Poetry film: What we almost did

Words: Stefan Nicolaou

Animation: Sara Torkmorad

Voice: Keira Duffy


If a feeling was a person…finding your truth with Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze

He was in my room, unrolling a

sleeping bag and unpacking his clothes.

I was like a big ship with a gaping hole,

lapping up the sea and growing heavy.

He told me he’d walk hand in hand with me,

over my astroturf of lies,

and linger there like the damp smell

that lingers on towels.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful workshop led by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze at the Roundhouse, organised by IdeasTap. Like most workshops, attendees were prompted to write a complete poem in an impossible timeframe. Well – not impossible, but daunting as most writers spend most of the time set to ‘Pre-occupied’.

Jean was an inspiring coach, reeling off poems and witticisms. She stressed that you have to write as much as possible, then read your work out loud, and learn what to scrap and what’s potential gold. She favoured the term ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’.

We were instructed to focus on approaching poems like a portrait: to frame a sense of time and place and then fill it in with colours, smells and sounds. After brainstorming different feelings we could write a poem about (everything from awe to lust to misery to grief  and longing appeared – we were, predictably, a morose bunch), Jean set us the task of writing about the chosen feeling. The challenge was to start with 5 sentences. Each sentence had to describe the feeling a if it were a concrete sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Then there was a bonus question:

“If you walked into a room and the feeling was a person, what would it be doing?”

The exercise would help find the language we needed to describe what Jean called our ‘truth’. Our associations with the feelings and various senses would equip us to prop up the bridge between our thoughts and the page.

The poem above is the result. The feeling was ‘Guilt’

The clapper

The clapper is the most

important part of the theatre arrangement,

Sitting above the cast and crew

the clapper (usually a he or a she)

makes it clear, beyond reasonable doubt,

when it’s time to applaud;,

no such role exist for making jokes.

No one is ever sure when

it’s time to laugh


You lie to the beach and it defeats all expectations. The skin serrates on the small of your back and sun block melts into your eyelids. The muscles of your iris are straining to focus on clumsy novel stretched out before you.The hotel towels is a little sandpaper square. You left your own, over the bath, as custom dictates, and it was left there by housekeeping alongside the soap wrapper. The soap hadn’t been replaced. This means you’re checking every second second that it’s not being caked with wet sand.

Your glass bottle of Diet Coke is flat and warm. The cooling breeze betrays you and peppers the luke-warm bottle with sand.The lapping tide is an irregular rhythm.

In hindsight, the walk your companions are taking would have been a welcome excursion: a diversion from the musty, itchy backrest and the rash of sweat swathing your underarms. It might be an adventure: a maze of inflatables and syrupy ice creams that ‘you don’t get back home’. Instead, you are alone. You’re watching the stuff.

A thought occurs that maybe a getaway isn’t exactly what you needed. Why pick guaranteed sun sun over the unpredictability of the London weather? Maybe it’s a good thing you can go shopping for shorts, and a mac, and gloves ,and books to enjoy as you endure the underground? And all at one time. Maybe ‘rest’ isn’t place you should need to go to every 4 months.

You gaze before you: the sea looks awesome but so unnatural. As if a painter squeezed out the deepest and palest blues in his retinue of colours and squished it between two panes of glass.

Enough. You stand in the black parameter of the parasol and prepare to glide across the boundary onto the unprotected sand; the sand whose grooves, laid on like icing, is being turfed up by the shrill children who have take to the beach like just-hatched turtles.

You don’t glide: you instantly retreat. The sore spot on the ball of your foot pounds with the burn. After reaching for your flip flops you flit between a trudge and a hop as quickly as the terrain will allow. The uneven mounds cause sand to slip between your toes and the speed means the flip flops are askew.

Finally, sweat dripping everywhere, the tide rushes over your feet. They instantly are encased with the wet, bound bed of sand. You stay still as your burnt feet gasp and hiss  like a sparkler in a bucket of water. Relief washes over you and then retreats. You remove the flip flops and admonish yourself as they instantly bow to the power of the ocean.

Goosebumps ripen all over your body and you begin to wade further in; an eager mind against the water’s resistance. The water lashes around your ankles and then you’re shins. And then your waist.

You turn back every so often. Under the glass the beach and its participants are the flecks on the painter’s apron. Your lounger is still there. To the left of the inexplicably attractive man in silver shorts and just south of the fractious family. The beachside bar is just three loungers down and seven to the left; it looks small and uninhabitable.

As you drift further in you begin being less precious about the salt drying your lips and irritating your face. Feet sinking into ocean floor, you realise that now, against the sun, you are cold. There’s some trepidation but it’s quickly extinguished.  You submerge fully. That ghastly shock turns to pleasure like an epipen to the heart. You emerge and thrash around and float and propel yourself backwards.

Every so often your eyes dart around back to shore. There’s incremental panic as you turn and fail to locate the restaurant. It’s moved further away and to the left. There is no man is silver shorts, there’re hundreds. And off-white, stone grey, charcoal, cobalt and zinc. There’s no perceptible difference between a family, no ties or towels can be discerned.

Each turn backwards it takes you a little longer to locate the invisible pole you were tied to. And every time it becomes a little less worrying. You drift diagonally and the shapes are no longer flecks but constellations.

You appreciate the big red balloon, the diamond formation, the speckled egg and fabric absorbing dye. The beach is a smear now. You decide to close your eyes and carry on floating.


What if we ended it today?

We would we ever have a picnic again

and spill our cans on the uneven floor

of Victoria park.

We would never sit and sweat

and wonder listlessly about dinner.

Never indulge each other’s petty dismay,

balk together at the everyday,

laugh at the inane,

share a trove of arcane whims

and douse each other in the sticky,

the sickly, the sublime and the sour.


There’ll be no one to guide to me to the toilets

or through a menu,

I’d never be entranced at your dancing top lip

or when you build a fire.


What happens when you don’t realise I’m ignoring you,

or I feel the need to stop deploring you,

if your green eyes cease to be the cosmos?


And my book collection would half,

I’ll stop being so shy,

and I’ll never know that stillness,

buttressed, on your chest, circling the tufts of hair

as my other hand paws your flexing arm

as you scroll down the page.

My decisions would be my own,

my downfall my own,

there would be no more interims between you and I,

no next times, no resolves.


We’d never see the islands of Croatia,

never be stranded for poor planning,

never while the waiting away by

sharing stories of how we live and how we see.


Will we never, finally, meet the sea together?

Will it be like that time at the ponds on the Heath?

I read restlessly, waiting to see

you emerge in the silver briefs.


I’d always be waiting,

immersed in grief.

Edited: 27 April 2014




Denise peeped over the banister and heard the faint hen-clucking of her mother, Valerie, entertaining Beverly in the living room. To Denise’s dismay, she heard the unmistakable slosh of a chardonnay entering another glass.

The teenager retreated back down the hallway into her dim room. A scent of artificial pomegranate wafted over the from the candle on the radiator. She observed herself in the mirror and backcombed the last remaining unknotted sections of hair. Pouting, Denise drew two stark streaks of orange blusher across her cheekbones.

‘Niiiis-y’ her mother trilled from the bottom of the stairs. ‘Niiis-y’.

Denise stomped back to the top of the steps and viewed the identikit blondes at the bottom.


Fiddling in her bag Valerie rebuked: “Oh. Nissy, say ‘pardon’ not ‘what’”.

‘What. Did you want to tell me?

‘We’re heading to the meeting now’ Valerie looked up at her daughter.

‘Oh, Denise, you’ll go bald before your time. And I wish you wouldn’t wear that ghastly make up’.

‘See ya then.’

Valerie shook her head ‘Why can’t you be more like Hannah?’

Beverly whipped her beaten hair.

‘Never mind my handful, let’s go we’ll be late…we don’t want to end up in the cheap seats.”

Forgetting Denise, Valerie erupted into shrill laughter

“Oh stop!” as she playfully hit her friends shoulder.

The sound of the heels on the gravel had barely dissipated before there was a rapping at the French doors at the back of the house. Denise glided over excitedly and let Hannah in.

“They took their time! Did you see how dressed up my mother was?”

“Ha” Denise snorted. They’re both an embarrassment. Still – what do you expect from the woman that puts on lipstick to get the phone?

Hannah circled the middle unit of the kitchen and glided her hands across the black tiles. She squeezed her hand around her tight denim pocket and pulled out a crumpled and deflated 20-deck of Malboro lights.

“De-licious. Smiled Denise.”The scented candle works a treat. It goes straight over her head”

Hannah inched closer, almost tentatively, to Denise. She squeezed her shoulder and commented that they were for afterwards.

“Well…I told my mum I’d be doing chemistry homework all night’

Hannah raised a sly eyebrow.

“Doing…?” She asked coquettishly.

“My desk is upstairs…”


You’re my body in the wild,
The sigh before sleep and
The flash before epiphany.

A crop I can’t cultivate and
a body of text I couldn’t translate
Nor deign to imitate, inflate and footnote.

A perturbing thrusting,
thrusting of one onto another,
A conversation of expulsion framed desire.

Possessive verbs drift into a
Delirium of non sequitur pangs
And an envy with roots as lost as Latin.

Everything is masked; made forbidden,
Once uncloaked, all is nonsense and assailed,
Drowned in derision.


Two gazing strangers sit on a bench before the finite horizon. The stranger on the left gazes through the cracks of the pier and wonders how unfeasible it is to build on water; the other is perturbed by the absence of creaking from the stapled planks. A tension arises on the strangers adrift on the peninsular; between one stranger nonplussed at peace, and the other forbearing of the buckling of the half-bridge of the pier.

“They let their dogs run off their leashes here”

“Because of trust, or obedience?”

“There’s often scant and seldom difference”

“I think it’s because of the boundary-”

“-between trust and -?”

“No. Between the mountains and the civilized swarm; the dog’s nature and its captor’s”

“The same sea lapping against the mountains and the skyscraper: you think that is the cause.”

Of the comport?”

“Why they’re off their leashes on the parks and street; near the roads and the curbs.”

“Their leash isn’t the reason for complicity?”

“It isn’t their leash. And the leash doesn’t exist.”

They fell into silence. A crow set on the pier and squawked rhythmically and dramatically. It flapped its wings and soared to greet the echo of its call.



Derek reclined slightly and unconsciously stroked each set of ribs twice. He sucked on the tip of his thumbnail and glanced sideways. Without preamble he slid in his chair until he was chin-over-shoulder next to Ivan.

“’Why lap dancing clubs should be regulated’” He read on Ivan’s monitor. “Blimey”.

Ivan pointedly clicked and closed the window and resumed writing an email. To deter an actual dialogue with his neighbour it was vital to keep all utterances at nothing more elaborate than blunt grunts of either agreement or comprehension. A vow of silence, unfortunately, never kept the wolf at bay. Ivan was never all ears, but Derek was certainly all ‘I’s’.

The latter leaped to action like a spider with a stimulated web. The headline on the Guardian newspaper’s website was enough to release the ball into a proverbial roulette wheel of possible monologues.

The ball skipped across ‘strident political views’, bounced over ‘disapproval of personal internet use’ and flew over ‘embarrassment’; Derek finally landed on the ‘memories’ square.

“I remember when I once almost went inside a strip club.” His ballooned and slippery lps slid across his overlapping teeth and his face contorted into a broad smile. He heaved a prolonged sigh and continued: “It weren’t deliberate (of course) it was back in the days when I was drinking caffeinated coffee and commuting between Kent and Newham…”

Penelope halted her manic flow of typing and popped up from behind the monitor on the desk opposite Ivan’s.

“I should probably go check the training room has something I need for tomorrow”. She announced before blindly collecting an assortment of objects and tottering out of the room.

Eyvind eyed his mug and forensically surveyed all other options. In a collection of unfortunate circumstances, he had only moments before visited the bathroom, enjoyed a cigarette and replenished his mug.

“…I fought there was a hen party ‘appenin’ an’ fought to meself: ‘I definitely don’ wanna be involved in this’ and, ooh, you definitely won’ guess what ‘appened next” Derek continued, pronouncing each vowel sound as if producing a rubber ball from his mouth.

Ivan shifted on an axis in his sheet and began rubbing his eyebrow as if it were agitated by a nettle sting. He didn’t get a chance to judge the feasibility of the everyday event described in Derek’s anecdote. A swarm of expletives pelted through the air from the other side of the room.

‘Sorry, sorry, sorry everyone….PixelPlex have deleted all the existing style sheets. Sorry to interrupt, mate, but would you come and have a look at this?’

Derek dutifully locked his computer screen and obediently walked over and stood behind his manager. Ivan unclenched his jaw, clicked his neck, blew the fallen eyebrow hairs from his desk, and continued reading the article.