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Liz Beth Turner’s Tattoo Poem – FU

I grew up in working-class Lancashire in the foothills of the rugged West Pennine moors amidst the derelict farmhouses, abandoned factories and disused railways of rural Northern England. I hit my teens in the early 1980s, the era of Thatcher’s Britain, a time when the UK economy was mired in recession and consequent mass unemployment. It was an era of violent clashes between the Outraged and the authorities, epitomised by the miners’ strike, the protests at Greenham Common, anti-poll tax demonstrations and an ever-present fear and threat of nuclear war, culminating in the toppling of the Berlin Wall. The 1980s was a time of anger, reflected in the protest music, both creating and created by rage, challenging systemic inequality, racism and classism: the Sex Pistols; the Clash; the Beat; the Specials; the Jam.

My identity was forged against this backdrop of nihilism, rage and violence, which was often paralleled at home, a melting pot of poverty, working-class Northern values, misogyny and domestic violence. In the true spirit of the 1980s, my identity developed in rebellion to this.

FU opens with a very strong anti-tattoo statement. Tattoos, alongside piercings and brightly coloured hair were absolutely anathema to my parents. The reasons given were many and varied: I would be rejected by polite society; if I ever got arrested, I would be easily identifiable by the authorities; no-one would ever hire me; it would signify emotional instability and arrested development; I would be perceived as a n’er-do-well, a reprobate, a criminal; I should not disrespect my body in this way; it would attract the wrong kind of associates; I could die of blood poisoning; I could be stuck with a permanent mistake; I could be stuck with a reminder of someone I may not wish to remember later in life; I will look ridiculous as an old lady with misshapen tattoos on my sagging skin; I won’t be taken seriously covered in sentimental claptrap. I could probably keep adding to this list of introjects and conditions of worth that shaped my own distorted beliefs about tattoos for many years.

The poem goes on to explore themes such as social repression and teenage rebellion, hinting at self-harm, alongside themes such as conflict within the mother/daughter relationship, inner conflict and the struggle with identity and self-expression. The poem is both an erasure of shame and teenage angst through the expression of love, grief and loss, simultaneously and paradoxically, an act of rebellion in itself.

As a mature student, I completed a BA (Hons) in English Literature and later I retrained as a therapist which afforded me the opportunity to reflect deeply on my own personal history, cultural values and experiences and how these have shaped who I am today. I’ve always dabbled with poetry as an outlet and much of my current poetry explores these themes.

Over the last 18 months I’ve been penning poetry more earnestly as a way of coping with a serious, disabling illness. In 2022 I joined a short poetry course at Goldsmiths University where I was encouraged to submit my work to competitions and journals. I’m thrilled and excited that my poem, FU, has been selected for inclusion in Guts Publishing's upcoming anthology, The Transformative Power of Tattoo. I’ve also recently been shortlisted for the JINKGO AONB Best Poem of Landscape Prize and will be featured in the 2023 anthology.

Today, I live on Ynys Môn with my husband, two rescue cats and a dog, spending our downtime outdoors with our kids and grandkids. I work as a counsellor and run a small social enterprise providing accessible and affordable counselling for people struggling with their mental health. At the time of writing, I don’t have any tattoos. Perhaps I haven’t yet fully processed the values, beliefs and fears that informed my parents’ prejudices; perhaps the shifting contradictions in my identity don’t lend themselves to the permanence of tattoos; or perhaps I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

You can follow my journey on Twitter @LizBethTurP0ET

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Liz Beth Turner retrained as a therapist in 2017 and established a small mental health CIC on Anglesey where she lives with her husband, two rescue cats and a dog. She started penning poetry as therapy during serious illness in 2021and now has established poetry therapy workshops. She writes about social injustice, human suffering and mental health inspired by existentialism, science and art.

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The Transformative Power of Tattoo will be released by Guts in September 2023. Pre-orders are available on our website for £8.95 (£2 off the retail price of £10.95). You can pre-order a copy here:

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