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The Barman is a Poetry Book Society Summer Pamphlet Choice!

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Hello friends. Recently I had the honour of being the Poetry Book Society Summer Pamphlet Choice for my debut The Barman. Nina Mingya Powles and Nick Makoha kindly selected it from all the pamphlets being published in the same quarter, and wrote a lovely short review of it in for the PBS Summer Ebulletin (see below). It's amazing to be selected alongside the likes of Ocean Vuong, Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Denise Saul.

Photo of me and my bio: Helen Bowell is a London-based poet and co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society. She is a Ledbury Poetry Critic, and an alumna of The Writing Squad, the London Library Emerging Writers Programme, London Writers Awards and the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. Helen won the 2020 Bronze Creative Future Writers Award and was commended in the 2021 Magma, Verve and Winchester Poetry Competitions and the 2020 Mslexia Poetry Competition. Her poems have appeared in bath magg, Poetry Birmingham, Ambit and elsewhere. Her debut pamphlet The Barman is published with Bad Betty Press and was the PBS Summer 2022 Pamphlet Choice. She works at The Poetry Society.
I found myself returning again and again to The Barman by Helen Bowell, drawn in by its humour and bittersweet heartache. Over the course of this surreal, occasionally romantic relationship between the speaker and an anonymous Barman, cracks begin to open up beneath the surface. Something dark and uncertain threatens to spill over the edges of the poem:  and I think about the knife-sharpener in the top drawer and I think about how I want my life to be and answering Bradley Walsh’s question about Edvard Munch, The Scream, I say out loud, The Scream.  The speaker converses with herself as much as she does with the Barman, who doesn’t quite see her the way she sees herself. Many poems explore these gaps in intimacy, this space between what we say and what we mean, between being seen and being invisible. One poem, ‘Monsieur le Barman’, negotiates the complexity of her mixed and multilingual heritage:  Ma grand-mère ne savait parler que cantonais.  佢歸西.  I want to say all this to the barman, but I think it would be too much.  All these silences begin to spill over. All these feelings become ‘too much’; they cannot be contained. With tenderness and an uncanny directness, The Barman seems to capture how it feels to be alive here and now, as we go about our days ‘not letting the news in’, ‘signing petitions between gulps of tea’. The poems are spacious enough to hold this unnamed strangeness, these slippages and gaps, heartbreaks large and small. And the character of the Barman is an excellent contemporary conceit devised by the poet to interrogate otherness from a vantage point that gives us a three-dimensional point of reference and access.  ‘Back Story’ stands out as a poem of childhood. It leaves us with another slightly absurd scene, this time triumphant:   and I beat my wings till the white vans and boys in their bad uniforms blew out out out to sea

There aren't many ways pamphlets get officially recognised so this is a real honour! A reminder that you can get my pamphlet from me here, or from the excellent Bad Betty Press here for the low low price of £6 plus postage.

What else have I been up to?

  • I'm doing an Instagram Live chat with fourteen poems on Tuesday 19 July.

  • I've been slowly working on putting together an Arts Council England bid to run a workshop/anthology project for bi+ poets (register your interest here).

  • I'll be writing on-the-spot portraits of people at someone's wedding in August which I'm very excited about! Get in touch if that's something you'd like to hire me to do. Find out more about what I did at Kew Gardens here.

  • We're running a Dead [Women] Poets Society séance at the Sylvia Plath Festival in Hebden Bridge on Saturday 22 October - look out for more details from the D[W]PS social media.

  • And the very next day I'm reading at a Poetry London event at this year's London Literature Festival at Southbank Centre, on 23 October!

  • I've been having lots of fun running in-person celebration events and workshops lately for Spread the Word's City of Stories Home project, and also four translation workshops with the Poetry Translation Centre!

  • And in between all that, I've been trying to write and have fun.

Get in touch, as always, if you have any projects you want me to work on! I hope you're good.

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