Anna Woodford’s Birdhouse

 
 
  
Anna Woodford has received an Eric Gregory Award, a major Leverhulme Award, an Arvon/Jerwood Apprenticeship, a Hawthornden Fellowship and a residency at the Blue Mountain Center (New York). Her pamphlet Party Piece was a winner in the International Poetry Business Competition, selected by Michael Longley. Her pamphlet Trailer was a Poetry Book Society Choice.  She has a PhD on the poetry of Sharon Olds from Newcastle University. Her poetry commissions include residencies at the Tyne & Wear Fire Service, Alnwick Garden and Durham Cathedral. Birdhouse is her first full length collection (Salt Publishing, 2010). 
 
 
 

 
 
“From diamonds hidden in a grandmother’s pantry to a peahen’s shout of ecstasy, from the voice of a deranged bridesmaid to that of a nun teaching a sex education lesson, Birdhouse is full of life – and its flip-side. It includes an award-winning sequence of elegies for the poet’s grandparents and great-grandparents who were victims of the holocaust (the sequence was a Poetry Book Society Choice).

Throughout this dazzling debut, Woodford explores sex, running away from school, and the happy ever after endings of Goldilocks and Eliza Doolittle. She takes a reader from Poland to Darlington on a dizzying scenic route involving graveyards and playgrounds. Along the way she celebrates a dead pigeon, a washing line, a big bed scene and an endless pair of legs. Her poems speak directly to a reader. Intimate and compelling. Casually artful. They stir up time and place to dissolving point, honouring the material word but not taking it for what it is. Or isn’t.”
 
 
 
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“As Birdhouse is the first poem in the book, it would seem a hard act to follow for its intensity, accuracy and – yes – its beauty. Yet, while not all the poems rise to that level of ebullience, Anna Woodford’s perfect pitch, control of suspense and capacity for surprise are everywhere in working order.”
 
– Leah Fritz, Poetry Review
 
 
  
“Though these poems are deeply personal, Woodford also engages the reader through universal themes of love, loss, childhood and family. There is darkness, but not bitterness, loss but also strength, emotion, celebration and wit. This heartfelt and intimate exploration of life lingers with the reader.”

– Laura Kaye, Mslexia
 
 
 
“Finally this week, a mention for the beautiful poetry of Anna Woodford. I’ve had her award-winning debut collection Birdhouse on my to-read pile for ages and finally managed to steal an afternoon to enjoy it this week. It includes poems about sex, escaping school, pregnancy, nuns and a miniskirt scandalising a pit village. It is quite, quite wonderful.”

– Lauren Laverne, Grazia 
 
 
 
“a series of elegies for the poet’s grandparents, reveals Woodford’s writing at its best: understated, genuine, and emotionally intelligent.”
 
– Ben Wilkinson, the Guardian
 
 
 
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The Goldilocks Variable
 
 
Some fairytales say she jumped
out of the window and ran home to her mother,
never to stray ever after.
 
Some say she came round to the idea
that her prince wouldn’t come and settled
for shared living with the bears.
 
An Internet site describes her turning
into a glamour model called Goldie
who likes a good hiding
 
or, maybe, she’s not out of the woods yet
and her hair went white,
slim-picking through the neighbourhood bins.
 
In Prague, an astronomer saw a light in the sky
and christened it for her
– and his mystery blonde girlfriend –
 
The Goldilocks Variable. It is an elusive star.
It isn’t always shining. Sometimes it appears
to have vanished from the night’s curtain-call.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Extract 
 
 
You were sitting at pains
in an easy chair, your hands
pushing themselves forward
in a series of jerky movements,
in a relinquished corner
of the room, a desk-light
was angled towards the wall.
I asked you all the questions
I could think of
but you had only one comment to add
to the end of your life story,
I would press it into the appendix now
before commending you to heaven:
‘I don’t feel like myself anymore,’
you whispered, your voice breaking
it to me, that the man
I had come to see
had already left the building,
leaving behind your anonymous figure.
I would leave you like that,
the desk-light angled
towards the wall, your words
making angels prick up their wings.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Staying the Night
 
 
My mother is curled up
in the bed I have made
for her. All of my demons
are sniffing around. She is baiting them
with the bare bones
of the body she gave me.
She is trying to keep them
from my door. After nights
without sleep, I don’t wake
 
until the click of the immersion
when the darkness is lifted
around my pit. My mother has saluted the sun
and is waiting for me
in the next room. I must remember this
on all the sleepless nights
after she has gone, when I only think
I can hear her, tiptoeing around me
above the everyday traffic.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
La Donna
 
 
The church is not broad enough
to accommodate your figure.
You put your faith in God anyway,
with a shrug of your covered shoulders,
with a wave of your fan. You kneel
before the statue of Our Lady and mutter
a prayer. Behind your back,
the flowers on your dress skim
over your body, bloom
on your arse. A priest
should come running
to take up your fanning. An altar boy
should unfasten your Jesus sandals
and bathe each clay foot. You are older
than you look. You have come this far
after centuries. You have reached this point
with a prayer. I would raise you above
the hollow of your idol. I would praise you
above the shelf life of her candles.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Burden
 
 
I sat in the rush hour
cradling a box full of holes,
 
and sounds and sweet airs
whenever the cab rattled.
 
The driver didn’t ask or look round
maybe it was God come for you, but
 
when we got to the vet,
‘I can’t do anything with that’ she said.
 
I dawdled home, wanting to hang out with birds
a little longer, to be admitted to their fold.
 
 
 
 
from Birdhouse (Salt Publishing, 2010).
 
Order Birdhouse.
 
 
 
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