Thursday 2 May 2019

May 2019: Comings and Goings

I came and I went...
So I am about to be walloped with some heavy duty marking tomorrow. A perfect opportunity then to pretend it's not happening and write a blog post!

This post is mainly about April, but I think under the circumstances I've done pretty well by writing on May 2nd. And yes, where is the year going? But I have a habit of saying this and I suppose it's time to write about where April actually went.

....up a tall building...

At the beginning of April we went on a short break to New York, not directly poetry related but let's face it - it's a poetry city! I'd been swotting up on my New York poets beforehand, reading poems and such like and attending Martin Stannard's intriguing talk on the NY poets at the end of March in Nottingham. Frank O'Hara has long been a favourite. I like the quirky detail and the ability to weave through different registers in the same poem and the beautiful melancholy of some of the poetry. Maybe if you live in a city where everything happens, everything happens in your poetry. That, however, is not to discourage the poets of the East Midlands - everything happens here too.

...on a train...
I digress. Or not. Because arriving home jet lagged there was a highly appropriately timed copy of a new HappenStance anthology on the doormat, 'Comings and Goings: Poems for Journeys,' edited by Nell Nelson. This anthology features a poem by every single HappenStance poet, barring the odd exception, dealing in some way with the theme of travel. I have two poems in there. One involves a train journey and the other a horse - the horse is poetic licence of course. I certainly can't ride one, but I may have had a pony ride at some point. You know it really would make a lovely gift for a travelly, poety person. The book, NOT a pony. I know I'm expected to say that, but it's true. Nell's selections are very indicative of the enjoyable poems she publishes. All that, plus an 'orse.

I went to John Harvey's reading at Five Leaves last week. Again, not someone I'd read an awful lot by, but my word I was really taken with his poetry. He has a new book out with Shoestring, 'Aslant,' and his reading was quite something. There is also really impressive photography in the book by Molly E. Boiling, who I'm pretty sure in thinking is his daughter.

...through the water...
(photo by Molly E. Boiling)

'Comings and Goings' was my poetry book companion on the 10:19 to St. Pancras last Sunday. Obviously it's a train journey kind of book! The train was packed and it was early on a Sunday. I wasn't exactly thrilled, I wanted some space and a bit of peace in the morning. So to cheer up I made myself  'Poet in Residence' of Coach D and gave myself permission to write some poetry and well as read. Despite having the elbow space of a baby ant. I was funded with a bottle of Ribena and a chewy bar.  I was on my way to perform at the Afterbirth Poetry Festival, which was an afternoon of readings organised by Victoria Richards and held at the Wanstead Tap in London. This was a celebration of poems about parenting. From the good to the not so good experiences. So I made myself get on a train and get out of the East Mids and actually READ in public, after a reclusive break from readings - ok, apart from the odd single poem here and there. But still, you know what I mean.

The venue was a highly cool place under some railway arches often used for gigs. It had that perfect Eastenders rumble every time a train went past, as if a plot twist was just around the corner. It was just one of those events that was a pleasure from start to finish, and this was fab as I didn't know anyone at the start and by the end had met so many friendly people. Victoria was a brilliant warm and energetic host who made the afternoon come together perfectly. The other readers were: Leah Larwood,  Judi Walsh, Ingrid Jendrzejewski,  Mel Pryor, Ali Thurm, Jenny Pagdin, Steve Rogers, Sarah Westcott, Katy Wareham Morris and Victoria Richards herself. I think everyone had moments in those poems, to laugh or cry, but certainly to reflect on experiences of parenting.

Victoria's poetry is published as part of the Nine Arches Press 'Primers' series - this very day I think!

I am reading at the end of May, on the 30th to be exact, at Five Leaves Bookshop. This will be a reading with D.A. Prince and the focus will be on the pamphlet, as we've both had pamphlets by HappenStance. Now, if I'm switched on by the end of May, writing more generally about the great wonderment that is the poetry pamphlet would be a good topic for a blog post. Without a nine month gap. "Pray for me," says the long suffering blog.

P.S. today is UK local Government Elections day. Voted.


Tuesday 16 April 2019

April 2019 - Saboteur Awards


I am very happy to share the news that I’ve been shortlisted for ‘Best Reviewer’ for the Saboteur Awards this year! Especially so when there are some very strong reviewers out there. It has also motivated me to sit down and write a post that I’ve been writing in my head for a long while now. So thanks to the Saboteur Awards I am now (finally) updating my blog!

The reason for writing this post is to explain the work I do as Reviews Editor for Under the Radar, alongside Jane Commane.  This is a role I took up 5 years ago. I’d been writing reviews for a few years by that point, and had pieces published for The Times Literary Supplement and various online poetry sites, such as Sphinx. The first TLS piece was back in May 2009, when the twins were only a year old and I doubted very much I was ‘clever’ enough to have anything accepted by them. I worked against that feeling and my first review on an academic book on slang was published.

Let’s get one thing straight. Reviews are hard work. I’ve worked many long hours making notes, reading, scribbling, typing and editing many different versions of the same piece. I’ve worked for money and I’ve worked for books as payment. My guiding principle was that if I wanted to improve as a poet, I’d better darn read some poetry books closely and have opinions on them.  I’m not someone who chooses to write ‘slasher’ reviews, because that isn’t my style. My role is to tune into a poet’s style and attempt to get under the skin of the poetry itself.

Under the Radar relies on a strong team of reviewers, and we have our regulars such as Pam Thompson, Jonathan Davidson, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Alison Brackenbury and often me! From time to time we’ve had reviews from others such as Kim Moore, Peter Carpenter, Dzifa Benson, Kathleen Bell, David Clarke, Charles Whalley, D.A. Prince and John Foggin. For the next issue Josephine Corcoran is joining us too. I have a read of the reviews they’ve drafted and edit them, and Jane has a final read as General Editor. We stipulate that the reviews should contain plenty of quotations from their primary texts in order to give our readers a true flavour of the poetry.
Most issues generally feature female reviewers, and while that wasn’t the plan, it’s encouraging to support women reviewers. We know the background of the usual suspects in critical writing if we’re talking stereotypes. Regular readers of this blog (if they can remember who they are, it’s been a while!) will know about me and my background.

Ideally, I’d like to write more in the future on how I go about approaching a review and what makes a good one in my opinion. The next issue of Under the Radar will feature my review on Raymond Antrobus and Gaia Holmes, as well as a reissued complete works from Carcanet of the Greek Poet George Seferis.

Ok, so the Saboteur Awards is one you have to vote for. It seems a bit much saying ‘Vote for me!!!’ if you’ve not come across my writing before, so here are some links below.

My last review was on books by Peter Raynard, Amy Key and Tishani Doshi and you can read it here.

Jane also kindly shared an online version of another of my reviews on books by Luke Kennard, Melissa Lee Houghton and John McCullough, which is magically here.

And for good measure here are two published on The Compass and Everybody’s Reviewing, from a little while ago.

So if you read those and thought 'yep that'll do!' please vote for me here at the Saboteur Awards site.

There are lots of really great writers and performers on those shortlists. 


Thursday 6 December 2018

December 2018: Is Poetry a Winter Sport?

Poets avoiding summer...

It could be said autumn and winter are the poetry seasons. Do I even have to mention Keats and autumn? There's something about the crispness of the air and the clichéd and adjective-ridden fiery, glowing, crimson, burnished, twisted, bewitching, fading leaves that also contributes to this poetic mood. I know this for a fact not only because of several ill-starred Romantic poets, but also from opinions on social media. Therefore it’s obviously a gospel truth.

Which could be one of the reasons I’m blogging again, either that or I’m trying to avoid a stack of marking. December is here and for many poets and readers that means thinking about their favourite books of the year. What year you may ask? I haven't blogged since January. If only some of the politicians of the world had kept a low profile...

This summer in England was one of the hottest I could remember. During the summer months I find my brain doesn’t engage with writing poetry very well. I tend to write critical pieces and reviews, but not so many creative pieces. Also summer is  holiday time so we’re busy travelling and outdoors a lot. There were a few interesting things poetry wise. I had a poem in the In Transit: Poems of Travel anthology published by The Emma Press and edited by Sarah Jackson and Tim Youngs. In July I read a poem of mine at the Magma launch in London and happened to get swept up in the Anti-Trump demonstrations, so it was an eventful day all round.  Here is a link to my Magma poem

My new poetry 'thing' is form, either my own designs or strangely the more conventional approaches to form. I am having a go at the sonnet form today, in particular the Petrarchan variety. I think I need the sense of 'playing' again with form and line. 
This is odd because normally I can't be doing with full rhyme (see what I did there). It might not get anywhere, who cares. It's been interesting having a go. There are some poems building up and, rather like the average cat, they're standing at the open door not sure whether to go out in the world or stay inside.

Also I got a bit overwhelmed by the constant influx of social media into my daily life. Someone once rightly said the effect of too much social media is like being trapped in a cement mixer. I've not been as active for sanity. 

I'll end with a few wintry lines from Fiona Moore's poem 'Overwinter' from her collection The Distal Point published by HappenStance Press.  I love how she manages to darn well capture that odd time of year, now coming up, when dark eats up the day. It could be grim but her tone is optimistic. It's hopeful:

Nothing will happen for a while, nothing - 

and I need such certainty: to become
embedded deep within this season
when dark overplaits the day's pale strand.
Change may come while nothing seems to change.
I know it will take a long time.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

January 2018 - Time Flies/Time Flown

My retro clock...tonight we're gonna party like it's 1981

Maybe I'm writing this post because it's January and I should, but one thing's for certain - I'm not going to yammer on about resolutions. It's January the 17th and we're all beyond that now. However, I did see a post by Josephine Corcoran where she mentioned something about trying to keep up to date with blogging at least once a week. It's a lovely idea, but not sure I can keep up. I can't even keep up with ruddy Twitter - and that's only 140 characters. Even Donnie Trump manages that (sadly). This time last year I put up a vigorous post about sending out regularly and such like...but didn't really send out very much. Because guess what - you can't force it if you know you're not ready. I sent out the grand total of five or six times last year. At one point a few years ago I was sending out six before breakfast or something.

Instead, let me talk about what I'm learning at the moment as opposed to what I'm achieving. I'm teaching Creative Writing at DMU and now for a term at Warwick University. Teaching also means learning. I have been busy making lots of new resources and reading work by poets I'm less familiar with, as well as re-reading old favourites. My word, I ended up falling in love with 'Avenue A' and 'Now That I am in Madrid' and I Can Think' by Frank O'Hara last Sunday. I digress. Part of the job involved sitting in on  one of David Morley's seminars in December to meet the new students. I LOVED it. I felt like I wanted to read and write and read and write and then remembered I was meant to be the teacher. Not a bad thing though. Everyone has their words of wisdom of course, but here's another newsflash - as a poet I don't think you should take yourself seriously, but be overtaken by writing.There is nothing like getting caught up in the jolly artwork stage of writing a poem. I come across lots of learners with enthusiasm and this fires me as well.  This is a good thing as there have been times last year when poetry and I were not the honeymooners we used to be. Now we're holding hands again. Relief.

Wednesday is my free day and it's reading and writing day - hurrah! I work part-time but once you factor the little things like life, family, colds, lack of sleep, Lego, exercise classes (I can do a mean plank I'll have you know) and so on it doesn't leave much time for concentrated writing time. Wednesdays are a good start.

Nine Arches Press and I have a long history of working and publishing together. One enchanted evening eight years ago this very month, I met them for the first time. I am really proud of Jane Commane's achievements with the press and was really happy when Jacqueline Saphra's Nine Arches collection 'All My Mad Mothers was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. When you have seen someone work their ruddy socks off over eight years, publishing, editing, organising readings, giving up hours and hours of their time and one of NAP's poets does really well you can't help but smile. Good for them.

Image result for all my mad mothers jacqueline saphra

Thursday 2 November 2017

November 2017: What's in a Name?

Image result for cyprus postcards
Past Life

Typical conversation:

Person: You're not foreign!
Me: Well I don't have a accent and I was born and raised here, but my family is Cypriot.
Person: You mean fully Cypriot? Isn't that in Greece?
Me: No and both my parents were born there.
Person: Oh, so why are you a Taylor?

Good question. When I started sending out poetry at the end of 2009 I was faced with a dilemma. Should I send out under my maiden name or go for Taylor? Would it matter? After all, if people read the actual poetry then they might figure out there was a different culture influencing some of the poems. Plus my maiden surname was a total mouthful, the question 'how do you spell that?' had followed me around all my life. Plus to complicate things further, I had two maiden surnames, because my dad got things a bit mixed up. Maria Dimiti on the birth certificate and Maria Orthodoxou on the passport. The solicitors dealt with it eventually. At one point I wondered if I existed at all. I thought about it and sent off as Taylor. People could spell Taylor (most of the time). Job done.

I kind of half regret that now. Along the way I've had a few people assuming that I'm a 'nice' middle-class English lady who probably went to a 'nice' school. (LOL as they say). I once had a chat with an editor (no-one I actually worked with directly) who said I should make my ethnicity part of my mission statement as a poet, but I never did.

Recently I've been in contact with the poet Anthony Anaxagorou as he's interested in putting together a book on British Cypriot identity. Thinking I might have the odd idea to share I realised I couldn't shut up on the phone. I wondered why I hadn't written more poetry about my background - to be fair I've written a few. Then I thought, bloody hell I need to get some of this out of my system. I should also speak to family members who remember Cyprus pre-1960, when British Colonial rule ended. My father came to England in 1961. In the late fifties he peeled vegetables (reluctantly) for British squaddies in Dhekelia, which still is a Sovereign base to this day. My maternal Grandma was a performance poet in her day. Seriously. Despite being a widow who should have kept her head down, she was popular at wedding parties for her spontaneous rhyming powers. It's part of a tradition called 'Chattista,' - of getting up and making up rhyming couplets on the spot. I don't know if  any of this is a poetry thing or a personal thing, but this project has meant it's something I'm going to finally explore.

I'll leave you with this excellent interview with George Tardios by Starvros Karayianni. George helped to set up Arvon with Ted Hughes. He came over as a kid in the 50s which was a pivotal time in Cypriot-British relations. Was very tickled by the fact his yiayia ran a brothel! Very contrary to the stereotype of the good, god-fearing Cypriot woman who does her cross 300 times a day - stereotypes, huh?

Sunday 20 August 2017

August 2017: It's Not You, It's Me...

This is our new pet, Snibby. She sleeps a lot. I am finally a cat lady.  #catsofinstagram
Maria Taylor and her new owner, Snibby.
Commonplace Blog: What's going on? You never write or call anymore?
Maria Taylor: Oh, but you know how I feel about you...
CB: That's not good enough. What have you been up to?
MT: Stuff.
CB: I don't want to hear about the other stuff, just poetry stuff.
MT: Well. I had a few outings on other blogs.
CB: You mean you've been seeing other blogs and didn't even bother with me!! *sheds tears*
MT: Yes. You can read these posts on Kim Moore's blog and an interview I did with Maria Isakova Bennett on The Honest Ulsterman. And there was John Foggin's blog post a while back.
CB: I see. *Sighs and composes self* So what else. Have you actually been writing anything?
MT: A bit.
CB: Have you sent anything out, like normal poets are meant to do?
MT: One or two things. I have a poem in an anthology about pubs coming out in the autumn, edited by Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie.I have a few poems about to be published in 'Poetry Salzburg' and a poem featuring a certain Donny Trump back in '67 meeting an unimpressed flowerchild on 'New Boots and Pantisocracies'.
CB: Oh, now you tell me! *Huffs*
MT: Yes and I've also got a sub on a 'maybe' pile somewhere. So I'm bracing myself for a possible rejection.
CB: Well now you know how I feel.
MT: I never wanted to hurt your feelings.
CB: *sniffs* Well have you done any readings lately like other poets do?
MT: A few. None coming up as yet. There was one back in June at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham.
CB: That could have been a whole freakin' post! Why didn't you tell me.
MT: Sorry.
CB: Have you been seeing other social networks? Break it to me, I'll cope. Somehow.
MT: I'll be honest with you. I've spent a lot of time with Instagram.
CB: *Furious* Oh I see. You trade me in for a younger, flashier model! What's so wrong about an old fashioned, RELIABLE blog post!
MT: Ok, I'll try and see you more often.
MT: Yeah I know. Look. I'm working on a review of two pamphlets and a collection.
CB: That's better. Proper poetry stuff. How's the pamphlet going?
MT: It's actually going to be taught on an Bath Spa Uni course led by Carrie Etter next year which was a pleasant surprise. There have been a few reviews since the one on Matthew Stewart's blog. A really lovely one in Orbis. Plus some equally lovely ones on the OPOI site and one by Tim Love, on his Lit Refs site. There's one coming up in 'The North' in the next issue. I think I've told you some of this.
CB: Whatever. You don't seem to remember what you've told me these days.
MT: And I'll be hosting the September Shindig in Leicester on the 25th. We're very excited to have Rebecca Bird and Matthew Stewart reading.
CB: Glad to hear it. I don't expect you'll be telling me.
MT: I'll do my best.
CB: Can you write another poem now, like NORMAL poets do. Instead of Instagramming everything in sight. You're a poet, not an amateur photographer!
MT: I think you can do all sorts of things alongside poetry.  I was commissioned to write a monologue based on Adrian Mole in April by the University of Leicester. I loved it. Did I tell you I wrote a short story recently?
CB. You. Wrote. A. Short. Story. PROSE! You wrote PROSE. I don't know who you are anymore.
MT: Yes and...hello. Are you there?
MT: Hello? Hello?

Friday 21 April 2017

April 2017 - 'Believe me. Stories are real.' - John Foggin and NaPoWriMo

All of the above...

I am not procrastinating. I am living. I am trying to survive! Nearly five months since my last blog entry and here I am. I am doing NaPoWriMo, where you're meant to write a poem everyday in April, and apart from a few blips have managed most days. Some are bad, some have legs and may run somewhere. Hopefully not into a wall. The photo above depicts one of my doodling daydreaming moments in which I cover all four of my feelings on writing poetry at the moment.

I'm going to break my blogging silence with a poem by John Foggin. John is a friend. He is very dapper. He smokes roll-ups and makes his own books. He seems to be in a constant state of exploration; travelling across challenging terrain, going on residentials, writing poems, standing back and contemplating the view. I know him from my jaunts to Writing Days in Sheffield. He won last year’s Smith/Doorstop pamphlet collection and, they thought, no let’s have a book not a pamphlet! That's how great he is. Here's a poem from that collection, Much Possessed, which I loved. It's painful. It’s about a parent hearing the news of an adult child’s suicide.

It was a morning like this

a Sunday morning. The sun shone.
It was July. It was a morning like this,
your ex-wife at the back door,
and why would she tell you
your son was dead, or had died,
or had been in an accident
on a morning like this still
not fully woken, a morning of sun
to drive into Chapeltown to drive
to a police station that’s called
The Old Police Station now, that’s
a bijou gastropub but then was just
a police station full of Sunday morning
sadness, and a morning something
like this and two young coppers
who thought we’d need somewhere
quiet at the back which turned out
to smell of smoke, that had a pool table
and coffee rings, and no-one knew
how to start or what to ask but
it was a morning much like this
they asked if we knew a tower block
behind the Merrion Centre or if
we had a connection to a tower block
and a ring with a skull and a brown
leather case and did we know if
our son had friends in a tower block
behind the Merrion Centre and
we might as well have been asked
about tree rings or chaos theory
or fractals on a July morning and
one young copper saying that
he didn’t think it made sense
for cannabis to be illegal and
what harm did it do really and
how it wasted everybody’s time
and I don’t know why I’d remember
that except it was a morning like this
I learned what waste might mean.

A month or so ago, I asked John Foggin for this poem to share on my blog. I keep going back to it. Maybe because I actually experience the sensations within the poem; it seems to capture a terrible, dizzying moment when life is turned over. The ending is perhaps the only firm sensation to be experienced, you 'come-to' as a reader here. It's a painful realisation though. Elsewhere, I feel a sense of disorientation whenever I read the poem. Skillfull as well as a 'spontaneous overflow' of feeling. This poem deals with the exact moment when something terrible is conveyed. It’s not a poem of reflection, it’s about being plunged straight into the moment. This is ironic as the poet is reflecting. The words create a sense of being in a maelstrom.

To me this poem captures  a physical sensation of suddenly losing your balance and needing to hold onto something, whatever you’ve got. I find the mention of those concrete places, like the repeated Merrion Centre, like driftwood. But they’re not permanent or indeed supportive, places change:

The Old Police Station now, that’s
a bijou gastropub but then was just
a police station full of Sunday morning

Notice how the building is wiped out as soon as it’s mentioned, ‘The Old Police Station now’ that ‘now’ is the ‘now’ of the past. We’re time-travelling in two directions at once.You can do that in a poem. What's real is no longer tangible. The tenses also convey that sense of disorientation, ‘your son was dead, or had died,’ things are always shifting.

It’s been said John is a landscape poet. He doesn’t often ‘do’ urban places. To me this is a terrific landscape poem, not just for the urban references, but for the sense of personal landscape, the inner map if you like, being challenged and altered forever. Thank you John, for allowing me to share this fabulous poem.


In other news...I am behind in coming up-to-date with my own poetic dealings. I appreciate this is mainly of some importance to me and not the world. My aim is to use the blog as a cross between scrapbook and poetic journal. Poetry is a place I go to in my head right now, as I haven’t been to as many readings as I could have done. That does not mean I won’t be back. I have quite a few readings of my own coming up soon! I am going to aim to write in little bites rather than cover the lot.
Stay tuned.

Sunday 1 January 2017

January 2017 - Resolutions and Reviews.

 Benoit Delhomme on Instgram

A short post. 2016 is over. 2016 was a strange year and perhaps we'll know what it all meant someday. I've decided to write some new year resolutions as a way of getting myself back on the poetic horse. I haven't sent out any poems to magazines since July. My writing needs some focus. So without any further ado here we go...

1. Give myself permission to write even if it's not very good. Eventually I might hit on something. Write at different times of the day and in different places and locations.
2. Not abandon drafts or have very long breaks on individuals poems, so as not to lose momentum.
3. Keep bloody well reading. Contemporary poetry. Not contemporary poetry. Not poetry. Prose. Non-fiction. Poetry magazines even. (That's a joke of course, I know that's important).
4. Less bloody social networking. Facebook is the kiss of death. A great may of my favourite poets post little or aren't on any networks. Go figure. Robin Houghton says it best on her blog.
5. Actually send out poems. Why? Because in order to send out you have to have poems completed to the best of your ability. It's not about being published, it's about discipline and keeping going. At least once every couple of months if not more. Be productive!
6. Be interested in things! Enthusiasm is the kiss of life! Lots of !!!
7. Go out more, (not pub or shops). Go out more where there's rocks, green things, sky. Breathe in and ponder.
8. Go out to more readings. Listen. Learn. Love. Or not love, but have an opinion.
9. Continue to share poems and poets I love. Ok, this doesn't contradict number 4. I share things I like on Twitter anyway. It's the difference between using the networks to share poems and using them to watch a 3 minute film clip of a Polar bear jogging around an ice floe wearing a party hat or something.
10. There should be a 10 after all, it's a nice round number. Poetry is my friend. Things are confusing at best, poetry is a good place to hang out and it's a satisfying and productive place to be. Always be thinking of the next poem.

I hope these resolutions are useful for you too. Also, if anyone felt like adding some decent ones of their own that would be good.

The other day I came across two very encouraging reviews of my pamphlet. This one by Charlotte Gann  and one by Tim Love on his Litrefs Reviews site. Tim wrote things about my poems that I hadn't noticed myself. This is good motivation.

Let's get going.

Thursday 8 December 2016

December 2016: Looking Back on 'Poetry in Aldebugh'

Subtle hint about content of this entry...

Coming back to blog writing after an absence of a few months is like going home after a very long time away. It's got used to its own emptiness, there's only a refrigerator hum, but there's a huge pile of letters on the mat that need a reply. So that's what I'll try and do. Matthew Stewart who is a terrific poet and prolific blogger has inspired me to get back on the blog horse. So here I am. Trotting. He's also written a lovely review of my pamphlet too. Thanks, Matthew!

I want to write about my recent(ish) trip to Aldeburgh. I know I write about the place every autumn, but it's different this year. The 'old' Aldeburgh festival has wound down since the demise of The Poetry Trust. In its place is the new 'Poetry in Aldeburgh' run by a fresh group of people who want to keep an annual poetry festival going. Lots of people have asked me what the 'new' festival is like and as you can't do that in a tweet, it's time to do some good old fashioned typing in more than 140 characters. I have dotted this post with a few photos, but there are more on my Instagram account. You might have to scroll down if you're reading this in a couple of weeks time!

Firstly, it's all by the sea this time. No coach journeys to Snape. To confuse matters, back in the day, the festival was always by the sea, but they went over to Snape - a great big auditorium. Now it's cosy again and set in the village. This means you can actually wonder about the pebble beach at your leisure and be all heightened and poetic if you wish. On the Sunday I think there was swimming and a poetry reading led by Fiona Moore, but I was probably eating my toast in the warm at that point.

Insert Poet Here...

I arrived on the Friday and that evening had a 'sea rose' at a viewing in the Peter Pears Gallery. Then went over to a reading by Blake Morrison and Anne Marie Fyfe. It was held in the Jubilee Hall, which is still a big venue by anyone's standards. Blake and Anne were a great start. I know Blake Morrison's work pretty well, and in particular the prose (Let's hear it for prose on the poetry blog!). I once interviewed him as a student in the last century and it's good to catch up every so often. Anne's work is very lyrical, dreamy and influenced by sea. Very appropriate!

Then I meandered around chatting and buying a couple of books from the lovely bloke who sells them second hand every year at the festival. I like how at poetry festival you often have 'annual' conversations with people. The next morning I went to a Poetry Society reading with Eric Berlin, Geraldine Clarkson and Ian Duhig. I am glad Ian read this poem from his latest book, 'The Blind Roadmaker':

Actual Poem!
I was new to Eric Berlin's work and was glad to be introduced. Geraldine Clarkson's work is familiar to me from her work in 'Primers' published by Nine Arches Press, but I've never heard her read so it was a treat. She read quite a few poems from her latest pamphlet intriguingly titled 'Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament.'

I should mention the butterfly. There was a Peacock butterfly who'd used the Hall as a hibernating spot. He/she kept on fluttering around during various readings and often landing on the poets. It was a joy to finally hear Hannah Lowe read at 'The Rialto' launch. She was brill. Later on I also discovered Matthew Hollis who was reading alongside Tom Paulin. I remembered Tom Paulin from late night arty things and he certainly had presence. Oh and there was a 'secret' reading, Ok, not really a secret, just not on the programme, at the very posh Brudenell Hotel by Charlotte Gann. She was launching 'Noir' published by Happenstance. It is a beautiful, sinister collection. You may remember from previous episodes that I have a pamphlet out with HappenStance so it was great to catch up with Nell Nelson. There was a little wine too.

That evening there was peppermint tea in the Peter Pears Gallery. There was a sort of hub where the organisers were gathered and members of The Poetry School and The Poetry Society had stalls. Thank you Sophie Baker for the chats. This year I made a great companion in Alison Brackenbury. Thank you Alison for your company and the snacks! It is very difficult to eat properly at festivals. Food is appreciated.

Next morning was Sunday and normally I drive off home but I went to 'The Poetry Review' editors talk with Emily Berry, Kayo Chingonyi, Maurice Riordan and the butterfly. Maurice Riordan is the ex-editor. Emily Berry is now in charge. The butterfly was chief wing-flapper. They (not butterfly) talked about their choices for the magazine, what the editing role involved and answered questions from the floor. I can't really give you any hints or secrets about getting into the magazine. Mainly you have to write a poem that the editors like! Emily Berry read her chosen one about a goldfish, so off you go.

In conclusion... 'Poetry in Aldeburgh' is a much smaller festival. There is a lot more breathing space. I found myself popping back to the room a bit for tea during the day and spending more time exploring around the beach. I don't think it's fair to compare the festivals. I still saw many familiar faces around and I do think the concept of a poetry festival is very important for Aldeburgh and Suffolk. The big draw is the fact that you're by the sea. I do miss the crowds and the buzz of Snape Aldeburgh, but I like the sea air and relaxed atmosphere of the new one. I think the organisers have done a very good job and it looks like 2017 is going to happen. I really want to go, it's such a special location and a lovely place for poetry.

Image result for poetry in aldeburgh


BTW I was going to write this post earlier. Of course I was, yes really, but that Trump fellow got in the way the week after and then, y'know, life. 2016 has been interesting... As for me, I've read a lot, but slowed down as a writer. If I don't make it back this side of 2017 then I wish you well. My new year's resolution is to get back on the poetic horse and gallop!

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 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.