An Interview with Maria Sledmere


A baby lay dead among bracken and apples.
This the harem of the senses, soft,
succulent apples; apples that knit
and bead the ground
with delicate red and palest, glassiest green.

An ache behind the eyeballs
burns from the other place.

Did it come here, once, in a shroud of glory,
misting the lawns with its rain?
Did the white horse grumble
in its paddock of fool’s gold, waiting
to hear the death knell in vain?

This the scratched-out earth,
which loosens every time
the formula for lost chlorophyll.

A field plough picks the ripest of leaves
for his sweetheart, guessing her name
like an emerald. The rest
shrivel and wither a terrible yellow.

She kindles the snow swirls of another dream
which brightens the sphere of his sleep;
she lifts herself, she says
never mind; in the morning
we will have the sunlight.

[…She dies in the night
like a bay’s cot death, her hair spun gold
on the snow of the pillow.]

He rolls her over
where she has choked
and presses the coldest wax of an apple
gently to those ashen lips.

In the orchard, later, he listens to the wind
with its sullen, rhythmic lisps, lifting
the last seeds from their pods
and sprinkling the grass with pearls of life.

He finds the babe, buried
among the leaves of the sugar maple.
It is light in his hands, like a shell.

He carries it for miles, watching
the skin of it fade to a colourless grey,
where the twilight unveils
its half-finished trellis of muscle and veins.
At home, he sets it on the table
with his Ploughman’s sandwich and pitcher of cider.

He hears it crying in the night;
the still breath of love alive
like vapours of ice

This poem was first published in Issue 38, which can be read in our Archive.

Maria Sledmere is working on a DFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She is an occasional music journalist, member of A+E Collective, editor at SPAM Press, Dostoyevsky Wannabe and Gilded Dirt magazine. She co-hosts a podcast, URL Sonata, and workshop series, Pop Matters. Recent publications include nature sounds without nature sounds (Sad Press), Rainbow Arcadia (Face Press) and infra•structure (Broken Sleep), with Katy Lewis Hood. Her poem ‘Ariosos for Lavish Matter’ was highly commended in the 2020 Forward Prize, and her work was included in makar / unmakar (Tapsalteerie, 2019), an anthology of contemporary poets in Scotland. With Rhian Williams, she is co-editing the forthcoming anthology, The Weird Folds: Everyday Poems from the Anthropocene (Dostoyevsky Wannabe). 

FGTS: You’re one of the highly-regarded editors of SPAM Press, which brings poetry into the post-internet age through a fine-tuned balance between irony and sincerity, online and IRL (or as IRL as anything can be these days!) How did your involvement with SPAM begin, and how does your work as an editor feed into your writing?

MS: First of all, thanks for inviting me to answer the questions, and for your description of SPAM which is so spot on! The difference between the online and IRL definitely feels more like an oscillation between these days, more than ever, and the fact that we had to launch issue ten of SPAM zine (Millennium Megabus) on Zoom after nine previous parties (in an actual nightclub, wow, remember those) is testament to that. SPAM was founded in 2016 and I joined a few months later. The story (practically a meme at this point) is that the issue theme I’d submitted poems to, ‘Glitch’, encouraged Tom McCarthy rip-offs. Tom McCarthy, as in the pinstriped author of Remainder and devotee of words such as ‘buffering’, ‘Orpheus’ and ‘aeroplane’. In my cover letter I’d expressed my adoration of Tom and then not long after that Denise Bonetti, the editor-in-chief, tracked me down via the socials and sprung upon me one IRL afternoon outside the Glasgow Uni Library. After she’d confirmed my TC fandom was authentic and equal to hers, I was asked to join her and co-founder Maebh Harper as an editor. I remember getting this Facebook message on Christmas Eve, I was at work, and I was so chuffed I knocked over about twenty wine glasses I’d just spent an hour polishing. Many publications, emails, meetings and parties later, the rest is history and a very cute and tumultuous collection of browser cookies. 

Editing has taught me a lot about putting work together, curation, structure, ethics, publishing and design, marketing, reception and criticism, as much as it has about paying attention to textual detail (which I am apt to neglect, being quite a fast and impatient writer who cut her teeth blogging incessantly). When we’re choosing work for the zine, anthologies or the new online magazine with SPAM, we work as a team entirely and every final decision on what gets included is a group effort. So I’m learning how to read a piece different ways: say Max (Parnell, fellow SPAM editor) wants to fight to include a poem we’re otherwise not too keen on, he’s going to share his reading of it with us and I’m going to see the poem in a whole other way. Sometimes that sways the decision, other times not. Talking through a range of possible readings with others affects how I see my own writing: I’ve never really been precious about my work, but I’m even less so now. You write it and then you sort of give it up to others, maybe you write some more. I like it when someone critiques my lines or has comments, suggestions; the sense that the process of writing and reading is always collaborative, even when the work is out there. 

Being an editor for presses like SPAM and Dostoyevsky Wannabe affords me the great privilege of reading such a range of new work (often as it is with SPAM, from the sublime to the ridiculous – Mallarmé translations by Peter Mansion alongside meme-poems and cruise liner reviews, I love it all) and that feeds into my own writing, the sense of newness, experiment, possibility. Mixing of cultural forms and materials. There’s an energy to editing and an energy required of it. I’ve read over 100 full-length manuscripts in the space of a month. The email exchanges with contributors and poets really sustain me — I still love the generosity and vulnerability of sending someone work and being sent work — I think we all learn a lot from the dialogues involved in finalising a manuscript. Sometimes it’s a sense of sheer joy and privilege to work with writers I admire and that definitely feeds back into my own ideas and practice. For example, recently I’ve been working with the wonderful Jane Goldman on her forthcoming Dostoyevsky Wannabe manuscript, SEKXPHRASTICS, which has really challenged and opened up my understanding of what ekphrasis and innovative citation practice can achieve through prisms of queer intimacy, friendship and intersectional feminism. And reading Samantha Walton’s Bad Moon, forthcoming with SPAM, was such a treat and inspiration – I’ve long admired Sam’s poetry, its engagement with the ecopoetics and politics of voice and form. 

You recently ran a workshop series called ‘Pop Matters’ with Conner Milliken, you’ve been a co-host on SPAM’s podcast URL SONATA, and you’re working on your DFA at the University of Glasgow. Every time we look, it seems as though you’re up to something new and exciting! How do you make time for all your different projects?

Pop Matters is so much fun! We started it as a lockdown project to make weekly contact with people and provide an informal space, a kind of virtual studio, for people to vent their anxieties, thoughts and hopes. And each week in the midst of quarantine stress I’d see the faces of friends, writers, musicians, artists, colleagues, comrades, all of us writing together. It was such a treat to work with Conner – I’m constantly inspired by his kindness, humour, vehement spirit, political attentiveness and enduring solidarity – and that’s the crux of it really. I like doing all these projects because it’s an excuse to work with people whose work I admire and who I otherwise love – writing can be so solitary! For example, being in A+E (Art + Ecology Collective) with Finn Arschavir, Ane Lopez and Lucy Watkins means I get to constantly be in touch with and learn from practicing designers and artists, I get to situate writing in these art spaces, to think more collaboratively across forms. I learn a lot from their thought process and there’s a lot of informal skill swapping. Like with SPAM we are always developing the dynamics of working as a team – on projects ranging from speculative performance, installation, film, reading groups and workshops. The podcast has also been such a lifesaver in lockdown: an excuse to stay in touch, do light reading, reminisce and pick the brains of special guests in the virtual studio. I tell you, I’ve not had to do one single Zoom quiz in lockdown!

I waitressed for most of my twenties, often juggling this with full-time undergrad and postgrad study. The thing about waitressing, I was talking to Denise about this recently, is that when you’re given a task it’s often on top of a to-do list that’s already six, seven, eight tasks long. Can you run food to table 5, get the pepper grinder for table 3, there’s plates to clear outside, you need to go sign the req, the phone’s ringing, someone’s asking about the rota, tables 10-11 need reset, where have the napkins gone?, there are walk-ins approaching your section, you need to check tonight’s bookings, you really need to fucking pee. I think I’ve transferred some of that constant task-juggling to my otherwise life of academia, editing, journalism and writing. It’s just that all that sociality and complication is more or less on twitter, Google Drive or my inbox now. I’m still learning to slow the pace and appreciate that stuff doesn’t need to get done as urgently as it often does in hospitality. I guess being a Gemini with a low attention span also helps; I procrastinate one thing with another. Can’t work on the conference paper? Try writing an album review, reading submissions or answering those order queries. I wish I had a more advisable, healthy and sustainable answer. I want to spend time getting into a work and slow down for it; I’ve been writing more by hand and reading more physical books in lockdown. There’s a point where pdfs just blur into a migraine highway. It’s getting harder to parcel out time and structure the day, in the absence of other places to work or play. I really miss gigs, trains and IRL seminars! Mostly I end up awake at 3am trying to write poems about communist hedgehogs. 

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

So after finishing the incredible Wayward Lives by Saidiya Hartman, I’ve been delving into my Fred Moten back catalogue, including all his lectures online. There’s something in the grain of his voice, this warmth, openness; the interest in the vernacular, a turn of phrase, a fragment of something remembered or passed down. It’s a much more generous, expansive and collaborative practice of study – a whole musical thing. Everyone in a university or otherwise institution should read his book The Undercommons, with Stefano Harney. But also the poetry, it’s brilliant. Blue, blurry, warm. The landscaped shape of the books also – that sense of a score or horizon, the length. I’m loving All that Beauty right now.

Everything Verity Spott does blows me away, I can hardly explain it. She’s fierce and hilarious, sharp as hell, and her writing is stunning and magical and sometimes tender. You should watch some of her epic performances on YouTube, especially this one – a full-length reading of her book Click Away Close Door Say (Contraband Books). People should do more full-length readings, no? We have all the no-time in the world now! I’d love to hear more people read their whole pamphlets, especially if it’s recorded so I can pause and come back to it, the way I often do with films.

I’ve been going through a bit of a New York phase, rereading Eileen Myles’ Chelsea Girls and then Inferno. Something about the pace of their writing always excites me, and the richness of voice, documentation and self-reflection in the prose especially. I’m always so carried. The drama of life right now, even as we sorta come out of lockdown, is still pretty confined to the news. Reading Myles you wanna drink beer in bed, have lots of sex, write poems. Take permission. Light. I’m also devouring everything I can find of Bernadette Mayer’s, as I have been in the last couple years since the brilliant Colin Herd introduced me to her. There’s a reprint of her book/installation Memory that’s just come out in hardback from Siglio Press and it’s beautiful – the poems and the photographs, the stuff on colour (Bernadette is a synaesthete, which I can partially relate to). Also Alice Notley’s Certain Magical Acts and the recent For the Ride, which is this wild, refracting trip around a much more exciting chaos and world’s end than the one in which we are living. Or maybe they’re augmentations of each other. 

Every now and then I also dip into these gorgeous little pamphlets of sonnets that Ian Heames (editor of Face Press) does. There are these startling moments of presence and intensity: whether it’s a helicopter being flown through the poem or lines like ‘Now I am really standing in the road / and want to overspend on cashmere’. But again a sort of lightness of matter and gatherings. I read the amazing Peter Gizzi for that also (and so much of his book Sky Burial in recent months, the elegy and beauty of it, has meant the world to me). I think I’m looking for work that can really push what is understood by the Anthropocene, beyond the established bounds of ecopoetics and nature poetry, and this sense as a mediated condition. And the everyday. Poetry being written that acknowledges its post-internet condition through innovative registers and form, but also poetry that feels in a lyric or Romantic tradition somehow, that fucks about with space and time, that really has a faith in voice and song and that potential to communicate or find intimacy in a word, a space, a line. I want portals in poems, as well as exits, and flight. Refusal.

FGTS published your poem ‘Metempsychosis’ in Issue 38. Do you remember what led into the making of this poem?

I seem to remember it was based on a dream I had, at a time when I was having quite narrative dreams. I wasn’t sleeping very much at the time, maybe averaging four hours a night. In Chelsea Girls Eileen Myles says ‘Dreaming is like getting drunk alone, the less you live the more you dream, the more fantastic and outrageous the dreams get’. Maybe I was going through a dry spell socially. It’s kind of disturbing to read back, but I remember it came out all at once, as these poems often do, a sort of unfurling of actions and scenes. I don’t write narrative poems so much but maybe this sorta counts. And Anthony Daly was my editor; he had some really nice advice on polishing the poem up to bring out the music and imagery. Reading it back now, it’s funny how a lot of those ideas still haunt my work: a sort of weird ecology, necropastoral, dream imaginaries and twists of surrealism, scorched earth, the weather, foliage and chlorophyll – I mean, Chlorophyllia is the title of my next pamphlet (forthcoming from OrangeApple Press)! I remember at the launch I was doing a reading wearing this kind of long vintage dress and the light in the pub was really pale and later someone commented that I resembled an undead Brontë heroine, which I guess fit the vibe of the poem somehow. I went through a phase of reading all those strange kinda mystical, lovely lyrics that Emily wrote; I had a little copy that I carried around on walks for a bit.

Finally, could you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on these days?

The next part of my PhD thesis, which is practice-based and titled ‘Hypercritique: Towards a Lyric Architecture for the Anthropocene’, is looking at the material poetics of glass and glasshouses. I am thinking of broken glass and light and breath, of space within spaces, prisms. I’m reading Derrida, Layli Long Soldier, Sean Bonney and Clarice Lispector. I’m also finalising a couple of my own pamphlets that are coming out this year, alongside some editorial work for SPAM (we’ve got some really exciting titles from Oli Hazzard, Sam Walton, and Lizzie McCreadie still to come this year) and Dostoyevsky Wannabe. With Rhian Williams, I’ve been co-editing an anthology titled The Weird Folds: Everyday Poems from the Anthropocene which is forthcoming from Dostoyevsky. That’s been so exciting and such a privilege to work with Rhian, who is such a shining intellectual light for me, and pull together loads of UK writers who I absolutely love and admire — too many to name! A+E Collective are working with solarpunk/petrocultures academic Rhys Williams plus anthropologists Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe (who run the Cultures of Energy podcast) on a project for COP26 on the topic of ‘low-carbon pleasures’. A collaborative poem, sans soleil with fred spoliar and a panel, ‘”To spill the frame”: Reimagining Intimacies in Anthropocene Poetics and Citational Practice’, with Fred Carter and Katy Lewis Hood for ASLE’s Out of the Blue conference. Oh, and growing my hair, getting better at yoga. Putting together my first lecture. Painting more.

‘You write it and then you sort of give it up to others, maybe you write some more… …the process of writing and reading is always collaborative, even when the work is out there.’ – Maria Sledmere