Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…


I’m delighted to start this blog with my big news that’His Secret Daughter’ from How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) was Guardian Poem of the Week on July 30. Carol Rumens’ wonderful, detailed consideration of the poem can be found here. This has been a real poetry highlight for me at a personal level for so many reasons!!!


I’m really chuffed to also be able to share review news for both my poetry pamphlet How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press) and my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press).

How to Grow Matches front coverAlex Josephy’s review of How to Grow Matches for London Grip is so thoughtful, informed and concisely comprehensive that I could easily quote the whole thing. I’ve picked out a few paragraphs below, but please do go enjoy the review (other reviews and poetry) in full on London Grip.

“I admire the sure-footedness of S.A. Leavesley’s writing, her attention to injustices against women, and her delicate use of the imagination to outwit, to ridicule, to leap forward. How to grow matches is an exciting addition to the published work of this accomplished poet.

“In these poems women appear in many different guises – as dolls, as mannequins (with a clever erasure of Plath’s poem ‘The Munich Mannequins’), as matriarchs, and as characters in stories, paintings and a photo-shoot. Their visibility is problematic; Leavesley’s women are conscious of being at times observed too closely, at other times invisible…

“For me, Leavesley has an irresistable way with imagery…

“This is a collection for our times. The pared-back elegance of the poems is as powerful as the writer’s commitment; while staying well clear of preaching, Leavesley conveys both the limitations and humiliations women continue to face, and the many faces of resistance…”

Alex Josephy, London Grip, full review here.

ALWAYS ANOTHER TWIST-Final I’m really delighted to share news of a lovely podcast review of my short novella Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press) on Reading in Bed with Andy N & Amanda Steel. It’s hard to pick highlights from any review, especially a podcast, but particular soundbitable snippets include Andy Nicholson’s “A very clever little book” and “It really was a great thing to read, I recommend it completely.”

For the full flavour though, Andy and Amanda’s full discussion and review of this and other ‘reads in bed’ can be heard here, with Always Another Twist in part one (around 3-9 mins through).

My big thanks to Carol Rumens, the Guardian, Alex Josephy, London Grip (and editor Michael Batholomew-Biggs), Andy Nicholson and Amanda Steel for these reviews.

Nature Caring & SharingFEATURES

My Nature Caring & Sharing #100kindsofhappy article published in National Association of Writers in Education magazine, with one of the photo-poems on the cover, July 2018. Article topics include: journalling in the internet age, nature writing, social medial sharing and audience reach.)

Every year has new highs as well as a good share of lows. For me, both are great reminders not to forget life’s overall path as well as the individual twists and curves in the writing journey. This is very much the theme of my article up on the The Literary Consultancy blog this month. Always Another Twist – Journeys, Outlooks & Curves in the Path features some of my personal surprises along the way to becoming a published writer, particularly when it comes to my novellas and poetry-play.

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‘False Eyes & The Myopic of Me’ – this condensed extract from my memoir/essay collection ‘This < > Room’, which was longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017 and 2018, published on Riggwelter here.

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I love new projects, collaboration and creativity. All the more so when I can combine the three together. I’m very excited to have tentatively started a new online photo-poem/flash journal Pic Pocket a Poem. The journal is on social media as LitWorld 2 on instagram at: and twitter at: @LitWorld2

Information on how to submit short poems/flashes to Pic Pocket a Poem can be found here.


‘A Planet Where’ published in the Words for the Wild anthology in July 2018.

‘Heart’ (from my unpublished ‘This < > Room’ longlisted in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018) published on Ink, Sweat & Tears here.


I’m also very pleased to have a selection of poems in Vindication – a six-poet anthology from Arachne Press as one of the press’s three #WomenVote100 Anthologies: a showcase for poets Arachne has previously published in anthologies, giving an opportunity to explore their writing in greater depth. Featuring Elinor Brooks, Jill Sharp, Sarah Lawson, Anne Macauley and Adrienne Silcock, as well as myself, these are poems made of myth and family, origins and anger, journeys and home: witty, clever, beautiful and sometimes harsh. Whilst not directly reflecting on the experience of women fighting for the vote, the concerns of women are foremost and are passionately addressed.

Vindication isn’t in shops until September 27, but it is available on the Arachne Press website here now.


My latest review for Riggwelter – Jessica Mookherjee’s Joy Ride – is now online here.


Flambe front coverThe Becoming of Lady Flambé (Indigo Dreams Publishing) by Holly Magill is a gripping poetry pamphlet, infused with an addictive sense of mystery as Magill gradually reveals many things hidden below the surface in this spectacular circus world. Individually striking poems are combined with a background narrative (and characters reappearing in different poems) to create a sum that is greater than its parts. But it’s not just the narrative that makes this a pamphlet that I wanted to read in one go. Both atmosphere and characters are also very beguiling. Magill’s vibrant characters are simultaneously quirky and very empathetically human, while even the humour is accompanied by hints of darkness and/or danger.

The poems are moving and funny, often simultaneously: ‘Avoid reversing elephants’ and ‘Multi-tasking is easy – I can juggle and cry | at the same time, even in the dark’ in ‘Things I learn’ (p.13). Both aspects are given an extra edge by the conversational tone and colloquial language in many of the poems. As reader, I’m brought closer to and made part of this world by a sense of being spoken to as if a confidante, the poems’ truths whispered in my ear like secrets. The monologue nature of some pieces feels like a comfortable or voluntary intimacy – as if the characters are speaking to their own reflection in the mirror or one of the circus animals, perhaps.

I also found the pamphlet a very thought-provoking read. The mesmerising power of flames and the image of a circus tent collapsing are two details that will stay with me. Also, a recognition that of all animals (circus or otherwise) in this world, sometimes humans are the strangest, family maybe even more so. More widely, it also makes me question the prejudgements that society makes, how we value people and how an implicit worth/lack of worth shapes our personalities and the lives we lead.

In Tales From Prickly End (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2018), Melissa Fu writes a lovely article about her experience of living with the poems in How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press).

With Melissa’s kind permission, her thoughts on some of these poems are reproduced here, along with Sarah’s commentary on them. Hopefully, together these will create a new dialogue – a combined reader and writer conversation with the poems that opens up inspirational, interpretational and other read/writer possibilities.

Copies of the poems discussed are included here, but it should be noted that where this in the form of a poetryfilm, Melissa’s actual ‘conversation’ is with the written versions in the pamphlet.

‘How to grow matches’

Melissa: “Invisibility and appearances. I loved this powerful stanza: ‘Note how easily the wood splits / after years of hidden anger./ A felled forest at your feet,/ and still the pile grows!’ It is the accumulation of so many aggressions, ‘each jibe or slight’, that makes for a tinderbox. Here, the ‘hip-sways and lip expressions/condoned for your office/as a woman’ contrast the appearance of smooth acceptability with a fire and matches ready to ignite and explode. The power of accumulated rage may be invisible, but that just makes it all the more deadly.”

Sarah: “The pamphlet’s title poem was first published in the ‘revolution’ themed edition of Magma magazine and is written in an imaginary female revolutionary leader’s voice. It imagines how, matchstick by lit matchstick, years of sexual bias in the work-place might build up to a fiery backlash. (A bit like the #metoo campaign, though this poem was written before that, and workplace gender politics feels a perpetual concern.)

‘Her cumuli collector’

Melissa: “Relationship mismatch. The opening metaphor of clouds as washed shadows is really compelling. I also liked the idea of sucking out the darkness within and appreciate how the metaphor continues to develop through the poem. Initially, the second stanza may appear to undermine these more striking metaphors with imagery of clouds as soap suds, candyfloss, sheep and polar bears, but it takes a curious turn by ending with mention of dark angels. Within the context of the full poem, the second stanza serves as engine and contrast, showing how the couple’s love progresses from the startling beginnings of love (opening metaphor) to something that appears conventional (second stanza) to an aftermath characterised by a darkness within and a cold empty clarity without. By the end of the poem, a sense of a shared external weather has shifted to unseen inner storms once the ‘he’ is absent and the ‘she’ is left with ‘non-stop inside her: heavy, / pounding — the rain of dark angels.’”

Sarah: “‘Her cumuli collector’ recycles age-old romantic notions of ‘a knight in shining armour’, though this particular modern myth is my own creation. The voice of first love and fairy-tale happy endings gives extra power to the emotions, and drama. Because so much becomes pinned on this first relationship, its failure is heart-breaking – as failed love or idolisation usually is. Behind this story though, the fact that this young woman gives control of her moods and happiness to another person rather than taking charge of them herself. If carried past young love into adult life and relationships, it might become a dangerously unshakeable core belief, undermining personal self-esteem.”

‘All the women left’

This poem can be read on Atrium here.

Melissa: “Invisibility as agency, bestowing or removing one’s presence as a manifestation of power. ‘All the women left’ imagines what would happen if all the female audience members and musicians stood up and left during the interval of a packed symphony concert. Invisibility is often associated with silence or powerlessness, but this poem posits one of the most powerful kinds of invisibility I can imagine. Via the squeaks and absences that are revealed as upturned ‘Velveteened seats sprang back/ like the thud of plush dominoes,’ we begin to fathom the gap-toothed emptiness that would result if all the women left.”

Sarah: “‘All the women left’ was written after a visit to Birmingham Symphony Hall, not for a concert, simply passing through the building. At the same time, I was thinking about apocalypses and women-only tribes. The poem title came to me first, wondering what if there were only women left in the world… But I liked that this also had another potential meaning: what if, as a protest, all the women left an event? Essentially, this is a poem imagining the latter happened for a concert. A potential added irony with this scenario is that, if all the women left, half the audience might leave the concert but if all the female musicians left would that only leave half the performers?”

matryoshka 3 for Rachel P1010430 with poem quote version 3 no web link‘Facts of/for/against survival’

This poem can be found on International Times here or in an article about writer voices (‘Voices – Varied, Various and Vocal’) on Created to Read here.

Melissa: “This poem is like a 3-sided pyramid on which the future rests and the weight of the poem shifts depending on which side we slide down. The sides are the prepositions ‘of’ or ‘for’ or ‘against’. By closing with the image of the mother and son, which expands to ‘thousands of mothers/across the world are holding their child’s hand’ we return again to the theme of inheritance and an admonishment to ‘take care of their roots.’ But the picture is complicated by the final three words ‘above all others’. Taking care is a fact of and for survival. But if we do so for only our roots, ‘above all others’ it becomes a fact against survival. This poem, like survival, is finely balanced with hope and despair.”

Sarah: “‘Facts of/for/against survival’ is a mixture of newspaper headlines, unusual facts and a personal moment between a mother and son which hopefully brings together the many disparate threads by hinting at one commonality, in the lines Melissa picks up on. At one level, love and caring for family and children is something that most of us have in common regardless of skin-colour, country, background. The potential problem though with prioritising particular people and places – even friends, family and home – is that this may mean neglecting others outside those groups/areas. Arguably, it’s at the core of many race, religious and territorial wars. As with the poem that opens the pamphlet, this final pamphlet poem is my recognition of the part all women play as individuals not just in defining how women are regarded in the world but the direction of society overall.”


Melissa Fu’s website:
Against The Grain Press website:
The Hedgehog Poetry Press website:
How to Grow Matches on this website:

1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile

‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ was my year-long blog project attempt sharing the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection plenty-fish, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. Meanwhile, on instagram I shared a year’s worth of photos with a quote from the poems in ‘plenty-fish’. These can be enjoyed below.

instagram of fences 26 July 2017

instagram journey of the fruit 2 aug 2017

instagram still the apple 13 aug 2017

instagram for her a different skin 16 aug 2017

instagram 23 aug 2017 lets remember

instagram 30 aug 2017 cutting to the bone

instagram 6 sept 2017 the je ne sais quoi of itinstagram 13 sept 2017 i bite down on the memory

instagram 20 sept 2017 elliptic

instagram 27 sept 2017 walking under water

instagram 4 oct 2017 cactus bllgown

instagram 11 oct 2017 throughrose-tintedglasses

instagram 18 oct 2017 on the brink of adultery

instagram 25 oct 2017 small deceptions

instagram 1 nov 2017 This Holy Shrine

instagram 8 nov 2017 wanting

instagram 15 nov 2017 nomadic

instagram 22 nov 2017 all the flowers

instagram 29 nov 2017 wired flesh

instagram 6 dec 2017 evolved

instagram 13 dec 2017 imprints

instagram 20 dec 2017 coffee break

instagram 27 dec 2017 bagging up

instagram 3 jane 2018 against the vacuum

instagram 10 jan 2018 and when

instagram 17 jan 2017 home

instagram 24 jan 2018 losing faith

instagram 31 jan 2018 past acrificial

instagram 7 feb 2018 transplanted

instagram 14 feb 2018 some prayer

instagram 21 feb 2018 meditation on with for

instagram 28 feb 2018 white

instagram 7 march 2018 re composition

instagram 14 march 2018 in the ointment

instagram 21 march 2018 his wife

instagram 28 march 2018 shells

instagram 4 april 2018 van goghs other mistress

instagram 11 april 2018 pied

instagramm 18 april 2018 through glass

instagram 25 april 2018 museum offering

instagram 2 may 2018 the hummingbord case

instagram 9 may 2018 bewitching

instagram 16 may 2018 looking back

instagram 23 may 2018 the philosophers magnum opus

instagram 30 may 2018 raindrop on a red leaf

instagram 6 june 2018 too modest

instagram 13 june 2018 from grasmere

instagram 20 june 2018 against candlelight

instagram 27 june 2018 snatches

instagram 4 july 2018 endurance

instagram 11 july 2018 oil & water

instagram 18 july 2018 smile

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ was my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.
1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile


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Once upon a time there was a little girl, a little girl of about six or seven, a little girl of eleven or twelve, a little girl of 39, going on 40. Poetry pulsed through her but her heart was lined with spikes, arteries thick with icicles.

Every day, the little girl said, “When I grow up, I want to be happy.”

Every day, a wise man whispered back in the wind’s howl, the sea’s leap and crash, the sand’s sift and shift, the river’s rush and ebb, the leaves’ crackle and settle, petals’ blow and drift, loose feathers’ lift and sigh. Sometimes this whisper was so hushed that it was impossible to hear clearly. But, when she listened carefully, there was a sense of meaning.

What the wise man said, sometimes softly, sometimes sharply, was:

“First, you must learn what happiness is.

“If you cannot laugh, start by practising a smile.


     “– day by day –

          “curve your life to this.”

Writing Prompt

Write a poem/story inspired by the picture above/on the previous page. Smile as you do this!

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

1-The Emptiness of Uncut Diamond-001 panormaicsometimes I smile


How to Grow Matches front coverIt’s been a busy but exciting fortnight here – a forest of excitement in fact. But before I move on to woods and seeing trees, my big writing news: How to Grow Matches has been shortlisted for the poetry category in this year’s International Rubery Book Awards!!!

The judges’ lovely comments are: ‘Leavesley’s poems have clarity and directness, and she writes with a great eye for significant detail. Matchsticks are “pink tipped bullrushes” in the title poem, for instance, and “Blackpool’s shops are metal secrets” in another lovely piece, First Thing. In Fashion Chains, mannequins are glimpsed in shop windows at night with “chemo flesh revealed/in the glare of strip lighting”, and the “bald realities” of “moon heads”. This poem becomes a sly metaphor for the fashion industry and the way this exploits women via the spurious notion of “true shape”. Her themes are varied: there are ekphrastic poems, political poems, feminist poems, myth based poems, but all have flair, characterised by a contemporary experience which is always convincing and original.’

I’m delighted about this on so many scores. Firstly, I’m really pleased for my publishers Against The Grain Press. Secondly, I’m chuffed to see the chapbook pulling its weight alongside such wonderful full poetry collections and the Fairacre Press Diversifly anthology (a great Midlands presence in the poetry category!). Thirdly, on a personal level, my debut poetry collection Into the Yell won third prize in the non-categorised awards in 2011 and my Nine Arches Press collection plenty-fish was shortlisted in 2016. I’d love to see How to Grow Matches go even further, of course, but simply to see it on the shortlist is amazingly inspirational and encouraging! I’m trying not to bite my nails too much now as I wait for the final results…

Meanwhile, this week I had another welcome confidence and morale boost finding out that my poem ‘Patient N, diabetes mellitus‘ was highly commended in this year’s Festival of Firsts poetry competition.

My gratitude and thanks go to the judges and all those involved in the admin and organisation making both these competitions happen.

hedgehog & festival firsts highly commended

Alongside this, it was also amazing to read Melissa Fu’s ‘live with a poet for a week’ response to How to Grow Matches in Tales From Prickly End (Hedgehog Poetry Press). Melissa talks about it being a response rather than a review, I think it’s actually both, as it’s a lengthy and detailed article about her interaction with the poems in the pamphlet/chapbook. In fact, it’s so wonderfully generous and in-depth that I hope to share more of it in a specialised blogpost as soon as I can…

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Although I don’t perform or read as often as I’d like because of the extra strain and need for care that it places on managing my diabetes/blood sugar levels, I really enjoy the different spark that this can bring to poetry. So I was delighted to read my Hippocrates Prize poems and others from my pamphlet How to Grow Matches and collection plenty-fish as part of ‘An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering & Mistresses’ with poet friends Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris as part of Wolverhampton Artsfest.

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None of this news is directly related to my reading in the Helen Dunmore Tribute at Ledbury Poetry Festival this year. But How to Grow Matches is very much about female voices and experiences, and Helen Dunmore is one of a number of female poets and writers whose work has been inspirational to me over the years. This is one of many reasons why I chose to read her ‘Domestic Poem’ for the event, which was one of the most moving poetry readings that I’ve been too in a long while. The audio of it is now online here.


Collaboration is another thing that I absolutely love and don’t get to do enough of at the moment. It was absolutely fabulous to see a new review of my collaborative poetry duet Hearth, written with wonderful poet Angela Topping (Mother’s Milk Books, 2015) over on Caroline Hardaker’s website this week. (Incidently/serendipitously, the themes of womanhood, family life and relationships fit well with all the other collections, poems and readings that I’ve mentioned so far in this blog.)

“…What follows are songs, sung from the heart. None of the lyrics are over-complicated with flouncy language, as it’s never needed. Sometimes the simplest lines can sing the clearest tune…

“This is skilled poetry, crafted with years of expertise. Classical, and timeless.”

Caroline Hardaker, full review of Hearth and other Mother’s Milk Books poetry pamphlets here


REVIEW of So Long the Sky for Riggwelter on July 4, 2018. (Unfortunately, the Riggwelter wordpress coding/template has lost some of the formatting from my quoted lines of poetry – yet another reason to go and buy the collection itself!)

The Grape-Face (flash) in Spelk on July 13, 2018.

Hedgehog Kind (poetry sequence) in A Restricted View From Under The Hedge in July 2018.

From the Other Side (poem) – a Hedgehog Poetry Press fauxlaroid/poetry postcard in July 2018. (The fauxlaroid postcards are only available as part of the Cult package – one of many reasons for taking out this subscription. This also includes prompts and other poetry initiatives/extras, including the Vapour Trails handwritten booklets circulating across the country/world, leaving an online vapour trail as they go. My fauxlaroid poem is on there now, though not the beautiful photo that inspired it.)





Last weekend saw me heading down to the woods, and memory lane. The Timber Festival at Feanedock near Moira was a delight for many reasons. The trees, the sustainability, and cultural elements and the fact that it was set in The National Forest on the Leicestershire/Derbyshire border very near to where I used to work for the Burton Mail group as a reporter 15 years ago! I was based in the Swadlincote office specifically for a while and this area of Leicestershire, near Measham, was right at the edge of my patch. The picture above gives an idea of how much the area has changed over the years, with former landfill sites in the process of being reclaimed/repurposed back to a more nature-friendly/managed nature areas!

IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 2 for instagram

One of the first things that struck me was the Museum of the Moon touring artwork by Luke Jerram. Experiencing this stunning (and inspirational!) piece of art is of course different according to its setting, and also according to the time of day. My photo-poem above was inspired by photographing it as a full moon with the near noon-day (full) sun shining on it. I was also taken by the idea of seeing the sun’s shadows on the top of the moon compared to the shadows cast on the forest floor through the moon and the leaves, my own blurred reflection in its surface, and I played with superimposing a clockdial as well as my poem on its surface (as can be seen in my photos below).

IMG_3111 musuem of the moon at timber festival july 2018 scaled for instagram
IMG_3108 horizontal for instagram
IMG_3117-003 Our Time haiku 5

IMG_3209So what else did I enjoy: finding poems, audio readings & artwork inspired by/from The Lost Words (Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris);
Putting on my festival face. The choice was mermaid or unicorn – no real doubt which I’d go for…created with biogradaeable products;
The foraging walk with @foragersam, traversing on the LL Bean climbing wall timed challenge in climbing boots (I was slow but it was fun, and the heat and not having my climbing shoes made for a great speed excuse), a very tasty mushroom burger & savoury muffins from the farmer’s markets, lovely music to dance too, great woodland to walk through, tree-climbing, slack-rope walking (or wobbling) and the evening fire display.

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And this was just what I had time and energy for this year. There was a whole range of other workshops and performances to enjoy, and I hope I’ll get to go back another year and enjoy even more.

I started my festival write-up with poetry, so I’m going to end with it – even if at a slant.

I mentioned the slack-rope wobbling (as in the video below). One thing I was aware of was how much the hesitation caused by fear and lack of confidence undermined what I was doing. I found balance and tried to hold onto it in stillness rather than being brave enough to step out into motion – thereby losing my muscle, energy, firm position etc before I’d even started.

This isn’t a new realisation to me. It’s one of the biggest things that holds me back with my climbing and bouldering too. But I know the same fear and lack of confidence also holds me back somewhat in nearly everything that I do – including writing. My conclusions? 1) Fight the fear and make the most of chances where, when and while I can, in full acceptance that experiments don’t always work but sometimes they do. (Success isn’t guaranteed but simply trying means the chances are higher – if I don’t write it/enter a competition/submit, there’s nothing to share/no way I can win it/have it accepted.) 2) Preparation is important – I could never have got onto the slackline in the first place if I hadn’t started by scoping out the lines and trees to find one where I could use the tree to get to the right height and then support my weight while I got into the right position to balance/attempt to walk. 3) Enjoy it simply for the fun/thrill of the experience itself!



I’m also very pleased to have the following poems/articles accepted for/coming up in: about writing voices on Created to Read (17 July, 2018), Heart (poem) on Ink, Sweat & Tears on 17 August 2018, about my writing journey on the The Literary Consultancy blog in September, about the A Tale of Two Cities Worcestershire poetry twinning project in the next Poetry News.

North, south, east, west, home’s best – or so it’s said. For me, home has actually always been where the heart is, so, by my age, spread across the globe! Joking aside though, I’ve never really had a geographical location that’s felt like my one and only home. I was born in the south, currently live in Worcestershire, with strong affinities for various reasons to both Wales and the North. I’ll blog more about this at some point later this year. The main reason for mentioning this now is that my poem ‘”On the eyelid of the north”‘ has been selected for a new living, growing, collaborative artwork-in-progress to celebrate 50 years of the Northern Poetry Library. The Poem of the North brings together the work of the fifty selected poets, in five cantos, published over a period of six months. By the end of 2018, the completed poem will stand as a celebratory artefact: a tribute to the region and acknowledgement of the North’s rich seam of writers and written culture. I’m not sure yet when my poem’s scheduled for, but you can find the poems so far here.

Reflections/poem biography for Oil and Water

oil & water

“the black spot is on our hands.”

Initial inspiration for this poem came not from the news, politics or environmental concerns but sheer appreciation of Earth’s beauty when viewed from above.

The opening details come from observations that I jotted down while on a plane back from Cork after I was chosen for the Coventry-Cork twin cities poets exchange. This trip to Ireland had made me think a great deal about history embedded in the land and, from the plane windows, I could imagine the world below set out in archaeological layers.

But it’s hard for me to write about landscape and nature without considering what is happening in terms of wars, pollution and environmental damage. The T.S. Eliot framework from The Waste Land, drawing on older Fisher King legend, seemed inevitable.

Around this time, I read a newspaper article on the effects of fracking in Texas. Fracking has always concerned me. Scientific figures about its safety may be cited, but statistics in politician’s hands often seem to be wielded like dangerous weapons. My common sense and instinct say that submitting the land to such immense pressure and not expecting it to have potentially drastic effects is folly. (I have seen documentaries on the possibilities of supervolcano eruptions in the Yellowstone Park and how far away the impacts of this might be felt. In a way, fracking feels like the physical, geographical equivalent of a panic attack – but on a worldwide tectonic-plate scale!)

Within these considerations, I chose to play with a shifting ‘they’ to explore the way modern western society seems to pass blame and avoid taking responsibility wherever possible. But ignoring the reality has to end somewhere, we cannot wash our hands of everything. Ultimately, it’s our world and we all have to play our part in it and the state we leave it in for future generations.

I’m also very grateful to James Byrne for his editorial suggestions when he accepted this poem for The Wolf magazine.

“The black spot is on our hands.”

“The black spot is on our hands.”

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Points

1) What contrasts are used in this poem and to what effect (history/current news, line lengths, punctuation/not…)?

2) Consider the different possibilities and restrictions offered by poetry as protest and poetry as a witnessing.

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Take a recent news story or current political situation that you’re not happy about. Are there any historical or literary precedents that brought to mind by the current state? In what way? What might happen if such a historic/literary character met his modern counterpart?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Endurance

“Stubborn roots draw up strength
from the land’s glacial inheritance.”

A matter of perspective Endurance smaller

As an adult, my gardens have never been landscaped lawns, weeded flowerbeds and neat paths. Mostly, they have been patches of land and grass where nature is allowed to do nature’s thing so long as it doesn’t impinge on foundations or safety.

When we lived in Lichfield, fox cubs used to visit. In our current Droitwich home, birds sing, grey squirrels play and blackberries thrive. We also had a one-metre tall dandelion.

I suspect this dandelion was forced to grow so high in order to get enough light for growth. As such, it became the inspiration for this poem about family heritage and nature set alongside man, both enduring.
The dandelion is now gone. The poem survived, but only after drastic pruning. I’m particularly indebted on this front to my masters portfolio tutor, Jean Sprackland, and to her suggestion that I take Ted Hughes’ ‘Thistles’ as an exemplar in expanding my initial inspiration.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

If you hadn’t just read about ‘Thistles’ as inspiration, could you have guessed this from the poem? How/why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Choose a plant from your garden/a nearby natural area. Start by simply observing and noting down what you see. Then research about it. How does the world look from the plant’s height/perspective? If it were a person, what kind of person? What human qualities might it embody/evoke? Imagine this plant now in an unexpected setting. How did it get there and why? What would a passer-by do or think if they suddenly stumbled upon it?

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

Reflections/poem biography for Snatches of the Rivers and Moors

A Glance

“In stubbled grass, stags arch.
Sparked clouds held high, patches
of sky hang from their antlers.”

The Hope Bourne Poetry Competition, run by the Exmoor Society, was an annual prize for poems featuring Exmoor. Although my parents have a place in Somerset, my visits to Exmoor as an adult were mainly around the Minehead area. When I decide to enter the 2012 competition, I had no personal memories to draw upon, so I started by researching on the Exmoor Society website.

This is the resulting poem. The three-line stanzas are all based on photos I found on the Exmoor Society website. The right-aligned two-line stanzas are an emotional response to them, with the aim of creating a poem that carries myth, landscape, and the peace and wonder of stepping back to admire nature in the area.

I love reading this poem aloud, and was delighted when it won second prize in that year’s competition.

Electric Questions - lit version smallerDiscussion Point

1) Do you recognise this form as similar to the structure used in ‘From Grasmere’? Do you hear the alternate stanzas as two different voices?

2) What sense of time do you have in this poem, and why?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Pick a landscape that you know well. Think about the people you associate with it. Take two of them, or imagine two fictional characters, and use a conversation between them to evoke the landscape. If writing a poem, try left aligning one voice and right aligning the other. If writing a story, use the conversation to imply a narrative as well as evoking the setting. 

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.


I’m very pleased to share another lovely review of How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press):

“​…Leavesley moves through a series of womanly speakers in a way that is both hard-hitting and memorable, making for a wonderful collection overall.

“The poems move from the personal and intimate – ‘Atomic’ – through to the universal – ‘Facts of/for/against survival’ – and with each stroke Leavesley contributes towards a well-rounded and cohesive image that holds the individual together as a whole…

“Leavesley’s work, while well-crafted and distinctive, is also packed with standout stanzas that stick with you long after the poems have been read through, and that is one of many reasons why her work is so (re-)readable.

This is a poignant and powerful collection overall, and it’s a fine addition to Leavesley’s growing catalogue of poetic achievements; a worthy investment for anyone looking for a good book to sink into this weekend.”

Charlotte Barnes, Mad Hatter Reviews, full review here.


My sequence From The Heart’s Diary published on Bonnie’s Crew here on 16 June 2018.

Poem Awkward Silence accepted for Marble.

Interviews and Events

Only four days now until An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses at Wolverhampton Artfsest, so earlier this week I had a quick chat about the event with Jason Forrest for his The Milk Bar podcast. This can be enjoyed here, with my fun ‘grilling’ about the event about 18 mins 35s through. The interview was also featured on 101.8 WCRfm, the Community Radio service for the City of Wolverhampton. (It can also be played through the embedded soundcloud track at the end of this blogpost.)

advert-collab-finalgrad2Thursday, June 28, University of Wolverhampton Artsfest – An Unconventional History of Maidenhood, Mothering and Mistresses

When: 28 June 2018 – 28 June 2018, 7.30pm

At: Tilstone, Arena Theatre, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton,West Midlands, WV1 1SE

Writers Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James draw on history, literature and art for their poems and narratives about women’s roles and experience in society – now and in the past.

Tickets: FREE – reserve your place at

Booking link:

Sunday, 22 July 2018 – V. Press showcase at this year’s Flash Fiction Festival at Trinity College, Bristol

For more information and to book tickets for the weekend-long festival, please visit the website here.

Thursday, 26 July 2018 – Motherhood, Birth and Women in Conflict – Waterstones, Leamington Spa

Waterstones are proud to introduce four critically acclaimed award-winning poets to share their versions of Motherhood through poems celebrating the strength, resilience, and both internal and external conflicts of the human spirit. These poems span honest portraits of everyday experiences of contemporary and historical mothering, the suppression and strength of British queens, and survivors of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Featuring Antony Owen, Katy Wareham Morris, Ruth Stacey and Sarah James.

Entry free. Signed copies available on night.

Time: 6.30pm-8pm.

Venue: Waterstones, Leamington Spa, 1 Warwick St, Leamington Spa CV32 4QG

Monday, August 20 – Tales Between the Ales night at The Two Towers Brewery, Birmingham

AT: The Two Towers Brewery, 29 Shadwell Street Birmingham B4 6HB

TIME: 7 -9.30pm.

Sarah will be reading at this night of themed poetry (and fiction) celebrating all things to do with the summer: myths, legends, folklore, mischief, magic, and/or personal remembrances etc, with a twist on the subject of summer. Other readers include Colin Ward, Stephen Maguire and Ray Bradnock.

Eventbrite link
Facebook link

Reflections/poem biography for Against Candlelight
Against 1 version 2

“As marbled wax melts, flickers
of unknown lives beckon
from fire’s hypnotic chaining.”

‘Against Candlelight’ is a poem that has several particular significances for me. It is typical of my use of the first person and it is the plenty-fish poem that went through the most changes post-submission of the collection to Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press.

In poetry, there seems to be a greater tendency for readers to link the ‘I’ of a poem to the writer, where they wouldn’t make that connection between a novelist and their first-person narrator. Perhaps because I wrote short fiction before I wrote poetry, I tend to use first person in a poem as I would in a short story. That is to say, I choose first, second or third person as a technique, because of the different relationships they can build with the reader, rather than as a choice of, for example, writing in a confessional style.

Over the years, I have written first-person poems in the voices of shells, seed-fern fossils, a barmaid mermaid and a grief-stricken father, amongst others. There is something of me in all of my poetry (in first, second and third-person narration) but few of my poems are fully autobiographical or confessional.
‘Against Candlelight’ is quite typical of my first-person poems in taking something from my life and then playing with it in a fictional way. The poem, then entitled Wicks, started life as observations of a candle on my desk. The wick had burnt down to nothing, so I had to use a piece of string as my makeshift wick in order to use it. Early versions of the poem had descriptions of the candle as magma and the wick as like roots threading down through cracked rock. Alongside these, I had various abstractions drawn from my brain’s metaphorical connections.

The poem being fairly newly written when I had to submit my full manuscript to Nine Arches, it was sent in this still unfinished state. I cringe about that slightly now. But it was a poem which I knew meant something to me, even as another part of my brain knew that I hadn’t yet quite worked out what that ‘something’ was. I don’t recall exactly what Jane said, but I know it was one of the poems that most needed work, and that her feedback really focussed my mind.

Against 1 version 1

The poem already contained the hypnotic nature of flames linking to past generations that have fire-gazed before us. The root connotations led naturally to similar thoughts, but were themselves too obvious. The poem also needed to lose some abstractions, then find some specifics that would help it connect and hopefully carry more emotional resonance.

The June 2014 version of ‘Against Candlelight’, then entitled Wicks.

The June 2014 version of ‘Against Candlelight’, then entitled Wicks.

Family trees seemed to be the answer. But this is where fiction mixes with reality. I’ve never researched my family tree. My mother has, and through her I know a little of our likely Welsh, German, Belgian…roots. For me though, it’s enough to feel that general sense of ancestry behind me. I’m more interested in how history lives on through the present, and general changes in society and attitudes over the centuries than my own specific family background. But this poem was a chance to explore some of the things that might be discovered in my or anyone’s family tree. And to think of the black sheep or family skeletons which could be revealed.

The poem ‘Against Candlelight’ that I sent back to Jane Commane in my revised manuscript was very different from the original ‘Wicks’. Later, in the final proofing stages of plenty-fish, the last amendment. The poem had finished with the line: “then pinch out its heat.” But I was aware that I had used a similar phrase in a poem in The Magnetic Diaries (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press). As I was writing about an unwed mother in ‘Against Candlelight’, the fact that “burn” is very similar to “bairn” seemed to provide the sadly appropriate final word: “then pinch out its burn.” 

(‘Against Candlelight’ in its final printed form is also a poem that usually shape-shifts when I read aloud to an audience. Its ellipsis, which is hard to signal clearly off the page, is replaced by ‘perhaps’ and extra emphasis added with an ‘All’ before ‘Bones’ at the start of the sixth stanza.)

against candle light smaller

Discussion Point

Compare the two versions of this poem. What has been done to improve it? Is there anything you would have changed differently?

Inspiration/Writing Prompt

Use either fire or stone as your theme. Draft a poem that is either all in very short lines (to create a wick shape) or in very long dense lines (creating a boulder shape). If you’d like more guiding structure, try to include the following words/ideas in your poem (perhaps one per stanza): crater, chaining, exist, makeshift, thief, feed.

plentyfish cover (1)At poetry readings, I often enjoy hearing about the background to a particular poem. ‘Wednesday Reflections/Sometimes I smile’ is my attempt to share the inspiration, frustrations, pain, philosophies and thoughts that lie behind my poetry collection ‘plenty-fish’. Each Wednesday, this blog will contain one of these ‘poem biographies’, as well as points for potential reader discussion and also writers’ prompts. My collection ‘plenty-fish’ may be bought from Nine Arches Press, here, or my website, here. More Wednesday Reflections on other poems in the collection can also be found here.

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