Nicola Jackson was one of the first women to study at Clare College, Cambridge. She has a doctorate in neuroscience and an MA in Writing Poetry from Newcastle University and the Poetry School in London.
Her poetry is published in newspapers, journals and the Hippocrates 2016 and Demos Resistance anthologies, and has won prizes including the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2017 for this collection.
Nicola co-edited the human rights anthology ‘Write To Be Counted’.
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PUB: 27 JULY 2018
The Place at the Other Side
I think I may lie stateless a while on these calm
marble floors, stretch cracked hands up
towards the air. I will open the morning mortuary
with its slick milled doors, slide out my thoughts.
I have come to cool my lungs with unsayable things,
write them on the inside of my skin. I have hinges
in my thinking. I am separated by plate glass.
I will reach out to slip inside your oxidation,
feel the texture of that dark meat, rough out
those concavities. I think you know –
your mouth pouts that. You are bisected
by rough scars, scaled by the unrealistic anatomy
you inhabit. It must feel vulnerable to be so exposed.
You may be trying to climb inside my skin.
I observe your flesh as fetish; you enjoy that
as display. Your smooth skull excludes.
You disown the discs of your creviced chest,
suckle nothing but golden verdigris.
We could talk but I cannot hear what your lips
may spit. You master the tenets of your territory.
I am on the outside, trespassing its limits.
Mother, did you tell me? Certainly
not of sex. I worked that out
in various combinations,
learnt to dissect lust from love.
So, Mother, did you tell me?
I leaned over my aching belly,
a dullness low on my bones,
the dread of strings and sodden lint
between my legs. One ruined day
was cut from me like a black stone
melted deep in its own hole
high on Ben Nevis in pristine snow.
Saved by thick tweed, men’s
woollen underwear worn for warmth
soaked up the clots until the refuge
of a crowded hut.
And then I was delivered,
floated down on wings of whispered fire,
a ripcord that bore me up.
Not to be used the first time –
in case of what? It might get stuck
up there, destroy the virgin urge
to try our luck. But we were laughing,
jingling change, walking high
in tights and rolled up skirts.
So Mother – what more could you say?
We were tampon girls with money to burn
and on our way.
Skywatching in Yosemite
Our hands splay out to spread the turf,
fingers digging in the musty dirt
like muscular mudbank clams.
Our backs and butts press down
flat out among the Sneezeweed,
grid-lined by the Merced.
Rock arches loop high to scoop
the pitchy velvet. Phosphorescence
picks out the Falls beyond the pines,
stark branches dissect starry swathes.
Each constellation pricks our eyes.
Astonishing patterns fade and flow
around the glittering granite rim,
the soft slash of Milky Way pulls us in.
This is us five as we will never be again –
laid out like spoons, touching hands
on mountain meadows, watching for bears
and the possibilities of shooting stars.
Chainmakers: The Long Cry
Un long crie d’indignation retentit en ce moment
It’s the brewus I works in, out the back. Roar up heat,
fuel the furnace, forge dull links, beat blackened skin.
It roasts our innards, blasts our hot breath thin.
And the ring of it, the slam of the hammer, the clang
that cleaves my head at night, the red mist, the times
I’m reeling as the sun droops and the dark digs in.
Cradley’s, Craigie Heath, Quarry Bank and Netherton.
Reece’s down Maple Tree Lane. High Town is our rack –
we’re Black Country, pounding pig iron, bloom and slack.
It’s tricky work, chaining steel with our stringed hands,
wetting sweated backs. Watch for sparks as cut-offs fly,
birth the babby, back to work and wait for heat to die.
It’s all spoil to us – we just makes our bread. Millie though
reaches a grimy hand to grab a spark, search the floor
for dull hot scrap. She won’t make that mistake no more
not since I bound her up. It did heal, though she’s the welt
to larn her, the chainmakers’ fetter now she’s not so thin.
White slaves we are. I put white lard on her weeping skin.
I tells her not to touch, not trip, not grip hot sparks, hot scrap,
not put it back ‘til its cold, not fold a soft hand round rod iron,
sulking black. I says I’ll leg-iron her if she don’t pack it in.
We beat the little ones, the links. Paid by the hundred-weight,
it’s just the way of it, that’s what I say. Tuppence halfpenny
didn’t help poor Lizzie, did it, when she passed away?
‘A long cry of indignation is echoing today’; L’Intransigeant, (Paris, 1897).
The countess stops in the doorway.
What plans and schemes are here
as pale light washes the raw planked floor.
She presses the heels of her button gloved hands
together, holds dust moted air like a lily.
Room for the easel by the window,
the dressing case to go upstairs.
She pulls a brown overall from the dun valise
then over her head with it to tab her two hips,
telling of just the one child and a silk kimono.
She steps through to the low back kitchen,
admires the stone larder slab, the bleached
wooden slats that frame the chipped sink.
The table bears a coarse blue jug, yellow-bright
with jonquils and small herbs of the season.
And a note, cream paper, a flourish of script –
Read these – they may be of interest. Pages curl.
She turns to bang a zinc kettle under the gush
of the tap, waits the carter to come from the back.
Words will rise, they will rise. They will rise.
Windows are sharp and brittle things.
In our bungalow they are often open,
even at night when anyone could come.
Once my sister saw a curious face
in the opening, like a blueish full moon.
She jumped up to pull the curtains tight
and fled back to bed.
She did not tell my mother.
At night windows change.
In my dreams they melt away.
That’s when the wolves come
slinking along the shadowed wall,
where the grass tufts are thin
in the gravel gully.
I know they are there by their breathing.
I have to keep quiet but they are there.
Soon their rough snouts will snuffle the opening,
dark shapes will flow over the window sill
into the blackness under my bed
where my childhood sleeps.
Nicola Jackson’s prize-winning collection, ‘Difficult Women’, explores working women’s experiences. Poems such as ‘Chainmakers’ document the terrible conditions in the 1890’s
Black Country, and a first strike by women to achieve a minimum wage.
The poems resonate with contemporary feminist issues. The book uses a rich variety of poetic form, including dramatic monologue and
free-flowing work responding to surrealist
The defiant tone is testimony to women’s strength
and determination in the face of the complexities of their lives.
JOINT WINNER WITH PAUL McGRANE
GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2017