Another week, another poetry assignment

Mother and daughter in Saigon, 2014.

This week, we were set three poetry tasks. I don’t know what it is about these tasks but they make me so angry to look at, and I feel really resistant to doing them. I think about complaining, dropping out of the class, then I just do it and find myself really enjoying it.

Here was the outline of the first task:

Spend 20-30 minutes writing with the following suggestions in mind:  
• Have hovering over the writing piece the sense that force is more primary than clarity
• Include some form of repetition such as anaphora or polyptoton*
• Include an exclamation
• Include a self-deprecating moment 
• Write a Love poem 
* Anaphora – repetition of a word at the beginning of a sentence / stanza; Polyptoton – repetition of a word in different forms e.g ‘tight’ might include tightly, tighten, tightrope.
So I tried the task, mainly resistant due to the first bullet point, which I was skeptical about (pretentious bullshit alert?). I ended up using the word ‘light’ in order to incorporate anaphora and polyptoton, and I used a piece of free writing from last week’s seminar as material. The free writing itself was about a dream I’d had the night before. In the dream I had a daughter, and I woke up missing her but feeling loved by this imaginary child. Then, a nasty interaction with a stranger that day, though unrelated, killed the feeling of being important/responsible/loved. Hard to explain, just a feeling coming and going, which I suppose is apt material for writing with ‘force’, not ‘clarity’. This isn’t a finished poem, but the product of 20-30 minutes of writing (as the task dictated).
Emily x
P.S. My tutor gave me some homework back (a poem) and asked why I’d aligned it to the centre of the page. So I’m left justifying this one.


Light hair, light eyes,
when I wake, she’s still there –
Child of light.
Three feet tall, slight.
Warmed for the remainder of the day
by her eyes full of delight,
delight we share.
Hers and mine.

Light with the night memory,
Night flutter,
but my stomach feeling flatter,
feeling empty. Feeling lighter,
having never really held her –
Lightning bug.

Light all day thinking of her,
her slight arms, her light hair,
I walk lighter, light as air,
with my womb-bound
luminary. Firefly,
waiting somewhere.

Light still later, in the car park,
glide down the cold, cemented stair.
No normal urine stench, only
delight in the fresh air –

Alight on someone. But not her.
Watch your fucking step, Moron!
Cold contempt. Darker stare.

Light hair, but not hers.
Not here yet, not anywhere.

Sonnet 212

Head in the clouds - Amsterdam, October 2015.
Head in the clouds – Amsterdam, October 2015.

I wrote this poem around two years ago – the first love poem I’d ever written. It came after a conversation with Pete about how we use the word ‘reality’. So often we attribute it to the things we do – in particular the things we don’t want to do. ‘Oh well, back to reality!’ ‘It’s time she started living in the real world!’ ‘The alarm clock going off again was a real reality check!’ This struck me as a strange truth: isn’t the world of our thought, going on silently and personally inside our brains, the real reality? Isn’t that the thing we are experiencing most of the time: that we wake up with and go to bed with and have to put to one side occasionally in order to attend the far less natural obligations of dentists appointments and meetings with our colleagues?

I’m always resistant towards any way of thinking which strives to make life seem more unpleasant and strict than it actually has to be, and I suppose this falls in with that. Give me the internal reality of books, love and daydreams any day.

Besides that tangent, this is also a sonnet which likens falling in love to the Big Bang. Not that I take myself too seriously, or anything.

Emily x

Sonnet 212 or Virtual Reality

In over-starched clothes in a blank hotel,
We said the world existed in our heads.
My life began (or really got going)
On a rain soaked blanket, a king-size bed.
The Big Bang banged in a makeshift teepee,
foreign bodies binding; new entities.
Elements exploded; bound you to me.
The solid world around us began to
redefine itself; empty cells imbued
with fireflies and lightning, meaning renewed.
Carbon became two technicolor gods,
Dorothy landing in the land of Oz.

The galaxy lives in your underwear;
In a midnight feast; a waiting room chair.

Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

Kyoto, Japan. 2015
Tokyo, Japan. 2015

Here’s a poem I wrote today, with the maudlin voice of Philip Larkin in my head. I’ve included one of my favourites of his below, which is on the same topic as mine: isolation.

Emily x


Side by side we lay in bed;
I tried to crawl inside your head.

‘Too dangerous’, you warned,
‘Too dark to see.
There’s things you won’t like
inside of me’.

I dragged them out;
I had to see.
You felt more lust for her than me.

When will I learn to let things be?

The hardest thing to take, for me,
Was never hate but apathy.


Talking In Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Another Love Poem

Fansipan Sunshine
The Earth not looking very round, Fansipan, Vietnam. New Years Eve 2014

Here is a simple love poem about Pete and the fact that the best is yet to come… and has been a long time coming (1.5 solar laps and counting).

Emily x

The Earth is round

“Good morning!” He said, from his Derbyshire library,
“Good evening!” Said she, from her Saigon classroom,
“The earth is round” said he, “so our paradoxical greetings
can exist side by side, as the sun and the moon.”

“The roundness of the Earth – it reassures me.
It reminds me of things I like to know are true:
that there will always be seasons, and nights and days,
And that eventually all roads will lead back to you.”

“If you called your dad he could stop it all”

Daddy and Daughter 2
Happiness is: beer, word games and my dad. The Vendee, France. July 2010.

When I am asked if I am a daddy’s girl or a mummy’s girl I say I am a both girl. I am fortunate enough to have really close relationships with both of my parents. They both indulge me a lot, which my brother would probably say explains a lot about my personality.

My dad is basically me plus thirty years and a beard. When he saw that I had posted a poem about my mum he moaned about feeling left out. I sympathise with this because it is exactly what I would have done.

So in the spirit of celebrating my father – and the fact that I am my father’s daughter – here is a pair of poems. The first is from me to him on his 58th birthday and the second is from him to me on my 22nd. His was written to accompany a collection of 20 or so mix CDs he’d made for me. For a firefighting, beer swilling, outdoor meat cooking football fan, he’s pretty sentimental.

Mine should be taken with a pinch of salt, particularly if you are Pete. I just wanted the poem to reflect on how lucky I am to have a dad who has not only been a role model but has become a friend; I have my dad to thank for Fleetwood Mac, my driving licence, my ability to complete cryptic crosswords and every piece of barbecued meat I’ve ever eaten. Also, the nose, but you can’t win every time.

Emily x

Ladies, lock up your daughters

Daddy you’ve made it hard to find the one.
It’s not that all the boys who have been and gone
haven’t been met with your kinder side:
You welcomed them.
God knows, you tried.

But knowing you has set a bar
and no one else has gone as far
as you have.

Knowing – as I do – that you exist
makes it hard to turn these silly trysts
into something more crystalline.

I can’t tolerate a receding hairline
or poor grammar or not knowing
how to fuse a plug,
how to solve cryptic crosswords
or computer debug.

Surely there must be a man
who can do all the things that you can?
Who’ll sincerely sing Belinda Carlisle
and can cook
and walk over four miles
in an hour?

I feel it’s my responsibility
to find a better man than did mummy.
Otherwise surely it’s devolution.
But who constructs puns as well as you can?

Daddy you’ve heard this one before
But I guess they don’t make ’em like you anymore.


A Girl!

28, 5, 89
You came into my life
Blonde, boisterous, beautiful
I am not used to this.
Time flew, you grew
Confident, clever, inquisitive:
Frightening me with your independence
Years pass,
A tumbling mass of
Strange fire stationy days out,
Blue plastered ankles,
Academic brilliance,
Spatial ineptitude,
Inappropriate boyfriends,
You, holding a mirror to my face
Too soon you left
You’d grown, you’d flown
More years flow by
We reunite
Me, fit to burst with pride
You, a woman.

Prats-de-Mollo, August 2012
Prats-de-Mollo, France. August 2012

Tips for curing writer’s block

Last year I taught Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Birthday’ to my IGCSE English class and was inspired to write my own spin on it.

Writing about love is, I think, to engage with a paradox. What makes the feeling of falling in love so powerful is its freshness; the way that it feels as if it’s happening for the first time: not just for you but for anybody, ever. Art often fails to recognise this is, I feel, in the sense that the ‘novel’ feeling being presented by the artist is seldom novel for the reader. Love has to be felt to be believed and to try and understand it through the eyes of another is as futile and alienating as trying to feel high by watching someone else’s trip.

For me, Rossetti manages to sidestep this cliche in ‘A Birthday’ by draping her imagery not around her beloved (look! He’s really so wonderful you know!) but around the feeling. In that final couplet she tells us everything we need to know about how it feels to fall in love: bring out the parade, the time has arrived and it’s everything they said it would be. Here we are not celebrating a lover but the feeling of love itself.

With the above in mind, I won’t babble about my own experience of being in love and will instead just say that I had lots of fun updating Rossetti’s regal and romantic imagery to something a little bit more modern.

In case there was any risk of you becoming confused, it’s Rossetti’s I’ve included below first, then my own version ;). If you’re stuck for creative inspiration then I’d really recommend this method of getting your ideas going by writing a response to a poem that already exists!

Emily x

A Birthday – Christina Rossetti

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
Hue Love Statue
“The birthday of my life is come, my love is come to me.”

Pete and heartbeats – Emily Victoria

My heart is like a finish line,
The heady rush, relief at last.
My heart is like a skimming stone,
Out to the lake I’m gladly cast.

My heart is midweek visitors,
Too much wine and no alarm clock dread,
My heart is crisp weekend pillows,
The first snow drop, the road ahead.

My heart, it seems to beat much more,
Since it became a metaphor.

Pete And Heartbeats
On a half empty sleeper bus to Dalat, Vietnam, July 2014.

Darling, let’s have a teenager!

When I was fifteen I was, briefly, a ‘nasty-piece-of-work’. Not in any dramatic or scandalous way that would seem particularly unusual to most people; just enough for me to look back and wince at how I treated my mum. Once, the school phoned her to tell her I’d played truant and she confronted me. I met her with an icy, contemptuous glare: “mother, when are you going to realise that I don’t care about school?” Me, who only a couple of years previous had been a lunchtime library assistant; who had worn her form ‘Vice Captain’ badge with pride and who had accounted for 50% of the sign-ups to the after-school Physics club! She looked at me as though I were a cuckoo who had just hatched in her nest and eaten her baby.

It must be difficult to wake up one day and find you’ve got an imposter in the house: an adult who treats you with a distant disdain; who keeps secrets and strives to push you away. If I ask her about it now she is very diplomatic: “it wasn’t very nice; I just waited and hoped you’d come back again”.

When I moved to Vietnam I knew it wasn’t what she wanted. My mum has always wanted me to be happy, but moving 14,000km away from her put that under a lot of strain. I realised one day how, when I moved to Ho Chi Minh City with the full support and encouragement of my mum behind me, she had prioritised my happiness over hers.  So had I, and it made me feel very small.

How can we ever do enough to pay back the debts we owe to our mothers?

Emily x

With mama in snow
Unexpected snow in London, January 2012.

Darling, let’s have a teenager!

When motherhood first sang to thee,
Did you envisage teenage me?

When you first taught me how to talk,
And beaming, watched me learn to walk,
Knew you I would learn words profane?
Knew you I would leave on a plane?

I wince to think that what you grew,
By growing, disappointed you,
By choosing to walk out the door.
Was your dream daughter twenty-four?

I hope you know that I am blessed.
You filled your child with happiness;
You set me free. The irony:
I hope my baby won’t leave me.