Otherwhere: Catherine Smith

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THE SPAGHETTI HARVEST

In 1957, BBC’s ‘Panorama’ announced that due to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper crop. Huge numbers of viewers called the BBC asking how they could grow their own spaghetti tree.
Not for us, the back-breaking digging,
Wellingtons sinking deep into sticky mud,

spade-handles callusing our hands.
No, we’ve switched, gone Continental.

We started with one tree, but now we’ve
a small orchard! At harvest time,

the whole family’s involved. Up at dawn
for prayers round the table, giving thanks

for God’s great blessing –  the mild winter,
early spring. We sing the special

harvesting song as we reach up, lay
damp strands in our wicker baskets.

It’s a marvel, how straight
and blonde it is. Like a Princess’s hair!

our daughters say. You can‘t say that
about spuds, can you? We lay it

on towels, dry it in the sun. It keeps
for months, never loses flavour.

Our neighbours don’t speak to us,
leave their windows open

when they’re roasting potatoes
in duck-fat and home-grown rosemary.

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Otherwhere Smiths/Doorstop 62pp | 978-1-906613-76-1 Available here

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‘Her scary, unsettling voice seems unexpected in poetry, and cuts her free of the crowd’ said The Times of Smith’s earlier work. Her latest, unputdownable collection is as unpredictable as ever – including as it does the spaghetti harvest and the drought of 1976, vegetarian hangovers, horse-racing, teenage girls inhaling helium and cats brought in a case through customs. Sexy, sassy and recklessly wise writing.’

‘Catherine Smith’s poems are at once visceral and delicate. The mythical seeps through the tang and stench of the everyday and asserts itself, triumphant and strange’ — Sasha Dugdale

‘Seductive and hugely enjoyable … a celebration of the human condition by a poet at the top of her game’ — Neil Rollinson

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Catherine’s first pamphlet, The New Bride, was a winner in the 2000 Book & Pamphlet Competition and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her first book, The Butcher’s Hands, was a PBS Recommendation, and won the Aldeburgh/Jerwood Prize for Best First Collection. Her collection, Lip, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.

Catherine’s poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and she has won prizes for her short stories. She writes narratives of alienation, engaging with dream, nightmare and the surreal, peopled by characters at the edge and sometimes beyond the edge. Intense and even at times grotesque (the pages are littered with obsessives, a vampire, the ghost of a jealous wife, ‘Charades’ with an s & m subtext) her poetry is always convincingly well-observed, imaginative and ultimately life-affirming. Born in 1962 in Windsor, educated at Windsor Girls’ School and the Universities of Bradford and Sussex; Catherine now live in Lewes, East Sussex, married with two adult sons.

Catherine Smith: Featured Poet


THE FATHERS

All over the city, women in restaurants,
cafes, bars, wait for their fathers. Sometimes
the women sip coffee, or wine, pretend to read.
Some fathers arrive promptly, smiling,
dressed as Policemen, or in flannel pyjamas.
One wears a taffeta dress, fishnets and stilettos,
rubs the stubble under his make-up.
Sometimes the father is a Priest
in a robe stained with candle-wax.
Some have pockets gritty with sand
from Cornish holidays; one father
flourishes a fledgling sparrow, damp
and frightened, from an ironed handkerchief.
They bring spaniels, Shetland ponies, anacondas,
they bring yellowed photographs
whose edges curl like wilting cabbages.
One father has blue ghosts of numbers
inked into his forearm. Some of the fathers
have been dead or absent for so long
the women hardly recognise them, a few
talk rapidly in Polish or Greek and the women
shift on their chairs. Some sign cheques,
others blag a tenner. One smells of wood-shavings
and presents the woman with a dolls’ house.
Some fathers tell the women You’re getting fat
while others say, Put some meat on your bones, girl.
Some women leave arm in arm with their fathers,
huddled against the cold air, and shop
for turquoise sequinned slippers or Angelfish
hanging like jewels in bright tanks. Others
part with a kiss that misses a cheek – lint
left on coats, and buttons done up wrong.

From Lip (Smith/Doorstop)

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Catherine Smith is an award-winning poet and fiction writer; she has also written radio drama, (Jellybelly, broadcast May 2005). Her first short poetry collection, The New Bride, (Smith/Doorstop) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, 2001. Her other books include The Butcher’s Hands (short-listed for the Aldeburgh/Jerwood Prize ) and Lip which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2008.  The Biting Point, her long awaited prose collection is published by Speechbubble Books.