Poetry review – Astéronymes by Claire Trévien

Asteronymes cover cropClaire Trévien is adept at gloriously unexpected turns of phrase. Signs of early life include “collapsed/ arks, kicked in the groin.” History has been shoaled and mouths “left unzipped.”

Reading the poems of her latest collection, Astéronymes, published by Penned in the Margins, makes me feel we’re embedded both in modernity and in the past. At one point she mentions: “There’s a spectator in my boot”, bringing to mind contemporary paranoia and the more innocent species of bug in one neat line.

Asteronymes by Claire Trevien coverMore obliquely, she comments: “The grass here is the kind of green/ that can only exist after rain/ or a monitor failure.”

The collection title works beautifully with the dense and varied contents, referring to the asterisks used to hide a name, or disguise a password.

There is a sense of Trévien playing games, not only with words or sentence structures, but with our expectations, as in Azahara [edit] and The Museum of Author Corrections. In the latter of these, we’re presented both with a poem and a response to it, which is at least in part critical. It’s disconcerting and amusing, as well as giving the illusion of insight into the poet’s process.

A series of Museum have taken up residence on the pages, offering glimpses into ponderings on sleep (including a magical line in which “selkies bump against the hull”, waiting, shared meals and more, reminding us that every element of human life is worthy of examination.

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Theatre review – The Shipwrecked House

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman3How do you turn a poetry collection into a stage show? If you’re Claire Trévien, it seems, with incredible poise and power.

The collection behind Claire’s touring show is The Shipwrecked house (read my review of that here). When I learnt that Claire was taking the poems on the road in dramatic form, I was agog to find out how she would transform it for the stage. And I was far from disappointed with the results.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman2

The Cube is definitely one of Bristol’s quirkier venues. Entirely volunteer run, it has, in the most charming way, a curious sense of being a bit of flotsam washed up by storms itself. As we entered the building and waited to enter the theatre space, we heard piped recordings of seabirds lilting overhead. An atmospheric start!

Laid out with a set comprising ropes, nets, buckets and buoys, the play opens as Claire stumbles through an old familiar home by torchlight, where memories sit shrouded by tarpaulins and old suitcases contain unexpected treasures (some of which may make you jump). Water drips resonantly, and Claire exhales the words of her poems supplemented by sparing quantities of recordings in English and French, plus the sounds of the elements, as a storm closes in.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman

There are whispers of a blissful childhood, opening shop on an imagined café where the pudding may have “crawled away, but we have seeds/if you wish”, and heart-aching memories of a grandmother, whose “house is dragged apart by the fractures/of your smiles – the thought of its absence echoes.”

Visually, this is a stunning, atmospheric creation conjuring up hints and imaginings where a suitcase can reveal hoarded shells, or tiny coloured bulbs ablaze. Trévien steps nimbly through it all, spilling into grief, nostalgia, humour and charm with apparent ease. Both poet and performer, she uses every inch of stage and prop with an explorer’s hunger, rediscovering her own stories so we can share in them with her.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman1

Both sound and light are orchestrated by Penned in the Margins publisher and director Tom Chivers, presenting an ocean of a play, with tides and waves, moments of stillness, and beauty by the bucket-load.

And yes, there are whales, “making the hinges rock,/ splitting cups and cheeks./ Stray socks melted in their comb-mouths”, reminding us of the strength of things unseen but suspected.

Find tour details for The Shipwrecked House here.

All images in this post are by photographer Josh Redman.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

The journey to a debut poetry collection

Water and sky cr Claire TrevienPoet Claire Trévien offers her advice on creating and publishing a successful poetry collection, and keeping your poems alive in some unusual ways.

Back in early 2011 I’d been writing for many years already, with poems published in magazines and anthologies, I went to a weekly spoken word night in Paris (where I lived at the time), and had recently founded Sabotage Reviews, a website promoting indie literature. Despite being involved with the ‘scene’ I was feeling like I was getting nowhere and then, like buses, two excellent things happened to me in the same year.

Low-Tide Lottery coverThe first was the publication of my pamphlet Low-Tide Lottery, with Salt, and the second was Tom Chivers from Penned in the Margins, offering to publish my first poetry collection The Shipwrecked House. The collection finally came out in March 2013.

My process was very different with both of these publications. Low-Tide Lottery was a flotsam of the poems I considered my ‘best’ at the time. There was a fast turnaround from my submitting them to their being published, and no editing involved.

The process was completely different with The Shipwrecked House. For one, there was a set deadline for submission, a year away from our first meeting, which gave me much more time to collect a cohesive set of poems. For another, Tom was involved in the editing process. I’d send him a batch of poems and we’d order them into a yes, no, and maybe pile. After a meeting in which I’d try to argue the case for certain poems, and abandon others, I’d return home with a list of suggestions I could discard or incorporate.

the-shipwrecked-house coverThere was also a clear through-line for me in terms of content. As the title suggests, I wanted to explore the encroachment of one world on another. This is very much a collection about my past encroaching on my present, like a sea gnawing away at the cliff and revealing more and more layers. Being from two countries, I’ve always felt liminal so there was that too.

Around 70% of the poems in the collection were filtered over the course of the year, some were several years old, others quite new, and the ‘missing links’ became clearer. The last 30% were written in the summer of 2012 before the submission deadline when I was back in Brittany. I spent a month reading up on its myths and legends, walking and driving a great deal, which led to the creation of poems such as ‘Whales’, and ‘Origin Story’, among others.


If I’d rushed into publishing my first collection, the content would have been very different, I’m glad I had breathing space in which to let it evolve into the book it became.

What I learned from this and my first pamphlet is that there’s no point rushing into your first publication for the sake of it. Do your research, go for a publisher not just because it’s a ‘good name’ but because you admire what they do and it feels like they’ll be the best fit for your work. It’s worth being sure that you approve of what they stand for and their general behaviour, because once you’re their author, this can have an effect on how your publication is perceived.

Some publishers are very hands on about sending out review copies, organising readings and promoting your work, others leave this to the author, and some are a mixture of both. Ask their current authors for advice, or if you fancy the challenge of being pro-active, maybe read books like 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell by Chris Hamilton-Emery for ideas on how to promote your poetry.

Shore cr Claire TrevienRead

So my first piece of advice is to look at your own reading patterns: what poetry collections do you enjoy? Do they have a publisher in common? If so, they should be your first choice. If you don’t feel ready to send them a manuscript now, then wait. Poetry doesn’t have an expiry date and you want to make sure you send them your best work.

Some publishers I’d recommend for pamphlets or collections include Seren, Penned in the Margins, Nine Arches Press, Oystercatcher Press, Burning Eye Books, Tall-Lighthouse, Happenstance Press, Flarestack Poets, The Emma Press and Valley Press. They each have their individual identity, so read them, go to their launches, follow them on social media, and work out if they’re the right fit for you.

You can also decide to self-publish. This might seem like a lonely venture but there’s a very supportive community out there for independent authors (try ALLi), or you could team up with other indie authors and create a writers’ collective, such as Triskele Books. There are lots of advantages to this route, it gives you full creative control for one, but it also has disadvantages – many prizes don’t accept self-published works, for instance.


Depending on which publisher you go with, or if you’ve decided to self-publish, you might not get a thorough editor. This is not an insurmountable problem. Give your manuscript to friends you trust, ask authors you admire for a manuscript appraisal (you’ll generally have to pay for this though, it’ll be worth it). On a poem-by-poem basis, try workshops or writing surgeries (the Poetry School offers both in a variety of formats).

If you’re lucky enough to fall on a good editor then listen to them, but listen to yourself too. I transformed some of my poems from being in my editor’s ‘no’ pile to being in the final manuscript by proving that they could be improved (this includes one of the title poems, as I explain here).

Look beyond the collection

Publishing a collection doesn’t have to be the end of the story, it doesn’t even have to be a necessary step in your story as a writer. Perhaps your poems would work better as an interactive website, a youtube channel, a series of themed chapbooks, or a creation that doesn’t have a name yet… There’s no hard and fast rule here, think about what form would suit the project you are working on rather than forcing it to fit a pre-existing mould.

The Shipwrecked House came out over a year ago, but to me it’s still not quite finished, in part because it is now having a second life as a show. So I’m currently in the midst of memorising my own words, and finding new ways to bring the poems alive using perfume, music, sounds, and my own physicality. That’s not a typical journey for most poetry collections, though live literature is becoming an increasingly attractive option. My publisher is famous for it, as are other creative producers, such as JayBird Live Literature (look out for the fantastic Clare Pollard in particular!).

It’s not the necessary journey for every poetry collection either, but it felt like the right one for this particular collection. So trust your instincts, and go for it!

Claire TrevienAbout the author

Claire Trévien is the author of Low-Tide Lottery (Salt) and The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins) which will tour the UK this autumn. She is currently editing an anthology with Gareth Prior of poems inspired by history.

If you’d like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Midweek writing prompt – Claire Trévien’s poetry

Museo della Rete nets cr Judy DarleyOccasionally I’ll read a poem that contains such vivid poetry it takes residence in my imagination and spawns entire works of prose fiction.

Claire Trévien’s Shipwrecked House is packed with surreal, evocative lines, such as these from ‘Origin Story’:

They were to place seaweed in my cot 
so that I’d grow with nets for hands
to better haul mica-strewn salmon. 

To me this feels like the start of a haunting fairytale, but where could the lines lead? Claire has generously given her permission for us to use them as this week’s writing prompt.

I advise you to mull them over, like grit in an oyster shell, and see what emerges…

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.


Poetry review – The Shipwrecked House by Claire Trévien

the-shipwrecked-house coverSome poetry collections seem to have a life of their own, and, I swear, The Shipwrecked House rasps and shudders with every thought it contains.

The overarching concept is endlessly alluring, drawing you into a world where air and water merge, and you’re as likely to discover a whale with your socks melting in its “comb-mouth” as you are to find “An anchor on every roundabout/ weighed down by corroding flowers/ to remind us that the sea will rise.”

That seems to be the message throughout, the idea that the waves have only loaned us the shore temporarily – and the poems amble inland and back out to sea, mirroring the pull of the tides.

Trévien’s love of, and adeptness for, language saturates the text throughout. The imagery is arresting, bringing to mind the wildest, wickedest kinds of fairy tales. A voice “falls like a coin to the ocean’s floor”, “breath opens like a stiff drawer”, and even the weather must decide “whether to burst/ or rapture itself away.” Irresistible. Continue reading