My poetry book What Are You After? is now available to pre-order direct from Nine Arches Press.
I thought I’d share my new book cover with you and tell you something about how it came about. It features a painting ‘Transient II’ by my friend and artist Mary Petrovska. Mary is one of the first people my family and I met when we moved to Trowbridge 15 years ago and is a warm, caring, interesting and intelligent human as well as a talented artist!
I found the whole experience of choosing a book cover, and a title for the collection, a challenge – albeit a challenge I was happy to undertake. I spent time looking at various artists’ work, trying to decide if their paintings or drawings would make a suitable cover. I knew that I wanted to have some kind of real life connection with the artist, so I stayed away from browsing the internet or sites like Pinterest. This also helped me to avoid the sensation of being overwhelmed by too much choice.
Initially, I was very drawn to the work of artist Philippa Sutherland who currently has a studio at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge. You can see examples of her work by searching on Google. I very nearly chose one of her paintings but its shape meant that the work would need to be cropped in order to fit the book cover. Also, the title of my book What Are You After?, takes on different meanings when paired with different images. I realised that an abstract image might suit this collection more (the Philippa Sutherland piece I was particularly drawn to was the image of a female figure). It was my son, Johnny, who suggested looking at Mary Petrovska’s work and I’m very glad he did!
I was very attracted by the strong colours in Mary’s painting, the rich blues and deep oranges and golds in the corner. Blue is a colour I’ve been drawn to since childhood. As a very fair-haired and blue-eyed child, my mother tended to dress me in blue when she could – “It suits your colouring.” Then, attending Catholic schools, uniforms were often blue – “blue for Mary.” For a while, once I was able to choose and buy my own clothes, I rebelled against blue – “not blue again!” “anything but blue!” But, now, in my more mellow years, I find blue pleasing, comforting, uplifting, calming.
Interestingly, I didn’t originally know the title of the painting, and Mary isn’t familiar with my poetry, but the painting’s title ‘Transient’ ties in well with some of my poems which are to do with the temporary nature of life.
My collection’s title What Are You After? is both a question to myself about what comes before, about what I am, literally, after, and also a question about what I want and what I am striving to be and to have, in light of what has been before.
I was talking all of this through with my daughter, Kitty, who is currently studying for an English degree, and she told me about the Latin phrase Ubi sunt, taken from Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?, meaning “Where are those who were before us?” which is a feature of some Old English poems. This from The Poetry Foundation explains it better:
A number of medieval European poems begin with this Latin phrase meaning “Where are they?” By posing a series of questions about the fate of the strong, beautiful, or virtuous, these poems meditate on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase can now refer to any poetry that treats these themes. One of the most famous ubi sunt poems is “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past”) by medieval French poet François Villon, with its refrain “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” See also Thomas Nashe’s “Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss,” Sir Philip Sidney’s “Astrophel and Stella CII: ‘Where be the roses gone, which sweetened so our eyes?’”, and “Where Are the Waters of Childhood?” by Mark Strand.
And this from Wikipedia
the ubi sunt motif is actually a meditation on mortality and life’s transience
I have experienced death from an early age – my mother died when I was twelve, my father, when I was thirty, and there have been many other incidences of death and loss, so, inevitably, death features in my poems quite a lot. I like this idea of meditating on mortality and life’s transcience and I think that this is something I am doing, or trying to do, in my writing. I’m very lucky to have been supported emotionally by family members and close friends which means that my experiences of loss and bereavement haven’t crushed me. For whatever reason, I’m a hopeful person, I believe, and I am very taken with the repeated refrain in The Lament of Deor, an Ubi sunt poem (is this the correct way to refer to it? I’m not sure) explained here, with (according to my daughter) a poor translation but one I understand:
that passed away, so may this
Anyway, as is often the case, this post has meandered but at least I’ve been able to share Mary Petrovska’s beautiful art and my cover and some of the ideas about why I’ve chosen it. I hope you like it as much as I do.