Cossetted, by Angi Holden

At school, everyone stretched upwards, ambition
a pair of silent claws. These boys all knew one another,
fraternised in the holidays, took one another’s sisters
to parties in Sussex, to hunt balls in Gloucestershire,
dressed like their fathers.

The boys who inherited the school like an old watch
didn’t have to use their brains, even if they had them.
What security: to have always been well-off.
The future would look comfortingly like the past.

Scholarship boys had to live on their wits, set apart,
herded, marked off, their world a social laboratory,
clever animals in an alien habitat. Their labour of inclusion,
like a journey of immigration, was a matter of barely visible laws:
certain areas of London, prep schools, London shops
certain sports, clothes, brands of aftershave,
distinguished surnames: all signified.

If they were posh, scholars were interestingly so,
came from bohemian and eccentric families,
like Boris, a familiar sight as he charged his way around:
The bigfoot stoop, the bumbling confidence,
the skimmed-milk pallor, the berserk hair, the impression
he’d been freshly released from some institution.

All, already in place.


A ‘verbatim’ poem,, for consideration. The source material is taken from an article by James Wood, originally published in LRB. I have altered words only for consistency of tense or for grammatical sense, and have re-ordered stanzas for flow.

Grinning men, by Angi Holden

Their cruelty makes them feel good,
makes them feel proud, happy,
closer to one another.

In such a whirlwind it can be hard to keep track.

Children of immigrants, protected status revoked,
a blanket ban on visas for Chinese students,
and for same-sex partners of foreign officials.

Supporters cheer as the president mocks a professor,
her testimony. Now malice is embraced as virtue, impossible to contain.

Cruelty and rhetoric, intimately connected, flay his targets,
Adolescent male cruelty: a bonding mechanism,
a vehicle for intimacy through contempt. They have done it together.

We hear the cruel laughter:
immigrant children separated from families;
a child with Down syndrome separated from her mother.
News hosts mock a survivor of massacre,
the women who said the president had assaulted them,
the teen survivors of a school shooting.

The president mocks the thousands killed
and tens of thousands displaced by hurricane;
the black athletes protesting killings by police;
the women of #MeToo;
the disabled reporter whose crime was reporting truthfully.

The perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it;
they enjoy it with one another. Their shared laughter
is an adhesive that binds them to one another.

Taking joy in suffering is more human
than most would like to admit.
Somewhere between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men
is the community built on the anguish of those unlike them.

They pledge fealty to principles
they have no intention of respecting.
Supporters who fancy themselves champions of free speech,
who want to ban immigration by an entire religion,
who encourage police to brutalize suspects,
now lament the state of due process.

A clear principle: Only the anointed are entitled to rights,
protections of the law, immunity from it.
The rest are entitled only to cruelty.
The powerful have ever kept the powerless in their place.



from: ADAM SERWER writing in The Atlantic

The Question of Consent, by Angi Holden

As she shivers in the interview room,
images of his attack still assaulting her senses;
as she sips the tea, too hot and sweet
but standard issue for victims of rape;
as she hides her bruised limbs
in borrowed clothing that doesn’t fit;
as she waits for family and friends
to arrive, to tell her she is safe now;
just then she is given a form to sign.
Permission to access all records and data,
pertinent to the case or otherwise,
is required to enable investigation.
Consent to a mobile strip-search,
to facilitate enquiries.
Angi Holden is a writer and Creative Writing lecturer, whose published work includes poetry, short stories and flash fictions. Her story Painting Stones for Virginia was a runner-up in the 2018 Cheshire Prize for Literature. Her poetry pamphlet Spools of Thread, won the inaugural Mothers Milk Books Pamphlet Prize.

Extrapolation by Angi Holden

I was in the chandler’s the first time it happened.
I’d gone in to buy a cleat, so while the staff were busy
I cruised round the aisles. The lad with the ginger hair,
the one who knows the tide tables and the weather forecast,
was helping a father and daughter choose a life-preserver.
The ones they’d already tried lay scattered round their feet,
discarded, like those abandoned across Greek beaches.
And as the child bounced between the shelves,
the orange jacket tied snugly around her small body,
I saw her bobbing away from the boat, her mother
calling her name, weeping into the salt water.
Now it happens all the time: in the street,
in the supermarket, in the school playground.
I see children, even the lucky ones in life-jackets,
drifting just out of reach, swallowed up by the sea,
bone-chilled, to be washed up on some distant shore.
Every one a neighbour, every one a neighbour’s child.

‘Lightly Beat’ Wives by Angi Holden

As well as beatings for wives who decline

to have sex with their husbands,

use “limited violence” on spouses

who do not bathe after intercourse

or during menstruation.


Guidelines on how to inflict the beatings:


Hit her in areas where her skin

is not too thick and not too thin.

Do not use shoes or a broom on the head,

or hit her on the nose or eyes.

Do not break any bones or cut her skin

or leave any marks.

Do not hit her vindictively,

but only for reminding her about her religious duties.


If a wife disobeys her husband,

the husband should try to talk to her.

If that doesn’t work, he should sleep separately

and only finally use violence as a last resort.


Do not hit her vindictively, but only

for reminding her about her religious duties.

Women should not be subjected to forced marriage,

acid attacks or honor killings.


Still, the list of punishable offences goes on:


Beatings also should be administered

to any woman who does not wear a hijab,

gives money to other people without her husband’s permission,

and talks loudly so the neighbors can hear.

Women would also be banned from using contraception

without their husband’s permission.


But we shouldn’t be worried.

The women of Pakistan

know how to protect themselves.





Keynote Speech by Angi Holden

If you want politically correct

you’re in the wrong place.

You know what he’s like –

brash, self-indulgent, in yer face.

His arrogance is refreshing,

his challenge to convention

a wake-up call, a kick in the butt.

So you’re sitting there, bowling along

to the rhythms of his expletives,

his heckoring tirades.

And then he acts out this story:

a woman standing up to him,

his hand raised, ‘Shut up bitch’,

the motion of striking.

The laughter is uncomfortable

but in the moment

when you might have objected

you imagine him turning towards you,

sneering, calling you bourgeois.

So you sit tight, diminished

by your failure to stand up,

to be counted.