The release of Rhiya Pau’s upcoming poetry collection, Routesmarks fifty years since her family arrived in the U.K. Routes began as an attempt to chronicle the history of Rhiya’s family, and her community, and much of the collection draws on the experience of Rhiya’s grandparents – her Ba and Bapuji.
We asked Rhiya about her favourite poem in Routes, and she chose ‘Enough’, which paints a portrait of her grandmother, through her well-stocked kitchen cabinets:
My grandmother houses gods in her closet
among tower blocks of cereal boxes and canned
chickpeas so we may always know enough.
“Enough paints a portrait of my grandmother and her ability to be in two places at once. How she can know about the miners, the tower blocks, the Post Office – live in this country for fifty years and still not feel British enough. It’s about longing and belonging, the sacrifice of the mother tongue, and how even in the absence of language we find ways to love.
Over the past two years, I have been on my own migratory journey, trying to obtain a visa to live and work in the USA. This poem is a favourite of mine because it articulates an enduring sense of displacement that has only been amplified for me as I move back and forth between places.”
This month we are delighted to be launching Rhiya Pau’s debut poetry collection, Routes, almost exactly a year since we published Rhiya’s first poem ‘Departure Lounge’ in our Where We Find Ourselves anthology.
Routes chronicles the migratory histories of Rhiya’s ancestors and explores the conflicts of identity that arise from being a member of the South Asian diaspora. Ahead of publication, we asked Rhiya about the inspiration behind the collection:
“In many ways, my grandfather has been the inspiration behind Routes. Bapuji was born in Kenya but moved to India in the 1940s to become a freedom fighter in the Independence movement. He participated in marches and sit-ins, and was laathi-charged several times by British soldiers for his disobedience. In one instance he was even shot in the leg. Later in life, after moving to the UK he was awarded Membership of the British Empire by the Queen for his community work, an accolade he was incredibly proud of. I created Routes as a space in which to document the migratory history of my family and community and explore the conflicts of identity that emerge. The release of this collection reflects on the fifty years since much of our community moved to the UK, following the expulsion of the Asians from Uganda.
My grandfather was a salt-march pilgrim
in a fleeting incarnation of this nation. Now how do I wash the blood from his flag?
Bapuji is remembered as a bold and principled man, who was unafraid to stand by his convictions in the face of disapproval. He believed this to be a necessary act in service of societal progress. In Routes I hope to pay tribute to his legacy. It is only by examining our history that we can begin to answer – what is worth holding on to? What memories, what stories, what truths? When we piece these together, what is the narrative we choose to tell? And how are we going to address the silences that remain?“
It’s National Poetry Day and the theme this year is The Environment. To celebrate, we asked poet Claire Booker about her relationship with the natural world, and the way she represents it in her new collection, A Pocketful of Chalk:
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in awe of the natural world: its endlessly creative
hutzpah; the refreshing disinterest it has in our little human concerns.
A Pocketful of Chalk came together from what I could see was a build-up of poems
connected to natural phenomena. By nature I also include the dream world, which arises
from our inner natures. Dreams are forces inside us which we ignore at our peril, just
like the forces outside us.
Five years ago I moved to the village of Rottingdean just outside Brighton in East
Sussex. I’d spent three decades living and working in south London, which is
particularly blessed with woodland and open spaces. Urban nature is a force for change,
because it offers millions of people a relationship with the wild which they wouldn’t
otherwise have. By virtue of its fragile hold within the city, urban nature is also a potent
symbol of what we’re losing.
Moving to a rural, farming area, placed me right in the middle of wildness (it can get
pretty wooly up there on the Downs if a storm’s coming!). But even this wildness is
under threat. During this year’s drought, the wheat fields were scorched, newly planted
woodland saplings dropped their leaves, there were tiny, misshapen black berries. Then
the rains came in biblical proportions, and top soil was lost.
As humans, we’re in a unique position. We’re part of nature, but also the enemy outside
So what, as a poet, can I do about this? Very little, in reality, but even that little is worth
going for. Poetry can take you to the heart-beat of emotion. It can remind people of
what they’ve lost, or fear losing, or want to fight for. Above all, poetry offers quiet
contemplation, an enrichment of understanding – questions that could do with answers,
answers that need questioning.
The environment is us, it’s our relationship with each other, made manifest. We live in a
rushed, frenetic, some might say, frantic world. Poetry can help us draw breath, stop,
consider, appreciate. I find that by simply walking along the sea front, or up on the
Downs, the world starts to unravel a little. I get to see the same places over and over
again. But of course, they’ve never the same place more than once. And when I feel a
poem start to pupate, I pick up my pen. Learning about the planet, is learning about
So in A Pocketful of Chalk, there are poems about evening shadows on the Downs, and
how we can be stretched by light. There’s a poem about drought and how the loss of
plants is like losing children. There’s a young child who is impatient with her little
radish patch, but then flings herself onto the soil to listen to the seedlings grow. There
are poems that are fantastical, apocalyptic, about a drowned world, and others that look
at rain as a flow of emotions. Some of the poems are persona poems where I imagine
what it’s like to be a wild creature. I find it fascinating to try and enter a world without human parameters. After all, the best poetry leaves ego behind, and that’s always worth
At times, in the face of the night sky, or mesmerised by a murmuration of starlings,
even the idea of writing can seems absurd. The very first poem in the collection,
ironically, is about just that. When you’ve seen the “the impossible exactness” of a
Marbled White butterfly, words can seem a pointless add-on. As Ted Hughes wrote in
Poetry in the Making: “It is not enough to say the crow flies purposefully, or heavily, or
rowingly, or whatever. There are no words to capture the infinite depth of crowiness in
the crow’s flight.”
So that’s the challenge. To be part of nature, yet at the same time its observer and
protector. Poems live as much between the lines as in them – surely an ideal medium for
expressing such a paradox?
Not crows, but herons… watch Claire Booker reading Grey Heron at the launch of A Pocketful of Chalk:
Thinking about International Women’s Day, sometimes you wonder how any of us manage to live to grow up, the world can be so hard on women; and sometimes you want to celebrate everything we can be. Being of a cheerful disposition, we’ve gone for celebration.
We thought today was an excellent time to launch our submission call for an anthology of women’s writing. We are giving you a spectacularly long run in on this one, because we want it to be truly amazing, and because we are planning some writing workshops which will be run by editors Cherry Potts and Catherine Pestano (as soon as the funding is in place, we’ll let you know!). These will definitely be available online, for maximum reach, and may also be in person, depending on where we can find suitable writer-friendly venues and what the position is with Covid.
Our October 2023 Anthology is aimed firmly at older women, lesbians and women from the global majority. Our theme is menopause, and the book will be published on Menopuase day 2023 (October the 1st), we want your stories, flash and poems that go waaay beyond the empty nest and feelings of sexual redundancy. Tell us something we don’t know, go wild and magnificent…tell us about surgically induced menopause, unexpected benefits, the freedom of not bleeding… whatever genre you want (within our guidelines), but surprise us.
Just heard from Ness Owen, author of Mamiaith, and co-editor of A470, that her Penrhos poem is featured in United Kingdoms on Radio 4 Monday 31st January at 2.15. There’s not much info on their website yet, but set your alarms or catch it later on Sounds!
On 8th March we held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Gallleries for hosting.
Here is Cherry Potts reading her short story from Departures, Cloud Island.