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.

Napowrimo day 8 – daring to rewrite… the famous W H Auden

Australian gardenofhopeI get the feeling that W H Auden might be turning in his grave. Or, maybe he’d forgive me for learning using his work. Who knows.

The loss of maternal protection

Make it all stop, send the internet down
Keep the dog from howling, pet the cuddly clown.
Silence the radio and arrange the lilys right,
Bring out the coffin don’t let the kiddies fight.

The porch holds the flowers, brings attention to this day
Neighbours pay respects in their own private way
The men wear their best and polish up their shoes
The women a splash of colour as she always beat the blues

His mum, my friend, her mum, your aunt
Our days off sick your birthday charm
Holidays away and nights we had at home
Your¬†love a constant¬†shelter: now I’m alone.

Give up the fight now, surrender everyone
Let your ambition slide and admit that your done
Pour away your hopes and flush your dreams away
For meaning can’t be found in the cold light of today.

Funeral blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good. By W H Auden

Napowrimo day 7 – Poem about love.

You take a while to warm up.

I try not to hold it against you, but sometimes I feel dejected.

But my mum, she sought you out, and her opinion always counts.

I need you too.

I’ve tried nights without you, but I don’t feel safe.

And when you warm up, I know you’ll comfort me well.

I’ll be enveloped in your softness.

And my friends will comment on how good you look.

And I’ll sleep soundly.

And you’ll be filled with love.