Sometimes, something comes along that changes everything. At that moment, we have to stand up and be counted.
For me, it was in October 2017, when poet and editor Deborah Alma put out a simple statement on her Facebook page. She asked her women friends to add their name to the thread if they hadn’t experienced any form of sexual harassment in their lives. Of the 200 women that started to share some of their stories , only 2 or 3 could say that it had never happened to them.
As Deborah stated, 'the surprise was not that there were so few, but that there were any women at all'. Someone suggested she collected these stories. #MeToo - A Women’s Poetry Anthology, was the result. Edited by Deborah Alma and published by Nadia Kingsley at Fair Acre Press, the #MeToo anthology features over a 100 poems from 80 poets, but far more were submitted and as the poems began to pour in, it became obvious that no book could ever be big enough for all the stories that were being shared.
I offered Wild Women Press as a safe space for these poems to live and sing with courage. In collaboration with the creators of the anthology, we have created #UsTogether, an online platform to feature some of the many poems submitted by women from across the globe in response to the #MeToo call.
It is a place to celebrate the courage of the women who have shared their poems -- voices that join together across counties and countries, in strength and sisterhood -- part of a louder voice that says, no more.
Added to this are a few poems that people have shared after being inspired to write their own stories after reading the anthology.
What began as #MeToo quickly became #UsTogether.
With love, Victoria xx
Please note that the nature of this subject means that some of the content may be distressing and uses strong language and imagery.
Sylvie Accardi, Rosemary Appleton, Sarah Askew, Emma Austin-Jones, Alex Bulimore, Louisa Campbell, Linda Crate, Cath Davies, Laura Demelza Bosma, Meri Everitt, Jane Fuller, Kathy Gee, Anna Ghislena, Georgi Gill, Lis Harling-Hoyle, Barney Harper, Ceinwen Haydon, Tracy Henham, Holly Herbert, Gillian Lambert, Claire Leavey, Nina Lewis, Liz Loxley, Anges Marton, Gillian Mellor, Daniela Neira, Rima Nilin, Anita Pati, Jess Richards, Ali Roach, N.W. Roberts, Marina Sandfield, Aparna Sanyal, Elisabeth Sennitt-Clough, Helen Sheppard, Ruthie Starling, Jacqueline Stearn, Tabatha Stirling, Valerie Tyler, Catherine Whittaker, Jessica Whyte, Gayl Wright, Carolyn Yates
Belfast, Bristol, Castle Douglas, East Anglia, Edinburgh, France, India, Kent, Leicester, Lincolnshire, London, Luxembourg, Manchester, Lancashire, Moffat,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Norfolk, North Wales, North West England, Scotland, Shotton, Shropshire, Stroud, South Rhins, New Zealand, United States, West Midlands, Wiltshire, Worcestershire
White shirt/Black skirt
White shirt/Black tie
Young bird/White rooster
Doors and people shut.
But I was taught you know.
Glances like slugs
Hands like spiders
Your lousy chant, trying to hypnotize me.
But you aint no charmer I aint no snake
Though venom is mine
Cause I was taught how to
Pour the shame on you.
So I sharpened my swords (honed my words)
My wildest grammar (my garbage language)
Broke your pipe Flattened your snake.
Cause I was taught you know
Did I blow the job? No No
Blew the all the doors, the corridors, the hushed offices, the glass ceilings
Blew the whole building Yeah
Just to teach you how to
Smell the shame on you.
This way, girls!
Miss Jones waves her umbrella
on the way to the Tube - it is
1989, after the British Museum
your head full of smooth marble,
David, Dido, the Bloomsbury set
then in the crush of the carriage
you feel a nudge, behind
against your buttocks
towards a place you have no name for
(no name you'd say aloud, at least)
a nudge, again, as though the man
behind you carries shopping oddly,
at hip height -
- you try a half smile
that silly me half smile
your mother has
and half turn
Miss Jones making room beside her
as she catches your eye.
It should have been so romantic.
On the grass, by the river, in the moonlight.
But all my mind would let me feel
was the cold, and the grit, and the dirt
grinding into my palms, into my knees.
That sharp, grating sensation
that made me rise up out of my body
again. I watched myself pressed
against you, like a cheap porn star.
It wasn’t my body,
or even my mind, that held me there
this time. I had to challenge myself to
stay a little longer, go a little further,
try a little harder, just to see.
But my eyes were opened so wide
that I became momentarily blinded
by the fact that it was me, going
through these motions with you.
You meant well. I mean, you only meant to
show me that it is possible to experience
the sublime with the ridiculous.
So why do I feel ridiculed by the subliminal
messages of well-meaning friends-turned-lovers?
Is it all in my head? Am I guilty
of my own undoing? I am, however,
flattered that you at least thought of me,
as maybe not such a lost cause after all.
Rape is not a variation of normal
Wait, the definition of ‘friend’ has just changed dramatically
and I am not sure in front of life’s mirror who I can look in the eye
Don’t they say that whoever sleeps with you creeps inside your DNA
please no, not you who was not invited, when I felt as numb as the fish sticks
that you once made me bake (because according to you they were no animals),
you grabbed your chance
Wait, the definition of ‘animal’ has just changed drastically
and I am shocked that I let someone else decide over what’s on my plate
You said to me ‘I helped you, you are hopeless without me,
in your chaos, your mess, such a vulnerable state, I know that
you like me, what do you mean not your type, what are you
women on about taste?’
Wait, the taste in my mouth is unbearably bad now you
thought wrecking a wreck was a cool thing to do
and building someone up equals fucking them down
really comforting an unstable girl is the same to you
as getting her near unconscious for a rough heartless screw?
Was that night the magnified version
of the time you got me on your motorbike
after you talked in to me for hours
that this was what I liked
when I fake smiled near crying, thinking the icy wind
and the fear for my life through the curves
could possibly really change me
into your imagined perfect girlfriend
See, hearts don’t lie and no is not a difficult word to grasp
here I get to the chapter I found myself back
your spell got cut through when I found true love
Wait, here is a wave where women speak up now
about dark pages of abuse that we rather forget
you are one of the shadows coming out of that hat
and we look at them together, sick with aversion
but also amazed about how hidden taboos
pop up all around us like ink black mushrooms
Hear, abuse is not #variationsofnormal
because it hurts to not have a voice and we rise now,
here I write for my sons, for who else never knew,
with hope for the future: #metoo.
When alcohol abused the moon
I am the drunk girl on my own bed
my boyfriend in the same room
lives in the delusion of my safety
and his friendship with you
playing trip-hop and ninja
our cat sleeps at my feet
You simply sit beside me
to put your fingers inside
with on a wry sigh the words
‘I know you like this’
That moment I fall off a cliff
no self-defence, no language
when I finally cry, you leave
I tell my boy and we curl up
like a spoon inside a spoon
cry some more until a dull sleep
drifts us to a grim Sunday’s shore
You say to a common friend
it was the alcohol
go tell your wife
and she will wonder while you
cut Sunday’s meat, into eternity
who your fingers actually belong to
I could say you did it to the moon
but it was me, your body should not belong
to what you smoke, drink, feel, see
To my body, that songbird,
I sing the gritty melodies that defend
the ever white sheets of my holy fields
And even forgive me, forgive him.
What I didn’t see was
any sleight of hand into a tall, purple glass
but I felt its fog, its misdemeanour.
After an hour I was found
in the corner of the club, eyes closed,
and some girls piled me into a cab
I climbed the concrete stairs
to the flat that I shared and fell to all fours
on the doormat, heard the chain rattle.
I was in bed
I was pulled up like a puppet
warm acid in my throat,
sticky face and arms.
I’m hanging over the bath
and my friend is there with us —
she’s holding one hand and
my boyfriend the other.
I hear him say, she’s not done this before,
I didn’t know who to call
I feel guilt. This comes too close to another death he’s seen.
I apologised so many times
I think it was a spike
but I’m not sure
a song escapes me
my throat swells with the impossibility of it
I lie down in the long grass
let the honeyed rays do their work
you were sweet
I drank and drank
but then -
you split me
broke me apart
the ocean salts my tongue
wind whips needles
clouds scud across the sun
someone was screaming
I couldn't get up
off the bathroom floor
The bad sister is lured by gelatinous scales –
she slops the good sister’s carp into a pail,
but the August sun warms the water, turns it stale.
The bad sister gathers the withered bits: a pelvic fin,
a vertebral segment, the delicate inner skin,
displays them on her vanity: their bones gleam like hatpins.
The bad sister arranges the scales in three rows,
inhales each glittery flake up her nose,
dabs her nostrils with an Elizabeth Harkness rose.
The good sister goes to the aquarist for more fish –
first he tells her to take him in her mouth, then laughs at her swish
his own briny creatures into a silver caviar dish.
i want to know why
you may think
no one knows
or remembers what you did,
but walls have eyes and ears
maybe not me or now
but someone will realize that
you are a monster
masquerading as a something
less than a nightmare;
you forced me to kiss you
when i wanted to be sweet sixteen
told you no but it didn't seem to matter
you then tried to force yourself
don't know how i found the strength to
shove you away but i thank God
every day that i did
not everyone is lucky enough to get away—
i'll never understand why you felt entitled
to my body as if it were always yours
instead of mine,
and i will never quite fathom
why any man feels that way about anyone
because we all have our own paths
our own journies to walk
i didn't need to see your face then or in college
when you said you bet i didn't remember you
as if i could forget the face of the boy
who tried to take from me
forcing memories i had long since repressed
to come bubbling to the surface
like some sickening kind of potion a wicked witch
would brew for those whom she hated,
and i want to know why you thought
that was appropriate.
i remember you
i remember it like yesterday
was so stressed and depressed
just wanted to go for a walk,
but you decided that meant
taking me to your room for netflix and chill
strained myself trying to watch a film
i had no interest in as you tried to make
your move and i told you no;
but you still saw the need to force me
to touch your dick
and i was so angry i started crying
you mistook it for sorrow
asked what was wrong
then recoiled as i answered as if you
were any better than the guy that tried to rape me
as a girl—
like you were two different species
yet each of you are monsters
in your own way
you don't get to force yourself on someone
because they're vulnerable
or you find them attractive or you need some
power trip because your ego
hasn't been stroked in a while,
and i doubt you remember me
but i remember you
plain as the scars on my body.
Straight Night in Heaven
Techno beats pulse in a kaleidoscope
of bright lasers, lights,
and you have grabbed me.
I barely know you but you have grabbed me.
You hold my shoulders like a book,
reading my expression as you go in for the kiss.
And I consent, because
at twenty years old, I can consent.
Dark corners hide around us.
I barely know you but you have grabbed me,
and as the walls rotate,
instincts kick in like shapes in the mind.
One thing leads to another, until
you lead me behind a speaker in this club,
this gay club called Heaven,
and it happens. Without shame it happens.
And as my reputation cements,
the girl I have carried inside from the age of seven,
who could not consent,
who was led away to the woods
and only defended her virginity through
a basic inkling of the facts,
moves to the music, unmolested, intact,
losing that virginity on straight night in Heaven.
Get The Fuck Off
I know I'm touching on something
Reaching out to you with this voice
It doesn't mean you suddenly have permission
to touch my body whenever you please
We're in the same neighborhood
it doesn’t mean your always welcome
If you entertain one fantasy
I can see it clearly
I'm just a person
searching for herself
I thought you’d listen
I thought you’d hear
Give up this chase, am I doing the same?
If I sing straight to you it means I feel safe
Let’s make this clear
Get the fuck off me
Let’s make this clear
Just don’t touch me
If I don't look at you it's because you think I'm special
but I'm not I'm just like you
Go home and cry
You may think you're having fun
But there's a girl in there who's having none
Faking everything up to goodbye
To try to save her sense of pride
Then she's gonna go home and cry
Then she's gonna go home and cry
The town is stacked with beauty shops.
Redheads sits next to Hair-rods
while Dolly Dimples sidles up to Tres Chic.
Curl up and Dye competes with Revive,
as Chloe at La Belle looks longingly
at the customers hurrying across
the street to Inspirations.
The Vanity Box might be shut for
the holidays but Alchemy is open,
eager to attempt transmutation.
There’s plenty of primping but
the high street is no catwalk
and you never see a headshot that
could grace a glossy cover. Except
behind the counter in Peacocks,
where a beautiful girl
who doesn’t need it
uses make-up to conceal a black eye
that’s fresh each time you go in.
The line shuffles forward
trying to look away,
trying not to catch anyone’s eye.
A few weeks later,
after visiting The Style Lounge,
I pick up a leaflet from
the women’s refuge next door
folding it discreetly into my purse
over an appointment card.
But I never see her again
and I don’t like to ask.
Me and my friend, Maz have a girls’ night in,
a fistful of pills, a pitcher of gin.
When we’re tipsy, more than a little bit high,
she scrunches up her blonde hair, looks me in the eye.
You think I made myself a victim, I was just a fool.
Her girly voice falters with a boo boop de doo.
I say, hey Maz, we do what we do to stay alive
mental illness, foster care, it’s tough to survive.
I needed fifty bucks for food, I didn’t give my name.
Never bared all again, I couldn’t bear the shame.
That gent made me the centre of his ‘gentleman’s’ magazine.
It gifted him an empire, I bought one copy - just to see.
Whatever Maz, you’d not believe where the world is now.
Teenage sexting, webcams, everyone’s for sale and how.
Women swallowing the lie that it’s a sign of female power
taking off your clothes for men every minute, every hour.
I show her the Kardashians on reality tv, offer her a hug,
pour out another bevvy.
We laugh and laugh and laugh until the programme’s over.
Maz laughs so much she falls right off the sofa.
Then we cry, we’re not sure why. Need a few more pills to keep us high.
Need to stop falling for the wrong guy.
Thanks, Maz, for leaving money in your memory
for psychiatric centres to support girls like me.
You’ve helped abused women to get strong again.
To garner real power and cast off all their pain.
While that sleazebag bought the grave next door so
he could fantasise that even dead you’d be in bed.
How he loved to victimise.
We laugh and sing and drink and dance until the break of
day then I watch her with a tear as she sashays away.
The flooded race course is an ice rink,
frozen by the morning. Mirrors flash the sun
and seagulls judge their landings badly.
I am on my way to school with a little friend.
We meet an old man with a bicycle.
‘Fell off and cut my hand’ he says,
‘Will you pull out my hanky for me?’
One girl runs. The other feels in his pocket.
‘Deeper’ he says. The seagulls shriek.
At going home time,
I find the police in my sitting room.
My little friend has told her mother
and what I’d half-forgotten,
tucked away as just me being stupid,
is becoming scary. Blame attaches.
Next time something nasty happens,
I keep quiet.
“Take a look at that!
A fine filly!”
I stood at the front of the boardroom
Ankles tight together
Hands clasped in front of my dress
My first Blue Arrow mission
Receptionist for the week
I was eighteen and green
The boardroom sniggered
“That’s it. You can go.”
My colour rose and I left the room
I’ve never forgotten my embarrassment
Or the fact I kept it quiet
His boozy lunch was probably to blame
But I never temped again
Not all things with wings are birds:
bees, moths, bats, flying fish,
angels, fighter jets, Boeing 747s,
Pegasus, theatres, stately homes.
Not all things with wings can fly:
chickens soon flurry and sink;
stately homes nest in squat,
aloof dignity; kept falcons
are cheated, swooping only
where their jailors allow;
sanitary towels, like penguins,
can be thrown but cannot
maintain independent flight.
As the name suggests
butterflies should fly
but, distracted by their own
glossy membranes, get netted
by keen-eyed men, force spread
and pinned under glass,
their trajectories set by another,
like so many birds without wings.
If my dad had known,
he would have broken your neck.
But I didn’t tell…
I whispered, ‘No’.
That last glass
from the third bottle,
a good vintage
you insisted I’d enjoy,
slurred my words.
as I did. I died
on the sword.
I wasn’t dead
and I remember
enough to kill me.
You say we are the weaker sex
but it is not us who lust after SEX,
You tell us we are the weaker gender,
But you pay no heed to our Agenda.
If I am weaker the
How come I can bring
a man to his knees,
with a smile,
with a touch,
with a kiss?
A six foot
built like a brick shit house,
skipping while holding hands?
We can make you want to stray,
make you stay,
away from work,
all for one little jerk,
of the wrist,
here's the twist...
with the twirl of her hair,
can make a man stare,
and lose his mind,
make him deaf and blind,
to the world,
only for a moment.
No wonder you tell us we are weak,
when I could bring you down,
with just a simple kiss on the cheek,
Be the answer that we seek.
Nature of rape
If I offer you my company,
do not betray me,
if you have other thoughts,
Then keep them to yourself!
You can not imagine!
Once rejected and lonely,
It is too easy,
To sell one's soul,
Just for company,
And self punishment.
Here lies the problem...
Was it merely self punishment??
Or was it really rape??
I simply gave it away
When I asked him to wait,
But in continuance with tradition,
A man should have sex with his wife,
On their wedding day,
Even if she pushes him away,
Asks to wait til later that day,
Because of the pain,
In her groin,
Soon the operation...
Of what she married.
She lay still,
In the dark,
On her cheek,
Not crying out...
To be weak,
Under the weight...
Of her new,
When did ‘no’ stop meaning no?
When did no stop meaning no?
Was it when you’d made me yours?
Because if we were in a ‘relationship’
-if you could even call it that-
Then you could say ‘yes’ for me, and
Dismiss the word ‘no’ spilling out of my mouth.
Or was it when your feelings became
More important than mine?
When you thought you were entitled, you didn’t
Hear me telling you I didn’t want to, or
When you just chose to misunderstand
That no still means no here.
Was it when you described me as
Playing hard to get, when the game
We were playing had rules that you didn’t follow.
Maybe when you just thought
They didn’t apply to you, that your
Status of ‘boyfriend’ meant that you
Had no boundaries on my body.
Maybe it was when I stopped bothering
To try and make you hear it.
When I just accepted that this,
A soiled embrace with someone
I thought that I could trust.
No didn’t mean no to you anymore.
You Never Asked
Hunter sights prey
Boys will be boys.
You take control
And we are your toys.
Hand touches skin
Not given; just taken.
Think I am meat?
Well, you are mistaken.
I came to dance
You came to stare
And now your hands
Drink makes you bold;
You smirk and sway
You grasp and drool
And grab and bray.
You want to whistle
I just want to walk.
You want to touch
I’m too drunk to talk.
One time I woke up
With your hand up my skirt
But that’s what I got
Being drunk and a flirt.
You shout, beep your horn
To voice your attraction
Invade my own space
Then police my reaction.
For I “had it coming”,
I’m “that kind of girl”.
Mixed a pill in my drink
With a clandestine swirl.
You were my friend
Until you had a beer.
Your lewd, ugly voice
Whispers filth in my ear.
When I was sixteen;
The limp that I had
And the bruises unseen.
You were very upfront
You embody coercion.
Words spoken aloud
Every touch and insertion.
You lurk in the shadows
You hide in plain sight
Shout at women by day
And then stalk them by night.
You eroded my trust
Felt so damaged inside
As no one believed,
They assume that I lied.
And I won’t forgive it
And I’ve made it though
For I am a person
Far stronger than you.
should have known,
Can you chase time? Back into its box to hide there
til you’re ready for the things it has to tell you,
the advice it has to give you and the truth:
that however old you get you’ll have the imprint
of his mouth like strawberry stains on skin
that’s aged three decades since the first time
and the bruises on your arms made by his thumbs
where he held you down to kiss you more,
since Yes meant No and Yes became
the most foolish thing you’d ever say to anyone.
If you can unpick the past then nothing that you said
will ever be remembered, you’ll always have the chance
to retrieve what you lost- stop it all before it happens
walk away before you meet him, before he pulls you
from the party, from the laughing friends
you hardly know but recognise as safety.
Then his mouth will never find yours,
his hands will never touch you and he’ll never
speak one word about it always being this way.
You’ll stop him pushing you to the ground,
into the soil that hasn’t seen the rain since May
and it’s August now with strawberry plants
to lie down on, sapping the ground, leaving marks
like his kisses that will never disappear.
You’ll never be Barcardi-drunk
or high on heat. Tapestry will have ended
and somebody might change the track
to something that won’t make you cry
every time you hear it.
Or you could step into the shower,
wash away the strawberry stains,
the smell of him, his fingerprints,
and watch them slip, with soap scum,
down the drain.
Speaking is hard. The trip,
the leap into darkness,
is so daunting that you stop-
waiting in the stillness,
dressed in invisibility.
Silence is best,
words more demanding, threatening
to surge from nowhere to spoil
a lifetime of compromise.
You choose silence,
because it’s better to be quiet –
although you want to spit back,
voice the words only the night has heard.
So, when you falter, when you fall,
he lets go of you, and you drop-
only to look at him from a long way down,
your words hanging in the silence between you,
his answer to your slip,
rushing at you, surrounding you,
tripping you up.
Reader, I Googled Him
He is a Head of Risk. So yes, he knows to time it so there’s nobody about.
He knows to pick the ones who drink
so they can’t think. The ones whose
uncles came to wet their beds. The ones
who have to work at managing their
heads. Whose child or teenage horror
smothered in the dark
has left a mark.
The tough ones? He learnt young
to leave them be. They’ll fight him
on the spot, and a fighter he is not.
He likes his power pre-packed:
the flush of cheeks, the widened eyes,
the muffled cries, the gape of speechless
lips. He doesn’t care about their tits or hips
or if they shed a tear. The thing he loves is fear.
One more skin of misery won’t show,
he knows. Involve HR and every time
the moaning party goes. And so
below the ground these onion women
grow. Watered by the tears of their own cuts.
Downtrodden in his stagnant bed, they preen
above-ground leaves of green
to mask their sulphured guts.
He is the Head of Risk. He’s made
a whole career of this. Believe me
when I say he started young, for I was one:
at nursery he honed the secret pinch
and when the girls would flinch
and cry he’d steal a kiss, then grin at miss
(and miss would see me thump).
In Wendy houses, shielded by grown
women and a stack of wooden bricks,
he built his armoury of tricks.
“Show us your knickers”, he smirked, the shit,
that one time when he cornered me at six.
Risk assessment is his kick.
He’s always been a nasty little prick.
A grapefruit knife is only tiny
cuts through citric skin with ease
hand held horror
silver blinks in the dark.
Cuts through citric skin with ease
shadows play tricks on dream-waking eyes
silver blinks in the dark
her scream, muffled.
Shadows play tricks on dream-waking eyes
his body straddles hers
her scream, muffled
trapped between his thighs.
His body straddles hers
hand held horror
trapped between his thighs
a grapefruit knife is only tiny.
Not the Stuff of Fairy Tales
Once upon a time,
he peeled me like an apple,
his vulpine teeth
raking my skin.
My ‘No’ counted
for a hill of beans, not magic
enough, it seems.
The breadcrumb trail
back to my door
was gobbled by vultures.
I lost my way.
Happy Never After.
No! Not never!
With the one wish granted,
I cast him as frog;
sautéed his plump thighs, with garlic,
savoured them, nibble by nibble,
with a glass of chianti,
its blood red droplets
like the ooze from a finger.
Happy ever after. The End.
Those forests can be walked only naked,
on the soft, at parts bebarked paws
of the once-tamed-but-escaped,
of the fairly-wild-still.
I shush along the trees you sculpted for me,
embarrassed by your shiny touch
on the leaves which unfold
curved trajectories to the deepest.
The Dreamiest Alone has never scared me.
I keep talking to you as if you were
still whiskassing me until I purred.
Watching me, bastard, huh? Don't you ever stop
feasting your eyes on me? And what's next?
You make me jump through
mirrored sunset-flames on lakes
and when exhausted you stroke me
while I fall asleep?
I square up to you, looking straight back
to your fucking fingers,
I can bite and hiss until you
keep out of my sight.
Pardon my French, I'm supposed to speak like a lady
but it's gone, I've unalterably changed.
Vulnerable at core but keep going.
The more I scream, the more silence I gain.
The more I swear at you, I become the more sacred.
I'm your ex-creature. Goddess of Survival.
There is always friction.
Every time he swings
she has to absorb his energy.
That his heat is transferred
to her cold body
is how she knows the future.
It's not impossible
that his hot body becomes hotter.
There are so many collisions
between them it is improbable
equilibrium won't be reached.
His behaviour can never be explained
Let’s talk about this like adults.
But I don’t feel like an adult -
I’m still scared of hands under my bed
and the white noise in my head
Listen to me, be gracious.
And I want to be, but I thought
maybe you should be too;
you could have listened
when I said no -
You’re probably right,
I’m normally wrong,
I’ve missed the point, got lost along the way
in a mist of words
I thought were okay -
Let’s talk about this like adults.
Suited, straight-faced and monochrome:
I meant no when I said it.
The Estate Agent Shows Us Around The New Flat
This is The Corner Where the Frying Pan Landed
This is The Alcove Where The Children Were Silent
This is The Stairwell Where She Had That Tumble
This is The Hallway Where the Knockout Took Place This is The Rug Where She Lay Playing Dead
This is The Bedroom Where She Always Said No
This is The Bathroom Where She Whispered She’d Leave Him
This is The Window Where Everything Fell Through
In the classroom
In the living room
In the locker room
In the cloakroom
In the bathroom
In the common room
In the bedroom
In the boardroom
In the courtroom
In the green room
In the mail room
In the dining room
In the showroom
In the ballroom
In the storeroom
In the staffroom
In the newsroom
In the state room
At Ainsdale sand dunes I found a peak
and lay, nose to the sun in marsh grass,
combing out O-levels, Irish Sea slurring
which was when he arrived, the fifth Beatle.
“What would you do if you saw me,” he said,
“sunbathing naked?” He’d played in the Cavern.
Not Stuart or Pete or anyone fancy but
Adrian, mottled and panting.
I curlied my hair, fondled the spike grass.
“There’s love there that’s sleeping in this guitar,”
he said, gently weeping before me.
Pleasureland lashwinked its fairground lights,
salt meadow rush whispered,
I heard the sea mithering. “Nothing,” I said,
flicked sand from my school slip,
left him plucking his string.
I hunger for the damp of soil,
the company of bulbs, roots, shoots
the smell of rotting leaves
of apples - fallen, worm tunnelled.
Soil - you blanket, you coat,
you over-loved dressing gown
which covers dangerous beauty
with your dirt - uglify me kindly.
Prince and princess
king, queen, stepmother, witch -
I was once a girl who loved your tales
but now, I am trapped in my body’s story.
Do not wake these lips,
there is no kiss for you.
My body was torn
like a spine off a book
pages shredded into a gale
by a man who ignored all my refusals.
So for now, or for years or for always,
let me lie with silence -
and love only stillness, soil and sleep.
I have a whole piece of sky
which I've torn from a cloud
crumpled in the palm of my hand.
Un-label me victim
If you could read the mounted tapestries
that hang carefully under my skin
Would you thread and stitch the gaps
between them if I let you in?
If you could see the cracks of fragile glass
now repaired behind my eyes
Would you get splintered on their edges,
or bathe in their refracted lights?
If you could hear the words I whisper
to a God I don’t believe exists,
Would you judge me? Get down on your knees,
kiss me and revel in my sins?
‘Not all men’ is still too many
Me too! And you, too? — we’ve all had enough.
Yes, We too, get you — but best keep it shut.
And he too, hears you — but it’s always ‘too much’.
Tears race down a crotch poured from war torn tear ducts
The fear owns you, then moulds you, until assured — you are tough
It roughs you and dulls you and dampens your strut
Won’t even unclothe you. Exposed true: a fully dressed slut
Then buys you and un-shys you — like you owe him this much
Man’s buck sways the world’s judge — and feels entitled as such
Trespassing on just minds, high oh his drug power-lust
Now — Not all men they cry. Well that’s not the point now, is it?
We can’t blame an epidemic, yet farm the weeds that built this.
So, when you say mankind: well, I call bullshit
I say womankind and the strength it took to build it.
The Perfect Family
It’s a Tuesday,
Long, cold November day,
Tomorrow – parents' day,
How do I tell them I’m failing day?
Through the door into the warmth, step,
Why is my aunt stood at the door?
Why is my mum sat on the floor?
‘Give us a minute darling,
Take the dog out’ Her smile, disarming.
We wonder around the small town,
Can we go back yet?
We loop again and end up home,
Teenage angst, feeling alone,
I want to know what’s going on,
Secretly thankful, my secrets hidden,
I hide in my room, parents forbidden.
Mum approaches me,
Daddy’s been accused, you see,
A young girl, said she,
Had to fight him off in a bar,
Then ran to her car,
Tears falling down her face,
But she’s lying, just in case,
You would think your Daddy,
Would do such a thing,
To a stranger, your age.
Why would she tell such a lie?
Drag it through the courts,
As if it were nothing, by the by,
The trial – during you’re a level week,
You must still do well, we can’t think you weak,
As to betray your family by this silly rumour,
Oh, you broke down in school and now people know?
How could you, you must put on a show.
Happy 18th birthday, have a drink,
You’ll need one when you stop – and think,
In two weeks he’s off to prison,
18 months! Over a ‘silly’ decision,
Mum, why was he found guilty if he is saying he is innocent?
Quiet, you know nothing of this incident.
Uni halls a drunken blur,
Mixed with questions I try to ignore,
“Why do you still receive hand written post?”
My father hanging over me like a ghost.
Years pass by, he is released,
Try to clear my mind, find peace,
Birthdays, Christmases pass in an instant,
Try to be the perfect daughter – the memories still persistent,
She finally leaves him,
Gets rid of the wedding ring,
Marriage in the bin.
I grow up, I mess up
I spend my life making up,
For the time that I spent grieving,
The loss of my fathers image,
We still talk – but its hard to forget the victim blaming,
The victim shaming,
A brave girl who said I’m worth saving.
My future is my future,
My past will stay in the past,
A strong ass girl from Anglesey,
A life filled with contrast.
The song of the tiny dragon
You wouldn’t know it was in there
That huge roar
She’s been sitting quietly for so long
The cave was dark
And shadows moved all around her
It wasn’t safe to breathe
So she kept herself small
But in her, there’s fire
And things to say and sing
The light burns fierce and terrible
And when the time is right,
Everyone will hear her voice.
What no one tells the Phoenix
The fire comes
When you least expect it.
It will eat you alive
You think you will die
You might, yet.
Being forged in the furnace
Is more painful than you can imagine.
Long after the flames go out,
Your bones will be warm to the touch.
Some of that which melts to ash,
With a grief both fierce and bright.
Not everyone will love
The new version of you.
You’ll lose friends, as well as feathers,
In the fire.
But know this -
Once you’re lit up
There’ll be no stopping you
And you’ll burn
I saw them, last night.
Switched on the telly- there they were.
He made it to the screen after all.
And his mother did too.
She looked down her spectacles, at a classroom
of children, contrived to appear less
knowing than they are, clawing for treats and
off- camera approbation.
And she smiled. Gave out candy and
sweet deceits about being a
Schooled them gently, beatific smile unwavering,
engrossed in getting
her character tonally perfect.
She schooled a new bride years ago-
gave home truths and handy tips.
-How to stifle tears in a pillow
and stay away from fried food.
-How madness is inherent in us all
and it’s a special fool naïveté that doesn’t know this
Naiveté that she and her offspring
cleared, in wide astringent scrub- swathes
along with the make- up from this
new bride’s face.
For twelve days, they exulted in her ties
and exhausted her fears until the doctor
told her she was ‘a scared rabbit’
and she ran from the wolf
only to find him, a decade gone by,
scars unevenly scabbed, mascara clumps at edges of
too- bright eyes,
bride- heart still pulsing naive
and knowing in turns
-on her television set again today.
Waif of a girl with a porcelain face, waits
for a boy, almost a man with an easy smile.
He makes her laugh.
Says she's worth knowing.
At fourteen and a half, she's ready for love.
He tells her to fly.
In a car they ride away from city lit streets.
She tries a toke, from a spliff.
He says breathe.
Hold in your throat, feel mellow, act bold.
He tells her to smile.
Gives her a phone, all contacts his own.
She answers day, night whenever he calls.
He makes her play.
Ina line they leave her battered and torn.
He tells her to die.
Best left for dead. Her soul in a mess.
Months never found.
One day, warm breath on her lips.
Her rape angel grows.
Feather down wings pierce, then unfurl.
She takes flight.
A sickle of moon catches her throat.
This grace of a girl screams,
shatters her porcelain face.
Don’t even say it…
it’s your word against his.
Don’t even think it…
you were wearing red shoes.
Don’t even say it…
but you know he did this
saw his eyes darken
heard his growling breath
arm wrenched behind you
hand hard on your throat
his punching, snarling gimme
grunting hogbreath, crusted tongue
and sourstench shirt
that don’t don’t darkness of surrender
left a wankstain on your torn clothing
tears through your life slashes through your future.
Don’t say it…for who would believe?
It’s your stopped mouth
versus his untouchable
So hard to tell
Oh no, not him.
He’s so pleasant, had a lovely wife.
Not him, he’s far too old.
He may be losing it a bit,
He wouldn’t mean to push his hand hard up between your legs
as he came upstairs behind you panting.
He’s a bit cheeky sometimes,
can’t you take a joke?
No not him. Playful, perhaps.
Lurking outside the Ladies
maybe that’s just what he did for his wife.
Oh no. Not him.
He’s just, friendly.
It must be you imagined his claw on your breast
as he reached for the lift-button.
So you sat on his groping hand
When he waits breathing hard
crouched in the dark shadow
alongside your car
he only wants to make sure you are safe.
When he follows you
night and day dog-close snuffling
treat him like a pet.
Everyone else does.
Just ignore it.
We all do.
It must be you.
Speaking the unspeakable
It is unspeakable
the hoisting onto his shoulders
behind his young man’s head
the navy primary school uniform skirt
pleated across his neck
thighs exposed to autumn sunshine.
A reach for bristled green spheres
“Can you get them?”
Then hands reaching up chubby thighs
holding steady, ostensibly
as older cousins’ did
as dad’s hands did
on her legs, playing in the sea
laughing, splashing with excitement
at having him all to herself
readying for the tip backwards into splash.
The left hand crept up her tenderness
found the elastic of thick, navy knickers
snaked fingers underneath,
found their way in to touch
the girl child’s naked labia.
She kicked the brown Clarks shoes
drumming a tattoo on his ribs
leant forwards, leapt and ran
with a sprinted explosion through the grass
made the lane, made home.
Released because his right hand
was engaged elsewhere?
Or was letting the girl child escape
part of the erotic charge, essential
for his later replaying?
Speaking the unspeakable.
I’ll never leave her
The dream pushed me awake
as I went to attack the man.
He was tall, wide-shouldered
held the girl on the roof of the flats.
He was licking his lips.
I had to leave her standing there.
I screamed don’t you dare as I climbed
locking eyes as he thrust
her used body away from his.
Learing for a fight he reached out
his spunk smeared hand to grab at my clothes.
I caught it, locked hard with my grip
executed the practiced pivot about our arms
balance left foot, arc right boot, connect with skull.
Surprise etched his face
as he collapsed.
I woke before he dropped
mortified that I’d left her
for the fight, not crouched
beside her still trembling legs
knickers gathered about her shoes
wet with her urine too.
Mortified that I’d not soothed with an arm,
a voice of understanding
not listened to her saying
over and over
“That man is nasty.”
“Yes he was nasty.”
Tears fall in the crouched writing
of this long ago story that surfaced
in dream, beckoning me to hold the girl
who got away, but couldn’t tell
who fears what might have been, still.
my cheek razor burned by the
it might have been burgundy once,
we play a symphony of hurt.
the rip of silk
my bruised cunt
he gobs in my face
I conjur hexes
fast tracking me into
I curl, I furl, I freefall
into another tunnel of blackred pain
I know this one
from a bedroom stuffed with
i am carbonated
a yield of artificial crops
you take the first exit off the highway
and seem so smug .
i am compelled to sink my teeth
into your tiny softness
so I do.
Was he your first love
but became your enemy,
abuser, loser, accuser ?
Did you love him so
forever, never doubting?
Did it come as a surprise
when he turned out to be
full of lies, worms and flies?
Did you take the force
when his fist became raised
losing tears hid by fear?
Do you look back, recall
how he made you feel small
on your own and prone to abuse
Was you scared to let go
when love had already gone
left too late, turned to hate?
Did you come to realise
you were in love with the idea,
all was graduation of infatuation
Did you learn to understand
how you were both too young,
playing, delaying adulthood?
Can you look back, laugh, forgive
expectations of each other
admitting, quitting the blaming
Do you hold your head high,
see the world through new eyes,
feel a strong part of heart?
Then you have come far
These things made you who you are.
First love gains painful stains,
place them in your basket
with petals of no regret,
plant gold beads with new seeds.
On backs of unicorns
hold the reigns in your own hands,
ride waves of positivity, creativity
will find the right path
to bring what you deserve
in this life, no strife, love yourself first.
He stopped his battered Land Rover said, hop in,
bloodshot eyes, big barrelled laughter
green and gold tobacco tin on the dashboard.
Gun dog barked in a cage behind the back seat,
parked in the lay-by opposite Becks Wood
stuttered her name tripping over the s sounds
sour beer-breath whispered in her lungs.
Every week he waited outside her house.
He bought rounds of drinks for her parents
gin and lemon for the lady
best bitter for her husband
offered them jobs digging his garden, a bit of cleaning,
a helping hand to the new neighbours from the city
just while they found their feet.
He even paid for a new second-hand washing machine
so the villagers said twitching their curtains
but they liked him well enough
he’d written a traditional cookbook
been interviewed on telly their own local celebrity.
As children we’re told:
Never look directly at the sun,
shown warnings in books.
So I sneaked glances when backs were turned,
in awe of the fiery shadows which burned behind closed lids,
fearing that the following morning I would wake up
The morning after you did what you did
I woke to a different kind of darkness,
certain I would never again look directly at the sun,
turning away from the pain of flame on retina.
Yet it was impossible to avoid the sun’s heat,
detested flesh stinging in all those marked places
where fingerprints scorched through skin.
Twenty years later,
I have only just learned how to lift my head,
and once again dare to look:
Do you hear the silent voice?
It sounds not unlike my voice,
which is secretive, and shares nothing.
The silence inside is invisible,
it has to be plucked out,
do you hear the echoes in the night?
Rivers bursting their banks,
while waves boom to the beat of the thudding unsaid.
Then comes Courage,
a great undamming.
can you hear it, beating its wings?
Taking us to the place
where a clamour of unheard voices ring
like bells, tolling.
Fun Turned Sour
An uncle who
should have been
Me in high school
My hands on piano keys
His happy voice in song
Laughter, music, singing
He stopped singing
Began kissing my arms
Up and down
I stopped playing
What, you don't like it?
As I answered
I stood up
Left the room
Never told anyone
asked for it
had it coming to you
need to show respect
know your place
spoke out of turn
on a pillowcase
in the morning light
dark times never
fantasised the bruise
the blue flowering
tiny bleeds under the skin
the split lip
don’t know my own strength
I never meant
I love you
Tomorrow is another day.
What We Now Know - a creative collaboration inspired by #MeToo: A Women's Poetry Anthology. Video created by Adam Clarke & Victoria Bennett of The Common People. Written & recorded by Beth Porter & Ben Please of The Bookshop Band. Video created using Google Tilt Brush software.
A space to share poetry inspired by the #MeToo/#UsTogether poems
They walk among us
All the time
Along with other sleazy emissions
And omissions from reports
Or safeguarding searches
Only petty criminals after all
Didn’t hurt anyone
Just a bit of kiddy porn
Just initials on an organ
Good men after all
Pillars of the community
Slap wrists, a fine, community ‘time’
Get over it you say
They didn’t actually hurt anyone
With their white male middle class ways ?
He waits till I’m loving him, living
with him – before
he slaps me. Once he cuts my lip.
His sister says
he only hits me because he loves me.
That’s wrong, but confusing. Has a certain
logic – I was rarely slapped as a child, mostly
loved. The time he slaps me in the street
I feel as powerless as a child.
I become adept at reading him,
It’s hard work – doesn’t
When I walk down the street with
a male colleague
I’m nervous – scan
the crowd for people who might
know me, might report back.
I tell him I’m leaving –
he forces me onto the bed. I’m aware
it’s rape – if I fight he could throw me
from the balcony of our fifth floor flat.
I wouldn’t survive that but I will
survive this. I put it in
that is not me
and shut the door.
For two weeks, he locks me in the flat
when he goes out.
I pretend I’ve decided to stay –
he believes it, stops locking
the door. I make my plans. The last time
I see him, I’m standing at the basin, washing
my pink, white and yellow striped T-shirt.
He comes up behind, puts his arms around me,
says, You’re angry with me.
I look into his eyes – the reflection of his eyes
in the bathroom mirror – say
I pack my bags and run. Never look back.
Later I Wished That I Had Hurt Him
He tackled me on a lonely road a few miles out of Listowel
He came up softly behind me as I reached the top of the hill
I was out of breath
I turned expecting him to speak
When he grabbed my arms I couldn’t believe it
‘Wait a minute’ I said, ‘let me get my breath’
My natural response was to talk to him, it was automatic for me to speak
I hadn’t realised: his motive didn’t allow for any connection
‘I’m going to teach you a lesson’ he said
That’s when it registered and I knew
I fought hard and it seemed to last forever and eventually he got up off me and melted back into the dark
It was later that I wished that I had hurt him.
Just keep counting, your hands apprenticed,
do not think about his hands resting on your knee.
Beneath the fluorescent light at the shift’s end,
in October, fling a fine grey fog across the month,
mottled window, raindrops travelling south, in time,
while his fingers march north along roads of your thigh.
It’s late, hormones are running high, evening’s end,
darkening sky, just keep counting, hands apprenticed,
do not think about the fingers contemplating prey.
A pile of silver coins, spring-loaded, partitioned drawer.
Your trainers are gun coloured, watch what you do,
through compound eyes, forget that you have a heart.
Outside, you will name your friends, speak your price,
Newcastle Brown and Benson and Hedges, a pretence
in the wilderness of perennial cover bands, moving on.
Who will you inform of this exchange, before you reach
entreaty? Wait, stop, you have to concentrate on counting.
Don’t think about the fingers, the lines they cross,
keep your hands apprenticed, raindrops moving down.
‘Who will believe thee, Isabel?’
Who indeed? The words of an eminent Lord,
the Duke’s deputy, to a young nun.
Her body is the price of her brother’s life.
‘To whom should I complain?’ she asks.
‘Did I tell this who would believe me?’
An old story given new resonance.
Perhaps she would have joined #MeToo
Perhaps she would have signed #MeToo
o earthly mean to save him, but that either
You must lay down the treasures of your body
To this supposed, or else to let him suffer;
What would you do?
Ha! little honour to be much believed,
And most pernicious purpose! Seeming, seeming!
I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for’t:
Sign me a present pardon for my brother,
Or with an outstretch’d throat I’ll tell the world aloud
What man thou art.
Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil’d name, the austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’ the state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report
And smell of calumny. I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for; redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But they unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me tomorrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.
To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,
Who would believe me? O perilous mouths,
That bear in the one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof;
Bidding the law make courts’y to their will:
Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,
To follow as it draws! I’ll to my brother:
(from Shakespeare’s Measure by Measure)
Don’t tell anyone, said Zeus.
It’s just between us, and anyway
no one would believe you - I’m King of the Gods.
And remember, don’t open the box.
But she did.
And out flew all the lies and deceits,
dirty secrets and gagging orders,
complicity and cover ups.
Until all that was left was Hope.
And it was gathered up by women,
cherished and passed from hand to hand
until they gained the strength to speak out
Eve ate hers
and got The Knowledge
(and the blame.)
Snow White spat hers out
and got the prince.
Paris gave his to Aphrodite
and started the Trojan Wars.
Mine sits in the fruit bowl,
biding its time.