Winners! September/October Readers’ and Editor’s Choice Poems

The winner of the September/October poll for the Readers’ Choice Award is:

Contact Lens – by Kirsten Luckins

…and the fabled prize mug will soon be on its way to Hartlepool.

The Editor’s Choice Poem is:

The Journey – by Moira Garland

selected by Tom Weir who said:

“When Paul asked me to pick the editor’s choice I was delighted. I was a little unsure what to expect and conscious of the subjectivity of the task I was about to take on, that my choice might not be someone else’s choice. This was certainly true when I was sent the poems and realised the size of the task I was about to undertake.

I’ve learned a lot through reading these poems and have got something out of each but, early on, three stood out for me. With the poems being quite different in tone and subject-matter, and myself being incredibly indecisive as a person at the best of times, my choice has changed with my mood, the time of day I’ve read the poems, what other things have been going on at the time of reading… It’s been tough to just pick one but I’m really happy with my choice.

The poem I’ve picked is The Journey. This is a beautiful poem— one of those poems that doesn’t put a foot wrong and one that achieves that rare quality of getting you on an emotional and intellectual level.

I love the language in this poem, the imagery and close observation, the detail and register that make this poem all the more powerful. The poet’s way with words and ability to shift tone is richly rewarding and isn’t an easy thing to achieve:

We all know about bones
and flesh, the time they take.

Being handed the subject of the poem at the very start gives extra weight to each phrase and this responsibility is handled with a deft touch and great skill— nowhere more than so than in the lines above which I find striking. I also love the image at the beginning of the poem of the chest becoming railway maps. The whole poem is a journey of a kind and it’s fitting that it ends with the close image of the leather seats of a car, cracked with age.

The defiance of the last line is moving yet richly rewarding— the seats wanting to give up but the writer not letting them, not letting herself.

Thanks Paul for inviting me to do this and thanks to all the poets for lending me your poems, which have brought me so much pleasure and provided company on trains, buses, in cafes and at home. I would have been delighted to have written any one of them.


Review (ish) – The Happy Bus, Louisa Campbell


The opening dedication of The Happy Bus reads:

To anyone who has ever had to run away

…and I was hooked already. This is likely to apply to around 99% of poets so Louisa is onto a winner with that one…. According to the blurb on the back she “charts the bumpy ride from dissociation, through anger, depression and anxiety, to clarity, peace and joy”. OK, you’ve still got my attention. Her poem It’s alright begins with the line

you are not your thoughts

and either that will ring big bells in your head or it won’t. If it does, you might like this book of poems.

I once stumbled across a simplified description of the process of psychotherapy, which paraphrased goes something like…

  1. Figure out you’re an asshole.
  2. Figure out you’re no bigger an asshole than anyone else.
  3. Quit worrying about being an asshole.
  4. Quit judging others for being assholes.
  5. Get on with your life.

…which is about right, and perhaps whether this kind of poetry works for a third party reader will depend on which perspective it is written from. Louisa Campbell is clearly getting on with her life, and has something worth saying.

Sometimes modern therapeutic practices are compared to certain aspects of Buddhism. The best example is maybe Kuòān Shīyuǎn’s Ten Bulls (on which there is a decent wiki article here), a series of ten short poems and illustrations depicting the path to enlightenment (a.k.a. mental health), and I found Louisa’s ‘charting’ to be akin to that journey from ‘glimpsing the ox’ through the merging/absence of observer and ox, through to the endpoint of returning to society. But in her book, this is distilled from the everyday rather than obscurantist eastern philosophy and, as such, is wonderful.

Also, the cover has a blue-and-pink VW camper van. Driven by happy dogs. If that doesn’t make you want to buy it, the world is doomed, I tell you, doomed.

Jogging on the Wii-fit – by Louise Wilford


He’s there, old Bill, my father-in-law –
grey hair round a bald pate – sweating as he strives
to pass me – wearing shorts and a t-shirt, nothing
like he ever wore when he was still alive.

And there’s Asbo, my cat; grinning in a way
his face could never grin when blood
pumped round his frame; displaying stamina
he never had. As if some god

had re-cast them in pixels, Nintendo-ised
their forms to weave them still into my days.
Old emails, not deleted; texts kept; the Facebook
ghosts who linger, waiting to degrade.

As if a part of them still breathes.
They never change, imprisoning the past
in crayon colours, blanding out the flaws,
the errors, saving some of them from being lost.

There’s Anna, whom I haven’t seen in years –
She’s nicer here; her smile more sweet, more kind.
And there’s the man with whom my niece once lived
before she left him for his friend.

And Dave, my husband’s pal from Huddersfield;
my best mate’s kids are jogging through the farm,
and there’s the friend I haven’t spoken to in months;
and there’s my sister’s dog. All coming home.

These virtual friends, these avatars, these fakes –
who were inspired by flesh, but never swear
or cringe or weep or scream – still squeeze
a jolt from deep inside my gut as they appear.




Louise Wilford has been writing poetry and prose since childhood and has had poems published in a variety of literary magazines including Agenda, Acumen, South, OWP, The Stinging Fly and Pushing Out The Boat.  She has also won or been shortlisted for numerous competitions including the National Poetry Competition and the Templar Poetry Pamphlet Competition. She works as an English teacher and A Level examiner, and lives in Yorkshire.  She is currently writing a children’s fantasy novel.

Blawhard – by Beth McDonough


What if the next storm hates
his name, blows tired of the south, just
blusters up here?

What if he refills winter
into wee lace spaces, litters
brown paper from beeches?

What if he frisbees slates
slant at that earth, already knife
bright with bulbs?

What if he swings on my neighbour’s tall fir
so hard that it parts
from the roots?

What if he smashes their glass –yes
bams every pane in their precious
conservatory- sit-ootery?

What if he hangs
my line-drying knickers
pink on its thistle-fine finial?

What then? What then? What if
some big wind did all that
and then just
                                                          blew away?





Beth McDonough has a background in Silversmithing and teaching, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University. Recently Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts, she reviews for DURA. Her work is strongly connected to place, particularly the Tay, where she swims. Handfast, (with Ruth Aylett, May 2016) explores autism and dementia.

Time to Vote – Sept/Oct Readers’ Choice Poem

Over the last two months all the published poems have been well received, but the five that have generated the most reader response (across all platforms) are these, and they are shortlisted for the coveted Algebra of Owls prize mug. Please vote and make a poet happy today.

The poll will close with the announcement of the winning poem on 12th November.


Arguing with Angels – by Peter Wyton


Arguing with angels isn’t easy.
Schumann tried it. So did Joan of Arc.
Visionary maid and virtuoso
found the process to be horses’ work.

Angels do not usually hobnob
at social celebrations. They fly
over, clap their hands to quell the hubbub,
say what they’ve been sent to say, then go.

Angels have a tendency to chuck rocks
when they want to emphasise a point.
Or they’ll wrestle with you till your back aches.
Into non-violence angels aren’t.

Frankly, it’s not worth opposing angels,
super-heroes of the heavenly host,
irresistible as toppling anvils.
I bit one once. The bastard broke my wrist.



Peter Wyton failed in algebra, geometry and arithmetic in his  junior certificate examinations. You had to pass at least two mathematics exams to proceed to senior school, so he left and joined the R.A.F.

Editorial – Book Round-up

gillGill Lambert’s poem Birth Plan remains the most accessed/read poem to have been published on Algebra of Owls. I was therefore quite excited when her debut pamphlet Uninvited Guests was published this year by Indigo Dreams. The word which sprang to mind as I read it was assured. Given my status as fully paid-up miserable bugger, I have to say that many debuts leave me feeling that I want to see where this is all going, and wanting to see the second book when it appears, but Gill’s pamphlet hits the ground running. Her observations of the ordinary emotional minutiae of life are razor-sharp and poignantly expressed. I consider it  to be the best ‘first book’ I have read this year.

bethWe have now accepted three poems by Beth McDonough on the site. I first encountered Beth in the pages of Agenda magazine, and with her poems was immediately struck by her quirky diction, which has an immediate and vivid appeal. So much so that I purchased a copy of Handfast, which she co-wrote with Ruth Aylett, published by Mother’s Milk. The book explores family experiences of autism (McDonough) and dementia (Aylett). I have a personal interest in these themes – I have an autistic son and both of my parents descended into dementia – and these poems expertly capture these experiences without descending into self-indulgence or sentimentality. I’d also mention that you can buy books from Mother’s Milk as pdf files at a very reasonable price, if you are happy with screen reading, and they also have books by other excellent poets like Angela Topping and Becky Cherriman. Plus Alison Lock, whose work has previously featured on Algebra of Owls.

IMG_0643Finally, prior to the appointment of Hannah Stone as a co-editor here, I published a number of her poems. Her second collection Missing Miles won the Indigo Dreams 2016 Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize and is highly recommended. This is a collection primarily about place. Both physical and emotional geographies are deftly explored and the book makes you feel as though you have been invited along on a journey of sorts, in the most affable of company. Five stars.