Big hands

I remember your big felted charcoal wool coat,
boxy as a coffin. You hugged me, wearing it,
and the felt was so thick that it bent in straight lines,
like cardboard does. It was Barbican station,
lemon yellow tiles and a busker somewhere doing
Blister in the Sun. No one in London stays still
that long, but you held on, like you knew
we wouldn’t meet again. I didn’t want to
let go or take the steps or get on the next
Hammersmith & City heading west.
I could have been your friend.
It would have been hard to settle for,
but I’d have done it.

by Claire Askew

Three brief notes from the Poetry Centre… This is the final Weekly Poem before a summer break. Poems will return to your inbox from 5 September. Thanks for reading! Secondly, our International Poetry Competition is still open for entries until 31 August and is judged by Caroline Bird. For more details, visit our website. And finally, our two newest ignitionpress pamphlets by Michaela Coplen and Jacob Anthony Ramírez have just been launched! You can find out more about these exciting additions to the press’s list on our site.

‘Big hands’ is copyright © Claire Askew, 2021, and is reprinted here from How to burn a woman (Bloodaxe Books, 2021) by permission of Bloodaxe. You can read more about the book on the Bloodaxe website.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books:

Claire Askew’s electrifying second collection is an investigation of power: the power of oppressive systems and their hold over those within them; the power of resilience; the power of the human heart. It licks flame across the imagination, and rewrites narratives of human desire. It is a collection for anyone who has ever run through their life ‘backwards/ in the dark,/ with no map’ – these bright poems illuminate the way.

How to burn a woman throngs with witches, outsiders, and women who do not fit the ordinary moulds of the world. It is a collection which traces historic atrocities, and celebrates the lives of those accused of witchcraft with empathy, tenderness and rage. It lifts a mirror up to contemporary systems of oppression and, in language that is both vivid and accessible, asks hard questions of our current world.

Find out more about the collection and read further sample poems on the Bloodaxe website.

Claire Askew was born in 1986 and grew up in the rural Scottish Borders. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing & Contemporary Women’s Poetry from the University of Edinburgh. After living in Edinburgh for many years, she is currently based in Carlisle.

In 2013 she won the International Salt Prize for Poetry, and in 2014 was runner-up for the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for Scottish poets under 30 for an earlier version of her first book-length collection, This changes things, which was published by Bloodaxe in 2016. This changes things was also shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award 2016, the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for First Full Collection 2017 and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize 2017.

Claire has been a Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion (2016/7), a Jessie Kesson Fellow (2017) and the Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh (2017-2019). Also a novelist, her award-winning Edinburgh-based DI Birch series is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Find out more about Claire and her work on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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.