Friday Poem – ‘The Rose’, Tamar Yoseloff

Friday Poem The Rose Tamar Yoseloff

Tomorrow brings the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair to Senate House, London, at which we’ll see a great gathering of our poetry publisher friends and readings from a whole host of talented people – including Seren poets Tamar Yoseloff and Bryony Littlefair. In anticipation, our Friday Poem is Tamar’s ‘Capacity’, which featured in her most recent book, A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems.

Tamar Yoseloff A Formula for NightA 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 Night includes selections from all her previously published books, plus pieces from collaborations with artists and new work.

The Rose
Image credit: Vici McDonald @ShopfrontElegy

Friday Poem Tamar Yoseloff The Rose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Extremities’, Claire Williamson

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.

Visiting the Minotaur Claire Williamson‘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.

 

Claire Williamson Friday Poem Extremities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Letter to my Mother’, Katrina Naomi

Friday Poem Letter to my Mother Katrina Naomi

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.

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me Katrina Naomi‘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.

 

 

Friday Poem Letter to my Mother Katrina Naomi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An interview with poet Ross Cogan

Ross Cogan BragrBragr is Ross Cogan’s third collection of poetry, an compelling mix of environmental woes, apocalyptic predictions, and richly reimagined tales from Norse mythology.

Where does Cogan’s inspiration come from, and what does he hope readers will take away from Bragr? In this interview, we aim to find out.

 

Where does your interest in Norse mythology stem from, and what made you
choose to combine your environmental concerns with these ancient characters, who are so detached from our modern woes?
I can’t remember when I first became interested in Norse mythology as such, though I have been interested in history and mythology since I was at school. But I would challenge the idea that the Gods and mortals of Norse myth (or other myths for that matter) are at all remote from our ‘modern woes’. The Norse Gods, like many pagan Gods, are personifications of different aspects of our world. Odin, for example, is associated with knowledge, wisdom, poetry and healing but also battle and death; Frigg, his wife, with wisdom and foreknowledge; Thor isn’t just the God of thunder, storms and strength, but also of farming and crop fertility; while Freyja is associated with love, sex, fertility and beauty but also, like Odin, war and death. Each would have had their sacred places, and the landscape would have been full of its spirits and monsters, and heavy with sacred associations. So to me the connections between the ancient Gods and our modern concerns are striking.

Through the course of Bragr a world is created in which the environment is
considered unimportant until it is too late. The ‘Bestiary’ section reads as a lament to the loss of many of Earth’s animals whereas the poem ‘Ragnarök’ describes the earth succumbing to a major natural disaster. However, the concluding poem of the collection, ‘Wreath’, is optimistic in comparison, suggesting that it is possible for the earth to recover. Does this interpretation match your own views on the planet’s environmental state?
During its 4.5 billion-and-something year history the earth has survived all sorts of major changes. It’s been far hotter than it is now and far colder. And for about 3.8 billion of those years there has been life on earth of some kind. But individual species come and go with dizzying regularity. At the moment we humans are busy fouling our nests and bringing about the sixth great mass extinction event in earth’s history. But the fact that this is the sixth mass extinction shows that the earth will survive and life will survive and, given time, recover. I’m less optimistic – in fact downright pessimistic – that human life will survive. But I don’t want to rule it out. Most people have heard of the great battle of Ragnarök that spells the ‘doom of the Gods’. However in my experience few realise that it doesn’t signify the end of the world or even the end of the Gods; a few survive, as do a few people, to start the cycle again. Personally I’m from the apocalyptic edge of the environmental movement, along with writers like Paul Kingsnorth (whose recent essay collection
‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’ is outstanding). I believe that
humanity won’t change its ways and that, even if it could, it’s too late; we’ve passed a tipping point and are heading towards a catastrophe from which no amount of wind farms and solar panels will save us. But I’d like to think that the door is still open, just as the writers of the original Eddic verse did, for remnants of humanity to survive and thrive. That’s the role of ‘Wreath’ in the collection.

If you could only recommend one poem from Bragr that is the epitome of your own values, which would you choose?
‘Lapstrake’. One of the best experiences you can have as a poet is when a poem breaks free from your control and you realise that you’re not writing it any more, it’s writing itself through you. It’s very rare in my experience, but this was one of them. The word is an old one for what’s better known as clinker building – the process of boat building where each stave overlaps the next. It’s a genuine art – boats built like this are very beautiful. But it also tends to result in craft that are versatile, stable, responsive, easy to handle and flexible enough to deal with high seas. The Vikings sailed to America in ships built like this. The poem emerged from my realisation that their shipwrights were, to an extent, following natural forms. It reflects my deeply-held belief that humans are often at their best when they live in harmony with the rest of the natural world, work with it and borrow natural models for use in their own creation. It also reflects my enormous respect for the skills of traditional craftspeople. I’ve always seen poetry as primarily a craft enjoining upon its practitioners the duty to practice for years, study the forms and the great poetry of the past, and never to be satisfied with substandard work. If I ever produce a poem half as amazing as the Gokstad ship, I will be happy. By the way, I was delighted when Carol Rumens chose ‘Lapstrake’ as her Guardian Poem of the Week for 6 August, so you can read it, along with her perceptive commentary, on the Guardian website.

The poems ‘Willow’ and ‘Wreath’ seem to mirror each other, as in both a tree
miraculously grows from branches removed from the tree. The central difference between the two is the environment in which it occurs; ‘Willow’ occurs in a land of plenty, whereas ‘Wreath’ takes place following a natural disaster. What conclusions do you hope readers will draw when reading these two poems in conjunction?
I see now that ‘Willow’ and ‘Wreath’ are companion pieces of a sort, but I must admit that it’s also a happy accident that they came to be written since both also describe real events. I really did plant a willow branch in the ground to mark a row of vegetables and it really did take root and grow into a sapling which, several years later I took down (it was now shading out the vegetable seedlings). I also pruned back a horse chestnut and was surprised when, the following year, the branches that I’d stacked up and supposed were dead, broke into leaf. As it happens there are a number of myths concerning trees that take root from branches planted in the ground. Most famously Joseph of Arimathea’s staff is supposed to have become the Glastonbury Thorn, but the Anglo-Saxon St Etheldreda’s staff apparently became the greatest Ash tree in the land – which looks to me like a pagan borrowing, since the link to Yggdrasil, the world-tree, is obvious. I was aware that trees could do this, and that willow branches in particular had a great ability to take root. However I was genuinely surprised by the Horse Chestnut. I’ve talked above about the role of ‘Wreath’ in the collection, representing as it does the possibility of redemption and survival after the calamity of Ragnarök. So reading the two poems together (and remembering that I didn’t specifically write them to be companion pieces – that just happened), they seem to me to reflect the way in which, in our time of plenty, we have tended to grow complacent and will cheerfully disregard, even hold in contempt, the miracles that occur on a daily basis.

In ‘Kvasir’s blood’, other names for the blood are listed including “the Mead of Poetry”. Do you feel that pain and suffering is essential for creating poetry or do you think you can write with emotional detachment and still create powerful work?
I know that many poets find that, as Henry de Montherlant said, “happiness writes in white ink on a white page”. Some have certainly done their best work when they were depressed. However, just as there are a lot of different poets with different personalities, I don’t think there’s one rule that suits everyone, and poetry written from joy or with emotional detachment can also work. Personally – and this is probably just a reflection of my own personality – I have a lot of sympathy with Wordsworth’s claim that poetry “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity”, as I need complete calm to write well. I can’t write when it’s noisy, or when I am upset (or for that matter overjoyed) about something. It almost feels as if, for me at least, writing poetry has something of the flavour of meditation, where you attain enough distance to be able to reflect upon and examine the emotions and
ideas that have provoked it. This also imposes some practical constraints: in order to write not only do I need quiet, I also need time – typically I book out a minimum of three or four uninterrupted hours and spend the first of these sitting and staring at a blank sheet before the words come to me. Incidentally, ‘Kvasir’s Blood’ is not actually blood but really is mead, or perhaps wine or some other fermented drink (Kvass is a traditional drink made across Russia and the Baltic from rye bread). So you might also ask ‘is the consumption of alcohol essential for creating poetry?’

What did you find most challenging about bringing the collection together, and what piece of advice would you give to aspiring poets who are trying to do the same?
I mentioned above my conviction that poetry was a craft and should be treated as such. And one of the things that means for me is cultivating patience. If you are learning how to play a musical instrument or build a cabinet, you will need to spend thousands of hours playing the same scales over and over again, or whole days sanding down joints until they fit perfectly. But few, if any, of us are born with patience. So the most challenging thing about writing, in my experience, is not writing. Lots of writing tutors now advise young poets to get into the habit of writing every day – which is fine if they’re going to treat it purely as an exercise and throw most of it away. What I would stress is that it’s just as important to know when you are too tired or emotional, or just lacking in inspiration, to write, and then have the courage to wait. Aspiring poets aren’t necessarily going to like this, but the advice I would give them is not to publish too early. There is a lot of pressure on young writers – especially those who want to get jobs in creative writing – to get that book out in their mid-, or even early, twenties when they can still be ‘the next big thing’. But this can lead people to rushing into print with work that’s not as good as it could have been, and possibly regretting it. Personally I didn’t publish my first book until I was thirty five, and looking back I wish I had held my nerve even longer.

What are your plans for the future? Are there any new works or events we can look out for?
With luck I will be doing a number of readings over the next year or two linked to Bragr. Other than that, like a lot of writers, I don’t much like talking about work in progress, but let’s just say I have a number of ideas I’m developing at the moment.

 

Ross Cogan will be reading from Bragr at Buzzwords in Cheltenham, Sunday 2nd September. You can also catch him at the Cardiff Book Festival, where he will be performing alongside a chorus of poetic voices in the Friday Night Poetry Party, Friday 7th September

 

Friday Poem – ‘Red Road Flats’, Caroline Smith

Friday Poem Red Road Flats Caroline Smith

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.

The Immigration Handbook Caroline SmithThis 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

 

Caroline Smith Friday Poem Red Road Flats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Roots’, Lynne Hjelmgaard

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Roots’ by Lynne Hjelmgaard, from her collection A Boat Called Annalise.

A Boat Called Annalise Lynne Hjelmgaard‘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.

 

Roots Friday Poem Lynne Hjelmgaard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Return to Cardiff’, Dannie Abse

Dannie Abse Return to Cardiff

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.

 

Friday Poem Return to Cardiff Dannie Abse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to Dannie Abse performing this remarkable poem at Seren’s First Thursday event, December 2009:

 

Welsh Retrospective is available from the Seren website: £8.99

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Friday Poem – ‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’, Marianne Burton

Marianne Burton Friday Poem Kierkegaard

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’, from Marianne Burton’s new collection, Kierkegaard’s Cupboard.

Did you know: all our books (including Marianne’s) are half price this week?  Take a peek at our website before the offer ends.

The life of Søren Kierkegard has inspired this new book of poems, in which Burton delves in to the extensive writings both by and about the influential Danish philosopher. Kierkegaard’s Cupboard is split into six sections, each section inspired by an aspect or event in Søren Kierkegaard’s life.
‘I Am In Love With Myself People Say’ takes inspiration from The Seducer’s Diary  – a fictional parallel to Kierkegaard’s failed relationship with his beloved Regine. Intending to make their broken engagement easier for Regine to bear, Kierkegaard portrays himself as the unworthy seducer to her fictional counterpart, Cordelia. In Burton’s poem we feel the full force of Johannes’ self-serving love: the sonnet form serving in defence of the speaker, rather than praise for its object.

 

I Am In Love With Myself People Say

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kierkegaard’s Cupboard is currently half price on the Seren Website: £9.99 £4.99

Half price offer ends midnight, Sunday 29 July.

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘History’, Zoë Skoulding

Last night, in front of a packed audience, we were thrilled to witness Zoë Skoulding accepting a Cholmondeley Award for an outstanding body of poetic work. In celebration, our Friday Poem today is ‘History’, a poem from Zoë’s latest collection, The Museum of Disappearing Sounds.

Friday Poem Zoë Skoulding

Zoë Skoulding Museum of Disappearing SoundsThe disappearing sounds of Skoulding’s collection may be either in the rich sonic environments that the poems observe, or in the resonance of words themselves, which exist in traces of speech and breath. These poems can provoke states of eerie unease, or of passion evoked with shimmering densities of verbal texture. Exploratory and alive to the senses,The Museum of Disappearing Sounds creates new perspectives on language and the world in which it exists.

 

Friday Poem Zoë Skoulding History

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Disappearing Sounds is available from the Seren website: £8.99

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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 excavation of a neolithic settlement in Denmark that unearthed a remarkable grave. The excavation was detailed in Simon Mithen’s book, After the Ice.

 

Swan Ross Cogan Bragr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bragr is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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