The Old Scholars Project, by Pauline Sewards

These names are united
on the plaque on the wall
as they were in this classroom
of  the ‘Big Boys School

Our searches and stories return them
to the hearth of family
in these redbrick streets.

Those children who ran in the park
when the trees were saplings
with their pockets full of sweets and string

when we find they survived a battle
we are pleased at the small reprieve
but we know they all came to the same fate in the end
pockets packed with mud and shrapnel

Did any of them meet
(faces wrapped in overlapping bandages)
in the Nightingale wards where
the scent of burning paraffin lamps
masked  the stench of gangrene flesh?

In the archives we make remembrance
each stopped heart each broken body

We trace them through certificate and census
roll call, hospital records
medals, newspaper pictures
telegrams and handwritten cards listing possessions at time of death


These are the names
‘Fathers and Sons lost in the awful slaughter’

These are the other names
mothers sister bereaved lovers
children who were never born or even conceived

The hero whose name was left off the memorial
the one whose name was spelt wrongly
the many whose bodies were never quite recovered
swept up bones in the wrong order
exhumed and disinterred

and  the Conscientious Objectors who were imprisoned for their views

In this pocket of the city it is known that  no war is First or Great
and it was said
‘No worker in any country would go and fight others if not forced to, most people are interested in earning a living and trying to feed their families’


This poem was written for The Old Scholars Project which has traced the lost stories of the names listed on a War Memorial plaque at St Werburghs Community Centre Bristol. The centre was formerly a school and all of the men commemorated has been pupils there. On November 9th for the third year in a row a remembrance service was held in the centre with local school children taking part. The project is co-ordinated by Xeena Cooper


Pauline’s poems been published by I am not a silent poet in the past and she has a collection called This the Band ( Hearing Eye 20180. She is a co-host of  Satellite of Love – a poetry and spoken word event in Bristol

Whistleblower by Pauline Sewards

(in celebration of Chelsea Manning)


Because you were pulled like a snail from a shell

and your name was kicked around like a football

and you were raised on sour milk and diesel air

spawned from sun and swimming pools

transposed to coal and  valleys poverty

you learned  the art of being bullied.


The mask was around your eyes and your limbs were bound

you woke from delirium to a blood haze called reality

you woke and saw your body lying far below

and felt the tender pull of nostalgia.


Code was a thrill

when you unleashed your message in a bottle

into an optic fibre sea

tough skin grew over the raw pink scars of your redacted name

as you entered the nihilism of spilling secrets

where each secret had other secrets bound to it

like ears on a fungi of ears on a fungi of ears


Your courage was visceral

survived dehumanisation    When they couldn’t silence your tongue

they cut your hair


Your name was in neon and it was the name you always wanted

when the light departed first turning a key at the flick of a pen

And freedom will walk you through a tunnel of cherry blossom

to swim in cool waters unobserved


Some traditions live through centuries so we will salute you

with honest cake and paper cup bubbles


When you spoke  a chime struck on the side of a ringing bowl.

and that clear note is still vibrating.

The Bradford Factor by Pauline Sewards

 We were next to the flyover and they threw everything at us
we had long arms, broad shoulders and hearts that skipped a beat

 Saul said he got up every morning just to make a difference
(he was the alchemist of change, we all were),
although often it was Groundhog Day, and things stayed just the same.

We were watched from a great height and from within our lap tops,
our banter was a one skin roll-up.

We often cried but not always in private or in the toilets.
We were creative and resilient (in our cvs) but our bones ached with the weight of data
our eyes were screen-dumps, filled with rows of asterixes and ampersands

We were always hungry and survived on cash-and-carry coffee,
airport gifts and cut price leaving do cake from the corner shop

We were troubled by a colleague, who couldn’t take it anymore, and hung
like a reproachful question mark from the rafters of the open plan office

We were our own worst task-masters, our lips were dry and our desk-tops pig-styed
bring me love, bring me Pabrinex, we joked, while stealing stationary and condoms.

We were covering our asses with neutron-bomb-proof rhinoceros hide
we were dreading that phone call, that call into a side room, into a Coroner’s Court
Our hearts became calcified, our lips formed the empty circle of a default no.

We spent all day condensing stories into a portable format
we were operating at the level of fictional nonsense.

We did everything for love but the stories rushed by too fast
with the hell-bent disaster-mongering of a de-coupled train.

We were once passionate, but that could not be reflected in the data
Stuff that happened did not happen because it was not reflected in the data
or was recorded in an untimely fashion.

We redrew our boundaries each night with Lip Finity and quick-dry top-coat.
It was payment by numbers and we knew our days were numbered.

We were next to the flyover when we went under
we had thin skins, fragile hearts and the strength to walk away.

Definitions by Pauline Sewards


is a pentogram of black twigs on snow

is a simple shift dress

and a chignon, highlighting good cheekbones

is a single note reverberating

into a chapel with one candle burning

is a lone star

is the poem with one line taken out

it is  a white room with pebbles arranged

on a slate shelf

is the sparse vegetation

of a Japanese garden or plate



is a spoonful of mediciene clashing against gritted teeth

a gut bucket of processed chicken

it is 700 TV channels

( sometimes austerity looks like plenty)

it is a digital nudge wink distraction plan

the false economy of a two for one white and brown chaser

a grey complexion over sunken cheeks

it is feeeling worthless like gum under the sole of a shoe

it is the man with street grimed hands on the March

who instead of carrying a banner

dragged all his possesions in a single suitcase


It is the pointing finger

why did you neglect yourself?

how did you get in this state?

what are you going to do about it?

why did you leave it so late?

Interview at the DWP by Pauline Sewards

Policemen have more manners than these women,
who, with their thin lips and delicate lockets
are guardians of the nation’s purse.

They are strangers to pity, manglers of language,
spit dry words in a parody of trial
after fussing with the double tape recorder

which is alleged to make everything fair
they trick with their trip up questions
probe for perfect recall of dates and actions

an interrogation of self righteous proportions
based on a neighbour’s spite. I see a proud man
disintegrate, feel his whisky thirst, his rising shame,

on seeing played back to him like a dirty secret,
a walk without crutches shown crime-watch style,
each step highlighted with a laser pointer.

No film of the courage it took to attempt this
or the pain he felt for days afterwards.
He is called on to account for himself

by the jobs-worth judge and jury, I bear witness
my mouth buttoned up by protocol,
want to howl for the right to be human.

Pauline Sewards works in health care and lives and performs poetry in Bristol and London. Her poems have been published in small press magazines including South Bank Poetry and Domestic Cherry. She has hosted several poetry readings at the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town.

The undercover cop by Pauline Sewards


His name was secondhand
a trusty badge
sequestered from old records

1960s vintage baby
born blue and laid to rest
beside a Woolworth’s teddybear.

He stepped into that dead boy’s
shoes, swelled over years
from cute bootees

to size twelve docs,
he carried the red mud
of Peace Camps on his soles

when he strode out,
one hand on a banner
the other rifling through her hair

her clothes
her cervix, her marrow and her very soul
She fell for his favours;

his ever-ready van
and cultured cultural signifiers
diet, music, anti-fashion

slogan speak persona
hip vernacular. With disbelief
she heard her diary

quoted in court –
her days turned against her.

Turned inside and outside
like a turned out glove.

by the ultimate deception,
the intimate deception
of the undercover cop.

Pauline Sewards works in health care and lives and performs poetry in Bristol and London. Her poems have been published in small press magazines including South Bank Poetry and Domestic Cherry. She has hosted several poetry readings at the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town.

The Law of family Migration by Pauline Sewards

The Venn diagram of transcultural love
has no full intersections.
A spouse is not a spouse but is a potentially
non economically active burden on the State

Hearts become coins become cherries
in a fruit machine. There are no
winning lines, nothing adds up. Love
conquers nothing, counts for nothing.

Meanwhile your child
is free to live in any country,
with nappy sack on his back
he roams the world,
untethered by parents or papers.
You knew freedom once,
but did not appreciate it.

Pauline Sewards works in health care and lives and performs poetry in Bristol and London. Her poems have been published in small press magazines including South Bank Poetry and Domestic Cherry. She has hosted several poetry readings at the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town.