Post-fire Forest

Shadows of shadows without canopy,
phalanxes of carbonized trunks and
snags, their inner momentum shorted-out.
They surround us in early morning
like plutonic pillars, like mute clairvoyants
leading a Sursum Corda, like the excrescence
of some long slaughter. All that moves
is mist lifting, too indistinct to be called
ghostly, from scorched filamental
layers of rain-moistened earth. What
remains of the forest takes place
in the exclamatory mode. Cindered
utterances in a tongue from which
everything trivial has been volatilized,
everything trivial to fire. In a notch,
between near hills stubbled
with black paroxysm, we spot
a familiar sun, liquid glass globed
at the blowpipe’s tip. If this landscape
is dreaming, it must dream itself awake.

You have, everyone notes, a rare talent
for happiness. I wonder how
to value that, walking through wreckage.
On the second day, a black-backed
woodpecker answers your call, but we
search until twilight without finding it.

by Forrest Gander

Two brief notices: we recently launched our international poetry competition, which is judged this year by Caroline Bird. And we’re looking forward to an upcoming poetry event in Oxford with John Hegley and a ‘heartbreak poetry slam’ – join us by getting your tickets from the Old Fire Station website. You can find out more about our work in our latest newsletter or on social media – we’re @brookespoetry.

‘Post-fire Forest’ is copyright © Forrest Gander, 2022, and is reprinted here from Your Nearness (Arc Publications, 2022) by permission of Arc. It was first published in The New Yorker in April 2021, where you can also hear Forrest Gander read it. You can read more about the book on the Arc website.

Notes from Arc Publications:

Forrest Gander’s book Your Nearness explores the relationship between the natural and the human worlds, focussed especially on the state of California, where he lives. As the poet John Burnside has written, ‘Forrest Gander knows that the poet’s first duty is “to see what’s there and not already patterned by familiarity” – and in Your Nearness he brings to that task a combination of vision, generosity of spirit and humility in the face of wonder that singles him out as one of the finest, and most vigilant, poets working in English today.’

You can read more about the book on the Arc website, where you can also buy a copy.

Forrest Gander, a writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert, grew up in Virginia, and taught at Harvard University before becoming the AK Seaver Professor at Brown University.

His work has long been associated with environmental concerns. Among Gander’s most recent books are Be With, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, the novel The Trace, and Core Samples from the World. Gander’s translations include Alice Iris Red Horse: Poems by Gozo Yoshimasu and Then Come Back: the Lost Poems of Pablo Neruda.

He has a history of collaborating with artists such as Ann Hamilton, Sally Mann, Graciela Iturbide and Vic Chesnutt. Recipient of grants from the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim, Howard, Whiting and United States Artists foundations, Gander lives in northern California.

You can find out more about Forrest Gander’s work on his website.

Founded in 1969, Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English, and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. To learn more about Arc and to see its range of titles, visit the publisher’s website. You can also find Arc 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.


After Lili Elbe

In the history of medical arts I do not exist.
The archive is destroyed.

A simple white frame illuminates my skin.

Hands clasped, neck and jaw one continual line,
painted bow mouth and my eye drawn                

to the muscles in my face, the cut of this shirt,
the false unevenness of these breasts.

This landscape is a brute.

It is not with my brain, not with my eyes,
not my hands that I want to create

but with my heart and with my blood.
Lay your body over mine like a stencil,

know that nothing stranger will ever happen,
that nothing stranger could.

by Nicola Bray                                

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Poetry Centre’s work, including our international poetry competition, judged this year by Caroline Bird, and news of two new ignitionpress pamphlets launching next month, please sign up to receive our newsletter. You can read the latest newsletter on this page, and follow us on social media – we’re @brookespoetry.

‘Landscape’ is copyright © Nicola Bray, 2021, and is reprinted here from Boi (Bad Betty Press, 2021) by permission of Bad Betty Press. You can read more about the pamphlet on the press website.

Notes from Bad Betty Press:

In Boi, Nicola Bray recasts gender as poetry, as a grounding, as blurred ink, slippery and fishlike. This speaker reminds us that selfhood is not a mast to which we are tied, but the waves we traverse, still or stormy, pulling us under, lifting us up. The journey here speaks to predecessors, to an ancient story with no archive. Bray’s linguistic and narrative art is both precise and instinctive: we feel our way through it, knowing by touch rather than sight, that we have been here before.

Find out more about the pamphlet and buy a copy on the Bad Betty website.

Nicola Bray lives in London where she graduated from Royal Holloway’s Creative Writing MA. Her poems were highly commended in the 2015 Faber New Poets scheme and in 2017 she was selected for the inaugural Poetry London mentoring scheme. Boi (Bad Betty Press) is her debut pamphlet.

Bad Betty Press is an independent publisher of new poetry, born in 2017 and run by Amy Acre and Jake Wild Hall. Our authors include Gboyega Odubanjo, Anja Konig, Charlotte Geater, Susannah Dickey, Tanatsei Gambura, Matthew Haigh, Kirsten Luckins and Tom Bland. Our books include PBS Pamphlet Choices, Poetry School Books of the Year, a Telegraph Poetry Book of the Month, Laurel Prize longlistees and BAMB Readers Award shortlistees. We’ve been thrice shortlisted for the Michael Marks Publishers’ Award, named The Book Hive’s Indie Publisher of the Month, and described by The Big Issue as ‘the epitome of bold independence’.

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.

from Girls, Singing

A train runs right across Russia
Along a mighty river’s bank
In third class they go barefoot
The stewards are drunk

In crusts of sweetly familiar grease
Chicken legs dance
Held upright in fists, like the trees
Shivering past

Through teeming carriages I go,
As a soul in paradise’s throng,
Wrapped in an army blanket
Singing my wild song

It’s a far riskier business
Than the conductor will allow
Because any right song
Always rises to a howl

In the purest voice, while women sigh,
To a whispered stream of obscenity,
I sing of poppies on the trackside
I sing of war’s pity

Piercing the carriage’s fug,
My voice, sharp like an awl
I made them miserable
They beat me in the vestibule

In the honest song there is such ferocity
That the heart is braced.
And all fortification
Stands like a tear on the face

by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale

We recently launched a new monthly Poetry Centre newsletter and the latest issue is out today (Wednesday 1 June). If you’re interested in finding out more about our work, including the launch of our international poetry competition, judged this year by Caroline Bird, and news of two new ignitionpress pamphlets launching in June, please sign up to receive it. You can read the latest newsletter on this page, and follow us on social media (links at the foot of this message).

This excerpt from ‘Girls, Singing’ is © Maria Stepanova, 2021, and the translation is © Sasha Dugdale, 2021. Originally published in Russian in Киреевский (Kireevsky) (2012), it is taken from War of the Beasts and the Animals by Maria Stepanova, trans. Sasha Dugdale (Bloodaxe Books, 2021).

You can find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site. You can also watch the launch of the book (a joint event with Danish poet Pia Tafdrup) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books:

War of the Beasts and the Animals is Russian poet Maria Stepanova’s first full English-language collection. It was a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice and shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021. The book includes Stepanova’s recent long poems of conflict ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and Animals’, written during the Donbas conflict in Ukraine, as well as a third long poem ‘The Body Returns’, commissioned by Hay International Festival in 2018 to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. This collection also includes two sequences of poems from her collection Kireevsky: sequences of ‘weird’ ballads and songs, subtly changed folk and popular songs and poems which combine historical lyricism and a contemporary understanding of the effects of conflict and trauma.

Find out more about the book, read further sample poems, and buy a copy on the Bloodaxe website.

Maria Stepanova is a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist and the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. Stepanova has received several Russian and international literary awards (including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship).

Her documentary novel In Memory of Memory won Russia’s Big Book Award in 2018 and was published in English in Sasha Dugdale’s translation by Fitzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US in 2021. In Memory of Memory was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021, and the 2022 James Tait Black Prize for Biography, and was longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021.

Stepanova is the founder and editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal, which covers the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia.

Sasha Dugdale was editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2013 to 2017, and is co-editor of the anthology Centres of Cataclysm: Celebrating Fifty Years of Modern Poetry in Translation (Bloodaxe Books/MPT, 2016). She has translated many works of Russian poetry, prose and drama and has published five poetry collections with Oxford/Carcanet, including Joy (2017), and Deformations (2020), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Sasha has also worked as a consultant for the Royal Court Theatre and other companies in addition to writing her own plays, and from 1995 to 2000 worked for the British Council in Russia. She stepped down from her role as co-director of the Winchester Poetry Festival in October 2021.

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.