Set me on fire – Ella Risbridger

In his novel The Fault in our Stars, John Green writes that “sometimes, you read a book [that] fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book,” and wonderfully dramatic and rather intense as this notion may be, I have just read one of those books and perfectly get the feeling. I might not go shouting from the rooftops just yet, but I desperately want to break down some walls and do a few shouts at least.

Set Me On Fire – a poem for every feeling is a poetry anthology edited and annotated by London based poet Ella Risbridger, and it is one of the most interesting anthologies I’ve read in a while. It is not simply a collection of poems – it is a collection of poems written by a very diverse group of poets, sorted after vague feelings (like “mother” which is not really a feeling at all and “hunger” which definitely can be) and placed in the cross sections of said feelings (combine these two into “mother/hungry” and suddenly you have a feeling you might be a bit unsure of what actually means until you read the poems and never spend another minute wondering).

What got me about this anthology was firstly, the varied voices of the poets, all the different stories I most likely never would have found on my own, and secondly, the editor’s annotations – witty, clever and intelligent. Risbridger has sprinkled footnotes throughout the book, sometimes recounting how she felt reading this exact line in that exact poem for the first time, throwing in some literary analysis or simply handing the reader an extra little thought connected to the words on the page. One of my favourite notes is this little footnote in “The Orange” by Wendy Cope:

Adding “And what else is there?” to the sentence “I love you. I’m glad I exist” just feels like taking all those feelings that are just too big to fit into our breaths and condencing them into mere by-pass-thoughts, observations done in happiness, and I adore it.

The annotations, like this note on Rebecca Perry’s poem “Other Clouds”:

makes the whole anthology a thoroughly pleasant reading experience. Every page turnt feels like being curled up on the sofa reading poetry with a good friend, and I’m loving how accessible the editor has made the chosen poems and poetry in general. Her notes focus a lot on how there is no right or wrong way to read poems, and that reading poetry should be fun or cathartic or whatever you need it to be in the moment. If a poem isn’t working for you this is neither you nor the poem’s fault and you are well within your rights to simply walk away. Poetry is a lot better than just suffering through poems that don’t speak to you, just for the sake of having read them.

Risbridger has also included a short introduction about how this anthology should be read (spoiler alert: again, there is no right way to read it! Just pick a page and go from there or find the feeling you need to read about right about now and see what happens) and a rather long after word talking about the process of gathering poems for this anthology. The afterword is a super interesting read – combining poetry reading, spread sheet making and the demographic statistics of the UK. In the after word she talks about how she has made a conscious effort to make the anthology as diverse as possible, to reflect the diversity found among people and to fight the dominance of “dead white men”, also known as the voices who’ve definitely taken up the most space on the traditional poetry scene (or pages, I guess).

This book is dedicated to “Caroline, who hated poetry first”, and Sarah Perry claims that the collection which is “broad in scope, generous in spirit and wittily accompanied by Risbridger’s commentary” will “offer a cure for those suspicious of poetry, while those already in love with the form have new and startling pleasures in store”.

In short, an anthology for people who already love poetry and a book of poems for people not too sure about poems to begin with.

Definitely worth a read, and if you do pick it up, be sure to let me know how you find it!

-Andrea

“You gave me hyachinths first a year ago”

They called me the hyacinth girl

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot was one of those poems I could not find myself enjoying when I read it for a poetry module in my first year of uni. It’s fragmented, it’s confusing and it has myriads of speakers, every new voice stranger than the last – I wanted to like it, I just couldn’t get the hang of it and there was never enough time in the syllabus to actually cement any real understanding of it.

With time, this lanky, strange old poem has grown on me, though. I’ve kept dipping my toes tentatively back into it now and then, and now that I’m taking a couple of new American literature modules, I’ve finally been able to do the proper deep dive I’ve wanted to, and over the course of the last few weeks I’ve fallen more and more in love with all the things I used to not like about it at all. There are still so many things I do not understand, so many notions and ideas and elements that escape me, but that’s one of the reasons I feel so drawn to it now.

Of course, it also helps that the lecturer teaching the literature module I’m currently doing is such an inspiring and enthusiastic academic, and her lectures are a delight. Her essay questions are also of another world, and part of why I’ve been able to finally give “The Waste Land” the undivided attention I have wanted to give it for a while, is because I’ve been analysing the living daylights out of it for an assignment.

From not really having managed to get through it before, I’ve now read this poem way too many times, and I keep finding new and exciting things with every read. I wanted to share the first part of the poem with you guys – in a little reading from my very-intensely-and-not-at-all-neatly-annotated copy of the Norton Anthology, with the noise of a lorry droning in from the outside and the bunched up blanket on the sofa from where I was sat reading this to myself not even a minute before this.

I hope you like these words as much as I do.

-Andrea

The notion of home and all that

Last Tuesday was Poetry Platform again – a night for “linguistical renegades and literary marvels” as it has so humbly been dubbed by its small community.

Initially settled at the Railway Inn in Winchester, Poetry Platform now takes place in living rooms and flats around England. Of course, it’s not the same as meeting up in a pub attic surrounded by the scraping of chairs, feeling the condensation of a cold Kopperberg in your hands and listening to people picking their heart out of the seams of their pockets, but you know – the next best thing to just not having any sort of spoken word poetry in your life at all. I used to attend these events monthly while I lived in England, and now I honestly believe that the one good thing to come out of this pandemic is Poetry Platform going online, so I can join in from Norway.

I did two poems on Tuesday, both centered around the notion of building a home for and with the people you care about.

The first poem (hyperlink to text) is a rather new one, thought up one evening on the floor mid-play with my nephew who’s a year and a half. It’s a response to a poem I wrote when I was 21 and terrified of the notion of ever settling down anywhere, worried of not getting the “making a home” right (whatever “right” even means). Fast forward to now and I guess the cliched realisation that’s hit is that creating a home isn’t so much about what it looks like and more about what you do with it.

The second one is for Soph, a wonderful friend who braved the world and let me be part of her adventure when she moved to Norway for a year in 2019. This poem was supposed to be a thanks for letting me fill her time with cups of tea and movie nights in the tiny uni room we made to feel like home for a while.

-Andrea

it’s 11:21 and I’m building a house for you

The snow settles on a slumbering city,
soap bubble stars scattered across the skies.
In the quiet of the town I grew up in,
I’m building a house for those days you might need one.

For now, you belong everywhere you go,
you’ve yet to see somewhere you’re not welcome.

Must it always stay like that.

But even if it doesn’t –
if you meet gum-stuck locks and darkened windows,
if your heart ever races and your eyes squint to understand,
I want you to not even know that my house has a door,
and I want you to barge right in.

I’ll make sure there are mugs you know to reach for,
hot chocolate swirls filled with fairytales you’ll know by heart,
book pages for you to organize however you see fit, by day, by colour,
by subspecies of dragon protagonist or by the second letter of the fifth sentence.

There’ll be a window sill with a mountain of pillows for you to climb,
to nestle in, to point at pedestrians and wonder about the world,
chairs to curl up in, tall enough that you can dangle your legs and feel that moment of breathlessness as you jump down,
wondering whether the floor will be there to welcome you.

It always will be.

I want there to be adventures in the blue of your toothpaste
and songs in every bristle of your hairbrush,
and bedside story times for you to tell me all about
strawberry covered sorcery and soaring above the clouds.

I’m building a house
for cheesy pasta fortresses,
red crayon all over the backs of the sofa,
new worlds mapped out under the dining room table
and that blanket with your name on it.

I’m building a house
where you can hang the moons,
for you to barge right in.

-Andrea

“Do you remember”

the night we hid our childhood memories
in drawers and cupboards and make believe-safes?

How we wrapped secrets and fairy tales
in the blankets our five-year-old selves
couldn’t sleep without.

Whispering, we gently placed them all in unforgettable treasure chambers.

Do you remember how the shoes that blinked when we walked
slowly faded,
greying like streets heavy with rain,
as electricity bills ate all our ice cream pennies.

Our hiding places got more secret,
and as we walked past them yelling Marco, they stopped replying,
as deadlines and invoices and parking tickets called louder
than memories ever dared.

If you do, then please let me tell you
how last night I found that childhood drawer,
and today I’m sat here on the floor, flicking through dusty sweet wrappers
wondering whether I should give them back or not.

I almost throw them away.

Stamps are expensive and memories are heavy.
I’ve learned it’s not cheap,
to wrap nostalgia up in polaroid pictures
and Royal Mail envelopes.

I won’t throw them away though.
I don’t think I ever will.

-Andrea

a distant poetry family

The first poetry stage I ever experienced, and my favourite to this day, is Winchester’s Poetry Platform. A monthly open mic-poetry night, hosted in the attic space above the Railway Inn in Winchester — this vibrant spot of poets and writers who travelled in from (very) near and (a little bit) far, was the most wonderful introduction to live poetry. I loved it from the get go; the vibe of “everything’s okay here”, the little stage that welcomed everyone, how there was always room for one more person. It was like one of those big round tables where you can always pull up one more chair. I spent the first couple of months just listening, sat in awe taking in the words of the brave people on the stage, before I worked up the courage to join in myself. After that I never missed an event.

Moving away from Winchester meant moving away from a lot of things that meant the world to me, and Poetry Platform was honestly one of those things I was so sad to let go of. It was truly a space in which I found myself grow, both as a writer, as a listener and as a person.

Looking at this video though, you can tell I’m still as awkward a bean as ever. Gosh, I need to up my performance game, especially now that performance means talking to your own laptop screen and not the expectant darkness of an audience.

One of the very few good things to come out of this global pandemic, is the Poetry Platform going online and moving locations from the Railway Inn to Zoom. Poetry readings in your Living room aren’t the same as being in that attic space above a pub, with the smells and the sounds and the textures of pub chairs and cider bottle condensation, but it’s a hell of a lot better than no poetry readings at all.

I read two new work-in-progress poems on August’s poetry platform, from the safety of my temporary central Oslo living room. How strange to sit in this flat who represents everything that’s new and a little intimidating, reading poems about the sea outside my parents’ house, to people still living in the city that will forever hold my first proper adventure.

-Andrea

“Love in the time of Covid”

Have a poem, with the aforementioned cliched title, filmed on my webcam complete with the noises of both my mum and dad in separate skype-meetings upstairs. I was only supposed to be home for a couple of days, but then the travel ban hit and now I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to my uni town. Now we’re three people all trying to do our separate jobs in one house with strangely few doors and a lot of open doorways; it’s not the best solution, but we’re making do. And to be fair, I’d much rather be here right now than isolated all alone in a student flat. Take care of each other, folks.

Love in the time of Covid
is waving at each other from across the street
is walking two meters apart
is «I’ll leave your groceries on the porch, take care».

Love in the time of Covid
is travel bans and cancelled plans and waterfall worries and loneliness.

Love in the time of Covid
is creating an everyday in cramped houses
is home office landscapes and nurseries in living rooms
is a kettle constantly boiling in the kitchen.

Love in the time of Covid
is empty streets and darkened towns and school grounds void of children.

Love in the time of Covid
is learning to be productive in a new normal
is being together by being apart
is showing we care by breaking the chain.

Love in the time of Covid is a team effort, a global population staying inside, a world worth of shoes left waiting by the door.  

Love in the time of Covid
is making the best of strange days to come,
strange days we won’t know how to handle
strange days we never even dreamed of.

Love in the time of Covid
is singing together through open windows
is lighting candles for people we do not know
is gathering in applause in houses across the nation.   

Love in the time of Covid
is staying inside today so others can see tomorrow
it is solidarity
it is compassion.
it is a choice.

-Andrea

“I love you like a candle flickering on December 1st” (or getting back up on the poetry stage)

If there is one thing I’ve missed since moving away from Winchester, it is the budding community of writers I got to be a part of, and the many opportunities to try out your work on people. I’ve missed electric evenings at the Railway Inn, where you could try your own poetry on for size and then get lost in the words of others. I miss the monthly Poetry Platforms; the space you could perform work in progress-pieces and see how the words you were trying to convey would sit on your tongue, not just on the page.

I haven’t really found anything like that here in Kristiansand, but truth be told, maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. Monday brought a wonderful opportunity in the shape of a Poetry evening at the student union stage; a poesiaften hosted by the student society for Nordic studies.

I got back up on the stage for the first time in about a year and a half, and read two of my own pieces. One in Norwegian and this one in English.

The whole evening was wonderful. More than 50 people came in and sat down, listened closely, shared their thoughts and drank student union wine. There were so many people who wholeheartedly threw themselves into their performances, the atmosphere in the room was warm and relaxed, and I was surprised and happy to find a space at this uni where poetry of all kinds and styles was celebrated and enjoyed. Naively enough, just because I haven’t seen it outright before, I didn’t believe there was a space for poetry in this town at all. Oh, how wrong I was.

This was my first poetry performance in Norway, and it was a lot of fun. Funnily enough, I’m just realising that I wore the same shirt on Monday that I wore to the SO: To Speak Poetry Festival in Southampton a couple of years ago – I guess this is “the poetry shirt” now.

I hope you enjoy this piece. It’s a cliche little love poem that means a lot to me, and it was lovely to finally get to perform it in front of a supportive crowd. It has love, it has spaceships and it has cheese on toast – what more could you want from a poem?

This evening definitely rekindled my love for spoken word-poetry. It was never gone, never burnt down or put out like a campfire under water, it just laid dormant as there were few opportunities to nurture it. Fingers crossed for many more nights like this one, nights that properly refuel the fire.

I hope you have a wonderful day,
-Andrea

“I’ll knit your cat a scarf for Christmas”

but you’re impossible to buy presents for.

Maybe I’ll get you the sequins of sun on snow,
and the frost roses I scraped off my car this morning,
a note saying that nothing lasts forever,
but look how pretty temporary can be.

I could get you a magic chocolate factory,
with grass made of sugar and a flying glass lift,
because nothing’s ever as it seems,
and all problems look small when seen from above.

Maybe I’ll get you a home knitted jumper,
twice the size of a Russian circus,
to remind you to always dance,
even when it’s Jan Garbarek and you’re not really feeling it.

No, I’ll give you a kiss.
wrapped in an acorn,
tread on string.

The miracle and the fairytale,
in the frost roses, the sugared grass and the circus,
hands on chests,
messy bed sheets and quiet voices
in the dark.

I’ll say that’s what you get,
when you’re so much more than any present
I could ever give.

-Andrea

“Oysters”

The docks are left in 

drift wood pieces shoved ashore,

the fallen in the autumn storms.

All that’s left of seagrass beds and hide and seek rocks

is saltwater from unfamiliar seas.

The crabs don’t feed on blue mussels anymore,

as oysters far from home are eating them out of their houses,

and the days of scraped knees and saltwater hair

are dragged to sea by autumn’s current.

Image by Robert Nathan Garlington from Pixabay

-Andrea