A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Syreeta Muir

with Syreeta Muir

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Syreeta: I have been writing little stories, poems and riddles since childhood, exclusively for myself, haha. I only started sharing them with other people a few years ago. I was influenced by what was around me and wrote, maybe like a lot of writers, as a means of puzzling the world. They are my “workings out”.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Syreeta: e. e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Pinter, Beckett, Neil Gaiman, Tolkien, Emily Brontë, Jeanette Winterson, dot, dot, dot

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Did any travels away from home influence your work?

Syreeta: I moved around a fair bit. I was born in Germany, then we moved to a very small village in the South West U.K. aged around 2. Then Germany again aged 12. Then back to the little village aged 16. I left home at 16 and ran away to the Big City. Well, Manchester.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Syreeta: It’s all meaningful to me. Even the things I consider poor quality or that nobody ever sees. It’s all part of the document of myself, warts and all, in a riddled, metaphorical kind of way.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Syreeta: I think I always wanted that, but lacked the confidence to name it. During a discussion with a writers collective I am part of online, we talked about the fear of what to call yourself if you haven’t been published yet. Should you preface with “aspiring” or “emerging”? I decided to just call myself poet, because that’s what I feel is true.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Syreeta: Um. I’m fairly boring. I walk and take pictures of stuff. Weird, small, beautiful, sad stuff. Also, a lot of movies and tv. A lot. Currently I’m watching Sweet Tooth, Loki and rewatching Fleabag

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Syreeta: Not currently. Fingers crossed, though, I’m waiting on several submissions. Can I use this space to shout-out a few other artists and writers instead? From Twitter: @LionessPoet
@whistberry
@WindwalkerWrite
@SeymourNPorter
@duanetoops
@MisterLeaves

All of these strange, amazing creatures have things, right now, that more people really should be aware of.

Q8: What is a favorite line from a poem/writing of yours or others?

Syreeta: Everyday, I’d tidy my room,
pick up small, incendiary pieces of myself off the carpet,
contain anything flammable in a diary; none of these measures were enough to prevent the fires from happening.

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Syreeta: My English teacher, Mr Entwistle, who at 15 helped me hone a poem and then read it out in front of the class as an example of how to write one. Simultaneously the proudest and most excruciating moment of my writing life to date.

5 Poems by Ankh Spice : That which can be made visible, Hold the river, Feeding the koi, Act like you were never for sale, & Hathor’s gift

*From the Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020*

All of the poems that follow first appeared in their original, unedited forms on the WombwellRainbow blog. Thank you to Paul Brookes for curating with such care, and the artists (Mary Frances Ness, James Knight, and Sue Harpham) who provided images for the month-long ekphrastic challenge which inspired them

That which can be made visible *

Sun’s first sleep-breath
sweets the dropped shoulder

of Te Puia o Whakaari, her bones
in early mistlight all grace

and delicate pickings, gulled
clavicles of a hard dancer, stilled

Coiled tension is resting. It is hard
to recognise a haunting

in the rose-gilt of a sunrise. Do you know
her name, when you recognised it

did you forget to exhale? Release
your living now to cloud

the pane we do not see – deep
scratches creep across this vision.

The guardians are always here to remind you –
this light, it may change any moment.

*(In memory of those lost in the eruption of Whakaari on 9 December 2019. One translation
of the te reo Māori name of this volcano forms the title of this poem)

Hold the river

You told me you haven’t been outside in 57 days
and tonight the river is a dropped ribbon, limp and lost
and the sharp stones of the trail as I begin to run
become the sound of something chewing. The faster
we go, the faster we’re eaten. You are moving,
in the lines of your confinement, so slowly now
you’ve become a painting in my head – static –
existing never to be touched. And in the guilty, lucky air
down here we’re starting up the engines
and on my knees in the soft mud I can hear the first plane
for months, idling beyond the water. I’d wish
you were here, but the wind is whipping up cold,
and the coming dark is frantic
with sudden birds, woken startled
from their neat new nests along the runway.

Feeding the koi

You save the crusts from the good brown loaf,
not truly stale, but tired. On your early walk

through the city gardens, there is a patient round mirror
to crumble them into, and in it an unfamiliar creature,

folded and loose in his aspect. He watches you from the water.
You have never met his eyes, although you sense they are kind.

This morning, autumn has nodded last orders at the trees
and the ember of the squalling sun catches

a plume at his throat, and his blur blushes bright — young
with reborn flame. In the dry world the wind arrives

to spread the blaze outwards in ripples
from the man standing, the man lying, with his hands full

of burning bread, and when the fish surface
their mouths make round holes in his body.

In one tiny circle after another the fire
goes out. Cool water — O O O —

welling dark and smooth
from the gut. It was always the truth.

What feeds on us that steals our fire.
What we feed to remember what we are.

Act like you were never for sale

On those days we were flutter and varnish. Time blown
on the tradewinds — toys for the updraft, downdraft, too hard

and brittle-bright for any landing but the spurt and gasp
of applause. And on those days we painted the unspeakable

feelings, the ones that never made it
into the script, on hot ripe faces with palmed-

palm-sugar and unguent-of-anthers, and on those days
those same faces slipslid their gaudied eyes and touched their cheeks

together intimately, brief and baked electric with proper unsaids, and on and on
arced those spat-out days when the electric that moved us

moved us wet with big colour in that little pond of footlights
all thrashing pick me from the swirl of young eels, him so slender, her good

bright needle-teeth, and on those days company meant
only that we played together well, that even the most badly bitten didn’t drop

a word or miss a step, or when they did the faces they’d loved-by-painting bled
laughter tainted kindly, and not yet like they smelled a life dripping away

into the water or as if they’d finally bumped against the glass, seen the strings
of our dangling tags, and some of that last part

is a lie. But who doesn’t want to lie just as pretty
as something made to end up in a prettier box, for now

sticky with the ghosts of fertile anthers, and so we bite
into recall again and again, this cake now invisible on the pink plastic

saucer so sweet, so sweet and fallen to bits
in the grass. And these days we know the magic

poured out of that flimsy doll’s teapot’s more real
than you’ve been in your life. Don’t ever act

like it didn’t — like it doesn’t —
make you sick.

Hathor’s gift

Last night you called me from the bottom of a well
and I pictured the signal between us as a rope ladder
woven from a bunch of old strings attached. A bit frayed,
this connection, and this wry analogy, but both holding together
just enough for you to see the ladder a little bit more clearly
than you were seeing the rope. And I don’t care if we’ve not spoken
since before the world cracked its lid, I’m just grateful
I still look like some kind of stick when the alligators
find the ass. Often it’s hard to respect the tree in someone who’s fallen
in an indifferent swamp, over and over, they think
that makes you soft wood. But it was you who told me Hathor
kicked out the crocodile god even though she was
at least partly a cow. I bet they underestimated just how fierce
a prey animal waxes when her herd is in the dark
and feeling the closing teeth. I bet they underestimated her
even after she teamed up with the sun itself
and gored the darkness threatening her loved ones on the tips
of her kind, soft horns. Stabbed it until it was striped
with secondhand light, then drowned it
in her milk of most inhuman kindness.

Ankh Spice is a queer-identified, sea-obsessed poet from Aotearoa (New Zealand). Almost 100 of his
poems have been published internationally, online and in printed anthologies, over the last 18
months. He’s been incredibly grateful and a bit astounded to have four poems nominated for the
Pushcart Prize, and two for Best of the Net. His poem ‘New Cloth’ was selected as a winner of the
World View 2020 competition run by the Poetry Archive, and he’s really delighted that the video
recording of him reading this work now appears in the archive in perpetuity, along with readings
from other winners from all over the globe. He’s also very proud that audio recordings of his work
are held in the first wave of Iambapoet, an audio archive of poets reading their own work, created
and curated by Mark Antony Owen.
It’s been a very busy year — Ankh accepted roles as a Poetry Contributing Editor for Barren
Magazine, and as co-editor at Ice Floe Press. He was also a guest reader/editor on EIC Matthew M.C.
Smith’s team for Black Bough Poetry’s Amazon best-seller, ‘Deep Time’ — two volumes of poetry
from hundreds of poets inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’, and was part of the early
editing team for ‘Black Dogs, Black Tales’, a horror anthology produced in Aotearoa by EIC T Wood,
to raise money for a local mental health charity. He’s also found time to edit innumerable stories for
popular dark-fantasy author C.M. Scandreth (aka his incredibly talented author spouse, Caitlin Spice)
for the NoSleep Podcast, and is grateful to have appeared (in virtual guise) as headline poet at two
sold-out sessions of Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
At the time of writing this, Ankh is also working on several collections of his own poems. One of
these is a collection of his shorter ekphrastic and vividly imagistic work and photography — Ankh
calls these ‘gift poems’ as most of them are uploaded to social media rather than being held for
traditional publication — that’s been picked up by a small indie press as a two-volume deal for print.
Further details will be released in early 2021. He’s also working on a very short volume of poems for
Hedgehog Press’s ‘Stickleback’ series. His larger collection, which was picked up by an independent
press earlier in 2020, but which he withdrew when behaviour damaging to the poetry community by
person/s working for that press was uncovered, is being reworked for re-submission elsewhere. He
very much hopes that 2021 will be the year for this book to make its way into the world.
Ankh’s poetry explores a wide range of themes close to his heart – environmental/climate change,
mental health, identity, queerness, body politics, mythology, natural science, spirituality, ‘the
persistent briefness of being human’, the landscape and environs of Aotearoa and of course, the
ocean. His poetic lens, which often employs strong derealisation and very flexible language that
purposely opens up multiple interpretations, has been described as oracular, reverent, and
visionary, and his poetry has been most often compared to G.M Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. Ankh’s
favourite recent compliment about his work is that it feels like walking a tightrope over the abyss
between two worlds — being forced to look down into the dark but with an awareness that balance
is possible, and that there’s a new place on the other side, beckoning us on. Ankh’s favourite recent
compliment about himself is that he’s a walking Mary Ruefle poem. (With great thanks to Sarah-Jane
Crowson and Julia Beach).
If he’s not out running the coast of Te Whanganui-a-Tara sporting alarming neon and sparkly cat
ears, you’ll find him and his work at:
Twitter: @SeaGoatScreamsPoetry
Facebook: @AnkhSpiceSeaGoatScreamsPoetry
Linktree: https://linktr.ee/SeaGoatScreamsPoetry
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-448322296
Iambapoet: https://www.iambapoet.com/ankh-spice
Poetry Archive: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wordview-2020-new-cloth/

Feature photo by Ankh Spice

Holiday Interlude by Ankh Spice from Avalanches in Poetry Writings & Art Inspired by Leonard Cohen