A Story

Read this and weep. Or take to the streets.

Roy Marshall

This morning the UK Secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt has stated that the Chancellor will not grant a pay rise for nursing staff unless the NHS becomes more productive.  It is unclear to me how the productivity of the NHS is linked to pay of nursing staff. As a response I am posting my short story, Late, which covers a few hours in the life of a newly qualified nurse on a coronary care unit. Late was  previously published in Bare Fiction magazine and highly commended in their 2015 Fiction prize.


I love you even though I have a blood bag in one hand and a drip stand in the other and I should be concentrating on explaining the need for a transfusion to my patient who tells me he didn’t understand a word the doctor said. I’ve got to check the details on the bag against his notes…

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Clear vision, and a Polished Gem : Judith Willson



We’ve been on Skye, as we have for 30 years at the end of October (and in a good year, the end of March). The first time I went I made no sense of it. It was too big, too extreme, too wild, too wet. Too much. Over the years it’s changed…by which I mean that I’ve changed. I’ve learned to look, to let it be.

As you learn to look, it all rapidly becomes not featureless at all. You rely on a rock outcrop to give you a rough line on where you’re going. You learn to avoid the bright green bits. And faced with a quarter of a mile of what looks like wet, boggy land that you can’t go round, you learn to see that sheep (and deer) being intelligent and helpful creatures, as well as creatures of habit, have made paths through the tussocky, reedy stuff. If the sun’s in your eyes, you can’t see them easily, but otherwise they’re clear. I’ve learned to love sheep tracks, not only for showing me the way across flat wet stuff, but over becks and burns in deep cut gullies and ghylls. Look for the bruise in the bracken, or the shine of small stones, and sooner or later you’ll find that they’ll take you to the spot where it’s easiest to cross running water, and the way up the other side. And they’ll take you to sheltered spots, too. Stands of silver birch and rowan, with a bit of turf to sit on. Desire paths. That’s what sheep make.


What I’ve never noticed (or acknowledged) till this year is the sensory overload. My partner, Flo, who’s a painter, can be thrown by the prodigality of the light, its changeableness, but at least she’s working in the right medium. I’ve realised that despite taking all my notebooks and all my good intentions, I can’t write poems for toffee when I’m there. It’s as though the visual cortex takes over, trying to deal with the extravagance of scale and texture and distance…the sheer excitement of everything you look at, the speed at which images change, and the shifts of perspective and composition for every 10 or 20 metres you make up a hillside. The way you can be stopped in your tracks by coming across red deer in a stand of birches, or the line of a gull’s flight on the wind over Loch Eishort, or a sudden blaze of light coming aslant across Bla Bheinn, or……

The thing is, at the time, there’s no room for words, and later, too much that you decide has already been said, especially by Norman MacCaig and Sorley McLean. The bit of my brain that deals with words has turned to mush, and the rest of it is concentrated on weather and route finding, and trying to ignore the fact that one ankle has equally turned to mush, and that I can’t walk as far as I could or as far as I’d like. I can’t get enough of Skye, and at any given moment it will always be too much. That’s how it is, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a scintilla of it. Because it surprises, always. Take the  odd image at the top of the page. I’ve passed it scores of times, but a big squall off the loch stopped me by it and I looked for the first time. It’s the skeleton of something piscine that apparently would come inshore to browse on whelks. Sometime in the 19thC this one got itself stranded. I don’t want to do anything about it. I’m just glad I actually saw it. Just as it’s lovely to be not quite sure of where you are, and to come over a moor top and find a familiar road shining like a silver river.


Which, one way or another, bring us to today’s guest, because here’s a poet who reminds me that there’s clarity and quiet and precision to be had in poetry. You just need to learn to wait. And learn a craft.

I met Judith Willson for the first time at one of the Monday night workshop session at the Albert Poets in Huddersfield (regular readers may become fed up of reading this particular line, but it’s unavoidable) and was immediately taken by two things. One was the precision she brings to her writing. There is a precise craft that is also fluent, never stiff or artificial. It’s that kind. The other thing was the sensory quality..texture, light, shape, space. Painterly and musical. I think the first poem I remember workshopping with her was this one that appeared in The Rialto later….it was the title and the first stanza that nailed it.

Julie’s boat is in the field behind my house

A gale’s punched the sheets on the line all day, now they’re fighting out of my arms
to get back to the brawl and there’s Julie’s boat on the crest of the field
goose-winging into the slap of rain, prow sheering high
over a hawthorn reef.

There’s a detailed critique of the whole poem that does more justice to the writing than I think I can. Here’s the link.


At which point you might leave the cobweb and forget to come back. Of course, if you do, you’ll be missing more lovely writing. Let’s meet Judith, shall we?

Judith was born in London and grew up in Manchester. She now lives in a village near Hebden Bridge. She spent some years as an English teacher, but most of her career has been spent in book and journal publishing, initially as a freelance copyeditor, then in a series of in-house editorial and production roles.


She’s been very generous with her time and work, and I like the synergy of my coming home with my mind full of blurred edges and morphing sensory images to what Judith says about her writing:

I am interested in blurred edges and porous borders: the illusory doubleness of reflections and repetitions; estuaries that are both / neither land and sea. Places where boundaries between past and present are thin and unstable, their meanings constantly remade. Short-sighted since early childhood, I have always been fascinated by optical tricks and illusions, the slipperiness of what we think we see. You can make the world wobble like stage scenery if you tilt your glasses; a new lens prescription will make a startling difference to how you perceive contours and distances in the short interval before your eyes adapt. Much of what I write seems to return to ‘seeing’ as transformation and interpretation.

And then there’s language. I don’t have any special linguistic skills, but in hindsight I think one of the most useful steps I ever took towards becoming a writer was to slog away for two years trying to learn Arabic. Sadly, I hardly remember any of it now, but what has stayed with me is the impact of entering a language whose fabric was so radically unlike any European language I was familiar with. It was a new lens. I like poems that have the textures of other languages in them, and the unsettling effect that a translated poem can have when nothing in the language feels inevitable. I occasionally try translating poems, usually when I don’t feel I have much to write about. It’s the best way I know of refocusing my attention on language and form.

I’m fascinated by borders in a quite literal way, too. The wonderful poet Roy Fisher wrote ‘Birmingham’s what I think with.’ I have never written from that sort of identification with a place, although I admire many poets who do. I am drawn to write about places that aren’t ‘home’: transits, places where languages and cultures rub against each other. Border cities, ports, outposts. Or lost places made strange by memory, imprinted with the layered traces of what has passed across them.

These are ideas that I think I will be exploring further. At the moment I’m drifting in post-book slack water. Two sequences are at a very tentative, doodling stage. One has a working title ‘Translations of the word after from languages I do not speak’. I’m beginning to think about how to write a kind of irrecoverable narrative full of traces, glimpses and fragments. It could just evaporate (appropriately enough) or develop into something else.



  1. 2/5

The alchemy of circumstance and chemistry in five photographs


Tacita Dean’s Blind Pan’


[Exile, no sun]

This is a photograph of twenty years. There are no people

in it, and no shadows. He carries this famine

on his back; he carries his country in his mouth

and it has no word in it for home, no proverb of forgetting.



[Antigone leading, dark clouds]

Walking under rain. Who was your father? Gunfire in villages,

dogs at the gates. What does her voice look like?

Like the weight of her coat. Like bread. Like Take my hand,

walk in my footsteps. No. Who was your father? Like rain.



[Furies, ‘your steps are dark’]

Forests run howling for water; air shredded, wingbeats.

She cannot look into the burning, curls under herself

as if she were unborn. Walk in my footsteps. Her hand.

He leads her over the border, into dark, out of sight.



[Colonus, just out of frame]

Halting. Halt where a spring overflowing a basin

returns his face to him in silver and sunlight slipping over the brim

through wet, open hands. He sees the place when he knows it.

No one can look directly at the sun.



[Light. End here]

It begins, no way back, in a dark room, something taking

the imprint of light. In this photograph are constellations,

musics, scribbled maps; our chancy travel across peopled time.

And there is no exposure long enough to make this visible.




‘The alchemy of circumstance and chemistry in five photographs’ is a response to a set of five photographs that make up Tacita Dean’s ‘Blind Pan’. Dean’s title alludes to a panning shot, to the blindness of Oedipus, perhaps to the fact that the photographs seem almost empty of content – just five black and white photographs of a featureless moorland. Dean has over-written the photographs with instructions, as if the photographs were a storyboard for a film about Oedipus and his daughter, in exile, travelling across the landscape to Oedipus’ death. The viewer, looking from left to right across the five frames, creates the imagined journey. The poem’s form and language echo the five stills of the artwork. I wanted to create spaces a reader could move through without a context being over-specified. In each stanza there is a blind place, a negation, an invisibility but also, I hope, a dark room where images take shape.

  1. 3/5




We cross the garden: late sun, evening’s slack tide.

He is remembering woods below San Pietro, the ragged end of a war.

Soldier and red-cloaked shepherd meeting on the road,

the old man calling his dog, waiting in the white road.

He watches how it goes on happening, the time it takes

to wade knee-deep in dazzle

towards the soft chalk curve between the trees.

The red cloak burned in his eyes. His hand, unsure.


He says, If a person walking raises his hand

he sees the shadow of each finger doubled.


Trees slide down to lap us, attentive to our solitudes

until the hollow dark is filled with memory of light –

fluorescence, phosphor glow, poppies’ slow burn.

Ghostlights to guide our double-going.


‘Noctilucent’ is a scientific term meaning ‘night-shining’, used of flowers, for example, that glow in the dark. The poem evolved very slowly. I first drafted it as a retelling of an incident that had been told to me. It wasn’t a story that had any point or consequence; it was just a meeting that lasted minutes, which had been remembered for sixty years. Early drafts struggled with this. I couldn’t see how the poem could go anywhere. I invented and padded, then did too much research. Many drafts in, I realised that the centre of the poem wasn’t the incident itself, but the memory of it. There was something mythic to me, archetypal, in the meeting of soldier and shepherd: the poem found its form as a sonnet. I have broken open the formal structure at the point where the memory breaks off at a slant.”


What can I say to or about all this? Well there’s a hint, isn’t there, about the point where memory breaks off at a slant. I get the sense that you need to immerse yourself and, probably, over-learn, before  the moment arrives when a slant light reveals a shape you need, or an image or an idea that anchors a poem or a sequence. In the meantime I can savour the moments that draw you in, the moments that seem to be memorising themselves as you see them for the first time. Moments like these:


a spring overflowing a basin

returns his face to him in silver and sunlight

I love the way this elides a precisely photographic image with the slightly out of focus memories of myth, the half-remembered story of Narcissus which may or may not be intended.

and this

he sees the place when he knows it

that’s how I want feel about last week. Why does it stop me, bring me up short? Because of that quietly understated reversal that you hardly notice, but which demands your attention by puzzling you.

And then I like this line that drops me back where I was at one point last week, in a birchwood where I’d just seen two young red deer, and remembering how it felt

to wade knee-deep in dazzle.

Finally, these two lines for their enormous resonance in a world of the displaced and abused millions …and also for the gap between the meanings we sometimes think we want to make, but cannot make at this moment, right now.

he carries his country in his mouth

and it has no word in it for home, no proverb of forgetting.


Judith Willson: thank you for not only sharing your poems but showing us ways of reading them. The least we can do is to buy the collection that she refers to when she wrote: At the moment I’m drifting in post-book slack water. This is it. Buy it.

MirrorLine cover

Carcanet Press, Limited26 Oct 2017 – 80 pages £9.99

Praise for Judith Willson: ‘Judith Willson’€™s poetry takes us, in a dazzling flow of images, to lives which have the solidity of Central European fairytale with all the frightening reality of history behind them. Richly inventive in form and precise in tone, this is an amazingly assured debut collection.’ 
Elaine Feinstein 


While you’re waiting for the book to arrive in the post, if you live anywhere near Calderdale, you can hear Judith reading her work…she’s the guest poet for November at the Puzzle Poets Live in Sowerby Bridge. Nov. 6th, 8.00pm at The Shepherd’s Rest. There’s a great open mic, too.


Rainy day women


It’s been raining much of the night. There’s water running down the road, and the cliffs by Boreraig are streaked white. The moor will be sopping, and walking sloppy. So it’s a morning indoors while the the rain blows itself east and things dry out a bit. Thirty years ago when we first started to come to Skye there would be frost at the end of October and always snow on the Cuillin and on Bla Bheinn…in two days, I’ve yet to see them this year,the cloud low-hanging.

Yesterday afternoon it cleared down here by the seashore..dry enough for a wander. I met a chap who wasn’t quite sure of where things were or went. He asked me where was the best place to see ‘the otters’. I was on the point of saying ‘on a calendar’ but bit it back. The thing is, in thirty years I’ve yet to see one. I’ve sat for hours in the hide at Kylereah and seen a lot of seals and even more kelp. In the cluster of cottages where we stay at Ord, the residents complain about them. They tend to come off the shore in winter and shelter in the spaces under the houses. The bring fish with them.What they don’t eat rots and stinks. I still haven’t seen one. I didn’t tell the chap this, either.I pointed out the rocks about half a mile along the shore where I’ve been told I’d be guaranteed to see at least a couple. I didn’t tell him that I hadn’t, but he looked disappointed, as though the half mile was an unsurmountable obstacle, and wandered back in the direction he’d come from.


Five years ago I was staying here with my youngest son, and his mate Steve, who’s a professional cameraman. He’d driven up from London eager to try out his very expensive new camera. On a brilliant clear morning with a mediterranean sky we drove up to Glen Brittle, walked up by Eas Mhor, the biggest waterfall on Skye…full of of white water…..and up into Coire Lagan. 2000ft up from the shore, a mini lochan in a volcanic bowl surrounded by a 275 degree amphitheatre of 1000ft cliffs and scree. The view to the Outer Islands was astonishing and lovely. When we got back some hours later, he wanted another walk, so I sent him off along the shore. An hour or so later he was back.

“Do you get a lot of otters round here?” he asks, his camera full of images of a family of them doing tricks and dance routines. There again, there are folk who’ve been to Skye many times, usually in the summer, and never seen the Cuillin completely clear of mist.  Anyway, here’s a poem I wote for Steve. I couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of it.


A watched pot


You can watch all day for an otter

among the delusions of kelp;

if you think you’ve seen an eagle

odds-on it’s a buzzard;

for days, in the Glen, The Cuillin

could be there, but all you’ll know

is blown grey mists and ghosts.


So, that time on Am Mam

as I eyed the two miles down

to the shore, when the eagle came

unlooked for, below me, and not gold

but matt brown in the smirr,

freewheeling on the wind,

why would I fumble for a camera,

drop pack and gloves, faff about,

when I could just be still and stand

and watch, try to see, remember?


When I looked up it was a mile away,

vanishing into Bla Bheinn’s flank

like a thrum in a bolt of tweed.


Young Steve: first time on Skye,

hikes by Eas Mhor – a hundred feet

of bridal lace and champagne flutes –

Corrie Lagan crisp edged, gun-metal blue

under a cerulean sky without a cloud;

photographs an otter family in the bladderwrack

not five minutes from the house.


Well, good luck to him, I think.

It’s the metaphor that bothers me.

A watched pot never boils. Fine.

Don’t watch the pot. But when

the pot boils dry? What then?


(first published 2014 in Running out of space . See the My Books link)


If the weather turns fair, there’ll be no more posts from Ord. And if it turns foul, there’ll be more Rainy Day Women. Win-win situation.


You can go home now: hospital poems (16)……the epilogue


Last hospital post. A stay in hospital is invariably disconcerting, often uncomfortable, invariably filled with periods of boredom and irritability. But the routines,(and the odd surrealism of its being normality for the amazing folk who actually work there, day in and day out), are sometimes punctuated by moments of pure comedy, and sometimes by things that are utterly and joyously memorable. So here’s my favourite memory of a ten day stay in Dewsbury General. There’s a back story to this that I’ll keep to the end





Confidence trick


Here is never quiet, quite,

nor dark  enough for sleep.

Urgency and purpose

are never reassuring —


like this castanet clatter

of curtain rings, the flourishing

of  fabric that tents an empty bed;

white coats, blue-belted nurses

that come in a flurried huddle,

like bees, and, in a sudden,

pull aside the screens. And go.


A wonder sits in a bubble of light,

immaculate in white.His wide sleeves

fall as easily as water from his wrists;

he winds and winds a turban,

his fingers long and tapered, the ribbon

like a stream..  He is quite at ease.


He sits cross-legged, his knees, his calves

flat on the sheets, his feet,

pale-soled, together like a prayer.


He is alien and beautiful. A hawk.

His beard is silver-frosted,

eyes dark, his face sun-black.


Here are red and ochre mountains,

ash, the tang of woodsmoke, juniper,

and dung. Here is dust and stone,

hot wind, kites, a huge white sky.


No-one know why he is here

or how to speak his language.

No-one knows how old he is.

He knows  how to be still.


Next morning

his bed’s been stripped,

and he has vanished.

For me, the magic, trick or not,

was real . I wish him well.


[Unpublished. Till now]




I should acknowledge lifting the last line from Douglas Dunn’s ‘Terry Street’..the poem about the guy somewhere down the Hessle Road, pushing a lawnmower in the street. ‘That man, I wish him grass’.

The character in the poem turned up in the middle of the night. His installation seemed to involve most of the hospital night staff. Because you’re drugged up a lot of the time, you assume it’s a dream. But next morning, there he is, as described in the poem. For three days he taxed the ingenuity of all the hospital staff, who tried him on Arabic, Hindi, Panjabi, Pashtun and a range of other languages..all to no avail. And then he was gone. I missed him enormously. He was, simply, a visual delight. It turned out he was a con man who had been working his way around the hospitals of East and West Yorkshire. It seems even now a ridiculously complicated way of blagging free bed and board.


So that’s it . Thank you to all our guests for their time and their poems xx Thanks:

Bob Horne, Neil Clarkson, Charlotte Ansell, Ian Harker, Becky Cherriman, Rose Drew, Hilary Elfick, Lydia Macpherson, Andy Humphrey, Keith Hutson, Christopher North, Maria Taylor, Andy Blackford, Rebecca Gethin and Joe Williams

And thanks and ever thanks to the wonderful thing that is the NHS.



There will now be an intermission of some days. Next post should be  Oct30th..



How are you feeling now? Hospital poems (15)


I’d decided that there would be just one more guest post in this series. But yesterday, by a strange kind of synergy, under an ominous grey sky with a very small dull red sun, I went off to St James’ Infirmary (there’s a Blues sung specially for it, you know) and the incredibly light and beautifully designed Oncology Dept. It has a big spacious atrium, and there’s a Baby Grand at which a succession of absorbed pianists tinkle soothing things throughout the day. There’s lovely looking fruit stall, and as a bonus yesterday, Macmillan Charity workers were selling the most staggeringly more-ish selection of homemade cakes you could shake a stick at. Up on the next floor in Nuclear Medicine I drank lots of water and then went along corridors with infinite perspectives to a a white room with a scanner straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was beyond white. It was very very white. Before that, in the waiting room, I read a lot of Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica. It’s astonishing. And I read three poems Rebecca Gethin sent me. And here are two of them. No explanation needed.


Coming round :  Rebecca Gethin


I was breaching frost-cold water

but which was me and which was water

I couldn’t tell, the current drawing

what seemed to be a mind

further down to open sea

where taste was brackish,

vision salt and smarting


and my limbs moved

in the fallingfeeling

lived in its breathlessness,

but I breathed through its pounding

as though breasting

its tugging and pulling

by lying within it,

resting on its will.




En route   


Corridors are like tunnels –

turns to left, right, right, left –


the blue line I was told to follow

is one among several

and other people flow along different ones,

their footsteps tapping –


a white corridor with an electricbuzz

lies before me.  I am tipped downhill

past a chapel with a cross on the door,

Oncology at the bottom


and still further on towards

Nuclear Medicine.

More edges and corners

to a cul de sac –


the waiting room.  Windowless.

Were it not for all the people waiting

the room would be empty.


We wait on the cushions

of our shadows.  Our names

pull each one through the door alone.


Rebecca Gethin  won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award with her first novel, Liar Dice, which was published in 2011. Her first poetry collection, River is the Plural of Rain, was published by Oversteps Books in 2009 and was followed by a second collection, A Handful of Water, with Cinnamon Press in 2013. What the Horses Heard is her latest novel and was published in May 2014. Her two latest collections are A Sprig of Rowan  [Three Drops Press], and All the time in the world  [ published in Feb 2017 :Cinnamon Press]


Last hospital post tomorrow. That’s definite.

How are you feeling now? Hospital poems (14)

handle with care

They can do wonders in the NHS. No question. But as singers through the ages have told us there are things they can’t do. Leonard Cohen was clear enough:


“..I can’t believe that time is
Gonna heal this wound I’m speaking of
There ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love”


and Robert Palmer offered the prognosis


“… you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough
You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love”


Which brings us nicely to our penultimate guest poet of this tour of the worlds and wards of the hospital



Endoscopy : Joe Williams


My doctor sent me

to have an endoscopy.


The instruments they used

made me gag and retch,


and in the end they said

they couldn’t find anything wrong with me,


that the burning in my guts

was probably just love,


and there was nothing they could do

about that.



Joe Williams is a writer and performing poet from Leeds. He tells tales of lost love, people in pubs, and how not to dispose of the bodies of family members, with the occasional moment of crushing heartbreak just to keep you on your toes. His debut poetry pamphlet, Killing the Piano, was published by Half Moon Books in September 2017.

ps He is also this year’s poetry slam/open mic champion at Ilkley Literature festival…..as from last night!


How are you feeling? Hospital poems (13)

While I’ve been putting these hospital posts together, one troubling memory bubbles to the surface. I’ve twice been in High Dependency doped up with morphine. It takes the pain away, but one side effect is disorientating dreams that morph happily into nightmare. Mine seems not especially disturbing when I describe it. In essence, the ward would somehow become a cross-Channel ferry, and particularly something like the car deck. The walls would constantly and unnervingly change position; spaces became notional and unreliable. I suspect this may have had something to do with the way the curtaining round each bed is constantly being closed and opened so that the ward is a space with an infinite number of rooms. Whatever it was, I dreaded it and the way it persisted for months afterwards. Which is why today’s poem struck me with a moment of instant recognition.



Selkie Games  : Andy Humphrey


In the white room

a nurse holds my wrists,

dabs me with disinfectant-soaked cotton.

A kindly burning.


In the white room

I’m given a plastic cup

with a liquid that smells of blackberries

and tastes like soggy almonds.


In the white room

I’m allowed to dream

while two electrodes count the pulses in my brow,

two pens mark spikes on a chart.


And when I dream

the bed beneath me falls away

and I’m carried on cold fat rivers to the place

where the sea meets the sky;


and it’s there I discover

I can unzip my human skin,

stretch into a world of seaweed and blue

with fingers made for swimming.


They dance with me,

my sisters, among the reefs

where watching eyes will never spy us out.

We touch noses, kiss underwater;


our breath is bubbles

caught in a moonbeam’s glimmer,

our heartbeats follow the rising and falling

of every wave, each tide.


The dreaming stops.

I zip up my skin, return

to the white room. The too-bright world,

garish, cold in its glare.


I let them prod,

knowing they will never

unstitch me, never drown the aftertaste

of wet peat in my mouth.


Andy Humphrey lives in York; his poetry draws on images from nature, myth and fairytale to spin contemporary tales with an undercurrent of social comment. He has had more than 50 poems published in a wide range of journals, and won numerous poetry awards including seven First Prizes in UK and international competitions.

He writes short stories (under the name A.J. Humphrey with publication in Dark Tales, Scribble, and in anthologies from Earlyworks Press, Stairwell Books, Bridge House Publishing and Words magazine.

His debut poetry collection, A Long Way to Fall, was published in May 2013 by Lapwing Publications


How are you feeling? Hospital poems (12)



The default assumption about hospital is that no-one wants to have to go in one, and that everyone who goes in is counting the seconds till they can go home again, and breathe air that’s not been pre-used by about 10,000 other not-very-well folk. Which is why I particularly liked today’s poem. As I read it, there’s a condition that can creep up on you like a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. Swaddled in clean blankets and sheets, blissed out on legal drugs, fed and cared for. I’ve never come near to this imagined state. But after this poem I understand it better


Virus  : Lydia Macpherson


A third floor room, the isolation

ward where slanted blinds

leak pearled aquarium light.

Green linoleum, the sedative hum

of nurses’ voices along the corridor,

the honeycomb Braille of cotton blankets.

Permitted boredom in the filtered air,

no flowers, no visitors, just the coming

and going of temperature taking,

the careful handling of the thread

of mercury against my teeth,

my pulse bulging eagerly against

a capable finger, the charts to map

a journey of abandonment.

Pills in tiny plastic cups washed down

with stale-ish cordial from ribbed jugs,

baths taken Cleopatra-style with

milky water and the dangling

promise of a red emergency cord

should things get out of hand.

A voluntary submission to the rule

of tea at 6am, Horlicks at dusk

and trays of school food to mark

the time passed in between.


The Petri dishes bloom in basement labs.

I want them to become a jungle of viruses,

I want to be tended here forever.


Lydia Macpherson

Lydia’s first collection, Love Me Do, won the Crashaw Prize for a debut collection in 2013. Love Me Do was published by Salt, Spring 2014. It is available to buy at Salt Publishing and from Amazon.

Lydia’s poems have appeared in many publications including Poetry London, The North, Poetry Wales and Magma. She has been placed and commended in various competitions, including second prize in the Edwin Morgan poetry competition in 2012.

She lives in Winchester .




How are you feeling? Hospital poems (11)

One of my uncles, a bit of a rough diamond and chancer, was in hospital in Leeds, dying (as it turned out) from lung cancer. We visited him..it was Christmas. The Salvation Army were doing the rounds. At this point I need to step carefully. I have great respect for the Sally Army, and a soft spot, too. I used to admire their chutzpah, doing the Friday night rounds of rough pubs, selling The War Cry. And my dad played cornet and trumpet in a Salvation Army band. So, there we were, the Sally Army singing carols around the wards, and confidently and sincerely announcing that Jesus Saves. My Uncle Tom swore at them so profanely and obscenely and loudly and so sustainedly it took a number of staff to restrain/subdue/quieten hhim. Which is why today’s poem rings a bell very loudly.




The God Squad   :   Rose Drew



Please don’t try to save my soul:

it is not lost;


please don’t hammer me with your views,

they aren’t mine;


please do not hound me down the hospital hall,

cries of “I prayed for you!”,

claiming Holy Credit for my health.


Please do not pull up chairs beside me,

removing the New York Times

that I was reading,


so you can ponder my emptiness,

my scary nights of no

Great God Mommy

come to tuck me in, salve my wounds,

put cool cloth on my brow,

stop it!


Go burn the sacred texts in some poor village,

knock down another False Idol that comforts heathens

whom you wish to save so they will not

burden you;

go remove all trace of the God of Peace, Good Yams,

Safe Motherhood, Plentiful Game, and install

your own God —


until the next God Squad

removes your spreading lichen views,

and chisels your Saints

from re-named temple walls.


from Temporary Safety (2011, Fighting Cock Press)


Rose Drew

Is an American, firmly based in York.She is a politically active poet and an anthropologist.  She has written a novella and a few short stories, but her other interest is in expressing her enthusiasm for human skeletal remains, and what they might tell us about life in the past.

She also writes non-fiction, both creative and academic. In early 2005, she and her partner Alan changed the direction of their tiny business Stairwell Books from printing out pamphlets for  readings, to a small press focusing on poetry. By 2007, they had also taken on prose, and now publish 10-15 books a year, both in print and e-formats.. Since 2011, Stairwell publishes Dream Catcher Magazine, which originated in York.

How are you feeling? Hospital poems (10)



Diagnosis and prognosis…those meetings with consultants, the bearers sometimes of news that drops the bottom out of the world. And then there’s the world I can barely imagine much as I empathise, or try to. The world of the maternity and fertility clinic. It’s a world that’s beautifully and bravely written by women poets I love …Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt especially. This is a short post with a short poem (if wordcount matters). I think it’s huge and resonant and heartbreaking


Cycle   :   Becky Cherriman


Your words clot,

heavy and obliterating as snowfall

and the facial expression you adopt…

Is this what is deemed to be appropriate, Doctor?


Too long have I clung on

for the saccharine pill of your wisdom,

for this,


for test results shuffled between sweatless palms

and luke-greened walls.

Not even the reassuring ear of the stethoscope.

Just, Unfortunately…

and a solitary bird in the tree outside calling,

ste r ile

ste r ile

ste r ile.


empires front cover


Becky Cherriman is a commissioned writer, creative writing facilitator and prize-winning performer based in Leeds.  Her work is informed by the belief that not only do writing and the spoken word help us to make sense of the world and our place in it but they provide us with the tools to transform our lives.

Becky’s poem ‘Jesus Lives’ was highly commended for the Forward Prizes 2018

Becky’s poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books in February 2016. Her first collection Empires of Clay was released by  Cinnamon Press in November 2016.
























Becky Cherriman is a commissioned writer, creative writing facilitator and prize-winning performer based in Leeds.  Her work is informed by the belief that not only do writing and the spoken word help us to make sense of the world and our place in it but they provide us with the tools to transform our lives.

Becky’s poem ‘Jesus Lives’ was highly commended for the Forward Prizes 2018

Becky’s poetry pamphlet Echolocation was published by Mother’s Milk Books in February 2016. Her first collection Empires of Clay was released by  Cinnamon Press in November 2016.