We were all heartbroken to hear of the death of the wonderful poet and novelist Helen Dunmore. I interviewed her in an early edition of the magazine and was galvanised by her warmth and fierce intelligence – and by her bracing advice to me to treat my creative writing with as much commitment as my work at Mslexia. She went on to become a good friend to the magazine, both as a judge of our competitions and taking part in many of our Roadshow events – and to champion the cause of all writers as Chair of the Society of Authors for many years. More recently, with characteristic courage and grace, she has written openly about her illness. She was an amazing talent, a consummate professional, and an irreplaceable part of our community.

Helen’s publisher Bloodaxe is reprinting her final collection Inside the Wave and offering five free copies to Mslexia readers. Scroll down to read her powerful valedictory poem from that collection, and a PDF of my interview with Helen. There is also a link to the Bloodaxe website, where you can order a copy of the book, and a chance to put your name forwards for the prize draw to win a free copy.

Debbie Taylor



Hold out your arms



Death, hold out your arms for me
Embrace me
Give me your motherly caress,
Through all this suffering
You have not forgotten me.

You are the bearded iris that bakes its rhizomes
Beside the wall,
Your scent flushes with loveliness,
Sherbet, pure iris
Lovely and intricate.

I am the child who stands by the wall
Not much taller than the iris.
The sun covers me
The day waits for me
In my funny dress.

Death, you heap into my arms
A basket of unripe damsons
Red crisscross straps that button behind me.
I don’t know about school,
My knowledge is for papery bud covers
Tall stems and brown
Bees touching here and there, delicately
Before a swerve to the sun.

Death stoops over me
Her long skirts slide,
She knows I am shy.
Even the puffed sleeves on my white blouse
Embarrass me,
She will pick me up and hold me
So no one can see me,
I will scrub my hair into hers.

There, the iris increases
Note by note
As the wall gives back heat.
Death, there’s no need to ask:
A mother will always lift a child
As a rhizome
Must lift up a flower
So you settle me
My arms twining,
Thighs gripping your hips
Where the swell of you is.

As you push back my hair
– Which could do with a comb
But never mind –
You murmur
‘We’re nearly there.’

(Helen Dunmore, 25 May 2017, Inside the Wave)


CLICK HERE to read our interview with Helen in Issue 12.

CLICK HERE to visit the Bloodaxe Books website for more of Helen’s work.

CLICK HERE to enter the prize draw for a copy of Inside the Wave.