Autumn Voices was delighted to provide a platform for the inspiring and thoughtful Living Our Dying competition, in partnership with Playspace Publications. We were honoured to have experienced writers and editors, Sukhema (aka Larry Butler) and Sheila Templeton as both judges of the competition and able hosts of the finalists’ event.
The competition received both poem and prose entries from all over the UK and we were thrilled to see a large online gathering to watch the results being announced and join us for readings from the winners and the hosts. People joined us from as far south as London to as far north as Aberdeen and the Highlands, and we even had someone join us all the way from Portland, Oregon.
We’re always happy to establish even more creative connections and we hope you were able to tune in live for the event, but fear not if you couldn’t make it! We recorded the event so you didn’t miss out, and you can find it below.
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If you’re having competition FOMO, you’ll be pleased to know our annual poetry competition is now open.
Eyes by June Webster
June Webster is retired Accounts Manager, a poet and short story writer. She lived in Rome, Italy, for twelve years where her hobbies were painting in oils and acrylics, writing the occasional poem and attempting to write a novel. She continued to paint when she returned to the UK but gave it up to care for her youngest daughter Natascia when she became disabled, due to an auto-immune illness.
After Natascia died, June turned to writing, did a course on the Open College of the Arts, then on to Morley College and City Lit in London, where she rediscovered her love for poetry and is currently getting together a book of poems for her Natascia. Her poems have been published in South Bank Poetry, Dulwich OnView, Morley Poets First Anthology, Lighten Up Online, Second Light live, Dreich Magazine and Haiku Journal. She was short-listed for the Plumstead Poet Laureate. She is Rep for the Greenwich Meantime Stanza.
After Elaine Feinstein First time I held you against my heart, all six pounds, your eyes squinted up at me. I thought I would die for love. Sit where I can see you, you said as you lay in the bed. Your tiny fist fastened on my forefinger, while you fed, your eyes peered into mine. I would have given you my life. Sit where I can see you, you said, so I can look into your eyes, You gazed into my eyes while I read you goodnight stories. When I tried to teach you about life, I never taught you about death. Sit where I can see you, you said, so I can look into your eyes, then I won’t feel afraid.
R.I.P by Kay Ritchie
Kay’s life might be that of the steel ball in a pinball machine, sent in different directions with every strike. She grew up in Glasgow and Edinburgh, lived in London, Spain and Portugal, and worked as a freelance photographer and radio producer.
She took part in the Clydebuilt programme in 2014 and she’s been published in numerous anthologies, chap books and magazines. She produced a hand-made book, 10 poems and 4 photographs – ‘I’ve been eating Iberia’ – and her work has appeared in a Historic Scotland film, an installation in Pollock Country Park and the Burns’ windows in Dumfries, as well as a couple of archives.
Kay came 3rd in the Federation of Writers (Scotland) poetry competition 2013, was longlisted for York Literature Festival Poetry competition 2014 and shortlisted for the CRM Society’s ‘Letters to Mackintosh’ competition 2020.
She has performed at various events, including Aye Write, Billion Women Rising, Women’s Aid 40th Anniversary, 100 Poets read 100 Poems, Scottish Refugee Week, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Inverness Film Festival.
Kay likes to dance and paint and walks everywhere. In the summer of 2019, she walked the Portuguese coastal Camino from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. In 2023 she hopes to walk the Hebridean Way across 10 Scottish islands.
(for ‘Kitty’, 18 July 1920–8 Dec 2015) Often, as she drowsed in her chair, chin to chest, I’d wheedle, peck at memories, pick at threadbare scraps, unmaking, remaking past into present, for she’d mislaid her song & wandered note to note – a sea-sob here, a crawl of crofts there, couthy cousins & fragments she’d tried to rub out but which clung & clutched like sticky willies. So, she’d clam up, like the Crab she was. She should have been a wound of a woman. She’d wrestled the world, but she’d won & I wanted to piece together her up-down-jumbled story – the marriage certificate, no record of father, the place of birth for unmarried mothers, the swaddled baby on her father’s doorstep, the condemnation, the deviation, the guilty secret. Yet there were no sharp edges to her voice. She took words into her mouth to warm them then K she’d say & it was the bonniest sound which took the edge off guddled-up emotions & told of her gratitude, for she hadn’t ended in a poor house or asylum as so many did. So, when I took her home to dig up our roots in Port Charlotte museum with its parish records, its hidden stories, she liked better to gaze towards the Paps, guzzle fish and chips from paper pokes, hop on school buses, to shoogle-shoggle to beaches & distilleries, scrutinize archaeological finds – Mesolithic and Neolithic times, the Bronze & Iron ages, pages of illustrated books, old black and white photos. And, when I tried to find faces that resembled ours, she conveniently forgot dates, details, said we were digging for ‘a friend’. In the end it was a barren quest. Time to let it rest. And her.
Not There by Glyn Matthews
Glyn Matthews was born in 1952, in Devon. He has been married to Jennifer for 43 years and they have two children and four amazing grandchildren. They live below ‘The Cloud’ hill, an outcrop of the Pennines, next to the Macclesfield canal in Cheshire.
He originally trained as a graphic designer but decided to pursue a teaching career, specialising in Art, English and Drama.
In 1982, Glyn invented a unique way of producing a fine-art print and used the process to begin a new career as a professional artist, leaving teaching in 1989 to exhibit his work all over the British Isles at Craft & Design shows.
By that time, Jennifer had given up her career to concentrate on the children who were five and four respectively. When Glyn informed his father-in-law that he was to become an itinerant artist, he called him a fool. His exact words were … ‘You’re a fool!’
Glyn has been a happy fool ever since.
Some years ago, Glyn began to integrate poetry with his art and now, writing poetry, flash fiction and short stories has become his passion. He started entering competitions tentatively last year and has had some success.
I thought I saw you standing in the queue, your fingers gently touched your hat’s soft brim, your face half hidden though I’m sure you wore your morning smile. I couldn’t help myself and pressed my face against the glass, but, too full to stop, my bus went sailing past. At lunchtime across the little stream that feeds the lake I thought I saw you sitting in the cherry’s dapple shade eating a sandwich and though too far off, I raised my hand to wave, but by the time I’d hurried round, the bench was bare, just fallen petals in your wake were there. A mild October evening and in the skitter of the fallen leaves I thought I heard you call my name. I turned to look but only saw some laughing children’s game. Now, in winter moonlight I wake and see you standing by the curtain. My heart cries out though my head is certain ... you’re not there.
Fleeto’s Funeral by Tom Langlands
Tom Langlands was born in Dundee, Scotland. He graduated with a B.Sc. in Architecture and a B.Arch (Hons) from Dundee University and an M.Arch – in architectural semiotics – from Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. In parallel with his academic studies, he developed a serious interest in writing, photography and philosophy. These skills have merged to create a desire to understand and explore how we perceive the world we live in.
Having retired in 2013 from the architectural practice he co-founded in 1988, Tom now spends his time writing and taking photographs. He is a regular photojournalist contributor to the North American magazine Celtic Life International and his work has appeared in numerous publications at home and abroad.
Tom’s images have received commendations and awards in the British Wildlife Photography Awards and the Scottish Nature Photography Awards and have been exhibited at the Scottish International Salon of Photography and the Edinburgh International Exhibition of Photography. He has also held several solo photography exhibitions. His poetry has appeared in print and online in Southlight, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine and The Blue Nib. He often uses his photography as inspiration for his writing.
It was the death of a goldfish thirty years ago that changed my perception of life and death. Our children were seven and five years old when Fleeto was found floating upside down in the fish tank. I don’t think it was their first pet to have died but it was the first when they were old enough to understand better the concept of death. A mix of sadness and morbid curiosity prevailed as Fleeto’s lifeless body was removed from the tank in a small net. A discussion followed about why we couldn’t keep a dead goldfish and the options for disposing of it. With the possibility of flushing it down the toilet being met with consternation it was agreed that Fleeto be buried in the garden. So it was that on a warm summer day a hole was dug, flowers were picked, and the family gathered to witness Fleeto’s mortal remains being placed in the ground along with some petals, bits of grass and anything else the children deemed appropriate. Following some kind words about the joy Fleeto had brought us all the hole was filled in. Shortly afterwards life returned to normal, and the children were soon playing happily in the garden. Later that afternoon, our youngest appeared in the kitchen with a puzzled face, ‘Mum, you know you said Fleeto had gone to heaven.’ ‘Yes, darling,’ replied my wife. Well, he hasn’t. We dug him up. He’s still there.’ In that instant I knew that in an effort to explain the demise of a pet we had perpetuated one of the myths of death. Grief is an inevitable part of parting but our well-intentioned approach that sunny but sad, summer day has troubled me for thirty years. We sold the children the philosophical concept, adopted by some world religions, that the body and soul are different things. They were too young to understand and for them the easy test of proof was to dig the goldfish up. Further attempts to explain what must have seemed an obvious lie only dug the proverbial hole deeper. Since then, I have struggled to accept the philosophical or religious explanations of what constitutes life, the soul or consciousness and how it is married to a physical entity that inevitably dies. I cannot accept that the sole purpose of life is to pave the way for some unprovable, future existence. For me life is not a linear process with a beginning and an end. The atoms that form our being are replaced many times during our lifetime and in the main they are eternal. They will continue to exist in other living and non-living things after we die - just as they did before we were born. The life forms they give rise to will die but the process of life is eternal. Fleeto is and was a manifestation of eternal life. Certainly, that is more important than his death and truly is something worth celebrating.