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

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And they’re off…

The first batch of Dust is finally off into the big wide world. I’m excited to hear your feedback. It’s such a magical feeling to package all these – a bit of a pinch me moment.

If you’ve not yet got round to buying a copy of Dust just click the button, or send me an email if you’re not a fan of online spending.

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

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.

Dust if you must

It’s around this time of year that this poem re-emerges, posted as a protest against the burden of cleaning and a celebration of all the marvellous things that are better than cleaning.

It irritates the bejeezers out of me.

Here’s why. The whole premise of the poem is that it’s somehow better not to waste time cleaning – and that those who do are missing out on the wonder and magic of life. The clamours of agreement that greet it whenver it’s posted on Facestagram make me feel ashamed. Because, I confess, I clean. Before I do anything. I clean. I sweep. I polish. I make everything neat.

This leads me to wonder why. It’s not that I’m not enthralled by the fabulousness of gardening or baking or standing at my door entranced by birdsong. I just can’t settle if things are dirty. My overriding feeling that is that it’s about upbringing – my family is council house stock, grandparents who were foundry/factory/mineworkers. Mother who had to leave school to work, father who furiously wouldn’t and scraped garden work to get through teacher training and “make something of himself”. Money was absent – but there were still ways to differentiate from those who were “really poor” . The main way this was done was through standards. These standards were unwritten but universally accepted – keep your front step clean, your nets white, no milk bottles on the table – a whole host of things that were understood as meaning you were looking after yourself, you worked hard, you met the vagaries of the protestant work ethic. You were a valid member of society.

These standards passed through the generations. I still shudder at a milk bottle on the table. I still hear my mother saying that her mother told her to always keep the taps shone in case of unexpected visitors (and I always do). I am doing everything right, yet if someone drops in and tells me my house is immaculate I feel ashamed, as if I am somehow letting the side down.

And that, I think is the crux. Cleaning (or not cleaning) has become another means of creating division. Every few years the concept of the domestic goddess and the perfect fifties housewife(itself a means of driving women back to the kitchen after the social changes of WWII) is resurrected, and domesticity is championed as a way of being superior. Those who know this is bunkum go the other way and suddenly cleaning feels like a betrayal of feminism, a step backwards, something to be ashamed of and we end up with that snipey line about dull women and neat kitchens.

Image: Kazuki Akayashi on Unsplash

This is the danger point and it’s exacerbated by social media. It’s easy to become so tied up in how things appear, we forget to simply do what we like. Clean, don’t clean, do a bit of a rush job coz it’s driving you crackers but you don’t have time. Shiny taps don’t reflect (ho ho) who you are. They don’t show anything, other than fingerprints or your own looming face.

The real problem is giving a fig about how we’re perceived, and the perpetual scrutiny of the social media lens. Dust if you must is a smashing poem, and the message is heartfelt. But go easy on those who need a clean house to think straight – or indeed sideways.

Cool poetry pamphlet news

Pamphlet Update

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.

Other successes

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.

There can never be enough pictures of this fellow

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

Kathryn

xx

How does mental health impact on M.E.? *

The last couple of weeks have been tricky – I lost one week to M.E., which is never nice and seem to have taken a little longer than usual to recover. It’s been a curious combination of cold weather and reaction to revisiting past trauma, I think.

The cold weather is simple to understand – like loads of people who experience joint and muscle pain as soon as the weather turns cool and damp the pain in my limbs shoots up. It stops me sleeping and makes moving, showering etc. tricky. I’m used to it, don’t like it and think it’s yet another reason I should move to live in Abel Tasman.

The impact of my mental health is something I’m still coming to terms with. For a long time, I’ve fought against this idea, simply because a common derision of M.E. is “it’s all in your mind” (it’s not. if it was, I’d have scooted it out long ago). My EMDR therapist last year gently mentioned this and I felt very defensive – after the year of treatment though I noticed a difference. My symptoms were still present, but it was easier to find and stick to a baseline. I’ve also noticed that my symptoms increase at certain flashpoints (October through to Christmas is always hard) . So what’s caused this latest flare? It seems to have been my lovely poetry course – it’s called Telling your Story and touched a few trigger points for me. My first thought was “oh the therapy’s not worked” but I realised it has – it’s just not complete. The fact that I can recognise and take steps to minimise damage show that my instinct to survive is stronger than my instinct to destroy. There will always be triggers (just like for everyone) the difference is I know what to do, even if it takes a while for me to get there.

What does this have to do with M.E.? I don’t know is the honest answer – it’s just a connection I’ve made and that seems to hold up. There’s theories that past pain is stored in our bodies, theories that people with M.E. have developed a particular personality type that is the result of trauma. The idea of whole body health isn’t new, and each time I fall into this I realise that making time for good mental health practice is as important as making time for good physical health practice. I’m a bit rubbish at both, but I am getting better!

The other inescapable impact is the fear and chaos around every corner. I feel ill placed to talk of the current situation, but it feels wrong not to. I’m vehement in my belief in equality and at this moment that means supporting BLM – I can do very little other than educate myself and acknowledge my own privilege. This concept is something that seems to make people extremely uncomfortable – but you know my nan did it for years – she called it counting her blessings. Being aware that circumstance has given me opportunities that have been denied to others doesn’t denigrate the society I was born into. Not fighting to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to be the best they can be does.  

*this is my own personal experience – everyone with M.E. has different symptoms and stories. This is why we need research.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, speak up and wash your hands. I’d love your feedback and as ever if you like, comment and share on social media it helps beat the algorithm and raise my profile as a writer. Normal poetry musings will resume next week.

Hares and Paper Swans

Do you remember my decision a couple of months ago to stop taking writing so seriously, publish stuff on here and write not ‘ just for me’ exactly, but without an eye on what I think might be good enough for publication? Since then I’ve continued studying various books, including Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and Nine Arches Press The Craft, I’ve continued with various courses, (this month’s is Telling your Story another gem from Wendy Pratt) and love the discipline of writing most days, even if it’s something a bit rubbish. Being in a group of writers with a vast range of experience means I am constantly learning, both from their feedback and from reading their work. It’s one of best things I’ve done to develop myself as a poet.

In deciding to take things less seriously (which I think translates to not worrying about all those rejections), it seems I’ve freed myself to work harder, almost without realising. The combination of all this self-study and relaxing into my work means, three fab things have happened. Firstly I enjoy writing more, secondly I do more writing (every day that I can) and thirdly I’m enjoying a sniff of ‘success’.

My death will grieve foxesI have to be careful here – about my definition of success – am I going back on my decision to be an amateur? Not at all. I want people to enjoy what I write and being part of the Paper Swans Press single poem competition longlist means that’s what’s happened. My poem My death will grieve foxes is something that I worked on, tweaked, and nurtured. I researched hares (and yes, I know there are millions of hare poems, but here’s another), thought about why I’m captivated by them, read all the myths and connotations and followed the poem on its path. I loved writing it and in having it longlisted by a judge whose opinion I greatly respect, I know at least one other person loved reading it. I’ll be publishing the poem on here at a later date, maybe with a bit of unpacking around the themes, but until then you can read it as part of the e-book published by Paper Swans.

As well as my Paper Swans publication, I’ve had another poem sent out into the world this week. Marcescence is a poem wondering about how trees feel about losing their leaves, borne from watching those stubborn brown scraps that seem to cling to the branches all summer. It’s quite an old poem, that’s been through many drafts, but I’m delighted it’s finally out in the world on the wonderful Nine Muses Poetry.

Hares everywhere including this print from Amanda Hillier

Against the backdrop of sadness for those who’ve lost loved ones, those still struggling with the impact of what is a severe illness and most importantly the utter horror in the USA, celebrating these tiny glimmers of success feels wrong, disrespectful. Privileged. And the fact is, it is. I am privileged to be safe, I am privileged to be free from fear of being targeted, brutalised because of my colour. I am privileged to have a home and to have the freedom to write.

Nonetheless, with every bit of validation my confidence grows, my voice grows louder and my ability to fuel change increases. My actions and my words are tiny in the face of the huge injustice, corruption and trials people face very day, but they’re a lot more significant than doing nothing at all.

Thank you for reading, do download the e-book of all thirteen poems that placed in Paper Swans single poem competition. If you’re reading this on social media I’d love you to comment and share to increase my reach, and if you want to comment on here then I’d love to hear from you.

Kathryn xx

Featured image thanks to Vincent van Zalinge

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.

New poems, new short story and a bunch of thoughts

An early prompt on Staying in and writing it out was to create a piece of dystopian flash fiction. I have a reputation for being slightly contrary, and found myself writing a sort of dystopian rom com called Bread and Roses instead. Have a read and, if you fancy, leave some comments about it, (or anything else!)

At the moment, writing feels very odd, almost disrespectful.The gravity of the situation in the U.K. grows each day, and each day brings its own brand of strange awfulness. Did you imagine in January that the words “596 dead -see page four” would not only not be headline news, but reduced to some kind of “teaser” with fun splash graphics? Me neither. We had it on Monday from one of our most tawdry of papers. Social media is a minefield of opinion and accusation where anyone asking any questions is decried for not “being positive”, yet no-one seems to have any answers. So yes, sitting in my sunny room writing poems and silly stories feels pathetic, and entirely unhelpful.

What else am I going to do though? I’m growing vegetables and flowers (which also I do in non-pandemic years), I’m cooking, baking, cleaning, trying to make sure I take care of my health (which also feels disrespectful) and just, well, living. The discipline of daily prompts from my course means I can step into a different part of my head for a while, and stop obsessing about my next online delivery for at least fourteen minutes. I’ve written more this year than in the whole of last year, and that is good. I need to step away and redraft a some of the pieces, and disregard others, but it feels good to just be writing. The contradiction of this calm with the chaos I know is happening in wards just a few miles away is palpable but not writing will not curtail the pain of others. In all honesty, there’s no conclusion to this little piece. Here’s a link to another new poem, and I hope you’ve noticed I managed to write a whole post without using the word “unprecedented”.

Wash your hands, stay safe, ask questions.

Kathryn xx