For which we have no names

She works one day a week
in a building which also houses
a Centre for Synaptic Plasticity,
and each time she sees the sign
she wants to go in and say,
Take my brain, bend it,
it’s not behaving. She has 

of late, and for no reason,
been atrabilious, a word
she learned recently
which sums up her state
perfectly: a mix
of irritability and melancholy.
Scientists have suggested 

we can’t feel emotions
we have no names for. This,
she thinks, is impossible
to prove. How do we know
what anyone means when they say anger,
when they say jealousy, when they say love?
She walks past the sign again, longing
to be wired up, explained. Who am I,
she’d say. Tell me my name.

by Tania Hershman

The Poetry Centre has launched its International Poetry Competition for 2020! We’re delighted to say that our judge this year is the Forward Prize-winning poet Fiona Benson. As always, we have two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language. The winners receive £1000, with £200 for the runners up. The deadline for entries is 14 September. For more details and to enter, visitour website

‘For which we have no names’ is copyright © Tania Hershman, 2017. It is reprinted from Terms and Conditions (Nine Arches Press, 2017) by permission of Nine Arches Press. You can read more about the book here

Tania Hershman’s debut poetry collection, Terms and Conditions, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2017 and urges us to consider all the possibilities and read life’s small print before signing on the dotted line. These beautifully measured poems bring their stoical approach to the uncertain business of our daily lives – and ask us to consider what could happen if we were to bend or break the rules, step outside the boundaries and challenge the narrative. In feats of imagination and leaps of probability, falling simply becomes flying, a baby collects the data and scrolls through everything it sees, and there are daring acts of vanishing and recreation. Be wary, for even the evidence here often leads us astray. And in between this, Hershman’s precise poetry elegantly balances the known, unknown and unknowable matter of existence, love and happiness, weighing the atoms of each, finding just the exact words that will draw up the perfect contract of ideas. You can read more about the book on the Nine Arches website.

Tania Hershman‘s poetry pamphlet, How High Did She Fly, was joint winner of Live Canon’s 2019 Poetry Pamphlet Competition and was published in November 2019, whilst her hybrid particle-physics-inspired book and what if we were all allowed to disappear was published by Guillemot Press in March 2020. Tania is also the author of the poetry collection Terms and Conditions, a poetry chapbook and three short story collections, and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014). She is co-creator of @OnThisDayShe, curator of short story hub ShortStops and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. Hear her read her work on Soundcloud, find out more about her work on her website, and follow her on Twitter.

Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2017, All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. Our titles have also been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Prize, and in 2016 David Clarke’s debut poems, Arc, was longlisted for the Polari Prize. To date we have published over ninety poetry publications. Read more about the press here and follow Nine Arches on  FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.