Poetry and Madness

Kinship – an essay

   In our families we find the dramas of human frailty as well as love. We discover that loss and absence are sometimes more important than security, attentiveness and presence.  Kinship, like love, reaches beyond the grave as the dead stay with us and families carry an inheritance of grief as well as the optimism of new life.  In my childhood I was always aware of the ghosts of absent grandmothers, one deeply loved, the other feared and resented.  I learned too about my aunty Joan, my mother’s younger sister, who was killed when she was ten and how much my paternal grandfather disliked us all.  In our families, however they are formed, we find refuge and revolt, both necessities for growth.  Larkin may have been right about what Mam and Dads do (“they fuck you up”) but I find his later lines from ‘This Be The Verse’ more instructive:

                       They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

There is a guarantee of imperfection recognised here that may be the most helpful legacy of being the product of human desire or love, however fleeting and mercurial.

         In Lydia Goldblatt’s exhibition Still Here she honours her parents through work that evidences mortality and serves as visual elegy.  Her images suggest the threshold of life and capture moments at the edges of going.  A single sash window shines out like a floating lantern in the dark night and although there is proportionately more darkness in the image, the intensity of light from within the invisible house implies the warmth of an open hearth.  Within the frame of the window we can see a small silhouette – perhaps a human figure stooping at a desk, struggling to write a final letter or a large, lazy cat peering into the night at rising moths. Someone is always awake in the darkness, sleepless or dying.  Still here.  In another image of her father, Goldblatt shows the old man nodding over a finished meal, an empty plate that bears a knife and the small detritus of eaten food.  A cloth napkin is scrunched up in the corner of the tray, evidence of use and care. The old man is shrouded in deep darkness, light falling as if from an open door or window on his nodding face and upper torso.  We see a small fragment of light on his resting hand.  Still here.  In another image – a bee, perhaps dying, in a pool of its own shadow, rests on a grey surface indoors.  The insect may be revived if offered a small taste of honey on a spoon. 

         There is a photograph of a slim old woman standing in a garden in stocking feet, hands on hips, back to the camera, formality suggested by her smart white polo-neck sweater and green skirt. The lawn is on the verge of anarchy, cool and damp beneath her feet as she faces a wall of japonica and ivy.  She knows who planted this garden.  She knows the grass needs cutting but no longer cares.  There’s another portrait of the elderly father through a gap in the door. He is propped up against a pillow, reading or resting his eyes.  He is captured in the intense colours that suggest Vermeer – gold, pale blue and white, warm reddish browns and ochre.  Next, a woollen textile with a darker scar – too close to make out – suggestive of secrets, then pale, abstract chromatographs that imply experiments in pollen or crocus leaves.  There is the silhouette of a figure holding a camera foregrounded by metal balls hanging from fine chains like amulets or sacred pomades as if the remnants of a deconstructed orrery.  All familes have their orbits, satellites, eclipses, strange signs and archives.

         Still Here offers an intimate glimpse of parents in their ageing days, in their family home, living in changing, vulnerable bodies.  These images hold light in the darkness – a self-protective record of filial respect, elegy and thanks. Goldblatt’s work exemplifies the human desire to hold on to love through mortality and change.  The photograph of her father waving is a symbol of inevitable departure and paternal love in the act of saying farewell.

         If Lydia Goldblatt documents the loving bonds of kinship, Johanna Heldebro’s work, in contrast, shows the divisions and abandonments possible in family life.  Heldebro’s To Come Within Reach of You follows her father in a driven search for the causes of his abandonment as though the mundane record of a man having his lunch, talking on the phone, running or painting a wall could open up the secrets of a treacherous heart. We can see isolation rather than treachery in his everyday actions.  His house is just a house. In the section of photographs named ‘(My Father) From a Distance’ we see a slightly pixelated, out-of-focus head and shoulders shot of a man in a suit, next an image of a map of Sweden, her father’s address labelled, next an aerial photograph of his house, then the image of his house from the street, then the front door.  In separate sequences we find a photograph of an empty train platform in a grey, urban setting, showing a destination sign and waiting times of 9 minutes as well as a clock displaying the time and an empty bench.  Her father is captured at a canteen table surrounded by other diners wearing his black jacket, his left hand held to his mouth and his face full of anxiety and the shadow of a beard.  We see an image of a corporate grey building, presumably her father’s workplace, surrounded by closely cut grass in which one spindly white-barked tree stands like a pencil sketch.  There’s a photograph of family photographs, one of a folded faded blue t-shirt, another of a stack of vinyl albums propped up on a wooden floor leaning against a sealed fireplace in a white wall, with a youthful Bruce Springsteinlooking out at us from the cover of The River.

         Here the photographer is a secret undercover agent, a detective.  She takes photographs inside her father’s new home without his prior knowledge and operates at the extreme edges of acceptability. She follows her father and documents his face and actions, unseen.  It is art as a search for answers, art that assumes control in response to abandonment.  The daughter pursues the father, separates him from others, frames him and finally leaves him offering an image of a snowy pathway in a park:  a suggestion of the road not travelled, or life unlived.

         Whereas Goldblatt is tender, Heldebro transforms her bewilderment into revenge.  Her father is captured like a criminal in pursuit of an unworthy life, yet finally we see him just as a man alone in the world.  His daughter frames him and moves on.

         Without kinship we are bereft and, with it, dissatisfied.  Dickens once claimed that he had never been left anything but relations – perhaps a claim as universally true as it is comic.  Families are comedies and tragedies, full of betrayals and fierce loyalties.  The paradoxes of kinship are portrayed well and in many guises in this new and exciting exhibition.

Previously published in TILT VII (Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, May 2019).

For further information on ‘Still Here’ and ‘To Come Within Reach of You’ see:

Poetry and Madness

The Ghost Hospital

My pamphlet The Ghost Hospital  — published by Maytree Press in 2019 — was shortlisted in the poetry pamphlet category of the Saboteur Awards 2020.

What I hope for these poems is that they create a voice for those who are not listened to. I am interested in exploring the human voice in extremis — those voices that go unheard, voices that are expected to stay silent, that keep things unspeakable.  I am interested in the unsaid.

Thanks to Maria Isakova Bennett, Lewis Johnson and Zannah Kearns for the following reviews:

Maria’s Review

Lewis’s Review in Another North

Zannah’s review in Sphinx OPOIs

The Ward at Night

The women all want cigarettes.
Each of us has left the world,
electric light is low but never out.

The madhouse stripped of colour,
occupants drugged dull and duller
the mask of night is on my face.

The phone is full   no    breathing space
like messages, regrets
small change locked tight.

We line the corridors in disgrace.
The grave’s a fine and private place.
Like stations of the cross we wait, kowtow.

Blue’s a name for health and many songs.
All the people we used to know
illusions to us now.

Long gone exemplars of remembrance —
real, unreal, vision, dream — hidden in our shames;
for one, I made an imprint of her face

gathered in cloth, pressed after love;
rain falling on my shoe. A snowy dove.

Then, an attic prophet, I name my birds:
Baby, Periwinkle, Navy Knickers, Electric,
Pufnstuf, Cornflower, Catweazle, Cobalt,

Crystal Gayle, Sky Blue, Joni and Miles, Sleep-tight,
Mother’s Pride, Omo, Midnight.

from ‘The Ghost Hospital’ (Maytree Press, 2019) p.12

Poetry and Madness

‘This Tilting Earth’

This Tilting Earth Jane Lovell  Winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition (Mslexia/SEREN, 2019)


The axial tilt of the earth ensures seasonal change. The ‘tilt’ examined in Jane Lovell’s poetry suggests other kinds of change – the contest between humanity and Nature and the ever-present danger of the fall. This Tilting Earth is an ethical call for the recognition of realized and threatened extinctions and the darkness of human neglect. In the closing lines of the first poem in the collection, ‘Song of the Vogelherd Horse’ we are offered a warning that combines command and lament:

I was here before your god.
Cherish my broken form.

This voice, of an ancient artefact that emerges from the earth at the behest of the elements, calls for serious attention to human and geological history and evidence. This opening poem also recognizes the ethics and necessity of art and human making, for

the one who smoothed my lissome back,
that carried me against her skin;

serves as a contrast with

another who buried me in soil,                                      
stamped it down.

These 21 poems engage with evidence of loss in many forms. In the title poem (p.8) Lovell surveys the earth’s vulnerability through osteological remains from specific places (Sithylemenkat Lake, Lugovskoe, Waco, Beringia) and through them finds the devastations of famine, hunting/killing, drownings, the Ice Age. Here is archaeological evidence that echoes ‘two worlds’; the overwhelming chaos of ice in the earth’s history and the current threat of climate change. Destruction comes in moments, days, as well as epochs. It is personal, down to the level of each cell. Of the strange Ice Age mammals who were ‘still grazing’

Some say a howling darkness hurled them, bracing,
ice invading every cell and atom, to extinction; 
the final gleam of frozen eyes ...   (p.9)

The subjects of Lovell’s poems include the Victorian ethnographic artist who scrutinizes native Samoans;  the curiosities of Galapagos and the driven taxonomy and killing of living creatures. She shows us the tragedy of human scientific desire to understand and control, a desire that leaves the sought-after creatures extinct, their remains shut in exhibition cases:

see me everywhere you turn

remember as you lift                                                
your glass, my tiny skull (p.19)

There are various subjects considered in This Tilting Earth about human behaviour, including how we disfigure and kill the wonderful (‘Armadillo’ p.20), how we make museum pieces of the remains of astonishing creatures (‘The Prayer of St Simon’ p.25). The ancient cave drawings of Limousin become symbols of our current tentative and poor stewardship of the natural world:

They watch us with oilbloom eyes.                                   
We breathe and they may disappear. (p.10)

This is poetry of the lost and disappeared that acknowledges nature as the ultimate force, above human endeavour and art, whether in ‘The Last Leap of Sam Patch’ (p.12) or ‘Clemency for the Drayman’, a poem that gives us a palpable sense of the creaturely, in spite of the ‘painted eye’:

It’s the lion we remember.
Watch him catch the sun, the glint upon the river,
the glint in his painted eye as the tide turns. (p.11)

In the conclusion to The Song of the Earth (Harvard University Press, 2000) Jonathon Bates presents Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘The Planet on The Table’ as a means of considering “whether you can accept that a poem is not only a making of a self and a making of the world, but also a response to the world and a respecting of the earth.”

Jane Lovell’s poems can be considered poems of this sort. This is a language of lament and ultimately of protest – an eco-poetry that seeks justice for the silent and wounded world.

These are fine, perceptive poems, carefully constructed – they invite return and deep consideration.

Pauline Rowe

Poetry and Madness

Local events for National Poetry Day (3 Oct)

Screenshot 2019-09-12 at 17.09.52.png

Screenshot 2019-09-12 at 17.10.14.png

Poetry and Madness

The Allotments exhibition open 29 August

I’m delighted to announce the opening of a new exhibition that I’ve been working on with colleague Dave Lockwood.  The launch will be 3 pm on Thursday 29 August at Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum.  There will also be a ‘Meet the Artists’ session on Saturday 31 August at the VG&M between 11 am – 1 pm.  All welcome.

Arthur Lockwood _Untitled

Paintings: Arthur Lockwood


As part of LOOK Photo Biennial, 2019 – delivered by Open Eye Gallery – The Allotments exhibition considers Dingle Vale allotments in Aigburth, one of twenty-five working allotment communities in Liverpool. It has been authored with the co-operation of the allotment holders, who shared their insights, stories and experiences. It will be shown at the Victoria Gallery & Museum between 29 August and 28 September.

The Allotments reflects on place and people and offers a meditation about plots of earth that remain places of belonging away from home; the exhibition is, also, an exploration of collaborative artistic practice.

David Lockwood_Untitled_

photo: Dave Lockwood


Allotments are spaces in the heart of a city that feel separate from urban noise and demands — places that celebrate and respect the seasons, the cycle of life. They offer escape from the everyday and provide the opportunity to work alongside others to learn and practice the ancient human labour of making things grow. Here we find small habitations and glass-houses, aspirations embodied in flowers, fruit, trees and vegetables – a harvest that offers elegies to other times and demonstrates hope for the future. There are dahlias and purple sprouting broccoli, cabbages, rhubarb, summer and autumn raspberries, plum trees and tomatoes, busy beehives and a kit of pigeons in flight above the plots. Allotments offer opportunities for friendship and exchange, lessons in the seasons and time to reflect.

This exhibition explores these spaces of cultivation and society through the work of photographer, David Lockwood with poet Pauline Rowe and painter, Arthur Lockwood who, at the age of 85, died while he was working on this project. While Arthur’s career was in publishing, he rekindled his passion for painting when he retired and spent most of the last 30 years exploring, painting and recording the changing face of industry in the Midlands. In his final project he explored the urban oasis of green that provides space and leisure away from the world of work. Arthur brought his characteristic colour to this exhibition.

The Victoria Gallery & Museum is at Ashton St, Liverpool L69 3DR and further information can be found here:

David Lockwood_Tommy Plot 27

photo: Dave Lockwood




David Lockwood

David is a Liverpool based photographer who has been active in both photography and photographic education since graduating from Staffordshire University in the 90’s. David is currently working as a photographer and course leader of the BA Hons Degree in Digital Imaging and Photography at the Hugh Baird University Centre in Liverpool, England.

He has won numerous awards such as the AFAEP (Association of Photographers) Still Life award and North Staffordshire Arts Society Award. He has also exhibited in a wide variety of solo, joint and open exhibitions including the following; Finding Fangorn (displayed at the Open Eye Gallery as part of The Charter for Trees, Woods and People events), playmate, Contra Naturam, Another Mind in Your Eye touring exhibition and performance, Standing Shift performance with photography, the National Trust’s Ham House – Times Past and Present and South BankPhoto Show opens.                                                   Website:

Arthur Lockwood

This was Arthur’s final project. His contact with art began early in life sketching in the company of his father, the painter and designer Frank Taylor Lockwood. Arthur attended Bournville School of Art from the age of 15 then Birmingham College of Art and (after National Service) The Royal College of Art where he studied graphic design.   After a distinguished career as a free-lance designer in the publishing industry in London he returned to the Midlands in 1987 to paint full-time. His mission was to record the architectural and industrial heritage of his native city before it was lost. Arthur was a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Royal Society of British Artists and an Associate Member of the Royal Watercolour Society.

Arthur donated over 1,000 works by himself and his father Frank Lockwood, to Birmingham City Art Gallery & Museum, over 350 paintings and drawings of Black Country Industry to Wolverhampton City Art Gallery and 30 drawings of the coal mining industry to the Herbert Art Gallery Coventry.

Exhibitions include:

2009 Featured Artist – De Laszlo Medal Winner, Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London

Also, major solo exhibitions at the RBSA, Birmingham City Art Gallery and The Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry.


Aawards and prizes include:

Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, 2005

Award, Royal Watercolour Society, 2006

De Laszlo Medal, Royal Society of British Artists, 2008


Publications include:

̛̛Change in the Midlands̛̛ urban and industrial watercolours by Arthur Lockwood published by John Sansom & Co. Ltd in 2007.

̛̛Urban and Industrial Watercolours of Birmingham and the Black Country̛̛ with watercolours by Frank T. Lockwood and Paul Lockwood. By Arthur Lockwood published by Sansom & Company Ltd in 2012.


Further Information:


Pauline Rowe

Pauline is a Liverpool based writer, poet and tutor. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the National Association of Writers in Education. She has worked with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust as Poet-in-Residence since 2013 and at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool as Writer-in-Residence, 2016-2018. She has two poetry pamphlets and two collections. Collaborations with artists and local people include the following projects and exhibitions – ‘Enigma’ (Sudley Project, 2014), ‘Liverpool Elegies’ (Liverpool CCG/North End Writers, 2015), ‘Sleeping in the Middle’ with photographer, A.J.Wilkinson (Open Eye Gallery, May 2018), ‘Here & Now’ (Open Eye Gallery/ Merseycare NHS Foundation Trust, 2018), ‘1918’ (North End Writers/Radio Merseyside, 2018).


She founded the Liverpool charity North End Writers in 2006 and worked as an editor for North End Press, 2007 – 2019. She has an MA in Creative Arts from Liverpool HOPE University and was awarded a PhD from Liverpool University in 2019. She has a poetry pamphlet, ‘The Ghost Hospital’ forthcoming with Maytree Press, November 2019.


Her blog:


For interviews or further information about ‘The Allotments’ please contact:

Dave Lockwood

Pauline Rowe


For further information about LOOK Photo Biennial please contact Thomas Dukes or Jacob Bolton at Open Eye Gallery – Tel: 0151 236 6768

Poetry and Madness

Happy 80th Birthday, Frank Bidart

The wonderful American poet, Frank Bidart will be 80 on 27 May 2019 and his Collected Poems – Half-light – published in 2017 and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize should be read by anyone interested in contemporary poetry.
     Half-light – the title of the Collected Poems (2017) – is a quintessentially Bidartian title, suggesting as it does not simple illumination but shadow, not clarity of vision but dimness, when things cannot be seen too clearly. Although, of course perception is still possible, and essential in this poet’s enterprise of half a century, the title also conveys both internal and external experience, the on-looker with perception clouded or dimmed and the external source of natural light diminished either at the breaking of night into day, or the falling of day into night, dawn and dusk, beginnings and endings, birth and death. In Bidart’s poetry the human seer is subject to greater elements and experiences than can be contained in the mind or heart. Christopher Spaide contends:

Bidart’s tendency, swept up in divided ceaseless revolt, is to expand: intolerable propositions, even a single word, can detonate into forty-page sequences and book-length interrogations; Half-light itself can be read as a single seven-hundred-page poem, reprising the same obsessions over its fifty-year composition. (1)

In addition to his previous poetry collections, a further 66 pages of new poems – including ‘The Fourth Hour of the Night’ – are published together under the title Thirst. In the notes to Half-light Bidart admits to making changes in format of three poems; ‘The War of Vaslav Nijinsky,’ ‘Confessional’ and ‘The First Hour of the Night’. He explains why this is necessary, as previously noted:

None of the words are different. But in terms of punctuation and “set-up,” they seemed to me too often spoken à haute voix, as if declaimed to the last row of the balcony. I have always heard the voice in them more intimately. They increasingly to my eye lacked this intimacy. I have tried to modulate the voices, by shifting punctuation, spacing, pacing. 

He decries what he sees as his youthful judgmental tone in his poem Book of Life and further says:

This is the first poem I wrote about my family. The four-line refrain now makes me wince – such confidence about what the alternatives are, such speed in judgment. Hard to encounter in writing one’s old self. I feel some version of this throughout the book, but most acutely in Golden State (1973). Such confidence about what the alternatives are…. 

The four-line refrains he refers to is as follows:

Its memory is of poverty,
not merely poverty of means
but poverty of history, of awareness of 
the ways men have found to live.
             (Collected Poems, p.174.)

Such confidence about what the alternatives are; the commentary reflects both age and experience, and is a mark of the poet’s compassion for his younger self (as he doesn’t alter the poem) and the lives his parents lived. It is also a mark of Bidart’s motivation; he writes and continues to write because he is never satisfied with what he has written. Bidart’s famous dramatic monologues demonstrate that the strategy of his poetics rests on the four pillars of voice, autobiography, sources and survival. This strategy can be seen to work throughout his collected poems, and is exemplified in his new poems including the title poem, ‘Half-light’ (Collected Poems p.603) as it embodies paradox and duality both in its structure, themes and figurative language. It consists of 36 lines arranged in 18 couplets across two pages with the familiar, intimate, autobiographical lyric voice of the Bidart that was first heard (read) in ‘California Plush’ (Collected Poems, p.163) incorporating a variety of time zones; of now and memory, of ‘that crazy drunken night’ and ‘yesterday’ of the unattainable future (when both the poet and dead friend he addresses might have become ‘broken- down old men’) and ‘all the years we were | undergraduates.’  This is a poem about the irreconcilable aspects of a lived life, unrequited love, memory and regret and, as always with Bidart, a continuous conversation with the dead. He feels compelled to tell his old friend, now he knows his friend is dead – of his adolescent passion.

We haven’t spoken in years. I thought
perhaps at ninety or a hundred, two

broken-down old men, we wouldn’t
give a damn, and find speech.

When I tell you that all the years we were
undergraduates I was madly in love with you

you say you
knew. I say I knew you

knew. You say
There was no place in nature we could meet.

The italicised line is a repeated line from part II of his earlier poem ‘Confessional’ concerned with his filial relationship with his mother. The earlier poem states that there are two sentences our protagonist “can’t get out of my head” – ‘Forgiveness doesn’t exist’ and (as punctuated in the first poem): 


This line, his earlier verdict about his relationship with his mother, now becomes a verdict about the poet in the voice of a dead man. It is a conclusion of sorts about human love and shame, self-identity, Oedipal longing, sexuality and its humiliations, friendship and loss. It is difficult not to hear the accusation and awkwardness in the repetition of ‘knew’ and ‘you’. It also implies the question, Bidart’s own riddle, of ‘where in nature can we [the irreconcilable] meet?’  It’s a question central to his poetics – and one he attempts to answer in the first new poem in Thirst – ‘Old and Young’  (Collected Poems, pp.599 – 602); this is a meditation on looking at someone else in a mirror, of an old man looking at a young man in a long mirror “backstage as you | prepare | for a performance.”  It might be about an old man, like Frank Bidart, looking at a younger man such as the actor, James Franco. Over four pages the poem asks whether anyone has made a film about two people looking at each other (and talking to each other) through a mirror: 

trapped but freed 
neither knowing 
why this is better

why this
as long as no one enters 
is release

because you are
his age


space which
every other
space merely approximates
             (Collected Poems, p. 601.) 

The mirror is a metaphor for the place in which Bidart has encountered his subjects, his torments, his research and themes of human connection and breach; it brings together the concepts of the male gaze, the voyeur, reflective artist and the study of human nature. It is the medium through which Bidart resolves the repeated dilemma: THERE IS NO PLACE IN NATURE WE COULD MEET – a line and concept he returns to, to articulate filial disobedience and the anguish of unrequited love. In ‘Old and Young’ he declares, at last:


The mirror is the medium not of solipsistic reflection but the place through which the poet looks outwards to art and making:

suddenly inspired not 
to look at each other 
directly but held by this third 
                                           (Collected Poems, p. 600.)

          Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves.
                                                                          (Collected Poems, p. 346.) 

Bidart’s mirror – and solution to the divisions and paradoxes of human suffering – is, as it has always been, poetry, his art of making.

Happy birthday, Professor Bidart.



(1)   Christopher Spaide, ‘Poetry in Review: Half-light: Collected Poems, 1965–2016, by Frank Bidart,’ Yale Review Jan 2018, Vol. 106 Issue 1, pp.178 – 191.


Poetry and Madness

Nellie Bly & LightNight Liverpool

PaulineRoweLN poster

I’m looking forward to doing a public reading of my poems about Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) for the first time on Light Night on 17 May.  The poems from my collection in progress – Insane Places – speak through Nellie as she’s trapped on Blackwell Island Insane Asylum, New York for ten days in the disguise of Nellie Moreno/Brown.  This experience was recounted in her exposé Ten Days in a Madhouse Her story is interrupted by a conversation with David Rosenhan who, as David Lucie, became a pseudo patient seventy years after Nellie to test the limits of psychiatric knowledge and diagnosis. His famous study On Being Sane in Insane Places is a classic study in the literature that questions and challenges psychiatry. My poems interrogate what it means to be mad through setting, place and experience.  It is particularly thrilling to be reading my poems  in the library of The Athenaeum, a club first founded in Liverpool in the late eighteenth century. My reading will start at 8.00 pm on 17 May.



“One for the pavilion”
the doctor’s voice an auctioneers

with poor young Nelly Brown
as bargain of the day.

The undernourished crowd sighed

to see the new unfortunate,
as though the playing out of power

were as good as a cold repast.

The ambulance surgeon
walked me through the well-kept grounds

to the insane ward,
to the rooms of broken women,
to the cells of hard billets
to the buckets of black water,
to the atmosphere of excrement and fear

to the rules and orders
to the white capped nurse,

“Take off your hat. You are staying.”

I heard my voice as though
in another mouth – repetitions
like childhood disadvantages
or the sound of guns.

“I am waiting for the boat.”

That first insane night
ruminant noise of nurses
kept us all awake.

The food was filthy, 
festering like a wound.

They removed my clothes.
“Do you see faces in the wall?
Do you hear voices? Tell us what they say.”

As though I had strange powers
beyond the world, powers they longed to kill

or claim themselves.

Then a parade of visitors,
each one scrutinised my face,
tried to see the skull beneath my skin,

the pickled brain beyond,
a specimen in a case.

Pauline Rowe                        from   'Insane Places'



Poetry and Madness

writing, thinking

I got confirmation of my PhD on 1st April and will receive the award in July.  This has been such an extraordinary few years learning to write in a new way.  For me, after being away from study for so long, the research element was very difficult and I spent much of my time on the academic study.  This was a creative writing PhD so I produced a new collection of poetry as well as the study on the early dramatic monologues of US poet Frank Bidart.  Bidart is not known as well as he should be over here.  I’ve started working on my book proposal but I’m in a muddle over what to do next.  The Viva Voce in January was a revelation.  I was able to defend my work and came through without any corrections on the poems.  The few changes for the study were not onerous and I’m still thinking about the advice of my examiners.  I have gone back to the beginning with the poems re-editing and rewriting and am some way off being happy with the manuscript.  I will try out some of the poems with an audience on Light Night (17 May) reading from ‘Insane Places’ at the Athenaeum in Liverpool 8pm – 9pm.

Poetry and Madness


This already feels like a good year.  It’s a sober one and, I hope, a great opportunity for new work, fresh collaborations and different directions.  My first main project for the year is working with Anna-Maria Parry on editing a poetry booklet for our friend Jim Bostock who has a terminal illness.  We want to do Jim’s work justice – but this one is against the clock as we want to see Jim launch ‘Kiddo’.

I’ve also got my PhD Viva on 18 January – I’m praying for calm and memory.

I will be continuing to work with Mersey Care and North End Writers – until March, at least; I am now Poet-in-Residence at Open Eye Gallery – developing my previous work there as their first writer-in-residence – but concentrating more on my own poetry in response to exhibitions and new initiatives.



Poetry and Madness

Work and Worth

I submitted my PhD last month and will have my Viva on 18th January 2019.  I am rethinking my writing life and how I can earn money to support my family.  I’ve been a freelancer for 10 years or so – and have been doing some part-time teaching at the University of Liverpool since 2014 – I’m now on to my fifth temporary short-term contract and it feels like I’m filling in.  I don’t think I want to do this any more even though I enjoy working with the students.

How do I consider my worth in terms of work, working as a freelance writer and teacher – when everything is so competitive?

In the 80s my Dad was one of Thatcher’s casualties – and he stopped working in his 40s.  He will be 80 next year and found a way to manage without work, without money.  When my mum and dad divorced at the end of the 80s (after nearly 30 years of marriage) he was – in effect – homeless – and managed to get a Council flat because the marital home when sold was in negative equity.   My mum worked as a teacher until her late 60s and has had a very different kind of life since her divorce from my dad.  She was ambitious and – although they were married when they were 17 and 19 – she worked and went back to school – did her O levels and A levels at night school – then went to Teacher Training College.  She started teaching in her 30s and became one of the first Advanced Skills English Literature teachers in Halton.  She went on to lecture in Education at Liverpool Hope University.  She has always worked and earned.

My work includes the following just now: University teaching, delivering a writing, wellbeing and photography project, co-ordinating a writing project on World War 1, developing my own work and research in socially engaged practice, voluntarily managing North End Writers, working as Poet-in-Residence at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, continuing as Writer-in-Residence at Open Eye Gallery.  In addition I am working on a book proposal about the American poet, Frank Bidart and re-visiting and correcting my latest poetry collection.  Although I know I am lucky in many ways it is oppressive to be constantly worried about money and bills.

However, for all the work I do, my earnings are very poor and I can’t continue to work for so little.  Something will have to give.  I still have four of my six children at home and we always struggle to have holidays or manage Christmas, or even sometimes getting to the end of the month and cover basic housekeeping.  I think a lot of people are facing the same kinds of difficulties. But I want to be able to support my family properly and perhaps repair the house a little.  It’s tricky some days not to feel like a failure.   Or rather – it’s difficult to keep writing at the expense of my family – I suppose that’s the issue.

My two sisters are teachers – my elder sister retired as a Headteacher last Summer.  In many ways I am the odd one out because of writing – and because of having had six children. Perhaps I should just keep going with what I am doing and hope for the best? I don’t think it’s possible to stop writing – but just now while work leads to more and more work for such limited income I have to think seriously about my future.