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

Four poems by Graham Clifford

Here we feature a few poems from Well by Graham Clifford. Enjoy!

‘These are pitch-perfect poems powered by luminous and revealing images, a razor sharp voice and a beguilingly dark humour. There is irony too and witty insights. Graham is a poet’s poet, with a mastery of syntax and form and a keen awareness of the writer’s need to observe. An immensely readable collection, with a great deal to admire and enjoy.’ Anna Saunders

Resusci Anne

I am simply the latest to come to you
with my frantic efforts at restarting your heart,
adrenaline-breath in through the lips
that Baudelaire compared to La Joconde’s.

Everything burns internally when
I Google you, for images only, everything
since they fished you from the Seine
by the Quai de Louvre, causing a hole

in humanity; we couldn’t cope with
this loss. Countless corporations
and attempts we have made on your likeness,
inconnu. Smiling and concentrated,

black and white and in high def,
in water, on land,
scenarios and death masks,
the rucksack of Baby Annies

you gave birth to; decapitated-you
French kissed; a trunk, you goad us
implying you could still be reanimated
if we keep thumping on your improved chest

more lifelike in its trademark death.
Perhaps it is this handing on
that is the saving, Anne. A toy maker
and a doctor made you. Breathe. 1,2,3…

Nearly Normal Dream

There was nothing to my dream, except
there were two of everything.

Two double basses; two soups.
When I had to leave you both again
and opened the doors
two brutal worlds rejected my double efforts.

I woke up drenched by twice the sadness.
Where my other heart was ached.


Divers fan and fuss silt to reveal a spire tip from a village they say sank for a reason:
we’re sinking.
My daughter’s anemone fingers splay and clench under a thin layer of sleep;
myoclonic jerks, eye-whites, as outside,
bean plants stretch up and out, urging away like we do, sickened at first
by our own seedy origins.
Get away! genes insist. You will never get over that pained, crouching creep
of bad-back Alsatians. This bench
may well have been where you loved to sit and rest but, if they chloroformed
the street and switched a maple
for a larch, are you claiming you would notice? How far down till you find
a significance? How far down
do we own? And above? I might one day wake and just go but I won’t. To look
up at the blue, blue sky –
who would have guessed all the blood stains, the flesh and jumble of scrags
words totter on? My teacher
was right: those books over-reached me, but if I slow the last drip, it backs up
a perforation in the shower rose
with the room, the fixtures, me, the window, everything outside, a jet and clouds
elongated, cleaned up. Perfect.

Li Po in New Look

I was remembering lines of Li Po
in New Look to the cute teenager-y lyrics
like liking a neck shiny with perfume
and the girl in the lingerie photo seemed to be saying
I love you not I want to suck you inside out
this time; I’d seen her before, backing
away from me in empty rooms in magazines
or turning to a leafless tree, with hats on.

And our daughter had a blue vein
across her nose, still angry
from the gristly pop of birth.
She daily tried on a new face
and had now found the perfect Edwardian
incredulity for the rows of versions of a shoe
they keep designing,
tweaking the same to try and catch up with
a desire that should be allowed to fly away,
worrying at the new
like grabbing at tap water, or a thought
made of low rumbling words for a second,
like hope. And Li Po in New Look.

The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament

The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament is an exciting collaboration between poet and artist. It consists of a powerful combination of 21 villanelles by Colin Pink with 21 woodcuts by Daniel Goodwin inspired by the poems. We launched the book and accompanying exhibition at a packed out Poetry Cafe June 5th with readings from Colin and guest poet Mimi Khalvati and an introduction to the woodcuts by Daniel. The exhibition of Daniel’s woodcuts and paintings runs until 29th June, where you can also buy a copy of the book (also available from our Shop).

Ventriloquist Front Cover with Border‘..breathtakingly Colin Pink gives us twenty-one accomplished villanelles, each one accompanied by a woodcut of a lightning panache by artist Daniel Goodwin, to illuminate the poet’s “vision” so “that many beings can become vessels of light”…’ William Oxley

‘Daniel Goodwin’s woodcuts are lively and direct responses to Colin Pink’s incisive villanelles. They offer an unusual perspective in which images taken from the poems’ themes are revealed out of apparent abstraction, their visual boldness perfectly complementing Pink’s rhythmic urgency.’ Kit Boyd



We thought we were moving upwards, forever striving,
Reaching for rung after rung. All along we couldn’t see
The way up and the way down came to the same thing.

A sparrow swoops in one door and out again, flying
Through the hearth, swift hearted, from artifice it flees.
We thought we were moving upwards, forever striving

To complete the perfect circle. There was always something
Missing no matter how hard we searched. It couldn’t be
The way up and the way down came to the same thing.

All go into the dark whirlpool and there’s no returning:
Consumed in love, ambition, reverence, in each degree
We thought we were moving upwards. Forever striving,

Intoxicated with ideas of progress, we persisted, inventing
Many things with unexpected consequence. We didn’t see
The way up and the way down came to the same thing.

After a long journey, travelling in novelty, we’re becoming
Doubtful; did we live a toxic dream? It made our spine freeze:
We thought we were moving upwards, forever striving;
The way up and the way down came to the same thing.

Colin Pink

4 Upwards
Upwards © Daniel Goodwin

The Dancing Boy

See below four poems from the brilliant The Dancing Boy by Michelle Diaz. The pamphlet is packed with gems like these. Available to buy from our Shop.

The first night after my father left

my mother lay as if the darkness knew her,
closed herself up inside, became so small
that she couldn’t find alone.

The sky was full of nouns.
She dare not look at the stars,
would not fix her eyes on light.

The night was the belly of a whale.
She was not Jonah.
Nobody came to save her.

Repeat the words –

She could not find where she began or ended.
There was no definition.

The air was thick and black.
Her throat an oil spill.

She delivered her heart like a stillborn
into the mouth of the darkness.

A Birth Journey in Nine Movements

We are en route to Yorkshire.
I stir my latte with a pregnancy test,
it shows up positive.
All the waiters do the Macarena.
My mother finds a Clear Blue box in the fridge –
it is full of eggs.
We have omelette for tea.
The family has never been so together.

I am carried around by four angels
who guard my apple pip cargo,
pump me full of oxytocin,
airbrush the stretch marks.

My body wages war on vegetables,
organic and tinge of green are off the menu.
I am possessed by the Honey Monster,
only pear drops and Jelly Tots will do.

Three weeks to go and somebody has let the bathwater out.
Oligohydramnios. The midwife tells me you’re shrinking.
The sofa becomes a wet grave I bury myself in.

The hospital – I have a bed with a bell,
Mr Doc says Emergency caesarean.
We float round the room like balloons in denial.

Seven days go by – you are still not out,
despite Doctor Patel’s insistence,
despite the letter on serious yellow paper,
despite my dangerously high blood pressure.
I sense we are dying. I am probed silence.
You have been leaked information.
You are not coming.

C-section. They find you. I become Mummy.

The room breathes morphine, the women sweat.
I am in Tenko. The nurse has a moustache.
She withholds pain relief, wheels away precious baby.

A cold star rises above the saline drip,
guards the broken nativity.

My old skin lines the corridor,
the curt nurse picks it up.
Strangely, I cry because you are no longer inside.
Your dad closes the curtain in case they think I am depressed.
I’m not. It’s just that I will never again know such intimacy.

The Rebellion of Sleeping in

I want to scrape back clouds,
bring morning to you on a tray,
allow you that extra hour.

I want to scrunch the world up, pocket-sized,
then feed it to you
in pieces you can swallow.

Instead, routine makes a Colonel of me.
I bark instruction:
Face and nails, tie straight, cornflakes,
blazer. Hurry up, it’s late!

Not today.

Today I will let you sleep ’til ten,
swim in your unseen dreams.
To hell with school, alarms,
the regimented day.

Your face is the softest peach.
The way things have to be
will not consume the fruit of you,
dribble you down its chin without care,
without tasting your sweetness.

When I rehearse my deathbed scene

every face I’ve ever loved is there.
It took Morrissey a while but he made it.

Gretchen the blue-haired doll
has been scooped out of the bin
where she fell in the late 80s.

All the cats buried in the garden
shake their bones,
stripe my duvet.

There is no confession, no last rites
or familial fights.
All prayers are offered in dance, all tears in song.

There is snow and Baileys
and Christmas crackers
even though it’s June.

The men recite poetry,
the women write it.
There is a ban on taking umbrage.

Against the Grain Press 2019

The Poetry Shed


As Against the Grain Press is over one year old it is popping up on various indie press lists – Happenstance creates a well-compiled list and Mslexia has just been in touch to add up to theirs. So what have we been doing during this time?

Our first publication was Anna Kisby’s, All the Naked Daughters, that came out in November 2017. Anna is a Devon-based poet and archivist. After growing up in London, she studied Literature and Film at the universities of East Anglia, Sussex and Paris-Sorbonne, taught English in Prague and sold cowboy boots in Massachusetts, then training as an archivist and working with women’s history collections.

Read Emma Lee’s review HERE


Following on Kisby’s heels, we were delighted to publish S. A. Leavesley’s, How to Grow Matches in spring 2018.


S.A. Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Author of seven poetry titles, two…

View original post 522 more words

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