Featured Publication – These Are The Hands – Poems from the Heart of the NHS, Edited by Deborah Alma and Dr Katie Amiel

Our featured publication for June is These Are The Hands – Poems from the Heart of the NHS, edited by Deborah Alma and Dr Katie Amiel, published by Fair Acre Press.

This anthology offers a unique insight into the real experiences of the people at the heart of the NHS – from the student nurse at the start of his career to the heart surgeon on the eve of her retirement. We also hear the stories of those whose vital work is often unseen and unsung from domestic cleaning staff to sign language interpreters.

The poems offer unflinchingly honest and intimate accounts from the people who care for us from the moment of birth to the end of life. In crystallising the most beautiful and painful moments of being human, they speak directly to all our experience. Above all these poems are about our shared humanity. They are about the compassion and care that lie at the heart of the NHS and in all our lives. They also serve as a stark reminder of the human cost of trying to offer compassionate care in a system that is underfunded and understaffed and the importance of showing the same compassion and support to the staff we depend on to hold the NHS together.

Here is the big, beautiful, beating heart of the NHS as you’ve never seen it before. Tender, sinewy, passionate, intimate. What a book – what a celebration of all that unites us. Truly wonderful’ Rachel Clarke

Deeply moving poetry from the people who work to keep us whole and healthy
and happy and who care for us when we’re broken’ Mark Haddon

This is a beautiful book: heartfelt and intimate’ Adam Kay

The very heart of who we are and what we are here for. An exciting and wonderful book’ Michael Rosen

A wonderful anthology to celebrate the NHS, which is itself the best poem a country
has ever written’ Stephen Fry

Every ward and waiting room should have a copy’ Simon Armitage

TATH front cover high res (1)

First Last-Offices

We were goslings pushed to the front of the skein,
made to flap our wings. As hatchlings we had emerged
more turtle than goose – able to turn to saltwater
we were chosen for our instinct to forge alone.

One November night, sounds of sleep and mattresses
bowing filled the cardiac ward, unaffected
by an old man’s death in a side-room. I was alone
until another first-year student was sent to help.

We were eight-months into our training.
Unsure and timid in the ritual of last offices,
we started to wash his cooling body – whispering,
telling him we were in flight. In our first week

we had been warned to see ourselves without glory.
One held him as the other washed and dried him
keeping him safe in the air, shielding him
with a sheet until we laid him back down in his shroud.

We did as we’d been taught on a class dummy
and remembered right – our last offices were nodded at
when Night Sister descended and tugged at our flesh
raptor-like. We repeatedly closed his eyelids.

Tears smarted at homemade jam sandwiches
wrapped in greaseproof paper – unopened and fresh
in his locker. The handmade Get-Well card for Grandad
we saved in a plastic bag marked, Belongings.

Margaret Adkins, Student Nurse


On Sydney Street, someone’s dropped
a paper bird. I can make those.
The crispness of the fold defines the way
it flies. That, and the way you grasp it.
I once sat with a dying child,
filled his room with yellow birds
from folded Xray paper.
He gave them eyes and coloured spots
across their wings. Retinoblastoma.
For years I dreamt of marker pen
on naked heads, of basements
where hushed beds passed at night,
hung about with fluids, the chill,
the dark, the roaches, the Night Pink’s
outdoor cloak, two of us with torches
to check the sick were sleeping.
Some things stay: the way a blackbird
sings through all the gaps in rain,
the pulsing smell of sun on London
pavements, the art of folding paper.

Ann Gray, Nurse


My fingers walked
to the fourth intercostal space.
This is where I placed
the first gel-backed tab.
The next went

opposite, across the sternum, on the nipple line.
Easy then to make
a descending arc, attach the leads
until a trace appeared;
the heart. Unlike in films

when it stopped for good
the line was never completely flat,
but wavering like the slap of water
against the dock
long after a boat has passed.

Roy Marshall, Coronary care and research nurse 


I think of the little girl
who will wear this spinal
jacket, its candy pink hardness
coated with butterflies
forcing her kyphotic spine
in to conformity.

Clasped between its two halves,
like a turtle shell
it will keep her protected
from the taunts of others-

………………………………………………Cripple! Hunchback!

These names will bounce off
her new suit of armour,
like ricocheting bullets.

Inside, she starts to grow,
straightens like a sapling
seeking the sun.
She begins to feel


Roshni Beeharry, Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine



you have come here for answers, and surely
you realise there is little
here but dust, bone, splinter;
the sweltering heat, the small white fan
languishing; the air, the sweat
gleaming at the nape of a nurse’s neck

darkness outside, and here —
the lighthouse —
frenzied and feral

where is the meaning in an open wound;
where the cartography in saltwater, iron, broken
tooth and copper, all the splinters
of a long-gone comet split in us
skin to skin

what do I have to give you, but what makes us
more than weft of tendon, capillary, gyrus;
what makes us tend to each other
in the burning of the world;
look at one another, still, and say:
how can I help you?
what can I do for you?

is there not joy in that, stubborn gladness;
tenderness with which I measure your wound
between thumb and finger, stitch needle through skin,
chart the stars of your fear,
and mine

shall we not call out in the darkness,
one to another;
shall we not try

strike the phosphorus
in our bones to

Jen Lua, Junior Doctor

These Are The Hands – Poems from the Heart of the NHS can be purchased from the Fair Acre Press website. All profits from the anthology are donated to the “NHS Charities Together” – Covid-19 Emergency Fund.

Featured Publication – Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma

Our featured publication for July is Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma, published by Nine Arches Press.

Deborah Alma’s debut poetry collection Dirty Laundry is raucous, daring and honest, drawing contemporary women’s lives and those of our foremothers into the spotlight. It voices bold, feminist songs of praise: of persistence, survival, adventures of sexual rediscovery, each reclaiming the space to speak its mind and be heard and seen. A perfect remedy for the heartsick and weary, Alma’s intimate and particular poems are resolute enchantments, a form of robust magic. The collection brims with poems which are unafraid of airing secrets, desires and untold stories. From growing up mixed-race and learning to survive as a woman in the world, to tales of the countryside and themes
of escape and finding joy, this book of poems is as vivid as it is frank and fearless. There’ll be no need for any tears, it’ll all come out in the wash…

These poems stand firmly on the page in torn silk stockings; they are voluptuous, defiant and hedge-witch earthy. Dirty Laundry glimmers with sequins; a speck of blood on a canine tooth; with bright new love after a season of showers” Helen Ivory

Here is a debut collection that will sweep you away in its generous, welcoming arms: poetry that bears witness to the twin faces of pain and pleasure. Dirty Laundry is a boldly poetic treatise that examines with a stern, clear eye the ravages of male repression and violence but refuses to break faith with the human capacity for healing, growth and love. Electric with metaphor, glorying in friendship, everyday joys and the sensual delights of sex and the natural world, this collection will ambush you with sudden and surprising epiphanies gleaned from a life well lived: immersive, thrilling and redemptive.” Jacqueline Saphra

This is a collection which glitters with keen observation: ruby slippers, bangles, sunlit, tender moments. The characters in Deborah Alma’s poems are uncompromising and unapologetic: a therapy client tramples over the eggshells of an analyst’s metaphors in Doc Marten boots. These are poems that invite you in and – when you’ve finished reading – invite you to walk a little taller through the world.” Helen Mort

Haunted by violence, yet refusing to be silent, rooted in the body as a way of experiencing the world and unafraid in their sensuality, these are poems that examine women’s lives in all their complexity, woven through with imagery that lingers in the mind and the heart long after you finish reading.” Kim Moore

Morning Song

An open-windowed church-belled morning
chimes of loss and mine; water pipes sing,

and I bring back to bed a blue enamel
pot of hot coffee, as silk as the slide

of skin on sheets, and rough hot bread
warmed in an oven kept in overnight

and bite into a grape and lazy eyed
the women I have been no longer fight their corners;

cocks-crow, black throats thrown back with old songs,
flown back to all of these edges of me,

they stay and stare, these women, across the hazy
sun-strewn wooden floor of my dreams

and my ageing; the mirror crazed
and hung with beads, the pink and the red

and the purple of the stocks I have grown
and the white of the daisies.


Nearly Love

I nearly fell in love once.
He came round and found the list on the fridge,
leant over to read it carefully, winked,
picked up a pencil, and ticked and ticked
and ticked all the boxes.

After I told him it wasn’t working,
my friends and family, astonished,
pointed to the list. But I said,

I will not drink from the cup
that comes up in small tiptoes
and black shoes, that sits
at the end of the bed, waiting;
its mouth an oh of ordinary;
comfort and safety and sex;
a drug of slowing, of rest, like death
already come.

They could not see this.
They knew what was best.



Three quarters of the way into my name,
there’s Roshan, roshni, light; that seems to me right,

a silver of bangles on a wrist, round mirror chips
embroidered into the hem of my clothes,

my white skin seen tiny times over,
sequins sewn into my childhood.

This is my light; a cloth weighted
with five bright beads over an English lamp.

And me now, turning on these lights in the dusk,
move still with a shake of bells at my feet,

not quite heard, the light not quite seen.


Deep Pockets

I sit in the kitchen
in a yellow-striped dress
with deep pockets

thrusting my hands deep,
there is string, a pin,
garden wire and three sweet-pea seeds.

I sit sullen like a child.

On the table a rough grey
plate with flecks of blue and four
chocolate dainty cakes
and five of us in this house.


Deborah Alma was born in North London, and has lived on the Welsh/Shropshire borders for the last 25 years where she brought up her 2 sons and now lives with the poet James Sheard. She teaches creative writing, works with people with dementia and at the end of their lives and is the Emergency Poet in her 1970’s ambulance. She edited The Emergency Poet – An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology and The Everyday Poet – Poems to Live By (Michael O’Mara Books) and was the editor of the landmark #MeToo poetry anthology, published by Fair Acre Press. Her first poetry pamphlet True Tales of the Countryside was published by The Emma Press. Dirty Laundry is her first full collection of poems. She is currently Honorary Research Fellow at Keele University.

Dirty Laundry is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.

Featured Publication – #MeToo: A women’s poetry anthology – Edited by Deborah Alma

Our featured publication for March is #MeToo: A women’s poetry anthology, edited by Deborah Alma, published by Fair Acre Press.

A brand new collection of largely new work, that rose up directly out of the collective rage from the #MeToo campaign on social media around the world at the end of 2017.
These poems are painful, angry, often difficult to bear, but the result of these voices singing together is one that is beautiful, full of sisterhood, strength, and recovery.

“This book contains the poetry of necessity and truth, exploding into the light, where it goddamn belongs. Please read these poems and then decide in what order you want to 1) cry 2) march 3) scream with relief and recognition 4) grab a sword-pen and write your own.” Amanda Palmer

“This collection is quite the rollercoaster: it made me cry with sadness – and with joy. I salute the courage of the women who have shared the pain of sexual harassment in verse that is lyrical, poignant and powerful. And I am also grateful to those who have shared their more hopeful experience in the poems that conclude this brilliant anthology. They have managed to find resolution and peace – as will readers of this outstanding collection.” Rachel Kelly.



Body, Remember

Body, remember that night you pretended
it was a film, you had a soundtrack running
through your head, don’t lie to me body,
you know what it is.  You’re keeping it from me,
the stretched white sheets of a bed,
the spinning round of it, the high whining sound
in the head.  Body, you remember how it felt,
surely, surely.  You’re lying to me.  Show me
how to recognise the glint in the eye of the dog,
the rabid dog.  Remind me, O body, of the way
he moved when he drank, that dangerous silence.
Let me feel how I let my eyes drop, birds falling
from a sky, how my heart was a field, and there
was a dog, loose in the field, it was worrying
the sheep, they were running and then
they were still.  O body, let me remember
what it was to have a field in my chest,
O body, let me recognise the dog.

Kim Moore

(previously published in The Art of Falling, Seren, 2017)


Now, When I Think About Women

I think about Aziz Ansari’s Netflix special
where he asked the ladies in the crowd
how many had been followed—not cat-called—
actually followed down the street
by a man, many blocks, and how nearly
half of Madison Square Garden raised
their hands. I was home raising my hand,
thinking of moments in multiple cities,
how it was suddenly time to be scared.
Now, when I think about women,
I think about educated men who ask
if we secretly love being hollered at.
Don’t you kind of enjoy the attention?
Isn’t it flattering? It is 2017 and my best
friend says: a man in a car pulled up
beside me as I was bicycling, he was
jerking off to me, at me, I froze,
had to force myself to start pedaling
away. Last October, I consoled
my most enthusiastic canvassers: girls
who were chased and assaulted while
trying to get out the vote for the first
female president. Now, when
I think about women, I think about violence
and the threat of violence, how it’s like
an alarm inside going from zero to blaring.
The week I moved to New York
a girl my age went for a run.
People said it was her fault for dressing
that way, for taking that path. The article
said there was evidence of a struggle:
that before she died she bit her attacker
so hard her teeth cracked.

Emily Sernaker

(previously published on Poets Respond, 22 October, 2017)


My Fault

Consider my fault. It starts here,
on my temple so slim it could be a strand
of stray hair. Up close, at kissing distance,
it’s bolder, a slip of charcoal eyeliner.

When I find it in the mirror, it moves,
the creeping leg of a spider, a crack
across a plate left in the oven too long.
It parts a fraction like the lips of someone

sleeping, breathing in an unfamiliar bed
and when I think of that, it widens,
crescent-shaped, smile of a moon
above the house they’d say I shouldn’t

have been in, rim of the glass I shouldn’t
have touched. It turns into a zip, slit
of a pencil skirt and I can feel my body
opening, a fault-line in the ground

and everything – his hands and books,
the quartered bread, the wine, the room
I don’t remember entering – loosed
and falling into me. I turn

into a road that always takes me back
to the same place: pit town, midnight,
frost across the playing fields
as I go silent underneath

the broken roundabout, zig-zag
below pavements, terraces, the winding wheel
crossed with a thin seam of light and no-one
can touch me, not for centuries.

Helen Mort



in the room/ in the street/ on the stair/ where some men make free
in plain sight or in secret as if we were sweetmeat/to dip
fingers in and then forget – it is the being alone
afterwards that numbs and maims, utterly
alone in the silence of it/where shame creeps in/
stuns dead/but now we rise, all women
fondled and hurt and licked in acid jokery and in hate,
pets, sweethearts, loves, darlings, humourless bitches
we stand together, each one a Spartaca
no longer silent or alone: each voice stronger,
massing, alive, a wild murmuration
of me too/me too/me too

Spartacus was a rebel slave hunted down by the Romans to be crucified.
Asked to identify himself by soldiers, everyone in the crowd around him
stepped forward and said ‘I am Spartacus’.

Pippa Little


The #MeToo anthology is available to buy from the Fair Acre Press website. All profits go to Women’s Aid. A full list of events to showcase work from the anthology is also available on the Fair Acre Press website.