Vote for your October 2019 Pick of the Month

National Poetry Day was all about Truth in October and poems, featured on that day and the week that followed, from Rachel Burns (‘Truth’), Linda Rose Parkes (‘A True Version) and Sharon Phillips (‘Something’s wrong’) have all deservedly made their way onto the IS&T #PickoftheMonth shortlist for that month.

But there is a truth in most literary works and we can add these from Helen Calcutt (‘A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide), Miles Salter (‘Profuse’) and Jacob Silkstone (‘Night Train‘) without being said to stray too far from this essential theme.

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 October 2019 Pick of the Month′ in the Categories list to your right on the screen.

Please VOTE HERE. Voting will close at 9pm on Friday 22nd November.

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 All shortlisted poetry Picks, provided they remain unpublished and meet other eligibility criteria, will be considered as IS&T submissions for the annual Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.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.)



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Nicky Phillips





That very last night at my parents’ house
it was as though a blackbird waited
on the fence and, watching, saw my tears,
flew down, pecked into the crack, opening,
its sharp yellow beak homing straight to the heart.

It drew blood, pulled as if at a worm,
leant back, bracing, ready to gulp down
as a corner broke free,
a piece of me taken for ever.

A silence followed, as sudden
as the quiet of a solar eclipse.

Early next day, eyes raw from lack of sleep,
I watched the cars pull up outside the gate,
heard a faint chorus of birdsong begin.




Nicky Phillips lives in Hertfordshire. Her poems have been published in magazines and online. In 2017 one was nominated for Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her pamphlet Jam in Aisle 3 was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018.



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Martin Hayes reviews ‘The Unknown Civilian’ by Antony Owen

Image result for the unknown civilian antony owen


The Unknown Civilian is a magic book. It has magic spread all through it. Antony Owen faces up to the atrocities of war and speaks on behalf of all who it sweeps away or has left behind. He questions the skewed morality war lets loose – as in anything goes, anything is allowed when at war – and demands that it this skewed morality is held to account. Like a very skilled lawyer he sets about questioning the culprits, bringing before us victim statements, accused statements, innocent statements – many posthumously of course – testament after testament – shocking image after shocking image – laying before us all the evidence.

The beauty of it all is Owen’s humanity and ability to get down killer line after killer line. He sums up so well often leaving you unsure of whether what you have just read is horrific or a bit of magic.

When you read this book you become a witness to all that has gone before. What you do with that is up to you. But you certainly won’t be looking at the images of war on the television and papers in future without thinking about this book.

There is a section in The Unknown Civilian called The Invisible which deals with PTSD, battle fatigue, shell shock and madness. It contains a quite stunning series of poems where Owen really shows his skill in being able to weave the effects of war into the contemporary fabric of society. In the poem The Suicide of John Doe we are in the aftermath of a Private soldier’s suicide, being taken through some of the moments that led up to that terrible event:


I wonder in those brief PayPal unions
of credit card wanks and smileys
if hotgirl97 misses you at all.

I wonder if Bob at Wickes saw the rope
as he scanned it through and thought
that ain’t pulling no tree down.

I wonder which random thing set you off,
was it Afzal in Texaco holding your tenner to the sun,
or a cherry short on a scratchcard?


This is where Owen really shines – for me he writes best when he’s writing about people – when he isolates a single person or a thing and then explores the effects that war has had on them – or them on the war. You could not choose a more heart-slaughtering, more poignant set of examples if you tried. It made me think for days afterwards as I went about my business whether there was any significance in some of the events I was a part of, or I had witnessed, that I was missing. Unfortunately, like for Private Doe, we often only get to find out the true significance when it’s too late, if ever at all.

Some of the other poems in this section, most notably Valentine’s Day for Invisible People and The Surprise Welcome Home Party, talk about the effects of post-traumatic stress, and you get this feeling that Owen knows well that not only the soldiers who are returning experience this but also that there is a kind of sympathetic PTSD that families and friends experience too – like in The Surprise Welcome Home Party where the writer is describing the potential pitfalls of throwing a party for a returning soldier:


Do not think a salmon with cucumber fins will save him…

An exhaust backfires and the haunted are returned to war…

There has to be noise and preferably a song he liked.
There has to be a window that opens.
And preferably, no fireworks.


This is again an example of what I mean by a people person. We all know that even in times of great stress and loss, humour is often the best weapon to use to defend yourself, and others, from the pain. When I say ‘we all know’, I mean people – proper people – they know – the stiff upper lipped, those who have gone through an emotional by-pass, a humour extraction, a dark-side removal – they haven’t got a clue how to behave in this sort of situation apart from remain stoic and taciturn building up an atmosphere that you couldn’t cut with a chainsaw. Owen is the complete opposite of that – he knows people.

In Valentine’s Day for Invisible People we get the following:


Sometimes you drift back there
when people pluck up the courage
to ask you what it was like out there.
And you think of job centre smiles
when they meant ‘out there’: war zones,
and you think of that party at Kev’s gaff,
when people fought over Miley Cyrus and if she’d gone too far.


I cannot express how much I like this poem. It uses the ‘killer line’ the ‘summing up’ at the end to impart what it is like to live in the foggy trauma many soldiers, and medicated civilians, live in – these thoughts, completely unconnected to what might be going on in front of them – they rise up, uncalled, out of the subconscious – as though they are there to help heal or put up a force field to protect against the painful dialogue taking place. A defence wall to stop you getting completely ripped apart.



There is a poem in Part 2 called A German Soldier in Russian Boots in which Owen shows just how much skill he has at creating a series of images built upon each other all heading towards an ultimate meaning. This poem takes you through the reflections of a German soldier after capturing; defrosting over a fire; slicing; eating and then stealing a Russian soldier’s boots before using them to try to ‘footstep’ it home:


Comrade, your thigh meat tasted like game and leather.
I needed your boots, so hung you over the fire to loosen them.
Your winters are so cold that my piss comes out like red fire…

Comrade, I defiled your body because I needed your boots.
I hacked into the ice with my blade like you were meat,
And you were meat, you were my footsteps home.


Maybe he got home, maybe he didn’t? – The images are haunting and so powerful that they stayed with me like a sore for days afterwards. In many of the poems Owen conjures up these images that sear themselves into your mind which, as I say, makes you as good as a witnesses to the events.



Sometimes I found the writing reminiscent of the great Native American chiefs when they sat down with the white man to explain how they feel about what the white man had done to their land and their people. As in the poem Rape Seed:


The bald crow was not itself.
Its mange maddened caw hushed cicadas.
The fingering wings afraid to touch the blue betraying sky…

The dead reek of fish hung like Alaskan salmon.
Zombies return to where their homes once stood.
How could they know this? Nothing is here…

Lucifer watches the rape of Mother Nature.
Man is unborn.


With a few nouns changed this could as easily be Red Cloud or Standing Bear or Roman Nose. I don’t think for one minute that Owen has set out intentionally to come across as a wise American Indian chief – I think it’s just that when war, or any big heavy subject is spoken or written about, it imbues the writer or speaker with a responsibility to respect the immensity of that subject and writing in this way – with weighty punches directed to take you down – feels like one of the most respectful ways to approach it. After all, isn’t it true that the subject matter can often direct and dictate the style and tone of the writing?




Martin Hayes was born in London and has lived around the Edgware Road area of it all of his life. He has worked in the courier industry for over 30 years and is the author of four books of poetry: Letting Loose The Hounds, (Redbeck Press, 2001). When We Were Almost Like Men, (Smokestack, 2015). The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, (Culture Matters, 2018) and Roar! (Smokestack, 2018).

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Martin Figura for Remembrance Day




for Stewart Harris

Betrayal will happily walk with you,
knows your patterns, the roof-runs
and dead ends of conflict.  Conflict
will lift you skyward, then lay you down

on the broken dirt.  Stew woke clean white
and wondered if this was hell.  The bear
in the next bed explained it was Birmingham
and over weeks they reminisced, became

firm friends.  When it was time, the bear
came home with him and was too big
for the house.  The bear blundered about
breaking ornaments, cracked its head

against the light, sent shadows skittering
about the walls.  The bear brooded and
the children shrank back from its rancid breath
which made the bear roar.  The rooms

of the house became dead ends.  One night
Stew placed his hand into the bear’s paw
and together they walked to the edge
of the sea and were the most sorrowful sight

the sea had ever seen.  The sea took pity
and let them step into her low swell.
They clung together while the sea
murmured about home until the bear

struck out for the moonlit horizon.  Stew
stood alone on the kitchen floor, water pooled
about him.  He was so tired, his own undone
shoelaces were an unfathomable conundrum.



Martin Figura’s collection and show Whistle was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and won the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show.  Shed (Gatehouse Press) and Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine (Cinnamon Press) were published in 2016.  He lives in Norwich with sciatica.  Website:


Notes: This is from a sequence of poems commissioned by the Army Benevolent Fund – The Soldiers’ Charity. 75th Anniversary.

This is Stew’s story:
This is Stew:

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2017 Pamphlet Commission Competition Co-Winner: Jo Young on Remembrance Sunday




from Firing Pins

Lost Things: Afghanistan (i-vii)

(iii)           Insomnia

The heartbeat of the thrice-nightly Chinook
a lullaby                not you tonight

lulla-lulla              not yours tonight,
nevertheless, and notwithstanding.

Prince and Princess fled over molten
dunes flung down by a frantic Sandman,

the rotor blades a genie’s cough
through talcum air. A pulse,

the tempo of a mum’s palm
rubbing a child’s grazed knee.

The elsewhere-stitching and transfusing
crafting an eiderdown

from canvas, spreading hair around
her softened face in a satin sea.

Sleep dances and tightens, hard and horse-like,
a deep, thumping, velvet surrender.



Jo Young is one of the co-winners of the 2017 Ink Sweat & Tears/Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition and the pamphlet Firing Pins is the result of that competition.

Jo is from York. She has served in the British Army and now the Army Reserve for over twenty years. She has two young sons and this is her first pamphlet.

Jo was featured in the panel discussion ‘Confinement: Exploring Feminist Perspectives’ at Poetry in Aldeburgh yesterday evening and will be launching  Firing Pins at Cafe Writers in Norwich on Monday 11th November.

You can buy Firing Pins here.

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2017 Pamphlet Commission Competition Co-Winner: Gail McConnell




From Fothermather

An Apple Seed

apple       cup        &      shell
I say these things to you         I read them
from the            book    book     book       this is     a

book     you roll yourself to where
the sound must be                  to sound to word to thing
to me the mouth that sounds out sssssssshhhhhhhh

ell       you watch my lips to see the shell
come out        come out shell the shell
comes out & curls itself around the air

again the thing       itself is waves
of sound           for sound it is a swimming
moving to & fro      vibrating shell

the peel & rind      creaturely home      upon a time
spacetime is soft-bodied
Einstein said   the mollusk    we are in    a constant

flux    the quantum world stretching twisting curving
your small body to my own your hands
against my lips your fingers on my tongue

what is that sound what currency
is this what vessel for existing

when you were still in shell      we counted you
in days       two cells on day one      four the second day
six the third          when you were placed

inside      another room         to make
your way an apple seed   a blueberry     an ear
of corn   a coconut   the day of shelling

came & went   till two weeks    on you flexed
we were two Sauls     something like scales
something like shells     were falling

from our eyes              as out you came
you come out with a cry just like the aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh
of apple


Gail McConnell is one of the co-winners of the 2017 Ink Sweat & Tears/Café Writers Pamphlet Commission Competition and the pamphlet Fothermather is the result of that competition. She is a poet, literary critic and Senior Lecturer in English at Queen’s University Belfast and the author of Northern Irish Poetry and Theology (Palgrave, 2014) and articles on Irish and British poetry. Gail’s first poetry pamphlet is Fourteen (Green Bottle Press, 2018) and she is working on a book featuring ‘Type Face’, a long poem published in Blackbox Manifold concerning her experience of reading a Historical Enquiries Team Report about her father’s killing. Gail’s poems have appeared in Poetry Review, PN Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and Stand, and she is the recipient of two Arts Council Northern Ireland awards. A programme based on Fothermather will be produced by Conor Garrett and broadcast on Radio 4 in 2020.

Gail is featured in the panel discussion ‘Confinement: Exploring Feminist Perspectives’ at Poetry in Aldeburgh this evening and will be launching  Fothermather at Cafe Writers in Norwich on Monday 11th November.

You can buy Fothermather here.

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