Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

How much can change in a week! After my copious amounts of bragging on last week’s post about getting a huge PB for 10k, I was brought back down to earth with a bump this week.

On Thursday morning I woke up with abdominal and back pain, and eventually ended up in A and E at about 12pm.  The doctor who saw me in A and E said that it was probably my gall bladder, so I was transferred to a ward and given a bed for the night.  It was too late for any tests by then, so I was given lots of painkillers and then I had an ultrasound on Friday morning, which confirmed that I have an inflamed gall bladder and lots of gall stones, which are probably what caused the pain.

The pain was absolutely horrendous, and I would like not to ever experience that again! The doctor has told me to go on a low-fat diet, as fat can irritate the gall bladder and trigger another attack.  In six weeks time, I see the consultant again, and if the inflammation has gone down, I will have my gall bladder taken out.

So, this is the second day of my low-fat diet.  I think my diet was 70% healthy anyway – I eat lots of fresh food now, lots of vegetables, I don’t get takeaways any more.  However, I do have a weakness for pain au chocolats ( I was having two every morning) and scones with jam and cream.  I probably had a scone every other day at least.

This is probably the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it’s a bit gutting that this has happened now.  These last two days though, I have noticed when I get hungry, my first idea for a snack is something sweet – a chocolate biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  So I’ve been trying to eat something healthy instead.  It’s been easy so far because I can still remember the pain, which is a good motivational factor.  But it has made me realise that I need to change the whole way I think about food.  I’ve always thought of sweet food as a treat, or reward for myself.  So now I need to find other ways of rewarding myself.

I got out of hospital on Friday afternoon and I spent most of Friday evening eating as I was starving – I’d been ‘Nil by mouth’ since Thursday lunchtime.  Yesterday was a good day because my sister and her husband came over with their three dogs, so there was lots of distractions.  Today I’ve been a bit fed up, because I was supposed to be running the Lancaster half marathon.  I’ve been training for it for ages, with a few friends and one friend in particular.  The 10k last week had given me loads of confidence that I’d got the build up right, and I was expecting to knock five minutes off my PB from last year.  And to go from whizzing around the 10k to being in hospital and unable to walk was a bit of a shock.

So today has been a bit miserable – the logical part of my brain knows that there will be other half-marathons, but it still doesn’t stop me being gutted about this one.

So before I turned into a medical emergency this week, I spent the first half of the week doing lots of reading.  I finished two collections by Marie Howe (my new favourite poet) and finally finished Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.   

I also ordered a new anthology called ‘Women who Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence’.  I haven’t read many of the poems in the anthology, but in the introduction, the editor, Laura Madelaine Wiseman talks about the use of the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’.  She proposes a third term of ‘resister’.  She says:

To be a resister is more than surviving violence, because one has taken an active step to call into question the violent act and to rally demands for change

I love this idea – I don’t like thinking of myself as a survivor, or a victim of domestic violence.  Surviving was the thing I did at the time – resisting was the poetry, the sequence at the heart of my collection The Art of Falling.  Writing poems about it does call into question the violent act – whether it rallies demands for change is another thing – I would be happy if it made one person feel less alone, which is maybe a big change in itself.

I’m not quite sure how this all relates to the PhD.  The type of everyday sexism I’ve been writing about is like a tiny pin prick of violence rather than a brutal act.  But I do think poetry is a great way to call into question not just the violent act, but my acceptance of it, other people’s acceptance of it, the normality of it.

On to today’s Sunday Poem, which is by the wonderful Cliff Yates, who I’ve met on a few occasions, but finally got to hear him read at Swindon Poetry Festival last month.  I’ve always been a fan of Cliff’s work, so it was great to hear him read.  The poem is from his Smith/Doorstop collection Jam, which came out this year.


I think the poem I’ve chosen for this weeks Sunday Poem is representative of many of the qualities you’ll find in his work. His poetry is often laugh-out-loud funny, often tender, but always manages to invite the reader to look at the world slightly differently.   His poetry also manages that difficult thing of saying something important, without sounding self-important.  It wears its philosophy lightly.   Those two lines towards the end of the poem: ‘Middle age is a walk through the woods/without your parents.’  is a great aphorism, dropped lightly in, and then effortlessly extended ‘Your children have run ahead’ but the real lightness, and art come with having the courage to finish on that lovely line which floats away ‘The sun is out, there are so many trees.’

I also like how the poem is about a private family ritual, or joke, although joke isn’t quite the right word, it is almost like a good luck tradition.  The family always ‘walk through the gate.’ and never around it.  This idea of gates and doorways nods to all the old stories of passageways into other lands and worlds.

And the importance of the gate is always without question, despite the fact that you can walk around it, despite the fact it doesn’t keep anything out, or in.  It is so important in fact that it was once ‘painted cream/ so that she could see it.’

Cliff was born in Birmingham and now lives in Gloucestershire.  His various collections include Henry’s Clock, winner of the Aldeburgh Prize and Selected Poems, a Smith/Doorstop ebook.  He wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School during his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence.  He is a tutor for the Arvon Foundation and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Aston University.

If you would like to order Jam or any of Cliff’s other collections, you can get them from the Smith/Doorstop website or if you’d like to find out more information about Cliff he has a website and blog here



Gate – Cliff Yates

A gate, halfway up the garden,
a wrought iron gate she once painted cream
so that she could see it.

You could step around the gate,
if truth were told, there’s plenty of room
on either side, but always

we walk through the gate, careful
not to latch it. Her fingers, at eighty-eight,
can no longer manage the latch

and her legs can barely manage the step,
‘Mind you shut the gate,’ she says,
as she always says, on the way back down,

turning round, just to make sure:
‘Pull it to. Keep out the draught.  That’s it.’

Middle age is a walk through the woods
without your parents.
Your children have run ahead.
The sun is out, there are so many trees.



9 comments on “Sunday Poem – Cliff Yates

  1. When I first read your poems, Kim, about domestic violence I was ‘struck’ in two ways: the power of the poetry, and how it could give power to other women experiencing the violence simply by putting those words into the public domain. Even more, when I heard you reading some of them at HEART in Leeds it was like being physically hit, mirroring your content. So thanks, (not for myself, luckily never having experienced that kind of violence) and keep up the good poetic work 😊.

    1. Hi – thanks so much for this comment. It means a lot to me to hear this – I agree, that talking about something, naming it is a powerful thing. Thank you again x

  2. Sorry to hear about your terrible week Kim. I hope you are not in too much pain over the coming weeks and it can be resolved quickly thereafter. Best wishes, Peter x

    1. Thanks Peter – I am not very good at being ill – and psychologically find it very hard to not be busy so this week has been a bit miserable. I’m pretty sure as long as I stick to the diet I will be ok.

  3. Sorry you’ve been ill & had to miss the run today, Kim, but thank you so much for choosing this poem. I love its simplicity and the space it leaves for the reader too.

  4. Lovethe poem Kim. Cliff Yates is reading at my WordPlay event this Wednesday for the Smith Doorstop/Poetry Business Birthday Special. So will be a double celebration when hopefully Donald Trump loses the election! What an awful time you’ve had! Hope you continue to make a full recovery! Love, Keith X

    1. Thanks Keith – yes it has been a bit of a shitty week! Have fun tomorrow night – I was toying with the idea of coming over, but I think it will be too much for me this week. But say hello to everybody for me x

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