I WAS teaching yoga around the world and via my YouTube channel when it happened. My mum died in July 2018 and my inner world collapsed. She had managed one pencil entry in her journal in the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford. I had promised her I would write it for her. I wrote from day one everyday for two years and carried on, business as usual.


Bradford Telegraph and Argus: emma, outside the family home in Bradford. Picture: Dr Z Bajuszova emma, outside the family home in Bradford. Picture: Dr Z Bajuszova

Like many in our culture, I had swallowed the narrative about staying strong and keeping busy which I did for a while. Finally, I had to stop like everyone else in 2020 as the pandemic hit. Grief hit me hard, exacerbated by the loneliness of grieving in isolation. Yoga and being in nature helped as always but I needed help, mentally I was struggling, carrying anger which was beginning to impact my relationship. I realised I needed grief counselling. It was the best thing I ever did and with it came the writing of poetry as if something had been unlocked. I was writing for myself, in the heartbreak of losing my mum.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Kathleen, Emma's mumKathleen, Emma's mum

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Emma's dad Cliff and mum KathleenEmma's dad Cliff and mum Kathleen

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Kathleen with Emma and her brother AndrewKathleen with Emma and her brother Andrew

As a yoga teacher, I had gone online delivering mindfulness sessions to Cruse Bereavement charity volunteers. I read from my mum’s journal, and it was suggested that it could be helpful to people going through early grief. I had been a lecturer in English for 13 years before re-training as a yoga teacher. Now, I had come full circle. I re-wrote the journal, essentially a memoir with the working title, You Can’t Hug a Butterfly.

Therapy was unlocking much from the past; I began to write about family. I joined online writing communities where I saw a call out by a publisher who only published northern, marginalised writers from working-class backgrounds. They were compiling an anthology and wanted people to submit poems written in dialect. I submitted a poem Vine Terrace (East), about my grandparents, and the rest is history.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Emma wrote a poem Vine Terrace (East) about her grandparentsEmma wrote a poem Vine Terrace (East) about her grandparents

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Generations of Emma's family captured on filmGenerations of Emma's family captured on film

Those early poems became my collection The Ridings published by Written Off Publishing, a love letter to growing up in Bradford in a working-class family in the eighties. Just as things were on the up, my dad died suddenly in January 2023, just before the publication of the collection in March 2023. We made the decision to have the cover as a tribute to both my parents. The Ridings is currently in its third print run and is nominated for the Jhalak Prize 2024.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Emma in her room in the 1990sEmma in her room in the 1990s

Post-pandemic I returned to yoga teaching, but a new career was emerging. I was named New Northern Poet by Ilkley Literature Festival for two years running. After a mini residency at Bronte Parsonage Museum, I wrote my second collection on the Bronte sisters, Hymns from the Sisters, which was published by Querencia Press in 2023.

Last year was spent clearing out the family home with my brother overseeing the sale of the house. I had gained a lifetime of photographs which I gradually began to sift through when I could bear to. Inevitably, I started writing a collection on my dad. The photographs began to inform the poetry, and this began to percolate.

On my way up Thornton Road I was thinking about South Square Gallery. I had been visiting it since I was a teen and wondered if they had spoken word events on their calendar. I popped in and met Nushin Hussain, programme and gallery manager. We chatted about my collections, I told her about clearing the house and the photographs. She was interested and had a slot coming up for an exhibition. I submitted my proposal, and the date was set.

I then reflected, we had not had time to apply for funding, we had no experience with creating an exhibition. How could we make this work? And in two months?! We set about scanning, measuring, framing, and designing.

The process has been cathartic and a steep learning curve but the significance to me as a record of my family history made it necessary. I had to get this right not just for myself but for the family and as an important marker that working class history matters. These lives with their rituals, knick knacks and idiosyncrasies shaped me and the exhibition is a fitting tribute to the great love my Yorkshire mum and Jamaican dad had for their children. I am proud to be a Bradford lass, Bradford lives matter and should never be forgotten.

*‘The Ridings’ Bradford Working-Class Family Life, Loss & Landscape 1970s -1990s Photography & Poetry Exhibition is at South Square Gallery, Thornton, Bradford BD13 3LD from Friday February 2 to Sunday March 31 2024.

Both poetry collections are available to buy at the exhibition and via Emma’s website emmaliveyoga.com.

Emma and partner Zuzana Bajuszova are in Marie Curie UK’s Legacies campaign, now showing on UK television.

Exhibition Launch & Spoken Word Performance, anecdotes and readings from The Ridings with new poems about Emma's dad. is on Friday February 2 from 5pm to 8pm. Refreshments included and first viewing of the exhibition. Tickets are free and can be booked at ‘Book Events’ on emmaliveyoga.com Follow Emma Instagram @emmaliveyoga

For exhibition details visit outhsquarecentre.co.uk