Tamar Yoseloff was born in the US in 1965. Since moving to London in 1987, she has been the organiser of the Terrible Beauty reading series at the Troubadour Coffee House, Reviews Editor of Poetry London magazine, and from 2000 to 2007, Programme Coordinator for The Poetry School. She currently works as a freelance tutor in creative writing.
A pamphlet collection (Fun House, Slow Dancer Press, 1994) was followed by her first full collection, Sweetheart (Slow Dancer Press, 1998), which was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and the winner of the Aldeburgh Festival Prize. She received a New Writers’ Award from London Arts (now Arts Council England, London) for a manuscript in progress, which was eventually published as her second collection, Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon Press, 2004) Her most recent book, Fetch, was published by Salt in April 2007, as well as a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art. She was the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (Salt, 2007) and the Poetry Editor of Art World magazine from 2007 to 2009. Her upcoming collection with Salt, The City with Horns, will feature a sequence of poems inspired by the life and work of the American abstract artist, Jackson Pollock.
She holds a MPhil in Writing from the University of Glamorgan, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. She teaches for a number of institutions, including Birkbeck, Spread the Word and the Poetry School. In 2005 she was Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as part of their Year in Literature Festival. She divides her time between London and Suffolk, and has recently completed her first novel.
“Though she holds life precious, she is not precious herself: alert to Tommy Cooper, paper cups, biros, belisha beacons … Seduction, sharp edges, high seriousness, satire – this book has them all … Fetch, her sensitive, sassy third collection, is her best yet.”
– Anne Berkeley, Seam
“These are dark poems in the best sense of the word, edgy, unnerving, but glittering, too. Tamar Yoseloff can make a visit to the dentist or a lamb curry sexy and sinister. I’ve followed her career from the beginning; Fetch is her most ambitious book yet, and her best.”
– Matthew Francis
“These compressed and vivid poems have a mind and a music all their own. Tamar Yoseloff is emerging as one of the best poets of her generation.”
– Thomas Lux
“Tamar Yoseloff’s Fetch is a delicate book of haunting strength, of strangeness uncontained. These poems are irresistible.”
– Alison Brackenbury
“If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me . . .
I have coals of fire in my breast.”
Our bodies, ignited by touch; however light,
flesh can singe with pleasure, the heart
can burn itself to cinder.
We leave relics in the sheets,
our sweat and skin, what’s dead of us.
In the half dark I listen
for the shuttle of my heart.
Blood wells up through a cut
to taste the world.
I am a vessel, open
to your body. If only you could
move through me, enter
the spleen, the coiled intestine.
You are already in
my eye, my brain.
Fire takes the manshape
like a lover: the clumsy arsonist,
the heroic father, the monk
in saffron robes. No matter
what they believed,
how they lived, in the end
reduced to this: a ribcage
forged in flame, curving
like the branches of a tree.
In the story my mother read me,
the tin soldier burned for love,
reduced to a molten heart,
the dancer’s tinsel rose
shrivelled to a dark fist.
I longed for the happy ending.
Strange shapes would form
in darkness as I lay in my bed
at night, wondering
what it was like to die.
I found a bird’s skull in the yard,
ran my finger over the beak,
the eyeless hole,
the smooth cranium,
then buried it in the ground.
A man stands before a wall
of fire, holding a cross
on a chain against his heart.
His likeness is on ivory
and although so small,
I think I see the flicker
in his eyes as he beholds
the woman who held
this image to her heart
four hundred years ago.
To think of the flame
he burned for her
snuffed out, four hundred
years in his grave, his love
reduced from flesh to bone
to soot; but flesh remains
in memory, the feel of her skin
beneath his fingers, like fine clay.
Coal and ironstone, silica, bole,
sea earth, marl, the soil yields
hard treasures, breaks down matter.
In the hill top cemetery the graves
fall in on themselves,
marble crumbles to dust,
loved ones tumble
into each others arms, their bones
knit and form a whole.
Gold fillings, titanium,
a wedding ring, calcium.
What doesn’t burn
is sifted out. A light package
without heavy limbs
and troublesome heart.
When I die, scatter my ash
on water, so I curl the waves
on a cloud of dust,
each particle of me alive
to sunlight, floating,
a little boat of myself.
Published in Fetch (Salt, 2007) and based on the work of
the potter Julian Stair
Gold leaf, cadmium, ochre, saffron—
indelible once set on vellum.
The monks ground azurite and lapis
for perfect blue, took care
to cleanse their hands of poison
that made words sacred.
We place our fingers against
each other’s lips, a vow of silence,
sense the touch mark even after.
I am brimming with words
but none can hold that moment
when our faces, edged in gold
glinted in the water’s mirror,
the invisible sun within us—
so I let them fly, lead white
against a white sky.
Portrait of a Couple Looking at a Turner Landscape
They stand, not quite touching,
before a world after storm.
There are drops of moisture in her hair,
in his scarf
the colour of a gentler sea, his eyes,
while trains depart every minute, steaming
into the future, where the hills
vast plains of emerald and gold
(she undressed for him, slowly,
her skin like cloud under dark layers)
after rooms of Rubens and Fragonard, flesh dead
against old brocade
(their flesh alive in the white sheets).
There are trains departing.
When they part
it will be night, outside a theatre, near the station,
and the sky will be blown with stars,
too dim to see in the glare of neon.
They will stand on concrete and asphalt,
the innocent shining sands
lost. The world tilts to meet her face,
he holds her face close
and something closes in on them,
the weight of silence in the street,
the winter horizon, bright, huge,
the moment before
the sky opens and it pours.
The Venetian Mirror
“When I first hung it in our bedroom we could not sleep all night,
it was like having the moon for company, so bright it shone ”
Silver has its day, recedes
to reveal the surface beneath
its own Dorian moment.
It reflects back what we have
not been able to understand,
an abundance lost, just hinted
in the etched leaves, tendrils lacing
the frame. What’s inside is
rust, a pox on a lovely face,
still we trade its dimensions
for our own: dumbstruck, vain.
The basilica behind a slick
of rain, gold diminished
to dun. The colour of nothing.
The bulk of it jagged
on the darkening sky.
The end of day, odic light
illuminates a shrivelled rose;
all the sadness we contain
in this drop of rain, its
The ghost hulk of the palazzo
leans into the canal. Narcissus crazed.
Tarnished jewels, pink marble
dulled to flesh. Shiver of a ballroom
out of season, sliver of broken
glass, the first glistening of frost,
as the campana strikes,
mourns itself in echo.
‘The Venetian Mirror’ is featured in Identity Parade
Visit Tamar’s website.