Author Archives: Ellen

Last – Celia McCulloch

In these days of terrible tiredness
I move in and out of sun and shade,

sometimes gliding down a colonnade
along a sun-dried yard
towards a dark nave, cool and hidden.

Sometimes I lie stripped bare,
satisfied by the weight and heat of sun.

In this endless weariness
you’d think I’d sleep, but no.
I read a little, caught in a loop:

the colonnade and dark chapel
the hot sun and my melting skin
the shadows
the sun
the shadow…

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Horses (for Julia) – Lesley Mountain

Feathered plumes droop
between pricked ears
at the cemetery gates.
I never knew we shared
a love of horses.
We could have talked fetlocks,
piebalds, martingales, manes.

Did you imagine sitting deep
in the saddle, playing the reins
as chaos snatched at the bit,
frisked through your cells,
longed to canter through your body,
until your fingers tired, your shoulders eased
and life bolted out of sight?

An outline of your qualities –
generosity, acute attention,
persistence through pain –
remains in these Belgian Blacks
as they stand four square
between the traces, breathing
through soft nostrils, swishing their tails.


I have no one individual memory of Julia – we were both part of the
“Newcastle lefty” set in the 80’s-90’s and her smile was always there – at
demos, benefits (especially after a while with the Poetry Virgins), parties.
I was always glad to see her, and wish I’d known about the “horse”
connection – it might have given us an opening to a closer friendship.

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Poem for Jesus – Caroline Kemp

Veronica bakes a cake for Jesus.
Mary washes his feet, with her hair,
with care.
He visits Martha’s house,
for a little while…..
On the whole, however, I think he is happier with the boys,
his apostles.
They stick together.
Man’s talk
Wander about
impressing everyone
with their earnestness
and vision –
larging it,
putting it about,
rounds in for everyone.
Wine and fish suppers.

We are all impressed
Same as it ever was
The wonder of man
Men behaving goodly

I won’t say
Look where that got him..
another happy ending.


The following poem is one I read out to Julia…with a little trepidation ..over 20 years ago..she was doing a reading of her own poems in Gateshead library and battling amazingly with her own health.
I had my own health issues too and was highly inspired by all her hospital poems..I still intend to do a similar collection as I admired her work so much and saw how much it affected others.
Julia loved my poem and it always gives me strength to think back on that moment when she gave me positive feedback and encouragement…every time now when my internal critic swoops in I think of her and that gift she gave to everyone..such a spirit.
She helped me believe in myself.

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At the Children’s Home – Sky Hawkins

Karl said, let’s go and pinch clothes off the washing lines
Laughing I was like, yer right; sounds great!
Of course I went along
You got to be part of it, or you’re out of it

So we went skipping through streets in the winter’s dark
Ducking, diving, grabbing, laughing
Trying to find family’s clothes to replace the ones we didn’t have
We jumped over fences sneaked round corners
Laughed our hearts out when we saw Karl appear with a sheep skin rug
We were like, what the fuck do you want with that?

It didn’t matter
We just wanted to grab anything
Fill the empty fucking hole

The cupboard for supper time wasn’t open for a good few hours yet
So like a tornado we twisted around in a swirl
of stolen clothes

It was fantastic

For one night we didn’t give a fuck
Laughed, dived, ducked
Scuffed out the chalked lines of abuse
that were often scrawled on the pavement
Funny you would think I would remember what they wrote exactly,
but I don’t

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Faultless Design – Helen Shay

Not an elegant way
to remember you,
perched on a railway
loo, and yet the image
comes every time,
every train and every toilet.

The sign is still there,
as you are too in that jerk
of memory and humour
whilst the train chugs on
and I guard the door.

Sharing your poetically
surreal humiliation
has saved me from it
many times more
than that overlooked
absurd notice.

Your sense of fun
has enlightened
my travel. It seems
that your poetry
keeps on pressing
my UNLOCK button.

I picture you
gazing helplessly…
above naked knees
a forever pure
poetry virgin,
smiling still.

Like flashes
through a tunnel,
such moments pierce
the dark of a journey,
signposted in the writing
you left behind.


My poem is inspired by Julia’s short comic early poem Design Fault which appeared in The Poetry Virgins anthology Sauce, and really by her sense of fun that comes across in her work, together with that love of travelling around and sense of drifting into different aspects of life to observe them the more keenly. My poem itself covers the memory that has stayed with me. I have felt inspired by Julia’s work – poetry and prose – to keep on my own writing journey and always to explore new ground.

Helen Shay

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Julia – Kitty Fitzgerald

That fresh-faced grin
wide as her earlobes,
the passion for words,
their shape in her mouth;
everything she was
and knew still survives,
all that and her laughter,
hard to forget.

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For Diana – Annie Moir

If you could teleport me to be with you
For just one hour each day
Together we’d make sticklebacks grin

We’d take your pail
Brim full with wild dreams
And the spade that I’d grind in the earth
Damming all absurd streams of convention
Make the river of choice flow our way

We’d weave brown tadpoles tales
Dressed as frogs
Through the fishing nets of our youth
And stitch a brand new political landscape
With our names scattered on golden pools

So just teleport me to be with you
Or you to be with me
Together we’ll make natterjacks sing


I was part of a writing group Julia was running at Gateshead library in 1994 – I think our performance group (ie the people who attended on a Thursday morning)’s title was Future Tense.
Julia dragged us all kicking and screaming onto the stage at The Caedman Hall inside the library for this prestigious performance. The following event was even scarier as we supported U.A. Fanthorpe.
Both Wendy Cope and U.A. Fanthorpe were really kind to us all!!

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Message from the Dead (April 15th 2005) Marilyn Longstaff

A birthday card from Dad
was in the clearance pile, some rural scene
bought from the V & A.

I must have kept it for its rarity.
Mum did cards, except for Valentines
when I bought Dad’s for her.

At first, I hadn’t recognised
the name – thought it said Fred
(Dad’s writing was appalling) –

until I got it into daylight.
Felt sad that he had died so long ago
even his writing had become a blur,

from Dad with all good wishes
on your birthday, and the message
in another colour, Prov. 3. (5-8)

Now more than 30 years have passed
he’s sending me a text,
as I’m grieving in my small and quiet way
for Julia Darling, who I knew a little:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart:
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes;
fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel,
and marrow to thy bones.

I first saw Julia (and Ellen) at a poetry Virgins performance in Newcastle and I heard her on Woman’s Hour. Then I met her when she ran workshops (inspirational) at Bishop Auckland. Subsequently, we ran into each other a bit and I got a northern promise award when she got the big prize (so we read at the same events).
I wrote this poem for Julia and it’s in my book ‘Raiment’. Marilyn Longstaff

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At the Old City Library with Julia – Avril Joy

It is raining in the city when we go in
you call us over to sit at your silvery table.
We shrug off our coats, gather our wine.
You and I are reading. You are famous. I am not.

You show me your nerves, take them out to air
subduing mine, ‘Be brief, that’s the key,’ you say
‘people get fed up otherwise,’ then as if by way of
something ordinary, something you forgot to say earlier:

‘Had bad news today, my consultant told
me he was sorry, ‘Sorry Julia,’ he said, ‘it’s spread
to the liver.’ We draw in breath, spill regret,
we do not rant or rave or collapse in a public place.

All three, we drink our wine. You stand to read,
words like miracles, operations performed
without incision, scions of faith and hope. You keep
it brief. ‘She goes on too long,’ you say of the poet.

In the doorway ash accumulates at our feet
and even though I’ve given up smoking we share
another rollie and wonder at the turning sleet.
Saying goodbye you begin to fret on the journey home.

You wave us off. We leave the city streets past
pools of yellow light and sheltering walls, the motorway
is silent, the way ahead turning to glass and white,
under the weight of snow how life becomes so small.


I began to write my first novel after a weekend workshop led by Julia Darling and Wendy Robertson in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. I hadn’t been sure about going. I was seriously lacking in confidence, not sure I could write or even wanted to but the weekend changed that.
Julia had a way of enticing and exciting you, a way of responding to your work which made you feel it was worth going on with, that you had a voice. Later, she was the first person apart from my friend and mentor Wendy, to say publicly, in her words, that I was a talented writer.

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The Wave – Kath Conlan

We met on and off over the years.
At that time in my life, my work was just words . No matter who said they liked it .
When Julia asked if she could take my work home .  I was pleased . Nothing more .
She took the time to post it back to me with advice on where to send it to .
Coming from her, it was like warm gravy on a plate .   Still I did nothing . But the last line of her letter stayed with me, it was:  ‘ You must do something with Patsy. ‘
Fine words, I thought .     All I could see was kind words from a kind person.

So Patsy lay at home doing nothing,    because I did nothing.
We sort of met some months later across another crowded room.   Neither knowing the other would be there .
So many heads .    So many people.    But she waved over to me .  I thought at first she was waving  to someone else . She kept waving  only now she made sure I could see her .         Then a clearing in the crowd and we both waved and laughed .    Never got to speak . We didn’t know we would never see each other again.

That smile, that wave was all the push I needed .
I went home and put Patsy into an A 4 , and put him on a Plane to Dublin where he was born.
He is still delighting the readers of  Ireland’s  Eye.

The wave is gone
But I will remember you
long,   long .

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