Herefordshire is a county of fantastic beasts and mythical creatures: The Dragon of Mordiford, the ‘enormous panther’ supposedly spotted near Ross on Wye, the Kilpeck Basilik. Also the minotaur, unicorn and werewolves in the Mappa Mundi. With this in mind we ask you to give us a fantastic beast poem.
Herefordshire Poet in Residence Fiona Sampson’s Leviathan imagines not so much a sleeping King Arthur under the English national soil, as something much older and nastier…
If you’d like to contribute a Fantastic Beast to the hoard simply type your poem into the large box and click on the “Send” button to submit it. Once we have read and approved it, your poem will be included on this page.
The black beast who sleeps
under your feet raising
his back sometimes sending
shivers up your spine
and shivering the trees
who stretched himself out here
under a pelt of trees
laying down his muscled
tail in the red earth
his muzzle nudging the hill
side where it is broken
open is he our friend
this sleeping lizard does he
dream about redemption
is his cold brain
warmer than the blood
stilling in his veins
those cold corridors
transomed and dripping that run
through the rock like rumours
of a lost time bright
and brutal with the fear
that could force open living
earth and lay inside the hill
this monstrous body still
alive his breath shaking
the air between the hills
so sometimes you can feel
the pulse of his heart black
as the end of the world
Riders of the film by Bob Woodroofe
Molecular force holds the meniscus,
pulls it into the liquid body, as you
skate over the tensioned skin.
Pads of hair dent the surface,
repel and push the fluid down,
never sink in, never get wet.
Four indentations cast shadows
that float over the sunlit bottom
as you scull over the film.
Sense the vibrations, ripples
that spread from prey that drowns,
stride over to suck it dry.
Fly to winter shelter,
in spring return,
walk once more on water.
Lucky or not by Bob Woodroofe
Fed well on trefoil and vetch
the poison molecules stored
winter lost amongst the grass
then climb their thin ropes
spin silk to parchment
swell the narrowness of stems
the shucked black skin
crumbles between fingers
ash spread on the wind
in the light of day not night
whirring warning into flight
crowd and jostle to feed
on blue scabious purple knapweed
magenta spots on deepest black
red for danger six for luck
Wodewove by Bob Woodroofe
quiet across the woodland glade
comes the woodman with his blade
soon to ring through tree and wood
bleed away the sap like blood
like my crop I grow straight and true
my strength of character runs right through
I too am just as green as they
with leaves about my faces
I love to work and lie and dream
in amongst their shady places
there I sing my own sweet song
and whistle tunes upon the air
they hear me safe within their homes
and from deep inside their lair
they never see me yet they know
who I am and what I stand for
I come from the deepest wildwood
still uphold its ancient law
my mother wouldn’t know me
because I am not of her alone
I belong in hedge and wood
rise through earth and stone
shrouded in green monk’s habit
guardian spirits hasten to the task
shadows behind the trunk
hidden by the mask
come let us play the game
you know who I am
tell me what’s my name
forever upon the woodland scene
I am the man that they call Green
No Room For Fairies by A Moore
There are no fairies at the bottom of our garden.
Our children have more modern imaginations.
Each night before they go to bed they stable:
the Lotto unicorn
the chortling Vauxhall griffin
a basilisk (which they do carefully, with mirrors)
two Fimbles which I picked up in a charity shop
the Soup Dragon and her friends, the Clangers.
They have a fireproof stall in the shed for the dragon.
(I forget where she came from now –
they’re as common as superheroes.)
She’s laid an egg, which I am forbidden
to remove from the oven.
(I sneak it out under a tea towel
when I want to bake potatoes.)
At night the children share their beds with more
tangible beasts – the dogs and cats;
jars of unfortunate caterpillars broil on the window sill;
beetles scrabble forlornly in matchboxes. I rescue them
at lights-out and put them back in the garden.
But every night a fresh collection yearns for its freedom.
Downstairs, plush orang utans
and other endangered primates
dangle from various light fittings, hangovers
from a magical trip to Borneo last year.
Since our last trip to Longleat, our peachicks
strut round the garden at dusk, screaming
‘help’ at the top of their lungs in imitation
of their adopted parents.
I think we’re raising a couple of Attenboroughs.
Our neighbours (who don’t have that kind of
imagination) complain to the Council.
Alternative Day by Sue Johnson
I leave the nagging clamour
metallic clash of filing cabinets
discussions about last night’s encounter
and why Sally woke to find
a cold fried egg in her bed.
I follow my dream pathway
watch a beach materialise
tranquil in evening light.
Salt spray blows on the soft breeze.
Seagulls the colour of candyfloss
cry a welcome.
Anemones dance quadrilles
in rock pools
with rainbow crabs.
On the horizon the sun dives
into a pool of crimson and gold.
I ride a white unicorn back to shore
touch his spiral horn and make a wish
The shrill sound of a telephone
nearly pulls me back to a
grey office in a drab grey town.
I close my ears to the voices
asking what’s the matter with me.
This time I won’t come back.
I caress my mermaid’s tail
and plunge into indigo water.
How to Create a Chinese Dragon by Angela Topping
Start with the body of a serpent,
weld on the horns of a stag –
a fitting crown for an emperor.
Set in the dark jewels of rabbits’ eyes
and manicure the dragon’s nails
so it has the claws of a tiger.
Decorate all over with the silvery scales
of a carp, a barbel and a pike.
With firm needlework, fasten on
the leathery ears of the bull.
Breathe life into your creation
when full of wisdom and passion.
The marvellous tail twitches and shudders
as life travels down its length.
You have made a creature
who can row on land, fly on sea
and swim through air.
It is the one, the many, the immortal.
Mrs by Belinda Rimmer
Weaver of Cobwebby Corners.
At ten years old, I came face-to-face
with the Penetrator of Dreams,
the Weaver of Cobwebby Corners.
He’s been with me ever since.
No rest. He stomps endlessly.
Weeps and whimpers
about the house –
noisy as wings flapped against a wall.
Sometimes, I’ll carry him on my back.
He’ll clutch my neck,
kick my sides to go faster.
I’ll take him to places,
try and leave him behind.
The forest is best,
here shadow claims him,
flies swarm hot on his tail,
trees swallow him up.
All the hours he’s away,
I think I don’t want him back,
until every-little-thing becomes too bright –
I summon him then to temper the brilliance.
Moss Ablaze by Miguel Guerreiro Lourenço
I ran, sword in hand ready to strike it
From the treeline, fled all, the creatures of
fabled dacian black woods. Their eyes consumed by
dread, ignored my plated breast. A deer whimpered,
the wivern’s stench, it lingered still, my cloth
had not be washed—neither had my mind
been rid of the beast. Venturing forth I
began to sense it, as I felt its eyes
pierce the back of my skull. I slashed sideways,
hoping to find it. It growled, drooling
over bones and tethers, I had walked into its
lair. Its breath made my eyes water. The wivern
mistook my disgust for fear and charged.
Birds hastily flew away from our roars and grunts.
My steel met its scales, green, yellow and red
like moss ablaze during Autumn’s peak.
The wivern’s wings had been severed before
but where my brothers failed, I would take
the beast’s head with me. It could not flee, nor
did it sure want to. We faced each other
for a long hardy hour, and a forest once
sweet, turned ugly and sour. When it guttered
its last protest, I wept no tears for the
wivern turned pest. Beast slayer I’ll be called.
Celebrated and risen to fame will I be,
Behold the beast’s head, in the halls to see.
Fantastic Beast by Zoe Austin
My beast is fantastic.
Let me tell you: he does the shopping for me twice a week
(I understand they’re almost used to him prowling round the aisles at Tesco these days);
When I’m sad, he always knows it, and sings me something which I find strange and somehow
But which I appreciate nonetheless. He’s doing his best.
My beast has large claws, a big bulgy belly, hair everywhere. At least I’ve taught him
To wear those pants when in public now.
(It’s not that I mind him being au naturel around the house
But folk round here would not approve).
Back home, my beast was unhappy. Discovered and hounded from the village he’d always lived in,
He stowed away and made it here to rum old Blighty.
Don’t know why he chose this place. We’re not very good with strangers.
Well, some of us aren’t.
I suppose it was fortunate that it was in my shed that he chose to make his nest
(I don’t scare easily and, to be honest, he’d actually tidied the place up a bit,
which was nice).
We’ve forged a friendship of such, my fantastic beast and I. He seems to like the ham sandwiches
which I leave out for him of an evening
And he hardly ever brings his prey home these days.
In return for letting him stay, he helps me where he can and he is quite cheerful company.
I can’t complain.
There he is now, wanting his cup of tea I suppose.
I’ll not begrudge my beast his succour.
After all, he fixed my stop-cock last Thursday.
Hunting a Poem For the Big Feast by Luisetta Mudie
The hunter is caught in the ash by the stream.
His jewels drip from its curved fingers. Swords
won’t help him here. His starry belt is trapped where
Odin swung, a bearded eagle soaked in mead.
The plough dips drunkenly backwards, driving at
the Pole. Cassiopeia mimes indifference,
V-¬signs, whatever! while the Seven Sisters,
huddling in too-¬short dresses, ignore his plight.
The twilight trots across the field, flashing out
the constellation Fox. Orion reaches,
straining for the tail-¬tip star. On the estate,
teenagers sing, high on phones and Sky TV.
Fox finds a hole at the hemmed edge of space-¬time,
flitting through. In the house behind the hawthorn,
the waters rise, staining the poet’s notebook,
spilling the river’s unrepeatable names.
Salamander by Susan Castillo Street
In the white heat
of the blaze the salamander writhes.
Flames lick around its scales,
embrace its glittering green eyes.
Its contortions lead us to believe
that it is dead, that its dance
in this infernal core has melted it
to glowing cinders, scrolls of ash.
But no. From molten heart
the salamander comes out strong and entire.
Popes give gold for capes of silver salamander skin
to ward off devils, shield them from the fire.
Basilisk by Susan Castillo Street
It ripples toward us, head held high.
On its brow a bishop’s mitre,
white deadly diadem. Its fiery breath
leaves ashes in its wake. Inexorable,
it undulates. Its stare splits stones.
It does not countenance dissent,
feels it contains the only Truth. Its gaze will petrify
all those who dare to disagree,
turn them to hard unfeeling bone
corseted tight in certainties.
MINOTAUR: MAN OR MYTH? by Tina Cole
In the myth you are easily recognised,
half man, half bull, prowling the labyrinth,
turning at right angles to yourself
through a fretwork of shadows. A Caliban
creature with the musk of darkness
wrapped in your pelt, stalking virgins
whom fate has chosen. And soon
the snarling stench of you pressed
against firm white breasts.
In the jittery flickering movie
a black, ragged creature reflects me back.
Hairs prickle my neck. I turn on lights
to keep shadows on best behavior.
As the long tongue of the lock licks
into place a slick of panic cuts
my throat. I know him at once,
he has my scent, seeks deep cuts;
flesh wounds never enough.
In the garden frost has turned
the leaves to knives; the moons horns
unmasked by cloud. Sated, he crosses
the poisonous breath of traffic and veers
down into the Underground tunnels.
Bull by David Winbow
The bull-dancer sketches the Minotaur,
the arc through the air confirms it.
The touch of fingers on horn leaves it drawn for us,
far from the scarlet bellow,
bursting lungs, red froth.
Vast slabs of darkness covered the labyrinth
even then, enclosing the terror
to something more than bovine,
Only courage paints it into beauty.
Unicorn by Patricia Green
Unicorn, small but fierce.
Fantastic horse that never was.
Did the designer of Mappa Mundi see you,
Hear of you, or simply long for you?
You would lay your head at peace in the lap of a virgin.
You lay your presence at peace in the cathedral.
Being never created, except in our head space
Lie at pasture beneath the sign of the Uncreated Son.
When God rolls up this map we walk upon
And lays all things at his Son’s feet
Will you appear, with ox and ass and bison
At Jerusalem, the centre of the world?
Canis Familiaris by Maggie Mackay
I hear yese. What daes she
ken aboot dugs?
I mind braw like.
Ma great-grandfaither wirked
sheepdugs at Shennas.
Ma grandfaither wis reared
Paw wis reared
wi them an aw, by yon Govan shipyards.
I ken dugs, collies an terriers,
an tramps tae.
I kent Glen.
I kent his gumption.
The siller-blae pirate squint,
edge o a sneer as
he placet baith paws fou square
on wir carpet for tae own us,
minding yon gate frae the curve o mae arms,
lead-mobbit on the foremaist chord o ‘Z cars’,
hirdit golf balls on the Links putting green,
refusnik, my braither’s fae. Groul, yowl,
wheenge in the nicht.
Hip twisted on the front stap
gin we locked him oot. Eejits.
I kent he wis a steerie,
Jack-in- the-Box whalpie in yon tea kist,
wi the slanted rhythm o his gait,
lugs brent sails,
the burn o iris on yon squirrel,
moist leather release o cold tap on skin.
ma Dad minds doukits through mud-slicked dubs,
an hurlies through forest mulch an canal ice an
ower broken flagstones an sand dunes,
the rock an roll o his back in benties
after a sea salt sweem
or velcroed tae ma belly by a bee sting gliff.
He wis ma fiere.
His teeth ‘tae muckle for size of moo’,
girn for yon Newcastle car thief,
playbow tae the bully or the feartie,
growl o a Baskervilles choir,
open arms for Mum, for meat
his lunge at a jogger tae close tae me
neb on glass paws ruler-tight, waiting for the late car,
the failed ascent o Paw’s lap but the heave o the hail sofa,
ribcage tight across ma legs on a bad day or
proffered paw as an apology for a forgotten ill or
his flirt with a flichtin o spinners o a deuk.
We baith kent moose, tods, cats, bicycles. He chased them aw,
ayont the fence, in dreams – intae yon saftness o naithing.
Autolycus in Avon by Peter Wyton
When the dragon of Bristol is awake, I skulk
amongst the outmost suburbs, or steal away
to peep from surrounding vantage points.
I am patient. I am obliged to be. The man-eater
seldom succumbs to slumber, but sometimes,
particularly on somnolent summer evenings,
the beast begins to be drowsy, a barbed tail
twitches and falls still, corrugated eyelids droop,
the mottled chin rests on its pillow of claws.
Nostrils like neon-lit underpass entrances
start to channel the megawatt breaths which,
in wideawake mode, whistle through slavering jaws.
The first in a chain of gaseous envelopes
commences to rise above the wine-warm city,
pendulous blobs, each with an underslung basket.
Some fools believe these to be hot air balloons,
but I know better. They are dragon dreams,
each one a memory of a gourmet banquet
of succulent citizen, char-grilled and consumed
on the urban premises. I watch them stud the sky
like droplets on a duchesses’ necklace, counting
until they achieve double figures, so I can be sure
the old worm has settled into deepest slumber.
Only then do I dare to move, swag-bag in hand,
towards the city centre, pouncing on millionaires
in the mud-dock, leaving them with concussion
of the wallet. They’re richer than they tell the tax man,
these Bristolians. The clubbers are made of money,
students drip ornamentation from ear to navel.
Even the Big Issue salesmen go from pitch to pitch
in stretched limos and the performance poets
have a Stock Exchange for haiku. No more time
to talk, as I totter up Totterdown, booty-laden,
before the sleeping firedrake stirs, rears up
and takes an inventory of its possessions.
The Shape Shifter of Herefordshire by Angela Readman
It’s here again, part woman/
part hare, grinding lives off
her cleft. Hunkered, so much light
in her jaws a man must look away
or be blinded by the possibilities
of how much a woman can change.
The dress she slipped out of
lays on the frost, an allure of lace
the lads she danced with
flatten out by the barn on lonely days.
They wait for the girl their breath
boned one winter night outside
her gate. They iron her abandoned skirts and let broderie anglais decide whether it is worth being
human after all. Truth is, even now, they all hear
that girl everywhere, laughing via the conduit of sparrows, cracking
open an afternoon with the crows.
She was a bonny lass, they remember
that. They recall the feel of her
slipping out of their hands, hair turning into a sunrise, her kiss became whiskers, pelvis rutting
against theirs leaping into a hangnail night.
The boys still place clothes and jewels
onto dusty fields to lure the shifter
into a shape their palms understand. Some nights it seems every rat,
owl, or stoat that crosses their path
is watching a man learning love
is like grief. It involves looking
out into the yard, a search for eyes
in the dark, trying to decipher
each rustle in the trees.
how strangely sits the Minotuar by Gerald Kells
how strangely sits the Minotaur
trapped inside the revolving door
horn injected in the floor
never to drink whiskey anymore
how strangely sits the Minotaur
we wait his grace but can’t be sure
Dreamer by Chris Sparks
In a long forgotten tunnel
Near a long abandoned garden
Through a long left open gate
At the end
Behind long established Ivies
Home of long-legged black spiders
Sleeps a long neglected creature-
My old friend
In his long deep hibernation
He had long dreams that he told me
Were a long way in the future
But now I claim
That a long time isn’t long
And as his long sleep rumbles on
It’s a long shot I will see my
The Dark Ones by Gabriel Griffin
The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about
to come out of the abyss…(Apocalypse, 17 – 8)
There are those who drag
darkness with them, who hunt
in the underworld, who roam
the dark side of the moon.
They are the ones who know
what you won’t admit, who prowl
on your lies, who guess what
you really want, who ravage
your secret shame. They are
the creatures of the night, the fleet
and silent ones, the ones
who razor the shrouds of your sleep
with honed bones, who stalk
your panting dreams, who thread
an invisible howl through
the quivering air. They are the ones
you think you almost saw, who shake
a shadow which should be still, who
bend three blades of grass, who smudge
the moonlight. They are the creatures
who drag darkness with them, whom
you can’t quite see, who make
no sound. Yet all the time you know
not far away they are nailing you
to the flaming crosses of their eyes.
Identifying a Mythical Beast by Liz Potter
Should be an ancient Book of Beasts, with spine
Of threads and cracks, of anxious keeper’s frown,
Of faded spider writing setting down
All fabled creatures – folklore, legend, mine.
Not this, the brightness of the internet,
Of dragon onesies, cartoon unicorns
With chubby legs and multi-coloured horns.
Give up. You barely saw the beast. Forget.
But look! Slowly emerging from the shades,
With a strange text – Old English? Surely no?
The grainy blurry-focussed photos show
My magical creature. The picture fades,
And ‘Error’ fills the screen. Though I search on
The page has disappeared. The beast has gone.
putting the coelacanth to
bed by Barry Tench
by the time you walked in salty
and wet, I had put the coelacanth
to bed looked deep
into those missing eyes
and underbite jaw, tucked him in
iridescent in blue spotty pyjamas
he’d gone out like a lamp
he will soon drift off to dark caves
his lobe fins resting on the sand pillow
of the ocean bed, his small mouth
open wide, unhinged at the back
of his skull, feeding on our fear of
Extinction by Ruth Stacey
Mermaids drown in fresh water,
the lack of brine causing them
to gum apart like paper dolls.
Yet the fish women persist
through the brackish waters,
searching for the hot-blooded
ape-men who walk on land.
Mermaids yearn for dry,
So unlike solitary spawning,
watched but not touched
by stagnant, dank mermen.
Fresh water is soft when
compared to harsh salt.
It is caressing the pearly
skinned, persuading them
to ignore the bitter sting.
the elegant fingers flare,
Silver tails softly dissolve.
Billows of carefully
combed hair drifts away.
Sighing scales float back
to the sea, returning
to the mermen
who see them and know
they are finished.
Animal Bodies by Rachel Burns
You are a dinosaur of a bird
without the need of flight
long windpipe, pectoral muscle
sternum bone, tibiotarsus bone
metatarsal bone, long long legs
the elastic ligaments coil
like giant springs as you run and leap
across the dry hot savannas.
The epiphyseal plate
allows growth after birth
the long bones extend
and will mature and grow
but more often than not
you will be led to the slaughter
people will give thanks
hands cupped in prayer
thanking God for roasted flesh
heads bowed over white linen cloth.
An elephant has incredibly wide feet
toe and foot bones are raised sharply
and rest on cushioned soles
the heavy weight of the body
is evenly spread so that it barely
leaves a footprint
and hardly makes a sound.
On Falling Asleep Looking at the Mappa Mundi by Meg Cox
Dreaming and enchanted by
a flowery mead
I wander into the wood where singing birds lead.
Sweet blossoming trees are full of ripe red fruits,
seasonless flowers dot the roseate forest floor
and beguiling wild creatures
Bemused I follow a tinkling stream
sprinkling over mossy rocks and in a gleam
of sunshine I sit beside it. I can see the sky
and hear the susurration of leaves.
In the water there’s something white reflected,
I’m captivated. Here’s a small nearly horse;
softer and more feline, pliant. A unicorn
leucous and elegant, head bowed and fey,
moves closer to me, smelling whiskery of warm hay,
lays his head on my denim-clad lap, and sighs.
There are damselflies.
He’s ensorcelled me. I stroke his soft nose and silky
curling mane and am fascinated by his milky
white, perfectly formed and tapering horn.
‘Do you know I’m not a virgin?’, I whisper in his ear.
‘That is well old fashioned’, he says, ‘even us old myths
and poets must learn to live in the modern world.’
The Trompe l’Oeil by Richard Westcott
A fantastic beast – or was
it a ploy
a trick to confuse us, the Trompe l’Oeil
seeking attention but somehow coy,
yet insistent too, the Trompe l’Oeil?
I’ve never seen him – not man nor boy –
yes definitely male, this Trompe l’Oeil.
He wants to be seen, bright as a buoy
displaying the wrong way, the Trompe l’Oeil
who inhabits a tower, with many a toy,
regarding himself. Stay where you are, Trompe l’Oeil –
beast of illusion, we do not enjoy
the prospect of seeing you, Trompe l’Oeil.
Pandafeche by Sharon Larkin
Your jaw slackens.The creature stirs, sends a digit
out to probe the depth of slumber, begins to smear
your limbs with a fast-set cast, to immobilise, rivet
you to the bed. It starts to squeeze. You cannot bear
the weight of the beast on your chest, cannot stir
yourself as it smothers you, intent on elimination,
whispers fear of death into your ear. You appear
to be asphyxiating beneath the crushing invasion
but somehow you manage to twitch a leg awake,
foil paralysis once more. You’ve won another fight,
dismiss it as a dream, a terror of the night, scoff
at tales of visitation. Meanwhile a shadow breaks
away, shrinks from you, slinks back into the night
to plot a time when you’ll not wake, not shake it off.