On the Ninth Day of Christmas, we bring you Sarah James and Laura McKee




Midnight strikes London’s moon face,
the new year cheered in with a sip
of sparkling wine, and time’s old friends.

Forty years of Auld Lang Syne in our bones,
we dance and laugh as our great-grandparents
danced and laughed, as our children

will come to jig and giggle.
Their youth now pours our fizz then
through faster-flowing veins: ghosts

in every bubble, every bubble
a gasp sharp with life.



Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer and journalist. Her latest collections are plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) and The Magnetic Diaries (KFS, 2015), highly commended in the Forward Prizes. Her website is www.sarah-james.co.uk and she runs V. Press.




shall I call this waiting for snow

snowflakes formed in clouds
usually take about half an hour
to reach the ground

be ready for them
wear diamond tread soles
spread bicycles out on patios

let them take on another interesting shape
before they melt

if only to soften their fall
know they are coming
offer your tongue




Laura McKee hasn’t put the sprouts on yet. In other news this year, she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and nominated for Best Single Poem in the Forward Prizes. She also had a poem chosen to be on a bus for the Guernsey Literary Festival.

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To Celebrate ‘Light’ for National Poetry Day: Sarah James, Jan Harris, Victoria Gatehouse




Against Candlelight


As marbled wax melts, flickers

of unknown lives beckon

from fire’s hypnotic chaining.


Colliers, chandlers and cavemen

gaze with me: my desk a shock

of print-outs, letters and confusions.


I try to rope these family scraps

together, to secure

the past on which I exist,


but the string I have twisted

to makeshift wick

coils downwards, limply.


A bread-thief stoned to death,

the wyuen pine of a ducking-stool,

Saxon kings’ golden burial mounds…


Bones beneath the ground;

memory in black smoke.

I feed the paper skeleton


of my great-great-grandmother’s unwed pain

to the wick’s relentless flame,

then pinch out its burn.









Sarah James’s latest collections include ‘plenty-fish’ (Nine Arches Press) and ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ (KFS), which was highly commended in the Forward Prizes and staged at The Courtyard, Hereford. Winner of the Overton Poetry Prize 2015, her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk.

Note:  First published in ‘plenty-fish’, Nine Arches Press, 2015.






While all is quiet


She steals time while others sleep,
plucks seconds from the night
and cups them in the pale moon of her hands.

While the house collects its breath
she gathers up the bustle of the day
and strains it through a muslin cloth:
spent elderflowers,
sharp lemon twists,
pips and woody stalks,

In the silence she sips her wine
and warms the golden liquid on her tongue.
It floods her mouth with light
till morning clamours like a hungry child.



Jan Harris lives in Nottinghamshire.  In 2015 her work has been published in Snakeskin, Envoi, Abridged, and Poems for a Liminal Age, an anthology in aid of Medecins Sans Frontieres.  Two poems were highly commended in the Chipping Sodbury poetry competition, and a tanka appeared in the Northern Health and Social Services Trust’s Colour of Poetry exhibition.


Note: While all is quiet has previously been published by 14 Magazine.



The Moth


This is her time –

birds dark-stitching telegraph wires,


the woods blue-shadowed,

crackling with dusk.


The moon untethers her,

she pitches from fence to wall


to leaf, would hurl herself

for miles, such is her faith


and you think of how she gorged

on hawthorn and thyme, spun


herself a mantle, hung tight

inside the blackout


of her own skin

before the breakdown, the forcing


of all that remained

through the veins of her wings,


this lit-bulb junkie,

wrecking herself on your porch light.




Victoria Gatehouse lives in West Yorkshire. Her poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Mslexia, Magma, The Rialto, Poetry News, The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Furies and Her Wings of Glass. Competition placements include Ilkley, Mslexia, Poetry News Members’ Competition, Prole Laureate and The Interpreter’s House. Victoria is working on a debut pamphlet.


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Sarah James



Fierce Love

To be a lyre bird, dove…or pigeon:
strong-clawed and sleek-feathered.

To write songs of flight in italics
against grey skies, and dig out

the worms that dirt hides. To carry dawn
home in my silky down, spread light

across fields and town, then balance
stillness in the winter’s stark trees.

To know heights higher than the highest
branch, grip the hardest edge of ice

and graze the skins of frozen lakes.
To see small breaths slowly melt

even landlocked limbs. For his touch
to ruffle my night face now, softly

as a snowy owl, with the dark eyes
of a falcon: fierce, starless and deep

enough to drown my fears.



Sarah James is a poet, fiction writer and journalist. A narrative in poems, The Magnetic Diaries,  is published by KFS and a collection, plenty-fish, with Nine Arches Press this summer. Her début collection, Into the Yell, won third prize in the multi-genre International Rubery Book Awards 2011. www.sarah-james.co.uk

First published in The Magnetic Diaries, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2015

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The Sixth Day of Christmas – Sarah James, Sarah Watkinson and Joanne Key




With Persimmon

Little things catch in my throat at Christmas:

noticing more cracked mugs, the concrete

corner of our kitchen which is still unlinoed;

the matchsticks that still prop white tiles.


At the table, I lose tally of our daily

uneaten fruit: a still life of shrunken apples,

hardened oranges and dented melons.

The ghost-thin space between them widens.


We no longer need to count places.

Sometimes now it’s easier to pretend

tears are invisible. Unleashed words

stop laughter; absence grows bigger.


But when I hoover this year’s tinsel

from the carpet, the vacuum refuses

to choke down its silver glitter

with the tree’s loosed needles.


Later, I choose a persimmon and cut

the crisp-skinned flesh into thin circles

that reveal their petalled hearts.

I lay them out just as my Nan used to:


an offering of sliced stars on each plate.



Sarah James is an award-winning poet, short fiction writer and journalist. The Magnetic Diaries, a narrative in poems, is published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in April 2015 and her fourth poetry collection, plenty-fish, by Nine Arches Press at the end of 2015. Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk and she is editor at V. Press



Star of Light

The moon came ten miles home with me
after Aladdin at the Alhambra.
Must have left Bradford in the dark.

And later she followed me back two hundred miles
from King’s Cross, gliding past lit kitchen windows
and the glimmer of villages, reappearing after every station.

A comet sailed alongside Finnair when I flew to you
across Siberia, eight hours of dark snow,
and vanished as we met in the morning light of Kansai.

On the Anatolian plain I understood
only fixed stars are beacons, landmarks
between us and Infinity.



Sarah Watkinson is a scientist with a 2012 Oxford University Diploma in Creative writing. Her poetry can be found in Pennine Platform, The Poet’s House Oxford  The Morning Star online:
Nutshells & Nuggets and The Stare’s Nest.  She tweets  @philonotis




The Light Collector

You wait in shadow, face upturned
and luminous, resting in the palms of a day.
I hope the first pale kiss of sun wakes you
before morphine finds work for an idle mind
and calls you deeper in, to follow the arc of a falling star.
Last night, I dreamt of you as a Light Collector.
You told me how you loved your work, how happy
you were trapped inside yourself. God only knows,
it broke my heart to see you grabbing at thin air
for every glowing rat’s tail that scurried
past your eyelids, away under the door.
I cried when I saw you, waist deep, wading out
to skim that thin skin of varnish off a body
of black water. In the dark field, your frantic hands
rubbing the floor, looking for buttercups.
How skilled you were at splitting a straight line
of shine from every rod of cold steel, expertly
bending it back on itself, making a grappling hook
to swing out into nothingness.
Later, when the worry inside me
became rowdy with neon monsters,
you slipped through that small window
in the bowl of my wine glass and I watched you,
so strong and tiny, casting yourself out
onto every bubble making its own way up;
those small balloons of light, popping,
and me topping-up just to watch you drop
back down to the bottom, start again, no end in sight.



Joanne Key lives in Cheshire. She writes poetry and has recently completed an MA in Contemporary Arts at MMU Cheshire.

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Sarah James




After the Party

Someone stuffed the downed bottle
with screwed wrappers, sweets twisted
from their casings: a fish scale mosaic,
silvered skins scrunched. The gaps
– still lakes of air and glass distortion
around dead-gilled traces of party, fun,
life… All contorted to fill the shape
of emptiness; its gagged mouth,
throat, neck…space enough, just,
for the thin wax of one lit candle.




Sarah James‘s first poetry collection, Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010), won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011 and her second, Be[yond], is published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press (July 2013).Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk

After the Party appears in (from Be[yond], Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2013)

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The Fourth Day of Christmas: Sarah James


On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Four calling birds….

[calling birds is a corruption of the original colly or collie birds – blackbirds]


The Calling


Against winter sun, a Christmas card
seen in a moment’s stillness,
silhouetting blackbirds in a leafless tree.


Then, the breaking open of an instant,

song loosed from each beak, as orange
peel sometimes zesting dry grass,


other times bright with red berries
and claw trails pitting through snow.

Sudden gifts from the hedgerow.


A chimney sweep of tail brushes air

across air, leaves no stain behind

in its undergrowthed wake.


But, observed as it happens: that fall

of leaves, song from a beak,

snow from clouds, night from sky…

feathers from feathers, then rising again,
as one, two, three – shake out that plumage –

four colly birds might right now lift into flight.



The Falling


Bright with summer sun, a postcard
scene of flitting curves and blondness,
silhouette dolly birds upon the beach.


Then, the slipping open of glossed lips,

a-drawl-come-simper-whisper drools

to rest sometimes between their…


Other times, see their trolleys laden

with booze and cherries for cocktails.

Sudden gifts from the silly aisles.


A flamboyant flick of hair brushes air

across lipsticked face, leaves a perfume stain

for those that supermarket in their wake.


But, observed as it happens: that cascade

of ash blonde which never greys, the fall

of nail varnish from a brush…how the penny

finally drops. Then eyebrows rise again,
as one, two, three – shake out that plumage –

four dolly birds might right now drift into sight.




Sarah James’s first collection Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010) won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011. She is a journalist, mum, MA creative writing student and dabbler in art. Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk .

The image created in response to poems by Sam Hutchcocks and Julie Haller (of Moonlit Murals)


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Sarah James's 'Home Remedy for a Broken Heart'

Home Remedy for a Broken Heart

She downed one bottle of Sauvignon,

took two double shots of  vodka,

then gulped back three small G and Ts.
Four Bloody Marys and her hair smelled of sick
but five flaming sambucas blurred
her tastebuds and six cosmopolitans
had her giggling men, sex – and Basstardss! 

Seven something else broke her new heels.

Ate, sorry, she meant eight, 

arms helped tumble her to a taxi.
Nine, no ten – or was it eleven? –

fingers swayed in front of her, then slumped

in her lap. Were there more on her back?
And what was that on her face?
Darkness. Twelve heads on a pillow,
clamped in a vice then swung.

Thirteen minutes, maybe, of forgetting

before the cure wore off.

*Sarah James says “I am a published poet, part-time performer and perpetual procrastinator! My collection, Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press) won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards. My website is at http://sarah-james.co.uk

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