Let’s start with the facts:

you had my hands,

my narrow feet. We would never

have found school shoes to fit.


Your hair was curly,

but the photos were over exposed,

who knows if the copper

of your hair was really there.

Who knows.


I didn’t dress you. I let the midwife

do it all; your body a brief jangle

of flopped legs, curved spine,

chin cupped in the midwife’s hand.

That awful bargain-basement-outfit

was my fault as well.

I didn’t bring your clothes.


I held you like a doll.

I should have touched

those still-wet curls,

sucked those little fingers

kissed your foot-soles

while you were warm.

I could have pressed you, naked,

to my chest, as other mums must do.


I have this, now. Not quite a fact:

You are eight years old, splayed on the sofa.

Your mucky outdoor-Spring-time feet,

are rested on my knees. I kiss them,

lift them, bend the supple joints. And this:

you’re at the table doing homework,

I web your curls across my palm.


Bed time: I tuck you in, run my fingers

down your perfect spine.

This is repeated over and over,

there is infinite, infinite time.



The Cut Off

In 2003 my husband and I got married on a blustery, autumnal day. It was beautiful. We started trying for a baby on our honey moon, we were so in love. We are still so in love, but of course, fourteen and a bit years later, we are no longer trying. When we went for our first IVF in 2009, six years after starting our journey, we made the decision that we would not be the couple that didn’t know when to stop, we would set in place a definitive cut off, a point by which the drive, the need to have a family would stop, it would be pre determined. It was supposed to help us to make the decision, to take the pressure off. It’s good to have boundaries.  We decided, because the miscarriage rate increases so much and the IVF success rate decreases once you pass forty, that that would be the time that we would stop. It would be the year when I was forty years old. Chris would be fifty in the same year, and we felt that that was a time when he would want to be slowing down a bit and concentrating on himself etc and we literally couldn’t imagine that in all that time we wouldn’t make it, we couldn’t imagine that we would, in fact, be the unlucky ones for whom a family didn’t happen. God, we couldn’t possibly imagine that we’d be so unlucky that despite all the IVF and the years of meds and scans and trying and temp taking we would actually have been successful, reached the third trimester, only for our little girl to die, partly due to mistakes made in our care by staff too busy, and too pressurised in a ward too understaffed and a hospital too underfunded. That we would have two miscarriages, that we would have already had the decision made, really, by a sudden and unexpected loss of fertility, that our chances of adoption would be slim and that, anyway, we couldn’t, literally could not face the emotional trauma after all of that to even look into adoption, and that time would run out, that I would be a few days from my fortieth birthday in a life so very, very different to what we imagined, when we went to bed in las Vegas, drunk on Yard long margaritas, sun burnt and so madly in love, all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, I have a good life, I have worked very very hard to make something different for myself, based on things that I love: poetry, books, mentoring, teaching. Recently I have laughed and joked about how emotionally taxing I’m finding turning forty. I am a bit of a cliche, I understand that, the forty year old constantly checking the sliver hairs, the saggy eye skin, I am not vain, but seriously, please can I be youthful forever, please, TIA. But in all seriousness, I feel utterly bereft. The psychological cut off that was supposed to help us cope just feels like another wall that must be scaled and dealt with. The cemetery fight stuff hasn’t helped, I haven’t even been up to tend Matilda’s grave for weeks because I just can’t cope with the upset that the presence of the signs there is causing.  Other things are adding in to this feeling of sadness, as if the universe is intent on rubbing my face in it. Yes, I know, I’m ‘whining’ I am not looking at this with any degree of perspective – other people are having to actually deal with life changing events right now while I whine on about being forty and being alive and well and in good health with a husband and a life, a good life. I get it. Please don’t judge me, please don’t silence me, it’s how all the taboos around stillbirth and miscarriage and infertility are created, because people are not allowed to be miserable. It’s all relevant too,  I guess. Please give me these few days to wallow in my misery before I put all that heavy armour back on to get back out there and rebuild my life.

We lost our little cat this week. Elvis was eighteen years old. We got Elvis the first year that we lived together, in our first, rented, house. He came out of the cardboard box in a tangle of legs and eyes, ready to know us, ready to explore and embrace his life. I wasn’t very well that year with a kidney problem that would later result in a very serious infection and a big operation, and I think Chris had got him for me to cheer me up. Elvis and I were inseparable, he followed me everywhere. When I had to go back to work, I cried leaving him on his own. Somehow, that day, while we were out he managed to get on the answer machine and rerecord our answer machine message to a series of questioning meows: Meow? Meeeooow? MEOW? it was hilarious. There were many hilarious episodes, he hid things, stole things, destroyed things.  He was a stealer of paintbrushes from people’s houses. I once watched him jump over a wall into the next door neighbours garden while they were painting the fence. The man was kneeling, flaking at something with his finger. Elvis crept up behind him and carefully took the paintbrush from its pot, dragging it between his legs like a lion with a kill. The man didn’t notice and in a comedy sketch scenario, turned to pick up his brush, then spent ten minutes scratching his head and going through the motions of what he had just been doing, trying to locate it. Elvis had a bleach fetish and every time I cleaned the bathroom or the work surfaces he would appear, rolling about on his back and purring. He had his fair share of injuries and illnesses: an eye operation because his lids turned in on themselves, a serious fixing up after catching his armpit on, we think, razor wire, a serious fixing up after somehow catching his other armpit on razor wire, an abscess on his tail, a claw in his head, a blocked urethra, and finally hyperthyroidism. He bore it all well, never fought or scratched when he had medication. When we moved out of the town and to our little house in the village he loved it. We tried to keep him in, to settle, but he was having none of it. He was immediately out of the door and away into the fields. We received a daily delivery of live mice and birds for a while. Two or three in a single day sometimes. It became routine to be scrabbling under a shoe rack or behind the sofa trying to catch mice before work. One day he brought a live, baby rabbit into the bedroom at 3Am and helpfully released it. It got wedged behind the drawers there and I had to pull it out by its leg as it lay there, wild eyed. We released them all, much to the confusion of the cat. As he got older he became more serious, less playful, but still plenty capable of pricking toes that poked out from bed covers. He had this serious, polite manner when he wanted his tea and would tap me gently on my arm while I was working, before looking directly into my eyes and bobbing his head up and down, explaining that he thought there had been a problem, a misunderstanding somewhere and it was definitely time for his tea and could I please, if I didn’t mind, help him to sort out what had gone wrong. He slept by my side every night, we would spoon. He would sit at the end of the bed and wait for me to lie on my side and make the little nest area in front of me, then he would come and press his back into my chest, and I would stroke him and he would purr and we would sleep. Every night. He started to lose weight last week. Over the weekend he stopped eating as much. In the early hours of Monday morning he started coughing and wheezing. I had hoped that when the time came, he would slip away while he slept, but we ended up taking him into the vet’s on Monday morning for the inevitable. He went graciously into the cat carrier and quietly curled onto his towel. He didn’t make a fuss, he didn’t fight. He never did, he was a gentle little soul. In the vet’s we laid him down, gently and he tried to purr. I scratched his little head and kissed him and told him how loved he was. And he died so quickly and so quietly that we barely realised. He looked somewhat surprised afterwards, those beautiful, huge yellow eyes staring straight ahead. And then he changed, without anything changing, he went from looking surprised, to looking like he was no longer there, and he was gone. I cried so hard that first day. Intermittently the second day. Here I am on the third day, still thinking about him. It’s not just that he was my companion, my friend through all those years, our entire journey together, it’s that he was a direct link to before, to that time in our lives before we were even married. He was like a time capsule for our relationship, an emblem for all that time. He was there through it all. And now, a few days before my fortieth, the date when we had decided, all those years ago, that we would now embrace the new, different life, he is gone. And I am grieving for him, and grieving for that other life. And when I go to bed, there’s no little body to fill the space there, I miss him.

This is the worst snow we have seen since the winter my daughter died in 2010. It is unlikely that we will make it to Haworth. I had planned a lovely hotel stay, paid for by my generous mother in law, and a weekend of Bronte activities, something totally literary nerdy and self indulgent, and now that looks likely to be cancelled too. And yes, I know, it is only a weekend away, it can be replanned. But God, it would have just been nice to have that little space away, bubbly by a roaring fire, walking on the moors and no pressure to put the armour on for a few days.

This depressing post has been brought to you by the number forty and the letters F-U-C and K.

Dying Rabbits, Living Hares

It’s been a while, again, since I last popped in to update the blog. I am always very optimistic with time and generally think I have more than I do. Sadly, when it’s all down on paper I can clearly see that I’m still working a massive amount of hours in the week with no time for my own work. But I am slowly, slowly scratching towards the new manuscript being finished. It will literally take until the end of the year at this rate though, which is depressing. I am trying all the funding avenues I can. I have applied for the brilliant Northern Writers Award and asked for help with finishing the manuscript and I am in the middle of working on an Arts Council Funding grant which will enable me to expand the manuscript into a project which I don’t want to talk about because I don’t want to jinx it. It is so very important to me and I feel like if I say anything about the next collection or the project attached to it, it will all go wrong and it will all be my fault. Such is the power of magical thinking. After I finish writing this blog I will go back to the minutiae of the application which I just find really stressful, I’ve always had an aversion to filling in forms. But it’s worth it, this is something special, I think, the best work I’ve produced, and I think it could genuinely help people. I shall persevere.

Last week I was on the radio twice within seven days. Once to be interviewed alongside Councillor Chatt over the cemetery problem on Radio York and then, the most amazing thing happened on the Sunday, exactly a week ago. The wonderful Liz Berry chose my poem, Nan Hardwick Turns into a Hare as one of the poems to read in her guest slot on Poetry Please. It’s still available to listen to: Liz Berry Reads Nan 

That it was this poem, read at this time seemed significant. I’ve felt like I have been fighting for my daughter all over again lately, and it brought back in incredible, intense ways, her death, and all those feelings of vulnerability and fear and just intense grief. I think I’ve talked before about where the Nan Hardwicke poem came from, but I’ll say it again. It was the first poem I wrote after the death of my daughter, after we had left her in the hospital room, in her little whicker basket and we had walked away emptied and unsure, with a scar instead of a baby. I went dead inside, and my senses stopped working. When I think back, I can physically remember the sensation as feeling like I’d just been next a bomb that had exploded, I couldn’t recognise the life I was in, everything was different, gone. I feel like we staggered out of the hospital that day. We probably didn’t, we probably walked. I do remember the air on my skin as feeling odd, like a leg that had been in plaster, I felt exposed, vulnerable, everything was wrong. Back at home, things were still wrong. Her Moses basket was still up, her toys were out, the cloths i’d been sorting through were still on the bed. There was such a clear divide between before and after. And I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t write and I couldn’t write for a long time. I went to therapy, I talked, I cried, but I couldn’t write. And then one day, weeks later, this poem came, almost complete, just as it was, the witch Nan Hardwick appeared in my head, and she had colour, and sky and heather in her bones. She transformed into the hare, right inside me and I felt again what it was like to be two animals in the same body. it sounds so over dramatic and unnecessarily poetic when I talk about it, but that is exactly how it was, she came to me, fully formed in a poem.

Grief doesn’t come with a handbook. It’s complex and long and when you lose a child it is almost all instinctive, your arms flail around looking for something to hold, your mouth looks for the downy head to kiss, you search for the baby, the child, everywhere. We are animals, and we forget that.

That same week as I was on the radio, I lost one of my rabbits. People think that rabbits and small furries are interchangeable. They’re not. Poppy was small, the smallest of the litter, but by far the brightest, most inquisitive, brave and funny rabbit of all of my warren of bunnies. She interacted, played games, sought attention, would happily sit on my lap or use me as furniture to jump on when I sat in the run with them all. She’d lost weight, but they do over winter, I’d been concerned enough to bring her closer to the house so that I could make sure her bigger brothers and sisters weren’t stealing her food, and that seemed to work for a while. She turned a corner and put some weight back on, became plump again, inquisitive again, but then whatever ailed her came back. She turned lethargic, I brought her into the house, but it was clear she was dying. She lay down in her hutch, I covered her with a warm towel and she tried to stand up, so I stroked her back down to rest. Her nose was twitching, her ears were twitching, she looked like she was asleep and dreaming and I hope she was, I hope she was running as fast as she could, in the sunshine, binkying, flopping, nuzzling her brothers and sisters, I hope she dreamt into death. I would hope that for anyone. It’s how I hope my daughter died, I hope she didn’t suffer, I hope she felt no pain and knew only love.

And then, after a week of high emotion and stress (although I feel I did well on Radio York, I was shaking and crying afterwards it was so stressful) and feeling utterly wrung out worrying abut money, paying my uni tuition fees and not being able to find time to write, it all seemed to lift at once. I was driving between my home and my husband’s work, on the way to pick him up and I turned the corner into the next village and there was a hare, there was Nan herself in the road. I slowed, she locked those glorious amber eyes on me, and then she was gone. “You’re not forgotten” I whispered, and carried on my life.



John Foggin

Always happy to see John promoted

Rebecca Gethin

John Foggin is the latest Featured Writer.  He is a generous and tireless supporter of all poets so this is my endeavour to give some support back.  He’s very well known in the North but much less known here in the South West  so maybe this will help rectify that.

He is one of my favourite poets writing anywhere today as his poems burst from the page with a raw energy that looks effortless and easy and makes you see with new eyes.  Deft, always surprising and full of compassion.  He writes about landscape, birds, people and uses ventriloquy to get deep inside character and situation.

I finally got to meet John last year at South Downs Poetry Festival where his readings and also his workshop were full of verve.  I wrote more in his workshop than in most others anywhere and he stood up all through it and…

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Film poem

I’ve been having a go with different media lately, exploring the potential for combining images and words, audio and visual representations of poems. Here’s my first attempt.


It’s a poem from my Flarestack Poets pamphlet, Lapstrake . I think there’s always places to go with poetry, that we shouldn’t feel too constrained by genre.  It was relatively easy to make, and I’ll definitely be having another go, probably with something slightly lighter. But my mood is quite dark right now with all the stuff going on with the cemetery.

And her Great Gift of Sleep

I did an interview with a community television company yesterday, trying to highlight the need for the bereavement process of grieving parents to be looked at in a slightly different way to other grieving processes. It is different. You do not lose the instinct to parent when your child dies. Somewhere where you can be a parent, look after them, bring gifts, cleave things that comfort them, that is a comfort to you. I feel quite worn out with it all.

My intent was never to attack any body, but to highlight the way that it has been managed, that steps need to be taken to be kinder, to avoid the psychological impact that this sort of thing has on grieving people. It doesn’t have to be black or white, nothing does, there is room here for compassion. We made 1000 signatures. I’m very humbled by the way people are backing this. Thank you x




Poems on the Glorious High Window

high Window is another one to follow, always quality poetry and interesting articles. This one, obviously is brilliant 😉

Throughout 2018 the four quarterly High Window essay slots will be devoted to work which was originally featured in Anthony Costello’s series of Kava Poetry Lectures. Each lecture was written and delivered by an outstanding contemporary poet as part of the Kava Poetry series which Anthony organized in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. The full set of […]

via Wendy Pratt: Communicating with the Dead — The High Window

If you aren’t following Paper Pencil Life, you’re missing out!

I absolutely love the honesty and vulnerability of Summer Pierre’s graphic artist posts. Every time I see one I feel connected to the creative work practice and aware that there are writers and artists all over the world, working in their cocoons and sometimes feeling brilliant and sometimes feeling a bit meh. This is one blog I genuinely look forward to.

via Something — Paper Pencil Life