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!!


Metastatic: traversing a dark and uncertain landscape performed by Jane Lovell and Timothy Adés – Poetry Café, October 19th, 7pm – Against the Grain Press

The Poetry Shed

Metastatic: traversing a dark and uncertain landscape

performed by

Jane Lovell and Timothy Adés

Against the Grain Press is delighted to launch Jane Lovell’s Metastatic at the Poetry Café on October 19th at 7pm. Special guest readers include Alison Brackenbury and two poets from ATG’s 2019 list, Graham Clifford and Michelle Diaz. We are also pleased that Timothy Adés is joining Jane on stage as narrator.

“Jane Lovell’s writing charts mysterious, unsettling trajectories: the invisible paths of bees, the journey of dead light, the routes found in folded and untied landscapes. These poems unmoor us, find beauty and strangeness in the everyday.” Helen Mort


JaneJane Lovell is the Poetry Society Stanza Rep for Mid Kent. She has had work published in AgendaEarthlinesPoetry Wales, Magmathe North, the Honest UlstermanDark Mountain, The Lonely Crowd, Ink Sweat & Tears,Zoomorphic and Elementum.

View original post 184 more words

Jinny Fisher – two poems

This is the last of our blog posts featuring poets who made it to our 2019 shortlist and we’re delighted to finish with two poems by Jinny Fisher. Jinny has been published in print and online, including by The Journal, Under the Radar, Prole, The Interpreter’s House, New Walk, Lighthouse, The Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat & Tears, Amaryllis and Riggwelter.  Poems have also been anthologised, including in Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (2017).  In competitions, she has been commended in Battered Moons 2014 and Fire River Poets 2015, highly commended in York Mix 2016, runner-up in The Interpreter’s House (Open House Competition) 2016 and commended in Tongues and Grooves Prose Poetry Competition 2017.

Day Shift

She won’t be leaving us for a day or two yet.
The nurse scribbles on Flora’s chart
nods at us, moves on.

Emily, Joe and I put aside our Scrabble game,
kiss Flora’s waxy cheek, and trail out
towards Hampstead Ponds.

We shake the odour of boiled cabbage
from the folds of our clothes, buy
cheese and pickle rolls at the Euphorium Bakery.

We tramp the leaf carpet down the avenue
of plane trees, to spread across a bench—
breathe, breathe and breathe again.

Emily tells how, after the bad-news call,
she’d pierced her ears and bought a red dress.
We chew and muse about our Christmas plans.

There’s silence, blinking as the dog-walkers,
hand-holders, and kids on bikes pass us by.
We crumple our paper bags and wander back—

up the concrete steps from Pond Street,
past the smokers with their drip-stands,
round the revolving door, into the lift.

Eleventh floor, East Ward. Our shoes squeak
on the polished floor, but as I open the door
to Flora’s room, she doesn’t move.

Joe takes the armchair next to Flora’s head.
Emily and I perch on moulded plastic.
The Scrabble board tilts on my lap.

The nurse comes back, to feel her patient’s pulse.
I place my letters and turn to count the seconds
between Flora’s breaths.

Flora stretches one arm high above her head—
holds it still and long, reaching up, up.
It’s what they do— we don’t know why.

Highly Commended in York Mix competition 2016

Christmas Eve

They had always dressed the tree together—
surrounded by gold-sprayed pine cones
and evergreen wreaths.

Each year, a new ornament, marking
a shared city break or afternoon stroll
around a craft fair.

Tonight, she uncurls her fist, sloughs off
her ring, considers the imprint
that remains.

She swings the ring a moment from her finger-tip,
slides it over a drooping branch.

The fairy, impaled on the tree’s top stem,
stares paint-eyed across the room.

Published in Ink, Sweat and Tears, December 2015

Pnina Shinebourne – two poems

As part of a series of blogs featuring poems from poets who made it as far as our 2019 shortlist, here are two poems from Pnina Shinebourne. Pnina is the author of three pamphlets. A Suburb of Heaven won the 2014 Venture/flipped eye poetry pamphlet award. Uproot won the Overton Poetry Prize 2017 and was published by the Lamplight Press. In 2014 she won the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Her first collection, Pike in a Carp Pond, was published in 2017 by Smokestack books. She is originally from Israel and now lives in London and teaches psychology at Middlesex University.

The poems below are from a sequence that draws on the life and work of Claude Cahun.

Don’t kiss me

breezy as an airy dawn, she slips into a bodysuit
and boxer shorts

a dumbbell angled across her thighs. Newly
made-up face for the day. Pouty lips,

curlicue spirals skirting  her forehead,
faux nipples pasted on her off-white chest.

A flash, steel
glinting in the pupils of her eyes.

Her top says I am in training
don’t kiss me
. As if teasing a gaze,
cracking beneath its hold.

Watch how she stirs the stare, the twirl
of the eyelids,  the quivering

hearts drawn on her cheeks, the way her pose
thrusts at you, and tilting slightly

sideway, captures the I dare you,
the way the camera shutter’s click

makes it speak

Skin for the colour of time

Crossing over the bridge
the dazzle spills
with facepaints, glitter & ruffles
into a girl’s eager eyes –
plunge, it flutters,
into a kaleidoscope
of pleasure

flushed with excitement, I am
the girl whose out-of her-mind mother,
like a ship sliding on clouds,

drifts around a beak-nosed child
curled in a cupboard, the girl
who wants nothing more

than to throw herself into the rattling
alleys of adventure
& each year the path hardens …

add a wrinkle, a fold along the mouth,
eyelids inked in black
& a skin for the colour of time.

Once on the day of the carnival
I passed my lonely hours masking
my face, thickening the streaks

to let dark monsters enter my heart
in a gasp of fretting, the paint biting
my flesh. I tried to scrape it off,

the way deer rub the bark off trees
with their antlers, until my skin
came free & my soul

like my flayed face, no longer
resembled a human form