from Flow 

The sun is a puppeteer,
stretching the shadows along the day.
They enter the river,
hover like harriers over shimmering reeds.
If the evening fades golden they fold into feathers.
First wings of egrets then black doves of dreams.
When the wind is enraged they huddle like wrens.
Then in the morning the parting of ways.
Some to be gnomons, some to be glades.


Long quiet here, secluded, safe.
The river has tolerated, sheltered,
Long been their second home.

It was not the river’s fault.
It was the rain; it was the wind.
It was not their fault either.
It was the spin of the earth.
It was the Big Bang.

But the rain fell. The river swelled.
Then the invasion. The run on the bank.
The nest eggs washed away.

The sand martins leave.
No pianos on carts.
They just leave.
They have seen it before.
They may not return.


Retirement now.
Slow blood
through delta veins.
Long earned,
short right to digress.
And then the sea.
‘The mouth’, we say?
It’s been talking
since spring.

Words by Phil Madden; images by Paul L. Kershaw

There is just time to enter the Poetry Centre’s International Poetry Competition – it closes for entries today (14 September) at 23.00 BST! Our judge this year is the Forward Prize-winning poet Fiona Benson, and as always, we have two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. The winners receive £1,000, with £200 for the runners up. For more details and to enter, visit our website.   

Text is copyright © Phil Madden and images copyright © Paul L. Kershaw, 2020. It is reprinted from Flow (Grapho Editions, 2020) by permission of the author and illustrator. For more details and to see additional images from the book, visit this page.

Notes from Grapho Editions:

These excerpts from the beginning, middle, and end of the book are from Flow, the fifth collaboration between poet Phil Madden and Paul L. Kershaw, printmaker and printer. Phil and Paul have won a number of awards for their books, including the Judges’ Choice Award at the Oxford International Fine Press Fair.

Through a series of words and images set across the open spread, Flow explores ideas around the movement of water, from estuary to spring. The poems have been written over recent years but not with any specific intention of them being part of a collection. They have been gathered together as the project developed and the idea of upstream progress became central. The images are a mix of the representational and abstract and are relief prints. Occasional small wood engravings combine with much larger shapes and textures. The book has been printed using an Albion press and a cylinder press. There are 50 copies in the edition and it is available to buy.

You can find out more about the book on Paul’s website, where you can also learn more about Phil and Paul’s ongoing collaboration.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.