Replacing water with poppies.

Its been an incredible day! Its been all about the land today, no water metaphors in sight.

I was lucky enough to be asked to write a poem for the Sky of Poppies project which is currently installed in Queensgate shopping centre in Peterborough.


Created by artist Charron Pugsley-Hill to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and to also to pay respects to the 131 men who lost their lives from this city. The work includes a 1,000 felted poppies, all created by the community of Peterborough. I was asked to write a poem to reveal at the opening and I felt my first edit was very clever and I sent it to Charron and she said gingerly,  ‘I don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right’.

Charron was of course, spot on and I am more than happy to get a commission on the button and I took on what she said and I re-wrote it in half an hour and instead of trying to be all intellectual, I just felt it. When I sent her the final version, I was so happy that Charron loved it because this time I just let my heart write instead.

Please go and see the Sky of Poppies or find out more about  it at Charron’s blog here:

Its in situ till the 13th of November. Also check out Eve Marshall:   who also worked on the project too as her felting expertise is incredible.

Oh and this is me performing the poem and trying not cry.  Just click on the link to go through to Youtube: Sky of Poppies


Me and Eve Marshall bathed in Poppies and sunshine.









Reflections… its been a strange week

This is not a party political broadcast, a call to arms or a declaration of a revolution. Its just a poem about some of the topics and things I have been meditating on recently whilst on my swims in the Lido.

Speaking personally the Lido is an actual haven and it keeps the pressures of life at the turnstile for the time I am there and I often lose myself in lovely open thought. I wanted to write about that and also touch on what I think have been some hard weeks to live through in the UK. People pulling each other apart on twitter and face book, people showing their political bums and telling you to put up with it, a murder of an MP and some families in civil war.

This following poem lightly and sometimes heavily points at these things and also has an ending which I hope people can relate too. Surprisingly the regulars chat a fair bit about what is happening outside the walls of the lido and always agree to disagree and laugh things off, that I have been thankful for and I hope you all have a sanctuary, like the lido to weather this storm.


Also thanks to local Labour councillor Mr Richard Ferris for the photo.




It is a drizzly day at the Lido.

Grey sky filled with clouds that appear to want to fire you with rain that might break your skull.

It has been like this for days.

The air is humid, a closeness that is only elevated by a purse in the sky of blue & sunshine.

It is the best time to swim.

This weather keeps the occasional swimmers out for a while longer & the regulars can reign.

The referendum is at hand.

I have grown tired of rubbing out vote leave with vote love and idealism is leaving me sunken.


I enter the shallow end.

The water is not cold, the heavy thumping in my heart changes into the wings of a hummingbird.

This pool is my sanctuary.

Surrounding me in an oasis of thought. I leave my problems at the talc covered dressing room.

0.9 metres soon arrives.

When I reach the first lifeguard, I decide what to cook for myself, whilst my husband is away.

On my fourth submersion,

The fog in my goggles causes a type of chlorine free induced happiness akin to 4 am dancing.


1.2 metres feels warmer.

Newsflash memories create type across my brain, words travel over  the top of the water.

My hands brush aside.

Each headline I then replace them with the photo of my cat sleeping in the garden strawberries.

Over the red line now.

A ruby barrier in the pool that stops bathers from going over and into the possibility of peril.  

I breaststroke into danger.

1.5 metres is approaching, reflections of 2.4 children without a mother blur out the danger mark.


The 2nd lifeguard smiles.

Nigh on a quarter of this length I have hoped that I could clean the real world into a air bubble.

Her face is steaming up my eyes, a  white rose of Yorkshire stabbed, shot, outrage crushing her.

2.7 the most distant.

Was dividing a  bloom from her very root bed, not a horror? Worthy of a hundred poems.

I attune myself again.

Grant swimming a chance once more to overtake the ripping of stems in reason from the world.

I am at the edge.

Reflections dark & light, I vow to be a reflector of love, if not then I may never leave the deep end.


Keely Mills


30th June 2016




The first swim

In my last blog about the Lido, I was exalting the joys of swimming regardless of what you look like and being your own mermaid, which got some very lovely responses from people and I hope encouraged some of them to go out and have a swim.

I also managed to get out and have some swims with some good friends of mine, one of them being Charley Genever who is the present Peterborough poet laureate and also Samantha Hope who is a craft legend. This was during the week where it felt like summer and I really enjoyed sharing their first swim with them and that is what inspired the following poem.  They also wore my spare pair of goggles and my plan is if people come for a swim with me then they will get to do the same.


I love to hear the first shouts and gasps of people when they enter the water and then their steely determination to get through it and then suddenly they are swimming, plunging under the water and even encouraging others to get in as well.  My first swim in the  Lido  of the season is like being reborn, as Jack comments who is the supervisor at the Lido, ‘its like cleansing your soul’ and I have been waiting for it since October, the relief of that first swim  reminds me of long nights, kisses in long grass, new potatoes and short sleeves.

I think myself and the regulars who wait every year for the Lido to open, feel a bit like Persephone, reborn out of Hades and now blooming. Waiting for the Lido to dust off the shroud of Winter. Here is a short poem to describe that feeling. Oh and Happy Solstice! a big cheer to whatever makes your Summer swing.


Fade in time.


The last frosts of winter disappear in the fresh blue.

As I bimble down the teal steps into this other bliss.

My feet touch the temperature that was foretold at the kiosk desk.  

Sapphire water swamps my gasps.


The liberty of the first swim fills me with a hullabaloo.

Buzzy kingfisher feelings drown out the freezing kiss.

I cover my chest as I plunge in, to stop rude bits sticking out on end.

Hands release into liquid diamonds.


My knees power my joints pushing me into & through.

I show off by somersaulting and performing the splits.

The lack of gravity swallows my aches & being light is a god send.

The pool thankfully drinks me in whole.


I am a Lilly of the valley that is no longer out of view.

Returning to happiness and the Midsummer’s glitz.

Each lap I am swimming in the sky of no clouds, floating end to end.

I am getting nearer to Phoebe’s heat.


Pushing with each stroke into the hot, hopeful new.

The prison of shortened days is a whisper & adrift.

Swims submerge the counted days, pulling me atop of the ascend.

Plunging into breathless watery folklore.


In the water, I mouth that this is too good to be true.

Adam’s ale floods my throat & I cough out his gift.

I am Persephone freed from the grief of dead leaves in the timely descend.

Refusing to be believe that there will ever be a last swim.


By Keely Mills
June 20th 2016



Meet the cheery eyes of the chubby mermaid.

The weather has picked up and my schedule has cooled down so I have managed to get in a couple of swims and they have been glorious! 21 and 22 degrees and the clear blue fractals on the surface of the water are just spell binding.

It seems someone has decided my locker is now their’s so I have shuffled my number along and there is no bolted down furniture this year that the regulars would normally roost on between swims, but they have already claimed benches and nice rattan chairs from elsewhere and the regular’s have their nest once again.

Yesterday I laughed for at least a quarter of a mile of my half mile swim, as there were two young men who were enjoying their swims and they would sing along to the songs that were playing over the Lido speakers and even break out into synchronized swimming. When the Carly Rae Jepsen song, ‘ Call Me Maybe’ came on the tannoy, I thought my heart might burst as they were singing in the pool and then a young life guard joined them! It was like watching your drunk uncles at a wedding. Its this feeling of ownership, comfort and acceptance that I think keeps me coming back year after year. The Lido is more than just a pool, its a place of hello’s, conversations and a sharing in something so transitory, that if your heart is inclined to it, makes you feel so grateful.

The following poem, is a poem I have been wanting to write for a while. Often when I explain my inexplicable love for the Lido, lots of ladies seem to be baffled at the fact that I am prepared to get my body out and swim. I explain to them that for the 30 seconds or so from the dressing room to the pool, I wear the most glamorous swim suit and this seems to dazzle people who might want to say stuff which is not nice to me into a submission.

Plus the actress/MP Glenda Jackson once said that I am not the most beautiful woman in the world but I believe I am and so others  do too. So this is my poem, The Chubby Mermaid a little homage to self belief.



The Chubby Mermaid


In the water. I am the chubby mermaid, a floating deity rushing through water.

In the swimmers only lane, I am not the second glanced woman, sin-binned into the xtra large.


My curvy hydraulic hips, that squeeze past grumpy teens, at the corner shop-

My meaty love handles are swept away by the waves and I am ancient and I am beautiful.


Likely I will never be carried over the threshold in the dry world of gravity but in the pool.

I am a sailor’s dream and they raise the flag with the letters of BBW on it to find me.


Disney did not sell me the idea of being a water nymph, I never made a pact with Walt,

My super size could not be held by a cartoon and my mermaid shape is not sellable in Asda.


I found her in the Lido, which I discovered like a coral reef on a concrete side of a car park.

I am as lucky as a sandboy that this open sky of water has beached in my city for 80yrs.


Those walls of summer, call me into it’s tempting watery embrace from May to September.

Those dressing rooms where I get ready melt the shackles of dry dock & I feel ocean splendour.


The first time I brought that golden locker token, I was nervous that I would be stopped from-

Entering the pool, just in case, the other swimmers winced or drowned at the sight of my body.


If performing poetry in pubs, tea rooms and tents has taught me anything, it is to

Be what you seem to be and remember you have the microphone that makes you the loudest.


Use that turned- up voice to piss on the heckles, recite words in a confident hum in my head.

Wear costumes that show the real me, be a shieldmaiden using clothes to ward off soul eaters.


So, in  a two fingered salute I wore the most glamourous swimsuit I could find, no black.

I would not be a bruise of a woman that should be hid away in colours that would rub me out.


Strings of sequins fell from my breasts and the necklace I wore absorbed and distracted. Strangers in swimming caps turned as I sparkled in a costume that ignited me with embers.


The possible insults were sunk before they could even be spoken.The cool aquamarine took over my breath and then I began to swim unaided.


When I swum under the surface, my eyes inhaled the hot diamonds of the sun, shimmering.On that first swim, I left the dirt of body regrets on the mainland and in that blue was bountiful.


The previous taunts of fi-fi-fo-thumb by the strangers, the insults in Wilkos were scrubbed away by the other mermen and maids that smiled at my happiness between their gasps and mine.


Not one swimmer mouthed fatso at me,  in the deep end, we were all poseidons. I no longer had to reach for the rum & I halted the dreaming of pirate daggers, if I let them would-


Cut me a new shape, so I fitted in just for a moment, to give me a body that society deserves.

Now  chop at my chunky thighs and there are scales, descended from Calypso’s bloodline.


Make- believing fills each stroke and  every evil doubt is crushed by each length I create.

Maybe in this school of fish- people I can truly ignore what others think of me.


Cutlasses now trim me into the real, they shed the human for a while, reveal the mermaid.

Cuttlefish, seahorse, stickleback heart is what really lives in this plus sized chest of mine.


I had tried many earthly ways to change myself, I drank shakes, wobbled & ran

I was saved from being buried alive when I found water’s forgiveness and began to understand-


The tilting water, the quietness of swimming  that washes my body into a angelic trident.

Till then my face burnt red & the dress size went high and low, it all disappeared as I understood.


In that art deco monument that my hollowed out shape that many can’t forgive or let be.

there it’s equal.

I wear goggles at whatever size I am and this tidal of acceptance.


Did lick me into better shape than I was before, both in my head and around my waist.

In this admission, I can swim a mile and I can be allowed to love my body when it does.


When I wax wet-lyrical about my swimming adventures, other ladies often shrink back-

They are too frightened to do the same, to show their bodies and swim unbound.


Media forces them into playdough shapes in their minds and it pushes out their angst too.

When I envy their 24,36 and 38 double D frame, they can’t see how incredible they are.


I pass them the microphone for a while, now they have the loudest voice. I never ridicule.

Lend them money for their gold token, pass the catalogue to search for their own costume.


Hoping they fall into the open air pool, where there are thin, medium, overweight skimmers, diving into the splash. When they come up for air they meet the cheery eyes of the chubby mermaid.


By Keely Mills
29th May 2016




Peterborough Lido has a Poet in Residence!


I am so utterly proud to announce, that I, Keely Mills, self confessed Lido fanatic, will be the Poet in Residence for Peterborough Lido over the summer of its 80th year. SO EXCITED.

With the help of Peterborough Presents and the sports team at Vivacity Culture and from tomorrow which is when the Lido re-opens and there is more info on that here:

I will be starting a summer of swimming, poetry and recording the stories that fill this wonderful building. Throughout June I will be at the Lido as much as I can and I will either be writing poems there, talking to the staff, the regulars and recording their stories. Alongside me there will be four other poets, Charley Genever ( Peterborough’s present Poet Laureate) Ron Graves (Poet In Residence of the Draper’s Arms) Ross Sutherland & Toby Wood. They will also be creating poems about the Lido from their own perspective and these too will go into the overall project.

In July these will be recorded by the incredible Beat This (here is their website: )    then this sound-scape of poetry and spoken word will be played over the tannoy of the Lido throughout August, whilst people swim, dive and eat chips. There will also be a poetry event over the closing weekend of the Lido, where there will be a picnic, cake and poetry performances to say goodbye till the next year.

So how can you get involved?

1. Keep an eye on this blog or my twitter account: @keelyMillsPboro and come and join me at the Lido for a swim which I will post when I will be there. Also please send me any of your stories into me via Twitter, this blog or my email account:

2. Be one of our recording stars, we will be asking people to help us by recording the poems, the info for that again will go up via here and twitter and facebook.

3. Come along to the poetry event, the date for that will be confirmed next week.

Right I am off to get my swimsuit ready and my pencil case waterproofed.

Viva La Lido!!



The Wise Water

Wow 2016 has been somewhat brutal and whenever I am faced with harshness I tend to go back to what has got me through school bullies, heart breaks, divorces, differences and well… just life. I write.  Whilst writing the following poem, I was reading Liz Lochead, Carol Ann Duffy and Joanne Harris and thank goodness, because they have re-taught me to just write, write and write and if its just for yourself then so be it.

So, here is the result. Its for Bowie, Lemmy, Rickman, Emily, the whales and unborn realities.


The Wise Water


I cried in the cold morning on the day Bowie died.

My heart reached out to his, searching for a sign

that life might be a waterfall that comes from a mountain.

He gave me black harmonies, telling me everything I need.

To just twist  with it all till my flood merges into the sea.

Remembering to read, write and love at each turn.

It is the only way to stop the waste & its terrible burn.


I cried in the hot afternoon on the day you left.

My voice was so shaken, I could not pay the kiosk man

and I crumbled into the boxes of fruit juice.

I wrote you a poem, it will never be enough but it stops

me from checking your old text messages.

The comfort of knowing that our last time, I did say ‘I love you’.

Now everyone I love gets told whether it’s the end or not.


I cried in the cold morning  on the day the whales beached.

My soul reached out to theirs, hoping I could wish each

back to the uncertain safety of the tireless and wise water.

Remarkable giants cut by us, shredded by the rocks.

I did not go and see them, to take a last photo

In my mind I poured water on their breaths, my memento

is to sob each time I think of them.


I cried on the days when you were all born.

My nieces and nephews coming into the world,

the latest boarders in this 5 star crazy guest house.

Unbelievable bliss at watching you all grow.

I sing a tune for each one of you when the light gets dim.

Never jealous for what might have been, I just keep –

looking into your eyes & your future takes me with it.


I will cry plenty more times, this is one habit I won’t give up.

My tears are the slipstreams that let my life roll

down to its rivers, where the people that matter meet.

We hold each other till our fingers crinkle under the water.

Their hands will be the final touch I grasp, as the tide

captures me and drives me into the depths of no understanding.


By Keely Mills

Feb 2016

Poppies, poems and perfect moments.

It has been an intense Summer, I have been involved in lots of different projects and my personal life took a sudden and a sad twist, when I lost a dear friend to cancer. I was devastated at her loss and felt very adrift, but through the ‘Blanket of Poppies’ project, I found solace, comradeship and the wonder of what women can be when brought together.

The Blanket of Poppies is an incredible art and participatory project that has lovingly been brought into the world by the artist Charron Pugsley-Hill, the work is based on the heroine and WW1 nurse, Edith Cavell.  Cavell saved over 200 troops whilst she was a nurse in Belgium and a 100 years ago she was executed by firing squad for her actions. Not only was she brave in the face of war, she believed and try to do the right thing and she is a role model to many. Please find out more about her at:

The blanket is made up of 49 poppies that have been made by women from across the country and there were workshops led by Charron and the felting artist, Eve Marshall and they were just extraordinary.  Mostly the women did not know one another but very quickly we were exchanging heartfelt stories about ourselves, praising women, talking about motherhood, nursing and Edith.  The workshop I attended was a day or so after my friend had been diagnosed with cancer and through out the day, the women on the workshop and their words comforted me and they gave me space to be quiet and also some excellent advice was given.  I just want to say a public thanks to them as they don’t understand what they did and the comfort they gave me, thank you and thanks to Charron for allowing me to be part of that.

The Blanket is a stunning piece of artwork in its own right but with the poignancy of Cavell’s life to inspire it and then knowing that the piece is made with all that sharing, love and all of those women’s voices, makes it simply unique.

My role in the project is to write some poetry to coincide with the work and I have managed to write some pieces that hopefully reflect Cavell’s incredible life and those of the participants in the project too. I will definitely post up a couple of the poems when the revealing of the blanket is done but till then do keep an eye on what the project is up too, please go to Charron’s blog:

There is a service of commemoration on the 12th of October at 7:00am in Peterborough and please do come along for the actual revealing, here is the facebook event here:

& there are many events that are celebrating Cavell, so please do go along to find out more.

The photo below is some of my poetry being embroidered by the wonderful Karen Tibbett, also as part of the project, its like all my birthdays at once, my poetry in beautiful textile work. Please check out Karen at her website:  oh and Eve Marshall at her site: