Happy Summer Solstice! Today began when most of us were still sleeping (at 4.06am, rumour has it) and the air was green and fragrant. Gorgeous.
This week I’m pleased to share the news that my poem Dawn Thread has been selected for a special Midsummer issue of Enchanted Conversations: A Fairy Tale Magazine. In case you don’t know, Enchanted Conversations is a beautiful online journal of original fairytales, which has regular calls for submissions.
My poem came in a flurry after seeing an exquisite dress embellished by students and tutors at the Royal School of Needlework for designer Nicholas Oakwell (pictured left). The gown was hand sewn all over with more than 200,000 feathers, dyed in 18 shades of red, and made me think of the kind of tasks traditionally given to maidens in fairytales. The profusion of red made me think of the transition from girl to woman, and the feathers drew to mind several fairytales about long men turned into swans, and their sister sewing them shirts to return them to their human forms.
My poetic tale offers a rather different ending, culminating at dawn on the longest day.
Read it here.
Claire 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.
More 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  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.
Drawing on the darkness glimpsed down alleyways, between streetlamps and on the edge of urban parks, Paul Deaton’s poetry pamphlet Black Knight is an impressively self-assured debut.
From the break up of a love affair to the unspoken grief within a family, Deaton explores the strength of human emotions set against forces both immovable and elemental. There are also moments of humour, and of satisfaction, as a late walk home from the pub becomes a passage of quiet contentment.
Deaton has a talent of bringing together the personal, and the universal, so that in the opening poem the sale of a bike becomes a eulogy to love lost and lessons learnt. Seasons and their offerings develop human characteristics, particularly vividly in August, when a crotchety old pear tree flings its fruit about in attention-seeking petulance, and somewhat more majestically in October: “Some burly blacksmith/ has quenched the sun/ in the cold sea of the sky, the cherry flames, distant, intensify.” Just beautiful.
In the poem Stalker, even the moon reveals its all-too human flaws, “He’ll watch all night like this, through/ his scarf of cloud, the broke drape; while we count faceless sheep/ he waits. He holds the hours we conflate.”
The visual qualities of these lines paint images inside my head, create characters, texture, and the delicious possibility of jeopardy. Continue reading
Questions about family run like a vein, or a seam of quartz, through Claire Williamson’s pamphlet Split Ends. She guides through the catacombs of her search for her biological parents and what this means in terms of identity, at times head on as in She Thought Her Father was a Butcher and Red Herrings, at others at a slant that seems full of glinting motes.
Of the latter, Minotaur sent shivers through me. Elegantly told, this is both a lament and expression of hope. In the poem’s most chilling moments, the bull-headed creature of the title speaks of the “seven petrified children” brought as food, then being devoured only by each other in the desperate hunger of the dark. Including a glimpse of young Icarus adds a wonderful spark to the poem’s ending.
In other poems we’re offered a portrait of grandparents – the grandfather “who taught us kids to read a clock”, and the grandmother, described through the poignant details of the house she made “a home.” In After the Hanging, we meet Williamson’s brother, and feel her pain as she writes of his suicide with an extraordinarily raw beauty.
Others glow with Williamson’s love for her daughters, and touch on the pain of separation by “cross winds, no rest-stops,/ hard shoulder, the motorways.” Continue reading
I have an ever increasing respect for poets. The skill and confidence to reduce an emotion, a story or an entire history to a few sparse stanzas is breathtaking. I recently re-read Ruth Padel’s simmering collection Learning to Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, which takes in Middle Eastern politics, culture and religion with a deftness I aspire to.
From generously crammed paragraphs to glimmering non-rhyming couplets, the poems examine the richness of beliefs in conflict with uncommon grace and intensity.
In the title poem, we’re walked through the steps of making a traditional musical instrument, and in Padel’s clear, thoughtful words, the act becomes unexpectedly sensual: “He damascened a rose of horn/with arabesques/as lustrous as under-leaves of olive”.
For their first issue of 2016, Brain of Forgetting invites work on the theme of islands.
There’s something so enticing about islands – the way they’re often surrounded by water, enveloped by mist or engulfed by storms. There’s potential for serenity or peril, and plenty of myths to dabble in.
The journal editors say: “Islands have always played a special role in literature and the popular imagination. What we’re looking for is work that interprets the theme ‘Island’ in an original way that engages with the past. Varying interpretations from international authors and artists are encouraged. In particular we are interested in work that challenges and redefines notions of insularity.”
Send up to four poems (100 lines max each), up to two pieces of flash fiction (900 words max each) or one short piece of creative non-fiction (1,200 words max).
For a taste of work they relish, see Issue 1: Stones, or Issue 2: Poppies.
Submissions are open until December 31st 2015, so you just have time to slip ashore before the tides turn. The Island issue will be published in print in February 2016.
Find full details of how to submit at http://www.brainofforgetting.com/submissions.html.
My poem Disassembled, written in reaction to the aftermath of Sanctum, has been published by music site Kemptation as part of an exhibition of literary works inspired by the 24-day art and performance installation.
You can read my poem and other works in the exhibition at www.kemptation.com/features/sonic-inspiration-bristol-sanctum.
There is a delicious sense of solidity to the poetry in Angela Cleland’s And in Here, the Menagerie. Words slot into their allotted spaces with satisfying clunks that continue to resound long after you put down this debut collection.
Angela has a background in performance poetry, and this experience is evident in her work that just aches to be read aloud, preferably in a seductive Scottish accent. She is adept at conjuring up entire worlds for us to explore, often hurrying us along so we catch glimpses of scenes we crave to see more of. Continue reading
I admit, I have a curious fondness for pigeons. Something about their dauntlessness as they crowd the city streets, pecking for crumbs and dodging vehicles impresses me, possibly more than it should. So when I saw a call for poetry submissions about these generally unbeloved birds, I had just the poem in mind.
Happily, my poem Crusty was accepted for publication and now roosts in the poetry anthology Poeming Pigeons along with many feathered friends. It’s available from The Poetry Box, but you can read it here.
Crusty by Judy Darley
We’ve reached an understanding, he and I
sharing the same street corner
ignored by the same passersby.
His stained blanket mirrors my ragged wings
We both limp from hunger and on twisted limbs.
His fractured, fractious stories echo my plaintive call
His rheumy eyes, filth-clouded, reflect my skies, dismal.
We’ve both experienced the same fall from grace,
existing on life’s edges in this wretched place.
He raids the bins, eats what he can, and what he can’t he passes on.
When night crowds in, I rise to roost
watching over him till dawn.
“There’s a sameness to this kind of walking, with the corner of my right eye always full of the blueness of the water and my left always full of the greenness of the land.”
So writes Simon Armitage shortly into the follow-up to his troubadour travelogue Walking Home, in which he hiked the Pennine Way. In Walking Away, Simon is again travelling without a penny to ease his way, instead relying on his poems to secure bed and board, plus the funds for the occasional ice cream, by reading his work to enthralled and occasionally bemused gatherings between Minehead and The Scilly Isles.
It’s a pleasingly audacious idea – a challenge to himself to discover whether or not poetry has a relevance in the present day. Almost every evening he gives a reading, in part to see who will attend, and after each event a large sock is left out which attendees are invited to drop donations into, not all of which turn out to be monetary.
Armitage is a hugely likeable fellow, with a keen eye for the gentle absurdities of the world, making each step of the way a delight. He notices things many of us might overlook, so that his commentary is peppered with oddities such as “wilfully quirky signposting”, lanes “so upholstered with spongy luminous green moss it has the appearance of a sea bed or coral reef” and, as the tide rolls in, moored boats in the bay “stirring and righting themselves like horses after sleep.”