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?

20180923_122231.jpg

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.

Advertisements

Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London

Wednesday’s day trip to London for the Royal Academy’s 250th summer exhibition put another tick on my Life’s for Living list.  It was a full-on day in city heat but I like to think that a change of scene can be a re-fuel for writing if not a battery re-charge.

On arrival at St Pancras station, I was greeted for the first time by Tracey Emin’s message of love to the rest of Europe:

20180718_095836.jpg

With the exhibition extending over more rooms than on my last visit, I spent over three hours taking in the eclectic mix of subjects, styles and media that typifies the RA’s summer exhibitions.  I became fascinated, too, with the ways in which others engaged, both on first response and at close quarters, with particular exhibits.

20180718_153155.jpg

My personal favourites included labours of love, elements of surprise, titles as messages, the power of words harnessed, classics made current, quirks and the downright funny.

I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited.  In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion.  Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).

From my TBR pile:

Since finishing Rowan Coleman’s The Summer of Impossible Things (I do like novels that that play with the concept of Time), I’ve read two poetry books: Marion McReady’s Tree Language (its recurring themes and subjects are almost a series of studies; I enjoyed these quiet but affecting poems) and S. A. Leaveley’s How to Grow Matches (there’s a range of styles and sources of inspiration in this short collection of poems towards a ‘template’ for the visible, powerful woman).  I’ve just started reading Nell Stevens’ Bleaker House: a fact-fiction fusion on how far one writer is prepared to travel in order to fail to write a novel (and become a writer in the process).

In other news:

I was mistaken in thinking that the Bridport Poetry Prize longlist was to be published last Tuesday.  Only the longlist for the Peggy Chapman-Andrews award (First Novel) has been announced online, so far.  The rest of us will have to wait until September (winners and highly commended for Poetry, Short Story and Flash Fiction, by email) or October 22nd (full competition results published online).  Oh, well…

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:

20180711_113227.jpg

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…

Public libraries

I came across this book at my village library, last week:

20180625_122141.jpg

I’d just returned How To Be Both, discovered this on the shelf and promptly took it out on loan (cue a new author crush). The short stories in this collection concern themselves with our relationships with books and their effect upon us. Between each story are anecdotes – from writers, friends and people on the street – or, rather, affirmations of the real value of public libraries at a time when this free and openly-available public resource is under threat as never before.

The testimonials in this book set me thinking about my own relationship with public libraries. I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.

Of course, public libraries offer so much more than books. Our village library is a real community hub (and it’s one of many public libraries in the county that are now community-run and will soon be entirely self-funded). Most Thursday afternoons, I go there to knit and natter, drink tea and scoff cake (oh, the joys of retirement). I’ve very recently completed my training and induction as a library volunteer and I’ve learnt there’s so much more to do than stamping books for loan and shelving returns. Library loans are once more part of my TBR pile. Only the other day I came away with this 5-CD box set from the audio bookshelf. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a certain recent second-hand book purchase:

20180627_125829.jpg

Oh – and I’m also listening to BBC’s Book at Bedtime abridged version of Salley Vickers’ The Librarian, set in 1958: my birth year! It’s available on iPlayer Radio for the next month or so, here.

I’d love to read your public library testimonials via the comments box below.

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

20180624_100946.jpg

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.

20180624_101031.jpg

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’)

20180623_182959.jpg

before we re-assembled in the Jazz Club

20180623_184630.jpg

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.

20180623_185050.jpg

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.

 

 

 

 

 

On displacement

One of the prospects I most looked forward to, on retiring from teaching, was having more time for writing.  During my years of envy, I lost count of the number of times retirees would gleefully tell me they had less free time than ever and how did they ever manage to fit in a work life.  I was warned.

I’ve always liked a deadline (well, maybe not all those May half terms spent report-writing…). For this reason, I enjoy writing commissions.  If I have all the time in the world in which to write, it takes me that long to get around to doing any.  Over the years I wished away my life in half term blocks, I did most of my writing in what Anthony Wilson calls the cracks.  My cracks tended to be late at night/in the early hours.  Almost a year into retirement, its scary how a day whizzes by, and how days morph into weeks.  If time had a shirt tail, there’s not a chance I’d manage to hold onto it for long!

Life’s full of Doing and Not Doing (the latter, when I’m having a break from doing too much).  Then there are the Goings. Over the past eleven months, many Goings have been health-related: the Necessaries.  Thankfully, the Goings will very soon be much more pleasure-focused.  I’m really looking forward to more of the Pleasures (including a couple of up-coming poetry plans I mentioned in last week’s post).

As an ill-disciplined writer, I have made efforts to grow good habits. In April, NaPoWriMo saw me writing something daily.  I’ve also kept to my promise of writing weekly posts for my teeny, tiny blogsite. And I’m enjoying doing so, even if my poetry head sometimes tells me it’s displacement when there are notebook scribblings waiting to be crafted into poems.

Displacement activities: my Top 5 current favourites (in no particular order):

  • Watching Youtube channels (on books, poetry, the minimalist lifestyle, sustainable fashion)
  • Reading (Yes, it’s vital for a writer to read, but there comes a point…)
  • Getting lost in a social media labyrinth of amusing video clips/cute cats/interesting articles that might spark a po/other folks’ Goings and Doings/Must Buys (books)…
  • drinking coffee; drinking tea; browsing supermarket shelves for a new favourite/limited edition beverage; discovering a newly-opened coffee/tea shop
  • Gardening: anything from hard labour to pottering (a patio weed hand tool is my latest toy)

What are yours?

In other news:

I’ve had a poem acceptance, on the theme of Staying, for issue 16 of The Lampeter Review.

20180610_123151.jpg

 

After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

My inbox seems to clear of a rash of GDPR-related emails, at last.  A disconcerting number of them were from sites I don’t remember subscribing to.  I updated my preferences for receiving updates and newsletters (mainly of the poetry kind) but consistently failed to find ‘unsubscribe’ links for those companies who expected me to wade through the legalese of their Updated Privacy Policies (I tried; I gave up).

I’d already begun reducing my email subscriptions, anyway.  Online reading seems to occupy an ever increasing amount of my time.  Instead, I could be bramble-wrangling in the garden, cracking the spine of ‘shelved’ recipe books, relieving the loft of a burden of boxes.  Or mining the TBR pile for treasure.  Or writing.

What my (poetry) subscription emails do provide:

  • a window on what’s new and happening in the poetry world
  • updates on events I’d like to attend
  • publication news
  • new posts on my favourite blogs
  • reviews of poetry pamphlets I’ve read/can’t wait to read
  • discovering the interesting and surprising via linked content
  • discovering ‘new’ poets whose work I enjoy
  • information on MOOCs, workshops, etc

However, I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails.  Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails.   They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up?  I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot.  I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired.  How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start.  Maybe.  Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book.  The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.

20180519_115003.jpg