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

So much news

Where to start. Well the best news of all is that for the first time in about two months I woke up this morning without pain, and without the crushing fatigue that’s been my companion for most of the summer. It’s amazing how much nicer and easier it is to do things without them. I never know how long these patches will last and the trickiest thing is being caught between making the most of feeling less sick, and getting overexcited and doing too much. Wonder which will win?

The big news about Dust

The big news about Dust is that I had my final meeting with Saffron Russell this morning. The big pink button has been pressed on Printed.com and copies of Dust are on their way. I’ll be selling these through my website to begin with, and then through various bookshops at a later date. Remember profits from each sale go to CALM and UKSobs. We’ve already raised around £500, which is more than I ever imagined and it’s great to know we’ll be raising even more with each sale.

Submissions are back!

Over the summer I mentioned to a good friend that I felt I needed to get Dust finished before I could properly move on to other projects. As well as the practicalities of writing, proofing, gathering endorsements and enthusiasm, the deeply emotive nature of this project has left minimum space for other work. I’ve been writing, of course, but have had little appetite for submissions.

Another realisation, and one I feel a slightly stupid about, is that I can submit work to journals and magazines that I later intend to publish in a pamphlet or collection. Up to this point, I’ve been “saving” all those poems…

A new poetry pamphlet

My focus for the rest of this year is drawing together my next pamphlet (although even as I write this I’ve thought of another project I want to start over the summer). I’m looking for courses that will bring a few more pieces to what I have already, as well as making applications for funding , to allow me to engage a mentor, or at least an editor.

Falling back in love with writing

I’ve been of a mind that I haven’t done much this year. Nonsense, of course. Measuring my own work against what others do is foolish and leads to nothing but frustration. I feel joy when I write and joy when my work connects with others – I think this is one of the reasons I gain so much from the various course I do. I also love the mechanics of puzzling over a full stop or spacing, figuring just where to put the line break and whether a comma is needed. It’s like magic. So right this minute I feel pretty happy about where I am with my work. I’ve a bunch of things I want to do – I’m keen to get a regular magazine column again, and to explore how to use my skills with prose in a more productive way, as well as the various poetry ideas that are spinning around my mind. I also want to get to grips with formal poetry…

Which brings me to planning

I love a list. My days are ordered and time is measured. I know what I can achieve and know how to push myself a little further. I’m not so good at working on the big picture – so that Is my very next task. To distil all these ideas and think of how to make them happen. I’m a bit “seat of my pants” with this sort of thing (I think it’s a lack of belief that I can do it) and tend to shy away from putting myself forward. It feels like time to change.

Thank you all, as ever. Do order a copy of Dust if you can, and please share this blog (and any others about the project) as much as you can.

Are we there yet?

July has been a blur of time with friends and family, adventures including a visit to the Norfolk Broads as well as putting the finishing touches to Dust. It’s been a challenging month healthwise, but goodness all the ups and downs and careful planning have been worth it.

The big writing news is that Dust is ready to go. Sample copies have been pored over, final edits made and we’re ready to press the button and order our first batch of copies. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. As you know, this is a hugely personal project and one that has taken heart and soul as well as a far bit of courage to produce. I’m thrilled with the final result, and I hope you will be too.

Live reading

A happy side quest has come up in the form of my being invited to read some of my work at a local event to support world suicide prevention day. I’m honoured to be invited to be part of this event, and whilst I know it will be nerve-wracking it feels right as a next step for the story of Dust.

Competitions and funding

I’ve avoided competitions this year. My focus has been firmly on fundraising and finalising the pamphlet but this month has brought a couple of opportunities I don’t want to miss. The first is the annual Spelt poetry competition. I love the magazine so much, and whilst I know the calibre of entries means my chances of winning are small, it’s good to feel part of something I respect. The second entry is to something even more daunting – the first ever Ironbridge Poetry Competition. The fact that this is local makes me feel under huge pressure. With most poetry competitions, few people have heard of them, and fewer still are terribly interested – a local event is a little different. Watch this space.

I’ve also made my first foray into funding applications. Like many things this is an area of creative practice that is new to me and one that I’ve shied away from – asking for help rarely sits easy. Nonetheless, the simple fact is that extra financial support will buy not only time to write, but other things like access to education, mentoring and workshops to further improve my skills.

Website upgrade

I’ve made a couple of changes to my website that I hope will make it easier for people to buy my work and to commission bespoke poetry. On my homepage you’ll find three new buttons that you can use to pre-order Dust, buy a copy of Yes to Tigers or simply buy me some writing time. Let me know if they work!

So that’s it for this month – fingers crossed next month will bring news of a firm publication date and news of new projects and exhibitions.

Thank you, as ever,

Kathryn xx

Pamphlet update, new projects and a plea for help!

Goodness what a long time since my last post. It’s been a busy few weeks, with little time for writing anything. I’m having a phase of not being able to slow down which is never good and  consequently my mental and physical health are at a bit of a low ebb. One of the weirdest things about M.E. is the role played by adrenaline. If I’m pushing too hard, adrenaline kicks in and I can keep going  and going and going. The downside is that I cannot switch off, so remain in a state of being always alert and unable to rest. I’m aware of the constant river of exhaustion, but so afraid of not “getting everything done” I cannot stop.

I’m also finding the increase in social activity is taking its toll. I love seeing people, especially after so long, but the increase in large gatherings means sensory overload, which leads to yet more exhaustion. In a nutshell, M.E. still sucks.

News about Dust

Enough of the gloom though. There are many good things happening. One of the most important at the moment is progress on my fundraising poetry pamphlet Dust. Thursday saw another meeting with Saffron, to go through the physical proofs and make final corrections. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the look and feel of the final book. Saffron’s illustration has captured a tenderness that threads through the poems and gives a softness to this challenging subject. It’s made it into what it was always meant to be, a letter of love, and hope.

Broken Sleep anthology of new eco-poetry

This week also  brought my contributors copy of Footprints:an anthology of new eco poetry. I’m immensely proud to be included in this anthology. There are so many poets I admire in here and it’s a book of vibrant, experimental, and exciting work. Being part of it is a real “pinch me” moment.

I’ve not submitted to any journals so far this year – my focus is on Dust, of course, and on building two new pamphlets. I’ve taken on two new courses that I hope will inspire the extra poems I need for these. My struggle is carving out time to actually focus on the work – the minutiae of living seems all consuming at the moment. It’s a bit like starting a diet – each week I promise myself I’ll make time, and each week I reach the end and find that I haven’t. It should be so simple…

Poetry workshop

Another exciting project is in the offing. I’ve been asked by local artist and all round creative powerhouse, Caris Jackson to deliver a haiku workshop for a group of adult carers. I’m thrilled to be part of this – it brings together my skills in training (honed years ago in the world of optical retail) as well as my love of poetry. Add in the fact that it’s firmly focused on supporting people to find a creative outlet and you have what amounts to my perfect project. The workshop is based on the New Coracle Shed collection of artefacts, so it’s rooted in local history and a real opportunity to explore this fascinating aspect of life on the River Severn.

Thank you as ever for reading, and if anyone has any tips about how to manage my time a little so I have chance to actually write, I’m all ears !

‘till next time

Kathryn

xx

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

The power of the notebook

Today has been a gift. From me, to me. For the first time this year, I have allowed myself a morning to enjoy and absorb poetry. Word bathing, if you like. Time spent rolling sounds around, feeling the different textures, noting the first reactions, second reactions the oh of course reactions. This morning has felt like exhaling. For the first time in about a month.

February and rebirth

Imbolc, St.Brigid – February is a time of beginnings. The birds know we do not need to wait for the saccharine lambs and fluff tailed bunnies of modern Easter for spring to begin. The birds are already pair-swooping, dawn greeting, land grabbing. Sleep is over. Change is coming.

I wrote a lot last year about becoming more attuned to the seasons. Lockdown, writing for Spelt, understanding the importance of my own little patch have all led me to notice and nurture change and to learn more about the way the land speaks through tradition.

All of which sounds very calming – and it is. Unfortunately, I lost the ability to tap into this through January. The month was spent too much indoors, too preoccupied with the mess of life to step outside and breathe in the cold, watch the sleeping, listen for the first stirring. Too busy to be. It happens so often, and I always imagine I will learn from past mistakes and I never do. There is always hope and, so far in my life, there is always spring.

Snowdrops by Bruce Kelzer on Unsplash

The power of the notebook

Back to my morning. I love to write, and I have lovely friends who give me gifts of beautiful notebooks. Notebooks that I place on my dedicated notebook pile and save for when I will write something worthy of its quality paper and captivating cover. I promise myself I will redraft all those rough notes of poems on scraps of whatever, and copy them into the hallowed ivory pages, using my best copperplate handwriting.

I never do, of course. The notes remain scrappy, the lucky few make it into my computer and are sent out to the accepted/rejected by busy journal editors or sifted by competition judges. The notebooks remain pristine, unsullied by inexpert words or blotchy Bic biros. The notebooks, if they could feel such things, are probably sad.

Today, as well as giving myself time, I gave myself permission to use what is my very favourite notebook ( it’s so beautiful I shed a tear when I unwrapped it) the kind I would never, ever buy for myself. I’m not using it for a special project or grand, completed prizewinning poems. It’s for this year’s adventures in poetry. There are thoughts on what I’m reading, notes from my courses with Nine Arches Press and Wendy Pratt, and clumsy, jumbled responses to poetry prompts. The paper is divine, the physical act of writing in these books feels decadent, the sense of allowing myself to use something beautiful for my own work is liberating.

All this from a notebook?

Even as I write this, I’m second guessing and berating myself for being stupid. But yes – all this from a notebook. Choosing to use this represents permission, represents valuing my own words, represents not writing for the editors or judges, but writing to record, to explore and to chart my own adventure. It represents freedom.

Confidence boosters

I received pretty positive feedback for my accredited short course with York CLL, with some useful actions to help me improve my work. One was to work on my titles, the other was to have more confidence in my writing. The titles will be a challenge, but not unachievable. The confidence – a little more tricky. Two fab things have happened this week though. One was getting a message showing me a phot of one of my bespoke poems gracing the walls of its owner, and the other was getting a message saying how my crowdfunded poetry pamphlet Yes to Tigers inspired a fellow Raven Studios bursary recipient  Lewis Wyn Davies to self-publish their own work Comprehensive (which looks amazing). I often describe my reason for writing as being to connect with others -and I can’t think of two better ways to realise that something about all this is working, albeit intermittently.

So I begin this month in a better place. With a sense of possibility and hope, rather than panic and disillusion. The nature of my sometimes colourful mental health means this may all change tomorrow of course, but for today I will relish the feeling of being grounded, the noticing of spring, and the smooth bound pages of this beautiful notebook.

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

The power of silence

Sleep often eludes me, and the small hours can see me committing that much turned to sin of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, to distract my mind from wakeful thoughts. This ill-advised activity usually results in the purchase of a porcelain dragon, or a bargain set of food parasols, peppered with ever increasing despair. Occasionally though, this endless search for distraction reveals something good. Something worth being awake for at the wrong end (or indeed beginning) of the day.

This extract from Michaela Coel’s speech at the Emmys needs no elucidation. I recognise myself, as I suspect many others do. This addiction to visibility, this search for validation is as toxic as any failed relationship. Perhaps it is a failed relationship – a failure of a relationship with social media, with the internet with the overwhelming slew of ways to publicise, monetise, magnify our work.

My thoughts now turn to “who am I to even think like this”. I have precious little visibility, precious little work in the world – perhaps I’m just making up excuses for my lack of presence? Yet the thing is, the search for visibility is the very reason for this lack of presence. We are all publicists now, all addicted to the rush of dopamine from seeing those “likes” creep up, all hoping that we will make it, somehow, without really knowing what “it” is.

This takes time – keeping up the social media posts, wondering why this one was liked and that one wasn’t – I live in a world where even my pets or garden could monetised if I only have the time and savvy to make it happen.

Not only does this need for visibility take time from the act of creating, it seeps into the moments I carve out to write – the ever present wonder of how this poem or tale could be marketed, how I could work it into a blog post.

The concept of celebrity is not new, but it’s importance is somehow skewed. For small time poets, or painters or singers the pure act of creating is no longer enough. We need to be seen, to be liked, to be followed and fêted worldwide. Suddenly, the concept of being brave enough to “disappear…and see what comes to you in the silence” seems like the most freedom I could possibly choose.

The obvious thing is to just step away from social media. It’s not so easy though, especially for those like me who have physical or mental conditions that make real life interaction a challenge. The praise and primping of social media brings value, even companionship – but it also brings endless noise, endless routes to comparison, endless ways to chalk up faults and failures.

Nonetheless I’m going to try. I haven’t enjoyed writing this year – I’ve allowed myself to confuse visibility with validity and my focus has shifted to somewhere that feels suffocating. I can feel my brain wanting to twist back to the words, to bathe in them, love them, let them home. I want to feel that prickle of excitement, that moment of magic that comes when heart and head meet. And so, this dark end of the year will be different, it will be devoted to writing – to seeing what comes to me in the silence.

Rejections are part of all this…

repeat after me. Rejections are part of all this…

However they’re dressed, not placing,we are not moving forward with work, your work is not right for us at this time, having work rejected hurts. Really.

The objective side looks at the number of entries, the people who had work accepted and rationalises. The tenacious side finds other places that are seeking submissions and submits. The side that distilled, dispersed, revised, redrafted and finally pressed send…that side wants to have a little cry. And stop putting itself through this.

Still, that does no good – what I want to learn is how to know what editors want – how do I understand? I really thought I’d chosen a good place for my pamphlet sub – but it wasn’t the case. There’s no feedback of course, so I don’t really know whether the work is terrible, or just not right – and if not, why not? And whilst I understand that time and resources are stretched I’d just really like to know – the whole process feels like grasping for smoke.

A lower ebb than usual. A longing for both time and health. Either would be good. Gloomy, to be honest. Send kittens.

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