When I Read Diagnostic under CONFIDENTIAL

I think it’s related to esoteric mystical knowledge      
like predicting rain from moisture in moss
or life through the aleph bet of gematria             

should you wear a raincoat in this new
world of extreme weather                but the word
is just a fancy way to say test
say people spent their careers devising methods
to organize minds on a bell curve 

what is the etymology of evaluation
now that’s a better word            all about worth
about value dependent on people’s subjectivity
to get it going           and together        diagnostic
and evaluation are the appraisal and catalog
so what’s your price.

by Sarah Shapiro

News from the Centre: we are pleased to say that our new online course, Fire Up Your Poetry Practice: Professionalising Your Poetry, has proved very popular, and just one place remains on the session on 22 June entitled ‘Working with other people’. This session is led by poet and researcher Susie Campbell and will explore alternative routes into publication through collaboration and creative projects. To sign up for this event, please visit the Brookes Shop. If you would like to join the waiting list for any other session (listed on our website), please e-mail us at poetrycentre@brookes.ac.uk

When I Read Diagnostic under CONFIDENTIAL’ is copyright © Sarah Shapiro, 2021. It is reprinted from being called normal (tall-lighthouse, 2021) by permission of tall-lighthouse. You can read more about the pamphlet on the tall-lighthouse website.

Notes from tall-lighthouse:

This engaging sequence is written as a direct response, through poetry, to the clinical experiences of the poet in how the ‘system’ accepts and treats (or doesn’t) children with (dys)abilities. As a poet, Sarah Shapiro has strived to be called normal whilst growing up with ‘reading issues’. The poems are a dialogue between her documented psycho-educational evaluations and her reaction to the analysis and words used. Interspersed between these ‘conversations’ are heartfelt poems that expose the tribulations of people who are carelessly labelled (dys).

Read more about the pamphlet and hear Sarah read two of the poems from it on the tall-lighthouse website

Sarah Shapiro was born in Chicago and now lives and works in Boston. She has an MFA from UMASS Boston, an MA from Royal Holloway University, London and a BA from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. She did not start to read until she was eight, so her success is well earned. Her poetry has been widely published in magazines and on-line and her debut pamphlet The Bullshit Cosmos was published by ignitionpress and you can read more about it on the Poetry Centre website.

tall-lighthouse has a reputation for publishing exciting new poetry, being the first to publish Sarah Howe, Helen Mort, Liz Berry, Jay Bernard, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Emily Berry and many others. Learn more about the press on the  tall-lighthouse website and follow tall-lighthouse on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

When I Turn Thirty, I Have an Epiphany 


I will forever be in second grade    acutely aware my classmates’ gold star
reading comprehension    
voices sliding over words like snakes slither grass
great at self-flagellation    no one can hurt me like me    I deserve my
teachers’ neglect    my classmates’ sneers and taunts    I am not good enough
pretty enough    smart enough    to learn to read    each day my failure
reteaches me    the depths of my inabilities    my (dys)abilities


When I turn thirty, I still stumble aloud, mind ever split
between recognizing letters and

processing meaning, in tandem. What’s wrong
with me? 
stings the old shame.

I continue to try and out-chess my falterlurch,
my vocal careen, but I also lift

my chin and push my pawn
two daring spaces forward:

I ask myself how
do I think,

how do I get the




This year, I question friends on their hows of reading
and understanding. My classroom curse word 

reading comprehension is examined,
thought through, discussed.

Epiphany lands casually
one Tuesday afternoon:

reading out loud,
with ease and grace,
has nothing to do
with understanding.




It took me all these years to divine this    travel outside my own head
shame and into others’ vocality    others’ processors and understandings   

so I write this to remind myself to smile    when others read smoothly
and smile when I falter for you here and now    because
when I read    I comprehend    


by Sarah Shapiro

You can hear Sarah read the poem here.

The Poetry Centre’s ignitionpress is excited to share with you a poem from another one of its new pamphlets. After we featured ‘Love Token’ from Jennifer Lee Tsai’s Kismet last week, this week’s offering is from Sarah Shapiro’s pamphlet The Bullshit Cosmos. The pamphlet will be available later this month and will be launched in London on 22 July and in Oxford on 23 July. Please join us to celebrate the launch of Sarah’s pamphlet and the pamphlets by Joanna Ingham and Jennifer Lee Tsai. Sign up here  for the launches. 

Don’t forget that we recently launched our International Poetry Competition for 2019! This year we are delighted to say that our judge is the internationally-acclaimed writer Jackie Kay! There are two categories: Open and English as an Additional Language, and the winners in each category receive £1000. The competition is open until 2 September, and full details can be found here .

Sarah Shapiro was born in Chicago and lives in Somerville, MA. She is a poetry MFA candidate at University of Massachusetts Boston. Sarah also holds an MA in Place, Environment, and Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, and a BA in Environmental Studies from Mount Holyoke College. Sarah’s academic career was not a guarantee; she grew up with learning (dys)abilities and did not begin to read until the age of eight. Now, her poems for this project explore the gap between those who read with ease and those who struggle to read.

Sarah believes that as many people as possible should have access to reading and writing poetry. She teaches university analysis and writing at Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Boston, undergraduate writing and the environment at UMass Boston, and an itinerant writing workshop at the Osher Longlife Institute for adult education at UMass Boston. She has completed a residency with Cove Park, and had an audio-text poem published in TIMBER. Her poems have also appeared in glitterMOBSheGrrrowls, Bunbury, and Poetica Magazine.

The Bullshit Cosmos is a highly distinctive pamphlet that celebrates triumph over adversity, defiance against the system, success over predicted failure. The poems explore the gap between those who read with ease and those who struggle to read. Honestly written, they provide a starkly refreshing approach to our language in a poetry that is provocative and challenging, compassionate and engaging.

ignitionpress is a poetry pamphlet press from Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre with an international outlook which publishes original, arresting poetry from emerging poets, and established poets working on interim or special projects.

Our latest pamphlets are by Joanna Ingham, Jennifer Lee Tsai, and Sarah Shapiro, and they will be published in July 2019. The first five pamphlets to be published by ignitionpress: There’sNo Such Thing by Lily Blacksell, AHurry of English by Mary Jean Chan (Poetry Book Society Summer Pamphlet Choice, 2018), Glean by Patrick James Errington, Shadow Dogs by Natalie Whittaker and Small Inheritances by Belinda Zhawi, are available from our online Shop. Each pamphlet costs £5, and you can buy three for £12. You can find out more about the poets and their work on our dedicated page.

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.