I’m writing again

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.

Read poems – save lives. Project update.

I’m almost a week in to my crowdfunding project and things are going well. Funding is coming in slowly and it seems like there will be enough interest in the book for it to go to press.

I’ll be honest, this is hard. It’s so much more than a book of poems I suppose. It’s a stage of grief – I won’t say final because I suspect it never ends. It’s part of my goodbye to my brother and part of my learning to live with the jumble of shame, sadness, anger and guilt that weaves through the very real fact that I don’t have a brother any more.

I have spent the last week wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if I should just do a sponsored run (!) whether that would get more money. It probably would. But this isn’t just about money. .

Until we start talking about suicide, about the impact on those left and the things that lead people to decide the world will be better without them then this will keep happening. The work I’ve written is honest, brutal and suffused with love. These are poems that will start conversations. Framing this work as a fundraiser places this work firmly in the poetry with purpose category. And I suppose this is another way of absolving the never ending “if onlys” that pepper my thoughts each day. It’s difficult to revisit all those feelings, but the support and care I’m getting is so helpful. Thank you.

Over the next few days I’ll be writing more about the charities, and about the look and feel of the book. In the meantime to find out how to support the project financially head over to my crowdfunding page.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/poetry-for-calm—help-prevent-suicide

Publicity is king in this hideous world of algorithms, so even if you can’t donate, please interact with and comment on any posts you happen to see xx

In praise of understanding

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. 

Wintering and waking -gentle steps into poetry for 2022

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.

My trusty planner and two grand new notebooks for this 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.

Thank you, as ever, for reading,

Kathryn xx