Your Candle Accompanies the Sun

So thrilling when personal obsessions are given the chance to expand into real projects, real objects.

This has happened twice in recent months with two of my sequences making their way into books and exhibitions.

Here’s an account of the the first to appear: Your Candle Accompanies the Sun.

In the spring I had a bout of terrible Mondays, when my teenage son, who has learning difficulties and autism, decided he was never going to school again.
He’d take off around the neighbourhood, and nothing (believe me) would get him on the road to his school, (a lovely place btw, he was fine once he was there.)*

While he was out wandering, I was obliged to stay at home and wait, as when he would eventually find his way back, he needed me to be there.

During these times, I really was stuck indoors, quite anxious, unable to do much. In an attempt to ‘do something useful’ I began clearing out some of our excess junk. I came upon a small 1930s book of duotone tourist photos of Switzerland that I’d forgotten I’d picked up at a flea market years before. ‘Why! This is collage gold.’ I gasped. ‘In fact, it’s the inner landscape of Emily Dickinson!’

I’d seen a Poetry School competition callout on instagram re Emily D – provoked in turn by the new Terence Davies’ biopic: A Quiet Passion.

I began, at the kitchen table, to make one collage after another, glueing and stitching flat turquoise Alps to scraps of photographed kitchenware… and finding my own words to add, after rereading the energetic, mysterious and spiky poems Emily Dickinson wrote so urgently in her many years stuck indoors.

She made some sacrifices in order to develop her revolutionary work. Being a female artist was never a picnic.

This summer I showed a selection of the collages in an exhibition at The Art Stable, Dorset. The work remains up and viewable by appointment, until September 15th. Curator Kelly Ross had had the idea to set me up with brilliant painter Gigi Sudbury, so we could potentially collaborate, and show our work together. This was an added delight, as we share a passion for colour and narrative, the domestic and surreal combined.

We met and looked at exhibitions and forged a valuable exchange. I’d like to write about this more, but for now, here is one of her paintings from the show. We encouraged each other’s image text tendencies.

To co ordinate with the exhibition I again called upon the book producing genius of the Henningham Family Press. They devised a beautiful new binding for a book of the Emily Dickinson collages.

I tried to write an introduction to the work, but ended up writing a little poem instead, which felt less cumbersome.

To accompany the collages I picked out a handful of Dickinson’s poems, a few old favourites and some more obscure ones.
It was fun to choose poems that showed her wit and her visual acuity, her skill in collaging language, her games of scale.

E.g. one starting:
‘I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time – ‘
And another that begins:
‘The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants – ‘
which made Gigi and I laugh our heads off when we met to compare art notes in my kitchen.

The book is available at £20 from Henningham Family Press. Each copy contains 28 collages impeccably reproduced at actual size, my poem and ten by Emily Dickinson.

Each book is cleverly hand-bound to allow for two different sized pamphlets in one set of covers, reflecting our two voices.

Henningham Family Press will be showing the book, amongst many others of their inventive works, at FREE VERSE: The Poetry Book Fair on September 30th. I will be reading along with David Henningham – times to be confirmed.

It’s a great event in any case, for anyone interested in poetry, and the variety of publications being made by presses on every scale. Take cash and be prepared to wave goodbye to it.

And if you too get stuck indoors – solidarity. All I can say is – poetry can sometimes unstick a person with its odd letter shaped keys!

And happy National Poetry Day on September 28th, for which the theme, as I’ve said before, and cut out of black paper and white… is Freedom.

*My son now has the offer of a college place where his independence can be fostered and encouraged, so less stuckness for all of us hopefully.

VOYAGE and other journeys

Over the last couple of years, my story collecting project has been expanding into the rich theme of migration: and I’ve had the chance to hear people tell me about what makes them feel at home: whether it’s a kitchen, a hobby – their body, or a poem…

Londons diversity has always made me relieved to return to it, but many people don’t experience the city as friendly. How do we live in our communities, connect with neighbours, make ourselves heard? These questions seem more urgent than ever, post brexit, where polarities have been amplified, in and outside of our various bubbles.

In Hounslow I was working with Creative People and Places encouraging residents to develop their own modes of story collecting, which we practised by listening, drawing and writing poems together, after initial inky story collecting sessions with me.

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Over at the National Maritime Museum I’d also been listening and collecting, from visitors to the RE*THINK space there, as part of work with The Migration Museum Project. Poet and friend, Karen McCarthy Woolf was writer in residence on this theme. We hatched a plan to collaborate, and make a piece of work to show our findings. This is now manifest as a 36 page book: Voyage, and contains an essay and new poems by Karen, with stories collected and drawn live by me.

As we were addressing the subject of migration, I wanted to supplement the narratives I’d heard at the museum, with some from more recently arrived people, people who might not yet be at the museum visiting stage… so I approached South London Refugee Association, who welcomed me to their drop in. I met and spoke with people there, who shared some of their moving stories with me. Karen and I selected a range of drawings and poems from the work we’d made, the book was supported and introduced by Joanna Salter at the museum, and we in turn were listened to, re paper stock, layout and printing by old friends at Aldgate Press.

We’ve had a lovely article and review of the book, by Bidisha, on the BBC arts website.

VOYAGE reviewed on BBC Arts

There are lots more of the drawings to look at via this link, and a short film of me, made by Chocolate Films where I’m collecting one of the Hounslow stories.

Voyage readings and launch at The European Commission in London:

Europe House, 32 Smith Square SW1

6:30 -8:30 September 15th. Please come along.

the freedom of the ghetto

IMG_1469.jpgIn October I was one of a group of eight artist printmakers engaged in making a new piece of work to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the world’s first ghetto.

This was a space established in Venice in 1516, on the site of the old foundry there, (making it one of the few campos without a church) that was created as a concession to Jews, permitting them residence in the city.

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photo by Barbara del Mercato, the Ashkenazy synagogue, Ghetto Nuovo.

Originally the word would have had a soft ‘g’ as it was where the metal was thrown (or jettisoned,) a ‘getto’, but as the first wave of incumbents were Ashkenazy Jews, and strangers to the soft ‘g’, they pronounced it like get, and thus introduced the world to the ‘ghetto’!

The commission was to make a New Venice Haggadah, deriving inspiration from a beautiful edition published in Venice in 1609, as well as with reference to the contemporary community, and of course our own personal responses and processes.

The haggadah is the Passover text, and is like a script for use at the Seder table. It conducts all the members of the family through the story of the Exodus, with ritual foods, questions, songs and wine. It is a chance to think about oppression and slavery, and wish freedom to all who remain oppressed. There may be nearly as many haggadot and interpretations of the story as there are families who mark the festival.

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We were invited to do this work by Beit Venezia, headed up by Shaul Bassi, (far left, above) and as well as us artists, Vassar professor Marc Michael Epstein, (far right, above) joined our group to show us some of the vast history of illustrated haggadot. We were also lucky to be shown many intriguing aspects of Venice and its workings by our events coordinator Barbara del Mercato.

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Right to left (like Hebrew) we are Barbara, Shaul, Frances Katz Levine (a supporter of the project),  Kyra Matustik, Josh Baum, then on the sofa, also right to left: Andi LaVine Arnovitz, Nathan Gotlib, Jacqueline Nicholls (lead artist)  Hillel Smith, Yael David-Cohen and me.

Our group of eight artists came from the UK , the US, Belgium, Israel, the Czech Republic – and with varying degrees of knowledge and experience in both etching and Jewishness!

Our base for the three week residency was the  Scuola Grafica Internazionale di Venezia, a gorgeous and well equipped printmaking studio in Cannaregio. We stayed in apartments about a half hour walk away. My room made a nifty temporary studio.

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A peal of bells came echoing out from this jaunty corner tower to wake us promptly at 7:00 each morning.IMG_1246

We read and thought about the text together in detail over the first week, as well as looking at significant treasures in Venice, such as the first printed Talmud there, which I was pleased to discover looks quite a lot like concrete poetry.

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At the end of the first week Jacqueline allocated each of us two sections of the text to respond to visually. Mine were both densely emotional passages, one of suffering, one of joy.  IMG_1526.jpg This was re: We cried out and the one below represents praise (very necessary Hebrew help came from my fellow artists Josh  and Jacqueline )

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During the second week, we drew and prepared, then etched our copper plates… as well as exploring the city, getting lost and looking at as much art as we could possibly squeeze in around the coffees.

It is such a sensational city: light zipping off the water to illuminate everything from the intricate and wonky palaces to the vegetable delivery boats, and the bridges; more of which seemed to appear daily, like a baffling dream.

Week three saw us unite and print: 6oo sheets of dampened Fabriano paper, many inky rags, many ragged but mainly undampened spirits!

The original copper plates and the editions of 25 prints per etching per artist (we each made 3 plates, that’s why we were editioning 600 prints in week 3!) remain in Venice for now and will be exhibited as part of the ghetto quincentery events. A beautiful version of our New Venice Hagaddah is also in production in Jerusalem, and will be for sale in time for Passover 2016.

You can read more about the project in the current (January 2016) issue of  Jewish Rennaisance magazine, or watch us and laugh as we are dubbed in Italian on TV  – and see the studio, the ghetto and the other artists.

Thanks to all members of our group, who were wonderful to work with, to Jacqueline Nicholls in particular for inviting me, to Shaul Bassi of Beit Venezia and Lorenzo de Castro and Alan Rogers at the Scuola Grafica for hosting us, and to Barbara del Mercato for showing us Venice from the inside.

I have also written a small stack of new Venice poems, hopefully these will find a home one day, in or out of the poetry ghetto…

Meanwhile, here’s to 2016: ink, friendship and freedom!

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Cake in the Forest

The project that catapulted me into Nature and away from my habitual London scenery: The Listening Forest, is now up in another form, as an exhibition at the HQ of the Poetry Society at 22 Betterton Street Covent Garden: The Poetry Cafe.

chichis forest cover pic

About thirty of the original drawings are on the walls, chosen from the hundred or so that make up the book, which in turn, were chosen from perhaps twice that that I made whilst in residence for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire.

P1000990.jpgMany of the drawings on show are those I drew live from local people recounting to me what they get up to in the woods; others are ones that I made away from company, on my own in the cottage I was put up in.

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There are also the six paper cuts I made as a structural device to tailor the book into its shape as a mirror to the forest, filing stories as appropriate under section headings: noticings and changes of direction in path, strange sightings and confessions in  undergrowth, the ordinary and everyday in shrub layer, revelations and insights in clearing, lofty thoughts in canopy, base material in floor

undergrowth RRH

 

New for the space in Covent Garden, I replaced Ralph Steadman’s Byron scribed lampshades with new ones of my own, some written on in loose ink with excerpts from my forest poem sequence, some coloured with streaks of Nepalese paper cut into leaf-spiders, moth-women, crow-huts.

lamps

flophouse pic (chichi)

The show opened on my Dad’s 90th birthday, so he came along, and after I’d read some poems, the audience sang to him and we all shared cake!

me and dad po caf

The same week it was the  The Poetry Library open day at the Festival Hall, which took as its theme: The End of the Poem. It was exciting to see the library’s copy of the limited edtion huge version of The Listening Forest in its thirty metre incarnation, laid out on one of the tables, near another recent collaborative work: Collective City, the book we assembled from visual poem collages made by visitors to the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival and made into an inventive street shaped book by the same team who bound the forest book: the inimitable Henningham Family Press

library open day

The Listening Forest exhibition runs until February 4th and is open most days and evenings, but please do check the Poetry Cafe website.

Another evening viewing is scheduled for Thursday December 17th, with mulled wine, a chance to buy screen prints, books and original drawings, and a short reading of some forest and city poems by me and some surprise guest poets!

I will also be running a day workshop in conjunction with The Poetry School, called Hide and Seek in the Ideas Forest, on Saturday January 30th. We’ll be working on how to set traps for the unconscious, and turn what we find into art and poetry.

So many people have been involved with this project, big thanks to all who joined me on the path: including Yasmin Canvin and the team at Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts, Kate Dyer and Lorraine Dziarkowska of Corby Community Arts – and everyone who told me a story or listened to a poem or idea. Particular London thanks to Tanya Peixoto of The Bookartbookshop and Mike Simms of the Poetry Society.

Here’s a poem.

Forest Of Experience

It’s a flophouse for moths

they flail in beige stupor

all eyes and faintings

Victorian ladies with the vapours

 

I tune my ear

to their sighs

floating up in snatches

from hazy gilded blades.

 

Car salesman newt zips

in and out of his slovenly

basketwork: rotted black twigs

laced with bark ribbons.

 

A glowing toadstool

in coral polyester

sponges me

her beauty tips.

 

My forest of experience cracks

under the books I’ve read

the words I’ve spilt

and pictures that I’ve made

 

so badly, so laboriously.

My painting arm remembers

Prussian Blue, Chrome yellow –

squeezed from tubes

 

crude globs, unlike this life

where ferny fountainheads

prise lids off every shade

from eau-de-nil to sludge

 

and nodding fronds of fronds

swish me like a sap

into their losing green.

Nouveau pines

 

rise smooth as vaulting

in my restless cinema

and up in the spaghetti

canopy, sinuous capillaries

 

make grids for clouds

and trap me in a silence test.

Strain, for what?

Your ghost? A hare?

 

But only midges jitter

provincial, repetitious

have they not seen lipstick before?

Their dots itch every inch

 

of me, tiny tireless clubbers

mobbing the street.

Through tough foliage

glimpse bolts of deer

 

shaded in private fur

impervious to sting

or stinging remark –

every day there’s carnage.

 

Bird spangled branches

trumpet fat green notes

filling all imagined spaces

in between parked stars.

 

A tiny dandelion bud

sucks in its yellow cheeks –

I’m the jam and you’re

the butter dripping sun

 

it’s easy to lie down

in blackthorn studded mud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

clothes that speak, an indoor forest: autumn flurries.

The Listening Forest is to take root in Covent Garden, at the Poetry Cafe.

Please saunter under its inky boughs, as they spread into the wintery world of a London November.

performing in the woods

I’ll be showing original work from the residency/ project undertaken with Fermynwoods Contemporary as well as new screen prints I’ve developed. Drawings and prints will be for sale, as will the book in both A5 and A3 concertina incarnations. I’ll also be running some events alongside the show, so watch this space.

Private view:  Thursday 4th November with readings, drawing, cake and wine.

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If you want to experiment and make a book where image and text cohabit, however cosily or haughtily, there are still places left on my course at Morley College, starting on September 21st for nine weeks: BOOK IMAGE TEXT and also in the spring and summer terms.

Here’s an example of sheer image text mastery by a small citizen of Brent, from a holiday session in Willesden library.

childs' collage: summer

A page inspired by each item in this sunlit window would make a nice fancy poem sequence!

charity shop

Talking of which, I have three visual poems featured in a lovely online journal called wardrobe, find them and wear them straightway, they are in drawer five, and are written from the point of views of a skirt, a mans jumper and a slip.

Decent Skirt

Also in textile mode, my screen printed cotton Disaster hankie appeared in the glorious new volume from Hayward Gallery Publications THE NEW CONCRETE, where I’m proud to be in company with poets and artists I’ve long admired, like John Furnival and Edwin Morgan.

The launch at The Whitechapel was epic, with brilliant readings from many contributors.

Last week also saw the launch of another genre-busting book. Over the Line has over 70 pages of brand new poetry comics, including a collaborative spread by me and Chris McCabe, called The Practical Application of Colour. It was fun reading the piece which has very few words in it, (unlike this palaver.)

A good place to buy the book is at Free Verse book fair which takes place at Conway Hall on 26th September, and is a great treat for those interested in alternative publishing and new poetry.

Or at launch number 2, coming up at Gosh Comics!

Some unLondon things coming up: I’ll have a couple of works in 50 artist strong new show: a wide interpretation of still life, this autumn at The Art Stable, Dorset. I took this still life at the farm adjacent to the gallery on a visit, but my actual pieces are painted and feature words again.

spent sunflower head

I’m also excited to be reading at the famously fabulous Swindon Poetry Festival on Sunday 4th October. There will be all kinds of top poetry and related capers going on in town for a few days, so have a look at the programme and come along.

For the remainder of October I’ll be in residence in Venice at the Scuola Grafica Venezia. One of eight invited artists, I’ll be working in their beautiful printmaking studio, on a project to make a new and contemporary Haggadah to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the worlds first ghetto, set up there in 1516. Fascinating stuff.

Any quality work that comes from this will be added to the forest show forthwith.

Looking forward to plenty of real tea under imaginary trees at the Poetry Cafe, see you up there.

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The Listening Forest

LF2 cover a:w
Book cover

Early plans for a publication at the end of my residency with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art included the idea of a series of woodcuts, but I shelved these as story collecting and poem writing took over. It seemed like that was plenty enough to do…

country park cafe victorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It surprised me then, to find myself cutting out leaves and letters from black paper in my studio the week I was due to hand in the pages to David and Ping at The Henningham Family Press.

I took my scalpel, cutting mat and big piles of A3 paper, and cut out a page for each of my six sections: path, undergrowth, shrub layer, canopy, clearing, floor. It was very freeing, snipping my way into a happy trance where black and white dance their dialogue  – a more familiar terrain to me than anything outdoors, or that other forest I’ve been hacking about in: Poetry.

Here are the images for Clearing and Undergrowth.

clearingundergrowth RRH

Amazingly, these are now in place in the book proofs, heralding the start of each clump of collected stories and other drawings. The book is going to print this Monday, all 112 pages of it.

Anyone who feels like a trip to Corby on the 2nd May will be welcome to join the launch party.

wood demontoadstools in logistics

We’ll be in a woodland clearing in the middle of town, just up from the boating lake, Cottingham Road, NN17 2UN, 4- 6PM – with drawings in the trees, music and forest refreshments.

I’ll be reading poems from the book, and other poets from the area will also be performing work on the theme. If you know a great woodland poem, or have written one, bring it along to share.

London showings/readings are scheduled for June at TheBookartbookshop, Hoxton, and The Poetry Society in Covent Garden in November/December.

Writing Process Blog Tour

Thank you to Gemma Seltzer, for inviting me to jump aboard this ink stained tour bus and spill some beans about projects and process.

This tour is easy to catch: if you paste the title of this post into a search engine, all kinds of  writing carriage operators will fall into line and chug you through their notebook strewn scenery.

I also get to invite some people whose ideas I find interesting, to answer the same four questions the following week. You’ll find them at the end of my post. I have a call out to some other writers – watch this space, in case another writing process revealer gets back to me…

I first came across Gemma Seltzer’s name when her book Speak to Strangers (Penned in the Margins, 2011) was being excitedly passed around a pub table one Wednesday night after poetry class. Like everything I’ve seen by her since, this work spins out from a strong concept – and connects in a deeply human way, encompassing deft scale changes (vast cityscape, close up on shiny hair…) She is brilliant at using live interaction, feeding off the energy of conversation, chance, urban buzz; and pulling this into crisp vignettes that are perfect containers to be contemplated calmly in the silent hum of reading later.

Gain clues about how she manages this: her answers to the writing process blog tour are here:

http://gemmaseltzer.co.uk/news.html

OK Here it is: my writing process blog tour.

going to see Baba Yaga

What am I working on?

I like a few projects on the go, then when I get stuck with one I can give it a break from my gaze, in the hope that on my return both me and it will be refreshed and ready for the next grapple, or possibly: clarity. Work has the chance to move on when you stop hassling it.

At the moment:

1. I’m writing a series of dramatic monologues in a phonetic and exaggerated German accent, all from the point of view of a female immigrant to London in 1938, I’m up to twenty two poems – I’m aiming to stop at 26, as I have it on good authority that 26 is where it’s at.

Vot a Vurlt! Zo much to zay! Oont zo hentdy to hef ziss borrote pairzonellity to heit behinte!

2. The Edible Garden/project Phakama

I am part of a team working with an old peoples home in Deptford. Together with musicians, a dancer, student performers and a chef, we are creating a performance based on the stories we find there: I’m writing lyrics with the residents: we will cook up a home made musical and lunch!

3. With a group led by Chris McCabe at the Poetry School, I’ve spent a year of Thursday evenings reading and writing in response to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

We’ll perform a version of our writings on Bloomsday/June 16th, so reworking and learning content by heart, listening to ideas from each other and theatre director Matthew Lloyd, is a rich process of transforming raw poems into living, breathing 3D.

Studio based projects include collaborating on a poetic artist’s book, and four portrait painting commissions. These are in my twin universe of paint, colour, mark.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

candelabra on cardboard box
candelabra on cardboard box

Oh how delicious is the word genre! I like it its r at the end specially, and will roll that ‘r’ with bravura, whilst eating grilled fromage du chevre, beneath my candelabra latre, mon frere.

If my main genre in writing terms is poetry: then I’d like to think I differ just by coming from the particular angle I come from: visual arts, playfulness, spontaneity. My content which is often about the dark in the domestic – and the tightrope I like to hang out on: suspended between humour and gloom. I love a combination of apparent ease and lightness with a core of shocking nerve-blasting truth, and a European sense of the all pervasive absurd. Poems as scale-changing, logic-fighting, anti-naturalistic word towers. Poets, artists and filmmakers I admire tend to pull these breath-taking stunts – refreshing the world with their own flavour of unblinking stare, I don’t care if it’s deadpan or flouncy!!!! I’d list them, but lists always leave people out, so I will resist. Let’s discuss influences another day.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I have a short attention span/no time, and like to get out into the metaphorical landscape in little bursts on wordy skates?

Also, it’s personal: One of my kids is autistic and learning disabled. Raising him has made communication into a religion for me, and expression seem urgent, as I have been squished into a carer’s biscuit tin for a long time, and now I need to let myself and my ideas get freshly aired.

The oppressiveness of his rigidities has had a paradoxical effect of freeing me to say whatever the hell I want! Good poetry and painting operate a similar magic, for me anyway: parades of images/metaphors, a palette of observation and emotion, integrity in putting whatever colours can be scraped together into a work that flashes reflected light on human experience, that kind of thing.

I’ve also found new comradeship in a section of the poetry world, people here seem to enjoy intensity and awkwardness: marvellous!

How does my writing process work?

I get out my notebook, (on a bus, a train, in bed, in the pub, in the café, at the kitchen table, up the Glass Mountain, beyond thrice kingdoms thrice removed) and I write.

I do like an easy flowing ink pen (type: lamy, cartridge colour: black, ) and an unlined notebook (Rymans A5 sketchbook with an elastic pinger to close it) I write and draw and do not censor myself. I write all the time, except when I have to be doing other stuff, making money or dinner. Sometimes the thoughts or games turn into poems. At the end of each notebook (a sad feeling, they become such friends) I go through, find all the things that might be poems, type them up onto the computer, title and save them. Later I go back, look again – either work on them a bit, or a lot, or delete the little buggers. I value dreams, listening, and letting things turn up. I have great faith in my unconscious, having worked with it for years. Planning I find impossible. I’m not organised. Though like all ‘makers’ I find restraints liberating, eg oulipian rules, a limited palette, an exercise suggested. I have attended some brilliant classes, which have helped me to steer through my own material and Poetry at large. Although my general chaos makes finding things tricky, it also keeps ideas churning in an alive way. For me, ideas come and go quite easily. Reading poetry aloud (other peoples’ as well as mine of course) really helps. Language: like nature and one’s own flesh, there it is – every day, for us to inhabit how we choose. It’s a cure for practically anything. Practicality even!

This is How to Have Ideas

My castaways next week are:

poet and playwright Shazea Quraishi: whose pamphlet: The Courtesan’s Reply was a lucky find for me in my local bookshop. The poems are taut, erotic and wise, and have been built as responses to a Sanskrit text written in 300 BC in which the courtesans glimpsed have been reimagined, and given their own voices. I will be interested to read about how Shazea has discovered and connected to these characters via her writing process. http://shazea.wordpress.com/

and poet and editor Amy Key: Her sparkling debut poetry collection Luxe was published by Salt in November 2013. With the poet Nia Davies, she co-edits the online journal Poems in Which and is currently editing a new anthology of poems on friendship among women Best Friends Forever, due to be published by The Emma Press late 2014. http://amyvkey.com/

Confirmation of my last invited tourer: Paul Stephenson. All the poems I’ve read by him are wonderful. Others agree and he’s won a raft of prizes. He lives in Paris currently and has that European thing I mentioned, a zest for experiment, which combined with his humour makes for exciting poetry. Find out more about him and look out for his responses to the four questions on his blog over the coming weeks. http://paulstephensonpoet.wordpress.com/about/