Friday Poem – ‘September’s Child’ by Dai George

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘September’s Child’ by Dai George from his new collection Karaoke King which was published this week.

The cover of Karaoke King shows a drawing of a teenage boy, with short dark hair wearing a yellow and brown stripped vest over a white shirt. His head is to one side and his glasses are wonky. He wears a crumpled, gold crown. The title is on a yellow-gold box at the bottom.

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. 

September’s Child

Hormonally it ripens, tickling the blood, building
through the part of me that would be womb,

a premonition of loss or change, an over-fattened moon.
Saccharine and festive, it makes of me a boy in bed

failing to sleep on his birthday eve. Still I find myself
September’s child, bookish, mild, ever eldest in the year,

a connoisseur of subtle treats, like ravioli from the tin,
the adult jokes in Asterix, or better yet a malady

that softly lowers you to the settee but doesn’t stop
your eyes from lapping at a page. Every year,

sure as morning bell, I’d feel the bulge descend upon
my tonsil gland, as now I feel the blossoming

of an earthier and urgent need, a waft of chestnut
smoke at summer’s end. I don’t know what it is,

I only know it comes in August with a sky of schoolsweater
grey and declining light. My pinky custard

shivers, barely set within its rabbit mould. Sometimes
it only takes a bar of Charles Trenet unwinding through

‘La Mer’ and I’m awash. A salt of yearning rises
to my throat. Everywhere I look the children are

younger, or else I’m fatter and forgetful, still stumbling
on the brink of coming into something long deserved.

Karaoke King is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Ilse Pedler: Being a Poet and a Vet

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.

The cover of Auscultation shows a stethoscope against a white background with an orange and brown butterfly resting on the chord. Beneath the image is an orange box with the title and author name.

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.

Ilse Pedler

Ilse Pedler’s debut collection Auscultation is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971’ by Mir Mafuz Ali

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971’ by Mir Mafuz Ali from his collection Midnight, Dhaka.

Midnight, Dhaka is the debut collection by Mir Mahfuz Ali. As a boy, Mahfuz witnessed atrocities and writes about them with a searing directness in poems like ‘My Salma’: ‘They brought Salma into the yard, / asked me to watch how they would explode / a bullet into her’. His trauma becomes transformative, and his poetry the key to unlocking memories of a childhood that are rich in nuance, gorgeous in detail and evocative of a beautiful country. Influenced by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), as well as modern British poets, Mahfuz brings his own unique voice in these poems, which celebrate the human capacity for love, survival and renewal.

Midnight, Dhaka is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Guns’ by Katrina Naomi

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Guns’ by Katrina Naomi from her collection Wild Persistence which was published this time last year.

Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.

“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else… joyous.” – Helen Mort

Wild Persistence is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Watch Katrina read her poem ‘London: A Reply’ on our Youtube channel:

Katrina Naomi – Wild Persistence, A Year On

A year on from publication of her collection Wild Persistence, poet Katrina Naomi reflects on her experience of publishing a book during the pandemic.

A year ago, when I realised I couldn’t hold the launches for Wild Persistence that we’d planned in Cornwall and London, I’ll admit to having a few tears. Daft but I felt that Wild Persistence was the best book I’d written and I really wanted to get it out there. Book shops were closed, as was pretty much everything else. How the hell was this new collection going to find its audience?

Katrina Naomi with a copy of Wild Persistence

I remember talking to Amy, my editor, about possibly shifting the launch back from June 2020 to September 2020. I’m glad we didn’t; with hindsight, nothing would have changed.

Seren said: ‘How about a virtual launch?’. I’d never done anything on zoom before, I barely knew what it was. In short, I was terrified of it. How would I get any connection with people via a cold screen; there’d be no feedback, and no drinks (and no cake), and no nattering afterwards? Can you tell that I hated the idea? But it was all that was possible.

I did a trial run with Seren, tried to pretend Zoom was where it was at, and that I was looking forward to the launch. I didn’t trust or understand the technology. The morning of the launch, I practised my poems in the park, in the mizzle, reading to a friend, us both sitting well away from each other, as though we’d had an argument. That evening, to try to get over my terror, I wore one of my favourite outfits, a red and white ‘40s suit, wore the new shoes I’d bought for the original launches – even though no one could see them. But I knew I’d got them on. I dabbed cologne on my neck and wrists, and put a flower in my hair. I was as ready as I could be.

I remember how sick I felt, I hadn’t been able to eat, until I saw that over 100 people were waiting to be admitted to the launch. People attended from France, Canada, the US, as well as friends from up my street. It gave me a wider audience than I could have imagined. I really, really enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve been doing readings at events across the UK, and in the US. All from my little room, with a glimpse of Penzance harbour between my neighbours’ roofs. It still feels slightly unreal but I’ve come to love performing into my screen, remembering to prop the laptop on two dictionaries and to speak into the camera, marked by two lion stickers either side of the camera’s wonky dot.

Katrina Naomi signing copies of Wild Persistence in The Edge of the World bookshop

But I didn’t get to go to Mexico to work on a project, (environmentally, this might not be a bad thing), and it seems people don’t buy as many books at online launches and readings. Still, I’ve been doing lots of radio and podcasts, which has been great. Seren say the book’s been doing well. And I’ve been selling signed copies of Wild Persistence via my website all year, reusing recycled envelopes so I’ve only a handful of copies (and envelopes) left. I recall one woman buying a copy of Wild Persistence, then ordering another 30, ‘to give to my friends’. My local bookshop, The Edge of the World, has been reordering and I’ve signed three or four batches there, since they’ve reopened.  I haven’t been further than Cornwall, I’d love to know that my collection’s in other bookshops in other towns and cities. But I don’t know if that’s true. What’s been great has been people (particularly people I don’t know) posting photos of Wild Persistence on Twitter; I’ve seen my book propped up on garden steps, or next to a mug of tea with breakfast, or in an artist’s studio, and, once, on the end of an Essex pier. I’ve loved that.

Wild Persistence on the shelf in The Edge of the World bookshop

But I’ve missed seeing people. I haven’t been able to do a single reading, live, in public, in a room, with people. I miss seeing people’s reactions – whether they’re bored or excited by a particular poem. It’s harder to gauge which poems work online, you don’t hear the collective hush or the poetry ahhh, or get a laugh or an intake of breath when a poem hits home.

A year on and I’ve just had my first festival ask if I’m willing to read live, in a room, with people. I hesitated for a moment, and smiled. Though they couldn’t see that. But I’ve said yes. Yes. Yes. And I’ll probably wear my new shoes.

Katrina Naomi

Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi is a confident and persuasive collection of poems. Written following her move from London to Cornwall, it considers distance and closeness, and questions how to live. She dissects ‘dualism’ and arrival, sex and dance, a trip to Japan. The collection also includes a moving sequence of poems about the aftermath of an attempted rape.

“Funny, moving, surprising, unflinching and, above all else… joyous.” – Helen Mort

Wild Persistence is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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

Friday Poem – ‘Free, No Obligation Valuation’ by Rhian Edwards

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Free, No Obligation Valuation’ by Rhian Edwards from her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter, published this time last year.

The Estate Agent’s Daughter is the eagerly awaited follow up to Rhian Edwards’s Wales Book of the Year winning debut collection Clueless DogsAcute and wryly observed, the poems step forth with a confident tone, touching on the personal and the public, encapsulating a woman’s tribulations in the twenty-first century.

“…fast-talking, wise-cracking and worldly wise” – Zoë Brigley

The Estate Agent’s Daughter is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Watch Rhian Edwards reading her poem ‘Argos Wedding’ from The Estate Agent’s Daughter on our Youtube channel:

Friday Poem – ‘City’ by Peter Finch

This week our Friday Poem is ‘City’ by Peter Finch from his 2020 collection The Machineries of Joy.

The Machineries of Joy is the vibrant, uproarious, pointed & wildly entertaining new collection from renowned Cardiff-based performance poet, Peter Finch. Known for his inventive and multi-faceted formal strategies & his best-selling psycho-geographical peregrinations around Wales and the USA, he gives us the world in all its contemporary complexity.

The Machineries of Joy is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Last year Peter joined us for an event as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series. Rewatch it in full on our Youtube channel:

Extract from Fatal Solution by Leslie Scase

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.’

Fatal Solution is available as a paperback or ebook on the Seren website

Buy the first Inspector Chard mystery, Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow, as an ebook: £7.99

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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.

Friday Poem – ‘Instructions for the Coastal Walk from Clarach to Borth’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Instructions for the Coastal Walk from Clarach to Borth’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard from her collection A Second Whisper.

A Second Whisper is Lynne Hjelmgaard’s moving new collection in which she looks back upon her life in New York, Demark, The Caribbean, and London. There are elegies to her late husband as well as to her mentor and partner, the renowned Welsh poet Dannie Abse, who died in 2014. Her lyrics are precise, warm in tone, and suffused with optimism for the future.

“The pictures that Hjelmgaard paints with words are… akin to pale watercolour…a quiet soundscape of inner thoughts and emotions…” – WriteOutLoud

 

A Second Whisper is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Watch Lynne read her poem A Second Whisper on our Youtube channel:

Friday Poem – ‘A Rosary’ by André Mangeot

This week our Friday Poem is ‘A Rosary’ by André Mangeot from his collection Blood Rain which was published in February 2020.

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

Blood Rain is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Click below to see a video of André reading his poem ‘Bellwether’: