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Jenny Mitchell is joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize (Indigo Dreams) and joint third prize winner of the Ware Open Poetry Competition.
Her poems have been broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC2, and published in several magazines, including ‘The Rialto’ and ‘The New European’.
She also has eight poems in parallel translation in the Italian publication ‘Versodove’.
‘Her Lost Language’ is Jenny’s debut collection.
138 x 216mm
£8.99 + P&P UK
Her Lost Language
Joint winner Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize
Jenny Mitchell’s prize-winning debut collection is an exploration of the impact of British transatlantic enslavement on black lives and family dynamics. It combines grounded realism with imaginative empathy on a journey from the Caribbean to Britain. At the heart of the collection is the belief in the power of stories to ‘liberate’ the voice in order to help heal a collective future.
“Something very rare, a genuine dramatic consciousness and an instinct for the poetic moment.”
“In this powerful and deeply moving debut collection, Jenny gives voice to the enslaved, bringing to life a cast of ‘silenced women’, their suffering and fortitude. Her tactile, cinematic poems leap into life, and their rich language lifts at times into magic realist flights of imagination. This collection vibrates with heart.”
“It’s been such a pleasure to see Jenny reciting many of the poems in this collection over the years and so exciting to see them together in this wonderfully ambitious collection – a unique insight into a family history that invites you to re-imagine your own.
I love this book and so will you!”
Her Lost Language
English mouths are made of cloth,
stitched, pulled apart with every word.
Her life is mispronounced.
She cooks beef jollof rice for one;
braves the dark communal hall:
a giant’s throat when he is lying down.
He’s swallowed muffled voices,
stale breath of food and cigarettes.
The lift is shaped by urine.
The sky’s a coffin lid.
Back in her village, days from Lagos,
hills took on the shape of God,
scant clouds the colour of her tongue.
Now she must walk past ghosts who leer like men,
to eat fast food from styrofoam,
binging to forget her scars
are less important every day,
when words must match
from one assessment to the next.
Back in her block, the lift vibrates
like an assault or panic rammed
beneath her skin by soldiers taking turns.
She skypes to smile at parents
aging in their Sunday clothes.
They say more teachers have been raped.
A baobab tree is balanced on her father’s head.
When the connection fails,
she flicks to channel Save Yourself.
A pastor bangs the podium, demands her Hallelujah.
She kneels to pray her papers will be stamped –
passport wrapped in green batik.
Pastor screams Give thanks.
Out to Sea
He left me twice – the dead man known as father;
first: taller than the waves, his hand,
gnarled fish, slipped out of mine.
I watched him walk ahead of words
still cockled to my throat, too small
for anything but bubble-sounds to form.
I must have known a howl would meet the wind;
demands for him to turn
He walked towards the shore, then stopped,
as if a body floated just in front;
turned back to wave both hands.
His hurried steps denied the space between us,
body bent to pick me up –
my weight a movement of his breath.
Now, washed up on a bed,
he’s left me for the last time.
Eve’s Lost Daughter
Her madness soaked through clothes, the elders said –
a need to run along the hem,
seams determined to stay single.
Buttons down the back defied her father’s rules,
undid themselves. She wandered in the dark;
thread dangled from a sleeve.
Shoes stamped her need to climb the boundary wall:
heaped bones of women who had run before,
limbs chopped to form the shape of brick.
Her mother stripped her nightly, imprisoning in shame.
But naked she went out till elders
spoke of madness in vivacious hair.
They cut it to the scalp with jagged implements,
placed the bloody mess in flames,
as she went baying at the moon.
It shone with this advice, she heard it clearly:
Steal back your clothes and scale the wall,
or be part of its fabric.
Song for a Former Slave
Her dress is made of music
humming through the hem,
high notes in the seams.
A rousing hymn
adorns the bodice
with sheer lace.
The heart is stitched with loud amens,
the back a curving shape
She’s proud enough to hold
her own applause
tucked in a pleated waist.
The skirt sways freely
when she walks
to show there are no chains.
Her dress is made of music.
Loss was what I thought of first,
when looking at the sea;
thinner waves than yesterday;
tide’s frayed hem pulled so far up,
exposing wrinkled knees.
Immodest surf –
once an astonishment of pearls,
now barely strung
across the slack horizon’s neck,
choking on a hotel dragon’s fumes.
They swell across the beach –
less sand than human debris,
to show what can’t degrade
does so entirely.
Heels alight on jagged claws:
tin gods demanding human blood,
sacrificed to dirt-flecked foam.
shying back – receding hope –
exposing all the dead – marine
and stranger freight:
remains of stolen Africans
thrown overboard in chains –
little more than language down their throats.
The last word might have been revenge.
Black Men Should Wear Colour
for my brother
Black men should wear colour.
I mean an orange coat,
sunlight dripping down the sleeves.
A yellow shirt to clash with bright blue trousers –
taking inspiration from the most translucent sea.
Pink leather shoes. Fuchsias might be best
to contrast with brown skin.
Red socks should add some warmth,
so long as they’re the only flames to ever touch your feet.
A tie could be mistaken for a noose,
unless you choose a rainbow swirling on your chest.
It will help to show the heart
has all the colours in the world.
Walk down any street with head held high.
I will wave my colours back and we’ll both be safe.
A Cello Hummed
When the music started,
I wanted it to go a different way.
The violins should sway
towards a gentle light,
not hurry to attack
my fragile calm,
become a soldier’s march
when I so longed for peace.
Underneath, a cello hummed,