Hungry for Words: Creative approaches to start the conversation about eating disorders in men
  

Our poems

Poems can communicate personal experiences with an intensity and style that is very different from the usual instant comments of our fast-paced lives. We have collected poems on male ‘disordered eating’ written by men, their friends, family, partners or co-workers. The poems are testimony to the power of poetry to articulate their experiences. 

For Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2019 we took these poems out into the public and asked people who are passionate about the project - GPs, nurses, students, teachers and siblings – to lend them their voice reading them aloud. The following were ranked in the top 5 by a panel of judges and project members in our poetry competition, although they were deeply impressed by the high quality of ALL entries and ranking them was difficult. Comments by readers of the poems are testomy to this. 

Note: These poems are personal, raw and honest. Some people may find them triggering although they are not intended so.  

"Keeping Control" by MT Taylor

Transcript of ‘Keeping control', by MT Taylor

I will never be clever enough to outwit
that fool of a brother, 
never be strong enough to brush off
the mocking of my coward father
never be loud enough to drown
the whispered whinging of my mother,
never look good enough to attract
my heart’s desire,
that’s why I’d rather…….

…keep control where I can
do my accounts,
keep control of my spending,
eat measured amounts.
If I overdo it
there are more ways I’ve learned
to spit in their faces
throw up their concern.
I can sweat off the surplus
down at the gym
spend 600 cals
every hour I swim.
I’ve seen others like me
quietly exhausted
cardio worked out
treadmill haunted. 

For us it’s a question
of calibration
an arithmetical
calculation. 

I’m not stupid. I know
there’s already damage
but I keep control. 

How else can I manage?

We welcome your thoughts about the above poem or any of the other poetry featured on this website. Please submit your comments using the feeback form.

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Comments 

 

Author: The poem was inspired by this project, and I would be delighted if you found it useful. Thank you for this important initiative, and for the resources already available from the website. This issue is important to me, and finding voices to articulate such a difficult and under explored area will change things.

Judges:

  • powerful poem & deeply moving
  • contains very strong messages of why and how eating disorders manifest themselves.  They clearly give a message of how ‘control’ is a big issue.
  • the title of this poem spoke volumes and I was immediately engaged with the family psychology that is swiftly but skilfully drawn in the first three stanzas. This poem provided the reader with contrasts; the precision and control described as “calibration” or “calculation” and the desperation of the final sentence.
 

 

 
 

"1990", by Cailean McBride

Transcript of ‘1990', by Cailean McBride

The pale face in that unmagic mirror is not mine.
It’s too flat, bug eyes, traitor mouth, in need of a clean. 
A shamed supplication, and a most righteous crime. 

It takes work to maintain this love. To expel the grime,
Sustain a taut frame, one that’s light, bright and lean.
The pale face in that unmagic mirror is not mine. 

Sculpted and grooved, pure of angle, form and line.
Fingers slide inside. Naturally strong and serene,
A shamed supplication, and a most righteous crime. 

Glottal convulsions, communing to expel the slime
That tyrannises and encumbers a once-agile machine.
The pale face in that unmagic mirror is not mine. 

But the shame is yours alone as you seek to redefine
My form, my health. Stand in judgement as I kneel between
A shamed supplication, and a most righteous crime. 

I feel your pity (crazed, sick man(a)) but you can’t confine
This body, or this mind, and you have no claim to demean.
The pale face in that unmagic mirror that is not mine.
A shamed supplication, and a most righteous crime.

We welcome your thoughts about the above poem or any of the other poetry featured on this website. Please submit your comments using the feeback form.

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Comments

Author: I chose the villanelle form because of the structural challenge it represented and also because its rigid and relatively unforgiving form enabled me to reflect the feelings of confinement and frustration that come with an eating disorder. What can be perceived as the limited choices in poetic construction were hopefully able to reflect the feelings of restriction that often lead to desperate and self-destructive health choices in the outside world. I also wanted to use the form to illustrate the often simultaneous (and conflicting) emotions of self-disgust at activities such as purging with the sense of sometimes ecstatic control and release that can accompany it. 

Judges

  • this poem communicates intense emotion around restricting and purging, including the anger of someone feeling shamed and demeaned by others wanting to change them.
  • what beautiful words used to demonstrate the trauma of distorted body image and food
  • beautifully written poem
 
 
 
 

"You Can't Stick to One Smartie"by Juleigh Howard Hobson

Transcript of ‘You Can't Stick to One Smartie' by Juleigh Howard Hobson

 

You want to know what strength is? Strength is a
Smartie per day. Nothing else. Strength is not
One but two runs on that Smartie. Each day
That you can do that, you know that you’ve got
The strength to do anything. But, you’re weak
And, you can’t stick to one Smartie, you need
To eat more or you pass out. People speak
To you about strength, people try to feed
You lies and food. You don’t let them. You know
What it takes. So, your guts are in pain, and
You feel light headed but you have to throw
Up so you can prove to them you can stand
Anything. Anything. Except your own
Bloody weakness that won’t leave you alone

We welcome your thoughts about the above poem or any of the other poetry featured on this website. Please submit your comments using the feeback form.

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Comments

Author: I have two young adult sons and see daily how society turns a blind eye to issues such as men experiencing eating disorders. It saddens me that in an age where equal rights are demanded as birth rights, so many male concerns are not addressed as the female counterpoints are. It breaks my heart, really. Hence my poem. 

Judges:

  • moving and powerful emotions evoked through this poem
  • gives a very good insight into the intensity of the overpowering feelings of the psychological struggles as well as the physical.
 
 
 
 

"Toxic Poem" by Aéngus Murray

 

Transcript of ‘Toxic Poem' by Aéngus Murray

Complex Carbohydrates heated above 120
Became acrylamide - crystalised in my mind aged 14
My grandfathers passing comment, something he had read
In my brain- a known carcinogen, plastic compound
Congealed. 

My aunts man does not eat bacon she tells me at 16
''Nitrates in the curing process sit like black sludge in your guts forever''
black sludge.
Black sludge that sits there – waiting,
Forever 

Aspartame, my grandfather tells me
Is in everything good I want to drink
Every stick of chewing gum I accidentally swallowed as a child
In my cells 

I can feel them - see them dividing and dividing
Multiplying, grabbing and pressing on everything
Microscopic, but vicious and intent
Malignant 

The cellulose in my vegetarianism cant be broken down
At 23 a book tells me my meals are becoming sugar inside me
Pumping my body full of sugar
My teeth decay and fall out
Rotten 

At 30 I put my body in places with nothing man made
The beach, last christmas eve in Spain
The toxicity of my body soaring, mercury in the fish
Human oil spill
Toxic 

Alice tells me when she has a bad day
She cooks a nice healthy meal for herself and feels better
My eyes meet hers and I say nothing
Because I do not understand.
Nothing.

 

We welcome your thoughts about the above poem or any of the other poetry featured on this website. Please submit your comments using the feeback form.

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One possible reading of Aéngus Murray’s ‘Toxic Poem’ 

The ‘I’ in ‘Toxic Poem’ – that does not necessarily speak for the author himself but is the ‘lyrical I’ of the poem – expresses an almost scientific knowledge of food and its harmful ingredients that he/she has acquired through continuous bombardment by various sources. This mirrors the widespread (over)information of a highly health-conscious public in the Western world bombarded by scientific and pseudo-scientific food-facts circulated in media reports that every reader can to relate to. In ‘Toxic Poem’ these are the ‘nitrates’ in bacon, the ‘aspartame’ in chewing gum and the high sugar levels caused by the ‘cellulose in […] vegetarianism’. However, the poem takes the reader beyond these pieces of information to show how they spiral out of control and become ‘toxic’ in the mind and behaviour of an individual who is equally food-obsessed and food-fearing. Short phrases at the end of six of the seven stanzas that divide the poem visually and thematically emphasize the threat food presents to this ‘I’ and signal his/her preoccupation with worrying thoughts: ‘Congealed’, ‘Forever’, ‘In my cells’, ‘Malignant’, ‘Rotten’, and the ‘Toxic’ that lends this ‘Toxic Poem’ its title. In the last stanza these obsessive, controlling and fearful thoughts are confronted with the perceived normal eating habits of another person: ‘Alice tells me when she has a bad day / She cooks a nice healthy meal for herself and feels better’. An attentive reader of the poem will understand the vital point the poem makes and that well-meaning ‘normal’ Alice does not comprehend: for this ‘I’ there is no option of a ‘nice healthy meal’ because food presents as a problematic and deeply frightening concept. The last word of the poem is ‘Nothing’. It sums up the inability to communicate fears and the alienation from the ‘normal’ world of ‘nice’ meals. The inability to share any such meals also leads to eating ‘Nothing’ suggesting what clinicians may diagnose as a selective food avoidance disorder. However, the carer or medical practitioner reading this poem will gain much more insight beyond a clinical diagnosis into the world this ‘I’ inhabits: the general feeling of emptiness, isolation and hopelessness that presents in its urgency both a withdrawal from and a reaching out to the reader.

H. Bartel


 

 

 

 
 

‘No Sugar' by Selina Burr 

Transcript of ‘No Sugar' by Selina Burr 

My brother won’t eat
sugar or fat,
meat or flour.
He runs 18 miles
on a cup of 
oatmeal.
His eyes are black
and his fingers
like bone.
I hear his shoes
slapping the pavement
at midnight.
He flies like
a hummingbird
who can't find nectar—
For as long
as he can.

We welcome your thoughts about the above poem or any of the other poetry featured on this website. Please submit your comments using the feeback form.

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One possible reading of Selina Burr’s ‘No Sugar’ 

The poem “No Sugar” uses the sparsity of the words laid out on paper as a formal element to create a skeletal shape that enhances this poem of a sibling about his/her anorexic and over-exercising brother. The poem employs the image of the hummingbird which has a long literary history in poetry of many languages and cultures. Here this image introduces an innovative and original perspective in looking at male anorexia: it brings together grave concerns about the brother’s over-exercising and under-eating, the fear of losing him, but also voices love and great tenderness towards him. The tiny bird with the extreme energy expenditure that beats its wings at ferocious frequency evokes the thrill of almost weightless flight and the beauty of flashing brightness. It is situated in a world apart where intervention does not seem possible: ‘He flies like/ a hummingbird’. The backdrop of the brother’s ‘black’ eyes, ‘fingers/ like bone’, the fact that he ‘won’t eat’ and ‘can’t find nectar’ and his relentless running ‘at midnight’, without regard for any boundaries or limitations, darken the hummingbird-image metaphorically and literally with the danger of overexertion and starvation with fatal consequences. The impact of the rhythm of this poem becomes particularly prominent when it is delivered vocally and emphasizes the desperate pace of running in over-exercising.

The last stanza ‘For as long/ as he can’ mimics the movement of the bird, the seeming temporary stillness of hovering in mid-air suspended between being there and vanishing. The poem is a delicately balanced structure holding still at the moment before tipping point between fulfilment and starvation, high energy and burning out, hope and grief, life and death. For the carer or family member of someone affected by anorexia and over-exercising it may open a pathway to engage with the mixture of diverging emotions they may experience.

 

H. Bartel

 
 
 

 

 

More poems ranked by our readers

 
They have expanded my awareness and grasp of how it can feel for different individuals.  I am really grateful that they have put these out there, and I think they can be very impactful for other men to read.
 
 

Hungry for Words

Creative approaches to start the
conversation about eating disorders in men


telephone:0115 95 15816
email: heike.bartel@nottingham.ac.uk