Monthly Archives: August 2011

Emily Hasler’s Natural Histories

Emily Hasler was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk and studied at the University of Warwick for a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in Romanticism. She now lives in London. In 2009 she won second prize in the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including The Rialto, Poetry Salzburg, Warwick Review and Horizon Review, and have been anthologised in Dove Release, Birdbook, Clinic 2 and Herbarium. Her poems also appear in The Salt Book of Younger Poets and The Best British Poetry 2011. She is a regular poetry reviewer for Warwick Review.

“Nature is not so much the subject as an unavoidable force in these poems, providing space and fodder for meditations on our knowledge of self and other. Here, the small histories that complement or contradict grand narratives come to the fore. Hasler adopts the stance of the naturalist, seeking to observe and collect, but with the imagination working alongside the eye. Along the way these poems confront questions of naming and categorising, and ask how our environments and our past affect us, and we them. How did we become? Change and adaptation are the keys here. The manner of investigation never shies away from the fact that nature can be both deeply personal and unfamiliar. Rather it embraces both of these aspects and uses them to construct its own narrative, one of shaping and discovery. Much like the subjects contained within them, poems have their own organic forms, adapted to purpose. It is this adaptation combined with precision and sentiment that give this debut force and vitality.”
“Hasler has real gifts: her observations are sharp, her language is crisp, and her music is beguiling.”
– Paul Batchelor
“Hasler is one of those poets: her tender, intelligent eye illuminates the real. I always read her work with pleasure.”
– Emma Jones
“There’s a wonderful exuberance about the poems in Emily Hasler’s Natural Histories. Her joy in language is as clear as her pleasure in her encounters with animals and birds, whether existing or extinct. Her creatures resist being held by simple definitions as she strives to glimpse new truths, extending the confines of purely scientific research. As nature writing redefines its parameters, Emily Hasler is an exciting poet for the future.”

– Andrew Forster
for my father, who is usually right
It was named for Cecil Rhodes, you said,
may have had other names on other tongues.
But I have since found that it means ‘rose-tree’.
They need acidity in the soil, you told me.
The mulch of old leaves and earth we walk on
is enough. The chance or thought that made this be
is irrelevant here, where conditions are right
or else there would not be this full colouring.
Every bloom now is a massive cupped handful.
There is a pink so deep it could be called everlasting.
You wonder, still, how it got here. And how did we?
Arise, tree. The roots are Latin, the original Nepalese.
First published in the Wordsworth Trust newsletter.
for Phil
It was there you first had Bacardi,
and now it takes you back.
That first sip is the sun on your face.
The last is your foot in the road; unsteady.
The rains brought the toads.
They must have always been there,
but now they made your path
a creaking, slippery bone-mash.
Big Kev hated that, his weight being
an inglorious, crunching death to toads.
One day he painted each amphibian
white, so they showed in the dark.
A kindness. Unable to bear, like the little
glinting bodies, the knowledge drawn from
the sole of the shoe, foot, and its
connected parts’ cumulative pressure.
The lacquer, or something in it, killed them.
They littered the street like crumpled tissues.
No crunch. As though their clockwork
had wound down, they stayed stopped.
from Natural Histories (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Natural Histories.
Read three poems from ‘The Safe Harbour’ in Horizon Review.
Read five poems at Days of Roses.
Read Emily’s poems about Wild Bergamot, Tea Tree and Curly Parsley. They’re included in the Herbarium anthology edited by James Wilkes.
Read ‘Wet Season’.

The memory of magic

“You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.
After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.
That’s what I believe.
The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do, in this world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir”. It just happens.
These memories of who I was and where I lived are important to me. They make up a large part of who I’m going to be when my journey winds down. I need the memory of magic if I am ever going to conjure magic again. I need to know and remember, and I want to tell you.”
– Robert R. McCammon, Boy’s Life (Pocket Books, 1991).

Order Boy’s Life here.
Visit Robert’s website.

Arja Salafranca’s The Thin Line

Arja Salafranca’s debut collection of short stories, The Thin Line, was published by Modjaji Books in 2010. She has published two collections of poetry, A life Stripped of Illusions, and The Fire in Which we Burn. Her poetry is also collected in Isis X (Botsotso). She received the 2010 Dalro Award for poetry and has twice received the Sanlam Award, for fiction and poetry. She selected stories for The Edge of Things, an anthology of South African short fiction, published by Dye Hard Press in 2011. She edits the Life supplement in The Sunday Independent and is studying toward an MA in Creative Writing at Wits University. She blogs at and is a member of SA Pen. 

The stories in The Thin Line hook the reader from the first one, and reel you in on that thin line. You will be haunted by the carefully drawn characters: by Corinna trapped in her huge teenage body, by Cleo in love with a married man after all these years, and poor skinny Mark, as he sees his lover teeter away from him. Salafranca is an accomplished, award-winning writer, this long-awaited collection is a box of jewels.
“These stories chart a new direction in South African fiction, where each line, each page – each story unfolds subtly, reaching deeper and more intimately into the tender spaces that exist in all our lives between love and doubt. Reading them kept me up late at night, wanting to know more about the characters’ lives. I was enthralled by the clarity and compassion of her insights; and moved by her obvious love for our fragile country and the fierce power of our unrelinquished hopes.”
– Hamilton Wende
“Salafranca’s style in this collection is best described as cinematic. Each story plays out like a camera lingering on minutiae which, brought together, tell the reader a great deal about the characters and situations which form the subject matter.”
– Tanya Farber, The Star
“Searingly honest, sometimes painfully so, for both writer and reader, these stories will pop up in your head to haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.”
– Kate Turkington, 
“There is a strong awareness of the structure of the short story and an implicit response to the tradition of the story.”
– Joan Hambidge, Die Burger
“Salafranca creates an almost other-worldly dimension as she takes the reader on a visceral journey into the lives of her characters. The stories range from explorations of modern relationships which do not have rules or traditions to guide their frail journeys, to examinations of characters from the past whose stories are shaped by the historical anomalies in which they found themselves. Whether you read about young South Africans debating their choices of staying in this country or looking for a less complicated future abroad, or whether you read about German Jews who have surnames imposed on them to make them more convenient to the regime in the 18th century, one thing is certain: Arja Salafranca is a short story writer at the pinnacle of her craft.”
– Janet van Eeden, Wordsetc and LitNet
Couple on the beach
A middle-aged woman sits on the edge of the lagoon and watches a couple take photographs of each other. It is the beginning of a new year. It is low tide, and the waters of the lagoon have receded, leaving a vast expanse of wet beige sand. The couple stand in it with bare feet splayed, toes squelching into the coarse grains, taking photos with their expensive cameras.
It is nearly the end of their holiday together, and they are using up their film before they leave Knysna. They make an odd couple, as they take photos. The woman is wearing a smart jacket on this summer evening, it is too smart for this seaside town, too smart for this season, and too warm, too. The middle-aged woman wonders why she wears it, when her feet are bare and her jeans rolled up to reveal pinkly white legs. She can’t be cold. Although there is a breeze blowing, it is not a cold night, the day was warm, and the heat remains trapped as the sun goes slowly down. Perhaps it is to cover her body, perhaps she has gained weight and wants to hide behind her big black jacket. The middle-aged woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on the cement boulder and watches the couple. She knows all about gaining weight and hiding behind big clothes.
She has done it too. It is only now that she is older that she can afford to be freer, that she can wear anything and not be self-conscious and concerned that others, men, are looking at her, appraising her. She knows she is getting past the age of appraisal. She has read of the liberation that comes from middle-age – the loss of youth, menopause – she welcomes it.
Her hair is still mainly auburn, but lately she has been seeing the flash of silver streaks in it. They dart in and out between the dark strands, as though playing hide and seek, daring to be found.
The male part of the couple is tall and thin, as opposed to the female, who is shorter, slightly overweight, her gloriously auburn hair long and flying in the dusk’s breeze. He is skinny and awkward in his body, as awkward as the woman is in hers. He is uncomfortable in the casual T-shirt he’s wearing, and the middle-aged woman wonders why he wears it. Perhaps his partner, or whatever that girl is to him, asked him to wear it. The middle-aged woman has a feeling that he would be uncomfortable no matter what he wore. He is that kind of person, awkward in his body, in his life, hanging after this partner like a puppy dog eager to please her, compliant, pliant and soft, willing to do whatever it is that would make her like him, fall in love with him, something beyond this cold dismissive need of hers.
But she won’t let him go yet, she needs him, although she does not like him. She needs him and that is her weakness, that’s what makes her hate him, and hate a part of herself too. The middle-aged woman can see this as she smokes into the pale blue dusk, and watches the lagoon recede from this couple. She watches the roar of the sea at the heads, as it foams and dashes, as though the seas were a caged wild animal wanting to get into this quiet piece of solitude, preferring the domestic peace of the lagoon to the endless, deep, unfathomable sea. Her boyfriend keeps wanting to take her on the sea, perhaps on a small yacht, time and time again she refuses. She is afraid of the sea.
She smokes on the cement barricade, clutching the cigarette in her finger, looking at the beauty spot on her little finger that a man once found so attractive years ago, a dark mark on the fleshy folds of her baby finer. She watches couples take photos as the sky darkens and fish burns in a house nearby.
I dreamed about you again last night. You were warm and funny as you helped me with some problem I had. It was so real, it felt just like old times. Except, back then, you did not like to help me with my problems, preferring to stay out of whatever would disturb the stasis.
I wondered then about the patterns in our lives and what brings us to the decisions we make, the people we choose to know. Whether we do it consciously or whether the reason is hidden somewhere back in our brains, somewhere that’s not easy to find.
In 1781, Emperor Josef II announced an Edict of Toleration for the Jews which established the requirement for hereditary family names. Jews were required to assume German-sounding surnames.

Shlomo comes in and says, “Here, you’re a Schmalz.”
Thrusts a piece of paper at me – not that I can read it – and says, “Look, says it there. You’re a Schmalz. So if you need to tell anyone, not that you will, you tell them Schmalz.”
Schmalz. Grease. Chicken fat. Schmalz! “That’s not what Dora and her family got!” I go outside, the piece of paper with the scribbles in my hand. “They’re Goldfarbers! How did they end up with gold in their name and we’re just grease?”
Shlomo looks up at me, scratches his chin, runs his hand meditatively around his greying beard. He’s scraping some kind of shit off his good leather shoes; he carries on scraping in the weak sunlight, and ignores me. He’s hoping I’ll shut up, go away; runs a stick through the shit.
I hold the piece of paper under his nose, “How did we become Schmalz and Dora is a Goldfarber and Rosa and her family are now Diamond?”
A man sits in a Johannesburg park
A man sits in a Johannesburg park on a late summer’s afternoon. He releases the lead attached to his spaniel’s collar and she bounds off to sniff trees and play near the river, perhaps she will even go for a swim again. The man will then take her home and turn the hosepipe on her, washing off the slime of the river water. The man’s name is Andrew Barker, a good ordinary enough name, a solid name that is easy to pronounce, easy to give over the phone. It’s an afternoon late in the week. The man is alone. His wife and children are packing, and this is the dog’s last run in his company. Tomorrow he takes her into six-month quarantine.
It’s hot, midsummer and Andrew’s face is red as he sits and waits for Lucy to finish bounding through trees and river. He sits, waiting, quite tired all of a sudden. He’s escaping the claustrophobia of the house, now almost emptied of furniture. His wife and children packing suitcases, still busy throwing out black plastic bags of rubbish, and still anguishing over what should not be thrown away. And Lucy, running through the litter of lives being packed up, tongue lolling to one side, excited, excitable.

Desire, with borders
It was a type of desire.
It was a desire without love, a desire with borders.
If you shut your eyes it could be any man, no names, just a man, fulfilling what a man is supposed to do. It was a hot February night in Johannesburg and the windows couldn’t be opened wide or the cat would get out. She didn’t want the cat to get out, her female tabby was a shy frightened thing, easily terrorised by the Toms in the neighbourhood.
And instead of a man with no name, he had a name. An exboyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who was now in the process of becoming involved with another woman, yet here they were, naked on her bed, hot, but still close enough for him to roll on top of her, to kiss her, to awaken something.
The Thin Line (Modjaji Books, 2011)  is available from Loot, Kalahari, Exclusive Books and Amazon.
Visit Arja’s blog.

Bobby Parker’s Digging for Toys

Bobby Parker was born in 1982 in Kidderminster, England. He crawled his way through nightmares and freak shows to bring you these poems and stories. Bobby was selected as Purple Patch Small Press Poet of the Year in 2008, and his work has been published in various magazines in print and online.
Especially If It’s Raining

I am the man talking to himself at the bus stop,
pockets full of charity shop trinkets, watching
a breeze toy with summer skirts, telling
stories that end abruptly, like relationships.
Pigeons love me. Pigeons make sense, you know,
they are always asking questions and stumbling
into the road. Don’t feed them: it’s enough to
acknowledge their plight. Let them peck your boots.
My head is full of crazy cartoon characters
chasing vampires and slipping on banana peels.
I don’t make eye-contact with pretty girls.
When I speak to myself it confuses people but
people are easily confused, especially if they work
hard at a job they hate. Especially if it’s raining.
And when I go home to a haunted house
you better believe I’ve had enough: those terrible
faces staring from the number ten bus
tell me more than my therapist ever could.
Just Blue
If there were no sick days
clinging to doorways and hallways
from bedroom to bathroom
to trim a ginger beard and stare
at blue towels, I would choose
that peach scented invitation
to follow you home and fall over.
Comb a few cheap words
through your hair.
Fix your record player.
But my mind is broken.
My days are spent folding
sheets and pillows
into the shape of sleeping bodies.
Listening to my neighbours having sex.
I could pick up the phone
if my hands didn’t feel so at home
flicking the lights on and off.
For every car that passes the window
a shadow runs around the room
and hides behind an empty chair.
It reminds me of someone …
This is what it takes to be a sick
writer in a demon part of town
waiting for you waiting for you.
The Silent Man 
Our line drifted in the rolling humps
of green sea below the pier. Dad smoked
a stinking cigarette, indifferent, my moody
monosyllabic hero. The line tightened,
I slowly pulled a twitching crab
into our silent world and up
onto the pier, its pincers rattling on the cement.
We looked at it for a while. The sun
skipped off seawater puddles
and grinned inside my empty bucket.
We didn’t know how to pull out the hook.
Dad cursed under his breath and nudged
the stupid crab with one of his holiday shoes.
He lifted it into the air. My mother
watched us from the beach, waving as she took
a photograph of father and son
holding a blurred problem between them.
He tossed the crab into the bucket
along with the line and the orange handle
and when he sighed, I sighed
and when the sky darkened, dad’s face
darkened, and when the rain touched my face
he lit another cigarette and started walking.


I’d like to explain my friend John.
He is borderline autistic and doesn’t seem to know right
from wrong.
His hair is long and dyed purple-black. His clothes smell
like rotting fish. Sometimes he turns up with hundreds of
pounds in his pocket and no idea where he got the money.
When he laughs it is a small miracle, like fumbling a glass of
wine and catching it midair without missing a beat.
He let me see the inside of his house for the first time the
other day. We have always wondered what it might be like
in there.
It is mostly empty – John sells almost anything of value so
he can maintain a steady supply of sweets and energy
The living room has a single bed facing an old television.
His three hundred pound mother sits propped against the
pillows eating nachos all day.
There is a picture of Bart Simpson (half coloured in) on the
wall above the bed, pinned there, John said, since he drew it
when he was four years old.
The kitchen is full of yellowed comic books and empty pizza
John has had girlfriends in the past, but when I’ve seen him
with them he just hugs them tightly and stares into the
distance, seldom speaking, and only then to express his
desire to own the products advertised on television.
Girls sense a moody sensitivity in John at first, and then
they realise something isn’t right with him.
He has the names of three different girls tattooed on his
He nearly killed himself over the last girl who broke up
with him. I don’t think he understands how final death is,
that The Simpsons are not real.
John had nowhere to live for a while, so we put him up on
our sofa. At night we barricaded our bedroom door with the
junk we keep under the bed.
He used to carry a huge hunting knife tucked into his jeans
until I confiscated it.
I don’t think he would hurt anybody, but I wouldn’t like to
put a bet on that; not that he’s evil or anything, he is kind of
holy, not knowing right from wrong makes him rather pure.
The other day I asked him to bring me a bottle of beer and
he came back with washing up liquid.
I keep thinking of a photograph I saw beside his mother’s
bed, John as a baby; it makes me so sad that my jaw aches.
I have a weakness for outsiders, strays and weirdos. They
deserve happiness just like the rest of us, except too many
people feel they can make life difficult for people like John
because they don’t understand him.
Well, John is good company if you don’t mind long silences,
if you want someone to agree with everything you say and
if you need to compare yourself with someone who is truly
Not lost in the way that we’re all trying to be found by
something we can’t quite describe, but lost in the sense that
sometimes angels lose their way, and wander the earth with
confused eyes, like a dog spooked by something banging in
the distance.
from Digging For Toys (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2011).
Order Digging for Toys.

Pepek the Assassin

Joyce Ellen Davis is a grandmother of eight and a writer from Salt Lake City, Utah, where she resides with one husband, two dogs, and a lovebird. Her novel Chrysalis received a $5,000 publication grant and was nominated for the American Book Award. Her first poetry collection, In Willy’s House, won her a USPS Laureate Award. She has also co-authored a poetry textbook, On Extended Wings. Her blog, following the little god, is a miscellany of opinions, pictures, and poems. The welcome mat is always out.
Meet one-eyed, opera-singing Pepek who flees war-ravaged Europe haunted by the ghost of a policeman he killed for beating a horse. He’ll lead you down the cobblestone streets of Okres Krupina, take you digging for oysters, “those jelly-kisses from the sea”, and treat you as an honoured guest at his wedding to Bata, “his little Shoe”, where “someone plays a balalaika and sings the Bride’s Lament during the splitting of the braid”. Turn the heavy brass knob, push open the door and step into Joyce Ellen Davis’s enchanted world. You may never wish to leave.
“I would like to crawl inside Joyce Ellen Davis’s mind. In Willy’s House, she did exactly that with her great-grandfather. With subtle energy and clean poetic choices she told a raw, touching story which buried itself inside readers’ hearts. Now that highly creative, scientific mind gives us an “uncle”, Pepek the Assassin, whom the reader forgets is an invention: he and the other characters in his world are surprising, compelling, utterly real. And then Davis does it again, switching, in Telling Who Passed By, to an introspective examination of a woman’s life, every poem distinguished from the one before; each startling; the whole, unburdened by naïveté. I don’t think Pepek or these rare ruminations could have been born in anyone else’s mind.”
– Marilyn Bushman-Carlton
from Pepek the Assassin

Pepek, my uncle
The assassin,
Has but one eye. He likes
To imagine that the other
Is in a museum in Okres Krupina,
Banska Bystrika,
By the River Krupinica,
Skewered on the point
Of a German policeman’s bayonet
Like a pearl onion on a shish-ka-bob.
The policeman, who was beating
His horse,
Swapped his life
For Pepek’s eye, a poor trade.
Now at 5 a.m.
Horses still pull milkwagons through
The streets of Krupina,
While Pepek, my Uncle,
Eats cold cereal flakes
In his kitchen in Connecticut,
Grows fat on raspberries and cream.
In the spring, Pepek digs for oysters,
Those jelly-kisses from the sea.
He cracks their locked doors
With the hard points
Of his middle fingers,
And swallows them raw.
He wears a straw hat while he works,
Sweat pours into his shirtsleeves
Like seawater. He is frightened.
He is ashamed, and stares into the sun
Until his tears crawl out. His eye
Is a slit black as a flatiron
As he tries not to remember
How he once killed a policeman
For beating a horse.
Requiem aternam dona eis, Domine
February seems a long way off
now the brush is green, the water blue.
The lake was frozen white,
slush at the edge
where big rocks were black. The boys
skipped stones across the ice
and everything looked cleaner
than it was. The boys
were having contests, seeing who
could throw the farthest
and we turned away to see how clouds
were building and breaking.
Turning back, we saw that he
was gone. There was no sound,
not a whisper, nothing
but the same quiet
where he slipped under the ice.
March brings migratory birds,
cedar waxwings, robins, orioles.
We feed them blessed ends
of sacramental bread
for weaving requiems
a cappella.
from Pepek the Assassin (Pindrop Press, 2011)

Order Pepek the Assassin.

Visit Joyce’s blog.

Roddy Lumsden’s Terrific Melancholy

© Bloodaxe


Roddy Lumsden is a Scottish poet, who was born in St Andrews. He has published six collections of poetry, a number of chapbooks and a collection of trivia, as well as editing a generational anthology of British and Irish poets of the 1990s and 2000s, Identity Parade. Terrific Melancholy is published by Bloodaxe Books. Roddy lives in London where he teaches for The Poetry School. He has done editing work on several prize-winning poetry collections and edited the Pilot series of chapbooks by poets under 30 for Tall Lighthouse. He is organiser and host of the monthly reading series BroadCast in London. In 2010, he was appointed as Commissioning Editor for Salt Publishing.

“Roddy Lumsden’s Terrific Melancholy is a book of changes, physical and emotional. It begins with a diverse sequence on that most dubious and folkloric of changes, rebirth into a new life, exploring our history’s advances – changeless, changeful. Meanwhile, in the lengthy title-poem, an actor’s reluctant crush on a younger colleague leads him to look back on life from middle age, while the poet himself does the same during travels in the USA.

Lumsden’s collection contains a miscellany of new poems which display the writer’s acclaimed inventiveness with form and structure and his breadth of approaches: satire, listing, praise poems and a new form, the ‘ripple poem’, which develops the use of ‘fuzzy’ rhyme.”


“There is a level of talent that will ransom any project in any school. On the one hand, it will be interesting to see where Lumsden goes next; on the other, he’s so good that it hardly matters”

– D.H. Tracy

“One of the best poets writing in English on the planet today”

– Don Share

“Although the verse is hopping with linguistic antics, the foci of the language are music and rhetoric and, whip-smart as these poems are, they tend to resist chin-stroking analysis … the rhymes, the larks, the brutal punch-lines tug Lumsden’s poems off the page and into the living context they describe”

– Matthew Smith


True Crime

We leave our blood in each hotel –
a blot of it enough to tally with
an honest deed, an inquest or a trial.

Reborn from an ear print on a bolster,
a heel scuff on a skirting board,
we cash ourselves in undercover,

turn ourselves in after we have left,
our leaving cited by a drying print
or stray thread picked off in the lift.

We leak and melt and peel, losses
compensated for, blood money
paid in notes to self, good guesses

made by golems, fetches, clones
who’ll stride on where we were,
their pockets hard with foreign coins.

Many go missing – but none are lost.
Misfortune knows that. Each bridge
should name the river it has crossed.


And Back Again

One bad thread and all comes loose. But never has.
And look, you’re wearing red on such a day, an XXL day,
your anklet tattoo a mistake, right there at the foot

of Christmas Steps, a place I’d never been but knew
in an instant, from a better life; they say these steps
have topped and tailed with Russian sailors, that

knifesmiths cutled and cranked in the backways, that
the lost choruses of carousers from the Bacchus
and nine more pubs rumped in the Bristol Blitz

still peal here and that, each dawn, a ghost kitten pegs –
and back again – four feet above the slabs. And this
the becoming season when need needs its acre, each

memory arriving more sinuous than the last (one bad
thread) and you already lost in one, impermanent,
inaccurate, in red, walked west toward the water.

What I say of my enemy: he couldn’t spot a pretty girl
on Park Street; what I say of my ally: he thrives
like wild violets thrive on There and Back Lane.


El Sombrero de los Reyes

And if I wear a crown of wrong,
it will demand a brilliance of the song
you’ve known since birth and whistled all along.

Or if I wear a crown of wire,
it teases out your spasming desire
and tots how far you’ll spill your scam of fire.

And if I wear a crown of ice,
it will exact a tithing sacrifice
of onions, cream and apple flesh and rice.

Or if I wear a crown of sighs,
I’d summon pout and smudge of alibis
to prove a secret spoken is a lie.

Or if I wear a crown of lightning,
the light I would allow would be inviting
the ladderwork of rumour, clue and sighting.

And if I wear a crown of brine
bespeaking tack and brack, I’d tightly line
you up as saline, silt and serpentine.

So I will wear a crown of crowns
and promenade the borderlands and bounds
of my domains: sad aftermaths, slow towns.


The Sign of O

Stranger than this? Arcana only: that which
happens only where the grand waves carry to,
where night falls quick as the warm rain
and life is guesswork, death mediocre to us
in lands we’d misspell, as far wars purr;
nothing that can be blown by the wind
is ever precise and our sightlines follow
this stream we drink from.
Make the sign
of an O and it might bespeak treachery,
might announce love. Arcana, knowing
what’s buried and where, the bushman’s
honour word, or deciphering the yawns
of the illuminati, by which they exchange
the acumen of the shared judiciaries.

That which lurks, fangtooth and coffinfish,
in the ink of the ocean; that which dallies
at the selvage of our apprehension, blinking
seldom, as the Titan arum lily blooms;
that which slurs below our understanding,
a minnow slowed in the ice, miracle secrets
rashing in minuscule lichen, hope asleep in
a kernel: far stranger than these is what we have,
o far stranger who knows me, colludes me.
We are not hopeless who do not know hope.

© Terrific Melancholy (Bloodaxe Books, 2011).

Reproduced with the permission of Bloodaxe Books.

Read more of Roddy’s poetry at the Poetry Foundation.


clinic II

clinic is a poetry, arts and music platform based in New Cross, South East London. They hold multi-disciplinary events which aim to bring together poets, artists and musicians – both emerging and established in their respective fields – in an ongoing artistic collaboration.
Following a sell-out run of their first anthology, clinic return with the second installment in the series: a more ambitious endeavor collating the work of the most exciting young poets, illustrators and photographers. The book stands as a manifestation of the workshops, readings and exhibitions that clinic have orchestrated over the UK in the past year.
Poets in clinic II
Rachael Allen, James Brookes, Sam Buchan-Watts, Niall Campbell, John Challis, Kayo Chingonyi, Tim Cockburn, Sophie Collins, Dai George, Matthew Gregory, Nathan Hamilton, Emily Hasler, Oli Hazzard, Kirsten Irving, Luke Kennard, Amy Key, Caleb Klaces, Alex MacDonald, Edward Mackay, Toby Martinez de las Rivas, Harriet Moore, Kim Moore, Andrew Parkes, Abigail Parry, Declan Ryan, Jon Stone, Ross Sutherland, Olly Todd, Jack Underwood
Hanna Andersson, Kohei Ashino, Sophia Augusta, Alexey Berezkin, Harriet Bridgewater, Michael Dotson, Mike Goldby, Jack Hudson, Rob Hope-Johnstone, Paul Layzell, Bob London, Aaron McLaughlin, Olja Oblvco, Sean Roy Parker, Aimee Parrott, Thom Rees, Jack Teagle, White White Brown Twig
The publication includes, at its centre, the photo essay, ‘Modern Times’, by Patrick Tsai, documenting the tumultuous cultural concern of China in the Twenty-First Century.

© Aimee Parrott

Olly Todd
Through the dark hallway of antlers,
dozens nailed high to the splitting oak,
she walks before strolling
out to the summer garden
with the nap of the lawn and, blowing
into jars says, ‘candles, why candles?’
Although the flowers don’t need it
she cuts shorter their stems and rearranges
them in their green glass vase.
Lilac and white blouses and pants
pulled earlier along the line.
He brings the whisky bottle wrapped
in the white serviette. They have never
jumped into a river holding hands.
Never have they jumped in a river and
only for peace does he agree the nightingale
at the fountain is romantic
The Drowned Fields
Kim Moore
Although being without him now
would be like standing on one leg
still everything seems paper thin.
If my foot slips and breaks the surface,
I’ll fall to a land of drowned fields,
where the only language is the language
of the sky and the birds make endless
patterns in the air and the pools of water
are words the rain has left behind.
The birds are like shadows in the corner
of my eye, or silver, as if the sky
is throwing money to the ground.
Next to the path the grass moves beneath
my feet. Hummocks store black water
while his thoughts, impossible to ignore
push their way across the land like large
enthusiastic dogs. The lives I could
have led are silver threads across
the drowning land and birds come
together , then spread apart, as if the sky
opened its hand and let them loose.
Tim Cockburn
I love you because you are like love
a flimsy and preposterous thing,
like a deco bedside cabinet
whose gold trim is coming away,
whose quilted sides are yellow and punctured,
but that you buy anyhow,
if only because, among the serious junk,
its cheerful stab at flair seems
a certain defiance, a retort.
Talking Panther
Sophie Collins
paces the room, his raised tail beating
in time with the grandfather clock.
His long claws click against
the polished wood floor. He wears a crisp blue suit
to compliment the iridescence in his fur.
His cravat was a gift,
from a benevolent tsar. His cufflinks are fangs
won in a duel with an Indian rattlesnake.
He tells me the panther is a solitary animal.
He tells me they are under threat
but they are skilled climbers.
He tells me of his scaling the Norwegian coastline;
he is the only quadruped to have conquered
the Seven Summits.
As he chews and licks at his words
I notice his gums are black. He never blinks.
He is about to recount an early memory
from his birthplace of Burma
when his perfect head bursts
into the greenest of flames.
Order clinic II here.
clinic II was made possible, in part, by a donation from Ideas Tap, and is co-published by Egg Box Publishing.
Visit clinic’s website.

© Tom Rees

Isobel Dixon’s The Tempest Prognosticator

Isobel Dixon by Jo Kearney

Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, and grew up in the Karoo. Her debut collection Weather Eye (Carapace, 2001) was awarded the Sanlam Prize 2000 for an unpublished manuscript and then won the Olive Schreiner Prize in 2004. A Fold in the Map was published by Salt in the United Kingdom and Jacana in South Africa in 2007 and her new collection The Tempest Prognosticator, also published by Salt, comes out from Random Struik’s Umuzi imprint in August 2011.
Her poems have appeared in journals like Carapace, New Contrast, The Paris Review, Financial Times, The Guardian, Magma, The Manhattan Review, and Southwest Review, among others, and some poems have been translated into Dutch, German, French and Turkish. She has been commissioned to write poems for the British Film Institute, and her work is included in several anthologies, including New Writing, Penguin’s Poems for Love, The Forward Book of Poetry 2009, and the pamphlets Unfold (2002), Ask for It by Name (2007) and The Art of Wiring (2011). She has been co-curator of several multi-poet events, including the Pink Floyd tribute ‘On a Trip to Cirrus Minor’ and took part in Psycho Poetica at the BFI, South Bank and Latitude Festival. She was shortlisted for the Strokestown Poetry Prize 2011 and was involved in the record-breaking international Authors for Peace event on Peace Day 2010, and Women for Women International’s ‘Join Me on the Bridge’ project for Women’s Day 2011. She lives in Cambridge, England.

The Tempest Prognosticator - UK cover

“In The Tempest Prognosticator leeches warn of storms, whales blunder up the Thames, toktokkies tap out their courtship rituals, and women fall for deft cocktail makers and melancholy apes. With her keen eye and a gift for  capturing the natural world, Isobel Dixon entices the reader on a journey where the familiar is not always as it seems, where the sideways glance, the double take, yields rich rewards. From Crusoe to Psycho, Eugène Marais to Fred Astaire, the human zoo’s at play here too, in a collection filled with miracle and wonder, wit and bite.”
“In this virtuoso collection, the work of a poet confident in her mastery of her medium, Isobel Dixon moves easily from dialogues with the animal world to mordant ventriloquizings of the female self.”
– J M Coetzee
“Isobel Dixon’s poetry possesses exquisite vigour, panache and a resourceful, ranging intelligence. Like the title poem, The Tempest Prognosticator is an ‘ingenious carousel’ of a book. Life-affirming, funny, almost liquid in the movement of language, yet the book shifts with such apparent ease into darkness. Isobel Dixon’s work has natural authority; the reader trusts her to get the details right.”
– David Morley
“Frogs, birds, bats, baboons, monkeys, peacocks, lizards and boars leap, crawl, shimmer and swoop through Isobel Dixon’s lusciously feral and finely crafted poems; while moths ‘crash the party’, Struzzi are ‘Shabby ballerinas/ all gone at the knees’ and a whale shows up in the Thames ‘one wintry Friday, come to visit us’. And the human zoo is no less intriguing. The Tempest Prognosticator signals so many fresh, often surreal, insights; with its bold, eclectic approach to the traditional and the experimental, and irreverent juxtapositions of subject matter and form,  it’s a wake-up call to the imagination and the senses and suggests myriad possibilities of what a poem can do and be.”
– Catherine Smith
“The exquisitely written poems in Isobel Dixon’s new collection teach us how to read the world anew. Richly and vividly observant, they also treasure the things that are ‘most beautiful with your eyes closed’ (‘Vision’). Indeed, writing and its small comforts can keep us from plunging blindly into ‘our joint and secret griefs’ (‘So Many Henries’), ‘a hyphen/ of a wall to keep us from the irresistable’ (‘Every Valey Shall Be Exalted’). And yet in these lines, falling is itself a kind of ‘euphoric vertigo’ that can ‘open up the world and its great mystery’ (‘Days of Miracle and Wonder’) to us, as this collection does.” 
– Gabeba Baderoon

The Tempest Prognosticator - South African cover

Root Verses
Something fantastical is happening
to our weekly vegetables.
A deep organic mystery.
Take this peculiar Buddha root,
these conjoined tubers,
apostolic, luminous.
At first it was our ignorance
that had us both agape
at sprouting aliens, but Google,
Wikipedia, my fat Larousse,
enlightened us. See, here,
celeriac, kumquat, jackfruit,
chard, tamarillo, salsify –
we learned to welcome strangers
to our house. The whole green world
was subject to my knife,
till more burgeoned from the box
than I could chop.
This wasn’t what we signed up for:
our direct debit, like the widow’s jar
of oil, a source of never-ending
anti-oxidants. I waited,
but could never catch the van.
Piled offerings at our door –
neighbours complained – we took them in.
I’ve called the helpline
and the chap from – Delhi?
Mumbai? – answers me,
then puts me through to silence,
growing quiet down the phone.
I sit among the congregated squash,
the jungled cress, the mute
appeal of finger-shaped shallots.
Wish that the zinging in my ears would shush,
ponder the way of xylem and of phloem,
pray for the peace of photosynthesis.
You, Me and the Orang-utan
Forgive me, it was not my plan
to fall in love like this. You are the best of men,
but he is something else. A king
among the puny, gentle, nurturing.
Walking without you through the zoo, I felt his gaze,
love at first sight, yes, but through the bars, alas.
Believe me, though, it’s not a question of his size –
what did it for me were his supple lips, those melancholy eyes,
that noble, furrowed brow. His heart, so filled with care
for every species. And his own, so threatened, rare –
how could I not respond, there are so few like him these days?
Don’t try to ape him or dissuade me, darling, please.
For now I think of little else, although
it’s hopeless and it can’t go on, I know –
I lie here, burning, on our bed, and think of Borneo.
‘You, Me and the Orang-utan’ is included in Penguin’s Poems
for Love
The Parliament of Gulls
Fresh on the shingle,
the upturned seagull-
gutted baby sharks,
eye sockets scooped-out
holes in sheeted flesh,
a spectral gathering
of Ku Klux fish.
Sated, a sarky
seagull parliament’s
in session on the beach:
the speaker struts
and scoffs, a preachy
scavenger. Nearby
we plunder pebbles
from the rattling strand,
our pockets filled
with mottled planets
and a cock-eyed earth
cupped in my open hand. 
‘Parliament of Gulls’ was written for the Birdbook anthology.
Mountain War Time
‘Will Mount St Helens continue to build until it surpasses its former majesty, or will it blow itself apart in a new fury of destruction?’
               National Geographic, Vol. 160 No. 6, December 1981
Renowned for its height and perfect cone,
the American Fuji-san
now rises with a broken crown
above the slopes made mud- and ashscape,
burying bobcat, spotted owl and elk.
Ghost vapours from a methane lake
unfurl, before the pearly everlasting
and the lilies of the avalanche
emerge. Trailing blackberry, lupine,
bracken fern, disguise the scars
of that May day in this volcanic arc.
The Cascades shaken, parted
from old certainties. Remember,
here, this is the Ring of Fire,
the lava flow not far from where,
made pure, Element 94,
plutonium, formed Fat Man’s core –
the Sumo Bomb, its promised rain of ruin:
molten kimono flowers singed to skin,
a city threshed and sewn with blossoms, fissioning. 
‘Mountain War Time’ was part of Roddy Lumsden’s
’50 States’ project.
Order The Tempest Prognosticator (Salt Publishing, 2011)
in the UK here and here.
Order The Tempest Prognosticator (Umuzi, 2011)
in South Africa here and here.
The Tempest Prognosticator South African events

Thursday, 15 September 2011
The Tempest Prognosticator Poetry and Art Event
ArtKaroo Gallery, Oudtshoorn
Details TBC.

Friday, 23 September 2011
Cape Town launch of The Tempest Prognosticator
at the Open Book Festival
Details TBC.
Visit Isobel’s website.
Read more of Isobel’s work at Poetry International
and on Clive James’s website.
More about Isobel at Contemporary Writers.
Visit photographer Jo Kearney’s website.

McCready and Downie in conversation

Fellow Scots, friends, poets and bloggers Marion McCready and Morgan Downie review and interview each other on their recent poetry collections. Both are published by Calder Wood Press

Marion McCready

Marion McCready was born on the Isle of Lewis and brought up in Dunoon, Argyll, where she currently lives with her husband and two young children. She studied at Glasgow University and her poetry has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Vintage Sea (Calder Wood Press, 2011) is her first pamphlet. Marion blogs at

morgan downie

morgan downie is a poet, short story writer, artist and passionate mountain biker. he was not born in orkney but grew up there and describes himself as an orcadian by formation. he has had a long and varied career in healthcare. stone and sea (calder wood press, 2010) is his first full length collection. morgan blogs at

Marion on morgan’s work
stone and sea is a beautiful exploration of land and folk memory written with emotional intensity and precision. Morgan speaks with the confidence of a natural storyteller as he draws the reader gently into the rhythm of lives lived and shaped by the landscape around them. The back cover says his poems are “held together by a clear spiritual feeling for people and places”. 
A favourite poem of mine in the collection is ‘the weaver’ with its precise language, simple yet affecting imagery (“a darting fish/ in the half moons/ of her hands”), and a rather wonderful ending where “the fabric/ spills from her /like the tide” which, rather than closing the poem off, opens it out to inhabit the landscape in the reader’s imagination. 
Morgan paints serene landscapes succinctly with words: “here a whalebone/ the vertebra/ juts from the sand/ like a sail” (‘beachcombing’). “i slept in the skull/ of a dead boat /the skeletal hull/ splintered into/ the setting sun/ netting dreams” (‘beached’). And from ‘painting the sand at uig’, “cloudscape, the bone memory/ of western sand/ the windblown skeletons of urchins,/ aimless as tumbleweed”. 
Morgan and I both have a connection to the Outer Hebrides, I having been born there and Morgan having lived there for a number of years.
Another favourite in the collection is ‘huisinis’ (pronounced hoo-shi-nish). It exhibits Morgan’s instinctual rhythm in language which compliments his preference for short lines, both of which act as a driving energy pushing the reader on through the poem. When I went on holiday to the Outer Hebrides last year I passed by Huisinis, on the Isle of Harris, and thought of Morgan’s poem and how language, place names, can conjure up a familiarity, a connection to a place. I had never been to Huisinis but just seeing the place name and hearing in my head the wonderful, gentle echo of it repeated at the end of this poem made me realise that Morgan’s poem had already connected me to the place. 
the language like birds
wind-driven, light boned
white fragments tossed
above the mean glottals
of the exposed schists
softer in the machair
the whispering of grasses
experts at survival
in conditions of desiccation
in summer the corncrake
insistent, sharp as
the incline of the clisham
as desolate, as beautiful
as scarp in blue water
the rhythm of the peat
the blunt bite of spade
down through layers
thick as dictionaries
and out, out
to the empty sea
bare of boats
precentor to echoes
a hundred words
for wave and wind
gone now, songs
sung in the bones
of the whaling station
where is this place
they ask
huisinis we say
an exhalation
gentle as a lullaby
to the tired ear
Marion interviews morgan
You bring an intensity to your poems which is partly due your preference for short lines and continuous enjambment. Is this mainly instinctual on your part, or is it, for want of a better phrase, part of a winning writing formula for your work?
i’m not so sure it’s a winning formula – people seem to take issue with ‘long skinny poems’! i had to go back and have a look the poems i wrote in my teens and it seems i’ve always written in something like this format so there must be a strong instinctual element in it. equally though there’s the element of writing what i want to read. i have memories of looking at skinny poems (i wish i could remember which ones) and thinking how uncluttered the page looked, how much precedence the writer was giving to the individual words.
put another way, i remember a musician talking about how he wanted his music to sound like a drum kit falling down stairs. i like that. not only do you have the stave quality of the stairs but there’s that random element of falling and sound. when i’m writing it’s the same. the words go where the words go, the line length is its own form. as a reader i see it as an invitation, like going for a walk. you’re free to make your own interpretations, your own associations. i guess this reflects some of the literary theory i’ve absorbed over the years. 
I’d imagine the first thing most people notice about stone and sea is your decision not to use capitalisation and your limited use of punctuation throughout the entire collection. Was this a consciously theoretical/political decision, a rebellion of sorts against the acceptable ‘rules’ of language or current poetry, or is it part of a more personal poetics?
i think the thing, along with the long skinny poem, that most people comment on (almost before they’ve read the poems!) is that i don’t use capitals and i’m scant on the use of punctuation. would it be too prosaic to suggest that when it comes to typing i’m just too lazy to use the shift key? 
i did once use capitals (again, it’s great to have notebooks so you can look back in time and wince/see what you did back in the day). i used to use them at the start of every line but i remember getting negative feedback from some magazine many years ago that this was ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘wasn’t done’. maybe that was when it started to change or maybe i just wanted to make the poetry distinct from the prose.
so, from a chronological perspective i suppose it could be viewed as reactionary but for me it seems much more like an aesthetic choice. we take a lot of time thinking about where we put these wee black marks, how we arrange them in the context of one another so it seems that the notion of the negative space around them should be equally important and really, to be honest, fundamental in terms of poetry. the white page is both a framing device and a substrate in terms of its physicality but there’s also that notion of space, space to stop a while, space to think, roll the words around a bit, sound them out loud, a bit like having a seat on a summer’s day, looking out at the landscape and becoming the view.
I know you read a lot of poetry and you read widely but who do you return to again and again as your staple poet and who has had the greatest influence on your work?
in terms of influence i don’t really have many ‘go to’ poets. i would definitely cite various works of non-fiction as a means of thinking my way into an approach. off the top of my head i’d want to be putting my hand on the likes of simon schama’s landscape and memory, anything by marina warner and gaston bachelard’s poetics of space.
i tend to like poems that aren’t written in english, preferably in a bilingual edition so that i can feel the weight of the original on my tongue. german’s great for this, particularly if you’re scottish because you can really get around the sounds. so it’s more particular books than actual writers that have influenced me – i have a feeling there’s some sort of poetic heresy in there!
while my gaelic is atrocious i very much like poetry in gaelic. aonghas macneacail and meg bateman are two names that spring immediately to mind, and the an leabhar mor is a book i wouldn’t like to be without. i was very taken by robert lowell’s imitations, which opened up a whole world of translation/interpretation/ transliteration for me. if i’m stuck i’ll still return to the introduction. whitman, obviously. i went through a verlaine phase for a while and he may well be the only poet i can still manage to recite from memory. homer and the sagas from when i was wee. paul celan’s collected poems (the hamburger translation) would have to be a desert island book. he’s just so fierce, so out there, that reading him is the closest i can get to some form of transcendental experience. henrik nordbrandt it seems to me is someone who doesn’t get read enough. on the home front, and similarly, at least in this country, not widely enough read, is kenneth white, particularly for the concept of the waybook which i think has niggled away in the back of my mind ever since i read travels in the drifting dawn.
You’ve published short stories as well as poetry and your poems, such as your sequence on St. Columba, definitely demonstrate your storytelling ability. What is it about the people in your poems that inspires you to write about them? 
when i was wee and living up north i spent a lot of time in myths and sagas whether it was homer or norse folklore. norse folklore had so much relevance because i could physically place the narrative into the landscape. i could go to the beach where magnus was killed. i could go to the pillar in the cathedral where his bones were. the dividing line between story and ‘reality’ was very fine to a boy!
i guess when i’m writing about a particular character or element in a story (stone and sea starts with the western isles myth about god and the jewels) it’s not so much the character or the myth but the experience of being in a moment that could be applicable to a particular character or situation, a phenomenological approach if you like. in that way, talking about the columba poem, i get to not only think a bit about columba but also that notion of being silent in a boat, looking up at the sky, waiting for landfall, all of those things at once. 
You use, at times, almost scientific terminology in your poems, I’m thinking of ‘formations’ here. Is this related to your background of studying and working in a medical environment? 
for me as a poet this works at a couple of levels. in the first instance i’ve spent a lot of time with a friend who’s a geologist so his interpretation of the landscape, his way of seeing, is very different and that heteroglossality is of primary concern. equally, however, it’s just the language. without wanting to get all heideggerian the idea that the moment of language is what we exist in is fascinating for me. it doesn’t really matter whether it’s geology, medical terminology, painting or whatever i just love using the words. when i use something like monestial turquoise in one of my painting poems for example – it may be the reader doesn’t paint, doesn’t know what that is but once that word-door has been opened there’s no going back. it’s synaesthesic for me, the word as spell. it’s not to ignore the language of men argument just that what i’m interested in using is the language of this man. not to do so, to use the language i live in, would feel like a betrayal.
Not only do you write stories and poems but you also paint and create all sorts of artworks. How do these activities inform your poetry, if at all?
i don’t really see any separation between poetry and the other things i do. it would be easy to make a division, to say that this is creative and that is not, but in truth there’s as much satisfaction for me in making jam from berries i’ve grown in my garden as there is in making a poem or a painting. in fact, in some ways, because of the transitoriness of the jam, it’s superior, it can’t be recaptured.
cycling could be thought of as just some form of physical battering, an acceptable form of self harm, but that’s not to accept the meditative element of it. i think it feeds directly into a creative effort even if it gets tricky to write a haibun in the middle of climbing a hill! what it teaches me is to take the time to stop, to look.
i was very taken with the idea of the temporary autonomous zone back in the day and still have an affection for those notions. i think an open minded approach to different forms of creativity and what constitutes creativity itself is essential. it leads you down different thought paths, evolves different techniques, approaches and reveals previously unknown influences. it’s one of the the reasons i’m always ready to jump into collaborative work, there’s always that element of the magical mystery tour. beyond that i’m really not that bothered, it’s only the work that’s important. everything else is gravy! but i do like that sense of not knowing what comes next, where the path will lead. for me, that’s a joy.
What are your current writing projects? 
there’s a photo book coming out, with any luck later this year, the follow up to stone and sea is almost done, there’s a book of short stories and … and … there’s always an and. i’m not brilliant at finishing. part of it is that i don’t much like the editing process and while i’ll easily hold my hand up as a procrastinator of some ability that’s not really it either. i like the feel of being in the midst of something, that there remains a potentiality that mitigates against an end point. i suppose there’s that thing that a completed work is like a child that you have to let go, to let it do its own thing in the world but there’s also that other part in which completion feels like a form of death. i feel this is changing these days, maybe it’s my day job. we feel, too often, that there’s always time but the reality is there really isn’t. to that end i don’t really have any writing projects, any more than i have a breathing project! it seems a wonderful privilege in this short life to put pen to paper, brush in paint, to make something out of less than air. for me that’s what it should be about, weaving stories, patterning words, divining up some sort of magic.
morgan on Marion’s work

i’ve met marion a few times now. i’d hazard a guess that i’d recognise her in a busy street, but these poems – i know them. so i’m happy to not be watching the dauphiné, putting the tv off and welcoming these upon my eyes like someone i’ve been waiting to visit and take into my house. i can’t remember the last time i read a pamphlet from cover to cover but i did with this, a wee smile with each recognised face.
i don’t know these places, who or what is burnie mackinnon, the gantocks or the captayannis and, to be honest, i don’t care. i like their shapes, the feel of them as i say their names – if nothing else this is a collection that deserves to be read out loud by somebody scottish! – and i love the fine detail, the small changes where i can see that marion has (finally!) decided this is the finished article. yes, i say, i see what you did there.
from my own perspective i like the later poems. not that there’s any indication of which these are but i know and for me these are where i find marion’s voice at her most confident and, collected like this, they give me a great sense of anticipation for what she does next (sad that it’s always about what comes next!). there is great language here and when i read it i get the same sensation as i do when i look up words in foreign language dictionaries, taking the familiar and transforming it on my tongue. i can’t be doing much with questions of meaning, it’s all about the feel and vintage sea feels great.
Autumn trees
Autumn trees are effigies
burning in the streets.
They lose their leaves, their wings,
into every corner, crevice,
upturned hand.
These falling prayers,
these harvest psalms.
The bloodied skins of them
shirring the ground.
Harbingers. Little deaths,
they harp at my feet
words begging to be said,
words begging to be freed:
two men shall be in a field,
one shall be taken, the other one left
morgan interviews Marion
you’ve just completed a close reading of sylvia plath. how much do you find she influences you and has the process of close reading affected your approach to writing, technical or otherwise?
In a sense I’ve never not closely read Sylvia Plath’s work. Plath’s Collected Poems was the first poetry collection I ever purchased by an individual poet and her imagery, intensity of language and surprising juxtapositions make her a constant inspiration to me of how language can be forged to create experiences in themselves rather than simply be the recording or the re-telling of an experience. I guess this is something I aim towards achieving, in my own way, in my poems.
we’ve both recently expressed a liking for the ‘darksome browns’ of gerald manley hopkins. for you, what comes first, the image or the words?
The image, definitely. When first reading a poem I tend to skim the words and focus on the images. It takes a few readings for me to focus on what the poem is actually about. I’m a very image-orientated reader. It’s not uncommon for me to wonder which film a picture in my mind comes from only to remember that it comes from a book. One of the things I love most about poetry is how condensed language can create a series of powerful, impacting images in such a short space. For me, it’s normally an image and the symbolism that it entails that sparks the inspiration for a poem.
as i read vintage sea i’m struck by the notion of you walking, being engaged with your local environment. how important is the notion of locality to you?
That’s exactly how many of the Vintage Sea poems came to be written. Because I can’t drive I do a lot of walking and many of the images in my poems are drawn from my local landscape. Locality is important to me only in the sense that writing about the specific is the only way to write genuinely about the universal, although this sounds contradictory. It’s also a case of write what you know. I remember reading somewhere that until you conquer your own landscape in writing you can’t hope to write about anywhere else. It’s a thought that’s always stuck with me. 
i described the environment in your poems as a ‘transformational landscape’. to what extent do story/myth and myth-making form part of your writing process? (i’m thinking here about the likes of ‘brenhilda’ or ‘captayannis’) 
Myth, and in many ways nature, are for me vehicles for exploring and to some extent de-personalising experiences in order to write about them. In ‘Captayannis’ for instance I write about a miscarriage I had a number of years ago. I found I could only objectify it and therefore write about it using the shipwreck as a distancing mechanism. Ted Hughes wrote “a feeling is always looking for a metaphor of itself in which it can reveal itself unrecognised” (Letters of Ted Hughes). I use myth and local stories in this sense as metaphors for exploring my own feelings and experiences. 
initially i recall your reluctance with regard to publicly reading your poetry. now that you’re getting into it do you find it has changed the way you look at the vintage sea poems and has it affected your approach to writing new poems?
The awareness that comes with reading poetry aloud and in public came before I wrote the Vintage Sea poems and had a fairly large impact on the writing of these poems even though I myself hadn’t read publicly until last year. I think in some ways the poems I’m writing now have a less obvious emphasis on sound though sonic qualities are, and always will be, an integral driving part of the writing process for me. I’m interested in pushing other poetry ‘tools’ to the fore in order to expand my writing. 
what next?
Read, read, read. I’ve currently banned myself from reading my old favourite poets – Plath, Eliot and Akhmatova  – in order to read other poetry wider and deeper. I’ve noticed how easy it is to slip into the comfort of reading and re-reading favourite poets and poems. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved with my Vintage Sea poems but I’m also ready to move on from them and hopefully improve and expand my writing. Part of the pleasure of writing poetry for me is the continual intellectual and emotional challenge. I’m hoping that focusing on some different poets for a lengthy period will open up my writing to new influences and expand and challenge it. This of course means lots of experimentation and inevitable failure which is always a little intimidating! At the moment I’m focusing mainly on the poetry of Durs Grünbein and Claire Crowther and thoroughly enjoying it.
Order Vintage Sea and stone and sea from Calder Wood Press.
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