Category Archives: Poems

Sentinel Champions Stories #1 – Miles Salter

In July 2009, Sentinel Literary Quarterly launched a new poetry competition series. It was fiercely contested. Judged by Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie, Miles Salter (then writing as Miles Cain) emerged winner of the first and second prizes with “Coffee” and “Enemy Funeral” respectively.

Of ‘Coffee’ and ‘Enemy Funeral’ Willoughby and Beagrie wrote in the adjudication report; “…we were both deeply impressed by the way “Coffee” makes new a well visited theme that is sadly all too contemporary, the control of its language, the personalisation of the universal, its emotional impact and the social punch that it packs as a poem. Similarly we were able to pick out “Enemy Funeral” next – its specific intensity of imagery, its movement and precision of editing, the fact that it has immediate relevance but maintains a sense of timelessness – it would be recognisable to a participant or observer of any modern war but it still has the feeling of a lived moment.”

“Coffee” and “Enemy Funeral” were published in Champion Poems #1


Lip to neck and arse by thigh,
we almost choked on each other,
our breath ferocious in a war
to stay human.
I was starving for home.

The smells stayed immobile
in groaning air. Human debris
and the reek of coffee.

We murmured in darkness,
creaked with the timbers,
craved a hard breeze.
When they let us on deck
we filled it like flies
at the eye of a horse.
Tongues swollen,
eyes shrunk,
the waves were tempting.

After docking,
we were shoved, bossed,
dressed up, starched.

Groomed for parlours,
we stood in shadowed rooms,
kept tight in cuffs and collars.
I waited near tables,
poured coffee
into pale cups and thought
of skin and coins.

I served it with silver spoons to
giggling ladies
with small and pretty eyes.
I saw the floor,
remembered my fine brother,
his bold face. His big hands.
I thought of winds twitching at the shore,
the heat in the plantation,
the sun on bare leaves.
The distance between
covered truth and blinding sorrow.
Who fetches coffee
and who drinks it.


After the planes had gone,
and the supply trucks skidded north
towards the city,
we arrived and gathered what remained
amongst the charcoal and ash,
cradled them in our arms,
and pushed them into a neat pile.

The sergeant swamped fixed mouths
and bleached navels
with gasoline,
spat and flipped his lighter.

We shuffled back a little
as eyeballs clicked and bones boomed.
Otherwise, they kept quiet.

We were grateful for the pure heat
of the desert afternoon.
With some of the ashes that remained
the sergeant brewed coffee
and we passed a cup around.

We licked our lips
and looked at the horizon.
There were piles like this one in the distance –
bent spirals of smoke
marking a border of a kind.

Miles Salter writes fiction, journalism and poetry. He has written for english newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent and Daily Telegraph. His first book, A Song For Nicky Moon, was published in 2010 and shortlisted for The Times / Chicken House children’s writing award. His poetry collections include The Border and Animals – both published by Valley Press. He also worked on a series of picture books for a research project by Queen Mary University London. His latest book for children is Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure, published by Caboodle Books in 2015. His latest poetry book Fix was published in 2020. Miles is visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University and is Director of York Literature Festival. He likes Marmite, early Bruce Springsteen albums and Philip Larkin’s poetry. Find out more at and follow him on Twitter: @MilesWrites.

Rachel Long (Photo: Amaal Said)

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (October 2021)

For original, previously unpublished poems in English language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long.

Prizes: £250, £125, £75, 3 x £30, 3 x £20, and 3 x £10.

Learn more and enter competition.

Donzo – A Poem (written on the back of a disability allowance rejection letter)

There are some things I’ve realised in 20 something years
such as
whales are bigger than
any other thing in the universe
that is smaller than a whale.
there are few things dirtier
than a dung beetle’s Christmas list,
perhaps other than the adult mind
or shoes at festivals.
In contrast to this,
there is nothing cleaner
than a heart of pure gold,
filled with Good Intentions
and nothing as rare.
There is nothing funnier
than a silly mistake
(of which I am very (prome) prone).
And sometimes,
there is no-one wiser
than a class clown,
and nothing lesser-spotted than their frown.
In fact,
there is no-one more critical
than oneself
(or myself,
and both of our mothers).
I think that
there is nothing more abstract
than absolute certainty –
(or was it clarity?) –
and there is something quite intimidating
about what’s in-between.
there is something quite admirable
about the perseverance of mould,
and nothing is younger than
someone learning what it means to grow old.

A Poem (written on the back of a disability allowance rejection letter) by Donzo received a special mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2021) judged by Paul McDonald.

Donzo is a 20 year old Irish artist who has recently entered the poetry scene. They enjoy creating art in many different forms through music, painting, and writing. “A Poem (written on the back of a disability allowance rejection letter)” is their first poem. 

Christopher Taylor – On My Return


If I have been away beyond the burn,
if you blinked twice and didn’t see me go,
examine me for change on my return.

Through forests damp, on moss and branch I turn,
not flinching at the croak of beady crow,
if I have been away beyond the burn.

Across the moor, past each unrolling fern,
I come to you in the first dust of snow;
examine me for change on my return.

While surfacing to daylight, I discern,
in that dark water, voices who would know
if I have been away beyond the burn.

The heavy earth, the frigid air, the churn
of slanting sun, the blinding evening’s glow
examine me for change on my return.

We family around our campfire learn
to watch for strangers in the shadows, so
if I have been away beyond the burn,
examine me for change on my return.

‘On My Return’ by Christopher Taylor received a special mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2021) judged by Paul McDonald.

Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor grew up in Northumberland and has lived in various parts of England, Africa and Asia. He works as a freelance applied mathematician. In his spare time he likes to go hiking, read novels and play the guitar. He currently divides his time between Devon and Taiwan.