Nick Allen – Poetry Reads

A very brief return to the editor’s chair to mention that Nick Allen, former co-editor here at AoO has started up a new blog in which he intends to review poetry on a semi-regular basis. Always astute, I’d recommend taking a look if that kind of thing takes your fancy.

You can find his blog here

Running Shoes – by Mark Connors


They strew themselves about the house,
still trying to look useful, relevant:
the grey Nikes from my first half marathon
in Lancaster, just short of a sub two hours.
I bumped into Kim Moore at the end,
drinking tea. She’d been back a while.
I sometimes wear them to the shops,
in fields, on beaches, in sand dunes.
The last time I put them on
I was reminded of a trip to Holy Island
by invasive piri piri burrs.

The blue and yellow trail shoes
that share affinities with Leeds United:
always dirty in their day, always ready
for a cameo when a medal’s up for grabs,
never beaten, until the embers of injury time.
They ran me from Liverpool to Manchester
when the Beast from the East returned
for a mean and memorable encore,
12 hours and fifty fucking miles
of rain and snow in biblical downpours;
a final lap of a rugby field in Didsbury,
that felt more like a park run in a monsoon.

The black and white pair
that have scaled the moors, the lanes,
the paths and bridleways
for a thousand miles or more
since we tipped up in Laycock.
They have no traction left
but look smashing with blue jeans
and an AC/DC t shirt.

The pair of ADIDAS
that got me through a marriage break up,
took me more miles on the canal
than a Hinny or Pit Pony
and every mile of 26 and a bit in Edinburgh,
from cobbled street to sea at Portobello.
I wear them when I haven’t been myself
to remind me I can get through anything.

Mums in Wetsuits – by Anna Cole


We are mums in wetsuits
Our bums are big
Our stomachs round
Our breasts strain against the thick, black neoprene
We are zipped in and ready.

We are mums in wetsuits
We hold our body boards
towards the sky
And stride into the salt.
We watch our daughters float and fly on wave back
far out
we do not fear for them
For we have raised them
Us, the fucking fearless mums in wetsuits.
Strength courses through us
Our cores of flint
That birthed those long limbed girls
And edged them on into the crowning,
dancing waves
shouting ‘swim!’

We are mums in wetsuits
We packed lunches and suncream
Rugs and spare pants
Towels and raincoats
Wind breaks and footballs
Hats and crisps and drinks and spades
We buy ice cream and chips
We towel and wipe and dry,
And clap our cricketing, sharp angled freckled boys.

We are mums in wetsuits
Laughing in the gasping, surging break
As the surf takes hold.
Salt crusts in our crows feet,
mascara streams down our faces and on to the wind whipped pink cheeks of our girlhoods.

We are mums in wetsuits
We are in chest deep.
Somewhere in the pale blue distance a sandy toddler cries
Our ears are filled with rushing water
And we answer no child’s call
But thrust our greying heads into the center of the wave
And feel it rise
And fall.

Time to Vote – April/May Readers’ Choice Poem

To celebrate the return of AoO from its 7-day-expired-domain-name-wilderness, it’s time to select the winning Readers’ Choice poem for April and May by the usual democratic method.

The contenders are below. Please vote and make a poet happy. Results will be posted in a week’s time from now….

Together – by Stewart Carswell

Unpeople Stay in a Travelodge – by Helen Kay

Those Pyjamas – by Helen Freeman

Most Determined Daughter – by Gareth Writer-Davies

Blue – by Amelia Walker







enough to let go – by Ceinwen Haydon


he says fuck off   an act of selfless grace
and surfs on waves of pain curled by her distaste
echoes break on shores  in broken conch shells
her whispers of fled love amplify  ungainly and again

he surfs waves of pain curled by her distaste
her dishonest silence  closet-cowardice  end-freighted
her whispers of fled love amplify  ungainly and again
he dares gather  push her out beyond his spurned hungers

her dishonest silence  closet-cowardice  end-freighted
stirs his pity to one last act  intimate with knowing love
he dares gather  push her out beyond his spurned hungers
she/sweeps/away/ on fast currents   he  washed-out  remains

stirs his pity to one last act  intimate with knowing love
echoes break on shores  in broken conch shells
she  sweeps  away on fast currents  he/washed-out/remains
he says fuck off   an act of selfless grace





Ceinwen lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in 2017. She believes everyone’s voice counts.

Rocket – by Lydia Unsworth

There is a hole where a decision should be (where an act of love, where a sweltering and broad horizon), where a welling up like seafront fizz lashes at the pent-up rocks stacked against the hard edge of the mainland.

There is a cough in a silent hall at the precise moment a thread of hair and violin string make touching.

There is a change of state, an accident of opinion, layers of paint, the bright light that surrounds modern art. There’s your private consideration of it, the art, your shoes and their forever undoing shoelaces, undoing only when you are out of your comfort zone, malignant forces whose name is a fly swatter clapping your cheeks without rest, without real pain.

There is a cracked voice at the end of a stamped slip of paper, the red sealant a closed mouth, gloss masking shame. The veneer flaps like a roughly raised mosquito net over a kitchen door that provides no exit: all tendrils and unhealthy velcro and mosquitos anyway. They can see you trying. Never cook too-plain pasta for anyone. Never welcome them through into the mess you’ve made.

There are night rockets ablaze with whatever you hoped the stars would inject into you. There’s impetus, impotence. The uncut grass of never asking knots and knots until severence is the only uncalled-for answer. The sir in any kind of response already cause enough for a swerve. Gardens that should have been tended, either tended or left wild enough to flower.

I am the suburban no-place. A tent pitched in the back garden of an ’80s housing estate. A no-frills cheese-and-tomato pizza that tastes more like woodchip than anything else. A midnight walk to a petrol station for rubbery snacks. A metal fence with a bent-back gap. A trail that leads to no more than an electricity pylon and then back to that gap. Yet there are night rockets ablaze.





Lydia Unsworth is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Erbacce, 2018), for which she won the 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Ambit, Pank, Litro, Tears in the Fence, Banshee, Ink Sweat and Tears, and Sentence: Journal of Prose Poetics, among other places. Based in Manchester/Amsterdam. Twitter@lydiowanie

On Bad Days I Think About How I Will Identify Your Body – by Christina Thatcher


First: under your left eye, eight stitches
            from our black lab who, like I warned,
            would bite if you pulled his whiskers out.

Second: the crown of your skull, stapled
            after it split open on the basement floor.
            Dad blotting the blood with Band-Aids.

Third: back of your head, sewn up
            after leaping from your plastic bike
            knees to your chin, a concrete wall.

Fourth: right middle finger, caught
            in the jamb of a YMCA door
            after our first swimming lesson.

Fifth: our matching birthmarks
            swooping under the joint of thumb
            like a fading comet.

Sixth: left arm, track marks.



Christina Thatcher is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She keeps busy off campus too as the Poetry Editor for The Cardiff Review and as a freelance workshop facilitator and festival coordinator. Her poetry and short stories have featured in a number of publications including The London Magazine, Planet Magazine, The Interpreter’s House and more. Her first collection, More than you were, was shortlisted in Bare Fiction’s Debut Poetry Collection Competition in 2015 and published by Parthian Books in April 2017. Website:, Twitter @writetoempower.

nightshade – by Jessica Moore


The farmwife said I can’t remember
the last time it rained so hard that it broke
the awning. She closed the window
like a mouth and there was a crack
in the sill that hadn’t been there before.
She told the housecat to follow her
to the kitchen where she would show
it the proper way to peel a tomato.
She asked the wallpaper if it knew
how to make the skin fall off and it
didn’t answer. Using the blunt end
of a knife, she said you have to bruise
it first. And no one, not even the tomato,
made a sound as she beat the blush
red cheek.




Jessica Moore is currently living in North Carolina and working toward her MFA at Arcadia University. She spends her time writing, running and avoiding confrontation.

The Ritual – by Susan Darlington


It was the night before the ritual
and Celandine couldn’t get any rest.
She perched on the end of her bed:
contracted the muscles in her feet
to make her toes curl into talons.

She used them to tear at the duvet,
eiderdown spilling out while she listened
to her mother’s downstairs preparations:
the harsh chirp of the whetstone
sharpening the family carving knife.

The metallic lullaby soothed her to sleep
and she woke to find she was trussed
on the kitchen table, the knotted hands
of her sisters, aunts and grandmothers
penning her to the scored wooden surface.

Her mother approached with the knife,
her feather headdress doubled in the metal,
and stood at the base of the counter.
In quick succession she sliced the blade
through the right foot and then the left.

Her stumps were tightly bound with dried grass
and she was gently nestled into a cage.
Paraded down streets, the cold probed her flesh
and the throb of blood in her ears
dulled the angry chatter of daybreak birds.

The pageant halted at the earth’s end.
A yellow gloved hand opened the cage
and as the voices of the mass soared in unity
she was lifted out, her clothes fluttering
in the wind that drove up the cliff side.

She looked across the crashing waves below
and tried to focus her mind on the horizon.
Because when she felt her mother’s push,
without any feet on which to land,
she knew she’d have to learn how to fly.



Susan Darlington is a freelance arts journalist and poet. Her debut collection, Under The Devil’s Moon, is available now through Penniless Press Publications

Going in with Flowers – by Avril Joy


Later she went in with flowers, like honey in broken glass
for the hollow women with little fires in their chest
that refused to be put out, for herself, for the hell
of it, for the green apple stem and earth
and in the darkness there was colour, small strewn flags,
yellow like morning, red for dusk.
They let them in, clutched unsearched as if a flower
were a holy thing even to them, even to a man in black
gloves looking for bombs, opening and closing gates
to the narrow crack, as if flowers were mourning
ghosts falling like rain on every prison’s roof.
She took them in, hoping the rain would fall
and every spat word, waiting hurt, every gloss wall,
mirror blurred, every no glass vase
would expand, bloom, transform itself
to dance like wildfire through a burning house.
She took them in because they said what was in her heart,
what could not be said in ink: it is summer in the mind,
cherries are falling on the grass under branch,
this is your house, this is my house, these our flowers.





Avril Joy’s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies and has been shortlisted in competitions including the Bridport and the Manchester Prize for Fiction. In 2012 she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award. Her latest novel, Sometimes a River Song, is published by Linen Press. In 2019 her poem Skomm won first prize in the York Mix poetry competition. She is currently working on a sequence of poems reflecting her twenty-five years spent working in a women’s prison in County Durham.