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Gave them lines on their maps:

“meal roads” going nowhere,

tracks across mountain and bog

bringing nothing to no-one

and not meant to be travelled


                 from; Task Work by Roger Elkin







At moments of kill, the barn-owl’s eyes are closed   

May Visitations          

Red Admirals  

Omaha Beach


Rambling Peak District          

Shooting Rhino                       

Ferriby Foreshore, Remembering                  

Task Work                              





1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Roger Elkin



Roger is the author of 10 poetry collections. He was shortlisted for the Bloodaxe New Blood Book-length Competition (1987); one of 10 shortlisted (out of 4,000 entries) for the Strokestown International Poetry Competition (2003); and one of 6 shortlisted for the Keele University Poetry Prize(2007).


His poetry has won 45 First Prizes in International Open Poetry Competitions.

He has received           

the Lake Aske Memorial Award (1982 & 1987)                               

the Douglas Gibson Memorial Award (1986)

the Sylvia Plath Award for Poems about Women (1986)                  

and the Hugh MacDiarmid Trophy (2003).

He was the first recipient of the Howard Sergeant Memorial Award for Services to Poetry in 1987; and was The Writer’s Rostrum “Poet of the Year, 1991”.


He has shared poetry readings with among others:  

Elizabeth Bartlett, Martin Booth, Gladys Mary Coles, Helen Dunmore, Ruth Fainlight, U A Fanthorpe, Roy Fisher, Katherine Gallagher, Philip Gross, James Harpur, Sylvia Kantaris, John Latham, Bernard O’Donoghue, Mario Petrucci, Lawrence Sail, Carole Satyamurti, Howard Sergeant and Pauline Stainer.


He has reviewed for Stand, Outposts, and Envoi; and his critical articles on Ted Hughes’s Recklings poems have appeared in collections of essays edited by

Keith Sagar, The Challenge of Ted Hughes,   (St Martin’s Press, [1995] ISBN 0-312-12054-0)

and Joanny Moulin, Lire Ted Hughes,              (Edition du Temps, [1999], ISBN 2-84274-074-2)

and on The Ted Hughes Society and the Earth-moon Ted Hughes websites.


He was poetry tutor on residential weekend courses at Wedgwood College and Conference Centre, Barlaston; the literary advisor to the Leek Arts Festival, for whom he organized an International Poetry Competition (1982-1992); the co-Editor (1985-1988) of Prospice, the international literary quarterly, issues 17-25 inclusive; and sole Editor of Envoi 1991-2006, (issues 101-145) during which time prize-winning writers Julia Copus, Tobias Hill and Owen Sheers had their poetic openings in the magazine’s First Publication Feature.


Roger is available for reading, book-signings, poetry workshops and competition adjudication.







At moments of kill, the barn-owl’s eyes are closed                        


He should have read the signs (the blorting from

the cattle wagon as he crossed the market square

for cigs) but was so pleased to be freed from work

sooner than he’d planned that his mind was filled

with frames of his wife’s surprised face, eyes

gleaming, and before he’d realised was driving

deep in lanes, her face reforming with each

turn, each bend…


Headlights flushed a sudden fox – third this month –

sliding redly between hedgerows / brought luminescence

to seed flumes (so many, such wealth) plunging from

carbeams / snatched at tiger-eyes of white cows (sudden

cover of brakes) ghosting the gritstone walls / located

the starting, startling mongrel (bag of limbs) that’s

always jagging from that gateway, expected but never

contained, so found himself talking to himself “sodding

dog/silly bitch gender guessing should be indoors get

killed one day”…


But what really held him no matter where he drove

between these leaning fields was the shifting evening

sky, veined black opal, sun blooding on horizons, with

a thin moon hanging beneath low cloud, so even the fluttered

plunge of bird – barn owl? – half-in, half-out of lights,

and thoughts of bloodied claws – ripping, ripped,

the torn flesh – hadn’t perturbed too much his peace

of mind. Home. And coming home. Not far to go. Her face…

her lips… surprised eyes. Her eyes…


Till headlights flushed two cars friend’s and wife’s

sliding redly between gateways sudden cover of brakes

surprising mind filled with frames sooner than planned

snatched flesh brought half-in, half-out of lights face

reforming plunging jagging bag of limbs held leaning

driving home coming deep her pleased face gleaming eyes her

lips ripping ripped perturbed his guessing peace of mind

the starting sodding dog should be silly bitch tiger eyes

get killed talking to himself blorting crossed should have

read the bitch her shifting claws should have found

the fluttered signs her lips her gritstone eyes should have

read the signs…




May Visitations                                                                                            


Each morning, Warren's field some fresher Pollock painting

of knotted lady-smocks, of buttercups hazing to citrine,

of grass, its silven heads blurring to bursting seed, a filigree ripeness

almost as tall as the knees of the hawthorn hedge, and of clover

folding its pink lips towards light,

each morning, I say, they come

the seven white cows

carrying my new day swaying on their backs.


In drizzle under low clouds, they huddle:

silent morning ghosts, marble-still, haunting the hedge.

Shifts of wet dress their flanks. Their sculpted heads,

thin outlines etched out of sky, hang down;

their amber eyes, Egyptian sad, fixed to the ground.


Or if fine,

after liftings of morning mist, and crane-flies unhinging

from dew's silver-quick evaporation, they enter delicacy,

cresting through grass, wading veils of webs, sailing to havens

beneath sycamore's shade.


All day in the field's rising heat they mouth and champ, or suffer

hieroglyphs of flies, and patiently wait

for evening's release, its drizzle of gnats

and the slow lowing roll home.


At dusk they file, seven of them

as if freed from the Acropolis frieze,

seven together in silent processional

to some hushed celebration.


It is then, as this grass recovers, that I imagine

fields away, his cloven hoofs thrumming desire,

Dionysos lifting his heavy head

to bellow home these deities.  



Red Admirals


Pulsing heart-beats,

the isms of being; almost iambic

their blood-tick, their wing-tick –

break flash / break flash


or outstaring the day-gaze

with a vermilion blaze

upon black: the colours of poppy.


Long-tongued, seeking

the speed of flowers –

getting high on it, higher, higher,

a drugged, stumble-flight

up at the moor’s edge

with its milk-thistles, its knapweed.


(Is it purple that pulls them?)


Or gardened with trailing

skeins of buddleia (their scattered

flashes like girls parading

headfuls of hair-slides)

sudden savagery in our town;

a native face-mask, stabbing

from greenness – a pirate-slash,

a stirring of groin.


Are the splayers of flowers,

caressing petals, and stamens,

feasting their isness, their futures

with the kneading-keenness of sex.


Closed-up, are paper wafers

of bark, or Cape Triangles

of good hope. (Many the nets

we kids broke; and jam-jars

a day-or-two jungle with

blades of grass and strangled

flowers. Even then, amidst cup-handed

flutter, that out-facing, out-daring

blazon of colour gave us

tastes of excitement – the sudden

blood-bursts of cuts, that pain

of amazement.


Ageing, we add

fragilities of life,

the nothingnesses of life.)


Red Admirals, captains

of ships of youth, harbingers

of sad passages, of death.


God’s other toys.





Omaha Beach                                                            


Seagulls cry alert: Mine. Mine.

Wave after wave assaults the shoreline.

Polished shells push explosively through sand.


Crabs founder like grounded tanks, or move

amphibious and armoured, sideways and back.


There are carapaces and skulls, limbs and bones

where they’ve gone over the top.


Starfish surrender arms for the cross of Lorraine.


Above, the sky is forget-me-not-blue.


And, beneath feet, the surf is whispering








Dad didn’t like them either: unpredictable,

wriggly things, frizzy in their busy-ness,

with seeking feelers and bended legs;

their quicksilverness in turning into ball

or escaping in swathed veils of web;

and abseiling down on air in starts and stops,

their snapped trails snagging in his hair.


Their suddenness from box or pot

ambushed his gangling walk; threw

shadows where he dared to square his boot.

That dash of black or brown panicked him:

he feared to tread – squelch, squish – in case

he slipped: their death somehow anticipating his.


So trapped them under clarity of glass:

that way managed their activity. Fitted lids, screwed

fast, and watched them skirting the curve

and scrambling crab-like in some tragic dance.

His eye bent level with the held-up jar,

he fed their fear. Must have seemed like Gulliver.


They stayed alive for days on dusts of nothings,

till dried to skin, paper-thin; pale veins;

stick limbs dangling, angular, akimbo

as if caught mid-stride to freedom.


So it became with him those last three months

of bed-baths: his trailing web of being; limbs

hanging hopeless/helpless; staying alive for weeks

on nothing; trapped by the clarity of where he’d

slipped, panicked by the suddenness of his

sliding path to death; his freedom-fear.




Rambling the Peak District

and finding ourselves in Bosnia                                                                              


Fallen stone-walling

springing to attention in the militia

of Srebrenica’s coffin-lid headstones:

so many mounds, graves, names

so much stone.


Hushed cabalas of foxgloves

behind walls and in gateways –

the huddled mothers of Banja Luka living out

numbness and grief at street corners.


Sad-eyed rams out-staring our trespass

with all the incomprehension

of Sarajevo butchers juggling

bloody guts through slipping fingers.


Red-dyed sheep-head –

blood flash against grass –

the shorn flanks thinned to iridescent skins

like blood-letting limbs in Mostar’s bazaars.


This copse is makeshift mosque

where larks call from sky’s tall tower

with plainsong, ancient and eastern,

while high on the hill-ridges there crackles

the ack-ack-ack of magpies

Kalashnicoughing at raiding neighbours.


Not homes, but buildings gutted and

shattered, windows gone missing, roofs hanging

in air, rooms outside in, and doors spanning

space in wreck of brick, bone of stone,

the folks vanished away, fields being idle, abandoned

tractors and rusting ploughshares, the land

surrendered to nettle, ambushed by weed,

strafing rain and wind’s ricochet –

so much spoil in brambles barbing ditches and trench.


In the graveyard stillnesses –

the seed in the ground

      seed in the ground –

old soil is growing new owners.


Consider, then,

this country, too,

has bridges to build.





Shooting Rhino                                                                     

i.m.  Martin Booth (1944-2004)


You’re aware keratin’s the carrot dragging

your attention, so it’s patience, and a steady hand

you need, especially when he’s doing that wheeling

heave, coming in and out of focus, and in again

in his quiet grazing, a delicate swiping of grass,

a stumbling, halting stroll that counterpoints his bulk.


The trick’s lining him up in your sights –

that’s if you can distinguish him from the crop

of rock just under the tree-line, that black mass

which looks as if it’s grazing, head down, and rump

declining to ground level.


So it’s sharp binoculars you need - and luck - once

you’ve spotted him, bringing him into focus.

Full view. Centred, so he occupies the total scan:

a magnificent pan of a magnificent animal:

Black rhino. Adult bull. Three years old.


What sheer bulk of hulking flesh. If you were a painter

you’d break him down to planes and plates, make the play

of light define his flanks, chart the massy anvil of his head,

that almost excuse for an eye so small against the jaw-line,

his pricked-up ears, and those curving thorns of horn:

No wonder horn commands high prices.


And you need to take his horns, so bring him in big, bigger

till you can see his ears’ whiskery bristles, his twitching tail,

the way the dung has dried on his hide, the spittle dribbling

on his slow rolling lips, and the defiant spikes that make him

wanted. Vulnerable.


And you’re getting him large, larger, in your sights –

till he’s practically in your face, has taken hold of your mind,

his horns thorning in your head, and you’re falling down

your sight-line, falling into him

but are ready with that finger-itching readiness 

and clicking – once – twice -

have him bagged:


a gap filled in the family album.                                     





In 1986 Martin Booth, poet and writer, visited Luanga National Park in Zambia to survey the area for a television documentary  centring on a group of “upwards of thirty” black rhino. Returning in September 1987 with a film crew, he found that the particular group of black rhino had been reduced to “perhaps three.”




North Ferriby Foreshore, remembering                                                      


i.m. Granddad Charles and Peter Reading who never met


Not sand, but reaches of mudflat

veined by rainbowy seawater-seeps

along the Humberside strand. And,

further out, a pewter gleam where

the Trent – water within water –

fattens to estuary’s broad blade, then

wider still, circle-swirls to mouth

at silent horizons, the North Sea,

Europe and beyond.


Seems worlds away from Trent’s

well-head and its insignificant sibilants

trickling through Bailey’s farmyard.


How memories tumble. To hills.

And home: the moorland village

cricked safe in England’s vertebrae

where gritstone walling collects

the fields’ purposes.


And to Granddad – simple man

crowned local bigwig – mouthing down

his home-grown workmates,

Thait senatucked.*


Laugh at that. That bastardised Latin

he hadn’t even had chance to learn

let alone forget, any more than he’d

heard of Ferriby. Or estuary.

Though knew belonging,

like the sons of his name.



* North Staffordshire dialect for You are sinew-tight; exhausted.


 Peter Reading’s poem, Dog’s Tomb, (Untitled, 2001) contains the lines,



  Who blindness and senility prepared”.


Task Work

“The works should be unproductive so as to impose limits on the applications for employment-schemes”

C. E. Trevelyan, Memorandum of August 1st, 1846


They gave them task work:

low hills to lower, meadows to level,

hollows to fill, rivers to dig deeper,

fallen walls to stand tall, fields to square off

and boundaries to build around acres

of grass-land walling nothing in but hares.


Gave them lines on their maps:

“meal roads” going nowhere,

tracks across mountain and bog

bringing nothing to no-one

and not meant to be travelled

so mostly unfinished, unusable if,

and built for thrupence per day with

two splats of stirabout’s wetted maize

eaten off spades swiped twice on grass.


They gave them breaking of stone:

silver sweeps of hammers, the liftings

and falls with dull thuds like hollow barrels,

the slicings of light as splitting stone

into moon-halves, odd sparks glinting,

and rock splintering to chippings

for packing potholes in coach-roads:

tons done by hand, mothers and children

at penny-ha’pence a day, squatting

as knocking rock against rock.


Gave them shalings in baskets and creels,

women reeling at barrow-wheeling

till abandoning stone-piles by roadsides,

their own funeral pyres.


They gave them task work: heavy and hard.

And grimmer still as winter fingered in

under bitter winds and snow, with hungrier folk

spraunged on haunches waiting for neighbours to fall

and pellagra, marasmus, starvation

staking their claim.


They gave them stone-walling

with never a reckoning

it might cost them their lives.


Gave them stone.






As he runs under his shoulders

this sneak-thief between greenery

what gives his feathers

their svelteness, their sheen…


What sleeks his beak this citrine-yellow,

his head levelled with his black back feathers…


What contrives his eyes their bead-keenness,

his tail-display cocking - just-so –

in flashing alarm…


What lends his song

that heart-rending, pulse-throbbing longing…


Why, nothing but earth-dirt,

worms rehearsing their turnings,

and traceries of gnats

dancing selves to perdition…





3 - Publication History


At moments of kill, the barn-owl’s eyes are closed    1st Prize, Norwich Writers’ Open Poetry Competition, 2005 – published in Blood Brothers (Headland 2005)

May Visitations                       1st Prize, Douglas Gibson Memorial Award, 1986 – published in Home Ground (Headland, 2002)

Red Admirals                           1st Prize, The Trewithen Poetry Prize     , 1998 – published in Rites of Passing (Shoestring, 2006)

Omaha Beach – published in Points of Reference (Headland, 1996)

Spiders                                    Shortlisted, Strokestown International Poetry Competition, 2004 – published in Fixing Things (Indigo Dreams, 2011) 

Rambling Peak District           1st Prize, Cannon Poets Open   Poetry Competition,  2009 – published in Marking Time (Sentinel Poetry Movement, 2012)

Shooting Rhino                        1st Prize, Southport Writers’ Circle Open, 2011 – published in Chance Meetings (Open Space Poetry, 2014) 

Ferriby Foreshore, Remembering                   1st Prize, Segora Open Poetry Competition, 2012

Task Work                               1st Prize, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Open Poetry Competition, June     2012

Blackbird                                 Commended, Ver Open Poetry Competition, 2010 – published in Bird in the Hand (Indigo Dreams, 2012)


His poetry appears in the following collections:


Pricking Out                                                          ISBN 0-7275-0401-0                                                              (Aquila, 1988)

Points of Reference                                               ISBN 0-903074-80-X                                                             (Headland, 1996)

Home Ground                                                       ISBN 1-902096-72-X                                                             (Headland, 2002)

Rites of Passing                                                     ISBN 1-904886-43-4                                                              (Shoestring, 2006)

Blood Brothers, New & Selected Poems               ISBN 1-902096-96-7                                                             (Headland, 2006)

No Laughing Matter                                              ISBN 975-1-905614-34-9                                                     (Cinnamon Press, 2007)

Dog’s Eye View                                                    ISBN 978-1-907276-24-8                                                     (Lapwing, 2009)

Fixing Things                                                         ISBN 978-1-907401-27-5                                                     (Indigo Dreams, 2011)

Marking Time                                                       ISBN 978 -0-9568101-1-3                                                    (Sentinel Poetry Movement, 2012)  

Bird In The Hand                                                  ISBN 978-1-907401-87-9                                                     (Indigo Dreams, 2012)


4 - Afterword

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We are looking for other poets to feature in this series, and are open to submissions.  Please send one poem and a short bio to - info@poetrykit.org

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