You have to love. You have to feel.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. Louise Erdrich

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Magdalena Kaczan

Purple Wedding

Not an Embrace

I found Magdalena’s artwork on Deviant Art and fell in love with her style instantly. It had a compelling Grimm Fairy Tale aspect to it that resonated deeply with me. I got in touch with her and told her about my book and she was immediately enthusiastic about the project. She was wonderful to work with; I sent her six poems and a rough written outline of the themes and asked her to interpret it as she liked. Her response was one of the highlights of the whole process of publishing a book. To see my poetry interpreted visually was a joy. Magdalena expressed so much about the entire collection in one picture…she is a marvel!

The Golden Duck


In the Village

If you are interested in the availability of prints for some of her pictures, or would like to commission something, please send an e-mail to

To see more of Magdalena’s artwork you can go HERE or HERE

The Low Passions: review

I heard of the American poet Anders Carlson- Wee because of an article about a poem he had written, which caused some controversy. I was interested because he was writing in another voice, something I do frequently in my work and a subject I am writing about at the moment. The discussion around his poem centred on the poet assuming a selection of radically different voices to create a layering of statements highlighting homelessness.

Some readers found this unsettling and it generated questions about this kind of writing being a cultural appropriation of voice, that resulted in racist and ableist language being used.  Is it appropriate to write in an invented voice, or the voice of another person? I have written in the voice of queens, artist’s muses and rock star’s muses. My current manuscript is an imagined memoir of Pamela Colman Smith (there is an interesting article about who PCS was by Dr Elizabeth O’Connor here), so you can see my interest in all the ethical and creative considerations when writing in another ‘voice’.

My impression on reading Carlson-Wee’s poem was that it was more like a chorus in a play; many voices presented by the author to create a scene. An attempt to render passing voices that had been overheard. This may not have been successful for some readers, but I didn’t believe it was intentionally appropriating, rather it was theatrical and observant. It was an interesting discussion though and the poem was useful for my research about utilising other voices/identities to create a new piece of work, and I was glad the controversy had brought me to the poet.

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This brings me to the poet’s latest work, The Low Passions, which is a remarkable book.

There is an immediate sense of  the journey, both literal, as a travel memoir and something more spiritual. Wondering and wandering could describe the concern of the book. 

The first poem sets the scene for the whole book. The poem’s narrator marvels about, ‘all the hazards we pass through/in amazement.’ That ‘we’ is important because there is an echo in this collection, not only the people inhabited in the persona poems or observed, but a brother, who skirts in and around the narrative. That sense of brotherhood is reflected on, both in the sense of the relationship between personal family, but in the larger sense of a human family.

But this personal brother is challenging within the various imagined narratives; there is a truth in the observations that speaks of memoir. It is compelling. The poet returns to this often bloody and dramatic relationship like a painful scab that needs to be touched. Carlson-Wee is an excellent observer, both of voice and detail. He captures the competitive and painful reality of siblings, in the poems Dynamite or Polaroid, then in  contrast in the poem titled The Raft, he describes fishing with his sibling, checking cooked fish for tenderness, when it is the poem itself that aches with tenderness.

There is a feeling of Biblical incantation in the opening poem, Riding The Owl’s Eye, that also echoes Whitman’s ‘Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.’

‘Out of all the dumpsters […] Out of all the hazards.’

In Carlson-Wee’s book the landscape and people are carefully observed and recorded so that they seem fully realised on the page, which reminded me of Frank Stanford’s poems. Reading these poems is a visceral experience. Carlson-Wee swaps persona and dialect from poem to poem, and they all combine to create the feeling of a dramatic assembly. Unlike Stanford, Carlson-Wee does not reflect epic, brutal reflections to the reader, rather the poems have quieter, contemplative stories to tell.

However, the poet is both amazed and angry contemplating the magnificent-horror of life and there is lament and prophesy in these poems; questioning the meaning of life in relation to faith. For example, the character of Cousin Josh is brilliantly realised and ultimately tragic, forcing the reader to question why these things happen to a person. Carlson-Wee elevates other voices, the disenfranchised and lost.

Movement, travel and a sense of motion is constant within the book, but also, in contrast, profound stillness. Again in the opening poem, Carlson-Wee demonstrates his skill that continues throughout the collection, of moving from the large landscape of a poem, to hyper-focus on a small detail that he describes in a way to show its equal enormity.

[…]Some say the world is broken,/some say the Good Lord has forsaken our dreams,/ but I say it our own throat that grows/the cancer, our own asthma that blackens our breath/to a wheeze. And the truth is, the mile-long train/ will always crawl past. The socket-fixed gaze/of the owl’s skull will always turn perfectly/backwards. […]

To me, it felt like Carlson-Wee was asking a big question about place and belonging. What is the meaning in this life? Is it a series of roads one must travel down to find meaning? If you want to understand the landscape and people, you can’t sit back as a mute observer. You must actually live that lifestyle and experience a true sense of place, and the endless question of belonging to that place. However, it doesn’t feel like poverty tourism, rather a renouncing of materialism; a humble shape for the poet to inhabit so they can see.  There is a sense of deliberate vulnerability within the narrative that unfolds; turning away from comfort and stripping down to bare living. What this does is uncover precious time for contemplation.

My favourite poem in the collection is called, Primer. It is a written as a lesson in how to survive if lost in the forest. I read it as a child receiving the lesson from a relative. Carlson-Wee does what he does best in the collection, writes something that seems like an observation of place and nature, or the interplay of voices. Or perhaps it is about the tenderness of relationships and the gift of knowledge, but then he elevates it into something much larger; a lesson in having faith. Faith in God. Faith in a human voice being heard in the unfathomable place that is beyond observation:

And what do you listen for?

Sounds that shouldn’t be there. Yes

Sounds that shouldn’t be there but aren’t.

Yes. And what have you heard

since we started? A bird? Yes. Another bird

far away. Yes. A gust in the trees.

Yes. Your voice, if your voice counts.

Yes, my voice counts.



Link to Primer poem on YouTube






Iseult Gonne

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Iseult Gonne was conceived by her parents when they were full of grief for her brother, who had died aged one year. Maud Gonne (revolutionary and founder of Inghinidhe na hÉireann – Daughters of Ireland), and Lucien Millevoye created her in the mausoleum where her brother lay.  Yeats wrote in his autobiography that “The idea came to her [Gonne] that the lost child might be reborn, and she had gone back to Millevoye, in the vault under the memorial chapel. A girl child was born, now two years old” (Memoirs 133).

Yeats wrote many poems about Maud:

No Second Troy

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?

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Maud Gonne

Maud hid Iseult’s illegitimate status by saying she was a niece or child she adopted, but everyone knew she was her natural born child.  Maud married John MacBride, and Yeats would later accuse him of having molested Iseult.

Yeats, desperately in love with Maud Gonne, who was his muse and obsession, watched Iseult grow up and wrote poems inspired by her beauty, grace and innocence.

To a Child dancing in the Wind


Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?

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Both Maud and Yeats encouraged Iseult to write and tried to motivate her into greatness, but she didn’t show the passionate dedication to literature they desired to see in her, considering her aimless. In 1917 Yeats, rebuffed as a lover by Maud, decided marriage was what he needed to be able to write and he needed a new muse. He sought permission to court Iseult, which Maud agreed to, albeit with a warning he would be rejected. Iseult was 22, and described as a Pre-Rapehlite beauty, when he repeatedly asked her to marry him. If she took him seriously and considered it, or if she saw it as a joke, is contested between Yeats and her future husband Francis Stuart, who wrote different versions of what happened. Certainly she prevaricated, not wanting to disappoint her literary mentor (and one of the only constant, kindly paternal figures in her life). She declined in the end, and Yeats quickly married another.

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Iseult would drift through life not ever really fulfilling the great destiny placed upon her, unsurprisingly, considering the dubious abusive positions her step-father MacBride may have put her in, and terrible, confusing situation created when Yeats proposed to her.

She wrote and translated, had an affair with Ezra Pound, and married the writer Francis Stuart. She had three children. The first died as an infant and Iseult was left to raise her son and daughter with her mother-in-law after Stuart abandoned them. Iseult smoked constantly and appeared idle, although she channelled her mother’s rebellious spirit when she harboured a German parachutist/ spy during the war, falling in love with him and going on trial for her treason.

My poem about Iseult considers how it felt to have Yeats position her as his muse/wife and the weight of expectation Iseult must have experienced, needing to fulfil her destiny of replacing the much-adored dead brother. You can find information about my new poetry book: I, Ursula HERE on the V.Press Poetry website.

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More information on Iseult HERE by Amanda French

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Painting depicting the lovers in the tragic story Tristan and Iseult by John William Waterhouse

Jeanne Hébuterne

6 April 1898 – 26 January 1920

In my new collection I consider the role of a muse in an artist’s life by obsessively focusing on my own muse and contrasting this with a series of poems about famous muses. The poems offer a different perspective on the role of muse. How it feels to be put in that position, or how the muse herself had her own strength and talent that was eclipsed by their lover. It’s discomforting to think I place my muse in this objectified position. The collection tries to explore this intense focus/desire for a person who does, whether it is comfortable or not, inspire new art.

For my book launch I have invited eight women to read the muse poems before I read some of the other poems from the collection. I’m excited to hear them voice these women and hear my poems performed by another person.

I’m going to post some information about the muses over the next few days. The first person I’m going to talk about is Jeanne Hébuterne, the muse of Amedeo Modigliani.

I first saw Modigliani’s work when I was at art college 25 years ago and I loved it immediately, particularly his pictures of one young woman with auburn hair: Jeanne. As soon as I read about their life together and saw some pictures of them, I was half in love with him and fascinated by her.

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12 July 1884 – 24 January 1920

Modigliani lived a bohemian life as a painter in Paris, hanging out with Picasso, causing trouble in cafes and drawing constantly. He created daring nudes and impressive sculptures that were original and exciting. He was sadly suffering from TB, which he hid with his drinking, smoking and love affairs with beautiful women. This included one of my favourite poets Anna Akhmatova. You can read Anna’s memories of Modigliani HERE. Modigliani loved poetry, and would recite it all the time. He carried poetry books in his pockets.

‘I do not think I have ever met a painter who loved poetry so much.Ilya Ehrenburg

‘He had the head of an Antinous and eyes with sparks of gold— in appearance he was absolutely unlike anyone else. His voice remains engraved on my memory for ever. I knew he was poor, and no one knew what he lived on. As an artist, not a shadow of recognition.’ Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova sketch by Modigliani


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Jeanne painted by Modigliani

In the spring of 1917, the Russian sculptor Chana Orloff introduced Modi to a beautiful, long haired art student named Jeanne Hébuterne. She was 19 and Modi was 33, but he gave up his English mistress Beatrice Hastings to be with Jeanne, who is said to have been gentle, shy and delicate.

From a conservative bourgeois background, Hébuterne was disowned by her devout Roman Catholic family for her love affair with Modigliani, as they thought he was a debauched derelict. Despite her family’s objections, Jeanne and Modi were passionately in love and moved in together.

In the spring of 1918, the couple moved to the warmer climate of Nice where Modigliani’s agent hoped he would sell his art work to wealthy folk who were on holiday there. While they were in Nice, their daughter, Jeanne Modigliani was born.

In springtime, they returned to Paris and Jeanne became pregnant again. Modi was getting progressively more unwell from his TB and wild lifestyle. He passed away in January 1920. Jeanne’s parents brought her home to them, but she stepped out of the fifth floor window to her death. She was eight months pregnant. Their surviving daughter was brought up not knowing about her parents until she was an adult herself. At first Jeanne was buried away from Modi, but after ten years her parents relented and she was interred with him. Her gravestone epitaph, ‘Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.’ Modi’s reads, ‘Struck down by death at the moment of glory.’

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However, despite her role as devoted muse to the final extreme, Jeanne was a brilliant painter in her own right and deserved a share of the artistic glory. My poem has Jeanne’s voice detailing their shared act of painting: Modi painting her and Jeanne painting her self-portrait.

Below are four self-portraits painted by Jeanne.

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foto 3 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne




On epigraphs…

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!'”

Thomas Parke D’Invilliers

Epigraph at the beginning of the The Great Gatsby (the poet and poem were invented by Fitzgerald).

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The Man with the Golden Helmet by Rembrandt

I love epigraphs and spend a long time (too long) thinking about them in relation to the novel or poetry collection they introduce. What did the author mean? What relationship does this have with the text? No epigraph…interesting in its own way. The work is stepping out with no prologue, introduction or scene setting. Does the epigraph explain the title? The theme? Is it invented? Ironic? Teasing? A dialogue with another text; a literary conversation?

Rosemary Ahern selected for her book, The Art of the Epigraph, an epigraph which is a quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own:  “For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”

Reaching to the teetering pile of books next to me I’m going to share some epigraphs, without comment from myself, apart from that I think they work brilliantly as introductions to the poems or stories that follow.

Helen Ivory’s The Anatomical Venus

the mother [or womb] is sometimes drawn upwards or sideways

above his natural seate [causing] monstrous and terrible suffocation

in the throate, croaking of Frogges, hissing of Snakes…frenzies,

convulsions, hickcockes, laughing, singing, weeping, crying

DR EDWARD JORDAN,  A briefe discourse of a disease

  called the Suffocation of the Mother (1603)


Isabel Galleymore’s Significant Other:

We are training each other in acts of communication we barely

understand. We are, constitutively, companion species. We make

each other up in the flesh. Significantly other to each other; in

specific difference, we signify in the flesh a nasty developmental

infection called love.

–Donna Harroway, The Companion Species Manifesto


Carolyn Jess-Cookes’ Inroads:

A world with a hundred kinds of home will accommodate

a thousand kinds of homesickness.

— Pico Iyer, The Global Soul


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Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure:

Yea, many there be that have that have run out of their wits for women,

and become servants for their sake. Many have perished,

have erred, and sinned for women…O ye men, how can it

be but women should be strong, seeing they do thus? – Esdras


In my forthcoming collection, I, Ursula, I have two epigraphs. One wasn’t enough. I am a glutton for epigraphs. They took ages to choose, as I overthink these kind of things, but I got there in the end.

One is a quote by J.D. Salinger, from Franny and Zooey. The second,  some lines from a translation of ‘Wulf and Eadwacer’ by Fiona Sampson, published in Folding the Real.  (Thank you to Fiona for letting me use them, as they set the scene perfectly!)

The book launch is 31st January, Hive Library Worcester, at 7.00pm.





Poem inspired by Guantánamo Bay


American Flag, Usa, Barded Wire, Guantanamo Bay

I woke up very early on Tuesday morning, before the sun came up. As soon as I opened my eyes my heart started racing; I was nervous about talking on the radio that day. I wouldn’t have been anxious normally, but I wasn’t talking about myself. I was representing a charity called Reprieve, who had partnered with Ledbury poetry festival to create an event to raise awareness about Guantanamo Bay.

Seven poets have been commissioned to write in response to either particular inmates represented by the charity, or the prison as a whole. So, this project means a great deal to me, and I wanted to say the right things and encourage people to attend the event or think more about what was happening there, as it wasn’t at the forefront of the news any more.

I read a lot of articles and testimonies as research before I began to draft different poem ideas. Obama made closing Guantanamo a key part of his campaign for election. On his second day in office he issued a directive ordering it closed down within a year. During his time in office he discovered it was not a simple process in divisive times and by the time his second term was finished it remained open, albeit with many prisoners freed which was an achievement for him. What is terrifying is the mindset of the new president of America, who is quoted saying he wanted to:

“Load it up with some bad dudes…I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding…Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works.”

The first thing I did as I approached the project was distil it to the simple terms that deeply affected me: no one deserves to be held without evidence and everyone deserves legal representation and a trial. The individual guilt of the detainees is to be discovered in court. No one deserves to be tortured.

It took a long time to find the type of poem that fitted my style and that expressed this harrowing subject. I have used a prose poem form, as that is part of my current research, and it uses different voices within it. I created a fable, with bird characters, because people in these situations are dehumanised. I also wanted it to have the feeling of a fantastical story, to create a disquieting feeling as the reader begins to understand what the fable is really talking about. The one image that stood out was information about an inmate, Haroon Gul. On the radio I said the information about him wanting to keep beehives and be a honey farmer, ‘spoke to me.’

Honey Bee, Bees, Insect, Beehive, Swarm

I meant it in overly artistic fashion, meaning the words on the page elicited a response in my creative process. Reading about his hopes to be a honey farmer one day created a strong image of quiet work and peace. Perhaps because my father is a keen beekeeper, or because I love the Yeats poem about longing for a peaceful, ‘bee-loud glade’, the symbol of the beekeeper as a contrast to the horror became a key part of the poem.

But for a second, on the radio as I listened back today, it sounded like I meant I spoke to him, which of course, is impossible: these people have not been allowed any communication and it has taken years of legal fighting by charities like Reprieve to even get them 15 minutes of legal advice.

Removing a person’s means of communication is just one of the injustices visited upon these inmates. I wish I could have asked him about his hopes for his young daughter, who would be about 13 now. I would have liked to tell him about the poem I have written in the hope it might raise awareness of his plight.

Thinking about Guantanamo is to feel powerless. It is a place that eradicates the basic standards of humanity. That is why this project feels important to me, because more people should know that the prison is still operating. I felt nervous, because this poem is not about my concerns but about people held without a trial or any kind of justice and I wanted to do a good job for them.

The event is at 3pm on Saturday 6th July. Reprieve founder and respected human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith OBE will introduce this event and give a personal insight into the work of this courageous and dedicated charity.




Cutting the Green Ribbon

Katy Wareham Morris has written an astonishing debut. It is unashamedly feminist and confronting, asking questions about male power, sexual desire, motherhood and the poems consider how a woman is defined and how they occupy their place in an often hostile society.

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Sometimes I get sick of poetry that doesn’t address political things, rather it skirts around issues. I’m not saying I am any better at this, because I saturate my poems in symbolism, metaphor and ambiguity so that my discussion of certain issues are buried under layers of voices and imagery. It satisfies my poetry to create in this way, however, I admire the unapologetic lens and fire of poets like Antony Owen, writing about conflict in The Nagasaki Elder, or Wareham Morris writing about gender politics and identity.

This collection looks straight at some uncomfortable realities about being a woman in society and examines them with innovative use of form and tender, lyrical lines that made me re-read each poem after I had finished it.

Cutting the Green Ribbon is immediately intriguing from the cover design, where there is a refusal to conform to expected realities. There is no green ribbon but a blue feather, rendered against a stark, white cover.

The poems are rich with inventive, clear imagery and there is a strong sense of playful musicality. I particularly love Karaoke Sing Song and the sequence of ‘From’ poems.  There is a beat poetry connection threading through the poems, and Diane Di Prima has a dedication. Wareham Morris connects to the Beats with her bared truth and expression, her willingness to step over the conventional moral boundaries and write poetry about the lines drawn between lust, desire and female pleasure vs exploitation and abuse. Wareham Morris asks the reader to consider womanhood with varying perspectives and assumed voices; she uses some complex longer forms that are successful in their attempt to echo the use of breath and sense of performance, but despite this experimental craft, what rises most clearly from this collection is a direct, unapologetic female voice.

Published by Hesterglock Press, £8.

There is a really interesting review of CTGR here, that is a poem in itself.

Read this poetry collection if you want a feminist voice and visceral, burning imagery.


How to Wear Grunge

My new poetry collection, How to Wear Grunge, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

Cover art by Duncan Allan @DuncanAllanart

“In How to Wear Grunge, Ruth Stacey has achieved a bittersweet examination of brutal youth and violent love, with expert attention to the timing of acceptance, obsession and revelation. There’s almost a contact-high to these poems, an intoxication that has been carefully crafted to provide relief from the horrors of the past and of each other, creating a deceptively fragile romance of a sub-culture that encouraged the dirt and distortion of the fragmented self. However, once we have questioned the lives of the damaged, haunted souls in this cool as hell collection, what burns through is strength and survival, wounds that gush with the language of dark joy, the sweet stink of dope and incense, a promise (to past, present and future selves) tightly rolled into a joint so full of flavour it will leave your mouth watering. How to Wear Grunge is ultimately a kaleidoscopic questionnaire. There are no right or wrong answers. In the end, we all dance to something. We make noise, we hurt each other and, sometimes, we forgive.” Bobby Parker

Pam and Jim by Edmund Teske

“Ruth Stacey’s How to Wear Grunge eschews nostalgia and the self-fulfilling mythology of rock’s nearly-famous excesses for a fierce, feminist holler back into the feedback of another place and time, in all its bleached and sticky-carpeted illusions and almost-glory. Between truth or dare narratives that toy with the tension of hard facts – “Too gloomy, tell me about the prettiness again. / No. Tell me the worst thing” – these poems are wild and wise, and faultlessly written. There is a beating rock’ n’ roll heart of riot-grrl rebellion in every line. Stacey is a fearless and utterly compelling writer, whose candid, courageous poetry takes on the prevailing narrative and places women at the very epicentre” Jane Commane

Love Hate Love artwork by Ruth Stacey

Blue Nib review by James Fountain HERE

Stride Magazine review by Angela Topping HERE

Emma Lee review HERE

Sarah James review HERE

Mad Hatter review HERE