Sarah James Featured Poet


SA Leavesley b&w

The Coastguard’s Grand-daughter


“The sea’s in our blood,” Nan whispered
when she placed her tide-worn shell
on Mum’s driftwood mantelpiece.

The conch guarded our landlocked hearth
like an animal set to pounce.
After Nan died, Mum only kept the shell

because I wouldn’t let her throw it.
Lift it to my ear, I could hear Nan’s voice:
lulling then storming, calming then urging.

There was no stopping the surge of sound
on the day I finally said goodbye.
The conch was no more at home here

than Nan before her death, beached up
in wheelchair and saltless blankets,
asking us to return her to the coast.

The conch in my arms, I headed to Brighton.
Kites swooped the strand like bold Canutes,
then crashed back to wet sand.

Pebbles crackled beneath my trainers,
as I waded out to meet the waves,
to place Nan’s shell on sudden water.

I let the conch sail out,
a flotilla of bladderwrack in its wake,
the shore behind riddled with jetsam.

Third prize in the Salopian Poetry Society Open Poetry Competition 2015 and first published in the ‘Salopeot’, under the name Sarah Leavesley.




the bearable unlightness

through the train’s framed glass
windows play pass the parcel with lives

snatched from their brief context
flattened snippets set into grey sky

our motion tilts, metal angles its snout
through daisied fields and mounded earth

pushes past concrete, streets’ wet fur
and mist of after-rain estrangement,

back to sheep, sheep and red-muddied sheep
to grass quivering with fox fear and pheasants

to the river Camel and lanes spilling
bindweed, aglets and milky-dashel

the world swizzes by in part-lit parts
slows, bends, then forces on faster

and faster through the sun’s hide and seek
we race the shadow selves trying to pass us


First published in ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 2015), which was highly commended in the Forward Prizes. The poetry-play version was staged at The Courtyard, Hereford, and is set to tour in 2016.

* aglets – Cornish dialect for hawthorn berries
* milky-dashel – Cornish dialect for milk thistle



Sarah James is a poet, fiction writer and journalist. Her latest collection is plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) and her 2015 Overton Poetry Prize pamphlet, Lampshades & Glass Rivers, is forthcoming from Loughborough University. Sarah’s poetry narrative, The Magnetic Diaries (KFS, 2015), was highly commended in the Forward Prizes, staged at The Courtyard, Hereford, and is set to tour in 2016. Hearth, written with Angela Topping, was a Poetry Book Society autumn pamphlet 2015. Her website is at and she runs V. Press, a poetry and flash fiction imprint.

Poets and Players Competition 2016 closes 29th February


4th poetry competition run by Poets and Players, one of Manchester’s leading organisers of poetry and music events.


Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. THE ADOPTION PAPERS (Bloodaxe) won the Forward Prize, a Saltire prize and a Scottish Arts Council Prize. FIERE, her most recent collection of poems was shortlisted for the COSTA award. Her novel TRUMPET won the Guardian Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the IMPAC award. RED DUST ROAD (Picador) won the Scottish Book of the Year Award, and the LONDON BOOK AWARD. It was shortlisted for the JR ACKERLEY prize. She was awarded an MBE in 2006, and made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002. Her book of stories WISH I WAS HERE won the Decibel British Book Award.

She also writes for children and her book RED CHERRY RED (Bloomsbury) won the CLYPE award. She has written extensively for stage and television. Her most recent plays MANCHESTER LINES (produced by Manchester Library Theatre) and THE NEW MAW BROON MONOLOGUES (produced by Glasgay) were a great success. Her most recent book is a collection of stories, REALITY, REALITY. She is currently working on her new novel, BYSTANDER. She is Chancellor of the University of Salford and Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.


Jackie Kay will read ALL poems. All poems will be judged anonymously.

1st Prize: £500
2nd Prize: £200
3rd Prize: £100

Commended poets at the judge’s discretion.

Closing Date: Monday 29 February 2016

Winners will be informed by Friday 1 April 2016 and will be invited to read alongside Jackie Kay at a launch ceremony on the afternoon of 16 April 2016 at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester where they will also receive their prize. If you have not been notified by 1 April 2016, we are afraid you have not been successful.

◾The competition is open to anyone over the age of 16, except for members of the Poets and Players committee.
◾Poems must be in English, typewritten in single space, font size 12.
◾Poems can be on any subject, in any style or form, but must be the author’s own original work. They should not have appeared anywhere before, online or in print. Please do not submit poems that are currently under consideration elsewhere.
◾Maximum line length for individual poems is 40 lines (excluding title). Please do not include photographs or illustrations.
◾No changes can be made to poems once submitted and we regret that we are unable to provide feedback or make any refunds.
◾You may submit as many poems as you wish, accompanied by the appropriate payment and application form.
◾Please note that all competition entries must reach us by Monday 29 February 2016, (online entries may be submitted up to 12 midnight on this date (GMT); postal entries must be received in our mailbox no later than Monday 29 February 2016). Entries arriving after this date will not be considered.



ALL entries must be accompanied by a completed application form (see the link below):

Competition Application Form 2016
◾Please post the completed Competition Application form and poems to: Poets and Players Poetry Competition, Poetry Dene, 16 Clifton Street, Bury, Lancashire, BL9 5DY.
◾If you wish to receive confirmation of your entry please enclose a prepaid envelope.
◾Poems must be printed on separate, numbered sheets, word processed (or typed) and clearly legible (single spaced and font size 12).
◾Please do not include your name or other identifying information on the same page as the poem/s. All poems will be judged anonymously.
◾You may enter as many poems as you wish but please ensure you add all poem titles to the application form.
◾Entry fee is £4 per poem or 3 for £10. Please do not send cash. Postal entries must be paid by cheque or postal order (only email entries may use Paypal). Please make payable to ‘Poets and Players’ and send together with your poem/s and Competition Application form to the address above.


ALL entries must be accompanied by a completed application form (see the link below):

Competition Application Form 2016
◾Please email the completed Competition Application form and poems to All email entries will be acknowledged.
◾Please ensure that all poems are sent as an attachment and not in the body of the email. Please use your name as the title of the document (poems and application form can be in the same document but must be on separate pages). If you are submitting more than one poem you may include them all in the same attachment but please ensure pages are numbered and start each poem on a new page. Single spaced and font size 12. Please save documents as doc, docx or PDF.
◾You may enter as many poems as you wish but please ensure you add all poem titles to the application form.
◾Please do not include your name or other identifying information on the same page as the poem/s. All poems will be judged anonymously.
◾Entry fee is £4 per poem or 3 for £10. Email entries must be paid by Paypal, IMPORTANT please include the Paypal reference number on the application form.

Angela Topping: Featured Poet

Spring Lines
after Larkin

An early morning train to London and Canary Wharf
from Crewe, the first warm day of the year. Regular
as local stations, lines of laundry start to appear.

Backyards and suburban gardens, balconies of flats:
strings of washing hang half the length of England.
Freed-up linens, tugged by spring’s fingers, on parade.

Even the pegs are little miracles, brought forth
from ingenious bags, to clutch underwear,
spread sheets and dangle white lace handkerchiefs.

Small acts of love, pinned up with such hope of drying,
kissing an April Saturday from North to South,
a fanfare of frills, bunting-dressed to welcome spring.
Calling me on the Phone

was an ordeal then:
you, pathologically shy,
no phone anyway,
a long walk to the nearest call box.

Me, shy too,
hating answering the thing
that squatted blackly
in the garishly-papered hall.

Yet we had our first big row
on the telephone,
you, full of beer and justified wrongs,
angry that I had failed to show.

Me, staying in, tearful,
waiting for a summons
that never came. Rebellious,
I slammed down the phone.

Oh, we patched it up
after a fashion, but both know
these things happen,
if not one way then another.

Can’t blame the telephone,
can’t blame each other.


Angela Topping’s first collection, Dandelions for Mother’s Day, was published in 1988 by Stride. It opened doors for her which led her into teaching English and Drama in secondary school. She emerged 16 years later with two further collections(Stride and bluechrome) and a desire to return to freelance writing. Since then, Salt Books published a solo children’s collection, The New Generation, and a short collection, I Sing of Bricks. She has had a pamphlet with Rack Press (2011), a collection with Lapwing, Paper Patterns, which included work from her collaboration with artist Maria Walker. The collaborated exhibition was shown at StAnza in 2013 and has toured the North West of England. A selection of poems on Motherhood and Childhood was published by Mother’s Milk Books, as was a pamphlet collaboration with fellow poet Sarah James, Hearth (2015). A new collection is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press.
Topping’s poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, The North and many other journals. They have been set for A level and featured on Poetry Please (Radio 4). In 2013, she was one of the writers in residence at Gladstone’s Library.



“No-one saves us but ourselves. No-one can and no-one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Buddha.

This pamphlet of just sixteen poems is published by The Poetry Space – just sixteen poems yet each one so powerful and intensely inspiring that the reader is left feeling that this is a full collection. Wendy’s death in 2015 followed years of being completely bedridden – that these poems were written without the ability to use pen, paper, or keyboard, is a testament to the remarkable strength and commitment of a courageous poet and to the dedicated carers who took down dictation and revised and edited as Wendy spoke.

In Sanskrit Kshanti means ‘patience, forbearance’ ‘unaffected by’ or ‘able to withstand’ – the ability to endure personal hardship, acceptance of the truth, and remain undefeated.

There is a dignity in this writing which invites the reader to focus on the poems dispassionately – Wendy’s direct and honest insight into her own suffering is humbling. In this creative response to her helplessness, these brave and energetic poems never shy away from the reality of her situation:

This room/These four walls/This prison-like place/Is my shrine room

We are drawn into the fragility of life, and how little it can take to change a person’s world:

It doesn’t take much to change the world …… Sudden crash on a football pitch/Brain-damaged at eighteen …… Nervous horse on a stormy night/Paraplegic for life …… Hospital error at six weeks old/Six weeks old …… It doesn’t take much to change your world …… Sometimes life stands still …… for all of us …

In Slowly, slowly Wendy shares with us her anger and frustrations and her gradual coming to terms through spiritual enlightenment:

You bring your news
And I am in turmoil
I have my tantrums
And I ask myself why

But then slowly, slowly
I come to see you
And slowly, slowly
I come to know you
And slowly, slowly
You come to guide me
And always it hurts


And her vulnerability is nowhere better expressed than in the poem Powerless –

I will have to, it seems,
Shed my skin for you,
And let it fall to my feet,
So you may see the very bones of me.

Make of it what you will,
For I will have nothing left to say then.

All out of forgiveness, you see.

The poems in this pamphlet are at once heartbreaking and uplifting, and each one takes you to a different place on the path to enlightenment. They are never hopeless.

Trapped on the inside

Life came to me today,
Through my window,
All feathers and passion
With more colour, intensity, swiftness and determination
Than perhaps I’ve ever known before.

It perched, finally,
Trapped on the inside for once,
And it looked at me.
I spoke to it, calming it,
And then I set it free.

Life came to me today,
Trapped on the inside for once.

I set it free…

I would highly recommend this little pamphlet as one to keep beside you, one which should sit on the top of the pile as a reminder that every moment of life is a celebration. At £5 it is worth every penny and more.

Available from The Poetry Space –

Many of Wendy’s poems can be found at
And Buddhist Poetry Review

Valerie Morton was born in London, grew up in Kent and now lives by the River Lea in Hertfordshire. Her collections, Mango Tree and Handprints are available from Indigo Publishing.

Jennifer Grigg and the Green Bottle Press


Debut collections

I think most presses will publish a first collection if they are wowed by the poet, but it seems there are more competitions for pamphlets (Cinnamon, Poetry Business, Pighog) that then publish the winners (Flarestack has a competition and only publishes pamphlets). There has been a big rise in pamphlet publishing and competitions generally. From my reading around, it seems there are more debut-only presses in the US.

Why set up a poetry press?

I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years and was finally moved to when Salt closed its poetry imprint. I felt there were lots of poets not being published who really merited a first collection or pamphlet (if younger/less experienced, etc). I almost felt, as a poet myself, and someone who didn’t have to rely on public funding for the first few books, that I had an obligation to set up a press! Only publishing debuts and pamphlets means I’m launching the poet and then they go for their next collection with someone else. So, I don’t have to commit beyond one book for each poet – I think it will leave me free to publish more people in the long run.


Track record

Yes, the submission guidelines state that you have to have a track record of print publication in some of the better known journals. Shortlisted or prize-winning poetry is also a bonus. I’m not so keen on only online publishing because so few are respected editorially. I’ve seen dreadful typos, etc. online.
The publication track record shows that you are able to polish your work to a certain level and that you’re not a beginner. I’m not in a position to mentor anyone – though I think that’s a great route for beginners if they can afford it and have the time.

What are you looking for in a submission?

I want to be surprised by unusual, fantastic, imaginative use of language. Beginner-poet giveaways are clichés that haven’t been edited out and line endings that have no meaning. Sometimes subject matter might initially put me off, but the writing will redeem it. I believe that nothing is off limits as a topic for poetry – it just depends how you write it. If I like someone’s submission I will find myself thinking about it all the time. Sometimes I’ll read something and the proverbial hairs go up on the back of my neck. With both Sarah Sibley and Jill Munro’s work I was surprised, amused and kept thinking about their imagery and ideas.


What kind of writing interests and surprises you?

I am often surprised by good writing on subjects that don’t interest me. I know it’s possible to write good poetry about anything, but rarely do I find poetry about professional sports, young love, dreams or menstruation interesting. I know lots of people write about these things and if the writing is good, I’m interested! I like to be proven wrong. The kind of poets I’m interested in and can read again and again are Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O’Hara, Lowell, Heaney, Michael Donaghy, Carol Ann Duffy, to name a few.

Many thanks for your time Jennifer.

Nine Arches – hot off the press

new poetry for 2016
Isobel• Isobel Dixon – Bearings


In this wide-ranging fourth collection, Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. These poems are forays of discovery and resistance, of arrival and loss. Dixon explores form and subject, keeping a weather eye out for telling detail, with a sharp sense of the threat that these journeys, our wars and stories, and our very existence pose to the planet.

Forthcoming April 2016


Julia.jpg• Julia Webb – Bird Sisters


Julia Webb’s Bird Sisters is a surreal journey through sisterhood and the world of the family via the natural world. Fascinated by the “otherness” of things, her poems expose worlds and relationships that are not always entirely comfortable places to exist, featuring transformation – both real and metaphorical: a woman wears a dress of live bees, family members turn into owls and sparrows…
Forthcoming May 2016



• Abegail Morley – The Skin Diary

Abegail Morley’s new poetry collection The Skin Diary confronts loss in its many forms with unwavering and astonishing clarity, yet there’s an incandescent thread running through every line that makes each alive with fierce and steely energy.


Forthcoming May 2016

Also forthcoming in 2016:

Primers: Volume 1.
Due April 2016, featuring poets Maureen Cullen, Geraldine Clarkson, Lucy Ingrams and Katie Griffiths
Penelope Shuttle & John Greening – Heath
Due July 2016
Roy Macfarlane  – Beginning With Your Last Breath
Due September 2016
Gregory Leadbetter – The Fetch
Due July 2016
Angela Readman – The Book of Tides
Due July 2016

‘Daniel Sluman’s new collection explores acute and chronic, emotional and physical pain (and, albeit less often, pleasure) with a raw, compelling urgency. At times playful, at times harrowing, the terrible always brims with life.’ – Carrie Etter‘Vivid and honest poems of intense experience, in which no wound is too deep to be cauterised by language.’ – Jean Sprackland

‘This is a decadent work of painstaking beauty. Its sophisticated chromatic spectrum is fevered with a minimal though striking palette of monochrome and the occasional burst of pure, visceral colour ’ – Melissa Lee-Houghton

‘In this unflinching collection, Daniel Sluman evokes raw truths at the core of personal experience … Each moment of hope they reveal is as fragile and beautiful as a lit match in a cellar.’ – John McCullough

Find out more and buy the terrible

Joan Byrne Featured Poet


viennaleopold_joanI slept with Raymond Chandler

He was terse to the point
of silence. No snoring.

No tussles over the duvet.
He didn’t kick or lash out.

Like a couple of babes,
we slept and I dreamt

of a hat, a coat and a gun.
When I came to, Ray

was flat out on the pillow,
the bookmark in place.


three novels re-viewed

Darcy, I get that you’re wealthy
and need to be wary you’re loved
for yourself, not for your fortune
but, really, how could you be so cruel
to Miss Bennett? You are fortunate,
indeed, that Miss Austen redeems you
and penned that you came to love
Elizabeth (despite her faults)
‘for the liveliness’ of her mind.
Her mind. What a novel thing to admire
in a woman.

As for you, Miss Havisham, get over it.
Others have been disappointed in love,
but were each to sit gathering dust,
why, life would be filthy. Get washed,
change your clothes. Open the windows
of your heart to more upset
and even greater expectations.

Now, Captain Ahab, sorry you lost
a leg to a whale but, let’s face it,
you behaved stupidly and animals
get hungry. Whether you needed to spend
the rest of your days risking the lives
of your crew to a white sperm
whale you called Moby-Dick
is another matter.
Too many pages later, I think not.

Published in Orbis

Joan is a poet and photographer. Her poetry is published in Obsessed With Pipework, Orbis, South Bank Poetry, Five Leaves book, Over Land, Over Sea and webzine Ink, Sweat & Tears. Nominated by StepAway Magazine for the Pushcart Prize in 2015.

Joan has read her work at the Conway Hall, pubs and literary festivals. She regularly performs in south London and beyond with the Rye Poets, a trio of poets of which she is one. They will perform at the Poetry Café’s Fourth Friday on 25 March 2016. She is a member of the Poetry Society’s Southwark Stanza.

Combining words with photography she has published two Blurb books, one documenting the zaniness of Peckham where she lives – Feckham Peckham –
and the other capturing surreal aspects of her local cemeteries – Grave Art.

Adrienne Silcock on Sampo by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby

Sbobampo : Heading Further North
Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby
Red Squirrel Press

Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby have achieved a fascinating read. I hesitate to assign this volume to the nomenclature of “poetry collection”, because these poems are so much more than that. Folklore, legend, history and social commentary interweave, and, like all good poetry, the more you pick at the threads, the more colour you find.

You don’t need to know about the Finnish epic poem Kalevala to enjoy the poetry – the imagery is bright and immediate, such as in Bath Time where “the gurgle of the plumbing”, “the sea’s muffled voice” and “beady black eye in the spider plant” summon the imagination. However, the useful notes both in the Forward and in a glossary at the back help to draw the uninitiated into an entire world. Rightly so; these words are based upon a creation myth. We’re talking big ideas here.

The main thread of the story follows Vainamoinen, the so-called Old Man of Wainola, a shaman-style figure who was born of the ocean after seven years in the womb (by sheer coincidence, or, more likely, the magic of poetry, this resonates with my own poem Seal Man*). The search for Sampo is on; a magical artefact which will bring healing in the same vein as the Holy Grail and other epic-story quests. The voices vary from the Old Man himself, through the young and luckless girl, Aino (to whom the Old Man is pledged and who runs away and drowns), to the hornet who poisons the iron at the forge, ensuring iron ever after would be thirsty for blood. But this isn’t some old fairy tale to consign to history; the modern day is here every step of the way, from coal mining’s legacy of ill-health and death for its workers (“you hear the voices of crushed miners”) through to car theft and vandalism in Walking in Circles. This is the voice of the North, sung in varying rhythms and forms, from sestina in Battle Rune to the delightful loose poems of Flotsam and Jetsam which float in and out of the series, just as their name suggests.

The style, too, is eclectic. You may wonder how such lines such as “an eagle’s flight among the clouds” can sit comfortably with “Nice One! / So muggings here says just show me to the anvil.” Somehow the reader has to allow it to work, just as at times the Kalevalan metre seems to jar with an English ear more easily attuned to iambic pentameter. The poems are full of wit, with lovely accessible titles, such as “The Trouble with Wizards” and “Be Careful What You Fish for”, with a constant theme of that dips in and out of time, leaving the reader feeling kind of timeless. Very apt for a work inspired by the creation myths.

And just as in the tradition of the Finnish stories, these poems are to be celebrated orally, with a feel for depth, whilst managing to avoid elitism. If you haven’t already, see if you can catch Bob and/or Andy in one of their live readings.

Another triumph for Northern writers. This is definitely a book that promises to make a mark!

Adrienne Silcock
*Silcock A.J (2014) Seal Man in Taking Responsibility for the Moon. Teesside:Mudfog

Adrienne published her first novel Vermin (Flambard) in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. The Kiss, her third novel, is available on kindle. Her poetry and stories have appeared in the small press magazines, including anthologies Miracle and Clockwork (Other Poetry), The Clock Struck War (Mardibooks, 2014), and The Other Side of Sleep (Arachne Press, 2014). Her short stories appear on websites Penny Shorts and Cutalongstory and a world reader to aid international English teaching. In 2014 she published her first poetry pamphlet with Mudfog Press, Taking Responsibility for the Moon. She currently teaches creative writing for York University Centre for Lifelong Learning. Website: