What Editors Want – Poetry

Originally posted on Seren Books Blog:

This year we’re doing a series of blog posts on what editors in the publishing world are looking for. In February we heard from our fiction editor, Penny Thomas, and today our poetry editor, Amy Wack, lets us know what she looks for in submissions.

Dazzle me.

Isn’t this what everyone wants out of art? I want the book that makes me sit up at my desk, that makes my skull tingle, that intrigues and enlightens me, that seduces me with a fiercely intelligent music.

There is also a sense that someone has put the hours in. This is the 10,000 hours that it takes to become proficient at any art or skill. It involves a lot of reading, thinking and writing every day, often for something like a decade.

Sometimes, a writer will show evidence of talent or flair, but just hasn’t put the hours in yet. Sometimes a writer will show evidence…

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Dear Mr Gove

Originally posted on Seren Books Blog:

A special political poetry broadcast from Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling. Don’t forget to vote in today’s general election. You can listen to Kim read Dear Mr Govehere.

Dear Mr Gove

dear Mr Gove today I taught the children not to sit like bags of small
potatoes in their chairs I taught them how to breathe with their bellies
like babies do when they are sleeping we pretended we were balloons
of different colours filling up with air dear Mr Gove we played long note
beat that we looked up who holds the world record for the longest note
it was a clarinet player who managed to play for one minute and thir–
teen seconds without taking a breath we held our notes as if we were
monks singing a drone in a cathedral where the roof rises like a giant
wing against the sky dear…

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My MOOCs: a few thoughts and my progress so far

In a previous post about massive open online courses, I wrote that I’d enrolled on Iowa University’s How Writers Write Poetry, set to roll on March 23rd.  Here are a few thoughts on my experience and progress so far.

In the event, the start date was delayed by three weeks, so students (all 7327 of us) are currently engaged in Week Three of this seven-week course.  The benefits:

  • I’m finding the video sessions and master classes by course tutors are (almost without exception) highly informative and insightful.  I’ve especially enjoyed considering in depth: the relationship between Form and Content; the elements of prose poetry; use of the line and the white space on the page
  • I’ve read lots of poems for the first time and discovered poets I’d likely not have come across otherwise.  I’m reminded that the more I read, the more I realise how poorly read I am.  And I’m reminded what a marvellous resource the Poetry Foundation website is.

The drawbacks:

  • I’ve found Piazza, the Q & A platform for this course, a bit of a maze and therefore time-consuming to navigate.  Early on, I decided to opt out of this side of things altogether.  Consequently I’m not contributing to forum discussions and feedback comments on assignments.  From comments to the Facebook group, it seems I’m not the only one.
  • Students wishing to earn a Certificate of Completion for the course must submit assignments, complete a quiz for all videos, contribute to forum discussions and give feedback comments on assignments by fellow students.  And keep a track record of these on Piazza.  (And pay $50 at the end of the course).  No thanks, I’ll pass.

Apart from copious note-taking, the only course writing I’ve done so far is a few jottings and aborted first drafts in response to assignments.  But I’m not being too hard on myself, since these are experiments with new ways of writing and maybe they need to percolate for a while.  They’ll keep, and I can come back to them at any point.

I also enrolled on Stanford University’s 10 Pre-modern Poems by Women (aka 10Poems) tutored by Eavan Boland and others.  I’m mid-way through this MOOC (which, oddly, feels quite intimate) and am really enjoying spending about two to three hours a week looking at one poem in depth with the help of the video tutorials (there’s a handy transcript at the side, which is also downloadable).  I’ve enjoyed writing and uploading a short response to each poem (there’s a choice of 3 questions to choose from) and posting brief feedback on responses by two fellow students.

The online platform is proving very straightforward and I’ve experienced no technical woes, even though I’m using Internet Explorer!

I’m finding the video tutorials invaluable in terms of background information about the poets and the historical context for each poem.  And I’ve engaged with poems I wouldn’t normally choose to read.  One such is Phillis Wheatley’s To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, which I then took along to share and discuss with Soundswrite women’s poetry group.  I wanted to hear members’ views on how we, with all our 21st century sensibilities and post-abolition views on slavery, should ‘read’ a praise poem for her master written by an African American who was taken from her family and homeland and enslaved as a seven-year-old child.  You can read the poem here and more about the poet here.  And I’d love to hear what you think via the comments box below.

If quicksand doesn’t get you, the tides will

Having reneged on my unofficial intention to blog monthly at the very least, here’s grabbing April by the shirt tail and putting a bit of it (a poetry bit) under the blogoscope.

The post title above is from a poster caption in the reception area of Abbotts Hall hotel, venue for Kim Moore’s poetry residential course, now in its third year.  What a great kickstart to the Easter holidays: five days in a ‘poetry bubble’, swapping land-locked Leicestershire for views of Morecombe Bay across the salt marsh, the company of returning and new course participants, meals laid on and not a pot to wash, workshops, evening readings…

This year, Carola Luther joined Kim Moore as co-tutor for a series of workshops around the central theme: The Stories we Tell Ourselves.  We explored unfamiliar territory in safe hands.  We worked hard.  We shared what we’d written and were surprised and amazed by turns.  I even copied up my pages of scribble and crossings-out, between times.  I wrote and read into the wee small hours.  I had time – well, I had no excuse for procrastinating, anyway.

There was also time during the week for a walk into Grange-over-Sands along the coastal footpath (gorgeous sunshine; not a breath of salt wind; no need for a coat; coffee and cake; the train back in time for my tutorial with Kim) and, because poetry buddy Bernice and I had travelled up a day early, a morning visit to Carnforth station (a Brief Encounter with a mock-up cinema; a wander round the Heritage Centre run by lovely volunteer staff; photos under The Clock).

One of the high points of the week was the surprise arrival of a box of books – thanks to the lovely David Borrott, who drove Kim home to pick up a timely first delivery of her new collection, The Art of Falling (Seren).  We were all hugging our signed copies by bedtime on Tuesday,

having been treated to an evening of readings by both Kim and Carola.  I also bought a copy of Carola’s Arguing with Malarchy (Carcanet) and a mental note to self to add her first collection, Walking the Animals, to my wish list.

And what a lovely surprise to see Jennifer Copley drop by on Wednesday evening and read alongside guest poets Jane Routh and Mike Barlow (further book purchases ensued).

I hope to add a photo or two before publishing this (if I succeed in attaching them directly from my iPhone, thus avoiding a mega upload session).  But first, a few links:

An interview with Kim Moore on The Art of Falling on the Seren Book Blog.  Read it.  Buy the book, if you haven’t already.  Follow Kim’s marvellous blog.

Read a far better version of events over on John Foggin’s blog.


February, I’m so over you

February’s the low point of the year, for me: a wilderness of sorts between  resolutions/new beginnings and the official start of spring. It’s the colour grey.  It’s moody blue.  And, if social media’s a barometer, I’m not the only one who feels that way.  But it’s over!  Light levels are noticeably better, my garden’s budding and cat junior is swapping the close vicinity of various radiators for outdoor high jinks.

February’s bright side:

Me at Fire & Dust




Fire & Dust and Nine Arches Press open mic: my first feature reading of 2015, alongside Matt Merritt at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry.


Matt Merritt at Fire & DustMatt’s reading included several poems from The Elephant Tests (NAP) including one of my favourites from the collection, The Elephant in the Room.

Nine Arches editor Jane Commane read too – a rare treat, as the poetry-packed Leicester Shindig! events seldom allow time for her to showcase her poems.

Penelope Shuttle’s long-awaited headlining at Word! in Leicester on 3rd Feb.  Wow!  I only wish I’d been able to attend her pre-event workshop.  Kathleen Bell’s feature reading finished the first half of the evening with some of her poem sequences.

The List Cause: a Poetry School open online workshop.  I wrote a poem.  (There’s a plait in a paper bag in a box in our loft.  It’s been trying to get into a poem for a while…).  It’s been redrafted and workshopped again, since.  It’s recuperating in a subfolder.  It may become two or more poems.

Carol Ann Duffy’s reading as part of De Montfort University’s Cultural Exchanges festival.  Boy, can she play her audience!  I love how she allows the words breathing space, her measured delivery, her deadpan eyeballing of the audience.  The Laureate included several poems from The World’s Wife, my personal favourite amongst her collections.

Rosie Garland’s second headlining at Word!  When she appeared in 2012, she’d just won the Mslexia Novel Competition.  Since then she’s published two novels: The Palace of Curiosities, and Vixen, now out in paperback.  I loved both.  Good, then, to hear excerpts from each as well as several poems.  A consummate performer.

Towards a better balance in life: half term, and a two-night sleepover by all four grandchildren for starters; pottering in the garden, secateurs in hand; a day trip to London (Grayson Perry’s Who Are You? exhibition at the NPG, Portobello Road Market, browsing the magazine shelves at The Poetry Library).

Softening the blow of the latest rejection email (high hopes), is this afternoon’s news that issue 11 of The Lampeter Review is now available to read/download online, with my contributor’s hard copy to follow.  You can read it on ISSU/download it for free, here.

Good stuff to come:

Our daughter’s arrival on Sunday for a week’s stay.

States of Independence on 14th March: DMU’s annual hosting of this independent publishing fair.  A diary highlight.  A stint at the Soundswrite Press table and reading poems from Beyond the Tune as SWP marks its 10th anniversary.

Soundswrite Press goes to Inzine Fest III @The Pod, Coventry on Saturday 21st.

A feature reading, alongside Bare Fiction magazine editor Robert Harper, at Poetry Bites in Birmingham on Tues 24th.  Details here.

The Easter hols: Writing East Midlands Writers’ Conference in Nottingham; a five-day poetry residential in Cumbia; Adam Horovitz at Word! (and this time I can make the afternoon workshop).

Life’s good!  What are you looking forward to, this month?