Sarah James micro-reviews Beyond the Tune

In her most recent micro-review post, Sarah James says:

The vivid sensual details of the first half of the pamphlet bring a whole era to life, with subtly startling yet apt memorable lines, such as “tannin, bitter through the Tate & Lyle scree”.

Of the collection’s darker side:

Not all stories from the era are sweet though, a darker side revealed in the hauntingly beautiful poems of the second half that gradually bring us back through poems that could be then or now to the present day and then the present day looking back, linking us again to the pamphlet’s opening.

On her journey as a reader:

Each re-reading brings new connections with these evocative and atmospheric poems.


From “my spine | a river of running quavers that stick | to the soles of my sensible shoes” (Sin É) back to “ re-set your body clock to seal a time line” (Grace Notes), and then immersed again in a constant invitation to “Slip beyond the tune.” (Grace Notes)


Sarah James has been widely published in poetry magazines and anthologies.  She has published four full-length poetry collections, most recently The Magnetic Diaries (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press).  She co-edits poetry small press V.Press.

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…

My pamphlet pre-launch

Monday night at The Western pub saw a Leicester Shindig!-with-a-difference.

In a change from the customary format, Jane Commane hosted an open-mic-only first half (with the usual bar-set-high readings, I must add).  A Soundswrite Press showcase, hosted by Maria Taylor and compered by Karin Koller, comprised the second half of the evening.

Karin opened with a few words about Soundswrite women’s poetry group.  You can find out more here, but I’d like to add that I’m immensely grateful for the insightful feedback, support, friendship, open discussion and love of good poetry that characterises our twice-monthly meetings.

It was good to see so many fellow Soundswriters in attendance and to hear them read a diverse selection of poems, many of which I remember first encountering as early drafts.

Caroline Cook co-featured with a reading of poems from her pamphlet, Primer, launched last March.  For me, it was a nudge to re-visit my favourites in this primer-painted slim volume.

The evening being a kind of pre-launch event, too, I co-featured with a reading from my debut pamphlet, Beyond the Tune (Soundswrite Press).  As most of those gathered had workshopped many of its poems as early drafts and/or heard them at the open mic, I changed my mind several times when I was planning which ones to read on the night.  In the end, I decided on a sort of journey through the pamphlet, reading eight of the twenty-seven poems by way of a thank you and as an invitation to the reader.  And I also read a new poem (recently workshopped at Soundswrite) because there is a writing life after sending out a body of your own work into the world (although there were times when I did wonder).

Photo: Jane Commane

Photo: Jane Commane

It was an evening filled with warmth and friendship as much as poetry.  And wonderful to sign copies of my pamphlet, too!  My thanks to those who came and to those who were there in spirit.  It means a lot.

I’m now looking forward to the launch proper on Saturday October 4th (post to follow).  I’m thrilled that it’s to be a joint launch with D A Prince for her second full collection, Common Ground (HappenStance Press), not least because she has been my main editor (and oh so much more) over the past year or so.  It’s a free event, open to all, as part of Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival, too.  I’d love to say hi to you there if you’re able to make it.

After yesterday’s ICT woes and various pleas for help via email and messaging (many thanks – you know who you are!), to say nowt of the step-by-step (read idiot-proof) guide on WordPress Help, I’ve managed to get a Buy Now button functioning on this blog.  So a signed copy of my little pamphlet (plus a bonus poem-on-a-postcard) is available to (ahem) buy now by clicking here, or you can buy direct from Soundswrite Press here.

If you’re operating a no-buy year/policy, you can read a copy at any of the following:

Saison Poetry Library, level 5, Royal Festival Hall, London

Boston Spa Reading Room, British Library, London

There are also the usual legal deposit copies in the Bodleian library in Oxford, Cambridge University, National Library of Scotland, Trinity College Dublin and National Library of Wales.  (Imagine!)  Or you could request a copy at your local library.

Pamphlet diary date #2: Everybody’s Reading festival

Leicester is cranking up the gears for a week of (largely) free events with the aim (as it says on the tin) of getting everybody reading.  There’s so much to choose from, catering for all ages and appetites from the avid to the most reluctant of readers. 

ER festival 2014

So, if you’re local, or within easy travelling distance of Leicester between 27th September and 5th October, why not click here to view or download the programme.

And there’s an event on page 30 that I’m rather excited about: the launch of my pamphlet, Beyond the Tune (Soundswrite Press).  It’s a joint launch with Davina (D A) Prince, whose new collection, Common Ground, is hot off the HappenStance press.  I’m delighted and flattered, and really looking forward to meeting Helena Nelson, too, if she’s able to make it on the day.  And I’m assured there will be cake and liquid refreshment (I’m hoping for Earl Grey tea) and cake.  It’ll make my poetry day to see you there, or at Shindig on September 15th, or both!

There’s a launch flyer in the offing, to feature in my next blog post and further updates on Facebook and Twitter.

As both diary dates are fast approaching, my To Do list Top 10 includes planning which poems to read and what to say.  Any launch tips, via the comments box below, will be gratefully received.

My pamphlet proof

In my previous post, I was excited at the prospect of getting my hands on a proof copy of my pamphlet: something tangible, after all those months of hard work, highs and lows.  So I was surprised that the elation I’d expected to feel – well, it just wasn’t there!  Instead, I felt rather flat, if I felt anything at all.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m really pleased with the overall look, the print quality and everything, to say nothing of how opposite poems can now physically ‘talk’ to each other.  And I needed the affirmation of the tactile (I’m trying really hard, here, to avoid using phrases like ‘skin-on-skin contact’…).

Thanks to Davina Prince and one or two other collection-published poets who’ve been through all this before, I’m reassured that, in a way, this is a kind of ending, if only until the pamphlet launch and afterwards.  So it’s natural to feel deflated, even a little sad.  And I’ve managed to distance myself a little, which is a good thing, as very soon my little pamphlet will have to stand up for itself as readers make of it what they will.

Last time, I promised to reveal the title, didn’t I?  So here’s an image of the front cover:

BTT front cover

Launch details and a couple of diary dates to follow.



My latest pamphlet news

It’s been a really busy time on the pamphlet front: I’ve enjoyed the editing process and I’ve learned so much from working with Davina Prince to ensure that my poems are as good as they possibly can be.  We’ve both worked closely with Karin Koller through several typeset drafts in recent weeks; the final draft is probably winging its way through the ether to my inbox as I type.

Choosing a title has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make and I went right up to the wire on this.  It’s not the working title I’ve become accustomed to using, and reading on successive drafts.  Neither is there a title poem in my collection.  It is a pamphlet title which, I hope, offers a challenge to the reader.

I was awake and feeling excited before the alarm went off, this morning: having chosen the Pantone colours for the cover and endpapers, I was thrilled to see that they looked just as I’d envisaged them, fresh from the printer on the card and paper we’re using. In around ten days time, I hope to be holding a proof copy – I can hardly wait!

I’m keeping this post as short as possible, with the promise of more details very soon (including the answer to the questions you’ve all been asking: What’s the title?  When’s the launch?).  In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you via the comments box below.

Reasons to be Cheerful: part one

For starters, it’s not officially summer yet and the weather thinks it is!  The increasing light levels and lengthening days are energising, I find.  And our garden looks at its best in May.  I think I’m falling back in love with it now that I can manage a spot of gardening without reprisals from the hip department!

My 60% working week seems less tiring and more productive as three full days.  A day off today: making cups of tea for two men with younger bones who have laid weed control membrane and carted three tonnes of gravel to complete the transformation of my plantaholic’s paradise-turned-nightmare into something approaching low-maintenance.  And next week is half term!

It goes without saying that recent poetry events have been food for the soul, too:

A day workshop at Calke Abbey, run by Mark Goodwin, is already bearing fruit as poems begin to emerge out of notes and photographs taken.  This National Trust ‘unstately home’ is rich fodder – every room is preserved in a ‘frozen’ state of decay and clutter – apart from the opulent and immaculate state silk bed (a touch of Snow-White-in-glass coffin, I thought…).

A reading by Simon Armitage at Leicester Grammar School: I came across this barely-advertised event quite by chance.  What a treat of a Monday teatime!  The atmosphere was intimate.  By turns, Armitage wowed and amused his diminutive audience.  Immensely talented, down-to-earth AND funny gets my vote every time.  A brief Q & A session followed the reading; a window on his writing process.

Regular open mic nights across the Midlands, in close succession, featured poets including Maria Taylor (at Leicester’s Pinggg…K! poetry), Jean Atkin (at Lichfield’s Poetry Alight) and, at last night’s Leicester Shindig, four guest poets: Josh Ekroy, Rennie Parker, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan.

Recent reads include Sarah Water’s The Night Watch (which, sadly, I didn’t find as compelling as Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet), Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons (loved the format of Catechisms at intervals between imagined encounters with a son given up for adoption at birth), Carole Bromley’s SmithDoorstop pamphlets Skylight and Unscheduled Halt (my personal favourite, lots to savour), and I’ve just started on Moniza Alvi’s At the Time of Partition (which I’ve wanted to read because I remember enjoying a section of this book-length poem in Magma, a couple of years ago).

Another acceptance: two poems in the summer issue of Under the Radar.  Which is great, as time is running out for my pamphlet poems that are, to date, unpublished in magazines.  My pamphlet manuscript, edits complete (for now), has been emailed for draft typesetting in early June.  And (at last) it has a working title: Between the Notes.

Looking forward:

I’m contemplating attending the Saboteur Awards in Oxford on 31st May.  There’s an afternoon Book Fair, too (further temptation).  I had a great time at last year’s event in Shoreditch – such a lively and upbeat evening.  And it would be lovely to meet up again with Agnes Marton, who I haven’t seen since then.  And maybe meet a few virtual friends face-to-face.  Anyone?

Next week, I’m running a morning poetry workshop for a local recovery community.  This will be my third visit.  They’re a lovely group and I really enjoy sharing  poems and facilitating writing exercises with them.

And the ceilidh band has a gig this weekend, even (flexes fiddle fingers…).

Catching up: poetry and other news #1

I’ve lots of news for you as, once again, I’ve neglected my little blog for too long. So here’s the first in a series of (hopefully shorter than usual) posts:

I’ve recently returned to work after a smooth and uncomplicated recovery following my hip replacement in January.  It’s such a joy to be more or less pain-free, able to walk briskly without limping after six years or so of declining mobility – and even enjoy a spot of gardening.  I’ve begun to accept that, although my head is convinced it’s still a young ‘un, the rest of me isn’t!  And from tomorrow, my 60% working week will comprise three full days, rather than spread across the week.  I’m looking forward to fewer early morning alarms and reduced car mileage/petrol expenditure for starters.

States of Independence gets better each year.  This independent small press publishing day brings together writers, readers, tutors, facilitators, students, publishers and more.  I did an early stint on the Soundswrite Press stand, conveniently situated opposite the main entrance to DMU’s Clephan Building.  Having snapped up an eagerly-awaited copy of Caroline Cook’s pamphlet, Primer, I spent the rest of the hour chatting to lots of people, some of whom I hadn’t seen for quite some time, and meeting new faces.  I decided to allow myself plenty of time to explore the stands, browse the books and enjoy lunch and a coffee around the corner.  These I fitted around the three readings/showcases I’d chosen to attend.  The last of these was the Soundswrite Press showcase: readings by several poets who featured in the last anthology, followed by Caroline’s pamphlet launch.  Lots of us had our primer-pink copies to hand during her reading.  Of my purchases, this was my chosen bedtime reading that night – I found, once in, I couldn’t put it down. You can buy a copy here.  In a bid to reduce my To Read pile, I had a mental shopping list this year.  Here’s the booty:


Caroline’s launch also means that my forthcoming pamphlet publication date (TBA, but certainly this autumn) edges closer still.  I’m relieved that, having finalised the poems and their order with my editor, the wonderful, ever-supportive (feet-firmly-on-the-ground) DA Prince (whose latest collection is forthcoming from HappenStance Press), the editing stage is now well underway.  This stage in the process feels easier to live with as the end product seems more attainable, more real.  The pamphlet has a kind of narrative thread, in two halves, with a dark centre comprising four poems which I have plans to develop into a larger body of work.  It still has no title.



Soundswrite Press pamphlet launch

States of Independence annual independent press day is one of the highlights of my social calendar.  Held in the Clephan building at Leicester’s DMU, it’s a coming together of publishers, writers, readers, students and educators from across the midlands, a celebration of breadth and diversity.  It’s an opportunity to meet new faces and catch up with friends.  Workshops, readings, panels, seminars and showcases run over four sessions throughout the day; it’s often a matter of which to miss out on.  And the book fair is a bibliophile’s dream!

This year, I’m doubly excited, as Caroline Cook will be launching her Soundswrite Press pamphlet, Primer:

Primer image for website small

Caroline runs Poetry Stanza Leicester and is a fellow member of Soundswrite women’s poetry group (which meets twice monthly to share and discuss poetry by others and to workshop each other’s works in progress).  So I’m half-hoping there will be poems I’ve admired and enjoyed in workshop sessions and at local open mic events.  I’m also prepared to be surprised, challenged and entertained by turns, if I know anything of Caroline’s writing.

I’m itching to get my hands on a copy – it’s strictly under wraps until the day, so all I have to go on is the cover/title/chosen colour (of paint primer).  So I’m wondering if there’s a clue to its theme, here:



1.     a substance used as a preparatory coat on wood, metal, or canvas, especially to prevent the absorption of subsequent layers of paint or the development of rust

2.     a cap or cylinder containing a compound which responds to friction or an electrical impulse and ignites the charge in a cartridge or explosive


My anticipation is mixed with a certain amount of trepidation, too: with my Soundswrite Press pamphlet forthcoming, Primer will, I’m sure, be a hard act to follow!

States of Independence is on Saturday 15th March: 10.30 – 4.30 at the Clephan Building on Bonner’s Lane/Oxford Street, Leicester.  If you’re coming along, I look forward to saying hi at the Soundswrite Press stall and at Caroline’s 3.00 PM launch (please check programme on the day for room allocation).  The 40-minute showcase will also feature readings from the Soundswrite anthology.

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:

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:

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: