Fran Lock

Fran Lock

Fran Lock Ph.D. is a writer, activist, and the author of seven poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. She is an Associate Editor of Culture Matters.

universal credit
Friday, 17 November 2017 11:32

universal credit

Published in Poetry

universal credit

by Fran Lock

statues wake, and yawning, scrape
the birdshit from their tongues. london
drags a dirty nail across her fibroid lungs.

the hoodies and the halfwits are disporting
on the green. their smiles are shallow gashes
like the slots of fruit machines.

the silent politicians brush their dandruff
from their suits. rehearsing alternate careers
as undertakers' mutes.

work and pensions perverts, and the l.s.e's
pet boffins, offer thrilling opportunities
in made to measure coffins.

Us Too
Friday, 17 November 2017 10:32

Us Too

Published in Poetry

Us too

by Fran Lock


And at the knackered traffic lights, the lads, led about by their soft-boiled

bellies like pregnant seahorses; regimental maniacs in berets, khaki slacks

and symptomatic tattoos, checking their reflections in their steel toe-caps.

It’s Friday night, and I am walking the tusky ramparts of our beautiful coastal

town. Crossing the road by the fountain, I smile at a bony-shouldered band

of amphetamine featherweights, young boys bitching their brittle Polari in

local parks where broken railings fix their bayonets. I walk, and I’m watching

the women, old women, women in acrylic skin and slit up skirts and circus stilts,

preening their screams in a nightclub queue. Their eyes are dressed in injury,

they wince and strut; the curb becomes a catwalk of hot coals. I have seen

them, squeezing defeat into too-tight shorts. Hey, don’t laugh, the world turns

on its thirst, you know? The world turns, on a thousand fetish devastations. No

word is safe. I heard them say: You’ll be scraping your face off the back of his

hand. I’ll be scraping my face off for years. It’s Friday night, dear God, and there

is a girl, young girl, sucking a hardboiled silence, cut right down to her tight pink

passing-sacred; all thin white arms and long wet hair, who hangs around her

boyfriend’s neck like a broken stethoscope. No, no heart to hear. That girl is

me. I see myself, undoing my smile like the top button of a shantung blouse.

How I court their brawling foreplay. Lose count of the times I heard someone

say: It’ll all end in tears.  A minor vice, a little statutory angst, summer’s giddy

commerce on the corner in the evening. Or, those seasick seaside mornings,

flaunting my disorder by the boat swings, skittish in a miniskirt. A blowjob or

a stick of rock; a loose tooth and a broken nose. Pain is our roseate intercourse.

There’s coercion God, and then there’s force. At the traffic lights, the lads.

Our eyes collide like marbles. I’m leatherette and penny sweets, and sexy.

They said I was sexy. I feel about as sexy as a two-seater second-hand sofa,

a busted spring in my empty belly. So scuffed, I am, so worn. There’s a girl who,

night after night, will polish her most affordable fear. That girl is me. And a lad

looms up once more, a video game glow round him, big as an end of level boss,

he’s swinging his arms through the slutty gloaming. He grabs me by my sleeves;

he drags me past the sagging wrecks of blackened bandstands, wind-distorted

portacabins. I’m on my knees beneath the beer-gut of an old pavilion. The reek

of fish and week old fat. He leaves my mouth a smashed mess of slang and teeth.

Woke up on the wrong side of the war: I’ll school you, you pikey caant.


 Worse things happen at sea, they said, and what did you expect? And I’m thinking

of you now, ba-lamb, bestie, the ways in which you understood. There are days that

I contain you, my own controlled explosion. The ways we shared the dolorous

geographies of home; the way that home had made a fetish out of splendour,

benediction, reverie. There is no safe word. No word is safe. Bottomless duty, gilded

fate, a beauty we were born imploring. How we adored the Paschal musk and chorus

of Compline; the way the lady Saints inclined their heads, girding a devious grace in

groups like school-gate gossips, how they might blow a scented mercy you could

treasure like a kiss. We knew no better then. There was nothing better for us to know.

Oh, my most Catholic ghost, I still dream about your mouth, succulent and fated

and twice the size of itself against a motley, potholed sky. Your kiss was like pink fairy

lights inside of me. Loss is not the word, not deficit, butwound, this pain, both abject

and succinct, and no I will never drink myself free. Four and twenty blackbirds baked

inside this grief, this keening extremis. No prestige grief we plump like pillows on

a sickbed, but something with yellowy incisors, stripping the meat from a glistered

phrase. Tell me, what did you expect? The Lord moves in mysterious ways. You knew

how it felt and you knew what it meant, and you spent the rest of your empty days

acquainting God with the back of your head. I remember us haunting your bedroom

mirror with our failed symmetries, hollow-eyed, companionably jaded – feral, defiled,

and exiled from the neck down, pushing our ugly consumptive luck. Oh, my bright jinx,

my strictest-shining Catholic ghost, you remembered too well too. Left me what was left

of you. I’m stood in the photonegative light of some shitty hospital corridor, wringing

my hands and rapidly blinking. The tired eye tries to free itself from the shock it

stepped in. Dead.


 I dreamt of it again, lie still until I’m sane. The dream retreats, but leaves its curdled

traces. The school is worst, where boredom makes the minutes swim, where the low

ceilings stunted our growth, where I was a child, lisping and conspicuous to history;

suggestible poppet with braided hair, the barer of a deformed faith that clutched at beads,

a face that didn’t fit. Where you were a child, prodigal of famine and infliction, bygone

pogrom, occupation and eviction. Half breed. Bad seed. Black sheep. Mad cow, bovine

on dopamine, slurring her girlhood, I could not run, could only sweat the dread of barefoot

threat in dusty halls with all the windows  painted shut, a stale and violent light outside.

Inside the proper girls, with crop-circle smiles, who sharpened their collective whisper

like a shiv and smirked my gremlin pedigree: Gyp bitch! You botched abortion! The boys,

aggrandised and Neanderthal, scholars of the picked scab, the sucked knuckle, the untucked

shirt. Tumescent cretins, snickering under their breath. They followed me home. Blighted

desire had tightened their guts, they took disfigured joy in causing pain. Just like their fathers,

brothers, future sons: You slag! You slut! And I was cornered with exhaustion, writhing

like a salted slug. Cher sings Gypsies, tramps and thieves. Big fucking laughs from

the peanut gallery.


And for the longest, dear God, I couldn’t speak of this. My mouth was a glass

house, gathering stones, stoned and phobic on Seroxat and Sertraline. Days

spent redacting a dark eye with liquid liner, losing weight, becoming shallow

as a footprint in wet sand. For the longest time I’d close my eyes and smell

the sea, and brewers’ yeast, and boot polish. For the longest time I’d smell

the lino, chalk dust, desks: dirty grey, and barnacled with chewing gum. I’d

close my eyes and feel the stingy and complicit looks of teachers boring into

the back of my skull.


Mr B is bad breath and soiled ambition. His face swims like a boiled shirt, his skin

the white of unsigned plaster casts; he has the long front teeth of a talking horse.

In a rank mood he leers and reels toward me. Do you remember how we prayed

back then? To God on his gilded battlements: Sweep ‘em up or strike ‘em dead, dear

God. He never did. Social worker measures out her well worn spite in meticulous inches.

She’s a local girl. Her smile is frowsy industry, coastal erosion, and economic stalemate.

She doesn’t care that a boy has worn me like a secret on his lips; she cannot help me,

can’t tell me how to make a poem from a fistful of wet earth, how to dislocate my

shoulders and keep on swimming. Hey, the world turns on its thirst, you know? On

the scurvy lusts we must remake ourselves from daily. Two young girls, too young,

tricked out in torrential dresses, smiling their slow dissolve into camera.  Savants

of resurrection.


Because for every well-publicised celebrity victim of sexual assault there’s a working-class woman or girl who has suffered the same in silence. I’m writing about girls who were groomed for the male gaze from an early age to survive, because they were taught that’s what they are for, because sexually available is all they’re ever allowed to be. And because they are groomed for this gaze they are considered complicit in their own exploitation, they are chav slags and silly sluts, and what happens to them doesn’t matter. There are millions of us. We matter.



Muses and Bruises
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 15:27

Muses and Bruises

Published in Poetry

Culture Matters has published a brilliant new collection of poetry called Muses and Bruises by Fran Lock, an activist, writer and illustrator, and one of the finest political poets writing in Britain today. Her feminist and socialist poetry weaves psychological insight and social awareness into themes of poverty, mental health problems, sexual abuse, domestic violence and political struggle. Vivid, lavish and punchy, her writing combines a smouldering sense of anger and injustice with a deeply humane and vulnerable empathy and compassion. The poems are complemented by the collages of Steev Burgess, whose images dance with the poems, deepening their meaning.

The book will be launched at The Duke Pub, 7 Roger Street, London WC1N 2PB on Saturday 14th October at 7.30pm. Have a look at these two fabulous videos made by Fran and Steev to accompany the book.

Our Lady of the Lock - from Muses and Bruises

​​Rag Town Girls do Poetry - from Muses and Bruises

​And here is Fran's Introduction to the collection.

'Most people ignore poetry because most poetry ignores most people.'
- Adrian Mitchell

I've got a lot of love for the late Adrian Mitchell, but I think he was wrong about this. I didn't have much access to poetry growing up, but that wasn't because poetry was ignoring me, that was because poetry had been deliberately engineered out of my life. I had never been told that poetry was for me, that I was allowed poetry, entitled to poetry, deserving of poetry. And no one ever told me how much I needed it, and I did need it, we do need it, all of us.

I came to poetry alone, late, and by chance. My first feeling at having found this beautiful, radiant thing was a mixture of exhilaration and relief, rapidly followed by a massive sense of blind and burning rage that something so essential, so sustaining, something so rich in sweetness and in meaning had been kept from me. I carry that rage with me still.

Poetry does not ignore people, but there is a system at work designed to exclude people from poetry. People like me. People like you. It starts at school, with a hidden curriculum that attempts to circumscribe and to manipulate the cultural expectations and experiences of working-class kids by telling them what is and isn’t for them; what constitutes an appropriate and realistic interest, what counts as a legitimate achievement.

You can't be a poet, people said to me. No, because heaven forfend I should aim so high, heaven forfend I should have such an unrealistic ambition as to acquire language, to articulate and to express myself. No, because if I, as a marginalised or oppressed person, acquire that language, develop that skill, then I am arming myself.

If I am articulate then I cannot be discounted and I will not be ignored. If I have access to the written word, then I am connected to the whole world, I can build movements, I can move mountains, I can understand the nature of that which keeps me down. If I am dexterous with language, then I understand how language is used to ensnare and enslave me. If I understand how language is used then I know when I'm being lied about and when I'm being lied to. If I have poetry, I have a voice, and that voice is a sword and a shield. If I can think for myself, speak for myself, then I can define myself and represent myself. That is a dangerous and wonderful thing.

Better for some if art and culture remain behind high fences in self-policing middle-class enclaves. They'll stuff my head with shit instead, with disposable, sneerable pop and dross. They'll create a climate of bread and circuses. They’ll dehumanise the lumpenproles because all we've got are stunted words for ugly lives – because we're rough, ill-educated, stupid.

We’re not stupid. I love language. I love poetry, all poetry: the Lais of Marie de France, Chaucer, Milton, Blake, Clare, Keats, Yeats, Fiacc, Plath, Brookes, all of it. I reclaim it, I appropriate it, I snatch it back as an act of daily, defiant radicalism. It all belongs to all of us.

And language belongs to us, in all its complexity and richness, in all its rolling, roiling musicality. I was told once that my writing was inauthentic because working-class women don't think or speak that way. Bollocks. I am a working-class woman, and I do write and think and speak this way. There is no one homogeneous working-class voice, any more than there is a single monolithic working-class culture. No one has any right to set limits on the way we sound or the words we use.

The poems in this collection revel in richness and in strangeness, they positively wallow in it. I don't apologise for that. I won’t strenuously enact anybody else’s vision of working-class identity – I assert my right to be lavish, to be complicated. The poems are about beauty and meaning and the unlikely places working-class women and girls find these things, the unlikely materials from which they are composed. Steev's collages bring this to the fore, a mixture of decadence and squalor; grind and grime with a lick of glitter.

Emma Goldman is often misquoted as saying that without dancing it's not her revolution. She didn’t actually say this, but I approve the sentiment, and I'd go further. Without dancing – or poetry – there is no revolution of any description. We first have to recognise our right to joy, to pleasure. Poetry is waiting, go and claim it.

Muses and Bruises is available here.

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Click here to do the survey.

Thanks to those who have already responded.

National Poetry Day: Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 20:25

National Poetry Day: Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion

Published in Poetry

Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion

by Fran Lock


Sacred, not wise, the black cat's acid
casualty stare, traversing a crumbling
cul-de-sac, under a starlessly inkjet sky.
We cross each other's path, and she
leans into my unluck, a clot of deeper
dark, unstuck from the rest of the night.
Then she is gone, the quick misshapen
sleek of her; the yellow pellets of her
eyes dissolving into distance. I am
alone on the corner, holding my shoes
in my hand. Her charm unwinds from
around my ankles. The night returns
to bind my wrists.


In the concrete playground, city kids,
the pigeon-chested victims of chimneys,
wheezing like slow punctures through
gritted teeth and cigarettey breath. I was
young. I remember well, the boy with
a laugh like a chewed-up cassette, hocking
his egg-yolk phlegm at passing girls.
It was exciting then to press my lips to
his, taste and acrid copper shock and run,
uphill, where he could not follow.
My own chest tightens now to think
of it, and his strained white face
like an old balloon.

Everything you think you know about me

At home, in my cradle of copper wire, I spin
the unvaried light into curses. I sleep on a soiled
mattress stuffed with horsehair, lucky heather,
hubcaps, stolen modems, baby's breath. I devour
men whole, licking the piquant gloss of their
blood from my scrimshawed scramasax blade.
I suck the meat from their fingers, melt
their wedding rings down for ingots of bling,
golden molars. My pit-bull dog is a brute, he's
a gallowglass with a tactical mouth. In the still
cold pond beyond the site, the babies unfold
like lilies.

You are not your nine to five prison

Monday beings and ends with the need
to numb my own desperate tendency. I keep
catching the loose threads of an old pain
on the jagged edges of the day. London,
like a hardman with hate tattooed
on the knuckles of his right hand,
and hate tattooed on the knuckles
of his left hand. There's an ant farm
under my skin, and my brain is tuned
to some bumfuck nowhere bandwidth,
all Armageddon and Christian rock.
Between work and hospital visits
I pass the same graffiti every day.
Sometimes I smile in lowercase,
but today its optimism irks me. I think,
in fact, I am the clock. I turn, but in
a circle, chase the self I can't outrun.

Sunday, 16 October 2016 14:54

'the bravest of the brave'

Published in Poetry

'the bravest of the brave'

by Fran Lock

We will never again – in any future conflict – let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave – the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces - PM Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference 2016

you could spit this distance. a night carved up along our
wounded latitudes. these, the deathbed territories: houses
you can wake at night with howling; weekends, when flags
mutate the gaptooth terraces. blue dufflecoat, spineless in
a sightline; a black lung, obliviously butterflied, small
matters. a pristine buckle of bone; the plump dependency
of children, milk teeth courting spores in yellow bedrooms.
you could spit this distance. the engine’s wheezing sync,
the armoured pig, the gun. your anti-language gratifies
itself. the blind eye keeps your worshipful company. all
laws in accordance with screeching. curfew. groping
sorceries. the tv screen, a white sail stretched tight by
light, not air. no one is there. a smile that spreads
like an infection; your hands sculpt the flesh of us from
silence. a body’s soft reckoning. you crouch in stairwells
like botanists. we are searched out, sampled, categories
of life. vexing scent of humankind. warren. open sewer.
running sore. subspecies. the trigger bristles with fingers.
flatblocks hum with it: picturesque demises, velvety
texture of mouths you smash like oysters, plumbing pearl.
fatigue, amplified, unfocussed. a church you crumple
like an egg box. conceal a solemn promise in fist. you
could spit this distance. in your vindictive livery. we have
nothing but a vagrant immortality; insinuating holiness,
a hope that stops just short. you name the slate, the dust.
you lure the earth to language. our culture is a bitten
tongue. young girls, knotting their hair like nylon ropes.
such deeds. and who will speak of them? it is an
antique zero you are counting on. the rust around
the hole. a boot prevails upon a bending back forever;
persuades a face to open in a failure to scream.

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