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:
This is an open event – we want to hear your voices too and there will be plenty of break-out and Q and A time, to encourage you to share your thoughts, reflections and experiences – and, if you would like, to write about them.
Different breakout rooms will allow time for shared conversation and deeper exploration of the ideas raised by the panel or provide an opportunity to attend a short writing session/ workshop.
This is an online event on Zoom. We will use auto captions.
Phew, a bit late in the week, but let’s fly the flag here, before I go back to the emergecy fund application to ACE, refreshed with reminding myself why I do this.
We publish everyone. (Except people who aren’t writers, obviously).
But my first publications as a writer were with a lesbian press, and while we aren’t a lesbian press we are a lesbian-owned press, and we can still use that visibility.
So in celebration, here are our lesbian authors and poets, together with the books they are in, all of which are available from us direct, and from intrepid bookshops, and as ebooks from your usual supplier. There are probably more, but if they don’t tell me, I can’t celebrate them.
Sarah: What are the main motivations and influences for your writing?
Jane: Like you, I started writing very early in life, having been influenced and inspired by diverse writers such as Shakespeare, Brecht, Patten, Keats. I write because it feels like the best form of play I can think of. No-one tells me to do it, it’s just down to me. But writing is also the hardest thing I choose to do, and it gives me huge pleasure and pain!
My influences these days are many and varied and include many poets and writers whose books are crammed onto my bookshelves including Kathleen Jamie, Jacob Polley, Elizabeth Bishop, Robin Robertson, Tomas Transtromer and Tove Jansson. But I’m also influenced by nature, artists, musicians, architecture and archaeology in very eclectic and spontaneous ways.
Jane:I think it has to be Doggerland. Doggerland fascinates me hugely, and when I first read about this ancient land beneath the North Sea, my imagination became fired up and I knew I wanted to attempt a poem from the perspective of a hunter-gatherer, that tried to do justice to the immensity of the place and its eventual fate. There’s still more I’d like to write about Doggerland, its story is not just ancient history, there are many modern resonances too, such as climate change and mass extinctions.
Sarah:You also have work in Time and Tide. Are water and time big themes in your poetry generally? If so, how and why do they fascinate you? If not, how did you find a way into the theme?
Jane: I messed about in boats as a kid and when I moved up to Scotland over 30 years ago, I said I wanted to live beside the sea. Well in a way I do. Although we live in the suburbs of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth is never far away and under normal circumstances, we go to the East Lothian coast and the NW Highlands very regularly. Water does feature in some of my poems such as Dave off in Five, With Meme on Mellon Udrigle Beach and Eel Ghazal, and whether it’s a river or loch, waterfall or incoming tide, I’m always drawn to watch. But I’m also aware of the theme of time in my poetry. Many of my poems are set in the past and are concerned with loss, love, death and memory. However, I think I made heavy weather about writing my Time and Tide poem. In fact I wrote two poems. The first based on a Clearance clachan or hamlet beside the sea in West Ardnamurchan was rejected. The second was based on a fictional character, a female ghost, who had once lived in 18th Century Leith, Edinburgh’s main port. I wrote it to accompany an embarrassingly bad film poem (quite rightly rejected). Thankfully the poem In the Shadows, on the Shore, Leith made it into the anthology.
Sarah:If you could change something, or learn one new thing in terms of how you work, or what you write about, what would it be and why?
Jane: I’d love to be able to write and present a film poem. I think my best poems are the ones that began as a strong visual experience and I’d love to be able to learn about the process of making a poem come alive in a visual sense as well as on the page and in the mind.
Sarah:What are your favourite reading, writing and performance spots?
Jane: I love writing on our kitchen table. Although our kitchen is quite a busy space, with cooking and washing happening plus our cat bouncing around, I love it. I can look out onto the garden, listen to the radio and I’m happy!
I love reading in the kitchen too, but I also have a very comfortable chair in the lounge which is perfect for settling down with a good book.
In the summer the garden bench is a brilliant place to muse or read or write surrounded by birdsong and bumblebees.
In my very limited experience of performance, I’d say that The Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh where I launched my debut collection Let out the Djinn and read at an open mic is a lovely welcoming space.
Let out the Djinn
An Outbreak of Peace
Time and Tide
You can buy all the books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.
If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.
There’s been some bad news in the book world, Gardners, the major wholesaler who supplies most independant booksellers has shut up shop for the forseeable. (Yes, this is C-19 related.)
This means it will be even harder to get books out to the public. We are however in the fortunate position of having the estimable NBNi as our distributor, which means bookshops can get books direct from them, if they have an account. All the big shops and quite a few of the smaller ones do. Phew!
WE ALSO HAVE BOOKS HERE.
Not in massive quantities, but enough to see us through of most titles. Yo can order direct and we will post them out to you, so long as they will fit through the post box slot, and so long as you have a large enough letter box. A couple of books might not suit – Outcome is probably ok, The Dowry Blade probably not.
If for any reason our stocks dry up, or the royal mail goes into meltdown, we have ebooks available from your usual supplier, some reduced to 99p for the duration of the lockdown, and we are converting the poetry, which wasn’t converted before for format reasons, the first of these titles will be available 10th April with more on 17th and the last lot, the ones I think will be most difficult to work with electronically, on the 24th.
In the meantime we are working out ways to keep you happy.
We are organising some guest blogs from our writers, and some of them have offered to video readings. We are also getting them to interview each other. Some of these interviews will be video links (when I work out how) and some will be text based, but if you’ve always wanted to ask onr of our writers a question, we invite you to send some in! If there’s a particular author or poet you want to answer the question, let us know, and we’ll do our best. You can comment on this post to ask your question.
Until I get round to editing the video files, here are some photos from Sunday’s event, where we launched Emma Lee‘s new collection, The Significance of a Dress, and thoroughly celebrated International Women’s Day with poems and flash from Laila Sumpton, Claire Booker, Sarah Lawson, Jenny Mitchell, Julie Easley, Cherry Potts, Michelle Penn, Shamini Sriskandarajah, and Emma Lee!
Finally, after much discussion and re-reading we have a long list of poems.
(Thank you, Ness Owen, Phil Baarda and Yvonne Battle-Felton for the hours of work.)
Alphabetically by poem title:
16:30, Katie Evans A Calligraphy of Starlings, Aziz Dixon A Fatality at Wandsworth, Jill Sharp After the Sun, Before the Stars, Jane Aldous Afterglow, John Bevan All This, John Richardson Arrival, Bridie Toft Between, Lindsay Reid Blue Hour, Eileen Carney Hulme Brunel’s Bridge, Paul Deaton Calling Them In, Kelly Davis Corn Dolly, Steven Jackson Crow Haibun, Alison Lock Decoration of a Fermented Season, Alice Tarbuck Dhusarah, Lizzie Parker Driving to Blackpool to Visit my Sister, Jeremy Dixon Dusk in Drury Lane, Sarah James End Of Ramadan, Michelle Penn Factory, Joy Howard Fall, Julian Bishop Female Blackbird Sings, Vanessa Owen Going Out, Rosemary Appleton I Am Dusk, Alannah Egan In-Between Light, Christine Webb l’Heure Bleue, Angela Kirby Lingering Light, Bethan Rees Magic Hour, Nicholas McGaughey Match Girl, Lisa Kelly Red Coat, Wolf, etc., Katy Lee Roost, Sue Birchenough Sleeping Out, Stevie Krayer Sometimes a Black Cloud, Nigel Hutchinson Sleeping Out Stevie Krayer Spelling the Dusk, Elinor Brooks Starling Time, Laila Sumpton Summer Evening L Reid Summers Ended In Sweetness, Martyn Crucefix Sundown Breath, Gabrielle Choo Tempus Erat, K Wise The Dogs of Delhi, Jill Sharp The Gloaming, Mandy Macdonald The Sea’s Wedding, Carl Griffin The Shortest Day, Sue Johnson The Standstill, Roselle Angwin Walking Home on the Shortest Day of the Year, Janice Dempsey