Charlie Hill




At the Birmingham markets

When I was young, before
the sky was torn, I strutted
in-and-out of poisoned jobs
and bare-walled rooms, poor
yet indestructible, naive and full
of quirk and piss, not belonging
but belonging, knowing more
than anyone could know.
Back then I loved, part-owned
the vital edges of my world where
this bold front came most alive – the suspect streets
and pubs and clubs and darkened parks
and yes, the markets too.
Oh the markets! And how down there
unruly grapes jostled maverick yams, dissenting pears
and proud bananas, Mick the Meat, cheap eggs,
defiant blocks of out-there cheese;
and how people fraying before their time
from lives hard-strutted sat – underdogs
outside the empty Church of Pigeons –
smoking fags and supping polystyrened tea,
and talked in common gestures
of various degrees of pain, their very breath affirming
the ties between the never-hads –
in Birmingham we thank the driver
as we get off the bus!

Now some years on –
although I’m sure it isn’t only that –
the sky is fractured, my piss is dissipating,
and avoiding restless liminal places,
the venues where the others play,
I have also come to reconsider
my attachment to the markets.
Down there, it seems at least, the air
has soured like Mick’s old mince:
the battered toms, bruised plums,
the gourds that want for water,
the bested shot potatoes,
yellow dairy and cheap peas
mock every inch of front
I once enjoyed and worse:
the ragged left-behind who sit
and lie and wheeze in fumes
and bags outside the useless church
are indistractable, resigned,
draw no longer succour,
fillips from their unconnection,
display no common human cause
that may redeem our beating down.



Charlie Hill is a critically-acclaimed novelist and short story writer from Birmingham, whose poetry is improving. A memoir – I don’t want to go to the Taj Mahal – is due out from Repeater Books in September.

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Andrew Shields





You took my index finger
and showed me where to go.
My thumb you painted green.
What do you want to grow?

My elbow helps you move
across a crowded room.
But why’d you take my mouth?
What will you say, to whom?

You swept my feet away
and left them in the cold.
You told me, “Break a leg!”
And I did as I was told.

You even took my rib
to help you make a start.
But worst of all, you took
my heart, my heart, my heart.



Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His collection of poems Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in June 2015. His band Human Shields released the album Somebody’s Hometown in 2015 and the EP Défense de jouer in 2016.

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Sue Hubbard





There you are again at the far end of the empty beach,
scrambling over rocks beneath the abandoned nunnery

painted ice-cream green. Fleet as a greyhound,
tiny as a mote floating in the outer corner of my eye,

matted hair a billowing ghost of rain as the day
folds back into its rookery of clouds.

I’ve caught a glimpse of you before:
a shadow on the wall of empty streets

where silence sounds like noise. Barely noticed,
you stand among stagnant puddles

by the graffiti-etched door in a patina of winter light.
You bear a name you never ask for,

trace the history of longing in your veins,
your lost passions in the March wind.

At night you are both salt and ash.
A low scream in the mirror of the moon.



Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist and art critic. She has published 3 collections of poetry, two novels and a book of short stories. As the Poetry Society’s Public Art Poet she was responsible for London’s largest public art poem at Waterloo.  Sue Hubbard’s latest novel, Rainsongs, was published in January 2018 by Duckworth.  This poem is taken from her new collection, Swimming to Albania due from Salmon Press this spring.  Website:

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Natalie Rees




How to let it go

Pick it up.
Feel the weight
of it in your hands.
Pinch, roll,
flatten, slap
it like fresh clay.

Own the reactions
of your body.
Pinpoint the lump
in your throat,
the knot
in the lowest part
of your abdomen.

Coax the howl
up from your soul
like a wet dog. Sit
with it a while,
your legs dangling
over the edge
of the heart’s bed.

Welcome the ache,
the hollow,
the numb
like distant relatives.
Let them shoehorn
their leaking boots
into your ribcage.

Open the gift
you can already make out
through the thin tissue.
Allow them to fill
your floating body
with the thing they think
was taken from you.



Natalie Rees lives in West Yorkshire where she works as a Play & Creative Arts Therapist. She has been a prize winner in the Flambard (2017) and Penfro (2018) poetry competitions and has had poems published with The Interpreter’s House and Prole. 

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Robert Ford




Nothing ever happens

A familiar slideshow of picture postcards sidle by
through the bubble of your train window;

trees new in leaf and freshly-printed lambs,
fractured stonewalling clinging impossibly to hill,

separating off precious little from fuck-all.
The sky and its clouds coyly flash their underclothes.

A carriage of clock-faced tourists crowd the air,
urgently brandish their smartphone-screens,

imagining the cage-door on reality has swung open,
their hearts sinking into redemptions on which

the paint is designed to never fully dry. But all
you see is static. Putrefaction. In your head,

repeated showreels of exotic concrete and metal
outmuscle the chocolate-box churchyard, stones

bearing your name, whose soil has a terrifying appetite
for your heart, your bones. Its jaws are closing.


Robert Ford‘s poetry has appeared in print and online publications in the UK, US and elsewhere, including Under the Radar, Butcher’s Dog, The Interpreter’s House and San Pedro River Review. More of his work can be found at

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Stewart Carswell





West Kennett

I migrate back to this farmland
where the level of the corn field
has been distorted by the earthen mound

facade of a house
that swallows the dead
and has for centuries. On a ledge

inside the entrance, in the human-summoned dark,
a line of black-eyed faces stare down at me,
their flesh behind glossy feathers

and darting in towards its nest
is the swallow, inverting the tomb
into a cradle, raising five lives from this chamber.



Stewart Carswell is from the Forest of Dean and currently lives in Cambridgeshire, where he helps to organise Fen Speak. His poems have been published in Envoi, Algebra of Owls, and The Fenland Reed. His debut pamphlet is Knots and branches (Eyewear, 2016). Website:

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Our first Pick of the Month for 2020. Choose January’s Now!


The ordinary becomes extraordinary in the shortlisted works for our first Pick of the Month for 2020 and the decade.

Seemingly familiar warning signs in Rob Stuart‘s Word & Image are, in fact, ‘Poetry Hazards’. Melanie Branton’s ‘Going South to Morden’ is much more than a Tube journey and are we sure we know where Chin Li is going in ‘The Crossing’? Dave Stacey’s ‘Morning has broken’ looks beyond a sunrise and ‘Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana’s ‘realisation about a friend’ is intriguingly reticent. Then you have Paul Stephenson‘s take on ‘January’ which is both out of left field and makes complete sense.

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 January 2020 Pick of the Month′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.

Voting is now closed. January’s Pick will be announced in the next few days.

The winner each month will be sent a £10 book giftcard or, if preferred, a donation of the same amount will be made to a chosen charity. In the event of the winner being from outside the UK mainland, we will make every effort to provide a reasonable alternative. All shortlisted poetry Picks, provided they remain unpublished and meet other eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for the annual Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

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