Wednesday, 30 July 2014

POEM CLUB #7: 'Raspberries' by Andrew Wynn Owen

Andrew Wynn Owen. Photo
   © Belinda Lawley
We had some very exciting news last week, that Andrew Wynn Owen had won the Newdigate Prize. We published Raspberries for the Ferry, Andrew's first pamphlet, so we are incredibly proud of his achievement. This week in Poem Club we're going to look at the opening poem of his pamphlet, which gave the collection its title.

* * *


Available, but not for long,
They look like lesser fruits of Eden.
So sweet they force you into song
And fill your head with dreams of hedon-
istic gymnasts born in Sweden.
These luscious buds should be illegal,
Reserved for emperor and eagle.

Yes, don't they make you salivate?
That danglingness, their regal nods
To passers-by as if to state
A bloodline running back to gods.
You'd like them to arrive in squads
And drag you screaming to a cell
With sticky fists on each lapel.

These friendly triffids catch your eye
Across a busy motorway
And beckon you to have a try.
Their trimming is décolleté
With underbrush for négligée
And crimpled leaves that make you think 
Of Cleopatra draped in mink.

The provenance this clustered fruit
Can claim is unlike any berry:
Venusian origins impute
Its power to party and make merry.
When Charon chauffeurs in the ferry
The only bribes to turn his head
Are juicy, globular, and red.

— by Andrew Wynn Owen, from Raspberries for the Ferry 
* * *
Emma's thoughts. I love this poem for many reasons, not least of which is that raspberries are also my favourite fruit. They deserve a hymn, because they're wonderful: a great shade of pink, sweet and tart, and delicious. I also like the layers of menace eased into the poem, which create a sexy kind of tension between the speaker and the raspberry: they 'force' you into song, should be 'illegal', and, err, 'drag you screaming to a cell'. Is fruit erotica a thing? With Andrew Wynn Owen at the helm, it should be!

Your thoughts. A couple of great comments this week! ThatBookGirl had the only natural response to the poem, as far as I'm concerned: 'This poem makes me want to go and eat all the raspberries in my garden, but now I think of Swedish gymnasts when I chew them!' I hear you, ThatBookgirl.

Courtney Landers had a similar response, and gave a helpful blow-by-blow account of her reading experience: 'The first time you read it you think ‘oh that’s cute, I like raspberries too', the next few times you start to catch the multiple layers, and then each time you read it you’re giggling because ‘did he just say THAT, about RASPBERRIES?!’ She gives an in-depth description of her favourite bits in the comments below, so I'd highly recommend you scroll down to read it in full.

And the winner of this week's 'Most Thoughtful Commenter' prize is... Courtney Landers!

* * *
Raspberries for the Ferry
What do you think of 'Raspberries'? Do you think it is funny? Do you think it is sexy? What's your favourite line? Bearing this poem in mind, why do you think we choose 'Raspberries for the Ferry' as the title of the book? This week's Poem Club is closed, but you can still let me know in the comments section below. Don't be afraid of sounding stupid! Just let me know what you like about the poem or what it makes you feel. All comments will be held for moderation, so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately after you send it.

<-- POEM CLUB #6: 'Brown Leather Gloves' by Oliver Comins
--> POEM CLUB #8: 'Night music' by Kristen Roberts

Friday, 25 July 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #13

After last week's digest, which I think we can all agree was a new low, you'll be arriving at this one - lucky number thirteen - secure in the knowledge that some kind of improvement is inevitable. I'm hoping that the following will see you through the next seven days: I have rustled up one genuine bit of news, one submissions update and one poem. Enjoy!

First of all, I'm pleased to announce my first confirmed, 'on the dotted line' signing for 2015: the second novel by Nora Chassler, a writer currently based in Scotland, raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It's the latter that provides the setting for the new novel, which - after literally a month of debate between author, publisher, and pretty much everyone I know with a pulse - is officially, definitely titled Grandmother Divided By Monkey Equals Outer Space. I won't tell you anything else about it just yet, other than to say it is a work of literary fiction with an intense focus on character and the little details of life; you are in for absolute treat when Valley Press publishes it next March.

[Nora's first novel was published by Two Ravens Press, who have a small bio for her here - Nora also has her own website here. That's Nora in the photo above.]

This leads us nicely onto the topic of submissions, which have been coming in steadily since they were re-opened at the start of May - I've probably been getting about two enquiries a day. I've sent out plenty of bad news and one or two bits of good news, but I plan to really tackle the pile towards the end of August. Nora is the first 2015 author to get to an announceable state, but I have an unprecedented eighteen books lined up for 2015 in one form or another - and I'm going for a total of twenty, so two more submitters are going to be getting some good news over the next month or so. I plan to 'leave everything on the field' next year, as they say, so watch this space to see how it goes.

I've spent much of this month working on Helen Burke's new collection, as profiled in Digest #9. At time of writing I've completely finished editing and organising the poems; it's now just a matter of arranging the notes section and deciding which illustration goes where, and then getting the author's go-ahead of course. I'll finish this post with one of my favourite short poems from the book - see you all next week.

Baxter’s Crime

Baxter, the dog, is being dragged down the lane.
I feel sorry for Baxter, in fact, most days –
I feel a bit like him.
Pulled this way and that.
Someone behind me with a lead that I can’t see.
Baxter has no idea what his crime is.
(Nor have I.)
Just that he is a dog who takes his time, perhaps.
He investigates. Sniffs too long in all the wrong places.
I can never hear the words – just that she is shouting,
snapping and snarling.
I imagine the teeth are bared – the hackles grizzly and raised.
But Baxter I feel is undeterred.
He will go on being Baxter.
He will go on going on.

There is no cure for being free of mind and will.
Baxter, my friend, my alter ego.
Baxter – I love you.
Go on being, Baxter.

(Run amok – remain a dog with pluck.)

You bark at your side of the wall
and I will bark at mine. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

POEM CLUB #6: 'Brown Leather Gloves' by Oliver Comins

Oliver Comins
Last week we had a great response to Liz Berry's poem from The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood, so this week we're going to look at a poem from The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood, which we published in May. It's a fantastic collection of poems about becoming a father and the experience of fatherhood, but the major concern of the book turned out to be the poets' fathers. Many of the poems deal with generational differences and difficulties of communication, and the poem I've chosen for this week's Poem Club is one of the more positive ones: still heartbreaking, but in an uplifting way.

* * *

Brown Leather Gloves

These are my Father’s gloves
with which I am wrestling
as I walk down to the station
on another crisp morning
of frosted cars in a frozen suburb.

Who's holding whose hands now?
Inside the fingers there's
more of him than there is of me –
all those years of rubbed skin and sweat.

Leather gives a better grip,
doesn’t really overcome the cold.
But it’s better than nothing,
this thin layer of brown
which keeps the weather off.

On the platform
I remove one Father,
reach out to greet a friend.
My other Father holds me steady.

— by Oliver Comins, from The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood
* * *
Emma's thoughts. It was impossible for me not to reflect on the broad differences between the Motherhood anthology and the Fatherhood anthology, not least because lots of people asked me about it. The answer I usually gave was that the Motherhood book was full of raw and often disturbing emotions, while the Fatherhood book felt muted in comparison, with more poems about unspoken, unacknowledged feelings. 'Brown Leather Gloves' feels like a good example of this, because I find it deeply moving, but I also feel that the pain and love caused by the implicit distance and miscommunication are all buried beneath several layers of reservation and stiff upper lip.

Your thoughts. We had a great set of responses to this poem, and several people felt a strong connection to that last stanza in particular. The combination of deep emotion and those tactile details about the gloves seemed to resonate especially with Anonymous and JHumble, who shared their own memories of items of clothing. Phyllis Klein loved the relatable yearning of the poem, asking 'How often do we want a piece of clothing to keep the memory of a parent with us?' She added, 'Then there is the fact that leather gives a good grip but doesn't overcome the cold and how this line opens into a deeper part of the poet's relationship with his father. I can imagine the father gripping the son's hand without tenderness or emotional warmth.'

Joseph Coelho and Emily Tealady were both struck by the second line of the poem, drawing out the meaning. Joseph Coelho commented, 'I found the idea of 'wrestling' very interesting to me', explaining that 'it suggested the struggle we all have of those that have passed between the real person and the idealised (or not so) memory.' Emily Tealady had a similar thought but took it in a different direction: 'The initial lines make me think of images of boxing gloves and of wrestling – those disagreements and fallouts we have with our parents as we grow up.'

We had some quite lengthy comments this week, so I do recommend you scroll down a bit and read them in full, as they are fascinating. And now, I'm delighted to announce that the winner of this week's Poem Club is... Phyllis Klein! 

* * *
The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood
What do you think of 'Brown Leather Gloves'? Do you find it moving? Do you recognise this kind of relationship? What do you think the poem says about modern parenthood? This Poem Club is closed, but you can still share your thoughts in the comments section below. Don't be afraid of sounding stupid! Just let us know what you like about the poem or what it makes you feel. All comments will be held for moderation, so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately after you send it.

<-- POEM CLUB #5: 'The Steps' by Liz Berry'
--> POEM CLUB #7: 'Raspberries' by Andrew Wynn Owen

Friday, 18 July 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #12 (Nonexistent edition)

Couldn't manage it this week readers - today turned into a long celebration of my future sister-in-law's graduation, and I'm posting this with minutes to go before midnight! Some lovely publishing stuff for you next week, I promise.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

POEM CLUB #5: 'The Steps' by Liz Berry

Liz Berry
When Rachel and I were assembling The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood, we felt very strongly that we wanted it to capture aspects of motherhood which aren't often discussed or acknowledged in the mainstream media. While many of the poems in the book deal with the darker aspects of motherhood, the poem we're going to look at this week is slightly more positive.

'The Steps' is a beautiful poem by Liz Berry, whose first full collection, Black Country, is out with Chatto & Windus next month.

* * *

The Steps

And this is where it begins, love –
you and I, alone one last time in the slatey night,
the smell of you like Autumn, soil and bonfire,
that November the fourth feeling inside us.
There can be no truer wedding than this:
your bare hand in mine, my body winded
with pain, as you lead me to the car, to the
soon life. And we are frightened, so frightened –

Who will we be when come back?
Will we remember ourselves?
Will we still touch each other’s faces
in the darkness, the white noise of night
spilling over us, and believe there is nothing
we could not know or love?

* * *
Emma's thoughts. The line from this poem which has really stayed with me is 'There can be no truer wedding than this'. It was echoed in a conversation with a pregnant friend recently and it popped up again during my weekend at the Southbank Centre's Festival of Love, which is a celebration of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Both times I wondered what this line implies about the formal institution of marriage. It seems to say that having a child together is more meaningful than exchanging wedding vows, but I also read it as reclaiming the meaning and power of the word 'wedding' from all the formalities: if this tense, thrilling night is a true wedding, what else is also a wedding? What other shared, profound experiences could be considered weddings?

Your thoughts. We had some fantastic responses this week! Maggie recognised the fear and seismic changes described in the poem as similar to her friends' recent experience on having their first child, commenting 'I find Liz's lines moving and elegant. Her musing on the nature of love and the anticipation of what the future may bring ring so true.'

Sarah Parkinson also identified closely with the feeling described in the poem: 'That almost pleading question of 'who will we be?' grabs at my stomach even now, and we have been parents for ten years! And it's not just a question of the 'me' but, just as importantly, of the 'us', the we that produced the child – can we still have the relationship that we had before?'

Heather Walker drew out the darker implications of lines 2-4, which 'to me, speak of endings, the poem set as it is in autumn and in particular, November when things are slowing down and stop.' Like Maggie, she was struck by the way the poem captures the enormity of this new stage of life: 'Motherhood changes everything and there is indeed a death of a former life, that carefree, no responsibility life, which is why I love the line 'and we are frightened'. So, so true!'

And finally, Alison Brackenbury observed 'It catches an experience which I don't remember seeing in a poem before', which is something I had also felt might be true (do let me know if you can think of any others). Alison added: 'It doesn't skimp on the pain, but also brings that great rush you do feel at certain times of your life, which can be forgotten under a welter of bills and lost school socks.'

The winner of this week's 'Most thoughtful commenter' is... Sarah Parkinson!

* * *

The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood
What do you think of 'The Steps'? What do you like about it? Do you recognise the feelings described? Does anything about the poem surprise you? This week's Poem Club is now closed, but you can still share your responses to the poem in the comments section below. All comments will be held for moderation, so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately after you send it.

<-- POEM CLUB #4: '52 Card Pickup' by Abigail Parry
--> POEM CLUB #5: 'Brown Leather Gloves' by Oliver Comins

Friday, 11 July 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #11

Last week I broke the news of Kate Fox and Alfie Crow's forthcoming 'Grand Depart' novella, and in the days since then it has been both written and published - you can pick it up on Kindle here for just 99p. It comes highly recommended! Here are a couple of quotes from the authors about the experience of writing Tour de Force:
Alfie Crow: 'My mind is absolutely exploding after such an intensive week of writing, but I love the challenge of writing something that responds to such a big event. I’ve always been quite a quick writer anyway, but there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.'

Kate Fox: 'I originally trained as a radio journalist and really enjoy responding rapidly to things as they happen. Plotting a comic crime novel is still a very new thing for me and I quite often have no idea of where we’re going to end up, but somehow Alfie creates all these intricate plot twists. I enjoy being able to put things I’ve actually witnessed into a piece of writing people can enjoy straight away; and the Tour de France has been such an amazing success for Yorkshire it feels like we’re celebrating it, in our own strange way!'
And today I can announce some more news: they're planning a third novella in the 'Makin News' series (making it a comic-crime trilogy), to be released on the 1st October. Here's the blurb, with everything they've told me about it so far: 'Jess and Reverend Ray find themselves accidentally influencing the Scottish Independence vote when they discover some important relics during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.' The title is The Forth Estate. And you want even more news? We've agreed to produce a paperback edition of the entire trilogy in time for Christmas! Watch this space for more info.

The main bit of business today is Miles Salter's examination of who might win the 'Next Generation Poets 2014' award - but before that, some Twitter highlights from the week.

That's 2013 intern-extraordinaire Sarah Olley at the end there, receiving a special signed copy for her work on Love and Eskimo Snow. Not only did Sarah work on the book during her time in the VP office, she took it away with her and edited it for months afterwards, in her own time, sometimes while in the middle of university exams! She is going to get one seriously good reference.

So finally, here's what Miles has to say about the 'Next Generation Poets' search:

Who will make the Next Generation Poets list? (Yes, I know, the whole nation is obsessed with this issue. But it’s interesting to play Guess The List.) The aim of the list is to give a bit of profile to poets that  are going to dominate the scene over the next ten years or more. At the moment, new poetry is headed by a gang of very talented young women writers. Foremost among these is Helen Mort, who has had such a stunning last 18 months that she’s now almost part of the poetry landscape – Division Street was shortlisted for T.S Eliot Prize and the Costa Prize. Alongside Mort are several excellent women poets, including Emily Berry (winner, Forward Prize Best First Collection for Dear Boy, one of the most striking collections I have read in the last few years), Rhian Edwards (Clueless Dogs was published by Seren and won Wales Book Of The Year 2013) and Hanah Lowe, another exciting young writer (Lowe’s debut Chick was shortlisted for Forward first collection in 2013.)  It’s hard to see how any of these four will be omitted from the list. Other strong female writers include Emma Jones (Faber), Rebecca Goss (Goss’ collection Her Birth about the life and death of her baby daughter, won accolades and press attention and was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize), Abi Curtis (two collections with Salt), Tara Bergin (Carcanet) and Hannah Silva (Penned In The Margins). Other contenders include Helen Ivory and programmer, water dweller and enthusiast Jo Bell. Any of these could potentially make the list. Sadly missing will be the excellent Liz Berry, whose debut Black Country is about to hit the shops, but misses the list deadline by just a few months, which is a big shame, as she deserves the ‘Next Generation’ tag as much as anybody who is currently writing.

As for the lads (the female writers are so strong in poetry at the moment that the boys come in second place) – I suspect that Luke Wright will make the list, as he’s something of a force in British poetry, performing to thousands every year, selecting the poets for Latitude Festival and frequently rubbing shoulders with John Cooper Clarke. He’ll be joined, most likely, by fellow Penned In The Margins writer Ross Sutherland (author of the acclaimed Things To Do Before You Leave Town) Daljit Nagra (several collections with Faber and much loved by the poetry establishment), Nick Laird (several collections with Faber), the witty and wry Luke Kennard (Salt), Adam Riordan and Sam Riviere (whose 81 Austerities was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2011). Jacob Sam La Rose is another strong candidate. Given that Salt has said it’s giving up on poetry, will they even bother to submit? Hmmm…

Several poets will not make the list, simply because of the dates that bracket selection: 2004 to 2014. This means that the fantastic Clare Pollard (on the panel of judges), Jacob Polley and Antony Dunn won’t be on the list, as their debuts came before 2004, and neither will Andrew McMillan, whose debut is due from Cape in 2015. I’ve only named a few of the many terrific writers who are out there, but the good news is with so many great young writers all operating in the UK at present, it’s safe to say that the future of poetry is in good hands. We’ll find out the full list on 9th September 2014.
[ Miles Salter is a writer, musician and storyteller based in York. His second collection of poetry, Animals, is published by Valley Press. You can see Miles read one of his poems here. ]

Very good and thorough work there I thought - Helen Mort's publisher may as well open the champagne now, as far as I'm concerned. Readers should note that Miles later thought to add Jack Underwood, and I'm confident Lorraine Mariner will be there. Other than that, here's hoping it's full of VP poets! See you next week.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

POEM CLUB #4: '52 Card Pickup' by Abigail Parry

Abigail Parry
This week we're going to look at a poem from A Poetic Primer to Love and Seduction, a book of loosely instructional poems which are meant to offer advice both good and bad on the subject of romantic relationships. The book is arranged in halves, inspired by two works by the Roman poet Ovid: the Ars Amatoria ('The Art of Love') and the Remedia Amoris ('Cures for Love'). '52 Card Pickup' is from the latter half, which is less of a guide to falling out of love and shaking off your current partner (as in the Ovid) and more of a collection of poems about heartbreak and suggestions for recovery or - failing that - acceptance.

* * *

52 Card Pickup

nec te quicquam nisi ludere oportet

Start small. One half-open eye may survey thirty
square feet of bed for several hours. Note that not one
of the seven shining hells you built is half as hot
as this field of white linen. Know all your dreams
are now the same six confidence tricks, shuffled.

Trust nobody. Not the old goon at the instruments:
the nerves splutter imperatives, but all news
is duff gen, scrambled, haywire. Be resigned,
if not accustomed, to the rank flue that opens
between heart and mouth. Learn to bluff, and bluff.

Get superstitious. Develop a taste for patterns, pairs,
but know that you’re all out of luck. Here you are
sinking the black on a sure shot, snake-eyed, dropped
right in it with no getaway. You’ve got one bad hand
and you’ll play it. Sweet nothing, and you’ve stuck.

Tally up. Find the same spilt deck, the same face
turning up, whichever way you look at it. Bluff,
but fool no one. There he is again, the duff joist
that brings the whole lot down. This is the house.
This is you, in bed at noon. Weeks pile up, discarded.

— by Abigail Parry, from A Poetic Primer to Love and Seduction

* * *

Emma's thoughts. I love the nervy, disarmingly earnest tone of this poem. The litany of curt commands creates a paranoid atmosphere which becomes almost comforting, as it suggests the narrator understands the situation thoroughly and must have personal experience of it. The more extreme suggestions ('Trust nobody' 'Develop a taste for patterns, pairs') are balanced out by the observations which feel truthful and empathetic ('Be resigned / [...] to the rank flue that opens / between heart and mouth'), so the very end of the poem feels like a betrayal, with the narrator turning suddenly on the reader and stating coldly 'This is you, in bed at noon.' The fact that I'm often still in bed at noon (self-employed, baby!) irregardless, this clear-eyed assessment of the situation undercuts the sympathy earlier in the poem and is fabulously chilling.
A Poetic Primer for Love and Seduction

Your thoughts. We had a lovely note from Nellissima, who really enjoyed the poem, and, Emily Tealady commented: 'I love the image of the weeks piling up. I really get a sense of the emotion and almost the boredom of a break up; the bluffing, having to force yourself to get up.' I think she's spot-on about Abigail capturing the boredom of heartbreak. It's not something that tends to be discussed much in relation to heartbreak, or at least not in relation to the heartbroken person themselves - I'm sure we're all familiar with the idea that heartbroken people can be boring. As Emily Tealady explains, the process of survival and recovery can be just as tedious for the dumped: 'This poem reminds me of that utter uselessness and helplessness you feel after a break up; everything is such an effort and all the while you are calculating your 'hand'- what you have to give and putting on a facade.'

And the winner of the book this week is ... Emily Tealady!

* * *

What do you think of '52 Card Pickup'? Which is your favourite image? Do you think it's a good depiction of the aftermath of a break-up? Is this good advice? Do any stanzas in particular speak to you? What do you think of the card metaphor? Let me know in the comments section below. Don't be afraid of sounding stupid! Just let me know what you like about the poem or what it makes you feel. All comments will be held for moderation, so don't worry if it doesn't appear immediately after you send it.

<--- POEM CLUB #3: 'Trickster', by Joy Donnell
--> POEM CLUB #5: 'The Steps', by Liz Berry

Friday, 4 July 2014

Valley Press Friday Digest, #10

I shall jump straight into today's 'Friday Digest' with some exclusive breaking news:

  • Kate Fox and Alfie Crow, authors of last year's The Glasto Code, are working on a sequel set during the Yorkshire leg of this year's Tour de France, which Valley Press will be bringing to you in ebook form - for just 99p! - very soon. As with last year's Glastonbury effort, Fox & Crow (as we can possibly refer to them from now on) have written a rough outline of a mystery novel, and will fill in the gaps with actual events and observations from a real-life event, in this case 'Le Tour Yorkshire' (which is avoiding Scarborough for some reason). The new novel will be called Tour de Force, and the cover is below. Web pages coming soon.

  • Though the Tour cyclists are heading to York, they probably won't have time to check out the city's snickets, passageways, courts and yards - but we know a man who has, and if you too would like to, York Curiouser have produced a helpful map of all the places John wrote about in In Between, where the poems are currently on show as pieces of (temporary?) graffiti. Here it is:

  • There's been even more JWC-related excitement this week: the York poems have been made into a sort of immersive audiobook, which you can listen to here. Also, don't tell anyone (I haven't), but we found out yesterday that John's full-length collection Ghost Pot will be part of New Writing North's Read Regional campaign for 2015. That's two years in a row that Valley Press authors have been represented - quite a result!
  • We also found out this week what happens when you clear your Gmail inbox on your smartphone:  
  • Both me and Emma cut a great swathe through the jungle of our email inboxes this week; so congratulations to... us? After much discussion we decided there's no way around it: we won't ignore them, and we won't hire someone else to answer them, we just have to knuckle down and work through all our incoming correspondence - it's a crucial part of what makes EP and VP such friendly and accessible operations. As for the authors of the five messages I still need to reply to, at time of writing... stand by!
  • Congratulations also to all our friends who had their ACE grants renewed this week, especially our mutual sales agency Inpress, and the organisation behind Bridlington Poetry Festival (which I know I'm always going on about, but it really is good). Looking forward to the next three years working with you!
  • I seem to be in a congratulatory mood, so congrats also to Sarah Holt, whose Love and Eskimo Snow made this list of 'Top 10 Holiday Books' for this summer (between John Green and Joey Essex - what company!) Peculiarly for a book with 'snow' in the title, summer looks to be the big season for Sarah's novel - the front-of-store promotion in branches of WHSmith Travel starts next week, so look out for it if you go in one. Oh, and well done to Matthew Hedley Stoppard, who has a poem in the latest edition of Magma, and read at the launch this time last week.
  • Next week on this blog: Miles Salter is working on a list of who he thinks are the favourites to be named in the 'Next Generation Poets 2014' list (which I've mentioned previously), and I intend to post that in next week's round-up - should be very interesting. Last week I told you all about Helen Burke' forthcoming second collection, but I forgot to tell you how it got its title - it comes from the opening poem, which I will reprint below as a finishing flourish to this instalment of the blog. See you next week!

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

I noticed from an early age that the sun
asked permission to be on our street.
‘Is the sun allowed here?’ I once asked me dad.
And even though he knew it wasn’t,
he pulled his collar high and looked all round –
then put it in his pocket just for me.
Even though he knew to own this bright
this dangerous thing would bring me
perils, as well as joy. 
(Better to have a little sun than none at all.)

And we walked home, like two happy dogs
and the sky was duck-egg blue and the grass
was full of four-leaved clovers
and dad winked – and we laughed to think
he had the sun in his pocket.

‘Here’s looking at you, kid,’ dad said.
‘Here’s looking at you.’

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

POEM CLUB #3. 'Trickster', by Joy Donnell

The Southbank Centre has just launched its Festival of Love, a celebration of the Same Sex Couples Act which runs until the end of August. It opened this weekend with a joyous, jam-packed programme of talks, workshops and art installations all themed around seven of the Ancient Greek definitions of love: Philautia, Agape, Philia, Pragma, Ludus, Eros and Storge. The Emma Press was representing Eros (naturally) in the Royal Festival Hall and we had an marvellous time encouraging people to write love letters and to experience an intimate reading of 'mildly erotic' poetry in a private booth.

Joy Donnell (@doitinpublic)
It was a huge honour to be involved in such a thoughtful and robust celebration of love, and I really relished the opportunity to revisit The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse, the first Emma Press anthology. Standing amongst the other six kinds of love all weekend, it really struck me that Eros is quite unfairly over-represented in modern culture, at the expense of other forms of love which are more likely to lead to happiness. Erotic love is exciting and camera-friendly, but that doesn't make it more worth pursuing than Pragma (love which endures) or Philautia (self respect). I also think Eros is frequently misrepresented, which is why I decided to create the anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse in the first place: it was meant to reclaim the idea of eroticism as something more than just lust and sex.

The poem we're going to discuss this week in Poem Club is 'Trickster'  by the fabulous L.A. poet Joy Donnell, from The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse. I'll share a few of my feelings about the poem to get things moving and then I'll suggest some ways of approaching the poem. Do add your thoughts below in the comments section. [UPDATE: this week's Poem Club is now closed, but you can still add your comments below.]

* * *


Wolves either come or they don’t come.
She swears every rabbit or fox or crane
could fall prey by dawn
and where would that leave the laws of the universe?

Under such stars
my legs are open and chancy.
This intimacy is at best
so I confess to not know myself any more or less,


I suspect our breasts will become the storytellers;
all my damages get tricked into touch.
If between her thighs rests a border town too often

it tastes swollen and will surely riot, tonight.

* * *
Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse
Emma's thoughts: I chose this poem because I don't entirely understand it and I'd be very interested to hear what other people get from it. I said a similar thing about Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi's 'Lys' in the first Poem Club, causing a friend to wonder if people might raise an eyebrow at my publishing poems that I don't fully understand; I replied sharply that I didn't see why this should be a problem, since confusion doesn't necessarily preclude enjoyment and I always enjoy the poems I publish.

I imagine the poem taking place in some warm, moonlit woods, full of vivid scents and sounds which almost engulf and erase this human encounter. I like the sense of wildness and danger, which chimes with my feeling that sex isn't just a glossy, pink, Ann Summers kind of a deal. Sex can be hilarious and down-to-earth, but it can also be life-changing, earth-shattering and transformative. I think it's highly inadvisable for anyone to assume that they know all there is to know about sex, which is why I like the image of the 'border town' so much. It's completely unexpected but makes a weird kind of sense, reconfiguring what's 'between her thighs' as something unstable, politically significant and full of vibrancy and life.

Your thoughts: We had a couple of great responses this week to the dark, powerful sexuality portrayed in 'Trickster'. Emily Tealady saw in in this woodland vignette a study of human desire and the familiar transition from arousal to sex to orgasm. She said: 'I get a sense of [...] this heightened awareness which you get when you meet somebody and you feel that sexual connection, and also of climaxing itself.' I think this is a poem you have to feel in your gut, responding instinctively to the words and phrases, so it's fascinating to see how Emily's reading of the poem picks up on the subtle ramping-up of tension and the dizziness evoked by violent, extreme words like 'riot', 'prey' and 'damages'.

MonochromeThief homed in on the feminist slant of the poem, reading the threatening atmosphere as a commentary on society's understanding of the female experience of sex: 'The imagery of prey hints at the fear and violence of female desire and its threat to 'the laws of the universe' (which I read as the patriarchy).' MonochromeThief's response reminds me of some of the comments in our first Poem Club, about the defiant, powerful sexuality depicted in Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi's 'Lys', and I particularly like her interpretation of that arresting image in the penultimate stanza: 'Women are not all passive sexual objects and this poet creates imagery of power & strength: 'I suspect our breasts will become the storytellers' suggests the gaining momentum of the female voice.'

Thank you for both contributors to Poem Club, and thank you to everyone else who read and enjoyed Joy's poem. You can read both comments in full below, and the winner of this week's 'Most Thoughtful Commenter' prize is ... MonochromeThief!

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What do you think of 'Trickster'? Do you find it erotic? What do you think is happening in the poem? What sense do you get of the poet's idea of eroticism? Let me know in the comments section below or by email – poemclub [at] Don't be afraid of sounding stupid! Just let us know what you like about the poem or what it makes you feel. This week's Poem Club is now closed, but you can still add your comments below.