Elizabeth Train-Brown will be appearing at the official book launch on the 5th October, 6.30 PM at Lancaster Waterstones, hosted by Renard Press.
London-based Renard Press this August published SCAN’s very own writer and previous editor, Elizabeth Train-Brown (she/they). Twice-shortlisted Poet of the Year, Beth was editor of Lancaster University’s Flash Literary Journal for three years and is now going into her final year studying English Literature and Creative Writing.
Published over 50 times in anthologies and literary journals worldwide, Beth is headlining an event at Lancaster Literary Festival this year alongside lecturers Eoghan Walls and Paul Farley. In February, she is due to appear on a panel at Portsmouth Book Festival and has been invited to lead a workshop at Kirkby Lonsdale Poetry Festival.
Her debut collection, salmacis: becoming not quite a woman, explores gender identity through gods, monsters, and sambuca shots. Most of it was written during their time at university, taking inspiration from her own Pagan and Catholic religions alongside studenthood.
“I identify as non-binary and, following sexual trauma, I struggled with my own body more than ever. There have been bouts of gender dysphoria but also these moments of disassociating from my body as a physical, sensual being.
“When I started trying to write these experiences down, I realised just how many other things evolve our relationships with our bodies over time. Society, age, experience, mental health, heritage.
“These ideas spun around in my head for a long time and it was Liz Oakley-Brown’s lecture on Ovid’s Metamorphosis that gave them a channel.
“The story goes that Hermaphroditus (the cleverly named son of Hermes and Aphrodite) was bathing in a lake. The nymph of that lake, Salmacis, fell in love with him. Begging the gods to let them be together, she bonded with him, becoming a being that was both male and female. It’s commonly credited as one of the first examples of an intersex person in Western literature and where we get the term ‘hermaphrodite’ today.
“To capture this sensation of feeling not quite like a woman, feeling not quite in tune with my own body, I took the metaphor of Salmacis and used it to collect these poems together. It’s a little sinister, a little magical, and a little liberating – which is kind of what it feels like to have that conversation with your body about what your bits mean.”
Early reviews for salmacis have hailed it as ‘clever, witty, raw’, ‘tantalising and unique‘, ‘one of those books that should be on the school’s curriculum.’
Laura Roach wrote: ‘Train-Brown’s imagery is so strong and provoking that I could literally feel it in my body. My favourite poem from the collection, ‘chasing my therapist to a rave in the woods’, I couldn’t help but laugh at.’
Janet of Love Books, Read Books added: ‘I’ve read this volume over several times and on each reading have gained a new favourite. Elizabeth Train-Brown is being and shouting loudly about it. I hope that they continue to produce such engaging work.’
Talking about her inspiration, Beth told SCAN:
“Reading Carol Ann Duffy, Rebecca Tamas, and my hero Phoebe Stuckes helped me realise poetry doesn’t have to be white men writing about flowers and pretty women on hillsides.
“It can be visceral and raging. It can be about cutting your tits off in the shower and buying Creme Eggs in Morecambe and pouring cheap red wine over your laptop while your flatmate shags upstairs.
“The first (proper) pamphlet of poetry I ever put together was for Eoghan Walls’ poetry module in second-year at Lancaster and it was called him. It was made up of 10 poems that told the chronological story of god appearing in the narrator’s life like Peter Pan’s shadow, except with a bag of coke and a litre bottle of vodka. As the pamphlet goes on, it follows how the narrator gently but firmly destroys him.
“him became my mantel for what I want my writing to do. salmacis is just as daring, reverent, and heretical. It’s everything I wanted it to be and I’m so thrilled Renard Press is publishing it with as much devotion to religion and hedonism as I wrote it.”
Outside of poetry, Beth works as a fire-breather in the circus, a multi-award-winning national journalist, part-time model, and competitive pole dancer.
When asked about how she manages all this alongside putting together a full collection of poetry, Beth had this to say:
“University is a very special moment in time. I’ve been using it as a chance to do all of these weird and magical things, making time for what makes my heart sing. University is about discovering the things that make us happy, that give us those wild stories to tell at parties.
“My parents always taught me that that’s what life is for, too, and I owe a great deal to their life lessons in how things don’t always turn out the way you plan and why following your heart is the key to happiness.
“My dad once saw a circus when he was a teen living in Lincoln. He taught himself to juggle every night before bed until he quit school at 14 and travelled the country as a juggling clown. He’s 77 this year and has worked at the radio, in newspapers, at cabarets, on fairgrounds, and in plenty of circuses.
“My mum went to university as a mature student and planned to do a degree in Accountancy so she’d get a steady paycheck when she graduated. At induction, she accidentally filled in the wrong form and was enrolled on a Psychology course by mistake. Over 20 years later, she works as a Psychology lecturer at Lincoln College.
“Basically: Life can’t be planned or tamed. Sod it all and start saying yes to the things that sound fun. Take up fire breathing and pole dancing and write poetry when you’re drunk. It’s wonderful.”
Join Beth and SCAN at Waterstones Lancaster on Wednesday 5th October at 6.30 PM for the official book launch where you can expect home-baked goodies, poetry readings, a book signing, and an after-party.
Feature image by Thom Bartley.