Sharon Olds and “memory’s dark-blue corridor”

Have you ever been to Reid of Liverpool? Well, you should have. You definitely should have: but I warn you, if you’re a bookworm – you may not want to leave.

Reid is a secondhand book shop on Mount Pleasant, complete with log-fire, plumes of dust, and a poetry collection that spans an entire wall.  It’s where I stayed transfixed for about 2 hours. It’s also where I discovered Sharon Olds.


I desperately wanted to find some new poetry (where better place to look?) and was determined to leave this bookstore with a new oh-my-gosh-love-of-my-life poet.

I’d heard of Sharon Olds before: In 2012, she won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize for Stag’s Leap –  a collection detailing her recent divorce. Olds is known for her controversial subject matter and I’d been intrigued by a couple of poems I’d read online. When I saw One Secret Thing (£10.00, Jonathan Cape) I snatched it off the shelf right away.

This collection is filled with tactile imagery, conjuring the sensation of flesh on flesh, tiny fingers in a parental palm:

… On the back of my hand, a luminous

wedge, a patch of Alamogordo –

the new-risen moon, the last quarter,

as if my mother, in her sleep, took

a ladle, and poured this portion…

The poet is speaking to all female experience: she examines our bodies, our relationships with our mothers and our internal struggles with image consciousness. Her poem, ‘Home Ec’, is stirringly intimate. However, these are issues explored by many poets wishing to reach out to a female audience – they are the pit-stops and eternally pilfered topics of fresh-faced Plathites.

Olds’ poetry goes far deeper than this, giving our personal experiences a vast kind of historical gravity. One of the major themes of the collection, particularly in the first section (simply titled ‘War’), is the Second World War and the Holocaust. The way these themes of womanhood and everyday wartime experience work seamlessly together is perhaps what gives this collection a feeling of extreme completeness.

There is something richly fulfilling in her imagery which covers the mundane: the “sweater drawer”, to the “cranking of the solar system”. Her style is incredibly distinctive: you get a thrill from the fluid rush of unshaped stanza.

One Secret Thing is unnervingly close to the bone, but that brings comfort with it.

Note to self: raid Reid every weekend.

Dreams Without Frontiers

So I’m lapping up the merits of working in Manchester.

OK, so it hasn’t been the glamour and glitz of a metropolis, but at lunch I get to do things like this:





I work just around the corner from the Manchester Art Gallery, and stumbled across the wonderful ‘Dreams Without Frontiers’ exhibition. If you’re a big fan of The Smiths or just like to bask in the beauty of urban decay, being blasted with ‘Asleep’, then this one’s for you.

This bleak display of seventies architecture takes up only a small corner of the gallery, but it’s a definite must-see. Showcasing the work of two artists, Cyprien Gaillard and Kelley Walker, the exhibition uses a combination of post-industrial images and popular vinyl to explore the human impact on landscape.

I was blown away by the room and the ghostly video installation. Whether you’re a Smiths fan or not, this is something well-worth seeing, so be quick!

Exhibition closes at the end of May so get there quick! (Images from Manchester Confidential)


smiths 1

Discovering the World’s Two Smallest Humans…

Finding Julia Copus was a perky case of right place, right time.

When I stumbled into a poetry event at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, last year, I had no idea who’d be reading. I’d fallen a little out of the loop with the writing scene and was having a cheeky search for cocktails around the Albert Dock when I saw her advertised. I strolled along, took my seat at a small scrubbed-white table and six months later I own every book she’s ever written.

Yes, I missed my last train. Yes, it was completely worth it. Yes, I despise Mersey Rail.


Shortlisted for the Costa Award and the TS Eliot Prize, The World’s Two Smallest Humans (F&F, £9.99) is Julia’s third collection and tackles some emotional struggles from the poet’s own life. 

Having just finished her In Defense of Adultery, I felt that this latest collection was disjointed, making it easy to stop reading and pick up much later. This was quite dissatisfying. Individually, the poems are beautiful pieces, with the fascinatingly palindromic ‘Raymond, at 60’ showing immense skill, honed and perfected. ‘A Soft-Edged Reed of Light’ swells from a conversational teasing, to a burst of feeling that I don’t think I was ready for and made me blub my way rather messily through the next pages. Copus’ way of provoking strong reactions is stunning and keeps you repeating her lines long after. I find her work beautiful. However it wasn’t until the final section of the book, that I felt the collection unite.

The eleven-poem ‘Ghost’ speaks in-depth about the poet’s experience with IVF and is best not read on a bus surrounded by excitable school-kids, as I found to my dismay. ‘Inkling’ and ‘Pledge’ are devastatingly stark and bring the book together in a bleak climax.

The World’s Two Smallest Humans is an elegy to lost love, lost childhood, and lost children. Julia Copus was an amazing discovery, and this is the poem that keeps me hooked time after time:


That was the house where you asked me to remain
on the eve of my planned departure. Do you remember?
The house remembers it – the deal table
with the late September sun stretched on its back.
As long as you like, you said, and the chairs, the clock,
the diamond leaded lights in the pine-clad alcove
of that 1960s breakfast-room were our witnesses.
I had only meant to stay for a week
but you reached out a hand, the soft white cuff of your shirt
open at the wrist, and out in the yard,
the walls of the house considered themselves
in the murk of the lily-pond, and it was done.

Done. Whatever gods had bent to us then to whisper,
Here is your remedy – take it – here, your future,
either they lied or we misheard.
How changed we are now, how superior
after the end of it – the unborn children,
the mornings that came with a soft-edged reed of light
over and over, the empty rooms we woke to.
And yet if that same dark-haired boy
were to lean towards me now, with one shy hand
bathed in September sun, as if to say,
All things are possible – then why not this?
I’d take it still, praying it might be so.

Take a look at some of the latest events at the Liverpool Bluecoat.

Magpies and Metaphors

Happy New Year!

As part of my 2013 Resolutions (capital R for rigour…) I’m going to kick-start my blogging again and hopefully get chatting to some of you lovely people from the Blogosphere. Hello! So set aside the tinsel, wade through the chocolate wrappers, and I’ll get you a brew.

There were other things on my Resolution list: join a new club, publish my book, get a new flat. However, it hasn’t been until today, 01/01/2013, that I’ve finally felt energised enough to do them. I lay in wait for the big day. I could have signed up to the club yesterday, two weeks ago, 11:49PM; but nope, I waited and plotted like ginger tom cat eyeing your Xmas dinner.

I waited for ‘New Year – New You’.

We’re constantly looking for these signifiers, the nudges in the right direction, to make us do what we’ve really been meaning to do for ages. We look for signs. We mark things with language. We all know the magpie rhyme – “One for sorrow, two for joy…” – What happened before someone made up that rhyme? They were just pesky feathered fiends, not full-on magpie metaphors.

I was out for a walk today. Frolicking down country lanes, avoiding fierce mountain bikers, and I noticed it was a blooming nice day.

“Ah, 2013 will be a good one! The sun’s out!”

The sun isn’t going to make 2013 a good’n – I’ll do that on my own, thanks. My resolutions have been sitting gathering dust for a while now, and I’ve been waiting and waiting to make a start. But we make our own luck, we bring about our own changes in life. The right time to reach ahead is now, and any other time, for that matter!

So I’m going to set aside the metaphors for my writing, not my life, and have a cracking 2013!

Magpie Letterpress

CVs & Tea Leaves

Well, it seems I’m being turfed out into the dreaded ‘real world’ after four years of comfortably shabby student living. I’m ready to take on life – armed with essays and amazing stir-fry skills. Bring it on.

And things aren’t looking too dreary at all at the minute. I’m very excited to have just received Elissa Elwick’s beautiful illustrations for “Legendary” and “Twitch” to be released in December 2012. Already stocking up on the celebratory tipple. The dissertation is well on its way. However, it turns out writing about snow in June wasn’t the best idea… Writing again has been such a release, and thanks to some lovely friends I’m finally getting stuff down on the page. Elizabeth and Mary, you have been absolute stars! Have been spending some long spring days in Lancaster, pen in hand.

Congratulations to the top 3 winners of Lancashire Book of the Year 2012 – very well-deserved to Chris Higgins, Malorie Blackman and Zoë Marriott! The events were absolutely wonderful, and the student judges were fantastic.

As the real end of uni life approaches, I’m glad to be getting out there. As for now, I’m swamped in CVs and covering letters. So if you know of any jobs where I can look at books all day and mess around with apostrophes, you know where to send them. But in the meantime, bring on the tea and biscuits! (malted milks preferable)

Busy with Books!

It’s been busy, busy, busy up here! So much to do before the end of the semester, but the caffeine is pulling me through.

Attended the announcement of the Lancashire Book of the Year shortlist on Friday. A really excellent morning, and in case you hadn’t heard, these were the books that made it:

  1. The Hunting Ground, Cliff McNish
  2. Shadows on the Moon, Zoe Marriott
  3. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher
  4. People’s Republic, Robert Muchamore
  5. The Spook’s Destiny, Joseph Delaney
  6. The Dead, Charlie Higson
  7. Emerald, Karen Wallace
  8. He’s After Me, Chris Higgins
  9. Boys Don’t Cry, Malorie Blackman
  10. 0.4, Mike Lancaster

It’s a really strong and varied list, and I’m looking forward to reading them! Cliff McNish was a childhood favourite of mine, so my eyes sparkled when they announced it, hehe.

Very excited to be going to the London Book Fair in April. Tickets book, accommodation sorted: anyone else going to be there?

So, in work yesterday we had a little dress up (any excuse) for a late World Book Day celebration. We had sweets, drawing, quizzes, and free books! A fabulous day all around, and I’m still shaking slightly from my sugar-high… Follow us on Twitter @WaterstonesBpl!

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Excuse me whilst I get back in bed and watch soppy films.

To PhD, or not to PhD…

February, when did you get here? So, over half the month has passed, along with Valentine’s Day (see how I refrained from anything vilely sentimental?), and Pancake Tuesday lies deliciously near.

I’m now back in the swing of uni, routinely nerding away in the depths of the library. Whilst typing away, I have been struck by the time-old question: to PhD, or not to PhD. I’ve become incredibly interested in a particular type of fantasy literature, although I have found little about it in journals or online, so I thought this might be a great subject to research. Opportunities like these rarely present themselves and I would love to take this research a step further, but time and money are pressing issues. Anyone have any thoughts on this? What are your experiences? How many cups of coffee should I expect to get through in a day?

I came across this article from the University of Bolton, and thought their creative magazine looks like a fantastic idea. Why not send in your work!

A massive thank you to Sally Stephenson who has included me on her website – absolutely chuffed! Sally and I recently became friends over Twitter and she has been so kind and helpful with critiquing my work. Ah, Twitter, where would we be without you?

On with the research!

Newcastle, macaroons, and the Beeb.

Feel like I’ve had my socks knocked off! Seven Stories is an amazing place: a haven of children’s literature and I’d thoroughly recommend it. I’ve just finished a two week work placement there and have come back brimming with picture book ideas. Thanks so much to everyone there – you were so lovely! Fabulous time in Newcastle, where I tasted macaroons and tapas (not together…) for the first time, and walked along the quay at dawn.

But now back to reality, and there are a stack of poetry competitions to be getting on with!

If you’re into nature, and are an ornothological whizz (ahem) then you might be interested in the Rialto and RSPB poetry competition 2012. The Rialto is Britain’s leading independent poetry magazine, so this is a wonderful opportunity. You’re poetry can take any direction, but should have a basis in nature. Closing date 30th April 2012 (more details on website).

There are heaps more, but I’m sans laptop at the moment, so bear with me. Does anyone have any more events/poetry info? Would be great to know!

Just a little note: This year I’ll be off to CBBC for an amazing two weeks after winning a screenwriting competition! Thanks so much to Kimo Morrison for this, I’m absolutely thrilled! UCLan news wrote a cheeky little article without telling me…

Winter Wafflings

I’m having a belated blow of festivity, drinking ‘Christmas Tea’ from a Santa mug and cheerily humming “Sleigh Ride”. Must be this vile good mood I’m in!

Anywho, so 2012 is here! Looks set to be a good’n: I complete my MA, go on two work placements and will finish this bloomin’ book of mine! 2011 has been a fantastic year in terms of writing, and I hope that this year can be even better.

Whilst looking into the Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition, I just stumbled upon this site detailing lots of poetry events for 2012 – well worth a look!

If you don’t already know, I’m on Twitter, just click here for fascinating insights into my highly caffeinated life.


Lemsip Addiction

Happy December-Time!

Just a quick post:

I’ve now uploaded the latest issue of Diffusion online! Go take a look: Diffusion 4:2. We’re very pleased with this issue – we had some excellent submissions. Well done to all the contributors.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Seven Stories in Newcastle which, if you don’t already know, is absolutely incredible. Seven Stories is an archive of children’s literature, a museum to our childhood heroes, and a hub for children’s events and writers. I am happy to say that I will be doing two weeks work experience there in January: I can’t wait to get started! (be warned: I am prepared to geek)

And now – back to essays (fun when you’re drugged up to your face in Lemsip. Can I hire someone to take care of me and feed me soup? CV required).