Esther Alone

I remember my birth as a dream,
Voices beyond the give and wrench
Of my mother’s bone-tunnel,
Pulled, pulled into the world,

The reddening, vein-thin last look,
Drench of fluid and air the length
Of my body as it fell feet first
To hang by the umbilical.

When I was two I found the company
Of cupboards, made friends
With dust in corners, a hidey hole
Between two rooms

Where I learned to sing
In the first language: mammal clicks
And growls, mouth pictures,
Before there was speaking.

On my fifth birthday I made a peg doll,
Crayon eyes and nipples, pink tissue skirt,
Married her to another peg,
Jammed their legs until they split.

I’d seen my father to my mother do it
And after, her thigh’s black marble.
By forty she was papering folds
Of her face where the powder gathered.

When I was seven I changed: thing
To girl back to thing; then a doubling,
One skin inside another.
At fourteen, my baby girl

By my father still-born in the woods,
Her eyes one long stitch in linen,
White as milk, white as the cut
That opened then sealed.

I grew into stone that could stand
The rain, the cold, the driven wind,
That would be an age in the weathering,
Speck of me a fossil eye watching

In the heart for the time to waken.
The train made the first crack, but deep,
Inaudible, then a fissure from that kiss
It’s taken three months to notice.

I grew out from there with every touch,
Eyelash reaching into leg then pubis,
The spine’s knuckling a whip
All the way to the pads of my fingers.

Now there is Iain I bend him to me.
We are tightening, we are softening,
Our bodies muscle of the other
Until we are more alike than different.

I stand in the wardrobe mirror,
My silvered scar, my silvered belly.
I look for where he has entered me,
And a slit opens an eye in my rib.

by Sarah Corbett

This is the second poem drawn from the new collections of Eleanor Rees and Sarah Corbett and published by Pavilion Poetry. We featured Eleanor Rees’s poem ‘The Cruel Mother’ last week, and you can read it on the Centre’s website. Both Sarah and Eleanor will be visiting Oxford this Friday 23 October – a super opportunity to hear two of the most exciting voices in contemporary poetry. The reading will take place at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Jericho from 7.30pm, and all are very welcome! You can get more details on our Facebook events page or by e-mailing us.

‘Esther Alone’ is copyright © Sarah Corbett, 2015. It is reprinted from And She Was: A Verse-Novel (Liverpool University Press, 2015) by permission of Liverpool University Press.

Sarah Corbett has published three collections of poetry with Seren Books: The Red Wardrobe (1998), The Witch Bag (2002) and Other Beasts (2008). She received an Eric Gregory award in 1997 and her work has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize, as well as being widely anthologised and translated. Her new book, And She Was: A Verse-Novel, was published in April by Pavilion Poetry. Sarah has a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing from Manchester University and teaches on Lancaster University’s Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing. She regularly collaborates with other artists, writers and filmmakers, and runs the monthly poetry reading series in Hebden Bridge, poetrynites@thebookcase. You can read more about And She Was on the LUP website, and more about Sarah’s work on her own site.

Pavilion Poetry is a new contemporary poetry series from Liverpool University Press, edited by Deryn Rees-Jones, which seeks to publish the very best in contemporary poetry. Always international in its reach, Pavilion Poetry is poetry that takes a risk. Whether by new or established and award-winning writers, this is poetry sure to challenge and delight. Launched in 2015, Pavilion’s first three books are by three exciting voices: Sarah Corbett, Eleanor Rees, and Mona Arshi. Pavilion has already enjoyed considerable success, with Mona Arshi’s book, Small Hands, winning the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection at this year’s Forward Prizes. You can read more about the series on the Liverpool University Press 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.


I walked at night over Fountains Fell under Pen-y-Ghent.
The moor was a still wave and I was riding it,
my head capped in the sky’s metal.

The god was hammering out stars, the hill its anvil.
Where they fell they left a darker trail, 
the glints speeding away in the gill.

Hale-Bopp was a fist of flung glitter, a child’s firework
on black paper, my marker the five miles
from dale to dale.

I never made it to the village,
but lay under the broken eaves of a barn,
watched to see the god unsheathe his sword.

by Sarah Corbett

from Other Beasts, Seren (2008)

From the first sumptuous poem, ‘Birthday’ where the protagonist, running at night, thinks of her body as a “nocturnal bloom”, the reader is immersed in the compelling voice of Sarah Corbett. From her first book, The Red Wardrobe, nominated for both the Forward and the T.S. Eliot Prize, we are familiar with the world she portrays, of the childhood spent in rural North Wales, and the first half of this new collection is devoted mostly to poems that re-create scenes from a youth that was haunted by trouble, but also redeemed by a strong attachment to the beauties of nature, particularly horses, and an early love of reading and culture. In poems like ‘Rivers, Roads’ the two images mesh and intertwine, becoming symbolic and strangely evocative.

This poet bravely eschews lightness and irony for a whole-heartedly passionate and intensely physical response to life. Other Beasts differs from her earlier work in that in the latter half of the collection, she moves away from her own personal history and focuses on in-depth and often scary narratives of other lives. In these poems, such as ‘dreaming history’ she closely identifies with survivors of trauma, in this case the horror of a small girl hiding in a trunk while her family is massacred in a war-torn country. In the long poem ‘Testimony’ she inhabits the voice of Joanne Lees, the woman at the centre of the famously controversial case in Australia where her partner, Peter Falconio, was murdered and she managed, although tied up, to escape into the bush. Another sequence, ‘Cuttings’ weaves a week’s worth of international press cuttings together, creating an alternately horrible, sad, funny and odd tapestry of events.

Sarah Corbett was born in Chester, raised in north Wales, and educated at the Universities of Leeds and East Anglia. This is her third book of poems, following the acclaimed The Red Wardrobe (1998) and The Witch Bag (2002). She has published her poems in a wide selection of magazines and anthologies and has read her work at festivals internationally.

Seren is an independent literary publisher, specialising in English-language writing from Wales. Our diverse and eclectic list has something to offer anyone with an interest in excellent writing. Our aim is not simply to reflect what is going on in the culture in which we publish, but to drive that culture forward, to engage with the world, and to bring Welsh literature, art and politics before a wider audience.

Please visit our website for more information on our authors and titles.