Cover: Rowing Home, 1890 by Winslow Homer (1836-1910), private collection / The Bridgeman Art Gallery
‘These poems occupy the imaginative space that settles around the arc of a life asking to be understood. In its focus on death and loss, Breath is a celebration of the fullness of life. It marks time like music – from the retrospective staccato of ‘before’ to the tentative, opening crescendo of ‘after’. A song to a city, this island and the sea that circles it.’
In two short months in 2005, Ellen Phethean’s life was brought to a halt. In April she lost her close friend and long-time collaborator Julia Darling to breast cancer; then in June, her husband, composer Keith Morris, and close friend musician Joe Scurfield were killed in a hit-and-run incident. In despair and turmoil, all she could do was write: to make sense of the past and to come to terms with the present.
These poems chart the course of the last few years, reflecting on childhood, family life, the cultural landscape of Newcastle upon Tyne and how it all seemed to lead to these events. There is sadness and anger here, but also humour and candid observation. Journeys and water crossings are recurrent themes in poetry that explores love, loss and the life that insists we carry on.
Breath was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award 2009–10. More details can be found on the Coffee House Poetry website.