Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Pause...

Image result for The hanged man

Hi again, I'm challenging my one post a month target this April. I'm often a diarist when it comes to blogging, but I thought this was a good time to write more generally about things. I might write another 'diary' post this month too.

The young man featured above is 'The Hanged Man.'  You may remember him from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, where he's mentioned but doesn't actually turn up to the Tarot party. He's not as unhappy as you might think. Yes, he's upside down hanging from his left ankle, but here he's actually giving up control, taking time out. He's happy to watch the world go by, albeit from a strange angle.

What has this to do with a poetry blog, apart from the tenuous reference to Eliot? In my experience poets can be very impatient. I am no exception. I had about 4-5 months off sending out recently. This has been an interesting time. I've not heard anything as yet and am about to start work in earnest on a manuscript very soon. A return to the world of acceptance/rejection and being active is imminent. No news is possibly good news at this stage. In the last few days of 'hanging out' and mulling over things, it's worth reflecting on this. Many poets, and I do this as well, judge what they do on 'acceptance.' This time last year I was very busy sending off and getting published. This went on till about October and I needed a breather. By Christmas, I'd had a couple of' 'no thank yous' and then the holidays came and went. January is usually a non-starter and February's only marginally better etc and then I realised I was out of the game! I'd not sent out for ages - well relatively, it was only 4 months, but things move fast. I was missing all sorts of deadlines. I'd spent more time off-line and felt a bit overwhelmed when I realised how much was going on. So, I made myself  send out again and am waiting for responses! I've had 6 months off now, even though there's been the odd publication from that earlier period of busily sending out.

Why is sending out so important? Well, apart from the glow of acceptance, even rejection is important. It sends signals out to both poet and editor that you're out there doing your thing. Some rejections are 'nice' ones, even though they don't feel like it. Some poets choose only to send to people they know, some aerially bombard everywhere. When I first started sending out over 6 years ago I kept a notebook and had an X for reject and tick for acceptance. There were a lot of Xs. The majority in fact were Xs. But I kept going.  I look back at that time and realise how important it was, like cutting teeth. You don't need a complicated system of recording your submissions, unless you have lots of them. A simple notebook will do. There will always be Xs of course. I also think it's natural to go through quieter periods as it's hard to maintain that busy momentum.

Here are two things David Morley taught me that seem relevant here:

1. Don't write for magazines - i.e. write what you need to write, not what you think you should.

Added to this is the not-beating-yourself-up-over-not-writing-much:

2. 'The Silence Reservoir'. I'm quoting here from David: 'You will find you fluency naturally slowing in order to allow the reservoir of language and ideas within your unconscious mind to replenish. Leave the field. Stop writing. Finish for the day and go for a walk...Silence is itself a type of eloquence...'*

David should know. David was my tutor at Warwick many years ago and I remember one seminar in 1998 where he came in distraught at the start. He'd just heard that Ted Hughes had died. Hughes was a massive influence on David and he referred to him that day as 'a poetic father.' He felt an undeniable loss, which makes this news not only gratifying, but also very moving as it was won in Ted's name.

See you later on in April!

* From The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing, David Morley, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Monday, 28 March 2016

March 2016: Sometimes Poetry Makes a Few Things Happen

March Acquisitions...

The title of this blog post owes a debt to Auden’s well known line, ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ because ironically, a few things have happened recently due to poetry. At the end of February I read at and attended a refugee benefit hosted by Lydia Towsey that featured some great poets. The event also supported the Over Land Over Sea anthology, a book which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. The book’s raised thousands of pounds for groups like Médecins Sans Frontières and Leicester City of Sanctuary. This is through sales of a poetry anthology. Sometimes poetry does make things happen.

March has been fairly busy and now sees me with a new batch of reading material; some of which has been gratefully received as gifts, winnings and even purchased. This included a couple of pamphlets I won from the Poetry Business in a most random comp on email. I also have/had a cold and a chest infection (nothing changes there) so that’s slowed me down a bit, but I’ve also been organising the next batch of reviews for Under the Radar. I am very pleased to say that’s been sorted. For both the current issue and the next, the vast majority of reviewers  are female, so I’d like to think we’re redressing the balance in our own way. As ever I’ve tried really hard to ensure that a fair spread of books and pamphlets are getting reviewed, but we have more books coming in than reviewers and pages to print on. It’s good at least that there’s a lot of enthusiasm on all sides.

March is always about States of Independence. This was held on a couple of Saturdays ago at De Montfort University and there was the usual merry mix of stalls, publishers and free events and readings. The small presses were well and truly celebrated, but sometimes I think it’s the small presses that hold things up for the bigger ones. This is where you find the kind of people who are interested and open minded about books and publishing and where you can make discoveries. I read at two events, the Over Land Over Sea one and the Alan Sillitoe Anthology, More Raw Material, reading with Martin Figura. Can I say to begin with that Martin Figura is bloody amazing. I’ve written about his show Whistle before. He was reading from his latest collection Dr. Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine which, and I am quoting here from the Cinnamon Press website, ‘blurs the edges of personal and collective memory to explore family, relationships and belonging against a social, historical and political backdrop.’ That says it better than I could. I have a cold y'know.  Though I will add to that and say there was a hanging-on-to-every-word thing going on for me when Martin read. We’ve ordered a copy. The event was hosted by the anthology’s tireless editors Neil Fullwood and David Sillitoe, who read from some of Alan Silitoe’s work as well. I went to Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s and Andy Green’s readings first thing too. Mr. Commonplace (aka Jonathan Taylor) got shortlisted for the East Midlands Book of the Year Award panel for Melissa.

I spent a lot of time at the panels and readings in fact, and probably not enough time downstairs perusing the books, although I made a few purchases from Charles Boyle at CB Editions. They’re becoming one of my favourite presses. Bob Richardson was also there selling his fantastically, super-reasonably priced Poem Flyers at 20p each! He’s made a couple of flyers out poems by me. Other presses and magazines like Nine Arches Press, Five Leaves, Flarestack, Shearsman, Smith Doorstop, Soundswrite, Interpreter’s House, Shoestring, Leafe Press, Longbarrow  - I could go on, but I  can’t cover everything because I have a cold. 

At States...Photo by Ambrose Musiyiwa
March also featured a couple of launches. Firstly there was Sarah Leavesley’s prize winning pamphlet Lampshades and Glass Rivers for the Bill Overton Memorial Award at Loughborough Uni. Added bonus of being 5 mins walk away for me, a rare thing. Also Cliff Yates’ launched Jam at Cafe Wired in Nottingham and one of the hosts Becky Cullen sang a bit which is always a highlight. In January she got everyone to sing David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance,’ although I probably had a cold at the time and didn’t sing much. 

Cliff Yates
As for my writing...well I’ve come out of hibernation a bit and actually sent off a few poems, first batch since October. Now the waiting game begins. Also - and I’ll say more next month - I am putting together a new manuscript for a pamphlet which is scheduled for later on in the year. I haven’t done this seriously since 2011/’12. It’s VERY HARD. Maybe it’s even harder than putting together a full-length manuscript because you have to be very picky. There was me thinking it would arrange itself, NO CHANCE. I’ll probably be writing a blog post about that sooner or later, you lucky people. 


Before I go off in search of antibiotics, I'd like to mention Kim Moore's blog as she wrote an entry which really resonated with me, the title of which was the (previosuly mentioned) Auden line: 'Poetry makes nothing happen.' There's a really intriguing poem by Kim at the end which spells out all the things that poetry does or allows you to do, by saying, ironically, that it doesn't. I'll leave you to ponder. See you soon.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Quite Contrary: Martin Stannard and Kim Addonizio - February 2016

I’m trying to keep up with my personal target of at least one post per month, although February’s been quiet. I’ve mainly been getting on with editing and so on, but this would not make for a very interesting post so I’m going to tell you about a reading I went to earlier on in the month. Martin Stannard came over all the way from China to read in Nottingham. Martin’s work is relatively new to me; I only came across one of his books last August. I had only come across the reviews. If you’re of a nervous poetic disposition and/or a fan of Simon Armitage, well especially if you’re a fan of Simon Armitage, watch out. It’ll sting. Martin described himself as ‘contrary’ on the night and, well, read this for yourself after this post. Anyway, I’m writing about the poetry now. Martin has done a lot for poetry. He edited the magazine Joe Soap’s Canoe from 1978 to 1993 and introduced many home-grown poets as well as lesser known American ones. You’ll find a great deal of work from the second generation of New York Poets and one edition was dedicated to the work of Paul Violi. He even published Simon Armitage too. I’d come across the excellent ‘The Ingredient’ in Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving Poems and by a random act of happenstance received a copy of The Gracing Of Days which was published by Slow Dancer Press in 1989 and also featured that poem. All the pages are falling out of my copy, but that’s probably a good sign, as I’ve been reading it a lot.

A rare copy...

On the night Martin read from his new collection Poems for the Young at Heart which is published by Leafe Press and has a very nice endorsement on the back by Ian McMillan. Another poet once published in Joe Soap’s Canoe. Martin’s reading was funny. Honestly, you don’t often laugh your way through readings very often, and I for one enjoyed that. Intermingled with this were moments of Romance and acerbic commentary. All these elements sit together casually in the poetry. You can tell it’s very heavily influenced by the New York School and Frank O’Hara in particular. It’s conversational, follows its own inner logic and goes ‘on its nerve,’ as O'Hara once said and lots of people having been saying since.

Excerpt from  'A Few Words of Wisdom,' From The Gracing of Days...seems appropriate for a blog called 'Commonplace.'

I’m glad I went despite having a cold (I always have a cold) and drove home through the night with C Duncan’s latest album for company.   David Belbin has also written something about the evening, although his post includes some footage and a trip to A&E.



Someone else who’s quite contrary, but perhaps in a more openly emotive and autobiographical way, is the American poet Kim Addonizio. I’d been reading Wild Nights published by Bloodaxe last year on and off for a while now. I think I once wrote that when you enjoy a poem you don’t read it just once and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read ones like ‘Glass,’ ‘November 11’ and ‘Florida.’ Even though I’ve read the book I’m still returning to the poems. This collection is one of new and selected poems and goes back about twenty years or so. Kim’s poems are very upfront about relationships, love and sex.  There's a lot of drinking and harmonica playing too. We often use the phrase 'someone who’s lived it’ but I’d be inclined to say this is poetry by someone who isn’t afraid to write candidly about living. The poems themselves have a conversational, almost stream of consciousness style. There’s that word again, conversational. We seem to use it a lot when we talk about American poets, apparently UK poets don’t chat so much (apart from Coleridge). 

Kim’s book has spent a lot of time by the bed and in my kitchen; I just pick it up and dive in. I was trying to find an excerpt to share, but that felt very difficult as I don’t feel I can neatly quote from any poem without showing it in the context of the whole thing. I’ve found a recording of someone called, somewhat implausibly, Porridgebrain, reading out ‘Glass’ with a very English accent, but it's still very conversational, and ah, that last line, ‘I’m so in love with you I can’t stand up.’ 

Thank you, Porridgebrain. Until March.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

January 2016 - The Drawing Board and the Monkey

 Image result for chinese new year 2016 animal

Is it to late to say happy new year? Well, happy new year anyway.It's almost Chinese New Year, which Google tells me is the Year of the Monkey (featured above). I had a spare morning, so I've been at my desk trying to write. Trying being the key word, because I'm trying to take stock of which poems are 'done' (very few), which poems could be revived and which ones will stay in the folder (going very yellow). A monkey at a typewriter might make more sense of the pile! Firstly, some good news. I have two poems in the Manchester Review, which you can read here. Secondly, Matthew Stewart has been saying some incredibly nice things about what I do on his blog.

Back to today. I don't know about you, but I seem to have an avalanche of drafts to sort through. It makes sense that January should be a time to sort things out, but I'm not sure where to start. The other week I read a blogpost by Helena Nelson on editing and the writing process. Here's a snippet:

Careful writing clarifies. Helps you see things. It’s a beautiful thing.

In Stephen King’s book On Writing, he says ‘Do not come lightly to the blank page’. Another way, I think, of remarking on the holiness of the act. And though I agree that the writer should not come lightly to the task, writing imparts lightness to the writer and, when the clarification process works, light to the reader.

This is chiming with something I'm experiencing at the moment. When I was starting out I used to write every single day. Now I've slowed down. I still enjoy noting down fresh ideas, but when I have a rough draft in front of me I know it's going to be a while before I feel I can share it with anyone. When the process is going well, however, it's still a lot of fun and the sense of 'lightness' is there. In the autumn I did something a bit odd, I sent out poems which were pretty much early drafts and they all came back pretty sharpish. It's taught me that the whole process, for me at any rate, is about slowing down. There's one poem I'm working on which I started almost two years ago and it's not even near finished. Also, in the last year or so I've found that life, news, etc. have pulled me away a bit, but taking time out allows for ideas to refresh themselves. I'm starting to wonder how some of these poems can fit together in a book. At Aldeburgh Kei Miller said he had an idea then set to work on a book. In my experience ideas come together in retrospect. I'm not sure if there's a right way round or not...but you have to do what you do to do anything. I think that makes sense.

Now I'm off to hunt for a particular half-finished poem on a scrappy piece of A4. If the monkey hasn't got it, it's around somewhere...

Monday, 14 December 2015

November & December 2015: Reading, Readings and the Common Cold

I have a cold today and am at home feeling lousy. I probably shouldn't be blogging, but I felt it had been a long while since the last post. There is some cheering news for the blog though, in the form of Matthew Stewart naming Commonplace as one of his selections for best poetry blog. There are a great many listed on site and you can read the post here for interesting things to discover. He makes a good point about Commonplace being something of a journal. That has been quite a regular feature and perhaps there will be more themed entries at a later date, but today it's diary time. I feel like I need to catch up today.

Recently I've done quite a few readings. Starting in October with at 'Writers in the Bath' organised by Cora Greenhill. No fear, it's a venue called 'The Bath,' not an actual one. That reading was with Roy Marshall and Jo Bell. Then the was the Vanguard night of Poetry in Camberwell, London in November, organised by Richard Skinner. I read with Cathy Galvin, Sophie Herxheimer, Keith Hutson, Martin Malone and Rob Harper. As with the other London reading in September, I had to dash off for the train, which I wasn't happy about. I knew the other readers would be special and it was a great night. Both readings were indicative of the kind of enthused, supportive and warm audiences you have at poetry readings. At the Vanguard reading there was a lady in the audience called Evalyn Lee who was drawing some amazing pictures of all the readers. I am sharing one of me below:

Drawing by Evalyn Lee, 19/11/15

More recently I did a short reading as part of the launch of More Raw Material, an anthology of writing inspired by Nottingham writer Alan Sillitoe. The book is edited by Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe.


I was really struck by Neil and David's enthusiasm on the night. Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham was packed. It's a really enjoyable read and the book aims to raise funds for the Alan Sillitoe Memorial Fund. Some more details here. In preparation for the night, I re-read my copy of Sillitoe's short stories in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.  The Nottingham literary scene is on a bit of a roll at the moment having been chosen for UNESCO's City of Literature. Well done.

Talking of the East Midlands, another very important anthology from the area is currently out: Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those Seeking Refuge, edited by Kathy Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan.


Proceeds from sales of the book will be shared between three charities: Médecins Sans Frontières, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Nottingham Refugee Forum. The book is obviously a response to the terrible events of the last few months. So far they've sold hundreds of copies. There are 102 poems and contributions form the following poets: Alan Baker, Kathleen Bell, A.C. Clarke, Kerry Featherstone, Chrissie Gittins, Mark Goodwin, Tania Hershman, Siobhan Logan, Emma Lee, Carol Leeming, Joanne Limburg, Aoife Mannix, Roy Marshall, Hubert Moore, Thomas Orszag-Lund, Simon Perril, Sheenagh Pugh, Mahendra Solanki, Maria Taylor, Rory Waterman, Gregory Woods, and Siobhan Logan. More information and copies of the book are available here. The editors have worked incrediby hard to turn the book around in little over two months from subs to the final print.

Finally - and this is where my cold could be a problem -  Mr. Commonplace aka Jonathan Taylor has a fabulous new novel out with Salt called 'Melissa.' There's already been a Leicester launch and there's one at Five Leaves Bookshop on Wednesday night from 7pm. I'm meant to be reading with Jonathan, but I'm hoping the cold will be gone by then. Here's some more info on the book here. I obviously know it quite well having lived in the same house where it was written and having seen various drafts. It's quite odd hearing Jonathan read it for public audiences when I read drafts of it at the artwork stage, but it's all good. I sense a veering into prose for this poetry blog, so I should add he also has a poem in the current Rialto too.

I've also been editing reviews for Under the Radar this month. It's actually a challenge and a reward. More on that when the next issue comes out. Also, a few poetry books to recommend. I hope to write some longer pieces soon, but books currently by the bed (a great honour) among others include: Night Letter (pamphlet) by Fiona Moore and The Whole & Rain-domed Universe by Colette Bryce. It's also good to see Daniel Sluman's second collection The Terrible out, which I was also lucky to see in its earlier drafts.


Finally a few thoughts on the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Since writing my last entry things are not looking good for The Poetry Trust, who run the festival and the event may only take place on a reduced and much smaller scale next year.In fact, the Trust's offices are no more and up for rent. I'm glad I went to Aldeburgh for two years running before this news. I'm really sorry about it. I'm glad though that my write-up has been used among other blog posts to support and promote the festival. Judging by the stats there's been a lot of interest. It would be such an awful waste if the festival lost all it's funding. It was a genuinely special thing to attend. There is a very touching guest post by Naomi Jaffa on Anthony Wilson's blog which you can read here.

Now back to bed and some paracetamol...

Monday, 23 November 2015

The 2015 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

 Image result for aldeburgh poetry festival programme 2015

(Only two weeks late...)

Attending the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival is habit forming. Last year I went to Aldeburgh for the first time and went again this year. By now there are many blog posts out there and I’m aware I’m adding to the list, but it takes me a while to process things. For example, last year I was thinking about some of the events and readings ages after they’d happened. This year I’m already looking back to some astounding readings by Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Kim Addonizio, but also poets I wasn’t so familiar with like Valerie Rouzeau, Dorothea Smart, Michael McCarthy, Choman Hardi, Peter Sirr and Christine Webb.  Perhaps that’s one of the draws of this particular festival, is that you go to discover new things rather to confirm what you know. Both years I’ve felt as if gained a great deal by going. It’s not near where I live, so there must be a special reason for travelling all that distance to get there. And yes, it wasn’t easy travelling through Friday rush hour and missing the first few events. But as soon I arrived I went straight to Snape on the bus and got on with it all. 

Unlike last year, I hadn’t brought any advance tickets, which was useful, as I would’ve missed things, but I found I could get my tickets quickly enough anyway. I went to Kim Addonizio’s close reading of a Don Patterson poem and conversation between John Burnside and Helen Macdonald on language and nature.  It was all a bit of a rush and I had to eat my sandwiches like a schoolkid during Kim’s talk, but no one seemed to mind. I saw lots of people I knew and settled in quickly. The main reading was a real highlight; I went to the main reading with Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Jeremy Reed. I should say Jeremy likes glitter. He was throwing it around as he read. He said he ‘likes glamour’ at poetry readings. Very memorable. I knew the readers would be good, but I didn’t realise how good. At the beginning of the event, Andrew McMillan was awarded the Alderburgh first collection prize for Physical which I’d recently reviewed for The Compass. Afterwards I got the bus back, ended up in The Crosskeys with various people and then got lost on the way home. It’s very dark in Suffolk.

Next morning I woke up and listened to the seagulls. I brought a few going home presents for the twins and got a lift to Snape with Carole Bromley and her husband. It was a really full day. Even if people don’t stay for the whole three days, then Saturday is the day when most people seem to overlap. In general, one of the amazing things is how you meet people who actually exist in real life, not just on screen or in print. It was a pleasure to meet people in the flesh like Josephine Corcoran, Robin Houghton and John McCullough. There were so many others too.That’s another reason for going, it's nice to chat with people you only meet on a screen or in letters. Mainly the conversation revolved about the poetry and feeling overwhelmed - in a good way - by all the poety things going on. I went to a great main reading and the Open Workshop, ambitious to say the least with a roomful of about - who knows- seventy people there.  I had a bit of a break in the middle of the day and I’d recommend leaving Snape for a bit and having a walk around the marshes and surrounding countryside for a breather. I also made good use of the second hand book stall and The Rialto one, and ended up buying, among other things, many copies of seminal poetry publication Joe Soap’s Canoe. Even though it’s all on-line, it’s good to have the real thing.

Then back for more craft talks, coversations and readings. A word on the main readings, they are one hour forty-five minutes long – yes really. There’s usually a break of 15 minutes or so. I have to say and I really mean this, they don’t feel like one hour forty-five minutes. Honestly. The poetry’s top notch. I loved listening to Valérie Rouzeau reading in French, she had a gentle, charismatic presence. Kim Addonizio was incredibly entertaining, she played the harmonica and in homage to Jeremy Reed threw petals over her head. She also had time for a little drama. She asked three male volunteers to come up to the stage and be her backing chorus of, erm, male appendages. I was sitting next to Roy Marshall who bounced up to the stage, good for him. If I were a man, I could have been an appendage too. It made everything very lively and John Burnside was going to have a tough act to follow. I didn’t think he’d be quite my thing at first, but I enjoyed listening to him and his reading rounded off the evening for me. He also had a good sense of humour and knew how to follow after Kim. Another thing that struck me is that the organisers must be pretty damn good to choose readers who can make the most of their readings. This was Ellen McAteer's first year as director of the festival, but due to a family matter was unable to come. Nevertheless it all ran like clockwork.

Festival Photo of the Audience

Then back to Aldeburgh on the coach that the festival put on. Instead of going back to the B&B it was a mild evening (yes really for November) I went for a walk along the sea front, sat on a bench and phoned home. It was so dark. You could see lots of stars but I didn’t walk into the water or anything so that was ok. I was in a lovely B&B. I always meet a few people who tell me about the festival when it was all by the seaside, but I tried to make the most of  being near the beach this year. That night I stayed up late and leafed through my various purchases. Then ZZZs. Then morning, seagull cries and breakfast. Then 4 hour drive home past the Llama farm and some mysterious Suffolk villages. 

I was sorry not to stay for the Sunday, but it’s amazing I was able to squeeze it in at all with work and family. There were quite a few more things I would've liked to have attended. I did manage to photograph some of the twins’ teddies on the beach before driving home, to provide photographic evidence for the girls that Owl and Giraffey had indeed been to the seaside. I was still buoyant from the festival and didn’t care how silly I looked. If you were there wondering, yes that was me.