Friday Poem – ‘Even in dreamscapes‘ by Christopher Meredith

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Even in dreamscapes’ by Christopher Meredith from his most recent collection Still.

This cover shows a painting of a snowy scene with the dark branches of a tree in the foreground.

Christopher Meredith’s new poetry collection Still, uses the title word as a fulcrum to balance various paradoxical concerns: stillness and motion, memory and forgetting, sanity and madness, survival and extinction. Lively and thought-provoking, this is a beautifully crafted, humane and intelligent collection.

“Lyrical, always surprising, Meredith ‘fixes stillness’ in absences here. His perfect ear tunes in so precisely – especially to the natural world, it’s ‘edge of sense’ – we are left haunted á la Frost, by a deep lonliness in the human condition.” – Paul Henry

Even in dreamscapes

Even in dreamscapes Breughel understood
the movement of the real north

how the inimical gorgeous cold
is always coming or just gone or here.

Hunching figures lurch and pass
a gusting fire in the black-legged woods.

Barking and the stink of breath are coiled
in the polyphony of canine tails.

One magpie’s signing her brief shape
across the air of solstice grey.

And then that single upright crow
on the bough of a decorous framing tree

real as any you’ve ever seen
nails it, is both of this world and peeping in

as are we, but spells out how
we never can escape the frame

and is still, and stiller than
we’ll ever be.

Still is available on the Seren website: £9.99

“By any yardstick, Still is a major achievement.” – The Yorkshire Times. Read the full review on The Yorkshire Times website.

Two book deal – purchase Still and Christopher’s newest novel Please together for the discounted price of £15.00.

Friday Poem – ‘How I Hold the World in This Climate Emergency’ by Cath Drake

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘How I Hold the World in This Climate Emergency’ by Cath Drake from her debut collection The Shaking City, which is longlisted for The Laurel Prize 2021.

This cover shows a colouful purple and orange painting of a shaky cityscape.

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet works a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.

How I Hold the World in This Climate Emergency
Sometimes I hold world in one hand, my life
in the other and I get cricks in my neck
as the balance keeps swinging. I walk uneasily.
Sometimes I am bent over with the sheer weight of world,
eyes downcast, picking up useful things from the ground.
Sometimes one shoulder is pulling toward an ear
as if it’s trying to block the ear from hearing but can’t reach.
Sometimes my body is a crash mat for world. I want to say
‘I’m sorry I’m sorry!’ but don’t say it aloud.
I am privileged so I should be able to do something.
Sometimes I lie on my side and grasp world like a cushion.
I’m soft and young, and don’t feel I can change anything.
I nudge world with affection, whispering: I know, I know.
Sometimes I build a cubby from blankets thrown across furniture.
There is only inside, no outside. When I was a child,
world was a small dome and change came summer by summer.
Sometimes I make a simple frame with my arms to look at world.
I’m not involved directly. It carries on without me.
This way I can still love the sky, its patterns of clouds and contrails.
Sometimes I’m chasing world through the woods, bursting
with hope and adrenalin. Oh God, am I running!
I want to keep moving. My mouth is full of fire.
Some days are like bread and milk. I just get on with pouring
and buttering. I want the little things to be what matters most again.
Sometimes I hold little: I’m limp and ill.
Days barely exist. It’s enough to make soup.

The Shaking City is available on the Seren website: £9.99

This poem also features in the anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth, available for £12.99

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Cath recently appeared on the Mouthful of Air podcast to talk in detail about this poem. Listen on their website.

Friday Poem – ‘Bocca della Verita’ by Robert Seatter

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Bocca della Verita’ by Robert Seatter from his new collection The House of Everything. The poems in this collection are all inspired by artefacts and spaces in Sir John Soane’s Museum. Sir John Soane was born on this day in 1753.

Universally captivating, Sir John Soane’s museum in London is a labyrinth of evocation and imagination. In The House of Everything, Robert Seatter conjures it up in a personal and poetic trail, capturing the tragic story of the man who created it and the eclectic collection he gathered within its walls. No matter if you have never visited the place before – the texts are intercut with a series of striking collages made by the poet himself which help to conjure the unique message of this book: how to make material our elusive dreams and imaginings.

Bocca della Verita
Imagine Audrey here,
escaping on her moped with Gregory Peck –
beauty on the run, her princess accent,
her wind-ruffled hair, doing the things
that common people do in 1950s Roma:
eating gelato, dancing on the river bank.
The aching, sun-bleached, black-and-white glamour
of it all. Then everything stopping –
her small white hand slipped inside
the dark open mouth of the Bocca della Verita –
just like the one here. And the gods,
the saints, the dead celebrity
in his alabaster boat, the severed hands and feet,
the talking heads… all pause and listen
just like in the film: what is the forever truth?
But then Gregory pulls back her small white hand,
saves her from Soane – the dark gloating
of memory. Time enough for that.
There’s Gregory’s almost-kiss coming closer;
jazz of second improvised on second;
and the breath-stopping beauty
of her here-and-now profile against the light.

On the walls of the Colonnade in Sir John Soane’s Museum is ‘a mouth of truth’ from a Roman fountain, similar to the one that famously features in Roman Holiday, the 1953 film which made a star of the then unknown Audrey Hepburn.

The House of Everything is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Find out more about Sir John Soane’s Museum on their website www.soane.org

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Guest Post: Other Women’s Kitchens – Alison Binney

Alison Binney’s pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens is the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2020.

For me, the kitchen is often the most appealing room in any home. In the house where I grew up, we had a dining table at one end of the lounge, which was only ever used when guests came round. All our other meals were eaten in the kitchen, so all the most interesting, impactful conversations I can remember are located around that small table, in the most intimate space in the heart of the house.

Some of my happiest memories are of cooking with my Mum – first as a small child entrusted with cutting out mince pie lids or stirring jelly cubes into boiling water, and later as an equal, experimenting together with Delia’s latest twists on old favourite recipes. And that kitchen was where the action happened too – the chip pan fire that we put out with a wet tea towel; my Mum’s shrieking encounter with a mouse that leapt from a sack she’d brought in from the garage; the gash from the cheese slicer to which my left thumb still bears witness. So much, also, that was less dramatic but more influential – all those conversations over cooking, over eating together, overheard from the family phone on the kitchen wall.

Assorted jars and utensils on a kitchen surface

When I was hunting for a title for my first poetry pamphlet, I was not surprised, then, to be drawn to the final phrase of my poem Every time I came home: ‘dreaming of other women’s kitchens’. This poem recounts a time in my life when I was finding it hard to live up to what I felt were impossible ideals: a time when it seemed as if all my school and university friends, my cousins, and all the children of everyone my parents knew, were getting married, and then having children. Where the family kitchen had always been a space of comfort and camaraderie for me, I no longer felt confident in my place there, uncertain, like so many young gay people, about how my identity as a lesbian might fit with my parents’ expectations of me. The idea of other women’s kitchens, where I might experience an easy acceptance and a sense of fulfilment that I could not otherwise be sure of, felt like a very appealing fantasy.

It struck me, once I looked at the pamphlet through this lens, just how many of the poems in it are located in kitchens, or in kitchen-like spaces, or make reference to food. There’s the makeshift kitchen in a wicker barn where Anne Lister and her partner Ann Walker brew tea and coffee on the last day recorded in Anne Lister’s diary. There are the married women who ‘came home hungry, smelling of lentils’, after their encounters in a supermarket car park. There’s ‘tea with the lady mayoress’ in a found poem sourced from an old edition of the Girl Guide Handbook. And then there’s the kitchen as the location of a first date – probably just the sort of kitchen, complete with ‘individual chocolate mousses’, that my younger, uncertain self would have been delighted to know was waiting for her in the not-too-distant future.

Teapot and two mugs

I’m thrilled that the cover for Other Women’s Kitchens, painted so skilfully by Kate Winter, captures the mood as well as the appearance of my parents’ kitchen. I also love the shadowiness of the two superimposed figures, which allows plenty of space for imagination and interpretation. The teapot at the centre represents for me that sense of comfort and companionship integral to the essence of a kitchen – the place not only where significant things happen, but in which, so often, they’re mulled over, digested, poured out.

Alison Binney

Cover of Other Women's Kitchens by Alison Binney which shows a painting of a colourful kitchen with two greyed out figures in it.

Other Women’s Kitchens is Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet of poems and introduces us to a gifted new voice who writes with flair and feeling about coming out and coming of age as a gay woman in 21st century Britain. The collection explores the challenges of discovering and owning a lesbian identity in the 1980s and 1990s and the joy of finding both love and increased confidence in that identity as an adult. An adroit admixture of the heart-wrenching and the humorous, the book features shaped and ‘found’ pieces, traditional narrative and compact prose poems. Beautifully entertaining, pointedly political and often very funny, Other Women’s Kitchens is essential reading.

Other Women’s Kitchens is available on the Seren website: £5.00

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Friday Poem – ‘On Wonder Woman’s Island’ by Alison Binney

This week our Friday Poem is ‘On Wonder Woman’s Island’ by Alison Binney from her debut pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens which is the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet competition 2020.

This cover shows a colourful painting of a kitchen with the fain shadows of people moving through it.

Other Women’s Kitchens is Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet of poems and introduces us to a gifted new voice who writes with flair and feeling about coming out and coming of age as a gay woman in 21st century Britain. The collection explores the challenges of discovering and owning a lesbian identity in the 1980s and 1990s and the joy of finding both love and increased confidence in that identity as an adult. An adroit admixture of the heart-wrenching and the humorous, the book features shaped and ‘found’ pieces, traditional narrative and compact prose poems. Beautifully entertaining, pointedly political and often very funny, Other Women’s Kitchens is essential reading. Seren is thrilled to be presenting this author’s first collected work.

On Wonder Woman's Island
the women are all leather and deltoids, 
sword fights and whirling hair. They
call 'you are stronger than your know,'
reaching out sinewy forearms to lift
each other up off the sand. Any time
you can yell 'Shield!' just for the hell of it
and a girl will kneel, shield angled over thigh,
while another runs up, springs, fires an arrow
mid-leap, lands on a silver horse. At night
there's a cave with an underground
waterfall jacuzzi and a nook in the wall
thick with fur. And if the men come,
lugging guns up the beach, you sleep on,
cat-like: seeing only sheer cliffs and bare rock
they will soon turn tail, their flag not worth
the planting here, and the breeze long gone.

Other Women’s Kitchens is available on the Seren website: £5.00

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The Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition is now open for entries for 2021. Find out more on the Mslexia website.

Friday Poem – ‘The Storyteller’ by Abeer Ameer

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Storyteller’ by Abeer Ameer from her debut collection Inhale/Exile. This poem is also featured in 100 Poems to Save the Earth.

The cover of Inhale/Exlile shows an expressive painting of someone cutting yellow reeds over a bowl.

Abeer Ameer writes of her forebears in her first collection, Inhale/Exile. Dedicated to the “holders of these stories”, the book begins with a poem about a storyteller on a rooftop in Najaf, Iraq, follows tales of courage and survival, and ends with a woman cooking food for neighbours on the anniversary of her son’s death.

 “…these poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light, and there is love.” – Katherine Stansfield

The Storyteller
Aesop had nothing on her. The children gather
on the rooftop level with the heads of Najaf ’s palm trees,
sit cross-legged ready for stories before bed.
An uneasy weight on her chest; she’d found her youngest
trapping sparrows again.
There was and how much there was…
She tells the story of a beautiful bulbul.
Shiny feathers, bright plumes,
how its song filled the air
until the king ordered it be caught
and caged, kept for his eyes only.
Soon its feathers greyed,
the light in its eyes vanished,
the song in its throat withered.
Her eyes wander to that space,
empty since his fourth birthday.
She continues:
The bulbul’s mournful mother
searched everywhere for her child,
unable to eat or sleep.
Both died from sadness.
The king, filled with remorse,
promised to protect all his kingdom’s wildlife
Then he became the kindest, wisest king on earth.
And they lived a happy life.
She looks to the stars, mutters
When you cling to a thing you love it dies.
Sometimes when you love you must let go…must let go.
Her soft voice trails off. The children focus on the cigarette
in her left hand which balances a tower of ash.
In her right hand, amber prayer beads;
her thumb strokes the top of each before moving it along.
She recites Al-Fatiha, scans the sky for the crescent moon.

Inhale/Exile is currently half-price in our bank holiday summer sale. Buy before midnight on Monday 30th August and get your copy for just £4.99! Buy now.

Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, co-editors of 100 Poems to Save the Earth, are joining us at Virtual First Thursday on Thursday 2nd September. Tickets are £2.74 (inlc. admin fee) and available through Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/168074853411. We’ll also hear some of the contributors read their poems.

This bank holiday weekend, get 50% off all books on our website* in our half-price summer sale. Ends midnight Monday 30th September.

*marked titles only, subject to availability.

Friday Poem – ‘The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs’ by Polly Atkin from her collection Basic Nest Architecture. Polly’s new collection Much With Body is forthcoming this October.

Polly Atkin. Basic Nest Architecture.

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, is complex, vivid and moving. It opens with poems inspired by her home in the Lake District, and the landscape and famous Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, who have walked there and written about the fells and lakes. Nature is a guiding presence, but the author’s personal story, of enduring a little-known and sometimes debilitating illness, is also the backdrop to this striking poetry. Formally, this work is more akin to the metaphysical poets in its fervent use of metaphor, in its multiple layers of meaning and in its quest for answers to the most pressing questions of mortality.

The Glorious Fellowship of Migraineurs
When we gather we greet each other
by lifting tentatively one hand to one eye.
We meet in darkened rooms, quietly;
share no wine. Nobody speaks
but often our voices join to moan
the migraineurs psalm, low and holy.
The hours before fizz brilliantly, scented
with burnt toast and oranges, petrol, sparking
fireworks, fireflies, stars. Everyone
dons a halo, everyone’s soul
shines out through their pores, whether unnaturally
small or wrapped in a skin of water.
We sleep the night together, slip off
one by one on waking from
a dream we pass between us, in which
the structure of the sky is revealed. We make
no dates, but palm to temple, salute
in a migraineur’s kiss, our transcendence.

Basic Nest Architecture is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Pre-order Polly’s new collection Much With Body on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Or With Open Window’ by Rosalind Hudis

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Or With Open Window’ by Rosalind Hudis from her most recent collection Restorations. Rosalind was recently shortlisted for the Gladstone’s Writers in Residence Award 2022. Judging will take place in October.

Restorations Rosalind Hudis. "If a poem is like a picture, these are history paintings, rich in human detail and many-layered in their brushwork" Matthew Francis

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.

Or With Open Window
A Corner of the Artist’s Studio in Paris by Gwen John

If she could agree to be this room
or the other. Possibility pleats her.
Not there, her outline sealed,
but spreading, invisible, in two takes:
One corner, one window, netted
unnetted, above a table
that’s the still crossfire
where her looking springs out
from an open book or coils back
into a crease of wired flowers.
On a white chair her blue coat streams
labile, could let her slide
through each frame. Even this one
where the window is closed,
hard edges inside
a stockade of angles.
Or with Open Window:
the room’s misted; sharp
in the distance, she’s hung a tent
of reflections and sky.
Where she waits can be folded/
unfolded like her paused umbrella,
like triangled sunlight on the wall
that could pin her to its moment
or, warming outwards, paint her
into the visible.

Restorations is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Poetry prompt – David Baker on ‘Pastoral’

In this video, David Baker reads his poem ‘Pastoral’ which is featured in the anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth. At the end of the video he suggests two prompts to inspire your own responses to the poem and the topics of the anthology. Share your responses with us on social media – @SerenBooks on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook – using the hashtag #100PoemsPrompts.

David Baker on ‘Pastoral‘

Poems happen for me–when they happen–not in the writing but in the rewriting. They emerge. This little poem, “Pastoral,” began as a sonnet, as a section of a long poem, “Scavenger Loop,” which I was writing about Midwestern landscapes and in memory of my mother.

Soon enough I pried this piece out of the big poem and began the work of rediscovery. It became an elegy, and I knew it should be outdoors–at first in a woodland, but then, as here, in a field, wind-swept, expansive, more empty than not.

The sonnet became half a sonnet. I drew open the blank verse line, with double caesuras–more space, more speechlessness, a wider field–and I abbreviated the final line by a few syllables. There’s more hush than sound, I think, more wind than substance. Someone said, it’s a love poem. Someone told me it was a pastoral elegy for the earth. Someone said, it’s all of those.

Prompt 1

Write a poem that floats among the forms, more ghost than substance. Let your ode grieve, say, where it might more conventionally extol; let your love poem think about a political conundrum. Let your reader discover those forms you have tucked away–like intimate messages, bits of song within a song–inside the apparent body of your poem.

Prompt 2

Go somewhere and stand still. Listen. Sniff the air. Feel your heartbeat. Let the whole universe of being revolve around that stillness for a moment, for two moments. Now write it down, and make it sing. That’s what I tried to do in “Pastoral.”

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

These achingly beautiful poems… remind us how to refind ourselves amid the landscape we call home.”  – Sonya Huber

100 Poems to Save the Earth is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Karner Blue’ by Carrie Etter

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Karner Blue’ by Carrie Etter which appears in 100 Poems to Save the Earth and her collection The Weather in Normal.

100 Poems to Save the Earth. Edited by Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans

Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. 100 Poems to Save the Earth invites us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. For too long, the earth has been exploited. With its incisive Foreword, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

These achingly beautiful poems… remind us how to refind ourselves amid the landscape we call home.”  – Sonya Huber

The Weather in Normal Carrie Etter "Etter's richly inventive phrasing keeps this compelling range of concerns vividly opening up with immediacy, urgency and sensitivity." - Cole Swensen

Carrie Etter is known for beautifully expressive and formally inventive verse. The Weather in Normal, her fourth collection, explores the changes to her hometown of Normal, Illinois following her parents’ deaths, the sale of the family home, and the effects of climate change on Illinois’ landscape and lives.

”It’s well-nigh impossible to convey with quotation how Etter’s use of language, form, restraint and space combine to such impressive effect.” – Stride magazine

Carrie Etter
KARNER BLUE
“a place called Karner, where in some pine barrens, on lupines,
a little blue butterfly I have described and named ought to be out.”
Vladimir Nabokov
Because it used to be more populous in Illinois.
Because its wingspan is an inch.
Because it requires blue lupine.
Because to become blue, it has to ingest the leaves of a blue plant.
Because its scientific name, Lycaeides melissa samuelis, is mellifluous.
Because the female is not only blue but blue and orange and silver
and black.
Because its beauty galvanizes collectors.
Because Nabokov named it.
Because its collection is criminal.
Because it lives in black oak savannahs and pine barrens.
Because it once produced landlocked seas.
Because it has declined ninety per cent in fifteen years.
Because it is.


100 Poems to Save the Earth
 is available on the Seren website: £12.99

The Weather in Normal is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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