Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week – Day Five


Discovering your child has a heart condition can be very traumatic.  The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) offer support. There’s  Heart Helpline, Children’s helplines and online forums.  For very young children, facing surgery the CHF has introduced MOLLY’S DOLLY, a rag doll with surgical scars to help explain scarring.  For children growing up with heart conditions there is BRIGHTHEARTS ‘an exclusive forum especially for 13-21 year olds from the Children’s Heart Federation. It’s a place to meet people of a similar age from around the UK with a heart condition.’  At the BHF there’s Meet@teenheart, a forum for teenagers with heart conditions offering advice on hospital visits and surgery, as well as providing online glossaries, diagrams and factsheets.


by Heidi Williamson

The way I heard it,
she said the rain would slip down, and each blade
lift beneath the weight of drops in ecstasy.
She said, sleep now, close the folds of your eyes
and see blankness, those lights that only you can know.
Forget the empty screen, the full book, the broken words.
The largest animals on earth have bones the same as yours,
and the smallest. The fingers of a bat’s wing, the massive
heart of a giraffe all connect their instruments to you.
She said this is prayer, if anything is, the simple lift
and fall of a lung beneath ribs beneath skin and all
the myriad functions that spawn it. Forget the frogs
beneath frozen ponds, waiting motionless for winter
to break. Hear only this breath, its air. Help form
the clouds with each out-take. Watch each breath
coast towards other lands and creatures. Let it go.

(First published in The Rialto, 2011)

Heidi Williamson’s first collection Electric Shadow (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the 2012 Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. In 2008 and 2009 she was poet-in-residence at the London Science Museum’s Dana Centre. She is currently poet-in-residence at the John Jarrold Printing Museum. Find out more about her at www.heidiwilliamsonpoet.com Twitter: @heidiwilliamson See her read ‘Adhesion’ here.


From: Opera di Cera 
by Kelley Swain

My love, with your scents of sunlight and myrrh: you carry
the greatest gift. Take this crown of oregano, rosemary, bay;

this ring with an emerald like your eyes. We are promised
to one another, and to the planted babe. A humble trinity.

First, he’ll be a pine nut; precious woody kernel tucked safe
within your sheathes; evergreen-strength yet to be released.

His green pistachio-limbs will begin to take shape, wax-pliant,
and he will branch into humanness slowly, in dark fertile terrain.

His almond-mind will grow sharp; his almond-spirit sweet; dust
of mother’s saffron, of father’s paints. Patience, stillness, he’ll gain.

Head and heart will round with the tenderness of walnut. No
more certain shape: the two sides of brain; left and right hemisphere.

Blessed chestnut will make our child sure. From thence, in range
of mother’s womb, his tiny form secure. We with joy await him.

(First published in Opera di Cera, Kelley Swain, Valley Press, 2014)

Kelley Swain is a poet, writer, and guest lecturer in Imperial College London’s Medical Humanities programmes. Learn more at www.kelleyswain.com Twitter: @thenakedmuse


Kaddish for Amy
by Joanne Limburg

Let us now magnify and sanctify the name of Him who made and warned us,
according to his Will,

who placed in us our soft or hardened hearts,
then blessed or punished us for what they made us do

who put an evil spirit into Saul, then gave a song to David
so he could drive the spirit out.

Let us bless and extol Him, exalt and praise Him,
who, beyond the reach of any song performable,
commands us still to sing.

(First published on Eyewear, 2011)

Joanne Limburg’s collections include Femenismo , Paraphernalia, the pamphlet The Oxygen Man and the children’s collection, Bookside Down. She has also published a memoir, The Woman Who Thought Too Much and has recently completed her first novel, Kindness.  Website: www.joannelimburg.net Twitter: @JoanneLimburg


Felling a Maiden
i.m. Maria Dimitri-Orthodoxou

by Maria Taylor

And what did she bring to the altar?
A dowry sack of vowels, a grinding toothache
of consonants. In a few inky moments
she would no longer be foreign or hard to spell.

She was not from round here, was torn
from fig and oleander, eucalyptus and sea,
though she didn’t speak with a faraway voice
or make lace with her grandmother’s needle.

After the wedding, I dismembered her.
I placed her in boxes, archived her into files
her atoms looped among cobwebs and dust,
under attic beams. A suburban oubliette.

I swallowed the heart whole. She was gone.
The silence was everywhere.

(First published in Melanchrini, by Maria Taylor, Nine Arches Press, 2012)

Maria Taylor’s first collection Melanchrini was published by Nine Arches Press and shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize in 2013. She blogs at http://miskinataylor.blogspot.co.uk/ and tweets @MariaTaylor_


by Jon Glover

Some form of stupidity its
asking and telling beyond
silly playthings alarmed, stiff blood
ring, ring, so squeeze this, game on,
it’s bodily fluids, had it
putty stops going on round,
I suppose it’s quite satisfied,
already memorial
to heart, or hearts, now holding glass
windows in place with tacks and
linseed thumbed in the frame all round
as if in a house wall as

Jon Glover’s last book with Carcanet was Glass is Elastic. He is the managing editor of Stand. He is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Bolton, and Honoroury Fellow of the School of English, University of Leeds. He is editing the Complete Poems of Jon Silkin. You can read an interview with Jon, about his life as a poet and editor here.

(All poets have given permission for their poems to be included on this site)

Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week – Day Four


Rebecca Goss writes: Within hours of my daughter Ella’s admission to Alder Hey Children’s Hopsital in 2007, we were introduced to Gill, our paediatric cardiac liaison nurse (PCLN). I had never heard of such a role within a hospital before, but soon realised how vital that role was. Gill was there to answer any questions we had about our daughter’s condition, explain hospital procedures and give practical advice.  The emotional support she provided to me, my husband and my extended family was invaluable too. 

I’m still in touch with Gill, years after Ella’s death and I asked her how she would describe the role of PCLN, (or Cardiac Nurse Specialist as they’re now more commonly known) in the world of cardiac care: ‘ We provide support, information and ensure you understand that information. We are a lynchpin between the family and the cardiologist. We are a resource of specialist information for the wider health and education community, particularly for health visitors, community nurses and teachers.  I think I have an amazing job. To be able to sit down with a new family, an older child, a teacher who will be terrified/devastated/completely in the dark and by the end to have been able to reduce that fear, answer those questions is so incredible that sometimes I forget how powerful just sitting down and talking can be.’ 

See the British Heart Foundation website for more:  http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/treatment/healthcare-professionals/paediatric-and-guch-nurses.aspx



by Lucy Burnett

(from the cumbric word
‘pen’ meaning hill or head)

i did not dream
euphoria of hillsong
failing nothing but

if the heart might
stop a moment
like a photograph:

my questions wore
the hillside
from the poem
and this pulse of pen

a hill a head

a gravity eroding
moments like

if my failures
were a kind of memory
i put my heart into

Lucy Burnett was born in South West Scotland but over recent years has made a home in the north of England. Her first poetry collection, Leaf Graffiti, was published by Northern House/Carcanet Press in 2013. ‘Pendle’ is taken from a pamphlet she is currently writing for Knives Forks & Spoons Press – due out in late 2014. Lucy has taught creative writing at the Universities of Salford and Strathclyde; she is currently Centre Director of Arvon Lumb Bank. Twitter @LucyBurnett14


by Eve Lacey

A flutter on the cardiogram, where the heart could not keep time.
Curious – a syncopated judder – in a body grown full size:

I took each breath like the first. It was not entirely adult
the compulsion to rehearse a mechanism just as natural

as rainfall to the quaking earth. To undergo full body shudder
with the weight of every breath, I had misconstrued the curse –

the Sisyphus link of lungs to heart, the cogs and gore of the work.
Life, said the nurse, should be took as a matter of course:

most will grow to withstand the shock of the pump
or the echo of blood that returns to its source.

Eve Lacey is Poetry Editor at For Books’ Sake and a judge for the Commonwealth Book Prize. Her work has been published in The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood and longlisted for the Hot Key Young Writers Prize. Furies, an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry, is forthcoming this autumn. Twitter @eve_lacey


The Heart at Ten to Six
by Mike Barlow

A borrowed house of light,
junkshop mirrors on the walls
and an old clock’s engine by the door –
intricate and beautiful,
but only true at ten to six.

Out here we never listen to The News.
Talk like that just baffles us.
With dumbstruck shrugs we turn back
to the view, register some minute change,
like a shift in the way light hits the sea
or a red yacht on a different tack.

Night-roaming beasts leave hoofprints
by the shore. I sleep well, dreaming
their obsidian stare, the pop
of bladderwrack, then wake
to the tricks of twilight mirrors play.

The bed sags where our bodies touch.
The chairs doze in their covers.
The stove says nothing.
The view that changes by the hour
will be the same each morning.
And when we tap the glass
the needle will be rising.

Mike Barlow won first prize in the 2006 National Poetry Competition and has published several volumes of poetry.  His most recent collection is Charmed Lives (Smith/Doorstop 2012) www.mikebarlow.org.uk


My Heart
by Sarah James

I tried to find it once, drew
a paper shape like a dog rose petal,
pink and unthorned.

My head nested in his chest,
I heard his steady tonal note.
Still, my pulse spat apple pips,

shat bird seeds, a febrile blip
on flat screen.                 Everything false-paced
by this thing I have not seen.

Hand rested on my breast bone,
I imagine flesh cleaved, then a muscle fist
slabbed raw on meat counter…

The deepening disappointment
that it will not sound braver, louder, longer
before its fragile song fades.

Sarah James’s latest collection is Be[yond] (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2013). Her first collection, Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010), won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards 2011. Sarah’s website and blog is at http://www.sarah-james.co.uk . Twitter: @Sarah_James


Dear Heart
by Peter Kennedy

Ah, dear heart, these fifty years
on each St Valentine’s you’ve found
at breakfast time, or with your morning tea,

a simple heart shape, red, unsigned
but that’s no matter. For my dear
you know it comes from me.

When Peter Kennedy retired from his medical work he found a new life in poetry, and is a founder member and now administrator of the poetry organisation poetrywivenhoe: http://poetrywivenhoe.org/


(All poets have given permission for their poems to be included on this site)


Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week – Day Three


Rebecca Goss writes: My daughter Ella was diagnosed with Severe Ebstein’s Anomaly 36 hours after birth. Until then, I thought my daughter was a healthy baby.  The shock of discovering she was ill, just  as I was about to take her home, added to the trauma of Ella’s first days and my early hours as a parent. A simple check could test every newborn for possible heart conditions. That is why I’m supporting the Pulse Oximetry Campaign: 

The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) is campaigning for the introduction of Pulse Oximetry screening for all newborn babies in the UK. The test measures the oxygen levels in the blood and evidence shows it is an effective test in detecting three quarters of congenital heart conditions. The CHF is leading this campaign and pushing for its inclusion in the national screening programme of all newborns. To sign the Pulse OximetryPetition and/or write to your MP about screening, visit the CHF website here: http://www.chfed.org.uk/campaigns/chf-pulse-oximetry-campaign/

UPDATE! May 2014: The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) welcomes the announcement from Public Health England to pilot Pulse Oximetry screening on newborns and hopes testing will be rolled out to all hospitals as soon as possible.This quick, painless and cheap test measures oxygen levels in blood and can detect over 90% of life threatening heart defects at birth.  

Read more about this wonderful news herehttp://www.chfed.org.uk/babies-are-set-to-receive-heart-test-to-save-lives/


By Eleanor Hooker

Let us imagine sleep suddenly like a child’s shadow leaping round the corner.
George Szirtes [Tweet, March 21 2014]

They are shown
back lit negatives.
Trembling there
a caged pump,
fugitive and rare. They’re told
to hope for winter.

Latin name,
chordae tendineae.
Heart strings torn
from their winch,
fastened to a fleet, dropped fall,
that cannot winter.

No keepsakes.
None. They’re wrought by the
but must cope –
he carves Yew, while she unlearns
their child’s winter cry.

Eleanor Hooker’s debut collection The Shadow Owner’s Companion (Dedalus Press) was shortlisted for the Strong/Shine award for best first collection for 2012. Eleanor is Programme Curator for the Dromineer Literary Festival. She is Helm & Press Officer for Lough Derg RNLI Lifeboat. Book: http://www.dedaluspress.com/p/q
Bio: http://www.dedaluspress.com/sp/directory/details/eleanor-hooker Twitter: @HookerEleanor

Prickly Pears
after Frida Kahlo

by Pascale Petit

With his soft painter’s hands
how quickly he peels me –

like a prickly pear,
removing my thorns.

In one flash
he becomes Diego the butcher

whose third eye can see
into the abattoir of my chest

where my heart hangs
from a meat-hook.

(First published in What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, Pascale Petit, Seren, 2010)

Pascale Petit’s fifth collection What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren, 2010) was shortlisted for both the T.S. Eliot Prize and Wales Book of the Year, and was Book of the Year in The Observer. Poems from her sixth collection Fauverie (Seren, 2014) won the 2013 Manchester Poetry Prize. http://www.pascalepetit.co.uk
http://www.pascalepetit.blogspot.com Twitter: @pascalepoet


by Sarah Westcott

Write me a lambsong,
sing me a skin, yellow curls
coming through, curling to wool,
to warmth, long as a long tongue licking me –
filling my cells with milk.

We stole the lambskin –
I roll on its song,
we took its song, its young song,
unrolled the curves
laid them over our flat hills.

She places me at the core
where its heart grew –
I am naked in a pool of wool
floating my bones in chambers of air,
lamb wool singing me.

Outside the ewes are calling,
I am the cry and she comes.

(First published in The Poetry Review, Spring 2014 http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/publications/review/current)

Sarah Westcott is a poet and journalist who lives near London with her family. Her debut pamphlet, Inklings,(Flipped Eye, 2013) was the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for Winter 2013 and she is working towards her first full collection. She blogs at  http://literary-loper.blogspot.co.uk/ Twitter: @sarahwestcott1


Heart Song For A Watch
by Rebecca Audra Smith

I wind you up, flick my nails against your face
to make you start, your battery heart complies.

You are the hourglass that shapes my sapling clock,
trickles away the grains of sand.

Look what a beach we’ve built, so many years,
so many seconds, you keep count while I sleep.

Steadfast partner in the night, my lapping heart,
your regular chant, my inward tock.

Bound as a puppy at the feet of the girl who spent
three hundred pounds on his beautiful pure breed eyes.

But you are just the one on a band strapped to my wrist
which I wear like a second skin, next to my pulse.

What do you get from me? I ask your pauses, at least
make time for a thought, a heartfelt word or two.

Press my lips to you and mouth
dear warmth on your stark world.

Rebecca Audra Smith is a post-MA poetry student, she is one half of Stirred Feminist Poetry Collective based in Manchester. She blogs at beccaaudra.wordpress.com, tweet her @BeccaAudra


( May Day) or how sunshine feels
for Claire and Keith

by Maureen Jivani

Like the brink
of sleep

or that almost dream
purpled with ghosts,

heavy like Queensland’s

their velvet scent
the heart

of avenues
where we greet

our children
as old as toddlers,

Disney on their lips
and blossoms in their hair.

Maureen Jivani’s poetry has been published in the UK, America, Australia, and New Zealand. She has a pamphlet, My Shinji Noon published in the Mulfran Miniatures Series. Her first full collection: Insensible Heart ( Mulfran Press 2009) was shortlisted for the London Fringe Festival Poetry Award 2010. She also writes flash fiction, and is currently working on her second collection of poems. http://www.mulfran.co.uk/MaureenJivani.html


(All poets have given permission for their poems to be included on this site)

Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week – Day Two


Congenital heart disease is a term which covers any heart abnormality present from birth. One in every 133 babies in the UK is born with a heart condition, over 5,000 babies per year.
Acquired heart defect is a term which covers a heart abnormality that develops after a baby is born. An estimated 500 -1000 children each year develop heart conditions after they are born.
Improvements in paediatric heart surgery and clinical care have led to more children with heart conditions surviving into adulthood. The number of adults with heart conditions is now increasing at an estimated rate of 5% per year. (Source: www.chfed.org.uk)


What Would You Say?
by John Harvey

What would you say of a man who can play
three instruments at once – saxophone,
manzello and stritch – but who can neither
tie his shoelace nor button his fly?

Who stumbles through basements,
fumbles open lacquered boxes,
a child’s set of drawers,
strews their contents across bare boards –
seeds, vestments, rabbit paws?

Whose favourite words are vertiginous,
gourd, dilate? Whose fantasy is snow?
Who can trace in the dirt the articular process
of the spine, the pulmonary action of the heart?

Would you say he was blind?

Would you say he was missing you?

(from ‘Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems, Smith/Doorstop, May, 2014)

Poet, dramatist, publisher and occasional broadcaster, John Harvey’s novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, the first of his twelve Charlie Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts, being named by The Times as one of the ‘100 Best Crime Novels of the Century’; the most recent, and final novel in the series, ‘Darkness, Darkness’, will be published this May. Website: www.mellotone.co.uk  Blog: http://mellotone70up.wordpress.com  Twitter: @John_BHarvey


by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

This machine              listens to me.

In my pulse,                            it hears                        the mysterious melodies

of valves and vessels

closing and opening              in symphony.


By some unseen alchemy,

it deciphers                             these cyphers


messages         along coiled cables     and      long  leads      to where

a needle          scrapes                        a scribbled script


and falling

in spiked ink scrawl.




the needle’s crawl

as my heart, my broken muscle                    scratches         dispatches of despair.

Electrocardiogram.    Telegram.


The cardiologist approaches             (white coat, stitched brow, stethoscope)

unrolls the scroll

nods                            peers at the pointed peaks, the low valleys

contemplates and translates

this undeniable diary of days

this most recent history of my heart.


I am                             caught between recollection  and     premonition


both the blade            that cut           my cord          and     the surgeon’s scalpel

hurtling toward me


my history and future                        unfold                         from this machine


(first published The Stinging Fly, Winter 2013)

Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual poet based in Ireland, writing both in Irish and in English. Her Irish language collections Résheoid and Dúlasair  are both published by Coiscéim, and her bilingual chapbook A Hummingbird, Your Heart  is available as a free download from Smithereens Press. The Arts Council of Ireland has twice awarded her bursaries in literature. Doireann was the winner of a Wigtown Award (Scotland) in 2012 and in 2013 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (USA). www.doireannnighriofa.com  Twitter: @DoireannNiG


Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum
by Josephine Corcoran

I tuck you in
with long ago & far away,
pull the blanket of it wasn’t us, it wasn’t
here, around your heart although I know
that five inches is 13 centimetres,
that 130 yards would cost a lot
of blood. There’ll be Rosa Parks
& Martin Luther King for homework,
there always is & someone saying it’s good
we teach them that,
but no-one has a map of south east London,
today your teacher didn’t say his name.
I teach you this: he spelled it with a ‘PH’
not a ‘V’, in 1993
he was eighteen,
he wanted to be an architect,
he was waiting for a bus.

(previously published in The Morning Star)

Josephine Corcoran works part-time for The Reader Organisation in Wiltshire. She runs the ‘And Other Poems’ poetry blog: www.andotherpoems.wordpress.com Twitter @And_OtherPoems She has a pamphlet forthcoming with Tall-Lighthouse later this year.


by Kaddy Benyon

Held on the map of my palm
I have a sense of a different ending.
Each threaded vein of it reaching
beyond the pebble’s edge
connects to the carved pink leys
and channels of my skin. Here –
a heartline not stopping at loss,

but breaking free to ramble now
in search of finer trails: scents, traces
of life unsevered by my other hand.
There – a new passage overlays
a violet twist of hate and shame, wipes
out a fatal double-helix long enough
to let your gift’s bright tributaries

reroute the past and navigate a
continent of trust. My heart’s needle
shivers and spins, settling for
a true north where this wander lust
must begin, must end, each new
territory crossed taking me further
from your touchstone: closer to myself.

Kaddy Benyon was born in Cambridge and worked as a television scriptwriter for a number of years. In 2010 she was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. She won the Crashaw Prize 2011 with her debut collection, Milk Fever. In 2012 she was named a Granta New Poet. She is currently Invited Poet at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge where she is writing her second collection. Twitter: @KaddyBenyon


by Anthony Wilson

Let me invade your heart.

Let me into your hurt

and heal where no one sees.

I place a kiss, here, on your eyes.


(Let me invade your hurt).

Let me infect where it tears

at you, unseen, in the heart.

Let me dry your eyes.


Let me in. (Your hurt

might burst and invade the world).

I cradle it, as a baby

crying out in the dark.


Let me. I come as a child

comes, with open hands,

into your dark. To hurt me,

let me invade your heart.

Anthony Wilson is a poet, blogger and researcher. His most recent books are Riddance (Worple, 2012) and Love for Now (Impress Books, 2012), a memoir of cancer. Love for Now  is available here He lives and works in Exeter. He can be found online at www.anthonywilsonpoetry.com Twitter: @awilsonpoet


(All poets have given permission for their poems to be included on this site)





Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week: Day One


The Children’s Heart Federation is the leading children’s heart charity and direct service provider as well as the umbrella body for voluntary organisations; working to meet the needs of children and young people with congenital and acquired heart conditions and their families.  Their vision is one of ‘a society in which all children with congenital heart disease have both their medical and social needs met so that they can live life to the full.’ You can find out more about them at www.chfed.org.uk  Twitter: @CHFed and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chfed

Strong Heart Songs
By Jo Bell

When their men rode off in warpaint
the women of the prairie tribes
stood tall to sing Strong Heart Songs.
They sang the strength into their men:
You must be saying all the time to yourself:
I must be brave. I must not fear anything.

Even when the fight came to the camp itself,
a tumble of hoof and promised pain,
the women of the prairie tribes stood tall
in blankets stitched with scorpions
and sang of heroes, battles won, brave deaths.

Our tribe is daily gathering itself for battle.
One standing up to nightmares in the classroom;
one is harried in her genius by disbelief;
another, back-to-back with all the clan;
one, racing with his life against a wily horseman.

Braves, as you go to hospital or courtroom,
as you start that meeting with the twinset London girl
who thinks that Birmingham is in the North;
the doctor drawing up the battle lines;
the midwife still insisting that you’re not in pain;

stand tall and listen for the tribe.
draw round the scorpion-stitched blanket,
listen past the bow and battle cry
and hear us singing Strong Heart Songs:
You must be saying all the time to yourself:
I will be brave. I will not fear anything.

Jo Bell is an award-winning poet. Formerly the director of National Poetry Day, she is now the UK Canal Laureate for the Poetry Society and CRT. Find out more at jobell.org and on Twitter: @Jo_Bell


The Break-heart
by Jacob Polley

I was a worker, am a worker, I’m at work
so I don’t have to be at home.
And still I will not speak.

I want to tell, but how to tell? I was a mother.
What more is there to tell or know?
How can you tell a mother?

A mother has a child. My motherhood is done.
No one can see my motherhood.
No one can see my son.

The grief I swallow, grief I will not wallow in.
There’s nothing to me, not a thing.
All I am is losing him.

I’m not a mother, I don’t show, nobody knows
I had a son. And now instead
of him his absence grows.

Jacob Polley has published three books of poems with Picador, The Brink, Little Gods and, most recently, The Havocs. His first novel, Talk of the Town, was published in 2009. His work has received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and Somerset Maugham Award, and he lives in Fife, where he’s a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Website: www.jacobpolley.com  Twitter: @ExeterTwiddle  A longer and musical version of this poem was created as part of London Sinfonietta’s Blue Touch Paper programme.  See more, including an interview with Jacob here.

by Mary Robinson

In spring the garden fills with hearts:
Ranunculus ficaria – leaves cordate,
lesser celandine. Tadpole tubers
spawn underground, and for a week or two
those heart-shaped leaves award,
in school-room yellow, unmerited gold stars.


Mary blogs at http://maryrobinsonpoetry.blogspot.co.uk  Her first full-length poetry collection The Art of Gardening was published by Flambard Press in 2010.Her poetry pamphlet Uist Waulking Song is with Westward Books 2012. www.maryrobinson.org.uk  Twitter @LMERobinson

The Discovery
By Harry Man

Flight of Saturn V SA-511
Apollo 16, CM Callsign Orion, LM Callsign Casper Command Pilot: John W. Young,
Command Module Pilot: Thomas K. Mattingly II, Lunar Module Pilot: Charles M. Duke Jr
16th April 1972

This Saturn V sheds her heavy feathers
in the smoke, a rising asterisk of light,
the tank, pencil-slim, gimbals
twisting through the portal
between us and the airless shallows
of our immediate orbit.

The second stage too falls away,
and, for a split second
the pilots are blinded
by a vapour hotter than lightning
only to open their eyes
in the uninterrupted night.

It is so very still up there;
mission control becomes wind,
your own hands the horizon,
the difference between day and night
in the humming of lights,
a sense of home
nearer than a fireproof flight plan,
nearer than freeze-dried blueberries,
the sound of your own heart
in the night-time
a picture in crayon
from your son
which says ‘Daddy’
with the Moon
drawn in purple
and an arrow
for guidance.

(First published in Elbow Room, 2012)

Harry Man was born in Aylesbury in 1982 and lives in South London. His pamphlet ‘Lift’ won the Bridges of Struga Award 2014 and is shortlisted for the ‘Best Pamphlet’ in the 2014 Saboteur Awards.  His work has appeared in Poems in the Waiting Room, Astronaut, Battersea Review and Elbow Room among other places. www.manmadebooks.co.uk  You can read another ‘heart poem’ by Harry here: https://andotherpoems.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/harry-man/


The Susceptible Heart
by Amy Key

Nothing to be done about the sky, its early fall.
You give me match-strike, candelabra, chandelier.
This year, autumn doesn’t matter.
                                             If lit by dawn,
my mind will clamour to recall how our kiss left off,
how the evening’s talk – steeped in dramatics – set off
that wordless flourish. But tonight pours
into your absence. Take this half of ale,
sipped with one eye on your tastes and just now
my fringe swept away with your imagined hand.
Our romance, tracked by a fling of mill-town
horns, an elementary fiction of sweethearts.

Amy Key’s collection Luxe was published by Salt in 2013. She is co-editor of Poems in Which. Website: amyvkey.com  She tweets @msamykey.


(All poets have given permission for their poems to be included on this site)





For Children’s Heart Week this year, May 12th – 18th, this blog will be become a blog of ‘Heart Poems’, by contemporary poets, some written especially for the week. Each day, I will post some Children’s Heart Federation information – alongside the poems. I’m trying to raise awareness of the charity and congenital heart disease – and share poems.

Do please check in and read, but also feel free to spread the word on social media:
Twitter: @gosspoems @CHFed #HeartPoems #ChildrensHeartWeek

Some great poems have come my way for this project, I hope you enjoy them!



Teenagers, friendship and a week at Lumb Bank

Last week, I spent five days at the beautiful Arvon Lumb Bank site and it was (unusually) basked in sunshine for my entire stay.  I was there to tutor seventeen students from a West Yorkshire grammar school, aged between eleven and fifteen years old. My co-tutor Anthony McGowan and I were the first to arrive.  We were given tea, cake and a guided tour. I soaked it all up – the house, the landscape, the air, the stillness.

Then it was time to meet our young writers.  Anthony and I walked to the main house, he opened the front door and that was when I heard it – the noise of seventeen young people, all talking excitedly at once.  It was quite a rush, to be greeted by their boom of chatter as we slowly appeared from behind the door to say hello.  There’s something very special about the Lumb Bank house.  You feel instantly at ease inside it.  The sitting room became a convivial hub, a place I would find the young writers after lunch, curled up on a sofa, not with phones in their hands, but notebooks.

I was soon struck by how gracious and generous these young people were.  They listened attentively to me during workshops, to Anthony, to their teachers and each other.  They supported each other’s ideas and didn’t split into factions, despite spanning several year groups. They talked, played and worked happily together.

There was something too, about watching teenage girls and how they behave. No Mean Girls here.  I’m trying to think of the right word: reassuring, pleasing, or maybe just nice, to see these girls curled up in ‘onsies’, plaiting each other’s hair.  Their ceaseless buzz of talking – so urgent and vibrant.  I have raised my two-step children from primary school through to adulthood, but the latter years of my life have seen me stuck in a baby loop. Spending time with a bunch of teenage girls became an affirming experience. I was reminded how tactile my step-daughter was with her two best friends growing up: the linking of arms, the holding of hands. I did it too, at that age, but that behaviour can get lost in adulthood. For the first time ever, I felt a slight grief for my teenage years.

Three days in to the course, I read them Julia Copus’ poemAn Easy PassageI heard Julia read in Liverpool and spoke to her about the poem afterwards, as I am particularly fond of it. The poem describes two teenage girls, trying to get back in to the house they have locked themselves out of.  One is standing on the ‘blond gravel’, the other is climbing through an open upstairs window, thinking she must not be nervous, but ‘keep her mind/on the friend with whom she is half in love’.  I waited in the book-signing queue to talk to Julia about that line. I am convinced, that for girls, their first intense female friendship, is as big as their first love. I hadn’t read a poem that so perfectly described this before.

The poet Amy Key is currently editing an anthology of poems titled Best Friends Forever, forthcoming with The Emma Press this November.  The anthology ‘aims to reflect the scale of intensity within female friendships’ and I think there is a very valid place for it.  In an interview with The Poetry School about why she wanted to collate such poems, Key explains ‘I want to do this because I’ve fallen cock-a-hoop for friends and I’ve fallen out of love with friends. I’ve been dumped and I’ve rediscovered friendships when they seemed lost to me. At times it’s felt I’ve been able to live because of the friendships I have. I find it exciting that there will be new friendships to come that won’t spell the end of my existing ones. My ambition for this book is that it will be something someone can use to help them tell their friend they love them.’

On the final day of the course at Lumb Bank, I sat in the ‘barn’ beside fellow tutor Anthony, reading through the sixty-five page anthology the students had put together – a compilation of the work they had written that week.  The sole boy on the trip, Martin (not remotely fazed at being so outnumbered) was doing a fine job as editor, administering final touches to the anthology.  A couple of girls were practicing ballet steps, laughing, pretending they didn’t actually enjoy a small audience. Some were singing to each other. Then, a girl called Cailtin sat at the piano and started to play, quite beautifully.

I looked at the girls around me and thought about my three year old daughter at home. I realised how selfishly I’ve been thinking about her forthcoming teenage years.  I’ve only really been considering how they will affect me – her hormones, her emotions – at a time when I’ll be in my fifties.  When Caitlin finished playing the piano in the barn, I asked her to scribble down the title of the piece, as it will always remind me of that week.  She wrote I Giorni by Ludvico Einaudi.  Coming home I’ve discovered the title of the piece translates as The Days.  Post-Lumb Bank, I’m beginning to see my daughter’s teenage future very differently.  She will discover friendship. Now I think, lucky her, what days indeed, she has to come.

The past few months…

I’m looking at a small stack of letters on my desk. Lodged between pen-pot and the wall, they were all sent to me after the publication of Her Birth. They’re all written in response to the book and have moved me very much. Emails have come in too, and some very kind tweets. All sorts of people have been in touch: friends and strangers, women and men, ex-tutors from school and university and bereaved mothers – some who lost their children more recently, some who lost them a long time ago. A letter from a bereaved mother makes tough reading I can tell you, but I’m grateful for every brave word.  Since the book’s unexpected shortlisting for The Forward Prize, the story of my daughter’s death and my attempt at recovery has become more public than I expected it to. That felt very difficult at times. But because of The Forward Prize, Her Birth has been read by people who, perhaps, would not normally have ‘found’ it.

I would like to thank those who have been so positive about the book. I thought I’d written something that was simply very sad. I was sad when I was writing it and had no idea how it would be received once it became a tangible thing. I moved into my new home in Suffolk in July, on the day of The Forward Prize shortlist announcement. Since then, I have been interviewed on Woman’s Hour, I’ve written about the book for Michelle McGrane’s excellent contemporary poetry blog Peony Moon, I’ve been back to Liverpool to launch the book in a room of almost 100 people – all with an Ella connection. The book has been positively reviewed in The Guardian, Dove Grey Reader, The Booktrust and elsewhere. I have met and read with some terrific writers, including Denise Bundred at our ‘Poetry and Medicine’ event (an area I would like to explore more with Her Birth) and I was shortlisted for The East Anglian Book of the Year and won the Poetry category. You can read judge Michael Mackmin’s comments here. I know it’s all been ‘good’, but this is not a book I ever imagined writing. I would still rather have Ella here, but I do feel her short life, and the book, have led me to some incredible people.

Next year I will be taking part in Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s ‘Writing Motherhood’ project. I will be reading too, at various literary festivals and intend to read from Her Birth, but hopefully include new work, about very different things. I’m inspired by one of the letters sitting on my desk. In it, someone wrote of Her Birth ‘Surely the lesson is to go on making’. After Ella died, I made a book, a baby, a new home, my family made a new start. Now I need to make new poems.

Goodbye Liverpool

Image(The River Mersey)

I am moving house. I am in the process of opening boxes intending to sort through them, but find myself cross-legged on the floor, reading through old letters and cards, sifting through the treasures that accumulate in a life.  Next week, I will be closing the door on this house, for the last time. I will be leaving the city it stands in, twenty years after I first arrived as a wide-eyed, 18 year old student.  I am moving to Suffolk, where I grew up.  I’m pleased to be going back there. I’m excited about the new start for my family, but I’m emotional about leaving the unique, friendly, inspirational city that is Liverpool.

One of the many things I will miss is the river.  I’ve been lucky to live close to part of the river Mersey’s seventy mile stretch, for the past fourteen years. I’ve seen it almost every day during that time.  That’s the wonderful thing about Liverpool, you are never very far from water.  Growing up in the Suffolk countryside, I was used to flat, open spaces. The patchwork expanse of crops, with brilliant yellow squares of oil-seed rape. Liverpool was an enormous leap into the ‘urban’ for me, but I never felt I had moved to a claustrophobic place.  It was so easy to get to the river and see a long distance.  It granted you a feeling of release. The Mersey has a widest point of three miles. You can see the Welsh mountains.

Some friends who are writers in Liverpool, tell me they live and work here because of the river. Being by water is an essential part of their creative life.   Reading through proofs of my next collection recently, I realised that water and the river play an important part in the book. Babies swim like dolphins searching for perfect hearts, a lantern is lit to float across that ‘fluvial division’, grief takes hold on the river’s promenade. The Suffolk coast features in the book too.  Husband and wife wade in to the North Sea, carrying their young, excited child.  Good news is announced there.  Ashes are scattered there.  A new stretch of water waits for me now.

In Memory of John Ernest Goss 1920 – 2011

‘I want to be cremated and my ashes thrown in the air. Straight from the flames to the winds, and let that be that.’
– the closing lines of Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe.

As you wobble the length of our hall, hand fiercely tight
in mine, your great-grandfather is letting go.

His seven stones of bone barely dent the bed. His lips kept wet
by a nurse’s sponge, his hand held warm by his son.

I consider the efforts of your respective breaths –
his faint, yours eager – as you pad small steps,

adopt a penguin’s gait. Between you, a gap of ninety years,
storing its wars and discoveries, far reaching

as the moon he lived beneath. In the little arable kingdom
he chose for home, he married, raised a boy in sunken lanes;

stayed rooted in its loamy soils, grew as ancient as its woods.
You pick up pace and race towards the mirror. If there was time,

this news of your early steps would be recorded, folded,
delivered overnight. Hand-written word from his kin, he loved

the language of lives elsewhere. He has a wish to star the air
on a stretch of Suffolk coast and we will take him, in the throng

of family he has sprung. For now, I watch you in the glass,
behind us see the hall, the pram, how far we’ve come.

little arable kingdom – Blythe’s description of East Anglia

Highly Commended in the Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition (Suffolk Poetry Society), 2012. Taken from Her Birth, by Rebecca Goss, Carcanet/Northern House (July 2013).

The Jupiter Project

Last year, my friend and writer Chris Routledge asked if I wanted to work with him on a poetry/photography collaboration. It’s been great to work on something very different. I loved browsing his images and waiting for that ‘hit’  – the moment I saw something that I knew I could turn into a poem. Sometimes I gave Chris poems, to see if he could ‘illustrate’ them with a photographic image. The whole thing has been really enjoyable.  We thought World Poetry Day would be a good day to launch. It’s called The Jupiter Project. Take a look.