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

Competition update

Well many thanks poets! What a cracking response to our competition. We had no idea we’d get so many entries!

We read through them all (of which there were almost 600!). Thank you so very much for supporting us.

We will be announcing our winners this very soon!!