An overwhelming response to our October Pick of the Month vote sees Amy Rafferty’s ‘Here Come the Crows’ as the ultimate winner. This beautiful, moving ‘ethereal and yet beautifully observed’ poem both spoke to the times we are living in and was timeless, captured a West Glasgow moment but explored the universality of sleeplessness.
Amy is a writer, photographer and musician based in Glasgow. Her writing has been published in Magma, Envoi, the Interpreter’s House and From Glasgow to Saturn.
Here Come the Crows
I drew a sudden dark line under it all.
and with the fulsome flourish of a full stop dot.
Knowing that this was not what I wanted:
the rows of chimney pots, red-rouged and boring
in the dreich, mossed and encroaching in sombre lines.
The antennae and the satellite dish,
mournful and grey faced,
desperate to spill the beans of bad news and scandal.
I ignored it all, and ploughed on regardless,
watching the neighbours’ windows for inspiration,
waiting for the curtains to rise or the blinds to roll,
a patchwork of frosted tiles diminishing as sun rises behind buildings,
the shadow of the cloistered tower sliding slowly down the roof.
And with these words you now have the tools to orient yourself within the poem,
to settle down with a cup of tea,
and wait for the tropes to arrive, uninvited and well worn;
here come the magpies,
here come the crows,
that speak of dead fathers and family heroes
The seagulls, who glide and circle through the ghost smoke,
the offspring of the offspring of the offspring
of those before them, who bore witness to my childhood days
and my insomnia, staring into the endless grey window of mornings.
Other voters’ comments included:
Absolutely magical. Gave me goosebumps
I vote for this as it has beautiful imagery of my own neighbourhood as I read I can almost hear The Blue Nike play in the background 💙
I love the way the scene is set for the inspiration to arrive. It seems to glide in effortlessly.
The unusual metre, imagery and narrative work together to build a hugely evocative poem
c’est très bien. j’aime l’imagination.
Because it made me cry and reminded me of my late gran. Because it is beautiful.
As an insomniac, Amy’s poem resonates with me for so many reasons…I got lost in the language and reminisced on many of my own sleepless nights, both past and more current.
There is a dark unsettling beauty in her words. A cinematic view of an innocuous moment in time.
It was very moving with beautiful touches of humour…unusual clever use of language too
I find this piece profound yet familiar.
Wee Amy’s poem is beautiful and heartfelt..so full of emotion mixed with gentle humour..poignant and wonderful use of dialect. Deserves full recognition.
I love its urban melancholy, its deft meter and birds-eye mournfulness of environment, the astute reminder of life’s reincarnated repetitiveness.
A beautiful, sad, dystopian poem for today, with just a nod of wry humour and self-knowledge.
I love the Valkyrie drama and double meaning of the ‘Here come the crows section’. The ‘ghost smoke’ is a wonderfully evocative phrase, and I am lead into a rich mental landscape.
I got goosebumps, my body never lies.
A powerful poem, filled full of imagery which enables us to connect, relate and query what is unfolding within strongly structured line breaks and a captivating pace.
It invokes a feeling and imagery that few pieces of prose have managed in my adult life. Left me feeling haunted, elated and, oddly curious.
liked the rhythm as I read it, and the use of colours/shades to set the moods.
Use of language incorporating Scottish words. Drew a picture of the West End of Glasgow skyline, conveyed the emotion and mood powerfully.
Depicts life viewed from a tenement window in these times. Initial anxiety soothed by a cuppa…and breathe.
Breaks the fourth wall, and brings us into the poem in a very fresh way
There was a lot to entice the reader across a few of these poems but ‘Here Comes the Crows’ had a jangling sense of the timeless and dehumanising quality of sleeplessness, which gave the poem real character.
It speaks of the moment. We’re all locked down, looking out of the window, searching for inspiration in dark days, and remembering.
Not an easy choice as they’re all good, but I like to ‘hear’ poems in a live setting and so each one got recited, first in my head and then out loud. This one I can hear out loud. That’s it.
I love the specific physicality of the poet’s view through her windows, the mood that establishes, juxtaposed with the ghostly birds, bearing witness. And how the generations of birds suggest a timeline going eternally into the past and the future.
This is a very clever poem, with its post-modern consciousness of being a poem. But it’s also very atmospheric, with its evocative descriptions of urban landscape. Most of all, it’s touching. We’ve all had those melancholy moments and it sums them up brilliantly.
There’s a real power in the images here, along with a sense of meta-poetic examination (the bird tropes! we’ve all written them). Whether or not it ‘speaks to’ our present moment of lockdown intentionally or not, it resonates…
THE REST OF THE OCTOBER 2020 SHORTLIST
Dressed by Lucy Ashe
For hundreds of years
I’ve been trying to get out
That door. The front door.
The one onto the High Street.
At the end of the Dark Ages
I make my first attempt. But
Gilded net cauls, caging my ears,
Catch on the door frame.
I try again, dressed like a queen,
White lead setting my face in stone.
But a ruff, layers of lace, press
Into my throat, and I panic,
My breath short. I don’t give up.
Dressed in Rococo paniers, corset,
A hoop skirt, I approach the door.
Hips wide, crinoline cage shield.
But I crash, bouncing back,
Powder fluttering like snow
From my towering wig. I breathe
Relief in my empire line dress,
Draped in muslin, stretch
A foot out, slowly, but the rain
Soaks me, and I trip on my soiled
Skirts. A man outside laughs.
Did I hope he would rescue me,
carry me back to the drawing room? I
Stand again. This time in bloomers,
My legs bounding in time
To calisthenics. I dance in frills, feathers,
Hem lines rise above my knees, small
Steps, in the doorway, breaking
Through to the porch.
My wardrobe spills out around
My bed. I sift floral mini dresses,
Flared jeans, crop tops, sweeping
Skirts. I pull on something,
Anything, my feet ready
In trainers, and stride to the door.
Young lady, where do you think
You are going dressed like that?
Lucy Ashe is an English teacher. She writes reviews for Playstosee.com and currently has a feminist dystopian novel out on submission to agents. Her poetry and prose is soon to be published in Truffle Literary Magazine and 192, Poets’ Directory. Twitter: @LSAshe1
Angel of Fear by Gabriel Moreno
He turns up at night,
when clocks stop,
parading his wings
like a white peacock.
Shh! I say, It’s late
and I cannot sleep.
But he is just there
spinning the News.
He does not drink,
puffs menthols sadly
and scuffles around like
an unsettled duck.
I want to scream,
fold up his pennons
and dispatch him home
but he’s too shrewd.
Poetry is easy to write
but onerous to master.
You’re one step, he says,
from playing the fool.
When he finally goes
I line-up my pens,
I string my guitars,
and replay his voice;
I remember then
what angels are for.
They trick our fiends
into wrestling the void.
Gabriel Moreno was born in Gibraltar in 1977. Graduated in Philosophy and Hispanic Studies at the University of Hull, Yorkshire, UK (1995-1999). Doctorate in Hispanic Literature at the University of Barcelona (2002-2007). Published works in Spanish include, Londres y el susurro de las amapolas,Omicrón (2007), Cartas a Miranda (2008) and Identidad y Deseo (2010). Works in English include The Hollow Tortoise, (2012) and Nights in Mesogeois, Annexe (2013), The Moon and the Sparrow, (2015), The Passer-by (2019).
The Incident by Tim Murphy
The general mood was optimistic
precisely because everything
had been prepared
to go wrong,
and when the performance
was unexpectedly beset
by several predictable problems,
the general mood became
even more optimistic.
The incident itself
is not unmentionable
but may unnecessarily
be treated as such.
The individual at the center of the incident —
a tatterdemalion if ever there was one —
had been informed that attendance
at events of no relevance to him
would be compulsory;
when he agreed to this
his objections were warmly welcomed
with open suspicion.
It seems he was a very fine human being
whose malice and cruelty
will be missed by all,
although several people,
albeit a minority of those absent from his life,
said they had not only liked
but also loved him.
When the tatterdemalion was informed of this,
he immediately arranged for his life
to become imaginary again.
The new doctor by Claire Sexton
With every new doctor, I start again.
Trying to explain my condition
to him, or her.
Trying to explain my level
the drugs I’ve had; the
therapists I’ve listened
the vocabulary acquired
like a didactic sponge.
The lack of need for oft-repeated
facts and figures;
the stolid ‘1 in 4’ quotation.
I am the thing itself;
not a stat or senseless
person; thin and rosy.
I know which drugs I can
tolerate; to what strength
and dosage. I speak the
language of clinicians and
I have been at the sharp end
of suicidal ideation
and withdrawal. I have swam in
the mucky, tatty scum of
I have absorbed all manner of hurt
I can stand the ‘end of days’
Look up at me.
See the length of my experience.
Observe its ample girth and
The truth is, I know more than you.
You have read about me;
now here I am.
An apple in a bowl of pears.
And I have lasted longer than anyone
might have been led to expect.
Claire Sexton is a writer and poet who focuses on issues of mental health and neurodiversity. She has previously been published in magazines such as Ink, Sweat and Tears, Amethyst Review, Foxglove Journal, Reach Magazine, and Anti-Heroin Chic. @gingirlsexton (twitter) @insta.clairesextonpoet (Instagram) Website: www.clairesextonpoet.
In the first days of lockdown by Jay Whittaker
At the edge of the tilled field
two hares draw an arc towards the riverbank
where long luxurious tongues of wild garlic
are coated with thick frost.
I can’t smell or taste a thing.
I pledge myself to this field
to the spray of yellowhammers
taking flight as I pass, burnishing the air overhead,
to stout blades of wheat spiking up
not tall enough to ripple in breeze.
When this ends who knows,
where I’ll be, how high the crops,
what creatures run beneath.
Jay Whittaker lives and works in Edinburgh. Her debut poetry collection Wristwatch (Cinnamon Press) won Poetry Book of the Year in the Saltire Society Literary Awards 2018. Her second collection, Sweet Anaesthetist, is published by Cinnamon in October 2020. www.jaywhittaker.uk @jaywhittapoet