The York Centre for Writing Poetry Series – Vahni Capildeo recordings and filmpoems!

Today we bring you taster of Vahni Capildeo’s work ahead of their upcoming reading as part of the York Centre for Writing Poetry Series. The original event has had to be postponed, and we hope it will take place next term! 

Trinidadian-British poet Vahni Capildeo was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. They earned a PhD at Oxford University, where they were a Rhodes Scholar studying translation theory and Old Norse. Their poetry collections include No Traveller Returns (2003), Undraining Sea (2009), Dark and Unaccustomed Words (2012), Utter (2013), Measures of Expatriation (2016), which won the 2016 Forward Prize, and Venus as a Bear (2018).

The York Centre for Writing Poetry Series centres centres BAME, queer and working class writers, challenging old fashioned and out of date visions of what poetry and poets can be. Our readers’ original, exciting work demonstrates why poetry is one of the fastest growing and most innovative literary genres in the UK!

The series is based at York Centre for Writing, the hub for writing events, projects and publications at York St John University. Community is at the heart of our ethos, and our events create opportunities to meet fellow poetry lovers and build creative networks across York and beyond.

Poetry Recordings –


Beyond the Walls Showcase Pieces

Due to COVID-19, the teams behind the Beyond the Walls anthology have chosen to postpone their 2020 showcase. The ‘Where Ideas Grow’ blog is pleased to be able to share a chosen few pieces with you, written by students at YSJ.

Change [redacted]

All aboard the slag heap of change –

stand by and watch

as the top meets the bottom

and all equals out;

stand up and stand back

as molten progress threatens

the safety of your three-figured shoes,

as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan

rise up and rise against the torrents

of a capital gain

from a not so capital idea.


But beware this fallacy as just that –

as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan

try to rise up but fall back,

deficient bones breaking under

deficiencies of kindness

as the thin-lipped

walking suits of Wall Street

fall to their own knees,

as numbers on screens drop

whilst the number of screams

drop upon deaf ears, hearing nothing

but silence.


By Tod Barnbrook


Girl to Woman

There’s a little girl,

resting inside of me ever so peacefully,

who if given the chance would leap

out of my soul.

She’d dance to her own tune.

Laugh at anything she wanted

or hum her way round Tesco’s.

Not a care in the world.

She’d eat all the sweets

without worrying about fillings.

She’d wear blue tights, a pink tutu,

and not give a damn.

That little girl would trust

anyone and everyone apart from

stranger danger.

She’d be so happy.

That little girl was me.



The woman I have become fights

to get through the workday,

whilst sleep deprived.

She doesn’t hum round Tesco’s,

she stresses and budgets.

She cries at her workload.

Gets up in the morning and

drowns in caffeine,

as a coping mechanism.

It’s not all rainy.

There’s days when I find joy;

in finding a new book,

spending time with friends,

or rather my cats.

I dance round my house

and hum as I work.

There was a little girl now,

She’s a powerhouse of a woman.


By Abbi Davison



Four years in is when the man behind the glass changes. Long after you’d changed, long after you’d given up on believing that it was a matter of perception that would settle in due time. It happens on the dusky, achromatic morning of a nation on the tipping point. You enter your small damp-smelling bathroom to scrub off the sleep and the overnight crust that clings to your skin. Afterwards, you lift your head to gaze into your square mirror, half-fogged, above the sink. The man is there, as he always is, playing mimic to your every gesture with a rugged flare that sinks hooks through your diaphragm, as he always does. You wipe your face dry. You stare at him. And he blinks.

            You don’t think anything of it for the initial ten seconds. It’s early. You’re groggy, and your head’s not been in the most reliable place for the past few weeks. You’re a paranoid before you’re a person at the best of times, so you dismiss it as a muddled misperception as you lift your hand to the mirror at the same time, just to be sure.

            The man raises no such hand. His face gazes out to you dully, nigh-unrecognisable in its ruggedness. You find yourself staring in mute transfixion, feeling the way that your heart, tongue, and throat meld into a single continuous pulsing stretch of flesh inside your body. You take a step back, barely feeling the way your bare foot squelches through a lukewarm splash puddle.

            He, still looking at you, clears his throat. You feel it in your own throat, a clogging rumble that stretches your vocal chords into a long disused position. You have to swallow thrice before the sensation of strangulation abates. He looks on at you with a stilled patience as you gather yourself. Then he says you look spooked. The voice reverberates in that part of your mind that tricks your hypnagogic subconscious into hearing deafening screams, that turns silence into volume. It glides over your mind, hitting notes that you know, yet do not.

            That first time, you don’t reply. You make an animalistic, guttural stutter, then spin and scramble out of the bathroom before you can scream. You’re half asleep, you say to yourself as you dress in your bedroom, door barricaded by your desk chair. It’s a waking dream. Nothing happened.

            Still, you quickly stop looking into the mirror, and whatever might inhabit that uncertain space of reflection. Just in case you really did see something wrong. Just in case it looks back.




You were right to. Encounter number two takes place the next time you set foot in the bathroom, two days later. Still hungover from a post-election misery binge, you head to the bathroom in search of reprieve from that terrible parliament livestream blaring from your phone. As you wait for the electric bulb to flicker to full strength, you glance over at the mirror.

            The man is still there, standing behind the condensation stains with a flatly curious expression. You want to look away from him, but you cannot.

            He tilts his head to the side a little, like an owl. He says what’s your problem. Asks if you really can’t handle a bit of news. Says you would’ve celebrated that, once upon a time. You would have celebrated before.

            You clench one fist and breathe around a dry throat. The overwhelming urge to swing at the glass, to break, to destroy, to feel angry, seeps through your skin like viral droplets. You blink back tears. You do not feel rage. You cannot. Not any more.

            He says come on, get pissed off.

            This is not real, you tell yourself. But only in your head. Only where it doesn’t matter.




You stop using the upstairs bathroom after that. Every morning and evening, you bring yourself to the downstairs en suite, where the muted cream colour scheme succeeds in soothing, where the glass doesn’t harm you, where you can breathe.

            It becomes routine. Wake go down check the news cycle wash go out come back check the news cycle wash go up sleep avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room. You mystify it, let it grow into a grim Other that looms above your head, tendril fingers seeping through the fabric of your walls and scraping the back of your neck like a cold whisper. You make it powerful.




Four weeks drift by in relative calm before instance number three. You exist in a comfortable miasma, the madwoman who never washes upstairs, going a little batty from living alone, but that’s okay. Until it stops being so, in the new year and new decade, on a day where your mother comes over to stay and the news is dominated by talks of galvanising the ugliest parts of international foreign policies.

            She takes the downstairs en suite. You have no room to object. She kisses your cheek, overwhelms you with her perfume. Says how beautiful you’re becoming, as if daily pills constitute beauty. You thank her anyway. This is how she makes her effort.

            You don’t talk politics. She sees and hears what fills you with slow-rotting terror and feels a warm rush of relieved pleasure, a fat cat gloating in the victory of the mangled bird in its jaws. You spend the evening watching her soaps with her, then force yourself upstairs for your nightly routine.

            He says you’re an over-reactor, as you slip through the door bathed in a clammy sweat. Says you’re delusional.

            Your mother snores downstairs. It gives you the bravado to speak. You say shut up. He shouldn’t exist.

            He says man up. Scratches at his stubble and scoffs. Glares at you, like a looming magnifying glass honing in on a lone ant.

            You force yourself to meet his gaze right back. Ask why he’s doing this.

            He asks why you’re doing this. Why you tell yourself he and you are distinct entities. Why you killed him. Why you made this mistake. It’s suicide, you know. Should’ve stuck with the life you threw out.

            He frowns, shakes his head, laughs, on and on and on. Like he knows you. Like he’s won. You’re seized by a glimpse of a future where he persists in this cruel stasis, and with a damp creak across the surface of your brain, realise that you can’t stand having this shade leeching off you for a single moment longer. You have changed. He has not. That realisation alone shrinks him to nothing.

            You punch the mirror. The glass crunches under your skin, stabs into your knuckles, leaves smudged blood streaks across its surface. Everything falls silent. Nursing your mangled hand, you begin to weep.




At the end of the month, on a day of international transition into new and dangerous waters, you finally replace the bathroom mirror. This new one is perfectly circular and catches the sun in a way that lights up the whole room.

            When you look into the reflection, for the first time you only see, and will always only see, yourself.


By Conor Hannon

Dissertation Corner

In this week’s instalment of Dissertation Corner, MA Creative Writing student Lucy Hurst shares her experience on writing a creative dissertation. Her poetry explores chronic illness and internalised ableism.

What is your dissertation about?

 I’m writing a collection of stylised poetry exploring chronic illness and internalised ableism.


What inspired your story/poem/script?

I’ve been influenced a lot by Karen Havelin’s ‘Please Read This Leaflet Carefully’ and Heather Christle’s ‘The Crying Book’. For poetic inspirations, Daniel Sluman and Bhanu Kapil played a big role.


How did you choose the texts for the project? 

I took up lots of book suggestions from friends, and kept up to date on twitter with new pieces coming out. I think reading around the subject is very helpful, and I asked tutors of what they think I should read next.


Has your dissertation changed much since submitting your proposal? 

Not massively so. I have a few ideas that have been cropped out, but generally it’s the same concept.


What interests you about this topic/style/theme?

I love experimental poetry, I think there is something exciting and fresh about it. The style I’m using is beginning to show up a lot in contemporary poetry, and so I enjoy working out where I can place my work within the literary world too.


What have you enjoyed most and what have you struggled most with?

I have enjoyed doing the reading and finding new poets. The struggle is probably just having to make myself write more before I start editing.

What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor?

Academic tutors are super helpful, you should bombard them with questions.

BlogCast Diary Week 5

The students in Publishing Production and Performance have written another diary post about the process of making their anthology, Beyond the Walls 2020, to be published by Valley Press.

Dear Diary,

This week is the last week before Reading Week for all students here at York St John. All groups participating in the Beyond the Walls are doing wonderfully about keeping on task and making progress with the anthology.


During the meeting this week, the Team Leader checked on how the sub-teams were getting on with their own tasks and checking them against their timetable. There was also a check up on their social media posts and a discussion about the posters; mainly to do with the colour scheme as to keep it with the YSJ website. They plan to keep with the posters and the social media posts for the Literature Festival. They also plan to put out a social media reminder that the call for submissions is open for both the content and the cover art.

Now that they have confirmed who have submitted so far, they plan to contact those who have submitted to ask if they are willing to perform at the Student Showcase. Also for the Showcase, they have confirmed they will be needing 3 microphones, a blank screen to go behind the performers when they are on stage and plan to buy badges with the front cover of the anthology on them to hand out to the audience. For those of you wondering about refreshments, wine is the top choice for the interval.


The Editing team used this time to edit some of the poetry submissions that were sent in. They also used the time to reach out to the other teams to make a push for cover design and writer submissions.


During this week’s meeting, the Blog Team had discussed the team leader’s list of week by week activities so that they could keep on schedule. Everyone in the team has mostly finished their own pieces but there are still a few pieces left to do. Everyone is getting on well with their tasks. Other members of the team have also written out a draft email that will be sent out in the following weeks to third years and masters students for a future blog piece.

The Podcast team, this week, had a busy meeting. They discussed who was going to speak during the podcast, decided that they wanted to interview a guest speaker from the module also. They also discussed the type of music and sound effects that they would like to use during the podcast. The team leader will edit the podcast and announced that the sound booth had been booked. The team checked that the platform for distribution was suitable to use and was for free. Most importantly, they were able to finalise the script for the first podcast.


We hope you’ve been enjoying these posts so far,

Until next time,

The BlogCast Team!

25/02/20  (Week 5)

BlogCast Diary Week 4

The students on the Publishing, Production and Performance are continuously working on their anthology, Beyond the Walls! In this blog diary, Creative Writing BA student Chloe Green writes about the process of the different teams.

Dear Diary,

Well into the fourth week of the Beyond the Walls project, all three teams are well under way with their weekly tasks leading up to the publication of the book.


The Marketing Team:

The leader of the Marketing Team began their meeting by showing the rest of the group a Marketing Material Timetable that they could refer back to week by week and keep track of what advertisements they are creating for each event. From there, they split off into their sub-teams. The Showcase Team focused on what technology they would need for when the students are reading out their work; they ultimately decided on using attached mics for the two hosts and a static mic for the performers. They also looked at how the event will be split, they decided that the singing society would perform during the intermission. Another focal point was what roles the volunteers would have during the event.

The Literature Festival team have started to plan ahead of time for the material they will be creating; contemporary poetry, Polari Literature Salon and Found Fiction. Their next steps include: to get moving on the marketing  materials, keep updating their social media accounts and to start considering contacting performers.

The Editing Team:

This week, the Editing Team began to edit the submissions that they have received so far so that they can be handed back to the current third years to begin their final drafts, ready for publication.

The BlogCast Team:

This week, The Blog Team met with York St John’s official Blog team to introduce themselves to the group and to discuss which team members were creating each piece. The YSJ Blog Team also told the Blog Team how the pieces will be processed and uploaded to the blog. The ideas for the piece about the Student Showcase was also discussed, seeing as how the showcase has not yet commenced, it will not be written until after the showcase.

During the Podcast Team meeting, they had established that an outline of the script had been created by one of the team members. They had also decided to get together talk to discuss more details. They also managed to decide on wanting a sound booth to record the podcast and who they wanted to interview for it.


Overall, all the teams are progressing extremely well with their tasks in hoping to produce the latest edition of Beyond the Walls!


Until next time,

The BlogCast Team!

20/2/20 (week 4)

York Centre for Writing Poetry Series Online- Contemporary Poetry Now!

 Our poetry series focuses on writers who are BAME, queer and/or working class, and aims to to show what is exciting and innovative about poetry today. Unfortunately, due to the current situation, our York St John Poetry Series event for the York Literature festival was unable to take place live.

However, we didn’t want anyone to miss out on the fantastic poetry and analysis of our event writers, Khairani Barokka, Fran Lock and Mary-Jean Chan.

For this reason, Khairani, Fran and Mary Jean have all recorded special readings from their work which you can find in the soundcloud link below. They’ve also each taken the opportunity to respond to some of the questions we would have posed them, Khairani and Fran at the end of their recordings, and Mary Jean in writing. We are so grateful for them to taking the time to share their writing with us.

We hope you’ll take the time to enjoy these fantastic recordings.

Information on the writers:

Khairani Barokka is the writer/performer/producer of, among others, a deaf-accessible, solo poetry/art show, Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee. She is author and illustrator of poetry-art book Indigenous Species, nominated for a Goldsmiths Public Engagement Award (Tilted Axis Press, 2016; Vietnamese translation out in 2018 with AJAR Press), co-editor with Ng Yi-Sheng of HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Fixi, 2016), and co-editor, with Sandra Alland and Daniel Sluman, of Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press, 2017), shortlisted for a Saboteur Award for Best Anthology and a Poetry School Book of the Year Okka is currently working on a book and visual works. Her most recent exhibition was Annah: Nomenclature at the ICA. Her first full-length poetry collection, Rope, was published by Nine Arches Press in October 2017.

Mary Jean Chan is the author of Flèche (a Poetry Book Society Recommendation), published by Faber & Faber (2019). Her work has featured as a Guardian Poem of the Week and a Guardian Poem of the Month. Flèche is the winner of the 2019 Costa Book Awards (poetry category) and has been chosen as a Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Irish Times and The White Review. Her debut pamphlet, A Hurry of English (ignitionpress), was a 2018 Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.

In 2016, Chan won the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition in the English as an Additional Language category. In 2017, she won the Poetry Society Anne Born Prize and the Institute of Psychoanalysis Poetry and Psychoanalysis Competition, and also came Second in the 2017 National Poetry Competition. The title poem from her debut collection won the 2018 Poetry Society Geoffrey Dearmer Prize. She has twice been shortlisted for The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and is the recipient of a 2019 Eric Gregory Award.

Forward Arts Prizes 2017
Royal Festival Hall London UK

Fran Lock is a sometime itinerant dog whisperer and poet, now living and working in London. Her debut collection Flatrock (Little Episodes) was launched in May 2011. Her work has appeared in various places, including Ambit, Poetry London, The Rialto, The Stinging Fly, and in Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt). Her second collection The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt) came out in September 2014. She is the winner of the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition. She won third prize in The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2014. Her most recent book, Contains Mild Peril, Lock’s seventh book in eight years, came out with Outspoken Press in 2019.

Mary Jean Chan’s answers to some of our Poetry Series questions:

  1. “Your poems seem to use lyric experience as a way of opening up the fractured multiplicity of reality, where the I is not the stable creature some traditional white male poets might have us believe! Is fracturing the lyric form something you consciously wanted to do?” 


I do think the whiteness of the lyric I and its seeming universality has been rightly critiqued by many (see Threads, a brilliant pamphlet co-authored by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil for more insights). As a queer, Chinese woman writing in first person, I am also aware of the ways in which my work might be received by a particular audience. As such, I wanted to make sure that the book offers poems which reflexively explore the instability of the lyric I, for example, through my poem “This Grammatical Offer of Uniqueness is Untrue” (a line taken from Denise Riley’s The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony), where I state that the word “mother” in English is already an artifice of sorts for me, as I have never uttered this word aloud to my mother, who speaks multiple Chinese dialects but doesn’t speak English. My poem “(Auto)biography” is also an attempt to critique this term, which is often used to describe women’s writing. Sarah Howe has written about this in an interview with The Boston Review (, and reading this conversation made me want to challenge the concept of “autobiography” by writing a dramatic monologue in my mother’s voice, so readers might be encouraged to reflect on their assumptions about who the “I” in the poem represents. 


  1. Did you begin with a sense of what the overarching formal structures or themes might be, or did you write into them and discover the language of the collections that way?


I had been writing these poems since 2015, during my MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. Many of the poems about my mother came in a rush; others about queerness and psychotherapy came later. What did not come until the very end was the structure and the title of the book. I had such a hard time trying to pin down a title that would capture the essence of the collection, but with a lightness of touch. Once I realised that the fencing motif could be harnessed to create a loose structure for the book, the title came rather naturally as well (since the flèche is a fencing term for an aggressive surprise attack). 

Dissertation Corner

In this week’s instalment of Dissertation Corner, MA Creative Writing student Silje shares her thoughts on writing a creative dissertation, which explores topics such as prejudice against drug addiction as well as the strong bond between siblings.

What is your dissertation about? My dissertation is first and foremost an extract of a contemporary, urban novel I have written. It tells the story of a girl who has to team up with a Valkyrie in order to stop the Norse Gods from ending her and her brother’s lives. But the novel also explores topics such as drug abuse, strong, complicated sibling relationships and how much you are willing to sacrifice to keep the people you love safe. The tone is perhaps quite dark to some readers, and the setting cold and unwelcoming. For my critical commentary, I am focusing on voice, character and the political issue regarding drug addiction.


What inspired your story/poem/script? Prejudice against drug addiction was the first thing that popped up in my head when I started drafting and plotting the novel. I wanted to show just how badly society has influenced our view and presumption. I wanted to truly dig into the neat and gritty of a people’s prejudice. But then I wanted to bring in fantastical elements too, in order to put obstacles in the way for my main character, who has to look after her former addict brother. Also, the series Euphoria and the music in the series really set the tone and the voice of my characters. I listened to the whole album that came out with the series, produced by the artist Labrinth.


How did you choose the texts for the project? I had a lot of novels that inspired my novels, such as Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell when it came to a humorous voice, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, as well as Poetic Edda by Snorri Sturluson, which tells the story of the Norse Gods and their characters through a collection of poems. Another great book that has helped when redrafting the novel is Mark Fisher’s the Weird and the Eerie.


Has your dissertation changed much since submitting your proposal? I don’t think it has changed drastically. I have gone through some editing with my supervisor, removing certain bits and rearranging a set of chapters, as well as making the tone of the story more precise. Other than that, I have not done any major changes to it. 


What interests you about this topic/style/theme? I think what really interest me is to see just how badly someone can be influenced by what others say and their opinions. I also love exploring Norse Mythology as well as trying to make the setting and tone eerie and creepy.


What have you enjoyed most and what have you struggled most with? I think what I have enjoyed the most are my characters. I find them so intriguing and funny to write. It’s a joy to sit down every day to work on it, which is the most important part. I think what I’ve struggled the most with is trying to make the tone dark and eerie enough. I believe it’ll take a few more drafts in order to see the novel in its best possible shape.


What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor? It has been wonderful. My supervisor is offering so many good thoughts and tips on the extracts I’ve shown him. It’s just nice to get a second pair of eyes on my writing, too! It really helps when it comes to the structure, the plot and the voice of the story.  



Postponement Blog Post

The teams behind the Beyond the Walls anthology have some very important information regarding their student showcase, which was scheduled to take place in March.

Well. This certainly wasn’t something we thought would happen when we started this project, but such is life.

Unfortunately, due to the spread of COVID-19, the York Literature Festival has been postponed. That means that our showcase has also been postponed.

Our teams have been working incredibly hard to prepare for the showcase, so this is a bitter blow. However, there are a few things to take away from this. The first is that it has been postponed not cancelled. Our work hasn’t gone to waste and we will still get to see the fruits of our labours, we just don’t know when that will be yet.

The second thing is that this doesn’t affect the publication. So while the rest of us scramble to change tack, the editing team are still ploughing on as planned, trying to stay calm among the frantic last minute adjustments.

The third thing to take away for this is a learning experience for all of us. How to deal with unforeseen circumstances like this is something everyone has to learn. As I write this, our Events and Marketing Team is holding a meeting to discuss strategies moving forward. The Blog and Podcasting Team is already making changes to the material we’re working on, too.

Keep an eye on our social media pages for updates and information, and keep an eye on the York Literature Festival’s website as well.

Our Twitter: @beyondysj

Our Instagram: beyondysj

York Literature Festival’s website: https://yorkliteraturefestival