Oz Hardwick is a York-based writer, photographer and musician, who has been published extensively worldwide, and has read everywhere from Glastonbury Festival to New York, via countless back rooms of pubs. His fifth poetry collection, The Ringmaster’s Apprentice, was published this year by Valley Press. A keen collaborator with other artists, Oz has had work performed by classical musicians in UK concert halls, by flamenco musicians in Italian villas, and with experimental sound and film artists in an Australian cinema. By day he is Professor of English and Programme Leader for English and Writing at Leeds Trinity University. In his spare time, Oz is a respected folk music journalist.
The Ringmaster’s Apprentice
At the first scent of autumn she pitched her tent,
unfurling her rags and her old colours,
her hand-me-down gauds staining your neat fields.
As sure as days grew shorter, she stretched
her threadbare canvas, hoisted flags,
erected cages away from the paths.
With pained and patient fingers she sewed
constellations of teardrop sequins
to snatch your eye from tell-tale holes.
For days you never saw her, working
somewhere inside, but you might have heard her
distantly humming fairground tunes.
Late at night you’d sometimes catch sight of her,
heavy pails in hands, staggering
to feed her hungry, restless beasts.
As leaves fell, the air grew hard,
choking on greasepaint, burnt sugar,
wood smoke, sweat and expectation.
Unsure on your own land, you approach,
raise a tattered flap and enter,
tentatively take your ringside seat
as she paces the perimeter of her silent circle
to no applause, no cheers, no roars,
no brassy fanfare or cymbals’ clash.
Now spotlights converge, colours blending
to fringed white as she takes her place,
facing her audience of one, opening
her scarlet mouth as wide as a lion’s,
her tongue a tightrope where promises dance
like careless acrobats falling into fire.