Edited by Helen Aitchison
The new year has started and, along with the calendar change, we absorb new hope and consider new dreams and desires. However, as with everything, there will be endings we both champion and commiserate.
As we start this year, and continue our January theme of ‘Beginnings And Endings,’ I wanted to share four diverse and compelling pieces that made me think, as well as contemplate my year ahead. I hope you find them thought-provoking too.
Firstly, we have The Strange Magic Of New Beginnings by award-winning poet, Christian Ward. This piece came alive in my mind. I could visualise the setting, the emotion, the imagery of a man with his own struggles, trying to keep everything together. At the end, I thought, ‘We’ve all been that man, that person. Or we could be.’
The Strange Magic Of New Beginnings
The rain was harsh like a bed of nails,
When I left the family home.
Crows, dressed in top-hat black, looked away,
As I walked away from the block of flats.
Resident cats roared from their windowsills.
Once, they would have jumped through hoops,
At my command. Not today.
The trees waved goodbye with their spindly branches,
As my old life hopped away.
In the flat share, I learnt to saw myself in half daily:
Splitting myself between my son and work.
I held my breath underwater figuring out,
A new beginning.
Every misstep, felt like swallowing fire and coughing up meteors.
I cherished every small thing,
Slowly watched the light as bright as doves,
Emerge in this new beginning.
© Christian Ward, 2023
Christian Ward is a UK-based poet with work in Canary, San Antonio Review and Seasonal Fruits Magazine. New work is forthcoming in Acumen, Spelt, Dream Catcher and Dreich. He was longlisted for the 2023 Aurora Prize for Writing, shortlisted for the 2023 Ironbridge Poetry Competition and 2023 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, and won the 2023 Cathalbui Poetry Competition.
Connect with Christian on Instagram: @fighting_cancer_with_poetry
Next up, is a wonderful poem by Donna McCabe. A Woman’s Worth is a short, powerful piece which had me nodding in agreement. It spoke to me from a female perspective and is an important message for anyone to read, regardless of the time of year.
A Woman’s Worth
Persevering under pressure
Releasing that untapped goddess within me
I finally feel unburdened, unblemished, alive
I have no tears of society’s expectations of me
I tell myself, let your dreams bloom
Through sheer radiating resilience
And courageous compassion
I will experience burgeoning bliss…
© Donna McCabe, 2023
Donna McCabe is an established poet from South Wales, UK, with over 20 years experience. Her work has gained her multiple accolades within her field of literature. From being published in journals, magazines and anthologies both nationally and internationally, she is also a respected admin on many social media pages as well as having her own Instagram page.
Connect with Donna on Facebook: Poemsbydonnamccabe and Instagram:@donnamccabe_
The third piece I’ve chosen is an excerpt from DUTY by Jeff Stephenson. DUTY is Jeff’s memoir, published through my community interest company, ‘Write On The Tyne.’ Jeff’s novel speaks of the extraordinary life of a boy born on a council estate, in an industrial town, who never gives up and whose life is filled with duty to his family and community. This except is from a chapter where 18-year-old Royal Marine Jeff is deployed to the Falklands War.
The poignant piece, that can only be imagined by those of us who’ve not served in the armed forces, depicts the start of war for Jeff and his comrades, but the endings of so much, including childhood innocence and possible life.
That Island Off Scotland (excerpt from DUTY)
It was the 8th of April, and it was the day to leave for the Falklands. With our kit gathered, we marched around as K-Company, to report to the parade ground. Once we arrived, we were joined by the rest of the unit, who made up the 42 Commando. We all carried our Bergen’s, kit bags, and weapons, and were greeted by our commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Vaux. He was accompanied by Sir Stuart Pringle, who was the commandant general of the Marines. Sir Stuart was walking with the aid of sticks, having been injured only a few months previously in Northern Ireland by an IRA bomb explosion.
Sir Stuart came to inspect us and gave a pep talk before Nick Vaux asked us to stand to attention and delivered the orders,
“42 Commando to the South Atlantic, quick march.”
And off we marched, leaving Bickleigh Barracks for the convoy of vehicles waiting to transport us to Southampton Docks where we would board our floating taxi, SS Canberra. This was a cruise ship that was being converted into a troop carrier. We nicknamed it the Great White Whale. The conversion was continuing as we embarked, with lots of modifications needed including the installation of a flight deck and the removal of anything unnecessary, to make the ship fit for purpose; fit for war.
We began boarding to the cheers, claps, and well-wishes of a huge crowd. The corridors on the ship, like most cruise liners, were narrow and the layout was maze-like. Endless decks and rooms made it feel as if we were checking into a hotel on our holiday. Only we weren’t on an all-inclusive to Benidorm, we were headed into the unknown, despite our extreme preparation.
Eventually, everyone was on board, and SS Canberra, our Great White Whale, set off for the 8,000-mile trip to the Falkland Islands to the tune of the Marines brass band playing and the cheering, waving, and car horns of the people wishing us the best as we departed on 9th April.
It was time to get familiar with the troop carrier, our floating hotel. There was a bar on board, so naturally, we headed to explore it. The good news was it was a stylish, relaxed bar area. Rubbing our hands together we knew there would be many a great night there, until we were advised of the bad news — that we were only allocated two cans of beer a day. Only two and these weren’t your big cans, they were pop-sized cans. My immediate thought was that I would need to try and source the lads that didn’t drink and do some swapsies for chocolate.
Over the next few days, we settled into a routine. It included training and daily lectures on things such as patrols, attacks, and casualty care alongside lectures on the Geneva Convention and prisoner handling. Unsurprisingly, every spare hour was spent participating in extreme exercise. We would run round and round the promenade deck, often with full kit, covering many miles in our troops, day after day. Hamsters in a wheel. Alongside this there were PT sessions, in all kinds of weather, constantly building strength and stamina. There were easily 2,000 soldiers on board, all preparing for war in the Falklands. I remember thinking that if nothing came of our time heading towards the Falklands, at least we would be the fittest fuckers there had ever been. After brutal exercise and lectures, on an evening we would go and savour our two cans of beer alongside a singsong to the entertainment provided by the Marines Band. Some nights we were allowed to go to the cinema that was on board the ship and watch a few movies, with no popcorn and hotdogs to be seen, but it was still a night out.
Things stepped up a notch when we had to zero our weapons, getting them ready for action. Bin bags would be thrown overboard to use as targets, getting our rifles ready to shoot straight. Then on the 20th of April, we woke up in Ascension Islands. Just past the Equator, it is a joint American Airforce and RAF base, where we had a few days to refuel.
The island, mainly made up of rocks, hills, and very long roads, became the track to speed march and run on. It was boiling hot but at least it was a change of scenery. We had some downtime on the island beaches, which were beautiful. The ocean was wonderfully warm and so clear that you could see the fish swimming alongside you. For the odd moment, it felt like paradise, the furthest away from the reality of the purpose of our journey — the horrors of war.
Soon it was time to board again and continue our journey south to the Falkland Islands. Things had stepped up a gear on the ship with the installation of GPMG (machine guns). Machine guns were strategically strapped around the cruise liner. We were heading towards a potential war zone and had to consider Argentinian air attacks. Then came the news that an Argentinian cruiser had been attacked, sinking with 100’s killed (The Belgrano) and one of our ships had also been targeted (HMS Sheffield) with many lives lost. Now there was no doubt we were going to war.
© Jeff Stephenson, 2023
Jeff Stephenson’s memoir, DUTY, was published in 2023 through ‘Write On The Tyne.’ The memoir documents Jeff’s childhood on a challenging council estate in North East England, joining the Royal Marines at 17 years old, and his career in the fire service. Jeff now works as a personal trainer, with a focus on mental health.
Connect with Jeff on Instagram: @jeffsteva
Find out more about’ Write On The Tyne’ at: www.writeonthetyne.com
My final submission is my own poem, Enough. It’s a reflection on self-pressure and the societal pressure that’s placed upon us, especially as a new year starts. It’s also a reminder to be kind to ourselves and that, instead of the ‘R’ word (resolutions), perhaps we should simply think about gentle goals and appreciating life, and ourselves.
New year, new me.
But what’s wrong with the old you?
Influenced by a cycle of repetition,
Unattainable, unrealistic competition.
Never hitting that target,
Not the best in the market,
Pressure systemically expected,
Are we ever good enough?
A machine, programmed to conform,
In reality, what is the norm?
An ideal image from magazines torn.
As we “underachieve” to faces scorn.
Self-inflicting wounds of pressure,
The unsustainable vice.
Unreachable goal after goal,
Depletion of the soul.
Tightening, smothering, suffocating.
Flaws and faults,
Feeling redundant and weak,
But the truth that I speak,
Is that you’ve always been enough,
Exactly as you are.
© Helen Aitchison, 2023
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