Utterly Salt: Eleanor Rees
Eleanor Rees was born in Birkenhead, Merseyside in 1978. Her pamphlet collection Feeding Fire received an Eric Gregory Award in 2002 and her first full length collection Andraste’s Hair (Salt, 2007) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards. Salt published her second collection, Eliza and the Bear, last year. Catch Eleanor and seven other Salt poets on Monday 23 August at 6.30 pm in the Banshee Labyrinth as part of the Free Fringe.
East to west, west to east,
the promenade wall.
Oil and chemical, salt and tar:
the night is in my throat.
I consume distances
at the edge of the river,
three am, solitary
held only by the rain and the sky.
The wind’s touch is courageous.
The stars are stags,
antlers pointed at each new shore
far from here, in some sunny waters.
I open to it like a mouth
and sense her shining
full height on the horizon,
as if the horizon is a ledge
she balances upon,
and hovering I rush to her,
her starriness, her electric pulses
that beckon, she widens:
I immerse myself in her thighs.
Her whiteness, her size.
I am her: the sea is a boat.
We ride until the dawn.
from Andraste’s Hair
Who or what is the greatest influence on your writing?
Experiences of places and landscapes seem to be the most influential elements in my work. As I grew up on the Wirral and live in Liverpool so these places have become important to my poetry. I seem to be fascinated by questions around place, how I know myself to be here, and also how the self interacts with these places and their histories. Many poets influence how I approach these sensations but I am also driven by a sense of wanting to add into poetry what I feel is missing (from culture – not just poetry) maybe – certain rhythms, trains of thought, perceptions that don’t yet have articulations – or haven’t for a long time. I think this is also to do with empowerment on some level and personally resisting negative and limiting cultural assumptions.
Why is poetry important?
This is a continuation of the above point I think. Poetry as an experience is the expression of what is yet to be said, what is coming into being, as it is felt in the body (mind being part of this) of the poet. I’d also add that it might be an articulation of what is already there, traces in the dark, whispers, also felt in the music of the poet’s body and shifted then into an articulation – into a poem.
Poetry is a sensation possibly evoked in the reader/listener – a sense of movement in the self, a raising up of the spirit. It’s something that is powerful and essential to our survival. It doesn’t happen with every poem for every person but that’s part of the real beauty of it.
Poetry values inner experience and thereby maintains the innate value and dignity of all people. I find this important especially in a political world where some like to presume they are more valuable than others. I suppose I find the act of writing poetry an act of defiance. I wonder sometimes if the supposed ‘unpopularity’ of poetry is as much to do with how we value ourselves as people, how much we value our uniqueness and differences and less about the poetry itself. It’s hard to apply monetary values to poetry, I love the timelessness of that.
I suck it up
into bone joint cold.
I suck it up into
deep damp lungs.
The thick stone holds
an inland sea.
The pressure of the cold
will swallow me whole.
I try to prevent it
sprinting into the evening,
heart blood thumping
on a chest wall cavity
as the night falls
and the city’s lights
cut out in an instance
as my thoughts cut out mid-sentence
I dwell around my bones
and breathing heart
in a high wind from the sea,
in a crush of cloud up above.
This is what I find here —
I speak with the winter’s mouth.
from Eliza and the Bear
Why is Salt important?
I think Salt is driven by this ethical understanding of poetry – that poetry is necessary to culture and its multiplicity is a sign of the health of the culture. I think Salt’s strengths are its ability to publish many poetries widely and positively and aid this process of culture making, in which no style has hegemony, but rich and bold imaginings take precedent. Salt’s approach allows for diversity and range. By bringing people into poetry they are drawn into wider and more complex questions to do with interiority and spirit and that I find valuable in itself.
What is your favourite Salt book and why?
A very tricky question – I’ve enjoyed very many of them, for many different reasons. I’d say Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie made me laugh out loud, Chris McCabe’s Zeppelins and Julia Bird’s Hannah and the Monk all were lively reads negotiating the surreal tensions of contemporary life. There are many more I can mention! They tell me something about the psychic struggles for reality currently at play in the world.
Any other projects you’d like to tell us about?
I’m always excited to find new homes for poems and a real audience for my work. That’s what I hope for. I’m less interested as time goes on in the established norms of literary life and more in alternative spaces where poetry used to have an impact and can again I think in small, and magical ways.
I enjoy commissions as I love to create work that has some kind of context, a purpose for being, a material life already decided for it. I like the usefulness of this – also collaborations which create similar contexts. I think sometimes of the work of the poet as engaging with the material realm and voicing it, letting the non-human speak through a human voice – as a poet I would aim to be always open to otherness.
Eliza and the Bear is also a performance by Cathy Butterworth with a harp score by Rebecca Joy Sharp and we have been touring around various arts centres and folk clubs for a while now. It’s been enlivening giving the poem over to other artists to make their own so stunningly well! I immensely enjoy the process of genuinely sharing creativity with others.