Poem for Valentine’s Day


Because I love you, I offer you
this old glove.
Wait. Do not cast it
aside. It has held my hand.
Its soft felt embraced my fingers,
covered my palm.
Its partner is lost.
Take it to remind you, how you and I
could lose each other.
It fits me perfectly.
Keep it under your pillow.
Perhaps it will
reach for you in the night.


Note: WordPress does not like the indentations in this poem, so it’s lost its shape. It was first published in my collection I Sing of Bricks (Salt 2011). I think of it as slightly spooky but others see it differently, which is fine. This poem was read on Poetry Please, so thank you to whoever requested it.






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Gladstone’s Library

The applications for next year’s Writers in Residence programme at Gladstone’s Library have just opened. I do urge people to apply. The library wants to help writers at all stages of their career and from all walks of life. The application process is fairly simple. You can find the guidelines here: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/events/writers-in-residence/submission-guidelines


Amy Sumner has been asking former writers in residence to summarise their feelings about their residencies, and here is mine. If I’d had more space (brevity was important as it had to fit on my book cover) I would have added that being a Gladstone writer is a lifelong experience. I’ve attended workshops by other poets either side of my own residency, and been back to use the library. I’ve been invited back to read at both Gladfest and Hearth, to my great joy, and have enjoyed a few short breaks there besides. The library itself is a real proper old-fashioned library where there is silence so profound, one can hear the books whispering in their different languages. The bedrooms are cosy and all have desks, so work can happen at any time. While you can have peace and solitude in the library and your room, you can find company in the dining room or the Gladstone room, with its squashy leather sofas and a big square table with the daily papers. When I was in residence, I used to take my post-lunch pot of tea in there and read the papers before heading back to the library. For fresh air, there are plenty of nice walks locally, and a rather lovely church next door with some famous stained glass windows. The village of Hawarden is small but pleasant and has all you need including several pubs.

If you want to read more about how I spend my time there, you can find my three blog posts, as well as ones by other, here: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/news/volumes/glad-be-gladstones-angela-topping


I got loads done when I was there. Problems I was stuck on melted away as my focus improved. I wrote some new poems as well as completing my book on John Clare, and edited three pamphlet anthologies I’d been putting off doing. I gave individual written feedback to the writing group that meets there. I led a whole day workshop, and did an evening reading as well as an evening talk. The combination of interfacing with the public and having silent time really worked for me.

Seriously, apply. You won’t regret it.



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All a Cat Can Be #6 anthologies my poems were included in in 2018


Sharon Larkin posted on Facebook about wanting to do something to help her local cat rescue, and coming up with the idea of a charity anthology of poetry for them. I don’t see myself as a cat person but I hate the thought of any animal suffering, plus cats, despite my ambivalent feelings towards them in general, though I have known and loved many individual ones, seem to keep slinking into my poems. I prefer the big wild cats, but I can understand why people want to have pet cats, as they are strokeable and cute. I do admire the superior attitude cats display to the world, and something about them fascinates me, so I sent Sharon a few poems. In the end she chose my children’s poem, ‘Savoy Hotel Cat’, which is in the voice of the cat that hotel kept to  set a place for to avoid there being 13 at the table, and the cat actually used to sit there with a bib on, on a dining chair, to eat. Naturally this made the cat even MORE superior. My poem has had other outings so I won’t include it here.
Sharon Larkin and Sheila Macintyre have assembled a goodly collection of poems here, and as a bonus included some great colour photographs of very pretty kitties, used as section dividers. The book is organised into sections, which breaks down the reading, and gives a sense of connection between poems. Sections include ‘Waifs and Strays’, ‘Whatever the Weather’ and that tricky one ‘Saying Goodbye’.

It’s always hard reviewing an anthology, because one doesn’t want to single out some poems at the expense of others, but I am going to mention a few of my personal favourites. ‘Seconds’ by Melanie Branton, uses language full of fun and invention, to bring life to her ‘roguish stowaway pirate’ of a cat rescued with his ‘more marketable symmetrical brother’. Angi Holden’s ‘Temporary Home’ about a car who came for a few days and stayed for 18 years, aptly called Rags, I found moving, as it shows how these animals can hook themselves into our hearts without us really noticing. I relished Lesley Quayle’s ‘Of Cats and Fish’ for its lack of sentimentality and its cheeky quote from Burns, and the tenderness  of memory, and Alison Brackenbury’s ‘Spotted’ poem about the feral hunting cat, which is written in quatrains with deft rhymes. Anne Drysdale’s poem about an unlovely but loved old cat, I found very beautiful, with lines like ‘busy feet treading the  slow mills of God’ . Jessica Mookherjee’s sonnet based on Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s ‘ How do I Love Thee’, ‘The Cat Lover’ similarly moves me. Mavis Moog’s ‘Catterel’, about an awkward cat, is witty and  the clever rhymes enhance that humour. Phil Knight’s poem ‘Ginger Cat’ gave me pleasure. I enjoyed both of Sarah J Bryson’s poems in the last section, and Rachel Clyne and Patrick B Osada contribute heart-breaking poems about the loss of cats – a topic which is almost a cliche, but they make it new and particular. I almost forgot to mention Jayne Stanton’s ‘A Kenning for Kitty’. I love seeing kennings and this is a really good one.

This anthology is family friendly and has many poems which are accessible to children. It reaches beyond the usual audience for poetry anthologies and would be enjoyed by all cat lovers, or people like me who have never had a cat, but admire them from afar.  It is £8.95, available from  https://eithonbridge.com/anthologies/


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Bonnie’s Crew #5 Anthologies of 2018 my poems appeared in


Bonnie’s Crew is a tiny anthology with a huge purpose. When poet and editor Kate Garrett gave birth to her precious daughter Bonnie Melissa, she needed the care of Leeds Congenital Hearts. Thankfully, Bonnie is fine and thriving – and just turned one year old, but Kate Garrett was so appreciative of their care, and so empathetic with other parents whose child needed help, she decided to bring out an anthology in support of the unit as a fund-raiser. She also runs a blog of the same name and is still accepting submissions for that.

This darling little A6 pamphlet anthology is a little jewel. The artwork is by Marija Smits, and it’s a striking cover, but also eminently suitable as Bonnie is named for a famous pirate, Ann Bonny, as anyone who has read Garrett’s pamphlet Deadly, Delicate (Picaroon) knows. 

The resulting anthology is full of poems about courage, heart, childhood and hope. Louisa Campbell excels at verbs; the child in her poem can ‘wobble’, ‘splunch’ and ‘spin’ in her play, while her mother has to ‘flame away the dark’ at night. (Sandbags) Sharon Larkin writes of a mother ‘praying in tongues’ as her very ill newborn suckles ‘half-heartedly’, both literally and metaphorically true, as the baby has a suspected heart defect. Maureen Weldon’s poem of hope, ‘Midnight Robin’, is one I have always been fond of, and Finola Scott has an utterly gorgeous poem about feeling her daughter’s child move: ‘feel in my daughter/ her daughter dance beneath my hands’, similar to Angi Holden’s golden grandchild moment of her daughter ringing her to say she’d heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Ben Banyard, like every parent, lives in fear of anything happening to his young ones or his wife, an anxiety I can empathise with as it has never left me since my first child was placed in my arms.

My own poem in here is a short and previously unseen by anyone poem about the wonders of what’s inside our bodies, a topic I am trying to write more poems about.

Copies can be bought here: https://bonnieandcrew.wordpress.com/

It makes a lovely little gift even for those who are not into poetry, as it is very accessible and enthralling.

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22 Wagons #4 anthologies my work appeared in in 2018


How I came to be in this anthology was something of a miracle, and most unexpected. Danijela Trajković contacted me to ask permission to translate some of my poems into Serbian. I am not sure how she stumbled across my poetry, but her anthology of translations includes Fiona Sampson. Pippa Little, John Greening, Wendy Klein, Richard Skinner and George Szirtes, as well as myself. It is called 22 Wagons, The Collection of Anglophone Poets of 21st Century.

Danijela translated my poems ‘The Glass Swan’, ‘How to Capture a Poem’, and ‘What Became of the Black Piano’. I am sure her translations are wonderful. Unfortunately I can’t read Serbian but feel so honoured to think I can now be read in that language. I share a lot of my ethics of truth and clarity with Danijela, so I know her translations will have caught the spirit of the poems.

I love the cover too. It’s a wonderful thing to have the book on my ‘Angela Topping’ shelves.

I am not sure where to purchase a copy, but I am sure Danijela can help.


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Opening Words (The Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature) #3 Anthologies I was in in 2018

20190117_123537Another competition anthology I was lucky to get into was Opening Words, from the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature. (University of Chester Press 2018). Both prose and poetry can be entered, but very few poems seem to make it into the anthologies, though I have no way of knowing what proportion of entries fell into either genre. A few years back, I won a prize with my poem ‘Maggoty Johnson’. I was astonished on the night and thrilled to get a hug from Tony Robinson, who was presenting the prizes. My poem was the only one out of the top five entries: the other four were all stories. This time around, there were other poems in the anthology. This time, there were four poems included out of 15 texts, and all the winning pieces were prose. Apart from mine, all the other poems were funny rhyming poems. So I was proud of that.

I went to the launch, in the beautiful riverside building of Chester University, with wonderful views from the balcony. It was a lovely event, though sadly, my name didn’t come out of the hat to read my poem, because all the contributors’ names were put in, even though not all attended. I never have luck getting my name pulled from hats – it must be heavy and sinks to the bottom. Phil Redmond happened to be there, because he’s married to the mayor who was presenting the anthologies. He’s a real gentleman, showed a lot of interest in everyone’s writing. Another lovely thing was one of the other poetry contributors came with his friend as a plus one, someone I used to teach years ago in my FE classes. So it was marvellous to see her again and hear her news. I hadn’t seen her since 1992.

It’s funny how a theme can often emerge even when none was set. The editor Simon Poole commented that ‘having a touch of magic was perhaps the defining characteristic for all the entries selected for this year’s volume’.

The Cheshire Prize is a wonderful institution and I do try to enter it whenever I can. It is free to enter and anyone who has lived or worked in Cheshire is eligible.

This is my poem:


No buckets and spades,
no hunting for shells:

this is a shingle beach,
a pebble hill;

but there’s stones to skim,
walls to be built.

Sort pebbles into size,
count their colours:

blue, grey, yellow,
red, white and black.

Listen to their clatter
and clack.

Sand can’t make
a noise like that!

It was written after visiting Seaton Bay in Devon, on a visit to my friend, the fantastic poet Jan Dean.

Where to buy a copy: https://storefront.chester.ac.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=12_13&products_id=768


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Wolverhampton Literature Festival Poetry Anthology 2018 #2 Anthologies I was in in 2018

20190117_223843 (1)Another anthology I was pleased to be in this year was the Wolverhampton Literature Festival Poetry Anthology 2018. I rarely enter competitions but this one appealed to me, and it was judged by Emma Purshouse, a poet I respect enormously. It was the first competition for this fairly new festival, and the theme was ‘Out of Darkness’, which also appealed to me as it could be interpreted very widely. The competition was run by Write Out Loud, a tremendous organisation which helps bring poets to the audiences. As Emma Purshouse says in her report: ‘I’ve included poems that made me wonder about something, the ones that made me look the ordinary in a different way, those that gave me a history lesson, and those that made me want to go and look at a piece of artwork or a photo’. The competition winner was Rachel Plummer. Her poem is ‘Iris, the Oldest Particle Physicist at CERN’. I don’t really understand the technology, but the poem is very accomplished, a pleasure to read. Ros Wolner in second place, has a fabulously rich poem, in contrast with the pared down first prize, called ‘Sack of Night’, in which the reader is invited to reach inside a draw string bag to experience all the creatures, sights, smells of night. Caroline Bracken, in third places, writes about the darkness of mental health issues. It’s a bleak poem in five sections, with jerky syntax, telegrammatic language, and it’s about being detained by the mental health act in a secure environment. Joint third is Phil Binding, with a poem about being scared of the dark – I can empathise. It’s a poem full of speech, and a touching memory of his father, telling him about the darkness of the mine when the lamps are out, and instead of the father trying to make the child lose his fear, he admits he is scared of the dark too, a far better response. Another third prize went to Terry Jones, for his poem about what it must be like to be an octopus, an unusual angle, and he manages to give the creature a voice that is convincing.

My poem is at the start of the shortlisted poems section, by virtue of my first name starting with an A. I like this egalitarian way of ordering the poems. My poem is a futuristic one, in which my house is being excavated by historians, and it was quite fun to write, though it took a fair amount of editing before I entered it. I can’t mention every poem in detail, but I was pleased to see several friends in here, such as Peter Branson and Roger Elkin, who I know in person, and Stephen Jackson, Sharon Black and Di Slaney, whom I know online. Anthologies like this serve to introduce readers to poets they may not have heard of before, or who may not even have been published much before. Because competitions are judged anonymously, everyone who enters has an equal chance.

I am not sure whether there are any copies of the anthology left, but if you are interested in obtaining a copy, contact http://wolvesliteraturefestival.co.uk/home/4593160946 or www.writeoutloud.net

The results of this year’s competition have just been announced. I missed the deadline this year, but huge congratulations to all those who were placed and shortlisted.


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