Winter reading

Just before Christmas I read some more poems at Karamel in Wood Green. The poems were inspired by Jehane Markham’s Poetry In Colour course, part of the Haringey Literature Live programme co-ordinated by Kate Pemberton of Ambit magazine.

Red Woman On A Pink Bed came from a painting by Anne Rothenstein.



I am tipping

like the flower heads

enjoying my own curves

touching with palm frond fingers


Sensation starts silver

melts through pinks and sapphires

into red


My bed

doesn’t contain me

I drape above

propped only by myself

I love the petal smoothness of my shape

I love its dense intensity


After the painting

after the still moment

I will rumple

I will burn


First poetry reading

On Thursday night I stood up in front of an audience and read some of my poems for the first time. I was in great company – fellow poetry students and established poets Lisa Kelly and Graham Clifford – but it’s a while since I’ve read any of my work in public and I’d forgotten how precious a warm reception is.

It made me think about Marty, one of Tidings’ two narrators, the singer in a band who worries about not being able to follow through on the promises of freedom his music makes to his fans.

But perhaps he shouldn’t have stressed so much. Maybe it’s not about giving and taking away. Maybe it’s about creating resonances, reminders of what’s already there.


Where is the fireman?
He has gone back for water
Putting out the flames
Will take more than this this time
He will need love, and pity

Pouring words like milk
Softly coat the wounds
Touching hands as friends
Our flaming minds, our raw hearts
These are now what catches fire


orange yellow glow
fire buried deep under gold
love long laid, now lit

Poems and guides

I’ve just come to the end of a short poetry course – Memory, Myth, Movement – led by Jehane Markham.

Horses featured large as we explored poems by American and Russian poets and were inspired to write lots of our own. Here’s one of mine:


Horsehead down
I don’t know who you are

Your hooves wear nails
and shoes like metal smiles

Your teeth disgust me
I hate the place they join your gum

Life is so monstrously

I read that each whisker
has a nerve path to your brain

Makes me want to pull one out
pain means we’re alive, yes?

You’ve come to ride me
dark into the middle of my night

But you are beast, I shout
and I am my own burden

Don’t let me in
however tightly on I cling

Negotiating life’s trickier days (months/years…) it seems helpful to find role models, people who’ve discovered ways to find their own ways onwards. Thanks Jehane; and for the lift home.

New poems

Ink, Sweat & Tears is publishing one of my poems on Friday 19 July. Thank you to Helen Ivory at I, S & T for all the good work and inspiring me to add a few of the latest here.

Girls and boys

Why do I turn into a little girl
whenever I see you?
I feel myself in big skirts
all glances over my shoulder


I hate to turn so late into a tease

Or is it that you take me back to
when we played at adults
pretending we could skip the crap
and keep it pure?

Here’s what I think it means

When you share a vision
hold onto it
because the others really do
want to grow up

and the ones that don’t


but for a dark velvet memory
when a woman comes back
tossing her skirt like a girl


Notes for a green and blue poem

Rain on bare arms
In my memory
you are greens and blues
a sea sense
that it will all be alright



I could see the fire
beneath the frost of your gaze
but couldn’t understand
why it licked through your lashes
only as a weapon
men adored as they ran away

Then I saw you
up to the hem of your dress in snow
the moment your childhood petrified
your baby brother locked
beneath the ice
and all transfigured.


Anorexia Oh Yeah

It starts like a song
an unfamiliar heartful of notes
that beckons then begins
to bewitch

By maybe the third play
you’re seduced by the riff
and the lyrics are sticking

You feel like white light
on stage only you
out of reach, beyond touch

This is my protest song
My words of foodless purity

And its adult orientated chorus
– all screaming guitar and
second skin trousers –

I will not grow into you
I will not grow into you

Repeat to fade



She moves like pins
in pain
each steel touch
a shock

A puppet with metal bones
magnetized to herself
making sparks
that never ignite

Pigeon Poetry

I’ve been enjoying trying to get better at poetry. It seems to me that you can get better quite quickly in this form. Changing one word, or a line break, can have a transformative effect on the whole. But there’s getting better, and there’s being very good…and there’s also knowing why you’re doing something in the first place.

Ted Hughes offered a ‘why’ that resonates: The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world.

I’ll take that ‘why’, for now. Till I find a happier one.

A Wing And A Prayer

It seems to be plastic at first
some kind of toy or bird scarer
like the stone storks that permanently
drink from garden ponds.

It moved! my son squeals.
Ten types of horror.
A pigeon is sitting on the back door step
paralysed, but winking.

The cat gives it a wide berth
pretending to be innocent of the sprayed
white feathers fluttering and
failing to escape the lawn.

We can’t have a pigeon in the house.
Flapping in my face
its beak in my eyes
wings trying to break the ceiling.

(What kind of dark childhood place
brews fears like these?)

The eye winks again.
Half its pigeon backside is fluffy like a chick’s
feathers plucked by another species
which wasn’t even hungry.

It shunts its tail painfully sideways
away from the drain, revealing
a pile of bird shit panic.
Bring it in, the phone voice says, wearily.

I ask our neighbour to come and pick it up.
We watch from the other side of the
closed glass door.
My son seems impressed I have a plan.

Our neighbour, a doctor, jokes about throttling
nuisance birds on his allotment.
His wife says Oh, it’s a wood pigeon!
There might be babies…

Ignominiously housed in our cat basket
we take the lopsided bird to the vet
over the railway bridge, the closest it will ever
come again to sky.

It’s a bit wobbly, says the vet’s assistant.
My son needs to use the loo.
Later, when we go back to collect the
basket, I have to ask.

‘It didn’t make it,’ she says, her eyes elsewhere.
I make practical noises to my little boy.
Afterwards, as we walk on the heath, he suggests
‘Maybe when we die, we come back as new people…’

And I look down at his face
his eyes bright with life and fear

And I remember the bird
shining with shock and the understanding
that in our hands was its ending.