A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Sarra Culleno

with Sarra Culleno

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Sarra: I’ve always written short stories and poems. My mother’s garage in Wembley is choc-full to the rafters with old notebooks and scribbles on scrap paper, going right back to primary school. She is quite the hoarder. I started submitting pieces for publishing in the last two or three years. One of the best things about writing is that you can dip in and out, as infrequently as you like, at any level and at any age.

As a child I loved Dahl, Enid Blyton and The Worst Witch. Lots of the stories and poems I wrote as a child in those old scrap books feature an element of the absurd, mythological, and surreal, which has followed me through to how I write today. Later on, I became a little obsessed with Sylvia Plath and I still see some structural similarities emerging in my poems from time to time.

Q2: Who are your influences today?

Sarra: I’m an English and Media teacher, so it’s often very hard not to be influenced by what I’m teaching at the time! When I’m teaching three different Shakespeare plays simultaneously, sometimes I spontaneously write quotes or paraphrases of them into my WIPs. Right now, I love Kate Clanchy’s work and in using her teaching resources for poetry I have tidied up many of my own poems. For my hybrid prose poems featured in Fevers of the Mind, I experimented with a similar structure to Inua Ellams’ The Actual, as I wanted to emphasise a more fluid, stream-of-consciousness feel to the narratives. I’ve read recently, Elena Ferrante, Zoe Glibert, Alison Bechdel, and Bernadine Evaristo novels – each one resonated with me, and I’m struck by how many of us are telling similar stories from different approaches and perspectives.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels influenced your work/describe?

Sarra: I grew up in Wembley, North London. In the 80’s and 90s, it was a very special place. I feel incredibly privileged to have experienced a completely cocooned, melting-pot bubble of normalised multiculturalism as a child. My best friends were Polish-Venezuelan and Scottish-Philippino, and West Indian-Welsh. Every family on our street and in our schools was of some mixed heritage or another, including ours. All the kids were a varying shade of tan, and only our hair texture might give a clue as to which continents may be in our DNA. I feel like London has always been this way – the Romans founded it after all. It’s not even a British city – it’s Italian! So, it’s exactly where we belonged, and actually we could never really belong anywhere else. I remember visiting our ‘white’ cousins in Hampshire and feeling “I could never belong here unless I pretended to be an English Rose”, but I never felt that way in London. So many race poets lament a dislocated self, displacement, and prejudice. Wembley was a safe, secure, wonderful place to grow-up as a mixed-race person, so much so, that when I left London as an adult it was a saddening shock. I’ve written many times in gratitude.

My father is Irish, and he dutifully imparted plenty of Heaney, folklore and myth on to us, and of course, plenty of rants about the Colonial injustices of the British Empire! Ties to the land, and descriptions of landscapes, manifesting in giants and selkies and banshees, reoccur as motifs in much of my writing. My mother is Persian, which is a culture seeped in poetry – the tombs of their poets are enormous tourist attractions. I remember her stories about how they would travel miles just to touch the shrines of Hafez or Saadi. I have internalised many of the humanist teachings of the Persian poets, and sometimes I realise their messages at the core of my own work. The Zoroastrian mythology from Ferdowsi’s Shanameh never fails to enthral me; the ancient rock reliefs depicting its heroes are breath-taking and are the inspiration for my work in progress. 

Q4: Which of your work is most meaningful to you to date?

Sarra: I am most sentimental about my novella, Machina Ex Deus. At the time I wrote it, I was teaching my A Level class about Afrofurturism as a subgenre of Sci-Fi, reading about the abominations carried out in America’s ICE centres, and listening to Climate-Fiction podcasts from Alternative Stories. Together in my mind, these came to form Taima City – a post-apocalyptic Abu Dhabi one hundred years from now. The overall theme is of mother-child attachments, which is something of a recurring topic for me.

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

Sarra: A few years ago, I attended That’s What She Said, in Manchester, hosted by the formidable Jane Bradley. I’d been to poetry nights before, but this one is captivating. Jane’s kind encouragement meant I signed up for a five-minute slot and later started submitting work to publishers. Lockdown gave me time and focus, so that I could do this in earnest for the first time.

https://writingmanchester.com/locations/thats-what-she-said

Q6: What are your favorite activities?

Sarra: Lockdown suited me very nicely… reading, cooking, sewing, painting, nature walks, music, yoga, yoga and more yoga! In more sociable times, I sometimes sing in an Irish band.

Q7: Do you have any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Sarra: My first book is out in November 2021, entitled Bonds: A Short Story Collection, with Caab Publishing. The book includes three short stories and a novella, exploring universal ties, cords, and attachments, examining what it means to be bonded as parent to child. I’ve often heard the advice ‘write what you want to read’. I’ve never found the important theme of infant/maternal bonding to be represented enough in my favourite genres, I hope I have filled a hole.

https://www.caabpublishing.co.uk/

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Sarra:

(insta handles for the following heroes) Jane Bradley @janeclairebradley from That’s What She Said, AndyN Poet @andynpoet from Speak Easy, Chris Gregory @stories.alt from Alternative Stories and Fake Realities, and of course, the marvellous David O’Nan @DavidLONan1 from @FeversOf As a teacher, I realise your encouragement and belief in a writers’ words, is the catalyst to them sharing it.

A Sarra Culleno Poetry Feature : poems, writings

4 poems by Sarra Culleno: “Grave Soak” “Periapt” “Beacon” & “Black Out”

Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Sarra Culleno

https://www.iambapoet.com/sarra-culleno

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOXQq5kcpq5hhOZBvA0T_Ag

https://www.instagram.com/sarracullenopoetry/?hl=en

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/sarra-culleno-poetry/id1470495562?i=1000470650050

https://thepoetryquestion.com/2020/08/11/tpq5-sarra-culleno/

A Sarra Culleno Poetry Feature : poems, writings

CLIMBERS


They're
almost at
the mountain's summit,
high enough to take in the vista,
survey the whole world as if it was Theirs
alone to see. But it occurs to Man One, that The 
Other man was dragged up. The Other Man slowed Them
down with repeated breaks and selfish pit-stops, just when
keeping momentum was important. The Other Man jabs a smarting
jibe now, something about being a *great team*, even though age is not
on Their side anymore. A reminder designed to crush morale even at this brave
juncture. The safety chain of climbers is both harness and hindrance in equal bonds. 
They are not yet at the top, and Man One of the Team wonders if he can haul The Other Man
up, in the name of Squad goals. Then wonders again, what's the point? Even up there, The Other
Man will blot out his horizons.

Dam Busting

This reservoir is fit to burst its banks.
   	The water bends, seeks out, wants to reach you.

      		Its only hope, rare-breaching cutoff walls
         			as there's no Emergency Action Plan 

           			 or conduit pipes to channel the flush
              			 away from the fallout of flood victims.

           		 You won’t remove flash boards, to let it through.
        		 Your freeboards are too low, with surface high 

       	there is no drawdown. With each barrier 
   I take a new course. One farther from you

Fun-Pacing

That book you love, it will forever bookmark midway. 
Each passage, batters throbbing eyeballs, lost in aching blurs.
It’s limp yoga floors you kitten-faint. 

It’s a nature walk too bracing for one foot in front of the other
 – brings on 
a solitary winter no one else feels, 

reserving a personalised tooth-chatter to shiver through alone.
It’s freeze is a sorry weight, your shackle to the blanket’s underside.
Fatigue is a new playground, where pendulum swings

polarise judgement, mood, reflex. It’s dullarding the drunks 
disembarking its dizzy roundabout.
It’s cookie bakes end as dough, 

when thigh muscles buckle, 
and your lurching centre sways 
heavy, and your time’s up, 
leaving it’s unpaced-for mess.
You can’t clear it away.

Night Nursing

At last, the room is powder-puff heavy with small breaths, beating rhythms. Lightly, she
slips between duty’s bars, to escape space, breaking out through the balcony side-door
where clocks stop and time moves differently.

The dark is sharp and she bares her winded chest, to endure cold-thrill punctures of sky.
Each star, a Supreme entomologist spearing bright blinking needles, which pin her
like a willing moth – what am I to Them?

A contactless contract. A magnitudinous mission. This, in the touchless pact 
of rays on retina. Light strobes arranged to perfect, Divine Morse-code, synchronised 
to those small breaths, millennia after celestial deaths, 
linking Them to her,
then, to now, to more

inside, cold, elsewhere, 
soft, outside, light, void, 
heat, sound, dark, sharp, here

at once aligned, her black sky above is also all colours.

SHUT UP

Error 404.
Shut down.
Invitation
to a shut door.

Talk heals. Speech seals
sores and rebonds.
But deaf and dumb
unbinds and blinds.

This mouth: square pegs.
Those ears: round holes.

"What's wrong?"s
and other such
empty welcomes,
when echoes stunt

communion.
No mistaking
Talk To The Hand.
No reunion.

Manspreading

That voice is big.

It buries us.

Lion road rage 
winds down windows 
to roar at mice.

Thread chat 
trolls chant 
#MakeMeASandwich 
Bitch

Fathers’ rows wake children, 

thus supress mindful mothers.

Taking over spaces, 
spreads loudly, 
the rubble over us.

THE ONE THAT NEVER WAS

Time, space, resources, turn our backs. You, we can’t endorse.
But anguished sting of poisonous remorse, through veins course.
A third of you sleeps in my core, pitted, unbegun.
A third of you a coiled gift, still-curled, spiral unsprung.
Ceaseless woundings, unreleased, for one that never was.

Har jayeh donyuh keh berram, 
vasseh batcheham tang misheh delam.
 
Pheromones, God’s design to drive mothers wild because
at one day old, twelve months, ten years, when all time withdraws,
a third of you a lightbulb, unlit, unscrewed, unhung,
always carried with me, the one that never was.
 
Har jayeh donyuh keh berram, 
vasseh batcheham tang misheh delam.

Your fingernails which never formed, but now move with force
upwards through my intestines, ribcage, following course.
In dreams, my chimera, my sweet-cheeked, cherished loved one
smells of tenderness, warmth and custard creams. I’m undone.
Your fist clamps my heart, clinch relentless, gripping till pause
on every hour, skipping beats for one that never was.



Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Sarra Culleno









  













4 poems by Sarra Culleno: “Grave Soak” “Periapt” “Beacon” & “Black Out”

Photo by David L O’Nan

Grave Soak

The scald pulls out aches, a
poultice of burn.
Pores dilate and glands purge
drawing poisons.
Steam's balm relieves throat
into lungs by turn.

Oils and lathers mask outside
redolence, 
stilled and subdued in
submerged weightless pass,
concealed underside, defying
buoyance.

Beneath like sediment replacing
mass,
held down by seductive
oblivion,
doused into netherside of
looking glass.

Nadir rush, deaf like amphibian.
Resurface sharp up to abrupt
summit
of asphyxiation's meridian.

Subito spasmodic. Frenzy ambit
reflexive gasps from betraying
gullet.

Periapt

When silver is worn over a 
throat
    it's buffed by the pulse, so
shines up sheen.

So long as the two
contact, keep close,
     amulet tarnishes vanish; rust
           melts at skin's touch, so
                 clavicle's radiance is
            enhanced.

Conducting flows, when they're
near enough
      magnets recharge their
Norths and their Souths
        if they're in each other's
     reach. Scuffs smooth flat
              under a loving body
                    weighty as precious
               metal.

Beacon

I tap a texting torch
which flattens batteries
down to broken Morse Code.
Outside, the car tank's empty.
We are staying right here.

We dulled low the lights. It
hides, soft-tempers the mess.
Yet, as moths dash their brains
out against the dimmed bulbs
the blackened corners creep.

Blind-folded, we plug ears.
You press the volume off
for the news. I'm listening,
through headphones.
Expletives
mute, as my charger drains.

I switch the torch off now,
so when disaster strikes,
there still may be enough
for one last surrender
or desperate SOS.

Black Out

The sun came up in the East. It peeped, above
the water like a wistful proposition.
It began as a sliver of future, an
entre, of all the day's potential reached in an 
excited flirt.

Midday prime was a fine trophy to behold.
It rose, full and round and complete. Once whole, too
beautiful to even look on. Dreams realised
themselves in gold against a velvet of azure
and sapphire.

Where did the black out start?
Too late in the day, anyway.
The first splatters so fleetingly tiny,
only quantum flickers of grain on a single frame
of cinematic reel.

By mid afternoon, patches of vibrant horizons
were already erased blot by sooty blot.
The fiery reds and oranges of a promised sunset
were flubbed in dark blotches like drops of ink
bungled into an evening bath.

The dampened day, let go, to empty dusk. 



bio below:
Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Sarra Culleno

Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Sarra Culleno

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is photo-by-sonyasmithphotography-1.jpg

Sarra Culleno is a British BAME poet, mother and English teacher who performs her writing at
events across the UK. She writes about children’s rights, motherhood, identity, gender, age,
technology, the environment, politics, modern monogamy and education. Sarra is widely
published. She has written fiction and poetry for publication, performance, print, audiodramas,
podcasts and radio. Sarra was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize, for Nightingale
and Sparrow’s Full Collections 2020, and nominated for Best of the Net 2020 by iambapoet.
Sarra co-hosts Write Out Loud at Waterside Arts, and performs as guest and featured poet at
numerous literary festivals.
Youtube.com/user/sarra1978 – YouTube
@sarracullenopoetry – Instagram
@sarra1978 – Twitter
Sarra1978@hotmail.com – Email
facebook.com/sarracullenopoetry – FaceBook

2 poems by Sarra Culleno : Little Red Morrigan & Six Storey Conversion

LITTLE RED MORRIGAN

Many moons ago / in a land of laws / now lost to time /when the goddess chose to favour a king / they saw that together / their land gave crops /their people were victorious / and all the land’s kingdoms prospered / The kings swore loyalty and protection / in return for Sovereignty’s gifts /A mutual return / a shared goal / a harmony ensuring Eire never a Wasteland became
/
It was at this time / a little girl found herself suddenly medium-sized / Perhaps it was something she ate / but somehow the world behaved differently now / full of wolfish riddles she was expected to solve / just because she had become medium-sized overnight / It seemed accepted by all but Brigit herself / that some epiphanic / earth-shaking new insight / should be conjured up automatically / alongside her new proportions /Which it was not
/
She climbed no trees today / play was withdrawn / No one called her Brigit anymore / she was only Aisling now / And tomorrow / why /they might call her Mother Danu / or Caelleach the Hag? / She had seen it happen before/ to be sure
/
Cowed and made meek by such expectations / she crept away from the Aonghus Bog / which threatened to enmesh her in its gory treacle / all the while hunched and shrinking herself under her red shroud / – too bright a hue to suit her yet – / to the shore / where she muffled her voice / under the sea / with the selkies / and her cries mingled unheard / beneath the call of the gulls above / She longed to join in their freedoms / to play in dancing dives and leaps / as their sounds stayed proud and large / behind roaring wind and water / During the wars / The Washer Women were seen / seeping these waters / with the battle blood of soldiers’ garments / and here Brigit’s red cloaks / swirled in the foam / much the same / It was in this spot / that at last / Sovereignty stood tall / to full height / with arms stretched out / to full span / so the wind / lifted her cloak like wings / and she added her irrepressible screams / to her land’s silent cacophony

SIX STOREY CONVERSION

1ST STOREY

Kabul Soccer Stadium’s goal posts sport a fresh white lick – over prints of taliban’s hung severed limbs – cut from convicts forced to kneel in the penalty spot – slumped shot – seeping onto soil – oozing gore onto grass so saturated it was dug to two metres to save today’s players swilling in open wounds – though green’s grown since – visitors fear hauntings at night – “better never means better for everyone – it always means worse for some”

2ND STOREY

penalised under the five mile act – non-conformists built refuge – adorned with organs – stained glass – ornate vaulted ceilings – The Unitarian Church High Pavement – a spiritual celebration – but irresolute – ephemeral – so that today – a mediocre chain-owned wine bar can sell happy-hour espresso martinis to Nottingham’s proletariat

3RD STOREY

“i had another name which nobody uses now because it is forbidden” – once upon a time a high school – repurposed in barbed wire – to fence and re-educate Gilead’s breeders – under the portmanteau of The Red Centre

4TH STOREY

Berlin’s Banana Bunker – wavering air-raid shelter – pliant to Soviets torturing prisoners of war – fermenting then into East Berlin’s warehouse for Cuba’s capricious bananas – oscillating next to orgies – hailed “the hardest club in the world” – until impermanent yuppies displayed their collections of art therein – “look on my works ye Mighty and despair

5TH STOREY

from industrial labyrinth of chimneys – spewing inky canopies – choking 300,000 worker bees toiling below – in dim damp – amidst screeching boilers – crunching wheels – arose The Hacienda – and Jerusalem was builded here in a dark Satanic Mill – slicing hell’s dark with glow of heavenly strobe – borrowing its fickle name from The Situationists – defying capitalism – defining New Order – now sold under the slogan “now the party’s over you can come home” – for one of the forms wealth takes when it hardens is luxury apartments crusting like stalactites into sharp shapes

6TH STOREY

flighty Manchester Central Railway Station – roofed by single span of wrought iron truss – converted to exhibit pretty innovations for a time – now a Nightingale Field Hospital – temporarily displays – with the army’s help – 1000 beds for the North West’s almost-dead – “this may not seem ordinary now but after a while it will”

Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Sarra Culleno