Advent Day 21: The Great Conjunction


Photo by Mick Haupt on

Today has many significances. 

It is Solstice Day. It is the shortest day, the day of least light.

It is the 32nd Anniversary of Britain’s most deadly terrorist incident, the tragic on-board explosion which claimed the lives of all the passengers and crew of Pan Am Flight 103 and eleven people on the ground in Lockerbie, a total of 270 human beings.

It is also a time in ancient and more recent religions and philosophies when we say goodbye to darkness and think ahead to increasing light, hopefully increased enlightenment and optimism too. 

This year and this evening we are allowed to witness the planetary wonder of the Great Conjunction when the solar system’s two largest planets come so close in the night sky (from an earthly point of perspective) that they appear to be one large bright heavenly star.

Depending who you listen to, this last happened about four hundred or eight hundred years ago. From what I have heard it happens in a less dramatic way every twenty years. However, given the year we have all experienced, it does not seem appropriate to say anything to take the shine off this special astronomical occasion. If you are in a location where you can see it clearly, enjoy this phenomenon, perhaps view it as a beacon in the lead up to Christmas and a hopeful torch as we approach the unknown of a New Year.

With that thought in mind, I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote about a series of lunar events which manifested between December 2017 and January 2018. It appeared in an online magazine Until the Stars Burn Out in September 2018.

Supermoon Trilogy (3rd December 2017 to 31st January 2018)

is it ominously awesome, this repeated perigee?

uncommon perhaps but purely astronomical?

signifying foreboding or even miracle?

spanning the death of one year

of the next its birth though 

how often this on earth

occurs I do not know

or even pretend

to begin to 



is it history?

a supermoon once

then a supermoon twice

the moon appearing of extra size

during the bimester thrice seeming to grow

with fulsome lucence in winter skies spell-casting 

her fluence over Advent, Hanukkah, Solstice 

and Christmas, visiting the New Year 

a wolf supermoon rampant before 

and blue blood supermoon 

rising far beyond



does it 

a mystery

disclose that 

when revisiting she 

with constant hypnotic 

glows upstages pyrotechnic 

show-off meteor shower shows?

instead of seeking portents in the sky

which some would label lunacy let us for now

declare in time of gloom enlightenment is truly rare

be it mind or heart or supermoon, welcome every steady beam

Advent Blog Day 20: Please Support Talent and Hard Work

Whoever would consider beginning advent blogs on Day 20? – Yes, me!

Okay, there’s many reasons for this, one of those being the prediction I made several weeks ago in my blog Dance Jealousy, that someone in Strictly called Jamie, previously unknown to me, would not last long in the contest. Week after week I was proved wrong. He made it to the Final!

I had to know the outcome of that Final – and see how embarrassed I could possibly be – before composing this post.

The Final took place yesterday with four celebrities remaining. Frankly I was a little conflicted. For me the winner should have been Maisie or HRVY, though my third choice Bill Bailey (the eventual winner) was partnered by my favourite professional, Oti Mabuse.

Jamie (Laing) made it to the final but, in my humble opinion, was easily outshone by the other three finalists, so not too embarrassing for me. Okay, that’s the last about dancing for a while!

There have been lots of other things happening in my little world during the last few weeks when I have not been posting. Some of these are very personal and will not be disclosed, but others will appear in Advent posts 1 to 19 which will pop up in rapid random fashion between now and Christmas alongside the posts appropriate to days 21 to 25 of December.

At this late stage it will be a demanding task to do all of this in such a short period of time but I have been inspired by recent examples of others working so much harder than I do, to put together things quickly and efficiently when a job has to be done. There are many instances but the following are three December examples that spring immediately to mind. 

Mark McGhee (Mark Mywords) ‘buildin’ a hing’ with You Call That Radio and putting together a live Covid-safe ‘Christmas at Captureworks Show‘ brimming with entertainment from 3pm till late on 19 December. He did this while continuing to fill almost every other night with YCTR live broadcasts on YouTube featuring a broad range of guests and a wide array of subject matter. Find him on Facebook, subscribe to the YCTR YouTube channel and if you’re impressed, consider donating on PayPal or becoming a patreon.

Jack Caradoc of Dreich ( publishing , calling out for and selecting submissions for four themed Chapbook anthologies of poetry with super efficiency during a period of only two weeks, simultaneously getting on with other publications.

Damien B. Donnelly putting together his Christmas ‘Eat The Storms‘ podcast with a very large number of contributing poets, and some musicians, whose pre-recorded contributions were blended and edited skilfully along with Damien’s words into a very satisfying final product. 

So, shame on me if I fail to put in the hard work to put together another 24 blogposts in the next four days or so!

Final words on this little post are very straightforward. Forget anything I have said about Strictly. The BBC are well able to look after themselves. Instead I strongly recommend that you support the three parties I have highlighted above for their current contributions to cultural life and entertainment in the year 2020. 

And wish me luck with putting together another 24 posts in four or five days!

Review: Venus in Pink Marble by Gaynor Kane (published by Hedgehog Poetry Press)


I am glad I delayed writing this review. When I first received a copy of this poetry collection a few weeks ago I dipped in and out of it, savouring individual poems for themselves, not attempting to take in the effect of the whole collection. On a more recent day I sat down and read the work cover to cover, while taking the occasional break to read a Novella in Flash (of which I shall post a review shortly). That’s just the way my brain sometimes works! The delay however has made me appreciate Venus more.

I had already viewed a couple of videos and attended a number of online events in which Gaynor Kane read poems from this collection before I decided to purchase a copy, and having now seen the entire context on paper I realise that there is even more to her work than these recitations promised. Venus in Pink Marble is a substantial collection containing 61 poems covering a breadth of subject matter which work well and sit well alongside each other. 

Although it comes relatively early in her poetry career, this publication feels like an attempt to set down an opus for future reference, a work which will reward study by others. For the author, it must give a sense of satisfaction that she has succeeded in including so much she wanted to document and opine.

As well as the warmth and humanity infusing many of the poems, there is research and authenticity in those which portray technical matter or historical episodes. There are word lists and word pictures which take the reader with ease of authority to a period or a place. Many of these are poems to inhabit or at least to visit frequently. There are stories of people, notable, mythical and everyday but all are given equal care in Gaynor’s skilful hands. 

In order to encompass the broad subject matter the collection is divided into three sections – The Lock, Letter to Me and A Life Drawn

It is invidious, and would anyway take too long, to select particular poems for praise, especially as I keep spotting ‘new favourites’ when re-reading. Some of your favourites will differ from mine in such a varied selection. However, in an attempt to give a flavour, I shall pick a couple of examples from each section.

From Section 1, Dead Short on the System, Belfast, 1923, just four stanzas long, recounts the story of a rat chewing through power station cables bringing trams to a halt throughout the city. Some of the text suggests a nervous humour about the incident but the killer words are found in verse two –

Those tram-trapped, fear the curfew more than the rain

Whereas most of us would think about the inconvenience of getting home on a New Year’s night that was ‘dark, damp and sticky like a new born’, in the midst of a civil war other considerations apply.

Also from Section 1, From Benin to Belfast sets out a quite unique perspective and is a remarkable and original piece of work which took my breath away on first reading. I still get a chill when the ‘ivory masks’ to which we are introduced in Benin (modern Nigeria), having travelled the bloody way of Imperialism, in another form are represented in a Belfast church in troubled times. The significance of the word mask and the colours ivory and red in this piece, which I see was long listed in the 2018 Pendle War Poetry Competition, create themes holding together a work which otherwise may have had to be explored in three separate poems. 

From Section 2, the poet’s more personal pieces, I have picked The first time I saw him cry and Polyester. 

The first time I saw him cry – a title which is a narrative in itself. In less skilful hands this might have been a cheap effort, building the image of a strong male just to describe his vulnerability. Instead, it is a matter-of-fact telling of receiving news of loss within the context of everyday events. It is made all the more authentic from its accurate placing in an earlier time when telephone landlines were not universal, mobile phones non-existent, and there was great dependence on public transport and walking.  Told from the point of view of a child hearing one side of a conversation, nothing is said within the text of the poem about her father crying but only implied in his curt imparting of sad news to her.

Polyester is a Christmas-related story of near-tragedy prevented by the quick-thinking and actions of a mother. Like The first time I saw him cry this poem is written in first person from a child’s point of view and I assume it is autobiographical. The first stanza lulls the reader into a cosy state ‘Slippered…/feeling the glow’ but the second stanza travels from ‘drowning in heat, like a Christmas /pudding drenched in brandy’ to ‘fire /licking my hair, hugging my back’. By the end of the third verse the child is rolled in a saving mat and, referring to earlier metaphors, ‘brandy-snapped and smoke-smothered’.

The poem concludes with a calm Christmas morning, almost as if nothing untoward had happened, but presents include a replacement dressing gown of cotton rather than the flammable material.

From Section 3, relating to art, I have selected A Life Drawn and The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio.

A Life Drawn is inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition – A Life in Drawing and is told from the perspective of a naked artist’s model, standing still in a room in a man’s world kept cold deliberately, being exposed to an artist kept warm by ‘tunic, robes, headscarves’. Her position is due to poverty, lack of opportunity and necessity rather than choice. He does not appear to acknowledge her living humanity –

Our eyes do not meet. He inhales me.

The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio is an exercise in beautiful expression, tenderly cadenced, expressive poetry with a Gothic quality which suits the subject matter. It is a joy to read and re-read and I am delighted that the poet was able to achieve this atmospheric work, inspired as her Notes reveal by hearing the story of the discovery of a skeleton with a brick lodged in its mouth on an Italian plague island. Just a couple of extracts here (from verses one and three) to provide a sense of the quality of description –

……sailing to the sanatorium

in the white boat. White for the uncontaminated

the blessed and clean.

Rancid heat retreats at dusk, the sick wards weep

like religious statues, infecting the air with howls for help.

At the end of this review, it will come as no surprise to you that I recommend this work without reservation. If I was the sort to indulge in puns I might call it a Venus in Pink Marble-ous first full collection.

Instead I’ll just say there’s still time before Christmas to secure your copy as a gift for you or someone you know who appreciates honest and skilful writing. For your copy go to Gaynor Kane at

Donald J Trump: My Part in his Downfall

Now that the Vice-President has been declared President Elect and the Fake-Tan President of Vice has been found wanting and given his marching orders, thereby becoming President Evicted, I think the time is right.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

Modesty forbids… well it almost forbids, but not quite.

I am going to go ahead and own up to the significant contribution this little-known poet from a small country made in bringing down the most powerful man in the world. Personally, I’m not the sort to boast but I’m just telling you that’s what ‘some people’ are saying. And they are ‘very good people, the best, very bright people I’m told’.

You probably heard P45 (just before he got his P45) declaring his puzzlement that at one stage he was in the lead, then later ‘magically’ there appeared all these votes for his opponent.

I can now reveal the inspiration for those additional votes. It was to be found in a poetry ebook , readily available free of charge online, to anyone who wished to flick through its virtual pages. Two of my little poems lurk within its digital covers.

The ebook was put together by Stephanie Lunn, a wine writer who, with Billy Nomad as illustrator, launched Poems Against Trump before the 2020 election in a bid to defeat potential fascism in the US of A.

In the Year of Plague it would appear her efforts have contributed towards removing the Orange Plague and hopefully, in 2021 and beyond, this will also lead more quickly towards the prioritisation of Coronavirus control, Healthcare in the United States and that other plague upon the earth, Climate Change. With a little bit of Irish luck it might also have a positive impact on Brexit, particularly in relation to the GFA, Internal Market Bill etc.

It truly is amazing what a little free ebook can do. Indeed Democrats could have saved so much campaign money by just promoting this book!

Photo by Markus Winkler on

If you currently have an image of me with tongue in cheek boosting my part in all this, that would not be far from true. Indeed, if you go to this link, where you can peruse or download the whole volume, you will notice that the other contributions are much more hard-hitting than mine. I guess it’s not my style to use such direct language. In fact I was so cowardly that I withdrew permission to print a poem I originally submitted titled Vladimir’s Latest Purchase (Allegedly). I quickly wrote and sent Trompe-l’oeil as a replacement.

For ease of reference I’ll finish this blog post with my two poems from the ebook. The first was written prior to Trump’s first visit to the UK as POTUS. At the time there were demonstrations against the visit taking place but I thought it was best to allow him to be seen for what he is. Swallow was first published in online zine I am not a silent poet.

 Allow this man 
 and others of his kind
 to visit this land of yours and mine
 if that’s what they really want
 When they arrive
 we shall carry our children and grandchildren
 aloft upon our shoulders so they can see for themselves
 that these people look deceptively like us 
 generally human in appearance 
 And when they speak
 our offspring will hear the sound snakes make 
 to sanitise their decisions and the steps they take  
 in the name of narcissistic whim or profit
 regardless of impact on people or planet
 Our precious ones
 will this way learn
 whom to avoid 
 whom to distrust
 whom they must 
 not allow themselves to become
 the vile to be here for a while
 putting their poisonous ideas on trial 
 should not increase their following
 but will teach us that 
 when the venom is spat
 the secret is not swallowing



Sounds a little like

Trump lies


Means a trick upon

Your eyes

Note what the

French coincidence


Donald J.

Monsieur Trompe-l’oeil


Review: Keep on Spinning, a debut Chapbook by Jen Hughes

What happens if the planet stops spinning? 

Frankly, you don’t want to know. Jen Hughes seems to have applied that understanding to surviving challenges of life and love. Her debut poetry chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ sustains a planet-related theme without it becoming tiresome or forced. 

In the opening poem ‘Waiting at A London Train Station’ the planetary message is less obvious in respect that it represents a view through macro lens rather than telescope, illustrated by the striking opening lines  –

There are galaxies on these flower petals/ But to us they’re just dots

The final lines confirm Jen’s intention to employ a fresh way of looking at things – 

Some take trips to nature to get perspective/ But I’ve found that it’s much closer than you think.

When I open a new work of fiction or poetry I like to be challenged by the occasional unfamiliar word which requires me to find its meaning. As a non-scientist, I came across a couple in this collection. ‘I’m Like the Sun, Hun’ introduced me to the word ‘metastable’. I found the definition ‘pertaining to a body or system existing at an energy level above that of a more stable state and requiring the addition of a small amount of energy to induce a transition to a more stable state’ useful. Thus –

I’m not manic/ I’m metastable!/ I’m just a whole bunch of atoms in an excited state

In fact the whole poem is a burst of solar energy whose rhythm and imagery suits the jubilation reflected in one of its lines possibly re-calling a childhood hymn –

I’ll sing Hosanna past the break of day

‘Mercury’ is a suitably small and quiet self-reflection which starts with 

I am and always have been on the periphery

but ends powerfully –

I’m so much more than that

My second new word was found in the title of the fourth poem ‘My Caloris’. I thought it might be about heat. However, I discovered that Caloris refers to impact, specifically that of asteroids causing craters on a planet surrounded by a fragile atmosphere. Impacts and various sorts of trauma and holed damage are a recurrent theme in this and many of the poems which follow.

The chapbook contains many clever or humorous titles including ‘Venus Smirks At Me’, a poem which seems to speak of the author’s on-off love affair with love, and ‘Midsummer Night’s Reality’, which manages to squeeze a lot into four stanzas, playing with some of the devices used in Shakespeare’s rom com and even word-playing ‘ass’ into a love declaration.

‘Ultimatum’ paints a picture of a planet becoming increasingly hostile and unsafe, providing context for a relationship made toxic by the needs and demands of an overbearing partner. It describes the impact such a relationship has upon a generous and giving partner whose mental and physical state is being endangered by the relationship. Finally, it is a warning to the delinquent partner that this partner is prepared to lose the relationship rather than lose herself.

By contrast, ‘Planet Dance’ is a joyous affirmation of healing and fulfilling love –

We waltz and swing/ Ellipsing each other/ …I’m a fragment of my former self/ But you help me make the best of it/ I have stability now

Concluding with –

I want to keep dancing with you among the stars/ Even after death swallows us whole/ Even as dust and particles in deep nothingness/ I want to keep dancing with you then

‘Red Is The Coldest Colour’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, but makes sense when applied to the planet Mars. This poem seems to be here for balance. The speaker recognises that she can sometimes be the difficult partner and create a difficult environment.

I’m not easy to live with/…My past/ Floats in the vapour we’ll breathe/ …My vibrant red personality/ Won’t be enough to sustain you

In ‘Orbital’ we are told

…nobody wants to attend a pity party

In its second stanza we learn how painful it can be when depression has you alone –

…my misery turns around and says/ I’m nothing, and I have no-one./That I’m fat retarded scum/That I am really no fun/Anyway, so why bother/ with anything at all?

The next poem ‘Jupiter’ continues the theme of depression but approaches it in a novel way, referring to the effect of additional non-earthly gravity and density. However, once the problems are set out, so are the solutions exemplified in the final four lines, which also give the pamphlet its title –

This isn’t your final form and things can only get better/ The burden you carry will make you stronger/ So just keep on spinning/ You will get through this

Appropriately, this is followed by the Saturn-referencing ‘With These Rings’, a call to love yourself and reject the idea of having to conform to expectations –

We are complex people, multifaceted/ And like Saturn’s rings/ There are too many parts of us to name

Each stanza of ‘Pluto’ begins with the call Validate me, an effective repetition as the poet describes a fear of invisibility and a need to be fulfilled. The speaker appears frustrated that those around her do not understand her need for relationship as part of fulfilment.

‘Inside the Black Star’ informs the reader of the poet’s perpetual fear of inescapable low mood returning –

No light can get in or out./ It feels like/ you have never known it/… It’ll always pull you back in. All-consuming nothing

The title ‘I Write Because’ sounds like a creative writing class prompt. If it was, something special happens within its confines –

It’s the energy between the atoms/ Without which I’m just/ Dust

Short and effective is the concluding poem ‘Collective’. Its own conclusion –

…together we surround the system/ and we can change things

With these thoughts on just a few of the poems contained therein, I recommend Jen Hughes’ chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ scheduled to be published late October 2020 by Dreich Publishing. It gained third-prize in their 2020 Chapbook Competition.

Jen confirms that her debut ‘explores mental health issues and the human condition through the motif of space and the solar system. The collection was formed after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder as a young adult.’

‘Writing this chapbook was my way to help make sense of what I was going through at the time.’

‘I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and bipolar disorder at the age of 21. Some people would consider this a blight, and sometimes it can be difficult.  However, it also makes life vibrant and is such an integral part of who I am and my creativity. I wouldn’t change my mind for the world.’

I read her poems and wrote this review before becoming aware of Jen’s history and motivation but fully appreciate why she treasures the individual perspective she possesses.

‘Keep on Spinning’ can be ordered now from or the publisher