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21st Century Poetry Holloway letters

by Emma Must

What She Was In For

You learn not to ask ‘What are you in for?’
but what she was in for was parking on the road
outside her house to get her kids inside
before she’d find a space to leave the car.
And what she was in for was passport fraud:
she’d made it here over several seas,
her dignity locked in a single plait.
And what she was in for was possession.
And what she was in for was being poor,
unable to pay for her TV licence.
And what she was in for was her son,
doing time for his non-payment of a fine.
She’ll tell you soon enough, in passing.
It’s the one thing you should never ask.


It’s the one thing you should never ask,
besides ‘Please could you turn your radio off?’
It’s on 3pm to midnight without a break,
and LOUD. I try asking her to turn it down.
It’s not turned up, she says, she’s doing
a long sentence and it’s the only thing
that is keeping her sane. It’s driving
me mad, I say, and I can’t get out.
If I’d known back then about St Kevin,
I might have had a go at sticking my arm
out the window, turned my palm to heaven,
and waited till a blackbird chanced to nest.
It’s not that the pain would have brought me rest,
but that we hold small hopes in our own hands.

Emma Must is a poet living in Belfast who was imprisoned in Holloway prison in the summer of 1993 for breaking an injunction which attempted to stop campaigners walking on Twyford Down. She wrote 13 sonnets for the 13 days they were there: above are two of them, the whole set are titled Holloway Letters (The Martyr’s Crown).


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