Friday Poem – ‘The Leech House’ by Rhiannon Hooson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Leech House’ by Rhiannon Hooson from her forthcoming collection Goliat.

This cover shows a ghost-like figure wrapped in a sheet standing in a field at dusk. The text reads: Goliat Rhiannon Hooson

Goliat is the second collection by Rhiannon Hooson, a follow-up to her Wales Book of the Year nominated debut, The Other City. An intelligent and beautiful book, Goliat offers absorbing stories of a precarious world on the brink of climate emergency. Employing startling imagery and a deep sense of history, these poems explore the irreplaceable beauty of a wild world, and the terrible damage that humans might do to each other and the earth.

The Leech House
She says he is older than me. I think it is a lie,
but in his tank (round, like a chalice), he moves
like an eel; he moves like a dream. Come winter
someone must stoke the fire in the leech house,
bring fresh moss, sweep out the channel in the floor
where the river sends its emissary, while behind their glass
the leeches dance. My lady has me mark on little labels
when each leech has last been fed: a leech
can live a year without blood, but each dark moon
when the fever comes for her, he lies across her calf,
or sometimes the smooth warm skin at the crook
of her elbow. I scrub his tank clean while he is out of it.
She says a leech is her true companion: the only thing
that knows blood as well as a woman. Is it strange
she has a favourite? Fresh earth for him, and cold clean
water, and green pond moss. I do not like to look
when he is feeding, but she smiles, and it is relief
in her face, not fondness, as if as he drank he took from her
the knowledge of a thing so painful she could not bear
to know it.

Goliat is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Join us at 7:30pm at Chapter in Cardiff on National Poetry Day Thursday 6th October to see Rhiannon launch Goliat at Seren First Thursday alongside Hilary Llewellyn-Williams. If you can’t join us in person, we’re also streaming via Facebook live. Find the details on our website.

Seren First Thursday October. Hilary Llewellyn-Williams and Rhiannon Hooson. In person and streamed online. Thursday 6 October 7:30pm BST. Tickets £3 on the door or watch live on Facebook for free.

An Interview with Clare Morgan

To celebrate publication of her new short story collection Scar Tissue, we interviewed Clare Morgan about her inspiration, writing process and work teaching creative writing.

This cover shows a painting of a woman with short ginger hair staring out at the reader. She is wearing a pink camisole top with a heart icon over the left of her chest. The text reads Scar Tissue Clare Morgan.

Scar Tissue is the enigmatic new collection of short stories by Clare Morgan, a follow up to her newly reprinted collection An Affair of the Heart. As we travel from Wales and the Marches to places as far away as India, Paris, New England, Scandinavia and Spain, these lyrical, evocative and searching stories unflinchingly explore the darker and more challenging aspects of emotional, sexual and familial relationships, while simultaneously celebrating the joys of being alive in an unfathomable world.

You founded Oxford University’s creative writing programme and are director of the course. Before we discuss your new book, tell us more about the connection between being a writer and teaching creative writing. How do they inform one another? Do you have any advice for someone thinking of studying creative writing? 

I came to teaching creative writing rather by accident. I find that working with eager and able writers who are keen to explore and really take their work forward is stimulating and enriching. Our students come from a rich and diverse range of backgrounds and locations around the world, and the mix of voices and approaches this offers is unparalleled in helping to hone any writer’s ear and method. Working with other writers provides a community of comrades with a shared purpose. Addressing the challenges they face helps a writer to refresh and reinvigorate her own approaches.  As to advice: I’d say, look around carefully at what’s on offer; think very carefully about why you want to study creative writing in a formal setting. It’s not right for everyone, but can – in the right circumstances – be a life-changing experience that you’ll continue to treasure, whether you achieve significant publication or not.

Scar Tissue is separated into five distinct sections: Space; Home; Away; Nowhere; and Somewhere. What was the reason behind structuring the book in this way and what do each of these headings imply within the context of the book?

The stories fell naturally into these divisions. The first story – ‘Breathing on the Moon’ uses the concept of space and space travel as a metaphor for life experiences. The ‘Home’ section focuses on stories set in the Welsh Marches – a very distinct borderland between countries and cultures.. ‘Away’ places its characters in various locations around the world – the U.S, India, France – and explores the search for some kind of belonging. ‘Nowhere’ equally uses foreign settings (Scandinavia, Spain, a transatlantic flight from Washington), to consider lives in motion between different ways of being; while the final section, ‘Somewhere’, comes to rest in a medieval farmhouse in Snowdonia, where past lives co-exist and enrich the present, posing more questions than can ever be answered, and disturbing the veil between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Like scar tissue in the flesh, the collection as a whole looks at where things divided and where – and if – they have grown back together. It looks at what is and what might have been.

There is a strong sense of place in the stories in Scar Tissue. What does the concept of ‘place’ mean to you and how does it influence your writing?

Place is fundamental to who and what I am. It was a defining feature as I grew up in the Welsh countryside (rural Monmouthshire) and remains so. My paternal forebears were from Cardiganshire and Aberdare. My maternal family from the Marches – Pembridge Castle, Shobden, Symond’s Yat, Monmouth. Place to me is about belonging, or the absence of belonging. It has always been interlinked with history and time, and family, in complex ways.

You write often of relationships and their complexities. What draws you to this subject and how does it relate to other themes in your work? 

Relationships are fundamental to who we are and how we survive in the world. I believe they are infinitely complex and impossible ever to understand fully. The affections co-exist very often with their opposite.  Goodness and morality in all of us are countered by darker actions and instincts. My characters enact these endless oppositions and counter-tows, as they are buffeted by the equally complex and conflicting tides of life and circumstance. I think short stories have always explored these aspects of being human, from de Maupassant onwards through Raymond Carver and to George Saunders today.

You often switch between male and female narrators in your work, and many of the stories in Scar Tissue are written in the third person. How do you approach characterisation and narrative voice in your stories?

The stories speak to me in terms of who their central character is, and this influences the voice in terms of gender, and in terms of first, third or second person narration. I’ve always been comfortable writing from a male character. It just depends on who the story emanates from, and who I see and hear in my head. I often approach stories quite obliquely, and the third person allows plenty of room for manoeuvre in moving indirectly from the start point to the crux of the story.

The stories in Scar Tissue and your previous collection An Affair of the Heart are set in a wide range of geographical locations, although the characters in these stories aren’t always from those places. What drew you to each of these locations as settings for these stories? 

I’ve visited or worked in all the locations I write about. Being away from a usual environment enables a very different perspective on things in that being ‘other’ offers a detachment that fosters observation and reveals previously unrealised aspects of people and things.

In Scar Tissue American novelist Henry Miller and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche frequently appear, and elsewhere writers such as Virginia Wolf have featured in your work. How have these figures and other writers influenced your writing, and in particular the stories within Scar Tissue and An Affair of the Heart

Nietzsche and Woolf were characters in my novel A Book For All and None and have exercised a strong influence on my writing, as characters and as thinkers. Nietzsche’s writings on time, redemption and alienation are reflected in particular in some stories in Scar Tissue, while Woolf’s approaches to writing, and her contribution to the Modernist aesthetic, resonate throughout my work. Henry Miller is a key aspect of ‘Breathing on the Moon’ the first story in Scar Tissue, where he exercises a strong influence on the life and emotional approaches of the young central character.

In the story ‘Special’ you choose to write in second person. What difference does this make to the story and why did you make this decision?

The second person allows a writer to simultaneously occupy closeness and distance of voice and perspective. This give the almost hallucinatory quality of recollection that I was seeking in ‘Special’, where a young girl is at a turning point in her life and in her family’s fortunes.

Over twenty years have passed between first publication of An Affair of the Heart and your new collection Scar Tissue. How has your writing process changed during this time?

I think a constant has been the battle to carve out time to write, or at least substantial enough blocks of time to enable the intense concentration needed for a longer work. I used to write by hand initially, always in pencil. Now I tend to type onto my laptop, although I revert to longhand if I get stuck, or am writing in the middle of the night. Composing on my laptop still involves multiple drafts and sub-drafts (just as by hand) and I usually work with many windows open simultaneously, mimicking the pages of a A4 ruled writing book.

The last piece in Scar Tissue brings us inside your own home. What is the significance of ending the collection with this piece? 

The medieval farmhouse in Gwynedd where the last piece is set does offer a kind of permanence to set against the transient and fast-paced aspects of contemporary existence. Time appears to operate differently and there is a rootedness that doesn’t seem available in more recent settings. There’s a silence, too, through which it appears you can ‘hear’ the past and perhaps feel a connection to it that isn’t obvious elsewhere. It’s an illusion, no doubt, but perhaps a comforting one, and that has allowed me to suggest a kind of concreteness through being ‘Somewhere’ as opposed to ‘Nowhere’.

Scar Tissue is available on the Seren website for £9.99 or you can buy it in a bundle with An Affair of the Heart for just £15.00.

Join us for the launch of Scar Tissue at Kellogg College in Oxford at 6pm on Wednesday 28th September. RSVP to sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com.

Seren invites you to the launch of Scar Tissue by Clare Morgan. Wednesday 28th September 6-8pm. Kellogg College, 60 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PN. RSVP to sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com by 5pm on Tuesday 27th September. ISBN 9781781726891. www.serenbooks.com. £9.99

Friday Poem – ‘Fish. Oh. Fish’ by Judy Brown

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Fish. Oh. Fish’ by Judy Brown from her forthcoming collection Lairs.

This cover shows a collage of a woman sitting in a field at twilight starting at a giant black orb, in the distance, filled with stars. Red mountains stretch out behind it. The text reads Lairs Judy Brown.

Lairs brings together something primal and secret – the lair as haven for a wild or feral animal – with the poem framed as a mathematical equation. In these terms, the ‘lair’ is a kind of nest, a beautiful accumulation of dense detail. The poems are introspective, by turns mocking, fearful and analytical. Judy Brown’s use of language is innovative, while maintaining moments of vulnerability and moving self-awareness. In these exquisite poems, the lair is both the community at large and a dark and intricate interior space where something wild still survives.

Fish. Oh. Fish
‘Even snakes lie together’ – D.H. Lawrence (‘Fish’)
Your egg eye is open and you look worried.
You’re the scaly junior lawyer at midnight
f
alling short on her target of a year’s billable hours.
Corporate fish, you’re bright as pain, sliced up.
You share the water with a spill of inky stripes.
Y
our kind blaze colours fine as banknotes.
Oh, fish, you have whisked up a clever curve
defining the future as it draws itself into a fist.
Then the e
vening comes on, pistachio and blue.
You breathe and flex between bars of dark.
A clerk could still walk into the hot, open night
lea
ving a jacket on the back of her office chair.
A lit anglepoise floats above the papery desk.
There’s a deep anglerfish clocking the hours.
No one m
ust turn off your light while you are gone
or there’ll be nothing to swim back to
but a scrunchie of kelp, uncounted on dry sand.
Little fish,
everything that matters happens here.

Lairs is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The meaning of employable’ by Bryony Littlefair

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The meaning of employable’ by Bryony Littlefair from her forthcoming debut collection Escape Room which will be published on National Poetry Day.

This cover shows a collage of a woman in 50s dress standing beside an easel showing a close up picture of a man's torso blocking out a burning building. There is a eerie photo of white lightning against dark clouds behind her. The text reads: Escape Room, Bryony Littlefair

Escape Room is the long-awaited debut collection by Bryony Littlefair. This is a collection exploring the possibilities of freedom, goodness, meaning and connection under late capitalism. Can we escape the imperatives of money, gender and human fallibility to freely construct our own identities – should we even try This complexity is balanced with a resolute joy, humour and irony. If you’ve ever grappled with ‘a desire you could not understand / like wanting to touch dark, wet paint’, had an identity crisis at a corporate away day, or just not known what to do with your Sunday morning, the Escape Room is open for you.

The meaning of employable
always changes, used to mean you could whittle or solder
and almost definitely had a dick. Now your genitals can be any shape,
in this part of the world anyhow. And whittling and soldering
don’t matter so much. And the meaning of employable
is something else, a bit to do with your handshake, how firm, how dry,
a bit to do with how well you balance sincerity and irony.
But not in a way anyone can define.
I want to do a backflip!
I am weak and clumsy, but I could learn. A good backflip is a good backflip.
We know of what we speak. It must be light and springy, legs tight together.
A pleasing arch of the spine. I’ll backflip into an interview, quick and light
and maybe they’ll be shuffling their papers when I do it – there’s four of them –
so no one would be sure they saw, and wouldn’t say anything about it to the others. All would be feeling funny.
Maybe I had too many coffees today. So the backflip would not be acknowledged, would not be turned into something else, like
‘oh, I suppose it shows humour?’ drawls one. ‘Demonstrates initiative!’
the mousy one pipes up.
No. It will just be a backflip, a perfect, secret backflip,
and I’ll be delightful in the interview, but I won’t get the job. ‘Great on paper.
But something wasn’t quite right,’ one will say, and they’ll murmur in agreement.
Because I created in everyone a private unease, which is not
the meaning of employable, but could well be the meaning of life.

Escape Room is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Prayer’ by Grahame Davies

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Prayer’ by Grahame Davies from his collection Lightning Beneath the Sea.

This cover shows the far away, dark silhouette of a narwal floating in the empty blue ocean. The text reads: Grahame Davies, Lightning Beneath the Sea

Lightning Beneath the Sea is the first collection of poems in English by Grahame Davies, featuring the work that he has honed over the years as he has read them at literary festivals, conferences and events world-wide. Well-known for his prize-winning Welsh-language poetry and fiction, and for his scholarly non-fiction, he brings a native warmth, an intimate, conversational tone, and a raised civic awareness to these poems.

Grahame Davies
P R AY E R
Spirit, use me today,
not in some miracle
that would make others marvel
and would make me proud.
Not in the word of wisdom
that would stay in the mind
and make me always remembered.
Not in the heroic act
that would change the world for the better
and me for the worse.
But in the mundane miracles
of honesty and truth
that keep the sky from falling.
In the unremembered quiet words
that keep a soul on the path.
And in the unnoticed acts
that keep the world moving
slowly closer to the light.

Lightning Beneath the Sea is available on the Seren website: £8.99

This poem also featured in the anthology 100 Poems to Save the Earth.

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Friday Poem – ‘[ search ]’ by Sammy Weaver

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘[ search ]’ by Sammy Weaver from her pamphlet Angola, America which won this year’s Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Prize.

This cover shows a geometric image of think white lines against black stripes. A gaping white hole is cut from the middle. The text reads: Angola, America. Sammy Weaver.

Angola, America, winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2021, takes its name from a prison in Louisiana in the southern United Sates. In these strikingly original, thoroughly contemporary, and deeply moving poems, we are immersed in the world the inmates must endure. From the first poem, when we witness a home-made tattoo and understand that this scarring and incision is a “map in the connective tissue of pain and loss”, we are drawn into this world in a way that is carefully observed and beautifully empathetic.

[ search ] 

In the beginning the guard’s gloved hands
pat you down, searching for weapons,
his touch is weaponized, the muted duty 
of his movements smooth along each of your arms.  
Soon the guard’s touch is the only touch 
from another 
and you think of your mother 
after bath time, the harbour of her chest 
against yours, the rough-love of her towelling 
you dry, reaching into all the nooks 
and crannies, no cabbages behind the ears 
she says.  And yes, I guess searching the body 
is another way of saying the body is a trove 
of treasure and your touch a torch.

Angola, America is available on the Seren website: £6.00

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Read Sammy’s poem ‘[ exhibit : electric chair ]’ and a comment about ‘How she did it’ on the Mslexia website.

The Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2022 is now open for entries. Find out more here.

Friday Poem – ‘Navigation Points’ by Emily Blewitt

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Navigation Points’ by Emily Blewitt from her collection This Is Not A Rescue.

This cover shows a painting of a tabby cat with it's shadow set against a sandy stone background. The text reads: This Is Not A Rescue. Emily Blewitt. 'a riotus, cacophonous and wonderful book.' - Jonathan Edwards

In This Is Not A Rescue we are introduced to a poet whose voice is fresh and striking, who writes both forcefully and tenderly about refusing to be rescued, rescuing oneself, and rescuing others. This book is about finding love and keeping it, negotiating difficult family and personal struggles, and looking at the world with a lively, intelligent and sardonic eye.

Navigation Points
Crossing the bridge, you find me
by touch alone; have turned off
your sat nav, dipped your lights.
You feel your way
past landmarks, signs,
the steady flow
of traffic.
When you arrive, though,
I am still at the threshold.
Standing by streetlight,
I think I am lost.
You smile, then,
lead me gently inside;
draw the curtains,
undress me by sight.
You lower your long dark lashes
just once: to trace your route
across my skin.
These moles, you say,
fine points for navigation.
You’ll map my constellations, you explain,
know me anywhere.

This Is Not A Rescue is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘A Flock of Young Birds’ by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘A Flock of Young Birds’ by Hilary Llewellyn-Williams from her new book The Little Hours: New and Selected Poems.

The Little Hours: New and Selected Poems. Hilary Llewellyn-Williams.

The Little Hours: New and Selected Poems is a landmark volume which collects key poems from the career of Hilary Llewellyn-Williams, one of the outstanding poets of her generation in Wales. In addition to the classic sequences ‘The Tree Calendar’ and ‘Book of Shadows’, the book also includes new work, including ‘The Little Hours’, a new sequence arranged according to the traditional monastic hours. Llewellyn-Williams is one of the earliest environmental poets; her response to nature always profound, passionate and keenly observed. The Little Hours will remind readers of her many strengths and beauties and shows new readers the breadth and talent of a writer whose eye for vivid imagery and startling detail has always astounded.

A Flock of Young Birds 
for Bob Needs, i.m. Shirley Needs 

Something of me, a remnant 
enclosed in a little box 
tucked away in the rosy earth: 

yes, that dear dust, precious 
stuff from the breathing body 
that flourished and grew from my birth – 

while you who loved me gather 
around that trace of me, 
remember, mourn and pray

on this gentle August day of sun and breeze. 

How can I tell you now 
how much I love, how happy 
I am? How here, how near, how free? 

Now in this summer tree 
among the leaves, the light, 
the webs and spiderlings, the stray bees, 

I call these birds to sing that song for me.

The Little Hours: New and Selected Poems is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Park in the Afternoon’ by Dai George

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Park in the Afternoon’ by Dai George from his collection Karaoke King.

The cover of Karaoke King shows a drawing of a teenage boy wearing a red and brown stripped vest and white shirt. His glasses are crooked and he is wearing a crumpled yellow crown.

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. 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. 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. 

The Park in the Afternoon
By the goats, a high-vis warden
tweezers litter with glacial care.
Men bear tins of Scrumpy Jack aloft
to salute Ol’ Blue Eyes as he spreads
the news from a battered tape machine.
Their conductor lies down in the grass
crafting languorous signals from a spliff.
On the lunchtime news, a minister
reviled my productivity:
sleepwalking into a crisis
is how he described the nation’s plight
when output fails to tack with growth.
Watching a duckling wobble afloat
as sun glints, useless, on the pond,
I see his point. Diverse and splendid
things have brought us here, we heathens
in the Christendom to come. The drunk,
the retired, the roistering lads
bunking off early with blazer sleeves
riding up their arms – each of us
truant, and gentle for an hour,
our output no more than
what we can make
of the angle of
hurried daylight before
a shower.

Karaoke King is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Catch Dai George reading from Karaoke King alongside Ilse Pedler, Sarona Abuaker & Jeremy Dixon at Seren Cardiff Poetry Festival on Friday 29th July in Published During the Pandemic. Tickets are on sale here www.cardiffpoetryfestival.com/tickets-22.

Earlier this year, Dai George put together a playlist of songs that tie in with poems from Karaoke King. Take a look here.

Friday Poem – Page 35 from ‘Witch’ by Damian Walford Davies

This week’s Friday Poem is taken from Witch by Damian Walford Davies. This continuous narrative poem conjures a thrilling portrait of a Suffolk village in the throes of the witchcraft hunts of the mid-seventeenth century.

This cover shows a red sketchy print of a monkey sitting on a table beside a lamp. The text reads: Damian Walford Davies Witch.

With the narrative pull of a novel and the vibrancy of a play for voices, the poems in this collection are dark spells, compact and moving: seven sections, each of seven poems, each of seven couplets, are delivered by those most closely involved in the ‘making’ of a witch. The speakers authentically conjure a war-torn society in which religious paranoia amplifies local grievances to fever pitch. Damian Walford Davies’s Witch is a damning parable that chimes with the terror and anxieties of our own haunted age.

We were eeling in the fingers
of the creek, drawing knots
of muscle from the rushwork
creels, a silty tidemark just
above the knees. We watched
him loll along the boards,
lank sprays of loosestrife
in his hands. Clem dropped
her trussed skirt on the tide,
two eels flailing round
her wrists, quickening water
lapping at our legs. He saw us,
held his poor posy out. Love!
he said. I couldn’t say to which.

Witch is available on the Seren website: £8.99

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