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Monday 27 November 2023

Poems from Ash Grange Primary School, Aldershot

A huge thank you to Emma, an HLTA at Ash Grange Primary School in Aldershot, Surrey, for getting in touch with some poems written by students. I love it when this happens! The students wrote poems based on my world-famous piece 'Just A Book', which you can find on my website. The poems were adapted to the theme of 'war', and I am privileged to be able to share some examples right here on my blog. Well done Ash Grange!

Sunday 26 November 2023

The Bogeyman

When I was little, my parents warned me

about The Bogeyman. If I wasn’t good, they said,

The Bogeyman would come and get me.

They never said what The Bogeyman

would do. They never even told me who

The Bogeyman was, or what he looked like.

I’d go to bed imagining a figure in a long coat,

with limbs that clanked like metal and a barrowful

of bones. Perhaps these were the bones of children

who weren’t good, who wouldn’t brush their teeth

or do their homework. The Bogeyman grinned

as he ghosted through my dreams.

As I got older, I learnt The Bogeyman wasn’t real –

he was just a creature cooked up by grown ups

to scare children. I also discovered  that the world

was scary enough; there was really no need

for The Bogeyman. Look! There he is now,

his barrow empy, his limbs rusting in the rain.

Joshua Seigal

Tuesday 21 November 2023


What have we done

to deserve dogs?

We, who poison the world with greed;

who chisel our neighbours

for a few extra dollars;

who maim, cheat and burn – 

what right have we to a dog’s gifts?

All that warmth, affection

and even forgiveness –

we don’t deserve any of it

and yet this, to them, 

simply doesn’t come into it.

A dog’s love is not transactional. 

We’ve done nothing to deserve dogs.

And they (poor things)

have done nothing to deserve us. 

Joshua Seigal

Monday 13 November 2023

'FRIENDS' - Poems from Year 1, Kenilworth Primary School

I was delighted to pay a visit today to Kenilworth Primary School in Hertfordshire. In Year 1 they had been looking at and discussing my poem 'Friends', which you can view here. They then had a go at writing their own versions. I was incredibly impressed with their work, especially at this relatively early point in the school year. Here are three fantastic examples of what they produced. Well done, Year 1!!

Wednesday 8 November 2023


There’s an anchor in my heart, 

buried deep within my chest,

and I haul it across the seabed 

of my life. From moment to moment, 

from place to place, I lug this thing

which weighs me down. It keeps me

wedded to the dirt and grime that lurks

down there, reminding me I’m not

so far above it all. It makes me ache

with the effort of it all, for love

is a burden, a heavy beast to bear.

I get pulled down, come up for air.

Joshua Seigal

Monday 6 November 2023

'On Disorder and Suffering' - a short article on mental health

On Disorder and Suffering 

When someone is having a rough time mentally, well-meaning people will often draw an analogy between mental and physical illness. “It’s just like having a broken leg”, someone might say. “You wouldn’t beat yourself up over having a broken leg, so you needn’t beat yourself up over having such-and-such mental condition.” This is always meant in a spirit of helpfulness, and it can sometimes be helpful. It can help de-stigmatise mental illness, and it can give the sufferer a potentially useful framework through which to view their predicament. 

However, I sometimes find the analogy (or even the identification) between mental and physical health to be problematic. I have in the past been diagnosed with numerous acronyms, some of which involve the letter D, which stands for ‘disorder’. As highlighted above, viewing mental illness as a disorder might be extremely helpful for some people. It allows them to feel that it is not their ‘fault’, just as having a broken leg or some other physical disorder might not be their fault. To me, however, ‘disorder’ suggests that my mind is broken, and this can make me feel even worse. Walking around feeling like I have a disorder, or disorders, makes me feel like my mind isn’t working properly. It makes me feel like a machine that’s missing some mechanisms that are essential to its correct functioning.

Calling something a ‘disorder’ might be useful inasmuch as it directs someone towards an appropriate course of treatment. It is useful to label a leg ‘broken’ because this points us towards something we might do to ‘fix’ it. The advocated course of treatment for the disorder might work very well for some people. However, I want to suggest that the mind is disanalogous to a leg in the sense that each mind works in its own unique way. We are each made up of a constellation of mental attributes that is entirely our own. To label something a ‘disorder’ implicitly suggests a similarity between everyone to whom the label is applied. This does a disservice to the fact that we are all entirely idiosyncratic individuals with our own mental universes. 

If we don’t use the word ‘disorder’, what should we use instead? I’d like to propose the word ‘suffering’. Regardless of what someone’s diagnosis is, when we talk of ‘illness’ or ‘disorder’ we are saying that a person is suffering. Some people suffer in ways which are indeed similar to other people, and the taxonimically-minded among us might lump these people together under the heading ‘disorder’, but I think each person’s suffering is unique, just as each person’s mind is unique. As the psychoanalyst Lionel Corbett states, “ [w]e cannot objectify or measure suffering; suffering is best viewed from within the individual’s perspective, because people with the same diagnosis can suffer in unique ways.” A broken leg might be much the same as another broken leg, but no two people’s suffering is exactly the same. 

So where does this leave us? I think we can draw solace from the fact the we all, to some extent, suffer. Acknowledging this enables us to empathise with each other, and to feel a sense of solidarity. But the truth that we each suffer in our own way has as its corollary that a one size fits all ‘treatment’ for a so-called ‘disorder’ might work for some but not others, even if, as Corbett states, they have the same diagnosis. Instead, I think we need treatments that acknowledge that each person is an individual, and that we can’t carve off the ‘disordered’ part of a person’s mind from the rest of it – it is part of a web that constitutes their individuality. Basically, treatment should not be from a manual. We might use a manual to guide us, but we should be equally free to toss the manual aside if this is what’s necessitated by the distinctive suffering of the individual in front of us. When we treat a broken leg, we treat a leg, but when we treat suffering we need to take the whole mind, the whole person, into account. 

I’m not a medic, or a psychologist, or a psychotherapist. I have no formal qualifications in the field of mental health. But I have been in therapy for a long time, and have invested huge amounts of money and energy in the effort to understand my suffering, to attenuate it where possible and to live alongside it where not. I am exasperated by the dogmatism of many in the mental health field. I am weary of the lack of open-mindedness. I am sick of people who say that only CBT works and who decry psychoanalysis. And I have also borne witness, first hand, to the crucial role of the therapeutic alliance in dealing with suffering. And this can’t come from a manual; it has to be developed over time by two committed people. ‘Disorders’ can be cured with pills and manuals; suffering must be dealt with in healthy, loving alliances.

Now I’m not saying pills and manuals can’t be part of one’s mental health journey. They have both certainly been part of mine. But I am not a broken machine. I am not a computer with a missing bit of code, or a radio that has been wired incorrectly. I suffer, yet I am whole and loveable and OK as I am. I am not disordered. I do not need to be fixed or patched up or made to work properly. I am worthy of love, and capable of giving love, just as I am. I suffer, but I am not defined by my suffering. I suffer with other people, but my suffering is not the same as other people’s. I am wholly myself, and yet at one with everything. I am running out of profound statements. Anyway, peace and love to you all, wherever you are on your journey.

Saturday 4 November 2023

Here We All Are

My great-grandfather came over from Odessa

packed into a box in the hold of a ship,

with nothing but a hole through which to breathe.

He had a wife he hated, who hated him,

and they set up a shop in the valleys of South Wales.

Above it, they slept in separate rooms.

When he laughed he made lokshen come out of his nose.

His wife had fled the Nazis just before the war,

but her polio meant she could never catch my grandpa

or Aunty Helen when they were naughty.

Digging one day in the family archives, my dad

discovered that my great-grandfather and his wife

were also uncle and niece. Grandpa said that

should this ever get out, he’d never speak to my dad again.

He bore his shame silently, like a lump in the throat

that could not be got rid of. He’d take tots of vodka

when he thought we weren’t watching,

and although he claimed not to believe in God

he prayed fervently every night, just in case.

All the books on his shelves were about Hitler

or the Jews, and one time he swore he saw a ghost.

And like a ship the dread traverses generations,

criss-crossing the strata back and forth, from

my sister refusing to go to school to me huddled tight

in the doctor’s room; from my mum with a husband

who doesn’t understand to my brother

who vanished across the world. Here I am

in a box of my own. Here we all are, trying to breathe,

packed tight together, reaching through holes

as our ghost ship lurches on endless seas.

Joshua Seigal

(published in Poetry Wales)

Friday 3 November 2023

Feature is WRD About Books Magazine

I am delighted to be featured in the latest issue of the wonderful WRD About Books magazine. You can check out my Top Five poetry writing tips below!