Friday, 16 July 2021

Talking poetry

So what's your poem about?                             Me

Isn't that a bit...egotistic?                                  If I don't write about me, who will?

Well, if you were worth writing about...                Everyone is worth...something.

Of course.                                                        Everyone has their own story to tell.

The personal crafted to be universal?                  What?

Nothing. Carry on.                                             No-one knows me like I do.

No, they know you as they do.                           Well, I want them to know my side.

So, what are you going to say?                          I'm going to say who I am.

You're going to be honest?                                 Not necessarily...not entirely.

But then, you're not really telling...                      Well...not everything.

But you said...                                                  Yes, but... it's complicated.

You want them to see the best of you?                Maybe... yes.

And who are these people?                                 Anyone, everyone.

Why should you care what they think?                 I don't know.

So what will it achieve?                                       At least I'll have connected with people.

Who you don't know.                                           But they'll know me.

Or your version of you.                                        What if I'm completely honest?

It'll still be your version.                                       But it will be me.

They may not see it that way.                              Why?    

Like I said, people see things their way.                So you're saying there's no point?

No. Just don't get your hopes up.                         But I want to be seen.

You could get out more.                                       But if I write it, it will last.

If it gets published, and even then...                      Well, at least I'll have written it.

For yourself?                                                       Yes.

But you said...                                                     Go away.

OK, just one more thing...                                    What? 

Who reads poetry anyway?                                      


Monday, 5 July 2021

Government statement

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets and The Oscillations

Jacqueline Saphra decided to chart her responses to the pandemic and lockdown in sonnet form. These responses are now published as One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets. She used a form she knew would give her structure and focus. It succeeds in giving a structure to the portrayal of a time where structures were collapsing and where we were all trying to find our way (and still are).

The sonnets look inwards and out, and, for me, express brilliantly the whole range of emotions and responses I have experienced. Some examples:

Sonnet XIX - the day to day - 'We do our best.'

Sonnet XXVII - all the things we thought we might do (were told that we could) - that didn't happen (like learning Cantonese and reading Plato!)

Sonnet XLVIII - the things we did/do and the veering between positive and negative - 'as we fall apart, reload, re-love, rewind.'

Sonnet LXIV - hope and despair, anger and fear - what can you do? 'get up, get clean, get dressed, get on with it.' 

Sonnet LXVIII - compassion and disconnection - 'you in your ocean, me in mine'.

Sonnet XCVII - how 'a tiny thing'  (a broken tooth and not being able to find a dentist) can shut out all thoughts but for yourself - and 'empathy, the world and all its suffering recede' - anger, loss of control. 'Who will fix my life?'

Sonnet C - 'we are not done'. 

There is humanity and humour throughout (and some very sharp anger). As someone still working out how to deal with it all, this has helped me to understand and accept my own experiences and feelings.


Kate Fox in The Oscillations also looks at the effects of the pandemic and the before/after worlds we are still trying to make sense of - the swings between despair and hope, sadness and anger and the attempts to bridge distances, to communicate, to feel less isolated.

In all the poems there is a real force to the emotions because they are not shouting - there is grief and anger and pain, but so subtly written. When they directly address the pandemic they confront the horror of it and then look for direction, for hope. For example, in Stump :

'So tell us again

about what always grows back


about slender shoots growing

from blasted stumps

green fishing rods into the future 

tender rebuttals to the torn out page

that used to be tomorrow.'

Many of the poems touch on neurodiversity and the different way the world is experienced by people with, for example, autism, which the poet has. There is a real thrill to poetry where we see the world differently through someone else's eyes, and through that, understand it better for ourselves. Now, more than ever, it helps us to connect with a world which is fragmented and, at times, very hard to navigate.


Both of these collections are from Nine Arches Press.

Monday, 10 May 2021


Over the last two weeks, blackbirds have been sky-scrapping over my garden throughout each day. One declares this is his territory, another enters, a chase ensues, then the fighting begins. It's spectacular to watch, but it has a relentlessness to it I've not seen before. I'm sure in the past one has given up, but not this time. Of course it may not be the same ones every time. I get the joy of having the winner singing from dawn to dusk anyway. 

It's things like this that keep me going at the moment. It may not have been obvious from my off-beat humour and joyful tweets, though possibly more so from my more negative poetry, that I've been suffering from anxiety and depression for some time now. And it too seems relentless. It's got worse in the last few months and I have sought help - which will kick in any month now, such is the demand for help at the moment. In the meantime, I veer from real lows to somewhat forced and very temporary highs.

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I've been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn't find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now - well, always, obviously. So I thought I'd try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I'll keep fighting.

Other moments that work : a robin or a dunnock drinking or splashing in the bird bowl, house sparrows trying to decide whether to keep the feather they've collected or eat from the feeders (feeder always wins), blue tits and great tits in food relays across the garden, a magpie on daily patrol for insects, or bringing in bread from somewhere else and dunking it in the bowl before eating, a kestrel hovering over the distant fields, or a rare low fly-over by a heron. And, of course:

blackbird's song at dawn,

nature's continuity,

blackbird's song at dusk




Tuesday, 20 April 2021


Woodpigeons don't coo, they woohoo,

over and over and over until

you wonder if you really do like birds.

Woodpigeons try and try and try

to make their twiggy nests

in places you don't want them.

Woodpigeons don't use the bowl

you put out - they trample through

your brand new water-feature.


Woodpigeons hunch on the open fence

in the freezing wind and rain

despite you providing shelter.


Woodpigeons perch on the gutters

and shit on the windows,

then fly off applauding themselves.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Poetry readings

Do you remember poetry readings where people gathered in a room, before everything went Zoom?

I've always had mixed feelings about poetry readings, and I hate Zoom. Poetry readings can be great and they can be terrible. Some poets can read their poems well and some can't. Sometimes people want to talk before and after the readings and are friendly and welcoming. Sometimes they just go off into their own huddles and ignore you if you're not part of that group. Sometimes they throw up fascinating characters.

I've just found this, which I jotted down about one such character shortly after the reading:


It's been the best of times,

the worst of times,

and I've taken myself off

to recover,

to reflect,

to write stuff

which even I can't categorise,

which just seems to flow out of me


from page to page,

each one of which

I throw over my shoulder

as I finish performing them.

And she did!

Friday, 5 March 2021

Normality will return

I posted this lament on Twitter a while back, but I felt the need to post it again today in light of the news of the 1% NHS pay offer. If this is all we can do for NHS workers, I fear for social care and for all those who need support. Sometimes it's hard to be positive.


Normality will return


And those who were undervalued before

will be undervalued again.

And those who were vulnerable before

will be vulnerable again.


And the things we vowed to remember

we will forget.

And the things we vowed to change

will be unchanged.


Normality will return

with all its inadequacies.

And more people will lose the fight.