Men suffer abuse and harassment at the hands of others. Either in same sex relationships, or from women. Men can be driven to feel the same sense of worthlessness a woman feels. Can be stripped of everything that makes him unique. What another person says, or does to him, time and time again, can ultimately destroy him. And this is hardly ever talked about.

Our society is destroying men. Even now, when the fight for equality and balanced thinking is at an apex – men as victims of abuse, domestic or otherwise, is still considered a taboo subject. I’m aware that there’s room for a deeper argument here. Perhaps the pressure men put on themselves to live up to what is expected of their gender, doesn’t help matters. But neither does society’s ignorance towards the root cause, and the ongoing problem.

And what happens afterwards too – when some men feel there’s simply no way out of their abusive situation, than to body-and-soul remove themselves from it? This scenario is met with even more deliberate blind-sightedness. Perhaps interpreted as fear. Either way, it isn’t taken seriously. Not by many people, not by many charities. And certainly not by the police. From my experience, a situation of this kind is brushed under the carpet as quickly as possible. Anyone directly involved, discharged within hours. And the broken families, simply left to pick up the pieces.

‘Imagine a virus we don’t fully understand. Imagine it is killing young men in record numbers. It kills three times as many British men as women, although nothing adequately explains why. The government confirms that while almost all other leading causes of death are being slowly eroded by medical and social progress, deaths caused by this virus are at their highest for decades. Yet the money we spend on researching and treating the problem stands at a fraction of what we spend on those other leading causes of death, as do charitable donations from the public.’ 

The above is taken from Sam Parker’s article ‘What can we do about Britain’s male suicide crisis’ published last year. In sharing this, I’m not at all saying that male suicides are always directly linked to domestic abuse and harassment. They certainly aren’t. But, there is an important link to be made. As with issues of men as victims of abuse, the vulnerable man is in focus. Or more pertinently, out of it. And for some reason, the legitimate presence of male vulnerability isn’t being talked about or properly addressed. Why? I have no idea. But this reaction seems pretty common and consistent, and from where I’m sitting, drives the stigma attached to the man who has been hurt, or who hurts inside, deeper into the foundations of our society.  As a result, this makes the issue very, very hard to address. Even for me. A woman, who fully and openly supports the #metoo campaign, can’t seem to get much interest on the importance of #mentoo, as an equally abominable and pressing situation. Not just a fucking footnote. If this is how it is for me, how hard do you think it is for the man who’s actually suffering? Do you think he’ll even suppose he might be taken seriously, or heard?

I sometimes think that if things had been the other way around for my dear brother, he would be behind bars right now. Matthew was the kindest man I know, and the most dignified and often, the quietest. He was the one pushed to the point of no return. And the person who did this to him, hasn’t had to answer to it once.

In two weeks I’ll be 30. I’m writing this post because, what I’d love, is for anyone here considering buying me a little something, to donate a sum of money in the name of the charity ManKind Initiative. They’re a small charity (no surprises there) providing emotional support and practical information for men who are abused and harassed in the home. Because yes, it happens. And yes, it’s a big problem as abuse and harassment towards women.

Today I say #nomore

Love, always.
Charity donations:
Other links: Why will no-one fund male domestic abuse chairites?


Since Unable Mother came into being, people have asked me what the book is about. In many ways I’ve avoided working out how to respond to any question like this, because ideally (like many writers) I’d like the writing to speak for itself. But after chatting with a dear friend in a coffee shop a few weeks ago, I can see it that it might be both useful and interesting, to offer a little insight – especially for those considering buying the book. And so for you (and also for me) here are some of my own thoughts on Unable Mother in a little more detail.

Unable Mother is essentially about the dual terror-beauty of motherhood. This is something maybe all moms (all parents) can relate to, but never in exactly the same way (I’ll come back to this later). My own complex and binary motherhood experience, revolved around the absolute denial of being pregnant in the first place. But in equal measure, the joy of knowing I was. Linked with this, was this desperate want for a child, coupled also with the fear of it being true. This was a major struggle for me during the first three-quarters of the pregnancy, and one of the most confusing and frustrating periods of my life.

I was entirely disconnected – from my body and from what was happening inside of it. The poem ‘Flesh’, probably apexes this sense of detachment. Here, I describe in the detail the moment of my daughter’s birth, but with no real resolve or follow through to meeting the child at the end. Really all the poem wants to do is focus its energy on how I experienced the moment. Or rather, how the disappointed part of myself –  thinks I experienced it:

‘You couldn’t accept the natural
give, the heavy

of your uterus.
Someone had to drug
every knot in your spine

so you could hide
beyond the yellow mask
of sleep;….’

Hiding ‘beyond the yellow mask of sleep’, was something I felt I’d always done. Unable to hear, or connect with the little person growing inside me. Little did I know, that somewhere deep down, I was hearing and connecting with her all the time. And this realisation comes out in other poems, of which there are maybe three or four. True and absolute love poems to Josephene.

Motherhood, is also as much a universal subject, as it is entirely unique. This is the second central detail I would perhaps give to the book. I get the feeling when we hear the word ‘motherhood’ we think ‘blanket term’. But it isn’t. Motherhood is like a box, and each box for each mother is very different.  This book is my own, very unique account of my journey into motherhood – but it’s also I feel, a symbol for this inherent uniqueness. This idea that each and every single motherhood journey is entirely its own, and almost incomparable to any other.

There’s also that theme of loss. Coupled with love of many kinds, and domestic disturbances. Losing the first baby, the ‘twin’, in unusual and confusing circumstances (strong links perhaps found here to the denial and detachment) is something I’ve delicately addressed in this book, with one poem in particular, ‘Dissolving’.

Too, have I attempted to intimately expose the terror-beauty of my personal relationships with men. One man in particular, who is very dear to me and always will be.

Unable Mother with friends


Final thought…

Jane Commane beautifully describes the poetry of Unable Mother as ‘ unfolding origami’. This is so true. In fact, I would say the whole collection reads like this – a deft, origami package. And while each poem has it’s own moment, really it needs to be read in full. And so my advice would be to let yourself be open to these un-foldings. Go with it, because things will fall into place in the end.  All the emotional urges I explore are separate – but urgently linked. And what I am really saying when I say ‘Unable Mother’, announces one single thing, and many others, all at once.

Here’s a lovely writing prompt for you all.

A few months ago I shared a writing exercise called Sex and Death. In honour of my Writing Motherhood workshop this weekend, I’ve adapted it to suit the theme, with Labour and Swimming.

First, here are the steps: 

  • Write as many words, phrases, or sentences you can think of to describe labour/the moment you gave birth. Be descriptive, real, pared back. Time yourself, 4 minutes
  • New sheet of paper – write as many words, phrases, sentences you can think of describe swimming. Time yourself again.
  • Take the labour page: shape and craft a poem about swimming using these words.
  • Take the swimming page: shape and craft a poem about labour, giving birth, using these words.

Because giving birth is such an intimate, unique experience feel free to really play with what’s in front of you. Edit as much or as little as you like, and use as much or as little as you like. If only one phrase works for you, but frames a whole piece, use that. Whatever you do and whatever you write, be open to new ways of articulating the experiences of either, and follow where the writing takes you.

A few more notes… 

What I found liberating about this exercise was the freedom from old emotional baggage. I carry some guilt and disappointment with the way labour went for me. Writing about it this way allowed me to explore new angles. I let go of old grievances and therefore any creative restraints. It allowed me to see the new horizon, as opposed to fixating on what was behind. I also discovered that I was writing about two things – 1) the moment of giving birth and 2) the act of letting go of how I’ve always perceived it. The poem found this conclusion way back in the notes I’d already made on wading the waters:

‘I might scream, 

or open my mouth, into this new horizon. 

It’s serene, almost. Gliding with your mouth open.’ 


Let me put it this way.

If I’d decided to write a blog defying Watts and championing McNish, I would definitely be serving my popularity as a poet right now.

If I’d chosen to write a blog championing Watts in any way, no matter how slight, and therefore be in agreement with the argument that accessible shit sells and it’s artless and it’s a crying shame, I’d be finger pointed at by so many people I may as well go and live in my shed.

And for me this is more of a problem than any of the comments made on either side in the Watts versus McNish showdown.

Shit sells. It always has and it always will. Hollie McNish’s work isn’t necessarily shit. But the storm-wave of crass, overblown insults that hit social media after Watts’s review was published – because let’s face it, how dare she criticise a popular, accessible female poet – is far more isolating and intimidating than any writer sitting in her ‘ivory tower and writing something snobby’ about a poet whose work she doesn’t like.

And snobby? Really? Because Watts composed an articulate and provocative literary article- she’s a snob?

All Watts has really done here, is share her opinion. In her way, through her voice. Just like Tempest and McNish share their poetry (and therefore a lot of their opinions) in their way and in their voices.  The article is valid, but it isn’t paramount. It’s flint-like in parts and a damning in other. But so what? Demanding it be taken down and all the other ridiculous comments I’ve read over the last few days, is worse than anything Watts might have written – because it challenges the idea that we all have a right to formulate a view, and then share it with a given community.  ‘Watts’ review is offensive’ one person tweeted. ‘It offends me.’ So what it ‘offends’ you? Be offended. Write about it somewhere properly, maybe, instead of making a backwards comment like that.

There’s also this pressure. I feel it, as an emerging poet. To me it’s like you have two choices. Either share the popular opinion, or shut up. The wave of aggressive social media comments backed me into a corner. I found myself thinking – ‘agreeing with them gets you the popular vote. Straight up, no doubt about it. Not agreeing with them gets you the finger-point again. Or maybe a door in the face down the line.’ And this brought me to the problem of not just the thought itself; but the fact that I’ d even had it.

To be honest, the overly-negative (almost hysterical) reaction to Watts felt like a lot of things in popular culture these days – sensationalised, aggressive, and greedy.  The article itself,  also isn’t just about McNish.  Her argument was part of a wider whole. And to my dismay a lot of people only latched onto this one thing. It’s important I mention this, because this is just how sensationalism works. It hooks onto a single element of something much broader, and runs with it. Then the thing gets viral, and because of the speed with which its passed around, and all the additional emotional baggage and rebuffs piled on top of it – becomes pretty manipulated. Whatever comes out the other end of all this social angst and tinkering, becomes ‘The Story’ – the centre. And this massively narrows the focus of the argument, and subsequently blocks any form of open, healthy debate about the original opinion or idea. If you cared to look, there’s actually a more interlaced and complex argument going on in Watts’s piece, and it’s necessary we take notice of it. Not because we should agree with it. But because it’s there.


Whether you care, don’t care, or get hot under the collar about any kind of literary divide, it’s Watts’ view that poetry is in danger of losing its integrity as an art form. That artless, accessible poetry seems to be becoming more worthy of attention and readership than just good poetry. And for her, this is a major issue. The work sells because its popular. The work is popular and therefore it sells.  Furthermore this will do nothing to nurture a nuanced or balanced literary community. That’s how I read it anyway. And you can shout at the top of your lungs about ‘how mean’ she was about it all. But if you took a minute to dial down the volume and digest her points, some of them are worth taking note of. Even if you don’t agree with many of them. She’s highlighted some key issues.

Sales figures alone do tell us, that this new wave of ‘female amateurs’ as she puts it, are near establishment endorsement. Poets? The absolute underdog of literature being enveloped financially within The Establishment? (publishers, awards, their sponsors etc).  And if you want to go somewhere else with that, it’s about where things are going in publishing. Long ago did the novel publishing industry more or less sell out for sales and finance over writers of quality they actually believed in. Is this happening poetry now too?  You could go another way too. It’s cool and ‘free’ (in some ways) to upload poems to youtube for example.  But is more screen-gazing really something we should be going for? What with Chomsky’s argument that the screen was invented as the ‘other’ to keep us snug and ignorant in our houses, deaf to a revolution? Aren’t poets the voices of the revolution? Or maybe we aren’t? Maybe we should all be dangerously Wilde, declaring our genius on twitter every single day. Or writing reams of dreamic garbage and romantically drinking ourselves under the bed.

These are just thoughts, all conjecture, popping into my head one after the other. You know, as a result of of those all-things-considered arguments that we all used to have…

If I’d say anything about the review, I’d agree with Paterson and say it’s brave. But the article itself isn’t really the issue here. The Watts/McNish event has highlighted a whole new problem for me. That right now, in the supposedly more-than-big-enough-for-everyone  balloon world of  lovely poetry – there is one okay route: and that’s toeing the popular line. More-so than actually being a good poet. I think back to a conversation I had with a friend, ‘this is way things are going’ he said. And McNish, this is ‘where the poetry has gone.’ It’s almost like there’s this popular poetry movement of some kind. Something we all have to follow and endorse, and take part in. Even if we don’t intrinsically feel part of it. Or maybe even want to be.

It’s also the whiff of fear. That if you do openly discredit or poorly review someone in vogue (spoken word or otherwise) expect a public blazing.  And potentially your career being a little bit f u c kayed too.

Not that it is for Watts. And for being honest at least, and opening the floodgates, she’s done herself proud.