Series Editor - Jim Bennett for The Poetry Kit - www.poetrykit.org

You can join the CITN mailing list at -
http://www.poetrykit.org/pkl/index.htm and following the links for Caught in the Net.

Submissions for this series of Featured poets is open, please see instruction in afterword at the foot of this mail.



But these are pretty wares,

with red and green and yellow trimmings,

with woven lids like temple roofs

and flared openings; perhaps we're wrong

to read the posture as despair.

                                    It's noon, it's hot,


                 from Street Vendor, South-West China by Derek Sellen




















1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Derek Sellen


Derek Sellen lives in Canterbury, Kent. His poems have been widely published in magazines, national newspapers and in anthologies. He has given readings in Eire, Italy, Germany and Russia and in various places in the UK, including the University of Kent, the Wise Words Festival, Chetham’s Music School. His work has been frequently commended in competitions and awarded prizes, most recently winning Poets Meet Politics (2014) and O’Bheal Five Words (2015). His collection The Arch and its Shadow was published in 2009 and he is currently working on a series of poems inspired by Spanish art and artists.








Ten-metre breakers are charging Chesil Bank,

chaos theory in action, this land, this lagoon,

created by criss-cross forces of no intent

except to jostle, a territory of disturbances,

a formlessness capable of such fine distinctions

that each pebble is graded by its position on the shore.


Between the 1300s and now, a monster’s four times

surfaced off the beach, half fish, half sea-horse,

not hard to explain  -  cheap lure for tourists,

a drunken man’s hallucination, a hoax, an error.

Or did a conjunction of the tides and winds,

a random pattern of the waves, a special frequency,


produce an excitement in the brain to match?

We saw the monster, which, being seen, existed,

as tall as a tall ship, as vast as a stone hill,

had attributes  -  a crest, fangs, scales, claws, fins.

It was there, as undeniable as love on the four occasions

it was seen and then not seen again.

                                            Just vacancy. Just sea.





The cross-tide discloses

a triangular acre of possibly radio-active mud,

not the right attributes for a beach.

The gulls are giant and ferocious,

having found something flayed

and succulent in the sea-garbage

which they dissect membrane by membrane.          


The Jarman garden

sprouts rocky phallic circles;

the shingle-people rise like planted dragon’s teeth,

slump-shouldered, lump-hipped Adams,

and cactus-Eves with spiny pads of breasts.

This isn’t God’s idea of a garden;

viper’s bugloss wouldn’t grow here if it were.


Donne’s ‘Busie old foole...’

is written on the tarred cottage wall, re-slanted

for a house of gay love. Contours change,

hard to decipher. They even had to build

three lighthouses as if they were uncertain of the shape,

though they got the power stations right first time  -

Dungeness A and Dungeness B: squat and square and huge.


Away from all this,

two small boys, ten-year-old philosophers,

are lying daubed in mud on their stomachs,

discussing things with the sea breathing over them.

They are perfectly formed and perfectly innocent,

Archimedes and Aristotle in their youth.

We hope there’s nothing nasty in the ooze.




-       inspired by a photo by Elaine Sweeney



A vendor has buried her face in her lap,

rocked back, hips on heels,

arms folded across her knees,

so that her silhouette seems headless,

compressed to a cube of fatigue.

Loaded each end with baskets,

the pole completes the geometry

of a cell, its shadow on her neck;

a burden set down is still a burden.


But these are pretty wares,

with red and green and yellow trimmings,

with woven lids like temple roofs

and flared openings; perhaps we're wrong

to read the posture as despair.

                                    It's noon, it's hot,

so she creates her own shade, fits herself

to the most economical shape a human skeleton allows.


Later she'll set off on her circuit of the town,

an independent business woman,

the street her market. We'll never know

how she'd rate our pity and whether she would pity us,

for burdens that we carry in our heads.




-       Mushroom pickers, perhaps mistaken

     for rebels,were attacked and killed by

           troops: Chechnya 2010



Rebel patrol?

                  Or merely foragers, calling

their chat to one another in the tall spaces,

mirror-walking the line between fun and death.

They wander-blunder through a zone of trees,

an unidentified group with unidentified intent,

their path as random as the fungus-clumps

they hunt, snaking their way into slaughter,

bending to pluck, straightening into soft targets.


                   And look, a white giant,

stalk as thick as two thumbs, there in the roots.

Drawn by musty treasure, they cross the line.

They are no longer the children of the forest.

Bullets thump into their chests; their damp innards

explode like puffballs in a cloud of spores.



JA-KYUNG OH AT THE ORGAN                              

-       Lubeck, August 2013


She comes from a divided nation, North and South,

to a nation once divided East and West,

with only her talent and her uncertain English to accompany her,

to play the great organ at St Jacob's,

a mariners' church full of Baltic light.


She is hidden once she has flitted,

barely noticed, across the chancel to the organ loft,

tiny at the centre of the machinery of sound,

so we do not see if she smiles with pleasure at her bravery,

to travel so far, to attempt so much,

or frowns at the labour of what she does.


The organ has as many voices as it has pipes.

She commands them to the service of the music,

summons us with thunder,

raises a single note above the others,

intertwining, underpinning,

surrenders us to the convolutions of the Baroque,

tempting us to drowse...


until, in one vibration of the gathered air,

harvesting its whole power,

she draws the voices together,

and she and Buxtehude utter a shout of jubilation,


a comprehension of the unity of all.


She takes no bow, but if you had lingered,

you would have seen her appear

through the same small door she had entered by,

in a black tunic, her hair coiled and pinned,

neat and demure, concealing the wilder sister

who had crashed those final chords.

She was smiling in embarrassed triumph

as she shook the hands of her European hosts,

yet withdrawing her fingers as if still raw from the stops and keys


while her music continues to reverberate,

out beyond the city and the coast, unheard,

travelling through the ringing air,

widening like the sky,

where the Baltic opens to the multiplicity of the sea-lanes

and the ships pass effortless across frontiers

and the compass-points mean nothing but themselves.






-       after the painting by El Greco



Six bright co-ordinates pick a shape out of the darkness:

the face, the ruff, the lace, the hand, the hilt, some braid.

Later you see the slope of cloaked shoulders, one dropped,

as your eyes conjure the whole man, El Greco’s mournful caballero.


The hand is splayed across the chest. Two conjoined fingers.

A deformity, a secret sign for Jew or Jesuit, an act of will?

Does a damp webbing bind their inner lengths, a frill

of amphibian flesh like the one that fuses a mermaid’s legs?


Either he is your hallucination or you are his. Involuntary,

your own hand practises the sign. The cabellero looks the kind

who sleeps one hour out of twenty-four, eats sparsely,

shuns women, aches in the night for what he abstains from.

     Your eyes lock - the one to hold the gaze is the one who wins.

     His knuckles shine. When your breath stops, his begins.






-       after the painting by Goya



I am the third soldier from the left, tan boots, a tall hat,

ducking my head to squint along the gun. What else?

A bare hillside, a black sky, a man in the sulphur light.

He and I have faced each other before in this place,

I know the way his white shirt billows into wings

when he spreads his arms in a martyr’s welcome, 

twists his mouth and shouts one of the usual things:

I die for Christ, I die for freedom, I die for Islam…


His face has all the passion a human face can bear

but when I turn, you’ll see a face no different from yours.

I wait for the order, so we can all get out of here

and spend our pay  -  the town has bars and whores

but now our job’s to dig the graves. You know the drill.

At first I pitied, then I envied, the men like him I have to kill.




                -  after the painting by Maria Blanchard.



Sated with milk, the baby tumbles     but does not fall –

in the lap of his mother, her dress still open,

all made of curves: breast, cheek, shoulder, hip,

the identical circles of nipple and iris. Their forms

thrive in the light; a Mary-and-Christchild

shines with halos but this has the radiance of health,

the ripeness of fruit, the boy a full nine months

in the womb, the mother as strong as a field-labourer.


If you are searching for poignancy, there is no hint

of biography, of the painter born of a stumble,

labelled as hunchback, a lottery talisman,

who spent her years in wheelchairs and sanatoriums.

Bracing herself against death, she stood in art

with an unbent spine, grown to her destined height.




Note: Maria Blanchard (1881 - 1932) was disabled as a result of her mother's fall during pregnancy. Many of her paintings are of 'Maternite', mother and child. There was a superstition that if you touched your lottery ticket against a ‘hunchback’, you would be lucky.





-         on the mural by Picasso



1937. What twenty-eight fascist warplanes did,

strafing the ones that ran, bombing the ones who hid,

is imaged in the bull, the horse, the woman and the child,

the spiky light, the discontinuous arm, the broken sword.

It speaks for London in the blitz, Dresden razed by fire,

My Lai, Fallujah, the office-workers in the falling towers….

It burns through any veil, it distorts with horror:

the twisted face of art looks at the twisted heart of war.




Note to line 7: when Colin Powell visited the UN to seek approval for the Iraq war, a reproduction of Guernica in the UN building was covered with a blue veil to avoid any jarring images




-       Eugenio Granell, often referred to as the last Spanish

           surrealist, lived much of his life in exile after the Civil War.

           He died November 2001.



El tio Eugenio plays the last note on his violin,

draws his last words in the sand,

paints the last colour in his paintbox on the last canvas,

makes his last joke in the last hour of the night,

outlives the last Fascist and the last Stalinist,

hears the last cries of the last century,

and recognises the first shudders of the next,

a surreal September day that outdid even his invention.


There was no great statement, no 'Guernica',

just magical fooling by the last living uncle in the family

image after image:

this hefty blue nude, for example,

whose hair becomes a tree of carnival faces

poking their tongues at his and our utopian dreams.

The bizarre amuses him 

                  it is the last thing that makes any sense.





AT CHESIL – published in New Writing 9 (Vintage Press 2000)

DUNGENESS – published in New Writing 9 (Vintage Press 2000)

STREET VENDOR, SOUTH-WEST CHINA – published in Poet of the Year 2012 as a finalist (Canterbury Festival)

THE MUSHROOM PICKERS – published in Poet of the Year 2011 as a finalist (Canterbury Festival)

JA-KYUNG OH AT THE ORGAN  – published in Poets Meet Politics 2014 as competition winner (Hungry Hill Writing)

EL CABELLERO DE LA MANO EN EL PECHO – published in Kaleidoscope (Cinnamon Press 2011)

THE FIRING SQUAD – published in Storm at Galesburg (Cinnamon Press 2009)

GUERNICA – published in Kaleidoscope (Cinnamon Press 2011)

MATERNITE – published in Poet of the Year 2015 as a finalist (Canterbury Festival)

THE LAST SURREALIST – published in Torriano Poetry Competition Winners Broadsheet 2014



4 - Afterword

Email Poetry Kit - info@poetrykit.org    - if you would like to tell us what you think. 

We are looking for other poets to feature in this series, and are open to submissions.  Please send one poem and a short bio to - info@poetrykit.org

Thank you for taking the time to read Caught in the Net.  Our other magazine s are Transparent Words ands Poetry Kit Magazine, which are webzines on the Poetry Kit site and this can be found at -