Olga Dermott-Bond – Axe


Such a simple word. Brutal to begin, quick
to end. Glad of the distance between us

I study it. A ship run aground in a glass case,
its blade narrowing beautifully to a curved keel.

Then the handle, heavy as a church pew, wood worn
in two places from practised hands of a headsman.

I picture a neck exposed, pink sinews propped
like a stick of snapped rhubarb gleaming with sugar

beads for a few seconds, before boards darken,
splinters stained again with a body spilled over.

I study it, the opposite of a lung or a bicycle
or a wildflower, and am reminded of the wail

of a child being left by her mother. A front door closing
as a silvered edge. An unchartered place called severance.

(17th century Axe, used for executing criminals in St Andrews, St Andrews Museum, Fife)


Olga is from Northern Ireland. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Paper Swans Press, Magma, Ink Sweat and Tears, Under the Radar and Reflex fiction. She is a teacher and has two young children. @olgadermott


Review of The Other Guernica by Derek Sellen by Steve Xerri


The Other Guernica by Derek Sellen published by Cultured Llama

Derek Sellen’s attractively produced The Other Guernica, published by Cultured Llama, carries the tagline Poems Inspired by Spanish Art. But if you tend to look slightly askance at the device of ekphrasis, that verbal description of visual artwork which sometimes smacks of the five-finger exercise or comes across as a would-be conspiracy of aesthetes, you needn’t worry : there’s far more to this poetry than descriptions of painted surfaces.

The very title The Other Guernica is a clue to the kind of oblique approach the book takes, playing as it does on our familiarity with the ‘Guernica’, Picasso’s famous protest against the horrors visited by Franco’s forces on the inhabitants of a village : but the name is in fact borrowed from a work we are much less likely to know, Luis Quintanilla’s other representation of that incident in a series of murals, which itself seems (as Sellen describes it) to reach across history, finding parallels with the biblical Massacre of the Innocents and, in our own day, with “the other Sarajevo, the other Fallujah, the other Aleppo”.

A broadening-out of meaning is achieved in part by sketching the essentials of the painter as well as the painting, telling us that “all his life, Luis Quintanilla / has drawn the particular […] even the rats during his prison spell.” It is to the drawing of the particular and the different that the poet responds; and it’s an artist’s delight in the telling detail which is suggested by the sparky language Sellen applies to the particularities of his chosen paintings and to the feelings they provoke in him.

This is the crux – the full significance of the artworks flowers as a result of what the observer brings to them. That’s true of any painting, any text : but the immense pleasure of reading The Other Guernica comes largely from witnessing how that expansive movement takes place on the page, through the intervention of the poet admirer and well beyond what a painter long-dead could have envisaged.

In forms as varied as near-concrete poetry and unrhymed sonnet, Sellen vividly expresses his personal recall of time spent – now contemplatively, now perhaps slightly more riotously – in his beloved Spain. At the other end of a very wide scale, he delivers sober reflection on the cruelty with which Spanish history, like any other, is riven.

The balance, though, tends to come down on the side of the wryly amusing, the beautiful and the joyous in these paintings : what Sellen gives us in his responses to them is not a series of art-gallery selfies dominated by the poet but evocations of the work themselves – not, I repeat, superficial descriptions of, say, a painted quince or historic slaughter, not even a mere account of the process of transferring still life or teeming crowd scene to the canvas.

Rather, the collection presents objects and events mediated first through paint and then through the filter of a skilled poet’s thought and language, their resonances amplified and overlaid by his many acts of careful looking, so as to produce a rich and humane document of a kind of kinship of creators in sympathy with the world they encounter through their senses.


Steve Xerri is a former teacher, musician & designer now engaged in poetry & pottery. Was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2017. Published in Acumen, Amaryllis, Brittle Star, Cinnamon anthology ‘From Hallows to Harvest’, Clear Poetry, Envoi, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House, The Poetry Shed, Poetry Society Newsletter (Members’ Poems) and Stride Magazine.


Caleb Parkin – How to Preserve a Fatberg

 How to Preserve a Fatberg
– Museum of London, April 2018

Since you’ve decided this Chimera of Muck
is worthy of display, you’ll need to prepare
your kit, get together an A-Team crack squad
with strong stomachs and seriously
inadequate senses of smell.

You’re going to need tools, lots of tools,
to circumvent the stools and stench.
Step into these waders – your saviours;
don this gas mask – and don’t ask.
Avoid any visible skin, because
the bacteria are having a par-tay
down here – and you’ve gate-crashed.

Descend. Enter this brick-lined
Victorian id; their gift
for keeping everything beneath
the Powder Rooms. This is the Lair
of the Fatberg, the Realm of the Reek,
everything we wish would just vanish
is here – every flush and dump,
every discarded parp, each tissue
and morning after. Perhaps you’ll notice

it take a shape as its crusts cling
to the masonry: a face, perhaps –
a figure. You’re going to need to save
just a bit of it, or nobody will believe you;
even though every cotton-bud, every moist
wipe, every tampon, is evidence of
some body. So grip your pick-axe,
your shovel, your pen. We’re going
to be here a while.

Caleb Parkin is a poet, performer, artist, facilitator, educator & filmmaker, based in Bristol. His career has encompassed media production, education, the arts, and their therapeutic/wellbeing applications – these days, he works with schools, museums, science centres, universities, and more.

His work has appeared in The Rialto, Poetry Review, Atticus Review, Moving Poems, Folia, Eyedrum Periodically and other publications in print, online & performance. He was second prize-winner in the National Poetry Competition 2016, shortlisted in The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition 2016, commended in the Ware Open Poetry Competition 2016, and first place in the Winchester Poetry Prize 2017.

He’s in the dissertation year of an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes with Metanoia Institute, holds professional membership of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), and is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA).

You can read more about his online and print publications here: https://couldbethemoon.co.uk/where/publication


Jeff Skinner – No End of Blue Things

No End of Blue Things

The bone china mug you drank from every morning
we’ve retired like a shirt;

an exhibition of blouses, perfume-faint,
hung behind a door I dare not open.

For coastal walks a darker coat,
the cursive waves, more grey than blue.

Allotment skies in April, May,
your riderless bike, desolate tools.

Archived to the loft, decorations nest in boxes:
each Christmas brought a new one for the girls.

By your bedside cabinet
a special collection of books; silver chain

meandering as a river from a plane,
icon of phone;

and a late portrait, a gift
from the gallery our lives curate:

last holiday, you’re toying
with an ice cream. Soon we’ll be listening

to world music, water songs of harp and kora,
the lit cathedral swimming.


Jeff Skinner’s poems have appeared in the Morning Star, the Stare’s Nest, Crowsfeet, Clear Poetry, Ground Poetry, The Open Mouse , Poetry Space, Poetry News, Prole, and on a Guernsey bus. He was long listed in the Bridport competition in 2012, shortlisted in the 2015 Wells Poetry Competition, and commended in this year’s Ver and Poetry Space competitions. He reads occasionally with Exeter Poets Uncut.



Clare Crossman – Kitsch


Bought in Tenby,
it was your favourite.
A house made of shells,
mussels for walls,
a scallop painted red for a door.
A bulb in the middle, made a lamp.
in numbers they would have made
a miners terrace.

Mine was a Greek souvenir:
gold lacquered fish,
threaded on blue string.
Out of oceans and gods,
a mythic sea, I would swim Aegean water,
native on an archipelago of islands.

Girls that we were,
we kept them in our house
as treasured possessions.
Solace of small things, to remake
the world as it might be.
Beside the glass chimes
and their wind made aesthetic,
they decorated the room.

Imprinted with different dreams,
quickly, their paint chipped and peeled.
As we too grew apart, lost each other.
Despite, the embroidered endearments
we found in antique shops,
that spelled ‘Home is where the Heart is’,’
or tea poured from
the ornate cottage shaped pot,
the shell house on the mountains,
the fish for all seas.


Clare Crossman has published three collections of poetry with Shoestring Press. The most recent being The Blue Hour 2017. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies. She recently published Winter Flowers a memoir of the life of  Cumbria artist  Lorna Graves. She lives outside Cambridge.


Peter Wellby – In the Museum of Amazement


On Monday morning the small Buddha in the vestibule
started doing back-flips, over and over, until his gold leaf fell away
and he had quickly to adjust his robes.
At the front desk Miss Maple looked the other way
and remembered how she used to smile.

On Tuesday, in the Natural History Department,
the dodo was seen to wink.
Politely but firmly the ancient custodian requested a transfer.

On Wednesday, the pterodactyl clattered its beak like a football rattle,
then played grandmother’s footsteps with a school party
in anapaestic measure, after they’d left their teacher among the fossils.

On Thursday, a drum, not beaten at the burial of Sir John Moore
was found to have done a Coruna.

On Friday, in the Department of Antiquities,
when the shutters were opened,
a Greek warrior (in the style of Phidias),
was discovered without his spear.
Nearby a Spartan hoplite lay impaled against the wall.

On Saturday, in the gilt coach that took Princess Caroline
to marry the mad Danish King Frederick,
the red velvet plush cushions, perceived to have a rime of white,
were found salty and damp.

On Sunday, on the inside of Nelson’s black silk eye-patch,
a little greened with age,
an exquisite miniature of Emma Hamilton appeared,
undoubtedly by Romney.

When Monday came again, the whole museum was filled with children
eyes as wide a guineas.
These new custodians were fresh-minted
with curls like waterfalls.
Their smiles abashed the sun.
Miss Maple was their swelling moon.


Derek Sellen reviews Mapping by Mark Totterdell

Mapping by Mark Totterdell (Indigo Dreams Publishing ) isbn 978-1-910834-80-0

‘What is Britain?’, ‘What does Englishness mean?’ are questions often asked in the media. I don’t think ‘Mapping’ necessarily sets out to answer such queries but nevertheless it offers a view of the nation from a poet who lives and travels close to the land.

The opening sequence, ‘Map’, is a formidable achievement, consisting of forty-nine short poems, each numbered according to the Ordnance Survey map of an area of Britain. The range of these poems encompasses localities from Land’s End to Harris, from Caernarfon to Norfolk, from the Solent to Iona. The over-lapping OS maps unfold alongside one another as you read in a steadily building patchwork. The poems bring into focus not just local landscape but cumulatively an overall vision.

Each quatrain is enjoyable and technically impressive, fluently employing lines of varying length and using inventive rhyme and alliteration as in ‘181 – Minehead and Brendon Hills’:

He saw the short pecks of high unhedged roads,
the heath hinted at by extended ellipsis,
the asterisks of mounds that took the dead’s
fine residues in former days. On this.

As this poem shows, Totterdell often exploits the tension between place and map, between the thing and the sign, in this case the mound and the asterisk. However he is alert to nature in itself, to local custom and to the beauties and flaws of the landscapes and towns he passes. We are offered the ‘green fan-vaulting’ of the beeches on the approach to Norwich, the ‘knuckles of the North York Moors’ and the ‘scooped scarps’ of the Brecon Beacons as well as the ‘battleship-grey’ city of Plymouth, and much else.

He often creates an ironic distance between himself and the ‘he’ of the poems – he feels ‘like a god, like a perfect piece of shit’, he imagines himself imagining ‘his minstrel self’. These and other references suggest a personal narrative without revealing it in full.

The following section contains seven poems each titled with the name of a genus, for example ‘Chrysaora’ and ‘Smerinthus’. If you’re as ignorant as I was of the nomenclature, each poem becomes a riddle. What is this for example?

This fort of froth, a foam-home
for the raw green speck

Most challenging is ‘Arctia’ where the tale – ostensibly of a 60s hippie with a penchant for jackets in ‘chocolate and cream’, who disappeared when ‘the whole scene shifted’ – masks the identity of the creature at the heart of the poem. These are intriguing poems which show a depth of knowledge, observation and passion for the quirks of nature.

The third series, ‘Pub’, has its genesis explained in the final poem where the writer comes across an aptly named pub:

How about pubs, you said.
The names of them. A flash of stone in the valley
through the trees. And there it was, the Fountain Head.

His companion’s suggestion gave rise to eighteen poems, describing the eighteen different pubs themselves and riffing on their names. The series is a celebration of traditional pubs, the drink and food which they serve and of the treasury of words and images that resides in their idiosyncratic names. Often the images from the pub signs come alive – from the Bird in Hand, a falcon takes flight in imagination seeking ‘its wild other’, at The Double Locks, an otter ‘has passed by, through the long wild grasses’, at The Anchor, a free band of dolphins

are playing their bodies. Each sweet looping
grace note slips over and under and over
and under and over the line of the sea.

The fourth section is ‘Bird’. From the comical wordplay of ‘Magpie’ to the awed appraisal of ‘Eagle Owl’, they are consistently enjoyable and evocative. They both chronicle the life of birds and examine the personalities with which we endow them. There is lots to learn here from the folk names of cormorants and the difference between cormorant and shag (no snigger-puns please, as the poem requests) to the keen observation of how a robin sings.

The poems that feel most personal – although all the work is coloured with the poet’s enthusiasms – are in the final section. ‘Well’ is a poet’s credo, with the simplicity of rhythm and language of a ballad, a fitting end to the collection. However two of the most telling lines in the collection occur in ‘The Shepherd and Dog’ in the series ‘Pub’, encapsulating as they do the pervading spirit of Mark Totterdell’s collection:

I slept in soft cool green of beetles’ glow.
my world a room that found no need for walls.

If you’re not up for travelling the length and breadth of Britain yourself, you can lie in the cool green glow of the poems in ‘Mapping’ and enjoy Totterdell’s unique insights and vision.


J V Birch – Masks


I never had the chance to give you the masks
we bought you from The Gambia. Leaving gifts

to last minute, we wearied a market with the midday
sun, intent on finding you something among

the rainbow of dresses, the hand-painted bowls,
the ivory nobody wants anymore. And then

I saw them—heavy lidded, full lips, slender
noses, one male, the other less so—exquisitely

carved in dark wood. I knew you’d like them,
would examine them slowly, even feel the African

heat in your palm. We came back on a Thursday
and I called you the next day to tell you about our trip.

I asked how you were. You said you hadn’t been feeling
yourself, that it was probably nothing. On Sunday you rang

from a hospital, in with suspected gall stones, a bladder
that may have to come out. And then it all happened quickly.

Tests revealed shadows—the secondary found first,
the primary after—a diagnosis was given but no time.

You died. In seven days. At home. In your sleep.
I never had the chance to give you the masks

we bought you from The Gambia. Think this when I see
them on the wall in our study. A world away, like you.


J V Birch lives in Adelaide. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, journals and magazines across Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. She has two collections—Smashed glass at midnight and What the water & moon gave me—published by Ginninderra Press. She blogs at www.jvbirch.com


Peggy Duthie – Identification


An animal on an Edo scroll
looks to me like a cat. An expert says it’s a tiger;
Deon calls it a dog. His twin
curls her lip, says anyone can see
it’s a bear, stupid. Their mom
of course steps in with “Don’t call people ‘stupid.’”
Daya plants her hands on her hips, replying,
“Sometimes people are.” Her name means
sympathy or compassion in Sanskrit
and holy wow is she ruthless. I’m glad
I’m merely an aunt—and not a “real” aunt—
just the old friend who drags them to museums
so mom—Diana—can remember what it’s like
to sit with a fancy coffee drink
after visiting pictures inside frames and cases.
Today by the time we reach the café,
the conversation’s ancient history. Deon and Daya
race to the lawn with their popsicles,
giddily squabbling over whose tongue
looks more like their chow’s when it’s blue.
Diana hovers over the lotus
drawn on her latte, not quite ready
to be its destroyer, even though it
was never made to last
for longer than a glance. I think about
the creature on the scroll: so big, so furry,
and such a sweet face, a half-naked monk
gazing into its eyes as if it could understand.



Peg Duthie is the author of Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Rattle and Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, at the CDC Poetry Project and the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and elsewhere.



Dominic James – The Harrow

The Harrow

Levered from our native soil,
cleaned of rust, stain of oil,
we retired the ancient harrow
to a tall, museum window,
its time is done. Captive engine
of the fields, bog-juggernaut,
turner of the fertile crust,
plougher-in of men:
leave the sun to paint its wheels,
expose the iron prongs
cordoned off from childish hands
until the shears dull.

No shadow in the sun
On the lawn’s green sward
not a hand grenade but the frayed remains
of a gardening glove
black and fingerless,
hard to recognise, without the merest
seam of reflection
being out of place
by the apple tree, just a fluke of light –
its sudden darkness
in the afternoon
had the look of eyes behind drawn curtains
or the young blade’s knife
in sunny Tottenham –
with its measured spite, burnt-out core of night
toad-like with no lustre
in the total warmth
of a garden, how we spot with dread the thing
unknown or unexpected.



Dominic James lives in Chalford, Glos with his partner, Helen. He attends poetry meetings up and down the Thames Valley and is a member of the Bright Scaf group. This summer he has poems in Obsessed with Pipework and The High Window. His collection ‘Pilgrim Station’ was published by SPM Publications in December, 2016.