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On our blog, Claire Crowther celebrates the 5th anniversary of her Hercules Editions title, Silents, which is now available again to purchase from our shop

Claire Crowther at the Cinema Museum in London © Vici MacDonald

The lockdown this past year has had all the hallmarks of my 2015 session of intense silent film-watching that resulted in Silents. A quiet day in a quiet house, sitting in my living room hour after hour, sheaves of notes for poems tossed to the floor as I watched the curling edges of scenes come and go between minimal words framed in curlicues and scrolls: it was a pleasure then to have more hours to write. It was the formal response – ekphrastic poems, poems about another form of art – that I had time to develop and it was a delight to discover where to place my response to the film, to film making in general, and to the concerns of an era I knew little about.

Horror and humour are what I think of most when I think of those months wrapped in another era, gripped by colourless and silent images (but not wordless and never boring: after all, watching a film made a hundred or so years ago is to time travel and walk the streets of history). These two qualities are exceptionally well done by early film directors: in German expressionist films, for example, or in early Hollywood or even late nineteenth century films made in France and England.

I am not a film academic, I’m an avid watcher, when I have the time, and I like all the ancient legends that a much later wildly successful TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, celebrates: werewolves, vampires, demons, witches, ogres and the general hell of a paradise lost. As in Buffy, Hellmouth is a funny place. It’s as though discovering film meant, primarily, looking fear in the face and laughing.

And what faces there are in these dystopian masterpieces! Renée Falconetti in Passion of Joan of Arc, HD (Hilda Doolittle, a famous poet at the time) in Borderlines, the metal face of the goddess in Metropolis, the agonising close ups of Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh. It’s not possible to see their agony in the theatre even in the front row. But a film massively enlarges the suffering human face.

The black and white dimensions are not, of course, colourless. Or, to put it another way, there is a mass of shading, of tonal variation in scenes. As there should be in the stanzas of a poem. Clever lighting shadow boxes with the unfolding of emotion and of story. Good line breaks and word choices carry a poetry reader through an emotional narrative.

A poem does not (usually) have a visual equivalent. Hercules Editions shows how an image can add immeasurably to a poem. I was delighted when Tamar Yoseloff expressed an interest in developing Silents as a project that balanced visual image with word. A page poem is a thing of words and they enter the heart of the reader in silence. You are locked down with page poems if you buy a book and read it at home. I was locked down with silent films, at home, in my living room. I entered a silent world and, as in a meditation, emerged thoughtful and, hopefully, emotionally toned.


In Silents, Claire Crowther's subject is early cinema, the strange and wordless shadow world of gestures and expressions, populated by witches and vampyres, and impresarios such as Edison and Artaud. The poems provide a script for and a dialogue with the world of silent film, using as a springboard its marginalized figures, and the dawn of modernism. The book is illustrated by stills Crowther has selected from the Ronald Grant Archive, a fascinating collection of film memorabilia housed in an old Lambeth workhouse. As well as the author's foreword, there is also an essay by the writer and broadcaster Kevin Jackson that places these films into the larger context of modernist practice.

  • Writer's pictureHercules Editions

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

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,

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,

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,

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.

  • Writer's pictureHercules 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

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