Tuesday, 20 September 2016

September 2016: A New Pamphlet, 'Instructions for Making Me.'

The finished product...
 After a few months of silence, it's become absolutely necessary to update this blog as I have something to say. I am very happy to announce that I have a new pamphlet out with HappenStance and it's called 'Instructions for Making Me.' I wasn't going to say anything official until I had the actual publication in my hands. Nell Nelson via Jane Commane at the Poetry Book Fair sped a few copies over in time for my first reading last night. Luckily the winged gods of Hermes did actually manage to deliver the rest of the pamphlets in time, which I found under a bush in my front garden. A bit like a stork leaving a baby or something. So, yes, it's definitely a 'thing' now and I read from the pamphlet last night at Shindig in Leicester and sold a few. I read with Kathy Pimlott, Richard Skinner and Marion Tracy who were great.

If you're interested (hint hint) in finding out more, well, look here!  I'm really grateful to Nell Nelson for editing and producing such a handsome pamphlet, along with the artistic talents of Gillian Rose who designed the cover image. It's very ribby.

It's also very difficult to talk about your own work without sounding like, well you know...so I've taken a photo of Nell's comments on the pamphlet, along with mentions of new pamphlets by Paul Stephenson and Helen Tookey. They've also have new pamphlets out at the same time. I have a Smartphone now; I'm very contemporary these days and take random snaps of things all the time. Oh did I say I was on Instagram now, as mariamiskina? Well, I have now. Back to the other stuff:


So there you go. I am an exclamation mark. I am a glass of Rioja. I am Spring. This is ironic as a shop assistant t'other week said my choice of top was the 'perfect colour for transitioning into autumn.' You get different seasons catered for in this pamphlet. Why not have a look, please and thank you.

                                                ***************************************
I'd also like to add I have two poems in the current edition of 'The North.' Look here if you don't believe me and here's a tweet link for a poem. I am pleased to be in there as this issue mentions John Foggin's great success in the pamphlet comp. He is a top poet, gent and I'm very happy for him. Thank you. Till we meet again.

Monday, 6 June 2016

End of May '16: Jo Dixon and Kathy Pimlott


If you were taking notes – of course you were – you’ll remember that in May’s blog post I said I’d discuss a Nottingham event. The slick team behind Commonplace travel all around the East Midlands you know. Last Tuesday, I went to Five Leaves Bookshop to attend the Nottingham launches of two pamphlets; Goose Fair Night (Emma Press) by Kathy Pimlott and A Woman in the Queue (Melos Press) by Jo Dixon. It definitely had a sense of ‘place’ about it. Kathy comes from Nottingham originally, so lots of her family were there. Kathy now lives in Seven Dials, which is slap bang in the middle of central London. Can you imagine what it would be like? It reminds me of a Kinks’ song, ‘every night I look at the world from my window.’ Jo is a native of Nottingham now, but some of her family come from Bethnal Green, so there was an exchange there between the two cities.

Kathy Pimlott & Jo Dixon...May 31st Five Leaves, Nottingham

Both readers complemented each other very well; there was a genuine sense of harmony between them. Like a certain ball game, it was an evening of two halves, with both Kathy and Jo delivering two short readings in each part. I’d never heard Kathy read and I’d only heard Jo read out one poem before. That poem was ‘NICU’ and one of my favourites by Jo, a very honest poem about the experience of having a newborn in a Neo-Natal ward. It’s also featured in the pamphlet and she performed a moving reading of it on the night. One of the things the staff do for parents is to take photos of the babies, as the poem says, ‘just in case.’ The emotion is reined in, but it’s there.  Exactly like a parent who has to be practical in this situation and deal with the day to day aspects of having a new baby: even though the threat of something dark is there, ‘A Polaroid, 2” by 3 ½”... tuck him under your pillow.’  Jo’s reading also took us away from England and some of the poems were about South Africa. These were rich with images and full of the language of that region. One of the poems featured phrases from Xhosa (hope I got that right).  Commonplace is yet to travel that far physically, but has now done so in a poetic sense.

Until a few months ago, I hadn’t heard of Melos Press, but I think we’ll be hearing a lot more. That’s a tip off if you’re planning on submitting a manuscript for a pamphlet by the way. They are producing beautiful pamphlets and the poetry is of a high standard, as evinced in Jo’s pamphlet.

Place and memory also featured heavily in Kathy’s poems. For those of you who don’t know Goose Fair is Nottingham’s big annual event and it’s been going on for a very long time -  a mere seven hundred years or so. Even D.H. Lawrence would pop back home for it when he was in London. It made perfect sense to include Kathy’s poem, ‘You Bring Out the Nottingham in Me' on Commonplace. I love this poem; I love the energy, the imagery and its atmosphere. I think I first read it in The North and was struck by it then.  More about the poem below.

Kathy’s pamphlet is published by The Emma Press who you’ll remember from all those varied and imaginative themed anthologies. The Emma Press equally publish single-author collections too. They’re definitely becoming established now and feature lots of exciting titles, with some beautiful designs and illustrations included in their work. Their poetry has a kind of gutsiness I really admire. Sometimes in poetry we look to our ‘non-poetic’ friends and relatives as a barometer of what’s good and I can reliably say my ‘non-poetic’ cousin thought their anthology of dance poetry was amazing. In other words, The Emma Press are very good indeed. Go seek.

I asked Jo if it was ok to feature ‘Dead Ringer’ here and she kindly agreed.  Ostensibly, I chose this poem as it’s linked to place. Something similar to events in the poem occurred on Trent Bridge, but having typed out the poem I can see (and hear) there’s a heck of a lot going on that’s worth commenting on aside from place. Firstly, the poem deals with alcoholism,  in particular its physical impact on the body. We could discuss the emotional one too, but I think the poem leaves that open to interpretation. That's a hallmark of Jo's poetry, she keeps the emotion watertight and lets the details do the talking. To me, this poem is very honest about the effects of alcoholism on the body. It achieves that through sound as well as description, ‘spine into the bricks / disc by disc by disc.’ Then there’s the other physical indicators of ‘vascular spiders’ and ‘her eyes will be bilirubin yellow.’ Ok, I didn’t know what ‘bilirubin’ meant at first, but I can confirm it’s that sickly, thick shade of yellow you sometimes see around people’s eyes. So, how does the man in the poem know ‘her eyes’ will be ‘yellow’? This is where you get the chills, because he can see it in his own wife, as revealed in the last verse.

Dead Ringer

Waiting at the lights he spots
a woman leaning against
the wall of the Hope and Anchor.
She grabs at the air. Misses.
Her shoulder smacks the concrete slabs.

She levers herself up from the dog ends,
presses her spine into the bricks
disc by disc by disc. The string
of a storybook-balloon seems to tug
at her crown; she is tall.

Three undone buttons lay bare
her collarbone and he pictures
multiplying vascular spiders
flat under her skin.
Her eyes will be bilirubin yellow.

And she’ll be wearing
the same boozy perfume
that once seeped
from the bedsheets as he
tucked them around his wife.

The flatbed in front pulls away.



On to to Kathy’s poems, one of which is about Loughborough, where the vast editorial team behind Commonplace live and thrive. How could I, sorry we, not feature a poem about Loughborough? The poem’s about the Carillon Tower in Queen’s Park, not just any old tower, oh no. The Carillon is a very nifty bell tower – someone plays a keyboard and the keys are linked to bells at the top. You can walk a scary staircase right up there and look at them, all hugely shadowy and sublime. The tower was built in memory of people who died from the town in the First World War and composers such as Edward Elgar wrote music for it. I suppose we take the bells for granted here, you often hear them and the sound’s unusual in itself when it’s carried on the air. It’s ethereal and sometimes hauntingly out of tune. Kathy’s poem brought home the real meaning of what those chimes mean when they travel across the town – loss. 

What struck me about the poem is how the carillon bells are made in such fiery, atonal circumstances and then made and shaped to play harmonically. Loughborough has a history of bell making. I once went to the Bell Foundry here and I have to say it was like an inferno. That image of fire rather poignantly suits the war theme. I first saw a draft of this poem when it was in neat tercets, but in a workshop Matthew Caley told Kathy to ‘explode’ it, so the poem’s shape is very different now and it suits the theme and overall sound. So, without any further explanation...



How to Make a Carillon

First, lose two boys to a terrible war,
a loss heavier than Great Paul, fierce
as a maiden casting in spaces blasted,

                melted away. You must know how
                to judge then make a core and cope,
                to wait and wait again, have the stomach

to handle a loam of horseshit, straw,
sand, a steady hand to carry and pour fire,

to balance

the hum, prime, quint, nomimal,
                                                 the tierce,
                                                               in a true harmonic tuning.

Someone, not you, must build a tower in a park, tall
enough to launch a peal
across a town, a plain town such as a temperance group
may once have visited.

A carillonist then climbs
                the narrow stairs, puts on leather gloves,
                                strikes batons with loose fists, treads
                                                the pedals to shift levers and wires

lifting clappers to sound the forty seven bells
whose partial tones
are in such precise relationship
they ring out loss,

concordant loss,
                                                all across Loughborough.




Loughborough is on the way to Nottingham and now we travel a few miles north, next to the window seat with some beige tea, to the Goose Fair. Nottingham’s a spirited city; it can get pretty boisterous of an evening. What I like about this poem is the speaker’s softer side, despite the city's apparent hardness ‘tunnels undermine me secretly.’ This is true as the city is full of tunnels, but I love the fact the city and speaker are the same person or thing. I’ll leave you with Kathy’s poem and in the meantime, take care but enjoy yourself and make sure your mother knows where you are.




You Bring Out the Nottingham in Me
                After Sandra Cisneros

You bring out the Hyson Green and Forest Fields
of me, Saturday night and Sunday morning love
bite signalled by a chiffon scarf.

My scent is Dangerous October, hot engine oil,
hot sugar, Mouse Town must. In electric dark
beyond the caravans, I take on all just

for the glory and floor them tenderly to rock ‘n’ roll,
chain and lever growl and lovely screams.
I am all of these: china saucers of acetic

mushy peas, pomegranate pips eased
out with pins, bows and arrows, bouncing
fairy dolls and cocks on sticks.

Lace cuffs and stockings catch and run as Ludd
spills out of me. Only with you I’m dun sandstone,
tunnels undermine me secretly.

You bring it out of me, me duck, you do, that mardy
Lawrence fuck. With you I’m Clough-strut right, so say it,
say I walk in beauty like a Goose Fair night. 




                                                           *********************

Thank you very much to both Jo and Kathy for allowing me to include their poems. I should probably get down to work on some of my own, I think Kathy and Jo have inspired me to crack on. Commonplace will be back soon, unless the world's ended due to Brexit or media saturation.

In the Spotlight

Image result for poetry spotlight
Poetry Spotlight
Very quick post to say a big thank to Poetry Spotlight for including an interview with me on their website. I'd really recommend this site as it's packed with interviews from a growing list of poets.
Here's something directly from the website about its ethos:

What hopefully sets Poetry Spotlight apart a little from other poetry sites is that all poems featured are accompanied by a short interview with the author. A poem doesn’t appear out of thin air and it’s nice sometimes to learn a bit more about the person who penned it. Turns out they are often as interesting as the writing they produce. Beyond that, there is no other agenda than the hope these pages reach some kind of audience.

I could tell you what my interview's about, but you can read it for yourself here. And do have a look at the vast array of poets, interviews and poems included. It's a fantastic idea.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

May 2016: It's Spring... Publications, Events and Two Poems from Alison Brackenbury




High Spring: Cherry Tree in the Garden

 Hi, here’s May so far. As I said in earlier posts, I’ve had a bit of a poetry hiatus recently. May has definitely been a time to get back on the poetic horse.  I’ve been writing and editing, but I’ve also had a couple of acceptances and...and... here’s the big news. In September I’ll have a pamphlet out with HappenStance Press, hurrah! At the moment it hasn’t got a title, I’m calling it ‘pamphlet’ for now, but hopefully a better title will appear. So, I’ve been doing that thing that a lot of poets do, take photos of and share on-line:



And yes, I could write an entire blog post about ordering and editing, and maybe I will when I find some spare hours hiding under a mattress or something. I’ll write more over future posts, but for now I’ll say this: I’m utterly delighted to have a publication with a press I deeply admire. Nell is a wonderful editor.  Some of my favourite poetry has been published by HappenStance Press. I first came across Mark Halliday through HappenStance and over the years I’ve enjoyed books and pamphlets by Fiona Moore, Chrissie Williams, Matthew Stewart, Rosie Miles, D A Prince, Tom Duddy and others. Hopefully it'll be out in September.

This has also been the month of attending poetry readings. Earlier on in May, I went to Jazz and Poetry in Nottingham to hear readings from three Nine Arches Press poets: David Clarke, Jo Bell and Daniel Sluman. These evenings are organised by David Belbin and John Lucas turns up with his Jazz band Four in a Bar and much heel kicking takes place.  The venue for the event has changed.  It used to be in the Guitar Bar across the road, but it’s now in the Polish Eagle Club. It’s a great new place with lots of space, panelled walls and a big dance floor. It reminds of the kind of places I used to attend at weddings and christenings as a girl. The atmosphere was very relaxed and all three poets delivered fantastic readings. It was Jane Commane’s  birthday, she runs the good ship Nine Arches. Jo presented her with a super choclately birthday cake and a good time was had by all. 

The Nine Arches Press Firm (L-R Daniel, Jane, Yours Truly, Jo and David. Photo by Emily Brenchi.)
Jazz and Poetry, Nottingham.


In Leicester we had the May Shindig. I think it’s only fair to say that May has been Leicester’s month. They only just went and won the football didn’t they? Ok, I was born in Notts and raised within the bells of QPR, but I’m very happy for my closest city up the road. We even went to the Victory Parade. Now, on the subject of the Victory Parade, Shindig was scheduled for the same date. It soon became clear this wasn’t going to be practical. 250,000 people turned up in Leicester that day, but they weren’t going to Shindig. We had to cancel and rearrange the date for the 23rd. That was last night. We had readings from two excellent Leicester based poets, Shruti Chauhan and Lydia Towsey and we had the superb Alison Brackenbury all the way from Gloucestershire. It was an absolute treat having Alison join us, we were very lucky. She was reading from her new collection ‘Skies’ published by Carcanet. It’s had great reviews  in The Guardian and The Independent and been featured on Radio 4. Below are a couple of short but perfectly and richly formed poems from the collection, which Alison has very kindly allowed me to include here. Her lyricism is second to none or 'heavenly' as I said last night when I introduced her.

'Skies' by Alison Brackenbury

So May belongs to Leicester perhaps, but the author of Commonplace resides in a hinterland town between Leicester and Nottingham. We’re not forgetting Nottingham, oh no. I went to another More Raw Material, Alan Sillitoe event in Nottingham and heard some great readings from some of the contributors. There were three memorable performances from poets I know, but had never heard or seen in the flesh: Bethany Pope, Rosie Garland and Ruth Fainlight, Alan Sillitoe’s widow. Next week, all being well, I’m attending a reading at Five Leaves Bookshop with Jo Dixon and Kathy Pimlott. I’m currently enjoying their pamphlets.

Finally, I even had some poems published of my own. After some months off this has been quite lovely. This year I’ve sent off four submissions, one was a polite ‘decline,’ two have been acceptances and one is still at the artwork stage, although a poem’s been shortlisted. Who knows.  I have two poems up on And Other Poems and I’m grateful to Josephine Corcoran and Rishi Dastidar for selecting them. I’ve had two poems accepted by The North too. It really has felt like a while since this has happened.
To finish off, as promised, here are two poems by Alison Brackenbury. Please have a look at the book at the Carcanet website for more details.Both are a perfect example of how a short poem can convey so much.



8am

I am cycling, in a sensible bright coat.
A girl comes pedalling, quickly by, loose shawls
skidding from shoulders, hitched skirt, silver pumps.
I was that girl. O may she ride her falls.




‘Will The Comet Survive Its
Encounter With the Sun?’
(astronomer, writing of Comet Ison)

This, I suppose, is what we do,
we fly into the sun
and some are gone and some survive
like shadows, limping on.
And some, far closer than stars,
fill all our eyes at dawn.



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.