Saturday, 28 February 2015


It is all monument
This is moment
The words themselves recycling
The  books which line upon the shelves
Tell of lives, in short,
And dying.
These words, laid with Pygmalion’s touch
Haunt the mind
As speech it fails
And Galatea’s only armour is
That she tells of another tale
My skin shrills of father and mother
And them in turn, or those before
And yet I reach out into nothing

Seeking now, for something more.

Routes onto Roofs

It’s dawn – that indeterminate place before day where the  sky attempts to heal its bruises from the grasp of the night. I watch the clouds swell and part like old injuries. The occasional needle of sun worms through and sheds light on the scenery below.

I suppose it could be called ‘scenery’ – the necessary requisites to the play of existing. I stand on the roof of the department  store, staring out over the buildings. The roof is a strange thing, not like the pointed unscalable peaks of childhood cartoons. It is an expanse of twisted metal and gaping vents, strange, many-bladed fans clogged with indeterminate dirt and bird shit. The strands of light dance in the puddles which  litter the landscape, catching  the bulbous bursts of petroleum like forgotten faces.
The air seems to have a thickness to it, like those first crackling breaths when moving out of sleep. People think that Is where I am, in sleep, the thought may turn over slowly, in the mind of my mother, that I am her daughter lying, as if by appointment, in bed between the hours of midnight and 7 am.

This is the sad rebellion of attempting to be alive in the city before the anticipated sunrise.
The roofs of the other high-rises lie at similar levels, as if littered around. A deflated balloon, shrivelling like an over-worked organ, snags on the corner of  a nearby ventilation tunnel. All these holes and shafts and workings – typically unaccustomed to the eye. Yet all roofs were stood upon at some point – that is how they were  built.

Built on mispayment and sweat and indecency. This is the roof  where the man made the customary checks to the concrete, awaiting for the set numerals but really thinking about his screaming wife and clingy, paranoid children. The nearest fan continued, oblivious; unfeeling even to the memory of how the engineers hand had pressed down on the plastic all those years ago, a press as he thought of music, and isolation, and sex.

This is the landscape we attempt to forget.

We prefer to see puddles and patterns, and thing  we call ‘litter’,  decorating under our own feet – as if domesticating  it. Here it is  haunted and reckless, cast-away newspapers thrashing themselves in the  wind. I wonder if the people down on the places we call ‘streets’ feel this crawling, nauseous sense of ‘cold’. The first bodies are beginning to move in their expected public directions, shuttling along the lines of pavement like a black push of type. We like order like that don’t we? People would like me not to look from roof to street, but from kerb to road.

But the danger is still here, the danger is still me.

For there are others who  attempt to occupy this waste of space, I know that. It is here I will remain, here until I am ground back down to the full stop of the doctors. I will be handed a diagnosis which  stops the ‘waste of space’; and makes me ‘troubled’ ‘afflicted’. My personality is guilty of torture. It is guilty of thinking.

I think how awful morning looks. The roofs of the high-rises are happy to divulge that.  and yet there are routes onto all of them.  Whether a ventilation system or fire escape, ladder or set steps – there are ways.  Ways  designed and made by human hands, yet shied away from, only used in the cases of ‘exception’ – emergency, malfunction – this -

These forgotten spaces telling of what we really are.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Waiting for Something to Drop

Nobody ever reads them
They  go untouched, unheard
Adding to the static fur
A myriad of words.

Do you ever have a narrative so momentarily complete that you strive for a full stop rather than a question mark?

A single, determined dot. Like you want to maintain that last touch on your fingertips – you want it to not be superseded, not to be evaluated against any other expression.  Sometimes I like that, a continuous scrawl which I know is bound for some inevitable end. So many times I have sat and scrawled on the single sheet, convulsed in the momentary hilarity of  line on paper, defining margins, moving backwards, forwards. There are those momentary thrills of compiling several lines into the space for one, through watching the ink  seep its way through the pre-ruled guides. Sometimes I go over and over the page, building up biro marks like scar tissue.

But one day I will not be able to see the page anymore. Then I will have to turn over.

Though imagine, faced with a single piece of paper, an unending movement of pen in hand and yet the corner unturning, the page sticking, sticking, sticking, sticking, sticking, sticking, sticking -
I stood clutching the laptop against my chest. It was not the last thing I wanted to feel. It acquired the status of age in a cold thickness, angled against my body so one corner lodged just under my sternum.  In my wind-chapped hands it looked almost like the pelt of some animal raised indoors, deprived of natural light. There was a lacquered, almost greasy sheen to it. The rain bubbled to inflated pools upon the surface.

A single strange question teased through my thoughts with that adult agony of an incomplete circle. I remember when I was a child and used to  clutch at oversized wax crayons under the colour seeped into my kin, pressing nib to page and watching the diminishing object with fascination. I always felt, noticed, the declining size of the crayon, the thick residue on my fingers, rather than the lines themselves. I would draw hooks, and hatches of lines, points of momentary freedom my parents would join up to create what they called ‘a nice circle.’ I screamed and screamed.

Yet I had spoken to  someone who would have been called a ‘friend’. Strange, how people gain voluntary titles like that. perhaps the old woman  who  remarked to me that morning that ‘the awful cold wind does nothing for the knees’ was  a ‘friend’ too. Only I didn’t know. Neither did I know how to answer the question which  crawled  into my ear.

“When are you next free?”

I wondered when I was free. Does ‘free’ constitute the occasion when you stop the act commonly prescribed as work and instead indulge in the percussion of laughter for  a while? Is ‘free’  not this but when you go to a place called ‘home’ where you are supposed to occupy a sensation called ‘belonging’, or at least some half-decent mime? Is it the time when you lie at night   on the designated plinth where you feel the cold, itching sweat of sleep crawl over? Is it..

I wasn’t sure if the voice had started asking another question, but I had stopped it. A voice terminated with the  single press of a finger, a pressure not even tender on the windpipe.

I liked the strange burgundy shine of my old shoes. Perhaps it was because they were suspended over running water, the  foliage of faraway trees. Half on stone, and half over these vague imitations. It was an array of colours over  these shoes would not be expected to be seen, it gave me a thrill. A thrill thick to the pit of my stomach as I watched the reflections splatter uneasily over the unpolished leather.

I stood, heel on ground, toes  in-air, on the edge of the viaduct.

I am not sure who else did, who had. I wondered if any ‘friends’ behinds the words stood there. Those instances too, the lines of ‘talk to you later’ or ‘see you soon’, all pretty little imitations. For this no meaning on line, that is what I had thought as a child; the child who scarred the page and seeped through margins, even perforating the paper before the chance of turning over. They called me ‘wild’.

They probably still do.

I watched the laptop fall.

It was strange how the trees bent so easily below.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Giving a Peace of Mind to the People of Sri Lanka: Sasha’s project with SLV

And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.
- From ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by William Butler Yeats

Yeats’s poem expresses in the form of ‘apples’ that even the most impossible forces can be made personally accessible. This thought has provided me with great assurance at times of difficulty. Yet what it be like to feel completely without hope, at the mercy of forces difficult to understand? This issue has attracted much required attention in terms of natural disasters and upheavals in eastern Asia, but a brave student is taking steps to highlight issues which need to be addressed are not only physical but psychological. Many people may ‘walk among the long dappled grass’ of isolation and mental illness without ever being accounted for, especially in underdeveloped countries.

Sasha Martine Mattock is a student from West Yorkshire, currently studying psychology at Goldsmiths in London, passionate about raising the awareness of mental health issues. It her project for 2015 to work with the organisation SLV in Sri-Lanka during the summer months, bringing better mental health awareness and care to often isolated communities. For people suffering from mental illness who may well have lived much of their lives in fear and without support, Sasha’s work with SLV offers the chance of light which may seem as captivating as the ‘moon’ and ‘sun’ in Yeats’ poem.

Sasha’s work really does shine a light not only on on the importance of raising mental health awareness at an international level, but also what is an exceptional organisation – SLV. SLV is a voluntary organisation which began in 2010, led by graduates from the University of Manchester. The aim is to help to run projects in local communities in Sri Lanka whilst also allowing students to gain valuable knowledge of new cultures and share their skills.
Sasha’s warmth and personality is evident in her thoughts towards the project – ‘I am really interested in this area and am considering following clinical psychology after I graduate. We will be given support through talks about how clinical psychology can be applied in Sri Lanka, the main focus of this placement is working with people to improve their mental health. This I believe is a wonderful course and tackling it head on is the best way to reduce stigma and actually have a positive effect.’

The project seeks not only to open minds but eyes to new possibilities. That is why I am donating to help Sasha help a brilliant cause. It is Sasha’s determination to combat mental health stigma and increase awareness which I share and I hope you do also. To donate any money you can and help make this project a reality please go to

Sunday, 22 February 2015


It is a strange word; it has a sharp sheer edge to it.


The bus driver glowered at me, his lips latching to the question as if by instinct. He was half-occupied by early morning impulses, the honeycomb of sleep cracking at the corner of the eyes, consciousness coming through like the slow push of hair through a layer of skin.  I shuddered where I stood, poised on the front step of the bus, feeling the mechanical suspension wavering like a tired bottom lip.

He repeated himself again in energy of irritation more apparent this time.


It made me smile. I thought – ‘why is he apologising to me?’ After all, ‘sorry’ must be one the most frequented phrases for apparently improper reasons. Of course, he was not ‘sorry’ at all, and this only added to the hilarity. I could have laughed that  I wanted to go ‘everywhere’ ‘anywhere’, for don’t we all? Do we not all want to escape this routine of language and systemised relationships and plunge away entirely. The thought of asking itched like something devious at the edge of my lips. My tongue moved like a mollusc over the grit in my teeth as I swallowed the words back, attempting to find some acceptable sentence.

“The girl has got a bloody day ticket, just let her on already!” A man behind me shrilled.
That was my first trick of the day. I had cultivated apology ceaselessly. A triumph ran like a congratulatory hand beneath my clothes. And then came the same old empty stare, of eyes upon ticket, tracing the date, attempting the conviction of enjoying numerical connection  - all captured in the movement of the drivers eyes across the ticket pinched between my fingers. It was almost like instead of the paper pressed by touch, I had told of the finest string, releasing the pressure at the corner of his eyes. His stare was greasy and watering, whether from tiredness or some strangled emotion, I did not know.

It was  breath warm  and stale through which he muttered ‘Why didn’t she say so in the first place.”
Another morning trick, another thrill, I had been made third person.

It was as ‘she’ I ambled up that sodden aisle of public transport. The acrid tang of coffee hung heavy, like the hand which held the top-chewed plastic cup. The hand of the man I sat beside. I don’t know what made me sit by him, perhaps it was the particular thread-work of the veins which almost appeared to sting through the skin.  For such a cold morning I considered it incredibly vascular. After all, it was a morning of incredulity, I was ‘she’ and sitting next to a ‘stranger’ when there were other seats available, further back on the bus.

She who was socially unacceptable. There are lot of stories regarding ‘she who is socially unacceptable’. Girls who dabble in that marvellous cliché ‘going off the rails’, drugs  and drink. Some call it ‘finding themselves’.

You see, there is an awful multiplicity to life, no matter  how incredible you think it is.
I wanted to say this to the man who I sat beside, the man who shifted his knees away from me in the curiously slow motion which  both invites and repels touch. Where his corduroys creased over the bone,  a black stain bunched and fell - cigarette ash. It made me wonder if he wore the coffee as a mask then, wanting to cultivate some more socially acceptable scent – the cosmopolitan act for the office, the girlfriend, the aging parents.

He had the lips of a smoker though,  cracked in the corners, slightly bloodless. They were pressed firmly together over the teeth, with a resolution which made it difficult to picture the crumple of  drawing  on a cigarette end or an unaffectionate kiss. Perhaps he had kissed the cheek of someone who  convention called his ‘girlfriend’ that morning,. Not sure why, not sure why her skin had that haunting flavour of chalk.

I once tasted chalk too; made to stand so the granules of dust brushed against my lips, face pressed against the blackboard in the primary school classroom. I had told the teacher I could not see the point. The result was to be made to try and feel it.

I wondered if the man’s hands felt as cold and uncooperative as that blackboard. A blackboard full of scars. Perhaps he had a slight scar on his palm where he had used the wall of flesh to shield the flame of his plastic lighter. The lighter in question was tangled like a tacky jewel on the end of a necklace – only instead wrapped  in the cord of his headphones.

I envied him and his convenient string of narratives. The dull bubble of music seemed to slip from his shielded ears, his eyes indulged in thought. And thought itself is a strange field – like that which I sowed through words in the weeks of my childhood, bringing my parents to tears. They wanted to think that I was happy. Perhaps the old woman who sat a couple of seats behind on the bus was trying to convince herself of a similar situation. Her milky eyes presented  a young couple accompanying each other on the morning commute, sat slightly apart in that abashed affection of the young. Adjectives like ‘nice’ and ‘sweet’ might have stirred through her head, anticipating that we had perhaps been together for a couple of months.

Months and minutes perhaps are only adjectives.

I tried to estimate how old he was, but the determinism seemed somehow cruel. After all, I thought to myself, we are travelling on a bus. ‘Travelling’ or ‘commuting’ –whatever the appropriate verb was, the atmosphere seemed flavoured in its artificiality. We were a scene in some grand act, sliding through space and time indeterminate – I was  ‘she’ of no fixed abode, going to work, warily watching my partner.

Not that I knew who he was either.

  He could have been able to love me. He could have been able to  turn and sink those cold hands into my windpipe in that series of swift movements he had always dreamed of. He could have done anything.

I played with the pronouns ‘we’ ‘he’ ‘she’. They could all do anything. Yes, all those people who sat there on the bus, all practised actors in that little theatre. Some still has the smiles and ring-eyes of amateurs. But the act was being kept. The slow spread of acceptance as we all placed our lives in the hands of a man at a wheel. A man who said sorry before it had happened.
It that always happens.

We open the curtains
That ceremonial gesture, inviting others to look
What we have assembled. This  is a home,
This is a family, pretending
That we do not look, and never meant to.

Yet in the asides, we stare out of the windows
Watching the pantomime bubble by
Smile at the comedy of commuter traffic
-          Being told through the plastic answer phone
‘get your act together.’

Easily done
The dishes dry
In the wire racks of the face
Teeth as cutlery, eyes as plates
-          The table is happy.
Already laid
That suburban silver-screen ideal
Only occasionally aware of the steel seats
The sound of choking on the reel.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


They appealed to me
The arrangements of words upon the white
Slowly moving, horizontal lines
Like I envisaged breathing.
A slow ceremonial liquid glide
The returned incision of my eye
Into the minutes of my meeting.
Do I find it easier
To rub my fingers  over signs of corruption
And cry in a kind of joy at the rupture.
I’m a sleazy woman
A practised actor
Rapture is my understudy, follows
Flaws in the hollows under eye and jaw.
What I speak and see,
Is a fucking lie
What I eat, the elements of my memory.
Time laughs demented in her show

Doles out gender, life and law.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Is There a New Student Philosophy?

It could be considered that universities and the students within them are often considered a hotbed of ideas. After all, the term ‘university’ appears to imply an incredible expanse, the possibility to learn and question.

The student philosophies of the past could be seen to question almost to the point beyond questioning. For example, consider existentialism. Although it cannot be celebrated as a student philosophy, as is an outlook or situation difficult to define itself, it could be seen as carried by a number of students in Britain post World War Two.

Philosophy is important as it could be considered an attempt at the feel for life. Yet what was felt post-war was a dislocation, a disillusionment of the social narratives which had been supplied for so long – like ‘victory’ and ‘glory’. Existentialism hit out at whether any of these were feelings at all?  In this way the ‘existentialism’ which became a movement in the 1940’s had a student body, it bred on the backs of those privileged in the position to actually think and celebrate ideas.

 Yet  even the position of what constituted ‘privilege’ was quick to come under question. Perhaps this can be seen as paradoxically associated with the increasingly ‘modern’ university experience – seen to be associated with freedom and lack of restraint compared to a privilege once more economically based. The 1950’s and 60’s saw the rise of increased university admission in the UK to a wider extent of the social spectrum. In turn began the search for authenticity. Tropes and stereotypes became systematised – phases seen in teddy boys, then beatniks, then hippies. Yet ‘authenticity’; is often regarded, in light of existentialism, as the prospect that one should act as oneself. In this light, life is a character in the theatre of existence (and this became known in some circles as the theatre of the absurd).  The acting as oneself, rather than assuming the way ‘one’ acts or a certain expected identity is a complicated distinction to make. Questions ascended – how could we define what was our identity and what was determined outside our autonomy? Nature and nurture debates sprung up across university settings, shaping areas of psychology and especially in regards to the young; Child language acquisition.  

Ultimately, students are put in position to potentially philosophize when  confronted with the subjectivity if life – or so I found. There was no one to tell me that my decision to leave the door unlocked was ‘wrong’. Choice highlights itself in work, and alcohol, and an endless array, it is an exhibition of our morality or that of our parents what we choose? Are we a puppet to our past or striving to picture our ideal of the present?

 It could be seen that ‘philosophies’ or particular outlooks upon life could be seen as significantly associated, perhaps even driven by students. From the lasting emissions of existentialism,  in England by the late 1950’s a kind of nihilism was often accused, though not necessarily the case. For example the Mods vs. the Rockers on Brighton beaches, the rise of violent crime, were often case studies used to allude to the assume anti-morality of the post-war ‘permissive society’.  But was this a particularly student movement or more of a case of dissociation in society? The sixties witnessed a shift to libertarianism in some cases – with students championing ‘permissive legislation’ at a university level. This included ‘Sit-ins’ at a number of universities across the country. Yet passive resistance became active insistence in what could be  considered reaching a peak in the ‘1968 summer of love’. A cultural phenomenon, an aspect to consider in philosophy itself, flourished in the form of ‘the summer of love’ – a focus on agape,  free love as encapsulated in ‘situation ethics’. This shift from the letter to the spirit of the law saw the collapse of what could be regarded as old codes; the abolition of the death penalty took place in the 1960’s, as well the legislation of abortion and homosexuality.
And codes could be seen as continuing to collapse, with significant student involvement. For example, a recent radio 4 report highlighted the growing movement of the legislation of cannabis in some states in the US, which can be seen as reflected in the egalitarian outlooks of many groups in the UK. But are these necessarily student?

As a student myself during 2014, I found it difficult to appreciate a particular course of student  philosophy. As this article highlights, students have often been associated  with movements with what at the time appear ‘philosophical’ and ‘radical’. Yet perhaps  can radicalism be seen as part of an increasingly conservative philosophy?  A kind of reverse to the progressivism once envisioned.
This was highlighted for me in a recent Guardian article: - regarding the changing use of drugs amongst the student population; for regurgitation rather than recreation. Big deal, some may think casually. But ultimately it is – now part of a bigger deal in which students attempt to extend what is ranked as ‘intelligence’ through the assertion of chemicals, performance enhancing drugs. What I feel is that student life is growing increasingly competitive, bit is this an inevitable rise of the nihilist spirit, the ‘supermen’ triumphant as envisioned by Nietzsche?

Yet the egoism developed from Nietzsche’s ideas does not necessarily seem the case for students of today, indeed, they carry their own frailties with them, open-handed. Many engage in the desperate cycle of competition, not necessarily enjoying it and knowing that they  will not ‘win’ in the desired sense.  Though rather than the an attempt to fit authenticity, would could now appear the term in case is ‘expectation’. Whether expectation from external sources, or ourselves, the factor of ‘expectation’; has seemed to engender a philosophy concerned with ascension?

For is university not about a ‘universality’ at all but attempting to maintain a universality,  not necessarily a positive identity, but getting ‘to the top’? This may consider trying to put ourselves forward in an academic or moral sense, attempting to justify the position of our minds rather than exploring them. For me, this conservatism and level of limit was highlighted in the growing number of complaints in regards to university ‘targets’. In Sheffield students were set an impossible maths exam, for example. Perhaps it is encapsulated in University Challenge where condensing knowledge and experience is sold as wit and entertainment.

Either way it is a reductionist show on a sad stage. It frightens us. And perhaps that is what has become a factor of  the student philosophy more than anything else in the 21st century  - fear.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Why Emily Dickinson was true to life

I was inspired to read Emily Dickinson’s poetry from another book itself, and perhaps many may think, quite unusually, ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig. The book references the lines ‘How happy is the little stone/ which rambles in the alone’ – lines which filled my mind with thoughts, just as a little stone may accumulate layers of dust  as it continues on its way.  Forming thoughts is part of what it is to be human, what it is to live, and therefore it appears appropriate that I picked up Dickinson’s collection entitled ‘Life’.

Of course, ‘life’ is almost impossible to conceptualise and Dickinson does not attempt this with any kind of broad-brush philosophizing. What I find enchanting about her poetry is that is it abrupt yet honest – it is a collection which explores conceptions rather than seeks to define them. For example, ‘Life’ opens with  ‘Success’ which she explores in terms of the negative – that it is valued most by those who do not often have it. It is the aim to succeed and ability to reorganise it which is important, just as Dickinson’s poetry provides a reorganisation of observance on the human condition.

A sensation Dickinson pays particular attention to is that of ‘pain’ – and like ‘success’, she defines it neither as explicitly positive or negative, but as a ‘mystery’. For me, as a child, the word ‘mystery’ always held a certain hope to it – that some improved identity could be assumed – and this is what Dickinson explored in relation to pain; that it can indeed make life, and our appreciation of it, more poignant. Although Dickinson uses what at the time would have been considered unusual largely untitled verse, often with slant rhyme, as a writer of 19th century  America, her work offers allusion both to the domestic and the epic. Although Dickinson was born in 1830 and lived much of her life in isolation, maintaining friendships through correspondence, her poetry of ‘Life’ leaves a rich imprint – short lines yet enormous metaphors such as ‘the charge within the bosom’ which sorrow may make us feel. Dickinson appears able to cultivate the written word both as an individual, and as expression of the scale of emotions she felt which may well appeal to all of us – her particular half-fear, half-fascination of death is evident considering her experience of the loss of a close cousin when only a young girl.

In some lines the solitude of Dickinson’s position can be sensed profoundly.  For example, ‘The Lonely house’ where ‘The moon slides down the stair’, reflects both the magic and  melancholy of being alone. And that is perhaps what I find most profound about Dickinson’s poetry, that it faces the dualities and paradoxes of life, that situations do not  always unfold as we would anticipate .  she laments ‘I could have touched!’ – and therefore, there is hope, for even when things seem bleak, it does not mean they are definitely so, as the mind gives us the ability to think otherwise.

Hope is a human element engineered by the mind and the beauty if belief.  Dickinson’s is a hope which extends to others, in terms of belief in human life itself. Perhaps most memorable for me in the collection entitled ‘Life’ are the lines ‘Here a mist, and there a mist/ Afterwards -- day!’- the affirmation in the natural world that despite the darkness, there can be light. This brings the topic back to the importance that I was inspired to read Dickinson from another book ‘The Humans’. It seems almost appropriate that I accessed Dickinson and her writing in this way, after all, it is her repeated emphasis of the liberty of reading and the gifts that a book can bring which has made myself determined to encourage others to do the same – go out and read. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Mental Health History in The North West: Exploring Through Writing

This is an article written regarding ‘Experiences of an Asylum Patient’, a document written by Rachel Grant-Smith and published in 1961. The document largely takes the form of an eyewitness account over 12 years of incarceration in what were then called ‘asylums’ in The North-West of England. The writing in itself is an attempt for Ms Grant-Smith to argue against what she regarded as her mistreatment and the misconstruing of her mentality – to the extent which she was prepared to come in front of a Royal Court. It is through the exploration rather than examination of the lives of those like Rachel Grant-Smith who were not given a voice at a time of mental anguish, that an important history of mental health treatment can be uncovered.
As Virginia Woolf once reflected:

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”

It could be seen that in taking the emotions of the past into account, we  can make better preparation for emotional care in the future, the history of mental health uis often kept secluded, patients involved in the ‘asylums’ often viewed as fading into some undocumented existence. However, through careful research and the account ‘Experiences of an Asylum Patient’ this article seeks to highlight especially how we can, in regards to mental health especially, learn from the language of the past, to shape the terms of the present.  It is my belief that language and its usage can be used constructively within mental health care. For example, as this piece highlights, although the term ‘asylum’ was once used, now ‘psychiatric unit’ is appropriated. The changing of language use and the discussion of mental health is important – a point Grant-Smith urges in her writing itself.

A model of the old infirmary - Piccadily Site
February has seen the growth of incentives to encourage the discussion of mental health – such as the ‘Time to Talk’ campaign launched by the charity, Mind. This is partly, and rightly, in response to a history of mental health discussion thwarted by stereotypes and false classifications. In this case, words can be both culprit and constructive. Through words we can limit people, yet they also serve as vehicle for expression. In turn,  in order to elaborate on the factor of history and mental health, this article will explore the  words of Grant-Smith who was interned at what was called ‘ Manchester Lunatic Asylum’ (later ‘Cheadle Royal Asylum’) and how her writing holds such relevance today.
Manchester Lunatic Asylum opened in 1766, with the hospital database suggesting an ‘unknown location’ from 1763 to 1850. A common suggestion in regard to situation is  Manchester Piccadilly, part of the same site as the Infirmary which existed there from 1752 to 1909. After all, a letter from 1804 by a James Jackson is addressed to the ‘trustees of the Manchester Infirmary, Dispensary, Lunatic Hospital; & Asylum’ suggesting that the infirmary and psychiatric services thus shared the same site. In 1850 the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ diverged to  location of what is now 100 Wilmslow Road, Cheadle SK8 3DG, though ultimately kept many of its Lancashire connections and patients.  By 1870, George W. Mould was the Cheadle Superintendent.

In 1900, a patient was admitted as a boarder under the name of Rachel Grant-Smith. Yet it is interesting that her location on census in 1902, despite her being in the hospital, is described as ‘Musgrove’ – a pseudonym. This use of language highlights an attempt to disguise the reality of mental health problems and services. It  is interesting  that there could be considered a slow extent of progress over the next 50 years, in terms of an article by W.V Wadsworth in the Lancet, part of conducting investigations into mental health  units. "In 1959 he [Wadsworth] invited Gordon Cross to come from the Bristol Day Hospital to open a similar one at Cheadle. This developed as a therapeutic community and in association with the industrial unit helped in the rehabilitation of both neurotic and psychotic patients." (Munks Roll)

Yet in Rachel’s’ case, not only is her location ‘Musgrove’ a pseudonym, but her name itself.  It is this name which signs the haunting ‘Experiences of an Asylum Patient 1922’ based on her  mental health treatment in the North-West from 1900.  The document now contains an introduction, which presents the ‘Experiences of an Asylum Doctor’, by Montagu Lomax. Initially, this writing proceeding Rachel’s  invites an extent of scepticism – is this the assertion that those deemed ‘medical professionals’ at the time still held the ultimate authority when it came to written expression? After all, who gave Rachel her name, attempted to construct her identity? Interesting them, is how the doctor appears to defend Rachel’s writing  itself, asserting the ‘Truth’ which lies within it – quite definitive language for the time. A particular point of language is that  Lomax writes ‘the personal pronoun ‘I’ looms very large in all lunatic asylums’ – suggesting an awareness that is the patients themselves and their words, which form their identity.

Words contribute to identity and can be used constructively. For those suffering from illness, mental or physical, words can often appear like a condemnation or a fetter – in the form of diagnosis or a letter. However, this piece of medical literature is especially important in regards to mental health and its history as highlights the beginning of awareness that words can be used for constructive expression – like discussion. It is in the main body of ‘The Experiences of an Asylum Patient’, that Rachel describes her difficulty as ‘once tainted with a certificate of madness.’ This includes  grotesque mistreatment which she alludes to ‘terrible acts of brutality’ in a ‘vicious circle’ over ‘twelve long years incarceration’. Although Lomax in the introduction suggests that Rachel provides a ‘simple’ narrative – this statement perhaps does not appear altogether accurate. After all, the pathos of Rachel’s writing as just aforementioned conveys  an extended articulation of human suffering.

 Her writing opens with an account of her life prior to internment. It was the death of her husband in 1900, which Rachel alludes to as leading her to ‘nervous breakdown’ with overwhelming feelings of ‘anxiety’. It is with the support and suggestion of her family, interestingly, that she entered the Cheadle Royal asylum voluntarily. Yet here we see a dramatic shift in tone, hence why the writing is so important and haunting. She alludes to glimpses of positivity before the internment as she sought the company of her family ‘it was good with me, being with my people and without drugs’ - the repetition of ‘with’ suggesting that Rachel was making real effort to  sustain connection with society. This was a connection significantly compromised as her brother encouraged her to in effect, sign herself over’ to the hospital with the ultimatum ‘it is too late’ before she had even signed. Rachel’s citing of this particular phrase is interesting, highlighting an environment in which even the autonomy of her signature, her identity, was removed from her. In this light, her effort of writing her ‘Experiences as an asylum Patient; could be seen as a triumph and suggestive of the restorative power of writing. Importantly also, the profundity with which she emphasizes the phrase ‘it is too late’, highlights the importance and lasting effect of language, especially in regards to mental health. It can only be imagined how this triggered the constant anxious questions – too late for what?

Rachel’s account of her time incarcerated is composed of a combination of narrative and reflection.  Her comments such as  ‘I should have as a sensible woman, be able to reason with myself’ shows reason in itself, yet also a guilt – a cruel sensation which often still goes under-addressed in mental health care. Here was not only a woman blaming herself for her confinement, but blaming herself for what she  feels she ‘should’ have done. In terms of writing ‘should’ screams in its modality – it is selective, it indicates choice. This is what could be considered especially important in mental health care – that people have both choice and a voice, a seemingly appropriate rhyme. It appears Rachel, and doubtless many others, lacked this at a time they were meant to be receiving ‘treatment’.

Phrases may appear simple on the surface, but the implications they hold can be profound – ‘it is quite easy to get into an asylum, but terribly difficult to get out’. Here the  compound sentence expresses a concision of reason. And Rachel’s writing provides the haunting evidence – especially in regards to how mental health was made inaccessible by language. In retrospect, she alludes to her situation as ‘monstrous’, trapped by the terms of a doctors combined verdict that she was ‘melancholy and depressed’. As this was the time following the death of her husband, it could be anticipated that Rachel would feel low I mood – a logical emotional reaction to personal trauma. Here she writes of an experience which still pervades in unhelpful stereotypes today – that ‘depression’ is treated as a feeling, a reaction. In many cases, depression is alienating, a lack of feeling, a sense of suspension away from the world.

That Rachel’s writing highlights misconceptions which still continue today in regards to mental health is both shocking and illuminating. In turn, I have been driven to write about in the awareness that writing can change things, an awareness Rachel seemingly shared as she went before a Royal Commission in an attempt to draw attention to  her treatment.

An interesting link in regards to writing, especially in terms of mental health, is the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay, a poet active, although in America, at the time Rachel was living. It is Rachel’s narrative that she berates not knowing who the ‘’visitors’’ are – the exaggerated apostrophes highlighting an environment in which people were ascribed with names rather than holding them intrinsically. This is often still the case in mental health treatments, people allocated as ‘’experts’’ or ‘’working in your best interests’’ when the actuality of those statements are potentially very much debatable. In Millay’s poem ‘A Visit To the Asylum’ a speaker is employed who appears to reflect upon her childhood experiences of the inmates of an asylum, and her lack of understanding of the reality of people’s internment. For example, the final stanza ends with "Come again, little girl!" they called, and I/ Called back, "You come see me!" – highlighting how quickly dialogue can be exchanged, without understanding. Rachel likely felt subject to this position – at the end of treatment from people who did not understand the reality of her situation. And this tragically still continues in regards to mental health. For example, the lack of distinction between using ‘depressed’ as a feeling and ‘depression’ as illness leads to people placing exaggerated expectations on people suffering from mental health problems – varying from ‘they are not bad enough’ to ‘they cannot do anything at all’. Making valid judgment involves facts and facts require listening and evidence.

Cheadle Royal Infirmary

It is the appropriation of limiting language terms to people, pressing them into categories, which creates a fight for identity. What is particularly evident is that Rachel’s writing is fraught with this friction, profoundly unfair, as seen in the imagery she uses to express it. The description  that in a ‘drugged condition I appeared before my mental execution’ highlights that institutionalisation of people for mental health problems was often treated as a kind of incrimination. It in turn makes one hope profoundly that such attitudes have changed, both inside and outside the treatment of mental health. Rachel alludes to how she was greeted with the phrase ‘You would like to go to bed’ – nurses assuming an identity and autonomy for her in language, This is enough to make anyone all the more passionate that  this is why today, every day, we should see language is essential to the autonomy with each individual.

People should be allowed to express themselves, converse – whether through reading, writing, speech, or action. So many in the past were denied this opportunity, and it is from the incredible accounts of those who incredibly kept up the strength to write – showing not only needed to change now, but what even now can be changed for the better. During her internment at Cheadle, upon which this article focuses, Rachel did not understand the definition of the ‘’Visitors’’. Perhaps it is our task, as readers of the future, to make ourselves as ‘visitors’ felt – to highlight our experience, however brief or intense, with mental health. Talk about it, encourage others to talk about it, write it down, read about it. It is through words which change can happen.
Thank you.

Grant-Smith,Rachel. Experiences of an Asylum Patient. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1961 -

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day

I give you my heart
It is phrase reserved for a time
In dazed reality, the bottle of wine
Makes the words lurch

The ceremonial cake
Clotted by the tense saliva
Ticking over
‘Shall we just be friends’
-          I have no idea either.

I give you my heart
Repeats the desperate man
Finger-trigger, in the corner
Layers his throat another larger
And she beyond the point of speaking

The wearing of the public art
Adorns the streets
The half-discerning
 Shopper chooses warmth
In red, and rose, and pearls and paper

I give you my heart
The component parts, excuse the bleeding
Bloody fingers forming music
A clumsy warning
On the strings
-          You could could call it almost soothing

Newsprint is the anaesthetic
Pink with misuse I watch it squirm
Apparently it expresses beauty
I have yet a lot to learn

I give you my heart
The politician chokes
This admission of a curt sincerity
Glistens as the uncertain whisper
‘I hope he gives us something healthy’

Advertisements blurting growth
Apparently ignite romance
As people walk alone with stricken eyes
And dripping hearts in open hands.


These hands are awful
Uncooked by experience
A grease which clings
To the eyes office.

An oesophagus
Gives no speech to the skewer
Draws the fingers demure
A black score on paper.

It is the colour of bone
And something crawls
Which would be otherwise covered
The sauce of expectancy
Dries like an enamel.
I have fried
The offal of my thoughts
And hoped
For the second course
Like the scent of a family.

Hard, the batter which blends
At the edge
Of bronze.
It was once conversation
Now dredged like a sugar
The tongue takes over

Yet still the palms bite
The nails like a shell
Warming the mollusc beneath.
Skin shrinks into itself, breathes
In a grief as is meted to write
Coursing on keys
Which release the type

And the smell of meat.

Completely ripe. 

Give Me Stories

Give me stories
Open narratives of other lives
Met the hands, and chest, and teeth
Of little child below the crib
The uncertain duels of breath and sleep.

Give me stories
The insistent feed
Of eyes upon the coloured myths
Of animals with human limbs
In which the monstrous is sold as sweet.

Give me stories
In the speech, began as grief
Then moved to mime
I could capture what I could not see
Play with truth, and love, and time.

Give me stories
Stocking-feet, the comedy of human error
Would send me walking down the street
The eyes of each
Another mirror.

Give me stories
Getting better, a phrase resigned for certain times
 Like not drawing  on the teachers duty
Writing lies in straight
Straight lines.

Give me stories
Overnight, I witnessed one long marriage end
Adolescence covered the other half
The chapters love, and luck
And friends.

Give me stories
I asked of them, and after
Begged for something more
Give me tales of love, a lease
Of a portion to call my own
-         -  Please.

Give me stories
Manners formed, as did chapter headings
And a title
Introduced as then ‘unstable’
Storybook arms to give an eyeful.

Give me stories
Gloried nights, in false embraces
And resentment
The indents that my hands still haunt
Tracing points of old remembrance.

Give me stories
The way you talk, your shape of face
Moves me for a while
I disappear in the fiction of your vision
Envision the subject of your smile.

Give me stories
For I cannot object
The desperate journalist
Haunted by momento mori
Black and white, a page and text
And I crying

Give me stories.

I am a life

I am a life
Valentinus knew this too
His hands on the child of Autsterius
They took for guilt.
He signed, ‘My Valentine’
The quilt, comes to the corner of my eye
It is the suit I assume for the days occasion
Finding food, and turning pages.

I am a life
Lying emblazoned with ‘daughter’ ‘woman’
The sole creator of my own failures
Lies under my fingernails.
A pool of water
But no rain/

I am a life
I watch the same
Pantomime ascend the stage
And they have got the drama right
First family, then love, then age/
It is almost human

I am a life
The applause fades
For the comedy of common cause
I learn to laugh at my mistakes
As future is thrown like old fruit, flowers
A metaphor/

I am a life
Which wastes for days
Over the menagerie of mixed experience
In the tragedy of being blind
But looking for an audience.

I am a life
I watch the comedy
Of open sores on each old foot
My body is comparatively new
My toes move mindless, lined,

I am a  life
The scheduled regularity
Of soap and drama as expected
Looking for  a family
They appear, as if projected

I am a life
And for affection
I gather I have learned enough about the role
I have seen it in a storyline perfected

I am an actor of the cold/ 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Why I hate words

Every day I lose myself – perhaps by now in a state of perpetual loss. I spend so much time, beyond time, in reading, writing, other people’s narratives. I guess we all do to some extent. Whether watching television, engaging with social media, writing letters… all are words in an attempt to covey ourselves. There is a beauty, yet a tragedy in the multiplicity of it.

I read when I cannot face the narrative of my own life. I cannot say whether it is shaping me or not, but I guess the attempts to write as a result highlight an extent of paradox though. If I continue to read, I exist through other peoples narratives. But if all everybody did was read, there would be no writers, and in turn nothing to read in the first place. In an attempt then to avoid, or to attempt to re-organise the concept of relationships, I perhaps uncover yet another one to maintain – that between reader and writer. You need one for the other, like life with death, love with hate, pleasure with pain. Yet it seems to think I could shuttle, reading from library to library, no true fixed abode, and yet occupy more buildings can evert would be physically possible. Like the child’s fantasy of the everlasting sweets in Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’, I remain suspended in awe at things which evade concepts I have been fed since young – like time,  good and bad, and wrong and right.

Words can help overcome, but also set me down. My signature is meant to be myself, the flick of a wrist at a certain time. Will my hand trace such a similar shape for ever? It is a bigger question than it seems.

What is interesting the general wordlessness of dreams – a floating then, without immersion. Those times before I look up I wonder if I am breathing air or the hellishness after.

I guess this singularity of consciousness gives a dreadful singularity to the interpretation of language. This makes me potentially  dangerous. There is no need to justify my ‘spontaneity’ to anyone, ‘love’ needs no boundaries. I could go to London tomorrow, and live in so many narratives, even just a short one. It will likely be short.  Though my reading gets slower. And while there hovers the face in the mirror, of myself, other people, I will still read.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Hit The North (Or 'Nature is a Language Can't You Read'?) - Why Northern Poetry is much more than just rock

The Calder Valley in snow - an area with which Ted Hughes grew up
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

It was these lines from Ted Hughes’ poem ‘The thought fox’ of 1952 which I read as especially resonant with the North of England, the place where I had grown up. The higgidy rhythm of ‘now, and now, and now’ appearing to imitate the coy caution of the foxes I had watched crossing the garden, and the ‘dark snow’ still lies on the grass. Hughes has a vast poetic corpus and served as Poet Laureate  from 1993 until his death in 1998, yet such time or ‘the pour and tor of distances’ never interrupted his apparent affiliation with the nature of the North – stemming from his childhood in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire.  Hughes grew up rambling on the moors, almost reminiscent of Emily Bronte’s solitary excursions. Both writers shared a certain hardiness in this sense – prepared to involve themselves with nature and its inevitable violence, leaving a lasting imprint. Whilst some may consider Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering heights’ to encapsulate the extremes nature an, humanity Hughes poetry often illuminates the arbitrary aggression of nature in the everyday.

Hughes went on to have many varied jobs including  a rose gardener, a nightwatchman and a reader for J. Arthur Rankl A British Film Company.Yet Hughes everyday life when he released his first collection ‘Hawk in the Rain’ was not written in his Northern niche, but largely as an undergraduate  and then following his degree in Cambridge. Yet amidst the ‘dreaming spires’, where he had went to study English, Hughes evidently showed a strength of character in rejecting his original course of study – the academic pursuit of literature scraped the beauty of the text away, in his view – and he instead pursued social anthropology,. Although these were decisions made in Cambridge, these can be considered as indicatory of Hughes very Northern ‘roots’, his want to return not only to the past of society, but his own Northern past.

Why? As Hughes himself said upon people ‘ And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own .’ It could be considered that in his poetry Hughes captures a child-like awe for the capacities of nature, though certainly not childish. This is  a fine balance Hughes maintains like the ‘Thought Fox’ in his path through the snow, Hughes skimming the surface of the unknown, whilst plunging to new depths in exploring ‘Flowers and Insects’.

It is this fascination for nature and its prevalence in literature which appears particular prevalent regarding Northern poets. Many people may be familiar with the work of Simon Armitage, whose childhood was  not only marked by growing up in Yorkshire, but has in turn marked the landscapes -  the stanzas stanza  project over Ilkey moor and surrounding areas linking  47 miles with poetry conveyed by the rock faces. One such poem ‘Snow’ holds the haunting lines ‘The moor in coma. Snow, like water asleep, a coded muteness to baffle all noise, to stall movement,’, again expressing the overwhelming capabilities to nature. As I read ‘Snow’ the wind whistled around me, whipping the grass, and I knew that nature spoke for itself but in these words and outside them.
In and out then, poetry from the North  of England appears to have a particular sense of identity, I feel. Yet whilst Ted Hughes moved away for significant periods from the Calderdale of his childhood,  it was in moving into the North of England that Carol Anne Duffy’s verse could be seen as picking up a different voice. Her earliest poems were written in Scotland and the Gorbals area in which she grew up:

 my heart stumbled and blushed
as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree
in the scratched old desk under my hands,
heard the bird in the oak outside scribble itself on the air.

Yet it could be seen that her movements  in Liverpool around the university in her 20’s and her current basis in Manchester has held a lasting effect on her writing.  It is from Manchester Duffy launched her first collection of poetry as Laureate ‘The Bees’. It is interesting that during his return to the North of England on the death of his second wife, Assia Wevill, that Hughes wrote a collection called ‘’Flowers and insects’ – witnessing the operations of nature and intimate detail. It could be considered in a similar way that Duffy uses the metaphor of a bee to explore the contradictory elements of a different kind of nature, human nature – with a bee an image both of blessing and of curse in people’s eyes. The poem ‘The bees’ itself expresses that ‘bees are the batteries of the orchards’  and it is through this bold alliteration in a striking collection that Duffy presents a voice acutely aware of nature.

So is that what the North brings to poetry – a nearness to nature? I believe that this is the case, but not just in an organic sense. Although the north of England may possess its own wild landscapes such as Kinder Scout and Saddleworth Moor, it also possesses its industrial turbulence. How can this be the subject for wandering artists? Ultimately because industry is where human nature wanders, and what is so beautifully documented in the work of many Northern poets. In ‘Birthday Letters’ we see Hughes both reflecting and even mourning of the mechanisation of the land in which he grew up, yet his typing part of that process. In ‘The Bees’ Duffy presents poems such as ‘Echo’ – similarly reminding us of man trapping himself by his own nature, like an echo does. For example, the opening lines of the poem ‘I think I was searching for treasures or stones /in the clearest of pools’ illustrates simple human frailty ‘I think’ in comparison to the superlative ‘clearest’ of surrounding nature.
It could be seen that the Northern poetry captures awareness of environment. Of course, this is not exclusive to the North. For example, considering the work of the great London poets such as William Blake, his piece simply entitled ‘London’ with the haunting lines ‘In every cry of every Man/ In every Infants cry of fear. anaphora and repetition here  moulds a consequent echo a little like the title of Duffy’s aforementioned poem; Blake too conveys a profundity of the human condition. However, this is to emphasize that poets both of North and south have a particular power of conveying human, lived experience – and hence my eagerness to continue to support emerging  creative talent in The  North.

Carol Ann Duffy is well acquainted with a Northern nature

This talent evidently continues today, and as is often the case for Northern poets – unfortunately receives less awareness than Southern work. Helen Burke has been awarded the Manchester International, the Suffolk Poetry Prize, and the Ilkley Literature Performance Poetry Prize, yet I was unacquainted with her work until last week. I was struck by her poem ‘The Rehabilitation Hobbies Room’ especially, where Burke appears to provide an enigmatic speaker for the objects we commonly  regard as voiceless, from ‘soft-toy dogs’ to ‘sea-foam and silicone’. In this poem, ‘Rehabilitation’ could appear to take the form of attempted refamilarisation – coming to terms with the human environment and how it has changed. Again, I feel this is a profound element in Northern poetry especially – like Hughes and Duffy, Burke appears to capture the intricate details of loved experience. The metaphor she uses for this is interesting, alluding to the ‘moth’ of sensation with ‘lillac wings’ – and similarly to Duffy’s use of bees, here Burke appears to use nature imagery to convey contradictions – after all, moths are liked by some, loathed by others.

Ultimately, nature can aspire admiration as well as terror.
It is these two elements which seem suspended  in the work of Burke, as well as Hughes. Her poem ‘Foxgloves’ allows for an enchanting read:
Helen Burke

I eat foxglove, dream foxglove.
I am foxglove.

Here appears an interesting parallelism with the triadic structure seen in Hughes’ ‘The Thought Fox’ – rather than capturing movement, conveying it. whilst Hughes expressed the deft  gestures of the wily fox, Burke portrays the particular movements of the foxglove – perhaps stirred by wind or tickled by rain. Ultimately, the northern poetry in tis article seeks to explore nature without its themed romanticisation – there is raw grit the north is often associated with. That is why I am proud of northern poetry, it takes the grit, the black coal of words and moulds it under the pen to something perfected. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Ladies and gentlemen
I want to appear in – façade.
Excuse the pause, for I can feign mad
I have practised politeness
Like a second hand. If you say,
You want pain, then that is no issue
It is a common request
Particularly human.

Is my speciality, the corner muse
My enemy  - for preferring the varnish
Of success
Is a better reality. From the heckle
I guess you want to see frailty
I can cry without cause
Apply caresses intently
Thick like gauze
To the strangers arm.

Larger than life personality, that's me
No need for a room. I can form
Acquaintances instantly, appropriately groomed
For impression
Succession is dependent
On a lucky charm.
Take these lips as a pendant
They are cool, my hands on an arm
Will adjust to the room.

These fingers as furniture
Individual tools
To capture the trailer
For the upcoming film.
As for rapture, its residual
Fetter on my front
Thick from the rehearsal
-          It’s like second nature.
The lump

In my throat
Is an optional extra, the depression
Can be in the cheek
Or the eye. They say dimples are sweeter
So I can do either
Cry like a gesture

Remember to smile. 


Every day I trace the same rough circles
Can feel the circumference
Beneath lid and lashes.
I thought you were better?
The ceremonial asking
And the question catches
Through my hair
 like fingers.

I trace the same rough circles
In soap over dishes
See my  bulbous reflection.
The connections are distant.
In the corner a witness
Checks in my face
For their own confirmation.
We are family. We are here.

I trace the same rough circles
In the old assembly
The fear, smudged and angry
Is pushed under plastic.
This is the sequence of layers
Which the camera calls ‘happy’.

I trace the same rough circles
The skulls ceremonial wrapping
Keeps my fingers firm there
Cold digits on forehead.
The noise of coarse sandpaper
Tears through my ear

I trace the same rough circles
Against my breast
Feeling, fighting
Against the reality.
A parody of woman
I feel nothing, disparity

I trace the same rough circles
Again and again.
Sometimes there a snagging
As old skin wears way
I work through the spoils of my childhood

I trace the same rough circles
In the hard cold soil
Of the field I walk around
At  the edge of dark
As the afternoon eases
Her authoritative arm.

I trace the same rough circles
Attempting a calm
My own touch over bloodless cells
Trace the same rough circles
With my head to the pillow
Wish it was the speech

Of somebody else.