This week our Friday Poem is ‘Song a Year after My Mother’s Death’, from Carrie Etter’s recently published collection, The Weather in Normal.
Etter’s fourth poetry collection, The Weather in Normal is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Its focus is Etter’s hometown of Normal, Illinois, lamenting its loss through the death of her parents, the sale of the family home, and the effects of climate change on Illinois’ landscape and lives.
‘Song a Year after My Mother’s Death’ first appeared in Poetry Review.
Our Friday Poem this week is Katrina Naomi’s ‘Countrywoman’, which was released yesterday, having been specially commissioned for National Poetry Day.
Katrina Naomi is the author of three poetry pamphlets and two full collections. Her latest is The Way the Crocodile Taught Me (Seren, 2016). Her next collection will be published by Seren in 2020, and is supported by a 2018 Authors’ Foundation grant from the Society of Authors.
The poem ‘Countrywoman’ was commissioned by BBC local radio, working in partnership with National Poetry Day. It is written in response to a BBC Radio Cornwall listener’s story. A video of Katrina reading the poem was broadcast on BBC Spotlight, and the film is available to view on Katrina’s website.
Our Friday Poem this week is Siobhán Campbell’s ‘The longing of the bees’ from her most recent collection, Heat Signature.
‘The longing of the bees’ is a boisterous and artful study of these small and essential insects, without which, the poet warns, ‘nothing is fertile’.
In Heat Signature we often find that the natural world is full of portents and warnings – here, the incipient violence of the swarm is detected, a force that seems unamenable to censure or even warning. Throughout the collection there is a blend of dark comedy, tragedy and politics – and this is entirely typical of Campbell’s complex, thoughtful and profoundly entertaining poetry.
‘A Formula for Night is a significant journey for both the poet and the reader. Take it.’ – DURA
Tamar Yoseloff is the author of four collections, including Sweetheart, a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and the winner of the Jerwood / Aldeburgh Festival Prize. A Formula for Nightincludes selections from all her previously published books, plus pieces from collaborations with artists and new work.
The weather has suddenly taken a cold turn in our corner of the world, so to remember this year’s hot months our Friday Poem this week is ‘Summer’ by Catherine Fisher, from her collection The Unexplored Ocean.
‘She writes imaginatively, bringing dead things to life, boldly placing them in the present world.’
This beautiful collection mixes vivid poems about the Welsh landscape —such as ‘The Four Seasons’ which this poem is part of— with historical monologues like ‘Incident at Conwy’, and scenes from myth like ‘Merlin on Ynys Enlli’.
Tonight Claire Williamson will be reading alongside fellow Seren poets Elizabeth Parker and Ross Cogan, and three Parthian poets, for Cardiff Book Festival’s Friday Night Poetry Party. In anticipation, our Friday Poem is ‘Extremities’ from Claire’s recently published collection, Visiting the Minotaur.
‘Claire Williamson’s poems are beguiling hybrids – self-assured yet emotionally raw, mysterious yet not precious, meditations of wonder and exorcisms of grief.’
– Michel Faber
In Visiting the Minotaur, Williamson’s inventive and intensely felt collection, the poet must enter 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, of city life, in order to fashion her artful meditations on experience and mortality.
We are thrilled that the Society of Authors has just awarded Katrina Naomi an Author’s Foundation grant to help complete work for her second Seren collection, due in 2020. In celebration, our Friday Poem this week is taken from Katrina’s previous book, The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, which we published in 2016.
‘Letter to my Mother’ is ripe with anger, sorrow and the burden of time. It is not just the weight of years though, but the physical mass of the speaker’s stepfather that dominates, despite his long-ago death: ‘All these years, his 17 stones/ pressing down on you’.
The poems in The Way the Crocodile Taught Me often confront difficult figures and past trauma with a tragi-comic slant, resulting in intense and intimate portraits that are at once heartbreaking and hilarious. We often find, as in ‘Letters to my Mother’, that interspersed with the awful, there are moments of contemplation, redemption, realisation.
This week our Friday Poem is ‘Red Road Flats’, from Caroline Smith’s poignant and hard-hitting collection, The Immigration Handbook, in which the poems are carefully crafted tributes to the gut-wrenching stories Smith hears every day in her work as an Immigration Caseworker.
This poem is based on a true story of a family who committed suicide following the refusal of their asylum claim. Before being ‘dispersed’ to Glasgow by the Home Office, they lived in Wembley and the father regularly came to our immigration surgery for help. I can see him pacing by the window in a worn, grey suit with a big brief case held against his chest, constantly checking the window for someone following him. He once pointed to a white delivery van outside the building: certain there was a satellite tracking dish inside. He brought with him an envelope of white powder he claimed he’d been sent. We had it tested through the House of Commons security – it was harmless.
After their deaths, I read back through the letters and glimpsed the terror of the world he had created and believed he was trapped in; where he could no longer trust appearance as reality, where the known world is not what it appears to be. A world where truth was constructed to harm him. Welcome to the Home Office. Caroline Smith
‘A Boat Called Annalise is a triumphant collection of poetry, marking a new embarkation for Hjelmgaard as a poet. It’s a collection which can be read time and time again, and will especially be appreciated by readers looking for new beginnings, those experiencing life’s traumas and working through the healing process called grief.’ – Wales Arts Review Lynne Hjelmgaard’s most recent collection, A Boat Called Annalise vividly recalls a sailboat journey, as well as a journey through marriage, and ultimately grief. ‘Roots’ is one of the movingly elegiac poems in the final section, in which the poet reflects on mortality and happiness. Her work is full of sentiment without being sentimental.
The National Eisteddfod is coming to Cardiff, and with just a few hours to go, we couldn’t think of a better Friday Poem to feature than Dannie Abse’s ‘Return to Cardiff’.
Wales, and Cardiff in particular, haunted the imagination of the great Dannie Abse. In Welsh Retrospective he writes movingly about the Cardiff of his childhood, home of his beloved Bluebirds football team, and also about the small village of Ogmore-by-Sea, location of early holidays and for many years his home in Wales. Selected from the whole of Dannie Abse’s writing career, the book includes such well known and well-loved poems as ’In the Theatre’ and our featured poem today, ’Return to Cardiff’, alongside many previously uncollected poems. Welsh Retrospective gives fascinating insights into Dannie Abse’s Wales and his versatility as a poet.
Listen to Dannie Abse performing this remarkable poem at Seren’s First Thursday event, December 2009: