In 2018, Tishani Doshi was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for her electric poetry collection Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods1 and for her accompanying dance performance of the titular poem.
I let go of her hand
I let go of her hand when
the men stumble steaming out of the pub.
Her salt fresh, calloused hands
from some sports I don’t
from warm afternoons under the sea,
the hands that lovingly
rub away my cramps.
I say yes to a threesome
because he won’t leave us alone
and I am weak, bloodshot, drunk,
bleary eyes begging for a taxi.
When they walk over,
I break from her, stumble over words
and she frowns.
It’s all good baby baby
so why am I sick with fear?
Why do they look at us
like slavering wolves
with their slick wet lips?
There is anger in
chairs propped against doors,
worries about thin walls,
turning round first to check,
and her dad being
‘not completely okay with it’.
The pit of guilt afterwards that
you keep to yourself,
the strawberry smell of her hair,
catching slow breaths
secret tears over a bible,
resigning yourself to
agony and torture and flames
for the quietest of loves.
girls don’t burn.
this, is not an apology.
this is not an anthem.
this is cold metal rage.
girls don’t burn.
the bravest girl i know,
caught fire when she was six
and she refused to cry.
she wrapped her tiny body in steel
and learnt to dance along mridangams.
courage deserves accolades
as does endurance.
silence cannot be inheritance-
turn it away from your door.
so, what if-
you are reduced to a kitchen appliance, lowest at maslow’s hierarchy of needs -daal, chawal, roti.
the kitchen, a threat.
the butter knife capable of
puncturing pulmonary veins.
provoking you to,
dance, in pain.
scream, mid dance.
and then scream, in pain.
i want to bake my own bread,
simmer beef in garlic,
eat it by the sea,
with my head in a hole.
i want an ice boxed capri.
i want sweet white wine.
crystal, clear, sharp
on my tongue like an apology.
i want to dance amidst women,
i want topsy turvy mirth,
i want paraphernalia,
i want to move my body along the madness.
i want to be hemingway.
once betrayed in love,
alive amidst septet kittens worth nine lives.
i am a catlady,
i am feline devastating beauty.
i am pied piper drowning men in desire.
i am bertha, i am medusa, i am shikandhi.
i am twenty and delhi drunk in hauzkhas.
i am a house on fire
with its women inside,
i am ritualistic penance
at a dead husband’s pyre.
or, foglight at heaven’s gate,
as women burn and burn and burn.
isn’t there oppression in benevolence?
and i don’t want
front-page empowerment ads,
discounted beauty products,
discourses on power, gender, policymaking.
all i need,
are my girls,
a bar and a bender.
my friends dancing nakedfeet
on table tops on too much tequila,
straight down their throats, sliding across dance floors.
if there is a past,
if there is memory,
if there is grief and it’s recollection – let there be drunk table top dancing and most importantly, laughter.
i am a quitter
i gave up on this poem before i even wrote it;
i gave up on my dreams before i even dreamt them
i heap goal upon goal, hoping one will stick
i am a madman,
i am everything i ever hoped i’d be
but nothing like i’d imagined,
my nightmare and my dream,
i am learning,
taking a place in a society i never felt was mine,
claiming a stake,
teaching my lesson.
i am worse than i ever feared,
i am the best of me
the newer, happier me
she dresses like a 1950s housewife,
with piercings and a denim jacket.
she rides a bike and drives a Camaro
(yes she’s an amateur mechanic).
she wears her afro high, proud, au naturel;
she smiles a lot, for no reason in particular.
she paints for fun, all the time, and she’s good at it too,
it’s mostly Malcolm x and Angela Davis but it could really sell.
she buys her clothes at thrift stores for a fraction of the cost.
you could write an indie song/and or film,
where she’s a metaphor for feminism and self-love, or something equally pretentious;
she’s nice but she’s having none of your bullshit.
she plays bass guitar at weekends,
and ukelele on Sunday mornings.
she’s beautiful in the truest sense of the word.
she reads, the classics and likes Kerouac unironically.
she wears hipster glasses (ironically).
she’s as woke as they come, unapologetically black,
a wrecking ball to your complacency in the face of patriarchal white supremacy.
she bakes and cooks- vegan haute cuisine.
she’s funny, unbearably funny, side-splittingly funny,
because she really doesn’t care what you think.
she volunteers to feed the homeless and save the planet. she writes music, poetry, plays, short stories – a literary prodigy.
she goes out, she spends her week-ends gallery surfing then bar hopping, just to drink white wine and talk existential despair.
centre of attention, but modest nonetheless.
she’s thikkkkk, booty popping every which way!
she has the type of body they write R&B songs about.
she travels, practising ethical tourism, volunteering abroad,
and leapfrogging from youth hostel to youth hostel.
she’s clever, fantastically clever,
cleverer than i can describe, MENSA smart but smarter.
she has friends, close friends, lots of friends
whom she has made a meaningful connection to,
who understand her in the truest sense of the word.
she’s successful, financially stable, even rich for her age.
but mostly, she’s complete in a way i am yet to understand.
she’s not bored, she doesn’t lust for love, or for money,
she doesn’t want for anything.
she knows what is important.
she is important.
she has learnt the art of being,
she just is,
and that is simply enough for her.
When I was younger, living in the north of Scotland, we would have some pretty miserable winters. It would be dark at 3pm, wet and cold and windy. The one silver lining was that on clear nights, even when your fingers felt like they would fall off as you broke the ice in a water trough, you could see so many stars overhead. I could stand with my neck craned back and stare at them for hours.
March 2021 has brought a new dimension to the art world by seeing Beeple sell his incredible piece Everydays: The First 5000 Days, developed over time in auction digitally at Christie’s Auction House. Connecting the digital world with the art world is an entirely new way of making and selling art in the 21st century.
When the skinny boy who fell in love with the dream he made of you in his mind – and you decided that was close enough – first said ‘tummy’ so sweetly as he touched your softness and rested his head against it, you felt a little more seen and a little less clouded in his foggy fantasy of you.
To The Person Who Stuck Their Finger Up My Bum, You must have heard the news, even if you’re not an avid follower of it, about the girl in London. It has been all over social media. Everyone is talking about how awful it is. Women are sharing their own stories of being harassed and/or assaulted and men are asking how they can be better allies. At least, some are. Some are more focused on their own narrative and choosing this as the time to emphasise that they are the good ones.
Brings out the
Your eyes hit me
with their rays
And it stays
For hours after
The time when we
Haunts me like a
stroke of luck
That will never return.
I miss two sets of feet
That fall apart and meet like balloons rising in the air
Not particularly going anywhere
Just looking for a better view
Us two, goofy ass walking in the park
Talking about everything and nothing
The whole world is set aside
When wits collide and multiply
Laughter breeds more laughter until it surrounds us
Like toddlers or gremlins, you shouldn’t feed us after midnight
Lest we let free the fright within
But we fit in when it’s just us two
Like tired feet in a favourite shoe
And I don’t feel so alone anymore
Lately it all feels like locked doors
Like cold hands
And frayed shoelaces
Like there’s no saving graces
I wish we were out there
Chatting shit like we don’t care
Wearing shorts in the summer air
Remarking how like glass our legs look when bare
Then sitting quietly for a while
Faces at ease, no forced elastic smile
No barrel of the gun as life picks up some speed
And I haven’t been able to ask, but I think you’d agree
It’s easier to hit the ground running
with two sets of feet.
I wonder sometimes if writing poetry is bad for me. I sit in front of my computer or one of my hundreds of half-filled notebooks and puzzle my feelings into neat little rhyming couplets that could roll off the tongue with ease. Except the problem is that they don’t roll of my tongue at all, they just roll onto the page and get stuck there.
I Can Love You From Afar
I can love you
The door ajar
And I can see
you through the sliver
Your ring finger
pale and lonely and strumming the strings
The things I
think when I see you
Seem to swim
around each other like leaves caught in the drain
I came to be
But now I fear
to disturb the wonderful that surrounds you
That grounds you
where I can’t possibly get to
At least I get
to watch it from here
Outside the room but still near enough to love you from afar.
During the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, Jasmine Farram and Olivia Newstead collaborated in a photo shoot over Zoom, each created a DIY backdrop in their homes, and using flowers from their gardens created portraits of each other using only their laptop screens. The aim was to express themselves creatively, utilising the video platform allowing them to continue to collaborate albeit from afar.
Hey, Ma? Don’t read this one. The reason the above warning exists is because whilst I am queer, I’m not actually out to my parents, or many people in the small town I grew up in and have recently moved back to. There are a lot of reasons for this, though I am lucky enough that it is not because I feel unsafe, or that my parents would reject me.
I remember walking to school when I was a teenager one wintry snowy morning. It was freezing, I was wearing soft black gloves, and I distinctly remember seeing something small and delicate catching my eye as it landed from the white sky onto my thumb. A perfectly shaped snowflake. There it was, like a tiny frozen star on my hand. I was so in awe of the snowflake I stopped walking, and with my one free hand tried to take a photo before it melted away. Although it vanished before I could capture it with my BlackBerry phone camera (quality wouldn’t have been as good as my memory anyway), I still remember it years later, and I still haven’t seen one as beautiful since.
At The Wing Place
We sat at the wing place with the good Parmesan bones
me – egg wash chicken fried decided on a course
my sister – hard boiled buxom badass that I break against
She’s got this persona, right
a cultivated, professional disdain
no one sneers like my sis
sees so clear like my sis
in a wrestling match nobody’s feared like my sis, right?
You laugh but one time I had to put my forehead down on her nose
I cracked a molar, so I wasn’t all that intimidated
Once negotiated my sister
is dark and dorky and damaged
like her sister at the wing place
is moral and flawed and cynical and loving and flawed
and how could I tell her
how could I tell her
could I tell her
“I would have made a great sister” I ventured at the wing place
Parmesan bones, a lemony, tang sauce air floated
we have had secrets between us, unsuccessful
except for this one, this so large, so large
She canted her head and looked at me with one eye
the wise eye, given up by Odin at the root of a winding tree
I am a year older
I am much more educated
I am childless and guileless before her stare
I am naked at the wing place sitting for her judgement
you would have.”
I told them all on Fat Tuesday, 2020
She didn’t remember this story
won’t till I read this to her one night, drunk
on affection and love and sisterhood
Nonah Cagney Palmer
By Sophie Nankivell, Poetry Editor
To date as a straight woman is hell. To date as a straight woman during a pandemic is hell with a face mask on. Long before blossoming into an ascetic hermit, I was somewhat of a regular on the revolving doors of Tinder. Quarantine boredom kept me on the app and fear of the maskless masses kept me inside. So, I was left with little option but to date over Skype or Facetime – all I needed was a willing participant.
In all the kerfuffle of the last six months or so, one piece of news from November passed by without much comment: the Equality and Human Rights Commission declared that the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies on immigration broke the law.
The Internet Connection: How our devices have become like extended members of our families due to the pandemic…
Mother, Father, Sister
Mother, father, sister,
The ceiling is tearing.
The brown brick is cracking
Underneath the contours of our feet,
The radio doesn’t work anymore.
It plays the same tune again
Our ears know routine.
Rainwater leaks into our home
Through our eyes, down our cheeks,
But we reach for the cement
And start fixing.
We fix and we fix until-
Mother, father, sister,
The water is at our ankles now.
The cushions on the chairs at the dinner table
Are forgetting our figures
And when we eat, we do not remember who we are.
But there is food,
And Grandmother taught us how to swim.
Mother, father, sister,
Gratitude feels wrong,
When instead I can carve our initials
On the tiles in the empty kitchen
Just before the floor gives away.
Mother, father, sister,
The sky is on the ground now
And we will never see the sun again.
All the stars,
All the stars are dead.
The stove won’t light anymore
But it will never be cold in this home.
there are only a few things that make me feel at home, and you’re one of them. i know it’s surprising coming from me. it must seem like i forgot about you for the past ten years of my life when i was away from you, flirting with and getting to know other countries. but trust me when i say that you’re always in my heart. though you’re mostly corrupt, not sustainable in your habits, and there’s an extremely long way for you to go to be up to the mark with regards to your inclusivity and respect, you’re still always in my heart. here is why:
I feel a deep pain for the youth of today, who will definitely not have the same opportunities to travel and explore the world in the way I got to. They’re never going to experience what it was like to live in the middle of nowhere in Asia. No bars on your Nokia brick and the only way to contact home was on a crackling line for a penny a minute, a 45-minute walk into the nearest village or by letter, 3 weeks after sending.