By Amelia Cave
As May draws to a close, the pieces I’ve selected for this month’s final Showcase emphasise voices in all forms: from the voices we hear aloud to those within ourselves.
The first piece I would like to present is by Julie Dexter.
Ink on fresh paper,
flowing from the pen’s nib tip,
words come to life.
In minds they take hold
their meanings blossom, deepen,
words as deep as roots.
Soak your senses in words
Bathe in your understanding,
grow it like a tree.
© Julie Dexter, 2023
Now, I’m introducing an opinion piece by Vic Howard, which portrays internal voices.
Do you have an annoying list?
Nobody wants to be a moaner, do they? Well, I hope not, but I bet we all have a list of things that annoy us, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t. The list gets longer the older you become. At the moment I have several that are nagging at me. “The ten most …” or “The six best …” and variations of the same seem to keep popping up on the internet and even in Sunday supplements. Like choosing “The world’s most beautiful …” it’s at best only one person’s view and most often completely false and very annoying. I suppose we should blame journalists or writers with little imagination who can’t think of a better way of phrasing their views.
Something else that stands out is the use of the word ‘iconic’. Far too many things are described as iconic when they’re clearly not. It’s worth remembering that superlatives can lose their meaning if used too often when writing.
The older one gets, the easier it is to fall into the moaner bracket because of change; and most of all, the change in language. The advent of computers was a problem for many adults because suddenly words they were familiar with were being used to describe things they didn’t understand. It’s one of the reasons why older people have difficulty understanding computer technology. That problem is changing due to many more symbols being used instead of words – which is no help at all and probably explains why so many older women can’t operate a TV remote control or use a DVD player. DVD player? That was what we used before Spotify and loudspeakers you can talk to. No wonder I find life so confusing. I’m still trying to forget floppy discs and wind-up gramophones.
When I say older women, I’m not being sexist. Older women, like my dear wife, for example, can read a knitting pattern and produce a complex Shetland jumper with two sticks and a dozen balls of wool. I find this totally incomprehensible. But trying to teach her to use a computer or work the three remote controls necessary to operate our entertainment centre is impossible. But don’t imagine that I’m an expert at keeping up to date with technology. My computer is way out of date, because I’m afraid of updating it and having to relearn it all again. And the views I have regarding my so-called smartphone are unprintable.
We are all familiar with the change of meaning in ‘gay’. How or why it suddenly meant being homosexual is anyone’s guess. The Gay Twenties was a period enjoyed by some before I was born. And Gaiety Girls supplied wives to several aristocrats of the day, but none were known for being lesbian. Another irritant on my list is the word ‘train’ station. When did it stop being a railway station and become a train station? Perhaps it’s one of those American imports: like ‘Have a nice day’, which ruins my day every time I hear it.
Douglas Adams once observed the world you are born into is the way the world should be. Everything that happens from then until you are about 30 is inspiring and exciting. Everything that happens after 30 is unnecessary, unwelcome, and from then on becomes increasingly annoying.
My dad was born into a world of hansom cabs and Music Hall entertainment and died just as men landed on the moon. Radio Broadcasting was 16 years old when I entered the world and now I’m now reading about humanoid robots with GPT self-learning AI and plans to send scores of them to Mars to prepare for the humans that will follow.
I can’t help feeling that perhaps it’s time for mankind to hand over the reins to machine intelligence, because trying to keep up with constant change is not doing us any good mentally. I dread to think what babies being born today are going to be annoyed about when they’re pensioners.
© Vic Howard, 2023
Next, another poem, Shot! by Patsy Middleton.
The bullet lodged deep in his lower body.
The surgeon tried but could not pluck it out.
‘He will die soon,’ he said and shook his head.
Orderlies put him in a cellar with other dying men.
The place was cold and smelled of fear and death.
They laid him down on a straw-filled mattress
And covered his naked body with a blanket,
It was filthy, louse-infested, and it stank.
His shallow breathing moaned in his parched throat.
Dusk turned to darkness. Pain was like a dream.
Sometimes he floated up through layers of pain,
And he cried out in agony and fear.
Other times, torment, in suffocating folds, engulfed him
He sobbed in anguish then fell into fretful sleep.
His eyes opened into the dank darkness
And he surfaced with pulsing torment in him.
His body shrivelled, and he floated up
Through layers of pain. Dreams writhed in his brain,
Separate from him, yet pinned deep in his mind.
With exquisite clarity, he knew his suffering was real.
He was helpless and realised he would surely die.
Again, he drifted into sleep, and pain, like fleshhooks,
ripped him wide apart, and he dreamed again:
A priest was mocking him, stabbing his side with a long spear,
He knew he was being sent to hell.
Pinned by the spear to the floor’s hard centre,
He shrivelled in pain until he was tiny,
The great dark space echoed with insane laughter
And he knew, in a second, the floor would open,
And he would fall down to the pits of hell.
He struggled out of that dream, back to the pain.
With great decision, his brain screamed,
‘I will NOT die! I will NOT go to Hell!
But the pain made him want to sleep again.
The bricks above his head glistened with moisture.
Cold condensation dripped onto the mattress.
And rats scuttled against the streaming walls.
He tried to talk, forcing words from pain’s grip,
And his voice was like breeze-stirred thistles.
‘Where am I?’ he whispered. There was no answer.
He was cold and alone in this kingdom of death.
Then he cried because he was alone and dying,
With no one there to hold his hand and pray.
No friends, no family – just a damp cellar of Rats.
He remembered the glory of a soldier’s pride
And colours carried into a battle’s smoke,
Of bayonets rippling in the sun’s bright rays
And boots marching forward, making sparks
On the road towards final victory.
© Patsy Middleton, 2023
Hannah Drinkwater presents the voice of a female writer as well as the voice of a 21st-century woman.
A Woman’s Voice, A Woman’s Words
When I’m asked the age-old question, “Why do you write?” many times I’ll answer with, “Because it’s my passion, because it’s a talent I wish to put to use, because I want to change the way people think through words, because writing, like reading, is breathing.”
What I don’t often say, but always think, is, ‘Because I feel I have a responsibility to honour the incredible women who came before me. The women who had to raise their voices over the sounds of history, tradition and the patriarchy to exercise their freedom – both political and creative. The women who made it possible for me to dream the dreams I do.’
In my mind’s eye, I can see them so clearly. The women who fought for me to be where I am today. If I had a time machine, I would visit them all, even the ones who still live. I would ask them all the questions I have about how to survive in a world that seems dead set on disregarding our voices and actions, even years later.
Emmeline, I would call out from the back of a crowd of suffragettes. Emmeline, the world I am in now is so much better than the one you live in. But there is still so much pain. Still so much injustice.
There always will be, I can imagine she would say, her voice hard and edged with exhaustion from the fight. There always will be, but there shouldn’t be. My child, you have nothing to prove. Not to yourself, not to men, not to anyone. But there will always be work to do.
I’d take my time machine to Mary Shelley, young and brilliant, with a creative mind that refuses to stay silent. I’d try to bite my tongue, but I know my outrage would win, and I would tell her that, in my world, some people still believe her husband wrote the work she poured her blood, sweat and tears into.
People are afraid of a woman who knows how to use her mind, and so they strip her of her accolades, I can imagine she would say. Her voice would be fire and fury itself, burning over every unjust word, over every sexist act. It would be loud over the cacophony of male writers who stand beside her in history, men who did not have to claw their way into the hearts of the literary world. Because how else is her voice supposed to be heard over theirs?
I’d visit Margaret Atwood and ask just how she managed to predict the future. Women everywhere are objectified, I’d point out. Seen as walking wombs, non-stop baby machines, inferior beings. We all know a handmaid, living out her horrific tale. Everywhere you turn, a woman seems to be suffering, in one way or another.
I see it happening every day, too, she would say. I had hoped that things would be different.
Will they ever be? Where? How? When, when, when?
Until I know the answers, until I do everything in my power to exercise the freedom and confidence some women could not, I will continue to write, and when people ask me why I do, I will start reminding them of the people, both real and fictional, who fought blood, tooth and nail for girls to live with ease, in a way they were never able to.
And I will continue to raise my voice, even if I have to speak over a man.
© Hannah Drinkwater, 2023
My final piece I would like to present to you is a poem which represents internal voices; those within each of us, which we sometimes struggle to communicate.
Just To Say Thank You
Thank you for showing me the true meaning of unconditional love.
Thank you for always welcoming me at the door, no matter the day or time.
Thank you for never judging me.
Thank you for being my daily walking buddy.
Thank you for being a constant friend.
I love you.
Thank you for introducing me to new experiences.
Thank you for making me feel safe and secure.
Thank you for providing happiness, joy, and laughter.
Thank you for your amazing hugs and smile.
Thank you for making me the best food.
I love you.
Thank you for always listening to me.
Thank you for providing the best advice.
Thank you for creating the best memories with me.
Thank you for showing me how to be strong-minded.
Thank you for being careless and constantly caring for others.
I love you.
Thank you for being there when I need you.
Thank you for providing stability during hard times.
Thank you for helping me through university.
Thank you for giving me my amazing sense of humour.
Thank you for teaching me that I must speak up when something is wrong.
I love you.
© Amelia Cave, 2023
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/
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