Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Three Bloodaxe Poets

Amali Gunaskera, Matthew Caley and Abigail Parry

Three Bloodaxe Poets at Hastings Bookshop

Two of the three Bloodaxe poets, Matthew Caley and Amali Gunaskera, talk to Jude Montague ahead of their joint reading at the Hastings Bookshop.

The Golden Thread by Amali Gunasekera - book cover

I previously published under the name Amali Rodrigo. The Golden Thread is my second poetry collection and was published by Bloodaxe Books in March 2022. It doesn’t have any awards. A review in the Guardian had this to say; “The Golden Thread positions Gunasekera as one of our deftest writers of environmental flux and change. This collection makes “the green mind” visible to us: the breathing, thinking agency of the more-than-human world’

Can you tell me what this book is about why did you write it?
Poems are strange creatures… sometimes inspiration strikes, and we ‘compose’ them, and at others, they are born like Athena, springing fully formed out of Zeus’s forehead! That is, they write themselves and refuse to take any other form. My first book was very much sculpted, inspired by travel. I feel I had more agency ‘writing’ that book. This one on the other hand came after a long fallow period when I was in deep solitude in Cumbria. I spent much of that time (several years) healing from emotional trauma, experimenting with different kinds of meditation and states of consciousness, and finishing a PhD. One by one these lyric essays arrived pretty much fully formed within a couple of months. They are more like spirals of experience than the more familiar free verse. However, there is also a short sequence of poems in the book which are more formally familiar. I was in conversation with the sinologist John Minford who published a stunning translation of the I Ching, and he mentioned a handbook of sex from the Ming Period, I suppose the Chinese equivalent of the Indian Kama Sutra. I was so intrigued by the imagery, so this sequence was inspired by that book.

What do you hope people will get from the poems?
I don’t see poems as objects but experiences, so I hope they like to shapeshift, don a different skin, walk in size 7 boots, experience a different reality and be moved, inspired, confused, become thoughtful, lulled… Most of all I hope they enjoy the sound, and the music in language.

What do you think about poetry in general?
I think they should ban the evening news and slot in poetry instead! Art is essential for human wellbeing, and we ignore this to our detriment… policymakers take note! Engaging in creativity is a cathartic experience in this tumultuous world we live in. Many psychologists have written about this..

What do you think is relevant about your poetry to Hastings from what you know about the town?
I must admit my poems don’t have many people in them or townscapes! However, I have been to Hastings several times a few years ago (before I left London) and loved the quality of the light and how the sea’s mood changes with the seasons. My poetry pays close attention to nature’s cycles…

Did you know that Hastings was where Logie Baird invented television? any thoughts on that?
Ashamed to say I did not! I had to google him… and he sounds like quite a character! Experimenter of hemorrhoid cream, industrial diamonds, air-soled shoes, glass razor… he made me think of the inventor Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a film I adored as a child.

To Abandon Wizardry by Matthew Caley - book cover

To Abandon Wizardry is my seventh poetry collection and was published by Bloodaxe Books last November. It doesn’t have any awards. Yet.

My poems don’t have an obvious ‘about’. I find that if you have an obvious ‘about’, then people want to talk about the ‘about’ and ignore the poem. The poem is the poem is the poem. I’m happy to tell you this book is full of talking horses, revenants, flying houses, talking inner-city saplings in their sleeves of mesh, and disemboweled wizards. From that you will no doubt conclude it is a State of The Nation address. Why do I write? I can’t really do anything else.

What do you hope people will get from the poems?
Maybe the experience of language not doing what it usually does? The frisson of that. Language these days can often tend towards the bland and legalistic and banal. Heard a politician lately? I think Cezanne said the purpose of art is to inspire. Not that I’m comparing myself to Cezanne. I’m much taller. That’s maybe all you can hope for. If people just listen to the sounds of a poem being read, coming at them, there’s a chance -maybe- if they’re open to it, that a line or two might blow an exit-wound in the back of their head. In a good way. Buy the book. Repeat the experience.

What do you think about poetry in general?
I think in these impoverished [in every way] times we all deserve to have a glimpse of something ‘other’. Poetry provides that. Because it uses the common materials of language we all use, but in a very different way, it can give us lovely shock after lovely shock. We think with language so it can twist and refresh these processes. Cognitive Science has discovered listening to full and cadenced language improves your mind. As much as a sea-side ice-cream. But it’s hopefully it’s more than a temporary balm.

What do you think is relevant about your poetry to Hastings from what you know about the town?
It develops its own character. Beyond buildings, geography, amenities, view, something intangible is felt that is unique and vibrant. Hastings has an estimated population of 91,100 [as of 2021]. You’re going to buy that exact number of our books. Hastings reportedly grew out of ancient sub-kingdom. Poetry is a kind of sub-kingdom. But with no kings. My friends Jude and Jeremy and Inger live there.

Did you know that Hastings was where Logie Baird invented television? Any thoughts on that?
I did. I don’t get to watch much television these days but for the few good things I’ve managed to see – Sherwood, the repeats of I, Claudius, Peter Capaldi-era Dr Who, and In The Night Garden – thank you Logie. Alistair Crowley is the other favorite son of Hastings, of course. It’s a little-known fact Ian Fleming partly based the character of Blofeld on Crowley. Crowley could reputedly play two games of chess simultaneously, while blindfolded, and still win. He went climbing in the Himalayas and took his entire library with him in crates on hundreds of pack-mules. He also wrote poetry. His best book was called White Shroud.

Please buy all our books -it’s a radical act for these philistine times. Take care now.

I Think We're Alone Now - Abigail Parry - book cover


Matthew Caley
Matthew Caley is a tutor/mentor for the Poetry School and has also recently taught poetry at the University of St Andrews, the University of Winchester and Royal Holloway University, London. To Abandon Wizardry is his seventh collection and his fourth with Bloodaxe.

Amali Gunasekera
Amali Gunasekera was born and grew up in Sri Lanka. She works in the field of Archetypal Psychology. After living in Mozambique, Kenya and India, she is now based in Cumbria. Her second collection, The Golden Thread, was published by Bloodaxe in 2022.

Abigail Parry
Abigail Parry spent several years as a toymaker before completing a PhD on wordplay. Her poems have been set to music, translated into Spanish, Serbian and Japanese, and performed or exhibited in Europe, the Caribbean and the US. Her second collection, I Think We’re Alone Now, was published by Bloodaxe Books in November 2023, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize 2023.

Three Bloodaxe poets read at Hastings Bookshop at 7pm on Saturday 13 April, 2024. Entry is free, but you are advised to book an advance ticket by following this link.

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Posted 19:27 Sunday, Feb 25, 2024 In: Literature

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