10 Books for International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’ve put together a list of ten books by and about women which you should read.

In Her Own Words – Alice Entwistle

In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales. Alice Entwistle.

In Her Own Words: Women Talking Poetry and Wales is a collection of interviews with women poets from Wales. The interviews variously explore topics ranging from personal biography, the complex joys and strains of balancing life with art, issues of cultural politics, gender, family life, to the women’s often contrasting experiences of various kinds of change, including political devolution.

The Black Place – Tamar Yoseloff

This cover shows an abstract painting by Georgia O'Keefe of rolling red and orange hills in the desert. The text reads: The Black Place, Tamar Yoseloff."Yoseloff makes us look at the world, and then look at it again to see something new" - Time Dooely

The Black Place is a dark and gorgeously multi-faceted artwork, like a black diamond. Tamar Yoseloff eschews the sentimental, embraces alternatives, offers antidotes to cheery capitalist hype. The central sequence in this collection, ‘Cuts’, is a characteristically tough look at the poet’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. The diagnosis arrives at the same time as the Grenfell Tower disaster, a public trauma overshadowing a private one. These poems focus on the strangeness of the illness, and of our times – they refuse to offer panaceas or consolations.

A City Burning – Angela Graham

This cover shows a fiery sunset above Belfast reflected in the windscreen of a car. The text reads A City Burning by Angela Graham

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. Some of these moments occur in mundane circumstances, others amidst tragedy or drama.

Women’s Work – Edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack

This cover shows a painting of a child looking over the edge of a table, looking a  jug teetering on the edge of falling over. The text reads: Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English.

With over 250 contributors, Women’s Work brings together generous selection of poetry by women, with an emphasis on twentieth-century poetry in English. Featuring poets from the USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, and New Zealand, it is arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life. Women’s Work aims to be a touchstone of women’s thoughts and experiences; to be entertaining and relevant as well as inclusive and representative of some of the best poetry published today.

The Longest Farewell – Nula Suchet

A photo of James Roberts, Nula's husband. The text reads: The Longest Farewell: James, Dementia and Me.

When Nula’s husband James, an Irish documentary filmmaker, becomes forgetful they put it down to the stress of his work. But his behaviour becomes more erratic, and he is eventually diagnosed as suffering from Pick’s Disease, an early onset and aggressive form of dementia. The Longest Farewell is the true story of Nula’s fight with her husband’s disease, and how this terrible time held a happy ending.

Losing Israel – Jasmine Donahaye

Jasmine Donahay, Losing Israel. Winner of Creative Non-Fiction Category Wales Book of the Year 2016

In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. It explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.

All the Men I Never Married – Kim Moore

This cover shows a collage of a man made up of tiny images of nature. The text reads: All the Men I Never Married, Kim Moore. "These are searing, musical reckonings." Fiona Benson

Kim Moore’s eagerly-awaited second collection All The Men I Never Married is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love. A powerful collection of deeply thoughtful and deeply felt poetry.

The Colour of Grass – Nia Williams

This cover shows a photo of a tree looking up from the base. The text, laid out as if on a family tree, reads: Nia Williams, The Colour of Grass

The Colour of Grass by Nia Williams is a story about families, past and present, and life’s unexpected connections. Helen’s family is falling apart. There are no answers from her husband. She can’t communicate with her daughter. So she turns to other relatives: the ones who are dead and gone. Straightaway she finds herself floundering in a new world of friends, secrets, enemies and family history enthusiasts. Clandestine meetings, a mugging, and the surprisingly tragic story of her mystery grandmother – all of these weave themselves into Helen’s present and her unknown past.

Japan Stories – Jayne Joso

This cover shows a black and white photo of a young japanese man in a black suit.

Japan Stories is a spellbinding collection of short fiction set in Japan by Jayne Joso. Each centres on a particular character – a sinister museum curator, a son caring for his dementia-struck father,  a young woman who returns to haunt her killer, and a curious homeless man intent on cleaning your home with lemons! Together, these compelling narratives become a mosaic of life in contemporary Japan, its people, its society, its thinking, its character. Illustrated by Manga artist Namiko, Japan Stories provides a window into a country we would all love to know more deeply.  

Forbidden Lives – Norena Shopland

Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales. Norena Shopland. Foreword by Jeffrey Weeks

Forbidden Lives is a fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century.

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Friday Poem – ‘Portrait of the Artist Asleep’ by Ben Wilkinson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Portrait of the Artist Asleep’ by Ben Wilkinson from his collection Same Difference which was published earlier this week.

This covers shows an abstract painting made up of blues and grey. There are splashed of red and green down the left hand side and a face-like smudge in the centre. The text reads: Same Difference, Ben Wilkinson "Formally dextrous... likes to keep the reader on their toes." The Poetry Review

Same Difference is the formally acute second collection by Ben Wilkinson. Carefully crafted, and charged with contemporary language, the poems play with poetic voice and the dramatic monologue, keeping us on our toes and asking just who is doing the talking. Throughout, he ‘steps into the shoes’ of French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (1844-96), reframing his voice for modern readers. Brimming with everyone from cage fighters and boy racers to cancer patients and whales in captivity, Same Difference is gritty, darkly ironic and often moving – a collection for our times.

Portrait of the Artist Asleep
after Verlaine
She looks for all the world like some deadbeat angel,
foetal but hopeful, an inch of light haloing
her temple. She’s restless, sure, half mumbling
to herself as the door rocks gently in its frame,
stirred by a breeze the way her waking thoughts
follow whatever her eyes light on, even you.
Truth is, she’ll be up and gone before you know,
back among the world and brilliant with it,
and you, friend, won’t even make a painting
or poem, whichever she turns her hand to next.
You’re no more her muse than the lamp distilled
in the mirror she’ll fix her face in before she leaves.

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Catch Ben reading from Same Difference in person at Bolton Central Library on Tuesday 8th March. Visit boltonenglish.com for more details.

Reading for St David’s Day

Happy St David’s Day / Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus. 1st March not only marks the first day of Spring, but also St David’s Day here in Wales. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up a list of great books by some of our Welsh authors. How many of these have you read?

Miriam, Daniel and Me – Euron Griffith

This cover shows a black and white image of a woman's head in profile. She is looking down and is wearing a 1960s style hat. The background is cream fading to blue at the bottom. The text reads: Euron Griffith, Miriam, Daniel and Me

Miriam, Daniel and Me, Euron Griffith’s first novel in English, is a gripping story of relationships and simmering unrest in 1960s Gwynedd, driven by love, jealousy and vendetta. 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.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees – Clare Dudman

This cover shows a painting of a tree leaning to the right with green leaves on one side and bare branches on the other. It is surrounded by dry yellow grass. The text reads: Clare Dudman, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lyrical and insightful evocation of the trials of the first Welsh Patagonian colonists as they battle to survive hunger, loss, and each other. Impoverished and oppressed, they’d been promised paradise on earth: a land flowing with milk and honey. But what the settlers found after a devastating sea journey was a cold South American desert where nothing could survive except tribes of nomadic Tehuelche Indians, possibly intent on massacring them.

Gen – Jonathan Edwards

This cover shows a colourful abstract painting of people out on a busy street on a sunny day. The text reads: Gen, Jonathan Edwards. Winner of the Costa Book Award for Poetry 2014.

The poems in Costa award-winning poet Jonathan Edwards’s second collection Gen, celebrate a Valleys youth and young manhood, offering the reader affectionate portraits of family members alongside pop culture figures like Harry Houdini and Kurt Cobain, and real and imagined Welsh histories. 

A Last Respect – Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams

This cover shows a painting of rolling green fields stretching towards a blue lake in the distance. Fluffy clouds hover in the blue sky above. The text reads: A Last Respect: The Roland Mathias Prize Anthology of Contemporary Welsh Poetry. Edited by Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams.

A Last Respect celebrates the Roland Mathias Prize, awarded to outstanding poetry books by authors from Wales. It presents a selection of work from all eleven prize-winning books, by 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 who’s who of contemporary poetry which shows the form in good health in Wales.

Inhale/Exile – Abeer Ameer

This cover shows a close up painting of someone cutting yellow reeds in the heat of the sun. The text reads: Inhale/Exile, Abeer Ameer. "These poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light and there is love" - Katherine Stansfield

Cardiff-based poet 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.

Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches – T.J. Hughes

This cover shows a photo of a ruined Welsh church surrounded by green hills beneath a blue sky. The text read: Wales's Best One Hundred Churches, T.J. Hughes. "A really wonderful book" – Simon Jenkins

Illustrated in colour Wales’s Best One Hundred Churches encompasses a millennium of churches around Wales, from tiny St Govan’s tucked in its cliff-face, through ruined Llanthony to the magnificence of the cathedrals at Llandaff and St David’s. It is an invaluable repository of history, art and architecture, spirituality and people’s lives which will appeal to the historian and the tourist, communicants and those without a god.

Four Dervishes – Hammad Rind

This cover shows an cartoon of an old box TV sitting on the hazy, dry ground. The text reads: Four Dervishes, Hammad Rind. "Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons" – Jon Gower

Four Dervishes draws on a long tradition of storytelling as it skewers issues like religious bigotry, injustice, the denial of women’s rights, and class division. Lavishly inventive, verbally rich, an exotic confection, this novel is both darkly thematic and humorously playful.

The Meat Tree – Gwyneth Lewis

This cover shows a cardboard cutout of a tree and a woman with a ragged dress in relief against a red background. The text reads: Gwyneth Lewis, The Meat Tree. New Stories from the Mabinogion.

A dangerous tale of desire, DNA, incest and flowers plays out within the wreckage of an ancient spaceship in The Meat Tree: an absorbing retelling of the Blodeuwedd Mabinogion myth by prizewinning writer and poet Gwyneth Lewis. An elderly investigator and his female apprentice hope to extract the fate of the ship’s crew from its antiquated virtual reality game system, but their empirical approach falters as the story tangles with their own imagination. By imposing a distance of another 200 years and millions of light years between the reader and the medieval myth, Gwyneth Lewis brings this tale of a woman made of flowers closer than ever before, perhaps uncomfortably so. After all, what man can imagine how sap burns in the veins of a woman?

We Could Be Anywhere By Now – Katherine Stansfield

This covers shows an abstract collage of a woman in 1920s style dress looking out over a balcony with into the blue sky. The text reads: We Could Be Anywhere By Now, Katherine Stansfield. "multi-layered and full of surprising transitions" - Patrick McGuinness

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.

Please – Christopher Meredith

This cover has a blue background. The yellow text reads: Please , Christopher Meredith.

Christopher Meredith’s fifth novel Please, full of humanity, sly humour and verbal invention, is his shortest and arguably his funniest, most innovative and most outrageous. It’s a tragicomedy touching on themes of the limits of knowledge, on isolation, and male frailty in new and playful ways as octogenarian language geek Vernon, whose never written anything longer than a memo, tries to write the story of his long marriage.

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Friday Poem – ‘Steel’ by Paul Henry

To celebrate the Six Nations and St David’s Day on the 1st March, this week’s Friday Poem is ’Steel‘ by Paul Henry from The Brittle Sea: New and Selected Poems.

This cover shows an abstract painting by Antony Goble of a red moon-shaped face amidst a swirling blue seal The text reads: Paul Henry, The Brittle Sea, New and Selected Poems

With a musician’s ear and an artist’s eye, Paul Henry’s poems of love and fatherhood, informed by the Welsh-speaking community of his childhood, bridge both the rural and urban experience. The Brittle Sea reacquaints readers with Henry’s vast gallery of characters, from the boy having his hair cut in ‘Daylight Robbery’ to the ghosts of his long, Newport poem, ‘Between Two Bridges.’ The new poems section includes the popular ‘Steel’, inspired by the Welsh national rugby team; others which revisit some of ‘The Visitors’ from The Milk Thief; and a moving elegy for the painter Anthony Goble.

Steel

(i) 10

Turn like a key
in the game’s lock
and open the score
with a kick –
open a door in the air
onto blue sky.

I dreamt I opened a door
in the sky
and half the world cheered.
I dreamt I surfaced
into a roar.
No sky was like this before.

Dart like a hare
through a hedge at dusk
and open the score
with a try –
open a door
in the earth.

I dreamt I opened a door
in the earth
and rose into light
out of an underworld
where, for years,
I carried their ghosts on my back.

Flash like a link
in a steel chain
like the sun on the sea
or a wave
in the industry
of a rising tide.

I dreamt I surfaced
into a roar.
The seagulls
shrill as whistles
were red and white.
I dreamt my ghosts had taken flight.

The Brittle Sea is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Celebrating Welsh Dark Skies Week

The 19th to the 27th February 2022 is the inaugural Welsh Dark Skies Week, a week-long series of events designed to raise awareness of light pollution and how it impacts wildlife, our health and our view of the stars. Wales has one of the largest percentages of protected dark skies in the world. The events this week also recognise the effort undertaken to preserve these protected landscapes for future generations.

In his book Dark Land, Dark Skies, astronomer Martin Griffiths marries the constellations as we know them with ancient Welsh stories from the Mabinogion to create a new perspective on the the night skies. Find out more in this extract.

This cover shows a photo of a black sky filled with stars. The text reads: Dark Land, Dark Skies, Martin Griffiths

In Dark Land, Dark Skies astronomer Martin Griffiths subverts conventional astronomical thought by eschewing the classical naming of constellations. He researches the past use of Welsh heroes from the Mabinogion in the naming of constellations, combining astronomy with a new perspective on Welsh mythology. The result is an informative and provocative guide to star-gazing which will delight amateur and professional astronomers alike. 

Dark Land, Dark Skies

One cannot escape the majesty of the heavens, the overwhelming perception of being a very small part of such a monumental edifice as the starry sky above us. Yet at the same time, one cannot help but feel at one with it. Such is the magnitude and wonder of our universal home that it comes as no surprise that the heavens have been studied from the time that man first walked the Earth. Every ancient civilization looked to the stars, grouped them into constellations and imbued them with a narrative hoping that the wisdom seen in the night sky would have a marked effect upon the course of life they could lead.

The ancient peoples of Britain, and especially the Cymru or the tribes that eventually would live in the land of Wales, also had their own cultural affinity for the sky. Many of the tales they told were shared in oral traditions that have been lost over the centuries. Others were recorded in post-Roman Britain by bards who kept the traditions alive.

In the immortal words of Monty Python: “what have the Romans ever done for us”? Well, they left us an invaluable system of writing and Roman script, so ancient tales began to be recorded by those who could read and write after the Roman system of education. This script was used to create the first poems and stories about Wales that drew upon some earlier oral traditions and tales. The oldest collected tales are from sources in thirteenth century Wales and probably date back to the fifth and sixth centuries, the time of the poets Taliesin and Aneirin. Both feature the lives of the princes of an extended kingdom of Wales: Aneirin was born in Edinburgh and wrote his classic tale of battle and loss Y Gododdin after the Anglo-Saxon invasion of eastern England. He is the first to mention some of the deeds of King Arthur. Conversely, Taliesin probably moved from court to court as his works in the Book of Taliesin praise king Urien of Hen Ogledd (now northern England and southern Scotland) and Brochfael Ysgithrog of Powys amongst others. This shows that Welsh as a language was highly influential in Britain at the time, and was probably the lingua franca of most of the country. So, tales of the great deeds and how they fitted into the sky would be commonplace in Celtic, early English and Pictish culture due to this literary influence.

The majority of old Welsh tales and poetry are known from a few volumes, Hanes Taliesin, the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Red Book of Hergestand the White Book of Rhydderch. Collectively some of these tales, poems and insights became the Mabinogion, the folk tales of Wales which were translated into English and published by Lady Charlotte Guest, albeit in a rather bowdlerized Victorian fashion, as a way to bring these tales to the masses that flooded into Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to work the iron and coal that put the country at the forefront of the industrial revolution. It also raised the language and culture of Wales to a status probably not enjoyed previously and gave Welsh literature, folklore and storytelling a similar status to classical Greek and Roman myths and poetry.

Today the Mabinogion and its related texts are a great resource of academic scholarship and argument. But that is not what I intend to explore here. Instead I will take some of these ancient tales and marry them to the constellations that they pre-figure in the sky or at least are associated with in legends and tales across the Celtic systems of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, including that of some English folk tales that have an origin in Celtic myths. I will do this to show that there is a rich culture of sky lore that ties events, stories and meanings together in a way that is fairly unique to Wales, and which is as important as the classical Greek myths that are usually used to illustrate the night sky.

Also of importance to this book is the fact that the night sky is threatened by increasing light pollution and that the education system that disseminates such myths, in English, Welsh or science classes, is also threatened. Many people in urban areas have never encountered the Milky Way or seen a truly dark sky. Additionally, they have probably not been introduced to the night sky or its store of treasures in a way that ties the wonders of our modern understanding to the cultural roots of the past. This book is intended to redress that balance, not only to show some of the beauty of the night sky, but to marry that beauty to the ancient Celtic landscape and tales of Wales.

The number of dark sky parks and dark sky reserves is now increasing due to the coordinated efforts of the International Dark Sky Association, the Commission for Dark Skies in the UK and other interested bodies globally. The scourge of light pollution and the carbon footprint necessary to generate the power to light up the night sky needlessly is now being recognized by smaller groups and public interest bodies such as local councils and national parks.

Wales is fortunate to have two International Dark Sky Reserves: Brecon Beacons National Park and Snowdonia National Park, areas where the dark night sky is preserved for future generations. These beautiful landscapes and their pristine skies are joined by the Elan Valley Dark Sky Park in mid-Wales and by ongoing work toward ensuring dark sky communities in Anglesey and the Pembroke Coast National Park. Wales may truly be called the first Dark Sky Nation, a fact of which we can all be proud as the heritage of both land and sky are safeguarded for future generations.

Capitalizing on this status it is possible to build and utilize a small observatory for public education and to enhance the experience of the night sky for everyone. The Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserve has such an observatory and a teaching classroom at the National Park Visitor Centre, which has been used extensively for training and for public events since it opened in 2014.

Using such an observatory can be a wonderful experience, especially for urban-based astronomers who don’t have access to very dark skies. Even those who may have portable equipment and have taken advantage of the dark sky status of the National Park enabling them to enhance their viewing will find the facilities at the observatory will allow access to the wonders of the night sky that they cannot reach from light-polluted areas.

In the case of the Brecon Beacons Observatory (BBO), its 30cm f5 reflector on a driven EQ6 mount thrilled over a thousand visitors in its first year of operation. Fitted with a piggybacked 120mm refractor for DSLR imaging or just visual observing and an Atik 314L CCD camera for imaging of objects, this small observatory has added to the experience of tourists and local astronomical societies within the national park and in south Wales generally. The BBO also has the advantage of a classroom at the visitor centre to enable education throughout the year. It is a place where the public can receive astronomy presentations and enjoy the warmth and conviviality of hot drinks on tap!

George Borrow, the nineteenth century Victorian gentleman traveler wrote in his book Wild Wales of the brooding, dark landscapes he encountered as he traversed the country. Those landscapes still exist in the heights of the Snowdonia mountains, the Cambrian range, the wine red hills of the Brecon Beacons, the shaded uplands of Mynydd Preselli and in the moorland landscapes of mid Wales. The mysterious waters of Wales’ lakes, mountain tarns, rivers and seas are at the heart of many tales that tie semi-mythical figures who trod the land with the starry patterns of the sky. That is the landscape and skyscape that I wish to bring to life and share with generations to come: the spectacle, wonder, curiosity and pride aroused in me from these old tales that I first learned as a boy. I hope that I have done them justice.

As so many of these old tales have been passed down orally, many aspects of them have changed over the years. Some of the associations between land, tale and sky are just discernable, whilst others are obvious in their placement with a particular constellation. Others share common themes across many cultures, and tales were probably shared among peoples, evolving and dispersing as their cultures fractured after the Roman withdrawal from Britain and greater Europe. It is not my intention to gerrymander tales into particular groups, but to make those possible connections plain and tell not just the Welsh side of the story but to include the classical interpretations too.

I hope that the reader enjoys this journey through the Welsh mythological landscape. I also hope that knowing some of these tales and their heavenly associations will bring a new interest to the night sky and any stargazing experience they will have.

Martin Griffiths BA BSc MSc FRAS FHEA

Brecon Beacons Observatory

Visit discoveryinthedark.wales for more information about Welsh Dark Skies Week 2022.

Dark Land, Dark Skies is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Poetry for Valentine’s Day

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with poetry collections that explore many different kinds of love. Don’t forget to sign up to our book club for 20% off all books you buy directly from us.

The Brittle Sea: New and Selected Poems by Paul Henry

This cover shows an absract painting by Anthony Goble. It give the appearance of sea with a red boat, a brick church and a moon like face amongst the waves.

With a musician’s ear and an artist’s eye, Paul Henry’s poems of love and fatherhood, informed by the Welsh-speaking community of his childhood, bridge both the rural and urban experience. The Brittle Sea reacquaints readers with Henry’s vast gallery of characters, from the boy having his hair cut in ‘Daylight Robbery’ to the ghosts of his long, Newport poem, ‘Between Two Bridges.’ The new poems section includes the popular ‘Steel’, inspired by the Welsh national rugby team; others which revisit some of ‘The Visitors’ from The Milk Thief; and a moving elegy for the painter Anthony Goble.

Heat Signature by Siobhán Campbell

This cover shows an abstract painting of red flowers that look like flames.

Heat Signature is the intelligent, provocative new collection of poems from Siobhán Campbell. An Irish poet, Campbell has inherited a rich vocabulary, the necessary ‘slant’ point of view, and a store of lively anecdote. This is a poetry that resists rapture and/or easy solutions, it rather glories in difficulty: the cussed, intractable nature of humanity, of a natural world beset with swarming bees, weeds and feral horses. There is a beautiful balance throughout between the forthright and the ironical. Heat Signature continues her fascination with her homeland in all its incarnations, both ancient and modern. These poems challenge preconceived notions as they resist cliché.

Masculine Happiness by David Foster-Morgan

This cover had a predominantly green and black background with a painting of a young man wearing a red and black striped top on the right hand side.

Masculine Happiness is a provocative yet subtle collection which explores the author’s ambivalence towards models of masculinity handed out to us by the media and modern society. Complex, ironic, layered, fashioned with an acute and subtle intelligence, these poems are as likely to reference Elvis as Borges. There is also a considerable amount of humour here, along with astute satire and insightful character poems. Foster-Morgan’s work repays the careful attention of thoughtful readers.

You by John Haynes

This cover has a pale yellow background. A close up photo of a Nigerian woman's face sits in the middle. She is wearing a checked head scarf and wide round glasses.

You is a book-length poem by the late poet John Haynes. The ‘You’ of the title is the narrator’s partner and wife of many years. The book is not just a celebration of, and meditation on, personal love and devotion, but a record of how such love moves out of a family and is refracted out into the community and the wider world. The tensions inherent in this are compounded by the cross-cultural nature of the union. The narrator is a white British man and his wife was born and raised in Nigeria. Exploring a partnership based on culturally quite different – and in some aspects painfully incompatible –conceptions of ‘love’, the poem  is knit together by philosophical themes of ‘I’ and ‘you’ seen from many perspectives. Shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize.

Other Women’s Kitchens by Alison Binney

This cover shows a colourful abstract painting of a kitchen inhabited by shadowy figures.

Other Women’s Kitchens by Alison Binney’s 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. Winner of the Mslexia pamphlet prize for poetry, 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.

Erato by Deryn Rees-Jones

This cover shows a blurred black and white image of a woman dancing with her arms out to the sides.

Taking its title from the muse of lyric poetry, Rees-Jones’s fifth collection Erato questions how we know and write about the beauty and the horrors of the world. Documentary-style autobiographical narratives are set alongside lyric fragments and poetic sequences as the repetitions of trauma and the errors and erasures of memory are explored. This is a book full of flames and scars, landscapes and animals; at its heart is a desire for the transformative music that runs beneath words, and an understanding of the bodies we inhabit when we love. Shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize.

A Second Whisper by Lynne Hjelmgaard

This cover shows an abstract painting made up of blue, grey and splashes of yellow with two figures in the foreground.

A Second Whisper is a thoughtful and sensitive collection that reflects the changing identities of a woman: in motherhood, in widowhood, in friendship and grief. There are elegies to the loss in 2014 of her mentor and partner, the poet Dannie Abse which are a tribute to their deep friendship. There are also poems to her late husband who died in 2006 and for their children and for relationships from the author’s past in New York City and Denmark. The poems are both elegiac and celebratory: they move and change tone as the author travels to the past and negotiates through the geography of grief and feelings of displacement in London, and finally opens to her new life in the present.

Browse a wide range of fantastic poetry collections on our Poetry pages, or visit Coming Soon to pre-order books coming out in 2022.

Friday Poem – From ‘You’ by John Haynes

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th February, this week’s Friday Poem is taken from the long-poem You by Costa-Award winning poet John Haynes.

You is a book-length poem by the late poet John Haynes. The ‘You’ of the title is the narrator’s partner and wife of many years. The book is not just a celebration of, and meditation on, personal love and devotion, but a record of how such love moves out of a family and is refracted out into the community and the wider world. The tensions inherent in this are compounded by the cross-cultural nature of the union. The narrator is a white British man and his wife was born and raised in Nigeria. Exploring a partnership based on culturally quite different – and in some aspects painfully incompatible –conceptions of ‘love’, the poem  is knit together by philosophical themes of ‘I’ and ‘you’ seen from many perspectives. Shortlisted for the T.S Eliot Prize.

that they flew back across the whole Sahara
sleeping on the wing, as you begin
to now, with those small sounds, back to Kagoma –
that house where I met your mother in
her starched tall headtie and her Dutch wax print
and just a little shy to meet your White
Man, but so glad with wrinkles smiling tight –

just as I bend across you, turn the lamp
off, draw the curtains, thinking with what skill
I managed it on that rickety camp
bed, making love with not the faintest squeal
or crunk of springs. Like press-ups, I recall,
rugby-fit then, mouth open while I howled
into the dark not letting out a sound,

or that night, at the dam, when we made love,
remember, there beside the road, half in
the car half out, with confidence enough
to dare the world to drive towards us, then
with full light on, and nights at Number Ten,
insane with flesh, and resurrected new
again each time as neither I nor you.

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Friday Poem – ‘Sailing by Silvership’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Sailing by Silvership’ by Polly Atkin from her most recent collection Much With Body.

This cover shows a painting of a swimmer floating on her back in a blue-green lake.

Much With Body is the startlingly original second collection by poet Polly Atkin. The beauty of the Lake District is both balm and mirror, refracting pain and also soothing it with distraction. Much of the landscape is lakescape, giving the book a watery feel. There is also a distinct link with the past in a central section of found poems taken from transcripts of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, from a period late in her life when she was often ill. In common with the works of the Wordsworths, these poems share a quality of the metaphysical sublime. Their reverence for the natural world is an uneasy awe, contingent upon knowledge of our fragility and mortality.

Sailing by Silvership
The moon is a ship
and we are sailing in her
how can we not talk about her?
She glistens
and we glisten
she throws out nets of herself, trailing
clouds like weeds
and we walk them as bridges
to the stars, arm in arm, singing.
And the stars themselves
are glistening aren’t they?
like specks of quartz in dark rock, spangling
the great unknowable
expanse as it squeezes
into this particular wedge of night
the swell of this road
the dark fell sea
soon, we will be there, sister
waving from the deck
of the one you call
dipper – so big we can sit in it! – no
so big
it will carry us away.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Day: A Recipe from The Seasonal Vegan

Sunday 23rd January is Sticky Toffee Pudding Day. As this month is also Veganuary, we wanted to re-share this indulgent Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding recipe from The Seasonal Vegan by Sarah Philpott. The perfect way to celebrate, especially when served with hot vanilla custard on a cold winter weekend.

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. Perfect for long-term vegans and novices alike.

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding with Vanilla Custard

Photograph by Manon Houston

1 hour 30 minutes | Serves 8

Ingredients

For the pudding:

– 250g dates
– 100g soft brown sugar
– 100g vegan butter, plus extra for greasing
– 3 apples, grated
– 300g self-raising flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp ground allspice
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp treacle

For the sauce:

– 150g vegan butter, softened
– 350g dark muscovado sugar
– 1 tbsp black treacle
– 50ml oat milk
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt

For the custard:

– 1 litre oat milk
– 150g white sugar
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– A pinch of sea salt
– 1 tbsp cornflour
– A pinch of turmeric (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the dates in a bowl and pour over 250ml boiling water and leave for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Tip in the flour, baking powder, grated apple, allspice and salt and stir well. Add the vanilla extract and treacle and stir again.

Lightly grease a large dish or tin and pour the batter in, making sure to spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by melting the butter, muscovado sugar and treacle over a very low heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Once the butter is melted, stir gently until everything else is melted too. Now stir in the oat milk, vanilla extract and salt, then turn up the heat and when it’s bubbling and hot, take it off the heat.

Take the pudding out of the oven and leave to stand for 20–30 minutes. To make the custard, put the oat milk, vanilla, salt and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the cornflour and bring to the boil. Keep stirring until you have a thick consistency, then add the turmeric, if using.

Pour the toffee sauce over the pudding and cut into eight slices. Pour over the custard and serve.

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Sarah talks us through her recipe for Beetroot and Hazelnut Soup

Friday Poem – ‘21. When he tells me I’m not allowed’ by Kim Moore

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘21. When he tells me I’m not allowed’ by Kim Moore from All The Men I Never Married.

The cover of All The Men I Never Married shows a collage of a man made up of small images of nature - butterflies, flowers, leaves

Kim Moore’s eagerly awaited second collection All The Men I Never Married is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

21.
When he tells me I’m not allowed to play with cars
because I’m a girl, I bring his arm up to my mouth
and bite. I’m sent to the Wendy House to pretend
to be good. Blank-faced dolls stare up at me.
Pretend oven filled with plastic fish-fingers.
Pretend windows with flowery curtains
sewn by someone else’s mother. Pretend hoover,
pretend washing machine. Pretend teapots
and tea-set. I watch through a gap in the wall
as my teacher sits in her chair, crossing her legs
in the way she told us only yesterday
we should copy. Be ladylike she said.
Stop showing your knickers. I’m burning in here
as she calls the class to order, waits for them
to cross their legs and settle. I long to sit
at her feet, listen to all the old stories
of sleeping women who wait to be rescued.
The book is a bird, its wings held tight in her hands.
She bends the cover back so the spine cracks,
balances it on one palm, turns to me and tells me
turn around, at once, face the wall.

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