Featured Publication – Besharam by Nafeesa Hamid

Our featured publication for November is Besharam by Nafeesa Hamid, published by Verve Poetry Press.

Learning that your mind and body have been taken hostage is one thing. Learning how to take them back is another. What if those that are returned are different to the ones that were lost?

Besharam – Nafeesa Hamid’s glorious debut collection – asks this and many other questions. When does a girl become a woman? When does her world allow her to become a woman? And what kind of woman should she be? The answers aren’t readily forthcoming.

As she treads the shifting line between woman and daughter, between Pakistan and the West, between conservative Islam and liberal, Nafeesa has almost had to find a new language to try to communicate the difficulties of her situation. And what a language! At times hard and pointed, at other times wonderfully and colourfully evocative, erupting with femininity, empowerment and rebellion. It is this language that makes Besharam such a pleasure to read in spite of the pain it contains – Besharam really is a magical first book of poetry.

A necessary and potent meditation on the meaning of Womanhood‘ Joelle Taylor

Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ Imtiaz Dharker

Love this collection and finding it deeply affecting. The fearlessness is astonishing. Bravo!’ –Roz Goddard





My father walks from door to door,
hands held together like he is doing dua(1).
They are covered in blood.
He splutters
‘beti(2) ’ to anyone who will listen,
blood spraying from his grieving mouth.
He is covered in blood,
Jummah(3) salwaar kameez
bleached white before.
(I wonder how my mother got out the stains.)
A blood vessel has erupted
and my father thinks he is beyond repair.

I wonder if my mother bothered scrubbing the stains out
or if she buried the whole thing instead.

My mother is a suburban English village;
quiet and collected,
she has not made a sound yet,
Tasbeeh(4) against her chest.

I think me and my mother found Womanhood that day.

In her absence
and in mine
I felt like she was praying to me.
I heard her words as clear as the call to prayer on a Friday afternoon,
yet the congregation sat at home and wept.
The muazzin(5) answers questions from police.

Later I find out she was praying
for me.
She rebirthed me that night
as part jawan(6) , part still child, still nine.
The string of her tasbeeh beads is fraying

with the dampness of her hands.
Her blooming chest has lost count of the
and SubhanAllah(8)
and Allahu Akbar’s(9)

but here she is,
still praying for my return.

(1) Prayer
(2) Daughter
(3) Friday; religious day for Muslims
(4) Rosary beads
(5) Muslim official who announces the call to prayer
(6) Of age, mature
(Three phrases that make up Tasbih of Fatima)
(7) All praise is due to God
(8) God is perfect
(9) Allah is greatest


Upon finding your daughter

Pulled up from
the pavement on
Cotterills Lane crying,
by strange women
with kind faces.
They tell Girl
it’ll be okay.
Inside their home,
her mother tumbles
through door, falls
at feet – pink
scarf throttling around
her neck – unashamed.
Eyes bloodshot sockets,
noosed hair hitting
against her face.
Father follows slow
and soft like
he has seen
and known death.
He tries to
smile, but cries
over head of
Girl instead. He
fathers. They Speak
with strange voices.
Girl does not
listen, but hears.


Giving her away

From daughter to dhulan,
You are someone else’s problem now.


In this one no one notices

In this one no one notices
how time has ground itself into dust,
how a lost brown girl
was just that –
a lost brown girl.
No one will notice
that the Weeping Fig
and Madagascan Dragon Tree
and Purple Hearts
had dried out weeks ago,
how the glasses with vodka mixers
had gathered dead flies and dust,
how ripped out hairs and split ends became carpet,
how the lamp was never switched off,
how the curtains had not moved in months,
their lips as tightly bound as her limbs to bed,
how the bin overflowed with diabetes,
how the blue glow from the laptop
had tinged her skin.
No one notices how
the mirror had cracked,
the flowers in her vase dried out to a crisp,
because in this one
we are representing fragility,
how vulnerability is ugly,
how cows do come home,
how chickens do come home to roost.
How we all just want
something or someone or somewhere
to call home.
In this one no one notices
that the brown girl
does not return home.


Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. Her work covers taboo themes such as sex, domestic violence and mental health, using personal experience as a basis for her writing. She has been writing and performing for 6 years at nights around the UK. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). She was invited to perform at TedxBrum 2016 (Power of Us).
Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. She is an alumni of Mouthy Poets and Derby Theatre Graduate Associate Artists. She runs Twisted Tongues, an open-mic only poetry night at The Station in Kings Heath.

Besharam is available to purchase from the Verve Poetry Press website.


Her joiners – Helen Kay

Her joiners

do not have vans. They grow in pubs.
They arrive in their own time, need three cups of tea.
They stub out their fingers with hammers,
letting beery blood mark out their lines.

Her joiners don’t eat; she puts out cheese butties
and they hop round the plates like spindly robins.
They fill her house with their music: Snow Patrol,
Black Sabbath, fill her with a lonely awareness,

and Polyfill the cracks between her floorboards
over hairs, crumbs and skeletons of flies.
They know all the pipes and wires, the veins
of her home, these men who live on bar stools.

Plaster shakes off the walls and their lives
season her kitchen, spoil her dusting routines.
She puts out Battenberg and crisps and their hands
stop dithering and dance their amazing skills.


Helen’s poems have been accepted by magazines including Stand, The Morning Star and Rialto. Her debut pamphlet, A Poultry Lover’s Guide to Poetry, was published in 2015 (Indigo Dreams). She was runner up in the High Sherriff’s prize for Literature (2016).

Footsteps. – Lesley Quayle


Footsteps behind her. Two miles home in the blackout. Pinhole of light,
hooded torch. Blind trams and windows. Her with a hatpin

at the ready. The walk downhill. From dark closes, a cloister
of shadows and breezes dissembling in stairwells. She knows he’s there

by the clip of his boots and the tarry smell of Senior Service. What
an eejit. Furtive into a close, torch off, and he tramps on by,

doesn’t know she has him in her sights. Footsteps behind him.
“Hey, stupid appearance.” He’s there like a sick calf, struck dumb.

And he only wanted to see her safe, so he did, in the long dark
of a two mile walk. Her with the wicked hatpin, pokes it back

into her beret.
……………………….Sixty years on and she’s lost without him,
in the long dark and the blackout and the walk downhill.


Lesley Quayle is a widely published, prize-winning poet; she is also a folk/blues singer. A former editor of Leeds based poetry magazine, Aireings, her latest pamphlet, Black Bicycle, was published in May of this year by 4Word press. http://www.4word.org/

Trompe l’Oeil – Jennie Farley

Trompe l’Oeil

It’s something about the way
he wields the rag that inspires her,

like the way the butcher’s thumbs
suggested a gladiator’s blood-smeared thighs,

and the fishmonger’s wrists, slippery wet
with fish scales, made her think of Poseidon.

The surrealist painter takes up her palette.
The window cleaner agrees to pose,

turns his hand to display a grubby palm.
With her brush she hammers in the nail.


Jennie Farley is a published poet, workshop leader and teacher. Her poetry has featured in magazines including New Welsh Review, Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House and webzines. She runs events for an iconic arts club, NewBohemians@CharltonKings. Her first collection My Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams Pub) published 2016. Her new book Hex (IDP) out 2018.

Life-Cycle of the Cry – Kathryn Alderman

Life-Cycle of the Cry

She cried like a baby they say
as though grief should grow up
fold tears to one neat tuck
of the handkerchief.

A parlour assistant, professionally grave, mouths
I’m sorry
draws navy velvet matinee curtains
and presents

the shock of the familiar –
your face with you not in it
chill to the touch.

Much of you was silence.
Now you burrow into its inky balm at last

and I squall like a slapped infant
testing new lungs.


Kathryn Alderman was an actor before starting a family. She won Cannon Poets’ Sonnet or Not (2012) and is published online and print including: Amaryllis, The Cannon’s Mouth, Eye Flash Poetry Journal, I Am Not a Silent Poet. She Co-Chairs Gloucestershire Writers’ Network. 

Burning in You – Jude Cowan Montague

Burning in You

In fire and snow your words on the letter are disappearing.
Out of my cold eyes I see you beyond the lines of pines,
and my nose smells your room like a cup of hot tea.
I came out to remember how feathers land on branches.
A train passes in an encounter, brief hello and goodbye.
Can any moments be as soft as your skinny arms?
The broken records pretend to know better than us.
It’s impossible to know how cold it gets when it snows inside.
I’m not allowed to think of becoming a man anymore,
not the man I want to be, just a snowman with coal eyes.
So I watch trains cross the river, your words on fire.


Jude Cowan Montague worked for Reuters Television Archive for ten years. Her album The Leidenfrost Effect (Folkwit Records 2015) reimagines quirky stories from the Reuters Life! feed. She produces ‘The News Agents’ on Resonance 104.4 FM and writes for The Quietus. She is an occasional creative writing tutor for the Oxford University Continuing Education Department. Her most recent book is The Originals (Hesterglock Press, 2017).

Russian Doll – Marija Smits

Russian Doll

I am heavy with the hopes
of my younger selves – the ones
who dreamt of all I could be.

They call to me, disappointed,
as my once-bright dress
begins to dull, as I thin

and am worn smooth by little hands
that dismantle me daily.
I answer with excuses and apologies.

Life intrudes, I explain;
takes us apart
and rebuilds us askew.


Marija Smits is a mother, writer, artist and editor. Her writing has appeared in various places including MslexiaBrittle Star, Strix, LossLit and Literary Mama.

Cabochon – Kathy Gee


(for T & J)

They’re amethyst and agate, fighting life
for thirty years like gemstones under water.
Bicker-banter’s how they draw me in.

I’m oxbow-taut and half expect a breach,
a burst of plunging flood between the rocks.
I had forgotten how they shine in spate.

As rapids flick my feet from under,
she wins an outburst, he diverts the flow.
A rueful smile acknowledges her reach.

Lips meet in light reflection, lowered lids
like hanging branches. Love is polished
by the timeless grinding together of edges.


Kathy Gee’s career is in heritage and in leadership coaching. Widely published online and on paper, her poetry collection was published by V. Press http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/book-of-bones.html and she wrote the spoken word elements for a contemporary choral piece – http://suiteforthefallensoldier.com/

10th of October, Time Immemorial – Beth McDonough

10th of October, Time Immemorial

Revenge is sweet? My arse! You’ll suck it sour.
Go, lug fruit home – observe it breed a bowl
of maggot-writhe. My fly coachload, winged-black
with foul disease will batter down your panes.
Those jells will whersh, and piddle thin; your pies
will turn; your crumbles whiff of piss; your tarts
fall festering, and stink; they’ll dribble bloodied inks.
Do pour a wine – that rancid fruit shall make
mere vinegar seem fine, and any thought
of winter liquor – gone! Aground and bruised
I pluck out spines and curse. Of course you know
me, shit-brain! I spit my vengeance, darkest gob!
Hell won’t mend ye, bastard bramble bush!


Beth McDonough’s poetry appears in Agenda, CausewayInterpreter’s House and elsewhere; she reviews in DURAHandfast (2016, with Ruth Aylett) explores family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia. and McDonough’s of autism. She was recently Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Featured Publication – How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley

Our featured publication for October is How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley, published by Against the Grain Poetry Press.

Uncomfortable, powerful, and compelling, these poems demand to be read. And to read
them is to ride a discomfiting turbulent current expressed in images of clocks with disparate rhythms, clouds that dissolve into “dark angels of rain”, piles of spent matches that might make a bonfire. And burning is what these poems do: searing through skilfully controlled anger at the invisibility of women, their lack of a powerful role model to follow, they are ready to burst into flame, urging women to “reclaim their share”.’ Gill McEvoy

‘What immediately strikes me in Leavesley’s poetry is that sense of being spoken to directly, forcefully. The anger – at impossible advice, at the hidden and neglected work, at mere survival against the odds – is always balanced with craft and an impeccable sense of timing, and a vision which ranges from the orchestra pit to the research laboratory, via geopolitics, extinction and the recurring nested image of the matryoshka doll. An essential pamphlet.’ Luke Kennard


How to grow matches

Take the long matchsticks:
those like pink-tipped bulrushes,
those Gretel’s step-mum
might strike to light her oven.

Snap one – like a sharp blow
sideways behind a man’s knees.
Then another and another
for each jibe or slight.

Note how easily the wood splits
after years of hidden anger.
A felled forest at your feet,
and still the pile grows!

Lay the toppled pieces
against each other’s thinness,
rested on crumpled paper.
Now you have a bonfire.

Don’t think of Moses,
not Guy Fawkes or Jeanne d’Arc,
but of waking every day
to stroke your curves

into those clothes,
hip-sways and lip expressions
condoned for your office
as a woman.


And his open mouth is an olive grove

Imagine a green slope,
the neat rows of trees.
Sun pools in your eyes
and laps the hollows
of your upturned face.

Of course there are shadows:
a semaphore of leaves
tattoos the earth’s skin
as your passing bodies
sketch their form against grass.

Everything is a dance:
birds, flies, the cicadas’
accento, brillante.
Words are many, as many
as the grove’s virgin olives.

Take one softly in your mouth,
let teeth close on flesh
as if trapping the wafer trace
of a butterfly wing.
Hold it gently, gently

bite harder. Enjoy your tongue’s
flutter and tingle
until you hit stone resistance.
Stop dead, suck each word clean,
then spit out the pit.


Forget beef, forget chicken

On the day you decide, you open
the fridge and notice how his choices
have overpowered your tastes.

You take out the eggs.
Each shell cracked now
is a spillage whisked to lightness.

One finely sliced onion. The tip
of your knife presses down on a pepper:
the red curves of clean cuts.

Throw this in the pan’s sizzle.
Let pale cubes of potato fry
in these fiery Spanish juices.

Watch heat lick this to a moon
as big as your plate, thicker
than your paper tongue, softer

than his steak, and speckled
with spice. Reclaim your share.
Eat only as much as you like.


Publicity shots

Wear the pose as if born with it.
Don’t curve a smile beyond 45 degrees
for fear you’ll appear too keen.

Selfies are allowed on social media,
but spontaneity must be planned:
angle and light fixed for that natural look –
as if glancing up from a book in hand,
or somehow portraying that you have a life
outside your own pages.

Do not blink, twitch or admit
to an un-identical twin beyond this image
who can’t control their own ageing.

Do you see now, Dorian?

Look, here’s where we’ll start,
just as I did with Becky Sharp.
Tilt your face to one side,
then shoot from above
to minimise shadows and chins.

Don’t be downcast if it’s tiring.
Youth is a hard art to master
at the time, now past.

Above all, practise your nonchalance.
I taught Narcissus well
but he still changes his profile pic daily.


Previous publication credits for these poems are Magma, Synaesthesia, The Chronicles of Eve Anthology (Paper Swans Press), respectively. 

S. A. Leavesley is a poet, fiction writer, journalist and editor, fitting words around life and life around words. Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015, she is author of four poetry collections, two pamphlets, a touring poetry-play and two novellas. Her poetry has been published by the Financial Times, the Guardian, The Forward Book of Poetry 2016, on Worcestershire buses and in the Blackpool Illuminations. She runs V. Press poetry and flash fiction imprint.

How to Grow Matches is available to purchase from the Against the Grain Poetry Press website.