Tag Archives: Poetry

The Unsung Letter No. 28

This week Carrie Lorig brings us a poetic, form-shifting take on a poetic, strange, politically-engaged book made to be ephemeral:


What do we do with the book that appears and exists differently? That screams as it crumbles.


Intrigued? I can almost guarantee that you will not have heard of this one. Sign up for the Unsung Letter if you haven’t yet. A book recommendation weekly, but a different author/reader/book pusher each time.


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The Unsung Letter No. 19

This week’s Unsung Letter, written by Angelica Jade Bastién, is on a poetry collection that cuts deep, and on the image of the madwoman on celluloid and the page:


A few years ago a feeling I’ve had for a while crystallized into a theory I’ve come to call The Ophelia Factor. As an Afro-Latina with bipolar disorder since my early teens I have been devouring the stories and work of women who share this struggle. These women contain multitudes. They’re celluloid mavens like Marilyn Monroe in how she’s framed by photographer Eve Arnold and writer Truman Capote. They’re noir sirens like the diabolical femme fatale Gene Tierney played in the 1945 Technicolor Leave Her to Heaven. They’re genius wordsmiths like Sylvia Plath, perhaps the foremost image in modern times of a woman undone by her own mind. What unites these women beyond their mental illnesses are a concoction of curious factors. They’re young, beautiful, and white. So often the stories of mentally ill women are flattened into tragedies in which they aren’t the architect of their own destinies. Instead they’re cautionary tales.


Sign up to read the letter here. A different writer/critic/book lover sings the praises of a different undersung work each time. Warning: your to be read pile may grow exponentially after you sign up…

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More Books on My Radar – Small Press Delights

I am not allowed to buy books at the moment

I am NOT allowed to buy books at the moment.

D and I are moving flat soon, and simply now is not a good time to buy more books.

So of course, I have been seeing books I want to read EVERYWHERE and none of them are library books, of course.

Check them out:


  • Chelsea Hodsons’ chapbook Pity the Animal – Goodreads reviews Glacially cool looking, and spoken of widely with great enthusiasm (Future Tense Books)


  • Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s The Rabbit Back Society – I’m looking for a wintery read, and this quote on the (urgh) Amazon page really sells it – ‘[The Rabbit Back Literature Society] Mixes the small-town surrealism of Twin Peaks with the clandestine-society theme of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History’ The List. (Pushkin Press)


  • Amina Cain’s Creature – from the excellent Dorothy Press ‘Amina Cain’s Creature brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling.’ (Dorothy)


  • Sara Woods’ Wolf Doctors – I think the cover is really cool, and Sara is too, from what I have seen of her on various social media platforms. Poetry, strangeness and heart. (Artifice Books)



Any I’m missing? All of them, I’m missing them all. Ach, well. For now.

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Dark comes down


I’ve been back now a while from the shimmering cold of the Rockies. And now, here, we are stepping gingerly towards Christmas. But the chance of a snowy feast day seems slender. Outside right now the bare rowan and beech trees in the communal back green are a sharp crossing place of brown and black branch, with no snow, no dusting or freezing, sealing in or making more beautiful. There is no mysteriousness. Only the wind and the rain subsiding a little after days of howling and lashing. Only the wet slates and the tenements tholing the thinness of the day.

I went searching for a wintry poem, but all of them seemed built for a winter with snow. With something calming and sweet in the goosedown of white. So, instead, I found this slightly solemn verse:

I find one stark scene
cut by evening cries, by warring air.
The muffled hiss of blades escapes into breath,
hangs with it a moment, fades off.
Fades off, goes, the scene, the voices fade,
the line of trees, the woods that fall, decay
and break, the dark comes down, the shouts
run off into it and disappear.
At last the lamps go too, when fog
drives monstrous down the dual carriageway
out to the west, and even in my room
and on this paper I do not know
about that grey dead pane
of ice that sees nothing and that nothing sees.

– from ‘Winter’ by Edwin Morgan

A Scottish poet finds what it is about Scottish winters in the south of the country at least that makes them their own particularity. Fog, cold, rawness, a sense of light leaking away, of voices muffled by damp and the dark, oh the dark, the spirit of the winter. Not the brilliance of Rocky mountain snow, for all its harshness, bringing something consoling with it. None of that.

That’s not to be gloomy. It’s just that here, it’s hard to fling yourself out of doors. Even when there is snow, it’s usually here only briefly. A wonder of small wet petals as it falls. So we take our smaller spaces, and we lean into the wind and rain, holding out coats tight. Inside we look out on nothing comforting, and must find cheer in a little clementine, held up against the grey. In a warm drink and familiar songs on the speakers.

Last night I stayed up writing poems about fortune for my first long collection. All my poems are winter-dark poems, small, foggy, raw. Some lines I dreamed of falling asleep, and they’ve gone too like breath after speaking, white then nothing at all. Today I’ll work on The Library of Endings, starting it over from scratch. It too is a winter book, slipped into a place where summer is a squib and hail common in June (it hailed here too in May, so it’s not that fantastical).

I’ll write of a consoling, snowy winter and harsh narrow lives within it, I’ll live the real Scottish winter, going out into the rain.

Christmas doesn’t always look like the Christmas cards. but even so, we’ll have its warmth. And maybe a robin outside, flitting back in the labyrinth of twigs, a tiny smudge, that size of luminescence like a throbbing heart.

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‘Times Like Places’ by Sheenagh Pugh

A poem for the weather, for how it links us to our own memories. Forceably, at times. Wherever, whenever you are, there the world is. Sleeting at you. Rustling under you. Looming its mountains over you bracken brown, or ice-white or black. We live in the weather, in a way we do not live in the moment. Poem in a post by Tamar Yoseloff on the lovely Invective Against Swans

Times Like Places


There are times like places: there is weather
the shape of moments. Dark afternoons
by a fire are Craster in the rain
and a pub they happened on, unlooked-for
and welcoming, while a North Sea gale
spat spume at the rattling windows.

And most August middays can take him
to the village in Sachsen-Anhalt,
its windows shuttered against the sun
and a hen sleeping in the dusty road,
the day they picked cherries in a garden
so quiet, they could hear each other breathe.

Nor can he ever be on a ferry,
looking back at a boat’s wake, and not think
of the still, glassy morning off the Hook,
when it dawned on him they didn’t talk
in sentences any more: didn’t need to,
each knowing what the other would say.

The worst was Aberdeen, when they walked
the length of Union Street not speaking,
choking up, glancing sideways at each other,
but never at the same time. Black cats
and windy bridges bring it all back,
eyes stinging. Yet even this memory

is dear to him, now that no place or weather
or time of day can happen to them both.
On clear winter nights, he scans the sky
for Orion’s three-starred belt, remembering
whose arms warmed him, the cold night
he first saw it, who told him its name.


– Sheenagh Pugh



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Horror and Weirdness at the Edinburgh International Book Festival


Not as negative as you might be led to believe! This is the aforementioned discussion on ‘the Scottish Peculiarity’ that D and I went to see along with his mother and step-father who are visiting us at the moment.


Margaret Atwood chaired the event beautifully, with an understated hand and a wry sense of humour. My biggest regret after the show was that I only went to one of her events – clearly, I should have gone to more. Next year!


The other speakers were Ian Rankin Valerie Martin, a writer from New Orleans previously unknown to me. She wrote a novel called Mary Reilly, which is a retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story from the maid’s point of view. Martin added a quiet thoughtfulness to the proceedings. I was particularly interested in the too-brief chat about the Mary Celeste, which she has also written a novel about, and that mystery’s ties to Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote an anonymous ‘account’ of the ship’s abandonment.


Ian Rankin had a great stock of knowledge of the Scottish weird and macabre in his head, and a great wit to boot. I was particularly interested in the clootie well he mentioned being somewhere outside of the city – I hadn’t known about it. A clootie well is similar to a fairy tree (schietree as I’m calling it here) in that it’s used to try to address problems through interaction with the natural world as a conduit to the spirit world. In Scots ‘clootie’ means cloth – folk go to trees and wells and tie small cloths to branches or by the well in order to seek remedy for some bad fortune. Rankin said he went by the well once and saw a full quilt tied up, and written on it was ‘BIG PROBLEM, BIG CLOOTIE’. This story I had to later explain to my in-laws as they, as Doug is, are American. It got me wondering if there mightn’t be a site in North America where people have made a clootie tree. Anyone know of this?


Some of the books and writers discussed included:


Robert Louis Stevenson, for his Jekyll and Hyde for the most part – with some great revelations about a story of his childhood home containing a wardrobe built by Deacon Brodie, the respectable citizen by day, housebreaker by night who some people say inspired the famous novella.


Arthur Conan Doyle and his rationalism tempered by an obsession in spiritualism.


James Hogg, author of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – as Rankin rightly said, a difficult and important book and one that more people should read. I hadn’t thought of this before, but it made sense that as he said this book had been quite influential on Scottish crime fiction writers, given that it’s perhaps the first book about a serial killer. Read it!


Some smatterings on Poe and Macbeth too – and a sprinkling of names of Scottish writers male and female who served to whet the appetite but sadly were not addressed. Scottish ballads were brought up, and now I’d like to get myself a wee look at a collection of them, given how rich and grim their stories are. Other highlights included the story of Half-Hanged Mary of Massachusetts, apparently a relation of Margaret Atwood, and the famous anecdote about a drunken David Hume falling in the Nor’ Loch, Edinburgh’s former heavily polluted water supply, and only being rescued after he, a firm atheist, recited the Lord’s Prayer. Which he did, atheists in particular not being overly fond of death.


The discussion was baggy, wide-ranging and utterly engrossing. I really did not take notes because I was too caught up in it. It could have been a little more scholarly – but I say that as someone who has delved into the Supernatural in Scottish fiction as a casual interest since I was about ten, so. I might be a little more prepped and keen than those who got themselves an intriguing introduction to the topic. The question of whether Scotland is more into its fictive horrors and weirdness was moot and addressed, as I’ve thought before, as a by-product of the Northern Dark. If anything my criticism would be that it was all far too short. I’d have happily listened to the three speak for hours on the subject. In fact they mentioned talking in the writer’s yurt at the festival beforehand, and as my step-father-in-law said, ‘to be a fly on that wall!’.


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About ending

At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.
Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle
mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when
city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.
– From ‘Late Summer‘ by Jennifer Grotz
In the air I can already feel the lateness of things, the way Autumn is waiting at the back of this month. August can be difficult. Slow, full of regret. For the trips not taken (for the time and money not there to take them). For the progress not being made (for the world is on holiday, or in festival mode).  The nights are drawing in without the clear bite of the air to sharpen the mind.
I have news both bad and good, but I’m holding on to all of it until I can find a balance, a way to broach, here. I have questions too, thoughts on what I am writing next, what I’ve written before. After August, I think. Think clearly and articulate after August, after summer has gone. Right now all good and bad are in a blowsy way, hard to grasp without noting their insubstantiability yet.
Sorry to be vague. It’s a vague season. Little golden bees going round and round to nowhere discernible.
If you feel the same, little bee, then I wish you a high wind. I wish you Autumn and the idea of sharp fruit and dying fire on the branches, better than these scattered crumbs.


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