And so we writers keep going

Inner critic. Inner cricket. Which would be worse? One spends its time pulling apart each morsel of effort, one, I imagine, spends its time attempting to fell stumps and win points.

So much work is disregarded because I think it is trite, obvious, too simple. Yet I read prize winning pieces that seem to me to be just that. They’re not, of course. They are simply speaking truth in a way that is easy to understand. Being oblique is one of my worst habits as a writer (and possibly as a person) I like to create a puzzle, a riddle because for me the worst thing is to be thought to be too obvious.

And why is this the case? Well, I think it comes down to our old friend imposter syndrome. I still don’t think I’m good enough, definitely don’t think I belong and constantly feel I have to prove my worth. And I do this by swerving the obvious, clouding the true emotion. I’m not sure if this is helpful, hindrance, my style or just an annoying quirk. What I am sure of is that the constant placing of one’s emotions on a page means constantly placing myself in a place of vulnerability which, for someone who is constantly alert to attack, seems a little foolish.

I began this post a week or two ago. Maybe it was the moon causing me to feel so blue. Maybe it was the up and down of self-publicity. Maybe it’s just a bit hard to be sometimes.

I feel less vulnerable today – positive feedback, a new project, a way forward and determination all play their part. Kind words are the greatest gift though and I do so appreciate them – both public and private, the value of someone taking the time to say to me “I read your work and I like what you do” is enormous.

Monday saw the opportunity to take part in a workshop about building a poetry pamphlet. It’s ostensibly for people seeking to enter this year’s pamphlet competition from Mslexia. I’m no where near ready to enter but nonetheless it gave me a raft of useful tips to help me create a pamphlet “where every poem earns its place”. No mean feat to be honest but I feel I have some clear direction – I’ve also got a title which is a huge step forward.

As well as looking at my wider body of work, and what to do with it all, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on poems inspired my neighbour and friend Maggie Cameron. Maggie’s an incredibly skilled artist, and each year she produces wonderful images for Inktober. In an effort to maintain my morning writing practice, started as part of the Dawn Chorus writing group, I’ve logged on to see Maggie’s latest image each day. She does them before she heads to her day job as head of art – I write before starting my day job in copywriting. I find this incredibly pleasing somehow – genuine creativity for the joy or creating.

Maggie has adapted the prompts this year to create a series about birds which is a real joy – I write a lot about birds (I think they’re second only to the moon in terms of poet inspiration) and I’ve had so much fun writing these pieces each morning.

It’s interesting the different directions  each image has taken me. Some have been purely about the bird – a rage on climate change or the foolishness of humans – others have sparked a deeper response, calling to mind mothering, loss, or freedom. Most of all I’ve enjoyed simply writing for writing’s sake. It’s been a while.

You can read my Inktober poems here and you can buy Maggie’s beautiful work in her Etsy shop

New goals, new leaves, new logo, new resolution

I have a planner. I love the planner. I love making plans. I have not stuck to the plans and my planner has had a stern word with me.

This year has been a floundering year. I’ve pinballed around trying to take care of aging parents, trying to work enough to be able to afford to do all the things I don’t have time to do, trying to reconnect with all the people I haven’t been able to see , trying to carve out a way to actually make money from poetry rather than spending so much energy on copywriting, trying to create and publish Dust, trying, trying,trying,trying …

The result is, of course exhaustion. My body is showing various red flag symptons that it hasn’t shown for a couple of years, pain levels are high, and mental health has taken a huge dive. For a time, during the pandemic, I felt as though I was getting a little better. I realise that I simply wasn’t pushing my body and brain beyond their limits. And what of the planner? The planner has shown me how little progress I’ve made towards my goals, despite being performatively busy. So silly, and will I ever learn? The answer is I have to – if I want to achieve anything, I need to do less. How daft is that?

New goals

My first goal is quality rest. Whilst I kid myself that I take a day of complete rest each week, the reality is that day is spent online, organising bills, doing shopping, looking at things that are incredibly important…I don’t rest at all. Quality rest is my new watchword. It’s boring, I hate it but it’s the only way I can avoid the crushing exhaustion that plagues my days.

I struggle writing this of course, struggle with the thought that people will read this and think “it’s alright for her, lazy cow”. I know most people won’t but even after all these years I struggle to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to allow myself freedom to heal. However foolish it is I still get a kick out of burning the candle at both ends and love the feeling of having worked hard. I can still have that feeling , but only if I take more care of myself.

New writing

The truth is that writing is the most important thing I do.  I spent a couple of hours this morning working with notes on a new course from Wendy Pratt – and honestly it felt like I began to breathe again. The tension has washed from my shoulders, the methodical placing of letters and sound has created a calm that nothing else gives. I am in danger of focusing on the business of poetry, publication, making a living from it, being involved  and so losing the essence of why this matters, why it is so important.

News on Dust

My main focus this year has been Dust and the good news is that we’re very close to going to print. Proofs have been proofed, full stops have been agonised over, illustrations finalised (they are so beautiful) and this labour of love and sorrow is almost at an end. We have created a beautiful thing and I can’t wait to show you.

New logo

I’m hoping to relaunch my bespoke poetry business later this year. I love doing it and hope to expand my buyers from friends an acquaintances. As with everything, marketing is key, and I’ve taken a small first step by commissioning Saffron Russell to create a logo for me. I’m so pleased with it. Small steps.

New leaves

Several in fact. I shall protect my rest time, and protect my writing time. I’ll calm down and stop pushing, running around doing all the things. I’ll spend more time stepping back, reflecting and embracing the calm, quiet, caring nature that allows me to nurture myself and others. Self care, I think they call it. It’s hard to place enough value on myself to do it, but I’ll get there. One day.

Let’s talk about suicide – The story behind Dust

Each week 125 people are lost to suicide. 75% of those people are male. Seven years ago one of those people was my brother.

Writing that is hard. Reading that is hard. Trying to hang on when everything or nothing is overwhelming is even harder.

Until we can all talk about suicide, and the thoughts, feelings and situations that lead us there, these statistics will continue.

The reasons for writing Dust are complicated, as you can imagine. Ultimately I want to make a difference and the best way to do this is to use my words to raise some money, as well as to promote honet communication about suicide.

Why raise money for CALM?

There are many charities that support people living with mental health conditions and many charities that offer a safe space to talk. What is different about CALM is it’s full on confrontation of the fact that something is going wrong for people, and many of those people are men. They choose a deliberately bold language, and deliberately bold identity. The aim is to challenge the stereotypes that put people in a place of feeling that not only is there nowhere to turn, but they shouldn’t need help in the first place.

On a practical level CALM offer a helpline for people who are at crisis point. On a wider scale, they seek to enact real cultural change. Above all, they seek to create a world where being honest about feeling horrific isn’t seen as weakness.

Why raise money for SOBS?

I’d never heard of SOBS. You may not have either. They’re a charity that exist solely to support Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. They were a small light in the first bewildering days of grief. They offer an astonishing range of well curated resources to support people who find themselves standing open handed wondering why, what, how

Why write a poetry book to raise money?

Indeed. Why not just run or bake cakes or climb a mountain? The truth is the root of this project is more than just fundraising. Writing is my way of dealing with this loss, and the notes I poured out when Ian first died are the backbone of these poems.

Grief is something we all experience and while no-one’s grief is the same, the complications of grief from suicide are well documented. If just one person reads the poems in this book and feels less alone, then they have done their job. Being able to raise money to support others in similar situations to either Ian or myself make the project feel more worthwhile. A tiny way to change the world. Even if it’s just for one person.

How can I help ?

Fashioning something good from something so terrible is the definition of hope I suppose and support is everything for a project like this. Knowing other people care and have my back is everything. Knowing we can help create something that is beautiful is good. Knowing that the money raised could change things for others is the most important thing. You can pre-order a copy of Dust using the button below.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported this project so far, includng Raven Studios who’s bursary back in 2021 allowed me to take a little time away from my paid work to work on this project. Time and energy are fickle beasts and the luxury of being able to focus on writing was a real gift. The bursary also enabled me to commission editing services from Olivia Tuck who helped polish these poems this into something I am proud of.

Thank you, as ever for reading

Kathryn

xx

Permission to be a poet

Self-belief is both nectar and poison.  Too much – I risk being seen as arrogant, pushy or proud, too little and I remain shadow side, whispering about the things I like to do and *might* be good at. Self-belief is not for people like me- female, working class background, chronic illness. Self-belief slips through my fingers at every turn.

And yet it must be there. There must be something that wanders in to my mind and tells me that I have something to say, and people to hear it. A poetry tutor saying “You’ve a voice that needs to be heard” took my breath away. I mean, everyone needs to be heard, but I think this was meant in a positive and particular way.

Yet still I wrestle with myself – to grow courage to join in with the group, to speak in class, to read what I’ve written during an exercise. Yet I feel wonderful once I’ve done it, once my breathing has calmed, my heart has slowed. Once I learn to quiet the voices that mutter of the fool I have made.

Reinvigorate your writing

My third workshop with Nine Arches was led by Ian Humphreys. Ian’s book Zebra was one of the first books of  modern poetry I read from cover to cover, and one of the first that showed me that poetry does not have to be a puzzle. The concept that poetry must be oblique, must be something to “get” is one I was taught, and one that leaves many people thinking poetry is not for them. Popular poets are derided and sniffed at, well-known poets are seen as somehow letting the side down. The idea that poetry is not for everyone is perpetuated.

Back to the workshop. Yesterday’s session was all about writing poetry in a direct manner. Reading for the session included work form Andrea Cohen, Collette Bryce, Hannah Lowe, and a stomach twisting performance piece by Lily Myers. It is the kind of work I love to read, and the kind of work that I seem to write.

Giving my self permission

I’ve long worried that I’m not “poetic” enough. I use the all the tools, love to play with rhythm, repetition, white space. I love the way imagery insinuates itself into my work without my really knowing and I love that these tools work to create a connection with other people. Reading and hearing work from people that write in a way that is direct, that is pointed, makes me feel there is a place for my less than pretty style.

Another point made by Ian was to embrace the power of the new – to push out of what makes us comfortable. Again, this requires confidence but what I love about taking part in a workshop is the sense of immediacy. There is little time to mither and fret – the focus is firmly on writing and embracing the now for that workshop moment the words come and knit themselves together – and later I will remove the fluff.  Above all, the time spent yesterday helped me feel there is a place for my writing, and a reason to keep trying. That’s got to be a good thing.

The power of the notebook

Today has been a gift. From me, to me. For the first time this year, I have allowed myself a morning to enjoy and absorb poetry. Word bathing, if you like. Time spent rolling sounds around, feeling the different textures, noting the first reactions, second reactions the oh of course reactions. This morning has felt like exhaling. For the first time in about a month.

February and rebirth

Imbolc, St.Brigid – February is a time of beginnings. The birds know we do not need to wait for the saccharine lambs and fluff tailed bunnies of modern Easter for spring to begin. The birds are already pair-swooping, dawn greeting, land grabbing. Sleep is over. Change is coming.

I wrote a lot last year about becoming more attuned to the seasons. Lockdown, writing for Spelt, understanding the importance of my own little patch have all led me to notice and nurture change and to learn more about the way the land speaks through tradition.

All of which sounds very calming – and it is. Unfortunately, I lost the ability to tap into this through January. The month was spent too much indoors, too preoccupied with the mess of life to step outside and breathe in the cold, watch the sleeping, listen for the first stirring. Too busy to be. It happens so often, and I always imagine I will learn from past mistakes and I never do. There is always hope and, so far in my life, there is always spring.

Snowdrops by Bruce Kelzer on Unsplash

The power of the notebook

Back to my morning. I love to write, and I have lovely friends who give me gifts of beautiful notebooks. Notebooks that I place on my dedicated notebook pile and save for when I will write something worthy of its quality paper and captivating cover. I promise myself I will redraft all those rough notes of poems on scraps of whatever, and copy them into the hallowed ivory pages, using my best copperplate handwriting.

I never do, of course. The notes remain scrappy, the lucky few make it into my computer and are sent out to the accepted/rejected by busy journal editors or sifted by competition judges. The notebooks remain pristine, unsullied by inexpert words or blotchy Bic biros. The notebooks, if they could feel such things, are probably sad.

Today, as well as giving myself time, I gave myself permission to use what is my very favourite notebook ( it’s so beautiful I shed a tear when I unwrapped it) the kind I would never, ever buy for myself. I’m not using it for a special project or grand, completed prizewinning poems. It’s for this year’s adventures in poetry. There are thoughts on what I’m reading, notes from my courses with Nine Arches Press and Wendy Pratt, and clumsy, jumbled responses to poetry prompts. The paper is divine, the physical act of writing in these books feels decadent, the sense of allowing myself to use something beautiful for my own work is liberating.

All this from a notebook?

Even as I write this, I’m second guessing and berating myself for being stupid. But yes – all this from a notebook. Choosing to use this represents permission, represents valuing my own words, represents not writing for the editors or judges, but writing to record, to explore and to chart my own adventure. It represents freedom.

Confidence boosters

I received pretty positive feedback for my accredited short course with York CLL, with some useful actions to help me improve my work. One was to work on my titles, the other was to have more confidence in my writing. The titles will be a challenge, but not unachievable. The confidence – a little more tricky. Two fab things have happened this week though. One was getting a message showing me a phot of one of my bespoke poems gracing the walls of its owner, and the other was getting a message saying how my crowdfunded poetry pamphlet Yes to Tigers inspired a fellow Raven Studios bursary recipient  Lewis Wyn Davies to self-publish their own work Comprehensive (which looks amazing). I often describe my reason for writing as being to connect with others -and I can’t think of two better ways to realise that something about all this is working, albeit intermittently.

So I begin this month in a better place. With a sense of possibility and hope, rather than panic and disillusion. The nature of my sometimes colourful mental health means this may all change tomorrow of course, but for today I will relish the feeling of being grounded, the noticing of spring, and the smooth bound pages of this beautiful notebook.

Adventures in poetry …

I was brave today – I went to a real life poetry reading; now I understand that that may not seem like an act of bravery, but for someone like myself, chronically shy, awkward and terrible at chatting to folk, it was a big step. Poetry is important to me – it’s also a way of communicating with others without having to actually talk. Lately though, I’ve felt I’m missing out. I’ve enjoyed the zoom readings and classes I’ve attended, and in a lot of ways the way the world has opened up to people like me has given me the courage to try “real life” poetry things.

Towers are no more, but this is still an incredibly inspiring part of the world

Country Voices is as close to on my doorstep as I could wish. It’s hosted by Offa’s Press, in the beautiful setting of The Water Rat, just on the edge of Ironbridge. The poets reading today were Jean Atkin, whose work I’ve long admired, Jane Seabourne, who is new to me but made me laugh and reflect plus we enjoyed a wonderfully entertaining tale courtesy of Micheal Thomas. I’ve been aware of these monthly sessions for a while, but kept finding excuses not to go. Today I took the plunge…and I’m so happy I did. In an hour and a half I took a journey by bicycle down the east coast of France, did a spot of time travel and pondered on whether an invasion of sweet potatoes might look a little like a walrus herd. Hearing the nuance of tone, hearing the exact emphasis the poet’s intended, seeing their expression, their body language made words come alive, and made that magic fizz I recognise when I encounter something that resonates with me.

It was a fab afternoon – I did slip away from the social side (everyone was very friendly) but I shall be brave next time, and chat more. I realise that if I want to be working as a poet in the community, I have to find the courage to become part of it, and today was the first step. I feel proud of myself today.

Do something that scares you every day

This phrase attributed to the remarkable Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps a little overused. It’s has become the preserve of a particular type of leadership conference, and a particular type of motivational sign – both of which are rather irritating. What of the phrase itself though? Is this useful practice? Does scaring myself benefit me?

I think it does. One of the bonuses of living with anxiety, and being the queen of catastrophising means that pretty much everything scares me – some days it takes all my courage to take out the bins. I’m also a big believer that fear exists to protect us, and that there are some things that are do not need to be done (bungee jumpers I’m looking at you). I’ve done scary things that I will never do again, like being on the back of a moped in Saigon, and others that have given me courage to repeat the experience, like being brave enough to read my column at the launch of issue two of Spelt magazine, or simply to submit my work for publication.

Camera complete with emotional support Pukeko

With this in mind, I’m about to embark on a new venture – I’m hoping to record a collection of poetry readings. It’s something that feels essential if I want to help my work reach a wider audience. It also scares the living daylights out of me. Nonetheless, I have a little camera, I’ve figured out the software and I’m almost ready to roll . My first recording will be on Sunday morning, and I hope to upload shortly afterwards so watch this space!

A tough month or two for writing – but still a bunch of good things have happened

The last few months have been hard. Several things have combined to remove many of the anchors that keep me grounded and help me manage my anxiety. Loss of routine, plus a sense of impending threat to home, which I’ve been lucky enough to have as a safe space means many of my coping mechanisms have been challenged. The small routines and rituals that help me manage both physical and mental health have been thrown into disarray by various levels of disruption that more than a little too close to home.

So what’s been happening? You may remember we were facing the prospect of a house being built on the opposite – which would mean having the owners garden and living areas just feet from our bedroom windows, as well as a big increase in noise and light pollution on a day to day basis. We found out in June that planning permission has been given. This has left many of us in our little community at best perplexed and at worst dealing with an unsettling feeling of betrayal and hurt. I managed to be pretty chilled and philosophical about it al at first, but recent weeks have seen me feeling rattled by the injustice, and lack of understanding. Managing these emotions is hard and takes an enormous amount of energy – that is often in short supply.

We’ve also been doing a bit of renovation, with a view to moving, or a view to making things nice if we stay. Old houses always need more doing than is anticipated, and we’ve come up against various delays that have meant a long old time with a house full of boxes and dust.  Add in a huge upturn in my paid work and you have the prefect recipe for a significant spike in mental distress. No time means no writing, no writing means no release and no release means no peace. Neglecting the things that allow me to make sense of what’s happening, and to grow as a person, rather than be constrained by the poor behaviour of others, is foolish. I am turning over yet another new leaf.

Hope is emerging. The work on the house is coming to an end, I’m working hard to move on from the hurt and anger to a place of reflection and understanding (we’ll see how that goes once the diggers and concrete move in) and I’m finally feeling the words come back.

Despite all this turmoil and challenge, I’ve lots of lovely poetry news this month. I’ve put together a small exhibition of poetry and photographs that’s on display locally, had several poems accepted for publication including an absolute favourite Whilst you were doing that Adria was jumping rope for three hours published in the fabulous Sledgehammer Lit. I’m particularly fond of this poem because both technique and content are more “me” if that makes sense. The poem is a cut-up poem ( a technique which brings me a real spark of excitement) based on an article about the reality of being a Victoria’s Secret model, which naturally leads to questions about body image and our response to the ideals placed upon us.

The other good thing is that my second column has been published in Spelt magazine, and I’ve managed to do my first ever live reading as part of the magazine launch. I was nervous, obviously, but I do really like the column I’ve written for this issue and the gentle support of everyone involved including editor Wendy Pratt made me feel safe enough to enjoy the experience.

So I keep moving, even when everything feels impossible and all I really want to do is run away to the sea. I’ve a few new projects coming up, plus a new group course which is proving to be just the right balance of challenge and interest. Autumn is coming, the wheel keeps turning and hope is always somewhere to be found.

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

The words do come back

For the first time in months I’ve woken with a poem in my head. It’s not terribly good,but it’s there, and now it’s tapped out into my noteapp waiting to be read.

This year has been strange. Much of it has been taken with trying to save an old garden opposite our houses – it’s a bit wild, and has been consciously neglected by the current owners to facilitate their somewhat ironic plans to build an eco house. The upside of this neglect created a home for such an array of birds and wildlife – it’s sad that it will be torn up under the cloak of sustainability.

Wild garden – soon to replaced by a house

Trying to save this garden has taken lots of time, lots of writing, lots of emotion and lots of the energy I usually use to write creatively. The decision has been made and the developers got their way. I am happy we tried our best to save it, happy we were on the side of good, and above all happy that my happiness does not depend on something that causes so much distress to the land and our village community.

So there’s been that. There’s also been the curious challenges associated with everything reopening. I’m thrilled to be able to see people, thrilled to go out but also really don’t want to get back on the merry-go-round of exhaustion and recovery. I seem to have forgotten how to modify and manage myself – interaction is so terrifying/exciting it sets all my alert sensors off and inevitably I end up completely floored. I need to go back to monitoring my baseline and careful planning….

I’m also in an oddly buoyant patch of copy and content writing work – this means my brain can barely find the creativity to read, never mind write. Where 5.30am starts were once for poetry and journalling,they’re now for product descriptions and web content. Work is wonderful, and the money is essential but I’m very much out of bakance. I’ve missed the calm of the last year, an realise how much I crave either absolute routine or absolute spontaneity. At the moment I’m in a limbo mix of the two that I’m not enjoying.

The words do come back

There’s a hazel tree in the woods at the back of the house that I sit under and it’s become a place to just be, and to let my mind wander and recover a little. The words are slowly coming back, the thrill at reading good poetry is returning and I’m starting to feel like myself again, to feel like my mind is my home.

Publications in June

Precious few subs have meant precious few pieces published (odd that) I do have two new pieces out this month. I am – the story of a tiger girl is part of Streetcake magazine and another due to be published in the amazing Sledgehammer Lit. Issue two of Spelt is due to land soon too – it’s going to be incredible and I’m still a bit giddy to be a regular columnist for them.

What’s next?

I’m setting aside a day for writing. I have a commissioned piece to finish, and perhaps a new piece to start. I’ve discovered some exciting new places to submit to too, thanks to a Twitter thread from Elizabeth M. Castillo. I don’t think I’ve given myself a day like this in months. It’s quite wonderful.