Clouds of Doubt

Mother’s mouth was a story-telling flower,
painted in her favourite bougainvillea
lipstick, conjuring clouds of doubt
about where she was born.

Sometimes she’d say it was Cuernavaca,
‘the city of eternal spring’,
on the slopes of her beloved volcanoes
and the Chichinatzin mountains,

where dad would stop to buy her orchids.
Other times, she’d say we came from Mixtecs.
But she looked down on ‘indios’ and ‘prietos’,
only pointing out her skin colour

to boast how she turned chocolate in the sun.
While she resented my questions,
what else could I do? As a child,
I felt the weight she carried,

how she seemed trapped in her game
of concealing and revealing,
then sighs, quick laughter, silence.
My ancestors lie like budbursts in these tales.

by Marina Sánchez

Notes on the poem: Indios: native Indians from one of the many indigenous tribes in Mexico; Prietos: slang for someone who has dark skin.

News from the Poetry Centre: our latest podcast is now available! Tune in to hear Scottish Gaelic poet Niall O’Gallagher read and discuss three poems – in Gaelic & English – and talk about issues of translation, traditional forms, and the Gaelic community in Glasgow/Ghlaschu. You can find the podcast on our website and also on the usual podcast providers – just search for ‘Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre Podcast’ – and do let us know what you think! We’re on social media @brookespoetry and you can e-mail us via the website.

This week’s poem is taken from Marina Sánchez’s new pamphlet Mexica Mix, and you can sign up for the launch of the pamphlet tomorrow, 31 March, when Marina will be reading alongside three other poets who also have new pamphlets out with Verve: Hannah Hodgson, Jamie Hale, and Natalie Whittaker. We have shared poetry by Jamie and Natalie over the past few weeks and we’ll be featuring a poem by Hannah next week. Verve is offering a special bundle of all four of its recent pamphlets at a reduced price, and you can find out more about that offer on the Verve site,

‘Clouds of Doubt’ is copyright © Marina Sánchez, 2021. It is reprinted from Mexica Mix (Verve Poetry Press, 2021) by permission of Verve Poetry Press. You can read more about the pamphlet and order a copy on the Verve website.

Notes from Verve Poetry Press:

In her new pamphlet, Mexica Mix, Marina Sánchez, one of the most distinctive poets from the UK’s Latinx community, explores her experiences of living in Mexico, Spain and the UK. Through the arc of Family, Icons and Earth, she writes a profound, rich and well-crafted sequence of poems grappling with displacement, bilingual identity and mixed heritage, challenging cultural icons and affirming her relationship with the planet, rooted in her Indigenous Mexican ancestry. By turns lyrical, urgent, sensual and subversive, her powerful use of vivid imagery and language both voice the personal and engage the collective. You can learn more about the pamphlet on the Verve website.

Marina Sánchez is a Latinx mix of Indigenous Mexican/Spanish/British living in London. She is an award-winning poet and translator, widely published in literary journals. Her poems have been placed in many national and international competitions and then anthologised. Her debut pamphlet Dragon Child (Acumen, 2014), was Book of the Month in the poetry kit website and was featured in the British Library’s The Hidden Surprises of Poetry Pamphlets Event (2019). Some of her poems are included in Un Nuevo Sol (Flipped Eye, 2019), the first UK Latinx anthology. To find out more about Marina’s work, visit her poetry p f pages.

Verve Poetry Press is a Birmingham-based publisher dedicated to promoting and showcasing Birmingham and Midlands poetic talent in colourful and exciting ways – as you would expect from a press that has grown out of the giddy and flamboyant, annual four days of poetry and spoken word that is Verve Poetry Festival, Birmingham. Added to this is a colourful and prize-winning pamphlet series featuring poets who have previously performed at our sister festival and a debut performance poetry series, which has seen us working with the brightest rising stars on the UK spoken word scene. We also assert our right to publish any poetry we feel needs and deserves to find print wherever we find it. Verve was awarded the Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher in 2019 and the Michael Marks Publisher’s Award 2019. Find out more about Verve Poetry Press on the publisher’s website and follow the press on Twitter and  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.

Time and space


Roadside bombs under a sectioned sky,
the earth is the same, it is only borders, limits
that are perceptibly or imperceptibly changed.

That face that looks at me from the mirror’s surface
is changing year after year beyond recognition and is
recognised none the less.

I cannot wake up and see
myself as a child, only
where I find myself at this moment.

The language we speak is not quite
the same as before,
sound and meaning have shifted,

like a restless ocean,
like the architecture of clouds
in continuous transformation.

Time, it is called, but I sense space.
That the past exists osmotically here,
that all are present, the living and the dead.

Life is a continuous state of emergency,
nothing comes back, everything
comes back different.

Behind my eyes are souls from before,
just as present as you and I
forever here and now.
by Pia Tafdrup

Translated by David McDuff

‘Time and space’ is © Pia Tafdrup, 2021 and is translated by David McDuff. It is reprinted with permission fromThe Taste of Steel and The Smell of Snow (Bloodaxe Books, 2021). Find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site, where you can read further sample poems. You can also watch the excellent recent launch (a joint event with Maria Stepanova and Sasha Dugdale) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Pia Tafdrup is one of Denmark’s leading poets. She has published over 20 books in Danish since her first collection appeared in 1981, and her work has been translated into many languages. She received the 1999 Nordic Council Literature Prize – Scandinavia’s most prestigious literary award – for Queen’s Gate, which was published in David McDuff’s English translation by Bloodaxe in 2001. Also in 2001, she was appointed a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog, and in 2006 she received the Nordic Prize from the Swedish Academy. Find out more about Pia’s work on her website.

The Taste of Steel and The Smell of Snow are the first two collections in Pia Tafdrup’s new series of books focussing on the human senses. While taste and smell dominate, the poems are equally about the way of the world and the losses that people sustain during the course of their lives – the disappearance of friends and family members, but also the erosion of control of one’s own existence. The themes of ecology, war and conflict are never far away, and there is a constant recognition of the circular nature of life, the interplay of the generations.

You can find out more about the book on the Bloodaxe website and watch the recent launch (a joint event with Maria Stepanova and Sasha Dugdale) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Pia Tafdrup’s previous series of themed collections was The Salamander Quartet (2002–2012). Written over ten years, its first two parts were The Whales in Paris and Tarkovsky’s Horses, translated by David McDuff and published by Bloodaxe in 2010 asTarkovsky’s Horses and other poems. This was followed in 2015 by Salamander Sun and other poems, McDuff’s translation of The Migrant Bird’s Compass and Salamander Sun, the third and fourth parts of the quartet.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978 and has revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, our authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. And books like the Staying Alive series have broken new ground by opening up contemporary poetry to many thousands of new readers. Find out more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s website and follow the press on FacebookTwitter, and 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.

viii

the war had ended and we, the survivors
all rotten-toed and trench-tired went home safe
to the Kansas base and we had survived the war
survived the sinking mud and shells and 

just when we thought the war had ended safe
and heading back home from Kansas sick, a cough
of relief we said we spread across the states
to the arms of our families coughing a bit 

but just a bit we said and not that bad and then
we were dying they were dying dying and nobody
knew the flu had dogged our footsteps home
all those hungry ghosts still out there entrenched 

and they say that we were the victors in coffins
and urns they say that we were the victors

by Jamie Hale

This week’s poem is taken from Jamie Hale’s new pamphlet Shield, and you can sign up for the launch of the pamphlet on 31 March, when Jamie will be reading alongside three other Verve poets who also have new pamphlets out with Verve: Hannah Hodgson, Marina Sánchez, and Natalie Whittaker, whose work we shared last week. We’ll be featuring work by Hannah and Marina as upcoming Weekly Poems.

‘viii’ is copyright © Jamie Hale, 2021. It is reprinted from Shield (Verve Poetry Press, 2021) by permission of Verve Poetry Press. You can read more about the pamphlet and order a copy on the Verve website.

Notes from Verve Poetry Press: 

As the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Jamie was told by their GP that, due to their underlying health condition, they would not be a priority for critical care treatment.

Using the compressed form of a sonnet, Jamie wrote and re-wrote the experience of facing their own mortality, sometimes in their own voice, sometimes from the perspectives of others – a nurse working during the pandemic or the first carriers of the Spanish Flu – capturing the crisis from all angles. This work became a pamphlet, Shield, 21 sonnets following Jamie through the grief of facing death while newly married, and into a place of resilience, resistance, and a commitment to creation against mortality.

Jamie Hale is an artist, curator, poet, writer, playwright, actor, and director. They create poetry, comedy, scriptwriting, and drama for page, stage, and screen. They have performed their work at the Barbican, Invisible Fest, Tate Modern, the Southbank Centre and with Graeae, and have written for publications including the Guardian and Magma. Their pandemic poetry pamphlet, Shield, was published in January 2021. They are also an expert in disability and health and social care policy: They are CEO of Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance, chair of Lewisham Disabled People’s Commission, and are studying for a Master’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Health at UCL.

Find out more about Jamie’s work on their website or follow them on Twitter.

Verve Poetry Press is a Birmingham-based publisher dedicated to promoting and showcasing Birmingham and Midlands poetic talent in colourful and exciting ways – as you would expect from a press that has grown out of the giddy and flamboyant, annual four days of poetry and spoken word that is Verve Poetry Festival, Birmingham. Added to this is a colourful and prize-winning pamphlet series featuring poets who have previously performed at our sister festival and a debut performance poetry series, which has seen us working with the brightest rising stars on the UK spoken word scene. We also assert our right to publish any poetry we feel needs and deserves to find print wherever we find it. Verve was awarded the Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher in 2019 and the Michael Marks Publisher’s Award 2019. Find out more about Verve Poetry Press on the publisher’s website and follow the press on Twitter and  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.

tree

on the path to the station
there’s a tree      that marks the seasons
look baby       blossom
look baby       leaves
look baby       autumn
next year I’ll show you autumn    and it will be so beautiful
the world is      so beautiful
I will show you
 

one day I wake up      and it’s November
bare branches are faulty umbilical cords
failing to implant the sky 

tree

medical students perch around the room
drawn to our rare        and bitter fruit

the consultant sketches     winter branches
in biro blue        to explain what connects

me to you      what’s not getting through


by Natalie Whittaker

This week we are very pleased to share two poems by Natalie Whittaker from her second pamphlet, Tree, which is being published by Verve Poetry Press on 15 March. These two pieces appear at either end of Natalie’s new pamphlet. As some readers will know, we published Natalie’s first pamphlet, Shadow Dogs, in 2018 through our ignitionpress, and it’s great to see Natalie continuing her publication success with this latest, very moving and powerful collection.

Do sign up for the launch of Tree on 31 March, when Natalie will be reading alongside three other Verve poets who also have new pamphlets out with Verve: Hannah Hodgson, Marina Sánchez, and Jamie Hale. We’ll be featuring work by Hannah, Marina and Jamie as upcoming Weekly Poems.

‘Tree’ and ‘Tree’ are copyright © Natalie Whittaker, 2021. They are reprinted from Tree (Verve Poetry Press, 2021) by permission of Verve Poetry Press. You can read more about the pamphlet and pre-order a copy on the Verve website.

Notes from Verve Poetry Press:

In Tree, Natalie Whittaker is writing about her personal experience of stillbirth and the mental illness that can follow such a traumatic event. It is a subject that is still rarely addressed in poetry, writing or conversation. That she is able to do so here, in eighteen intricate, carefully crafted poems, in a way that is engaging, communicative, distressing and yet also beautiful, is a testament to her abilities as a poet, her strong grasp on the power of language and the power of her imagination.

With these powers, she brings a harrowing subject close up and enables the reader to truly feel, to see, to understand, to share. It is a brave and necessary work, wonderfully and heartbreakingly realised. Read more about the pamphlet on the Verve Poetry Press website.

Natalie Whittaker is a poet and secondary school teacher from South East London. Her debut pamphlet Shadow Dogs was published by ignitionpress in 2018. Natalie is one of the London Library’s emerging writers for 2020 / 2021. Her poems have been widely published in UK magazines and anthologies; she was commended in the Verve poetry competition 2020, and won second place in the Kent and Sussex poetry competition 2020. You can follow Natalie on Twitter and Instagram.

Verve Poetry Press is a Birmingham-based publisher dedicated to promoting and showcasing Birmingham and Midlands poetic talent in colourful and exciting ways – as you would expect from a press that has grown out of the giddy and flamboyant, annual four days of poetry and spoken word that is Verve Poetry Festival, Birmingham. Added to this is a colourful pamphlet series featuring poets who have previously performed at our sister festival – Natalie’s pamphlet is the latest addition to this prize-winning series – and a debut performance poetry series, which had seen us working with the brightest rising stars on the UK spoken word scene. We also assert our right to publish any poetry we feel needs and deserves to find print wherever we find it. Verve was awarded the Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher in 2019 and the Michael Marks Publisher’s Award 2019. Find out more about Verve Poetry Press on  the publisher’s website and follow the press on Twitter and 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.

COMPLAINING

After Terrance Hayes
                       

If it wasn’t for your constant moaning,

I may have taken you seriously. You ask me if oiling

engines would have been more worthwhile. There is still so long

for you to go, and you’re stuck trying to be honest and plain

in your work, wondering if your lamp

is worth the match that failed to light it, mapping

your way through your mental list of excuses. Your peers are icons

not because they are valuable and you are a failing coin,

but because they are good at carrying on. Yet here you are, nailing

yourself to a spaghetti stick cross, impaling

your loins with a toothpick. Child, behave. Stop pretending your task is the mouth of a lion.
                                                           

by Gabriel Àkámọ́

News from the Poetry Centre: one of our recent ignitionpress pamphlets, Ripe by Isabelle Baafi, was selected as the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2021! You can read more about the pamphlet, hear Isabelle talk about it, and buy a copy on our websiteRipe was launched alongside two other pamphlets: Lung Iron by Daniel Fraser and Kostya Tsolakis’s Ephebos – they are also both available from our site.

‘COMPLAINING’ is copyright © Gabriel Àkámọ́, 2020 and is reprinted here from At the Speed of Dark (Bad Betty Press, 2020) by permission of Bad Betty Press. You can read more about the pamphlet and buy a copy on the Bad Betty website.

Notes from Bad Betty Press:

In At the Speed of Dark, Gabriel Àkámọ́ pits the mind’s chiaroscuro against the many shades of grey that make up our reality. These questioning poems hold empiricism and faith, gravity and progress in the balance. Formally expansive, they play on the equivocation of white space, its ‘faux-quirky false irony’. Like an epiphany lost on waking, they entreat us to slow down, ‘reclaiming time, clawing back at the clearness of sky.’ Read more about the pamphlet and buy a copy on the Bad Betty website.

Gabriel Àkámọ́ is a Nigerian-British poet, actor, facilitator, and creative producer. He has worked with organisations including Rich Mix, Roundhouse and WIRED Next Generation, been commissioned by institutions such as the Southbank Centre, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Academy of Arts, and been a speaker at Gresham College. Festival performances include Lovebox and Bestival, and Festival Kometa in Riga, Latvia. He is a proud Barbican Young Poet alumnus, National Youth Theatre alumnus, and a former Roundhouse Resident Artist (2016-17) with Spit the Atom Poetry Collective. You can read more about Gabriel’s work on his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Bad Betty Press is an independent publisher of new poetry, founded in 2017 by Amy Acre and Jake Wild Hall. We love writing that is bad (in the Foxy Brown sense) and beautiful (‘a Betty’ in 90s slang). We love the strange, raw and risk-taking. We believe strongly in art’s capacity to challenge its own definition, to curve away from the norm, making space for more and varied voices. Find out more about our books on  our website and follow Bad Betty on FacebookTwitter and 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.