9 Days Remaining

Wednesday 2nd
posted by Jody Porter in Arts

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter

Mrs Despard Gets My Vote
Nine Elms polling station, 14th December 1918

Truth told, I’m not savvy to the half
of what she says—but o what silver-
tongued fire she breathes! And what she’s done
for us Nine Elms lot is worthy of a saint.

There’s some as reckon
she’s earned her place in heaven
by mere fact of dwelling in our heaving
godforsaken corner of the globe.
And though she shows herself a lady
in her bearing, Mrs Despard ditched
all airs and graces long ago.

Wary, we was, I’ll grant you, at first.
Our barefoot sons scampering home
with tales of a nurse patching grazed knees,
giving tots of elixir to strengthen their bones.
Mrs D. fixed ’em up with boots then.
That was the start.

Most of Nine Elms must’ve trooped through
her house—for her drop-in clinic,
and the Despard Boys Club, what saved my Alf
from too much mischief. Our Catholic
Mothers group for tea and chit-chat
and “nutritional advice”, taken with a pinch
of salt, mind. Her blessed soup kitchens
at leanest times—the men laid off, on strike
or called up to war. Milk puddings
for the little ones. And now the vote—

her dearest Cause. So it must matter.
That’s why I’ll stand in line and put a cross
beside her name. Mrs Despard gets my vote
for Battersea. Imagine if she ruled the world!



A lady’s diary

My fifth turn.
A novice compared to some.

My gentle throat bears witness still
to the three-strong force
it takes to pin me back into an arch.

They’ll wait for the bruising to die down
from purple to green
yellow to white,
for elbow marks rammed into
rib and shin to fade, for a pinioned chest
—made free of corset underneath  
prison clothing—to cast off knee welts, for gums to
bud skin torn by metal jaws, for soft cheeks to hide
histories of gripping hands that forced open a
mouth to gag on rubber pipe.

Then they’ll start again.

This waiting affords me visits home,
soft boiled eggs, a glimpse of the headlines.

Such respite is not spared for less political inmates
as daily, hourly, more cells are haunted by
routine wretchings and struggles
that fingers rammed into ears
will never blunt.

My fourth time I came here to Holloway.
They spat in my food for blame
their pacing nights, their shot nerves,
their illnesses from pipe-phlegm.
But you could not wrest this
visit away from me without a fight for here
I am with EP and we will be free or die.

They wait, wait for this nonsense
to go away, for the stupidity to stop,
for the breach to be unbroken.

And we, my sisters,
we will wait too.



London Undercurrents is an ongoing poetry project by Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire, unearthing the voices of women who have lived and worked in the capital over many centuries. Their poems have appeared in South Bank Poetry and Brittle Star, and have featured on the Proletarian Poetry site.

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter –
Connect with Well Versed on Facebook.

Related Articles