When the tears dried up

Sitting on the fourth step,
Facing the front door
Sobbing because her teenage daughter
Cursed and slammed the door

Tears trickling down her cheeks
When not invited out with friends
Crying over spilt milk
Dad’s shaved head
Split ends.

Wailing with frustration
Fretting over dinner
Blubbing at Coronation Street
Enjoying the release it would bring her

Roaring at injustice
Weeping down the phone
Puffy eyed when others died
The tears would flow and flow

Then when her own death drew near
I looked for water in her eyes
Instead I was met with something else
A new gaze had materialised

Her hazel grey eyes blazed with intensity
They met mine with resign
A new sorrow shared with me
Regret and love combined

And I longed for her to cry with me
But I think I was missing the point
The tears dried up when there was nothing to resolve
Her heart stopping with a jolt.








The diagnosis easy
Symptoms easily defined
Attaching swathes of energy to those
Who don’t care what they do to your mind.

The artist who didn’t want to settle for her
The one who made love in hollow thrusts
The desire he churned up felt insurmountable
His kisses devoid of trust.

The ex who’d fallen for somebody else
But still wanted a thrill in his life
Turning up out of the blue to listen to all
And then plunging in with the knife.

The fifty year-old who wanted their ego stroked
Sending outlandish texts on a whim.
He claimed he’d give her the most incredible ride
Why didn’t she see through him.

Diagnosis easy.
Symptoms easily defined.

The cure you ask?
Well cold turkey my friend.
Just make sure you devour the rind.

February poetry found

January was the start of my poetry reading journey. As you can read via my last entry it was glorious.

February saw the end of my chemotherapy and the start of life getting busier in my work and social life. This led me to become a passive recipient of poetry rather than an active seeker. Each day I would discover new writing and words as they crossed my path – via Twitter, from Facebook friends, via my daily commute on the underground and at the London Museum. Poetry, once you open your eyes to see it, really is everywhere.

However, this does mean the quality is more hit and miss than if I was choosing each day. Even if I pick a random page from an anthology, for the most part I already know the anthology itself is high quality works from the particular poet I’ve chosen – whereas a random poem from Benjamin Zephaniah in an exhibition? Surprisingly enough may not be representative of his poetic potential. Benjamin

So what were my highlights?

I don’t know if this is subconscious or just a sign of what the people around me are enjoying most right now – but most of the poems I enjoyed in February are written by women. From Grace Nichol’s ‘Like a Beacon’ to a host of videos from the wonderful Hollie McNish. A stunningly current young woman who sits in the same pocket in my poetry head as Kate Tempest, but coming with the vibrant perspective of a young parent. Anyone’s Anyone, anyone?

The poetry that slipped into my space in February also served to highlight the importance of poetry for public awareness. George The Poet’s World Cancer Day offering gave me a new found respect for his material. Time To Change’s Time To Talk Day about mental health also surfaced brilliant work from a young man talking about suicide. Don’t despair Brethren is a poem about letting go of the past to forge a new positive path – this obviously appeals to the coach in me.

So February was a good month for discovery. But I need to up my game in March. I’m falling off the poetry wagon, and it’s messing with my heart.

January in poems

If you follow me on Twitter (@nellsberry) you might have spotted that I’ve set myself the challenge of reading at least one poem a day throughout 2016. You can follow  #poetrychallenge2016 for day-to-day insights into what I’m reading and why. Credit where credit’s due – last year I tried to write a poem every day. I got as far as April. A poet in a Hackney cafe said that it might be more interesting to try and read more. He was right!

January started with some deeper appreciation for poetry books that have graced my shelves for a fair while. Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees was bought for me as a gift by Patrick Daniels when he left the charity I work for end of 2012. He once noted the importance of true passions – noting that one of mine was probably poetry. He is of course a very insightful man.


Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own was a Christmas present from ‘The Angel’ a couple of years ago. A family friend, Helen Anastasi, I’ve known since I was a toddler. The woman I imagined saving me from my nightmares aged four. Another very insightful person.

Beyond the poems available to me within arms reach, I started to take more notice of the poetry filling my twitter feed, as well as recommendations from people who have taken an interest in my challenge. My partner Leejay has started to send me links and inspiration  and has encouraged me to venture back in time to old classics.

I also put out a request for poets to send me their wares – I’m happy to pay for poems, but Richard Tyron Jones offered to send me some anthologies for a donation to charity. This was excellent news – so he sent me two books Big Heart and The Germline. I’ve since donated to Living Streets. I’ve yet to get my teeth into Big heart, but have really enjoyed The Germline so far. To say it’s unsettling would be an understatement. I’ve always been drawn to comic poetry since my earliest days of poetry appreciation and so to receive a collection as dry as this – which dares to go to places others wouldn’t, massively appeals to me. I’m also in the position of understanding genetics in relation to my own health – a key theme in this anthology.


A friend of mine (another fellow poet funnily enough) has been in the Philippines since the end of 2015 and has sent me a couple of updates about his trip. He admitted he’d had some low days with a funny tummy, to which I simply quoted a line from a Germline poem called ‘Advice you never asked for’:

Youth glimmers in the dark because memory is a dirt-filter, it pans for gold in toilets of the past

I’ll take this broad brush approach to sourcing poems as we enter February, and there will always be something unique to each month. In January, the death of David Bowie, heavy snow earlier in the month, my attendance at an Aspire Foundation workshop and receiving Tupac’s The rose that grew from concrete  for my birthday – all contributed to my reading sources. I’m intrigued to see what prompts will show up over the coming months.

Thanks for reading if you’ve got this far – and do stay a little longer to read my poetic summary of the month below… Love Helen xx


Poetic January

That feeling of infinite possibility
For the year ahead?
When the start of January
Tastes and smells of Chemotherapy
Couldn’t be anything but a memory.

Until I saw the world
Through a filter of poetry.

And it’s now I realise that either side of
Each doctor’s appointment, day lost through chemical fog,
Prolonged visit to the bathroom
Inability to go for a jog
Either side of of these fucked up days…

There are events, people and stories
In a tangle of words ready to be devoured each day
That will forge a new way of experiencing this year
This life I was dealt but can still create.





Fairytale castleThere was
Comfort in a fairytale land
Good prevailed
Anyone could become a princess.
Not the stories chosen for me
by the adults who mattered
parents, teachers
Nursery staff
The books they chose
Had real messages
Big splashes of reality
Blended in imaginative tales
But still
The fairytale anthology
Gripped me
Sucked me in to the happy ever after.