Our featured publication for November and December is The Beautiful Open Sky by Hannah Linden, published by V. Press.
‘The Beautiful Open Sky opens with an extraordinary run of poems, heartbreaking and precise, about the damage done by a narcissistic mother. As it progresses, the poems accumulate symbols, becoming increasingly phantasmagorical, before the patterns of a new life emerge as if through broken cloud. It works as a story, direct and emotional; but is also a meditation on how we remember – on the limits of reason and metaphor as ways of understanding the past. This is a fine model for a pamphlet: a focused set of beautiful poems, cunningly arranged, which draw power from each other. A wonderful debut.‘ Tom Sastry
‘Truths are slippery and sometimes sinister in this stunning exploration of familial relationships by Hannah Linden. It can be hard to know who to trust, or who is parenting whom. But there is beauty here too, and a positivity that shines through despite the odds. Self-reflective and superb, Linden’s use of language is playful and imaginative. I can’t wait to see what she does next.‘ Julia Webb
Today the only job I have
is keeping the blackbird quiet. At first,
when she ached, she lay quietly in her box
and everything was simple. I fed her milk-soaked bread,
pretended she was my baby. Being a mother
is easy. I stroked feathers, put scaly toes
between my fingers, felt, at last,
that I belonged.
The bird was lucky. She lived and I took
her to school with me. That was when
the trouble began. The teacher didn’t
understand how to teach a bird.
The blackbird tried to tell the teacher
about flying. She hopped up to the window
and sang to the sky. But the teacher
heard the song as a lie.
An unsinging bird is a heavy load.
I wondered if I’d misunderstood
the instructions. Surely if I was
doing the job right, this wouldn’t
feel so hard. My pockets filled
with feathers and my mouth
was a soft down away from naked
terror. My bare-boneness hollowed.
I was a fragile nest holder longing
for a tree or a gap in the hedgerow.
This was no way to inspire eggs.
The blackbird pecked at the only
bit of me that was still soft, a hidden
underpart of resistance. A hole grew
to the size of an open beak, its song
so sweet the whole sky replied.
Previously published by London Grip
The Cottage in the Wood
Be careful of the stories you keep, my mother said.
Peel back their metaphors and check under their skins
before you put them into your basket.
Mother forgets, sometimes, the basket, the tightness
of its weave, how big its handle. Life was simpler
under lamp-posts. It’s hard to remember
when Mother stopped dropping breadcrumbs.
Only that the birds were angry. After they filled the sky
with loud wings and dark, cloud-heavy shadows, she
stopped looking up or back—closed the track.
And lost became normal. It almost felt
like the cottage in the wood was home.
Siblings were a dream I couldn’t let
myself coddle. Sleep, the rhythm of water that has
nowhere left to fall. Mother was a pool of cave.
The witch my mother had made for me was
a fragment of heat on the scent of gingerbread.
However much I ate, I would never be full.
Previously published by And Other Poems
The Start of the Fire
What is a witch, after all, but the story of a woman
hungry enough for children she’ll do anything to get them.
Is that really what you wanted to hear? Look to your sadness
and see if it is the size of abandonment.
There are many ways to put yourself back into the story.
I am walking well-trodden trails now,
the banks of the river shored up with broken-down trees.
There has to be a way to keep the edges from falling.
Sometimes you have to let go of the monsters
from the stories you were told.
Maybe the witch didn’t want children
but just wanted to build something so sweet
it was ridiculous.
Someone was going to bite bits out of it,
It’s a pity children see right through to the red-hot oven of us.
That they have no mercy.
Previously published in Domestic Cherry
Single Mother in Wonderland
I know the rabbits aren’t real, especially the one
always worrying about time. But this is the hole
I fall into when I’m trying to catch the baby.
Oh my poor children. Mothers are supposed to
know where the keys are and which doors
fit. Why are all the other children playing cards?
Please give me a pill that will make me fit into
my house. Inside me is a child and she’s
so much smaller and bigger than she should be.
My children want me to make a proper high tea.
They want to chop off my crazy, worrying head.
They want me to know how
to play the croquet game.
I don’t. I don’t. I don’t.
Hannah Linden is from a Northern working class background but has been based in rural Devon for most of her adult life, where she lives in ramshackle social housing with her two (adult and adult-cusp) children. Despite navigating depression/anxiety she has been published widely. Her most recent awards are 1st prize in the Cafe Writers Open Poetry Competition 2021 and Highly Commended in the Wales Poetry Award 2021. She is working towards her first full collection.
Signed copies of The Beautiful Open Sky are available to purchase from Hannah Linden via direct message on Twitter: @hannahl1n. Unsigned copies are available from the V. Press website.