Liz Berry was born in Black Country and now lives in London where she works as an infant school teacher. She received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2009. Her debut pamphlet, The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls, was published by tall-lighthouse in 2010. Her poems have appeared in most of the major UK magazines and on Radio 3’s Words and Music. She is an Emerging Poet in Residence at Kingston University and a 2011 Arvon/Jerwood mentee.
Liz Berry is an accomplished new voice. Her poetry is full of energy and surprise, with images and lines that entice the reader into a world of sensuous imagery and sultry, dark humour. This pamphlet was published as the winner of the tall-lighthouse pamphlet competition.
“This short selection of poems by Liz Berry is a completely satisfying achievement – packed with intelligence, sharp observation and a clever innocence – but also leaves us hungry for more. It marks the emergence of a compelling new voice – one that will continue to grow in range and authority.”
– Andrew Motion
My body wakes with the constellations,
star-by-star in the stifling darkness. I glide
over the dog-guarded houses, the cattle
lowing in the moonlit kraal. A parcel
of skin, teeth, bones falls from me,
a skeletal warning. I come with messages
from the darkest place. An infant coughing blood
in the village, a woman on the bed of the Ruhuhu river,
her eye-sockets hollow, a fist printing a boy’s face.
I trouble the shadows with my mourning song:
hoot-hoo-hoo-buhuhu-hoo. They shot my love
with a wooden arrow and nailed his white chest
to the doorframe to drive me away.
It drew me closer. Shape shifters conjured my body
and I welcomed their wickedness. I bore them
into the dreaming houses, the beds of lovers,
mothers cursing slumbering babies. I carried curses
between my claws, drought in my beak.
A fury, I plunged through the sultry blackness,
over children with bows, to seek y love,
his pitiful heart face, the shape of sorrow.
The Year We Married Birds
That year, with men turning thirty
still refusing to fly the nest,
we married birds instead.
Migrating snow buntings
swept into offices in the city,
took flocks of girls for Highland weddings.
Magpies smashed jewellers’ windows,
kestrels hovered above bridal shops,
a pigeon in Trafalgar Square learnt to kneel.
Sales of nesting boxes soared.
Soon cinemas were wild as woods in May
while restaurants served worms.
By June, a Russian kittiwake wed
the Minister’s daughter, gave her two
freckled eggs, a mansion on a cliff.
My own groom was a kingfisher:
enigmatic, bright. He gleamed in a metallic
turquoise suit, taught me about fishing
in the murky canal. We honeymooned
near the Wash, the saltmarshes
booming with courting bittern.
When I think of that year, I remember best
the fanning of his feathers
on my cheek, his white throat,
how every building, every street rang
with birdsong. How girls’ wedding dresses
lifted them into the trees like wings.
from The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls (tall-lighthouse, 2010).
Order The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls.