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 Colta.ru, 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.

Hellmouth

The weather fiercely dragonish
         with strong headwinds
the brothers’ faith a cotton thread
         their minds bobbins
 
Ahead a coastline visible
         a scene most cruel
volcanic blast that feeds on air
         and human fuel
 
A packed crowd in that fiery pit
         who writhe and gurn
then some by detonation fly
         and fleck the sun
 
Devils with forks and leather flails
         maintain these lands
breeding horse-flies and leeches fat
         as Kerry lambs
 
Brendan spies a devil on shore
         and loudly cries
Who are these tortured kindling folks?
         What are their crimes?
 
The figure hocks up phlegm and yells
         Dead-eye loan sharks
crap-wigged kleptocratic bampots
         with shilling hearts
 
These parasites made profit off
         poor citizens
their flesh is now a reddish clay
         we fire their skins
 
A vile stench envelops the Cog
         her retching crew
as terraced theatres of flame
         slow-fade from view

A.B. Jackson

As mentioned last week, we recently launched a new monthly Poetry Centre newsletter. If you’re interested in finding out more about our work, including our Fire Up Your Poetry Practice course (currently recruiting!) and ignitionpress, please sign up to receive it. You can also read the latest newsletter on this page, and follow us on social media (links at the foot of this message).

‘Hellmouth’ is © A.B. Jackson, 2021 and the accompanying image is © Kathleen Neeley, 2021. The poem and image are reprinted with permission from The Voyage of St Brendan (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 launch (a joint event with Penelope Shuttle and John Challis) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books:

In The Voyage of St Brendan, A.B. Jackson tells the tale of the legendary seafaring Irish abbot. After burning a book of fantastical stories, Brendan is compelled to sail the ocean with a crew of six monks in a leather-skinned currach; his task, to prove the existence of wonders in the world and create a new book of marvels. Discoveries include Jasconius the island-whale, a troop of Arctic ghosts, a hellmouth of tortured souls, a rock-bound Judas, and the magical castle of the boar-headed Walserands.

Although the roots of this legend lie in early Irish tales and the Latin Voyage of Brendan the Abbot of the ninth century, Jackson has taken the 14th-century Middle Dutch version of Brendan’s voyage as the template for this engaging, witty and spirited interpretation, notable for its humour and inventiveness.

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

The book is illustrated with a series of black and white linocuts by the American artist Kathleen Neeley. Kathleen is an artist specializing in relief printmaking and illustration. She received a B.F.A. and M.A. from the University of Oklahoma. She lives in Tulsa. Find out more about her art on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

A.B. Jackson was born in Glasgow in 1965 and raised in the village of Bramhall, Cheshire. After moving to Cupar in Fife he studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. His first book, Fire Stations (Anvil), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2003, and a limited edition pamphlet, Apocrypha (Donut Press), was published in 2011. In 2010 he won first prize in the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition. His second collection, The Wilderness Party (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Voyage of St Brendan was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. After a number of years in Yorkshire he now lives in Pitlochry.

You can read more about A. B. Jackson’s work on his website and follow him 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

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.

Maps

Thanks be to the map-makers that they have devised
Signs, a whole system, intelligible to all comers
To denote what’s locally there. Leave the B road
At a level crossing, head north, enter a mixed wood

Catch hold of its stream and in less than a mile
You will emerge on a steepening slope. Outcrop
Scree, a small lake… Thank them for that
But more still for the space they let you into

Through every pictogram. Two hundred miles away
You can tell whether the church in question
Has a tower, a spire or neither, but not
Whether listening to the sermon you’d have been distracted

By mermaids and green men. Behind the sign
Into the vacancy, oh the inrush of presence
The holy particulars! The map-makers have represented
Some of the many incarnations of water

But not my drying your chilled feet in a handkerchief
Nor the licks of salt. Reading the map afterwards
Assures us of our hinterland, all we got by heart
Through our boot-soles from the braille of the terrain

And all that our fingers learned by digging in
And hauling up our bodyweight. There it is
Our route, very public, anyone can follow it
But only the walkers know it for a song-line

With undertones. Thanks be then to the makers
Of agreed markers, conventional signs
Among the current place names. In any company
I can say aloud, Yes, she is my friend.


by David Constantine  

Some news from the Centre: the Poetry Centre recently announced that pamphlets by three new poets will be published by our ignitionpress in the summer. The poets are: Katie Byford, Zein Sa’dedin, and Fathima Zahra, and you can find out more about them on our website. You can also read about – and buy! – the fourteen pamphlets we have previously published (including Isabelle Baafi’s Ripe, the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2021) on this page. 

‘Maps’ is © David Constantine, 2020 and is reprinted with permission from Belongings (Bloodaxe Books, 2020). Find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site, where you can read further sample poems. You can also watch David read from his collection.

Like the work of the European poets who have nourished him, David Constantine’s poetry is informed by a profoundly humane vision of the world. The title of his eleventh collection, Belongings, signals that these are poems concerned both with our possessions and with what possesses us. Among much else in the word belongings, the poems draw on a sense of our ‘co-ordinates’ – something like the eastings and northings that give a map-reference – how you might triangulate a life. You can read more about the collection and buy a copy on the Bloodaxe website.

David Constantine was born in 1944 in Salford, Lancashire. He is a freelance writer and translator, a Fellow of the Queen’s College, Oxford, and was co-editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2004 to 2013. He lives in Oxford and on Scilly. In December 2020 he was named winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2020. He will be presented with the award in 2021. 

He has published eleven books of poetry, five translations and a novel with Bloodaxe. His poetry titles include Something for the Ghosts (2002), which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award; Collected Poems (2004), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation; Nine Fathom Deep (2009); Elder (2014); and Belongings (2020). His Bloodaxe translations include editions of Henri Michaux and Philippe Jaccottet; his Selected Poems of Hölderlin, winner of the European Poetry Translation Prize, and his version of Hölderlin’s Sophocles, combined in his new expanded Hölderlin edition, Selected Poetry (2018); and his translation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Lighter Than Air, winner of the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation. His other books include A Living Language: Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures (2004), his translation of Goethe’s Faust in Penguin Classics (2005, 2009), his monograph Poetry (2013) in Oxford University Press’s series The Literary Agenda, and his co-translation (with Tom Kuhn) of The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht (W.W. Norton, 2018).

David has published six collections of short stories and won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2013 for his collection Tea at the Midland (Comma Press), the first English writer to win this prestigious international fiction award.

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.

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) www.bloodaxebooks.com. 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.

Nearing Warminster


Salisbury, solitary, sings as if Isaiah in her –

All Along the Watchtower edge and ridge of plain they ride for Warminster.

Anger, broken in her, iron age, stone age, bone and barrow, is as if her
Father yet not father photographed before the war
Unfathomed by her –

Anger of another relatively new to her beside her now
Like coulter – plough-hard, harrow-hard –
Would break the clod of her

For what is yet unheard in her is hoard
It is for him to bare.

As if the solitary village in her, commandeered, were Imber
Unrestored –

As if the word abide with me were loud and overlord in her.


by Gillian Allnutt 

Imber, a village on Salisbury Plain taken over by the army in 1943, is still uninhabited today.
We are delighted to say that this week’s poet, Gillian Allnutt, will be reading in Oxford this evening (Monday) in an event organized jointly by the Poetry Centre and the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture. Spaces for this event are limited, so please register here.

Looking forward, don’t forget to register for the exciting reading with Ilya Kaminsky and Shara Lessley on 26 June, the symposium ‘Our Poetry and Our Needs’ on 9 July, and the launches of our latest ignitionpress pamphlets on 22 and 23 July. There are more details about all of these events here.

Finally, if you’re keen on filmmaking and poetry, why not enter our filmpoem competition! Choose a poem by one of our ignitionpress poets, respond to it in a short film, and win prizes and screenings! The deadline is 7 June, and there are more details on our blog.

‘Nearing Warminster’ is copyright © Gillian Allnutt, 2018. It is reprinted from wake (Bloodaxe Books, 2018) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.

Gillian Allnutt was born in London but spent half her childhood in Newcastle upon Tyne. She is the author of nine poetry collections. Nantucket and the Angel and Lintel were both shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and poems from these collections are included in her Bloodaxe retrospective How the Bicycle Shone: New & Selected Poems (2007), which draws on six published books plus a new collection, Wolf Light, and was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Her most recent collections, both from Bloodaxe, are indwelling (2013) and wake (2018). Since 1983 she has taught creative writing in a variety of contexts, mainly in adult education and as a writer in schools. In 2009/10 she held a writing residency with The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (now Freedom From Torture) in the North East, working with asylum seekers in Newcastle and Stockton. She lives in County Durham. Gillian Allnutt was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2016 in February 2017. You can find out more about Gillian’s work on the Bloodaxe website.

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 trilogy 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.

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.

Love Song for the Ordnance Survey

Love Song for the Ordnance Survey

            What measure of time is sluicing
through the dappling rings of immortal hills?

            What weight the hollow-hearted burial mounds,
Saxon naves, felled steeples, tribal hill-forts,
ventilation mine-shafts, brick-born water towers,
analogue Cold War transmitters, pillbox viewpoints?

            What radius the boundary arcs,
the stamina of forests’ greened retreat
beaten back at the speckled blots of settlement,
the shaded/sloped river ruts, the symmetry of hangars?

            What current the canals, descending the lock’s silent-shift,
coal boats and Staffordshire china rising in the hulls
and sidelined, quickened by the railways
rising beside motorways, rising onwards? 

            What depth the medicinal baths, restoring spas
sought by new townsfolk, the tumulus of mill races
gone save for great unworking gears turning nothing
in damp summering fields?

            And what volume the settlements,
slumbering in bracketed old-world italics,
inherited after-other names, lost or erased,
the monikers of places declassified?

            What velocity the shifting coastlines
vanishing faster than any paper can skip a heartbeat to?
(and the winter peaks absolved in mists that can neither
be seen or heard, let alone measured?)

            Of all the demarcations multiplied
kept in their latitudinal squares, of each known
and unknown quantity, let us sing
of detail and capacity, the map’s measured love.

by Jane Commane

If you’re a student, don’t forget to enter our Beatin’ the Blues competition, for which we are asking you to respond in poetry to a song by Oxford-based jazz/electronic band Wandering Wires. If you’re one of the winners, we’ll invite you to read your work at a concert alongside the band! For more details, visit our website. The deadline for entries is this Friday!

More news! The Centre has teamed up with IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival and poet Kate Wakeling to run another poetry workshop for families on 15 April in Oxfordshire County Library. We’ll be encouraging participants to write brand new poems, ready for the  IF Oxford Poetry of Science Competition . So if you know anyone aged 6-16 who is keen on poetry and science, please bring them along! You can sign up here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events on our Eventbrite page.

‘Love Song for the Ordnance Survey’ is copyright © Jane Commane, 2018. It is reprinted from Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe Books, 2018) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.

Assembly Lines asks what it means to be here and now, in post-industrial towns and cities of the heartlands that are forever on the periphery. From schools and workplaces and lives lived in ‘a different town, just like this’, these poems take a historical perspective on the present day from the ground upwards – whether the geological strata that underpins a ‘dithering island’ or the ever-moving turf under a racehorses’ hooves.

Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in 2018. Her poetry has featured in anthologies including The Best British Poetry 2011 and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam and in numerous magazines. Jane is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook and blog series. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. You can hear Jane talk about and read from her book Assembly Lines on the BBC’s ‘Start the Week’ programme here and read more about her on her website.

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 trilogy 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.

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.

Out of Range

Up here there is no signal;
it died at the cattle grid
where even the trees can’t pass. 

In the listening station of these hills
bracken has its own system
to intercept the clandestine

wavelengths of streams and airs;
and the rain’s dark radiance
registers its impressions 

on stonewalls and grey rocks
where highly sensitive mosses
gather the information of the stars.

At night, in the pitch black
of the wrong side of the moon
I stand with my fading torch

in the last phone box on earth,
a windowed coffin, a haunted mini-crypt
where a spider’s devised seven webs

then died inside the phone;
for down this cold receiver
which smells of strangers, mouth to mouth,

your voice is five thousand miles away;
so I shout can you hear me? I love you, I love you
until I hear through the rush-hour babble

of horns, airbrakes and squawking parrots
your delayed echo I love you too
while here I stand

in this crazy dark, feeding my last coins
to the insatiable seconds
counting down to silence.


by Nick Drake

News from the Centre: we are delighted to be involved in two exciting events this week in Oxford – do join us if you can! On Tuesday 27 November, our ignitionpresspoet Belinda Zhawi will be reading from her work and discussing critical issues in contemporary African poetry and publishing alongside TORCH visiting professor and esteemed poet, editor and writer, Kwame Dawes. They will be joined by authors JC Niala and Nana Aforiatta-Ayim. The panel discussion, from 5.30-6.30pm, will be followed by the launch of the African Poetry Book Fund exhibition. You can register for the event on Eventbrite. This event is part of Prof Dawes’s week-long visit to Oxford, which also includes the wonderful opportunity to attend a poetry workshop with him on Saturday 1 December. You can find the full listing of events here.

Then on Thursday 29 November from 6.30-7.30pm at Waterstones Oxford, we will be helping to launch the poetry anthology Wretched Strangers: Borders, Movement, Homes, edited by JT Welsch and Ágnes Lehóczky. For the Oxford launch of this book, which is designed to mark and celebrate the contribution of non-UK born writers to the country’s poetry scene, we will be joined by both editors, and poets Mary Jean Chan, Iris Colomb, and Jennifer Wong. To register, visit this link.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books: 

‘Out of Range’ is copyright © Nick Drake, 2018. It is reprinted from Out of Range, published by permission of Bloodaxe Books

Nick Drake’s fourth collection, Out of Range, explores the strange interconnections and confronting emergencies – the signs, wonders and alarms – of the early 21st century. Here are elegies for the Whitechapel Fatberg and incandescent lightbulbs; the life stories of plastic bottles and ice-core samples; portraits of those living on the margins of the city streets, and of Voyager 1 crossing the threshold of the solar system. Here too are poems registering the shock and impact of ‘Generation Anthropocene’ on Earth’s climate and ecology. Above all, the poems seek to tune in to what is out of range; the dark matter of mystery, wonder and deep time at the edge of our senses, at the back of our heads, which poetry makes visible.

Nick Drake was born in 1961. He lives and works in London. His first book-length collection, The Man in the White Suit (1999), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and was selected for the Next Generation Poets promotion in 2004. His collection From The Word Go was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2007. His recent projects include stage plays and adaptations, screenplays, and a trilogy of historical novels about Egypt (including Nefertiti, shortlisted for CWA Best Historical Crime Novel). In September 2010 he was invited to join Cape Farewell’s trip to the Arctic to explore climate change, and poems inspired by that visit appear in his collection The Farewell Glacier (2012). Nick worked as a librettist in a collaboration with the composer Tansy Davies and director Deborah Warner on Between Worlds, a 2015 opera inspired by the events of 9/11. A new music theatre collaboration with Tansy Davies followed, Cave, performed at Printworks London in June 2018.

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.

Lesson

It was a shadowy yard, walled high with stones.
The trees held early apples, dark
wine-coloured skin, the perfected flavour of things
ripe before their time.
Clay jugs sat alongside the wall.
I ate apples and sipped the purest water,
knowing the outside world had stopped dead from heat.
Then my father appeared and tweaked my nose,
and he wasn’t sick and hadn’t died, either;
that’s why he was laughing, blood
stirring in his face again,
he was hunting for ways to spend this happiness:
where’s my chisel, my fishing pole,
what happened to my snuffbox, my coffee cup?
I always dream something’s taking shape,
nothing is ever dead.
What seems to have died fertilises.
What seems motionless waits.


by Adélia Prado; translated by Ellen Doré Watson

The Poetry Centre recently announced the winners of its inaugural International Poetry Competition, which received nearly 900 entries from all over the world. In the Open category, the winner was Siobhan Campbell, with second place going to Claire Askew. There was a Special Commendation for Wes Lee. In the ESL category, the winner was Marie-Aline Roemer, with Armel Dagorn in second place, and a Special Commendation for Hanne Busck-Nielsen. You can read the winning poems and see the shortlist and longlist on the Centre’s website.


‘Lesson’ is copyright © Adélia Prado; translated by Ellen Doré Watson, 2014. It is reprinted from The Mystical Rose: Selected Poems by Adélia Prado, published by Bloodaxe Books (2014).

This poem continues our series featuring work from collections shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015, judged by Olivia McCannon and Clare Pollard, and supported in 2015 by the British Council. The winner of the competition was Iain Galbraith, who translated Jan Wagner’s book Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees (Arc Publications, 2015). You can find out more about the competition and all the shortlisted books on the Poetry Society website.

Poet & translator Ellen Doré Watson directs the Poetry Center at Smith College and has translated over a dozen books from the Brazilian Portuguese, most notably poetry by Brazilian Adélia Prado, including The Mystical Rose (Bloodaxe, 2014). She has also translated from the Arabic with co-translator Saadi Simawi. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, Watson serves on the faculty of the Drew University Graduate Program in Poetry and Translation and as Poetry & Translation editor of The Massachusetts Review. She was shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize in 2015 for her translation of The Mystical Rose by Adélia Prado (Bloodaxe Books). Read more about the book here.

Adélia Luzia Prado de Freitas (Adélia Prado) was born in 1935 and has lived all her life in the provincial, industrial city of Divinópolis, in Minas Gerais (General Mines), the Brazilian state that has produced more presidents and poets than any other in the country. She was the only one in her family of labourers to see the ocean, to go to college, or to dream of writing a book. She attended the University of Divinópolis, earning degrees in Philosophy and Religious Education, and taught in schools until 1979. Adélia Prado has been the subject of dozens of theses and dissertations, as well as a documentary film and countless articles, profiles, and interviews in newspapers, literary supplements, and popular magazines, and her work has been translated into Spanish, Italian and English. In June 2014 Prado received the Griffin Lifetime Achievement Award in Canada. You can find out more about Prado on the Bloodaxe website.

Bloodaxe Books is internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, and its 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. You can read more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s 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.

Penelope to Ulysses

Dear Ulysses,

you’re late.

Don’t worry about answering, just come home.
The enemy of Grecian wives has fallen,
but, honestly, Troy wasn’t worth it.

If only Paris had drowned
in some storm when he was heading for Sparta,
I wouldn’t lie frigid in my bed
or have to moan of tedious days
or pass my nights like some poor widow
at the loom’s dull web.

I mean, I know love makes me anxious
and my nightmares were excessive –
lurid scenarios; Trojans singling you out etc.
Hector’s name made me ashen.
When I heard he’d killed Antilochus,
I was a nervous mess.
Then Patroclus died, in borrowed armour,
so even cunning couldn’t guarantee success…
Each time Greek blood warmed spears
I was flooded with fear.

But someone must look out for couples:
Troy burnt and you survived.
Now soldiers slur victory songs;
smoke coils from altars laid with souvenirs;
admiration makes old men babble
as girls hang on tales from lovers’ lips.

The other night, one man mapped battles
in spilt wine, lightly tracing Troy:
‘The river was here; Priam’s palace,
Achilles’ tent, then Hector’s corpse…’

I sent our son to find you – he got the story:
how you, full of your daring – not caring about us –
stole into the Trojan camp at night
and just two of you slaughtered hundreds.
Sounds typically cautious and thoughtful.
Until I heard you’d ridden back, my heart
reared with fear at every word.

Anyway, you’ve razed Troy, but what does it matter
to me it’s been levelled?
I remain as I was while it remained –
alone.

by Clare Pollard

Clare Pollard is currently touring a staged version of Ovid’s Heroines, in which she reads, recites and performs her astonishing poems against a backdrop of Mediterranean light and sound. Produced by Jaybird Live Literature, the show visits the Burton Taylor Studio Theatre in Oxford on 9 July. For more details and for tickets, visit the Oxford Playhouse website.

As part of the MCS Arts Festival Oxford (20 June-5 July), the highly-acclaimed poet Roger McGough will be reading tomorrow evening (30 June). You can find more details on the festival site. Also tomorrow, Penny Boxhall will be leading an Illumination Poetry Workshop in the Old Library, University Church of St Mary the Virgin from 4.15pm.

‘Penelope to Ulysses’ is copyright © Clare Pollard. It is reprinted from Ovid’s Heroines (Bloodaxe Books, 2013) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.Notes from Jaybird Live Literature:

An extract of Penelope’s letter to Ulysses, one of Ovid’s Heroides, translated by Clare Pollard as Ovid’s Heroines. With this letter, Ovid puts a different perspective on Homer’s The Odyssey. The Trojan War has long been over, but the Greek war hero Ulysses has not returned to his wife Penelope in Ithaca. Whilst those who have read Homer will know this is because he has been waylaid by obstacles that include Gods, monsters, weather and the sorceress Circe, Penelope has heard nothing. Their son Telemachus has just returned from a fruitless trip to Pylos, where he was trying to find out what has happened to his father and was almost killed.

You can read more about Clare’s book here, and follow her work via her website and on Twitter.

Founded in Newcastle in 1978, Bloodaxe Books is one of Britain’s leading independent poetry publishers. 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. Details of all Bloodaxe’s publications, plus sample video and audio clips of poets reading their work, can be found here.

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.