Our latest deep dive into the literary world has Getintothis’ Cath Holland explore poetry, politics, feminism and so much more.
This month in Wrapped Up In Books we have fiction, non-fiction, and poetry and song.
Extinction Rebellion have made their pro environment voices loudly heard this year, and now they’ve produced a ‘how to’ book, out next month. We have details about that.
We find out why Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of best-selling authors, won’t have to bunk over the fence at Glastonbury Festival this summer like the rest of us.
There’s a revealing interview with poet Kate Garrett – who talks about her fabulous new collection inspired by faith and nuturing.
And singer songwriter Siobhan Wilson explains how classic feminist texts inspire her life and songwriting, and her admiration Simone de Beauvoir‘s ‘the other’ theory in The Second Sex.
And as coincidence would have it, we have info on literary evening The Other, currently touring the north west.
On a Thursday-Friday train*
by Kate Garrett
It’s late and your whisky is wrapped in a map of the world. We three take gentle sips around the table and hope for choppy seas, wind and rain, to harmonise with the sound of the long late-night train passing through Huddersfield like a wrong-way phantom. You have said you are certain you’re not destined for great things, but this makes me too sad and I look at another kind of map, relieved to see the sky in the moment you were born says you could be a constellation to outshine us all. Now you tell me! you accuse, as if it’s too late. It’s never too late. The problem is we all think we know too much about time; we talk of estuaries, the magic of mixing a river and the sea, wading in a perpetual moment. We talk of those moments while passing through them. I want to point out the waters where the map doesn’t say here be monsters, but should, so I can show you both where we need to sail. A kraken is nothing to fear; come with me, you won’t get sick if you stay on deck, I promise. When the Shipping Forecast says it’s squally in the Irish Sea, we congratulate whatever gods could hear us. We each speak a pantheon. One of them had to be listening.
*first published in isacoustic in 2018, published in The saint of milk and flames (May 2019, Rhythm & Bones Press)
Sheffield-based poet Kate Garrett hails from Ohio in the United States. Her poetry and flash fiction have been widely published online and in print.
She is the author of several books and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
Her recent poetry pamphlets include You’ve never seen a doomsday like it (Indigo Dreams Publishing, June 2017), and Losing interest in the sound of petrichor (The Black Light Engine Room Press, January 2018).
Her latest chapbook, Land and Sea and Turning, is about fate, free will, and/or being knocked around the cosmic pool table by a cold, uncaring universe. Published by CWP Collective Press, It also includes a not-insignificant amount of death.
This month her debut full length collection The saint of milk and flames is published. I caught up with Kate and interrogated her on her new book.
Getintothis: Tell me about your poetry career so far. When did you start writing poetry and what do you enjoy about it?
Kate Garrett : ‘It’s strange to me to think of it as a career, because growing up a ‘career’ was synonymous with ‘rich people’, something I am still very much not – but I suppose that’s what it is at this point. I started writing poetry when I was about 12 years old, after an early childhood of writing fiction and believing I’d grow up to be a novelist, a singer, or an actress.
I didn’t really give up on those other dreams until my mid-20s, and it does feel like growing up to be primarily a poet has combined the fiction writing with the singing and the acting somehow… it does involve taking stories to a stage. I didn’t get published really until I was 31, with a first pamphlet included in a bumper collection-of-six-collections when I was 34.
As for what I get out of it, many things, sometimes even I don’t know. The satisfaction of writing, mostly, of exploring what I want to explore, making discoveries with each poem. It’s a compulsion. And I do write nonfiction, too. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, have been a writer, since I could hold a crayon.
But from birth until well into adulthood I was around a lot of people who wanted to – and were able to at the time – squash me, shut me up, in big and small ways. So being a published writer at last means I can express myself, explore obsessions (especially various aspects of history, folklore, horror, and myth), and be as creative as I want, say what I want to say.
It’s also a way of connecting with others, for someone like me who isn’t able to be sociable a lot of the time, reading and writing can be like a conversation with the world.’
Getintothis: What about your new collection The saint of milk and flames? That cover!
Kate Garrett : ‘The collection is called The Saint of Milk and Flames after the Irish goddess/saint Brigid. The book deals with a lot of issues of faith, and a blend of Christianity and paganism, there is a thread of fire running through it too, as well as mothers and children and general questions around nurturing.
Since Brigid is revered by both Christians and pagans, is a goddess and saint of both fire and milk – and she does appear briefly in one of the poems because she is an important part of my own life – it felt right to name it after her.
For the cover I wanted something very simple to sum it up, and a plain white candle is associated with Brigid’s feast day, or Imbolc, the first spring festival at the beginning of February. The single candle was perfect, and my publisher agreed.’
Getintothis: The Saint of Milk and Flames is your first full length poetry collection. How did it come about?
Kate Garrett : ‘I thought I was writing another pamphlet, but when the poems reached pamphlet length, I realised I was writing a longer book – at last. A full-length collection was never something I thought I’d write, but after my youngest daughter was born poorly, with an unexpected heart condition (she’s very well now, thank goodness), it opened some kind of door in me, and I wanted to write all these poems about faith and doubt, belonging and alienation, mothers and children, magic, growth and change and how fire fuels positive things, even how anger can be positive.
It became an act of healing to write it – I don’t have a relationship with my own mother anymore for lots of good reasons, and I needed a way to cope with losses too – my beloved aunt who was like a sister to me, a miscarriage I had in my very early twenties, my grandfather, and even parts of myself, in a more metaphorical way.
But there are also lots of poems in the book that have nothing to do with me – historical poems, mythology poems. Maybe they’re written through me, so my influence is there, but I’m considering all of the above (and then some) in others who have gone before us as well.’
Getintothis: Young women seem to be leading the way in poetry at the moment. Why do you think that is, and what others do you admire right now?
Kate Garrett : ‘Oh! I never feel like any kind of authority with questions like these. Another question put to me once was about the ‘dominating presence of older poets’ so this is the opposite! I can’t really speak for anyone else, and I don’t feel either young or old myself – I’ll be 39 in June – but I think even though we still very much need feminism, young women are more empowered to speak their truth than they have been in the past.
And they have a lot to say, and it’s been building for a long time, and it all needs to be said. This is also true for lots of other writers – queer poets, poets of colour, disabled poets, working class poets. It is extremely important to read/hear other people’s truths – and fictions, which include truth so much of the time – especially people who aren’t always the mainstream voice.
Anyway. For the sake of this question I’ll go with women poets under 30 who might not be as well known yet: Olivia Tuck, Rebecca Kokitus, Tianna G Hansen, and Loma Sylvana Jones. They all write beautifully and have a lot to say that’s worth hearing. There are many others, but I’ve stuck to two UK and two US poets or I’d never stop!’
Getintothis: What’s your favourite ever poem, and why?
Kate Garrett : ‘This is too hard. I have four. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes for the ghost story frame narrative, historical angle, the perfect rhythm, and being the first poem to make me want to write poetry (because poems tell stories, and I didn’t know that before the age of 12).
Then, The Old Astronomer by Sarah Williams, weirdly because she was mostly a Christian poet but she wrote this poem in praise of science, and I think that’s a wonderful thing – faith and facts don’t have to be separate, it’s the spirit of wanting to understand the universe that unite them for me, and it seemed to be true for her too.
Also Rip Rap by Gary Snyder for its delicate, perfect, Zen might – it’s like a how-to poem for poems, a meditation.
And finally The Language of the Brag by Sharon Olds for its visceral, bold language that yanked me out of myself at 15 and made me want to write like her (I still don’t write like her, I write like me – but we all need one of those to shake us up).’
Getintothis: You’re an editor too, what do you like about doing that?
Kate Garrett : ‘There is so much to love about editing – the chance to showcase other writers, to encourage them and match them with readers, as well as the opportunity to put together issues or anthologies that are basically my own dream reads and share those with others.’
Getintothis: What other projects are you working on right now?
Kate Garrett : ‘I’m currently working on a pamphlet called A View from the Phantasmagoria, which is all about my twenty year struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder – a condition I call “PMS on… demons” and that’s pretty much what the poems in this pamphlet are about – looking at symptoms as well as remedies through a paranormal or supernatural lens.
I’m also writing a collaborative pamphlet with a poet friend about angels – not the feathery twee ones, but biblical, occult, mystical views of angels. And I’ve taken tentative steps towards some new historical poems, especially where Holystone is concerned – the equally piratical follow up to my 2016 tiny pirate pamphlet Deadly, Delicate.’
The saint of milk and flames is out now; Kate has a mini chapbook To Feed My Woodland Bones [A Changeling’s Tale] out in September 2019 from Animal Heart Press.
Extinction Rebellion handbook This Is Not a Drill rush-released
No matter the varied thoughts on Extinction Rebellion – are they a pressure group, activist movement, professional agitants or simply a pain in the arse because they hinder the journey to work by stopping traffic? – they’ve certainly made their mark in recent weeks.
And it’s undeniably impressive that they’ve produced a book to accompany their activities, so quickly.
This Is Not A Drill is a handbook, which went from manuscript stage to printer within ten days. It’s rush-published by Penguin for 3 June and features essays from former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and MP Caroline Lucas.
Eyebrows were raised at the notion a group concerned with climate change and the environment should produce a physical book, but we’re told it will be printed on carbon neutral paper and that there’s a pledge to plant two trees for every one used.
The 208 page book is in two halves, the first portion Tell the Truth details the facts on climate breakdown, the second Act Now has advice on how to rebel, including information on organising roadblock, facing arrest and cooking for large number of protesters.
Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers to play Glastonbury
A band made up of the UK’s best known crime authors is to play at the Glastonbury Festival this year.
The line-up ‘murdering songs for fun’ – which includes Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste – perform interpretations of works with a murder or crime theme by numerous artists including Elvis Costello.
They will appear on the Acoustic Stage on 29 June.
Read our review of Doug Johnstone‘s latest book Breakers is published this week. Read our review here.
The Other is a unique spoken word literary event where writers are paired up and read each other’s work in front of a live audience. The night has been on a tour of the north west of England over the past months. It recently stopped by the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, where it hosted an evening of women only writers featuring feminist writing.
‘The Other works by pairing writers and getting them to read each other’s work aloud,’ says Eli Regan, who organises the event alongside poet Michael Conley.
‘The Other fosters friendship, inclusion and true dialogue between people. We have had a multilingual night with readings in Welsh, German, Greek, Spanish and many other languages and an all women night to mark the 209 Women MPs photographic exhibition at the Open Eye in Liverpool. We have enjoyed touring the North West this year with readings in Warrington, Didsbury, Liverpool, Shevington and a few forthcoming in Manchester, Leigh and Wigan.’
The tour continues:
5 June The Turnpike, Leigh
9 June Victoria Baths, Manchester
3 July STEAM Wigan
Siobhan Wilson released her critically acclaimed Scottish Album of the Year-shortlisted debut album There Are No Saints in 2017.
She’s back this month with new record The Departure.
Terrible Woman, the first song Siobhan wrote from a feminist point of view, (described as ‘a brick wrapped in velvet’) was featured on the TV show Back To Life just last month.
After playing a run of dates to promote the new record in the UK, Siobhan heads off to the States in July to support Suzanne Vega, and her first American tour before returning home to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Her new record is less sweet than her debut. ‘I I wanted the lyrics to be more brave… writing this new album I was in a much more stronger position and approaching things with much more confidence,’ she says.
And there’s another progression as well – after her previous label Song, By Toad closed its doors, she decided to crowdfund her new record and release it through her own label, Suffering Fools Records.
‘It was a natural progression. I don’t like saying I’m in control, I sound like a control freak, but it’s a really good feeling and an important thing to establish exactly what you want your career to be like. I have realistic expectations and I know my fanbase really well. I’m not saying I’ll do it for the rest of my career, but right now it suits me.’
Getintothis: The Departure is full of feminist themes and imagery, it’s very bold and sassy.
Siobhan Wilson: “I’ve spent most of my life not knowing what a feminist was, I discovered feminism through reading (Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book) The Second Sex…it’s groundbreakingly life changing, I saw life in a different way. Started talking about (feminism), stared reading about it… that’s so liberating. It creates an environment where you’re more free to write about not just feminism but about experiences as a woman and being confident about trying to describe them.’
Getintothis: The Second Sex is 70 years old this year, and de Beauvoir’s theory as women as ‘the other’ – that women are viewed in relation to or in opposition to men – is as evident today as it was when originally published. The world hasn’t changed that much.
Siobhan Wilson:‘It’s slightly depressing…on one hand she was ahead of her time, formalizing ideas about something in a concrete way there hadn’t been that much literature written on it. People were definitely analyzing gender around that time but she was the most famous case possibly. So on one had that was quite progressive but on the other I was reading it as a 25 year old thinking, oh yeah I’ve experienced that, I can relate to most of it.’
Getintothis: What book are you reading at the moment?
Siobhan Wilson:‘I’m listening to the audiobook of A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, that’s fast becoming a favourite. Woolf addresses the issue of class and poverty. How would women ever be expected to have time to write, if they’re not in the upper tier of being well off? And very specific conditions of being given enough freedom to be allowed to write or enough resources of material to be able to write. I can relate to that, it’s really hard to find money to be able to write, and therefore find the time.
A lot is expected of you, to create new things on a limited budget. So when I’ve created my own label and my own world, I’m creating my own room. Not like four walls and closing the door and shutting everyone out, it’s making my own framework. I own this.
It’s kind of like talking about independence, being in control of your own actions, that’s an extension of what I’m discovering in that book. Once you have control over how money is being spent, for example a budget, the perception of what you’re expected to do and the kind of relationships you’re expected to form, are completely different.’
Getintothis: An early version of All Dressed Up from the album was rather different, it’s now sharper and packs a punch, it’s like a metaphor for your progression.
Siobhan Wilson: “The story is that self objectification doesn’t work. In the original, I didn’t feel that was coming cross strong enough, some people were interpreting as the opposite to what it’s about. And so I restructured it. I think if you write a song…you’re at a crossroads because you want to be clear about it but on the other hand it’s a form of poetry…to try and keep the artistic poetic elements to what you’re doing.’
Unconquerable is a collaboration with Stina Tweeddale from Honeyblood. The message in that is so powerful, and your voices go so well together.
Siobhan Wilson:‘(Stina’s) a force of nature, she’s so talented and really positive. Unconquerable is a real word, we were discussIng women being conquered by men. Like a conquest. Being won, or being a prize, a trophy girlfriend. How the language that surrounds being in a relationship can reduce you and dehumanize you. That’s why it’s unconquerable. You can’t actually conquer a person. Or own them in any way.
‘(Stina’s) got a penetrative vibrato musically it was really interesting that are two female vocals that are very different. But that really gel together. I think it’s because we’ve got the same intention. We wrote the song together, we’ve got the same feelings when we’re signing it. So although we’ve got very contrasting styles, we’ve got the same goal at the end. I think that’s why it works.’
Getintothis: In the song Aprilfrom The Departure seems to be you giving advice to your teenage self. If you could write a letter to a16 year old Siobhan, what’s the main thing you’d include?
Siobhan Wilson:‘It’s in the first line of the song, “wear the hell what you want whenever the hell you want”. If you can control what you’re wearing and how you think about yourself, the decisions you make for yourself, start somewhere, then the knock on effects will be easier. It’s hard to describe context, feminism or inequality or racism, and intersectional feminism all the complexities of bad human behavior to a child so I feel teaching girls to be completely in control of what they put on their bodies, sounds not that significant but really when you think about it is a great place to start.’
UK tour dates:
18 May – Kings Arms, Salford
19 May – The Lexington, London
20 May – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
1 June Howling Fling Festival, Isle Of Eigg
7 Aug Summerhall, Edinburgh