Thursday, 31 December 2015


Too early to think of spring,
we can at least hope for crisp snow days,
for skies as dense and soft as cotton wool.
The old year sighs with relief,
puts up its feet: on the cusp of a hill
the sunlight shades into promises
and the silhouettes sharpen
across the overlooked, the too easily forgotten.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Весела Коледа/Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a merry Christmas and happy New Year from Colourful Star

We're now into the second year of our collaboration, publishing more than 50 paintings and poems since this time last year. In fact, 2015 has seen us making our 100th post and you can see all the paintings in one go on our Colourful Star 100 page. We're also delighted to have had our Colourful Star collaborations published elsewhere too - by Ink Sweat & Tears magazine and by the international poetry site Iris News - and to have people visiting the project, not just from Bulgaria and the UK, but from across Europe, the USA, India and China too.

We're already making plans for next year when there will be new projects, new developments, and we'll also keep publishing new collaborations every Friday.

In the meantime have a very happy and - of course - colourful Christmas!

Marina, Vasilena and Tom xx

Friday, 18 December 2015

Среща в превод/Meeting in translation

За Васил Гандев

A book like a shaken hand
by shelves brimming with titles
which, for the moment, reside
beyond the cusp of my Cyrillic.

Let me do what I can to pull
some equivalent details into light:
how we are together in this flat,
your words and my presence

like something accidental –
or out on the balcony where a splay
of firework comes to seem like fate.
I can hear you, like a whisper

of cicadas, like a streetlamp’s hum,
and even in this noise I’ll find you.

Friday, 11 December 2015

На върха/On the summit

На върха

Всички те бяха отбор алпинисти.
От строга комисия бяха подбрани
Те бяха отбор алтруисти,
Върха да превземат призвани.

Преди да потеглят пиха наздравица.
Имаше още прегръдки и речи.
И всеки нарами тежката раница,
Че нямаше шерпи - водачи.

При първия зъбер отпаднаха три
Нагоре отпаднаха още и други.
Достигнаха последния лагер малцина,
А за финалния преход нямаха сили

Но един от тях стисна зъби
И до края да стигне успя.
Там гордо своя вимпел заби
и своята песен запя.

Да си на върха беше страхотно.
Там можеш да пипнеш с ръка небосклона
Но на върха е много самотно
Че останаха другите нейде по склона.

On the summit

They were all team climbers.
Chosen by a strict committee,
they were all team climbers,
called up to conquer the summit.

Before setting out, they drank their health.
There were even embraces and speeches
and they all shouldered heavy rucksacks
without sherpas or guides.

On the first crag three dropped out;
further up, others dropped out too.
Only a few reached the last camp,
but they didn’t have strength for the final climb

One, though, gritted his teeth
and succeeded in reaching the top.
There he proudly drove in his pennant
and sang his song.

To be at the summit was great.
There you can touch the sky with your hands
but the summit is very lonely
when the others remain on the slopes.

This week's post brings together one of Marina's paintings with another poem written by her grandfather, the poet Васил Панайотов Гандев.

Image: Marina Shiderova; translation: Tom Phillips

Friday, 4 December 2015

Капката/The droplet

Тя капна на крайпътното дърво.
И от връхното листо
Надолу бавно запълзя
Към мечтаната земя.
Но, да стигне и до ствола не успя,
Че по пътя я изпиха жадните листа
Тя - мъничката капка от дъжда
Гдето вечерта валя.

It fell on a tree at the roadside
and from the highest leaf
slowly crept down
towards the dreaming earth.
But it didn’t succeed in reaching the trunk.
On the way the thirsty leaves drank it­ –
this tiny droplet of rain
while the evening poured.

This week's post brings together one of Marina's paintings with a poem written by her grandfather, the poet Васил Панайотов Гандев.

Image: Marina Shiderova; translation: Tom Phillips

Friday, 27 November 2015


It will or won’t happen
to us. The sky folds
into bleached distances.
Cloud cover anticipates all.

Keep it simple. Trees make
hieroglyphs and here,
in this vast space
we’d like to call our own,

the trying vocabulary
dissipates. That’s enough.
Love occurs. I’m not
at a loss any more.

In the interim, I’m waiting
for you to come home.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Общ език/Common language

And because beginnings are precious,
I’m back again. It’s not so far
and all the imaginary occasions
play out across landscapes,
still lifes, portraits I seem
to know. Nothing precise –
but in these brush-strokes words,
reminders of so much
I’ve yet to know.

In the kitchen that day,
we anticipated
precarious coincidence –
faces, bicycles, hills,
meetings in the park –
and then, as if intent
on becoming a prediction,
these peppers that hang
behind us, their solidity,
the first painting of yours I saw.

This is our 100th post on Colourful Star since we launched the project in January 2014. Since then we've been posting our collaborations every Friday and at other times to mark special dates or anniversaries. This post also features on the international poetry website Iris News where we will also be publishing selections from Colourful Star in the future. You can find it here with a translation into Italian by Chiara De Luca. Many thanks to everyone who's visited any of our 100 posts so far and we hope you'll return to see how the project continues to develop. Marina, Vasilena & Tom

Friday, 13 November 2015


Autumn’s late. In the garden,
you're pointing out black-eyed Susans –
we’ve been here before.

Flowers breathe. The old man,
my father, pruned chrysanthemums,
stuck them in a bucket.

At the end of our drive,
commuters passed, looked twice,
left 50p for a bunch.

The ash trees have gone
(I’ve seen that now online).
Where we lived

between the stern
coordinates of ornamental firs
there’s off-road parking.

Against the wall
of our neighbour’s garden,
the black-eyed Susans flare.

Friday, 6 November 2015


Skin bears a geography of time.
It softens and furrows.
I’d not realised, of course:
I hadn't been looking.

Around the eyes first,
then the cheeks,
the upper lip –
a contour map,
a bloom of notches.

And then there,
in the hospital
recovery room,
that unutterably
untouched face,
new skin,
another geography
waiting to happen.

Friday, 30 October 2015


Days when the sky
was all scudding cloud
and space –

the rate of climb
of those pioneers
like Mum’s dad,
flying flimsy string
and canvas contraptions –

were there again
when you stretched
full length on the hill,
lay back and thought
of eglantine –
was that the name?
– and thick masks
of colour back home,
the profligate spill
of climbing plants,
reaching for the sky
and above you
the space
of scudding clouds.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Нов семестър/A new term

Somewhere up behind the pub
beside the roundabout, the road
dithers between cycle paths
and rattling cattle grids.

In the pre-dawn’s early light,
I’m hashing together lecture notes
and thoughts I might need to have
under transitional cloud cover

until here, with stumped old trees,
I should be at a loss. Not so –
I’m on this particular corner
of the road and over there,

like some well-placed opposite,
this reminder, pollarded from last year.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Между народите/Between nations

Endlessly, the trees behave.
Each branch and twig
might draw the line between
crisp breath and the mist.
Guards stand and stamp
at this point where worlds
collapse into a border.

Beneath ghosting
frontier architecture,
passports are handed over.
We each have our case,
a claim to an identity,
which someone somewhere
in ministry or embassy
will accept, will condone.

Outside the windows
of this sweaty minibus,
a forest occurs, declining
into atmospheric effects,
a foggy weekday morning –
and us, we can’t see the wood
for the proverbial trees.

Friday, 9 October 2015


 Between whatever else happens,
we might be straying across
what’s marked out – the given
delineation of boundaries.

Up in the woods there,
where trackways are signed
and somehow we’re brought out
to a picnic area’s designated space,
we’re talking too of dens
and interlaced branches,
traces of those who’ve been
and gone before – and, of course,
those other distant woods.

Through the trees,
some light effect suggests
a geography of displacement.
Mushrooms grow out
of punk timber like antennae

and we’re coming down
through leaf matter, jutting stones
to the river where, without
so much as a thought,
the path becomes
a path that’s leading home.

Friday, 2 October 2015


The garish light blaze
is the garage across the road
about to close. Working late,
I’m half-lost in old thoughts,
memory's oddments and that –
that brief whisk of a tail
against my legs and I'm up to the door
and going in through the hall
to a back bedroom from where
I can see fox cubs playing possum
in an abandoned bath.

They do their best to look
photogenic, sport
dunned orange, 
hiding and seeking.
And we’d be in
our kitchen watching.
It’s not snowed,
it's not a thought.
but, there,
across the grass
comes the parent-fox.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Минаващ към есента/Passing to autumn

First light of it in today’s sharpening clarity
along a tilled ridge and hopes getting rarer
for that Indian summer. Renewed migrations
shatter the estuary’s surface tension, rising
through the blaze between dunes and cloud.

Trembling reddening leaves, breeze
plays out its delicate variations, brings
itself to bear on the season’s new species:
a foolhardy abundance in ripening gardens
where pruned trees’ amputations ooze sap.

It is no loss to be here, on the threshold
of a mottled wood, marram’s limit,
deciphering fungal growth’s lace patterns
or spider webs’ promises of future frost.
Time doesn’t stop, but only for a second

first light of it holds a sharpening clarity.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Остров/An Island

Back down through seaside streets,
we’re amongst juddering perspectives
that throw us off the obvious map
of grid systems and Central Place Theory.

Life doesn’t happen so neatly.
Wind whirls itself into patterns
evading logical explanation:
as usual, everything’s up in the air.

Those who came and went before us
have staked their claim in pot plants
and architecture. In the sky
our freedom shrieks like a bird.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 11 September 2015


In the shade of the mountains,
a glass of rakiya, just off the cusp
of the main road heading up
towards tourist attractions.

He was sure about his plants.
We were growing hazy
amongst herbs and ferns,
but he could still steer his way

through greenery labels
and the overhanging branches.
The former primary school teacher
poured what he’d distilled

and there was no question:
the lilacs bloomed and we drank.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 4 September 2015

Начини през гората/Ways through the forest

За Сара/For Sarra

More than anything, a retinal memory
of untailored woodland beside the train.
1989. September. Two months before
dissident sledgehammers undivided Europe.
Distracted by an Indian summer’s drought,
we took photos of dried-up riverbeds
on the tributary between Chinon and Saumur.

Not long married but with commitments made,
this was to be our new and adult world.
1989. September. And those crackling shots
weren't fired in anger, as it turned out,
but by a business party hunting duck
from dinghies moored along the other bank:
they looked to be set on taking the lot.

1989. September. We were on the move,
keeping to hostels and campsites on the Loire.
Without a map, we knew where we’d been:
municipal places, neighbourhood stores,
those unlikely, welcoming foyers.
Paths splayed out from the edge of the forest
into the untailored woodland beside the train.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 28 August 2015

За сестри и музи/For sisters and muses

In this thickness of forest,
I might have been half done by:
you know the kind of thing –
out of breath or off the map,
midway through life
and imagining the unimaginable.

Only that was what it was,
just there, a word or two,
a phrase that spiralled out
and up and between and told
of endlessness, a silence,
the endless possibilities.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Мяста в вселената/A place in the universe

The spark of a thought is an arc
out into slingshot space,
gravitational accelerants,
spectacular as stars
whose evanescence
lit fixities for cartographers,
though nothing’s solid
but we think it so.

Relatively speaking,
we turn out to be no more
nor less than this
each one of us passing through
states of wave-particles,
unpatented, subject to –
and of – a vast
unmappable terrain
where thought projects,
no longer just bending minds,
but bending space and time.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Пак друг чайник/Again another kettle

At some point a coincidence, a joining of dots:
a red sheen as one of the specifics,
a kettle with apples and all that suggests.

In the mountains I was lost
amongst landscapes that reared and bucked
without pretence (though easily seen that way).

And then brought home
to lights that flashed beyond these blocks.

Promises of my return, newly familiar scene
at this distance from where
with some hope I might belong.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 7 August 2015



A mystery of woodland, do you remember?
That planned, adopted chaos of underbrush
on the route leading up to Mentmore Towers?
They came out from Luton in their Ford Cortinas,
parked on concreted turn-offs, thought
this was the height of romance, lights out,
the sunset bleeding over ploughed earth.
We were brats (no other word for it),
sneaking up out of the darkness, like extras
in Lord of the Flies, to bang on steamed windows,
then make a run for it through convenient scrub.
Each time we might have been so easily caught –
here on this shaped and archaic landscape
not so far from where decisions had been made
whose consequences played out here –
here where we had no idea what history lurked
between parked cars and would-be lovers
escaping some great vision for the future
not so different from those striated gothic facades
from which everything once must have seemed
uncluttered, safe, unchaotic.

Friday, 31 July 2015

В кухнята/In the kitchen

Adventurous light plays on vegetable surfaces,
out to remind us, it seems, that this is the morning after.
We’ve been talking as if bare, crude facts
were nothing more than annoyances.

Across the way, cleaned washing balloons
in chance wind currents and lime-green leaves
make love a plausible topic of conversation.
In the distance, a city does what it has to do

and email messages stack up to not much at all.
You are paring and peeling hot peppers
while the job I was meant to do goes undone.
The kettle’s drilling boiling sounds out

the proximities of silence. That was my promise,
I think, to reach a certain temperature, to make the tea.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 24 July 2015


Stilled ripeness behind a wall
in the Black Sea town of Sozopol ...

Fig jam greens refracted sea-light,
jars stacked up on foldaway tables,
but it’s the lure of hidden fruit
that’s proving food for thought
on these staggered, staggering cobbles.

And so because land ends here
in a tumble of rock, you might
have to bear with me, back
over a stony unadopted route
or out along coastal defences.

Cloudbursts of gulls shadow
wakes of returning fishing boats,
though we’re already in the shade
of balcony overhangs and a care
not to abide the inferences
clamouring in every word.

And so because here we are
browsing at a souvenir shop,
we’re hoping to find a thread
to hang shells and semblances on,
while waves not so far below
furl and roll along the shore
and there’s hidden fruit behind a wall
in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Посред бял ден/In broad daylight

За Марина/For Marina

In parkland we’re lit with August sun
and afternoon strollers disperse, coalesce
around a lily pond’s surface tessellations.
It’s all coming together in so many words
and we’re taking up again conversations
time and the geography failed to disrupt.

Almost inconceivable not to be here,
with summer verging into plenitude
and shrub blossom haloing bronzes
of those who’ve created, preserved,
marking pathways through the trees.
A singular brightness – like the one
you bring to the humble, everyday –
hazes out squared city horizons.

Were it night, I’d be thanking lucky stars,
though there’s no need: you’ve already
brought to light those of your own making.
In the grounds of a seminary, we’re talking
of eye-tints, perspective, minutiae of
a given world we both have our cares for –
only now I see it, here amongst leaf shadows,
illuminated for us, this place, your gift.

17 July is St Marina's Day in Bulgaria: this poem is for Marina Shiderova - a wonderful collaborator and friend with love and gratitude on her name day - Tom.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips


He came home with them,
laid them down
on the dining room table,
cellophaned exotica.

My father, back from India
or the UAE, took off
his uniform, returned to
light through French windows.

In that room, whose furniture
pieces were like so many
precise coordinates,
Mum vased those bright flowers.

They were part – I'd assume –
of their latest negotiations.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Рибарска приказка/A fisherman’s tale

The softest plunk in near-dark
where bait and hook sink
through water. A turning point
of sorts beckons in cloud banks
beyond a pub car-park’s clunked doors.

It’s not what we’re about:
it’s almost a distraction, in fact.

Overnight, we watch trees
lose shape and disappear.
At dawn, they reassert themselves.

As do we, and the small, frail fish
we’ve yanked up
from entirely predictable depths.

There’s a photo in the cupboard.
It's that or something else
which might put us in the frame.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Задължителни грешки/Mandatory errors

From balcony to balcony,
the summer cats are singing.
They're saying: ‘I wish you
were here.’ But I know
they can't understand
the meaning of such words.

The city is trying to sleep,
but the birds have gathered
for a party and the wires
dance between apartment blocks.
For some reason, I can
only think about eyes –

about eyes which 
promise, suggest
a thousand possibilities
(or simply the sea),
but nevertheless remain
in someone else’s mirror.

It’s almost time to admit
that this is how
the tale ends – except,
there, listen – in the song
of the cats, the dance of the wires,
you can hear a new story

about a mermaid’s blue eyes.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Колелото в парка/The bicycle in the park

Misjudging connections, I’d arrived
too soon in that only just known town
and in the last remaining phone booth
the rattling, rejected coins were proof
that I’d not been able to raise you for money,
let alone love.
Yet not so far away,
paths some noble obliged to have cut
opened onto vistas of a municipal park
and a bicycle unchained by a lamp-post
spoke of an irredeemable trust.

Perhaps some couple not unlike us
rode tandem here, or a lunchtime escapee,
brained by air-conditioning,
pedalled out to find the real thing -
who knows? Or perhaps it was yours.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Чайник и зеленчуци/Kettle and vegetables

I learnt the word патладжан early on.
Not long after, amongst refurbished stalls
beyond the central market, aubergine
wasn’t on the list, but I took back
raspberries the colour of arterial blood
and improvised a breakfast overlooking
cafe tables, fronds of urban scrub.

I would be there now. By crevices
of stone walls and tram incursions,
we’d be sipping black coffee
and waiting on friends. But here,
in our kitchen, I’m making tea
and патладжанът on the side
is once again an aubergine.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips

Friday, 12 June 2015

Езерото/The Lake

We sat in that garden, just below
mountainous scenery. It was
recognising some words
in his language which got us
talking. It tasted
like the back-end of my life,
like something I’d never expected.
The great gulls swung in
across the distant water.

I’m partial, I’ll admit it.
At the end of the pontoon,
slim bodies dive into the lake.
We walk through town later
and sit in this familiar bar.
The football results are on
and I’m sneaking up an alley
to get a good signal. In no more
than a few days, I’ll be home.

Friday, 5 June 2015


Just above flaked paint and crusted brick
outside the kitchen door, a trio of roses
depends on nothing so much as a string
round which their tendrils twist and grip.

An inclement early summer has turned
our garden feral bucolic – its lack
of austerity’s fecund with motley,
aerial mating damson flies, excitable
finches squabbling. Dripping ferns
splay upwards like invitations.
A helicopter saws the breeze.

From the sun glints on its skis,
it’s apparently protecting us,
sending wildness off to scamper,
and for a moment at least
I can’t remember anything like this
assertion of some right to interference.

My father grew roses, their pink shades
used to hang in our living room.
All he was ever concerned with
was their smell and preventing the blight
which he knew might destroy them.

I can’t speak for him, but I suspect
he would have delighted in seeing
roses painted one day in Bulgaria.

Friday, 29 May 2015


"Shucks, books," said the unexpected visitor,
a sort of suburban man from Porlock,
flicking his eyes and fingers across the shelves.
"They sit there like threats, like promises.
Like some kind of antediluvian technology.
You have these books in your house?"
And so he’s clocking titles, clocking names:
"Hemingway? Pound? This’French bird’"?

He’s after the weight of it. The tomes.
The ‘French bird’ is Marguerite Duras.
And apparently now I have too many books.
It’s what I do. Pile them up, build cases.

I usher him out between almost everything
that he and the rest might think unnecessary.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Надежда (за Левски)/Hope (for Levski)

On the one hand, crowds by a trolley stop
celebrating victory in ‘his’ stadium; on the other,
your hesitation translating a word as we walk past
the National Academy of Arts towards his monument.
No absence here more felt. The bronze face looks out
on the streets of Sofia where we walk through
divergent legacies and begin unexpected stories.
Perhaps in an underground church beside
the metro station we’re closer than we think.
Like Yeats, he became his admirers –
and not so far from the scene of that regime’s crime
linden trees paint light across their upturned faces.