Milk and (maybe too much) Honey

My eye was caught yesterday by an article in The Bookseller about poet Rebecca Watts’ scathing attack on a particular type of poetry from young British female poets, which is selling by the container-load. I recognized one of the culprits—Rupi Kaur—as the author of the volume of poetry one of my daughters gave me at Christmas. I had flipped through it and quietly put it down thinking, nope. The poems are the kind of thing you find on twitter, a thought, that may or may not have the merit of being spoken aloud,



like this

in a

column with no punctuation



a poem


The thoughts are often trite and unoriginal, and for me, unmemorable. I don’t find any of the beauty of language that I associate with poetry, and though some of the images are good, they just sit there on their own in the middle of a sea of white page and don’t add up to anything more. Not my cup of tea at all, and I don’t know why people want to read it, let alone pay money for it, but they do.

That is probably the point. I appreciate that Rebecca Watts finds this kind of stuff too easy (read facile) and accessible to have any real merit. There’s no evidence of much sweat or effort gone into the creation of some of these poems that read like the captions to those photo-shopped pics posted on FB and Tumblr etc. But then, there isn’t much evidence of Damien Hirst’s technical skill with a pencil in his sheep floating in formaldehyde either. People ‘who know’ tell me it’s art and other people with the money to do something more useful with it spend a fortune acquiring similar objects.

I have also read a lot of poetry that Rebecca Watts is possibly happier about, the more intellectually navel-gazing, depressing sort of poetry that doesn’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t the poet or doesn’t suffer from the same mental disorder. This obscure and highly personal stuff, sometimes with a fancy shape or font or layout doesn’t do it for me either. The big difference is in the spondoolies. Modern, easy, slam type poems of the romantic caption, short attention span-style, make big bucks.

I don’t think it makes much sense to criticise this kind of poetry for not being deep, or literary, clever or lyrical, or for being too ‘accessible’, dumbed down. I get annoyed (well, incandescent sometimes) about the manuscripts that agents and editors choose over my own beautiful prose. Many of them are badly written, clichéd, often with ludicrous plots and awful characters. But that’s what the punters, enough of them anyway want. However galling I find it, editors and agents are not charitable institutions; they have a perfectly valid point in turning down books that might be beautifully crafted but won’t sell. A poet can write and sometimes even publish whatever s/he wants to, but s/he does not have the right to dictate how book buyers spend their money.

We could go through the entire collection of “Milk and Honey” (it doesn’t take long) and criticise each poem on its poetic worth, or we could simply look on the whole movement as a phenomenon that makes a lot of money for a few poets. Whether it is on poetic merit or because there is something reassuringly familiar in the words, these collections of thoughts have become the equivalent of the Gospels for a generation of young women. I hear you, Rebecca Watts; I’m jealous too.


Can of dreams

My response to Jennifer Knoblock’s poem in response to the MoonArk article. Link to the article on Jennifer’s page.


A can of dreams washed up in pale, dry dust,

Among motionless shreds of unshed moonlight,

Filled with tiny drops of blood and words,

Images and oh so dearly crafted outpourings.

Who will leave their prints to over-pattern,

Obliterate the spider prints of wordy, worthy poets,

The colour-collaged dapplings of artistic souls?

The slender, sophisticated fingers of our hopes,

Gentle and wise, our saviours from the great beyond?

Or the coarse paw of some cosmic Hun,

Standing triumphant on the useless, sacred moon rock,

Gazing upon our tender, teeming, rudderless blue,

And crushing our flimsy can of dreams,

In an all too familiar barbaric fist?

Flash fiction: Lipstick

This piece of flash fiction was prompted by Sacha Black’s writing challenge. If red lipstick is your thing, why not enter a story?

NATO - International Security Assistance Force

Esma slid the lipstick up her sleeve. There were no security tags on little things like that, and it was only a cheap one anyway. She cast a furtive glance around. The security guard was busy searching for bombs in backpacks. The girls around the makeup stand with their gentle pushing and jostling, laughing and joking covered the awkward movement as she wriggled the lipstick safely up past her elbow. The in-store music covered the pounding of her heart. Settling her headscarf straight and tucking the ends tighter beneath her jacket, she pushed out of the shop as swiftly as she dared.

The pedestrian street outside was full of Saturday shoppers. Esma melted into the crowd, only letting out her breath when she was certain the security guard was not going to shout after her to stop. The illicit chunk of plastic bored into her flesh with each step she took towards the bus stop.

Even seated at the back of the bus, Esma remained rigid with anxiety. As if there were security cameras on buses! Only in the silence of the room she shared with her two younger sisters did she dare shake the lipstick out of her sleeve, stroke the shiny case, slip the smooth, blood red lipstick out to admire the lusciousness of its colour, its unctuous taste and texture.


She shivered and touched it with the tip of her tongue. So many things were forbidden. The taste shot through her, a bolt of pleasure. The familiar pervading household smells of coriander and harissa evaporated, and her nostrils flared as she breathed in the cosmetic’s faint perfume. Red lipstick encapsulated all that was bright and exciting in the world outside. A world she was not allowed to enter.

The sound of the front door opening startled her, and she fumbled with the drawer, her drawer in the shared wardrobe, and pushed the glittering, fabulous object beneath a carefully folded pile of scarves and gloves.


Two days later, as she turned into her street coming back from school, a small figure leapt out of the entrance to her apartment block and ran towards her. Farida. Her face was pale, lips pinched, and her eyes stared, wide and fearful.

Esma knew. Her little sister didn’t need to tell her.

“Ommy found it. Abu is… wild.”

Esma stared into the distance, not seeing the apartment blocks, the paper blowing in the gutter, the grimy, anonymous cars that flicked past. Already the street belonged to the past. She smiled and hugged her sister, held her close for a moment. Then she turned and headed back to school. Someone among the advisors and social workers would know of a place where she could stay.