Category Archives: Work in Progress

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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Ruth Padel drafts Capoeira Boy

Long Read: Just Women and Violence


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.

The long read: Just Women and Violence

by Ella Parry-Davies, PhD researcher funded by King’s College London and the National University of Singapore, working on performance, place, and memory, and Myka Tucker-Abramson, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature. With a postscript from Kélina Gotman,  Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies

“The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. The male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.

SCUM is too impatient to wait for the de-brainwashing of millions of assholes. Why should the swinging females continue to plod dismally along with the dull male ones? Why should the fates of the groovy and the creepy be intertwined? A small handful of SCUM can take over the country within a year by systematically fucking up the system, selectively destroying property, and murder.”

(Valerie Solanas, “The Scum Manifesto”, 1967)

“If sexism is a by-product of capitalism’s relentless appetite for profit then sexism would wither away in the advent of a successful socialist revolution. If the world historical defeat of women occurred at the hands of an armed patriarchal revolt, then it is time for Amazon guerrillas to start training in the Adirondacks.”

(Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women”, 1975)

“Homoexplosion is a radical queer/ trans group of fly fatherfuckers. We advocate people fucking in the street and burning shit—especially cops.”

(NYC Queers Bash Back Against NYPD, 2009)

Image via AP: Two protesters wearing black carry a black banner emblazoned with 'Queers Bash Back: Bash Any Face the Many'
Image via AP, 2009: Two protesters wearing black carry a black banner emblazoned with white text that reads ‘Queers Bash Back: Harm any face the many’.

We live in a moment of amplified violence, or at least a time in which certain kinds of violence have become more visible. New forms of surveillance, and heightened attention to the reported arming of both so-called individual terrorists or terrorist cells, as well as hostile nations, often speaks less to new threats than to carefully crafted states of emergency. However, at the same time, we are seeing an increasing incidents of hate crimes, intensified and increasing police brutality and state violence, and the continued expansion of the War on Terror.

Continue reading The long read: Just Women and Violence

On the trail of Doris Lessing

by Lara Feigel, Reader in Modern Literature

My research over the last few years has taken me to some unlikely places. You wouldn’t expect to find the papers of the very British novelist Rebecca West in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or the wartime diaries and letters of Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene in Austin, Texas. It’s odd spending a day in London in the Blitz and then emerging out of the air-conditioned archive into the Texan heat. One evening I even found myself being taught to two-step by a cowboy alongside a couple of other British academics.

But the most adventurous research trip I’ve been on was to Zimbabwe, where I went in August on the trail of Doris Lessing. Lessing grew up in Southern Rhodesia, as it then was, on a farm in the bush. She then moved at the age of eighteen (in 1937) to the capital city of Salisbury (now Harare) where in the space of the next decade she married twice, had three children, devoted herself to communism and wrote the novel that would make her name.

The Grass is Singing, first American edition cover, 1950.
The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing, first American edition cover, 1950.

My books seem to be becoming increasingly personal. I still tell students that it’s the text that counts and that it’s important not to use the biography as a kind of code-breaker, enabling us to work out the intention or ‘true’ meaning of the text. But I’ve abandoned my early conviction that the life is irrelevant to the work, and have started to think that often it’s the intersection between the two (the way that the work is shaped by the life and, perhaps more interestingly, the way that the life is shaped by the work) that I have most to say about. With Lessing, though, I’ve decided to take the risky step of making it autobiographical as well as biographical, bringing myself into the narrative. Continue reading On the trail of Doris Lessing

Ruth Padel drafts ‘Capoeira Boy’

An open drafting process of ‘Capoeira Boy’ from Ruth Padel’s collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth (Chatto, 2014).

Introduction

                      by Penny Newell

Sometimes poetry mutters, sometimes it sings, oftentimes it catches our eye and looks. There’s a line from a poem of Ruth Padel’s collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth (Chatto, 2014), which manages all three. It runs: ‘I am looking too hard, or this scene is looking too hard/ at me.’ You need only read the commentary below to realise that here we overhear the poet muttering to herself, pen and notebook in hand. Yet we also hear a clue to the song that Padel plays on the oud. The oud is both the instrument, and perhaps a Middle Eastern homonym of the ode (from the Greek αοίδη [aoide], ‘a song’). The oud is a solemn song, sung by a chorus of CNN, Youtube and eBay, refugee camps and tanks. Last week, Jo McDonagh and Rowan Boyson asked ‘How might the humanities contribute to an understanding of the current refugee ‘crisis’?’ Padel’s poetry is alive to this question. The poems of this collection catch our eye with it, and let it look at us hard.

Continue reading Ruth Padel drafts ‘Capoeira Boy’