Wednesday 28 September 2022

Zoë Skoulding, "A Marginal Sea"

Zoë Skoulding is a poet and literary critic interested in translation, sound and ecology. She is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bangor University. Her previous collections (published by Seren Books) include The Mirror Trade (2004); Remains of a Future City (2008), shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; The Museum of Disappearing Sounds (2013), shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; and Footnotes to Water (2019), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and won the Wales Book of the Year Poetry Award 2020. In 2020 she also published The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher) and A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman). She received the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2018 for her body of work in poetry. 

About A Marginal Sea, by Zoë Skoulding

A Marginal Sea is written from the vantage point of Ynys Môn/Anglesey, which is both in Wales and in a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean – and makes this position pivotal. Far from being isolated, the island is imagined as a site of archipelagic connection with other places and histories, and of relationships that include but extend beyond the human. Poems explore the possibilities for new forms of encounter with other creatures, from gulls and red squirrels to earthworms, testing the boundaries of sense and song as daily rhythms draw together observer and observed. The spaces of dream and digital technology are interwoven with the everyday, which is never taken for granted. Place and displacement, navigation and lostness are explored through a variety of translation and rewriting techniques that often refuse settled location, but the poems return to the body and senses as a means of gaining knowledge.  

You can see more information about A Marginal Sea on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From A Marginal Sea

Weather This 

Hello day, I wanted to talk to you about the weather, 
though I never stop talking about it in blood and breath, 
neck muscles, the way my feet slide across the pavement 
or my head drinks up the light. But I only get so far 

and then the horizon’s wandered off again. This body’s 
opening to the pinkish gleam that rises – rose – on the 
outline of a cloud behind black branches and I wanted to 
tell you, day, or weather (surely you’re the same thing), 

how your rain of events, this endless rain keeps the door 
stuck, the hours leaking into air. The rain is what 
I am. But how are you, day, and what season are you 
bringing in searing bird calls, or a wind that unwraps 

the invisible instant, its far-off dust drifting into the edges 
of our speech? The isobars move in. On the underside of 
atmospheric pressure, time spills in a cloud of what might 
never happen, if only it hadn’t already. Good. Morning.

Monday 26 September 2022

Tania Hershman, "Still Life With Octopus"


Tania Hershman, photography by Grace Gelder

Tania Hershman's second poetry collection, Still Life With Octopus, was published by Nine Arches Press in July 2022 and her debut hybrid novel, Go On, is forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books in Nov 2022. Tania is Arvon's writer-in-residence for Winter 22/23, and is putting together an anthology of prize-winning flash fictions to raise funds for fuel poverty charities. Her poetry pamphlet, How High Did She Fly, was joint winner of Live Canon's 2019 Poetry Pamphlet Competition and her hybrid particle-physics-inspired book and what if we were all allowed to disappear was published by Guillemot Press in March 2020. Tania is also the author of a poetry collection, a poetry chapbook and three short story collections, and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers' & Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014). She is co-creator of the @OnThisDayShe Twitter account, co-author of the On This Day She book (John Blake, 2021), and has a PhD in Creative Writing inspired by particle physics. Her website is here.  

About Still Life With Octopus

Tania Hershman’s Still Life With Octopus is an exquisitely-attuned second collection, a philosophical and poetic interrogation of the boundaries of animal and human worlds and the intimate nature of time, being and joy. Exploring the slippage between the life of the mind and the life of the body – in particular, those belonging to women – Hershman wonders what might happen if we let go of our preconceptions of both reality and language, taking nothing for granted and starting again from first principles, with fresh eyes.

While trying to fathom our physical and metaphysical existence, Hershman doesn’t ignore the other forms of intelligent life we share our planet with; her octopus is envisioned both as a creature within and alongside us and as a way to consider our place as humans within a greater chain of co-existence. 

You can see further details of Still Life With Octopus on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Still Life With Octopus, by Tania Hershman

Still Life With Octopus (I)

There is an octopus in my chest, trying 
to give my heart to you. She will not listen 

when I say I need it. I have to keep 
prying her from my vena cava, the pulminary 

veins. I ask what makes her think 
you’d want it anyway. She shakes her head, her colour 

shifts to indicate disappointment, hope, 
connection. Finally, I let her take it. Once 

it’s gone, she settles in its place, exactly the right 
cardiac muscle shade. I worry about where my heart 

is now, did it even reach you? Let go, whispers the octopus 
in my chest. These things are not in your control.  

How to Make a Buttonhole Hand Stitch, 3 minutes 15 seconds, Feb 21, 2018

// You only see her hands / She doesn’t speak / doesn’t say / as they all do / Today I’m going to show you how / She sews / for three minutes fifteen seconds / in silence/ But there is noise / Behind her / dogs are barking / children shout / at one point there’s a siren / the sound of drilling / Because you have nothing but her fingers / (nails shaped but not quite clean) / you imagine / Some city in America / (sirens, dogs) / A woman who has told her family / Don’t bother me / I’m filming / And for three minutes fifteen seconds / she unlistens / to the children / dogs / sirens / drill / til she finishes that buttonhole for you //

Saturday 24 September 2022

Peter Thabit Jones, "Under the Raging Moon"


Peter Thabit Jones has authored sixteen books. He has participated in festivals and conferences in America and Europe and is an annual writer-in-residence in Big Sur, California. A recipient of many awards, including the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry (The Society of Authors, London) and the Homer: European Medal of Poetry and Art, two of his dramas for the stage have premiered in America. His opera libretti for Luxembourg composer Albena Petrovic Vratchanska have premiered at the Philarmonie Luxembourg, the National Opera House Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, and Theatre National Du Luxembourg.  A book of poems, A Cancer Notebook, is forthcoming. Further information is on his website here.  

Front cover artwork by Swansea artist Jeffrey Phillips

About Under the Raging Moon: One Night with Dylan Thomas in Greenwich Village, New York: A Drama in Four Acts, by Peter Thabit Jones

October, 1953. Dylan Thomas, unwell and harassed by personal problems, is on his fourth and fatal visit to America, organised by John Malcolm Brinnin, Director at the YM & YWHA Poetry Center in New York. 

October 25th. Dylan, accompanied by Liz Reitell, Brinnin’s assistant, with whom he started an affair on his third visit, is in a taxi on the way to Greenwich Village. Since his arrival in the city, she has been trying to keep him away from his ‘hangers-on’ and to focus him on the upcoming two performances of his Under Milk Wood at the Kaufmann Auditorium. Unhappy and upset by his general behaviour, she stops the taxi near her apartment and abandons him to do whatever he pleases.

In this imagined scenario, he stops at some bars where he mainly meets people unknown to him. The final bar is the White Horse Tavern, his favourite drinking place in the Village.

Note: In the early hours of 3rd November, Dylan would leave the Chelsea Hotel and an upset Liz. His last-ever drinking spree would lead to him being rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital on November 5th, where he would go into a coma and die on November 9th. 

This imagined evening with Dylan Thomas, unwell and who becomes somewhat drunk as the hours pass in his visits to four pubs in Greenwich Village, New York, aims to show the man behind the legend when he is among non-literary people: people unknown to him, apart from two bar people and two hangers-on. Always in the back of my mind were some comments by his Swansea friends, such as the poet Vernon Watkins and the painter Alfred Janes, who knew the pre-legend Dylan, that he could be ‘ordinary’ with the right people. I have aimed for that ‘ordinariness,’ the ability to empathise with others, in a genius of a man. 

His time with my chosen characters brings out certain themes: fatherhood, childhood, money, love and death. They were some of the themes that permeated his works and his letters.

You can read more about Under the Raging Moon on the UK publisher's website here and in the US here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the opening of Act Two. 

From Under the Raging Moon


The stage is lit to show a section of another American bar. AVA, the young barwoman, is behind the counter. Enter DYLAN THOMAS

AVA: Mr. Dylan Thomas! (Looking at EZRA LOWELL, who is sitting at a table).  This is Dylan Thomas, a very famous poet. 

DYLAN THOMAS: I’m just posing as Dylan Thomas, my dear.

AVA: Oh, you are a wicked, Mr. Thomas! You don’t fool me!

AVA to EZRA LOWELL: He’s from England.  A very famous—

DYLAN THOMAS: From Wales. I’m Welsh. Welsh as a slice of bara brith from Carmarthen market.

AVA: Oh, I just love it when someone speaks another language! Don’t you, Mr. Lowell?  No friends with you tonight, Mr. Thomas?

DYLAN THOMAS: No.  I’m a dumped poet. Dumped by a female friend who thinks I am not fit to share the Manhattan air with her.

AVA:  Oh, poor Mr. Thomas.  Sit with Mr. Lowell. He’s by himself too.

DYLAN THOMAS (looking at EZRA LOWELL): May I become the second member of your club for lonely men? 

EZRA LOWELL: Take a seat. What you drinking, famous poet?

DYLAN THOMAS: An Old Grandad whisky, Ava.

EZRA LOWELL: Another gin for me.

AVA: Drinks for the lonely men coming up.

DYLAN THOMAS sits at the table. He lights a cigarette.

EZRA LOWELL: I’m Ezra Lowell, company manager of Ezra Lowell Cars Limited.  I have six car showrooms throughout New York and I’m planning to set two up in Boston next year. I own two properties in Greenwich Village, which of course is the more genteel part of Manhattan.  

DYLAN THOMAS: I’m Dylan Thomas, company manager of various poems and stories. I don’t have a car and I don’t own a single property. I live in Laugharne, which is not even shown on a map of Wales.

EZRA LOWELL: I take it sarcasm is part of a poet’s baggage?

DYLAN THOMAS: I prefer to call it the Welsh wit when it comes to words.

EZRA LOWELL: So what do you think of our Manhattan?

DYLAN THOMAS: All is (emphasising) now in this city! It’s gaudy carnival of neon lights calling all to worship mammon. Its canyons of skyscrapers threatening the ceiling of the night. Car horns going into battle with each other. Traffic flooding the avenues and people flooding the sidewalks. It’s as if a dream and nightmare have got into bed together. Is this the madness before the second Fall of mankind?  

EZRA LOWELL: Are you serious? This is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.

DYLAN THOMAS: And money electrifies this buzzing, massive fairground! Ah, the heart is a green dollar! Even I, an overweight and word-burdened poet, have a beer-cleansed belly of hunger for it. The need for money sings among the rhyming lines in my mind. Money for Caitlin, oh my lioness of a wife. Money for our little litter of children, and money for me as poor as a public bar mouse.

Why have I come once more to this insomniac city, to parade my roar of a voice in the judging-eared halls, to be tortured by the educated questions of the sweet salaried academics? Ah, a pocket’s bulge of tempting dollars as green as envy!

EZRA LOWELL: Very fancy words, as expected from the likes of you.

AVA places their drinks on the table.

AVA: Enjoy!

EZRA LOWELL: Wouldn’t a proper job feed and clothe, what did you say, your litter of children?

DYLAN THOMAS: Each man and woman contributes to this blessed planet. If you need an electrician, a poet is of no use to you. If you need a poem, an electrician is of no use to you.  We all serve a purpose. You sell cars. I sell poems and stories, dear man.

EZRA LOWELL: You can’t be serious in comparing your contribution to society to that of a nine to five worker? (He downs a mouthful of his drink).

Ava, would you rather go out with an electrician with a regular salary and a Chevrolet or an impoverished poet?

AVA: Most gals I know like a guy with a load of dollar notes, but I like the thought of a poet writing love poems all about me, and whispering romantic words in my ear!  (She laughs loudly). Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (She laughs again). We did that one in college!

Tuesday 20 September 2022

Good News for the Start of the Autumn Term

Since our Summer News post in July, which you can read
here, a lot has happened, so I thought I'd update you on some recent student and graduate successes. It's great to be able to usher in the new academic year with some good news!

Firstly, a remarkable double success: not just one, but two of our graduates, Figen Gungor and Hannah Stevens, were shortlisted for this W&A Working-Class Writers' Prize. Figen was subsequently named as a runner-up. Figen is a graduate of English with Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, and Hannah a PhD Creative Writing graduate. Congratulations to both of them!

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Joe Bedford, who recently won the national Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2022 with his story "On Tuesdays I Clean the House." You can see details here. Incidentally, Joe is the second PhD Creative Writing from Leicester to have won the competition in recent years. In 2020, now-PhD graduate Dan Powell won the competition - see here

Congratulations to Paul Taylor-McCartney, who not only recently finished his PhD in Creative Writing, but has now published his debut children's novel, Sisters of the Pentacle. You can read more about it here

Congratulations to PhD alumna Anita Sivakumaran whose new novel, Black Rain - set mostly in Leicester - will be published by Little Brown in November 2022. You can read about her earlier novel, Cold Sun, on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing graduate Lisa Williams, who has had two 100-word short stories, "Missing Dad" and "Gambling Lives," published by Friday Flash Fiction here and here

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing graduate Sally Shaw, whose story "A Deckchair on Southport Beach" has been published by Ink Pantry here

Congratulations again to PhD Creative Writing graduate Hannah Stevens, whose story "Something You Can Feel in Your Teeth" is published by Porridge Magazine here

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing graduate, and soon-to-be PhD Creative Writing student Kathy Hoyle, on the publication of her short story "Shh, Bairn" in The Forge Literary Magazine here

Congratulations to Sara Waheed, winner of this year's John Coleman Prize, for highest mark in an undergraduate Creative Writing assignment, and Shauna Strathmann, for winning this year's G S Fraser Poetry Prize. 

Everybody's Reviewing, in conjunction with the Centre for New Writing, is currently running a series of author interviews, in which PhD Creative Writing students interview well-known authors about their research and writing process. The first three interviews in the series are now published on Everybody's Reviewing. You can read PhD Creative Writing student Joe Bedford's interview with Melissa Harrison here, Mathew Lopez-Bland's interview with Susan Napier here, and Rob Reeves's interview with Kevin Fegan here. Congratulations and thanks to everyone involved! It's shaping up to be a really great series. 

And finally congratulations to Alex Lee, Danny Stringer and Miriam Waters, who wrote the the winning, runner-up and highly commended "Mrs. Edna Welthorpe" letters for this year's Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition, run by the University of Leicester. You can see details here

Best wishes to everyone for the new academic year!

Thursday 15 September 2022

Paul Taylor-McCartney, "Sisters of the Pentacle"

Congratulations to University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing graduate Paul Taylor-McCartney, whose debut children's novel has just been published!


Dr. Paul Taylor-McCartney is a writer, researcher and lecturer living in Cornwall. He recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing with Leicester University. His interests include dystopian studies, children’s literature and initial teacher education. His poetry, short fiction and academic articles have appeared in print and electronic form, including: Aesthetica, The Birmingham Journal of Language and Literature, Education in Practice & Writing in Practice (National Association of Writers in Education), Dyst: Literary Journal, Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Crank and Bandit Fiction. His debut children’s novel, Sisters of the Pentacle, was recently published by Hermitage Press. His website is here.

About Sisters of the Pentacle

Sisters of the Pentacle is set in the picturesque, coastal town of Tenby (Wales) and opens on twelve-year old Mary Harries, a practising white witch and recently orphaned. Each day she helps adult volunteers remove the corpses of plague victims from the town square and bury them on a nearby island. That is, until one day a prophecy is spoken that requires Mary to leave her home and journey into a mysterious ‘light ring’ she thinks is the work of fairies but is actually a wormhole connecting her world with a future version of Tenby. As the story unfolds, Mary discovers she is actually one of three female witches that the Mother Goddess has called upon to help save Earth from climatic destruction. Once united, the girls become good friends, master their powers and take on members of the Rees-Repton coven, malevolent witches whose aim is to re-assemble the Harries Sacred Pentacle and claim dominion over all mortals. 

Below, you can read an excerpt from the beginning of the novel. 

From Sisters of the Pentacle, by Paul Taylor-McCartney

Chapter One

Tenby, Wales, 1650

At first light, the winding streets of Tenby resemble a graveyard, eerily silent and etched in grey tones. Beyond the high stone walls that mark the town’s perimeter, villagers gather in their dozens. They shuffle forward in silence. Some crave news, others bear food parcels and all are desperate to let loved ones know they’re never far from their thoughts, for the town is in the grip of a terrible plague. Even the guards have their visors down to keep the contagion spreading any further than the boundary lines set out by Cromwell when he stormed the castle just two years ago and claimed it for England.

On the cobbled path that stops short of the town’s main gate, a twelve-year-old girl appears from nowhere. Grimy ankles and feet protrude from the dark cloak she hopes will hide her from prying eyes on the lookout for someone – anyone – to blame for the town’s current problems. She focuses on the guards, who know her well by now, confident they will merely wave her through so she can carry out her important work.

‘Look!’ one villager says, pointing directly at the girl and drawing the attention of others nearby. ‘It’s Mary – Old Nancy’s granddaughter. She’s a witch, I tell you! May the Lord strike me down if I’m telling a lie!’

Aggression soon ripples through the crowd like an incoming wave, taking everyone with it. Mary instinctively raises a hand to her face as the first of the missiles – a pebble from the nearby beach, she guesses – finds its mark and meets the edge of her palm, making her cry out in pain. As a Knowing One, she’s blessed with the gift of foresight, which she uses now to navigate a path out of harm’s way. She wants to defend herself, tell them that witches didn’t create the plague. Instead, she remains silent, slipping away from the crowd and into the town itself.

A cold wind whistles and moans, as if to herald a grim angel lifting knockers on doors and climbing down chimneys in search of more victims. Mary is carried along on one such gust, pausing now and then to slip into gaps between houses as a door creaks open, or a window slides upwards. Not so long ago, a witch could walk these streets with an easy mind. To some, they were even considered a force for good that could help a person in their hour of need. How times have changed for witchkind.

Mary soon arrives at the town square. All around her stand volunteers who’ve come to make themselves useful. Some are talking in small groups, others are stood away from people, preferring to work alone. Mary’s first task of the day is not for the faint-hearted but one she’s carried out many times before. She has to count the bodies of victims who have died overnight and been added to the pile, from a distance appearing like a jumble of unwanted clothes.

Wedged between one dead body and the next, she checks the children first. She hovers over each frozen figure like a guardian spirit. Occasionally, she stands aside so an adult can smooth their eyelids closed, something Mary finds she’s unable to do herself without crying.

Looking up, she sees Owen Stevens, a local farmer and one of her only friends. Mary watches in silence as he patiently moves corpses from the road and onto the back of his cart. He speaks seldom but when he does it’s always with authority. ‘Pastor says there’s no space left in the churchyard for new graves, so we’re moving these to Caldey Island, Mary. You can tag along if you like?’

To this point, the outbreak has claimed the lives of over three hundred locals. Among that number had been Mary’s very own mother and father, taken suddenly one night. The memory of discovering them is suddenly with her. She’d woken early to prepare them a special breakfast of eggs and bacon – their absolute favourite. She’d called out to them a few times and thought nothing of the peculiar hush coming from their room until she went to try to rouse them herself. But as she opened the door, she was confronted with the blackened, scorched skin of each lifeless body, their bedclothes twisted into knots and covered in a rancid liquid, as if her parents had been melted down as they both slept. Just like wax candles, Mary had thought at the time.

‘What’re you thinking about now?’ asks Stevens, snapping the young girl back to the present.

Mary lifts a wriggling baby from its dead mother’s breast and places it in the farmer’s hands, saying warmly, ‘They must have cast him out with his mother and now he has no one to take care of him.’

Stevens takes the baby from Mary and hands it to another volunteer, a woman whose maternal instincts and gentle smile seem to fool the baby into thinking it’s been reunited with its parent.

A short time later, Mary falls in behind Stevens’ cart. She thinks for a second she sees her parents among the pyramid of inert bodies, opaque eyes rolled back into each skull as if calling out to her. Water forms at the edges of her eyes, welling up from a place deep within her. Within seconds, she regains control, finally shaking free of the memory and raising her lamp high in the air. Against the silence, she calls out, ‘Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!’

Mary looks up at one window to spot a boy laughing to himself. Her right eye is already stinging with a ball of salty spit.

‘There you go, witch! I brung something out for you!’

Mary merely raises her right hand, using one edge of her cloak to remove traces of the boy’s hatred from her vision.

‘And there’s more where that came from!’ crows the boy. But, with a flick of her wrist, Mary uses magic to have a second bout of phlegm halt mid-air, about turn and land in the boy’s gaping mouth, making him tumble backwards into the inky darkness of the room beyond. With another flick of her wrist, Mary has two wooden shutters swing shut, thereby preventing the boy from causing any more mischief.

Friday 9 September 2022

Pam Thompson, "Strange Fashion"

Pam Thompson is a writer and lecturer based in Leicester. Her publications include The Japan Quiz (Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time (Smith | Doorstop, 2006). Pam has a PhD in Creative Writing and her second collection, Strange Fashion, was published by Pindrop Press in 2017. Pam is a 2019 Hawthornden Fellow. She is on Twitter @fierydes

About Strange Fashion

Pam Thompson’s second collection bursts with strangers and with intimates, with colour and with cool dispassion; these poems travel the world and through history from the Belfast Troubles to slave smuggling in Illinois, from out-of-season Alicante to a croft in the Scottish Highlands, to parachuting from the St. Louis Gateway Arch. They take us into the worlds of artists via the imagined lives of assistant to Louis Daguerre or Georgia O’Keeffe, and sail confidently out into the fantastical: witness Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson hunting for antiques in Church Stretton or the journalist trying to winkle tidbits from Virginia Woolf in an elevator.

You can read more about Strange Fashion on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Strange Fashion, by Pam Thompson


(i.m Mildred Thompson 1919-2015)

That night, I was too young
To understand why she cried
on hearing Kennedy had been shot.
She brought the smell 
of methylated spirits in with the cold.

I outgrew my Raleigh bike.
She bumped it along the path
next to the railway line,
her dress, starched cuffs and collar,
stashed in the wicker basket on the front.

Coal trucks rattled past to Keresley.
She’d walked when the past was icy,
Slipped on a stile, cracked two ribs,
Wouldn’t stay put on the settee, was up
to cook our tea, make beds.

At ninety-three she understood
if the traffic held them up. I used to be
a State Registered Nurse, she’d inform
the girls who found her combs,
changed her sheets, wrote up
their notes leaning against 
the fridge. The social worker spoke
as if she couldn’t understand English.
My God – that tone – I used to be

That January evening in the care home,
they brought us cups of tea.
She was making her way back,
and if the paths and corridors were slippery
it didn’t matter. There was nothing
to climb over, no shift to report for.

The Shipyard Apprentice

(i.m. George Thompson 1914-82)
             Fourteen. Your first day.
The old ones spoke about the Titanic;
the space it took, how it reared above 
terraced houses. When you dared a smoke 
in the dry dock, you could almost hear 
women laughing, a crack of glass 
against steel, glimpse taffeta, crèpe de Chine.

              Youse’ll be safe here 
when we kick those bastards out.

Taigs. New name in your mouth.
Theirs, the worst job—
painting hulls with ‘monkey-dung.’
It floated like dirty snowflakes.
You could taste it, feel it lining your lungs.

             Dusk. Swaying on a tram 
to the shut-down shop on Sandyrow 
where shoes lay on racks, heels still unmended. 
She’d seemed well when you left.
The invasion of neighbours. This, then the war; 
no-one to straighten your lapels for either.

Thursday 8 September 2022

Jo Bratten, "Climacteric"


Jo Bratten is a poet and teacher living in London. Her poetry has been widely published in journals such as Ambit, The Butcher’s Dog, Finished Creatures, The North, Poetry Birmingham, The Rialto and Under the Radar, amongst others. Her debut pamphlet Climacteric (2022) is published by Fly on the Wall Press. Her website is here

About Climacteric

‘Climacteric’ – a noun, meaning ‘a critical period or moment in history,’ or ‘the period of life when fertility is in decline’; or an adjective, meaning ‘critical, decisive, epochal.’ This pamphlet interrogates how we can love ourselves at the climacteric of our lives and of the planet.

Climacteric bubbles with anger and guilt at the failures of both spirit and body and expresses a coming to terms with loss: for the natural passing of loved ones to the unnatural passing of our planet’s ecosystems. These poems also offer solace, for we are not alone – ‘in the fractured dark we’re all doomscrolling / before dawn, lit up like Caravaggios.’ They find joy in the simplest forms of love.

You can find more information about Climacteric on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Climacteric, by Jo Bratten

New Year’s Day

Morning of the new year and I’m scrubbing 
the bath, tugging snakes of hair 
from the stinking drain, wondering 
how so much of me got down here. 

In the cold estuary I’m circling 
black terns under a groggy sky, 
tangling with pintails, shored on a tide 
of mud with the plover and the lapwing, 
stuck in the gullet of the godwit 
and the rare avocet. 
                                I’m far out at sea, 
brining with molluscs, latching on to 
resolute cephalopods like flame, 
waking somewhere in the belly of a whale, 
retched up on your shore, a warning.

Because we have forgotten how to sleep

we are whispering our reasons to strangers; 
we are googling our exes and our symptoms: 
there is a pain in a place, our legs all 

electrical filaments, twanging; our hair 
is coming out in clumps; we are sweeping 
it from corners, from beneath the bed, 

gathering it into our sleepless nest, 
tumours hatching on our ribs like eggs;
our mouths are bubbling with hope 

and peril; we are thinking up good titles 
for poems; in the between spaces we are
having vivid dreams; mine are subaquatic:

I am dreaming of Sponge Bob in a porno 
with an octopus; they are touching 
each other like rain; her tentacles slip-

pering through the yellow spaces of his flesh, 
she is shimmering like caviar, all lips: 
you are thinking there is a tenderness 

in how her suckers clasp his little shorts; 
you know it is not real but after all 
these curdled nights you think it looks like love.

Tuesday 6 September 2022

Kit de Waal, "Without Warning & Only Sometimes"

We'd like to welcome the brilliant Kit de Waal, who'll be joining us in the School of Arts at the University of Leicester! 

Kit de Waal, photograph by Sarah M. Lee

Kit de Waal, born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, was brought up among the  Irish community of Birmingham in the '60s and '70s. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry  Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. In 2022 it was adapted for television by  the BBC. Her second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for the Women's Prize and her young adult novel Becoming Dinah was shortlisted for the Carnegie CLIP Award 2020. A collection of short stories, Supporting Cast was published in 2020. An anthology of  working-class memoir, Common People, was crowdfunded and edited by Kit in 2019. Kit founded her own TV production company, Portopia Productions, and the Big Book  Weekend, a free digital literary festival in 2020 and was named the FutureBook Person of the Year 2019. Kit is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor and  Writer in Residence at Leicester University. Her memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes is published in August 2022. Her website is here

About Without Warning & Only Sometimes

Kit de Waal grew up in a household of opposites and extremes. Her haphazard mother rarely cooked, forbade Christmas and birthdays, worked as a cleaner, nurse and childminder sometimes all at once and believed the world would end in 1975. Meanwhile, her father stuffed barrels full of goodies for his relatives in the Caribbean, cooked elaborate meals on a whim and splurged money they didn't have on cars, suits and shoes fit for a prince. Both of her parents were waiting for paradise. It never came.

Caught between three worlds, Irish, Caribbean and British in 1960s Birmingham, Kit and her brothers and sisters knew all the words to the best songs, caught sticklebacks in jam jars and braved hunger and hellfire until they could all escape.

Without Warning & Only Sometimes is a story of an extraordinary childhood and how a girl who grew up in house where the Bible was the only book on offer went on to discover a love of reading that inspires her to this day.

Below, you can read an excerpt from the opening of the memoir. 

From Without Warning & Only Sometimes, by Kit de Waal

I will die.

I will die for wanting Christmas, for the slip of red ribbon from a huge box, for dreaming of the presents inside, Fry’s Chocolate Cream, things off the telly, other children’s presents. I will die for a taste of turkey and the imagined feel of the frilly white cuffs around its juicy brown leg. I will die for the dream of a mince pie I have never tasted and the magic blue flame on a Christmas pudding. Just the picture of it. I will die because I want to pull a cracker, because I want to wear a hat. I didn’t know about the jokes inside, I didn’t know about the little gift. I will find out about them when I am seventeen.

I will die because I want a birthday party.

I will die for my grinding embarrassment when the teacher halts the school assembly before the worship bit starts so that me and my sister can walk out. And I will die for the shame I feel when I walk back in again past superior girls and sniggering boys in time for the announcement of detentions and who won the Art Prize, who won the English Prize. My sister, usually.

I will die because while I sit outside assembly and they sing ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away,’ I sing along but only in my heart. Worst of all, in my heart.

I will die when the earthquakes start. I will be walking to school and the pavement will rumble and hiccup and a crack will start under my feet, small at first, and nobody else will realize what’s happening, but I will know that the end has come. Then the road splits in a zig-zag fracture and the tarmac breaks in half and the buses tip in and the cars and lamp posts, and if there are any women with prams, they’ll tumble in too, and dogs and motorbikes and trees and shops and anyone walking home with bread or potatoes, in they’ll go. Everyone who doesn’t believe. Or anyone who does believe but doesn’t do as they should. In they’ll go, toppling sideways into the chasm with their mouths open, screaming for forgiveness, but it’s too late because they had their chance, we all had our chance. And when we are dead, the earth will close over us so the world can heal.

I skip the cracked paving stones on my way to school because it can start at any time, the Wrath of God, any moment, without warning. ‘Stay on the watch! You do not know the day or the hour.’ Kim doesn’t know and Tracey doesn’t know, nor Dean, nor Karen. Not even Mom. So I stay alert, ready to straddle the split if it’s not too wide or outrun it by dashing around the corner or in the opposite direction or maybe straight inside someone’s house, begging them to save me.

Saturday 3 September 2022

Jaimie Gusman, "Anyjar"

Jaimie Gusman is a writer and ceramic artist living in Ka‘a‘awa on the island of Oahu. Jaimie earned her MFA in Poetry at the University of Washington and her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Hawai‘i Mānoa. She is the founder of Mixing Innovative Arts, a reading series that ran from 2010-2019 in Honolulu. Her first book Anyjar was published in September 2017 by Black Radish Books. Jaimie is a recipient of the Rita Dove Poetry Award (2015) and the Ian MacMillan Prize (2012). She also has published three chapbooks: Gertrude's Attic (Vagabond Press, 2012), The Anyjar (Highway 101 Press, 2011), and One Petal Row (Tinfish Press, 2011). In 2020, Jaimie became the editor of Tinfish Press, an experimental poetry press dedicated to publishing work from the Pacific region. Her most recent writing can be found in The Feminist Wire, Black Warrior Review, and DIAGRAM.

About Anyjar

Marthe Reed writes: "Jaimie Gusman’s Anyjar navigates the proliferating forms of body, memory, and self, as the shores of the Anyjar approach and recede without warning. Who, where am I, the Anyjar asks, refusing a single perspective or form. A conch shell, the missing part, one’s heart, womb or nest, a child, death and loss, an incursion, a lament, an invisible sea—the complex matrix of making, artist-writer-animal-person. The instability of the Anyjar, its profligate forms, mirrors the dilemma of the poems’ speaker, who 'a two sea' is herself doubled. The reader finds herself loosed and multiplied, also, in the pages of this collection, the Anyjar as profligate as language itself. 'Memory is not practical but memory is practice.' All that body holds spills out, memory writing us into being, like the knit-work of DNA: Anyjar is a conch shell held to our ears speaking the fabric of (our) making." 

You can read more about Anyjar here. Below, you can read a poem from the collection. 

From Anyjar, by Jaimie Gusman

And like MAGIC Anyjar is Gone

Forgive me, he says, I took the Anyjar and buried it in snow until part of the glass froze and then I tried to break the Anyjar apart with an ax that was underneath the kitchen sink, which I discovered when rain caught the slate-stick and with one, two, twenty smashes the Anyjar wouldn’t budge, which meant that an ax wouldn’t do so I went to the bedroom where I found a chain-saw, revved the engine like a quake of earth and sawed the hell out of the Anyjar, but what happened next was disappointing because nothing shattered except my right knuckles and all bloody and in a bad mood I called a friend to help and the friend said I’ll do anything I can do anything to help a friend so the friend came over with very new rubber gloves and twisted the Anyjar until the friend’s hands looked like new hands but of course we thought if new hands wouldn’t do, any other hands would surely fail to open the Anyjar, so then I thought extremely hard about everything and we began to make a catapult from space and flung the Anyjar into the air but it boomeranged right back only to hit the friend in the anything-but-good eye so I ran to get some frozen peas and a patch, and then I got tired so I suggested that maybe the best thing to do was to go get a blanket (take the one the dog sleeps on) and drape it over the Anyjar and just like that I sighed and the Anyjar disappeared—so forgive me he says sorry again, it could be anywhere.