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Kelley Swain

Kelley Swain was born in Rhode Island, 1985, and is now based in Oxfordshire, working as a writer, editor and educator in poetry, science and the medical humanities. She is the author of Darwin’s Microscope (Flambard Press, 2009), Atlantic (Cinnamon Press, 2014) and editor of The Rules of Form: Sonnets and Slide Rules (Whipple Museum, 2012).

In 2013, Kelley worked with seven poets and one illustrator to create the anthology Pocket Horizon, which was launched in October of that year at the Science Museum, London. Kelley's verse drama set in 18th-century Florence, Opera di Cera, was published in March 2014.

Kelley's memoir of her years working as a life model, The Naked Muse, was published by Valley Press in May 2016. That year also saw Kelley contributing to the VP anthology Guests of Time, after a residency at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.


The Naked Muse

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Throughout her twenties, Kelley Swain worked as an artists’ model. The Naked Muse is her elegant, fascinating memoir of this time, meditating on art, travel, and how we accept, inhabit, and understand our own bodies. She describes her first experience disrobing for a class, modelling for international artists over six years, an intensive month being painted in Bruges, and posing as saints for a Sicilian chapel frieze.

Swain reveals how it really feels physically, intellectually, and emotionally – in the moment when “it’s my matter that matters, not ... what I consider to be ‘me’.” Both a flirtation with submissiveness and a wielding of power, Swain examines the model’s role in art’s alchemy, and tells the forgotten stories of women whose faces still bewitch us from gallery walls.

Opera di Cera

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In her magnificent new verse drama, Kelley Swain takes us to 18th-century Florence, where the Museum of Physics and Natural History is creating its most famous waxwork, the anatomical Venus: a life-sized female figure who comes apart to reveal a foetus in the womb.

Yet behind the exquisite craftsmanship and beauty of the finished waxwork lies an extraordinary tale; a macabre romance which plunges the reader into a sensual underworld of gluttony and lust, perfection and power. The fates of model, modeller, Museum Director and the deformed porter Cintio are soon intertwined; but who is watching whom as the Venus nears completion?

In Opera di Cera, Swain combines Pygmalion myth and historical research to create a unique, compelling and stunningly poetic literary achievement; a tale of triumph and tragedy, of dissection, bondage, love and sacrifice – a tale that will have you gripped down to the final, chilling lines.

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