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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Love and Word Play

The next Stoke Stanza session at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem, will be on Wednesday 24th April at 7.30pm. All welcome. Please bring up to 15 copies of a poem or short prose piece to discuss or just sit back and enjoy the feedback. We’re the Stoke Stanza of The Poetry Society but you don’t have to belong to the Society to join in.

We hope to see you soon. Meanwhile, here are some poems shared at the Stanza session on 20th March.

by Stephen Pennell

I’m searching for the Holy Grail
The mother-lode of fairy-tale
A unicorn of fable fame
I’m looking for my love

In that place called Shangri La
Might I find her in Neverland
Or Narnia’s fair land
That love I’m looking for

I’ll gladly slay St George’s Dragon
Or fight a Minotaur
Take on Samson hand to hand
For the love I’m looking for

I’m not looking for a Queen of Sheba
A Disney princess or movie star
Not even Adam’s Eve
But that mythical thing called love

That’s right, it’s YOU I’m looking for

Stephen wrote the next poem after a heart attack a few years ago.

by Stephen Pennell

My clock has been removed, my invincibility laid bare.
My life clock is in overdrive, is this my time to breath my last fresh air?
Let heaven wait an angel and hell a stoker’s mate.

My plan is to rest in peace and hope not too many weep.
My eyes will miss the sunsets, my heart its beating in my breast.
My cloak has been removed, my invincibility laid bare.

My mortal time is ending, my heart will soon beat its last
And I’m off to rest in peace or may haunt those that laughed.
Let heaven wait an angel or hell a stoker’s mate.

You think you’ll live forever and then sneak and extra day
But in reality any day could be the day that your last breath goes away.
My cloak has been removed, my invincibility laid bare.

You’re born without a penny and tears within your eyes
And leave behind your fortune and then tears in others’ eyes.
Let heaven wait an angel and hell a stoker’s mate.

Let life’s trials have their say and then turn the other cheek
Live your life with love and passion and treasure every day.
My cloak has been removed, my invincibility laid bare
Let heaven wait an angel and hell a stoker’s mate.

Meanwhile, Geoff Sutton has been re-reading Finnegan’s Wake and engaging in some grammatical word-play. As the old joke goes, it’s tense.

by Geoff Sutton


two vocatives
in the continuous pluperfect past
had been behaving regularly
under a willow
beside the castrum of Ostorius Scapula
at Salinae
where in the imperfect past
they used to go to search for brine

masculine feminine neuter
two nouns
subjects of one extremely active verb
full stop

but though
even in the future perfect
will have been turning yellow
will have been falling

in the continuous present
are living

happily ever after

In creative writing we are often advised to ‘kill our darlings’. Geoff appears to be advocating putting overblown analysis of grammatical forms out of their misery.

a mercy killing he says

the sun has been drying the dew
on the sight lines of the tenses
yesterday will have been
tomorrow is yet to be

the greyhound of intent
may course the hare of meaning
through sestets and octets
in time again of course

sleek datives and ablatives
are creeping from their burrows
and look where an iota subscript
stretches out in the attic sun

it is not every day
you catch sight of a zeugma
creeping down the corridor
to make an apple pie bed
and peace behind a door
that stands ajar

so if you do
give it both barrels

be sure to shut the door behind you

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We’re back at The Leopard

Happy New Year from The Leopard, Poetry from The Potteries!

There’s been something of a hiatus, or a caesura, with this site but all’s back on track for 2019.

The Stoke Stanza is back at The Leopard Hotel, 21 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3AA on one Wednesday evening a month starting Wednesday 23rd January at 7.30pm. All welcome. You don’t have to be a member of The Poetry Society to attend, simply turn up. Admission free. Please feel free to come along and listen or take part by bringing 15 copies of a poem or short story (emphasis on ‘short’) which you would like to discuss. You’ll get some great feedback and meet some smashing people.

We’d like to thank the good folk at The Duke William for their hospitality while we were ‘The Leopard at The Duke William’ as it were. Two great Potteries pubs.

To whet your appetites, here is a poem by Jane Harland read at a Stanza session in October last year.


Listen, she said
and I’ll tell you a story;
the one about a Bloody Ploughman
shot and killed whilst eating apples red as blood.
A common thief.

What stories could a Sussex Mother tell?
Tall tales of smuggling, Frenchmen, contraband.
An apple for a garland, for a kissing bough,
an apple wise to flower late, to faze the frost
and apples turned to gold do fortunes make.

birthed and bred, revered, nurtured:
Carlise Codlin, Woolbrook Pippin,
Opalescent, Violette,
Victoria – an early fruit
and some too poor to hold a tale
named small, strung tags on wire.
But in this rainless season,
a dearth, too little fruit to pick.

So pick and choose your apples wisely,
beware the Ten Commandments.
Emile d’Heyst thrives here,
her leaves in Autumn wane. No sign of fruit.

Take Satisfaction, Laxton,
praise this place,
this timeless garden walled in Cheshire brick,
its gardeners who tend your every need,
who plant your every burgeoning seed.

There is an apple orchard in a book, a Farjeon fantasy
where milk-maids sat the summer long
and ate their fruit
whilst Martin Pippin told to each a tale.

Malcolm McMinn is on form with an old form, the sestina.

Sestina on Old Age

Decrepitude arrives in our old age;
Weak bladder, aching joints and failing mind.
All this lot plus the rest of our complaints
Will get attention from the practice nurse
Who doses you and orders you to bed,
Just like a naughty child some of the time.

But life is good, perhaps, some of the time;
Indeed for some it is a golden age.
Those still mobile, not yet confined to bed
Just carry on and never seem to mind
The constant visits from the blasted nurse.
Let’s face it, she’s the least of our complaints.
Does no one listen to old folk’s complaints?

It seems we grow invisible with time.
With more than aches and pains we have to nurse
We feel there’s nothing quite as cruel as age,
But still you carry on and never seem to mind,
Just drinking Horlicks, then it’s off to bed

To dream of all the girls you tried to bed
….and failed, by far the worst of youth’s complaints.
At times you thought they’d make you lose your mind
Not realizing this would come with time,
One of the dreadful side-effects of age,
Beyond the power of any practice nurse.

She’s back again! That interfering nurse!
There’s no escape when I’m confined to bed.
She is the light and blight of my old age
As I become the source of her complaints,
Ignoring good advice time after time;
A war of attrition, but never mind,

For how we cope is just a state of mind.
Deep down we really don’t resent the nurse
And realize the final enemy is time
Who always wins and puts us in our bed
Of clay, which brings an end to all complaints,
Perhaps the final blessing of old age.

Old age is not for wimps, but never mind.
The nurse will see to medical complaints,
Get you to bed until your time is up.

So, it’ll be, ‘Time gentlemen (and ladies), please,’ at The Leopard on Wednesday 23rd January. We hope to see you there!

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