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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.

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.

Her first collection of poetry was Darwin’s Microscope, originally published by Flambard Press in 2009, but re-released in a revised and expanded tenth-anniversary edition by Valley Press in 2019.


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.

“A virtuoso concoction of life writing, meditations on painters and painting, body morphology, travelogue and researched investigation into the 'gaze'. Full of light and colour, Swain’s prose flows beautifully ... fans of Rebecca Solnit or Marina Warner will love this.”
— Richard Skinner, author of The Mirror

“An insightful, lyrical memoir which sheds light on the role of nude models ... illuminating both their immortality and invisibility.”
Fani Papageorgiou, TLS

Darwin's Microscope

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While stocks last, we are selling exclusive limited-edition copies without the author's name on the cover, as pictured here. Just eighteen available.

Darwin’s Microscope
, Swain’s debut volume of poetry, was first published in 2009 by Flambard Press. It is now in a tenth-anniversary volume from Valley Press, to celebrate the song cycle Endless Forms Most Beautiful, composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, of which a selection of the poems comprises a significant part. In the decade since her first publication, Swain has continued to inhabit the liminal space between science and poetry, working as a celebrated poet and art critic specialising in both ecological and medical topics, including a year as one of the first three poets-in-residence at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

With a section of new poems, Moult, exclusive cover art by artist Katherine Child, and an introduction by Luz Mar González-Arias, this edition gives readers the opportunity to revisit Swain’s debut collection in the context of international debates on the current geological era, the Anthropocene, characterised by overwhelming evidence on climate change. With demonstrations of ecological grief taking place worldwide, there is now an urgency to search for reciprocal ways of relating to our environment. Darwin’s Microscope contributes to the search from the vantage point of experiencing two worlds at the same time: in other words, by inhabiting the space where magic happens.

‘With quiet authority, these poems situate our lives in the geological and biological unfolding of the ages. The ability to combine scientific with poetic forms of knowledge is precious and rare, and Kelley Swain possesses it in abundance.’ – Ann Fisher-Wirth

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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