The month of firsts: January doings

What happened to January?  One minute I’m wondering how I’ll ever get back up to speed for the start of the spring term at school – next thing I know, I’m receiving e-newsletters full of the joys of February poetry events!

I haven’t set myself a daily writing goal but this month I have managed to redraft some poems-in-progress, resurrect one or two others and generate some new writing ranging from a few lines in my notebook to a fledgling poem in response to an online workshop assignment.

My first poetry foray of the year was for a brief chat with DJ Tony Wadsworth on Radio Leicester’s Saturday morning programme.  By all accounts, I didn’t come across as a blithering idiot, I managed to turn questions around to mentioning some of what I’d planned in my head/on post-it notes.  And I read the opening poem from my pamphlet.

My first featured reading of the year was as supporting ‘act’ for talented performance poet (and Leicester’s own) Jess Green, at Word! on 6th January.  I cut my teeth at the open mic there, five years ago or thereabouts, so it was a real pleasure to take the floor for a 10-minute spot in front of an audience of friends and many familiar faces.  It’s no coincidence that this monthly spoken word event (the longest-running in the Midlands) gets an honourable mention from several Leicestershire poets on Robin Houghton’s first Regional Poetry Focus blog post.  I relaxed and enjoyed the open mic slots in the second half, followed by Jess’s accomplished performance of Burning Books, Restart and Dear Mr Gove.  I sold a few copies of my pamphlet, too (not bad, considering most of those assembled already have a copy).

I attended the first Poetry Business’ January writing day, too.  I’ve a feeling that my trips to Sheffield will be more of a regular thing, this year.  I thrive on workshops anyway, but I feel privileged to spend a day in the company of the talented wordsmiths that comprise the PB regulars.  And it’s good to meet, face-to-face, poets whose blogs/poetry/social media quips and commentary I enjoy.  John Foggin (The Great Fogginzo) and Carole Bromley, for instance.

My first 2015 poem acceptance (yay!) came via email from The Lampeter Review.  It’s one I wrote as a result of participating in my first Poetry Society open online workshop: Kim Moore’s Put a Poet in your Pocket.  It will be published in issue 11 (not sure when), on the theme of Magical Realism.

Not a first, this, I’ve booked a place and my return rail ticket for a five-day poetry residential in Cumbria.  It’ll be my third (it’s the third one, too).  Co-run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley, this year’s theme is ‘The Stories we Tell Ourselves.’  I have to tell you it’s now fully booked, though.  I can’t wait for the Easter holidays!

Before I sign off, here’s what I’ll be poetry-doing first next month: a featured reading alongside Matt Merritt at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry on Wed 4th Feb (only five days to go!).  It’s a joint Fire & Dust and Nine Arches Press event.  Open mic slots are available, too.  I’d love you to come and join us if you’re local, willing and able.  Or if you fancy a change from your usual haunts. Details here.

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David Harsent – Fire Songs

Forthright as ever, Dave Coates on David Harsent’s T S Eliot prize-winning Fire Songs:

Dave Poems.

Full Disclosure: The debacle that permitted one of Harsent’s work colleagues and a former student to be two-thirds of the judging panel for the country’s biggest poetry prize has been well covered. My feelings on transparency remain unchanged. Content warning: the book depicts often sexualised violence against women, which is discussed throughout this review.

Review:

Fire Songs kicks off with a poem about Anne Askew, a historical figure best known for being the only recorded woman to be tortured and burned at the stake at the Tower of London. She was also the first woman to ask for a divorce, left her arranged marriage to preach the gospel in London, where she was arrested twice and returned to her husband’s custody, and was finally interrogated and tortured and died at the age of 25. Harsent’s poem is interested only in her torture and execution. Curiously, the poem…

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January musings

After the slowing down, home and family focus and general introspection that constituted my Christmas break, I did wonder if I’d ever get back up to speed for the start of the school spring term.  But I did.  And January is more than halfway through already.  Scary.

In my final blog post for 2014 I stated that I no longer make new year resolutions.  That’s not strictly true; they exist as aspirations rather than targets; they’re in my head (I feel for them, poor blighters) and they are probably what drive me, although my compulsive/all-or-nothing nature means that I fail miserably at maintaining any kind of balance in my work-free life (cue nods and much rolling of eyes from those who know me).

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Josephine Corcoran’s early December blog post, Setting Yourself Goals, reminded me of a bucket list I made just after my 50th birthday:

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I went as far as to purchase a Paperchase scrap book in which to map my achievements.  I printed off some motivational web images, too:

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Although I stuffed a few photographs and photocopies between its covers for a while, I then forgot about it – the scrap book, that is.  The list lives on, though, and I have made progress towards, and, in one or two cases, achieved goals:

1) ‘Achieve job satisfaction’: I returned to teaching in 2008-2009 and became an accredited Reading Recover teacher and taught in 3 Leicester city schools.  I now have a wider role (Reading Champion/reading interventions) and work three full days instead of five mornings.  2) ‘Become a published poet’: I had my first poems published in spring 2009.  And there have been more.  And my debut pamphlet last year.  3) ‘Win a poetry competition’: well, I was seriously chuffed to receive a Highly Commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue competition and a poem long-listed in the Desmond O’Grady competition, both in 2013.  4) ‘Create an easy-maintainance garden’: I must give credit, here, to the many hours of paid-for-by-the-hour labour involving weed-suppressing membrane, several tonnes of gravel and a serious plant cull. There’s more on the list, but I won’t bore you with the ups and downs of my yoyo dieting lifestyle(!)  Interesting, too, that music doesn’t feature.  And my dormant family history research?  That may just have to wait until I retire…

Where can I send my poems? Part 1.

Roy Marshall

Part 1.

This post has nothing at all to do with the process of writing or with enjoying writing. But, regardless of whether you enjoy submitting to magazines or not, if you want to get your work published, you will need, at some point, to try and learn and understand as much as you can about the process. And you will need to become organised and methodical if you want to increase your chances of publication.
A few years ago I started to send my work out to magazines.
I was somewhat anxious.

Nervos person

I wondered if any of my poems were any good.  I was in love with one or two. I wondered which magazines to send too. Should aim high or low? Because my mate, Pete, thought my poems were great, perhaps the editor of Shoot the Moon would too? Not that I’d ever seen a copy of Shoot the Moon, or any other poetry magazine at that point.

I…

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Submitting to journals: the Jo Bell method

Here I am, sitting at the dining table for a morning of prevarication over which poems to submit where, and notification of this little gem drops into my email inbox. Sound advice from Jo Bell on submitting to journals:

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

Capture

I’ve spent some time lately with poetry journal editors – and also with the poor poetic beggars who, like me, send off work to them. It’s struck me anew that many people, especially those at the beginning of their poetry career, don’t have much idea of how submission works and what time span is realistic for an editor to consider a poem. Also, they’re wondering how to keep tabs on the seventeen different poems that they’ve sent out, in order to avoid the no-no of simultaneous submission.

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches me that the key part of winning any prize or getting into a journal is this:

SEND THE BUGGERS OFF.

This is the only area of my life where such a streamlined system exists, but…

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Becoming a poet

Roy Marshall

Some of the time you feel that your obvious talent is being ignored. Your ego pounds the table and shouts ‘not fair’ as you watch other (obviously less talented people) parading their successes. But your monstrous ego won’t always win out. You will feel genuinely pleased for other people too. The poet you met at a reading and had a good chat with, the poet who you went on a course with, the poet whose work you love, whose kindness and humility you remember. You will seek feedback.
'And do we want to know why a haiku is like a thong?'

Some of the feedback will annoy or upset you. The poem will be fatally wounded. You will abandon it. You will seek more feedback. You will ignore it. You will learn to listen. The poem full of holes is patched up. It floats. It is magical. You float in it. You begin to recognise and accept good advice. You know what to reject and…

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