Issue 15 December 2017


Editor’s Comments

Issue 15 celebrates that perennial feature of poetry workshops and courses: The prompt. Poets were invited to describe the prompts that gave rise to their poems. The result is an issue that not only includes some amazing poetry but also a selection of ideas that will hopefully inspire new poems.

Sally Long


Prompt: Write a poem around an odd fact or anecdote to do with a literary figure.

The Stowing of Hazlitt
The early-19th-century essayist William Hazlitt died in poverty in a Soho lodging house, aged 52. Keen to let his room again, his landlady hid his body under the bed while she showed around potential new tenants.

His breath’s a weak whistle
in the small white room

and his features thin down
to those of a bird;

he is dying, but still
there is a living to be made,

so on his better days,
blessed with September light,

he lifts his hand to the page,
and, writing, seems to hear

himself again, as a young man,
meeting his first firm deadlines.

He smiles at the fire of himself.
And though he’s gutted now,

he can yet pen some words,
etching a text from his sickbed.

He summons the taste of steel.
So few endure to the end;

He thinks of Samuel Coleridge,
a gaudy patchwork quilt

pulled over his churning head,
and William Wordsworth dry

as though the Lakes were bled.
His own mind flickers,

seems to rise above his body,
and finds his lines aloft

on a current of fresh hours.
Writing was a happy life,

and now he must make way;
the corpse below him stowed

 –empty of its genius,
a husk of ink and vision –

like a magazine scrolled
in its deep wooden drawer.

Sarah Law

Prompt: Write a poem around an odd fact or anecdote to do with a literary figure.

White Paper
An apocryphal anecdote suggests that Christina Rossetti was unwilling to step on a scrap of paper in the street in case it bore the Holy Name. She may even have been given a penance by her priest to rescue such scraps from defilement.

Christina takes her penance in the snow,
trudging at the Father’s cold behest

from square to London square. Her body
holds its secrets under a dark cloak.

She keeps her eyes trained on the bright
border of crystalline particles; white

as the Virgin’s bedroom walls, for whom
she posed, as Dante made that canvas

shrink from the touch of his brush; her
shoulders drawn up and her bare legs too –

lank hair hanging straighter than a veil.
She shivers. Little auric clouds form

in her brain. She has her work to do.
Under the frozen droplets there is print

to be recovered. Writing in the ice;
the fallen logos crying for redemption.

Anywhere, the letters J, E, S...the Holy
Name incarnate and dispersed

within diction’s bleak flock - and she
thus charged to retrieve the aborted word.

She bends; plunges her poor hand
under the sludge and slides out a page

–  but it’s only old news. She crunches on,
sensing that her mission is beginning,

(while all around her spots of love are hidden)
her sleek toes peeking through the drift.

Sarah Law

Prompt: Wake up in another time of your life.

Infant Sun

Light crept past Miss Willie’s house,
then quietly sat on our bedroom window.

My bones stretched their joints, covered
my head with a pillow. I dreamt of toast

and peach preserves as maple leaves
clapped in a new day. Crow-crow-crow

on the roof announced its name to the world.
Eyes opened to moon-green of a Luna moth

asleep on the glass, long antennas peeking
in like eyes. Clop, clop of horse and wagon,

and a man sang out his selling song of cow
manure, aged, stacked and ready, Freddy.

The Korean War ended and headlines
praised the dead. Two young men on our street

wouldn’t wake as I had to hometown
harmonies of another morning, and grief

in its black scarf, inhabited porches.
Yet, old Mo whistled The Tennessee Waltz

next door. Wags, our spaniel, hid in hedge
to bark at the postman. Mother’s roses,

red, yellow and orange, too bright for sorrow,
danced a jig with the infant sun.

Bill Brown

Prompt: Suppose you live to a ripe old age and die of old age.  Describe your thoughts, achievements.  Have your poem end with your final thought.

Death Bed

Scatter my ashes
in the Yukon wind, exist
in animal tracks,
dusty.  The hand-scrawled text of
a Japanese death poem.

Kersten Christianson

Prompt: Ageing

Ageless Eyes

My body’s seen hard years aplenty
Foretelling cruel demise
Yet days can feel as sweet as twenty
Through these ageless eyes

Foretelling days of cruel demise
Organs fuss and fizzle
But gazing through two ageless eyes
Captures youth’s bright sizzle

Organs raise a fuss, then fizzle
Muscles must go slack
Still, life can brim with youthful sizzle
When you don’t look back

What once was taut with time goes slack
Hard times there were plenty
Keep moving on; don’t dare look back
And feel forever twenty

Rick Blum

Prompt: Choose one of the human body’s muscles or muscle groups with an interesting name and write about it as a symbol or emblem of the whole you (or someone else). 

Notice to Cancel Ski Trips
I got a text from my cruciate ligament this morning,
anterior to be precise. You know it’s cross-shaped,
cruciform. Reminds me of The Crucifix
but that’s just my Catholic guilt tormenting me.
As I was saying, anterior cruciate ligament
of my right leg, Cruciate for short, texted me early
when I was getting out of bed
to remind me that I should not plan
to ski this winter on steep slopes
in below-freezing Sierra cement,
perhaps not ski at all for the remainder of
my life.
Cruciate did not want to hurt
my feelings, probably walked
on eggshells so as not to cause upset,
knowing me well enough to fear
I might still expect to ski like
I did twenty plus years ago
at breakneck speed down moguls
in slush and ice, on skis long
like they were then. Those skis would be long
of tooth now, outmoded boards.
Give it up, Cruciate wants to say.
The old wound has healed
but it could tear for good
Cathryn Shea

Prompt: Use at least 5 of the following words: kamokaze, landslide, spill, vaccine, read, red, hollow, mismatch, tilt, freeway, pillow, harmonica, fairy shrimp.

After a Landslide

A wall can be built stone by stone,
mismatched and tilted, each leaning
its weight against the others, and
I can sit there and play a tune,
slow or quick as my mood permits,
my breath passing through hollow
spaces of the harmonica, heavy
as a small stone in my hand.

Lisa Stice

Prompt: Love.


Oscar stands like a scarecrow
crucified to his back porch
when I drive up after work,
our driveways close like Siamese twins.

“She’s dead,” he sobs, arms flung wide,
voice cracking like old wood.
His wife, Brenda, her brain erased
by Alzheimer’s over the last decade.

The neighbors all whispered
he beat her, but
the bruises on her arms came
from having to feed and clothe her.

Mornings before she woke,
Oscar scurried to the store
for milk and orange juice.  Sometimes
she’d escape before he got home.

He’d find old Brenda wandering
down nearby streets in bra and panties,
a confused old woman lost in a dream,
looking for her father’s home.

Everybody said what a relief
when Brenda went into the nursing home,
but Oscar only saw his life
fluttering away like autumn leaves.

Now his loss is a halo of thorns
driven down over my head,
as I watch him writhe and unravel,
birds flying away, beaks full of straw.

Charles Rammelkamp

Prompt:  Choose a name then write a poem using only the letters in the name.

Oulipo for Patricia Smith

Ah, Patti Smith,
charismatic mama,
hips, tits, armpits hiss ‘artist.’

Rapt mismatch:
hat, hair, shirt, mascara
mimic piratic charm.

Past chasms
cast as scripts
stir cathartic spirits.

Thrash harpist,
miasmic matriarch,
I am smit.

Cat Campbell

Prompt: Choose a plant as inspiration for a poem.


When did my voice become so thin and my movements
grow so stiff?  Saplings flash and stretch
to reach the sun, but I no longer fight.
I’ve eased out to occupy my own space.

My roots and branches used to touch another.
I could not pull back.  Instead I grew sideways,
loved down to a slender plane.  Now, each summer,
I grow towards that gap, with thickening, gnarly boughs.

Nakedness in winter.  I rattle in the rasp.
I cannot curl or turn my back.  I draw
life inward.  Cut off my brittle branches.  I cast
less shade – am I stronger or weaker now?

Lightning falls.  Pale wood splits with vital pain, 
and my cold roots thrill to the lure of flame.

Cat Campbell

Prompt: A friend sharing a picture of her two favourite things - her pet rabbit and a gin - and a request for a poem which included both.

Maesie’s House

When they found you
it was in a rabbit house
which is to say a terraced house
filled with rabbits not a drafty
wet straw filled hutch
it was impossible to count them
the best guess was hundreds
most escaped the soldiers’ sacks
by jumping from the upstairs windows
using parachutes made from
intricately embroidered antimacassars
but the real surprise
was the way they had preserved
you in gin and used your toes
as good luck charms to hang
around their leaders’ necks.

Andrew Turner

Prompt: Think about a female relative. Write about her hands.
on a photograph of my grandmother aged 18 and my aunt aged 6 weeks

such broad hands for such a slim woman.
           eighteen and married, three years before she came of age,
            twenty-three years before she first cast her vote —
            by then her youngest child was nine years old.
such broad hands for such a slim woman.
           they clasp my aunt Gwendolyn on her lap
           wrap around her hips and thighs
           support her precious back.
such broad hands for such a slim woman.
          hands that washed nappies
          did laundry for a household of seven
          wringing soap suds with tight-lipped despair.
such broad hands to uphold the family
          through all those lean times
          while Herbert went lay preaching
          and grasping hands in his masonic grip.
such broad hands to make yet one more pastry base
         for one more potato pie
         or cheese and onion on a good day
         feeding those hungry mouths and ravenous minds.
such broad hands to hold her first grandson
          supporting his floppy back and useless hips
          questioning why the doctor hadn’t let him die
          wondering why she hadn’t quietly smothered him
                                           with her adroit broad hands.
Helen May Williams 

Prompt: Write a poem using the first line of another poem, chosen at random.

Poem from the start of February

When I woke I told myself:

I shall move the rosebush from the front raised bed, where the soil is exhausted, to the raised bed in the vegetable garden that my husband has yet to build.
I shall transplant the rosemary bush to the front raised bed, once the rosebush is moved. I shall follow the precepts of permaculture: herbs I need to snip most regularly and at a moment’s notice will grow closest to the kitchen door.
Today I shall use every minute as if it were precious and as if once it is gone it is gone for good, never to return, never to slip into the same river twice from the same water’s edge.
Today I shall know what to do with the declivity by the ash tree, which gets deeper every year, while the ash tree gets taller every year. In the picture from the Sixties that John Thomas gave us for Christmas, it’s a tiny sapling. John Thomas lived here as a child and dropped the picture round on his way to his Bible Study group.
Only, I went out the back door as he drove in the yard and while Ian was showing him round the house and thanking him for the picture, I was taking the fine, crumbly soil from the mole hills and adding it to the compost heap to enhance the bacterial population that is so important for a healthy breakdown of raw materials into a friable, nutrient-rich humus.
Maybe the declivity should be a fairy glen for my grandchildren to play in. I could plant it with English Bluebells, Harebells, Nigella and Forget-Me-Nots. And I could plant a dwarf apple tree in a pot, impregnated with Mistletoe — because that’s magical.
Or maybe it should be a glorious stand of Midwinter Flame waiting to catch the sun’s waxing light, when its ray cut through the early sea mist and illumine the mind’s eye.
Helen May Williams 

Prompt: Write something that happened in Ireland. 

Smooth innocence in an Irish face,
smiling into his own achievement,
having sweated through
the pounding of new shape
into pink heated iron.                                      

With his black crown cap,
he might resemble a Monsignor,
but a priest could only
dream of owning tranquil mirth
in such abundance.

Harry Youtt

Prompt: Write a poem of place. 

In morning stillness before breezes
curry the inlet's surface, an egret

steps with majesty through eelgrass
and mud, waiting, watching for prey.

She snatches what she craves, stepping
forward, certain to find another

if she's patient enough. I, too,
watch and wait, knowing what

I seek lurks beneath the shadows,
appearing only when my mind

opens like an insect net
to catch what I may use as bait.

But standing in the current, I'm wary
of patience, sensing its deceitful

tug. Each breath—time's persistent
ripple—instills an urgency

to step faster than an egret
to keep from sinking into a slough.

Beverly Boyd 

Prompt: Important

Cradle: Do not detach this notice under penalty of awe

The wood for this cradle 
grew in a forest that may contain 
nut-bearing trees. And fuzzy caterpillars. 
For sure spiders and skunks. 
Once we saw a puma.
All efforts have been made to exclude 
from this package any nuts, skunks, or pumas 
but — just in case — open with caution.

Some few motes of sawdust
may accidentally cling to these boards. 
Be advised that the scent of cedar sawdust 
can have mind-altering effects 
such as peacefulness, a holy spirit or euphoria 
not unlike the effect that presumably 
made the purchase of this cradle necessary. 
We take no responsibility for the outcome of these effects.

The planks for this cradle 
come from trees that behold 
centuries of natural history — the owl, 
the bear, the Sasquatch — cycles of the hunt, 
of courtship, betrayal, magic, plunder. 
Learn as timber. 
Embrace myth. 
Guide the story unfolding, 
the wonder of this cradle, this child.

Joe Cottonwood

Prompt: Write about something in the news.

Houston’s Ark

When the river rose and water came knocking like a stranger
the family got out, somehow, to higher ground, leaving behind
the second-hand furniture, the neatly-folded clothes, the new
toy elephant, and hardest of all, the old piano. Well-loved, but missing its pedals,
obtained for a song, a while back, from the local church, where the pastor
wanted to see it find a good home. Now, the spinet would be orphaned once again,
abandoned to the flood.

As they were leaving, the man raised a wet fist to the storm, and
cursed the housing project built too close. And he counted his children,
by head and number. Four, four. Thank God, there were still four.

And then the rains stopped.

And the man and his brood returned home, to the place where the windows were now
shattered from the wind, and the bedding and walls were plastered with frog-green scum.
But the old piano had stood its ground, up to its knees in brown liquid, its guts still dry.
And the man, shaken, but safe, sat down to play,
his feet keeping time on the soggy floor, the linoleum squishing.
And all around him the air was damp, stenched, sweaty as an armpit.
And the man released music, like a dove, into the sky,
and it flew out the broken window and circled above the swallowed city,
and the bayous, and it cleansed the muddy places of his heart. And two children
clapped and two children cried, and the man kept playing because he could.

Gabriella Brand

Prompt: Write an object poem. Use comparisons to bring the object to life.


Sometimes I taste you, and I’m back five years to that hot,
dense summer, taking you in spoonful by spoonful
like some medicine my body has come to depend on.

My memory is a glass wall dripping liquid amber
everywhere, and I’ve gotten some sick urge to drown
a beetle in you and eat it.

I like to place jars of you on the windowsill
and watch as sunlight filters out of you like a halo,
as if you are the light itself.

I realize now that I’m stuck in that kitchen
with the small table, white cupboards, green walls,
the only boy’s kitchen I’ll ever remember.

He introduced us, and here I am, my virgin tongue
outstretched, waiting as you swim through space
to finally fold, hot, against my taste buds.

I said I wanted to be inside you once,
to swim in your viscous universe,
see what it’s like to live in time slowed down.

Tonight, I introduce you to an almost stranger,
as he lies shirtless in my bed. I tell him
to open his mouth and since I’m naked,

he does as I say.
Somehow, he doesn’t notice
the small table, white cupboards, green walls.

Dana Johnson

Prompt: Retell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

The Harp

His dream was that the unremembered father would
emerge from underground, potentially by climbing
the roots of some gigantic tree, and at the top-
soil, dust himself off and saunter out
of the cemetery his mother had neglected to name.

And why not? A living ladder sprouting from the seeds
of a supposed charlatan and spiralling into 
the sky – a monstrous man at the head of it who’d beaten
the clouds into a new, sovereign stomping ground –
anything was possible. And the angel (the angel!)

who seemed to know so much. ‘You cannot save your father,
but you can win back the wealth that is rightfully
yours,’ the androgyne elucidated. Hence
he grew into a silver-fingered miner of the man’s
realm. Prince Half-inch.

But the harp. The damned harp. It wasn’t enough to plunder
the anonymous lost-and-found – the harp said something 
about his father. It was the difference between
a mystery and a mystery he could live with. Who knows –
maybe the harp’s familiar tones would summon the father

home. He had to have it. But the final theft demanded
greater subtlety – the kind of subtlety
even the son of a harpist lacked. Always the dream
ended with the man giving chase, roused
when the harp said something that seemed to know too much.

‘Master, master, it’s him.’

Humphrey Astley

Prompt: Utilize nature in a 'slanted', counter-intuitive way.


He, contrary to the other
I’ve nurtured on my patch of ground
burns my wrists and forearms
when I try to cultivate.

Could be poor soil
the orientation of our beds
that made him grow up unruly
all proud rocket-rampage

that slashing, herbicides or segregating
just made stronger.
Could it be his nature’s
prickle-sting’s a good thing

in the wrong place?
That I must let him be,
arm myself with long gloves
and praise the harvest of tea?

Barbara E. Hunt 

Prompt:  Response to a day's residency at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, spent with Marek Kucula, the Public Astronomer and Simon Barraclough.

Greenwich Park, after the Observatory

Day done, head full of
facts, of suns and scientists
and women who sold time
like penny sweets out of their pockets.
Heart full too, of something like
freedom, and a feeling that carries me
until I hit the flat and find myself
a spot on summergolden grass
and sit.
Lean back,
             legs stretched
                         with shoes kicked off and
                                                             toes pushed
                                                                                        into the dirt.
The park is full, each of us
eking out the summer evening.
I watch a couple try to fly
their kite skywards
but the wind has hung its hat up
for the day and settled down with me
to shoot the breeze til dinner.

One by one, we rise to shake
the dust off as dark falls,
limbs loose and rootless
in the warm night air.

Lights blink into panoramic life beneath me
and the city spreads itself myriad, galactic, at my feet.

Molly Rowan

Prompt: A technique called “13 Ways” The writer picks a noun, a concrete object and responds to 13 questions or directions.


Fibrous, scratchy, hanging
in the garage, in great loose loops
like a dead woman's braid.

It has known bad company—
the shovel and spade, 
the slender branch, 
the latched wooden box 
we keep from the children.

It can float, but briefly. Slowly,
it sinks, uncoils, snakes
through black water,
dragging down light trapped
in its frayed filaments.

I'd like to ask: What will you do
the next time you find 
someone drowning?

Before it existed, we used 
our arms to save one another.

No matter what happens, 
it always says, Trust me: 
Swing out over the pond.

Antonia Clark


Humphrey 'Huck' Astley is a poet and musician based in Oxford, England. His works include the three-part album and stage-show Alexander the Great (PRSF, 2013-15) and the pamphlet The Gallows-Humored Melody (Albion Beatnik Press, 2016). A new pamphlet, The One-Sided Coin, is forthcoming from Rain over Bouville.

Rick Blum has been writing humorous essays and poetry for more than 25 years during stints as nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul and, most recently, old geezer. His writings have appeared in the Humor TimesThe Satirist, and The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, among others.

Beverly Boyd is one of four co-authors of Where Our Palms Rest (Coalesce Press). Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in The Healing Muse, Ibbetson Street, Miramar, SLANT, Slipstream, among others, and in the anthologies Voices from the Porch (Main Street Rag) and Corners of the Mouth (Deer Tree Press).

Gabriella Brand writes poetry and prose, bakes her own bread, and teaches foreign languages. Her work has appeared in such publications as The Blue Line and The MomEgg Review. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a story appearing in 3Elements Review.  Gabriella lives near New Haven, CT.

Bill Brown is the author of ten poetry collections and a textbook. He was awarded the Writer of the Year 2011 by the Tennessee Writers Alliance. A Scholar at Bread loaf, a Fellow at VCCA, Brown was twice awarded Poetry Fellowships from the Tennessee Arts Commission. 

Cat Campbell lives and works in Cambridge, UK, spending as much time as possible dancing or writing.

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing, Alaskan. When not exploring the summer lands and dark winter of the Yukon Territory, she lives in Sitka, Alaska. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry through the University of Alaska Anchorage (2016).   Her collection of poetry Something Yet to Be Named published by Aldrich Press along with chapbook What Caught Raven’s Eye by Petroglyph Press are forthcoming (2017).

Antonia Clark is a writer, editor, and teacher, and co-administers an online poetry forum, The Waters. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Smoke and Mirrors, and a full-length poetry collection, Chameleon Moon. Her poems and stories have appeared in numerous journals, including 2River View, Anderbo, The Cortland Review, Eclectica, The Pedestal Magazine, Softblow, and Rattle. Toni lives in Vermont, loves French picnics, and plays French café music on a sparkly purple accordion.

Joe Cottonwood is a semi-retired contractor who has spent most of his life in the building trades – carpenter, plumber, electrician. He lives and writes in the house he built in a redwood forest on the side of a mountain in La Honda, California.

Barbara E. Hunt is a dry-eyed nostalgic who writes poetry, fiction, non-fiction and screenplay from her home in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. She’s had work published in literary journals, anthologies and magazines across North America, had The Patternmaker's Crumple Plan published in 2011 and has a poetry/colouring book, Devotions forthcoming.

Dana Johnson lives in Michigan, USA. She is a writer and editor who loves Ann Radcliffe novels, yoga, and long walks.

Sarah Law lives in London, UK, and teaches for the Open University and elsewhere. She has published five poetry collections, the latest of which is Ink’s Wish (Gatehouse, 014/Amethyst Press 2017). Other recent poems have appeared in Antiphon, StrideBluepepper and Ink, Sweat & Tears. Follow her on twitter @drsarahlaw

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His most recent book is American Zeitgeist (Apprentice House), which deals with the populist politician, William Jennings Bryan. A chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press.

Molly Rowan is a British-American poet and philanthropic fundraiser. She recently completed an MA in Writing Poetry with the Poetry School and Newcastle University. She lives in South London with her husband and small daughter.

Cathryn Shea’s poetry has been nominated for Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net 2017 and recently appears in Cheat River Review, Gargoyle, Permafrost, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox, and elsewhere. Cathryn’s second chapbook, It’s Raining Lullabies, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2017. She has poems in 2017 anthologies Luminous Echos by Into The Void, and The New English Verse by Cathryn serves with the editorial staff for Marin Poetry Center. She lives in Fairfax, CA. See and @cathy_shea on Twitter.

Lisa Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse who currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of a poetry collection, Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016). You can find out more about her and her publications at and

Andrew Turner has been writing since 2015. He has been published in a number of online and print magazines. From September 2017 he will be working on an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Helen May Williams is a poet and author, living in West Wales. She formerly taught at the University of Warwick and has written extensively on twentieth-century poetry. She runs the Poetry Society’s Carmarthen-based Stanza group and is an active member of Penfro Poets. Her poetry book, The Princess of Vix, is published by Three Drops Press.

Harry Youtt is a long-time instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. He teaches courses in fiction writing and memoir. His published poems have garnered several Pushcart Prize nominations. Harry has authored numerous collections of poetry, including Getting Through, Outbound for Elsewhere, and Elderverses.