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

vinyl












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:  

Confirmation

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. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Poetry, Events and Being on Trains a Lot: York Mix Competition and Two Poems from Rory Waterman

On Sunday March 23rd I travelled up to York as I'd been commended in the York Mix Poetry Comp, which is part of the York Literature Festival. I normally have mixed feeling about entering poetry comps, but this one was different. For starters it was judged by Carole Bromley and I really admire her poetry so I thought I'd support her and the festival. Also, it was only a fiver for three poems! Normally I wouldn't travel so far, but in the spirit of the poem I'd written I thought 'why not?' and off I went.

I made it to York, left the station and had a rather buoyant feeling of being somewhere I didn't know but was happy to visit. It seemed like a city with many visitors, lots of people were rushing past with wheeled suitcases and even on a Sunday you could feel a buzz. I wondered around the city peering into all the attractive shop fronts and was delighted by the sight of the river. The twins had asked me to take photos, so I did:




The prize event was very friendly and many of the prize-winners and commended poets were there to read their poems, including a poet called Clifford Hughes who'd travelled all the way from Hayward's Heath. It was also good to see my mate John Foggin who is going through a golden patch at the moment poetry-wise, winning all sorts of things, including the Lumen/Camden Poetry Prize. It's not easy getting first place in comps (understatement), so well done, and well done to Kay Buckley who won first Prize at York Mix with her poem 'Huskars' which is about a tragic incident where young children working down a pit were trapped and drowned. Many thanks to Carole for all her hard work judging the comp, no mean feat as there were nearly a thousand entries. I liked her approach of dealing with the poems as they came through on email. If you'd like to read about the judging process, read the winning and commended poems and look at photos of the event then do click here.

So I was on the train for 4 hours or so and the next weekend went up to The Poetry Business for one of their writing days, so another two hours and of course inevitable work journeys into Leicester. So I needed some reading material. Poetry and trains are quite well-suited. I think there must be a whole sub-genre of poems about writing poems on a train. The journey gave me an opportunity to re-read one of my favourite collections from last year, Rory Waterman's 'Tonight the Summer's Over' (Carcanet).

Cover of Tonight the Summer's Over by Rory Waterman

Rory's poetry is full of emotion, experience and observation. A significant part of the collection for me deals with the feeling of being torn and not quite belonging anywhere, 'I'd brag about that 'other home' / and other me - not here, like them - / the Irish me that never was.' Rory's mother left his father and their family home in County Derry and moved with Rory to rural Lincolnshire. The child's home is Lincolnshire, but 'home' is also Ireland too. Rather than being comfortable in two places, the poet feels estranged from both:

And Lincoln was a blessing and a curse,
where Daddy lived each month, and lived with me.

Oddly enough being on a train means you're nowhere; powering through anonymous fields and the backs of towns and cities for most of the journey. Perhaps this enhanced my enjoyment? Matthew Stewart has written an incisive review of this book on his blog Rogue Strands, which is here. If your tempted by the book I'd recommend a read, and to further whet your appetite here are two poems which Rory has kindly allowed me to use. The first has a terrific energy and a really sharp pair of end lines. 'Two' really moves me and is distinctly memorable.

Navigating

A heron burst from the bank where we hadn't seen it
to out of sight beneath the tree-bitten sky
            the way we were heading.
Let's follow! So, a dawdle became the pursuit
of something we couldn't realise.

We paddled and ruddered, slick through spilling rapids,
round snags and boulders, churned small dark-skinned deeps
          as otters and crayfish hid;
sparrows and what-not cheeped; cows chewed at the lip
of a sudden meander, and watched us ignoring them;

and inverted willows shivered with river-weeds,
where toppled half-drowned boughs cut withering chevrons
           along each shadowed straight.
We were happy - weren't we? - because each bend was blind.

We must pursue and not expect to find.


Two

The toddler with fat red cheeks in a blue Babygro,
legs skew-wiff, blond hair in a motherly clump,
face trapped in cute consternation, lets me know
through widened eyes that what happens to him matters.

The floppy-eared teddy he clutches in that studio
is a prop, not a gift. He doesn't realise
yet, but soon he'll have to let it go.
He hugs it because he's told to, looking up at the camera,

at the trap of a violent flash-bulb exploding. So
thirty-year-younger eyes stare blind at their future.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

More Jazz, Poetry and States of Independence 2014.

It's been another busy week. Am starting to really miss actually writing poetry, though in the last seven days I've certainly heard a great deal of poetry. Seven days ago I read with poet, colleague and all round kind soul Simon Perril at 'Jazz and Poetry' in Nottingham. We also read with some local student poets and the jazz came from John Lucas' band 'Four in a Bar.' Geddit? Simon read from his new Shearsman book 'Archilocus on the Moon.' I've said it before and I'll say it again that Simon's collections are some of the most cohesive I've every read. So the readings went on and jazz was played between them and the Hotel Deux was an intriguing venue. A former hotel, with the downstairs divided into different rooms and the 'jazz room' itself had lots of fascinating instruments pinned to the wall. There was even a bouzouki, my dad would've loved it. I met my first Liverpudlian poet of the week as well, Andrew Taylor, and want to read more of his work. If you'd like too see video evidence of Simon and I reading then click here. It's on Facebook. Event organiser David Belbin was the camera man.

Then Saturday and De Montfort held it's fifth annual book festival 'States of Independence'. There were lots of interesting panels and book stalls. I ended up buying loads of things. States was also the venue where I met my second Liverpudlian poet of the week, Sarah Crewe. She was reading with Alan Baker and my other colleague Kathy Bell, as part of a panel of Oystercatcher readers. Sarah's poems were a breath of fresh air for me. Alan's were full of intricacy. There was so much energy in that room and it was great to hear poems from Kathy's new pamphlet 'At the Memory Exchange.' I also attended the Soundswrite panel. They're a local group of women writers who meet up regularly in Leicester. Caroline Cook delivered a strong reading from her new Soundswrite pamphlet 'Primer' and there was a host of other poets reading too, including Jayne Stanton who will soon have a pamphlet out with Soundswrite as well. Also went to Deborah Tyler Bennett's and Ann Featherstone's Music Hall panel. For a few moments I dreamed of being Vesta Tilley, wouldn't that be an interesting way to live?

I also hosted a panel with Rich Goodson, Cora Greenhill and Gregory Woods about 'The Poetry of Sex' anthology. We read poems about and around the theme. Some more 'about' than others! We all have poems in the anthology of the same name. There were some mixed feelings about the book aired in the panel. Suppose all anthologies run that risk. I don't really write about sex directly (is this sometimes a 'female' thing?), so I placed the work in the context of my upbringing, life and culture. One of the poem's I read was 'Ante' which appeared in New Walk magazine last year, and was about the decision to have children:

Ante

Our children are only a blueprint. We imagine their milky bodies
flickering in a sonogram. We unpack our cases. They’re hiding

under our crisp bed in the hotel. The sun sinks into a cocktail glass.
Mouth the Spanish word for blood, think out loud: there will be

so many things to learn. Drink one guilty mouthful; let bubbles
fizz between your teeth. Mark this occasion of knowing in silence.


You no longer recognise the tilted face on the curve of your glass. 


Obviously that decision changed mine and my husband's life considerably! Our twins were also at States and were jubilant at having won a box of chocolates in the WORD! raffle and having a go at printing out letters courtesy of Cleeve Press. There were many stalls and it was great to see Jane at the Nine Arches Press one, as well as Jacqui Rowe at Flarestack. Brought three pamphlets! Was good to see 'The Interpreter's House' on sale too. Editor Martin Malone was selling copies of the magazine and the latest issue (55) is great. Also nice to see the poet David Clarke over from Cheltenham, we chatted about the pleasures and pains of poetry reviewing during lunch. There were lots of things I wanted to attend, but it was impossible as the sessions were back to back. Roy Marshall and Rory Waterman would've been a treat, as would've Renni Parker and the WORD! Crew. Sorry I couldn't cover everything!

Ok, so here's my obligatory shot of all the books I brought..actually they're pamphlets:


It's good to go to such events! Especially at a time when I'm finding little time for my own writing. The small presses save the day... again.

p.s. I have two poems on Josephine Corcoran's excellent blog 'And Other Poems' including the one about a certain actor, which you can read here.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

All That Jazz... 'Love in Leamington.'

photo by Joanna Ornowska

It's almost a month now since I read at the 'Love in Leamington' event. What a lovely evening that was. Before Christmas I was asked if I'd like to take part. I had to write a poem along with my husband, Jonathan Taylor, on the theme of love. The poem would then be performed with a jazz accompaniment. The musician in question was Steve Tromans, an EXCELLENT pianist and composer. One lyrical Saturday afternoon in late Jan, Steve came round to ours with Charlie Jordan. Charlie's a fab poet and she's also a radio broadcaster, so you can imagine how smooth and engaging her delivery would be. So there I was on my own sofa listening to Charlie and Steve practising their music and poetry on our piano in the front room. Bliss! Our house had become a sort of Jazz commune for a while. Beret wearing will follow...

Jonathan and I reading the poems. Photo by Joanna Ornowska

On the 14th of February, Valentine's of course, we all performed our pieces, with jazz piano from Steve, percussionist  Lydia Glanville and singing from Alyson Symons. Everything was new and specially commissioned for the evening. The other commissioned poets were Roz Goddard, Spoz, Julie Boden, Roy McFarlane and of course Charlie. Roy managed to battle against the storms outside, various cancelled trains and made it to the show just in time to perform his very passionate piece. It was an evening of uplifting poems and music. Roz moved everyone with her poem about her daughter leaving home; Spoz made me giggle with 'Writing You'; Roy's piece 'A Love Supreme' was powerful and deeply felt; Julie's dealt with the loss of love and Charlie's piece 'Beginnings' was about the moment of starting a new relationship. One of the many highlights of the evening was Charlie's red dress. I'd be working on a poem about wearing red and Charlie inspired me to finally figure out where the poem was going.

Charlie rocking the red dress look. Photo by Joanna Ornowska

Talking of writing I learnt something rather interesting about how we order poetry into verses. When I gave the original copies to Steve, they were neatly organised into stanzas of particular lines. When he worked his jazz magic the poems came back to me looking very different. The words were the same of course, but the line endings and overall structure of the poems had changed. He managed to needle out all the lyricism which was there that maybe I couldn't 'hear.' It's made me really appreciate the 'sounds' involved in writing poetry and even a plain-spoken conversational style can have that going on. Our poem was a question and response style piece and Steve's imput was invaluable. What a special treat to have your poetry set to music.

The event was a sell-out and held at Leamington Library. It was funded by 'Poetry on Loan' and hosted by Librarian Jan Dawson and Radio Wildfire impresario David Reeves. Photos were taken by Joanna Ornowska. The idea for 'Love in Leamington' was devised by Julie Boden and a round of applause for her.

I am also writing this after another Jazz and Poetry event last night in Nottingham. More on that later. It'll be berets, stripey tops, capri pants and black shoes for me perhaps.

Of course if you'd like to see all the photos and listen to the performances do click here.