My kind of poetry: Carole Bromley

This post is for those of you who don’t follow Write Out Loud where I’m currently the resident blogger, and where it originally enjoyed. I’ll be doing this every time there’s a guest poet, so you won’t miss out.

I was trying to decide between three possible posts for this Sunday, when my mind was made up for me by two things.

On Wednesday I had a great time as a support reader at Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton in Leeds, where the launch of Emma Storr’s debut pamphlet Heart Murmur played to a full house, and where she sold all but three of the copies available. If you want to know more about Emma Store (and you should) check out the Cobweb post via this link:

Subsequently, you may decide you want to buy a copy of Heart Murmur, then follow this link to Calder Valley Poetry:

Emma is a retired GP, and had invited Carole Bromley to be her other guest support reader. And, as it happens, Carole had just come back from Newcastle and the Hippocrates Prize-giving (as well as having , last year, gone through complicated surgery)…and both of them read hospital/medical related poems.

So much so hospital. It all coincided with my having a complicated programme of appointments with consultants to agree treatments/surgery for bits of skin cancer and for long term prostate cancer. So, yes; I’ve got hospitals on my mind.

Sooner or later we’ll all end up there, as patients or visitors. Either state is stressful. . But here’s a thing……I’ve been in and out of hospitals for about 70 years. Hours spent in X ray, or sitting by a bed in an Intensive Care ward, or having morphine nightmares in High Dependency, or observing with an odd curiosity the sociology of General Wards, or marvelling at the linguistic ineptness of a minority of consultants, or at the insouciance of tanned anaesthetists, or being put through the rituals of admission.

I love the NHS, which has saved and prolonged my life and the lives of those I love. But I’ve never got over the sense of being depersonalised, processed. I think it must be like going into prison. That’s what I think when I read the sequence in Solzhenitsyn’s The first circle,when the apparatchik Volodin finds himself in the Greater Lubyanka. Here’s part of the sequence I mean:

“May I dress?” asked Innokenty…but the barber left without a word and locked the door.


After a while he got into his underclothes, but just as he was pulling on his trousers the key rattled in the lock, and still another warder, with a fleshy purple nose, came in holding a large card.


“Volodin” the prisoner replied without arguing, although the senseless repetitions were making him feel sick.

“Name and patronymic?”

“Innokenty Artemyevitch.”

“Year of birth?”

“Nineteen nineteen”

“Place of birth?”


“Take all your clothes off”

Half dazed, he took off those he had on.


And so it continues. Of course, in the novel, the whole system is designed to demoralise the prisoner, take away all his resistance, individuality, his selfhood. I’m not saying that’s what the NHS is remotely after. But the passage invariably pops into my mind when I’m once more repeating all my details…birth date, address, doctor, all that…. and when I’m in an awkward cubicle taking my clothes off and trying to deal with one of those amazingly humiliating backless surgical gowns, and trying to fit my stuff into a plastic shopping basket, which I may have to carry down a corridor full of normal people in their normal clothes. It’s all necessary, and simultaneously dreamlike…something you hope to wake from, soon.

I spent some time musing about how many poems about hospitals I could think of. I struggled. Hilary Mantel writes brilliantly about the experience of being in hospital; Norman MacCaig’s Visiting hour says all I ever want to say about hospital visiting. And U.A.Fanthorpe cornered the market in poems about patients, and doctors and hospital administrators. But, I thought…there must be loads of others. And then could not bring any to mind.

When I look at ones I’ve actually written, it seems that what bothers me about hospitals is not the physical experience, the small humiliations, the pain, the discomforts and so on. I prefer my poems to grit their teeth and soldier on, and not make a fuss. What intrigues me is the way that being in hospital is like being deported to a foreign country whose language you only vaguely understand. But I’m always delighted when someone comes along to throw a new light on the whole nervy business, and thus, effortlessly, we come to today’s guest poet, Carole Bromley.

Carole lives in York where she is the Stanza rep and runs poetry surgeries. For several years she judged the YorkMix Poetry competition, which became a major event under her care. Winner of many prizes herself, including the Bridport, Carole was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition twice and has two pamphlets and three collections with Smith/Doorstop, most recently a collection for children, Blast Off! She is currently working on a new children’s book and also a pamphlet collection about her recent experience of brain surgery. She is also currently judging two competitions, one on the theme of snow for the Candlestick Press and the other the YorkMix Poems for Children Competition website is

She sent me four poems for this post, all from a pamphlet length collection she is hoping to publish which is based on her experience of brain surgery in Hull last year, all of them with her trademark accuracy of observation and understated technical craft. Here we go

Carole lives in York where she is the Stanza rep and runs poetry surgeries. For several years she judged the YorkMix Poetry competition, which became a major event under her care. Winner of many prizes herself, including the Bridport, Carole was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition twice and has two pamphlets and three collections with Smith/Doorstop, most recently a collection for children, Blast Off!  She is currently working on a new children’s book and also a pamphlet collection about her recent experience of brain surgery. She is also currently judging two competitions, one on the theme of Snowfor the Candlestick Press and the other the YorkMix Poems for Children Competition…

Her own website is  So there you are. There are absolutely no excuses for not finding out a lot more about her.

She sent me four poems for this post, all from a pamphlet – length collection she is hoping to publish, and which is based on her experience of brain surgery in Hull last year. Four poems, all of them with her trademark accuracy of observation and understated technical craft. I have a strong suspicion that WordPress will go on corrupting the text and ignoring stanza breaks. In case it does, you should know that Afterwards and Unpacking are in 3 line stanzas, and the last poem about reading Henry James is in 2 ten-line stanzas.

Here we go. I think we should start with the pain and  work our way to relief and release. I won’t say much about this first poem except to note the way one short phrase – everyone eating syrup sponge – contextualises everything that happens around it. Oh, and also to note that it is, after all, possible to write about self-pity without sounding full of self-pity.

The Unpacking

I think at the time 

the nose-unpacking 

was the worst

The houseman hadn’t time 

to fetch the pethidine and wait 

just squirted and tugged

It was lunchtime

and everyone eating 

syrup sponge

After the screams

which surely came from 

someone else’s throat

after the begging 

Oh, I can’t bear it. I can’t bear it

plates clattered onto trays

My neighbour was crying 

on my behalf

I rang my husband

Please come Please come 

I lost all pride 

I put it on Facebook 

longing for comfort 

a child again

needing its mother

All afternoon I cried

That night the doctor came back

shook my husband’s hand

said how sorry he was 

he’d had to hurt me 

He was so young 

He was showing two students

how to do the procedure 

Beforehand I joked

I’ll tell you if he’s rubbish

Afterwards he said

I’m sorry love I’m sorry 

(Third prizewinner Poem and a Pint Competition 2018)

Life in hospital, Carole reminds us, is made of longeurs, black comedy, tedium, discomfort, pain, fear and boredom, punctuated by small triumphs and fleeting pleasure. Nearly all of these find their way into the next poem, which I think is in the spirit of Ivan Denisovitch’s day. 

Sodium 136

A new form of torture

to raise my sodium level

which is dangerously low.

They measure out five glasses

of water into my jug

to last me till midnight,

write 1 litrefluid restriction

on the board over my bed

so the tea trolley passes me by,

the milk-shake woman doesn’t come,

the pourer of custard shakes her head.

Slowly the level creeps up.

After five days I’m fantasising

about gulping cartons of juice.

I have a tug of war with a nurse,

will not let go of the jug

which she wants to remove,

tell her if I wanted to cheat

I could put my head under the tap

and drink. I win, the jug stays.

The tea lady leaves me half a cup

and whispers I won’t tell them, love.

I do not touch it. 117, 118,

123, 124 and then, overnight,

SODIUM 136. I weep with joy.

They rub out the notice.

I gulp down glass after ice-cold glass.

(Commended in Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2019)

It’s beautifully observed, isn’t it? It’s deceptively simple, but listen to the way it shifts from measured and matter-of fact, through childish : the milk-shake woman doesn’t come, the pourer of custard shakes her head.  to frantic : I will not let go of the jugand finally to joyful.  For me, after a week of no solid food, it was porridge. Very Ivan Denisovitch. I suppose the spirit of both these poems is ultimately comic (which is a more serious business than is universally acknowledged). The next one is less apparently comforting.


Make a fist for me, she says.

Now, push your heel against my hand.

Now pull my fingers towards you.

How is it I forgot this

Do you know where you are?

when I remembered the words,

She tells me it’s so she can compare.

Afterwards. I had not thought,

really thought of afterwards

only of an end to the pain,

the way the ward is blurred,

the endless, endless nausea.

So matter of fact. Afterwards.

It isn’t logical but I want to say

My brain is a long way from my feet.

(Published in Algebra of Owls 2018)

This is a poem that sticks in the mind. With great economy, it does something very complex . It’s the business of using clear plain language to recreate confusion. At the heart of it is the reminder that when you’re in pain, all you want is for the pain to stop. There is only the moment, and no ‘afterwards’, so that when ’afterwards’ happens we don’t know how to deal with it. It’s disconcerting and disorienting. 

The last one I liked not least because it made me think that it would be interesting to speculate about what folk choose to take to read in hospital. I tend towards Solzhenitsyn, as I’ve said. After him, later Dickens. A teacher I loved was given days to live, and asked for a copy of Middlemarch  in hospital. I have never coped with Henry James. I think I never shall.

Reading Henry James in Hospital

What Maisie Knew. I haven’t read it

for fifty years. I knew nothing then,

only the rhythm of his prose,

that Maisie was the centre of consciousness

that I would need to sit up late

to finish it before the tutorial,

swigging from a tooth mug

the port I stole from formal dinner.  

For me the book will always taste 

of peppermint and port and the summer of love.

I turn the pages with my cannula’d hand,

wander away from Sharon glued to Corrie,

from Jean flipping through Take a Break

from Joan’s painful voyage to the toilet.

‘I say, I say, do look out’, Sir Claude 

quite amiably protested. Sister trips

over the zimmer Jean parked by my bed, 

tells me not to keep my frame there.

I do not have a frame, I protest.

Jean looks up from her article, Yet.

(2ndPrizewinner Poetry Space Competition 2018)

 I like the wry, dry ironies of this, the intercutting of reality and fictions of all shapes and sizes. It’s a great poem  to read aloud….I like the timing of the punchline. I like the way it reminds us that when we’re in a hospital bed, we’re all dark watchers, and, like Maisie, the centre of consciousness. Hospitals make egoists of us all. 

Thank you, Carole Bromley for being our guest and being so generous with your poems. Next week we’ll be heading northwards and speculating abour northwords. See you then.

A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

This post originally appeared in The Great Fogginzo’s Wider web on the Write Out Loud Poetry site. As promised, I’ll reblog some posts that haven’t previously appeared here for those of you who aren’t linked to WOL. This one is part of a planned series of posts about ‘my kind of poetry’, particularly about my kind of poets. Of which Yvonne Reddick is undoubtedly one. Here we go:

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all. 

This set me to think of my own predeliction for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets.I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial.Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equvalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

Sometimes we ask of a poet we can’t pigeonhole:  ‘Where’s she coming from?’ Well, how about starting with her biography. Yvonne  grew up between Glasgow, Aberdeen, Kuwait City and Berkshire. She is an academic and writer, currently based in Preston, where she is Research Fellow in Modern English and World Literatures at the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire. She’s also Visiting Fellow, at the Centre for the Study of International Slavery, University of Liverpool. After reading English at Cambridge, she studied for her PhD and began her academic career at the University of Warwick, where she also published her first pamphlet of poetry., LandForms, which was published by Seapressed in 2012.

One reviewer was clearly taken with the challenge of dealing with what I see as an intriguing erudition. The violence he does to syntax and semantics is a joy worth sharing. Yvonne says she didn’t understand it. Me neither. But it is enjoyable.

‘The binary is itself the uncomfortable site of negotiation, laying waste to and galvanizing its own division and divination
‘ Mostly by stanza, these lines betray navigational lyric, resplendent with lean overtures of isle:’

Well, there you go; decipher as you will. Yvonne’s research has seen her deciphering Ted Hughes’s notebooks on horoscopes and necromancy, (which has fed into her dauntingly dense academic work: Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet:2018*); reading David Livingstone’s beautiful copperplate writing in Zambia, and translating previously unanalysed Congolese writers from French. Deerhart, her second poetry pamphlet, was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2016. You can see now why you should be prepared to be, with me, happily just outside your comfort zone. You should also understand that this is no cut and paste anthologiser of the strange, cryptic and bizarre. Like another favourite poet of mine – Julie Mellor – here’s a researcher who brings an imaginative sensitivity and a careful craftsmanship to her work. And it’s time that was given its chance to persuade you to share my enthusiasm. Here goes, with an extract from:

My Grandmother Was A Pink-Footed Goose


My Mémé was bird-bone hollow, all ribstrakes and flapping bald elbows, flesh slouched over a V of sternum. Shallow breath-râles, knuckly birdleg fingers. Her English evaporated as her mind nested the tumor. The remains: ‘J’ai ces … hallucinations’ of pools and oceans, my father webbing through air, his hands in outspread sheaves of primaries.

 A couple of years ago, I asked Yvonne to reflect on one of her poems and she wrote this about about this particular poem:

‘My Grandmother was a Pink-Footed Goose’ was inspired by a decomposed pigeon that flopped from the roof of the block of flats where I live! … it was an interesting intimation of mortality. I’d been wanting to elegise my Swiss grandmother for a long while, and I used images of keelbones, quills and ribs to evoke a body racked with illness. She was the last native speaker of French in our family, but she was also a real polyglot: she spoke excellent English, good German and some Romansh. I wanted to honour her heritage as a migrant, and to end my poem with an image of renewal and return.

I’d been intrigued by the imagery of keelbones, quills and ribs,but now realise that I hadn’t read all the poem properly at all. Or perhaps it’s that after five days of intensive reading and writing on a residential writing course, I’m just that bit more fine-tuned to really, really listen to what a poem intends me to hear.

What we make of a poem is what we bring to it, all our memory that shapes the poem we reinvent from the text on the page. I suppose what I brought to it, among other things, was my relationship with the story of Icarus, of a boy whose wings failed him, and a father complicit in his death. Also, thirty years of responsiblities for increasingly old and frail relatives – my mother, my mother and father-in law. Also a day in June one year when I took my mother’s ashes to a waterfall in a quiet Dales valley. Also my father, the birdwatcher, and the cold northern hills and seas and skies where I think I belong. And all that baggage can get in the way of what’s there, if we listen. I didn’t attend properly to the voice of this poem…or perhaps the voices which overlap…..and what they are telling me and discovering for themselves. So what triggered a re-understanding (which may well still be wide of the mark)

It was this comment that stopped me dead in my tracks 

My collection in progress ( now published: Translating Mountains : Seren. 2018)is about mountaineering in the Highlands and Alps. It elegises my father, who died in the Grey Corries

The Grey Corries in the Nevis range are one of those landscapes I can only dream of, and read of. They’re too big, too hard, too altogether intimidating. I don’t have the strength, or the limbs, or the confidence to go into those high and unrelenting places. And I had a son who died in a fall from a high place. So I read that sentence, and then went back and READ

my father webbing through air, his hands in outspread sheaves of primaries.

I have no notion whether I’m reading truly, but I know I’ll no longer read that line and think ‘what a wonderfully nailed down image of a great bird in flight’. Instead, I’ll remember watching a friend of mine fall off a pitch on a face in Borrowdale, and every account I’ve read of fatal falls on mountains will blur together, and mesh with that one word ‘webbing’. And, I suppose, I’ll be faced once more with the complicated business of the relation of the poem which is out there on its own terms, and the knowledge we have, or haven’t, about the writer, her biography, her intentions. And we’d better, at the same time, acknowledge that she may not have known what her intentions were, and that she may still not know what, or how, she feels about the process. All I know is that when I’ve written about Daedalus, or Hephaestus, or Mallory, or, indeed, Lucifer, I never knew what was going on, and was regularly unnerved and surprised. Yvonne Reddick, made me see that more clearly, whether she meant to or not. And if I’m totally off track with the whole business, the question of what a poem means, and what it can be made to mean, will still be there, insistent and demanding our attention.

And what demands my attention now are the poems she sent me after I heard her read with David Constantine at the Square Chapel in Halifax. She spoke passionately about her engagement with the slow extinctions of climate change and the conflict she feels between elegising the father who died in the mountains he loved, and the father who worked in the oil industry, on oil rigs around the world. I think it’s this tension that gives these poems a rare and urgent energy.

In Oils


Between fjords and the Firth, the rig whirred 

from its crown-block to the pit of its possum belly –

my father left at dawn to work the offshore fields.

He mixed with roughnecks and a crude-talking toolpusher: 

their toil lit the flarestack, sparked fuses, stoked motors.

Farther north, the trickle and tick of ice floes.

That year’s gales uprooted dunes, hurled gulls 

along Union Street; the derrick braced its anchors, 

strained against the storm surge. 

   His chair sat empty.

The desk paperweight: a drop of Brent crude

globed in glass, the tarry slick levelling as I tilted it.

I tried to pray for breezes to ferry him home,

but all I could invoke were fields of North Sea oil:

Magnus, Beatrice, Loyal.                                  


I was nine, when my father made me leave –                     

he drilled an emirate with straight-ruled borders.

The heat on the runway like the breath of a foundry.

My Narnia books arrived after their voyage

along the Suez Canal, in the sea-freight.

Wearing shorts was forbidden – even for men.

Mirage city, under the warp-shimmer of fifty degrees. 

Sun-beaten metal. Lightstruck glass,

the bombed-out bridge to Bubiyan Island. 

At the sandstone ridge on the edge of Iraq, 

herdsmen turned camels loose to trigger landmines. 

At school, they preached that oil was fossil light:

one barrelful did twelve years’ human work.

Dad’s friends talked Bonny Light, Brent Blend,        

Sour Heavy Crude, counting days in gallons.  

Oil was refined, but its temper had a flashpoint –


I’d listen from the landing: 

“They kicked down the door 

of the neighbours’ shop, 

then bullets started shattering the windows. 

Khalid and I ran. 

We saw tanks lumbering down Gulf Street. 

They stole everything – air conditioners, cigarettes – 

then torched the ground floor. 

My cousin shot at the police station they’d seized.

They tore out his eyes.” 

“The burning pipeline howled –  

Sara said like a jet engine. 

Fire-trenches and oil-lakes under a sky dark at midday.

Six million barrels of light, sweet crude…”

“I watched birds wading in the slick-ponds. 

There was a hoopoe drinking petroleum, 

an oiled eagle panting for water.”

“Airstrike on the Basra road: 

the man clawed at the windscreen,

trying to smash free before the petrol tank blew. 

An American camera blinked at his burnt out sockets.”


From Anchorage, Calgary, Houston or Galveston,

my father returned, jet-lagged and running fumes,  

to plant English lavender on Texan time.

His shirts would smell of earth and gasoline.

I’d see him at the sink, scrubbing his hands:

“I’ve fixed the engine!” He’d show his palms – 

I watched him scouring skin that wouldn’t come clean.

A two-stroke heart has steely valves and chambers,

a trace that falters. He said he’d hike the path 

above the falls, but dusk could not bring him home – 

The spring after we buried him, I heaped his books

in a rusty petrol-drum, and flicked the match. A pyre

for Goodbye to All That, Fire in the Night andPioneer


My father weighed a little less than at birth.

I carried him in both hands to the pines

as October brought the burning season.

When I unscrewed the urn, bone-chaff and grit

streamed out, with their gunpowder smell.

I remembered the sulphur hiss of the match – 

how he taught me to breathe on the steeple of logs

until the kindling caught, quickening flames. 

That night, in sleep, I saw the forest clearing

by the moor’s edge, and the ring of his ashes. 

A skirl of smoke began to rise – 

bracken curling, a fume of blaeberry leaves. 

Ants broke their ranks to scatter and flee,

and a moth spun ahead of the fire-wind.

I took the path over the heath at a run.

A voice at my shoulder said, “You’ll inherit fire.”

And through the smoke I glimpsed a line of figures

on the hillside, beating and beating the heather

as the fire-front roared towards them.

A volley of shouts: “Keep the wind at your back!”

My grandmother threshing with a fire-broom, 

Dad hacking a firebreak. My stillborn brother, now grown, 

sprinting for the hollow where the spring once flowed, 

the whole hill flaring in the updraft.

And there: a girl, running for the riverside – 

she wore my face, the shade of ash.

You know what? Normally I’d feel driven to write some sort of commentary on the poems as I go, feeling the need to tell you just why you should like them as much as I do. I’d be talking about the rhythm, the texture, the lexis, the moments that draw you in, the points where the poems ignite. I’d talk about the core images, the metaphors. And I’d just get in the way. So read these poems, but read them aloud and taste their textures. And I’ll store these three lines in a special place, along with my mother’s ashes in the Valley of Desolation

My father weighed a little less than at birth.

I carried him in both hands to the pines

as October brought the burning season.

Thanks for being our guest today, Yvonne Reddick. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

For a review ofTed Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet  use this linkTed Hughes, eco-criticism and the common reader



Deerhart. Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 2016 £5.90 on Amazon Prime

The apple anthology [Ed] with George Ttooli

    Nine Arches Press 2014 [available on Kindle or ‘Used’. Current prices    range from £3.50 to £64.00 so why not have a punt]

Translating mountains. Seren 2017 £5.00