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Literary Podcasts

I’ve been very slow to podcasts. I’ve always had a particularly keen hatred of talk radio. People blithering away about literally anything at all to fill time: their first haircut, whether they prefer ketchup or brown sauce, their opinion on a sensitive political issue of which they have zero knowledge or experience. Generally, I find the rabbiting on interferes with my thoughts and makes me borderline-angry. However, I have recently realized that there is a lack of space given over to literature in mainstream media, and podcasts are filling that gap, so I’ve started to catch up whilst ironing or making a late dinner once the kids are in bed (I’m working my way through Meera Sodha’s East – Aloo Gobi tonight).

Backlisted is brilliant, for example – where else would you get such a deep-dive into Fungus the Bogeyman or Elizabeth Bowen?

Little Atoms is also one of my favourites – very simply, Neil Denny just chats to an author each week for half an hour about their new book, but I usually come away from it as stimulated as if I’ve attended an event at a literary festival. Recent guests include George Saunders, Yiyun Li and Maggie O’Farrell, and I was delighted to be asked to talk about DELPHI which you can listen to here.

There are some amazing poetry podcasts out there too, like Arji’s Poetry Pickle Jar where poets chat to Arji Manuelpillai about a favourite poem by someone else – I picked Anne Sexton’s ‘The Truth the Dead Know’ – and highlights include Jack Underwood on Natalie Shapero’s ‘The Sky’ and an exclusive recording of Wayne Holloway-Smith’s living room salon.

And this week I’m honoured to have recorded an episode of ‘A Mouthful of Air’. Another simple concept really well delivered – Mark McGuinness asks poets to read one of their own poems then talk about how they did it, as well as digging into the form. I’m chatting about my poem ‘At Peckham Rye’, from Incarnation.

All these podcasts have amazing archives to explore when you’re doing your housework… Hope you enjoy the links!

The Premonition

For those of you not on Instagram (where my US publishers Avid Reader posted a very cool video) I thought I’d share my Delphi inspired cocktail recipe, the fitting culmination of my lockdown cocktail obsession! Its name is a nod to my all-time favourite, the Aviation, and it’s seasonal as UK supermarkets are full of cheap figs at the moment.

The temple of the Delphic Oracle was on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. In caves nearby lived nymphs who were half-woman, half-bee, whilst the mountain was also sacred to Dionysus – the God of wine and song, associated with figs in Greek mythology. The Ancient Greeks knew of citrus fruit too – many scholars believe the tree of ‘golden apples’ in the Garden of the Hesperides, guarded by a dragon, was a lemon tree. This cocktail combines archetypally Grecian flavours then – honey, fig, lemon, thyme – whilst the drop of ouzo introduces a taste of my own Greek holidays, and a hint of mystery worthy of the Oracle herself.

The Premonition ingredients:
– 1 fresh fig
– 10ml honey
– 20ml lemon
– 50ml brandy
– A couple of drops of ouzo
– To garnish: a sprig of thyme

Instructions:
Scoop the flesh of the fig into a shaker and muddle. Add the other ingredients (except the thyme) plus ice then shake hard. Fine strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.

Fortune Telling and Fiction

Thankyou so much to all who have supported DELPHI! I had a wonderful launch week, with events at the Review Bookshop and 5 Points Brewery, and fortune-cookies all round. I just thought I’d put up links to everything DELPHI-related in one post on my website…

Firstly, I wrote a few blogs:

For Lithub, about how to write about now.

For Hatchards, about fortune telling and fiction

And I put together this listicle of novels by poets for Bookshop.org and wrote an essay for London Magazine about Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’ and failing to visit Delphi in the current issue.

Also, I had some fantastic reviews (always a relief). I was so pleased to be generously reviewed by Sarah Moss in The Guardian (her Ghost Wall is one of my favourite books of recent years). Also by John Self in the Observer, Michael Donkor in the i, and Suzi Feay in the FT. The Daily Mail said: This isn’t the first – and most certainly won’t be the last – pandemic novel, but it might be the most brilliant’. And in the US I was very honoured DELPHI was chosen by indie booksellers to be an ‘Indie Next’ title, and reviewed in the LA Review of Books, and the New York Times, whilst Buzzfeed said: ‘For fans of Jenny Offill, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Sally Rooney, here’s another hot sad girl book to add to your list’.

Upcoming: I’ll be on the podcast Little Atoms soon, will be launching DELPHI in Bolton on October 4th, and am having a Drink with the Idler on October 13th (online, where I may unveil the new cocktail I’ve invented in Delphi’s honour, The Premonition).

Summer News

Writing this from within London’s clammy heatwave, glugging iced-coffee, but just wanted to update the site with a few links. I’ve had a few lucky breaks lately, and am thrilled to be nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem for ‘Pollen’, which was published in Bad Lilies. The poem is here, and I also did a short interview. I was also totally shocked to discover Frank Skinner had made a podcast about my poems! He’s such an insightful reader, it’s a real honour – you can listen to it here.

And then this week I was made an honorary Doctor of Letters by Bolton University (I’ve always described myself as a ‘lady of letters’ so this is a pleasing upgrade). We had such a lovely reception, with champagne, nibbles and requests on the baby grand piano (thankyou, Martin), and my mum had a great time.

And Delphi is out next week too. So a few events… I’m in conversation with the fabulous Cathy Rentzenbrink this Sunday morning at 12am at Latitude Festival if any of you happen to be there… say hi if you are!

I also have an event at my beautiful local bookshop Review next Wednesday (27th July) at 7pm, where I will be chatting to Cecilia Knapp (also nominated for the Forward) – all proceeds go to CALM. Tickets are £5, redeemable against a copy of the book, and hoping to see some South Londoners there.

And for those who aren’t doing in-person, I’m very pleased to have a digital launch on the actual day of publication – Thursday 28th July – with FANE, where I am chatting to Sophie Haydock (author of The Flames) – tickets are available here. Right, off to spray my face with water now…

DELPHI

So my debut novel DELPHI is coming out in July in the UK and August in the US, and is also being translated into German and Dutch, which is immeasurably exciting and strange! I’ve been writing (unpublished) novels since I was a child and can’t quite believe I can finally call myself a novelist. Just over a year ago I was researching oracles and prophecy, thinking perhaps it would be a book of poetry, but all I seemed to have were these strange fragments. And then I read Jenny Offill’s Weather and suddenly had the revelation I was writing a novel. I was actually quite annoyed with myself, as after so many disappointments I thought that meant it would end up in a drawer. But I wrote it very quickly, in a kind of fever – as soon as home-schooling ended – sent it to my UK agent Jenny Hewson with an apologetic note, and was shocked when she responded that she would start sending it out. And now here’s a proof!

It’s kind of about the pandemic, but I hope that won’t put you off. (My US blurb calls it, in fact, ‘one of the first great novels of this terrible moment’, which is very flattering). I’ve just always written about now, and the idea that I might live through a major historical event and not touch on it seems very odd to me. Like Virginia Woolf not mentioning the First World War in Mrs Dalloway, or Graham Greene writing The End of the Affair but not mentioning the Blitz. It’s also about middle age, tarot cards, The Furies, the age of surveillance capitalism, dream interpretation, Nostradamus, algorithms, the language of angels, Cassandra and the meaning of life, so plenty to think about!

Some kind quotes I’m really thrilled with – Evie Wyld, author of the stunning The Bass Rock says: ‘A compact miracle of a book’

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, whose ‘A Ghost in the Throat’ was one of my recent favourites says: ‘Vivid as fireworks…Both terrifying and exhilarating’

And Forward prizewinning poet and author of ‘The Answer to Everything‘ Luke Kennard says: ‘Consoling, harrowing, hilarious. I feel like it’s healed me…So funny and so radically honest it leaves you reeling’

Kennard by-passing the usual superlatives there, and instead really raising the stakes by implying my novel has healing powers!

And look at these covers in this cute little animation. I’m so lucky. I keep going round bookshops now and seeing all the ropey covers and feeling very smug. (Thanks to my US agent Lucy Carson for this)

Apparently pre-orders make a huge difference these days, so if you would like to pre-order a copy I’d be incredibly grateful. It’s available on Amazon of course, and it’s very nice to get on their charts, but even better would be to preorder from bookshop.org in the UK then you can support your favourite local bookshop (in my case, my local the Review Bookshop in Peckham).

Autumnal Update

It’s been a busy end to the summer, judging the Foyles young Poet of the Year Award with Yomi Sode – look our for the winners being announced on October 7th – and making final edits to my novel Delphi (out summer 2022!). Last week I had new author photos taken for my cover by the brilliant https://www.sophie-davidson.co.uk/ who I’d really recommend if you need photos.

This week I’m slap-bang in the middle of putting together a bumper German-language issue of MPT, entitled ‘Slap-Bang’ and exploding with brilliance: Ulrike Almut Sandig, Özlem Özgül Dündar, Nora Gomringer, Esther Kinsky, Nelly Sachs, Else Lasker-Schüler, Uljana Wolf…

Thought I would take a moment though to link to a few things going on in the next couple of weeks. Firstly, I’m part of a digital reading this Saturday (4th October) 4pm BST to celebrate the excellent new anthology ‘100 Poems to Save the Earth’, edited by Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans – you can register for free here.

I’m then reading IRL at the Winchester Poetry Festival with absolute legend Paul Muldoon on Friday 8th of October – I’ve never read with him before and am a bit in awe. Do come along! Tickets here.

I’m also very much looking forward to heading to Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, for a brand new poetry festival – Push the Boat Out (15th-17th October). I’m taking part in two events on the Saturday – a talk about how poetry might heal the soul with William Letford, Tawona Sithole and John Glenday at 11am, and I’m running a poetry workshop on the language of childhood at 2pm. The whole programme is amazing though – Liz Berry, Salena Godden, Caroline Bird, Lorna Goodison, Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe, Nick Makoha, Fiona Benson, Andrew Macmillan… Already excited for the pub.

And in November I’m running a course on The Poetry of Now at the Garsdale Retreat and there are still a couple of places left if you fancy some poetic R&R with fires and cake.

That’s all for now, but I hope to write a proper blog about my debut novel Delphi soon…

Two Pandemic Poems

After nearly two years without writing a poem, recently two came along at once. Unsurprisingly, they’re both attempts to process the last year.

My poem about the first lockdown, called ‘Pollen‘, has just been published in the excellent new online journal Bad Lilies.

I was also commissioned to write a poem for the Crick Institute, as part of Poet in the City’s ‘Drop of Hope’ project. It was really interesting to think about the history of inoculation – I read Eula Bliss’ excellent book On Immunity – and talk to scientists at the institute. Those vaccinated there have also been asked to jot down their thoughts and feelings, which we could draw on in our poems. The result is ‘A Mnemonic Device’ which you can read here, along with my artists’ statement. Do check out the other poems too, by a brilliant array of poets from Hanna Ali to John Hegley to Will Harris.

I went to visit the Crick today in the rain, and was heartened to see the rainbow of posters outside, with my words in big letters: MEMORY PROTECTS US.

Trust

So I’m really thrilled to have received copies of Trust, Anna T. Szabo’s Selected Poems, from Arc Publications. Anna and I have been friends a long time, and have worked on the co-translations together on and off for 17 years! Thanks to Angela and Tony at Arc for having the idea of putting the book together, and to all who have generously helped us along the way – Eniko Leanyvari, Polly Clark, George Szirtes, Jean Boase-Beier, Sasha Dugdale. Anna is a magnificent poet – as Polly Clark has noted, in these poems ‘Domestic life is reinvented as the elemental and visceral plane of existence we all secretly know it to be’ – and I really hope this finds her more English-speaking fans. Here is the stunning cover – the embroidered heart is by Andrea Dezso

The link to buy is here

And Anna and I also made a little video if you’d like a taster – here we are reading ’33’.

Anna also very kindly agreed to set our latest MPT translation workshop, so if you’d like a go at translating one of her poems yourself have a go here – it’s a typically brilliant poem about the pandemic, as part of our new issue’s pandemic focus.

A Coffee Break

I have some moments to myself! The kids are at school for three blissful weeks before the Easter Holidays, so I finally have some time to write a blog with a coffee. 2021 lockdown has been really hard, with both a 4yo and 7yo now home-schooling, and a lot more expectation of them doing online classes and assignments than in the spring – it was hard to leave the house during the day, such was their schedule of assemblies, zoom meetings, and lessons on Teams (don’t even get me started on Teams). Also, rain. It was nothing but childcare and work, really, wall to wall, for both Richard and myself, and it was all I could do to pull together the spring issue of MPT on time. Still -it’s something to be proud of. It’s called Clean Hands: Focus on the Pandemic in Europe, and will launch in early April, with this cover by Elenia Beretta. I like to think me editing it whilst locked-down has added to its sense of being an eyewitness document of this moment, although it also means the editorial is super-depressing. Save the date for the digital launch, on April 22nd.

Otherwise, what have I been up to? I can’t think. I taught an Arvon at Home masterclass on writing pandemic poems which I really enjoyed (do check out their great events); I’ve been teaching an online course for the Poetry School. I attended the launch of Luke Wright’s gorgeous new book The Feel-Good Movie of the Year, and took part in one of the Idler’s excellent Thursday night drinks, with Salena Godden reading from her new novel Miss Death Misses Death. I read Dream House by Carmen Maria Machedo which is completely stunning, a memoir written like a poem.

Outside of literature, I have made various, increasingly complex cocktails, trying to master a new one each week, including the Aviation, Last Word, Vieux Carre, Sazerac, Mint Julep, Brown Derby, Papa Doble (Hemmingway’s favourite), Hurricane and Singapore Sling (the official Raffles recipe). I think that’s about it.

Well, obviously I’ve watched a lot of TV (who hasn’t?). I love The Boys on Amazon, which imagines a world in which superheroes work for a corporation, and are marketed and monetized. We watched the episode last week where All-American superhero, Homelander, fails to save a plane that’s being hijacked – it really took my breath away, probably the best TV I’ve watched since Succession in lockdown 1.

Anyway, just enjoying this moment of peace before the holidays. It’s bright outside; the peony buds are breaking through the soil. It’s time to sow seeds. It feels like there are some things to look forward to again (although even saying that might be a jinx). One thing that is happening, at least, is I’ll be judging the Foyles Young Poet of the Year Award this year with Yomi Ṣode – it’s such an important award, and judging it has long been on my poetic bucket list. If you know any young poets aged 11-17 do persuade them to enter! (it’s free, details here.) You can also read my blog on it how Sylvia Plath inspired me to start writing poems here, and hear me and Yomi talk about what we’re looking for on this video.

And Anna Szabo’s book Trust is coming out with Arc this Spring, which I’ve been co-translating with her for many years… more details soon.

Festive Entertainments

History just keeps happening, doesn’t it? It seems like even in these locked-down months the world is still changing so rapidly outside. We’re still reeling from this weekend’s news and our Christmas day with the family being cancelled. It’s bitterly disappointing, and I found myself tearful at the weekend; that sense of the growing darkness again… Aside from home-schooling, one of the things I’ve found hardest this year about having young children has been the responsibility for keeping their spirits up, however I might be feeling inside. Every week I have to explain some fresh restriction on their freedoms, some rule-change, some new bad news. But I know we’re still a lucky family: we have each-other; lots of nice food in the cupboards; a tree covered with homemade decorations; a jigsaw on the go; a Radio Times with all our shows circled.

This weekend Rich made us a tapas feast and a delicious ham; we sang carols on our doorstep with neighbours; walked in the cemetery with a flask of gluhwein; smashed a gingerbread house. Thanks to my autumn cocktail hobby I have a well-stocked booze cupboard too, and have added Dirty Martinis, Boulevardiers and Shirley Temples (for the kids) to my repertoire.

Culture-wise Christmas is always full of great children’s content, and if you’ve read Fierce Bad Rabbits you’ll guess I’m looking forward to the documentary about Julia Donaldson, the drama about Beatrix Potter meeting Roald Dahl, and curling up with my kids to watch Zog and the Flying Doctors on Christmas Day. The National Theatre are also streaming their panto Dick Whittington for free from the 23rd which sounds fun. My bedtime reading to the children at the moment is very much in the cosy, nostalgia phase – I’ve just finished reading them my childhood copy of Winnie the Pooh and am mid-way through The Little Prince.

If I get time to read myself, I’m currently loving A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa – a book that mixes all my favourite things – lyrical non-fiction, literary biography, poetry and translation – in an original way that makes it one of my books of the year.

I’m finding it inspiring as my own new project, about clairvoyance and fear of the future – working title ‘Delphi’ – is also a strange hybrid thing at the moment that hasn’t quite found its form. I was very thrilled to receive a Society of Authors grant for it last week, which will hopefully mean I get to go to Delphi in 2021. As well as learning about Sibyls and Nostradamus, I’ve been playing around with the tarot (though it said nothing about Christmas), learning the I Ching (in a gorgeous translation by David Hinton) and following lots of astrologers on twitter who tell me Saturn’s move into Aquarius this week completes three years of relentless challenge and ushers in a new Air Era. Let’s hope so.

If you’re bored over Christmas and fancy writing yourself, do have a go at one of my Clare’s Poetry Circle workshops. I’ve finished ‘term’ now but they’re all still up, and I’ll continue to check the comments and hashtag if you want to post your poems up. The last one has a Christmas theme and is about rhyme. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed, shared and taken part. I’m not sure what I’ll do in New Year as it was a bit of an experiment – I don’t think I will carry on doing one every week, as it’s quite a lot of work, but as we’ll still be locked down (until Spring it seems) I might post up workshops less regularly. Let me know if there are any topics you’d particularly like me to cover…

Other links whilst I’m here: if you fancy a poetry podcast I was very happy to discover the Sugar & Dread podcast when I had a poem chosen by Jake Wild Hall and Amy Acre in episode 41 – it’s a great listen, also featuring Jake and Amy’s own poems and some interesting biscuit-based chat. Episode 42 is also a gem featuring Theresa Lola and Inua Ellams. The Push the Boat Out Festival have launched a mini-podcast series too, and one episode features me reading my festive poem, The Gift.

The Dead [Women] Poets issue of MPT is now out in the world, with extracts here online if you’d like a taster.

And one of the best essays I’ve read this year, Amy Key on my all-time favourite album, Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Anyway, I write this on the solstice. Hope you manage to have a cosy week despite everything, and that the darkness is (fingers crossed) finally in retreat now.