Thursday, 11 June 2015

Covering Letters

I just read something about an editor criticising the way poets write covering letters when submitting poems. It was mainly about how email allows for less scrupulous poets to fire off copy and pasted subs with no individual attention paid to the editor to whom they're sending. I remember getting one when I briefly edited, addressed to a completely different magazine. But, like Joni Mitchell, I've been on both sides now. We make mistakes. This got me thinking about the pitfalls of sending in a series of questions...

1. Am I being too familiar?
2. Am I being too distant?
3. Should I be more familiar?
4. Should I be more distant?
5. Does it matter that I have children?
6. Does the year in which I was born matter for a biography?
7. Should I be business-like?
8. Would it be nicer if it were handwritten?
9. My printer is playing up. If I hand-wrote the letter would they think I was deranged? (Especially with my handwriting).
10. If I list off the magazines I've been published in would they think I was going on too much?
11. Would it be radical if I just didn't include a biography?
12. FONT!! What font should I use?
13. Is Times New Roman too dull? I am a Garamond sort of poet? Don't get me started on font size...
14. I read one of the editor's poems and I genuinely liked it but would I sound like a sucker-upper if I mentioned it even though I may never meet this person and they might like to know that their hours spent writing poems met with some approval?
15. They've been nominated for some prize or other so they probably do know?
16. Or they don't?
17. Should I just let the letter and the whole sub 'rest' for a few more days before sending, even though I said that last week?
18. Would one of those 'funny biographies' where the author drinks tea, has a liking for chocolate digestives and 'can be found writing poems in Ashby-de-la-Zouch bus station' stick in their mind?
19. Are chocolate digestives too middle of the road? Should I go for Maple Pecan Danish pastries?
20. Would it drive them up the wall?
21. I don't even know if Ashby de la Zouch has a bus station or not? I'm guessing perhaps-maybe not. Next time I'll look.
22. ...should I just sound more business like?

And finally...

I have posted the bloody thing and having stressed over the above forgot to say 'thank you.' Always say thank you....

Monday, 1 June 2015

Absence Notes, Editing and a Little Dancing...

Commonplace has been washing its hair for the last two months, but here I am again. It's time to catch up. It's easier to make a list on what's been going on and then deal with the finer details:

1. Getting published: I've had poems in Magma, Stand, Ambit, and The Emma Press Anthology of Dance.
2. Editing and Publishing: I've just edited Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators.
3. (Related to no. 1 &2) going to launches. (Poets have got a thing for launches, haven't they?) These were for Ambit, the Dance Anthology, and Crystal Voices).
4. Working, mothering, birthdays. organising parties that included Frozen Karaoke, bugs, viruses, hacking things in gardens, being alive etc.
5. Editing reviews.
6. Reading.
7. Writing poetry, I have the coffee rings and the waste basket to prove this.
8. Spending hours applying for something and then being 'declined.' 'Declined' is more elegant don't you think?
9. Staring.

The publications...

I've not had as much faffing-around-with-computer time, so I've missed a few things and am trying to catch up with other people's blogs as there are so many good ones out there.

It was fun to get to the launches. I don't often have a chance to get down to London, but somehow I managed to make it down twice. The Ambit launch was terrific and I had a little dinner by myself in Soho and read some of the excellent Scarsdale by Dan O'Brien. Among the readers for Ambit was Emily Hasler and it was great to catch up with her. It was in a gorgeous venue and I met some people who ordinarily only exist on my laptop. I was really struck by Briony Bax's incredible dedication to the magazine. My next London trip was for the Emma Press Anthology of Dance - I brought my cousin Joanna along and although she isn't a poetry person she enjoyed the readings so much I gave her my contributor's copy. It was a real treat to meet Catherine Smith, one of my favourite poets. It's also a small world as Leicester local Pam Thompson was also there reading. The event was organised brilliantly by the Emma Press with treats and drinks. It rained a lot the second time I went down, so I hid in Liberty and marvelled at the £375 designer vintage hats which apparently some people can afford. Both events ended in a furious dash back to St. Pancras, but they were worth the physical effort.

One of the reasons for not blogging has been the fact I've been editing like a mad person. I started in January and since then I've been copying and pasting, reading, emailing, tweaking, head scratching and reading drafts on trains, waiting rooms and in bed. AND there is still the odd typo. It's done! The anthology is a real thing and copies are now available. I chose writers who had been actively involved with CCC from the very beginnings to around the Hearing Voices period and when the pamphlets were published. Some of the contributors had worked with us in terms of teaching and behind the scenes work as well. It's not easy deciding on such a list and there were some more people I wanted to ask, but we were already jam-packed. I also wanted a very varied range of different styles and voices. Also, I have to say I preferred editing a book to a magazine. During the Hearing Voices period I wasn't keen on sending 'declined' (that word again) emails and Jonathan did a lot of that instead. For the book I didn't have to 'decline' anyone and it was super to ask people for work. The line-up of writers is superb and the book features:

Alan Baker, Kathleen Bell, Rebecca Bird, Julie Boden, Alison Brackenbury, Will Buckingham, Jane Commane, Caroline Cook, Nichola Deane, Kate Delamere, Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke, Mark Goodwin, Sarah James, Charles Lauder Jr, Emma Lee, Carol Leeming, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Angela France, Siobhan Logan, John Lucas, David McCormack, Sue Mackrell, Martin Malone, Roy Marshall, Jess Mayhew, Matt Merritt, Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves, Simon Perril, Alexandros Plasatis,  D.A. Prince, Robert Richardson, Victoria Smith, Jayne Stanton, Hannah Stevens, Matthew Stewart, Aly Stoneman, Jonathan Taylor, Pam Thompson, Lydia Towsey, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Claire Walker, Lindsey Waller-Wilkinson, Rory Waterman.

I am so grateful to all these people for contributing. We had a terrific launch at the Leicester Shindig with Nine Arches Press that also featured fantastic readings from Jo Bell and Jonathan Davidson.

I'd also like to mention (cough) that this book is only £5. That's as cheap as most pamphlets! Purchasing details are here.

Also there were some terrific write-ups of the evening from Roy Marshall and Matt Merritt , and also a lovely post by Matthew Stewart.

Talking of blogs, one of the ones I've been meaning to catch up with is John Foggin's. He writes keenly and with so much detail and passion. He's not been blogging all that long, but he's certainly making up for lost time. I will try and be more prolific myself.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

...And 'And Other Poems'

Image result for cherry blossom

Hello again. It's been a while and spring is almost here, so thought I should write something. Aiming to write a longer post and to share work by different poets very soon. In the meantime, I'm very grateful to Josephine Corcoran for posting three of my poems on her blog 'And Other Poems.' I've spent more time on other people's work than my own of late, so it came as a bit of a (nice) surprise to find my own work on-line. If you'd like to read these poems click here.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Poem by Josephine Corcoran


Christmas is now behind us, and just before the holidays I received a copy of Josephine Corcoran’s new pamphlet TheMisplaced House, published by tall-lighthouse. Having been an avid reader of her fantastic blog And Other Poems, an on-line magazine crammed with poets and poems, I was eager to read a new collection of her poetry.

The Misplaced House is full of poems themselves like the rooms of a house. Some poems deal with personal history; Josephine had a Catholic upbringing, was born in Southport, Lancashire and spent her childhood there as well as in South London. Some of the poems deal with more political issues such as representations of terrorism in ‘You Say Drone’ and sometimes both aspects are brought together in poems such as ‘I Remember the Fear of Forgetting’. That poem is set in the exam room where ‘Archduke Franz Ferdinand / and Sophie, his pregnant wife, are hiding / in my pencil case’. Throughout the pamphlet there were plenty of stand-out arresting lines and images which immediately appealed. For instance in ‘How to Keep Spare Keys’ a deep sense of loss inhabits everyday items and I found this image stark and emotive:

            Find the names of unborn children
            on the backs of lost receipts.

In this entry I’m sharing the first poem in the pamphlet, ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’, which Josephine has very kindly given me permission to feature here. The first time I read it felt as if my body physically reacted to it. It made me sit up and take notice. Not least for those crushing, sad details, such as Stephen’s age, his future aspirations and the mention of the ‘130 yards’ he staggered after being stabbed.  Stephen was a young man with a future, but his name became remembered in one of the most shocking and indeed most frustrating of racist murder trials.

This poem achieves something which is very hard to do, it is serious, clear-sighted and emotional without ever once being vague or sentimental. All the detail is real.  The poem is knitted together with lots of subtle internal rhymes which bring out its emotive power. Next time I need to show students an effective and controlled example of a political poem I’ll use this one. Parenthood is also key to the poem. I felt there was a connection between the mother in the poem and Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence. The poem begins with a child being tucked up after bedtime stories, after the mention of the ‘long ago and far away.’ The mood soon turns from sweetness to painful honesty. It’s time for a terrible lesson in recent history to be taught (as the education system won’t teach it).

At the time of Stephen’s murder, I was a teenager in West London.  Local communities didn’t trust the police’s handling of the black teenager’s murder. The McPherson Report, the public enquiry into the killing, suggested, among other recommendations, that to guard against such incidents from happening again, there had to be: “consideration of a revised national curriculum to prevent racism and value cultural diversity.” Although some cultural diversity is taught in schools, it’s arguably limited.  Josephine says “My own children, for instance, who’ve been at Secondary School since 2010, have never been taught about Stephen Lawrence, for example. “

            It’s been famously said ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ but in this instance I think Josephine’s poem expresses something very important about loss; the waste of a young man’s life and also addresses the need for a wider cultural education. Before I share the poem with you I’ll leave the final words to Josephine who puts it very succinctly: “I thought that there was nothing NOTHING I could ever do for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and I would never be able to say anything to them to tell them about how sorry I am for their loss.  But I thought at least I could remember Stephen and tell my children about him.  So that's how I came to write the poem.”

Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum

I tuck you in
with long ago and far away,
pull the blanket of it wasn’t us, it wasn’t here
around your heart, although I know
that five inches is 13 centimetres,
that 130 yards would cost a lot
of blood. There’ll be Rosa Parks
and Martin Luther King for homework,
and someone saying it’s good
we teach them that,
but no-one has a map of South-East London,
and today your teacher didn’t say his name.
I teach you this: He spelled it with a ‘PH’
not a ‘V’. In 1993
he was eighteen.
He wanted to be an architect.
He was waiting for a bus.

This poem first appeared in The Morning Star in 2013 and can be found here as well.

January 2015

Hi, happy new year to you! It's very lucky I can still just about manage to post on my blog as there was a very nasty accident last night involving a cup of tea, a keyboard and a very repentant accidental offender. I'll try and type as long as I can, but the keys aren't so happy.

Aside from that, do have a look at Robin Houghton's blog. Robin has had a brill idea and conducting a regional poetry focus on different parts of the UK. She's beginning with Leicestershire and I'm featured and interviewed there along with other local luminaries. I cheated a bit and mentioned Notts a little too, but to be fair it's only 20 mins up the road from me. There's also a very nice picture of Larkin holding a bunny, so don't delay click here to enrich your cultural knowledge! Many thanks to Robin as it's an ambitious project and she's working hard on this.

There's also a poem by me, featured on Ink Sweat and Tears' 'Twelve Days of Christmas' feature. Thanks to Helen Ivory. I have to say there have been some very kind tweets and comments on line about it. Do have a look, there are some lovely poems here by a range of writers.

Thanks to those who read this blog. I sometimes look at the stats and am amazed at the range of readers from so many different countries. Have a great 2015.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Places and Commonplaces...

Looking back at the year's blog post it seems that most entries are about events and the inevitable travel to different places and locations across the country. One entry I regret not writing was about my experience and reading at the Wenlock poetry festival, life intervened! I had a great time, but the occasional travelling throughout the year did get me thinking about those poets who travel all the time. I'd say it's fairly inevitable that the more you're prepared to travel the more you can reach an audience, meet other poets and benefit form hearing their work, Not always easy. On the other hand I've seen people for whom travelling is a necessity. Read Matthew Stewart's blog here on this subject. It goes without saying, perhaps, that the web alters some of this.

I was thinking about the poet's 'place' in the world and remembered this quotation by E.M. Forster about the poet Cavafy "standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe." Fairly relevant to most poets. Back in the summer I wrote a hasty poem about a childhood home which also wasn't about it either. It was just a place in a poem I suppose, even if it started off true. I revised it a bit (it started life as one of Jo Bell's 52 poetry prompts) and sent it off in an envelope to the Nottingham Open Poetry Comp and it received a merit. There was a prize giving ceremony in October. There was even a competition buffet on the day, yummy. I digress. In her judge's report, Helen Mort wrote about the importance of place in her favourite poems:

'I’m obsessed with trying to write about different places and locations in my own work and I really loved the different worlds (whole worlds in some cases) these poems all introduced me to. Like all the best place poems, they captured not what you could read in a visitor’s guide, but what it feels like to be there...'

What you see on exiting Nottingham Station... 

Many of the poems she chose were about the idea of place. The second prize winner, Liz Venn, wrote a poem called 'The Spin' as in a spinning globe which contained these lines:

As you get older and more birdlike,
keep a grip on the quick land,
stay close to the outreached hand

It seems to be about the speaker's need to root themselves somewhere. The first prize poem was called 'Day Trip' by Julie Lumsden and ended with this verse: 

or forget the serious sea
out in the bay where the tide comes in
faster than a man can run.

This place feels real and concrete but also has an emotive force. To me it's about feeling overwhelmed. Universal. In Mark Done's poem 'Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, 9 hole, par 60 (3624 yards)' the night-shift workers are playing golf at work, leaving odd traces behind, such as 'an upturned saucer of the 9th green' and 'future archaeologists will speculate about its use.' My dad worked at Ratcliffe Power Station once, I should ask about the golf. In John Foggin's poem 'The Fox on the Window Sill' that place is the location for the fox's skeleton. The remains are always in a state of decay, but still visible. The bones have something to say about her life and where she lived. The skeleton: 'grows articulate, what’s left – / skull and grinning jaw', Death is a (sort of) place too

If you'd like to spend some time going through the winning poems, and my poem 'Resident' is there too, click here to read. 

John's poem reminds me that the other day I read the most lovely poem by Peter Sansom, called 'Mini Van' which was commended in the Troubadour Poetry Prize, A boy in the mini van is stuck 'In the back / with no seats or windows / just more grey metal' en route to 'a houseful of the dead / still living none of them more than ten minutes / from where they were born.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Rogue Strands: The Best Poetry Blogs of 2014

It's December and in this month 'best of' lists begin to appear. Very pleased to see Commonplace on Matthew Stewart's blog Rogue Strands today, as he's listed his favourite poetry blogs of 2014. His list features some great blogs, so if you're in need of online reading material start here. I think poetry blogs often have a good-natured and informed dialogue with each other. To read Matthew's list click here and do have a look at his other blog posts, there's much to enjoy.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2014: My First Time

 The Aldeburgh Scallop

It feels like a while ago now, but I had a great time at the 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, (or APF26 for short). It may have been the 26th year of the festival, but for me it was my very first visit. It was a big deal planning 3 days away from home as I’d never been away from my children for that long, but it also felt like a very important thing to do in terms the experience. For years I’d heard other poets talking about Aldeburgh with a glint in their eyes. I was curious to know why.

Nearly 4 hours on the road and I arrived. There were seagull squawks echoing through the air. Couldn't resist, the first thing I did was run down to the beach and take in the sea. I stayed in a lovely house with 4 other poets: Holly Hopkins, Emily Blewitt, David Borrott and the generous Kim Moore who arranged everything and booked the place. That night we dined at home (thank you Aldeburgh Co-op), drank wine and chatted.

The next day I had more beach time, toy shopping for the twins (kaleidoscope, it went down very well) and a swish lunch by the sea and then it was festival time. The first thing I’ll say, and I said so at the time, is that the festival feels like a gigantic all-you-can-eat poetry buffet. There are so many events you can attend: there are readings, craft talks, Q and A sessions and a variety of other things, such as poets talking about their favourite works. There are also some of the largest poetry audiences I’ve ever seen.  My first event was a fabulously attended launch of Michael Laskey’s latest book Weighing the Present at the Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh itself. Most of the events are held at Snape Maltings, a huge arts complex with a gigantic auditorium. 

The venue is popular with music lovers. Benjamin Britten’s home, ‘The Red House’, is just down the road and the whole area has a genuine musical legacy. The auditorium is perfect for the Main Readings and they are massive in every sense. You’d think that an hour and half for a reading would be too much…they never were. The first main reading on the Friday featured Dan O’Brien, Selima Hill and Tom Pickard. Hill was magnificent: sinister, comic, wise and unique. Earlier on Thomas Lux’s craft talk was superb, full of enthusiasm and verve. Antony Wilson’s Poets Preview was a joy to attend. I am an avid reader of Antony’s poetry blog and his preview event was full of love and enthusiasm for his chosen poems. One of my personal highlights was the Poetry pub Quiz held at the Plough and Sail - and guess what - our team of housemates won!!!

The next day was the full-on poetry day. Events from 10am right up to 11pm. Jumped on the bus from Aldeburgh in the morning and attended close readings of favourite poems by Jonathan Edwards, Paula Bohince and Suzannah Evans. Paula had chosen ‘The Sandpiper’ by Elizabeth Bishop as a favourite choice, and delivered a warm and deeply informed reading of the poem. Here are the final two verses from the poem:

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst. 

I’m very grateful to Paula for discussing the poem that morning.  I think it was one of my personal highlights, as was being called ‘our kid’ by Brian Patten, who I kept bumping into throughout the festival. Saturday was jam-packed. I did have a breather though, but missed Hannah Silva’s Schlock, which was a controversial performance that clearly had an impact. Another highlight was Kathleen Jamie’s wonderful reading in the evening and Brian Patten finished off the day’s events with warmth and humour. Another treat was Helena Nelson’s energetic reading. She’d covered for Jen Hadfield who was sadly unable to make it from the Shetlands. Throughout the day I chatted with lots of people, but the weird thing was spotting so many poets I recognised from photos and social media. 

The whole festival has a buoyant, friendly atmosphere and it was a pleasure to share a coffee and a chat with new friends and older ones.  There were quite a few Midlands folk about, so at times it felt like home.

I didn’t stay for the Sunday and therefore missed lots of equally exciting events. I might have popped if I’d stayed another day though. Off I went, down the A14, full of poetry and inspiration. That giddy feeling probably accounted for the fact that I took a few wrong turnings and ended up in Cambridge. I made it home in the end and couldn't stop talking about the festival for roughly a week.

Shortlisted Books for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize
Helen Mort's Division Street won.

So two weeks later…what did I gain? Firstly a very long reading list. I didn’t buy much at the time preferring to let the readings settle and then decide. My first purchase was Jonathan Edwards’ acclaimed Seren debut My Family and Other Superheroes and it’s wonderful. It’s been shortlisted left, right and centre for all sorts of awards. Selima Hill’s The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism felt like a very necessary purchase. It’s full of short, diamond hard, witty poems that delight and disturb in equal measure. Other books on the reading list include Thomas Lux’s Selected and I recently brought Antony Wilson’s Riddance.  I have already enjoyed a few poems from Anthony’s book. Karen McCarthy Woolf’s work is on my radar as well now. Waiting for pay day then more book shopping. I was sorry to miss the New Voices reading on the Sunday. I really rate Suzannah Evans’ brilliant Confusion Species pamphlet, as well as Chrissy Williams’ work. Do read my review of Chrissy’s Happenstance pamphlet here if you’re interested. I also spent my quiz prize (a book token of course) on Bedouin on the London Evening, the collected poems of Rosemary Tonks, published by Bloodaxe. This book was my companion on a very delayed train journey home last week. 

I’m also more switched on to discovering new poetry from other countries now. There was a range of international poets and the festival itself features a great many American poets.  It was also festival organiser’s Naomi Jaffa’s last year at the helm and I was struck by her commitment. Ellen McAteer is now taking over and no doubt she'll be equally passionate.

Perhaps the best thing I brought home with me was a renewed enthusiasm for poetry. It was a special experience. My students probably benefited from this the following week as I poured some of that enthusiasm into teaching poetry. Nearly three weeks later and there’s still a buzz. I could fill another blog post with all that went on.Would love to go back. Fingers crossed.

Final Note: I did take some pictures, but they weren't very good, so the photos here are lovingly borrowed! You can also see photos of the festival at the gallery here

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Warwick Review

Just a quick note today.  My poem, 'Ferry' is in the latest issue of 'The Warwick Review.' Many thanks to the editor, Michael Hulse for accepting my work. Click here for more details.

I will be back with more blog lengthy posts, promise.

Sept 2014 web cover

Monday, 18 August 2014

August Happenings

I said I'd post more frequently and here I am again dammit! These are a few notes on recent happenings. At the beginning of the month I heard George Szirtes read in Leicester at Word! and it was quite a experience. I felt really quite lucky to be able to hear such an accomplished poet reading.

Having been away for most of July I missed my own reading for the Magma launch. It's not every day a) I get a poem in Magma and b) the launch is actually held in Leicester, but I heard it was a good evening by all accounts.

Equally sad about missing the July Shindig, but have been busy organising another one in September. So a few things going on in autumn.

Firstly Issue 13 of 'Under the Radar' is out. This is an important issue for me as it's my first as reviews editor! It's also Matt Merritt's first issue as co-poetry editor and I've enjoyed reading the poems. It has been a pleasure working with some excellent reviewers. Peter Carpenter, Kim Moore, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Charles Whalley, Michael Thomas and Simon Turner all have reviews in the current issue. Starting to get underway for the next issue now.

Also have a couple of poems, 'Gangsters' and 'Mr Alessi Cuts the Grass' in the new issue of 'The North' as well. It arrived on the doormat the other day and it's a really jam-packed issue. I can't seem to find an image of it on-line, so here's me shoving it in front of the laptop camera:

This issue was guest edited by Jonathan Davidson and Jackie Wills and it's out now as they say.

I've been reading a bit too and have a small horde of books to enjoy, including some recent publications by Nine Arches Press, quite excited to have new collections from Richie McCaffery, Mark Burnhope, Josh Ekroy and Tony Williams. There's also a swish new pamphlet by John Foggin entitled Backtracks and a 1969 hardback edition of Terry Street by Douglas Dunn, as well as some pamphlets for review.  So I've got enough to be getting on with. There have been poetic disappointments too, I was rejected for a course I really wanted, but hey ho on we go. In between the summer holiday cracks of making loom band necklaces with the twins and meeting Billy the Bear (a highlight) I managed to scrawl a couple of poems. I'm not, however, expecting miracles on the writing front. Come autumn, however, I'll need to focus a bit more, but for now it's mainly days out and loom bands. I make a mean fishtail bracelet.

Down the Rabbit Hole

This is a Disney image, I know, please don't sue me....

It's very easy to fall down a rabbit hole.

Alice falls down a rabbit hole and becomes suddenly part of something wondrous and insane. I can't help feeling that when you write, the internet can feel a little like that. There are so many advantages to having the web: you can have a handy reference library of portable dictionaries and thesauruses; read useful articles; find out about opportunities; communicate with people across the globe about the value of your semi-colon in line 4; share and receive happy news, that kind of thing. But sometimes it's easy to feel overwhelmed. There are always new books out and you can't read them all; there are always things you could and should be doing; there are always awards, competitions you'll never win. It can get a bit much sometimes. It feels as the world is moving much quicker than you are.

My husband, who I should add is only 5 years older than me, remembers a different world without the internet, or in particular the advent of Web 2.0 which changed absolutely everything. When he was but a mere teen flowering into his twenties he used to write, read and send things off in envelopes. The world of writing announced itself in envelopes which appeared now and then. Now you can simply scroll down and bang! Before you've so much as blown your nose there are 6 interesting blog pieces to read; another competition; X magazine opening for subs and oh look there's someone who won the comp you entered and didn't win. All this while you're trying to hoover the living room; go through spreadsheets or hanging on the end of a phone while on hold listening to Bach. For someone who has a short concentration span at the best of times even I find I can't keep up!

I think blogging and reviewing really do have a place as a way of getting a hold on what can otherwise feel ephemeral. I know in one way it's contributing to the traffic jam of information, but they're just as important for the person who writes them as the reader. They're a way into giving your own thoughts and responses a shape and some permanence in an impermanent environment. So my advice to someone who needs a handle, as it were, is to make your own handle and yes that probably means more frequent blogging in my case too.

*Final note* I am including a link to a poem on Anthony Wilson's excellent website titled 'Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life' by Rose Cook, as it seems quite relevant and you will find it here.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Difficult Second Collection


People talk about second books being difficult, or indeed the second of any creative endeavour, as in the well-used phrase ‘difficult second album.’ The first book is meant to be the breakthrough one, the one you’ve wanted to write all your life. Writers usually have a number of unpublished manuscripts before the first published book. Nevertheless, the first published book is the big deal and then…then the second is the crashing through every floor in the building until you reach the lobby on your behind. That’s the stereotype, anyway.

My first book of poetry was published almost two years ago. I’ve got some distance now and can see what’s wrong about it and even a few things I still like. Can also see, with a trace of wistfulness, the type of poems I probably wouldn’t write anymore. It so happened that I was chatting to my publisher Jane Commane, at Nine Arches Press, and the subject of the second collection came up. We talked about what type of time scale I was working towards. The year 2016 was mentioned. It all felt very strange thinking about the ‘new’ book, like planning for a new child. The first book came out in July 2012, but the manuscript was more or less agreed on with editing still needing to be done around the January of that year. Therefore I’d wrapped up the contents of the book in my head at the beginning of 2012, but still had a little way to go. Around that time I wrote very little new stuff which was actually any good. The book took up a lot of time and my attention. I was experimenting though and that has its place, but there are many files on my computer which are poem graveyards, poems which escaped me, didn’t make any sense or I simply lost interest in them. They remind me a bit of the ‘Stillborn’ poem by Sylvia Plath:

These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.
They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.

They were loved, but they never came through. I came across these pieces when I was putting together lists of possible poems for a future collection. It’s very odd how you can spend ages writing, revising and editing and then strike through over a pamphlet’s (or maybe much more) worth of work.  I pity the editors to whom I sent some of this poetry! 

Even if I've had breaks from writing I've tried not to have breaks from reading poetry. I usually have a book on the go.  Reviewing helps, blogging now and then - keeps the ink flowing! 

The next issue for me is a sensitive one. Do I work towards a themed collection or do I go random? Random has often been my middle name over the last few years. A themed collection is not one that I would immediately aim for. I’ve tried pursuing this and it’s nose-dived. I read Carrie Etter saying that it wasn't until much further down the line she found the imperative to write a themed collection. I haven't got a theme, but there's a working title now and a sort of concept. This sounds like a 'concept album' moment, but it may well change.

One of the reviewers of the first book made an interesting point and that was why weren't the poems grouped? If I don’t go for themed I might continue writing and just put the pieces into groups. I am still writing about similar things, but as a poet friend says that doesn't matter, just ‘furrow deeper.’ But then, these groups!? They are so different! One group is poems about my own heritage and background, one is poems which have nothing in common apart from their own eccentricity, some are the big topics, love, loss and so on and some are just well, they are just. How do you tie all the threads together? This bothers me much more than it ever did with the first book. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Night of 'The North' in Leicester and a Poem by Ann Sansom

A couple of months ago, a Londoner told me they were planning to head to Leicester. According to her, Leicester wasn't just north of London, it was (emphasis on the definite article) the North. I wasn't sure how to break it to her that Leicester is in the Midlands. Being a Londoner once myself, however, I was aware that everywhere north of Watford is usually the north to most Londoners. At the beginning of April, however, Ann and Peter Sansom, two poets utterly linked with the north on the poetry map, came south to join us for a reading in Leicester, the Midlands. This was for WORD! at the Y Theatre, a regular spoken word event which includes Open Mic readings, which I often write about here. There were Open Mic readings from Richard Byrt, Jayne Stanton and Michael Brewer and others.

I was lucky enough to be the support act, along with Roy Marshall, and read a few poems that had appeared or about to appear in the next issue of The North, the magazine edited by Ann and Peter. Earlier, the pair had held a workshop at De Montfort Uni, which was great for me as I literally finished work for the day and nipped over. Readers of this blog will know that I often pop up to Sheffield for workshops with Ann and Peter, run as part of their organisation The Poetry Business.

The evening was compered and organised by Pam Thompson, who also read some fine poems too. Both Peter and Ann read really well and Peter’s reading was warm and entertaining. I had heard him read once before in Leicester at States of Independence.  I’d never heard Ann, although I’d read quite a bit of her work, including the Bloodaxe collection In Praise of Men and Other People. Here's a pic of the cover:

I’m sharing Ann’s poem ‘Confirmation’ here; Ann very kindly gave me permission. This poem has previously appeared in The Rialto. Ann read it at WORD! and I thought there were so many interesting things going on in this poem. The tone is conversational perhaps and actually quite funny: ‘what miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’ but there’s a great deal of menace here.  I also learnt a new word, apparently ‘slaumed’ is a dialect word for smear.  What struck me in this poem is the way the school girls are made to literally work on their ‘knees’ for their visitor and then in their own social lives behave in a servile way. That final couplet, where the roadie is ‘here / and cocky and think yourself lucky.’ is compelling and you feel a bit sickened for the girl. I thought this poem was pin-sharp and here it is:  


In honour of His Grace, you had us on our knees for weeks,
‘a blessing on this visit and please god no silliness.’

Run ragged with dusters, shouted at for holey plimsolls,
threatened with expulsion, some broke down, distraught

in the branches of the forsynthia arranging, or, bright black with Brasso,
muttered in the trophy cupboard, ‘he’d better be worth it the bastard.’

We slaumed silver paint on the refectory radiator, lugged planks
to make an altar in the gym, ‘what’s up with the table we always have?

What miracle’s he going to perform on this, godforgiveus?’
But we were whispering by then, disappointed by the almighty

but holding our breath when He drew up. We queued and bobbed
to kiss his glove, got te absolvoed, took the slap to strengthen us.

Amen. Friday night: Roy Orbison invited Kath McMahon
to his dressing room at the Odeon, Bo Diddley’s drummer

got Jacintha Malley’s phone number, Gerry Marsden’s roadie
Instructed, I forget who it was, on the needs of the elderly

balding purple silky not so godly nor entirely manly, but here
and cocky and think yourself lucky. Obedience. We knew our place.

Thank you, Sister Mary Frances.