‘I do not believe in silence’ – The power of language by Claire Shaw

Before the PCCS Books Anniversary Conference on Wednesday 16th October I had only met Claire Shaw a couple of times at mental health events or possibly Asylum meetings (I am not entirely sure) but I think I had not heard her perform her poetry or talk about the power of language to hurt and heal.


For those of you who have not met Claire, imagine a tall, slender woman in her forties, with very short brownish hair and glasses, wearing jeans and a shirt. A really powerful presence. Claire describes herself – among others-as a poet, performer, mental health adviser and trainer, mother of a 5-year-old girl, with experience of using mental health services and with a history of self-harm.

At the PCCS Books Anniversary Conference on Wednesday 16th October, Claire gave a brilliantly inspirational and passionate talk, a talk that truly moved me and reminded me what I care about, a talk that brought tears to my eyes…She talked about the politics of language and the power of language to hurt and heal, to connect and disconnect people, to stigmatise and nourish…

Claire also performed one of her poems – entitled I do not believe in silence- from her collection ‘Head On’ (Bloodaxe, 2012). A poem that touched me in both very painful and hopeful ways…


I do not believe in silence by Claire Shaw

Because, tonight –

however I try – I cannot get downstairs

without waking my daughter

I do not believe in silence.


Because of the Warboys enquiry,

because of the two hundred-plus women he raped –

because of the policeman defending the findings

unable to utter the word –

“this (herrrrm) crime, this (ahem)

assault, this category (cough)

of offence” –

I do not believe in silence


because of the stairs and the banister’s crack;

the sound of the lock

and my hand on the door – the fifty-tone creak –

the magnificent echo of light-switch and click –

I do not believe in silence


Because of Neda – and everyone’s sister –

and the man who said ‘Don’t be afraid’;

for the sake of my daughter, because of the burkha,

because of the patter of rain;

because of two hundred-thousand years

of human history,

thirty-seven of them my own –

I do not believe in silence


for the sake of my arms, the wrists especially.

With respect to my legs

and my belly and chest

and the comfort long due to my throat


because of nightclubs at one am

and shouts in the street and feet in pursuit

and shops that don’t shut;

because of sirens and the dealers downstairs;

because of Levi and Akhmatova

because of the blue-lipped prisoner;

the itch and the scratch of my pen;


I believe in the word.

I believe in the scrabble of claws

on uncarpeted floors.

I believe in my daughter’s complaints.

I believe in the violin, the E-string,

the see-sawing bow; the cello

straining its throat.


I believe in the heart and its beat

and its beep and the dance of the trace

on the screen, I believe in the volume

of colour turned up, and my blood

which was always too loud.


Because of nights, and the sweats,

and the same rowdy thoughts;

because that one afternoon

when I nailed my own voice to the air

and because there was nobody listening

and through it all


and the sound of cars passing –


I do not believe in silence.