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

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.

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. 

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 final gift of 2020

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.

Christmas covid-style. Fire pit and family.

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.

I’ve been lucky to have this view for 20 years. It seems my luck has changed.


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.

Kathryn xx

Bees and bursaries

Tiny hiatus this week – my course with Wendy Pratt has finished, and I’ve a small break before my next course with Poetry School starts. I’m so grateful to be able to do these – funds aren’t abundant, and poetry is definitely a luxury, but both Wendy and the Poetry School offer discounted courses that mean I can take part in something even though getting out is tricky. I’m good at self-study, but there’s nothing quite as fab as getting feedback from other people and being able to read what other people are producing. I can’t recommend Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind enough – it’s been a great start to my writing year.

I had applied for a bursary to do my dream course at Arvon, sadly I didn’t get it (there was one bursary and many applicants), but I’m still glad I applied. The hum of disappointment is never far away it seems – just minutes before I got the news, I’d come out of a meeting where three poems have been accepted for something fab and exciting that’s happening later this year. It’s hard to keep up with the sudden changes of emotion to be honest.  I’ve set myself up for another barrage of bad news by sending out a new set of submissions today too, which means I’ll spend the next few days refreshing my inbox, before getting a rejection in about six months’ time.

All the business stuff is done for a week or two though. I’ve snuck a day from writing about cleaning and car grilles to grab some time for going through my notes from Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind, and frantically trying to finish The Ode Less Travelled. I’m looking closely at form at the moment, and I love the puzzle and challenge of matching structure with meaning.  In the interests of efficiency, and even fun, I might experiment by trying to structure some of fledgling poems. Anyone for a villanelle about a pyjama party?

I’m finishing my week by going to a real live workshop. It’s free, it’s just for a couple of hours, and it’s in  the local library which somehow feels less intimidating – I don’t feel like there will be loads of “proper” poets there. My first ever workshop. I’m scared, but so excited. I’ll report back next week.

In the meantime, here’s a poem that’s far too silly to submit anywhere, but it makes me giggle.

Bee Poem

First bee rings the bell of my window,

two notes to say he’s arrived.

I shout about rain,

he says that’s a pain,

shows me his furry behind

Dedication

I hated Record Breakers. It was incredibly dull (except for the domino challenges), and all that wholesome patience grated on me. It still does, even more so now I know it’s true.

Getting work published takes a long time. The first step is research. Which journal is most likely to like my work? Where’s open for submissions? Who’s judging competition x and have I read enough of their work to know their style and interests? Next, you submit. Follow the guidelines about word count, number of lines, preferred font. Write a good cover letter (not too long, but enough to show you’ve read the journal). Then you wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. I’ve had responses in a week. I’ve waited over six months. Some places accept simultaneous submissions, many don’t – so my work sits and waits too. It’s a frustrating process, but since many indy presses are run by tiny teams or volunteers, it’s understandable. The thrill of having something accepted is wonderful. Even a kind rejection (where they ask to see more work soon) is ok. The waiting is tough, but the best way to get round that is to throw myself into something new.

Cat is waiting to hear about his poem “Why do the mice all run away?”
Attingham park looking moody

I’m looking forward to Autumn now – although I miss the light terribly- it’s a time for squirrelling myself away and writing. Obviously Secret Severn work takes priority, and my goal is to get drafts done by Christmas. I’ll put them away for a while, then revisit and revise in the spring. I’ve got an urge to write stories again too, so I’m hoping to spend time with writing prompts and get some of these floating ideas down on paper. It’s a time of watching the garden fade and prepare itself for next year, reading all the things I’ve not got round to reading, and maybe watching a bit of Record Breakers*.

Thanks for doing such a great job last week, after my slightly awkward plea for interaction with my social media pages. If you’ve chance to do the same again that’s ace – plus I really love talking to you !

Click to read my published poetry or published flash fiction. You can read old drafts and work in progress by following the links on the menu.

*I’m probably not going to watch Record Breakers.

Pots and porcelain paper clay – Mike and Suki White

My last visit before the trail was to Mike and Suki White. They’re multi-talented, working with print, clay, and porcelain as well as being part of Wrekin Writers group. Their studio is tucked behind the Belfrey Theatre in Wellington, and it’s shared with several other ceramicists on the art trail.

On the day I visited, Mike was throwing pots, and Suki was working with porcelain paper clay. Mike explained the type of clay he was using, and about “grog”, ground up fired clay that’s used to give extra strength to pots.

As all good artists do, he made throwing the pots look effortless. Having taken up the invitation to have a go, I can confirm it’s not effortless. My attempts were hilarious, but I can see there’s something addictive about the feeling of creating something that manages to be useful and beautiful from a simple piece of clay.

There’s no fancy equipment, the finished shape and look of each piece depends entirely on the skill of the potter, and I think there’s something pleasing about this. Rather than something uniform and a little soulless, each piece that comes off the wheel has the imprint of the maker and is inherently unique.

One of Mike’s finished pieces

Suki’s work porcelain paper clay enchanted me. Porcelain is white, delicate and fragile – Suki takes all of these qualities and creates pieces that have movement, and a sense of rebellion. They’re alive with texture, and the oxides she uses mean they have depth and tone. She prefers to leave her pieces unglazed, and the matt finish increases the sense of fragility.

I loved this piece
One of Suki’s finished pieces

We chatted about the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, the art of seeing beauty in imperfection. Suki showed me some pieces she’s applied this to, where cracks from the kiln have been repaired with gold, creating a piece with a unique beauty.

Suki’s Kintsugi

I’ve a good collection of material from this visit. I made good notes about the sounds and physical sensations of throwing a pot, as well as spending time looking at the contrasting beauty of the porcelain paper clay.

Over the next week I’ll be going to several workshops as well as spending time in the galleries. This is the next phase of my inspiration gathering and research, where I’m going to capture the responses of viewers to the art they’re seeing. I’m looking forward to this phase, and to seeing the exhibition as a whole.

You can see Suki and Mike’s work at Footprint gallery as part of the Secret Severn art trail, and find out more about their work on their Facebook pages https://p.facebook.com/sukitelford/ and https://www.facebook.com/MikeWhitePots

For details about the Footprint gallery, and the rest of the trail which includes workshops and open studios visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/

Thank you for your kind support and encouragement during this project. It’s great to get such positive feedback. I’m looking forward to the next week, but I’m especially looking forward to being able to hide away with my notes and write.

Please share, comment on the Facebook post, and give me all the likes you can. Thank you x

Kathryn xEDIT

Shropshire hills, and swans in Prague – a visit with Maggie Humphry

I’ve admired Maggie’s paintings for several years, so I was really excited about the chance to spend some tine with her. Maggie’s studio is unassuming and bursting with beautiful work. She showed me her huge range of styles, moving from vivid, almost abstract pieces to delicately detailed country scenes and charming festive illustrations.

Two of my favourite pieces are in this downstairs gallery; a piece based on her experience of a choral rendition of A.E. Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills, and Shadows of Moon a swirling image of the hills. Both of these pictures make me feel as though I’m travelling through the landscape, and give a sense of there being a world waiting to be discovered beyond the frame.

Shadows of the Moon

Maggie explained that her career began as a ceramicist and she has produced many ceramic murals all over the country, including the fabulous blue dragon that welcomes visitors to the Dragon Theatre in Barmouth. Working with clay takes it’s toll however, and Maggie now works with oils, as well as creating detailed line drawings and illustrations.

One of Maggie’s many ceramic murals

I also spent a little time in Maggie’s beautiful garden, which is a paradise for bees and nature as well as humans. She explained that she loves to be here in the early hours – that secret time of day before people are up and about.

Next, it’s up the stairs to Maggie’s work room, past a mural of geraniums that covers a patch of less than perfect plaster. There’s a sense of energetic chaos in the room, enhanced by a soundtrack of Mahler, which Maggie described as mirroring her work with its combination of movement and precision. Maggie showed me some of her most recent pieces, based on a friend’s memory of seeing swans in Prague. I really fell for these, and Maggie was kind enough to let me spend some time just sitting with the paintings.

Newly completed Swans in Prague.

There’s a mystical, magical quality to Maggie’s work and it’s this that I find captivating. As we talked about various pieces, she explained how they evolve and develop, and create their own dialogue. This chimed with me as a writer – creating a poem or story is very much about allowing the words to emerge, and allowing the poem to breathe itself into life. There is an idea and an inspiration, but there also has to be a sense of trusting the work itself.

You’ll be able to see Maggie’s work as part of Secret Severn Art Trail in the Footprint gallery at Fusion, where she will also be Artist in Residence, no doubt wearing a marvellous hat. To find out more about her work, visit http://www.maggie-humphry.co.uk/

Kathryn Anna Marshall is poet in residence for Secret Severn art trail. Find out more at https://kathrynannasite.wordpress.com/secret-severn-art-trail-poet-in-residence/ or on https://www.facebook.com/KathrynAnnaWrites/

Visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/ for a map of the trail, as well as details of open studios and workshops.