Friday 30 June 2023

Kathy Hoyle, "Chasing the Dragon"

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Kathy Hoyle, whose novella-in-flash, Chasing the Dragon, has just been published by Alien Buddha Press! 

Kathy Hoyle writes short fiction and flash fiction. Her work can be found in publications such as Fictive Dream, Lunate, Ellipsiszine, The Forge, and Emerge Literary Journal.

She was the winner of The Bath Flash Fiction Award, The Retreat West Flash Fiction Competition, came second in The Edinburgh Flash Fiction Award, and the HISSAC Prize and third in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize. Other stories have been listed in various competitions such as The Exeter Short Story Prize and The Fish Short Memoir Prize.

She holds a BA (Hons) and an MA in Creative Writing and is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Leicester. Chasing the Dragon is her debut novella-in-flash.

About Chasing the Dragon

Chasing the Dragon is a visceral, searing novella-in-flash that explores the complexities of familial relationships in a small-town community reeling from the after-effects of the Vietnam War. 

When two young men return home from war, both deeply troubled, their mothers must deal with the terrible fall-out. 

Willy is addicted to opiates and suffering from PTSD. Chester, no longer able to freely express his thirst for blood and combat, seeks other ways to wreak havoc on those around him. And their younger cousins, TJ and Cal, desperate to emulate their hometown war heroes, head off into the woods, only to find there is terrible danger there too. 

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Bihn, who is terrified of dark spaces, has lost his parents, his home and has nowhere to turn, except the GI camp, where he vows to make himself useful, not knowing that he is entering into the darkest place he will ever know. 

You can see more about Chasing the Dragon here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novella-in-flash.

From Chasing the Dragon, by Kathy Hoyle

Dark Spaces

Bihn does not like dark spaces.

Every day, he digs with grandmother, making holes to hide in, like rats. 

When the soldiers come, Bihn is forced inside. His uncle always sits too close. Bihn can feel sharp whiskers brushing his cheek and smell his uncle’s fetid breath. Fear clutches Bihn’s heart. He cannot help but cry. When they crawl out into the bright sunlight, Grandmother whips him hard with bamboo. Too much noise, she hisses. 

Bihn goes with grandfather to the river. He sees a rare blue lotus flower and bends to cradle it in his small hands, mesmerised by its beauty. A bullet whistles overhead. He looks up to see grandfather fold into the water. Blood pools on the surface. His uncle scoops him up and carries him back to the village. His whiskers scratch Bihn’s cheek.  Grandmother beats him. Your fault! Your fault! 

Bihn steals away at night. His eyes are good, he knows the way through the shadows. He moves, quick and agile, through the dark spaces. Rain pounds his face. He must not arrive shivering like a starving dog or they will not keep him. He must be useful. 

His sister, Thùy Linh, answers the door. She looks like a movie star, kohl-eyed, rippling crimson dress. She brings him inside, holds him to her. She smells like apricot blossom. Mai is pinched and angry. She screeches at Thùy Linh, No! No kids here! He shows Thùy Linh his bruises. Thùy Linh tells Mai that Bihn must stay. She lays out a bed for him in a dark space. Bihn does not like dark spaces.

Mai hisses at him, keep your eyes and mouth shut! He knows how to keep quiet. Each night he falls asleep to the rhythmic thumps of the bed.

Bihn runs errands. He collects the opium, learns how to crush it, how to clean the pipe. He is useful. The GI’s give him Hershey bars. They laugh, and drink and throw the girls around like hollow dolls. Afterwards, the girls hold them while they cry for their mothers. Bihn brings the pipe. The men lay on Thùy Linh’s bed, eyes glazed while Bihn cleans up the mess.

Thùy Linh has a special friend, Willy. She hums to Willy and tells him stories about the dragon father who protects his people. Willy says he will marry Thùy Linh and take her back to America. One night, Willy brings a tall, thin man with him. Bihn sees hatred in the man’s yellow snake eyes. The thin man reminds Bihn of his grandmother’s bamboo whip. His snake eyes loop around the room and settle on Bihn, nestled in his dark space. 

How much for the boy?  

Thursday 29 June 2023

Michelene Wandor, "Orfeo's Last Act"


Michelene Wandor is a playwright, poet, fiction writer and cultural critic. She has taught Creative Writing for over three decades, currently as tutor on the Distance Learning MA at Lancaster University. Her most recent poetry collection is Travellers (Arc Publications). She is editor of the anthology Critical-Creative Writing: Two Sides of the Same Coin. Her new novel is Orfeo's Last Act (Greenwich Exchange, 2023). Her website is here.  

About Orfeo's Last Act: A Novel in Two Parts

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century northern Italy in the Golden Age, Orfeo’s Last Act brings the magic of Mantua, Florence and Venice to vivid life.

The Gonzaga Duke objects to the violent ending of Monteverdi’s opera, Orfeo. With the help of Jewish composer, Salamone Rossi, Monteverdi supplies a new happy Act V. The original ending is lost.

In twenty-first-century Britain, amateur musician, Emilia, discovers a faded musical manuscript in an East Anglian stately home ... Across the centuries, harmony and discord vie for resolution in a story which thrills and shocks.

A triumphant debut from the poet and critic, Michelene Wandor, Orfeo’s Last Act is a must read for anyone interested in historical fiction or classical music.

You can read more about Orfeo's Last Act on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an extract from the opening of the novel. 

From Orfeo's Last Act, by Michelene Wandor


The mist mixes with spatters of mud, the stench of shit and sweat, wet and warm, mud drops on my arms, my face and round my eyes, till I blink and breathe water, human and animal detritus, the fertile muck of the fields. It reminds me of the rains of 1599. Mutazione di secolo. The end of the century, or the end of the world.  

I climb up the bank from the lake, skirt the Castello di San Giorgio, and walk round the Cattedrale di San Pietro. I stand for a moment: across the Piazza di San Pietro, I see the Palazzo Ducale. 

I walk along the side of the piazza, thinking I must be careful not to tread on any of the cracks in the cobbles. If I do, the ground will heave and throb under the sucking impact of my soft, silent shoes, and I will be sucked down into the marshes until there is nothing left of me but my voice.

I know this is ridiculous. First of all, the cobbles are so small, that I can’t help treading on the joins between them, and nothing happens when I do. Anyway, it is a long time since the marshes threatened anyone at this end of the island, this fiercely covered and protected end. The marshes have long been drained, filled in, built upon. 

There are still canals, remnants of the many rivers and waterways which criss-crossed the island. And yet, I am safer here than in Venice, where canals haunt at every turn, where it is easy to disappear in the middle of the black night. I am safer here than on the hills of Florence.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Barbara Cooke, "Evelyn Waugh's Oxford"


Dr Barbara Cooke is a senior lecturer in English at Loughborough University. She worked in publishing before completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is Co-executive Editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh and the author of Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford.

About Evelyn Waugh's Oxford, by Barbara Cooke, with illustrations by Amy Dodd

Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford is a site-specific, creative-critical biography focusing on Waugh’s emotional and creative connection to the city. It begins by looking at Waugh’s Oxford through the lenses of invention, memory and imagination before exploring locations in the city that are particularly significant to his life and work. Waugh was a visual thinker, and the book includes reproductions of archival objects alongside specially commissioned images by Amy Dodd to create a dialogue between words and pictures, the imagined and the real.

You can read more about Evelyn Waugh's Oxford on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the book's location vignettes. 

From Evelyn Waugh's Oxford

Hall Brothers

When Waugh was at Oxford, all dapper undergraduates bought their suits from Hall Bros. The tailors were a city institution, and in the 1920s traded from a mock-Tudor building, replete with Elizabeth I’s coat of arms, at 94 Magpie Lane. 

In the 1920s they became the city’s foremost purveyor of ‘Oxford bags,’ very wide trousers first popularized by Waugh’s friend Harold Acton. Oxford bags really took off after Waugh had left, but they belonged firmly to a period when he still thought, talked and dressed like an undergraduate and became one of those – as he put it – ‘who cannot at once sever the cord uniting them to the university and haunt it for years to come.’ Like his student friends, Waugh teamed his bags with a high- or ‘turtle’-neck jumper which, he observed in November 1924, was ‘rather becoming and most convenient for lechery because it dispenses with all unromantic gadgets like studs and ties. It also hides the boils with which most of the young men seem to have encrusted their necks.’  

Waugh’s appreciation of the turtleneck jumper was typical of his pragmatic approach to fashion at the time .… As his financial situation eased, however, Waugh raised his sartorial ambitions. His brother Alec introduced him to Anderson Sheppard of London’s Savile Row,  whose suits made him feel, for the first time, not ‘the worst dressed person in every room.’  Being well turned out satisfied more than just Waugh’s vanity. For a man of his relatively humble origins, the cut of a seam could be the difference between social acceptance and rejection.

Illustration by Amy Dodd

Monday 26 June 2023

Tracey Foster, "Deep Diving the YA Market: My Creative Writing Dissertation"

For my MA Creative Writing Dissertation last year I intended to write for the Young Adult market, classified as readers of twelve to eighteen years-old. This was a target market I knew a lot about after working as a secondary school teacher for over thirty years. This group of readers has seen an explosion in choice content over the last decade with a range of formats and new authors to choose from, names that now fill the shelves at Waterstones: Malorie Blackman, John Green, Suzanne Collins. This diverse content has covered a huge range of challenging and controversial issues, from genocide (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), racism (Ghost Boys), teen pregnancy (Boys Don’t Cry), transgender (The Art of Being Normal), and bereavement (Holding Up the Universe). The bar was set high for me to write a novel to sit along these ranks.

My first mission was to read all the classics, novels that were not always written with this market in mind but have since become a go-to for adolescents. The current top 100 list compiled by TIME magazine (see here) features Lord of the Flies, Little Women and The Catcher in the Rye, novels that we were encouraged to turn to as children and that formed our early understanding of the adult world. As I reread all the classics, I began to feel undercurrent themes of loss, hardship, and inevitability. This was understandable as many of these authors wrote in a period either between or after the wars, when there was an uncertainty about our future and a pervading sadness about the human condition. William Golding witnessed the horrors of the D-Day landings before writing Lord of the Flies, George Orwell served in the Spanish Civil war before penning Animal Farm, J.R.R. Tolkien had served in the trenches in the First World War before starting on the idea that would become Lord of The Rings. A melancholy that pervades these books stems from the experiences of the writers, but when read by the young it seems to resound with their yearnings to find a place in the world. 

Modern stories have moved more directly to tackle issues that are current and all-consuming. Many authors today often choose to shift the narrative away from third-person description to a first-person perspective, and this gives the tone an immediacy and intimacy that appeals to modern readers - a confidential tone that appeals to younger readers and is a quick let-in to the action. Some authors have chosen to employ alternative voices to narrate each chapter, showing the scene from different viewpoint and allowing the reader to choose their favourite. The YA audience likes this approach as it works on a few levels, moving the action along and showing prejudice and preferences. This has led to a series of online formats pushing similar novels written in the multiperspectival style (see some examples here). 

One of the biggest outputs in the YA market in recent years has been the multicultural novel. Like buses, you wait several decades for one and then you get a whole shelf full. This has been one of the most successful areas of writing as the market seems to lap up these newcomers with open arms. Read avidly by all YA readers, the multicultural novel has explored all aspects of multiculturalism in society from many different viewpoints (see some examples here). 

The Carnegie Medal, first established in 1936, sought to identify and celebrate the best in British children’s literature. Its aim is to publicise and reward those authors whose works stay in the imagination long after closing the cover, and while the content may be challenging for the audience, the readers must leave with a sense of closure and pleasure. These books are sometimes not written for the YA market but become championed by it. They are often a good starting point when beginning to dip into the field of YA material and are usually available in most libraries. (See Carnegie Medal Winners here).

After spending a long summer reading as much YA material as I could get my hands on, I wanted to consult the experts and, having the target market close to hand, I thought I could survey my pupils on their reading habits. This required a few careful steps before starting. I needed to approach the Ethics Committee at the University of Leicester and also seek permission from the principal of my school. Secondary education is already protected by many safeguarding measures, and students' information is secured within an IT safe wall. I was able to use these systems to create a survey that asked my pupils about their literature preferences and dislikes. The online nature of this survey meant that I had complete control over the collection of the data and could interact with it as needed but always keep the student’s data anonymous. The Ethics Committee had to check my questions and the school’s safeguarding measures before giving me the green light to go ahead. Working with the head of English, we selected the students according to their English sets, choosing the ones most likely to be avid readers and asked the pupils to complete the survey over the summer break. (The school already had a cluster of students that took part in shadowing the Carnegie medal every year and who read and reviewed the short list together). The survey was very informal and used a Loom video to introduce and to personalise the task. All the students knew me well and the questions embedded this approach as I asked, ‘tell me,’ rather than ‘tell the school.’ From this lengthy questionnaire I sought to determine a few things.

  • What they would recommend as their favourite reads, genre, format, author
  • What they had a dislike for, authors, genres, particular novels
  • What were the key themes, topics that they found engaging or a turnoff
  • What topics were controversial to them, how easily were they shocked

I had no preconceptions about the survey results as these were discussions we had never had, and, more importantly, neither had the English department. Given that curriculum syllabi have spoon-fed a diet of classics for years without asking the audience what they really want to read, I found it fascinating that nobody had talked to the students before. What I found was an articulate, vocal, perceptive audience who most definitely had something to say about what they really wanted. Responses included the following:

‘I think that in today’s generation, there are very little topics that can be classified as extremely controversial due to progress for LGTBQ+, black and female rights. YA is arguably one of the most controversial genres due to the varied ages of the readers, but this is simply the nature of YA.’ 

‘I think things are controversial when they aren’t spoken about correctly. If they are talked about in a way that highlights issues people go through, then I think it is important to speak about them.’ 

‘I do not mind "disturbing" content as in the right context, it’s interesting. If I’m reading murder mystery, I would obviously want more gruesome descriptions. As long as the author isn’t being offensive themselves, they are allowed to make their characters antagonistic.’

‘Women are still considered inferior and instead of reading books with misogyny and about patriarchal societies we should read books about matriarchal societies and support female authors.’

The students identified their biggest pet-hates in novels as misogyny, animal cruelty and racism and instead recommended stories that had spoken to them. Clustered with the obvious best sellers was a surprising gem, Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. The YA popularity of this novel about a young woman’s decent into mental breakdown, subsequent hospitalisation and suicide attempt has even sparked mimicry by other authors, like Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar. The students also suggested a few other novels not originally intended for the YA audience, showing that that are happy to browse the shop shelves and be discerning buyers. All of these novels showed a similar use of an informal first-person narrator, a clear voice, quick pace and the use of good metaphors. 

One of the best of the bunch was The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge, winner of the Costa award. My original intention for my novel was to culminate with a horrendous accident in which the father is killed, so this book proved to be good research for both in technique and content. Teens are very adept at handling mortality and death is a topic often explored in YA fiction. The classics often set out with an orphan’s perspective to elicit empathy right from the start - e.g. Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations. This enables a confidential tone to the narration as we become their sole confidant in a lonely world.

I also set up a shadowing group at school and gave students the early drafts of my story to read. This process was invaluable, asking the readers what they think whist creating the plot. Hearing first-hand opinions on the scenario, pace and voice was really exciting. I can recommend this process to everyone as it was fascinating to hear what the readers inferred from my words and finding new perceptions that I hadn’t even intended. I was initially concerned about my opening paragraph as it stemmed from a real incident that had affected me as a child. The teenagers of my focus group were much less disturbed by the incident and even found the idea amusing. A viewing diet of TV and films means that the YA market is much more likely to have been exposed to death at a tender age. The survey had identified that young readers have a fast filter that enables them to quickly identify good and bad content and make their own decisions.

Concluding from this experience, I would recommend reading as much relevant material as you can get your hands on. Seek out your audience and, if possible, open a dialogue with them. Ask pertinent questions to determine what likes and dislikes your readers have and be open to criticism. Show them first drafts and allow them to find their own way through the plot you will be amazed what others perceive from your words. Listen to your readers to become a better writer.

Some useful links include:

About the author
Tracey Foster started off in a long career as an Art and Design teacher but wanted to refocus her creative energies into writing poetry and prose. After helping others find inspiration in the world around us, she took an MA course in Creative Writing at Leicester University and has not looked back. She finds inspiration in the past and the events that shape us. Previous work has been published by Comma Press, Ayaskala, Alternateroute, Fish Barrel Review, Mausoleum Press, Bus Poetry Magazine, Wayward Literature and The Arts Council. 

Friday 23 June 2023

Tristram Fane Saunders, "Before We Go Any Further"


Tristram Fane Saunders lives in London and works as a journalist. He is the author of five pamphlets including The Rake (The Poetry Business, 2022), and is the editor of Edna St Vincent Millay: Poems and Satires (Carcanet, 2021). His poems have appeared in The TLS, The White Review and Poetry Ireland Review. Before We Go Any Further is his first collection.

About Before We Go Any Further

The full-length debut from one of the UK's most widely read poetry critics, Before We Go Any Further is a book in three sections, moving from darkness into light. Beginning with nocturnes for a sleepless, lonely young generation, passing through surreal and darkly comic poems and word-games, it ends with hope, in a sequence about love, friendship and family.

Winkingly allusive, but immediately accessible and enjoyable, these poems' intricate rhythms create an effortless music that demands to be read out loud. Forms include sonnets, syllabic poems and lipograms using only one vowel. Throughout are funny, moving poems of friendship and loneliness in London, written with dazzling rhyme. 

You can read more about Before We Go Any Further on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Before We Go Any Further, by Tristram Fane Saunders


like pigeons do. We follow
the pull of sockets deep
in our thick, wet heads,
our sodden radar: warm,
warmer, colder, warm.
The yearn, that sub- or ultra-
sonic wumph from tail
to beak to gut, that hits
whenever we face due you
or you-by-near-enough.
The clunk, that eight- or cue-
ball of yes dropped snug
into the centre pocket
behind the eyes. Half-
recognised, we follow
what recognises us
by the usward trail it lays:
breadcrumb, breadcrumbs, dust.
Guided, or strung along, amazed,
stumbling home. Tug, tug.

The Sphinx

Crystal Palace Park

It’s lunch, and I’ve one leg on either side
of the brick-red haunch. Astraddle, or astride.
A flask on his flank, a sandwich where the spine
would lie, if either of us liars had one, 

hindlegs before me and the fore behind.
Although it’s true we don’t see eye-to-eye
(uneager for the future, I’ll keep mine
fixed on what for him’s already gone)

we’ve this in common: neither will admit
we’re going nowhere. Someone taught him ‘sit’
in 1854. He mastered it.
The hand that framed this fearful symmetry

made something less the bane of Thebes than kith
to Clifford, Big Red Dog. The hieroglyphs
say nothing: lorem ipsum dolor sit
in Middle Kingdom script. The riddle’s why

the hell we’re here, red-faced. Him? Blame the eye
of Mr Jones, first pharaoh of primary
colours when London’s walls and tastes and skies
were grey. Me? I’ve been struggling to cope.

The thermos spirals open with a sigh.
Pandora’s dog-red lunchbox will be empty,
the lone and level sandwich gone. Still, why
not give the box a shake. It sounds like hope. 

Thursday 22 June 2023

Malka Al-Haddad, "The Truth at the End of the Night"


Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi human rights defender, living in exile in the UK. Al-Haddad worked as a lecturer at Kufa University, Iraq, and taught literary criticism. Malka’s poetry collection, Birds Without Sky, which was published in the UK was longlisted for the Leicester Book Prize 2018. A pamphlet of consisting of the first section of this collection was long-listed for the Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet Competition, 2017. She has a Master’s degree in Arabic Literature from Kufa University and has recently attained an MA at the University of Leicester, in the Politics of Conflict and Violence. Her poetry captures the history and culture of her homeland and is a memoir of her journey into exile and the welcome she found in Britain. The Truth at the End of the Night, due to be published by Palewell Press in July 2023,  is her second full collection. Malka has read her poetry in various locations across the country, including at the House of Commons to Members of Parliament. She is a poetry editor of the The Other Side of Hope magazine, the UK's first literary magazine of Sanctuary, accredited by City of Sanctuary UK.

About The Truth at the End of the Night

The Truth at the End of the Night is the second full collection of poems by Iraqi refugee poet, Malka Al-Haddad. It chronicles and expresses concern about the way the UK asylum process treats refugees. A series of interior illustrations by George Sfougaras was inspired by his response to Malka’s poems. The author grew up during the Iran-Iraq war and lost several close family members during the first Gulf War and American invasion in 2003. She became a poet and a human rights advocate, which attracted hostility towards her in Iraq. While she was studying English in preparation for her PhD in the UK, death threats against her escalated and she couldn't return back to her beloved home and family. Malka's asylum claim was continually refused by the Home Office and after 11 years, she was eventually granted leave to remain, but without access to public funding. She is now an ambassador for City of Sanctuary in the UK. Malka's pain and anger on behalf of all those caught up in the UK asylum system give her poetry a passionate strength and urgency.

You can read more about The Truth at the End of the Night on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From The Truth at the End of the Night, by Malka Al-Haddad

Yarl’s Wood

I wrote a poem, two, three, and ten,
I have not forgotten.
I swallowed all the spiders in my room
Lay on a hot oven tray
Drank all the drainage in my shelter
Vomited everything I ate
And I did not forget.

Suicidal, sectioned and 180 doses to wash up my mind
In The Bradgate Mental Health Unit
And I did not forget.

Divided my life into
Pre-Yarl’s Wood and post-Yarl’s Wood

I bought the threads for my wedding dress,
I sewed it, embroidered it, put it on,
Danced with my love,
And I did not forget.
I shook hands with the sun on the shores of Wales
Tide and traction hundreds of times
And I did not forget.
Counted the stars in the sky of Scottish Highlands
The fields turned green and brown ten times.
And I did not forget.

Hung my memories on the washing line
Waited for it to dry everything out,
And went back to say:
Yarl’s Wood
It’s not forgotten
Not forgotten.

This morning I looked in the mirror
at my hair which was full of white
And I realized then that I got older quickly
Faster than I could imagine
And I still haven’t forgotten. 

Note: Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre is a detention centre for foreign nationals before their deportation from the UK. Detention in Yarl's Wood is experienced as a form of "kidnapping" and psychological torture.

The Truth at the End of the Night

I lie about everything; this is what
the representative of the Home Office said to me.
The truth is that I lied to my children when I promised
a roof to protect them from the fragments of war.
I lied to my father when I told him that
I stopped being afraid of invaders and
I lied to my mother that one day
I will free my sisters from the chains of the clan.
I lied to my friends who were killed in the war
that I would meet them and drink together
in front of the Statue of Liberty.
I lied when I reassured my love that we would
master turning the pages of disappointment
and that our freedom aches would not last long.
After ten years of Home Office challenges,
still their hands are spiders mapping
bullets in the walls of my sanctuary.
It seems that I’ve lied more than politicians do
And lie more than Boris Johnson
And lie more than warlords,
And it seems that everything in my life is a lie,
except what I write here.

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Richard Skinner, "White Noise Machine"


Richard Skinner has published seven books of poetry. His most recent collections are Dream into Play (Poetry Salzburg, 2022), Cut Up (Vanguard Editions, 2023) & White Noise Machine (Salt, 2023).

About White Noise Machine
Where Richard Skinner’s previous pamphlets, Invisible Sun and Dream into Play, were primarily concerned with the play of light and playfulness respectively, White Noise Machine is mainly concerned with sound. A white noise machine is a device that produces a noise that calms the listener, which in many cases sounds like a rushing waterfall or wind blowing through trees, and other serene or nature-like sounds. Skinner has used this idea to try to create this effect in many of the poems.

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

From White Noise Machine, by Richard Skinner

Amaryllis & the Iceman

for J
Your journey began in the Holocene
in Central Siberia. Your ancestors follow 
desire lines through deep snow 
to the warmer places,
swathes of rosebay and oleander.
Your sickle cells grow inch 
by creeping inch, 
forging Blaschko’s lines
to follow the amethyst S
of your upper spine. 
Only in the UV can I see
the fluorescence 
of roots in your face,
the yearning of melasma
to trace your forebears. 
Mark it. Your body is a map.
The amaryllis flourishes
on your shoulder 
& the hungry ghost of the iceman 
roams through your head.

Objects are the bones of time, the stones just barely pink. 
Depression is an inability to construct a future, 
a game of fundamentals smuggled in anagrams,
but I am building a position to reach my small final.
Depression is an inability to construct a future, 
a feathered directional arrow to an unanchored amnesia,
but I am building a position to reach my small final—
something to respect, but not love, like money.
A feathered directional arrow to an unanchored amnesia—
I remember everything so I limit what I see.
Something to respect, but not love, like money,
signposts vs weathervanes, watersheds & ridgelines.
I remember everything so I limit what I see. 
A game of fundamentals smuggled in anagrams,
signposts vs weathervanes, watersheds & ridgelines—
objects are the bones of time, the stones just barely pink. 

Monday 19 June 2023

I.M. Sue Dymoke (1962-2023)


It is with great sadness that we have to report that Sue Dymoke, poet, lecturer, educator and researcher, died on 13 June 2023, after a long illness. 

Sue was Associate Professor of Education at Nottingham Trent University, and previously, for many years, Reader in Education at the University of Leicester. She was a well-known and well-loved figure on the literary scene, in universities, schools and the wider community, both in the East Midlands and nationally. She gave a fantastic guest masterclass on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in 2019.

Sue wrote widely on the role of poetry in education, and was herself a wonderful poet. Her books include three poetry collections with Shoestring Press, including most recently What They Left Behind. She was co-editor of Making Poetry Happen: Transforming the Poetry Classroom and Making Poetry Matter: International Research on Poetry Pedagogy, and author of Drafting and Assessing Poetry. Sue regularly gave readings and talks across the UK and beyond.  

Sue was an inspirational teacher, a brilliant poet and a wonderful colleague and friend. She will be greatly missed. A few days before she died, she celebrated her civil partnership with her long-term partner, the novelist David Belbin. 

You can read a short article by Sue on Creative Writing at Leicester here. Below, you can watch a film by Rebecca Goldsmith, featuring a poem by Sue, "Roaming Range."

Thursday 15 June 2023

Charlotte Wetton, "Accessioning"

Charlotte Wetton’s first pamphlet I Refuse to Turn into a Hat-Stand won the Michael Marks Awards 2017. She has performed at Aldeburgh and Ledbury festivals and came second in the StAnza Slam. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 3 and at the Manchester Festival of Libraries. She received a New Writing North award in 2019 and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. Say hi to her on twitter at @CharPoetry

About Accessioning

Astute, precise, and unsettlingly calm, Accessioning is an index of lives encased in museum glass, and then brought to life.

Through poems about fossilised fruit seeds and the sofa where Emily Brontë died, Wetton questions how we curate the lives of those living and dead in a pamphlet about looking, processing, and memorialising. Whether considering preserved wedding-cakes, a non-existent art exhibition or a human scream, these poems speak to the impossibility of containment and question our ability to map and categorise.

This is a pamphlet of poems about the stories that we tell ourselves, the memories that we construct, and the ways that we value and devalue people, animals and objects alike.

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

From Accessioning, by Charlotte Wetton

Specimen Drawers

Ilfracombe Museum

A drawer marked Wedding Cakes: brown patchwork, glistening. My eyes adjust. Flat squares of wedding cake, packed tight. Dark spots of currants, beige icing, twirls of lace, silk flowers. Couples’ names and dates on hand-written labels, 1888, 1956.


Imagine it packed, chokingly, in the throat, powdering like 
brown earth, weevils coiling. A long table – eating and talking and laughing in bone-yellow dresses, crunching vitrified marzipan and liver-spot raisins before swaying tiers of cakes, mice burrowing. And a ghost band plays and the first dance is danced forever and ever, souls tethered to a dozen village halls and hotels – the missing slice.


Cake should not be an epitaph. It is made to crumble on the tongue, dispersed to cousins and aunts in white napkins, snuck out of tins and off sideboards by the large hands of greedy husbands. Eggs and flour. You cannot carve monuments in cake. You cannot engrave details of contracts. It should not last.


A wedding crasher, trophy-hunting up and down the Devon coast – evidence for his mates. A vampire groom, remarrying through centuries, knowing the grief to come. A bridesmaid, light on her feet in butterfly colours: Put a slice under your pillow and you’ll dream of your future husband. And all night faces flicker like train windows through trees. 

Private Tour


My mother asked if she could,
for a moment, lie
on the small hard sofa
where Emily Brontë died.
They said no.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Peter Thabit Jones, "The Fathomless Tides of the Heart: Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, American Poet and Artist"

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld and Peter Thabit Jones

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. The Land of Dreams, a new opera, will premiere at the Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre, Bulgaria, in in June this year. His biography of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, The Fathomless Tides of the Heart, is published in 2023 by The Seventh Quarry Press. Further information about Peter's work is on his website here

About Fathomless Tides of the Heart: Carolyn Mary Kleefeld, American Poet and Artist: A Biography, by Peter Thabit Jones

Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s story is one from a talented young girl to the poet and artist she is today. It is a journey against overwhelming social pressures to fit in to a privileged life, a journey of a young Beverly Hills socialite to a reclusive lifestyle in Big Sur. Carolyn is a woman answering a creative calling from childhood, and is someone who has deservedly and impressively achieved publication, recognition and admiration for her poems and paintings around the world. 

It’s a fascinating biography and it references iconic figures of the literary world, Hollywood, and the counter-culture of the Sixties, including Jane Fonda, Rod Steiger, Anaïs Nin, Allen Ginsberg, Dr. Timothy Leary, and John C. Lilly, Jacques Cousteau and Laura Huxley, the wife of Aldous Huxley.

“It is no small matter to write the development of a poet, artist, and thinker of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s stature, yet Peter Thabit Jones’s biography rises to the challenge, offering insight not only into her voice and vision, but into the dynamics of creativity itself – its tensions, complexities, mysteries.” —Arthur Williamson.  

You can see more information about the book on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the biography.

From The Fathomless Tides of the Heart, by Peter Thabit Jones

Carolyn’s home in Big Sur to is situated on an isolated steep cliff, which slants its long way down to the mesmerizing swell of the Pacific Ocean. The property, 500 feet above the sea, has a 300-degree view from every angle. Her “dragon’s crown,” as she lovingly calls her part of the mountain, depending on nature’s mood, offers the silence of paradise and the aggressive and wild music of the sea and ferocious winds. Fog can descend at any time and like the chilled breath of a god, submerge all in its cloud of damp and eerie smoke. In the summer, when the fog does lift, it can get as hot as a desert rock and one goes about one’s day in a sluggish and uncomfortable manner. During the winter and even earlier, the anger of the winds is amplified and accelerated and they bully the whole place relentlessly. As Carolyn would write in her poem "The Squall," published in her book Vagabond Dawns

The icy grip of winter
wounds the hallowed air.
And the wind wails like a baby 
Abandoned in the squall ...

The wind, though, can brutally claim any month of the year. This is Carolyn’s observation from a June journal entry, focused in its exact sense-impressions, “The garden is quivering. The storm moves its pulse, trembling, rushing in the squall. My soul is in this compelled rush—a sense of quickened current—to the unknown. The air is icy and blowing carelessly all that is in the beast, the wake of the tempest. The seas are like a receptive, needy beast—await[ing] heaven’s blood humbly, vast, and eternal. The moonstone veils drape the mountain range, softening in this touch. The tiniest daisy bares its petals to the rippling, bristling blasts." 

Friday 9 June 2023

Jenna Clake, "Disturbance"


Jenna Clake, photo by Jamie Logue

Jenna Clake’s debut collection of poetry, Fortune Cookie, won the Melita Hume prize in 2016, and was published in 2017 by Eyewear. It received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2018 and was shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award in the same year. She was shortlisted for the inaugural Rebecca Swift Women Poets' Prize. Her poetry criticism has appeared in Poetry London, The Poetry School, and The Poetry Review. Her second collection Museum of Ice Cream was published by Bloodaxe and featured as one of The Telegraph's best new poetry books in 2021. Her debut novel is Disturbance, published by Trapeze in 2023. She lectures in Creative Writing at Teesside University.

About Disturbance
As the sun sets on a feverishly hot July evening, a young woman spies on her teenage neighbour, transfixed by what looks like an occult ritual intended to banish an ex-boyfriend. Alone in a new town and desperate to expel the claustrophobic memories of her own ex that have followed, the narrator decides to try to hex herself free from her past.

She falls in with the neighbour and her witchy friend, exploring nascent supernatural powers as the boundaries of reality shift in and out of focus. But when the creaks and hums of her apartment escalate into something more violent, she realizes that she may have brought her boyfriend's presence - whether psychological or paranormal - back to haunt her.

With astonishing emotional depth and clarity, Disturbance explores the fallout of abuse. Propulsive and wry, this razor-sharp debut twists witchcraft and horror into a powerful narrative of one woman's struggle to return to herself. This lyrical novel explores all the ways that relationships and trauma can haunt our lives, and the lingering physical and psychological effects of abuse. 

From Disturbance, by Jenna Clake
The girl rolled the stone to Chelsea, and the ritual began. The evening’s heat was suddenly inflamed, as though it had been summoned; there was a smell of rain, almost sulphuric and bitter. Chelsea leaned forward and cupped the stone in her hand. The girls fell silent, and the smell of rot wafted past me, as though something had crawled to die under my floorboards. My stomach turned, and I held my breath. My fingers tingled, like I’d leant on my hand for too long. 

Chelsea took the stone to her cheek, and started rolling it over her face. The other girl watched her closely, moving her lips rapidly, as if chanting. Chelsea rolled the stone over her face several times, slowly at first, and then with more momentum every time she reached her forehead. Through the darkness, the moon cast white light onto Chelsea and her friend, like it was coming through a magnifying glass. The building had been quiet since the girl had turned off her music. Even the fridge had stopped whining. The road had been empty from the moment Chelsea’s friend had arrived. It was as if they and I were the only people in the world; they had cast a spell and everyone else had been put into a trance.

Chelsea returned the stone to her palm. She looked at it for a while, communing with it. The rotten smell passed, and something more pleasant was summoned, a scent unseasonably springlike: fresh earth, crocuses, daubs of early daisies, the first day it feels safe to sit on grass. Chelsea dug into the ground with her bare hands, and pushed the stone into the soil, and then replaced the grass on top. A chill ran over my arms, the heat unexpectedly broken, as though a breeze had swept through the flat.

The girls tilted their heads upwards to look at the moon, absorbing its light, so their outlines appeared sharper, as if they’d been sculpted. They might have spoken again – their lips moved quickly, not quite in sync. Then, as they dropped their heads, sound flooded back: a siren blared at the end of the road; the Walkers began to tune their guitars; the front gate squeaked; a car tore down the street; my fridge was now louder than before, and building to a screech. The noise echoed around my bedroom, like something calling from far away. I stayed where I was, wondering if the girls would hear it, and know that I’d been watching them. I felt both inside and outside my body, like I had copied myself and pasted a version slightly over my outline.

The girls shuffled forward on their knees to hug each other. As they held on, the shriek from the fridge slowed, and returned to normal. I swallowed, noticing my mouth was dry. When they finally broke apart, Chelsea was smiling. She looked at peace, like every thought had been drained out of her. I wanted to be down there with them, where that feeling – that magic – was possible.

Thursday 8 June 2023

Helen Ivory, "Wunderkammer: New and Selected Poems"

Helen Ivory is a poet, and collage artist who also makes shadow-boxes. Her fifth Bloodaxe collection is  The Anatomical Venus (2019). She edits the webzine Ink, Sweat and Tears and teaches Creative Writing online for the UEA/NCW. A book of mixed media poems Hear What the Moon Told Me is published by KFS, and chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City by SurVision. She also has work translated into Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish, Greek and Croatian as part of Versopolis. Wunderkammer: New and Selected Poems (2023) is published in the US by MadHat Press. She was awarded Arts Council of England to research and write her next collection for Bloodaxe, Constructing a Witch (2024), which fixes on the monstering and scapegoating of women. Her website is here.  

About Wunderkammer: New and Selected Poems

From the Introduction, by Robert Archambeau

Ivory is an intensely visual poet, and her images could nestle up close to those of artists like Leonora Carrington, say, or Dorothea Tanning: Surrealist painters whose strongest work gives us domestic interiors where the realistic takes the impossible in uncanny matrimony. 

And then there are the nameless women in these poems—or, perhaps more properly, there is Woman, in archetypal form, standing at the center of Ivory’s work. Ivory introduces us to women who disappear in bad marriages; women who are in various ways fed on and consumed; women shut into houses, sometimes for many years; women who parade in new dresses in front of men they should not trust; women silenced in scold’s bridles; needlewomen; cooks; laundresses. But she also brings us into the presence of sorceresses, witches, communers with an ethereal other side—Baba Yagas before whom one trembles.

There’s a consistent feel to these poems, to such an extent that should you meet one wandering in the deserts of Arabia you’d call out, astonished: “Helen! Helen Ivory!” But what is that mood? It’s something we often find in Gothic fiction, where the uncanny rubs shoulders with the marvelous, where sanity and chastity quake a little at the surrounding depth of darkness. At moments—when Death lies beside us, our bedmate and lodger—the aesthetic term is weird: a mode when something is present where it ought not to be. But more often we find a sense of absence, of phenomena without explanation, of ghosts where there had once been substance. The term for this is eerie. Helen Ivory writes to take us there ...

From Wunderkammer, by Helen Ivory

A Little Spell in Six Lessons

after Ana Maria Pacheco


You must first mask
your human self,
then forget your tongue.
Learn to talk as birds
or cloven-hoofed things.


To lose yourself
is a very particular art.
If you want ever to be found
scatter breadcrumbs,
pray the birds are not hungry.


I will tell you a story
of the dark corners
that hold us in place,
of the chandelier of bones,
the wind whistling through teeth.


Your body is a sheet
of blank paper
and the birds have eaten
their fill of your path.
They have pecked out your eyes.


Now see afresh,
see what you’ve become!
Your words are butterflies
pinned to your tongue -
release them.


And what you hold 
is perhaps what you wished for
as you sang as a child
in your feathered chair 
when the world was asleep. 

Spirit of the Storm

Frederick Sandys study for wood engraving 1860

There comes a point in very woman’s life
when she transmutes into The Spirit of the Storm.
Why not grow snakes for hair,
conjure rain and lightning from your artful hands?

You’ve earnt this wrath, don’t squander it 
on slapdash chores and sundry empty tasks 
in the hollow of your living room - 
get out and find a fitting auditorium.

They’ve been opining it for years
it should come as no surprise 
when venom spouts forth from your breasts. 
Lo! you are supreme, the most debauched of all bad mothers!