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Salena Godden
(United Kingdom)   
Salena Godden

Salena Godden is known for the graphic power of her work and, over time, she has fostered a reputation as one of the foremost performance poets in the UK. She crowdfunded and published Springfield Road, a memoir of her childhood, with Unbound in 2014. In addition to this, she has released two poetry collections: Fishing In The Aftermath (Burning Eye Books, 2014) and Under The Pier (Nasty Little Press, 2011). Her essay ‘Shade’ featured in the 2016 anthology The Good Immigrant (Unbound) which won the 2016 Book of the Year’s Readers’ Choice Award. Her performance of her poem ‘Titanic’ was featured in the critically acclaimed BBC spoken word programme We Belong Here, and in 2017 her album LIVEwire was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry. A very active writer, and a dedicated mentor, Godden regularly advises and coaches poets who are new to the spoken-word scene, while also teaching writing in schools. 

As a poet, Godden is something of a trickster figure, slipping across the boundaries of race, culture, class, taste and bringing something of each place she's visited to the next phase of her journey. She embraces this transgressive role, in work and in life, cheerfully describing herself as 'Jamish' — a portmanteau designed to incorporate three aspects of her heritage; Jamaican, Irish, and English. Raised in England by a Jamaican mother, her father was an Irish jazz musician, who killed himself when she was nine. Godden has always described herself as feeling like an outsider; this is not a bad role to have. In an interview with The Skinny, she said, "I just wish we could stop with the snobbery and the bollocks that surrounds poetry. I'd rather sit under the table than pull up a chair to join the salesmen and magicians! The books I love don't come from a clean place, the writers I love to read are brutally honest and filthy. They exist on the outside... the outside may be cold, but it's the best place to be."
Indeed, Godden's writing is often beautiful, sometimes brutal, but it is never 'clean'. Dirt is fertile, it breeds life, and her poetry is full of both. Her written work draws its sharp imagery and rhythmic repetition from the spoken-word form, and uses those trappings to generate worlds all outsiders recognize. 'The Saturday Shift' is written from the perspective of a barmaid (who spends her downtime reading essays by Jonathan Franzen) reflecting on the life of a regular who died, badly, of cirrhosis of the liver. She and another barmaid spend the wake discussing the role they might have played in his death, and the slow deterioration of a customer who was very nearly a friend:

He was in the pub every day;
we watched his sallow deterioration.
He was swollen-bellied and cold all summer,
a stale perfume of decay,
like a snappy threadbare dog.
But we were used to him, we loved him in our way,
and the fireplace is empty and strange
without him standing there now.
The hidden thread in the poem seems to be the question of whether or not the speaker was morally obligated to drive away his business. The larger warp and weave of the tapestry presents an intimate scene of slow, communal self-destruction.
'The Saturday Shift' contains a graphic description of a slow death. 'Cervical Smear' is just as easy to visualize, but the subject is rather on the other end of the scale. This funny, flinching poem uses a romping rhythm to describe a painful (necessary) procedure in the voice of a hilariously sadistic OBGYN:
Open your legs, poke your inner flower.
That's it, lady. Did you bathe or shower
before you came to surgery today?
Looks like you should have, shall we say.
Now see these metal, razor sharp utensils,
as wide as sellotape around one-hundred and fifty pencils?
Now that's to clamp you like a car jack.

This poem gives voice to a subject which is often considered too personal to talk about — a taboo, linked to fact that women are expected to feel shame about their anatomy, which Godden cheerfully breaks. The graphic, occasionally shocking, content of her work is always carefully considered. The shocks serve a purpose: removing the ease of complacency.
But Godden is not a one-note poet, in content or in tone. Some of her work veers dramatically towards the lyrical. 'Old Blood and Young Teeth' is decidedly in the latter camp. It is centred around questions of love and time, edging into territory that is blatantly, beautifully metaphysical:

 A life is so short
 When you consider the age
 Of the temples and cathedrals
 Built with the faith and old blood of men
 Who lived short lives and then died
 In the name of their Gods and their Gods immortality
 Consider the age of that gold Buddha
 It is older than the crippled tree that was planted when it was erected
 But younger than the river beneath it and the ocean oldest of all
 And the years of the sun and the moon?
 Who is eldest? The sun or the moon?
Reviewers have described Godden as 'a powerhouse' and that description is accurate. Like mercury (the God, the metal) she flows easily and beautifully from one state to another, barely pausing for breath.

© Bethany W. Pope for The Poetry Society

Poetry collections
LIVEwire, Nymphs and Thugs, London, 2017
Springfield Road: a childhood memoir, Unbound, London, 2014
Fishing in the Aftermath: Poems 1994-2014, Burning Eye Books, Portishead, 2014.
Under The Pier, Nasty Little Press, Norwich, 2011
Poetry in anthology
#Untitled Two: Neu! Reekie!, Polygon Books, Edinburgh, 2016.
Bang Said The Gun, Burning Eye Books, Portishead, 2013.
Liminal Animal, Tongue Fu, London, 2012
Raconteur, Parthian Books, Swansea, 2011
Dwang 1, 2 & 3, Tangerine Press, London, 2009
The Salzberg Review, Salzberg, 2006
Velocity, Black Spring Press, London, 2003
IC3: New Black Writing, Penguin, London, 2000
The Fire People, Payback Books, London, 1998
Short fiction and essays in anthology
 Bare Lit Anthology, Brain Mill Press, Green Bay, WI, 2017
The Good Immigrant, Unbound, London, 2016
The Unreliable Guide to London, Influx Press, London, 2016
Connecting Nothing With Something, Influx Press, London, 2013
Too Much Too Young Anthology, Bookslam, London, 2012
Sixty-Six Books, Oberon Books, London, 2011
MIR Review 7, Birkbeck University, London, 2010
Punk Fiction, Portico Books, London, 2009
The Decadent Handbook, Dedalus Books, Huntingdon, 2006
Croatian Nights, Serpents Tail, London, 2005
Tell Tales: Volume 1, Tell Tales, London, 2004
Vox n Roll - Serpents Tail, London, 2001
Spoken word albums and collaborations
Salena Godden/ Promise Of Gold TwoFive / Apples & Snakes, 2007
SaltPeter/ I'm Not Gay But… EP / FRED Records, 2007
SaltPeter/ Everybody Back To Mine E.P / FRED Records, 2006
Coldcut/ DVD / Ninja Tune Records, 2006
SaltPeter/ SaltPervert E.P / SaltPeter Records, 2005
Alabama 3 feat Salena Saliva/ Boots / One Little Indian, 2005
SaltPervert/5AM/single re-mix /OXYD Records, 2003
Gargoyle Spoken Word CD/compilation/USA / Gargoyle, 2003
Perfecto Presents…Seb Fontaine/compilation / Perfecto, 2003
Flat Pack Antenna/Resonance FM compilation / Resonance FM, 2003
Salena Saliva & The PC Collective /Egg Yolk Planet Fried debut album / Saltpetre Records, 2000
Saltpetre CD/Volume One / Saltpetre Records, 1999
Coldcut/Let Us Replay/ Virginia Epitome / Ninja Tune Records, 1999
Coldcut/Let Us Play/ Noah's Toilet / Ninja Tune Records, 1998

Godden's website
Godden's Springfield Road on Unbound
Godden reading an excerpt from Springfield Road
Interview with Godden in The Skinny
Review of Fishing in the Aftermath on Sabotage Reviews


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