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.


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.

Catching up #3: Encounters and Collisions

My return to work after ten weeks of post-op sick leave was a shock to the system, phased though it was.  Thank goodness for a residential poetry course in Cumbria at the beginning of the Easter break – a kind of delayed convalescence holiday.  After attending Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley’s co-run three-day residential in February last year (see here) I wasn’t about to miss out on a return trip to Abbott Hall Hotel near Grange-over-Sands for five days, with nothing but a change of scenery , blue skies and sunshine to distract me from wall-to-wall poetry in good company.

The rail journey went without a hitch and four and a half hours flew by in the company of Bernice Reynolds, friend and fellow member of Soundswrite women’s poetry group.  We travelled up on the Sunday afternoon, giving us chance to settle in and have Monday morning free before the start of the course.  I put my spanking new ceramic hip joint to the test on a brisk walk along the coastal path into Grange.  Enjoying a coffee at my pavement table, full sun burning my denim-clad legs, I could have been on the Riviera instead of the north-west coast of England.

The course, entitled Encounters and Collisions, comprised a series of workshops using artefacts, poems, maps, pictures, photographs and prompts to spark ideas and set them on their way as early draft poems.  Kim and Jennifer worked us hard and we rose to the challenge, I think.  We wrote of landscape, animals and birds, the past, the body, ghosts, the dead.  We surprised ourselves and each other.

Wednesday afternoon was either free time or an opportunity for a tutorial with Kim or Jenny.  I came away with Jenny’s insightful feedback on several of my pamphlet poems.

Over four evenings, following a leisurely dinner, we shared our favourite poems by others, read our own work, enjoyed readings by our tutors and two mystery guest poets: Andrew Forster and Carole Coates.  The two were a good contrast in terms of subject matter and writing style, and made for an interesting evening with the chance to ask questions about their work.  I really enjoyed hearing Jennifer read poems from her new collection, Sisters (Smokestack Books) which I devoured in a cover-to-cover read after snapping it up from the Impress Books stand at States of Independence in March. As well as one or two poems from her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves (Smith Doorstop), Kim read a series of new poems which will form part of her forthcoming collection with Seren.  Like Jennifer’s work, they are darker poems with a story to tell.  I really admire poets who are not afraid to explore difficult subject matter.

It was lovely to make new friends and to catch up with those I met last year: Rachel Davies, Lydia Harris, David Borrott and Hilary Hares.  It was great to have the company of another Leics poet friend, Janet Lancaster, too.  We all spent Friday morning critiquing each other’s poems.  Thanks to everyone’s insightful feedback, I’ve now edited a problematic pamphlet poem.  Here we all are on our last afternoon:

2014 04 18_4048

Our journey back to Leicester went very smoothly, thanks to fellow poets Hilary Hares and Emily Blewitt who shared the first leg of the journey, and to the wonderful Network Rail staff who met Bernice and I off our train at Birmingham and Leicester stations to help us our luggage, etc.  People are so lovely.

Recharged batteries, a notebook full of would-be poems set to fledge from my scribble, new friends and happy memories.  A huge thank you to Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley and to my fellow participants.  What a week!

Of course, I’ve been so tardy with this post that others blogged its praises a couple of weeks ago.  You can read Emily Blewitt’s here, Gill Garrett’s here and Kim Moore’s Sunday Poem blog post featuring Hilary Hares’ wonderful course-inspired poem, Kents Bank. Kim’s site also has details here of her next poetry residential in St Ives, Cornwall this October.  Meanwhile, places on next year’s course in Cumbria are going fast…

My Writing Process blog tour

A few weeks ago, I was invited to take part in this blog tagging tour by poet, reviewer and genuinely lovely person, Maria Taylor.  You can read her blog here and details of her wonderful debut poetry collection, Melanchrini, here.

I am just as fascinated by how other writers approach their work as I am by the paths that poems take, from first sparks to polished pieces.  I hope you enjoy reading my responses to the blog tour questions.  Here goes:

1)  What am I working on?

I’m currently putting together my debut poetry pamphlet, which will be published by Soundswrite Press this autumn – exciting and slightly scary, now it’s this year!  The story so far: chaotic and uncharted sessions at the dining room table assembling, sifting and reassembling piles of poems from a sea of paper, a general concept, a working title, likely poems and a suggested order, almost-certain opening and final poems and my editor’s first response (generally positive and encouraging, so assume I’m on the right track, at least – phew).  There’s a way to go but I’m getting so much out of the process and really looking forward to a close working relationship with my editor as well the tangible end product, the launch and all that might follow.

I’ve written quite a few new poems, lately – not with a specific end in mind at this stage, other than submitting them to various paper and online magazines and journals.  And I’ve even produced a super-improved submissions tracker in an attempt to be a bit more systematic and far less sporadic in getting stuff ‘out there.’

2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s a less straightforward question… I hope that by reading as much good poetry as I possibly can that it both informs and develops my own writing.  I like to think that my ‘voice’ (or voices plural) is (are) continually evolving.   The titles of my poems often belie their subject matter, their content hinting at something darker.  I really admire the work of poets such as Helen Ivory who are not afraid to explore dark subject matter through their writing.  Her collection Waiting for Bluebeard had a profound effect on me from my cover-to-cover first reading last year.  It’s one I keep returning to.  Jennifer Copley is another such poet.  I read Beans in Snow and Living Daylights last year.  Her latest collection, Sisters, is on my (growing) To Buy list.

Themes I’m currently exploring are control/possession/containment and licence/assumed consent.  These are poems that I haven’t set out to write but ask to be written.

I often mine the rich seam of memory but rarely do I write a poem that is totally ‘true.’  They are almost always a distillation of self, memory/experience and invention viewed through a lens of some kind.  I hope I allow the reader freedom to take from my poems what they will, to view them through their own lens.

3)  Why do I write what I do?

I write because I have to.  It’s a compulsion, and one that fulfils me.  And even if some Superior Being told me I’d never get another poem published, I’d still write (although I sometimes fear that I might never write another poem worth sharing).  Having said all that, I enjoy the intrinsic reward of the occasional endorsement by a magazine/journal editor, that feeling when a poem has ‘gone to a good home,’ that it will have a wider audience.

I write poetry, as opposed to prose, because (rare) attempts to write in any other way always end up as poems.  I think I tend to read everything with a poet’s eyes and ears: I love the poetry in the novels of Roma Tearne, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie and Virginia Woolf, for instance.

I write the poems I do because they ask to be written, even if they bare little or no resemblance to the original idea.

4)  How does your writing process work?

This is the point at which I must ‘fess up to my generally ill-disciplined practice as a writer.  There are several reasons why I fail to maintain a daily habit of generating ‘new writing’: I’m not a morning person, life and other ‘stuff’ gets in the way and any number of other reasons including opening that Works in Progress sub folder and the never-ending cycle of destruction and reconstruction that is re-drafting.  I do like to attend writing workshops to kickstart new writing and explore different ways of getting into a poem.  If it’s been a ‘good day’, I’ll come away with several embryonic poems, sometimes just an idea/a phrase/a string of words.  Just being in the same room as other writers sometimes helps.  And it’s a change from a largely solitary practice.

I do have a growing stack of notebooks but have yet to devise a system whereby I can easily access particular entries.  These are filled with just that – notes, or ideas, a word, a phrase, something heard or ‘found.’  I tend to type poems on the PC or laptop as soon as I can – it’s not only easier to move around, delete and substitute words/lines/stanzas but I can play with line breaks and the shape of the poem on the page.  My Writing folder has many sub folders, including Unfinished and Dubious, but you never know when something might be salvageable or recycled.

I’m sometimes inspired by an image or an artwork.  I’m particularly drawn to sculpture, viewing it from different angles, looking through its holes and gaps, the tactile experience (if touching is permitted).  I love texture and colour in all things, including food.  Sounds also inspire my writing and a large part of the re-drafting process, for me, is focused on the sound and rhythm.  My poems are as much for the ear as for the eye, which is why reading at open mic events and the occasional guest reading is so important to me.

I’ll now introduce the three writers I’ve chosen to carry on the blog tour with their own My Writing Process posts on Monday 24th February:

Robin Houghton’s poetry has appeared in many UK magazines and her first pamphlet is out in the Spring. She’s also a business writer with hundreds of articles, websites and blog posts to her name. Her first book, Blogging for Creatives, was published by Ilex/F&W in 2012 and she has just been commissioned to write a follow-up, Blogging for Writers.  Check out her blog:  http://www.poetgal.co.uk

Siobhan Logan is a Leicester poet with two collections published by Original Plus Press: Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights’ Journey and Mad, Hopeless and Possible: Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition. Her work has been performed at the British Science Musuem, the National Space Centre and the British Science Festival.  She blogs at: http://siobhanlogan.blogspot.co.uk/

Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson: in a former life – a fashion designer obsessed with literature. Now a writer – unable to completely ignore that former life. Writing short stories, poems and always considering ‘The Novel’. Current projects include a series of sonnets about clothes. (and life, and love) called DressCode, and a linked novel-length collection of short stories.  Lindsay’s web link:  http://poemstorydreamreality.com/about/

Sea poems

In a week’s time, I’ll be escaping to the north-west coast for a much-needed break in the shape of a two-day residential poetry course on a sea theme, run by Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley.  And there’s scenery, writing and reading time to look forward to, on the train journey, too.  I can hardly wait!

Sea poems have been seeking me out for a while now, beginning with a piece of free writing that came out of nowhere on a flight to Barcelona last October.  Perhaps it had something to do with being away from land-locked Leicestershire, or the prospect of a week’s cruise, or flying over the sea – I’ll never know.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to developing these works in progress and to writing new poems sparked by the series of intriguing workshops that Kim and Jennifer have planned for us.

On the reading front, I’ve been revisiting old favourites and reading other sea poems for the first time.

This W H Auden poem I’ve loved since my A Level days:


Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.

Here at a small field’s ending pause
Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide,
And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
-ing surf, and a gull lodges
A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships
Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
And this full view
Indeed may enter
And move in memory as now these clouds do,
That pass the harbour mirror
And all the summer through the water saunter.

Listen to Auden’s reading here (such mastery of sounds).

Richie McAffery’s Flotsam is a wonderful piece of poetry-show-not-tell I loved at first reading on The Poetry Kit’s feature poet series Caught in the Net.

Then I happened upon a beautiful collaboration of art and poetry, Estuary, which I discovered on Michelle McGrane’s Peony Moon.  (Click here for a link to her blog post, or here to preview pages from the book).

John C Nash’s hauntingly beautiful Last Post: Holkham Beach, with accompanying photograph by Samantha Webster, appears on Helen Ivory’s poetry and prose webzine, Ink, Sweat & Tears. (Read it here).

And I could go on, but this blog post may already be over-long.  If you have any suggestions for my further reading, do write titles, links, etc in the comments box below.

Looking forward to hearing from you.