A brand new UK tour of poetry & performance – from Lydia Towsey, Shruti Chauhan and Jean Binta Breeze MBE

FOREIGN / AOIFE MANNIX / #WhosYourNeighbour?


As we continue our series of #WhosYourNeighbour poems, here’s a wonderful piece kindly contributed by poet and performer, Aoife Mannix. Foreign is one of a series of works by Aoife exploring her recent diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

If you’d like to get involved, please tweet us @3HardWayPoets along with the hashtag #WhosYourNeighbour – with a link to the work as text and/or a recorded reading. For full details see here.



The woman on the other side of the curtain
sounds scared as she asks him again
what he will take out. Her English, she says,
is not good, and she clearly doesn’t know
what the word biopsy means.

He keeps repeating it slightly louder,
as if she’s retarded, till I want to scream
tests, it just means tests, because how terrifying
must it be to hear that if there is any abnormality
we will cut something but you don’t know what.

Cancer being a language
I’m still struggling to learn myself.
The lost irony of words like ‘elective’
laughing at my primary school requests for the toilet
and the temperature of lymph nodes misinterpreted
into messages of sympathy for strangers.

The man in the next bay who says he’s lived
on cornflakes for the last eighteen months.
There’s been times he’s wished he was dead,
but he’s still here. The husband sobbing in Spanish
in the chair across from me, his tears needing no translation
as his wife leans forward in her bed to say his name.

The look of shock on that woman’s face
as she clutches her teenage daughter’s arm.
‘Sit closer to me or I’ll start singing’ she jokes.
A strange intimacy, all of us here
in Babel’s waiting room
where the only universal word is love.


AOIFE MANNIX was born in Sweden of Irish parents. She grew up in Dublin, Ottawa and New York before moving to the UK. Cocktails from the Ceiling (2013) is her latest poetry collection. She has four previous poetry publications with tall-lighthouse; The Trick of Foreign Words (2002), The Elephant in the Corner (2005), Growing Up An Alien (2007) and Turn The Clocks Upside Down (2008). She has also published a novel Heritage of Secrets (2008). She has been poet in residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Bronte Parsonage, Gosport Gallery, Central Foundation School for Girls, Mayville Primary School and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live amongst others. She has performed throughout the UK and toured internationally with the British Council to Vietnam, China, Latvia, Nigeria, Turkey, Taiwan, Thailand, India, Norway and Austria. Her children’s show Misunderstood Monsters has just completed a highly successful UK tour and she has been awarded an Arts Council grant to create a new show for 4-8 year olds called Radio Pirate. She has also been commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia to work with composer Stephen McNeff on a piece about WWI. She has a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London.

Aoife currently blogs, here: https://livingasanalien.wordpress.com


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