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
Writing a round up of my writing year comes with the twin mean girl whispers of “who’s going to care” and “don’t blow your own trumpet”. Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to many people, and it’s a lot easier to hide behind a wall of coyness, and hope that someone else will do the praising. Being self employed means telling people about what I do falls squarely on my shoulders though, so here we are – a round up of this year’s adventures in poetry.
My overriding sense of this year is one of moving forward. Despite the pandemic, despite fluctuating health, I’ve done a lot of things that scare me. I’ve given poetry priority, I’ve attended more interactive classes, and carved out specific time to read, write and journal – even if that time is before I start work at 6am.
Selected and rejected – poetry submissions
This shift of attitude has paid off. I’ve had the confidence to send work to several print journals that I thought were too good for me and finish the year with work selected for publication in The Dawntreader, Dreich, and Lighthouse. I’ve also been brave enough to send out some of my less conventional pieces. Sledgehammer Lit has been a great joy both to read and submit to, and Streetcake gave a home to one of my favourite pieces from this year. I’ve also had work selected to be anthologised – one for Louise Mather’s charming Feline Utopia, and another for Broken Sleep Books Anthology of new Eco-Poetry.
In total I’ve sent 28 pieces out for publication and had 16 published – which I think is around a 60% selection rate, as well being long listed in a few competitions. Is this good? I’ve no idea. What is good is that I’ve sent out more work that I truly feel is “mine”. I’ve grown a little more confidence and a little more belief in the fire in my belly – the thing that keeps me going despite the knock backs and false starts, the sheer terror of placing my heart on a page and sending it out to be judged.
Rejection is hard and it is horrible, but whereas I used to sulk and think “well I can’t submit to them again” I’ve reached a point where I take the poem, look at it, see what can be improved and send it right back out. I cringe at the terrible errors and have learned that some pieces are just not meant for the light of day. Rather than seeking constantly validation from others, I’ve worked on being honest with myself about what’s not working, and being honest enough to say what I think is good. False humility is taught to many of us from a young age, and it’s a tricky one to shake off. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point, and it’s my no means a permanent state but I feel I’ve taken a step forward.
What has been different about poetry in 2021?
I began this year in a state of dilly dally, unsure, feeling defeated because my pamphlet submission had been rejected and in the usual January slump. As always, I had a new course lined up for the start of the year but unusually, this one had real time interaction with other poets. Actual speaking and reading aloud. From schooldays I’ve always been terrified of speaking in even the smallest groups. I sit, mull on what I want to say, try to find the courage to voice it and then either someone says it before me or simply speaks over me. So I shush, and say nothing and feel a bit disappointed in myself.
Now, ideally I’d be saying all that’s changed and I’m a vibrant and lively contributor to group discussion. I’m not. I still find it all excruciating and still feel endlessly frustrated with my lack of input. But – and here’s the thing – the positives of these courses have dramatically outweighed this negative. I’ve learned a huge amount from other’s suggestions during workshops, listened to some fantastic work being read and …drumroll please…read my own work aloud.
Reading poetry aloud
And this is the big thing, Not just because I think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to do this in real life one day, but because of how it’s helped me understand my work. Reading aloud is the greatest way to understand what works and what doesn’t. Reading to a workshop group helps me understand what chimes with others, what I’ve expressed well enough to make that connection, that bridge.
Spelt, Nine Arches Press, Raven Studios and the Free Little Gallery
One of my real “pinch me” joys this year has been my column for Spelt Magazine. I was amazed and terrified to have my pitch accepted. As ever Wendy Pratt (editor of Spelt and poet extraordinaire) gives the kind of feedback that makes my heart sing and I hope the columns have been as enjoyable to read as they were to write. It’s been a great project to work on and left me full of ideas for other pieces.
Local folk have come up trumps for me too. Raven Studios gave me a small bursary which allowed me time to write and hone my pamphlet, as well as funds for professional feedback from Olivia Tuck. The pamphlet is out at a couple of places and I hope to have news early next year…Even more local was my first poetry exhibition in the Coalbrookdale Free Little Gallery – a very cute bus stop at the bottom of my lane. Six pieces, along with photographs from myself and the exceptionally talented Bob Ford were on display. It feels good to have put something out in the community, and to gain an idea of the various themes that run through my work.
Finally, and completely out of the blue, I have been given a bursary place on an absolute dream of a course from Nine Arches Press. Being part of Nine Arches Dynamo mentoring scheme in 2018 gave me the courage to start on this poetry adventure, and this festive surprise cements the feeling that someone believes in my work. It feels like Christmas already and I can’t wait to start it early next year.
Next year? I hope to have homed my first pamphlet. I also want to explore more commercial opportunities – poetry postcards and bespoke work. I like the idea of placing poetry in the day-to-day lives and am plotting and planning ways to be more active in my lovely community.
I will read more, my aim is three poems each day and of course I will keep writing, keep submitting and maybe, maybe have pulled to gather of a full collection by the end of next year.
Thank you so, so much for reading, for being interested and for caring about what I do. It means the world to me.