One year on: Thank You, NHS!

Today, my husband and I are celebrating a first anniversary, of sorts. One year on from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, David continues to do well after making a remarkable recovery from a life-threatening condition.

We have much to be thankful for, not least the expertise of health professionals, and the treatment and quality of care he received from staff at all levels: from the neurosurgeon who explained the risks one Saturday at 2am, to the nurse on placement at QMC Nottingham who stayed beyond the end of her shift because she’d promised her patient she’d do what was needed.

I LOVE our NHS! Though there are those that do their damnedest to break it, the dedicated individuals that are its backbone continue to do the best they can for the patients in their care, in spite of this.

Many poems have been commissioned to mark 70 years of a healthcare system to meet the needs of everyone, free at the point of delivery, and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay. One such is Owen Sheers’ film-poem, To Provide All People; a tapestry of personal and universal experiences, historical narrative. Depicting 24 hours in a regional hospital, it is based on 70 hours of interviews with individuals: patients, health professionals and NHS workers at all levels. It is a love poem, of sorts, and available to view via BBC iPlayer until tomorrow at 9pm.

In my Ledbury blog post, I mentioned Martin Figura’s show, Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine. I was deeply affected by the image of the couple on sitting on the steps of Great Ormond Street hospital and the doctor who told them, “I have held your daughter’s heart in my hand and it’s fine.” (Our son, born with a congenital heart condition requiring surgery at five days old and again, aged 3, is now 33). I heartily recommend this life-affirming show, if it’s touring in your area.

I’ve also experienced a deep connection with ‘NHS’ poems by poets whose work I’ve read over time:

Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggin has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.

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Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!

I had such a lovely day, yesterday.  In the normal run of events I’m not a huge fan of birthday parties but this particular birthday bash was one I couldn’t resist.

The venue: The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
The vibe: relaxed, fun, informal
The flow: smooth, seamless
The pace: plenty of time for refreshments and mingling in poetry company

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It was good to catch up with poetry folk I haven’t seen for some time and interesting to meet and talk to others for the first time.  How lovely it was to meet face-to-face those I’ve only ‘met’ in the virtual world, not least among them Josephine Corcoran who also signed my copy of her collection, hot off the Nine Arches Press.

Of the two concurrent opening workshops, I opted for The Big Read-in with Jacqueline Saphra and Roz Goddard.  (as you may know, I’m a huge fan).  In conversation with Roz, Jacqueline provided some insights into, and read, several poems from All My Mad Mothers, an ‘unreliable memoir’ (her words).  We were then invited to discuss the collection in groups (with a few suggested questions provided by Roz) before a Q & A conversation between readers and the poet.  It was good, too, to hear comments (and praise) from one or two reading group attendees who said they wouldn’t normally choose to read poetry.  Roz wrapped things up by inviting the circle to share their favourite lines from the collection.  Poetry needs readers and I thought this read-in was such a refreshing approach.

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Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans.  I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection.  Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.

I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant.  Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.

The party continued with buffet food, drinks, birthday cake and candles (yes, we did sing ‘Happy Birthday’)

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before we re-assembled in the Jazz Club

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for a party mixtape of favourite Nine Arches poems read by the various poets from ‘the family’ (Rishi’s words).  It was a chance to hear poems I’ve enjoyed reading from my growing collection of Nine Arches Press collections.

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Jane Commane thanked all those who have contributed to the growing success of NAP over the past ten years.  Rishi, as co-compere for this part of the proceedings, paid tribute to Jane’s vision, innovation and hard work.  In my opinion, she rightly deserves the standing ovation that followed.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry plans

Life as I’d like it to be is on the horizon, at last.  By way of a celebration, I’ve booked some poetry jollydays:

Ten Years of Nine Arches Press: a Celebration
At just over £20 for my all-day ticket and return rail travel to Birmingham, it’s a snip (and I shan’t feel quite so guilty if I splurge on books, will I?).  I’m particularly looking forward to Josephine Corcoran‘s launch reading from What Are You After? and to meeting her in the real world, at last.  I’m hoping my pre-ordered copy will arrive in the post before 23rd June, so I can get it signed.

Ledbury Poetry Festival has been on my Wish List since I began growing it, last year. I’ve plumped for an overnight stay on 5th July, thus splitting the ‘leisurely’ return journey along the A46 and enjoying a night’s B & B in a lovely country cottage I’m delighted to have discovered on Airbnb.  Here’s my chosen itinerary:

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Closer to home, I’m pleased to be part of the editorial team for an exciting new publication from Soundswrite Press:

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If you’re making poetry travel plans, I’d love to hear about them in the comments box below.

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

 

2016 retrospective

I love reading my favourite bloggers’ year-end blog posts – all very different, all inspiring and thought-provoking:

Hilaire’s analysis of her reading year got me thinking: when did I last borrow a book from the public library instead of buying one?  Is a growing TBR pile evidence of my own consumerism?  How many books by BAME writers have I read this year?

Kim Moore’s colour-coded year-to-view serves not as a reminder of the energy levels of my younger years but as an exemplar of a life being lived to the full.  Attending  funerals of friends and ex colleagues barely older than me were this year’s stark reminders that life is short – and sometimes far shorter than we think.  Am I being too lenient with myself as regards putting things (ie writing) on the back burner this year?

Josephine Corcoran’s penultimate blog post about the creative buzz of Trowbridge Arts led me to reflect on all that’s happening in my neck of the woods and how much I’m looking forward to being part of it all again after being a back bencher these past few pre-op and post-op months.

Robin Houghton’s end of year post is rich in reasons to be thankful as well as in resolutions, and not all of them writing/poetry-based.  I share a wish to spend more time in the garden, now that hip health has been restored.  And what’s become of my daily walks since I returned to work, I ask myself!  And surely it’s the everyday stuff and being physically ‘out there’ that is the richest writing fuel of all?

Robin’s post on giving up Facebook (temporarily) makes interesting reading, too.  It’s a growing concern among increasing numbers of us on social media.  I want to limit time spent scrolling through my newsfeed, liking, commenting, sharing and posting.    I don’t want any part of political argy-bargy and the vitriol that manifests itself in ‘Not Dead Yet’ lists and the like.  I’m not going to quit Facebook, though (not even temporarily), for reasons which include remaining in touch with my lovely Burwell music family and keeping up-to-date and informed on poetry happenings and successes of others, competitions and magazine deadlines I don’t get to hear about via e-newsletters and Twitter.  And some days a cute kitten video is just the ticket!   Ooh! – and thanks to this morning’s Facebook response from a friend I see face-to-face from time to time, I’m reminded of a promise I made: to take her to see a local bluebell wood this coming spring.  Yes, getting out and about is always more joyful when you’re sharing it with someone.

I’m not too downhearted by a lack of poem output/successes or falling blog stats.  Instead, I’m growing A WISH LIST – more of that in future blog posts.  The list does include plans to grow my blog readership, starting with more regular blogging – possibly a weekly post on a regular day – maybe.  And I’d like to work in a more disciplined/dedicated way on a sequence or short collection of poems around a theme – concentrating on one theme in particular rather than my default butterfly approach.

Having being less physically active than normal this year (if that’s possible!), one thing I’ve done LOTS of is reading.  Here’s a sample:

Novels with poetry in their prose: The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s 21st century ‘cover version’ of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane; Max Porter’s debut Grief is the Thing With Feathers.

A novel that drew me out of my genre comfort zone a second time: Rod Duncan’s Unseemly Science (steampunk with a twist, a hint of the local).

Reading poetry:

A collection that made me feel uncomfortable enough to redefine (once more) what makes a poem a poem, and the power of quiet poems amongst the more shouty ones: Michael Rosen’s Don’t Mention the Children.

Craft envy: Helen Mort’s Big Lil sequence in issue 56 of The North.

Little gems: Kate Dempsey’s Highly Commended poem ‘While it Lasted’ (*fist pumps*) in the 2017 Forward Prize collection; Mary O’Malley’s ‘Uillean’ from her latest collection, Playing the Octopus (engaged me as poet and musician)

Some of the poetry events that fed my hungry heart: Literary Leicester readings by Sarah Howe and Tom Pickard (what a pairing! – such a contrast in many ways); reading at one of the launch events for the Welcome To Leicester anthology; Shindig! – my abiding favourite amongst regular poetry nights.

The odd success: my first writing residency as winner of the Bru Leicesterwrites prize; three residency poems published in the Welcome to Leicester anthology (Dahlia Publishing); one poem (from my pamphlet, Beyond the Tune) published in OWF’s Half Moon: poems about pubs anthology.

A high point (yesss!!!!): being selected by judge Luke Kennard for Eyewear’s Best New British & Irish Poets 2017.  If there’s a (London?) launch, try keeping me away!

Remaining hopeful: 8 poems currently ‘out there’ with magazines/in competitions, 7 of which are maximising their chances as simultaneous submissions (legit ones).

Critiquing thanks go to fellow Soundswriters and members of South Leics poetry stanza. And, not least, to Helena Nelson for her excellent feedback on my first Open Window submission – in particular her remarks on one particular poem that kept on bouncing back: I sent it out again.  It’s my winning Eyewear poem!

Thanks go to you as my blog readers, for reading, comments and likes.

Whatever 2017 holds, I wish you happiness and good health, time to spend with loved ones and those who love you for who you are, and time to indulge in whatever it is that makes you feel truly whole.

Jayne 🙂

 

 

 

Gratitude

It’s just over two months since my last ‘proper’ blog post.  I often ask myself, “Why bother?”  My stats make pretty poor reading and, with so many other poetry bloggers out there doing it far better/offering readers something a little different – well, why bother?

I don’t think this blog post is about poetry.

I’m tired.  Bone-weary and brain-fogged.  I don’t sleep as well as I used to.  I get too many headaches (like the one I have now).  It’s the end of the teaching year but not the end of my To Do list.  I frequently drive to work wondering if mind and body will allow me to carry on till Teachers’ Pension-able age.  I find it much harder to multi-task these days.  I make mistakes; stupid mistakes.  Even the much-put-upon staff room photocopier does it better.

This isn’t about poetry.

What happened to the last twenty-odd years?  I woke up last January and found myself in my fifties – well into my fifties.  My hip said, “Wake up and smell the coffee,” or summat like that.

This isn’t about poetry.
It’s the chinks of light:
-a Thank You message in a card from my Reading Recovery Lead Teacher (few words, much praise and encouragement – it made me cry)
-the SMT member who said the children’s Summer Read books I’d displayed on tables in the hall looked “really good” (There were lots. There was me)
-the teacher and her class who chorused “thank you” as they left, clutching their choices
-the boy whose eyes lit up as he pounced on a Science Q & A book
-this afternoon’s early (below-target) reader who ‘made it sound like a story,’ grinned at me as she turned each page and volunteered her first full-sentence comments about the story (phonics ain’t the only tool, Minister)
this poem, on Anthony Wilson’s blog – on why we do it – the because-ofs and the in-spite-ofs (oh, yes, there are lots of the latter, Minister)

And, on gratitude, here’s Josephine Corcoran’s Seven/Seven thoughts.

 

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…