Map of a Plantation is Jenny Mitchell’s follow up to her prize-winning debut collection Her Lost Language.
The collection gives voice to contrasting characters on a Jamaican cane plantation in order to examine the widespread and ongoing impact of enslavement.
These poems are both tender and uncompromising, always seeking to use the past to heal present-day legacies of a contested and emotive history.
This collection contains the winner of the Segora Prize 2020, the Aryamati Prize 2020 and the winner of a Bread and Roses Poetry Award.
Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Folklore Prize 2020, the Segora Prize 2020, the Aryamati Prize 2020, the Fosseway Prize 2020, a Bread and Roses Award and joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize.
She has been nominated for the Forward Prize: Best Single Poem, and her best-selling debut collection, ‘Her Lost Language’, is one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales) and a Jhalak Prize #bookerlove recommendation.
Burden of Ownership
He measures cost in body parts. A head pays for a month of food; two eyes, a week of drink. Christmas adds a throat, carved out with care the neck still holds a yoke if the chin is firm weight evenly proportioned.
Four breasts pay for this season’s clothes – a mad extravagance he means to make the norm. His furniture demands a score of navels. One manly chest is paid for every horse. He only wants the ones with heart.
Below the waist is worth the price of land – an acre for two wombs. Twelve manhoods buy a gushing stream to serve his house and fields. A sack of feet placed yearly in a bank account maintains his balance and the boast – he’s always in the black.
Encountering a Slave Girl Held
In a museum cabinet, glass-topped abandoned coffin. Lying straight. Thin-faced, bark-hued. Plaits against her scalp except a reckless horn.
Eyes blink obsidian. Quick movement of the mouth. She’s missing teeth or two in front. A hand cracks glass. Slowly, she steps down, dress caught in the shards.
I back away as fingers work the jag, head lowered left cheek bruised down to the chin she lifts with pride exhibiting a rope burn – choker set with gleaming coals.
Her voice cracks low – This time, I will not leave my breath when I decide to run. Feet hardly dared to touch the ground like waves pulled out from under me.
This time, the trees will fold bend bark knees. No branch to snag my dress or point towards my back surely as an arrow. I will aim
to reach the wall before it’s dark. Climb each brick, big as a baby’s coffin. No dog will bite my heel. No rope turned to a choker.
This week we spotlight two publications from Against the Grain Press.
Against the Grain Poetry Press is an innovative small independent poetry publisher dedicated to publishing challenging, well-crafted poetry. They love writing that is moving and provocative from strong, fresh, diverse voices.
They produce beautiful, starkly-designed, high quality books and pamphlets with high production values and an edgy appeal.
In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered by Chaucer Cameron
Publication date 28th March 2021
In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered is part memoir/part fiction and is Chaucer’s debut pamphlet. The poems explore the impact of prostitution.
‘A brave, layered piece of work, in turn heartbreaking and hilarious. Chaucer Cameron is lyrically voicing her own experiences and simultaneously documenting the undocumented and doing it with a bold beauty – I’m in awe.’ – Sabrina Mahfouz
“These poems ring out like gunshots in the night; they will wake you from your sleep. Yet despite its distilled directness, this book is lifted by both mystery and surprise. Listen for the songs emerging from the dark centre of this transformative work of experience and survival.’ Jacqueline Saphra.
Chaucer Cameron is a poet and poetry filmmaker. Her poems have been published in various journals, magazines & online, including Under the Radar, Poetry Salzburg, The North, Blue Nib, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat & Tears. Chaucer’s poetry-films have been screen-published in some of the growing number of journals and sites that are now accepting mixed media, such as Atticus Review.
She has performed at Ledbury Poetry Festival as part of a live performance combining British Sign Language poetry and video poetry (2017), Bath Fringe FestivalStill Points Moving World performance writing exhibition (2014), and her poetry and monologues have been performed at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.
She has co-edited three poetry anthologies: Salt on the Wind – poetry in response to Ruth Stone (Elephant’s Footprint, 2015) The Museum of Light (Yew Tree Press, 2014), Nothing in the Garden, (Elephant’s Footprint, 2014).
The bus stopped at the edge of The Green.
It was a dark winter evening Ellen still had a twenty-minute walk home.
Bears … wild boars maybe. That rustling crack closing in must be animal.
It took three days to discover the body, reporters said it was hard to identify –
It’s funny what you think of when you’ve had a near miss/ I don’t think my nose is broken/ could’ve been much worse/ no time to check it out/ it doesn’t hurt/ anyway.
It’s funny what you think of/ when you’re gagging/ for your life when you hear the car doors/ click/ when the music is turned up/ and you put on your disguise.
Tonight/ it was the Flintstones/ I watched them as a kid/ you can watch it on YouTube/ it’s a sort of animation/ they used to call them cartoons/ but I can’t tell the difference.
The Flintstones were a family/ there was Fred and Barney/ Wilma/ and a Betty/ I had a crush on Betty/ what a beauty/ lovely legs/ she was a real animation.
Fred and Wilma had a kid/ every family had a kid/ named their daughter Pebbles/ oh/ there was a Bamm-Bamm/ I’m forgetting/ Bamm-Bamm/ they found him on the doorstep/ then took him in.
I loved that show/ I loved the way they loved their kids/ it’s funny what you think of/ when you’ve got a dodgy punter/ bloody Flintstones/ bloody Pebbles/ hell/ a broken nose
Maternal Impression by Cheryl Moskowitz
Publication date 28th March 2021
The term maternal impression refers to the belief that powerful stimuli on the mind of a mother can make a physical or mental mark on the child she is carrying, even before it is born.
‘Reading Maternal Impression is to have the feeling of walking on nails with bare feet, with the assurance of trust. I go tenderly where these fine poems take me, knowing they will advance my pleasure, my empowerment.’ Daljit Nagra
“Every time I have heard Cheryl Moskowitz read “The Donner Party”, strange things have happened – a bell has rung with no-one at the door, candles have guttered in a church setting, and shivers always run down my spine. Moskowitz’s poetry summons spirits and spills beyond the words on the page into a mystical space where we are all connected in body and mind. These are poems that once read or heard, leave their mark. Mesmeric, soul-feeding, uneasy, I come back to them again and again for reassurance, admonishment, and recognition of what it is to hang onto the maternal in our collective journey. Maternal Impression is a call to arms – maternal arms – and all that implies in the Anthropocene. It has a beating heart that needs to be heard, felt, and heeded.” – Lisa Kelly
Cheryl Moskowitz was born in Chicago and came to the UK aged 11. Formerly an actor and playwright, she trained in psychodynamic counselling and dramatherapy, and taught on the Creative Writing and Personal Development MA at Sussex University. She was a 2018 Moth Poetry Prize finalist and her poem Hotel Grief was commended in the 2019 National Poetry Competition. She has published two poetry collections and a novel Wyoming Trail (Granta). She is an editor at Magma Poetry.
Daughter in Garden
It’s the last Sunday in August. I can just see her
standing outside with her back against the wall
facing away. She is poised as if waiting for something
but there is nothing, only summer stillness.
It is early. No one else is up. I hadn’t heard her
unlocking the back door, but she must have.
She looks intent, so intent it hurts to think of
what she wants and how much she wants it.
The view from here is beautiful in this light.
I can see the church spire from the window
and the roof of her school. She’s been away from
both for weeks. The bells will ring again soon.
A pigeon rises suddenly from the branches
of the pear tree. There was no blossom, so there
will be no fruit this year. My daughter takes a step
forward, away from the wall. She raises her arms.
It is as if she is preparing to rise and take flight
like the bird. She points one toe out in front of her –
a ballerina – and propels herself forward onto the lawn.
The whole summer has led to this. A perfect cartwheel.
We are delighted to share with you two poems from Maytree 25 as part of our featured publication for Friday.
Shul is the debut collection from Leeds based writer and creator F. R. Kesby.
Shul will be released on the 30 April 2021 with a Facbook Live launch event on the 1 May which you can join by following this link – https://fb.me/e/RCbnR7e7
The word Shul is both a Yiddish word meaning synagogue (derived from the German for ‘school’) and a Buddhist concept of emptiness left behind when something has moved on; hollows left after houses have been removed, footprints on paths, the wearing of rocks by a river. In Buddhism this emptiness is sought out, the relief of the space left when one stops worrying about the emotional marks you have left.
In this collection of poems F R Kesby has sought to explore those marks they have left on their own world and the relationship between their memories of physical and emotional spaces. From comparing the memories of their home town compared to what it looks like now to viewing their relationship through one small bed to exploring places heard about every day in the news, each poem links place and soul in a way that respects the history of the word Shul, both Buddhist and Jewish, while being intensely personal.
In the land of boarded up shops and barred up houses I find myself watching a woman struggle through the word ‘alive’. I tell her; you are alive, I am alive, a dog is alive, a flower is alive. I could list the dead things instead; her family, her friends, her lovers, the dream of democracy in her country and the thousands of husbands and sons who fought for it. I could teach her the myths; the gods, the baked clay, the long crawl from single cells to terrorist cells. I could teach her the science; the sun giving energy to plants that give energy to us that we use to make bombs. Instead I repeat; you are alive. She whispers; I am alive. I could almost believe I helped her understand.
They’re Resurfacing the Road We Used to Meet On
I push my boot into the tar, press the thin covering against the heat of a reshaping world. I’ve got 60 seconds before my sole melts. I flatten the bubbles, stamp out creases, smooth the edges. I dance on the spot where you used to wait for me. I make the old new. 60 seconds is all it takes to change a soul.
Today we’re delighted to feature two recent publications from 4Word independent poetry press.
Released in March, Pretty in Pink by Ruth Aylett and Smithereens by Mike Farren are both now available from the 4Word on-line shop. More details here: Titles – 4Word
Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink by Ruth Aylett is, in part at least, an exploration of what it is to be a woman and what it shouldn’t be. These 29 poems draw on an impressive breadth of reference points: the Bible, mythology, witchery, Ken and Barbie, art, Iseult (and Tristan), Rosa Luxembourg, Marilyn Monroe and more. But they also breathe lived experience – from coming of age stories to parenthood, as daughter, as mother and when both viewpoints merge in Saturday Shopping’ (extract of a review by Sarah James)
Ruth Aylett has taught and researched computing and AI for many years, most recently in Edinburgh, and has been known to appear at poetry readings with a robot. Her poems are widely published, both in magazines such as The North, Butcher’s Dog, Prole and Agenda, and in anthologies, most recently Scotia Extremis (Luath) and Mancunian Ways (Fly on the Wall). She was joint author with Beth McDonough of the 2016 pamphlet Handfast (Mother’s Milk) This is her first single-author pamphlet. She writes about women and their lives, science and technology, about what’s wrong with the world and how it could be changed.
It’s nine sharp and she walks ten yards back in case a friend sees her shopping with her Mum, who knows this won’t be a happy outing, buying a new uniform for a new term.
It’s eleven sharp and she walks ten yards back carrying a bag from their two hours’ labour; a very short black skirt, a see-through white top, absolutely certain to cause lots of trouble.
All she ever wants is to be popular. All she ever wants is her daughter to smile. All she hates is in the clothes in the bag. All she hates is the knowledge that she’s failed.
A drop at a time from the burette, known into unknown; waiting for the giveaway colour change, titration on a quiet afternoon.
She wanted to be a boy. Drip drip drip Pink pink pink. Princesses, ribbons; smile. Pretty dresses, don’t get dirty, tidiness, helpfulness, the good wife always…
She looked a mess, climbed trees, wrestled with her younger brother, went topless on sunny days in the woods, wore jeans.
Because they were fourteen. Because they were a gang. Because women gag for it. Because it was easy.
She had never learned how to scream. Dragged under a young oak a good one to climb, branches touching the ground, making a green tent; enough of them to hold her down. A drop at a time from the burette, known into unknown. The whole world in a colour change, titration on a quiet afternoon.
Smithereens explores the loss of a long male friendship, its elegies fretting restlessly backwards and forwards through time and the stages of grief. These are poems bursting with the talk that we hadn’t needed to say/for forty odd years – intimate, urgent and affecting, private gifts to the dead which speak powerfully to the living. This is a moving, unusual and beautiful collection of poems. (Anthony Dunn)
Mike Farren is from West Yorkshire. He has been writing since his teens and his poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, such as those from Smith/Doorstop and Valley Press. He has been placed and commended in several competitions, including as canto winner for Poem of the North (2018) and winner of both Saltaire Festival and Ilkley Literature Festival poetry competitions (2020). His previous pamphlets are Pierrot and his Mother (Templar) and All of the Moons (Yaffle), the latter having been set to music by Keely Hodgson. He co-hosts Rhubarb Open Mic and is part of the Yaffle publishing team.
Green card blues Loma Prieta ‘The World Series earthquake’, 1989
These are the years when you and I get on with defining what we are. You’re not around: unsettled status means you can’t come back, in case they slam the door in your face.
I air-mail you to check that you’re OK after the earthquake. Mostly, though, it’s silence for me to fill with an idea of you turning into the unknown – becoming an American –
although in this new world, this cradle of the future, where Silicon Valley’s rule is being plotted, I guess that you’re still looking back to Greece and Rome and the memory of home.
These days are as calm, serene and infinite as the early autumn sky reflected in the unruffled water of the reservoir.
Almost every story I can tell her she hasn’t heard before and almost all their narratives point toward a happy end
and, as if there aren’t enough already, we steal fragments of sentences we hear from strangers in the instant they pass by
and make them meaningful by making them ours – smooth out the tensions they express or magnify their little happiness.
And I talk about you: the friend she hasn’t met and won’t, for years, because you are so far away – about the gilded summer night
we sat here, just us two, with cans of beer and planned the legends of our future lives, not thinking to factor in the world’s resistance
Our featured publication this week shines the spotlight on a brand new publisher doing some extraordinary work in the poetry world.
Dizzy Press is a new independent literary publisher dedicated to producing high quality books of poetry by disabled poets. Their first publication, and our Friday Feature, Blue in Green was made possible thanks to funding from Arts Council England’s National Lottery funded Project Grant scheme. Dizzy Press aims to publish 10 books in the next 10 years, bringing a range of voices from the UK to poetry audiences globally. https://dizzypress.co.uk
Inside the barber shop I pose before the mirror, then stop – as the age flashes to my face. He cuts away at the loose ends as I cut away from the past. The face reflects the fear in the polished glass, my feet want to flee but lead pounds in veins where blood used to be. So, I sit seemingly patient whilst my face is transformed from a hairy throwback Aztec to a slickly groomed Casual. It should be easy to adopt this tame new role, sink back inside the well-worn groove, rest on my record. As grey speckled hairs fall thick to the floor I fear the head-hunter will search once more, the balding patch does not please at all; when the cutting is finished he shows the back of my neck – so clean and neat that I panic, reach for my cash, nearly over-tipping in haste to escape the reflection of my face.
The Tool of My Trade
The tool of my trade is not a club or a whip not a bucket or spade or word from my lip, the tool of my trade is a pen. It’s not the pen of the teacher though he tries very hard, not the end of the money man counting jeans in Taiwan: not my pen. My pen is poised to strike though I’m a peaceful man; my pen probes originality but my origins aren’t unique. The tool of my trade is not a pick or an axe not a mechanical aid or tune from a sax, the tool of my trade is a pen. It’s not the pen of the clerk scuffling at computer’s foot, not the pen of the psychiatrist scribbling prescriptions: not my pen. My pen awakes when I least expect, makes me glide on my dreams to challenge my mind: my pen is my implement. Now, I must confess: the tool of my trade is not my pen, though I thought I was in control the pen is the master of my soul for I am the tool of the trade of my pen.
About the author:
Joe Bidder is a poet, published author and founding member of Survivors’ Poetry. He is the author of Blue in Green. He is also a writer, critic and publisher. Joe served as chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s Arts and Disability Advisory Panel and was a member of Arts Council England’s Literature Panel. Joe was born in 1941. In his life, Joe worked as a chemical engineer. He graduated from Imperial College in 1962. He travelled and worked around the world, selling oil refineries and power stations as a successful businessman. At age 33, he started writing poetry seriously.
In 1991, Joe co-founded Survivors’ Poetry along with Peter Campbell, Frank Bangay, and Hilary Porter. Survivors’ Poetry nights hosted diverse line-ups of music, poetry and comedy, attracting audiences and fans from across the UK. Acts included comedians Harry Enfield, Paul Merton, Molly Brown and Julian Clary; poets Patience Agbabi and Jean Binta Breeze; and other then up and coming names. What started as a self-help group, Survivors’ Poetry soon became a charity and evolved into a UK and global movement, inspiring chapters in Manchester, Leeds and throughout the UK.
As a publisher, Joe Bidder set up Survivor’s Press and published two poetry anthologies.