Jacqueline Saphra and the T.S. Eliot Prize

Last month we were delighted to see Hercules author, Jacqueline Saphra give an amazing reading in the Royal Festival Hall to a rapt audience. She was reading from All My Mad Mothers, published by Nine Arches which was nominated for the T.S. Eliot prize for the best poetry books of the year. We caught up with Jacqueline afterwards and asked her about the experience:

Photo by Adrian Pope

“The T.S. Eliot shortlisting was a breathtaking surprise and an absolute joy. The prize wasn’t even on my radar because until this year, only the established and larger publishing houses have been listed. I’m obviously thrilled for Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press and thrilled for all the other Nine Arches poets, very fine ones. Jane’s an inspirational grafter, as most small publishers have to be. My books have been published only by those editors on the fringes and I know how hard they work. Ocean Vuong, a brilliant poet, had a team of publicists, copy editors and designers behind him. I had Jane; and what a brilliant job she’s done. My experience with Tamar Yoseloff, another inspirational grafter, at Hercules Editions, has been very similar: plenty of direct contact with my editor from the start and a close feeling of connection with fellow poets like Ruth Valentine, whose wonderful Rubaiyat for the Martyrs of Two Wars was published in the same year as A Bargain with the Light.

As far as the Eliot experience goes, I loved that in the run-up there was a publicist spreading the word about poetry (I believe in expanding our audiences), and I really enjoyed the interviews I did on Radio London and Sky News. I can honestly say the night of the readings was one of the best of my life as well as one of the most extreme. I was asked to read first in the second half and found myself suffering from a kind of adrenaline-induced hypothermia – I just couldn’t get warm – before I went on to read. Later Bill Herbert, the Chair of the judges joked to someone that they’d almost had to wrap me in silver foil! Once I was up there I was fine of course: the performer in me kicked in, supported by very audible cheers and whoops from the audience. I had rehearsed a great deal and been excellently coached by my friend the wonderful poet Miriam Nash. The experience of reading to a packed audience at the Festival Hall – around 1500 people I believe – was astounding and unforgettable. I felt very present throughout (which is not always the case), despite the enormous space – or maybe because of it.

Now I just want to do it again! I’m counting the number of readings – from both books – coming up in the next few months and looking forward to performing more – the poems take on new life when they’re read out loud to any audience, small or large. As to the future, I’m hoping that the doors are now open to more independent presses, not just the usual suspects and that we’ll see more nominations of books from other small publishing houses in years to come.”

Photo by Adrian Pope

We’re delighted to say that there are more opportunities to see Jacqueline read from her Hercules chapbook A Bargain with the Light coming up.

Saturday 3rd of March 

Poetry at The Room

33 Holcombe Road, Tottenham Hale N17 9AS

With Martyn Crucefix, Graham Buchan and Nandita Ghose

£5 on the door

Saturday 10th March

Jacqueline will be reading at WOW Bites: Saturday Afternoon

as part of the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival

Tickets from the Southbank Centre’s website

A Bargain with the Light is available to buy from the Hercules Shop