And the winners are..

We’re delighted to announce the results of our Against the Grain 2018 single poem competition. Congratulations to our winners and commended entries.


  • First prize £100 – Jane Wilkinson for Diptych
  • Second prize £50 – Eithne Lannon for The Swan
  • Third prize £25 – Sarah Gibbons for Selkie Wives


  • Olga Dermott-Bond – Sonnet of swimming parts
  • Emma Lee – How to make a Snow Angel
  • Jane Lovell – Cicatrix

Winning poems


:left-side (Anne.)  

Distance – has now become measurable, in the furniture
of the yew tree where squirrels chase like unleashed monkeys

and other small creatures and even smaller ones make
their way over the surfaces of the world; spring is restless.

Later, you pass by the clockwork grasses, a ticking frenzy,
the open mouths, entrances to paths, O they purse

and pursue, their intentions certain as the compass. Haste
is made in beech avenues through paper leaves and quarrels.

Steady, the milkcow’s tail keeps time, flicks at her flank;
the muscles cringe, quick then still; oak’s feet wring the clay,

a potter’s oozing fist. Shy buckled fingers of the ancient plane tree
scrape baby knuckles to make a girl’s curls swing; sing.

There is nothing left to do but warm the glowing pearl
in your furled and shaded chambers, in that darkness,

miniature Elizabeth burns. Anne, you unwind. At one o’clock,
one small bell, one small black beetle weaves a clever route

through the milk of collar lace. A blood spider (would have set
your teeth on edge) walks a dotted line around your neck… Cut Here

:right-side ( Elizabeth.)

Cut here to draw the curtains of heavy clothes that muffle
(and contain the internal tick) like a complicated yew hedge;

or the yolk-yellow fallen pine needles that draw, then dampen
the visitor’s path. At night, you dream your body is immersed: a ship

wrecked with gold barnacles and heavy with the crowd that cling
to and embroider the coarse hinge hair and exposed milk

simplicity of skin, slinky as ermine; to be both armoured
and anchored in eruptions of pearls and silk; complex foam

waves breaking shore. But when did your heart stiffen, my love?
as the starch in the whorls of the neck ruff on which your head

– summation of the known world – balances carefully on its plate,
proximal as Ann. As well as roses do, the thorns wind their way

around the glossy coronation coat – to deflate that flower?  No, you just
take a deeper breath, fingering the buds and twisting your rings

you smell spring coming: woodruff and garlic nose the light, strained
through oak and ash crowns, fed by last year’s fall. Elizabeth! London

lies down to let you stand upon it. Then processioning, dogged as tide,
it rises to shelter in your stare that spans yet unknown distance.

Jane Wilkinson


The Swan

You were searching for the skyline,
for the end,

for no good reason
other than to draw a line in your life,

to place a comma, a full stop

anywhere that it might stall
the emptying.

And wishing the blue day
not to cascade into the disappearing horizon,

not to drown inside the void
that was becoming darker

than the black river, you took
what light there was before you

and saw the swan’s slow
rise from water; steady head-bows,

slender neck, a canopy of wing
tail-starts the surging motion,

heavy hinged creak as it climbs,
the burden of its great body

so finely balanced in air,
so eagerly beautiful.

And isn’t it just doing
what swans do—

downy wing-song soft whistling,
dark beak sifting the copper twilight—

in the mottled evening sky it flies
low over thick pines, over dense silences.

Then, what I wanted for you
was to stand by the river

and let your heart enter;
to be wind-borne with the sure body,

to speak in tongues
of here, of this, of now,

to hear the night falling,
to listen.

Eithne Lannon


Selkie Wives

Now I wonder if there is something more to it
all those raw-hearted women
with their work-roughened hands,
apron strings tied high above baby-stretched bellies
waxed stares out west beyond the waves,
peat-smoked walls, lye tubs and
basic butchery of the home at their backs.
Because even mild drudge gets me down
how when the furred green tangerine
behind the sofa, slid over my finger,
its dried heart felt like the tanned skin of a relic.
Even as I hold the perfect weight of my son
I could thrust one hand beyond the whisper
of the boned party frocks in the wardrobe
feel the salt slap of seawater,
the dense shorn velvet of sealskin.

Sarah Gibbons

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