Ward 35: Oncology

Posted: February 28, 2017 in Poetry
For Auntie Jenny
the room is like an airport
departure lounge
except we’re all dreading
what comes next
I guess a few might anticipate
the spreading of wings
but my faith crash-landed
in the Bermuda Triangle
two and a half decades back
some people have brought snacks
some stare through the TV screen
portal to a dimension where
none of this is happening
our group is trying to laugh
along with the people trying to joke
most of whom wear dressing gowns
the feisty eighty-two-year-old
whose treatment has her
spewing out innuendoes
the old guy with the worried wife
an empty space and a bag for life
to take home instead of a bladder
the long-haired guy with leg tattoos
hooked up to an IV drip
that buzzes like a text message
every four seconds
the temperature is too muggy
so we’ve opened two windows
onto the discovery that
the maternity ward is right below
and the irony of new life
being forced into the world
screams and grunts in pain
the feisty lady has to strain
to hear Emmerdale over it
my auntie’s sister has six kids
and yells down ‘go on, girl, PUSH!’
she tells us ‘it’s like having a big shit’
then takes her seat again
I wince at the storyline
on Emmerdale: the doctor
was fooling around
with a young lass
so some guy got a fake all-clear
but really he has testicular
C- word
‘the OTHER C-word’
cackles the eighty-two-year-old
‘although cancer IS a cunt!’
and then covers her mouth
it’s the first time
her face has shown
anything but mischief
‘sorry again
about your aunt’
the fish tank in the corner
is so vibrant with life
it hurts our eyes
those little guys make breathing
and motion look easy
hours pass
in this room and one other
and soon it is time
to say goodbye
it now resembles more
an airport entrance
since some of us get to
walk out
and go home
and the remainder have to face
their scary journeys alone
dressing gowns
instead of suitcases


Some excellent advice on submitting poetry to journals and contests (plus sympathy for us lit zine editors) from Jo Bell…

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog


[This article is now taught as part of the Open University’s Creative Writing MA, and I’ve had many many messages to tell me that people have increased their publication record, sometimes by 200% in a year.]

I’ve spent some time lately with poetry journal editors – and also with the poor beggars who, like me, send off work to them. It’s struck me anew that many people, especially those at the beginning of their writing career, don’t have much idea of how submission works and what time span is realistic for an editor to consider a poem. Also, they’re wondering how to keep tabs on the seventeen different pieces that they’ve sent out, in order to avoid the no-no of simultaneous submission.

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches me that the…

View original post 1,593 more words

New Year, Old Reflections

Posted: January 2, 2017 in Articles
I just found something I wrote in January 2007. Ten years on, and it still seems relevant; especially with the term ‘Oppression Olympics’ making the rounds.
Let’s not get in to a misery contest about who got a worse deal than whom. I’m tired of that crap. Pain and misery are subjective, as is time.
If the worst pain a person has ever experienced is giving birth, or all the bones in their legs shattering from a fall, then that will be their measuring stick for all future pain. Just like, if the worst pain a person has ever experienced is stubbing their toe, then that will be their measuring stick. They’ll be able to empathise with other people’s pains – like how we wince when TV characters take a bullet, whether or not we’ve experienced that ourselves –  but it will all fall into one of three categories: ‘as bad as stubbing my toe’, ‘worse than stubbing my toe’ or ‘not as bad as stubbing my toe’. It doesn’t mean that Man A who smashed his leg in a fall, can tell Man B who has stubbed his toe You don’t know what pain is. Man B has encountered the worst pain in his life (so far); it just happens to be a different brand of pain to that which Man A has been through.
Take time. We all race against the same 24-hour clock, right? However, some people may have a lot more to show for it at the end of the day than others do…and yet those others may feel they‘ve been equally as busy. Sometimes people ask me What are you doing tonight? and I reply Having a shower. If I’m tired because I’ve been at work all day or didn’t get much sleep, having a shower can seem like a time-consuming chore. But on that same day, a friend who also worked a full-time shift could get home, shower, type up a load of notes, go to football practise, get home  and make dinner for themselves  and four housemates, eat dinner, help out at a homeless shelter, go home and take another shower then head off clubbing. And not even consider it their busiest day! See what I mean about time being subjective?
Being human is predominantly a miserable experience. Let’s say we all agree on that, okay? It doesn’t matter whether you have to work twelve hours a day to keep the roof over your head, or you get a decent salary for ten minutes of smiling at cameras. Either way, there are aspects of life that still suck. One of them will get depressed about not having time to ponder the meaning of existence, while the other is going to be depressed due to having so much time on their hands, and end up paying huge therapy bills to be reassured that there is meaning to existence.
The same goes for misery and trauma. Whatever your worst experience, that’s your worst experience. Nobody can refute that.
It feels like the whole of western society is engaged in a constant misery contest, and I’d like it to stop. We won’t achieve anything as a species if we spend every interaction seeking out pity points. I pity us all: we’re human, therefore we are fellow sufferers of the Human Condition, and it’s a terrible thing.  There is something compelling about these contests, but I don’t want to get sucked into any of them. Yet by refusing to participate, by not playing any trump cards of my own, I’m left with no choice but to walk away and live with whatever assumptions the ‘winner’ wants to make about me. Sometimes I’ll write about my life, sometimes I won’t. Maybe I’ve skirted around the bad shit; maybe I’ve exaggerated it. You don’t know. You won’t know.
Accept that everyone around you – everyone you pass in the street, everyone you meet at a party, every person on every social media site – is suffering in some way, and maybe we can reduce all of this my-rape-was-worse-than-your-rape bollocks. Often when an online story deals with a shitty aspect of the writer’s life, or their character’s fictional life, it generates semi-autobiographical reviews. The contest starts; subtle, but it’s there. People are trying to top the fact that this person was beaten by his dad with a crowbar (or whatever) – come on, is that really what the writer needs to be hearing? Empathise, sure, but please don’t try to belittle their experience.
We’ve got to stop acting like having been abused is an exclusive condition to being able to relate to suffering. Just being here is suffering. We know this. Although creativity has been linked to things like neurosis and harsh childhoods, it doesn’t mean you’re required to have the definitive trauma scars in order to be a good writer…or a good person.

A Modern Parable

Posted: October 12, 2016 in Articles

Never take your eye off your beer. Especially not to Tweet about how much you like your beer (because irony tastes bitter)…


When you go to purchase a student bus pass, you have to show them the exact start and finish days of your degree. My MA in Writing lasts from 5th October 2015 to 5th October 2016. The student bus pass I was given went from September to July. Personally, I think they need to re-think bus passes for post-grad students, since our courses carry on over the whole summer. But ah well.
I’m pretty skint, so I considered not getting another bus pass to cover me over the summer. But then I thought, what if I need to go back and forth from uni a lot? That’s going to add up. So I bought a 2-month student pass.


£56 it cost me. I’ve travelled to uni only once since buying it.
That one return journey would have cost me £4 in tickets. So, if I want to get my money’s worth before this bus pass expires on Saturday, I need to make at least 13 return journeys over the next four days. If I want to be WINNING (and who we kidding, of course I do!), I need to take at least 27 buses over the next four days.
The good news is, I like writing and reading on buses. The bad news is I get lost easily, so I need to think this through. What do you reckon? Can I beat the buses…?


UPDATE: Nope, I did not beat the buses. I made sixteen bus journeys in two days but then had a few beers too many in Leamington with a friend,  misread the timetable, missed the last bus and had to get a taxi all the way back to Coventry. That set me back over £30. What a moron. Ah well.


Employee of the Century

Posted: June 1, 2016 in Poetry
he. does not.
precious. resources.
time. in the. staffroom.
consuming. sandwiches.
time. panicking.
how to. cover. up.
errors. does not. make. errors.
follows. the programme.
initiative. zero.
sick days. zero.
holidays. zero.
demands for. increase.
of pay. zero.
complaints. zero.
dedication. affirmed.
rate of. output.
is. standardised.
interpersonal. relations.                  doubtful.



Poetry Prompt: What Nobody Knows

Posted: May 31, 2016 in Poetry
Garage block
what nobody knew
except the kids
was round the back
of the garage block
existed another world
an assault                          course
on the imagination
we called it
The Adventure
new arrivals
on the estate
were put to the test
how willing?
how fast?
how nervous?
could they hurdle
paving slab gravestone
jutting from the ground
like a single fang
would the stained mattress
have to break their fall
shifting floor
littered with
restless stones
beer cans
discarded packaging
did the overgrown gate lead
would they dare
to scale
its rusted heights
would they believe
the shed snakeskin
was a shed snakeskin
(none of us were sure)
and run faster
just in case
(none of us went
Adventuring at night
just in case)
behind the garage block
was shaded dark enough
on sunlit days
to ignore the gardens
lining the other side
belonging to people
who lived in houses
they could afford to own
another world
beyond our world