Friday Poem – ‘Swan’, Ross Cogan

Friday Poem Ross Cogan Swan

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Swan’, from Ross Cogan’s new collection, Bragr.

Ross Cogan BragrWhether it’s myth intended to explain the constellations, the secret of eternal life, or the bloodthirsty tale of the mead of poetry, Ross Cogan’s collection Bragr (meaning ‘poetry’ in Old Norse) is a reimagining of Norse mythology for our times. The collection also focuses on environmental concerns: the earth’s incredible beauty seems all the more fragile in the face of habitat loss and global warming.
In ‘Swan’ the poet recalls an archaeological dig and the discovery of a child’s grave. The centuries-old tomb contains something extraordinary: ‘a single swan’s wing’.

 

Swan Ross Cogan Bragr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bragr is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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Short Story of the Month | ‘Dolls’ Hospital’, Christopher Morley

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Dolls’ Hospital’ by Christopher Morley.

A young boy’s persistent curiosity sets him on an adventure to the mysterious Doll’s Hospital, in which he learns that not only dolls need mending.

Christopher Morley was born in Nottingham in 1946.

He is a retired primary school teacher, a fine artist and short story writer.

 

 

Dolls’ Hospital

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on the Seren website.

The Dolls’ Hospital was at the top of Alfreton Road near to Canning Circus. I had been aware of it ever since we had taken to visiting friends at Bobber’s Mill. It was necessary to catch a trolley bus, and the stop was almost outside the Dolls’ Hospital. Waiting for the trolley bus gave me enough time to gaze at the window display. The Hospital was a shop front of one large window, a recessed entrance and a much smaller window. Boards obscured the interior of the premises but afforded shallow display areas. On display were mostly dolls and teddy bears. Some were bandaged or had an arm in a sling. One teddy with a leg in plaster was propped up on a crutch. Some dolls wore old fashioned nurses’ outfits and tended patients in shoe-box beds. The main fascination for me was the small group of lead soldiers that represented the Army Medical Service. A wounded redcoat was being carried by blue tunic stretcher bearers towards a Florence Nightingale figure waiting at the entrance to a white medical tent. I wondered if there were more soldiers to be seen inside, but the Hospital was never open when I was there. There was a notice on the drawn down door blind that said that the hours were 9:30am to 5pm, with a lunch break between 12:30 and 1:30. Also the Hospital was open only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We visited our family friends on Saturdays. Anyway I didn’t have an excuse to go inside because I had no dolls that needed treatment, and I would never dare just go in for a look.

~o~

Mrs Hilton said that it would be nice to hear some diary entries read out. I shrank down hoping I wasn’t chosen, not because I couldn’t write or because I was nervous of reading aloud. I never seemed to have anything suitable to write about. Playing at soldiers and going to the cinema with my parents seemed so commonplace. Julia Billington was eager to read her diary. It was a sad account of her pet Chow-Chow who chewed off an arm belonging to her favourite doll. I sat up. I resolved to speak with her on the way home.

I caught up with Julia and Lorraine. Lorraine glared at me when I broke the rules and spoke to Julia. Julia beamed and listened.

‘You can get your doll’s arm mended at the Doll’s Hospital.’

When I told her where it was her ready smile faded. She had no idea where Alfreton Road was, and her parents wouldn’t let her go far without a suitable escort.

‘I could take you next week, it’s the holiday.’

Lorraine’s eyes bored into me. Julia resumed her smile and agreed to meet me at the bus terminus opposite her house on Tuesday to catch the 9:40 into town.

~o~

I fretted about this adventure all weekend, but was reassured when I saw Julia waiting beside the Number 19 with a parcel under arm. We sat downstairs on the left so as to be ready to get off. She peeled back the brown paper enough to show where the missing arm should be.

‘I told my Mother I was going to play with Mickey Hazeldine. What did you say?’

‘Oh, I said I was going to look at new dolls in Beeston with Lorraine. I’m allowed to go to Beeston if I’m with a friend. Lorraine’s really gone to her cousin’s.’

‘Tickets, please.’

The conductor was looming with his ticket machine. It was the one that my Mother said was lairy. He certainly was full of himself.

‘Two halves to Canning Circus, please.’

He grinned as he wound out the tickets, ‘Family outing is it?’

‘Yes,’ replied Julia, ‘We are taking baby to the hospital. She’s got polio.’

The conductor backed off. Julia was quick. Being a redhead she had had plenty of practice batting off silly remarks.

We got off just after the Drill Hall where the Territorial Soldiers met. It was only a couple of minutes’ walk around Canning Circus to get onto Alfreton Road. As soon as we turned the corner we could see the sign for the Dolls’ Hospital standing out from the wall. It was just about ten o’clock. There was a light on in the Hospital, much to my relief. The door pinged when I pushed it open.

Continue reading ‘Dolls’ Hospital’ for free here.

 

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’, Bryony Littlefair

Friday Poem Bryony Littlefair Dear Anne Monroe NHS

July 2018 marks 70 years of the National Health Service Act and the NHS. In celebration, acclaimed poet Owen Sheers has produced a new ‘film-poem’ showing twenty-four hours in the NHS, ‘To Provide All People’ – now available to watch on BBC iPlayer. This week’s Friday Poem by Bryony Littlefair, ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’, also gives us a glimpse inside our healthcare system.

Giraffe Bryony LittlefairAn apology opens this powerful poem, in which a healthcare assistant faces up to a patient’s pre-op fear and resistance: ‘I’m sorry that my sister will not let you take her blood/ for the operation that will save her life.’ Everyday struggles are presented in a stark light: the ‘gulped-down cheese and lettuce/ sandwich’, the intrusive questioning of ‘where it is you’re from originally’.
The politics in Littlefair’s poems are mostly implicit in the stories told, only occasionally bursting through like an urgent message. Giraffe, her Mslexia Prize-winning pamphlet, expertly merges the poet’s wit and wonderful humanity with novelistic qualities and a feminist kick: this is a beguiling, beautiful and entertaining debut.

Bryony Littlefair Dear Anne Monroe NHS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giraffe is available from the Seren website: £5.00

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Friday Poem – ‘Teaching the Trumpet’, Kim Moore

Friday poem Kim Moore

In advance of Kim Moore’s appearance on BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions this Sunday, our Friday Poem is ‘Teaching the Trumpet’, from Kim’s debut collection, The Art of Falling. 

The Art of Falling Kim MooreThe Art of Falling is Kim Moore’s first poetry collection and has already made big waves, with judges of the Geoffrey Faber memorial prize crowning it winner, and praising it as ‘thrilling language at its most irresistible and essential.’ ‘Teaching the Trumpet’ is one of many poems in this collection that confront the reader with startling realism. Alongside, we are offered portraits of John Lennon, Hartley Street, and a Tuesday at Wetherspoons, and the devastating central sequence, ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’, which recounts an abusive relationship.
If you would like to hear about some of the inspiration behind ‘Teaching the Trumpet’, listen in to BBC radio 3’s Private Passions at 12pm on Sunday (or listen online, whenever you want) where Kim will be discussing her love of brass instruments.

 

Kim Moore Teaching the Trumpet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Falling is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘The Pub at the End of the World’, Tamar Yoseloff

Friday Poem Pub Tamar Yoseloff

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘The Pub at the End of the World’ by Tamar Yoseloff from her recent New & Selected collection,A Formula for Night.

Tamar Yoseloff A Formula for NightA Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems encompasses selections from four published volumes: Sweetheart, Barnard’s Star, Fetch and The City with Horns, and poems from Yoseloff’s collaborations with artists: Formerly, Marks and Desire Paths. Her new poems are often artful explorations of paradox: death/birth, dark/light, clarity/mystery.
‘The Pub at the End of the World’ is an almost post-apocalyptic vision of a back-end bar with walls ‘darkened/ by nicotine’ and ‘pockmarked by countless failed bullseyes’. You may well know somewhere like it – somewhere you also feel ‘strangely at home’.

 

The Pub at the End of the World Judy Brown Friday Poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamar Yoseloff: A Formula for Night is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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Friday Poem- ‘The Madonna of Oxfam’, Judy Brown

Judy Brown Friday Poem Madonna of Oxfam

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘The Madonna of Oxfam’ by Judy Brown, from her latest collection,Crowd Sensations.

The Madonna of Oxfam Crowd Sensations Judy Brown‘The Madonna of Oxfam’ performs a surprisingly elaborate and intimate study of the act of charity shop browsing, as the poet’s thoughts turn to strangers’ lives and memories.
Like many of Judy Brown’s poems, the title and first lines draw you right in, and then surprise you with a narrative you hadn’t quite expected.
Judy has lived in London and Hong Kong and, having experienced both life in the city and countryside, she is able to portray an original and uncharacteristically unnerving portrayal of both landscapes. Crowd Sensations, much like its author, is an exploration of dazzling contrasts, of thoughtful paradox, intimate confidences and precise evocations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crowd Sensations is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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An extract from The Wellspring by Barney Norris

Barney Norris The Wellspring extract

‘A rare duet, in which father and son rediscover a whole world through the redeeming power of art.’
– Declan Kiberd

Barney Norris The WellspringIn The Wellspringacclaimed novelist and dramatist Barney Norris conducts a conversation with his even more acclaimed father, the pianist and composer David Owen Norris, on creativity, cultural identity, and how the two intertwine.

In this free extract, the conversation between father and son turns towards David’s career as a pianist: how it began; the impact of failures and accolades; the strangely altering milestone of 30.

This extract begins on page 87 of The Wellspring.

Playing

BN: I’ve titled this second sequence ‘Playing’. Ostensibly, what I hope to cover here is the bulk of your professional life – your work as a performer. But I have it in my mind as well that what we’re circling is one person’s route into a life, into living well, and I want to draw attention to that as we begin. This book will take the same path everyone does as they find their way into the world – first we listen, then we simulate, then we live. In some lives, I don’t think the path is as easy to trace. Not everyone has a vocation. Not everyone’s entire life can be expressed as the development of a single project. Of course, your life isn’t adequately summarised if we turn it into a single developing theme, either. If we were to exhaustively catalogue everything you’ve ever done, a meaning would emerge that was too diffuse and complex to express – or you might end up with a catalogue of infinite drift, I don’t know how open you are to the idea that lives have inherent meanings at all, or whether it’s fairer to say all narratives are superimposed. But the opportunity we have here is that it’s in the nature of an artist’s career, where the life feeds the work and the enthusiasms are buried deep in childhood and the work is all-consuming, that a narrative can be constructed more easily than is usually the case that expresses something like a linear development through life. So when looking at an artist’s life, you can say things about the way all people move through time more easily than you can with some other careers. The milestones are easier to make out. So for the purposes of this book we’ll read your performing career as a second stage in a development that leads, eventually, to the writing of music. Not an adequate summation, but perhaps it’s an interesting one, you see the two as connected?

DON: It was the break-down of my early composing career that led directly to my performing career. I’ve already hinted that my composing didn’t go down too well in 1970s Oxford, though come to think, I left with a composition scholarship to the Academy. But the contemptuous reaction to my B. Mus exercise a year later – ‘This fugue subject implies harmony’ was one criticism I still recall with some puzzlement – and the prevailing narrow taste in ‘modern music’ funding circles, led me to concentrate on something I did to everyone’s satisfaction, namely, play the piano. Young performers play a wide range of music, partly because they know they need a wide range of experience, and partly for frank commercial reasons, and so I formed hands-on opinions of the work of still-living composers like Tippett & Britten & Messiaen, and I gave innumerable premieres of works by composers now forgotten.

BN: It’s a very interesting environment, the generation of contemporaries one works with at the beginning, before it’s clear who’s really going to make it. I’ve been going through that myself for the last few years – it’s still a bit too soon to tell which of my generation of theatremakers will one day be filed under that ‘now forgotten’. Because there’s no precise formula for identifying the ones who’ll last, is there. It’s not only talent, it’s not only prevalent fashions in funding circles, it’s not only luck, it’s not only hard work, it’s not only whether you choose to have a family, or where you’re from, or who you know; it’s not even whether you’re someone that anyone likes. It’s terrifying, because of course, after the first six months when a few people who thought they were serious wake up and back out, anyone who’s tilting at the windmill of the arts can’t imagine doing anything else, and doesn’t have a back-up plan, even though some will end up needing one. The arts are so hard to break into, you’d never do it if you were capable of doing anything else. But it’s also a very wonderful moment, because, in a Schrodinger sort of way, you live suspended in this moment where anything might be possible for you and your friends – even if in actual fact, when you get to the end, you will look back and find that it wasn’t.

DON: ‘Now forgotten’ sounds callous, doesn’t it? I meant it more as a merciful imprecision. Your list of things that need to slot into place is pretty scary – and very carefully ordered! Academy Professors, as I discovered when I became one, all agreed that we should exert ourselves to the utmost to put students off, because only the students that can’t be put off stand the slightest chance in the business. Good as far as it goes, but things change, become less narrow – good changes as well as bad changes. Some of the less positive changes at institutions of higher education are down to money, which has all sorts of repercussions – not all new courses fill purely educational needs. Then, if half the population is going to university, degrees will need to change, not necessarily for the worse: but we need to make sure that the former methods of study, where they were valuable, can be continued – which has emphatically not happened in secondary school music.

But there are positive changes too. I’m thinking especially of social change. What’s often called dumbing-down (something I’ve hinted at in the previous paragraph) can also be seen as a welcome acceptance that art need not always be on the verge of unintelligibility to be worthy – which is why my music can reach listeners now, though it was so out of tune with the seventies. Another helpful social development is a public acceptance of the portfolio career. We can take real advantage of the new opportunities the twenty-first century has brought us, the communications revolution. I wonder if I could have created a taste for my sort of music back in the seventies, if we’d had the Internet. But it lumbers up too late, like Chesterfield coming to the assistance of Dr. Johnson. Still, it gives us new ways to reach audiences, if only we had time to develop them.

BN: You told me once that the thing to watch for was what happened when everyone turned thirty – it was around then that things started shaking out. Having turned thirty not so long ago, I can increasingly attest to the truth of this. Did that advice come from personal experience?

DON: Observation rather than experience, luckily. There were so many schemes and scholarships that you could compete for till you were thirty. After that, you were on your own, and many winners didn’t make the change into actually earning a living. It’s an age that concentrates the mind in many ways. Clocks are ticking, clocks of self-esteem as well as of biology. Is it still too late to become a bank manager? we used to ask ourselves back in the day, in blissful ignorance, probably, of how difficult it is to be a bank manager.

 

 

The Wellspring is available on the Seren website: £12.99

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An interview with novelist Naomi Krüger

Interview novelist Naomi Kruger

Naomi Krüger MayNaomi Krüger’s debut novel, May, provides a sensitive and moving insight into the life of the title character. We see May in glimpses through the eyes of her loved ones, and from her own perspective: from the past to her present in a care home, where she now struggles to maintain her identity and memory as she wrestles with the effects of dementia.

What moved Naomi to write such a novel, and how did she go about it? In this interview, Seren’s Rosie Johns asks Naomi all about the creation of May.

 

What do you think it is about fiction that makes it a good form in which to address subjects such as dementia? 

Dementia is something that inspires a lot of fear and is often represented in the media in reductive and sensationalist ways. What I think fiction can do is give nuance to these kinds of representations. It can allow us to imagine what it might be like to live with a disease that affects memory, identity and perception. It can remind us that someone with dementia is more than a diagnosis. It can complicate the stereotype. But in some ways dementia resists narrative representations because the very things we need to write and read a story (the ability to make connections between past and present, the ability to anticipate what comes next) are disrupted. So it’s a complex thing to try to narrate in first person.

 

In May, there are several different narratives of which May’s story –despite being the thing to connect them all – is only a part. What influenced your decision to depict this story in such a way? 

I wanted May to be part of a community of voices. In some ways this was a practical choice because it would be hard to sustain a whole novel in such a fragmented consciousness. But I also wanted to show that May’s identity is inter-subjective. She has dementia but she is also part of a family and a community. She is influenced by her past experiences and her current environment in the care home. As I began writing the other narratives, interesting parallels emerged. Many of the other characters feel lost or alone. They forget things, lie or fail to speak. They are not as different from May as you might imagine at first. There are opportunities for connection and although the characters don’t always take these, I wanted readers to sense these spaces, to see May through the eyes of other people and build up a complex picture of someone who struggles to speak fro herself but still has things to communicate.

 

Given the delicate nature of the subject matter and the abstract style in which you approached it, did you find narrating May’s perspective difficult? Were there any other characters whose narratives were particularly easy or difficult to write? 

Capturing May’s perspective was a shifting experiment. At times it felt like a giant imaginative leap. Although she is a fictional character I did feel a sense of responsibility to research the effects of dementia and spend time with people who live with the disease to get a sense of the reality. But of course this varies from person to person and diagnosis to diagnosis. Ultimately it is an approximation of something often beyond language that has to feel as ‘real’ as possible. Afsana was another character that I felt a real responsibility to. I didn’t find her difficult to imagine or write, but because I was taking a cultural leap I spent a lot of time researching and trying to make sure the details were right.

 

Another character we get very close to throughout the novel is May’s grandson, Alex. He finds his grandmother’s deterioration particularly hard to deal with, especially when her memory of him fades. What would your advice be to those who find themselves in a similar position to Alex?

I think it can be very scary and upsetting to feel unseen and unknown by a person who has  previously been a big part of your life and identity. This can hit particularly hard for young people who are still in the process of finding their place in the world. I am very fond of Alex as a character. Although the book is not autobiographical his experience is very loosely inspired by my own reaction to my grandfather’s Parkinson’s related dementia. He lived with my family for my whole life and died when I was sixteen. When he began to get confused and hallucinate I didn’t deal with it very well. I went from daily contact to avoiding him as much as possible. When he was transferred to a home I didn’t visit him as much as I could have. I didn’t know what to say. My advice to my younger self would be to go anyway, to meet him wherever he is. To listen, to communicate through music or photographs or touch, to feel the fear and still go.

 

Finally, if you could recommend one book that readers of May will also love, what would it be?

I’m going to cheat and say three!

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively: A book that plays with memory, hope and regret in really interesting and beautiful ways.

The Turning by Tim Winton: A collection of interconnected short stories set on the Australian coast. I love the way the characters re-emerge, trespass and become more and more complex with each story.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Another collection of stories, but this time focused on one main protagonist. I love how the book builds layers of relationships often through the mundane and domestic details, the moments that build and accumulate.

 

 

May is available from the Seren website: £8.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Young Summer’, Leslie Norris

Friday Poem Leslie Norris Young Summer

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Young Summer’ by the prize-winning poet, Leslie Norris.

Leslie Norris Complete Poems‘Young Summer’ is one of the many vivid and captivating poems to be brought together in the landmark Leslie Norris: The Complete Poems, and offers a vision of the poet poised between youth and manhood: ‘Forward is the only way to go’, he reluctantly admits.
The Complete Poems contains 300 of Norris’ poems in total, some previously unpublished, and reflects the sixty plus year publishing life of the late Leslie Norris, who died in 2007, aged 86. Norris was best known as a nature poet and elegist of passion and rare expression. Lyrical and individual, to his closely observed poems, each word weighted and in its correct place, Norris introduces a strong metaphysical element which makes the poems, as Edward Lucie-Smith noted, “much larger than the sum of their parts”.

 

Leslie Norris Friday Poem Young Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leslie Norris: The Complete Poems is available on the Seren website: £25.00

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Friday Poem – ‘How to make a good crisp sandwich’, Katherine Stansfield

Friday Poem How to make a good crisp sandwich

Did you know it’s British Sandwich Week, 20-26 May? Yes – there really is a day (or week) for everything. And in celebration, our Friday Poem is Katherine Stansfield’s ‘How to make a good crisp sandwich’.

playing house katherine stansfieldThis is a poem that really does what it says on the tin: ‘crisps don’t work alone’, the poet warns, then proceeds to carefully list the potential permutations of this most British of sandwiches. ‘Who does this sandwich want to be?’ You may not have asked yourself this question before – so grab the bread, open a pack of crisps, and ponder.
Katherine Stansfield’s poetic debut, Playing House is marked by a concise wit, a distinct voice and an unsettling view of the domestic.
‘Striking imagery, strange leaps of thought, wit and menace aside, the unmistakeable thrill of Katherine Stansfield’s poetry is in the voice. It addresses the world directly, takes it personally, and comes at the reader from constantly unexpected angles, a tangible, physical thing.’ Philip Gross

 

Friday Poem Katherine Stansfield How to make a good crisp sandwich

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing House is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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