The Secret Poet by Dawn Finch

Poetry was not for kids like me. At least that’s what everyone said. In my school, the only ones who were interested in poetry were the teachers, and they weren’t that bothered. They sighed and told us, “page 238, read Wordsworth and copy out into your books. Memorise it by Thursday.”

Poetry wasn’t for us.

I loved poetry, but that was only in secret because council estate kids don’t own poetry. We didn’t read it on the bus to town. We didn’t borrow it from the library. We didn’t buy it from the jumble sale. We didn’t fill notebooks with our own poems. We didn’t dream of being able to share our love of words that flow through emotions and other worlds.

Poetry wasn’t for us.

People laughed at those who thought poetry was for them, and so we kept it secret. We carried thin volumes tucked away in the bottom of our bags and read them when no one was looking. We filled our notebooks at night like forbidden diaries – journals with our most private thoughts in verse.

Poetry wasn’t for us.

Poetry was for the academics and the kids who went to the posh schools. Poetry belonged to those who walked richer paths than we ever could. It belonged to the oak-panelled places, not our asbestos riddled mobile classrooms. Poetry belonged to places of dust, and ink, and great minds, not to kids with the same shoes all year and passes for free school dinners.

Poetry wasn’t for us.

So we grew up harbouring it like a secret wish. A secret kiss of words. The deliciousness of it all held away from the world like hiding ice cream from the sun. In that hiding, it became even more precious to us and we grew old with it. One day, feeling brave and too old to feel ashamed of it anymore, I shared a poem. It felt foolish, but I took my name off it and with the immediate ease of email, I stepped briefly out of my comfort zone and sent it to someone. I sent it to an award.

I won.

Because you see, poetry is for us. It’s for all of us, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says, all that matters is that you open your heart and your mind to it and let it in. Not all poetry is an open wound (although quite a lot of it is) and poetry can fill all sorts of gaps in your life. Read it, write it.

Poetry is for us.

This is the poem that won me the Brian Nisbet Award 2019. This is only the second time I’ve ever shared a poem publicly. I know it won’t be the last.


Catching Time, by Dawn Finch

My hands caught time without me realising
The years crept across them leaving freckled footprints
brown pressed on paper-thin
tissue-like, drawn tight
Decades pasted upon knuckle bones
The lines of palm that in my youth
were sharp, and deep
and spoke of truth
of future hopes and things to come
now speak more of years long gone
A craquelure of wet
and cold
and faster years
and growing old
When I was small and pink of fist
with life to come and nothing missed
my grandmother’s stern hands reigned
Oven-red, bleach-sore
sausage-fingered, berry-stained
white and sweet with flour and sugar
rose-scratched, earthy raw
steadying and strong
At her bedside as the lights of her life dimmed
I saw the tissue of her skin
thin-laced over knotted bones
pulse stutter
Her grip a mere moth-like flutter
I laid my hands over hers as she neared a century old
and wondered if she’d felt the years unfold
if she, in her time, had also thought
of all the years her hands had caught
and if she had mused on how much they
had accidentally let slip away.

Footnote – I also won this prize again in 2020 with the following poem. Maybe it’s time I started believing in myself.




My grandfather told me of a forest

three days into the desert

reached by long march

and cold nights under an ice moon

with the endless sky of a billion stars

Restless and sleepless under dusty canvas

with drifting lilt of desert song

and bone-snap of a dying fire

he dreamt of home

Each morning they marched towards the distant shifting horizon

until the sun burnt air and lungs

Boots filled with hot sand and heavy pack pulling down

he marched on

leading until, in twilight, it rose from the sand

blackened ghosts of trees

claw-like branches scratching the blue belly of the approaching night

polished by wind and time

shining as glass

A petrified forest

casting lean moon-shadows against the rippled sand

a memory of life

a reminder of death

They marched on through

unsheltered by these parodies of trees

My grandfather broke step

to pluck a splintered fragment from the sand

Forty years later I sat

with a glassy fossil in my tiny hand

feeling it grow hot

a vision in my mind’s eye of his past

and of one much greater

I hung on every word

seeing as clearly as if I had walked in his sand-filled boots

listening and dreaming

as my grandfather told me of a forest


Dawn Finch is a children’ s author, librarian, library activist and secret poet.

Follow on twitter @dawnafinch

Image credit – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, detail of Dante holding the hand of Love from Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice

5 thoughts on “The Secret Poet by Dawn Finch

  1. JarOfPoetry says:

    You are very welcome

  2. JarOfPoetry says:

    Very beautiful poem 😊

  3. Susan Green says:

    Tht is fantastic! Well done, Dawn.

    On Thu, 3 Oct 2019 at 08:04, A Medley Of Extemporanea wrote:

    > Dawn Finch posted: “Poetry was not for kids like me. At least that’s what > everyone said. In my school, the only ones who were interested in poetry > were the teachers, and they weren’t that bothered. They sighed and told us, > “page 238, read Wordsworth and copy out into your bo” >

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