I’ve spent my morning creating a poetry film. It uses a piece I wrote about twelve months ago. based on the charming tale of the tiny owl found in the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The original poem is a “blackout” poem inspired by a transcript of one of the many news reports at the time and first appeared on the fabulous Sledgehammer Lit earlier this year.
I love blackout poems – the unsaying of things. The contrast between what the brain sees, what it knows and what it thinks it sees is a long-time conundrum and this type of poetry presents a powerful visual vehicle to express this. Transforming it to a film seemed like the logical thing to do and you can watch it here.
I’ve had news of another acceptance this week, for another more experimental poem which will be part of the next issue of Spelt magazine. I’m learning that I know when something is working – there’s a specific unnameable feeling that emerges. I need to listen to it more.
Poetry is a powerful thing. I’m reading Cooking with Marilyn by Angela Readman at the moment. It’s one of those books that stops me in my tracks. Inside the prettiest of blue covers are words that illuminate the realities of living with trauma, as well as illuminating the absurdity of living in the spotlight. It’s clever, tender, heartrending and the kind of poetry I dream of writing.
Which gets me thinking – what is missing in my own work? I think it’s the sense of other. I tend to write very domestic, down to earth stuff, which is fine, I’m often a no-nonsense type of person. My best/favourite work it the work that goes beyond this though – stuff that I read back and almost don’t recognise. Fear of being airy-fairy stops me I think – the old “who does she think she is” – what’s the answer?
The answer, I think is to shift my focus back to the words – I’ve had a taste of publishing and love the thrill of having work accepted. I write to be read, after all. But the temptation is to learn to the test, to try to figure out the current zeitgeist and reach the point where when people ask, “would I know your work” I can shout “yes!” and point at a billboard. And then the magic fades.
A zeitgeist is just that – something that captures a mood. It can’t be manufactured or pre-empted, not without diluting it’s very point. Popularity comes almost by accident – it’s the result of a huge amount of hard work of course, but the conflation of moment, time, people, cannot be predicted. Trying to anticipate and pre-create simply reduces the validity and impact of the work itself.
All this sounds like an excuse, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking “well she would say that wouldn’t she”. Honestly though, this whole business is a pull between longing for success, for publication, for recognition, and longing to immerse myself in words, absorb and bathe in language and pay no mind to the outside world whatsoever. Getting the balance right it what makes a great poet I guess. Until I reach that point, I shall keep reading, writing, gnashing my teeth at rejection and being childishly delighted every time a poem is accepted for publication.
I feel a bt proud of myself. Those of you who spotted last week’s blog will know I felt pretty hopeless about the whole poetry business and the malarky of “getting somewhere”. Yet writing poetry is what is love and writing poetry is how I function at my best. I have given myself time this week to actually look at the work I’ve written over the last couple of years. I’ve collected work that fits three interlocking themes. I can see where my strongest work lies and I can see the points where my voice is most powerful.
What will I do to get these poems published?
I have a framework. I know I need to work on my titles (thankyou Wendy Pratt!) I know I need to polish and refine my punctuation, and I know the areas that I want to explore more to build a more substantial body of work. Above all, I know that I can do this. I know that I want to do this and goodness I hope that I can carry on and reach the next goal.
Over the next month or so, in between everything else of course, I will refine and polish as well as researching and approaching potential publishers. I also want to do some recorded readings to hone my style, so watch this space for the odd video clip.
I still have my first pamphlet in circulation too, and I realise I was waiting to hear about that before I began work on anything else. The old need for validation I suppose. I’ve realised I don’t have to do this. I also recently learned that pamphlets and collections do not have to be made up of all new work. The poems I’ve had published in journals and anthologies can be included. What a revelation.
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.
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.
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.
Spelt, Nine Arches Press, Raven Studios and the Free Little Gallery
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.
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.
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.
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!