Understanding a Poet – Rubin Blue

I am in pain,
but not the same as before.
Another day of breathlessness and struggle,
as if a test from a God I never believed in.

I am waiting, I suppose,
for the curtain to open and to be called back.
To see a smiling
Wizard of Oz looking at me with glee.

My work has become my life,
it lets me bleed all over the page.
I wish I was Julia Darling,
and the way she thought.

She made me understand
I’ve got all the time in the world.
Until I die.
Just to be me.


I only spoke to Julia once, but saw her perform many times, on my visits to Newcastle from Germany. Her poetry moved me, as did her positive attitude displayed in her work and life. When we did speak I was in awe, and she inspired me to seek classes to “out” my then personal poetry to the public. I hadn’t learnt of her death, until I returned to live in Newcastle in 2010. I was saddened, but glad I met her and saw her perform. The poem I wrote was one of my first I did at a spoken word night, it explains how my illness was swallowing up my life. After hearing and reading Julia’s work, I saw I could either let my illness swallow me up or just get on with living.
Thank you Julia

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The Box of Spells – Jackie Litherland

The box slips from my weakened fingers
into a vortex of jumble, two sharp pencils fall,
a tiny doll clutching a scroll I prise open.

Tell your worries to this doll it says. I refold
the note under her stiff little arms. A bundle
of coloured sticks tied with gossamer pink

thread, a paper plane made from a map of
Mid-Sussex, 2 dried rosebuds, a pearl button,
sea-frosted glass and a flat pebble. A stamp

claims I know my body better than you do.
A green label warns FIRST AID KIT
FOR THE MIND. A buff card addressed

to me: Box Launch, The Biscuit Factory.
Unopened since 2005. I read at random.
Don’t walk in a straight line. How to Deal

with Terrible News. Tell the doctor a joke.
I have to carefully repack your poems
in pink tissue. I spot a silvery green ribbon.

Nothing quite goes back the same way. My
fingers are impatient, clumsy, quavering.
This lucky box will undo harm you tell me.

I find the recipe for A Curative Soup ‘well
seasoned with tears and a secret’. The tissue
paper has somehow become old and split,

aged and careworn in the box, invaded by time
no charm can keep distant. In the Isle of Wight
you have a memorial bench. We borrowed you.

The luck was ours, the North a stopping place.
The box of curiosities spells out your gift
I bought for a friend, untouched by prescience,

who now lies in need of all its medicine. Who
knows, Julia, if one scrap will tip the balance, one
pearl button, one tiny marble, rolled like dice.

Julia Darling d. April 13 2005

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How to get rid of Elephants – Catherine Ayres

They’re fine, doodled in the margins of
hospital letters, so their curves look
pleasingly contained, like shells.

But squeezed into a three-bed semi
they’re harder to keep in proportion.

At first it’s a bit of a joke. You can
play telephones, whispering secrets
into a tail, while your husband holds
a trunk to his ear, pretending to listen.

And if you lean against one for warmth,
wearing the tracksuit you should have
thrown out after the operation, you can
dissolve into greyness for days.

The bulk of the problem lies in bed,
where a huge flank of indifference can roll
you both, fully clothed, onto opposing
edges, wincing at the sharpness of tusks.

So pick a quiet moment, use their proper
names and ask them to leave. Try:

You Will Never See Me Naked Again
I Want To Disappear
We Still Haven’t Talked About What Happened


I didn’t know Julia but she is very important to me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 aged 39. At that time, I hadn’t discovered poetry but during my treatment I started to read it, then write it, partly as a way of making sense of everything. About a year after I finished treatment, I went to a poetry surgery with Colette Bryce and she asked me if I’d ever read Julia’s poems. I bought ‘Sudden Collapses in Public Places’, read it in one go and then bawled for a bit. I felt as if someone had written down everything that was in my head. I also realised that Julia had been to the same place for her treatment – the Northern Centre for Cancer Care – and had undergone chemo in the same ward as me – 36. Her poems made me feel less alone. They also made me realise that I could voice my own experiences and that it would help me to do this. I thank her for that every day. I wish I had known her.

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