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.
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.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Unseen Island’ by Christine Evans from our new anthology A Last Respect.
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.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Roadblock’ by Ilse Pelder from her newly published debut collection Auscultation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘September’s Child’ by Dai George from his new collection Karaoke Kingwhich was published this week.
Dai George’s confident second collection Karaoke King, 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.
This week we publish Ilse Pedler’s debut collection Auscultation. In this post she reflects on finding time to write around her career as a vet and how this inspires her poetry.
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 set of poems from a striking new voice.
“Unique and utterly original.” – Kim Moore
How do you juggle writing poetry with a demanding career, particularly a career like veterinary medicine? Being a vet is not so much a job as a way of life. You come to live to the rhythms of animals, their needs take priority over your own. Work becomes a river; fluid, broken over rocks, never ceasing.
I’ve always written but during university and early years in practice, life as a vet was so all-consuming, poetry was squeezed to the very periphery. Slowly though, it began to filter back, sometimes it was people’s stories, sometimes it was the relationship between an animal and its owner. I started to feel the need to write down what I was experiencing. I also became frustrated at how little time I had to devote to poetry, until I went to a reading by Dennis O’Driscoll who worked full time through all his career. His comment on the dilemma of work and poetry was ‘Just write’. This became my mantra in the following years and I found myself jotting down fragments and ideas in between seeing clients or after I had finished an operation and on more than one occasion, I pulled over into a layby on the way back from a visit to write a few lines.
At first, I was hesitant about sharing my poems. I thought, because I hadn’t studied English or had a background in the arts, my work probably wasn’t up to much. It wasn’t until I went on a poetry course and another participant said, ‘isn’t it wonderful, you have a second language.’ I realised that being a vet may actually have its advantages.
As a vet I had a rich variety of experiences and emotions to draw on. I’ve seen cases of cruelty and neglect but also moments of extreme tenderness and dedication, I’ve known people go without food so they can afford medication for their pets and I’ve known people whose only reason for getting up in the morning is their animals. The consulting room is a privileged place and consulting effectively is an art as well as a science. The ability to draw out the back story and to get to the heart of the matter is a skill that is learnt over time. Farms are also unique; they are places of rough practicality and particular language; there is a bluntness there but also a gentleness.
We vets spend a lot of our time reading and writing clinical notes. They are our observations of patients and although factual, these notes are far from ‘clinical’, they are a record of what we’ve seen, felt, heard or smelt. Medical language is full of colour and dimension, it is muscular and vital. We observe our patients closely and we record what we feel about them. I found not only did I did have a whole other language to draw on but I had a scientist’s eye for detail and precision.
I feel so incredibly privileged to be a vet; animals have an honesty and in the case of animals like horses and cattle, a majesty too. They love and trust unconditionally and I am constantly inspired by them. If I can capture any of this in my poems, I will feel I have truly become a poet.
Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase once again sees Inspector Thomas Chard confronted 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 putting his own life at risk as the murderer attempts to avoid capture.
Once again Leslie Scase takes the reader back to a time and place where, despite the pretensions of Victorian society, life is cheap and passions strong. His research brings Pontypridd vividly to life, and historical events drive along the plot of this page-turning story of detection, as Chard navigates a way through the clues and red herrings, and a lengthening list of suspects, towards the poisoner.
Atmospheric, authentic, Chard and the reader are left guessing until the final page.
Our featured extract begins on page 24 of the novel, with Inspector Chard and his colleague interviewing local residents in the wake of a fire…
‘This is Mrs Griffiths who discovered the fire,’ said Scudamore by means of introduction.
‘Very pleased to meet you Mrs Griffiths, I am Inspector Chard. I hope you might be able to help me with my enquiries.’
‘Only too pleased to help. There’s not much that I don’t know,’ stated the woman confidently. ‘Not that I’m a gossip mind,’ she added.
‘Thank you. Now when did you notice the fire?’
‘Well, I had noticed old Mr. Jones go up the road, hadn’t I? Poor old soul, it’s the dust on his lungs, he hasn’t been well for ages. It takes for ever for him to get to the end of the street.’
‘What time would that be?’
‘Sometime after five o’clock then wasn’t it?’
‘Can you be more precise? I mean you must have been out on the street yourself so what time did you set off ?’
‘My old man has a bad cough so I was off to see Mrs Evans, wasn’t I?’
Chard was becoming irritable. ‘Very well Mrs Griffiths, why were you going to see Mrs Evans and how does that help us establish the time?’
The woman looked at Chard as though he was simple minded. ‘I was going to Mrs Evans to get something for my old man’s cough like I said. We don’t have enough money for doctors around here do we? We all have little gardens and grow our own natural remedies. I was short of a few bits and bobs so I was going to get some dried herbs from Mrs Evans. That’s how I know what time it was.’
‘What was the time?’
‘It was definitely sometime after five because I saw Mr Jones. I told you that didn’t I?’
Chard grimaced and decided a different tack.
‘Very well, did you notice anyone else about at the time?’
‘The light was very poor, but yes. There was Mrs Davies out with her little boy, horrible little thing as he is. Always pulling jibs.’
Chard glanced at Constable Scudamore who assisted by saying, ‘pulling faces, sir.’
‘Then there was Mr Phillips from the grocer’s shop, going about his business. He had his window smashed the other day, didn’t he? Now then, we also had Mrs Evans.’
‘The one that you were going to see?’ asked Chard.
‘No, different Mrs Evans. We have four in our street. There was someone I didn’t know, a scruffy looking man in a long coat. There were two men talking together, but they were too far away to see properly. Then young Tommy Jones, he is nearly twelve so will be down the pit soon.’
‘Is that all?’
‘Apart from Mrs Pearce’s children, she lets them run riot you know, not that I’m one to talk.’
Chard turned to Constable Scudamore. ‘Tomorrow morning trace everyone this lady has mentioned and see if they know anything.’
‘Can I go now?’ asked Mrs Griffiths.
‘Just one or two more questions. Did people get on with Mr Hughes, I mean was he popular?’
‘I am not one to cleck on others,’ said Mrs Griffiths hesitantly.
‘She means tell tales,’ added Scudamore helpfully, for even after a year Chard was still unfamiliar with the local idioms.
‘To be truthful, for I cannot tell a lie, Mr Hughes was not a particularly pleasant man. The only person who got on with him was his wife, and he was besotted with her.’ continued Mrs Griffiths. ‘No one else had much of a good word to say about him and he had been very mean spirited of late.’
‘So Mr Dixon told me,’ said Chard.
‘There’s another grumpy bugger. Those two didn’t get on at all. Why are you asking though?’ asked the woman with keen interest. ‘Do you think the fire started deliberately? You can tell me. I won’t tell a soul.’
‘We are keeping an open mind Mrs Griffiths so I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Thank you for your help.’
Turning away the inspector led Constable Scudamore out of earshot. ‘If this is murder then it doesn’t make sense. By the sounds of it he was unpopular but why not just slit his throat one evening? Why do it in daylight and then burn down the workshop?’
‘No idea sir,’ answered the constable, rubbing his chin.
‘There is evil here Constable, I can feel it in the air, but I will uncover it, you mark my words.’
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Bring a glass of wine or your favourite tipple and join us on Tuesday 25th May at 7:30pm for the online launch. Leslie will be in conversation with Matt Johnson and we’ll host an audience Q&A. Register for free via Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/154383153167.
This week’s Friday Poems are ‘Harp/Telyn’ by Philip Gross and ‘Telyn’ by Cyril Jones from their new bilingual collection Troeon : Turnings. The book also features letterpress designs by the artist Valerie Coffin Price.
To turn, to dig, to plough, to upset, to translate… Bend, lap, journey, time… The Welsh word troeon unfolds meaning after meaning. In Troeon : Turnings, two poets 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.
This week our Friday Poem is ‘The Reed Flute and I’ by Abeer Ameer from her debut collection Inhale/Exile. Abeer recently featured on an episode of the Babble podcast which can be listened to here.
Abeer Ameer writes of her forebears in her first collection, Inhale/Exile. Dedicated to the “holders of these stories”, the book begins with a poem about a storyteller on a rooftop in Najaf, Iraq, follows tales of courage and survival, and ends with a woman cooking food for neighbours on the anniversary of her son’s death.
“…these poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light, and there is love.” – Katherine Stansfield
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘On Allt yr Esgair’ by Christopher Meredith from his newly published poetry collection Still. In a unique publishing event, Still is published simultaneously with Christopher’s tragicomic short novel Please. Both are available on our website now.
Christopher Meredith’s new poetry collection Still, uses the title word as a fulcrum to balance various paradoxical concerns: stillness and motion, memory and forgetting, sanity and madness, survival and extinction. Lively and thought-provoking, this is a beautifully crafted, humane and intelligent collection.
“Lyrical, always surprising, Meredith ‘fixes stillness’ in absences here. His perfect ear tunes in so precisely – especially to the natural world, it’s ‘edge of sense’ – we are left haunted á la Frost, by a deep lonliness in the human condition.” – Paul Henry
Don’t miss the launch of both books at the Seren Cardiff Poetry Festival from 12pm on Sunday 18 April. Register for free via the festival website here. You only need to register ONCE for access to the entire four-day weekend.