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Jacksons – a poem by Victoria Pugh


So many hat boxes, stacked on the shelves by the door;
full of flat caps, trilbies, bowlers, top hats – or nothing?
Terraces of wooden trays beneath a glass counter;
striped ties, driving gloves, grey socks, lying sideways.

Behind the counter, rows of closed compartments,
goods to be viewed, only on request; each vest or shirt
taken one at a time, unfolded, viewed, folded away.
Asking to be shown anything is an act of bravery.

I ask you. You take your life from the nearest drawer
and lay it out with its perfect stitching, brown edging,
leather buttons; its Harris tweed, fully-lined in fawn.
This is not what I asked for. Look in the deepest drawer.

Let me see what you showed me once, rough blanket
stitches on fraying borders, the red twisted satin cord
that coils around inside you; your fine gold embroidery,
the watered silk lining you made from your tears.

The hat boxes, those cabinets and containers remain
unopened, and then there’s the stockroom, at the back
of the shop, or maybe in the attic, full of things that have
never seen the light of day. But Jacksons is closed now.


This poem was originally published (in a slightly different form) on a local blog called The Whitley Pump.

Victoria Pugh has lived in Reading for over thirty years and taught at Reading College. Her collection of poetry, Mrs Marvellous, was published by Two Rivers Press in 2008.

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Better Messages in Analogue – a poem from Alex Saynor

Better Messages in Analogue

Streams of dissatisfaction, a tremor in the hand.
The torpor of Emmbrook’s electric blue
summer water under intermittent arbours
winding through empty industrial land
is the solace under leaden footfalls
with a siskin moving from shade to shade,
a jay on the path by unkempt verges,
while on the other side of the field
a major traffic artery could be, of course,
white noise of the sea if you close your eyes
hoping lungs will open up against the odds
their better messages in analogue
against the virtual, but as you walk
across the reeds a beige structure
upholds the rush, a contraflow above
incongruities of soft play and sculpted paths.

Alex Saynor studied English Literature at UEA. He lives in Wokingham, and is Head of English at a local secondary school. He has previously had poems published by Stroud Football Poets.

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‘Skippers’ and ‘Time and Tide’ – two poems from Karen Izod

My grandfather George Powell was the skipper of the Thames tug-boat Pep, and his brother Arthur skippered Vim, both out of Beckett’s Wharf at Hampton Wick. These photos have recently emerged from our family albums; Vim is photographed by Eric Guy and H.J.Milligan, while the photograph of the two brothers is unattributed. Guy’s extensive photography collection is held at The Museum of Rural Life at University of Reading, though these photos aren’t amongst them. – Karen Izod

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I remember their necks
under those caps;

deep runnels, seasoned
in the ways of navigation,

and brown as a clover
baccy, which they took

to rolling in their youth,
and which has their attention

coming out from High Bridge
on an empty haul, the water

narrowing from its blind bend,
and nothing they couldn’t
know, nor tell, between them.


This poem is in memory of my grandfather George, and grandmother Marion. During WW2 he would take barges of timber from Kingston to Greenwich and occasionally take longer trips out the Thames Estuary and round to Harwich.

Time and Tide

Oh Valiant Tug,

you, who always pull more than your weight,
you, who know the tides, the currents,
the rivery dankness;

so humble, so low in the water,
the prows of your barges tower
Huge and Menacing in your wake,

while the sun, striking them gold
on the estuary’s silver flow, signals plain
as radar to the bombers overhead.

And bravest Mrs P, out just for the love
of the day, for the smell of the diesel,
the joy of the waves,

and who prides herself on her fully-fashioned
stockings, is kneeling on the caulk down below.
Oh God, not here, not now!

And though her knees are torn through
from the fear, Mercy is riding with them that day
like a skipper’s mate,

and just for that while
Time and Tide are waiting.


Karen Izod lives in Guildford, Surrey, on the edge of the North Downs. Since lock-down she has been attending Poets’ Cafe, Reading, alongside other regular Open-Mic events: Write out Loud and 1000 Monkeys. Karen’s writing explores places: thin places, city spaces, people, politics, attachment and memory and she is published in a number of magazines and anthologies including Agenda, The High Window, The Interpreter’s House and Stanley Spencer Poems: An Anthology. Karen works as an academic in the NHS. Her maternal grandparents came from Braunston and Hawkesbury on the Grand Union and Oxford Canals where their families owned and worked a small fleet of canal boats, moving south to the Thames in the 1920s.

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Rosie Jackson pays tribute to co-author Graham Burchell (1950–2021)

Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell worked together on Two Girls and a Beehive, their wonderful collection of poems inspired by Stanley Spencer. Sadly, Graham died in May of this year. Rosie Jackson writes here about how she met Graham, how the collaboration came about, and his legacy.


I first met Graham at a reading I gave for Exeter’s Uncut Poets, 2016. I was promoting my collection The Light Box, which included a handful of poems about Stanley and Hilda Spencer, whose work and lives had long fascinated me. A few days later, Graham wrote to say how much he liked the poems, that he too had some Spencer poems, and would I like to collaborate on a collection. I didn’t hesitate. I enjoy the stimulus of dialogue and soon we were both submitting poems to the 2017 Cookham Festival Spencer Poetry Competition (whose excellent anthology of short-listed poems is also published by Two Rivers Press). I was fortunate to win 1st prize, which further boosted our enthusiasm and gave me the confidence to submit our final collection to Peter Robinson to consider.

Not that Graham and I wrote poems ‘to’ each other. It wasn’t a poetry dialogue in that sense. Rather we wrote pieces in response to paintings or aspects of the Spencer life story that most intrigued us. The poems were not done chronologically, nor in the sequence in which they now appear. We emailed each other with new poems, gave critical feedback, and a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ or ‘maybe’ to inclusion. Of 60 poems in the final version of Two Girls and a Beehive, we wrote 30 each, and another 20 or so were excluded as not quite up to scratch. I had the utmost respect for and trust in Graham’s critical judgement. It was always considered, sensitive, spot-on. And throughout the whole process he sustained his deep commitment to the project. I felt our voices complemented each other really well, his poems moving towards the war paintings, social history, a wry view of Spencer the brilliant artist and fallible man; mine focussing on Hilda and issues of relationship, art, spiritual differences and gender politics.

Sadly the timing of our publication in April 2020 could hardly have been worse, coinciding as it did with the impact of both Covid and a progressive decline in Graham’s health. We had 30 live launch events planned – readings alongside power point presentations of the paintings – all of which had to be cancelled. And though we had a few successful Zoom promotions, and some fantastic responses and reviews, the book didn’t quite make the splash we felt it deserves.

By late 2020, Graham was subject to more and more medical tests to try and find a cure for his respiratory problems – he’d been diagnosed with COPD – and early this year, he shared with me and a few friends that no more could be done. He died in hospital on 21 May 2021, aged 70. But he dealt with it all with amazing resilience and humour. His last email to me from 11 May makes a wry comment about a short review we’d had, then adds, ‘Oh well, it’s better than a poke in the eye or someone standing on my oxygen tube.’

He leaves a wonderful legacy. Six books of poetry, 22 files of manuscripts (some of which will be published by Poetry Teignmouth), an excellent reputation as both poet and man – kind, warm, funny, patient, loyal, courteous, forbearing – and a huge network of friends and poets still stunned by his loss. His close friend Ian Royce Chamberlain stood in for Graham in some of the last Zoom Spencer readings he attended, and I’m happy to say Ian will also be reading with me at future events as we carry on promoting Two Girls and a Beehive. Spencer believed that life and death were one, and I too believe that though Graham has shed his body, his spirit caries on undaunted.

Rosie Jackson, July 2021


Graham John Burchell: 1950–2021

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Red Kites – a new poem from David Cooke


Plague birds, exquisite and focused,
who scavenged Shakespeare’s unspeakable
streets, they have drifted back
from the borderlands of extinction
on tense, splayed wings.

Circling soundlessly
in the rinsed clarity of spring light
they have staked their claim
to limitless acres above
the Chilterns’ wooded heights.

And was it months, or even a year,
my own dreams of flying
took possession of sleep,
making something of nothing
in gaps between the days?

– My free falls and soaring
seeming purposeless, inspired,
until, ceasing, they left me earthbound,
trying to keep my eyes
on this twisting road.


David Cooke was born in 1953 in Wokingham and grew up in Reading, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. He has been writing poems, somewhat sporadically, since his teens. In 1977, while he was still an undergraduate at Nottingham University, he won a Gregory Award, and since then his poems have been published widely in the UK, Ireland and beyond.  He has also managed, in spite of long periods of poetic silence, to publish seven collections of his work. His first Two Rivers collection was A Murmuration (2015) and he is delighted that later this year Two Rivers Press will also be publishing Sicilian Elephants, from which ‘Red Kites’ has been taken. He is the editor of the online literary journal, The High Windowwhich he founded in 2015.