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. Also 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.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Spots of Time: Marty McFly and the Time-Travelling Poet

Today’s Back to the Future day. Marty McFly will be joining us all the way from 1985. How could I let this anniversary slip? The first time I saw Back to the Future was at the end of the 80s with a hall full of pupils as our end of term treat. It was on a box shaped TV and if you were sitting near the back it was pretty much postage stamp size, but it was still considerably better than maths.

Anyway, I am using the film as an excuse to talk about poetry. Or I’m using poetry as an excuse to talk about Back to the Future. Not sure. The title (not the Marty McFly bit obviously) refers to Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ passage in The Prelude, which is about how poems bring into present consciousness certain memories or moments in time. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how many poems crystallise moments in time, while clarifying something about the present and we owe a debt to the Romantics for this approach. Certainly a lot of workshop exercises ask students to think of a particular happening or thing.  Then there’s James Schulyer’s method of writing about a moment in time, or more specifically, writing about the present tense. Schulyer isn’t remembering or reminiscing he’s writing about now, or his now, as something like ‘Dec. 28, 1974’ shows. His now isn’t ours, so to me those poems feel like a form of time travel and, oddly, also an exploration of the present.Can you draft such a poem, or do you write it all in one go?

This is a long way away from discussing DeLoreans and Flux Capacitors. There were always bits of Back to the Future that got my imagination going, like the photo of the disappearing McFly children; If mom and dad don’t kiss at the dance, then no family and no Marty. In a photo he's taken along with him for the journey, all of them are fading fast. So Marty has to work fast to bring romance into his parents’ lives.
Image result for marty mcfly fading photo

Of course if you haven’t seen the film, you won’t know what I’m talking about. Sorry. But it did occur to me that the key years in the film, 1955, 1985 and 2015 are relevant dates for me right now. Quite a coincidence. Firstly, some years ago I wrote a poem with 1955 in the title, which is currently on John Foggin’s blog and can be found here and is halfway through the piece. I’m very grateful to him for writing about my poems. Secondly, 1985 was the year I went to Cyprus to visit my family over there for the first time as a girl. I wrote a poem about that experience which features on Warwick University’s 50th anniversary poetry page. I’m sharing that page with some fantastic poets, so have a look here.  It also features a recording of the poem. I was asked to take part by David Morley as I was a student there. Finally, I’m also including a 2015 poem, which is very different to the other two, and is a tongue in cheek look at my now, on the Poems in Which site you can find here.

And still no hoverboards...


To finish off, you may remember that at the end of Back to the Future, when the lovers kiss and everything’s funkydory at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, Marty plays something a little far out for 1955 on his guitar. He utters the line, "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... but your kids are gonna love it."If you click on the link below and listen, it’s possible Marty underestimated some of his mid-50s audience.

Monday, 14 September 2015

August/September '15: London, Ladybirds and Lots of Coffee

Mr. Commonplace and I were sitting round the breakfast table debating the pros and cons of social networking. I had a moment of insight, I said 'If it didn't happen on Facebook, then it didn't happen at all.' So the following blog post is what didn't happen, except it happened to me.

Over the late summer months I've been reviewing again. I realised it had been a while. It's a long process for me. I read the books, then read them again with a pencil and add lots of scribbles and dainty star things that are meant to remind me of something. Then I start drafting a review, and draft again. Then I usually draft again. I show it to Mr. Commonplace as a trial reader and ask if it makes sense. I don't set out to lavishly praise or destroy, I just want to give a reader an idea of what's going on and make sense of the poems for myself. I make a point of including lots of quotations so I can back up what I'm saying. The more poetry I read the more critical I become of my own. Overall I think that might be a good thing, but it doesn't quite feel like that right now.

Because it was summer, with everyone at home, I got up early on some days in order to have some review writing time. I'm less of a night owl now. So by the time it was officially breakfast I was already on the third or fourth super-caffeinated drink and making strange conversation about why lots of poets use those extra spaces between words and I still don't know what they're called. Then a little 'My Little Pony' on TV.

Photo of Real Life

In terms of attending readings, it's often quiet during summer, but I did manage to catch Maitreyabandhu in Leicester, reading new poems and earlier ones, notably from The Crumb Road which I reviewed a couple of years ago. I love his 'Stephen' poems. Stephen died in a road accident when he was a teenager. There was a connection between the two, but as Maitreyabandhu said they were too young for it to be called love as such. Only the made-up future remains, 'Now you're twenty five / and have learnt the art of smiling.'

The new issue of Under The Radar came out in August. I'm Reviews Editor for UTR, which involves lots of reading and admin. It's a always a relief to see the reviews in print and I am indebted to the reviewers. In this issue they included: Peter Carpenter, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, John Foggin and Michael Thomas. There was also a special feature by Richard Skinner on his series of Vanguard Readings and the anthology which came out of this event. For the next issue there will be more female reviewers than male ones. I already have a review by Kim Moore. The one thing that bugs me about the editing is that so many books arrive and we can't review them all. It's a shame, but I'm so grateful to all those enthusiastic reviewers out there who write out of love and/or because they feel they need to and receive little if no pay. I thank you!

There was another reading was in early September in London and this time I was reading there myself. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Joanna, (cousin Commonplace) came along again, and although she's not a poetry type she probably will be before long if she keeps attending things. I brought a snazzy raincoat and Joanna said I looked smart and it gave the impression I had a proper job.

I read at the Betsey Trotwood with three other poets in my half of the evening, these were: Miriam Nash, Richard Osmond, Rena Minegnishi. They were great. I felt like an older thirty-something as they were all in their 20s. After the break there were readings from Stephen Kendall,  Kirsten Irving, Chris Dodd and Jasmine Cooray. But I missed those as I had to dash back to St. Pancras before I turned into a pumpkin. It was a lovely night though, organised by Miriam Nash and Roddy Lumsden. I also met a poet called Kathy Pimlott who had Notts connections and had written about the Carillon tower in Loughborough. It's a small world. When I got back to the Midlands it was very late and there were about 4 people around. It was quite a contrast to London with its huge crowds and diversions and pubs where people stand outside swigging £5 pints. It had a sense of unreality. Perhaps I dreamt it.

This is where the Ladybirds come in. This year is the 100th year of Ladybird books, which were initially published in Loughborough until 1999 before being sold off to Disney. Sad isn't it. I could just see myself  at Ladybird books cycling off to work everyday. Anyway, there is a lovely display in Charnwood museum in the park where the Carillon Tower is - spooky. 

Some images from the Exhibition.

So now I have a week or two before Uni kicks in (like a mule!) and autumn scatters all its leaves.  It's early days, but there are plans for a new poetry thingy next year. A pamphlet. Won't say more yet. 

See you later. Happy leaf kicking!