Anne Caldwell has published three previous collections of work prior to Alice and the North: Slug Language (Happenstance), Talking with the Dead and Painting the Spiral Staircase (Cinnamon Press). She also co-edited The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Valley Press) with Oz Hardwick and Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice, a collection of essays for Routledge in 2023. There is a growing audience for prose poetry in the UK, and it is a genre that is receiving much attention in the contemporary poetry world through the advocacy of international writers.

Her new pamphlet is Neither Here Nor There (SurVision, 2024) which won a James Tait Prize. The organising principle of this work is the prose poetry form. The poems explore the way prose poetry can present a series of vignettes that mix the details of the natural world with dreams and myth, the real and the fairy tale, where humans transform into birds and language puts on its ‘dancing slippers’ or turns into bats. The world of this collection is spinning out of reach.

The book explores the fragility of landscapes, urban and rural, before and after the pandemic, where our connections to each other have been fragmented and stretched. The central theme of the collection is an exploration of real and metaphorical bridges: in-between states of mind, and the boundary between poetry and prose that the prose poem is so suited to consider.


Walls were less rigid when I was young. Bedrooms expanded when love bloomed and contracted as grief swallowed the family, made it lemon-sour and pithy. Hiding in the bottom of the wardrobe, I would listen to the bitterness of mother and father. I’d a penknife, a lucky stone and a ball of string.

I owned a hand-me-down bike and found a cycle route to Astbury, cutting beneath the canal aqueduct. The air was damp and cool; the brickwork smothered in moss.

A stalactite childhood lay here, lingering beneath that body of water. Beneath tadpoles and crested newts; beneath rusty shopping trollies and lead fishing sinkers.

From Neither Here Nor There, SurVision, 2024

Rust and Nettles

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?
—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice and her sisters are fat from eating mulberries, blackberries, sloes and grassy, bitter damsons. Fingertips and lips stain purple. Their Tupperwares leak trails of juice. Boundary Lane is billowing with cow parsley. The girls feel like they’re carrying a dismembered body home. Alice is reading Little Women and The Hobbit. The season is on the cusp. At night, they sleep closer together: four sisters blowsy with heat and sunburnt shoulders. They’re skinny as wild cats, calloused from wandering barefoot. Soon Alice will slip on borrowed stilettos, smear her cheeks with rouge and the map of Wonderland will be gone forever. Her mother sterilises Kilner jars in the oven, purses her lips. She fills a larder with the summer’s glut, slow-cooks meringue, brittle with love. It can happen in an instant, she says, darkly. Alice has some idea of what this means.


The cul-de-sac is quiet. Gangs of distant roller-skaters trundle up and down the empty roads beyond. Alice grows in a bowl of wild-faced children. A rocket-shaped figure lurks in the ice-cream van with his deadnettle promises of Pyrex riches. He tells Alice to sit still on his lolly.

And down the lane lives Mr Riches the PE teacher who downs whisky, then lets his practised root hang loose and wet in his pants. Skin tight. Living purple. His girls run up and down the hockey pitch, bruising each other’s ankles mauve.

In the distance, on the M6, goods lorries long to nuzzle, limp home as the motorway bridge hangs its head, pollen yellow. Alice decides she’s a horse in a field. The grass is boggy with silver birch.

Incubating Twins

She strokes their stomachs with her forefinger.
Tomorrow or the next day,
their small sarcophagi will be opened forever.
She will hold their wee bodies to the sun,
breathe their scent, like freshly-cut hay.

Breast-milk stains her blue silk gown.
Robert screams when she has to go home.
She carries his cry like a wren in her pocket.
Feels the sharp beak of it.
Throughout the night, she sings to them
across the streets of Lewisham.

From Talking with the Dead, Cinnamon Press, 2011 and first published in The North

  • Great poetry, sensual, deep and moving.

  • Her poems transform the world for the reader so that we may revel in life's experiences and travel more hopefully than before.

  • Anne Caldwell's poems deal passionately with grief and birth, love and lobsters. They are intensely alive, flighty as young animals and varied as the sea.

Readers' opinions