both creatures
were separate again and the hedgehog
made off with surprising speed while the dog panted,
slack-jawed and salivating, her whole nature burning
from the recent, astonishing conjunction.
Quilt

He had expected,
when death came near,
to be too full of terror
for the process to go well.
He pictured himself
facing the wrong way
– towards what he was leaving
dragged, against all the resistence
he could muster, a mess of entrails in his wake,
all torn and bleeding.

But over the last weeks he has lain
as if under a warm quilt,
and on that quilt a cat
treading continually,
each paw in turn sunk in
over and over, pressing and pushing,
making of him its own soft place,
a comfortable bed
on which to curl and sleep.

And in a pleasant confusion he wonders
whether that which he once called God
was the cat preparing to bed down
in the soft place of himself
or whether in fact he was the cat,
preparing to sink in
to the welcome of what he had once called God,
or heaven, or something.

Read a review of When I Kiss the Sky in Stand magazine

As part of the RLF Writers Aloud series, Elizabeth talks to Ann Morgan about the experience of seeing your words set in music, the physical craft of writing and the difference between creating poetry and prose. Listen here


John Freeman’s poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and in twelve full collections, the latest of which is Plato’s Peach (Worple Press). His most recent book is a collaboration with photographer Chris Humphrey, Visions of Llandaff (The Lonely Press).  Born in Essex, he grew up in South London and spent three years in Yorkshire before moving to Wales, where he taught for many years at Cardiff University. He lives in the Vale of Glamorgan. ‘My Grandfather’s Hat’ won third prize in the National Poetry Competition, 2012, and he won first prize at Bridport in 2018.

My Grandfather’s Hat 

Most of the time I saw Granddad indoors, 
first in his dark room with blue gas mantles 
and a kitchen range and one tall window 
in Poplar, then in the overheated lounge 
of Aunt Nell and Uncle George’s new flat 
in Morden when he was in his nineties. 
But he came to stay in our house sometimes, 
and it must have been when he was leaving 
that I saw him wearing his trilby hat. 
It was grey and sleek like a new plush toy. 
No one had ever made our two front steps 
more like a staircase in a stately home, 
not even Mum with her polio feet. 
Crowning himself slowly, his own archbishop, 
holding on to a handrail like a sceptre, 
he turned with no more haste than one of the ships 
he had sailed in round Cape Horn as a boy 
in another century, approached each step 
like a descent to be addressed with ropes. 
Grandly he lowered one foot, then the other, 
while we watched him, silently exclaiming 
vivat, and the black and white chess-board 
of the path to the front gate stretched out, 
like a long drive lined with waving flags.

Canada Geese at Evening

It’s often twilight when I step outside,
and almost always I hear the geese honking
as they fly, for their own mysterious reasons,
from where they spend the day to where they sleep.
I hardly ever see them when I hear them
so I was pleased last night, having looked up
to admire the pale gold crescent of the moon
in the washed purity of a still-pale blue,
to see two geese, each sounding its wild note,
resonant and expressive and repeated.
Their necks seemed to be straining, straining forward
as if they couldn’t get home fast enough,
or as if like horses pulling wagons
they felt the weight of their own bodies dragging
around invisible collars, though their wings
were stretched out wide and surely bore them up,
slowly beating against the same blue sky
from which the brightening moon looked down at them.
They flew in parallel and close together,
just far enough apart not to get tangled,
evidently in perfect understanding.
What a fine thing it must be to be one
of a pair of geese flying home at evening,
the grace of flight and yet the earnest straining,
the wholehearted effort of their reaching
reflected in their hoarse and haunting honking.

Poetry in Conversation, an interview with John Freeman in Wales Arts Review

Read a review of Plato’s Peach in Wales Arts Review

Read ‘How I wrote “Staircase with Handbag”’, an interview in Poetry Wales


Diana Hendry has published seven poetry collections – the last two with Worple Press – plus many books for children. She’s been a writer-in-residence at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Edinburgh University, co-editor of New Writing Scotland and currently Assistant Editor of Mariscat Press.  She reviews fiction for The Spectator. Her most recent book is A Dangerous Job & Other Essays (Shoestring Press 2024).

The Beaten Track

And when I came off it – as Ma said that I never should –
something amazing happened to time. It went away.
Rolled itself up like a camper’s bed roll and disappeared off stage.

Yesterday disintegrated like an old love letter left brittle
and browning in a forgotten drawer. The days detached
themselves from the seven hooks of the week. The months –
oh the months! All the oh oh oh ohs of the months slid
off the string of the year like beads off a broken necklace.
And the years? Well, they shrivelled up like so many deleted
emails whooshing into trash. I remember we had wandered off,

were lying among tall grasses soft as those in the twenty-third psalm.
There was a river running deeply beneath us and the sun was in its everlasting mode.

Then I was back with Ma. Ma frightened and angry, slapping my face,
shouting where on earth have you been? Where on earth have you been?
And I’m nursing my cheek unable to answer.
Before Us

And so we came to this English village
and were glad of a house with a hedge all round,
a bit of wall and a window high enough to serve
as post-war look-out – though there was nothing to see
but the ordinary of school, church, sea – most
of it shuddered and shaken by what had happened.

We were mismatched, disconnected like many
but we shook down, planned to make something
of ourselves (though we didn’t know what) thought
it a good place to grow our three girls despite
the grief that exuded from the walls like damp
which we couldn’t get rid. We knew its source

in the man who’d sold us the house – a doctor
they said – father to the three boys who’d lived
here before us. All killed in the war. All.
One two three like Macduff’s chicks and not
one saved. Still, for us it was a beginning.
We took them on, adopted kin, a lineage.

Helen's Whites

Up they go on a hoist of hope
Sheets and scanties, shirts and hankies
Offered up for wind and sun
To blow some heaven into them.

Read a review of The Guest Room at London Grip

Read a review of The Guest Room at The Friday Poem


Michael McKimm’s collections with Worple Press are Because we could not dance at the wedding (2023), a collection of queer love poems, and Fossil Sunshine (2013), poems exploring geology, the oil industry and climate change. He has also edited the anthologies MAP (Worple, 2015) and The Tree Line (Worple, 2017). Michael’s work appears in anthologies including Queering the Green: Post-2000 Queer Irish Poetry (Lifeboat, 2021) and Windfall: Irish Nature Poetry to Inspire and Connect (Hachette, 2023). His latest publication is Or Land the Sea: a photo-poem (Red Bird Press, 2024), a geopoetic collaboration with artist Julie Cuthbert. www.michaelmckimm.co.uk

Selwicks Bay

Like veins of fat in a hock of ham
fault lines score down heaved chalk cliffs
and across the thick shore platform.
The flints are uniform, and calcite clefts
indicate the brecciated crush zone
occurring to the south of the west-east
latitude of tectonic disturbance.
It’s highly complex, to say the least.
But there’s a rhythm in the chalk –
soft and harder beds, nodules, wispy marls,
alternating flints – regular as clocks
that mark a record of Cretaceous cycles:
the whole Earth’s orbit accurately ranged,
these frequencies a pace-maker for change.
Love Poem with Goshawk

It startled from behind a bank of earth

bird-shock black against twilight’s burn
then unmistakeable by its low
pendulating glide between Scots pine
underfeathers like a shingle beach
those fizzing orange feet:

the something other the quare fella
the shy and skulky the beautiful
the wherehaveyoubeenallmylife
the nobleman the sky dancer
the totem of the air the breathy gosh
Because we could not dance at the wedding

a ceilidh, designed for men and women,
not the usual disco in the dark –

the second you’ve one foot into the hushed
hotel room I take your right hand in my left,

place my other on your waist, and we move,
slowly, a waltz, three short steps between

the bed and wardrobe, a crisp turn
past the television. I’ve got you, you’ve

got me. Within a minute we work our way
up to a bebop, clumsy in the bathroom,

out again to the chest-of-drawers,
such a room you couldn’t swing a cat in,

but you swing me and I laugh like tin pipes.
If they could see us now, half-cut on

smoky Ardbeg, exhausted, staggering,
my love we’d cause a sober brawl all right.

Earlier today I saw you from below,
as if through all the hymns and speeches

I was buried, grounded, my limbs
constricted – but now I’m level-headed

with your head, your waltzing eyes, your smile,
your breathing slow, deep, keeping time.

I have always believed in a god who dances.

Listen to Michael reading 4 poems on the Eat The Storms Poetry Podcast

Read a review of Because we could not dance at the wedding at London Grip


Tom Phillips is a UK-born poet and translator living in Bulgaria where he teaches at Sofia University. His translations of work by many leading contemporary Bulgarian writers as well as his own poetry in both English and Bulgarian have been extensively published in journals, anthologies, pamphlets and full-length collections. A volume of his translations of the poems and prose-poems of Geo Milev (1895-1925) – a key figure in Bulgarian and European modernism whose major works include The Cruel Ring (1920), The Icons are Sleeping (1922), Hell (1922) and September (1924) – will be published by Worple Press in early 2025.

Geo Milev (1895-1925): Poems from The Cruel Ring (1920)

O rain, o rain abundant and drear
– on the pavements dancing water! –
Drunk, bacchanalian, unbound, bare,
but masked in black – you dance the senseless dance of sorrow.

O gaiety in a mask! Your gaiety masking grief!
O joyful tears! A dance to plashing cymbals!
– and evening, in the dark conceived, but agleam
with wild white rain – Rain! O clown at carnivals funereal!

And you fly – wild and white – lights and laughter –
on the pavements dancing water! –
Borne in a noisy dance, the evening rain
above the city’s black sepulchre.

Translated from the Bulgarian by Tom Phillips


Aprѐs Réalité formidable et suprême …
Émile Verhaeren

And at this hour when in long-drawn-out despair
recedes the abject sky
into distant, dire infinity –
my steps lead me lost into a darkened city.
Into distant, dire infinity
the street fades, the sinful square –
and in vain night women coo tenderly, venally
on the blackened pavements –
your world is not here!

Oh, in vain night women coo tenderly, venally,
a devilish nightmare in funereal silence.
Reality – savage, absurd, supreme –
rises above you with ominous serenity.
Reality savage, absurd, supreme
passes judgment with haughty gentility:
take from your shoulder that joyless porphyry –
retreat to the innocent silence of a monastery! –

Translated from the Bulgarian by Tom Phillips


Strike the third watch!
I slashed the ring too
– O, I know!
And now everything I’ll tell.
Yes –
before myself I stood alone
and in the mirror – rotten and pallid –
the contours of my deception!
Yes –
I see: projected there
the pathways of my soul
all my nerves, all the folds
of my thirsty mind …
my rancour,
my dreams – I read them myself,
clear in my dream (ah, and who else –
who’d study my leaving no trace from outside!)

The Real Demon told me “WOE TO YOU!” –
I’m a cry in a grievous dream
a spasm in the beguiling clutches
of neurotic fear ––

But – I am woven from wild dances;
But – I am incarnate in play and laughter
(Humanity! If you’ve got a calling it’s laughter!)
and my golden road leads me back
each time to a golden Valhalla,
before whose gate fate has sketched
my sybaritic zodiac –

But – : never dare tell yourself this:
“My soul is white! Pure – my sign!
I was born in a joyous Valhalla!
I’ve no enemies at my back.”

Translated from the Bulgarian by Tom Phillips