Ahead of our New Voices in Literature evening, we’re looking back at last week’s event, where we celebrated the work of emerging – and some very established – writers. Last Tuesday we welcomed the Transatlantic Literary Women Series to the Scottish Writers’ Centre for an evening of poetry and prose that engaged with the transatlantic theme.
We had a fantastic selection of writers from either side of the Atlantic: the US, England, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Our host Carolyn Jess-Cooke teaches creative writing at the University of Glasgow as well as being a multiple award-winning author and poet. She kicks off the evening with a poem from her forthcoming work on Victorian feminist and social reformer Josephine Butler. The poem ‘Picking Oakum’ takes personal loss – Butler’s daughter died as a child – as a motivation for her campaigns to improve the lives and rights of women. Jess-Cooke vividly evokes a factory of women workers, with Butler sitting among them, all plucking oakum from ‘umbilical’ rope.
We’re drawn into several poems about the Atlantic Ocean. Anthropogastronomer Alex Hackett shares three poems from her sequence ‘A God Perch for Ocean Viewing’. Written when she lived in Newfoundland and addressing the Scottish coast, these poems bubble with colour and movement: ‘North Atlantic, / you’re a watersheet like sky flipped /speckled white unmoving’. Kathryn Metcalfe’s poems ‘Three Letters and an Ocean’ and ‘Liberty’ look back on her grandmother’s life, as she made the crossing from the US to Scotland. Her observations about migration from The Land of Liberty are particularly timely today.
Maria Sledmere, co-editor of SPAMzine, shares her fizzing response to two transatlantic women writers who inspire her: personal poet Sylvia Plath and Zelda Fitzgerald (the author often overlooked in favour of her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald). Mairi Murphy, editor of Glasgow Women Poets, also offers personal poetry, with sharp insights into the relationship between two sisters who share a hereditary illness. Both writers evoke a sense of sisterhood across time and place.
We also have two expat American writers who are literally transatlantic literary women. Award-winning slam poet Carly Brown shares her ‘Thoughts on Homesickness’, and what it means to have two homes, and to feel homesick in each one. Poet and fiction writer Angie Spoto, who also co-founded and edits Shetland Create, presented her poems ‘Liquorice Woman’ and ‘After Betty Davis’, brimming with images, power play, and fennel flavours.
Throughout the evening, we also learned a bit about transatlantic history. Author Louise Turner shared an excerpt from her forthcoming historical novel The Gryphon at Bay, to be released this year by American publishers Hadley Rille. She offers us a glimpse into the world of the Sempill and Montgomerie families in 15th century Scotland. Additionally, we learned that Frederick Douglass (African-American social reformer and former slave that the US administration accidentally implied was still alive – leading to a rush to buy his books!) once climbed and graffitied Arthur’s Seat with the suffragettes. Sandra Whitnell’s poem ‘The Ascent’ responds to this remarkable piece of transatlantic history.
All of the works these brilliant women writers shared with us at the Scottish Writers’ Centre will be posted online by the Transatlantic Literary Women series, one-a-day, featuring the fabulous photography of our own Audience Engagement Officer Kath Warren. If you want to learn more about the series, or missed the event, be sure to check out their work at: https://transatlanticladies.wordpress.com/blog/
If you’d like to hear more from student writers in Scotland, come along to our New Voices in Literature event, where we’ll be celebrating work by poets and authors on the University of Glasgow Creative Writing programme: https://scottishwriterscentre.co.uk/upcoming-events/. We’ll be showcasing lots of exciting new work by emerging Glasgow talent, be sure to come along!
Words by Saskia McCracken
Photos by Kath Warren