Chaos Theory by Tim Love

He kept dreaming that he took a wrong turning onto an empty motorway, and was sucked forward by the emptiness, faster and faster, a danger to no-one because no-one was there. The dreams stopped when Jackie appeared. She wasn’t jaywalking in his dream. Actually he’d been drinking alone in a bar again, not bothering to pace himself, no thought for the future. “Is it free?” she said, nodding towards the stool. He looked up at her – he’d seen her around the campus – then down into his pint, so she sat down anyway. “I’ve seen you here before. Wanna buy me a drink? Anything will do. Tell you what, I’ll share your next Guinness. Just ask for a straw. I’m Jackie by the way.” She held out her hand. When he didn’t shake it, she slipped it down his trousers.

They started hanging around together. He couldn’t really work her out. She knew so many people, yet she’d chosen to go around with him. Did she feel sorry for him, sex just an act of kindness? She said she was doing a multidisciplinary degree, which sounded more exciting than his geography. Did opposites really attract? She was full of enthusiasms and surprises. One night she said that her favourite Irish author was speaking in Nice. She’d never heard him talk about his works in French, she simply had to go. She asked him if he’d hitch-hike over with her. “Aren’t there cheap flights from Bristol?” he asked. “It’s not to save money, silly,” she said, “there’s the environment to consider.”

They got there after 6 rides, she chatting to drivers in French and German while he stared out the window. He was relieved when they booked into a hotel – he feared they’d end up on someone’s floor, or behind a hedge. The famous author spoke to a hall of about 20 through an interpreter, mostly about the IRA. After, walking through dark streets she picked up a traffic cone, held it to her mouth like a megaphone and spun round singing “All you need is Love.” She bought a pizza but wouldn’t let him eat it – she wanted it cold the next morning – they’d not paid for a breakfast. Cosy in bed that night he plucked up the courage to say that he wanted to learn more about her.

“So what do you want to know?” she said, rolling a cigarette with papers and tobacco she’d just bought. He’d never seen her smoke.

“What you’ve done with your life.”

“Oh, life model, blood donor – I’ve got special blood you know, – water diviner.”

“Why that?”

“I only tried it to see if I was any cop. You never know until you try. If you can’t be beautiful at least be different.”

“But you are beautiful.”

“Tits like fried eggs. When I got fed up with pimply art students asking me out I worked in an Old People’s Home on Saturdays. Oh what fun we had. Snakes and Ladders, me rolling the dice for them and moving the pieces. And we played Hungry Hippos. We put 4 of them in wheelchairs head-to-head in a cross shape, gave them each a broom, and they had to drag little multi-pack cereal boxes from the middle. We were doing the pushing and pulling of course. The most exciting thing they’d done for yonks. Oh, I’ve done bucket-loads of things. The past – you can drag it along like a snail carrying its shell. I prefer to frisbee it away.” She picked her pillow up to show him what she meant, hurling it against the door.

“What do you want to be?” he asked. “Heard of Chaos Theory? They do it in maths. Small causes, big effects. Butterfly and hurricane.” She flapped her arms, blew in his face. “I go where the wind takes me.”

But he already knew that was a lie. He knew she was always heading for the borders, the grey zones, not to challenge simple rules (not speed limits – she couldn’t drive anyway) but the unwritten ones.

“Now I should ask you the same questions,” she said, “because that’s why people ask questions, isn’t it? But I won’t give you the satisfaction.”

After returning to Uni in one piece they didn’t see each other for a few days. He felt he’d come off a motorway and everything was in slow motion. He felt he’d gone from loner to socialite without the slog of finding friends. She’d introduced him to so many people – only a few words, but that was the hard bit. He could build on that. He nodded to people he recognized as they passed.

He had a cousin, Sue, at the same university. They met once a term to keep their families happy. They found an empty table in the Mandela coffee bar, she talking about her boyfriend John, he about his latest essay. Jackie suddenly appeared, sat on his lap, “Glad you got coffee,” she said to both of them, “Tea is for mugs.” She lap-danced, kissed him and walked out.

“That was a joke,” he said, when Sue said nothing, “Tea comes in mugs.”

“She’s on my course,” said Sue, “Sort of, anyway. She’s not allowed into lectures or seminars, she has to do everything by email.”


“She tries to sleep with lecturers. With anyone really. Are you two just friends?”

“We go out together sometimes.”

“Mum thinks you’re gay. Are you?”

He couldn’t sleep that night. Why him? he wondered again. To remind her that there’s always someone worse off? Just as he thought he’d understood her, she changed. She wore her life like a model the latest outlandish fashion, a different one each day. Holes where no holes should be. She was on the spectrum then slid off it. Everything – the motorways, the holes, the frisbees – were metaphors then real, his then hers. “It’s like a Mobius Band,” she’d told him once, “If you follow the surface you’ll end up in the other side. There’s nothing behind, nothing deep, nothing hidden. They do it in maths.” Could he spend his life with her? It would be like a game of draughts at first, her white pieces on white squares and his black ones on black. They could work things out eventually. Couples do. His parents would hate her though. And would Sue manage to keep quiet? No.

He and Jackie planned to meet on Friday in the campus plaza. He got there early, sat in his usual place under the clock. He watched her as she approached from afar. When she touched people’s shoulders they looked up, then away. When she greeted people, mostly they ignored her – even the boys. She reminded him of a beggar working through a carriage on the tube.

She sat beside him. She nudged him with her hip. “You don’t talk much do you? What’s up?” she asked.

“Got some bad results. If I don’t get the grades I need for the PhD I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’ll be ok,” she said, kissing him. “Don’t you ever worry about your work?” he said, “You never mention it.”

This was his plan. Either she came clean, or he’d end the relationship then and there. Even with his limited experience he knew that it wasn’t good for one person to be in complete control. Was it so wrong to want to know more about her? Didn’t he have rights? Could he cope with being alone again, just as he’d sorted his life out?

“Hey look, if it’s about that girl, don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not the jealous type. I’ll warn you though she’s going out with John the pile-driver.”

“Pile-driver?” “If you slept with him you’d understand.”

He’d expected her to do that – change the subject. She was going through a bad phase. He should be helping her, not thinking of dumping her before he became the laughing stock of the campus. “So what shall we do?” he said. “Tonight.”

A tedious Greek masterpiece put on by the Film Soc that night ended their affair. He couldn’t believe it had lasted only a term. For the rest of his life he remembered to talk more. He remembered to ask people the questions he wanted them to ask him. And holding his dying wife’s hand he remembered that there was always hope, that being alone was nothing to fear.

About the Author

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts
(HappenStance) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches Press).
He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand,
Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. He blogs at

Twitter: @TimLoveWriter

After the Class by Sarah Wallis

The life class is over 
and I am washing my brushes, 

first the Nudes, Golds and Ochres, 
then the red of Carmine runs out 

the sink, is replaced with Prussian Blue 
sustained with Manganese 

Lemon, Payne’s Gray
and now Green, the stained glass window 

effect in the white china basin, a streak 
of silky rainbow. 

The life class is lifting around me, people are 
leaving, while paint laden water spirals 

the drain. In another life we might be friends 
but this is a strain of delicate work 

and the sitter’s patience is exhausted, she wants 
to be gone like the light, not stopping to look 

at what our looking has achieved of her, 
she is still unclothed and the artists’ focus begins 

to waiver, catching a glimpse of her breasts 
in full blush, they stumble over easel and inkwell 

she raises a tired smile, like mother 
to child, and receives a scarlet chorus of farewell.

About the Author

Sarah Wallis is a poet & playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an Mphil in Playwriting from Birmingham University. Recent work has appeared in Lunate, Idle Ink, Tiny Seed, Crepe & Penn, Selcouth Station and Finished Creatures. A monologue, A Stage of One’s Own streamed by Slackline Cyberstories during lockdown, was first performed at Leeds Lit Fest 2019. A chapbook, Medusa Retold, is due from Fly on the Wall Press Dec 2020.

Poetry in Widnes by Pauline Rowe

          At the age of six I read William Blake’s The Tyger, a poem I found in a book my mother used for her night-school studies.  It was 1969, the year Lulu won the Eurovision Song Contest with Boom-Bang-a-Bang, when Patrick Troughton was Doctor Who, and Oliver Postgate’s Clangers first appeared on television. In the world, there were riots in Derry, the British Government sent the troops into Northern Ireland and Barbara Castle published her white paper In Place of Strife.  In my world I lived with my older sister, Mum, Dad, Uncle Joe and Aunty Wendy and attended a Catholic primary school that required a ten-minute walk and a twenty-minute bus ride to reach.  It was a year since my Mum’s younger brother and sister came to live with us after Grandad Attwood died in our front room.  My Dad worked at Fords and my Mum worked as a dental receptionist in the day and a part-time bingo caller at the Regal for a couple of nights a week.  She was also a student at Widnes Tech, where she was studying for her O levels at night-school.  My Mum and Dad were both marked in different ways by the experiment of Secondary Modern education.  My Dad was a good singer, a great believer in exercise and keen advocate of the radio. He was, briefly, a professional rugby player signed to Widnes, then to Liverpool City, who lost his chance of life as a sportsman because of injury.  My mother was present and absent in her reading of books.

          I was curious about the power one of her books seemed to possess.  I imagine, for I do not clearly remember, that the book opened at a frequently consulted page, but my first reading of this poem seemed to me to be an act of discovery.    I was pleased to see an eccentric spelling of tyger.  I read the poem silently inside my head:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?   …

So much begins here.  The word tyger repeated; tyger, tyger: as alliterative invocation, as defiant challenge to the command ‘twinkle, twinkle,’ as a spell, a magical call to the wild, wide world of creation.  Words on a page that I could hear somehow inside my own head as a voice, words composed centuries before, words that had travelled through time to become a new personal experience.  I did not know the meaning of every word but I understood that this poem possessed a power through its sounds, its incantatory qualities and its complexities. It struck me like a spell and I fell in love with the defiant singularity of the encounter as well as the text, those words first published in 1794 belonging to me somehow, a child growing up in a Northern industrial town, being raised by a young mother who longed to be educated. 

          The pages of Mum’s poetry book were creamy and thick like buttermilk and the poem had a small black and white woodcut print of a tiger just above it, the size of a first-class stamp.  Tyger, tyger, burning bright.  This was better than Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and had the vivid heat of Great Grandad’s coal fire about it.  In the forest of the night.  Like the thick, sharp vines and thorns around the castle in Sleeping Beauty, but the moon has moved behind a cloud. I could see the fire of the tiger’s coat moving like a torch in the dark, hot enough to set light to my Bri-Nylon nightie.   What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?  I liked the sound of these sentences.  They made me think of mum pinching the skin on my arm if I messed around in church.  Her eyes would burn at me.   In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes?  I liked this William Blake who had his name on the poem.  He was telling me that this tiny room would not be where I would stand forever.  The distant deeps – like in Captain Nemo.  Now I could see the tiger’s eyes burning green from the thorny jungle and his coat burning orange and yellow with flashes of purple. 

          I read through the rest of the poem, it rang in my head like the Angelus, my heart was beating hard – What dread hand? And what dread feet?  I knew that, in these words, a very different kind of God was living than the Father God resident in St Thomas More’s church around the corner.  I felt that my heart too had sinews that had been twisted although I didn’t imagine it was God’s hands that caused the pain.  I carried the book to my bottom bunk and placed it under my pillow.

          I took the poem to my teacher, Mrs Hobday, a cheerful, practical woman and she asked me to read it aloud to the class.  I was unafraid, articulating Blake’s words in front of thirty silent peers, even though I didn’t know what sinews looked like or what else in the world might possess ‘fearful symmetry’.  I was reciting something like a prayer with its thys, thees, thines and “he who made the Lamb,” – and in its pronouncement I was protected from the fearfulness celebrated in the poem. 

What the hammer? what the chain, 

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp, 

Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

This was my discovery of poetry as both magic and mystery.  At six the experience I had was a profound experience through reading.  The nature of the poem, what it is, remained true in my partial understanding of it as much as in its very self.  A poem is an animation of the spirit of an idea. It becomes, in part, the person of the poet as well as the person of the reader.  It is a direct connection from the hand of the poet to the eye of the reader, from the voice of the poet to the ear of the mind.  Tyger embodies, for me, the essence of what poetry can achieve in language, rhythm, concept, vision and magic.

          Our tyger is “burning bright/in the forest of the night.” It is both a conflagration and a beacon, an illumination and a signal to darkness and danger.  It lights up the night, a night that is also a forest. The metaphor does not need to be doubted for the forest is a known place of danger and magic in a child’s imagination.  To the child I was, this was both knowing and not knowing.  When I read the poem out loud to my class it felt to me as though the very words could conjure up the tyger. I was used to hearing the incantations of mysterious language every Sunday.  There was a feeling of power in becoming the sayer of mysterious words. 

          But I did not love this poem because I wanted to conjure the tiger but because of its language and its intimacy, because I wanted to be myself and the poem helped me to be myself in a way that I did not understand except in the light of the poem.  Tyger was both proclaimed and public and personal.  No other art achieves such electricity in both its stillness of being and reception. That is something to do with its process of making within the mind, through the body (in the act of writing) and out of the experience of one person and then, in its telling, to the mind of another.  There is voice here and sensation but always through the prism of language, the inadequacy of words, a reaching for meaning, an attempt to distill and capture human experience.   In Poetry in the Making Ted Hughes describes this as follows:

Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are…Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river.  Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river.  Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this.  Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaningless.  And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment of time, and in that moment make out of it all the vital signature of a human being – not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses, but a human being – we call it poetry.   (p.124)

It is also helpful to consider poetry and the language of poetry in contradistinction to narrative prose because poetry favours figurative and metaphorical language in its various testaments to human experience as integral to its own nature as an art.  I took the book of poems into Mrs Hobday’s class in response to her invitation for us to take in our favourite stories.  This is the first moment in my life that I recall making a conscious decision about my preference for poetry rather than prose. This is a preference for a distinct way of thinking and organising words.  In a recent lecture published in Poetry Review Anne Carson described the painter Francis Bacon as wanting “to defeat narrative wherever it seeks to arise.”  This defeat of narrative has also become part of poetry’s purpose in post-modern times. As John Berger  argues in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos:

Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories.  All stories are about battles which end in victory or defeat.  Everything moves towards the end when the outcome will be known.  Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful.  They bring a kind of peace, not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it has never been.  The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter to, the experience that demanded, that cried out.”    [‘Once in a Poem’.]

Tyger speaks of the terrible power of nature and the wrath of God.  In its question: “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” I was on familiar ground, used to reciting: “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” 

          In my childish reading of Blake I experienced the poem as liturgy, knowing nothing of Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Its power is in its magic, images, its metaphors, its priestliness and mysteries, its sounds and its rhymes and in it becoming my own, belonging to me personally as a gift; similarly, it has remained with me, for I know it by heart and have carried it inside me ever since.          

          I started to write my own inventions when I was in Junior school, aged seven.  I have a clear memory of writing a poem about a whale that began:

This creature lives under the sea

as fierce, as fierce can be…..

With the romantic, nature-loving instinct of a child I scribbled half lines and rhymes about animals and weather, about creatures and seasons.  My whale poem concluded with a drawing of a whale.  I learned about writing through reading and through looking and then attempted to think with a pencil in my hand.  I had three endeavours that related to writing.  The first was the idea that I would be a writer and in pursuit of that I made my own writing space in the shed that I shared with my pet rabbit.  I used an old dressing table as my desk and book-shelf. The second endeavour involved a gathering of resources, of tools I would need, including my books, writing paper, pencil and pen (I was some years away from my first typewriter).  The books I kept in the shed were my weekly library books, The Observer Book of Pondlife (perhaps my most important book) and A Puffin Quartet of Poets (which included Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V. Rieu and Ian Serraillier), a book I consulted regularly. My third endeavour was in thinking.  I spent a lot of time thinking about and working on descriptions of observed objects, and I was particularly interested in insects and portraits of human faces.  Writing about the human face is something I associate with prose and school, rather than poetry. The insects were, for me, poetic and personal material. The face-writing was linked to creative work that a young student teacher, Miss Hays, developed with us in fourth year.  Although I cannot remember the result, I recall the thinking and struggle I encountered when trying to compose a descriptive piece about Thomas More’s face. 

          Writing is how I think and negotiate my space in the world. My first experience of writing was associated with silence and space away from everyone else, reading, discovering books and thinking. These are aspects of writing that remain central to my life. The experience of that first poem established for me the importance of reading, seeing in the mind (imagination), rhythm, magic, rhyme, sound, voice, thinking (the working out) as essential components of my own creative and writing life.

About the Author

Dr Pauline Rowe is Poet-in-Residence for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. Her publications and achievements include    The Ghost Hospital (Maytree Press, 2019) Shortlisted, best poetry pamphlet category — Saboteur Awards 2020; The Allotments (Victoria Gallery & Museum, LOOK Biennial 2019)   Sleeping in the Middle (Open Eye Gallery, 2018)  and earlier Voices of the Benares (Lapwing Publications, 2014)   Waiting For the Brown Trout God (Headland Publications, 2009). 

Flagellation by Grace Copeland-Tucker

You I’ll suffer madly;
a fool, gladly taking lashings
for time
that I never 
quite understood.

You I can’t catch;
all my words 
roll down the
hills of
your back 
like water,
instead of sticking 
with honeyed fingertips
where they should.

You I cannot match;
time hurtles around you
- a question mark
that keeps running
without a point 
to keep it in check.
Shapeless flight;

you are the moon,
slippery and bright.
The sun burns itself
into a pit; I wish
I was in it, where the
throes of its rage 
tear and flay 
at such delicate threads.

You are long gone;
in my mind’s eye,
new waves in my brain
destroy you -
divine nothing.
By morning,
gone too soon.
There is no evergreen.

About the Author:

Grace is a 25 year-old poet and freelance French translator from the UK. Her work explores the ineffable, unsayable gunk in our brains, and is focused on rhythms of sound and silence. Some of Grace’s recent poetry features in a global women’s anthology entitled BeautiFUl Ways to Say and online, with Silent Auctions and In Looking Out. Grace was longlisted for the Erbacce Poetry Prize 2020 and has forthcoming pieces in Sauer Magazine and Orange Blush Zine. She recently graduated with an MPhil in French Literature from Cambridge and is currently working on her debut collection of poetry and aphorisms. More examples of her work, and her dog Barry, can be found on Instagram (@grace_tckr).

Introducing Four Czech Poetesses

Our journey through the Czech poetic landscape starts with four strong female voices of their generation. Naturally, there could be many more and of other generations, and we hope that in the future, we can expand the offerings. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy these four powerful samples.

 Jana Orlová
 The ancient gods are still online
 I would like to lie with hops
 overgrown in the woods like my fur
 in the strained fascia of a clerk
 I will measure out my desire for you with steps
 torture for the advanced
 and I know there's still time because
 the ancient gods are still online
 Translated by Phil Jones

 Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová
 On the Task of H.G. Adler
 We are bereaved,
 For all of those who are no longer.
 The living for the dead.
 We are the chronicles of the dead.
 Being the history of shadows,
 Not a recollection,
 Being a memory.
 What a task!
 Moreover, to prove  
 How to be yourself!
 This tangle, entwined,
 Is my property.
 It’s for the best to
 Leave it alone.
 Crossings. Passages.
 Only when I picture them,
 I am able to understand that I am a survivor.
 Of myself and my history.
 Who once, in this situation…
 I am not!
 What can I do about it?
 Oh, what a task,
 My invisible wall,
 To be!  

Olga Stehlíková
In the Traffic Jam
 I spend my time in the traffic jam.
 I am always on the way somewhere.
 I spend my time in the traffic jam:
 it slows down,
 Everything stops for the time being,
 in the workday hustle and bustle.
 Then time relaxes, freezes,
 rips apart its own abdomen and reveals its insides 
 that still emit the fumes,
 These are the moments when I realise
 my finality,
 When finally,
 I know what to do with my hands
 -        the steering wheel feels like the human skin -,
 when I catch my own glimpse in the rear mirror,
 although I stare ahead.
 I call you to call me,
 in the empty car, I utter aloud
 your name, sound after sound,
 but you don’t call or answer,
 because you are driving,
 you’re in the flowing traffic,
 your gear has been in five for a while
 and you have no reason to lower it.
 These are the moments I can see
 inside the surrounding vehicles –
 they are so near,
 the lesser and the great Ploughs,
 the little and the big girls in it,
 little stars for indicators,
 extra delicate angry moves.
 The Czechs don’t know the art of merging,
 even though it is so simple.
 These are the moments of contemplation,
 when time becomes relative,
 when unexpectedly, in unfamiliar diversions 
 memories emerge,
 like seals by the holes in ice,
 when I remind myself,
 I ought to go and see the grave,
 that your path is smooth,
 that I managed only a little
 that I haven’t had my supper.
 I spend my time in the traffic jam.
 Children in the backseats shout at life,
 they are at the age when life still listens
 to their screams. Google responds to
 my key word.
 Securely fastened seatbelts,
 anatomically shaped seats amongst breadcrumbs,
 This is the best place for them,
 one day they may scream their way out of them, perhaps they already sit in their own urine.
 The steering wheel skin is so humanlike,
 I check myself in the rear mirror:
 a seventeen-year old, wild, seat-belted
 old lady with a license,
 a favourite mug and full tank.
 No, we won’t make it today.
 I have only one time, which
 makes it a rare commodity, uncountable.
 I devote my time, I give it
 away in tiny, neat parcels,
 It is an invisible charitable act,
 which I am going to deduct.
 My photo is in all my documents.
 Look, the box here under the dashboard
 is so deep. Like Grand Canyon.
 What you put in nobody will ever see.
 Once I entrusted myself to the headed, embossed paper.
 The jam is in the intestines of a withheld argument.
 I will never get rid of metaphors.
 Hold onto the gear!
 From the tailback in the next lane
 A man in the city jeep gazes at me,
 perhaps my lights are not on, or
 I am bad at pulling away, I am sloppy with my clutch
 -        he is always by my side.
 The sideview of profiles one the left and right.
 The front view is only enjoyed before
 the head-on collision.
 Look at all the control lights,
 so much I have to watch,
 to make sure the kids grow up and no one badmouth them
 -        still, their warning lights will be on one day.
 No, we won’t make it today,
 my sweet ones,
 I purr like an engine.
 the crash barrier lures you more than an Oreo tartlet,
 blacker than tarmac.
 Not far behind them
 a strange city, in which we live,
 from which we try to climb up
 in the dangerous, small, mobile,
 carefully serviced homes.
 Not far behind them wild shrubs
 with the young ones, who are soon going to fly out
 across six lanes of the motorway, succeeding for the first time.
 Simona Racková
 How Long
 How long does forgiveness take?
 Six years, five months and twenty-four days.
 I walk against the grain of time, while listening,
 As my husband and my son play chess for the first time:
 You can’t make a move twice in a row,
 You have just lost your queen.
 Last night I dreamed of giving birth to twins,
 One was born dead.
 I ought to be happy about the one I have
 -        the reddened, wrinkled fingers, hair still stuck together,
 black strands, we two skin to skin -,
 or should I mourn the one that has died?
 Since I didn’t watch the egg enough, not enough:
 I pushed the box back haphazardly, piled on more things.
 And it was made from brittle, dark chocolate.  

All three poems translated by Natalie Nera

About the Authors:

Lenka Kuhar Daňhelová (born in 1973 in Krnov) is a translator, author, poet and artist,  and together with her husband, director and co-founder of an international poetry festival Aside/European Poets Live.  She has authored four poetry collections, one novel – her output, including translations, is more than 22 books to-date. In 2013, she was awarded Lirikonov Zlát for an outstanding translation from Slovenian.

Jana Orlová (1986) is a Czech poet and a performer. She published “Čichat oheň” („Sniff the Fire“) with her own illustrations at Pavel Mervart publishing house in 2012 and “Újedě” her second book of poetry at Větrné Mlýny publishing house in 2017. Her works appeared in “Nejlepší české básně” (Best Czech Poems) at Host publishing house in 2014 and 2018. She released poetry book in Ukrainian and Romanian in 2019. Her poems were translated into Hindi, English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Belarusian, Polish, Bulgarian, Greek and Italian. She treats performance art as living poetry. She gained the “Objev roku 2017” Breakthrough Act Award 2017 at Next Wave Festival for “crossing the boundaries of literature, fine art and theatre naturally and with ease”. She gained the Dardanica Prize in 2020. Her work is to be seen at A recent translation into Spanish in

Simona Racková (born in 1976 in Prague) is an editor, poet and literary critic, head of the Review at the prominent literature bi-weekly Tvar. She received the Dresden Lyrical Prize (Dresdner Lyrikpreis invites Czech and German poets to take part) in 2016 for her poems from the book Tance (Dances). Her works have been translated into seven languages.

Olga Stehlíková (born in 1977 in Příbram) won Magnesia Litera in 2014 for her debut collection Týdny. She is a linguist, researcher, poet, author, editor and researcher, one of the most translated poets of her generation. Recently, she has started writing and publishing successful books for children.

The Lift Home by Barbara Robinson

I walk to work every day now. I notice things that I wouldn’t if I was driving: birdsong; cream, pink, and peach blossoms on the trees and the ground; and once, a parade of quad bikes bringing up the rear of a funeral cortege. It’s the seventh week of lockdown, and with fewer cars on the road, the air is sweet and clean.

My new job is hectically busy because of COVID-19, and it’s a temporary one, so I’m anxious to prove myself. The day passes quickly, and I’m looking forward to walking home. This morning, it was warm and balmy but for a crisp chill that raised the hairs on my arms as I walked along shaded sections of pavement, but the morning’s blue sky has turned gunmetal; a chill breeze comes through the open windows, with spittles of rain on the glass.

‘Off home?’ Nichola fingers the silver charm on her necklace.

‘Yeah.’ I look up briefly before returning to my screen.

We met yesterday, sitting at adjacent tables in the staff kitchen. I ate chicken pasta salad; she ate tuna sandwiches cut into triangles. We stayed two metres apart observing the social distancing rules. Everyone does, but Nichola is particularly careful.

‘Do you like cats, Michael?’

‘Er, no. No, I don’t.’

Her green eyes narrowed and seemed to dissect me, as though expecting something better. I sighed inwardly, annoyed at having to explain myself. 

‘What I mean is, I’m not an animal lover. But I don’t hate them.’

Nichola yawned, showing small, sharp teeth. She licked a fleck of tuna from the corner of her lips. ‘Maybe you haven’t met the right cat,’ she said.

‘Maybe I don’t fucking want to.’ I didn’t say this. I just shrugged.

‘You can’t get coronavirus from cats,’ she said.

I didn’t reply. I decided to swerve Nichola from then on.

Now her eyes are on me as I stand and pull on my jacket. Her silver chain tinkles faintly as she runs it across her lower lip.

‘Do you want a lift? It’s going to rain.’

I’m about to refuse when the room darkens, and long wet splats begin to hit the windows with increasing speed. ‘OK,’ I say, knowing that I sound resigned rather than grateful.

We meet in reception, as arranged, and Nichola goes ahead of me down the stairs. From behind, I see that her lockdown roots are showing, and the sight of her pale orange hair with thin white stripes emerging from the crown is unsettling. I’m about to say that I’ve changed my mind, that I’ll walk home in the rain, when she turns around. ‘

Michael, could we stop at mine first? I’ve got some cat litter that I need a hand with. Bad back, you see.’

‘OK,’ I say. ‘

Great!’ She jumps the last few stairs, landing silently.

The rain has eased and the sky has brightened by the time we reach her old Volvo estate. I hover by the passenger’s door.

‘Ooh, would you mind sitting in the back?’ she says, her face screwed into exaggerated apology. ‘Social distancing.’

At first, I’m annoyed at being relegated to the back of the car, but after a few minutes, I feel relieved. Nichola is one of those confident drivers who has no right to be: tailgating; switching lanes without indicating; looking away from the road to fumble with the stereo. She suddenly brakes and pulls over at a bus stop, causing a lorry to swerve and blast its horn. She turns around to face me and light catches the pale hairs on her cheek and upper lip. The exaggerated apology face makes another appearance.

‘Michael, would you mind getting in the back? It’s just… well, we’re not quite two metres apart.’

‘The back?’ I say genuinely baffled. I was in the back. She gestures with her head to the space behind me.

I get out of the car and back in through the door of the large open boot. I avoid eye contact with the people at the bus stop in their blue and white face masks, although I want nothing more than to join them. As Nichola drives away without indicating, I watch them enviously through the rear window. They’re free while I’m sitting next to a thirty-litre sack of cat litter in the car boot of a mad woman.           

The volume of sound increases abruptly through the car’s speakers, amplifying Jenny Murray’s voice mid-sentence: ‘–woman and her cat. Why does it make her a crazy cat lady when a man with a cat is just a man with a cat?’ I close my eyes, wishing I could close my ears. I try deep breathing but the smell woody of cat litter, overlaid by something meatier and denser, prevents me. My eyes are stinging, my belly roiling. My mouth fills with saliva and I think I’m going to vomit, just as the car slows and stops. I open my eyes to see a cul-de-sac of shabby semi-detached council houses. I’m aware of Nichola’s torso through the rear windscreen as she opens the boot.

‘I just need to run in and use the loo,’ she says.

‘Great,’ I say to the empty cul-de-sac. I get out of the boot and stretch my cramped legs. Wanting the job done, I lift the sack of cat litter and carry it towards the house, almost tripping over a large tabby cat that slaloms slowly between my legs. Another – white with black and tan splotches – sits in the downstairs front window, its tail flicking slowly up and down.

The front door is ajar and the keys still in the lock. I push it with my shoulder, dropping the sack of litter onto the hallway floor. Then it hits me: the eye-watering aroma of piss and the meaty smell of cat food that’s but one digestive step away from being cat shit. I hold my breath and return to the doorway, inhaling deeply and trying not to puke.

I take out my phone, open Google Maps and enter my post code. I’m five miles from home. Fuck it, I’ll walk. I feel a burst of energy and wild happiness. Keeping as close to the front door as possible, I turn in the direction of the staircase. I hear nothing: no running water or flushing.

 ‘Nichola?’ I step back into the hallway. The door to the left of me is closed. Could she be in there? ‘Nichola, I’m going. I’ll walk the rest of the way.’

Wishing I had a face mask, I cover my mouth and nose with my hand, and move slowly towards the closed door. The white, black and tan cat from the window is sitting there, watching me, flicking its tail. ‘Fuck off,’ I mouth silently. I grip the handle and slowly open the door. Another cat is visible inside the room, black with white paws, crouching low, its tail moving laterally across the carpet, ready to pounce. Jesus, how many cats does she have?

‘Nichola?’ I enter the room, opening the door fully with my elbow. There’s no furniture, apart from scratching posts and climbing frames with levers and fluffy balls. A large, enclosed litter tray flanked by two smaller ones sits below the windowsill, and in the middle of the room, a white and green mechanism that appears to dispense cat treats is next to a water fountain. Eight or nine cats of varying sizes and colours occupy the room. There’s no sign of Nichola. I’m about to leave when I hear an arrhythmic scrabbling sound from the enclosed litter tray, accompanied by the sudden smell of fresh cat shit.

‘Fuck me! Jesus!’ I gag, pressing both hands over my nose and mouth. The flap of the litter tray opens outwards and a fox-sized cat emerges, pale orange with white stripes. I watch in fascinated revulsion as it stalks towards me, green eyes fixed on mine. It purrs loudly and begins to rub itself against my calves as though it knows me, then jumps upwards playfully. I yell in pain as sharp claws pierced my thighs through my jeans. The cat retreats and licks its paws, looking bored.

I retreat to the hallway – grateful for a sudden gust of air that comes through the open front door – and go arse over tit onto the sack of cat litter. When I right myself, the large, ginger cat is sitting by the open front door, looking out at the path. I keep my eyes on it as I call out again to Nichola that I’m leaving. Again, no reply.

The cat blinks and yawns, showing small, sharp teeth. It licks the corners of its mouth then jumps up, pressing its paws against the open door, slamming it shut. The hallway is dark now. The cat is barely visible, apart from the white markings on its head and neck and a small silver charm on a chain around its neck that tinkles faintly.

About the Author

Barbara Robinson is a Manchester-based writer with an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Writing School, MMU. Her novel thesis, Elbow Street, was shortlisted for 2018 Northern Writers’ Awards (Andrea Badenoch category) and longlisted for the Grindstone Literary Prize 2018.  In 2016, her story Supersum was short-listed for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize and published in Willesden Herald: New Short Stories 9. She has had short stories published by Confingo, Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Cicerone Journal and has been listed on the TSS Best British and Irish Flash Fiction list for the past two years.  

Trauma by Stephanie Piggott

Trauma is Japanese knotweed. 

When we cut it down, it will grow back.
Some days trauma whispers softly in the breeze,
light as air. But it is always here, moving
slowly, building to a giant’s roar. 

Trauma is Japanese knotweed. 
It grows back bigger, fills us until we gasp,
shakes us into little girls,
choking in dark corners. 

About the Author

Stephanie Piggott is a preschool teacher from Co. Clare, Ireland. She recently fell in love with poetry during Lockdown and is new to writing. This will be Stephanie’s first publication.

Czech Poetry: what Do You Know? by Natalie Nera

  The answer for most people around the world would probably be – not much. Some intellectuals may recall the names of prose writers Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal and Karel Čapek. All were or have been great authors, yet none had the pleasure to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, although Kundera (arguably also a French scribe) and Čapek were/have been nominated many times. Yet, the only author who won this literary prize was a poet – Jaroslav Seifert.               

Czech poetry has always been heart and soul of the nation. In the nineteenth century, it tried to prove that Czech language, only just brought back from the brink of extinction, is more than an equal match for the big languages. The nationalistic undertone of much of the output of that era is hard to miss. Nonetheless, it still produced some world-class authors, notably Jan Neruda, who is one of my favourite writers of that period. If the name sounds familiar to you, you are not wrong. The legend has it that later, the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” and Nobel Prize Winner Pablo Neruda assumed this Czech writer’s name in his honour.                Let us travel swiftly to the age of contemporary poetry. Until 1989, there were essentially three streams of poetry: the official one; the underground one and the exile one. The communist government was in great support of official poets who became one of the powerful tools of their propaganda. That style discredited an occasional poetry – address poems, for many years to come, and thus widened the division between an ordinary person and a poet.               

The only poet, widely exported at that time, was Miroslav Holub who stood apart from these official trends and wrote intentionally in a way that made his poems easy to translate.

It is difficult to unpick what happens after 1989, perhaps with a general but not very accurate statement that there is no one stream that prevails. There are many more names that would deserve and should end up in our small taster of what contemporary Czech poetry has to offer, and perhaps – I hope -,  in the future we will be able to do it.

Like in many countries, regular readers of Czech poetry are small in numbers. Unlike in the XIX and beginning of XX century, Czech poetry does not follow any particular international trends, nor it adheres to any scheme or master plan. Writing in the style of our only Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Jaroslav Seifert is a rarity these days.

In the following months, you will get a small glimpse of the current scene of Czech poetry. Many more poets would be deserving to appear here, and I certainly hope that in time, we will be able to introduce them all. In the meantime, you may wish to read the article on the pages of the Czech Literary Centre that names many other notable authors I think are worth exploring. Next week: Ladies first – four contemporary Czech poetesses

Broken Glasses by Tom Kelly

I am myopic. I had broken my glasses and needed to go for my first job-interview. Not a good start. I thought, at sixteen, going on seventeen, meant I definitely could not go. My mother went apoplectic when I suggested I miss the interview, ‘I had to!’ I looked for comfort from Grandmother. She would realise I would feel very uncomfortable because of my poor eyesight and could not find my way there. Grandmother was incredulous. How could I think of not going? The dye was cast.

After finding a compliant wall I made my way to the shipyard office where I had to be interviewed. Picture Blind Pew from ‘Treasure Island’. Now the interview, like my eyes, is not clear. The office, however, is printed strongly on my memory: I had slipped into a Dickens novel. Take away the harsh fluorescent lights on the ceiling and everything else was Bob Cratchit. I was surprised, initially, as to why the rest of the staff did not talk about Ebenezer Scrooge. Heavy jackets and the arses of trousers shining like a brand-new half-crown were the order of the day. Shirts and ties, not matching, completed the dress code. Ebenezer may not have approved.

Outside the office, boats were being repaired in the shipyard and the noise was unbelievable. Frightening. Caulker’s hammers attacked the air and echoed around the docks. No-one seemed to notice. This was my new normality. At dinner-time I walked round the shipyard. Can you see me? Black Donkey jacket and a brightly coloured shirt with a tab collar. I still sense my insecurity.

‘What did I do?’ I worked in the Time-Office. I checked and calculated workers’ time spent on their job. Have you noticed how people rarely ask what you do at work after you tell them you have an office job? Words like ‘Accounts’, and ‘Wage Department’ seem to suffice. Then you talk about getting to and from work.

This is what I did in the Time-Office. I wrote in huge ledgers. How ‘huge’ is ‘huge?’ Spread both your arms out as far as they will stretch and about half that span is the width of the black ledgers. They are made of metal and you attach ledger sheets into punch holes. I hope the picture is clear.

I soon learnt some men were not always happy about how much they were being paid. Nothing new in that. Men, generally smelling of beer, would come to our window in the Time-Office and tell us that they wanted their pay sorted or they would ‘sort us’ out.

I would dive to the office door and lock it quickly or if that failed hold my foot and the rest of my body against the bottom of the door. One man told me, several times, his wages were wrong. He refused to accept anything I said. I stood at a window where queries were dealt with. I eventually closed the window on this man as he had drunk so much it was difficult to understand anything he was trying to say.

I brought the window down. And fastened the bolt that locked it. The next moment I was covered in glass. He had put his fist through the window. The police were called. The man stood in the yard, outside our office, telling of his complaints to any-one who would listen while blood dripped from his hand. The policeman asked if he had broken the window. He said, ‘No’. The policeman asked how he cut his hand. He said, ‘Shaving this morning’.

Shaving did not seem to feature with the Tank Cleaners. They took oil from the inside of tanks, going into the hold of ships on make-shift ladders, after a pump had taken as much oil out of the tank as it possibly could. The oil had to be removed before the ship could leave the dock on the tide.

These were mostly young men dressed in rags. No masks. No hard hats or breathing equipment. They had a portacabin where they kept haversacks with their sandwiches they would eat after the journey to the bowels of the hold. In the corner of the yard was a 45-gallon drum, filled with ‘Swarfega’, which helped clean the oil from their arms and faces.

It is winter. I am with the Tank Cleaners’ Foreman asking how many hours his men had worked during the night. The drum is covered with ice. A young lad, about the same age as me, picks up a metal bar and smashes the ice that is preventing him from getting at the ‘Swarfega’. The noise is of a skull being smashed. The ice shatters across the drum as I move my repaired broken glasses into my inside jacket pocket and the young lad becomes a blur that is with me today.  

About the Author

Tom Kelly is a Tyneside writer who has had a great deal of his stage work produced by the Customs House, South Shields. His ninth poetry collection This Small Patch has recently been published and re-printed by Red Squirrel Press who also published his short story collection Behind the Wall. His stories have appeared in a number of UK magazines and on Radio Four.

Three Poems by Anne Gill

Response Team

Above a light with a fabric shade.
Something soft against my skin.
A man’s voice. Holes in a jumper.
The image of a snail in my stomach.
Asking what? Asking something.
The yellow table. Peeling paint.
Cherry pits in a bowl on the table. 

The Avery


A parrot monkey bars along the top
and closes its beak on your thumb.

Do you want to leave? 
You don’t reply.


Longing is a dishwasher,
a traffic jam, a painted shell.


After we’ve plaited ivy into the walls
we’ll kiss goodnight to the flowering mould

and a door will shut with a click
and I’ll sing you a lullaby about fish.

About the Author

Anne Gill is a founding member of the Second City Poets whose first collection, Playground, was published with Verve Poetry Press. She has performed her work both nationally and internationally, and was shortlisted for the Outspoken Prize for Performance Poetry 2019. Her pamphlet, Raft, was published in 2019 with Bad Betty Press. She can be found at her desk, or sitting on the pavement with the neighbourhood cats.