Emily Zobel Marshall spent her childhood in a remote village in the mountains of Snowdonia in North Wales with her Black Caribbean mother and white English father.
Bath of Herbs is her beautifully crafted, honest and thoughtful first collection which explores the complexity of mixed-race, hybrid identities and relationships to the English and Welsh mountains, fells, rivers and shorelines from an ‘othered’, unmappable, positionality.
It honours the lives of Black and Brown women and asks how they can reclaim space, both practically and conceptually. It celebrates and mourns the unspoken pain and joys of motherhood; of menstrual cycles, childbirth, tending to sick children with life-threatening illnesses, the death of mothers, love in all its myriad forms and the desire to escape the constraints of domestic and family life towards different kinds of freedoms. It also revisits the confusing world of childhood; the inexplicable actions of adults and the bullies who despise perceived difference.
There is her ownership too of a writerly inheritance handed down from her grandfather, the Black Martiniquan writer, Joseph Zobel, but also an awareness that this heritage has involved a movement away from the Black peasant world Zobel wrote about towards a comfortable Europeanness of being.
Other poems address the security of a middle-class life and the many pleasures it offers – but also how that world can be broken apart by death, by serious illness, by the fear that channels of communication have ‘gone down’ and how, as a woman expected to hold everything together, one is sometimes forced to take refuge in the deepest realms of the imagination.
Linking the whole is an engagement with the possibilities of healing: as in the bath of herbs in which her grandmother bathed her mother after giving birth; in the physicality of running and purificatory swimming in a river; in the care a hospital gives to her child and in the healing power of the natural world.
“These delicate lyric poems grapple with fragility, grief and bring fresh insights to Caribbean folklore, herbal rituals, and our experiences of mothering. Emily Zobel Marshall interweaves a rich tapestry that brings to life both Caribbean and Yorkshire landscape, in poignant and vivid contrast.” — Malika Booker
“A sensual, passionate meditation on the connections between continents, people and with the self. These poems explore life’s fundamentals as they wander across mountains, moorlands and rivers in landscapes alive with hooting owls, curlews’ cries and the ever-elusive Anansi.” — Corinne Fowler
“In this beautiful and moving debut collection, the death of a mother leads to profound encounters with the natural world in poems about curative plants, maternal care, and hiking and swimming in the epic outdoors. But heart-wrenching loss leads to transformations of the self, as reflections on mother, grandmother, and their world of care, embodied in the bath of herbs, give the poet the permission to fiercely embrace her complex racial identity and defiantly resist easy categorisations in this absorbing lyrical reel.” — Jason Allen Paisant
“This debut collection comes from a woman who knows many things. It's immersed in nature and the natural world, its splendour and power to heal. This writer-poet-mother-daughter of the Caribbean knows motherhood and death and love. I found her poems to be so tender, exacting and precise I wanted to read them again and again and finished reading them not knowing which I liked best: the one about the moon cup menses shame and or the one about the calabash breasts or the one about being mixed race. These poems are exquisitely etched on paper, and feel ‘new’ to me, a New World woman who deeply understands and respects her complex heritage, who is writing in the heart of an old England she has grown to know and love. Emily Zobel Marshall has lived a hybrid New World/Old World life and found a place for herself in modern post colonial times. These are poems for us all to love and will make us richer. Read EZM; like all sages, she has lots of experience to share and for us to treasure. These poems have blossomed from a wise heart.” — Monique Roffey
“This ‘daughter of diasporic waters’ takes us on a journey from her childhood in North Wales with a mother missing her home in Martinique to her life in Yorkshire; its fields, rivers, lakes and seasons captured in vivid imagery. We walk with her as she maps the ‘bonds of kinship, by sugar, blood, survival and slate’ under Emily Zobel Marshall’s skillful poetic guidance. This book is spellbinding!” — Tanya Shirley
Cover painting: Transformation and Renewal by Carol Sorhaindo