How to be a feminist poet

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1. Be a feminist
2. Write a poem

Not as simple as that
There is a third secret step
3. Use your poem to advocate for women’s rights

and a fourth
4. Advocate often

if advocating means activism
if activism means being active
if advocating often means
being active often
I am not a feminist poet
I cannot advocate, I cannot often

My hands are too full of pushrims
and cane handles to carry this cap

I am, likewise,
ineligible for membership
of the dead poets society
ladies auxiliary division

I’m not dead yet

I will, I know,
die before my time
a reduction of 5 to 10 years
I’ve been promised

(A small loss according to the NHS)
My early death alone
is insufficient
to expedite my application

I am not letting this go
I can’t afford the luxury of activism
of advocating
when I can only go out twice a week
and then I have to spend the next day in bed
when a venue listed as wheelchair accessible
has no disabled toilet

I’m not letting this go
not when my last relapse left me unable to write more than one hundred & forty characters in
one go
for months on end

I am not letting this go
I am a feminist
I am a poet
I’m holding a card
Do you need me to show it.

Author’s Notes
1. I wrote ‘How to be a feminist poet’ in response to the criteria for inclusion in a journal issue featuring feminist poets.

2. The poem appears in the online journal Forage.

Copyright © 2017 Lindsay Oliver


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theoretical disorientation: a letter to my uncle

   To: Dr Carl R Rogers
       1150 Silverado St.
       Suite #217
       La Jolla, CA. 92037

Dear Uncle Carl,

I have a few questions for you, if you would be so kind, if you wouldn’t mind, if
you’ve got the time

If my configurations of self all got together could they beat my internal objects
at cricket or ping pong?

Who would come out on top in a pro-wrestling match, my true self or my false

Would my internal objects recognise my configurations of self in a mirror
crafted by Winnocott, held up by Fairbairn and Klein?

If Winnicott drew a picture of Bion would Mearnes and Thorne see the ineffable
O in his eyes or would they be too busy looking for seashells and existential
touchstones to notice?

What does it feel like to actualize, does it tickle, does it hurt?
Are potatoes blind like Oedipus despite having eyes?

Oh and that reminds me, if you see Uncle Sigi, if you come across him over a
hand of bridge, or while drinking a whiskey sour or a small glass of schnapps,
could you ask him for me please

What are fathers for?
But whatever you do, Don’t ask Oedipus, he knows

And while you’re at it, ask him, ask Uncle Sigi: Why pick on Oedipus?
Why not Pelops? Now there’s a man with father issues

And you, Uncle Carl, what’s your view from Mount Olympus, can you empathise
with Oedipus’s bloody lust, maintain unconditional positive regard for Tantalus,
who hacked his boy to pieces and served him up as stew, stay congruent in the
face of Oenomaus who when faced with his dear daughter’s 18 suitors replied
with 18 beheadings?

Why are you so silent on the subjects of childhood and sex, when my other
uncle has so much to say?

Is nameless dread the same thing as primitive agony?
Containment the same as holding?
Is Klein’s view of the pre-verbal child more accurate than Freud’s?

Who knows, who cares, how can this help me as I sit opposite a fortress of fear?
And yet it comes to me sometimes, in the quiets of the night, in shreds and

Sometimes I listen in a language not my own and hear not just the words, the
sore distress, but the naked truth behind your grand theoretical edifices

I can hear you now and then, the beauty and the pain of your language that
speaks of unarticulatable truths

Oh and if you do see Uncle Sigismund please ask after Carl Gustoff, I know
they had a bit of a set-to, but he was always kind to me and I’ve missed him
these past three years

Yours affectionately as always, etc, etc

Author’s Notes
1. I wrote ‘Confusion’ as part of my final presentation in the Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling at The University of Edinburgh.

2. The poem appears in the Toxic Masculinity issue of Thank You for Swallowing (Volume 2: Issue 4).

Copyright © 2017 Lindsay Oliver

The Devil Slakes His Thirst

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The devil dons his mask
and casts our children from the land
with promises purloined
from the nightmares of the dead

The devil sheds his skin
walks the dark sequestered streets
as we worship and adore
his glory all unbound

The devil stakes his claim
to pitch his shadow on the sea
while we collect his rent
from the safety of the shore

The devil takes his due
with an unforgiving hand
more practised than restrained
and lays his burden down

Author’s Notes
1. I wrote ‘The Devil Slakes His Thirst’ after my daughter returned from the refugee camp ‘The Jungle’ near Calais.

2. The poem appears in Reuben Woolley’s online magazine ‘i am not a silent poet’ here.

Copyright © 2017 Lindsay Oliver

Not My Child

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Not my child
Laying limp in the sand
Face down in the sea

Not my child
Huddled unbreathing
In a cargo container

Not my child
Stranded alone
Dead on a beach

Not my child
The curl of his fingers
The curve of his cheek

Not my child
Hair soft as thistledown
On the nape of his neck

Author’s Notes
1. I wrote ‘Not My Child’ in response to the growing number of children dying in Europe as they and their families try to reach safety as they flee from violence in their home countries.

2. The poem won second place in the Universal Human Rights Student Network’s human rights poetry contest. The theme of the contest was ‘Refugees and the message to Europe’. The short-listed poems can be found here.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

Lines written in appreciation of Lord David Anthony Freud, Baron of Eastry

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Ma breeks are bauchled.
Ma sheen are shauchled.
Ah've no food ava in ma hoose ti eat.

Ma jumper's aa jimpit.
Ma skirt's aa skimpit.
Wi'oot ony foodbanks fit wid Ah eat?

Ah hivnae ony milk.
Ah hivnae ony silk.
Ah'll hiv till sell masel for a few bob a week.

No like yon manny.
He's gye canny,
aa riggit oot in his futtret skin collar.

It's a fair scunner.
He gets three hunner
a day, doupin doon on his bumbelerie.

Wi his muckle mansion,
an his gowd-plaitit pinsion,
he's weel-foggit in his reed wul rocklie.

He's gypit gabbit.
He's steekit heidit.
He nochtifeed me as a onwirthy sloonge.

Ah'll jist hiv till thole it,
fir aa that they stole it;
wir health, an wir wealth, an wir human rights.

Fir fit can Ah dee,
a wee wifie sic as me,
ti tak on the pooers oh they pairliminters?

But Ah cannae thole it.
They shouldnae hiv stole it,
aa fir ti rook us fir a yankee dollar.

Fa amang ye is wi me?
Fa amang ye will gi me
the feushon an the fettle ti hud them til accoont?

Wi thir trade negotiations,
geing global corporations
the richt ti reive awa' wir democratic rights.

An sue us een an aa,
jist fir mackin wir ane law
til ban frackin, pit up wages, or onything we like.

Author’s Notes
1. ‘Lines to Lord Freud’ appears in Lallans 87, the journal o the Scots airts an letters Yuil 2015 edition.

2. I wrote this poem in response to Lord Freud’s remarks that certain people with disabilities are worth less than the minimum wage.

3. An English translation can be found here.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

Wake up, my son

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A father, his pain, a dead child in his arms
A face, then a blank empty space at the back
Blood on that face then a hollow concave lack

A shroud, a coffin, a blood-soaked embrace
an ill-suited end for a four-year-old boy
His father's own darling, his mother's own joy

His father he tells him, I've brought you a toy
Open your eyes, smile for me, lift up your head
We'll play as we did, how can you be dead?

You're too small for the box, too young for the shroud
I thought you'd recover, I'd watch you grow strong
Wake up for me now, can't you see this is wrong?

I don't know what say, where to look, how to act
Occupation, bombardment, rockets, airstrike
Retaliation, I don't know what that's like

Then I see little Sahir alone in the ground
The scene shifts into focus I know what to say
Stop killing the children in Gaza today

Author’s Notes
1. ‘Wake up, my son’ was written for Sahir Abu Namous, who died aged four, during an airstrike on Gaza in July 2014.

2. A recording of the poem appears on the Leith Walk Rhymer’s youtube channel.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

Mourning Colours

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Why stop the clocks?
When time itself stands dead.
Far better halt the fallow lie
of sunlight. Cull all green.
Staunch the bright pulsing flow of red.

Why baffle the dog
with a juicy bone to stay his bark?
Muzzle instead the boundless sky
whose blues can not compass
this loss that hungers for the dark.

Why muffle the drum? 
Mute you now the too bright brass,
that holds him from me and sears my grief
in burnished oak.
Unpall my boy, lay him on the grass.

Why favour doves' 
white necks with the privacy of crepe?
Hang my heart with shades of black relief.
Wreath my eyes, blind their din
Noose black bows round my frigid nape.

Why give comfort
to another's hand? Grant my grasp
black cotton gloves to hide from sight,
my unrequited fists
forever wanting his returning clasp.

Why allot love
to span of time, love knows no lack                   
no stop, no start, no fix, no fault, no blight
Love finds no rest, no end.
Unshroud him now. I want him back.

Author’s Notes
1. ‘Mourning Colours’ is inspired by W.H. Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues.’ A recording of the poem appears on the Leith Walk Rhymer’s youtube channel.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

Mr. Kurtzke’s Scale

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Zero: how does it feel to be a zero? You see I forgot. 
I knew it once, but time marches on, and I do not.
One, two, three, four, five, I skipped them all 
and landed hard on five point five, not my first or only fall.

Six, six was hard, unforgiving. The purchase of my cane
kept me upright, steady, and brought me a new and lasting pain.
Six point five a slow slide from six, hardly noticed until my shopping bag
included crutches and with each step my left foot began to drag.

Six point five to eight point five was but a weekend's work, numb from tits to toe.
There's no fighting it, I cannot win my daily battle with this foe
that brought me 8 months of bed-rest, personal care and humiliation.
Time to contemplate ten, the end, our final destination

on this scale designed to measure the depth of our despair,
of damage wrought, of functions lost and lost beyond repair.
But what of joy, determination, of a life well lived, in the face
of such overwhelming odds? On your scale they have no place. 

Now by some neurological fluke I'm back at six point five again
and urged by fate I sit and contemplate the meaning of that ten,
that last mark, that final place where all hearts beat no more. 
I wonder when I come to ten, will I see a dim and distant shore?

I find I cannot focus, or keep my mind upon that final mark, that final
beat, it veers to seraphim, cherubim, archangels, Gabriel, Raphael, Micheal, Uriel
I cannot imagine what it is not to be, to not see my grandson grow old,
to never know the day's must-have gadget, for my story to be all told.

We who are marked by death (eight point five on a scale from nought to ten) 
are encouraged to make our plans: living wills, nil by mouth, for when 
we find ourselves sliding from nine (helpless bed patient), down feeding tubes, past
ventilators to that point of no return to which we all must come at last

But I do not, I refuse, decline, plan instead to wing it, take it day by day,
live in the moment, two fingers up to death, not let it hold sway
until I'm done, not accept death as my orderly ordained carefully planned lot.
To some it looks like dying, to me it's living since it's all I've got

Author's Notes
1. I wrote this poem in response to a scale designed by a man called John Kurtzke, to measure the degree of disability due to multiple sclerosis. The scale starts with zero: a normal neurological exam and ends with ten: death.

2. ‘Mr Kurtzke's Scale’ will appear in the anthology MS: My Story. A recording of the poem appears on the Leith Walk Rhymer’s youtube channel.

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

I Won’t Stand For This

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I will not stand

I will not stand before you
I do not stand
I am bound to this chair, by the unseen wires
of pain, weak muscles, and spasms

I will not recite

I will not stand before you and recite
I do not recite
My memory is too full of  blanks, 
my brain too full of holes

I will not be loud

I will not stand before you and loudly recite
You can be loud, 
You can be proud, 
You can stand and rant, 
loudly proclaim, declaim, gesticulate
I'd just fall over, drop my sticks, forget my words

I will not wear tweed

I will not stand before you and loudly recite, whilst wearing tweed
I quite like tweed, the smell, the feel
I never wear it though, 
It's never easy-on, easy-off, easy-wash, quick-dry
It doesn't meet my needs
It doesn't suit the needs of the temperamentally incontinent

And neither does your slam, 
your daises, your podiums, 
your two steps up and your two steps down,
your loud insistence on the spoken 
on the best way to be a poet

So I'll sit and not stand
I'll read, not recite
and I'll not be loud

Author's Notes
1. 'I Won't Stand For This' will appear in the anthology MS: My Story

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver

This Scar

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This scar is not of the physical kind.
Neither can it heal, nor can it bind.

This scar is not of the concrete clan.
It will not conform to a viable plan.

This scar has no particular odour or taste.
It's not in the blood or foul body waste.

This scar sanctifies darkness, nullifies light,
exhumes shadows, discharges night.

This scar holds a secret in an outstretched hand,
sculpted of mud, branded by rain, and etched in sand.

This scar was lit by a slow burning fuse.
It will bend you, break you, force you to choose.

This scar feeds on rumours of indelible pain,
sets off depth charges of a submersible stain.

This scar is not of the visible breed,
It is not in a book that no one will read.

It does not reside in the words on the page.
This scar is a silent, simmering rage.

Author's Notes
1. 'This Scar' appeared in Poetry 24 an online poetry journal focused on poetry and current affairs (found here) and will appear in the anthology MS: My Story

Copyright © 2015 Lindsay Oliver