Friday Poem – ‘St Michael’s’ by Paul Henry

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘St Michael’s’ by Paul Henry from his collection The Glass Aisle.

The Glass Aisle Paul HenryThe Glass Aisle is Paul Henry’s tenth book of verse and features all the lyrical precision, empathy for the human condition and deep sense of temporal loss that have become the hallmarks of his work. The poems move between rage and stillness, past and present, music and silence. The title poem is a moving elegy to displaced workhouse residents, set on a stretch of canal in the Brecon Beacons National Park, in which a telephone engineer unwittingly connects the centuries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glass Aisle (usually £9.99) is available for just £4.99 on the Seren website this weekend in our half-price Summer Sale!

We’ve got great deals across poetry, fiction and non-fiction all weekend on www.serenbooks.com. Sale ends midnight Monday 3rd August. Happy browsing! 

Friday Poem – ‘Soundings, Newtown’ by Katherine Stansfield

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Soundings, Newtown’ 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

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

Watch Katherine reading her poem ‘The suitcases’ on our Youtube channel

Friday Poem – ’Jürgen Klopp‘ by Ben Wilkinson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Jürgen Klopp’ by Ben Wilkinson, a new poem written to celebrate Liverpool FC winning the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.

Way More Than Luck Ben WilkinsonWay More Than Luck is the vivid debut collection of well-known poet and critic Ben Wilkinson. At its heart is a series of poems inspired by a lifelong devotion to Liverpool Football Club. We meet former players, coaches and re-live moments of both stoic despair and wild joy, where vivid themes are adroitly enacted in poetic forms.

“…an absorbing read that we are way more than lucky to have.” – Ian Duhig

Way More Than Luck is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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

Short Story of the Month – ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris which features in her short story collection Writing on Water.

Writing on Water Maggie HarrisMaggie Harris’ short story collection Writing on Water  is informed by the Caribbean, where she was born, and Britain where she has lived as an adult, and through them, the wider world. Issues of belonging and migration feature, but alongside these are growing interests in voice, narrative, gardening and botany, music and family. There are both UK and Caribbean voices in these tales, told by children, migrants, mothers, grandparents.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Sugarcane for My Sweetheart

Maya is dreaming of kitchens. New kitchens. Not open to the air, wood-smoke kitchens; not kerosene stoves or coalpot kitchens. New kitchens. Kitchens of pine and oak and beech. Kitchens with solid wood doors and MDF shelves, kitchens with laminate and chrome, Mediterranean tiles, Victorian pulleys, cork and slate floors, quarry tiles.
In her dreams she enters those kitchens as she has taken to entering all those showrooms on lunchtime Sundays: with the slow excited steps of a traveller arriving. Eyes stray past customs, the loitering salesman, the swing doors past Immigration. Gleaming glass-fronted doors hold her gaze like shimmering tarmac. They draw her in like mirrors, framing the new arrival. Excitement is mixed with fear and longing, slowed by the shuffling progress of the queue.
Her kitchen measurements are clutched tight in her hands like a passport; over and over she checks them: the permit, the invitation letter, traveller’s cheques crisp and new in their plastic sleeve.
She has reason to feel afraid. On her return from the island the eyes of the officer had scalded Maya. They highlighted her like a spotlight, running her up and down as if they could see right through her. A chorus had risen from the queue like the tide, washing over her with a high Atlantic wave. In this dream her mother is by her side, her spirit hands even more frantic in death, fluttering a British passport that only Maya could see, tickets and boarding passes scattering on the desk like the plucked feathers of a broiling bird.
In her dream the showrooms stretch: long corridors of gleaming perfection. Miles and miles of shining flooring glide her on its conveyor belt, kitchen after kitchen smiling like models, preening their leaded light and bubble-glassed doors, their plaited cornices like wooden pigtails, their panels in Bermuda Blue, Nevada Blond, Pine Forest. Her dreams have kept up with fashion, solid pine and farmhouse oak that had once beamed their rustic Englishness, Middle England Agas nestling securely like the Cotswold Hills, no longer feature. Now chrome and beech and Shaker kitchens lure her, will her to run her fingers on their smooth fine grain, their granite and Corian worktops combining style and utilitarian twenty-first century designs.
The salesman disappears. Other dreamers have re-commissioned him; they sit in the conservatory-style office with their dream kitchen coming alive on a computer screen, Mr and Mrs Doggy nodding, car-window heads beaming. Their Cheshire smiles fill Maya’s vision and suddenly she is horizontal, being whisked along white corridors with ceilings of ceramic hobs, their halogen spotlights steaming her face like Granny’s Vicks. Perspiration is running down her cheeks, the small of her back. The steward has opened the aircraft door and Maya is descending. Heat washes over her like invisible rain. Tarmac ripples in the haze. The redcap boys run with their luggage trolleys. Water runs down her back. She is a dog in the shadows, turning over and over in the liquid heat, an insistent voice riding over the surf.
‘Maya! Maya!’
Denver is nuzzling his face into her neck. His hand rests on her hip. Her eyes flutter into a still-dark morning. She senses his body wakening. He is not yet, fully. In a minute he will be, and remember. He’ll turn away then, face his own wall, summon the energy to rise, get ready for work.
Beneath her the towel is damp and hard. Many washes in this limescaled water has wrung any softness out. She thinks of the towels in Uncle Danny’s bathroom, the white fleshy softness, her body cosseted, white tiles reflecting her face. There was no limescale back there. How she loved to hang the washing out then! Hook them on the line, watch them dance like kites in the wild wind, sing in a soft breeze. She had washed everything in sight, tea cloths, Uncle Danny’s clothes, her own. Just to smell them, feel them, watch them dry face up to the sun, unaccustomed in cold dank London.
The first thing they tell you when you return is to tek it easy, you back home now. So fill your eyes with the coconut trees, the endless beach, the boats turning out to sea. Lone fishermen pushed their bikes across the sand, their dogs nosing alongside. And the sky, the sky! That brilliant cobalt blue, stretching a panorama between memory and reality. Tourists didn’t make it this far. Here it was too rough to swim, the waves still angry at history, guarding the wrecks viciously. Their anger had moved from scuttles to schooners and jet skis, to slippery fishing boats with secret cargoes. And you try and take it easy. Borrow that inherent ambiance, live one day at a time. But soon you realise that what you’re doing is waiting. Waiting for time to stand still. Time has stood still for Maya in this particular place.
Waiting. Watching the shifting blues, the white haze, the fisherman becoming a dot. The clothes on the line have dried, her swimsuit a kitten at play, relishing this now-time, this brief sojourn before being folded into a drawer, nestling in the dark like a hyacinth bulb.

Finish reading ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ on the Seren website here.

Writing on Water is available on the Seren website: £8.99

Friday Poem – ‘Isolation Blessing’ by Polly Atkin

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Isolation Blessing’ by Polly Atkin, author of Basic Nest Architecture. This poem was first published for Manchester Writing School’s Write Where We Are Now project which invites poets to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, is complex, vivid and moving. It opens with poems inspired by her home in the Lake District, and the landscape and famous Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats, who have walked there and written about the fells and lakes. Nature is a guiding presence, but the author’s personal story, of enduring a little-known and sometimes debilitating illness, is also the backdrop to this striking poetry. Formally, this work is more akin to the metaphysical poets in its fervent use of metaphor, in its multiple layers of meaning and in its quest for answers to the most pressing questions of mortality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic Nest Architecture 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 – ‘Poem in Which She Wears Her Favourite Wedding Dress’ by Katrina Naomi

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Poem in Which She Wears Her Favourite Wedding Dress’ by Katrina Naomi from her new collection Wild Persistence.

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.

Join us for the virtual launch of Wild Persistence on Thursday 11th June at 6:30pm live via the online platform Zoom. Email sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com for the link details. 

Watch Katrina read her poem ‘Maybe Owls’ on our Youtube channel:

Friday Poem – ‘This Is The Drawer’ by Rhian Edwards

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘This Is The Drawer’ by Rhian Edwards from her new collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter which is published on Monday 1st June.

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

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

Join us for the virtual launch of The Estate Agent’s Daughter on Tuesday 16th June at 7:30pm live via the online platform Zoom. Email sarahjohnson@serenbooks.com for the link details. 

Friday Poem – ‘Skype’ by Martyn Crucefix

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

We were fortunate enough to hear Martyn read this poem during our Stay-at-Home Series event yesterday evening.

Martyn Crucefix The Lovely DisciplinesDisplaying 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

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

Join us for the final event of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series this evening from 7:30pm! David Llewellyn, author of the Polari Prize shortlisted novel A Simple Scale, will be in conversation with Nemonie Craven Roderick. Actor Samuel West is also joining us to read excerpts from the book. Get tickets on our website here.

Guest Post: Tony Curtis marks International Conscientious Objectors Day

Today is International Conscientious Objectors Day. Celebrated on the 15th May every year, it is a day to remember those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill, both in the past and today. There have been a number of notable COs within art and literature in Wales and in this guest post Tony Curtis reflects on them.

Concerning Some Conchies: A brief survey of some notable COs in Welsh art and letters

On May 15th this year we commemorate International Conscientious Objectors Day. In my 2007 book Wales at War: Essays on Literature and Art  I found myself writing a chapter on pacifism and conscientious objectors in Wales. I was ill-prepared, but had been let down by a fellow academic and the book was past its projected publication deadline. There have been more useful sources published since then and I have more reasons to re-visit the subject having found out about my father’s court-martial in 1943. I try to deal with this in the poem ‘Pro Patria’ (From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems, Seren, 2016) but I am still to be convinced that his leaving the army and brief imprisonment can be explained by the CO story some members of my family clung to.

Whatever happened, the whole thing’s been
washed away – personal feelings, the loss of face,
a Field General Court Martial
before they packed you off to Lincoln Prison
and a cell alongside the ne’er do wells,
Quakers and spivs, malingerers, wastes of space.

What is certain is that I had several writer and artist friends who really had been COs and had suffered the consequences. Two of the earliest and most valued supporters and influences on my early writing career were Glyn Jones (1905-95) and Roland Mathias (1915-2007). In 1940 Glyn had registered his objection to the war, despite the fact that, as a teacher, he would have been unlikely to be conscripted immediately anyway. He was sacked from his teaching job in Cardiff, but later found another post. Glyn’s reasons for protesting were rooted in his Christian belief. His position is an interesting contrast to that of his friend Dylan Thomas, who sent letter after letter to Glyn and others in a desperate attempt to avoid conscription. Glyn’s close friend, the artist John Elwyn (1916-97) was also a CO. In the middle of his studies at the Royal College of Art, in 1940 he objected and was directed to farm work in what was then the village of Lisvane, north of Cardiff. His paintings of Ceredigion are luminous and celebratory, as in this fitting cover to Glyn’s Selected Poems.

More determined and honest in his position than Dylan was their contemporary Roland Mathias, the poet, critic and founding editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review, who was jailed twice for his objections. Roland’s father had served as an army chaplain in the First World War and had retired before the Second with the rank of Colonel. However, Roland’s mother was a firm and unyielding pacifist who had no sympathy for army life and profoundly influenced Roland. He was adamant; the wing forward for St Helens RFC, “One scarcely expects to find a pacifist in a rugby pack”, as a glowing match report observed, absolutely refused any wartime activity that might have been seen to condone the fighting.

On the occasion of his second term of imprisonment, with hard labour, his pupils at the Blue Coat School in Reading raised the money to secure his release. For he had suffered:

Seven-square days that bleach and crack
Between the wells and balconies
And concrete exercise…

The significant Welsh language poet Waldo Williams (1904-71) wrote of the horrors of the Swansea Blitz in ‘Y Tangnefeddwyr’.  He was from a Baptist upbringing, though later a Quaker, embodied the two main strands of conscientious objection in Wales – religion and politics – as he was also a Labour Party member in the Thirties. Waldo maintained his position throughout his life; he lost his teaching job in the war, and he later refused to pay taxes to support the Korean War. He too was jailed on two occasions as a protest against conscription and National Service: “The sick world’s balm shall be brotherhood alone.” Williams was undoubtedly influenced by the poetry and politics of the older Pembrokeshire poet T.E. Nicholas.

T.E. Nicholas (1879-1971) ‘Niclas y Glais’, was a pacifist through both world wars. He and his son Islwyn were jailed on ludicrous charges of fascism in 1940. A committed Christian and Communist, a non-conformist minster who later trained as a dentist, Nicholas wrote his admired Prison Sonnets after spells in Swansea and Brixton and these were published during the war. He had also preached consistently against the Great War and would surely have been imprisoned then if he had not been an ordained minister.

In the last decade of his life I became friends with the writer and artist Jonah Jones (1919-2004) whose remarkable life has been celebrated in the Seren books An Artist’s Life and Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector (edited by son Peter Jones). Fascinated by John Pett’s illustrations to Dylan Thomas poems in issues of Wales magazine, Jonah followed his fellow Conchie into the army as an unarmed medic in the Parachute Regiment.  He described the exhilaration and terror of jumping: “…when I jump, once I’m in the slipstream, I just ride it like a witch riding her broom.” After jumps over occupied Europe in support of the Allied offensive Jonah arrived at the Belsen concentration camp. After witnessing those horrors he said he knew his objection had been wrong.

Dear Mona Jonah Jones

The artist, collector and critic Arthur Giardelli (1911-2009), as a teacher in Folkestone, was evacuated to the south Wales valleys and there, after his sacking as a CO, was instrumental in setting up the Dowlais Settlement. After the war, Arthur moved to Pendine, then into south Pembrokeshire; he contributed greatly to the practice and teaching of art in Wales for the next sixty years, particularly in his innovative paper and shell constructions and his work for the 56 Group. His re-location to Wales, as that of the refugee Polish Jew Josef Herman, was one of the significantly positive consequences of the dislocation that war can bring.

Emyr Humphreys is one hundred and one years old this year. The pre-eminent novelist of the twentieth century in Wales, his work is predicated on a non-conformist faith which meant that he registered as a CO in the Second World War and, in common with Jonah Jones, worked on the land. He later undertook relief work with displaced persons in Italy and Egypt. For over sixty years his books, broadcasting work and criticism have reflected a commitment to Wales that is unparalleled.

Therefore prepare the stage for a decent action
Present the right alignment for a crime
International crisis is a personal situation
Prison, wall, bandage and the lime.

(‘Courage’)

Conscientious Objection in Wales may be traced from D. Gwenallt Jones (1899-1968) the Welsh Nationalist and Christian poet, who was one of the most notable COs in the Great War. Conscripted in 1917, he objected and was sent to Wormwood Scrubs and then a work unit at Dartmoor. It may be argued that this tradition and those principles informed and guided later protest movements. The arson carried out at Penrhos, at the proposed site of a bombing school by Saunders Lewis, D.J. Williams and Lewis Valentine at Penrhos in 1936 and later the Tryweryn actions and protests of 1965, are all part of the narrative of resistance in Wales to British policies.

‘Y Tri: The Three’ © Ifor Davies

So too the C.N.D. protests in Wales which included the occasion when R.S. Thomas and others sat down in the road in front of the council offices in Carmarthen town where a nuclear bunker was said to have been built. The Greenham Common fence camps of 1981-2000 which began with the march from Cardiff to Berkshire by the Women for Life on Earth group would also be a significant example of those principles of peaceful protest. The artist Ifor Davies (b. 1935) continues to explore this legacy of protest.

‘Yr Ysgrifen ar y Mur I: The Writing on the Wall I’ © Ifor Davies, 2000

There is a tradition of religious and socialist action which in the literatures and art of our country have been an important element in our challenge of self-identification. Today there is an opportunity again to reflect on COs from Wales and their continuing influence.

Tony Curtis

 

Tony Curtis is a poet, critic, essayist and expert on Welsh Art. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including his latest: From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems. He has also written volumes of critical work on poets and artists and edited popular anthologies of poetry. He is Emeritus Professor of Poetry at the University of South Wales, where he established and was Director of the MPhil in Writing for many years. He has been elected to the Royal Society of Literature and has toured widely reading his poetry to international audiences.

From the Fortunate Isles: New and Selected Poems is available on the Seren website: £12.99

Friday Poem – ‘Two Clouds’ by Ben Wilkinson

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Two Clouds’ by Ben Wilkinson from his debut collection Way More Than Luck.

Ben will be reading for us as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tonight at 7:30pm. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.

Way More Than Luck Ben WilkinsonWay More Than Luck is the vivid debut collection of well-known poet and critic Ben Wilkinson. At its heart is a series of poems inspired by a lifelong devotion to Liverpool Football Club. We meet former players, coaches and re-live moments of both stoic despair and wild joy, where vivid themes are adroitly enacted in poetic forms.

“…an absorbing read that we are way more than lucky to have.” – Ian Duhig

Way More Than Luck is available on the Seren website: £9.99

*All ticket holders for the Seren Stay-at-Home Series also get an exclusive 30% discount code to use on the Seren website.

See the full Seren Stay-at-Home Series programme here.