With You In Mind is the culmination of a week of poems from other poets curated to promote Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. The project was undertaken in support of and with support from Mind and the Mental Health Foundation.
Statistics show that around 1 in every 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain. The poems here cover a range of experiences, conditions, treatments and mindfulness, the theme of MHAW 2015.
A complete guide to mental health problems, topical issues and treatment options may be found on the MHF’s Mental Health A/Z.
The poems are reproduced here alphabetically by poet’s surname. The aim of the project is to increase awareness, but please do read with care, as some of the poems may trigger a strong emotional response.
(Within a fictional framework, my own collection and poetry-play The Magnetic Diaries also considers some of the issues surrounding depression and treatment for it with repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.)
Stronger and Fatter
The cuckoo does not know itself to be a cuckoo
and is to be pitied.
It cracks its own egg
and pushes out its bloodied head,
opening and shutting its beak
just like the tiny others.
Sweetheart, I say,
Just move over, you’re stopping their breaths.
I cannot stand it
and so, in my own kind of pain,
push the big baby over the edge.
I see it fall on the concrete,
see in the blood spreading out,
that it is still alive.
But I have worms to catch
and other fish to fry.
Deborah Alma has an MA in Creative Writing from Keele University (2013). She taught the Writing Poetry module at Worcester University and leads writing groups for children and uses poetry to assist communication with people with dementia. She was recently Writer in Residence for the Arvon Foundation at The Hurst in Shropshire and was previously Poet in Residence at the NHS Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference in 2013. Deborah has a pamphlet forthcoming from The Emma Press in October, performs as The Emergency Poet along with her partner the poet James Sheard, and is currently editing a poetry anthology for Michael O’Mara publishers.
Okay, I can try, but understand
to speak my mind will mean
to speak over my mind,
a once-monster they have tamed, who
cowers in a corner somewhere, saying
things no one will hear.
For instance, there was a river
that, by babbling, broke the forest’s silence.
The river was framed by grass roots, rocks, and dirt
which habitually fell in the water
making sounds that broke the forest’s silence further.
The banks, bodies of grass roots, rocks and dirt,
birthed trees, from which bullfinch and cicada songs
competed with the other sounds.
Together, they all eventually lead to a road
where cars bulked, gave muscle
to every single sound described so far
then overlaid their own groaning.
So look, I can say to them: be quiet, listen,
but any one of them, from inside their cars,
could be cursing any one of us
for imagining things:
the forest, the roots, the river, the very idea
we were mothers leaving no stone unturned
to find kids lost along the river
but the crisis teams, with their interrogation rooms,
have taken over, and to speak
may mean they’re lost forever.
Markie Burnhope is a poet, editor and disability activist based in Bournemouth, UK. Their first full collection is Species (Nine Arches Press, 2014).
The curtains’ parting
windows my mind;
in the grey light
of film noir sky.
My misted thoughts
linger in alleyways
while tears cling
to fence creosote.
Trees are hands, reaching;
blue hope fleets
between blanketed monotony,
in layers of bricked
meaning; locked doors.
offers slow passage
Dan Haynes is a freelance Landscape and Night Photographer and Poet from Cheshire in the North west of England. His work centres on the beauty of nature, and how it often reflects the inner self in its imagery and patterns. The nearby Peak District is a major source of inspiration and weekends are often spent hiking and taking photographs in the nearby hills of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. A diagnosed sufferer of depression, he often channels his emotions to creative effect to capture strong imagery through photos and poignant emotions in words!
We know this place:
snap at our feet.
break on my skin.
My breath’s unanswered.
our shaven heads
our unbroken necks.
Jenny Hope is a writer, poet, woman with a tree-thing. She lives in wildish- Worcestershire. She is currently working on her second poetry collection. Her websites are: www.jennyhope.co.uk and www.poetrymaker.co.uk.
The night is drumming
on my ears.
It is turning
over in me.
Metal on metal;
a hollow whisper
bracing itself against
filaments of bone.
The night’s voice
is a machine
Sammy Hunt is a freelance writer, journalist and workshop leader. She graduated in 2014 with a First class degree in Drama, and will begin her PhD in Theatre and Holocaust representation in 2015. Published work includes articles for The Times, Guardian, BBC News and GMTV. Performances include Birmingham Artsfest, The Crescent Theatre, The Library of Birmingham,The Public Art Gallery, Worcester Art Festival and Word Up.
(parts 4 and 8 )
She stepped out of herself
like a Matryoshka , one full moon,
looked along the row of herself,
at the hand-painted colours,
checked each pair of eyes
for what lived there.
A scarf hung about each pelvic girdle
to conceal the scar of each birth;
hearts were black hens
held in each pair of arms
and cabbages grew
from fallen seeds at their feet.
When earth spun away from the moon
she attempted to gather herself back in,
and when she could not
she drowned the sun like a sack of kittens
and threaded the rooster’s song
back into his throat.
And by teatime she couldn’t recognise
a single hair on her head.
Her heart was a metal bucket
and her eyes were the spaces
where fish bowls had sat.
She talked to the chickens
and the guinea fowl, and the pheasants
in the fields, as she fed them;
she had inherited their scratchy voices;
the urge to look over their shoulders.
Nothing they could say
would set her mind at rest.
None of them knew of a road outside,
they all said they were born here;
perhaps she was too.
This poem is taken from Waiting for Bluebeard
Helen Ivory is a poet and assemblage artist. Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is the semi-autobiographical Waiting for Bluebeard (May 2013). She has co-edited with George Szirtes In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry Salt 2012. She teaches for The Poetry School and mentors for the Poetry Society. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and is tutor and Course Director for the new UEA/Writers Centre Norwich creative writing programme. Her website is at: http://www.helenivory.co.uk/.
The sadness that sometimes closes in after giving birth
is a collar of storm choking that summer’s afternoon.
No reason, no answer – just there,
kingly presence, potent in an asking way.
Brimful of too-dark thoughts, body’s soupy overflow of nurture.
The sadness that makes a new mother stare, November-ish.
A film in which everything is falling. O what a falling off…
Sadness that fattens on knowledge of all that ought
to be enjoyed and celebrated, but can’t, can’t. Sadness
that renders everything too much, too loud,
withering. Blank as rockface,
each day tunneling into the next. Looping questions.
A smothering sadness. Bitter harvest,
bounty of wormy fruit.
The sadness that is sunlight visiting ice,
too shy for blaze. The floes of her nose their hooded woes,
drowning her for the thousandth time.
This poem is from BOOM! (Seren, 2014)
We make each other beautiful. Once we have made one another beautiful
other people can love us in a way we desire to be loved. We capture
the beauty of one another’s desires in mirrors, and without language,
we know love.
I have been wondering what good is it to talk when all we have is longing.
I have been talking about wanting to be numb, and numb, I’ve been
playing songs about feelings, and feeling things about music that never spares
I sit outside in the rain with my phone in my hand, it’s late November already.
Each day I walk for hours, mapping my life with my feet and my mind;
I lean into the wind and pray for the neutrality of the hours at hand
to stun me.
I move by the abattoir in the evening when they’re loading the carcasses.
I imagine my dead body in various positions, unbeautiful but godly.
The way through is out, and the exits are becoming fewer, not many, as I die
long and slow through every hour.
What does it say about God that he won’t kill me? Now when I need release.
I want to throw the dog lead around the nearest tree. I want it to be over.
As beautiful as you have made me I have become unlovable by madness,
whose language scorns.
These last days, as I feel they must be, my mouth will not name its love.
My heart will stake out a black pit and wait for the devil; language burns
a hole in my life without love, where I go you will not follow, I’ve mapped the miles
already, over years, days, hours.
Love won’t leave me alone, to lick my wounds, or to find my resolve.
I am a creature unloved by language. I am a creature so loved my grave has already
been imagined, many times, its tributes all reading the same, my afterlife
scored, written and drawn.
Through my lifetime’s dreams you’ve come beating your hands
on the blank wall of my death; as though my outliving life
would attest your true love, you steadfast position. All you have now are dumb bruises—
and my erasable heart.
Beautiful Girls by Melissa Lee-Houghton is available from Penned in the Margins. A Poetry Book Society Recommendation: “a testament to poetry’s force in overcoming”.
Mad Shouty Bastard has been quiet for a few days. It is peaceful without his voice inside my head, as he comes out with all sorts of Mad Shouty Bastard rubbish.
Of course, he’s not a real Mad Shouty Bastard, any more than watching a sunset is real, or singing a song is real; he is a metaphorical Mad Shouty Bastard.
One can’t surgically remove metaphorical Mad Shouty Bastards and then kill them and have a Mad Shouty Bastard funeral where I give an insincere eulogy in a church about all of Mad Shouty Bastard’s many achievements and how we will all miss Mad Shouty Bastard, even though no-one knew of his existence until a few lines ago.
For some reason, Mad Shouty Bastards always live in heads; I suppose that’s why some people shoot themselves in the head (a good way to silence the Mad Shouty Bastard). They don’t live in feet, or else some people would go around shooting themselves in the foot (literally, not figuratively).
Fergus McGonigal is a full-time poet who runs the Worcester LitFest’s monthly spoken word night, ‘SpeakEasy’, and was appointed the Worcestershire Poet Laureate for 2014/2015. His first book, The Failed Idealist’s Guide to the Tatty Truth was published by Burning Eye in 2014. He is diagnosed with bi-polar, and, depending on his mood, he sometimes agrees with his psychiatrist’s assessment.
Because I pack everything, there’s no room
for it to hide its hurt in the pockets of my case.
There’s no place to scar its roots, no roots
to put down in this town, or the next.
This skin flinches at four am when I drop it
on the step, let the headlights rip along
the stitches it might have had if I knew how
to make it whole. This stretch of skin loses
itself to things it’s felt, traps them below
downy hairs, tangles dreams in the web
of veins its carried all its life, never let go.
It smells of muffins, cigarettes; the regret
of the bottle of wine the night before.
This skin can’t sing out of doors, can’t bear
another night wrapping these bones.
It’s paper thin; days roadmap its waxen wrists.
It wonders what to do now its reign’s over,
how to fend for itself without my body’s
ticking warmth. I announce the miracle
of absence to the tight morning air,
slip the car into reverse. I wait to see
if it will raise its hands to pray or wave.
It doesn’t. It flaps like a white rag, surrenders.
Abegail Morley has three collections, the first, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup was shortlisted for The Forward Prize Best First Collection. She blogs at The Poetry Shed https://abegailmorley.wordpress.com/ and is currently Poet in Residence at Riverhill Himalayan Garden.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOUR THERAPY
We smashed our beer and cider
bottles out of pure spite
on the pebbles in the shallow
tide where the children paddle.
Our vicious shards were
embraced in the cyclone
vortex of sand and time
by the dark breakers.
They roved over the coast
and were returned
The children collected them
from the coastal foam
and placed them lovingly in
among the glimmer
of mother of pearl
Alec Newman runs the Knives Forks and Spoons Press and occasionally writes poetry. He was diagnosed with manic depression in 2003.
Once it was a hum, but it grew
to a melody, then a song:
was and whens printed on the air now
where an hour ago they were scrawled.
The room smiles to itself.
If Sam knows we look up, look over
each time he clicks his music up a notch
he shows no sign of it.
His stare is resolute,
the wall is his vanishing point,
and the rhythm doesn’t exactly
pulse through him. He’s still. Perfect.
It’s as though with each click
he’s sure he’s reached
that fabled volume so high, so loud
it’s silence, he disappears
only, five minutes on,
to learn he’s still with us.
He pushes his earphones deeper,
clicks her up a notch,
and it gets clearer.
David O’Hanlon is a writer based in Northumberland. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including And Other Poems, Dream Catcher, Spontaneity, Ariadne’s Thread, Lunar Poetry, Prole, The Ofi Press, Nutshells & Nuggets and Ink Sweat & Tears, among others. He is currently working with an editor on his pamphlet art brut. His website is: http://davidohanlonpoet.wordpress.com.
The Saturday child arrived
signing kinship to the
noon allotted hour.
They propped up his Ma
his puncturing kiss numbed
from a gouging sedative.
The portioned clock wound down
as a barricaded boy emerged
paying her back with Narnia
In the wardrobes shadow she smiled
her sunspot skin luminous
like rips of Turkish delight.
At the stone flesh table he wept
patient echoes of stalactites
formed from the dark place.
In snow white nylon
her battle ended at dawn
the flute of her lungs played out
by a half human faun
dropping its beautiful gifts
of a full life lived.
First published by The Meadowland Review
Antony Owen is from Coventry with three collections of poetry since 2009 by Pighog Press and Heaventree.
Out of the Wind
At every step you push into the gale.
Sheep gather their lambs and huddle
into field corners. The sea growls
at its rocks. And then among the dunes
it’s all switched off – a startling respite.
You fall out of the wind
into a well of quiet,
into the warmth of windlessness,
audible skylarks, wave-
murmur: the storm’s
absence a strange anaesthetic
to make you awake.
From the chapbook, Nowhere Else but Here
Andrew Rudd teaches poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and was Cheshire Poet Laureate in 2006. This poem, set on the island of Lindisfarne, is for him about the need for mindful spaces of awareness and refreshment.
Screaming woman at Venice beach, yesterday
she was yelling at the big cars. She had yelled
for so long there were no more words, only
the broken-throated caw cry of crow.
She traverses Washington Boulevard marking
out her territory from Via Marina
to the Pacific itself. Standing on
the cement pier among the fishing poles,
making tai chi movements with her arms.
Her skin is healthy, rude and reddened by
daily sun, freshened by the ocean breeze.
Her nails are clean; her corduroy coat is tidy.
The punters flinch when she sits down outside
a cafe. My name is Mary. Just let me explain.
She headed west twenty years ago,
got to the edge, then stopped.
Today she is smoking a cigar in a holder.
It is a fine cigar. Smoke clouds around,
it is deep as she rolls it on her palate,
as she lets it rise without blowing it away.
Taken from Full Blood (Salt 2011)
where it appears in an altered form
John Siddique is the author of a number of books the most recent of which is Full Blood. His work has appeared in GRANTA, The Guardian, and on BBC Radio 4, and many literary journals around the world. He has just completed a new poetry book. John spends a lot of time walking in the woods and is very wrapped up in new adventures in writing, and in teaching meditation and encouraging authentic living.
He said: “I wanted to include Mary’s poem because when we reject others from our own fears, we miss out on the beauty and the life that person is bringing to our world. Because society has trained us to judge, blame and live reactively, we lose all that life really has to offer. My encounters with Mary and a number of other people who live along Venice Beach in Los Angeles, taught me a great deal about my own reactivity, and about the true human value of being still and bearing witness.”
for as long as I remember I’ve never wanted
what I’ve had the half-read books cluttered
in piles the guitar’s strings ruined to dust
I’ve always been dirty tobacco grubbed
under nails the shock of snowflakes shook
from scalp to shoulders I’d never seen
someone like me stride from pay-cheques
to a wedding I slept in abandoned rooms
at school nothing in this world was worth
waking for so I tried to jar open others
the tarot with their sharp answers
& shots in the dark the offcut
in woodwork I saved from a stiff life
as a spice rack I swept the alphabet
in black paint & no-one answered
I was alone I’d have taken a broken ghost
or a death-scream reeled over & over
again in fits of tears of blood I wanted
something to need to love me
to love to need me as I am
Daniel Sluman is a 28 year old poet based in Gloucestershire. His poems have appeared widely in journals such as B O D Y, Cadaverine, Popshot, Shit Creek Review, and Under the Radar. He received an MA in Creative & Critical Writing from the University of Gloucestershire in 2012 and his debut full-length collection, ‘Absence has a weight of its own’, was published to critical acclaim in 2012. His second collection ‘the terrible’ will be published Autumn/Winter 2015, also with Nine Arches Press. He tweets @danielsluman.
Catherine, twenty-third child of a cloth dyer
and a poet’s daughter – your twin sister
languishing on the wet nurse’s nipple,
half your siblings already dead. At five,
your holy visions threw you to your knees
in pious ecstasy. Febrile convulsions –
juddering teeth, puppet limbs – left me
with a bleeding tongue, in wet knickers.
I’m our family’s only daughter, truculent,
kicked out of Baptist Sunday School
at eleven for arguing with Mrs Wilson
about the Virgin Birth. You survived the
Black Death, searing heat, open sewers.
I outlived the threat of Cold War, Cuban
Missile crisis; small-town boredom.
* * *
Our name means ‘pure.’ Hunger’s pure,
denial at its purest. There’s me –
grapefruit segments, cottage cheese;
there’s you, claiming you never felt
hunger, or if you did, nibbling a leper’s
pus-filled scabs. Did you used to curl up
with blinding headaches, Catherine,
did your skin ever itch and flake,
did your guts growl when you lay,
praying for perfection? Did you once faint,
smash your eyebrow on a tiled floor?
You starved for God, your jutting ribcage
holy. I did it to disappear, to float above
my life. You talked with Jesus in your head.
Was he nice? I hope so. In my head,
a skinny dancer in pink Lycra whispered
Pig whenever I opened the fridge.
* * *
Neither of us fazed by blood. Moments
before a young man was beheaded,
you knelt, made the sign of the cross,
whispered of the blood of the lamb
as his lips murmured Jesus and Catherine
and he was still murmuring when
his head slipped into your hands,
and you caught and cradled it,
his blood scenting your cloak and skin.
You couldn‘t bear to scrub it off.
And once, in a pub, a young man
with a smashed-up face allowed me
to bathe his wounds with soaking
paper towels from the Ladies’, as
he bled all over my hands, my new
purple dress. I’m sorry, he said,
through swollen lips, what’s your name,
by the way? And when I told him,
he nodded. A Saint’s name. Saint’s name.
Taken from Otherwhere (Smith/Doorstep)
Catherine Smith writes poetry, fiction and drama. Her first short poetry collection, The New Bride (Smith/Doorstop) was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, 2001. Her first full-length collection, The Butcher’s Hands, (Smith/Doorstop) was a PBS Recommendation and was short-listed for the Aldeburgh/Jerwood Prize, 2004. Lip, (Smith/Doorstop) was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, 2008. Her latest poetry collection is Otherwhere (Smith/Doorstop). Her website is at: www.catherinesmithwriter.co.uk.
Not Letting Go
You have your back pressed
against a doorway full
of those twisted creatures,
I know the ones –
all teeth and selfish cruelty.
Sometimes they leave you,
sometimes they bite your skin.
And that god awful mist,
the stuff that is not a bit blue
but indigo, chill mud dredged
from the lonely depths
of your ocean. I know it too.
My back is also
turned against a doorway:
it is rough timber
hewn from the forest
where the roots of trees weep,
or perhaps it is gingerbread;
I do not turn to find out.
Instead we clasp hands,
the way people do who fall
from planes, facing each other,
even as the doorways call,
beckon us to turn and enter:
come they cajole us, come back.
Relax – our grip is firm.
Ruth Stacey studied English & Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and recently completed a distinction level MA in Literature: Politics and Identity at Worcester University. Her pamphlet Fox Boy was published by Dancing Girl Press, July 2014. Her full length collection, all the long gone queens, will be published by Eyewear Summer 2015.
It was at the checkout in Waitrose that I saw him again,
the shrink I used to love in his preppy clothes,
older, white-haired, but still with the smile of a boy,
open and beautiful, yet again diagnosing,
saying I looked well, as did he, this consultant
I once wished I could marry, except now I’m engaged,
he seemed smaller than I remembered, shrunk
as if in the wash, like a favourite jumper, soft, frayed
memento of dark years, their wear and tear, and tears,
his decisions for treatment that took its toll,
hospitalisations and drugs that were unnecessary,
harmful and caused me to lose my way, but here today
he was standing right there beside the tills and flowers,
this man I once wanted so badly, suddenly ordinary,
just a man with a take-away lunch, sandwiched
in the middle of my day, as I left self-service,
walked home in the rain, hugged the one I love now,
who returns my love, and set about cooking us lunch.
Sarah Wardle has four books from Bloodaxe and appears in the anthology, The Best British Poetry 2014, Salt Publishing, ed. Mark Ford. She is a lecturer at Morley College and Middlesex University and lives with her other half, Aidan Williams, in Westminster.
for John Bryant
Some days I stare at the distance
and others it comes to me,
dragging me into its pull,
splicing the future,
answerable to no one,
surefooted reptile of thought.
Attempting resistance is futile.
Ditto, anger. Best to ride out its
spiral in silence, never
anticipation. Again I am snared,
down here on my island of one.
Anthony Wilson is a poet, writing tutor, blogger and Senior Lecturer at the Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter. His books of poetry are Riddance (Worple Press, 2012), Full Stretch: Poems 1996-2006 (Worple Press, 2006), Nowhere Better Than This (Worple Press, 2002) and How Far From Here is Home? (Stride, 1996). His prose memoir of cancer, Love for Now (Impress Books), was published in 2012. He is the editor of Lifesaving Poems. This is published by Bloodaxe in June 2015 and based on his blog of the same name at www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com.