Message from Stephanie Sy-Quia

Stephanie Sy-QuiaGreetings from Rome. I am here to look for buried histories, research for my next book. In many ways the true story I am looking for is beyond reach: the archives inaccessible, the record erased. So I must make do with the impressions it has left – the short list of buildings I know for a fact to have played a role, the versions of the story which exist in the memory of others.

Being here, and engaged in this kind of project, reminds me of alice hiller’s incredible book bird of winter (Liverpool University Press, 2020). The book’s subject matter is harrowing (hiller’s grooming and sexual abuse as a child), and to illuminate it, she writes in her afterword, ‘the shadow worlds of Pompeii and Herculaneum were a source of intense illumination for me’. Several of the poems take artefacts from either site as their cue: there are the plaster casts made from the ashen forms of a child or a dog; a bracelet, a shard of pot. They are intercut with erasure poems, made from hiller’s teenage medical notes. It is a book about abhorrent histories and wounded records, but also, more emphatically, about joy, love, and self-reclamation. I have been fervently recommending it to everyone I meet since I read it.

And now, excitingly, I have the great honour of being able to invite hiller to be a part of this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival! She is one of the first people I contacted, and naturally I was absolutely delighted when she said yes. She will be featuring in an event entitled “Form as Radical Midwife: Making the difference”, alongside Gail McConnell and Padraig Regan, authors of The Sun is Open (Penned in the Margins) and Some Integrity (Carcanet). hiller has also very generously offered to lead a hand erasures workshop for the festival. This will be entitled Wormholes, and the starting texts on offer will be numerous texts to do with the British Empire. hiller will lead an initial workshop on how to make erasures, but then the texts will be available on a drop-in basis for the remainder of the festival, for anyone to try their hand, free of charge.

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Fandom and Medieval Mysticism by Stephanie Sy-Quia, Guest Curator