Friday Poem ­– ‘Thirlmere’ by Rhiannon Hooson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Thirlmere’ by Rhiannon Hooson from 100 Poems to Save the Earth.

100 Poems to Save the Earth edited by Zoe 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 from editors Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Thirlmere
After we lit the last candle
the gales couldn't hold us any more.
Along the lane the walls had begin
to slump, water sluicing through them 
green as grass, but we drove
through anyway and out into the valley.
The fields were polished flat.
Trees were hung with drooping ropes
of fleece that caught in the breeze like kudzu.
Banks of shale sprawled
draining across the roads, and the sky
was open, dizzying and blue, tall into the air
above the crowns of our heads, 
and the slate face of the lake
was the same as always. Lakes survive
any flood, lie oblique in their hollows,
streaked with the half-truths of glimpsed reflections. 
The birds were only then beginning to sound.
All across the fields the fallen trees were burning.

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

Rhiannon Hooson’s collection The Other City is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Seren Christmas Gift Guide 2021

Our gift guide returns for 2021 with loads of great new recommendations. From old favourites to brand new books that are hot off the press, find something for everyone this Christmas.

Bar 44 Tapas y Copas by Owen and Tom Morgan

Bar 44 Tapas y Copas is the perfect gift for hardcore foodies and home cooks alike. Packed with over 100 out of this world recipes which elevate Spanish cuisine to exciting new heights, it includes dishes for any occasion. Chicken sobrassada and spiced yoghurt, beetroot gazpacho, tuna tartare with apple ajo blanco, lamb empanada, strawberry and cava sorbet and pear and olive oil cake are just some of the dishes you can try at home. There’s even a chapter dedicated to sherry and Spanish wines with some fantastic cocktails mixed in for good measure. What more could you want?

Seren Gift Subscription

The new one year Seren Gift Subscription is the perfect present for any book lover. The recipient will receive three brand-new Seren books across the year plus a range of other subscriber perks. Buy today and we’ll post them a gift card explaining who the gift is from to open on Christmas Day in advance of the first book arriving in January 2022. Every new subscriber will receive a Seren tote-bag, notebook and pen with their first delivery.

Two book deal – Please and Still by Christopher Meredith

Published simultaneously earlier this year, renowned author Christopher Meredith’s two new books will satisfy any literature lover. His poetry collection Still uses the title word as a fulcrum to balance paradoxical concerns: stillness and motion, memory and forgetting, sanity and madness, survival and extinction. Meanwhile his short novel Please is a verbally dazzling tragicomedy about hidden passion and regret in which octogenarian language geek Vernon tries to find a way to write the story of his long marriage.

All The Men I Never Married by Kim Moore

One of this year’s most highly anticipated poetry books, All The Men I Never Married is the astounding new collection by Kim Moore. Pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire, this collection speaks to the experiences of many women. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

Real Oxford by Patrick McGuinness

In Real Oxford, Professor Patrick McGuinness guides us through the past, but also the present Oxford, as he walks the city from the station to the ringroad. He tracks its canals and towpaths, its footbridges and tunnels to introduce us to the unnoticed and reflect on the familiar, revealing that the ‘Real Oxford’ is more than dreaming spires, bicycles, and Inspector Morse. This is a guide to Oxford unlike any other.

Japan Stories by Jayne Joso

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! This work also includes Joso’s stories, ‘I’m not David Bowie’ and ‘Maru-chan’ an homage to Yayoi Kusama. 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.  

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

A book for both the climate conscious and poetry fanatics, this landmark anthology brings together 100 poems by the best new and established contemporary poets from Britain, Ireland, America and beyond. They invite us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, and pay attention to what we have been missing. The defining crisis of our time is revealed to be fundamentally a crisis of perception. We must act now if we are to save the only planet we have.

Four Dervishes by Hammad Rind

“Easily the most remarkable work of fiction to come out of Wales in a thousand moons” says Jon Gower. This outstanding debut novel from Hammad Rind is a satirical comedy which takes inspiration from the dastan, an ornate form of oral history. Forced onto the street by a power cut, the unnamed narrator finds himself sheltering in a cemetery where he comes across four others – a grave digger, an aristocrat, an honourable criminal and a messiah – each with a past, and with a story to tell. Crimes have been committed, dark family secrets revealed, fortunes rise and fall, the varieties of love are explored, and new selves are discovered in a rich round of storytelling. And as the Disappointed Man discovers, a new story is about to begin…

Welsh Quilts by Jen Jones

Welsh Quilts Jen Jones

In Welsh Quilts expert author Jen Jones presents an authoritative guide to the history and art of the quilt in Wales. Driven by her desire to see this gloriously high-quality craft revived, Jones set out to research the topic which led to the creation of her extensive quilt collection, now housed in the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter. Including stunning, high resolution images of the bold designs and intricate stitching of the quilts in her collection, Welsh Quilts is the essential book on the subject, whether you are a quilter yourself, or simply interested in quilting heritage.

Troeon : Turnings by Philip Gross, Cyril Jones and Valerie Coffin Price

This beautifully illustrated, bilingual collection (a great gift for Welsh learners) sees two poets, each confident in their own traditions, meet in the hinterland between translation and collaboration ­– Cyril Jones from the disciplines of Welsh cynghanedd, Philip Gross from the restless variety of English verse. Rather than lamenting the impossibility of reproducing any language’s unique knots of form and content in translation, they trust each other to explore the energies released. Valerie Coffin Price’s striking letter press designs make this a fantastic gift.

Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase

Fans of historical crime fiction are sure to be captivated by Leslie Scase’s latest Inspector Chard mystery. In Fatal Solution Inspector Thomas Chard once again finds himself faced with a murder in bustling Victorian Pontypridd. On the face of it the case appears unremarkable, even if it isn’t obviously solvable, but following new leads takes Chard into unexpected places. A second murder, a sexual predator, industrial espionage and a mining disaster crowd into the investigation, baffling the Inspector and his colleagues and Chard finds his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture. In this page-turning story of detection, both Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page…

Tide-Race by Brenda Chamberlain

Tide-race is Brenda Chamberlain’s remarkable account of life on Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli in Welsh), a remote and mysterious island off the coast of North Wales, where she lived from 1947 to 1961, during the last days of its hardy community. The combination of Bardsey, ancient site of Christian pilgrimage, wild and dangerous landscape, and Brenda Chamberlain, Royal Academy trained artist, results in a classic book, vividly illustrated by the author’s line drawings.

Much With Body by Polly Atkin

Much With Body by Polly Atkin is a Poetry Book Society Winter Choice. 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, the author’s wild swimming being just one kind of immersion. 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.

Just You and the Page by Sue Gee

Part biography, part memoir, Just You and the Page by acclaimed novelist Sue Gee is a must-read for the aspiring writer. Opening in 1971, with the dramatist Michael Wall hammering out his plays on a portable typewriter, and concluding in 2020, when the novelist and academic Josie Barnard is teaching students to compose novels on Instagram, Gee interviews twelve distinctly different writers about their craft. As she examines what has shaped them and their careers, several themes emerge: struggle, inspiration, dedication, and above all, resilience.

A Last Respect edited by Glyn Mathias and Daniel G. Williams

A must-have anthology for fans of contemporary Welsh poetry, A Last Respect celebrates the Roland Mathias Prize, awarded to outstanding books of poetry 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.

Morlais by Alun Lewis

Morlais Alun Lewis

Miner’s son Morlais Jenkins is already being educated away from his background at grammar school when he is adopted, on the death of her own son, by the wife of the local colliery owner. Despite the heavy price, Morlais’s parents recognise the opportunity for their son to make a better future. Morlais is a gifted poet and, stiffled by middle class life, his adoptive mother encourages him to be neither working class or middle class, but true to his talent. As Morlais struggles to find his place between his two families, his two backgrounds and his desire to become a poet, this enthralling novel by Alun Lewis is the journey of a boy who becomes a man.

The Amazingly Astonishing Story by Lucy Gannon

By turns laugh out loud funny and deeply sad, The Amazingly Astonishing Story (which was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year) is a frank and surprising look into a child’s tumultuous mind, a classic story of a working-class girl growing up in the 60s. Her Catholic upbringing, a father torn between daughter and new wife, her irreverent imagination and determination to enjoy life, mean this really is an amazing story (including meeting the Beatles).

Regional Pamphlets edited by Amy Wack

Our series of regional poetry pamphlets celebrates the beauty, history, and lively everyday goings-on of four areas of Wales: Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia, the Borders, and the capital city of Cardiff. Each pamphlet comes with an envelope and a postcard – the perfect stocking filler for your loved ones this Christmas.

Darkness in the City of Light by Tony Curtis

The ‘city of light’ under German occupation: Paris, a place, a people, lives in flux. And among these uncertainties, these compromised loyalties, these existences under constant threat, lives Marcel Petiot, a mass murderer. A doctor, a resistance fighter, a collaborator: who can tell? Stretching backwards and forwards through the twentieth century, this remarkable multi-form novel combines fiction, journals, poetry and images in its investigation of what war can let loose, and how evil can dominate a man. The compelling debut novel by Tony Curtis.

Real Cambridge by Grahame Davies

Grahame Davies revisits his own university town in Real Cambridge to examine it anew and discovers another Cambridge away from A List alumni, Nobel prizes and scientific discoveries. Behind the picture-postcard image of punts, Pimms and polymaths, is the working East Anglian fenland community that gave us Pink Floyd, Association Football, the Society for Psychical Research, the Cambridge Folk Festival, the Reality Checkpoint – and the graffiti protestor who sprayed his messages in Latin… Tourists and armchair travellers alike will be surprised by the discoveries Davies makes in this offbeat exploration.

The Owl House by Daniel Butler

In The Owl House, Daniel Butler charts his relationship with two barn owls which nested in the barn of his rural mid-Wales home. In this pastoral exploration of his locale, rich in wildlife of all kinds, he roams the mountains and forests, takes trips to the coast, encounters all manner of animals and birds, and grows to understand the relationship between the local people and their surroundings. A rich and vivid portrait of one of the most remote and sparsely populated areas of Britain – mid-Wales – broad in its horizons yet full of fascinating detail.

We Have to Leave the Earth by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. As well as tender poems about family and mental health, there are two sequences: Songs for the Arctic, inspired by field work done for the Arctic at the Thought Foundation, poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape sensitive to the effects of global-warming. And The House of Rest, a history in nine poems of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who pioneered feminist activism, and helped to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times. 

All the Souls by Mary-Ann Constantine

While away the long winter nights with this enthralling collection of short fiction by Mary-Ann Constantine. Two doctors and a folklorist meet in northern Brittany in 1898, determined to prove that leprosy still exists. But their ardour for collecting evidence draws them into a dark, watchful landscape where superstition is rife. From poignant and dangerous obsessions with the iconic (a Romano-British figurine; a carved wooden Christ-child; a bronze angel) to direct, often puzzled conversations with ghosts, the characters in this book all strive to make contact with the impossible.

The Golden Valley by Phil Cope

Illustrated with stunning photographs, The Golden Valley is Phil Cope’s personal account of the Garw valley where he has lived for thirty-five years. In it he explores the valley’s history: sparsely worked agriculture; boom-town coal exploitation; sudden, followed by gentle, post-industrial decline; attempts at re-invigoration through heritage and leisure; and now, existing in a post-covid world. He photographs everything from the ancient Garw hilltops, to the terraced houses of the coal villages, to the valley’s outstanding areas of natural beauty.

The White Trail by Fflur Dafydd

In this contemporary retelling from Seren’s New stories from the Mabinogion series, award-winning writer Fflur Dafydd transforms the medieval Welsh Arthurian myth of the Mabinogion’s ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ into a 21st century quest for love and revenge. Life is tough for Cilydd, after his wife Goleuddydd, who is nine months pregnant, seems to vanish into thin air at a supermarket one wintry afternoon. Cilydd gets his cousin, Arthur – a private eye who has never solved a single case – to help him with the investigation. So begins a tale of intrigue and confusion that ends with a wild boar chase and a dangerous journey to the House of the Missing.

Newspaper Taxis edited by Phil Bowen, Damian Furniss and David Woolley

January 1963. ‘Please, Please Me’ by The Beatles shoots to number one. So begins a new era, in which one band transforms the face of music, youth and popular culture. Taking in everything from the music, their influence, the way we lived then and the way we live now, this book is a response to the Beatles’ creativity and capacity to influence successive generations. With contributions by a myriad of poets including, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Elaine Feinstein, Peter Finch, Adrian Henri, Philip Larkin, Lachlan Mackinnon, Roger McGough, Sheenagh Pugh, Jeremy Reed and Carol Rumens. Beatles fans young and old will want this anthology to add to their collection.

The Green Bridge edited by John Davies

This new edition of The Green Bridge, collects work by twenty-five of the Wales’s foremost writers of the twentieth century in an entertaining and varied anthology. Horror, satire, humour, war, tales of the aristocracy, of navvies, love, and madness, industry, the countryside, politics and sport: these stories provide insight into the changing values of Wales and the world. Includes work by Dannie Abse, Glenda Beagan, Ron Berry, Duncan Bush, Brenda Chamberlain, Rhys Davies, Dorothy Edwards, Caradoc Evans, George Ewart Evans, Margiad Evans, Sian Evans, Geraint Goodwin, Nigel Helseltine, Richard Hughes, Emyr Humphreys, Glyn Jones, Gwyn Jones, Alun Lewis, Clare Morgan, Leslie Norris, Ifan Pughe, Alun Richards, Jaci Stephen, Dylan Thomas and Gwyn Thomas.

Auscultation by Ilse Pedler

Auscultation means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. Ilse Pedler is poet of breadth and depth. There are poems about waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother. This is a compelling debut from a striking new voice.

Wild Places by Iolo Williams

Television naturalist Iolo Williams picks his top 40 nature sites in Wales. From Cemlyn on Anglesey to the Newport Wetlands, from Stackpole in Pembrokeshire to the Dee Estuary, Williams criss-crosses Wales. His list takes in coastal sites from marshes to towering cliffs – plus Skomer and other islands – mountains, valleys, bogs, meadows, woods and land reclaimed from industry. Drawing on his considerable knowledge, Williams guides readers and visitors to the natural delights of each site. Naturalists of all kinds will find much to enjoy in this beautifully illustrated book.

Poetry Wales Subscription

Founded in 1965, Poetry Wales is Wales’ foremost poetry magazine. Edited by Zoë Brigley, the magazine publishes internationally respected contemporary poetry, features and reviews in its triannual print and digital magazine. Its mission is to sustain and preserve the artistic works both inspiring our literary present and shaping our literary future. The perfect gift for any poetry lover.

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Guest Post: COP26 – Kristian Evans on poetry & the climate crisis

Today’s guest post is by Kristian Evans, co-editor of the landmark anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth – vital reading as world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26.

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 from editors Zoë Brigley and Kristian Evans, this landmark anthology is a call to action to fight the threat facing the only planet we have. 

Leaders from the world’s governments and businesses are currently meeting in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Delegates are attempting to create a roadmap towards a zero-carbon future, to find ways to prevent the earth from warming by more than 1.5C, and to explore other technological and financial options to help us mitigate climate change.

Considering the results of previous conferences, we can be forgiven for feeling less than optimistic about this one. Surely here are the same old people, using the same old tools, trying to make the problem conform to the same old solutions they have found for it.

Einstein famously said “no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew.”

So how does our culture see the world today? What does ‘nature’ mean to those of us in the West? What does our way of life tell us about our unconscious beliefs and attitudes to it? What might ‘seeing the world anew’ mean?

empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.

From ‘A Portable Paradise’ by Roger Robinson – 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Since the Enlightenment, it has become the custom to see nature as a machine, something inert, a predictable resource, perfectly intelligible to reason. Animals are considered to be little more than complicated robots – it’s ok to test cosmetics, drugs and ammunition on them. Nature can be dominated, controlled and tamed. There is nothing truly strange or mysterious out there, certainly no ghost haunting the moving the parts.

We find these beliefs reflected in our perception of human life: consciousness is only a brain process, life has no intrinsic meaning and ends completely in death. We don’t have souls and should find fulfilment in material things, tools and toys that will, we are promised, get bigger and better year after year. Get it while you can and drink it dry, because time is running out and soon you will be gone.

At least, that’s how it used to be. That was the dream. Poets were never quite convinced by it and climate change and the ecological crisis are now ringing a very loud alarm. Blake railed against the oppression of a rationalising utilitarian mind he saw embodied in ‘the dark Satanic mills’. The Romantics, foreshadowing Freud, found plenty of evidence that the Enlightenment had a concealed dark side, that it was haunted and shaped by the superstitions it thought it had banished.

Illustration of ‘The Ancient Mariner’ by artist David Jones

Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is now often read as an ecological fable, a warning of the consequences of adopting a violent, domineering attitude to nature. Most of us will have seen images of dead Albatross chicks, their stomachs stuffed full of the bits of plastic they’ve been fed by the parent bird, the shiny junk plucked from the waves, fragments of the rubbish with which we fill our own lives. We’re all the Mariner now, it seems; every one of us has killed the Albatross.

Yet at the end of his terrifying hallucinatory voyage to the edges of the world, to the edges of himself, the Mariner does “see the world anew.” He is reconciled to a vision of nature as a complex web of relationships, beautiful and strange, everything intertwined with everything else.

Albatros chick

What if we were no longer separated and isolated, disconnected from nature and each other? We too might see a world transformed. What was once viewed as a collection of dead, inert or robotic objects, might now be experienced as a community of vibrantly alive subjects, multi-faceted aspects of a cosmos full of meaning, intelligence and imagination not confined to humans, but distributed throughout everything.

When we were editing 100 Poems to Save the Earth thoughts such as these were never far from our minds. Poets have always kept an ear open to communication from the earth, imagining what the birds and fish and fungi, the oceans and forests might say. It’s not hard to hear them. They are only saying what our own souls are saying after all. Stop. Change. Please listen.

It is as if there were some irresistible force
blowing us over into a strange new century
that billows beyond us, between our thin heart-beats.

From ‘Climate’ by George Szirtes – 100 Poems to Save the Earth

It’s time also to listen to those of us beyond the West, especially indigenous peoples, who are often on the front line of climate change and habitat and biodiversity loss, and who still hold a vision of the possibility of a meaningful existence with an intelligent world. As Ozawa Bineshi Albert of Climate Justice Alliance says, “Solutions to the climate crisis must come from those communities most directly impacted. At COP26, the orientation of the international community must come from them, not economists, corporations and politicians who created the problems in the first place. Solutions can’t be about us without us.”

The ecological crisis is transforming us, forcing us to reassess the relationship between mind and nature, forcing us to revise our cultural assumptions and beliefs about who we are, where we are going and what we want to become. COP26 might attempt technological solutions and new finance initiatives. It might be an exercise in perception management that enables business as usual. A new dark age might be closer than we realise.

Whatever happens, if we don’t jettison the old mechanistic worldview and learn to see the world anew as alive and intelligent, we will remain stuck in the old ways of thinking that got us into this crisis in the first place.

Kristian Evans

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

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David Baker reads ‘Pastoral’ from 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Friday Poem – ‘Beware Welsh Learners’ by Katherine Stansfield

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Beware Welsh Learners’ by Katherine Stansfield from her collection We Could Be Anywhere By Now.

This cover shows a painting of a woman looking out at an abstract landscape.

In her second collection, We Could Be Anywhere by Now, Katherine Stansfield brings us poems about placement and displacement full of both wry comedy and uneasy tension. Stints in Wales, Italy and Canada, plus return trips to her native Cornwall all spark poems delighting in the off-key, the overheard, the comedy and pathos of everyday life.

‘multi-layered and full of surprising transitions’ – Patrick McGuiness

Beware Welsh learners
Welsh learners are self-obsessed.
Everything is I with them.
Welsh learners are amnesiacs.
They forget the past in the classroom’s constant present.
They can’t commit to the future.
Welsh learners are liars.
They claim they work as civil servants, as teachers.
They say they work for Swalec.
They have exams in these falsehoods.
Welsh learners are cunning.
They ask how you are but they don’t really care.
They only want you for your vowels.
Welsh learners make poor friends.
They invite you for coffee and when you confide
you’ve been fired, that your wife left you and the doctors
think it’s cancer, all they do is smile, nod and say
bore da, and then, bore da bore da, again.

We Could Be Anywhere By Now is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Guest Post – Polly Atkin: On Co-Tenancy 

In Much With Body I wanted to write into and around the relationship between us – as individuals, as humans – and the ecosystems we live in. I wanted explore to what Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara call the ‘contingency between environments and bodies’ that is central to disability poetics, with a focus on the particular environment I have made my home.[1] In many ways this is an extension of conversations begun in my previous collection, Basic Nest Architecture, which revolve around questions of belonging, of location and dislocation, of co-habitation, of what it is to live in a sick body in an ailing world. I’ve always found it difficult to separate myself from my environment, to draw a clear line or apprehend a solid barrier between me and the rest of the world, to be certain what is internal or external. This sense of permeability, coupled with a complicated sense of bodily risk, determines all of my encounters with the world, all of my movements through it.

Photo of a deer on a hillside.

I wanted to bring that sense of permeability into these poems – from those drawn from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Rydal Journals, that place rain and pain in parallel, both leaching in an out of the body – to the poems about the frogs and toads who come into our house every summer. We are none of us able to call ourself separate from one another.

Photo of a frog

There is a kind of eco-poetry, and a broader kind of nature writing, that wants to remove the human observer from the observation, to cut out the body of the writer from the writing. It sees the human as degrading the nonhuman, as distracting, diverting essential attention. I can’t help seeing this tendency in nature writing to blot out the body of the writer as coupled to the tendency Virginia Woolf writes about in her essay ‘On Being Ill’ to present the body as a clear pane of glass to see the world through. I am not a clear pane of glass. My noisy, interrupting body never lets me forget its presence. As Woolf writes, ‘all day, all night, the body intervenes’. To me the relationship between the intervening body and the other outside is the poem. To pretend otherwise is the distraction.

Photo of an owl amongst the branches of a tree.

I wanted to bring the intervention of the body into the foreground of these poems, whether they are centred on an encounter with a deer, or an owl that won’t be photographed, or a disappearing hospital, or the body’s internal machinations. I cannot write an owl, but I can write myself observing an owl, what observing it in my body gives me, what the co-presence of our bodies in the same space does, what it changes, what it enables. I wanted to write about co-habitation, about co-tenancy of a shared home, whether that is a woodland, society, or our bodies. Luckily for me, my co-tenants were obliging.

Polly Atkin

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, the author’s wild swimming being just one kind of immersion. 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.

Polly Atkin’s latest collection Much With Body is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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


[1] Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara, ‘Introduction’, in Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities Toward an Eco- Crip Theory, ed by Sarah Jaquette Ray and Jay Sibara (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), p.1.

Friday Poem – ‘What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke from her new collection We Have To Leave The Earth.

This cover shows a photo of a ball of tangled fishing twine resting against a pink and blue background.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet. There are hints of a struggle with depression stemming from a difficult childhood. There is a cherished child diagnosed with autism. There are two sequences: Songs for the Arctic, inspired by field work done for the Arctic at the Thought Foundation, poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape, aware of the fraught history of exploration and sensitive to the way changes in the pack ice are the most significant indicators of man-made global warming. The other sequence, The House of Rest, is a history in nine poems of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who pioneered feminist activism, and helped to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, which facilitated sexual violence in the name of disease prevention. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times. 

What We Found in the Arctic, or, the Geopolitics of New Natural Resources Uncovered by Melted Ice
Mme and M. Dumoulin, missing since 1942
Nickel
Rubber ducks
A Russian flag pronged on the seafloor
Copper
Three Incan children, sacrificed
Anthrax
Bird fossils from the Cretaceous period
Gold
Prehistoric skis
Saami, Nenets, Khanty, Evenk, Chukchi, Aleut, Yupik, Dolgan, and Inuit
Natural Gas
1700 species of plants
Record levels of microplastics
Diamonds
A hunter from 3000 B.C.
Oil
A horse from the Iron Age, with perfectly preserved manure
Territorial claims for the Arctic Continental Shelf
Polar bears, starving
Coal
Disputations concerning territorial waters
45,000 Russian troops
3,400 Russian military vehicles
41 Russian ships
15 Russian submarines
110 Russian planes
The albedo effect, claimed by no one

We Have To Leave The Earth is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Join us online for the virtual launch of We Have To Leave The Earth on Tuesday 16th November from 7pm. Carolyn will be reading from the collection alongside guest readers Liz Berry and Jen Hadfield. Register for free via Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/193473353007.

Friday Poem – ‘6. That a man approached you in a nightclub’ by Kim Moore

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘6. That a man approached you in a nightclub’ by Kim Moore from her new collection All The Men I Never Married.

This cover shows a collage of small nature images to make up the pink body of a man again a black background.

All The Men I Never Married, Kim Moore’s eagerly awaited second collection, 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.

6.

That a man approached you in a nightclub.
That you were polite at first, then turned your back.
That he insisted on giving you his number.
That you put it in your pocket.
That you danced with your friend all night.
That he stood and watched.
That you were drinking tequila.
That you licked salt from the back of your hand.
That he was waiting outside.
That he grabbed your arm and spun you round.
That you snapped.
That you’ve always had a temper.
That you were not afraid.
That you swung your fist and clipped his jaw.
That he kicked you between the legs.
That he shouted I will end you.
That you fell to the pavement.
That he tried to kick you again.
That a bouncer came and held him back.
That he shouted I will end you, I will end you, I will end you. 
That the police were called.
That he vanished into the night.
That you were taken to the station.
That he turned up with his lawyer.
That he turned up with his father.
That you still hadn’t sobered up.
That he was smirking.
That it was fresher’s week.
That you were in pain.
That it was hard to explain about his number in your pocket. That now you were afraid.
That you were advised not to press charges.
That you hit him first.
That this all happened many years ago.
That you laugh about it now.
That you say well, I shouldn’t have hit him.
That I both agree and disagree with this statement.
That being our bodies in public is a dangerous thing.
That being in public is a dangerous thing.
That our bodies are dangerous things.

All The Men I Never Married is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Join us for the hybrid launch of All The Men I Never Married on Friday 15th October. The in person event at Castle Green Hotel in Kendal will be streamed live online. Register through Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/172062632967. Registration for in person tickets closes at 4pm today (8 Oct).

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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

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

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

Friday Poem – ‘Unseen Island’ by Christine Evans

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Unseen Island’ by Christine Evans from our new anthology A Last Respect.

The cover of A Last Respect shows a painting of rolling green fields beneath a blue sky. In the distance, a lake is visible at the bottom of the valley.

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. Two accompanying essays provide the context in which the poets work. In her Introduction, Jane Aaron writes about Roland Mathias: a poet himself, but also an influential editor and cultural commentator who did much to foster and develop poetry in Wales. A Last Respect is a continuation of his legacy. Daniel G. Williams’ Afterword is an incisive discussion about poetry in Wales over the past sixty years: where it started from and how it changed. A must-have anthology of poetry from Wales.

Featuring Dannie Abse, Tiffany Atkinson, Ruth Bidgood, Ailbhe Darcy, Rhian Edwards, Christine Evans, John Freeman, Philip Gross, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, and Owen Sheers.

Unseen Island. From accross the sleeping Sound the unseen island nudges at my consciousness – wind-blown Enlli; nowhere more steeped in calm, more resonant of growing. There, air trembles with associations and I am played to a tune I scarcely recognise easy as water, but earthed. Is it energy or faith that breeds content in me? Washed smooth, drawn out, moulded to acceptance like clay on a wheel, so like a compass I am pointing always where you lie – elusive, shimmering – but no mirage: my unblurring.

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

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Friday Poem – ‘Roadblock’ by Ilse Pedler

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Roadblock’ by Ilse Pelder from her newly published debut collection Auscultation.

The cover of Auscultation shows a photograph of a stethoscope lying on a white background. An orange and red butterfly is resting on the cord.

Ilse Pedler is a veterinary surgeon who works in Kendal. Her debut collection is Auscultation, which means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. There are poems about vets waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are also poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother.

“Unique and utterly original.” – Kim Moore

Roadblock
The night is a vast blank letter waiting
to be written and suddenly here are the words:
blue and red interrupting the darkness
glancing off shocked faces,
hi-vis jackets, shoulders hunched
against bad news, stationary cars.
I lower my window, say I am the vet
and am waved on through.
In the road a horse, spotlit, head down,
resting a leg as though tired from a ride,
no blood, just trembling under my hands,
steam beading the fine hairs on its flared nostrils,
and that leg; it is like a child’s drawing,
bones angled all the wrong way.
I don’t have what I need and am taken
to the surgery, speed elongating
the streetlights, then back past journeys
put on hold, through the roadblock
to the horse and its bent back leg,
sweat starting to carve rivers in his coat, his heat
and the pulse of him that I can feel still
through the rigid cold of the gun.

Auscultation is available now. As it is Independent Bookshop Week, why not buy through bookshop.org.

We’re hosting the online launch for Auscultation on Tuesday 13th July from 7pm. Register to join us for free via Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/159986866023.

Watch Ilse reading her poem ‘Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps’, also from Auscultation: