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Giraffe is Bryony Littlefair’s fantastic debut collection. Published by Seren Books, it won the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2017 and it’s easy to see why.

Through 19 poems, Bryony skillfully presents everyday life – from ‘Tara Miller’, the bad girl at school who leaves an impression to the lesson of healing in the title poem, where happiness when it comes “will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.” We’re pulled into each scene, but it’s the insightful nuances that make these poems shine.

In ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’, Bryony relays her sister’s blood-taking (somewhat apologetically) through the eyes of the nurse:

Sorry for her ratchety stubborn fear,

which will make you late for your next appointment. Sorry, also,

for the 16k a year, for the commute

from Clapham North to Archway

where the light is piss-yellow and everyone is angry.

Coming home early from school in ‘Hallway’, Bryony catches her mother “eyes closed, somewhere else” playing the piano as Bryony:

…stood quiet and uncertain,

shivering like a just-plucked violin string;

washed up in the hallway, wondering at her life.

It’s an absorbing collection – a series of expertly rendered snapshots in which Bryony punctuates conversational tone with poignancy. I’ll end with one of my favourites, for just this reason.

 

Amsterdam, July 2011     

 

I might have stayed, in that lighted carriage,

with its lullaby of whirring tracks, but stepped off here,

where the girls stare out from glass

as though they know your secrets, as though

they are okay with them.

 

The streets sing hymns here. The buildings talk quietly amongst themselves.

You check out early. There is no breakfast. Fuelled

by hunger, you can go and go. The ecstasy

of open space declares itself, and knows

of your relentless need to run roads.

 

Loneliness does not exist here, where every face looks like

one you might have loved in a previous life.

Undrunk vodka. Sky cool in my throat.

 

Like an empty suitcase, my heart flies open.

 

Copyright @ Bryony Littlefair 2017

This was the title of an article by Pascale Petit in the current edition of Mslexia, and it was an interesting read.

Mslexia

Pascale has a long list of poetic achievements and some fantastic collections, including The Zoo Father and The Huntress, both published by Seren. The latter focuses on her mother, as does this feature, in which Pascale explains the emotional journey she took when attempting to write about her mother and the impact of the abusive relationship she had with her. Those familiar with Pascale’s work know that animals and the Amazon are strong influences, and to be able to write freely about her mother Pascale identified these with her, in particular a golden jaguar quickly followed by a snow leopard, wolverine, giraffe, etc.  By doing this Pascale managed to literally exorcise herself of her mother’s ghost, eventually being able to think of her and love together in the same space, thanks to Pascale’s love for the creatures representing her mother in her work.

And this is what I love about poetry – catharsis is one of its many facets, giving us the opportunity to transfer difficult people and experiences onto those things so much more familiar to us and that feel far less uncomfortable. There is much to be said about this painful and then pain-free process.

Pascale Petit

I met Pascale by attending one of her courses at The Poetry School a few years ago back when I was living in London. The session was called ‘Life Class for Poets’, and focused on generating poetry from image, be they still pictures or a moving life model, encouraging us to free write whatever they inspired within us.  I remember I produced some pretty weird and wonderful pieces, which I really should make the time to revisit and develop further.

I’m currently using Pascale’s Towards a Collection course booklet I brought and downloaded from The Poetry School website (I tried to enroll for the face-to-face course but by popular demand it was over-subscribed, so I was thrilled to find I could still access the materials).  For anyone looking to do this it’s an invaluable tool, and I particularly like the simple exercise of surrounding yourself with all the poems you’re thinking of including to look for themes, patterns, and a general sense of how they look next to one another. You quickly see what works and what doesn’t, those that belong and those that belong somewhere else.

When I lived in London I participated in a few Poetry School courses, including a workshop with Pascale Petit and an online course facilitated by Helen Ivory.

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Last week the school hosted their first Digital Open Day via CAMPUS, a social network for poets.  I signed up to participate in a couple of their live Q&A chats but unfortunately, due to some technical issues our end plus the time difference, was not able to be actively involved.

However, following each event transcripts were posted on the site for group members to access so I was able to catch up on what I missed.  The live session Path to a First Collection provided a real insight into the heads of prestigious editors – Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books (also see Jo Bell’s latest blog) and Amy Wack of Seren – and poets – Kim Moore and Hannah Lowe.  Neil and Amy explained what they look for in a submission to grab (and hold) their attention, whereas Kim and Hannah’s perspective was from the submitter and the arduous task of fine-tuning their work before sending it in.  It is an invaluable read for anyone making steps to putting their initial manuscript together, be it a full length or pamphlet collection.

Kim Moore is also the Poetry School’s new Poet in Digital Residence.  Kim is a wonderful poet based in Cumbria, with her intriguing first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves published by Inpress and eagerly awaited first full length collection due out in 2015 from Seren.  Kim has also been widely published in some of the top literary magazines, such as Rialto and Ambitand after reading her first blog I’m looking forward to more.

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