• Hercules Editions

Updated: Oct 21

Miriam Nash talks about the inspiration for her new Hercules Editions book, The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr, and what it has meant to work with her own mother, the artist Christina Edlund-Plater, in the bringing together of image and text.

'Blood River' by Christina Edlund-Plater. Photo Jack Gorman, thereallygoodmediacompany.com

When I was commissioned to rewrite a myth or folk tale for the podcast series Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, I knew I wanted to draw from my Scandinavian heritage. My maternal grandmother was Swedish and moved to the UK in the 1950s. My mother was raised bilingual, but when I was growing up in Scotland, she didn’t feel in a position to pass Swedish on to me. The first time I visited Sweden I was 16 and it was, of course, a foreign country, but full of family and family stories – a place I already had a feeling for, through my imagination.

I learned Norse mythology at primary school. Odin, Thor and Loki – and their shadowy neighbours the frost giants – were vivid characters to me, though I didn’t connect them with my own heritage at the time. I wanted to write about these stories, to explore them more fully for myself, and in particular to find out more about their female characters. I remembered there were important goddesses, but in googling women in Norse mythology, I came across the nine mothers of Heimdallr, nine Jötunn or ‘giants’ who ‘gave birth’ to the god Heimdallr. All nine are named in the surviving Norse literature, but with very few details about them or their stories. We don’t know how or why Heimdallr has nine mothers, or what this might symbolise.

In my poem, The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr, nine giants tell the Norse creation myth to their son, in their cave on the edge of the Norse worlds. In the beginning, ice and fire met in the ‘Ginnungagap’, the void, to create Ymir, the first being, who was mother and father of the giants. After the first god, Buri, emerged from the ice, gods and giants lived together for a time, until Odin (half giant himself) convinced his brother-gods to destroy Ymir and cast out the giants. Ymir’s body was flung into the void to form the earth; their bones became hills and mountains, their skull became the sky. The gods became rulers; the giants swam for their lives through Ymir’s blood. In the nine mothers’ telling, this is also the tale of how Heimdallr became their child.

I’m interested in non-nuclear families. This is both because of the expansive shape of my own family (which includes stepparents who are very important to me, cousins in all directions and friends who are family) and because I care about having children in my life without being a mother. The idea of a child having nine mothers, who might all play different roles in that child’s life, is part of what made the nine mothers so compelling to me as characters.

'The Cave in the Mountains' by Christina Edlund-Plater. Photo Jack Gorman, thereallygoodmediacompany.com

When Tamar Yoseloff at Hercules Editions asked me if I had an artist in mind to illustrate the book, I heard myself saying: “My mum?” This was pretty wild of me – I hadn’t asked her, and we’d never discussed it. All my life my mother, Christina Edlund-Plater, has been making things: clothes, cushions, toys, paper weaving, costumes, cards, outlandish nativity scenes... I’d considered her an artist for many years, but she didn’t really think of herself that way. She was recovering from a serious illness and had told me about the fabric pictures she planned to make when well enough. When I thought about images for the book, I could see something like what she’d described. Tamar was interested. I asked Christina and she said yes.

Over the past year, Christina and I have worked together, expertly guided in the process by Tamar. Christina has refined felting techniques that allow her to create a sense of vastness but also detail in her pictures. One of my favourite parts was when, in her explorations, she laid out images in felt, froze them in the freezer, then cooked them in the microwave to make the fibres blend: a literal process of fire and ice, like the Norse creation.

Making this book together, we’ve spoken a lot about the mythology, about Sweden, about her mother and my grandmother, and about making art. She’s shown me the images she sees from lines in my poem, which are far more pictorially vivid than what I imagine, because she is such a visual thinker; I’m more focussed on sound and spoken story. The poem has grown larger with the artwork, even though the book, as an object, will be pocket-sized. The works have brought literal texture to the poem, and it’s lovely to see wool fibres in the photographs.

Christina has given me the space and tools to play with creativity all my life (her mother did the same for her), and it means a lot to me to have brought this commission and project to her, and see it become ours. Watching Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s Mother Tongues films, in which and poet-daughters and their mother-translators talk about language, culture and working together, Christina and I felt part of a wider possibility: celebrating art that springs from home, from everyday stories passed down (or not passed down), from sayings, from jokes, from making what needs to be made, together. The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr brings what was always a domestic collaboration – my mum and me making things at home – into a public space, and in doing so, deepens our work as intentional art. This process chimes with a poem of motherhood and creation; a story told to a child in a cave, that contains a universe.

Photo Jack Gorman, thereallygoodmediacompany.com

Miriam Nash is a poet and educator. Her poetry collection, All the Prayers in the House (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won a Somerset Maugham Award (2018) and an Eric Gregory Award (2015) from the Society of Authors. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Small Change (2013) was published by flipped eye. She performs and teaches internationally, supporting children and adults to find confidence in their creativity. Her long poem The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr, published by Hercules Editions, will be launched on 29 October 2020. miriamnash.com

  • Hercules Editions

Poet and artist Sophie Herxheimer, co-author with Chris McCabe of Hercules Editions' book The Practical Visionary, reflects on her return to London from a residency in California during lockdown, with the ever-present William Blake there to help her with a new project

I took Blake to Berkeley where he was glad to walk around hand in hand with Allen Ginsberg.

The residency I’d been invited to take up there was for six months from early December last year. During the first three I monopolised the monster of a library, raided the art shop, scoured and scampered in San Francisco, its devil-may-care book palace City Lights and sparkling vintage stores. I invited half the locality to my gorgeous residency house and studio for a reading, showed off my new Californian paintings, served up my best borscht and baked goods — and mostly, had my mind blown by living in a new place, where birds were process blue, Chanukah was as popular as Christmas, and winter lasted two weeks.

The following three months… well, you know the score. No salons, no visitors, no galleries, no bookshops, libraries or museums, no restaurants: LOCKDOWN. Even Blake went paler than usual, though my husband Adam had arrived by then, so things began to domesticate. A game of two halves. What a fearful symmetry.

It’s almost two months ago now that we returned to Brixton, and were shocked by the loose crowds in Brockwell Park wandering round mask-free and wild. “William,” I implored, “are we Lambethans really so unruly?” He laughed. He’d acquired a west coast accent. “Don’t sweat it honey,” he quoth, “you ain’t sick so quit protesting, Rose.” I put the kettle on and tried to stay indoors.

The kids had been minding the house, and our small back garden had become sheer overbearing weeds. My studio at home was similarly overgrown, but with bits of my pre-Berkeley project-mad ink-scrawled paper.

How could I land from such a life-changing experience? William advised I build on the work I’d made in California, the great connection that I’d felt whilst there to nature and her colours.

He helped me clear the garden and drag out crates of hoarded broken china from underneath the deck. For twenty years I’d kidded myself that I’d make a broken china mosaic on the back wall. In poetry there are some words that poets snigger at, words forbidden in poems, like ‘shimmer’, ‘soul’ and ‘shard’. These were the very things I found in the crates of long-forgotten jaunty crockery: plates I ate off as a child, a gold teapot, blue lustreware saucers bargained for in Brick Lane, green plates moulded like cabbage leaves from hefty porcelain, all waiting in chipped and cobwebbed oblivion. “Nothing from the famous Lambeth potteries, though?” William sighed. “Come on,” I said, “you never even liked that Doulton mashing clay in your Jerusalem! You’re like me, Will, and you know it, you need the colour!”

He fetched an old bucket and we mixed up sand and cement. “I like to haunt the tunnels near St Thomas's,” he said, “those mosaics made in honour of my songs, I’m taking Allen there tomorrow.” “Yes, yes, I know,” I said. “Well, stick with me, and we will make a brand new cosmos for you in this very yard, then we’ll say kaddish for you and Allen, the nurses and the unnamed Covid thousands.”

The china needed whacking into flattish pieces. Then I made a palette, using trays and washing up bowls for shards of different groups, the greens and blues, the tiles and cups, raised textures and bits of spout… More ghosts were gratified by my restitution of their glorious works, including the unsung painters of the Staffordshire potteries, often women, like those who even rose to fame, such as Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper, glimmers of both these genii found places in my new arrangements.

Friends came by with extra bits of cracked yet lovely china too. Welcome familiars, despite the impossibility of hugs. Something about this, and the rehabilitation of the broken stuff of the past, together with that gritty sensation of earth under my fingernails, helped settle me back into my neighbourhood for real.

“What if we can never go anywhere again?” sulked William. “Oh, you of all people!” I snapped. “You, who persuaded me that Poetry was the only type of transport that I’d ever need, and that through printmaking one could visit all the Realms Imaginable! In these times of downgraded A-levels and economic collapse, letting our souls fly where they will on the shimmering shards of broken promises is the nearest thing we have to hope!”

The garden was quiet, gold china fragments glowed in the dusk of an English heatwave. Emily Dickinson floated through the lack of French windows carrying a round of beers. She winked as she lay down the tray of tinkling beverages, international queen of strange weather and seclusion, “Back to normal then?” She said, her sense of irony shimmering like the real butterflies fooled into landing on a glazed art deco flower. “Back to normal,” we nodded, doing our best to dwell, as poets must, in possibility, a fairer house than prose.

Follow Sophie's blog at poetryteapot, where you can read her series of five posts about her time in California (December 2019, January 2020, March 2020, April 2020 and June 2020). She is also on Instagram as @sophieherx, and on Twitter as @SophieherX.

'The Practical Visionary' by Sophie Herxheimer and Chris McCabe is available from the Hercules Editions online shop for £10

  • Hercules Editions

Updated: Jul 22

As Hercules Editions launches Hercules Papers, a new series of pamphlets of essays by poets, Clara Karlsson interviews David Wheatley, the author of the first title to be published, The Wandering Mountains

David Wheatley

What led you to the decision to frame each chapter with a quotation from Tim Robinson? How do his texts inform yours?

The commission to write The Wandering Mountains came just after the death from the Coronavirus first of Máiréad Robinson and then her husband Tim shortly afterwards, in London. I was aware that they had tried unsuccessfully to return to Connemara and felt terribly sad about their dying so far from the place where they had lived so long and had made their own. Tim’s work has always been an inspiration to me, so I thought it might be an idea to organise my work around quotations from his. The quality of haecceitas, or ‘thisness’, in his writings on the West of Ireland is incomparable, his God’s-eye-view of place and the ground below our feet. There is one small difference worth signalling, though. In all the chapters of The Stones of Aran and the Connemara Trilogy, I can’t remember Tim ever getting lost and scratching his head despairingly over a map (he would have been the map-maker anyway) – except in his cosmic sense of our aloneness on the planet, which comes through strongly in his more geological moments. Whereas with me, on the most banal level, I am forever going astray, as I describe in the text.

Since you are primarily a poet, what is your relationship with prose-writing? What made the subject of this text better suited to be expressed through prose rather than poetry?

I have written large amounts of prose down the years, much of it of the hack-journalistic kind. But not all. I’ve written a memoir in prose poetry, and suspect I have the soul of an essayist – I venerate Hazlitt and De Quincey, and think of some of my favourite poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Niedecker) as essayists in verse. So why not, I tell myself.

In the text, you mention that you have shared great parts of your life between Ireland, England, and Scotland. How have each of these countries affected your sense of nationality, and how have they informed you as a writer? Would you consider yourself or your writing to belong more to one place than the others?

Like ancient Gaul, my life divides into three parts, though life abroad hasn’t exactly been a Roman conquest. In fact, I suspect it has ended up delivering me to a strange hybrid of the three countries with an extra fictive quality of its own. Just as the German poet Johannes Bobrowski inhabited a mindscape he called Sarmatia (a Germanic vision of Eastern Europe), perhaps I am a citizen of Pictland, a place where Irish people come to look at Scottish mountains while worrying feverishly about Brexit English nationalism. A strange aspect of Irish immigration into Britain is how it remains unchecked, meaning my sense of difference never comes up against the harder realities of visa requirements or a citizenship test, as it would if I was Nigerian or Chinese. I therefore think of myself as a kind of sub-citizen, lurking below the radar here in Scotland. This allows for a certain freedom to breathe, I find.

Throughout the text, the lines between mind and material seem to be increasingly blurred. The most prominent example of this are the titular wandering mountains, for which it is uncertain how much of their journey is taking place in real life, or in the narrator’s mind. How would you say that your mindscape has affected the landscape, or vice versa?

I just praised Tim Robinson for the materialist haecceitas of his work, but I think physical journeys are mental journeys too. His philosophy of the step, for instance, lends itself very well to a phenomenological reading: it makes me think of the feeling you get when you walk down the stairs in the dark and think there’s an extra step, but there isn’t. You are already taking that step in your mind, regardless of what your foot does. When I think of the journeys I am not currently free to make up mountains for instance (for parenting reasons), I think of these tentative feints in the dark. “O the mind, mind has mountains”, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once said, in a slightly different context…

You mention in the text that the imposed isolation during lockdown has not affected your physical reality in any obvious ways. But as is also evident from your writing, the isolation has affected you in a psychological sense. Do you think the isolated mentality has informed your writing?

I’m a great admirer of the work of W. G. Sebald but am aware of a strange tic in his work, where the narrator goes for long walks, both rural and urban, but never seems to meet or talk to anyone. And yet what is his writing if not one long conversation with the shades of history? I wouldn’t want my musings on social displacement in the Scottish countryside to seem like exercises in splendid isolation. There will always be some kind of latticework of connections across these divides, however subtle or secret. On one level Bobrowski’s poems are unpeopled dreamscapes, but on another they crystallise the truth of the postwar GDR experience. How you translate the one into the other I don’t know. Maybe that’s the reader’s job, not mine.

The presence of Gaelic names and poetry also seem to play into the theme of how material and immaterial realities affect each other. An example of which is the misunderstanding of the name Gownie Hill, and how its name informs people on how to view it. How would you say that languages, especially languages that are so tightly tied to certain geographical areas such as Gaelic and Scots, affect the way in which people interpret the world around them?

In Tim Robinson’s work there is a constant delight in the ‘drunkenness of things being various’, of the layer upon layer of stories lurking in the smallest detail on the map. I will mention Nan Shepherd too, in the Scottish context. The Gaelic aspect is central to her work too, but a part of me worries about the transferability of this approach to other places – let’s say Tunbridge Wells or Milton Keynes – where these historical palimpsests are unavailable. The short answer to that is they are available really, just in forms we may not have found yet. I see psychogeography, if anyone still uses that poor, old, half-baked term, as an attempt to re-enchant the beige spots on the map (Tunbridge Wells and Milton Keynes again) and give them an occult dignity of their own. But the vortex of linguistic plurality is very appealing, yes. Maybe my next frontier will be Norse Scotland – the Scotland of the Orkneyinga and the Norn speakers of Shetland.

Lastly, an underlying theme of your text, apart from the isolation, language and nature, is your son, Felix. In what way would you consider that his role as your son, and your role as his father, has had an effect on your role as a writer?

My son has had a very noticeable effect on my writing, not least in the fact that he is physically climbing all over me now as I write this, in bed. He seems supportive of my efforts but surprised me the other day when he ordered me to stop reading a book because “you can’t do that, you don’t know words”. My daughter Morven is just at the stage of becoming verbal now, too, and greedily learning the names of wildflowers. In fact, she corrected me when I got one wrong on a walk recently. Children are wonderful sources of inspiration but take them for granted at your peril.

Clara Karlsson is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen and a translator from Swedish. Photographs © David Wheatley

'The Wandering Mountains' is available from the Hercules Editions online shop for £5


Hercules Editions is an independent press combining poetry and prose with art and archival material, to create beautiful small books and prints. We’re based in Lambeth, the site of artist-poet William Blake’s last home and printing works in Hercules Road.

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