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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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 – ‘Beachcombing’ by Tiffany Atkinson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Beachcombing’ by Tiffany Atkinson from the anthology A Last Respect. Don’t forget to tune into the BBC Radio Wales Arts Show tonight to hear the announcement of the Wales Book of the Year 2021 English-language winners.

A Last Respect is a selection of contemporary Welsh poetry by winners of the Roland Mathias Prize. The poems included are wide ranging in style and subject. They contemplate relationships, nature, the environment, mortality, time, art and politics, and take place in a range of locations, from Aberystwyth to Baghdad, from war-torn landscapes to parents’ evenings. Featuring Dannie Abse, Tiffany Atkinson, Ruth Bidgood, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Christine Evans, John Freeman, Philip Gross, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, and Owen Sheers, it is a must-have anthology of poetry from Wales.

Beachcombing

Children will enter the water hands first. There’s
a knack that women all over the world have
of putting up hair in a knot, the pale nape gathers
the salt. The babushka and the magpie
own the beach but no one cares. Her fingers
strum the muscles in her thighs. She’s a mountain
but her fingertips are diamonds. This patisserie
of crotches in their little wraps; how tenderly
we don’t look. Airport novels crackle in the sand.
Even the baby’s too dazzled to cry; his fat hands
bounce on the breeze. I have spent a half-life
on the wrong strand. Here’s the barman’s daughter
selling frappé. I would like a bitter chinking glassful
emptied on my head. I would like to drink the sea.
I’d like every tiny house of sand to wear me down.
When the small brown woman comes to snap the
last umbrellas shut, she’ll tut and sweep the bones.

A Last Respect is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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The Amazingly Astonishing Story by Lucy Gannon is on the Creative Non-Fiction shortlist for Wales Book of the Year 2021. Buy your copy here.

Slicing Slate – An extract from ‘Miriam, Daniel and Me’

Yesterday, the Slate Landscapes of Northwest Wales were awarded World Heritage Status meaning they are now on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites alongside landmarks the Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China.

The Gwynedd slate mines in Snowdonia were once said to have “roofed the 19th Century world” as slate from its quarries was exported around the globe. In this extract from Miriam, Daniel and Me by Euron Griffith, John Meredith is teaching apprentices how to cut slate in the same historic location.

Euron Griffith. Miriam, Daniel and Me. "..a confidently crafted novel about time, change and enduring love..." – Ed Thomas

When Miriam fell in love with Padraig life seemed simple. But soon she discovered that love is a treacherous business. Everything changed when she met Daniel. She was taken down an unexpected path which would dictate and dominate the rest of her life.

Spanning three generations of a North Wales family in a Welsh-speaking community, Miriam, Daniel and Me is an absorbing and compelling story of family discord, political turmoil, poetry, jealousy…and football.

John Meredith could slice slate as thin as paper. At the quarry he told the fresh crop of young apprentices who crowded around him every September that all they needed to do was find the sweet spot. Because a piece of slate was almost like a living thing. He would ask the boys if they’d ever stroked a cat. Some of them looked at each other with uncertainty. The braver ones would mumble that they had. So John Meredith explained that a cat always responded to a human hand and would guide it towards the spot where it wanted to be touched. The same was true of slate.

“Look at this mountain”, he’d say, directing their confused but eager faces to the massive whale of rock that they were precariously balanced upon. “What we’re doing is ripping this beautiful material out of Mount Orwig’s belly. Newly-mined slate rumbles past us on these trains and trucks – huge slabs. Raw. Listen to the groaning and squealing of the metal wheels. That tells you how heavy it is. You’d think it was cold and unfeeling wouldn’t you? But slate is alive boys. Trust me. As alive as you or me.”

It was a well-rehearsed lecture, delivered every year and honed, by now, as perfectly as one of his slices of slate. These were the less sturdy boys. The ones who had been deemed unsuitable for face-work. They’d been sent over by Mr MacNamara to learn how to cleave slate into thin slices using only a mallet and chisel and John Meredith was the best they had. A true artist. Now he was telling them about cats and saying that slate was alive. He knew they probably thought he was a bit mad.

“Okay boys,” he’d say, sticking the rolled-up cigarette behind his ear, “see how I’m tapping away at the rock with the blade of the chisel? What I’m searching for is that sweet spot. The place where, with one sharp tap of the mallet, the slate can be split cleanly and perfectly. That sweet spot is very important boys. It’s the key that opens up the treasure. But like with a new cat, it takes a while to find it. Unlike with a cat however, with slate you only get one chance. Get it wrong and you blow it. Which is why it’s important that you get it right. Otherwise all the men in Orwig – the men down in its bowels risking life and limb every day – won’t be happy with you. The last thing they want to see is their hard work wasted.”

He tapped the wooden hilt of the chisel. The blue-grey rock surrendered into two swooning squares.

“See how they’re both the same thickness boys? Pass them round. They’ve both got to be exactly the same thickness otherwise they’re no good.”

The apprentices would all look at each other anxiously but, in time, most of them got the hang of it. Mr MacNamara always congratulated him on training up a new generation of skilled craftsmen and if he only knew how valuable he really was, Mr MacNamara thought, he could probably demand double his wages.

Miriam, Daniel and Me is available now on the Seren website: £9.99

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Karaoke King – A Playlist by Dai George

To celebrate publication of his new collection Karaoke King, Dai George has created a playlist of songs which tie in with the collection. Read on to find out what he chose and why.

The cover of Karaoke King shows a drawing of a white, teenage boy wearing a white shirt with a yellow and brown vest with horizontal stripes. He has his head on one side and his glasses are wonky. He is wearing a crumpled yellow crown.

This confident second collection by Dai George addresses the contentious nature of the times. Always deeply thoughtful but also alternately ebullient, angry, curious, ashamed, the poet moves through urban and digital spaces feeling both uneasy and exhilarated. As with the Auden of the inter-war period, there is a feeling of history shifting, as a younger generation confronts its ethical obligations, its sense of complicity and disappointment. Ecological crisis hovers in the background, glimpsed in the ‘Fooled Evening’ of a world whose seasonal rhythms have fallen out of joint. Karaoke King also contains numerous reflections on popular culture, culminating in ‘A History of Jamaican Music’, a sequence at the heart of the volume speaking to urgent contemporary questions of ownership and privilege, pain and celebration. 

Karaoke King – A Playlist

The Lumineers – ‘Ho Hey’

The Platters – ‘The Glory of Love’

Teddy Pendergrass – ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’

McFadden and Whitehead – ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’

Frank Sinatra – ‘New York, New York’

Big Star – ‘Nightime’

David Bowie – ‘Station to Station’

Treorchy Male Voice Choir – ‘Myfanwy’

Lord Laro – ‘Jamaican Referendum Calypso’

The Ethiopians – ‘Train to Skaville’

The Skatalites – ‘Guns of Navarone’

The Uniques – ‘People Rocksteady’

Alton Ellis – ‘Rocksteady’

Derrick Harriott – ‘The Loser’

The Paragons – ‘On the Beach’

The Techniques – ‘Love Is Not a Gamble’

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – ‘Croaking Lizard’

The Congos – ‘Nicodemus’

Bob Marley & the Wailers – ‘No Woman, No Cry’

The Uniques – ‘My Conversation’

Gregory Isaacs – ‘Soon Forward’

Sister Nancy – ‘Only Woman DJ with Degree’

Yellowman – ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’

Sizzla – ‘Babylon A Use Dem Brain’

Count Machuki – ‘More Scorcha’

The Heptones – ‘Party Time’

I-Wayne – ‘Living in Love’

The Maytals / Sister Nancy – ‘Bam Bam’

Charles Trenet – ‘La Mer’

Bruce Springsteen – ‘Thunder Road’

Dusty Springfield – ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’

Bob Dylan – ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’

In another lifetime, I tried to be a music journalist. A teenage pop nerd, I grew up reading too many issues of Mojo and the NME, and built my identity in large part around the songs that gave me solace, joy, a sense of difference. One way or another the journalism thing didn’t happen, but my new collection of poems, Karaoke King, maybe represents an attempt to grapple with the legacy of that obsession.

Poetry, of course, can’t offer what journalism can: it can’t give you facts, analysis, coherent narrative, or if it tried to do that it would be very bad at it. What it can do, though – maybe – is capture how songs hit the mind. It can sift significance, and work towards some understanding of how an individual stands in relation to these musical artefacts that are at once fixed, specific, culturally determined, and yet endlessly transmissible from radio to radio, mouth to mouth, ear to ear. From the liturgical prayers I heard being sung at Canton Uniting, my childhood church, to the Neighbours theme tune, Karaoke King is full of songs overheard, half-remembered, reapproached, transposed – hauntings and visitations. I thought it would be fun, and maybe interesting, to put together a playlist for the collection, with a set of ‘sleeve notes’ fleshing out the story of how these songs came to be there.

Close up photograph of a vinyl record  playing on a turn table.
Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash

The first four tracks all come from ‘Poem on 27th Birthday’. Set in a hilltop bar in Italy, and written more or less in situ in September 2013, it was the first poem I finished after wrapping on my debut collection, The Claims Office. I tried to be more open and porous in writing than I’d allowed myself to be till that point, and for me that meant tuning into the ambient sounds, letting them bleed into a collage. The dominant tune is an earworm blaring from a nearby car stereo, a sweet-natured, folky track I recognised but couldn’t place – later I found out it was called ‘Ho Hey’ by the Lumineers. It’s the sort of song that Adolescent Me would have scorned, but in a charmed moment it came across, in the words of the poem, ‘as nothing less than the Glory of Love’, a nod to the great doo-wop song of that name by The Platters.

The other songs filter in from a compilation of ’70s funk and Philadelphia soul that the barman switched on to replace the slick elevator jazz that had been playing till then. So we have a singer I recognised, Teddy Pendergrass, singing a song I didn’t know in the moment but later tracked down as ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ – one of his first solo singles, a four-to-the-floor disco ripper about breaking somebody’s heart – and this soon flows into ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ by McFadden and Whitehead. Songs touching songs, overlapping, building resonances. I most certainly did love the addressee of the poem, so it’s the McFadden and Whitehead song that takes over, its message of empowerment modulating through the speaker into gratitude for love.

More earworms, next, with Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’, overheard on one of my many circuits of Clissold Park in Stoke Newington over recent years. The poem it’s taken from is called ‘The Park in the Afternoon’, which unsurprisingly is about parks in the afternoon, but also the neoliberal cult of productivity that turns people into a political problem if they have nothing to do at that time of day. I loved the weird euphoria of this song, with its glitzy promise of inclusion – I wanna be a part of it! – being reclaimed as an anthem of solidarity or defiance.

‘Night Time’ by Big Star is one of the darker songs on this playlist, a theme tune for a run of poems in the first section of Karaoke King which map a hard time in my life – a dark night of the soul. The song itself is quoted in a poem called ‘Rock vs Pop’, an elegy to Roddy Lumsden. Roddy and I bonded originally over music, meeting on an internet forum called Black Cat Bone where debates like ‘Rock vs Pop’ could become seriously heated. Big Star were the sort of group that exposed how hollow that dichotomy is, and I know Roddy was a big fan of their legendary, troubled third album, Sister Lovers. It’s another song about wanting to be a part of it – At night time I go out and see the people – only this time there’s no Sinatra-esque bravado: the irony of that desire is painfully apparent the moment you hear Alex Chilton’s fragile, haunted vocal.

Photograph of boxes of vinyl records stacked in a shop.
Photo by Alano Oliveira on Unsplash

David Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’ is more literally about a long night of the soul – a long and disoriented journey. The poem I wrote about it for Alex Bell and John Canfield’s ‘Bowieoke’ night (and subsequent anthology Cold Fire) tries to capture the sense of blackout and damage on that record, but also to deconstruct the iconography of the Thin White Duke, his persona of the time. Whiteness is of course a part of that formulation, and it’s one of the tacit themes of this book that white pop music culture must grapple honestly with its numerous, often unspoken debts to Black musicians and Black musical idioms.

The place in the book where I’ve tried to confront this legacy, as openly as possible, is ‘A History of Jamaican Music’. The reggae songs on this playlist all offer up quotations and allusions from that sequence, and taken together I think they make for a great, roughly chronological listen. I’ve written about the genesis of this sequence before, so don’t want to belabour the point. All I’ll say here is that, just as these musical selections offer one, partial journey through the rich heritage of reggae, so too do the poems, from my own, very subjective perspective. I wanted to reflect honestly on my relationship to a music and a culture that is too often enjoyed in a passive or exploitative way by British people. These are indeed songs of joy – and songs that can, and should, be enjoyed widely, I believe – but also struggle and complexity; songs, moreover, that could never wholly belong to me, or anyone in my position.

Before we get to them, though, we pass through a song from a culture that is indisputably my own. ‘Myfanwy’ is beautiful, of course, and probably familiar to many people. The title poem of the collection remixes it as a death fugue, a mouldering totem for a certain dubious, romantic myth of Welshness – so I’m glad to pay tribute to it here as God, or the Treorchy Male Voice Choir, intended it. Reading that poem, the eagle-eyed might spot a few references to Twin Town, a film I still love despite its ridiculous, shallow, very unromantic vision of Welshness. (The title of the collection itself, Karaoke King, is a moniker given to the film’s hapless Elvis wannabe, Dai Rhys.) The film’s final scene of a sea burial serenaded by a suited and booted male voice choir crooning ‘Myfanwy’ sums up much of what is funny and pathetic about those old myths and their modern revivals. Maybe one day we’ll be able to hear ‘Myfanwy’ differently again, stripped of all the pageantry.

Photo of a colourful Bob Dylan mural on the side of a building in New York.
Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

There’s a wistful turn to the final few songs on the playlist. Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’ wafts in like the last day of summer or the first of autumn, a mood I wanted to channel for a poem called  ‘September’s Child’. That in-between, nostalgic cusp state more or less represents the situation with my hair right now. ‘Poem in which my hairline recedes’ is the vessel for those (rather trivial) anxieties, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ is the sonic foil – another yearning cusp song, only this time one that stands on the brink of impossible self-realisation and success.

After that, yet more ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’ from Dusty Springfield, one of my favourite singers. From my teens I’ve always been drawn to classic girl group pop and its soft-soul, adult-oriented offshoots – Dusty, Dionne Warwick, the songs of Bacharach and David, Goffin and King. I saw in this music a model for my own hopelessness in love: solace and fellow feeling in a woman’s voice, when it was women that I yearned for. The poem ‘Obsolete Heartbreak Suite’ is a type of farewell to all that, and an attempt to reckon with the gendered dynamics of the art form, with its unequal distribution of male and female creative labour. I still love all those Brill Building songs but the drama and intensity is second-hand now, thankfully.

Finally, we come to ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ by Bob Dylan. After listening to the glorious official version from Highway 61 Revisited, do seek out the alternate takes that are collected on The Cutting Edge, a box set covering Dylan’s time in the studio during the famous ‘Thin Wild Mercury’ years of 1965-66. It’s the sound of those false starts and early drafts that I wanted to capture in ‘The Mercury Mine’ – Dylan’s painstaking, instinctive graft as he toys with a phrase until he gets it right, rearranging speech parts, nudging them into better arrangements. It’s something of a cliché to talk about ‘pop perfection’, and I’ve loved enough brilliant, three-minute pocket symphonies to understand what people might mean by it. But I think a space for poetry opens up whenever we encounter pop imperfection – hesitance, provisionality, the formation of ideas. That’s one way into it, anyway. Another might be to follow what happens when we encounter perfect music amid the mess and imperfection of our lives.

Dai George

Listen to the playlist in full on Spotify.

Karaoke King by Dai George is available now. As this week is #IndependentBookshopWeek, why not buy through bookshop.org?

Friday Poem – ‘Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971’ by Mir Mafuz Ali

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971’ by Mir Mafuz Ali from his collection Midnight, Dhaka.

Midnight, Dhaka is the debut collection by Mir Mahfuz Ali. As a boy, Mahfuz witnessed atrocities and writes about them with a searing directness in poems like ‘My Salma’: ‘They brought Salma into the yard, / asked me to watch how they would explode / a bullet into her’. His trauma becomes transformative, and his poetry the key to unlocking memories of a childhood that are rich in nuance, gorgeous in detail and evocative of a beautiful country. Influenced by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), as well as modern British poets, Mahfuz brings his own unique voice in these poems, which celebrate the human capacity for love, survival and renewal.

Midnight, Dhaka is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Guns’ by Katrina Naomi

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Guns’ by Katrina Naomi from her collection Wild Persistence which was published this time last year.

Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.

“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else… joyous.” – Helen Mort

Wild Persistence is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Watch Katrina read her poem ‘London: A Reply’ on our Youtube channel:

Katrina Naomi – Wild Persistence, A Year On

A year on from publication of her collection Wild Persistence, poet Katrina Naomi reflects on her experience of publishing a book during the pandemic.

A year ago, when I realised I couldn’t hold the launches for Wild Persistence that we’d planned in Cornwall and London, I’ll admit to having a few tears. Daft but I felt that Wild Persistence was the best book I’d written and I really wanted to get it out there. Book shops were closed, as was pretty much everything else. How the hell was this new collection going to find its audience?

Katrina Naomi with a copy of Wild Persistence

I remember talking to Amy, my editor, about possibly shifting the launch back from June 2020 to September 2020. I’m glad we didn’t; with hindsight, nothing would have changed.

Seren said: ‘How about a virtual launch?’. I’d never done anything on zoom before, I barely knew what it was. In short, I was terrified of it. How would I get any connection with people via a cold screen; there’d be no feedback, and no drinks (and no cake), and no nattering afterwards? Can you tell that I hated the idea? But it was all that was possible.

I did a trial run with Seren, tried to pretend Zoom was where it was at, and that I was looking forward to the launch. I didn’t trust or understand the technology. The morning of the launch, I practised my poems in the park, in the mizzle, reading to a friend, us both sitting well away from each other, as though we’d had an argument. That evening, to try to get over my terror, I wore one of my favourite outfits, a red and white ‘40s suit, wore the new shoes I’d bought for the original launches – even though no one could see them. But I knew I’d got them on. I dabbed cologne on my neck and wrists, and put a flower in my hair. I was as ready as I could be.

I remember how sick I felt, I hadn’t been able to eat, until I saw that over 100 people were waiting to be admitted to the launch. People attended from France, Canada, the US, as well as friends from up my street. It gave me a wider audience than I could have imagined. I really, really enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve been doing readings at events across the UK, and in the US. All from my little room, with a glimpse of Penzance harbour between my neighbours’ roofs. It still feels slightly unreal but I’ve come to love performing into my screen, remembering to prop the laptop on two dictionaries and to speak into the camera, marked by two lion stickers either side of the camera’s wonky dot.

Katrina Naomi signing copies of Wild Persistence in The Edge of the World bookshop

But I didn’t get to go to Mexico to work on a project, (environmentally, this might not be a bad thing), and it seems people don’t buy as many books at online launches and readings. Still, I’ve been doing lots of radio and podcasts, which has been great. Seren say the book’s been doing well. And I’ve been selling signed copies of Wild Persistence via my website all year, reusing recycled envelopes so I’ve only a handful of copies (and envelopes) left. I recall one woman buying a copy of Wild Persistence, then ordering another 30, ‘to give to my friends’. My local bookshop, The Edge of the World, has been reordering and I’ve signed three or four batches there, since they’ve reopened.  I haven’t been further than Cornwall, I’d love to know that my collection’s in other bookshops in other towns and cities. But I don’t know if that’s true. What’s been great has been people (particularly people I don’t know) posting photos of Wild Persistence on Twitter; I’ve seen my book propped up on garden steps, or next to a mug of tea with breakfast, or in an artist’s studio, and, once, on the end of an Essex pier. I’ve loved that.

Wild Persistence on the shelf in The Edge of the World bookshop

But I’ve missed seeing people. I haven’t been able to do a single reading, live, in public, in a room, with people. I miss seeing people’s reactions – whether they’re bored or excited by a particular poem. It’s harder to gauge which poems work online, you don’t hear the collective hush or the poetry ahhh, or get a laugh or an intake of breath when a poem hits home.

A year on and I’ve just had my first festival ask if I’m willing to read live, in a room, with people. I hesitated for a moment, and smiled. Though they couldn’t see that. But I’ve said yes. Yes. Yes. And I’ll probably wear my new shoes.

Katrina Naomi

Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.

“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else… joyous.” – Helen Mort

Wild Persistence is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

Friday Poem – ‘Free, No Obligation Valuation’ by Rhian Edwards

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Free, No Obligation Valuation’ by Rhian Edwards from her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter, published this time last year.

The Estate Agent’s Daughter is the eagerly awaited follow up to Rhian Edwards’s Wales Book of the Year winning debut collection Clueless DogsAcute and wryly observed, the poems step forth with a confident tone, touching on the personal and the public, encapsulating a woman’s tribulations in the twenty-first century.

“…fast-talking, wise-cracking and worldly wise” – Zoë Brigley

The Estate Agent’s Daughter is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Watch Rhian Edwards reading her poem ‘Argos Wedding’ from The Estate Agent’s Daughter on our Youtube channel: