How to Grow with award cropped

How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press, March 2018)
Price £5

SHORTLISTED in the poetry category of the INTERNATIONAL RUBERY BOOK AWARDS 2018!!!

FINALIST in the internationalEyelands Book Awards 2019!

‘His Secret Daughter’ from How to Grow Matches is Carol Rumens’s Guardian Poem of the Week

How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press, 2018) is October 2018’s featured publication (with four sample poems) at Atrium.

‘What immediately strikes me in Leavesley’s poetry is that sense of being spoken to directly, forcefully. The anger – at impossible advice, at the hidden and neglected work, at mere survival against the odds – is always balanced with craft and an impeccable sense of timing, and a vision which ranges from the orchestra pit to the research laboratory, via geopolitics, extinction and the recurring nested image of the matryoshka doll. An essential pamphlet.’
– Luke Kennard

‘Uncomfortable, powerful, and compelling, these poems demand to be read. And to read them is to ride a discomfiting turbulent current expressed in images of clocks with disparate rhythms, clouds that dissolve into “dark angels of rain”, piles of spent matches that might make a bonfire. And burning is what these poems do: searing through skilfully controlled anger at the invisibility of women, their lack of a powerful role model to follow, they are ready to burst into flame, urging women to “reclaim their share”.’
– Gill McEvoy

The pamphlet is available from the Against The Grain Press shop here!!!

It can also be ordered from the Poetry Book Society here.


‘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 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.

“…each piece finds her opening the floodgates at a precise moment, her delicately controlled releases of anger bringing about effects many miles downstream.

“…Anger often implies and involves the loss of control, but S.A. Leavesley shows that its impact is actually far greater when used with a deft touch. How to Grow Matches is an excellent pamphlet…”
Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands, full review here

“Striking and direct, How To Grow Matches is a powerful addition to S.A. Leavesley’s impressive collection of poetic works and novellas. Her poetry commands attention through carefully crafted rhythm and assonance, and evocative imagery. […]Ultimately, Leavesley’s poetic talent is not one to be missed. An essential exploration of gender politics, this pamphlet is a spectacular, evocative read that inspires us towards a better world.” Orla Davey, DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts), full review here

“From the off, I have to say that I am a big fan of S.A. Leavesley, finding her work consistently brave and challenging in all the right ways, with a forensic ability to turn all of your preconceptions on their head with a single syllable. There are quite literally no throwaway or wasted words in this collection, with every one of them considered and placed precisely to engender exactly the response, emotionally, intellectually, that the author requires.

“This is powerful stuff, but it is Leavesley’s ability to use the form of the pamphlet as part of the work that is particularly impressive.”
Mark Davidson, A Restricted View From Under The Hedge.

“​…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.

“…Leavesley wields her power with the tightly controlled precision of surgeon. Each poem seems to spark and crackle with energy and not a line is out of place. I am reminded of Carol Ann Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife, as Leavesley tells and retells stories of old paintings, unknown female perspectives on political events and characters forgotten by history, continually harkening back to the fairy tales and mythology. Yet despite these old themes, this collection has a modern relevance…

How to Grow Matches is a raging flare in the dark that commands our attention and refuses to be put out.”
Amy Deakin, The Feminist Library, the full review can be found here.

“Leavesley’s poems challenge each of us to choose our paths in life with care, and courage — and to treat our fellow human beings with compassion and respect…These are polished, intelligent poems. Five stars.”
E.E. Nobbs, Goodreads, the full review here.

‘This collection looks at everywoman through myths, legends, art and the everyday such as shopping lists. It looks at timeless, classical women and those who post selfies on social media. It refuses to define a woman by her status as a mother or singledom. The title poem is timely for the #MeToo era, starting with an instruction to take a match…

‘“How to Grow Matches” is a timely pamphlet that explores the roles and expectations foisted on women along the with reams of unsolicited advice which also restricts and places limitations on women. The pamphlet also looks at women in story-telling and myths. The poems highlight without complaining and touch on potential role models, enabling women to move from victimhood to survivors who can take control.’
Emma Lee, the full review with wonderfully detailed analysis of several poems in the pamphlet can be found here.

“Vivid and jarring, the 24 poems in this collection delve into the cultural constraints attached to “your office / as a woman.” While many of the pieces focus on a speaker’s growing dissatisfaction with a romantic partnership, other factors—such as family ties and consumer culture—are also probed for the way they influence contemporary women’s self-awareness…

“…although the amusing piece “All the women left” imagines the sudden absence of women at a concert as an emblem for unappreciated female power, these poems in general depict women’s unfinished struggles against unhealthy expectations.”

Jayne Marek, The Lake, the full review, including detailed analysis of some of the poems and themes can be found here

“This is a poet who most of the time avoids the first person and slips more readily into second-person mode, the kind of ‘you’ the reader can easily identify with. […] More unusually, words themselves, and their complex sounds (S. A. Leavesley is exceptionally sensitive to sound), become their own metaphor. They are dangerously alive and can be active barriers to communication, especially in the context of love.”

Helena Nelson, Sphinx/OPOI (One Point of Interest), full review here.


The Against The Grain Press launch of How to Grow Matches was at Poetry Cafe, London on Saturday, March 31. This was followed by a local launch on Saturday, 19 May at Park’s Cafe, Droitwich – How to Grow Matches – A Live Lit Celebration .


Sarah’s essay/article, Can you hear her, me, us?, on some of the inspiration and motivation behind each poem in How to Grow Matches can also be found on Against The Grain Press here.

How to Grow Matches London launch 2


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: