Czech Poetry Spring





In our last instalment, we introduce Czech authors who were born in 1940s and 1950s and thus spent a large part of their lives in an undemocratic regime. They represent poets that do not normally get selected for translation by academics or editors although Tomáš Míka who translates his own work, has been published and known internationally. He moves in multi-lingual cultural spaces with ease and inhabits them with irresistible charm. However, there are many reasons for the lack of representation in translation: behind the Iron Curtain, post Jaroslav Seifert & Nobel Prize for Literature, and with enormous success of Miroslav Holub in English, hunger for Czech poets rapidly decreased. Moreover, over the years it has been overshadowed by the proximity of the bigger, and thus more significant Poland.

And there is the issue of translation itself. Jiří Dědeček is a singer and songwriter as well as outstanding translator of many French texts into Czech. His poems reveal that musicality, and with rhymes, so natural in Czech, pose a difficulty in other types of languages, namely English (and I have tried my best to do his text justice). Jiří Žáček is incredibly popular and even those who do not read poetry and do not know any other poet, know his name. His poems are recited to toddlers by their mothers, school children find his texts in their reading books. However, his easy and playful rhymes, self-deprecating sense of humour do not travel well. Moreover, at present rhymes are sneared upon in Czech poetry, as one unnamed editor of a prestigious literary periodical explained to me, We don’t do rhymes anymore, that is not how you are supposed to write. This rejection of rhyme in contemporary poetry is even more surprising because a rhyme in Czech is as natural as is iambic pentameter in English.

And then there are poets who made their names in other parts of creative industry. Daniela Fischerová is famous as a scriptwriter, playwright and prose writer both for children and adults. She was also a close associate of president Václav Havel, another playwright who had made his name worldwide before leaving his mark in Czech history and politics in the 1990s. On the other hand, Olga Walló is a true legend of translation, radio, TV and film, admired by many, even worshipped.

Olga Nytrová represents a stream of Czech poetic output that gets rarely noticed or mentioned even locally – she is a spiritual and philosophical writer who uses verse as a medium of expressing and unpicking her understanding of the world and universe with a large number of successfully published books.

Natalie Nera (All texts below are translated by me apart from Tomáš Míka, the translation is his own.)





JIŘÍ DĚDEČEK
And the Blues

A Blues
The blues
no blame here
and with you

Your rhythm I hear
lost and dear
losing
myself, adieu

My soul 
turns to dust
and what 
attracts me

to you
are lost
sorrows
of a refugee

Avoiding
the old place
and somehow
have answers

Greeting all
who are disgraced
and prostate
cancers

A blues
The blues
what can I change
the unchanged revivalist

I in you 
With no roots
growing for 
my wreath

My blues
You are like the story about a maid
who
is waiting to be saved,
by the pen that becomes blade

From Pošta shora, 2019 publisher


DANIELA FISCHEROVÁ
Looking Back

Lot’s wife looked back
And at once

Orpheus looked over his shoulder
And at once

I have a contract with my memory
That some videos are not going to be shown anymore
 In return I give up
Names foreign languages and addresses
My memory demands more and more

Perhaps
Right before the end
 I am going to look back
 And in one horrifying glimpse
I will face myself
Like a naked old octopus
That will see herself in the mirror for the first time 

From Potvora mlsná, příběhy, portréty




TOMÁŠ MÍKA
Stripping off
 
I’ve stripped off my thirst while waiting
I'm almost a stranger
as before
back then long ago
deliberately distancing closeness
Only when it's not within reach
I am calm and at the same time I’m not
Only then do I pull my hands out of my pockets
and use them as a welcome
So far, just a picture
not painted yet
And I immediately turn my back on it
and start to run
never to come back
I know I'll find you farthest
from you

xxx

At her wailing wall
he didn't shed a tear
even the wall fell silent
very desirable
but he was unwelcome
with a fishing rod
without a hook

xxx

I tend towards the minimal
closing both my eyes and doors
all other entrances and exits
restricting movement to breathing
Sleep is not coming
but the encounter is drawing near
I know it

Transl. by the author






OLGA NYTROVÁ
Socrates’ glass 

Eyes full of tears
the irritating Prague air
tired bronchial tubes
nasopharynx full of pus

Breathe in again
a clean sip of air
hear the seagulls by the sea
catch the rhythm of the waves
Socrates’ glass
full of red wine
left next to the scented sticks
and the slender candle

Let the words flow
like a tune
their juicy flesh
taking in like paradise fruit from the lost beach.


OLGA WALLÓ

You shouldn’t trust me at all
I can lie but not well

It’s dark outside like in the light well 
An unlikely likening
 
The dark outside with daggers and a spell
And courage badges
Ice melting in the mountains I climb
Every day something happens 
for the last time
 
From Láska k stáru (Love in the Twilight Years)





JIŘÍ ŽÁČEK
Wings

If our ancestors had wings,
they would fly.
But our ancestors were fish 
God knows why.
(Approximately half a billion years ago.)
Perhaps to you, that’s a blow?

Back then, the strangest creatures roamed the seas:
Their eyes of a fish,
Teeth of a fish, 
Fins of a fish, 
A tail of a fish -
their missing-wings – a secret wish.
But evolution supports constant change.
I think of those wings all the time 
And how it’s all arranged.
 
I hope our descendants  
Will really try
And in gazillions of evolutionary days,
Powered only by their arms,
they will reach the sky
The fish will be amazed!
The salamanders will be amazed!
The mammals will be amazed!
And you will be amazed, it’s not just a phase!










 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jiří Dědeček (b. 1953, Karlovy Vary) is poet, translator, educator, singer-songwriter. He was educated at a specialist secondary school for languages. In 1976 he graduated in librarianship from Prague University and was conscripted to the army, after which he worked in the Prague Language School as an interpreter in French. In 1983 to 1987 JD studied script writing in FAMU (Prague Film Academy).
He started writing in 1974, and his output includes poetry, songs, plays and musicals. “Because the possibilities for publishing any of my work were practically non-existent, I started singing in clubs and theatres. And so for this reason I am mostly known in my country as a folk singer. I see the texts of my songs as the main area of my creativity. The music is simple, but it si there to help convey the thought.” His publications include: Texts (1982), published by the Club of Friends of the Semafor Theatre; What happened in the ZOO (1987), from the children´s publishing house Albatros; The moon over the housing estate (1987); etc… In 1988 his translations of Georges Brassens´songs from the French was published. His recent collection of poems Questionnaire was firts published in Munich, and, after the revolution, in Czech Republic

Daniela Fischerová, b. in 1948 in Prague, is a prominent Czech writer, playwright and script writer as well as an award-winning author for children. For many years, she worked as an editor in a publishing house. In the 1990s, she was one of the close advisors of President Václav Havel. She currently teaches creative writing. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniela_Fischerov%C3%A1.

Tomáš Míka was born in 1959 in Prague, Czech Republic. His original work includes books of poetry “Nucený výsek” (Destruction of Animals), 2003 and “Deník rychlého člověka” (Journal of a Fast Man), 2007 and “Textové zprávy” (Text Messages), 2016. His book of short stories “Und” was published in 2005. He works as a translator from English, among the authors whose works he translated are Samuel Beckett (Watt), John Bunyan (The Pilgrim’s Progress), James Hogg (Confessions of the Justified Sinner), Jack Black (You Can’t Win). He lives in Prague.

Olga Nytrová (b. in 1949 in Prague) is an academic, philosopher, editor, poet, playwright and writer. She is head of Prague’s Writers’ Society and literary-drama club Dialog na cestě. She also works in clerical service of Czechoslovak Hussite Church. She represents a spiritual brand of Czech poetry. More information at https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Nytrov%C3%A1

Olga Walló was born in 1948 in Prague. She read philosophy at the Charles University and then carved a successful career as film dubbing director, writer and translator of literary texts, including Shakespeare etc. She has always written poetry but started publishing her poetic texts at the age of fifty. She currently lives in a remote cottage in the middle of the deep mountain forest in the Czech Republic but counts among legends of Czech radio, film, television, literature and literary translation.

Jiří Žáček, born in 1945 in Chomutov, is a writer, poet, playwright, translator and author of textbooks for young learners. With accolades of national and internation awards, he is truly a national treasure. His poems are known to generations of children and adults alike, popular for their melodic grasp of Czech language, easy rhymes and wit. More at https://jirizacek.cz/ and https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ji%C5%99%C3%AD_%C5%BD%C3%A1%C4%8Dek

THE GIBETTING OF WILLIAM JOBLING by Tom Kelly

As a child I used to play by Jarrow Slake, or ‘Jarra Slacks’ as we would say. It was near to Saint Pauls’ Church, Jarrow at mouth of the Tyne. It was there I heard stories of a man being hung. It was enough to terrify me, even though I knew nothing of the man that had apparently been hung.

I did not know William Jobling had been tried and hung in 1832 at Durham Assizes, for the murder of South Shields magistrate Nicholas Fairles. And that his body was then escorted by one hundred soldiers from Durham to Jarrow Slake where he was placed upon a gibbet twenty-one foot high.

Then in 1972 I became immersed in William Jobling when I researched the Jobling story for an exhibition ‘The Gibbetting of William Jobling’ at the Bede Gallery in Jarrow, held in October of that year, I wrote the chapbook ‘The Gibbeting of Wm. Jobling’ which accompanied the exhibition. Prior to that the doyen of north-east writing, Sid Chaplin, had written an article for the Jarrow Festival programme in 1971 which had prompted Vincent Rea, curator of the Bede Gallery, to organise the Jobling exhibition that went on to successfully tour the U.K.

I also discovered Professor Norman McCord of Newcastle University had written a paper in 1958 for the South Shields Archaeological and Historical Society, entitled, ‘The Murder of Nicholas Fairles, Esq., J.P., at Jarrow Slake, on June, 11th 1832’. Professor McCord kindly sent me a copy in 1972. That said the Jobling story had remained largely untold, although does feature in Fynes and Richardson’s Local History Table Books.

Incidentally when carrying out the research I unearthed Jobling’s gibbet which was in the Newcastle Keep. It had been given to the Newcastle Society of Antiquities in 1856 when Tyne Dock was developed. The gibbet was a key piece in the Bede Gallery exhibition. The gibbet was a derrick which would have been used to discharge cargo from ships on the Tyne. It was extended to a height of twenty-one and was secured in a cement base. It can now be found in South Shields Museum.  

In 2010 Filmmaker Gary Wilkinson and myself produced a short film,’ The ‘Jarrow Voices’ looking at the Jarrow Crusade and Jobling at which features Saint Mary’s churchyard at Heworth in Gateshead. I find this particularly poignant and important as there is a memorial stone dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1812 Felling Colliery disaster. It underlines the conditions in collieries in the nineteenth century in the north-east.

Now when I pass Saint Mary’s churchyard at Heworth in Gateshead, and see the stone dedicated to those who lost their lives in the 1812 Felling Colliery disaster when entire families from eight years of age. In that same cemetery lies the grave of Thomas Hepburn, who founded the Northern Union of Pitmen in 1831. His gravestone reads, “This stone was erected by the miners of Northumberland and Durham and other friends.” It’s the ‘other friends’ that has, for me, such power.

A cursory glance at colliery records reveals a frightening death toll. Jarrow’s Pit was no exception: January 25th. 1817, forty-two men and boys killed and in a near duplication of events in August 1830, a further forty-two lost their lives, leaving, on that occasion, twenty-one widows and sixty-six fatherless children.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, miners had voiced their dissatisfaction with working conditions and their annual bonds and in 1810 they eventually went on strike. Mineworkers had to sign an annual contract known as a ‘bond’, which meant they had to stay at a particular colliery for a year and a day. As most pitmen were illiterate, they would make their cross on the bond and the viewer or manager of the colliery would add the man’s name.

No permanent union organisation existed, however, until the establishment of the Northern Union of Pitmen of Tyne and Wear, led by Thomas Hepburn. He was a Wesleyan Methodist, as were many pitmen. He was also a lay preacher and learnt to read and write through classes organised by the Methodists.

In April, 1831, he led the pitmen on strike. He wanted boys to work only a twelve-hour day as they had been working sixteen hours. He also sought the abolition of the ‘Tommy Shop’ system. This was a system whereby pitmen were paid in ‘Tommy checks,’ vouchers that could only be used in company stores at prices greatly unfavourable to the pitmen.

This strike led to battles between pitmen and the militia. Hepburn, at his meetings, pleaded with his men to keep a peaceful strike. These meetings were held at Black Fell, Boldon Colliery and Friars Goose, Gateshead and on one occasion, twenty thousand pitmen met on Newcastle’s Town Moor.

The strike lasted until September 1831. Some concessions were gained: Hepburn was made a full-time official but there was still bitter opposition to the unions.

In April 1832 there was another strike among pitmen of Northumberland and Durham, when they refused to sign their annual bonds. Once again there was violence and Cuthbert Skipsey, a miners’ leader in North Shields was shot and killed by a constable. Cuthbert was Joseph Skipsey’s father. The judge recommended leniency and the constable was given a six-month sentence with hard labour.

On June 11th. 1832 at 5.00 p.m. Jarrow pitmen, Ralph Armstrong and William Jobling were drinking in Turners pub in South Shields. On the road near the toll-bar gate, near Jarrow slake Jobling begged from Nicholas Fairles, a seventy-one-year-old well-known local magistrate. He refused. Armstrong, who had followed Jobling, attacked Fairles with a stick and a stone. Both men ran away leaving Fairles’ seriously injured on the road. Two hours later Jobling was arrested on South Shields beach where horse racing was taking place. Armstrong, an ex-seaman, apparently returned to sea.

After his arrest Jobling was taken to Fairles home and was identified as having been present but that he had not been the main assailant. Jobling was taken to Durham Jail and when Fairles died of his injuries on June 21st, was charged with murder. Jobling was tried at Durham Assizes on Wednesday, August 1st. The jury took fifteen minutes in reaching their guilty verdict.

Judge Parke, in his summing-up attacked the unions, “Combinations which are alike injurious to the public interest and to the interests of those persons concerned in them…I trust that death will deter them following your example”. The sentence was that Jobling be publicly executed and his body be hung from a gibbet erected in Jarrow Slake, near the scene of the attack. The judge continued, “I trust that the sight of that will have some affect upon those, who are to a certain extent, your companions in guilt and your companions in these ‘illegal proceedings’, which have disgraced the county. May they take warning by your fate”. Jobling was the last man gibbeted in the North and the last man gibbeted had been some forty years previously.

Jobling was hanged on August 3rd. Hepburn asked his men not to attend the hanging and held a meeting on Boldon Fell. After Jobling was taken from the scaffold his clothes were removed and his body covered in pitch. He was then riveted into an iron cage, made of flat iron bars two and a half inches wide. His feet were placed in stirrups from which bars of iron went each side of his head and ended in a ring, which suspended his cage. Jobling’s hands hung by his sides, and his head was covered with a white cloth.

In a four-wheeled wagon, drawn by two horses, on Monday, August 6th, his body was taken to Jarrow Slake escorted by a troop of Hussars and two companies of Infantry. The gibbet was fixed upon a stone weighing one and half tons that was sunk into the Slake, and the heavy wooden uprights were reinforced with steel bars to prevent it being sawn through. At high tide the water covered four to five feet of the gibbet leaving a further sixteen to seventeen feet visible.

Isabella, Jobling’s wife, had a cottage near the Slake and would have been able to see her husband clearly for the three weeks he was displayed. On August 31st, when the guard was removed, Jobling’s friends stole the body. His whereabouts have never been discovered.

By September 1832, the strike had petered out and the union was almost non-existent and did revive but not for some years and the annual bonds were not abolished until some forty years later.

When the union died, Hepburn tried to sell tea from door-to-door, but anyone buying from him risked losing his job. Eventually, starving, Hepburn went to Felling Colliery and asked for work. He was offered employment provided he had no further dealings with the unions.

He conformed and devoted the remainder of his life to educating pitmen and became involved with the Chartist movement. In April 1891 Isabella Jobling went into South Shields Work House, and died there, too senile to recall her husband.  Jarrow’s colliery closed in 1852 and now there is no indication of where it stood, and a school stands near its former site. Much of Jarrow’s Slake has been reclaimed.

Attempts have also been made to discover Jobling’s body but to no avail. Jobling’s body was stolen by his friends, after three weeks, when the guards were removed. They risked seven years transportation in doing so.

I am not defending Jobling’s involvement in the killing of Nicholas Fairles, a 71-year-old man, he was, an accomplice to the murder, carried-out by Ralph Armstrong. Armstrong was never apprehended. It is what the authorities did with Jobling’s body and why which particularly interests me.

What effect did Jobling have? What power did the image of his cage swinging on Jarrow slake invoke? It is a powerful image. It underlined the ruthlessness of the government of the day. Were the pitmen of Tyne and Wear bowed by its power?  Perhaps the French Revolution was too near and it was felt that the working class should be treated harshly at any sign of insurrection.

I suggest Judge Parke, the judge at Jobling’s trial and Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne and company made Jobling a symbol, a battering ram, butting the pitmen of 1832 back to work to break the union and it had the desired effect.

What would have happened if the unions had become successful and a working-class revolt had become a reality? What if there had been a more cohesive and organised revolt on a national scale? What if Jobling and the Peterloo massacres of 1819 and other attempts at working class rebellion during this period had brought about change? Shelley, after the Peterloo massacre, asked that we use this bludgeoning as a means of change:

Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

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.

www.tomkelly.org.uk

Dad Teaches Me to Light Matches by Holly Magill

Welephant had done too good a job on me

him and all the scare-scar horror stories.

Boy who, on November 6th, picked up – he’d thought – 
a dead firework. Boy now with no face.

Girl who stood too close to the fire in a shellsuit – 
green and purple glued her a second skin.

Birthday sparklers, gas hobs, Bunsen burners
the casual lighter-flicks of the smoker girls in school.

Me, 19 years old. Still petrified.

*

He stands me at the utility room worktop
in the dream cottage he’d restored with Wife No.2

the counter where she spoons the cat-food
whole other room from the show kitchen.

He squares the small oblong in my palm
its rough sides flinch my fingers.

We’ll do every one together until you can.

His hand cups mine steady
guides me to do something practical, useful.

Love – matchbox-sized – 
terrifying with each strike

proves to me I can be safe

whatever lies in years either side.

About the Author

Holly Magill’s poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Interpreter’s House, Bare Fiction, and Under The Radar, and anthologies –Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) and #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology (Fair Acre Press). She won first prize in the 2019 Cannon Poets ‘sonnet or Not’ competition. She co-edits Atrium – www.atriumpoetry.com. Her debut pamphlet, The Becoming of Lady Flambé, is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/holly-magill/4594330527

Room 6? by Christine Fowler

            Death had a headache.  He normally only picked one out of a hundred thousand people, to actually see as a representative of all the other ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine he collected simultaneously.  But even that one person was becoming blurred.  When you harvest souls, day in and day out for all eternity, things, people did become, well ‘samey’ he thought.

            His ruminations were interrupted by the noise of someone snoring, loudly.  He stopped as he bumped into a side table.  A bedside light sprang on and a woman’s voice said, ‘Who’s there?’

            Crap he thought, she shouldn’t have heard that.  He decided to ignore the voice.  But there it was again, ‘Who’s there I said?’

            Then he heard the click as the main light went on.  Feeling slightly exposed, a new feeling he was surprised to note, he turned towards the voice.  He saw an old woman, no surprise there, he was after all in a Care Home, to gather Rose Black. 

            The woman was pushing a pair of false teeth in which she had taken from a slightly grubby glass on her bedside table, and was squinting short sightedly at him.  ‘I said whose there?  And what are you doing in those ridiculous clothes?  It’s not Halloween.  Come here where I can see you properly.’

            Death truth to tell felt a bit overwhelmed by the diatribe, which looked set to continue.  On the very rare occasions in the past when people had seen him, they screamed and fell over dead.  But this was new.  Perhaps when he was nearer and she saw him properly, things would go back to normal and she would keel over.

            He stepped forward and she grabbed his arm.  ‘Pull down that ridiculous hood so I can see your face’ she ordered.

            ‘You’re sure?’ he croaked.

            ‘Get on with it.’

            He complied and revealed his bony skull, complete with staring dark empty orbs. 

            ‘Hmm’ she grunted.  ‘Death I suppose.  I see you haven’t had one of these new-fangled makeover thingies.’

            He felt slightly affronted by this remark and to be fair also rather bemused.  Who was this woman?  Why was she responding like this?  Had he lost his touch?

            ‘What’s the matter?  Cat got your tongue?’ then she cackled, ‘I suppose, skulls don’t have tongues?’  Then she cackled again in amusement.

            This was just too much.  He pulled himself up straight, jerked his arm from her grasp and scowling snapped, ‘Show some respect Madam.  Who do you think you are, anyway?’

            ‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom and proud of it! ‘ She added with emphasis.

            He spluttered, ‘Elsie, Elsie Rowbottom indeed.  Who is she when she is at home?  I came here for Rose, not an Elsie, Rose Black.’

            ‘Well that’s not my fault is it?  If, you can’t read door numbers.  I’m number nine and she is number six.’

            He turned abruptly, stalked to the door and looked pointedly at the brass number, clearly a six.’

            She laughed, ‘That handyman was supposed to fix that ages ago.  See’ she said, as she made her way slowly across the room with the help of a rather unusually carved walking stick.  She prodded the stick at the number on the door and spun it round.   ‘A nine, it just looked like a six because the top screw is missing.’

            ‘Ah’ said Death, ‘I should have spotted that.’

            ‘Now I’m awake come in and have a tipple of gin with me.  There’s not much choice of company here, they’re nearly all doolally.  I could do with a good old gossip.’

            ‘But are you not worried about’ and he indicated his face this, me, Death?’

            She chortled, ‘I am living with death all around me in this place.  They might as well all have popped their clogs.  After all, they sound like zombies or look like corpses or as good as anyway.’

            He looked at her properly.  He could see what she had been and what she might have been and indeed what she had become.  Yes, she was worth a stop and he sat down on the lone armchair by the window.

            ‘Take the best seat, why don’t you!’

            He got up and this time he took her elbow and led her over to the chair.  He then perched on the end of her bed.  ‘Better?’

            ‘Yes, I see you can be a gentleman when prompted,’ as she poured two generous measures of gin.  ‘No ice.  This place doesn’t run to that.’

            ‘Nor gin I warrant’ Death wryly observed.

            ‘You’ve got that right, mister, ‘ she replied as she clinked glasses and settled back more comfortably in her chair.  ‘Now what can you tell me about where I’m going.  I’ve always wanted to know.’

            ‘Sorry that’s a trade secret.  Why don’t you tell me about yourself?’

            ‘Me, no.  Nothing special about me.  What you see you get.  I’d rather talk about you, after all it’s not every day a girl gets a visit from Death and lives to tell the tale.  I will live to tell the tale?’  She remarked as an after-thought.

            ‘Seems like it you’re not on my list for today.’

            ‘That’s good,’ she said visibly relaxing.  ‘Now you were saying about your job… a bit frustrating eh?  Can’t find Rose what’s its name?  I’ll take you there myself when we finish the gin, she’s a right pain in the proverbial, if you know what I mean,’ and sniggered.

            Taking a large gulp of the good stuff, she continued.  ‘You know I never thought I’d end up in here.  I swore I’d never end up in a place like this.  The scrapheap.  Once you’re in there’s no getting out you know.  That’s right there’s no escape, unless you call losing your mind, escape.  Mind there’s a lot of them opt for that.  Sniffing she took another large mouthful, absentmindedly topped up her glass to the brim, and waved it at Death in invitation.

            ‘No, thanks I’m OK at the moment’ he said waving his hand in negation.

            ‘Thought about it myself, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.  It’s my curiosity you know.  I always want to know what’s going on.  Take the matron, being looking smug for weeks now.  I couldn’t quite fathom it, until I found her phone on her desk.  I had a gander didn’t I.  Read her texts.  And wouldn’t you credit it I found some saucy texts to one of the board members.  I send a copy to my phone never know when it might come in handy that sort of information.’  She paused for breath.

            Death by this point was in quiet admiration of Elsie’s grip on life, and for that matter apparent grasp of new technology.  ‘I’m impressed.  How did you know how to do that?’

            ‘Easy peasy one of the carers snuck her kid in when the school had one of those occasional day things.  Never did that in my day.  We got our hands slapped with a ruler if we weren’t working and messing about.  Come to think of it, we didn’t have to be messing about we just have to have caught the teachers’ eye.’

            Death coughed ‘You were saying about how you knew to send a copy…’

            ‘Oh, the phone, yes well.  Any way I found the kid bored out of his skull messing about in the laundry room.  So, I just gave him some occupational what’s it’

            ‘Therapy.  You mean occupational therapy.’

            ‘Yes, that’s it.  Occupational therapy, so I got him to show me a thing or two then let him download some game thingies and play on it.’

            She waved the gin bottle again, ‘More?’

            Death looked at his glass, what the Hell he thought.  ‘Hit me,’ he said.

            There was a satisfactory glugging sound as she poured another stiff gin for both of them, then she sank back into her armchair once again.  ‘Where was I?’ she said as she stared at him for inspiration, then fascination.  ‘Where does it go?’

            ‘Where does what go?’

            She waved her glass, ‘This.’

            ‘Same place as yours, to my head of course!’

            She laughed, ‘Ain’t that the truth.’  Silence fell.  Her eyelids drooped, then she startled, ‘Jerry’ she exclaimed.

            ‘What?’

            ‘You remind me of Jerry.  My Jerry.  My lovely Jerry’ she mumbled, as she seemed to drift off to sleep.  Death tiptoed out of the room.

            Elsie woke up with a start.  What a strange dream, she thought, as she cast her eyes towards the sun burst clock on the wall.  5.30 am, worth getting out of her armchair and getting into bed.  The lazy care workers wouldn’t be in until at least 9.00 am to see if she was up for what passed for breakfast here.

            ‘Oh, my aching bones’ she grunted as she attempted to lever herself out of the armchair.  Her arms trembled with the effort and she collapsed back in frustration.  ‘Bugger, Bugger, Bugger.  I’m not going to be stuck here again, am I?’ she muttered, ‘The indignity.’  Gritting her teeth and with one almighty effort she managed to rise.  First clutching the window sill to steady herself, she tottered over to her bed and flopped down heavily onto the easy wash and dry nylon cover.

            Gathering her breath before the final effort of getting in to it, her eyes caught sight of the glasses on the table.  Two glasses.  Two glasses.  She chewed her lip ruminating and realised that she had her teeth in.  ‘Well bugger me’ she blurted, ‘it was real.’

About the Author

Christine began writing fiction in 2018 both short stories and a novel featuring an alternative reality.  In addition, she set herself the challenge to write a Crime Story, this is part way through at the moment.  At the same time, she attended some adult education writing courses to discover the tools, shortcuts etc that writers use.  During this she became more interested in writing and performing poetry and since 2019 it has been her primary focus.  However, she really likes the character in this short story and will write more about her in the future.

I Remember the Bedroom by Cristina Discusar





i slept in every bed
the blue cover 
was my favourite
                         like the dark air
every time i woke up i was alone
                         and knew nothing
it was only my eyes that captured:
the backyard behind the block of flats
the window
the park in our neighbourhood
the health centre in the afternoon light
- as if they were polaroid snapshots
and i could not recall the cold, as if it never existed

several days ago, i sat on a bench and watched
two cranes, moving slowly as they were building a block of flats 
it looked like they would never finish 
I recorded it deep inside my mind

several days ago, i watched electric wires and trees
and didn’t blink

About the Author

Cristina Dicusar (07.08.1993) is a young, talented poet from Chisinau, The Republic of Moldova, who was already introduced to our readers in the autumn in our Translation Tuesday feature. She published her first poems in the „Clipa” magazine and in a poetry collection: „Casa Verde”/„The Green House”. Now she is writing her PhD with a thesis on contemporary Romanian poetry. She read at various literary clubs: The “Vlad Ioviță” Workshop (Chisinau, Republic of Moldova), “Tram 26” (Romania), “Mihail Ursachi” House of Culture (Romania), Bar Behind the Curtains (Czech Republic), Prague Writers’ Club (Czech Republic), Beseda Castle, Švrček Theater, (Slovakia) etc.  She is member of the “Vlad Ioviță” Creative Writing Workshop and of the “Republica” Cenacle. The featured poem is visually powerful and brings a different poetic view from a different corner of Europe. Translation by Cristina Discusar, Mircea Dan Duta and Natalie Nera.

Still Life with Fabrice Poussin

For our regular readers, Fabrice is like an old friend. We know him as a fantastic writer, poet and artist. Today, we can enjoy and admire his still life photography in our slide gallery, just the right dose for our times to remind ourselves of what ‘beautiful’ means and that our world really is beautiful.

About the Author

Fabrice Poussin is the Advisor for The Chimes, the Shorter University award-winning poetry and arts publication. His writing and photography have been published in print, including Kestrel, Symposium, La Pensee Universelle, Paris, and other art and literature magazine in the United States and abroad.

Visual Poems by Seth Crook








                                THE VISIBLE WORLD







                                I DISCOVERED
          
                                                                 THE EX T







                    






                                      THE INVISIBLE WORLD




                                       AT LAST

                                                  I FOUND

                                                             THE WAY  N
    


                     


























. 

About the Author

Seth Crook is transitioning into a seal, swims daily. His poems have appeared in such places as The Rialto, Magma, Envoi, The Interpreter’s House. And in recent anthologies such as Port (Dunlin), Green Fields (Maytree), Declarations (Scotland Street). His concrete/word-visual poems have recently appeared in Streetcake, Dreich, The Projectionist’s Playground,  and a forthcoming anthology celebrating Edwin Morgan.

Ink by Ross Turner

Ink

Herman’s fountain pen scored black trenches across coarse, grey paper. Thick ink trailed in slow lines to form letters, which joined into lingering words; he had been assured those words would take shape, become his memoirs, but, so far, they just looked like roads and paths. The page was another map – more unknown territory.

Halting, Herman crushed his palms into his eyes, blotting out his study: sodden dirt carpeted the uneven floor; mounded dust camouflaged regimented bookshelves; and picture-frame-debris littered the no-man’s-land that accounted for most of the room. To his left, sheaves of paper lined with roadways marked the years of old ground he had covered. When the lantern to his right sputtered and died, darkness overwhelmed the study.

He groaned, heaved himself up, limped into the living room, crunching glass underfoot and staggering over discarded tins. Apart from there being a settee instead of a desk, the rooms were identical. Lice-ridden bedsheets lay crumpled on soiled cushions, and Herman dove for the covers, oily hair obscuring his eyes as he sprawled down. He quaffed from an open bottle on the floor, emptying it before coming up for air, and embraced the stupor that seized him.

Smoke hangs low like fog. CO’s mouth churns. Shrilling too loud. He’s just a kid. Face pockmarked more than the ground. Hero complex too. He’ll be dead inside a week. Any second now. They’ll start shelling again. That’s how they do it. Lull you into a false sense of security. You poke your head up, they blow it off. They’re dependable like that. Hunker down. Comfortable sludge. Subtle shift – weight off gangrenous foot. Head against the mud wall. Eyes closed. Whistling fades. Begin to hear voices again. The Officer moves on. Men cram together. ‘Sherman!’ George’s voice. ‘Sherman! You alright?’ Eyes open. Bombing resumes.

The changing sound awoke Herman, as explosions became knocking. He flashed, snapped upright on the settee, drew a vicious breath.

‘Grandpa?’

He let the air whistle out between his teeth. The ache in his foot helped confine his anger, while the stabbing behind his eyes told him night had come and gone.

‘It’s open, Jennifer.’

She opened the front door and crept inside, inched the three paces through to the living room, cradling Tupperware tubs filled with spaghetti Bolognese and packs of chocolate digestives balanced on top.

‘Grandpa,’ she said quietly, glancing around.

‘Jennifer.’

She held her arms out, trembling. ‘I brought you these.’

Herman took them, felt suddenly exposed, knowing he would not eat them. ‘You’re such a good girl. Your mother would be proud.’

Jennifer looked down.

‘Can I take you today, Grandpa?’

‘I don’t want to go.’

‘Please?’ Her shaking intensified. ‘I need to go.’

‘They don’t know me.’

‘You won’t give them a chance.’

Later, back in his study, Herman’s pen hovered, clenched in his fist, ready to strafe the blank page. Globs of ink bubbled downwards, advancing on the pen’s tip. They gathered in a black pendant drop, threatened to bomb the two-dimensional, monochrome landscape. Finally – BOMBS AWAY! – it blitzed the paper.

No screaming came across the sky, as the liquid shell plummeted and exploded silently – sound and splash absorbed into the wreckage, veining out through coarse fibres, spreading like thick black flames. Herman watched the ink claw across the page, flicked his wrist to lay down more fire, spattering his arc.

The desk was grooved, as if it were gristly, wrinkled skin. Splattered ink wormed into those hollows, seeped deep into flesh. Herman had dug at the grooves with his blackened fingernails, excavating them over time, so that the desk – the useable portion of it, at least – was a third its original size. Sitting there, in the filthy study of his tiny council house, he had burrowed through muscle and tendon, exposed the nerves beneath.

He thrust the tip of his pen into the paper, wrought its tines askew as he stabbed the desk’s wooden skeleton; ink gushed from the pen’s slit, drenching the page. He swore in German as he tried to stem the flow, laughed at the absurdity, and swore instead in English.

Once the situation was under control, he issued a fresh sheet of paper, commissioned his reserve fountain pen, and began to write without abandon:

Some lads faked their details for another shot at the medical. Especially if they hadn’t got in because of something like asthma. They were young and desperate to go. I wasn’t any different. But when I got there and gave my name, they weren’t interested in anything else. Not my address or family history or NI number. Bypassed my medical. Before I knew it I was approved. A week later I was in basic training. Six weeks later they told me I was a soldier. Then they told me I was a translator. Said my name in a harsh accent. I didn’t speak a lick of German. 0600 they had me in my 2’s in front of the OC. He’d fought in the 1st and had the silver to show for it. He wasn’t happy. He repeated my name lots of times and asked me why I’d requested to be a translator. I told him I hadn’t. I didn’t know anything about it. He told me I had three days to learn German. Managed to scrounge a German dictionary. We shipped out the next day.

M4 Sherman Tanks were cheap to produce, small and light enough for shipping and to utilise existing bridging equipment, and generally reliable – by military standards. Herman had been nicknamed Sherman for much the same reasons: he had joined minus the cost of a medical; was underweight; and was such a reliable translator he spoke almost no German.

His Officer resented him, knowing the company had landed a dud: an inept translator and, at best, an average soldier. Herman’s only redeeming quality – which his hierarchy begrudgingly recognised – was his relentless determination; consequently, though it was never really an option, he did not desert, and, through reading his dictionary and practicing on prisoners of war, could speak halting German inside of three months.

Memories bombarded him, assaulting Herman with vague mud- and blood-stained faces. German soldiers, barely men, he wrote. Weary. Wounded. Woeful. Too poetic – he did not hold with that nonsense. Just the facts. He stopped introducing himself: it raised too many questions he could not understand, let alone answer. He stumbled through interrogations with his Officer looming over his shoulder.

Once, he remembered, after a particularly fierce barrage, the POW’s were miserable; so was he, but he was not allowed to wear it so openly. With an ever-strengthening grasp of the language, he began his interrogation. It went well: he asked three questions without any mistakes, but the fourth was more complex. His Officer wanted to know the placement of German positions, what artillery they had, what armour. Herman tripped over some words, forgot others, replaced them with the wrong ones. The men’s filthy faces cracked, showed brilliant teeth. Herman’s Officer shot them, obliterated their smiles. Because he had asked for the wrong directions.

Hit the beach. Cold. Piss wet through. George had been trying to keep our spirits up. Always does. He’s a joker. But braver than the rest of us put together. Never scared. Never once thinks about jacking it in. Boats land, or beach. Whatever boats do. George leads the charge. FIX BAYONETS! Into sand and bombs and music and gunfire and bars and barricades and hammocks and wreckage and hula girls. Most of the guys vanish to play pool and chat up locals. I stick with George. Wingman him as he gets friendly with a blonde bombshell. Sand flying everywhere. They finish. She still can’t understand him. I only catch a few words. So we crawl to the next sand bar. Barmaid has drinks ready for us. Thatchers for me. Bloody Mary for George. We both understand her. She’s friendly too. But in a more practical way. George talks about giving up, going home. Gets animated. Screams about it. Spills his drink. Red and sticky all over his front. Barmaid throws him a strip of cloth. ‘Cheers!’ Face pale. Hands shaking. DAB DAB. He needs another. I put a quick second round down.

When Herman awoke, his duvet smelled of fresh lavender and was tucked up to his neck. Between the settee and the door, a three-foot ocean of bare, roiling linoleum poised in ambush. Beside him, his stores of bottle-ammunition were depleted.

‘Grandpa.’

‘Jennifer.’

She paced around the settee into view. ‘We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.’

Herman looked at his granddaughter, inspected her, for the first time in years. Her inky hair was thin, threaded with grey. The lines on her face were unnatural dugouts. How old was she even? Surely not that old? He could not remember. And she had camp bones: clavicles compressing her chest; hips squeezing her stomach; arms thickest at the wrist. Had she been plump when she was little, or was he imagining that? She had used to grin when she saw him.

He wondered how he looked. Worse, no doubt.

‘Fourteen minutes,’ she said, voice tired, like her mother’s had become.

Went to the vets meet this week. Jennifer made me. It was at that community centre again. Where they have all the AA and junkie and depressed meetings. She disappears for the hour, into one of the other rooms. I know she won’t go without me. And I know she needs it. I just can’t stand it. I say my name. That’s about it. The lad who runs it thinks we’re all heroes. That the less we say the worse the things we’ve done. Or probably the better he thinks. Maybe I should say more next time. Tell him a story. About George. About how he spilled that Mary. How I got the second round in but all the hula girls in the world couldn’t cheer him up. About how he’d always be the one that got there first. How he never thought about going home until the job was done. How I had to take his mind off the spilled drink. Ordered another round for a toast. Then I’d tell another story. About how drinking takes me back, but eventually takes me away. About shouting at Alice in German she didn’t understand. She didn’t need to. I’d burned my dictionary, but I made her understand just fine.

Smoke and ash spun through the air. Herman limped through from the desk to the settee, lighting sheaves of coarse, grey paper and firing them in mortar volleys. Instead of detonating, they made the air thick and hot, until Herman heaved and hacked.

But he had been almost wholly consumed by fire several times, in the wake of raining explosions. This was nothing in comparison. He knew he had time. He had written about it, like the trauma counsellor told him to, along with everything else. Now his words were fire and smoke; ashen paper fluttered down around him, and he swallowed each piece, consuming hot snatches of memory.

Then a dozen flashes of orange dashed away from him, flared in the doorway, swirled back up against gravity. They drew together into a burning face, lips moving, but the shrilling was still too loud.

Once again, the remembered sound became knocking, but Herman had barricaded the door. He heard his granddaughter’s voice, calling him from outside. She did not sound tired now. She sounded desperate – like her mother had sounded when she was a girl, when he had finished a bottle and was making her understand.

Herman closed his eyes and leant back. But the wall of mud was not there.

He fell.

When he opened his eyes, flickers of orange still danced, bright against the dull, off-white ceiling. The pain in his back and head anchored him to the floor, and he relaxed into their crushing hold.

Then the burning face again. No longer in the doorway, but hovering over him. His heart and stomach thrashed against his ribs, unable to flee. If he could have let them go, he would.

‘Dad,’ the face said.

He glared at the ceiling.

‘Dad! Fucks sake!’

He blinked. The burning faded, and the face became an older version of Jennifer.

‘Alice?’

‘Surprised you recognise me.’

He remembered her tired voice – a battlefield of pity, sadness, and disappointment – the way Jennifer’s had sounded; it was different now.

Angry. Eyes like knives.

‘Alice, I–’

She held up her hand. ‘Not interested.’

‘Where’s–’

‘Jenny? Your granddaughter?’ She grimaced, eyes stabbing him. ‘Dead, Dad. She killed herself.’

‘Wha–’

‘I found her in the bathroom. Like one of your war stories.’

‘Alice…’

‘Your fucking war stories.’

‘Alice, I–’

‘Fuck you.’

She stepped over Herman, traced into the kitchen. Drawer, RATTLE, SLAM. Retraced, laid something about the size and weight of a pen on his chest. The knife felt cold, even through his shirt. He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling, so he did not have to watch his daughter leave.

I’m a new man. Reformed. My daughter loves me. Visits me every week. Jennifer’s fine, of course. Alice was just trying to scare me into action. One of those interventions. Jennifer still brings over spaghetti and biscuits. Always trying to fatten me up. And I eat the lot. I help at the vets meet now too. Try to get more to come. I’m like a walking advertisement. Tell them all about George. They come along and we all laugh and they get better as well. Finished my memoirs too. Got myself a publisher. Tells me I’m one determined son of a bitch. Soon people will be able to read all about my life. Like a map into my memories. See what things were really like. I can give all the royalties to Jennifer. She’ll probably say no. She’ll say they’re mine. I earned them. I deserve them. She’ll want me to get what I deserve. She’s such a good girl. Her mother would be proud. Maybe I’ll keep writing. Keep drawing more maps. Keep blotting the pages with words like roads and paths. Ink is thicker than everything.

About the Author

Ross Turner was born in 1992, in the West Midlands, and studies Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Gloucestershire. He writes short fiction, works privately as a tutor, writer and editor, has been in the Royal Air Force Reserves since 2014, and has been published in a number of print and online journals.

Father as a Young Man by Christine Fowler





Twenty-five a good age
young and strong.
Proud family man
providing for your 
wife so sweet,
your first-born son
and your smallest child
your daughter.
Then jobs are lost
economies crash
and Jarrow marchers
walk the long cold road
with hungry faces
and desperate hearts;
where only a cold welcome awaits.
And so no longer proud
picking sea coal
with it's spitting warmth.
A half penny here,
a penny there when sold.
A loaf of bread and margarine
now the fare that's set upon the table.
Both parents denying their empty bellies
as they push the bread towards the
children dear.
The little one, hot and limp,
they rush to the hospital
no half-crown for the GP.
The father visited 
and peeled one grape
she loved her daddy
and so, she ate.
Next day the telephone box visited,
his return ashen faced.
My little girl;
my little girl has gone.
As tears roll down the face
of that once handsome and proud,
young man.



About the Author:

Christine Fowler has always written a poem to process major events, but only began seriously writing and performing poetry in 2019. Starting in her sixties means she come to poetry with a lot of life experience, which is reflected in her poetry. She has had poems published in the Gentian Journal (Issues 6 & 7) an anthology, and has several poems accepted and in the process of publication. Her poems are illustrated on her website https://www.christinefowlerpoetry.com

Introducing Four Czech Poets

Not only about the Presence
by Adam Borzič


Since Berlin you want to write a poem so simple,
That you repeat for a hundred times words like banality, presence, black currant…
You read your notes in your mobile; its display is somewhat scarred, 
Which now seems to me fitting. You read in them you cannot turn back time. There is nowhere to return it.  So the sadness of the past is forever only an echo, 
Falling through a large sieve like a noodle, while the ladle still hangs
On the wall, and the sky is grey and the stairs look they lead to hell,
But they don‘t. So you open the door, the defeat of the meaning disappears,
Only a chest with tulips on top remain.   

You thought of poetic scenes,
And they are your new nightmares, your love poems
For more and more men and one woman, topical only for the polyamory, 
But you won’t confess it publicly, so you suffer from nightmares,
That fall on the professor’s bald head 
Several days after his radio programme was cancelled,
Which is also your fault, and on top of that, he has to introduce you. . 
Through a strange eye of a while, climbs an insect’s futility and all that love
It feels to be threatened with the polite interest
Of the audience, say in Berlin... 

At night you whisper to yourself: 
They kept coming to me
And the doors got opened
And the door got closed
And they kept asking: 
What do you want? What do you want? 

And their voices sounded like thunder in the larder,
Like a spike in the wet sand. 

The wind of nervousness is luckily asleep. It’s November. 
Berlin kept October to itself together with the beautiful Tereza
And beautiful Jan, together with the beautiful black man at the reception, 
Who, aged fifty, married a Czech man who hates his countrymen. 
Now at last November. A month of simplicity. As well as a month of joy.  
Far behind are left poetic scenes, orphaned like a lighthouse on an island
In the middle of the North Sea. The chairs are empty, tables by the wall, 
Toilets sparkle with cleanliness. Standstill. 
So you are happy about a repaired tap in the kitchen, 
Several outstanding poems I have read today, 
Interviews with Olga and Ivan. And naturally,
walking. Sometimes modest, other times self-confident, 
ever so often meek like wrinkles on Ivan’s face, 
ever so often magical like the night full of yellow tobacco leaves
on the pavement, and nautical apples,
which you stole in your dream. 
And then you laughed about it.  
PRAGUE...TO BE CONTINUED
by Aleš Kauer

Prague. 
The old whore, bored and willing
to walk along each generation all over again. 
I am like Prague begging for a photo, 
like a foreigner pleading for love,
like a tourist believing in virtual values. 
I am exploding tenderness and misguided imagination. 
I sweeten the bitter dregs with two sugar cubes from the nearby street. 
On the window – a spider of yesterday’s explosion. 
Slavia. 
You fall asleep with an i-Pod in your hand. 
With pleasure, enjoyment and neurosis within my reach. 
With assurance there is another 
chamber full of light.

The shining pause between two lives. 
I want to be your confidence, 
I want to be your talent with the real inner complexity, 
with the spectrum of cynical,     

caustically witty and snap observations. 
I want to be your address in the yellow Moleskin, 
your artefact and adrenalin.

Wink at me so I am sure you know what I am talking about!

We touch our anxieties like razor blades. 
Unshaven strayed people on the polar maps. 
Yet, in all that lived-in melancholy 
is so much truth, ugliness, humour, beauty,
there is only one answer in existence… 
To go out and live!

perro callejero 
by Tim Postovit

avenida as long as the arm of your mother
when she placed an ice-cold towel
on your forehead sweaty with fever 

the café is as small as your soul 
when a street dog scared you for the first time
because you understood you would follow him 

the man’s teeth crack the grains of sand
from the sandals of Mary Magdalene

who, in the act of reconciliation, hands you a neon clavicle bone
so you can sell it at the market –  easily  
like boiled sweet corn 
like sheep cheese 

and for the money you make, you buy 
a ticket home
by Josef Straka

swirling pressure
intractable words, repeated over and over
a little corner at the boat’s bar
there is nowhere to sail off
not even inside you
with all the barricades – on and on churning something
going out – somewhere to the upper deck
and watch the last ray of the fading day
with a certain trace of additional hope and hope-lessness
and then you really abandon the boat
the reverberating sound of lock chambers
what with what and against what
and what in unclear circumstances
and what completely explicitly, what acutely
unbidden questions when sinking
perhaps not, the other un-said negatives!

All translations by Natalie Nera

About the Authors

Adam Borzič (born in 1978) is a poet, mental health therapist , translator as well as editor-in-chief of the prominent literary bi-weekly Tvar. He is the author of five poetry collections. In 2014 he was nominated for the Magnesia Litera literary award. His poems have been translated into Polish, English, Romanian, Croatian, Serbian, Russian, Slovenian and Portuguese.

Aleš Kauer (born in 1974) is a Czech poet, artist and activist who tries to highlight the issues of gay writers and poets. He has five collections under his belt and is also a founder of an artistic collective Iglau Ingenau as well as the Adolescent publishing house in Šumperk

Tim Postovit (b. in 1996) is a poet and translator from Russian. He studies philology at the Charles University in Prague. His first collection Magistrála (published by Pointa) came out in 2019. He is currently working on his second book. Moreover, he frequently performs in the genre of slam poetry. In 2019, he became a champion of the Czech Republic in duo slam. He teaches Czech as a second language. He lives in Prague.

Josef Straka (born in 1972), originally worked as an academic researcher in psychology for the Institute of Psychology. At present he organises literary readings in the City Library in Prague. He is an author of several critically acclaimed collections. His poems have been translated into Polish, Serbian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch.

.