Competition Winners

sarahBeing asked to judge the Against The Grain Poetry Press competition was both an honour and a joy, but also a responsibility. My sense of all three deepened as I read the nearly 600 poems entered for this year’s contest. These were wide-ranging in form, style and content including: contemporary life, love and loss; narratives, landscapes and character portraits; muses, art, folklore, history, politics, environmental and literary influenced pieces… I was moved, bewitched and awed by striking images, metaphors, the music of the words, and more.

Every poem was read and enjoyed. Overall, I came away with a sense of passion, conviction and caring. I was reminded of the power of poetry and my own love of language. No matter how far an individual poem came in this particular competition, all of the poems were part of this effect and I’d like to thank all entrants for that.

For those interested in the judging process, over many readings and re-readings, I self-sifted the nearly 600 poems down to a very rough longlist of around 90 poems, a more decisive longlist of 38 poems, a shortlist of 21 poems and then a top nine, before finally deciding my winners .Throughout this process, I was looking to see how poems resonated and continued to resonate both during the reading and in the gaps between my reading when I was busy with other things. Another thing that I like to do, particularly further through the process, is play devil’s advocate and throw accusatory questions /potential faults at the poems, such as ‘But does it show y?’ or ‘Could it have done z better?’ etc. Most poems that rose to the top robustly refuted the accusations. Others came back with the answer: ‘But even if this were true, wouldn’t that mean I’m even more brilliant since you still keep coming back to me?’.

I’d like to congratulate and thank everyone whose poem made my final shortlist below. To those who didn’t make the shortlist this time, I’d say please don’t be discouraged. There was so much that I admired in all the poems, but my job was to pick just three winners.

First: starlings – Kathryn Bevis

Second: At a stroke – Jane Pearn

Third: Pebble – Jane Lovell


Special Mentions:

A Special Parachute Descent – Jane Burn
Songs the Owls Brought – Alexandra Melville
The Paddock – Michéle Beck


Top Nine
A Special Parachute Descent – Jane Burn
After the Crash – Catherine Edmunds
At a stroke – Jane Pearn
Pebble – Jane Lovell
Pinocchio – Alexandra Melville
Princess Alexandra and the Glass Piano – Lucy Dixcart
Songs the Owls Brought – Alexandra Melville
starlings – Kathryn Bevis
The Paddock – Michéle Beck


A Special Parachute Descent – Jane Burn
Above the Lake – Graham Burchell
After the Crash – Catherine Edmunds
Armoire – Alexandra Melville
At a stroke – Jane Pearn
Baba Yaga’s Bungalow – William Stephenson
Charybdis – Sarah Doyle
Gannet – Karen Izod
Learning to accessorise – Alexandra Citron
Metal – Catherine Edmunds
Only the Moon – Steve Walter
Pebble – Jane Lovell
Pinocchio – Alexandra Melville
Princess Alexandra and the Glass Piano – Lucy Dixcart
Snow Holiday, Brighton – Patricia Childerhouse
Songs the Owls Brought – Alexandra Melville
starlings – Kathryn Bevis
The Paddock – Michéle Beck
This shy architect – Dena Fakhro
Threads of Thought – Denise Bundred
What’s A Job’s Worth? – Benjamin Cusden


starlings – This poem looks beautiful on the page and is powerful, energising and musical to read aloud. Comparatively everyday words are combined to create an imaginative and evocative new vocabulary in which sound also plays a key effect. Form and content work as one, and repetition is used in a wonderfully reinforcing and accumulative effect across the poem. Although ostensibly about starlings, the spiritual level of the poem allows it to be read analogically in a way that’s relevant to human experience, society and community. This memorable poem reverberated in my mind and emotions more and more after and between each re-reading.

At a stroke – In this poem, again, I had the impression of well-placed, carefully weighted, imagery, metaphors and sounds. Use of punctuation, white space and crossings-out felt crafted and precisely poised with a befittingly musicianlike sense of timing, all reinforcing the moving narrative of illness and loss, as well as characterisation. A moving, “beautifully judged” poem.

Pebble – This beautiful poem addressing a pebble as “small symbol of this precarious world” unfolds to something much larger – encompassing nature, human experience and the essence of life itself. I was struck by the striking images in this poem, the sounds of the words chosen and its shape on the page, reflecting a tidal tug and flow. Every time I re-read this evocative poem, I was struck by a sense of wonder that remained with me.

I look forward to discovering the poets behind the winning poems, and hopefully enjoying more of their work in future.

We will be publishing the winners and special mentions…


Olga Dermott-Bond – pamphlet, poetics and Poetry Café launch

We’re delighted to be publishing Olga Dermott-Bond’s pamphlet, apple, fallen this spring with a launch at The Poetry Café on March 21st (along with the brilliant Litany of the Cardiologist by Denise Bundred). We’re hoping 2020 will be a successful year for all our poets and we’ve been catching up with them lately to discover their highlights of 2019.


We recently asked Olga how her 2019 went (pretty amazing we think) …

Poetry is crammed in around the edges of my too-busy life. As a full time teacher and mother of two young daughters I am never far from essays to be marked, spellings to be learnt, birthday cards to write. There is too much clutter and not enough time, but that’s where my poetry exists.

2019 began with me attending the launch of Bath Flash Fiction Volume 3 reading my flash fiction ‘Mr Rochester and I’, a piece that would later be selected for the anthology ‘Best Microfiction 2019’.


Reading at the Bath Flash Fiction launch

Keeping things short and sweet I really enjoyed the Verve poetry festival in Birmingham, where I attended a very enlightening prose poetry workshop by Carrie Etter – and I have been re-reading her collection Imagined Sons ever since.  Also in February I gave my debut reading at The Poetry Café in London for the launch of Candlestick Press’ delicious  ‘Ten Poems about Breakfast’ as my haiku sequence ‘Toaster’ was a winner.


At the poetry café

I am addicted to certain poetic forms – sonnets are one of them – and so I was delighted to have my sonnet ‘summer just gone’ commended in Cannon’s Mouth sonnet or not competition. I was honoured to be chosen as a commissioned artist to write a poem as part of the project leading to Coventry as City of Culture 2021, based on universal human rights.

Into Spring and summer I was humbled and thrilled to be selected as one of the emerging poets for the Podcast ‘Bedtime Stories for the end of the world’ and attended a hair raising workshop with lead poets Malika Booker, Jack Underwood and Andrew McMillan

One of my favourite projects was a collaboration with artists exhibiting in Warwickshire Open Studios. This kept me on my toes, writing poems for a ceramic artist, a glass blower, a lino cutter, a pen maker and a painter.

I Autumn, I won the BBC Proms poetry competition for my unusually cheerful poem ‘Poekhali!’ inspired by Yuri Gargarin and Public Service Broadcasting, which was an amazing experience from start of finish.


With Ian McMillan at the BBC Proms Poetry recording

I also got to hear Liz Berry read at a Nine Arches Press event, and I am still somewhere, walking the streets with her in her collection ‘The Republic of Motherhood.’ Looking back over the year I have had work published in Cordite Review, Strix, Dodging the Rain and have even been nominated for a Best of the Net Award by their generous poetry editor Neil Slevin. Keeping the Celtic connection, I was in Dublin last week for the Book of Kells award.



Writing this blog has made me realise what a wonderful year it has been for me and I feel very lucky to have had the support of my family and so many great people in the poetry world. Having my first pamphlet accepted by Against the Grain has been a watershed moment.

There is never enough time but I am grateful for it all: the essays waiting to be marked, packed lunches to be made, the poems waiting to be found, dreamt or excavated from the chaos of everyday.


Denise Bundred’s Poetry Year

Denise Bundred 2019This year I came second in the Hippocrates Prize in Poetry and Medicine (Health Professional). The poem Addressing a Fetal Heart speaks directly to the heart of an unborn child. I also had a poem commended. Panacea is a villanelle which started life as a nature poem and ended as something much darker. I read both poems at the awards ceremony in May and they are in the Hippocrates Prize Anthology 2019.

I had two poems accepted by Under the Radar magazine. One of them is the final poem in a pamphlet which will be published next year. Those Were the Days describes my longing for work as a cardiologist after I retired.

Magma accepted a poem for the summer edition on the subject of Work and I read it at the launch in London. Leonardo’s Pen links modern cardiology with Leonardo da Vinci who described how the aortic valve works in about 1513.

Even more exciting was the news in July that my pamphlet, Litany of a Cardiologist, had been accepted by Abegail Morley, Karen Dennison and Jessica Mookherjee for publication by Against the Grain Press. The poetry reflects my work as a paediatric cardiologist.


Anatomy Theatre came third in the Ledbury Poetry Festival Competition. It was submitted as an afterthought with a couple of other poems I thought more likely to succeed. The poem forms part of a sequence about a nineteenth century painting by Enrique Simonet entitled And She had a Heart and describes a doctor performing an autopsy.

Two of my poems (including Anatomy Theatre) appeared in The Poetry Shed in October.

My poem in the Mole Valley Poets Christmas Anthology is called Eighteen and describes a young footballer visiting a children’s ward at Christmas time.

I have been asked to read at the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine-Osler Centenary Conference at the Royal College of Physicians in December. It’s the first time I will be reading as a poet at a medical conference, instead of as a doctor.

The poems are from my pamphlet Litany of a Cardiologist and some had their first success in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.

The poet I discovered this year is Romalyn Ante whose remarkable poem Group Portrait at the Stopover was published in autumn edition of The Poetry Review.



A Year in the ‘Against the Grain’ Stable – Michelle Diaz

michelle photo cropped2019 has been an amazingly full and productive year! Since receiving ‘The Dancing Boy’ pamphlets from Karen in February, there have been wonderful launches, great readings and encouraging reviews. My pamphlet sold out in November. I have a new box for the 2020 readings.

The Poetry Café launch in March was a beautiful birthing of ‘The Dancing Boy’ and it was great to meet my publishers in person. There were old friends and new friends there to support me and Claire Collison was an excellent guest reader.

My personal highlights of 2019 are appearing on Julie Mullen’s Totnes radio show, a great launch at Wells with my super Wells Fountain Poets, kicking off the Big Poetry Swindon festival with my friend Jinny Fisher, appearing at the Word Café with some stonkingly good poets (Totnes) and, perhaps most important of all, the touching feedback I have had from those who have read ‘The Dancing Boy’. I am glad it stirred hearts and brought both laughter and tears.

I have appeared regularly on GFM radio, promoting my book and the ‘Against the Grain’ team who have tirelessly supported me throughout the creation and launching of my pamphlet.


I have ventured to Bristol, Bath, London and even Yorkshire to promote my work. It has been an exciting whirlwind of wonder!

I look forward to my readings in Exeter and Bristol next year.

I am currently working on a new pamphlet and working towards a full collection.

I am so grateful to Abegail, Jess and Karen for valuing and publishing my work. It has been a great journey for the heart. Here’s to 2020 and a new voice !



Poetry Round Up 2019 – Colin Pink

Colin Portrat Ventriloquist Dummy LBG- 108 cropped

Poetry wise it’s been a good year. In May Against the Grain published The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, my collection of 21 villanelles with 21 woodcuts by the artist Daniel Goodwin. The book launch at the Poetry Café was a great success and it was thrilling to hear Mimi Khalvati, as guest poet, giving us a preview of her wonderful sonnets which were later published in October in her new book Afterwardness.

In October I was honoured to be invited to read at the Torbay Poetry Festival. A great event with many fascinating performances, topped off with hearing Imtiaz Dharker give an excellent reading.

During the festival I discovered the work of the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli, thanks to the English translations by Danielle Hope, collected in The Last Walk of Giovanni Pascoli. Coming across this poetry, which is rooted in an intense observation of particular things, inspired me to begin writing a new series of poems about Things.

As the year approaches its end there is sadness at news of the death of Ciaran Carson which is mixed with pleasure at reading him, writing at his best, in his last book Still Life, a superb collection of ekphrastic poems.

Ventriloquist Front Cover



Poetry Round-up 2019 – Claire Walker

Each writing year has its ups and downs – the bouts of success mixed with the fallow periods where nothing is written or accepted, where it maybe feels like nothing is working as hoped. It is the way of things. 2019 has been no different but, in amongst those general frustrations, there has been one particularly big highlight for me: the publication of Collision, my pamphlet with Against the Grain Press.


Submitted during the June 2018 window, I learned that my pamphlet had been successful during a holiday with my family in Lyme Regis, Dorset. This seemed a particularly fitting location to receive the news, as the poems in the Collision are sea-themed, and four specifically are about the fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning, who lived and worked in the town.

Fast-forward to 2019. Collision grew from submitted-manuscript into hold-in-your-hand-pamphlet form, and the editing process was a very warm experience. One particular email from the editors caused great excitement – being asked to choose my cover colour! I decided on one from the sea-green range, as it seemed fitting for the tone of the pamphlet.

In keeping with Against the Grain events, the pamphlet was launched at The Poetry Café in Covent Garden. This was a thrilling experience, although in the run up to the event I was more nervous about this reading than any I’ve done before. Mainly, I think, because it was outside my comfort zone – literally, as I usually do readings in the Midlands and don’t really know anyone in London, so had convinced myself there would be no one in the audience! To my relief and delight, people came. It was great to meet new people, as well as see some familiar faces who’d travelled from further afield.


I was given the opportunity to invite guest readers along, and was so happy that Cheryl Pearson and Sarah Doyle, two superbly talented poets, agreed. I admire both Cheryl and Sarah’s work immensely, so to hear them read was a joy.

Members of my family came, including my two young daughters. Both enjoyed the experience, so that definitely counts as a success in my book! The day of the launch was actually my youngest daughter’s birthday, so I was honoured that she didn’t mind sharing it with poetry (although we took a trip to Hamleys the next day, for balance!).

The launch of Collision was a wonderful occasion. It was the perfect way to help my little sea-themed, green-covered book set sail into the world and, as well as being my writing highlight of 2019, it’s an experience I will appreciate and treasure forever.