Tamar Yoseloff was born in the US in 1965. Since moving to London in 1987, she has been the organiser of the Terrible Beauty reading series at the Troubadour Coffee House, Reviews Editor of Poetry London magazine, and from 2000 to 2007, Programme Coordinator for The Poetry School. She currently works as a freelance tutor in creative writing.
A pamphlet collection (Fun House, Slow Dancer Press, 1994) was followed by her first full collection, Sweetheart (Slow Dancer Press, 1998), which was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation and the winner of the Aldeburgh Festival Prize. She received a New Writers’ Award from London Arts (now Arts Council England, London) for a manuscript in progress, which was eventually published as her second collection, Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon Press, 2004) Her most recent book, Fetch, was published by Salt in April 2007, as well as a collaborative book with the artist Linda Karshan, published by Pratt Contemporary Art. She was the editor of A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (Salt, 2007) and the Poetry Editor of Art World magazine from 2007-2009. Her upcoming collection with Salt, The City with Horns, will feature a sequence of poems inspired by the life and work of the American abstract artist, Jackson Pollock.
She holds a MPhil in Writing from the University of Glamorgan, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. She teaches for a number of institutions, including Birkbeck, Spread the Word and the Poetry School. In 2005 she was Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as part of their Year in Literature Festival. She divides her time between London and Suffolk, and has recently completed her first novel.
Her writing encompasses a wide range of ideas and subjects, but she is particularly interested in the relationship between poetry and visual art, specifically contemporary art. She has run a number of site-specific writing workshops which are concerned with poetry and place.
Of the following poems, the first three are new and unpublished, and the rest are selections from her previously published books.
The smell of mould, of permanent dark
as we lunge into the tunnel, a cold
I savour in this unseasonable heat
before the sputter into light:
a far field, a bonfire; a man
and his accumulated junk.
He swelters in the wake
of his destruction. Blaze, then go.
Facing the direction of travel
I’m beyond the pull of nostalgia:
the future is wherever
I care to disembark.
Invisible Nearby Sea
This landlocked city
spills into suburbs, lots choked with weeds,
fills what space it can take
like the man sitting beside me on the bus
who’s burst the banks of his bones to overflow –
we are too intimate in this folded space,
his breath timed to the beat of my heart.
I did not ask for his breath, his wet flesh,
his hands like slippery fish –
he must want to escape the swell
of his body, the contrived constraints of clothes.
And he will sense that I carry
the stagnant air of shuttered rooms, stalled lifts,
the slow creep of complacency. But still
it rises from tarmac to find us, clings
to our skin: that saline longing
for somewhere else.
The sky is cloudless,
reverting to its life before the birth of flight,
revealing no clues to its weather.
The track continues, dips
as the hill descends. I can’t see
where it leads,
just the hills beyond;
green of nearness, parched brown
of distance, the far black
like the dark sound of the volcano.
It perches on an island unlike ours,
echoes in memory, a folktale,
until its people nearly forget,
immersed in the fiction
of their own lives, their small storms,
and then, in the force of its eruption
it reminds them of their ignorance,
The wind bends the spruce
to watch their backs, as if something
has captured their attention,
carries the ash further, further,
like a whisper; I can’t see how it coats
my skin, my lips, a thin film covers my eyes.
It settles over the hills, dusts the valleys,
furs the branches of trees. It catches
in the throats of birds.
shimmer of my sashay.
Ssh, or you’ll miss me.
OOOYou’ll miss me,
the cool dip as I slip
from your fingers:
the one that got away.
A miraculous fish,
all glide and guggle,
as I dive into my sea
skimmed the surface.
I wear this, precious gift
of industrious worms,
OOOso I’m engrained
in your memory, like
the green light, red room,
the geisha gloom
of black silkOOOslick
under your fingers
as you undo those
fiddly little buttons
one by one, and open me:
a Pandora’s box,
a bag of tricks,
addressed to someone else.
The angels dancing on a pin’s head,
the UFO glittering in the night,
the aura left after you have gone––
all of them in my mind.
That faint red dwarf that passes
overhead when I am boiling a kettle
or making the bed
is invisible to the naked eye,
a ball of hydrogen and helium
making for the sun
over eighty miles a second,
certain of its course,
but I know it’s there, just as I steer
through a darkened room
by trust, its familiar contours
charted on my fingers.
The London Necropolis Railway
One day the dead outnumbered the living.
Whole streets wore black wreaths.
Corpses rose from the earth when it rained.
They erected monuments to themselves,
Egyptian pyramids, gothic temples in granite and marble.
They travelled in horse-drawn carriages
and wore their finest clothes.
Even those we thought were one of us
took on a quality we came to know,
the blood-splattered cough, the bloodless cheek.
It became fashionable to be dead.
Artists chose delicate models and painted them
swooning in their deathbeds, or if still alive, in mourning.
Poets drank absinthe in bars that looked like coffins
and kept a vial of laudanum under the bed.
Black glistened during the day
and glowed at night.
After a while we tired of their cold embrace
and banished them to the country.
From Waterloo to Woking,
they filled the carriages with their velvets and mahoganies,
the curtains drawn on the poor house
and the factories, the railway that spidered
through London, and gave way to green,
to clean air and cloudless sky.
There they finally lie in the shade of the trees,
while we go about our lives.
When we look back it is there, that
darkness of ourselves born
of days when the sun was blinding.
I trace what’s left on the pavement
where you walked, schist or shit,
your heavy feet relearning those lost steps,
a dance we moved to once,
a shadow play in liquid streetlight,
late lamps, sodium glow of stars.
What mattered was matter, the precise
weight of you, so many ounces
of flesh and blood,
your hand on my shoulder, solid
and light like music,
our empty glasses on the table,
beakers for what cannot be
contained; the feather
of our lips, our touch.
The first incision was the worst, the way
my scalpel sank into the strange grey flesh,
the stench, the pig’s eyes shut tight,
as if he couldn’t face the indignity,
his vital organs exposed. Mr. Ormanati bent over
my pig, so close I could smell mints on his breath,
trace the mound of his humpback through
his brown polyester jacket. I longed to touch it,
to see inside his refrigerator, where he kept
his insects; cold, they are easier to dissect.
Sometimes he left the closet door ajar
and if I craned my neck I could just see
his foetal deer, asleep in its huge glass jar.
Each night I’d drag the textbook to my room,
stare at diagrams of musculature until my mother
said goodnight, then by flashlight I’d find
my dog-eared Havelock Ellis, real life stories
of every kind of fetish: shoe sniffing, grown men
in diapers, animals, paedophiles, necrophilia.
By day I’d study the postman or the butcher
hoping they’d betray some hidden desire,
or the boy in my class who sometimes stared back
when Mr. Ormanati touched the curve of the female
reproductive system with his pointer, pronounced
fallopian softly, like the name of a song.
The prognosis is bad for you:
a heart clogged with the detritus
of living, grizzled and mottled,
purple and blue, so useless
it makes me love you more.
Have mine. I reach through
my sternum and into the cavity,
separate it from the aorta
and pulmonary artery. It is clean,
ripe, ready to do your bidding.
It throbs in my outstretched hand,
a bird that has fallen from its nest.
Without hesitation, you accept.
It slips in neatly, warms to your body,
defibrillated by a single shock.
Easy. Your pulse quickens
with the thought of my sacrifice,
but my love for you has been drained
with my blood: I am
listless, cold to your touch.