An Interview with André Mangeot

Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. Beautifully crafted, and partly inspired by the poet’s love of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, they address the natural world, its endangerment and other pressing global issues from multiple perspectives, and with great lyrical power.

‘A thought-provoking book for turbulent times.’
– Matthew Caley

André Mangeot’s new collection Blood Rain confronts the degradation of the planet and individual lives and choices with a steely lyrical grace. In this interview, he discusses the relationship between nature and poetry and our own connection to the natural world.

Blood Rain features poems set in a variety of geographic and historic locations with several of them focusing on Welsh landscapes. What is the importance of these poems within the collection and what is your connection to them?

It’s often said that landscape is a character in itself and it’s true that location is often my starting-point. This is probably most evident in my books of short stories, True North and A Little Javanese, where almost all are set in different countries and an evocative urban or rural landscape is as vital in bringing the story to life as authentic protagonists. In Blood Rain, with one of its key themes being challenges to the planet, including the natural world, there are a number of poems set in locations that I know and value (North Wales, the Lake District, North Devon) – and habitats which are threatened in one way or another.  But ‘setting’ is equally important for poems set further afield or in other times (the trenches in WW1, occupied Europe in WWII, Romania under Ceaușescu) that touch on another form of ever-present threat – our propensity for violence and conflict.

Nature is a theme that runs deeply through the collection. What is the connection between nature and your poetry and what does poetry bring to your experience of nature?

I’ve always felt more comfortable at a distance from cities and the urban environment – though for much of the time they’re unavoidable, of course. And for now I do live in a city, so the contrast between noise/pollution/crowds and most rural settings makes time in the latter all the more special and vivid. Nature clearly works on the senses, on the unconscious, before any poem begins to emerge and evolve.  Thereafter, crafting a poem forces one to focus ever more closely on detail – both what’s being examined and for word-choices, imagery, form etc.

The poems in Blood Rain are often concerned with ideas of balance, particularly a sense of ‘counterpoise’- giving and taking between humans and nature. What role do exchange, and economy of nature and things play in the poems?

Ideally, any natural exchange between man and nature would be reciprocal and unthreatening. But we as a species have so clearly overstepped the mark – due to a frightening combination of arrogance, ignorance and greed, aided by globalisation – that almost everything is now scarily out of kilter. Levels of comparative wealth and poverty across the globe; degree and frequency of extreme/destructive weather patterns; competition for fertile and habitable land. It’s almost as if, because man has ridden roughshod over natural laws for so long, nature is now fighting back, reasserting itself, proving who has ultimate control.

What do the shifts between nature, war, and family mean to you? Does the quoted ‘warlikeness’ carry throughout the poems, even those not concerned with war itself?

Everything we know is connected, part of a larger, possibly infinite eco-system: each individual to their immediate family and community, the nation, wider world, the cosmos etc.  The natural world is no different: amoebas, plankton, myriads of insects are just the base of a survival chain essential for millions of species – including mankind.  In the natural world we’re used to considering the fight for survival as commonplace; now, perhaps for the first time, reality is dawning that we as a species are in the fight too, and that no law precludes our own extinction.  As far as ‘warlikeness’ goes as a human characteristic, I don’t want to overstate it, but I can see the same kind of mirroring of relationship conflicts within families (three or four poems in the book address mine with my late father, for example) with how resentments and misunderstandings on a national or global scale can escalate into something far more serious.

The title poem refers to the natural phenomena of ‘blood rain’ as ‘an augury of rust’. How would you describe the relationship between poetry and omens or symbols in the natural world?

Our response to poetry, literature – indeed, many things we encounter daily – is largely determined by past experience and the particular memories and sensations these things conjure up, positive or negative.  So this inbuilt, often unconscious association will determine different responses to the same word, phrase or image from one person to the next.  To me this is what’s so exciting about sending a new piece of work out into the world: not simply the act of connecting with others but the certainty that no two people will respond to a poem or sequence the same; each will bring their own experience, tastes and prejudices to it.  Some will find symbols or omens, but almost for sure in different places and forms.  But to return specifically to nature – full of wonder and terror in equal measure – all I’d say is that I’ve tried to keep this ambivalence constantly in mind.

What message do you hope readers will take away from reading the collection? Do you feel this message has become even more poignant amidst the situation we currently find ourselves in?

I didn’t set out to deliver any particular message, and would be hesitant about any collection that did. Blood Rain is just one person’s response to/meditation on current times that are clearly troubling and uncertain for many.  Covid-19 arrived after this sequence was written and published, but has simply underlined the global connection between us, and is a stark reminder of our vulnerability, no different to any other species.

 

Blood Rain is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Iaith / llaeth’ by Katherine Stansfield

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Iaith / llaeth’ by Katherine Stansfield from her new collection We Could Be Anywhere By Now.

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

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

You can now watch videos of Katherine reading from hew new collection on our Youtube channel! Here she is reading her poem ‘FOG’. 

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Guest Post: Cath Drake – Inside the shaking city

Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due to be published on the 14th April. In today’s guest post, she reflects on its unexpected comfort given the situation we find ourselves in.

Inside the shaking city

“… a guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times.”
Philip Gross

My debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due for publication in a fortnight’s time. I could never have dreamed how this endorsement from Philip Gross on the cover, and indeed the book itself, would suddenly take on such relevance in the time of Coronavirus.

While I was finishing writing it, the environmental crisis became increasingly urgent. And just as it is being printed, the global pandemic has also descended on our lives. Now everything is interpreted by the utter transformation and precarity of life in lockdown.

We are all in the ‘shaking city’ together. We all were before but now it’s more obvious. We’ve had to radically change in the face of the pandemic.  We still need to radically change in order to address the environmental crisis, and indeed to survive as a species.

My book explores endurance to change, personal and global – the ‘shaking’ is an energy that holds both the extremes of discomfort and opportunity.

Each poem in the ‘Shaky School Album’ sequence contain ‘shaking’ at a point of change – a release, a realisation, a time when you face the unknown and come out the other side. It can be unnerving and exhilarating.

Some poems explore shaking in the unearthing of trauma, personal and societal. It can take courage and forbearance to face this kind of shaking, essential for positive change, and not to become enveloped by it.

The stories and characters in the book find solace in ways that are helpful or less helpful, often in unusual places or unexpected ways. Both are worth voicing, in the very least to be able to have compassion for all the ways we find comfort.

There are poems about misfits who turn out to be more in touch with their own sense of ‘shaking’ or aliveness in the cracks and corners of society than those following the norm. I wanted to explore mundane and imaginative worlds in order to get closer to what no longer makes sense to me – how our way of life increasingly undervalues community and the natural world.

 ‘This joyful, exuberant, wildly imaginative collection exhorts us all to unmoor our minds, to ‘live’ among the strange and shining.’
– Kate Potts

There is joy in seeing the world anew, in seeing each incredible infinite detail. I believe an environmental lens is vital to wellbeing and survival. I’ve been flying that flag since I was a teenager and when working as an environmental writer, journalist and broadcaster for many years in Australia. It has been very dispiriting seeing this care slip so easily down our list of priorities in my lifetime (although these last couple of years it’s moved back up the agenda, at least before the pandemic.)

The absurdity of not putting our natural world first has always distressed and astonished me and in the book I turn to an Australian folkloric Bunyip to help express this for me.

Another theme in the collection is the difficulty of being so far from home living over the other side of the world. Right now, in lockdown, we feel physically distanced wherever we are. Most of us feel this yearning on a daily basis. I hope it is at least partly, yearning with gratitude – the moments I’ve been able to spend with friends from home are deeply precious memories.

Our city is shaking. Even if it takes all our ability, even if we are particularly vulnerable, can we stay alive to it and come out the other side making better sense of our fragile world? I hope my book can help in some small way to find new ways of seeing in this difficult time.

 

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet works a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.

 

The Shaking City is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Summerhouse’ by Martyn Crucefix

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Summerhouse’ by Martyn Crucefix from his collection The Lovely Disciplines.

Martyn Crucefix The Lovely Disciplines

Displaying his characteristic flair, craft and intelligence, Crucefix’s poems often begin with the visible, the tangible, the ordinary, yet through each act of attentiveness and the delicate fluidity of the language they re-discover the extraordinary in the everyday.

‘…highly wrought, ambitious, thoughtful – and very good.’ – The Sunday Times

 

 

The Lovely Disciplines is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Guest Post – Katrina Naomi: One week in

Today we have a guest post from poet Katrina Naomi who shares some of the things she has been doing to keep positive during this strange time.

One week in

It’s been a week since I had to abandon a holiday at my sister’s to come back home to Cornwall. Like most people, I’m still trying to get my head around what’s happening, and the situation shifts every day. I have a collection, Wild Persistence, coming out with Seren on 1 June, although the date for this might change.

Everything is changing, everything is uncertain. It’s the uncertainty that I – and many others – am finding so hard.

A few days back, I don’t mind admitting I had a major wobble. I was tearful when I wrote first thing and I found myself crying while making soup at lunchtime. It was the day when the first (or maybe second or third, it’s hard to keep track) restrictions came in. I was worried about money – all my income comes from poetry – and I was missing seeing friends. All the losses started to pile up.

Walking usually helps me find some sort of balance. I went out for a walk with my partner that afternoon. We walked in woods and fields near our home in Penzance, I sat by a stream, listened to jackdaws and watched two heifers jostle with each other. I sat for about 10, maybe 15 minutes, and I felt better, not brilliant, but better. We came home and I decided to paint the walls – it was that or climb them. I’ve done a lot of painting since – the stairs, the mouldy bits in the kitchen and bathroom. I’ve enjoyed having another focus and felt more positive – and reminded myself that I have my health and partner and so many other wonderful things in my life.

In a more positive frame of mind, I’ve been developing some sort of routine for my days. I’ve been telling myself that uncertainty is a useful thing for poetry. I never sit down to write a poem having any idea where it’s going to go, I have to allow the poem to happen and trust where my subconscious, odd ideas, bits of film, overhead conversations, and pen, take me. Of course, not every poem goes anywhere and that’s also fine. I’m trying to develop this more open attitude towards life and where it’s going to take me – and take all of us – in the week and months to come. But a routine still feels helpful and here’s what I’ve set up for myself. It can change, it might have to change, depending on how things go:

I’ve been reading poetry and writing first thing. The resulting poems are dire but I don’t mind. I’m just glad to be writing. Then I walk for a couple of hours. This week, we’ve had a really low tide, so I’ve been walking from Penzance harbour towards Marazion on the sand, all the way. Yesterday I walked with a good friend, keeping our distance, we had to shout to each other in the wind – it’s often windy in West Cornwall. After lunch, I’ve been doing emails, checking proofs and – before things tightened down – going on another walk around teatime, usually around the harbour and through the near-deserted town. I come home and do some yoga, eat and read. In the evenings, I’ve been talking to friends on the phone, reading novels and dancing to the radio in the freshly-painted kitchen. Thank you to my local library and Radio 6 Music.

Katrina Naomi

Katrina Naomi’s first collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is available on our website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ’The Voice in which my Mother Read to Me’ by Jonathan Edwards

With it being Mother’s Day this Sunday, this week’s Friday Poem is ’The Voice in which my Mother Read to Me’ by Jonathan Edwards from his Costa- award winning first collection My Family and Other Superheroes.

my family and other superheroes jonathan edwards

My Family and Other Superheroes features a motley crew of characters. Evel Knievel, Sophia Loren, Ian Rush, Marty McFly, a bicycling nun and a recalcitrant hippo – all leap from these pages and jostle for position, alongside valleys mams, dads and bamps, described with great warmth. Other poems focus on the crammed terraces and abandoned high streets where a working-class and Welsh nationalist politics is hammered out. This is a post-industrial valleys upbringing re-imagined through the prism of pop culture and surrealism.

My Family and Other Superheroes is available on the Seren website: £9.99

Jonathan’s second collection Gen is also available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Bittern’ by Sarah Wimbush

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘The Bittern’ by Sarah Wimbush from her new pamphlet Bloodlines which won the Mslexia/PBS Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019.

Bloodlines is an exploration of Sarah Wimbush’s own Gypsy/Traveller heritage, a journey made by piecing together fragments of distant stories and a scattered language. Along the way, we meet people who are ‘tethered to the seasons’; voices that reverberate with a sense of family and resilience, and always with that constant wonder of being part of something colourful, untamed and rare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodlines is available on the Seren website: £5.00

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Friday Poem – ‘I know Exactly the Sort of Woman I’d Like to Fall in Love With’ by Deryn Rees-Jones

This Sunday (8th March) is International Women’s Day so this week we bring you the poem ‘I know Exactly the Sort of Woman I’d Like to Fall in Love With’ by Deryn Rees-Jones which is featured the Women’s Work anthology but was first published in Deryn’s debut collection The Memory Tray.

women's work 2016

With over 250 contributors, this generous selection of poetry by women with an emphasis on twentieth-century poetry in English features poets from all over the world. Arranged by thematic chapters that touch on various aspects of modern life, it aims to be a touchstone of women’s thoughts and experiences; to be entertaining and relevant as well as inclusive and representative of some of the best poetry published now.

 

Women’s Work is available on the Seren website: £14.99

Deryn’s most recent collection Erato was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Spring’ by Kate Bingham

With St David’s Day on Sunday our Friday Poem this week is ‘Spring’ by Kate Bingham from her collection Infragreen.

infragreen

Perceptive, persuasive and intricately made, the poems of Kate Bingham’s third collection, Infragreen, take the reader on a startling and unfamiliar journey through everyday experiences and phenomena. Her keen eye, reflectiveness and quiet wit endow her subjects with a shimmering freshness.

Infragreen is full of sensuous, imaginative and beautifully accomplished work. It succeeds in leading the consciousness beyond its deadened rounds.’ – The Poetry Review

Infragreen is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Winchman on Oscar Charlie’ by Sheenagh Pugh

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘The Winchman on Oscar Charlie’ by Sheenagh Pugh from her collection Afternoons Go Nowhere.

A fascination for history, both as a source of human drama and a field for artful speculation, characterises this collection of poems by Sheenagh Pugh. In Afternoons Go Nowhere the past seems more relevant to the present than ever, human nature never entirely predictable and often non-sensical, the natural world seeming full of a paradoxical beauty. Complex but with clear themes and lucid, musical language, Sheenagh Pugh’s tenth collection will delight discriminating readers.

Afternoons Go Nowhere is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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