Valerie Laws - Tuesday 27th March

Valerie Laws is Writer in Residence at a London Pathology Museum. As part of her cross-disciplinary Wellcome Trust Arts Award-funded project she wrote her latest collection This Fatal Subject. Working with scientists in London and Newcastle on the science of dying, (with artist Susan Aldworth) and with special access to specimens and dissections, Valerie produced a London exhibition of resulting work (poetry, film, text, visual art). This was a Guardian Guide Pick of the Week in February 2009. Pathology-themed poetry also won Valerie a 2nd Northern Writers' Award, and 2nd Prize in the 2008 Mslexia competition.

She is also Writer in Residence at Newcastle University's Institute of Ageing and Health. Her third residency is as Newcastle poet for Evolving Words, a national project on Darwin funded by Wellcome Trust working with young poets.

A sci-art specialist, her Arts Council-funded Quantum Sheep infamously involved spray-painting poetry onto live sheep, and her Windows of Art electroluminescent embedded haiku are installed in St Thomas Hospital, London, with more than 350 visitors per day. Her latest random haiku, on inflatable beach balls, featured on BBC2's Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones.

She has degrees in Maths/Theoretical Physics and in English. She performs her poetry on stage and in the media, including BBC TV, radio, and at festivals and events. She lives on the North East coast and has published eight books, including two poetry collections from Peterloo Poets, Quantum Sheep and Moonbathing. She has written many commissioned plays for stage and BBC radio, including The Selkie for Cloud Nine, an updating of the seal-woman myth which toured the north in 2008 after opening at Sage Gateshead. In October 2008, BBC Radio 3 broadcast her play, Nowt to Look At, the life story of a severed head in a specimen jar.

She is currently working on play commissions for Customs House South Shields, (about John Simpson Kirkpatrick), and a surreal comedy for Graeae in London for a national tour.

'Laws's images are vivid and the language rattles and sparks. ... she chooses her subjects carefully, seeking the intense and the pregnant within them and offering the reader something of the "real" experience they contain' Poetry Review

Tuesday 27th March, The Punter, Open Mic floor spots, books for sale. Doors 7.30pm Readings 8pm. Tickets on the door only, £4/£3.


‘anticipating the heaven of actual touch’
– Elizabeth Smart

Do you know that your skin will outlive you?

My mother’s, before they made me
Leave her, smelled so good against my face,
Like a baby’s, purged of all impurity through her
Long dying: I didn’t know then, it was still alive.

Whether the brain, like hers, dies first, killing
The breath, and with it, the heart: or like my father’s,
Holds out until the struggling, suddenly blood-starved
Heart gives up, strangling brain, then breath:
Either way, the rest follow, bowels, liver, kidneys,

Until there’s just skin, holding things together
In its quiet way for a day or two more, mute
Witness of our premature grief, the attendant’s
Wash cloth, the clutching hands of the bereaved.

No-one told her skin it was time to be dead.
When I let her go for the last time, maybe
It registered, somehow, my hand on her arm.
Left alone, perhaps it was still
Anticipating the heaven of actual touch.

Valerie Laws