Our featured publication for December is Going in with flowers by Avril Joy, published by Linen Press.
‘The women of Low Newton live in me. They are written here, in these poems. Every time a poem is read, their voices are heard, and the voices of women in prison everywhere.’
A collection of poetry and prose which chronicles the hidden lives of women locked behind bars – the deadening routines broken by dramas and crises, friendships and conflicts, hopes and fears. Based on twenty-five years working in HMP Low Newton, County Durham, Avril Joy writes of the going in through gates to meet darkness and pain as well as laughter and love. Her words echo the women’s voices with authenticity, compassion and humour and transform them into poems written with breathtaking originality.
‘Poetry is a natural place to express the most intense feelings. But for it to work it has to be more than just expression; it has to be transformational. Avril’s poems have that quality. Skomm is an absolutely shattering poem and it’s not going to leave me.’ Clare Shaw
The girl with the goose on her head sits by the window in the corner of the
there are others with her – among them her sister – their geese barely a wing
The weight of goose swells the air, the room is ripe with the scent of goose shit.
I put down my bag, take off my scarf and coat and wonder about the snow
covering the road. Outside the wind is up and the yard is frosting over.
Better make a start, I say. They pick up pens, open books. The girl with the goose
on her head declines to write, says she cannot concentrate
for the load, the poundage, her shortened neck, compacted spine,
for centuries of carrying: scamu, skomm, shame, the bird force fed, gavage-pipe
in the oesophagus, on its back, legs splayed, neck craned, half-buried in its chest
the words whispered in a father’s bed.
She says she cannot stop thinking, None of us can Miss, the nights are the worst,
corralled, wings beating, they leave their bodies, fly up in a blizzard,
a captive murmuration.
Jesus, look at the snow. Will you get home alright Miss? What about the kids?
I look out at the fattening flakes, the absent ground. I taste the goose,
all twenty pounds of it, sweat and stink.
Snow falls on my tongue the lightest it’s been.
I’ll get home alright, I say, now close your books. What will it be?
A story, say the girls with geese, and they fold their arms, lay down their heads.
Skomm won the York Mix Lit Fest competition
The Karaoke Queen’s survival kit
lived in the stationery cupboard,
back office of the education block
in a plastic crowned H.M.P. bag
smelling of old roses and cheap perfumes.
Your cosmetic lucky dip,
our remnant offerings: foundations, eye shadows,
mascaras and blushers, glosses and lipsticks,
oh, those lipsticks – your street walking,
pay for your wrap, keep the pimp off your back,
Your cock sucking, lip syncing, Amy Winehouse
sing like a demon, I told you I was trouble,
you know that I’m no good,
Morning movement over
classroom doors pulled to
you crossed the central area
like a child alone in the playground
and mouthed at the office window
Can I? Can I Miss?
Previously published in Snakeskin
Any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture.
Juan E. Méndez, United Nations
Her body is covered with a skin as hard as rock
they sometimes call her Stone-Dress.
The sharp finger of her right hand is spear, the knife
she uses to dissect herself.
They keep her behind doors in the petrified forest
of the inhuman, unfit,
left to rot, thin mattress on a concrete platform
steel toilet, colourless brick.
They keep her in Deep Custody, but for an hour
or less a day in the yard
high-wired and featureless, a rhomboid sky.
Out here her weapon leaves no scar,
out here she builds bridges in air, mountain
pansies bloom in the small cleft of her, clinging
like alpines to rock. Her dress folds to spindrift.
If she could, she would lie on her back and hum
at the hidden stars. Five years she has lived like this,
Stone Dress, scaring the birds from the forest.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Avril Joy worked for twenty-five years in Low
Newton women’s prison in County Durham. Her short fiction has appeared in literary
magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss & the
Lives of Women. Her work has been shortlisted in competitions including, the
Bridport, the Manchester Prize for Fiction and The Raymond Carver Short Story Prize.
In 2012 her story, Millie and Bird, won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award.
Her novel, Sometimes a River Song, published by Linen Press, won the 2017 People’s
Book Prize for outstanding achievement. Her poetry has appeared both in print and online. In 2019 her poem Skomm won the York Literary Festival poetry competition.
Going in with flowers
is available for purchase from the Linen Press