Troubadour, but not the piping boy
Strolling mediaeval landscapes,
Or a vibrant dancer,
Seductive with scarves and flares,
At rustic fairs.

This minstrel stalks a different tradition,
Born not of romance but of aged necessity,
Her pitch cruelly reduced to scuffed doorways
On the pitted marble pavements of Mantua.

Straight backed, with grey hair flying,
Make-up cracked and lipstick smeared,
The troubadour stamps and plays –
Her cardboard accordion pummelled by wizened fingers,
While sprung puppets attached to her feet
Leer hand painted grins at the crowd
And dance their jesters’ conceit.

Children, briefly arrested by the scene,
Quickly shrink away,
Perturbed by her gap toothed smiles of encouragement
And the grotesque underbelly of city streets.

For a second, she snatches my poet’s gaze
With eyes as sharp as a rat,
Defying me to drop a coin into her rusting tin.
Hush money delivered, I gather my embarrassment
And shuffle on like the rest.

It should not be like this
But it is.

Barbara Lawton

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The Gathering Storm

An hour before dinner, grey churning clouds assembled
At the top of the lake and merged testily,
Like cavalry waiting to charge.
They filled the space, swallowed the strident rockface,
Blanked the waterside villages below.
Waiters hurried to strip their white starched tables
Of silver, linen and glass.
Guests abandoned the terrace,
Took huddled refuge in the vaulted bar,
But, exhilarated by anticipation,
We climbed to the top of the garden
To watch the unstoppable army
Swarming its thunderous boots towards us.

Barbara Lawton

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Was Worm

For this poem, I used the title of a poem by May Swenson (1913-1988), a US poet of
Swedish descent.

Single worm,
now multiplying daily
in a dense green plastic dome
of kitchen waste,,

devouring vegetation,
on the sweat of leaves,

ingesting their fibre,
offloading rich humus,
and transforming carbon.

Avarice is their secret,
These writhing pink clusters,
trapped beneath a humming lid,

where odour and heat
oscillate like steam in the dark.

All those welded knots of
wise worms,

towards death,
so organic waste

can reinvent
as garden mulch.

Barbara Lawton

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Report on Heartlines Poetry and Music event for International Women’s Day 2022

To mark International Women’s Day, 8th March 2022,  the Heartlines Creative Writing Group put on a subtle programme of poetry, prose and research celebrating women in history and modern times. A score of writers shared the lines they had penned that ranged from amusing to radical, exasperated to angry, observational to whimsical – and always served with wit and perspicacity.

Co-ordinated by Liz McPherson, who has worked with the group for a number of years, the title of Break the Bias allowed some piercing rhetoric, waspish observations and moving poetry to explore feminism in 2022. Additionally an all-female a capella group, Harissa, offered some spicy bon mots of their own. And Maria Sandle‘s songs inspired us with both upbeat and thought-provoking lyrics. What a way to celebrate!

Tongue-in-cheek paean of praise to a long-standing hubby, or a golfer’s revenge on a patronising male player. A Viking warrior waiting for Odin’s call proved by science to be, awkwardly, a female clearly lauded and respected with a ceremonial burial.

Some sharp observations on the colour of skin in the treatment of murder victims, and migrants, interspersed the lighter moments considering what werewomen do at the full moon or the fate of the glass ceiling and the male dinosaur. And all humans living today trace their ancestry to a single woman, Mitochondrial Eve, living in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Matriarchy rules OK.

Tributes to a long-ago friend who finally ‘came out’, and the Afghan girl football team who have found a new life here but left old families behind; the choices they had been promised were taken from them and their young friends. The plight of so many migrants fleeing from oppression was highlighted by the news coming from the borders of Ukraine, overwhelmed by frightened children and their mothers determined to give them a better life. (A bucket collection raised £116 for supporting them.)

Some background information on the women in music who were unsung. Sorry, an obvious joke for a very insightful piece. Accompanied by the equally unacknowledged brave women of a special wartime regiment of pilots disbanded as soon as they had proved their worth. Free-thinking sufragettes Mary Gawthorp and Leonora Cohen lived locally and were significant in raising both consciousness and publicity for the cause. I mused what would be the modern equivalent of taking a crowbar to the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London?

Finally, in praise indeed of old women. We may be grey but we are not who you think we are! Girls Just Want to Have Fun was the finale by Harissa. We do. We did.

Tea and home-baked cakes supplied by the sponsors of this event, Headingley LitFest, was a delightful way to end the morning.

Sally Bavage 

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International Women’s Day at Heart – Tuesday 8th March

Click on this link to view/download/print a pdf version.

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Poetry and Jazz at Heart (January 2022)

An evening of Poetry and Jazz at Heart with Heartlines Creative Writing Group and Jean Watson Quartet – Jean Watson voice, George MacDonald piano, Fergus Quill double bass and Josh Smout drums. Recorded by Rosie Parsons.

00.00 Intro from Myrna Moore
01.53 Jean Watson
02.58 Barbara Lawton
04.27 Malcolm Henshall
07.43 Myrna Moore
09.20 Jean Watson
13.38 Howard Benn
15.35 Bill Fitzsimons
16.40 Jean Watson
21.40 Howard Benn
23.16 Barbara Lawton
25.23 Jackie Parsons
27.13 Jean Watson
35.45 Jean Watson
43.00 Myrna Moore
44.41 Dru Long
45.50 Bill Fitzsimons
47.58 Jean Watson
52.19 Barbara Lawton
53.48 Howard Benn
55.53 Jean Watson
1.00.28 Myrna Moore
1.03.29 Malcolm Henshall
1.07.04 Howard Benn
1.08.47 Jean Watson

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THE CLOUTIE TREE Madron Well Cornwall

She wakes, May day.
Checks her phone,
sees summer comes at last.
Leaves sleeping houses
Take the inland road,
through greening landscapes
strewn with granite quoit and capstone shadows –
black against the salmon clouds and brightening skies.
Bent backed trees, stripped naked by sea winds,
are poised in flight, unable to escape.
Hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, whitethorn.

She hurries to the hallowed place.
That women’s place.
Looks left and right
then pushes through the buds of may
into that faery world still moist and dark
beneath the hawthorn’s shade.
She trips along the puddled path,
to reach the holy spring –
a murky pool half hidden in the grass.
Alone, she shudders.
Skeleton’s laugh
as winds rip through gnarled boughs.

She stoops, brushes violets, enchanter’s nightshade,
dabs her cheeks with morning dew.
Then ties her torn pink strip of T shirt
among the thorns and festooned twigs.
A selfie by the cloutie tree – her TikTok testament.
The spirits of this sacred grove appeased,
she leaves them to their stillness,
undisturbed by animal or bird.

Cate Anderson

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Foreign Country?

If only some of the past was a foreign country.
Remember that teacher
that ridiculed you 60 years ago?
The scars as familiar
as the London streets
you walked back then.
No map needed
to traverse the route
that took you through
your mother’s death.
That woman you loved
but who left you
with the oh so familiar language of heartache and pain,
in your mother tongue.
The failure, as you saw it,
of school feels like
only yesterday.
No qualifications needed
for that job you took
of no hope,
of boredom,
a cul-de-sac of ambition.
And yet the good times, too
not foreign but parochial, local,
down the road,
in the neighbourhood,
of this land.
Remembered as if it is round the corner
In the motorway of your memories,
not across some long-forgotten ocean.

Malcolm Henshall

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‘There’s small choice in rotten apples’, he quoted,
as he sank his teeth into the Pink Lady.
The sign had declared, ‘Choice Apples’.
But why, he thought, as his tongue found the worm hidden within,
had he chosen this one.
No money,
No opportunities,
No future.
No choice,
but to live his life
chewing on the scraps and worms
he came across
in the fruit basket of his existence.
Oh yes,
he has the choice
to eat or to keep warm,
to sleep in the park
or in that doorway on the Arndale centre.
Happiness is a choice, the comfortable say
but it’s hard to make that choice
when you are hungry, tired and cold.
Caught between a rock and a hard place,
between the devil and the deep blue sea,
on the horns of a dilemma.
Call me Hobson, he thought.
Choices are the hinges of destiny,
but his door is locked
from the outside.

Malcolm Henshall

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Can you help me?
Certainly sir
I need something to be furious about
Well as you can see on the shelves
there’s plenty to choose from, sir.
Yes, you always have a good selection at
Let me see,
Spoilt for choice.
The weather
A fulsomeness of furies
Oh, I get it
Your little joke
And that one comes ‘boxed. Very clever.
Will the bus ever come?
Piers Morgan
Road Works
Other drivers.
We do have a buy two get one free offer, sir
No, I must choose just one
or else Fury will take over.
My life would be Fury itself
I would be Fury personified.
I know it will be expensive but
I’ll take Brexit for now.
That should keep me going for a few years.

Malcolm Henshall

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