IMAGE: The Old Maids by Leonora Carrington | 1947 | Oil on board 582 x 738 mm | Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts University of East Anglia. © Estate of Leonora Carrington / ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014.

Entries from our Strange Worlds Poetry Competition. The winners, which were announced on Sunday 19 March the final day of the Strange Worlds Exhibition at RWA, are as follows:

  1. Jenny Wilson, ‘The Little Carmelite’ inspired by Leonora Carrington’s The Old Maids
  2. Lucy Menon ‘The Painful Truths of Modern Day’ inspired by the exhibition in general
  3. Fiona Ritchie Walker, ‘Barleychild’ inspired by The Parting Gift by Wendy Meyer

‘The Little Carmelite’ by Jenny Wilson

For Leonora Carrington, who lapsed (based on Leonora Carrington’s The Old Maids)

The Maid of Christ, she bears a pot,
But what is in it we know not.

Her head’s an orb, all crowned with thorns,
nails from the cross, and holy horns.
Her face is pale, made out of shell
and plaster cast from Mount Carmel.

What’s in the hand that she lifts up?
What lies within that shallow cup?

The blood of God; emetic tea;
A bitter balm from Galilee?

With one shake of her novice head
she would let fly and strike all dead;
but she’s already turned to air.
She died before; she is not there.

She does not know her soul’s deceased,
And so she comes to join the feast.
What does she bring in her white glove?
The opposite of peace and love.

For she has brought a dish apart:
Her tiny bloodless Catholic heart.

‘The Painful Truths of Modern Day’ by Lucy Menon

The pussycat married the owl,
Which some viewed as gross and foul,
They got sent hate mail,
But love did prevail,
And they sailed away from it all in a pea-green boat.
Back home, Little Bo Peep
Has foot and mouth diseased sheep,
Mary had her little lamb
Turned in to Sunday lunch,
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Was in trouble deep:
The others were white and he was black,
This provoked racial attacks,
Wee Willy Winky runs through the town,
In a totally last season nightgown,
He checks the kiddies are in bed and cries through locks,
Till he gets arrested for being a guy in a frock,
He’s also charged with disturbing the peace,
Warned and told this activity must cease,
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet,
Eating genetically modified curds and whey,
Over the hill was where Little Boy Blue lay,
He’d just signed on for the dole.
Meanwhile, in hospital, was Old King Cole,
He’d developed bronchitis from smoking his pipe,
There was an attractive nurse but he wasn’t her type,
In a side ward were the Three Blind Mice
Having laser corrective treatment at half price,
Humpty Dumpty had fallen off a wall,
He’d been on a trolley six hours and still not called!
While Cole was enjoying private care,
The poverty stricken Humpty was in despair,
So was the Old Woman who lived in a show,
She had so many kids by different men she didn’t know what to do,
Social services came and put them all into care,
The Old Woman thought this was very unfair,
In the North of the Land,
Old Mother Hubbard had been banned
From keeping pets by the RSPCA,
Who said she couldn’t feed them properly,
The King was in his counting house,
Counting his lottery win,
In an attempt to get thin,
His wife ate only bread and honeyTo conform to the anorexic image of society,
In the garden was the Maid,
Over-worked and under-paid,
While poor old Simple Simon was starving and homeless on the street,
After the pie man denied him anything to eat,
Puff the Magic Dragon offered him some crack,
Which was just what the drug squad needed in order to attack,
Puff had been set up and started crying:
He got sent down, charged with supplying,
But Burglar Bill, he got away,
Able to sell his wares another day,
He bought the gear from Mary Quite Contrary,
Who in her garden did grow
Pot as well as the odd marrow,
Stranger concoctions were mixed by the Dish and Spoon,
Come on, how else do you think the Cow managed to jump over the moon?

‘Barleychild’ by Fiona Ritchie Walker

Who needs legs, arms the students say
when studying our way of living.
Whatever the scientists have planted
in our brains is thought to compensate
for missing bodies, lack of limbs
by turning our vision into manipulation.

Some think we are too powerful
which is why, like today,
it’s easier for us to act as if we’re sleeping.
I sense your staring.

When a documentary about us twins
was being made, the crew wore visors
to protect from our directing.

They interviewed so many,
determined to find out why we live
without food or the need for breathing.

How long we will survive
no one knows, our brains
like batteries could run forever
or drain to death without warning.

These last weeks I’ve begun to dream.
Of legs to run, hands to touch and hold.
Behind closed eyes I picture sand
running through my non-existent fingers.
My twin sleeps and I count the hours,
imagine a mouth used for speaking, eating.

Next week they will bury us again,
a month this time, no doubt
we will survive
and when they dig us up, unchanged,
for a moment I will think freedom
until they sit us on a cushion
or in a bowl where we become
another art attraction.

You lean close, I sense your skin
carrying salt, a dried out layer of ozone.
In my mind the command grows
to carry me to the ocean,
launch me into an outgoing tide,
where currents choose my destination
but it will feel like freedom.

31564704766_d791fbd5a3_z (1)
IMAGE: The Parting Gift, Wendy Maher, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, preview, photography Alice Hendy. © RWA All rights reserved.

‘Strange Worlds’ by Charlie Caldecott

It could be seen as comforting, womanly,
Peace in the pain, comfort in the stain
It’s not a piece about gain
It’s about acceptance of your path
Even having a laugh
On the cross
Not about who’s boss

It could be attractive
Its power is radioactive
It’s not static
Its meaning is elastic
next to the clarity of Holman Hunt
Its Gothic, soporific
Death not from wickedness
No hint of embitteredness

The other rooms provoke
They put you under the yoke
The atmosphere is fervid
You’re under the eye of the mermaid
They have the feeling of the Protestant
The Dutch, the butch, the untried
The enquiring mind
Bitches, snitches, glitches
Stares, mares, lairs
Earth, dearth, no mirth
Perversions, diversions, exertions.
Contortions, distortions, abortions,
Attractions, repulsions, expulsions

From EDEN.

Except for Holman Hunt, who you can still find in the Mendips.

A response to the Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter Exhibition at RWA. The first and second stanzas are about the paintings in the Stancomb-Wills Gallery, the side room to right of main gallery (referring to Wine Crucifix in particular) and the third stanza refers to the main gallery (Sharples and Winterstoke Gallery) and other side rooms (Methuen and Milner Galleries). Charlie Caldecott is a curator and contemporary art consultant.

RWA Rainer and Hunt
IMAGE: Wine Crucifix by Arnulf Rainer & The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, preview, photography Alice Hendy. © RWA All Rights Reserved

‘Sleep-time is Doll-time’ by Helena Astbury

After ‘The Fairy Tale Book’ by Di Oliver

I know when she sleeps she is
trapped by the wood-slumber,
fingers silent after shadow-stories.
Her linen smell turns to oak.

I am too small and waxen to scream
her here, found and picked, folded away,
a loving fit in her grain-arms,
twine scratching elbows.
If she sleeps we are both dolls, two
dainty wood-be-girls with slits
in our knees. Her eyelids droop
with beech, mine held sting-open
by paint and longing.

She said she
would never rest
so I would be a girl, always.
She said she
would never sleep
while I am so tiny, small pin,
a miniature promise to my
leaper of lanes, songbird to
my petticoats. When she rests
I wait to be a flesh-girl again,
attempting flickers.

I know when she wakes we shall be
adventurers wrinkling our noses
in the moonlight, blood trickling
from our shins as we tumble

across mountains
searching for supper and spells.
I know when she wakes she will begin
the story: Sleep-time is Doll-time,
we make no sound and wait to be moved.

Helena Astbury primarily writes poetry for screen; her filmpoems are screened at festivals and in galleries worldwide, including the Edinburgh Film Festival, Paris Feminist Film Festival, and MixBrasil. Helena’s film work has been supported by the British Council. Helena has previously had poetry published in a conference anthology Temporal Discombobulations :Time and Experience of the Gothic (University of Surrey 2016). Helena originally trained as a performer at Rose Bruford College, and gained an MA with Distinction in English Studies from University of Nottingham in 2016.

IMAGE: The Fairy Tale Book by Di Oliver, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, preview, photography Alice Hendy. © RWA All rights reserved

‘Angela Carter in Haiku’ by Christine Sherriff

(Three unrhymed lines of 5 – 7 – 5 syllables)

Strange Worlds Poetry,
Visionary Angela Carter,
Creative Goddess.

‘Transfigured Day’ by Francesca Simmons

 Inspired by Tessa Farmer’s ‘Forest Assassins’

Screen shot 2017-03-09 at 17.55.33

IMAGE: Forest Assassins (detail), Tessa Farmer, Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, photo Marie Mulvey-Roberts. © All Rights Reserved.

‘Faerie was Not as they Told Her’ by Amanda Petts

She Sleeps in the sound of a waxy whiteness,
where folds of muslin float against a window, a jar.
The paleness of her skin deceives the life that lives her;
it sleeps too,
for her chest hardly moves,
with the shadow breath and sparrow’s heart that live her bones
and skin beneath a timeless veil of silence.
Silver Faerie thread,
through needle head,
a curse befalls her as she floats between worlds awake, asleep.
Lids close over staring eyes that cannot see what is to come,
for if they did,
they might blink, and see a chance to run;
slip across to meet the breeze,
cool around the edges.
Eyes quickening as the light lifts the window pane.
Body shivering,
Heart quivering,
through air, a feather gown of under garments.
Inside a last gasp, as she sits on the edge,
and falls back instead,
into the down of a fateful bed.

‘The Enchanted Castanet Ensemble’ by Susan Fahy

Dance my darling by the light of the moon
Wear your eelskin garters tied on true
Stamp your feet , click your heels

Click clack to that castanet ensemble

We’re with you waving not drowning
Rapunzel , the jaguar , and I

Click clack to that castanet ensemble

Riffle through the tongues and eyes
Cut to that pre – raphaelite chase
Swing through the liquid realm realeyesing
That all the worlds are but a trace

Click clack its that castanet ensemble !


‘Bidden’ by Christopher Jelley

Like silk and sulphur I heard him not
Shiny and steeped with woe wilted clots
A quietness of tweed beside Farmer’s lair
Where the worm casts spin and beetles rattle
His breath but a husk of crab claw and spittle

‘I knew her’ he said thieving into my thoughts
Now predatorily snared, captured, caught
And not a galleried soul but the Erl King and I
Had I stepped through the lens of the curator’s scry
His wolf-wright herding, studious, mocking
That idle eye searching me, biding, blocking

‘We met, we sang’ he softly said
‘Though that was long before the chambers bled’
With a rasp of paper stitched in his cloak
He eases and teases me as a cancer of smoke

‘But you knew her too, I sees her shadow
Whispers in the darkness, ghosting your marrow
An uneasy askance snatches the fervent hue
Down the small hour sweats where fevers pursue

‘Allow me’ and he galleries you deeper
Past the moths and the labels and Ophelia drowning
Past the wayward dancing and the nymphs all clowning
As the allegories align and the poison bites deeper
‘Come Vixen’ he calls and your pelt consumes
He keys open your cage in the last of his rooms