The Forward Prizes for Poetry

Apart from the odd comment/share on social media, I’ve been a bit of a poetry recluse, lately: Soundswrite’s had a summer break; my writing’s been in the doldrums; this blog suffered an hiatus(???!); poetry TBRs languished as I sought the company of novels.

Tuesday night’s Forward Poetry Prizes event had been on my radar for some time, though, thanks to Jen Campbell’s Youtube book channel.  (Jen was one of four poets on this year’s judging panel).  I booked way back in June when I was intent upon ploughing through the re-named Life’s for Living List and before the heatwave fried my brain.  The date crept up on me, rather.  But I always enjoy my infrequent London jaunts, don’t I? And how could I pass up on the chance of such a poetry jolly?

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I was looking forward to some poet-spotting and saying hi to one or two familiar faces, maybe. Instead, I promptly went into introvert mode: a seat in the cafe with my nose in a book (and a novel, at that!) beforehand, an ice cream taken back to my seat during the interval and a prompt departure afterwards for the Tube at Waterloo (walking past the book stall without a sideways glance).  What’s wrong with me?!

Anyway, I’m glad I went.  I enjoyed my first Forward Prizes evening very much.  It was a re-connection with the buzz that exists around poetry in a building full of poets and poetry lovers.

All fifteen shortlistees were there except for Jorie Graham (who sent a letter, and a recorded message and poem reading). I really hope I get the opportunity to hear her read in person, some day.

There was no second-guessing the winner of the single poem, but I thought Fiona Benson’s ‘Ruins’ was a close contender; beautifully read, too.  I’d like to read more of her work (I gather there’s a forthcoming collection).  I’m delighted for Liz Berry, though.  Incidentally, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of one Jen Campbell’s Dissect a Poem videos.  You can read it here.

I really enjoyed the readings by shortlistees for Best First Collection; such a range of voices and subjects. Kaveh Akbar was the audience’s darling but the award went to Phoebe Power for her Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet).  Heritage was a theme common to several of the shortlisted works.  I really enjoyed Shivanee Ramlochan’s readings from Everyone knows I’m a Haunting and pleased to see a Peepal Tree Press poet alongside those published by the Big Guns.

After the interval there followed strong readings from the Best Collection shortlistees.  I particularly warmed to JO Morgan’s voices from Assurances (Cape) and hope to hear him read again, somewhere.  Danez Smith stole the show, though, and the prize announcement was hugely popular with the audience.  

The list of prizewinners and shortlistees is available on the Forward Arts Foundation website and you can scroll through photos and Prize-related links over on their Twitter account.  Then there’s Robin Houghton’s blog post on her version of events, plus an account of yesterday’s Poetry Book Fair which I was pleased to read as two trips to London inside a week just wasn’t do-able.

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What I’m working on, and other poems

Over the last few blog posts I haven’t made much mention of my writing, or what my living, breathing poems are getting up out there in the real world.

What I’m working on:

Last month, I completed another of Jen Campbell’s excellent online workshops: Response Poems. I like Jen’s workshop format:

  • the workshop material is emailed
  • a week to complete two tasks: comment on a published resonse poem in relation to the original poem; write a response to own choice of poem
  • a two-hour (text-only) Skype workshop session for group discussion and feedback on both tasks
  • Jen’s detailed feedback on participants’ poems, attached as Word documents

I wrote a deeply personal response to Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers.  The first stanza of this poem has been my personal mantra over the past few months, so it was a natural choice.  It was really useful to receive some ‘distance’ critical feedback on an early, still-raw draft.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last poem mining the same seam.  My current poems-in-progress are borne out of my notebook writing over the past six months or so. They are poems of anger, fear and pain, as well as of hope and healing.  I am grateful, too, for ‘distance’ feedback on three of these poems, from Helena Nelson during her (still-open) HappenStance Press July ‘window’.

Published poems:

I have two poems in the brand new issue 21 of Under the Radar magazine, from Nine Arches Press, which arrived in Wednesday’s post:

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Forthcoming:

All a Cat Can Be, a poetry anthology in aid of New Start Cat Rescue, is forthcoming from Eithon Bridge Publications.  It includes my poem, My Cat is Sad; a line from the poem is also a caption for one of the gorgeous feature photographs.  As a cat lover (and Chief of Staff to cats Senior and Junior) , I’m doubly pleased to found a new home for an old (previously-published) poem, here.  Sadly, I can’t make the launch (distance, diary clash) but I’m looking forward to receiving my contributor copy.

In other good news:

DIVERSIFLY anthology (Fair Acre Press) has been short-listed for this year’s Rubery Book Award.

A long shot:

I’ll be scanning the Bridport Poetry Prize longlist when it’s published online, this coming Tuesday.  I’m one of thousands (no doubt) who are dearly hoping to see their name/poem amongst them…

Fathers and the poems they inspire

Today, my social media newsfeeds are a joy to behold: Father’s Day messages of love and gratitude, photographs of fathers (the late and the living) and the memories they evoke.  Our son, father of our five grandchildren, is enjoying a day of indulgence: handmade cards incorporating chocolate bars and a family day out at a car show.  My husband returns this afternoon from a weekend away with friends.

Some poet bloggers have posted poems, photographs and memories of their fathers that, in turn, evoked memories of my own father (I don’t refer to him as my ‘late’ father; he remains present in memories and in the poems he has inspired).  Angela Topping’s post includes a poem, ‘Dad’s Tea,’ which reminded me so much of my paternal grandmother’s very strong brew which inspired my poem, ‘Ritual’ (coincidentally, you can read it here, on Angela Topping’s Hygge poem series).

John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14.  He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps).  He died too young, aged 63.  Only this morning (thanks to the internet’s wonder web) I discovered this photograph of my father, aged 14, with his prize-winning stallion painting:

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Photo credit: The Garton Archive, Christ’s Hospital school, Lincoln

You can read three poems inspired by my father on Sharon Larkin’s Good Dadhood poem series.  Incidentally, all four of the above-mentioned poems by yours truly are also published in my 2014 pamphlet, Beyond the Tune (Soundswrite Press, 2014).

In other news:

I’ve had a poem acceptance for the Humanagerie anthology, to be published by Eibonvale Press in October.  I was particularly pleased to read poetry editor Sarah Doyle’s email comments in response to my submitted poem; an acceptance with a personal touch.

The accepted poem, Rough Music, was written out of Jen Campbell’s online workshop, Poetry and Fairy Tale, which I blogged about here.  I’m currently doing another of Jen’s excellent workshops, The Response Poem, which I’ll blog about in due course.  When I click Publish on this post, I’ll be settling down to work on Jen’s assigned tasks.

 

After NaPoWriMo

April’s gone, and the rigour of National/Global Poetry Writing Month is over for another year.  So how did it benefit me as a writer?

  • The discipline of producing new writing, daily.
  • Motivation to get started and keep going, from a writing community.
  • No shortage of writing prompts to overcome self-imposed barriers/blocks to writing.
  • New and unexpected learning/discoveries from prompt-related web links.
  • Exploring form.
  • Approaching old poem drafts from new perspectives; fresh starts.
  • Unexpected/surprising outcomes.
  • An abundance of material to work on or cherry-pick from.

This week, Carrie Etter invited members of her NaPoWriMo Facebook group to share their ‘best’ poem of the month.  Having nothing I can yet call ‘a poem’ I’m desisting.  I am enjoying reading everyone else’s, though.

Recently, I’ve been dealing with a plethora of subscriber emails ahead of this month’s new data protection laws; necessary, I know, but my inbox is complaining.  I’ve unsubscribed from several, lately, anyway, by way of an inbox trim-and-tidy-up.  I do look forward to reading my chosen e-newsletters and updates of the poetry kind.

Poetry pickings:

Investments:

  • I’ve signed up to Jen Campbell’s summer poetry workshop, The response Poem, as I found her Poetry and Fairy Tale one so useful.  Details here, if you’re interested. (Only 2 places left on group one; assignment sent on Friday 15th June).
  • With a view to growing this teeny tiny blog, I’ve ordered two books on blogging by Robin Houghton, a writer, blogger and poet who knows how: The Golden Rules of Blogging (& When to Break Them) and Blogging for Writers.  I’m hoping they’ll shed light on what might work better for me and my potential readers.

A published poem:

I’m delighted to have a poem in Popshot‘s shiny new ‘Truth’ issue, out to contributors this week. I really like the magazine’s fresh approach to showcasing poetry, flash fiction and short stories on a theme.

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An acceptance:

This morning, I had an email acceptance (from Sharon Larkin, who published three of my pamphlet poems on her Good Dadhood project site): a poem for the New Start Cat Rescue anthology.  As a poet and a cat lover, I’m doubly pleased.  A quote from my poem will also appear as a caption for a featured photograph taken by New Start volunteer, Rachel Slatter.

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

 

A busy week

I’ve embraced this week’s return to weather conditions approaching Spring.  Monday, spent gardening in the sunshine of our ‘inherited’ back garden, was a real tonic.  I’m still purchasing forced daffodils at the supermarket till but the forsythia outside the kitchen window that spent last week having second thoughts is just about to burst forth.

Poetry reading and writing has been at the forefront this week.  Jen Campbell’s online workshop, Poetry and Fairy Tale, dropped into my email inbox last Sunday so I’ve been reading the material sent for information and inspiration and working on the two assignments: responding to a published poem using fairy tale markers, mulling over drafts of one or two ‘stuck’ poems and writing in new directions.  I’ve got two new poems on simmer and will submit one for workshop feedback ahead of today’s midnight deadline.

On Tuesday morning, there were twenty  of us at the Leicester Writes writers’ meet-up, the first since December so there was much writerly catching up over coffee and a round-up of works-in-progress, successes and diary dates.  It’s such a solitary thing we do that I feel it’s healthy to be part of the wider community of local writers.  And it’s interesting to meet writers in other genres, too.

On Thursday, Mr S and I enjoyed an afternoon at University of Leicester to view a poetry exhibition as part of a programme of events to mark International Women’s Week. I mentioned last week that my poem, ‘Ritual,’ was chosen as one of ten poems displayed on buildings around the campus.  We found mine inside the Astley Clarke building.  I have a shrewd suspicion that mine had to be re-printed due to a misspelling of ‘Jayne’ (that ‘extra’ letter has been the bain of my life!) but hey ho.

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I particularly liked Shruti Chauhan’s ‘Mehndi Night’ and Maria Taylor’s ‘What It Was Like.’  Another twenty-nine poems were available to view in the Digital Reading Room of the David Wilson library, my poem, ‘My Grandmother’s Kitchen,’ among them.

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I was pleased to note that, in total, eight poems were written by six fellow Soundswriters (my local women’s poetry group) and that the poets were not exclusively female.

There was a good vibe on campus; Mr S and I were snapped on Polaroid at the event stand (Polaroid? a throwback to my higher ed days), toting #PressForProgress pledges:

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I’ve just had some more good news: I’ve had a poem accepted for the Truth issue of Popshot magazine, out in May.  This will be my second published poem in this pairing of writers and illustrators: ‘You Do Not Have To Say’ was published in their Wild issue (Oct 2013).  I’m looking forward to seeing the illustrator’s response to my poem.

 

 

 

 

 

Closer to home

Sunny days are such a boost to the system, aren’t they?  This weekend, it’s hard to believe that ‘The Beast from the East’ is waiting to do its damnedest.  Yesterday, I dragged a hardwood chair from the patio to a sunny patch at the far end of our north-facing back garden (not far, actually, as our ‘new’ garden is very small).  Cat senior joined me in catching some rays. I didn’t stay put for very long, just long enough to feel more alive under an optimistic light level, the sharp air pinching some colour into my cheeks.  Indoors, a vase of supermarket daffodils lights up the kitchen.

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As a gesture towards spring-cleaning my teeny tiny blogsite, I’ve changed the header image.  The previous image is several years old; I like this one as it’s spontaneous rather than posed.  Photo credit goes to Ambrose Musiyiwa, a familiar face at many cultural and other events in Leicester.  Thanks, Ambrose!

I’ve made a start on gathering together poems (my own and others’), internet ‘finds’ and reference books with a view to a new writing project related to the old wives’ tales, superstitions and slanted childhood memories that I grew up hearing from my grandmothers and mother.  It’s a tentative start but a start nevertheless.  And I’ve been doing a little more writing in, and gleaning from, my notebook, too.

It’s been a while since I last participated in a writing workshop.  In a bid to sweep away a winter’s-worth of cobwebs, I’ve signed up for Jen Campbell’s online workshop, Poetry and Fairy Tale.  I’m hoping that it will help me throw new light on a problematic poem that’s been stewing for too long – or spark something completely unexpected.  I’ve also splashed out (I blame recent social media enthusing about poetry festival goings and doings) and booked myself a place on George Szirtes’ masterclass, Liberated by Constraint, facilitated by Writing East Midlands.  I hope this one will jerk me right out of my comfort zone.

I’ve not done a great deal of reading, this week (yes, I’m still reading that back issue of The North, as well as a novel that isn’t engaging me as I hoped it would).  I did read last Sunday’s Brainpickings and especially enjoyed, in The Temple of Knowledge, about Ronald Clark, who grew up in a New York public branch library in an age when library caretakers and their families lived among the books.  As the only bookworm in a literate but not a book-loving family, I can’t think of anything I’d have liked better!  His story sparked personal memories of spending hours of a Saturday, lounging on a beanbag in the children’s section of our local library, lost in a book; sitting at a table in the enforced silence of the reference library, copying passages from a book, for the love of it.  I came across this quote, by Jorge Luis Borges, at the bottom of this morning’s Wordery email: “I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.”

I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine at least as much as your writing and reading 🙂 x