‘What is ever easy to write? I’m interested in what gets lost in memory, where it goes – how the body holds’: Rachel Long talks to alice hiller about the power of ‘girl-speak’ and art as transfiguration in ‘My Darling from the Lions’.

Photo of Rachel Long by Amaal Said.

Sometimes distance generates its own form of closeness.  Or at least that was our experience, when Rachel Long and I connected through zoom to go deep with her debut, My Darling from the Lions, which was shortlisted for both the Forwards and Costa prizes in 2020. Each of us had instinctively positioned ourselves by a window – as if to share the same autumn afternoon light, notwithstanding being on opposite sides of London.  Over the course of the two hours which followed, we talked about what it means to create as women, where we find the spaces and energies to nurture ourselves as artists, and why poetry is sideways-thinking.  We asked how someone accesses their own ‘true’ perspective or ‘spirit level’; we agreed on the generative nature of play, and why translating another poet’s work can lead your own into new dimensions. Specifically, in Rachel Long’s case – that working with Adelaide Ivánova fed into her own poems of witness around the subject of sexual predation and assault. We then moved into a closer discussion of the extraordinary sequence of poems in which Rachel Long responds creatively to the challenging subject of sexual abuse in childhood – about which I also write.  Together we explored language as reclamation, and how the process of articulating, and shaping, may enact a form of restitution and healing.  Reviewing the transcript, we both felt that this second half of the conversation formed its own unit.   I have therefore divided the interview into two segments, so that our readers have the option of either reading it right through, or in two halves as feels right to them. At the close of that tough year, I had no doubt that this was one of the most nourishing, but also radical conversations, I had in the whole of 2020.  It’s the greatest honour to be able to share Rachel Long’s words with you, as we go forward as readers and writers into 2021 together. 

AH: Can I start by asking about how My Darling from the Lions came into being Rachel Long?  When, and how, did you start writing?

RL:     I feel that in many ways I was maybe always writing it.  I loved writing even as a child.  I didn’t know what I was writing for a long time, in terms of subject or form.  I return to the subjects that I have long been fascinated with – the lives of the people around me.  The complexity of people’s stories, of how appearances are not necessarily the reality of what is going on inside.  My mother came to the UK from Sierra Leone when she was eight. So many of her stories of growing up are holey snippets.  The older I get, the more I realise they might actually be some kind of fiction or poetry.  If you question something in one of my mother’s ‘origin stories’, she gets almost confused, or contradictory very quickly. The stories become murky, vague, abstract. 

AH:     I love that idea of murkiness. It’s full of possibility, and also really honest. In the collection, you explore everything from the harm caused by racism and sexual predation, all the way to what it’s like to grow up in the UK of dual heritage, this can’t have been an easy collection to write – at a creative as well as on a personal level? 

RL:    What is ever easy to write? I’m interested in what gets lost in memory, where it goes – how the body holds it. Being of dual heritage… I grew up in a white working-class area on the outskirts of London. My schools were majoritively white, my friends, half my family. I’m not sure that I thought of myself as Black for a long time. Mixed, half-caste, (dark-)light-skinned, all the rest of it, but not Black particularly. That was an understanding, a knowledge and an acceptance of a self that I had to carve out later, as I grew up, as left that estate, as I read, spoke and understood myself within a much wider context.  When I was a girl, I thought that you had to choose what colour you were.  I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad’s car, Dad driving, Mum in the passenger seat, and suddenly thinking, you must choose, now, whether you want to be white like Dad or black like Mum – isn’t that… disturbing? And as if I thought that I get to choose how the world perceives me.

AH: Picking up on what you were saying about claiming your Black identity as you grew older, certainly in decades past in England, the dominant culture wasn’t respectful of different identities. There was a pressure to only tick one box or feel of less worth if you didn’t tick that box.  I knew Poly Styrene, of X-Ray Spex. She used to pretend to be Greek as a teenager in the 70’s.  Once she became an artist, she was able to claim her dual heritage identity more fully. 

RL: I understand that.  It’s interesting that she could become closer to herself through her art. 

AH: Poly was freed to claim her identity partly by working with live theatre as a teenager. Were there people who made becoming a writer more possible for you?

RL: What a beautiful question. Yes. I loved school. Primary school particularly, I felt so much freer at school than at home, and I loved learning, like very honestly loved it. My formidable headmistress, Mrs Wiley loved literature. She would make us recite poetry.  Her favourite poem was WB Yeats’ ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, (with the line “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”).  Our morning assemblies consisted of who could get through the poem. I became good at reciting and at being shy, but showing off. Because of my love of English and of reading, she recommended me for some residential creative writing courses. On the weekends, and during the holidays, from when I was about 10 to 17, I spent time in the Essex countryside, which I loved, reading under trees, and watching Man Ray films at ten, or discussing silent French movies before sneaking off to play spin the bottle. As I got older obviously, that crux of being 14 and ashamed of everything, I completely hid what I had ‘got up to at the weekend’ from my friends – except perhaps my best friend.  It’s good to be able to trust one person at least in life…. Anyway, my 10 year-old brain is going whish whish whish whish, just totally like woah, this is… beautiful, I feel like this is what I’m here for.  We did things like creative dreaming – all of us, a gaggle of geeky ‘chosen children’ from all over the country, laying down in the grounds listening to what the grass was telling us.  What a radical side-education! Without those easters and summers away, I hate to think where all my dreaming or talking to grass would have been wasted. On boys probably, in phone boxes, at the bottom of bottles. My childminder Barbara was also an amazing education for me. My mum and dad both worked so I would go to Barbara’s after school. Barbara loved sewing and knitting.  She taught me to sew (I was never great at knitting). She taught me to draw and paint too, how to look after flowers. I feel very blessed to have had this creative education, to have learnt what I love from others, particularly from women seeing and encouraging me.  

AH: At such a young age, that forms you as an artist. It’s letting you know that this is the way to be.  

RL: Absolutely.  If I didn’t have those people then, I would have had a different path, one I suspect I would not be happy in at all right now. I can’t think about the ‘other path’ for too long, I always well up very quickly, as if the possibility of it is still uncomfortably close. I suspect that is the same for most children, that they’ll thrive if opened up to what is possible. 

AH: For sure. And there is the simplicity of playfulness. When I was pregnant with my second son, I did a playing course.  There were no children there. It was for parents to enjoy playing.  I built bricks and did all those things.  That really was a brilliant thing to take back into my parenting.  I connected with my joy and playfulness.  

RL: I love that! What we do as poets is sort of play. Serious play. 

AH: Yes, exactly.  When it stops being play, it stops working.  Being exposed to poetry early, you learnt how to tell without telling, because poetry works with a backward logic.  You don’t just state a sequential narrative.  You let it ooze out.  It’s like sideways thinking.  To develop your ability to sideways-think young, has to be a fantastic thing. 

RL: I think you just nailed something for me Alice – or kind of opened something up for me – about sideways thinking.  I don’t usually credit my parents for making me very creative, but I think the ways they are as people, people who don’t hide, but also don’t necessarily access or communicate how they more deeply feel, has influenced my work. 

Mum will tell you exactly how she is feeling, but I think what she says is the surface, a lot of her anger and worry is fear.  I think that underneath she is a lot quieter, shy, strange and dangerous, but she would never absolutely communicate that.  My Dad says nothing about anything. So maybe as a child I watched them and understood something essential about what is said and unsaid, about how much you can communicate in your not-saying, in your subtle showing.

AH: To be able to connect the surface and the depth requires opening the channels in the way that you did as a child through creative play.  For a lot of people, knowing how they feel isn’t easy.  Connecting what they are experiencing on the surface with what’s driving it down below is tricky.   Somehow art communicates this, even if it doesn’t do so explicitly.  It lets it be understood. 

RL:      Definitely. 

AH:      Nowadays, as a poet and a teacher, you work with language to expand and change awareness, and make the new.  Were there artists who enabled you to see that your voice, as a women of colour, needed to be realized in a way that did not try to erase the contexts from which it took its shapes?  Specifically, the female and the domestic, including the shadowed hinterlands between adolescence and adulthood, which are vulnerable times for many of us? Asking this question, I had in mind your poem ‘Apples’. It starts with the speaker running for a train –  “tits play-doughing/ out of a shit bra” – then slides through an admission of  her being “magazine educated” into a childhood memory of :

When the mum of my then-best friend said
her daughter wasn’t allowed to play with me 
because I was another N-word – meaning
Mum went round in her dressing-gown to slap her silly
with her tongue, then returned to scatter the kitchen 
and shred Dad’s Guardian for not sticking up for us,
for never saying anything – 

RL: The person who comes to mind most is Caroline Bird, who was my Jerwood-Arvon mentor in 2015-16.  Working with Caroline completely accelerated my work. I felt seen and heard and ‘good’, like I could do this, that it wasn’t all rubbish and a waste of time. Caroline was the first person to read my work and really see and hear me. Not in a weird tokenistic or racialized or classist way, as sometimes is ‘the way’. She read me un-bemused, nonjudgmentally, deadly seriously; essentially. That was radicalising for my poetry, for my practice, and for my personhood. Over that year I was able to let go of a lot of shame and therefore I could begin writing it. That came from finally not being or feeling judged, or boxed, or expected of. I realise that you’ve asked me about women of colour influencing me specifically and I have immediately offered Caroline, who is not a woman of colour – how can I phrase this so that it doesn’t sound ‘colour blind’ – let me access my own perspective… I don’t write (or read, or sleep or dream any of those essential, private, self-onto-self things) as a ‘woman of colour’. I write as myself — by that I mean, I don’t think our truest, deepest selves, at spirit level, register or identify with concepts of race, gender ecterea, the spirit doesn’t need these codes I don’t think, they aren’t necessary, and if the spirit level is also likely where the writing is from, then essentially do any of us write as our society-necessary, society-inflicted, society-worn labels?   It is only later, when another person reads the work, that certain societal lenses may be worn to read and interpret the work.  For example, in my poem, ‘Jail Letter’, I sit between my mother’s legs getting my hair plaited for what feels like all of Saturday. Only to go to school on Monday and be laughed at because my hair ‘looked like spiders’, but also because I had a Wednesday clip in and it was Friday or something. Sitting there as a girl, I did not realise the racial politics of hair, its implications, the perceptions of beauty and the precedence of European ideals, none of that, at least not consciously.  I might have felt, suspected, some of it. I was just sitting there, bored out of my mind, in some discomfort.  I wanted the poem to reflect that. I didn’t want the poems to have a knowledge of a context that is implausible for the little (mixed-race black) girl in it to reach yet. I badly want to leave the brackets out there because to constantly be a bracketed girl is not the girlhood I wanted, nor should any girl be bracketed, does this make any sense? 

AH: Yes it does.

RL:     Anyway, I wanted the poem to stay true to her authentic universe rather than be unhonestly aware of her place within the wider context, or indeed other people’s perceptions and dictations of it. And I think, I hope, that by doing that it makes the poem sad and funny, because she doesn’t realise, as she’s sitting there getting her hair plaited, what the reader might think about who she is and what she means, or what her hair means in the world, to others. I was supposed to be talking about Caroline and other influential women and I’m talking about authentic poetic universes!  

AH:   I was reading Toni Morrison in the 80’s.  I felt understood by her writing, and I felt I understood myself. I was born in 1964 and sexual abuse in terms of children wasn’t discussed much until the 80s, by which time I was in my 20’s. It was to do with finding myself in her work as someone who was living a life, carrying a history, that most of society denied and excluded, before I could even articulate my own experience coherently.  

RL: Morrison is one of the best writers that we have had on this planet.  The fact that you feel personally understood and encompassed by that work, and that it also speaks to a universal experience – maybe it’s to do with identity, but also bloody good writing.  

AH: Also, being formally inventive, because you need to make a language to say something that hasn’t been said and isn’t being said.  You have to find a language that will actually do that. We both saw the Faith Ringgold Exhibition at the Serpentine.  I feel that about her work.  And in terms of our work as artists, that is a fantastic challenge to be set – because you know you really have to rise to it.  That creates newness, originality, invention. 

RL:  ‘Apples’ is partly inspired by the experience of reading Morgan Parker’s collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night.  Parker really harnesses a multiplicity in her work. She has all of these apparent contradictions and juxtaposition, all going on at once, which is, of course, most like life. One particular poem of Morgan’s is ‘How to Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity.’  Just the way it runs, it switches up, it is sliding-doory. This being of multiple things all at once inspired  ‘Apples’.  I think I have long felt lots of different things at once, sometimes contradictory, and sometimes only things other people said or thought were contradictory, but I knew them intimately to be one. I realized when writing ‘Apples’ that I had long felt like lots of apparently-different selves presenting as a single person.

AH:  I love her work, and the way it takes from daily life, and makes it strange and powerful.  In his memoir The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nihisi Coates makes a point of recording complex situations in direct, accessible language. Was that part of your intention for My Darling from the Lions?

RL: It’s the way I speak. It’s uncomfortably pronouncing words I confidently but silently read, it’s mispronouncing the same words my mum does, the dreaming holidays in the countryside talking to grass.  It’s the mediocre comprehensive secondary school, using a flirtier voice to convince the bus driver to let me on without a ticket, and that voice sticking.  It’s the sudden grammar school sixth form,  University upt North, and only just now realising that I speak in about five different registers.  Sometimes I am very aware and ashamed of it, and others I’m like, well, I start sentences with ‘I’m like’.  I want to write in a way that feels true. Poetry is opening up a little in terms of reflecting a plethora of different voices and moving away from having one overarching voice that we must all listen very carefully and above all others to.  My poem, ‘Helena’ was written after a conversation I had with a poet, who is from Peckham — not so far from where I grew up in south east London also.  He was like, no you don’t talk like you are from South London, and sort of laughed at me for even thinking that I did/still did (did I ever?).   So, then I went away and thought, OK, how did we used to speak when we were at school? –and or just after, at like 20, 21. As I was writing ‘Helena’ I realised that it is starkly different to how I speak now, even the pace of it is different, we spoke all in a rush to each other, all the time – and we swore a hell of a lot more. What I found interesting to was recalling old sayings, old ways of using language, ‘swear down’, ‘I’m not being funny, mate’, ‘at the end of the day’ (not all of these made the final edit, but at one point they were all in there). The poem is not a pretty poem, but it was liberating to write in a vernacular that was so essentially us, ours, that felt so much like I was speaking to Helena again, like, really.  Our kind of ‘girl-speak’ was so rooted in a specific place and time. 

AH: I love that. Going further with the idea of ‘girl-speak’, and the collective, you work with experiences you identify as not having happened to you personally, but that open to larger themes.  In ‘Helena’, the speaker is witness to Helena coming round to their mutual friend Tiff’s flat, after being attacked by the bouncer at the nightclub where she worked. The language is raucous, high-energy girl-talk, that takes a turn for the nasty.  Helena is speaking.  Scarlett is Tiff’s daughter

The er/a and i/e/y rhymes punctuate the sonic patterning of this section with groan and cry sounds, without compromising the spoken feel of the language, or the heartbreak-humour with which Helena creates a retrospective shield for herself against the rape, which the reader is left to imagine.  You translated the Brazilian poet and artist Adelaide Ivánova for a chapbook with the PTC last year, whose work denounces crimes of sexual violence.   I wondered if this collaboration informed your work of witness in ‘Helena’, and if you could say something about the poem?

RL:   I don’t think until I read your question that I truly understood how influential actually translating Adelaide Ivánova’s work was for me.  In being invited by The Poetry Translation Centre to translate Adelaide’s work from the literals, and in being introduced to her when she came to the UK to launch and tour the collection, I was influenced, massively. I was moved by her activism, in life and on the page. You’ve made me think about what the act of translation does spiritually; to read someone else’s work, to be deep inside it, to experience and walk around in it.  When I’m translating, I always feel like I’m in somebody else’s room.  I look around this room trying to work out who this is, essentially, where things go, trying to understand why things are placed where they are placed, and I can, as the translator, move some things around, ask questions, understand.  But it’s Adelaide’s room, her creation and design.  When translating I aim not to rearrange too heavily, small touches, to extend my room metaphor, I suppose quarter-turn certain plants towards the window, smooth the covers, plump some pillows.  Being in Adelaide’s room, the rooms of her poems and experiencing each of them was a joy and a challenge and a privilege.

AH: And they have incredibly tough subject matters. 

RL: Incredibly tough, incredibly brave and dangerous too.  Working with Adelaide probably did give me the permission, however subconsciously, to write ‘Helena.’  

AH: Because it is a very tough poem.  You give the story of the rape very clearly.  It’s a horrible rape.  We know it wasn’t the narrator’s experience.  That’s made quite clear.  It seemed to me something that was very important to get on the page.  Rape is something that people do to each other, and the person to whom it’s done often feels so bad that they tend not to talk about it.  That silence makes it more possible for the crime to continue. 

RL: Absolutely.  It was a tough poem to write – alleviated only by the fact that I kept going back to writing in our voices, and that did alleviate it in a way, because the way we used to speak, in a rush, all at once, angry and sad and laughing at once felt true, and like taking something back, her voice, her clear-as-a-bell voice.  That’s what I think I wanted to get to with ‘Helena’.  When things happened like that, we didn’t have the exact language, but we knew how to speak to each other, we knew how to tell each other things – but no power to actually help each other.  Now, god forbid, if a friend of mine came and said something like this to me, I would be so better equipped, even in terms of language, and then other things thereafter, to be able to offer assistance to that friend if she wanted it. We didn’t, as girls.  We glossed it over, at least in terms of what we said aloud, because we all knew that it was bad, but it was so bad the consequences of doing ‘nothing’ always seemed better than the repercussions of saying ‘something’ to people outside of our circle, outside of our experience and language. 

AH: As human beings, when tough things happen to us, sometimes we shut them down to some extent, because we are at a point in our life when that’s the only safe thing to do.  Helena said what happened, and then she took the shower.  She was supported, and she took the shower, and washed it away.  That’s an honest account of how we cope with very difficult things.  

RL: I think about being that age again, with my girls, my sisters, my old friends or just other girls I went to school with.  Really horrific things happened. Regularly.  You’d come back to school on a Monday morning and each Monday there would be some standardly horrific story of what had happened at one party or another at the weekend, or at a bus stop, or in a local park.  The frequency of these violences done unto us girls almost normalized it. It’s so heartbreaking to remember. 

AH: I grew up in the late 70’s, early 80’s.  I was reading Rebecca Solnit’s memoir, Recollections of my Non-Existence, which has just come out.  She describes that omnipresent violence and threat of violence so strongly.  I thought It wasn’t only me.   She was having that experience on the West Coast of the US, in San Francisco. She described that predatory environment, being followed home, feeling that she was permanently on verge of being raped.  She managed to escape rape, but some of her friends didn’t.

RL: This is not even a long time ago.  So, it makes me glad to measure at least how far we’ve come in terms of speaking out about these.  I think we have to be careful, or I do, not to be angry with our previous selves, because that was the world only moments ago, and it was the world that made those conditions, not us.  

AH: Often when I have written about something difficult, I do a short Buddhist meditation around self-compassion. I never think I need to.  But then I do it – and I feel so much less bad.  I have to keep going back and being kind to that girl who I was.   

RL:    We had to survive in the only ways we thought were available and possible, right? 

AH:    I think a lot of tough things that happen to us as children, as adolescents, as young women, we seal away inside ourselves.  We build protective tissue around them.  At a later point, we often have to deal with them.  When you’re young, you’ve got such a strong instinct just to survive, that you keep going through it somehow. I think you have a different level of life energy at that point, that drives you forward. It changes as we get older.  That’s my sense of looking back on the hair-raising escapades of my teenage self, operating in a menacing world. 

RL:  Definitely. 

This is the point at which Rachel Long and I felt there was a natural break.   In the conversation that follows, which was all part of our single meeting, we talk about how you can respond with agency and creativity to very difficult experiences, and the ways in which this process of articulation can become of itself reclamatory and healing. 

AH: This seems the right place to ask you about the sequence of five or so poems within My Darling from the Lions, recording the sexual abuse of a young girl child by one of the minsters in the church she attends with her family, and the aftermath of this crime in her subsequent life.  Because of my own background of having been sexually abused as a child, these made a great impression on me from when I first heard you perform them live.  The first of these is ‘Night Vigil’, which is the third poem in the collection. It begins in a child-adult voice “I was a choir-girl. Real angel/ – lightning faced and giant for my age.”  There is tongue in cheek wonder at its midnight start – “a time too exciting to fathom. / How the minute and the hour stood to attention!”   The miracle stops there, however, as the rest of the poem falls down through time, to an ending its beginning could never have anticipated: 

During the Three Members’ Prayer, my sister fell asleep
under a chair, so she never knew

how I sang.  Or how I fell silent
when the evangelist with smiling eyes said in his pulpit voice,

Here, child. 
Had she woken, I would have told her Sleep, sleep!

so, she’d never know Smiling Eyes
also meant teeth,

or that he had blown candles for hands,
with which he led me down an incensed corridor,

and I followed. 

           While this is a very difficult experience to take on board, you generate protection for the reader and creator alike through the child’s desire to shelter her sister, and through the way the imagery lets what happened be apprehended step by step.  The “blown candles” and “incensed corridor” are simultaneously sacred and penetrative.  We have in that moment the choice to understand the simultaneous desecration of an act of faith, and a child’s body.  

       Workshops I have taken with you instigate an alchemy of deep, internal self-liberation. ‘Free-writing’, along with engaging with secondary sources, such as dreams or artworks, help generate less ‘managed’ creative responses?  Was that how you put ‘Night Vigil’ together? How did it come into being kind of creatively?

RL: Maybe I should keep a kind of diary or a log of how each poem was written because I find it really hard to remember them.  

AH: Like dreams. 

RL: They are like dreams, that’s perfect Alice. Yeah, they are like my dreams. I can’t remember how I got there.  Even sometimes with the edits, if I was to go back and find a real old version of that poem, I wouldn’t remember it.  The only thing I do remember is that this poem was much longer.  At that time, I was on the Jerwood-Arvon mentoring scheme with Caroline Bird.  She was the first person to read that poem.  As I said, I was grateful for the way Caroline read me.  I had never written like this before. I had never framed such a peak experience. She didn’t do that awkward thing that people do, she read it as an artwork, or a draft of a work of art, and did not focus on the ‘apparently personal’ experience in the poem, but the poem as an experience itself. I’m trying to recall now, and I think part of what made the early draft longer is that it continued with the girl down the corridor. Caroline asked, why don’t you end it here?” — end at the girl following the man down the corridor, the poem becoming the corridor. In this way, the reader experiences it as the little girl, and becomes the girl, walking, ever-walking down that corridor with that man.  The corridor then also becomes a metaphor for how the experience goes on, haunts you in many ways, forever. 

AH: Exactly, and it’s much scarier. 

RL: Much scarier, yes.   And then she went “whoosh” with the pen, and she was like What do you think? And it kind of made me go eurgh like in my stomach.   I was like yes; this is what it felt like.  As a poem that was the closest and most fitting frame for it.   If you end a poem in a place where you have refrained from summing it up or allowing your older voice to come in and intercept it – you leave the reader in freefall.  

AH: That is an amazing answer.  It’s just a stunning, stunning poem.  I heard you perform it live, and really longed for the time it would be published, and I could read it on the page because it felt so important to me personally.

RL: Is that when we met that night, was that in the Poetry Cafe with Kaveh Akbah?

AH: I think so, yeah. 

RL: It was so beautiful, and you were so generous afterwards, thank you. 

AH: It was just so impactful for me.  I had a hunger to be able to have those poems on the page.  I knew they would make my life feel different – and they did.  I’m really serious about that.  There are many reasons why this collection has been important to me, but I hungered to be able to read those poems.  

The next poem but one after ‘Night Vigil’ is ‘The Clean’.  It starts out sounding like it’s ‘about’ bulimia – “Imagine/ eating all the snow/ you’ve ever wanted/ in one sitting, / not having to pay for it.”  But then, after adding in “avocado”, “toast butter/ cascading your fingers” and “pink prosecco”, it morphs into something sadder.  Or maybe just more specific, if you take the view that many eating disorders stem from something the individual cannot stomach. The second stanza reveals:

I know a place 
that is snow falling
from the Artex ceiling
into a room 
you will never return to.
A promise 
piling like cable knit.
4-ply snow-day snow. 

Some of the biggest things I write about are things which I had the least control over, but which have impacted me very deeply.   Following on from ‘Night Vigil’, this room full of falling snow feels like a frozen, traumatic moment which is continuously happening, but cannot at the same time be properly felt.  Does that seem like a fair reading to you, and would you be able to say something about these first two stanzas?  

RL: I think it’s a stunning reading.  What I wanted to do with ‘The Clean’ was to write about a woman with bulimia, and then in the second stanza, perhaps trace through the colour as it was, through this whiteness.  But then in the same sense, trying to walk through the colour into why this woman is kneeling at this bowl of whiteness and expelling.  Without wanting to say explicitly, because I don’t even know if that is necessarily explicit even to my understanding, but to wonder whether that because of sexual abuse, in childhood in that snow room, as in that frozen room, whether that is the reason, or a contributing reason, to why she has bulimia. 

Is there something about her body that would be less, have been less desirable to someone else had she looked different? Had she been in a different body, if her body did something different, would that be able to change the outcome? This is what you said about lack of control. Bulimia is very much about what can and cannot be controlled.  

AH: This is a generalization, but ever since the sexual abuse began when I was a child, I have always struggled with IBS.  It is as if my body wants to throw things out.  The snow room isn’t the end of ‘The Clean’, though.  The final verse begins “I know a place where/ the sad can’t go.” Now, expulsion becomes a political act as the speaker instructs the protagonist “Go on, baby, give it back/ to whence it came. / Dispel three dinosaur dinners/ like forgiveness, / like it never happened.” The subject is told “Girl, you can be new, / surrender it all/ into one bowl. This, / your hollow.”   The suggestion is that voiding, and expelling, are also creative acts, because resisting and rejecting what was forced in without consent.  In this context, is it fair to think the holding pages of the collection make a kind of bowl, and create opportunities for restitution?  Not just by vomiting forth, but by expressing things that were silenced at lots of levels.  

RL: Yes.

AH: It seems to me that the turn in the poem was crucial.  That’s why I wanted to put the question into two halves, that turn into restitution and beauty, without denying.

RL:  Thank you, Alice. An act of restitution and freedom from your own body. You can be free of it.  An action can be erased.  You can float above it.

AH: Speaking it and putting it in words is part of that process of creative expulsion.

RL: Yeah, absolutely.  You have reminded me. I always did feel like that –   free and light.

AH: I am really interested in how we make it through and how we make it through partly creatively as well.  Rather than just casting people as being without agency, also looking at the ways in which we claim ourselves.  Bulimia is widespread through society.  Many people experience who are not necessarily artists.  There is a sort of restitutory justice in the body somehow.  

Suggesting that maybe something has shifted, and become freer as a result of this act of voiding and voicing, the next poem, ‘Open’, moves from a place of potential trauma to one of freedom:

Open

This morning, she told me
I sleep with my mouth open
and my hands in my hair.
I say, What, Tiff, like screaming?
She says, No, Rach, like abandon.

It is one of a sequence of poems, all titled ‘Open’, that link and orchestrate the collection, changing small but significant details with each iteration.   You said in your Forwards interview with Kim Moore that Don Patterson encouraged you to develop this strand.  I wondered if you could say something more about it?

RL: I was speaking to the brilliant Nuar Alsadir about dreams for a radio programme.  She said something like, I liked the ‘Open’ sequence, I liked how they show these flashes of awakenings, these flashes of desire. She thought that they showed the waker’s unconscious desires.  More and more with this book, post-publication, I discover new things in it. Oftentimes by readers – who have far more insight than me into what I have apparently ‘done’.  Don Paterson really did encourage them significantly, I think originally there were three, but he suggested weaving them throughout the whole first section of the book. As soon as he suggested it, I was like, of course! It made poetic sense, narrative sense. Don is an extraordinary editor. I think that increasing my explorations into that ‘Open’ sequence opened up what the whole book concerns and interrogates, intimacy, desire, dreams, the material and immaterial, appearance and reality. 

AH: I make all my work completely blind like a mole digging for the surface, with no clue really as to what I am doing.   You find out later.  The news catches up with you.

RL: I like that, like moles.  

AH: We have very, very powerful paddles for digging up through the earth, as far I’m concerned. I have to work blind.  I can’t just sit down and do it.  It has to come to me. 

RL: Same.

AH:  ‘8’ is another poem which continues ‘The Clean’s’ process of marking the white page.  Its act of witnessing is also the relocation of a moment of private, concealed horror to a public externalized space.  As with ‘Night Vigil’, the speaker moves back and forward between being a bewildered, uncomprehending child to a more knowing adult.   So, readers can have a sense of how the poem works, I’m going to quote the first section in full:

8

‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’
– Psalm 51:7

this memory can’t skip       it hops
on one leg     the other     making
the buckles on my mary janes
bounce then clang      cute shackles     my feet
will hopscotch-land on 8       wash me 
at 8 I can’t tell time      i’m led
through school and play      tea then bed at
8      i can’t read faces       tell hands
to stop      unfreeze my grin      that room
his weight       wash me and I shall be 
the girls at school call that place mini
but mum says it’s a front bottom

Later “time decides itself   till i’m pressed/ apple    against that wall   that sunday/ that school”. The voice of the poem is somewhere between a playground skipping song and a crime scene report, with “wash me” breaking through over and over again like a child’s plea to undo the moment when “touched/ by the hand of his clock i am/ instantly older”. 

While the narrative is devastating, sonically, this is a very lovely poem, especially when you perform it live, partly because of the way the rhymes and half-rhymes dance through the lines.  I wondered whether choosing to tell ‘8’ in this way – weaving the everyday words the child might have used into the story it is suggested that she was unable to tell – is a form of restitution and reclamation of the child’s self and innocence, conferring a retrospective agency through beauty, and as well as through witness?

RL: The language had to be the language of the girl at eight. The lines all being of eight syllables was because I had the image of the girl  playing hopscotch, the beat, the rhythm, the form came from that.  Even like the lower-casing of the letters.  I wanted it to look and feel on the page as if she is writing and/or telling it.

AH: Because it is the only lower case i/ first person in the collection?

RL: It felt right for this poem. She has been made less of a capital I, rendered less of a person by another, a big I. 

AH: But it’s also like a sort of crime scene report.  I mean we get what went on.  She speaks, but she is also spoken for by the poem.  That to me is its power.  She stays small but the poem is actually pretty hardcore in what it delivers.  That’s an amazing achievement that you can do both at the same time.  

RL: Thank you Alice.  Do you know, it also came out of, Kathryn Maris’s brilliant Poetry School class which we were both students of at the same time  One week she set us an assignment to write in the intonation or rhythm of a prayer.  What I handed in the week after was not very good, but with much longer to think about it and let it ruminate and ‘come out’ in its own time, I do think that exercise was the catalyst for ‘8’  

AH: Some of her prompts were very valuable to me.  I did a really good Poetry School workshop with Shivanee Ramlochan online at the end of 2019. There are some poems that I very very definitely have no intention of ever writing.  Those are the ones that it is useful to have prompts for –  because otherwise  I will strenuously protect myself from writing them for decades.  A prompt can knock out that  little peg that you have blocked into the hole.  Then the poem pops out.  

    Thinking about healing, wholeness, and restitution, are central to the beginning of the second section, titled ‘A Lineage of Wigs’. The first poem, ‘Orb’, floats like a rainbow soap bubble of a praise poem.  It calls to mind some of Selima Hill’s brevity, but takes it to new places:

Orb

Mum combs her auburn ‘fro up high.
So high it’s an orb. 
Everyone wants to – but cannot – touch it. 

The “auburn ‘fro” is an angel’s halo vested in human form, and an emblem of unbroken-ness.  Is that ‘perfection’ something you wanted to assert and reclaim?

RL: Yes, absolutely.  The word orb changed.   It was crown at first, because in that sequence there is the image of the queen arrowed on a sofa.

AH: Yeah, I remember that. 

RL: It did sort of look like that. I think to me when I was younger, looking up at my mother .  I’m really enjoying the way that you have read and seen the poem.  That was exactly what I wanted to do with it.  I’m so glad you have read and seen it like that. 

AH: It felt like a really important reset point.  We go from a tough poem to a place of wholeness and beauty and unbrokenness. The last question I’d like to ask you is about the title and the cover, which shows a young Black girl in a candy striped dress, with her back to the reader, looking inwards towards the poems that lie ahead.  Can I just ask you about the title?

RL: My Darling from the Lions is taken from Psalm 35. ‘Rescue my soul from their destruction, my darling from the lions.’  It is a ’ Psalm that  I heard a lot growing up, either hearing it recited in church, or by my mother from her bedroom, or we were instructed to say it, for protection or for strength.   The collection wasn’t always called My Darling…  Even up to a year before publication it had a different working title. But, for some reason, I must have read Psalm 35 again or seen something of it, or was reminded of it, and by this verse particularly and it was as if it was the first time I’d read it,    I was like that’s so beautiful.  A darling for a soul. There is so much rich and stunning language in the Bible,  the poetry of it all. .   When I read that verse again, I thought, this is what I am trying to get to with the collection.  The girls and the women particularly are threatened by different  lions.   I wanted it to be a sort of a call for help and protection from something higher, whether that be God, or art. I wanted the collection to pose the question: can the spirit survive life intact? I also love the idea of referring to oneself as a darling.  You can,  even when something ugly has happened to you,   begin to love yourself enough to refer to yourself as you would another woman or another girl. I would call Tiff or Helena darlings. Hey, my loves, my darlings. 

AH: That’s absolutely beautiful.   I think that’s the perfect place at which to end.  It’s been an amazing privilege to talk about this extraordinary book.   I have waited a long time to be able to hold these poems.  I’m so grateful that they are out in the world – and that they will be coming out in America as well with Tin House.  My Darling from the Lions is a wonderful book to read – and will  change how people think.  Thank you Rachel Long. 

RL: Thank you so very much, Alice. 

Rachel is at @rachelnalong on twitter.

Rachel Long’s debut collection, My Darling from the Lions was published by Picador in August 2020. It was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and The Costa Book Award 2020. Rachel is the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for women of colour. 

You can order My Darling from the Lions https://www.waterstones.com/book/my-darling-from-the-lions/rachel-long/9781529045161

Rachel Long will be appearing with Amima Jama and Sarah Lasoye as part of Octavia Collective : Creativity in Solitude on 25 February 7-8pm at Goldsmiths CCA. Tickets are here https://goldsmithscca.art/event/octavia-collective-x-goldsmiths-cca-creativity-in-solitude-a-reading/

‘Unfamiliarity, the state of being unknown, is not the same as non-existence. Migrant nurses exist. We do exist in this world. But somehow we are not known.’ –Romalyn Ante and Pascale Petit perform and speak with alice hiller about the work witness in their new collections, Antiemetic for Homesickness and Tiger Girl.

Romalyn Ante by S. Chadawong.

Poet Andrea Gorman spoke out at Joe Biden’s inauguration against the force in America that would rather ‘shatter our nation rather than share it’.  In her stunning poem, ‘The Hill We Climb’, she stated instead ‘there is always light…./If only we’re brave enough to be it.’ Anyone listening will have felt the restitutionary power of her words, written and delivered, as she stated, by “a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.’ 

Globally, one of the most necessary questions today is around who gets heard – and who does not.  It has been at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is equally central to the legacies of empires round the world, as Satham Sanghera argues in his powerful new study, Empireland, and to our relationship to our environment and the fair distribution of its resources.

Being heard is also crucial in poetry, as two new collections by Pascale Petit and Romalyn Ante remind us. Pascale Petit’s Tiger Girl draws the life of her half-Indian grandmother, born in secret to her great-grandfather’s serving maid, together with conditions in and around the Tiger reserves of Central India.  Romalyn Ante’s Antiemetic for Homesickness explores more recent experiences of migration to the UK, and working within the NHS, against the healing, nurturing background of the Filipino culture which her family brought with them, and which continues to shape their understanding of themselves in the world. 

I had the great privilege of hosting a performance and conversation between Pascale Petit and Romalyn Ante, towards the end of 2021, with a very enthusiastic live audience.  Immediately afterwards, coming up to the holiday period, with infection levels rising steeply, and restrictions changing all the time, was not the right time to share the recording.

But now, with the UK, Europe, and much of the rest of the world, in varying degrees of lockdown, and everyone still separated in physical terms from each other, co-experiencing resources such as this conversation seem to be of the utmost importance in maintaining our sense of connectedness with each other as fellow human beings, and as creative artists. 

To maximise accessibility, I have transcribed both my own introduction, and the conversation between the three of us.  To experience the full event, specifically and crucially, Pascale Petit’s and Romalyn Ante’s readings of their poems, please click on either the video or audio links below.  The video link has close captions enabled via Youtube, although you will need to turn these on in the control bar at the bottom right of the screen. Apologies for the occasional surreal spellings.

If you would like to see the texts of the poems, they are available in Tiger Girl and Antiemetic for Homesickness through the buy buttons below. There are also links to some of the published poems on Romalyn Ante’s and Pascale Petit’s websites.

Photo by Brian Fraser

Romalyn Ante Antiemetic for Homesickness

Pascale Petit Tiger Girl

https://youtu.be/V57ZxGbGAQc

Audio Link

alice hiller’s introduction to Pascale Petit and Romalyn Ante, 26 November 2020:

After a rough year and a tough November, it’s a real pleasure to welcome you to this act of creative community.  We’re here to celebrate the deep, healing play of Pascale Petit’s and Romalyn Ante’s brilliant new collections, Tiger Girl and Antiemetic for Homesickness.  Both Pascale and Romalyn are poets of courage, as well as of distinction.  

In a week when we learnt that the UK’s foreign aid budget commitment will be broken, and while so many vulnerable voices are being excluded from the global conversation, Pascale and Romalyn give witness to a wider range of experiences than many poets.  They also help us ask ourselves and our governments, whose foot is being kept on whose head?

Writing about life in the Philippines, Welsh gardens, and the stunning nature reserves of central India, Pascale and Romalyn move our minds to places of delight – even as they remind us that the world is still far from being a fair or kind place for many human and creaturely lives, and the fragile ecosystems and economies which sustain them. 

Our format tonight will be that Romalyn will read from Antiemetic for Homesickness, published by Chatto, followed by Pascale from Tiger Girl, published by Bloodaxe. Afterwards, I’ll open  a conversation between them.  

Before the readings, I’d like to say a few words about Pascale and Romalyn. Winner of the Ondaatje Prize, and inaugural Laurel Prize for Mama Amazonica, amongst very many other distinguished awards, Pascale Petit is also a radically empowering supporter of new voices in poetry  through her mentoring, teaching and judging, as Romalyn and I can both testify.  

Over eight collections, Pascale’s poems have brought an artist’s eye to the Amazon river and its rainforest, the arid landscapes of the Languedoc, and the markets and historic sites of Paris including her beloved Jardin des Plantes.  Tiger Girl, from which she’ll be reading shortly, gives us one of the most life-filled portraits of a woman of colour, and of mature years, that I have read in a long time.  It should be bought for that reason alone, aside from its many other treasures. 

Moving between between continents, Tiger Girl documents Pascale’s time growing up in Wales with her fierce half-Indian grandmother – who took in washing, told fortunes and made her garden a canvas equal to any artist’s.   The poems also respond to Pascale’s experiences on recent trips to nature reserves in Central India.  Celebrating the magnificent wild creatures who inhabit those parks, Pascale also registers the damage to them by poverty-stricken poachers, from whose social class her Indian great-grandmother, her great-grandfather’s maid, would have come. 

Mentored like me by Pascale under the Jerwood Arvon scheme, which brought the three of us together, Romalyn shares with Pascale an intuitive sense of the mythic residing within the everyday.  She is similarly the recipient of many distinguished awards, including the Poetry London Prize, the Manchester Poetry Prize, the Primers Prize, and the Creative Futures Platinum Award. 

Having grown up in the Philippines until she was sixteen, before coming to Wolverhampton, and subsequently training as a NHS nurse and then counsellor, Romalyn conveys how “the wind has the ears of a wild boar” and explains why you have to turn your shirt inside out to find your way home, whether that home is warmed by the “smoke of a Brummie accent”, or cooled by the night breeze.  

Antiemetic for Homesickness moves compellingly between the landscapes, and foods, and folklore of the Philippines – and life as a nurse within the NHS, while living in the Black Country.  Exploring what it can mean to make the UK your home,  Romalyn also witnesses the racism to which so many people who come here have been subjected, and how they have made strong, creative lives notwithstanding the challenges faced. 

The co-founder of  the wonderful harana poetry, for poets working with English as a parallel or additional language, like Pascale, Romalyn is both an outstanding poet, and  a key figure for the expansion of the possible in poetry, both through her own work, and her support for others.  She also gives us life from a nurse’s point of view, as never before, another reason to buy her essential Antiemetic for Homesickness. It’s my great pleasure now to hand over to Romalyn Ante.

[Romalyn Ante and Pascale Petit introduce and read their poems, available via the Youtube or Audio links.]

AH: That was fantastic Pascale.  Thank you so much.  It’s amazing to hear the two of you reading together. I’m going to ask you a few questions because I’ve lived with, loved and thought about your collections since they were published.   The first question is about making  worlds visible that are known to you, but not to your readers?  Pascale, I’m thinking both about your poems about wildlife in Indian National Parks, but also about your poems about life in rural Wales? Romalyn, I’m thinking about your poems about rural life in the Philippines, but also about the day to day life of a nurse in the NHS?  We can really feel the worlds you both have made in your poems.  I wondered if that was an  important part of making them?

RA: Thank you Alice. That’s a very important question. In the UK Filipinos are the second highest immigrant NHS staff, next to Indians. In the US the highest number of immigrant nurses are Filipinos. Most recently, specially during this pandemic, the West has been really dependent on migrant nurses but little is known about us, our own narratives, our own lives.  I feel that mostly people only see us on the surface without knowing our pasts and our own tales, why we came here.   I have people commenting to me ‘So you’re Filipino.  If you’re Filipino, where are you from?  Are you from Korea then?’  They don’t even know what a Filipino is.  There are also some readers’ comments.  You shouldn’t really read GoodReads comments.  But I do.  I read my reviews because I want to improve. There are some comments, ‘I don’t know.  I can’t relate.’ But for me the truth is unfamiliarity, the state of being unknown, is not the same as non-existence.  Migrant nurses exist. We do exist in this world. But somehow we are not known and what puzzles me is why is the United Kingdom or the West so dependent on a sector of people that has so little voice, and that has never been heard of.  And this is the reason why I wrote this.  To really show them not only the physical place we came from, but also to show them our narrative, what propels us to do this. 

AH: That’s a fantastic answer. Thank you so much. 

PP. Thank you. Roma that was fantastic. With Tiger Girl, I wanted to honour my grandmother, and write a book almost of love poems, you know, and acknowledge that she was the daughter of a maid and she was taken in by her father’s white family and she was very poor when I lived with her in Wales.  We didn’t have indoor toilets or running water.  Really quite poor.  Children don’t notice that. What I did notice was an enormous garden and lots of animals, and the incredible world of the garden which she worked in all the time, and which I worked in for her as well. That’s one half of the book. The other is where she came from. The story of the tiger, and my wanting to see tigers, and to see this wildness that she came from, that she’d encountered as a baby, and the terrible realisation that that wildness is so so threatened and endangered.  Even the tigers that are safe are fighting each other. Daughters kill mothers and so on because the forests are too small for them. Even though the tourists are only allowed in 20% of the National Parks. There’s still not enough space. They have enormous territories.  Having seen the tigers, and seen how – I’ve seen wild jaguars as well in the Amazon rainforest – to see what they are like, in their territories in the wild, is so different from seeing them in zoos.  Of course there are far more tigers in zoos than there are in India.  There’s about 2,800 in India, and only a handful elsewhere. So that was the world I was trying to bring forward.  

AH:  Most of us never get to those reserves, to see them through someone’s eyes, to see them emotionally, rather than just on a wildlife documentary, is incredibly powerful. I really appreciated that. My next question is  you both work within your collections with a powerful and healing female figure.   For Pascale, it is your grandmother. For Romalyn, it is your nurse mother.  Did it feel important to honour the ways in which we as women can nurture each other?

RA: Yes, definitely.  In Antiemetic for Homesickness the mother is the one who leaves to provide a better life for her family.  So if you think about it, the mother is away from the very essence of being a mother, which is to take care of her own children. And I think by shedding light on that fact, I also needed to shed light on the fact that in leaving there could also be healing. So even though the mother has left, as a sacrifice almost, she still heals the socio-economic problems that her family has.  She still heals people abroad. She heals people where she works.  That’s incredibly important for me, not only as a nurse, but also as a daughter of a migrant nurse.  I feel very similar to Pascale, writing about the voicing of the poet is really healing the world that is full of annihilation.  

PP: When I wasn’t with my grandmother, I was in various homes and things in France.  If I was with my parents, it was a bad experience. I eventually went to live with my mother when I was a teenager, when my grandmother kind of threw me out, which she had to do, she was tired, she had a teenager on her hands.  But my mother was severely mentally ill, and couldn’t really look after me, and was a malevolent force for me. I had a malevolent maternal figure there, so it was wonderful for me to have a chance in this book to write about a really benevolent figure, who not only was benevolent, but was a very powerful person. She was known as the local witch where we lived. As a good witch, but she was. And she also had an extraordinary second sight. I did have the experience of being with her and her telling me about ghosts.  For example she saw the postman who lived down our lane.  For example she said ‘I’ve just seen him walking down our lane and he said hello to me as if everything was normal but his feet were floating off, weren’t touching the ground, so I knew he was a ghost.  I knew he had just died.’ And he had. So there were always those kind of experiences going on. She also used to tell fortunes.  People in the village used to come.  The vicar and the doctor would come to have their fortunes told. I would go with her as well to fairs to see her tell fortunes. 

AH: Looking back, women have been disempowered for centuries. It’s really important that we make work than honours female power, female goodness.  It seems to me a very positive thing to do. But at the same time these healing figures work within very injurious and injured societies and you both show them as being capable of deeply wounding those who are dependent on their care and provision.    Pascale, you explore your grandmother returning you to your mother.    Romalyn, you look at the impacts on you of being separated from your mother when she goes to nurse abroad, and not seeing her for several years.   In each case, the wounding behaviour is driven by larger socio-economic pressures, and the vulnerable positions which these women occupy.  The fact that your mother left the Philippines to give you and your siblings a better life, Romalyn.  It was the only way she could materially improve your lives.  Your grandmother had very limited resources Pascale. We’re now talking in the pandemic about the impact of material strain, of poverty, on families.  Was it also important to show that in difficult circumstances even loving people can in injurious ways, through no real volition of their own.  Or does that feel too challenging?  

PP: It can’t be challenging. You need to write the truth.  For me, I was thirteen. So the injury wasn’t being moved from my grandmother. I was still a child.  She was still the best thing that ever happened.  The real wound was not being allowed to grieve her loss, when I lived with my mother.  That was the wound.  I never realised that I wasn’t allowed to grieve.  I just knew it was a subject that mustn’t be mentioned.  I wasn’t allowed to grieve for my grandmother, who I saw as my mother, because my mother couldn’t bear that. 

RA:  I think what you said a while ago Alice really resonated with me, when you said we left because we were propelled by socio-economic circumstances.  See, even though in Antiemetic for Homesickness, the left-behind-child was left by her nurse mother, this story is not unique to me. It happens to a lot of children, millions of children around the world. Your parents don’t even need to go abroad for you to be a left-behind-child.  In China, parents go to richer cities to help financially with the family.  My mother left because she really had no choice. But then again, she made a choice.  Her only choice was not having any choice.  She left knowing that the people she would leave behind would be hurt.  That knowledge hurt her, I’m sure, in return.  For me it’s not just me who is wounded, it’s the mother who is wounded. It’s very timely and relevant to this day, especially when I see my colleagues, or my mother even, who has been going all around the country helping in the pandemic front line, my other Filipino colleagues who could choose not to go home, as their homes across the street, so they don’t put their children at risk of Covid. So mothers have always been leaving their children, and this story has always been happening. But then again, it’s not the children who get hurt. The wounded one is also the mother.  And I think that’s what Antiemetic for Homesickness is also about. 

AH:  That really comes across. It’s very important.  I see we’re coming to the end of the time.  I have one final question.  While neither of you holds back from speaking about difficult subjects, both collections give the gift to their readers of being able to abide in beauty.   Romalyn, you let us glimpse the pre-colonised life, and warmth of community, in the Philippines.  Pascale, your work gives itself deeply to the natural world.  Was that an important thing to do, to give the gift of beauty, when the world is facing so much difficulty?

PP:  Absolutely.  You can’t write about the threats to the natural world without showing why, without trying to show – it’s a real challenge – the awe and the wonder of it. That’s something I’ve always felt.   You have to show what it is you’re trying to protect.  What the non-human world is.  I keep getting these flashes which are images of the planet without one human life on it, without animals, and that’s like hell.  I don’t want that to happen.  But I need to show the beauty and the awe. The wonder of tigers. 

AH: Absolutely.  Stay with the programme Pascale! Romalyn?

RA:  I echo what Pascale has said.  It’s very true to me.  It’s also one of the reasons, when Chatto asked me what kind of cover I wanted, I really wanted it to be colourful, with some kind of insignias of the Philippines, the sun bird, the abaniko flower.  For me these beautiful images serve as anchors, and guides, that will lead us back to healing, and perhaps to hope.  It’s very similar to what we hope for now. We look for that beauty. When we can go again to our favourite coffee shops again, or we can hug our parents again, or meet up with our friends.  I think that’s very important to look for beauty, because beauty gives hope. 

AH: I think that’s the perfect note on which to end.  I’m going to thank everyone who’s joined us. I’m going to especially thank Pascale and Romalyn for these two brilliant books. The season of gifting is coming upon us. These have to be top of your list. This has been a stunning evening.  Thank you so much.  Everybody, buy the books. Thank you so much. 

Romalyn Ante’s website is here.

Pascale Petit’s website is here.

Romalyn Ante Antiemetic for Homesickness

Pascale Petit Tiger Girl