Masterful new collection from Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection, We have to Leave the Earth (Seren), is a skillful collection that suggests the reader be present in the moment and vividly experience our world as it is now, both domestic and political. The poems are those moments in dreams where the dreamer becomes lucid and sees things as they really are, like the slap of ice-cold air in the Arctic poems awakens the reader and defines the whole collection.

In this collection Jess-Cooke is intrepid in her descriptions and choices of subjects, like an archivist piecing together fragmented remains to find clarity and understanding.
Jess-Cooke conjures (and there is a sense of enchantment or spellcasting present in the sensual figurative language utilised) precise, evocative imagery to discuss wide-ranging subjects, such as disability, feminism, the environment and motherhood, and creates a sense of travelling through experiences and environments. There is an explorer at work here, one who views the world, in all its vast complexities, as no different to a child needing nurture from its caregivers.

Jess-Cooke opens with an enveloping poem that combines both stillness and movement, about that most intimate of places, the family bed. Filled with folds of fabric, a sleeping child and a, ‘fox-red in the lunar TV light’ snoozing dog, Jess-Cooke layers images as tenderly and quietly as snow falling and builds a drift of thoughts to consider this precise moment that is being observed, now, reflecting on, ‘ how many nows make up a life.’ This philosophical poem is crafted as a stream of thoughts and images, without a solid pause until the end point, an appropriate form to examine life as a series of fluid fragments pinned together, and made sense of, by love. Placing this poem at the beginning of the collection indicates a poet at a point of mastery over their own work, as the thematic work that follows seems askance at first to this domestic setting, being the radiant-white landscapes of the arctic and Viking history, however, as Jess-Cooke moves from the interior space to exterior enormity she retains this sense of closeness, of being tenderly present in the ‘now’ of our current world, a poetic and persistent mindfulness that does not flinch from raw truths.

Fatbergs by Andrea Mbarushimana

There is a visceral, unflinching eye at work in Fatbergs, that begins with the arresting title and continues throughout this collection, which ranges far as it examines human relationships in the complex societies and landscapes they inhabit.  Mbarushimana’s writes, ‘I choose to see you,’ and her lens doesn’t look away from what a body is in its life span, shapes and functions. Her words circle around the bone, skin and flesh, and this approach anchors the poems concerns back in the body to create a refreshingly corporeal narrative. The collection seeks to value the material body that houses a person, and the earth that houses that body. 

You can buy Fatbergs from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press


Do not embrace me until I am Viola…

To celebrate the launch of Viola, the Virgin Queen please join us at our event on 18th August, 7.30pm. To get the link for the event please email me:

To hear some poems from the pamphlet just clink on the YouTube link above.

‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house, And all the brothers too—and yet I know not.’

Actors Emma Keaveney-Roys and Adam Fuller embody the twins, Viola and Sebastian, from Twelfth Night as they ponder poems and images about Elizabeth I.

Viola, the Virgin Queen‘ is an illustrated poetry pamphlet about Elizabeth I as seen through the characters of Olivia and Viola in Twelfth Night. Follow the drama where a woman has to rule the household after the death of her brother and another woman has to act in a male role to survive. Much like Elizabeth Tudor had to do…

Published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Edited by Alec Newman. Buy the book here: Knives, Forks and Spoons Press

Words by Ruth Stacey, illustrations by Desdemona McCannon.

Memories of Kristin Linklater

I found out today that Kristin Linklater, world-renowned teacher of voice production, had very recently passed away. I felt incredibly sad about it because being taught by Kristin was a life-changing experience. I went from being an anxious reader to a confident one, thanks to Kristin.

In 2015 I was awarded a place on the voice coaching course organised by the Ledbury Poetry festival, just prior to the festival itself taking place. It was with a number of other poets, including Dorothy Lehane, Amy Key, Josh Ekroy, and Mona Arshi, and I was very grateful to be selected. I was also nervous, as I didn’t know what it would be like or what I would be doing.

It was at a beautiful place called Hellens Manor, which was like walking into a daydream fairy tale.

Hellens Manor | reduced price entry | Art Fund

Hellens Manor is an ancient family home dating back to the C11th. The course took place in its “recently refurbished Georgian Stables which sit within the landscape of lawns, meadow and paddocks. The rare 17th century octagonal dovecot, a physic garden, yew labyrinth, herb and kitchen gardens, woodlands and ponds are delight to the eye and nourishment for one’s spirit.”

We were surrounded by orchards and fields. It was so pretty; every view was nature showing off. We were staying in the lovely converted stables, and our lessons were in another large barn with huge timber beams. We were given delicious food, comfortable beds. It was peaceful, with lots of time to talk and enjoy each other’s company. The first night passed quickly. We met Kristin, who radiated energy and charisma, and her assistant Françoise Walot, who was equally charming and encouraging. Kristin reminded me of a Shakespeare quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as she was small and elegant, but had a fire inside her with her witty quips and powerful anecdotes: Though she be but little she is fierce.

Then the next day we began and it was like being dropped into a fire for a nervous person. I had always hated being looked at or being centre of attention, even though I was interested in acting and performing. Quite a problem for a poet who wanted to be able to read her work well. The exercises which included thinking about opening the body and where the breath was coming from. We were taught that we should be falling in love with our breathing and our voice.

Loving my voice was an interesting part of the psychological journey, as I had often been fearful my voice wasn’t very good…even annoying. I also felt panicked so I would breathe rapidly and my voice would feel a bit like an enemy not a friend. At first, the exercises gave me feelings of excruciating self-conscious discomfort.

The first night I sat outside in the dark, with bats swooping above and the smell of half-asleep flowers in the air, and thought I might leave. I was scared to do this journey. However, with the support of my new poet friends I found the courage to go back into the barn the next day and do the exercises Kristin was setting. She was strong, confronting and took no nonsense about being scared, which was difficult for me but it was just what I needed. Kristin told me don’t be afraid, you can do this, you totally have the ability to learn this.

We had to memorise a poem and read it to each other, using the abilities we had learnt. It was a joyous occasion to hear my fellow poets all read so brilliantly, with such strong voices. A joy I won’t forget. We all looked to Kristin with thankful faces, and she radiated a calm feeling, as if to say ‘of course, I told you that you could do it.’ She was amazing. She gave us all a gift of confidence. I felt healed in many ways, when I thought about my relationship with my breathing, my anxiety and my confidence. The time spent with my fellow poets, particularly Mona, Dorothy and Amy who spent so long talking to me and supporting me in that beautiful place, was very emotional and I will always cherish it.

I’m thankful to the team at Ledbury Poetry Festival for giving me the chance to meet Kristin and so thankful to her for improving my speaking skills. She was an amazing person.

“Kristin Linklater is one of the most recognised names in the field of voice production for actors having published two leading textbooks: Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language (1976; revised edition 2006) Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice: The Actor’s Guide to Talking the Text (1992).”

Get to know your voice – it’s strong, it’s resilient, it’s expressive, it’s you…” —Kristin Linklater

Lockdown Lecture Series

As part of our English, Media and Culture Lockdown Lecture Series I will be talking to Dr Whitney Standlee, who teaches English Literature in our department at the University of Worcester. Whitney is a fascinating colleague and I love hearing about her research, so I am looking forward to her questions about my new book, I Ursula.

Dr Whitney Standlee (@was925) | Twitter

30th June 5pm: Dr Whitney Standlee, ‘In Conversation:
Ruth Stacey on her “mysterious and fabular” new
collection “I, Ursula“‘ Follow this LINK to join.

Whitney chose the title for the event from my recent review by Fiona Sampson:

Today’s new publishing lists are giving readers what they want, though old habits of coverage can die hard. Disproportionately overlooked are non-metropolitan poets such as Ruth Stacey, whose second collection, the mysterious and fabular I, Ursula (V. Press £10.99) appears from an award-winning West Midlands micropublisher. The book conjures a Dantesque lost forest, where foxes and wild children wrestle amid the spells and rhymes of oral tradition: “Apricot is the colour / of a setting ball of / flame, my beloved.” But in this piercingly unsentimental report from Angela Carter territory, the most dangerous “beast” is already “in the house”.

The first lecture is tonight at 5.00pm, by Dr Lucy Arnold and I am very much looking forward to it as Lucy researches one of my favourite writers, Hilary Mantel. There are lots of great topics covered in the next few weeks:


16th June 5pm: Dr Lucy Arnold, ‘”If the dead need
translators”: Haunting, Mourning and Translation in
Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”‘

23rd June 5pm: Professor Mike Bradshaw, ‘English
Literature and the French Revolution: The Politics of

30th June 5pm: Dr Whitney Standlee, ‘In Conversation:
Ruth Stacey on her “mysterious and fabular” new
collection “I, Ursula”‘

7th July 5pm: Professor Nicoleta Cinpoes,
‘Shakestivaling in the New Europe’

14th July 5pm: Dr Sharon Young, ‘”Hairy on the inside”:
Twins, Monstrosity and “The Duchess of Malfi”‘

21st July 5pm: Dr Barbara Mitra, ‘”It has to be a really
good picture”: Young People, Social Media and Gender’

Link to join the lectures HERE

Alison Weir’s Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen

I received my review copy of Alison Weir’s latest historical novel and read it immediately because, from the first pages, I was hooked by this version of Katheryn that I felt I hadn’t met before.

Weir’s Katheryn is grounded in the loss of her mother and the subsequent move into a relative’s home, ‘She had not dreamed that losing Mother would mean losing Father as well.’ Adrift and disposable, the young girl is immediately powerless and has no say in how her life is decided. She is like a little doll moved this way and that by those more powerful than her. This helplessness and vulnerability is reflected throughout the story, and it is only in small ways that Katheryn can grasp at her own identity and independence.

Rather than stupid, careless or foolishly promiscuous, this Katheryn is naïve and longing for love. The relationship with her music teacher, Manox, is shown by Weir to be a battle between a lonely girl longing for caresses and the pleasure of intimacy, with the more rational and sensible girl who knew this could be devastating for her reputation. Weir writes, ‘She was in love, and the world looked rosier for it.’ Manox manipulates Katheryn’s longing for him by pressuring her to marry him. He withholds affection, nags and forces himself on her without her consent. Weir doesn’t hold back from describing the physical moments, in that scene Manox is whirling Katheyn around until she is breathless and giggling, and few moments later tries to enter her body, ‘stabbing at her, followed by unbearably sharp, hot pain.’ Her body as a possession belonging to her family, a virginity that must not be violated, is shown to be in danger from both her lack of sex education (she is not even sure what sex involves or if she is still a virgin) and the man’s manipulations of her.

However, Weir writes her character to show how Katheryn quickly grows up and begins to realise that Manox’s love is not the thing of stories, but sordid and unpleasant. Katheryn boldly finishes the affair, and tries to persuade herself and others it never happened. This aspect of her personality that Weir emphasises, that of a victim hiding from the unpleasant or frightening, is a subtle difference to the portrayal of her as careless, frivolous or daft that is so often seen in TV, film or other novels.

Portrait of a Lady (Royal Collection). Identified as Katherine by the historian David Starkey, by analysing the jewellery.

The novel is replete with Weir’s scholarly research, and these moments, perhaps shown by character’s talking about estates, family history or memories of their grandparents, give a depth to the narrative that aids the reader to see Katheryn as a real little girl, rather than a two-dimensional figure from history. Overhearing things being gossiped about by adults is a well-observed aspect of a young person’s life, the loss of innocence unravelling as heavier concerns are realised. It also allows the narrative to follow the structure of Katheryn’s point of view throughout, which adds a feeling of claustrophobia. Katheryn is a kind of prisoner, she cannot escape or reach people. She is reliant on messengers, trusting her women or waiting to find out things.

Two aspects of the novel that surprised me were Henry and Katheryn’s relationship having positive aspects and Culpeper not being portrayed as the purely romantic hero. This felt refreshing. Henry, despite his bulk and abscess, was a King with all the resplendent power that would give him to make the young woman look at him with adoration. It felt right, in Weir’s version of her character, that Katheryn would be quite delighted to be his wife and, after some initial difficult kisses, respond to him as a lover. Weir writes, ‘His aging body held no terrors for her, and he knew how to please a lady. If he had been twenty years younger, he would have been the perfect lover.’ I think this approach is interesting, and added a new perspective on the imagined relationship between the young woman and the much older King.

Culpeper tells her he is dying of love for her, he pressures her, he entreats her. Combined with the meddling of Jane Rochford, Katheryn is once more a vulnerable doll thrown this way and that. She attempts to resist by focusing on her duty to the King: ‘I love him Tom, he has been more than good to me.’ However, due to the abandonment in her childhood and her genuine attraction to Culpeper, Katheryn responds to him and falls in love. She is caught in the romance of it all, in thrall to someone wanting her so fiercely, especially when the King’s illness leaves her neglected and she has a great need within herself for attention and affection. Weir shows how Katheryn refuses to fully succumb to Culpeper, how she has an inner strength despite all insecurities and his manipulations and plans (to marry her once the King is dead). His love for her is ambitious love.

This novel is a well researched journey to another time period. It is a tragedy about a young girl who just wanted love and validation, which ends with her murder, aged only twenty-one year, due to political families using or disposing of her body for their own advantage. Weir’s research creates a narrative full of details that make a compelling story, whilst bringing new aspects to previously stereotyped characterisations of these famous people. Henry’s tenderness when Katheryn loses a baby, because he has experienced it many times before and knows how to comfort her, is a refreshing take on this man who is viewed as a monster known as Bluff King Hal.

A good read!

Beauty will save the world
Lynne Frederick in the 1972 film ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives’ The costumes are wonderful in this production.
Lynne Frederick as Catherine Howard in Henry VIII and His Six ...
Lynne Frederick in the 1972 film,  ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives.’  The actress emphasised her youth and naivety.
Image may contain: Alison Weir, smiling, close-up
Alison Weir

Spark Summer Writing Challenge


Spark Young Writers by Writing West Midlands introduces the first ever Spark Summer Writing Challenge

Are you – or do you know – a young person (school years 7 – 12, aged 12 – 17) who loves writing or wants to be a writer?

This summer, we are running our first Spark Summer Writing Challenge for young people like you!

Come and join us on Monday 27th – Friday 31st July for five days of writing, inspiration, and quality feedback all from your own home.

You’ll write new genres following writing prompts set daily, and you’ll get a chance to get one-on-one feedback at least twice in the week, if you want it. You can try your hand at writing a range of styles from poetry to audio drama to flash fiction to wordplay.

You’ll be writing for fun, being as creative as you want to be, and you’ll meet a whole network of other young writers.

You will have the option to submit pieces created during the week to our anthology, gathering together some of our favourite poetry, prose and plays of the Spark Summer Writing Challenge.

This is your chance to take the first step in becoming the writer you want to be.

spark 2

With Ruth Stacey and Rick Sanders, you will flex your writing muscles and have an opportunity to work with experienced poets and writers to review your own work, discover your creative strengths and find out what you need to do to take your writing to next level!

How it will work:

The Spark Summer Writing Challenge will share interactive writing prompts every day, starting on Zoom from 9.30am. There will be time to ask the lead writers questions and for additional information. You will then be allocated a slot for your one to one feedback sessions where the lead writer will read and discuss your work with you. A member of the team will be on hand between 10.30am – 3.30pm for the week to answer any questions that arise during the day.

Due to the nature of the Spark Summer Writing Challenge, and to ensure the young writers get the most out of this experience, we will send some questions to be completed ahead of time which will inform how the week unfolds. We will also circulate a booklet containing some extracts of writing to support the course content. Keep an eye on your inbox (and check junk folders!).

There are a very limited number of bursary places available. Please contact Emma Boniwell to find out more.

Equipment needed:

Participants will need to have access to the internet, a device with a microphone and webcam for the feedback sessions. Young people under 18 should not be signing up to Zoom as participants and it is possible to use Zoom without being an account holder – as long as you have access to an email address.

We would also ask that any writing which is to be submitted is saved either as a Word document, or as a pdf so our Lead writers can view it. We will also circulate a code of conduct for our participants and their parents to sign up to. This will need to be agreed before any Zoom meeting invitations are sent to participants.


About the writers:

Ruth Stacey

Ruth Stacey is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Worcester. Stacey’s second full collection, I Ursula, was published Jan 2020, by V.Press Poetry. Her first poetry collection Queen, Jewel, Mistress was published by Eyewear Publishing, 2015, and her pamphlets include Inheritance (Mothers Milk Books, 2017). A duet with another poet, Katy Wareham Morris, this explores 19th century experience of motherhood, contrasted with a 21st century mother’s voice. Inheritance won Best Collaborative Work at the 2018 Saboteur Awards. A poetic memoir, How to Wear Grunge, was published by The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2018 and was shortlisted for best pamphlet at the Saboteur Awards 2019. An experimental pamphlet, Viola the Virgin Queen, is forthcoming from Knives, Forks and Spoons. Stacey is currently writing an imagined memoir in poetry of the tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith, as part of her PhD study.

Rick Sanders

Rick Sanders, aka Willis the Poet, is an established comedy stand-up poet based out of the mighty West Midlands. As well as being a regular on the Birmingham poetry circuit, Willis also actively supports the flourishing spoken word event scene in the region, his sticky sausage-fingers in as many pies as he can.

Willis has set up a monthly poetry slam event in Dudley to bring more spoken word to the Black Country and hosts a series of Comedy Poetry Nights in the Midlands and beyond. He is also co-host of Tilt on the Mic in Birmingham and presents Brum Radio Poets, both on the monthly radio show and at the quarterly live showcase event in Waterstones. He also hosts Whisky & Words at the Birmingham Whisky Club, bringing together two of his favourite things.


Is it ok if the name on my ticket or registration doesn’t match the person who attends?

Please make the booking in your name, to match the person paying for the place. There is then a separate question asking for details of the child attending.

My child will be 18 before the course starts – why can’t they come?

As 18 year olds are legally adults, this raises problems with safeguarding the young people who are under the age of 18. There are other short courses and our National Writers’ Conference that they could attend instead. Please see our website for further information

Imagined Memoir


Stay at Home Festival Programme

Ruth Stacey, 12-1pm. Workshop: Writing Imagined Memoir Poems. Join renowned poet Ruth Stacey as she guides beginners and experienced writers alike in writing the life of a person from history. Please come to the workshop with a historical figure already in mind to write about! Join here

Imagined Memoir writing prompts

Ekphrasis as a warm-up

Find a photograph or painting of your chosen historical figure, and if they don’t have one, that’s OK, find a picture of the costume typical of that time or home/place/landscape of that time period.

Now to warm up and get you into the mindset of your historical person, I want you to write an ekphrasis style poem draft responding to the picture.

Ekphrasis poems are an excellent first step into writing about someone.

I find myself returning to ekphrasis to help locate me in the right time period.

You can be clinical and observant, noting the details of the painting or photograph, and stay firmly in the frame of the image.

Or you can step out a little, expand the frame and imagine what is happening around the moment the painting or photograph happened.

You could voice the painter or photographer.

You could voice a creature in the picture, or personify an object in the scene.

Finally, try voicing the person themselves.

Anne of Cleves - Wikipedia

Using a piece of text within your poem

For this writing prompt find a small piece of text that the person wrote.

You could incorporate it within your poem. I used this technique when I wrote about Elizabeth I using a part of one of her own poems.

Or in a poem about Edward III’s wife Phillipa, I used a piece of text that was written by a princess assessing administrator sent to check out her suitability.

If your person left behind no written items, don’t worry, you can use a fragment of text relevant to that time period. For example, for my poem about Ealdgyth of Mercia, I used the Old English text Wulf and Eadwacer as a starting point. Although no part of that poem remains in mine, the feeling of two people being in different places remains and helped my structure.

For this prompt though I want you to use your text fragment to form a golden shovel poem. Info on how to do that here.

I used this technique to write an imagined memoir poem about Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, in my collection, I, Ursula.

Take your fragment and let it end each line. See how it changes your relationship with the fragment, as you voice your historical person in dialogue with their words or words written about them.

Jane Morris - Wikipedia

Legacy: Kieran Davis

I ask my students, ‘Why do you want to be a writer?’ They offer up lots of good reasons, ranging from catharsis, compulsion and straightforward ambition. One thing that drives me is leaving something behind after you die. The thought that even if one poem is read, or one novel enjoyed, you never really die.

I still remember being scared as child about the thought of death and the nothingness of it. It was around the same age I decided what my future would be: a writer. I was reading books by authors long-dead, and as I read their books, they still lived. It was a simple plan. I will grow up and write something that will hopefully live on.

One of our own, Kieran Davis, a Worcester writer, died recently. There has been a lot of shock and tears at the news of his death; Worcester isn’t full of enough water to reflect the loss of him, even with the current floods filling our city like a lake. He was a much-loved person. Even in passing, as our relationship was, at open mics and brief snatches of conversation in pubs, Kieran always took the time to fill me full of confidence, to pass on good will and encouragement. Kieran always promoted and supported other writers.


Kieran promoting another writer on his website.

That is the way to live life: always do the generous and kind thing.

Kieran’s latest collection of poetry is full of the thought of what is left behind. He begins with an introduction discussing the title Legacy, and what that means to him. He packed the collection full of poems and reading them now is painful, but vital, because that is what Kieran wanted: his poems to live on long after him. He also had four splendid children that he adored, who are also his legacy.

Local spoken word night, 42, are cancelling the planned theme for Tuesday 25 February and will dedicate the evening to memories of Kieran Davis. Come along to hear poems by Kieran and his friends stories about him.

Drummonds, The Swan with Two Nicks, 28 New Street
Worcester, Worcestershire
Dr Charlotte Barnes wrote a heartfelt tribute to Kieran in the Worcester Evening News.
Below is one of Kieran’s poems for you to read…
Once Upon-A-Time, Tomorrow
I like that I closed the show,
that I am your last memory
of the evening,
the ghost of my performance,
lingering as you seek your sleep.
The absence of ignorance, for me,
shows I know the host
was leaving me until last
to leave you with a lasting
impression. The digestion
of free-form, the audience
understands that their applause
demands, one day,
I shall once again – perform.

Kieran Davis, October 2017

I, Ursula Review by Emma Lee

Image result for russian painter female

Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova ‘At the Dressing Table’ 1909  One of the inspirations for the poem ‘Rose Red’ in I, Ursula

‘Overall “I, Ursula” is a chilling, memorable exploration of the darker side of the muse. She is stalked, hunted, desired and formed in other’s image, a body on which to project desires. Rarely does she get her own voice but here she contemplates the power dynamics in relationships and how she is used to create art, often to her own detriment. Despite the projection of delicacy and fragility, she has to remain strong with a will to survive. Ruth Stacey has created a powerful collection.’

To read the full review go HERE

The other painting by  Serebriakova  that gave me the character for ‘Rose Red’, Portrait of Olga Lanceray, 1910

Snow White and Rose Red Rackham Image

Arthur Rackham’s picture Rose Red that first started the poem in my mind.

Image result for rose red the bear prince

Ladybird version of the Bear Prince