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.

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

Read poems – save lives. Project update.

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.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/poetry-for-calm—help-prevent-suicide

Publicity is king in this hideous world of algorithms, so even if you can’t donate, please interact with and comment on any posts you happen to see xx

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.

Anniversaries, new roles, new homes

It’s around four years since I began this blog, published my first tentative post. I feel like I’ve come a long way – not in terms of whistles and bells but in terms of belief in and acceptance of myself. This is a decent place to be – there are wobbles of course, some startlingly dramatic, but I’m proud that I’ve stuck at this, despite the knock backs, and ups and downs of exposing my work (and my heart) to the world. This aspect will always be unnerving, but as I said in my very first bio I’m a better person when I write, and for me, writing comes alive when it is read by others. There is no better feeling in the world than someone saying they love something I have written. Writing helps me manage change, clarify emotion and tap into my absolute love of sound and rhythm. It also taps in to

I’m writing this looking over my beloved patch of woods that may soon be someone else’s view. This is a sad feeling but change is sometimes essential, even if it is forced by the actions of another. Fingers crossed where ever we go next will be as full of passerine chatter and eerie night screeches.

Woodland complete with cat.

Slivers of sadness are tempered beautifully with excitement at a new role. I’ve been appointed as a columnist for a new magazine called Spelt, the brainchild of the wonderful Wendy Pratt. Here’s how she describes it

Spelt Magazine is on a mission to celebrate and validate the rural experience. With four seasonal print issues per year, we aim to provide a platform for rural writers and to those creatives exploring nature, landscape, the interconnected nature of creative writing and the natural world and the liminality of natural areas within the urban landscape.

Wendy Pratt – Founder of Spelt Magazine

This ties in with a nagging feeling I’ve had for some time – that writing about rural life is somehow unfashionable, that real poets write about gritty urban landscapes and lives lived with theatrical edge. Whist this pattern of thought says more about me, and that I need to have respect for my own writing, I have a strong feeling that Spelt is going to chime with many people who feel a little alienated by the popular portrayal rural existence – and hungry to tell of it’s  reality. The content of my columns has to remain secret (how exciting!) but it’s fair to say this is a wonderful opportunity to be part of something I really believe in.

This past week has brought a little more regular writing too – I’m taking inspiration from Susie Dent’s Word Perfect a fabulous book that brings a new word to each day. Every morning I encounter a new word and write a small, possibly (definitely) silly poem. It’s a fun, brain oiling, start to the day.

I’m trying to develop a strong routine which allows balance between paid work, poetry and managing my health – it’s going ok; I’m breaking my work down into smaller chunks, and trying to be strict with myself about keeping one day aside for all things poetry related. Early starts are my friend and give me more workable hours. At the moment I’m gathering a few poems for submission to magazines, and anxiously waiting to hear about my pamphlet, as well as spending my day-to-day writing copy for various agencies and companies.

It almost feels as though I may actually be able to call myself a writer. Which is all I’ve ever wanted to be; I just never knew what it looked like. Turns out it’s someone who writes.

Sending hopeful wishes to all – spring is round the corner.

Kathryn xx

New adventures in poetry

Oh the gloom has lifted (just in time for Lockdown #2 hoorah) as it generally does these days. I have enjoyed some sunny days, I’ve a good clutch of  copywriting work which has made things a little less worrisome and I’ve had my first order for Poems from the Hare

Remnants of sunshine and food for the finches

Poems from the Hare ? What’s that? 

Put simply, I’m selling poems. Put less simply I’m creating bespoke work for people, based on what they tell me they want me to write about. After I’ve created the poem, I write them out, add some beautiful decoration and post them off, with the goal of bringing joy and love and happiness.I guess you might call it a business – although it’s easy to shy away from that term, and I know I‘ve felt uneasy about the whole idea of offering this service, as though I’m somehow devaluing the art. Then I realised that every other artist and maker I know sells their work, and I’m always eager to support them – so why do I feel different about this? 

I think it’s something to do with the way poetry is regarded. It’s either seen as a puzzle, something for the hyper intelligent, the well-to-do, or it’s somehow awful – think forced rhymes and saccharine greetings cards (although these do have their place especially for my Aunty). Poetry isn’t seen in the same way as painting or pottery, as something to just buy and enjoy because you like it. The myths and fuss mean there’s this mystery and worry about “understanding it” and finding the hidden meaning. I’ve had countless friends tell me they like a short story, but don’t “do” poetry. It’s almost not enough to just enjoy the way the words feel in your mouth as you say them, or the fact that it made you cry or smile or think of someone you love. It feels as saleable poetry is either so obscure that the highbrow fawn over it, or so marketable that it’s consumed like a handful of foam shrimps, leaving a slightly synthetic taste and a feeling of utter despair. */**

In short, I needed to get over myself. I love writing poetry, I love people reading it and I love,love, love it when the words I write move, delight  and last in their minds. 

Why Poems from the Hare

I love hares. 

To expand a little – I enjoy their place in mythology, I enjoy their place as a symbol for the persecuted, the unfairly hunted, the marginalised. I also love their gawkiness, their not-quite-beautiful look. Hares are not blessed with the cuteness of rabbits (which I also adore), they demand attention, then belt away across a field without a second glance. I’m also kind of affectionate towards them because my poem My death will greive foxes is one of the first peces I felt really proud of. It makes me happy still. 

The first commission

My first commission came a couple of days ago, and after my initial and utter delight, I experienced the usual rush of “oh my goodness I can’t do this” and that feeling that I’m going to be found out as not a real poet ( I read a comment once “there are poets and Poets “ It’s haunted me a little ever since – what if I’m not the one in italics. Do  want to be? How would I know? Will you know? ) and then I remembered that I really, really want to do this.

It’s a scary thing. A gift of words. I started by emulating the work I’ve seen on Etsy – very appealing, clear, classic rhyme. Straightforward solid poems. It felt like wearing a pair of beige court shoes. So I thought again, and decided to write in the way would normally write, to write with something to say, rather than something to sell. I sent a tentative draft, full of caveats and apologies and  you know what ? I’d got it right! My hunch about what might be needed paid off. I’ve another draft or two ( they have to sit a little) but I like what I’ve written and feel confident that it will do the things I talked about above. It’s made me happy. 

So I have added another string to my bow as it were. I will still need to spend days writing about bifold doors and oven cleaning, but if i can slot in a few beautiful bespoke poems along the way I’ll be delighted. 

If you’re (or anyone you know) is interested in commissioning one of my Poems from the Hare just email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and I’ll get back in touch within a day or so. 

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Stay safe 

Kathryn xx

*I may be overegging this a tad

** this isn’t true – there are many wonderful small presses and journals designed to explode this myth. You’ll find them in your local indie bookshop or online. Nine Arches Press is a a good place to start, as well as Mslexia, Riggwelter Press and Paper Swans

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