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


Jaydn DeWald – two poems

Jaydn DeWald, who made our 2019 shortlist, is a writer, teacher, musician, and the author of three chapbooks, The Rosebud Variations: And Other Variations (Greying Ghost, 2017); In Whose Hand the Light Expires (Yellow Flag Press, 2018); and as counterpoint to this compressed mass a longing (forthcoming from Sutra Press). His poems, stories, and critical essays have appeared in Best New Poets 2015, The National Poetry Review, Popshot Quarterly, West Branch, Witness, and many others. Option 2_Page_1

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Winner of poetry competition marking 70 years of the NHS – Michelle Diaz

Congratulations to the winners of this competition to mark the 70th anniversary of the introduction of the National Health Service. Particular congratulations to Michelle Diaz who won first prize with her poem My Life Reduced to a Window. The competition was judged by none other than Wendy Cope and Lachlan Mackinnon. Poems will feature on the Christabel Hopesmith website and in a memorial book of poetry on the theme of the ‘human condition’.

We can’t wait to publish Michelle’s pamphlet The Dancing Boy next year!

Eleni Cay – two poems

Eleni Cay is our next featured poet from our 2019 shortlist. Eleni is a Slovakian-born poet living in the UK. Her most recent poems were published by Eyewear Press in December 2017 and appeared in Atticus Review, Glasgow Review of Books, Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen and Envoi. Eleni’s award-winning collection of Slovak poems A Butterfly’s Trembling in the Digital Age was translated by John Minahane and published by Parthian Books. Eleni is known for her filmpoems, dancepoems and multimedia poetry, which have been screened at international festivals and featured on Button Poetry.

Oranges are the Only Fruit

My grandfather unwrapped his first orange when he was nine.
He didn’t wash his hands till Three Kings’ Day,
the sweet essence lingering on his calluses.
He used to say grandma’s hugs were like oranges in winter.

My parents plundered a few when they were young.
The bold sweetness of Valencias ignited a land
of opportunity inside their mouths. They gobbled the
flesh together with the skin, blinded by the flushed sun.

Mr McPhee bought as many as the words he wrote for The New Yorker.
Unsure whether to cut them into nine like planets or into quarters
like lunch for the businessmen. They tasted of a pre-dawn running,
pesticide-rich, fruitless manufactured concentrate to him.

I have experienced many. Too many for one person to carry.
I calorie-checked, Instagrammed, changed them beyond recognition.
With yellow nails you carved out the seeds, now the oranges are mine,
you said. No one can put fruit back together once it is cut in half.

First published by Poetry Ireland Review

Soldiers’ graves
Inside the innocent poppy heads
there are billions of small black bullets.

Their unrequited kisses
leave empty spaces in-between the wild rye.

It doesn’t matter how many you hurt in the combat.
The fleeting sunset does it every evening to the sky.

What unites us is the red blood,
setting out from the heart.

First published in Glasgow Review of Books

Maya Horton – two poems

Our next featured poet who made it to our 2019 shortlist is Maya Horton. Maya has been published by The Guardian, New Scientist, Riggwelter, Dawntreader, Fat Damsel, The Linnet’s Wing, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and many others.

Guardians of the Northern Sky


time-sipped in perplexing winter

per aspera, ad astra

sandwiches placed on gingham cloth, breathing enmity
there is a moose on these tracks

and for not the first nor last time.

We grind to aching halt in this forest
and I pretend to be sleeping. It is neither the first,
nor last, time I have made this journey.
Tornetr¨ask stretches out dark and blue,
darker and bluer than I will ever see it.
The forest is dark and green.

This, too, is spellcast in cruel vedure;
time-moment’s frozen shades and tones
limping far beyond words.

And on my way here I traversed a street
that I will never walk down again,
though it will be close.

Life is a constellation of moments
in the rapidly inflating dark.

The Night You Died

& out the dusk you died in a drowned-penny moon
caught roseate westwinds in the city’s far-glow fog
blinded by street-sparks, wrested by parked cars,
with distant-blaze headlights par-veiling sycamores

(I didn’t even know there was a road there, I daze).

Across the highway roe deer bound, beset by hawthorns,
encased in silver shrouds: rainsteam halos, tarmac-hot
still shrugging off the summer sun. With twilight
painting oakwoods I see your ghost in privet hawkmoth
hedgehog, hedge-banked, wren near-sparrowhawked,
breath lightningpulsed. Tiny heart and tiny feathers

like the masks that your wall wore: caress of peacocks,
Buddhas, masquerades; a Buddha-ball in masquerades.

It is very Zen, this illusion of things. & on this night
when starflakes sparkle with noctilucent ionospheric ruffles
and shimmer-ghouls refract the seeing with bleary eyes –
an old troll’s mirror – and we no longer know which

galaxy we’re looking into, or out of (this demon-twisting
archaic game-playing), I / we sigh, who are remaining,
candlewaxed with pianoforte longing. We sit outside

in lichened graveyards, silent, distorted Vespers-vigil
(you / I / we always made up our own rules), saintly, counting
turquoise in hexadecimals: civil, nautical, astronomical.

Stephen Claughton – two poems

We’re currently featuring poems from some of the poets who made it to our 2019 shortlist. Next up is Stephen Claughton. Stephen’s poems have appeared widely in magazines both in print (Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, Magma, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Warwick Review) and on line (Agenda Supplement, Ink Sweat & Tears, London Grip and The Poetry Shed). He has twice been nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize.


“And can you tell me, please,
who is the current Prime Minister?”
You can’t, of course. It’s hard:
they change so often these days.

And anyway haven’t you always
had trouble remembering names?
I think of that rigmarole
you used to keep going through,

when you’d rattle off a roll-call
of all the family’s names,
including the dog’s (a bitch),
before you registered mine.

Of course, I’d like to believe you,
agree that it’s only your hearing,
or how the doctor speaks
that’s given you this bad score —

except that the other day
you asked me to meet your mother,
dead now for thirty years,
and think for some reason

I’m living in rural Wales.
It’s the same house your aunt once had.
You remember it clearly, you say,
from childhood holidays.


You’ve taken to leaving
silent messages
on my voicemail at home.

When I realised it might be you,
I dialled to trace the call,
then rang you back myself.

“Did you try to phone me, Mum?”
“I don’t know.” There’s a pause.
“Perhaps I might have done.”

I recognise them now,
your recorded silences.
They’ve a quality all of their own,

a subtly different sound
from computers cold-calling me
or plain wrong numbers.

First, there’s a puzzled silence,
then a silent pause
and the clunk as you hang up.

You used to leave me tit-bits
from “The Times” – tips on things
such as etiquette or health.

I stopped listening years ago.
Only now you’ve nothing to say
do I strain to hear everything.

“Voicemail” was first published in Magma, No. 63

Martin Ferguson – two poems

The next featured poet who made it to our 2019 shortlist is Martin Ferguson. Martin was born in West Yorkshire in 1968. He has been writing poetry for over 25 years, and during this time he has been published in numerous UK poetry publications. He has taught English for over twenty years in many parts of the world including Istanbul, Montevideo, Lecce and finally France, where he has lived for the last 18 years, and where he teaches Business English in French companies.