Blood Child by Eleanor Rees

I was already a fan of Eleanor Rees before I read her third collection Blood Child (Liverpool University Press). She had won my admiration with her second collection Eliza and the Bear (Salt). It was a mesmerising read; dark, bloody, sensual and wild. Rees is a poet who embraces the shape shifting power of border crossing and this is realised even more fully in Blood Child. In the collection routes are above and below, within and without. Rees flits between animal and human, and questions constantly, often without answers, leaving a magnificent ambiguity to her work. I can’t format the  quotes exactly as the text so I can only give an example; the real beauty is in the original text as found in the book below.

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The poem that opens the collection seems to set up Rees’ thoughts on border crossings. A Burial of Sight, begins with the lines,

Sometimes there is another city,

light and wide,

shifting on continental plates—

The flowing pattern of the lines, with regular indents creating white space, echoes the flowing imagery that Rees weaves and guides her reader through. She suggests there is another place, just there but not fully realised; ‘splayed out/as you travel/to the other boundary.’ The narrator of the poem is strolling towards a ‘subtle river’ in ‘sun-brown’ dusk. These precise images focus the reader on the moment that is being experienced so they can see the terns or the river even though it is ‘far from here, far over.’ The reader can feel the sea wind that forms ‘an opening’ and the massive implication that suggests; the movement between worlds, between city and countryside, animal and human. Rees writes,

Love, here’s a warm evening.

We are above and over,

skimming treetops,

hovering like dragonflies.

Our wings also gold and turquoise.

She moves from the dreamy, languid suggestion of flight to the simile and finally embodies it with the metaphor. The uncertain reality, slipping between a feeling of reverie to a definite embracing of the animal (in this case insect) gives power to the narrative. Border crossing allows a discarding of rules and expectations so the landscape can be inhabited and embodied. In the poem Rees slips between light and colour, drawing the light into the lungs, so the narrator sinks into the surrounding environment; ‘meld place to place./ I am shadow./ It is my skin./’

There is a sense of the ancient in this poem, of old gods and mysterious nature powers. Suggested by a personified sun ‘waiting gently for dawn’ and Stone man, ‘hard and persistent’ that draws the ever curious gaze of the poet. One moment the poem is full of light and the gaze is directed upwards and then it descends deep into the ground; ‘I dig for your roots so deeply held,’ seeming to note an archaeological dig, asking, ‘What does it look like underneath?’ The narrator asks questions throughout the poem and following images answer and don’t answer. Here Rees writes,

It looks like night.

Pinpricks of light filter through the churned soil.

Stars? Yes but also fires

on a plain, a valley of houses

low in mist

beneath a heavy winter browning light.

Always the feeling of being in many layered places at once; now, then and future. The present reality intrudes, the built up, man-made interruption. Couples appear on the path, ducks, ‘waddle over tarmac,’ so that, ‘Consciousness is a sharp bite: a hailstorm.’ The poem culminates in an even more ecstatic embracing of the animal border crossing that suggests a longing for the natural. Geese fly above the city park, ‘In the night I am with them,/ solid wings slapping against air currents,/ almost like thoughts,’ and ‘my feathers a sheen of dusk-light.’ Rees uses powerful language ‘big handed’ and ‘huge.’ The animal/human narrator is defiant and exultant above and beyond. The poem ends with strong statements, ‘I skim you. I steal your dreams,’ and ‘I swallow them into the beat of my wings.’ The imagery is playing with the light and the movement between here and there, ‘I fold you into the barrow of air.’ Rees embodies the goose and everything in the landscape, ‘I hold it all here…in the hook of my goose heart.’ It is a remarkable journey poem that questions, focuses, slips between and rises with the goose/human above the landscape which beats with the, ‘Hot goose heart’ and the promise of deeper questioning, ‘I’ll burrow for you.’

I have focused on the opening poem of the collection, but be assured that the rest of the book is equal to the opening. The title poem Blood Child is dark and compelling; Rees utilises a chilling refrain throughout and uses the colour red to paint a mythology of a girl and mother that is returned to in the collection like threads weaving through a tapestry discovered in the earth. Faded, indistinct, wild animals have been living in it leaving their musty smells, but it still has the human story to tell, brutal and dramatic. Rees unpicks the threads and arranges it as stories that have their roots in fairy tale but always one eye is on the modern environment; the layered city and ancient landscape. Cruel mothers, seal skins, bird men; the collection is packed with intriguing re-imaginings. Blue-Black ends the collection, once more soaring above the landscape and looking down with gull’s eyes at the view. This echoes the goose at the beginning and gives a satisfying circular feeling to the collection. It is always the landscape that stands out as I read; it blurs between worlds and the narrators suck in the air, the sand, the earth. They are the landscape and the landscape is them. I haven’t said anything critical. That is because I found the collection to be faultless in both the scope of enquiry and the execution of the poetry.

52 Poetry Prompts

52

“The 52 project started with a simple idea: Write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going. It became a phenomenon. Hundreds of poets took up the challenge and their poems swept the board of poetry prizes, publications and personal successes.

This book brings together the 52 prompts written by poet Jo Bell and by guest poets ranging from David Morley to Rachael Boast, so that you can pick up the challenge yourself. With contemporary poems to illustrate each prompt, it’s a fine anthology as well as a book of lively and engaging exercises for poets, whether beginner or well-established.”

Available HERE from NINE ARCHES

Choosing which queen to read…

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The book launch for Queen, Jewel, Mistress is on Wednesday at 7.45pm. Do come along if you can make it. The venue is Bugage Hall, Ledbury and it is part of the Ledbury Poetry festival. Tickets can be brought from the box office or the festival website.

Trying to select which queen poems to read is quite hard. They all want to be read (clamouring for attention) and trying to choose is proving difficult this morning. Should it be a sequence from one period of history or a mix through different houses? Should I read my favourites or well-known queens to please the audience? Perhaps all the Anglo-Saxon queens deserve a time to shine. I just feel lucky I am sat here with my book, flicking through the pages, deciding on an order for the night. I have some more readings arranged for the next few months so I can read all the queens at different events. It will be so much fun.

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ALexandra_of_Denmark_Princess_of_Wales

The Magnetic Diaries poetry play: 4th July 2015

Write On Festival

 

Follow LINK for tickets

Summary

A narrative of love, lust, betrayal and depression, The Magnetic Diaries re-envisages the characters and storyline of Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary in a modern twenty-first century English, poetry setting. The contemporary heroine, Emma Bailey, battles with romantic idealism, illusions about love, a stifling middle-class lifestyle, boredom and depression.

Moving lyrical fragments and crafted poems reconstructed by fictional researchers from Emma’s diary and treatment notes are set alongside the voices of her doctors and emails from her husband Carl. But will modern medicine save Emma and her marriage in the wake of two affairs?

Written by Sarah James

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Vey Straker who plays Emma Bailey

New title and cover design for my book

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My editor and his team decided that a different title and cover design would appeal more to readers browsing in a book shop. It’s a strange thing letting go of your title, as I spent a long time deciding what the collection should be called, but I do like the one they selected. It comes from the Anne of Denmark poem:

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I didn’t choose Anne Boleyn for the cover but it feels inevitable, as if it had to be her! I have been interested in Anne Boleyn since I read about her at school and then devoured every history book I could find about Henry VIII and his six wives. That soon extended into all other periods of history. If I went to anyone’s house I would seek out their

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 bookcases and find any history books they owned, then slink off to the sofa to read them. But my first love was Tudor and Stuart history. Watching historical movies like A Man for All Seasons and Anne of the Thousand Days with my mother after she had taped it on VHS off the TV for me. My Aunt took me to London, aged about 12, and I was allowed to pick any itinerary and I selected all Tudor themed things. Tower of London, Hampton Court and the National Portrait Gallery so I could stare at the Boleyn portrait for a long time. And now she is on the cover of my book.

Workshops at Wenlock and Cheltenham

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Strange maypole dancing picture at Much Wenlock art gallery (wish I had written down who painted it – I think it’s brilliant..please contact me if you know the artist, although I did notice the price was too high for me to buy it!)

On Saturday I went to Much Wenlock to attend a ‘Page to Performance’ workshop run by Hollie McNish. I had met Hollie at the Writing and Motherhood event that I chaired last summer at Ledbury Poetry Festival and I had been very impressed by her poems and the way she performed them. Witty, clever and emotional words combined with an almost gentle, conversational and embracing way of reading them. Hollie draws the audience in and they hang off every line.

The workshop was equally as good. There was emphasis on finding the mundane and everyday details to place within the poetic/descriptive language, to anchor it to something authentic. In pairs we studied the other person’s face in detail. Uncomfortable at first, yet it became a very freeing exercise and ultimately emotional as we listened to each others poems. At the end we exchanged the poems we had written so they became a gift to the other.

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The workshop today was part of Cheltenham Poetry Festival. It was in the basement room of a pub and it was a gloomy venue, yet it made it atmospheric as we sat around a dark wooden table. Rosie Jackson wrote one of my very favourite pamphlets titled ‘What the Ground Holds’ so I was very keen to meet her in real life. You can read my review of Rosie’s pamphlet at Sabotage Reviews. The workshop had caught my eye in the programme because it was focused on creating poems from works of art. I studied art at college and like to paint and draw. I write poems and illustrate them and my poems often feel like paintings in my mind; as I describe the images I want them to be vivid in their colour, light and shadows. It was an excellent workshop and the final writing exercise came from us looking at two paintings from a large choice. We just picked two up without any thought and then had half an hour to write. My poem came out in a rush, it was a joy to write. Although it was full of animal/human shape-shifting…again.

postcardsHare image: Sitting by Sophie Ryder 2009

Does anyone know who painted the horse picture please?