Skelwith Force – Kerry Darbishire

Skelwith Force

She’s dreamed all summer of this moment:
…….the guts to carve through earth’s muscle,
veins and bone, keen as a sculptor’s hands
…….drawn by a harvest moon, cloud-swollen,
bleeding sediment, always running with the grain.
…….She’s singing out her heart, hammering away
under a glassy sky. But this is the tricky part:
…….a millenia of rock can be stubborn as a dam
clotted with blood-shot leaves, steadfast as a heron
…….cut from grey – all day edging for trout.
And now hurled deep in stone she knows it will take only hours
…….to break down aeolian deposits, silt and clay,
she has the tools to undermine roots, slice stratum –
…….nothing stops her giddy swell notching pockets and valleys,
polishing the curve of a limb to a broad sheen, working
……..bridges, villages, fields and lanes to a clean body of marsh
…………………………………………………………………with a night’s harsh rain.


Kerry Darbishire lives in Cumbria. Her collections include: A Lift of Wings 2014, and Distance Sweet on my Tongue, 2018. A biography – Kay’s Ark, 2016 She has won several competitions including shortlisted in the Bridport Prize 2017, and magazines and anthologies.

Pkhali – Nancy Campbell


for AZ

You’re holding flowers, dark as skeins
of beetroot dug up in the sun,
dark as the earth they came from.
The buds open, shaking out shadows
that could not dye them deeper.
The beetroot you prepared last night
only seemed dark as these flowers
until you skinned and sliced the bulbs,
tumbled them in a bowl. Then
such colour! Even now we’ve eaten
it can’t be hidden – the bowl stained pink,
your hands, flushed by the juice;
your hands, that tremble as they hold
these dark flowers.


Nancy Campbell’s books include Disko Bay (Enitharmon, shortlisted for Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016) and The Library of Ice (Simon&Schuster). She was the UK’s Canal Laureate in 2018, and is currently Literature Fellow at Villa Concordia, Bamberg.

Mars Girl – Katherine Stansfield

Mars Girl

She woke one morning & said she was going to Mars.
She was twelve & wore kitten pyjamas.

Her dad was over the moon & mars-
halled the press. In an exclusive Skype call with Newsround

she announced, ‘I’m going to be the first to land, because Mars
says I’m Mars Girl so I’m changing my name. Dad,

don’t call me Fiona anymore. Mars
won’t like it.’ She swapped her kitten pyjamas

for some with red planets – the new Mission to Mars
range from M&S: perfect for pre-teen space cadets.

She tweeted @NASA to say she was their go-to girl for Mars
& @NASA replied, ‘Start training now.

You have to play the long game if you’re Mars
Girl’. So she studied hard for her planetary SATs,

with papers on the climate (chilly) & orbit (687 Earth days) of Mars,
signed up for space camps in deserts, practised,

twice a day on a trampoline in the garden, her mars-
upial bouncing moves for zero-gravity, made lists

of food for galactic pioneers, plumping for mars-
hmallows on the outward shuttle flight:

light on the stomach when the trip to Mars
was so long & lurchy through asteroid fields.

NASA kept her in the loop about Mars
missions, and she grew older. She studied astrophysics,

told talk show hosts she wasn’t mad: Mars
was her destiny. Her foot would be the first to touch it.

Her pyjamas were a blue velour spacesuit with Mars
Girl in glittery red thread. Her dad re-mortgaged the house.

‘Mars,’ she whispered at night, ‘I’m coming. Don’t forget me.’ The Mars
race between China & India heated up

& for a while it looked good for Mars
by 2040 if she changed her citizenship, but computer-simulated

landings still ended in fiery disaster. The funding for Mars
research dried up. She got ill then well again

& Mars burned less brightly on the news. No one cared about Mars
any more, it was all black holes. Her dad died

still believing she’d be the first on Mars
but her pyjamas were whatever was in the sale.

She got ill again & her Mars-
shaped heart couldn’t save her.

She didn’t need NASA & their Mars
mega bucks then. She just closed her eyes & there it was.

Not cold or windy like the books had said. She didn’t need a Mars
suit, only her kitten pyjamas.

‘It’s Mars Girl,’ she said. ‘I’m here.’
‘What took you so long?’ said Mars.


Katherine grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, New Welsh Review, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, and Butcher’s Dog. Seren will publish her second collection in 2020.

The Son – Tim Love

The son

She told him that the pain of dying was
like giving birth – it wouldn’t last forever.
She didn’t want drugs to numb the feeling.

For the funeral he ordered flowers
with long stems because the hospital
could use them after, because tulips,

unlike roses, will not boast about love,
the love that dries them out through
long winters. Their bulbs are poisonous,

not like onions, which only make him cry.
Like all lilies, they need cold shocks
to bring out the best in them.

From then on he wore hope like superman
wears underpants because Kryptonite lurked
in every playground and waiting room.

He kept her jam jar of buttons, each one
a teddy-bear’s lost eye, shaking it nightly,
staring in as if it’s a kaleidoscope.

The sun shone like the moon.
Even the stars believed him now.
He’d give it a year like he promised.


Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet “Moving Parts” (HappenStance) and a story collection “By all means” (Nine Arches Press). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. He blogs at

The Day I Turned Into a Bear – Joe Williams

The Day I Turned Into a Bear

There were funny looks at the station, and
gasps as I clambered onto the train.
I was pleased to secure a double seat,
and that nobody checked my ticket.
I had a perfectly valid one,
and don’t know of any rules that say
you can’t have bears on a train, just
I don’t like to cause any trouble.

At work we agreed it was probably best
if I didn’t see any customers, so
I spent the day answering emails,
making the tea and filing.
I took a longer than usual lunch,
which gave me time to go to the woods,
find a few berries and plants to eat,
and attend to some personal business.

By the time I got to Sainsbury’s, I
was getting used to being a bear.
With a satisfied growl I flipped a fish
out of the fridge compartment.
The queue dispersed. I said that I didn’t
need a bag, or help with packing,
thanked the cashier for their help, carried
my dinner home in my teeth.

I wasn’t intending to go to the pub,
but there was nothing on television,
nothing that would appeal to bears,
so I dropped in for a pint.
I knew I would get a ribbing, of course.
Everyone there was taking the piss.
I lost count of the number of times
I heard the “long paws” joke.

In the morning I was relieved to find
that I was no longer a bear, but
my porridge was far too cold, and I had
a very sore head.


Joe Williams is a writer and performing poet from Leeds. His verse novella, ‘An Otley Run’, published by Half Moon Books, was shortlisted for the Best Novella category in the 2019 Saboteur Awards.

Red Pencil – Jonathan Humble

Red Pencil

I am six years old, my pencil breaks
mid-word in Mrs Foster’s class.

So I turn to my friend Martin,
show him the pencil and whisper,

‘Martin, Martin, my pencil has broke.’
‘Use this,’ he says and passes a substitute,

secretly under our desk.
‘But it’s a red pencil, Martin,’ I say.

He smiles a smile. It is an ‘it’ll all be ok’
sort of smile and so I carry on,

copying lines of words I cannot read,
but which I try my very hardest

to replicate, as neat and true to the original
as I am able, at six, to do.

At the finish, I look down at my page
of writing; my teacher’s lines above,

with mine in red below and I wonder
about the words I have written.

I am happy with the result of my effort;
especially the esses which are

smooth and curvy and flowing and lovely.
They are the best I have ever done.

So, I walk twenty paces to Mrs Foster’s desk,
clutching my paper with pride,

and return ten yards with a slapped arse,
my work in shreds in a basket,

having a brand new perspective on the way of things
and on the reliability of my friend Martin.


Jonathan Humble is a teacher in Cumbria. His poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and other publications such as Ink Sweat & Tears, Obsessed With Pipework, Atrium, Riggwelter, Amaryllis, Eye Flash and Picaroon. His short stories and poems for children have been published in The Caterpillar and Stew Magazine.



If I’d smuggled you through the Search Tank, past the dogs – Avril Joy

If I’d smuggled you through the Search Tank, past the dogs

persuaded them, made them listen in their offices and their conference halls
bought a bicycle and a Tannoy, made the streets ours.
If I’d taken up your letting cup, tipped blood backwards to your veins
ironed your crumpled skin like a skirt smooth at its seams, like a skirt for dancing in.
If I’d opened the prison gates and let them swing
torn down fences, dug tunnels like POWs.
If I’d given you a notebook of swanskin embossed with your name
if we’d sipped tea together from porcelain,
the space around us grown to cathedrals.
If I’d shown you the lacing pattern of leaves, the still pillow of night over hills
bought the day like heroin and banished dreams
if we’d eaten papaya and mango fresh from their trees.
If we’d swum in the Indian ocean
thrown ourselves at waves resisting undertow.
If we’d stood on stilts like stilt fisherman, like Jesus on his cross
guarding the children lost; at sea.
If I’d shown you how the world can sometimes be.


Avril Joy’s poem Skomm won first prize in the York Literary festival, competition 2019. Poems have appeared in Strix, Ink Sweat&Tears, Dream Catcher and Snakeskin. She is currently writing a sequence of poems reflecting on twenty-five years spent working in a women’s prison to be pub in Sept 2019 by Linen Press

Featured Publication – Threat by Julia Webb

Our featured publication for July is Threat by Julia Webb, published by Nine Arches Press.

The poems in Threat, Julia Webb’s second collection, train their eagle-eyes on life
at the margins, and on family, love, loss, belonging and not belonging. They are
not afraid to visit the uncomfortable places where true humanity resides. Threat
is an examination of self from multiple perspectives. Its narratives of both past
and present tread a fine line between fantasy and reality – these are the lives we
have led, the lives we could have led, the lives we are leading or could still lead.
Forensically detailed and disturbing, the dark and sometimes brutal undertow of
small-town life seeps to the surface of these unsettling poems.

“Threat is a powerful and unsettling telling of how it feels to be a girl living in
small town whose surfaces are seethed with graffiti, and home life bristles with
disquiet. A girl whose body grows into a woman’s shape and becomes instant
prey to the lurkers in bars and those who snuffle the playgrounds with bags of
hot chips. Julia Webb’s voice here is magical realism at its most gritty, full of loss
and longing. I found myself in these poems; know their streets and forest
pathways and felt their dangers as a visceral ache.” Helen Ivory

“Threat is a collection which brilliantly manages to be both surreal and of the
body; it’s a reminder that within the perfect metaphor can live a depth of truth
that ordinary language might not be able to discover. Threat knows how closely
love and loss, comedy and tragedy, violence and sexuality can be bound together
within the tight confines of a poem.” Andrew McMillan

“In Julia Webb’s audacious new collection the past is as claustrophobic as one of
the cramped houses she so vividly describes, where families are cooped up
together in dangerous proximity. Tensions simmer in poems of startling
physicality, where the body’s desires and rages make their – sometimes brutal –
presence felt. By turns horrifying, comic and tender, the poems crackle like a
nylon sheet in the dark – full of hair-raising energy. Highly recommended.” Esther Morgan

Threat Cover WEB


The language of home hurts my mouth

It spies on me at night, peering in through the letterbox.
Though I left years ago, it hasn’t let me go;

when I was six it tied a bit of elastic to my ankle
so I would always bounce back again,

when I was ten it inked its name on the insides of my thighs,
enjoying slipping its hand between my legs.

This is how it is with us – me running, it pouncing.
Mostly it speaks in screeches, the rising voice of accusation.

My hometown doesn’t have an s, an a,
or any other friendly letter. All its sounds are hard.

Weeks and months go by now where I barely say its name
but its language lives inside me,

spills out at odd moments as fucks and cunts,
a whole town teeming with swear words.

Beyond that the shush of pines;
shoulder to shoulder silence, shoulder to shoulder dark.

Previously published in Lampeter Review (#16, summer 2018)


The Doll

was in our father’s arms,
he butchered her daily,
first cutting off her head and arms
then her legs and feet.

He waved at us with her hands
from the kitchen window
as we bounced tennis balls onto the flat roof,
any excuse to climb on the fence.

By tea-time she was sewn back together,
her stitches clumsy, her head on wrong.
She crashed around the kitchen,
dropping hot fat onto delicate skin.

I’m all fingers and thumbs today,
she would say.

Previously published in Domestic Cherry (2018)


Your mother is landlady of the dead house

She slides a drink to you along the bar –
where did she learn such tricks?
She used to be an ordinary woman,
with her peasant dresses and handicrafts,
she is even handier now, the landlord says.
Your mother pushes her breasts up and together
as if she has just discovered them.
Now she is out of her dress-tents she feels invincible.
You want to make her one of those warning signs
like the ones they have at the swimming pool
to help steer her through the choppy waters of lust:
no heavy petting, no bombing.
Your mother is pulling a pint,
the muscles in her arm bulge,
she leans across the counter
and whispers in a customer’s ear,
her voice is breathy, girlish.
You want to sweep her into your arms
but instead you knock back your drink
and call for another shot –
tequila with its line of salt.
Oh mother you are a public bar
and I am the scratches on the counter
you tried so hard to remove.


All the Women

“all the women, all the women
of Texas flock towards it”

(Hilda Sheehan, The Box of Books 1)

all the women, all the women
are inside me now
shouting that this is a fine day for it
that they needn’t have brought their brollies,
their rain faces, their fold-up kagoules

whose voice is loudest I couldn’t tell you

I speak acorns and buttresses
I speak water lilies and doves
the day is a wedding
and shortly we will all climb with our brimming glasses
aboard a vintage double decker

but the women, the women
they are building their bakeries inside me
they are making baklava and baking exquisite cakes
they are replacing my blood with confectioner’s custard
and icing the insides of my breasts

and they are right it is a fine day for it
the sky is smiling widely showing its teeth of birds
no bombs are falling
we have 24 hour supermarkets and online shopping

and there are books, books galore on ebay and in libraries
we can pick them up and check them out
we can put them under our jumpers and take them home

but the women, the women
are camped on the edge of the deep dark pool
they are writing their epic poems on the inside of my skin
they are filling me up with shopping lists
chapters of novels, letters and bills
I am word confetti

I open my book beak and inadvertently sing

Previously Published in Ink, Sweat and Tears (2018)


Julia Webb grew up in Thetford, a small town in rural Norfolk . She has a BA in
Creative Writing From Norwich University College of the Arts and an MA
(poetry) from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich where she
teaches creative writing and is a poetry editor for Lighthouse, a journal for new
writing. In 2011 she won the Poetry Society’s Stanza competition. Her poem
‘Sisters’ was highly commended in the 2016 Forward Prize. In 2016 she was
writer in residence on Norwich Market. Her first collection Bird Sisters was
published by Nine Arches Press in 2016.

Threat is available to buy from the Nine Arches Press website.

lipstick feet – Frances Jackson

lipstick feet

as a child she would have
given just about anything
for shoes like this

bright red
almost indecently so
flat but dainty
somewhat impractical
in the rain

she can hear her mother’s voice
the wise counsel
that was the soundtrack of her youth
what d’you want something like that for
they’ll only scuff and pinch your feet

it makes her feel rebellious
and out comes the purse
can’t wait to try to them out
take them for a test spin

walks to the shops
a slight spring in her step
proud of her shiny new shoes

hobbles back
of course
blisters on her feet
red angry welts
as if the colour had rubbed off
smudged like the lipstick
that other girls’ mothers wore


Frances Jackson is originally from the northwest of England, but now lives in Bavaria. Her translations and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in places such as B O D Y, Nine Muses Poetry, The Missing Slate and Your Impossible Voice.

Watching a Fish on a Cutting Board – Amanda Oosthuizen

Watching a Fish on a Cutting Board

Tipped, no fingers,
onto a white, plastic cutting
board, utilitarian,
not like the fish at all, it lies,

a glamorous bulging muscle;
silky, black fan of a tailfin; lipless
mouth; wiry tiara gills and a silver-
rimmed, lidless eye. An envelope slit

along its belly, awaiting
tarragon, seasalt, pepper,
a splash of balsamic, maybe
a dollop of crème fraîche.

It never lurked amongst swaying
ribbons of weed or battled the wash
of the river. It sprang to a feeder
with five hundred others.
One measly life with a plastic,
cutting board


Amanda Oosthuizen’s creative work has appeared in Under the Radar, 3:AM, Ambit, on the London underground, in galleries, Winchester cathedral, and Humanagerie amongst others. She earns her living by writing/arranging music and teaching woodwind. @amandaoosty