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Matchgirls at Whitsun, 1888 by Emma Purshouse

Matchgirls at Whitsun, 1888 is the Poetry category Runner Up in the 2020 Matchgirls Creative Arts Competition run in partnership with Pen to Print

They clatter out of the Paragon
fringed, feathered, foul-mouthed,

singing at voice tops, filling the air
with sparking exuberance. Arm in arm,

a battalion in beer, cheeking the chaps
that cat call from curb sides offering to treat them.

Mary doubles up with laughter so hard
she says it makes her teeth ache.

​At each alley way and street corner
they turn another girl loose until

only two are left to say goodnight.
Maggie becomes a song disappearing

into darkness. Sarah at the lodging door
hopes Mrs Meany has glued herself to sleep

amongst finished boxes stacked high
on the table. Hopes she isn’t waiting up

with a What time do you call this?
a You’ll catch it when they lock you out

​for half the day, a whispered Baggage,
phossy jaw set to chew so hard at Sarah

she has to look away. Hopes there’ll be no
Out on your ear if you don’t make the rent,

to follow her up the wooden hill,
to a damp bed shared with a killed mood,

​to work rosary beads through her fingers,
pray for change, wake in the night with a start

​to see her work things glowing away
on the chair. Like an omen or a visitation.


Emma Purshouse is currently the Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton. She writes for both children and adults. Her most recent poetry collection is ‘'Close’ (Offa’s Press). Her first novel ‘Dogged’ (Ignite Books) was published early in 2021. Emma has performed her work at spoken word nights and festivals across the UK.

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