Tag Archives: Seren Books

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s Inroads

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is the author of the award-winning poetry collection, Inroads (Seren, 2010), described by Ambit as “a first collection that does all the things a good debut … should do”. Inroads was shortlisted for the London Festival Fringe Prize for the Best First Collection of Poetry 2010. Her novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, earned her the title ‘the new Audrey Niffenegger’ by Company magazine and was described by Living North as “a powerful novel from a talented new voice … hotly tipped to be one of the biggest books of 2011”. The book has has just been published in America and the United Kingdom and is being translated into 20 languages. Carolyn is 32, has three children, and lives in Gateshead. 

This debut collection from Seren, Inroads, showcases a startling new talent. Carolyn Jess-Cooke has a sophisticated poetic intelligence as well as a great sense of fun.
The opening piece, ‘Accent’ where “stowaway inflections and locally-produced slang/have passports of their own” is a praise poem for the versatility and joy of language, “The way sound chases itself in tunnels and halls, the way senses fold memory …”. This verbal fluency and dexterity are employed to offer us poems that are multi-faceted and often paradoxical. ‘Aeneas Finds Dido on YouTube’ is part satire, part tender re-enactment of the myth, featuring the most up-to-date media platforms.
After this playful start, a difficult childhood is evoked through metaphor in poems like ‘Music Lesson’,‘One Thousand Painful Pieces’ and ‘Bitten’, all the more heartbreaking for being indirect. Other high points are ‘Newborn’ with the apt description of a babe in arms being a “zoo of verbs/mewling, snuffling, pecking …”. This sweet realism again gives way to metaphor, in the strangely evocative ‘Dorothy’s Homecoming’ in a brilliant take on the classic film ‘Wizard of Oz’, the power of maternal love has turned into a ‘twister’. 
“This first collection is a sparkling variety-act, choreographed with a strong but daring sense of form. There are subversive triolets, an air-borne re-invention of Larkin’s poem, ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, and poems in experimental ‘field’ layout. Some are almost surrealistic, as memories get up and perform karaoke-songs, or brutal beating becomes a music lesson. In others, Greek myths may be modernised and filmed, haunting landscapes captured, young motherhood described with witty realism and sensuousness. While memory at times traces darker inroads among the glittering, high-wire acts and comic cadenzas, the imaginative movement of the collection is outwards towards celebration. Jess-Cooke is a poet who revels in the magical pleasure of language, and readers will enjoy sharing it with her.”

– Carol Rumens

“There are breathtaking poems here. Whether writing about motherhood, accent, place or mischievously entwining the Classical world with YouTube and cable TV shows – and somehow still drawing pathos from it – Jess-Cooke has an unflinching honesty to match her powerful imagery. ‘Bitten’ makes you feel like you’ve been bitten, ‘First Time Buyer’ makes you feel like you have just got home, and ‘A poem without any vegetables’ makes you feel like you have children. Combine this with a sense of wide and deep reading, of reacting, of making a range of styles her own. Inroads feels refreshingly transatlantic – this is a poet unafraid of crossing boundaries, capable of being as simultaneously playful and serious, as good literature always is.”
– Luke Kennard
Stowaway inflections and locally-produced slang
have passports of their own, a visa for the twang
           that tells me you’re not Xhosa
but a Geordie raised in Grahamstown, maybe. It’s a blitz
of souvenirs on the ears, the way you bring your bliss
           of home that much closer.
Home? Or everywhere? Like combing coral
or sand and snow globes, or a wave-shaped petal
           from Sydney’s Manly Cove
my voice fossils places. The way sound chases
itself in tunnels and halls, the way senses
           fold memory into five
is an accent’s suitcase aesthetic. Listen.
There’s an address, a postcard in the tone,
           the foreign rhythm
and that emphasis, that accent on the off-beat
which echoes longing clearly; the picked-up place-music speaks
           where you ache to be, with whom. 
The first time I was five. An Alsatian
we teased stripped a layer of skin from wrist
to elbow. It was a blind sensation
the first time. I was five, and all stations
between six and twelve were flagged with lesions
connected, somehow, to a need to be kissed
for the first time. I was five, and satiation,
wet ease, stripped a layer of skin from risk.
from Inroads (Seren, 2010).
Order Inroads here or here
Order The Guardian Angel’s Journal (Piatkus, 2011).
Visit Carolyn’s website.
Visit Carolyn’s blog, The Risktaker’s Guide to Endorphins.

Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me

Pascale Petit (credit Jemimah Kuhfeld)

Pascale Petit trained at the Royal College of Art and spent the first part of her life as an artist, before deciding to concentrate on poetry. Since then she has published five collections, two of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. In 2004 the Poetry Book Society selected her as one of the Next Generation Poets. She teaches poetry writing courses for a number of organisations, including Tate Modern. Petit has read her work at many festivals around the world and travelled to Mexico several times to research Frida Kahlo’s life.

What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010) contains fifty-two poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Some of the poems are close interpretations of Kahlo’s work, while others are parallels or version homages where Petit draws on her experience as a visual artist to create alternative ‘paintings’ with words. More than just a verse biography, this collection explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit, with her vivid style, her feel for nature and her understanding of pain and redemption, fully inhabits Kahlo’s world. Each poem is an evocation of “how art works on the pain spectrum”, laced with splashes of ferocious colour.
“Their apparent shared sensibility makes the ventriloquism of these poems entirely unforced, and while Kahlo’s voice is subtly distinguished from Petit’s own, both women have a way of taking painful, private experiences and transmuting them, through imagery, into something that has the power of folklore. They capture the unsettling spirit of Frida Kahlo and her work perfectly.” Poetry London

“No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.” Les Murray Times Literary Supplement
Remembrance of an Open Wound
Pascale Petit
Whenever we make love, you say
it’s like fucking a crash –
I bring the bus with me into the bedroom.
There’s a lull, like before the fire brigade
arrives, flames licking the soles
of our feet. Neither of us knows
when the petrol tank will explode.
You say I’ve decorated my house
to recreate the accident –
my skeleton wired with fireworks,
my menagerie flinging air about.
You look at me in my gold underwear –
a crone of sixteen, who lost
her virginity to a lightning bolt.
It’s time to pull the handrail out.
I didn’t expect love to feel like this –
you holding me down with your knee,
wrenching the steel rod from my charred body
quickly, kindly, setting me free.
The Little Deer
Pascale Petit
Little deer, I’ve stuffed all the world’s diseases inside you.
Your veins are thorns
and the good cells are lost in the deep dark woods
of your organs.
As for your spine, those cirrus-thin vertebrae
evaporate when the sun comes out.
Little deer too delicate for daylight,
your coat of hailstones is an icepack on my fever.
Are you thirsty?
Rest your muzzle against the wardrobe mirror
and drink my reflection –
the room pools and rivers about us
but no one comes
to stop my bed from sliding down your throat.
Published in What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010).
Order What the Water Gave Me.
For information regarding launches and readings, please visit Pascale’s blog.
Visit Pascale’s website.
Read Dreams, Spirits and Visions, my interview with Pascale in the third issue of Horizon Review.

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch: Six Poems

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch by Keith Morris

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch has published two collections of poems, the latest of which, Not In These Shoes (Picador, 2008) was short-listed for Wales Book of the Year 2009.
Her work has been published in Poetry Wales, Poetry London, Poetry Ireland, the Independent and the Forward Anthology 2002 and 2009 as well as broadcast on BBC Radio Wales and Radio Scotland. She has read at the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, the University of Ottawa, Concordia University Montral, the Jagiellonian University Krakow and for the Arvon Foundation.
Samantha studied Classics at Cambridge followed by an MA in Writing at the University of Wales Cardiff. She has received awards for her work from the Society of Authors (2007), the Hawthornden Foundation (2005) and Academi (1997 and 2002). She is currently an Affiliate of Birkbeck College London (Research in Representations of Kinship and Community).
Willow Pattern
When you dropped the plate, the bridge broke
in two and the tiny blue ferns were torn.
Like us they would not mend. They spoke
in their dismembering; we could not mourn.
I wrote your name in willowy
handwriting on a scrap of paper, dropped
it in a jar of jasmine tea
which three hours in the freezer turned to rock.
On our first walk I plucked a fern,
arranged it in a cast full of hot wax.
Now the candle is almost burnt
away, a hard miniature pool acts
as evidence on a plate, a spell
cast and lost on a pagoda shell.

Above the stove his longjohns hang
where he pegged them on June 10th 1911.
A pin-up of a girl’s naked back
beside his bunk is curling up to his
spilt shelf of charts and logs, the diary’s yard
of ink. Frozen to death, outside,
the remains of a dog, chained in ice.
And here, Ponting’s darkroom, reliquary
of vials and plates splayed like cards.
On the table where Scott raised a final
birthday glass, a visitor has tried a slice
of a hundred year-old ham. Tins
of boiled mutton, brawn, Tate & Lyle
syrup lie thick and slow as the snow’s
drift, preserving an era’s hour.
And what of the women they left behind,
pausing each night on the stairs
to wind the heart of a clock,
folding and unfolding clothes, reading
and re-reading letters, weighing
each word, like a body?
Brighton West Pier
Last week I saw it again, staggering
like a shot beast in the high tide,
the pavilion a skull half sunk, gnawing
at its stilts. A telephone receiver swung
from the tangled guts of the bar.
Of course I have witnessed dereliction before:
mantelpieces three floors up,
the remnants of passion fluttering
in the torn wallpaper of virtual rooms,
the cross-section of intimacy.
But this reclaiming by sea of our
tentative steps leaves me
precarious: those Saturday nights
when I would catch my breath outside
its stuccoed façade, stilettoed,
tiptoeing between strips of sea foaming
below, a note from a saxophone
thrown to the wind, hearing his voice
on the line half a century ago,
still swaying there.

Grandfather Clock
For once I wasn’t in love with the auctioneer.
I put my hand into your side, long and polished,
felt your entrails sleek through my fingers
like an anchor, your deep-throated tick
that stopped the day my grandpa died.
Your face was worn out, the inscription eroded
below the holy-eyed lion, the anvil lavishly
black. I raised a glass to you, tick tock,
the day you were carried off.
Take this one for instance from her own album:
Crown Duchess Tatiana rollerblading flirts
across the deck of the royal yacht, Standart
or even in this one whilst under house arrest,
Anastasia, planting cabbage seeds and cress
is radiant in muslin, surrounded by guards.
                            May 4th, 1917: all five over
the mumps now, so my darlings had their heads shaved,
then were photographed in a line all in black!

The Execution Archive for that year states
the bald facts: at twelve the Romanovs were told
to dress, stand in a row. It was necessary
to finish off the girls with bayonets – their corsets,
laced with diamonds had turned the bullets back.
The Stain

Come to think of it, in a certain light
it looked ochre, all down the staircase,
marking the site of some terrible accident,
except that we all knew it had been tea
and that it was me who had dropped the tray,
collecting every fragment before an audience
of twenty in the hotel lobby, going to pieces
but acting like it was a regular clear-up.
The interior scar I lived with for months
like your death at twenty-one. Six weeks
before you jumped, you gave me your old desk –
but it was only after you’d leapt that I found
the inkstain in one of the rosewood drawers
and thought about the colour of the stones on the shore.
Visit Samantha’s website.
Read more about Samantha at Contemporary Writers.
Order Rockclimbing in Silk and Not In These Shoes.

A poetry list

I thought I’d share a few poetry titles I’m looking forward to reading this year. Some have recently been published, some are not yet available. If you’re interested in buying copies online, do make a note of their publication dates or ask your online book store to let you know when they become available.
Four of the poets are relatively new to me – Elisabeth Bletsoe (Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works), Mary O’Donnell (The Ark Builders), Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Inroads) and Anna Robinson (The Finders of London) – and I’m looking forward to becoming better acquainted with their work.
I greatly enjoyed Naomi Foyle’s bold, imaginative and sensuous collection, The Night Pavilion, and am looking forward to her pamphlet, Grace of the Gamblers – A Chantilly Chantey (Waterloo Press), illustrated by Peter Griffiths.
Philippa Yaa de Villiers’s second collection The Everyday Wife, published by the intrepid South African women’s publisher Modjaji Books, follows her popular first collection, Taller than buildings. As a poet living in South Africa, I’d like to mention how proud I am of the strong, beautiful books sent into the world by Modjaji.
Helen Ivory’s The Breakfast Machine (Bloodaxe), Pascale Petit’s What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren), Katie Donovan’s Rootling (Bloodaxe) and Penelope Shuttle’s Sandgrain and Hourglass (Bloodaxe), have been long awaited. Their previous collections – The Dog in the Sky (Ivory), The Treekeeper’s Tale (Petit), Day of the Dead (Donovan) and Redgrove’s Wife (Shuttle) – are favourites and occupy the top shelf of my poetry bookcase.
Edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe) will be available later this year. The anthology aims to reflect “the multicultural make-up of contemporary Britain” and to showcase the work of talented poets such as Mir Mahfuz Ali, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Karen McCarthy, Nick Makoha, Denise Saul, Seni Seniviratne, Shazea Quraishi and Janet Kofi Tsekpo.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets, also published by Bloodaxe and edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be a feast. I hope, as I’m typing this, my copy is winging its way south from the United Kingdom.
Identity Parade includes poetry from Patience Agbabi, Jonathan Asser, Tiffany Atkinson, Simon Barraclough, Paul Batchelor, Kate Bingham, Julia Bird, Patrick Brandon, David Briggs, Andy Brown, Judy Brown, Colette Bryce, Matthew Caley, Siobhan Campbell, Vahni Capildeo, Melanie Challenger, Kate Clanchy, Polly Clark, Julia Copus, Sarah Corbett, Claire Crowther, Tim Cumming, Ailbhe Darcy, Peter Davidson, Nick Drake, Sasha Dugdale, Chris Emery, Bernardine Evaristo, Paul Farley, Leontia Flynn, Annie Freud, Alan Gillis, Jane Griffiths, Vona Groarke, Jen Hadfield, Sophie Hannah, Tracey Herd, Kevin Higgins, Matthew Hollis, A.B. Jackson, Anthony Joseph, Luke Kennard, Nick Laird, Sarah Law, Frances Leviston, Gwyneth Lewis, John McAuliffe, Chris McCabe, Helen Macdonald, Patrick McGuinness, Kona Macphee, Peter Manson, D.S. Marriott, Sam Meekings, Sinéad Morrissey, Daljit Nagra, Caitríona O’Reilly, Alice Oswald, Katherine Pierpoint, Clare Pollard, Jacob Polley, Diana Pooley, Richard Price, Sally Read, Deryn Rees-Jones, Neil Rollinson, Jacob Sam-la Rose, Antony Rowland, James Sheard, Zoë Skoulding, Catherine Smith, Jean Sprackland, John Stammers, Greta Stoddart, Sandra Tappenden, Tim Turnbull, Julian Turner, Mark Waldron, Ahren Warner, Tim Wells, Matthew Welton, David Wheatley, Sam Willetts, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and Tamar Yoseloff.
Are there any anthologies and collections you’re particularly looking forward to getting your hands on this year?
I’d love to hear what’s on your list.
Identity Parade: New British & Irish Poets,
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)

Pharmacopoeia & Early Selected Works
Elisabeth Bletsoe (Shearsman Books)


The Ark Builders, Mary O’Donnell
(Arc Publications)

, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
(Seren Books)


Grace of the Gamblers, Naomi Foyle
(Waterloo Press)


The Finders of London, Anna Robinson
(Enitharmon Press)

The Everyday Wife
, Philippa Yaa de Villiers
(Modjaji Books)

The Breakfast Machine
, Helen Ivory
(Bloodaxe Books)

, Katie Donovan
(Bloodaxe Books)

What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo,
Pascale Petit (Seren Books)

Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word
edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra
(Bloodaxe Books) 


Sandgrain and Hourglass
, Penelope Shuttle
(Bloodaxe Books)

Some Favourite Poetry Collections of 2009: Part Two


Roddy Lumsden
Like This by Diana Pooley (Salt Modern Poets)
Through the Square Window by Sinead Morrissey (Carcanet Press)
Undraining Sea by Vahni Capildeo (Egg Box Publishing)
Chronic by D A Powell (Graywolf Press)
Fort Red Border by Kiki Petrosino (Sarabande Books)
Taste of Cherry by Kara Candito (University of Nebraska Press)
Jane Holland
Rain by Don Paterson (Faber & Faber)
Suit of Lights by Damian Walford Davies (Seren Books)
A Century of Poetry Review, edited by Fiona Sampson
(Carcanet Press)
Anthony Joseph
Orphaned Latitudes by Gérard Rudolf (Red Squirrel Press)
How To Build a City by Tom Chivers (Salt Modern Poets)
Undraining Sea by Vahni Capildeo (Egg Box Publishing)
Katy Evans-Bush
Caligula on Ice and Other Poems by Tim Turnbull (Donut Press)
The Song of Lunch by Christopher Reid (CB Editions)
How To Build a City by Tom Chivers (Salt Modern Poets)
David Caddy
Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems by Gavin Selerie
(Shearsman Books)
Conversation with Murasaki by Tom Lowenstein (Shearsman Books)
Practical Water by Brenda Hillman (Wesleyan Press)
Anne Berkeley
The Clockwork Gift by Claire Crowther (Shearsman Books)
The Ambulance Box by Andrew Philip (Salt Modern Poets)
A Scattering by Christopher Reid (Areté Books)
Simon Barraclough
instead of stars by Amy Key (tall-lighthouse)
The Borrowed Notebook by Chris McCabe (Landfill Press)
Frankie, Alfredo, by Liane Strauss (Donut Press)
Shaindel Beers
Cradle Song by Stacey Lynn Brown (C&R Press)
Packing Light: New & Selected Poems by Marilyn Kallet
(Black Widow Press)
War Dances by Sherman Alexie (Grove Press)
Petals of Zero Petals of One by Adam Zawacki (Talisman House)
Rob A. Mackenzie
Third Wish Wasted by Roddy Lumsden (Bloodaxe Books)
The Ambulance Box by Andrew Philip (Salt Modern Poets)
Rays by Richard Price (Carcanet Press)
Valeria Melchioretto
Bird Head Son by Anthony Joseph (Salt Modern Poets)
The Tethers by Carrie Etter (Seren Books)
Blood/Sugar by James Byrne (Arc Publications)
Gaia Holmes
The Hunt in the Forest by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)
Fruitcake by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe Books)
Hammers and Hearts of the Gods by Fred Voss (Bloodaxe Books)

Pascale Petit’s ‘The Second Husband’

The Second Husband
Pascale Petit
After what feels like two thousand years
     I find you under the permafrost.
I dig and dig until your twelve frozen horses
     spring up in their red felt masks and ibex horns.
You must have ridden each one to heaven

in your high headdress with its gold foil frieze
     of Celestial Mountains, your crest
of winged snow leopards and antlered wolves
     with eagle tines. When you ask me to stay
I know this is the afterlife.
from The Treekeeper’s Tale

Listen to Pascale reading  ‘The Second Husband’ here.