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What They’ve Said

The Poetry of Worcestershire

To explore its footprint in poetry is to be in pursuit of a region’s soul. This chase is served well by these 33 poets and 57 poems.

‘apples, cricket, pears, spa waters, saltmines, re-drawn county borders, porcelain, railways, landscape and the breath-capturing colours displaying from a sun setting over the spine ridges of the Malvern Hills.’

Every poetry book should have a poem about fruit picking. Our fruit juice runneth over in Worcestershire; damsons, pears, plums, apples and sugars dripping from our mouths, and the hay-maker now bringing in the yield.

And as the county provides scenic backdrops, Elgar delivers the music… synaesthesia ‘as an a cappella voice’.

Ian Todd The Cannon’s Mouth, March 2020

Ripening Cherries

“Ripening Cherries” is an intriguing anthology of short-form poetry from the West Midlands edited by Simon Fletcher and British Haiku Society stalwart David Bingham. They describe the collection as ‘open’ with international haiku poets published alongside novice writers.

There are many highlights, easily enough to sustain a collection of established writers.

Given the breadth of haiku, tanka and haibun expertise present in “Ripening Cherries”, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. Credit must be given to the editors for putting together an understated gem.

Tim Gardiner, “Blithe Spirit” May 2020


An introduction by the editors gives a useful background to the anthology and the different verse forms that are contained within it. They point out that “it may be a surprise to readers who have been taught that a haiku is a short poem in three lines with a syllable count of five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables to find this is not always the case. In fact, writers who specialise in writing haiku are more likely not to use this form than those who are new to the genre”.

Forty-one writers are included in the collection of over 70 haiku, just over 20 tanka and 12 haibun. There are strong contributions from David Bingham, Marion Cockin, Bo Crowder, Simon Fletcher, Bethany Rivers, Jane Seabourne, John Sewell, Michael Treacey and Ros Woolner.

In the words of Jood Gough, the contributions in this anthology are like “paintings that speak of small things / rather edgily.” Recommended.

Neil Leadbeater on


I can’t think of a better way to put an anthology together than to tour around the West Midlands educating and encouraging people to write with the offer of possible publication. And Ripening Cherries is the excellent result.

I found the examples of haibun particularly interesting as they consist of an unrestricted prose paragraph (or two) followed by a haiku that somehow relates directly to the preceding prose. It is as if the haiku is the essence distilled from the prose.

Greg Cox in The Cannon’s Mouth

September – Cherry Doyle

Cannock Chase, with its mixture of natural deciduous woodland, coniferous plantations and open heathland, provides much of the raw material for this debut collection. Despite being relatively small in area, the chase provides a remarkable range of landscape and wildlife, some of which are captured in this attractively produced pamphlet.

To Doyle it is a magical place, a place where “you could drown in the shadows”, where “branch meets root meets earth”. September, in the northern hemisphere, marks the beginning of meteorological autumn and in the poem that bears the title of this collection, Doyle makes us sense the season that it heralds  – that time when “summer yellows at the edges”, and “the moon is a far-off thumbprint at the corner of the page”.

This is a collection full of promise from an aspiring writer who is already keenly aware of the beauty of the natural world and her relationship to it. Fully recommended.

Neil Leadbeater
Full review:

Close – Emma Purshouse

The poems contained in this volume cover a variety of styles, themes and moods. Some have a powerful, edgy feel to them which is present from the start: “Summer of ’76” begins as follows: “Even his hair sweats. Sitting in this van / Amongst the wafers, cornets, cones. Canned heat./ He biros demons in the margins of / yesterday’s news. His hot hands, killing time / until the opening of the school gates.” Others, such as “Art School annual picnic” are comical in a clever, knowing way.

Young and old, refugees, nosey neighbours, commuters and urban foxes all find a place within these pages. People who do not live in the street but pass through it, such as a construction worker working on a new-build, a postwoman and a street cleaner are also present. Nothing escapes attention. Even the canal has something to say for itself as it wends its way through the industrial heartland of the city.

This attention to detail even extends to the way in which the comments at the back of the book are penned by people who choose to title themselves as postal workers, herbalists and council workers rather than as writers. It all helps to emphasise the urban nature of this intriguing collection. Recommended.

Neil Leadbeater, The Supplement


The endorsements on the back cover of the book were the first things that struck me about this collection. Instead of the customary kind words from her poetry peers, performance poet Emma Purshouse, in her first full collection for Offa’s Press, is praised by a postal worker, a herbalist and live-aboard boater, and a council worker. The latter says: “Close is close up in every way possible, close to the locals, close to people and language, close to public transport, and extremely close to the nitty gritty of life.”

There are laugh-out-loud poems such as ‘Glut reaction’ – “She’s coming! She’s bringing courgettes”, poignant offerings such as ‘Have you thought about a name?’, and poems where jokey and clever wordplay is mixed with more profound truths, such as in ‘When he left’.

Emma Purshouse may not worry too much about the opinions of a common-or-garden poetry reviewer such as myself – why should she, when she has already received those endorsements from Helen, Kit and Kuli? – but for what it’s worth, I think her humour, high spirits, imagination and insights are reminiscent of Liverpool poets McGough, Patten and Henri, and maybe deserve the same popular recognition. Instead of the Mersey Sound, here’s a refreshing and original voice from a sometimes fantastic Black Country – a place where it’s perfectly possible to spot a ‘Mermaid on the number 3 bus’.

Greg Freeman on 12.18

3 Pamphlets

These three collections have in common a high standard of production and layout with striking covers that catch the eye and entice one to read within – justly. And there one finds what a wide church poetry is.

‘Bella’ is a group of poems centred on a true incident which has intrigued and stirred Nellie Cole. ‘Bella’ is the name given to the unidentified woman (to this day) who was found in a hollow wych elm tree in Hagley Wood in 1943. Some of the poems are in the voices of various witnesses, imagined or real, or based on documents and reports, real or imagined, and theories recorded in police records (or perhaps not).

I will be reading this collection again, enjoying new depths and slants, searching for clues and an answer. I had not heard of Bella before. Having read this collection I won’t forget her.

‘This is Just to Say’ is by contrast a collection of sharp, wry, humorous poems written with performance in mind – which is not to say they should not be taken seriously.

John Woodall finds humour in small incidents, notices the humour and nails it, where the unpoetic would not remark it. Having read these poems I would like to go further – to hear John perform his poetry ‘live’ and take me into his further dimension.

In ‘Words on the Wing’ Ros Woolner remarks ‘Words thrive in gardens of thought and fancy…’ which is what they do in this collection which ranges from ‘Little Brother’ in ballad form to ‘Lexa’ in enhanced prose: She ‘compiles red lists of endangered words like ‘bewray’ and ‘supererogate’ and releases them back into the world…’

Ros also finds inspiration in her family, who may find themselves written into poems without warning, and also her garden. But Ros has no intention, I’m glad to say, of letting family chores get on top of her:

Next washing-day, therefore, I mean to try
to pre-soak words, spin lines, watch verses dry.

Martin Underwood in The Cannon’s Mouth 9.18


Bella, by Nellie Cole, weaves a tight web of mysterious poems and possibilities. Readers will find prose poems, visual poems and even an erasure. I appreciated the inclusion of historical artifacts, which made me want to do more research on Bella. In short, if you love mystery and history, this is a pamphlet you do not want to miss!

Cole’s ability to combine compassion and breathe new life into Bella’s story is admirable. Her publisher, Offa’s Press, has done a beautiful job with this publication and it was a joy to hold this book in my hands.

Juliette Van Der Molen, Mookychick

Our Beautiful Scars – Jane Seabourne

Jane Seabourne’s native Wales (she was born and brought up in Monmouthshire) features prominently in poems such as ‘Sheep’, ‘Bread of Heaven’, ‘Miners’ and ‘Skirrid’ – the latter being the name given to one of the three main peaks in Monmouthshire.

The subjects in her poems range from two Victorian pioneers of women’s education to an account of the first woman to have flown in space. There is a poem about the craze for holding piano-smashing competitions, one about the days between Christmas and New Year and a final poem about New Year’s Eve in which the poet waits for the Year of the Unicorn. Like this collection, it is fabulous.

Neil Leadbeater on 12.17

The Poetry of the Black Country

This collection brings together some of the best work created in recent years by writers from the Black Country’s vibrant poetry scene. Among the highlights are David Finchett’s heartfelt cry of pain caused by The Wild West Bromwich Ring Road, Emma Purshouse’s sad tale of the Flamingoes in Dudley Zoo, Roy Fisher’s haunting The Burning Graves at Netherton and Liz Berry’s beautiful Homing. Taken together, these poems brilliantly capture the history, humour, pride and indomitable spirit of the Black Country, perhaps most movingly in Natalie Burdett’s Boundaries and Carol Howarth’s On Sedgley Beacon, which features on the cover along with artist Robert Perry’s evocative ‘Winter Nightfall in the Black Country’. Mini-biographies of all 39 poets are also included. Highly recommended.

Wolves Beat 11.17

Bert Flitcroft at the Wolverhampton Original Literature Festival, 2017

Bert Flitcroft is Staffordshire’s current poet laureate, and a joy to listen to. His sonnet to a bacon sandwich, where his wife – shouting “something about pulling and weight” – throws a bacon sandwich at his head, is a wry, insightful comment on the dynamics of a relationship.

Like all Bert’s work, it’s delivered with a twinkle in his eye. A master of his craft.

Steve Pottinger

Euphony – Bo Crowder

In ‘Euphony’ Bo Crowder’s poetry is possessed by the landscape of the Potteries and just beyond, and reflects it from many perspectives.

Countryside landscape plays a feature in ‘Fly Fishing in Dovedale’ and ‘Apedale’. The landscapes of the past and its intersection with memories is evident in many poems.

There are also other undercurrents in poems seeking to catch you within their undertow. ‘Ubbe Iwerk’s Revenge’ and its Disney connection is one of a number of lighter-hearted counterbalances that augment the enjoyment of this poetry collection.

Ian Todd, Cannon’s Mouth, March 2017.

Wolverhampton Madonna – Jeff Phelps

The cover of ‘Wolverhampton Madonna’ has for me a forever haunting picture of contemporary street life, The Madonna is another person sitting wrapped in blankets of halo, prickly thorns and searching eyes. The associated poem ‘Madonna and Child’ pulls a painting by Marianne Stokes from 1905 tight into the realities of 2017 (‘You can see it on the streets any day’).

Jeff Phelps displays a purity of touch in his poems. This is seen in the poem ‘Wine Glasses’ which is in memory of Seamus Heaney, where ‘I rub a moist finger round the rim,/ hear a kind of gathering, a resonance that’s neither/ glass nor air, but a new place between’.

Ian Todd, Cannon’s Mouth, March 2017.

Patchwork – Kuli Kohli

The poems show many strengths of mood and identity. A variety of poetry forms also keep a new page-turn fresh and rhyming juices flowing. Both Wolverhampton and the Indian sub-continent are present.

If any husband or partner is looking for a new infusion of ideas on how to do ‘being a husband’ then poems ‘God Sent’ and ‘Shadow’ give useful clues. The phrase ‘the crystal blueness / of God’s eyes – an ocean of creation’ occurs in ‘Take Off’ which as a poem cries out to any creative out there who seeks some inspiration.

If a beautiful flower being blown in the wind is fragile, then there is fragility here. These poems by Kuli Kohli show us the heart of the poet put into the poetry. Strangers who read these poems will become friends when they come to talk about them.

Ian Todd, Cannon’s Mouth, March 2017.

Bert Flitcroft at the Edinburgh Festival, August 2016

Blackwell’s Writers At The Fringe has become an established event over recent years, running each Thursday night in August as a complement to the International Book Festival itself. The format is simple: five writers, usually but not invariably Scottish, each showcase their work for 15-20 minutes, after which the audience mingles with, and of course get their newly-purchased books signed by, the authors.
​Introduced as ever by the cheerfully eccentric Ann Landmann from Blackwell’s, tonight’s show began with Staffordshire poet Bert Flitcroft.

Flitcroft is an old hand at these events and it showed – he’s a wonderful performer of his own poetry, much of which celebrated the ordinariness of life, especially long-term love and marriage. Poems such as ‘Little Ways’, are surely love-poems for his own wife. Despite that, he also used that ordinariness to described a sudden death, the body having “legs askew like awkward children”. ​Flitcroft was a fabulous act, and a hard one to follow.

Gordon Lawrie
, Comely Bank Publishing.

Nailmakers’ Daughters

These Black Country women’s lives are deeply rooted in the history of the area and their poems challenge and delight by turns.

Highlights in this new collection include Emma’s ‘Machine Parts’ and ‘Then and Now’, reflecting working lives past and present. She also imagines what the ‘Flamingos in Dudley Zoo’ are thinking and lists her collection of ‘Tat’ as well as the tenderly funny ‘Things I Learned from my Maternal Grandfather’.

Iris fondly remembers here ‘The Queen’s Ballroom, Wolverhampton’, ‘Travellers’ Horses’ and ‘The Rocket Pools, Bradley’, and composes a beautiful ‘Black Country Aubade’.

Marion Cockin was born in Wednesbury and wrote her first story when she was seven, writing poetry from the age of 16. Among her poems here Marion explores ‘The Wednesbury Mangle Theory’ and what it means to be ‘Common’, uncovers ‘The Writing on the Wall’ and finds out where the ‘Sparrows’ went. This evocative collection of Black Country-inspired poetry is highly recommended.

Upsetting the Apple Cart

These [poems] combine wry West Midlands humour with pathos to explore the excitement of neighbourhood watch, warn of the danger of crashing your car in Wales, and report on the downside of being married to Superman or Shakespeare – the lyingest knave in Christendom. The bravura wordplay of ‘The art school annual picnic’ and ‘Sometimes I can’t get going’ is balanced by poignant reflections in ‘How would it be’ and ‘All over.’ In this world, the weather can go missing and a Wolverhampton woman may lose her mind. There are problems with men who forget anniversaries, untidy the house, shout things at ladies, feed the cat left-over curry, and escape like Houdini. Emma Purshouse’s poems are original, witty, passionate and warm, and she reads them beautifully.

From Wolves Beat:

Nailmakers’ Daughters

The daughters of the title are three poets with deep roots in the Black Country: Emma Purshouse, Iris Rhodes and Marion Cockin. The book also does what it says in the title, that is draws its inspiration from that area north west of Birmingham geographically undefined but very present.

The editor has done a good job in finding three poets whose work does chime and compliment each other and thus has a coherence which some collections do not. In a way this is not surprising as, with similar roots, they draw on a shared experience. Many of the poems refer back to childhood, a rich vein for any poet, but their approach and style are their own. The glimpses and memories build up an image of life in hard times (unfreezing the chamber pots before the night’s contents could be emptied on a winter’s morning, for example).

Emma Purshouse is the most adventurous in form and adds a touch of humour as well. The most unusual (which works admirably!) is Only Child which is a column of single words and split words straight down the page with a twist/pun at the end. Emma also draws more strongly on the dialect and dialect words, perhaps more than her two colleagues: bibble, glede, ganzy, oss, doh. Her four poems on her grandparents are both amusing and sharp.

What did she learn from her paternal grand- mother?

always leave your hat on
when you babysit.

Emma’s poems on Black Country industry are also to the point but more current is Star Taxis — Captain’s Log in which the telephonist at ‘base’ imagines herself, well, elsewhere:

bringing back
the bingo babes
from planet Mecca
in the faraway galaxy
of Wednesbury.

Iris Rhodes is the one of the three who flew the nest and spent years in Africa before returning to her roots but did not leave memories behind. Her poems often hint at deep unspoken emotion as in the ‘war’ poem On Platform Three in which’ the mother seeing her son off to the war is too perceptive and inhibited:

Instead I touch his sleeve,
Through fingertips pour all my love and care
Then turn and walk away.

The canals are in all the writers’ memories but most tellingly in Iris’s The Haunting in which she remembers ‘The dark ghost of a scent’ when she is on the Limpopo or Zambesi and can’t place it until she at last remembers

it belonged
Under a canal bridge, back home.

Marion Cockin remembers a happier childhood and her older poetic self sees unexpected correlations, chaos theory had its birth in Wednesbury, when the mangle handle came off — regularly. She has memories of gardens and green wildernesses rather than foetid canals and rusting factories. In Common she remembers the family’s concept of its ‘station’

tap dance and ballet
(makes your kids brassy)

and the sharp memories of day to day occurrences ends with

But worst of the lot
is the secondary mod.
No 11 plus failures.
Not in this house.

It would be interesting to see a version of this by Emma Purshousr drawing on the dialect which she uses so well!

Marion closes her sequence with poems on relationships and travel which again reminds her of home — the sparrows which she had forgotten no longer flock under the eaves until she finds them in northern Greece, the graffiti on the bedroom wall also invokes memories.

This collection makes a coherent whole of both moving and amusing poems calling to mind the Black Country past, its people, industry and landscape still living in the present memories of the writers who lived and played in it, observed and, most importantly, remember.

Martin Underwood in Cannon’s Mouth (9.15)

The latest offering from Offa’s Press brings together the work of three poets from the West Midlands – Emma Purshouse, Iris Rhodes and Marion Cockin – who share with us their observations and memories of life in the Black Country, a region where nailmaking was once a thriving cottage industry and “female blacksmiths” could be found in many communities.

Emma Purshouse, a freelance writer and performance poet, is also a descendant of a nail-maker. Several poems reveal her irrepressible sense of Black Country humour, some of which make use of dialect, while others explore the region’s industrial past in a variety of poetic formats which are at once appealing and relevant to the subject under scrutiny.

The first half of the sonnet entitled ‘Emmie and Arthur’s Honeymoon, June 7th 1931’ will give readers an insight into her special brand of humour:

The earth really did move for them
in that B&B in Bewdley.
6.1 on the Richter scale,
the bedroom positively rocked.
Elsewhere, chimneys tumbled
and Doctor Crippen’s head fell off
at Madame Tussauds in London.

Her stylistic range is impressive: some, such as the poem about Bilston and Battersea Enamel Seconds, make use of anaphora – the deliberate repetition of a word or a phrase for a specific effect – to highlight the mechanical nature of stultifying work. In another poem, ‘Things I Learned from my Maternal Grandfather’, lists are used to create a cumulative effect of knowledge and discovery that is both serious and diverting.

In ‘Star Taxis – Captain’s Log, 10pm to 6am’, Purshouse uses the name of the taxi firm as an invitation to embroider the poem with space imagery to good effect. In the experimental poem, ‘Only Child’, she gives us a visual image of the trajectory of the tennis ball from the moment it leaves the child’s racket to the moment it hits the house wall by positioning the poem in a long thin line down the centre of the page. The final poem in this section, ‘Then and Now’, offers a pleasing symmetry of ideas and line lengths in the two stanzas that serve to link the past with the present.

Iris Rhodes is the only poet in this grouping who has lived for any length of time outside the West Midlands. After college in London in 1960, she lived and worked in Africa for many years before returning to her native roots. Her work, in the middle of this collection, provides a subtle contrast to that of the other two poets. Her poems are more measured and not so fast-paced as those of the others, but they are skilfully crafted and have that ring of authenticity that informs the work of all three poets included in this volume.

Rhodes looks back through the long perspective of memory to summon up lines of heightened emotion when writing about the first or second world wars. There are a few poems that reflect on her time in Africa but most are set in her native Black Country. Her subjects are about long ago winters of discovery, the beauty of the natural world, bargemen on the Black Country canals, rock pools in Bradley, dances at the Queen’s Ballroom in Wolverhampton and a child’s wonder and imagination inside the conservatory at West Park. She writes in a fluent and accessible style and one of her many strengths is the ability to paint an evocative picture with the minimum of fuss, knowing just how many words it takes to make a poem sing:

Mist rises from canals,
Reveals the fields
Where dreaming horses stand
And a lone walker whistles,
Strides, knee-deep in purple willow-herb,
Past the brown bones, the rusting ribs,
The ghosts of factories.

‘Black Country Aubade’

Marion Cockin has been writing poetry since she was a teenager. She qualified as a librarian in 1971 and was an assistant librarian for Wolverhampton City Libraries until her retirement.

With the exception of a handful of poems that are set in Africa, the majority of these poems are close to home. Cockin writes of domestic scenes that make use of unusual subject matter such as wrestling with a broken mangle or the discovery of graffiti after stripping off wallpaper on a bedroom wall, to bring originality to her work.

There are some delightful poems here about a child’s fascination with colours and the surprise and wonder of seeing nasturtiums being transformed from “a forest of green plates” to “orange flowers”. She is at her most lyrical though when she writes about relationships. In ‘George and Cal are Dancing’ she writes poignantly about her father’s death but manages to achieve this without any hint of sentimentality. By subtly combining the themes of death and dancing and recalling the time that one or other of her uncle’s taught her how to waltz, she turns the poem into something that is both positive and life-affirming –  a moment of celebration which at the same time is seen as some kind of initiation. In ‘The Times I Think that You Have Died’ Cockin creates a poem that is both personal and universal, flippant and serious. There is a fine line to be drawn between these two extremes and Cockin treads it like a tightrope walker who is confident of striking the right balance because she has everything under control:

While I sit waiting
in restaurants,
I look at your absent chair
and ponder over a glass of wine
what to wear at your funeral.

An empty space at tai chi class
when you’ve just popped out to the loo.
We’ve struggled through the form
three times before you return.
And in between the shaky moves,
I’ve remarried twice…

The final poem in this section, ‘I Have Made a Room For Us’, is a beautiful meditation written in the form of an extended lyric, in which the subjects are completely at one with the wonders of the natural world. It is a fitting conclusion to a very fine anthology of work.

Jane Seabourne, who edited the collection, must be credited with having put together the work of three very different poets into a seamless whole. Sensitive artwork by Linda Nevill and a striking cover photo by Nicole Lovell add to the visual appeal of the book. Highly recommended.

Neil Leadbeater on writeoutloud

Review of ‘Thought-Apples’ on Writeoutloud

The title is apt; former English teacher Bert Flitcroft has put a lot of thought, and indeed thoughts, into these poems. An insight may be gained from ‘Forbidden Fruit’; its content reflects the title of this pamphlet collection published by Shropshire’s Offa’s Press. After trying in vain to write a poem about apples, this occurs to him: “What if our thoughts were really apples?” Most are unripe, too sweet or too sharp, remain unpicked, or lie scattered, “wasted windfalls”. This is poetry to get your teeth into.

Flitcroft, this year’s poet in residence at Southwell poetry festival in Nottinghamshire, also displays a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude to the atmosphere surrounding some poetry readings. Describing one held in a garden, he addresses the polite audience and asks: “Are you that keen to hear his dysfunctional brain / comparing the moon to an old sock, / his love to a tortoise in the long grass, / or his life to a ball of string, unwinding?” Flitcroft’s sympathies lie with “the downtrodden worms / burrowing deeper as the poems rain down on them. / And look, there’s a local snail retreating into his shell/with his hands over his ears.”

His poetry is open-minded, sensible, and good-hearted, as when he reflects on the promise and good works to come of those receiving their degrees in ‘Seal of Approval’; the human cost of a rail line fatality (‘Human Geography’); and the honest anger of a driver overtaken by one flouting the law in ‘Rage on the M42’. There is humour in ‘Naked’, remembering his aunt Lizzie’s tales of her second husband Reg, who liked to walk round the house naked: “It came back to me this morning, / standing in the bathroom shaving.”

He is frank about the problems of ageing, and in particular, knees, in ‘Walking with Arthritis’; and there is a keen sense of mortality in ‘What I Know’, the final poem in the collection, sparked by seeing an older man collapse in the street: “I could pop out to the shops, / shout through to my wife, ‘I’ll be back soon’, / leave her in the kitchen baking bread, / and never return.” There is a strong sense of history and place in ‘St Cuthbert’s Way’ and ‘This place’, the latter an observation of the good and the ugly in “This narrow strip of Staffordshire”, including warblers, damselflies, and “a rash of quarries”.

I can’t ignore the poem ‘S.P.A.D’, an extended railway metaphor – the initials refer to “Signal passed at danger” – about a marriage that ends suddenly when a wife “passing a red, pulled out of the sidings”.

Bert Flitcroft’s poetic language is unadorned with devices to disguise its meaning; that is not what he is about. But his poems are full of sharp insights and observations, and abound with humour and delights. They could well appeal to many people who regularly visit this website:

Greg Freeman 6.15

The Chatter of Crows

A great sense of humour runs through the whole book. I particularly enjoyed the haibun called ‘Hobnobs’ which starts ‘I wish he hadn’t told me about the ‘naturism’ thing…’. The writer always thought they did the same as any ‘normal’ person on holiday – he doesn’t disapprove, being ‘a bit of a free-thinker’ – but now he just can’t help wondering, while the wife is talking about her recent knee operation, whether he’s told her he’s told him about the ‘naturism thing’, about how they’re often ‘starkers in the sand dunes’.

Colin Blundell, Blithe Spirit, January 2015


So what can one say of a collection in which each individual item has its own characteristics and charm? David Bingham’s sensitivities as a man and a poet enable him to reach out to us in a variety of ways, always interesting, always stimulating our own thoughts and emotions.

Kevin Bamford, former editor of Borderlines 


What is immediately obvious from a first glance into The Chatter of Crows is the range of forms and layout which the poet has used. There are haiku, but ‘line’  is a vertical fall of single words down the centre of the page and at the other extreme there are prose poems with a haiku coda (haibun). Reading on [   ] one is aware of the Japanese and of the Buddhist way of looking at things.

This is a collection that calls to be returned to again and again. I can’t resist quoting a final haiku:

Family cricket –
the outfield catches
a dandelion seed.

Martin Underwood, The Cannon’s Mouth, December 2014


Bert Flitcroft in Thought-Apples [   ] considers incidents in life but in a generally more expansive style. Walking with arthritis considers the condition in a slightly wry way but reality is there as well: “Overnight I’ve become a walking apology/ to fellow ramblers…” Perhaps some of these poems are a little too direct – more telling than showing- but still the telling phrase or line catches the attention. Describing in Seal of Approval a graduation ceremony for a university’s ‘high flyers’ Flitcroft concludes: “Who would have thought it?/ So young/ Just someone’s ordinary children.”

Martin Underwood, The Cannon’s Mouth, December 2014

Writeoutloud website on 25.11 14

There is no shortage of literary talent coming out of the West Midlands and Offa’s Press is leading the way in promoting some its finest voices to the attention of a wider audience.

Nick Pearson is a Forward Prize nominated poet whose work has been widely published in anthologies and magazines. His subjects are office women “who probably think they look a mess” on wet days; the dreaded annual appraisal (a piece that sends up magnificently the absurdity of the whole exercise); the irritations of working with computers when the screens perpetually “freeze”; the new boss “who thinks there’s going to be changes” and the sanctity of the office lunch break where the poet contemplates a “solitary reader with his silent apple”.  These poems, written from a sense of being in captivity, are seasoned with a good dose of humour.

The ability to be serious and light-hearted at the same time is effortlessly brought to the fore in the poem called ‘La La La’:

I want my poems to be like Kylie
metaphor cute and image pert,
a dress change in every verse.

There are other poems here that also delight. Poems about industrial towns, small-time obsessions, neighbours cleaning their cars and, in ‘Dwellings’ the end of an era when, in 1967, the last family was finally evicted from the caves at Holy Austin Rock on Kinver Edge, near Stourbridge, with views over the West Midlands coutnryside.

After that day trippers out walking the Edge
could no longer stop to meet the Flintstones,
ponder a world deep beyond their window.

As a small child I can still remember the surprise of seeing these families living in their caves and so this poem resonates with me. But there will be much in this collection which will speak to others as well because Pearson gives us cameos of contemporary life which we can all readily identify with.

Dave Reeves is arguably the most well-known of the three poets presented here.

Black Country Dialectics is a fine collection of work which is first and foremost characterised by humour. This is achieved by various means including wordplay (exhibited in ‘A Black Country Guide to Computers’, the juxtaposition of dialect with Standard English, the humour of overheard conversation, a setting of a foreign classic, Don Quixote, into a Black Country context, the transference of a Black Country setting to the American Wild West (‘Saturday Night in Dodge City’). There are allusions to Dickens (‘Boz in the Black Country’); Purcell, Billy the Kid, local characters and folklore. Stylistically, his work veers towards the ballad insofar as these poems are stories told in verse. In ‘Saftness’, a working-class attitude to book learning sets the scene for what is to follow which is, by extension, a clash of cultures.

Why do’ya find summat useful t’do?
Yo’n allwys gotya yed inna book
It wo’get ya noweer.

The poems are located in specific settings: the fairground, the street, the industrial landscape and winter in wartime. Throughout all this, there is no trace of sentimentality or nostalgia. Reeves tells it as it is (or was) and he does it very well. The book is accompanied by a CD which gives the listener an opportunity to savour the dialect and to gain an insight into Reeves’ undoubted abilities as a performance poet.

Editor, writer, teacher and poet, Jane Seabourne has lived on both sides of Offa’s Dyke. She grew up in south Wales and now lives over the border in the city of Wolverhampton, in the heart of England.

Seabourne demonstrates her acerbic wit to perfection in her collection entitled Bright Morning. Here, humour is expressed in wordplay, as in the many definitions of the verb “to know” (‘What I Know’) and invention, where a person watching birds is also watching humans who are watching the person watching birds (‘Big Garden Birdwatch’). Her themes are many and various drawn from everyday life. There is a brilliant sonnet about girls out on the razzle titled ‘Carpe Noctem’; the seven-year itch (‘Seventh Wife’); domestic upheaval (‘Potted Anger’); character sketches (‘Dr Johnson’) and the perils of commuting where passengers are forced to listen to other people’s conversations on the dreaded mobile phone.

There are striking images throughout the book. In What I Know a series of them flows effortlessly off the page:

I know (but have no proof) that God is dead,
that when I die, I’ll walk a corridor
with matt emulsion walls, and when I reach the end,
I’ll find a door and open it onto oblivion.

Later, in the same piece we find humour bound up with literary allusion:

I know April is not the cruellest month –
September is. Ask any teacher.

Later still, the mood changes to a more lyrical tenderness:

I know I once was “clear winter”
but now have faded to a subtler time of year.

The poems are well-crafted and executed with perfect timing. This is an accomplished first collection that leaves us eager for more.

Neil Leadbeater

Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh. His short stories, essays, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011) The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, 2013) and The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014).

Comments on the Writers’ Day, 2014

The layout of the day was effective – allowing people to attend whichever elements they wished/were able to. It also allowed some transitional periods for us to collect ourselves before moving on to the next part. Each part of the day was a good length also, and where there was some over-running we managed to catch up later.

The atmosphere was great – the informal nature of the day was a great benefit I felt. There was no feeling as though we were in a classroom environment, and being left to our own devices to reflect upon what we’d discussed, seen and experienced was very useful for me to explore my own ideas.

There was focus on writing – the writing time was crucial to the day, and personally just what I needed – a whole day with writing on the brain, whether sat in the hall or out on the hill. We had a good amount of time to explore our ideas on paper and I have got two very solid starts to poems.
Cherry Doyle

I found the day very enjoyable and I was pleased to see you had yet again arranged for dry weather.  The evening venue was fine too. I’ve attached a piece of work which came out of the workshop.
Lucretia Luke

I really enjoyed the workshop and liked the fact that we got out of the hall and did an informative and inspiring walk about our theme “work”. I hardly write with a structured theme and I found the experience very exciting and helpful.

I would’ve liked the workshop to be extended to a weekend or a two day workshop. I really got into it and it was a shame that was only for a day.
Romalyn Ante

It is the first time I have attended a full day writing course. It was one of the best writing events I have been to. My two friends from Blakenhall Writers’ Group came along with me and took good care of me as I would not to have been able to go alone because of my disability. 

There were no concerns regarding access issues as I felt I was in good hands at every step of the way. I had a wonderful day of taking in the fresh country air, walking, writing, having fun with my friends, enjoying performances and even performing myself!

Thank you Offa’s Press! I would definitely go again.
Kuli Kohli

About The Poetry of Shropshire

In this anthology, you don’t stay in one place for long. You are whisked around the county, taken on a journey. Even the quirky names of places [ ] become the subject matter. Apart from places, the poems also introduce us to historical figures with Shropshire connections, e.g. Clive of India [Loot by Simon Fletcher and Clive Sahib by Kuli Kohli], Baron Pierre de Coubertin and Dr William Penny Brooks [Odd Couple by Paul Francis].

And there are many good descriptions of the working life of the people of Shropshire e.g. The Peat Cutters by Gladys Mary Coles, Mortimer Forest and Burning Stubble by Peter Reading. And, of course, the beauty of the county, its hills, its wildlife and its many moods also shine through this collection of high quality poems. Buy it.

Greg Cox The Cannon’s Mouth June 2014

About Black Country Dialectics

[Black Country Dialectics] can be viewed as an attempt at capturing the sounds of dialect as well as the particular world-view this dialect is associated with. The literary device which recurs in many poems is that of the dramatic monologue, which enables the poet to give a voice to the Black Country characters of his childhood like “the barrelfighter” at the “Black Country fayre” or William Perry, known as the Tipton Slasher, a nineteenth-century prize fighter.

Reeves explores “the British caste system” through language and points at the clash between the Black Country culture he was immersed in as a child and the standard English and literate culture he had to absorb at school.

Reeves has got a keen ear for dialect and obviously takes great pleasure in giving a poetic voice to the people he rubbed shoulders with as a child. [ ] But Reeves’ approach eschews the sentimentality and often nostalgic outlook which sometimes mars dialect verse, an easy identification with the past as a time when “things were better”.

Eric Doumerque, Miranda June 2014

Review of We’re All in This Together

“There is some political wit in the title of this anthology but this is not ultimately a collection of topical debate. Most of the poems here take a longer view than irking at the vile blandishments of the officer class. What we are in together in this anthology is more like the common skin of our humanity, and the natural world of which we are still incontestably a part, despite the extent to which urban life may seem to have distanced us from it. [  ] What might be called the Environmental News is the backcloth, if not the overt subject matter tackled in a scintillating range of styles by an equally impressive diversity of authors.

The editors Nick Pearson and Jane Seabourne have done a fine job in presenting these poems, where adjacent works often reveal interesting contrasts and similarities. There is such variety that choosing a representative poem to cite is impossible. David Calcutt’s magnificent vision of Gaia would encourage you to look further into this excellent anthology.”

Bob Walker Cannon’s Mouth March 2013

Comments on the YouTube videos of Emma & Win

“The videos of Emma and Win are absolutely priceless.”

Tom Jenkins (12.12)

Comments on the We’re All in This Together launch

“Books were flying off the sales table when the new anthology of environmental poetry was launched. It’s great success for the editors, Nick Pearson and Jane Seabourne and, of course, for Simon Fletcher as well as the poets.

This book does look and feel good. I love reading books on Kindle but this book does remind you of what you can miss if you don’t also hold a real book in your hands!

Linda Neville (10.12)

About Dave Reeves’s Black Country Dialectics

“His is the enduring name in Black Country poetry. Reeves delights in the linguistic mayhem the dialect can cause… But he uses the language, the places, to explore other emotions, other situations more familiar through the mediation of different accents and contexts. Written and spoken, the language and scene of Black Country Dialectics engage and often amaze.”

Michael W. Thomas in Under the Radar #10 Autumn 2012

About Nick Pearson’sMade in Captivity

“The strongest pieces in the collection are those which, in a sense, hardly know that they are becoming poems. Almost casually, observation leads to reflection, reflection to words which give the experience life.

Nick Pearson is at his best when he catches moments, causes and effects, meditations, off their guard. In a number of pieces, he explores these richly, balancing detachment and compassion in a way which, sadly, eludes so many poets.”

Michael W. Thomas in Under the Radar #10 Autumn 2012

About We’re All in This Together

“There’s a great range of poetry in the book – some with a scientific/botanical feel (Nadia Kingsley), humorous and insightful (Emma Purshouse), futuristic and entertaining (Brenda Read Brown), the haunting image of blossom and people you have known who always take their apron off before opening the door by Marion Cocklin, then there was the line by Amanda Attfield that had me nodding in agreement, ‘don’t give me 50 different kinds of everything, and more…and more…’, or Romalyn Ante’s unpredictable and striking juxtapositions…and the calm tanka where, ‘…silver fish flash’ by D.A. Lovell.”

Linda Neville

About Funny Women

“We had a fabulous evening with Jane, Emma and Win – it was brilliant!”

Jill Bright, Dudley Libraries

On the Pant Workshop January 2012

Being a prose person it’s a feather in your cap that today’s session has made me a convert to reading poetry. Strange that the fiendish Villanelle should be the catalyst but the selections were so beautiful they could not be ignored. I have told my Scottish friend about today!

Barbara Maitra, Oswestry

Black Country Dialectics – Blackcountryman review

Winter 2011 Vol 45 No 1

This book (and accompanying audio CD with 13 audio tracks, including the intriguing title “The Singularly Entertaining Ballad of Ayli Quixote and Sancho Aynuck etc”) will both entertain and amuse you.

If you are interested in local, dialect poetry then this work will be for you. The fact that you get written and audio for the price of a book is a bonus. Presentation is pleasing, would make an ideal stocking filler for Christmas.


Made in Captivity – Nick Pearson at Bilston Voices

Nick Pearson is an Offa’s Press poet who read extensively from his collection Made in Captivity. I had never seen him before, I liked him very much. Casual, unpretentious and unassuming he breezed through a set of concise wry material that engaged and amused. Shallow Grave skilfully explored all those computers seized by the Met from news international and Coming Clean raised a chuckle from all who have experienced an Annual Development Review. The thinly veiled sexual innuendo of Final Frame was a fitting set finisher. Yet my admiration for Nick was sealed by one line, when he dared to rhyme “Brillo” with “Amarillo” – genius.

Gary Longden, on Behind the Arras

Black Country Dialectics – Express & Star Review

It’s difficult sometimes to find that perfect stocking filler for friends and family at Christmas. Black Country folk have an ideal opportunity to share their wisdom with the rest of the world – in a collection of witty observations by one of the area’s best respected poets.

Express & Star

Black Country Dialectics – Dave Reeves at Bilston Library

“It wus wuna them dank November arternoons that’s dusk frum early on an maerges slowly into noight well afore the official toime gid fer sunset.  A crowd was in an upstairs room of Bilston library fer a loff an loff they did.  Raed on …”

It was one of those dank November afternoons that seems to be dusk from early on and merges slowly into dark well before the official time given for sunset.  Quite a crowd had gathered in an upstairs room of Bilston library to be entertained for an hour and entertained they were.

In the presence of some of Bilston’s most proficient Black Country speakers, Dave Reeves was promoting his book Black Country Dialectics (Offa’s Press) by reading and performing several pieces from the book and the CD that accompanies it.

With Chris Lomas on guitar providing suitable background music where it was needed we heard about Cowboys with Black Country accents drinking mild beer and wanting scratchings, bare knuckle fighters in barrels and the notorious Tipton Slasher.  For an hour we were taken back to the days when the area really had separate dialects.

Heather Wastie, who seems to have an endless supply of characters, gave us the women’s voices in her usual quietly impeccable style.  This woman must surely be heir to the traditions of Joyce Grenfell?

I think I can say that all present had a good afternoon at this little ‘indulgence’.  It wus bostin.

Eileen Ward-Birch, on Behind the Arras

About Bright Morning

“She has a gentle sense of humour and this is evident on many pages but she also has a wicked insight into the human condition and writes, with great empathy, of our failings and frailties.

Some of the poems made me laugh out loud and some almost reduced me to tears.

This is Seabourne’s first published collection and will be a delight for anyone who enjoys witty, observant, and well-crafted modern poetry.

Her imagery is superb, her imagination is fertile, and her use of language is excellent – she plays with words as well as any traditional poet.

This is an extremely pleasing book, slim, but every page is a pleasure to read. Some of the poems left me wishing I’d written them instead of the author!”
Rating *****
Sally Bunn Shropshire Star

“Born and raised in Wales and now living in the West Midlands, poet Jane Seabourne has lived both sides of Offa’s Dyke. Her debut collection of poems gathers memories and observations, both great and small. Jane finds the interesting in what some might see as banal, and the romantic in what the unimaginative might call forgettable – refreshing in today’s world. Bright Morning is an apt title as the reader is left with a bright feeling after reading these poems, which can be humourous, thought-provoking or insightful.”
Border & Country Life

“Bright Morning is a collection I return to again and again. It hasn’t yet travelled as far as a book shelf, it resides within easy reach, in my handbag. There is something here for every poetry lover or even poetry sceptic. The poignancy of ‘On Going to Lunch with Friends’, ‘One of the Guests Brings Polly, Aged Five Weeks’ and ‘Sometimes, in these her days of Pleasant Confusion’ never fails to bring tears no matter how often I read them.”
Claire Parr,
Walsall writer

“I am particularly touched by ‘Love Song’. This poem totally ‘gets’ what love really is – thank you for writing it. What they all have in common is a quirkiness/ unusual slant on the subject, humour, tenderness, compassion and there’s a confidence in all [the] poems that allows me, the reader, to give myself over to you.”
Nadia Kingsley, Bridgnorth writer

About River Passage

“A most skillful blending of poetry and music.”
Ian M. Emberson, writer and artist.

“I love the way the phrases of Dan’s music match the phrases of the poem. It’s an altogether very rich and broad sensual experience.”
Elspeth Soper, Shropshire

About ‘A Christmas Offa’  with Emma Purshouse & Win Saha
Wednesfield Library, Wolverhampton (13.12.10)

“Excellent! Loved the contrast between traditional and modern poetry but loved it all!”
Rosa Hickman, Senior Library Assistant

“I thoroughly enjoyed all of the “clucking” readings!”
Mrs I. Gillings

“I’m not particularly fond of poetry but I enjoyed all of this event, especially the poems – amusing ones relevant to modern life – very good and very expressive!”
Mrs C. M. Wall

About the Reading Service

“Many thanks for the quick return of my six pages of poetry submitted to Offa’s Press reading service, and the detailed notes plus constructive comments I received, all were greatly appreciated.
I have the confidence now to submit four of my poems to your suggested magazines for consideration and will keep you posted on their progress.  I will definitely be using your reading service again.

Silvia Juliet Millward, Willenhall

About the Mentoring Service

“I have really enjoyed being mentored over the last few months and have found that it has boosted my enthusiasm, confidence and ability.  I am keen to write but sometimes need that extra push and being mentored by both of you has been a great contrast and very interesting having two different opinions and ways of working.  I am now keen to undertake a bigger project than I have done before and look forward to further mentoring sessions in the future.  Thanks again for all your help and advice.”
Michelle Moore, Wolverhampton