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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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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