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In Conversation with Natalie Whittaker

Just half a year after we published her pamphlet Tree, Natalie Whittaker’s life looks very different. We sat down to talk to her about the stuggles of writing about stillbirth, how her heartbreaking pamphlet came to be and what it means to her now….

Hello! How are you doing? What have you been up to since we last heard from you?

I’m very well, thank you. Things have changed a lot since you last heard from me – a week after the launch of ‘Tree’, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Ivy, so she’s been taking up all of my time! It was a strange feeling to be launching ‘Tree’ while eight months pregnant, as the pamphlet is all about the loss of my first daughter. The online launch actually made it a lot easier; the audience could only see my head and shoulders on screen, so it wasn’t obvious!

Natalie launched Tree alongside pamphlets from three more of our amazing poets on March 31st 2021

I’m sure everyone would have been focussed on the reading regardless — could you tell us a little more about your beautiful (and heart-breaking) pamphlet?

‘Tree’ is full of poems that I wish I’d never been able to write. On the 4th October 2019, when I was five months pregnant, an ultrasound scan showed that my unborn baby had died in utero. Two days later I returned to the hospital and gave birth to my firstborn, stillborn daughter. The pamphlet is written out of the profound emotional and physical trauma of that experience, and the months that followed.

There was the funeral, the post-mortem, a diagnosis of PTSD, as well as the usual impact of childbirth on a woman’s body, but without a baby to look after. Just describing that again now, it sounds like a nightmare, rather than my own life. Baby loss is still a taboo subject (sitting as it does in the centre of a Venn diagram of taboo subjects: death, and female bodily experience) and it felt important that I should write about it.

Did you know: the pattern on Natalie's cover isn't a Tree at all, but the pattern of blood vessels in a placenta

And we’re very glad you managed to. Is it safe to presume that writing this pamphlet was a different experience to your previous work?

I was halfway through an MA in Writing when I suffered the loss, so it inevitably became the topic of my final portfolio – it was impossible to write about anything else. That final portfolio eventually became ‘Tree’. 

The poems came very quickly, in intense bursts of writing; one weekend in November 2019, and another weekend in December 2019 – so very, very soon after the loss. They came out pretty much fully-formed, with minimal need for editing, which isn’t my usual process at all.

Earlier that year I’d been experimenting with using extended spaces in place of punctuation, so that form came quite naturally by the time I was writing ‘Tree’.

It definitely reads as a work born out of the moment you were in. Has its significance to you changed this many months on?

I’m extremely proud of the pamphlet, and of how positively it has been received by readers and reviewers. But I think it will always be a collection that I have an uneasy relationship with.

As the title suggests, there is a lot of nature imagery in this pamphlet, particularly nature as a marker of time. Could you tell us a bit more about where that comes from for you?

‘Nature as a marker of time’ is a great summary of the recurring imagery in the pamphlet. A few of the poems repeat ‘June’ and ‘November’, as well as describing the changing state of trees, as there was a cruel sense of pathetic fallacy to my situation – I fell pregnant in Spring, and by the arrival of Autumn, and the turning of the clocks, my baby was gone. October and November were marked for me by a refusal to acknowledge or accept the passage of time, and a longing to turn back the clocks to when I was first pregnant, and start again.

The tree is of course a significant symbol as a measurement of the seasons, time, growth and grief. There are also the metaphorical associations with family trees, and the visual similarities with both uterine spiral arteries, and placental blood vessels.

Despite the references to time and the seasons, the pamphlet’s ordering is non-chronological, as my experience of grief was not linear. My memories of the period closely following the birth are a series of confused flashbacks, and I experienced what Denise Riley calls ‘time lived, without its flow’; a non-time that I could not process.

Finally, are you working on anything right now? When Ivy lets you, of course.

I’ve published two pamphlets now (my first, ‘Shadow Dogs’ was published by ignitionpress in 2018), as well as poems in magazines and unpublished bits – so I suppose I’m looking to publish a first collection next. I just need to be more organised about sending out a manuscript. If any publishers want to get in contact and save me the hassle, that’d be great!

 Seriously though, I’d like to plug the charities Tommy’s  and Sands, as well as the work of Rebecca Goss, Denise Riley, and Karen McCarthy-Woolf, who were influential when finding a voice for these poems.

They’re some of our favourites too! Thank you so much for talking to us and all the best for that first collection—we’ll be keeping an eye out 👀

For more from Natalie, check out her pamphlet Tree or read more about her on her author page here!

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Natalie Whittaker

‘The thing that motivates me to write is a line or a sound or an image that I can’t get out of my head… The need to transform emotion (usually negative emotion) into something approaching comprehension.’

Natalie Whittaker is a poet and secondary school teacher from South East London. Her debut pamphlet Shadow Dogs was published by ignition press in 2018. Natalie is one of the London Library’s emerging writers for 2020 / 2021. Her poems have been widely published in UK magazines and anthologies; she was commended in the Verve poetry competition 2020, and won second place in the Kent and Sussex poetry competition 2020.


In Tree, Natalie Whittaker is writing about her personal experience of stillbirth and the mental illness that can follow such a traumatic event. It is a subject that is still rarely addressed in poetry, writing or conversation. That she is able to do so here, in eighteen intricate, carefully crafted poems, in a way that is engaging, communicative, distressing and yet also beautiful, is a testament to her abilities as a poet, her strong grasp on the power of language and the power of her imagination.

With these powers, she brings a harrowing subject close up and enables the reader to truly feel, to see, to understand, to share. It is a brave and necessary work, wonderfully and heart-breakingly realised.


the first week

Interflora deliver
three identical bereavement bouquets
white and green
within a week  the lilies die
their leaves spawn small black flies

in the kitchen  I put away the pans
and a blood clot pushes out of me
like a ragged rotten plum
into maternity tracksuit bottoms

the same night  my milk comes in
breasts are sauna stones  tears are steam
I slide cabbage leaves
into a maternity bra
go to bed  sweat into cabbage leaves
white and green
on the wall  there are small black flies

'‘Tree grows from a place of great pain – the experience of losing a child to stillbirth – but Natalie Whittaker’s brave, unflinching and ultimately redemptive poems find a way to make sense of such a devastating event. Through the poet’s desire to speak directly to her daughter, the poems stand as a memorial to a life that never was; in their preoccupation with time, with the passing of seasons, with the re-entry into the ordinary world after a great personal tragedy, they are ultimately a memorial to the preciousness and precariousness of life. This is a devasting book, but one that needed to be written – it is also one that needs to be read.’
Tamar Yoseloff


Natalie’s first pamphlet, Shadow Dogs, was published in 2018 by Ignition Press. They describe it as a collection of concise, haunting poems of suburban tales half-told, whose visceral and disturbing images are conveyed with unexpected intrigue. This is an absorbing debut delivered with acute, tender emotion from a writer who genuinely cares for their craft. These twenty-one poems herald a poet coming of age.

The twenty-one poems collected here are often short and restrained but, to steal from the pamphlet’s title, the elegant sentences and striking images cast enormous shadows, conjuring something much bigger than themselves. Because of the care with language and the sense of a lived life in these poems, they have long after-lives, resonating after they have been read.
Jonathan Edwards
Poetry School
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Verve Poetry Press 2021 Releases


Verve is beyond proud to announce that we will be publishing 21 new pamphlets and collections in 2021 from accomplished and new voices. No matter your taste in poetry, you are bound to find a new favourite.

See our list of releases below:


Continue reading Verve Poetry Press 2021 Releases