This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Fixative’ by Rosalind Hudis from her new collection Restorations which was published earlier this week.
Inspired by the art restorer’s keen eye and by a vivid empathy for people and events, Restorations, is a journey through memory. Suffused with colour, inspired by thoughts of people and places, by artefacts and how the passage of time shifts perspectives and erodes surfaces, these poems are beautifully complex explorations, full of curiosity and the adventure of seeing and listening.
“If a poem is like a picture, these are history paintings, rich in human detail and many-layered in their brushwork.” – Matthew Francis
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Ash’ by Robert Walton from his collection Sax Burglar Blues.
Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton is packed with memory, incident, observation, opinion, humour, outrage and elegy. Subjects include: woodlice, jazz, teachers, grandparents, a canary who runs for President, Sisley’s lovely painting of the Gower, the iconoclastic poet John Tripp, a night bus named after Dusty Springfield, a Dad who loves Cardiff City, the annoying closure of bookshops and much more.
‘Dip into Walton’s jazzed-up version of the world and you will inevitably surface from the pages in a brighter hue.’ – Wales Arts Review
To celebrate Shrove Tuesday, we’re sharing another new recipe from The Seasonal Veganby Sarah Philpott. If you’re looking for an in-season alternative to blueberries, why not serve with stewed apple, rhubarb, or frozen blackberries?
The Seasonal Vegan is a kitchen diary of seasonal recipes with a delicious mixture of Sarah Philpott’s fine food writing and Manon Houston’s beautiful photography. This guide to eating with the seasons takes a realistic approach to shopping cheaply and sustainably and proves that the vegan lifestyle is anything but expensive.
Pancakes with blueberry compote and coconut cream
Under 20 minutes | Makes 2 large pancakes
– 160g chickpea/gram flour – 1 ½ tsp baking powder – 2 tbsp maple syrup – 1 tsp cinnamon – 200ml plant milk or water – 2-3 tbsp oil – Half a tin or packet of coconut cream
For the compote
– 200g fresh or frozen blueberries – 45ml water – 50g granulated sugar –The juice of half a lemon – 1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix the dry ingredients together and gradually add the water or milk and the maple syrup and stir until it has a thick, but pourable, consistency. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan over a medium heat (test if it’s hot enough by dropping in a tiny bit of batter – it should sizzle) then pour in half the batter and cook, flipping over occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
To make the compote, combine the blueberries, water, sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cook over a medium heat for about 10-15 mins. Serve warm or cold.
Displaying his characteristic flair, craft and intelligence, Crucefix’s poems often begin with the visible, the tangible, the ordinary, yet through each act of attentiveness and the delicate fluidity of the language they re-discover the extraordinary in the everyday.
‘…highly wrought, ambitious, thoughtful – and very good.’ – The Sunday Times
Since the removal of Section 28 from the statute book in 2003, Britain’s queer communities have come together each February to celebrate a history which was for so long hidden in plain sight. Each year, LGBT+ History Month has a theme: in 2021 it is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’. Anyone who has watched Russell T. Davies’s masterpiece, It’s A Sin, will know just how much each of those elements can be affected by absorbing oneself in aspects of the queer past and present. The books I have chosen for this short article penned as a contribution to LGBT+ History Month, each represent a different side of life.
Let’s start with the master historian, Jeffrey Weeks, who was born in the Rhondda in 1945, and his landmark book, Coming Out. First published by Quartet in 1977, and released in a new edition in 2016, Coming Outbrings Britain’s queer history to life. It is radical. It is rooted in the ideas of gay liberation – about which more in a moment – and in the left-wing politics of the 1970s. But it is not an artifact of an earlier time, so much as an endlessly absorbing and fascinating excavation of a past richly experienced but all-too-easily cloaked in the horror of criminal codes and lavender scares. Weeks’s great triumph is to bring queer history back down to street level. In his long career, Weeks went on to write about Edward Carpenter, theories of sexuality, and the triumph of the queer civil rights movement through signature legislation such as same-sex marriage. This spring he turns his attention to his Welsh roots in a masterful memoir, Between Worlds.
To understand the Gay Liberation Front itself, there is no better work than Lisa Power’s No Bath But Plenty Of Bubbles, an oral history of the movement in London, which was originally published in 1995 by Cassell. Long out of print and difficult to get hold of, it has recently been re-released as an e-book to mark GLF’s fiftieth anniversary. By the time the book appeared in the mid-1990s, the world had changed completely from that envisaged by the GLF activists twenty years before – but rarely for the better. The age of consent, set at 21 since 1967, fell to eighteen in 1994 but the opportunity to bring about equality at 16 was narrowly missed. Section 28 was on the statute book and ruining the lives of a generation of queer children (me included). HIV/AIDS wreaked havoc all over the world, amongst queer and non-queer communities alike. Lisa Power wrote a book of history, then, but one designed as a kick into gear, a serious attempt to recover something of the spirit and purpose of the Gay Liberation Front and to make the world better for everyone. Twenty five years later, we know it succeeded.
After a year living with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are feeling an enormous strain and frustration. We have come to think of the virus as a once in a century event – it is not. But that tells us something about how societies remember and how we as individuals remember, too. Studies have shown that the descendants of those most directly impacted by traumatic events carry with them a genetic memory – an imprint of that harm which cannot be got rid of. It is especially apparent amongst Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren. For queer people, especially, it is also true of HIV/AIDS, the other great global pandemic of the past fifty years. To understand the interplay between trauma and memory, there is no better novel than Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers. Published in 2018, it focuses on Chicago and brings to life a community which was forced to adapt and compelled to live with death and danger, day after day. But it is a universal story, one which can – and in its comparison with COVID-19 does – affect us all.
But what of Wales? When I wrote A Little Gay History of Wales a few years ago, I had a delightful afternoon reading Sion Eirian’s 1979 novel, Bob yn y Ddinas. It’s not really a queer novel except for a passage where the title character, Bob, goes into the Duke Of Wellington pub in central Cardiff and encounters a neighbourhood drag queen who buys a drink for everyone in the snug, but not him. He was outside the community. This was truth, not fiction. For a period in the late-1970s, the Duke of Wellington joined its neighbour the King’s Cross and the nearby Golden Cross and Bristol Hotel as part of the small gay scene of those years. This was Real Cardiff, as Peter Finch would describe it, tough and grimy and poor; the place as it was before the corporate towers arrived and the rents shot up.
My last choice takes me back to the Rhondda and to another queer emigré who made his way to London: the novelist Rhys Davies. In his lifetime, Rhys Davies never openly acknowledged his homosexuality. Privately, and to his friends, and partners, it was a different story. He cruised guardsmen on the streets of interwar London; he cruised men in the various European cities in which he lived; he was in Germany like Christopher Isherwood and saw the rise of the Nazis; he wrote very queer novels which take little decoding for modern readers; and became close friends and a beneficiary of the noted American lesbians Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. Alas, much of the writer’s work is now out of print but his memoir, Print of a Hare’s Foot, first published in 1969, appears as a Seren Classic. More so than Mike Stephens’s prize-winning biography, which doesn’t really get to the heart of its subject’s sexuality, I’m afraid, Print of a Hare’s Foot is the best place to start with a writer who is to Wales what Oscar Wilde is to Ireland.
In her second collection, We Could Be Anywhere by Now, Katherine Stansfield brings us poems about placement and displacement full of both wry comedy and uneasy tension. Stints in Wales, Italy and Canada, plus return trips to her native Cornwall all spark poems delighting in the off-key, the overheard, the comedy and pathos of everyday life.
‘multi-layered and full of surprising transitions’ – Patrick McGuiness
Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Black Jaguar at Midnight’ by Pascale Petit from her 2014 collection Fauverie.
Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2014, this volume has childhood trauma and a dying father at its heart, and the poems skillfully transform painful experiences into expressions of grief. Fauverie redeems the darker forces of human nature while celebrating the ferocity and grace of endangered species: at its heart is the title’s name-sake: the big-cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo. Paris, too, takes centre stage – a city savage as the Amazon, haunted by Aramis the black jaguar and a menagerie of wild animals.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’ by Bryony Littlefair from her Mslexia prize-winning pamphlet Giraffe.
Poems need head, heart, and soul but this particular pamphlet has an extra ingredient – a feminist kick. There is a good deal of wit on display, but also a wonderful humanity. There are also other novelistic qualities: clarity of language and the use of realism, a feeling for plot and incident, an eye and ear for character. The author indicates emotion and relationships in a myriad of subtle ways: heartbreak can be summarised by one glance at the ‘Lido’. Love can be inferred by the tender description of someone from the back, as they are walking away. Giraffe, the title and a euphemism for happiness, is a beguiling, beautiful and entertaining debut pamphlet of poems.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Crocodile’ by Jonathan Edwards from his collection Gen.
Gen is a book of lions and rock stars, street parties and servants, postmen and voices. In the opening sequence’s exploration of youth and young manhood, the author sets his own Valleys upbringing against the ’50s youth of his parents and the experience of a range of pop culture icons, including Kurt Cobain and Harry Houdini. These poems give way to a sequence of monologues and character sketches, giving us the lives of crocodiles and food testers, pianists and retail park trees. With his characteristic humour, warmth, formal range and swaggering music, Jonathan Edwards delivers a worthy follow-up to his popular and critically-lauded debut.
Our first Friday Poem of 2021 is ‘The Dance of Ararat’ by Eoghan Walls from his collection Pigeon Songswhich was shortlisted for the Pigott Poetry Prize 2020.
Pigeon Songsfollows on from Walls’ much-praised debut, The Salt Harvest. From the first poem, we have a sense of the poet’s themes and preoccupations: we have a richly metaphorical and densely allusive style, a pull towards formal metre and structures. There is also the occasional vigorous vulgarity, adding a touch of blue humour to the canvas, breaking up the formal rigour. Family is a potent presence in poems inspired by parents, grandparents, partners, children. They often emit a sort of energy, a fierce gravitational pull of emotion around the burning heart of a poem ultimately about love, or the sorrow of losing a loved-one.