Natalie Shaw – Oh be quiet

Natalie Shaw is one of four poets whose pamphlets we’re excited to be publishing next year. Natalie N Shaw photostarted writing poetry in 2014 after discovering that she didn’t need special permission or a secret key to a secret garden. She spent a very exciting year as part of Jo Bell’s online group 52 and since then has had her work published in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has just finished editing Medusa and Her Sisters, a book of sonnets inspired by a series of drawings by artist Natalie Sirett. This year she was commended in the National Poetry Competition. Oh be quiet is her first pamphlet.

What made you decide to submit your pamphlet to Against the Grain Press?

I’ve been impressed by lots of things about Against the Grain. I’ve read some incredible work from its poets, and I’ve noticed that even as a small press, it has a really fantastic reach.

Could you give us an idea of the general theme of your pamphlet?

The poems in this pamphlet explore several different small moments of realisation. They sometimes take place at a threshold moment, when someone is crossing from one state to another.

Things that I say to my enemy

While my enemy sleeps, I stand outside her house.
I send beetles into her dreams, a cockroach, a man
who hates her, someone running, the sly but persistent
notion her friends are only pretending to listen.

While my enemy sleeps, I turn others against her. I mention
things she has said that sound unpleasant, I kick
her leg while no one is watching. I let her see
letters from others in which she barely features.

I ask her a question I know she can’t answer, I snub her
at parties, I steal her ideas; I pretend I can’t hear her,
I say she looks lovely then laugh at her dress. I delight
in the shadows that  lengthen under her eyes, and note

with glee that her hair is quite greasy but mostly I shiver
to think of her lying awake and alone. I whisper
it’s true that she’ll never have boyfriends, a wedding, or babies
with soft little hands, her milk in their soft little mouths.

Eleven days

I was on Wikipedia looking for something
and I found eleven missing days, imagine.

I spent a couple as a man
in his early thirties. I had a convertible,

I wore sunglasses. I parked wherever I wanted.
I had fun like people in adverts have fun, Lynx for example.

Then I went back to the stately home we visited
and had tea on the lawn. I was

Isabel Archer at the beginning of
Portrait of a Lady, except this time

I knew to avoid the grand European Tour
and instead I stayed at home

and practised the pieces
that normally I don’t have time to.

Now I can play them all really well.
I learnt how to cha cha cha too,

all those dances we were going to dance together
but never got round to, you’ll be amazed

when you see me. It went really quickly,
on the whole. All those beautiful, empty minutes

to spend in the sun, drinking espressos
and eating ice creams in Venice, Siena. I’m sure

any one of you would’ve done the same,
but I found them first and I’m sorry, they’re gone.

Olga Dermott-Bond – apple, fallen

We are delighted we’ll be publishing apple, fallen by Olga Dermott-Bond. Olga is originally from Northern Ireland. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had Olga Dermott-Bondpoetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Dodging the Rain, Magma, Strix, Cordite Review, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Interpreter’s House and Paper Swans. She was one of the winners of the 2018 BBC Proms poetry competition and is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021. Olga was selected as one of the emerging poets for Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, a podcast due to be broadcast on Radio 4 in October 2019. She is an Assistant Head in a secondary school and has two daughters. apple, fallen is her debut poetry pamphlet.

A little bit about my pamphlet

apple, fallen questions and confronts ideas of female identity and motherhood, through autobiographical poems and characters from myth and folklore. Through this, my collection also explores mental illness and the aftermath of grief.

Why I submitted my poem to Against the Grain Press

I really love the work of the three editors Abegail, Karen and Jessica which is always a good start! Against the Grain’s published poets are some of my favourite contemporary writers, and I especially admire the work of S.A. Leavesley and Jane Lovell. Last year my poem Sonnet of swimming parts was commended in their competition and I also had a poem published on The Poetry Shed. I’ve been working hard on my first collection for the past two years, so I feel my work has come together at the right place and the right time!


Such a simple word. Brutal to begin, quick
to end. Glad of the distance between us

I study it. A ship run aground in a glass case,
its blade narrowing beautifully to a curved keel.

Then the handle, heavy as a church pew, wood worn
in two places from practised hands of a headsman.

I picture a neck exposed, pink sinews propped
like a stick of snapped rhubarb gleaming with sugar

beads for a few seconds, before boards darken,
splinters stained again with a body spilled over.

I study it, the opposite of a lung or a bicycle
or a wildflower, and am reminded of the wail

of a child being left by her mother. A front door closing
as a silvered edge. An unchartered place called severance.

(17th century Axe, used for executing criminals in St Andrews, St Andrews Museum, Fife)

apple, fallen

Her smile is waxed water, curved perfect and full.
Sleeping in grass-hush, she fits herself perfectly,
a wise moon dressed only in pearled skin and sugar.
She is open as a lake, offering a steady reflection to
gospelled branches above that sway love-heavy,
growing with all of her hope-laden daughters –

her smashed skull is a restless shattered crawling
of ferment, made only of wasps that cling to shrinking
edges. she is a cave of black static, her crabbed body
hollowed beyond blood. a boat silenced with dry land,
she has sunk her own tongue, devoured her eyes, cheeks,
swallowed the blameless sun. there is only this place –

turn me over before you ask how I am.

Ben Cusden – Join the Dots

Ben photo for ATG (2)Introducing Ben Cusden and his pamphlet Join the Dots that we’re delighted to be publishing next year…

Ben was an award-winning video editor in the television industry from 1998-2004. Homeless in 2004 and again 2009-2011. He is currently a designer of ethically produced organic cotton garments and carer for his disabled mother.

He has recently been published in Acumen and is about to be published in Prole, The Dawntreader, and an anthology by Salmon Poetry. Previously poems were published by: Salmon Poetry, Poetry Cornwall, Mountain Springs Publishing, Lady Chaos Press, and  Inner Child Press. Shortlisted for The Bridport Prize in 2016.

He is a regular MC for Ruth O’Callaghan’s Lumen and Camden groups and also a regular reader at Peter Evans’ Poets Anonymous in Croydon – appearing on their Croydon FM radio programme twice. He has been a guest reader for Beyond Words (2017), and at Poetryfest, King’s College, London (2018).

What made you decide to submit your pamphlet to Against the Grain Press?

I wanted to submit to Against the Grain Press because of the calibre of the three poets that run it. Their attitude with the aim “to produce beautiful works of art, with high production values and an edgy appeal, that are both provocative and moving” and because I admire that they carry their professionalism  into the quality of the publications they produce. On their website they state: “The beat of our drum is our own” and I was eager to be a part of that rhythm.

Could you give us an idea of the general theme of your pamphlet?

The general theme of my pamphlet is homelessness and resettlement. My poems confront my times of homelessness in the towns and countryside of Cornwall – mainly living on the streets of Falmouth and Truro or pitched in a tent near Ponsanooth – and reflect on my return  to Purley, Surrey, where I now live and care for my disabled mother.

Doorways Are For Daytime Sleeping

As the natural light segues into night’s amber;
when the nocturnal beat and chatter

replaces the daytime drone, it’s time to sink deeper
into shadows – smooth as water would find a way.

Seep through unseen cracks, become less
than silhouette and feed your form to darkness.

Navigate away from well-worn tracks, nimbly mask
your scent – camouflage your being with evening air.

As night falls, sympathy is a starving bird and empathy
an unknown world. Hyaenas hunt in packs.

Pre-recorded Episodes

Although dew still clings onto grass blades, and the daisy
popped lawn embraces sheen, the mist dutifully subsides
and the valley’s viridescence signals the day’s true start.
The roses will be along soon, mum smiles with satisfaction.

Hopefully, a beautiful day ahead, different from yesterday
when the mist hung in the valley and something else was said –
whispered, embarrassed by fear:  I’ve done something silly,
hands clasped on knees, peering from lowered head:

I was watching Monty Don, pinching out his seedlings,
and seem to have popped the blister pack and taken all my pills.
Like sweets, mum picked and mixed along the strip –
from Monday down to Sunday and only stopped

when Monty segued to a piece on Britain’s National Parks.
We pressed pause on a Golden Eagle flying above the Cairngorms,
wing spanned shadow oscillating through Alpine Milk-vetch
and Blue-sow-thistles, to make our way out into springtime mizzle.

You’re lucky it was only a week you took, Maggie, the nurse,
cheerily told us, two and it would’ve been fatal – you wouldn’t
be bothering me at all! The audience click track gasped in horror
at the prospect of mum’s long running show being cancelled;

knowing the next episode – where the herbaceous border
explodes into colour and the clematis finally loses its grip –
would be postponed and season’s finale – where roses bloom on
oak and lilies stand with sympathy – would be shown in its place.

Denise Bundred – Litany of a Cardiologist

Denise Bundred 2019

We are thrilled to tell you more about Denise Bundred and her selected pamphlet, Litany of a Cardiologist, we’ll be publishing next year.

Denise trained as a paediatrician in Cape Town and worked as a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University.

She won the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2016 and came second in 2019. Her poetry has appeared in The Hippocrates Prize Anthologies 2012 – 2019, The Book of Love and Loss (eds. J Hall and R.V. Bailey: 2014) and the Winchester Poetry Prize Anthology in 2016. A collection of her poems was commended by Indigo Press in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize Competition in 2018. She also has poems in Envoi, Magma and Under the Radar magazines. She read with Rebecca Goss at the Manchester Literature Festival in 2013.

We asked each of our 2020 poets to summarise the overall theme of their chosen pamphlet, to tell us why they submitted to Against the Grain and to select two poems for us to publish…

“The heart is central to this pamphlet but it is the heart as the cardiologist sees it – the structure, its function and how it can fail. She addresses a child with a heart condition, a parent and people from history (Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle and William Harvey) who have written about the heart. At times she is merely observing a surgeon, anaesthetist or a visitor on the ward. Occasionally the voice of a parent insists on being heard. The poems take the reader into the emergency room, clinic, children’s ward, operating theatre and intensive care unit to give a medical perspective that the reader may not previously have been aware of.

I chose to submit my work to Against the Grain Press because I like the poetry of all three editors. Jessica’s background in science/healthcare and Abegail’s and Karen’s work in ekphrastic poetry seemed to fit so well with my own writing. I also admire the poetry and accomplishments of poets published by this press. The pamphlets are beautifully produced and something to be extremely proud of. I have also enjoyed The Poetry Shed, which has introduced me to a number of poets whom I would not otherwise have read.”

Litany of a Cardiologist

Cyanotic, hypotensive, acyanotic
blue, mottled, pink (as in baby)

systole, diastole, asystole
contract, relax, stop (as in heart)

arrhythmia, bradycardia, tachycardia
abnormal, slow, quick (as in beat)

pansystolic, ejection, vibratory
long, crescendo, musical (as in murmur)

stenotic, incompetent, bicuspid
narrowed, leaky, deformed (as in valve)

hypertrophic, hypoplastic, dilated
thickened, unformed, enlarged (as in ventricle)

dyspnoeic, crepitations, syncope
breathless, crackles, faint (as in failure)

Congenital Cardiac Anomaly
born with heart disease (as in child).

Leonardo’s Pen

You filled a heart with wax to model the aortic valve in glass
with artery ascending. You pulsed grass seed in water
to visualise the flow.

How else could you know that blood curves
above each cusp to close the valve?

In the Villa Belvedere above the city of a thousand artists,
you mapped the impetus. Your pen hatched vortices on vellum
to match The Virgin’s curls.

You mirror-wrote in ink, arched words around
the diagram and fixed Science to its Art.

Five centuries pass before Magnetic Resonance
can image the heart of a child, asleep in a metal tube.
His aorta on my screen follows your vision in every line.

I watch systole circle like seeds above three cusps.
Diastole compresses them to complete the beat.

Published in Magma: Work. July 2019: 74.

Announcing our 2020 poets

It’s been a busy few months for us at Against the Grain. We are poets as well as publishers and collectively we’ve been finishing writing projects, launching books and keeping roofs over our heads. We have also been spending long hours reading the hundreds of submissions that came to us this year. We each read all of them to create a short list. We were full of a glowy gratitude for every submission. We – as poets ourselves – know the pain and effort it takes to put a collection together and then wait with everything crossed to get the results. We were really pleased and impressed with the sheer volume and quality that came to us. We made our selections – some we agreed on and some we argued over and fought for. We can safely say that in some cases we were within a hair’s breath of selecting some only to be drawn again to the four we ultimately selected. There were a good many pamphlets sent to us that deserved publication and that we are in no doubt will be selected elsewhere. We wish all the submitters luck with their poetry and please send to us again next year. Well done again to all those shortlisted – we made the decision not to publish the short list but let the poets know they made it to the second cut.

It’s a mysterious process and after quiet deliberation, we all agreed on and selected our four 2020 poets. All four pamphlets stood out to us and all for different reasons, some because they were sharp and forensic, some because we kept thinking about them, and others for what we felt might be an interesting journey of collaboration from edit to publication.

Huge congratulations go to –

Denise Bundred – Litany of a Cardiologist

Ben Cusden – Join the Dots

Olga Dermott-Bond – apple, fallen

Natalie Shaw – Oh be quiet

In the next few weeks and months we will bring you more news of our new poets, sample poems and the pamphlets’ publication dates.

Abegail, Karen & Jess