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 http://www.sarah-james.co.uk and she runs V. Press, a poetry and flash fiction imprint.

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