Given my poetry pamphlet is now sold out (thank you to everyone who bought a copy), I thought I would record the poems for my much-neglected YouTube channel. Here is a transcript of the first one,
Quickened pain, surprising me
out of all birth plans
and breathing techniques
and the crickets of the TENS
machine crawling up my back.
I had woken early
completed the lists:
paired socks, as my pelvis
pentangled like pulled knitting.
And all too soon
the burn, the squeeze, the heft
was beyond unbearable
you released –
a tide of meaning
into the world.
My last born.
Completing this compost
Never forget how you came:
child of mine.
Never be afraid to labour, and
never push down pain to places you cannot feel it.
This week’s blog is a sort of guest post – I’d like to share this blurb about my pamphlet.
Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. is a powerful collection of poems that touch on core but often under-represented aspects of what it is to be human. From parenting to gender, religion to mental health to the natural world, the themes of this pamphlet may be specific to Stella Hervey Birrell’s own life but they are also universally recognisable. Stella has a gift for finding the quiet truths in moments when the balance of life is shifting. These poems are skilfully crafted while still retaining that rawness that makes you sit up and say, “This is it – this is the real thing.”
Rae Plummer, author of Wain.
A link to Wain, which you should buy if you haven’t already.
A link to Parent. Worshipper. Carrion.
It’s just another gig
I keep telling myself.
Just another gig.
Except – I haven’t had a gig – I mean, no one has,
for almost a year.
Who knows when my next one will be?
It’s just me: top of the bill.
It’s just me: a whole pamphlet of me.
(I’m starting to wonder why I’m trying
to convince myself it’s just another gig.)
It’s not just another gig.
I’ll be a little box
(or a big box, depending on your Zoom settings)
on a screen
in my house
in a room
none of the warmth of an audience
none of that pin-drop silence
more a tumbleweed silence.
So I do what I always do –
I breathe, and stretch,
I record myself,
watch it back (that’s the hardest part!).
I take notes.
It gets better.
I’m super late to the party, but me and Mr HB have finally started watching West Wing on All4. So, of course President Bartlett has filled the role of ‘favourite fictional character,’ previously held by Atticus Finch.
One of his signature phrases is ‘what’s next?’ It’s meant to show his enthusiasm, his thirst for everything he can fix.
I can do that, too. With this pamphlet coming out, I’ve already got my eye on the next thing. What would be a good next step for me? How can I build on this success?
But I don’t think this is the time for that. This is not the time for ‘what’s next?’ This is a time to acknowledge my achievement, and the recognition of the quality of my work. I need to hold onto this feeling, however fleeting it may be.
Following on from last week’s introduction to Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. this week’s blog is about the wider themes of the pamphlet. I write in the domestic sphere, so expect lots of laundry references! Nature also inspires and informs my work. Something you may not have seen from me before is the inclusion of religion and church-going. Lastly, as a person who has recently embraced the title of ‘fat,’ I write a lot about bodies, especially the invisibility of older cis women’s bodies.
There is no point in telling you the pamphlet is an easy read, or full of positivity. There are glimpses of light in a landscape of brutality and pain. I am nervous about putting so much of myself out into the world, but I’m proud of these poems and hope readers can find something they recognise within them.
Folk who follow me on Facebook will know I’m publishing a pamphlet of poetry this year. It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time, so I was delighted when algia press took on my work. I thought I would take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about the poems here.
The pamphlet is called Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. It’s made up of previously published and/or award-winning poetry, and some newer work. I didn’t know this until recently, but pamphlets are supposed to follow a loose theme or narrative arc – the ‘story’ of this pamphlet begins with my parenting journey, moves through my child coming out as non-binary, the trauma of our community’s response, and ends with reference to our recent house move. So, super cheery stuff!
There is more to it though. I will continue next week.
If you sing the tune it doesn’t mean you can never harmonise.
If you sing harmonies it doesn’t mean you can’t ever sing the tune.
If you sing the tune
it’s not that the tune is ‘right’
and harmonies are ‘wrong.’
If you sing a passing note it doesn’t matter,
because it resolves,
and what’s it got to do with anyone else anyway?
If you sing, it’s not a phase, it’s part of who you are,
even if you haven’t sung since you were seventeen.
If you sung harmonies, then stopped, sang the tune for the rest of your life,
it is part of what you are. It is part of your history. Why would you want to erase your own exploration?
Listen to the richness of the sound around you.
Listen to the richness of the people around you.
Since my residency at Lanterne Rouge ended, I hadn’t been back to the coffee shop. ‘I’m so busy!’ I told myself.
I was scared that it might feel different. Less mine, somehow. That I wouldn’t be a VIPoet anymore.
At the time of writing, I am back. It’s just the same. Although there are some very lovely new sugar bowls! The box where folk could ask for book recommendations has been replaced by a Cyclist Café of the Year award. There’s a collecting tin where I used to put my poem of the month.
And the best bit is the welcome. It always has been, here. I still feel like a VIP – everyone who comes to this wee coffee shop in this wee part of the world is welcomed, made to feel important and special.
Because we all are.
I’m back at Listen Softly Edinburgh on Thursday 16th January.
Not as an open mic guest.
Not as a new voice.
Not as a co-host.
As a FEATURE PERFORMER!
For those who aren’t obsessed with spoken-word, a feature performance is the sort of thing you can put on your CV – it puts your name on the listing with, other, frankly, much more successful (and indeed intimidating) poets and writers.
I get to prepare six whole poems to read – not two, or one long one. I’m even able to include a short work which I’ve not read before. I’ll also be reading a new version of my most successful poem to date, Cauterise, which was short listed for an international award last year.
If you’re in the area, it would be great to see you. Tickets are available from this link.
Delighted to announce that Lanterne Rouge: The Last is now available online!
The fabulous people at St Columba’s Hospice have added the anthology to their web store.
Lanterne Rouge: The Last is a collection of twenty poems on the theme of ‘the last.’ There are poems by Claire Askew, Catherine Simpson and Nadine Aisha Jassat, as well as two budding poets from the local Primary School.
All profits from the sale of the book – which is all money it makes from now on – will go direct to the Hospice, who provide free palliative care across Edinburgh and East Lothian. Thank you, again, to my Kickstarter supporters who made this possible. If you hadn’t paid the poets and the print fees, none of this would exist.
You can still buy books direct from me, or from the Lanterne Rouge Cafe, Gifford.