What the shaman’s child asked the anthropologist – Rebecca Gethin

What the shaman’s child asked the anthropologist

In your country do you have death?
Or is it only here
that the ones we belong with
become sick-spirited, then lifeless
and once they are planted
are never seen again
but talk to us through my father’s mouth?
We know who is speaking
because their voice sounds the same
the words, the tone,
telling us what to do.
Do you have death like ours –
where you can talk to them
and hear them but never feel their warmth.
Do you have need of healing plants
and are there python and leopard spirits
along the paths. You don’t seem to see them,
do you?


Rebecca Gethin has written 5 poetry publications and is a Hawthornden Fellow. Messages was a winner in the Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition.  Vanishings is forthcoming from Palewell Press and she will run a short course for Poetry School.

Sell the Petticoat and Go to Sea – Maggie Mackay

Sell the Petticoat and Go to Sea

It’s a gey wondrous place and I’m lucky for tae see it and live.
(George Bissett, great-great-grandfather and ship’s carpenter, 1866)

Bleachfields spread in Clydeside sun.
Whitening sheets blink
ballooning like tides, like sails,
as Jacobina’s man clips his fortune
to a passage out of Greenock,
destined for the far east of the globe.
George is ship’s carpenter, adventurer
to places she’d never know, to sunken reefs,
uncharted water, monsoon sky, coral rock.

Here sits her little life on earth,
a China junk on the window sill,
bairns to raise and poems to pencil.
She writes of herself,
not the cutter or stitcher of silk,
but as the nation’s spy,
flying a hot air balloon across the Continent.


Maggie Mackay’s work appears in the award-winning #MeToo anthology while other poems have been nominated for The Forward Prize, Best Single Poem and the Pushcart Prize and commended in the Mothers’ Milk Writing Prize. Her debut pamphlet ‘The Heart of the Run’ is published by Picaroon Poetry.

Calling out the fathoms – Sarah Mnatzaganian

Calling out the fathoms

Robin brings a finished cello back
down to the kitchen for company.
He tilts the shallow maple shell
into the calliper’s deep green jaws

and sings out each measurement
like a seaman swinging his lead line
and calling out the fathoms. I scribe
thicknesses onto a cello-shaped grid

watching my hand catch and turn
the satisfaction in his voice into bold
italics, keen as a fleet of sailing boats
on the starboard tack in high wind.


Sarah Mnatzaganian is an Anglo-Armenian poet.  Shortlisted for the Poetry Business pamphlet competition 2016/17, her poems have been published in Atrium, The North, Fenland Reed, London Grip, Magma, Poems in the Waiting Room, As Above, So Below, Write to be Counted and #MeToo a women’s anthology edited by Deborah Alma. She studies with Peter and Ann Sansom and Moniza Alvi.




The Phoney War – Thomas McColl

The Phoney War

Our imaginations at war –
with umbrellas for rifles,
our enemy invisible –
we defended the sofa,
had it pulled out from the wall.

Inside this narrow tunnel –
with seat cushions overhead –
we hid.

With each attack,
we watched each other’s backs.
You saw the Germans
in your mind I could not see,
and I saw mine;
We shot them all too easily.

With the air-strikes, though,
we met our match.
Shells – like steel fists – struck,
and the seat cushions,
punched up into the air,
fell about us.

So, we rose and came out fighting –
shot down five fighters
and three bombers
with two umbrellas,
then finished off the conflict
in close hand-to-hand combat.

By the end,
there were a thousand German casualties
and, without even a scratch between them,
two tired Tommies,
smoking pencils, feeling tough.

And now the war was finished,
and with both of us famished,
we ran from the living room
into the kitchen,
calling for Gran to serve us up our tea,
and found her quietly sobbing at the stove.


Thomas McColl has had poems published in Envoi, Iota, Prole, The Fat Damsel and Ink, Sweat and Tears. His first full collection, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, is published by Listen Softly London Press.

Shoe Laces – Clifton Redmond

Shoe Laces

Your first pair without the Velcro straps
were a thick brown leather brogue for school.
Your mother wept as I laced them up,

threading each eye and pulling the slack.
You thought the laces were half-excavated
worms, stuck between worlds.

When you stood up, tried to walk
you tripped and fell, cried when I sang
the song about the sad bunny

with abnormal ears. I watched you
unraveling, the knots of yourself
grappling the loose loops, crossing over.


Clifton Redmond is a student at Carlow College St. Patrick’s. His work has appeared in various online and print journals and has been placed in various competitions and awards. He is also a member of the Carlow Writers’ Co-operative.



Anne Neville’s Unknown Heirs – Edwin Stockdale

Anne Neville’s Unknown Heirs
Penrith Castle
December 1479

You rush inside
your apartments, shooing
your ladies away.
You fear the inside,
bones gnawing,
knowing, gripe.
Your body and blood
feel wrong.

You are drawn to large
windows, but they never
let in enough light.
You touch Cumberland
sandstone: red, viscous.
Your womb shreds.


Edwin Stockdale has published two poetry pamphlets with Red Squirrel Press: Aventurine (September 2014) and The Glower of the Sun (January 2019).  Currently, he is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.

post – Rob Walton


Sad news today, folks. Alan English off Scotter Bottom passed at the weekend. Not the Alan English from Cleethorpes with the unicycle, this one had a proper pushbike took the free papers to the old folks’ home in a co-op carrier bag.

I’ve been asked by my cousin Maureen Burn was Shaw went to Australia with her first husband dead now that was Mick known as Pob off Plymouth Road let me know and I’ll pass messages on she’s only got months.

Remember them gigs organised by them who had the pub in the precinct they had all the top bands from that Channel 4 one with her who went right off the rails and they were all introduced by him with the glasses who got done for drugs and was said to have four kiddies by four different lasses but I don’t know how he did it because he was nowt to look at.

Anyone remember Denis’s Denims on Church Road used to be a church there then was a big denim warehouse not made of denim but stocked it hahaha got all the skinny ones for the kids and everyone went even my dad once lol him who had it also had a stall on the indoor market behind that second-hand bloke who was a Labour councillor who went independent and split the Labour vote and I never swear but I had him down for a right wanker.

Thanks to all who contributed to the site but afraid this is going to be the last post because me and the other moderators have had to put up with some abuse not from the regulars it’s just not worth it so we might resurface in some other form or we might not resurface in any form other form or otherwise.


Rob Walton is from Scunthorpe, and lives in Whitley Bay.  Poetry and short fiction for adults and children published by The Emma Press, Butcher’s Dog, Frances Lincoln, Bloomsbury, IRON Press, Red Squirrel, Northern Voices, Arachne and others. He collated the New Hartley Memorial Pathway text. He sometimes tweets @anicelad


Look At Me – Joanna Nissel

Look At Me

Before you leave
you must know the shape of the orchid
–the narrow rod of stem,
itself held up by a green plastic pole,
too fragile to support the glut of blooms
billowing at the head.

Before you leave,
you must know that four months ago
the plant was a barren knot of stumps.
Blanched in the white windowsill sun,
it leaned against the guide-pole,
unmoving for an entire winter.

Before you leave,
you must know that when spring came,
I reached to wipe the dust from its leaves
and discovered a bud.
A knuckle of a thing, tiny,
barely a suggestion of green.

You must know I thought of you
when more buds opened and opened and opened.
I thought of how thrilled you’d have been
of the shock of cerise in each centre,
like the bright silk lining of a dull coat.


Joanna is an MA graduate from Bath Spa University, whose poetry and nonfiction often deals with family and trauma. She is a researcher for creative writing incubator, Paper Nations and social media editor for Tears in the Fence.




Featured Publication – Things Only Borderlines Know by Olivia Tuck

Our featured publication for September is Things Only Borderlines Know by Olivia Tuck, published by Black Rabbit Press.

Things Only Borderlines Know is a vivid, vital, and very affecting book of poems by Olivia Tuck. It is published by new poetry pamphlet publisher Black Rabbit Press, which is founded and run by Mab Jones and which aims to publish new, unique, and diverse voices. This is a book that is as profound as it is personal; zings with honesty and energy; is both concise and yet compelling, with striking, often highly visceral, imagery. It is the work of a writer of great feeling and imagination. Things Only Borderlines Know features a gorgeous paper cut cover, on black recycled card with a red inner paper, and is limited to a run of 100 copies. Black Rabbit Press is proud to showcase the work of this brilliant new poetic voice.

‘In these raw, urgent poems, Olivia Tuck vividly evokes lives askew. This is brave, original work, at once unsettling and compelling’ Carrie Etter

You know when you come across the poetry of Olivia Tuck, either in her startling performances, or on the page – you have been struck! She’s exciting, unsettling, truthful, and raw – her poems strut about to confront the world in new and powerful ways with themes of mental health, growing, sex, body image and identity. The speaker is giving us a traumatic-mind-view from a therapeutic seat opposite psychiatrists and parents, tin nurses, Vera, the devil, and from the corner bed in the A&E observation ward – and these poems strike right through us like an ‘ECT storm crackling through the skull.’ This is amazing work from an astonishingly talented new poet.’ Hilda Sheehan



The Function of Emotions

To draw blood. To press razor tracks
against your shaking wrists.

To destroy parties.

To finger-paint bruises
across friendships as you cling.

To make sunsets hurt.

To beat up the walls, and the doors,
and the windows,
and the sky.

To turn the dialling tone
into the revving of a chainsaw.

To slice off the top of your skull,
and scoop your pumpkin innards out
until you’re all ribs, and living for digits
on the backs of chocolate bars.
To then swivel you
like you’re an owl’s neck
and get you fat again.

To brew hate.
To pour hate.
To serve hate.

To keep you awake at night.
To give the shadows gargoyle faces.

To blag you a ride in a police car.

To break both your parents’ hearts
with one stone.
To demonstrate failure
to your little sisters.

To leave you with no grace to fall from.

Previously published on Algebra of Owls


Developmental History
As part of the assessment process for autism diagnosis, a developmental history is often taken from adult family members who knew the patient as he or she grew up.

Daddy wore new trousers; Mummy left her posh-girl pupils
to go to you, Doctor. I’ve seen the conversation’s remains –
its exoskeleton looks like crushed ice.
Was there a game of twenty questions? Fifty?

More? I understand you asked them about my past
obsessions with spiralling car wash brushes;
with lighthouses on headlands. But I was exiled,
held at school so I wouldn’t spill on your carpet.

I hope you could all feel the poltergeist
of me, simmering. I want you to have blinked
and listened to the clock’s bradycardia; squinted
into violent sun that howled through the panel in the door,

down chalk tracks, to a History classroom,
where my skirt climbed laddered nylon against fat thigh,
tears scalding the pus-filled stars across my cheeks,
bloody lipstick pooling on my chin.

Previously published in Under the Radar


Doctor E

A private hospital is shatterproof below a plutonium sky.
Inside, the coffee machine is dormant, as it will be again

and again. (One day, it’ll wake to erupt with cocoa magma –
the spit will taste of Am Ex cards, of air miles.)

We shrink in the consulting room, your briefcase eavesdropping,
your eyes those of a donkey who snuffles fallen apples:

I am a cellophane fish, shrivelled, in your swivel chair.
You speak to Mummy about youngsters such as me;

camouflage the quiver in your throat, as when Titanic’s Captain
heard Atlantic haemorrhaging through a berg-sliced leer

and softly, deliberately urged his crew:
I think she’s badly damaged.

Previously published in The Interpreter’s House


Things Only Borderlines Know

That whatever you are, you need to destroy it.

That going for your cookie-dough skin with a razor stings
more than acting against it with fiercer tools, but
it doesn’t matter: abandonment is what truly cuts.

That driving a dear weather-beaten psychiatrist
to earlier-than-planned retirement is easier than it sounds.

That you might see a rainbow when you wake up
at dusk; wonder if God won’t flood the Earth again. Of course,
by three a.m. you could be up to your neck in ocean; playing
Charybdis, hauling angry sailors down with you.

That when you end up in casualty of a Saturday night,
nobody will materialise with cards or Tesco carnations.
(However, if you’re a tad more experienced, at least
you’ll have learnt where to find a phone signal,
about the range of gourmet packed sandwiches on offer,
which nurse will smooth your hair, and which will scrawl
across your chart in biro blood: Manipulative.)

That you can love others without loving yourself.
That you want to be loved as much as you can feel:

solar flares. Wild nights. Broken bottles. Hailstorms. Hollow,
chocolate girl for Easter; eyes dead, smile warped.

It burns to come close enough to breathe
your smoke. That as much as you can feel is too much
to ask, but perhaps you could settle for the love of anyone
who would tattoo their initials over Ribena-dark scars, feed you
Turkish Delight promises, with steadfastness that echoes
through space and leaves marks that heal, and do not
ruin. A moon you can keep on a string round your wrist,
to linger. Although…face it. You are the satellite.

That shadows gain weight when you are alone. No power
supply. You reach out to touch what it means to be ash.

That if you try to leave, they’ve got thread. Water. Charcoal.
When you hear your screams, you want to disappear, yet
you keep this secret safe. In case you change your mind.

Previously published on Amaryllis, and in the Please Hear What I’m Not Saying anthology (Fly on the Wall Press).


Olivia Tuck’s poetry and prose has appeared in literary journals and webzines including Under the RadarThe Interpreter’s HouseLighthouseAlgebra of OwlsThree Drops from a Cauldron, Amaryllis — and Atrium. Her work also features in Fly on the Wall charity anthologies Please Hear What I’m Not Saying and Persona Non Grata. She is an autism and mental health warrior, and a BA Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University. Her first (and hopefully not last!) pamphlet, Things Only Borderlines Know was published by Black Rabbit Press this year. Find Olivia on Twitter: @livtuckwrites

Things Only Borderlines Know is available from the Black Rabbit Press website.