still born by Valerie Morton & Karen Dennison

Still Born Front Cover.jpg

This poetry pamphlet follows a long tradition of ‘response poems’ and is a collaboration between Valerie Morton and Karen Dennison. It alternates between real and imagined voices, creating a two-way poetic conversation that explores the nature of identity, loss, regret and emotional healing.

Valerie is the author of two poetry collections – Mango Tree (2013) and Handprints (2015) – both published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. She is the publisher of Elephant (A Poetry of Elephants) edited by Rebecca Gethin. Since 2017 she has been Poet in Residence at a Hertfordshire Pinetum. She is a member of Ver Poets.

For a Short Time

We might have held hands, danced
around each other, toes touching
in the liquid ballroom of a womb.

Thirty years too late I learn of you –
that I needn’t have feared
my shadow or frowned when mother

looked past me at something I couldn’t see
but felt I should.
I’ve sensed your presence many times –

now I know you are the song
on my pillow, the sudden
streak of light that warms my cheek,

the hand I often feel in mine –
and I wonder would you
have chewed your nails the way I do?

Valerie Morton


Karen is the author of two poetry collections – Counting Rain (Indigo Dreams, 2012) and The Paper House (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019). She is editor, designer and publisher of the pamphlets Book of Sand, Blueshift and Free-fall, where artists respond to poetry and poets to art. Karen is co-editor of and designs for Against the Grain Poetry Press.

Rosemary for Remembrance

Rub this rosemary between finger and thumb
to escape the walled garden where you walk
the same path. Do not cling like dead roots
to these crumbling bricks. There is more
than one sun. Listen. The river is calling,
rocking the empty boat. There is more
than one heart. I know you’re lost in the lyrics
of don’t be cruel, that each verse for you
is a windowless room. But there is more
than one song. Remember the girl setting out
in the dark, how the moon was an oyster
to be shucked, how each day slid down
your throat. There is more. There is more.

Karen Dennison

“Still Born is a heart breaking collection of poems which takes the process of grief and passes it back and forth between two accomplished poets. The poems ripple and reflect the personal and the profound nature of loss in a way that allows the reader the space to think and reflect. This is a beautiful collection which shines with love.”  Wendy Pratt

All profits from this pamphlet’s sale will go to Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity.

Charity registration numbers – England and Wales (299679) and Scotland (SC042789).




Natalie Shaw – Oh be quiet

Our fourth wonderful poet for 2020…

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Natalie Shaw is one of four poets whose pamphlets we’re excited to be publishing next year. Natalie N Shaw photostarted writing poetry in 2014 after discovering that she didn’t need special permission or a secret key to a secret garden. She spent a very exciting year as part of Jo Bell’s online group 52 and since then has had her work published in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has just finished editing Medusa and Her Sisters, a book of sonnets inspired by a series of drawings by artist Natalie Sirett. This year she was commended in the National Poetry Competition. Oh be quiet is her first pamphlet.

What made you decide to submit your pamphlet to Against the Grain Press?

I’ve been impressed by lots of things about Against the Grain. I’ve read some incredible work from its poets, and I’ve noticed that even as a small press, it has…

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Olga Dermott-Bond – apple, fallen

Against the Grain ‘s third poet of 2020…

Against the Grain Poetry Press

We are delighted we’ll be publishing apple, fallen by Olga Dermott-Bond. Olga is originally from Northern Ireland. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had Olga Dermott-Bondpoetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including RattleMagazine, Dodging the Rain,Magma, Strix, Cordite Review, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House and Paper Swans. She was one of the winners of the 2018 BBC Proms poetry competition and is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021. Olga was selected as one of the emerging poets for Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, a podcast due to be broadcast on Radio 4 in October 2019. She is an Assistant Head in a secondary school and has two daughters. apple, fallen is her debut poetry pamphlet.

A little bit about my pamphlet

apple, fallen questions and confronts ideas…

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Ben Cusden – Join the Dots

Another of our 2020 poets…

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Ben photo for ATG (2)Introducing Ben Cusden and his pamphlet Join the Dots that we’re delighted to be publishing next year…

Ben was an award-winning video editor in the television industry from 1998-2004. Homeless in 2004 and again 2009-2011. He is currently a designer of ethically produced organic cotton garments and carer for his disabled mother.

He has recently been published in Acumen and is about to be published in Prole, The Dawntreader, and an anthology by Salmon Poetry. Previously poems were published by: Salmon Poetry, Poetry Cornwall, Mountain Springs Publishing, Lady Chaos Press, and  Inner Child Press. Shortlisted for The Bridport Prize in 2016.

He is a regular MC for Ruth O’Callaghan’s Lumen and Camden groups and also a regular reader at Peter Evans’ Poets Anonymous in Croydon – appearing on their Croydon FM radio programme twice. He has been a guest reader for Beyond…

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Denise Bundred – Litany of a Cardiologist

The first of Against the Grain Press poets for 2020…

Against the Grain Poetry Press

Denise Bundred 2019

We are thrilled to tell you more about Denise Bundred and her selected pamphlet, Litany of a Cardiologist, we’ll be publishing next year.

Denise trained as a paediatrician in Cape Town and worked as a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University.

She won the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2016 and came second in 2019. Her poetry has appeared in The Hippocrates Prize Anthologies 2012 – 2019, The Book of Love and Loss (eds. J Hall and R.V. Bailey: 2014) and the Winchester Poetry Prize Anthology in 2016. A collection of her poems was commended by Indigo Press in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize Competition in 2018. She also has poems in Envoi, Magma and Under the…

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Announcing our 2020 poets

Against the Grain Poetry Press

It’s been a busy few months for us at Against the Grain. We are poets as well as publishers and collectively we’ve been finishing writing projects, launching books and keeping roofs over our heads. We have also been spending long hours reading the hundreds of submissions that came to us this year. We each read all of them to create a short list. We were full of a glowy gratitude for every submission. We – as poets ourselves – know the pain and effort it takes to put a collection together and then wait with everything crossed to get the results. We were really pleased and impressed with the sheer volume and quality that came to us. We made our selections – some we agreed on and some we argued over and fought for. We can safely say that in some cases we were within a hair’s breath of selecting…

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Please Step Aside So I can Write About the Living by Anna Saunders

Please Step Aside So I can Write About the Living

You need to get the dead out of your poems
you told me but here I am writing of how
a month before you left this earth

we stood together in the gallery and I saw you reflected
in the fictive space of a painting

your form, gleaming white and translucent
as thin frost, or a sleek gauze

floating on the back glass as if airborne
a premature, amorphous haunting
your ghost getting here ahead of you.

You, see-through, overlay an oil sky
which takes up almost all the canvas

a deep hued emptiness which consumes the artist’s vision.

In that huge starless heaven
a white dwelling is as diminished
as a tooth in a cavernous mouth
a moth flying in space.

Your steps are so light
as you walk nearer to me.

How brave to paint so much darkness, you say.

Anna is a published poet, the author of Communion, (Wild Conversations Press), Struck (Pindrop Press), Kissing the She Bear (Wild Conversations Press), Burne Jones and The Fox (Indigo Dreams) and Ghosting for Beginners (Indigo Dreams) .

Anna is also the Executive Director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival and works as a creative writing tutor and mentor, a Communications Specialist, a journalist, broadcaster and a copywriter/editor. Her website: https://annasaunderswriter.co.uk/


Big Sue, Muse Oozing by

Big Sue, Muse Oozing

Belly, breasts, ooze, a lava flow of flesh in gravity’s grasp, no room for dunnage; the sofa, plump itself in faded floral, reminds us of lounge furniture before its distant descendants, Danish chic, et al, sturdy, as needs be supporting 130kg. No mottled sunbeam shafts through a window, no need for effects, just a backcloth.

A book she shall write, and a kind of pseudo-fame, await. Her Job Centre clients, sad litany of losers sluicing down unemployment’s drain, many with her body shape but none regularly posing for an artist, entertained by his jokes, his cooking, his studied rudeness, would be amazed.

Wire-thin, crow-like, he stares at the canvas she can see, squeezes paint, glances at her, colours out her tattoos. His name, famous grandfather’s, resonates, but the work, the visionary artistic existence, this current lure, ‘flesh without muscle’, his ode, this disclosure of her life in splendid, sprawling impasto, impresses her.

She can’t know a Russian who also bought a football club, an oligarch ogling her, shall fork out a record price for a work by any living artist, this but one of several nude feasts featuring her, and whenever she looks at her leg it shall remind her of a leg in these paintings.

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Poetry New Zealand, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.


Sarah James reviews Sophie Essex’s Some Pink Star

sophie essex

Some Pink Star
by Sophie Essex
Eibonvale Press
ISBN: 978-1-908125-75-0

That Some Pink Star looks, reads and feels beautiful in the hands is important given the sensual content of this chapbook, as well as the obvious care to layout and look of the words on the page. White space is a powerful creative element in these poems, which resist one-level reading, instead inviting multiple possible interpretations. Particularly between stanzas, the white space is a place where I make and re-make my semantic linkings. But, more than this, the spaces in these poems also allow for my reactions at an instinctive, non-language level.

This instinctive reaction reinforces my active reading of (and participation in) the poems and also my experience of them as ‘(outside definitions)’ (p.10) as they explore a range of what the cover summarises as ‘the correlation between sex and violence, the willingness of either and both’.

The best way of explaining both possible intentions and effects is to share examples, such as:

‘I want scope for desire
…………….visible depth’
(‘IKB’, p 11)


‘keening tigress
………………I come with the snow
………………bloom like spilt milk’
(‘Silent Red Avalanche’ p. 23)

There are many quotes I could have used. My review copy of the chapbook is heavily underlined and margin-noted with striking lines to return to for their texture, sounds and imagery as well as possible new meanings and connotations.

Colour features both in many of the poems and the poem titles, from ‘Periaqueductal Gray’ and ‘Violet Volcanoes’ to ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Yellowthroat’. As with white space, the use of colours creates tone and atmosphere, while also offering/demanding a sense-based (in this case visually-prompted) response. This might seem almost tender, as in ‘an easy creature bathed in lilac light’ (‘This Is The Colour of My Dreams’, p. 20). But colour often feels unsettling, to suggest a surface appearance/assumption that may not match reality, or even to wield violence, as in:

‘at this hour lilac disruption comes with the knee
arousal teases ferocity’
(‘Prickly Pear’, p,25)


‘this skyline curves a fresh pink brutality
my nose………………bleeds’
(‘Cotton Candy’, p18)

I’ve talked about responding and reacting to these poems instinctively. The best metaphor I can find for my own response is a sense of electricity: the crackle of language and imagery, sparks of desire, hissing arcs of resistance and shock, and also, perhaps, the splitting of the colour spectrum. The latter, of course, isn’t actually how electricity works, and yet this what I feel interacting with the poems as they work language in intriguing ways. Perhaps, the illogic of my colour-splitting analogy is even more appropriate given that the chapbook stretches and tests both its subject matter, language and form to create something unusual, with poems that are beautiful and striking even when they’re sharp. There’s something close to this, for me, in the description of ‘our bodies lit polychromatic’ (‘Pink Grapefruit’, p24).

There are other motifs and themes, including snow, fruit and objectification. Each re-reading I notice new slants and meanings, and experience new reactions and emotions. These poems more than any others that I have read recently defy any notion of being definitively and unexpandably understood. They will always have more, provided, of course, that we want to read for more.

That this should be the case seems particularly important in a chapbook exploring sex and violence as it directly highlights the notion of control – the control that the poet exerts in directing the reader’s understanding, thoughts and emotions and the control that the reader is allowed in interpreting and reacting to the poems. Arguably, the reader here may have a greater level of control than the narrator is allowed in many of the poems’ scenarios.

Finishing this review, I find myself questioning what a review is or should be. If the ideal is to sum up the whole chapbook in a neat and comprehensive way, then I’ve failed. But I also think that even trying to that would be to fail Some Pink Stars because this approach could never do the chapbook justice. However, if you come away from this review feeling something, a reaction or an energy change, then I may partly have succeeded in giving you a taste of these poems. To properly experience Some Pink Stars though is really only possible through reading and experiencing it directly and in full.


Sarah James/Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Author of seven poetry titles, two novellas and a touring poetry-play, she has poetry featured in the Guardian, Financial Times, Bloodaxe anthologies and The Forward Book of Poetry 2016. She was Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015 and her recent titles How to Grow MatchesHow to Grow Matches (Against the Grain Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) were both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Award. Her website is at http://sarah-james.co.uk



Poetry and Cinema – Cinema Museum August 5th, 7pm

Date and Time: Mon, August 5, 2019
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM BST

Cinema Museum
2 Dugard Way
SE11 4TH

Celebrating the potential of literary and avant-garde poetry to explore and refract popular or arthouse cinema, this unique event will see performances and readings by some of London’s most interesting writers followed by a screening of Peter Greenaway’s remarkable and challenging 1993 feature film The Baby of Mâcon. This event aims to re-imagine moving image in the language arts.

The event will see the launch of SJ Fowler’s ‘I Stand Alone by The Devils and other poems on films’ from Broken Sleep Books http://www.stevenjfowler.com/istandalone alongside readings by Yvonne Litschel, Jonathan Catherall, David Spittle and more.

“The Baby of Macon is a sumptuous-looking tale of manipulation, greed, and religious fanaticism set in Peter Greenaway’s favorite era, the 17th century.”

Get tickets HERE