Friday Poem – ‘Body Language’ by Tamar Yoseloff

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Body Language’ by Tamar Yoseloff from her new collection The Black Place. You can watch video interviews of Tamar reading from and talking about the collection on our Youtube channel.

The Black Place is a dark and gorgeously multi-faceted collection that eschews the sentimental, embraces alternatives and offers antidotes to cheery capitalist hype. But there is a sort of dark grandeur to Tamar Yoseloff’s view of mortality, one that matches the sublime desert painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, the subject of the title poem. The book’s subjects include Georgia O’Keeffe, the poet’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

 

The Black Place is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Join us to celebrate the launch of The Black Place this coming Monday (25th November) from 7pm – Downstairs at The Department Store, Brixton, London. Tamar will be joined by special guests Tim Dooley, Sue Rose, Claire Crowther and Anne Berkley. All welcome. Find the full details on our website.

Friday Poem – ‘Our Mothers’ Bodies’ by Alexandra Ford

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Our Mothers’ Bodies’ by Alexandra Ford. Alexandra’s debut novel What Remains at the End was published last month.

In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, the Danube Swabians, were expelled by Tito’s Partisan regime. A further sixty-thousand were killed. Seventy years later Marie Kholer travels to Europe to learn the truth about her grandparents’ flight to America. A story of war and suffering, of loss and the search for connection and identity, it is an intriguing debut novel from Alexandra Ford.

 

What Remains at the End is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss the launch of What Remains at the End, taking place on Saturday 23rd November at the The Hurst, The John Osbourne Arvon Centre. There will be books, wine and cake! See the full details here

Katrina Naomi shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Katrina Naomi author of The Way the Crocodile Taught Me. Katrina is a poet, tutor, critic, mentor and translator who lives in Cornwall. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and is currently included in London’s Poems on the Underground. Her next collection is forthcoming in 2020.

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me Katrina NaomiThe Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a vibrant, heartfelt and tragi-comic collection of poetry. With warmth, flair and a certain ferocious wit, Naomi tears into her subject matter: a childhood fraught with family dislocation, upsets and even occasional violence, and finds, through her art, moments of grace, humour and redemption. It will delight people who know Naomi’s work and undoubtedly win new fans for her courageous and unabashedly entertaining poems.

What first drew you to poetry?

I came to poetry by mistake. I was trying to write about something I really cared about and found that I’d written a poem.

Where do you look to for inspiration?

Art, walking, film and other poets.

What poets or writers inspire you?

There’s so many! One poet who always inspires me is Peter Redgrove.

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so?

I do write full time, I found that when I was working in my former human rights job, that I was spending longer and longer lunch breaks writing poems. Something had to give. I thought I’d take voluntary redundancy and see if I could get anywhere with my poetry. That year I won a poetry competition and was published soon afterwards. So I’ve kept going.

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write?

I usually read another poetry collection for about 20 minutes, or I copy out a poem that I really admire. This gets me to slow down and really look and think.

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive?

I talk to my partner or close friends when I’ve had a disappointment. Also, I often write about the disappointment and see if I can turn it into some other beast. That helps!

 

Katrina’s collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘What’s the Welsh for ‘Fire-Cracker’?’ by Marc Evans

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘What’s the Welsh for ‘Fire-Cracker’?’ by Marc Evans. Marc is a regular attendee of our First Thursday evenings which happen once a month at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. He read this poem in the open mic session a few months ago and we thought it was perfect to share with you this week just after bonfire night.

 

 

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‘Footnotes to Water’: An Interview with Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding is a poet, critic and translator who has lived in north Wales since 1991. She is the author of a number of poetry collections including The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (Seren), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award, and Remains of a Future City (Seren), which was long-listed for Wales Book of the Year. In 2018 she was a recipient of the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors for her contribution to poetry.

Her new collection Footnotes to Water follows two forgotten rivers and tracks the literary hoofprints of sheep through Welsh mountains. In these journeys she reveals urban and rural locales as sites of lively interconnection, exploring the ways in which place shapes and is shaped by language. In this interview she gives us a deeper insight into these connections and tells us about some of the processes behind her poetry.

Water can quite literally reflect us, and the symbol of the river features heavily throughout the collection. Why do you think water is so expressive of identity?

I’m more interested in water that is hidden, or that has disappeared, than in reflective surfaces. I don’t think water necessarily expresses identity at all, though it does tend to be a central concern of Welsh writing – there’s Tryweryn, of course, with the idea of loss of language and identity. I was drawn to the Adda in Bangor because it seemed to be the shape of a void I noticed in the city, but it’s not just about language – it’s also about an economic logic that destroys a community’s relationship with itself and its non-human surroundings. On the other hand, water is what connects us to each other and to the rest of the physical world, so it’s a way of thinking about new kinds of belonging.

You use the Welsh language throughout certain poems, although you write primarily in English. Why is that?

I can’t write in Welsh, but in writing about Bangor I wanted to reflect my experience of hearing the city, which is that Welsh is a constant, if fragmentary presence, and one I value. The occasional Welsh phrases are all quotation because my relationship to Welsh is that it lives in my ears, but not in my mouth. One day that may be different, but for now this is the best way I can respond to where I am.

Is this a collection to be read aloud? How could speaking the poems affect our understanding of them?

For me, reading and writing poetry is very much about the sound and weight of words, whether they are sounded aloud or voiced in the head, so sound and meaning are always intricately connected.

The collection brims with varying experimental forms. Can breaking form challenge our conceptions of the world around us?

I like having a constraint to work against, so the book begins and ends with sonnet sequences, although they might not be immediately recognisable as such. In both cases, I was thinking about the form of a river, and the shape that gives it pressure and movement. In the first poem there’s a seven-syllable line, which is more common in Welsh poetry than in English, and it has the effect of wrong-footing the expected rhythm. In many of the forms I used I was trying to find ways of tripping up my expectations of a very familiar city.

In the collection, you seem inspired by the landscape, letters, news reports, and the literature and voices of others. What inspired you the most? Is there somewhere you often look to for inspiration when beginning to write?

I walk and I read, and in some ways these can be quite similar kinds of exploration. ‘Heft’ is about both of those things at once, a journey though text and landscape.

In the poem, ‘Walking the Adda: A Collaboration’ you incorporate ‘comments made on and after public walks’. How did you approach incorporating the voices of others into your work? Would you say the role of voice is particularly important to this collection?

This was a joint project with the artist Ben Stammers in which we walked the route of the underground river with anyone who wanted to join us. At the end, people added their comments anonymously to a giant map he’d drawn, and these are what I have quoted – so although there are a few spoken comments there as well, most were written down. I arranged them as a prose poem, continuous but with multiple voices. The sense of listening to a place composed of many voices is central to my understanding of cities.

How would you describe the poems’ function as footnotes alongside Ben Stammers’ visual art?

I don’t think they really work in this way as I was not interpreting his photographs. Most of the time we made parallel, separate explorations of the route of the river and what we could discover about it. We did have some very useful conversations though, and Ben’s expert knowledge of birds certainly informs ‘Gull Song’.

You play with the idea of bodies, whether the ceaseless flow of the body of water reflected in the form, the female body in ‘Teint’, or the physical body threatened by flood, disease or pollution. Would you say the collection aims to subvert the boundaries between the human body and the elemental world?

Given the current ecological crisis it’s important to challenge the belief that humans are somehow separate or aloof from the material world. What if we could imagine human existence as a footnote to water, a co-incidental life form existing alongside many others? At the same time, of course I can’t completely sustain this view because my perspective is human, and I’m also concerned that human bodies are not all treated equally, as is revealed by the story of any city. When I write I try to make new paths of connection in language so that different relationships might be possible.

 

Footnotes to Water is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Don’t miss the launch of Footnotes to Water taking place at 8pm on Thursday 14th November at the Aulkland Arms in Menai Bridge. Zoë will be joined by guest readers Fiona Cameron, Peter Hughes, Rhys Trimble and Lee Duggan plus there will be music from The Groceries (Alan Holmes). Find the full details on our website.

Happy World Vegan Day!

Today marks the beginning of World Vegan Month and we couldn’t think of a better time to tell you that the re-print of The Occasional Vegan by Sarah Philpott is now in stock!

The Occasional Vegan Sarah PhilpottTo celebrate we’re giving you a sneak peak at the deliciousness that waits inside with this tasty recipe for pasta bake. Not only does it taste amazing it is also healthy and a great way to use up any pumpkins you may have left over from Halloween. It may not be the quickest recipe, but it’s well worth the wait.

 

 

1 hour 30 minutes | Serves 4-6

Ingredients

– One large pumpkin or butternut squash
– Half a head of cauliflower broken into florets, and its leaves, chopped coarsely
– 250g wholewheat pasta
– 1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum
– 2 garlic cloves in their skins
– 3-4 sage leaves, chopped coarsely
– Nutmeg, grated
–Two big handfuls of walnuts, crushed
– Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice the pumpkin or squash into wedges (keep the skin and seeds on until later) and place onto a baking sheet (you may need two), then add a little water and season. Place onto the top shelf of the oven and after 20-25 minutes, put the cauliflower onto a separate baking sheet (again, add water and salt and pepper), move the pumpkin to the bottom shelf of the oven, and cook for another 25-30 minutes. In the last ten minutes of cooking, place the whole garlic cloves in with the cauliflower. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Cook the pasta in salted water for 8-10 minutes, drain and spread evenly across the base of a large oven dish. Once the pumpkin or squash has cooled, remove the skin and seeds and place in a large bowl with the cauliflower and its leaves. Stir in the tomatoes, half fill the empty can with water then add to the bowl. Stir through the sage and garlic (skins removed) and a generous grating of nutmeg, and blend the mixture in batches. If you don’t have a blender, simply put the sauce on a low heat for about 10 minutes and use a wooden spoon to gently crush the cauliflower and pumpkin/squash.

Spread the sauce evenly on top of the pasta. Crush the walnuts and scatter evenly on top of the sauce. Add more nutmeg and salt and pepper, then bake on the top shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve with green vegetables – or on its own.

 

The Occasional Vegan is available on the Seren website for £12.99

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Sarah Philpott is a freelance writer and food enthusiast who lives in Swansea. Her first cookery book, The Occasional Vegan, was published in 2018 by Seren Books and her food blog (https://veggingit.wordpress.com/) shares her passion for eating and cooking the vegan way. Sarah’s hearty, home-cooked recipes prove that being vegan isn’t all about kale and nut roasts and her writing takes a common-sense approach to eating to suit your lifestyle and budget, while debunking the myth that eating well comes at a cost.

Friday Poem – ‘A Second Whisper’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘A Second Whisper’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard from her new collection A Second Whisper. You can see videos of Lynne reading more poems from the collection on our Youtube channel.

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

 

 

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

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Don’t miss Lynne reading alongside Mary J. Oliver at their joint launch tomorrow, 7pm at Broc Mor shop in Aberystwyth. Find the full details here

Friday Poem – ‘Gull Song’ by Zoë Skoulding

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Gull Song’ by Zoë Skoulding from her new collection Footnotes to Water which is a Poetry  Book Society Winter Recommendation.

In Footnotes to Water poet Zoë Skoulding follows two forgotten rivers, the Adda in Bangor and the Bièvre in Paris, and tracks the literary hoofprints of sheep through Welsh mountains. In these journeys she reveals urban and rural locales as sites of lively interconnection, exploring different senses of community, and the ways in which place shapes and is shaped by language.

 

Footnotes to Water is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Claire Williamson shares her poetry advice

This week’s poetry advice blog comes from Claire Williamson author of Visiting the Minotaur. Claire specialises in nurturing creative writing, both as craft and for wellbeing. She is also a member of Bristol based poetry group The Spoke.

Visiting the Minotaur Claire WilliamsonClaire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur was published by Seren in 2018. In this inventive and intensely felt collection, the poet enters a labyrinth of her own complicated family history, a history beset with secrets and lies, in order to come to terms with her own identity.  She borrows from myths, histories, careful observations of nature, and of city life, in order to fashion her artful meditations on experience and mortality.

 

What first drew you to poetry? 

Foraging in my grandmother’s bookshelves and finding an illustrated anthology of children’s poems. I memorised ‘Three Ducks on a Pond’ and used to enjoy reciting it to myself. 

Where do you look to for inspiration? 

Inside – thoughts and feelings – and outside – the natural and built environment. An emotion or idea usually catches an image or a concept. I’m lucky that I don’t struggle for inspiration.  

What poets or writers inspire you? 

T.S.Eliot was one of my first loves and continues to bring energy, so many years later. I read a lot of contemporary poets. I enjoy Poetry Wales; it’s always a surprise what you’ll find between the covers! 

What does poetry mean to you? 

Poetry has been threaded throughout my life, a companion and a safety net in difficult times – both writing and reading. It belongs to everyone and I enjoy it in the broadest sense, culturally and geographically. 

How do you balance writing poetry with working? If you write full time, what made you decide to do so? 

I’m an academic three days a week for the MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes at Metanoia Institute, and I work freelance on writing projects the rest of the time; at the moment I’m working with Welsh National Opera, Fresh Arts at Southmead Hospital and mentoring individuals. Poetry comes up through the cracks and especially if I sit down to write.  

Do you have a writing routine? What is it? 

I’m writing a novel for a doctorate at the moment which I sit down to work on after the children are in bed, which is the quietest time of the day. Poetry is more spontaneous; an image or phrase will start to pester me like a persistent fly. 

How do you prepare yourself before sitting down to write? 

I don’t particularly set aside time at the moment, although I am familiar with needing to do so and to either be relaxed or ‘in flow’, as described in John Cleese’s ‘Open Mode’I’ve trained myself to write even when the house is a complete mess. Most likely, I might be working on something academic and suddenly I’ve opened a new document and out pops a first draft. If I had all the time in the world, without interruption, I’d journal first thing, leading into poetry writing. 

What advice would you give to poets looking to get their work published? 

Workshop your poems with other writers you respect. Enter competitions, send to magazines. Collect twenty of your best poems to put towards pamphlet competitions and publishers. Work your way to a first collection.  

Is it important to build a reputation by submitting to competitions, magazines and journals? 

It turns out to be, yes, although I resisted it for a long time; I was surprised how suddenly relieved I felt at the Bridport prize that I hadn’t been kidding myself I could write and that was about fifteen years after I started to take it seriously; it is easy to feel a fraudConversely, often a performance poet’s trade is their words and style of delivery, and paid gigs to turn up to and present. However some performance poems translate brilliantly to the page and are also great to read.  

Do you have any tips for submitting poems to publishers or magazines? 

Go to the library and read samples of magazines/books, or order back copies, or subscribe before sending in your work.  

What methods do you use to overcome feeling disheartened or to keep positive? 

Treat ‘sending out’ as an administrative task; if the poems return, send them on their merry way again. Commune with other writers and share information and plans. The poetry world isn’t always fair and certainly has its darlings. Be patient, your day will come! 

Do you have any other advice for fellow poets? 

Take risks, it isn’t always the poems you think are the competition winners that win the competitions. Persevere with the craft, sharing with fellow poets and buy books! 

 

Claire’s collection Visiting the Minotaur is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Lyrebird’ by Deryn Rees-Jones

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Lyrebird’ by Deryn Rees-Jones from her T. S. Eliot Shortlisted collection Erato.

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself. What is the difference, she asks in one poem, between a sigh and a song? Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.

Erato is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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