Olga-Dermott-Bond’s winning poem: My daughter’s first eye test

Every year, Poetry on Loan runs a poetry competition for people who live, work or study in the West Midlands. This year’s theme was Vision, and the winner of the adult category was this poem – My daughter’s first eye test, by Olga Dermott-Bond.


Olga is originally from Northern Ireland and read English at the University of St. Andrews. Her debut poetry pamphlet “apple, fallen” is published by Against the Grain Press. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Dodging the Rain, MagmaStrix, Cordite ReviewUnder the RadarInk Sweat and TearsThe Interpreter’s House and Paper Swans. She was the winner of BBC Proms poetry competition 2019 and is a commissioned artist for Coventry City of Culture 2021. Olga was selected as one of the emerging poets for Bedtime Stories of the End of the world. She is an Assistant Head in a secondary school in Warwickshire and has two daughters. @olgadermott

olga5‘Olga Dermott-Bond’s superb poems make their way towards searing emotion via craft, detailed observation and a kind of glittering acceptance that the world we have is the world we must write about and the job of the poet is to make art from the flawed things around us. These poems reward rereading and hang around in your mind, delivering phrases and lines back to you at unexpected times that turn out to be the times you need them most.’  Ian McMillan 

‘Vivid and powerful.’ Ana Sampson-McLaughlin 

The Editor’s Wilderness Poem

crack-12-greenby Carl Griffin

When I first invited poets to send me their fragments or poems so that I could stitch them together into one cohesive poem (which became Arrival at Elsewhere), I had a few ideas in mind of the kind of poetry I wanted to see, and the topics I wanted to avoid. However, I left the initial invitation as open as possible. I didn’t want to limit my options. The brief was simply to send work that had been written during the time of the coronavirus, even if the work was not necessarily about the virus. Sometimes we write our best poetry on a subject when focusing on a different subject altogether.

But after a couple of months of receiving work and starting on the long poem, I had noticed a few lines and topics and approaches cropping up again and again. In an update to the poets involved, in case they hadn’t yet sent their poetry in, or were planning to send more, I decided to put together a bit of a list of things I needed and things I definitely did not need. As editors are prone to (if I can get away with calling myself an editor), I rambled on for quite some time. One of the poets kindly decided to turn my ramblings into a found poem. I have kindly turned his found poem into something I feel encapsulates even more what I was looking for, upon deciding on the path I would take with the poem. This short-shelf poem, found by Peter Sirr, and then found again by myself, hopefully gives a good insight into my thought process while putting the Arrival at Elsewhere poem together, although, as the last stanza might suggest, I did break my own rules just subtly enough.EditorWildernessPoem

Buy Arrival at Elsewhere

Arrival at Elsewhere – a glimpse

Arrival at Elsewhere – creating characters

Arrival at Elsewhere – creating characters


By Carl Griffin

Although many of the poems/fragments I received for this project featured family members or neighbours, I didn’t always think it was right to use these as part of a larger poem, although some managed to survive. But by weaving a few minor characters from these fragments with new settings from other fragments, and new sets of circumstances from yet more fragments, I was able to create new characters, or at least give more life to the bit characters. I didn’t do this as much as I would have liked in Arrival at Elsewhere, but here is an example of a successful transition, from the very start of the poem.

I came across an intriguing minor character in a poem sent to me by Rachel Hadas, called Metronorth, Hudson Line, February 29 2020:

How much longer will it be conceivable

for public spaces to be thronged like this?
(The Doges’ Palace: empty.)
A woman in a skin-tight ankle-length
scarlet dress and high-heeled silver sandals,

who looks as if she’ll give birth any minute,
poses, cradling her toddler in her arms,
resting him on the convenient
shelf of her jutting belly.

What cannot be taken away?
Clouds and the shadows of clouds
and the morning light,
metallic, gleaming off grey wrinkled water.

In retrospect, I wish I’d used the clouds in the poem as well. The rest of the poem didn’t fit, location-wise, so I had to find somewhere else for the pregnant woman to be discovered.

I picked out the following fragment by the poet Martyn Crucefix:

Surely an occasion because the man at the roadside café table reminds me of someone who is not my dead father or my dead mother.

The “man” became the “diner”, the pregnant woman. A little later, the woman is given a voice as she starts speaking, lullaby-like, to her children, both the born and the unborn, with words from yet another fragment/poem, this time one by Kerry Darbishire, called Windflowers:

When this is all over
We’ll go to where the windflowers grow
like fallen stars along the river’s edge
among the mossy boulders, water bright,
and see how their night-eyes close.

This moment was threaded in and now concludes the second page of Arrival at Elsewhere. This pregnant mother doesn’t re-surface in the long poem, but throughout the process of setting out the poem, I found this character in her new place, with her new dialogue, staying in my memory.

You can read an excerpt from the book at Arrival at Elsewhere – a glimpse.

Arrival at Elsewhere – a glimpse…

Arrival at Elsewhere is a book-length long-poem response to the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, curated by one poet, Carl Griffin, but written by many (97 to be precise!). We are publishing it in November with sales in aid of NHS Charities Together and it can be pre-ordered now.

Excerpt from Arrival at Elsewhere

The darkness in the room crackles with static, 
the greater mind in regular telecom 

to maximise survival capabilities. 
The muscles of the dank air flex 

and the room’s dimensions strain and shift. 
I can hear it like the wind in the trees, 

the susurrus filling the lungs 
of birch and ash, thin and laboured

like an after gasp, the smoker’s wheeze 

that yet persists after thirteen years. 
The introvert is so remote in the interior 

there is a risk he will mislay himself 
and never get his bearings back.

It is a day so still I hear, too, the creeping
of the moss. Beauty hurts, as much as pain:

both ride a long-drawn breath. 
A child has carved a heart in a stone. 

It sits at the roadside, tree-lit, not beating.


Lines 1-13 by Julian Turner, lines 14-16 by Kathryn Bevis, lines 17-18 by Rob Hindle

Announcing our poets for 2021 and Spring 2022…

Thank you to all who submitted to our press this year. We had more entries then ever and we marvelled at the shear breadth of subject matter and quality that came to us. We were bowled over. We created a long list that was far too long, and a short list that was heartbreaking because we were turning down poets whose voices need to be heard. In the end we made our selection. We are poets ourselves and we know the impact of rejection from poetry presses. It must not deter you. If only we could have published our whole short list!

The selections we did make were not made on quality alone. In those we selected we found stories we needed to share, words we couldn’t put down, a variety of voices that glowed together – and yes, ultimately, personal tastes that we want to share with the world. Here is our list for 2021 and Spring 2022.

2021 Spring

  • Chaucer Cameron –  In An Ideal World – I’d Not Be Murdered
  • Cheryl Moskowitz – Maternal Impression

2021 Autumn

  • Eleanor Page – Sleeping on the Wing
  • Imogen Downes – Becoming Noah

2022 Spring

  • Joanna Nissel – Guerilla Brightenings
  • Sarah Mnatzaganian – Philosophy Revision

Natalie Shaw – Oh Be Quiet

Another peek at another pamphlet currently at our printer….

oh be quiet


Printer’s Tray

The first tray
I did not know this tray

The second tray
They came from Africa, two babies with them,
a mahogany crocodile, a kist for blankets;
two pairs of shoes dipped in copper.

They kept a set of tiny elephants,
smaller than their babies’ toenails.
There was a plastic crib, bigger,

plastic charms from Christmas crackers,
telephone directories the size of stamps:
these were the things the children looked at.

The third tray
The children got bigger. They lost the elephants
in the carpet, built Weetabix houses for ants,
they sat on the crocodile that lived in the kitchen.

Small as a borrower, the daughter climbed
into the tray on the wall. She ate
stale Parma Violets as big as her head

and danced with electric-haired trolls. Her daddy
laughed at her tiny Silk Cut, her ma
pulled her down by her hair and shook her

until she got so good at hiding
(in amongst charms, between the directories)
she knew she could stay for as long as she liked.


Benjamin Cusden – Cut the Black Rabbit

We’re pleased to say that Ben’s book is now with our printer – here’s a sneak peek at the book due to be launched at the end of September. More on that later….

Ben cover


Doorways Are For Daytime Sleeping

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

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

to 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’s a starving bird, empathy
an unknown world. Fear is a hyena’s hunting pack.


ben photo

Submissions window open until 30th June 2020

1st June  – 30th June. Please do not send outside these dates.

Submission guidelines

Please submit a full pamphlet to of between 15-25 poems in one document (Word or rtf) – include your name and address on each page.

The author must be currently living in the UK or Ireland.

The cover page should include details of previous publications along with the title of your pamphlet and number of poems. An outline of your poetry experience can be included here.

Against the Grain Poetry Press publishes only 4 or 5 titles a year, so competition is stiff. Please bear this in mind when you submit.

We are a self-funding press and rely on sales of our pamphlets to fund future publications.

Litany of a Cardiologist reviewed by Greg Freeman – Write Out Loud


Fabulous to see this review over at Write Out Loud.

Whilst at their site check out theirBeyond the Storm Poetry Competition

entry picture

This pamphlet of 23 poems represents the remarkable poetic distillation of a lifetime’s medical experiences and insights. Denise Bundred 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 won the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2016, and came second in 2019.

‘A Cardiologist Seeks Certainty’ examines the critical decisions involving “a heart/ no larger than the tiny hand/ pushing me away”. What a poignant yet exact image that is. ‘Addressing a Foetal Heart’ sympathetically transforms a developing heart’s problems into poetry:

Progress is orderly until a scattering of cells

in the aorta fails to form.

………You stumble like a child in full flight on a sandy beach

………who sets a foot a fraction out of place.

‘Disordered Heart’ is packed with tension and drama, with a happy result. The narrator makes an initial diagnosis, asks for the theatre team to be alerted, and afterwards addresses the child:

My pulse settles, now even less than yours.

     We’ve done enough. Thanks everyone.

Sweat maps my back from neck to waist

as I walk fluorescent four a.m. corridors

to find your mum and dad.

There are a number of poems about relaying medical news to parents. ‘Weighing Words’ looks at the power of words in such situations, and sympathises with the problem of parents being able to understand them in times of stress. Saying the right thing:

I measure the space between words in nanoseconds.

Too short and you may not feel their full significance – a train

at speed and you can’t read the names of station platforms.

Too long and the time between them swells

like the cupboard in the dark when you were a child

and you attribute more than I intend.

In ‘Today’s News’ the poet puts herself in the positon of a father receiving news about his daughter’s heart condition on the same day as the 9/11 attacks. The outside word impinges, or in this case, it just doesn’t. ‘Eighteen’ emphasises the youth of a child’s father, who is also a professional footballer: “He hesitates longer than on that first Saturday / at three o’clock when he emerged / from the tunnel at Anfield. / He tastes the adrenalin of panic.” The language in this poem is conversational yet measured, and always poetic, as it is in so many others.The juxtaposition of “astringent” and “flinches”, “tracksuit” and “pocket”:

He smells astringent on his hands,

flinches at an alarm’s strident call, fumbles

signed pictures from his tracksuit pocket.

‘Foetal Scan’ is achingly poignant (“For a few minutes more / they think you are perfect”), whereas  ‘Blemish’ has a more positive, hopeful message. A couple of poems look at older heart patients: there is defiance and even humour in the face of the odds (“Impervious as your arteries / you plan a trip to Goa”), while ‘Synchrony’ can be seen as a cautionary tale for those of us who seek to dismiss warning signs.

Denise Bundred is from South Africa, and one poem, ‘Lucky’, encapsulates the struggles of that country in the life of a man with that name, born on the same day as the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, and dying in his twenty-seventh year during riots in Soweto.

There is so much inside this pamphlet. An expert in cardiology and poetry, Denise Bundred is clearly full of wonder at the workings of the heart – and transmits that wonder in weighted and precise yet transformative language and images. Not surprisingly, she has two poems in the recently published anthology of poems about the NHS, These Are The Hands. I’ve already quoted from her poem ‘Open Heart’ in my review of that book. Another of her poems there, ‘The Last Night on Call’, is one of two at the end of her collection that reflect on her feelings upon retirement:

How sharp the sparkle of adrenalin on my tongue.

I know I will crave its burn.

Denise Bundred, Litany of a Cardiologist, Against The Grain Poetry Press, £7

Out now: The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

ATG’s co-editor, Abegail Morley, has just published her new collection, The Unmapped Woman and it is available HERE from Nine Arches Press.

This new collection explores the altitudes of loss and trauma, mapping the stark new territory that loss leaves behind and the landmarks of recovery and survival.

Several lives and life-changing themes cross paths in this clear-sighted and profound book, and Morley’s adept and courageous poetry guides us through the wooded shades and raw coastlines, dauntless: “Bear with me. I can take nature, let wind whip our faces”. From the hollowing of the empty place and the five stages of grief, these resolute poems with their mettle and wholeheartedness, chart their remarkable, bold course towards the voicing of a song, the light of the next day.


“In The Unmapped Woman, Morley writes with astonishing technical virtuosity as she searches for recovery through art. As in her previous poems, water is a recurrent motif and the emotional core of the collection. Narrative and emotion are compressed within the single telling image, and the spaces between words, lineation and enjambment recollect the lost presence from where the poems emerge. George Eliot reminds us that ‘there is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms’. If Eliot seems to imply that what is most distinctive remains hidden, Morley speaks in a voice that is eloquent and precise as she seeks to understand what happens to the vanished.” – Nancy Gaffield

“Abegail Morley is a natural poet. Each poem seems exhaled in a single necessary breath as she unflinchingly addresses traumatic events. Her language is fresh, fluent and unadorned, with strikingly accurate images, and endings that make the reader re-consider the whole poem. The loss of a baby, suicide of a loved one and the concomitant depersonalisation of the self that dealing with such grief brings is covered with a magical lightness of touch. This is a highly talented, original voice well worth listening to.” – Patricia McCarthy

The Unmapped Woman transports you deep under the surface of a life, to places too often skimmed. In it we find the grief we wear like a sweater, the fragile expectancy of motherhood in which, “I don’t know / which one of us is the honey, which the bee, / or who has the nectar we drink so deeply.” (‘Daughter Bulb’), the ghosts that haunt us, and the beauty that ambushes us. This collection, its probing intensity, is reminiscent of contemporary American masters like Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, and Carolyn Forché, yet decidedly British in tone. Morley knows exactly what she is doing here. The work stays with you, like “the way he planted a word in her mouth / to germinate after he’d gone.” (“The hollowing of the empty place”) These are poems to live with–tight as the skin of a drum.” – Robert Peake