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The Joy of Six 
  Odes of Joy
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Package

Mass-produced automata packed into
nine-abreast endless ranks of the inevitably
delayed flight all we want is sleep
all they want is to say fasten your safety
belt in the unlikely event we will be issuing
headphones fit your own before assisting a
romantic comedy starring and directed by
breakfast followed by your choice of tea or
charity scratchcards followed by an altitude
of duty free miles per hour and followed by
the ground temperature in fucking Cairo.

Washrooms going down like flies and queues
getting longer. Clear air turbulence: the captain
has switched on the seatbelt sign and someone is
an unpleasant shade of green. We do apologise. Nevertheless.
I'M SORRY BUT I'M GOING TO THE TOILET.

We do hope you have enjoyed your flight.

Hear Joy of Six Read Stop

Joy of Six (poem by Peter Howard)

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Blade 

A
long
haul it
was and
rain all the
way, though
nothing amiss
till somewhere
past Crewe, till
that ten-minute
pit-stop where
someone made
off with the CDs
cassettes,
left us silent and
tense and back in
the crawler-lane,
blinded by spray,
in fear of our lives,
despairing of any
way out, something
different, but that's
what you were -
smearing out of the
deluge, drenched in
that lay-by, grasping a
sign which no one
could read, that once you
climbed in we discovered
said Blackburn, though
we never made Man-
chester, not once you
pulled out the knife,
relieved us of
watches and cards
and near fifty in cash,
hopping out with that
grin, with two raps
on the roof, saying
lighten up girls
you'll still make the
funeral, then off
up the slope with
your sidekick, the rain.

Hear André Read Stop

André Mangeot

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Way of the Cross

Who are you kidding -
bible and briefcase, foot in my door?

And you - you streetboys insisting
everything’s magic - glued to the raw.

The swastika scored
down the panel perhaps?

The turd, curled
on the hood of the GTi -

two fingers to every
smart motor, the voters who drive them?

Still steaming
under the stars, someone found it a laugh

in the night-frosted
yard of the Hammer And Trowel

though not, you’d imagine,
the one weaving out of the bar

fumbling for keys, reduced
to his knees with shock if not booze

or maybe because
some invisible force loomed up from the outhouse

gave him what-for
from behind with a spanner or jack,

threw in a taste of the boot
for good measure, legged it then down the alley

and back to the warren -
away from Her Majesty’s pleasure.

So spare me the sermon. Button
your pierced lip. I’ll show you life pale

to a real killing joke,
punchlines you die for. A handful of nails.

Hear André Read Stop

André Mangeot

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On a Plate 

I am a low maintenance woman.
Boil in the bag rice, self-cleaning oven.
I am as easy as a self-basting chicken.

Just a little warmth, a few hot words
and I am running in my own juices.
Succulent big breasts, plump thighs.

Just a little warmth, a few hot words
and I can grow wings, take flight,
flesh falling from my wishing bones.

Just a little warmth, a few hot words
and I am moist enough to melt in the mouth,
grease shine lips, dribble down your chin.

Listen to all that cold outside.
Listen to all that empty belly.
Listen to all these tender words.

Just a little warmth, a few hot words
and we could be in here, cooking,
making all this cellulite sizzle.

Hear Andrea Read Stop

Andrea Porter

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Hands Free

I promise myself that when my numbers come up
or when my old aunt in that big house in Cromer
has that final stroke, I will put the phone down,
yank out the plug and throw it out of the window.

No more lies about underwear, as I pick melted
chocolate from my jeans or read Madame Bovary.
I can now pant as I iron tea towels and sheets,
moan during a silent video of Pretty Woman.

I am adept at lip reading but sub-titled films
are more convenient. La Haine, Wings of Desire
less intrusive as someone on a crackling mobile
suggests I pleasure myself with a wine bottle.

I calculate every minute in rent and council tax.
I am skilled at hearing without ever listening;
respond but do not engage. I have a talent.
I have bought a hands free phone.

Regulars ask for me by name at the call centre,
a woman from a Chekhov story. They like her,
appreciate her art, the craft, say thank you,
ask how she’s doing after business is done.

Now and then I hang up on the twisted and sick
who abuse her, break and bruise without touch.
As for the rest, she can sell a credit card whore
formed from dirt words, a polished rib of voice.

Andrea Porter

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Le Tunnel 

This must be love.
You have me in your power
and take me through the places I'm most frightened of:
drowning, suffocation, fire.

Just half an hour
and I'm redefined.
You've said how fast we've travelled and how far
we've left light and air behind.

Distant bells.
I must trust you when you say
we've crossed the border. There was something else,
I think, I missed along the way.

Anne Berkeley

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How we learned to tie a piece of string to the rafter

Rain.
Snug as a drum
pantiles taut
random musical notes

safe and warm
a gamelan to ignore
turn off into sleep
But the drip
But the drip
But the drip
and the splash
in here by the bed
Quick lights buckets trousers
attic stairs
wasps' nests in torchlight
silver drip
against the dark
bucket under the drip
exactly under the drip
Ting. Ting.
Musical again.
Back to bed.
Back to bed
but the drip
but the drip
but the drip
Hear Anne Read Stop

first published in Smiths Knoll

Anne Berkeley

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River

His deep voice gets you up in the morning,
always in a hurry, no time for nonsense.

In his grubby string vest he muscles down the valley,
singing loudly, sweeping away all objections.
At night you hear his murmur, grownup through floorboards.

His temper is huge but predictable.
He always knows where he's going. When thwarted,
knows no bounds. Then you need
oilskins, gumboots, a quick boat out of town.

Sometimes he'll bring you a surprise: fish,
a little canoe, a dragonfly. He keeps
a kingfisher up his sleeve for nostalgia.
Sometimes there'll be algae for days.
He says nothing about the drowned kittens.

You cannot fathom him: if you ever find
your own reflection in him, it will be very small.
A long way back, another river joined him; her name was lost in his.

He works down at the mill, strong and dependable.
People stop to watch, impressed by his power, his easy grace
with the battling wheel. You are proud of him then.

Now, the dredgers have come.
He sits scared and stiff after the operation.
So grey and quiet in his narrow bed, you hardly dare look.
No swans for weeks.

first published in Smiths Knoll

Anne Berkeley

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I Work In The Arts Now 

I work in the arts now
I meet creative people
Nice people
Sensitive people

Sometimes they ask me
How long have I been a photographer
And when I tell them four years
They ask me what I did before

That's when I tell them
I was in the Army
They usually look puzzled then
Shocked even and seek reassurance

How long for they ask
Hoping it was a brief and hateful experience
Twenty five years I say
Now they're starting to get worried

They hardly dare ask what I did
But they do
That's when I tell them
I was an accountant

Now they do look puzzled
As if they can't decide
Which is the most appalling piece of information
The soldiering or the accountancy

Hear Martin Read Stop

Martin Figura

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(The Trouble With) Middle Aged People

Middle aged people today don't know they're born.
What do they think they're up to?
They should be occupying their time with:

jigsaws,
the litter problem,
gravy,
coach trips to the Norfolk Lavender Fields.

But no, they're at Glastonbury
boring the arse of young people
about Dylan or how they saw The Who
in their hey day in '68, doing degrees
with no possible practical application,
motorcycling across India to find themselves.

There's even one reading you this poem, and look
he's wearing red trainers with white stripes.

Hear Martin Read Stop

Martin Figura

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Angels 

The sermon radiates from my mouth,
words speeding herald angels to carry
God's news to the stones, to slalom in and

out of the pews, to the stirred
dust behind the reredos,
to the pigeons startled from the ledges.

Bones rattle in the graveyard.
The threadbare ghosts of regimental standards
shiver in excitement, then crumble.

A stained glass window shatters
at the resonances of my voice,
and my words become a thousand jewels.

The woodworm hear me and are inspired,
going to it fervently, 'til the roofbeams give way,
opening my church to the sky.

The door hinges rejoice, and lay down their load.
My message causes the mortar to collapse in ecstasy,
wears down the very stones to sand.

Now is my voice unconstrained,
my angels freed to reach
the imagined corners of the Earth.

Hear Peter Read Stop

Peter Howard

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Skew

The phone rings. You answer.
A voice says your name.
You say "Speaking!" The line
goes dead.

You suddenly know it's not going to work;
the edifice is simply to fool you
and it's not going to work because
the illusion is very, very good,

but now and then there's
a hair in the gate, something
a tiny bit skewed,
something impossible:

rain from a clear sky,
the pen that wasn't here
just now; the sudden
intrusion of Wednesday.

A bad cut; the continuity girl
in for a wigging, no doubt.
Not to mention the big lies:
flight or economics e.g.

You've always suspected a set-up,
an experiment, a secret everyone
else knows. Let me assure you:
it's perfectly true.

Peter Howard

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