Yesterday (February 14) I launched my debut collection of poetry, Lore: Flowers, Folklore, and Footnotes, into the world. It's been a work in progress for some time - throughout my year as Worcestershire Poet Laureate, and since the tenure finished - so it's a joy to see it unleashed, with kind reader reviews already appearing.
I, like most writers who are about to launch a book, told anyone would listen - and a few who looked like they may have stopped listening - that I had a book coming out. This announcement by me was invariably followed a burning question from them:
"So, what's the book about?"
I would flick through one lengthy answer after enough before smiling and saying, "Mostly flowers."
And they would give me a look - that look - to suggest, "But of course it's about flowers. What else could poetry be about..."
At the launch yesterday, though, and while I continue to ferret around in the back-end of plantlore and folklore to find interesting tidbits, I realised that the book isn't really about flowers at all.
It's about the type of poisons used by tribesmen who are hunting. It's about the suicide tree and how many suspected homicides it may have been responsible for. It's about consent. It's about the ocean. It's about about witchcraft and feminism and loneliness and even, a teenie-tiny bit, about love.
When flowers have been used - which is often, I'll give you that - there is a footnote attached to explain an entirely different narrative. This is usually about a myth; or an explorer; or a wild historical event. Sometimes it's about folklore and medicine - or should that be "medicine" - that used to make the world work (or at least keep it going). In many ways, Lore isn't only a collection of narratives, it's a collection of sub-narratives; stories that have slipped down the cracks, and maybe a few that never even found air .
In a time where we are looking to the future, always, for something better, I've found one of my best distractions is sitting in the garden and looking at the past.
And, to me, that is what Lore is really about.
Praise for Lore: Flowers, Folklore, and Footnotes:
‘In these pages, Barnes has shouted Boo at me, and I am mute. Well, almost. These poems have the tender
touch of Naruder’s Love Songs and the bristling brutal barb of Anne Sexton. In Lore, she guides us through a
veritable Pre-Raphaelite landscape—as deadly and murky as it is full of life-giving sensuality. Ephemeral folktales and folklore are grounded by the historical and the place-specific, both aspects weaved together with deft precision. These poems come in the form of howling riptides and gentle splashes.’ R. M. Francis