Vowels / Voyelles by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Guy Walker


A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue – Vowel Sounds,

Some day I shall disclose your secret parturitions;

A – bodice bristled black by shimmering flies’ ignitions

Around the noisesome evil; fizzing Legion drowned

In shadows. E – bleached tents and ashen steam’s emissions,

White kings, shivered lilies, ice-fields ironbound;

I – Tyrian blood like spat contumely that redounds

From gorgeous, mocking lips with wine-infused contritions;

U – rehearsing seas’ veridian shudders, clear, divine.

The peace in greensward specked with livestock; peace in lines

Alchemic training draws on brows that books made wise.

O – highest Clarion thronged with alien stridencies,

A silence crossed by [Thrones and Principalities]

O that Òmega, amethyst ray of [His] Eyes!


A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,

Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :

A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes

Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,

Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles ;

I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles

Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,

Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides

Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,

Silences traversés des [Mondes et des Anges] :

O – l’Oméga, rayon violet de [Ses] Yeux !


JON BISHOP is an MFA candidate at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where he studies poetry. He lives in New Hampshire

We walk along the ship and shore, are sure 

That this is how we each should spend our days—

Good food, good wine, no melancholy sneers

Of those who spend their lives in unreal things.

Yes, this—a paradise that’s tangible,

Like salt that cakes along your skin from swims

Or from the wind that blows along the beach.

We’re used to steel that blots the sun and stars.

But steel has brought us to this lovely place 

That seems to be beyond the normal earth.

O Love, I plead, I do not want to leave.

Why don’t we stay for one more day or two

Or three—or never leave, so we are free

To taste the things we know await us all.


JON BISHOP is an MFA candidate at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where he studies poetry. He lives in New Hampshire.

His boss stood at the door and told him

To pack his things and leave, like scraps or trash,

And looked at him with cold and empty eyes

And said it was just math; don’t take it hard.

He sighed and gathered what he had and left.

There would be other jobs, but what he had

Was dead and bleeding on the granite floor. 

The sky outside was drained of all its glow

And building lights succeeded all the stars.

And then they each went out, and all was dark. 

Horses for remorses

CLARENCE CADDELL is the author of a collection of verse, The True Gods Attend You, published by Bonfire Books. His poems have appeared recently in The Brazen Head as well as in Quadrant, The Crank and other venues. A translation of Jean Moréas’ Les Stances is underway, as well as another book of original poetry

Why is it that I never win on horses?
The one my brainstem picks I look on past
To pick the one that comes, if not quite last,
Just in the middle, as I knew it would.
It is as if the knowing in me pauses
Before an obstacle it knows it should
Jump over; as if coming in first place
Were something frightening; as if the ways

It trod were drawn upon a map the same
Size as the path itself, obscuring it.
And this is why I foamed about the bit
When it was time to tell the one of you
I chose the other. Then when the words came
I said them to the wrong one, right on cue.

Violenta’s Revenge, Part II

JEZ PUNTER is based in London. His poetry has appeared in First Time, Popshot, Bunbury, Eunoia, Snakeskin, Riggwelter, Dream Catcher, theCRANK and on the Society of Classical Poets website. He is currently writing a commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This is Part II of his long poem, ‘Violenta’s Revenge’; Part I may be found here

After wooing her, Lord Didaco jilts his lowborn wife Violenta in favour of someone else.

Violenta exacts her revenge. Based on a story from Matteo Bandello’s Novelle (1554)

My faithful maid leaned close to hear my plan.

‘I keep five hundred coins with certain jewels,’

I said to her, ‘by which that beast began

his odious seducing, fash’ning fools                            

from this impov’rished house while buckling rules.

Now this same money shall be all your fruit

if what I plan you help me execute.

‘Yet come of it what will, this hate I harbour

soon shall manifest itself in deed,

if not by accident then by a murder;

for vengeance will not stop until its feed,

until it gains what nature has decreed.’

My maid, aware of my determined nature,

promised then to aid me in my venture.

‘First of all,’ she did instruct, ‘you must

dissemble totally your burning grief,

contrive to show not one bit of mistrust

of him, our knight, his new nuptials. In brief,

you must applaud them well, show your belief

that he and his new wife are meet and right;

that rather than offence you cheer the sight.

‘And then to him a letter you must pen,

well-scripted by your own person, thereby

to let him understand just how and when

great pain you suffer, how you should surely die

if not another visit he might try

to you; for you, you’ll write, “still love him so”,

and are “with horror filled to let him go”.

‘Our rich deceiver shall be quite beguiled

by thinking to have you at his command.

He’ll come to lie with you; he’ll see his child;

he’ll act as he did previously, demand

you do his want and will. But you’ll be damned

if this restarts a circumstance of strife.

For unbeknownst to him, he’ll lose his life.’

So to begin the enterprise: I prayed

Janique to for a time withdraw herself

because, although indebted to her aid,

to write I needed to be by myself.

I hence did lift some parchment from my shelf

and with renewed and fresh audacity

inscribed as follows with capacity:

Señor Didaco, I’m persuaded now

that if you will vouchsafe to read, peruse

these characters within, you might allow

by your compassion ease of my agues

and griefs that so assault and so confuse.

Dear Sir, these pages penned are of a soul

by heat lost now transformed to cindered coal.

Behold now here the image of my life:

A wench with child forsaken and forlorn,

quite stupefied by gloom which, like a knife,

dissevers, tears apart what was reborn

when you appeared as like some wished-for dawn.

Our coalition was secure, I thought.

But how your breach of pledge left me distraught!

Only my maid (God bless her charity)

has had the wherewithal to save this soul

so brutally condemned eternally.

Evicting me from an engulfing hole

she set my thinking mind then on a goal.

No longer did I feel Death did conspire

but hoped that you – whom did my offspring sire –

might read these words and know of my appeal.

Alas, how many hundred-thousand times

of late have I longed to, in helpless zeal,

descry the sound of Death’s foreboding chimes

and wish he would enclose me for my crimes.

I have not recognised, for all my sins,

where blissful sleep has ends and doom begins.

And yet the journey of my thoughts within

is further torment – swollen vexing visions,  

mutilating worlds of voices, sin,

unhappiness, regret for my decisions,

where neighbours’ accusations are incisions!

My self is stolen from me, set adrift

by subtleties of claw so sharp, so swift.

Come hither to me, cruellest man, I say.       

See in what lean and ugly state I’m left.

Perhaps rejoice in how I’ve split away –

a mind that married, now a mind bereft;

a mind and soul inside their body cleft. 

Behold an aging, broken, piteous dam,

fragile of frame yet once a noble lamb.

Thus as my tears did make my words dry up

I suffered not my pen to issue more.

I wet my tongue with water from my cup

and called out for my maid to do this chore:

‘Gentle Janique, go forward from my door

and carry unto him these letters written.

With hope upon receipt we shan’t be bitten.

The residence was of his pa-in-law.

When welcomed in she asked if she might speak

to Lord Didaco. The servant went before

her, querying after he whom she did seek

while she then waited for what seemed a week.

At last a face – broad and framed with beard.

’Twas he, she knew. And though she was afeared

she feigned a smile and duly spoke her duty:

‘Renowned Señor, I stand before you here

as one who neither reads nor knows the beauty

of good literature, but yet I dare

to say all’s true in these here leaves. I swear.

Madame Violenta sends them unto you

and begs you give them all attention due.’

Janique then handed forth my written letter,

which he read reclining in his chair.

She watched his facial muscles get the better

of him, scanning it hard, revealing bare

the thoughts my words incited in his care.

It was as if he’d been withholding breath

when he exhaled; it shocked her half to death!

‘Janique, dear friend!’ (he started as he spoke),

‘the tenor of these words that bite my eyes

does such a sudden passion now provoke

within, I catch myself hence by surprise.

It is as if a cloud in me does rise

but yet contains many a contrary gust –

much pity, hatred, love, disdain . . . and lust!

‘My heart is vexed, yet yearns to now do battle;

the window of my soul is freed from blinds.

Janique, dear friend, assist these thoughts to settle.

Tell Violenta still a feeling binds.

So yes I’ll visit her – if this she finds

appropriate. And say unto your mistress

too: I’ll duly make amends, redress

‘for my neglect and every ounce of sorrow

caused. But mark: my call must be at nine

o’clock P.M. No more then shall she furrow

her brow in aimless anguish and consign

my name to mud. I’ll love her ’cause she’s mine.

I’ll come tomorrow early ’mongst the gloom

so may a reconciliation bloom.’

On hearing what the man had thus imparted

I replied, ‘Janique, God bless you for

your service. I’ve not slept here since you started

out for worry, but now you’ve prised the door

to our proceedings I can act the more.

I have devised that we’ll provide a rope

secured unto my bed. Its end will droop

‘over the edge. Didaco will soon nap,

and when he does I’ll cast the end to you

so you may thenceforth take it up and wrap

it round your arms most tight and pull it true

across the bed trapping the sleeper who,

before knows what’s occurring, will then float

in dreams of death – for I’ll have cut his throat!

‘Therefore a knife must you prepare – nay, two

in fact; of but the finest steel, no matter

the cost. Didaco’s soul shall thereby rue

the day he sent to me his first love letter,

and I shall laugh to see his lifeblood spatter!

But pray, Janique, allow me this one thing:

leave me alone when those knives start to swing.’

At home inside his pa-in-law’s that night

Didaco at an early hour did break

away from dinner saying he must make flight

to go and map his land – of hill and lake,

a survey was he ‘now required to make’.

His wife asked why he’d not done this before.

He had ‘forgot’, he said. But it was ‘law’.

‘And love,’ he added as he stood and dressed,

‘I won’t be back until next day is dawning,

since I’ve some chief affairs to be assessed.

His wife acknowledged him with sleepy yawning,

muttering, ‘Farewell. Till next day’s morning.’

Didaco’s groom then brought forward a steed

and off he cantered to perform his deed.

The clock was nine o’the evening when I let            

my door swing fro and was confronted by

the fiend. He kissed my hand. I was well met.

Directly then a shrewd, facinorous lie:

My scripted words, he claimed, had made him cry!

I listened patiently to this announcer,

saw him sat, and then began my answer:

‘Señor Didaco, you bid me good morrow,

yet you in deed have quite annihilated

she whom you abandoned. So much sorrow

I’ve borne, so many imaginings vacated,

hopes and aspirations amputated

from a mind receded into air.

Now here observe my state, my dire welfare!’         

Didaco hence, observing my affliction,

fearing from my mouth some more alarms,

was moved to sympathy, was moved to action:

he collected me up in his arms!

He complimented me upon my charms

before vouchsafing his new marriage ill!

In to it he’d been ‘handled’ ’gainst his will

so on, so forth. A second then I thought

he might be speaking true. Howbeit

I then recalled the reason I had brought

him here so did regain myself and hit

him with a contrived smile; and then with grit

embarked upon my speech: ‘Señor Didaco,

although you left me in a state of woe,

‘and though I’ve no foundation to believe

your present words, the love I hold for you

is rooted deep within. I can’t conceive

your fault to be so great that I’d imbue

myself with warring hate till turning blue.

And so my offer’s this: You and I

shall twice a week within my bed here lie.

‘For I suspect that if I might at times

enjoy your company I could remain

within your grace and favour, and the climbs

of love again grow strong, then the domain

of mutual warmth once more become germane.

By God in Heaven’s will we shall grow old –

together in love, content in all the world.’

Attending well to this the man agreed

to all that I proposed. (Of course he did,

his blood was up, he prepared to breed.)

But first of all at supper was he bid

to sit. Janique had made a meal, varied

in meats and bread – and pudding rather stodgy.

Then wine, and thus our guest became sleepy.   

Suggesting we both rest a couple of hours,

I said, ‘As you’re aware, a restful sleep

is something I’ve not known in months. It sours

the appetite for love. But you shall keep,

my love, I know. You don’t wish me to weep.

And fear you not, when I no longer tire

accommodate I shall your great desire.’        

This rankled with the man but yet before

too long my foe – former husband – yielded,

laid beside me still, beginning to snore.

And then I spied (although the curtain shielded)

Jan, my maid, and recognised she wielded  

in her hand the aforementioned rope.

Then she moved and I was filled with hope.

Conveying the cord across his sluggish body

Janique then passed the end of it to me

and I to her beneath the bed, thus ready

to fast ensnare our hated enemy

as we’d devised. I was now fully free

to act the thing that we had so arranged.

Now was the moment I would be avenged.   

I quickly snatched the first great knife from off

my stool and sought the perfect point of skin

for entrance in. He gave a kind of cough

as I advanced upon his throat. His sin

of treating me like naught would mean no win

was he to ever see. Thus in a flash

I plunged that blade into his cheating flesh.

The body jerked beneath me where it lay

as I, becoming now enchanted, rose

up on my knees and, as though at play,

began to hack with blinded fury those

few features that were eyes and mouth and nose.

I was Medea filled with fuel and fury,

no more the victim suffering injury.

I angled neat my weapon’s dripping point

and then like oysters shucked his eyeballs clear,

the salty fluid bubbling to anoint

my raging hands, impelling me to sneer,

‘Farewell! No longer can you interfere

with my emotions, wretched plunderers!

Now it is known you were but harbingers

‘of doom!’ And then his lying tongue I took.

I seized and fast removed it at the root.

‘Abominable perjured thing! Villain and crook

of truth, deforming words just to recruit

a foolish girl! Say, am I still as cute?’

I flung that member on the floor to lie;

no longer would it make a maiden cry!

And then into his useless gut I tore,

creating holes without insight or taste.

My blades, now whirling windmill branches, bore

like mining tools, mashed organs down to paste,

all juice and red stuff happily displaced.

The warm wet pleasure galvanised my heart

and made me howl with laughter at my art.

‘You’ve breathed your last, your very, very last!’

I sang. Then, out of breath, I sought my maid.

She was still there, wrapped in the rope we’d cast

with all the strength of thousands. She had stayed

until the end. But now as she surveyed

the aftermath of all my frenzied work

she was struck mute. The sight did try and irk

her eyes. ‘Janique,’ I said, ‘fear not, the end

of all our woeful darkness has arrived.

Each prick of pain that once did fast distend

has been dispelled, and we are left, survived.

A better outcome could not be contrived.

I now do feel myself so eased of pain

when Death appears for me. I know I’ll gain

‘an even greater rest – eternal peace.’

Janique, although wide-eyed at all she’d seen,

regained herself enough to help release

the rope and then assess the poor has-been.

‘These sheets,’ she quipped, ‘will be hell-fire to clean.’

‘Hush, hush,’ I said. ‘Just help me move this louse,

expel these wrecked leftovers from our house.’

We listened once we’d thrown and heard a thump.

We looked and spied it half upon the pavement.

Next, on top of it, I dropped the pump

that was his lying, cankered heart. It’s movement

spoilt for all eternity; enslavement

of girls a thing no longer to take place.

The trial was over, mine the winning case.

But I yet had instructions for my maid:

‘Janique, this casket here is full of money,

that which I promised you. So be well paid

for all your service, easing the agony

I did inherit. You have been my nanny,

nurse and maid, plus more than you can know.

I’m full of gratitude. But now, do go.

‘Go to the nearest port and find a ship.

Thence sail at once to Africa and there

be safe. Use well your earnings and equip

yourself with anonymity. Prepare

yourself a brand new life. You’ve been so fair

to me, now please, accept this extra pay

and make some haste. God bless you on your way.’ 

And so with mutual tears we said farewell.

My serving maid of ages went away

while I in out-and-out exhaustion fell

onto the floor and slept. For many a day

I’d not so much as dozed without the play

and pull of fretting thought, but now . . . peace.

I slept, emphatically. I found . . . release.

It was the noise that woke me up – the shouts

and cries of outrage from the street below.

And under this a general murmur, bouts

of talk as crowds were drawn to see the show.

I watched them in the morning’s early glow

and heard that none of them could recognise

the victim in his disfigured disguise.

And so I shouted from on high: ‘Good sirs

and ladies of the streets, you all contend

upon this issue like a pack of curs

but shan’t know how this quarry met its end

unless to my account your ears you lend!’

The crowd, intrigued, did lift upwards their heads

and asked, ‘You know why he was torn to shreds?’

‘I do,’ I cried. ‘So hear my testimony!

Know this: the form that once did stride as Lord

Didaco here without great difficulty

lost his life. He was by my hands gored

and hacked to death – because he was deplored

by me in every way. Then down he plunged,

and thereby I was mercifully avenged!’

Perhaps it was my hellish look of eye

that meant the throng accepted what I said;

or that my forearms glistened with red dye

and many curdled splats adorned my head.

I laughed at them. I knew that I was dead.

They whispered it was ‘known a well-dressed knight

did keep the girl; ’twas sure he was her blight.’

However, the deed was done; I was a brute.

The sergeants, officers of law were called,

and, with my brethren and my mother mute

on learning what had chanced, all too appalled

to speak, henceforth to prison was I hauled.

I wondered at what speed I’d meet my fate.

They told me that was for the magistrate.

The sun had barely nudged the mist next morn

when I was mauled and wrenched into the air.

The brows of all the officers wore scorn

or else gestured they’d reason none to care.

Thus to the palace was I taken, there

to meet, as well as the judiciary

determining my fate, near everybody

of the town within which I had grown.

Didaco’s pa-in-law, his widowed wife

and all their kin did seek to view the ‘crone’

who stole from their loved one his ‘blameless life’.

My brothers twain were there, addled with strife;

but mother? No. Too mentally harassed.

I wept. And then the magistrates amassed.

Before them all, the greatest of the town,

I was instructed to relate my tale.

They wished to know how I had been brought down

so low by this well-dressed, well-valued male.

Thus I embarked upon a new travail:

I told them how the demon had pursued me,

had said for months on end I was his, ‘truly’,

how he had had us married in the night,

the nuptials solemnised by priest unknown;

of how we’d lived together out of sight

for near a year until one day alone

I found myself. ‘He’d chosen to disown

me,’ I relayed, ‘like some old ragged doll,

condemning me to stare and blankly loll.

I then divulged how all had thus emerged

the previous night, how he whom was a wolf

was by my maid Janique held fast and purged

of all his worldly essence by myself,

but then how all the horror did engulf

Janique and, fearing similar mania,

she’d jumped into the Rio Turia.

From wall to wall inside the palace court

light lukewarm tears did fall from doleful eyes.

Many lamented the misfortune brought

upon my pitiful soul, the hardship, lies

of one who eagerly did optimise

his carnal pleasure playing with his power,

whom now had fixed it so my life was over.

The chief justice began: ‘A woeful crime

is this that’s been your harsh and ruthless deed.

Therefore it is decided that your time

upon this earth is ended. You did bleed

yourself through sorrow and through anguished need,

but this excuses not defying the law

for your own means. Your actions we deplore,

‘and so do sentence you to be beheaded

by the axe within our public square.

Not only was your plan well executed,

so excessive was your want to tear

your prey to pieces little can compare. 

Your mother and your brethren can go free.

May God have mercy on them, and on thee.’

Now here I am, dear reader, in my cell,

awaiting patiently my devilish fate.

The day on which I am to enter hell

has been postponed until a later date

whereon a certain duke can celebrate

my end amongst all of Valencia.

He comes from Italy, Calabria,

and undertakes a fair old trek. No matter,

I’ve had additional time in which to write

my tale, recalling how, one day, a letter

did arrive for me from one young wight,

a boy who laughed and danced and made a sight

beneath my rickety agèd chamber window.

‘Real love’ was his, he claimed. His name? ‘Didaco’.

Was it just merely youth that killed us both,

condemning two to death by cutting blade?

We each had barely but begun our growth,

and now a poem’s tragic end is made;

herein are my last thoughts before I fade.

The ink is smudging underneath my tears,

and yet I’m smiling now – I’ve no more fears.


Jazz, and An Aside from Critias

MICHAEL YOST is a poet and essayist living in rural New Hampshire with his wife and children. His essays and poems have been published in places like Modern Age, First Things, The University Bookman, Dappled Things, The Brazen Head, and others. He substacks at The Weight of Form.


Smooth and liberal,

It mounts and valleys down, percussive,

Tempoed to itself, accustomed nowhere.

In pulsing figural

It floats; a summer gown, successive

Patterns born and dying in the show-wear

Donned by limbs as loose

As birdsong larking through the growling

Traffic down by ninety-five; the silence

Short, the sound profuse

As flesh in Rubens, pain in howling,

Or leisure in a world convulsed by violence.

An Aside From Critias

You see how Socrates, in fact, is dead.

All talk of immortality aside,

There is no touch of it in that bald head.

And neither does his daimon still abide.

And I see also how the just are paid –

The bastard filches birthright from the heir,

Good kings go mad and die betrayed,

As doves go gracing, landless, through the air.

I see the grass push up between the garden stones,

As mobs push through the guard at courts of law,

Or as the maggot pushes twixt the bones

Of some philosopher, the rib and jaw.

Then come on wildness; blast both weak and strong

Since nothing is forever, or for long.


BEN MORGAN is a writer based in London. His pamphlet Medea in Corinth: Poems, Prayers, Letters and a Curse is published by Poetry Salzburg and he has also published in Stand, Oxford Poetry, AlchemySpoon, One Hand Clapping and elsewhere.

“Where did we go wrong, do you think?
Probably with the discovery of agriculture”
Hari Kunzru, Interview Magazine, March 2020

We needn’t only leave things as they are.
The great roof of leaves and monkeys is a beauty,
and sometimes, yes, it triumphs over rain –

though the storm will always beat it –
but it grows as you or I grow, as we feed it.
Nor can it outrun us like the deer.

See, here, where the sharp berry
answers your touch with a bite.
She never rears her head as high

as the star-hungry forest, but she bleeds
sweetness in winter; and the limbs
of the bodiless spider are rivers in air,

sailable by foot. The purple hearts,
bruised lips of the goddess,
which purse and beat around our feet

die into life’s blood – food, livid wetness.
All purposeful things are shaped for hands
like yours and mine. Time itself

will fall from us. No more days
like slow-blooming beads of water,
waiting for the crash of an animal,

but a series of small and greater dances,
each nestled in the circle of the larger,
like you, and me, and the children.

We needn’t only leave things as they are.
I learned this last night inside a dream,
then woke in a sweat, thinking he was here,

the one who told me – boarlike in his fatness,
yet his children, who carried his great bier,
thin and trembling as arrows in the wind.

Forest fantasy

Image: Leonhard Lenz. Wikimedia Commons

Seren of the Wildwood  

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood books, illustrated, hb., 72pps., US$16

LIAM GUILAR is beguiled by a dream of tangled trees

The Wildwood holds the remnants of the past, / Strange ceremonies that the fays still love / To watch – the rituals of demon tribes / Who once played havoc with the universe, / And everything that says the world is not / Exactly what it seems is hidden here, / But also there are paths to blessedness.

So begins Seren of the Wildwood, Marly Youmans’ narrative poem that drifts the reader through a tale that seems both familiar and strange.

Traditional fairy and folk tales have been a resource for many modern writers and film makers. The old story is usually rewritten to correct a perceived ideological bias, or to rationalise the magic, or to make it acceptable to modern audiences, whose ideas of story have been shrunk by mass market films. With notable exceptions, rewriting fails to produce anything that comes close to the originals in their ability to unsettle and entertain. Writers can study archetypes, read the psychoanalytical literature, immerse themselves in Joseph Campbell et al, naturalise Propp’s Morphology, and still produce a story that fails to hold an audience.[i]

The stories Walt Disneyfied are closer to inappropriate dreams that don’t care about your daylight ideology, or your preferred version of the world. They exist in the liminal space between waking and sleeping, recalling a time when the wolves were real and the forest was a dangerous place. Marly Youmans’ story moves bodily into that space, where nothing is quite what it seems, and never quite what it should be, where hope and disappointment are as commonplace as leaves and what we might label cruelty is just the way the world is.

Her poem is not a retelling of a previous story – but is rather a new story, inhabiting old spaces to make them new again. Seren grows up on the edges of the Wildwood, her childhood overshadowed by the death of her brothers, which the story ascribes to her father’s ill-chosen words. Constrained at home by her mother’s care, she is lured into the trees by the promise of friendship and adventure. She meets characters who harm and help her, moving through a dream-like landscape, made real by Youmans’ descriptions, until she finds her way home.

The poem is written in sixty-two stanzas, each consisting of twenty-one lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter ending with a ‘Bob and Wheel’. The Bob is an abrupt two syllable line, the Wheel four short lines rhyming internally. They break the visual and aural monotony even the best blank verse can produce over a long narrative; they can summarise the stanza, comment on it, or provide an opportunity for epigrammatic statement:

[…]Next, a King

Not young but middle-aged his curling beard

Gone steel,

His mind turned lunatic,

His body no ideal

Of grace and charm to prick

Desire: man as ordeal.

The Bob and Wheel, famously used in Gawain and the Green Knight, inevitably evoke medieval precedent, as does the walled garden Seren finds but can’t enter. Although the Wildwood is not the harsh landscape Gawain rides into before returning home, the Knight of Romance rode into the forest to seek adventures because the forest was the place where the normal social rules and expectations did not apply. There is often a didactic element to such stories, but fortunately Youmans avoids the temptation to turn hers into a sermon.

Her poem is full of good lines:

Like some grandfather’s pocket watch wound tight

But then forgotten, Seren moved slower

And slower.

The descriptions of the landscape anchor the fantastic story. In the following quotation Seren is heading towards a river she must cross and discovers a waterfall:

And so she travelled toward the roar of rain

With thunder, apprehensive as she neared

The lip where torrents catapulted free

From stone and merged into a muscular

And sovereign streaming force – the energy

That shocks the trembling pebbles into flight

And grinds the massive boulders into bowls.

Occasionally it is not easy to decide if a line is padded or what might be padding is deliberate stye: ‘It seemed satanic, manic, half insane’, but this is so rare that the fact it’s noticeable is a tribute to all the other lines where it isn’t.  

The poem is rich in images and incidents and packed with a diverse cast of characters, but what does it mean? This is the wrong question. In school we are taught ‘how to read a poem’. For ‘read’, understand ‘analyse’ and the purpose of the analysis is to explain ‘what the poem means’ or, in its most depressing formulation ‘what was the poet was trying to say’. These questions and the approaches they require have little to do with the experience of reading poetry outside the academy.

Stories, poems, and narrative poems especially, can be a way of thinking in and through language, in a non-linear, perhaps non-rational, associative way. The story works for the reader when it activates memory, prior reading, knowledge and experience. The question therefore should be, what does the story do for you while you’re reading it, and afterwards, when a phrase, an incident, or an image remains in your memory.[ii]

Youmans’ poem encourages such a line of thinking; there are numerous allusions to other stories, tying Seren into a network of intertextuality, (at one point she is helped in the story by remembering the stories she has been told), there are images, which evoke a host of medieval precedents, but Youmans avoids the simplification of neat equivalence or the temptation of a tidy conclusion.

In terms of traditional narrative arcs, if you believe in the importance of such things, the story ends abruptly and very little is explained. There are questions left unanswered and threads that were run out but not neatly tied together at the end. The reader is being treated with respect and left alone with the story. It is a book that invites and rewards multiple rereading.

Reading is made easier because the book itself is a beautiful object. Wiseblood books are to be commended on producing such a fine hardback at such a low price. Printed on good quality paper, one stanza to a page, Seren of the Wildwood is illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. His black and white images complement the tone and mood of the story.

[i] There are obvious exceptions to this generalisation and to be precise everyone who has told these stories has altered them; the Grimms were notorious revisers.

[ii] The undeniable consequence of this line of thinking is that the book that haunts one reader is the same book another reader can’t be bothered to finish, regardless of the reviewer’s praise or condemnation. This seems especially true of narrative poetry. 

Taking Possession

LIAM GUILAR is Poetry Editor of the Brazen Head. His most recent book is A Man of Heart (Shearsman, 2023)

Normans on the great north road

somewhere in England in 1071.[i]

Hubert, lord of these grey riders,

fought at Senlac, and since then

has been useful to the King

His reward, the manor he rides towards,

larger than the home he left in Normandy.

Walter, his seneschal, riding beside him,

fought at Senlac with distinction,

rallied the savaged in the Malfosse .[ii]

Between them, non-armoured, long haired,

Aelfric, an Englishman. Their local guide.

Their translator. He makes them awkward

in ways they’d struggle to define.

If pushed, Walter might reply;

he has no scars: his hands are soft.

The manor is wooden, unfortified.

Too easy to attack and futile to defend.

All this, thinks Hubert, I will change.

After the automatic military appraisal,

the childlike revelation: this is mine.

All mine. A group waits, women, children,

men so old they can’t stand straight.

The lady of the manor steps towards him.

Hubert remembers that in the English time

she could have run this place without a husband.

Now she and it are forfeit to the crown,

the crown bestowed them both on him

and he has come to take possession.

That thought will take a long time growing old.

He examines her the way he will inspect the cattle,

fields, fish weir and the little mill.

Tall, straight, young, blonde: she will do.

‘Where are the men?’ Vague images 

of those long legs, fine hips and breasts

do not make him stupid. ‘Where are the men?’

He has lost friends who were not so cautious,

in this green folded landscape, where the trees

and ditches hide those desperate for revenge.

Aelfric translates the question.

‘Where you should be.’ He ducks his head

til he remembers he rides with the victors

and she’s the one who lost and all her pride

will not avert the fate that rides towards her.

‘Her brothers, father, uncle, nephews died

at Stamford bridge and Senlac hill.

Their tenants and dependants died with them.’[iii] 

The idea that Englishmen are long-haired,

beer swilling, effeminate, will creep

into the Norman mind but not in Hubert’s

even if he lived a long and idle life.

Those longhaired drunkards stood their ground,

all day. Charge after charge breaking

on that obdurate line of shields. 

Anyone who’d seen a horse and rider split

by one swing of an axe would think twice

about disparaging the man who swung it.

But Aelfric swung no axe. That much is obvious.


After inspecting the boundaries,

a wary country ride with scouts,

after the inspection of the manor house,

after the welcome meal, Hubert decided

it was time to inspect his human property.

The men at arms were organised.

Guards posted, tasks allotted.

Walter thanked, allowed to leave.

Hubert talking to his Lady through Aelfric

was reminded of those shields.

When he was polite, she seemed insulted.

When he had tried to show an interest

she had seemed offended. He sensed

that what he said was not the words she heard.

She was nobility, understood the world

and what would happen next and so he doubted 

his tame Englishman was being honest.

He would have to learn her language,

some words at least, while she learnt his.

Bed, he thought, could be his classroom.

He stood up, took her hand. She did not move.

‘If you don’t go with him’, said Aelfric 

he’ll strip you for his men at arms.’

It was a stupid lie. This Norman was no fool

who’d break his prize possession out of spite.

Aelfric ignored the look she cut him with.

Once she’d been too proud to notice his existence

now she was this Norman’s mattress

and whatever in his character was broken,

or unfinished, rejoiced at her humiliation.

The curtains closed behind them.

Aelfric edged towards the drapery,

heard the sound of fabric falling,

imagined the pale body emerging.

He heard Hubert’s belt and sword unbuckled 

then set down, heard them move together.

Imagined his hands, heard Hubert grunting,

then making garbled noises like a stricken pig.

A female hand, the curtain parted.

She was naked, radiantly naked,

white flesh tinged pink about the throat.

Aelfric moved. She was majestic,

desire erased the thought that he’d been caught

erased the room, erased his name

and everything except desire

for the body moving closer to him

small hands reaching for his belt.

Who knows a dead man’s final thoughts?

Perhaps he was thinking mine at last,

perhaps he heard her say, ‘You should have died

with all the others’, and perhaps, before the knife

sliced the artery in his throat and geysered blood,

he realised she had spoken flawless Norman-French.

She caught him as he fell, pulling him down

screaming in English, help, help, murder, help.

Walter, sword drawn, running, saw

the Englishman raping the frantic lady

thrashing on the floor, hauled him away

one quick blow striking off the head.

The woman, sobbing, pointing at the curtains.

Behind them Hubert’s naked corpse,

twisted, reaching for the knife stuck in his back.

While the bodies were removed

Walter held the shuddering woman.

The King still owed him for the Malfosse.

Perhaps this manor. He would need a wife.

Hands skilled in settling a skittish mare

gentled the shaking body

aware of its taut lines, soft curves,

its bloody promise. She would do

when he came to take possession.

[i] This date is entirely arbitrary.

[ii] When the English army finally broke and ran at the Battle of Hastings, a small group turned and savaged the pursuing Normans at a place the Normans called The Malfosse.

[iii] Fulford Gate, Stamford bridge, Senlac, the three battles fought by the English in 1066. Many of the victors at Stamford Bridge died at Senlac (Hastings).

Violenta’s Revenge

JEZ PUNTER is based in London. When not writing poetry and plays he works as a chef. His poetry has appeared in First Time, Popshot, Bunbury, Eunoia, Snakeskin, Riggwelter, Dream Catcher, theCRANK and on the Society of Classical Poets website. He is currently writing a commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Violenta’s Revenge

After wooing her, Lord Didaco jilts his lowborn wife Violenta in favour of someone else.

Violenta exacts her revenge. Based on a story from Matteo Bandello’s Novelle (1554)

From forth a most grandeval stock of knights

Didaco, noble, young, with heart all riled,

appeared so as to centre neat his sights

on us who, under Spanish climate mild,

held all our dear Valencia beguiled.

He came to seek and court his infamy,

as in like manner he would soon to me.

For we were known, we ladies of the town,

throughout Iberia and thence beyond

for our assured repose and rife renown,

which faithly meant that we would not despond.

A fit and ordered question, we’d respond.

But not to him, this knot from in the grain.

A cut of eye, a smirk for his refrain.

Though thoroughly a city-sprouted son,

too green had he existed hitherto

to wear a badge amongst them all and none.

But then ‘of age’ and everything was ‘due’.

(It was to be my life he would imbue.)

Arising into public show, all heat

of heart (and thigh) he sought to eat,

acquire a means to sate the priming licks

a lust-led junior bears in ripening days,

thus duly set himself to work with clicks

and clucks and japing lines, as were his ways.

(A dog keeps more decorum when it bays.)

Yet what of me? Where else was there to roam?

Away from here, my ever-honoured home?

Valencia, ramparted coil of coast,

my ever chiefest seat of faith most true,

great guardian of justice, known as most

bulwarked and parapeted source of rue

for many a foe who can but pay their due.

I could not leave so was all audience

to what hindsight names lecherous conveyance.

‘Centiglia’, that was his family name;

and when we met it’s so, I do admit,

my gentle friends and I had earned some fame

about the streets provoking as was fit

the Jacks who liked to stalk, and stare at it.

We baited, fooling in our dalliance,

not thinking on a tangible alliance.

When he first cast his rod I lent him line,

did speak in idioms and commonplaces;

I caught his glance, said it I would refine –

if he could prize not every of our faces.

And so he swore, and I allowed embraces.

He swore of further things – of what he felt,

of how my look transfixed him; then he knelt

on knightly knee and pledged all love to me!

He talked of war-won accolades, of feats

of great endeavour, triumphs mercilessly

done, showed wounds as if they were receipts,

said we were fresh and so were owed the streets.

He spoke of how our union was fate;

of future times. I would reciprocate?

I could not say, so he then pried for more,

requesting secret news of where I dwelt,

how was my parentage – well-made or poor? –

my aspirations, what I had been dealt.

What was the look upon my face, pray, guilt?

What was, he wondered, my picked-out vocation?

But I would give no utterance or action

further. I disdained his lack of manner.

So he betook himself to search my name,

did door-to-door pay visit for my honour,

word of me and of my family game.

With bit well-champed ’twas me he wanted tame.

Inevitably by way of searching speech

he learned my place, my curbed societal reach.

For I was but a goldsmith’s modest daughter,

whose father died when he could give no more.

I had a loving and discerning mother,

two brethren working as my Pa before

safeguarding income on our trading floor.

But little else had I; though I was chaste

and honest, virtuous, never debased.

To boot I was well-read, and beautiful,

though you may not discern so here today.

I treasured books of words quite fanciful,

insurance ’gainst those youths renowned to stray

(I never stopped to think they would betray).

When reading ceased I exercised the needle –

to highest degree, no hour ever idle.

The news of all these pastimes he acquired

just like some blood-besotted fox-head hunter;

even the way I liked to be attired!

and that my parents named me Violenta.

He ’compassed me; I was to be his centre,

living flame to burn his pooling oil,

his additive, protection ’gainst his spoil.

And so began his suit. Every day

he called in at our humble residence

to lavish this and that. What could I say

to shun, to quash his over-confidence?

He visited despite my non-compliance;

for I refused them all, the messages,

the flowers, letters set in languages.

But he did persevere, did gift a scent

unto Mama, asked boys on his behalf

to vouch for his trustworthiness as gent.

‘A citizen true’ would be his epitaph,

he pledged. And in the end I had to laugh.

His care for me had reached nigh half a year

by now. The gent was ardent, it was clear.

So I a serenade afforded him.

But he was overcome. Could do nothing

but sink with sighs and sobs! He tried to trim

his fevered outburst venturing to sing

but soured his throat with what the words did bring.

I from my casement looked down with alarm,

my mother, worried, gripping at my arm!

Implore the rascal, in the end, I did

to sanction entry of some goodly sense

into his brain. How was he, pray, to bid

for my affections floored and buckled hence?

At this he breathed, ’fore fashioning defence:

‘Mistress Violenta,’ (his zeal was on the run),

‘I fear my eyes are lost, for at the sun

‘I have most helplessly directed them.

I speak not though of that, our shining pointer,

I speak of thee, who like some diadem

of brighter hue, are called good Violenta,

your shine on me so infinitely greater!

Pardon my tears but they flow from a heart

that has long threatened well to split apart.

‘Such numbers of my letters you’ve ignored,

such messengers of mine have turned away,

such smiles I gave returned with cold regard,

dismissive words of me been heard to say,

foundations hard on which a case to lay.

But yet a case to put I have, ’tis true:

I am in love, and my love’s name is you.

‘And so I say to you, Valencian fair,

act not as does the adder in our Psalms

that stoppers up its ears against the care

of its benevolent owner’s words and charms,

but hear with no unwarranted alarms;

and know although I seem a sign of sin

my heart is good if you but look within.’

His lines were medicine, did make me feel

ashamed at ever doubting his intention.

All trembling where he stood he seemed so real,

so virtuous and far from sly invention.

Thus giving pardon yet with apprehension

straight to him did I purpose response.

I would make plain his chances of romance.

‘Listen, Didaco, Señor of all our streets,

though I did not accept your numerous letters,

this does not mean I well denounce their treats,

their lines of passion broken free of fetters,

their moves of mood a youth so often suffers.

Despite a posting I did not allow them,

not once have I since lectured to condemn.

‘But yes, I have stoppered my ears of late;

as well have fortified my gentle heart.

’Thas been for fear, for dread I might relate

too much and so mislay in me that part

that God did label grace. I could not start                

again succeeding that. I’d be all shame;

I would have slayed my goodly fam’ly name.

‘Yet you intend no shame to put on me,

of that prospect I am entirely sure.

You wear your openness for all to see,

playing the jester here beneath my door.

You talk of love; perhaps I should hear more?

All of the oaths you say I do believe,

and now you’re here I wish you not to leave.

‘So hear me, world! I promise now henceforth

within my heart Didaco shall be placed,

and not one other as I live on earth;

for I’ve decided to no more be chased.

And yet by no exploit am I disgraced!

One warning though, Didaco: If you abuse

this trust I furnish, you shall truly lose

‘the very thing that you’ve so stubbornly sought.’

And thus I ended my pronounced acceptance

and awaited what it might have wrought.

But he (said beau) could mutter not a sentence

until my mother met him by our entrance:

‘My Lord Didaco, though you’ve been kept guessing,

rest assured that you have all my blessing.’

The Señor wept – presumably with joy –

and took his leave. He’d call upon the morrow

to all my genial company employ.

At this a tingle ran from mind to marrow.

Though my chances elsewhere now were narrow

great excitement overran my veins.

He wanted me, and I could see the gains.

But yet one year and half he kept his length

adhering to my fiat for some dignity.

We trod the battlements, praising their strength,

and laughed – but with upmost propriety.

Yet all the while I kept dubiety –

until of course, he had had enough,

his patience worked and worn away to fluff.

Consulting with his friends for some advice

it came about he next detained my mother

and (six hundred ducats to entice)

sought hard to plant himself into her favour;

as well a dowry, more than any other

he’d assign, if he the title ‘husband’

might receive. Ma smiled and called him brigand.

But I would not be summed in cold currency.

The offer he produced was firm offence!

If he and I in union were to be

a more exuberant plea should he dispense;

for nuptial oaths must not stand on pretence.

His eyes did film again. ‘Why do you tarry?’

he questioned. ‘All I want to do is marry.’

‘But why, you foolish stripling?’ asked my mother.

‘Why all this show and tell, this drooling, acting?’

‘Because, good matron,’ he returned, ‘I love her.

She is my one, yet here I am still waiting

deeds reciprocate to settle our dating.’

At this Mama relented. Now she knew

the match would work, the one fashioned from two.

For confirmation whereof he then eased

from off his finger an almighty emerald,

requested kisses from me (still he teased)

before ensuring that the gem was settled

on my digit and our union labelled.

But then he said (and, yes, I lacked suspicion),

‘Mistress fair, permit a last instruction:

‘Tell not society nor any friends

of this, our partnership now newly sealed,

till I’ve informed them fully of our ends,

and so established what may gossip yield;

for they know not before you I have kneeled.

But notwithstanding this I’ll find a priest

to solemnise our coupling at the least.’

And so it came to pass: a most clandestine

episode at four A.M. o’ th’clock,

the dark, in hindsight, seeming to predestine

what would be one systematic shock

foreshadowing one systematic shock.

Mama, my brothers and our servant thus

did witness marriage without hint of fuss

(although we fussed our bed sheets well in sport      

once we withdrew that morn into my chamber!).

For æons we did lustily cavort

in joy and mirth, needless to encumber

urge and itch one single minute longer.

Postpone the moment more? Heaven forfend!

We went to bed and so my eyes opened!

(As did much else.) And it was nigh on evening

when, with our pleasures slept away, we roused

our bodies limp with lust and love remaining,

so I could show my love where he was housed.

He wore a crenulated forehead as he browsed,

for he was not impressed. ‘But ’tis no bother,’

he averred, ‘I do not wish to smother

‘you with too much attendance. I shall keep

a house that is my own, some simple garret

where I can read my books and, after, sleep.

Besides, our marriage hence is to be secret,

yes? – until you’re famed as my love’s object.’

Object? I worried, his speech unordinary.

But yet I swore as he commanded me.

I was his wife, affianced to obey,

and he had business ’bout the town, ’twas clear.

‘Sweet love, fret not,’ he emphasised, ‘I’ll pay

a thousand, nay, twelve hundred ducats here

so you may keep all of your holdings dear.’

Our household (drab and dern) did need the sum,

so I agreed and of our deal kept mum.

He took his leave, my honest husband new,

and Ma and I reoccupied ourselves

with all our daily rounds. My brethren too

resumed their work i’the shop, stocking shelves,

keeping the books, all that that involves.

Didaco often stayed, as was his whim,

and as my duty told I treated him.

Yet soon the sun had made its whole compass,

and of some public advert to our bind

my gallant had not moved to any purpose.

I wished for us to settle, not be maligned.

For now the gossips openly opined

about my mother and the man who came

at oddly hours. It attracted shame! 

And then nature bestowed a pregnancy.

a joyous thing in circumstances fine.

But fathering guide was there none such to be.

Though he made call, he was withdrawn by nine.

Some vessel was I – to drain of all its wine?

A boy was born, a day to surely bless,

but joy was fast assuaged by foul distress.

Our nearest neighbour then enlightened all,

suggesting I was something he did ‘rent’,

some sort of secret maiden at his call,

a hidden harlot off’ring entertainment!

I lost myself in tears, I was forspent.

When next he called against him I did rage.

I was his wife! and twenty years in age.

I once was held by all in great esteem,

of reputation decent, conscientious.

But neighbours need no small excuse to scheme

and blame when one is inconspicuous;

they frenzy up themselves, becoming vicious.

‘My love,’ said I, ‘do you not know they taunt?

Foul rumour by its nature stays to haunt.’

At this my knight breathed forth a goodly sigh

and swore of changing his behaviour hence,

acknowledged weddedness he did belie

by playing shirker. He had no defence,

except he had much ‘business to dispense’.

‘For my shambolic ways I shall atone,’

he vowed. ‘Our marriage now will be well known.’

Alas, the lying villain knew to use

affection well, for I had burgeoned lenient.

This man had now become my love, my muse;

’twould hurt to play someone not all-compliant;

upon his whim and way I was reliant.                       

And this he knew, knew I his heart required.

My solitude was now with him attired.

Thenceforth his stays decreased. When he did show

it was to sate his carnal longing only,

with often not so much as a ‘hello’.

He seemed to smirk, cared not that I was lonely,

just had his way; the ill-hewn brute abused me.

Forsaking God and his own conscience then

I learned this cock indulged another hen!     

Indeed, frequenting other homes and haunts             

of divers gentlewomen in the city

is what he did. It was divulged – his flaunts

and foins of manliness, cupidity

exposed; his actions heartless, arbitrary.

I listened as he talked dissimulation

but knew what words were simply cold concoction.

But yet more salt was there to fire the wound:

Word reached our household he had now obtained

the lasting favour of another. I swooned,

with tears. Two years now past and I had gained

nothing but child, and now the child was stained.

The lover now to whom he played the suitor

was of Ramerio Vigliaracuta,

mayor, senior of a most ancient house,

red-rich and noble, highest in pedigree.

His daughter though was boring as a mouse

they said. But my espoused did not agree.

He wed the girl with great solemnity,

the nuptials eulogised by one and all.

Didaco gained a dowry, me my fall.

In hardest sorrow were we saturated,

me, my mother and my dearest brethren.

My baby cried, sensed something aggravated

his surroundings, like some ominous siren

voicing loud our desperate situation.

But we knew not to whom we could object.

No one would hear, to them we were abject.

Before the Church we pleaded, to relieve

the hurt; against our neighbours made a fuss.

‘You and Didaco?’ They would not believe;

and we knew not the priest who married us!

‘Thus,’ said they, ‘we’ve nothing to discuss.’

We stood against our city’s greatest lords

and were dismissed as prattling rancid bawds.

Didaco now was lodged with his new wife

inside the house of his new pa-in-law.

All dowry-rich, indemnified for life,

he praised the city – it praised him the more,

while I did take the appellation ‘whore’.

Throughout our world – brutal, prized, fortressed –

Didaco’s marriage was proclaimed the best.

The rakes, they envied their young colleague’s catch,

this daughter of Señor Ramerio.

‘Surely Valencia’s greatest ever match,’

they cried throughout the streets. It was a show –

for them. It was not my scenario.

Unto my chamber I withdrew, and there

I cried and cursed the world with not a care.

My body went diseased, did lie constricted:

an ireful, shrunken casing of its form

as fortune grasped, flayed me raw, evicted

hope and let immeasurable torment storm

on through, ever obsessive to perform.

My former lover lessened me. His bilk, 

his jeering stayed with me like sour milk.

My torn mind screeled beyond any affliction,

my suff’ring thoughts as soon as born unbound.

For all was snatched away from me, made fiction:

the bliss, felicity I thought I’d found!

But I was just a kernel to be ground.

Oh how I wished that God would grant relief,

for I was burning water, unencumbered grief!

It was some count of days before I stirred.

When finally I broke my lids apart

there stood before my bed the slightly blurred

resemblance of our maid, Janique, her heart

destroyed for me. ‘Mistress,’ she said, ‘let’s start

appeasement. So as to mollify your grief

we should contrive to snag our wretched thief.’

Henceforth she explicated, saying, ‘I,

I’ll beg some speech with the deceitful crack

and make him understand that by and by

he must unto the house that he did wrack

with woe. I’ll talk to him of what you lack.’

‘No, no, Janique,’ said I, so much fatigued.

‘Your meet advice is gratefully received

‘but talking time is past. I wish no longer

for my ears to hear Didaco’s terms.

Such sounds will only blight my insight further,

warren their way inside like rabbits, worms

abusing to implant what he affirms.

No, no. I am resolved so much in malice,

hatred, there shall be no courteousness,

‘only an execution by my hands,                               

a vengeance for what wrath on me our god

has laid. Painful time’s unyielding brands

reverted cannot be, but yet the sod

can be condemned to the eternal nod.

He takes my honour, I shall take his life –

by any means, Janique. By club, by knife!’

My faithful maid leaned close to hear my plan . . .

[To be continued]