Here I Am – Your Sister Earth by Bronislava Volková


A Collage by Bronislava Volková


Here I am – your sister Earth.

I shine bright in my green coat.

My depths, mysterious and black

are the home of blinding diamonds

which when brought to the surface

swallow the light, for they are the reflection

as well as the carrier of visions.

People collect them, to add

brightness and light to themselves, lacking in their souls.

My miraculous waters are the home

for hidden kingdoms unheard of

and when the time comes, they transform themselves

into a cleansing bath, from which

there is no salvation nor recall.

My inner fire never dies away,

only on the surface, it cools off and from the lava

it forms slowly and surely

layers of firmness and nutrients and a seat

for so many fantastic species

of animals and plants,

a sight for sore eyes

a sight for sore eyes

Only man in his foolishness

fights me instead of honoring me

and bitterly loses.

I am patient and tolerate the aberrations

of this intrusive brat a long time without grumbling.

Just like he doesn’t, I don’t ask him

when I charge into battle

against his wanton civilization.

For I am the mistress over the life

and death of my children.

I am the Earth. I am yours.


About the Author:

Bronislava Volková is a bilingual poet, semiotician, translator, collagist, essayist and Professor Emerita of Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. She is a member of Czech and American PEN Club. She went into exile in 1974 аnd taught at several universities in Germany and the US. She led the Czech program of IU for thirty years and authored eleven books of poetry in Czech, a number of bilingual Czech-English editions, two books on linguistic and literary semiotics (Emotive Signs in Language and A Feminist’s Semiotic Odyssey through Czech Literature), as well as a large anthology of Czech poetry translations Up The Devil’s Back (with Clarice Cloutier). Her own poetry has been translated into twelve languages and widely reviewed. She has received a number of literary and cultural awards. She has been invited to international poetry festivals in Bulgaria, Ukraine Romania, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic and Colombia. Her work was repeatedly published in various countries, e.g. Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Czech Republic, the US, India and the United Arab Emirates. She has also periodically done large exhibits of her collage work. Books of selected poems have appeared in English, Russian, Bulgarian, Slovak, Ukrainian, German and Spanish edition is currently in preparation. She is also preparing a study on Forms of Exile in Jewish Literature and Thought (20th Century Central Europe and movement to America). More info at


‘Stardust’ by Naima Rashid

silhouette of woman standing on rock near body of water during night time

The crowds tire me.

Always, the fans.

Always, the admirers.

Always, the autographs.

Sometimes, I crave anonymity so much it feels like a dark sick desire. Just being among strangers. In a place where nobody knows me.

A face among faces.




No sooner had I stepped out of the car when it began. First, one person would see me, exclaim, come to shake hands, ask for an autograph. Ask for a selfie. They had those ridiculous sticks these days. The selfie sticks, they call them. Before you know it, there is a throng calling out from all sides. No matter what age they are, they become a child in that moment of adulation. Grown men and women, grandparents, they squeal like fan boys and fan girls. They call you their star, their beloved celebrity. You give your life in service to your art, and you get this in return. Big, boundless love. Free as the sea. Heavy as a wall of bricks. Here’s a young girl asking for an autograph on the back of her dog-eared school planner. I bend down to pat her head and sign it for her.

Those days of youth are gone, when all this would be a delightful exercise. I could go on doing it for hours, and the body would give of its endless reserve of energy. I worked out by a strict regimen every day. This body was fit as an athlete’s. The love I got from the public, I poured into the next performance. It was a sacred, virtuous cycle.

The letters I would get!

The way they would stop me every time I walked into a mall or a grocery shop.

‘You act out our own stories for us. You are a mirror we see ourselves in. All the faces you wear, all the names you call yourself, they are people from our own homes and our own lives. You make us understand ourselves better.’ Those letters, those heart-felt words were the real trophies, not the statues that lined the shelves behind the television in my living room.

A woman walking with her daughter stops short when she sees me, and tells her daughter about me. What would the girl know of me, this mere slip of a girl? She was too young in the era of my stardom. She grew up watching those mediocrity fests churned out in the name of drama. Forgettable, high-budget, glamour shows. You couldn’t tell one from the other. The plays from our times, though, they were another thing altogether. You could count them on your fingertips. Every single one a gem.

I was losing count now. What was it, my tenth autograph, my tenth selfie with a fan? My heels were hurting with the walk. My ageing frame could barely keep up. Why couldn’t I have an ordinary day in a shop?

The sun was beating down on me. I sat down on a bench and took a sip from the bottle. My hands were trembling as I took the bottle out of my bag and sipped. Right before me, were the smiling faces of admirers, waiting for me to acknowledge them, waiting for me to smile back.

To wave.

Always the fans.

Always the worshippers.

But I was tired.

It was impossible not to look at her as she stepped down from the rickshaw, stately and striking, a head-turner despite her age. Slim as a reed, her body was held erect and upright, despite her peep-toe heels, a steadiness in the gait that betrayed years of practice. Even in the crowded Sunday market, her air was magnetic.

The looks had begun to be exchanged by the time she had visited the third stall. A murmur of curiosity and suspicion shot like a ripple, snaking its way over the heads of the buyers, meandering through the throng, making its way through any blank space between the shifting bodies of buyers as they shuffled unhurriedly the way they do on a Sunday. Vendor’s eye catching vendor’s eye, exchanging a hint, meaning becoming certain swiftly, it charted a zigzag path.

She was smiling at the heads of cabbages, conversing with the produce, looking at displayed wares in a bizarre way, not the way one looks at inert objects, but at something that one expects would gaze back. Her only purchase was a kilo of red apples. I thought I caught the hint of a brief curtsey as she accepted, as if the object bestowed was not a bag of apples but a medal of honour.

Close-up, her air was slightly sad, the certain aura of glamour built up by the forgiving distance coming somewhat undone in the unsparing glare of midday sun. Her hair was thinning; wispy tufts of burgundy dotted her head and blew in the air like grass patches in a savannah. At the roots, they were white, at the tips, an insecure taint that howled. In the wrinkles on her face, the foundation had coagulated like overfill of ceramic. Her thickly worked-on lashes, and a lipstick that matched the shade of her hair lent her the air of a sad, over-aged clown.  As her eyes flitted through the wares displayed in the boxes laid out between us, the smile, delusional, never left her face.

Basking in an invisible glow, in a light other than the Sunday sun, it seemed, she walked steadily on. At the end, reaching the marble benches, she settled down for a drink, casting a glance back at the market she had just traversed.

The whisper made its way around the market to me. Someone had put the pieces together. While no one could recall her real name, the nation had christened her Raani – queen of the silver screen, queen, once upon a time, of people’s hearts.

The asylum had released her a week ago.

Meet the Author!

Naima Rashid is an author, poet, and literary translator. Her first book was Defiance of the Rose (Oxford University Press, 2019), a translation of selected works by Pakistani poet, Perveen Shakir, into English. Her work has appeared in Asymptote Journal, The Scores, Newsline magazine and other places.

Two Poems by Clare Crossman



Mandala by Stela Brix, 2018

The South Country

On Chalk Barrow Hill
the land rolls on remembering itself
in down lands, copses
and corridors of trees.
The path lifts straight up to the distant sky.
Below, a church spire marking
habitation; an ornate and cobbled town.

The land creaks, with archaeological
depth of mound and barrow,
chalk whiteness, taking all the eye.
Willows frame a horizon of green mornings.

I was a girl here, ran out of doors
from a low brick house open to
outbuildings and the air.
Roads and lanes held no shadow.
as if there was never any weather.

Returning, the long grass is waist high
and ditches full of rain.
This leaded window opens
on a view across the meadow.
Broad paths are mown along
barley fields. Voices rise from
lived in, light filled houses,
boats float reflected on the water,
of all the long slow rivers.
In the south country,
there is an ease.
One thing becomes another as
the landscape blurs and falls towards the sea.



In the thin sun of a mild morning,
The windows streaked with winter light
I picked up the strong twine.
Dropped from your pocket,
too short for garden use.

There’s something about string.
How it leans with the wind,
supporting foxgloves and runner beans
from endless changes in weather.

How it tightens its purpose to keep
collected things neat, but yields to let
what is enclosed slip.

These rooms where we live together
tied by a loose knot, that shifts and stays
hours full of skeins that stop us falling down.


About the Author:

Clare Crossman’s pamphlet won the Redbeck competition in 1996. Since then she has published four collections of poetry, she is working on her fifth from Shoestring Press due to be published in summer 2020. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies most recently Letters to the Earth, Harper Collins. She also wrote for Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge on the Connections project. She has recently written poems about a local chalk stream for the film Waterlight She lives in Cambridgeshire and sometimes in Cumbria.

















Fragmented Voices: Our Story so Far by Natalie Nera

black and red typewriter on white table
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on


It has been a wild ride, is a fair description of my last two or three years of life. The same applies to the last six months, whether we talk about my personal life or running of Fragmented Voices.

The concept of our small press has had to change over time. There are several reasons: first, you do your homework, your market research and realise that certain things are not doable. For example, going to the bank and asking for a lot of money to run an independent small publisher is in all likelihood a way to bankruptcy. That if Natalie Crick and I were to look at the commercial route, we would have to forget about being inclusive, about selecting people on the work they present. Our decisions would have to be made on their previous achievements, plus we would have to do what many agents and major publishers still do: we would have to look at creators, artists and authors as someone who is potentially bankable, which actually excludes many people.

We are happy with our chosen path because we actually love what we do. It is hard at times but also incredibly rewarding, exhilarating and inspiring. It was easy to transform our Newcastle-based press into an international one when I moved with my family to Prague, Czech Republic. Artistic compromise is something we do not want to do.

Also, it was sensible to test whether our concept would even work, make small steps first, and see how readers and writers respond. Eighteen months of preparation and six months of running the magazine, one week before our summer break – it is time for reflection:

  1. Our Ups and Downs: we launched our periodical publication in January and have been filling the Internet with new creative work three times a week ever since. We have had some amazing contributions and mostly positive feedback. However, there have been technical glitches we did not anticipate: I have not received some emails and some of my emails have not been delivered (I am still not sure about the true extent of the damage); a lot of our artwork disappeared from our website for some reason, so I had to manually upload it again. We have had some days when our new item would not share on Facebook while the next day it worked. And it is very hard to keep the magazine three times a week with a full-time job on the side. There is more background work than meets the eye of an average reader or author.

And just when I thought things would become easier, my hands would be freed to do other things, COVID-19 struck. The little virus has affected the lives of everyone around the globe. I am lucky to live in the country that acted swiftly and the impact was not too bad although it is clear that the battle is far from over. I am also lucky that, as a teacher, I did not lose my job and could continue getting a salary,  being able to support my family. However, my working days were all of a sudden up to 16 hours. My child needed home-schooling, too. He fell ill, he coughed and coughed day and night, but it was not the dreaded disease, for other things can cause problems, in this case, bacteria. Nothing two courses of antibiotics and complete isolation could not fix. Five weeks later, we can enjoy the outdoors again and like the rest of you in various corners of this planet, we are bracing ourselves for the second wave. But I believe that especially in this situation, it is important to give space to arts, to creativity, to share it and find words, other things to think about, solace, escape, emotional outlet.

  1. Love Poems: very early on, we decided that we would like to produce printed books. Small runs, once a year to begin with. The reason why it is not more is the cost. Digital publications are cheaper but therefore also more democratic and liberated than the traditional printed ones that heavily depend on sales. Our first choice was to compile a poetry anthology of love poems. It is something we would like to read ourselves, the very idea that lies behind many decisions we make. We have had a large number of astonishing, breath-taking submissions, so the ones we reject are also good, it is just that the competition is hard. Most of the rejected authors have accepted the decision graciously but occasionally, there has been an angry reply. I would like to stress here that we are not going to react to abusive letters as much as we understand the hurt an author may feel when his or her work is not accepted.
  2. Rue Collinge: as the volume of work increased, it became obvious that as a duo, we would struggle to deliver and progress with our intentions, that bringing in the third person would make things easier. Rue Collinge is our friend, colleague and someone we have worked with before so we know what to expect from her – she is bright, creative, reliable, easy-going. Her particular set of skills compliments ours and completes them. If it all sounds too simple, trust me, it is not. I have worked on many projects over the past decades, and the level of frustration one can feel when the other people in the team do not do what they are supposed to, and you end up running around, doing everything, while many times you don’t even get the credit for what you have done, is immeasurable. Working with Rue has always been smooth, and joy, inspiration. We believe she feels the same because she even gave up her chance of having her poems in the anthology in exchange for working with us. Thank you, Rue!
  3. The Changes: based on our experience from the past six months, we have made a decision to make some alterations to our online magazine. It is not going to be published in July and August.  The much-needed break will be used for our background work.
    • First of all, with the increasing volume of submissions and some emails lost, it has become obvious that we need a separate email address for prose, creative non-fiction and visual art. Please make sure that you check the email addresses that we will use from September.
    • Our website will be updated to reflect the current state of Fragmented Voices and its current activities, rather than the grand vision we originally had (and still have but it will take a while to achieve it, we need to be patient).
    • There will be changes in our online periodical: the magazine will be out twice a week – poetry once a week on Wednesdays, and prose, essays, creative non-fiction and art on Fridays. Three times a year, we will also give space to translations from various languages. Please watch out for the announcement in August.


I would like to thank you all for your ongoing support. On behalf of our team, I wish you a great summer break. And wherever you are, please stay healthy, safe and happy!

Beautiful Disaster by William Falo



photo of woman wearing brown scarf
Photo by Antonel Burlibasa on


Andreea stared at the discarded picture of an unknown family. The ache in her heart threatened to erupt into tears. She breathed into a bag of glue and the world spun around her then she fell to the ground. The picture shattered when she dropped it. The pieces of glass shimmered in the dull glow of the dying light and even the dream family it encased ended up broken in Romania. The resident stray dogs howled and ran toward the dark streets. Shadows appeared at the entrance of the junkyard and she ran toward a gathering of street children.

The men carried sticks and used them. Andreea heard the cries. She took out her knife and ran to help but tripped. The knife clattered away then the men surrounded her.

“Only we can do that,” someone yelled. Everyone stopped as an older street gang appeared.

They dropped their weapons then ran away.

Andreea got up and dashed through the junkyard on twisting paths. She ended up near the entrance where a gap in the fence allowed dogs, kids, and others to enter. She counted the escapees as they left but noticed one was missing. Someone yelled, “Help.”

She found the man on the ground with torn pants and blood pouring down his leg. A nearby rusty metal beam stuck out of a pile of debris.

Voices came closer. “Quiet,” she held a finger to her mouth and led the abandoned man down a dark path that led to the center of the junkyard. The voices passed and faded into the distance. He twisted a rag from his pocket around his leg and looked up at her with pale blue eyes that looked bloodshot from alcohol, but still shined from a flickering light nearby.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I should have let them find you.”


“I bet you live in an expensive villa and yet you come to this wasteland and beat children that have no home and it doesn’t bother you?”

He paused and looked her over. It must have occurred to him then that she was one of them. Her clothes were torn and stain covered. Nothing matched or looked new. Her dark, greasy hair looked like a tangled clump of fishing line. She wore boy’s clothes unless she needed money. A recent scab made her fear that she had some disease. It seemed better not to know.

“I’m Stefan,” he said.


She led him out to a back gate that didn’t shut. “Why did you come here?” she asked.

“I’m leaving for college in a few weeks. My friends and I got drunk. Someone

complained about all the street children begging from people and making Romania look bad.

Then someone said let’s do something about it. Someone picked up a stick and someone else joined him then we all ran together. Nobody wanted to be the one who did nothing. The weakest one. I had no choice.”

“So, you beat up children that have no home and money. Nobody cares about us.  My father tried to become a soccer player but wasn’t good enough. He beat my mother and when she left, he turned on me until I ran away. There are many similar stories here. We’re harassed by police and threatened by traffickers. The last thing we need is some college-bound jerks to attack us. Go home to your family and don’t come back.” She broke into a coughing attack that doubled her over.

He reached out a hand but she pushed it away. When he walked away steam rose from the sewer pipes and seemed to swallow him up. Some street children headed down into the sewers to escape the cold and she turned to follow. She saw Stefan stop and look back. Then she followed the others into the depths of the sewers.

The others looked at her and asked where she went during the fight. She told them she fell and blacked out. Misha passed her a bag filled with glue and she breathed it in so deep that she fell over and slumped against a wall.

A smaller boy with blonde hair jumped up, “Darius saved us.”

“They came at the right time. Don’t count on that all the time, Bogdan.” Darius ran the larger gang and she was once his boyfriend until she found him with another girl. Her attempt to stab him led to some of the scars on her arm.

Two large hot water pipes filled their underground shelter with some warmth, but it was no sanctuary. The smell of waste made her nauseous and a single stain covered mattress had already been claimed. Once they discovered a dead baby on the mattress covered with bugs. Rats scurried under the pipes on the edges of a brown stream of putrid water. A group of large bugs

skittered across the floor in front of her before she saw Stefania signaling to her. She lay down

next to her and they huddled together until sleep came.

The sound of a scream woke her up. “Get out of there,” someone yelled. The policeman banged his club against a pipe. The children climbed out of the shelter with yawns and

moans. The police gave each a tap on their arm with his club. “We have complaints about

you harassing tourists. I’m taking you to social services.”

They all scattered and the policeman yelled, “Come back here.”

Andreea ran. She knew the danger of the orphanages. Life there was worse than the streets, they all heard stories of the abuse and bleak conditions. She ended up by the metro station where passengers left the bus station. She had no money for food. Begging resulted in nothing but insults. She went to the street and to offer her body to men. One stopped and gave her some money and she got in his car. It was a risk. One girl got in a car and never came back and they think she is a sex slave in a foreign country.

After the police were gone, she solicited every passerby for money until a car stopped in front of her. A familiar man got out of a new car. “Andreea,” he yelled.

“What?” She answered then realized it was Stefan.

“I was looking for you.”


“I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

“Well, you should.”

“I want to take you to get a coffee.”

“Are you crazy? Do you know what I look like?” She asked.

“I don’t care. Can I buy you one?”

“Okay, business is slow anyway.”

“What business?” He looked at her again.

“Do I have to explain it to you?” She asked.

“No,” he said and held the door for her. She touched the knife that she kept strapped to her thigh.

Nobody sat outside due to the cold wind that blew down the streets of Bucharest. A small stray dog struggled against it trying to get crumbs from an old man. Andreea ran to it and picked it up.

“Aren’t you afraid of it biting you?”

“I’m more afraid of you than this little dog.”

“Why did you help me?”

“You looked like a stray. Like him.” She held out the dog.

“You compare me to a stray dog.”

“You looked lost and lonely and your friends abandoned you.”

“I’m glad you helped.” He reached out to pet the scruffy brown dog. It snapped at him

protecting Andreea. She placed it down and the dog scurried away looking for food. She had none to spare.

“Let’s sit outside,” she said.

“In the cold.”

“I won’t be welcome inside.”

“Okay,” he said. They got hot coffee that sent puffs of steam into a gray sky. Giant snowflakes fluttered down around them. She realized that she sat alone on an outside table with a

good looking man and it made her feel romantic for the first time. With Darius, it was all


It ended when his phone rang. “My father,” he said then talked into the phone. He looked at her. “I have to go. Something about college.”

She shivered and he wrapped his coat around her. “When will I see you again?” He asked.

“My schedule is so busy,” she laughed then started to cough.

He reached out and she backed away. “I wanted to feel if you have a fever.”

She let him and his smooth hand on her forehead sent little shocks through her body. Despite her many sexual encounters she never felt that before. “You feel warm,” he said.

“I am.”

“I’ll bring some aspirin next time. I have to go talk about college. My father the doctor wants me to follow in his footsteps. I’m not sure I want to.”

She returned to the junkyard.  Misha gave her a bag. She inhaled and held it for a long time as the others cheered. She fell and closed her eyes.

Darius grabbed her around the neck. “Rumors are that you helped someone escape the other night.”

“Who told you that?”

“The birds.” He laughed. “We want his money. Bring him to us and we’ll do the rest.”

“Never,” she said.

“You better or all of you get it.” He waved his arm at the small group that was held by the

others of Darius’s gang. He grasped her by the collar and lifted her. “Nice coat,” he pulled out

a knife and sliced through it. She tried to get her knife out, but he held her shoulders too tight.

He threw her down. “Bring him here tonight.”

They left. Misha helped her up. “None of us told him.”

“It’s okay.”

“Will you bring him here?”

“I don’t know.”

They dispersed to find the money. She went to her secret spot where nobody could find her. Only the stray dogs ever found it. One sniffed her out and curled up with her. The dog licked her scars. “You’re a doctor too,” she said to the dog.

Stefan found her again on the street soliciting money. He either didn’t seem to care what she did because he never mentioned it. “Andreea,” he called out.

She waved to him and crossed the street. “Coffee?” He asked.

“Okay,” she said. They sat outside and sipped the hot beverage. He gave her aspirin and antibiotics. “My father will never miss them. Take two a day.”

“My plane leaves tomorrow but I want to stay here. Maybe get a job in a hotel and I can continue to get to know you.”

“You don’t want to do that. I’m broken. Go to college and become a doctor.”

“But I think you’re special.”

“I’m a dirty street girl. You don’t know how many bad things I have done.”

“I don’t care. I’ll miss the flight and spend time here with you.”

She saw a man in a business suit walk down the street with a woman in a dress and high heels. They laughed and gazed in shop windows. Maybe she could be his girlfriend and they would go to Paris and shop in clothes stores all day and sip wine at night. Get married and have

children. A man walked by and stared at her and held his nose in a mocking gesture to the others

of his group. She smelled bad and understood that they could never be like the family in the picture. She would ruin his life and would only stop him from ever being able to help others.

“Can you meet me tonight by the junkyard,” she said and got up to leave.

“Wait,” he said.

“I have to go,” she ran down the street so he would not see tears that ran down her cheek.

Darkness spread through the junkyard and she hoped Darius wouldn’t show up. But he came to the entrance with some of the others. Misha walked with her but stayed behind when he saw the gang.


Stefan appeared at the end of the street. He carried flowers. “He’s in love with you,” Darius whispered. “We’re going to take him for all his money. We’ll make him take us to his house and you’re the bait.”

She wanted to shout a warning but then he would still miss his flight and try to find her. She moved to stand under a light so he would see her. He waved then she grabbed Darius’s arm and pulled him under the light with her. Before he could pull away, she kissed him on the lips and held on with all her might. Darius gave in and put his hands on her behind.

Stefan stopped walking toward them and dropped the flowers. He turned and walked away. The stray dogs chased him, but when she let go of Darius he was gone. “You ruined it. Now, he will never come back to find you.”

“I know,” she said.

Darius shoved her away. The others ran down the street to look for Stefan but returned alone.

He would make his flight. She curled up in her secret spot with the stray dog that followed her. The dog licked the tears off her face, but some of them made it past its tongue. The lonely tears fell onto the dying flowers that she held close to her heart giving them the hope of life.

She knew that she would keep an eye on the coffee shop and look for a man, maybe a doctor sitting alone with a steaming cup of coffee. She would walk closer and see if there was a cup for her there too.

“Andreea, let’s go.” The others called out. She wiped away the tears and ran to join the others while the stray dog followed her.




  About the Author:

William Falo lives in the USA. He studied wildlife in college and was a volunteer fireman. His work has appeared in Vamp Cat Magazine, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, Vaughan Street Doubles, and other literary journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and on Instagram @writerwilliamfalo 


Sea Rocket  by Jake Morris-Cambell

round window view of the ocean
Photo by Johannes Rapprich on

5,000 miles in a 747

have taken you to Harris Beach, Oregon,

to find Sea Rocket by the boardwalk

where nobody will ever know your name

and the place you’ve come from:


Seaburn, where the same genus of plant

stowed perchance in cargo holds

to unfurl in spores at Hendon Docks

now protrudes from dunes by the North Sea

which you know doesn’t know your name.


Later, looking into the window front

of the Brookings branch of the Democrats

you’re mistaken for an eager voter

who shares a common belief

in free access to public health care.


Pineapple Weed grows in the slats

of paving here, too—the way it does

on the Ash path where your parents live.

Some things you know the names for,

others you’re yet to learn.




About the Author:

Jake Morris-Campbell is a writer, critic and tutor based in Tyne & Wear. He has published two pamphlets of poetry: The Coast Will Wait Behind You (Art Editions North) and Definitions of Distance (Red Squirrel Press). This poem is from a sequence written for Stringing Bedes: A Poetry and Print Pilgrimage, a Heritage Lottery Funded project which linked the twinned Wearmouth-Jarrow monasteries in 2015-16.

The Writerly Review of Black Polo-Necks by Frances Holland


Have you been doubting your writing identity lately? Feeling as if you’re on a par with other people when you know you’re actually so much better than them? Then you need a wardrobe game-changer, and Frances Mulholland* is here to help!

The ‘You look very French today!’ One
This black polo neck is actually more of a dark grey; made from incredibly thin material, it usually retails for around £6 in Asda, and is perfect for when you’ve just bought a new bra you kind of want to show off through the almost-opaque fabric.
Cheap and figure-hugging, team this with black trousers after seeing an advert on Facebook for ‘Les Quatres Cent Coup’ on BFI Player. This will fool people into thinking you possess Gallic insouciance without having to actually download BFI Player, because it’s shit and doesn’t work.
The Investment Piece
So-called because you could have laid down a deposit for a nice semi-detached with front and rear garden for what you’ve just forked out in Reiss or the Autograph section of M&S. It’s pure cashmere, which you have no idea how to wash, and you can’t ask your mam if you can stick it in the machine with some Woolite because then you’d have to admit that you just spent a month’s salary on a fucking JUMPER.
The Magneto
It’s blacker than Jeremy Hunt’s soul, it kind of feels like cashmere but won’t break the bank, and you don’t have to dry it on a flat surface. But it WILL transform you into a human Van De Graff generator, giving out static shocks like Boris Johnson gives out child support payments.
This little number also cannot be worn when smiling as it will transform your face into a grotesque blob of chin and cheeks, so you’ll have to make your peace with looking like a scowling comic book villain if you’re going to wear this. From Dorothy Perkins or somewhere sensible.
‘Just getting some new author photos taken, NBD.’
YEAH right. Such a small deal that you’re now 90% primer and your own parents wouldn’t recognise you. A black slash-neck is the avant-garde alternative to a polo-neck, and when paired with a bookcase background, will make you look astonishingly like Maeve Brennan of ‘The New Yorker’ in a candid shot round Truman Capote’s gaff.
JK, you still look like a butternut squash wearing a binbag.

Other Writerly Accoutrements…
Jewellery: keep to a MINIMUM, or you risk tipping over into “Art Teacher” category. Unless you want to spend six hours talking about Mondrian and Hummus, in which case, knock yourself out with your giant earrings.
Satchel: These are great for carrying notebooks around in. They are, unfortunately, rubbish for carrying anything else in, and don’t even think about putting your keys in it unless you fancy taking up leather-stitching.
Nom de Plume: *See above. Mostly so the kids from work don’t find me.
Freezing cold flat: Perfect for that “impoverished artist” vibe. You already have this, as you’ve spent all your money on fancy coffee, Moleskin notebooks, and black polo necks.


About the Author:

Frances Holland has been writing ever since she was five years old, when she realised that putting an amusing caption on a drawing of her dad could get cheap laughs. Her inspirations include folklore and mythology, as well as the everyday lives of the people around her. She lives in Northumberland. This creative non-fiction piece has been inspired by her writer’s residency at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.

Vapour Trail by Matthew Roy Davey

In the City by Kasia Grzelak, 2018


Michael, his son, sent ear-plugs, but Ephraim refused to wear them; they were made of synthetic material.  Ephraim hated almost everything about the modern world – the bleating telephones, the growling engines, the sharp bite of exhaust; technologies of a brutal century.

Not that it wasn’t his century, just that he was living at the wrong end of it.  When he was young cars had been rare in the village and there had been few telephones.  The sky hadn’t been slashed with wires.  Roads could be crossed without looking each way.

Ephraim wished to live in the world of his novels – composed with a fountain pen, of course – where clops on cobbles were the only intruding sounds, the sweet smell of horse-apples the only exhaust.  He was not alone in his dreams; book sales allowed him to buy a remote cottage in the Welsh hills.  There he could shut out the modern world, far from roads and without sight of telegraph-pole or pylon.  Gas and plumbed water were his only concessions to the twentieth century.  The peace of an earlier age should have settled on his life.

But the vapour trails remained.

He tried to keep his gaze below the horizon, ignoring the vandalised heavens, those infernal white lines, bisecting the sky.

Still he heard modernity, roaring in the air.

Michael’s offer of earplugs became increasingly moot as his father grew deafer with age.

If I could go blind, Ephraim wrote back, I might wheeze on to a hundred.

About the Author:

Matthew Roy Davey was the winner of The Observer short story competition 2003 and winner of the Dark Tales competition (August 2013), was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award (Spring and Autumn 2017), Reflex Flash Fiction competition (Spring 2017) and Retreat West Quarterly Competition (Summer 2018). His story ‘Waving at Trains’ was translated into Mandarin and Slovenian and published in anthologies by Vintage and Cambridge University Press.  Recently he has been published by Everyday Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Odd Magazine and Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine.  He has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.


Two Poems by Jennifer Ruth Jackson



Helderberg Mountain
Heldeberg Mountain by Amy McCartney, 2019


After the Climb

We lost ourselves                        among the leaves
falling from great heights            we once knew well
branches smarting our backs       Sounds of rustling
and thwacks against limbs           filled the soft quiet
bruising us like rotted fruit          painted in hues of dusk



Coming Home

There was no yellow ribbon
Around the old oak tree
Nor was she
Under the apple tree
Waiting for him


He came back to silence
Hands still sweaty
From carrying the gun
Devoid of olive branches


About the Author

Jennifer Ruth Jackson is an award-winning poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Red Earth Review, Banshee, and more.  She runs a blog for disabled and/or neurodivergent writers called The Handy, Uncapped Pen from an apartment she shares with her husband. Follow her on Twitter @jenruthjackson