Howl – Lisa Kelly


Brecean, Brittany, 11 September 2021

They told me they found two owls, 
two dead owls, and they supposed 
the owls must have flown down   
the chimney and the owls had no way  
of knowing how to fly back up  
the chimney into the night sky.  
They died a desiccated death 
and they told me if I’d seen the owls, 
I would have cried. The owls were  
barn owls, beautiful and the extraordinary  
thing was the weight of the owls, 
incredibly and unexpectedly light. 
They put the owls in a bin bag  
because owls are a protected species  
and this is what the town hall said  
must be done and to drop off the owls  
at the town hall. I wanted to know  
more about the owls and asked  
if they died together but no 
one owl died at one end of the loft 
and the other owl not especially nearby.

Lisa Kelly’s first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, (Carcanet) was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Poetry Prize 2021. She is co-editor of What Meets the Eye, (Arachne Press) an anthology of poetry and short fiction by UK D/deaf writers.

25 – Ella Dorman-Gajic


A mouth has been at the bins again. 
On the District Line, I find egg stuck to my Nikes. 
Kid in my class asks: they Air Force 1?
& I feel my wrinkles. So I wash my face 
in London’s spit, until Simple is on offer. 
Am I grown yet? I watch YouTube tutorials
from my office chair; catch a flash of grey 
in my Groovy-Chic mirror;
have now realised it really isn’t possible
to kick a pigeon. The new housemate is in the shower
again. I wish I knew how to look after
my damn plants. I could be pregnant right now.
The only thing I own of my Oma’s is her hair, in a box. I cry
when I miss the 37 bus. They are terribly irregular. 
How could I have known I would not need 
all these dresses. The sea is pouring 
from my wardrobe. Maybe I should get out of the house. 
Watch the green ducklings, iridescent nappies. A world 
with more coke products than tigers.  
My screen asks: Want to add a free drink to your order?
I should wake up from my desk now, it’s been two years. 
John’s been awaiting my email.

Ella Dorman-Gajic is a London-based playwright, poet & performer. Her writing has been described as “impassioned” by The Guardian. Her debut play Trade premiered at Omnibus Theatre in 2022. She’s part of the Roundhouse Poetry collective & alumna of Apples & Snakes Writing Room. 

John Barleycorn’s Daughter – Siegfried Baber

John Barleycorn’s Daughter

She peels off her summer dress
and empties a jug of water over her head.
The day smoulders like a smoking wick.
She can feel the dying grass
beneath her feet; a single bead dripping
slowly between her shoulder-blades
down to the small of her back.
Pale blossoms curl, shrink to a cinder.
Now follows the scent of fireweed, honeysuckle
and dark peppery nettles. From tall trees
a sudden flint-spark of birdsong
threatens this whole valley with flame.
She smiles. An idle finger teases cirrus-clouds
from a tender seam of blue sky.
She never wants you to stop watching.

Siegfried Baber was born in Devon in 1989 and his poetry has featured in a variety of publications including Under The Radar, The Interpreter’s House, Butcher’s Dog Magazine, online with The Compass Magazine and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and as part of the Bath Literature Festival. His debut pamphlet When Love Came To The Cartoon Kid was published by Telltale Press, with its title poem nominated for the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. In 2019, he published London Road West, an ebook of poems and photographs. A debut collection, The Twice-Turned Earth, is forthcoming.

A Short Walk – Ross Wilson

A Short Walk

The maternity ward is a short walk
from the ICU where I work
long shifts among lives in the balance
and visitors counting the breaths
of those unable to breathe for themselves.

As I walked out on my break one day
I thought of the rooms I cleaned
in hotels when I was young;
the arrivals and departures, the bus tours,
the never-ending revolving doors.

My reflection moved in a window
framing the Necropolis beyond its pane.
Then the atmosphere changed like a season;
the cold winter air I’d been breathing in
turned warm as spring in bloom.

A tiny finger curled my thumb.
I cradled a bundle of flesh and bone.
Where did she come from?
The obvious answer couldn’t explain
the lightness in my arms.

Or the heaviness in my head
as I returned to work, carrying
the weight of what I know:
the maternity ward is a short walk
from a long shift in ICU.

Ross Wilson works full-time as an Auxiliary Nurse in Glasgow.

Girl Without A Pearl Earring. – Nuala Watt

Girl Without A Pearl Earring.

She took them off to sleep.
Or did Vermeer insist

she left them in the realm
of oils and spirits?

Though it’s the same smell
as my mother’s workroom

Vermeer did not paint me.

Please never say, to me,
woman with disabilities.

They are not jewels.
I cannot put them down.

Nuala Watt’s poems have appeared on BBC Radio 3 and in anthologies including  Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press 2017)  and A Year of Scottish Poems (Macmillan 2018) 

Murmuration – Marion Oxley


Marion Oxley is originally from Manchester but now lives in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. Her debut pamphlet In the Taxidermist’s House was published in October last year by 4Word Press. She is a Forward Prize nominee for best single poem.

Desk – Paul Stephenson


after Tusiata Avia

Ask the god to tidy your drawer
neat enough that your life is in order

Ask it to arrange you
Ask it to sort you out

Ruler, stapler
Hole punch, glue

Ask it to stick things back together
Ask it to fasten your days

Ask the god for right angles
Ask the god for the right angles

Make it straighten stuff
Make it equally measure

Then put your life away
Then close your life

Paul Stephenson was a Jerwood/Arvon mentee. He has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop), The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance) and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press) and his debut collection is due next year. He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and lives between Cambridge and Brussels.

/ɡɪlt/ – Julia Stothard


It’s almost a cloud sagging its belly
on a row of chimneys, barely holding
its water in. It’s almost moss
with seeds stuffed in its cheeks and hair
sprouting from its upper lip. It’s almost
a bus seat, stubbly velour clenching
a dust storm and too much give in its middle.

It’s almost a fragment of chalk loosening
from a cliff face or a plate of ice skidding
across the table of its lake. It’s almost
a scoop neck popping its cleavage or
a phone rubbing a ringtone from its wings or
a door slamming shut in the wind
when it would rather have whispered instead.

It’s almost a pillow shedding its down or
a dog dozing in my empty house or
a pot plant that has withered in the desert
of forgotten. It’s almost impossible
to define but it has moved in for good
and keeps its wine in the fridge, beside mine.

Julia Stothard lives in Surrey and works at Royal Holloway University of London. Her poems have appeared in various publications including Ink, Sweat and Tears, South, London Grip and Dempsey & Windle competition anthologies.

Featured Publication – Panic Response by John McCullough

Our featured publication for July and August is Panic Response by John McCullough, published by Penned in the Margins.

From the mercurial mind of award-winning poet John McCullough comes Panic Response, his darkest and most experimental book to date.

These poems put personal and cultural anxiety under the microscope. They are full of things that shimmer, quiver and fizz: plankton glowing at low tide; brain tissue turning to glass; a basketball emerging from the waves, covered in barnacles.

Moving beyond the breathlessness of panic towards luminescence and solidarity, this formally innovative new collection sees McCullough at the peak of his powers.

“John McCullough’s fully alive new book experiments with every unit of expression – word, phrase, sentence, line break – as if trying to work out the physics of poetry after the death of John Ashbery. The experience of language here is an intense hallucination, in which the anxious world of the 2020s is both distinctly real and almost weightless, and love and friendship as hard to hold as the ‘salt, dust and recycled breath’ that blows through the poet’s Brighton. But line after line here shines out with its own shape and meaning, and through the unreality runs real feeling, sincere desire for the shared emotion of poetry: ‘to be lost in a new and beautiful manner.” Jeremy Noel-Tod

“I read these poems like a child reads anything for the first time, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ and laughing and being surprised and saddened and enriched and getting zapped with each poem’s unique electrical charge. Queerness, years of COVID-19, tropes of panic, are all themes which arise again and again across this collection, but most satisfying is the point of view of the poet; McCullough is a visionary, a genius polymath. His worlds and miniature observations are deeply satisfying to stumble into. McCullough’s writing feels tender, intimate, zany and yes … cool. A book for our troubled times.” Monique Roffey


Previously published in Poetry Review

Electric Blue

Oops, I Did It Again

Self-Portrait as a Flashing Neon Sign

John McCullough lives in Hove. His third book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds, was published with Penned in the Margins and won the 2020 Hawthornden Prize for Literature as well as being shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. John’s previous collections have been Books of the Year for publications including The Guardian and The Independent, and he also won the Polari First Book Prize. His poem ‘Flower of Sulphur’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. His fourth collection, Panic Response, explores personal and cultural anxiety, and the ways people respond. It was published in March by Penned in the Margins.

Copies of Panic Response are available to purchase from the Penned in the Margins website.

My Father’s Words – Hannah Linden

My Father’s Words

from Wolf Daughter

In the less sure years he lay under silence
and it was so like death
I forgot to water him.

That’s when
older folk are supposed to bring
their watering cans.

It needs tears for sure, plenty of them.
The dead are thirsty in their long sleep
and the being-alive-again takes time.

Now he is not dead, he’s decided
to move into a different room
and the windows in this one

look out with my eyes, when
I open certain doors, his voice
walks through.

After the long winter, spring showers.
I feel leaves opening in me
pages and pages of rustling joy.

Hannah Linden won 1st prize in the Cafe Writers Poetry Competition 2021. Her pamphlet The Beautiful Open Sky is forthcoming with V. Press. She is working towards a full collection, Wolf Daughter,  about the impact of parental suicide on children. Twitter: @hannahl1n