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Valerie Bence



the poet

After completing an MA in Poetry with Manchester Metropolitan University (plus a year’s mentoring), Valerie published her first pamphlet: Falling in love with a dead manpoems which take as their source the art of Rembrandt. Her second pamphlet, Overlap, followed in 2022. Valerie has been shortlisted for The Poetry School/Nine Arches Press Primer series, the Fish Publishing Poetry prize, and longlisted for the Ginkgo Prize. Her poems have appeared in several anthologies, and she was delighted to contribute to the inaugural issue of The Storms journal. A mum and nonna, Valerie lives and works in Buckinghamshire.

the poems


After Dylan Thomas’ death

in New York, aged 39

00:00 / 02:13

So, it's happened, you shit of a man            

I love the bones of you.            

I can’t think for the howl in my head of our unborn babies            

I’ll never forgive you. I’m finished.            

No rules for us            

from that first day in the Wheatsheaf            

you lay your beer-swimming head in my lap            

proposed then and there            

stole me body and soul from Augustus.            

You always took what you thought was yours             

you had me in the raw, as far as you ever had me            

killed my soul, then killed your own.            

I love the bones of you.            

I used to think all men are swine. Now I know it.            

You bastard, you’ve left me squalid, what will become of us?            

I considered throwing myself out the bedroom window            

but decided it wasn’t a big enough       drop            

I won’t make that mistake again.            

I hope you had your black socks on, darned with red wool            

so people would tut-tut over how you keep your wife impoverished            

you bad bastard of a wonderful man, you penniless slob            

I love the bones of you –            

and your voice, going on and on            

whispered endearments slurring in my ear – oh God!            

I always lose whatever I have, now I’ve lost you            

booming your poems at me when we weren’t in drink.            

At least it wasn’t me that killed you, although            

I’ve beaten and kicked you many times and you,            

the man that let me.            

Worse, I’ve torn your precious work in tiny pieces,            

flung them out the window            

like dark bats into the estuary. But even though I tramped out            

to the dawn mudbank to get them back before the tide did            

I’ll never know if you forgave me now.            

Well, you always knew you wouldn’t make forty            

I hope you’re happy now, you shit of a man.            

I love the bones of you.            

romancing the etch

Rembrandt self-portrait

with Saskia, 1636 (etching)

00:00 / 01:29

        I remember the only time you let me share this intimate process

        I am behind you, not quite touching, watching fingertips 

        I know so well work the surface of copper plate; take care with our hair,

        let the shadow of your own hand fall across my breast.

        I imagine these hands sharpening a quill, cupping my toes, drawing our baby.

        In mirror work, looking straight ahead, your hand moves ‘blind’, 

        must draw in reverse – you see us backwards, as if we could turn back time

        before sadness made lines on our faces.

        The back of your head is rigid with concentration,

        you are rarely still this long and your reflected gaze watches me

        watching you work. With no change of expression 

        you make myriad decisions – on pressure, what to leave,

        what to wipe away, which paper when pressed to plate

        will take up ink exactly as you want – then peel away 

        revealing the reverse of the reverse.  

        All this, your eyes in the mirror still hold mine.


00:00 / 01:27

            There’s a red kite 

                      whose patch encompasses my house.

            I watch him most days, sweeping in slow circles,

                      letting updrafts do the work for him,

                                    using his forked tail to steer the skies.

            On the first day of lockdown, 

                      as I drew back the curtains to let the grey in,

                                    he was the first moving thing I saw.

            So surprisingly low I could almost count splayed feathers 

                      on wingtips, eye on predatory eye as – just for a second –  

                                    he seemed to peer into the bedroom.

            I think we’re quite close now;

                      at least more than nodding acquaintances.

            When it snowed I considered wearing red,

                      curling-up in the front garden 

                                    to be as small as I felt.

            He might think me carrion – perhaps swoop upon me, 

                      take me to his eyrie.

                                    His little ones could be surrogate for mine.


            He could bring me small mammals I would learn to eat raw,

                      my mouth and their little beaks 

                                    bloodied red with the effort.

            I could teach his nestlings songs from Moana, number rhymes, 

                      how to play Jacks with leftover vertebrae, then at sunset 

                                    we’d screech their names to a bleeding sky 

                                                  and I would tell them how the world used to be. 

Publishing credits

Caitlin / romancing the etch: exclusive first publication by iamb

Red: Overlap (The Emma Press)


S h a r e

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