I used poetry to understand so much, including love and broken hearts, and to come to terms with my illness

I needed poetry then and I still do. At times, in my 20s and 30s, I have felt more like a teenager than I ever did in my teens

A number of years ago, I took the train from Heuston Station to Cork Kent to attend a table quiz.

‘The train is a great place to work,’ people often tell me. So, I lug my laptop with me. And I bring my journal and a novel, and a box of paracetamol and two bottles of water, and a bag of crisps, and an extra jumper, and everyone else on the train knows this, because each time I am required to retrieve my ticket, I must empty my journal and my novel, a box of paracetamol, two bottles of water, a bag of crisps and my balled-up blue jumper on the floor beside me.

Once I take my seat, I pop in my earphones and doze for the rest of journey.

When I arrived in Cork City, I met the other people who would become my team members. They were all women and were all much older than me. (If I met them again now, I would probably realise that in fact, they were not much older than me at all).


As we chatted across the table, I was struck by the nervousness of one of my team members; she spoke to us as though seeking permission. In my youthful naivety, at that age I just assumed all adults were sure of themselves.

I had a lot left to learn.

At the interval, I went to the bathroom and noticed that I had a message on my phone. It was a break-up text. We hadn’t been together long, and neither of us were particularly interested in the other. My main memory of him is bare kitchen cupboards but for a bottle of Italian Red, an open packet of prosciutto, and a tub of glitter.

Still, I was miffed.

‘Dodged a bullet’

I responded hastily from the toilet cubicle, before returning to my table to complete the quiz. I’m not sure how much I contributed, but I have a vague memory that we won. On the return train, I sent a screenshot of the break-up text conversation to my best friend, R.

‘OMFG!’ he replied.

And then: ‘His message is so chaotic! Well done to you for remaining so dignified!’

‘R,’ I began to type.

‘Has he ever even heard of punctuation?! Honestly Brig, you dodged a bullet’

‘Wait!’ I typed – as I saw the ellipsis indicating that there was more coming

‘You’re reading this conversation the wrong way around!!’

A pause

‘R is typing…’

‘R is typing…’

R stopped typing.

And then, a long stream of laughing faces.

Potent emotions

I was recently reminded of this particularly chaotic break-up when attending a Nikita Gill poetry reading at the Children’s Books Ireland Conference in late September.

Gill is an exemplary poet and woman! (I don’t use that exclamation mark lightly).

Her poetry is written primarily with teenage girls in mind. Her work explores and validates those potent emotions that threaten to overwhelm our young teenage bodies. Emotions that for many (for me!), continue long beyond our teenage years.

One short poem reads;

“Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologising for my wild.”

As I listened to Gill speak, I felt my teenage self rise to the surface. Many of the audience, myself included, were crying.

Nikita’s talk reminded me of the nights where, as a teenager, I would pull out the dusty diary beneath my bed and write. I used poetry to understand so much, including love and broken hearts, and to come to terms with my illness, which began in my mid-teens. These were poems of teenage heartbreak in all its many guises.

In one particular poem I compared my sick body to a house guest;

“I give my body water, I offer her space to rest,

But my body does not treat me, like you would a guest.”

I needed poetry at that time.

And I still do.

At times, in my 20s and 30s, I have felt more like a teenager than I ever did in my teens. I continue to write poetry in the manner of the above text exchanges; scatty, misspelt and fuelled with emotion. They may never get published in a journal. But that isn’t why I write them.

I write poems because I need to. So many of us do.