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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More from The Leopard

The Stoke Stanza group at The Leopard Hotel, Burslem, has welcomed some very fine poets in recent months – including Peter Branson, Angela Topping and Mary King – and there’re a lot more to come!

On Tuesday 22nd November, Oliver Leech will join us to read from his first, eagerly anticipated collection, Threads and Patches. All welcome. Please bring 15 copies of a poem to share with the group or feel free to listen.

Mary King was with us back in the summer reading from her Smith-Doorstep prize-winning pamphlet, Homing – judged by no less a figure than former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Here is what he had to say about Mary’s pamphlet:

“Here is a collection controlled deftly by the poet as savvy ornithologist. Precisely focused observations bring these birds alive, notably when a flock of godwits suddenly fills a page. A bonus is the best poem about a hen you can hope ever to encounter.”

So, here is Mary’s hen poem which follows the format of the famous 18th century poem by the eccentric Christopher Smart, I shall consider my cat Jeoffrey.

Hen Carrie (after Christopher Smart)

I shall consider my hen Carrie.

For first, she runs at me when I walk in the gate.

For second, she raises a dust bath under the hedge.

For third, she only has one eye.

For fourth, she leads the others into mischief into the road.

For fifth, she follows me in the garden to help with the hoeing, by scratching.

For sixth, she takes bacon rind out of my hand without greed.

For seventh, she spends an hour arranging new straw.

For eighth, she makes pleasant noises when the straw is right.

For ninth, she grooms each feather before sleeping.

For tenth, she takes water, and gives thanks for it.

Also on an ornithological theme, Peter Branson was recently guest poet at The Leopard with readings from his latest collection, Hawk Rising.

Numenius Arquata: The Curlew
The latest research suggests this species is under threat of extinction

Your smallpipe wails of liquid glass draw out
to high-pitched trills, soap bubbles bursting in
mid-air to oscillate like lighthouse beams
or babble from some ancient spinning star.

Reserved, you blow hot-cold, play hide an’ seek
in rushy grass, your coat buff browns, pale greens,
soft greys like tweed, curved bill a scalpel blade,
the azure curtained sky in satin shreds.

From dark to light, extra-dimensional,
you come and go to echo voices out
of time, new born in limbo, ghosts of poor
tormented souls who scraped a living, mines
and hovels long since disappeared beneath
this boggy, unforgiving, curt high moor?

Commended poem – The poetry Kit Spring Comp, 2016
First pub: ‘Crannog’, Ireland

Hawk Light
‘Hawk-light’ – when there is enough morning light for the hawk to begin to hunt.
Three quarter’s day, watch jackdaws drift
crow-high like ashes from a pyre.
Light rationing, what is dissolved
in mistle-morning air to might-
have-beens beyond the kissing gate,
the magpie’s rattled afterthought
resolves pipe dream to motherlode,
the slipstream of a silver ghost.

Sheer featherweight, a sickle blade
scything turf-high, last second writhe,
shape-shifting, curves space-time to shave
the hedge-top, element surprise,
pure guile, to mantle living flesh
and thrive, fierce yellow eyes on fire.

Highly commended,  Dermot Healy International Poetry Comp, 2016

Finally, a song on a sadly topical note:

The Ballad of Jo Cox
(Tune adapted from  ‘The rambling Royal’ traditional)

The good die young, the saying goes,
cruel sticks and stones of Fate,
her cause to heal the world she knew
of prejudice and hate.
She’s killed because she spoke her mind,
a senseless, violent death.
Some zealous bigot fuelled by lies
has robbed her of her breath.

A stranger armed with knife and gun
assails her in the street.
‘Put Britain First’ he’s heard to cry;
Jo’s bleeding at his feet.
A man who’s passing goes to help
but he gets stabbed as well.
While ambulance and police arrive,
Jo’s fading where she fell.

She sided with the underdog
where fairness was at stake.
Now freedom and democracy
are stumbling in her wake.
Injustice and small-mindedness
were suits she wouldn’t wear.
Expose the liars and damn the cost
the cross she chose to bear.

The good die young, the saying goes,
cruel sticks and stones of Fate,
her cause to heal the world she knew
of prejudice and hate.
The Queen of Heart’s her epitaph,
so ardent, loyal, kind,
true daughter, sister, mother, wife
to loved ones left behind.

(First pub: Birmingham Song Pamphlets, 2016)


Do join us at The Leopard for a future Stoke Stanza session. We meet upstairs.

Dates for 2017 (confirmed so far)
January 17th with Bo Crowder as guest poet

February 7th, March 14th, April 11th, May 23rd,
June 20th, July 18th.

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More Leopard Dates

Here are the dates of the Stoke Stanza sessions at The Leopard until November 2016. All at 7.30pm upstairs at The Leopard Hotel, 21 Market Street, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST6 3DS.

Next meeting: Tuesday, July 19th. Bring a poem to share and discuss (15 copies please).

August 23rd with Mary King as guest poet, winner of the Smith/Doorstop pamphlet competition.

September 20th with Angela Topping as our guest poet.

October 18th with Peter Branson as guest poet.

November 22nd with Oliver Leech as our guest poet.

In the new year we look forward to the launch of Bo Crowder’s first collection, Euphony published by the Offa Press.

Meanwhile, here is a recent poem by a Leopard regular.

The Abyss | Malcolm McMinn

Much darker than the blackest night,
As cold and silent as the tomb,
This world that never sees the light
Of day, a place of stygian gloom:
But not a place devoid of life.
Here multitudes abound and thrive,
All locked in never ending strife,
In constant fight to stay alive.
What great leviathans patrol
Abysmal plains and seabed peak,
Each one fulfilling Nature’s role
Where strength prevails upon the weak?
So many things yet to discover,
Unseen in this pelagic deep,
So much that man is waiting to uncover,
Perhaps to rouse the kraken from its sleep!

Mary King  won the Smith Doorstop pamphlet prize this year with her collection Homing. You can hear Mary as our guest poet on August 23rd.

Mary King  is relatively new to writing poems seriously.   She was brought up in Tower Hill and was a Science teacher there and in Hackney. With no time for what had been her favourite subject at school she took her students to the theatre and on school trips to Italy. She is married with children and grandchildren. Mary joined a writing class when paid work finished and this spurred her on to begin to learn the craft and to write more regularly.  She lives in Staffordshire and is involved with the Stanza group at the Leopard in Burslem and Keele Poets at Silverdale.

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Prowling through summer

The Leopard’s on the prowl again, stalking poetry from The Potteries and the surrounding area.

The next Stoke Stanza session is at The Leopard Hotel, 21 Market Place, Burslem (ST6 3DS for those of you who rely on Sat-Nav to find your way round) will be at 7.30pm on Tuesday 21st June. All welcome. Please bring 15 copies of a poem to share and discuss or feel free to enjoy the company and listen.

To give you a flavour of what to expect, here’re some poems from the last session.

First up, our genial host, John Williams with a wry poem about the ubiquitous ball-point pen.


I fiddle with the cap, chew the end
and wait for words to come.
Its plastic body gleams
held at that angle where thought begins.
An inky blot gathers on the nib,
a thin trickle of the next big line.
The smell of leaky biro, fingertips,
a murky black line pushed out
from another world to enter ours
made from a twist of smoke,
the Faustus fire that forced his writing flow.
My nails turn white at pressure points.
I give a hasty twitch, restore the blood,
call someone from the Fates to give me words:
love advice, lonely hearts, a hook-up page.

Malcolm McMinn is both topical and alliterative (Black Bic … / Brexit) with a piece about the forthcoming Referendum.

It’s in or out; the voters must decide.
The arguments are problematical
And solving them may make us hollow-eyed
As passions rise, become hysterical.

Our politicians wax quite lyrical;
For and against the arguments divide
The parties something diabolical.
It’s in or out; the voters must decide.

Disastrous consequences are implied,
Or a new economic miracle;
Whatever solid reasons are applied
The arguments are problematical

The simple facts may be chimerical,
Men with self interests try hard to misguide.
The questions seem to us illogical
And solving them may make us hollow-eyed.

The great debate is raging nationwide,
With MPs ranting, evangelical,
Views polarize and cannot coincide.
As passions rise, become hysterical,
It’s in or out.


Whichever way you vote, we hope to see you at a Stanza Session soon.

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Congratulations to Karen!

Leopard poets win prizes. We offer hearty congratulations to Karen Schofield who won third prize in the NHS category in the prestigious Hippocrates Prize competition for poetry on medical themes.

Here’s Karen’s winning entry:


A cage deep into the earth, a truck
to the coal face where he turned off the light;
a trick he’d played before to impress. We were
out of place, strangers sent to forecast his fate.

We watched as he blasted away layers
of carbon locked into scattered seams
that exploded daily into dust; a slow
burning canary full of cold, dark matter.

We learned how coal gets tattooed into scars
in skin, recognised the crackles and wheezes,
the black spit that would never come clean,
the text-book X-ray on the screen.

We saw his lungs displayed like lights
on a butcher’s block. Down a lens, traces
of coal etched round each alveolus;
a fragile shawl of widow’s lace.

He smoked to the end. With all that fuel
sealed in, I wondered if, when he lit up, inhaled,
there’d been a spark and his lungs at last
saw light, flamed bright before the final dark.

Well done, Karen! You can see the full results of the Hippocrates competition here.

Karen read her poem at the Stoke Stanza session with Gill McEvoy. Alongside Gill’s finely crafted poems, a distinctly ‘fishy’ – or fish and chippy – theme emerged.

Here’s Mary Morris:


Slippery jumbled flapping on a trawler deck
Netted northerly from a boiling sea
And soil born dusty spuds turned by tractor spikes
Scooped up from boiling oil and cooled
Piles of yellow chips like shoals of gold
On old paper
And salt from an ancient buried Cheshire sea
Sprinkled on the fishes’ wounds.
Not an easy tea.

Geoff Sutton was also in a ‘chippie’ mood, applying his customary haiku style stanzas to a description of his local fish and chip shop.


close the chippie door
but that is not so easy
battered  or breaded
silly cow thick shakes
twenty varieties   yes
you choose your pois(s)on
it’s traditional
you form an orderly queue
counter the banter

dished up by Paul in
his white coat   hygienic hat
skinny he is not

the quality he
has been tasting  I reckon
he remembers you

hello  Santa Claus
what’s in your sack of presents
his mum shakes salt   squirts

vinegar    wrapping
separate  or  together
tartar   or  lemon

not quite six o’clock
the lights still on in Jamie’s
Friday on Crewe Road

a giggle of girls
outside The Mere their scent their
breath hang in the air

eastward  Old Man Mow
rears up   steals light from the stars
and a gibbous moon

Maurice Leyland was sonneteering out in the fresh air:


To walk the mountains helps to make me whole,
shakes off the dust of daily work and strain,
invigorates my body and my soul.
My muscles and my sinews learn again
to work, obey demands not made this week
nor many weeks before. My tired eyes
relearn what joys enfold – look and seek
what lies beyond, a new and glittering prize.

Take pride in memories of old, and tell:
the toil to conquer Crinkle Crags and back;
the blinding blizzard on Helvellyn’s hell;
the Snowdon summit reached by grim Pig Track.
Forget what’s past, discover paths anew.
Fulfil the needs of limbs and your heart too.

Appropriately, for a group based in The Potteries, Malcolm McMinn brought us back to the pot-banks.


At Gladstone Pottery the years roll back.
Just close your eyes and listen to the din
And smell the smoke. What tragic ghosts
Still haunt these blackened walls? Do pretty girls
With blue rimmed gums still paint while thin
Frail boys must toil from dawn ‘til dusk or earn
Their master’s clout? Men face infernal heat
To load and draw the greedy bottles. Old
Men, forty five or less, cough blood, yet struggle on.
Meanwhile, rich ladies sip their tea and eat
Their cake, showing off their fancy ware
With not an inkling of its proper cost.
The workers here knew hardship without measure;
Unknowing, we just see a local treasure.

This poem represents a departure for Malcolm, as he usually writes in rhyme. Here is the original rhyming version for comparison. Perhaps you’d like to comment? Better still, why not come to a Stanza session at The Leopard to listen, read or discus your own or other people’s writing?

Our next session is on Tuesday May 17th at 7.30pm. We meet upstairs at the historic Leopard Hotel, 19 Market Place, Burslem, Stoke on Trent ST7 3DS, just opposite the old town hall. We hope to see you soon, but meanwhile, enjoy Malcolm’s rhyming poem:


At Gladstone Pottery the years roll back.
Just close your eyes and listen to the din
And smell the smoke as bone and kaolin
Transform into fine china in hot, black,
Kilns. Pretty girls with blue rimmed gums just sit
And paint as men brave hellish heat to load
Or draw the kiln, while smoke and dust corrode
The lungs of everyone. Some gasp, cough, spit
Blood, yet struggle on. Fine ladies then took
Tea and cake, showing off their costly ware
But its true cost they’d neither know nor care
And give the potters not a second look.
We idly wander round this local treasure
But working here would never be a pleasure.

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Padding softly into spring

March they say ‘comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.’ There’s certainly been some sound – but not necessarily fury – at The Leopard and not ‘signifying nothing’ either. (Or ‘not signifying nothing neither’ if we wanted double negatives)

Gill McEvoy

We’ve had a terrific session with Grevel Lindop and there are promises of further great evenings to come. Don’t miss Gill McEvoy as guest poet on Tuesday April 19th at 7.30pm upstairs in The Leopard Hotel, Burslem – lair of the Poetry Society’s popular Stoke Stanza.

Regulars and those who have been involved for some time, may remember Drew Nuttall who used to attend in the early days. Sadly, Drew has moved from the area and, it seems, taken regular Leopard attender Paul Freeman’s copy of Michael Symonds Roberts’ Corpus with him. Rather than simply asking Paul where to return the volume, Drew’s written him a poem – or rather a ‘poemail’.

Corpus: a poemail by Drew Nuttall

I have uncovered a book, a Corpus
buried in a mound of fellow works.

The shroud reads Michael Symmons Roberts
but I know it to be yours,

Lent, but shamefully unreturned,
even after forty days were up.

I am leaving this town this week,
this less-than-week (this Saturday),

and I have felt in this untombed tome
this same desire for a tomorrow life.

Tell me where this book may find its home
and this Corpus will rise again before Easter.

The Leopard sends best wishes to Drew wherever he has moved and our appreciation for his contributions during our early days.

Leopard regular Maurice Leyland has submitted this poem with an Australian bush theme — with a twist.

I live on the road, wherever it goes
leading to work and grub and life.
I wear what I’ve got to ride, to sleep
and mend it – not having a wife.
My hat’s wide for the sun, the wind and the rain,
keeps off flies and any old weather.
When I come across water it fills my billy –
you can’t beat waterproof leather.
My shirt and my pully look after my skin
against flies and dust and whatever.
My trousers are tough for many a mile
and my braces hold me together.
When young l could walk but I like my bike
it trebles the load and the miles.
You can’t beat a saddle on a long day
but I’m not saying it’s good for my piles.
I try my best for my bum, high on my swag
which does get rather too wide.
When mounting my bike and cocking my leg,
I need post or a rock close beside.
Tucker bag at the front as big as you like,
while, at the back – my best friend,
my billy-can, with lantern, all useful things,
with Catty there watching my end.
I bake my damper in the campfire ashes
with flour and soda for leaven.
I cover my bread with Cocky’s Joy –
syrup sweet – I’m in swagman’s heaven.
The road to the horizon never ends,
wherever it may lead.
You pedal on, one yard at a time;
never look up, is the swaggies’ creed.

We look forward to seeing regular or new attenders on 19th April. There’ll be another opportunity to hear Gill McEvoy at Poems & Pints in Alsager at 8pm on Thursday 12th May upstairs at The Lodge pub on Crewe Road. There will be an open-mic and live-music as well as Gill’s guest slot.

Peter Branson

Peter Branson

Then, at 8pm on Thursday 9th June Peter Branson will be reading from his latest collection at The Lodge, Alsager when there’ll also be an open-mic and support from folk-duo Brennan and Buchanan and singer-songwriter Chris Algar. He’ll also be at Alsager Library from 11am – 12 noon on Tuesday 3rd May and at The New Vic Theatre with folk-band ‘Parish Lantern’ and cellist Sally Walker on Monday 16th May 7pm for 7.30pm.

We look forward to seeing you at The Leopard or at other poetry events around The Potteries and beyond.

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More Poetry from The Leopard

Grevel Lindop poet and literary critic

Grevel Lindop

Just a reminder, folks, that the next Poetry Stanza at the Leopard pub in Burslem will be on Tuesday March 22nd at 7.30pm, when we welcome Grevel Lindop once again. He will read from his most recent collection, Luna Park published last Autumn to great acclaim by the Carcanet Press. Copies will be on sale at the reading (£9.99). Please bring your own poems to share and discuss in the second half of the evening.

Visit his blogsite:

Gill McEvoy

On Tuesday April 19th Gill McEvoy will read at the Leopard Stanza. She has recently won the prestigious Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets for The First Telling (Happenstance). Gill is a former Poetry Society Stanza rep for Cheshire, and her poem Exorcising the Chemotherapy Wig was published in Poetry News in 2007.

Judges’ Comments: “We admired the way this pamphlet deals not just with trauma and its aftermath, but with the difficulty of articulating what has happened, the challenge of finding the right words. Form and content mesh together perfectly in poems that use the power of silence as well as the power of language.”

Looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday, March 22nd.

Meanwhile, to keep you going, here’s a tender Potteries poem from ‘Milton Shaw’.


Greater than three points earned.
More fun than bawdy terrace chants.
Joy deeper than Charlie’s pin-point pass.
This game of life finally felt alight.
To sit next to you, joke with you delight in Delilah’s choir with you.
I allowed myself to be exactly what I am; for you, your father and you to me, my son.

Bereft of healing by my leave.
Your trust was all but gone.
Lately you returned your belief in me.
Your faith has seen just what I am: for you a father and you to me, my son.

Greater than the three points earned.
More fun than bawdy terrace chants.
At last I know what’s been returned; to you, your father and you to me, my son.

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