Thanks to David Barnes and Cast Iron Radio for inviting me to write an audio essay on Norfolk as part of their ‘Weird England’ series for BBC Radio 3. The series is available on iPlayer and also includes essays on Northumberland, Devon, Lewes, and Staffordshire. My essay is about the hostility and hospitality I experienced during the time I lived in the county, the strange myth of Snatch Valentine, the twentieth century photographer Viola Grimes, and a special late night in a museum.
Today I started a new role as writer-in-residence at the Coffin Works museum in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. This residency will allow me to research the nature of death rituals, particularly for those without a secure religious identity. I am really lucky to be able to work in an office in the shroud room (pictured).
I am excited to be working alongside museum manager Sarah Hayes, whose brilliant research on the history of coffins (and this picture of early embalming from the Civil War) can be found here, and Josie Wall, operations and volunteer assistant, and PhD researcher on the history of cemeteries and Victorian funeral practices.
I am using this residency to research and write on death rituals, and to analyse the long history of aestheticising young, female, corpses in literature, art, and cinema. I will also use this residency to run object-focussed writing workshops, rituals, and a Death Cafe. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with BrumYODO and A Matter of Life and Death Festival. I will also use this residency to reflect on my own initial death doula training.
I’m really happy to have a home here in the shroud room at Coffin Works, and I’m really looking forward to developing this project.
"SHE’D DONE IT UP WHEN THEY’D HAD NO PLACE TO GO, WHEN THEY WERE FIFTEEN. IT WAS STILL PRETTY LIKE IT HAD BEEN. DRIED FERNS AND FLOWERS, A RUG FROM OLD SCARVES. HER MOTHER’S CHIPPED SOUP PLATES PATTERNED WITH ROSES. A TEACUP FOR EACH OF THEM. A SOFT PILE OF BLANKETS THAT SMELLED OF THEIR BODIES. IN THE CORNER A BOX OF HIS TOOLS. SHE TOOK OUT THE AXE AND WENT CHASING THE PIGS."
This workshop builds on an ongoing collaboration between creative writers, environmental and political scientists and conservation biologists at the UEA. The wider project is interested in exploring the imaginative potential of speculating about the nature writing of the distant future: how will wildlife, the land, and our relationship to them have changed in 2080-2090? How might such changes be registered in the diverse new literary aesthetics of a ‘multinatural’ Anthropocene (Lorimer)?
(Jos Smith, April 2018)
This talk combined discussion of Naomi's brilliant dystopian novel Sealed, my recent work on Luminol Theory, and our mutual obsession with deadly and weird landscapes which Naomi blogs about so brilliantly here.
We also touched on Ovid's Metamorphoses, Puritanism, forests, Eula Biss, contaminated breast milk, and the continuity of our bodies with our environments.
John Madera's annual list of most-anticipated small press books is now up on Big Other along with those of several writers and editors. Highlight include: Dubravka Ugrešić’s Fox (Open Letter), Beth Pickens’s Your Art Will Save Your Life (Feminist Press), Dorothea Lasky’s Milk (Wave Books), Carmen Giménez Smith’s Cruel Futures (City Lights), Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s Öræfi’s The Wasteland (Deep Vellum), Kathryn Scanlan’s The Dominant Animal (Little Island Press), and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Cenzontle (BOA Editions).
The conflation between hacker/hag is applicable to Penthesilea, who is both categorised as a witch-like figure, almost supernaturally skilled in battle, and is literally a hacker, using her spear in battle. Through these tiny acts of witchcraft in a collection that both reproduces and interrogates patriarchal violence and its necrotising effect, and the hags/hackers who are revitalising these dead zones, Berg’s collection manages to offer some small hope.
Thanks to 3AM for hosting my review of Aase Berg's Hackers, translated by Johannes Göransson.
Thank you so much to Sara Wasson, Sharon Ruston, and Bethany Dahlstrom for organising the Translating Pain creative summit at Lancaster University on October 21 2017. This amazing event brought together artists, practitioners, medical professionals, pain charities, and academics. I really enjoyed being on a panel with Jenn Ashworth to discuss the potential benefits of short form, fragmentary writing for translating pain. I can't wait to see what the next stages of the project will be. Thank you to @pfanderson for making a Storify of the event.
The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honouring Gwendolyn Brooks
Edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith
Tonight, at the British Library, eighteen poets will read their tributes to the former Poet Laureate of Illinois, Gwendolyn Brooks. Their work, along with that of dozens of other poets, has been commissioned and collected in the Golden Shovel Anthology, edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith.
This collection of experimental poetry is an example of formal restriction leading to creative innovation. As the editors of the collection explain ‘the last words of each line in a golden shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken from a [Gwendolyn] Brooks poem. The poems are, in a way, secretly encoded to enable both a horizontal reading of the new poem and a vertical reading down the right-hand margin of Brooks’s original’. This form was developed by Terrance Hayes, author of the foreword to the collection, when he took one of Brooks’s most well-known poems ‘We Real Cool’ and forged a new poem titled ‘The Golden Shovel’.
Gwendolyn Brooks was Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1969 until her death in 2000, and she was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which she received for her book Annie Allen in 1950. This collection honours Brooks's achievements through direct engagement with her poetry. Brooks’s poetry is a plastic, capacious source for new material, and this formally inventive collection shows the styles and voices of dozens of poets including Nii Ayikweii Parkes, Eileen Myles, Joyelle McSweeney, Leontia Flynn, Sharon Olds, and Malika Booker amongst many, many others, yet each of these poets is in direct conversation with Gwendolyn Brooks.
There are some poems that feel so cerebral as to be a form of ‘verbal sudoku’ as Ravi Shankar suggests in the introduction. As there are dozens of poems and poets here, the collection is necessarily uneven, but this does not detract from the overall impression of a generous palimpsestic conversation between the writers and Brooks.
There are many standout poems, including Jaswinder Bolina’s ‘Jessie Mitchell’s Father’ that employs partial lines, gaps, and italics to conjure miniature stories:
Danielle Cadena Duelen’s gorgeous ‘Medics’, which uses enjambment to devastating effect:
The torn limbs, the sinew-song in
the tender throat. Let us mend the
And Sharon G. Flake’s short but powerful poem ‘she never saw life as hard’ is devastating in its briefness:
she never saw life as hard
no long black walk or trudge
for them willing to work with
no complaint or fainting
but then the storms pulled off her bandaging
bloodying her assets and
showing scabs that long ago warned of death.
This beautiful, terrible poem begs the reader to return to the source material and to Brooks’s own words in her original poem ‘To Black Women’:
It has been a
hard trudge, with fainting, bandaging and death.
There have been startling confrontations.
There have been tramplings. Tramplings
of monarchs and of other men.
But there remain large countries in your eyes.
The civil balance.
The listening secrets.
And you create and train your flowers still.
Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry haunts this collection; in the margins and the hollows of each new poem her presence is felt.
I wrote about the everyday witchcraft in Wild Heather for Entropy's New Canon series.
when Rathore’s first person narrator invokes the image of ‘permagreen Christmas trees’ that she fears will remind the addressee of ‘the cake-toppers we saw at the wedding planner’s house’ for a wedding that feels doomed or lost, she combines the banal and the magical seamlessly in a voice at once dreamy and precise. There is an occult feminism here, as her characters command power through their relations to objects, and where ‘your girlfriend’s newfound witchcraft’ is treated seriously, and with great respect.
I've been putting the final touches to our edited collection Domestic Noir, due to come out with Palgrave Macmillan next year. In the twelve months since the project was conceived, domestic horror seems to be more relevant than ever, and gaslighting, a trope from postwar film noir, has re-entered the popular imaginary via Lauren Duca's 'Donald Trump is Gaslighting America' and Tressie McMillan Cottom's 'A Few Notes on Gaslighting'. The domestic thriller shows no sign of slowing down in popularity, and this collection, which offers a snapshot of the subgenre, has emerged as a highly politicised study of popular fiction. In this short piece I wrote for the Noirwich blog, I discuss the renewed relevance of the domestic thriller in a time when racially motivated crimes have become state-sanctioned, and gendered violence legitimised in public life. I argue that popular, and particularly genre, fiction offers an index and critique of our current cultural anxieties.
I'm really enjoying the chance to study with novelist and nonfiction writer Xu Xi on the AWP Writer to Writer programme as part of their Spring 2017 cohort. I'm learning from Xu Xi about the process of writing creative nonfiction and so far she's given me a brilliant reading list and shared her experience of shifting from fiction to nonfiction. I've been collating some favourite examples of recent nonfiction and a current favourite is this piece on Anna Nicole Smith by Sarah Marshall.
I wrote about Joyelle McSweeney's The Necropastoral for Entropy as part of their New Canon series
Joyelle McSweeney’s The Necropastoral interrogates the cultural history of the deadly landscape, from the annihilating plagues of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura to the aftermath of 9/11. Explicitly modelled on a classical poetics, this volume bears both physical and intangible traces of violent crime ranging from blood and bodily fluids to the “spectral quality of capitalism, the way money and debt accrues and erodes in damaging patterns, the way damage to bodies is sometimes the first materialisation of corporate malfeasance.”