Featured Publication – Things Only Borderlines Know by Olivia Tuck

Our featured publication for September is Things Only Borderlines Know by Olivia Tuck, published by Black Rabbit Press.

Things Only Borderlines Know is a vivid, vital, and very affecting book of poems by Olivia Tuck. It is published by new poetry pamphlet publisher Black Rabbit Press, which is founded and run by Mab Jones and which aims to publish new, unique, and diverse voices. This is a book that is as profound as it is personal; zings with honesty and energy; is both concise and yet compelling, with striking, often highly visceral, imagery. It is the work of a writer of great feeling and imagination. Things Only Borderlines Know features a gorgeous paper cut cover, on black recycled card with a red inner paper, and is limited to a run of 100 copies. Black Rabbit Press is proud to showcase the work of this brilliant new poetic voice.

‘In these raw, urgent poems, Olivia Tuck vividly evokes lives askew. This is brave, original work, at once unsettling and compelling’ Carrie Etter

You know when you come across the poetry of Olivia Tuck, either in her startling performances, or on the page – you have been struck! She’s exciting, unsettling, truthful, and raw – her poems strut about to confront the world in new and powerful ways with themes of mental health, growing, sex, body image and identity. The speaker is giving us a traumatic-mind-view from a therapeutic seat opposite psychiatrists and parents, tin nurses, Vera, the devil, and from the corner bed in the A&E observation ward – and these poems strike right through us like an ‘ECT storm crackling through the skull.’ This is amazing work from an astonishingly talented new poet.’ Hilda Sheehan



The Function of Emotions

To draw blood. To press razor tracks
against your shaking wrists.

To destroy parties.

To finger-paint bruises
across friendships as you cling.

To make sunsets hurt.

To beat up the walls, and the doors,
and the windows,
and the sky.

To turn the dialling tone
into the revving of a chainsaw.

To slice off the top of your skull,
and scoop your pumpkin innards out
until you’re all ribs, and living for digits
on the backs of chocolate bars.
To then swivel you
like you’re an owl’s neck
and get you fat again.

To brew hate.
To pour hate.
To serve hate.

To keep you awake at night.
To give the shadows gargoyle faces.

To blag you a ride in a police car.

To break both your parents’ hearts
with one stone.
To demonstrate failure
to your little sisters.

To leave you with no grace to fall from.

Previously published on Algebra of Owls


Developmental History
As part of the assessment process for autism diagnosis, a developmental history is often taken from adult family members who knew the patient as he or she grew up.

Daddy wore new trousers; Mummy left her posh-girl pupils
to go to you, Doctor. I’ve seen the conversation’s remains –
its exoskeleton looks like crushed ice.
Was there a game of twenty questions? Fifty?

More? I understand you asked them about my past
obsessions with spiralling car wash brushes;
with lighthouses on headlands. But I was exiled,
held at school so I wouldn’t spill on your carpet.

I hope you could all feel the poltergeist
of me, simmering. I want you to have blinked
and listened to the clock’s bradycardia; squinted
into violent sun that howled through the panel in the door,

down chalk tracks, to a History classroom,
where my skirt climbed laddered nylon against fat thigh,
tears scalding the pus-filled stars across my cheeks,
bloody lipstick pooling on my chin.

Previously published in Under the Radar


Doctor E

A private hospital is shatterproof below a plutonium sky.
Inside, the coffee machine is dormant, as it will be again

and again. (One day, it’ll wake to erupt with cocoa magma –
the spit will taste of Am Ex cards, of air miles.)

We shrink in the consulting room, your briefcase eavesdropping,
your eyes those of a donkey who snuffles fallen apples:

I am a cellophane fish, shrivelled, in your swivel chair.
You speak to Mummy about youngsters such as me;

camouflage the quiver in your throat, as when Titanic’s Captain
heard Atlantic haemorrhaging through a berg-sliced leer

and softly, deliberately urged his crew:
I think she’s badly damaged.

Previously published in The Interpreter’s House


Things Only Borderlines Know

That whatever you are, you need to destroy it.

That going for your cookie-dough skin with a razor stings
more than acting against it with fiercer tools, but
it doesn’t matter: abandonment is what truly cuts.

That driving a dear weather-beaten psychiatrist
to earlier-than-planned retirement is easier than it sounds.

That you might see a rainbow when you wake up
at dusk; wonder if God won’t flood the Earth again. Of course,
by three a.m. you could be up to your neck in ocean; playing
Charybdis, hauling angry sailors down with you.

That when you end up in casualty of a Saturday night,
nobody will materialise with cards or Tesco carnations.
(However, if you’re a tad more experienced, at least
you’ll have learnt where to find a phone signal,
about the range of gourmet packed sandwiches on offer,
which nurse will smooth your hair, and which will scrawl
across your chart in biro blood: Manipulative.)

That you can love others without loving yourself.
That you want to be loved as much as you can feel:

solar flares. Wild nights. Broken bottles. Hailstorms. Hollow,
chocolate girl for Easter; eyes dead, smile warped.

It burns to come close enough to breathe
your smoke. That as much as you can feel is too much
to ask, but perhaps you could settle for the love of anyone
who would tattoo their initials over Ribena-dark scars, feed you
Turkish Delight promises, with steadfastness that echoes
through space and leaves marks that heal, and do not
ruin. A moon you can keep on a string round your wrist,
to linger. Although…face it. You are the satellite.

That shadows gain weight when you are alone. No power
supply. You reach out to touch what it means to be ash.

That if you try to leave, they’ve got thread. Water. Charcoal.
When you hear your screams, you want to disappear, yet
you keep this secret safe. In case you change your mind.

Previously published on Amaryllis, and in the Please Hear What I’m Not Saying anthology (Fly on the Wall Press).


Olivia Tuck’s poetry and prose has appeared in literary journals and webzines including Under the RadarThe Interpreter’s HouseLighthouseAlgebra of OwlsThree Drops from a Cauldron, Amaryllis — and Atrium. Her work also features in Fly on the Wall charity anthologies Please Hear What I’m Not Saying and Persona Non Grata. She is an autism and mental health warrior, and a BA Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University. Her first (and hopefully not last!) pamphlet, Things Only Borderlines Know was published by Black Rabbit Press this year. Find Olivia on Twitter: @livtuckwrites

Things Only Borderlines Know is available from the Black Rabbit Press website.




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