May 9 17

Teesside University


In Late April I visited 2 masterclass groups of women in Middlesbrough. I had specified to my host Teesside University that I was interested in connecting with working class women of the North East – especially as that is the demographic largely held responsible for the Brexit vote, according to the British media defined consciousness.

Thanks to the curation and sensitivity of the Senior Lecturers in the MA Creative Writing course Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie – both astounding poets themselves and committed to positive world change – I found myself standing in front of 2 packed masterclass groups. It was inspiring and encouraging to see so many women turn out for the sessions, both during the day and the evening. Some of the women has come from the MA course itself, others were graduates, and still more had been invited from the local community.

I came to Middlesbrough as it feels very much like it is a town on the front line of the battle to understand the idea of British identity. There is a predominant white working class community but there is also a strong BAME community, some of whom have come to to the North East for refuge from global war and political conflict. Many of the shops and pubs are closed and shuttered along the main road from the station to town, and Andy points out the dereliction of the steel industry – a broken shadow on the hill overlooking the town. The salamander has been put out. Middlesbrough seems the perfect place to work out where we are all going next.

For these masterclasses I wanted to explore the new form that I have been trying to develop and refine. I think of it as ‘investigative poetry’, a fusion of investigative reporting, poetry and photo journalism. It the way I have been trying to approach complex issues effecting women worldwide – how do I tell the story of a woman in in Sinjar without appropriating that story. Remember, whatever the writer writes, she writes herself first – and I am a white working class heritage woman from the North of England. Using this form, I am trying to tell the stories of women thousands of miles away from me geographically and socially, whilst not owning that story. As I have said elsewhere on this blog, the masterclasses are about empowering women to tell their own stories, and that has to be a fundamental driving factor of the project.

Below are some examples of the extraordinary writing these women produced, along with in some cases the photograph that inspired the poem. All copyright is retained by the individual poets, and if you wish to send a message to any of them you can do so via here.


Black Friday Sale Peeps!
Log into eBay and Amazon
and browse through
blondes and brunettes
We got Whites, Blacks,
Turks, Iraqis and Pakis
We’ll even do two for one
on the used fannies
Bigger boobs are
bigger bucks
It’s a bargain!
When after one day delivery
your cock throbbing hard
you lift the veil and
look into your Mother’s eyes.
Does it turn you on
when she begs and cries?
Tears replacing the colour of her skin
dripping like cum out of the corner
of a whore’s mouth
Bow to your God
as your deep in her clunge
surely rape’s reward
is 72 more with their legs spread
on heaven’s bed,
a bed made of dismembered bones –
and to keep you warm
a duvet stitched out of your victim’s flesh
made for men like you
a picturesque afterlife for the man
who’s wrath spared none
not even his nine year old wife.

Sara Zafar


Caroline Harvey

If you didn’t come home, then what would I do?

Would I hold your picture aloft?

And if so, which one? The one of you drunk

And showing your arse

looking for owls?

That one we deleted but it stayed on Googler pics forever,

And our mam seen it on the bog telly?


And if you gave me a rose, to hold

with your image

Would I say, that twat never bought me one when he was alive?

He bought me trays of eggs on a Friday

And steak off his mate’s mate

Never flowers

And never a rose.


And would I march with strangers

With you in a frame, cos you know

I never go out without a face full of slap

And I never get my photo taken

Well, I’ll do it if I’m forced

But I won’t add them to my timeline.


Too right I’d march.

To the ends of this earth

If anyone hurt a non-existent hair on your head

Like when the lads were little, and

They called me The Tigress

Too right I’d march, with my rose

And your photo in a frame

(but not the one with the owls)


Lottie Coley

Powerful words vs words of power.


Use your words. Find your tongue. The greatest weapon we


as people, as beings,




is the ability to converse. Verbally express. Say what you mean; mean what you say


Express opinion; receive others’ and understand values of exchanging language, words cost nothing but


the cost of not using them, or using them incorrectly,


destroys countries;


brings nations to their knees. Read. Read facts! Request truth! Search for truth. Don’t by-stand and agree with that which


you don’t know.


Be strong with your tongue. Wave it only when the sentiment is true and valued


but wave it.


Bandwagons will ultimately lead you in the wrong direction. Don’t jump on it whilst the horse is bolting


and remember!


The gift horse that offers you a run of freedom and free-reign will undoubtedly bite you.


In the ass.


Find the facts and pick your chancer on the odds that are good. Not those that seem too good to be true. Aesop –


he knows it.


Read. Widely. Ask questions. Read further!


Not just the music sheets that are presented to the entire orchestra of dumbfucks, don’t read the scribbles and take it as gospel. Honest to God


it destroys us.


In a world full of social strength and forums for voice and harmony we


should be


wiser. Make yourself wiser.


Want to be wiser.


Choose knowledge and pass it on. Trainspotters got it right, they choose life.


This! This is our life!


Our future.


Don’t transfer wasted words. Hateful words.


Encounter others. Explore cultures. Share experiences. Use your words.


The ears they reach


will listen.


Make sure your words are worth the value they ultimately offer.


Welcome the worlds of other beings. Welcome the words


of other beings. Even if you don’t agree.


Their voice


is of the same value as yours


Listen. Hear how we love. Hear how we live. How we forgive. The twisted abstract ends of hurtful spite lead to nowhere but bitterness.


Encourage a nation of acceptance, don’t spit your tongue at your neighbour, never refuse, through ignorance, words of value. Accept kindness; offer kindness.


Powerful voices voicing only power


guide us to division;


let us unite with courage and literal strength and values, spread social acceptance. Excitement


of a better world.


Inclusion of all, with no exception, expectation of solidarity, as professed by tittle-tattle,


divides us,


journalists with a dirty soapbox create propaganda, and 52 percent


were washed with it. A nation divided, the truth still out there hovering on the lips of ‘our’ leaders, holding hands and dancing with bigots, she calls


the rain.


The rain dance drumming.


The storms are coming.


Shelter this nation with unity. Find your words. Use them. Say them with confidence, shout them loud and filled with knowledge


and we


we will build a wall. A wall of books of knowledge of wisdom of kindness of acceptance of changed history around the world. A wall of inclusion.


Encompassing all.


We will be the voice of power. With reason and intelligence, and




we will be a powerful voice.


Anonymous (please get in touch if you want your name added here)

You didn’t just take my innocence

You took the innocent relationship between a mother and a child

As I change his nappy and wonder

At what point is it wrong?


Well. Its not wrong

Not at any point

Its just that my mind is skewed

From the platitudes that a person tells themselves

When they take another person’s innocence away.


You didn’t just take my virginity

You took the ability to give all of me to a partner

Who deserves the ability to love some-one who doesn’t have flash-backs

of their very own nightmare


When giving yourself feels right

When the connection between you is one

That transcends the bad that you have carved on my skin

And replaces it with a possibility

A possibility that you can be alright


But you can’t be alright

There is no alright

When alright means something that requires a meeting of minds

But how can you meet a mind that has the skitter of your hands

Across its landscape?


How do you tread the water that is your

Conscious mind, trying to blot out the past

Storing things for later

For when you least expect it


Like when you are consumed with passion

And the shame of remembrance returns

You to the fetal position of the womb

Where you were safe,

And all was simple.


For how do you throw the grenade into your family life

How do you ruin the people that you have tried so hard to protect

When protecting yourself has become impossible

And the noose is tightening around your neck

With each… day… that … passes?

Serena Rana Rahman


these girls were already born with bullets in their blood,

before they knew the taste of bread,

or their lips had touched their father’s cheek –

life had either dealt them a rifle against their chest

or a song of freedom fading from their lips –

as they ride into the morning light,

with a headlight of hope

blinking intermittently,

she turns to her sister,

her heavy eyes fighting the darkness that

hangs over their bodies

like the dirt beneath their fingernails,

the dirt of their homeland

now riddled by bombs,

their sick and wounded world

that was gifted with craters from the sky

now pooled with water where

midnight cats

come to drink with

wide terrified eyes.