Eleanor Brown’s first collection, Maiden Speech, published by Bloodaxe in 1996, included her much anthologised “girlfriend’s revenge” poem ‘Bitcherel’ along with a widely praised sequence of fifty love and end-of-love sonnets written during her 20s. Her second collection, White Ink Stains, appearing three decades later, draws on the lives of women of all ages.
Taking her title from the idea that when a woman writes about her experience as a woman, ‘she writes in white ink’ (Hélène Cixous), Eleanor Brown wanted to inscribe, among other things, the unseen labour of endowing infants with their mother tongue, their birthright of speech and language skills – the babbling, cooing, phonic repetition, echolalia, chanting of nonsense-words, singing of lullabies, nursery rhymes, counting rhymes, clapping songs, and telling of bedtime stories that is often the invisible and unrecorded work of women with pre-school-age children.
A number of these poems were written in response to interviews made for the Reading Sheffield oral history project. Eleanor Brown spent over a year listening to recordings before starting to write these poems, some of which stay very faithful to the speaker’s own words, while others travel further into an imaginative or active, poetic listening; these are the poems she heard not in what was said, but in pauses, intonations, emphasis, whispers, asides, digressions and deflections.
'Eleanor Brown’s first collection of poems, since her acclaimed volume Maiden Speech of 1996, is freighted with unspoken empathy. This unusual and beautiful volume gathers the lost voices of the past in a benign web of poetic exegesis, restoring individual merit commemoratively and declaring an affinity with those who ‘go down in history’ unnoticed, in Tony Harrison’s resonant words... meticulously arranged, brilliant collection...' - Steve Whitaker, The Yorkshire Times [on White Ink Stains]
'Eleanor Brown's breathtaking début collection… she displays the sharp wit of a Molière, with graceful, cerebral rhymes that leave a bitter aftertaste. Ever insightful and enormously funny, she juxtaposes moving descriptions with killer punchlines.' – Time Out on Maiden Speech