POEM OF THE MONTH – RASH by Tamsin Hopkins

Tamsin Hopkins reading Rash




You   have   a  rash   on your   back.

I  think   I’m  supposed to  tell  you,

but  while  you’re  asleep I   take   a

picture   of   your   skin and  search

through         fifty   common     skin

diseases    and   now   I have     seen

so         many             dermatological

nightmares,     embedded   insects,

worms, infections and   swellings,  

I don’t know     how

to  discuss   any   of this    with you.


I decide I will leave you a series of

post-it notes, pink/ yellow/ green.

It’s     not    strictly     relevant,     my

mother wants me to be a doctor, a

dermatologist could be acceptable,

or   failing   that    I  could   marry   a

doctor, but I told her – I can’t even

stand       thinking         about        the

discussions   we’d    have  at  dinner

every    night.    Or    at      breakfast.   

Those medical eyes.


Going     by    all    the     pictures     I

Googled,   I  think  you   may    have

Colorado  Tick   Fever,  although   I

don’t   suppose    it’s    prevalent    in

Vauxhall. Or  you  are allergic  –  to 

the sheets /  the  washing  powder /

your shirts/ your  X-Box chair.  Or

me.     Possibly,   you’re   regressing,

becoming    the  teenager    I    never

met.  Your  sister  says you had skin

issues    then.   If  I  ever   become   a

dermatologist, if I even befriend or

date    a   skin specialist,      I   will  let

you   know.   A  green post-it  under

your door.






Should   I   preserve   a  clear   image of

myself  in  my  own  mind? Should the

image have a strong outline? Are you

doing this?  Is it important to retain a

memory  of  what  you’ve forgiven for

forgiveness  to work?  Is  it  important

to know who  and what  your  parents

loved,    or    is    it    enough  that    they

existed?  How  important   is  it  to  like

your    lover’s   family?   Why   do  your

friends    never     mention    your     ex?

Would a full veil wreck my hair? Will

the wedding  be  in Jamaica? Will it be

windy? What  kind of rice will  people

throw? Will it stick  in  the  veil?  Will

turtles   come  up   the  beach  to  watch

us? Will  dolphins  frolic  and   leap for

the photos? Is it true that your friends

like   me   better   than   they   like  you?

Have  I  imagined this?  Does having a

titanium plate in  your  face  make you

have   weird    dreams?   Why     doesn’t

your     father    drink? Why  doe   your

brother    drink   so   much?   Can   self-

knowledge ever  be  achieved  without

knowing  your  parents?   Do   orphans

have   it   easier?  If  I  forget  what  you

did,  does  that mean  you are more, or

less  likely  to  do  it  again? Why did it

take you three years to tell your sister

about   me?    Just   asking.  Will  I trust

you to  drive with  children in the car?

Will    the    sides     of    my    face     age




French Glacier


When you said you’d like to see me at two-thirty, I said yes.

When you named the place, I thought you’d look stunning

in all that scenery. I said: yes, yes.


There are two ways here – valley up or peak down.

I’m checking for you in both directions, over my shoulder,

using selfies, so as not to appear obvious.


There’s nobody else here. Except an older couple down to the left,

each holding Ziplock bags containing perfect fondue bread cubes.

Probably rye bread – just the way you like it.


It’s already two-forty-five and if I leave, I might meet you

on the way up and then I’d have to turn around. Are you on the way?

In a distant cable car, zipped up in Parker and mittens?


Yes, I am wearing the wrong clothes. Yes, I didn’t want those boots

or any form of cagoul. You’d think four inches of stiletto would hold

a pirouette in the ice, but what they have here is not what I call ice.


Also, you didn’t say glacier ice would be dirty – pitted and rutted, as if

an army of jeeps passed this way just yesterday. Or trucks full of GIs,

like in the Dirty Dozen, which I’ve seen seven times. Thanks to my father.


Since you’re running late, I’ll probably sit on this boulder and watch

my own breath. I might ask the older couple to give me a photogenic

square of bread. I could hold it between my lips until you get here.







Tamsin Hopkins is studying an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. In 2020 she won the Aesthetica Award for Poetry. Her poems have recently been published or are forthcoming in ‘Best British and Irish Poets 2019-21, Tears in the Fence, The New Statesman, Finished Creatures, The Alchemy Spoon and a variety of competition anthologies. In 2021 she was longlisted in the National Poetry competition. Her poetry pamphlet Inside the Smile is published by Cinnamon. Her short fiction collection SHORE TO SHORE was shortlisted for the Rubery Award and longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize.

ANDY by Ogu Nnachi


by Ogu Nnachi


Andy scoots past Woolworths and The Amhurst

dazzles grey building blocks

roller skates tops

of brown brick walls


Trees are naked, need cleaning.

Andy pauses

grabs his mop of gold

swipes the mud off the leaves

cleanses the branches

scrapes debris into a silver dustpan.


Andy calls on the rain.

When it arrives every tree is showered

every space, plant, and building

bathed and cleansed.

Amhurst Road becomes trays of silver

that playful feet can dodge or splash.


Andy twirls his orange dust cloth

flicks and wipes at the black tints

edging the Pembury Estate windows.


Light stares through bedroom glass

at bare bodies

wrapped in sheets

and duvets.



unstick lazy lids

draw back curtains.

Are smothered by the rush of brightness.


I imagine you Andy, that night inside the Pepys.


It is packed as usual. The air is thickened with voices. Couples and groups sit around tables sporting multi-coloured quiffs, sculptured hair or carefully messy dreadlocks. I see you, expertly squeezing yourself through the mass towards the front of the bar. Your hair is a yellow beacon that attracts the bartender. She grabs your note, bends her ear towards your mouth, you’re both like a couple about to kiss. You shout your order. The music is loud, so loud that it gives you a headache, makes your ears pound.


I think of you sitting by the bar, dipping crisps into the frothy dregs of your Guinness and eating them slowly. You ignore the noise, munch each soggy crisp; let it slide down your throat. You wash your mouth with a final swig, crash your empty pint glass onto the counter, then let out a loud belch.


“Enjoyed that didn’t yer Andy” Bob would laugh at you. See you off with a slap on your shoulder.


That evening, outside the Pepys, it was quiet. You waited, lifted your hot face and let the cold caress your skin. You started your usual walk home, the Guinness and Becks and cheese and onion crisps, spinning cartwheels in your stomach. With your head lowered and your mind a smoky blur, you swayed past the Pembury, then stumbled on the pair of hidden voices.


Your breeze

flicks your golden hair

into moon crescent waves.

Your legs stretch across squares of pavement

lapping up Amhurst road.


fall to the ground

become your shadow

trailing your speeding body.


The two boys, laugh as they wipe the scarlet stains from their fingers, onto the grass. You, lie in the early morning darkness, inert, surrounded by grass tufts, empty beer cans, drink cartons, discarded tissues and clumps of newspapers.


“He thought he could mess with us. Piece of trash in some trash” says the taller boy.

The other, eyes his watch then points to the bus-stop at the bottom of Dalston Lane.

“Come on, if we hurry, we might catch the last 38”.


Your battered body settles into the slightly damp grass. Your hair glows. Windows are firmly shut, curtains closed. You force yourself to stay alert, your mind to concentrate, whilst your body craves rest and sleep.


Thirty minutes later the police car sidles outside the Pembury, sirens flashing. You see the smooth mannequin faces of two coppers hover by the windscreen. You move your body slightly trying not to disturb your fractured jaw. Your mouth makes an odd movement as you try to speak but all that comes out is a moan. Your eyes feel heavy, it is such an effort to keep them open. One man all in black, emerges from the car carrying his baton. You struggle to sharpen your vision and focus the blurred image.


“Are you okay son?”


The man speaks with an underlying bored tone to his voice. You try to lift your head but can’t. A pain, deep and sharp passes through you.

“I’m okay” You mouth the words slowly and carefully, the copper has to lean forward a few inches from your face, to hear you.

“You don’t look okay to me son. Sure you don’t want a lift home?”

“Piss off and leave me alone. I just live ‘round the corner”.


The man pauses, staring at your crumpled body in the mound of rubbish.


“Okay. If that’s how you want it”, he says slowly. The copper turns, looks around him carefully scanning Dalston Lane, the estate and Amhurst Road, he takes one last look at you and then strolls back to his car. Seconds later the greyness is lit up by multi-coloured flashes of light and the squeal of tyres.


Your head pounds as if your brain is knocking on your skull. Out loud you say, “I will get up in a minute, make my way home. I just need a bit more time, a few more minutes, for the pain to go away”.


Darkness. I cannot see. I am blind. I reach out. The air is thick. I’m travelling through melted black cotton wool. Where am I? I remember now. I made it home. I feel something soft and warm then something sticky, my hands are covered in it. I try and pull at the stickiness. It is clinging to my hands. I rub and rub and flakes of something like when glue hardens on your fingers; comes off. I reach towards my chest, press close to feel the stickiness. I reach up to my head. Slowly as I am still in pain. It is in my hair. All stiff, like a dried-up paintbrush. Can someone put the light on? Do I want to see myself? It is better this way. I am a broken tree. Heavy, dried up, snapped and wrinkled. So still. So dark.




Ogu is a mother of three children and a full -time special needs teacher of nearly 30 years. She has written for a local magazine and for The Voice newspaper and had a short story published in Artrage magazine which was also exhibited in tape slide format – ‘Black Women In View’ exhibition – Brixton Art Gallery. Her poetry was published in ‘London Voices’ and a short story accepted for publication by ‘Fred’ magazine. She has performed her poems at the Soho Poly Theatre, Yaa Asantewaa Arts Centre and the Poetry Cafe. She is currently collating her poems for publication.

ADULTHOOD by Paul Stephenson

Paul Stephenson reading Adulthood


Adulthood as The Talented Mr. Ripley


You wonder if this is how Tom Ripley felt,

wearing a borrowed Princeton jacket

and landing up in Italy, pretending to be

somebody while hanging out with socialites.


How he really felt, befriending Marge

while obsessing over Dickie, dressing up

in another man’s clothes – alone in a palazzo

by night, dancing in front of the mirror.


What it’s like inside? Being the only one

who will ever know what happened

in the winding streets of Mongibello.


Deep down, you feel like Tom – adrift

in open sea, looking down to find an oar

in your hands, and blood. Scuttling the boat.



Day Trip with an Attitude


Nonchalance and I take a train to Nantes.

Nothing to see – a blanket of fog till Le Mans.

We arrive. Nonchalance doesn’t care for coffee

or a croissant. Empty-stomached Nonchalance.


I buy a city map, ask what it fancies doing first,

suggest a walk down the river, across to the island,

for a ride on the giant mechanical elephant.

Nonchalance sighs, drags its heels en province.


What about the Jules Vernes Museum, I enquire,

You know, him of ‘Around the World in Eighty Days?’

Ner, winces Nonchalance, as if he’s seen it all,

You go, I’ll just wait outside and sit on the fence.


Hey, we could climb the ramparts of the château

then rinse our tonsils in the local plonk?

Nonchalance shrugs its shoulders – soberly,

says, I’m teetotal. Can’t stand royal history.


The cathedral took 457 years to finish! I insist.

It was hit by Allied bombing, the roof ravaged by fire.

Nonchalance isn’t listening but sat in a trance,

headphones in, volume up, nodding, ensconced.






Early to the classroom.

Ten thousand press-ups

next to the desk

before morning register.



Lightning off the block.

A greyhound chasing

the rabbit round the floodlit

tracks at Walthamstow.



Not KFC.

An emporium with atrium,

all the pheasants hanging

in Harrod’s food hall.



A game of hopscotch.

The pastel chalk numbers

washed away

in a series of showers.



A heavy goods vehicle

carrying flammable liquid,

all gleaming silver hub caps

and faulty



                         that swerves

and jackknifes,

                         smashing through               the barriers,



              rolling over,

                              down into

                                                           the ravine.






Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015), which won the Poetry Business pamphlet competition judged by Billy Collins; The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016), written while living in the Paris at the time of the November 2015 terrorist attacks; and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He took part in the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme and the Aldeburgh Eight. He recently completed an MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) with the Manchester Writing School. He co-edited the ‘Europe’ issue of Magma (70) and co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh. He interviews poets at paulstep.com and is on instagram: paulstep456

WOMAN by Anastasia Velounias



A sequence by Anastasia Velounias






Caged like a bird-

Oh Maya, it is still so blurred


We have the racism, fascism,

Communism, cynicism, criticism,

The barbarism, elitism,

The narcissism and the Darwinism


Oh Maya, your lyricism

Still sings with humanism,


Oh Maya, sing like a caged bird once more,

Will you please?






There is beauty in my pain,

There are scars left to heal


But the scope of happiness widened

And the meaning of life ripened.






I live to die,

You will live to see,


My no is not a yes,

Your ignorance is not in jest.






This country breeds men as dogs,

Barking and barking,

Waiting for their next attack.


But domestic abuse is expected, don’t you see?

This country breeds men as dogs,

It breeds women as subservient wrongs,

Living how we ought to be

Don’t you see?






I am a punching bag

But I do not bleed

And I do not succeed


As a woman who is

a punching bag

who only bleeds

and cries in disbelief


At women so cruel,

To let this be.






Dance to my tune,

I will make you forever weep and swoon.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin now resides at your jest,

‘Tis clear’ the women use to cry at their very best.


Oh- how little did they know,

Oh- when all we do is die slow.


Sing with me and dance to my flute,

I will make you flutter, you dirty brute.






I am a prisoner

Chained to your feet

I am your listener

But pray for me- give me fleet.


I am a pet

On a tightened leash

I am in your debt

But pray for me-let me unleash.


I am your wife

Bound for life

Death do us part

Because of a bleeding heart.






Feel empowered they said

When those people have bled


The double-edged sword they said

When those people were hanging on by a thread


Our time will come they said

When those people said this infection has yet to spread


What can they do they said

Either get wed or dead.






Hustling like a fraud

Waiting for my big applaud

Cooking up a storm

Receiving all the scorn

Nursing like Nightingale

Reading a bedtime story tale

Cleaning all the crevices

Scrapes, cuts and all the blemishes

Dressing up in couture

Acting so very demure 

Hustling like a fraud

Waiting for my big applaud.






Daniel Hinds reading The Corona Prince


Three poems by Daniel Hinds


The Corona Prince


By now, you must have heard his legends.

You abide in his empire.


In the kingdom of the rising star

He rose from a small bowl of hot bat soup


Pausing long enough for sunken eyes,

Slimed in matted hair, to glare like an alligator


Surfacing to see the prey come to drink.


He stood full height, small feet in the primordial,

A hungry ghost in black scaled armour.


Skin the colour of hardened phlegm.

Consistency of a patagium wing.


The old man’s whistle cut short

Before it could cool the broth on his upraised spoon.


With the red light behind him,

The West saw only a body, a thin line of shadow:


A judgment of God over Egypt.

And turned aside their gaze.


On the other side of the sun they say

He fell from the stars with the ink black space


Poured onto the armaments of men

Under the shadow of an eagle’s wing.


In truth, his womb is the mucus

Of your lungs the red crown points pierce


As they breach and spit the flesh

As he flails and splutters from the eldritch.


He is born a thousand times each day.

The thin golden string of your life


Is his cut umbilic cord.


His ritual ointments are soap and wine

Darkened water. Courtiers, wring your hands.


His long fingers will squeeze the drops

From your neck, like a tight mink scarf.


For libations, he sups the sweat of his subjects.

Like Stoker’s creature he hovers by the bedside


And runs a cracked tongue; stokes flames.


His palaces are spotless white.

With the pomp of pale robes and gurney carriages


He leads procession after procession

Down the scrubbed and stretching corridors.


A pied piper with a liking for liver spots

And time folded into wrinkles.


His subjects shuffle behind.


Like poetry,

He lives on breath and air


And the liquid libations, the flecks that cross

The vermillion border.


Unlike poetry,

He does not survive long on paper.


Smiths and scientists labour

To construct the spear


To spike his groin.


Their designs drawn like a meal made

From a cook book covered in spewed up slops.


The ingredients expert eyes discern

In the detritus at the bottom of your bowl:


A thin and silver shard of his crown

And a scraping of his phlegmatic skin.


A king caught in his coronet.


Count to twenty

And you will name his successor.




The Sequence




Is a criminal line up where every figure

Committed the crime.


Guilt against the backdrop of a black

And white height chart.


A rogues’ gallery

Where every painting is hung.


In a sequence, they all hang together.




The egg fertilised and splitting;

The planned pregnancy


Becoming unplanned octuplets.


A line of succession,

With sometimes seconds in-between,


If the midwife’s eyes and hands

Are still greedy for the slime of birth.




Picking your cards and blind fingers finding

The same soft fabric. They all wear the same suit;


Odd bodies pressed and dressed to match,
Or better, whatever your opponent’s holding.


All of your hard-won hearts pulse

In time and dribble: a cobweb of red lines.


Or perhaps it was a paper cut;

Your red prints marked

And stained every card you drew.




The small portraits of kings and queens

Framed in wood


By the reaching branches

Of a long overgrown family tree, knotted


By centuries of interbreeding,

Like a vast maze of umbilical cords.




When the cups stop moving,

Finding a ball in each cup.




One cup overflowing into another.


If you have a thirst for a mixed drink,


The sequence will see it quenched.




Not just the palm lines of your hands

But the spaces between fingers, hand and hand.


Your nails


Turned, not always in the same direction,

By a single screwdriver set.




In a sequence

Every word is bigger.


Blackened worlds hang in white space;

The space between is small.




Sundog Howl


‘Better bring

A shovel.’

– Scott Walker, Sundog


When Scott Walker died he left me his voice,

Tore out the redness of his throat and pressed it in black.


Scott, you go night flying

And I walk in the day.


I put my ear to your coffin.

Heard nothing.


You promised you’d be listening,

You and Brel; bet your getting along real well.


They buried you like a dog’s bone

Finished playing.


Scott, you walk beneath the earth.

There’s no dancing near your grave.


The later stuff, you couldn’t dance to.

Thought I’d bring a shovel, and a show.


Later, I heard you punching the meat

Over by the funeral spread.


The thumbs of spring

Have closed your eyes.


The disc turns and turns again.


The sundog sets

The sundog plays

Another set piece.





Daniel Hinds won the Poetry Society’s Timothy Corsellis Young Critics Prize. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The London Magazine, The New European, Wild Court, Stand, The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019-2021, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, Blackbox Manifold, The Honest Ulsterman, Fly on the Wall Press Magazine, Finished Creatures, Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology, Newcastle University’s One Planet Anthology, Amethyst Review, Perverse, Streetcake Magazine, Riggwelter, Orbis, The Seventh Quarry, The Wilfred Owen Association Journal, Selcouth Station, Nightingale & Sparrow, Cardigan Press’s Byline Legacies anthology, BFS Horizons, and elsewhere. Twitter: @DanielGHinds


Three poems by Sarah Barr




The house dreams of white doves on its roof,

remembers a time of coal fires in hearths,


old people in cotton hats under apple trees,

a girl who yanks open sash windows,


shouts, and acts funny plays on the terrace.

The house, too, longs to be an actor.


At night, it sinks deeper into itself –

shifting to clay, trees, slate, and water.


The girl dreams of flying from a bridge

over a ruined house she once saw


as she walked her dog across the moors.

A few atoms in her cells remember


a time before houses, birds, and even earth

as she spins dreaming into space, the universe.





She’d heard enough of the argument and how

whether frozen, fresh or shelled, it was

impossible to find a succulent prawn.


Now they were tangled in chopped lettuce.

She couldn’t resist dipping her finger in

to suck the sweet Marie-Rose sauce.


Like a jilted girlfriend or abandoned baby,

an extra prawn hung over the rim

of each glass bowl on its skinny stem.


Her mother said the dinner would be a disaster,

Chicken Kiev with its whiff of ‘The Spy Who

Came in From the Cold’ gave the wrong message


and the Gateau Mont Blanc reminded her

of the time he went away on business.

‘Business?’ her mother screamed along the landing.


There was a ring-ring at the door,

and she wondered if they’d stop shouting upstairs.

She took each prawn from its perch and swallowed –


they were salty, plump and a little crunchy –

just as her mother appeared smiling, and wearing

stiletto heels and a green satin dress.






The leaning apple tree

is still as high

as the upstairs window.


Saved from the builders,

now it repays


with sharp, unnamed fruit

we pick with claw and net

on a long pole.


A woodpecker delves

into the crumbling trunk.


Unless we remember to tie

round the green band


moth caterpillars crawl up

to gorge themselves.


On summer nights

apples thud an erratic beat

on grass and stone.


A dark shadow keeps growing

and sucking the branches.


We were going to pull down

the clump but there seemed


little point in mistletoe

in the hall this Christmas.


If the tree falls

we’ll chop its wood

to warm us in the cold.





Sarah Barr writes poetry and fiction, and her writing is published in a wide range of anthologies, magazines and newspaper. She lives in Dorset with her husband and loves walking along the coast. Her short poetry collection, ‘January’, was published by Maytree Press in 2020. Among the prizes won by her poems are first in the Frogmore Poetry Prize 2015 and the National Memory Day poetry competition 2018, and placed in the Bridport Prize 2010 and 2016. Sarah often writes about relationships and has particular interest in psychological, social and environmental issues. Her poem, ‘Swans on the Vltava River’, appeared in MIR the Climate Issue 2019.


How to feel a sense of relief and/or joy when you are stuck in a small flat and unable to go anywhere, see anyone or doing anything interesting

By George Parker


Let a house plant with little leaves dehydrate then water it very gently. Stand close and breathe out slowly through your mouth. Watch how it trembles.


Call someone you don’t want to talk to but should. At a time that you hope they won’t answer. Count seven rings and then hang up. Quickly.


Find a recording of wood pigeons on the internet. Curl up comfortably with a view of roof and sky and listen to them coo. Make the shape with your lips.


Take a pillow and blanket and place them on your kitchen floor. Lie down, wrap yourself in them and look up at how big and spacious the room seems.


Use a felt tip pen to draw a picture of people on the wall with your eyes closed. Place a little red sticker next to your artwork to show that it has been bought.


Pick up a tangle of something that seems impossible to untie. Do not put it down until every knot is undone. As you pull apart the last one, mutter, “That’s the way to do it”.


Strain to read a good book as the light fades. Wait until it is nearly dark, and the page is brown, letters blurred. Turn on a small lamp near your shoulder.




George (ina) Parker is based in London and studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She is Head of Creative Content for an International Children’s Charity.

THE GREEN DEVIL: three carbon-neutral poems by Noah Birksted-Breen

The Green Devil

                        three carbon-neutral poems by Noah Birksted-Breen


Listen: Running commentary 

(performance poetry)

I run around Hackney Marshes

on 19th October 2020

reading Arne Naess’ “Life and Reason in a Deeper World”



No comment


I always like to do what I cannot do.


Trees do not talk.

Rivers do not talk.

Stones do not talk.


I always like to do what I cannot Tree.


Do do not talk.

Rivers do not do.

Stones do do talk.


I always like to do what Rivers cannot Tree.


Do do I talk.

I do not do.

Stones do do I.


Stones always like to do what Rivers cannot Tree.




The Green Devil



     We need a walkable human,

     walkable settlements.


     From Space,

     Mineral aquamarines and ochres.


     Tailings ponds,

     “Maybe a small nuclear reactor would be best?”


     “Roses will bloom.”


     Indium, neodymium, lithium,

     Steel, silver, copper.


     Oily coined term: “climate change,

     solution, solution, solution, solution,



     Rare-earth, a

     “high-capacity” dying empire,

     black hole, no light,

     “planet-spanning stuff”,

     Decade Zero.


     Death villages will fruit cancer.


     Superstition was insisting upon

     a “radical Revolution”.


     In pursuit of a lifeless, weatherless sky,

     “Lop off one head of the hydra”.


     Face another.



(Found text from Jasper Berne’s ‘Between the Devil and the Green New Deal’ https://communemag.com/between-the-devil-and-the-green-new-deal/)




Noah is an environmental researcher. In 2019, he co-founded the Oxford Flyingless Group @oxford_policy, while also working on research about reducing academic flying at the School of Geography and the Environment (University of Oxford). He is now helping to organise the Carbon Neutrality Summit in Oxford, Milan and Berlin, 8-10 September 2021. Noah is currently completing the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. In 2019, he was the Hackney Winner of Spread the Word’s City of Stories competition. His creative non-fiction piece, Beef, was published by therealstory.org in 2020. He is Artistic Director of @sputniktheatre

FISSURE by Val Whitlock

Val Whitlock reading Fissure




by Val Whitlock            


If you could slit the black, sucked-in skin,

you’d find her there, alone in a chasmic closet.

On such a winter’s day it’s full of all the leaves.

They are red and yellow and green and brown

and titian and bronze and ochre and peach

and amber and olive and ecru and fawn

and copper and gold and chocolate and beige

and sorrel and henna and hazel and rust

and auburn and ginger and russet and tan

and tawny and nut and umber and orange

and desolate blue




She’s a Matryoshka Prune-Shaped Tardis doll.

Who would risk it?

Turning the tops, pulling them off

one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by

The fear of finding never-ending


too hard to bear

Yours or mine?





It’s a fat-suit, Klomp-hard, and she’s crammed inside.                     

No give. No flex. No blooming space.

‘Let me out’, she screams in the bleak

‘Can’t you see me in here?’

But after all these years, she’s virtually invisible.






Matryoshka. ‘Little matron’. Mater. Mother.

A fertility doll.

And all the dolls are her children. Holding hands across kin and clans.

Keep holding tight, my love.






All those Matryoshka tops

Peeling peeling peeling peeling

But even so, who can ever really







When she steps outside the Prune-Shaped Tardis she’s like a colander.

And sticking a finger in a hole in a dyke won’t stop it caving in.  


Try to fill the titanic void. Plug up unpluggable holes.







Why don’t you get this?

feels like

why don’t you get this?



A prune is what’s left.

A handy thing to call upon. For the odd occasion when you need that quick remedy.

Though never a sugar plum fairy.

No comfit.

For her. The dried out. The withered.

The absence of flourish.






Prune. Never sugar coats it. Speaks its mind.

The yearn to expunge. And to cleanse.






But you can’t put new wine in old wineskins

And the ache to shed a skin. To step outside of it all and start over




and inside the Prune-Shaped Tardis, she wonders if she really exists



Slice the shrivelled Prune-Shaped Tardis skin

interior            spherical          photo-backdrop white

lightless    weightless    erstwhile      

and centre-slapped

a slopped scribble

a mooning human doodle

she’s not really this screwed up

she’s just drawn that way




Oval Matryoshka

Ova-less Prune-shaped Tardis





Where are you all, you figurine family?







There they all are. Lined up in a row.

And here we go again. Pulling off tops.

Nothing inside

Nothing inside

Nothing inside

Nothing inside

Nothing inside

Two pills


Do you do it?

Or pin your hope on that last, tiny doll.






Lucky seven

or seven ages

end to end


this tender night

give me a child  

until she is seven


tiny and exquisitely chiselled

and each one that follows

is fashioned around it precisely


the same apart from its greater

size and outward embellishment

as if with the finest

of brush strokes

Sunday’s Child

on Wednesday







she is lumber, shelved

she gazes out from paint-glazed eyes  

gathers herself for the cursory feather dusting.                                 


‘I am all hollow,’

her dark insides yowl.

‘Knock would you                  

knock on my temple block

random rhythmic blurts  

make me reel                                                                                     


drill will you

drill fine deep holes

in my ocarina head

blow blow you winter gale

fill me, balloon me, smithereen me

make me feel

very very

breathe me some euphony                                                                           

from these cinders’






she puts on her uniform

ornate and vividly patterned,

glossy, jaunty,

people meet her in the crowd

jovial, smiling

and have no clue






Once it was so vast inside it was stacked with possibilities.

Prospects. Options.

Rocket Boots.



Val Whitlock is a writer, counsellor and musician. She has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from the University of Birmingham, where she is currently a PhD candidate with a university doctoral scholarship. Her research involves writing a hybrid book which blurs boundaries between poetry, prose, fragments, and other forms. She is also the co-author of five internationally bestselling children’s books on singing, published by Boosey & Hawkes. She gets excited about guitars, books, Stephen Sondheim, and books. She can often be spotted loitering with her greyhound Casper.


Lewis Buxton reading Boy in Various Poses


A Boy Runs 


                 out of his lungs like they are a coat held by a parent at a school gate. The world around him is closing, the shops pulling down shutters as he turns into a cemetery where his heels push the dead further into their graves. He feels his weight on the ankle that crumpled beneath him months ago. He didn’t listen to the physio or do the exercises she gave him. He hoped he would heal himself, that in deepening the wound he would make it more heroic, grow back into the bruised ligaments till his breathing is a spooked horse again. Spittle rattles from his cheeks, the bit between his teeth worn away by worrying, the whip of a hundred fathers keeping him going, going, going.



Boy in Various Poses


The boy is an orange, an apple, a banana, a portrait by one of the Dutch masters, his armpit, a water lily, his dick, the sunflowers. He tries not to move so his twitch won’t break someone’s line. His back is arched so he won’t look so fat, so the light won’t catch his acne scars. They asked him to keep his shoes on, black leather boots beneath a body scuffed by living. He can’t see the sketches but feels the paint slipping down the stretch-marked canvas like beads of sweat from his temple. He feels himself up on the easel, cross legged & naked, his spit turned to acrylic, his peach soft skin, arsehole pink & dark as the pip.



A Boy Does a Magic Trick


            appears in a black suit & striped collared shirt, a new tie & shows the crowd his empty palms. There are doves in his pockets and aces up his sleeves. A rabbit quivers inside the hat of his heart. Boys know sleight of hand so people are always looking somewhere else as their houses of cards fall apart: pick a card, any card this boy says, vanishing into his own head, folding his fingers together like iron rings failing to escape the box he has locked himself in, and being dumped into the Thames. He is gasping but is so magic that no one comes to help him.



Born in 1993, Lewis Buxton is a poet, performer and arts producer. In 2020 he won the Winchester Poetry Prize. His first collection Boy in Various Poses will be published by Nine Arches Press in 2021. He lives in Norfolk.