You, death, are a mountain that will not move…

I’ve been working very closely with mentor and editor Mario Petrucci on a poem that lost its original intention. Largely through over-editing, and through the naive assumption that every poem in this collection needs to, in some way, mention my brother.

The trigger of a trauma or grief lands like a stone in the sand. But what happens when it hits? There’s the deep impression of its weight in the soft, sandy bed. And then all those fine, powdery particles erupting outwards, mushrooming into a thick, cicular progression of dust. Part of the writing challenge here, is to somehow capture this radiation, and everything it touches.

With Mario’s guidance, I’ve come to an important landmark in the trauma writing process – that is, realsing how valuable, yet discrete, this new space from which to write, can be. My new poem ‘Garden’ is the product of exploring it. I’ve posted a snippet below.

And just before I go, a few phrases from Mario that I’ve shaped into advice, that might help some of you on your own, trauma writing journeys.

1) The initia l energy of a poem is key, especially a trauma poem. Stick with it.

2) It’s okay to ‘make love’ to death. And by this I mean – it’s okay to get close, sensual, weird. Especially if your trauma is connected to it.

3) Sometimes, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture (the eruption of dust) and spend some good, quality time exploring it.

Garden (extract)

The garden is speaking to me with the rain.
It rocks and sways like the bow
of my spine when making love.
It talks the way a body talks.
The trees bend their hard backs
and moan with the weight,
their long green hair
throws shafts of purple – the birds
touch in and out of the downward wet.
They rock and sway like the bow of my spine
when making love.
I catch that song among them,
such jewels
lit up like still bones
and I wonder if the sky is a coffin,
if they flit and skitter, adorning the dead…

Extract from ‘Garden’ © Helen Calcutt 2019



A cluster of flowers (inflorescence) that radiates out from a central point, like the ribs or struts, of an umbrella

The idea that there can be dualism between grief and beauty, is the centre of gravity for my creative work at present.  The idea itself, has ‘radiated’ to  reveal new ways of letting the reader in. Of offering an idea, without explanation (none, whatsoever) but at the same time, not drowning them in  oblique language and/or emotional intelligence alone.  The below extract is from a poem that grows from a fixed point; is very  centered in its ideas, but doesn’t provide absolute exactness.

And because of this notion of duality, I’ve avoided words like ‘but’ and ‘therefore’, anything that offers an obvious bridge between something perhaps heart-warming or glorious, and something much darker. Not to say that there isn’t a bridge or crossing, but does it need to be ‘one and then the other’ – can’t they both, simultaneously, be hanging in the air?

(and again, is this where beauty happens?)




I had to prise their leaves apart
to find their purpled necks.
Their long, tender stems,
their gaining forms, were huge and warm
and I had to cut at them with my own fingers and nails,
I had to sink them into the tough wet
and pull away their heads.
My daughter went up and down the path on her bike.
The wheels rattled, while I knelt at the shrine
of growing gods, and killed them.
Their proud hearts came away easily.
I stood holding them a long time
in the burnished, crimson evening,
the high sky hung a salt-wash blue, and our bodies,
two, were dark against all that natural glory,
the smoke continued to rise out of its wound
smelling of love and earth,
and when my daughter asked me for water
and I made a cup from her hands
the sound of her drinking was like nothing else,
it was like a victory after the killing.
We walked away then, our hands dripping.
The long shadows of the cage
pooled low, humming with softness and blood;
but we were going away,
singing and rattling with the wheels on the bike
(their turn, their turn)
our dead things in hand
and the sun over our heads, shining.







Bee faith

Is there beauty in grief?

Today, I’ve been ruminating over ideas of beauty and grief. The squeeze of light between darker forms.

I spend a lot of time outdoors, growing things (or helping). As a family we have an allotment, and while I’m no gardener, I often go there to find solace, quiet, like most people. But since living with grief, I’ve found myself spending more and more time there, wondering about the obscure joy we experience as a result of extreme, emotional pain, and whether this is part of our healing, part of our grief – or simply the unfortunate, but natural meaning, or ‘form’, of ‘beauty’.

I’m working on two pieces that explore this duality – the existence of ugly trauma, and some kind of beautiful aesthetic and/or felt experience. I’m working on two poems at present. Both, examine influence over the physical senses, rooted in earthly experience, as well as the internal workings of someone’s fractured, complex mind, and this intriguing idea that a fulfilling, or enlightening, or enriching experience, can’t exist without another more terrible thing. But is this the balance we need? Is this balance, ‘beauty’?

Extract 1


and now I’m reminded of the time you found two
black bees locked together in a barrel of collected rain,
you lifted them out with your big, gentle hands,
your lovely hands,
and the little black bees
held on to one other, holding on to you
as the sun uncurled her light from the clouds
and you blew and blew on their little backs,
making them dry

and perhaps it wasn’t just the act of saving them
that was beautiful,
but the act of saving them
with the sadness of finding them
in their sad, sorry desperation for life
their kneeling souls, bound together;
and perhaps the new chance of life you gave
was the beauty?
or perhaps it didn’t belong to that,
perhaps it was made in the moments
before you reached down into the dark pool
their dying forms conjoined in the water
under your enormous grace,
with the sun showing her golden face
over their circling deaths,
their thin little hearts

and the obscurity of this,
the duality of this
perhaps, perhaps this
belongs to beauty.

‘A mountain that is your grief you can’t utter’

Helen has been awarded a professional development grant to write her second poetry collection, ‘A mountain that is your grief you can’t utter’.

Read all about it below. . .


I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded a grant from Arts Council England to support the creation and development of my next poetry collection, with the working title ‘A mountain that is your grief you can’t utter’.

This step in my career is an important one, allowing me invaluable time the explore new, and deeply personal themes within my work. As many of you know, anthology Eighty Four was inspired by the sudden loss of my brother to suicide, who passed away in September 2017. The shift in creative focus and personal perspective brought about by this life-changing event, will be at the heart of this new writing project.

I will share works-in-progress, and my experiences of writing about trauma and grief with writing communities online, with established writers’ groups, and in education settings. Poems and updates will be posted here, on the blog section of my website. All feedback and thoughts will be encouraged, and a useful part of the editorial process.

What do I hope to achieve?

In short? I hope to find the words to express my grief.

Loss itself is a long and difficult journey. Articulating this journey is a whole other matter; a river beside the road that, even if seeming too dark, or too deep, is worth wading in…

The long version? Stick around to find out! Blog posting will begin Wednesday 7th May. Comments will be open.

Who will I be working with?

I will be delivering a trauma writing workshop for The Poetry School, and working closely with Writing West Midlands on broadening audiences scope for the new work. I’m delighted to be working with Mario Petrucci again, who will act as editor and mentor. Publishers, Faber, Nine Arches Press, Vanguard Editions, and Verve, have all agreed to read the completed manuscript. 

With thanks…

Deepest thanks to Will at The Poetry School, my father David Calcutt, Jonathan Davidson, Peter Stone from ace_national for your support and guidance, and Victoria Richards for contributing a wonderful critical review to the submission.