Category Archives: Publications

Poetry, song and Eritrean food

Joolz writes: As much as we love reading at The Poetry Cafe, it’s been a real delight to discover new venues while the cafe is being renovated.

Fourth Friday has relocated to Bar 48 in Brixton during the Poetry Cafe’s hiatus, and promoter Hylda Sims was worried that FF’s loyal fans wouldn’t be tempted out to this new venue. Her worries were unfounded – a warm and eager crowd turned up, and the hustle of the bar and relaxed atmosphere (comfy chairs!) added a ‘proper gig’ vibe to the evening. Lively. That’s how we like our poetry readings.

Seeing as it was our second feature at Fourth Friday together, we decided to mix things up a bit by reading our solo stuff as well as  London Undercurrents poems. I read first and unleashed a new set of poems about the sea onto a guinea pig audience. This included a bawdy sea shanty, which I greatly enjoyed reading. Then Hilaire read a batch of beautifully crafted and lyrical poems about gardening and gardens. Lastly we both read north and south London Undercurrents poems that have been published most recently (Lunar Poetry and Brittle Star).

The other featured artists were fabulous – folk singer Leon Rosselson‘s satirical songs were deceptively cheery while delivering relevant and timely social and political comment. Poet Abe Gibson delivered deeply moving poems with a delicate musicality that was spellbinding. To top the evening off, the food was amazing. It’s well worth putting this monthly event in your diary, every fourth Friday.img_6377img_6380


Lunar Poetry issue 10 launch

We’re delighted to have two London Undercurrents poems published in the latest issue of Lunar Poetry. With Joolz away at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, it was down to Hilaire to fly the flag for both sides of the river at the launch reading on Tuesday evening. Here she reports back.

The event took place at the Peckham Pelican, a light and spacious café bar with a relaxed atmosphere. Lunar Poetry editor Paul McMenemy started proceedings by picking out the opening of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra on an upright piano – an acrobatic feat as he had to stretch across a table to reach the keyboard.

I was first up on the stage and read both poems included in the current issue: In the Ether, which reflects the experience of a young woman working in a gas mantle factory in Wandsworth in 1931; and Joolz’s poem Coining factory, N1, told from the point of view of a 13 year old girl helping in the family coin forging business in the 1880s. Staying north, I performed Joolz’s Thames freeze, north side, 1814. I love the young maid’s voice in this poem, so it’s a pleasure to read it aloud, despite the maid reporting that her ladyship is loathe to cross to the south / at all costs. I returned south with my poem Lady Cyclist, whizzing around Battersea Park in the summer of 1895.

There were strong readings from several other poets in this issue, including Lizzy Palmer, Rishi Rohatgi, Dennis Tomlinson, Gboyega Odubanjo and Christopher Williams; and a real mix of voices from the open mic readers, covering topics from the EU referendum fallout (in a haiku sequence) to a Dulwich Hamlet fan’s search for a plain honest Shippam’s Paste sarnie. Paul rounded the evening off with a few of his own fierce and funny poems.

The magazine is a bargain at £5 or £2.50 for the ebook version, and is back on track to publish monthly (hence ‘Lunar Poetry’). Launch readings are on the first Tuesday of the month at the Peckham Pelican, free entry, and plenty of open mic spots. Definitely worth checking out!

Reading at the Peckham Pelican, 5th July 2016
Paul at piano
Paul McMenemy playing Strauss

Marching onwards

March is Women’s History Month. Today is International Women’s Day. So we’re delighted to add some of our London Undercurrents voices to the celebrations of women’s achievements and place in the world.

Over at Well Versed we’ve got two poems about the fight for women’s suffrage, looked at from different perspectives – a suffragette being force fed in Holloway prison in 1913, and a working class woman casting her vote for the first time in 1918, for the visionary campaigner Charlotte Despard.

And on Ink Sweat & Tears two young women from different eras remain agents of their own lives despite lowly jobs. On the north side, a lady’s maid in 1814 enjoys her day out on the frozen Thames. While in Battersea in 1923, a dance-crazy worker kicks her heels up in a confectionery factory.

Let’s hear it for all the amazing women who continue to inspire us today!

Itchy feet

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Back in November we saw a call for submissions on the theme of ‘wanderlust’ for the online journal Severine. It struck a chord. We’ve both experienced wanderlust ourselves – having migrated individually to London many years ago from Australia and Reading (one, further than the other!). And we had a couple of London Undercurrents poems we felt sure would fit the bill, featuring women driven by wanderlust too – one travelling physically around the world at a time by herself when this was unheard of, and the other woman travelling away emotionally from her lot in life as a tea girl serving others.

And now you can meet these women in the digital pages of Severine’s third issue, along with a feast of other travel inspired poems and tales.

Joolz’s poem Where is your Husband? Mary Kingsley replies is based on the pioneering life of former north London resident Mary Kingsley, who was born in Islington in 1862. Rendered an orphan when her parents died one after the other, Mary seized the opportunity to travel the world with her new found freedom, which was unheard of for a woman to do at this time unless she was a missionary’s wife. Adventure and exploration was seen as ‘unfitting’ for women. But Mary didn’t let current opinion or the stultifying layers of Victorian clothing get in her way, and she even paddled a canoe up the Ogooué River in the Gabon discovering three new types of fish as she went. She didn’t however see herself as a feminist, and passionately declaimed the idea, which I found interesting. So I chose the form of a villanelle for her poem, to show the conflicting elements of freedom and adherence to a rigid structure that Mary seems to represent.

By contrast, the young woman in Hilaire’s poem Tea Girl in Battersea Park can only dream of escape. In the summer of 1895 there was a cycling craze amongst middle and upper class women, and Battersea Park was one of their favourite places to practise what was regarded as quite a risqué activity. This was the inspiration for the poem Lady Cyclist, published in Brittle Star issue 36. But Hilaire, a keen cyclist herself, felt there was another voice longing to tell a different side of this story. The cycling craze was a very social activity, with the ‘lady cyclists’ gathering  for breakfast or lunch at refreshment stalls in between bouts of riding around the carriageways. Who was serving them tea? Working class women couldn’t afford bicycles at that time – so the new freedom their wealthier sisters were experiencing was still beyond their reach. The ‘tea girl’ in Battersea Park covets a bicycle of her own but also dreams of travelling way beyond her immediate surroundings – not for her a few tame circuits of Battersea Park.


A ‘stunner’ on Lavender Hill, and a bit of poetic licence

Before the recent South Bank Poetry launch, Hilaire writes, I looked back through my notes to remind myself of the background to my poem Battersea Pre-Raphaelite Diptych, which is published in the current issue of SBP.

The poem is in two parts. The first is in the voice of Pre-Raphaelite painter and model Marie Spartali Stillman, as she remembers an idyllic and culturally stimulating childhood, growing up in a villa called The Shrubbery on Lavender Hill. The second part is written in her mother’s voice as she addresses Marie, who was to become a renowned beauty, or ‘stunner’ in Pre-Raphaelite parlance.

My interest was first piqued a couple of years ago when I came across a reference to The Shrubbery in a local history book, which mentioned that the villa and its extensive grounds had been leased in the 1860s to a wealthy Greek merchant whose daughters had modelled for Whistler, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. As a paid-up philhellene, I was intrigued to learn that there was a small ex-patriot Greek community in south London at this time. As I dug around a bit more, I was excited to discover that not only had Marie Spartali Stillman modelled for Rossetti et al, she’d been a successful painter in her own right. She was not a tragic figure; on the contrary, she seems to have been determined and self-assured, which was another factor that drew me to write about her.

Marie and her sister were educated at home and their father Michael encouraged Marie’s artistic tendencies. Michael Spartali was interested in the arts and politics and often entertained prominent figures at The Shrubbery, which was lavishly decorated and hung with Old Masters. Less appears to be known about their mother Euphrosyne, but I imagine her as a quiet and steadying influence.

Writing the poem, I tried to use mostly words with Greek roots. I remember the process as quite long, stitching the poem together, but linguistically rewarding. When I came to review my notes recently, I realised Marie must have been 18 or 19 when the family moved into The Shrubbery, not a young child as I’ve suggested in the poem. This is where I brandish my poetic licence. After all, when were the Pre-Raphaelites ever concerned with historical accuracy?

The Shrubbery today. The villa has been divided into luxury flats, but the grounds have long since been built upon.
The Shrubbery today. The villa has been divided into luxury flats, but the grounds have long since been built upon.

South Bank Poetry comes of age

The 21st issue of South Bank Poetry was launched at the Poetry Café last Friday. There were cupcakes with blue icing, balloons, a raffle – and of course oodles of urban poetry. SBP’s expanded remit of ‘Poems from the Cities’ extends as far afield as Riga and as far back as the ancient city of Siracusa. The latest issue, as ever, is a great mix of new and familiar voices, with poems to make you laugh, that tug at your heart strings or help you see the city from a new angle.

And, to our delight, we have two more London Undercurrents poems published in the magazine. We gave these an outing at the beginning of the second half. Hilaire’s poem Battersea Pre-Raphaelite Diptych is based on the Pre-Raphaelite model and painter Marie Spartali Stillman, whose family lived for a time in a villa on Lavender Hill. Milk, Cheese, Cream by Joolz explores the dairying lives of three women in north London ranging in time from 1865 back to 1575. It was great to share these poems and also to celebrate South Bank Poetry’s continuing and evolving presence as a home for urban poetry.

Joolz reading at SBP issue 21 launch, 31 July 2015
Joolz reading at SBP issue 21 launch, 31 July 2015
Hilaire reading at SBP issue 21 launch, 31 July 2015
Hilaire reading at SBP issue 21 launch, 31 July 2015
Half time in the basement, Poetry Café, 31 July 2015
Half time in the basement, Poetry Café, 31 July 2015

In print again, reading again!

We’re dead chuffed to have two London Undercurrents poems included in the Summer Issue 21 of South Bank Poetry. And we’ll be reading, along with a number of other contributors, at the magazine’s launch this Friday 31st July at the Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX, from 7:45 p.m.

SBP’s launch events are always lively and varied, so come along and immerse yourself in some fine London and urban poetry. Admission £6.50/£5.50 concs. includes a copy of Issue 21, hot off the press!

Reading aloud in the Barbican Library


The launch for Brittle Star issue 36 in the Barbican Library on Wednesday evening was very well attended, and warmly hosted by Jacqueline Gabbitas and Martin Parker.

We’re delighted to have two poems published in this issue, and were excited to have the opportunity to read in the iconic Barbican venue. The magazine itself is a handsome object and contains a great mix of poetry, short fiction, articles and reviews. As for the Barbican Library, once Joolz had dragged herself away from the display of Elvis memorabilia, we revelled in the warm acoustics, comfortably spaced seats and the prospect of reading surrounded by shelves of over-sized reference books. Not to mention the rather quaint looking listening booths!

Robin Houghton was first up to read, impressively performing two of her poems from memory: To Turn a Perfect Cartwheel, published in Brittle Star, and Ellipsis, a bittersweet poem about playing Scrabble with her mother in the last year of her life. Ian McEwen read several entertaining poems from a sequence he’s writing in the voice of refrigerators – we kid you not.  A Tent on the Greenland Ice Sheet is Kate Taylor’s first published poem but surely won’t be her last. Her found poem, Managed Funds, using phrases from the Financial Times, was hilariously absurd, as was another poem about a colleague who stores all sorts of items in her bra. To end the first half of the evening, Ruth Brandt gave an assured reading of her Krakow-set story The Chair.

There was more fiction in the second half, with Stewart Foster reading The Trampoline from Brittle Star – short but packing quite an emotional punch – and an extract from his forthcoming novel. Kathy Pimlott’s poems, drawn from memories of her grandmother Enid, were both touching and funny. Her Emma Press pamphlet, due out in 2016, should be one to look out for. Last but not least, Jonny Wiles performed his poems with a certain amount of swagger.

And our London Undercurrents set? We were on straight after the break, Hilaire leading in from south of the river with a poem listing the ailments of a woman picking lavender from the fields that covered Battersea before industrialisation. Joolz followed with a poem in the voice of a Suffragette enduring force-feeding in Holloway Prison. We read both the poems published in Brittle Star: Thames Freeze by Joolz, inspired by the last days of the frost fairs and exploring the themes of bridging the gap between north and south, and between Lady and Lady’s maid. And Hilaire’s poem: Lady Cyclist, inspired by the cycling craze amongst middle and upper class women in the summer of 1895, when Battersea Park became their favourite haunt for practising this risqué activity. We finished with a ‘one-woman car hire firm’ speeding around Clapham in 1947, and a punk confronting ‘you robots‘ on her way to see The Pistols at the Hope and Anchor in Islington.

Big thank-you’s to Jacqueline Gabbitas and Martin Parker co-editors of Brittle Star, Stonewood Press and everyone who read and attended.

Join us at Brittle Star issue 36 launch


We’re thrilled to have two London Undercurrents poems (one north, one south) in the next issue of Brittle Star magazine. The launch is being held at the Barbican Library, on Wednesday 20th May 6.30pm onwards, there’s a fantastic line-up of readers and it’s free. We’ll both be reading from our project, and Joolz will most definitely be swooning over the Elvis exhibition that is currently on at the library too. Not into The King? Then there’s Pimms and strawberries. What’s not to like? Hope to see you there.

SBP launch at Clapham Books

Why have one launch, when you can have two? South Bank Poetry held another launch reading for issue 19 at Clapham Books on Thursday evening. A smaller affair than the event at the Poetry Café last Friday, but the standard was just as high, and the setting, in one of south London’s best independent bookshops, friendly and intimate.

As Joolz was away researching Viennese Torte, Hilaire carried the banner for London Undercurrents. There wasn’t room to take a theatrical step from one side of the river to the other as I alternated between our poems, but I certainly felt the connections between the different voices in these pieces even more strongly through performing Joolz’s work.

London, of course, took centre stage in many of the poems aired last night. Martin Jones read a number of wry poems drawing on his memories of bohemian London in the 50s and 60s. His mention of Finch’s in Fulham prompted a nod of recognition from Angela Kirby, who also remembers drinking there back in the day. Angela’s set included her bittersweet poem Down Brixton Way from the current issue of SBP and three powerful poems rooted in her family’s losses over the last century of world conflicts. Some of the poems Chris Hardy performed also touched on war and loss, in particular the shiver-inducing Silent Meeting and this issue’s Red, White and Blue. Lisa Kelly began with two moving poems about her parents’ deaths, six months apart, followed by several that deal with the world of work. There’s a great punch to both the poems themselves and Lisa’s delivery. Harrods Beauty Hall fizzes with controlled anger. Sian Williams read an extended version of her contribution to SBP 19, Rear Window in Balham, as well as her own take on Dylan Thomas’s The Hunchback in the Park, reworked in the vein of Do not go gentle into that good night. That’s some ambitious mash-up! And Pauline Sewards treated us to mix of sensory experiences from the seedily exotic Fine Dining in Soho to the lush decadence of Synaesthetes night out at Cafe Oto. SPB founder and co-editor Peter Ebsworth started and ended the evening with a few of his own poems, ranging from a gently comic one based on his much older brother’s escapades rummaging through London bombsites during the Second World War, a racy poem that Peter was pleased to learn recently had made Kathryn Maris laugh out loud, to the poignant Split Seconds. Before leaving, he also made sure Clapham Books is well stocked with copies of South Bank Poetry, so if you’re in the area pop in and check it out. Indie bookshop, quality poetry mag, savvy punters. Perfect combination.

Hilaire reading at Clapham Books
Hilaire reading at Clapham Books