“Mimicking a Snowdrop” Launch Reading

A really delightful book launch for Emma Lee’s new chapbook ‘Mimicking a Snowdrop‘. The most exquisitely presented launch, including snowdrop napkins and 3 huge home-baked cakes.

The cakes may have been more of a hit than the poems… There were silk snowdrops too.

One of the advantages of hearing a poet read their own poems it that you’re hearing the poem in the voice it was written for. This isn’t necessary the poet’s own voice. Poetry (fiction) gives the writer the opportunity to try out another’s voice, to explore a situation from differing perspectives or bring a historical voice to life. You can also hear the intended rhythm of the poem. Some poets read over every line break as if it were an enjambment, others make a slight, deliberate pause. A poet may emphasise words or use stress patterns differently from a reader; accents play a part too. A relaxed drawl gives a poem a different rhythm to a rapid-fire splatter of words.

Another advantage is that there’s an opportunity to hear more about the background to some of the poems. Whilst poems need to be able to stand alone without copious notes and/or an introduction, a reading, rather than an open mic slot or a slam, can offer space for a poet to talk about the inspiration behind a poem. I’ve blogged about the background to the title poem, “Mimicking a Snowdrop” before and it was good to have the opportunity to talk about it at my reading.

At the launch, I read (where the poems are available on-line in a single click without scrolling, I’ve linked to them):

“Convalescence 1914”

A Poet rehearses her rejection of a novelist’s proposal”

Photo Cotswolds 1935

“Bow Road London’s East End”

“Before and After at Gower’s Walk”

“Billy’s Sunflower”

“Mimicking a Snowdrop”

“Night Fever”

“Put the baby in the filing cabinet”

“Still life with a Static Matrix Screen Saver”

“Bolero to ‘She’s Like the Wind’”

One audience member offered to write a review so I’ll post a link when it’s available.

Thynks Publications have described “Mimicking a Snowdrop” as like “Moving through a picture gallery with paintings packed with detail. At the same time the movement is one of listening to a story teller who shifts from story to story leaving the listener with a desire to know more.”

Friends (Quaker) Meeting House in Leicester is a lovely venue to read in. The hall was designed with making it easy to hear speakers in mind and so it’s possible to read without using a microphone. There are no awkward echoes either. The seating layout can be altered to suit.

This is likely to be the last blog post of 2014. 2015 will kick off with more reviews.

Mimicking a Snowdrop

Mimicking a Snowdrop Emma Lee poetry book cover

Interspersed with contemporary poems, “Mimicking a Snowdrop” features seven poems inspired by reading Lilian Bowes Lyon’s poetry and about her life. She never wrote her autobiography but did write an article for “Orion” (Nicholson & Watson, London, 1945) about life in London during the Second World War and frequently wrote letters to friends and acquaintances. During the First World War, while still a teenager, she helped out when Glamis Castle was converted into a convalescent home for injured soldiers (she was a cousin of the late Queen Mother). Lilian went onto learn first aid nursing and became a voluntary assistant despatch nurse when she left her family home in Northumberland to study at Oxford before moving to London. She’d written poetry throughout her teenage years but her first two published books were novels.

Through her publisher, Jonathan Cape, she met the novelist William Plomer who later proposed marriage. Both of them knew this was not a romantic proposal. William Plomer was English but had grown up in South Africa so felt like an outsider. He thought a marriage to Lilian would be a route into acceptability and possibly a cover for his sexuality. At the time, Lilian was in love with someone else. She and William remained friends so her rejection must have been a gentle one.

In 1939 she became a sponsor for two Czech brothers enabling them to travel by Kinderstransport to England. Initially she placed them with a friend but then moved them to a farm where they could be with other Kindertransport children and speak their own language whilst learning English. She kept in touch with both until her death. Lilian also assisted Anna Freud’s Hampstead Nurseries for war traumatised children. Lilian’s assistance was mostly likely financial because she was busy putting her first aid and nursing skills to use elsewhere.

She left Kensington in 1941 and moved to Stepney in London’s East End. During the Blitz she’d visit bombed houses, offering immediate first aid to survivors while waiting for ambulances to arrive. There were no official air raid shelters in London and most Londoners used Tube stations or Tilbury Goods Depot, which fell into disuse and has since been demolished to pave way for modern flats. Tilbury had no facilities so earth buckets were used. Conditions were damp, cramped and dark. Fights for space were common until a ticking system was introduced.

Lilian also did voluntary work at a nursery based in a church hall on what was then Great Garden Street. The children were among London’s poorest. Their fathers and older brothers had been drafted into the military. Their mothers or guardians were queuing to buy food, taking in laundry or sewing work and trying to grow vegetables and look after chickens in small back yards. The children had also witnessed the aftermath of bombing raids and experienced bereavement. The nursery’s primary function was to give these children space to be children and a brief respite from war. With very limited facilities, the activities offered were often of imaginary role play. In her article for “Orion”, Lilian describes a game where the children, having spent time chasing each other around the hall, were encouraged to quieten down by pretending to be a flower.

(Playgroup London 1944)

Minnie pulls her arms tight to her sides,
bows her head and stares at the floor,
wishing her thin dress was less grubby.
She senses the rumble of bombers.
She bites her lip, tucks her chin closer:
can’t cry in front of the boys.
She remembers the handkerchief fluttering
amongst the rubble of her aunt’s house,
where she used to have to take her shoes off
and promise not to touch the ornaments
so she’d look at the photo of auntie in a long, white dress
when auntie would say, “It starts with you
unbuttoning his shirt and ends with you ironing it.
See yourself doing it for the next forty years,
before you even think about saying yes.”
Minnie had snatched the handkerchief,
looked up the embroidered flower in a book at school,
wished she had time for delicate stitching
instead of sewing sheets edges to middle.
Swore if she saw one in bloom before her January birthday,
next year would be better.

Mimicking a Snowdrop is available from Thynks Publications.