Friday Poem – ‘Drumlins have no personality’, Siobhán Campbell

Friday Poem Drumlins Siobhán Campbell

Our Friday Poem this week is Siobhán Campbell’s ‘Drumlins have no personality’, from her latest collection, Heat Signature.

Heat Signature Siobhan CampbellSiobhán Campbell’s poetry is of a strange breed: simultaneously comic and brutal, intelligent and whimsical. In Neil Leadbeater’s newly published review, he points to the ‘profoundly challenging and entertaining’ nature of Campbell’s new poems. Heat Signature is Siobhán’s sixth collection, and its complex style is entirely characteristic of the poet’s spikey voice: infused with an intelligence that resists easy answers to the conundrums that have faced her Irish homeland, but also suffused with a grudging admiration for the citizens who have survived their tumultuous history.

A note on the poem: drumlins are small hills shaped like half-buried eggs, formed by underlying glacial ice. The name comes from the Irish word droimnín (“littlest ridge”).

 

Siobhán Campbell Drumlins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Signature is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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International Day of the Girl 2017 – 8 Books we should All Read

international day of the girl 2017 8 books

International Day of the Girl is celebrated every year on 11 October in order to bring attention to issues of gender inequality and the barriers girls come up against, from birth to adulthood. Here are eight outstanding books we think everyone should read – books which engage with the issues girls and women face, and will leave you empowered with knowledge and eager for change.

Handmaid’s Tale Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Newly broadcast as a celebrated television series, Margaret Atwood’s modern classic, A Handmaid’s Tale, is a story of female subjugation at the hands of a male dictatorship, and the desperate hope of a young woman who cannot obliterate her memories and desires. Everyone should read this masterful story, which re-imagines modern society’s fears and flaws in a narrative at once otherworldly and entirely plausible.

 

The Colour Purple Alice WalkerThe Colour Purple, Alice Walker
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Alice Walker’s haunting novel follows Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Though violent and explicit in its portrayal of the issues facing African-American women in the US, The Colur Purple also has its moments of empowerment and joy, showing that strength can be found even in the most tragic conditions.

Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins GilmanThe Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s chilling short story was first published in January 1892, in an attempt to shine a light on the devastating impact of 19th century attitudes toward women’s health, both physical and mental. As a form of treatment, the protagonist is forbidden from reading, writing and all other forms of activity so she can recuperate from what her husband, a doctor, calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”. With nothing to stimulate her, she instead becomes obsessed with the patterned wallpaper in her confining room, and suffers a descent into psychosis. Short but powerful, The Yellow Wallpaper is an important early work of American feminist literature, illustrating society’s profound ignorance of women’s wants and needs.

Writing Motherhood Carolyn Jess-CookeWriting Motherhood, ed. Carolyn Jess-Cooke
This important book reconsiders Cyril Connolly’s statement, that ‘there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall’. Through a unique combination of interviews, poems, and essays by established writers, Writing Motherhood interrogates contemporary representations of motherhood in media and literature, queries why so many novels dealing with serious women’s issues are packaged in pink covers with wellies and tea cups, and portrays the exquisite moments of motherhood as often enriching artistic practice rather than hindering it.

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s multi award-winning debut novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world at first hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, just one month before Plath tragically took her own life. The novel the story of a gifted young woman’s mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. It explores unsettling themes of depression and is thought (by some) to mirror Plath’s own spiral into mental illness. It is also a feminist masterpiece, unpicking uneasy female stereotypes and despairing at what it was to be a woman at the time.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
This tragic and achingly tender novel follows Mariam who, after a sudden and devastating loss, is sent at the age of fifteen to marry the much older Rasheed. After decades of servitude and oppression, Mariam strikes up an unlikely friendship with Rasheed’s new teenaged bride, Laila. When the Taliban take over, and life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear, we see a brilliant resilience in these Afghan women, reluctantly brought out by their deep love for one another.

The Beauty Myth Naomi WolfThe Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
Every day, women around the world are confronted with a dilemma – how to look. In a society embroiled in a cult of female beauty and youthfulness, pressure on women to conform physically is constant and all-pervading. Naomi Wolf’s groundbreaking book will make you think about why and how you judge yourself when you’re stood in front of the mirror. First published in 1991, The Beauty Myth is sadly still all-too-relevant today.

 

 

Happy International Day of the Girl, and happy reading.

Friday Poem – ‘The Children’s Asylum’, Pascale Petit

This week our Friday Poem is ‘The Children’s Asylum’ by Pascale Petit, which was originally published in The Huntress, and later featured in Tokens for the Foundlings, an anthology inspired by the Foundling Hospital.

Established in 1741, The Foundling Hospital was essentially Britain’s first orphanage, and admissions were catalogued by tokens – coins, scraps of ribbon, needlework – symbols of maternal hope left by the children’s parents. Tokens for the Foundlings is an anthology of poems about orphans, childhood and family inspired by and supporting the work of the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. It brings together many of the finest poets from Britain, Ireland and the USA, among them Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, and our featured poet today, Pascale Petit.
The Huntress is Pascale’s T.S. Eliot shortlisted third collection, and re-imagines a painful childhood through a series of remarkable and passionate transformations.

Petit says, “I wrote ‘The Children’s Asylum’ after my mother died, and left a trunk of journals and letters in which I found her description of being committed to a “loony bin” when she was nine years old. Later in life her mental illness became worse, and it’s this that I wrote about in my seventh collection Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe, 2017), where the “madwood” of ‘The Children’s Asylum’ has turned into the whole Amazon rainforest, and her psychiatric ward is a place haunted by giant talking water lilies, jaguars, caimans and hummingbirds.”

 

 

The Children's Asylum Pascale Petit Friday Poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Huntress is available on the Seren website: £7.99

Tokens for the Foundlings is available on the Seren website: £12.99
(all royalties from sales are donated to the Foundling Museum, in support of its work)

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National Poetry Day 2017: Recommended Reads

Recommended Reads National Poetry Day

This year National Poetry Day is taking place this Thursday, 28 September, and the theme is “Freedom”.

National Poetry Day is all about enjoying, discovering and sharing poems. With the support of publishers, the Forward Arts Foundation have curated four strong and varied lists of recommended poetry reading, comprising 40 books: anthologies, poetry for children, books for reading groups and current collections.

Seren are proud to announce that not one but two of our authors feature amongst this list of 40: Caroline Smith and Kim Moore. Find out more about their books, and how they tie into this year’s theme, below.

The Immigration Handbook Caroline SmithCaroline Smith’s The Immigration Handbook transforms stories heard every day by the author in her work as an Immigration Officer. Within this collection are heartbreaking scenes of anguish and frustration, contrasts between first and third worlds that prick the conscience, and also occasional moments of humour, of joy: the e-mail address changed to reflect a success, the comical mis-spellings of those learning English, the friendships that arise due to shared difficulties. Above all, The Immigration Handbook offers empathy and hope, with refugees and immigrants who step vividly off the page, emploring the reader to listen to their stories.

The Art of Falling Kim MooreThe quietly devastating central sequence in Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling, entitled ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’, is the story of a woman embroiled in a relationship marked by coercion and violence. These are close-to-the-bone pieces, harrowing and exact, where in place of love there is posession, and the memory of violence is a haunting presence: ‘when I’m afraid,/ it’s only then I think of him, or remember his name.’ The poetry itself, though, is a means of catharsis, and throughout the collection pulls us like a current towards lighter, brighter things: an imagining of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s childhood mischief; a tattoo inspired by Virginia Woolf; beautifully imagined character portraits of John Lennon, Wallace Hartley and Chet Baker.

Find both amazing books in a bookshop near you!

 

Take a look at the Library of Freedom Poems on the National Poetry Day website, where you’ll find a great selection of themed poems to read.

Join in on National Poetry Day: find out what’s happening near you on the events map. You can also join in the conversation by using the hashtag #NationalPoetryDay on Twitter.

 

 

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September Book Giveaway: win a copy of Welsh Verse

September giveaway Welsh Verse win

This month we are giving away a copy of Tony Conran’s milestone of translation, Welsh Verse.

To enter, simply sign up to the Seren newsletter before 1st October:
https://www.serenbooks.com/newsletter/signup

Win a copy of Welsh Verse Tony Conran


About Welsh Verse:
Welsh Verse Tony Conran
Welsh Verse has made a triumphant return to print. Tony Conran’s unrivalled volume of Welsh poetry through the ages contains lively yet meticulous translations stretching from the sixth century to the late twentieth century. Virtually every significant poet (or poem: there are several Anonymous entries over the centuries) is present, and every poetic form: the epics of Taliesin and Aneurin, the poets of the medieval princes, Tudor poets, Non-conformist poets, hymn-writers, Romantics, Social Realists and political Nationalists.
Welsh Verse also includes an influential Introduction full of insight into the history of poetry in the Welsh language, and into the challenges of translating it, particularly over so many centuries and styles.

 

We will pick a winner at random from all our email subscribers on 1st October. Make sure you have signed up to Seren News before then to be in with a chance of winning!

Why not give your friends a chance to win too, by recommending that they sign up to our newsletter before the end of the month using this link?
www.serenbooks.com/newsletter/signup

 

Congratulations to last month’s winner, Norma Curtis, who is now enjoying her copy of Black Shiver Moss by Graham Mort.

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Blood Testing Piglets’, Ilse Pedler

Friday Poem Blood Testing Piglets Ilse Pedler

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Blood Testing Piglets’ from Ilse Pedler’s debut poetry pamphlet, The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels.

The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels Ilse Pedler Friday PoemWinner of the 2015 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition, poet Ilse Pedler often writes from her perspective as a working Veterinary Surgeon. From her earliest days as a student of Applied Zoology at Bangor University, where she worked with hill sheep and had to visit an abattoir in Caernarfon, she has been involved at close-quarters with animals. Her deep knowledge and genuine love of them informs this art. A secondary theme is secrets: those we keep from others, those we keep from ourselves, those nature keeps from us.
Sometimes poignant, often comic, the poems in The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels display a keen intelligence and dynamism.

 

Isle Pedler Blood Testing Piglets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels is available from the Seren website: £5.00

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

 

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The Poet and The Artist – R.S. Thomas and Elsi

R.S Thomas Elsi

As the Eglwys Fach R.S. Thomas Literary Festival approaches, we look at the poet’s relationship with his first wife, the artist Mildred ‘Elsi’ Elridge.

R.S. Thomas has long been considered one of the greats of Welsh poetry with his bleak but masterful verse. His relationship with his first wife, Elsi, has been one of his most profound subjects – but it has also been one of the least understood, and commented upon, by readers of his poetry.

Elsi was a brilliant and accomplished artist, who moved from the illustrious worlds of the Wimbledon and Royal Colleges of art to the Welsh borders of Oswestry where she met Thomas, a young curate at the time. The couple soon married in 1940. Their partnership briefly mixed with artistic collaboration when she illustrated the dust jacket of his first poetry collection, ‘Stones of the Field.’ Apart from this, however, her once prolific outpouring of artwork steadily declined, as did appreciation of her works once her husband rose to fame. Glyndwr University has done much to bring that work back into recognition, having held a large range of Elsie’s art since 2010. Their championing of her art was the catalyst for an exhibit at Abbot and Holder in London this April, before the pieces, including the ‘Dance of Life’ – a six-panelled mural widely considered to be her magnum opus – returned to their permanent home at the university’s Creative Industries Building for a new exhibition in October.

Undoubtedly, Thomas’ rising profile and the decreasing recognition of Elsi’s art punctuated their relationship with tension. In ‘The Way of It’, Thomas commended his wife’s talents, the ease with which her fingers transformed ‘paint into flowers’ while simultaneously suggesting the underlying strain within their relationship. ‘She is busy after for hours,’ he wrote, ‘rubbing smiles into wounds.’

Once found, Elsi’s art has a remarkable, even poetic range with enigmatic self-portraits and haunting landscapes alongside intricate studies of birds and wildlife. She used many mediums, from sculpture to oils, watercolours and sketches. All her talent was deeply moving to her husband, the man their only son, Gwydion, claimed was “visually illiterate” before meeting his wife. Her detailed studies of birds are especially poignant to their relationship, and as such, references to birds and the feather-like fragility of life frequently occur in Thomas’ poems. According to ‘A Marriage’, written after Elsi’s death, they ‘met under a shower of bird notes,’ and she ‘had done everything (in life) with a bird’s grace.’ His proposal was even followed by a joint effort to rescue a buzzard they discovered stuck in a gin trap in the moor.

The absences in their relationship have often been marked upon, even turned to sensational commentary. Thomas’ own comments, easily taken cold to the point of cruelty, such as: ‘I was alone when I was living with her’ suggest a love long worn into ambivalence by the quiet invasion of daily routine and drudgery. As Thomas’ poetry addresses, the restraint of their relationship was not all weakness. ‘Anniversary’ suggests the strength of endurance, of living side-by-side, ‘using the same air’ in spite of the distance between them.

His observations of early tenderness, his observation of an artistic equality they yearned for but never reached, the absolute precision of his descriptions of the artistic housewife who would not have her dormant creative spirit beaten; all these reveal something ‘graceful’, even loving, behind their silences. The language of looks and communication through touch are often present in Thomas’ poetry, even when words are absent. In ‘Pension’ they parry ‘sharp looks’, in ‘He and She’, ‘noiselessly they conversed’, and in ‘Remembering’, Thomas urges the reader to ‘take her hand in your hand’ to prove that ‘if, blind, it is not dumb’. All this builds a portrait of a marriage that though often tense, forged a profound connection and understanding through time.

Each deeply influenced the other. Their worn love, her power in her final absence, death – these are harsh beauties Thomas offers, and that enrich Elsi’s work.

Thomas wrote: ‘I never thought in this poor world to find/ Another who had loved the things I love’. Now, that love is shared and amplified by our opportunity to see her first great love, her art, and to revel in the complex facets of their relationship that his poetry reveals.

Don’t miss the R.S. Thomas Literary Festival at St Michael’s Church, Eglwys Fach, Ceredigion, which takes place on Friday 15 – Sunday 17 September. Festival leaflet and further information available here.

 

Golden Wedding

Cold hands meeting,
the eyes aside –
so vows are contracted
in the tongue’s absence.

Gradually
over fifty long years
of held breath
the heart has become warm.

 

‘The Golden Wedding’ is taken from R.S Thomas: Poems to Elsi. Available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Miner, Abercynon, 1985’, Duncan Bush

Friday Poem Duncan Bush Miner Abercynon

Late last month we were shocked and saddened to learn of Duncan Bush’s passing. This week our Friday Poem is one of our favourites from The Hook.

The Hook Duncan BushThe Hook combines powerful early poems from two of Duncan Bush’s prize-winning collections: Aquarium (1983) and Salt (1985), together with several poems published in pamphlet form at the time of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, including our featured poem ‘Miner, Abercynon, 1985’.
The poems in this book focus on a number of themes that Duncan Bush continually refined over the years. His central concerns are the nature of work, the impact of industry on its environs, and the fate of modern man at the centre of a complicated web of social, political and personal forces.

 

Friday Poem The Hook Duncan Bush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hook is available from the Seren website: £7.95

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘Archaeology’, Robert Minhinnick

Archaeology Friday Poem Robert Minhinnick

September has arrived, but our Friday Poem looks back to August’s Legend of the Month: Robert Minhinnick. ‘Archaology’ is from his sixth collection, Hey Fatman.

Hey Fatman is full of the rich, sometimes strange, always telling, detail that is to be expected from one of Britain’s most compelling poets. The book opens with poems set in and around Minhinnick’s native South Wales, and includes a sequence based on the history of an ancestral house, Dunraven. We then move on to work inspired by the poet’s travels in South America and the U.S.A. The whole volume presents us with a series of vivid portraits, and our featured poem, with its subject who ‘ran shouting/ From his house with his hair on fire’, is no exception.

 

Robert Minhinnick Archaeology Friday Poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Fatman is available from the Seren website: £5.95

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us.

Friday Poem – ‘The Battle of Gwen Strad’, Taliesin, translated by Tony Conran

Tony Conran’s unrivalled anthology of Welsh poetry through the ages, Welsh Verse, has just returned to print. This week our Friday Poem is Conran’s translation of ‘The Battle of Gwen Strad’, by sixth century poet, Taliesin.

Welsh Verse Tony ConranWelsh Verse is a milestone of translation, containing poetry from the sixth century to the late twentieth century. Virtually every significant poet (or poem: there are several Anonymous entries over the centuries) is present, and every poetic form: the epics of Taliesin and Aneurin, the poets of the medieval princes, Tudor poets, Non-conformist poets, hymn-writers, Romantics, Social Realists and political Nationalists. Welsh Verse also includes an Introduction full of insight into the history of poetry in the Welsh language, and into the challenges of translating it, particularly over so many centuries and styles.
Taliesin is often referred to, in legend and in medieval Welsh poetry, as ‘Taliesin Ben Beirdd’ (‘Taliesin, Chief of Bards’). ‘The Battle of Gwen Strad’, along with several of his other poems, sings the praises of King Urien.

Taliesin poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Presumably before the Anglo-Saxons took Catraeth (Catterick) – see under Aneirin. Urien was Taliesin’s patron, king of Rheged in Cumbria and S.W. Scotland. The Eden is a river in Cumbria.

 

Welsh Verse is available from the Seren website: £12.99.

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