Monthly Archives: March 2010

Myra Connell’s From the Boat

Myra Connell’s latest collection of poems is the pamphlet From the Boat (Nine Arches Press, March 2010). Her first collection of poems, A Still Dark Kind of Work, was published by Heaventree Press in 2008. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, and her short stories in two collections from Tindal Street Press, Her Majesty and Are You She? She lives in Birmingham and has two grown-up sons.

Myra Connell

These poems ‘From the Boat’ come from a time of waiting, of mourning, and of finding small consolations. They are, many of them, small poems, the opposite of heroic. Bare, spare in mood, and exploring a sense of dislocation and disorientation, they look coldly at what is left when almost everything is pared away.
And yet they rejoice in moments of revelation – the golden flash of carp in a pool, a red jacket on a woman in a cafe; and the words, the language, the poems themselves, never feel doubtful or uncertain in their own power.
Myra Connell’s poetry is measured yet generous; experimental and adventurous; sharp, often angry, and yet tender.
And yes, the house
Myra Connell
And yes, the house, the houses.
The wood, the ground, the thick brown leaves –
not that we lay on them, not that,
but standing, felt our bodies skin to skin.
I loved a stranger in a sycamore wood –
and always, now, the house.
It was a white one, on a bank or hill.
Behind the hedge a lawn, but curving;
and steps up to a path. Such blank clean windows.
(What was it that he said? The hope was stupid.)
Such an ugly house, so cold,
so stiff, immaculate, so dark at dusk.
So dead.
From the valley
Myra Connell
From the valley, trees seemed frosted.
Up close, each twig a ghost, a shadow made of ice,
each twig, all along the ridge
and pushing in to sparse bare woods.
And did I say? About the pool?
He took my hand, said, Here.
This way, and led me round the back,
behind the crumbling wall –
an awkward turn, a stepping stone –
(the smell of frying eggs, stale smoke)
and there, a deep black pool.
Carp moved goldly,
muscled. Go today. See carp.
Go anywhere with walls, deep pools,
and gold (but don’t say gold)
leaves floating
Published in From the Boat (Nine Arches Press, 2010).
Order From the Boat.
Matt Merritt mentions Myra Connell and From the Boat in this
Polyolbion post.
Visit Nine Arches Press’s website.


“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Everytime a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
– Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
Visit Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s website.


The ‘Lost’ Man Booker shortlist was announced yesterday and, if you’re interested, you can vote for the winner here.
The six titles are:
The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden (Virago)
Troubles by JG Farrell (Phoenix)
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard (Virago)
Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault (Arrow)
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (Penguin)
The Vivisector by Patrick White (Vintage)
I’ve only read one of the six volumes, Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay of Noon. Here’s my review from several years ago.
Related to the shortlist, here’s the link to Alison Flood’s article in The Guardian.
The Orwell Book Prize longlist was announced on Wednesday.
On the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, Sina Queyras finds out about the lives of some ‘non-academic’ poets.

Visit Joanne Limburg’s new website and read about her memoir, The Woman Who Thought Too Much (Atlantic Books, 2010). Joanne is a very clever and perceptive writer, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder through her book.
She’s the author of two poetry collections, Femenismo (Bloodaxe, 2000) and Paraphernalia (Bloodaxe, 2007). You can read a couple of poems from each collection, as well as some new poems, on her site.

Read an interview on Zoë Brigley Thompson’s blog, The Midnight Heart, where she explains why she and Sorcha Gunne are committed to working on rape narratives. Their academic volume, Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation (Routledge), was published in December 2009. Zoë is also the author of The Secret (Bloodaxe, 2007). Visit her website here.
And, in case you didn’t know, the annual prize for the oddest book title has been won by Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes.

Ellen Bass: Three Poems

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press in June 2007. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.
Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Sun. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.
She is also co-author of Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins 1996) and The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Harper Collins 1988, 1994), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into ten languages. She teaches in many beautiful locations and at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
Ode to Dr. Ladd’s Black Slit Skirt
Ellen Bass

Praise to the little girl whose grandmother taught her to embroider,
slip the tip of the needle through the taut cloth and scallop
       the clouds,
fasten the feathers to blue bird wings.
And praise to the student who gulped muddy coffee
and memorized maps of muscles, puzzle of bones,
slid tendons through their shafts, curling and uncurling
each finger of the corpse like a deft puppeteer.
When I got to the ER Janet lay there, the morphine
not strong enough to winch up the pain.
Her arm looked like a carcass where a lion had fed.
Praise Dr. Ladd pulling green scrubs over her head
and gathering her long hair under a cap.
All the days we drove up to Stanford and waited for hours
in the room with the ugly orange carpet
thumbing through tarnished pages of National Geographic,
wondering what Dr. Ladd would be wearing,
until we heard the strike of her high heels on the hallway linoleum,
distinctive as the first notes of Beethoven’s fifth.
Praise her hands that lifted Janet’s hand, her fingertips brushing
over the gnarled scars, flesh lumped like redwood burl.
Praise her for getting up early to outline her eyelids,
slick her lips. And praise to her blouses, the silk creamy
as icing on a cake, the generous buttons open
like windows in summer. And praise
her bracelets coiled gold and her wide leather belts
encircling her waist like two strong hands about to lift her.
Praise to her earrings, little tinkling tambourines
and her perfume that braced us like a dry martini.
But most of all, praise to her slim black skirt
with the slit up the front so that when she sat down
and crossed her legs, the two panels parted like the Red Sea
and we were seized by the curve of her calves,
the faceted shine of her knees sheathed in sheer black mesh,
a riff of diamonds rippling up her thighs.
When You Return
Ellen Bass

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.
Shards of the shattered vase will rise
and reassemble on the table.
Plastic raincoats will refold
into their flat envelopes. The egg,
bald yolk and its transparent halo,
slide back in the thin, calcium shell.
Curses will pour back into mouths,
letters un-write themselves, words
siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair
will darken and become the feathers
of a black swan. Bullets will snap
back into their chambers, the powder
tamped tight in brass casings. Borders
will disappear from maps. Rust
revert to oxygen and time. The fire
return to the log, the log to the tree,
the white root curled up
in the un-split seed. Birdsong will fly
into the lark’s lungs, answers
become questions again.
When you return, sweaters will unravel
and wool grow on the sheep.
Rock will go home to mountain, gold
to vein. Wine crushed into the grape,
oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in
to the spider’s belly. Night moths
tucked close into cocoons, ink drained
from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds
will be returned to coal, coal
to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light
to stars sucked back and back
into one timeless point, the way it was
before the world was born,
that fresh, that whole, nothing
broken, nothing torn apart.
Ode to The God of Atheists
Ellen Bass
The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf and stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.
The plums that bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins that stitch sky to sea,
each pebble and fern, pond and fish
are yours whether or not you believe.
When fog is ripped away
just as a rust red thumb slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking up in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.
This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.
Visit Ellen’s website.
Order The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).
Order Mules of Love (BOA Editions Ltd, 2002).

Velvet Pears

Autumn is here with its golden days and crisp evenings. The sun sets earlier and there’s time to curl up with a cup of tea and books like Susan Southam’s Velvet Pears (Murdoch Books, 2009).
As a young bride, Susan moved into a little weatherboard cottage sheltered by huge Norfolk pines at the foot of a purple mountain. Over the next twenty-five years, she created her enchanted garden at Foxglove Spires on the land of an old dairy paddock in the Tilba Valley, New South Wales. She lives there now, with her family, in harmony with the seasons: cooking, eating, celebrating and decorating with her garden’s bounty.

Velvet Pears
is a journal, a garden lover’s delight, a story of the making of a garden, a tapestry of dreams. It is elegantly illustrated with photographs of Susan’s house and garden and includes suggestions for planting schemes and favourite seasonal recipes – hearty minestrone, magic chocolate cake, elderberry and blackcurrant jam, and velvet pears – using produce from the garden.
About autumn, Susan writes:
“I love this time of year. Working in the garden is an absolute pleasure. Soft woolly socks in boots, a thick warm jumper, and my favourite beanie pulled down. This is the season of seedlings and bulbs. Daffodils and snowflakes are pushing through the thick layers of autumn leaves.”
Whether you live in the southern or northern hemisphere, savour the changes the seasons bring.

Do you have a favourite?

The 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction longlist
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (Alma Books)

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (Granta)

Savage Lands by Clare Clark (Harvill Secker)

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown)

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki (Pan Books)

The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers (Canongate)

This is How by M J Hyland (Canongate)

Small Wars by Sadie Jones (Chatto & Windus)

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)

Secret Son by Laila Lalami (Viking)

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)

The Wilding by Maria McCann (Faber and Faber)

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed (HarperCollins)

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Faber and Faber)

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
by Monique Roffey (Simon and Schuster)

The Still Point by Amy Sackville (Portobello Books)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Fig Tree)

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Virago)


The judges are Daisy Goodwin (Chair), Baroness Neuberger DBE, Michèle Roberts, Miranda Sawyer and Alexandra Shulman.

The shortlist announcement will be made on 20 April 2010. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony to be held in The Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall on 9 June 2010.
Previous winners are Marilynne Robinson for Home (2009), Rose Tremain for The Road Home (2008), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), Zadie Smith for On Beauty (2006), Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin (2005), Andrea Levy for Small Island (2004), Valerie Martin for Property (2003), Ann Patchett for Bel Canto (2002), Kate Grenville for The Idea of Perfection (2001), Linda Grant for When I Lived in Modern Times (2000), Suzanne Berne for A Crime in the Neighbourhood (1999), Carol Shields for Larry’s Party (1998), Anne Michaels for Fugitive Pieces (1997), and Helen Dunmore for A Spell of Winter (1996).

Some thoughts for Wednesday

“The world is filled with stories impressed on people’s hearts. We have only to speak out to set the stories free. Like smoke from burning candles, stories rise up. In the vast collective unconscious, stories amass; they bump against each other, calling out to us.”
– Sandra Benítez
“A voice can use a thousand words or half a dozen. The story is what we carry with us, at the deepest level.”
– Alice Hoffman
“If you remember listening to stories as a child, you will remember the pleasure of hearing a story many times, and you will remember that while you were listening you became three people. There is an incredible fusion: you become the storyteller, the protagonist, and you remember yourself listening to the story …”
– John Berger
“Make art, make friends. Be in awe of books as objects, as intelligences.”
– Valerie Cornell
“Literature offers us all, writers and readers, the best method of discovering and retelling the changing story of ourselves. The story is both journey and surprise. And as everyone knows, even the past is altered, depending on, not the facts, but the interpretation.”
– Jeanette Winterson
“Poetry is a form of magic, because it tries to change the way we perceive the world, that is to say that it aims to make the texture of our perception malleable. It does so by surreptitious and devious means, by seeding and planting things in the memory and imagination of the reader with such force and insidious originality that they cannot be deprogrammed. What you remember changes how you think.”
– Don Paterson
“There are so many rules about how to write poetry that there might as well not be any at all. Poetry moves words around. It rearranges them from their conventions. It re-sorts them. It uses more than one language. It repeats. It pursues a conventional language and divergent typography. It often experiments. It can be ephemeral and occasional. It often uses pleasing patterns as it does all this. And all that helps me think.”
– Juliana Spahr
“There is phenomenal beauty in the language developed for a particular field – whether it’s architecture, dentistry, tree pruning, or accounting … immersion in the language and concerns of any profession can unveil rich sounds and provide a new lens through which the world can be seen.”
– Elizabeth Bradfield
“Exploration results in discovery. It is for the sake of that discovery about the always fresh, shocking, extraordinary nature of the world and our consciousness of it, that we read and make poetry.”
– George Szirtes
“We have to help keep even the writers who do get published alive, very, very often. This is very important if you have read something that means something to you, send a postcard to that writer! You have no idea how essential that is. And write thanking the publishers for the book.”
– Tillie Olsen
“Like stand-up comedians, most poets hunger for approval. When I was in the first grade, I read Goldilocks and the Three Bears aloud to our class. Miss Howe, our teacher, gave me a big hug after my reading. That hug was decisive. It is still in the air as I write this, and I return it with thanks to those who love language and reading and who encourage writing and its writers.”
– Marilyn Kallet
“I want a poetry which is made of compression, passion, precision, symmetry, & disruption.”
– Lucie Brock-Broido
“Listen to the soundtracks of Giorgio Moroder. Visit the Rubin Museum of Art. Open to any page of The Mariner’s Dictionary. Sit in churches that watch over cities. Stand in trains that run under rivers … Read Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary and feel encouraged by the fact that a genius worried about bad reviews. Read Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and learn than after lightning strikes, the immediate area of the wound is colder than the rest of the body.”
– Leni Zumas
“Punctuation marks beg for the sanity of not going forward, of resting, of secrecy, surprise, exaggeration, saying something inside of saying something, elevating words or lowering them. Mostly they are instructors in silence.”
– Brenda Hillman
“Poetry is tribal, not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked. This is where you can remember the good times along with the worst; where you are not allowed to forget the worst, else you cannot be healed. This is where your memory must be exacting …”
– C D Wright
“Certainly I have made discoveries when I struggle to become other people, both historical figures and common men and women. Unless Protestants become Catholic, and Catholics become Protestant, unless kings become servants, unless men become women – unless we switch empathetically, until we give up all the chains of egoism and release ourselves imaginatively into something else, I don’t think we’ll discover our full potential as people.”
– Brendan Kennelly
“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized. This is poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are – until the poem – nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.”
– Audre Lorde
“A studio, like a poem, is an intimacy and a freedom you can look out from, into each part of your life and a little beyond.”
– Jane Hirshfield
“I think I am probably in love with silence, that other world. And that I write, in some way, to negotiate seriously with it.”
– Jorie Graham

A poetry list

I thought I’d share a few poetry titles I’m looking forward to reading this year. Some have recently been published, some are not yet available. If you’re interested in buying copies online, do make a note of their publication dates or ask your online book store to let you know when they become available.
Four of the poets are relatively new to me – Elisabeth Bletsoe (Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works), Mary O’Donnell (The Ark Builders), Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Inroads) and Anna Robinson (The Finders of London) – and I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with their work.
I greatly enjoyed Naomi Foyle’s bold, imaginative and sensuous collection, The Night Pavilion, and am looking forward to her pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers – A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press), illustrated by Peter Griffiths.
Philippa Yaa de Villiers’s second collection The Everyday Wife, published by the intrepid South African women’s publisher Modjaji Books, follows her popular first collection, Taller than buildings. As a poet living in South Africa, I’d like to mention how proud I am of the strong, beautiful books sent into the world by Modjaji.
Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe), Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren), Katie Donovan’s Rootling (Bloodaxe) and Penelope Shuttle’s Sandgrain and Hourglass (Bloodaxe), have been long awaited. Their previous collections – The Dog in the Sky (Ivory), The Treekeeper’s Tale (Petit), Day of the Dead (Donovan) and Redgrove’s Wife (Shuttle) – are favourites and occupy the top shelf of my poetry bookcase.
Edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe) will be available later this year. The anthology aims to reflect “the multicultural make-up of contemporary Britain” and to showcase the work of talented poets such as Mir Mahfuz Ali, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Karen McCarthy, Nick Makoha, Denise Saul, Seni Seniviratne, Shazea Quraishi and Janet Kofi Tsekpo.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets, also published by Bloodaxe and edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be a feast. I hope, as I’m typing this, my copy is winging its way south from the United Kingdom.
Identity Parade includes poetry from Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Asser, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon Barraclough, Paul Batchelor, Kate Bingham, Julia Bird, Patrick Brandon, David Briggs, Andy Brown, Judy Brown, Colette Bryce, Matthew Caley, Siobhan Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Melanie Challenger, Kate Clanchy, Polly Clark, Julia Copus, Sarah Corbett, Claire Crowther, Tim Cumming, Ailbhe Darcy, Peter Davidson, Nick Drake, Sasha Dugdale, Chris Emery, Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Farley, Leontia Flynn, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Jane Griffiths, Vona Groarke, Jen Hadfield, Sophie Hannah, Tracey Herd, Kevin Higgins, Matthew Hollis, A.B. Jackson, Anthony Joseph, Luke Kennard, Nick Laird, Sarah Law, Frances Leviston, Gwyneth Lewis, John McAuliffe, Chris McCabe, Helen Macdonald, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Peter Manson, D.S. Marriott, Sam Meekings, Sinéad Morrissey, Daljit Nagra, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Katherine Pierpoint, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Diana Pooley, Richard Price, Sally Read, Deryn Rees-Jones, Neil Rollinson, Jacob Sam-la Rose, Antony Rowland, James Sheard, Zoë Skoulding, Catherine Smith, Jean Sprackland, John Stammers, Greta Stoddart, Sandra Tappenden, Tim Turnbull, Julian Turner, Mark Waldron, Ahren Warner, Tim Wells, Matthew Welton, David Wheatley, Sam Willetts, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Tamar Yoseloff.
Are there any anthologies and collections you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on this year?
I’d love to hear what’s on your list.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets,
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)

Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works
Elisabeth Bletsoe (Shearsman Books)


The Ark Builders, Mary O’Donnell
(Arc Publications)

, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
(Seren Books)


Grace of the Gamblers, Naomi Foyle
(Waterloo Press)


The Finders of London, Anna Robinson
(Enitharmon Press)

The Everyday Wife
, Philippa Yaa de Villiers
(Modjaji Books)

The Breakfast Machine
, Helen Ivory
(Bloodaxe Books)

, Katie Donovan
(Bloodaxe Books)

What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo,
Pascale Petit (Seren Books)

Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra
(Bloodaxe Books) 


Sandgrain and Hourglass
, Penelope Shuttle
(Bloodaxe Books)

The Creative Spirit

“The creative spirit moves in a body or ego larger than that of any single person. Works of art are drawn from, and the bestowal nourishes, those parts of our being that are not entirely personal, parts that derive from nature, from the group and the race, from history and tradition, and from the spiritual world.”
– Lewis Hyde, The Gift (New edition. Canongate, 2007)
Visit Lewis Hyde’s website.

Grace Schulman’s ‘Apples’

“Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin
at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.”
– from ‘Apples’ by Grace Schulman (The Broken String, 2007)
Read the entire poem here.