Quel Fromage

After a short break in another hostelry while The Leopard Hotel was undergoing refurbishment (many thanks to the Duke William for their hospitality on 15th July), the Stoke Stanza returns to its former haunts at 7.30pm on Tuesday 21st August. All welcome. Please bring 15 copies of a poem or short story to share or else simply enjoy a drink and listen.

There are some decidedly non-cheesy poems from The Leopard this month …

First up an ‘hommage’ with some ‘fromage’ to John Ashbery from Stanza regular, Paul Freeman.

in memory of John Ashbery

Ignoring all the sentences creates
its own restaurant/restroom.
July, the people with voices dissembled
less on the beaches than in the observatories,
we and they addressing northern cousins,
or so we honked.

Coast to coast, toucans play at his game
as scarlet dreambirds flock patternfully,
for a time, long enough to be noticed as such,
disappear into the electric trees disappear.

Let’s pull over to the pull-overs
and see how the dandies dress this fall/winter.
Slacks a little tight around the balls
these days but that shouldn’t stop our appreciation
of them or ourselves.
Still orchestrations of imaginable complications remoan,
even when we hold hands. A particularly pleasant place always seems
so far away and beyond our transportation, but at least
we’re sailing and the weather’s out.

And the wretched president sleeved me aside,
addressing me by half. What – you’ve
resigned from the earth summit?
Just when we’d made a breakthrough
in automated doubt management? Those evening illocution lessons?
You probably don’t mean that,
so neither do I. Hey, Capitan Blasé,
I didn’t mean it first!

Or should we just dangle foot-loose
in the fluvial grooves
or who should do the hand-wringing?

But with the setting on ‘miraculous’
why peck at words that spin like a cockatoo’s mirror, returning our eyes
to our own, oh, friendlier misfortune?
Take what you can
and make we joy with the rest.

Back beside the blacktop,
our hero pants
in his going-away pants.

Over the windowed skyline
wonders the flamboyant rose.
A city streams. Hello, Metro.

And the green man is flashing,
quel fromage.

Malcolm McMinn stretches to Australia and the Dreamtime.


The earth and sky create a fiery brew
Created by the setting sun at Uluru,
A massive ochre coloured monolith
So crucial to dreamtime’s creative myth.
At last the blazing disc slips out of sight,
The sun now giving way to moonlit night.
The Milky Way, with countless stars aglow,
Illuminates its own nocturnal show.
As if on cue the flies all disappear;
This is the time for ice cold beer
While taking in the dreamtime atmosphere.
And now across the burning, arid sand
Is heard the deep bass notes and haunting sound
Of didgeridoos, primitive and raw,
The instrument of ancient myth and lore.
It’s clear that here we have a special place,
Beloved and priceless to the native race.
Songlines converge and dreamtime comes alive:
The tribes respect, observe the law, survive.
On walkabout men sing their sacred song,
Record each tree and hill and billabong.
This is a law the native won’t defy:
If not obeyed the land will fade and die.
He knows which life he may not kill nor maim
And to this new born land he lays his claim.
In the beginning was the sacred song
And from the song all lands were then created,
Then from the land sprang all the living things:
The book of Genesis, Australian style.

Geoff Sutton appears to have been in a different pub, The Bullet Makers Arms.

Or was he?

in the bullet makers arms

on a field tent was
near a footpath orange bright
so conspicuous
unoccupied now
no beauty spot too close to
a sheer metal fence
where armed guards patrol

she breathes WE JUST SELL
her mouth tastes sweet juniper

next day charred circle
of sick wounded grass
plastic melt billy can black
no orange at all
only scattered pegs
to recycle from the endless
mystery of scorched earth

We hope to see you at a Stanza session soon!

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‘Turns us back to zero with a click.’

The next Stoke Stanza at The Leopard Hotel, Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent, is at 7.30pm on Tuesday May 15th. All welcome, admission free. We meet upstairs to read and discuss our work, whether poetry or prose. Please bring 15 copies if you’d like some feedback or feel free to listen or join in the discussions.

Stanza regular Kate Roberts was among those local writers shortlisted for the role of Stoke Poet Laureate. Congratulations to Kate for getting so far! Kate would like to thank Stanza regulars for their feedback and support.

Two of Kate’s poems recently appeared in Acumen. Here is one of them.


Ads for Aldi

flash across the screen,

appeal to our pockets

between the recollections

of a good woman

whose work with the street

children of Columbia

puts my small sorrows

to shame.


Images of

cut-price chickens,

pulled pork,

bubbling pizza,

sparkling wine

vie with old-eyed children,

weeping women, drug barons,

crack addicts and talking dogs

selling insurance.


On the News

refugees flee

war-torn, blitzed

cities, sink or swim

to dubious safety

and razor wire fences

as we watch, remotely,

from our armchairs

and wait for the X-Factor.


You can find out more about Acumen on the journal’s website.

Here are some poems from the last Stanza session. First up, tooting up to the kerb, is John Williams with his fine poem, Next Cab.


Out in the jam we turn to bleeps and winks,
a cab that frees the night in different honks,
warning, rage and lust. We flow past grid steam,
early doors in clubland and billboard ads
as rain explodes its rainbows on the glass.
Fuel burns to ghosts among reversing lights.
The driver’s voucher free from Pizza World’s
clipped overhead, his chitty’s gone to blur.
The radio’s excited all the time,
turns squeaks to cries and distance into hiss.
Time shrivels to a digit on the dash
and adds the fare. He chats, screws this and that
so overshoots my turnoff and comes back.
My porch light stops him and the meter glows.
His next fare’s on the bleep he stops to check
and turns us back to zero in a click.

Malcolm McMinn submitted this thoughtful piece:


The soon to be mum sat down close to us,
Relieving the weight of her bump.
She and her boss were discussing due dates,
Breaking waters and similar topics.
At once my wife picked up the scent
And quickly the two became three,
An exclusive, all female, cabal.
“The breathing exercises work,
Folic acid is great and don’t smoke”
Were to be heard by all in the bar;
Good advice freely given and gladly received.
Other women looked up, wisely nodding,
But I sat in silence, feeling rather superfluous.
So far so good,
But difficult labour and painful contractions
Then took their toll on me
And I pushed the chips to one side.
I learnt of insensitive, invasive tests
That men “Know nothing about.”
I thought, but of course didn’t say,
Not a prostate between the lot of you!
But now they are off in world of their own,
A female, parallel universe,
A place, it seems, of bloodshed and pain,
“But I’d happily do it again and again –
Except for the last ten minutes!”
The stitching quite rightly was skipped over lightly
And at last it was over and not before time;
I’m not as tough as you women.
With my nerves all aquiver my head began spinnin’;
Well, you can tell, I’ve reverted to rhyme.
You might think that I’m weak, with a broad yellow streak,
And consider it quaint that I’m likely to faint,
Yet I felt so damn rough, I’d had more than enough,
But you girls are made of much sterner stuff,
And heroic, and female, I ain’t.

Geoff Sutton offers some intriguing poems:

no gloves

she scraped a varnished
forefinger nail
across my naked palm

she whispered

friday I ran cold
water into a bath
i dumped her in

see through dress
she took it off
my clothes were wet

i did the same
her hair smelled of iron
filings in a magnets field

we were gazing at
one hundred billion galaxies
at least seventy sextillion stars

who do you think you are

a citizen of
the world of nowhere at all
hah don’t make me laugh

i can make you great
again i will so I will
and there is no doubt

let down the ladder
there is room in the lifeboat
yes for everyone

there is no such thing
as society i know
believe me me me

i can make a deal
another and another
on and on on and

bye bye


an inn where the gruel
is smooth each shepherd wears a
basin on his head

like a helmet its
a joke but not one of them
has read Cervantes

not even in school
twice a year they drive the sheep
and the goats through

Puerta del Sol up
Highgate across the green at
Rodeo or Masham

its a human thing
same as it ever was just
like the very first time

We hope to see you at a Stanza session soon!

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Loping on

As 2018 lopes on and gets into its stride, here’s some more poetry from The Potteries.

The next Stoke Stanza session at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem, is on Tuesday March 20th at 7.30pm. All welcome. Join us upstairs for the kind of chat, close-reading and analysis that has made us such a distinctive group for nearly a decade.

Bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss, or simply sit back and listen.

Meanwhile, here are some poems from the previous Stanza meetings – and one of Geoff Sutton’s that goes back further than that.

First up, it’s John Williams.

Every Bite Is Joy

Fry guy wipes the range down, scoop,
pan and splattered fat from last night’s batch.
Bag man flicks the packs apart
and counts clunky hisses in the drinks machine.
EBIJ as ventilators whirr:
new batch fuss, peel and chop,
no-salt order holds production up.
Runner steps out of the steam,
creates your order, shakes it dry
and scoops your bag along the trough.
As McJob infiltrates the lexicon,
Trash man tuts at Washer up
and someone counts the cash.

Geoff Sutton is in allusive mood:

oh grand-daughter missing so much and so much

did not see smoke of books burning ashes
from planes on fire all at a safe distance
done by a small man with a small moustache
what you felt was of little consequence

you did not smell the bonfires of witches
heretics plotters toasted bones torched hair
you were not at home during the blitzes
the rest of your family perished there

mute protester sadly with a conscience
never one of the Greenham Common throng
born uncomfortable with that one sense
not to support a country right or wrong

that’s why she walks through the fields wearing gloves
protects her fingers from the blood of doves

If any one knows Frances Cornford’s To A Fat Lady Seen From A Train, 1910
this is whose grand-daughter she is.

You can read the poem that inspired it here.

Geoff hopes the poem stands on its own too.

Geoff isn’t fond of notes to accompany poems, but he breaks with tradition to supply us with some for this next poem.

waterlogged in the garbage of language

flotsam plastic jetsam plastic plastic
floats aswirling in the Pacific
Sundance Owen could turn out fantastic
DeBris’ fashion dresses look terrific

like plastic language poisons in decay
babble or clam up either way we die
true or false does it matter anyway
even presidents cannot tell a lie

from a fact purify intensity
a dead albatross washed up on the sand
spewed out by the vortex’s immensity
bloated exclamation marks colons and

thrown overboard by some damn Rockefeller
three stereoptic two-handled umbrellas

In the Horse Latitudes floats the North Pacific Gyre, a vast swirl of decomposing polystyrene. It is so large no-one can measure it. It accounts for perhaps 1%, perhaps even 8% of the ocean surface.

Richard Sundance Owen formed the Environment Cleanup Coalition in 2008.
Marina DeBris, born Detroit, makes fashion clothes out of the stuff.

Also breaking with tradition is Malcolm McMinn who supplies a non-rhyming poem, but one which is as well-observed as his regular rhyming offerings.

Motorway Services

We have Harthill, Sandbach and Norton Canes,
Or Keele perhaps, then Hilton Park,
Oases on our arid motorways
Where cars pull in and drivers dash
To pay a welcome visit to the loo.
They might pick up some sort of snack;
A ham baguette at four pounds sixty five?
Bizarrely, no one seems to mind.

Some seem to have a quite poetic ring;
Maidstone and Medway, Michaelwood,
Yet are prosaic like all the rest,
All brash and bright and overpriced.
Outside the ladies’ loo men hang about
For wives who always have to queue,
The atmosphere there nervously frenetic;
Not a place you’d choose to loiter long.

Pease Pottage, Taunton Dean and Clacket Lane
Are all quite soulless, lacking charm
Despite romantic, classy sounding names,
Which don’t excuse their petrol prices.
It hardly matters then which one you pick,
They serve a function and that’s it;
Pee, tea, coffee, cake, hit the road again.
Repeat every one hundred miles.

For more Poems from The Potteries and avid discussion, join us at the next Stoke Stanza on 20th March.

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Happy New Year from The Leopard

As the Stoke Stanza group at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem ambles into its 9th year, we kick off with a poem about The Immortals.

THE IMMORTALS | John Williams

Glad to have a nose and genitals back
the old gods haven’t abandoned us
but love to appear in fashion magazines,
heavy haulage ads, the big man on the block
booting in doors and squeezing off a round.
In their last world they turned to rubble
waiting for the phone and lightbulb to arrive.
Experts trace them back to the caves,
foragers with bellies like laundry sacks.
What’s left of them in alphabets and glyphs,
jailed or divorced, becomes attack scuds
hammered out of steel.
Goddesses of needlework, love and beds
take the domesday ride on a motorbike.

John chairs the Stanza and you’d all be very welcome at our next session on Tuesday 20th February at 7.30pm. Bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss or feel free to listen and enjoy a drink.

Stanza regular Malcolm McMinn bemoans The Poet’s Lot

THE POET’S LOT | Malcolm McMinn

The poet’s lot has ups and downs,
Eclectic mix of smiles and frowns.
You write from youth until the hearse
But prosody won’t fill your purse
Though verse may well hold you spellbound.

In golden tones your verse resounds,
——-Or dismal shades of greys and brown,
Which makes you curse, it’s so perverse,
The poet’s lot.

The muse may mock your choice of noun;
You might say “frock” but she says “gown”;
The pitfalls are diverse, immense,
Frustration makes you terse and tense
When metres fail and rhymes confound
The poet’s lot.

Phil Williams, in the meantime, is feeling somewhat seismic as his Suburban Sinkhole opened in the Autumn 2017 edition of Orbis magazine.


One afternoon, a sudden give and sag,
our pavement gapes to cold, black earth.
Neighbours gather beside the crusted edge,
taking selfies; text; fetch children early
out of school. Stand back while men in high-vis vests,
stretch yellow tape, and begin to probe each lawn.

Later, a helicopter’s blur, filming
for the Evening News. The shadow flits,
bulges across twin car drives, house fronts,
like a child’s flick-book. It drops fathoms down, engulfing
sub-soil, bitumen; broken
breeze-blocks, half-bricks, exposed cables.

When darkness comes, houses either side
empty to relatives, friends, hotel rooms.
Residents watch themselves on wall-wide screens.
Surprised? Of course – it’s not what you expect –
relieved no-one was hurt. We’ll welcome them
home when everything’s safe. Always like that here.

Redundant timers pause on DVDs;
fridges defrost and click. Hollow houses
fill with arc-light glare. Instruments chirrup,
beep, tick; hum with back garden geophys.
The foreman feels it first, rippling across
his plastic mug – the tremor, lurch and spill.

So why not feel the quake and feel the vibe at the next Stanza session? All welcome, admission free.
Upstairs at The Leopard pub, Market Street, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3AA.

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Stanza Dates for 2018

Here are the dates you’ve all been waiting for!

The Stoke Stanza sessions upstairs at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem.

All on Tuesdays at 7.30pm.

January 16th
February 20th
20th March
10th April
15th May
19th June
17th July
21st August
18th September
16th October
20th November



Admission free. Please bring 15 copies of a poem you’d like to read and discuss, the feedback is second-to-none. Feel free to sit and listen or join in the discussions. We hope to see you in the New Year!

If you’re looking for a poetic stocking-filler this Christmas, then check out the results of the Nantwich Words & Music Festival competition organised by Stanza member, Phil Williams here – and order your copy of the anniversary anthology, Petrol & Matches. It’s a bargain at just £5 and includes winning entries from 5 years of the competition plus reflections and lyrics by singer-songwriters and Festival impresarios Thea Gilmore and Nigel Stonier. There are also poems by judges and writers connected with the Festival including Kim Moore, Elisabeth Sennit Clough and John Lindley.

You can order your copy from Phil Williams tel: 01270 882060, email PhilWilliams441@gmail.com.

As we’re running out of road for 2017 here’s a road poem by John Williams.


‘Old copies of novels are being used to help prolong the life of the UK’s motorways

Over 2,500,000 books were acquired during the construction of the M6. The novels were used in the the preparation of the top layer of the motorway, according to a spokesman from Tarmac.’ – BBC News

Woes that get to print help the traffic flow
laid in the roadbed of the motorway:
A verdict on the books by Tarmac Co.
now every page can transport us away,
best seller or chick lit, each with a spine
of asphalt binding them all together.
Big rigs and car carriers smelling of grime
welcome non-skid reading in wet weather
and ride on strong emotions after all.
This unexpected upturn for the page
runs under fragmentary greenbelt and tall
cities of the Silicon Valley Age.
Quick reads to escape. Slow for love misled:
literature put to work, and put to bed.

PHYSICALITY | John Williams

Perhaps physics was simpler in those times.
They hacked stone free, truckers carried the ore
and metal shot from the fire in straight lines,
thundering into sand to make the armour.
Then poking the charwood for nubs of gold,
they battled for breath in the sulphur smoke,
beat dents out of blades once the mould was cold
and sliced hairs in half at a single stroke.
The other science to come out of the caves
with measuring sticks had questions to ask:
why the sun shines, melts frost and sends heat waves
and why we speak much clearer in a mask.
The dull old gods, torn out of the phone book,
were trumped by the sunbed’s new bronze-tan look.


i.m. Jeff Buckley d.29 May 1997

you said once you were ‘rootless trailer trash’
though back in Orange County you had roots
surely you weren’t totally out of cash
when you drowned in Memphis harbour with your boots

on but sing was all you did what a voice
Italian-Irish tenor from your dad
Indios from your Zonian mom some choice
but rootless roots were all you ever had

After you’d sung Leonard’s Hallelujah
‘goodbye. I love you all’ was what you said
trouble was he never really knew yer
a very short time later you were dead

the Mississipi river runs so deep
the current gives me bad dreams when I sleep

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Season of mists …

… and more Stanza dates. The next Stoke Stanza takes place on Tuesday 26th September at 7.30pm upstairs in the historic Leopard Hotel, Burslem.

All welcome. Admission free. You don’t have to be a member of the Poetry Society, nor do you have to bring anything – but we do appreciate when people come along with 15 copies of a poem they’d like to share and discuss.

Here are some that have been shared and discussed at recent Stanza sessions.

Geoff Sutton has been re-reading Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. He tells us he ‘gets’ it now. So much so, that he’s been writing sonnets based on lines from Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness classic. Here’s one.


he strides the camomile lawn at sunset
she meets him coming the opposite way
crushed leaves smell rancid and the dew is wet
boots leave her footprints sticky from the clay

one has to turn round feign a change of plan
plead reckless weariness do what they can
to demonstrate promises they have to keep

no moon shines just car lights strobing through trees
neither knows which the best way to walk is
they hesitate hair ruffled by the breeze
at last she smiles goes widdershins his
hand on her cheek rests light as a feather
they stroll on into the dark together

John Williams has been ‘Halfway to Paradise’.


The Boy who made the stars and universe
had to learn how to make a wooden chair.
His clumsy efforts couldn’t have been worse.
All thumbs and fingers, hapless he would stare
blankly at chisel, hammer, bit-and-brace.
The mind that dreamed up love and broken hearts
could never drill a counter-sink or place
‘Halfway to Paradise’ in the pop charts.
So little wonder he quit for the road,
threw in the towel for the atomic age,
inventing drugs and dynamite. He showed
us our future on the celestial page:
nukes on the ice-cap and the drones that flew.
Our first fear’s abandonment. Our last, too.

‘Halfway to Paradise’ was the best-selling single of 1961 and spent 23 weeks in the charts.

Malcolm McMinn laments the departure of the Muse.


She’s gone again and left me flat,
Insisting that she must be free
And never will be tied to me:
Just packed her bag and that was that.

Will she relent, come back to me,
Or has she gone for good, amen,
And shall we never speak again?
Why does she feel she has to flee?

Euterpe is the wanton’s name;
Like Venus she tempts many men.
Entrapped, they lift poetic pen
And life will never be the same.

What is the cure for poet’s block?
When she is near she charms me so
And rhymes and rhythms seem to flow
— Before they turn to poppycock.

Well, get those creative juices working again, punch through that writers’ block and submit some poems to the Poetry Society’s Stanza Competition on the theme of ‘Walls’. You’ve got to be in it to win it, as they say – and for this one, yes, you do have to a member of The Poetry Society. Details here.

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Spot the opportunity …

Next STOKE STANZA at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem: Tuesday 22nd August at 7.30pm.

It’s upstairs in this historic Potteries pub. All welcome. Please bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss or feel free to listen and enjoy the vibe.

There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with poetry and spoken word events across The Potteries and surrounding region.

Bert Flitcroft, Staffordshire Poet Laureate is running free poetry workshops at The Brampton Museum in Newcastle-under-Lyme on 10th, 17th, 21st and 22nd August. They’re part of the Museum’s ‘Maps – a Plotted History’ exhibition and will be based on people’s responses to the map collection. The workshops run from 10am until 12 noon and booking is required.

Ring 01782 619705 or email bramptonmuseum@newcastle-staffs.gov.uk.

For more details of Bert’s poetry see: www.bert-flitcroft-poetry.com

Albert Flitcroft

There are also opportunities to win cash prizes, get free tickets to hear Roger McGough and appear in a special 10th anniversary anthology through the Nantwich Words & Music Festival poetry competition. A former winner and several time runner-up, The Leopard’s very own Phil Williams is organising the competition this year.

You can find full details of the competition via this link.

The deadline for entries is 4th September and there’s an 11th September deadline for the Festival’s first song-writing competition.

So get writing and get a move on! Phil’s on tenterhooks himself as he’s been long-listed for the Live Canon first collection competition – see: http://www.livecanon.co.uk/poetry-competition

Mary Williams (no relation) is another local poet long-listed this year. Best wishes and best of British to them all.

Finally, there’s an opportunity to attend the unveiling of a memorial to one of the region’s literary figures, the war-poet, critic and ‘modernist’ T E Hulme. The unveiling takes place at 2pm on Saturday 23rd September at Hallwater on the A53 near Endon. It will be followed by a performance by the Community Choir in The Methodist Church, Station Road, Endon where there will be an exhibition of photographs. The event should finish around 4pm. If you are interested RSVP to Suzannesillitoe@gmail.com or ring 01782 503969.

In the meantime, the regulars have been busy.

Geoff Sutton has continued his series of sonnets based on lines from Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (and with a nod towards Robert Frost).


he strides the camomile lawn at sunset
she meets him coming the opposite way
crushed leaves smell rancid and the dew is wet
boots leave her footprints sticky from the clay
one has to turn round       feign a change of plan
plead reckless weariness  do what they can
to demonstrate promises they have to keep
no moon shines just car lights strobing through trees
neither knows which the best way to walk is
they hesitate hair ruffled by the breeze
at last she smiles goes widdershins    his
hand on her cheek rests light as a feather
they stroll on into the dark together

Malcolm McMinn has supplied a Sapphic Ode.


If you could talk what tales you’d tell.
You’d tell of honest men long gone
Who’d heed the tolling of your bell
Come rain or sun.

You knew the squire so rich and grand
Who dressed his wife in silk and lace
And all the folk who worked his land
And knew their place.

You saw the tragic loss amid
The clash and roar of civil war.
Men fought and died as women hid
Behind your door.

Then other conflicts came and went,
Men’s names engraved on stone or brass.
Though follies men may well repent,
They come to pass.

But now neglected and forlorn,
No bell rings from your Saxon tower,
Your aspect seems to say you mourn
You look so dour.

No use now for your Norman font,
And some day soon your walls might fall.
If you could talk you might not want
To speak at all.

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