Amplified voices

Every Tuesday on Twitter, poetry publisher Black Bough, run by writer and poet Matthew M C Smith, hosts an all day sharing event called Top Tweet Tuesday. Using the hashtag #toptweettuesday, poets of all ages and backgrounds, from across the globe, are invited to tweet poems they’ve written, or boost those written by others.

Each week a different host reads and comments on everything that’s posted – contributions that can often number in the hundreds. I’ve done it once and it’s incredibly rewarding, but also exhausting. Throughout the day, other poets will also comment, like or share their fellow poets’ work.

Twitter can often be a grim place, angry, ranty, abusive. However, the platform’s positive aspects and potential shine through in Top Tweet Tuesday. I’ve found it an invaluable, uplifting space in recent months, especially as covid has been rampaging the world and restricted conventional social contact for so many of us.

Anyone who writes and submits poetry to magazines and online publications will be aware of the often frustratingly lengthy time periods that stretch, seemingly endlessly, between sending work off into the world and getting a response. If you manage to get anything accepted, there’s then often another long gap between the buzz of the positive news and publication.

Top Tweet Tuesday offers a wonderful way to share and read all kinds of poems and to get them out there and seen by an audience that’s primed and interested. I’ve discovered many new poems, poets and voices I like, I’d not otherwise have known about.

After a long period when I stopped writing or reading much poetry, Black Bough and Top Tweet Tuesday have gone a long way to firing my desire to go again. Like others, I’d imagine, I still submit to magazines and sites and when successful that can be very satisfying, but it’s great to have this other outlet, where you can see and be seen, that also, in my case anyway, provides a positive, stirring incentive to write something new. Here’s to you Black Bough!

Below are a selection of some of my own recent contributions.

Wood echoes 

Willows loom
where the path drops,

Stooped guardians
of an open secret,

Our bordered park
was in elder days a common,

In parts a coppiced
once-wood and underneath,

Defiant links
leak out into our dozy present,

Those patches where 
the dog-rose risings curl defiant, 

Tendrils scratch reminders 
of the days before the fences, 

Framing green spiked
launchpads for spring-mad wrens 

To explode amplifying all
aspen bramble hornbeam voices, 

Resolved at last 
to shatter long winter’s silence. 

First published in issue 53 of The Dawntreader @IndigoDreamsPub

Distracted

Moments ago, or was it days?
I was chatting to my Dad,
an operation loomed, he said,
‘no need to worry, not really…’

In that careful way of parents,
to even the fullest grown of children,
as a hundred miles or so away,
he talked of bookshelves

That he planned to empty, 
I nodded pointlessly, unseen
frown betraying impotent concern,
before an unexpected witness 

High above the old red library,
a shallow ‘m’ stamped into sky,
clinging tight to morning air,
as if the atmosphere had heft 

Enough for raptors to claw
their way toward October, 
paling green above the cemetery, 
where the creature hung itself 

Until, leaving eyes in disarray,
my phone-burnt ear retuned to
distant father’s glitchy voice 
– ‘I’m sorry Dad, what did you say?’

A hedge

A hundred years and miles apart –
Halfway up Grange Lane, Dulwich
I heard Adlestrop inside a hedge 
Unexpected. It was early March.

In the school fields no one played.
A sign said keep your distance
Flicking in the wind. I remembered
That clipped first insistent sentence

As Cherry plum and blackthorn 
Between allotments bare and woods,
Rampaged into blossom, flaring white,
Hawthorn held on tightly to its goods

And the verge for crowded seconds sang,
Fat with hidden feathered chorus,
Crying out the news, all over South East London, 
We’re back, we’re back, there is a space for us.

Some woodlice

Unlidded in their compost empire,
chewing noise erupts from tiny cattle,
crustacean cereal popping in a bowl 

If quick to tilt an ear you’ll catch it
before they scramble, alarmed by light,
down rotting paths of stalk and stem

Pigs my Grandpa called them, I remember,
once flipping one on to her back determined
to uncover what lay beneath that plated shell

Saw amongst distressed air-treading legs, 
a creamy ghost-white haul of eggs, then set her 
straight, never asking what she thought of me

Little sister, Armadillidium: a joyous taxonomic gift,
delighting dancing tongues with double duh, though 
to isopods like her, our names say next to nothing

Feed

Slowly, then abruptly the fresh birdseed is taken,
A bankruptcy hatched and swinging in the garden,
None come close when it’s put out, but they watch,
Hold back until the news is out, before descending.

Sparrows first, in bickering gangs of five or seven,
Observed from holly by vigilant, jittered Dunnock,
Building up for darting raids to beak their piece,
When the local robin bullies-in, scattering all rivals.

Till chancing blue tits drop from gnarly Hawthorn,
Assume their rightful tithe, spilling half their winnings,
Gratefully received by woodpigeons reeling underneath,
Late party drunks, fishing desperate dregs from glasses.

Burning a boat

Sometimes 
I can’t be sure 
if the boy who was me was me, 
the summer we burned a boat

Dry-docked in a garage,
unwatched down a lane
of yawning back yards,
the lost vessel called us

Hot for flames we answered,
bringing matches,
shoving straw in a saucepan, 
making it spark then take

Sudden pluming smoke, 
more vivid than anything 
yet heard in a classroom,
orange tongues crackled into life

Gaining scale so fast 
we had to drop and run,
fearful of this rapid escalation, 
small legs scissored blurs round corners

Before guilt slammed on the brakes, 
drove me back to beat down 
what curiosity had started,
though I didn’t have the heart 

Not to lie barefaced to a man 
looming over his fence
cursing the yobs who’d done this, 
‘Yeah’ I agreed, unwilling to meet his eye

Smacking a board to crush
my own crime before fleeing, 
for the second time on
that once empty afternoon.

Sydenham Hill

This station is a border
– you’re safer by the tracks.
This station is a junction 
with the woods,
an eerie intersection
of two states, 
where elevated
walkway supports 
assault by vegetation,
plants restrained 
by windows glazed 
with solid air,
more zoo enclosure
than platform crossing.
Unwary passengers
the prized exhibits here, 
sized-up by leering
oak and ash, 
hawthorn, sycamore 
and hazel, 
every tendril pressing close,
as they inspect us reckless 
strangers, lumbering wild
across their earth. 

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