Birdsong and bursaries – poetry happenings of 2021

Writing a round up of my writing year comes with the twin mean girl whispers of  “who’s going to care” and “don’t blow your own trumpet”.  Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to many people, and it’s a lot easier to hide behind a wall of coyness, and hope that someone else will do the praising. Being self employed means telling people about what I do falls squarely on my shoulders though, so here we are –  a round up of this year’s adventures in poetry.

My overriding sense of this year is one of moving forward. Despite the pandemic, despite fluctuating health, I’ve done a lot of things that scare me. I’ve given poetry priority,  I’ve attended more interactive classes, and carved out specific time to read, write and journal – even if that time is before I start work at 6am.

Fierce Wren – inspiration for a poem that will be published in by Lighthouse early next year. Image courtesy of Bob Ford

Selected and rejected – poetry submissions

This shift of attitude has paid off. I’ve had the confidence to send work to several print journals that I thought were too good for me and finish the year with work selected for publication in The Dawntreader, Dreich, and Lighthouse. I’ve also been brave enough to send out some of my less conventional pieces. Sledgehammer Lit has been a great joy both to read and submit to, and Streetcake gave a home to one of my favourite pieces from this year. I’ve also had work selected to be anthologised – one for Louise Mather’s charming Feline Utopia, and another for Broken Sleep Books Anthology of new Eco-Poetry.

In total I’ve sent 28 pieces out for publication and had 16 published – which I think is around a 60% selection rate, as well being long listed in a few competitions. Is this good? I’ve no idea. What is good is that I’ve sent out more work that I truly feel is “mine”. I’ve grown a little more confidence and a little more belief in the fire in my belly – the thing that keeps me going despite the knock backs and false starts, the sheer terror of placing my heart on a page and sending it out to be judged.

Rejection is hard and it is horrible, but whereas I used to sulk and think “well I can’t submit to them again” I’ve reached a point where I take the poem, look at it, see what can be improved and send it right back out. I cringe at the terrible errors and have learned that some pieces are just not meant for the light of day. Rather than seeking constantly validation from others, I’ve worked on being honest with myself about what’s not working, and being honest enough to say what I think is good. False humility is taught to many of us from a young age, and it’s a tricky one to shake off. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point, and it’s my no means a permanent state but I feel I’ve taken a step forward.

Bob Ford’s beautiful Spiky Starling graced the Free Little Gallery this summer.

What has been different about poetry in 2021?

I began this year in a state of dilly dally, unsure, feeling defeated because my pamphlet submission had been rejected and in the usual January slump. As always, I had a new course lined up for the start of the year but unusually, this one had real time interaction with other poets. Actual speaking and reading aloud. From schooldays I’ve always been terrified of speaking in even the smallest groups. I sit, mull on what I want to say, try to find the courage to voice it and then either someone says it before me or simply speaks over me. So I shush, and say nothing and feel a bit disappointed in myself.

Now, ideally I’d be saying all that’s changed and I’m a vibrant and lively contributor to group discussion. I’m not. I still find it all excruciating and still feel endlessly frustrated with my lack of input. But – and here’s the thing – the positives of these courses have dramatically outweighed this negative. I’ve learned a huge amount from other’s suggestions during workshops, listened to some fantastic work being read and …drumroll please…read my own work aloud.

Reading poetry aloud

And this is the big thing, Not just because I think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to do this in real life one day, but because of how it’s helped me understand my work. Reading aloud is the greatest way to understand what works and what doesn’t. Reading to a workshop group helps me understand what chimes with others, what I’ve expressed well enough to make that connection, that bridge.

One of my real “pinch me” joys this year has been my column for Spelt Magazine. I was amazed and terrified to have my pitch accepted. As ever Wendy Pratt (editor of Spelt and poet extraordinaire) gives the kind of feedback that makes my heart sing and I hope the columns have been as enjoyable to read as they were to write. It’s been a great project to work on and left me full of ideas for other pieces.

Local folk have come up trumps for me too. Raven Studios gave me a small bursary which allowed me time to write and hone my pamphlet, as well as funds for professional feedback from Olivia Tuck. The pamphlet is out at a couple of places and I hope to have news early next year…Even more local was my first poetry exhibition in the Coalbrookdale Free Little Gallery – a very cute bus stop at the bottom of my lane. Six pieces, along with photographs from myself and the exceptionally talented Bob Ford were on display. It feels good to have put something out in the community, and to gain an idea of the various themes that run through my work.

Finally, and completely out of the blue, I have been given a bursary place on an absolute dream of a course from Nine Arches Press. Being part of Nine Arches Dynamo mentoring scheme in 2018 gave me the courage to start on this poetry adventure, and this festive surprise cements the feeling that someone believes in my work. It feels like Christmas already and I can’t wait to start it early next year.

Poetry 2022

Next year? I hope to have homed my first pamphlet. I also want to explore more commercial opportunities – poetry postcards and bespoke work. I like the idea of placing poetry in the day-to-day lives and am plotting and planning ways to be more active in my lovely community.

I will read more, my aim is three poems each day and of course I will keep writing, keep submitting and maybe, maybe have pulled to gather of a full collection by the end of next year.

Thank you so, so much for reading, for being interested and for caring about what I do. It means the world to me.

Kathryn xx

Season’s change

I detect a change in my outlook this autumn. For many years, this time of year has been a source of dread, a time to gather strength and hope I emerge on the other side of winter. Not this year. Many things I think contribute, but the overwhelming difference is that I feel more connected to the rhythm of the natural world. For many years I worked for a high street optician, squirreled away in a shopping mall or in an office in one of the less appealing parts of Birmingham. This meant that for half the year, my only time outside was a chilly sandwich on a bench in a carpark, or a glimpse of a starling murmuration as I waited for the bus home, and because retail means weekend working the opportunity to spend time absorbing and simply being in the outside world just didn’t happen.

Since contracting M.E., and having to switch careers, I’ve felt an increased awareness of the subtle shift of the  seasons, the way that on some days in spring plants seem to grow by the second. My senses have become heightened, scent is sought, the unique texture of a leaf is treasured, each bird is greeted with a friendly hello. My neighbours are used to me.

This shift in attitude has grown even more this year, for two reasons. The first is my work as columnist for Spelt magazine. My concept Micro Spelt, was to harness and describe the subtle changes I see each day, and to explore and express how these make me feel, how they help me connect. There is some frustration in there too of course, but on the whole, Micro Spelt is a place of positivity and solace in the simplest of things. Research for the column has led me down paths rich with myth and folklore, and I’ve discovered an aspect to the rural, to the natural world that chimes loud and long.

Alongside this forced focus on what’s in my backyard, I’ve developed a more disciplined routine. I realise my useful hours are in the morning, and that by getting up a little earlier I gain more scope to use my energy wisely. I begin the day by journaling, some days a few pages, some days a line or two saying that I don’t want to journal. I always look out at the trees, and I always notice the change in hue, or density of leaf. They’ve  become a companion to my morning, and a way to wind down at the end of the day.

Taking this time to focus, before the business of writing web content or just the day to day of trying to live with M.E. begins has made for better writing too. I’m more confident in the work I produce, and feel that that elusive, and slightly snigger worthy concept, of finding my voice is becoming more real. I understand why I write and understand what I want to achieve by writing. I also understand that this will change and shift as my interests and worries alter. I’m happy to have had several pieces of work selected  for publication recently, for various small presses including Dreich, Broken Sleep Books and Lighthouse. These are publications I have enormous respect for, and genuinely considered beyond my reach.

My progress as a poet has always been slow and steady, but where before I felt bewildered and baffled by the whole business of publication, I’ve reached a point where I am writing what I believe needs to be heard, and publication is secondary. I’m spending huge amounts of time honing my skills, learning my craft if you like, and gaining courage to work with others, read aloud and take steps in  to the poetry community proper. I feel just a little more confident, and a little more like my work is good enough to share. My pamphlet is out for submission, and whilst I desperately want it to be accepted, I have steeled myself against the inevitability of disappointment. I’ve realised that often just a small change to a piece of work will elevate it to being something that many will want to read, and the combination of a little more confidence in what I write, and a lot more ability to make changes as needed means that work not being selected is just a sign that it wasn’t quite ready. Of course, it doesn’t always feel like this – there are many hand-wringing days of frustration too, but I feel much more measured about the whole business than I did a couple of years ago.

The next few of months will be spent completing my Crafting and Redrafting course with the university of York centre for lifelong learning, working on bespoke poetry commissions, as well as a couple of projects around creating poetry postcards in collaboration with local artists and artisans. Then, next year, I may, just may begin to distil ideas for a full collection. Maybe.

What is a bespoke poem?

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve reopened my order book for bespoke poetry. It does occur to me though that you may be wondering exactly what a bespoke poem might be, so I thought I’d give you a little overview.

Essentially, a bespoke Poem from the Hare is a poem written by me, in collaboration with you. Usually people comission them as a gift – birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Day and the like – or for celebrations like weddings or christenings. Having said that, there’s nothing to stop you commissioning a poem for yourself – maybe to celebrate passing an exam, or just something to lift your spirits each day.

Do I need to know anything about poetry to comission a bespoke poem?

Not at all. I can talk to you about the type of feel you want for your piece, and build a poem to match. There’s so many different forms and styles that work alongside the words to enhance meaning and it’s a joy to weave them together and create something that will move and delight.

Do you need me to tell you exactly what I want you to write?

Yes and no. The more detail I have the more rounded the piece will be – but it very much depends on what you want. You may want something almost like a memoir, that records significant shared moments, or something more nuanced that celebrates a particular moment of resilience. We can talk about this kind of detail when you get in touch.

I’ve seen personalised poems on sale that are much cheaper than yours. Why do you charge more?

Good question! A personalised poem is generally a standard piece of poetry, with different names, or personal details popped in as appropriate. The work I offer is a completely original piece, written to your specifications. Made to measure rather than off the peg, if you like.

Are you any good at writing poetry?

Another good question! It’s really hard to answer – if I measure “any good” on how much work I have published, then the answer is “I think so” ! I know that I understand how to use language, rhythm, form and all sorts of other poetic devices to create emotion and tell a story – and I know that previous commissions have been well received. You can read a selection of testimonials on my page Poems from the Hare.

Do you take commissions for bespoke poetry all the time?

Writing a bespoke poem takes time,so I do have to limit the number of commissions I take. Occasionally I close my order book completely for a while, especially if I have a lot of copywriting work underway, so it’s always best to plan ahead, especially at busy times like Christmas or Mother’s Day. Having said that, if you need something a bit last minute just get in touch and I’ll do my very best to help.

Get in touch

If you’ve any other questions, or you’d like to discuss commissioning a bespoke poem, just drop me an email on kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible .

How is it the end of August?!

I mean – how is that possible? This month has meandered away under a cover of cloud.

The end of summer usually makes me sad – warm weather means less pain for one thing. I miss eating outside, watching the swifts and martins overhead and the general floatiness that comes from spending every day in long skirts and flip-flops. Autumn is beautiful, of course, and winter is pleasingly austere but summer ? Summer is for smiling and pretending I live somewhere altogether less stoical.

I feel different this year. Perhaps it’s because much of summer has been taken up with house renovation, perhaps it’s the insistent gloom of the skies over Coalbrookdale. Perhaps it was that glorious week on the Welsh coast. I don’t feel as bereft and wary of winter as usual.

It could also be because I feel I’ve regained some equilibrium. I’m writing more mindfully, rather than scribbling from a turbulent mind, which inevitably means work that is more poem than outpouring – ultimately, work that is better.

I’ve also been more proactive with submissions – looking at my Trello page and seeing I’ve only three pieces in circulation was a bit of a shock . I spent some time reviewing, redrafting and refining some of the poems I’ve made this year as well as seeking homes for them. Always nerve racking. Always exciting. Always full of “why can’t I just be happy with gardening instead of putting myself through this”.

Camping at Caerfai seems like years ago

Good news too – I’ve had a piece of flash accepted for publication by Sledgehammer Lit. who are fast feeling like my poetry-spirit home. I love what they publish and I love that they seem to like my stuff. This piece is one that I love and that I’ve found hard to home – so I’m thrilled it’s going to be part a journal I admire. A couple of poems were declined – but that’s how it goes.

New projects are brewing too – a couple of gentle collaborations with friends whose art I adore may be coming to fruition in the not too distant future.

I seem to have a new direction in terms of how I want to write. My aim is to set aside a week – autumn I hope – and do my own mini writing retreat. I’ll have to stay at home obviously, but I’m going to try to minimise other work and manage domestic duties so I can focus on reading,writing and exploring new directions. Or I might go and make furniture in the Scottish Highlands like Cate le Bon.

So summer is closing, with a whimper or a bang remains to be seen, but I feel positive about my work, and positive about where I’m going – slowly, as ever, but I’m moving. And that’s what counts.

If you’d like to comission a poem, for yourself or as a gift then you can ! I love to create bespoke poetry – it’s a privilege to be asked to express people’s love and care for each other. If you’d like to find out more just click on Poems from the Hare at the top of the page, or send me a message kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

Yes to tigers!

If you happened to see my super-awkward “unboxing” (it’s a thing you have to do these days) video last week you’ll know my zine Yes to Tigers is available now available to buy. I’m thrilled to have reached this point with my writing, and thrilled to have something to share with everyone who’s supported me over the last few years. Thank you!

What is Yes to Tigers?

Yes to Tigers is a 24 page illustrated poetry zine. It’s my first foray into indie publishing and crowdfunding and is the fruit of my time spent as poet in residence for a group of artists in the Severn Gorge. The poems are inspired by both the artwork, and the people themselves. The zine includes photographs taken during my visits, it’s a cool thing, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Why Yes to Tigers?

When I started getting in touch with the artists and makers to arrange studio visits, I followed various social media pages, to get a feel for their work. I was nervous about stepping into this world- that old feeling of being inadequate – and rarely interacted beyond a like. As I got to know people I realised this was daft, and grew a bit bolder.

Browsing Instagram one evening I spotted one of the artists, Caris Jackson, canvassing opinion on the finish for one of her pieces, Fairground Baby (which is fab) should there be tigers ? The only sensible answer is Yes to tigers! Tigers were included, the final piece looks amazing and I was astounded my boldness. That boldness kept me going when things got a little tricky with the project, kept me working on the poems when I had no idea how/I’d publish and gave me courage to send the finished work out to people to see what they thought.

Fairground Baby – by Caris Jackson

Why indie publishing?

Essentially it’s about time. When drawing up plans for my role as poet in residence my aim was to have the zine published in a year, and I wanted to stick to this. Art is a fluid thing, and this represents where the artists are at a certain point. The process of submitting manuscripts to publishers is long and didn’t feel right for this project. You can find out more about the thought process behind indie publishing and crowdfunding on my blog post Why this all began

How can I buy a copy of this wonderful zine?

You can buy direct from me! Just get in touch via my contact form or email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com. This is also the best way to get in touch if you’re interested my bespoke poetry packages.

As ever, I’m terribly coy about this,and nerves make me a bit dismissive of it as a piece of work. It does look good though (thanks to Amanda Hillier Printing) and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the work. I’m spending the last part of the year organising more magazine submissions, and drawing together another collection of work to submit to publishing houses.

Thanks as ever, stay safe, wash your hands, read more books xx

New adventures in poetry

Oh the gloom has lifted (just in time for Lockdown #2 hoorah) as it generally does these days. I have enjoyed some sunny days, I’ve a good clutch of  copywriting work which has made things a little less worrisome and I’ve had my first order for Poems from the Hare

Remnants of sunshine and food for the finches

Poems from the Hare ? What’s that? 

Put simply, I’m selling poems. Put less simply I’m creating bespoke work for people, based on what they tell me they want me to write about. After I’ve created the poem, I write them out, add some beautiful decoration and post them off, with the goal of bringing joy and love and happiness.I guess you might call it a business – although it’s easy to shy away from that term, and I know I‘ve felt uneasy about the whole idea of offering this service, as though I’m somehow devaluing the art. Then I realised that every other artist and maker I know sells their work, and I’m always eager to support them – so why do I feel different about this? 

I think it’s something to do with the way poetry is regarded. It’s either seen as a puzzle, something for the hyper intelligent, the well-to-do, or it’s somehow awful – think forced rhymes and saccharine greetings cards (although these do have their place especially for my Aunty). Poetry isn’t seen in the same way as painting or pottery, as something to just buy and enjoy because you like it. The myths and fuss mean there’s this mystery and worry about “understanding it” and finding the hidden meaning. I’ve had countless friends tell me they like a short story, but don’t “do” poetry. It’s almost not enough to just enjoy the way the words feel in your mouth as you say them, or the fact that it made you cry or smile or think of someone you love. It feels as saleable poetry is either so obscure that the highbrow fawn over it, or so marketable that it’s consumed like a handful of foam shrimps, leaving a slightly synthetic taste and a feeling of utter despair. */**

In short, I needed to get over myself. I love writing poetry, I love people reading it and I love,love, love it when the words I write move, delight  and last in their minds. 

Why Poems from the Hare

I love hares. 

To expand a little – I enjoy their place in mythology, I enjoy their place as a symbol for the persecuted, the unfairly hunted, the marginalised. I also love their gawkiness, their not-quite-beautiful look. Hares are not blessed with the cuteness of rabbits (which I also adore), they demand attention, then belt away across a field without a second glance. I’m also kind of affectionate towards them because my poem My death will greive foxes is one of the first peces I felt really proud of. It makes me happy still. 

The first commission

My first commission came a couple of days ago, and after my initial and utter delight, I experienced the usual rush of “oh my goodness I can’t do this” and that feeling that I’m going to be found out as not a real poet ( I read a comment once “there are poets and Poets “ It’s haunted me a little ever since – what if I’m not the one in italics. Do  want to be? How would I know? Will you know? ) and then I remembered that I really, really want to do this.

It’s a scary thing. A gift of words. I started by emulating the work I’ve seen on Etsy – very appealing, clear, classic rhyme. Straightforward solid poems. It felt like wearing a pair of beige court shoes. So I thought again, and decided to write in the way would normally write, to write with something to say, rather than something to sell. I sent a tentative draft, full of caveats and apologies and  you know what ? I’d got it right! My hunch about what might be needed paid off. I’ve another draft or two ( they have to sit a little) but I like what I’ve written and feel confident that it will do the things I talked about above. It’s made me happy. 

So I have added another string to my bow as it were. I will still need to spend days writing about bifold doors and oven cleaning, but if i can slot in a few beautiful bespoke poems along the way I’ll be delighted. 

If you’re (or anyone you know) is interested in commissioning one of my Poems from the Hare just email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and I’ll get back in touch within a day or so. 

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Stay safe 

Kathryn xx

*I may be overegging this a tad

** this isn’t true – there are many wonderful small presses and journals designed to explode this myth. You’ll find them in your local indie bookshop or online. Nine Arches Press is a a good place to start, as well as Mslexia, Riggwelter Press and Paper Swans