Vote for the IS&T January 2019 Pick of the Month.


It’s our first shortlist for 2019 and it is a good one. It almost feels as if all of human life teems here: the good, the bad and the very ugly – with escapes into the serene or a commonplace that is anything but common.

Will you rage with Alison Binney in ‘#WhyIDidntReportIt’ or be uneasily drawn to Alix Scott-Martin’s ‘Sisters’? Does Ian Heffernan, peering behind the scenes of ‘Hunters in the Snow’, compel? Maybe, you are intrigued by the everyday that becomes extraordinary in Sunil Sharma’s ‘Cages, urban, iron’ or ‘Off-Peak Single’ from Oz Hardwick? Or do you simply want to escape through a ‘Rhine Swim’ with Andrew Shields?

Do take the time to go through the six fine poems below (or click on ‘Vote for your January 2019 Pick of the Month′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen).

Voting has now closed. January’s ‘Pick’ will be posted at 4pm on Tuesday 19th February.

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 All shortlisted poetry Picks, provided they remain unpublished and meet other eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for the annual Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. (‘Frequency Violet’ by Kate Edwards was a Pick of the Month for November 2017 and was Highly Commended by the 2018 judges. It features in The Forward Book of Poetry 2019.)

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Andrew Shields



Rhine Swim

When you slip into the river and float downstream,
first swim a little, then tread water
to keep your head in the air, then tip it back
and kick your legs up to the surface.

With your ears underwater, the world goes silent,
and if you close your eyes, all you are is floating.
Open them to see the sky in whatever colors,
and don’t ask them to stand for anything.

Whoever you’re with is whoever you’re with,
while so many others are before and after
those who are part of you. Everybody sees each other
in the current and on the shore that you begin

to head back to with a stroke across the stream
until first one foot and then the other finds
a rock and then sand and gravel to stand on
as your body emerges from the water like a body.


Andrew Shields is an American poet who lives in Basel, Switzerland, where he teaches at the University of Basel English Department. His collection Thomas Hardy Listens To Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015, and he has also released two recordings with his band Human Shields, the album Somebody’s Hometown and the EP Défense de jouer. You can find him online on Facebook and Bandcamp.



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Alix Scott-Martin




We found her at the bottom of the garden
like a dropped apple,
held her in the hollows of our palms
afraid we might spill her
now that she was ours.

We kept her in an ice cream box,
lined it with kitchen roll,
pierced the lid for air,
made a matchbox bed snug with cotton wool
and that night she slept under a skewer hole sky.

We put a brick on the lid
when she tried to escape and to stop the
cat who heard her scrabbling fingernails.

We were naughty –
held her eyelids down
and brushed them blue
with Mummy’s make-up from the drawer,
rouged her cheeks.
We stripped our Barbies,
laid them tits up and
dressed her in their mini skirts
and netted gowns,
pushed her feet
into tiny plastic shoes,
cut her long hair short
to make her sexy.

We loved her all winter,
took turns to pop her in our pockets
and let her run along our arms.
It was your idea to sprinkle her with salt
like slugs. We tried pepper too,
giggled at her tiny atchoo.
We filled the basin to see if she could swim,
squealed when we almost lost her
as the water slurped and gargled
down the plughole.

When we found the box in the spring
we didn’t want to lift the lid –
held it at arm’s length –
would have walked away
if it wasn’t for the stink.
We peered inside – you retched.
We brushed her into the compost bin
with the egg shells and grass –
tried to forget those little rigid hands.




Alix Scott-Martin has been an English teacher for the past 16 years. She is currently living in Rugby with her husband and two sons. Originally a linguist and translator, two recent Arvon foundation courses with Caroline Bird and Mark Haddon inspired her to start writing creatively again.

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Alison Binney




All he was doing was standing alone in the pool,
spreading his arms out the width of the double lane,
just looking,

all he was doing was taking the point you’d just made,
making it over again to the rest of the team,
just helping,

all he was doing was having a bit of a laugh,
catching the eyes of his mates as he cracked out the gags,
just joking,

all he was doing was penning his piece for the Mail,
taking a pop at the PM’s penchant for high heels,
just teasing,

all he was doing was pressing his thigh against yours,
nudging it closer the further you moved yours away,
just stretching,

all he was doing was telling you how hot you were,
yelling it out of his car as you waited to cross,
just saying,

all he was doing was walking you back from the pub,
slipping his hand down the back of your favourite jeans,
just flirting,

all he was doing was showing you how much he cared,
stopping your mouth with his arm when you started to scream,
just fooling,

all he was doing was shielding a friend from the mob,
urging his nation to think of its husbands and sons,
just tweeting,

I have no doubt that, if the attack was as bad as she says,
charges would have been immediately filed by either her
            or her loving parents





Alison Binney teaches English  in a secondary school and also works on the PGCE English Course at the University of Cambridge. She has recently had poems published in Magma, The North, The Fenland Reed and Under the Radar.

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Oz Hardwick





Off-Peak Single


The turnstile jammed, trapping me half way through, casting me in the role of inconvenience for the queue that gathered in Fibonacci curves, bristling with smartphones and resentment. I scanned and inserted my ticket at every possible angle, then the same angles again but in a different order, but the gate didn’t move and the crowd swelled, became unruly, pleading and threatening. On the other side, the hall had emptied, fallen to silence as the lights went out. My ticket wore thin, and when I lifted it to my eye I could see through it to the desperate, angry, Biblical mass who looked to me for the release of all their earthly cares, or at least for loaves and fishes. By the time the ticket had fallen to fine powder, the turnstile was thick with moss, with small shrubs chancing their tentative lives in this emerging world. Bees waggled their stories of new terrain, and a yellow songbird scored its eloquent truth. My hands throb with the primal power of mulch and loam, my fingers unfolding in the prestidigitation of new life. I regret to inform you of the cancellation of all services. Let there be light.





Oz Hardwick is a York-based poet, photographer, occasional musician, and reluctant academic. His latest publication is a prose poetry chapbook, Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018). His ambition is to play bass in a Belgian space-rock band.


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Sunil Sharma




Cages, urban, iron

Deprived of the sky
And the ground,
Suspended in air
A woman sits, in a
Tiny balcony that doubles as a flower-bed
In a high-rise, tenth floor, in the
Vertical Mumbai,
Reading a morninger
In late afternoon,
Legs stretched out, cell phone nearby.
Human face breaking the dull monotony
of a tall bee-hive, windows closed/curtained;
Piles of the concrete cages upon cages
Going up in the carbon-coated sky;
Dream apartments—standardized and
Exorbitantly-priced, to keep you working for life.

A bird flutters in a cage nearby
An Indian Golden Oriole wistful,
Searching for a full sky.



Sunil Sharma is a Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books, some solo, some joint.

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Ian Heffernan




Hunters in the Snow

Pieter Breugel the Elder

This is where the ground falls away
And the hunters start their descent.
Cold, tired and more-than-defeated
They contemplate the gradient
While their dogs nose their way through snow,
Tails down, cold and tired too; above
A bird is swallowed by its flight;
Below are tiny silhouettes:
Skaters, game-players, watching friends,
Who show us life’s vernacular;
Beyond, dull white-grey land slinks off
Or rises to fictitious peaks.

Out of view three wives are waiting
And stirred by a presentiment
Of failure, they begin to coax
Their husbands out of  their absence.
Faces, names reassume themselves.
The hunters enter winter rooms
To brave unasked-for franknesses,
Taut wisecracks, sadness like a kick.
For half an afternoon perhaps
Their women chunner, tut and fleer
But then grow calm and love again
Without condition or concern.

This, though, is no scene of return.
It looks like that, but think: these men
Have been in earshot of silence
Out there where the blank air gathers,
Observing light conspire with snow.
So even when they’ve bathed and fed,
Made love, got drunk and slept, all three
Remain exiles from the moment,
Not fully present in their homes.
The best that they can do is fold
Experience into meaning
Then fold away the meaning too.




Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He graduated from UCL and SOAS and now works with the homeless. His work has been published recently in the High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar and elsewhere.

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