The making of gritstone – Julian Dobson

The making of gritstone

What is this rock but sand? Stuff
that escapes from fingers, is only held
in handfuls. See it shift as slow tides
wash and swish through centuries.

Get a grip. You try. Wet, it clods, then
crumbles. Dry, it runs as water.
Leave it be. Let it rest, let weight
of earth compress it. Wait.

Return. Inland, it rises, scarps, nudges
you to edges. A place to stand. Its surface
clings your palms, your toes, your elbows
feel its friction. Find a fold, a kink,

a space to claw at. The certainty
of weathered sediment, of patience.
Trust the way it scours and scores
the skin: your hold, your faith, your rock.


Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield. His poems have appeared in publications including Magma, Under the Radar, and Acumen, and on a bus in Guernsey.

Bad Feminists – Emma Simon

Bad Feminists
With only a few apologies to Robert Browning

Here’s David Beckham, looking as if he were alive.
The breathing slow and metrical, that steady rise
and fall of his stupendous chest. Caught on film,
spooled day and night inside this darkened room
for us selected few — the women who appreciate
a perfect nude, swooned in Egyptian cotton sheets.
Though quite untouchable. Still, it works both ways.
He will not raise a hand nor undermine a word you say,
open an eye to find your body wanting —
he’ll just sleep on, indefinitely, the gothic font
of each tattoo rippling the light like animated ink.
An artwork on an artwork, or so I like to think.
These days, who doesn’t want to play post-gender
post-identity games? Some call the piece a wonder
now: no thrusting David lording it from his pedestal,
but here in bed, supine, surrendered, vulnerable.
You noticed, no doubt — smart women always do —
my use of the conditional subjunctive. It’s true,
his whereabouts are not now known. Sam Taylor-Wood
could have explained, but why should an artist stoop
to deny claims that suspected murder was a ruse
to inflate a portrait’s worth? As you know, she chooses
never to stoop. It soon became a viral trend: so many men
caught sleeping. Their dreamy half-smiles frozen
for all eternity — a crying shame so few smiled half
as charmingly when wide awake. The photographs
and phone footage quickly multiplied. It was claimed
some disappeared, leaving just these silent bodies framed,
seemingly alive, yet not alive. Some have objected
to galleries displaying these ‘spots of joy’ I have collected.
Such trifling complaints! — from those quick to find fault or blame,
their passions, like their anger, all too easily inflamed.
Besides, a comic slant on the male form informs our view.
Well-read critics — which I am not — claim none of this is new.
At least their names remain. Titles that have tumbled down
the centuries, appended now to objets d’art. And owned.
Projected onto pink-washed walls, pleasing backdrops
for soirees hosted by bad feminists like me. A step up
from chichi dinner parties served on Judy Chicago plates.
It’s almost time to leave. Cocktails will be served at eight.
But as we head downstairs, listen out for Artemis,
our new sound installation, fresh from the Venice
Biennale. You can just detect the baying hounds
beneath the unchecked roar of laughter echoing around.


Emma Simon has written two pamphlets, Dragonish, which was published by The Emma Press in 2017, and The Odds, which will be published by Smith Doorstop in early 2020. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines and she has won both the Prole Laureate and Ver Poets prize.
She can be found @SimpleSimonEmma on Twitter

Gypsy Scholars – R. M. Francis

Gypsy Scholars

Rusted gates between old stone pillars
lead to nowherezones, gypsy scholars,
plains of colonising wildflowers.
You can still hear the hum of the city5 bus,
the crank-chains of cyclists,
soon to be jaded teens
on routes to their own nowheres.
He turns tarpaulin, MDF,
corrugated cardboard – pilched
along with fag-butts, coin and scrap –
to shanty. Sinks a can
of Tennent’s, listens as 5pm turns to 10
and Thames Valley Police
move him back to the city.

Savage hawthorn and privet set
next to neatly tamed daffs
that sit in a circle, as asphalt
and three lanes of traffic
cake the orbit, hides nowherezone,
gyspy scholar and the only windbreaker
she’s able to find. She wetwipe-bathes,
tends nails with airy precision, armed
with emery board scrapped
from a toilet floor. Trades tracksuit for skirt,
trails coat over right arm and struts Cowley Road.

10pm becomes 2am,
they share the charm
of his soggy duvet,
go twos on her last snout
and laugh at how its been
two months and she still
hasn’t figured out how
to read the city with these
new eyes. Mick says, you’re
further in than you’ve ever been,
it might grow into you,
but so much so you’re barred.
She half-laughs.

On towpaths out of urban centres things are lost:
Rewley Road’s rusted railway tracks;
nettles pierce upturned hull; fields wrapped in silage.
They get lost. Like old Lash and his scouring pad beard,
his tiny black patch of wheelbarrow, enamel sink,
cycle chain and Spanish guitar. Lash idles on stump-stool,
simple wink and ‘ow do to those in the know. They get lost.
Out past the murals of Frenchay and Lizzie Jennings.
Out to wetlands. Out over fields to Godstow Abbey,
Fair Rose’s bower, maze, cup. Tomb.
They soothe in the cool of getting lost.


R. M. Francis is a writer from Dudley. He’s a Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and the author of five poetry pamphlets. In 2020 Wild Pressed Books are publishing Bella, his debut novel, and Subsidence, his first full poetry collection, is due with Smokestack Books. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at Oxford University.

Grandmother’s hairpin – Signe Maene

Grandmother’s hairpin

You gave it to last night,
you said it was time to let that
crystal hairpin go. With the
flowery, fake pearls,
like your shiny earrings,
the kind that I dislike.

You wore it when you
first met him.
Sleet descending on a
shared umbrella,
splitting a biscuit in two.
Awaiting a bus that
never came.

You wore it when you
finally left him.
Afternoon tea in the garden,
broken glasses and a
flying breadbasket,
falling in common ivy.

I force myself to try it on,
and I can see myself.
Drawing at the kitchen table,
the smell of organic carrot soup,
something glittering in your hair,
your smile.

I think I like it better now.

Signe Maene is from Belgium where she lives in Ghent. She studies English literature.

Ring – Maureen Weldon


Having sold it
for more than it was worth
I bought a ticket
Return Day Dublin.

On the way home,
laughing into my drink.
Third finger left hand
for a moment so grand.


Maureen Weldon represented Wales at Ukraine’s 2014 Terra Poetica. Publications include, Crannog, Poetry Scotland, Ink Sweat & Tears, Vsesvit, Open Mouse. 2017 her poem Midnight Robin, featured by Second Light Live. 2020 Red Squirrel Press to publisher her a pamphlet.

Gift – Mat Riches


You’re hooked up at home, plumbed into machines
for hours, as your kidneys are pressure-washed.
Nothing to be done but stare out
of converted office windows
at resident blackbirds.

Your cat wanders through to offer the gift
of a frightened hatchling caught in its jaws.
I’ve not brought so much
as a seedless grape.

Outside, the older birds strafe the garden,
pointlessly singing We are here.
Where are you?


Mat Riches is ITV’s poet-in-residence (they don’t know it). His work’s been in Dream Catcher, Firth, London Grip, Under The Radar, Atrium, Orbis, South, Obsessed With Pipework, and Algebra of Owls. He’s tweets as @matriches and blogs at

Sunday Morning Bathing – Sue Spiers

Sunday Morning Bathing

Spearmint toothpaste anoints her chin.
She turns taps to start the deluge,
pours thick liquid that smells of balsam,
places a razor on the side of the bath.
Gradual immersion; toe, shank, buttock,
fully soaks in amniotic warmth.
Her mind glides to roughness, ruminates,
re-orders words, chanting them to clarity.
Her razor slides over stubble, restores
smooth legs, pubes, oxters and muzzle.
She raises her knees, dips back three times;
plunge, lather, plunge, condition, plunge,
pinches hair between knuckles,
curls a wet knot at the back of her head.
Sentences unjumble, become slick
in rethinking, she repeats the lines
and examines puckers in fingertips,
assesses the time it takes to get out,
pulls each heel to thigh, purges soft skin.
At the final plughole amen, she wraps
herself in a towel wimple and surplice,
rinses the scum of her life away.


Sue Spiers came 3 rd in the Battered Moons competition and was highly commended in the Yeovil competition, both 2019. Sue’s poems are or will be in Dream Catcher, Black Bough, Fenland Poetry Journal, Orbis, South & Stand this year. Twitter: @spiropoetry

The man who just stepped out of the photograph – Nicky Phillips

The man who just stepped out of the photograph

left his young sister lazing on rocks
on a sandy beach with his close friends,
Mr & Mrs Rolfe, sitting tidily nearby.
It’s a rare holiday for the 13 year old,
whose parents run a pub, have no time off.

Her slim and lanky frame is covered by
a swimsuit deemed figure-hugging in 1934,
first indication perhaps of the modelling
career to come in the 40s and 50s.
Relaxed optimism beams from the picture.

Five years later, on a sultry August day
three long weeks before the outbreak
of the Second World War, the man
who stepped out died of tuberculosis.
He was my uncle. I never met him.

Now, just a few inches high, he strolls
around the collection of family shots
on the sideboard, puzzles over groupings,
hesitates, rubs his chin as he studies
a photo of dark-haired teenage girls

playing cricket with grandparents
on a remote Scottish beach. He lingers
over the lady, stylish and upright seven
decades on, then, with a brief sigh
of reassurance, steps back into his own.


Nicky Phillips lives in Hertfordshire. Her poems have been published in magazines
and online. In 2017 one was nominated for Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her
pamphlet Jam in Aisle 3 was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018.

Featured Publication – Much Left Unsaid by Finola Scott

Our featured publication for February is Much Left Unsaid by Finola Scott, published by Red Squirrel Press.

From tender explorations of family love to subtly phrased exposés of every kind, these vivid and surprising poems engage the reader on every level. Finola Scott is attuned to the natural world, from which she draws many of her images, but equally alert to townscape and domestic interiors. There are dazzling leaps of imagination: an artist ‘tastes wind from Africa’ on Lanzarote as he ‘waits for Franco to finish’; a woman in an antenatal clinic thinks of her pregnancy as a pilgrimage, and kisses her ‘bruised antenatal card’ like a relic. A strong sense of being alive pervades the collection, but an equal sense of the precariousness of human happiness in poem after poem balances the reader like the acrobat of the reopening poem on tiptoe between dancing and downfall.’ A C Clarke

Finola Scott’s debut pamphlet showcases a bold new voice, full of grit and reality. At times experimental, at times playing with poetic tradition, these are poems of difficult tensions. Scott’s verse explores the depths of memories whilst avoiding sentimentality. It blends beauty with threat to create stark scenes of bruised women and washed sheets, queens and pirates. These are poems without pretence, unfolding lives in miniature. Scott lifts the rock, uncovering least-seen corners of the world.’ Russell Jones



Cardowan Colliery, North Lanarkshire

My rubble-full garden’s no use for digging,
I don’t dare go deep. At times I hear canaries
cheep for breath, bogies rattle rails, bent men
cough for sunlight at end of days.

In the church car park, traffic in shifts
charts the days. Flower Arranging, Choir Practice.
Wedding-hatted women, lads in fierce pride kilts.
Floodlights keep the dark in its place.

Tarmac over pit-propped caverns, shaky hollows,
greedy snaking tunnels. The dead recorded
in the new estate roads where salaried men drive home,
hands soft and clean, music playing. 

The earth remembers.


Teuguise, Lanzarote 1619

Pirates enter on a day thick with storms.
The shutters are snicked too late,
the fincas barred in vain. Heavy cloud
tricks the watchers while sails wait furled
at the coast. Death is here, on the cobbles.
The raiders twist in smooth as corkscrews.
Flagstones shine sangre slippy with the spilt
lives of sons, uncles, friends. Hidden away
Juana thinks of the old man her father
has chosen for her groom.

The women jostle to peer through slits
in the fortress that’s squatting on the shoulder
of the volcano. The ground shudders to the whack
and crack of bones in the town below. Echoing
oaths rebound in courtyards. Maria and Fayna
are puzzled by the blue eyes, bear-fierce beards,
careless laughter of the marauders hurtling in.
Juana’s mother pushes her into the shadows,
orders her to cover her ebony hair, hide her
jewels. But Juana stands on tiptoe to marvel
at the grit and spit of lava on their lips.


Riding the Marches

If I had thought, taken a sliver of time,
I’d have checked my soft boundaries.
Ridden them regular, cut a sod of turf,
nailed a herring to a bannock,
minded my back.
But I didn’t hear moss sneak and stretch.
Didn’t see larks’ tongues wag.
Dark vigilance or weary watching might
have spared me wounds.
Walls, hedges encroached unseen.
Markers moved in midnight hush,
rocks lured by deceitful streams.
Unguarded, my safety shrank as the vixen sang.
Masked strangers, marauders, came
trusted at my door, as friends not foe.
Too late for cavalcades or queens.


All sheets to the wind

When it’s time, flap me, wrap me
to sleep, in silk, all printed with travels
and you. Skin unsullied, hair
story-booked, I’ll dream drift
on a different curve. My toes will tingle-grip
all the sand, all the puddles we plashed.

Tuck me tight in map-memories
contoured streets,  frescoes and freesia.
Soothe me
anchorless liminal.
Set me full sail.


Glaswegian Finola Scott’s poems can be found on posters, postcards and tapestries. Her work has been anthologised in many publications including Gutter, New Writing Scotland, The Fenland Reed, Lighthouse and The Ofi Press. She was commissioned by StAnza International Poetry Festival for inclusion in a multimedia installation issued as a postcard in 2019. Finola has read her poems at many events including Edinburgh International Book Festival, Welshpool Festival and Brantwood. She read her prize-winning chapbook poems, published by Blue Nib at the launch in Galway.

Much Left Unsaid is available from the Red Squirrel Press website.