Behind every fighting man are fifteen more…

Ceremonies this week are marking the 75th anniversary of allied landings in Normandy.  This poem was originally published on-line at a wonderful blog and resource from Karnac publishers, now a part of Taylor & Francis, and no longer available.

The poem is a researched poem, generated from family papers and materials held at the Imperial War Museum.  It is written in memory of my parents-in-law, Robert and Joyce Brember, who met at the Victory Ball in Brussels.  The heading photo was taken at the Arc de Triomphe 10th May 1945.

Written as a sestina the poem roughly follows the form of six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet,  having the same six words at the line ends in six different sequences.


Behind every fighting man are fifteen more

(Advanced Reinforcement Section , 2nd Echelon, June 1944)


You cried at the 50th anniversary. It had been a long wait

for the defences of a logistics man to give way; for emotion to attack

the pride you took in two years of preparation. The beach

of collective imagination, its gradients, capacity, a crusted land

on which to mount this all-out offensive. Yours was not the only wave

of enthusiasm tempered with fear, and a ration of sweets to stay


the pangs of home. It was a slow scramble: still time to stay

on that edge of youth. Time to pack your dancing shoes, wait

for the bus, reach the point of departure, with no-one to wave

but a land-girl in her field. And too early still for that attack

of nerves to reach your gut; ship sitting out storm in sight of land,

holding back its spillage onto the blackened rind of the beach.


Caution throws in its lot, impatience ripples, irate Beach

Masters shout into the wind. Panic surges with a tide unable to stay

its progress. Now, this endless moment of men, this smoke, the land

too far, gradient too steep. Not enough to bear the massive weight

of forces gathering, foresight floundering, going under attack. Attack!

You are the reinforcement, you are the second wave.


Even so, a port or some jetties would have been helpful. Who waived

that particular request? Visible beyond the char of the beach

a village, church, farms, copses, very little air attack

that first night. You are the reinforcement. Emergency rations stay

under wraps while you load trucks, stagger under the weight

of orders, schedules, armaments. This is a green and fertile land.


You follow the ravage inland,

count hands blown in a final wave.

Think we can wait?

Think life’s a beach?

You draft in another round of men, stay

close to your list, taking up the slack.


Onto the Victory Ball now for your legendary attack

of the dance floor, your neatness of foot. You land

the first dance, rough serge on skin softens as she stays

for the next. “Joyce, my name is Joyce” she waves

from the stairs, and you call out “Back home there is a beach

I want to show you. The geese still come and… please… wait!”


On the ebb of shot imaginations, waves

of guilt rasp along this beach, any beach.

You were very young, and nothing could wait.




Parchmarks: a re-surfacing of what has gone before

The heading photo for this piece is an example of a parchmark, and here reveals the underlying architectural features of a former Prisoner of War camp on Merrow Downs. These marks have usually only been seen from the air or on Google Earth, but after the long dry  summer of 2018 they appeared brazenly in familiar landscapes.

When I am working with organisations on their brand and reputation, the question of what sticks – in people’s minds and in the public imagination is always one to consider: how fleeting are impressions,  how might they endure and run the test of time. The prisoner of war camp remains still in some local memories and has surfaced again, though some might wish to forget it.

The marks we leave, whether in our work places, or in the landscape is something that I think about in  ‘Here is where I have Presence’,  a contributing book chapter in an assemblage of work on attachment and place which focusses on the nature of memory, the nomad mind, and collisions of time and place. It suggests that ‘here’ is an under-explored aspect of working in the ‘here and now’ and that working with ideas on place and our associations and attachments to it, can be a valuable dimension in consultancy work that addresses role, identity and brand.  Here is an excerpt:



Memories, short-lived
as a politician’s. Stay
a-while, here are roots.

I have been living in the same house for 30 years (…another way of knowing my place/knowing this place), and knowing this too as a rare security afforded by place. My garden is slowly taking on the characteristics of the nearby downland, with a growing profusion of ox-eye daisies, pyramid orchids, bird’s eye trefoils and wild marjoram. At the end of this suburban garden is a small triangle of land that we have left to go wild and it is largely untouched. Dead wood lies where it falls. Over time the once functional shed has completely covered itself with ivy, and it hangs in dusty sheets through the gaps in the roof. The floor has rotted and been undermined by foxes, perhaps rats. Wasps’ nests attach to window frames. Inside is the detritus of old bicycles, broken chairs. It is the reality of a place left to itself, and sometimes I think that we should pull it down, but I leave it there, existing in the periphery of my experience. I am not sure what it symbolises and can think of it as a place of natural decay and re-generation, which allows me a slow-burning curiosity. I am though, more inclined to view it as an attempt at a permanence, which is nonetheless in a constant state of fragility and flux, and which another person at another time, might come and tidy away (for which substitute re-develop, re-possess, devastate, bomb)

Published in Psychotherapists and Psychogeographers: connecting pathways, forthcoming 4th July 2019 from PCCS Books, Ed. Chris Rose

Forthcoming workshop:
12th July 2019 ‘Re-thinking the Here and Now: Working with ideas of Place as a dynamic aspect of role and change’ with Coreene Archer.

Part of the Tavistock Institute’s Practical Seminar Series.


What’s in a name? experiences of transition and identity

We have come down from the village of Agios Germanos towards the border with the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). This is a land of ancient orchards, vines, almonds, walnuts, above cultivated belts of the huge Prespa bean which dominate the region’s agriculture. Below us on the shoreline of Lake Prespa lies an area of dense vegetation. It is an ecotone; an area of transition  between land and water where, in the last 30 years, a belt of alder, juniper, birch and willow has grown up on land exposed by the receding waters of the Lake. It is a direct response to climate change.

It may be that these trees are the newest arrivals to this shoreline. Property here is sparse, and ownership of land complex and bound up in fragmented contractual and  historical arrangements. The lake itself is the meeting point between Greece, FYROM and Albania.  By coincidence I am here at a different transition;  an attempted collaboration to bring a new name, that of Northern Macedonia to bear on this Balkan republic. It’s not an easy process, feelings have run high, demonstrators have made their views known.

Balkan White

Trying to understand the long-standing turmoil of the region is to enquire into the multiple languages, ethnicities, shifting boundaries, and sense of belonging that permeates identities in the region. The decision or choice to rename a country slides like a fault-line through personal values and beliefs. It is where the personal meets the political, and it meets where 5.5 million years ago tectonic movement in the earth’s crust formed the Prespa Lakes and its surrounding mountains.

I’m being challenged to think more about the nature of identity, the questions of who I am, and who I can be here. What might it mean when names which define us or which convey our cultural histories, are disputed or feel appropriated.

Several times this week we have been stopped by police providing security for the Prime Ministers meeting to sign their agreement, and also to contain the protesters’ potential actions. The we, in this case is a group of naturalists and writers from the UK.  We come out with different identifiers, we’re English, Scottish, British, European, and I can regard myself as three of these. As we stood under our sun umbrellas declaiming a Britishness, I felt as if I were in Tea with Mussolini, an out-dated drawing on an imperialist past. How much more I would like to claim my contemporary, threatened and soon to be destroyed European identity.

I am with Mark Cocker and fellow participants at Aghios Achillios, hosted by Balkan Tracks 

and joined by Julian Hoffman

Selfie taken a few miles above Tintern Abbey

Where’s the selfie I hear you ask!  But if Wordsworth had this technology to support his memory, would he still have honed that ‘inner eye’ enabling him to retain such vivid images of the Wye Valley? And could he have retrieved them with such effect to sustain and enliven him  between his first visit and his return?

Nowadays, I might think of this ability as indicating the development of a rich inner representation; an attachment to place that can be drawn on to provide a sense of continuity and security in the face of separation or dislocation from a place that has meaning.  Naturalists have an eye for this; the close attention to the detail of the natural world that is at the heart of recognising shifts and changes in flora, fauna and landscape over time.  It suggests an attunement to the environment, a skill of observation and of being in touch with one’s thoughts and feelings that is also at the heart of consulting to organisations from a systems-psychodynamic perspective.  See Elemental where I have written about this more fully.

It was 5 long years between Wordsworth’s first visit to the River Wye and the writing of his poem ‘Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’. The gap for me, of visiting and returning to the Wye Valley, is about 35 years and my memory is both hazy and specific. I remember – as a tiny fragment – driving along that winding road beside Tintern Abbey,  pulling over onto the verge with those powerful ruins below, and the black and white cows meandering, rather incongruously, through them.

the sylvan River Wye from Llandogo

Yet, what I do remember, long disconnected from the experience, are lines from Wordsworth’s poem ‘ _And I have felt/ a Presence that disturbs me with the joy/of elevated thought’, words which struck afresh as I re-read them on my return there recently. These lines which have stayed with me these 35 or so years, were not necessarily recalled from the experience I have described.  More likely they belong to a time when I was studying Wordsworth, and knew some of his writing in detail. Yet they have sustained, and come to mind at different times, in different places, with all the characteristics of a good inner representation. Revisiting Tintern Abbey, cared for and contextualised for the visitor as it now is,  it was easy to see how the place disturbed, how thoughts soared.


My poem ‘slip-stream’ on aspects of place, memory, connection and disconnection is Runner-Up in The Interpreter’s House Open competition 2018 and published in #68 of their magazine. Launches will be held at The Fenton, Leeds 14th June from 7.00pm and at Nell of Old Drury, Covent Garden. London on the 5th July, from 6.30pm.


photos: Karen Izod

Conference Poem

This Conference Poem is constructed from words and images generated by conference participants in presentations and discussions, while I was Poet-in-Residence at Association of Psycho-Social Studies conference.

The ‘drop-in sessions’ focussed on creating word clouds to reflect what aspects of the conference captured peoples’ attention, and played with their order to create a poetry fragment.  These are incorporated into the poem in italics.

With all thanks to the participants of the Association for Psycho-Social Studies Conference 2018.

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Poet-in-Residence at the APS conference

Poet-in-Residence – Association of Psycho-Social Studies, Conference 5-7th April 2018

Linking identities: exploring connections between social science and poetry

Karen Izod

Karen Izod

During the conference I will be presenting ideas from my practice as a consultant to organisational change, and exploring how this interweaves with my emerging identity as a writer of poetry.

Both these identities depend upon a heightened attentiveness to one’s experiences in the contexts in which they occur, and the re-presenting of that experience in forms which have the potential to transform awareness and thinking.

Poetry, like psycho-social research, provides a medium for the expression of multiple voices, with multiple layers of meaning, and challenges the status quo: ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant’ [1] which additionally rests on the capacity to choose what to say, and with what effect. Noticing where one’s ‘gaze’ is falling, and amplifying that gaze, through bringing, empathy, imagination and potential new meaning is part of the skill set in both disciplines.

Examples to illustrate this interlinking will come from my experience of writing some 25 poems during the course of undertaking my D.Phil.  Some of these poems were themselves researched, but most re-present aspects of my experience which were coming to the surface, in particular the dislocations of time and place being evoked by the research, and as such, offer a further level of analysis.

This presentation will be accompanied by 2 additional ‘drop-in’ sessions when conference participants can join me in writing a few lines to illustrate where their ‘gaze’ has been falling, and to connect with the ideas of others to form a response to the conference in poetry form.

I’ll also be performing any new material that emerges from the conference, along with some of my own poetry at the conference Cabaret on Friday 6th April.

Download the programme

For more about the conference see:

[1] Tell all the truth but tell it slant – The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998)

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Local Plan

North Downs

Local Plan is a poem written in response to a local government consultation document, earmarking potential sites for housing development. It concerns the brown-field site of a former airfield at Wisley, Surrey. It has been published in Best of British, 2017 (Paper Swans Press) and as ‘settlement’ in The Keystone anthology 2015 (Dempsey and Windle).

Listen to Local Plan:

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Still Here

This poem was long-listed in the Cookham Festival Stanley Spencer Competition 2017.  The long-listed poems are published in Stanley Spencer Poems: An Anthology, edited by Jane Draycott, Carolyn Leder and Peter Robinson (Two Rivers Press, 2017)  The poem both imagines what Spencer might be doing were he still to be an artist in the village today, along with images from his paintings and present day Cookham life.

Listen to Still Here:

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