It never rains eh? I’m back to work after a very extended birthday break and suddenly swimming in a whole heap of work, which is a wonderful thing, if a little chaotic. I’m having to put poetry on the backburner for a while, but never fear there are plenty of ideas bubbling up between the copywriting sessions.
Having said all that, I desperately want to give a little update on Dust. This weekend marks eight years since we lost my brother. I am avoiding the date, but I know it is sitting there, waiting to poke me. I also feel this is the right date to turn my attention to other projects. There are still a few copies available to buy of course, and I will continue to sell and remind people of it, but the intense marketing is coming to an end. As I’ve said many times, the most effective thing has been people’s social media posts – if anyone feels like giving the book a last shout then that would be fab.
Fundraising for CALM and SOBs
I also wanted to tell you about the charities that we’re supporting. Campaign Against Living Miserably – CALM is a charity that takes decisive action to help prevent suicide. It has a bold style, and offers something a little more direct than other campaigns. This is deliberate I think and seems to fit their brief of offering a space for who need this kind of style to feel safe and able to talk. The site seems designed to appeal to conventional perceptions of masculinity and whilst this jars a little with me, it makes sense. CALM is a way in for people who need to talk. Complexities about gender stereotypes and gender based expectations are certainly part of the problem, but what CALM does is offer an opening for people to talk about their feelings, with a pathway for those to whom talking about feelings doesn’t fit their profile.
They are verbose campaigners and their work draws attention to fact that 125 lives are lost to suicide each week and 75% of those lives are men. Fathers, sons, friends and brothers. CALM talks in a different way than I do, but their message and methodology is clear and effective.
What does a donation to CALM do?
CALM spends over 80% of it’s money of delivering direct help. Call answering, webchats, community engagement and continual campaigning to create conversations and make positive change. The remainder goes to things that keep the charity running, and to continual fundraising. Answering a call costs £8, so when you buy a copy of Dust, you’re actively helping save someone’s life
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide
This charity is a personal one. The moments, days after my brother’s death were bewildering – yet I still had to be strong. It’s hard to lose a sibling – suddenly you’re it. The only hope, the only support and whilst only children live with this all their lives, to have the family dynamic shattered, and to be left to gather it back together is , well it’s just awful.
And then we throw suicide into the mix. All the whys, what ifs, how could I…all those things are multiplied and overwhelm. SOBs were there. I only had to email (I loathe talking on the phone) and I got simple, calm replies that made me feel understood, and made me feel less alone. My role changed overnight, and the simple, authentic understanding helped me step up.
SOBs is a gentler sort of place than CALM. It suited my communication style and offers a space for people to learn and understand about grief from suicide. They offer support in various ways including face to face groups, telephone, and email.
So far we have raised over £650 for both these charities, and this figure will continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace. This money makes a difference – it means phone calls can be answered, emails are responded too, support groups exist. It means powerful campaigns like Project 84 can take place to start conversations and deliver the bald facts about how many people find their place in the world so untenable they genuinely believe the world would be better without them. I want this to change.
To buy Dust, follow the link above, or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is never the easiest weekend – it marks the anniversary of the last time I saw my brother before…well, before.
Yesterday I did something I’ve never done about these anniversaries – I reached out on social media. I was on my own this weekend and wanted to tell someone I guess, and also now that Dust is out in the world I feel more able to say these things. Previously it was always such a shock to people I’d end up apologising, half explaining, having to stop…anyone who’s lost anyone knows how these conversations go. I’m glad I did (although I feel a little sheepish) simply because it’s nice to know people care, no more no less.
That’s not the oh wow moment though. The oh wow has come from discovering a new way to create, and a way that has so much potential I can hardly contain my joy. I set aside this weekend to join a poetry film workshop run by Spelt Nature Writing School and I’m so happy I did. Poetry film is an area that I’ve always been interested in, but in true Kathryn style I’ve always thought “I’ll never be able to do that”. This is the gift of this kind of workshop though; participants ranged from those doing a thesis about poetry film, all the way to people like me who just thought “I’d like to give that a go”. The workshop gave me knowledge, an introduction to the skills I need, and a bit of boost that there are things I understand already, like the language of colour and how to use visuals to enhance a story.
I finished the workshop thinking “I want to do this, but I need xyz” XYZ being a bit of equipment, a bit of time to go out and film stuff. I couldn’t get the ideas out of my head though and got up with the lark this morning to “just have a go”. And do you know what? I’m pleased with what I’ve done. I’ve recorded the title poem of Dust, and worked with some abstract stock images to create a short, simple film. I’m pleased with it, and most of all I’m pleased to have a way to read my work aloud. I’m not comfortable speaking to camera (I’m working on it!) and this is a way that just feels more like me. Baby steps of course, but I’m thrilled to have a new way to explore and express my work.
So a weekend that began with a little sadness has ended with a little peace. These are hard poems to read aloud. But they are important, the difference they can make is important and the money we are raising it important. I wish I knew nothing of this – as everyone does when faced with pain, but all we do is find a way to cope – and I guess this is one of mine.
Steven King famously answers this question with “one word after another” . It’s something that’s both simple and hideously complicated, joyful and soul wrenching. This time last week I was glum. Bereft, full of regret at trying, at sending my heart out to the world to be read and responded to.
A wise friend then responded, with simple physiology – perhaps I was in an adrenaline dip, after the push of publication, the rivers of courage it had taken to reach this point. And of course she was right. It meant a lot to read such an intelligent, caring message, and meant a lot to feel heard.
Dust is on another part of its journey today – I’m taken copies to two fabulous bookshops – The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, and Ironbridge Bookshop down the road in Ironbridge. It’s very exciting and I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing my books on a real life bookshelf. The good news is that booksellers are kind, friendly people who understand those of us who aren’t quite so peopley. I came away from my visits feeling valued. And I even signed my first book.
As these things so often go, this week has been more positive. So many people have got in touch to describe what my words, and Saffron’s images, have meant to them. I write to connect with others and goodness, this book has connected. I feel less afraid, and less foolish this week. Turns out for me the thing I need to write is a little encouragement, a little positivity sent my way.
I am dipping my toes back in to the world of submissions and gathering my work together in earnest. I was of a mind that I’d written nothing this year (never let it be said I’m over dramatic). I’ve sat this morning with my notebook. So many poems. Some decent. One about a seagull covered in turmeric. One about a macaw in a hat. And that’s just from one course taken at the very start of the year. There have been poems this year. I have just forgotten them.
And of course, this is the reality. The work of poetry takes time. Writing is the easy (!) bit. Redrafting, researching publishers, understanding threads and themes – that’s the tough bit. I have about four hours a week to spend on poetry things, and for the last six months those four hours have been devoted to all things Dust. Which may be why I feel I’ve “done nothing” this year.
As another voice of wisdom said, Dust has been a side quest (and a very worthwhile one), now I’m ready to get back to the main adventure, with a clutch of amulets to strengthen me.
Where to start. Well the best news of all is that for the first time in about two months I woke up this morning without pain, and without the crushing fatigue that’s been my companion for most of the summer. It’s amazing how much nicer and easier it is to do things without them. I never know how long these patches will last and the trickiest thing is being caught between making the most of feeling less sick, and getting overexcited and doing too much. Wonder which will win?
The big news about Dust
The big news about Dust is that I had my final meeting with Saffron Russell this morning. The big pink button has been pressed on Printed.com and copies of Dust are on their way. I’ll be selling these through my website to begin with, and then through various bookshops at a later date. Remember profits from each sale go to CALM and UKSobs. We’ve already raised around £500, which is more than I ever imagined and it’s great to know we’ll be raising even more with each sale.
Over the summer I mentioned to a good friend that I felt I needed to get Dust finished before I could properly move on to other projects. As well as the practicalities of writing, proofing, gathering endorsements and enthusiasm, the deeply emotive nature of this project has left minimum space for other work. I’ve been writing, of course, but have had little appetite for submissions.
Another realisation, and one I feel a slightly stupid about, is that I can submit work to journals and magazines that I later intend to publish in a pamphlet or collection. Up to this point, I’ve been “saving” all those poems…
A new poetry pamphlet
My focus for the rest of this year is drawing together my next pamphlet (although even as I write this I’ve thought of another project I want to start over the summer). I’m looking for courses that will bring a few more pieces to what I have already, as well as making applications for funding , to allow me to engage a mentor, or at least an editor.
Falling back in love with writing
I’ve been of a mind that I haven’t done much this year. Nonsense, of course. Measuring my own work against what others do is foolish and leads to nothing but frustration. I feel joy when I write and joy when my work connects with others – I think this is one of the reasons I gain so much from the various course I do. I also love the mechanics of puzzling over a full stop or spacing, figuring just where to put the line break and whether a comma is needed. It’s like magic. So right this minute I feel pretty happy about where I am with my work. I’ve a bunch of things I want to do – I’m keen to get a regular magazine column again, and to explore how to use my skills with prose in a more productive way, as well as the various poetry ideas that are spinning around my mind. I also want to get to grips with formal poetry…
Which brings me to planning
I love a list. My days are ordered and time is measured. I know what I can achieve and know how to push myself a little further. I’m not so good at working on the big picture – so that Is my very next task. To distil all these ideas and think of how to make them happen. I’m a bit “seat of my pants” with this sort of thing (I think it’s a lack of belief that I can do it) and tend to shy away from putting myself forward. It feels like time to change.
Thank you all, as ever. Do order a copy of Dust if you can, and please share this blog (and any others about the project) as much as you can.
July has been a blur of time with friends and family, adventures including a visit to the Norfolk Broads as well as putting the finishing touches to Dust. It’s been a challenging month healthwise, but goodness all the ups and downs and careful planning have been worth it.
The big writing news is that Dust is ready to go. Sample copies have been pored over, final edits made and we’re ready to press the button and order our first batch of copies. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. As you know, this is a hugely personal project and one that has taken heart and soul as well as a far bit of courage to produce. I’m thrilled with the final result, and I hope you will be too.
A happy side quest has come up in the form of my being invited to read some of my work at a local event to support world suicide prevention day. I’m honoured to be invited to be part of this event, and whilst I know it will be nerve-wracking it feels right as a next step for the story of Dust.
Competitions and funding
I’ve avoided competitions this year. My focus has been firmly on fundraising and finalising the pamphlet but this month has brought a couple of opportunities I don’t want to miss. The first is the annual Spelt poetry competition. I love the magazine so much, and whilst I know the calibre of entries means my chances of winning are small, it’s good to feel part of something I respect. The second entry is to something even more daunting – the first ever Ironbridge Poetry Competition. The fact that this is local makes me feel under huge pressure. With most poetry competitions, few people have heard of them, and fewer still are terribly interested – a local event is a little different. Watch this space.
I’ve also made my first foray into funding applications. Like many things this is an area of creative practice that is new to me and one that I’ve shied away from – asking for help rarely sits easy. Nonetheless, the simple fact is that extra financial support will buy not only time to write, but other things like access to education, mentoring and workshops to further improve my skills.
I’ve made a couple of changes to my website that I hope will make it easier for people to buy my work and to commission bespoke poetry. On my homepage you’ll find three new buttons that you can use to pre-order Dust, buy a copy of Yes to Tigers or simply buy me some writing time. Let me know if they work!
So that’s it for this month – fingers crossed next month will bring news of a firm publication date and news of new projects and exhibitions.
I can’t believe this project has been running for less than three weeks. The support from everyone is wonderful on so many levels. Targets have been exceeded, messages have bolstered fragile esteem and love has strengthened my resolve to keep going, even in the tough early stages.
I’ve learned to be bold, to ask even when it feels far too cheeky. I’ve learned how many people expereince challenges with their own mental health, how fearful so many of us are that we may reach the tipping point. I’ve leaned how many people have lost someone. I’ve learned that despite all of this there is always hope. There has to be.
Progress is happening in other areas too. I’ve had a beautiful selection of cover ideas from Saffron Russell.
When Saffron sent the proofs, her words “see which ones call to you” let me know my work was in safe hands. It’s a joy to work with someone who really seems to care about my words and want to bring them to life.
Of the six ideas, this is the one that called loudest. To me it speaks of separation, but not total absence. This mirrors my experience of grief, and mirrors the way I still feel that drift towards disbelief, and still feel a connection.
It’s a gentle cover too. This is a harsh subject, but whilst grief is hard and horrible it is born from love. Reading back through these poems, that almost seem as though they were written by someone else, that love is what comes through.
It’s an odd feeling if I’m honest, being happy to have made this book. Because, of course, I’d rather not have had to write these poems. I’d rather he was living a deeply ordinary life around the corner, or a deeply extraordinary life in herding yaks in Outer Mongolia. Or something in between. But none of these things are true, or ever will be and so I have written, and try to make something good from something terrible. I hope.
Thankyou, as ever.
To find out more about Poetry for Calm, and to pre-order Dust as well as exclusive gifts by Saffron Russell head to my Crowdfunder Page
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.
Each week 125 people are lost to suicide. 75% of those people are male. Seven years ago one of those people was my brother.
Writing that is hard. Reading that is hard. Trying to hang on when everything or nothing is overwhelming is even harder.
Until we can all talk about suicide, and the thoughts, feelings and situations that lead us there, these statistics will continue.
The reasons for writing Dust are complicated, as you can imagine. Ultimately I want to make a difference and the best way to do this is to use my words to raise some money, as well as to promote honet communication about suicide.
Why raise money for CALM?
There are many charities that support people living with mental health conditions and many charities that offer a safe space to talk. What is different about CALM is it’s full on confrontation of the fact that something is going wrong for people, and many of those people are men. They choose a deliberately bold language, and deliberately bold identity. The aim is to challenge the stereotypes that put people in a place of feeling that not only is there nowhere to turn, but they shouldn’t need help in the first place.
On a practical level CALM offer a helpline for people who are at crisis point. On a wider scale, they seek to enact real cultural change. Above all, they seek to create a world where being honest about feeling horrific isn’t seen as weakness.
Why raise money for SOBS?
I’d never heard of SOBS. You may not have either. They’re a charity that exist solely to support Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. They were a small light in the first bewildering days of grief. They offer an astonishing range of well curated resources to support people who find themselves standing open handed wondering why, what, how
Why write a poetry book to raise money?
Indeed. Why not just run or bake cakes or climb a mountain? The truth is the root of this project is more than just fundraising. Writing is my way of dealing with this loss, and the notes I poured out when Ian first died are the backbone of these poems.
Grief is something we all experience and while no-one’s grief is the same, the complications of grief from suicide are well documented. If just one person reads the poems in this book and feels less alone, then they have done their job. Being able to raise money to support others in similar situations to either Ian or myself make the project feel more worthwhile. A tiny way to change the world. Even if it’s just for one person.
How can I help ?
Fashioning something good from something so terrible is the definition of hope I suppose and support is everything for a project like this. Knowing other people care and have my back is everything. Knowing we can help create something that is beautiful is good. Knowing that the money raised could change things for others is the most important thing. You can pre-order a copy of Dust using the button below.
I am so grateful to everyone who has supported this project so far, includng Raven Studios who’s bursary back in 2021 allowed me to take a little time away from my paid work to work on this project. Time and energy are fickle beasts and the luxury of being able to focus on writing was a real gift. The bursary also enabled me to commission editing services from Olivia Tuck who helped polish these poems this into something I am proud of.