Described as a ‘violent grapple with our cosy notions of motherhood’ (Robert Peake) this bold and breathtaking new book of poems exposes the painful and the beautiful experience of becoming a new mother, torch-lit with violent and tender experience, sung from the body, and cast through a unique metaphoric lens.
This promises to be an unforgettable evening, celebrating themes of womanhood, transformation, and new life.
A much awaited Book Launch happened this month. Helen Calcutt’s first collection UNABLE MOTHER published by V. Press was launched at Waterstones, Birmingham.
I have heard Helen read from Unable Mother several times and was looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. The journey to Birmingham was epic with several issues that had occurred earlier in the day, trains were not running well. We waited on a platform for nearly an hour. By the time we arrived in Birmingham it felt like we should have least made it to Manchester!
I was delighted to see lots of familiar faces and the room was buzzing with pre-launch excitement. Helen had some 90s pop quietly playing in the background and everyone was settling in ready to hear some stunning poetry.
The evening was hosted by Gavin, who is a Storyteller but he still treated us to a poem.
Helen invited Guest Poets Nellie Cole, Isabel Galleymore, Claire Walker and David Calcutt to read during the first part of the evening. Each poet read 3 or 4 poems which was enough to catch the flavour of their writing and leave the audience wanting more.
I first heard Nellie at Stirchley Speaks a few years ago and thought how confident she was back then, how grounded her work is. I am delighted that I have heard some of the poems in her debut pamphlet in genesis form. I find it fascinating following the progress through to end results. ‘Bella’ is published by Offa’s Press.
Nellie is from the Black Country and started writing poetry when she studied at Birmingham University.
Bella is … a work which blends factual evidence with folklore, superstition, hearsay and the imagination, these poems explore the Worcestershire murder mystery ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’
The book table at Helen’s Launch generously featured her Guest Poets, I needed more than my train fare and money for Unable Mother. I had hoped to catch Nellie performing at Permission to Speak on the 12th but due to work commitments was not able to make it. Bella is a book destined for my reading pile.
You can grab yourselves a copy here http://offaspress.co.uk/shop/
I was really excited to hear Isabel’s set as I had not heard her read before. I have read her work, several poems are published on the Poetry Foundation website. She also won the Eric Gregory Award in 2017.
Isabel shared a beautiful set, her poetry draws the listener in. I definitely wanted to hear more.
Isabel’s first collection ‘Significant Other’ will be out next year (March 2019) published by Carcanet. Until then copies of Dazzle Ship published by Worple Press can be found here.
Claire Walker is a poet I know well, having met her on my first adventure as a poet back in September 2013, she is a good friend and a fellow V. Press poet and it is always a pleasure to listen to her work.
Her debut pamphlet ‘The Girl Who Turned Into a Crocodile’ (V. Press 2015) has sold out, but the poems in those covers remain strong. I was so glad she shared ‘Teaching Your Daughter to Crack Eggs’. Claire’s second pamphlet ‘Somewhere Between Rose and Black’ (2017) published by V. Press was available on the book table.
You can get a copy here http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/2017/12/launching-somewhere-between-rose-and.html
Three marvellous sets by three amazing poets and I thought it would be Helen next. Then we were introduced to David Calcutt who after his set was then to introduce Helen.
I had not expected David to be reading and was very happy when I discovered he was. It was a captivating set. He read from his latest collection ‘The last of the light is not the last of the light’, published by Fair Acre Press which launched earlier this year. https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/a-night-of-light/
You can buy a copy here https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/david-calcutt-the-last-of-the-light-is-not-the-last-of-the-light/
As a daughter of a musician (and an ‘in the shadow of’ musician) I understand the need for a daughter of a writer/poet to want to feel she has established herself without standing on the shoulders of her father. Helen has definitely done that and I was touched by her metaphorical sigh of relief. Her first collection now published she could confidently invite David to be part of the Launch.
Even if David was aware he may be sounding like Father of the Bride in introducing us to her.
Like Claire, I have known Helen for a while and always enjoy listening to her work. I had the pleasure of hearing a set from Unable Mother at David’s Launch back in June and had heard some of the poems from the collection at other events. But this evening I was buying my own copy.
Hearing some of the poems for a second or third time works for me, because like a good film you notice something else. Something new. When I read poetry books it is not unusual for me to read a poem twice. Of course, in an extended set Helen shared more poems than I had heard and also the stories woven into the poems. How poems written for one thing take on significant and different meanings because of her experiences since.
She even shared the stories behind the magnificent cover.
It was a very moving set and left a few of us in tears. Helen trusted us enough to expose parts of her life on a soul level, it was painfully honest. The poems speak this honesty, this undoing of secrets, uncovering the things we don’t talk about, the experiences we hide – it all holds importance.
As Robert Peake says in his endorsement: “This work challenges our abstract and cosy notions of motherhood with a brutal and vulnerable delve into the psyche.”
Helen’s set was brave and touching.
An excellent evening and a wonderful book launch and a fine celebration with cake, wine and book signings afterwards.
You can buy a copy here
http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/unable-mother.html and also read a sample poem and hear Soundcloud audio of a selection of poems from the book.
“This work challenges our abstract and cosy notions of motherhood with a brutal and vulnerable delve into the psyche. Calcutt grapples, sometimes violently, sometimes with aching tenderness, each hard-won line ‘like squeezing / flesh and fruit from the bone, / this terrible love’. Yet these poems reach even further, into the rent world, and the remarkable kinds of beauty to which poetry alone can allude. This is an intimate book, the kind that comes in close to your ear to whisper dark secrets and unavoidable truths. These poems are spare, careful, insistent–and devastatingly good.” Robert Peake
“Helen Calcutt’s poems are full of surprising and intricate moments – they unfold like origami, deftly packing and unpacking themselves into new forms and presenting the reader with confidences, secrets and insight, the tender words for the things that are hard to say. In their explorations of motherhood, loss and discovery, Calcutt’s poetry is steeled with precise language, always finding clarity forged in the heart of experience. These are intimate poems which are felt in the body, and written with a keen physicality – ‘love is meant to live on in the body’ writes Calcutt, ‘My flesh making heaven of it.’ In their makings and re-makings, each poem here reveals this to be a remarkable and potent debut.” Jane Commane
Stuart Bartholomew Waterstones Regional Manager is a huge supporter of Poetry (as well as co-director of Verve Poetry Festival and Verve Poetry Press) and he made sure this evening was smooth and possible, so I think he deserves some poetry thanks and praise too!