Opera di Cera

Valley Press

‘A fairy tale of the most fluid sort … These are words to savour, literature for the taste buds, to be read and re-read, devoured and re-devoured, perhaps spoken aloud and shared, perhaps nibbled guiltily on one’s own.’ – Nick Clark, Dead Ink.

‘A kind of “Milk Wood” from hell – beautifully horrible and horribly beautiful.’ – Ian Stuart, The Poetry Society.

Opera di Cera is a full poetry collection as well as a verse drama, telling the story of the creation of the famous Anatomical Venus of the Museo La Specola in Florence.

The cover artwork, of the Florentine Venus, was generously donated by NY-based photographer Tanya Marcuse.

A full video of my presentation “Fabricating Flesh,” for the 2015 KCL Arts & Humanities Festival, with Dr Anna Maerker and sculptor Eleanor Crook, is available online. The first 22 minutes show Dr Maerker speaking on the history of the waxworks; 22 – 47 minutes to see Eleanor at work doing a marvellous wax modelling demonstration, and 47 minutes to the end show my reading from the book.

A selection of poems from Opera di Cera won the 2013 Templar Poetry Pamphlet Awards, but rather than being published as a pamphlet, it was published in full by Valley Press in early 2014. It is available from Valley Press.

“A verse drama about an Italian museum of anatomical effigies in wax…throws up all sorts of questions – the nature of beauty, and its relationship with corruption; and its relationship between art and science (for the effigies are both), all written with deceptive simplicity. A kind of ‘Milk Wood’ from hell – beautifully horrible and horribly beautiful.” – Ian Stuart, The Poetry Society, ‘What to read this summer’

“Opera di Cera is stylistically ambitious and linguistically delicious. A verse drama set in five voices in Renaissance Florence, its formal intricacy reflects its period but the piece also contains passages of gore and grotesquerie that sometimes make it feel like a Victorian ‘Penny Dreadful’. It balances deftly on the knife-edge of Enlightenment and despoilment.’  – Simon Barraclough

“Swain’s verse is steeped with a variety of forms and allusive, sensual imagery: the reader can almost smell the flesh, wax, and blood-lust of the back-streets of Florence over 200 years ago. Opera di Cera is a triumph of sustained imagination, meticulous research and poetic skill, exploring the little-known area of anatomical wax modelling with originality and verve.” – Sarah Westcott

“If there has been a more lovely object published recently than Kelley Swain’s Opera di Cera I would like to see it…an intriguing book that will probably reach an audience beyond the scope of much contemporary poetry.” – Michael Brown

“This is one of the most beautifully-crafted things I have ever read. I’m not a poetry person. Or maybe I am, because I keep coming back to it…the fact remains that it’s very rare for me to give enthusiastic praise to poetry. Opera di Cera is a masterpiece.” – Rowan MacBean, Goodreads.

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