Sunday 22 December 2019

Jessica Mayhew, "Longship"

Jessica Mayhew’s first pamphlet, Someone Else’s Photograph, was published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012. After graduating from UCL with a Masters in English Literature, she spent a year working in south-east Asia, and during this time, wrote a pamphlet titled Amok, which was published by Eyewear in 2015. Her poetry, fiction and essays have been published in magazines and journals including Ambit, Stand, Staple, Brittle Star, Magma, and The Interdisciplinary Studies Journal. Jessica currently lives in Northampton with her partner, and her former street dog, Bracken. Instagram: @jesslmayhew

Below, Jessica talks about her new book, Longship, which has just been published by Eyewear. See:

By Jessica Mayhew

When I was little, my Gran used to tell us grandchildren to remember that we, like her, were Vikings. She came from the Shetland Isles, and told us stories about islands of rock with no trees, the North Sea which drowned the sailors in our family, the old Gods. When she died, my uncle commended her to Valhalla, and her gravestone was carved with a longship.

These stories have always enthralled me. In fact, my tattoos are all inspired by stories from the Eddas. In my poetry, I wanted to capture moments in Norse mythology that would speak to our own experiences of life. Njord and Skadhi's ill-fated marriage, how Freyja got her necklace, what Odin whispers to the body of his son - these are all stories of imperfect, very human beings who still fascinate me.

Longship breaks the boundaries between Norse mythology and the modern world. It assumes the voices of the gods and goddesses, and weaves them through stories of love, death and nature today. Poems act as a communication between our modern selves and deeper, older impulses and ways of living in nature, ‘feeling the night / come on like a bruise, a gentle harm.’ I was thrilled when Longship was selected as the winner of the 2018 Melita Hume Poetry Prize.

Colette Sensier, the judge of the 2018 Melita Hume Prize says, 'Longship blurs myth and modern life, moving between ventriloquism of the gods of the Norse myths, and the griefs of present day bereavement, love and – portrayed in fabulous language on the brink between surrealist metaphor and natural wonder – climate apocalypse.'

Here is a poem from the book.


Dusty quartz and ore
bolted through with gold,

raw wood, oak and apple, sap-wet,
speared, all swore me no mar.

I’d kiss flames from flint,
Dredge water for dousing 

from the hooves of the waves 
and the ships that saddled them.

I let the bear nuzzle my neck,
mouth foaming and fanged – 

bolder, I leapt from cliffs, woundless.
I winged up the high pines,

swung from rookeries. 
From there, I could watch in secret

my blind brother, face turned
to the sunset, feeling the night 

come on like a bruise, a gentle harm.

Notes on the myth: 
After Baldr’s nightmares about his coming death, his mother Frigg makes everything in all the worlds swear an oath not to harm him. She only leaves out the mistletoe, believing it too small to cause any hurt. Loki learns this, and tricks Baldr’s blind brother Hod into killing Baldr with a shaft of mistletoe.    

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