And it feels wonderful. I’m part of a group delving into folklore and witchery as part of The Corn Dolly Speaks it’s a course which sparks my imagination and sends me off on merry research missions that spark it even more. I’m reading some amazing poetry, working with amazing people and feel excited by writing for the first time in a while.
I’ve been looking forward to this so much. I’d set my mind that I wanted to refocus on my work this autumn and this first week has proved positive. I have a schedule for going through my notebooks, planned time to explore submissions and I’m saving hard to afford some mentoring for what may be a new pamphlet next year. This feels like new year for me.
And perhaps it is. Working on Dust has taken more from me than perhaps I realised. Not so much the writing, but the fund raising, self promotion (thank you so much to everyone who’s joined my FB and Instagram campaigns) which never sits well has taken quite a lot from this old introverted psyche.
On the other hand working on this project has given me a huge amount. The sense of “I’ve done this” is hard to ignore. Realizing that I can collaborate with others to come up with something that really does what we hoped it would is fantastic. Reading the words of people who’ve got in touch to say that the work has moved them and even helped them with their own experience of grief, or the people who’ve just got in touch to say “well done”has had a huge impact on how I feel about putting my work (and by default my self) out into the world.
I’m reading a lot about Anglo Saxon tradition and understanding of the wheel of the year, how summer finishes so quickly, with winter coming in fast behind. There is something grounding about realising that our response to the seasons has barely changed and reading Eleanor Parker’s stunning book is a real joy. I’ve started reading a section each morning and the things I learn before even my first cup of tea are wonderful.
I usually dread this period just before Christmas – it’s been a grim countdown to the worst anniversaries for several years. I feel different this year. More understanding. More accepting. Peaceful, despite the absolute chaos going on in the outside world. I’m writing again and somehow that makes things feel alright. Bearable. Hopeful, even.
Of course you would and it just so happens three good things have happened this week.
First of all, the Poetry for CALM crowdfunder raised £1018 in direct donations and cash contributions. I’m amazed and humbled at people’s generosity, especially in such challenging times. The amount going to CALM and SOBS will continue to grow as copies of Dust go on general sale later in the summer.
Our goal is to have them ready for Raven Studios open days which are part of Shrewsbury Arts trail in July and August – we’ve a fair bit of work to do before then, but fingers crossed we’ll make it. The bursary from Raven Studios was instrumental in helping this pamphlet come into being so it feels right that this is where it begins its journey into the big wide world. I’m so pleased with the look and feel of this little book – Saffron has taken such care to respect the words, and there’s a sense that she genuinely values the project. It’s been a joy to work with her.
So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that I’ve been asked to lead a couple of poetry workshops. Now obviously my first thought was “I can’t do that” but then I remembered I have over 15 years of experience in training people to be excellent optical assistants, as well as a good few years of being part of poetry workshops. I’m confident I can combine these skills to create a really enriching experience. I’ll be working with subjects that I genuinely love too, and for organisations that I really admire. It’s exciting, and lovely to be asked.
Finally, I’ve had some great news from one of my copywriting clients. I’ve been asked to take a role in planning and organising content, as well as simply producing it. It’s a great feeling to have someone say “we really love what you’re doing”. If I consider what a convoluted journey I’ve had to carve out this tiny career (I say career, I still only manage a few hours a week but it’s something) I’m amazed. I’ve taken a chance and it’s paid off. I’m thrilled to be able to work in a field that I genuinely love, and I appear to be reasonably good at it too.
Good news is especially poignant since this week marks the anniversary of my diagnosis with M.E.. It’s been nine years now. Choosing to rediscover my writing , and finding ways to work despite my poor health has been a bright spot in the face of losing all that I knew as normal. I’m delighted to have found these opportunities, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was well, so I could do as much as I’d like to.
Today is about good news though and the truth I have discovered is that there is always hope, small as it may seem.
As soon as I began this project, I knew I wanted to do it properly, to create a book worthy of people’s hard earned money, and worthy of the memory of my brother.
A big part of this is getting the look and feel of the book spot on. I’m grateful for the skills of illustrator Saffron Russell who’s taking care of typesetting, cover art and several illustrations. This is such a personal project and it needs to be perfect.
I also need to create something that feels like a proper book, that feels as though it could grace the shelves of a bookshop. Something that feels valuable; that’s where the endorsements come in.
Are the poems in Dust any good?
One of my major concerns with gathering these poems together to be published was whether I was too close to the work to be truly objective about its quality. The last thing I wanted was to offer a collection that was so personal it alienated people. One of the major points behind the project, besides raising money for CALM and UKSOBS is to connect, and create conversation around what is a challenging subject.
My bursary from Raven Studios allowed me to take time to polish and hone the poems, look at which needed to be included and which needed to be left in my notebooks. It also allowed me to engage the services of Oliva Tuck as my editor. Olivia is an incredibly talented poet, recently longlisted for the Rialto Nature and Place prize, and part of publications such as Tears in the Fence and Lighthouse Journal. She is also kind and insightful with her feedback and suggestions. I expected to feel nervous at handing over my work to be analysed and “corrected” (for want of a better word) but in all honesty I was simply proud, and hopeful.
Those who know me know that critique isn’t something I generally embrace. As with so many other aspects of writing though, I seem to have a different attitude when it comes to writing. I want all the criticism, all the suggestions, all the tiny changes. A simple shift of line break or switch of a comma can make the difference between a poem being nicely competent and truly singing from its soul. Olivia’s suggestions helped me to polish my work into something I felt proud of, and that felt worthy of the job I wanted it to do.
Are the poems in Dust any good ? – part two
The second part of gathering confidence to send these poems out to the world was to ask for endorsement. Now, bear in mind I have absolutely no experience of this, no idea of the etiquette and no real understanding of proper channels to go through. I simply woke up one morning and decided to send emails to three people I’ve worked with, and who’s work I admire, and see what happened. I had a little cry when each person happily agreed to read the work, and to spend time analysing and commenting it.
Endorsements for Dust
Endorsement for Dust from Wendy Pratt
The first person I approached was Wendy Pratt. Wendy has been a source of gentle encouragement through several of the courses I’ve taken with her, and is someone I feel cares about and values the work I create. Here’s what Wendy has to say about Dust
The poems in this collection exist in the liminal place in which traumatic grief places us. This negative space is expressed in the careful use of white space on the page, the gentle, delicate cut of language. These are elegant, controlled but brutal poems in which love settles as dust over the remains of loss leave the reader with the sense of time stood still, where grief is simultaneously happening in the past and the present. A beautiful collection of poems from an intelligent and talented poet.
Cue tears. It’s amazing to read nice things about something that means so much and contains so much of myself.
Endorsement for Dust from Jane Commane
Next I got in touch with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press. It four years since Nine Arches selected me for their Dynamo mentoring scheme, and Jane has been a superb support. Asking for endorsement took a bit of courage – Jane hasn’t seem very much of my recent work, and I was half expecting a kind “thanks but no thanks”. She agreed, and after an anxious week or two (with me thinking “oh she hates them, I must never poet again”) I received these wonderful words.
Kathryn Anna Marshall’s pamphlet Dust opens with an image of weightlessness – and through these skillful and courageous poems, she examines the shockwave of grief experienced by families when a loved one dies by suicide, leaving the foundations of their lives irrevocably uprooted. Here, we encounter the “little sister” who “looks to the sky / and wonders / about gravitational / collapse”, navigate the memories of the before and the after, and hear the deep, resounding heart-song of loss.
Marshall’s attentive poetry takes great care here to precisely map the terrain of a very particular kind of bereavement, and to demarcate the shape that the pain and anguish of absence takes in her tender, acutely-observed words.
Yep, you guessed it – more tears. The poem Jane refers to is one of my favourites in the book, and the feeling of “they’ve got it” is one to bottle. I still tear up reading this now. For so many reasons.
Endorsement for Dust from Ian Humphreys
My boldest email was to Ian Humphreys. I loved Ian’s collection Zebra, and have been lucky enough to be part of two workshops he has facilitated. I wasn’t sure if this was great grounds for asking for an endorsement, but he did say something nice about something I wrote during one of the classes, so I thought I’d take a chance.
Yet again I was happily surprised, yet again I had a little anxious wait ( a learning point – silence does not mean people hate my work) and yet again I received the most beautiful close reading and understanding of the poetry in Dust.
These are poems of love and loss, where ‘dust’ not only embodies death but something tangible – the weight of grief itself, which ‘settles like ash / gritty teeth chalk tongue/swallow / it down’.
Kathryn Anna Marshall writes beautifully and with candour on survival and trauma. The world she conjures is lit with pain and confusion, the realm of those left behind. Details are steeped in importance, ‘at twelve minutes past eight / they cremated you’; dreams and possessions stir memories, regrets; and with heart ache comes harsh clichés, ‘You learn legs do go / from beneath’. Yet hope belongs to the living, and together, these tender, potent elegies are a songbook to the ‘soft promise’ of spring.
Endorsement for Dust from Lewis Wyn Davies
Finally I approached Lewis Wyn Davies. Lewis is, like me, an emerging poet from Shropshire. The illustration Saffron Russell did for his pamphlet Comprehensive inspired me to get in touch with him to find out more about their project – without their support and interest, I’d probably still be floundering about, unsure of what to do with my work. Here’s what Lewis has to say
Dust is a poignant pamphlet that bravely navigates grief and the immeasurable loss felt after Marshall’s brother took his own life. These heartfelt and powerful poems try to explain the thought process and steps to recovery that she undertook after such personal trauma. But they also encourage us to look out for, and engage with, one another more to prevent such tragedies happening again elsewhere.
The next stage…
These endorsements do more than bolster my confidence – although that is an outstanding benefit, especially with such a difficult subject. They are an important part of the next stage of my fundraising campaign.
Whilst the Crowdfunder donations are ticking up nicely, my aim is to sell Dust to as many people as possible. I am hoping to sell to those people I know support my work and who are interested in my writing, but to raise the amount I want to, need a wider audience, and that means getting into bookshops. Again, I have no idea of the etiquette, the whys and wherefores of how to do this, and I’m not aiming for the shelves of WHSmith or Waterstones (yet). My hope is that endorsement from people I know are respected in the poetry world and beyond, will make the book appealing to some of the indie bookshops that pepper our high streets.
The next stage is yet another challenge, of selling, persuading, and encouraging people to take a chance on a book from a new writer. Fingers crossed they will.
I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point.
Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so?
The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine.
I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things.
I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity.
So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work. Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest.
The first blog of 2022. A slow start for me –I’ve noticed I tend to hibernate from around the beginning of December. Logical me says it’s because my M.E. addled brain can only cope with so much and the machinations of Christmas preparation and production are quite enough. I do continue to journal, and I do write the odd scrap, but very little else. Less logical me imagines that I’m secretly part tortoise and really should be tucked away in a hay-filled cardboard box like Freda from Blue Peter.
The first couple of years this “wintering” happened, I felt an odd combination of worry and guilt – almost as though poetry was a needy puppy that requires constant attention to function well. I think poetry is more cat like in nature. It simply exists and will manage well alone – but will blossom into something quite wonderful when proper care and nurture is given. I have learned to wait for it to unfurl and whisper words in the early hours, draw me back to work. It’s a delicious feeling and something that signals the start of my writing year.
With that in mind, I always try to have a couple of courses booked for the opening months of the year as way in to writing again and to give me the structure I need. My first one began this week my bursary place on Recharge Your Writing from the wonderful Nine Arches Press. I love Nine Arches approach to poetry. They were the first indie publisher I encountered and their fresh, no-nonsense approach was a revelation. They offer a catalogue of publications that swoop through so many subjects and styles, underpinned by an authenticity and quiet fury. I’ve also enjoyed using two of their books “How to be a Poet” and “The Craft” guides for self-study, so I was really looking forward to this course.
I wasn’t disappointed. Led by the inimitable Caleb Parkin, our group of sixteen poets spent two hours exploring all the ways to play with language and poetry. I discovered a host of online resources including word generators, title-o-matic and a fab site that takes you anywhere in the world at random. We wrote together and individually, plus we made use of breakout groups which meant I was actually able to speak – talking to one person is a lot less scary than talking to 16. I’ve come away with a sense of play, a sense of joy about writing, a whole heap of inspiration and a new poem that I think may develop into something good.
What I’m reading
Every year I want to read more. It’s something that I need to do to improve my skills, and also to calm and balance my mind. Brain fog makes it hard. Scrolling makes it harder – especially with all these cheese and wine parties to unravel. From next week I intend to create a reading half hour at the start of each day. It’s something I did on and off last year, often with a little journal and reflection on what I read. I wrote more, and better and I noticed a sense of grounding. I thrive on routines, small things that I do each day that make me feel I have a framework and structure – safety points in the chaos of my brain I think.
I’ve started the year with non-fiction. Scoff is a fabulous book that deals with two of my favourite things – food and social history. I’m tumbling ideas for a new set of poetry that I think will consider food and its role in mental wellbeing, so this book is a solid background.
I also took advantage of Nine Arches sale and bought two new books – Be Feared by poet and artist Jane Burn, and What Girls Do in the Dark by Rosie Garland. I’ve had my eye on both of these for a while, and I’m excited to dive in.
My hopes for 2022
My biggest goal for this year is to get my pamphlet published. I feel like I can’t move on until this one is out. I’ve spent time crafting and redrafting and have absolute confidence in the poetry – the challenge is finding a publisher who feels the same. I only realised at the end of last year that most publishers are happy for simultaneous submission of longer work, which, when I consider the average turnaround time is several months makes absolute sense. Fingers crossed I’ll have news soon.
As well as brewing a new set of poems, I’ve also been given the opportunity to run my first workshops. Of course, my immediate thought was “I can’t do that” but then I realise I spent ten years designing and delivering training for people on subjects far less beguiling than poetry, and for classes where a good percentage had no interest in being there. I’m very excited and hope to have more news about this soon.
So that’s it. The first blog of 2022.More positive, despite everything, and with a strong sense of looking forward, becoming better and relishing the fact that I have this wonderful thing to enjoy as part of my life.
Writing a round up of my writing year comes with the twin mean girl whispers of “who’s going to care” and “don’t blow your own trumpet”. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to many people, and it’s a lot easier to hide behind a wall of coyness, and hope that someone else will do the praising. Being self employed means telling people about what I do falls squarely on my shoulders though, so here we are – a round up of this year’s adventures in poetry.
My overriding sense of this year is one of moving forward. Despite the pandemic, despite fluctuating health, I’ve done a lot of things that scare me. I’ve given poetry priority, I’ve attended more interactive classes, and carved out specific time to read, write and journal – even if that time is before I start work at 6am.
Selected and rejected – poetry submissions
This shift of attitude has paid off. I’ve had the confidence to send work to several print journals that I thought were too good for me and finish the year with work selected for publication in The Dawntreader, Dreich, and Lighthouse. I’ve also been brave enough to send out some of my less conventional pieces. Sledgehammer Lit has been a great joy both to read and submit to, and Streetcake gave a home to one of my favourite pieces from this year. I’ve also had work selected to be anthologised – one for Louise Mather’s charming Feline Utopia, and another for Broken Sleep Books Anthology of new Eco-Poetry.
In total I’ve sent 28 pieces out for publication and had 16 published – which I think is around a 60% selection rate, as well being long listed in a few competitions. Is this good? I’ve no idea. What is good is that I’ve sent out more work that I truly feel is “mine”. I’ve grown a little more confidence and a little more belief in the fire in my belly – the thing that keeps me going despite the knock backs and false starts, the sheer terror of placing my heart on a page and sending it out to be judged.
Rejection is hard and it is horrible, but whereas I used to sulk and think “well I can’t submit to them again” I’ve reached a point where I take the poem, look at it, see what can be improved and send it right back out. I cringe at the terrible errors and have learned that some pieces are just not meant for the light of day. Rather than seeking constantly validation from others, I’ve worked on being honest with myself about what’s not working, and being honest enough to say what I think is good. False humility is taught to many of us from a young age, and it’s a tricky one to shake off. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point, and it’s my no means a permanent state but I feel I’ve taken a step forward.
What has been different about poetry in 2021?
I began this year in a state of dilly dally, unsure, feeling defeated because my pamphlet submission had been rejected and in the usual January slump. As always, I had a new course lined up for the start of the year but unusually, this one had real time interaction with other poets. Actual speaking and reading aloud. From schooldays I’ve always been terrified of speaking in even the smallest groups. I sit, mull on what I want to say, try to find the courage to voice it and then either someone says it before me or simply speaks over me. So I shush, and say nothing and feel a bit disappointed in myself.
Now, ideally I’d be saying all that’s changed and I’m a vibrant and lively contributor to group discussion. I’m not. I still find it all excruciating and still feel endlessly frustrated with my lack of input. But – and here’s the thing – the positives of these courses have dramatically outweighed this negative. I’ve learned a huge amount from other’s suggestions during workshops, listened to some fantastic work being read and …drumroll please…read my own work aloud.
Reading poetry aloud
And this is the big thing, Not just because I think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to do this in real life one day, but because of how it’s helped me understand my work. Reading aloud is the greatest way to understand what works and what doesn’t. Reading to a workshop group helps me understand what chimes with others, what I’ve expressed well enough to make that connection, that bridge.
Spelt, Nine Arches Press, Raven Studios and the Free Little Gallery
One of my real “pinch me” joys this year has been my column for Spelt Magazine. I was amazed and terrified to have my pitch accepted. As ever Wendy Pratt (editor of Spelt and poet extraordinaire) gives the kind of feedback that makes my heart sing and I hope the columns have been as enjoyable to read as they were to write. It’s been a great project to work on and left me full of ideas for other pieces.
Local folk have come up trumps for me too. Raven Studios gave me a small bursary which allowed me time to write and hone my pamphlet, as well as funds for professional feedback from Olivia Tuck. The pamphlet is out at a couple of places and I hope to have news early next year…Even more local was my first poetry exhibition in the Coalbrookdale Free Little Gallery – a very cute bus stop at the bottom of my lane. Six pieces, along with photographs from myself and the exceptionally talented Bob Ford were on display. It feels good to have put something out in the community, and to gain an idea of the various themes that run through my work.
Finally, and completely out of the blue, I have been given a bursary place on an absolute dream of a course from Nine Arches Press. Being part of Nine Arches Dynamo mentoring scheme in 2018 gave me the courage to start on this poetry adventure, and this festive surprise cements the feeling that someone believes in my work. It feels like Christmas already and I can’t wait to start it early next year.
Next year? I hope to have homed my first pamphlet. I also want to explore more commercial opportunities – poetry postcards and bespoke work. I like the idea of placing poetry in the day-to-day lives and am plotting and planning ways to be more active in my lovely community.
I will read more, my aim is three poems each day and of course I will keep writing, keep submitting and maybe, maybe have pulled to gather of a full collection by the end of next year.
Thank you so, so much for reading, for being interested and for caring about what I do. It means the world to me.
round? Well yes it does I suppose. Food, heat, light,time to write. All the essentials. I send out a lot of invoices for writing work, and it still gives me a bit of a thrill (people pay me to write ). Today I sent out a slightly different one – to my local bookseller, The Ironbridge Bookshop. They stocked my poetry zine last year and have just sold the last one. Now I’m not going to be retiring to the Bahamas (after commission and the graphic designer’s fee I could just about get a day out in Brum) but this does feel special. There’s something about the fact that someone has walked into a shop, seen my work and liked it enough exchange some of their hard earned cash in order to take it home. It feels like validation I suppose – as though there is a market for my words, and that it genuinely connects with people.
I’ve spent my earnings on two more courses. One is with Spelt magazine all about how to submit to magazines, which I’m obviously doing but I feel I could perhaps do better, with a bit of practical help. The other is a workshop which sounds right up my street both in terms of method and subject. I’m not great in a classroom situation (thank you repressive girls’ school) and struggle to contribute but this workshop seems like it might be just the right balance of contribution and contemplation. My experience on my York CLL course has really shown me how much I learn from a workshop style, and how it builds on everything I’ve read about poetry in the last couple of years.
Things feel good at the moment. I mean obviously everything is terrible, but this tiny poetry aspect of my life feels like a refuge, rather than yet another point of worry. And refuge is, after all, one of the reasons I write.
You can buy Yes to Tigers from Ironbridge Bookshop, or direct from me – just email firstname.lastname@example.org x
However they’re dressed, not placing,we are not moving forward with work, your work is not right for us at this time, having work rejected hurts. Really.
The objective side looks at the number of entries, the people who had work accepted and rationalises. The tenacious side finds other places that are seeking submissions and submits. The side that distilled, dispersed, revised, redrafted and finally pressed send…that side wants to have a little cry. And stop putting itself through this.
Still, that does no good – what I want to learn is how to know what editors want – how do I understand? I really thought I’d chosen a good place for my pamphlet sub – but it wasn’t the case. There’s no feedback of course, so I don’t really know whether the work is terrible, or just not right – and if not, why not? And whilst I understand that time and resources are stretched I’d just really like to know – the whole process feels like grasping for smoke.
A lower ebb than usual. A longing for both time and health. Either would be good. Gloomy, to be honest. Send kittens.
My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.
For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.
We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.
This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction. More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.
The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.
Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.
This year has been one of my best. Ok, so that’s not entirely true – what I mean is, this year has been one of my best as a writer. I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted in several competitions, had various pieces published including one in actual print, which always feels super special, plus I’ve published an illustrated poetry zine. Compared to the gloom and despondency I felt about my work at the start of the year, I finish the year feeling positive – about writing at least- and I put it all down to poetry prompts.
Why do poetry prompts help ?
For me it works in two ways. Firstly, it’s the element of playfulness. A prompt kick starts my mind, starts the language and rhythm circling. It may not be a subject I like or would consider, but once I give the words time, often something good emerges. Often something terrible emerges too and that’s also cool. It’s all writing and it doesn’t all need to be seen.
I’ve learnt that I either write something super quick, like my shortlisted 100word poem/story for Lightbox Originals winter competition, or I need to spend several weeks thinking, tweaking, revising. I guess this is true for most writers. I think the greatest thing that working with poetry prompts has given me is a sense of fun and possibility. I love writing again in a way that seemed impossible at the beginning of the year.
Where do all these poetry prompts come from?
Ah now this is my secret weapon. If you follow my blog, you’ll know I’ve taken several “prompt a day” courses, created and run by Wendy Pratt. It’s a simple idea with immense results. I benefit from the discipline of daily prompts. I also benefit form being part of a very kind online writing group that’s associated with each course. I’m not a great group person, but I’ve felt welcome, safe, and confident enough to share my work and seek feedback.
The other aspect of this is that I’m reading countless poems each day, understanding what works, understanding how a quirk of word or comma can completely change the feel of a poem. I’m also learning what a huge range of responses a small group of people will have to a prompt. There’s no sense of “getting it wrong”. A lot of this has to be down to the attitude held by Wendy herself – even the simple fact that she allows some of us to pay a little less for the courses (and gives excellent way of self-assessment) shows an understanding that this sort of thing really is a luxury and helped me feel there was a place for me here. It’s a good feeling.
As the year draws to a close, I feel aware of myself as a writer. My work has grown tremendously over the last twelve months; I see a stark difference between what I’m writing now and the work in Yes to Tigers for example. I seem to have a bit more confidence, and I’m definitely having a lot more fun.
I’ve given my site a bit of refresh – I’ve a dedicated page for my published work, as well as an updated “Why this all began” page. News on my pamphlet submission will be coming in the next few months (and I am hating waiting – this is one of the biggest things I’ve done so far) plus I’ve the usual round of competition and journal entries.
By far the best news is that my recent ill spell seems to have passed and I’m relishing having two or three days a week where I feel able to write and work and feel very slightly free.
Wash your hands, stay safe, eat a mince pie, and read your favourite books. Maybe try a poetry prompt too.
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