Looking through a skylight

Yesterday evening saw an exciting event – the official launch of my exhibition with Maggie Cameron. What grew from a fun exercise for us both has become something that is bring genuine joy to people, and that is a wonderful thing.

Our Inktober poetry and art collaboration began by accident. I noticed Maggie had set herself a challenge to respond to the Inktober prompts by creating images of birds. I had my own October challenge of getting up early each morning to write, and I love to write about birds. And so a perfect match was born. I’d signed up to a Dawn Chorus writing group too, so the timing early couldn’t have been better.

The poems are different to my other work – more fact inspired I suppose. There’s a lot of fun in some of them and a fair bit of anger and frustration at the world in others. The poems in the exhibition are redrafted versions of the ones on my Inktober page, and it’s interesting to see the changes.

Things I loved about last night

Seeing my work on display – I love the marriage of poetry and art. It’s something I’ve seen a lot in various cities and it’s brilliant to have it here in Ironbridge.

Hearing the good things people say. An artist I’ve admired for years bought three cards because she thought the words and pictures were so perfect together. That’s something to treasure. So many people asked if Maggie and I will produce a book, and so many loved the idea and the content.

Seeing people spend time reading my words – it’s something that still surprises me. Self belief is not my natural state and watching people seem to enjoy my work is an alien thing.

Things I wish were different

I wish I had read. This would have been a perfect opportunity – but so close to Dad dying I just didn’t trust myself not to crack. A love of birds is something we shared from when I was tiny, and so many of the poems are intertwined with him. There’s one about a Mandarin Duck which inspired a poem sparked by one of the last conversations we had – Dad wasn’t much of a talker so this kind of memory is a precious thing. One day I’ll read it aloud.

I wish I felt less ill. Emotional exhaustion has numbed me a little, and sparked a lot of M.E. symptoms. I wasn’t as engaged as I could have been, which makes me sad. Lee, Maggie and Molly have literally take the reigns and made this happen, and as you know, sitting back and letting others do the work is not a comfortable place for me.

Will there be a book?

So many people asked this last night – it’s definitely something we will explore. The costs to publish an art type book will be a good deal more than a simple pamphlet, so it may be time to get the crowdfunding hats on again!

Thanks for reading, if you’re local to Ironbridge do pop over to 86’d to enjoy some delicious coffee and cakes, as well as looking at our work.

If you’re not local and you’d like to buy some of our poetry and art in postcard form, just send me an email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

A belated New Year post and news of an exhibition

New Year is somewhat delayed for me. As many of you know my Dad died over Christmas and the busyness of handling his affairs, supporting mom and the general work of grief has taken up much of my time. Writing has been present as a comfort and means of clarifying emotion, but other than that has taken a back seat.

An exhibition of poetry and pictures in Café 86’d Ironbridge

This doesn’t mean nothing has happened. Thanks to my talented, kind friends and neighbours Maggie Cameron and Lee Proudfoot, our collaborative exhibition of poetry and pictures is able to go ahead. We’re exhibiting our Inktober work in a fabulous local café 86’d in Ironbridge. The exhibition starts next weekend and will run for the month of February. It’s a chance to see Maggie’s stunning work, read some bird inspired poems and eat some of the best vegetarian and vegan food in Shropshire. You’ll be able to buy postcards of the work too.

A new poetry project

I’ve also begun plans for my next collection. After much saving I can finally afford to engage a professional mentor to help me polish my poems and explore the best way to publish them. What was originally an idea for a pamphlet has grown into what I think may be an interesting collection, bringing together key facets of my work under one thread. I’m excited to begin work and look forward to sharing my progress with you.

There’s not a great deal more to say – this is the first day I’ve spent with my work since losing Dad. It will always be bitter sweet – he was very proud (if slightly baffled) by my writing, and everything now comes with the backthought of wishing I could tell him what I’m up to. I’m thankful for all my lovely friends and fellow poets for their support in so many ways.

Much love and thank you for reading

Kathryn xx

A new poetry film and other thoughts

I’ve spent my morning creating a poetry film. It uses a piece I wrote about twelve months ago. based on the charming tale of the tiny owl found in the Rockefeller Christmas tree. The original poem is a “blackout” poem inspired by a transcript of one of the many news reports at the time and first appeared on the fabulous Sledgehammer Lit earlier this year.

I love blackout poems – the unsaying of things, the contrast between what the brain sees, what it knows and what it thinks it sees is a long-time conundrum and this type of poetry presents a powerful visual vehicle to express this. Transforming it to a film seemed like the logical thing to do and you can watch it here.

I’ve had news of another acceptance this week, for another more experimental poem which will be part of the next issue of Spelt magazine. I’m learning that I know when something is working – there’s a specific unnameable feeling that emerges. I need to listen to it more.

Poetry is a powerful thing. I’m reading Cooking with Marilyn by Angela Readman at the moment. It’s one of those books that stops me in my tracks. Inside the prettiest of blue covers are words that illuminate the realities of living with trauma, as well as illuminating the absurdity of living in the spotlight. It’s clever, tender, heartrending and the kind of poetry I dream of writing.

Which gets me thinking – what is missing in my own work? I think it’s the sense of other. I tend to write very domestic, down to earth stuff, which is fine, I’m often a no-nonsense type of person. My best/favourite work it the work that goes beyond this though – stuff that I read back and almost don’t recognise. Fear of being airy-fairy stops me I think – the old “who does she think she is” – what’s the answer?

The answer, I think is to shift my focus back to the words – I’ve had a taste of publishing and love the thrill of having work accepted. I write to be read, after all. But the temptation is to learn to the test, to try to figure out the current zeitgeist and reach the point where when people ask, “would I know your work” I can shout “yes!” and point at a billboard. And then the magic fades.

 A zeitgeist is just that – something that captures a mood. It can’t be manufactured or pre-empted, not without diluting it’s very point. Popularity comes almost by accident – it’s the result of  a huge amount of hard work of course, but the conflation of moment, time, people, cannot be predicted. Trying to anticipate and pre-create simply reduces the validity and impact of the work itself.

All this sounds like an excuse, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking “well she would say that wouldn’t she”. Honestly though, this whole business is a pull between longing for success, for publication, for recognition, and longing to immerse myself in words, absorb and bathe in language and pay no mind to the outside world whatsoever. Getting the balance right it what makes a great poet I guess. Until I reach that point, I shall keep reading, writing, gnashing my teeth at rejection and being childishly delighted every time a poem is accepted for publication.

Thank you for reading, as always

Kathryn xx

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

My first poetry film

Oh wow oh wow oh wow

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.

an image of sunlight though winter trees

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.

Thank you all

You can find out more about the story of Dust here and if you’d like to buy a copy, the simplest way is to email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

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

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.

How to write a book

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.

Wish me luck , and thank you

Kathryn

And they’re off…

The first batch of Dust is finally off into the big wide world. I’m excited to hear your feedback. It’s such a magical feeling to package all these – a bit of a pinch me moment.

If you’ve not yet got round to buying a copy of Dust just click the button, or send me an email if you’re not a fan of online spending.