The great majority of Frances Presley’s work is gathered into the last two volumes mentioned below, which thus represent a kind of Collected Poems: Paravane: New & Selected Poems 1996-2003 (Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2004) and Myne: new and selected poems and prose 1976-2005 (Shearsman Books, Exeter, 2006). Her work might best be described as “feminist experimental”, but her work also has clear connections to the contemporary “radical pastoral”, espoused by poets such as Harriet Tarlo, and is not overtly polemical, making its points through subtle means, and explorations of language and meaning. Her interests in archaeology and in the south-western English landscape collide with delightful effect in her most recent sequence, which takes the work of two women archaeologists as a starting point, combining found texts, or prompts, with more traditional modes of ‘seeing’, and using open-field textual presentation, where the poem’s layout can be as scattered as the stones on the Moor. Her interest in collaborative and cross-disciplinary activities also points to another significant strand of late 20th/early 21st century feminist creativity. And within all of this organizational aspect of her work, the words still sing, as only a poet’s words can.
The poet herself writes: I was born Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1952, of English and Dutch-Indonesian parents. My father’s family were miners and farmers in Derbyshire, although he became a teacher. My mother lived in the Dutch colony of Indonesia until the Second World War, and met my father after being liberated from a Japanese concentration camp. I have one brother. We lived first in Derbyshire, then Lincolnshire and finally moved to Somerset. I grew up in the country and had freedom to roam, although the agribusiness was already changing the landscape. I was educated at Grantham Girls’ Grammar School, where I rebelled against the rounded vowel, and at Minehead Upper School.
My defining moment in poetry came in 1969 when I first read Ezra Pound’s ‘Lustra’. My poetic and political interests developed as an undergraduate in the 1970’s at the University of East Anglia, studying American literature and history. I also spent a year in the United States at Franklin & Marshall College where I wrote about contemporary American poetry. However, in the States I realized that I was European and not just English, and decided to learn more about European poetry. My MA thesis at the University of Sussex compared Ezra Pound and Guillaume Apollinaire, and their response to the visual arts. It was followed by a year at the University of Neuchatel, and research in modern French poetry and surrealism. Returning to UEA, I completed an MPhil, which was a critique of the contemporary French poet Yves Bonnefoy, and of ‘logocentrism’ in French poetry.
In 1980 I moved to London to work as a librarian, and later specialized in research and information for community development. I now work part time for the national Poetry Library. I joined a housing co-operative in North London, which is where I still live. Although I had been writing throughout the ’70s, and publishing in university arts magazines, my own writing and performance came into focus in the ’80s. I was involved in the Sub-Voicive readings in their various incarnations, and it was through these that I met my partner Gavin Selerie. I was a member and later co-ordinator of the Islington Poetry Workshop. I was also closely involved in the small press North and South, with Peterjon and Yasmin Skelt and David Annwn. North and South published my first collection of poems and prose: The Sex of Art.
In the early ’90s I established my own small press, and published my second book Hula Hoop. Ian Robinson, of Oasis Books, published my third collection, Linocut in 1997. I embarked on a major collaboration and performance with the artist Irma Irsara, based around the fashion industry and women’s clothing, and part of this project is available in book form as Automatic cross stitch (Other Press, 2000). I have also collaborated on a simultaneous email text with the poet Elizabeth James – Neither the One nor the Other (Form Books 1999). Somerset Letters (Oasis, 2002), which began as a collaboration with the poet Elaine Randell, experiments with prose, as well as exploring landscape and rural society. The sequence Paravane originated with discussions on the How2 editorial board post 9/11, but then focused on the IRA bombsites in London. It was published as part of New and Selected Poems, 1996-2003, from Salt. I am currently working on another Somerset sequence with the poet Tilla Brading, which approaches the Neolithic stone settings through visual experimentation and the writings of women archaeologists. Part of this sequence is published in my recent collection Myne: new and selected poems and prose 1976-2005, from Shearsman.
I have also written various reviews and essays, about my poetic practice and that of other poets, especially British women poets.
The Sex of Art, North and South, London, 1988
Hula Hoop, Other Press, London, 1993
Linocut, Oasis, London, 1997
Neither the One nor the Other [with Elizabeth James], Form Books, London, 1999
Automatic Cross Stitch [with Irma Irsara], Other Press, London, 2000
Somerset Letters, Oasis, 2002
Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996-2003, Salt, Cambridge, 2004
Myne: New and Selected Poems & Prose 1976-2005, Shearsman, Exeter, 2006
An interview with Frances Presley
Edmund Hardy quizzes Frances about puzzles, debris and complications, at Intercapillary Space.
A poem sequence hosted at Great Works.
Frances Presley review at HOW2
Presley on “A Folio for Fanny Howe”.