A whistle stop post

It never rains eh? I’m back to work after a very extended birthday break and suddenly swimming in a whole heap of work. There’s precious little time for basic living never mind poeting. The frustration is as always how little capacity I have. Even with a split shift arrangement I can only really manage about four hours before my brain turns to mush – and that leave no useful functions for anything else.

Having said 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.

Our fundraising

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 kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

To continue to support this work, share this article and post your reviews of Dust on Facebook or Instagram

And so we writers keep going

Inner critic. Inner cricket. Which would be worse? One spends its time pulling apart each morsel of effort, one, I imagine, spends its time attempting to fell stumps and win points.

So much work is disregarded because I think it is trite, obvious, too simple. Yet I read prize winning pieces that seem to me to be just that. They’re not, of course. They are simply speaking truth in a way that is easy to understand. Being oblique is one of my worst habits as a writer (and possibly as a person) I like to create a puzzle, a riddle because for me the worst thing is to be thought to be too obvious.

And why is this the case? Well, I think it comes down to our old friend imposter syndrome. I still don’t think I’m good enough, definitely don’t think I belong and constantly feel I have to prove my worth. And I do this by swerving the obvious, clouding the true emotion. I’m not sure if this is helpful, hindrance, my style or just an annoying quirk. What I am sure of is that the constant placing of one’s emotions on a page means constantly placing myself in a place of vulnerability which, for someone who is constantly alert to attack, seems a little foolish.

I began this post a week or two ago. Maybe it was the moon causing me to feel so blue. Maybe it was the up and down of self-publicity. Maybe it’s just a bit hard to be sometimes.

I feel less vulnerable today – positive feedback, a new project, a way forward and determination all play their part. Kind words are the greatest gift though and I do so appreciate them – both public and private, the value of someone taking the time to say to me “I read your work and I like what you do” is enormous.

Monday saw the opportunity to take part in a workshop about building a poetry pamphlet. It’s ostensibly for people seeking to enter this year’s pamphlet competition from Mslexia. I’m no where near ready to enter but nonetheless it gave me a raft of useful tips to help me create a pamphlet “where every poem earns its place”. No mean feat to be honest but I feel I have some clear direction – I’ve also got a title which is a huge step forward.

As well as looking at my wider body of work, and what to do with it all, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on poems inspired my neighbour and friend Maggie Cameron. Maggie’s an incredibly skilled artist, and each year she produces wonderful images for Inktober. In an effort to maintain my morning writing practice, started as part of the Dawn Chorus writing group, I’ve logged on to see Maggie’s latest image each day. She does them before she heads to her day job as head of art – I write before starting my day job in copywriting. I find this incredibly pleasing somehow – genuine creativity for the joy or creating.

Maggie has adapted the prompts this year to create a series about birds which is a real joy – I write a lot about birds (I think they’re second only to the moon in terms of poet inspiration) and I’ve had so much fun writing these pieces each morning.

It’s interesting the different directions  each image has taken me. Some have been purely about the bird – a rage on climate change or the foolishness of humans – others have sparked a deeper response, calling to mind mothering, loss, or freedom. Most of all I’ve enjoyed simply writing for writing’s sake. It’s been a while.

You can read my Inktober poems here and you can buy Maggie’s beautiful work in her Etsy shop

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

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. 

Reading and writing in April

What I’m reading

For those of you familiar with my blog and progress as a poet, you’ll recognise the name Wendy Pratt. I’ve been a participant in many of Wendy’s online workshops and am sure that my work would not be where it is today without the benefit of these clever, kind groups that coax and charm the best words from each other’s pens.

I recently started reading Wendy’s fourth collection of poems When I think of my body as a horse, and I’d like to tell you about the impact it has had on me and why I think you may enjoy it (even if you think you don’t like poetry). This isn’t a review of style and form – there are many of these available by people with more expertise and skill than I, like this one in The Yorkshire Times, it’s simply my responses to the work.

 I began reading When I Think of My Body as a Horse with a little uncertainty. I knew the book had a core theme  around child loss and having never, ever wanted children of my own, I wasn’t sure if I would relate to the poems in any way beyond compassionate care. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the first poem For the Bridge Beneath Which I Became a Flock of Pigeons it was clear this collection was way more than what I imagined. The poems are searingly honest accounts of the complications and terrors of being human, from the messy and embarrassing to raw, ragged pain that comes with grief, interspersed with pockets of tentative joy. Poems like The Lemon Tree and Love Letter to Scarborough on a  Saturday Night delve into the magic of being lost in music and of so many towns on a Saturday night, and the sad shock of reality ( the last lines of The Lemon Tree are a killer), before moving me to the exquisitely described tension of The Parole Office.

As I move through the pages, I find poems like Sleep that captures the beauty of everyday love, and poems like When Rabbits Die and The Leverets Dream that take me to a world between magic and reality. There are poems like Air that draw tears from I don’t know where (the same type  get when I hear a beautiful singing voice) poems that raise confused smile, and poems that absolutely explain the pain of loss. This is an extraordinary collection of work, and one that genuinely creates conversation, empathy and understanding about some of the most painful aspects of being human.

What I’m writing

I’m a little lacking in verve at the moment. After a flurry of writing, submissions and acceptances in the first quarter of the year, my brain is distracted by the joy of sowing and growing  – I feel happy and content in the beauty of my little backyard (despite the imminent build over the road) and am not delving far into emotions. I’m a rainy day poet perhaps, plus I’m never sure I have anything original to say about flowers, when it’s all been done so well before. I am about to embark on a new short course with York University Centre for Life Long Learning, so we’ll see what comes from that, plus I’ve been engaged in NaPoWriMo through my April-write-a-thon workshop. So I am writing, but perhaps not feeling it as much as I’d like.

What’s the first rule of M.E. club?

Yep. Don’t overstretch yourself.

What have I done?

Overstretched myself. I’ve signed up for all the things, said yes to all the jobs and I’m just about coping…

The thing is, new year, new intentions, the weird belief that being in lockdown means I’m less busy (being in lockdown isn’t that different when you’ve got a chronic condition) and a good deal of need for distraction means my “no” filter is well and truly clogged.

Cat is disappointed with my lack of discipline

Starting the year with a rejection or two

is never ideal. It’s part of being a published writer, and I am less likely to weep and wail and snap pencils in half* than I used to be but it still hurts. One in particular was for a set of poems I’ve worked really hard on, and pinned a host of hopes to and the days after finding out they’d not been chosen oscillated between Pollyanna-like positivity and a touch of crushed despair. Putting your heart on a page to be judged will do that I guess. Add in the context of knowing people are going through a whole lot worse than you, others are working round the clock to save lives, continue education and feed people who are too stubborn to wear a mask, and the whole business of submitting poetry feels a little hollow.

Poetry isn’t pointless though

nor is music, art, tv (unless it’s actually Pointless of course) film or any hybrid collab you can shake a stick at.  It helps distract, comfort, crystallise emotion. It might make someone laugh or be the gateway for unshed tears. I’ve said before, the thing that means the most to me is when people getting in touch to say what I’ve written resonated with them, moved them, mattered to them. And of course I’ll keep going because that appears to be what I do, what I stick at despite the challenges and what I seem to be good at. I’ve sent another batch of submissions out today…I’ll spend the next week or so checking my inbox far too often, then forget about them and get either a fabulous surprise or another knock. And so the cycle continues.

Reading is hard at the moment

because I’ve taken on all the things, when I stop, it’s hard to focus on reading. I know this is bad – my brain needs food to function. Having said that I’ve enjoyed a fabulous collection of short stories Black Vodka by Deborah Levy is a collection that explore all kinds of love, in all kinds of cities and all kinds of lives. I miss travel, I miss people, and this collection of stories has snaked its way around my heart and mind. The writing is so beautiful I can almost taste it as I read.

Poetry wise I’m revisiting an unfinished book Urn & Drum by Lila Matsumoto. The poems are sparse. They leave me with a sense of hanging in the air. I enjoy the quiet that surrounds the words, the focus that inhabits each line. It’s a collection I’ll return to.

Halfway through February

already and it’s Valentine’s day! I love this day, the hearts, the kitschness, the overcommercialism. I am taking the weekend off to spend time surrounded by paper hearts  eat every heart shaped item of food I can find and drink every pink drink produced to celebrate the brutal martyrdom of a 5th century member of the clergy I can lay my hands on. At this point in winter, it really is a case of any excuse for a celebration and I really do love a heart or two.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, wash your hands, eat your greens and hug a tree

Kathryn xx