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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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Skippers

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.

www.karenizod.com

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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

RED KITES

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.

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A new poem from Kate Behrens ~ Your Sisterʼs Tapestry Cushion

Your Sisterʼs Tapestry Cushion
i.m of my grandmother, ʽCullerʼ and her sister, Den, daughters of a painter-mother.

In this view
weft-faced yews (Ucello darks)
strew the escarpmentʼs
grey-green, mint, plaster, white.

Her mind was stitched
into yours, yours into mine
(those colours spoke like a mother tongue).

From a distance, itʼs leaping wildness,
the in/out of things
sewn up. Shadow and lightness.

Weʼd sit on your sofa in drifts
of Silk Cut smoke, Ma Griffe.
Tonal shifts made patterns

to lean on, with the thick curtains
drawn on blue cedars.

~

Kate Behrens’ most recent collection is Penumbra, published by Two Rivers Press in January 2019. It follows on from her first collection, The Beholder (2012), and Man with Bombe Alaska (2016). Other poems have appeared in MslexiaBlackbox ManifoldStandThe High Window, Reading Universityʼs Creative Arts Anthologies, Poetry Salzburg ReviewWild CourtNoonThe Arts of Peace (Two Rivers Press) and as Oxford Brookesʼ Poem of the Week.

Read more about Kate’s poetry here.

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Mint tea is no cure ~ a poem by Kate Noakes

MINT TEA IS NO CURE

The art trail enlivens proceedings by inviting
poets to read in artists’ garden, where bees
work for pollen on lavender and valerian.
I choose a few poems that may chime
with the work of potters, painters,
printmakers and jewellers, but
this year I’ve not shaken off winter’s grip

and my chest is a squeezebox with loosed ties,
tumbling to the floor from careless hands.
Discordant and groaning I’ve wheezed my way
through weeks of heat, so find some quiet shade
away from the studio and watch bees
working for pollen on lavender and valerian,
but it’s hopeless, I can barely give breath
to one whole line let alone the next.

A friend offers to read every alternate stanza
for me to catch my breath, or try,
and we manage like this, but every muscle
of my ribs pulls. My lungs are more folded back
than when I began, and the fresh-picked
mint tea offered by the host is no cure –
I can barely stop straining long enough to drink it
as bees work for pollen on lavender and valerian.

~

Kate Noakes’ Two Rivers Press collection from 2009 is The Wall-Menders. Her most recent is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019). She lives in London, where she acts as a trustee to writer development organisation, Spread the Word.