Archives for posts with tag: Cinammon Press












Some years ago I was involved in a poetry event called Even Cowgirls Listen to Poetry which included a line-dancing display.  To me it seemed perfectly logical to put the two together. Everyone in Brighton was learning how to do the Tush Push then. OK, nearly everyone. Line dancing had started as a gay craze (often the way) and spread everywhere. Country and Western music (with its working class American songs) was suddenly all the rage here. I knew some likely gals adept at dancing and so they did a little show alongside the poetry (Jill Gardiner and myself) with singer songwriter Carol Prior. Some of the audience loved the combo, some remained bemused…but I need to back-track.

Romantic ideas about the Wild West predate the line-dancing craze of course. Musical hall artistes were dressing as cowboys and girls in the early 20th century as postcards below from an Into the Lime Light collection show.

Reproduced by kind permission of




Reproduced by kind permission of

















Growing up (though I adored the Lucy Show) there weren’t many (any?) female role models I could identify with. Instead there was the Lone Ranger.  The Lone Ranger was a justice-seeking, chivalrous Robin Hood sort of cowboy protecting poor, defenceless people from ruthless and extreme macho bandits. He had a ‘trustworthy’ Native American companion (sidekick really) called Tonto, who despite being a skilled tracker was portrayed in ridiculously stereotypical fashion. As recently as 2013 the film was remade with Johnny Depp playing Tonto… so the fascination, along with a good portion of racism, remains. If you don’t remember the original you have to imagine that the Lone Ranger was trying to avenge the death of his brother – murdered by white men. He didn’t get drunk or kill people. Crucially for me as a child, he wore a white Stetson and black mask and gloves and he rode a horse named Silver…

All too often the Western films we watched back then, (‘Cowboys and Indians’ films) portrayed white men as heroes and either glossed over the repeated genocide of Native Americans or justified it by portraying them as menacing savages. It’s now estimated about a quarter of cattle herding cowboys were in fact Black, much of the language cowboys used derives from Mexican Spanish. Luckily too, imaginative interpretations of the Western trope abound, from Ed Dorn’s trippy Gunslinger to Brokeback Mountain, Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid to Patrick Gale’s Canadian pioneers.  The work of Native American authors  – Jo Harjo, Paula Gunn Allen, Natalie Diaz, among many others – enriches and rebalances both this narrative and the North American canon. For better or worse there were also women sharpshooters like Annie Oakley, women who fought for prohibition as well as activists like Helen Hunt Jackson who exposed the federal mistreatment of Native Americans.

At their best the legends about cowboys appealed in Europe owing to the ruggedness and vastness of the American landscape, with its prairies and mountains, and spirit of quest and exploration, a freedom from the confines of European society perhaps, America being the new world for Europeans. A good part of my childhood was spent riding my imaginary horse, looking tough, rescuing folk and seeing off the bad guys instead of doing whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. No wonder attempts to transform me into a young lady failed. What chance did they possibly have?

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Polish political poster for Solidarity from late 1980’s using cowboy imagery


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A few years ago I started writing a new book almost by accident. I’d written a few lines about the lazy heat (not set in the U.K obviously) of high noon – a Western cliché as it happens, only instead of a horse and rider a mysterious truck appeared on the dusty road. I was going to discard these lines as they seemed to be going nowhere but suddenly found I needed to set other projects aside instead and focus on the story – or stories – unfolding before me.

It takes place in what a friend described as a spaghetti Western setting, more Hispanic than my usual Anglo-Polish landscapes though for my money you can take the girl/author out of Poland but…the usual themes are still there war and love, love and war. Are there cowboys or girls in it? Or are they characters who may have fallen under a cowboygirl spell sometime? There are certainly two women and they fall in love and go on a quest and one of them wears a cowboy hat. And it is all true. It says so on the cover.

The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue by Maria Jastrzębska

will be published by Liquorice Fish/Cinammon Press in October 2018.

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Two entirely wonderful writers, activists and friends, Naomi Foyle and Seni Seneviratne asked me to join in with MY WRITING PROCESS BlOG TOUR. So I said yes, am joining it late and now realise I rarely talk about what I am working on! Why not? Modesty? No, superstition. What if it doesn’t work out?  What if I abandon the project in despair? What if, what if, what if? So here goes nothing.

What am I working on?

It has been described in a poetry seminar run by poet Mimi Khalvati for Lewes Live Literature alternately as a ‘spaghetti western’ and a ‘prose poem novel’…

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I am not sure I know anyone who has written anything quite like this to be honest. Though this blog may well prove me wrong! I do know excellent poets writing prose poetry though and you will find many of them in a terrific anthology This Line is Not For Turning An Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Prose Poetry published by Cinnamon Press in 2011, the first of its kind in the U.K and to which I was especially pleased to have contributed. Given how squeamish the poetry world in this country has been about the prose poem it hopefully signals a – long overdue – sea change.

Why do I write what I do?

Here’s what I wrote for Poetry International Web some years ago: “I’ve always been concerned with borders and boundaries: between countries, cultures, languages, between social and sexual identities, health and illness.”  This is still true and it also leads me to question – push at – the boundaries between verse and prose. I also love telling stories, as well being told them, so narrative is an important part of what I write. Either-Ors are something I’m looking for creative ways to escape. It feels natural to include stories of love alongside stories of destruction or war and in my new work I am interlacing different themes even more than I have done before.

How does your writing process work?

I tell my creative writing students to be disciplined, to make regular time and space to write, to face the blank page daily. Isn’t it easy to give advice?! In practice I am chaotic, undisciplined. I do carry a notebook with me much of the time however and I usually start off writing by hand. (I love pen and paper) I do carry ideas in my head for days. (Incubation.) I do block out time in my diary (not enough). I do go back to things. I do believe in the unconscious lending a hand. I walk along the seafront and that helps too.

I do try out work on trusted peers and mentors. (Invaluable). I do research and read. I do work my socks off. When I’m truly in it it makes my heart sing. I edit. Endlessly.


Next on the blog tour you can read about the writing process of two exciting writers poet and editor Astrid Alben and novelist and poet Louise Halvardsson



Photos: above from Exiled Writers Ink reading at the Poetry Cafe in London April 7th 2014 (photo courtesy of Magda Raczyńska) with Katarzyna Zechenter, Anna Maria Mickiewicz and David Clark (photo courtesy of Magda Raczyńska), above top Piękni Ludzie Polish poetry anthology launch with Adam Siemieńczyk in Birmingham last year, below with poet/editor Sasha Dugdale & Deborah Dekock from Modern Poetry in Translation, poet Wojciech Bonowicz and poet/translator Elżbieta Wójcik- Leese at Aldeburgh Festival 2013.