Autumn sees a return to writing

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.

Thank you for reading

Kathryn xx

I have a bunch of poems to publish

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.

Thanks for sticking with me xx

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

Marvellous Monday

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.

Cool poetry pamphlet news

Pamphlet Update

You may remember from my post Three great things that have happened in 2021 that I have been lucky enough received a creative bursary from Raven Studios. I’ve used this to help me towards publication of my first poetry pamphlet. I’m delighted to say all the poems are complete, and I’ve a tentative feeling that I’ve created something I can be proud of. Before beginning the inevitable round of submissions – and possible disappointments – I’ve used a small amount of my bursary to employ the services of an editor.

Why use an editor ?

Quite simply, engaging the services of an editor means giving my work an extra polish. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Olivia Tuck before, and knew she’d give top quality feedback and suggestions as well as offering advice in a kind and sensitive way. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and I feel privileged to have had her input. The suggestions and tiny tweaks have really made my work sing – it’s amazing what the addition of a carefully placed full stop can do.

What happens next?

I need to do some homework – finding a place for poems is the hardest part, I think. It relies on more than just the quality of the work; it relies on an understanding on what the world of publishing is looking for, a touch of insight into the mood of readers and more than a sprinkling of good old fashioned luck. I really believe in these poems and am excited to have them out in the world. I just need to find a publisher who feels the same – and believes there is a big enough audience to make it viable. I’ve a couple of  ideas – but taking the plunge is a big step.

Other successes

You’ll have seen on my Twitter feed that I’ve had a couple of other happy scraps of news. I was longlisted for Mslexia’s poetry 2020 poetry competition (a huge thrill) and I also have a poem forthcoming in Feline Utopia – Louise Mather’s anthology about the wonderful world of cats. My submission is a cheerful, uncomplicated piece and I’m glad to have a happy poem out in the world.

There can never be enough pictures of this fellow

My biggest challenge at the moment is time. My freelance work has increased ( a good thing, of course) but this means my usable time has decreased. I’ve a bunch of work ready to send out, but precious little time to do the necessary research and submit correctly. I’m hoping things will calm down a little in March. The big hope of course is to be well enough to do that little bit more….

Hope all is well wherever you’re reading from. Take care, wash your hands, wear a mask

Kathryn

xx

Anniversaries, new roles, new homes

It’s around four years since I began this blog, published my first tentative post. I feel like I’ve come a long way – not in terms of whistles and bells but in terms of belief in and acceptance of myself. This is a decent place to be – there are wobbles of course, some startlingly dramatic, but I’m proud that I’ve stuck at this, despite the knock backs, and ups and downs of exposing my work (and my heart) to the world. This aspect will always be unnerving, but as I said in my very first bio I’m a better person when I write, and for me, writing comes alive when it is read by others. There is no better feeling in the world than someone saying they love something I have written. Writing helps me manage change, clarify emotion and tap into my absolute love of sound and rhythm. It also taps in to

I’m writing this looking over my beloved patch of woods that may soon be someone else’s view. This is a sad feeling but change is sometimes essential, even if it is forced by the actions of another. Fingers crossed where ever we go next will be as full of passerine chatter and eerie night screeches.

Woodland complete with cat.

Slivers of sadness are tempered beautifully with excitement at a new role. I’ve been appointed as a columnist for a new magazine called Spelt, the brainchild of the wonderful Wendy Pratt. Here’s how she describes it

Spelt Magazine is on a mission to celebrate and validate the rural experience. With four seasonal print issues per year, we aim to provide a platform for rural writers and to those creatives exploring nature, landscape, the interconnected nature of creative writing and the natural world and the liminality of natural areas within the urban landscape.

Wendy Pratt – Founder of Spelt Magazine

This ties in with a nagging feeling I’ve had for some time – that writing about rural life is somehow unfashionable, that real poets write about gritty urban landscapes and lives lived with theatrical edge. Whist this pattern of thought says more about me, and that I need to have respect for my own writing, I have a strong feeling that Spelt is going to chime with many people who feel a little alienated by the popular portrayal rural existence – and hungry to tell of it’s  reality. The content of my columns has to remain secret (how exciting!) but it’s fair to say this is a wonderful opportunity to be part of something I really believe in.

This past week has brought a little more regular writing too – I’m taking inspiration from Susie Dent’s Word Perfect a fabulous book that brings a new word to each day. Every morning I encounter a new word and write a small, possibly (definitely) silly poem. It’s a fun, brain oiling, start to the day.

I’m trying to develop a strong routine which allows balance between paid work, poetry and managing my health – it’s going ok; I’m breaking my work down into smaller chunks, and trying to be strict with myself about keeping one day aside for all things poetry related. Early starts are my friend and give me more workable hours. At the moment I’m gathering a few poems for submission to magazines, and anxiously waiting to hear about my pamphlet, as well as spending my day-to-day writing copy for various agencies and companies.

It almost feels as though I may actually be able to call myself a writer. Which is all I’ve ever wanted to be; I just never knew what it looked like. Turns out it’s someone who writes.

Sending hopeful wishes to all – spring is round the corner.

Kathryn xx

What is micro fiction?

If you follow my social media you’ll have seen my delight at being shortlisted for Lightbox Originals‘ 100 word story . Being shortlisted for anything is always exciting and this is no exception – especially because it’s a genre of creative writing that I adore but can find somewhat challenging.

Back to the matter in hand. Put simply, micro fiction is a very, very, very short story. It has a beginning, middle and end like any other story, but unlike any other story it has very few words. This particular competition set a limit of 100 words. Not many at all.

Very happy to be shortlisted for the #100words story competition from Lightbox Originals

Is micro fiction like poetry?

For me it feels like it is. I use rhythm and pace to create atmosphere, and every word has to count – there’s no room for waste. I’m not a chatty sort of soul and I think this is why I enjoy working with so few words.

I’m also aware of a change in my understanding of poetry. Reading more widely has helped me to see that the work I really love is the work that tells a story – takes me somewhere. I’m seeing a change in my recent work moving away from description and introspection towards more imaginative work. I think it’s a sign of personal development (remember all that therapy), as well as the improvement I’ve made as a poet,largely through the excellent prompt a day courses courtesy of Wendy Pratt.

Isn’t that a bit of a big headed thing to say?

It certainly feels like it is; I’m part of the generation that has the phrase “pride before a fall” running through my veins, for whom thinking I am good at anything is worse than being good at nothing.

Despite this I’m sticking my neck out and saying I am a better writer now than I was this time last year. I can see how I’ve progressed – both in poetry and in my paid work as a copywriter. I think that’s ok to say. Actually, I think it’s essential. If I never see that I’ve improved, where is the impetus to continue ?

Reading more and more poetry this year like this gorgeous book from Robert McFarlane

Can you really tell a story in 100 words?

You can tell a story in six. Maybe less. It all relies on understanding that the story is in the reader – they bring their experiences to match with your words. The result may be a quiet ding or a church bell level resonance, but the meeting is there and that’s what makes the story, however many words there are. The skill lies in having something to say that others will warm to, and saying it well. The best writers have an extra bit of magic that I haven’t figured out yet.

When will you know the results?

The results are announced next week. It would be amazing to be placed but, honestly, just entering is a huge achievement never mind getting to the shortlist. Putting work out is always scary, and knowing it’s being judged is extra scary. I’m quite matter of fact about losing and getting rejections these days – it’s a side effect of trying I suppose – but it’s always an absolute joy to gain a glimmer of achievement.

Thanks for reading – I’m much better this week, and hoping I can fully regain some balance to my health soon. Your support means the world!

Stay safe, wash your hands etc.

Kathryn

Xx

My illustrated poetry zine inspired by work from artists around the Severn Gorge is available through Etsy or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com.

You can buy #YesToTigers in my Etsy shop or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

Hares and Paper Swans

Do you remember my decision a couple of months ago to stop taking writing so seriously, publish stuff on here and write not ‘ just for me’ exactly, but without an eye on what I think might be good enough for publication? Since then I’ve continued studying various books, including Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and Nine Arches Press The Craft, I’ve continued with various courses, (this month’s is Telling your Story another gem from Wendy Pratt) and love the discipline of writing most days, even if it’s something a bit rubbish. Being in a group of writers with a vast range of experience means I am constantly learning, both from their feedback and from reading their work. It’s one of best things I’ve done to develop myself as a poet.

In deciding to take things less seriously (which I think translates to not worrying about all those rejections), it seems I’ve freed myself to work harder, almost without realising. The combination of all this self-study and relaxing into my work means, three fab things have happened. Firstly I enjoy writing more, secondly I do more writing (every day that I can) and thirdly I’m enjoying a sniff of ‘success’.

My death will grieve foxesI have to be careful here – about my definition of success – am I going back on my decision to be an amateur? Not at all. I want people to enjoy what I write and being part of the Paper Swans Press single poem competition longlist means that’s what’s happened. My poem My death will grieve foxes is something that I worked on, tweaked, and nurtured. I researched hares (and yes, I know there are millions of hare poems, but here’s another), thought about why I’m captivated by them, read all the myths and connotations and followed the poem on its path. I loved writing it and in having it longlisted by a judge whose opinion I greatly respect, I know at least one other person loved reading it. I’ll be publishing the poem on here at a later date, maybe with a bit of unpacking around the themes, but until then you can read it as part of the e-book published by Paper Swans.

As well as my Paper Swans publication, I’ve had another poem sent out into the world this week. Marcescence is a poem wondering about how trees feel about losing their leaves, borne from watching those stubborn brown scraps that seem to cling to the branches all summer. It’s quite an old poem, that’s been through many drafts, but I’m delighted it’s finally out in the world on the wonderful Nine Muses Poetry.

Hares everywhere including this print from Amanda Hillier

Against the backdrop of sadness for those who’ve lost loved ones, those still struggling with the impact of what is a severe illness and most importantly the utter horror in the USA, celebrating these tiny glimmers of success feels wrong, disrespectful. Privileged. And the fact is, it is. I am privileged to be safe, I am privileged to be free from fear of being targeted, brutalised because of my colour. I am privileged to have a home and to have the freedom to write.

Nonetheless, with every bit of validation my confidence grows, my voice grows louder and my ability to fuel change increases. My actions and my words are tiny in the face of the huge injustice, corruption and trials people face very day, but they’re a lot more significant than doing nothing at all.

Thank you for reading, do download the e-book of all thirteen poems that placed in Paper Swans single poem competition. If you’re reading this on social media I’d love you to comment and share to increase my reach, and if you want to comment on here then I’d love to hear from you.

Kathryn xx

Featured image thanks to Vincent van Zalinge

Published

I’m so excited, I’ve had a poem published in the autumn issue of Mslexia magazine. Since I’m currently in the middle of a field (again) at End of the Road festival, I can’t give lots of detail but suffice to say I’m thrilled.

I’ll do a longer post when I get back, but I couldn’t wait to tell you all.

Thanks as ever for your support, both on person and online. This is a small step forward and hopefully first of many. Most of all it proves I’m doing something right, rather than a fanciful.

Like,share and shout from the rooftops.

Futuristic zombie poems* and some new friends**………

July seems to be as positive as June.

I’m delighted to have been invited to work on another major project with Big Star Copywriting. I was feeling pretty low about my health and circumstance at the start of the year, so naturally having my commercial writing sought out, and getting good feedback is a big boost. My only caution is that my natural work ethic means that I tend to put paid work first. This is right and proper, but it does mean a lot of micro-management and balance within the life of someone who has M.E. I’m doing okay with it, but I do need to remember it’s permissible (and wise) to say no.

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Primers is my current creative focus. Thanks to the care and time from my lovely Beta readers, I have two poems I will definitely submit and two I’m almost sure are ready to go. There are two that need to be hatched…..my deadline is July 22nd, so I need to get cracking this week .

I started a very short online course with The Poetry School, called Archiving the Self, looking at our every-day lives and how we could write about them. It seems ideal for me because my life can be quite static at times. Learning how to respond to my world, however limited means I feel less trapped by circumstance. I’m hoping working with other poets will bring a new dimension to my work too. My plan (if it works) is that this course will contribute to the last two Primers poems.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of fitting in lately, it’s a state I’ve never been lucky enough to inhabit and one that has never really worked if I’ve tried to move in to it. With writing (and any creative activity) it is a tricky subject. Talking with my writers and readers group last night** it was clear that responding to the needs of agents and publishers can be a creative challenge. I’m nowhere near that stage and I’m kind of glad, although there is an element of coherence required when submitting for competitions and magazines, after-all It would be pointless to submit my best futuristic zombie poem* to a magazine that specialised in post-Freudian theory. I planned to do a great deal of research on this over the summer, but things are taking a different turn. Hopefully it will be something I can focus on in the autumn, once I’ve submitted my assessment work.

Here’s hoping the positive trajectory continues. As ever I couldn’t do any of this without the care and support of those close to me, and without the interest and enthusiasm of everyone who reads, shares, follows or gives a cursory glance to what I’m up to. Happy Tuesday !

*I don’t have a futuristic zombie poem. Yet.

**I’ve joined a group of like-mined people, who love words. Several are proper published and everything. I was terrified to go to my first meeting (social anxiety is not a good companion) but they’re a kind and interesting bunch. I’m glad I was brave.