Shattered Rainbows

This is a poem by a guest writer on the blog, in special tribute to the victims of the massacre in Orlando, Florida.

Shattered Rainbows

You were simply out.
The music, lights, people all around.
Then in an instant, noise and fear.
Did the music stop?
Or were the bangs a new discordant beat?
I think I’d hide.
And think of everyone I wouldn’t see again.
And imagine all the things I might never know.
And loved ones I would leave behind to mourn, in disbelief
That this was real, not pictures on the news,
But something that had happened now, to them.




Fingers hover, poised above board, the keys to composure.
Energy drains to less than nothing, apathy creeps
in, sleep beckons with droopy fingers, except
I woke not long ago, optimism soaked,
creative vitamins popped, vitality
bursting skin with sparks of
fragments of ideas. What
drained this resolve?
I see it hunched,


I was sitting under a cloud,
Singing my own song quietly to myself,
When suddenly a strange sound picked my ears,
Up I looked, to see a little bird,
Trilling to me gently from the sunlight.
Sweet little bird, I listened to its song.
A small shaft of sunlight shone through my cloud.
I smiled, for it brought me joy.
Like with like, I shared my own song,
With this strange, flitting being.
It ruffled out its feathers delightedly,
And whistled me borrowed songs.
I watched it contentedly skip and hop,
In tune with the music within.
Fleeting bird, it stayed too little,
For when I reached towards its feathers,
My hand passed through only air.
Ghostly wee sparrow,
Ever beyond my touch.

Christmas crackers, coeliac, constraint and creativity

This week, I went for a coffee with my husband. On the table was a Christmas menu card, in the shape of a cracker. Except, it wasn’t actually in the shape of a cracker; it was just a straightforward, straight edged, open-ended cuboid.

What made it look like a cracker was the triangle shape cut out from each corner near the top, and a dark band of colour intersecting the excisions, giving the appearance of the bit at each end of a cracker, where your hand grips when you pull it. Even though each side was completely straight up and down. It was very effective.

My husband is a graphic designer, and he pointed out how the constraints presented by the form, probably chosen for cost reasons, had sparked creativity. It had pushed the designer to come up with something slightly unexpected, when complete freedom of form might have resulted in a more conventionally cracker-shaped object, which would probably have been less engaging.

This is why I enjoy working with poetic forms like the villanelle.

The word villanelle is derived from the Italian villanella – a folk dance or song – stemmed in turn from the Latin villa (farm) via villano (peasant or farm hand). Jean Passerat is credited with the first literary imitation of these rustic songs, in sixteenth century France[1]. Many well-known poets have written villanelles: Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, WH Auden, and Dylan Thomas.

Villanelles are composed of 19 lines of any length, grouped into five tercets (a stanza of three lines) and a quatrain (four lines). It has two rhymes: the tercets rhyme aba; in other words the first and third lines rhyme. The quatrain rhymes abaa. It helps to actually see these principles put into practice: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas  is a famous and very effective use of the form

But what makes the villanelle interesting, I think, is not structure but repetition. The first and third lines of stanza 1 are repeated in the other stanzas in a set pattern. Line 1 ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ is repeated as line 6. Line 3 ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ as line 9. This happens again as lines 12 and 15. In the quatrain, these two lines together conclude the poem.

This allows the poet to play around creating subtly different meanings for those significant lines, using the rest of the stanza. For example, in  Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song, sometimes the line ‘I shut my eyes and all drops dead’ is the start of something happening, when followed by ‘I lift my lids and all is born again’, for instance. Other times, its meaning is an ending, reflecting its position at the end of a stanza: ‘And arbitrary blackness gallops in / I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead’. When I write in this form, I am often surprised by the creativity that is ignited by the need to find words that rhyme and also that make logical and lyrical sense.

This villanelle was inspired by another constraint requiring creativity: adapting a sticky port gravy recipe, so my coeliac mum can enjoy it. It’s a bit rushed and unsubtle, I dashed it off while making the gravy (I didn’t want to get too absorbed and leave the ‘bits’ to get to the wrong side of burnt!) starting with a few lines from the recipe itself, which kept referring to the ingredients as ‘bits’. I played around with the tenses, and changed one or two words on the repeated lines so it makes sense. When I have more time, I might go back and improve it.


[1] Lyric Forms from France, by Helen Louise Cohen)

Sticky port gravy bits

Toss the whole lot to mix it, so all bits are churned:

Giblets, drumsticks, garlic, onions, in an ovenproof dish.

(You’ll want them just the right side of burned.)


Mix honey and not soy sauce (unless gluten removed)

scan the cupboard, spot the Bovril, and use that instead.

Toss the whole lot again, so all bits are churned.


Back into the oven to caramelise, bits drowned

By sticky juices, brown gooey and tasty,

(You want them just the right side of burned.)


Sprinkle cornflour on the sticky browned

Mess, (because that’s gluten free).

Toss the whole lot again, so all bits are churned.


Back again in the oven for a last minute burst

Then a splash of red vinegar to loosen the bits that

you wanted just the right side of burnt.


If your dish is flameproof add stock and some port,

Squish with a masher, then strain through a sieve.

Toss the whole lot to mix it, so all bits are churned:

(You wanted to keep them just the right side of burnt.)



The walk along a sandy shore swells long,

crunching feet in rhythm thinking on what

the sea creates and renders moot today.


Dissolving thoughts, collapsing rolls of spray,

marbled green tainted sudsy white stirred up.


All life and death begins and ends repeat

and rinse again with salty spitting spume.

At times, you throw a lonely boot, reboot.



A Poem for Summer’s End


The Dancers

The rain falls lightly onto the soft sand,
Little waves lap the peaceful shore.
White foam splashes and plays along the coast,
Almost abandoned, the beach is bathed in moonlight,
And there are but two figures remaining,
Dancing together in the silver light of the stars.
At first the dance is slow, their steps careful,
Then they move together, the music coming from within.
Entwined, they twist and turn on the sand.
Faster they dance, movements more intricate,
As the rain continues unnoticed, falling around them.
Now they embrace and dance as one,
The drumbeat of their hearts ringing loudly.
They tumble to the sand, their descent graceful,
And their eyes bright and shining.
The dance is over, the night passes.
And yet there the dancers stay,

Dark Moon

I thought it would be fun to make a book-spine poem. If you haven’t seen these before, then take a look: the concept is simple, yet brilliant. This can be a nice, creative way of using your books to give you some inspiration, and you can even encourage your children to have a go too! I hope you enjoy mine.


Dark Moon

Wildfire at midnight,

This green land across the flame,

The shadow of the lynx,

Burned alive.

Dead heat.

The unquiet bones.

* * * * *

With thanks to authors David Gemmell, Mary Stewart, John Fullerton, Jonathan Wylie, Victoria Holt, Souad, Dick Francis, Melvyn Starr