Growing as a writer

If you’re celebrating all things egg-related this weekend, Happy Easter!  To fellow poetry hedonists, Happy NaPoWriMo (more on this, next week)!

Last Sunday, I granted myself a day off from writing and blog-posting.  We had visitors we haven’t seen for years.  We spent the day catching up.  It was food for the soul.

I’ve not done too shabbily in growing my habit of blog-posting weekly (on Sundays) since last New Year’s Eve.  In terms of growing this teeny tiny blogsite, viewing numbers are increasing but, in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, it’s infinitesimal.  The Insights tool on WordPress informs me that my biggest referrer is Facebook (set to Friends only) so I’ve a lot to learn.  I need a reference guide such as Robin Houghton’s Blogging for Writers, obvs.  However, I don’t want to become a slave to the cause; I’ve already acquired more displacement activities than I care to mention (but they’d make for an interesting blog post, maybe…).

In terms of growing my poetry-writing skills, I mentioned here that I’ve recently invested in two poetry workshops:

Jen Campbell’s online workshop, Poetry and Fairy Tale, was very reasonably priced at £30.  The workshop materials were informative and included several sources of inspiration in terms of poems and links.  There were given two tasks: dissect and comment on one of three given poems (I chose Jaimes Alsop’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’); write a poem based on either a specific fairy tale or using markers from several; one week to complete the tasks.  Jen’s workshop achieved more than I’d hoped for: I wrote two poems utilising Jen’s material and some unsatisfactory drafts from That Unfinished Folder; I was happy enough with one fledgling to submit it for workshop feedback; the other has legs but is still too wobbly on its feet.  Participants received all responses to tasks one and two by email a few days prior to the two-hour (text-only) Skype chat.  Sadly, only three participants were available; nevertheless, the ensuing discussion and comments proved worthwhile.  Jen’s extensive knowledge of fairy tales across many cultures, her insights, rigorous comments and suggested edits on our poems (which she attached for reference) were invaluable.  Details of all Jen Campbell’s writing workshops are available on her website, here (she also does one-to-one workshops by arrangement).

George Szirtes’ face-to-face masterclass, Liberation by Constraint, was facilitated by Writing East Midlands.  At £70, I eventually booked a place after a not insignificant amount of self-talk on the subject of investing in my own writing.  I rarely (if ever) write to form.  If anything, I incline towards Mimi Khalvati’s view (A day to write the poem; a week to find the form, I think) that form emerges in the crafting.  However, I’m interesting in exploring form as a way of overcoming the (self-imposed) barriers to new writing.  With thirteen pages of notes (emailed in advance) as a guide to the structure of the day, Szirtes steered over twenty course participants through his ten-point perspective on structuring poems, arguments for constrained form, breaking rules, and an exploration (with examples) of several set forms: the haiku, cinquain, clerihew, sonnet, sestina and canzone.  A big Ask in just over five hours; nevertheless there was time allocated for several writing tasks and some read-arounds between the teacher talk (which I could have listened to more of, especially Szirtes’ ad lib recitation of lines of poetry as far back as the Ancients).  Will I adopt any of this into my daily writing practice?  Do any of my responses to the writing task have legs?  Do those three-liners I’ve taken to writing in my notebook count?  Maybe.  I do think this masterclass was value for money, though.

In submission news, I’ve sent off a poem for Mslexia’s Themed Writing call-out for issue 79: cooking.  And I think I’m going to submit my poem from Jen Campbell’s workshop here (I’m letting it settle till nearer the deadline date, though).  I also like The Lampeter Review‘s theme of Staying but don’t think I’ve anything suitable (or good enough) at the moment.

Here’s what I’ve been/am reading this week; all are rich nourishment for the writer:

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New on my (rapidly diminishing) TBR pile is Marion McReady’s Melita Hume Poetry Prize-winning collection, Tree Language (Eyewear).  Josephine Corcoran very kindly offered a book swap in response (the only response, would you credit it??!!) to my offer of a (duplicate) copy of Helen Dunmore’s Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe).  Good things come in book-shaped packages:

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 Thanks, Josephine! 🙂 x

 

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One poetry book too many?

Can one ever have too many poetry books? you might ask.

My poetry bookshelf currently houses:

  • around 230 single-author collections, New & Selecteds and pamphlets (I gave up counting)
  • over 50 anthologies
  • a down-sized selection of magazines (a short publishing history)
  • numerous On Writing books

The above are survivors of my best efforts at down-sizing my preciouses prior to last October’s house-into-bungalow move.  I’ve read almost all of them from cover to cover at least once.  On odd occasions I ask myself how many of these I’ll realistically re-read dip into in future.  Repeated attempts to curb my poetry book-purchasing are short-lived.

And that TBR pile? It’s not doing too badly:

  • two full collections
  • two anthologies
  • five magazines (am still waaay behind on poetry mag-reading)
  • one On Writing book

Last Saturday, I went to a reading and discussion of poems from Helen Dunmore’s Costa Book Award-winning ‘Inside the Wave’ hosted by members of the Nottingham Poetry Stanza as part of States of Independence (an annual Independent Press Day held at DMU, Leicester).  Having admonished myself for not having purchased and read the collection in advance, I picked up a copy at the Five Leaves Press stand just beforehand.  Six of the poems were read and discussed.  Dunmore’s collection never made it onto my TBR pile.  It demanded cover-to-cover reading; I re-read some poems, annotated themes and recurring images, and reflected on the pragmatism (and the poignancy) in this, Dunmore’s final collection.  I’ve copied some lines into my notebook; from ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’:

But why not keep flowering
As long as I can
From my cut stem?

and, from ‘Hold Out Your Arms,’ the final poem added to the second impression of the book, in which the poet greets Death like a mother:

As you brush back my hair
– Which could do with a comb
But never mind –
‘We’re nearly there.’

Yesterday, on looking through my TBRs for a Next Read, what did I discover?

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My first purchase has been probably been sitting pretty since I purchased it on publication (and my memory is poorer than I thought).

So, is anyone interested in a poetry giveaway (or a book swap)?  (UK postage, preferably). Let me know in the comments box below (or via social media, if that’s easier for non-Wordpress users).  If I’m inundated with takers, I’ll put names in a hat 🙂