Julie Boden (1.06.1960 – 29.09.2021)
Recently I heard that my brilliant friend, the poet Julie Boden, had died. Julie was an important figure in the West Midlands poetry scene. Her poetry collections included Beyond the Bullring (2001), Cut on the Bias (2002), Through the Eye of a Crow (2003), Wasted Lives (2004), Bluebeard’s Wife (2005), and she edited numerous anthologies including co-editing with me Bluebeard’s Wives (2007). Her achievements and contributions in poetry were many: she was Birmingham Poet Laureate (2002-2003), and she founded many great initiatives like Poetry Central, Warwick Words Festival, and the Oasis Café Theatre. [Read more at Poetry Birmingham].
Sand & Snow: A Conversation with Three Voices (with Robert Minhinnick & Kristian Evans)
RM: Recently I received a request to provide a poem to be carved into an eisteddfod chair for Porthcawl Comprehensive School. I offered:
What the sand reveals
Is not what the sand conceals.
Why? Because sand is unavoidable in my world. If they persevere, writers, those sad obsessives, create their own myths. I believe sand is a feature of my own Porthcawl myth. Other writers’ mythic places? A myriad. [Read more in Poetry Wales]
Out of the White Room
In his poem ‘Borders’, Patrick McGuiness describes
a shadow across the eye, or something dark
in the corner of the day, it was always there
never quite pressed against awareness.
These lines sum up well the tension of borderline personality disorder (or BPD), which I had as a teenager in response to trauma. Undiagnosed and without professional help, I brought myself into remission through writing – something I am quite proud of. Growing up, I experienced very strong and overwhelming emotions compared to other people, but I wanted very much to fit in. The result was a specific type of BPD called ‘quiet’ borderline personality disorder where I repressed strong feelings, always being unobtrusive and quiet. This also tinged my poetry. My first collection The Secret was written in my late teens and early twenties when dealing with the fall-out from an abusive relationship. [Read more at Poetry London].
Poetry in the Age of Zoom
Talking to the Paris Review in 1982, Philip Larkin tells of his deep disdain for poetry readings, claiming that they ruin the personal relationship with a poem: ‘hearing it means you’re dragged along at the speaker’s own rate, missing things, not taking it in, confusing “there” and “their” and things like that.’ Whatever we might think about poetry readings, the current moment has forced us to rethink how we present poetry when we cannot perform in person. [Read more at Poetry London].
On Miscarriage, Motherhood, and Being Pro-choice
This past weekend, I attended a pro-choice rally organized by Planned Parenthood at City Hall in Columbus. Ohio is one of the states where abortion is under threat should Roe versus Wade be repealed. The likely result would be that Attorney General Dave Yost would allow the heartbeat bill to take effect, effectively banning abortions after six weeks, and Governor Mike DeWine has also said that he would ban all abortions in Ohio. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
Poetry in a Crisis
It’s almost a year since we published the anthology, 100 Poems to Save the Earth, and it feels like more than ever the world needs saving. In my recent editorial for Poetry Wales,I register that I did not expect to be writing in the light of the monumental event of the Russian invasion, as Ukrainian cities are being shelled and bombed. Maybe the opposite of nature is war, because even while nature – it’s true – contains violence, it is human beings who have invented new forms of horror: the vacuum bomb, nuclear weapons, and other elaborate ways of maiming, killing, and exterminating each other and all life around us. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
Men Before Women?
The events of the last few weeks in Britain and the US have really brought into focus what women face when pushing back against violence. Just this week, tragic events in Atlanta, Georgia saw the murder of eight people, including six Asian American women. In a statement about the investigation, Captain Jay Baker repeated the perpetrator’s claims that the attacks were not racially motivated, and he described the crimes as being the result of the perpetrator having “a really bad day.” This statement is actually a form of gaslighting against women and Asian Americans. [Read more at Wales Arts Review]
US Election Special: Letter to America Revisited
My six-year-old ran in to tell me the result. He was told by the next door neighbour’s kid who had been watching rolling news all morning. So many Americans were waiting, hoping for a Biden-Harris win, and we celebrated in Ohio with laughter, singing, and toasts. The result is significant, because for communities terrorised under Trump, it has been an awful, frightening, disorientating four years. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
US Election Special: Letter To America
It always felt like a consolation prize to gain American citizenship during a Trump Presidency, but this year was my chance at last to use my new vote, and I have voted early. I remember on the day of the citizenship ceremony, we immigrants filed into the courthouse, everyone dressed for the occasion. One by one, we stood up and spoke our reason for wanting citizenship. There were immigrants from Somalia, Nepal, Mexico, the Ukraine, and they spoke about reuniting families, about finding opportunities, and working for a new life. But if the United States votes again for Trump, will this vision of America be a thing of the past? So much of his first term was about closing the US down for ordinary people: the immigrant kids separated from their parents, the threat to healthcare with the pressure to remove Obamacare, the callous disregard for black lives, the ceding of power to corporations, and doing very little to support working class jobs. And that’s not even mentioning the failure to contain and control Coronavirus. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
A Nation Divided By Abortion?
Abortion will continue to be a key issue in U.S. politics, with the nation divided on what role the government should have in reproductive rights. In a Pew Center poll from August 2020, 46% of President Donald Trump’s supporters and 35% of challenger Joe Biden’s supporters described abortion as a very important factor in their voting. [Read more in US Election Analysis 2020.]
When I was asked to write up something about the room I work in, initially it seemed simple enough. I’ve read other writers’ accounts in the “Writers’ Rooms” feature for Wales Arts Review, and I have been intrigued by the insights into how they work, but when I came to take a photograph, I began to feel a bit defensive. I felt defensive because the room I work in does not look like an academic office, or a high-powered writing room, or even a romantic writing shed: it’s just a space in a family house, and sometimes it is inhabited by children too. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
On Dreamwork and Not Confessing
In the autumn of 1921, a young man waited nervously in waiting room of Dr. Sigmund Freud’s Vienna office. On finally being admitted, the young man talked awkwardly with the doctor about poetry, about the power of dream language, and its possibilities for humankind. The doctor was perplexed, and before long he brought the conversation to a close, dismissing the young man, and moving on to a waiting patient. That young man was André Breton, poet and founding member of the French Surrealist movement. Breton, who was introduced to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams during his World War I service as a psychiatric aide, remained fascinated by the idea of dream-work, but he maintained a combative relationship with Freud. While Freud thought the language of dreams could be used as therapy, Breton saw a potential philosophical key to the human condition. [Read more in Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets.]
In Wales and America
So, we’re thinking about life after COVID-19 in very different contexts: you in Wales, and me in the American Midwest. One parallel I notice is protesters demanding the lockdown be ended. I see there was a protest in Hyde Park in London this week, and protests have happened in Ohio and neighboring states regularly. In London, a protester described COVID-19 as a “fake virus”, and here in Columbus, one protester was photographed carrying an anti-Semitic sign framing Jewish people as the “real virus,” which was so appalling and disgusting. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
In January 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic had taken hold in the U.S., my children and I took a trip to an abandoned shopping mall. Run-down malls have a symbolic significance in America: a legacy of the 2000s and the terrible recession that many places have never really shaken. In Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, describes a bankrupt mall in mythical terms as “two million square feet of echo.” In the novel, the empty mall is left to criminals and the poor, but here I was driving under the cracked mall signage, entering a nondescript and beat up storefront with my two small kids. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
I am here to tell you what I have been most ashamed of. The first man I fell in love with when I was only 15 raped me, not just once but many times. I loved a man who didn’t love me back the way he was supposed to. No, he loved me by humiliating me, and I wonder now if it was all a test to see how far my love could stretch. But I am also here to say that I am determined to pass through and beyond it. I want you to know that I am not ashamed anymore. [Read more at The Nasiona.]
Dwelling: A Conversation in Letters (with Kristian Evans)
Zoë Brigley’s anti-violence advocacy and Kristian Evans’s ecological activism are uniquely matched in this transatlantic conversation, inspired by the ancient Japanese writing form zuihitsu. These letters written between July and September 2019 ask what ‘dwelling’ with nature might mean, and how we might live more ethically with the environment and each other. [Read more at Planet.]
Just a Woman With Nothing On Her Skin
What are the politics of a photograph? Legally, it belongs to the photographer, but how does this dynamic play out when so often women have been the erotic spectacle of photographs, whether they consented or not. This article is not about changing copyright rules, but it does recall Laura Mulvey’s statement, in ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, that ‘in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.’ [Read more at the New Welsh Review.]
Americans may have no identity but they do have wonderful teeth
It’s happening again. As the nights draw in, as trees redden their leaves, as the sweltering of summer’s end breaks like a fever: it’s election time again in Ohio. Two years after President Trump’s victory, now we have the US midterms. After the last one, I promised myself that next election season I would collect up the husband and kids, and take off, but that is a luxury we cannot afford. We cannot afford not to be here to help, because although we don’t yet have a vote, we can’t turn away from the political race, because people are getting hurt, and opting out is a privilege that most people don’t have. [Read more at Wales Arts Review.]
Because I work and teach on domestic violence, people sometimes write to me unexpectedly with their own stories. They are usually women (though abuse does happen to men and non-binary folks too), and often they have questions about whether a partner’s behavior is abusive. Very often it is. [Read more at The Manifest Station.]
Maesteg to Llangynwyd
A girl sits on the edge of the platform at Maesteg. She is at the far end, a little apart from the crowds of children on the station, and her legs hang off the platform edge. She is wearing a thick coat over her grammar school uniform, a beret on the back of her head. In her gloved hands is a square, green, cardboard ticket. Her legs are covered by woollen tights, but the cold from the stone platform is inching through her skirt. [Read more at Planet.]
Fool Me Twice
So a student e-mails me. She works at a domestic violence shelter, and she has a question. Many of the women I meet, she writes, have been abused not once but multiple times by different people. But why? I think about the problem logically. I see what she is thinking – how perhaps without realizing it, she is shifting the blame from the abusers to the women. I send her a study from the Department of Justice on “repeat victimization.” I point out the victim-blaming. I do not say that I know repeat victimization very well. I keep the personal to myself. [Read more at The Manifest Station]
Notes from a Swing State
I am driving home from work. The sun is setting. Did I tell you that we have the most incredible skies in Ohio? I couldn’t get used to it at first. I grew up in a town in Wales, where the sky is a flat lid, and the valley bends round like cupped and comforting hands. But here, the sky is a down-turned bowl, and we are so small underneath it. Anyway, I am driving home, and the sky is reddening, great slashes of white from vapour trails, and flaming trees like torches. I am listening to a sad song on the radio, and I feel as though something is ending. Like sitting in an empty house when someone you love has closed the door behind them with no possibility of return. [Read more at Planet].
The Origin of the World
I start to like my father again when we are standing together looking at a painting. To begin, you would have to explain the place. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris was a railway station until 1939, and the great clock-faces on the exterior signal an obsession with timekeeping and travel. This particular painting is relatively small, and its intimacy is out of place under the arching glass roof where trains once ran. The museum is a public space and still has the feeling of a railway station with people hurrying to their next destination. In the middle of all this is a painting of a woman’s genitals, and my father and I are standing together in front of it. [Read more at The Manifest Station].
Why a recent Twitter spat over the Welsh language suggests that Wales remains under England’s colonial eye
Historian, writer and TV presenter Lucy Inglis faced a tide of outrage last week, after commenting negatively on Twitter about the rudeness of Welsh people , and the uselessness of the Welsh language. As Inglis should know, there is a long history of the English dismissing Welsh culture and language as degenerate. The 1847 Report into the State of Education in Wales (known by the Welsh as ‘The Treachery of the Blue Books’) criticised the supposed decline of Welsh morality blaming the Welsh language, women and the Methodist movement.Inglis’s comments criticising campaigns to restore the Welsh language (“Get royally f****d”) were, at the very least, unfortunate in how they echoed maxims of the past. [Read more on Wales Online].
A Song Like A Branch of Cherries
Everything that is written will potentially be read, so it is wise to take care when deciding to put pen to paper. No one knew the risks of putting words on paper – or was more exhilarated by those risks – than Alun Lewis. His letters are poems. His poems are cherished missives that not only speak to particular people from the poet’s life, but also speak to us with a decorous, sincere and intimate voice. Owen Sheers writes how “in that conversation between his personal and fictional voice, […] Alun Lewis survives.” Lewis’ life and death mean that the epistolary form has special significance in his biography and works. Joining the army in 1940, the letter was Lewis’ lifeline to loved ones, yet he had always rejoiced in the letter, corresponding with a variety of writers from Robert Graves to Lynette Roberts. It was Roberts who recognized Lewis as a charismatic writer of letters, telling him: “I like your letters, Alun, but I should be frightened if you came too near. I might fall in love with you. I might be disillusioned.” [Read more at Poetry Wales]
My Expat Life
The day I arrived in the States, I found out I had miscarried. I was pregnant and going out to meet my husband Dan who had a postdoc at the Pennsylvania State University. It was a hard beginning. He hadn’t bought a car yet so we caught the bus to the doctor’s. In the dark room, in the white light from the ultrasound, I could see the appalled expression on the technician’s face. It was the first time Dan was to see the baby. “Don’t look,” I said, but it was too late. [Read more at Motherland]
The Potential of Silence
As the epigraph for his memoir A Lie about my Father (2007), John Burnside quotes the infamous writer of suspense stories, Edgar Allen Poe, who Burnside read avidly as a boy. Poe’s story, ‘The Imp of the Perverse’, is famous for theorizing the impulse to self-harm or violence merely because, as Poe suggests, a particular action is something ‘we feel that we should not [do]’. Burnside quotes Poe’s description of an imperceptible force that builds inexplicably: ‘a cloud of unnameable feeling’ which ‘assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights’. Out of intangibility, blankness or silence, something material and powerful can emerge. As Ernestine Schlant notes in The Language of Silence, silence is not ‘a semantic void’ but a ‘language […] infused with narrative strategies that carry ideologies and reveal unstated assumptions’. [Read more at Agenda 45.4]
Why not choose a happier subject?
Researching rape stories is a difficult and delicate topic. A crucial aspect of this work is how to do it justice – not only for ourselves as researchers, but most of all for those who have suffered sexual violence, and their families. From a subjective point of view, as editors of the new volume of essays, Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation, we see two more major issues. First, how do you deal with the obvious pain involved in the topic (even if it is refracted through literature)? Second, how do you talk about it with colleagues, friends and family? Even mentioning the word “rape” provokes a wide range of responses. For second-wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, the primary objective was to put rape on the agenda in an effort to prevent it from occurring. Now what is at stake is not just whether we speak about rape or not, but how we speak about it and to what end. [Read more at the Times (Higher Ed).]
In the west of Utah, there stands a 65 foot natural arch of entrada sandstoneLocally, it is known as the “Schoolmarm’s Bloomers” or the “Chaps,” but most people know it as the Delicate Arch. At one time, it was a sandstone fin. But over time, the middle eroded, opened like a mouth to the long red desert and mountains beyond. The first time I visited the Delicate Arch, I was driving cross-country with my husband Dan. We had been married just over a year, and in that time, I had miscarried two babies. I had given up trying to have children, and had suggested the drive to San Diego as a distraction for us both.
[Read more on The Junction Box (for the Glasfryn Project)]
John Siddique Showcase
British poet John Siddique is an ardent student of human nature. As his poem ‘Why’ suggests, he is interested in culture, nationalism and belonging, as well as human desire and the vagaries of how we choose to live. The repetition of ‘because’ emphasizes Siddique’s preoccupation with unravelling the reasons for particular human behaviours, whether that includes the malice of racism, the denial of adulterers, or the deep-seated bonds of family – both blood and adopted ties. Though Siddique grew up in Rochdale in the English North, his parents were immigrant workers who came to Britain to find work during the late 1950s. His mother, Norah O’ Neill, was Irish, and his father, Mohammed Siddique, was from India and later returned to Pakistan when Siddqiue was a boy. Writing about his family in the anthology Four Fathers, Siddique describes his father as ‘a handsome Indian man who liked taking photos’ and his mother as ‘a girl who had seen a vision of the Virgin Mary during an air raid when she was eight years old’ (Four Fathers, Route 2006). As a result of his family background, Siddique is particularly interested in writing about people and characters that do not fit into the white, Anglo-Saxon identity that has sometimes dominated British subjectivity. He is also especially perceptive in analyzing the assumptions and prejudices of the British: the tendency to favour the known and familiar over the strange or the unknown, as is clear in ‘Why’. [Read more on Pirene’s Fountain.]
Celebrating, not complaining (part of a debate on the need – or not – for women only anthologies)
British poetry has had many victories: women laureates, women editors, strong women’s voices; but there are still subtle forms of exclusion. I would agree with Eva Salzman who suggests that “In the UK, any glaring gender imbalance is typically explained away as a ‘coincidence’ here, an accident ‘there’.” In the introduction to the collection Women’s Work (2008), Salzman provides some sobering facts about women’s exclusion from poetry anthologies, offering a review of key volumes. Many anthologies from 1960 to present are made up by only 5% to 18% women poets. Some more recent anthologies contain 25% women, while one or two go as high as 35%. In all this counting, Salzman only found two anthologies that had more women poets than men (edited by two trailblazers Carol Ann Duffy and Adrienne Rich). Like Salzman, I’m adamant that I don’t want “a separate, girly sandbox to play in”, but I would like to have as equal a chance as my male counterparts. [Read the full article and the other responses in Poetry Wales.]
Welsh Poetry and the Surreal
Though writing in 1968, Glyn Jones’s point that the Welsh writer is ‘not a man apart, a freak, but rather an accepted part of the social fabric’ is still relevant. Art about Wales is often rooted in political realism, but there are elements of surrealism in Welsh culture. Take the architectural bricolage of Portmeirion designed by Sir Clough William-Ellis; the surrealist photography of Angus McBean; the bizarre lyrics of bands like Super Furry Animals; the surreal elements in art by Ceri Richards or Sue Williams; and even the hit BBC comedy, Gavin and Stacey has been praised in The Times for its ‘village surrealism’. [For the full article see this issue of Poetry Wales.]
‘Braced for the large, fat envelopes’: Preparing poetry submissions for a woman’s market
Submitting poetry to magazines and anthologies can be daunting. In her journals Sylvia Plath writes of the grueling tension that accompanies any submission of creative work. Waiting for magazines to write back, Plath must ‘brace myself for the large, fat envelopes, the polite, encouraging yet inevitable rejection’… [Read the full essay in the volume Women on Poetry.]