This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Even in dreamscapes’ by Christopher Meredith from his most recent collection Still.
Christopher Meredith’s new poetry collection Still, uses the title word as a fulcrum to balance various paradoxical concerns: stillness and motion, memory and forgetting, sanity and madness, survival and extinction. Lively and thought-provoking, this is a beautifully crafted, humane and intelligent collection.
“Lyrical, always surprising, Meredith ‘fixes stillness’ in absences here. His perfect ear tunes in so precisely – especially to the natural world, it’s ‘edge of sense’ – we are left haunted á la Frost, by a deep lonliness in the human condition.” – Paul Henry
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.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Bocca della Verita’ by Robert Seatter from his new collection The House of Everything. The poems in this collection are all inspired by artefacts and spaces in Sir John Soane’s Museum. Sir John Soane was born on this day in 1753.
Universally captivating, Sir John Soane’s museum in London is a labyrinth of evocation and imagination. In The House of Everything, Robert Seatter conjures it up in a personal and poetic trail, capturing the tragic story of the man who created it and the eclectic collection he gathered within its walls. No matter if you have never visited the place before – the texts are intercut with a series of striking collages made by the poet himself which help to conjure the unique message of this book: how to make material our elusive dreams and imaginings.
Alison Binney’s pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens is the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2020.
For me, the kitchen is often the most appealing room in any home. In the house where I grew up, we had a dining table at one end of the lounge, which was only ever used when guests came round. All our other meals were eaten in the kitchen, so all the most interesting, impactful conversations I can remember are located around that small table, in the most intimate space in the heart of the house.
Some of my happiest memories are of cooking with my Mum – first as a small child entrusted with cutting out mince pie lids or stirring jelly cubes into boiling water, and later as an equal, experimenting together with Delia’s latest twists on old favourite recipes. And that kitchen was where the action happened too – the chip pan fire that we put out with a wet tea towel; my Mum’s shrieking encounter with a mouse that leapt from a sack she’d brought in from the garage; the gash from the cheese slicer to which my left thumb still bears witness. So much, also, that was less dramatic but more influential – all those conversations over cooking, over eating together, overheard from the family phone on the kitchen wall.
When I was hunting for a title for my first poetry pamphlet, I was not surprised, then, to be drawn to the final phrase of my poem Every time I came home: ‘dreaming of other women’s kitchens’. This poem recounts a time in my life when I was finding it hard to live up to what I felt were impossible ideals: a time when it seemed as if all my school and university friends, my cousins, and all the children of everyone my parents knew, were getting married, and then having children. Where the family kitchen had always been a space of comfort and camaraderie for me, I no longer felt confident in my place there, uncertain, like so many young gay people, about how my identity as a lesbian might fit with my parents’ expectations of me. The idea of other women’s kitchens, where I might experience an easy acceptance and a sense of fulfilment that I could not otherwise be sure of, felt like a very appealing fantasy.
It struck me, once I looked at the pamphlet through this lens, just how many of the poems in it are located in kitchens, or in kitchen-like spaces, or make reference to food. There’s the makeshift kitchen in a wicker barn where Anne Lister and her partner Ann Walker brew tea and coffee on the last day recorded in Anne Lister’s diary. There are the married women who ‘came home hungry, smelling of lentils’, after their encounters in a supermarket car park. There’s ‘tea with the lady mayoress’ in a found poem sourced from an old edition of the Girl Guide Handbook. And then there’s the kitchen as the location of a first date – probably just the sort of kitchen, complete with ‘individual chocolate mousses’, that my younger, uncertain self would have been delighted to know was waiting for her in the not-too-distant future.
I’m thrilled that the cover for Other Women’s Kitchens, painted so skilfully by Kate Winter, captures the mood as well as the appearance of my parents’ kitchen. I also love the shadowiness of the two superimposed figures, which allows plenty of space for imagination and interpretation. The teapot at the centre represents for me that sense of comfort and companionship integral to the essence of a kitchen – the place not only where significant things happen, but in which, so often, they’re mulled over, digested, poured out.
Other Women’s Kitchens is Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet of poems and introduces us to a gifted new voice who writes with flair and feeling about coming out and coming of age as a gay woman in 21st century Britain. The collection explores the challenges of discovering and owning a lesbian identity in the 1980s and 1990s and the joy of finding both love and increased confidence in that identity as an adult. An adroit admixture of the heart-wrenching and the humorous, the book features shaped and ‘found’ pieces, traditional narrative and compact prose poems. Beautifully entertaining, pointedly political and often very funny, Other Women’s Kitchens is essential reading.
Abeer Ameer writes of her forebears in her first collection, Inhale/Exile. Dedicated to the “holders of these stories”, the book begins with a poem about a storyteller on a rooftop in Najaf, Iraq, follows tales of courage and survival, and ends with a woman cooking food for neighbours on the anniversary of her son’s death.
“…these poems remind us that even in the darkest times, there is light, and there is love.” – Katherine Stansfield
Inhale/Exile is currently half-price in our bank holiday summer sale. Buy before midnight on Monday 30th August and get your copy for just £4.99! Buy now.
Inspired by the art restorer’s keen eye and by a vivid empathy for people and events, Restorations, is a journey through memory. Suffused with colour, inspired by thoughts of people and places, by artefacts and how the passage of time shifts perspectives and erodes surfaces, these poems are beautifully complex explorations, full of curiosity and the adventure of seeing and listening.
Yesterday, the Slate Landscapes of Northwest Wales were awarded World Heritage Status meaning they are now on the Unesco list of World Heritage Sites alongside landmarks the Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China.
The Gwynedd slate mines in Snowdonia were once said to have “roofed the 19th Century world” as slate from its quarries was exported around the globe. In this extract from Miriam, Daniel and Me by Euron Griffith, John Meredith is teaching apprentices how to cut slate in the same historic location.
When Miriam fell in love with Padraig life seemed simple. But soon she discovered that love is a treacherous business. Everything changed when she met Daniel. She was taken down an unexpected path which would dictate and dominate the rest of her life.
Spanning three generations of a North Wales family in a Welsh-speaking community, Miriam,Daniel and Me is an absorbing and compelling story of family discord, political turmoil, poetry, jealousy…and football.
John Meredith could slice slate as thin as paper. At the quarry he told the fresh crop of young apprentices who crowded around him every September that all they needed to do was find the sweet spot. Because a piece of slate was almost like a living thing. He would ask the boys if they’d ever stroked a cat. Some of them looked at each other with uncertainty. The braver ones would mumble that they had. So John Meredith explained that a cat always responded to a human hand and would guide it towards the spot where it wanted to be touched. The same was true of slate.
“Look at this mountain”, he’d say, directing their confused but eager faces to the massive whale of rock that they were precariously balanced upon. “What we’re doing is ripping this beautiful material out of Mount Orwig’s belly. Newly-mined slate rumbles past us on these trains and trucks – huge slabs. Raw. Listen to the groaning and squealing of the metal wheels. That tells you how heavy it is. You’d think it was cold and unfeeling wouldn’t you? But slate is alive boys. Trust me. As alive as you or me.”
It was a well-rehearsed lecture, delivered every year and honed, by now, as perfectly as one of his slices of slate. These were the less sturdy boys. The ones who had been deemed unsuitable for face-work. They’d been sent over by Mr MacNamara to learn how to cleave slate into thin slices using only a mallet and chisel and John Meredith was the best they had. A true artist. Now he was telling them about cats and saying that slate was alive. He knew they probably thought he was a bit mad.
“Okay boys,” he’d say, sticking the rolled-up cigarette behind his ear, “see how I’m tapping away at the rock with the blade of the chisel? What I’m searching for is that sweet spot. The place where, with one sharp tap of the mallet, the slate can be split cleanly and perfectly. That sweet spot is very important boys. It’s the key that opens up the treasure. But like with a new cat, it takes a while to find it. Unlike with a cat however, with slate you only get one chance. Get it wrong and you blow it. Which is why it’s important that you get it right. Otherwise all the men in Orwig – the men down in its bowels risking life and limb every day – won’t be happy with you. The last thing they want to see is their hard work wasted.”
He tapped the wooden hilt of the chisel. The blue-grey rock surrendered into two swooning squares.
“See how they’re both the same thickness boys? Pass them round. They’ve both got to be exactly the same thickness otherwise they’re no good.”
The apprentices would all look at each other anxiously but, in time, most of them got the hang of it. Mr MacNamara always congratulated him on training up a new generation of skilled craftsmen and if he only knew how valuable he really was, Mr MacNamara thought, he could probably demand double his wages.
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Boasting Sonnet’ by Katrina Naomi from her 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
This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The House of Everything’ the title poem from Robert Seatter’s new collection of the same name which is inspired by the collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.
Sir John Soane’s Museum in central London is a unique and idiosyncratic ‘house museum’, designed and built in the early 19th century by its obsessive architect/collector owner. The House of Everything takes the reader on a personal and poetic trail, capturing the tragic story of the man who created it, the eclectic collection he gathered within its walls, and most importantly what it says about our universal desire to leave a mark in space and time. No matter if you have never visited the place before – the texts are intercut with a series of striking collages made by the poet himself. They mix archive imagery of the house with contemporary visuals and help locate the reader in his/her passage through the house. They also help conjure the unique message of this book: how to make material our elusive dreams and imaginings.
As we continue to celebrate our 40th anniversary, our founder Cary Archard looks back at some of the long-lasting friendships which helped Seren grow into the press it is today.
Looking back, I’m struck by how important friendships have been to Seren’s progress the last forty years. ‘They came into our lives unasked for’ is the first line of ‘The Uninvited’, the first and earliest poem in Dannie Abse’s Collected Poems. I first met Dannie at a reading soon after he and his wife Joan bought Green Hollows, their home in Ogmore-by-Sea, in the early Seventies. It was the start of a forty year friendship. From the beginning of Seren, Dannie was an enthusiastic supporter, always particularly keen we should encourage and develop our poets. When within a year of start-up, running things from home became physically impossible, my living room already overflowing with parcels of books and a bigger space needed, Dannie offered the use of the annexe to his Ogmore house.
Ogmore-by-Sea was a wonderful place to be based. From the upstairs office window you could look across the grey sea to Devon or muse on the terrors of ‘the eternal, murderous fanged Tusker Rock’ (‘A letter from Ogmore-by-Sea’). Across the road was the Craig-yr-Eos Hotel (since turned into flats) where at lunchtimes you could discuss work over a pie and seek inspiration at the bar. Subsequent office locations have never been so romantic or so characterful. Seren’s super modern, hi-fied, all modcons, present office in the middle of Bridgend just doesn’t have the same charm. Looking back it’s tempting to think that life generally was better then, the pace slower, the publishing world kinder. A time when friendship influenced the decisions. Pressure now seems greater. Success however modest has its price perhaps. Dannie has been much missed since his death in 2014.
(A footnote: Dannie’s wonderful autobiographical novel, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve set in Cardiff in the thirties and Forties, published in 1954, never appeared on my Cardiff grammar school syllabus; instead for O level we were offered Harrow and the British army in Churchill’s My Early Life.)
From one chance friendship to another. Also in the early Seventies, I found myself teaching English in the Cynon Valley where I had grown up. I’d applied for the post of a history teacher in Swansea but missed the deadline for applications. Some kind officer in the Glamorgan office had noticed I had appropriate qualifications and sent me the details of the English job. I was lucky. Fortunate also to have arrived there just before Mrs Lewis, highly respected and loved Senior Mistress and German teacher, retired. So it was, ‘totally unasked for’, that I became a colleague of Gweno, wife of Alun Lewis (1915-1944), one of Wales’s finest twentieth century writers. At the time, I knew next to nothing about Lewis’s poetry and stories, even though I had grown up in the same valley. And as far as I can remember, his name had never been mentioned in my grammar school education.
Gweno and I became friends. It was a friendship which led to Seren’s most important publishing achievement, namely the publication of Alun Lewis’s Collected Poems, Collected Stories, and his Letters to my Wife. (Lewis is a wonderful letter writer; comparing him to Keats no exaggeration.) When Gweno returned to her family home in Aberystwyth, I often made that steep climb to ‘The Chateau’, a striking red house, high on the hill overlooking the bay. We talked about Alun, the young Cynon Valley boy (he was under thirty when he died in Burma), his family (I got to know Mair his sister later on), her involvement in his second book of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among The Trumpets, her guardianship of his reputation, and the progress of John Pikoulis’s biography. To be entrusted to publish the author’s work by his wife was a remarkable privilege. It was an unforgettable day when on one visit she brought me a packet inside which was a faded manuscript tied in a red ribbon. It was Alun’s copy of his unpublished early novel, Morlais, which Seren published in 2015, Lewis’s centenary. Just in time. Gweno sadly died the year after.
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