Bella is the title of my debut poetry pamphlet, published by independent publisher Offa’s Press in August 2018. The poetic sequence explores a true murder mystery from a rural Worcestershire town, known locally by the cryptic question ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ Bella reads like a dossier of evidence, blending local history, folklore, and superstition with the true tragedy of a young woman’s life and premature death.

See the full mood board for Bella here.


Journey

I was raised near the Worcestershire border, where the Black Country town of Halesowen meets the rural towns of Hagley and Clent. In the shadow of the Clent Hills, Hagley Wood is a dark and imposing density of trees, made even more mysterious, sinister, and evocative by the graffiti which continually haunts the surrounding area. The question, ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’, intrigued me throughout my childhood, and in 2016, I began writing a collection of poems which combined the sparse facts of the case with my own imaginative reconstructions.

Download a PDF of ‘Lost in the Woods’ to learn more about the research and planning which went into the writing, formatting and publication of Bella.


Reviews

Following the publication of the poems by Offa’s Press, Bella has been well-received by audiences, readers, and critics alike. In April 2019, it was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award in the Best Poetry Pamphlet category.

“Every now and then a collection comes along which revitalises my belief in poetic form, [a work] with consistent vision and force. Nellie Cole’s Bella is all of this and more. […] Bella announces the arrival of a major new talent.”

Luke Kennard

“I was thrilled to read this debut; it is formally adventurous and her precise language is richly detailed […] This is a work which shows maturity and care.”

Angela France

“To say that the narrative sequence Bella from Offa’s Press, by poet Nellie Cole, blew me away, was an understatement. […] With the ever-appearing graffiti, and ever morphing questions charted by Cole, the ink doesn’t fade and isn’t likely to. The seance like, table-rapping, mature voice of Cole’s sequence, had me looking forward to what she will do next. […] I think that Bella was that rare thing, a poetic re-imagining that really haunted, long after the book was closed.”

Deborah Tyler-Bennett in Under The Radar Issue 22

“Bella is a group of poems centred on a true incident which has intrigued and stirred Nellie Cole. […] I will be reading this collection again, enjoying new depths and slants, searching for clues and an answer. I had not heard of Bella before. Having read this collection I won’t forget her.”

Martin Underwood in The Cannon’s Mouth 9.18

“… In all of this, which is in effect one long poem divided into three distinct but untitled sections, Cole displays a considerable talent for thinking outside of the box with regard to poetic form and the way she chooses to present her text on the page. This is a thrilling debut by a young poet with a sense of adventure. Recommended.”

Neil Leadbetter on Write Out Loud

“Published by Offa’s Press, Bella pushes the boundaries of form and structure and even goes as far as to challenge our conventional perceptions of poetry itself through a refreshing experimental playfulness. […] Nellie brings melody and feeling to the forensic analysis, allowing the reader to develop a more sensitive connection to the Bella as a person and not just a corpse.”

Scarlett Ward on SlagMag

she immerses you in a subject which immersed her as though she had followed this woman […] through wood, holloway, stone ring and inn, from on high. The whole emerges from a patchwork of glimpses and insights, dark and light […] Nellie has that trick here, of inseparably binding folk to the land, to the woods, to the eerie silver-black night.

Andrew, on Goodreads

Projects

Members of Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers have developed a docu-drama about the Bella and the Wych Elm story, using the poems from Bella to build their semi-factual, semi-mythic narrative. I was involved in recording the audio of the poems to be used as voice-overs. The film is now completed and was premiered at the Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers meeting in September. The film was awarded first place, winning ‘The John Player Fiction Trophy’, at the Midlands Movie Makers Festival – huge congratulations to filmmakers Arf and Ann!


Two final-year drama students from the University of Birmingham, Esther Clemmey and Freya Wilkinson, recently used some of the poems from Bella in their practical dissertation piece. The piece is a multi-media performance using choreography, vocals and projection to explore the mystery of Bella and the Wych Elm. Watch below!


I also spoke about Bella and recited a few of the poems on Brum Radio, on the Brum Radio Poets show hosted by Rick Sanders. Listen below. (Introducing the story at around 4.00, ‘Bluebells’ at around 4.50; ‘Bella’s Shoes Lead Nowhere’ at around 16.10; ‘Only They Say Flahrs’ at around 29.20; ‘Incident Report: Hagley Wood Lane’ at around 45.15).


Buy Bella

You can buy Bella from the Offa’s Press site here, and leave a Goodreads rating or review here.


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