For rubbish money

Fee Griffin is a poet who lives in the north of England. She has a husband, four small children and two jobs. One job is as an associate lecturer at the University of Lincoln. The other is to clean houses. Her debut collection, For Work / For TV, is dedicated to everyone who ever worked really hard for rubbish money.

Full disclosure: I learned most of this as a guest reader for Griffin’s virtual book launch last week. That’s the beauty of being backstage. You get to see the bulky sweater Griffin wears during prep, then the hot water bottle her husband delivers, and finally the beautiful spangly top Griffin bares when we finally go live.


The first thing you need to know about Griffin is that she isn’t posh. She sounds that way, given her southern accent. Ha, ha, says Griffin. One of her father’s jobs was to inspect the broccoli as it rolled down the assembly line. That experience of non-poshness informs her work.

#4 My father who        watches twelve hours of broccoli go by
                        like a royal blue curse that's easy to spot if
                        it falls in the food.

— Fee Griffin, from "Industrial Hauntings #1-4," For Work / For TV (Versal Editions 2020)          

Griffin gleans lessons, too, from her mother’s hard-earned, encyclopedic knowledge of British legumes.

This is only my thoughts she says, that
the marrowfat peas are the bullet peas

Shinkansen of the peas, a pilot bound
nineteen fifties hero made of peas or

who eats them from strength or malice or
some other thing well suited to comics

— From "Pea Season Immersive"

Griffin’s mind tumbles from vegetables to food tasters to bullet trains to comic book heroes. It’s what we all love so much about poetry. The collision of disparate ideas, the mashing of reader and writer brains, to create an image that leaves a mark on both.

Architecture of Poetry

As random as peas and pilots may seem, the second thing to know about Griffin is that she’s a sculptor. Finely-chiseled sentences. The judicious use of white space. Elegant couplets, prose poems and even a hermit crab essay. Griffin probably uses lots of other poetic forms that I can’t even recognize. At her launch, the poet Malik Ameer Crumpler describes her forms as the architecture of poetry.

Does Griffin write impenetrable stuff? I don’t think so. Her poems live in a TV culture populated by detective Peter Colombo and Starship Captain Katherine Janeway. To be able to write a poem like “How Marty McFly Is Lying,” you need to spend a lot of time watching Back to the Future.

That way Marty McFly is lying in the opening scene
                                        with his lip
                                        open to the pillow and
                                        that arm
behind his back like he's fallen from a great height.
I don't buy it.

Our town's bus station clock has been broken so long I
                      wrote to the council
                      to ask if it was going to be a plot point


My favorite poem from For Work / For TV is not actually about TV shows or pop culture. It’s about money. “The Scrap Value of Picture 6A” is a high wire act. It’s a riff on wedding buffets, flammable insects, postcards from Battersea and Neoprene.

It reminds of my days as a corporate M&A lawyer, when my brief was to negotiate cash upfront rather than a promise of payment in the future. I wish I had read this poem back then. It’s a perfect description of the time value of money (or, rather, the lack thereof).

3) The Scrap Value of Money (ii)
Paper money is a promise to pay
the bearer on demand but paper
has little scrap value, promises
none. Demands can have scrap
value but only if scrapped by the
party of which they are made;
demands scrapped by the 
demander have negative scrap 
value, anything below the
horizontal axis costing them.
This is not demanded upfront
but is taken at source from the
value of subsequent demands.

This is a collection for everyone who has ever worked hard for rubbish money. For anyone who unabashedly loves TV. And for all the souls in search of some gentleness in this coldest of years.

13 December 2020 | Karen Kao