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Lucy Atkinson is the IS&T Pick of the Month poet for August 2020

‘Evocative and charming, a modern day folk tale’, a comment on Lucy Atkinson’s ‘Sunspot’, perfectly summing up why this fine poem is the IS&T Pick of the Month for August 2020.

Lucy is a North-East born writer studying a MA in creative writing at Durham University. She has published poetry in magazines such as Acumen, Agenda and Crossways. Her play ‘As It Was’ was recently published by lazy bee scripts.

Lucy has asked that her £30 ‘prize’ be donated to Teesside Hospice.



I watched her. Persephone.
Sunflowers on her dungarees. Breathing in
the blackened syrup. London air.
She’s trying not to talk about it
but she remembers. Winter.
There’s Parsley on the windowsill. Planted
in a little mug. The only spot in her fifth-floor flat
that ever gets some sun.
She doesn’t talk about him, either.
If there was a him. She asks me
if I would sing if they put on a karaoke night
down at our local pub.
She misses Karaoke. Good music and bad.
All at once and all around.
A tsunami for the thoughts.
On the radio they play “Wild Daffodils.”
A low budget song from an album
by a local artist. We both agree
he can really sing. There are no people singing
here. Karaoke or in the streets.
But she mouths the words to
the same song that the radio played an hour ago.
Winter is gone. She’s forgotten it.
She asks what song we can dance to next.



Other comments include:

I love the modernisation of a classical myth transformed into something both beautiful and relatable.

Myth is used in an original way brought alive by visual details.

A stirring last line which brings out a relentless sense of optimism in the emergence from a period of strife. ‘Blackened syrup’ as a descriptor for london air is wonderfully cloying and seems to be in conversation with Celan’s black milk of morning, offering a sense of warmth and depth and but also stagnation in comfort which reminds one of the immobility of any kind of depressive episode.

Fantastic imagery, simple yet hugely affecting; the smallest details pack a serious emotional punch throughout her poem.

Like reading a good story. I could imagine standing by the window looking at the tiny bit of sun.

The imagery is so alive with nature and the air of London, it conjures up the place for me.

A thoughtful and beautiful piece of writing.

I loved the imagery with the plants and flowers running through it.

The positivity of dancing and singing in the future is especially poignant in the current circumstances

Imaginative writing always grabs my interest. This poem more than most stayed with me after reading.

Hits the spot. Real.

Excellent poetry, a rising star

Powerful emotions delivered exquisitely

I love the first two lines especially, and I think this poem represents this moment- when the world has had to retreat inside, and is watching the seasons change without being able to go out and resume our lives

Reminds me of times that I have felt alone and having something positive to cling to.

The pathos behind it

The form of writing has a semblance to contemporary rap music.

This takes me back to feeling warm and safe and I love the imagery in her words, it’s so powerful and peaceful at the same time

Focuses on the next and the things we enjoy. It contained a lot of beauty.

I find it very emotive and eloquent. Reading this poem I find myself taken to the place and can see it happening.

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Vote for your August 2020 Pick of the Month

It’s Pick of the Month time and the shortlist for August 2020 has a definite family feel about it. Are you drawn to either John Grey or Sam Hickford as they try to make connections in ‘To a Father I Never Knew’ and ‘Familiar Tissue’, or appreciate, and identify with, Sunyi Dean transforming into her mother in ‘Dust’. Is it Susie Wild with her husband ‘Nude, smoking, in the dawn doorway’ that captivates or Frank Dullaghan, his sister singing him to sleep (past, present and future merging) in ‘How to Escape and Other Theories’, deserving your interest? Or does Lucy Atkinson pull at every parental instinct as you watch Persephone emerge from Winter in ‘Sunspot’?

All six of the shortlist have been chosen by Helen or Kate or received the most attention on social media. They can be found below or by clicking on ‘Vote for Your August 2020 Pick of the Month′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.

Voting is now closed. August’s Pick will be announced on Friday 18th September

For the coronavirus period, our normal Pick ‘prize’ of £10 towards the UK charity of your choice or a National Book Token will rise to £30*. Charities and booksellers, both, have been hit hard by the shutdown and we wanted to make a (admittedly very small) gesture of support.


*Book tokens can only be used within the UK and will be divided between £20 for the winning writer and a £10 token for the person of their choice.

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And Your Pick of the Month for July 2020 is ‘Eagle’ by Joanna Nissel

The importance of family connections prevailed in voters’ minds and the wonderful ‘Eagle’ by Joanna Nissel is our Pick of the Month for July 2020, but it was an extraordinarily tight race with only a few votes in it.

Voters commented again and again on the beauty of Joanna’s writing and imagery and the poignancy of the poem, how it felt very personal and how they kept going back to it.

Joanna is a Brighton-based poet. She was the runner up for the 2018 New Poets Prize and has been published widely, including Tears in the Fence, The Fenland Reed, Eyeflash, and Atrium.


After Kathryn O’ Driscoll

Wasn’t my heart a finch bird?
Wasn’t it the yellow-joy chirp overheard
on the dawn walk to work

–a reminder of the things in this life
that are delicate and made of more
than the hollow-boned expanses
between their filaments of cartilage?

These days I break over a disapproving glance,
forgotten change, the endless endlessness
of doing a little better every day.
But I remember when,

before his heart stopped, my father
and I used to sit on the flint wall
in the garden and listen to the gurgle
of wood pigeons he swore were eagles.

I raised an eyebrow; he snorted, smiled,
and told me he pitied the man who married me,
this great, wise queen to whom he offered his arm.
I took it and rose, stood on the wall’s flinty precipice

and under the glow of moonlight
I could almost see the feathers sprouting,
their glint of gold so bright against the garden
and my legs, wings, ready to kick off, to dive.


Other comments included:

I loved the imagery and delicateness of the piece.

So beautiful, and resonates on many levels

It’s beauty and originality

‘Yellow-joy’ along with many other stunning uses of imagery will always get my vote. Joanna is an incredible writer.

As feel part of your life, and current to whats going on. It’s a very personal touch to real life.

Poignant and moving, I really love the imagery this poem evokes.

When I read Joanna’s poem this morning I didn’t think much of it, but throughout my work day it kept popping back into my head and made me think more and more about it. I’m a fan of things that get me thinking about them and when they make me come back and read them I really enjoy them.

Because it shows the humorous and loving relationship between father and daughter. Wonderful

Emotional and evocative piece.

I was moved by it. The expectant paternal love that has resonated through this poem brought me to tears.

Beautifully delicate and calming

Love the way it’s written you almost feel in the moment there with the author

Beautifully written, felt completely captivated by the prose

Its beautiful, powerful, and skillfully written

A beautiful snapshot of a child’s memory of her father and the mystery of nature we can’t quite see but know is there.

Captures the emotion of a loved one in a beautiful and elegant way.

it reminds me of the moments with my grandparents, filled with the imagination they induced into my childhood mind; the journey and language within the poem was really resonant and it flowed really well to the pay off of becoming an eagle to the backdrop of pigeons!

The emotional narrative compels immersion, with the writing being truly memorable.

Beautiful imagery and perfect pace. The poem has a strong sense of humanity and juxtaposes sadness & hope most effectively.

It just had me enthralled from ‘Wasn’t my heart a finch bird?’ The images of fragility are so compelling and the way she relates it back to ‘stronger’ times with her father. The woman he saw in her and how she has become a little broken. I just love this.

Jo’s relationship with her father is beautifully described and brings a tear to my eyes.


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Vote for your July 2020 Pick of the Month

Time once more to choose from six excellent poems by six fine poets to decide who will be Pick of the Month for July 2020. Will you subscribe to Grant Tarbard‘s delightful ‘The New Testament of Dog’  or be moved by Bethany W Pope‘s very personal ‘Year of the Plague’? Do you sit at his desk with Gopal Lahiri as he magics haiku out of lockdown or on a flint wall with Joanna Nissel and her father watching the emergence of an ‘Eagle’? Does something ‘Sprout’ in you as you read Katherine Meehan or can you divine what is essential in Amit Shankar Saha‘s ‘Runes’?

All six of the shortlist have been chosen by Helen or Kate or received the most attention on social media. They can be found below or by clicking on ‘Vote for Your July 2020 Pick of the Month′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.

Voting has now closed. July’s Pick will be announced on Monday 17th August.

For the lockdown period, our normal Pick ‘prize’ of £10 towards the UK charity of your choice or a National Book Token will rise to £30*. Charities and booksellers, both, have been hit hard by the shutdown and we wanted to make a (admittedly very small) gesture of support.


*Book tokens can only be used within the UK and will be divided between £20 for the winning writer and a £10 token for the person of their choice.

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And your Pick of the Month for June 2020 is ‘Tell me’ by Finola Scott


Hope springs eternal… and goes, in part, towards Finola Scott’s ‘Tell me’ emerging as Ink Sweat & Tears’ Pick of the Month for June 2020. ‘Stunning’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’ were only a few of the adjectives it engendered and voters also praised the poem’s craft, intelligence, language, concision and subtlety.

Finola‘s poems are published by New Writing Scotland, Lighthouse, Fenland Reed and Gutter among others. In lock-down she feels landlocked and sighs for shores. Makar of the Federation of Writers, her pamphlet, Much Left Unsaid is published by Red Squirrel Press.

Finola has asked that her £30 ‘prize’ be donated to Action Aid.


Tell me

again in this ragged midnight
that intimacy will endure
waters aren’t rising and tomorrow
the fritillary butterfly will graze my garden

tell me that passion is not merely nocturnal
but a tsunami of connection    no stormy tea-cup but
the measured procession of those ants
round that tree following the one true scent

tell me that risk is worth it
the woods are indeed dark and
there are promises




Other voters’ comments included:

Tell me that risk is worth it .. that there are promises. Such a poem of hope in dark days.

I am very fond of poems that riff on established work to good effect and this succinct, concise, precise poem makes brilliant use of Frost’s poem.

The language of love translated to descriptions of weather – avoids cliché. The possibility of it surviving in spite of all the dangers, perfect.

It feels both intensely personal and at the same time universal.

Simply stunning!

For the beautiful imagery and emotions conveyed in her poem, Finola gets my vote…

It spoke to me, I could taste every word.

Finola is a wonderful poet. I feel, as a woman who has brought up children alone and only just getting back to creative self discovery, it is deeply inspirational and joyous to watch a talented poet who is a wee bit older (nae offence) find their brave lyrical feet.

I love the message of hope and continuance

The poem just hits you between the eyes I felt it took my breath away I felt every word written

‘ragged midnight’ – BEAUTIFUL

Finola’s poem is wonderful. It draws the reader into its mystery with well crafted lines that show true talent and intuition. The imagery is so rich and the pace and rhythm of the poem is perfectly balanced and fine tuned.

Memorable and accomplished.

A stunning poem, so concise in its language yet wonderfully expansive in its reading.

It’s intimacy and concision speaks directly to the experiences we share.

I love the images created. The repetition of ‘tell me’ indicating the need to hear that indeed life will get better and we should take risks.

In these dark times we need a bit of hope. Beautifully crafted and sensual use of imagery

It’s a beautiful poem, surprising in its imagery whilst being utterly and recognisably true.

Finola’s work is always beautifully constructed and tells stories that we all need to hear.

my reason = ‘tell me that risk is worth it’

the subtlety of purpose in its language

It’s a beautiful poem that captures what living in lockdown in Scotland feels like right now

A reflection of a glimmer of hope in a time of dark uncertainty

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