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‘Learning to Count’


Seven, eight

you’re fucking late she says. Hours we waited. Then he says something like Oh, for
Chrissake and they both go on until doors slam bangbang! Don’t pry. Don’t spy.
Never ask why he was late.

One, two

buckle my seatbelt. Oh. There’s no seatbelt. (This is years ago.) Watch the road!
You’ll be sick if you don’t watch the road. Now you see it,                        !

Five, sticks

and stones etc. The most important thing is: don’t let them, anyone, know you

care. Shelves and shelves

of books. Pick up tips between the lines but don’t keep asking her what happily ever
after actually means. You’ll have to put two and two together, with your little

She stopped number three, for

your sakes. An accident. They’d been to Brighton, got mucky at the weekend. Three!
I can barely cope with two. Eyes to ceiling.

Nine, tense

the gypsy woman at the door read her future and said she would have eight more big,
fat ones. Everyone laughed. You’re not crying are you? Look at her, she is! She’s
crying. She’s all something beginning with u.




Cathy Dreyer is in her first year of an MPhil in Writing at the University of South Wales. Cathy is regular student of ours, and liked last term’s Walking the Line course with Andrew Philip so much she’s doing it again this Spring. The following poem was created out of one of Andrew’s classes. In her own words: “I wrote this with a bit of a groan because I don’t like writing from my childhood, although many great writers, as our tutor Andrew Philip pointed out,  think those early years are a good resource. Andrew referred us to Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns, noting that it includes the phrase ‘my rich and desolate childhood’.

One of the things I liked about Mercian Hymns was the way Hill plays with voices. I especially enjoyed the incantatory voice of the list in section l undercut by the King’s funny vanity. I wanted to have a go myself without copying Hill exactly, although I did pinch his form.

I was thinking incantations!lists!childhood! and came up with a nursery rhyme and a game. I think I might also have hoped that One, two, buckle my shoe would give me a sonic cheat-sheet (it’s definitely stood the test of time) and a bit of a two-for-one, as most readers would hear the original alongside my disordered variant.

I read Andrew’s briefing notes and the assignment and what I could find of Mercian Hymns. Andrew is a fantastic tutor, and I often refer back to things I’ve learnt from him, or tried to learn. But I tried to write from my gut rather than from my head. Then I edited with more consciousness of what the assignment had asked us to do, which was to roam the borderlines of prose and poetry.

This is the draft I submitted for workshopping. There are a couple of words I’d take out to tighten up a couple of lines, which colleagues in the live chat kindly put forward. I’d also take the last sentence out of italics, as I don’t think it quite works just now. I was delighted that Andrew and my colleagues liked it.”

Cathy is reading at Cheltenham Poetry Festival in April and has just had a poem accepted for Verse Kraken.


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Image credit: Denise Krebs