Seanín Hughes

Making ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’ by Salma Ahmad Caller


Notes on Salma Ahmad Caller’s process for the making of ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’.


The Den of Sibyl Wren is my response to A Hierarchy of Halls (forthcoming, Smithereens Press, 2018) by Christine Murray. It is my response to words Chris wrote about how she feels about this poem, and what she sees in her mind’s eye.
Details of the image ‘Den of Sibyl Wren’ by Salma Ahmad Caller 
Materials: Watercolour, Indian ink, collage, graphite and gold pigment on Fabriano acid free paper 57cm x 76.3cm

My process involves an intense working back and forth with words and images in my imagination. I write a lot as part of my creative process as an artist, and these writings help me create and develop the visual image. The so-called ‘visual’ image is to me embodied, materialised, haptic and tactile. So the ‘image’ in poetry…

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Seanín Hughes, Shade


She was always a mad bitch. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have had nothin, not after her Da. The poor fucker couldn’t take anymore, y’know? Between the wife and the daughter his head was turned to fuckin mush. I says I’d do him a turn and take the girl and he was as relieved, so he was, sittin there in his kitchen with the stained walls and filthy fuckin floor. Sure she never knew how to lift a mop til I showed her. Same day I had to show her the fist, too, and put her right on a few matters. I’ve had more than one shade of her on the knuckles since.

So there’s me, and there’s her and I make her my wife. I doubt she was ever as fuckin lucky in her life, but it didn’t stop her from makin a show of herself at the…

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Smile, Sugar

when your palm pressed

against mine, you unzipped

those pearl homilies

tallied across your skin

and showed me your reasons

for keeping count. I saw


your mother hiding

in the medicine cabinet, clinging

to the brown bottle —

her stash of tiny anchors

while you have none


your father’s whiskey-spit,

his fists, his laugh, the limp

you blamed on pulled ligaments


and that boy, who

put red flowers in your mouth

and told you to smile more

so you taste better.

Points of Reference

My axis is a blister pack

containing copper dots –

take one tablet three times daily

to subdue that feeling skin of yours.

Without it, I become

a wailing organ in a monsoon,

the eyeless monarch on the heath;

a roomful of smashed mirrors,

or a carpet of teeth, canine,

sharp and starving.

My axis is a blister pack

containing points of reference –

full stops that say there, now

pause and breathe –

see: a fat moon, a torch,

chamomile to taste;

plumes of smoke, burning peat

in the crisp air of October –

a coming sleep,

the quiet feather fall of dusk

and everything dressed softly

in its sepia self,

including me.