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:

Programme:

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
Style’

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

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

 

 

 

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.

Review of Queen, Jewel, Mistress

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Illustration: Ruth Stacey, oil pastels and pencil.

“History holds such a wealth of material for any writer – but especially so for poets. And yet, so few poets find themselves looking to such inspiration. Of all the poets I know, of all the (contemporary) poets I’ve read, I’ve never quite found someone who interprets history through poetry like Ruth Stacey. I’m not talking of using poetry to illustrate history. I’m not talking of political ballads or of waxing poetics. I’m talking of recreating history, provoking ghosts, resurrecting the dead. I have many friends who are history interpreters, working or volunteering at historical sites. They dress in costumes, don weaponry, and wield the mannerisms and speech of the people who were there. Ruth Stacey interprets history in just this way. I was once told, of a poem I wrote of an American Civil War widow, “If they taught history like that in school, I might have paid attention!” Pay attention, dear readers. You will love Stacey’s Queens.”

Eve Brackenbury,  Poet and owner of Inklings’ Books & Coffee Shoppe.

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.

Poetry and Place at the Hive

The Hive, Worcester

On April 11th there is the first of three poetry events happening at the Hive. The events are organised as a collaboration between the University of Worcester, Ledbury Poetry Festival and the Worcestershire Lit Fest and Fringe.

There will be four  poets on the 11th, all for the amazing price of only £5 a ticket. The event starts at 7.30pm and tickets can be purchased from the Hive. It is a great chance to see some brilliant regional poets read in Worcester.

‘Four  poets with assured and distinctive voices for whom ‘place’ is not just the geographical or natural environments that inform the poems but also the human histories that unfold there, the people who are part of the landscape and part of the poem.’

David Caddy

Fiona Sampson

Angela France

Martin Malone

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The next event is May 9th ‘Poetry Pollination’ and will feature Sarah James and myself, with guest slots available. Please email me at ruthstacey@hotmail.co.uk if you would like a reading slot. It is 7.30pm and costs £5. The Hive made us think of bees and pollination: ‘To transfer poems from one to another.’

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The last event is slightly different, a Thursday night and the start time is 7pm. Carol Ann Duffy will be reading from her book, The Bees. Ticket price is £10.

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Tickets can be purchased in person from The Hive, Level 1 Information Desk or by phone from the University of Worcester Arena. The phone number for booking enquiries at the Arena is 01905 54 44 44. They can also be purchased from the Arena reception in person. Arena Box Office 9am- 4.30pm