Nasty Little Intro – Out Now!

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Head over to the Nasty Little Press website to buy my Nasty Little Intro for just £2, or save on postage and packaging by catching me at a festival, gig or She Grrrowls event. There are just 200 copies and both Hannah Jane Walker and Sye Sanders have sold out, so snap them up fast! I highly recommend all the others on offer as I have read them all.

On Friday I’m off to Latitude Festival to perform as a New Voice on the Poetry Stage. I’m extremely excited, and rather overwhelmed at the surreal feeling that I was at Larmer Tree Festival last year and now I’m at lots of different festivals. Teenage Carmina would be proud. Being a strange concoction of introvert + shy girl + quiet one, all my joy is naturally bobbing along with a undercurrent of nervous anxiety. Poets are generally lovely though, so hopefully I’ll be okay and not have to rely too much on the magic fridge I’ve been told about.

On my return I will be collaborating with Not So Popular on the next She Grrrowls event at Blessings in Shoreditch on Wednesday 23rd July. We have Hannah ChutzpahSelina NwuluAmy AcreKemi Taiwo, Prudence Chamberlain, Eley Williams and more.

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Circus Fest

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My poem ‘Monkey Bars’ is currently being displayed at the Roundhouse, along with poetry from some of the other members of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. They will be displayed throughout April as part of Circus Fest. I took these pictures whilst going to see ‘She Would Walk the SKy’, which finishes tomorrow. I was amazed by all the tricks they could do – my favourite was probably the ones where performers let themselves fall after entangling themselves in rope, but there were so many amazing parts, it’s hard to say. There was so much skill and strength in each act.

My piece was inspired by the festival, as well as my own experience pole dancing at university, where I won 1st place in a double routine (see above video). To me, the few skills I learnt during my time at pole dancing lessons was similar to circus skills. The poem was meant to be extended to any circus act, but I was thinking of a move in pole dancing where you push against the floor and hook your leg around into an inversion. I remembered how thrilling it felt to let go of the fear of going up-side-down, because that’s what it felt like – letting go of any fear or inhibitions. A lot of people talk about pole dancing being empowering and people tend to think it’s connected to sexuality, but for me it wasn’t to do with sexuality at all. I wanted to capture what pole dancing meant to me, in a way that also connected with different circus acts.

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I have recently been to Portugal on a writing residency called ‘First Impressions’ where I got a heavily discounted rate to stay at the apartments to write. In turn, I wrote a short story based on the name of the residency, which I still need to edit. I met up with a fellow UEA student, Silvia Rose, who was also staying there, and I was so thankful to have her there – not only because I was nervous to be in a non-English speaking country alone, but we had some fun times together too. We had a day at the beach and were able to take frequent ferries trips to Lisbon too.

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Find out more about my time at the Poetry Potting Shed with Michael Rosen and Niall O’Sullivan, with my blog posts – this is day one. Look out for my upcoming performances on my events page. The first is on Friday 25th April and it is a project working with Anchor House and You Press, where artists have been paired together with homeless residents from the centre in Canning Town, and we have created pieces about each person’s story. Mine is around 8-9 minutes long, and the night features lots of great performers, so I’m really excited to see everyone else. The next event also connects with social change, as Spoken Word London are working together with ‘Survival Guides’, putting on the opening night on Thursday 1st May. There are some great poets that will be down for that, plus there’s an open mic’ section. Fellow Roundhouse Poet, Chris Lawrence is also performing that night, and some of the other members of the group are taking part in NaPoWriMo this month. I’m cheating with pseudo-haikus and pictures, but I recommend the other poets’ work. Lastly, I also had a poem published alongside Matthew Dickerson’s illustration here, in the ‘Blackout’ anthology from Keats House Poets.

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WOW 2014

Last weekend it was WOW festival at the Southbank Centre. I got a weekend pass, despite being at work on the Friday and having lots of poetry things to do (events and workshops with the Burn After Reading Collective and the Roundhouse Collective). On Friday I also got the chance to go to ‘Poetry Live!’ I felt the same as I did when I was younger, and the teachers and pupils felt the same; Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke are great on page, but I’m not keen on their delivery style, and I felt it really didn’t cater to a young age group, where some things would need explaining further in order to know what they were talking about. It picked up with Simon Armitage, and I tried to enjoy Imtiaz Dharker amongst the other noisy school children in my row. Grace Nichols and John Agard were the favourites, and Benjamin Zephaniah wasn’t there as a surprise guest like when I was at school.

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Friday

I went to a discussion between Jude Kelly and actress Maxine Peak, which centred around the world of acting but branched out. It was really interesting and I think it was there where we vowed to complain more actively about the things we don’t like, for example the lack of women on panel shows. I’m going to have to start adding letters of complaint and to my ever-growing to-do list as it is a simple way to be active, and if enough people did it, it could make a change. Meanwhile, the odd tweet will help things along.

I met up with Ruth, a fellow Burn After Reading poet, and we watched a bit of Lyrically Challenged before making our way to The Gallery Cafe. I felt each performer got better as it went along, and I preferred them when they had the musical backing as I thought it suited their style more and they were stronger together. The beats in the background added to the rhythm of their voices working together.

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Saturday

I was sad to miss the first session of the day, and the first talk I went to was ‘Cyber Bullying’. I was disturbed and upset seeing Caroline Criado-Perez’s slideshows of abusive tweets; the violent language, misogyny and clear threats (e.g. posting her address) and hearing about Ava Vidal’s having had lynch threats, and online abuse turning physically threatening and having to run for her life. I came to this talk because I work at a school, and what I thought is that I need to explore language more with my students and not just tell them things are wrong. The sad thing is, these conversations are increasingly being seen as ‘dead time’ and my role exists purely to help students get their C-grades. After finding out that it is mostly young girls that use words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ against each other casually, it has made me feel it is my duty to weave in some Feminism into my lesson plans somehow. In terms of how to deal with cyber abuse, the jury is out. It is about judgement, how much time you have and your mental and physical capacity to engage. Sometimes you need to respond directly, other times you should ignore and respond only on a platform such as a blog like this, and other times, for your own sanity, you need to ignore it. Useful campaigns may take place on Twitter (too large a force to boycott unless a viable alternative is presented, after all, women leaving Twitter will just mean that we are silenced in another area of our daily life), such as #twitterallowsabuse and #twitterissexist so that we can spread awareness and show Twitter negatively for not being active enough (for example, not providing evidence in court cases).

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The next talk I went to was ‘In the Classroom’ where a panel of 11-17 year olds were in conversation with a teacher from Mulberry School (sounded so much better than my school). Although it was horrible to hear how prevalent sexual harassment is in schools, it was inspiring to hear such young women participate in Feminism. I asked a question about the dangers of some of the girls where I work wearing the hijab, less for religious reasons, and more for its confusion for being about modesty, with girls saying they see it as a uniform they put on so that boys don’t think they are ‘bad’, therefore as a way of disuading them from sexually harassing them. This idea reinforces the virgin/whore dichotomy and the misogynistic misconception that a woman is ever “asking for it” with what she wears. I was afraid of asking the question, in case Aneesa thought I was assuming anything about her own reasons for wearing the hijab, but she responded with an articulate plea to show girls that they can be whoever they want to be, and to explore issues within relationships between boys and girls.

Lastly, I went to the highlights, where poet Anthony Anaxagorou made a great point about the hierarchy of offensive comments in schools in terms of how they are dealt with. It made me reflect on my own actions and how even as a woman an a feminist, I haven’t treated the sexist comments as seriously as racist or homophobic comments. The ‘why’ is certainly something to think about here, and partly goes along with the idea that if you complain about sexism, it wouldn’t be taken as seriously by SLT etc. which is an unfair assumption. In the same way, some of us seem to accept comments like the ones made from Dappy on Celebrity Big Brother (I had heard about this stuff but I hadn’t actually seen any until now); we complain about it on various social media, but often the action that is needed is not taken because of this hierarchy that Anthony was talking about.

Although I think Anthony is great (check out his political night Out-Spoken), I wasn’t sure about his comment about ‘where do boys go?’ in relation to Feminism, because I believe that they need to learn through Feminism so they know that it is not something that is against them, but it is something that fights for their right to be who they are and who they want to be. I highly recommend this book after seeing Michael Kaufman a couple of times: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. There are also more books that could be useful in terms of this discourse. That said, I agree it’s not so easy to find, because when you type in “men and feminism” into Amazon, you need to decipher the useful books from the misogynistic ones (and the ones that say they aren’t, but are). Maybe the lack of these books is because of social conditioning, some men only seem to care about these issues when they are about men, for instance, when texting my friend he said he would be interested in going to Being a Man at Southbank, but not Women of the World… whilst I was more interested in BAM than my boyfriend. #whataboutthemenz

Caroline Bird also gave us an insight into the Under-10 Feminists group, which sounded fabulously inspiring, and Shami told us of the importance of legal aid, from her talk ‘State Failure: Human Rights Principles’. There really is too much to include in one post, so I must highly recommend both BAM and WOW.

Sunday

A quick note of what I was able to go to on Sunday before I went to my poetry workshop. I decided to attend the Funny Women comedy workshop. It was very popular and I didn’t get to share anything, but as much as it would have been good to get up in front of everyone in terms of totally getting out of my comfort zone, the women who did were great and I spoke to a few nice people, including Lynne Parker (the workshop leader) and the stall holders downstairs. Then I went to the workshop/discussion on body image – The Personal is Still Political #ownyourbody. Here I found that 35% of girls have dieted by the age of SEVEN. Not only is the age shocking for anyone, but from someone who has never dieted, it is even more so. But, perhaps most women will find that confession about myself shocking, considering that 9/10 women diet. That said, the biggest reason for me not dieting is not because I have amazing body confidence, but because I like chocolate too much and I have always known it’s stupid and ineffective (93% of dieters regain the weight). Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness; girls and women are literally starving themselves to death. In this talk, I spoke to a lovely woman who I regretted not keeping in contact with as I went off. It was a weekend of honesty, and despite the statistics and evidence, sometimes you just need some human encounters.

Listen Softly London

My next gig is on Wednesday 19th March at Listen Softly London: Take Stock – A Celebration Of Pen Wielding Women, where I will be performing alongside Sara Hirsch, Ollie O’Neil, Fran Lock and Loren Kleinman. I will be bringing my best Feminist poetry to explore issues of body image, gender roles and rape culture. I haven’t blogged in ages and this has taken me over two hours to write, so I am going to post away and hope to see you next week!

Taking Risks

On Saturday 30th November I performed as part of the current Roundhouse Poetry Collective cohort in the Roundhouse Studio. I had just seen Kate Tempest’s play ‘Wasted’ there and so it was pretty exciting to be in the space. We had time to do a quick run through and then the doors were opened!

In the lead up to the showcase, I had suggested the theme of games, after thinking about a piece I wanted to write. Luckily people were on board with the idea and we all got writing. The piece I wrote was a story surrounding a game of Risk. I’d initially written it out in prose for a short story competition called ‘Story Slam Live’, but I never got to share it as names were picked out of a hat and there was a cap. I didn’t realise this, and really think they should have said beforehand as I had prepared it for two months, editing it down to 5 minutes. In the end, I enjoyed listening to other stories and I realised mine wasn’t really a story at all.

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My story was based on a real life experience and my first attempt at writing about it was something I needed to get out. The poem that it became was driven by this same necessity to get people to understand the message that my story illustrated. The editing process came through getting feedback. At the Story Slam event I actually had one woman read through it as she was curious to see what I had planned (I had embarrassingly put my hand up when my name wasn’t read out at the start). Then over a few short weeks, with the help of Bohdan Piasecki and my collective of poets, it developed into a seven minute performance poetry piece.

I have provided two recordings here as the actual performance didn’t quite catch the first words. Funnily enough, we got the audience to pick names out of a hat to determine our order. Despite our worries about audience, apparently it was sold out! Maybe because of our run-through, it was less nerve-wracking, but I ended up performing my piece last. I didn’t hear much from the audience, other than one passing woman congratulating me. I was unsure and then feared the feedback from Inua Ellams (Bohdan was away for the possible birth of his child, so Inua kindly stepped in).

As I love Inua’s own poetry, it was especially meaningful to hear him use words like ‘brave’ and ‘gorgeous’ to describe my work. He even said that it broughr tears to his eyes because it was a story of human experience. Although I have had feedback from both him and Bohdan about making the ending ‘more of a purse-clip than a door slam’, part of me likes that sometimes. Part of me thinks that maybe it’s important that it is a door slam, as it serves to highlight the point of why I had to do the poem. And maybe I could have edited it again, but every time I look at it and think about taking something away or changing bits, I realise that it wouldn’t be quite how I want it, and I am happy with it. In a way, not editing it again after this process is a risk as people may not like the ending, but as long as people know it is a conscious decision that I felt was integral to my writing the piece. It is a poem that went through motions of quietness and rage, but ultimately, it was a call to action for everyone to take a risk now and again.

Long Walks

Recently, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Southbank Centre hosted an event called ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ based around Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It was an incredible evening of poetry, music, video and readings from the book. I was excited to listen to Shingai Shoniwa’s acoustic version of ‘Never forget You’, to be hypnotised by Inua Ellam’s poetry and to see Lemn Sissay – who performed a song by Gil Scott Heron. Although those were the acts I was familiar with already, I could not have picked a highlight. The people performing were diverse in terms of both gender and race, and there was a real feeling of unity between the acts, as well as the audience. The whole show left me feeling hopeful, inspired and positive.

Then the other day I saw an article by Lemn Sissay about a recent visit to Shetland, where he was featured at a literary festival called Wordplay. This article was about coming across a tourist shop that displayed an array of golliwogs. He also wrote about it on his blog. The Shetland Times also wrote a piece on it, seeming to sympathise with the shop-owner. What sickened me were the mass of comments taking the shop-owner’s side, the ignorance and implicit (at times explicit) racism embedded in their words. I can’t even comprehend the woman of African heritage who advised that Sissay ‘read a bit’ and insulted his literary status. Whilst I don’t imagine the non-poetic will have always heard of him, these comments were ridiculous.

For me, the fact that the white shop-owner, Mrs Leask, dismissed the “rare” complaints she had received (which Sissay tentatively enquired about) and refused to stop selling them, to the degree that she would close the shop before she stopped selling them, means that she is not someone to sympathise with. Whilst I would not condone Sissay’s emphasis of the word ‘old’ in his piece, I’m not going to chastise someone who has had to fight racism his whole life. I find it hard enough myself to imagine the hurt, anger and frustration at seeing a golliwog as a black person. The golliwog is a well-known emblem of racism, and serves as a reminder for a horrific past. To sell one in a shop as fun, toy memorabilia is ignorant. Mrs Leask has made the choice to ignore the complaints, and as Sissay says, she is making a statement with her display in the same way that writers may do with words. You can decide who is right and who is wrong.

It is such a shame that this can still happen at a time where such a celebration of progress at the Queen Elizabeth Hall has taken place. Whilst I can understand that someone is going to get defensive about their actions when being accused of being racist because they think they are “not a racist” – supposedly indicated by the Mohammed Ali photograph Sissay mentions was also on display – it would be better if people could admit such mistakes and be open to learn how to right their wrongs. Otherwise, the photograph of Ali and polite exchange with Sissay simply becomes nothing more than a pathetic reasoning such as “my best friend is black”. This reasoning may make Mrs Leask feel better about herself, but it doesn’t promote positive change and is a backwards movement in the fight for equality for all.

xxx

She Grrrowls & Politics

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With She Grrrowls just finding its feet and me just about recovering from a post-launch cold, I think it’s about time I wrote about its first instalment. I arrived at The Gallery Café over 3 hours before the event’s start time. As I can’t afford to fork out £50 on a sound technician, I decided to bring a pad of paper and pen to note down the basics. It seemed easier enough and despite some initial problems, it was working. That was when things started to take a turn for the worst. There was a party of 30 people due an hour before the event for a buffet, which did no good for my pre-show anxiety. Then, my comedy act got in contact to say she was too ill to do the show. I was further sent into a panic when part of the She Grrrowls team was taken down by a kidney infection. I was on the edge of a meltdown. Still, guest host Joelle Taylor turned up and got her hands dirty moving tables with me, providing a welcome relief.

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Twenty minutes before the start, I tested the music again. No sound came out. No sound. We had no sound. What was I going to do? The events manager was off sick, and I hadn’t a clue how to work out what the problem was, let alone fix it. The café never closed its doors, so people were coming in and I was running round like a headless chicken. Joelle kindly jumped on stage to tell people to pay and I ran back and forth to collect money and check on the sound. Time was a blur, and somehow, with the help of the café staff and the band, the sound began to work through one speaker – not the ones above, but one sat on the stage. Booking a six-piece band for the first event was probably a bit ambitious, but through working together, it all turned out okay and we were able to start the show before 8pm.

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My head was a whirlwind, but I was thankful I didn’t have to worry about the audience and the artists. The open mic’ (themed ‘politics’) was a great success… from a rather unusual but expected ‘alternative view’ to established poets like Pete the Temp and Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson, as well as emerging artists I was glad to see take to the stage, including a lovely lady called Imogen who rhymes under ‘Average White Female’. The audience looked packed – we ran out of seats (mostly because I didn’t have time to remove all the tables) and I counted around 40-50 people. The best part of this means that each act took away around £30 payment (although the ever-supportive Joelle tried to give the money back to She Grrrowls) and I would love to increase that amount by getting bigger audiences. What’s more is that the event had positive feedback – one couple who had come in for food (the guy had just arrived back from Canada) were convinced to stay for the show and left telling Joelle that this was just the kind of event they had been looking for: good quality poetry without the pretence.

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I managed to relax enough to talk to a couple of friends who came to watch, and to be able to enjoy the rest of the show. Momina Mela offered us beautiful poetry with words that melt your soul, each word spoken slowly, carefully, as if each word was a jewel offered as a gift to the audience. Momina has an uncanny way with words and amazes with each line of poetry. Aisling Fahey then wowed the audience with her raw honesty; lines like ‘how to hold their frame without wishing there were less of it’, although about eating disorders, was both horribly relatable and undenyably tragic. A poem that goes beyond the experience of eating disorders and makes you wonder why you would ever want to be less of yourself, like you’d be destroying a part of yourself.

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Sunshine in Mae finished the night and left everyone with a smile on their face. Fronted by Sula Mae, this six piece band also had some guys in it (see – showcasing female talent, not completely banning men). I knew Sula Mae from university as a solo artists so it was incredible to see her songs grow to such a level, hearing new tracks and old favourites like ‘Wake up Mr. Billy’. People hung around after and chatted, before Joelle helped me pack all the equipment away (what a star!) I was left exhausted, but elated, and so so thankful to everyone who was involved in making She Grrrowls a success.

Watch some of the poetry from the launch on the She Grrrowls Youtube Channel.

Since then, I encountered yet another hurdle! The booking system at The Gallery Cafe hadn’t registered future She Grrrrowls events. After waves of panic via email and feeling sick all day, I was able to sort it out and have spent the last week re-arranging bookings. The next event will be on Saturday 5th October – I had to change a couple of acts but you can see the confirmed line-up below… the change of theme to ‘sex’ seemed appropriate (well, we couldn’t do ‘space’ without Helen Keen)! I’m excited as I won’t be tired from work and my boyfriend will be there to enjoy the show (and help me out) – poetry on a Saturday night, what a treat! The rest will be every THIRD MONDAY of each month.

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Dysfunctional

Having returned from a much-needed break in Corrèze, France, visiting my Gran, I have now found the time to write a about my latest poetic adventure (though not the time to go through emails just yet). Over the last few months I’ve been taking part in a series of workshops with different mentors, through The Writing Room with Apples & Snakes. This culminated in a group performance on 13th August.

The Writing Room Showcase sort of felt like the coming together of a dysfunctional family, including some family members you never knew existed. Some pieces were created through workshops with the mentors, some throughout the last few months leading up to the show, and some just days before the event, but through the process we learnt a lot and came together as a group – the room filled with support for those that take on the risky path of the art world…

Ben Jacobs – for the ups and downs of the process, sharing in the strangeness of not making the cut for Young Poet Laureate for London, and the hope for the future.
Lateisha Davine Lovelace-Hanson – for her words of wisdom and loosening us up for the performance, making me laugh and taking me out of myself when all I could think of was trying to remember my poetry. Reminding us that we need to “own” our words.
Kes Gill-Martin – for a piece that spoke volumes about what we’re all trying to do, which I need as my mantra when I’m struggling with the ideas of ever having kids and a mortgage.
Rachel Long – for writing so many beautiful and varied poems I want to hear them all again, including a really witty piece about the Megabus that I could really identify with. For her warm smile and hugs.
Sarah Ball -for the way her voice and beautiful words resounded through my mind throughout the weeks we were preparing our poems for the showcase.
Temi Lateef – for letting his guard down and speaking of love and its complexities in a way we all know, standing out for what he believes to be good and true.
Ruban Nathan – for expanding our horizons, telling untold stories from his travels, and for making me feel better for my splurge in Beyond Retro after seeing his bag at Roger’s session.
Lucy Jackson – for writing and performing a great piece, and then acknowledging that a writer’s work is never done – the struggle and enjoyment are one. And for, like me, eating a proper dinner from Thai and Lao at Boxpark (yum!)
Kareem Parkins-Brown – for his amazing imagery and figurative language, making my jaw-drop from the first session we were together in, with Joelle Taylor.

Daisy Dockrill – for doing her job so incredibly well and for her never-ending positive energy!

Sabrina Mahfouz – for getting the crowd going with an amazing poem and inspiring us that if we get out there, we can be a success.

Roger Robinson – for the workshop that shook me up and meant that I memorised my pieces, and for coming along and supporting the show, making me feel good about my writing.

Joelle Taylor, Mark Grist and Mixy – for some wonderful mentoring sessions that have produced pieces I’ve wanted to write but haven’t, and for all the mentors involved for showing us the importance of editing and re-working – Ben and I hope to record a version of our joint piece in the future, when we’ve got it to a place we’re both happy with.

Mary Akinsulire – for sending me a kind message when I really needed it, because despite all this positivity, sometimes you can just feel down.

Our theme began with my idea for the unspoken stories of the many people on public transport, and it became a tale of our personal journeys, with a connection between us encapsulated by five lines I ended with:

During the delay I derailed myself,
escaped onto the tracks.
My emergency was a red light;
the signal failure told me to run,
reminded me of fields and trees and dreams.

My offering for the showcase can be read below:

You know me as the wallflower

Pressed up against glass,
bodies and newspapers.
Glass without transparency,
bodies without intimacy,
newspapers with blurred words.

I peer over your shoulder
like a warm breath,
trying to work out
who you are,
where you’re going.

You know me as the wallflower,
but, I don’t smile for you. Sometimes,
you may witness a sorrow you cannot place.
You want to ask if I’m okay,
as you wonder why my eyes well, my body swells
with a habit I just can’t shake,
as damaging as an earthquake,
but soft as a petal,

you know me as the strange one, quiet one,
the one who you can’t quite put your finger on,
you linger on me just for a second, move on
like a passing thought, a panic
– did you leave the iron on?

Mostly, I blend like a colour palette,
but my shoulders are a little too bent forward,
my cheeks flushed, I sometimes sweat,
eyes glance down but speak when met.
I am unknown, and that’s as good as it gets

stuffed up inside here like sausage meat.
Tired eyes are made up with mascara,
hidden with sunglasses.
Heads bend down,
eyes closed, just resting,
or fixed on a game of Tetris,
or not even there, but stretching
out of the window,
out of at patch of sky
through a slit of space.

I create characters out of your tattoos,
your scuffed shoes, your bead of sweat,
your lazy eye, your pink silk tie.
Imagine people I haven’t met
out of your plum-red lips,
your bitten-bleeding fingertips,
your eye-brow piercing,
piercing blue eyes, piercing voice
carried through phone lines,
train lines, blood lines

and much as we crane our necks,
we wouldn’t see a helicopter crash, so close,
shrapnel flying like a wedding bouquet,
the carriages rolling like a divorce,
eventually leaving Vauxhall for Waterloo,
where the beat of footsteps
cries out for the river,
but is carried underground instead.