Wendy Young and Richard Downes: Winter Rime


Richard Downes has written for Disability Arts Online over many years as a blogger and an Associate Artist in 2018 / 2019. Here the poet collaborates with another writer from the DAO community, Wendy Young, to showcase selections from a recently published collection Winter Rime

Being able to showcase Winter Rime on DAO closes a very special circle before the opening of another. October 2017 urged on by Disability Arts Online editor Colin Hambrook I attended and performed at my first spoken word event. DAISY Fest in Farnham Library, Surrey.

Wendy was the featured poet. We met before hand in a workshop and hit it off straight away. Something strong merged us together. Class (2 poor northern rebels operating in filthy cash rich London – she, a Barnsley girl being more northern than this black country boy), a common understanding of two up two down terraced housing and outside loos, the trauma of domestic childhoods and how we carry the pain with us, our commitment to and withdrawal from community, our vulnerability on an unwelcoming planet and ultimately our current levels of survival. We chatted through our lunch break. Wendy’s openness pleasing and surprising me.

We’d meet again some 10 to 12 months later. Colin dropped out of a gig and nominated me as his replacement. Survivors Poetry at the Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, London. I can’t remember if Wendy was there but she was certainly at the next one. She treated me like a long lost friend and introduced me to Keith and Peter. It felt like coming home.

Time passed. I was able to curate some events and when I curated in a new venue i’d always want Wendy with me at some point. REaD Rhymes Live operates as a circle with different voices popping in and fading out, bringing different tastes and flavours. Wendy always secured applause and found herself treated with laughter and gasps of surprise. She engages constantly.

Then it happened. An email. Wendy saying lets do a pamphlet about snow. I said no. I ain’t got enough snow. Let’s make it winter. This received a positive yes from both of us. I immediately regretted it. God. My simple words were to appear on a written page next to Wendy’s strengths and realities. This was going to be embarrassing. I shared my fears with her and was surprised to find she felt the same. In for a penny in for a pound I sent her everything I then had on the matter and said match that poem for poem and she did, following mine with her’s like a written REaD Rhymes Live. My taste, her flavour. Different to each other but always on common ground.

We exchanged emails to discuss how we wanted things to look. We editted our own stuff, I did the design and serendipitously it snowed. Wendy took the photo. All we needed was a title. Colin gave us the nod, a final decision, on Winter Rime and off to the printers we did go, ee-i-ee-i-ee-i-o.

So the time has come to open another circle. The performance. Two survivors, shivering and scratching into the Winter Rime. We are taking bookings.

Wendy: Winter Dusk is a homage to Robin Hood’s Bay (visited on a school trip yet more interested in fairground rides at nearby resort that day – ah youth and candy floss). A few years ago was gobsmacked by the beauty.

Winter Dusk Robin Hood’s Bay

Giant jaw cloud biting into the dusk
setting the cliffs into night
freeing the pomp of day
guarding night
Gods of the Bay

Rich: The Sooty Cat is an unusual poem for me that came from a simple prompt. I’m not one of those social media catheads who fall for the cuteness of kittens yet I think we can all picture this in the homelands. To feel comfortable with it I have to lie and say its an allegory. The Right can think the cat’s an unwelcome presence, scrounging on our shores, The Left something it wants to welcome and succour. Choose the side you want to be on.

The Sooty Cat

In the deep dark
when the warm room
grows cold I move
from the rug to
a covered chair
to enjoy the last
of the warmth left
by a human

In the dark of
the room with light
coming up slow
if still cold I
stretch and scratch
catch my claws in
cotton throws thrown
down carelessly

With the dark gone
I keep my eyes
closed tight to fool
the human loon
who thinks I need
waking from this
place of rest when
I need feeding

In the kitchen
On cold stone tiles
I’ll stretch again
pray for salmon

titbits remaining
the best of last night’s
supper but find
Whiskas instead

Yet the smell that
emanates from tin
whilst turning to a
human stomach
remains strangely
appealing to a
sooty feline
wanting breakfast

Soon replenished
I retire to this
warmer room where
I long once more
to be positioned
on the rug by
burning embers
burning brightly

But the human is
slow today so
slow to catch cold
that I must wait
through long minutes
an eternity
hell for hip cats
sooty like me

Wendy: Living with Ghosts Vb relives a ‘blood in the snow’ event of almost misspent youth in Amsterdam. Wham-bam – six months in London from the frozen north where the snow drove me … mad! To the absolutely ice box that Amstdamn-ed was!

It’s not the leaving of Amsterdam that grieves me, it’s the living – now I want to! Jamal went mad on whisky and coke, not the brown stuff! Working in a bar in a cosy red bar almost a living room, propositioned for paid sex twice, refused (always wondered if I’d do it, now I was tested and refused. Fuck! Some pride somewhere, but mainly fear).

The Israeli girl was accused by Jamal of just wanting his money stirred up by the Dutch boy who came in to pick up a new girlfriend every time his old one left – now he had his eye on me! Dutch boy kicked out and banging on door! The ‘birthday party’ are locked in. Jamal punched Israeli girl in the face and she flew off the high stool and landed in the cosy red window of the bar.

He then pulls out a gun! Waves it like a flag! ‘don’t fak wit me yoo WHORES’ (arrogant ‘friend’ who uses another name, Ria, is crying, panicking. I’m empty, eyes wide saucered on another planet! Years later she said ‘you held your own’ but I was used to madness!)

Fuck! Now the stories in the papers about being held at gunpoint came to life! He kept us there all night. German bouncer did nowt! Looking back I see it was the best option. I had been through a lot before this and now at 23 I might die, after all that not dying, not suiciding, not settling for a no good cheater, a girlfriend beater!! Millie Jackson’s hurting so good going round and round on the record, Ziggy trying act masterful but shitting himself, wiping the bar with shaky hands. Jamal is fading in fading out, half lying on the bar but no escape ‘cause any little noise he’s alert and waving the gun again. On this goes on till 9am and finally, he lets us leave. Just like that! We’re walking in the freezing snow towards home, yes, we’re fuckin’ off as soon as the ferries allow! And we hear a voice shouting us, ‘come back, I like yoo, I didn’t mean yoooo …’ We imagine red blood, white snow, and along Rembrandtsplein – off we chuffin’ well go!!

Rich: Now Its Dark. A simple rhyme. Feel the reality, feel the love.

Now It’s Dark

To sit beside you in the dark
To walk and hear the singing lark
To stand and look at trees
To feel this wintry breeze
To feel the cold so stark

To be here again at your side
Beneath these blankets where we hide
When we cuddle up tight
With no one left to fight
Then there I will abide

Through the darkness and through the fear
You need to know I will be here
No need to feel lonely
Sitting with you only
My love for you is clear

Wendy: Winter Wind – short and sweet. I love the wind.

Winter Wind

You are my element
I sleep when you are high

I am alive
When you blow

Rich: Last Winter Leaves Fall From The Sky. One of my stronger poems. The real, big one’s, the stronger one’s i’m not presenting here. This is an advocacy poem. It imagines an advocacy partner I once knew and what she had to go through as an older woman full of anxiety who could never quite manage her electricity bill. Someone with a past struggling with the present.

Last Winter Leaves Fall From The Sky

You shiver and shake complaining
Caught between going out and staying in
Repeating the definite the
Think the minor thinking the vast
Last winter leaves fall from the sky

You have your reasons fixed at last
To resent your disappointment
Bad utility companies
Charge far too much for poor humans
You shiver and shake complaining

Consider using more blankets
You risk early slugs of brandy
The heat in your throat, warms comforts
Not reaching the toes now tapping
Caught between going out and staying in

Fumble in bags to find lip salve
Frozen chapped lips long since turned blue
Your old teeth coated with cold ice
Set to chatter to say something
Repeating the definite the

The. The word keeps on repeating
Making sounds through chattering teeth
The. The word still keeps repeating
Your finger points at a shadow
Think the minor thinking the vast

Scanning the sideboards photograph
For signs of real past times living
Beloved people all moved on
You take a last look through windows
Last winter leaves fall from the sky
Last winter leaves fall from the sky

Wendy: 100 Strokes is my mother guilt laid bare – as Ronald Eyre hoped he was finding peace at being ashamed of his mother’s dress when she visited him in Oxford in the 40s. (An intellect from my village that I never knew – I discovered Ronald Eyre on Desert Island Discs revisited yet Sue Lawley was quite piss takey re the village name ‘Mapplewell’ so no wonder there’s a snobbism that’s absorbed by the working class).

Last time with Mam it was winter 90
She said she brushed her hair
100 times a day
‘that’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it?’
I being ungirly snapped ‘How do I know?!’
Now I picture her, alone, brushing her lovely hair
Brushing her pride
A stroke for each memory
Like a stroke of a whip
100 strokes of punishment
A stroke for her son long dead
A stroke for her daughters long lost
A stroke for her only friend, her dog
A stroke for her past
A stroke for her guilt
A stroke for her mother
A ssssttrroke for HIM! Jim!
When she threw his blue and white spotty snotty hankie he left in the basin
He pulled her hair and she like a bull being lampooned in a ring fought to get away
From his one fisted anger of strength pulling at her hair, with the gurning face of a devil, vice-like grip – a trip of sadism in his psychotic eyes
I am ashamed that I thought it wasn’t so bad, compared to everything else
But now I want to beat my head with my fists to appease/to atone
Her humiliation
Her screams
Who ‘in service’ had eaten with gentry

Rich: Ah! Sue Lawley she was a Black Country girl who made a fuss about losing her accent and speaking RP to get on the tele. We heard this when The Police had a hit with So Lonely. We changed it to So Lonely – Sue Lawley. Back to Snow and Ice. I remain a child of rock n roll. I love duets, audience participation. The other voice here is my wife, Jean. I’d like to duet with Wendy one day but, am also thinking of calling out volunteers from the audience. Watch out. Live is coming soon.

Of Snow And Ice

I am snow
I am ice

I am white
They say I am opaque

I cloy like a blanket
I am bitter, narked, angry

Comforting the suffering green
Friendless, opportunistic, dangerous

Like a nurse, my bodice white and crisp
Settling unseen

Obvious, romantic, when settled
Nasty, viscious, turning black

A home maker
Icicle daggers

I fall from the sheltering sky
Easily hidden

Brought like warmth meeting cold
Always cold, freezing, freezing cold
Sometimes we join together
But I don’t need her

His cold hold holds me to the eaves
But I don’t need her

I provide cover for the very worst of him
She thinks I need her

Together. I am the best of him
She still thinks I need her

At the end, together
What is this together

Together, we melt
Together we melt?

Together we melt
Together we melt together


Wendy: Jenny Gaga – my mother’s fortitude is my legacy.

(who shares her birthday with another bright Lady from over the water 70 years apart )

Burning Bright Star
However far
I am there with you
On that snow deep road
Breaking waters
To give birth to the son you would lose
20 years hence on the same route
How you must have felt on the bus into town
I didn’t understand I just watched and wondered
I am there with you walking to town for miles in the night to get away from the violence
My eldest sister a seven year old in tow, baby in pram, determined to find a way out
Sleeping peacefully and a brick through the window
Then kicking in the door
Two more black eyes
What to do but walk back that early morning
Your spirit went to the desk sergeant who may have saved your life, our lives
But the cowardly ‘Lion’ blackmailed my eldest sister
Then a seven year old – tell her no – tell her not to – No Mammy No!
And then I wouldn’t have been born years later
But I wonder if I ever should, it’s tough to take, this torture
Without you to tell you I love you
To tell you how I admire your courage
To tell you how I want to hug you and kiss you
To tell you how I didn’t understand until it was too late
To tell you how I want to hurt those who called you vile names
And ground you down

Sons, brothers, Cowards!
Are you there in the sky with the stars looking down on me Jenny Burning Bright?
I hope you are
I send you my love

Whenever I wonder
Whenever I roam
There’s no place like home
– with you
if only I’d known…..and here you are reborn 70 years to the day through a patent clad Lady from the USA

You lived
You survived
You took it all into your small perfect body
You gave your life to many
And ended it alone

Rich; First Snow. Regular readers will know I do a fair few special school poems where I never ever come down on the side of segregated education. In the most famous winter of my life I’m happy to find a good day though had to temper it with a bullying adult.

First Snow

Dining room tables
Full up with fried food and frisson
Whilst silent children turn heads
To a fantastic window
Where falling rain usually crystal
Turns to fragile flecks of white foam
That float freely down
Famously settling to frame trees in dark relief
A master bellows; “it’s only flipping snow”
“It’s not as fatal as I will be if you don’t eat”

It’s 1963.
Tomorrow there will be drifts with tunnels
Dug by foolhardy kids bravely furrowing
Through this fabulously new fantasia of snow, frost and ice

They’ll come back freezing

Winter Rime is currently making its way to the printers. If you are interested in having a copy email Rich at r.downes[at|yahoo.co.uk. Rich leaves all his poetry here at DAO. A few others are on his wordpress website which includes some of his poetry challenges.

Wendy’s work is available on her  website ||| Wendy Young Poetry |||