Updated: Apr 27
My debut pamphlet The Barman was published on 28 January 2022, and you can order it now!
The Barman is published by the brilliant Bad Betty Press and edited by Gboyega Odubanjo. Working with the Bad Betty team has been so brilliant. Both publisher Amy Acre and my editor have paid such generous and close attention to what started out as a silly exercise.
The Barman is a series of poems tracing a relationship between the speaker and an unnamed character called the barman, backwards through time. It all started back in a 2018 (I think) Poetry School class with the lovely Jacqueline Saphra. I don't remember what the homework prompt was, but I ended up re-reading Emily Berry's poem 'The Incredible History of Patient M', and then wanted to do my own version. (I wrote more about this here.) So - kind of arbitrarily - I picked a barman, and I wrote about him for the next three years. He's never named, and neither is the speaker in the poems, but they end up in a relationship. Things are never quite as simple as these characters would like them to be, though: it's hard to have a personal relationship with someone in the wider contexts of misogyny, racism, homophobia, protests, gentrification... the speaker is always trying to work out what is a regular interaction that she shouldn't read too much into, and what is really a microaggression.
Six barman poems have been published in bath magg and Poetry Birmingham and as a winner of the Mslexia, Winchester Poetry Festival and Verve Poetry Competitions. There's also one more coming out in Butcher's Dog later this year which didn't make it into the pamphlet! You can find two for free online, and they're 'Lobster' in bath magg, which is the opening poem to the pamphlet (though re-lineated), and 'Barman in Eden' which was the Bronze winner of the Creative Future Award 2020. You can see me reading that one below.
In this short pamphlet, there are poems about everything from being exoticised in China to bad Scrabble moves, and I can't wait for you to read it!
The wonderful cover is designed by the artist Anita Marante - you can find more of her work here. The spider references a poem where the barman pretends to be scared of spiders so the speaker will take one out for him. Classic.
Where can I buy The Barman?
You can get The Barman from the Bad Betty Press website and support this fantastic independent publisher, or you can buy it directly from me! Just send me £7 here or via PayPal here, and write your address in the notes (or send it via my contact form), and I'll post a copy to you with a little hand-written thank you note ASAP. If you live outside the UK, get in touch via my contact form so we can work out postage in advance!
And if you need any more convincing, here are some nice blurbs from lovely poets and Bad Betty Press:
‘This is a unique collection of poems so full of heart, humour and ache.’ Rachel Long
‘Helen Bowell’s The Barman is as funny and good as it is precise, at home in the interstices between cultures and TV channels, chips and chip grease, romance and boredom.’ Will Harris
Helen Bowell and The Barman are a relationship from which you won’t easily look away. This debut pamphlet is a sharp, witty exploration of the nuances of a sometimes reluctant codependency. At times it feels like you are the third housemate, unashamedly pressing your ear to the wall to hear conversations as intimate as they are absurd. Bowell deftly interrogates what it means to feel both othered and adored, comfortable and wary. The Barman is an introduction to a poetic voice unique in its ability to subtly express its desires, leaving enough room for the reader to find parts of themself in the world it creates.
Update (April 2022): I'm beyond thrilled that The Barman has been selected as Poetry Book Society's Summer 2022 Pamphlet Choice! Huge thank you to the selector Nina Mingya Powles for choosing it. It means so much to me. I hope you'll see the things she saw in it too!