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.
And it feels wonderful. I’m part of a group delving into folklore and witchery as part of The Corn Dolly Speaks it’s a course which sparks my imagination and sends me off on merry research missions that spark it even more. I’m reading some amazing poetry, working with amazing people and feel excited by writing for the first time in a while.
I’ve been looking forward to this so much. I’d set my mind that I wanted to refocus on my work this autumn and this first week has proved positive. I have a schedule for going through my notebooks, planned time to explore submissions and I’m saving hard to afford some mentoring for what may be a new pamphlet next year. This feels like new year for me.
And perhaps it is. Working on Dust has taken more from me than perhaps I realised. Not so much the writing, but the fund raising, self promotion (thank you so much to everyone who’s joined my FB and Instagram campaigns) which never sits well has taken quite a lot from this old introverted psyche.
On the other hand working on this project has given me a huge amount. The sense of “I’ve done this” is hard to ignore. Realizing that I can collaborate with others to come up with something that really does what we hoped it would is fantastic. Reading the words of people who’ve got in touch to say that the work has moved them and even helped them with their own experience of grief, or the people who’ve just got in touch to say “well done”has had a huge impact on how I feel about putting my work (and by default my self) out into the world.
I’m reading a lot about Anglo Saxon tradition and understanding of the wheel of the year, how summer finishes so quickly, with winter coming in fast behind. There is something grounding about realising that our response to the seasons has barely changed and reading Eleanor Parker’s stunning book is a real joy. I’ve started reading a section each morning and the things I learn before even my first cup of tea are wonderful.
I usually dread this period just before Christmas – it’s been a grim countdown to the worst anniversaries for several years. I feel different this year. More understanding. More accepting. Peaceful, despite the absolute chaos going on in the outside world. I’m writing again and somehow that makes things feel alright. Bearable. Hopeful, even.
Goodness what a long time since my last post. It’s been a busy few weeks, with little time for writing anything. I’m having a phase of not being able to slow down which is never good and consequently my mental and physical health are at a bit of a low ebb. One of the weirdest things about M.E. is the role played by adrenaline. If I’m pushing too hard, adrenaline kicks in and I can keep going and going and going. The downside is that I cannot switch off, so remain in a state of being always alert and unable to rest. I’m aware of the constant river of exhaustion, but so afraid of not “getting everything done” I cannot stop.
I’m also finding the increase in social activity is taking its toll. I love seeing people, especially after so long, but the increase in large gatherings means sensory overload, which leads to yet more exhaustion. In a nutshell, M.E. still sucks.
News about Dust
Enough of the gloom though. There are many good things happening. One of the most important at the moment is progress on my fundraising poetry pamphlet Dust. Thursday saw another meeting with Saffron, to go through the physical proofs and make final corrections. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the look and feel of the final book. Saffron’s illustration has captured a tenderness that threads through the poems and gives a softness to this challenging subject. It’s made it into what it was always meant to be, a letter of love, and hope.
Broken Sleep anthology of new eco-poetry
This week also brought my contributors copy of Footprints:an anthology of new eco poetry. I’m immensely proud to be included in this anthology. There are so many poets I admire in here and it’s a book of vibrant, experimental, and exciting work. Being part of it is a real “pinch me” moment.
I’ve not submitted to any journals so far this year – my focus is on Dust, of course, and on building two new pamphlets. I’ve taken on two new courses that I hope will inspire the extra poems I need for these. My struggle is carving out time to actually focus on the work – the minutiae of living seems all consuming at the moment. It’s a bit like starting a diet – each week I promise myself I’ll make time, and each week I reach the end and find that I haven’t. It should be so simple…
Another exciting project is in the offing. I’ve been asked by local artist and all round creative powerhouse, Caris Jackson to deliver a haiku workshop for a group of adult carers. I’m thrilled to be part of this – it brings together my skills in training (honed years ago in the world of optical retail) as well as my love of poetry. Add in the fact that it’s firmly focused on supporting people to find a creative outlet and you have what amounts to my perfect project. The workshop is based on the New Coracle Shed collection of artefacts, so it’s rooted in local history and a real opportunity to explore this fascinating aspect of life on the River Severn.
Thank you as ever for reading, and if anyone has any tips about how to manage my time a little so I have chance to actually write, I’m all ears !
Of course you would and it just so happens three good things have happened this week.
First of all, the Poetry for CALM crowdfunder raised £1018 in direct donations and cash contributions. I’m amazed and humbled at people’s generosity, especially in such challenging times. The amount going to CALM and SOBS will continue to grow as copies of Dust go on general sale later in the summer.
Our goal is to have them ready for Raven Studios open days which are part of Shrewsbury Arts trail in July and August – we’ve a fair bit of work to do before then, but fingers crossed we’ll make it. The bursary from Raven Studios was instrumental in helping this pamphlet come into being so it feels right that this is where it begins its journey into the big wide world. I’m so pleased with the look and feel of this little book – Saffron has taken such care to respect the words, and there’s a sense that she genuinely values the project. It’s been a joy to work with her.
So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that I’ve been asked to lead a couple of poetry workshops. Now obviously my first thought was “I can’t do that” but then I remembered I have over 15 years of experience in training people to be excellent optical assistants, as well as a good few years of being part of poetry workshops. I’m confident I can combine these skills to create a really enriching experience. I’ll be working with subjects that I genuinely love too, and for organisations that I really admire. It’s exciting, and lovely to be asked.
Finally, I’ve had some great news from one of my copywriting clients. I’ve been asked to take a role in planning and organising content, as well as simply producing it. It’s a great feeling to have someone say “we really love what you’re doing”. If I consider what a convoluted journey I’ve had to carve out this tiny career (I say career, I still only manage a few hours a week but it’s something) I’m amazed. I’ve taken a chance and it’s paid off. I’m thrilled to be able to work in a field that I genuinely love, and I appear to be reasonably good at it too.
Good news is especially poignant since this week marks the anniversary of my diagnosis with M.E.. It’s been nine years now. Choosing to rediscover my writing , and finding ways to work despite my poor health has been a bright spot in the face of losing all that I knew as normal. I’m delighted to have found these opportunities, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was well, so I could do as much as I’d like to.
Today is about good news though and the truth I have discovered is that there is always hope, small as it may seem.
As soon as I began this project, I knew I wanted to do it properly, to create a book worthy of people’s hard earned money, and worthy of the memory of my brother.
A big part of this is getting the look and feel of the book spot on. I’m grateful for the skills of illustrator Saffron Russell who’s taking care of typesetting, cover art and several illustrations. This is such a personal project and it needs to be perfect.
I also need to create something that feels like a proper book, that feels as though it could grace the shelves of a bookshop. Something that feels valuable; that’s where the endorsements come in.
Are the poems in Dust any good?
One of my major concerns with gathering these poems together to be published was whether I was too close to the work to be truly objective about its quality. The last thing I wanted was to offer a collection that was so personal it alienated people. One of the major points behind the project, besides raising money for CALM and UKSOBS is to connect, and create conversation around what is a challenging subject.
My bursary from Raven Studios allowed me to take time to polish and hone the poems, look at which needed to be included and which needed to be left in my notebooks. It also allowed me to engage the services of Oliva Tuck as my editor. Olivia is an incredibly talented poet, recently longlisted for the Rialto Nature and Place prize, and part of publications such as Tears in the Fence and Lighthouse Journal. She is also kind and insightful with her feedback and suggestions. I expected to feel nervous at handing over my work to be analysed and “corrected” (for want of a better word) but in all honesty I was simply proud, and hopeful.
Those who know me know that critique isn’t something I generally embrace. As with so many other aspects of writing though, I seem to have a different attitude when it comes to writing. I want all the criticism, all the suggestions, all the tiny changes. A simple shift of line break or switch of a comma can make the difference between a poem being nicely competent and truly singing from its soul. Olivia’s suggestions helped me to polish my work into something I felt proud of, and that felt worthy of the job I wanted it to do.
Are the poems in Dust any good ? – part two
The second part of gathering confidence to send these poems out to the world was to ask for endorsement. Now, bear in mind I have absolutely no experience of this, no idea of the etiquette and no real understanding of proper channels to go through. I simply woke up one morning and decided to send emails to three people I’ve worked with, and who’s work I admire, and see what happened. I had a little cry when each person happily agreed to read the work, and to spend time analysing and commenting it.
Endorsements for Dust
Endorsement for Dust from Wendy Pratt
The first person I approached was Wendy Pratt. Wendy has been a source of gentle encouragement through several of the courses I’ve taken with her, and is someone I feel cares about and values the work I create. Here’s what Wendy has to say about Dust
The poems in this collection exist in the liminal place in which traumatic grief places us. This negative space is expressed in the careful use of white space on the page, the gentle, delicate cut of language. These are elegant, controlled but brutal poems in which love settles as dust over the remains of loss leave the reader with the sense of time stood still, where grief is simultaneously happening in the past and the present. A beautiful collection of poems from an intelligent and talented poet.
Cue tears. It’s amazing to read nice things about something that means so much and contains so much of myself.
Endorsement for Dust from Jane Commane
Next I got in touch with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press. It four years since Nine Arches selected me for their Dynamo mentoring scheme, and Jane has been a superb support. Asking for endorsement took a bit of courage – Jane hasn’t seem very much of my recent work, and I was half expecting a kind “thanks but no thanks”. She agreed, and after an anxious week or two (with me thinking “oh she hates them, I must never poet again”) I received these wonderful words.
Kathryn Anna Marshall’s pamphlet Dust opens with an image of weightlessness – and through these skillful and courageous poems, she examines the shockwave of grief experienced by families when a loved one dies by suicide, leaving the foundations of their lives irrevocably uprooted. Here, we encounter the “little sister” who “looks to the sky / and wonders / about gravitational / collapse”, navigate the memories of the before and the after, and hear the deep, resounding heart-song of loss.
Marshall’s attentive poetry takes great care here to precisely map the terrain of a very particular kind of bereavement, and to demarcate the shape that the pain and anguish of absence takes in her tender, acutely-observed words.
Yep, you guessed it – more tears. The poem Jane refers to is one of my favourites in the book, and the feeling of “they’ve got it” is one to bottle. I still tear up reading this now. For so many reasons.
Endorsement for Dust from Ian Humphreys
My boldest email was to Ian Humphreys. I loved Ian’s collection Zebra, and have been lucky enough to be part of two workshops he has facilitated. I wasn’t sure if this was great grounds for asking for an endorsement, but he did say something nice about something I wrote during one of the classes, so I thought I’d take a chance.
Yet again I was happily surprised, yet again I had a little anxious wait ( a learning point – silence does not mean people hate my work) and yet again I received the most beautiful close reading and understanding of the poetry in Dust.
These are poems of love and loss, where ‘dust’ not only embodies death but something tangible – the weight of grief itself, which ‘settles like ash / gritty teeth chalk tongue/swallow / it down’.
Kathryn Anna Marshall writes beautifully and with candour on survival and trauma. The world she conjures is lit with pain and confusion, the realm of those left behind. Details are steeped in importance, ‘at twelve minutes past eight / they cremated you’; dreams and possessions stir memories, regrets; and with heart ache comes harsh clichés, ‘You learn legs do go / from beneath’. Yet hope belongs to the living, and together, these tender, potent elegies are a songbook to the ‘soft promise’ of spring.
Endorsement for Dust from Lewis Wyn Davies
Finally I approached Lewis Wyn Davies. Lewis is, like me, an emerging poet from Shropshire. The illustration Saffron Russell did for his pamphlet Comprehensive inspired me to get in touch with him to find out more about their project – without their support and interest, I’d probably still be floundering about, unsure of what to do with my work. Here’s what Lewis has to say
Dust is a poignant pamphlet that bravely navigates grief and the immeasurable loss felt after Marshall’s brother took his own life. These heartfelt and powerful poems try to explain the thought process and steps to recovery that she undertook after such personal trauma. But they also encourage us to look out for, and engage with, one another more to prevent such tragedies happening again elsewhere.
The next stage…
These endorsements do more than bolster my confidence – although that is an outstanding benefit, especially with such a difficult subject. They are an important part of the next stage of my fundraising campaign.
Whilst the Crowdfunder donations are ticking up nicely, my aim is to sell Dust to as many people as possible. I am hoping to sell to those people I know support my work and who are interested in my writing, but to raise the amount I want to, need a wider audience, and that means getting into bookshops. Again, I have no idea of the etiquette, the whys and wherefores of how to do this, and I’m not aiming for the shelves of WHSmith or Waterstones (yet). My hope is that endorsement from people I know are respected in the poetry world and beyond, will make the book appealing to some of the indie bookshops that pepper our high streets.
The next stage is yet another challenge, of selling, persuading, and encouraging people to take a chance on a book from a new writer. Fingers crossed they will.
I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point.
Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so?
The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine.
I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things.
I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity.
So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work. Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest.
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.
round? Well yes it does I suppose. Food, heat, light,time to write. All the essentials. I send out a lot of invoices for writing work, and it still gives me a bit of a thrill (people pay me to write ). Today I sent out a slightly different one – to my local bookseller, The Ironbridge Bookshop. They stocked my poetry zine last year and have just sold the last one. Now I’m not going to be retiring to the Bahamas (after commission and the graphic designer’s fee I could just about get a day out in Brum) but this does feel special. There’s something about the fact that someone has walked into a shop, seen my work and liked it enough exchange some of their hard earned cash in order to take it home. It feels like validation I suppose – as though there is a market for my words, and that it genuinely connects with people.
I’ve spent my earnings on two more courses. One is with Spelt magazine all about how to submit to magazines, which I’m obviously doing but I feel I could perhaps do better, with a bit of practical help. The other is a workshop which sounds right up my street both in terms of method and subject. I’m not great in a classroom situation (thank you repressive girls’ school) and struggle to contribute but this workshop seems like it might be just the right balance of contribution and contemplation. My experience on my York CLL course has really shown me how much I learn from a workshop style, and how it builds on everything I’ve read about poetry in the last couple of years.
Things feel good at the moment. I mean obviously everything is terrible, but this tiny poetry aspect of my life feels like a refuge, rather than yet another point of worry. And refuge is, after all, one of the reasons I write.
You can buy Yes to Tigers from Ironbridge Bookshop, or direct from me – just email email@example.com x
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.
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.
On Monday I started a new course with York Centre for Life Long Learning. It’s called Crafting and Redrafting, and is created and facilitated by Wendy Pratt. I’m hoping the course will help me hone my editing skills – I’m at a point where I have dozens of drafts, some which are good to go, and many that need more work. I’ve also got a few that keep getting turned down, despite the fact that I think they’re ok – a sure fire indicator that a few tweaks are needed. The image of the beleaguered poet agonising over each comma is indeed accurate.
I’m excited about this course. It’s meeting my need for a bit of stretch when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the poetry business. I spend a lot of time on developing my creative practice but have been quite reserved about the mechanics of promotion. The fancy answer would be that I didn’t want to sully my art. The truth is twofold – I was a bit scared, and I didn’t have a strong body of work that I really believed in. I’m hoping the work I do over the next eleven weeks will help me understand how to fine tune my work – how to step back and look at it with an editor’s eye.
There are good habits coming already from the course (and it’s only week one!) I’ve always known don’t read enough poetry and one of the key directives from my first week was to read much more. Now, this lack of reading isn’t because I don’t want to or have any ridiculous notion that it will cloud my own voice. Good reading is essential to good writing – it’s how we learn what works, how we learn what gives us goosebumps and what leaves us cold. If I know all that, why not just do it?
Lack of time, of course – plus reduced energy and M.E. brain swish in to take a chunk of each day. By the time I’ve completed whatever copywriting work I have (and I’m so glad to have it), and taken care of the general business of living, reading is almost impossible – my brain just won’t take anything in, and the physical act of making sense of the page is beyond me.
Clearly this has to change. My strategy is to adapt the way I spend my journal time. I’ve always written a journal of sorts and I try to do it early each morning. Now in that half hour I set aside, I’m reading three poems. I’m making really brief notes on them too, but that’s not the goal – the goal is simply to read. I’m choosing from different sources, choosing different styles, falling in love with some, not really liking others and being simply baffled by a few.
The desired outcome is undefined, and to this extent my liking or disliking doesn’t matter – what I’m hoping is that I will become even more immersed in language, even more immersed in how it plays and moves me. And I’m hoping this understanding will make me a better writer. Regardless of all this, I’m enjoying my reading, enjoying writing, and feeling a bit more like a proper writer than I did a few weeks ago.