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

For more details of Bert’s poetry see:

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:

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 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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News, views and a cure for the summertime blues

‘The heat in Harlem is the heat of the soul,’ sang Graham Parker and The Rumour. Things are pretty hot for poetry, arts and culture here in The Potteries, and it’s not just the temperature inside the bottle kilns (oh, alright, the modern, Clean-Air Act equivalents.) …

Firstly, there’s some good news for Gabriella Gay who used to be a regular at The Stoke Stanza at The Leopard pub, Burslem. Gabriella has been appointed local Poet in Residence for the Roundhouse Presents Voices Nationwide project. The London arts/music venue The Roundhouse is collaborating with The Nationwide Building Society to promote regional spoken-word events to present the untold stories of communities up and down the land.

For details of the exciting events Gabriella’s got planned see her Facebook page.

Leopard regular Phil Williams is also organising the poetry competition for this year’s Nantwich Words & Music Festival. With a deadline of Monday 4th September the competition offers prizes of £150, £75 and £50 and free tickets for a reading by Roger McGough on 11th October. Winning poems will also feature in an anniversary anthology.

Click here for entry details and get those poems over to Phil! Poems will be judged by a panel led by former Cheshire Poet Laureate John Lindley.

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, The Nantwich Words & Music Festival has an impressive line-up including performances by Therapy?, Tom Robinson & Band, Thea Gilmore, Seth Lakeman, Little Comets and many more.

Phil’s got a poem in this year’s High Sheriff’s Cheshire Prize for Literature anthology, alongside fine poems by regional poets, some of whom have read at The Leopard. You can find details of the anthology here and read Phil’s poem below:

VISITORS | Phil Williams

I met the Satyr in my garden, sat
on the stone-bench beside the pond,
gave him my spare set of shorts
for when we went to town.

I bought him a skinny latte,
a bowl of olives, asked him
how he’d arrived here undetected:
all muscle on the bench presses
and bar-bells at the gym,
hair and horn and woolly thighs,
hoof beats on the pavements trotting.

He drew out his double-flute, grinned,
began to play a reedy drone,
soon set us all to dancing –
the woman with pushchair and toddler,
the man cornered with dreams, debt and laptop,
surly teenagers, Facebook silver-surfers
all dancing.

Trip-trap, trip-trap.
We clicked our fingers, felt the tap
on the off-beat chiming, the precinct’s reel
and pull as we wound outside – thank goodness
for his shorts – where we stepped and jogged,
foot to foot, heel to toe, sleek handbags slung
on chair-backs, dancing.

The Centaur joined us from the Turf Accountants,
all rippling flanks, a mean tambourine.
Drivers left their cars, cyclists propped
their bikes on railings, peeled off lycra.
We skipped and sang through selfie flares,
Ocado horns, police sirens wailing.

You can find details of the full collection, Crossings Over, which includes an exceptionally fine winning poem by Cheryl Pearson here on the University of Chester website.

John Williams (F J Williams), no relation, who runs The Stoke Stanza at The Leopard has been gigging upstairs:


The old gods haven’t left us, they’re upstairs
playing hip-hop through Strauss amps and wah-wahs.
It beats the pig farm in Bohemia where
I picture them, solar gods with guitars.
They punish my laths and beams, laced in black
corsets, eyebrows heavy, somewhere between
sex and scorn. They waited for the call back
to give us Wifi, sweatshops and the rock scene.
So they love the Max knob and the butt strut.
One has a bothersome twisted body
from the sculptor. Another, Eve’s haircut.
The third’s down to four husbands. Her hobby
gave us our first man-made light, the lit rush.
She watched what we did with the burning bush.

So, if you’re anywhere between Stoke, Stone and Stafford, Congleton and Crewe, the Moorlands and the meres, the Mercian heartlands of hoards, marl-pits and the last bus home … why not get along to The Leopard for the next Stoke Stanza? You’ll be very welcome and won’t have to suspend yourself between chain-rhyme and terza-rima, between ‘sex and scorn’. Just bring 15 copies of a poem to share with the rest of us or feel free to listen and take it all in.

Next session: 7.30pm Tuesday 22nd August upstairs at The Leopard Hotel, 21 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3AA.

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Check in, check-out and cha-cha-cha …

Check out The Poetry Society’s Stanza Poetry Competition on the theme ‘Walls’ this month. You can view the details here.

You’ll have to be a member to enter, but you don’t have to be one to attend the Stoke Stanza at The Leopard pub in Burslem each month. All welcome. Our next session is on Tuesday 18th July at 7.30pm.

If you can’t wait that long, then check out these poems which were shared at our last session on Tuesday 20th June.

Check-in Yishang airport | John Williams

In the database of eyeballs I say
what feminists have taught us all alike,
“wow,” just “wow” as my can of bronzer spray
trips the scan. Suddenly my heartbeats spike,
my retina can’t have changed. An armed guard
starts to pat-me-down, strokes my Sloggi jeans
and thinks he’s discovered a zap gun. Hard
flicks of his barrel against my chest seem
to satisfy him that my exit’s good,
no semi-automatics, no stash stowed.
Then the air turns sweet laced with sandalwood
as someone’s can of body-scrub explodes,
wipes out the screens and snarls the X-ray up.
My image, naked in the scan, cracks up.

Geoff Sutton’s been writing sonnets which take their cue from lines in Finnegan’s Wake. Someone has to …

Here’s a fine example:

Heavy Sugar at Uncle Foozle’s and Aunty Jack’s Geoff Sutton

once it was sweet enough to cheer Sunday
but rationed so you could not overdose
sprinkle some on your lettuce dad would say
he never was a man to be verbose

light brown dark brown lumps or granulated
handled with tongs delicately or a spoon
post war the glass bowl was re-instated
cut crystal glistened in the afternoon

one week it went missing from the table
it had been hidden in the sideboard drawer
I opened it as far as I was able
the whole caboodle crashed onto the floor

he’ll be a vandal, Tom I hear her shout
the door flings open I am bundled out

Meanwhile, Malcolm McMinn is in Apocalyptic mood:

The Four Horsemen | Malcolm McMinn

Four seals were broken by the Lamb.
Four times a thunderous voice cried, ‘Come!’
Each time a wondrous rider came
Whose purpose was to kill and lame.

A white horse first bore Pestilence,
The plague and many other ills.
He comes with stealth to those he kills,
Destroying them with virulence.

A horse as read as blood came next
And on its back rode savage War,
Perhaps the vilest of the four
But as decreed by holy text.

Then Famine came on his black steed,
No matter that men cry and sigh
Crops wither and all livestock die
And death arrives when men can’t feed.

The fourth and last rides on a grey
And takes the rich and poor alike.
None know the place where he will strike
And will he come by day or night?

Of all he has the greatest power.
Though pestilence may well be cured
And war and famine be endured
All fall at their appointed hour.

Men curse him but they waste their breath.
Though insubstantial like a wraith,
There’s no escaping from his wrath.
Dread enemy, his name is Death.

Mark Davenport is in seasonal, summer mood:

Full Sun | Mark Davenport

We want a full flame summer.
None of those spindrift glimpses
no peeps of sun behind cloud.
The sky blue and bare,
sheep and cows clamouring for shade.
The sun plump and red as a plum, hanging there,
those slip sloped meadows, five-foot high
bobbed and bursting with heavy-headed plumes.
Corn fields flourescent bright,
some Vincent room.
Hens hanging their heads
half asleep with the heat.
In suburban back yards
Eves half-free coating themselves in sun’s brown.
A long ermine hare, big as a cat
curled on some soil
trying to cool.
We who toil under that hot lamp,
bought to the boil
pink as a lobster’s coat,
under our panting breaths
praying for rain,
a cloud’s cooling cloak,
saturated pools for a cold soak.
Click and clack of seeds popping
spreading that fullness to the breeze’s fair hope.
Oh, too soon we’ll be thirsting for some sun blazing,
sick of shivering,
throttling colds,
icy throat.

There’ll be more poems from The Potteries soon. Why not come along to a Stanza session and hear for yourself? All welcome, bring 15 copies of a poem to share or feel free to come and listen.

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John Williams submits a sonnet this month, one of the poems shared at The Stoke Stanza at The Leopard pub, Burslem on 7th February.

If you missed that, you may like to get along to The Lodge pub, Crewe Road, Alsager on Thursday 23rd February where Staffordshire Poet Laureate, Bert Flitcroft and Philip Burton from Bacup are guest poets. It all kicks-off at 8pm and we’re expecting local dog-rescue hero Bryn Mitchell with his ukelele and perhaps some other musicians and singers. There’ll also be an open-mic. All welcome. Admission free. Voluntary charitable collection.

We’ll be back at The Leopard in Burslem on Tuesday 14th March when Jane Harland from Congleton will read from her collection Mapping the Perimeter. We’ll also share and discuss one another’s work. Please bring 15 copies to distribute and discuss, or feel free to come and listen.

Meanwhile, enjoy John’s sonnet …


Waiting for heaven’s hotline to begin
I struggle to my feet and say the Creed.
A buzz on Shirley’s microphone kicks in.
She’s ready with the prayers to intercede.
The grief this week comes for the USA,
the recent dead and refugee advice.
The finest music and the world astray,
words outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

Say your life breaks down, and the last good kiss
you had was years ago, unending blues,
prayers are where we heal, the bullets miss,
we’re freed from sin by syllables, and choose
the metaphors to live by: life’s a voyage,
vows and vowels, and turning your next page.

As St Valentine’s Day falls in February, Phil Williams (no relation) penned the following for his wife. As Phil’s countryman Rob Brydon would say, ‘It’s a bit of fun …’

It’s also very true …


I can find the car park,
You can find the car.
You can find the tea-room,
I can find the bar.
When we can’t adjust or change things,
Let’s accept them as they are,
When I can find the car park
And you can find the car.

I can find the car park,
You can find the car,
Find the floor we left it on
Or backed it onto tar.
No one directs the west wind
Or steers a falling star,
But I can find the car park,
You can find the car.

I can find the car park,
You can find the car,
When in new towns or heading down
For shops or meal or jar.
I’ll locate cathedrals,
pub or cinema –
Although I’ll find the car park,
It’s you who finds the car.

I can find the car park,
You’ll always find the car,
Make a mental note of numbers,
Now that’s spectacular —
We are often very different
and quite dissimilar,
But I can find the car park
And you can find the car.

I can find the car park,
You can find the car,
On grass or sand or gravel
With intuititive radar.
We are like whales or submarines
With echoes and sonar,
When I can find the car park
And you can find the car.

I can find the car park,
You can find the car.
Now that’s a neat achievement
Not in my repertoire,
But by holding things together,
We’ve both come very far,
Because I can find the car park
And you can find the car.

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A Hymn To Stoke on Trent

Bo Crowder read from his first collection, Euphony, at The Leopard pub on Tuesday 17th January. It’s published by Offa Press and you can read the title poem here:

Arnold Bennett believed Five Towns to be more euphonius than Six

Five hills of home
My Rome
My funny Palatine
To which all roads,
My road at any road,
Lead me to mine
Sound of my past
My gone too fast
My kin my folk
My cake of oat
Lump in my throat
My own
My Stoke


You can find out more about Bo’s first collection and order copies here:

John Williams was on an imaginative flight with his poem about Christmas decorations:

Orange Angels

Creation Week, and the angels swoop down,
a new release of dolls from paradise.
Skilled in soft coverings, in tangerine gowns
they watch us through two tiny toyshop eyes.
You’d think it’s promo day for Knitting Aid,
Fun with Foam and the Pantone colour chart.
I welcome skeins of double yarn, brocade
and sewn-on halo heads. They’d break your heart

with a magic marker mouth, pins and scrap.
A yarn bomb gift, the Word in needlecraft,
their wings are cut from styrofoam and flap,
brushed by glitter and trembling in the draught.
What else is on its way from Sit and Sew
to gather Eden’s bitten fruit, and go?

Join us for the next Poetry Society Stoke Stanza session on Tuesday 7th February at 7.30pm. You don’t have to be a member of the Society, nor even a poet. You can come and listen and discuss poems and short stories written by regulars and newcomers alike. All welcome. If you’re bringing some of your own work to share, please bring 15 photocopies.

Stoke Stanza at The Leopard Hotel, 21 Market Street, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3AA

Parking is available opposite the pub, both behind and alongside the old Town Hall and in nearby streets.

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Prowling up to Christmas

The Poetry Society’s Stoke Stanza which meets at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem, will resume its sessions in the New Year. Bo Crowder will read from his first collection Euphony on Tuesday 17th January at 7.30pm upstairs at this historic Potteries pub.

You can read a review here.

All welcome. Please bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss.


Meanwhile, along with festive greetings, here are some poems from the final Stanza meeting of 2016, on 22nd November when Oliver Leech read from his collection Threads and Patches.

Now to the blog: Leopard regular, Paul Freeman from Stafford has supplied his poem Life Breaks.


Then sit and watch
the life breaks happen,
impervious ritual.

being bewilded
by what you know.

Although the orders remain.
Is anything on the other channel
any less so?

From Paris, London,
through the violet
generations, life

breaks expectantly.
See dog days run
to the dog star.

Malcolm McMinn was in Fear of the Night.

Big boys aren’t frightened of the night.
But me? I find it such a fright.
I hope when I am somewhat older
I’ll not be scared when in the dark
And spooky tales be quite a lark
When I am eight and so much bolder.

But now I lie in bed and shiver,
In terror every nerve a’ quiver.
I don’t know what I fear the most!
Will it be long before I’m dead
With monsters hiding ‘neath my bed
And then will I become a ghost?

I know that Mum and Dad are near,
But that’s no good; they cannot hear
The bats that flit about the ceiling
As gremlins creep out from my drawer
And witches guard my bedroom door.
I lie transfixed, my senses reeling

Now it’s a bright and sunny dawn
And in relief I stretch and yawn,
No more with fear do I feel chilly,
These dreadful horrors the creation
Of just my young imagination,
So now I feel a silly Billy.

Phil Williams was unable to attend but here’s his poem In Certain Light which won third prize in the recent Nantwich Words & Music Festival competition.


During WW1 Shropshire damsons supplied the juice for khaki dye.

In certain light the damson seeps
through battle-dress:
behind chapel dust-motes,
on evening parade,
or when dubbing boots in hiss
of Tilley Lamps. The thick cloth fades
from sand to dunn to damson,
secretes the Shropshire juice
they steeped it in, presents the orchards,
hedges, cottage gardens,
the trucks from Lancashire
as they purr and sputter
down deep lanes,
the roar and rattle of the cotton gins.

The crimson gleam in jam jars comes
from beetle’s blood and khaki cochineals
and deepens as its wearers bleed.
In certain light it blooms to damson juice,
carries blossomed rumour on the breeze.

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