DISSOLVE to: L.A.

“What does it mean to die in a movie scene? To exist on the peripheries? James Trevelyan takes twelve cult action films of the 1980s and 90s and gives life where it was extinguished too early.” The Emma Press £5

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It’s difficult to not love these poems just because of the subject matter, irrelevant of the quality. I mean, my husband and I talk to each in Aliens quotes  (for example, this is how I wake the kids up…drives them mad) and we know and love all the movies in this pamphlet, so I was enthusiastic before I even read it.

Luckily my enthusiasm was not misplaced, they are excellent poems that demonstrate attention to detail, humour and an exhilarating look at the minor characters in these films.  Doing this allows Trevelyan to examine cinematic tropes and offer different perspectives on these big, action filled films (populated by larger than life personalities like Cruise, Gibson, Schwarzenegger).

In the opening poem, Lloyd, the character states, ‘They gave me a name/and does that not give me life?’ and he goes on to list characters that were known by their clothes or job, highlighting his significance. Lloyd is not just a redshirt, he was important enough to name and was allowed to live by the Terminator who took his sunglasses. This poem makes you consider the single-line characters, and the ones who stand in the back ground as nameless extras.

The poems bounce from one form to another, the form echoing how the characters are slipping from one voice to a distinctive other. The poet gives them personality, brings them to life on the page in a way they never had the chance in the movie.

I could discuss each poem but I will leave it for the reader to discover when they get this slim but packed pamphlet, and just talk about my favourite: Timmy.

There are twelve poems but it has the weight of all that back story behind each one. The illustrations really enrich the different characters as well. I do think you will enjoy this collection more if you know the movies, it just brings out the inner fan enthusiasm.

In Timmy, a character from Aliens, Trevelyan uses a fragmented poem form, with long lines that use the landscape space on the page. The white space and lack of punctuation makes the poem feel distant, like the far reaches of space perhaps! Sorry, I can’t help bringing in the movie lingo as I think about the poems.

The trope of an innocent child dying is used to emphaise the horror of the aliens in the movie. The battle to save the sister of the murdered brother is the main action of the plot. The brother died off-screen and never developed much character; his job was to be young, innocent and die. In the poem, Timmy has a dark edge to his voice, appropriate for his ending, and the imagery plays with his sister’s nickname, Newt. He talks about her ‘bugeyes and cold blood’ placing her as one with the alien invaders. The brutal image of a newt leg being torn off and regrown echoes the grotesque ability of the Alien species to stay alive and regrow inside human hosts.  Timmy says, ‘i bet you dont remember a star that warms you up,’ reminding the reader of the remoteness of the colonists, how they have left civilization far behind and have been rewarded with the most horrific death. Although this is an imagined world, it highlights how powerless children are when parents decide to move to a new world, a new country (especially ones desperate to risk a hostile environment to make a new life for the family).

Trevelyan brings sibling jealousy, as insidious as the alien reproduction, into the narrative. It unsettles the reader and is an entirely human characteristic, once again highlighting this minor character’s humanity in contrast with the alien predator that kills him.

I’ll leave you with this scene, Ripley going to save Newt, Timmy’s sister. It’s the most kick-ass mother power scene ever!

And buy the pamphlet, it’s really entertaining and well-crafted.

Saboteur Awards: Inheritance

It’s a wonderful feeling to have been shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards, with Katy Wareham Morris, for our collaborative piece Inheritance (published by Mother’s Milk Books). Thank you to people who voted for our pamphlet.

This sequence of poems was written at a time when both Katy and I were under various life pressures, but we found a break from all the stress by working on the poems together. I started the sequence off with the first poem and then we would write in response, incorporating a word, phrase or feeling from the previous poem to create an echo across the centuries. After working on my book, Queen, Jewel, Mistress, it was absorbing to explore just one imaginary character in the 19th century. In contrast, Katy was working on poems that examined the current experience of modern motherhood.

“2016. Nights of no sleep, new infant to feed and soothe; a woman reaches for an old box of papers to read. Letters, diary: fragments of a life long gone. The writing of a forgotten relative from the 19th century that she had always meant to do something with. Archive. Study. Yet, she never had the time, until now, when her baby ‘murmurs in the blue slate light’. The woman from the past is suddenly in her life, ‘soft as the nook between neck and ear’. Two voices trying to find their way through motherhood and marriage, whilst still clinging to their own identities.

Inheritance brings together two poets, Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, to create an unforgettable sequence of poems. The poems follow each other with echoes from the past, images that re-surface and bring with them a feeling of universal emotion, irrelevant of the century.”

If you have enjoyed Inheritance … 9th April-9th May: Voting on shortlist opens: Vote Now!

It is also brilliant to have two V Press Poets nominated for best pamphlet. Claire Walker and Romalyn Ante. Edited by Sarah Leavesley, who runs V Press, they are very different in style and showcase the variety of excellent work Sarah selects.

As usual, my part of V.Press was designing the hand-sketched covers (Sarah does the photo covers for the flash fiction).  Below is one of the stag images I drew for Claire, one of many as it was a very vivid sequence set in the countryside. It wasn’t chosen as the final cover but it remains a favourite of mine. Claire chose a tremulous, cautious deer peering out of the trees, which suited the pamphlet perfectly. Romalyn’s design was plain and one of those perfect combinations of the words becoming the image. I really enjoy reading each new poetry pamphlet or poetry book and working on the covers; sketching the pamphlets (where I include the word poetry somewhere)  and bolder designs for the books. For example, Kathy Gee’s Book of Bones had a striking, white image of a skull on the cover. Antony Owen, recently shortlisted for the Ted Hughes, had a plain blue cover with a repeating classical pattern bordering the name of the book: The Nagasaki Elder. Antony is an incredible ambassador for peaceful protest against nuclear arms and one of the things that sums up his kind, generous nature is the request he made to me to make his name hardly stand out on the cover as it was the names of the people in the poems, those interviewed in Hiroshima and Coventry, that mattered.

 

Finally, the incredible, monumental, heartbreaking, upsetting, vital #metoo anthology has been nominated. I am very proud to be included in this book. It has been so carefully and considerately edited by Deborah Alma and published by Nadia Kingsley at Fairacre Press. The work in this book will not be an easy read, but it is necessary, and ultimately creates a feeling of hope and solidarity. You can hear Deborah discuss the anthology at the Hive, Worcester 17th April.

The Joy of Writing

 

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The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

 

By Wislawa Szymborska
From “No End of Fun”, 1967
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Copyright © Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

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.

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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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

Welsh Castles

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First week of July we took an afternoon trip to Monmouth to collect a part for our camper van (a project Lawrence has a lot of fun with; a massive metal jigsaw) and we drove past a ruined castle. It was called Skenfrith, built in the 13th century. It was a sun filled day and there was no-one around and no charge to get in to look at it. We had it entirely to ourselves. We love castles and can spend hours driving to find them but this one we just stumbled across, which made it more satisfying somehow. We sat on the warm grass and ate out sandwiches, admiring the ruined keep. It was a great castle, with plenty of it still in place to imagine what it must have looked like when it was built.

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During the summer holidays we went to Brecon for a week with the family. We were so lucky with the weather and plenty of hot days for walking up all the hills. The cottage we stayed at was on a hill called Buckland and the whole area felt like the Shire, straight out of the Hobbit. One day we drove to Caerphilly Castle (see picture above) and it was very impressive. It was imposing and dramatic, with one tower leaning like it was about to tumble into the moat. However, it was the last day of ‘Cheese Festival’ and the place was packed full of people. I selfishly prefer it when castles are deserted and we can romantically imagine what it used to be like, rather than  stalls selling burgers and plastic swords. The sword fighting recreation people were hilarious though and the kids thought they were wonderful.

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This is Crickhowell castle, which was the nearest town to where our holiday cottage was. There was not much of this one left but it was still interesting to walk around. It is in a children’s playground right in the centre of the town.

My favourite castle that we visited during our trip is called Tretower Castle and Court. It was an inspiring place. I wasn’t surprised to read in the guide book that it had been a haunt of poets and musicians during the 15th century: it has a creative, artistic feeling in the curves of the stonework and shape of the windows. The grounds and surrounding landscape is peaceful and lush with trees and grazing sheep. Hills rise on each side, blocking out the rest of the world. There is no furniture in the majority of the court (a small part has been restored to look like the 1450’s and recreates the furnishings) but I really liked the emptiness of the rooms because it directed the eye to the wooden beams and medieval craftsmanship.

‘Among the early owners of Tretower Court are listed Lord Berkeley and the Earl of Pembroke, but probably the most noted link with the house is that of Henry Vaughan, the ‘Silurist’. Henry was a nephew to the owner of Tretower and never actually lived at the house, but history records that he had an intimate association with the property, inspired by the tranquillity of its surrounding environment. As a great poet and distinguished writer, whose works are highly acclaimed among the literature of 17th century England, Henry’s love of the gentle Usk valley and the hauntingly beautiful Black Mountains was captured for eternity by his words.’ Welsh Manor Houses website.

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There is a painting in the Great Hall that shows the history of the families that lived at the court. The man with the raised fist in the boat is Jasper Tudor, I think. I only read the information very briefly before I was led into a another part of this absorbing, fascinating place. I didn’t want to read, I just wanted to wander around imagining.

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I saw Eternity the other night,

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright,

And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years

Driv’n by the spheres

Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world

And all her train were hurl’d.

Henry Vaughan (17 April 1621 – 23 April 1695) was a Welsh author, physician and metaphysical poet.