Category Archives: Life writing, Creative writing and Performance

Swallow (early draft)

Nadia Saward graduated from King’s College London with a BA in English Language and Literature. She is about to start an MA in Creative Writing Poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London.

*

Swallow

The red dirt of the pyramids
was still under my wing, when I found
a town with roofs like small mountains
and a crying prince.

And a crying prince
with September- blue eyes, only wished
for blindness. I gave it to him.
A sapphire for your son, a ruby for your mother.

A sapphire for your son, a ruby for your mother,
goes my song. I drop jewels down
coughing chimneys- in the morning
they will think the stars have fallen.

They will think the stars have fallen,
and thank their gods.
I nestle in the hollow between your legs,
and wait for night to come.

And wait for night to come,
to visit the woman at the window,
time scars her face. Hands whittled to bone.
I coat her skin with gold.

I coat her skin with gold,
let it gather, light as snow
on the sill, until all she sees is
the sun’s widening mouth.

The sun’s widening mouth
brings me no warmth.
Cold feathers my throat.
In the morning they will find me,
a beggar at his feet.

*

The process of writing every poem is different. It depends on the poem.

For me, the writing process can take two distinctive forms. In the first form, and probably the one that happens the most, I will think of a good phrase or image. Then, I will have to hurriedly note it down, most likely on my phone. I have noticed this tends to happen the most when I’m on the tube, in the shower or trying to sleep. In other words, these images appear when my mind is idle. When I decide to turn this phrase into a larger poem (which can happen weeks after I initially think of it) I use it as the origin, or centre point. I let the poem build around it.

In the second form of my writing process, research comes first. This is often the case when I am writing for competitions, where they need a poem on a certain theme or in a particular style. I sit down and brainstorm. This is process through which Swallow came about. I knew I wanted to write a poem from the perspective of the swallow in Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Happy Prince, which was a favourite bed-time tale of mine growing up, but no lines immediately rushed out to me.

So, I sat down and read through the work of some of my favourite poets. Kei Miller, Robin Robertson, Mona Arshi and Liz Berry always help to inspire me. My first stop is always Kei Miller. His writing is faultless, with line breaks that never feel artificial, and humorous, vivid language. My favourite poem of his is called ‘If this short poem stretches’, it ends with a wonderful line which I always try to remember when I have writer’s block: ‘The poem sings its own song, / reaches its own end in its own time.’

When I’m struggling to find the right words, I look to Robin Robertson. In ‘Swimming in the Woods’ he describes the act of someone swimming; ‘When she stopped, the water stopped, / and the sun re-made her as a tree,/ banded and freckled and foxed.’ Although there is nothing extraordinary about the words he uses, together they create a subtle, haunting image.

Books to inspire you: Nadia's recommended reading.
Books to inspire you: Nadia’s recommended reading.

Before I know it I’ve got a phrase here, an image there. Writing Swallow, I realised that I wanted to try and write this poem in a specific form, where the last line of each stanza is repeated in the first line of the next stanza. I think it is a form of pantoum, but I have taken some licence in the structure. Trying to fit my ideas into this format proved difficult. I was aware that the repeated lines needed to carry different meanings depending on their placement in the stanza. Otherwise, the repetition would feel drawn out and heavy. Even in this draft, I think I am yet to achieved the desired effect.

Hopefully, once this poem is completed, it will be the first in a collection. In an attempt to draw myself away from writing what I know, which is an easy trap to fall into, Swallow is the first poem in a series that will take the minor characters from famous fairy tales, be they human or animal, and give them a voice. Writing about these characters will be a way for me to mesh stories that are familiar in my imagination with a difficult poetic exercise, and I can only hope good things will come of it.


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Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.

Early Modern Verbatim Theatre: A Reflection

by Lucy Munro, Reader in Early Modern English Literature at the Department of English, and Emma Whipday, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at UCL

In 1624, a play entitled The Late Murder in Whitechapel, or Keep the Widow Waking was staged at the Red Bull playhouse in Clerkenwell. Written by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, William Rowley and John Webster, it was based on accounts of two recent crimes. The first was the murder of a Whitechapel woman, Joan Tindall, by her son, Nathaniel, which became the subject of at least two ballads, one of which survives. The second was the forced marriage of a 62-year-old widow, Anne Elsdon, to a much younger man, Tobias Audley.

tavern scene
A woodcut from Samuel Rowlands’s ’Tis Merry When Gossips Meete (c. 1613), showing a widow, wife and maid drinking in a tavern

Tobias lured Anne to a tavern, where he plied her with alcohol and tried to persuade her to promise to marry him – a promise that could be legally binding if it was said before witnesses. After several days he eventually seems to have got some kind of agreement from her, and a priest hired for the purpose married them. However, the ‘marriage’ became the subject of a series of cases in the secular and religious courts.

Continue reading Early Modern Verbatim Theatre: A Reflection

The long read: Arabic illness narratives and national politics

by Faten Hussein and Neil Vickers in conversation

Faten Hussein (FH) is a LAHP-funded doctoral researcher in Comparative Literature and the Medical Humanities at King’s College London. Her research investigates representations of illness in Arabic literature. She is specifically interested in what literature reveals about cultural and social attitudes towards illness, and the political, social, and economic determinants in access to health. She is about to take up a fellowship with the House of Common’s International Development Committee, through the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST).

Dr Neil Vickers (NV) is Reader in English Literature and the Medical Humanities at the Department of English, and co-director of the Centre for the Humanities and Health. He is associate editor of the journal Medical Humanities, published by the British Medical Journal group. 

NV: Hello Faten. It’s a real privilege to be able to discuss your work with you, and to bring it to wider public notice through this blog interview. Why don’t you begin by telling our readers what you work on?

FH: I work on written accounts of illness from the Arab world. These can be fictional or autobiographical and in any form, so long as illness has a central place in them.

Continue reading The long read: Arabic illness narratives and national politics

Leaves of Silk

by Clare BrantProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture and Co-Director, Centre for Life-Writing Research

The Dear Diary exhibition is now open, until 7th July! Promotion got underway well before opening, with various radio features including Radio 2’s Jonathan Ross Show on 4th May, and  BBC London, Monocle Radio, Radio Oxford and other outlets; on 3rd June, I take Dear Diary to Radio 4’s Saturday Live show (listen from 9:00 BST).

One publicity commission was for the Sunday Times series ‘6 of the Best’. I thought long and hard and put together a list only to discover that ‘Best’ is determined by what the picture editor thinks can be illustrated best. Several suggestions hit the cutting room floor. One was  British artist Ian Breakwell’s visual diary – an idea I owe to Lucy Bayley, a PhD student at the ICA (thank you, Lucy). You can see a selection of Breakwell’s work at the Tate, including The Walking Man Diary (1975-1978).

A diary’s lure of intimacy…

Breakwell has made various experiments with the diary form. One of the most compelling is the photographic diary he made of an unknown man who regularly walked past Breakwell’s flat in Smithfield in the City of London, where from his third floor window the artist was often looking out. The images all have the same vantage point and the same mysterious subject; the passing of time is captured through the diary unevenly, so that some photographs are taken seconds apart while others are separated by months. The resulting pattern of similarity and difference, heightened by collage, plays with a diary’s lure of intimacy: by denying us even incremental knowledge, Breakwell makes his diary intriguingly baffling.

W.P. Barbellion
W.P. Barbellion, or Bruce Cummings, unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons

Another suggestion was W.P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). This diary has an extraordinary story. The author’s real name was Bruce Cummings; he made his pseudonym from Wilhelm, Nero and Pilate as examples of the most wretched people to have lived. Continue reading Leaves of Silk

Confessions of a Medical Humanist

by Neil Vickers, Reader in English Literature and Medical Humanities, Department of English

When I first came to King’s more than 10 years ago now, I was dubious about ‘the medical humanities’. I knew what the medical humanities were, or at least I thought I did. It was a name that could be applied to any attempt to make sense of matters in which medicine has a say, using ideas or frames of reference derived from humanities disciplines. But I would never have described myself as a medical humanist. My work – which until then had largely been rooted in the historical study of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature – belonged in ‘English’. ‘English’ had an intellectual and institutional history I could admire (if only I had the talents of William Empson or Helen Vendler!), unlike the medical humanities, which seemed by comparison so diverse, so underdeveloped, and so wannabe. Continue reading Confessions of a Medical Humanist

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

by Diya Gupta, PhD researcher, Department of English

Two-and-a-half million men from undivided India served the British during the Second World War.  Their experiences are little remembered today, neither in the UK where a Eurocentric memory of the war dominates, nor in South Asia, which privileges nationalist histories of independence from the British Empire.  And yet military censorship reports from the Second World War, archived at the British Library’s India Office Records and containing extracts from Indian soldiers’ letters home, bear witness to this counter-narrative.  What was it like fighting for the British at a time when the struggle for India’s freedom from British rule was at its most incendiary?

Extracts from these letters, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him. Continue reading ‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

Interview: The Still Point

Following the successful launch of The Still Point Issue 2, we speak with Mariam Zarif, editor-in-chief 2017-2018, about the new team’s vision for the journal. Mariam is a PhD researcher in the Department of English at King’s, writing on New Woman male writers as ‘transvestities’ and the politics of cross dressing in the fin de siècle. She heads up an editorial team composed of PhD researchers at King’s, UCL, Queen Mary, and the School of Advanced Study.

Find The Still Point Journal online, on Facebook and Twitter.

The Still Point Journal

KE: Could you tell us a bit about The Still Point and how it was originally conceptualised? How is it different from other literary journals?

MZ: The Still Point is a medium that celebrates creative and innovative writing and research experiences. Founded by King’s English PhD researcher Francesca Brooks in 2015, the journal was designed to offer research students a space of ‘one’s own’, where they can reflect on their research experiences. Continue reading Interview: The Still Point

‘It’s in my diary…’

by Clare Brant, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture and Co-Director, Centre for Life-Writing Research

‘It’s in my diary’

is a phrase you still hear. The expression gives no clue as to whether the speaker uses a paper diary or an app, and not needing to make the distinction shows how old and new forms of diary co-exist happily. The paper appointment diary is still an everyday object – I have a Filofax I was given in the 1990s when they were fashionable and it’s still easy to buy an annual refill. Meanwhile an increasing number of apps make the diary mobile-friendly, multi-media, synchable – and, if you want to keep it private, encryptable.

Do you have a paper diary? Do you use a diary app? Do you contribute to an online diary platform? Do you do none of the above but are curious about diaries? Then put in your diary 26 May – 7 July, the dates for Dear Diary, a forthcoming exhibition at the Inigo Rooms, East Wing, Somerset House on diaries old and new. It’s a collaboration between the Centre for Life-Writing Research, which I co-direct, and the Great Diary Project, directed by Dr Polly North.

Diaries are among our most precious items of heritage… No other kind of document offers such a wealth of information about daily life and the ups and downs of human existence…

Continue reading ‘It’s in my diary…’

From Broadcast to Podcast: Reflections on Radio, Resistance and Legacies of the BBC World Service

by Sejal Sutaria, Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow, English Department, King’s College London, and Pragya Dhital, PhD (2016), Religions and Philosophies Department, SOAS

My journey into radio research began when a series of happy accidents led me to discover the ‘British in India Oral Archive’ at the British Library, SOAS, and Imperial War Museums. The interviews here were conducted by history writer Charles Allen, best known for his books on Indian colonial history, Rudyard Kipling, and Tibet. As someone working on a project about how the global circulation of migrants, capital and ideas shaped Indian resistance to colonialism and fascism, my access to these first-hand accounts of life in India during the forties led me to link ideas of literary life-writing with oral history. When the World Service Project at King’s invited proposals from researchers working on radio, Elaine Morley and I decided to organise the ‘BBC and the World Service: Debts and Legacies’ conference.

Continue reading From Broadcast to Podcast: Reflections on Radio, Resistance and Legacies of the BBC World Service

A Day in the Life of the Humanities

by Alan Read, Professor of Theatre; Lizzie Eger, Reader Emerita in Eighteenth-Century Literature; Rowan Boyson, Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature; Josh Davies, Lecturer in Medieval Literature; Clare Lees, Professor of Medieval Literature and History of the Language; and Ruth Padel, Poetry Fellow

Six members of the English Department reflect on three events which took place on a single day. The day was Tuesday 10 May 2016. But, as Alan Read suggests, the date itself is of little importance. The variety of connections and conversations remembered below is typical of what might be experienced, should a curious mind find themselves in College with an hour or two spare, a ready ear, and the patience to pinpoint the precious gems among the ineluctable events emails that come with an @kcl.ac.uk email address.

Figure 1: Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa (seated), with Roger Caillois and Angel Rama (standing on the right), at a literary meeting at Vina de Mar (1969)
Figure 1: Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa (seated), with Roger Caillois and Angel Rama (standing on the right), at a literary meeting at Vina de Mar (1969)

Diagonal Science

On days like this you might imagine you are in a University as it was always intended. Drifting between critical conversations, discussions, presentations, performances, poetry readings and parties, across all levels of the King’s Strand campus, the orthodoxies of subjects fall away, the expectations of expertise are confounded, the surprising connections rather than disciplinary distinctions prevail.

The early nineteenth century architecture of Robert Smirke, a distinguished architect with a somewhat unfortunate name, shimmers where it once stood solid, glimmers with the fireflies of thought and expression dancing across its static surfaces, a disorder of things you could say. Of course, the privilege to wander in this way might be rare, for students and staff alike, deadlines and demands still call. But when a college of colleagues and communities works like this the French Surrealist Roger Caillois would recognise it as a flaring of ‘Diagonal Science’. Continue reading A Day in the Life of the Humanities