When you’re sent a book featuring a collection of poems about the quirky customs and rituals we Brits take part in throughout the year, there’s only one thing to do…. Get reading!
We at Contrary Life love this kind of thing, it’s our reason for being here after all. Second Place Rosette: Poems about Britain by the Emma Press promises more than just a snapshot of our bizarre penchant for standing in a field playing silly games though. It is the personal rituals that shed as much light on this bizarre little island as the conkers, bonfire nights, welly wanging, May pole dancing, First Footing customs and Hogmanay.
The local and regional peculiarities feature heavily, with the Haxey Hood game, Up Helly Aa, nettle eating contests, the Royal tradition of Swan Upping, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, Mischief Night and the Boxing Day Mummers’ Play; all told in a personal and poetic manner.
But there’s also a snapshot of our mix of cultures and traditions, ones that different families have grown up with across the country (be it a Jewish burial or an Indian wedding). In the mix of poems there are stories of childhoods, the changing of the seasons, watching the telly and picking fruit. All personal to the writer yet familiar to the reader.
Memories of watching Corrie with the grandparents, keeping the living room warm, nights out in Liverpool, making carnival costumes, eating fish and chips, making pastries, and saying prayers. It’s a lovely amble through the year, season by season, month by month, with a collection of voices and styles reflecting the eclectic nature of our nation.
Second Place Rosette is a poetry anthology that has been created to offer an inclusive view of Britain. The Emma Press have taken inspiration from Ovid’s Fasti and conceived the anthology as a response to Brexit (ah yes, that dreaded word).
I’m not sure it is a response as much as a reminder of what this country is really about. Not the negative ideology, the have and have nots, the simmering hate or a nostalgia for something that never really existed; but a celebration of the huge melting pot of cultures, traditions and oddities that we all can relate to or recognise as being peculiarly British. Family, festivities, rainy days, cooking food, the seaside, bus rides and the pub. The book is more muddy fields and warming soup than it is ‘this green and pleasant land’, and it’s all the more comforting for it.
The anthology is the fourth in the Emma Press Ovid series, which began in 2014. Each book in the series takes its inspiration from a work by the Roman poet. Second Place Rosette borrows the ‘almanac’ structure of Ovid’s Fasti, with a chronological calendar of holidays, rituals and practices that make up life in modern Britain.
The Emma Press is an independent publisher dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books. It was founded in 2012 by Emma Wright and is based in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham.
Second Place Rosette: Poems About Britain is published by the Emma Press and is out now in Paperback (priced £10).