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.

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.


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.