Sarah James – The Mermaid with the 12m Tail

The Mermaid with a 12m Tail 
Landlocked near Keele, a naked mermaid 
is perched on top of a white lorry trailer – 
the M6’s equivalent of a smooth wet rock. 
Passing too fast, I’ve no idea what she’s meant 
to advertise with her plastic pose, only  
the weird impression of a trailer as her tail. 
And the other trailers? Those creatures beached-up 
in shadowed laybys, their guts spilled open, 
like Jonah’s whale but no sign of the girls 
trafficked across borders, ports, oceans… 
Does it feel like hope, this land  
of petrol fumes, unpaid work and bartered flesh? 
The naked mannequin sits in silence on her lorry.

Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Author of seven poetry titles, two novellas and a touring poetry-play, she has poetry featured in the Guardian, Financial Times, Bloodaxe anthologies and The Forward Book of Poetry 2016. She was Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015 and her recent titles How to Grow Matches(Against the Grain Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015) were both shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Award. Her website is at

Sarah James – Cut-Throat Pirates

Cut-throat Pirates

The boy brandishes his cutlass with a smile.
On the beaches Cornish pirates once haunted,
Lego explorers keep their eyes to the sand
for bright treasure.

After any high tide, the awe of a new shoreline.
Here, a red daisy in the bladderwrack,
small dragons on the rocks, spear guns in shingle –
washed-up adventures.

Seventeen years since Tokio Express floundered;
still, its ghosts carried in with the currents.
Of 62 containers belched out by this metal whale,
one survived –

4.8 million Lego pieces unboxed by the waves.
Tossed, flung, drifted as flotsam. At last, rehomed.
Yet all pirate tales have a dark edge – the tally
of that day’s lost cargo:

thousands of octopuses and rigging nets, half a million flippers,
life preservers, TimeCruisers and pirate toy kits…
but no one knows how many choughs, kittiwakes and herring gulls
poisoned by swallowed plastic.

The boy and his friends salvage this wreckage.

Sarah James, poet and short story writer: website at & V. Press, poetry editor.

Be[yond] – poetry collection now out with Knives, Forks and Spoons Press (July 2013).
Into the Yell – poetry collection, Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010 – third prize, International Rubery Book Awards 2011.

Sarah James – Summit


How many protesters does it take
to change a global light bulb? Let’s see.

Gathering force at Point Lay, walrus
drag themselves onto an Alaskan beach.

No ice edge to ride in shallow Chukchi;
these mammals almost too tired to dive.

Thirty-five thousand raise tusks skywards
as their old platform recedes north,

leaving them bald water and a new ledge –
over a two-mile drop of Arctic Ocean.

Too far down to seabed clams; hunger gnaws.
I see our shelves bared of food for our children,

their eyes sunk to shadow, chests shrunk
to rib cage, each heartbeat forced across skin,

crowds crushing stores, explosions of glass,
anger, knives…houses looted, feared husks

left behind, leaving… More home thaws;
the walrus mass instead on the nearest shores.

This was written in response to the latest warning sign of global warming. Retreating sea ice has caused walrus to mass on the coast of north-west Alaska ( ).

Sarah James, poet and short story writer: website at & V. Press, poetry editor. 
Be[yond] – poetry collection now out with Knives, Forks and Spoons Press (July 2013).
Into the Yell – poetry collection, Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010 – third prize, International Rubery Book Awards 2011.