Yesterday, Michaela Ridgway and I took delivery of CELL, the not-quite-pamphlet which gives embodiment to my poem in twelve sections with art by Michaela. The object has been designed by Katy Mawhood – it’s a printed and folded sheet with only some of the folds cut, so that it can be handled and read in several different ways. The dark red area in the picture is what the printer calls a ‘bellyband’ (I’m not sure what the medieval church would have made of this…) – it carries information about the publication and slips off to allow the pamphlet to be read.
I first started thinking and writing about incarceration when I was working with male life prisoners at HMP Shepton Mallet, back in 2004, so this thing has been a long time in the making.
Following my time at Shepton, I read about traditions of voluntary isolation and imprisonment – about hermits, anchorites and particularly anchoresses. I visited St James Church, Shere where in 1329 Christine Carpenter chose to be enclosed in a small cell built onto the north wall of the chancel. She was fourteen. Her story (what’s known of it) pierced my heart.
The earliest draft of the poem took the form of a fictional journal written as though by Christine for her mother. I worked on the piece for some months, on and off, then put it aside for a long time, only to come back to it in 2011 just after Excisions was published. The themes that had surfaced through working on CELL continued to intrigue me. I thought about just how ‘voluntary’ Christine’s enclosure might have been, about free will and social/religious loyalty, about self-harm and punishment, about visionary ecstasy and sensory deprivation, about extreme spiritual experience and about physical and mental deterioration in captivity. And I read parts of the Ancrene Wisse, a medieval guide for anchoresses.
The poem has come to its published form over a period of eleven years, and in that time it has gathered meaning for me in relation to other subjects I’ve tackled – shame and the female body, the love between daughter and mother, choice and responsibility, to name just a few.
I was delighted when Michaela agreed to collaborate with me on this publication. From the moment we first talked about the project it seemed that her ideas and her art could sit with the poem in a way that allowed both images and words to do their own work better.
Collaborating with Katy Mawhood on the design has been fascinating. I first saw Katy’s work a few years ago in the form of the new look Modern Poetry in Translation. She is very talented indeed.
We are proud to bring you CELL which will be launched at the Red Roaster in Brighton on Thursday 26 November, doors from 7.30 pm.
CELL is published by Frogmore Press. ISBN 978 0 9570688 4 1
Copies are available (£10, post free) from: The Frogmore Press, 21 Mildmay Road, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1PJ
Review of CELL by Nell Nelson for Sphinx
Review of CELL by Marion Tracy for Sphinx
Review of CELL by Peter Kenny
Review of CELL by Robin Houghton
Review of CELL by Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands
Review of CELL by Beth McDonough in Dundee University Review of the Arts (DURA)