Johanna Piritta Peltonen

I met Johanna Piritta Peltonen while delivering a masterclass in Helsinki. She is an extraordinary writer, and gifts us with the incredible line ‘I started the tea/ the sea is my fault.’ She does not currently have a website, but you can contact her directly via: piritta.peltonen@gmail.com

  JUST VISITING

Lead by dreamy shoulders

and backing hands

to a table of history and stomachs

The air is open

 

II            My favourite edible things –

prawns and love

I want to eat his eyes to be safe

 

III           I rise, walk

attack the blinking lights

submit to the light knives

Fear has entered

with surgeon’s determination

 

IV          I return to the ring of stomachs

Crab in a tank

with tied-up scissors

Plates staring

polished

Slowly-licked forks waiting

 

V            Hugged tightly by death

My tiny head pushed down

into the invisible water

I started the sea

The sea is my fault

 

VI          Sudden lemon juice squeezed

from the sky

Snap say the scissors

He builds me back

street by street

word by word

 

October 2018

Winifred Wong

 

Winifred Wong is a Singaporean writer of both poetry and prose. She attended a masterclass I gave at Sing Lit Station in September 2018. In the masterclass, I invited participants to create Canto’s (a chant poem, separated into distinct scenes, almost cinematic) around one part of their life experience they wished to explore, and to develop a central extended metaphor through which that narrative could best be told.

In this poem, Wong uses the metaphor of a game of Monopoly to explore her relationship with her mother, and the changing power dynamics within that relationship. She also separates the scenes by counting up, and then counting down – an effective device to explain that changing dynamic.

monopoly

1.

 

funny that i’m starting in jail.

but i wait my turn

there’s no zero on the die.

side by side

with top hat.

 

the phone rings –

her voice

asking if I have eaten

or done my homework

 

sometimes, i call

but children are allowed to be lonely.

 

 

i get a six

and cheer.

there’s not enough space

in a box

for two.

 

 

“top hat snails

while race car zooms ahead!”

she tips forward

watching my progress

my car horn does not reach her anymore.

 

i meet other pieces

coming out from the bank

we share the same numbers

for a while.

 

 

passing trees

stock still

my phone is silent.

 

she’s not in my rearview.

 

i pull over to let others pass.

exit car, hands on hips, stretch

it is strenuous to do nothing.

 

i text her to meet me in the next town.

 

 

a call.

she has landed on a bad spot

handing all her notes away

downgrades to purse

and doesn’t roll anymore.

 

 

she hears my horn behind her.

 

Harini

Harini is a young woman poet based in Singapore. We met when I facilitated a masterclass at the legendary Sing Lit Station, as part of my Australia/ South East Asia book tour of 2018. Harini is just beginning her journey into literature, but is already creating sweeping cinematic pieces like this one below.

This poem is guttural, sparse and essential, a brilliant evocation of the after-effects of sexual abuse; that feeling that something is trapped inside us, some new thing about to be born, some monster.

When Harini has gained a little more confidence, I hope to also publish her full name along with further examples of her work.

 

Flies

  1. The little girl is sitting in a living room.

There is a rumble within the sofa

Travelling

Up her buttocks

Across her chest

Into her eyes.

It’s the kind of shudder that births dead things.

Fault lines are spewing flies.

There is a cloud of them over her head.

 

  1. There is a little worm sat next to her.

She tucks the soles of her feet away from it

She knows it will tickle.

She’s too busy looking to the flies to know

The path it took into her chest.

 

  1. Tummies are not made for worms.

Wombs must not birth flies.

 

  1. Did you know flies are attracted to dead things?

 

  1. The girl will not know when they leave her.

The craters in her skin, volcanoes pouring pus from which they emerge

Unscathed

Tails hooking, pincers tearing,

climbing, sucking, eating.

Eating.

 

  1. The little girl is sitting in a living room.

There is a rumble in her womb

Travelling

Seeking release

It flips her insides upon her skin

For all to be freed.

All she is

Is a cloud of flies.

 

 

 

 

Tamsin Trevorrow

Tamsin Trevorrow is an activist, poet, public speaker and workshop facilitator. Focussing her work on exposing areas of injustice.
She has successfully initiated a programme called “A fighting Chance” which takes self defence and self empowerment classes to women at risk of trafficking and violence globally. She was orphaned by the age of 15 and then went into the care system facing exploitation and homelessness. She has become a seasoned and passionate fighter for the rights of oppressed people groups and uses her voice to tell their stories.

I AM

I am:  The fabric on which you left your stain

I am: the mind tortured and torn

I am: the shredded file you threw in the bin

I am: the child prostitute? But there’s no such thing!

I am: the music always playing within

I am: beautifully broken, gold fills the cracks you wove into my skin

I am: the crown you wear when you want new contracts!
Money, Money, Money
Ka ching!

I am: the sociopath, too damaged by age 5 to feel, apart from rage and fear that is!

I am: the empath, a sponge absorbing all pain, shame and grief

I am: the Mother too scared to ask for help in case “it” happens again

I am: the Mother not  knowing even where to begin!

I am: the college lecturer hiding his demons, mostly In  a bottle of gin

I am: the graduate
I am: the drop out
I am: the high flyer and low rider
I am all of these things!

I am: the one who lays awake at night
I am: the one who sleeps… with pills or drink

I am: the one with auto immune diseases the body keeps the score
No matter how many smiles are “worn”

I am: the child locked in the cupboard
I am: the black boy in the cell
shhhhh we won’t tell
If you don’t!

I am: Daddy’s girl, with multiple fractures long since healed
I am the one who regresses to a toddler when life throws “shit” beneath my wheels

I am: the boy they call the fantasist (why wouldn’t a child raised by wolves seem more real) Irony!

I am: pissed off with your beurocracy and a system that has failed
I am: done with being wheeled out at your fancy posh events for a voucher or 3
While your CEO creams a 6 figure salary from the children you steal!

I am: Not going to be silenced I am a warrior with a voice
Please let me be heard!
Whether I am riding on a wave crest or homeless in the dirt
I matter!
You see

I am: the over achiever you clap and give awards
But
I am: also the one serving time; carving scars in prison walls!

I am: cosy in my penthouse
I am: crawling in the gutter

I am: living to a ripe old age
I am: hanging from a rope
10 days dead in my flat and know one even knows!

I am: a statistic in the papers
I am: a number on your books

I am: everything you  said I am
I am: everything you thought I was not!

I am: a conundrum
I am: easily read

I am: human
I am: precious
I am: living I’m  not dead!

I am: lost
I am: found
I am: all and non of the above!

I am: a kid that’s been in care
And all I need is LOVE!

 

MEDICINE MAN

(For Anthony)

Darkness stalks in a box of pills
Cunning fox
Embracing snake
Whispering promises of sweet relief
“I’ll numb your pain and still your greif”
We slip them down with a watery drink into the cavernous depths of our souls beneath
“Takes two weeks for them to grip, relieve the itch to leap”
Or so they say!
I wait, I itch, I wait
There’s no relief
Comfortably numb would do
But no, this numbness is paralyzing glue!
It’s sticks my thoughts
My memories
To blackened stumps of deadend trees
A slow death this torturous process is
I didn’t want to feel the pain
But this!
I’m looking the ability to ever feel again!
“They work for some but not for others, let’s change the dose and the letters on the covers”
I listen to the voice of the medicine man cause I have no choice and I have no plan
But the truth is he is as much in the dark as me !
Apart from the pharmaceutical bonuses he receives !!

The numbers are increasing but the ignorance remains
The tablets are not working
They are driving us insane!
Irony
The cure for all our “mental ills” is not just a prescription and a bunch of pills!
There needs to be Love, care, nurture
Body, mind and spirit
STOP seeing me as a number or just a statistic!
Give me nutrition for my outward man
Love and healing for my soul
Address the inner trauma beneath the scared scars of old
You see I’m someone’s daughter, someone’s mother someone’s son someone’s brother
My medicated tears are streaming down my face
CAN YOU SEE THEM!
As I sit looking out the windows of this hospital cage
Trying desperately to be found so I can cast these heavy chains down on the ground
Finally
I want to feel the sunshine again… within
I want to love and not be drugged

I understand my complexities confuse you; they confuse me too!
But there must be a better  way, another way to set me free
I don’t want to do the “zombie walk” through stuffy corridors
I want to run on coastal paths like I did in days of old
This method is not working
Please be open, hear me, see!
Wipe the old formula from the slate
Let me LIVE again  before it’s too late

 

Fatema S Hawydi

My name is Fatema Sad Hawydi. I was a child when my family fled Iraq because of Saddam Hussein’s regime’s brutality, many of them couldn’t and got killed. All my family including children and women were sentenced to death because they were considered as members of the opposition party. I was raised in Syria in a refugee camp. My father tried his best to give us a normal life. I started attending biology science at Damascus University, unfortunately I couldn’t finish my studying as the civil war started. In 2011 ISIS took over the camp and destroyed my home and again, we had to run away, we didn’t lose anything because we had nothing, we never did. My hero Mohammad Hawydi was burned to death by ISIS, that day I lost everything, my soul, my sun and my smile. I lost my language but I found my pen…..

Fatema will be developing her writing over the next 12 months and looking forward to publishing and reading some of her work, as well as creating a special commissioned poetry film.

She will also be closely mentored during that time to help her create her own workshop based arts project that will target refugee communities across London.

Below are some examples of her work, which we will be developing into the film project:

Eight Years Old

Her mother helped her to wear the new uniform.

It is her first day at school…

The classroom was full of children! New friends!

Like her, they wear the same uniform.

Copying other children, she said “Good morning” to everyone.

She was like them. She was one of them.

“Do you paint your entire house in green? Do you read the same Quran as we do?”

“Why you Shia kill yourselves in Ashura?” the teacher asked her.

All the children’s eyes are fixed on her. Speechless and helpless she stood there, unable to think, unable to blink.

She was not one of them, and will never be.

She was an alien.

 

Disney Movie

She is crying so hard that her tears turn into blood.

”What is wrong with you?” her parents shout! “It is just a Disney movie!”

No one knows what she has lost to rent that cursed DVD.

“Because we lost your passport, you can keep the DVD…”

Now she wants to die.

They have lost the only piece of paper, which proves she has a face, a heart and a name; the only paper that proves her existence.

Now she does not exist.

No one is going to forgive her, not even God.

Tick Tock

Their anxious eyes are fixed on the clock.

‘How long have you been in this country?’

They stepped with dirty shoes where her father prays, on the rug her mother cleaned two days ago. As they shouted at her family, she swallowed her helpless anger while her mother squeezed her hand in a warning sign.

They do not care if their disgraceful behavior terrifies her 5-year-old sister or humiliates her 70-year-old grandfather. They never did.

Her brother told them he is a doctor, but they laugh as if it was a joke.

Every year they cleanse the camps searching for undocumented families. They come with their military uniforms, heavy shoes and aggressive behavior to spread the horror through the houses.

Money is the only language they speak. Her brother does not understand it. Her father speaks it fluently.

Names

علي, سجاد, عباس

Names.

Who cares about names?

ISIS cares.

Names…

In my country, they are suicide bombs.

A Piece of Bread

“Why are you not eating the bread?”

“Because mum, I have to lose weight”

“But you are only 6 years old!”

“Yesterday there was a bomb, you carried me, and I was too heavy for you”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Crutwell

Sarah Crutwell is a Spoken Word Poet and Creative Events Organiser based in the North East. Her work aims to address the things we lower our voices to talk about.

With a performance style that is engaging, raw and at times highly emotive, her work takes on issues such as mental health, sex, loneliness, politics, sexuality, ingrained sexism and a woman’s right to make her own decisions. Sarah’s voice is one of unity, strength and interrogation.

This September Sarah will be publishing her debut poetry collection Pollyfiller with Umbrella Poetry, and looking forward to taking the book across the UK. If you would like to book her, please get in touch.

She is available for both spoken word/poetry performances and workshops

Lady Unchained

“My life ended and began with a prison sentence,
Those metal doors awoke the faith in me”

Lady Unchained

I am Lady Unchained. A poet, promoter, workshop facilitator, Founder and CEO of Unchained Poetry (an artistic platform for artists with experience of the criminal justice system).

Lady Unchained is available for performances, workshops, panels and discussions, and is currently working working on her debut poetry collection and album.

Over the course of the next 12 months, more examples of Lady Unchained’s ground breaking and emotive work will be posted up here alongside listings of her performances and workshops. She is a powerful advocate of women within the prison system and her writing and performances challenge everything we thought we knew about the criminalised female.

Keep checking back to read cantos and short stories from Lady Unchained, as well as a specially commissioned film of a new piece written exclusively for The Night Alphabet project.

DD

slightly imperfect

 

I hear the panic

phone line cuts

I see her name

my daughter and I know

 

Denial

Don’t come around, I rang by mistake  she whispers;

another way she hides, not moving,

like a stiff corpse, voice clamped but I find her.

No matter how well she covers, holding her breath, her feet are always dangling in clear view.

 

Truth

I see her nose bruised and bleeding, wiping his spit from her brow,

blood runs through the kitchen like a flowing red satin ribbon,

ripped splatter of crimson on her cream jumper hurriedly hid under dirty tea towels.

My granddaughter’s small innocent frame mopping up the spill with toilet roll dabbing at the puddles that seep,

already in training to hide the abuse.

Lies

Her mouth tells me lies,

untruths and excuses,

I know this song -I know this dance

I see her I know her, I was her.

I still believe in my throat this blood is my fault,

my granddaughter’s shadow next to me, little fingers cling to mine -watching.

 

Stand-back

She has her own life

and although I want to rip his head off,

baptise him in a ring of fire,

I know I must observe and not disturb,

Arms length.

 

Helpless.

I want to scoop her back into my womb, away from male hands that hurt

Her story is my story and my granddaughter at four is learning love equals blood and the truth we mute.

Once upon a time

When I look at my grandchildren what do I see,

A world of possibility but will that ever be?

A daddy that takes heroin for his tea

A mammy that austerity cuts have left on her knees

My two Cinderella’s crushed by poverty giggles given freely crushed by poverty

Police don’t protect them -puts the blame on mam

Social workers don’t protect them insist that they see dad

The drug test promised to keep them safe isn’t done

They find themselves in danger hid in an unfamiliar room

Agencies blame funding like that makes a good excuse!

Mams benefits are sanctioned because mam didn’t get the letter

The letter the postman couldn’t deliver because dad had threatened to light the house whilst Cinderella s sleep

Result fireproof letterbox that failed to open

So, mums got no cash, no sleep but plenty of fear! crushed

Legal system don’t get me started let dad out within a few hours after every yes, every arrest

The wasted bravery it took from mam to go to court

He pleads guilty and a fine to pay at a penny a day

Solution by agencies move mam and Cinderella’s away

Her family scramble to get deposit for their rented escape

Dad roams safe streets whilst like hostages Cinderella s flee

Here one minute gone the next clock strikes midnight

There happily ever after is in a different county

Mams no choice but to re-apply and fight for every penny Cinderella’s need, crushed

Freezing cold, bright house loans no family to rely on,

Mams heart aches with love for the girl’s hush hush hush

 

Thanks to the cuts all in one bedroom they slumber Cinderella’s in a single bed and mam festering on the blow-up mattress on the floor

But at least they are safe

not our problem anymore

30% of Britons children are classed as poor in 2017

2/3 from working families

Half of all children in poverty are from single-parent families

Wake up. Children need you now.

Fragile

Shiny hair, high heels and lip-gloss

Back on the market looking for love

He presses against me, gets as close as he can

promises me, he is my ideal man

Rescuing me from feeling alone

I advance to him panting

I’ve found a safe home

He is my fragile man made of glass and I will softly hold him and not smash him

I’m a pup yapping “please love me please love me “

He disapproves with an eye squint

I’m just too much

Then he strokes my ego

With a wink from his green eyes

quickly I react to his commands

Sit -I will remain silent, shut my mouth, smile

Come- I will go directly to him no distractions

Good girl -Relief

He is my angry man made of steel and I deserve the beating

Down -clothes off, open legs he devours my naked flesh

Stay -remain still, numb you are a vessel for him to come -endure the pain

Release -my favourite words I now can move to bathroom and wash away his bodily fluids

Good girl -I Bork internally and pulse revulsion

 

He is my mistake man, but he makes me feel I can’t leave

 

One off

Stripped bare bent

His reflection behind me in the kitchen window

He only gets hard when I’m clenched shut

dry blistering in his erection

women’s design so easily to thread

Resistance from my head puts tension between my legs

forced into submission

 

“One off “‘my mind says he loves me

 

The weight on my body startles me awake

Dreamlike I pat his naked flesh

I’m paralysed in shock this is real

I play dead whilst he slams

Still I remain whilst he plays

Till it trickles into a patch underneath me

My body swerves to escape the wet

 

“One off “my mind says he loves me

 

Good Hiding

Always be nice, smiling immunises,

learn to engage not giving self away

pan stick apply -maximum coverage minimum effort

drape scarfs to hide bites and hand marks.

 

Long sleeve tops to hide the dents

flat shoes for running

cigarettes and alcohol to sedate

medicate often, sleep a welcome break.

 

Phone is a tag

curfews and monitors

given on conditions

that will not be broken.

 

Loyal bestie number on recall

safe word agreed she knows the score

£10 hid under the bed

driving licence, keepsakes, creep to front door.

 

Stay low,

Dodge,

Weave,

Smile

 

Leave

 

Getting Served

The ice cream van of friendship hits my street,

blasting out  I’m a survivor and I’m on my feet;

she offers me 2 scoops of      it’s time to move on     with an extra sprinkle of

                        you are enough and a flake of                                                        you rock

She delights in throwing the nuts on the

melting

mess

hands on hips                            we got this                         sauce

All aboard.

Janet Philo

Parents’ Evening

The skirt was heather tweed. Smart and practical for school. It fit me then; the hips were straighter. It rustled when I walked. I liked that – it felt a bit posh when you rustled. The rustle was so loud, I didn’t hear him behind me. His gaze was hot on my back.

I’d shown him the bite marks. The bruises were under thick tights – not for showing. I wondered about human saliva – isn’t it poisonous when it enters a wound? I told him about the boy; autism still controlled his flailing arms, and kicking feet. He was young. I would guide him towards an understanding of the rules. Eventually.

The tall grey man smiled; sovereignty spread across his face, like jam – too thick.  He could help – he said.

A pair of eyes, in a seven year old face, screamed for help. The corner of a wooden building block hovered above her skull. It was my job to shield skulls from bricks, shins from shoes, and arms from teeth. I wrapped my adult arms around this small, hot ball of energy; he was a power-surge; a circuit working on a different set of switches.

Later, parents waited outside. The door would open at seven o’clock. My professional mask hung, freshly ironed, on the back of the classroom door. Fingers wrapped a mug of tea. It warmed the teeth marks; a reddening landscape, rippling across the back of my hand. I accepted the thought of infection. No help was coming.

Six fifty five. The door opened. I was putting on the mask – still vulnerable. I stood up as he came in, made room for his authority. He took my vacant space. My chair had wheels – he moved easily towards me. The movement of his arms was quick, strong and unexpected. I questioned reality, or my understanding of it. We were somewhere else now.

His lap was soft and warm – I didn’t stay long enough to feel it harden. His arms were hard enough. I had no breath left; he had squeezed it out of me.

“That’s how you restrain them – you don’t need to go on a course – no money in the budget.”

It was the cold eyes I hated most. He never spoke to me again.

Kym Deyn

Rare as Hen’s Teeth

all of the women in the room have my mother’s face.

they cluck the chatter of battery hens turned loose

onto grass, uncertain of their habits,

each spitting out hen’s teeth.

we strip them, bind them in cotton to keep.

we flinch with each as though

scratched at the gums, the dentist makes us

speak, our mouths filled with water

and clattering instruments.

the image of my mother refuses

to join us.

 

I am the Barbie doll from the boot sale

with children’s scissors taken to its hair,

shorter and shorter. I think I got called A Queer

for the first time yesterday.

I don’t know what to tell them.

 

I’m jealous of Barbie. look under her dress.

I spent the evening in the mirror,

where my collar bones

slope to nothing.

 

on forms people ask my gender,

I want to tell them “No Thank You.”

 

in warm rooms, women mill like cats and

talk about their wombs. they speak in unison.

my mouth is waiting for me to say that

I am not a woman. I wonder if my silence gives me

away.

Lyle

Kym Deyn

 

There are no reliable figures, but at least 0.4% of the UK population identifies as nonbinary/gender nonconforming.[1] I am one of them.

 

I was sat in one of our student accommodation flat-pack bedrooms when my housemate asked me my name and I couldn’t tell her. That night the moon had swallowed it. I waxed and waned in silver. The moon tried to hold me in her luminous gaze, she reminded me I make tides like her. Reminded me I was like her and like all the others like her. I am not, but my mouth had been glued shut with moon dust.

The rain broke a week later, and I couldn’t bear it. I sat on a window ledge and my housemate and I were bathed in yellow from her bedside lamp. When it was my turn to speak I told her I wasn’t a girl. The trees outside shook. I said, I have another name. I said listen– listen to the sound of it.

She said my name sounds like the rain at evening. Listen, she said, listen how the earth is calling you home.

 

The Avenue

I was caught in this moment, a sort of temporary madness. I wandered restless through the house, paused in doorways. I’d met something strange on my first day there, sat by the bay window in the sunshine and meditated. I liked to think it was the spirit of the place, I could feel it like a snatch of lavender in the air. I could feel it that day too and I entertained the daydream a moment longer.

I said, “Teach me something.” I stepped between the basement and the rest of the house. In the doorway I’m dizzy, like it was a house in a snow globe and some creature has just shaken it.

I felt like I’d seen her once, laid along the tarmac like a snake. There were shifting faces all down her back. I drew her on the whiteboard in the kitchen and it took a whole month before my flatmates erased it.

I moved to the kitchen and the light was grey and sharply angled, trying not to be there at all. I felt as though I was underwater. I saw the kitchen, I saw the ocean, choppy, and as grey as the light from the windows.

I swam to an island. I was standing in my kitchen. On the island was a fire, and beside it, a woman with dark hair and a shawl made of black wings. She whispered. I was startled back to the cupboards, but first I caught something that was almost like a deer—a pair of eyes watching from above all of this.

When I walked downstairs again, after almost half an hour, I was so dazed I missed the last three steps on the stairs and fell crumpled to the floor.

I realised later that the woman had whispered her name to me.

 

[1]Titman, N.  2014/12/16. “How Many People in the UK are Nonbinary?”. Practical Androgyny. https://practicalandrogyny.com/2014/12/16/how-many-people-in-the-uk-are-nonbinary/Accessed: 2018/07/02.