New Voices First Pamphlet Award winner 2021
Natalie won her Award in our New Voices competition in 2021. Her first collection, Cataclysm, published as a pamphlet by Frosted Fire, is now on sale. Orders may be placed here or through your local bookshop.
Natalie will be launching her book in a Cheltenham Poetry Festival online event on 23 October. Free tickets can be ordered here.
Natalie is a finalist student in English and German at St John’s College, Oxford. She is a 2017 and 2018 winning and commmnded Foyle Young Poet and has won the Forward Student Critics’ Award, the Mapleton-Bree prize 2020 for work in the creative arts and the 2021 Martin Starkie Prize. She is Editor-in-Chief of The Isis Magazine, the longest-running student magazine in the UK. She is published or is forthcoming with bath magg, The White Review and Anthropocene, among others.
Reviews of Cataclysm
Reading Natalie Perman’s Cataclysm is a journey in itself. Formally dextrous and politically engaged, this pamphlet of poems will leave you pondering about the richness and mystery of the human mind, and how language has shaped our perception of others and our complex selves. Jennifer Wong
Cataclysm represents a new, startlingly originary voice, claiming its foothold with intensity, each crystallized vision in these poems so consummately, so stunningly rendered.
I hope to be reading this poet for the rest of my life. Shivanee Ramlochan
Perman’s poems of adolescence and burgeoning adulthood, of love, family and Jewish identity are conveyed in poems of exceptional range and innovation. These are the poems of someone born to write. Leeanne Quinn
Unwavering and unsettling, this is poetry that hits you at speed and refuses to let you go . . . this powerful, flexing collection deserves to be read and reread. Ben Ray
Cataclysm is a compelling debut, which introduces a fresh and bold new voice, full of originality and verve. Deryn Rees-Jones
Review from the awarding judge
David Clarke, lead judge for the New Voices competition, explains why Cataclysm‘s award was well-deserved:
Natalie Perman’s poetic voice appears fully formed in her debut pamphlet Cataclysm. These poems are shot through with an energy and urgency that speaks to the subject matter of her poems. Here the poet explores the many dimensions of personal identity and the forces that shape it, addressing a Jewish heritage characterized by experiences of dislocation. This is work of high drama, which can mine the apparently most mundane of occurrences (a school disco or a spelling competition) to reveal the hidden power dynamics and their emotional costs, while still maintaining a coolly observant eye and a keen sense of the absurd.
Poems from Cataclysm
The Poem in the Locket
Winner of the ‘Bloodaxe Archive Challenge #1’ on Young Poets Network
After ‘The Photo in the Locket (For Louise)’ by Jackie Kay
There are things I don’t tell her
private things, words eaten
in sleeping bookshelves,
a waitress watering plastic flowers.
My new friends speak fast
write less often; they come over
and strip the sheets, leave the house
bare. We smile and eat alone
rushing through stages of life
in torpor. In a film they carried
powdered sugar in urns like ashes `
and I stopped having sugar cubes.
Once I bought an egg that was not
all yolk; I cried in the laundry machine.
I’m ashamed I haven’t kept this.
I dream of dressing moments up absurdly
in silk and crimson; but I search in circles
for the bus and keep missing it. I want
to show hummingbirds flickering in and out
of view sipping sweet sugar-water and swooning
not when I ran into shallow water and was
submerged. Not even the clouds rippled.
I want to have some physical remembrance;
a black and white orange carved
the shape of my grandmother
an ode to my grandfather’s depression
his rage engraved in a cherry pit.
I forget things. Sometimes I see
the steps to the old house shining
like a clavicle, green buzzing like
In the locket I’m in the waiting room again.
It smells of instant coffee and printer
paper and the stairs keep stretching further
upwards. The doctor congratulates me
on my recovery and the stairs. The room
only has two walls. He’s trying to release me
but the file has been
forgotten, the papers
i The Disappearing Act
performed to mediocre success/not a scatter of applause but/the groan of a classroom losing one more/the desk had a line of sweat/where your hands had been/zipper-down pants on the carpet/like being half-naked in a dream/we folded the cardboard chairs/into suitcases of worn leather/piled Oxfam tokens/into lockers and ringbinders/and found the badge from when you volunteered/at the local museum/collecting mould at the water fountains/dripping slowly into paper cups/if your life was a movie it was an indie production/spending far over budget/Marvel or Disney or Pixar/sponsoring an empty space.
ii Writing the Poem
A rabbit comes out of a word and onto the table.
It jumps inside the kettle.
You do not want it to drown.
You push your hand inside, your foot, your head first
You burn your eyelashes.
You are in a lake, black like a feather or something forgiven
The water is soft and thin as if it could be torn apart
You can’t remember if you know how to swim.
after your brother
I wish I had never tried octopus/the tentacles curled and fried/and dipped in butter/we ate under the whiskers of a black cat/and you stayed over/the nose trailing us/into the night/you suggested I pack an extra jumper/as the month was full/of rain/you suggested we had sex in the attic/while your parents were sleeping/I slapped you once/and the heat filled/your cheek/spilling over into my palm/you spilled the rest/how the bed had bars like a crib/how you had a bottle beside your bed/with a blue cap that didn’t fit/and a collection/of novelty coins/how you drew end pain on your wall/because you thought it was cool/to pretend/houses and dreams were haunted/the half-full bottle of vodka you sipped on/before you threw up/to show you were grown and would heel/to harder more brittle things/your sofa blanketed with dog hair/and one white sock/too small for a human hand/we drank strawberry milkshakes/next to your father’s student house/before you cracked branches/and beat flowers with a stick/you sent pictures of yourself to my friend/with no clothes/we watched a show/where giants screamed at small villagers/and gobbled up cities/crushing a house under a fingernail/your last girlfriend started her period/you asked to kiss me/and I did not say yes/but your lips tasted warm/as if you had just been laughing/I slept with the light on/even though your mother said/it would give me headaches/we swum out from a boat/into something nameless and sticky/you wanted metal/and two z’s under your left eyebrow
I pulled the moth of a memory away from the lampshade/with a toothpick/it flew around us in tattoo shops/next to a skating rink/as we looked at plastic figurines/it was a good memory/because you were sober/but your shirt/already had a thread/running out of it.
we left home at dusk/a man passed in jeans/and asked us where we lived/his hands held small cuts/like the beak of a bird/the skies were empty/the pigeons long retired/to picking straw-spilled drinks in town/we live two doors down/he shook his head/his bottle of beer burst blue-green/frothing at the tip
town was twenty minutes by car/forty minutes by bus/Meredith breaking to blow fire into cigs/on the edge of a hill/a red scarf burned in circles/over her hips/the man’s phone flashed/as we walked away/a yellow raincoat spiking/like a traffic light/the cars slowed behind us/a group of men parked/and got out of an audi/carrying five identical water bottles/they were from town/they kicked the marbled horse shit/and hit the field
we pushed further into the bushes/the horses’ hooves echoed under the earth/like walky-talkies/our phone buzzed in our pocket/a picture of us/on the street whatsapp group/our shoulders slumped under the rain/our coats sick yellow/the moon vanished in the picture/like someone had run the sky over/with a paintbrush/we went home/around the corner/mrs sim’s daughter/was questioned by the police/for wearing sunglasses/at night/Joan peered out of her window/through a hole/in the thin lace curtain/stealing a glimpse/at imaginary hills
because my mother’s best friend is Catholic (and we greet our histories every day on the street)
Today it seems the missionaries are bound
to send their best-disguised recruit –
the tickle of hair on your top lip better found
at the wheel of a Ford F-150, camo drying on the boot,
than filtering the word of G-d to a tinny sound
a frequency between Carrie Underwood and orchestral flute,
country-classical. You pronounce proselytize like a round
of whisky, on the house, a crowned
glory, a correct citing of John 8:44 draws a winning suit
of cards or a dart on bulls-eye. In your eyes ‘the ground’
and ‘the water’ were mixed up in a second genesis and we drowned
where we should have donned a swimsuit
and floated. These moments bleed like a wound
inside us. For example: you told me that G-d told you (rebound
through a line of Chinese whispers, like prophecy was an offshoot
of the National Lottery where you could win big) that I was in profound
need of help; that you would save me; astound
me with revelation. Did I have love, duty, an acute
belief that if I asked G-d would bring me cut-up fruit or browned
butter cookies while I did my homework?
I cried as faith marched towards the parade ground.
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