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

Mannequin – Craig Smith


The headless mannequin surveys the back garden.
Today, she wears Balenciaga. Yesterday, Halston.
Tomorrow, Ossie Clarke.
Her empty sleeves are ruffs to the elbow.
Her three birch legs are wonky, prone to collapse.
Her neck is necklace-less, is capped
by a varnished plug of chestnut;
the grain is her fingerprint, her identifier.
Her waist cuts in, signifying she has never vegged out
on digestives to Supermarket Sweep,
has never borne children.
When I put out the light, she is still there
in the darkness, her vigil unceasing.
She will be the first to see the new dawn rise,
though it is of little use to her:
the dawn is the dawn is the dawn,
the light until the fade,
meaningless beside the promise of puffball skirts,
band t-shirts, gold-lamé boudoir gowns.

Craig Smith is a poet from Huddersfield. His writing has appeared on iambapoet and the Mechanics’ Institute Review, and in The North and The Interpreters’ House, among others. He is working toward an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University. Twitter: @clattermonger

Patient Board – James McDermott

Patient Board

James McDermott’s poetry collection Manatomy, longlisted for Polari’s First Book Prize 2021, is published by Burning Eye and their pamphlet Erased is published by Polari Press. James’s pamphlet of queer nature poems is forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books. James’s poems have been published in various magazines including Poetry WalesThe Cardiff Review,Popshot QuarterlyInk Sweat & Tears and Fourteen Poems.

A Boy I Used To Know – Niall M Oliver

A Boy I Used To Know

I don’t tell my new friends about the boy
who’d blow his pocket-money on rolls of caps
to make penny-bangers, then at dark-fall,

launch them like grenades against the wall
of his protestant neighbours’ house,
driving them mad, driving them out.

I don’t tell them of the names he’d mutter
at the soldiers patrolling check-points and streets,
or the freedom songs he’d sing with his mates.

I don’t tell how the boy would feel the impact
somewhat less, when the news of another death
bore the name of a victim from the other side.

I’m too afraid they wouldn’t understand
if I spoke of this boy, and how he’d revolt
at the sound of their English tongues.

Niall M Oliver lives in Ireland, and is the author of ‘My Boss’ by Hedgehog Poetry. His poems have featured in Acumen, Atrium, The Honest Ulsterman, Fly On The Wall Press, Ink Sweat & Tears and others. 

Still Life of the Ironing Pile as a White Rhino – Emma Simon

Still Life of the Ironing Pile as a White Rhino

It emits a disgruntled air
as I keep a respectful distance
pretending to ignore it.

A rugged look of something
used to just standing there

dreaming of acacia leaves,
creases worn so deep
they concertina up like worry lines.

Of course white rhinos
are only white when a full moon
washes the savannah.

On days like this they glower
dust-baked grey, shades
of school vests and stretched elastic.

And black rhinos
are not black at all. They lurk
in airing cupboards

bleached out, faded, over-wrung,
proving the rule
all things converge to grey.

Casting a wary glance
I take a slow step or two
further back

from this brooding hulk
of household chores.
Although sometimes I dream

the hot hoof of an iron,
want its snorting steam
to smooth the tired folds

in heavy legs, ease out the ache
of all those lonely sleeves,
before it is too late.

Emma Simon has published two pamphlets: Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (Smith|Doorstop, 2020) which was a winner in the Poetry Business’s International Pamphlet and Book competition. She was been widely published in magazines and anthologies and last year won both the YorkMix Poetry Prize and the Live Canon International Prize. She has previously won the Ver Poets and Prole Laureate prizes. She works in London as a part-time journalist and copywriter.