We found out that Leonard Cohen died this morning
and the world was reminded about poetry
the pale domes of white light
all singing faraway from where we sleep
flame-shadowing gods everywhere
down the Tottenham Court Road
trapped up in treelight
lost in the light of the kitchen
you hold onto me and say
where do they go, the torpedoing shadows that fill the world
where the moon tries to draw closer and touch love,
but doesn't quite make it through the fog.
And how death could be the only way to reunite
and return to music, and find a different kind of peace,
again how the angels must have known already
without the intent of prayers
the long long afterlight
stored up in the day,
shattering the harshness of the blank world.
But still it rains at home.
Like you, poetry still haunts everyone
like the way we brought our baby home from the hospital
all blue and breathed up
covered in traffic, a swaying heaven ship
the new cold in the air of our flat
is gentle, a cradle of ships all resting
making the afterlight command
a nameless world, all static and in us
we all forgot to be homesick
unhurt by the thought of “paradise”,
building empires in our heads, made-up of broken-up light keys,
the way the word ‘key’ is aways rowing forward
pulling us towards the belief of unseen shores
moving us in, and making us mad again
walking near us, playing hell violins
But really moving us closer to our own need for love.
Love which is warred for
safer in the sky
closer to the birds
who know your dreams intimately.
I have woken up in a window
and existed from both sides.
the morning is a train
the afterlife is a horse
Riding, riding, the sky to the sky
looking and pulled up
in the wilderness of the stars that are lit.
Arms wide open, so close
growing into the dark cupboard
a hyacinth stretching
out into the first daylight.
(for Daisy Boyd)
Post-hearted and regretted
we find you already fallen
autumn always kills me
the trees let go silvering fierce
the show is on the ground
the sky is upturned
London is no longer famous
the children are buzzing fingertips
a paper bag of tears named Diana
ceremonial stone walls
cigarette end gasping a golden rope
an arrow of the past
I don’t know how many times we’ve moved house
to find space for dreaming
all of our old letters remain the downpour
unable to disturb the living
Ophelia is in the wind somewhere on the coast
leaving the sand to announce its suffering
the summer before comes back to haunt us
Bunhill Fields undated
the remains of lovers
prepared like a porcelain dinner
always promising and staggering.
Greta Bellamacina featured in Hunger Magazine- photographed by Fenton Bailey all clothing is by John Smedley celebrating her feminist collection "Undammable".
Greta Bellamacina + Lorca in new AW17 Shrimps campaign, images by Oliver Hadlee Pearch
Obsessed with poetry as a young girl and encouraged to put pen to paper by her musician father, it wasn't long before Greta Bellamacina started writing poetry of her own. In 2011, the ex-RADA student released a limited edition collection of poetry entitled Kaleidoscope,and was shortlisted for the Young Poet Laureate of London two years later. Since then her work has been featured in numerous magazines, from Vogue to Interview, Lula to Harper's Bazaar, while in 2013 she edited a collection of poetry called Nature's Jewels, in collaboration with MACK publishers. Presently poetry editor of Champ magazine, Greta has just finished editing A Collection of Contemporary British Love Poetry, in collaboration with Fortnum & Mason, a comprehensive study of the many facets of love, and the feelings we associate with it, featuring work from Wendy Cope, Amy Blakemore and Annie Freud. She is currently working on a collection of poetry with artist/poet Robert Montgomery as well as a project she holds very dear to her heart: saving Britain's libraries. Introducing Greta Bellamacina.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Camden - I think there was a kind of madness of soul growing up around that area.
When did you first become interested in poetry?
My father is a musician and would endlessly play melodies on the piano and encourage me to write the lyrics, but they were always more like poems. I don't think I really became interested in it properly until I was at school - I remember being really drawn to Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan.
Was there a standout poem or poet that made you want to write your own?
Growing up I read a lot of poets like Anne Sexton, Phillip Larkin, and Ted Hughes. I think I was drawn to their open despair, humanity and unapologetic verse. I would also buy CDs just to read the lyrics in the jacket cover - a sort of talking word poetry. But I now feel connected to more metaphysical poets like Alice Oswald and Octavio Paz who have a way of looking at landscape as a continuous home - I am interested in this idea more and more.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Drifting. I interviewed John Cooper Clarke last week for the documentary I am currently making and he mentioned that the "point of a poet is to be idle." I think just kicking things around and being unknowing leads to great inspiration.
What poem do you read when you feel sad?
Over the summer I was shown the poem Free Union, by Surrealist poet André Breton. It starts "My wife whose hair is a brush fire / whose thoughts are summer lighting..."
What's the greatest love poem of all time?
Lovesong, by Ted Hughes. The idea of love being a ghost, which haunts us all to our bones and dreams without a face. I also think Stag's Leap by Sharon Old is an epic love poem to her ex-husband. A brave and muffled account of love - truly beautiful.
How did the Collection of Contemporary British Love Poetry come about?
I was performing at various literary festivals last summer. I ended up ranting about wanting to edit a collection of contemporary British love poems at Port Eliot festival to Ewan Venters one night, as I'd noticed there weren't any. I think we should support and promote contemporary poetry, it seems absurd not too.
Tell me a bit about the Save the British Libraries initiative, how you got involved with it and what it means to you?
Growing up I would always use the local library to study and escape, with its kind of gentle safety. Over the past few years I have been deeply saddened by the cuts that are causing some libraries to shut down. I decided I wanted to make a 30-minute documentary about why we should keep the local British library - and offer some solutions. I have had some amazing support from Stephen Fry to William Sieghart.
Tell me a bit about the poetry book you're doing with Robert Montgomery? Do you write together? If so, how did you reconcile your styles of writing, thinking and working?
We started writing together a while ago and decided our styles seemed to compliment each other. The poems all come back round to the idea of being British, the night buses going round the circus squares of London, the left-over mornings of the week, and the BT privatisation.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
I would say, you've got to be self-published. I think the internet has helped to make poetry more democratic with an open audience. Also I think poetry exists in many different mediums and it's about finding your authentic voice through any one of them.
Do you use the publicity you get from being a model to promote your poetry or do you see both modelling and writing poetry as part of the same creative outlet?
I think fashion, like art and music, are connected to statements. I think you should use all forms of creativity to say something and connect them as much as possible because it challenges the medium.
What are you working on at the moment?
Finishing the documentary. I am about to go up to Scotland to film the first library built in Britain by Scottish miners. Libraries are like churches for people, in all seasons of hell.
Greta Bellamacina began writing poems as an outlet for the quietly raging world inside her head. "As I've gotten older, I feel more compelled to write about the world we live in," she says. "It's a writer's responsibility." The unfair representation of power and a distorted media is something Greta writes about often, notably in the collaborative collection she wrote with her husband, the artist and poet Robert Montgomery, Points For Time In the Sky.
Her most recent book Perishing Tame questions identity: "What it means to be female, to live in a world that still uses the terms like 'others'. I wrote a lot of poems about the refugee crisis."
As a means of supporting and nurturing other poets Robert and Greta set up New River Press. All poets receive 50% of profits from their sales. Both naturally drawn to the unheard and surreal, they wanted to celebrate those who "weren't being published, like our literary hero Heathcote Williams, because their work was considered too political, too irreverent."
Afterlight, Greta's forthcoming collection due for release next year, sets about rejecting conventional ideas of aspiration in favour of regaining an adolescent sense of love, mystery and place.
2016 has been another strong year for women crafting poetry that infiltrates the mainstream culture psyche. We heard Warsan Shire, the Somali poet, on Beyonce’s Lemonade, Instapoet Rupi Kaur, Ashlee Haze’s evocative stanzas on Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and Siana Bangura’s Elephant came out of London’s DIY scene to illustrate the ins and outs of black womanhood. Now poet, filmmaker and model Greta Bellamacina’s SMEAR is platforming the poetic works of women, exploring everything from self-image to relationships, the shaky framework of beauty ideals and bodily autonomy.
SMEAR, the name of the collection, recalls an aspect of many women’s lives that’s quote confronting – the smear test. “It’s one of those words that tends to make you shudder,” says Bellamacina, but it’s frank and unapologetic in its examination of elements of womanhood.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything quite comparable in the poetry world,” Bellamacina says when discussing SMEAR. “I didn’t feel there was a comfortable place for young women in their teens and early twenties to voice their thoughts, their politics, their emotions through poetry. I found it frustrating myself growing up and I know a lot of poets who get disheartened early on. I wanted this collection to be open to first-time poets.”
Bellamacina put out a call on her New River Press Instagram, whittling down hundreds of submissions to 20, alongside some established artists. Primarily though, SMEAR is for first-time, emerging poets.
As well as Lisa Luxx, Katherine Vermillion and Afshan Shafi, the collection includes more emerging voices. “Sarah Roselle, Luisa Le Voguer Couyet (of Hate zine) and the young Russian poet Galina Rymbu, who I believe we’re the first to publish in English – she’s something like the poetry equivalent of Pussy Riot,” Bellamacina explains.
The poetry in this particular collection is world-spanning, uncovering the familiar, the light, the dark enclaves of womanhood. “I wanted SMEAR to be a collection of poems a mother might buy her daughter,” she says. “But also a collection of poems a daughter might buy her mother – poems that speak honestly about growing up.”
As poetry envelops Instagram pages and some of the year’s biggest album releases, it may seem like poetry is, at times, stepping away from its original origins of pen and paper, but Bellamacina sees it as an opportunity to carve another new space. She explains: “I think as screens take us over more and more the quiet space of books becomes even more valuable and more important. I feel like digital screens keep us in a slightly frantic mental space – and with a book in your hand you can go off-grid and be in your right mind.”
“I think the quiet space of books is more important than ever. Also, for the new poets we have in this book, I think it gives you confidence to see your work on the page.”
The sentiment for SMEAR, and New River Press, is that poetry is about honesty in the imperfections. “It is one of the rare art forms which mirrors human consciousness, there is a complexity to it which is comforting, because life is complex,” says Bellamacina. In a year of political and social turmoil, poetry is grounded and democratic in its emotion.
SMEAR is available from December 16 from New River Press here.
“I think poetry is so innate within us,” preaches Greta Bellamacina. “Why do we write poetry? We’ve been doing it for years. Why is poetry read at both funerals and weddings? It’s quite a profound language because it’s such a complex thing, it holds so many emotions. It has so much light and shade and I think that if it can touch you in a 100 years, and touch someone else in a 1000 years, I think that it’s doing a good job.”
The London-born actor, filmmaker, model and—you guessed it—poet tells me she can’t even remember when she began to compose her own works. Having grown up with a musician for a father, there was a lyrical quality instilled into Bellamacina from near enough birth (she’s wearing a Blondie pin on her leather jacket when we meet in Peckham). “Cleaning out my flat recently, I’ve come across some really old books,” she half laughs, half grimaces, “bad poems, stuff I probably wrote when I was 10.”
All that practise was worth it, Bellamacina was shortlisted as the Young Poet Laureate in 2014 after publishing her first collection, Kaleidoscope in 2011. Her signature is her penchant for social commentary, which led to her appointment as brand ambassador for knitwear label, John Smedley this season. She looks to the world around her not only when penning her own verses, but also when compiling the work of her peers. “I just published a book called SMEAR,” she explains, having set up New River Press with her partner, Robert Montgomery last year as a “fuck you” to the elitist club of publishing. “It’s a feminist, quite punk collection of 30 different female poets, all different ages, which I edited,” she explains proudly, and deservedly so.
A vital and eclectic anthology, SMEAR combines the work of emerging and established poets. Curated from an Instagram call-out, the collection centres on the joys and trials of womanhood “from abortion, to first kisses, to body image” and most personally for Bellamacina, becoming a mother. “I was really aware when I was given traditional motherhood literature, it was really patronising,” she scoffs with an eye roll under her post-shoot wisps of tousled blonde hair. “For me, writing poetry about that experience, it’s about the emotive side, nothing’s right or wrong, it’s not so binary, it’s more of a centralised place of emotion.”
After deciding to make her first documentary last year, Bellamacina offers an alternative perspective through not only her words, but her newest venture, filmmaking. The Safe House: A Decline of Ideas inspects the devastating closure of British libraries, sparked by the departure of Bellamacina’s local and supported by the likes of Stephen Fry, John Cooper Clarke and Irvine Welsh.
“I mean, libraries are how Britain became modern,” she reasons, explaining that the first public libraries were built by Scottish lead miners in the 17th century, and were undeniably a product of the working class. “It was an amazing symbol for the rest of the documentary… You realise when you travel through Britain how taking away just one library, and replacing it with luxury flats or a gym, it stagnates a place.”
After the success of The Safe House – entered into the long list for the BAFTAs – this year, Bellamacina has set to work on her first (semi- autobiographical) feature, Hurt By Paradise. Co-created with actress and writer Sadie Brown, the film follows “two unconventional women who don’t fit into society”, a struggling poet and a failed actress who strike up an “unexpected friendship”.
“My aim was to have complex female roles in it. I really love the style of Frances Ha, the way she talks about the same conversational things as you would with your friends. I guess it’s like that,” Bellamacina pauses. “But more of a London version! It’s about their story and struggling to find a voice in society. One of the characters decides one day to meet her online lover that she’s been talking to for three years, and she goes to Margate on a Megabus and it all goes terribly wrong.” Keeping schtum but promising me “big actors” all Bellamacina can tell me is that the film’s set right where we’re sat, south of the river. I was sold at the mention of Margate on a Megabus.
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.
Black Under Heaven-By Greta Bellamacina
Everything lives unnerved
Tiny cups and scissors hungover
Lilies in heaven marching in glass on the table
Our child arranging the sky, sleeping between the doorway
blue garments an ocean on the bedroom floor
Your scent a kind of black under heaven
all raging and soft,
Breaking the tracks of summer
a chapel in the fourth wall
always lit up and nursing
I have become larger in it
a new kind of warm ash
burning up the edges
and bathing out the reality TV government
I have become more winged
We barely notice the ceiling falling onto our bed
Emptying out the ariel stars
that have tracked our whole lives til now
walked with us through hysteria
And trees made into empty houses
We live in one room
The BT Tower our lighthouse,
we have become two mothers
we are unearthed, dosing in the scent
that is an eternal morning.