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Vol. 3:

Spring 2008

Conversation Poetry Quarterly


“Serious Characters” Poetry:

Hanna Ali Christopher Hobday Luigi Marchini Maria McCarthy Louise McCudden David Nettleingham Joshua Seigal Elizabeth Webb

Edited by: Christopher Hobday & David Nettleingham who would like to acknowledge: All those who submitted poems to the volume, Katherine Blythe, Beverley Smith, J. P. Virtanen, Greg Findley, Seppo Virtanen, friends and family, The Secret Cellar Cafe of Canterbury, Cosgroves of Faversham, The Backroom Bookshop of Rochester, Past Sentence of Faversham & Waterstones of Rose Lane in Canterbury.

Editorial: Serious Characters by Christopher Hobday

p. 1

Luigi Marchini David (Before Goliath) David (After Goliath)

p. 4 p. 5

Elizabeth Webb Moon

p. 7

Louise McCudden Suicide in Canary Wharf

p. 9

David Nettleingham Wallflowers Inheritance Barbarian Joshua Seigal The Gargoyles

p. 10 p. 11 p. 12 p. 13

Christopher Hobday Idolater’s Return Farmboy

p. 14 p. 15

Maria McCarthy Standards

p. 16

Hanna Ali Jazz Hands Diasporic Dreams

p. 17 p. 18

The Contributors About Us Submissions

p. 19 p. 21 p. 22

Editorial: Serious Characters Canterbury has always been a great place in which to practice poetry. Chaucer’s warm, witty and richly human work challenges us to remember how powerful literature can be, and how valuable to a culture. On the hill, we have Eliot College, bearing the name of the great poet whose most famous work follows the opening of The Canterbury Tales. Today’s poets cannot escape the giants of the past. This leads them to do one of two things. Either they give up and dedicate themselves to what the Romantic poets would have derided as ‘poetasty’, that fashionable and obvious, disposable and remorselessly ‘à la mode’ poetry that diverts, but does not disturb. Or, they celebrate these giants of the past by competing with them, by learning from them. Not by mimicking their style and tone, but by doing what all great poets have done: inventing, innovating, striving for excellence. If aiming so high, one should fall a little short, the work produced will still be worth reading. Poetry should disturb, in much the way that a thrown pebble disturbs the surface of a lake. Great poems have a variety of prosodic devices, forms and themes, producing a variety of effects. What they all have in common - each and every single one - is that the reader is not the same after encountering the poem as before. The reader is changed. Subtly, or obviously; for a moment or forever; but certainly changed. Conversation has no manifesto. It simply seeks those


poets Ezra Pound would have called ‘serious characters’, who devote themselves to the pursuit of excellence. It may be fashionable to produce off-thecuff, light-hearted lyrics or prosaic pieces that seem more like diary extracts than artworks, but fashions change, and no great poet followed fashion blindly. We want to see you striving for excellence, we want to see you shirking the role of acolyte in favour of making your own stand. We want you to believe in your work, to embrace the craft, to write as yourself - and if you must worship a particular genius, pluck up the courage to swipe your altar clean of idols and place a mirror on it. This is not arrogance. This is paying homage to all those great poets in the best way there is - by writing the best poetry you possibly can. Which is, after all, just what they did. Christopher Hobday

Note: Juha Virtanen is no longer a member of the Conversation editorial team. His zeal and dedication to the craft were key in getting this project off the ground. He will be missed, and the remaining editors wish him well with his present and future endeavours.



David (Before Goliath) I awaken to the bleating of my flock, Samuel’s voice still resonating, ‘You shall be King.’ On my viridescent bed I lie, gaze up at the spangled blanket, search for my ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah my destiny. My chest beats a march – today is that future. I rise to meet it lyre in one hand sling in the other. Luigi Marchini


David (After Goliath) I lift the candle, wax descending; stare into the empty goblet: a tree trunk sliced through, whitened, dead. In the shadows I see the eager youth, vibrant, locks as black as the sod, neck a tower of bone; at his feet the fallen giant. I see the youth play the lyre: the reek of fear that engulfs Saul strikes like an arrow, I see Saul turn away. No man can bear to gaze into the face of his successor. Today he cannot see my tears: one battle too many. An odour, pungent with decay, brings me back: my sole defence against this lingering acrid stench of my own mortality are sensuous vapours of finest incense: stacte, frankincense, galbanum, onycha. On my golden feathered bed I wait impatiently for sleep. Awake I dream of mistakes, battles fought, music played; forty years a King. Moses gave my people goat’s milk 5

grape syrup: now they have a nation. Luigi Marchini


and the place where we are. ‘our’ solar system, unique, possibly nowhere else as yet, known in the universe.

Moon A gentle calm, round soft sound, low hum say it again - ‘Moon’, try saying it again a person relating, Moon then becomes. I was sad, forlorn to learn Moon is leaving, four centimetres a year receding slowly saying farewell, slowly saying but not in our time going, gone. Moon - the chief instigator of time’s reason in the lunar months, the year’s shifting seasons and its gravity pull, ebb-surge wave swell, the stabiliser of climatic change well. Moon’s reassuring tug like mother to child steadies earth’s 25 degree wobble-tilt mild and keeps some comfortable climate, blanket fold and her attraction well holds foremost fast the protecting atmosphere around us in trust. Yet Moon was formed from the debris and dust coalescing from the collision, devastation, obliteration of Theia, earth’s smaller long-ago-twin, in summation creation. But Moon holds us more stable, safer in strength with now a balanced mother of this troubled fine Earth. Moon-moo-cow, dappled gentle cow grazing slow, down the dark night now, quietly munching the stars sown, low! Earth is just the right distance from the Sun, not too near or far and the Sun the optimum father-heat-force orb of brilliant power; 7

through satellite views he looks similar to van Gogh’s swirl-strokes of a sunflower. Jupiter our guardian big brother 300 times earth’s size and therefore with a greater insistent pulling force core attracting the drawn debris of the universe more protecting us, except when he, tired, slept back in a massive major meteor earth-shock impact a catastrophe again serving evolution’s kick start after the dinosaur stasis stick-in-the-mud rut. Moon-Sun-Jupiter, the trinity for us throughout. It’s not our planet Earth that needs saving, that less she has survived catastrophes of ages of ice, small meteor impacts and soup-oceans collapse. She is tough; it’s us - the abusing age of the anthropocene small reverence for each other and Nature’s scene defacing plundering, surviving, deprived-mean. Elizabeth Webb


Suicide in Canary Wharf To do it so spectacularly! A defiant leap into pool blue air. To tumble against bricks like coins rattling in a jar. To be sucked hard against the earth, with a splatter and a thud. Electric green grass ripples against sparkling blue, as the sky shimmers between grey rectangular figures. Each building looms in the air, like guilt in the stomach of a victim. The windows steam up with eagerly horrified faces. Saucer-of-milk eyes; twitching noses. Sharks can smell blood from miles away. Their eyes all gleam like curious jewels. To trap each eyeball in a jar! A thousand carat achievement. Meanwhile, around and around runs the clinical beige pathway, as well-heeled shoes chip away at the silence, already stealing from his glimpse of victory. Through a chink in the wharf’s armour, I spy a swelling thread of silver, gleaming like the eyes of thieves. A shining archway, inviting a more masochistic death, maybe. One day. Louise McCudden 9

Wallflowers We learnt to goose-step in the dancing halls, pumice-worn and pockmarked, thick black eyes, a Venetian mask. We limped into a waltz each in our tailcoats. And dragging up the dust we crystallised our thoughts, smithed iron-fisted socialites chivalrous to the last movement. And fell into a quick-step with a sour grin. To parley with the wallflowers we took to the garden, treading carefully on delicate sores around the splintered bedrock. We raked our feet through the debris kicking up a pleasant word. David Nettleingham


Inheritance If all we did was pause for breath, All the world would suffocate In one long draw. And if I were the King of Kings, I would wild the civil city squares To put my house in order. Here you breathe, the King of Kings. Had I the breath, I would be: Beyond the savage satrapies. David Nettleingham


Barbarian How proud you are Of your Roman nose How it dominates the face And draws the eye How one could lose sight David Nettleingham


The Gargoyles The gargoyles in my grandparents’ garden used to scare me. Hanging from the wall, their mouths prised open like Munch’s ghost, I could hear their wailing at night in my uncles room, as my sister quietly slept. My grandparents affectionately gave them names, Willy was one and I can’t remember the other. Partly-concealed beneath beds of ivy, I would catch a stony glimpse in the midst of garden revelry – leprous protuberances on their crumbling Cardiff wall. They’re in London now, they came to live with us and we no longer have to make the journey. Willy is on the wall next to our French-windows. I nod in recognition at his hollow rictus stare. I don’t know if he sees me. Joshua Seigal


Idolater’s Return In my dog delinquent days I clambered tombs and tore at ragged mummies for a treat and something of a morsel in the dust. These days there is a skitter in my feet as if they cannot find a footing anywhere, and so I tend to stick to these few rooms where I can dream of dawns of rising rust. To wave the motes away is not a feat. The question is to dare or not to dare; to look with eyes as clear as April moons and talk in tongues, adapting foreign tunes, to carve a mountainous idol here, replete with a Delphic inscrutableness – and stopping with a start upon the stair there was a sense of cracking through the crust. The next step treads into a new world, where my wonderful monsters gossip in the street. Christopher Hobday


Farmboy Home, and after many hours growing, beyond the stacks and machinery, endeared to the land, fellow with the voles and the rabbits, making do, a fledgling, brilliant youth, dying in the grass, killed and born and killed, on the same spot, jailed in the life of a broken father, nothing mother, veering in daydreams away from the pitchfork, out to where he dreams the sea opines. Christopher Hobday


Standards He had a bee in his bonnet about the state of public toilets and the spongers on benefits. His last words, to the tulips, were, ‘Mustn’t let my standards slip,’ concreting a small, important hole in the garden path. He would have wanted it that way. Maria McCarthy


Jazz Hands There’s a rope that’s holding up her soul from collapsing above the freshly made Egyptian cotton bed that Jazz Hands sleeps in. Slept in. The sudden gust of wind from a forgotten window is blowing the present tense into a corner where the past and future are arguing like old jealous lovers. The wind was just there, like breath marks on a steamy window, and left without a goodbye. It is leaving. It will leave. He wanted to leave this way, up there. Like Jesus, for her. Curious eyes continuously eat up each moment and hunger is unable to click, redistribute and pause in the form of a blink. Her pupils are holding their breath until she can promise a private moment for them to exhale this tragic scene. Unable to look away for a brief moment and rationalise sadness, she is left with a constant stream of images acting as an out-of-body experience with hanging question marks at the edge of each frame. It hung, the way he hangs, for her sins. His alias was Mr Jazz Hands: a human musical oozing with sickly doses of happiness. He was the kind of man who smiled with his eyes. Now faith hangs centre stage and no one claps. Encore. The radio muttered about the untimely death of a middle-aged man this morning. It was most unfortunate, the neighbour said. She blamed the wind from the small forgotten window. It blew Jazz Hands away and now her heart will hold up the roof from collapsing on smiling eyes. Hanna Ali 17

Diasporic Dreams I do not know how to change the future, but My pregnant heart carries the past like an Overdue pressure of a life I’m still leading On the inside kicking with silent murmured Rage that will not die and refuses to be born Until I speak of the lives I lead across waters I do not know how to change the future, but My crouching back is the bridge on which Your breath once followed its own trace back Home to my nose that towers over my face like A place of worship that breathes out life for us And pauses in order to inhale simultaneously I do not know how to change the future, but My past glides in and out of memory to the faint Beat of bongo drums and pan pipes as my mind Blacks out from recollecting black faces that Stand firm on my mother tongue like child soldiers Lining up for quiet approval and recognition I do not know how to change the future, but My curled lips are a constant reminder that we Come from a long line of warriors whose pounding Words and exotic eyelashes have been silenced (shhh) Into blinking children my womb has made room for So that I will believe I once had a life, in me Hanna Ali


The Contributors Luigi Marchini was born in London in the 20th century, and escaped to Kent as soon as he could. He runs the Save As writer’s group, and is currently joyfully suffering from writer’s block whilst working on his first novel. Elizabeth Webb writes with an interest in mysticism and human interaction, a philosophical approach with its feet firmly planted in reality. A doctor, gardener and charity worker, she can be found busying herself around the city of Canterbury. Lexi McCudden lives in London. Her poetry demonstrates a genuine love of language, objective observations and celebration of the deeper meaning within the ordinary. David Nettleingham lives in Faversham in Kent, where from an old Mash House he studies sociology and history. His interest in the human condition led him to start writing poetry - a medium by which to better explore the complexities of social life. He has recently been published in The Cadaverine, and is editor and regular contributor to this magazine. Joshua Seigal studies philosophy at University College London. “When I see or hear something interesting I usually write a poem about it. If my poems are boring this can only be because I’m a boring kinda guy.” Christopher Hobday was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1979. He studied English and American Literature at the University of Kent where he also helped edit Logos, the University’s Poetry and Prose magazine. His work has appeared in Night Train and he has been shortlisted twice for the University’s T.S. Eliot prize. A selection of his poetry can be found in Stubborn Mule Orchestra, a collection of material that also includes the work of Luigi Marchini and Gary Studley, published last month. He is currently setting up regular poetry evenings at the Orange Street Club, Canterbury. Maria McCarthy has published two collections of prose and poems, Learning to be English and Nothing But, which are available from Baggins Book Bazaar in Rochester. She recently gained an MA in


Creative Writing from the University of Kent. She writes on A5 spiral bound notebooks with a well-sharpened pencil. Hanna Ali often takes a deep breath when someone asks her where she’s from - before sharing her animated 1-short-of-1001-Nights tales. Nowadays, she considers herself a citizen of the world (without the flowers in her hair) and the poetry is a way of trying to make sense of it all.


About Us Established in 2007, Conversation is a poetry magazine born of the ideas and discussion between four poets based in East Kent. Beginning as a group for readings and criticism in the basement of an Art Gallery in Canterbury, the publication emerged through the combined efforts of everyone involved. Our aim is simply to get poetry circulating, and to encourage contributions. So all current and back issues are available to download free in pdf format at: Currently edited by Christopher Hobday and David Nettleingham, Conversation sets its bar high in an attempt to bring out the best in Kentish poetry and increasingly further afield. We aim to print the work of new and established poets, published and unpublished alike. We hope to open up a dialogue between the poet and the reader, and so choose writers who present interesting opportunities for people to engage with poetry. The copyright for all poems remains with the poet. Any opinions expressed are those of the poet, not necessarily of the editors.


Submissions • Up to 6 poems of any length, style or subject. • Include a short biography explaining a little about yourself. • Copyright for submitted work must lie with the author. We will not be held responsible for any breach of copyright that may occur. • Online submissions can be in .doc or .wps format and should be sent to: The submission deadline for Volume 4 is 30th June 2008. Any submissions received late may be considered for a future issue.


Available Now:


“Here are three very different poetic voices, each in its own way rewarding” Susan Wicks (The Clever Daughter; Open Diagnosis; De-Iced)

Buy it now from: The Secret Cellar Castle St. Canterbury


Chaucer Bookshop Beer Cart Lane Canterbury Blackwells University of Kent

The 76-page volume features more than 50 poems on a variety of subjects, in a multitude of styles, with free verse and regular metre. Honest confessions rub shoulders with flights of fancy. Written with a commitment to producing the best possible standard of work, this collection marks a plateau for the poets, and features their best work of the past few years. RRP £4 23

© 2008

Conversation Poetry Quarterly: Issue 3 Spring 2008  

Part of The Conversation International Poetry Project.