Sue Rose’s From the Dark Room

Born in London and now living in Kent, Sue Rose is a literary translator with an MPhil in writing. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies and she has been commended or placed in competitions such as the National Poetry Competition, the Peterloo and the Wigtown. She won the prestigious Troubadour Poetry Prize in 2009 and the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year Competition in 2008. She is also a founder member of Scatterlings, a group formed to give readings in the Southeast and beyond. Her debut collection, From the Dark Room, has just been published by Cinnamon Press.

From the Dark Room is in part a meditation on formative experience and an examination of life in the face of death. Playing on the ideas of dark and light, the ‘dark room’ of the title refers both to the womb with all its potential, and to death and grief. It takes in domestic interiors too and the darkened rooms we all inhabit at some point in our lives, as well as the way we look out from our darkness at lit rooms, examining them with voyeuristic curiosity, desire and need. However, as with the photographic darkroom, something lasting is born out of the darkness.”
“From the first poem to the last, I enjoyed this collection. It is rich with the life of the body, with flesh, seed, sex, blood, birth, family love, all in language that is truthful, brave and tender. She is poet as daughter paring dead skin from her mother’s feet, as birthing partner to her sister, as mourner for her father, as lover. The family includes ancestral stories of a tribe of Jewish forebears, all described with an affectionate but accurate eye and a true sense that history lives in us.”
– Gillian Clarke 
“”From the dark room” is a phrase from the poem ‘Travelling Light’. Often in Sue Rose’s poems, light turns out to contain darkness and vice versa. In ‘Hard Skin’, the “callused contours” and disfigurements of ageing feet become a stage where mutual love and need are acted out; in ‘Rare Old’, Shackleton’s abandoned whisky in the Antarctic is “brought into the damage of light”. In ‘Making a Gem’ the ashes of a married couple “his and hers, light and dark/ perhaps” combine, shaped by heat, and form a diamond. Words too, carrying their freight of different meanings and associations – “travelling light”, “the dark room of childhood” – combine, becoming what they always had it in them to be.”
– Sheenagh Pugh
“Sue Rose’s poems are at once lyrical and truthful in their exploration of the difficult transitions in life, and in the intricate relations between daughters and parents, illicit lovers, the bereaved and those they’ve lost. Her filmic eye captures intimate moments and minute details with great precision and formal grace.”
– Tamar Yoseloff
“Sue Rose knows poetry, without doubt. She knows where it begins, how it ends, she knows the journeys it leads us on, to the hidden places we thought we knew but needed the poem to reveal them. Above all she knows the language, how to use it to enchant and seduce us, the right word in the right place, the timing spot on. She combines economy of style with a seemingly effortless movement through the poem, as in the five-part ‘Travelling Light’, an impressive major work. She employs words, phrases, and lines that open wide the world for our delectation and revelation. Her precise, finely crafted images are sumptuous but not grandiloquent. She has the ability to look at life, and death, with unsparing clarity, and at the same time with an empathy that never spills over into sentimentality. I’ve seldom experienced such a wonderful first collection.”
– Robert Vas Dias
Rare Old
The glaciers shifted with music
too high, too low, for the human ear,
a music of sensation, and ice formed
beneath Shackleton’s hut, packing
its crumpled hexagons about the crates,
holding his abandoned whisky tight
as sand or rock. Antarctica waits
for the new wave of explorers, armed
with syringes, drills and picks
to extract the extinct liquor
protected by the freeze.
           The land is breached.
The milder waters of ancient lakes
have left behind fossils of ostracods,
icebergs topple into the melt
and glaciers rot. The chilled terrain
will be forced to deliver its message—
yesterday’s peat, the blend of centuries,
brought into the damage of light.
Some show lightscapes of cities tracked
by satellite at dark, others are inflatable
or lit within. Mine was metal,
cratered by carelessness. I’d frame it
with my hands—the way lovers later
would still my face—then make it turn
to a carousel of pinks, blues, reds:
countries we coloured differently,
contours hollowing as the sea bit in.
I didn’t wonder then what swelled
inside holding the surface taut,
or what might ooze if the egg
of the Earth were cracked, light
hatching from the world’s blown sphere.
Poseidon Burning
after a pyrotechnical fire sculpture by Robert Bradford
He took shape slowly that November,
hammer, staple-gun, nails summoning
a barrelled driftwood divinity bulked
on the shingle, a warship waiting on the tide.
We had come to see him burn, watch
the torching of this cobbled god
before he could call up earthquakes, incite
the sea to damage, implant his seed.
The flames feathered his back and legs
bridging the long strides to the water’s edge
where his downturned toes dipped and crabbed.
His skull was limned in fire, his sockets glared
until the air itself burned, hopping with light.
Transfixed, we refused to turn and run
in the escaping crowds, you hugging the secret
in your belly, your upturned face glorious
in the wild golden ritual of ash.
Caravaggio’s Virgin
     I hadn’t met anyone like him before.
All I had to do was play dead—much easier
than pacing the narrow dark
round Piazza Navona, heels stabbing
at the stairs of bridges, arches strained.
     My red shoes glowed like lanterns
in the corner of the room, my bare feet froze;
I couldn’t breathe for the reek of pigments,
the scarlet drapes blooming
in the candlelight, taking all the air.
     He told me red was the only true colour,
the colour of sex, joked about the death
of the Virgin in a shift of reds, the symbolism
of bare feet, mocking the pilgrims on their way
to sanctuary. There is no deliverance,
he said, no Assumption.
     He wouldn’t show me at first,
the canvas turned against the wall.
He coloured my skin instead, a flush
of heat livening the grain of my body
beneath the canopy, his strokes sure.
     He said he loved me
but he was a liar—look at me
lying there, bloated, hair dull,
hemmed in by a bevy of old men,
any fallen woman fished from the Tiber,
soles blackened by walking the streets. 
Order From the Dark Room (Cinnamon Press, 2011).
Read Sheenagh Pugh’s review.
Read more of Sue’s poetry.
Launch details
Date: Thursday, 6 October 2011
Time: 19h00 to 21h00
Venue: Woolfson & Tay, 12 Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN
Tel: 0207 407 9316
Please RSVP to

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