Lil Neilson, ‘A Place for 4 Women’, 1989. Insert in ‘The Bitter Cup’, photographed by Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan, Catterline, April 2019.


‘Once again painting resembles love: the only authorised pleasure is to be one permanently inscribed in time that preserves pleasure from momentary fluctuations and unforeseen occasions of desire.’

Jacqueline Lichtenstein [1]

You said, perfect pop songs drenched in feedback, that’s what you want. Palest pink slacks against apple aqua heels. Dream fuzz. Smear cool bone. Are you the blue I’m looking for. Set to dusk: sumptuous drives and hyacinth light. Drop to your luminous knees. Make sure the numbers are in the right place. High lemon, crushed violet, dappled viridian.

Three corn dollies sing of moonlight and hare’s feet. They stroke one another with washes of yellow and gold ochre, seeping and pooling. Each peels peach strips from a sweet potato, they smell like flowers. The moon is vaseline-blurred, rosy and veiled.

A thick, straight silver-leaf line slips under the bathroom door, through the shower mist. It gently fragments and disintegrates over the corner of the door frame. Later, at a glass door fluttering: brown paper leaves, jelly tots, lavender chalk dust and a single white downy feather.

Lacy throats, milk linen stains. Meadowsweet clasping eyelashes, collarbone, candlelight. Waves of elderberry and nettle surge over translucent tongues. Dirty clouds of raw umber and ivory black mottle pastel gloss. Creamy loops vein and mushroom over watery rose wrists. The numbers go in from both sides.


[1] Jacqueline Lichtenstein, ‘Making up Representation: The Risks of Femininity’ in Representations No. 20, University of California Press, Autumn 1987 (


Valerie Norris is an artist and writer based in Dundee.

‘The Bitter Cup’ by Joanne Tatham and Tom O‘Sullivan is published by Book Works in association with Hospitalfield, Arbroath, 2019.