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 email@example.com
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…
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 !
As soon as I began this project, I knew I wanted to do it properly, to create a book worthy of people’s hard earned money, and worthy of the memory of my brother.
A big part of this is getting the look and feel of the book spot on. I’m grateful for the skills of illustrator Saffron Russell who’s taking care of typesetting, cover art and several illustrations. This is such a personal project and it needs to be perfect.
I also need to create something that feels like a proper book, that feels as though it could grace the shelves of a bookshop. Something that feels valuable; that’s where the endorsements come in.
Are the poems in Dust any good?
One of my major concerns with gathering these poems together to be published was whether I was too close to the work to be truly objective about its quality. The last thing I wanted was to offer a collection that was so personal it alienated people. One of the major points behind the project, besides raising money for CALM and UKSOBS is to connect, and create conversation around what is a challenging subject.
My bursary from Raven Studios allowed me to take time to polish and hone the poems, look at which needed to be included and which needed to be left in my notebooks. It also allowed me to engage the services of Oliva Tuck as my editor. Olivia is an incredibly talented poet, recently longlisted for the Rialto Nature and Place prize, and part of publications such as Tears in the Fence and Lighthouse Journal. She is also kind and insightful with her feedback and suggestions. I expected to feel nervous at handing over my work to be analysed and “corrected” (for want of a better word) but in all honesty I was simply proud, and hopeful.
Those who know me know that critique isn’t something I generally embrace. As with so many other aspects of writing though, I seem to have a different attitude when it comes to writing. I want all the criticism, all the suggestions, all the tiny changes. A simple shift of line break or switch of a comma can make the difference between a poem being nicely competent and truly singing from its soul. Olivia’s suggestions helped me to polish my work into something I felt proud of, and that felt worthy of the job I wanted it to do.
Are the poems in Dust any good ? – part two
The second part of gathering confidence to send these poems out to the world was to ask for endorsement. Now, bear in mind I have absolutely no experience of this, no idea of the etiquette and no real understanding of proper channels to go through. I simply woke up one morning and decided to send emails to three people I’ve worked with, and who’s work I admire, and see what happened. I had a little cry when each person happily agreed to read the work, and to spend time analysing and commenting it.
Endorsements for Dust
Endorsement for Dust from Wendy Pratt
The first person I approached was Wendy Pratt. Wendy has been a source of gentle encouragement through several of the courses I’ve taken with her, and is someone I feel cares about and values the work I create. Here’s what Wendy has to say about Dust
The poems in this collection exist in the liminal place in which traumatic grief places us. This negative space is expressed in the careful use of white space on the page, the gentle, delicate cut of language. These are elegant, controlled but brutal poems in which love settles as dust over the remains of loss leave the reader with the sense of time stood still, where grief is simultaneously happening in the past and the present. A beautiful collection of poems from an intelligent and talented poet.
Cue tears. It’s amazing to read nice things about something that means so much and contains so much of myself.
Endorsement for Dust from Jane Commane
Next I got in touch with Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press. It four years since Nine Arches selected me for their Dynamo mentoring scheme, and Jane has been a superb support. Asking for endorsement took a bit of courage – Jane hasn’t seem very much of my recent work, and I was half expecting a kind “thanks but no thanks”. She agreed, and after an anxious week or two (with me thinking “oh she hates them, I must never poet again”) I received these wonderful words.
Kathryn Anna Marshall’s pamphlet Dust opens with an image of weightlessness – and through these skillful and courageous poems, she examines the shockwave of grief experienced by families when a loved one dies by suicide, leaving the foundations of their lives irrevocably uprooted. Here, we encounter the “little sister” who “looks to the sky / and wonders / about gravitational / collapse”, navigate the memories of the before and the after, and hear the deep, resounding heart-song of loss.
Marshall’s attentive poetry takes great care here to precisely map the terrain of a very particular kind of bereavement, and to demarcate the shape that the pain and anguish of absence takes in her tender, acutely-observed words.
Yep, you guessed it – more tears. The poem Jane refers to is one of my favourites in the book, and the feeling of “they’ve got it” is one to bottle. I still tear up reading this now. For so many reasons.
Endorsement for Dust from Ian Humphreys
My boldest email was to Ian Humphreys. I loved Ian’s collection Zebra, and have been lucky enough to be part of two workshops he has facilitated. I wasn’t sure if this was great grounds for asking for an endorsement, but he did say something nice about something I wrote during one of the classes, so I thought I’d take a chance.
Yet again I was happily surprised, yet again I had a little anxious wait ( a learning point – silence does not mean people hate my work) and yet again I received the most beautiful close reading and understanding of the poetry in Dust.
These are poems of love and loss, where ‘dust’ not only embodies death but something tangible – the weight of grief itself, which ‘settles like ash / gritty teeth chalk tongue/swallow / it down’.
Kathryn Anna Marshall writes beautifully and with candour on survival and trauma. The world she conjures is lit with pain and confusion, the realm of those left behind. Details are steeped in importance, ‘at twelve minutes past eight / they cremated you’; dreams and possessions stir memories, regrets; and with heart ache comes harsh clichés, ‘You learn legs do go / from beneath’. Yet hope belongs to the living, and together, these tender, potent elegies are a songbook to the ‘soft promise’ of spring.
Endorsement for Dust from Lewis Wyn Davies
Finally I approached Lewis Wyn Davies. Lewis is, like me, an emerging poet from Shropshire. The illustration Saffron Russell did for his pamphlet Comprehensive inspired me to get in touch with him to find out more about their project – without their support and interest, I’d probably still be floundering about, unsure of what to do with my work. Here’s what Lewis has to say
Dust is a poignant pamphlet that bravely navigates grief and the immeasurable loss felt after Marshall’s brother took his own life. These heartfelt and powerful poems try to explain the thought process and steps to recovery that she undertook after such personal trauma. But they also encourage us to look out for, and engage with, one another more to prevent such tragedies happening again elsewhere.
The next stage…
These endorsements do more than bolster my confidence – although that is an outstanding benefit, especially with such a difficult subject. They are an important part of the next stage of my fundraising campaign.
Whilst the Crowdfunder donations are ticking up nicely, my aim is to sell Dust to as many people as possible. I am hoping to sell to those people I know support my work and who are interested in my writing, but to raise the amount I want to, need a wider audience, and that means getting into bookshops. Again, I have no idea of the etiquette, the whys and wherefores of how to do this, and I’m not aiming for the shelves of WHSmith or Waterstones (yet). My hope is that endorsement from people I know are respected in the poetry world and beyond, will make the book appealing to some of the indie bookshops that pepper our high streets.
The next stage is yet another challenge, of selling, persuading, and encouraging people to take a chance on a book from a new writer. Fingers crossed they will.
I’m almost a week in to my crowdfunding project and things are going well. Funding is coming in slowly and it seems like there will be enough interest in the book for it to go to press.
I’ll be honest, this is hard. It’s so much more than a book of poems I suppose. It’s a stage of grief – I won’t say final because I suspect it never ends. It’s part of my goodbye to my brother and part of my learning to live with the jumble of shame, sadness, anger and guilt that weaves through the very real fact that I don’t have a brother any more.
I have spent the last week wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if I should just do a sponsored run (!) whether that would get more money. It probably would. But this isn’t just about money. .
Until we start talking about suicide, about the impact on those left and the things that lead people to decide the world will be better without them then this will keep happening. The work I’ve written is honest, brutal and suffused with love. These are poems that will start conversations. Framing this work as a fundraiser places this work firmly in the poetry with purpose category. And I suppose this is another way of absolving the never ending “if onlys” that pepper my thoughts each day. It’s difficult to revisit all those feelings, but the support and care I’m getting is so helpful. Thank you.
Over the next few days I’ll be writing more about the charities, and about the look and feel of the book. In the meantime to find out how to support the project financially head over to my crowdfunding page.
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.
You may remember from my post Three great things that have happened in 2021 that I have been lucky enough received a creative bursary from Raven Studios. I’ve used this to help me towards publication of my first poetry pamphlet. I’m delighted to say all the poems are complete, and I’ve a tentative feeling that I’ve created something I can be proud of. Before beginning the inevitable round of submissions – and possible disappointments – I’ve used a small amount of my bursary to employ the services of an editor.
Why use an editor ?
Quite simply, engaging the services of an editor means giving my work an extra polish. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Olivia Tuck before, and knew she’d give top quality feedback and suggestions as well as offering advice in a kind and sensitive way. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and I feel privileged to have had her input. The suggestions and tiny tweaks have really made my work sing – it’s amazing what the addition of a carefully placed full stop can do.
What happens next?
I need to do some homework – finding a place for poems is the hardest part, I think. It relies on more than just the quality of the work; it relies on an understanding on what the world of publishing is looking for, a touch of insight into the mood of readers and more than a sprinkling of good old fashioned luck. I really believe in these poems and am excited to have them out in the world. I just need to find a publisher who feels the same – and believes there is a big enough audience to make it viable. I’ve a couple of ideas – but taking the plunge is a big step.
You’ll have seen on my Twitter feed that I’ve had a couple of other happy scraps of news. I was longlisted for Mslexia’s poetry 2020 poetry competition (a huge thrill) and I also have a poem forthcoming in Feline Utopia – Louise Mather’s anthology about the wonderful world of cats. My submission is a cheerful, uncomplicated piece and I’m glad to have a happy poem out in the world.
My biggest challenge at the moment is time. My freelance work has increased ( a good thing, of course) but this means my usable time has decreased. I’ve a bunch of work ready to send out, but precious little time to do the necessary research and submit correctly. I’m hoping things will calm down a little in March. The big hope of course is to be well enough to do that little bit more….
Hope all is well wherever you’re reading from. Take care, wash your hands, wear a mask
It’s hard to know how to pitch these posts at the moment. There is so much that is grim, and so many people dealing with truly awful things that my tiny life, in a tiny corner of Coalbrookdale hardly seems relevant. It’s not – but then of course it is. These tiny things are what keep me going, and what give me hope. As you read, know I’m not ignorant of the wider issues, I’m just guessing if you wanted to read about them you’d go to an expert. There is enough talk and bluster scattered across social media without my adding to it.
Caveat laid, I’m going to confess that my year has started well. I have lots of copywriting work, a calm Christmas means January is free from its usual stuttered start, and despite everything I feel ok. Sometimes even happy. Part of this is the years of training in loving the small things – seeing thrushes and finches from my window, squealing with delight at a swoop of long-tailed tits or relishing friends’ wonderful photos of frosty mornings are enough to brighten a moment and a day. I’m writing again, after a small hiatus driven by the shock and upset of the potential build opposite, and as you may have seen on my social media pages, I’ve had some great news about a submission.
What’s the news?
At the end of last summer a small publishing house put out a call for pamphlet submissions, with a special call for newer writers – ones with a smattering of publication but not much more. Whilst Yes to Tigers was an interesting project, and I learnt a lot, it didn’t quite feel like my work. This opportunity presents something different – a chance for publication by an actual poetry press. I’m on the longlist, which means there is a way to go before I know if my work will be published, but getting this far is a great feeling, especially with a set of poems that means so much to me.
Why is having a poetry pamphlet published such a big deal?
Essentially it’s the next step – it means I have a collection of work that I feel confident enough to send to a publisher, who will decide if they think enough people will buy it to make it worth printing, marketing and all the other elements that go towards making poetry publication. It means I understand how to put together a set of poems that link and flow, and that I can see how the order might be, and understand a reader’s point of view. I may not get any further than being longlisted (which will make me sad, of course) but that just means I have a bit more to learn. If I compare with how I felt about my writing this time last year, this is a great place to be.
What am I working on at the moment?
This time of year is a good study time for me – no gardening means more time and energy. As well as various courses, including one on women writers, which I’m ridiculously excited about, I’m delving into How to Grow Your Own Poem by Kate Clanchy – it’s a collection of exercises, poems and prompts and is just what I need to coax my poets brain out of December. In terms of submissions and the like I’m holding back a little – my poetry brain needs a bit of time to just enjoy writing, although I’m hoping to reopen my for comissions at the end of the month.
Right now though, it’s time to just enjoy writing.
Thanks for reading, and I hope bright things happen for your day, however tiny.
…and I’m daftly excited. Why? because it means publication day is getting closer! My zine is at the printers and soon there will be copies winging there way to crowdfunders, waiting in our wonderful local bookshop and generally making this all feel rather real. There were time when I never thought this project would bear fruit, for a variety of confidence based reasons. Having other people get behind me and give me a gentle shove has made all the difference, and the sheer joy of having support from so many people via my crowdfunder is a massive boost. As soon as the copies I’ll take a million pictures of them and let you know how you can buy one.
This confidence has helped me cast a critical eye over my other work too, and I’ve spent this month putting together my first pamphlet submission. For anyone who doesn’t know, a pamphlet is a short collection of poems, usually around 15 or so, that centres around a particular theme. For me, identifying this theme has been a case of going through my work and seeing what threads and thoughts run through my work and putting together what amounts to a kind of story. There may well be a “proper” way to do this (this is another time when I kind of wish I’d had the wherewithal to complete my creative writing degree), but going by the pamphlets that I’ve read, this seems to be how they work. I’ve worked through things like the order, as well as refining and redrafting each poem, before summoning the gumption to press send and submit to . My little pamphlet is winging its way to Nine Pens as we speak. This is a new press that seems very friendly and open to work from new poets. They’ve already had over thirty pamphlet submissions, out of which nine will be chosen for publication. My chances of being chosen are small, but I’m getting used to taking these gambles, and the very act of putting together another group of poems that if feel are worth sharing is a positive and pleasing act.
I’ve submitted to fewer journals this year, and avoided most competitions – partly because of cash (competitions and some journals charge for submission) and also because I’m starting to see my work as a whole entity. The dopamine hit of winning a competition or getting a magazine publication has become a little less important. That doesn’t mean it’s not a massive thrill, I’ve still got my copy of Popshot casually placed on my living room table, but something has shifted in terms of validation and my ability to assess my own writing. I throw out a lot more than I keep in, but my critical eye is less hostile.
So a lot is happening this autumn, paid work is thin on the ground which is tricky, but hopefully something will turn up soon. I’m getting a few more views on my website which is something at least. Over the next week or so I’ll be setting up my Etsy shop, where you can by the zine, plus I will be offering bespoke poems for sale, just in time for Christmas!
Please like and share this blog, especially if you’re reading on one of the social media platforms – it’s one of the most useful ways to help me grow my audience.
Thanks as ever for your support – next post will be the title and cover reveal of the zine – how ace is that?