From Poetry London



I carry twins in me

like dogs’ heads in a handbag.


They look like father and mother.

I have carried them as long as my memory.


Don’t let us stay where we start.

Don’t bury us where we are born.


From Index On Censorship 40th Anniversary Poetry Competition - Winning Entry

Spelling Malala


A girl of fourteen fires unseen bullets from her mouth

each time she opens it; at fifteen, they flare from

her fingers as she forms letters, with a stick in the dirt,

with a pencil, taking aim over a keyboard,

striking terror with each key.


I. W.A.N.T. T.O. L.E.A.R.N.

What Devil, what God, puts brains in a girl?

Minute, yet toxic, like radioactive particles, 

a crack team's challenge inside a growing frame, 

to be isolated, eradicated, before a woman's shape

makes them impossible to locate inside

all that emerging flesh.


Oh, it is vital work, viral, one bullet in the right

soft tissue blasts shut a thousand mouths,

myriad minds. One girl, one gun, one message. 


I. W.A.N.T. T.O. L.I.V.E. Never mind

how you spell it. You won't learn to write it.

Bite down on your bulets. Slam shut the door

to the mind you might want opened

instead of blown apart. 


From National Poetry Competition - Commended Entry

Mr Happy


My brother is pretending to be in Vietnam.

He emails at Christmas from the basement,

how he loves Hanoi.


The Tiger beer, just fifty cents, funky kids

in fake Nike, riding fast on scooters

through narrow laneways of noodles or

gravestones, or Chinese lanterns. Pho kitchens


on footpaths, women carrying baskets

of bread and mangoes. Cyclos.

Boat rides through rice paddies

where people harvest stones.

An elephant in the back of a truck.

My brother does not want

to come home.


He emails us hourly,

leaves his mark@missing.com


He hopes a travelling mind will lift him

out from under our influence,

the wave of the New Year buoy him

to higher ground. We pretend


we can't hear him padding around

beneath our daily lives. Boiling

the kettle. Using the bathroom.


The weight of our house is great.

He cannot climb, one foot

in front of the other, up

the all-too-concrete

subterranean steps.

I miss him.


Vietnam moves

at a strange and noisy pace,

that feels somehow normal.

"Mr Happy" travel agents.

The Temple of Literature. Women

carrying baskets. Elephants. Bananas.

Kitchens balanced on poles.


From From Word Bridges Young Refugee Project, Literature Matters Award

Base Camp 


For Dana, Faadimah, Ibtissam, Maryam, Mohamed, Rawan, Rui, Sajeda, Sayeda, Sujoud and Tarek

(and with heartfelt thanks to Lucy)


You are a mountaineer. 


Throughout the night you climb, pioneer  

the airless heights of freshly fallen language. 


From your base camp bed,  

its pillow plumped with snow, 

you lace up your exhausted boots,  

fold your inedible map,  

and ascend into your mind, 

under a sky locked into silent cloud. 


Frost-crusted syllables wait to trip you. 

Misunderstanding holds its breath,  

creaks its avalanche warning. 

You cannot afford to risk  

mistakes in the white darkness. 

You carry no oxygen. 

There is no respite.  

You are ice and alone. 


Your learning tongue tries to shape itself 

around the impossible fractals 

that chill, fill your mouth.  


You stare at dimming stars as a stranger, 

follow the night into new light 


where the waking sun  

exposes the sheer  

face of your future,  

the peaks dwarfing the dawn.  


You have risen to meet the mountain,  

the horizon your deepest breath. 

You will plant your bright flag at the top of the world. 


You fly all the colours of your family. 

You have sung yourself into the sky. 


You will dream yourself into voice.


 © R. Harris 2019

And for more on this beautiful project, see: BBC News