Digital Poetics #34: University of Nottingham Student Showcase 2021
Work produced as part of a workshop held by Kashif Sharma-Patel and Azad Ashim Sharma
Prompt: Write a poem about your hometown.
If we’re talking about what you’ll see when you go there
I guess it’s just like a postcard
for the sort of place the travel agents tell you
will change your life if you agree to
pay for it for the next two years.
White beaches and curved palm trees
and endless cocktails served in coconuts.
Idyllic and predictable.
The Caribbean as you expect it to be.
But if we’re talking about the first thing I think
when I think about my island
it’s face of the girl who disappeared at carnival
the year I turned five.
Her photo was all over the news,
and we prayed for her at the start of every school day.
On the seventh day she was found
shot dead on the sand.
If we’re talking about the scenery I think
of the drive out of town.
Two minutes to get
from white colonial mansions and turquoise pools,
roads lined with jewellery shops and yellow law firms,
to white breezeblock skeletons with blue roofs,
dirt tracks lined with abandoned bin bags and grey expanses.
Two minutes to travel
from somewhere it is safe to walk alone
to somewhere it is not.
If we’re talking about my experience I think
of the last time I was there.
Of the time that someone stole time from me, somehow.
I think of emerging from a blackout.
Curled foetal, with wet sand between my legs.
Limping towards passing headlights.
Cold sidewalk under my soles.
The shape of a man.
Of trying to run back into the darkness.
Of seeing myself for a second,
taking his bullet to my skull and bleeding out on the sand.
If we’re talking about my hometown I think of
the smooth hands that helped me up.
The wide syllables that asked for my address.
Tara Anegada is a Nottingham-based writer and director, currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham. Tara has written and directed a number of plays and short films with the Nottingham New Theatre, and has recently started her own theatre company; Anegada Theatre, which focuses on experimenting with theatrical form.
Prompt: ‘The face is our most potent symbol of personality’- Mina Loy. Write a poem or a piece of flash fiction about a facial expression.
A mouth before language
You made your grand
entrance from an earthy cave
with your mushroom cup mouth opening
and closing. Practising your latch suspended in space.
We stayed home over winter and solved puzzles without words
only sounds, shapes. My favourite expression was tent mouth—with shadows
for guy lines and a roof that blows up and down because no structure is permanent.
In that curved roof your great-grandmother was reborn, and I learnt we are all our ages at once.
When the sun came, we took you to see swans on the lake. Your mouth contracted into an M-
a slack shape, a shy shape. A mirror to the quiet watchfulness of the flock. The swan
at the edge arched its wings, lifting its body skywards as though angel,
or dragon. Serenity is only a moment, clearing the path for
restlessness. You made an eye of your mouth: seeing
through sucking. My little Japanese koi,
bubble-blowing boy: this is your
mouth before language.
Naomi Alder is a writer based in Nottingham, where she is completing an MA in Creative Writing and working in public sector communications. Her work has been published by The Fiction Pool, Nottingham Poetry Exchange and BBC Radio Nottingham.
Prompt: Write a poem about your hometown
I leave my house
wearing my green cotton
trousers and turquoise sandals,
down the road that snakes
down towards the square.
I’ve got music
in my ears
Old women sitting on
plastic chairs stop
gossiping as I walk past
their courtyards and
curved black railings.
(A colony of houses painted with azure and orange and yellow
pastels. A sunset splashed on walls and crevices)
Old men in ochre camps
over thirsty crops
to dry the
off their foreheads.
(The air - sheer
Even the kids stop
They hang down trees that grow on the cracked cement and on the faded zebra
As I descend the hill, (its head crowned with conifers and jewelled birches)
I gaze at the water
now drained, a few spots
of dump mud
away in the shadows. Frogs, like salamanders,
rest on the tops, poked
by some kids too
relentless to let the heat win over their curiosity.
The square is empty when I reach it,
noises coming from the bells
of the cathedral striking 3pm
and the shouts of men watching
the football match at the cafe just opposite.
to the shop windows
where piles of objects
wrestle to gain the spotlight.
never been touched,
just like this town, forgotten
by the French tourists
outside the Saint Anne festivities.
‘Vuoi comprare qualcosa, ragazzina?’
The old woman
catapulting herself outside her shop.
‘Magari un peluche, neh?’
the “-gn” and longer “-e”s of our dialect
rippling in my ear drum.
I walk away with a
“Stavo solo guardando”
smiling at her tanned wrinkled
face and honey eyes.
I grab my red purse
and buy a focaccia,
by the panettiere
in the back of her yellow and green
- a 5x4m niche made out of stones and scents of olives and rosemary and mimosas.
pick up the pace,
run over the main street,
the heat -
upon the road.
(my other self)
I used to
cross that road
with oily fingers
plastic bag with the focaccia
where I would sit
on that wooden bench underneath
a green parasol
made out of oak and hazelnut trees,
how I would
gaze at my mountains
(their white tops like steel helmets)
thinking that I would
at those peaks -
the guards of my hometown -
Michela Villano is an English Masters student at the University of Nottingham. An emergent writer, she loves reading and writing experimental poetry and fiction that combine words with music, art, film and video-games. Her poetry has been published in Voices and her self-published works include Three Coins Left, an interactive Twine narrative.
Prompt: Write a story or poem about an experience you’ve had with nature.
I left the house to find myself today.
And made a list of all the names of the canal boats moored on the right?* side of the river.
Land’s End (but we are not in Cornwall)
Ben the Boat
Water Quest (that might have been the branding though)
One of the unnamed ones had a little battery powered light house on top, like a river police car. The batteries were running out though and it was flashing in morse code. The pattern went as follows:
It spells U B T E M D T // G K L E
I tried out some variations of this:
LEUT (Dutch for joyfulness, pleasure, lunacy) DEBT MGK (An American Hip-hop artist).
MUTED BLEKT (Swedish for bleach) G.
MEET TUB GKLD (A Sydney Hip-hop artist)-
Then I stopped because I got distracted by a man fondling his partner’s left?* boob on the riverbank. They smelt like fireworks.
I guess that says a lot about subliminal messages.
Or that God is a big fan of hip-hop.
*Disclaimer: I may have mixed these up.
The water becomes greener. I catch a glimpse of my reflection. The light on the water greets the green me. An albino fish rears its ugly head his eyes almost human. Sad and well-learned. Like a middle-aged man flicking through tinder. He says its good to get to know me like this. On a more personal level.
I reply in my sexy voice saying I never asked to be loved so deeply.
Outside the boat with a thimble chimney lies a cacophony of crudely painted ornaments. Together they have formed a love-sick cult. From across the river they dance in fairy circles and worship the ground I walk on.
A ribbed frog with one eye lusts for me from across the river.
A stone angel caressing a toadstool offers me a drink from across the river.
A gnome with a flailing fishing rod winks at me from across the river.
I think this must mean that God wants to fuck me.
I find this offer incredibly hard to resist.
There is fire and feral cats and smoke and men on stolen pub chairs. Big strong men who smoke Marlborough reds and drive and race their wheelbarrows in desolate allotments.
I would like to tell you more but none of this really interests me. Instead, I shall tell you that I like to drag my elbows through the bramble that lives here. I think people might empathise with me more if they see me do this.
Nobody ever does.
Help is such a naughty word.
The wind chime glints and rattles. It is signalling to me that there is a wingless bee at the tip of my toe.
I can tell you two facts about the bee:
It looks very small.
It is moving very slowly.
I wonder if a child plucked its wings off. I wonder if it is dead. I wonder if google has the answer.
This website here:
says it might be born like this. And that its lifespan has been reduced.
I can tell you one more fact about the bee.
It looks like it is miserable.
I toss a coin between stepping on it or burying it. The coin says the opposite to what I want to do. I bury it in the moss and mourn for another lost member of our modern-day hive
and the water changes once more —
Rosiella Sutherland is an Oxford based MA Creative Writing student at Nottingham University. Published in the Nottingham Poetry Exchange’s Voices 2020, she writes focusing on the abstract and surrealist poetry revival. A National Student Drama Festival selected actress, she is currently working to combine her passion for theatre and poetry.
Prompt: ‘The face is our most potent symbol of personality’ – Mina Loy. Write a poem or a piece of flash fiction about a facial expression.
The marriage lasted fifteen years. They met in halls at university. He wore old fleeces and too much aftershave and told dirty jokes like her Grandad. She liked the colours that appeared in her mind when she thought of his name, glossy and autumnal.
It’s funny, isn’t it? she said.
What? he replied.
How the birds all know where each other are going. How they move as one, like they’re linked in thought.
They were in the park. Above, a crowd of starlings rippled like a wave, changing paths with the wind and cluttering the sky. She leant back against the railing, black bars warped as though they’d melted in the sun.
I don’t see how that’s funny, he said.
He wasn’t looking at her. He was chewing on something and checking his texts. She looked at his face, the bleach-blank ruin of it. Like the face she knew, but crooked somehow, bent into abstraction. Softly lidded eyes like two frozen lakes. The mouth, a country she’d never been to. This was how she noticed it was ending.
After that she noticed other things: that he no longer reached for her hand at traffic lights, or, half-drunk with sleep, used his thumb to map out the contours of her spine. He told fewer jokes and stopped buying her flowers on the day when she most missed her mother. It was the year she learned the price of unused thoughts and the weight of her own tongue. The year she took to holding and holding her breath until all that was left were words - still-wet ink dripping listlessly into different books.
She tells him, too. Much later. When the others have filed back to their houses in lines like black ants, leaving lilies in their wake. And the sky has darkened to the colour of a fresh bruise. She is sitting on the cool grass, holding an old fleece she found in the loft. It smells of mildew and university. She tells him that she had known it was all over, that day in the park with the starlings.
It’s funny isn’t it? she says to his stone. How such a small thing can reveal so much.
The smell of grass and soil drifts in the wind. Darkness pools out into the sky like black water.
In her mind he is sitting there with her, twenty years old again. Knees tucked up and gazing at the stars. His face looks like home. She puts on the fleece. Without turning, he reaches out and takes her wrinkled hand.
Yes, he says. It’s funny.
Lois Payne was born in Shropshire. She has a BA in English from Nottingham and is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing, also at Nottingham.
Prompt: ‘The face is our most potent symbol of personality’- Mina Loy. Write a poem or a piece of flash fiction about a facial expression.
A beam of sunrise invades from the shut shutters and lies on her eyelids. She must have fallen asleep in the chair. She stretches the muscle pain away and rests her gaze on his face. She has always been jealous of his nose; it’s so delicate and petite. No other part of him can be described as such.
There is a knock on the door. She rolls her eyes, but they return back to him.
‘Catherine,’ the whispered syllables are mixed with the screeching of the door.
‘Go away,’ she doesn’t recognise her own voice.
To her surprise, there is a shy bang and then silence.
She stands up and approaches him, wishing to see him attempting to make his three forehead lines touch. But in his sleep, he remains still.
Her foot kicks the wooden foot of the bed he’s lying in. She concentrates on the sharp sensation of the pain. Her toes have blushed. Her skin is throbbing as the blood in her veins responds to the emergency call.
The same bodily reaction made him kneel in front of her and plant kisses on her ablaze foot once. The memory makes her climb up the bed and get on top of him in a plank position. She leans even closer to him and lets her lips trail on his forehead, his temples, his cheekbones. She lingers on his earlobe; he loved wet kisses there. She is drained at the moment. She feels feverish, but she enjoys his coolness.
She stops just for a moment to readjust her weight on her elbows, but her body refuses to resume the kissing ritual. Her eyes command her brain to photograph his face. He has never reminded her of a statue before. No muscle twitches even though she is so dangerously close. Not even the slightest nostril movement is made to register her almond-scented shower gel. If only she had stuck with her ocean mist one; its freshness might have been contagious. It’s his complexion that causes her heart to shiver. His vivid palette of red cheeks surrounded by light brown skin is gone. His whole face is grey, the lightest purple hue. The more she stares at him, the more inscrutable his expression becomes. One minute she can see him shouting at her to open the window, and the next she feels the warmth of his smile. She would sign any deal with the devil as long as he opened his eyes —even for just a minute— so that she could read his thoughts. At that moment, another sunbeam intrudes the room and strokes one side of his pitch-black hair. The word serenity lights up in her brain.
She cannot hold her weight any longer. She lays on her side, pressing her breasts against his biceps. She covers him with her arm like a summer blanket. She embraces him. The room is full of cracks and tiny openings that let the wind in. They let the outside whispers in.
The noises become louder and clearer. She clings onto him. Words are turned into curses, and they are thrown at her as his relatives barge in to the room. Two strong arms pull her away from him. A diminutive female figure dressed in black kneels in front of the bed and places her wrinkly hands on his chest. Catherine tosses her whole body back and forth, but she cannot escape the man’s grip.
‘This is what he wanted,’ she screams.
The old woman raises her head, but does not turn to look at Catherine. A deathly silence hangs over the room for a moment. ‘I know. But what is the point now?’ The woman bows her head and her tears splash on the wooden floor.
The man releases Catherine and goes to tap the woman’s shoulder. Catherine staggers back to the chair in the corner of the room. A salty and silent stream floods her face as a thought sinks in; she has been more like this old woman, whose name she cannot remember, than him since last night. A new word wants to emerge from the abyss of her mind, but she cannot spell it out.
Panagiota Xenitidou is an MA Creative Writing student. She has published film and book reviews online. Her biggest dream is to make a living by writing novels that are as beautiful and impactful as Wuthering Heights and i’m thinking of ending things.
Prompt: Write a story that deals with a current political issue.
Not All Men
It’s late. Early, even. He strolls under the artificial glow of the deserted city towards his warm bed and a well-earned lie in. He takes a shortcut through an unlit alley, yawning as he pops out onto the main road. The street lights seem oppressively bright now and he briefly wonders why he hasn’t the power to dim them. The road, busy in the day, is now empty. Businesses, shuttered and dark, flank his right, with newly-built student flats over the road to his left. It’s lovely tbh. Quiet. A short flurry of blossom falls around him, enhancing the smell of spring in the breeze, of nature coming back to life even within the concrete landscape. There’s someone up ahead, walking in the same direction as him.
She hugs herself tightly; like that gag, the one where it looks like someone else’s arms from behind. She does this due to the cold, she tells herself. She hopes there’s no-one to see the joke. The street is well-lit, thankfully; eerie though, in contrast to its daytime counterpart. There were sporadic rectangles of light in the student flats a few moments ago, but the houses she now passes are lifeless. The near-silence has a weight to it, spring-loaded, while anthropomorphic shapes manifest in the street’s darkest spaces. The wind picks up, for just a moment, and spins a glass bottle like a ghostly version of the teenage kissing game. The tinkling of glass against concrete seems more klaxon than wind chime here. It stops, pointing at her. A taxi speeds past, it’s leisurely rumbling obnoxiously taking centre stage for several seconds, and she thinks it would’ve probably been worth the £7. She maybe hears footsteps, faintly, behind her and quickens her pace; thinks of her pepper spray, thinks of those self-defence classes a few years back, hugs tighter.
He thinks ffs; literally in text speak, just the letters. Followed by a laugh-crying emoji, perhaps. The pavement is narrow and she’s super slow. Meandering. A long, deserted street and he gets stuck behind the only person on it! It’ll just be awkward when he has to get past her. Why couldn’t she have just been on the other side of the road? Several feet from her he prepares to overtake, and (ffs!) she chooses this moment to speed up. She’s still slow compared to him, but he is now forced to temporarily hang back as he realigns his route around her. He huffs, he puffs.
She wishes for bricks.
He closes in again, finally, and he steps onto the road and he overtakes her.
She tenses, wide-eyed.
Chill out, love. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes, speeding off towards the finish line. He just wants to get to his warm bed. Not all men are killers and rapists ffs.
Harry Wilding is studying for a Creative Writing MA in Nottingham. He used to make short films but started writing prose and poetry again due to the smaller budgets involved. He has had work published by Popshot, Flash Magazine and Ink, Sweat & Tears, among others.
Prompt: Write a poem about your earliest childhood memory.
Beasley in Retrospect
Dad says, Wait here, and walks slowly to the flashing spirals of blue and red. It’s three months before my third birthday—five months before 9/11— and our black Labrador, Beasley, has been hit by a Chevy. I’m in the back row of Dad’s 4Runner, strapped into a car seat, next to my brother. Sun’s coming through the windows, rays sliced by dried mud. The cup holder’s got a dead ladybug at the bottom. The image is filmy, overexposed, still developing. Maybe Dad told the cop how Beasley had run through the white picket fence as he’d opened it. How Mom was still at work, seven months pregnant with twins, weeks away from bed rest. How it was the same day I’d wrapped my jacket sleeves around Beasley’s collar—us, the same height— and smiled while Dad wound and snapped a disposable. How it was the first day I wasn’t afraid of big Beasley, though I was only beginning to develop the words for it.
He just wanted a joy ride around the neighborhood, sniffing littered McDonald’s cups and old dog shit. Dad tells the cop, Can you take him? I’ve got my kids in the back. We’re tugging on the seatbelts, the ones Dad pulled taut against our shoulders, leaving red marks. I never saw Beasley’s limp body next to the clogged storm drain. Dad made sure of that. Maybe he looked like he was sleeping, maybe he was mangled by metal and tires. Dad always wanted a big dog. But big dogs aren’t big enough to walk away from Silverados.
Two weeks later, we’d move across town, to a house with more bedrooms, an invisibly fenced-in yard of forsythia and crab-apple and rhododendron and woods of tall oaks— for the dog. Moot point. Now I am the dead ladybug in the cupholder, turning over in the breeze of an opening door. I am the seat belt, holding me back from my memory. I am the picket fence, ultimately guilty. The police officer, the storm drain, the Silverado. I am all these things. Beasley would be diminished to a ceramic black Lab doorstop. Don’t stub your toe on Beasley! He’d get dropped one day, his front right paw breaking off. I’d tell the twins, You weren’t there, you don’t remember. I’ll never learn where they take the bodies of dead dogs. It's one of the questions I don’t ask. You were protecting us, Dad. You didn’t want us to see. That’s the first thing I remember.
Born in Connecticut, Katharine Yacovone is currently pursuing a Creative Writing MA at the University of Nottingham. She has a BA in English from Marist College in New York. Previous work of hers has appeared in Marist’s Mosaic literary magazine and Fleas on the Dog.
Prompt: Write a protest poem. Choose a political issue and tackle an imaginary adversary.
Ghazal for Ella Kissi-Debrah
South Circular smog clogs lungs. An unknown child
seizures again, seizes up. An ungrown child.
Healthy until seven. School runs past tanning shops
while gridlocks smoulder – London’s emission-zone child.
Who plays by the schoolyard fence as nitrous dioxide
gathers in plastic jars, like noxious cologne? Child.
She’s sprayed, splutters; splays. Paramedics clear the air-
ways, crack ribs with matchstick fingers – fractured bone child.
Mother in orange kente cloth implores:
What clung to the flooded lungs of my own child?
Seven-year campaign is snuffed in stuffy courtrooms.
Seven million snuffed by fumes, and a lone child.
Black fists raised to grey sky by Lewisham Town Hall.
Cause of death: pollution. Legacies are sown, child.
Born in south-west London, Joe Holmes-Milner is a Nottingham-based poet looking to make his first foray into publication. His self-published pamphlet 'ginger' will be released in the scarily-near future.
Prompt: Write a story about your name.
It’s 1986, there’s a song playing on the radio. It’s a familiar song, a familiar voice. The young couple looks at each other and stops to listen to the tune. She smiles. She has always loved Waylon Jennings’ deep voice. She places a hand on her swollen belly and moves it in a slow circle.
“The baby is moving.” She whispers, guiding his hand for him to feel.
“I like this song,” he tells her gently rubbing her ever growing stomach.
They fall silent, their joined hands resting where the baby appears to be dancing to the slow country song, the notes fading into that day’s news headlines. They’d heard that song before. It had been played time and time again over the past decade. Somehow, this time was different. This time it meant so much more.
Over the following weeks they caught themselves humming that twangy hit.
That year the entire area was caught off guard by an unexpected flood. A vigorous low pressure system found its way east from the Pacific. It created a Pineapple Express (a persistent flow of moisture in the atmosphere) which drowned Northern California in an unprecedented amount of rain. This phenomenon lasted to the end of February. Everything was a mess – people were forced out of their homes, roads were closed – even months later.
By early May, her due date was fast approaching. They’d been scheduled to go to the hospital on the fifth, they were finally going to meet their new little girl. Tha