from At Maldon

Byrhtnoth, using spear as walking-stick,
clutches at its steady upright line,
shrinks his tired weight to its wood
as the fight grinds on about him.

His ooze of pain becomes his sped-up life:
the pure white of his beard to pull at his cheeks;
the curl of his fingernails clawing to his palms.

Selective hearing dulls the battle’s din:
the muffled talk heard through a rubber mask;
the upstair tenant’s stomps upon the floor.

In the midst of which comes sharp the ring
of the river flowing clear over stones;
the heavy distant tolling of a church;
his own tintinnabulate whistle above the wind.

Still clinging to his staff as his sight closes in.
A creep of bright-rimmed blackness.
A misted tunnel-mouth.

Till nothing but nothing surrounds him,
an empty sphere neither lighted nor dark,
with him at its centre, a seed
still alive, still himself — unresponsive;
a mind re-learning how its body moves.

Till he senses his circle of calm has been breached,
feels for his sword-hilt;
            once veined in gold
            now black and cold.
The last drop of strength to close his fingers,
to draw the blade an inch,
to give air to its etchings —
                           before a blow to his arm
breaks the bone, and the sword
snicks back in its scabbard,
as his strength is snuffed out,
by J. O. Morgan

This is the final Weekly Poem before the Christmas and New Year break. Many thanks to all our publishers for contributing such a terrific selection of poems in 2013, and thank you to our readers for supporting them and us. Have a very happy Christmas and excellent start to 2014!

from At Maldon’ is copyright © J. O. Morgan, 2013, and is reprinted from At Maldon (CB editions, 2013) by permission of CB editions.

J. O. Morgan lives in Scotland. His first book, Natural Mechanical (featured in a previous Weekly Poem), won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize; its sequel, Long Cuts, was shortlisted for a Scottish Book Award. At Maldon is a re-imagining of the Old English poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’, recounting the engagement between a ragtag army of Anglo-Saxons and a party of Viking raiders on the coast of Essex in 991. It was chosen by Andrew Motion as one of his ‘books of the year’ in the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can read more about the book and see further selections from it at the CB editions website.

CB editions, founded in 2007, publishes poetry alongside short fiction and other writing, including work in translation. Its poetry titles have won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize three times (in 2009, 2011 and 2013), and have been shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and the Forward First Collection Prize. In 2011 CBe inaugurated Free Verse, a one-day book fair for poetry publishers to show their work and sell direct to the public; the event was repeated in 2012 and 2013, with over 50 publishers taking part, and has become an annual event. Find out more about the publisher from the website, where you can also sign up to the CB editions mailing list, or ‘like’ the publisher on Facebook to keep up-to-date with its activities.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers. 

Epitaph upon the value of heirlooms

I do not believe in historical darkness
or I do but not weaving itself like lasting hurt
through darkness in the bathroom to find its liberating root in my
impressionable mind or what my grandma did
and felt, hurt drank or any of that I drink
not for an escape into darkness or the genes I parade
they don’t care about me and the feeling’s mutual. Yes it’s clear
that darkest things have happened before. In the room
yesterday after work I got
home and laid
myself among the beanbag. My fall brought up
a cloud of dust I lay watching the sun
and the dust in the light
particles in their own lights until in depthless looking
looked the same as stars or cosmic rays
(whose origins are unknown) and the pleasure
of a poem and the pleasure of looking into space
paralyzed for a long time with a gaggling tongue.
I decide this morning or hear myself thinking
I do not believe in historical darkness. Or I hear
between the bathroom and the past a sinking
option of inevitability but it’s optional.

Then back in bed I want
a history of darkness
to make an us inevitable
bursting light through and inaction
and when I think I miss you it’s like family.
Acid of wanting always and how
much harder it is now.
Than when I wanted feelings, now
that when I want it’s all. Or that
I used to want it all now
only some of it is possible. 

by Marianne Morris

The latest Poetry Centre podcast, a special recording made of a reading given by the Forward Prize and Costa Book Award-winner Jo Shapcott, is now available to hear. Visit the podcasts page for more details. 

‘Epitaph upon the value of heirlooms’ is copyright © Marianne Morris, 2013, and reprinted from her book The On All Things Said Moratoriumpublished by Enitharmon Books in 2013.

Notes from Enitharmon:

Marianne Morris studied English at Cambridge to MA level and went on to complete her PhD, concerning the intersection of poetry and politics, at the University of Falmouth. She publishes poetry pamphlets through Bad Press, and has been gaining recognition for her own work for ten years. She lives between London and California. You can read more about her work from her blog.

Marianne Morris has been writing, performing and publishing poetry for over ten years. The On All Said Things Moratorium is her first collection. Morris writes about the collection thus: ‘As the documentation of culture, as the source material of history, and as a medium of resistance, we know that words have the power to shape us. The way that we speak to people shapes the way that they treat us, the way that we speak about ourselves creates certain permissions and impossibilities in our own lives. Therefore, the specific, intentioned, and pointed use of language may also constitute an attempt to change certain ideas – political or otherwise – that depend on language for their perpetuation.’ -M.M.

‘William Blake dreamed up the original Enitharmon as one of his inspiriting, good, female daemons, and his own spirit as a poet-­‐artist, printer-­‐publisher still lives in the press which bears the name of his creation. Enitharmon is a rare and wonderful phenomenon, a press where books are shaped into artefacts of lovely handiwork as well as communicators of words and worlds. The writers and the artists published here over the last forty-­‐five years represent a truly historic gathering of individuals with an original vision and an original voice, but the energy is not retrospective: it is growing and new ideas enrich the list year by year. Like an ecologist who manages to restock the meadows with a nearly vanished species of wild flower or brings a rare pair of birds back to found a colony,this publisher has dedicatedly and brilliantly made a success of that sharply endangered species, the independent press.’ (Marina Warner.) You can sign up to the publisher’s mailing list on the Enitharmon site to receive a newsletter with special offers, details of readings & events and new titles and Enitharmon’s Poem of the Month.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.


I made a pillow out of iron, a pair of shoes,
I made a tutu, my mother’s hat,
iron lashes for my eyes, iron fingernails,
I made myself a bridle and a belt.
I made a baby out of iron, I hammered out
a tree in bud, a nest of yellow beaks.
I smelted, riveted, cast my hands
into bellows. I blew a cumulus of sparks –
they found the corners of a room,
a hidden silhouette, they settled 
on a dusty charcoal bed
and from the shadows made a forge.

by Jackie Wills

‘Blacksmith’ by Jackie Wills is copyright © Jackie Wills, 2013. It is reprinted by permission of Arc Publications from Woman’s Head as Jug  (Arc Publications, 2013).

Notes from Arc Publications:

Jackie Wills has published three collections of poetry with Arc Publications, and one with Leviathan. Powder Tower was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and Wills was shortlisted for the 1995 T.S. Eliot prize. In 2004, Mslexia magazine named her one of the 10 new woman poets of the decade. Born in Wiltshire, Wills now lives in Brighton. She was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the universities of Surrey and Sussex between 2009 and 2012.

Woman’s Head as Jug is about women’s experiences of work, the city, menopause and ancestry. The poems have a touch as deft as the seamstresses and other craftspeople who populate the book. They are funny, political and lyrical. Read more about the collection at Arc’s site or from Jackie Wills’ own blog.

Since it was founded in 1969, Arc Publications has adhered to its fundamental principles – to introduce the best of new talent to a UK readership, including voices from overseas that would otherwise remain unheard in this country, and to remain at the cutting edge of contemporary poetry. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. As well as its page on Facebook, you can find Arc on Twitter. Visit Arc’s website to join the publisher’s mailing list, and to find full details of all publications and writers. Arc offers a 10% discount on all books purchased from the website (except Collectors’ Corner titles). Postage and packing is free within the UK.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

The Madwoman’s Roof

It’s midnight, and a worker returning
from the second shift at the cannery
tests what strength he has left

by throwing stones against the tiles
of the madwoman’s roof.

‘Damn you all, you sons of bitches!’
she curses from inside.

She is history, unable to cast blame on anyone.
She is the skeleton key, the collective curse
on a night that reeks of sardines and enzymes.

by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi

This is the final poem taken from the shortlist for The Corneliu M Popescu Prize that we are featuring. The Prize, run by the Poetry Society, was formerly called the European PoetryTranslation Prize. The first winner of the Prize, in 1983, was Tony Harrison for The Oresteia. The prize was relaunched in 2003, and renamed in honour of the Romanian translator Corneliu M Popescu, who died in an earthquake in 1977 at the age of 19. The Popescu Prize 2013 has a shortlist of seven books, and the winner this year was Alice Oswald for Memorial, her ‘excavation’ of Homer’s Iliad. You can watch a video of Oswald reading from her book on thePoetry Society site.

This week’s poem comes from Haywire: New & Selected Poems, and is copyright © Luljeta Lleshanaku, 2011. The translation is © Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi, 2011. It is reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books from Haywire: New & Selected Poems by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Henry Israeli, Luljeta Lleshanaku and Shpresa Qatipi.

The judges of the Popescu Prize, Karen Leeder and David Wheatley, comment: ‘I could have been born in another place /within another idiom’, writes Lujeta Lleshanaku, in lines that acquire a prophetic edge in these fine translations, like some latter-day Double Vie de Véronique, holding Eastern and Western Europe in delicate balance.

Luljeta Lleshanaku  was born in Elbasan, Albania in 1968. Under Enver Hoxha’s Stalinist dictatorship, she grew up under house arrest. Lleshanaku was not permitted to attend college or publish her poetry until the weakening and eventual collapse of the regime in the early 1990s. She later studied Albanian philology at the University of Tirana, and has worked as a schoolteacher, literary magazine editor and journalist. She won the prestigious International Kristal Vilenica Prize in 2009, and has had a teaching post at the University of Iowa and a fellowship from the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She has given readings in America, Europe and in Ireland at the Poetry Now Festival in Dún Laoghaire in 2010, and you can watch a film of her reading in Ireland on the Bloodaxe site.

Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) is her first British publication, and draws on two editions published in the US by New Directions, Fresco: Selected Poems (2002) and Child of Nature  (2010), as well as a selection of newer work. As well as being shortlisted for the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for poetry translated from a European language into English, it is also a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation.

Henry Israeli is a poet, translator, and founder and editor of the poetry press Saturnalia Books. He studied at McGill University and the University of Iowa, and is now assistant teaching professor, and associate director, certificate in writing and publishing, at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is the lead translator of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Haywire: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation shortlisted for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for Poetry Translated from a European Language into English. He was also the lead translator as well as the editor of her two US editions, Fresco: Selected Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku (New Directions, 2002) and Child of Nature (New Directions, 2010). His own books include New Messiahs(Four Ways Books, 2002) and Praying to the Black Cat (De Sol Press, 2010). He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Canada Council on the Arts, amongst others.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Popescu to the Nobel Prize (the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011, Tomas Tranströmer, was the sixth Nobel Laureate to be published in the UK by Bloodaxe).  Alongside a substantial list of books in translation, Bloodaxe publishes both new and established poets from Britain and Ireland, as well as manypoets from the US and other countries.  Since 2000, Bloodaxe has been based in Northumberland, with its finance and sales office in Bala, North Wales. You can learn more about the press from its website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.