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.

The story of Dust – part three

I can’t believe this project has been running for less than three weeks. The support from everyone is wonderful on so many levels. Targets have been exceeded, messages have bolstered fragile esteem and love has strengthened my resolve to keep going, even in the tough early stages.

I’ve learned to be bold, to ask even when it feels far too cheeky. I’ve learned how many people expereince challenges with their own mental health, how fearful so many of us are that we may reach the tipping point. I’ve leaned how many people have lost someone. I’ve learned that despite all of this there is always hope. There has to be.

Progress is happening in other areas too. I’ve had a beautiful selection of cover ideas from Saffron Russell.

When Saffron sent the proofs, her words “see which ones call to you” let me know my work was in safe hands. It’s a joy to work with someone who really seems to care about my words and want to bring them to life.

Of the six ideas, this is the one that called loudest. To me it speaks of separation, but not total absence. This mirrors my experience of grief, and mirrors the way I still feel that drift towards disbelief, and still feel a connection.

It’s a gentle cover too. This is a harsh subject, but whilst grief is hard and horrible it is born from love. Reading back through these poems, that almost seem as though they were written by someone else, that love is what comes through.

It’s an odd feeling if I’m honest, being happy to have made this book. Because, of course, I’d rather not have had to write these poems. I’d rather he was living a deeply ordinary life around the corner, or a deeply extraordinary life in herding yaks in Outer Mongolia. Or something in between. But none of these things are true, or ever will be and so I have written, and try to make something good from something terrible. I hope.

Thankyou, as ever.

To find out more about Poetry for Calm, and to pre-order Dust as well as exclusive gifts by Saffron Russell head to my Crowdfunder Page

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. 

Money makes the world go….

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 kathrynannawrites@gmail.com x

How is it the end of August?!

I mean – how is that possible? This month has meandered away under a cover of cloud.

The end of summer usually makes me sad – warm weather means less pain for one thing. I miss eating outside, watching the swifts and martins overhead and the general floatiness that comes from spending every day in long skirts and flip-flops. Autumn is beautiful, of course, and winter is pleasingly austere but summer ? Summer is for smiling and pretending I live somewhere altogether less stoical.

I feel different this year. Perhaps it’s because much of summer has been taken up with house renovation, perhaps it’s the insistent gloom of the skies over Coalbrookdale. Perhaps it was that glorious week on the Welsh coast. I don’t feel as bereft and wary of winter as usual.

It could also be because I feel I’ve regained some equilibrium. I’m writing more mindfully, rather than scribbling from a turbulent mind, which inevitably means work that is more poem than outpouring – ultimately, work that is better.

I’ve also been more proactive with submissions – looking at my Trello page and seeing I’ve only three pieces in circulation was a bit of a shock . I spent some time reviewing, redrafting and refining some of the poems I’ve made this year as well as seeking homes for them. Always nerve racking. Always exciting. Always full of “why can’t I just be happy with gardening instead of putting myself through this”.

Camping at Caerfai seems like years ago

Good news too – I’ve had a piece of flash accepted for publication by Sledgehammer Lit. who are fast feeling like my poetry-spirit home. I love what they publish and I love that they seem to like my stuff. This piece is one that I love and that I’ve found hard to home – so I’m thrilled it’s going to be part a journal I admire. A couple of poems were declined – but that’s how it goes.

New projects are brewing too – a couple of gentle collaborations with friends whose art I adore may be coming to fruition in the not too distant future.

I seem to have a new direction in terms of how I want to write. My aim is to set aside a week – autumn I hope – and do my own mini writing retreat. I’ll have to stay at home obviously, but I’m going to try to minimise other work and manage domestic duties so I can focus on reading,writing and exploring new directions. Or I might go and make furniture in the Scottish Highlands like Cate le Bon.

So summer is closing, with a whimper or a bang remains to be seen, but I feel positive about my work, and positive about where I’m going – slowly, as ever, but I’m moving. And that’s what counts.

If you’d like to comission a poem, for yourself or as a gift then you can ! I love to create bespoke poetry – it’s a privilege to be asked to express people’s love and care for each other. If you’d like to find out more just click on Poems from the Hare at the top of the page, or send me a message kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

The words do come back

For the first time in months I’ve woken with a poem in my head. It’s not terribly good,but it’s there, and now it’s tapped out into my noteapp waiting to be read.

This year has been strange. Much of it has been taken with trying to save an old garden opposite our houses – it’s a bit wild, and has been consciously neglected by the current owners to facilitate their somewhat ironic plans to build an eco house. The upside of this neglect created a home for such an array of birds and wildlife – it’s sad that it will be torn up under the cloak of sustainability.

Wild garden – soon to replaced by a house

Trying to save this garden has taken lots of time, lots of writing, lots of emotion and lots of the energy I usually use to write creatively. The decision has been made and the developers got their way. I am happy we tried our best to save it, happy we were on the side of good, and above all happy that my happiness does not depend on something that causes so much distress to the land and our village community.

So there’s been that. There’s also been the curious challenges associated with everything reopening. I’m thrilled to be able to see people, thrilled to go out but also really don’t want to get back on the merry-go-round of exhaustion and recovery. I seem to have forgotten how to modify and manage myself – interaction is so terrifying/exciting it sets all my alert sensors off and inevitably I end up completely floored. I need to go back to monitoring my baseline and careful planning….

I’m also in an oddly buoyant patch of copy and content writing work – this means my brain can barely find the creativity to read, never mind write. Where 5.30am starts were once for poetry and journalling,they’re now for product descriptions and web content. Work is wonderful, and the money is essential but I’m very much out of bakance. I’ve missed the calm of the last year, an realise how much I crave either absolute routine or absolute spontaneity. At the moment I’m in a limbo mix of the two that I’m not enjoying.

The words do come back

There’s a hazel tree in the woods at the back of the house that I sit under and it’s become a place to just be, and to let my mind wander and recover a little. The words are slowly coming back, the thrill at reading good poetry is returning and I’m starting to feel like myself again, to feel like my mind is my home.

Publications in June

Precious few subs have meant precious few pieces published (odd that) I do have two new pieces out this month. I am – the story of a tiger girl is part of Streetcake magazine and another due to be published in the amazing Sledgehammer Lit. Issue two of Spelt is due to land soon too – it’s going to be incredible and I’m still a bit giddy to be a regular columnist for them.

What’s next?

I’m setting aside a day for writing. I have a commissioned piece to finish, and perhaps a new piece to start. I’ve discovered some exciting new places to submit to too, thanks to a Twitter thread from Elizabeth M. Castillo. I don’t think I’ve given myself a day like this in months. It’s quite wonderful.

What is micro fiction?

If you follow my social media you’ll have seen my delight at being shortlisted for Lightbox Originals‘ 100 word story . Being shortlisted for anything is always exciting and this is no exception – especially because it’s a genre of creative writing that I adore but can find somewhat challenging.

Back to the matter in hand. Put simply, micro fiction is a very, very, very short story. It has a beginning, middle and end like any other story, but unlike any other story it has very few words. This particular competition set a limit of 100 words. Not many at all.

Very happy to be shortlisted for the #100words story competition from Lightbox Originals

Is micro fiction like poetry?

For me it feels like it is. I use rhythm and pace to create atmosphere, and every word has to count – there’s no room for waste. I’m not a chatty sort of soul and I think this is why I enjoy working with so few words.

I’m also aware of a change in my understanding of poetry. Reading more widely has helped me to see that the work I really love is the work that tells a story – takes me somewhere. I’m seeing a change in my recent work moving away from description and introspection towards more imaginative work. I think it’s a sign of personal development (remember all that therapy), as well as the improvement I’ve made as a poet,largely through the excellent prompt a day courses courtesy of Wendy Pratt.

Isn’t that a bit of a big headed thing to say?

It certainly feels like it is; I’m part of the generation that has the phrase “pride before a fall” running through my veins, for whom thinking I am good at anything is worse than being good at nothing.

Despite this I’m sticking my neck out and saying I am a better writer now than I was this time last year. I can see how I’ve progressed – both in poetry and in my paid work as a copywriter. I think that’s ok to say. Actually, I think it’s essential. If I never see that I’ve improved, where is the impetus to continue ?

Reading more and more poetry this year like this gorgeous book from Robert McFarlane

Can you really tell a story in 100 words?

You can tell a story in six. Maybe less. It all relies on understanding that the story is in the reader – they bring their experiences to match with your words. The result may be a quiet ding or a church bell level resonance, but the meeting is there and that’s what makes the story, however many words there are. The skill lies in having something to say that others will warm to, and saying it well. The best writers have an extra bit of magic that I haven’t figured out yet.

When will you know the results?

The results are announced next week. It would be amazing to be placed but, honestly, just entering is a huge achievement never mind getting to the shortlist. Putting work out is always scary, and knowing it’s being judged is extra scary. I’m quite matter of fact about losing and getting rejections these days – it’s a side effect of trying I suppose – but it’s always an absolute joy to gain a glimmer of achievement.

Thanks for reading – I’m much better this week, and hoping I can fully regain some balance to my health soon. Your support means the world!

Stay safe, wash your hands etc.

Kathryn

Xx

My illustrated poetry zine inspired by work from artists around the Severn Gorge is available through Etsy or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com.

You can buy #YesToTigers in my Etsy shop or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

New adventures in poetry

Oh the gloom has lifted (just in time for Lockdown #2 hoorah) as it generally does these days. I have enjoyed some sunny days, I’ve a good clutch of  copywriting work which has made things a little less worrisome and I’ve had my first order for Poems from the Hare

Remnants of sunshine and food for the finches

Poems from the Hare ? What’s that? 

Put simply, I’m selling poems. Put less simply I’m creating bespoke work for people, based on what they tell me they want me to write about. After I’ve created the poem, I write them out, add some beautiful decoration and post them off, with the goal of bringing joy and love and happiness.I guess you might call it a business – although it’s easy to shy away from that term, and I know I‘ve felt uneasy about the whole idea of offering this service, as though I’m somehow devaluing the art. Then I realised that every other artist and maker I know sells their work, and I’m always eager to support them – so why do I feel different about this? 

I think it’s something to do with the way poetry is regarded. It’s either seen as a puzzle, something for the hyper intelligent, the well-to-do, or it’s somehow awful – think forced rhymes and saccharine greetings cards (although these do have their place especially for my Aunty). Poetry isn’t seen in the same way as painting or pottery, as something to just buy and enjoy because you like it. The myths and fuss mean there’s this mystery and worry about “understanding it” and finding the hidden meaning. I’ve had countless friends tell me they like a short story, but don’t “do” poetry. It’s almost not enough to just enjoy the way the words feel in your mouth as you say them, or the fact that it made you cry or smile or think of someone you love. It feels as saleable poetry is either so obscure that the highbrow fawn over it, or so marketable that it’s consumed like a handful of foam shrimps, leaving a slightly synthetic taste and a feeling of utter despair. */**

In short, I needed to get over myself. I love writing poetry, I love people reading it and I love,love, love it when the words I write move, delight  and last in their minds. 

Why Poems from the Hare

I love hares. 

To expand a little – I enjoy their place in mythology, I enjoy their place as a symbol for the persecuted, the unfairly hunted, the marginalised. I also love their gawkiness, their not-quite-beautiful look. Hares are not blessed with the cuteness of rabbits (which I also adore), they demand attention, then belt away across a field without a second glance. I’m also kind of affectionate towards them because my poem My death will greive foxes is one of the first peces I felt really proud of. It makes me happy still. 

The first commission

My first commission came a couple of days ago, and after my initial and utter delight, I experienced the usual rush of “oh my goodness I can’t do this” and that feeling that I’m going to be found out as not a real poet ( I read a comment once “there are poets and Poets “ It’s haunted me a little ever since – what if I’m not the one in italics. Do  want to be? How would I know? Will you know? ) and then I remembered that I really, really want to do this.

It’s a scary thing. A gift of words. I started by emulating the work I’ve seen on Etsy – very appealing, clear, classic rhyme. Straightforward solid poems. It felt like wearing a pair of beige court shoes. So I thought again, and decided to write in the way would normally write, to write with something to say, rather than something to sell. I sent a tentative draft, full of caveats and apologies and  you know what ? I’d got it right! My hunch about what might be needed paid off. I’ve another draft or two ( they have to sit a little) but I like what I’ve written and feel confident that it will do the things I talked about above. It’s made me happy. 

So I have added another string to my bow as it were. I will still need to spend days writing about bifold doors and oven cleaning, but if i can slot in a few beautiful bespoke poems along the way I’ll be delighted. 

If you’re (or anyone you know) is interested in commissioning one of my Poems from the Hare just email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and I’ll get back in touch within a day or so. 

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Stay safe 

Kathryn xx

*I may be overegging this a tad

** this isn’t true – there are many wonderful small presses and journals designed to explode this myth. You’ll find them in your local indie bookshop or online. Nine Arches Press is a a good place to start, as well as Mslexia, Riggwelter Press and Paper Swans

A few English haiku about faking bravery on the back of a vespa in Saigon

Exactly what the title says. Hope you enjoy them. If you get to the end there’s a short poem about a journey on an ox cart too.

Haiku after faking bravery on the back of a Vespa in Saigon

My helmet alerts
I am tourist, in letters
and mew fear of death.

A thousand thousand
drawn to this neon white noise
cloud promise of life.

I almost hear air.
Knuckles tighten, grip safety bar
metal slick with fear.

Street lights beckon you
hey, why not cross? Scooter horn
says hi. Heels are silent.

From an ox-cart in Cambodia

Wood on wood on earth
rings bells of then.
Hear “hello”
we forget
to respond
in Khmer.