We went to Cumbria last week, a party of poets and I, and this accounts for our first lacuna at Keep Poems Alive since last August. The picture above shows poets Morelle Smith, Sheena Blackhall and Sally Evans against the background of the Kirkby Lonsdale fells. So here are some poems of travel, Cumbria, and May Day trawled from your past publications.

Sheena Blackhall brings Aberdeen beech to a poem about May Day. Martyn Halsall follows a concert in a tiny church in Cumbria, where the countryside life of lambing etc is juxtaposed with all cultural events. Maureen Weldon’s poem treats movingly of a little girl sent back to Ireland from Argentina, while Morelle Smith’s earlier poem explores Texas. Thanks to all these writers for letting us enjoy their poems again and again. Our thanks to Judith Taylor for some of the photos this week

And for once, just once, I am adding a short poem of my own set in Kirkby Lonsdale, also first published some years ago as is our rule.

Four or five poems a week is a huge number to collect on a regular basis, so remember to keep contributing if you’d like to take part and have suitable poems previously published at least three years ago.


Sheena Blackhall
May-Day, North East

Where screeching birds bob in the blow
Unanchored waves toss restlessly
Town May-Day strollers come and go

Horizon’z ships move dead-pan slow
Like boats in some old tapestry
The ancient mermaids sit and sew

Waves drape the sand, a chaise-long throw
Woven with water’s clarity
Foam from a fringe, cool sand, below

A sullen dog as pale as dough
Runs barking in to scare the sea
Four paddlers wade, ducks in a row

Like tears distilled form some old woe
Poseidon’s  glittering jewellery
Mother of pearl laid out on show

A rainbow arches like a bow
That gulls sail through celestially
High in the gone rain’s afterglow

Here all are equal, high and low
And will be through Eternity
Through bare-buff summer, nose-nip snow
The tide that ebbs must also flow


from Hairst o Thorns, Lochlans 2004


 000Nether Wasdale

Martyn Halsall

(from Matthew Mark Luke and John No.1 by Inigo Ford, in St Michael and All Angels
Church, Nether Wasdale, Cumbria)

Resin blocks cupped in tissue squeal as bows
are primed, with cello. A viola, two violins,
are wedged between shoulder and chin, as sighting
to take aim at the scores. The cello’s plucked
to heartbeat. Glance stills a final twittered tuning,
discord, before a bow into the Mozart.
Behind them colours breathe through evening glass;
Christ’s purple victory robe; a dawn’s smashed yolk-light

All evening translations: Janacek’s ‘Intimate Letters’
opened to imaginations: an angler’s line
tightening; fields leaning from an evening train,
tossed blossom before a storm, breeze airing
a hammock, owl over graveyard. Music’s guided
through nods, raised eyebrows, unthreading of a loose
horsehair… Behind them evening drains
light out of glass; turns angels to lead profiles.

Oak could have slept, or ascended into fire,
but four beams, rescued, were brought here, became abstract
portraits of writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Number One. And the artist asked his friends
what colours the apostles speak in, worked to grain
medical white for Luke, spread sky for John,
debtors’ blue-black for Matthew, bloodied stripe
for Mark, and a tip of sunrise over a peg.

Night, and the figures from the glass manuscript
have stepped back into dark before resurrection.
No Christ, yet; or pair of angels with furled wings,
no sky-lined local ridge, slated from Wasdale,
re-sited to a Palestinian garden.
Just four men’s names, called out with number and pack,
who never came home, but live on as east light
returns each dawn to make creation live.

Who gave their lives in the Great War: Jos Cooperthwaite,
Geo Cooperthwaite, Hugh R Park, Walter K Roper.
Next day’s lament still echoes Shostakovitch.
Church door’s left wedged to birdsong. Lambing’s started.

First published in Sanctuary (Canterbury Press: 2014)
Photo: St Michael and All Angels Church, Nether Wasdale, Cumbria


Maureen Weldon

For my Mother

She was born in Argentina.
Irish father, Spanish Mother.
‘My little girl the apple of my eye, can not be brought up in Argentina.’
Was the Father’s note when he wrote to his Sister in Dublin.
Her Mother died when she was six.
Her Father shipped her over to Ireland.
Shipped her from Argentina all by herself. Looked after by nuns, strangers.
The Father’s kind Sister brought her up – like a social justice –
Her Victorian Uncle, loving, kind.
The little girl had to learn English, had to learn a new religion.
Say her prayers in a new religion.
She was hungry, hungry for her Papa,
hungry for her six brothers, hungry for meat.
She was not used to Victorian nursery milky foods.
The little girl was so lonely,
lonely to speak, hungry to eat meat, to communicate.
The kind Aunt knew a young clergyman who spoke
At last the little girl could communicate,
hugged the young clergyman, kissed his cheek.
The young clergyman said, ‘Please give her some meat.’
Because they were kind and because they were good.
The small child grew. Her dark eyes deepened,
Grew wider, grew wiser and her brown hair shone past her waist.
So too did Argentina grow, but grew and grew away. Until
One day she simply did not remember.

(Mary Courtenay – Born in Argentina 1908)
First published by Poetry Scotland, the poem appears in the book Breakfast At Kilumney,
Poetry Monthly Press 2012


Morelle Smith
Texas Night

The shoe-shine booth is closed
in Austin Airport.
No more shiny shoes today.
But I’ve got my KMart 14 dollar dress,
my red straw hat,
I’ve got the hot wind from Mexico
and fat and sudden raindrops
from a passing storm,
a shaking, finger-picking,
shoulder-licking storm.
And these hunched barge-clouds
go slouching by.

Wet fingertips
outside the old Pecan Street Cafe.
Box buses roll like boats
down Congress Avenue.
The storm wind shuffles
the bendy branches of
the sidewalk trees.
They float on windstream –
green and restless arrows
tugging to be following the wind.

Oh, can’t yo just feel the
wet air on your face, when
thefolk-singer plays
‘The Mist-Covered Mountains’
on a hot and storm wrapped Texas night?
Can’t you smell the stacked peat,
drying by the roadside?

Here, the green-panelled
wooden buses sway down
Guadelope St. The awnings
flutter in the wind.
The air folds softly round you,
a warm, damp blanket,
sticking your clothes to your skin.
You walk slowly, slowly,
in this humid night.

Mist, mountain and peat smoke
all seem far away
from the White Rabbit
and the Armadillo Restaurant
and all the colourful facades
of 6th street.
Outside the Cactus Cafe
the crickets blur their raspy music
through the night. Soft, splashy
sounds of fountain jets.
We listen to Merle Travis
and Kentucky Mountain Music
aswe head north on Highway 35.
Dodge pickups, Fords and Cadillacs
hiss softly past,
on this hot and heavy Texas night.

from Deepwater Terminal, diehard 1998

Casterton Stone circle

Sally Evans
Creamy Fells

At Underley we swam the Lune,
a private pool above rapids
where Ann and I once swam too near
and were pulled by the  river’s
smooth force nearly as strong as our limbs.

Down in the river bed
mussels lived lives unlike ours,
and minnow and trout moved silently
while in the air, peaceable birds
flew between river
and Barbon and Casterton fells.

Ann drew them,
time and again, while I sought words for them,
the creamy fells.

first published in Gutter Magazine