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All That Was Wood

ISBN-13: 
9781781725535
Publication Date: 
Friday, February 1, 2019
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In 2018, Katherine Stansfield was the poet-in-residence at Cornerstone, the neo-Gothic church in the centre of Cardiff converted into an events space. This pamphlet of new poems is the result: the record of a dynamic year of varied events, and an exploration of this fascinating building’s rich history.

Katherine is a poet and novelist. She grew up in Cornwall but now lives in Cardiff. Her debut poetry collection, Playing House, was published by Seren. Her second collection, We Could Be Anywhere By Now, appears from Seren in 2020. Katherine Stansfield teaches for the Open University, and is the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Cardiff University.

 

The Seren Cornerstone Poetry Festival, presenting some of the finest poets of the day, takes place each February in the Cornerstone venue in Cardiff – www.cardiffpoetryfestival.com

REVIEWS

Review by Jonathan Edwards, Planet

Friday, November 1, 2019

What are poems for? For making folk dance in a room without music? For opening a vein and letting your troubles out? For turning the work upside down and seeing what drops from the trees? In new publications by Katherine Stansfield and Deryn Rees-Jones, we are offered two difference conceptions of what poems are for, and watching the writers work out these interpretations is fascinating.

All That Was Wood is a brief pamphlet (it holds just eight poems), the result of a commission: Stansfield was tasked with writing a celebration of Cornerstone, a church in Cardiff with a rich history and a vibrant events programme. The poems collected here, fulfil this brief wonderfully: the author, with her accessibility, wit and emotional range, proves herself to be an excellent public poet.

In ‘Mover & Shaker’, the opening poem, the poet shows her understanding of the power of direct address. There’s a lovely playful management of sound in this celebration of the rich history and vibrant present of the building:

I’m here to remind you of the zing
in your stones, how you’re clad
in ballast shipped
to Cardiff from all the world
that took in coal – such travel
in your bones.

Other pieces deepen the emotional territory. ‘Prayer for protection’ uses liturgical repetition to ask both that the building’s history is retained and that it is an inclusive space. The closing ‘Telling the bees’ is perhaps the pamphlet’s most moving poem. Christian Brown, a creative force behind the energy of Cornerstone, passed away during the poet’s residency. This poem recalls a brief exchange between the poet and Brown, before a powerful shift in focus to the future, which offer the pamphlet a perfect conclusion:

I hear again our meeting
on the stairs between poetry

last February:
not rushing off? you said.
Buck up, the bees tell me.
The have plans, I poems:
roots in this soil now.
Who knows what we can grow?

The question that always hangs over public poetry is whether such work has the ability to transcend the reason for its composition. I’m not sure that those who think poetry is at its best when writers are moved, rather than contracted, to write will be convinced by the poems here to change their minds. But as a selection of charming, moving pieces which succeed on their own terms, this pamphlet unequivocally celebrates Cornerstone, as well as making its readers keen to read Stansfield’s next full collection.

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