Monthly Archives: February 2015

Sunday Poem – Lindsey Holland


Today I was supposed to be running the Great North-West half marathon.  However, with my dodgy inflamed tendon and random hip pains I decided it probably wasn’t sensible.  In fact, yesterday, after doing 5k at Barrow Park Run and having to slow down after the first three kilometres I decided I’m going to have a week off running this week, give my body a complete rest and then slowly start building up again.  This week I’ve only done three short runs of between 3-4 miles each time, and although it feels like it’s better, it still doesn’t feel right.  It’s a strange pain because it doesn’t feel bad enough to stop running, it’s not that painful, more uncomfortable, but I have a feeling that if I just rest it completely it might repair itself a bit quicker.  In between the short runs I’ve been doing Pilates and exercise classes, which I reluctantly admit probably haven’t helped things to be honest.

Looking on the bright side though, I have lots of work to keep me occupied so I’ve decided to use this week where I will be literally sitting on my behind to get on with all the things I didn’t do last week because I was gallivanting round to various exercise classes.

The weather has been so awful here and in Blackpool where the half marathon was taking place that I was kind of relieved not to be going – they have apparently had gale force winds and hailstones.  Here, the husband tells me that it is very cold and raining.  I can see the rain but I haven’t felt the cold because I haven’t been out at all today – just lounged around the house in my pyjamas.  Last day of the half term holiday and all that.

I have, however, managed to get some emails answered that were overdue and to plan one of the workshops for the residential course that I’m running in April.  The hotel tells me it has now sold out and they have started a waiting list! Rather than starting at the beginning of the week and working my way through, I’ve decided to start in the middle and plan the ‘Fencing In Your Poems’ workshop.

Yesterday I started reading ‘What have I ever lost by dying’ by Robert Bly which is an amazing, amazing collection of prose poems.  ‘The Starfish’ is the second in the collection and it was when I read this poem that I realised that’s it, I’ve found another poet to be obsessed by, I need to buy everything he’s ever written etc etc.  You can find ‘The Starfish’ on The Writer’s Almanac.  All of the poems in the collection I have are prose poems, and in all of them he is looking out at the world and writing with incredibly careful details but then he uses the observations to launch off – so the colour of the starfish is ‘old carbon paper, or an attic dress’.

At first when I was reading the collection I felt a mild sense of outrage – why had none of my poetry friends told me about him before?  And then I remembered the lovely Hilda Sheehan enthusing about him at Swindon Poetry Festival a couple of years ago – I’m sure I do, which is probably what made me buy the collection at Aldeburgh this year from the second-hand bookshop.

So this is the answer to the question of why aren’t more people buying poetry books, I’ve decided.  We need to enthuse about our favourite poets more to each other.  Yes, I know, I bought Robert Bly from a second hand bookshop, which isn’t going to help his sales very much.  BUT I have such an obsessive nature I will now have to go and buy more of his books brand new – I can’t wait for them to turn up in second hand bookshops any more…

One of my favourite things about writing this blog actually is when someone likes the Sunday Poem enough to go and seek out a book by the author and buy it.  Especially if you don’t get it from Amazon – so please keep letting me know if you liked the poem enough to buy the collection.

I’ve had quite a nice week this week – I’ve been doing a lot more reading.  I’ve got a shelf of poetry books that I’ve not read yet, or only read once and very quickly, so I’m making my way through those.  I’ve read ‘Smith’ by Don Paterson, which discusses the poetry of Michael Donaghy (really interesting), two first collections for the second time – Arundhati Subramanium’s ‘When God is a Traveller’ (very good) and Mir Mahfuz Ali’s Midnight, Dhaka (excellent) and ‘The Customs House’ by Andrew Motion which I bought back at Ilkley Literature Festival last year and haven’t got round to reading yet.   I really enjoyed it, especially the first half which consists of ‘found’ poems and poems made of reported speech from soldiers.

On Monday I went to Manchester Metropolitan University to talk to some soon-to-be graduates about employment after graduation, the irony not being lost on me that this is the least ’employed’ I’ve ever been in my life, down to only three days a week teaching and freelance stuff the rest of the time.  There were only a few students there, and no writers, so I’m not sure if they found it relevant or not as there was me and a lovely novelist there, Sarah Jasmon, who graduated the year after me and is about to have her first novel published this summer.

Kate Johnson, who is the Post Graduate Student Experience Tutor, told us that her job at Manchester Met was advertised as a full-time job but she emailed the head of the department and said could she apply for it as a job share and the head of department told her to put an application in and then she got the job.  I would never do that – I often see jobs that I’d love to do but then I think it won’t fit around my other commitments and I don’t bother applying.  So that kind of taught me a lesson to not assume that I can’t do something – the old cliche about putting up your own barriers is so true.  Over and over again, what came up during the workshop was having confidence to go for something.

So after the workshop I felt so inspired I applied to do some freelance work that I suppose, publishing wise, I’m on the cusp of being ‘published enough’ but teaching experience wise, I’ve got more than enough.  So I will see what comes back – so far I’ve not heard anything but then it’s only been less than a week.

I entered two competitions this week as well – not because I’ve written two amazing masterpieces – they are definitely not that, but more to get back into the swing of submitting after having quite a long break.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Lindsey Holland, who I met a couple of years ago when she was one of the editors/publishers of an anthology called Sculpted: Poetry of the North West which I had a poem in.  Since then, Lindsey has become a good friend.  Where ever she goes, seals and dolphins appear – ok, maybe not absolutely everywhere she goes, but when she came to visit me a couple of months ago, we went to Piel Island and sat and watched a seal bobbing up and down looking at us for about fifteen minutes and then the next day we went to Whitehaven and saw a family of dolphins swimming up and down outside the harbour.

Lindsey sent me a few poems from a new pamphlet that she is working on called ‘Bloodlines’ which explores her family history, focusing on her great great grandmother Catherine, who was born in Greencock and moved to Liverpool where she married a mariner.  This poem comes from about midway through Catherine’s story, just after she has given birth and her baby has died.  Catherine’s cousin is looking after her.

I’ve read a few poems from Lindsey’s pamphlet and they are incredibly ambitious.  I picked this poem because I really enjoyed the ambition of it – it left me wanting to know what happens next, and also what happened before, and because it is a really interesting story – the idea of a pet ape being buried in consecrated ground is interesting but this is a secondary story behind the story of the birth and the mother so the poem has quite a few layers.

  I like how the poem starts right in the thick of action with that intriguing first line ‘You were still torn up after the birth’ which refers to both physical and emotional pain.  I think it’s also interesting that we get a sense of the time that the poem is set in without it being overtly stated – from the attitude of the men, from the list of medicines before we even get to the introduction of Jacko.

The desecration of Jacko’s body is drawn really vividly – a lot of the physical descriptions surround the description of his body after he is exhumed – ‘his body thrust out like a carnival dummy’ and the sympathy of the reader is centered on the ape and it is not until the last stanza when we read ‘she boils your herbs’ that the lost baby is suddenly brought back into focus.  I think the emotion of this poem is translated by the precise use of language and description – this is a harrowing story but it is told without sentimentality.

You can read two more of Lindsey’s poems at fab online magazine B O D Y .  Her first book Particle Soup was published by the Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2012.  She’s the founder of the network North West Poets and she also co-edits the new online magazine ‘The Compass‘.  As well as editing Sculpted: Poetry of the North West she also edited another anthology Not On Our Green Belt.  She was Poet in Residence at Chester Zoo in 2014 and is currently working on a full collection based on her family history.  She has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and she now teaches poetry at Edge Hill University.

Thanks to Lindsey for letting me use her poem


Poor Jacko – Lindsey Holland

You were still torn up after the birth. A grief in clots
that stuck and swelled until they overflowed in the hush
of your rooms on Broad Close. You stuffed a fist

in your mouth so the women next door wouldn’t hear
and sympathise too well, the gossips, or their men complain,
‘it was a weak bairn anyway’. She heard you, stifled,

and being a good friend, didn’t tell you what she saw
whilst shopping for remedies — speedwell, figwort, lavender —
and cloth for bandages. She talked about the medicine

and not about the monkey even though, years before,
you’d have sniggered together at those boys’ antics:
how they watched old Cockin’ Kirsty, a spinster mocked

for her frills and limp, bury her darling ape
in consecrated ground. Poor Jacko, the lads exhumed
and lobbed his corpse over the fence, paraded him,

his body thrust out like a carnival dummy, targeting
the most well-laced pedestrians. How they hoisted him
to see, unseeing, through windows where workers

stooped and sallow, blinked at his crooked gape,
uncertain they were sober. How they ran, those boys,
his carcass trailing, cracking behind, knocking his ribs

and skull on the cobbles. How he broke so easily, his eyes lost,
jaw smashed. She boiled your herbs, and didn’t mention
the shapelessness. How quick it was. How fur can rip.




Sunday Poem – Keith Hutson


It has been a funny old week this week – overshadowed by the poet Graham Austin’s funeral.  It was sad and funny all at the same time.  Graham’s son and two daughters read beautiful eulogies for him which were really interesting as well as being funny and sad.  Graham’s other daughter had made a beautiful slideshow of photographs of Graham and his family.  I found out Graham used to be a runner – there was an amazing photograph of him in full sprint mode on a track.

The loveliest thing though was that the funeral was full of poetry.  Graham’s grandson read one of his poems, and other poems were quoted from and then Mark Carson, Ross Baxter and I each read a poem.  I read the poem that Graham sent me for this blog a while ago and it sounds inappropriate, but it nearly made me laugh whilst I was reading it, which was ok because lots of people were laughing at the poem.

My other day off from music teaching was spent meeting up with the lovely Pauline Yarwood to continue to hatch our plan to have a poetry festival in Kendal.  We had meetings with two hotels who have expressed an interest and we’re now waiting for them to get back to us with some details and prices.  I’ve never organised a poetry festival before – as I’m sure you all know, because otherwise you would have heard about it here.  However, I’ve been to lots and have a good idea of what I think makes a good festival.

Brewery Poets was on Friday – the first one under the new leadership of myself, Pauline and Jenny.  There were 13 people attending and it forced me to get my finger out and type up a poem from my notebook – another scaffolding one, this time a monologue in my Dad’s voice.  I think he might be quite disturbed to see his speech broken into lines and made into a poem.  But he’ll get over it.  There are two lines in the whole poem that I put in, that my dad didn’t say but the group didn’t spot them, so I was relieved to have got away with that.  It’s not right yet but I quite like it.

I have good news for those of you who are awaiting news about my running with bated breath!  This week has been a week of going to random exercise classes so that I rest my inflamed tendon.   Yesterday I finally cracked and went to do Park Run – and took it fairly easy.  I decided to try and do the same time for each kilometre to keep myself amused – 4.59 for the first one, 4.58 for the second, 5.01 for the third, 5.08 for the fourth and 4.48 for the last one and I wasn’t in pain so am absolutely chuffed.

Today I ran very slowly to the gym which is only two miles away and then did a spinning session and then ran even slower back and it seems to have worked – I’m exhausted but no pain!  Tomorrow I’m going to the gym but I will drive there this time and just do some cycling and then Tuesday I have my physio where I’m hoping she’ll sort me out so I can start running properly again.

My collection has finally gone and I can’t do anything more to it – what a relief.  It is now out of my hands.  It’s official publication date is 30th April and  I’ll be reading from it in Leeds, Halifax, Sheffield and Ulverston in that order.  I’m vaguely looking for a few more readings, without actually looking that is.  Waiting to be asked would be a better description – which sounds passive aggressive but I really don’t mean it to be.  It’s just that waiting around has always worked out ok in the past so I’m assuming it will be ok this time.

It is half term so no teaching tomorrow! I’m off to Manchester to speak at a workshop for students about employment opportunities after graduating.  The irony is not lost on me that I’m doing this for expenses only but as I don’t have to take the day off work to do it, I thought it might be fun.  And I’m really looking forward to the train journey – I can’t wait for the chance to read my book because there is nothing else to do.  I might even do some writing.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Keith Hutson who came to stay with me last weekend.  Keith knows most of his poems off by heart which is pretty impressive and he recited this one to me in between puffs of his cigarette.  It feels like I’ve known Keith for years now, although we only met less than a year ago.  It’s the combination of running with somebody and reading their poetry I think.

‘Bath’ is a typical Keith poem actually – he is very good at turning an eye onto seemingly innocuous objects and subjecting them to close scrutiny.  I like how this one seems to start mid-conversation, mid-sentence.  I love the details in this poem – it is easy to picture everything – the nettles in the holes where the taps were.  Keith did tell me what Sticky Willy was and I forgot (what did we do without Google?) Apparently it is a plant.  Phew, that’s a relief then.

Questions in a poem often sound awkward or mannered I think, but Keith handles it beautifully here, conjuring up a picture of that pink, washed family, which also makes me think of a pink, washed family of piglets.  I also really like the dialogue that’s thrown in with the farmer and then that lovely finish with the calf peering in to drink.  Everything in this poem is carefully and precisely described.

‘Bath’ was originally published in Prole magazine.  Keith has a poem in the forthcoming Rialto if you want to read more of his work but he’s also had work published in The North, Butcher’s Dog, Pennine Platform, Hinterland, Ink Sweat and Tears, Hark and Meniscus.

He is now Submissions Editor for Hinterland, and has been Poet for the University of Manchester/NHS Psoriasis ‘Shout Out’ campaign. He’s currently working for the Prince’s Trust, delivering poetry and performance workshops to schools in Calderdale.

Keith hosts the monthly WordPlay poetry and music night at The Square Chapel, Halifax, where he also runs a Creative Writing class.

He coaches boxing, is a keen runner, and plays at being a farmer on his smallholding where he keeps twenty two pampered sheep.

Bath – Keith Hutson

Cast-iron and cockeyed, half-embedded up a hill,
you can be seen from miles away:
an oblong shock of white against
the tumbled walls, the wash of green.

You don’t fit in, but bring a splash
of faded elegance to this rough pastureland,
despite the nettles in the holes that held your taps,
the Sticky Willy poking through your overflow.

Who dragged you here? Hands or tractor?
How long ago, and where’s the farm,
the family you rendered soft and pink
each Sunday night, religiously?

Maybe you’re the victim of a revamp, rescued
from the sledgehammer by a Eureka! moment:
Farthest field wants summat wot ‘olds watter!
Years of service, come to this,

this spongy corner of West Yorkshire,
bereft of scented bubbles, rubber ducks.
Don’t get too down: you touched bottom
but, despite your broken leg, the crack along your side,

you still hold enough of heaven for the calf
who, come to lap your slanted shallows,
sees a face reflected back, wide-eyed,
brand new and beautiful.

Sunday Poem – Graham Austin


I’ve just got back from a really enjoyable evening playing the trumpet at a fundraising concert at St Mary’s Church.  It’s been about a year since I played any solo stuff on the trumpet but I really enjoyed it. The concert was organised by Father Gribben and was actually in his house rather than the church.  There must have been about 50 people in the audience and as well as me, Father Gribben played some great piano pieces and there was also a young oboe player who performed brilliantly.  The concert raised over £600 apparently.  I was asked to perform last week which was good as it left me no time to get nervous.  I went for a rehearsal on Thursday and it was great fun.  I didn’t get nervous tonight – maybe the first time I’ve performed a solo and not been nervous.  Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf!

This week I’ve been working till quite late most nights, getting various jobs done.  I’ve been writing to publishers to ask for books that I would like reviewed for the first issue of The Compass magazine, which has been great fun.  Although it was very tempting to get them all sent to my house first so I could read them, I realised this would slow everything down quite a lot and I would end up with no reviews because I was hogging all the books, so now they are going straight out to the reviewers.

This week I’ve been booked for three readings and a workshop.  I’ll be running a workshop for Mungrisdale Writers in July and reading in Todmorden in August and Lancaster Litfest and Cafe Writers in October.  I also had a request from Poems in the Waiting Room for permission to put my poem ‘You asked me to bring you a gift from my walk’ on a card and distribute it around NHS waiting rooms, which seems like an amazing thing to happen to a poem.  This particular poem I haven’t actually thought about in years – I wrote it seven years ago, when I was just starting it out.  It was published in Staple magazine and then didn’t make it into the pamphlet and then I forgot about it so it is nice that it is going to get a new lease of life.  I’ve also been asked to contribute a poem to a short pamphlet to celebrate the 30th reading of the series.

Today I sent what I hope are the last edits over to Amy on my collection.  I printed out the final proofs and instead of thinking of it as a dead animal sitting on my chest and blocking my view, I actually feel quite protective and fond of it now.  I’ve been carrying it around and having it sleep next to my bed the last couple of nights.

The running has not been going too well though this week.  I’ve been running with a pain in my groin for a while now and it has been getting a bit worse so I went to see a physiotherapist this Friday and I have an inflamed tendon, which is very annoying.  I’ve decided to give running a rest this week to see if it will go away.  I went to spinning at the gym instead today because I really don’t want to lose all my fitness again but it is looking unlikely that I’ll be able to do the half-marathon I’d planned to do in Blackpool in a couple of weeks time.

My lovely friend Keith Hutson came  up to visit this weekend.  We went for a fantastic walk in Grizedale Forest on Saturday and there was clear blue sky and a strange bird which sounded like a frog.  Keith caught me up on all the gossip and we even managed to get some editing done on each other’s poetry before he had to go back home to feed his sheep.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Graham Austin.  I first met Graham at A Poem and a Pint when I was just starting out writing poetry.  Graham died last week, quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  It still doesn’t feel real now that I won’t be seeing him perform any more.  Graham was genuinely funny, and I know this is a cliche, but he really did have a twinkle in his eye.  He was always supportive of other poets.  He found it easy to show his delight in other people’s poetry.  Helena Nelson, who published his pamphlet ‘Fuelling Speculation’ a couple of years ago, has written a lovely and eloquent piece over at the Happenstance blog about Graham and you can read some more of his work there as well.  Graham’s wife has asked me to say a few words about Graham at his funeral and along with two of his other friends to read a few of his poems.  I don’t know what I’m going to say yet.  I will have to say something about how funny he was, although perhaps that is too obvious.  Of course everybody there will know how funny he was.  When I think of Graham I think of him on stage, waiting with that slightly suprised, pleased smile for the audience to stop laughing so he can go on with his next line.

Graham has featured on this blog before back in October 2014, again with a very funny poem, and if I have attracted any running poets, you will like this poem.

But here is Disappointment – I remember hearing Graham read this and he had got the audience into such a state of hilarity, he had to wait for quite a while before they would stop laughing so he could read his final stanza.

Disappointment – Graham Austin

It was as if nothing had happened.
Five minutes earlier we had sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we were still watching the sea.
It was as if nothing had happened.

‘It’s as if nothing has happened,’ she said.
‘Five minutes ago we sat down to watch the sea.
Now five minutes later we are still watching the sea.
It’s as if nothing has happened.
Kiss me.’

I did.
Six minutes previously we had sat down to watch the sea.
Six minutes later we were still watching the seae.
And it really was as if nothing had happened

Sunday Poem – Michael Conley


While a lot of the country has been covered in snow, Barrow has been basking in winter sunshine.  We have had two days where the sky is that crisp kind of blue you only get when it is cold, which is my favourite type of weather to run in, when the wind is only strong in one direction, when running into the wind is enough to make your ears ache, but running with it behind you makes it feel like it has disappeared.  I clocked up 14 kilometres today with the Walney Wind Cheetahs and hardly noticed the distance at all and have spent the rest of the day in such a good mood because I felt like I was finally getting my fitness back again.

I bought myself a foam roller which is supposed to loosen up and massage your muscles and I’ve been rolling about the house on it every day and my legs were definitely less tired today.

This afternoon the husband went running with a friend and the dogs so I’ve had the house to myself.  After starting this blog post in daylight, I then switched the computer off because I realised what I really wanted to do was try and write some poetry.  My mum and dad have been up visiting this weekend and I’ve been picking my dad’s brain again about his job as a scaffolder.  I ask him questions and then just write down what he says.  So I wanted to write about that.   I want to write a poem about his first day at work, when he was taken on as a labourer and spent the whole day inside a steel chimney, passing kit up, when you climbed the scaffold in what you turned up in, no gloves, no boots, no helmet.  I want to write about all the things that have happened to his body because of scaffolding, his broken hip, his numb fingers, his loss of hearing, his aches and pains.  I want to find out by writing why he’s done it for nearly half a century – what it is about a job that is classed as high risk, that takes such a toll on the body, why he loves it.  He does love it, although he wouldn’t say that he does.  I know this because of the way he can’t take his eyes off a building that is wrapped with scaffolding.  Scaffolding has its own vocabulary too.  The planks of wood that are put across on each level for scaffolders to walk on are called ‘lifts’ which I love, because the word doesn’t suit what they are designed to do, which is to stay put, to stay firm and provide a footing.  But then of course, they do ‘lift’ up the scaffolders as they climb from one to the other.

Anyway, I have started writing about it.  I’d love to interview some female scaffolders, so if you know any, or you happen to be one, please get in touch.  Luckily for me my dad is very tolerant of me writing poems about him.  I think he also likes it because he gets a chance to correct me when I call tubes poles or poles tubes or make some other rookie mistake.

This week I’ve been having great fun getting started as the Reviews Editor for a new online magazine called The Compass.  The poetry editors and driving forces behind the magazine are Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland, so do send them your best poems for consideration.  I’ve been getting in touch with publishers to request copies of various books, which is really exciting.  The aim is to review a wide range of books from a wide range of publishers.  So far I’ve sorted out two and a half reviews and the magazine has room for four and the publishers that have been covered are Bloodaxe, Smith/Doorstop, Smokestack and Cape, so a nice mix of independent and larger publishers.  At the minute I’m not taking unsolicited suggestions for reviews, so please don’t send any!  It has made me aware again, just how much interesting, exciting poetry is being published – tons and tons.

On Friday the soul band that I play with, the Soul Survivors did their first proper gig to a sell out audience at The Soccer Bar in Barrow.  I really enjoyed the gig, although it has been a strange process for me really.  A couple of years ago, I decided I wasn’t enjoying playing and decided to stop taking on paid orchestral work.  I used to get myself stressed and worked up about how good I was and finding time to practise to play to the standard I thought was acceptable.  It took me years to realise I didn’t want to do it anymore.  So I just stopped playing completely.  I stopped playing in a brass band, I stopped playing in orchestras.  The only time I played was whilst I was teaching and for a couple of years I didn’t really miss it.

I say I didn’t really, because it felt like something painful in my chest, whenever I thought about playing.  It felt like something unresolved and that was probably because it was.  I always knew that I wouldn’t not play forever.  A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to set up a brass quintet because that was the type of playing I used to enjoy, then about six months or so ago, I started playing with the Soul Survivors.

I really enjoyed playing on Friday – although towards the end of the second set, I started to get overheated and thought I was going to faint.  Apparently I used to faint all the time when I got overheated when I was younger.  The last time it happened to me I was playing with the Yorkshire Volunteers, an ex-army band at Pontefract Race Course.  We’d been standing in the blazing sun for a while in full army uniform, ready to march onto the race course and I keeled over.  I remember a kind of black curtain slowly going down over my eyes.  The last thing I heard was the Drum Major, Dave Rimmer saying ‘Someone fetch the horse doctor!’.  Hmph.  Anyway, I avoided fainting by dashing water on my face and my neck and it seemed to do the trick.  Apart from that slightly grim episode, everything else was great.  The gig raised £2500 for Barrow Communities Trust.

Story of the week which is a candidate for a whole new verse in my ‘Trumpet Teacher’s Curse’ poem?  One morning I got to school last week and all of the rather small children were gathered round the door handle to the music room very excited because there was what can only be described as bogies all over the handle. My friend who is a teaching assistant at the school was fleeing down the corridor.  I thought at first she’d finally cracked and was heading home, or going to the staffroom to hide for half an hour, but no, she came back with some cleaning stuff and sorted the door handle out and order was restored.
The Sunday Poem this week is by Michael Conley who I met during the Manchester MA.  I think he was the year below me and had a poem featured as the Sunday Poem back in July 2013, but Michael has recently had his first pamphlet published which is called Aquarium and was published by Flarestack Poets in 2014.

I really enjoyed the pamphlet and read it straight through in one sitting.  His poems are always suprising – there are no dull poems in this pamphlet.  I chose Krill Rations because I have a soft spot for penguin poems – Martin Kratz had a great penguin poem in The Rialto a while back.  In Martin’s poem, he is posting a penguin but the penguins in Michael’s poem seem to be in a lot more trouble even than being sent through the post.

The language of authority and orders is used throughout the poem – ‘Do not approach the enclosure’ – which is actually quite an ordinary thing to read in a zoo – except that we know we are in no ordinary zoo right from the first day when the penguins are communicating ‘their desire to be free.’

Michael is particularly good at using words which hum with energy, like in Day 2 when he describes the ‘keening’ of the penguins  or in Day 3 with the use of the word ‘advocate’.  I wrote ‘post-apocalyptic’ in my notes about this poem, then deleted it because I thought it’s a bit over-dramatic for a poem that’s actually wry and funny.  Typing this and re-reading the end of Day 7 though ‘Remain in your homes until further notice’ gives it that feeling that something awful is happening or has happened, aside from the penguins wanting to escape.

I think the penguins represent something else as well – maybe I’ve been reading too much Proletarian Poetry but I think they are a metaphor for the working class, and the voice of the unidentified speaker of the poem is a member of the government or the ruling elite.  It is Day 16 that makes me think this the most with those lines

‘The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought’

Having said all that, the poem made me laugh the first, second and third times I read it.  But the poem is actually so dark! I love that duality about it.

Michael  is a 30 year old teacher from Manchester. His work has been published in a variety of magazines including Rialto, Magma and New Welsh Review. He came third in the Flash Fiction section of the 2014 Bridport Prize,

Krill Rations – Michael Conley
Day 1

Using a series of hops, clicks and honks, the penguins
have communicated their desire
to be free.

We have increased their krill rations.
Do not approach the enclosure.

Day 4

We are aware
that the penguins’ keening
has escalated.

Those exposed report uncontrollable sobbing
as they are reminded of all their unspoken
childhood sadnesses.

Earplugs and tissues
will be issued
to all homes within a two mile radius.

Day 7

We have treated the bars of their cages
with invisible paint.

You are reminded
it is a capital offence

to advocate on behalf of the penguins.
Remain in your homes until further notice.

Day 12

All children must be taken to the zoo to see the penguins.
Demonstrate how easy it is to come and go

Do not be alarmed if the penguins
fling themselves towards your famiily:
the invisible bars are electrified.

Day 16

The penguins have realised
that the concept of freedom
is more complicated than they thought
and have indicated

that they no longer blame us.
Administration will be handed back
to the surviving zookeepers.
Please rinse and return your earplugs.

Day 28

The penguins are completely silent.
They lounge like tuxedoed lions
and are no longer even approaching
the invisible bars

which we have been able to remove entirely
and sell for scrap.
This revenue will be given back to you
in the form of a small tax rebate.