This year hasn’t been the best. Loss of significant loved ones, loss of stable income, and of precious routine have created a perfect storm that has been hard to handle at times. I write a great deal about my mental health and I know that many of you who read my blog struggle with similar issues.
I am still here. I am still writing (just) and I am determined not to go to ground. The people who are no longer here are two of the people who most loved the fact that I wrote – albeit in very different ways – and their encouragement and sheer joy at the words I put to paper is something to treasure despite the impossible sadness that they’re no longer here.
Adventures in poetry continue
Last year I had a big birthday, and with that birthday came gifts. These gifts were smushed together and I finally had enough cash to get professional advice about my career as a writer. Events took over and I only began my mentoring with Wendy Pratt last week. How glad I am. My nagging feeling that perhaps I needed to take the downturn in copywriting work as an opportunity crystallised in the realisation that if I spent as much time developing my creative practice (and crucially my presence as a writer) as I did writing about drainage in Australia, then perhaps just perhaps I may be able to rewrite my path once more. Wendy has helped me clarify, plan, motivate and move some way towards believing I can do this. Most importantly, she’s helped me give myself permission to try.
I’ve long felt this blog was a little to much like a personal diary (which is exactly what it is). I love writing it and I love that people read it – but I want to write other stuff too. Substack has been on my radar for a while, but squeezing in time to manage another platform felt too much…can you see where this is going?
So I now have a Substack. The first post will be published at around 6pm on April 14th and I’ll publish a new post every two weeks on a Friday evening. I’ll be exploring poetry, well being and nature, with more of an emphasis on whys and hows rather than simple focus on my creative practice. I hope you’ll all join me on the imaginatively named Kathryn Anna Writes .
There’s a little more
Eager followers may remember my foray into poetry film. My first steps have stalled a little but this is a medium that excites and challenges me. I’m hoping to showcase new poetry film as part of my substack and hope you’ll join me for that too.
This blog will still be live, and I’ll still record my comings and goings – it’s been a great space to use to connect with people when connecting is hard. Thank you all, as ever
I had an interesting conversation with a friend this week, asking if writing about trauma is cathartic. My answer was not really. Now this is surprising, because of course it is – the very act of writing means I remove worries, thoughts, feelings from my head and place them on a page. That is a good thing. It can allow perspective, allow for reflection. Journalling is a healthy habit. Why is poetry any different? For me it’s because a poem is almost a living entity. It grows and changes with those who read it, it grows and changes each time I read it. The emotions that gave birth to the writing have not gone – they’ve become real on the page. Producing something wrought from some of the darkest feelings and experiences then reading, re-reading, editing, means revisiting those feelings and experiences time and time again. And that’s before I even embark on the terror of sending my work out to be judged for quality and possible publication.
Yet still I do it. Still countless people do it. We write and read, agonise over semi-colons and commas, place ourselves into the arena to be pulled apart or raised up high. Why? What drives me? I honestly can’t think of a sensible answer. All I know is that when I write there is some magic that happens somewhere that makes me feel as though I am the very best version of myself. I’d like to say I don’t mind whether work is published or not but that would be a straight lie – external validation is a joy. Would I write if I knew my work would never be published again. Absolutely. Would I write if no one else would read it. I think so – but some of that joy of connection would be lost.
Two new poetry courses
These musings have emerged because I’ve had a stellar writing week. Not one, but two courses on the go and I’ve adored them both. Dawn Chorus writing hour has been a revelation – that liminal space between waking and sleeping allows my brain to flow in such different directions and the simple act of setting aside time to write with others creates a gentle community. Getting up early to write is a habit I dip in and out of, but the difference to both my writing and general well being is such that I’m determined to keep that 5.30 am start and determined to protect an hour for reading and writing.
My second course, The Corn Dolly Speaks has been a journey through myth and legend, not tales of knights and dragons, but the tangible, domestic legends that are so much part of life they pass with scant comment. The poems we’ve read have been beautiful and challenging, and the prompts have set me on research adventures. The work I’ve written has grown from some innate understanding and sense of connection I cannot really name. It’s an affirming way to explore the correlation between past and present, and to explore how these old rituals inform my behaviour and perspective. What makes these courses work so well for me is that we share our work with each other online. I’m not terribly confident speaking as part of a group, so this gentle interaction means I can give and receive feedback in a non-threatening way, and at my own pace. It also means I read some incredible poetry from my talented course mates. I’ve tried a couple of different courses this year, but the work I produce from these courses created and facilitated by Wendy Pratt is far and away the work I feel most pleased with.
It seems that the act of finishing Dust has set me free to write again. In order to create something worthy of publication, and worthy of people’s hard-earned money I had to distance myself from my emotions and look at the work with a professional, critical eye. In the wonder that is hindsight it seems entirely logical, but in the midst of the process I’ve felt quite bewildered at my inability to really engage with writing. I’m very glad to be back.
More ways to buy Dust
Now the initial flurry of family and friends have bought Dust, I’ve placed it on Etsy for general sale. Buying direct from me is still the best option, simply because it means more money for the two charities, but I understand that using something like Etsy is a lot easier. You can also buy your copy from the excellent Poetry Pharmacy or Ironbridge Bookshop.
Your mini reviews have made a huge difference
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time and effort to talk about their response to Dust on Facebook and Instagram. This kind of marketing is worth a thousand posts from me (I guess hearing about something like this from a friend has more impact) and has been the most effective in terms of sales. It also increases my visibility, so when I do post, more folk will see it. Your support is really, really appreciated and the steady rate of sales means we’ve raised over £600 so far.
So that’s my week. Next week’s adventures in poetry will involve is more research into submissions opportunities, plus some time studying The Poetry Writers’ Handbook, which looks like it will answer a lot of my questions about the business side of publication – I have a couple of new pamphlets brewing so the timing is perfect.
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.
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.
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
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.
I always know when my writing needs to take a back seat. My brain simply ceases to play ball. I grasp for words – and find them – but the fizzy excited feeling has faded. I’ve lost my oomph.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not writing. It means I have to turn my attention to being able to pay the bills – so my writing energy is spent on creating killer product descriptions, and beautiful web content. It’s still writing, I still enjoy it – but poetry is dormant. For now.
That said, I’ve a few pieces due to be published soon, in places like Sledgehammer, The Dawntreader and Streetcake, and they’re poems I’m really proud of. I’m also immensely pleased with the writing I’m producing for Spelt – it’s an honour to be part of this growing publication.
I’m very aware of how my style has grown over the last six months or so. I really believe in the work I’m submitting, and feel confident that they are worth reading. The need for approval ebbs and flows, of course – I’m putting my heart on a page but I feel my words are more authentic.
I’ve also realised what kind of creator I am. There are some who are market and money focused – a place I dipped into – and some who are not. This is encapsulated by an experience with a local artist who was just delighted to have found a home for a piece she’d done. This doesn’t mean she didn’t charge for her work – it means there was a genuine warmth and love for both the sketches and the recipient.
The whole experience was joyful. I have never been avaricious, and the times when I’ve been least happy have been if I try to force myself that way. I write for money, because it’s my living, but I create for the sheer love of creating, and because I have something to say. And that is when my work is at its best.
So is this a fallow period? Who knows – the warning signs that I’m pushing too hard are nipping at my ankles, and I’ve made the decision to withdraw from my York CLL course, just to recover a little breathing space. If I know myself at all, in a week or two I’ll get that naggy feeling (usually as I’m dropping to sleep) and the words will return.
Thank you – your support and interest is invaluable to me.
Two posts in two days? What brings this flurry of blog based activity? I’ve had news! Happy news and I want to shout about it!
The first is having a piece accepted for a new lit mag called Sledgehammer. Having any work accepted is the most glorious feeling (and balances the gloom of having work declined) and this is no exception. The piece they’ve taken is a new poem too, which feels extra exciting. A new poem in a new magazine!
The second bit of news is seeing the proof copy of Spelt – my name is on the cover, and I could pinch myself. I’ve been close to giving up so many times, but I finally feel like I’ve found some kind of writerly home. I’m proud as punch, and going to spend an hour or two basking in the feeling of being part of something I really believe in.
So there we are. A spot of shameless showing off. Not the thing to do, but sometimes good things are worth shouting about.
I’m reading a great deal about how much harder this lockdown is – and it feels strange reaching the anniversary of what many of us believed might be a brief period of hibernation. This anniversary means that the reality of a whole year of living through a pandemic hits hard. For me it still feels almost dreamlike, and although my digital footprint continually reminds me of all the confusion and fear of last year, it still feels otherworldly.
The fear has faded – and taken the adrenaline and fervour with it. Hackneyed use of warlike language has abated, and ever more sensational the headlines are continually created to turn our minds to other issues. It feels a little as though we are trying to hide from the anniversary, the horrific loss of life and the ongoing uncertainty.
This uncertainty that is the challenge. A string of unkeepable promises means the dates hung before us are no longer something to look forward to, but something we gingerly hope may happen, and gingerly hope won’t cause further damage. Shifting sands and changing tales all cause a sense of needing to double check oneself, and needing to keep hope at bay.
Yet normal life continues. I enjoy a nice dinner, clear up the latest mouse head the cat has brought in, watch for the daffodils opening and the first shoots of early spring – the phrase “this time last year” reverberates, and there is a whiff of nostalgia for that feeling of being “all in it together”. My anchors haven’t changed, but my need for them has increased immeasurably.
Writing during a pandemic is hard
Writing is hard this year. I feel my work has gone backwards a little, and I don’t seem able to concentrate or focus. Maybe tiredness, maybe M.E. maybe just the culmination of a singularly peculiar year – where my normal stimuli of live music, travel and time by the sea have been curtailed. I’ve work forthcoming in some great spaces, notably The Dawntreader, as well as a poem in Louise Mather’s celebration of cats Feline Utopia and my column in Spelt magazine, but the sense of losing myself in writing, that fizz of excitement when something is really coming together is absent. Perhaps just need to step back for a while – read more, listen to more, replenish my soul battery.
Thanks as ever for reading, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands,
Having an illness like M.E. creates many unexpected twists* and forces change. Losing social life, the security of regular work, the simple convenience of popping to the supermarket to get a few bits for tea creates a sense of disorientation and a whisper of fear.
These are things I’ve spent the last seven years adjusting to and things that are now “normal”, and perhaps not unexpected.
What I didn’t expect was that having an illness like M.E. would create opportunities. I certainly didn’t expect those opportunities to be quite so close to being what I’ve always dreamt of.
Opportunity number one is being part of Spelt Magazine.This morning I had my first meeting with editor Wendy Pratt and I’m just fizzing with excitement.
Spelt sets out to do something different – it seeks to capture the brilliance of the natural world, but also the reality of living in a rural environment. From our chat this morning it’s clear this is going to be a magazine that amplifies the voice of those who don’t feel part of the edgy urban scene, but certainly don’t identify with the cosy lifestyle version of the countryside presented by other magazines. It’s something that excites me, something that I think is valuable, and somewhere that I think I fit – which is a wonderful thing to be able to say.
I’m not going to say too much about the column, other than I’m hoping to create something uplifting that brings a smile on gloomy days and gives a window into tiny joys.
Bursary from Raven Studios
My second opportunity comes in the form of a bursary courtesy of Raven Studios in Shrewsbury. Raven Studios is an incredible organisation that offers creative space and support to all manner of artists. My bursary is essentially buying me time to write – as you know M.E. means my physical and mental resources are limited and often writing to pay the bills takes precedent over creative work. My goal is to give around the 5 hours a week to developing poetry for a pamphlet that explores mental and physical health – it’s still in an embryonic stage, but I’m excited to have a new project to work on, and to have support from such a vibrant group of artists.
Learning how to be a better poet
You may remember I had to curtail my formal study with OCA – for many reasons it just wasn’t working, plus the fees proved to be overwhelming. What I have discovered is the wealth of courses available to help me develop as a writer. These range from simple prompt-a-day courses (I say simple – they’ve been the single best thing I’ve done), to more involved courses like those run by the York Centre for Life Long Learning or Poetry School. Thanks to a gift from Santa, I’ve been able to enrol on three courses this year, one looking at women writers, exploring body and illness and one looking at how to put together a themed collection. The last two are particularly exciting given my new project with Raven Studios.
So, here ends the post. It’s a grim month after a grim year, and the day to day is hard. I miss all the things! Despite the many lacks, I’m so excited about what the next few months will bring. More than anything I realise how much I’ve learnt since my diagnosis in 2013.
As ever, thanks for reading
*my less than accurate tying created the phrase “M.E. creates many unexpected twits.” I’m not entirely sure that was a typo.