Emma Lee

Emma Lee


© Kev Ryan


Emma Lee is a poet and novelist. She was born in South Gloucestershire and now lives in Leicester. Her poetry collection Yellow Torchlight and the Blues was published by Original Plus in 2004 and her novel, Bitter Fame was published in 2009. Many of her short stories have been anthologised, notably in Gentle Footprints (Bridgehouse Publishing) and Extended Play (Elastic Press). Emma has performed her poems on BBC and local radio and in venues such as Leicester’s Guildhall, Leicester City Football Club and the Polyverse Poetry Festival at Loughborough University. Emma Lee has judged a number of poetry and short story competitions as well as winning competition commendations and prizes with her own poems. She regularly reviews for poetry magazines and on her blog.


Creative Work

Yellow Torchlight and the Blues

The Old Duke stands
between the Llandogger Trow and the harbour.
Inside Saturday night shines dull
on yellowed walls
through a beer-fumed tobacco fog.
Cramped in a corner
the drummer’s invisible
but the beat’s real
driving below
the pit of conversation.
The musicians are blind watchers
sensing their way through songs
viperous eyes all but closed.
She’s torchlight blonde
in a slimming widow-black.
Blue eyeshadow creeps into the folds
it was carefully brushed over.
Lipstick bleeds into fine lines.
Only the sax knows her age.
Her cigarette-scarred voice
rams emotion into facile rhymes
as she sings
Suddenly time’s gained an hour
she’s faded from view
the bar shuts
walls sweat condensation.
Outside autumn lights flare
and through dark empty backstreets
The Floating Harbour
ripples blue accompaniments
to Billie Holiday’s Gloomy Sunday.




No matter how much prose I write, I always return to poetry. I'm always drawn into the musicality of a poem, the sounds of its words and the rhythm.            

My father was a fan of jazz and a schoolfriend’s father was the drummer of a band. The gig was at the Old Duke on Bristol’s docks, opposite the Llandogger Trow pub. The poem is more atmospheric than the actual gig. There was a female vocalist, though with subtler make-up than the poem suggests. I used poetic license, thinking of how The Viper Room in Los Angeles allegedly got its name from the glazed and drooping eyes of musicians after a lengthy playing session (probably assisted by illicit substances). Performers and audiences alike have to come down after a great gig; a chill descends when the audience drifts home. Bristol’s harbour literally floats. Engineers dug a series of tunnels under the city centre to combat low tides and enable Bristol to flourish as a port.

The poem is written in free verse: jazz is never formal. The poem's title 'Torchlit' refers to the song she’s singing rather than to the spotlight itself. The tapering of the fourth stanza visually represents the spotlight, placing the rest of the band in shadow and focusing on the vocalist. The poem's shape also reflects the sense of loneliness after the gig.            

I moved to Leicester at the age of eighteen. It didn’t take me long to find the students' unions and the Princess Charlotte. Leicester is a good place to discover new bands. Its (then) smaller venues and proximity to the motorways meant university circuit bands usually played in Leicester. I began reviewing for a local music magazine and also found I could send reviews to American magazines, which was a useful way of getting news and music from some of my favourite bands.

I have always written. As a young child I used to invent stories using bricks and toy cars to create villages, which I'd populate with imaginary characters and situations. Stories became poems. Moving to Leicester coincided with a bolder approach to my work. I started submitting my poems to editors. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying the thrill of brilliant gigs and of recognition as poems started getting accepted. Marriage and the logistics of babysitting and car-parking mean the gigs have dried up and my MP3 player is now a constant companion. But my poems have outlasted motherhood and are still getting accepted. I still enjoy the buzz of performing and practising the art of trying on someone else’s skin.



Bitter Fame, New Generation Publishing, 2009
Yellow Torchlight and the Blues, Original Plus, 2004

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