Lope through lock-down with The Leopard

Stay safe everyone, during these troubled times. The Stoke Stanza has continued to meet online through lock-down. It’s not the same as in the upper room at The Leopard in Burslem but still with the opportunity to share and discuss poems.

Here are a few recent poems to lift the mood through lock-down.

PANDAEMONIC by Paul Freeman

Out in the oldest costume
Darkest feathered sweep,
Treading on cracks, the fissures
Past the fishers, the tankers, the reek
Of sweatshops, workshops
Chainstores, chainsaws
Rainforests laughing with fire,
Past the cages, the markets
Plantations, plantations
Cataracts and hurricanoes.

Who is applauding
This barefoot performance
Of chaos?

Who indeed? Let’s hear some applause for the next two poems by Geoff Sutton.


deer forest in may
the hills are reeking of death
rock litters the pass
fertile hinds give birth
over and over

when you summit out
then you have to go back down
surf the shifting scree

unstoppable force

the eat well
feed off poison
superbugs we say
and at chernobyl
fungi feed off radiation
fatal to mortals

we have it coming
a test for the weakest point

so better shape up

virtual ganymede
you have a drink on me john
english short greek long
seven syllables
epi oin och eu oi
i might pour out wine
its the optative
lets uncork a bottle now
heres your beaker

On a similarly Grecian theme, via his local dump, Mark Johnson brings us


The lance arced through a sky
bright with spring sun glanced
off its surface as it swung a
parabola round and down
and into the catafalque
of vanquished gear; here,
at Leek’s municipal tip,
there is a private second Troy,
as a boy in the shape of
a man hurls kitchen
spars and dreams
that Gun Hill rising behind
the piled wreckage blazes
with a fierce Anatolian light.

We can always rely on John Williams for Delphic oracles and Mount Olympus (as well as Mount Parnassus). Here are two of John’s recent poems.


Now Mars Bars, Starbursts and Galaxies
are junk food, the gods must have made them
easy to buy and lethal to consume
like their other gifts, weapons and prophecy.
No-one complains when beer cans
let us talk to the greats or become a legend,
or to turn back time for a Marathon bar
we slide a coin in a slot machine.
The gods riveted ATMs to the wall
against ramraiders equipped with jemmies
and bestowed the touch-screen to make us urgent:
the burning want, sign of the divine
since the gods love us, give us speech,
phobias and the burger bar. They’re kind this way
as the coil rotates like the Wheel of Fortune
and drops a future in the vending tray.


In preparation, over 600 secret bunkers
were set up in the countryside

Struck from the map, the secret patch
gives up a Pepsi can and rusty nails,
coins of old dead kings and bottle caps.
My uncle scans the fireweed like frying on a flame
and listens to the sizzle in his headset
sweeping his detector over the field.
Buoyed up by a permit and free to dig
he sells the scrap as salvage for the cash.
He searches for the Doomsday Room
made of lead to stand the blast.
The sun ignites the metal in his mind
as he crumbles soil to nothing in his hands.
Unhindered by the burn of nettle rash
he powers up again for the deep hot spots
too frail for fingers or his steel-toed boots
and sets to work with his precision gear,
scalpels, tweezers, toothbrush and probe
to find the flare where the world would burn.

Finally, Phil Williams in elegaic mood:


Wind tugs frayed twine across each raised bed,
the broken stems of this year’s seedlings,
those wigwam ties the coal-tits tore and pecked
to line their nests.

It hits them raw, the two men on the roof
opposite, scooping pitch between the tiles,
all boots and shorts and builders’ bums.
The copper beech tree nods and heaves.

I will wild this garden, blur the verges but retain
your borders, those deft perennials you planted,
foxglove, iris, clematis, forget-me-nots –
and through all your cream varieties of rose,
the one you ordered for its name, The Poet’s Wife.

The next Stoke Stanza Zoom sessions are on Tuesday 25th August and Monday 7th September at 7pm. To find out more contact John Williams on johnwilliamsstanza@btinternet.com

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The Leopard in Lock-down

We hope you and yours stay safe during the pandemic. Like all other arts and community groups we hope to reconvene as soon as it is safe to do so, and send our love and support to all those on the front line of the current crisis.

John Williams, the ‘Stanza Rep’ for The Poetry Society’s Stoke Stanza, has penned a piece especially for these difficult times.


I write as Spring moves on and March locks down,
but in two minds as light defeats the dark
now daylight seems prohibited in town
and cameras watch the foodbank and the park.
I write because surveillance and some minds
conspire to leave an empty world behind.

I write for those confined and in dismay
who breathe through tubes, from local handyman
to advertising chief and those all day
linked to machines since early Spring began
and must survive this multitasking age
by circuitry on a blood pressure gauge.

I write for the desperate who phone help lines,
and for Adele who sends the ambulance
and techie-team that test the coughs and sighs.
She asks the crews in lockdown-speech what chance
of beds in maxed-out wards, what oxygen
since masks and meds are running out again?

Behind the screen lies Sue who thought ahead,
deft fixer from big data, sharp and bright,
kept Evian and a mobile by her bed
for when she made the corporate calls at night,
but took a turn for worse then couldn’t speak,
who power-napped, but now she sleeps all week.

I write for the delirious, the swimming champ
the nurse propped up for sleep when sickness spread.
He thinks he caught it from a training camp
he stresses, so the mouthpiece kinks, in bed
hallucinates and switches on the light
and feels besieged by terrors in the night.

I write for all the ring-tones that begin
a message saying help is on its way,
for those who can’t escape but must stay in
-for ever- , those who never get away.
I write for March, this equinox in verse
in hope, as darkness falls, the last come first.

Stay safe. Support the NHS. Save lives. See you soon.

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Karen Solie at The Leopard

Here’s a reminder that we’re starting the new decade with a very welcome appearance by acclaimed Canadian poet Karen Solie on Wednesday 22nd January at 7.30pm.

Karen Solie

All welcome. Admission free.

You can hear Karen talking about her poetry, ‘the rhythm of the ordinary’ and reading some of her work here.

You can read more here.

We meet upstairs at The Leopard Hotel, Market Street, Burslem at 7.30pm once a month. Bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss or simply come along and listen.

Here’s a poem by Roger Elkin which he shared at a recent Stoke Stanza session at The Leopard

Sharing our son’s out of darkness moment

So, this is the lad whose first word
was Moon, Moon his face pleating
in recognition and seeking applause,
though, no doubt at forty-plus, he
won’t recall all this, he’s so enthralled
with his latest craze – a telescope.

We’re here, mid-France, in the middle
of the countryside, fields harvest-gleaned
for miles, and cicadas tzinging beneath
a night sky bigger/wider than imagining,
and blacker than black: a vast caul of indigo
that’s wrapped up daylight and fashioned
its package with stars. And there, hugging
the horizon, the moon. Huge. Smiling.

Before we know it, we’re squatting on the floor,
our knees and elbows spraunged, and hands
and eyes vying for focus as trying to place
the moon squarely, bring into view the craters
that make its face, and scan its pale lemon disc
etched out of darkness.

He’s all beaming face in possession now
of a new world of words – ocular, refraction,
resolution, aperture, magnification …

Such big differences crossed,
this getting near. And how illuminating,
the shared scope in the monosyllables
of mum, dad, son.
Of moon. Of love.

Roger Elkin

We hope to see you at a Stanza session soon.

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New Year at The Leopard!

Welcome to 2020! Make a date with some Poetry from The Potteries with the regular Stoke Stanza sessions at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem.

We’re kicking off the New Year in grand style with a welcome appearance by acclaimed Canadian poet Karen Solie on Wednesday 22nd January at 7.30pm.

You can hear a clip of Karen reading her work here.

It promises to be a great night, with Karen agreeing to come down from Manchester to visit us. Born in Moose Jaw, Sasketchewan, Karen now teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has been compared to John Ashbery’s, just as ‘centrifugal’ but ‘grounded’ and with an ‘off the cuff’ beauty – read more here.

All welcome. Admission is free and we meet upstairs at The Leopard on Market Street, Burslem one Wednesday a month at 7.30pm. Come to listen or to share. Bring 15 copies of a poem for feedback and comment. We like to think our discussions are second to none, as good as you’ll get anywhere.

January 22nd – With Karen Solie.

Then February 19th, March 25th, April 15th, May 20th, June 24th. July 22nd
August 26th, September 23rd, October 28th and November 25th.

To whet your appetite, here’s a poem by John Williams who runs the Stoke Stanza. John’s had two poems published in The Spectator in recent months, although his politics lie well to the left of that periodical.

Here’s a recent poem to take us through Customs and into the New Year.


Waking on a sofa in the departure lounge
I’m startled to hear my name’s last call
and step through scanners with my shoes undone.
A laser throws a light checking for guns and blades,
doors hiss shut and escape’s closed off.
I need revelation, lightness, solar gods
as my buckle shines like Achilles’ on screen.
Picked out for pat-down, zeroed and released
I’m banished with my thriller to the gates
where my name flashes urgent
and sentries check my boarding pass,
visible, invisible, my ancient bones and shield.

Hope to see you in 2020!

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Saggar Makers, Online Dating and Boarding Passes

Stephen Seabridge, Stoke-on-Trent Poet Laureate was unable to join us for the July Stanza meeting due to illness. We hope to welcome him another time. The next Stoke Stanza session is at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem on Wednesday 21st August at 7.30pm. All welcome.

Please feel free to listen and contribute to the discussions – among the best you’ll find anywhere according to your omniscient blog hosts – or bring 15 copies of your own work to share or a favourite poem.

Here’s a flavour of what to expect with some poems shared at the July session.

First up, Stephanie Sampson joined us from the East Midlands to share a poem written by her grandmother, Joan Hewitt. It could not have more of a Potteries theme.

Joan Hewitt

My Dad he was a Pottery lad,
So hopeful and so proud,
He said Goodbye to schoolboy days
And followed with the crowd.
Apprenticed to the saggar hole
And there to learn his trade.

He sliced the heaps of saggar marl
And then the frame he’d fill,
He was a bottom-knocker now
And learning fast his skill.
He’d soon a saggar maker be
By working with a will.

In a saggar hole, the saggar hole,
He laboured out his days,
Surrounded by the dust and marl,
He made his saggars, large and small
Nearby the virgin pottery stood
His saggars for to fill.

He laboured on amid the dust,
His soul in anguish cried,
With coughs his body then was rent,
Like many more he died,
The saggar hole had taken toll
And we – his children – cried.

From the grit and grime of the pottery kilns, we move to the virtual world of online dating. Kate Roberts takes us there.

Kate Roberts

I paint a picture of myself
for you to believe in
I paint it with words
carefully chosen phrases
bright touches
to show my best side –
I hide beneath layers of light
discernible only to a discriminating eye.
I paint myself in bright colours
to dazzle you
witty words to raise a laugh
funny stories to make you smile
daring truths to shock you.
The dark parts I pass over with broad strokes
subtle shading to soften my hard edges
gloss over the whole
with a wash of palest blue –
a gentle, spiritual hue
so you’ll forgive me.
It’s a picture of me
for you to keep
hang in your heart
with my Photoshopped selfie
and dream of every night.

Mary King tackles issues of etymology – the origins of words.

YUJ (pronounced yug)
Mary King

How does he know?* The book
talks of fifteen thousand years –

meaning to join, unite, subjugate.
In India now it is yoga.

See how it defines itself
in its own descendants.

Yuj is a yoke and joins two oxen
or a milkmaid’s pails, and is spoken

into the ears of a Greek
with an unfamiliar tongue

who makes zygen. I grew
from a zygote, a conjugation.

Rome adds a nasal fix,
jungere, union, join, junction,

geoc here, as the yeoman and his yokel
are locked to the land.

The etymologist with some poetic hope
speculates, ‘perhaps jonquil?’ I love him for it.

The sounds ease and shift as ideas need nuances.
This yoghurt, in my mouth, is thick and unctuous.

I taste it.

* Eric Partridge, author of Origins.

John Williams is passing through Passport Control. As Stanza regulars know by now, he cannot but bring the classical Pantheon and the origins of Western civilization with him – and all the better for it.

John Williams

Waking on a sofa in the departure lounge
I’m startled to hear my name’s last call
and step through scanners with my shoes undone.
A laser throws a light, checks for guns and blades,
doors hiss shut and escape’s closed off.
I need revelation, lightness, solar gods
as my buckle shines like Achilles’ on screen.
Picked out for pat-down, zeroed and released
I’m banished with my thriller to the gates
where my name flashes urgent
and sentries check my boarding pass,
visible, invisible, my ancient bones and shield.

Malcolm McMinn has visited the Flanders war cemeteries and carries report.

Malcolm McMinn

They marched and wheeled and marched again,
Precision at its best,
Before being sent away to fight
And then laid down to rest.

But no disorder is allowed;
Forever on parade
Carved stones stand ever to attention
In tragic masquerade.

In perfect rank and file they stand,
An army of white stones,
Erect and proud, precisely spaced,
Protecting dead men’s bones.

And their Tuetonic counterparts
Lie straight row after row,
The pride and cream of German youth
Laid out just like their foe.

VCs and Iron Crosses rust,
But men are equal here;
From general to the private soldier
Each one the next man’s peer.

Yet none of them know emnity
Now that they draw no breath,
Just some eternal fellowship
And symmetry of death.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed. Remember the date of the next Stanza, Wednesday 21st August at 7.30pm. It’d be great to see you there.

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A Warm Welcome to Stephen Seabridge

There’ll be a warm Potteries welcome for Stoke on Trent’s first Poet Laureate at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem at 7.30pm on Wednesday 21st July 2019. All welcome! The Leopard, 21 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3AA.

Stephen currently studying a PhD in Creative Writing at Keele University, specialising in contemporary poetics. His most recent publication credits include work in the Verve Eighty-Four Anthology, raising awareness for male suicide rates, and in Bonnie’s Crew. Stephen can be found on Twitter at @S_Seabridge.

You can read some of Stephen’s poetry here.

Better still, you can meet him in person upstairs in The Leopard. Come and listen, bring some poems to discuss and enjoy some of the most insightful discussions and feedback available north of the Trent – or anywhere else for that matter.

Here’s a flavour of what to expect from some of the regulars.

Leopard blog editor, Phil Williams sadly lost his wife to cancer in December 2018. Earlier this year a friend gave him a copy of Elegies by Douglas Dunn containing the sonnet France which Phil remembered from the 1980s when the collection was published. The lost sonnet found him when he needed it. Here’s Dunn’s poem and Phil’s response in a sonnet of his own.

By Douglas Dunn

A dozen sparrows scuttled on the frost.
We watched them play. We stood at the window,
And, if you saw us, then you saw a ghost
In duplicate. I tied her nightgown’s bow.
She watched and recognised the passers-by.
Had they looked up, they’d know that she was ill –
“Please, do not draw the curtains when I die” –
From all the flowers on the windowsill.

“It’s such a shame,” she said. “Too ill, too quick.”
“I would have liked us to have gone away.”
We closed our eyes together, dreaming France,
Its meadows, rivers, woods and jouissance.
I counted summers, our love’s arithmetic.
“Some other day, my love. Some other day.”

From Elegies, by Douglas Dunn, London 1985.
In memory of Lesley Balfour Dunn (1944-1981)

On Re-reading France by Douglas Dunn
Phil Williams

A lost sonnet finds me when time is right,
Remembered from a supplement perhaps,
It murmurs down like spindrift in the night,
Returning as our shared loss overlaps.
I turn a well thumbed page, well loved, well meant,
A gift a friend presents me in my grief,
And find again that early spring lament
After thirty summer’s fleeting bud and leaf.

I’m sure it touched us both when we were young,
We wavered, settled, cast our lots to stay,
Grafting shared buds of destiny and chance,
Merged memories through Italy and France.
Its measures echo back to me alone,
Another window, yes, another day.

Phil’s not been writing much poetry recently, but here’s one from October last year.

Phil Williams

And that’s all there is to it.
Three nights in Copenhagen
while the chemo keeps things stable,
your mother sinking slowly
into dementia, the garden into autumn
and its winter sleep. Together we collapse
the bean-poles and the sweet-pea stalks.
It’s my job to stir the compost, to raise
its thick mulch from beneath and watch
the worms and wood-lice grind it down.
There’s a dampness that deepens
into richness. The nights draw in and we draw
closer, holding for another spring.

And one from some years back recalling Phil’ and Pen’s October wedding and autumn honeymoon in Cumbria’s Eden Valley.

Eden Valley, Cumbria

Whenever the October wind
sifts spent leaves from the branch,
the stuttered clock is stopped
then nudged a black hour backwards into night,
I recall the speeches, waves and smiles,
the cake inlaid with autumn fruits,
our drive to Eden through the dark,
the morning window fill with light.

Those who know Phil – and those who don’t – may be interested to hear that he’s taking over the running of the Keele Poets at Silverdale Library group from the very talented Caroline Hawkridge in September. Caroline has run this lively creative writing group in Silverdale Library for 10 years now but is handing it on in order to concentrate on her PR work for no less a luminary than Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate.

Many congratulations to Caroline. She’s done a grand job with the Keele Poets and Phil hopes to do her justice as he takes it on.

Sessions run from 10am to 12 noon on Thursday mornings from 26th September to 5th December (half term break October 31st) with a second term planned for the New Year. There’ll be writing exercises, feedback and a focus on a different poet or poetic form each week. The cost is £90 for 10 weeks.

Anyone interested can contact Phil through the Leopard blog or through the Leopard Poetry Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Geoff Sutton has been busy experimenting:

one more time
welcome you re welcome
aboard the ship of fools wait
no you re not get off

off we go still here
the helmsman sets the course
south west by south north

back south round the horn
batten down hoist storm cones you
seasick you will be

EAST THEN no not east
the east is red went there before
anywhere but east

shiver me timbers
hearts of bloody oak

westward the sky lours
suddenly the swell rises
spray blinds the helmsman

splice the mainbrace
ha ha ha ha ha

england overboard
who can save us from ourselves
ulster scotland wales

rant in the limes

surely humans cannot bear very much
clamorous incessant rook reality
squatting in the lime trees they make such
a mess now they are trashing the whole locality

they litter the patio drop twigs and worse
since they moved in last year
with their many squabs all black as a curse
every day a new nest seems to appear

swaying in the wind guarded by a sentry
which shows there is a limit to the number of nests
soon there will have to be restricted entry
because latecomers are turning into pests

transforming what should be a desirable dwelling
into a nightmare with their nonstop storytelling

We’ll end with another sonnet, this time from Malcolm McMinn with a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130.

Malcolm McMinn

You are a nag, a scold, ill-tempered mistress
Whose moods would try the patience of a Job.
Could any man endure so to exist?
There can’t be many such upon this globe!
Your tongue is sharp as any barber’s blade;
When I’ve been battered by your latest storm
I am bowled over by your next tirade.
This constant discord seems to be the norm,
But I don’t mind. I don’t find this distressing.
Each uproar brings a chance I would not miss,
Fury accepted gladly as a blessing,
A reason to make up with tender kisses.
Throughout the day I will consent to fight
If we can be true lovers through the night.

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