Month: January 2017

“Hauntings” and “Paddy” by Nick Moss

Just over a year ago, Dean Saunders was imprisoned for the attempted murder of his Father. The family understood that Dean needed medical and psychiatric help as the attack happened during a bout of paranoia. He shouldn’t have been put in prison, where – as has been found – support was wholly inadequate. Dean electrocuted himself in his cell and died in January last year. The year 2016 will see suicides in prisons doubling from five years ago to a record level.


Image by Nic McPhee*

This is not the only problem that prisons face because of the cuts imposed by the government during its mania of austerity. High profile prison protests, although they are termed as riots, have taken place in a number of UK prisons over the recent past. There have also been vigils held outside prisons in support of transgender prisoners as part of the International Trans Prisons Day of Action and Solidarity. Prisoners and prison officers are in agreement, there are not enough resources, both human and financial, to support an overcrowded antiquated system. But as with most of the cuts made, it falls heaviest on those weak, vulnerable, and powerless.

Nick Moss’ two poems “Hauntings” and “Paddy”, shows a more humane side of the characters that are imprisoned, and the relations between them. In Hauntings, Nick talks about a cellmate who was recently released, although it “feels like a life ago”, and how they talked “Behind a metal door/Of all the fears of home,/Of life; of kids not seen for 10 plus years;/Adrenaline kicks and white lines crossed/And snorted; anticipation of cold beers/And family curses.” But on leaving they become like ghosts – “Carrying our souls in plastic sacks/We haunt each other for a while/Then flash away/Like shadows do.” And then there are the characters you never forget, trailing their history in their conversations and actions. For Paddy, it’s “Fragments of half-remembered rebel songs/Dentures, collapsed veins and yellowed skin/Longing for the days of/The ‘RA on the wing/And you/Vicarious/Behind the wire.” A great deal of hope is lost in prisons, coloured by the past and its repeat. But in Paddy, there is some left in the “Singing and rattling round the wings/Hoping a cracked-voiced chorus/Of the Wolfe Tones/Will bring down the walls.”



Nick Moss grew up in Liverpool but now lives in London. He was released from a prison sentence last year. He began to write poetry as a way of mapping his experiences in jail, and won Koestler awards for his collection The Skeleton Choir Singing, and his poem “Never Again?” In 2016 he was awarded a May Turnbull Scholarship, and had work featured in, and performed at, the We Are All Human exhibition at the South Bank. He performs regularly and continues to write because “if we keep shouting, eventually we’ll hear each other”.



It’s a week since Peter went home
Feels like a life ago
It happens all the time
One day here
In all our lives
The next day gone
Time up or shipped out
Either way
Another voice just echoing now
On the wing

We slip in and out of each other’s lives
Walk the landings, revenants
Carrying our souls in plastic sacks
We haunt each other for a while
Then flash away
Like shadows do
When the sun hits the yard

Yesterday we talked
Behind a metal door
Of all the fears of home,
Of life; of kids not seen for 10 plus years;
Adrenaline kicks and white lines crossed
And snorted; anticipation of cold beers
And family curses
Now you’re out again
Hoping for notoriety
But knowing you just face shame

Carrying our souls in plastic sacks
We haunt each other for a while
Then flash away
Like shadows do
When the sun hits the yard

Jail-pale ghosts
No more real to each other here
Than we are to our lives at home.


Fragments of half-remembered rebel songs
Dentures, collapsed veins and yellowed skin
Longing for the days of
The ‘RA on the wing
And you
Behind the wire

The days when you first reached London
Full of love and crack and E
Days turned soon to sleeping in doorways
Robbing shops at night
Six month stretches
In Wandsworth and the Scrubs
But still the rebel
Halfway between Bobby Sands
And Elvis.

Now it’s a four year stint
A cup of the green every morning
Spice at the weekends
No visits
A letter and a postal order
Once in a while
Chance of a tag slipping daily away

Still singing
On the one road to your
Bridge over troubled waters
A sweet voice
Shite skin and life-bleared eyes
Rattling round the wing
On the cadge
For coffee, burn, sugar

Wondering where that first love went
After Holloway
She never came home
Dead, married, working for probation
For all you know

You’ll go home soon bro
A flat and a wife in Hammersmith
A son dealing weed
An overweight staffie
And not a chance
Of a chance

Fucked over

People like us
If we have dreams
The dreams end up in shop doorways
Under cardboard
Getting pissed on by strangers

Til they piss out our flame
And our legacy becomes
Shite skin and life-bleared eyes
Passed down to daughters and sons
Who carry failure in their genes
While trying to avoid
Outright defeat in a rigged, fucked game

Singing and rattling round the wings
Hoping a cracked-voiced chorus
Of the Wolfe Tones
Will bring down the walls.

*Image by Nic McPhee

A Lack of Minarets by Katie Griffiths

One hundred years ago, in the penultimate year of the First World War, a train journey was undertaken that would change the course of history. Negotiated with the Germans, Lenin took the long way round to Russia from Switzerland, on a sealed carriage with 32 compatriots and family, to foment the Bolshevik revolution. A century later, two recent journeys reflect the state of world affairs. The first was a freight train’s 12,000 kilometre from Beijing to London that follows the old Silk Road route and offers a third option for export besides sea and air. The second, a more troubling symbolic journey, took place in the Balkans. A Serbian train, attempted to enter Kosovo, a country it (and Russia) does not recognise. It was daubed with the message, ‘Kosovo is Serbia’, adorned with the colours of the Serbian flag and Orthodox Christian symbols – the majority of Kosovans are Muslim but the country has no official religion. The train was turned back at the border.

scan_20140715_152850-copy-copySuch a journey shows the continued fragility of the situation in the Balkans since its protracted war in the 1990s.  In Katie Griffiths’ poem, A Lack of Minarets, she takes a journalistic eye to describe a particularly iconic moment in the war, that of Mostar and the destruction of its historic bridge. “From a distance something is wrong,/a skyline tampered with, hard edited./As the bus coils down the mountainside/into the basin of Mostar.” The city was a main route for refugees on their way to Split from Sarajevo. “This is the home of the dispossessed,/shunted like marbles from zone/to zone, who pick their way/past commandeered cars/and makeshift kiosks sprouting/at odd corners to replace/shops that once packed the town.” The city has since been rebuilt, which included restoration of the bridge to its original design. It took nearly ten years. Still, as with many wars, the return and rehabilitation of its citizens will take many more years.mostar-brdige

What the aborted train journey from Serbia shows, as does the situation in Ukraine, the recent deployment of US troops in Poland, and the uncertain future of NATO with the advent of President Agent Orange of America, is that the Cold War is still alive and kicking harder than it has for almost thirty years.


The daughter of Northern Irish parents, Katie Griffiths grew up in Ottawa, Canada.  She returned to the UK for university and later worked at Radio Times, as volunteers’ co-ordinator for refugees of the war in the former Yugoslavia, and as teacher at a further education college.  Her collection My Shrink is Pregnant was joint runner-up in the 2014 Poetry School/Pighog Poetry Pamphlet Competition.  In 2016 she was chosen with three other poets to be in the first edition of Primers, published by Nine Arches Press.  A novel, The Hand-Me-Down Madonna, about the war in the former Yugoslavia, was longlisted in both Mslexia and Cinnamon Press competitions.  She’s a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, and of Red Door Poets, and is also singer-songwriter in the band A Woman in Goggles under which name she also blogs


A Lack of Minarets

From a distance something is wrong,
a skyline tampered with, hard edited.
As the bus drives down the mountainside
into the basin of Mostar,
a dampening of voices gives time
to ponder that what’s awry
is the city’s heart,
charred, glassless and emptied out.

This is the home of the dispossessed,
shunted like marbles from zone
to zone, who pick their way
past commandeered cars
and makeshift kiosks sprouting
at odd corners to replace
shops that once packed the town.
Spring sidles in tentative, unremarked.

Inside my borrowed flat I trip
on the owners’ void, their pictures
and mementoes a dead weight.
Impossible to see through grubby
UNHCR plastic, stretched
to soften the windows’ absence,
whether Serbs lie in wait
up on Mount Hum, lost in snow.

Past curfew, with the moon
a weak salve on dark buildings,
their amputations, their spilling stones,
I walk the former front line
to a rowdy cavern restaurant,
where glasses clink toward the photo
of the now-dead owner diving
close by, off the ancient Stari Most.

I step outside. The old bridge
has been blown to pieces, I know –
in blackness the Neretva snags
on rubble heaped in its way.
But the night is sly, for I’d swear
the arch is still high above me,
a cupped hand about to swipe,
and all the air teetering.

(the poem was originally featured in Primers Volume One, a collaboration between Nine Arches Press and the Poetry School).