Holly Bars (British Working Class Poets)

Holly Bars

Holly is a mature student currently studying at the University of Leeds. Holly’s poems have been published since January 2021 by The Moth, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Fragmented Voices, Porridge, Anti-Heroin Chic, Visual Verse, Runcible Spoon, and more, as well as appearing in anthologies. She is currently working on her debut collection, Dirty, which will be published by Yaffle Press.


Something about it being another redundant Sunday, walking down my street with houses the same council-red brick as my old estate and hoarding the same deranged litter, sets a shadow of my younger self in front of me.

                    And then I’m wearing the burberry pink scarf I bought from Rosie Pounds for two-ninety-nine, the slouch boots and denim cropped jacket I nicked from my sister. I hear the bite of my words as I lair the streets in the centre of an arm link with two other girls. I feel the tack of my lipgloss I got free in a magazine, see sky the same hooker-blue of my eyeshadow, tarmac the kohl of my eyeliner. Two twiddles of hair gelled to my face stay unfettered, like the ponytail I’ve whipped to a messy bun.

            And then my bun tightens, tidies, and I’m wearing my first school uniform, blue jumper/grey skirt/blue shirt, with a PVC apron. I’m coating my fingers in PVA and peeling it off. I’m painting with a palette of colours that stink of rust. I’m crying after swallowing apple seeds, shouting at Lisa Baker she can’t have my second-best teddy when I die. I’m telling Sarah Hall to be quiet! We are playing Universities, and you have to be quiet in university. She’s Cambridge, I’m Oxford.

                       And then I step out of it, back into the body of my grown self, my mute coloured coat, earthy mum-tones, and into my life, the one that has gotten so quiet. I walk home, unlock the door, look at the dishes. I scrub, waiting for my ten-year-old to come home from his dad’s, try to work out how I’m going to afford to get a degree. And I wonder how much of who I was I still am, who I could’ve been if I’d have lived anywhere else. Who my son will become.


*Previously published in Whirlagust III, Yaffle Press, 2022. Third Place in the Yaffle Prize 2022.


A Mother’s Tea

My mum never made me a cup of tea. I didn’t like it when I was a kid, and she preferred cider. It would’ve probably tasted like shit anyway; brown bitterness made from scraps bleach-bagged and boxed, unbranded, 100 for 40p. Probably too sweet, seeing as I only visited on weekends, and the cupboards being all saccharin, no sugar. Bland, because she was a red-top girl, held the carton like a trophy of her teenage anorexia. My mum would’ve trickled that white water into a porcelain mug on top of three sweeteners, on top of acrid tea, barely changing the shade, and dropped it on her way into the living room because of her arthritis. But I dream, of tea rooms in the Dales, where my mum waits for me at a table with a cloth and lace doilies. She makes me tea from loose leaves in a teapot, strained into a china cup on a saucer, made for people who want to make believe. She pours an amber liquid, floods the insides of the cup with love; grasps silver tongs and deposits one perfectly geometric white sugar cube. It dissolves into haloed, honied orange. She summons a floral jug and pours the milk, full-fatted, into the teacup. And I sit down at the table, across from my mum, in awe of these milky phantoms, these swirling, clean clouds that get to kiss heaven.


A Brief Poem

Allow me the privilege of a minute’s entertainment. Consider it an act of charity. Consider you are handing me an old humbug from the bottom of your bag. I will tell you about the mire of shit I waded through, the postcodes and asbestos, the dirty looks and benefit forms. The way my ovarian cyst was dismissed for two years as a water infection until I became a teenage pregnancy. How they didn’t say cancer until they knew they were all clear. The sad, sad story of my sexual abuse. How trauma keeps my earnings potential at a safe distance from luxuries such as Tropicana. The lump of tissue I nested in my knickers every month, and the classes I missed from leaking. The nice teacher who bought my food items for technology so I could pass my GCSE. The A stars that tumbled down my results sheet despite my fifty percent attendance, and the years of rust I chiselled off them to get to uni. The indignity of coming to a hostel from the cold of the street, and being chained to a humble gratefulness for every fucking thing some prick wanted to declutter. How I crawled up. And forced myself to chew through fifteen briny olives to reach the illusion that eating them makes you a better person. The cloistered damp in the corner that follows me from home to home. The paint-lapped edges from my shit attempts at DIY. The freshly diagnosed ADHD. How it all made everything feel so real once, the dance atop the bread-knife line. How it is now more like wellies in mud. The sense of community is gone because I do not want the kind of currency that comes in warm cups of tea and gossip. Though maybe I do. I want to eat at The Ivy, but I will vomit all over the bill. I forced myself to like olives but they still sit unopened in the cupboard. I watch YouTube videos of starving people in Africa for perspective and I only feel worse. I am squeezing my muscles tight in seminars so I don’t evolve to become the snobbery I spit on. The loneliness from fraying carpets and the not-speaking-to-pisshead-neighbours and single motherhood is forcing me to pimp out my narrative and be a pet. And I am not scared, and yet scared to offend sensibilities because a voice is nothing if it is not listened to.  Lupus and Raynaud’s and Sjogren’s and politics and the year-round draught of the hollow house I live in has pushed my energy quote up to four grand a year. My value system of mash and beans and council estate pride is crumbling like plaster. I am lost in a ginnel with nettles and brambles and crazy ideas about owning a garden.  I want to grow tomatoes, but each day that dream gets as narrow as Disney. But I have taken up enough of your time now.

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