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Showcase: Poison Ivy + Tall Buildings + Rolling Shoulders + The Devotee

Edited by Lucy Kaufman

Welcome to my third Showcase in May. This week spans Mental Health Awareness Week, Brain Injury Awareness Week and National Women’s Health Week, so it’s an appropriate time to be continuing our investigation of our Write On! theme of Overcoming and my personal exploration of Transcendence. In the two previous weeks, we’ve looked at transcendence through Memory and Dream. This week, we’re looking at transcendence via our imaginations.

Imagination is immensely powerful. Anything that’s been created or constructed by humans must first have been imagined by someone. Our ideas and visions can create improved systems, better worlds, innovative futures. Yet, the flip side of this wondrous human power, is that our imaginations can also cripple us with fear, anxiety, self-doubt and doom-laden scenarios.

In our first poem, Poison Ivy, Julie Dexter is effective in imagining this intense feeling of suffocation, by a plant that could stand for so many negative challenges in our lives. Julie says: ‘‘It’s a metaphor for overcoming. Though events or people may give the impression, or in fact be too difficult to surmount, we must somehow find the inner strength to persevere. And even in things, situations or people who are seemingly malignant, there is goodness to be found.”

Poison Ivy

Grow away from your endless twining,
Suffocating Ivy!
You cannot break my stem.
Though your sickening seeds
sow, bloom
strangle leaves and branches with

Ivy clings to fallen tree,
cousins mango,
Houses sparrows, blackcaps,
yellow-barred brindle moths,
gall mites.
And with toxic leaves,
and waxen-white shined berries
feeds their young.

© Julie Dexter, 2024

I love how the poem conjures up images but also strong feelings of being suffocated; we are there with the narrator, with poison ivy wrapped tightly around us. I really admire their angry energy, shouting at the ivy. As a therapist for 20 years, one thing I observed with clients suffering from depression was that the first sign they were beginning to come out of it was when there was a glimmer of anger, usually at themselves for being so depressed. It was a sign there was new energy there, rather than flatness. That energy often grew and grew and enabled them to face the eventual upward climb from the pit of despair. In spite of the ivy’s negative force, Julie has managed to find empathy for the ivy, too, and see a positive benefit of its existence.


In this next short piece, Megan Hung describes her imaginative strategy for coping with her equally suffocating, numerous anxieties, although the strategy itself causes further problems for her:

Tall Buildings

When I built the skyscraper, it took no time at all  – as is the way with metaphorical constructs.

I would look at others, out and about, and wonder if they had built their own, but it was hard to tell.

As for mine, it began at my forehead and stretched up and up, an invisible tower that wafted in the breeze and drifted behind me just a tad if I walked too quickly, or dared to jog.

Each floor held their entire quarters; one worry per level. Like back in the day when money could buy you an apartment of suites and chambers; walk-in mirrored changing rooms and a separate room for the nanny.

That’s how I liked to treat my worries, like they were special. Important enough to deserve some space, a little luxury.

The one who resided at Number 1, just above my eyes, was the one I needed to deal with now. The worry that demanded my attention with most shouty importance or was, rather, the most imminent.

If I dealt with that one like a grown-up, the entire floor, along with its inhabitant, would avalanche in and down. Grit would linger between my teeth. Concrete dust bloom from my lungs.

In this way I consumed my skyscraper. Floor by floor. Worry by worry. It never seemed to get smaller, though; they just kept coming.

The trick of it was, I found, to only deal with the resident of Number 1. All the others, each on their own level, I left alone. Until they moved to Number 1.

Sometimes squatters came in the night and crowded into one floor, keeping me awake with their chatter.

More often, one grand worry strutted about with a floor to itself, flopping onto chaise-longues and sighing dramatically into the echoey air.

There was one who always stayed in Number 1, no matter who else lived there. It would walk in small, quick circles in the corner of the room, reflected by the huge window. I’m fat I’m fat I’m fat, it would whisper endlessly, wringing its hands.

Sometimes I imagined setting fire to the whole thing, demolishing it into a crumbling cloud of forgotten fears.

One day, I had a whim: to take the lift up and see the view from the top. Such was the trick of the place, there were no numbers on the buttons, so I just pressed Penthouse. The doors slid open to a rooftop terrace that was flat and empty. The air was so clear and cool it made my throat ache. I could see for miles. My head was light; nothing above it.

If I jumped, I thought, I could wave to them all on my way down – down to the end. They could watch me as I fell, carry on without me – be not dealt with and remain. Or perhaps they would vanish when I hit.

For some reason, I didn’t jump. I got back into the lift and went back to myself; looked at who was current resident of Number 1.

© Megan Hung, 2024

As someone who often feels suffocated by the hundreds of items on my to-do list, I can really relate to buckling under the weight of Megan’s heavy, immensely tall tower. I need a to-do list in order to not feel overwhelmed by the amount I have to carry in my head, but the sheer number of things to be done, and the lists themselves, can overpower. And I’m sure many people, especially women, can relate to her Number 1 anxiety that has always lived there. As Megan’s vivid imagination is responsible for creating the tower, I hope her imagination is just as strong in helping her to dismantle it, as well as imagining a kinder voice for herself.


Similarly, in this next piece from Laura Pitman, the female protagonist is particularly harsh on herself and what she sees in her reflection, with surprising results:

Rolling Shoulders

My father even said on my wedding day that I walked like a badger with my masculine gait.  A badger in a white dress, rolling her way up the aisle. That figures, with my broad back and my coarse hair that was never smooth like other people’s.

On our anniversary, Cliff and I went shopping for windows. Not that romantic, but he had house plans. I sometimes thought Cliff came into the world with a tape measure in his mean, clenched fist.

Cradling a coffee in the showroom, I don’t notice the windows but only my reflection – a blonde-haired badger lumbering round the showroom.  There was talk of brass fittings, polymer coatings, hot dipped cross bars, lead times and deposits and all I thought was how could even Cliff find love for me when I walked like that.

Our window plans went viral when the yellow signs went up. Next-door Giles told Toby from the paper, and now we are computer-generated on page three of the Observer and on every side-table in the village. Conservation area, light pollution. Tasteless.

On my daily walks, I start pretending in the woods. I lumber along on all fours like a badger.  Thick broad back and hair which is not smooth like other people’s.

As the blight of the village, the next-doors meet to do us down, silence falls on kerbside gatherings as I pass. Their hatred pricks me like I’m a voodoo doll.

In the end, I persuade Cliff to block up the windows. Easier that way and cheaper. Safe from all the next-doors. It was a project for him all the same, before he went away.

Darkness. Just grass and leaves, no mirrors. My earth.

© Laura Pitman, 2024

Connect with Laura on Instagram: @pencil__and__paint


I find Laura’s main character deeply moving, as well as highly relatable, and the story very powerful. The cruel, thoughtless throwaway comments of others can stay with us for a lifetime, making us create negative self-images we carry around everywhere we go. I love how the character’s imagination and initial pretence gives way to something that, though surreal, is all-encompassing and ultimately freeing.


In this final flash piece, I transcend the boundaries of my mind, body and gender by imagining myself as someone else – in this case, a man. I scribbled this down, about a man seated at another table, while I was people-watching in a West London restaurant.

The Devotee 

If I were a man, I’d choose to be him over there. All beard and belly and rolled-up sleeves. He has a knowing nod, where he raises his eyebrows — just enough — and squeezes his knees together, under the table, to emphasise his point. He’s a lecturer in German Literature. Or Marx. No, not Marx. His shirt is pressed. It’s a nice shirt, sky blue, unbuttoned over a grey T-shirt, a grey that catches the ageing flecks in his beard, his hair. He has glasses. Of course he has glasses. All lecturers have glasses. No. He is neither a Marxist nor a devotee of Thomas Mann. He is…American Lit. Norman Mailer was his PhD, but he’s done with Mailer. Mailer is far too angry, too violent, too — dare I say — misogynistic for Mike now. Did I mention this man is called Mike? That’s what I fancy he’s called. A Michael’s shirt sleeves would be rolled down and buttoned at the cuffs. I am staring too much. God. He must think I’m after him. He has a fatherly demeanour. Kindly. Roly-poly. It can’t be Mailer. I’ve got him all wrong. It must be art. Renoir.

© Lucy Kaufman, 2018

Imagination can constrict us, then, in the form of anxiety, but can also free us and help us transcend ourselves and our ordinary lives. Imagination has the power to bring anything we envision into being and help us transform into something extraordinary.

Lucy Kaufman is a playwright, author and screenwriter, as well as lecturer in Playwriting and Screenwriting for Pen to Print. You can connect with Lucy on X: @lucykaufman_ or on Instagram: @kaufmanlucy 


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