Blood Sugar

No one gave him a scallop-shell or scrip
of anything; he worked long years for this.
He’ll take his As, his hard-earned scholarship,
his knotted hankie full of prejudice,

and seek for truth among the pleasant groves
of academe (Epistles, Horace). Art
hangs in those trees like fruit; like geese in droves,
ideas fill those lanes. His gritstone heart

softens to each blithe spirit there chance-met,
each punting lutenist, each well-read youth,
each fortune-favoured lightfoot lad. And yet:
although all Oxford knows Beauty is Truth

and Truth is Beauty, Sheffield says ‘Not quite.’
Sheffield wonders with Brecht, of what is built
the palace of culture? Such a golden white,
honey on yoghurt, syrup on cream, gilt

tears not worth spilling on milk spilt long ago.
The temple of learning glows like toffee ice.
Or sugar. Raw cane sugar. When you know
t’truth about beauty, then you question t’price.

by Eleanor Brown

The Poetry Centre is delighted to say that one of our most recent ignitionpress pamphlets, Hinge by Alycia Pirmohamed, has been selected as the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for Summer 2020!  You can find out more about Alycia’s wonderful pamphlet on our website (scroll down) where you can also hear her read a poem. Although we’re currently unable to post out copies of the pamphlets because of the coronavirus restrictions, any orders made now will be fulfilled as soon as possible. 

‘Blood Sugar’ is copyright © Eleanor Brown, 2019. It is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Brown, White Ink Stains (Bloodaxe Books, 2019) Read more about the book here, where you can also read further sample poems.

Eleanor Brown’s first collection, Maiden Speech, published by Bloodaxe in 1996, included her much anthologised ‘girlfriend’s revenge’ poem ‘Bitcherel’ along with a widely praised sequence of fifty love and end-of-love sonnets written during her 20s. Her second collection, White Ink Stains, appearing three decades later, draws on the lives of women of all ages.

Taking her title from the idea that when a woman writes about her experience as a woman, ‘she writes in white ink’ (Hélène Cixous), Eleanor Brown wanted to inscribe, among other things, the unseen labour of endowing infants with their mother tongue, their birthright of speech and language skills – the babbling, cooing, phonic repetition, echolalia, chanting of nonsense-words, singing of lullabies, nursery rhymes, counting rhymes, clapping songs, and telling of bedtime stories that is often the invisible and unrecorded work of women with pre-school-age children.

A number of these poems were written in response to interviews made for the Reading Sheffield oral history project. Eleanor Brown spent over a year listening to recordings before starting to write these poems, some of which stay very faithful to the speaker’s own words, while others travel further into an imaginative or active, poetic listening; these are the poems she heard not in what was said, but in pauses, intonations, emphasis, whispers, asides, digressions and deflections. You cana read more about White Ink Stains here, where you can also read further sample poems. 

Eleanor Brown was born in 1969 and lived in Scotland until the age of 12. She studied English Literature at York. After graduating she worked variously as a waitress, barmaid, legal secretary, and minutes secretary, to be able to work also as a poet and translator of poetry. In 2001-02 she was Creative Writing Fellow at the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. She now lives, works, writes, sings (alto) and dances (Argentine tango) in Sheffield.

Her debut collection, Maiden Speech, published by Bloodaxe in 1996, was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. She was one of the five poets featured in Bloodaxe’s 1997 New Blood promotion. Her second collection, White Ink Stains, is published by Bloodaxe in October 2019. She has also written works for theatre and led workshops about translating Baudelaire and Gautier in the context of musical settings by Vierne and Berlioz to produce singable versions of the texts. You can read more about Eleanor’s work on her website, find her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram.

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.