Poetry Reading Readings

Two short reviews: Tamar Yoseloff and Clare Best

A look at two recent publications. A Formula for Night, New and Selected Poems by Tamar Yoseloff, and Cell by Clare Best with art by Michaela Ridgway.

Tamar Yoseloff at the launch of A Formula for Night

New and Selected Poems: A formula for Night by Tamar Yoseloff from Seren Books. A New and Selected is a point of significance in a poet’s career, and shows someone unafraid to challenge herself conceptually and in her choice of form. There are distinct phases in work,  persistent engagement with visual art is a theme too such as in the poems from Formerly based around the decaying facades of London’s built environment, in a partnership with photographer Vici McDonald. It’s a simple concept but beautifully executed, allowing peeling incomplete words to leak into the work.

The longer poem ‘Fetch’ is one of my favourites here. The poet includes a definition of a Fetch as an apparition or double. The poem starts “I send her out/into the cold dark night.” Having written about doubles myself, I was struck by how freshly and successfully Tammy approaches the idea. We see the world through a woman who may or may not be the poet, and we are remotely piloted through her investigations with a sense of mystery derived from the blurring of identity.

The collection is so varied, I have tuned into some bits faster than others. A few lines from a earlier poem ‘Moths’ have stayed with me because I’m so effortlessly drawn into them, and I find they are emblematic of her restless poetic development. Our protagonists are leaving a US diner:

“We pay, go back into the night. The car picks up
its tune of old motor and stuck gears where it left off,
the radio zeroes in on a voice, a snatch of a song,
clear for a moment then gone. The darkness is complete,
except for the moths, illuminated as they are caught
fluttering towards the headlights. In the morning
you will wipe their powdery remains
off the windscreen then drive away.”

Clare Best reading at the launch of Cell

Cell by Clare Best, illustrated by Michaela Ridgeway and published by The Frogmore Press.

This beautifully-realised group of poems is based on the true story of a girl of fourteen who took a vow of solitary devotion.

We are told she was “enclosed in a cell built onto the north wall of the chancel of St. James’ Church, Shere, Surrey. She spent more than one thousand days in the cell before asking to be freed.” This was in 1329, but Clare Best‘s theme of female constraint and aloneness is timeless and relevant.

I love this kind of tight brief a poet can give themselves. The tension between physical and spiritual animates the sequence. And the medieval horror of it all is not shrunk from, nor how the mortification of the flesh somehow stands for a spiritual purification:

“Loosen teeth – pull them
one by one
from shrunken gums.
Two rows on the window ledge.”


“…this scalp
alive with lice.
My body rots, a holy
wilderness. My night-bird spirit soars.”


Michaela Ridgeway’s intense charcoal drawings of female figures exude energy and constraint in equal measure, and so excellently complement these poems. It is a lovely project.

And as someone who has worked on a thousand junk mail formats as an agency copywriter, I always appreciate a bit of ‘paper engineering’ and this collection opens up and forms a cell of paper.

Poetry Reading

Travelling Through and a kind of homecoming

Last week I found myself hearing Rhona McAdam and Tamar Yoseloff reading their work in the basement of a new bookshop and cultural hub behind Waterloo Station called Travelling Through. The event was so well attended that people sat on stairs to hear. Rhona and Tamar were joined by Sue Rose, whose work I thought excellent on this first hearing.

But personally the evening was all about seeing Rhona and Tamar. Lately I have had a strange sense of a homecoming and I’ve fallen in love with poetry, and its potential, all over again.  Happily this has led to me seeing several old friends again too.

I’d not seen and heard Tammy read for 20 years or more. Tonight she reading from a book called Formerly, a collaboration with photographer Vici MacDonald, and together they captured disappearing scraps of London in words and black and white images. Many of the sites photographed in the collection have been demolished since it was written. It is a gorgeous little book from Hercules Editions, and comes heartily recommended from me as Tamar’s work is playful, engaged, and full of energy, and Vici’s images are haunting. Great stuff. Buy the book from here.

Rhona was reading from her new book Ex-ville, and after she gave me a copy of Cartography which is the only one of Rhona’s six full collections I did not already own.

Although Rhona lived in London for over ten years, and is often moved to write about it from abroad, for me her work remains resolutely Canadian. There is a sense of space in her work that it is full of unobtrusive but difficult truths. Here is the end of one of her poem ‘I raise a glass’, addressing her unborn children:

They are one more never
in the chain of nevers
crumpling in my throat. I am the keeper
of their names, and their untold fortunes,
guardian of the wrongs I will never do them.

Rhona’s style is not showy, but I have found the quiet dignity of her voice to be compelling ever since I first read her work in 1988. In that well-worn phrase, she has her own voice, and it rings true.

Tamar Yoseloff Sue Rose & Rhona McAdam
Tamar Yoseloff, Sue Rose and Rhona McAdam
Rhona McAdam
Rhona McAdam