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THROUGH LOSS AND LONGING: MARIA ISAKOVA BENNETT REVIEWS THE SKIN DIARY

The Skin Diary by Abegail Morley, 72pp, £9.99, Nine Arches Press

An impressive collection, full of echoing motifs: birds fluttering through the pages, references to anatomy abounding, animal and human worlds colliding, and poems moving from air (for instance in ‘Summer’, ‘Nesting in the wardrobe’, ‘Bleeding’, ‘The winter gatherer’, and ‘The Ice Hotel’) to rain (‘Summer’s end in Hackney’, ‘After you’ve died’, ‘Afterwards in ink’, and ‘Night planting’). The Skin Diary contains 57 poems which create a sense of emptiness and loss, starting as it continues, from what is spoken at the end of the opening poem, ‘ I miss you, I miss you .’ (‘Before you write off your imaginary sister’). Loss, and the threat of it, permeates the collection. This is not focused on one person, rather, it shifts, coming to settle variously on, for instance: a missing imaginary sister; an imaginary friend (‘Losing Elena’); the ‘he’, and ‘you’ as an oncology patient (‘The Oncology Community’); ‘the lake of lost children’ (‘Counter turn’) and the stranger in the train whose funeral the narrator considers, ‘I can’t help wondering what name they’ll grind // on your gravestone,…’ (‘Paddock Wood to Charing Cross’).

Abegail

The book is punctuated with references to warnings of heartbreak (‘Post-’, ‘The carrier bag’), disappearance, drowning (‘Mayday’), and death (‘Pause’). These forebodings build tension and add poignancy to the later poems in which disappearance or death are faced: ‘But this morning I lie awake // You’re still unvarnished, unravelled in my temporal lobe –’, (‘Forgetting you’); ‘We didn’t know how drunk you were / At St. Peter’s Bridge, standing on the edge’ (‘Presence’); and in the extremely moving ‘text’, ‘But you weren’t back. Later. Or ever.’ Pieces about fertility and fertilization, and the motif of eggs, highlight another poignant loss. These are made beautifully memorable through references to the sea, ‘…You’re the thinness / that laps shorelines at night when oceans / hanker after dunes, barge up beaches…’ (‘Miracle’). Throughout, a sense of liminality and space is created, whether on a staircase such as in ‘Brighton flat’, ‘Last night’, or ‘Living with Bats’ (‘I’m listening for your tread / on the stairs’), or the raw exposure of the insides of the body in, for example, ‘The Archive of Lost Lives’, ‘After the funeral’, ‘The horologist and the body clock’, or imagination, akin to magical realism:

.
I touch his sleeve and it comes to life, like it’s full of swallows,
swifts, nightjars nesting in its folds –
[‘Jacket’]

.
and,

.
I said everything I could before you stopped me, sifted skin through hourglass after hourglass [‘Time Keeper’]

The Skin Diary provides much insight, a journal of survival despite loss, which closes with a charm: ‘I plant for you / agapanthus, dahlia, harebell’ (‘Night Planting’). Raw reality is contained between the imaginative, magical first and last poems. Throughout, thoughts are raised about the power of the imagination, and of spell-like charms helping to elevate us above loss and longing.

First published in Orbis 177

Maria Isakova Bennett lives in Liverpool and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry and reviews have been published online and in print in Ireland, UK, and US. She has won and has been placed in many open poetry competitions, collaborates with artists and writers, and runs workshops in galleries.

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Nine Arches – hot off the press

HOT OFF THE PRESS:
new poetry for 2016
Isobel• Isobel Dixon – Bearings

 

In this wide-ranging fourth collection, Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. These poems are forays of discovery and resistance, of arrival and loss. Dixon explores form and subject, keeping a weather eye out for telling detail, with a sharp sense of the threat that these journeys, our wars and stories, and our very existence pose to the planet.

Forthcoming April 2016

 

Julia.jpg• Julia Webb – Bird Sisters

 

Julia Webb’s Bird Sisters is a surreal journey through sisterhood and the world of the family via the natural world. Fascinated by the “otherness” of things, her poems expose worlds and relationships that are not always entirely comfortable places to exist, featuring transformation – both real and metaphorical: a woman wears a dress of live bees, family members turn into owls and sparrows…
Forthcoming May 2016

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• Abegail Morley – The Skin Diary

Abegail Morley’s new poetry collection The Skin Diary confronts loss in its many forms with unwavering and astonishing clarity, yet there’s an incandescent thread running through every line that makes each alive with fierce and steely energy.

 

Forthcoming May 2016

 
Also forthcoming in 2016:

Primers: Volume 1.
Due April 2016, featuring poets Maureen Cullen, Geraldine Clarkson, Lucy Ingrams and Katie Griffiths
Penelope Shuttle & John Greening – Heath
Due July 2016
Roy Macfarlane  – Beginning With Your Last Breath
Due September 2016
Gregory Leadbetter – The Fetch
Due July 2016
Angela Readman – The Book of Tides
Due July 2016
OUT NOW:

‘Daniel Sluman’s new collection explores acute and chronic, emotional and physical pain (and, albeit less often, pleasure) with a raw, compelling urgency. At times playful, at times harrowing, the terrible always brims with life.’ – Carrie Etter‘Vivid and honest poems of intense experience, in which no wound is too deep to be cauterised by language.’ – Jean Sprackland

‘This is a decadent work of painstaking beauty. Its sophisticated chromatic spectrum is fevered with a minimal though striking palette of monochrome and the occasional burst of pure, visceral colour ’ – Melissa Lee-Houghton

‘In this unflinching collection, Daniel Sluman evokes raw truths at the core of personal experience … Each moment of hope they reveal is as fragile and beautiful as a lit match in a cellar.’ – John McCullough

Find out more and buy the terrible

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Robert Peake, Hilaire, Susan Jordan and World Suicide Prevention Day

Seraphim

You think of us in bright medieval paintings,
our flat profiles ascending and descending ladders.
And slender, robed in cinnabar, announcing from stage
right or praising God in cartoon bubbles flipped
upside-down to be read more easily from above.

But come with me to the bridge where couples
stroll over the brown-black Thames, haloed by domes
and spires, the spoked and spinning blue Eye.
Look closely down the railing. There she is.
We travel the chilled air, whispering: don’t do it.

We are the shiver of thought, that the money or lover
might return, the painful illness be cured. And when
they jump, we are the warmth in hypothermia,
the ones in the brain’s control room, turning the knobs
of the visible scene, hastening the fade to black.

 

Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. He founded the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series, and collaborates on poetryfilm. His poetry collection The Knowledge is now available from Nine Arches Press.

 

A moot point

All pain is illusory,
the philosophy tutor maintains.

I slouch at the edge of the debate,
doodling black squares
in the margin of my A4 pad.
I let the other students get on with it,
the cries of outrage,
the counter attacks:
What about cancer?

I have seen faith healers
in the Philippines
extract tumours
from the terminally ill.

Grumblings of disbelief.
What did it look like then?

Like a cone of congealed fat
rising out of the body
into the healer’s hands.

The tutor wears Dr Scholl sandals,
lets his beard roam free.
He’s told us before
about his own faith healing.
The whole family’s involved;
even the cat
lays its paws
upon migraine sufferers.

One of the students gathers his books,
flounces out in protest,
muttering about wasted fees.

On a fresh sheet I write
all pain is illusory,
before carefully blocking out each letter,
thinking about Uncle Eric
who shot himself in the stomach,
wondering whether cool hands
could have healed
his illusory wound.

Hilaire has had short stories and poetry published in several anthologies and various magazines, including Brittle Star, Wet Ink, Under the Radar and Smoke: A London Peculiar. Triptych Poets: Issue One (Blemish Books, Australia, 2010) features a selection of her poems. Her novel Hearts on Ice was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2000. She is currently working on a poetry collection with Joolz Sparkes, London Undercurrents, unearthing the voices of women who have lived and worked in the capital over many centuries. She blogs at: https://hilaireinlondon.wordpress.com/

Almost

The dark green water wraps me
silk-cool in afternoon heat.

I turn away from the shore. Beyond
there is sea for ever. All I need do

is swim till I become green silk
till where I am is no longer a place.

I can drown pain, close my eyes
on ruined cities, wash myself clean.

I feel the push of waves against me
swallow salt, lie still and float

out of my depth. The sea makes cold love
to all my bones, wakes fear

with its uninterested embrace. I turn
and see sand, find my feet again.

Susan Jordan has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes both poetry and prose. She has had poems published in a number of print and online magazines, including Prole, Obsessed with Pipework, Snakeskin, South, Ariadne’s Thread and the Agenda online supplement. She worked for a mental health charity for a number of years.

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Primers: from The Poetry School and Nine Arches – closing date 1 September

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The Poetry School and Nine Arches Press have announced the arrival of Primers, a new annual scheme creating a unique opportunity for talented poets to find publication and receive a programme of supportive feedback, mentoring and promotion. The scheme will select three poets whose work will feature together in the first volume of Primers, a book showcasing short debut collections of work.

The Primers scheme aims to provide an important platform for emerging poets who are seeking to develop their writing and build towards a full collection of poems. With the involvement of Jane Commane (Nine Arches’ poetry editor), Kathryn Maris (poet and guest editor) and the Poetry School, Primers’ intention is to nurture and support new talent that may otherwise not find an outlet. It also aims to provide an important opportunity for poets to develop their skills, work on their poetry practice, and find audiences for their work. Following editing and mentoring with Kathryn and Jane, the Primers collection will be published by Nine Arches Press, and a further series of live events will showcase the three chosen poets at festivals and shows around the country.

‘Primers presents a really exciting opportunity; for poets it will offer an excellent first step, with the full support of Kathryn Maris, the Poetry School and myself. I am already looking forward to seeing the new writing that will be submitted. It also enables Nine Arches to do more of what we like doing best; nurturing talent, working closely with poets to support their creativity, and keeping our finger on the pulse of contemporary poetry’

– Jane Commane, Nine Arches Press

‘The Poetry School has a long history of working with poets to develop their creative talents. Primers is the next stage in this work, taking poets out of the classroom and onto the bookshelf and the festival stage. We’re very excited about the new poets and poems that are going to emerge from this scheme.’

– Ollie Dawson, The Poetry School

‘Primers is, potentially, a more meritocratic take on anthologies and other introductory platforms for which the usual procedure is the hand-picking of writers already known to an editor. By contrast, the poets to be included in Primers will be chosen from anonymous submissions, so poets need not have a proven track record of publication nor ‘visibility’ within the poetry world. There is so much strong work being written by poets of all ages who have not yet had their first break, so I expect the decision-making will be difficult. But I look forward to the process, and I’m delighted to be involved with Nine Arches, a press that consistently delivers attractive books by first-rate poets.’

– Kathryn Maris, poet and guest editor

Further details can be found on The Poetry School campus and on Nine Arches’ website.

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The bear essentials – or this weekend’s reading sorted….

It’s been a week of books through the post – even though I moved house they still managed to track me down. Looking forward to Siegfried Baber‘s book after Robin Houghton was able to join us for supper on a writing week (our own visiting poet) and talked about the press, as well as doing a reading. Martin Malone describes Baber as “an Armitage for Generation Tweet”.

bear

J V Birch‘s pamphlet, Smashed Glass at Midnight winged its way from Australia and is part of Ginninderra Press‘s Picaro Poets series. Hailing from the UK, Birch has recently moved to Australia and has a host of poems in magazines over there.

Then there’s The Very Best of 52, from Jo Bell‘s project to write a poem a week, selected by Jonathan Davidson and published by Nine Arches Press. Described by one group member as a “mixture of serious and light with a touch of bawdy”. I should perhpas not read this all at once and listen to Jo Bell… “We wrote a poem a week – enjoy reading them, one week at a time”.

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Robert Peake shares the knowledge


The KnowledgeHow did you feel when you were waiting to hear about your submission?

There were actually two very different waiting periods in this process. When I arrived in May 2011, I researched various publishers operating in the UK, and Nine Arches Press really caught my attention for the quality of their books and independent spirit. I sent a copy of my chapbook, which had just been published in the US, to Jane Commane. I didn’t hear back, so I didn’t know that I was waiting for anything at that point. I simply went about the business of getting to know poets in the UK, trying to find my place and my people.

Flash forward to January 2014, when Jane pops up in my email inbox. It turns out the work I sent her had been, in her words, “troubling” her from a bureau drawer she would occasionally dip into off and on for nearly three years. She had been following my other work as well with interest, and wanted to know if I had a manuscript. Well, the answer to that is always, “Yes”, followed by a furious period of paper shuffling and self-tormenting doubt. I sent her the manuscript I had been working on during my time living in and near London, and then the real waiting began.

There’s nothing more unnerving than someone who used to be a fan deciding that they don’t like your newer work. Jane had clearly become a fan. And so, that (thankfully brief) wait was agonising in one sense. Yet I had also managed to find my footing in the UK much more by then, and so in another sense it was another part of my exploring what’s possible in this brave new world I found myself washed up in. Of course, I tell myself that now–but the elation, confirmation, and indeed relief that came with her saying “yes” tells another story.

What was the editorial process like and how long did it take to complete?

We set in that summer, and the book came out at the end of April. So, there was a sense of time–to get to know one another, to get to know what the book wanted to become. That is a tremendous luxury in a poetry marketplace that increasingly forces editors into the role of “gatekeeper” rather than a true collaborator in service to the best interest of the work. Jane was the latter, and I am convinced that her time and care made it a better book.

What input and advice did Jane give to you?Jane-Commane1

Jane gave me the advice of a reader-fan who wanted the book to be the best it could for both our sakes. Reviewers are a different animal, and reviews often tell more about the reviewer than the work. So, to really get inside the mind of a reader who is coming from a fundamental stance of believing in you and your work–well, that’s invaluable input to the creative process.

After Jane agreed to work with me, she asked for more work written around the manuscript, and I gladly supplied at least half as much again in material for us to work with. That made it easier to relinquish certain poems from the original manuscript in favour of others, to sort of sculpt it both additively and by subtraction. I realise I am not being terribly specific about the advice she gave, but partly that is because Jane had a way of making her suggestions seem like ones I had thought of myself–or, even better, the slap on the forehead of “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”

We cut. We rearranged. Pagination brought new elements to light, as longer poems flowed on to subsequent pages, and the page as a unit gave us a new lens to look through. It was collaborative, and revelatory, and in the end Jane held my hand and helped me to kill a few darlings that I wouldn’t have executed if left to my own devices–because I had reached a point of darling-killing fatigue when preparing the initial manuscript. She helped me pull the trigger.

What was it like to hold your book for the first time?

It was surreal. Nine Arches Press is based in Rugby, and I live in North Hertfordshire. I had just come back from working in London when I got the text from Jane that the book had come back from the printers. So we split the geographical difference, as we did before during the editing process, and met in Milton Keynes. It was evening, so the only place that was open was a chain coffee store inside the mall. I felt like I was back in Orange County, California–land of glassed-in mannequins.

All that receded into the background when she put the book in my hand. Aspects I couldn’t deduce from the PDF proofs, like the way poems began to converse across facing pages, quickly made it feel real, almost alive. Above all, there was as sense of rightness–about the process, and about the product, that went beyond the weight of paper and ink in hand. I suppose it must have felt a bit like sending one’s child out in the world, to find their way. The book had graduated. It was a proud parent moment.

How many readings have you given since its publication?

I gave three readings in the ten days following the book’s official publication, starting in a tiny village in Shropshire, and ending at Walt Whitman’s Birthplace in New York. It was great to read receptive audiences, and a pleasure to read from a real book–and such an attractive and well-produced one at that. I also have several readings coming up later this year, including an event in London combining poetry and jazz that sounds really exciting.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I am fumbling around in the dark with a torch, which is what I tend to do most of the time anyway. I’m writing as often as I can, balancing the support of this book with the creation of the next, and really at the moment just drawing breath. Thanks for asking, and I hope your readers have enjoyed this peek into the book-making process (or at least my peculiar version of it).

PeakePhoto by Valerie Kampmeier

Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. His full-length collection The Knowledge is now available from Nine Arches Press. His previous short collections include The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013) and Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011).

Since relocating to England with his wife, Valerie and cat, Miranda in 2011, Robert has given a variety of readings in the UK. He also created the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series to bring poets from both sides of the Atlantic together for live online poetry readings.

Julia Webb

Julia Webb Featured Poet

julia web Photo: Martin Figura

Garden

Trying to make a garden
out of bird branches, nettles, dry grasses,
a wooden shed with slatted sides,
falling down and into itself.

Trying to alive a garden
out of weeds and light through leaves,
to grow a garden, to mound a garden
out of sycamore keys and thistle-prickle.

Trying to Christmas a garden, to Easter a garden
to flap a wing of a garden through
the stiff soldier arms of the trees,
to tangle a garden out of roots and worms,

to fox and owl a garden,
to slither a garden out of shadow,
to meow it, to cats-eye it out of night,
to hold a garden in a palm of light.

Trying to uncover a garden.
to mountain a garden out of goose grass, meadow-shine,
to weave a garden from stalk and stem,
from crows’ wings and cloudlight.
A Bird Inside

I wear a bird inside me:
a badge pinned to my heart,
drops of blood flower
where its pin pierces.

The bird inside me
opens its beak wide and sings:
I am full to the brim
with tweets and whistles.

I am made of spring
and I am raining,
wings feather my ears.

They are building
their nests inside my chest,
my head is full of grubs and worms.

Today I am blackbird,
tomorrow I will be all owl,
wearing a necklace of mouse skulls.

Julia Webb is a graduate of UEA’s creative writing MA. In 2011 she won The Poetry Society’s Stanza competition and in 2014 she was shortlisted for the Poetry School/Pighog pamphlet prize. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse – a journal for new writing and she teaches creative writing. She has had work published in numerous journals/anthologies including Magma, Poetry Salzburg Review, Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Obsessed With Pipework, The Rialto and Antiphon. Her first collection Bird Sisters will be published by Nine Arches Press in spring 2016

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Jo Bell on her new collection

KithHow did you feel when you were waiting to hear about your submission?
I’m blessed with a very casual attitude to rejection letters. One major publisher turned the book down – very graciously and for good reasons – and if Jane Commane of Nine Arches hadn’t liked Kith, I would have reassessed it and thought about what to do next. But I had faith in the book, a decent pedigree of prize winning and publication, and a strong sense of the book’s identity.

Jane and I had a good relationship from previous projects, and she was ready to publish me if the work was right for her list. It felt equal and mature – not a courtship on either side, but both of us wanting to see if this was a match that would work, and if so, what shape the book would take.

What was the editorial process like and how long did it take to complete?
A slow start, which sped up towards the end. The first task was deciding on which poems to include. Jane generously asked me to send her ‘the lot’ – a portfolio of around 100 poems, some of which were non-starters – so that we could identify where the kernel of the collection was. ‘You bring your version, and I’ll bring mine’ she said. We met on a sunny afternoon in Stratford, and put them side by side. They were almost identical in content. We were cooking on gas from then on.

The title helped, because the idea of ‘kith’ informs the whole collection. Sometimes the decision as to whether a poem should stay or go, came down to whether it was sufficiently ‘kithy’. So the sequencing was the next challenge. The writer often can’t see the wood for the trees, having planted the trees in a particular order. We shuffled a few of them around, lost a few and divorced a couple from their original context to create an arc which better serves the reader.

So far we’ve only spotted one cock-up – a single poem has been left out of the book, which we both intended should go in it. It just fell off the edge, in one of the many revisions and re-edits that we exchanged.

Shallow DOF, focus on editor and nib of pencil.

What input and advice did Jane give to you?
A good editor holds each poem to account – like John Humphrys interrogating the prime minister. So, little poem, why do you feel that you have to be a sonnet? I put it to you that you are, in fact, a ten-line poem of two stanzas.

The tweaks were specific to each poem – ‘you’ve used this word elsewhere,’ or ‘could we lose a clumsy stanza here?’ In particular, Jane called me out on a tic I have of using a conversational phrase to clear my throat as I open a poem – ‘This is how it is’ or ‘What we ought to do is this’. Some I kept as a part of the style, but more often we cut them. Jane brought a new perspective, challenged me on certain phrases and structures, and asked me to explain my choices of word or rhythm. She is discreet, endlessly modest but tireless in chivvying away at the ones that need more work.

Most of us are far too precious about changing and correcting our poems. I like a bit of slash and burn. Many of the poems had already been through a process of creative butchery with two writing groups, and I’m a fairly fierce editor of my own work, so in this final edit there wasn’t a vast amount of change. A few pieces though were completely transformed, like Kingfisher which is much shorter and much better than it was.

What was it like to hold your book for the first time?
I’m supposed to get all emotional and say ‘it was like holding a newborn babe in my arms after a difficult birth, and I cradled it tenderly and wept’, right? It isn’t ever like that for me. It was the end of a big project, delivered brilliantly by Nine Arches. No publisher could have given me a better book. I’m truly delighted with Jane’s new format, and with Heather Duncan’s artwork on the cover. But I don’t mistake the artefact for the act of communication. The poems are out there; now we need to share them around and find out what people feel about them.

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How many readings have you given since its publication?
It’s been out three weeks, and I’ve done five so far. Plenty more to come this summer. Have a look at http://www.jobell.org.uk for more reading dates. I’ve got readings lined up for Swindon, Leicester, Ledbury, the Green Festival and lots of others before the year is out.

Finally, what are you working on now?
Commissions for the National Trust and the Canal & River Trust; rehearsing for a revival of my Riverlands show with Jo Blake Cave; and planning for big new projects including a live ‘happening’ in London with writer Tania Hershman. Poetry doesn’t just exist on the page and we want to make something really ephemeral and memorable.

There’s time set aside this summer and autumn, thanks to a generous sponsor, to work on the beginnings of the next collection. I want to work on them one by one, as they come to me, and not set out to ‘write a book’. Someone told me that I should get the next one out in eighteen months. That ain’t gonna happen.

 

For more about Jo hop to The Bell Jar.