‘Poetry is the mathematics of writing,’ John Steinbeck observed, ‘and closely kin to music.’ If we accept Steinbeck’s analogy, then Anthony Etherin’s The Utu Sonnets is the poetic equivalent of the purest of pure mathematics. In previous publications such as his 2019 collection Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) Etherin has proved himself a master of constrained writing, pushing the boundaries of form in tightly crafted palindromes, exact anagrams and dazzlingly inventive sonnets. The seven sonnets presented here are his most constrained work to date.Continue reading
Sometime in the 4th century BC, a Chinese astronomer named Shi Shen took it upon himself to map the stars visible in the night sky. The resulting work, containing some 800 stars, is generally considered to be the earliest star catalogue. Shi Shen’s achievements did not stop there; he also observed sunspots and wrote a number of astronomical and astrological treatises. In recognition of his contributions to astronomy, a crater on the far side of the moon has been named after him.
With my Eurocentric education I hadn’t heard of Shi Shen before reading A Celestial Crown of Sonnets, written by Sam Illingworth and Stephen Paul Wren. Each poem in this slim, beautifully produced volume focuses on an astronomer who made significant contributions to the advancement of our understanding of the universe.Continue reading
This poem first appeared in the Fib Review in March 2021.
Chemistry is one of those subjects that largely passed me by at school. The chemistry labs had their own distinctive, slightly nausea-inducing smell, our lab coats were stained and shapeless, and the teaching was uninspired. While it was with relief that I abandoned the subject at the age of sixteen, I’ve always recognised that my limited knowledge of chemistry is a gaping hole in my scientific education.
I was therefore intrigued when I chanced across Mary Soon Lee’s collection Elemental Haiku, honouring ‘the periodic table/ three lines at a time’. Could I improve my understanding of chemistry through reading poetry? And how does one convey the essential attributes of an element in three lines totalling seventeen syllables? In her foreword, Lee explains her choice of form as well as her objectives:Continue reading
My granddaughter was making Christmas angels. She folded a piece of card in two, drew half an angel shape on one side, cut it out and opened the fold. Lo! – a perfect, complete angel!
My granddaughter’s angel is a neat example of reflection symmetry; one half of the shape is a mirror image of the other. This is a characteristic of many naturally occurring phenomena: a bird on the wing, the reflection of snow-dusted mountains in the still water of a loch, the hexagonal form of a snowflake. Our own bodies have approximate reflection symmetry.Continue reading
Scylla and Charybdis is a lipogram, using only the letters contained in the title. It was originally published in the anthology Myth & Metamorphosis (Penteract Press).
Your grandmother’s, this set of six. I imagine her, fine-boned and elegant, serving turtle soup in these bowls. Delicate as eggshells, they nestle in their saucers while golden turtles drift around their sides, motionless against a hidden tide. Remember how we dived with turtles in sun-sparkled waters of the Gulf; how you admired their leisured grace, the slow speed of their flippers as they flew the sea like air. Remember how one night we watched hatchlings splutter from their nests, tumble down moon- white sand to bounce like pennies into hungry surf – hatchlings as tiny as these bowls that I will never use for turtle soup.
This poem was originally published in The Beach Hut.
Katrina Porteous is a poet based in Northumberland, England, who focuses ‘on the theme of ‘nature’ in its widest sense, and ‘place’ in its deepest.’ This has led her to consider some of the profound questions that have concerned philosophers, religious thinkers, scientists and writers for millennia: What is the nature of matter? What is reality? How did the Universe come into existence? What is ‘out there’, beyond the confines of our planet Earth?Continue reading
When they stripped the ivy from the oak, he could see
the scar – the trunk’s flesh peeled away
to expose deep tissue, fibre pale as bone
where a limb was ripped by lightning
forty years ago.
Perhaps the oak had welcomed concealment,
the stranglehold of ivy, green
through all the seasons, all the years.
Watching from his bed the play of light
and shade, he pondered
how memories abide in trees – he recalled
thorns like bone needles, neatly paired,
glinting through the silver green of leaves;
the fissured texture of the bark;
as crescent moons; and how fiercely that day
he had focussed on the acacia, its details,
so that he did not have to look
at what was on the ground, nor at the vultures
above, in holding patterns.
‘Old Wounds’ was originally published in 192 Poetry Magazine.
Upstream in pools where the water barely flowed but for a gentle kissing
of the rocks, a tremor in the mirrored clouds – water transparent as air, sprung
from the mountain’s flank, too cold for bilharzia-bearing snails –
we found a duiker
its hide beginning to flake, its eyes glazed,
its legs stiff. We tensed too, my brothers and I,
in the cold shock of our discovery. I had not known
death before. Not this close. This unexplained.
The sun’s heat bounced off the rocks, drew out the fragrance of the grass. Death
did not belong here. Take its legs.
Our feet slipping on riverbed pebbles, we dragged the duiker through the pools
to where the stream began to quicken, to leap over hidden rocks,
swirl in eddies against the banks. Near the precipice
the river’s tug became too strong and we released the carcase to the current.
It floated haphazardly, tiny hooves bumping alternately
against the wavelets and the sky. We ran along the bank
to where the river abandoned all containment and hurled
down a vastness of rock. The duiker disappeared
in that foaming plunge towards the mist-green Honde valley. Above us,
white-necked ravens rode rollercoasters of air.
‘Turbulence’ was placed third in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Folio Competition 2020.