Gifted, Talented, and Mental: Two Survivors’ Stories

An honour to coordinate with Jo on this. What was it like growing up gifted and mentally ill in the UK? Not a barrel of laughs thanks to the lack of support in the education system

Dr. Jo Edge

Co-written with Dan Holloway (@agnieszkasshoes), founder of Rogue Interrobang

This is a long read, because there is no way for either of us to tell our stories in a brief or condensed way. We are about the same age; from a generation before the ‘Gifted and Talented’ scheme was introduced in the state education system in 2002. Both of us suffered at what best can be described as neglect at the hands of our teachers and educational psychologists, beginning in primary school. Neither of us will ever have closure, or even a simple apology; and we don’t really understand the circumstances that led to us both being moved up a year in school. We don’t have the language to really describe what happened, and we’re hoping that by telling our stories, we’ll open a dialogue on the topic.


Youth Club age maybe 15: you can see the…

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Being bipolar in academia

This is the text of a talk I gave at a recent event on pursuing a career in academia for Oxford Students’ Disability Community. It felt like an apt thing to share for Bipolar Awareness Day

talking with Thomas Shepherd about the representation of disability in literature at Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival last year (as I will be again this year)

The only thing I ever wanted to be was an academic. Ideally one of those, as I thought, magical beings – a public intellectual. As a child in the 1970s and 1980s, my mind at its most malleable was shaped by Feynman, Sagan, Greer, and the grandest panjandrum of them all, Doctor Jonathan Miller.

Fast forward to 2000, and that dream was beginning to take shape.  I had a first in Theology and Philosophy, a distinction in my Masters, and some convoluted but promising work on Puritan erotic discourse, feminist psychoanalysis and the place of subjectivity in the great taxonomical debates of the 17th century. That summer I had won the World Intelligence Championship. I was well on my way. I was within touching distance of my dream of becoming a pale imitation of Alain de Botton.

Of course, it hadn’t been a smooth ride, but didn’t that go with the territory? There had been the 6 months as a 15 year old I hadn’t talked to anyone. Literally. At all. And the Michaelmas Term of my 2nd year when I acquired 23 translations of the Bible, practised bridge till 4 each morning before being up for 9 o’clock lectures, and drank so much alcohol that on the night that led to me getting expelled from the Great Britain Juniors Bridge Team for bringing the game into disrepute, half the amount I consumed would have been a fatal dose for almost any normal person. But that was normal, wasn’t it? Academics are meant to be a bit eccentric. And besides, people kept on telling me what they’d told me all my life. “You’re clever. You’ll be fine. Just work hard.”

So I can’t have had a problem. Can I? The day after day after day when I physically couldn’t move from the corner of the room where I’d rock with my hands over my ears and my eyes shut because that was the only way to keep the world out. That can’t have been a problem. Because I didn’t have problems. It felt like a problem when I looked at the pile of letters I hadn’t opened for 6 months because the thought of what might be in them and the absolute, final end it might bring to my world made me physically ill. But people who knew told me the same thing: I was clever, I’ll be fine. So when the chapters didn’t get written that can only have been laziness. And I was told again and again that any gaps in the CV would put an end to my hopes. So I clearly just needed to work harder. And when my body and my mind screamed they couldn’t I just needed to thrash them, often literally, until they would.

Of course, I wasn’t fine. I had bipolar disorder. A decade and a half of trying to make my willpower the unstoppable force to batter through the immovable object of my illness had left me with thousands of pounds of debt and utterly burned out. And that was the end of that. It was another 5 years before I had the strength to get a low level admin job.

If you are struggling the way I did, then you are not fine. Do not let people tell you you are fine. Do not let people say that because you are clever you will be OK. Invisible conditions are awful because people will not believe you. When you are also incredibly bright, you can multiply that up exponentially, because you will, almost all the time, look absolutely fine. You will be achieving things many couldn’t imagine achieving if they had every battery running on 11. So many people will not believe you have problems. But you do. And there are people here who know that and will listen.  Things may, or may not, turn out OK, but if you don’t seek help because you believe the fault somehow lies with you, with your motivation or your effort, you will be a lot less OK than if you do.

When you are bright, you are led to believe you can work your way through anything. You can work your way through the most complex problems academia can throw at you. But you can’t work your way out of mental ill health. Take the time you need to get the support you need. Because a month, or a year, or even a few years, won’t necessarily put an end to your dreams. But leaving it too late will.

Seven Principles for 2017


  • Unity is not a value, it is a strategy. Unifying can be used to impose control or to resist it (from within by subversion or as a group of disparate overlapping interests from without), but its value resides only in the values around which the unity is built or the utility to which it is put.
  • “Pushing through” is not a good in itself. Just as your body needs to distinguish between good muscle pain and bad muscle pain so your mind needs to know that there are some “difficult things” it is essential to keep doing and some you need to pull right back from.
  • Your horizons are not marked out by other people’s norms or abilities. In any direction. “That was really good” and “that was really poor” are judgments about your performance only you are qualified to make.
  • Uphold science in the face of irrelevant relativism. Uphold agnosticism and relativism in the face of inappropriate certainty. Learn the difference.
  • There is no shame in weakness. If you have the strength, use it to make the world better for those who do not. If you do not have strength, it is as much your right to expect of society as it is society’s duty to deliver.
  • Listen more.
  • Make the world more beautiful and more just but remember – beauty without justice is a hollow shell; justice without beauty is a start.
  • Failure is a wonderful, beautiful thing, but also a great privilege that many cannot afford. If you want to deliver justice and beauty, work towards a world in which everyone has the freedom to fail without fear.

This is Oxford

An updated version of a poem I first wrote for my very first spoken word performance 6 years ago now. Just the second verse remains.


This is Oxford
City of eternal disappointment
You wear the dreams of your anointed like a sleeve of glittering jewels
Delustre them and leave them with the litter at the evening’s end
For the pitiful and pissed to pick over for sympathy and pennies.

Nightmaring spires where choirs caress you to your rest
And dress you for your final journey
Everything burns but the lingering lies
In his cataract eyes
A sick old man in a shabby gown
John Huston at the end of Chinatown

Swaddled in gaslight
So even the night is never truly black
And silence is fractured by the toccata of the organ scholar’s call
Summoning the chosen ones
Behind the high stone walls
To claret-spattered drinking rooms
Where Rhodes will never fall.

But that is not my Oxford
The university of lost causes and last chances
Where tears and razorblades are not ashamed
To cradle one more crazy dream before it dies
Where broken people stitch themselves together in the shadows
And myths mooch jowl to jowl with memories

Head south beside the river
Where parkour crews kick tricks from brutalist bridges
Making shapes that make the hairs on the nape of your neck stand up
Where the city’s blood beats syncopated bars
And graffiti coursing through capillaries of concrete inks its skin

Turn left by the Angel and Greyhound
Down the lane
Where angels with thickened veins do trade by burned out cars,
Where cider softens scars on arteries that would not open
And paths of glass climb broken brickwork
Far above the city’s choking snickets
To rooftop highways
Where poets primed in Primark paint spit anthems birthed in beautiful anger
To the gaudy and the gorgeous of the night.

This is Oxford
Last kisses licked from filthy lips
The desperate drips of promises and sweat
Whispers to the ones who might just make it yet…
This is Oxford
This is Oxford
This is Oxford

Race to the Stones

over the line at last!

over the line at last!


As a writer I am all too familiar with the concept of sophomore blues or, as it is sometimes called, “that tricky second book.” It has been interesting to see just how much of that strangeness has trickled into my second year of running.

Last year, my wife and I took 9 months to go from being able to run for about a minute to taking on, and beating, the 100k Race to the Stones. This year has been tough. In large part the reasons are the same as those writers and musicians face. Everything, every ounce, has gone into making that first time a hit. The tank is empty. And, in the case of running, there just wasn’t time to refill it over the winter. We took our shoes off after the Snowdonia Marathon at the end of October, at which point the body refused to cooperate with anything till the end of January. So much for banking solid winter training. After that much of a shock the body just needed rest.

So, lining up at the start with the inevitable under-preparation, it was always going to be a tough one. What helped immensely was a fabulous time at Race to the King three weeks earlier. We’d only done one day but that had reminded us just how fabulous Threshold events are. They really are a slickly-oiled machine, but without an overly corporate feel. Food is copious, a great mix of unprocessed and the kind of junk you crave, there are full-trained medics everywhere all of whom get the foibles of ultra runners and will listen, treat you, and do everything they can to get you on your way. You feel in control of yourself, making your own choices and never having them made for you by people who don’t quite get the endurance mindset.

A further complicating factor this year was the cool summer. The one warm day I can remember we went for a 21k run on the course from Barbury Castle to Avebury and back, but unlike last year there has been no chance to get used to the heat, so when summer decided to get under way for real on Saturday, a *lot* of people suffered (race stats show a greater than 20% attrition rate, and I’d wager most of that was heat related).

So, the race itself. I’m not sure I’ve ever learned quite so much about myself as I did in the 25 and a half hours I was out on the course. The setting was as spectacular as I remembered it, the iconic corn field was as stunning as last year. There were the same queues to get through the kissing gates on the first section, and the stretch by the Thames was beautiful but sweltering. This year I had more suitable shoes – my Altra Olympus were sufficient to cope with the trails but protected my feet from both the tarmac sections through and around Goring and the endless flint-laden chalk – I wasn’t having to watch my every stride to make sure the soles of my feet weren’t shredded. As a result, a day after finishing I have a couple of small blisters and no pain in my feet at all.

at teh stones (albeit on a training run)

at the stones (albeit on a training run)

Not everything went so well. It was clear by aid station 2 that fuelling was a problem. I very thirsty, and trying to take sips every 10 minutes while running so as not to overdo it, but I still ended up needing to drink so much I just couldn’t face food. It was a situation that continued through the entire race with the exception of base camp where the presence of endless quantities of milk meant I could get hydrated whilst also packing some calories. I’m sure the lack of fuel contributed to what happened later.

Early pace was steady and promising – pretty much on target for something between 18 and 20 hours, which would have been a nice consolidation after a tough winter following last year’s 19:42. But the absence of eating like I should was a ticking time bomb – my tally for the entire race duration: 4 quarters of an orange, 2 bananas, 1 packet of crisps, 1 cereal bar, 2 packs of sausage rolls, a cupasoup, 1 finger of fudge, and at basecamp half a bowl of pasta (compared to last year’s two bowls of pasta, bread and soup, and pudding gulped down in about 5 minutes). I’d struggle to get through a normal day on that – let alone a day and a half of burning 10,000 calories on top of base metabolic amount.

When I did get to base camp and went to text Ann that I’d arrived, I found a message saying she was in trouble. She was with medics at the previous aid station, utterly depleted with rapid heartbeat and wildly fluctuating temperatures. We did a lot of discussing of options but the long and the short of it was that she clearly had a virus, and to continue even to base camp would be stupid. I waited there for her while Threshold sent a car for her, making arrangements to get her back to the finish line where her drop bag with warm clothes and sleeping bag awaited. All the Threshold crew were amazing. So professional, so organised, and so willing to listen to you and let you take the lead on what was needed. Hats off to all of them. When Ann arrived I fetched her milk, and we discussed options (the staff were even prepared to let her overnight then start again in the morning but it was obvious that the only way to sort out the temperature and the heartrate was to get her back to the safety of the finishing area). Once we had established that the crew would get her to safety, and that if she was resting she would be OK (and on site with a qualified medical team) we agreed I should carry on and meet her at the end.

at Streatley on the final on-course training run the week before the race

at Streatley on the final on-course training run the week before the race

I set back out after 2 and a half hours at base camp, very disappointed for Ann but so so proud of her for getting through more than a marathon while on her sick bed!

There is something magical about heading out onto the second half of the race. It is the point where the event changes from being rather fun to something else entirely. As I headed out (no doubt refreshed by the unexpectedly long break) with one of my favourite inspiration tracks blaring from the speakers (confession time – Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait), I felt the thrill of leaving civilisation behind for what I knew would be about 12 hours. If you’re my pace, setting out from base camp to run the race non-stop means that however warm and light it is when you leave, you know you are heading into the night. In itself that is a rather magical feeling. Add to that the kudos you get from all those staying at the camp overnight, and the crew who usher you back out, and it’s a very special feeling indeed.

It was fully dark by the time I hit the next aid station. Running at night is a truly wonderful thing – it’s just you, a tiny pool of light, and the inevitable moths. By this stage both distance, and the numbers camping who are safe in their sleeping bags, mean you will probably not see another person between aid stations (though when you arrive, their presence announced first by a blaze on the horizon, then the rumble of generators, you find yourself surrounded by 10, even 20 of your fellow athletes who will become your intermittent fellow travellers through these strange hours). For me night running has an added weirdness, because for some reason I can’t run with a head torch – I just can’t get it to cast any kind of shadow so I end up with no depth perception at all, so I strap my torch to my hand to give myself the best chance of avoiding a turned ankle.

It was the kilometre or so before the first aid station out of base camp that I had my first real mental battle. I was overwhelmed with worry whether Ann had got safely to the finish, racked with guilt, and 90% sure that I was going to pull out to make sure she was OK. When I got there, the first thing I did was get the crew to ring base camp and check up. It took an hour to get an affirmative, all the time a mix of worry and relief that I had a valid reason to pull out and avoid the hardship ahead vying with each other. It was an incredible relief to hear she was OK, and now safe and sound and where she needed to be, but I was also aware I had just been stripped of my excuse for pulling out. I headed out of aid station 6 both physically and emotionally drained. Fortunately the next section was short and straightforward, but that was the last time anything about the race would feel anywhere near normal.

just some of the stunning scenery on the course

just some of the stunning scenery on the course

The level of solitude you experience running at night in the country will always start to play tricks with your mind. The regular thump thump of your backpack does nothing to lessen that. Nor the strange things the shadows from your torch do – because you are striding not driving smoothly, shadows dance and jerk, they move like small animals and it is almost impossible to avoid performing a tired-footed tarantella to avoid treading on what you imagine are poor unsuspecting shrews scurrying for their lives that turn out to be nothing but seed heads of grass. But not all the weirdness is imaginary. The 70 kilometre marker was set up, in the middle of nowhere, on the side of a Winnebago that was lit up like a Christmas tree playing drum and bass – this at well past midnight.

The section between aid stations 7 and 8 is one of the most hateful sections of race I know. Not only is it relentlessly hilly, there’s a really long stretch up a main road that crosses the M4, followed by a diversion into a field, the exit from which is so steep there was an unexpected member of race crew there to lift you out of it!

The section that followed I knew was tough – not only was there more road but there was a relentless hill back up to Barbury Castle at the end. Heading out, I was struggling to remember the basics of putting one foot in front of the other. By now it was nearly dawn and I was tired. Not the kind of tired I get after a long day at work but the kind of tired where even my internal monologue wouldn’t put two words together coherently. Where the concentration to focus on where your feet were being placed on rutted ground guided only by a torch that was now veering about because I couldn’t hold it still was not just failing but in danger of being sent back to repeat the year. As the course crossed another busy road, there was a lovely security guard who earned my eternal gratitude by offering me 10 minutes in his chair, then broke the news that it was 6.1 kilometres till the next aid station. The part of my lizard brain that was still functioning new that this was a kilometre more than the marker at the previous aid station had announced, and something that trivial nearly destroyed me. I’ve always shaken my head reading accounts of ultra runners getting distraught for going a mile off course – if you’re going that far what difference does it make? The answer is that when your brain has told itself to prepare for precisely this long then even a metre feels as though it is the last straw that will make you fail.

Even sitting down hadn’t really refreshed me. My engine was running on its last few fumes. Then, on the streets through Ogbourne St George, I found myself for the first time with company. At first, I thought the red light I saw ahead was from a lamp on a fellow runner’s backpack. Then I realised it was actually coming from the eye of a dog. And the dog was with someone, who was dressed all in white. For a moment I was terrified, convinced I was about to be attacked, then I realised the person was holding a second dog cradled against its shoulder – he was kindly keeping his dogs under control while I passed. I was about to say thank you when I realised this was no ordinary person but a monk. I was wondering where the nearest monastery was when he disappeared. Fortunately I was just about in control of my faculties to know that the Phantom Friar of Ogbourne St George was, in fact, a hallucination (of course, if this was an urban legend or one of my books, I’d get home, google “monk Ogbourne St George” and find that an escaped serial killer had fled dressed in white robes). But I was equally sur such lucidity wouldn’t last. It was time, I knew, to call it a day before I ended up veering off course to help an imaginary monk find his dog and ended up goodness knows where, comatose in a remote ditch.

It was disappointing to be so close, but the decision to pull out felt like such a relief, especially as I knew how hard the last section was.

But for some reason as I stumbled deliriously into aid station 9 the words that came out of my mouth weren’t “I’m done” but “Do you have a tent I can sleep I for an hour – I’ve just been hallucinating and I think it might be a good idea to clear my head before I set off.” “I think you’re right,” said a lovely medic, and the crew showed me to a tent, zipped me up, and promised to wake me in an hour if I wasn’t up. This is one of the thing’s that’s so special about ultramarathons that sets them apart from even the most hardcore marathon. You can have these truly violent lows, but because everything happens at the sporting equivalent of geological time, you can almost always do something to come through them. And subconsciously I’d figured the time was there, what possible harm could it do to rest up before I pulled out, and maybe, just maybe, it’d get me through. And, an hour later, as I stirred about 6 teaspoonfuls of coffee into a paste, the medic came up and asked me, very simply, “where are you?” “I’m at aid station 9,” I said, confused, until I realised what he was doing. “Excellent,“ he said, adding, “My next question was going to be who’s the prime minister” to which I responded, “I haven’t seen the news for over a day, it could be anyone,” eliciting a response of “which is the right answer.”

And with veterinary doses of caffeine inside me, I texted Ann to say I was on the final stretch and was underway. I took it very easily but now, with daylight firmly set in, nothing was going to demoralise me, not even the dreaded loop back, which sees athletes pass the finish line and be sent off in the opposite direction to the Avebury Stones before heading back. The only real difficulty between there and the end was some severe white-out on some of the baked chalk, which made depth perception as hard as it can be by the light of a head torch, and 2 hours 29 minutes after setting out I had a medal round my neck, was reunited with Ann who was much rested and full of tales of the wonders of night time at the finish area, changed into clothes that were ever so slightly less rank, and curled up in the corner of the finish barn wondering, as much as my nearly blank mind would wonder, if that had really happened.

Bring on 2017!

Petrichor: A proposal for unlocking human potential

This is an abstract from a white paper I’m writing in response to the need to “do something” positive, collaborative, and world-bettering. It also pulls together a lot of things I have been working on over several months. The paper will serve as the basis for funding proposals to various stakeholders. Any and all comments very welcome. And if you are interested in ideas like this, please join the Facebook page for Petrichor (here).

we are petrichor



Climate change, the automation of repetitive tasks and its effect on the landscape of labour, food scarcity, access to clean water. We face problems that cannot be tackled other than on a global level, through collaborations of the best minds available working with all available resources to bring every available perspective to bear, to explore the resulting possibilities, and implement the most promising. At this time of greatest need, many of the minds best placed to contribute to solutions are locked out of formal research networks – through ill-fortune or ill-health, through circumstance, through structural funding deficits, or through never having had the opportunity to engage with or become part of that community in the first place. This paper proposes a mechanism for unlocking the potential of those minds to address these issues in order to improve lives, to provide hope and opportunity, to find ways of working on the global and extreme local scale so as to build a progressive and sustainable world. That mechanism is a tripartite exchange platform that provides on the one side multiple funding streams to cover the costs of providing technology, training, travel and time for people outside of formal research, on a second side a forum for anyone who wishes to pitch ideas for research backing from those streams, and on the third side a means for those within a formal research environment to provide resources to enable that research, from skills training to materials. This model is able to function on a very small scale, allowing it first of all to serve as a proof of concept for a much larger, global iteration of essentially the same structure. Tangible outputs would comprise a series of open access working and white papers and proceedings from events that would provide the basis for further research from those within and outside of the scheme. As important would be the results mentioned above that come from such an unlocking of human potential.

Nobody’s Inspiration

Yesterday, I had the absolute honour of delivering the thanks to Linda Gask, who gave the second Oxford Disability Lecture, delivering a hugely-needed, unflinchingly honest, uncompromisingly demanding, and refreshingly pragmatic talk about her own experience of depression as a person, as a psychiatrist, and as an academic. There will soon be a podcast, but I wanted to share the text of the poem now. It was a fabulous, and very exciting experience delivering it to such a receptive audience, and in front of the University’s Vice Chancellor (it struck me as a delicious irony that after nattering to her for a while afterwards, I have probably spent more time with her than my bosses). Please check out Linda’s book The Other Side of Silence here.

At Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

At Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

Nobody’s Inspiration

Stigma is the thing with branches,
the miserly larch that will not shed its spines in winter,
the hollow hinterland that marches to horizons
where the eyes of reason and compassion cannot follow.

Thank you
…For lighting a path into the wilderness
That bewildered mess of passions dressed in dust.
Fashioned from half-started lives now carcasses of rust,
Ashes from the lists of everything we thought we’d be
…For caressing from the shards of carbon
Filaments of empathy
From which
Tomorrow builds her nest

See, I can fly but sometimes I need you to give me wings
My heart is full of song
But I sometimes need your love to amp me when I sing
Sometimes people reel off lists of things I’ve done
Jobs done, medals won
Ultramarathons run
Poems told and stories spun
And I feel like I’m in a minority of one
When I say, “mate, the hardest thing I’ve ever done
Was get out of bed,
Put down the pills
Pick up some clothes
And face the sun.”
And all you can say is
“the least you can do is put on a tie”
And I think, “look, you can have me shine,
Well, maybe not shine but at least get by
Like this,
Or you can have the last light in me die.”

It’s easy to say we care
And that is not enough
It’s easy to say we want the best for everyone
And that is not enough
It’s easy to write beautiful mission statements
And that is not enough
It’s easy to put faces on our walls,
It’s easy to celebrate the ones who did it all
It’s easy to embrace a culture of support
Until we fall
And we must do all of that
But that is not enough

We talk glibly of a human cost
As though we know
A world that will not change
Becomes a junkyard where depositories of genius are tossed
But this is also hope
Damped down
It’s smoking embers of a dream stamped out like cigarettes
It’s kisses choked before they leave the throat
It’s everything that adds up to a life

We’ll not beat stigma with celebrations of highflyers,
By filling dreaming spires with choirs of good intentions idolising outliers
By glamorising myths of brilliant madness
Or fetishizing funeral pyres.

Your victory is this,
that you are known not by a label but a name.
My wish, my dream, my right
Is for the same.


Tonight, I have the pleasure of taking part in a fabulous event (details here, please come!) as part of Not the Oxford Literary Festival looking at the role of the the movement and manifesto in contemporary culture. It’s something I come back to again and again and have written about here at length.

One of the movements I will be looking at tonight is Brutalism (the literary, not the architectural, version), and in conjunction with this event, it was an honour to talk to my favourite poet and one of the founding members of the movement, Adelle Stripe, about Brutalism and where she sees its place 10 years after it burst onto the scene as the first (and possibly to date only) digital ism. And enjoy this wonderful reading.

Before we start, please look her up on her website (and follow links to all her books – Dark Corners of the Land is the best poetry book I have read from the current decade)

– Brutalism came about at the start of an incredible period of change for the internet. Do you think that changed your direction or the direction of literature in general in ways you didn’t see coming?
AS: It’s hard to say if our actual ‘writing’ changed anything, only time will prove that – but I do think it encouraged a few writers out there. It felt like a liberating time, what was once confined to the printed page could be put online and shared within seconds. We used blogspot and myspace to make it happen. We have witnessed the digital equivalent of Gutenberg in our lifetimes, which is quite a thrill. The digital revolution has changed all of our lives – for better or worse. There are often times when I cringe at some of the stuff I wrote back then, I would never put that sort of thing online now…I’m far too cautious…
– Do we still need Brutalism? Do we still have it, and if so who are its heirs?
AS: No, we defiinitely don’t need Brutalism. It was a moment in time, the right thing to do in the summer of 2006. We were inspired by Sniffin’ Glue’s ‘here’s three chords, now go form a band’, wrote a pile of thrill-seeking poems in response, and put them out there. We ruffled some of feathers, and that was about it.
-How much of what you set out to achieve did you manage?
AS: The plan was to piss in the filing cabinets of the publishing industry and set them on fire. That didn’t quite happen. But, by becoming artists as producers we retained the power over our own work, and dictated the terms of distribution. I edited the chapbook and learned how to use Quark. Lisa Cradduck did a set of cross-hatched drawings for the poems, and Ben, Tony and myself cooked up a short manifesto. Once everything was in place we sold it online. It was a learning process for all of us, but I’m glad we did it. It was our punk rock version of Lyrical Ballads.
I think, over time, we all did quite well out of it. Ben wrote his novel based on Richey Edwards the year after, which was published by Picador and Tony put out Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City on Harper Perennial in the following years. It’s been a much slower journey for me, although I’ve written 3 chapbook collections and I’m working on a novel at the moment.
– Why do you think it’s so hard to get people to get passionately involved in artistic movements?
AS: Semantics? I don’t know. Sometimes language is too complex. People need a hook, and often visual hooks work better than words. I have a copy of Blast in my office, and it’s still a total thrill to pick it up off the shelf. The Vorticists were around at the right time, and connected artists, writers, poets and thinkers – it was published 30 days before WWI broke out. There was great tragedy there – Gaudier-Brzeska etc. But also the style of Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Epstein, West and Wadsworth made that book pack a punch. Looking at Blast now, I can’t believe it was published in 1914 – even today it looks (and reads) like something from the future.
– What are the walls that need tearing down in literature today?
AS: I think the main wall is that working-class writers don’t have the right opportunities to publish their work. It is completely dominated by Oxbridge and UEA. This has resulted in anaesthetised prose and suffocating poetry with no radical pulse. The smaller publishers are taking the risks. Publishing is ruled by editors and agents who are part of the ‘informal’ Oxbridge network, and this, in turn, locks out opportunity for anyone else. This includes BAME writers. There is a big struggle to be heard and taken seriously.

The Transparency of Sutures

So, finally, as I leafed through material looking for things to read at this year’s readings, I noticed that there was enough there, as last, to merit a proper collection of poems for those who might want such a thing, and so here it is. All the old favourites from my previous pamphlets are here, from SKIN BOOK to Hungerford Bridge, but so is a whole raft of new and previously unpamphleted material, including a lot of recent poems that you may hear at a reading this year, including some lighter hearted work like my Geoffrey Hill rant.


ToS cover-page0001

Hard copies will be available from readings, but at $0.99 I very much hope you’ll think the ebook is worth carrying with you.

You can get it from Amazon UK, US, or whichever is your local Amazon store.

Here is the video of one of the poems, Dead Poets, recorded at Hammer and Tongue in Oxford last year.