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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.’

Linda France

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.


‘These poems serve as markers through the process of grieving personal losses, which, because of the nature of loss, become universal. They are also very much a celebration of life.’

Sally Barker, The North

‘The core of the book is an extraordinarily brave and painful sequence recording the journey through grief which Phethean travelled after her partner, the composer Keith Morris, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2005.’

Andy Croft, Morning Star, 16 November 2009.

‘The handling of these bereavements, the skillful restraint of words which let the anger and pain just shimmer through, is breathtaking.’

Valerie Laws, Mslexia, April 2010

‘There are, as you would imagine, a lot of memories; they are sharp and beautifully observed. [...] The best poems are about moments, which, while specific, have a universal appeal.’

Keith Richmond, Tribune, 11 December 2009

‘These are exquisitely formed poems, which show a consummate degree of craftsmanship . . .thoughtful and moving lyrical poems about love, anger and loss’

Julia Gaze, Assent 64/3

To buy this book:

Breath costs £7.00 and was published in October 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-906601-11-9

Ellen Phethean

Photo © Annie DeCourcy

Ellen Phethean is a sound artist, poet, playwright and editor, and co-founded Diamond Twig Press with Julia Darling. She spent 2003-04 as Writer in Residence at Seven Stories where she wrote Wall (Smokestack), a teen novel in poems. Following on from Wall, Hom is an unpublished novel for teenagers about a 15 year old lad called Frankie from the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne, facing conflict with himself, his brother and his father. It’s unusual in that it is written in poems but it uses dialogue, monologue and dialect and is meant to read like mini installments of a novel. It’s also unusual because it is being posted in installments to a blog.

Her poetry is included in Sauce (Bloodaxe) and has been widely broadcast and anthologised, but this is her first full-length collection. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and teaches Creative Writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Newcastle.

In August 2009 she was commissioned by Gala Theatre, Durham to write a new play for the Mystery Cycle, performed in May 2010. Along with her 22 year old Musician/rapper son Fred, she proposed Cain and Abel in Hiphop style. Cain and Abel was a triumph - all the dancers and actors upped their performance 200% and all the technical wizardry worked. Ellen says: “My son Fred and I wrote the words, and my son Johnny created all the music - we are the Von Rap family. We hope to perform it again at a festival or suitable venue.”

She also teaches Writing for Children to adults at The North East Centre for Lifelong Learning and runs workshops. Ellen writes the Diamond Twig Diary and likes to keep everyone waiting for it.

The Diamond Twig web site has an extended version of these details.

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Web site design by Cornwell Internet. Page last updated on 26th September 2012.