Interview with Sharon Black

Originally from Glasgow, Poet, editor and publisher, Sharon Black, now lives in the Cévennes mountains of southern France. Previously Sharon worked as a journalist and taught English in France and Japan. She now works, it seems, tirelessly, running a writing retreat, organising yoga and other events. Her poetry is published widely in UK magazines and journals. Sharon has won first prizes in Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Competition, Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition, The Frogmore Prize, Envoi International Poetry Prize, Manchester Cathedral Prize, Manchester Poets & Players, and The London Magazine. To Know Bedrock is her first collection. Her second, The Art of Egg, was published in 2015 by Two Ravens Press (available directly from Sharon, via her website.

Originally published in The Honest Ulsterman

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A selection of Stitch Translations from Poetry in Aldeburgh exhibition

In response to my prompt, on or as close as possible to 31 August 2018, at 8pm, poets drafted a poem at their chosen coast; each draft was given location, date and time as a title, and poets sent a few lines to me representing the essence of their writing. 

 One line of text was selected from each poet to create a litany of the coast around the UK and Ireland and beyond. For my residency as Artist in Residence at Poetry in Aldeburgh, the litany resulted in a concertina journal of 96 lines tracing the coasts of the UK, Ireland, and beyond.

 Each line of the litany was also translated into abstract works resulting in 48 stitched pieces for display.

The artworks were depicted in the order of the litany: the journey around the coast starts at the Pier Head in Liverpool, tours the coast of Northern Ireland, travels around Ireland including Galway, Kerry, Cork, and Wicklow before travelling to Wales, Somerset, Cornwall, along the south coast, west to east, and up the east coast to Whitby, and beyond to Scotland, east to west from Aberdeen to Loch Fyne, over to the Isle of Arran before returning to Southport and Crosby in Merseyside.

It was a pleasure to include four poets located outside of the UK (South of France, Geneva, Turkey, and California), at the time of writing

The slides show a selection of the 48 art works

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Life Interrupted: Review of 'Sightings' by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

Sightings, with its stark opening line of the title poem, informs us that we’re entering a narrative of loss, ‘After my father died...’, but a menacing threat is established too, and these powerful messages, the aftermath of the loss of a father and menace, are to be played out through scenes of contradiction, ‘...its song, a call / to summer from a November morning.’; an ‘ hope / and hopelessness,’; ‘...Rarest of Gifts was lost,’.

From this powerful beginning, trepidation about the man who replaces the dead father is established.

Sennitt Clough reveals terror as a consequence of menace, ‘...I bolt like a spooked horse / to the jackhammer of my father’s fists.’ (This Little House), and highlights menace through another image of a creature in ‘Portrait Of My Mother And Stepfather As Moths’. Creatures and nature are revisited to reveal how untamed forces are uncontrollable,

‘Even the river / puts on a sleek display
like a muscled creature / running dark
as a conscience / ...’     (Anguilla Anguilla)

The poems take the reader through the poet-narrators terrifying experiences which she faces, bears and overcomes and are uncompromising in exposing the brutality which is part of the men’s lives. From the first poem when ‘my mother’s new husband crept behind / with a cloth bag… slow, slow, grab.’ (Sightings), violence and abuse recur frequently,

‘..his knife dimpling
her throat, saying I’ll kill you and kill your
bastard of a girl.’  

This violence crushes dreams and hopes,
Well-trodden lines on her palms lead me
down the grey, ruined streets of her previous lives, (The Mother);

‘and she looks out
of the window, dreams of places
she’s never been.’ (Bus Driver).

It is clear in the poems that for the mother and the daughter, dreams are distant and unfulfilled.

Sennitt Clough lifts the lid on hidden child abuse which children have to cope with (‘Germolene’, ‘And The Moon Up Above’), but must remain silent about, ‘...That I sense the glass / around my throat, the pin’s locking chafe.’ (The Glass Collar).

  Perhaps what is most tragic and most brutal is that the violence exploits the passion and longings in the young women, ‘Something flashed in your eyes, as you lower / yourself on me; attracts me like bait.’ (Bait).

The men are also ruined by their violence, with the lonely and wretched end of the bus driver alluded to in ‘its body is covered in patches of rust.’ (The Bus Driver), or committing suicide ‘And The Moon Up Above’, as well as the descent into alcoholism recurring throughout the poems.

Even the brutal stepfather had humanity in him, once. When he caught a linnet and was about to crush it,

‘but it was the small heartbeat
he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.’

(A Smallholding In The Fens).

Sadly, this spark of humanity is extinguished, and as a result, the mother and daughter live desperate lives at his hands. This uncompromising set of poems can’t help but arouse anger, even hatred, at the dark forces they lift the lid on, as well as the bleak desperation which traps the women in the cycle of abuse. And yet, for all that it is an uncomfortable read, it is important. It takes an accomplished poet to take the reader into this area and for them to leave disturbed, but certainly not depressed. Sennitt Clough does this, and more with her startling collection.

‘I touch his sleeve
and it comes to life,
like it’s full of swallows,

swifts, nightjars
nesting in its folds –’ ('Jacket'),
‘I said everything I could before you stopped me,
sifted skin through hourglass after hourglass –’  

'Time Keeper'

The Skin Diary as a collection provides insight. It's a journal of survival despite loss, and closes with a charm-like poem,

‘…I plant for you / agapanthus, dahlia, harebell,’. Raw reality is contained between the imaginative, magical first and last poems. Throughout thoughts are raised about the power of the imagination, and of spell-like charms to help to elevate us above loss and longing.

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Coast to Coast to Coast: map, line, and stitch — poetry into stitch From Aldeburgh to Pier Head

Coast to Coast to Coast: map, line, and stitch. Stitch Translations— poetry into stitch       

Maria will give an illustrated talk about her project which was shown at the South Lookout at Poetry in Aldeburgh in November. The talk will be followed by a shared reading of the graphics piece created from the lines written at locations around the UK, Ireland, and beyond, and will conclude with some of Maria’s own recent work including that created as part of her residency at Aldeburgh. There will be an opportunity for questions, and a chance to see the 48 textile pieces. Copies of the limited edition concertina journal will be available for sale. 

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Results of second 'individual-poet' limited edition hand-stitched poetry journal

I’m delighted to announce the winners and runners-up of Coast to Coast to Coast’s second competition:

Maureen Boyle

Pam Thompson.

Susannah Violette

Finola Scott
Mara Adamitz Scrupe.

Lydia Harris and Isabelle Bermudez

Winners will receive limited edition hand-stitched copies of their journals at a launch in Liverpool next summer.

Previous winners earlier this year were, Jane Lovell and Rebecca Gethin

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The English River, a journey down the Thames in poems and photographs by Virginia Astley



The English River, a journey down the Thames in poems and photographs by Virginia Astley, 2018, 94pp, £12.00, Bloodaxe Books Ltd, Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 IBS


Virginia Astley’s first collection is a journey both of the upper reaches of the Thames, and of an intimate relationship. Although many of the poems are personal, themes of loss and of a developing awareness of the self are universal.

This is my remembered landscape,

stored in my earliest self,
and all along, I have been re-winding, re-playing,
continuing this quiet exchange.   

                                    [‘I breathe as though I’ve been submerged 

                                      and am coming up for air’]


Music flows through this carefully formed and honed work in the way Virginia judges pace, tone and rhythm, and with references to aural effects perceived as music. In ‘Lammas Land’, ‘the lark cadenzas.’, in ‘I breathe as though I’ve been submerged and am coming up for air’, ‘…the bells can be heard / falling apart’, and in ‘Source’, the notes of a train are cited.  There are also direct references to music, for instance, ‘Chopin Opus 49’, the mention of which had me listening to the track as I read.

   Prayer, as with music, is both referenced directly, for instance in titles such as, ‘Sanctuary’, and in the content of poems, ‘there is the quiet of snow / and the quiet of church’ (‘I breathe as though I’ve been submerged and am coming up for air’). These motifs of prayer and music recur like echoes in a beautiful melody.

   The half-light of winter or early mornings is a frequent backdrop, ‘unable to sleep— the weir, the wind— / I’m walking the village before dawn,’ (‘Somewhere I’m not a blow-in’); ‘In the darkness you lie awake / hearing the front panes fret,…’, (‘Night Rain’). Virginia is sensitive to the fall and rise of light, and it’s these subdued parts of day and year that feature most in both poems and photographs.

   Intimacy is revealed through both memory and via dream references which Virginia uses skilfully, ‘I’m dreaming about you, / you’ve found me: at Michael’s / somehow trapped.’   (‘Old Songs’)

   Because of the quiet but passionate tone of the work, the more dramatic references in one of the pivotal poems placed at the centre of the collection are all the more arresting, ‘Your sister has married my ex, / the one I left for you;’, and, ‘But the last time I was in this house— / I can hardy speak— the last time, / was the day we buried you.’  (‘How did I ever think this would be OK?’), but even this poem is given space and quiet with use of em dashes and its gentle conversational tone. 

   These are quiet controlled poems inspiring a desire to visit the riverscape cited. Simplicity and an air of melancholy are complemented by photographs which enhance these qualities, photographs in which there’s no glare of sunlight, no dazzle. I highly recommendThe English River. It is best read and reread cover to cover, but each poem also stands alone, powerful in its own right, speaking directly of love and loss without succumbing to ornate or melodramatic language. I found myself breathing slowly as I read.

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Launch of Issue 4 of Coast to Coast to Coast: Liverpool, August 18th, 2018

Issue 4 of Coast to Coast to Coast launched in Falkner Square. Big thanks to Michael Allen for being part of our project and for sharing his wonderful space with us all.

The journal was first envisaged a few years ago as an original art piece which would combine distinctive, one-off pieces with contemporary poetry from both established poets we admired and strong work from emerging and ‘beginning’ poets.  Over the first year, Coast to Coast to Coast published poets from and sent journals all over the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe, to Mexico, India and The Emirates. Establishing a real community through the project has been one of the loveliest aspects of the project.

Our fourth launch marked our first birthday… we hope you enjoy photographs of our event and birthday cake. Thank you to our readers who purchase, and in some cases collect the journals. We sold out of Issue 1, and our Irish Issue, and have very few copies of Issue 4 remaining.

Here’s to our second year…

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‘The Skin Diary’ by Abegail Morley

This is an impressive collection full of echoing motifs: birds flutter through the pages, references to anatomy abound, animal and human worlds collide, and poems move from air (for instance in 'Summer', 'Nesting in the wardrobe', 'Bleeding', 'The winter gatherer', and 'The Ice Hotel') to rain ('Summer’s end in Hackney', 'After you’ve died', 'Afterwards in ink', and 'Night planting'). The Skin Diary is a collection of poems, fifty-seven in all, which create a sense of emptiness and loss, starting as it continues with a sense of what is spoken at the end of the opening poem, ‘I miss you, I miss you.’ ('Before you write off your imaginary sister').

Loss, and the threat of it, permeates the collection. This loss is not focused on one person, rather it shifts and comes to settle variously on, for instance: the missing imaginary sister; an imaginary friend ('Losing Elena'); the ‘he’, and ‘you’ as an oncology patient (‘The Oncology Community'); ‘the lake of lost children’ (‘Counter turn’) and the stranger in the train whose funeral the narrator considers, ‘I can’t help wondering what name they’ll grind // on your gravestone,…’ (‘Paddock Wood to Charing Cross’).

The collection is punctuated with references to warnings of heartbreak ('The carrier bag', ‘Post-'), disappearance, drowning ('Mayday'), and death ('Pause’). These forebodings build tension and add poignancy to later poems in which disappearance or death are faced, ‘But this morning I lie awake // You’re still unvarnished, unravelled in my temporal lobe –', ('Forgetting you'); ‘We didn’t know how drunk you were / At St. Peter’s Bridge, standing on the edge’ ('Presence'); and in the extremely moving ‘text’, ‘But you weren’t back. Later. Or ever.’

The motif of eggs, and poems about fertility and fertilization, highlight another poignant loss. These poems are made beautifully memorable through references to the sea, '...You're the thinness / that laps shorelines at night when oceans / hanker after dunes, barge up beaches...'  ('Miracle').

Throughout, a sense of liminality and space is created, whether on a staircase such as in ‘Brighton flat’, ‘Last night’, or ‘Living with Bats’(‘I’m listening for your tread / on the stairs'), or in the raw exposure of the insides of the body in poems such as ‘The Archive of Lost Lives’, ‘After the funeral’, ‘The horologist and the body clock’, or in imagination akin to magical realism, 

‘I touch his sleeve
and it comes to life,
like it’s full of swallows,

swifts, nightjars
nesting in its folds –’ ('Jacket'),
‘I said everything I could before you stopped me,
sifted skin through hourglass after hourglass –’  

('Time Keeper')

The Skin Diary as a collection provides insight. It's a journal of survival despite loss, and closes with a charm-like poem,

‘…I plant for you / agapanthus, dahlia, harebell,’. Raw reality is contained between the imaginative, magical first and last poems. Throughout thoughts are raised about the power of the imagination, and of spell-like charms to help to elevate us above loss and longing.

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a brief summary and photo memory of the launch of Issue 3, Falkner Square, April 7th 2018

The launch of Issue 3 at our new venue on Falkner square was a beautiful event introduced by Michael Allen who shared something of the history of the flat with its literary heritage. Carole Bromley, Pam Thompson, Michael Ferry, Rachael Smart, Mandy Macdonald, Peter Daniels, and Sandra Burnett read some of their work, and Michael and I read poems from those who couldn't make the launch*.

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Contrast and Contradiction: Review of 'Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament' by Geraldine Clarkson

With its sensual language, Geraldine Clarkson’s second pamphlet draws the reader into its oneiric world. In ‘Nuala, Nuala, Nightwatchman’s Daughter’, ‘Days Round like the Moon’, ‘Triptych’, ‘Bridal’, and ‘the last thing’, the book has an artery of references to Christianity, more specifically Catholicism, and opens with a poem creating a sense of otherworldliness, ‘I had a red silk cloth for a mother / …We lived at the end of a / stick.’ (‘Biography’)

This otherworldliness continues in a myriad of ways throughout, and held me captivated even in places where I didn’t fully understand all I read. The reader is lured by the language, surreal qualities and unusual decisions in relation to punctuation (in ‘a young woman undressed me and’, there are no upper case letters, giving a sense of hastily recorded memories shared intimately).

Imagery is powerful and memorable and creates a sense of an inner world,

‘Last night I dreamt I was a cake, a squat brown gateau
dimpled with cherries above a piped creamy smile. Inside,
falling-away fudge, and smudgy…’ 

                                                (‘Mise en Gâteau’)


‘she touched my lip with a shapely thumb: shhh
don’t fret. her voice like jinxed june breezes
in lime leaves. and then. her voice like rills rushing over flint’  

(‘a young woman undressed me and’)

 There is a beautiful musical quality to the poetry, exemplified in the title poem,

‘… (they mate, like carapaces, in parentheses),
Dora feels coolness in new places, lifts a reused
razor shell, mother-of-pearly and straight’

(‘Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament’)

and also in ‘A-Man-at- a-Bus-Stop sees a Perfect ‘O’’, where, in addition to the title, every line begins with ‘A’, followed by ‘m’, (Amanatta, American, ampersands, a mutilated, a mayfoil,  Amitriptyline, amateus, A.m.), and reaches a crescendo with ‘amo / amo / amo’.

Reading the poem has a dizzying effect and, placed as it is after two poems dealing with confinement, a sense of hope and playfulness.

It’s a book of contrasts between a sense of containment and freedom, between the inner and outer world, and explores female desire with emphasis on the female body (‘a young woman undressed me and’, ‘caress’, and ‘The thing about Grace and Laura’).

It’s a short but sumptuous pamphlet to be read in one go at first:  lose yourself in it, then return and peel back the layers, dive underwater, revel in the world, in the confinement and the escape.

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Launch of Special Irish Edition at Belfast Book Festival

Thanks to Maria McManus (, and Keith Acheson for ideas, invitation and welcome. It was a privilege to create journals for Belfast Book Festival and to hear so many of the poets, each with their distinctive voice and writerly concerns: John Mee, Heather Richardson, Stephanie Conn, Therese Kieran, Michael Farry, Annette Skade, Moyra Donaldson, Attracta Fahy, Paul Jeffcutt, Olive Broderick, Georgi Gill, Daragh Breen and Jane Robinson.

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Interview with Yvonne Reddick

Dr. Yvonne Reddick, born in Glasgow, has lived in Aberdeen, Berkshire and Kuwait. An award-winning poet and the author of three poetry pamphlets, Yvonne won a Northern Writers’ Award for poetry in 2016, was awarded a Jerwood/Arvon mentorship and a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2017, and has recently been awarded a Peggy Poole Award. Yvonne’s poems have appeared in magazines such as Stand and PN Review, and been translated into Greek and Swedish. She lives in Manchester and works as an academic researcher and lecturer. Her book on Ted Hughes’s environmentalism is published by Palgrave Macmillan. 

Originally published in The Honest Ulsterman

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