A midweek special. Alice, Lewis Carroll, and Mr Ruskin

Monday night is Albert Poets workshop night…unless it’s the first Monday of the month, in which case it’s Puzzle Poets at the Blind Pig…. and one of the delights is that you never know what will turn up. Last week, Stephanie Bowgett, (who is one of the Albert’s founder members, who will ere long be published by Calder Valley Poetry, and shortly after that will be A Polished Gem on the cobweb, and who invariably brings poems that surprise and stick in the mind) brought along a poem that was too long to workshop. So she read it, and I instantly wanted to share it with everyone I knew. There’s a lot of things in ‘Alice in wonderland’ and ‘Through the looking glass’ that unnerve and disturb, and even more in the story of Alice Liddell. Which I think this poem captures in the imagined voice of both Alices. And here it is.

QUEEN peter blake



It’s a poor kind of memory that only works backwards


I wake exhausted. I’ve painted

the whole night, painted

out the mistakes with rose-red paint;

a hundred wet kisses, my face, my tummy,

that brazen promise of breasts

all disappear under the brush.

This quadrille is red, red as a lobster.

Will you, won’t you-  will you won’t you-

w-won’t you join the dance?


Mr Ruskin took tea with me

one January day. Papa and the Red Queen

were dining out.  I’d sent him a note

(what a forward minx I was!) We were

toasting muffins before the fire when

they returned early; unexpected

snowfall had blocked their route.

In his journal, Mr Ruskin recorded it thus:

 a sudden sense

 of some stars having been

 blown out in the wind.

I have always thought Mr Ruskin

handsomer than the Dodo.


We wait on the shingle, the Dodo and I.

There he is with his Gladstone bag,

his crooked smile. I’ve taken off

my black button shoes, the straps cut

into my ankles so; my white lisle stockings

are in his pocket. He stutters

a stream of sand over my legs.

Abracadabra! From his bag

a safety pin. He always carries pins

to hitch the skirts of little girls

up out of the spray. I paddle.

He watches with his uneven eyes.


The books discover me. The Red Queen

Sweeps in one morning, demands

the Dodo’s letters. And those photos he took

the day he fashioned a mouse

from my handkerchief: a mouse

with a long and sad tale, lace ears.


I ride my blue skirt,

tumble slowly

through thick air, sour

smell of worms. Broken

finger nails scrabble;

passing roots clutch

at my hair – it is grown long

and yellow as fever.

alice 4




If you fall asleep in the noonday sun

you must expect nothing

will be as it was

when you wake again.


I woke on the riverbank

reinvented. Bleached, banded,

I was everyone’s favourite blonde;

zebra ankles crossed

with the syntax of an Oxford don.

Curiouser and curioser


Someone hangs his grin in a tree.

alice 6



I hold up my hands.

I can’t pass a bottle

without taking a swig. The cards

are stacked against me.


And if I hold up the glass

the words will all

go the right way again.

 (I sing)

alice 7


In the glass

I see me


in freckles.

I try lemon juice

but I am peeling.

Pearly flakes

come away

in my hands

like honesty.






( A note: I’ve had problems with the lineation, and the only way I could stop this being all left-justified was to faff about with a snipping tool to turn bits of text into jpegs that I could set where I wanted. It should all be in one font. Forgive me. I should read Josephine Corcoran’s blog posts more assiduously)