A Good Executioner – by Gill Lambert


I think about you. Your little neck,
bloodless cheeks, the guilt
of your Motherhood,
a small ‘goodbye’ at dawn.

He was silent, barefoot,
bewildering. So you
never knew which side
he took you from.

I wonder about you. My hand
on your leg, mouth watering
at the thought of you.
The way you made me wait.




Gill Lambert is a teacher and poet from Yorkshire. She has been widely published online and in print and her pamphlet Uninvited Guests was published last year by Indigo Dreams. She runs the poetry night ‘Shaken in Sheeptown’ in Skipton.

Number Crunching, News & Mark Connors

We have completed the selection process for the last batch of poems, and I would once again like to thank Mark Connors for standing in as a guest co-editor while we firmed up a new permanent addition to the team. We are in the process of sending out all the responses as I write. The first new work will be posted this Friday 13th July, and it will be business as usual from then on.

We believe in transparency in the editorial process, and I thought I would publish some statistics for the period from 1st January 2017 up to 30th June 2018 (which obviously includes the brief period when the magazine was dormant).

Submissions received: 951
Poems received: 2,481

Number of submissions accepted: 136 (14.3% of those received)
Number of poems accepted: 147 (5.93% of those received)

Radio Show


Today on the Word Club Sunday Sessions radio show I join Mark Connors and Gill Lambert to talk about Algebra Of Owls, read some poetry from past contributors (including by new co-editor Alicia Fernández) and poetry stuff in general. I even read one of my own poems which happens about as often as hell freezes over. Some music, too  

Word Club Sunday Sessions – Paul Vaughan and Algebra of Owls

The Love and Loss of Poetry

It is a truism that all poetry is ultimately about love and loss, simply expressed in a myriad ways. And don’t I know it. Every month the Algebra of Owls inbox slowly fills with love and loss, spilling out from the screen, across the floor and down the stairs. I see it flow. It can seem heartless to send a rejection email in response to a poem about loss.

The book The Examined Life (How We Lose and Find Ourselves) by Stephen Grosz is a collection of anonymous vignettes about the patients of a psychotherapist, which slowly illuminates the many facets of loss and how in many ways we are all defined by it, one way or another.

I find this to be true. My own experience of psychotherapy many years ago was exactly that, the recognition of a loss that at the time I had no idea had even occurred, and my subsequent failure to grieve for it, or even know I needed to. How to do it. Without grief, as troubled as it is, we cannot forgive and remain haunted.

And so we write, in part. It’s hard. Harder than the algebra of owls. 


I’m on a bit of a roll with posting favourite poems…. Charles Bukowski gets a lot of stick, mainly for his habit of publishing far too many collections so his gems were often lost in a sea of mediocrity. Selected Works is the way to go with him. The other week I was inspired to dig out  For Jane: With All The Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough on my ‘phone for a friend as it remains one of (in my opinion) the best poems about grief ever written.

But here I am going to post up a better known poem (if you read American poetry). It is one close to my heart that I once scrawled in chalk in foot high letters in Sheaf Square, Sheffield outside the train station at 2 a.m. when quite drunk and having a bad day.



there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do

Collapsing Poem – Kim Addonizio

During the AoO Radio Show that will be going out on air on Sunday, I briefly discussed with Mark Connors certain things I like or dislike in poetry. In truth, there are no rules in poetry. Almost anything can work if it is executed deftly, as it is the execution that matters.

The trick of writing autobiographically in the third person came up, and sometimes even that can be a winner. Kim Addonizio plays with it beautifully here.


Collapsing Poem

The woman stands on the front steps, sobbing.
The man stays just inside the house,
leaning against the doorjamb. It’s late, a wet
fog has left a sheer film over the windows
of cars along the street. The woman is drunk.
She begs the man, but he won’t let her in.
Say it matters what happened between them;
say you can’t judge whose fault this all is,
given the lack of context, given your own failures
with those you meant most to love.
Or maybe you don’t care about them yet.
Maybe you need some way
to put yourself in the scene, some minor detail
that will make them seem so real you try to enter
this page to keep them from doing
to each other what you’ve done to someone,
somewhere: think about that for a minute,
while she keeps crying, and he speaks
in a voice so measured and calm he might be
talking to a child frightened by something
perfectly usual: darkness, thunder,
the coldness of the human heart.
But she’s not listening, because now
she’s hitting him, beating her fists against the chest
she laid her head on so many nights.
And by now, if you’ve been moved, it’s because
you’re thinking with regret of the person
this poem set out to remind you of,
and what you want more than anything is what
the man in the poem wants: for her to shut up.
And if you could only drive down that street
and emerge from the fog, maybe you
could get her to stop, but I can’t do it.
All I can do is stand at that open door
making things worse. That’s my talent,
that’s why this poem won’t get finished unless
you drag me from it, away from that man;
for Christ’s sake, hurry up, just pull up and keep
the motor running and take me wherever you’re going.

Meet the New Co-Editor

I’m delighted to announce that we have appointed a new third Co-Editor who will be joining Nick Allen and myself on the Algebra of Owls team. We are looking forward to this.


Alicia Fernández is a translator, interpreter and poet from Andalucía now adopted by Yorkshire. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies and in magazines like Dream Catcher, Bunbury and Strix. Her debut pamphlet ‘If Moments Were Places’ was published by Half Moon Books in 2017. She won the inaugural title of Chapbook Champion at Ilkley Literature Festival 2017, awarded by former BBC Poet in Residence Daljit Nagra. In 2018, her poem ‘Tangier’ was commended in Prole’s Laureate Poetry Competition. She lives with her cat Harold and loves artichokes, cave hunting with her father and re-watching Twin Peaks. She will be starting a PhD in Comparative Literature in the autumn to study the poetry of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. She’s interested in poems that prevent us from ever looking at a particular thing the same way after reading them – be it something as complex as grief or as simple as making a cup of coffee; poems that take something from us but place something of much value in its place.


Another Poem? Sure!

Talking about hefting clubs and chasing mammoths yesterday turned my mind to another of my favourite poems, by Alden Nowlan. It was written quite a while ago (this one is from the sixties, I believe) so it is necessary to turn a blind eye to the title’s wording, which might now be considered offensive. As for the mammoths, you’ll have to read through to the end. 


He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded

I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded,
a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band
that was met at the door by a child in a man’s body
who asked them, “Are you the surprise they promised us?”

It’s Ryan’s Fancy, Dermot on guitar,
Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whistle.
In the eyes of this audience, they’re everybody
who has ever appeared on TV. I’ve been telling lies
to a boy who cried because his favourite detective
hadn’t come with us; I said he had sent his love
and, no, I didn’t think he’d mind if I signed his name

to a scrap of paper: when the boy took it, he said,
“Nobody will ever get this away from me,”
in the voice, more hopeless than defiant,
of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places
have been discovered, used to having objects snatched
out of his hands. Weeks from now I’ll send him
another autograph, this one genuine
in the sense of having been signed by somebody
on the same payroll as the star.
Then I’ll feel less ashamed. Now everyone is singing,
“Old MacDonald had a farm,” and I don’t know what to do
about the young woman (I call her a woman
because she’s twenty-five at least, but think of her
as a little girl, she plays the part so well,
having known no other), about the young woman who
sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder.

It’s nine o’clock in the morning, not an hour for music.
And, at the best of times, I’m uncomfortable
in situations where I’m ignorant
of the accepted etiquette: it’s one thing
to jump a fence, quite another thing to blunder
into one in the dark. I look around me
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress.
They’re all busy elsewhere, “Hold me,” she whispers. “Hold me.”

I put my arm around her. “Hold me tighter.”
I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect
someone in authority to grab her
of me: I can imagine this being remembered
for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer
publicly fondled the poor retarded girl.
“Hold me,” she says again. What does it matter
what anybody thinks? I put my arm around her,
rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children,
real children, and of how they say it, “Hold me,”
and of a patient in a geriatric ward
I once heard crying out to his mother, dead
for half a century, “I’m frightened! Hold me!”
and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach
at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy’s arms,
of Frieda gripping Lawrence’s ankle
until he sailed off in his Ship of Death.

It’s what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss.)

Yet, it’s what we all want, in the end,
not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
not to be famous, not to be feared,
not even to be loved, but simply to be held.

She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her.
We are brother and sister, father and daughter,
mother and son, husband and wife.
We are lovers. We are two human beings
huddled together for a little while by the fire
in the Ice Age, two thousand years ago.


Alden Nowlan

Re-Launch Update

Our extended re-launch submission window closed on Saturday 30th June and we are busy sifting through all the work you have kindly sent us to consider for publication. We expect the first new work to be posted around the middle of July, and hope you are looking forward to that as much as we are.

Our submissions never sleep though, and all those received from 1st July onwards will be reviewed for potential publication at the end of July, according to our normal monthly schedule.

Last Sunday I had the personal pleasure and opportunity to record a radio show to talk about Algebra of Owls and read a few poems from past contributors. This will be aired on Sunday 8th July, and I will be posting a link here as soon as it is available. Watch this space!

In the interim I thought I would post up one of my favourite canonical poems. Referencing – whether cultural, literary or geographical – in poems is a double-edged sword. It can firmly fix a poem in a particular place or time, and can demonstrate the place from which the poet speaks. Over time, writing itself can form a living social history from the clues and signposts that writers leave us. However, the more detailed and specific those references become, the more potential readers may be excluded. Not always a bad thing, you may sometimes specifically want to address work to a certain group (but even then I prefer work that works as a window and allows others to “see in”) although I will never perhaps be entirely comfortable with poems that exclude readers who have simply lacked opportunity and privilege, especially educational privilege.

However, sometimes you get a poem that is universal. Where the poet has bent over backwards to make sure that anyone of any age, gender or culture is going to get it. Where we are talking about something that has barely changed since we were hefting clubs and hunting mammoths. Those kind of poems can really sing to me, and this is one of those.


Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.


Derek Walcott