NaPoWriMo: 9 days in

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Yes, it’s that merry month of mayhem: National Poetry Writing Month (adopted by more and more poets across the world, it seems).  How quickly the poetry year doth come around!

To be honest, I hadn’t given taking part any serious thought, this year, until Pam Thompson asked if I’d like to be added to Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook group.  I admit I wasn’t too keen, at first.

Previous experience in write-to-a-prompt groups runs something like this: a battery of poems posted hot on the heels of the daily/weekly prompt, followed by a barrage of comments/feedback on posted poems, the (self-imposed) ‘pressure to produce’ something (anything!?! omg…).  On bad days, I’m a virtual wallflower (I was that teenager.  I still hate parties with discos) with an acute attack of Imposter Syndrome.  All this, on a repeat cycle.  The end result: a feeling of ‘Oh, I may as well quit right now…’

The purpose of Carrie’s group is general support, comments on prompts and progress so far.  Poems are not posted (yay!).  Before the month got underway, members were asked to post their one inspirational poem by another poet.  I really liked this idea and enjoyed  discovering poems/poets new to me.

Carrie’s list of 30 prompts appears as a pinned post on the group page.  I’ve printed it off; it’s propped on my desk, along with a month of poetry prompts by Jo Bell, and one or two others.  Just in case I can’t get out of the starting blocks.  And the group’s 137 members seem, like me, to be going about things their own way.  Some are writing to Carrie’s prompts in order, some are choosing ones from the list that spark ideas that day, others (like me) are mixing and matching – or even combining – prompts from different sources, and there are posts about poems that come into being without a prompt.  (I happened upon a blinder of an opening line from clickbait in an email notification the other day).

Some members have different agendas, this month.  For instance, John Foggin isn’t following prompts but is using material from his notebooks to write the poems he feels compelled to write; Rachel Davies is using some of the prompts to add to her sequence of mother-daughter poems as part of her PhD.

Group posts are a real mixture of progress, process, other useful prompts, everyday life as help and hindrance, etc, etc.  These are inspiring in themselves.  And motivational, too.  We’re all doing our own thing.

I’m finding this freeing.  I’m growing a habit of daily writing, even writing first thing in the morning (well, after feeding the cats and making up my breakfast bowl) as opposed to, or some days as well as, my default late evening/night writing.

Not all my efforts have mileage as poems, but there might be lines, phrases, or the odd word to plunder as some point in the future.  That brings me to my next point: what of that accumulation of notebooks I haven’t gone back to for some time now?  They exist as a regular niggle at the back of my mind.  So this month, in addition to The Daily Write in my notebook (no special NaPoWriMo one, just the one that’s currently on the go; no special pen or pencil, just the usual cheapie) I’m typing up and beginning to re-draft the ones I think have possibilities.  To date, there are six poems-in-progress in a new sub folder.  Nine days in, I’m doing okay.

If you’re writing a poem a day, this month, I’d love to hear how you’re going about things via the comments box below.

Happy writing! 🙂

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The journeys poems make

The back story:

2014 was a fruitful year.  My best since I’d started writing poetry in 2008(ish).  And my best to date.  Whilst on sick leave following my first hip replacement, I made myself a spreadsheet to better keep track of poem submissions and consequent rejections/acceptances.  I’m pretty sure it’s not as fool-proof as the Jo Bell method or as eye-catching as Kim Moore’s colour-coded one described here but it’s certainly a vast improvement on previous tabular efforts at keeping tabs on my poems’ venturing forth to speak for themselves.  Between March and November that year, 15 poems were accepted for magazine publication, either in print or online.  8 of these, also published in my pamphlet, Beyond the Tune, made it under the wire to magazines before BTT‘s September publication date.

2015 successes were much thinner on the ground: 1 poem was published in issue 11 of The Lampeter Review;  4 of my pamphlet poems also appeared in the Soundswrite Press anthology; 1 poem was commissioned by University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing: a total of 2 new and 4 previously-published poems accepted.

A bit of a sob story:

2016 saw me in The Slough of Despond, at times.  I wrote less; I had far fewer poems worth submitting.  Life (and joint pain) took over and the only thing that kept me writing (and believing in myself as a poet) was my Bru Leicester Writes residency and commissioned sequence of poems (and Leicester City’s footfall fairy tale, of course).

Some good:

3 of the 6 poems are published in Welcome to Leicester, an anthology of poems about the city (Dahlia Publishing) being launched as I type (sadly I’m unable to make it).  And 1 pamphlet poem has been published in Half Moon: poems about pubs (OWF Press).

What’s the point?

Like all writers, I sometimes get to thinking that I’ll never again write anything worth publishing.   Or anything at all, apart from a few lines of barely-legible scribble (drivel) in a notebook that’s been on-the-go forever.  I congratulate others on their successes while suffering Imposter Syndrome (and maybe I read other writers’ blogs to know I’m not alone in this).  And what of that spreadsheet begun with such purpose a couple of years ago?  Many/most of those rejected poems aren’t currently being re-submitted.  I’ve decided they need further work, or they’ll never be the Real Deal and have been consigned to a sub folder (‘Dubious’) of a sub folder (‘Unfinished’).  Currently, I’ve more time to write but have written very little.  My only fledgling is back in the WIP nest recovering from a first flight to a workshop group.

The suspension of disbelief:

Recently, only 4 poems have remained ‘out there.’  Of these 4 poems, the same 2 have received encouraging comments from 2 different editors:

  • both made it to the final round of selections for the current issue of a magazine I rate highly
  • both were deemed ‘strong’ (with reasons given) from a batch of poems submitted for feedback during a certain widely-respected ‘open window.’

Breaking news:

It’s official!!!  ‘Unreserved Coach B’ is one of 50 winning poems chosen by competition judge Luke Kennard for The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear Publishing) due for publication next March.

And the other ‘hopeful’? I’m keeping the faith 🙂

A Writing Residency

In my last two blog posts my aim was to bring readers up to date with my reading activity over the last few months.  I do so much poetry reading that, at times, I wonder whether it becomes a displacement activity for writing.

In my work life, I like the challenge of a deadline.  If I have all the time in the world in which to write I’ll take forever to get down to it.  If, however, I have a remit and a due date I work much better.  That’s why I like the challenge of a writing commission.  As winner of the Bru Leicester Writes poetry prize I was granted a writing residency and commissioned to write a sequence of five poems on the theme of Life in the City.

What’s not to like?  A busy, bustling city base from which to soak up the atmosphere/people-watch, a first-floor bird’s-eye view of city-centre street life, a paid commission, space and dedicated time to write – with coffee and cake to hand (those who know me know…) and a gift card to spend on eats and drinks at the till.

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So March 11th saw me meeting up with founder of Leicester Writes and editor of Dahlia Publishing, Farhana Shaikh, at Leicester’s Bru Coffee & Gelato (my place of residency) to discuss the finer details.  Back then, the June deadline seemed a long way off.  I wasn’t necessarily confined to the ideas I’d originally outlined in my proposal, and such a broad theme could be interpreted in many ways.  Just one ‘ask’: with Leicester City Football Club’s track record for the season to date, would I also consider writing a ‘bonus poem’ capturing the spirit of the underdog team and the city’s rising fan fever.  Moi?  With not a sporting gene in my body? [insert, here, any emoticons you know for ‘ brain freeze’]  Okay, I said, I’ll give it a go (eek!)

Bru poet residency1

Although I did a fair amount of online research for my poem sequence, inspiration came mainly from my walks between the rail station on London Road (or, more often, Dover St car park) to the Clock Tower (beating heart of our city) via Granby Street and Gallowtree Gate (with Bru Coffee conveniently situated half-way between these two points).

 

King Richard III

King Richard III, Cathedral Gdns

 

I could have written a poem about any or all of Leicester’s famous names and nameless faces immortalised and memorialised in statuary.  This one, for instance.

 

 

 

photo credit: crosbyheritage.co.uk

photo credit: crosbyheritage.co.uk

 

 

In the end, I chose (or rather the destination chosen by my poem was ) Thomas Cook, whose statue greets rail passengers outside the station on London Road.

 

 

 

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Maria, a The Big Issue vendor no longer occupying her usual Granby Street spot opposite Bru, became the subject of a poem following a conversation I had with a regular customer and one of the baristas on enquiring after her whereabouts.

 

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Leicester’s Clock Tower is a babel of voices clamouring to be heard.

 

And my LCFC poem?  I confess to becoming a Foxes fan at least for the remainder of the season as our team’s path to Premier League King Power & Glory unfolded and I trawled the Twitter feeds around each nail-biting match.  As the saying goes, you couldn’t make it up!

photo credit: leicestermurcury.co.uk

LCFC open top city bus tour                                                           photo credit: leicestermurcury.co.uk

My six poems were duly submitted (ahead of the deadline – yay!), typeset, printed and made available on customers’ tables at Bru for my reading on June 28th as part of the Leicester Writes Festival of New Writing:

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Three of my residency poems –  The Art of Winning, The Big Issue and Time Traveller – will be published in Welcome to Leicester, an anthology of poems (Dahlia Publishing) to be launched on Friday 7th October as part of Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival.  It’s free but bookable in advance (click here for details and scroll to page 23 of festival programme).

 

 

 

Catching up on reading #2

In addition to printed material I’ve been reading, lately, the onset of the summer holidays (still wired for work but with no pressing reasons to be) seemed like the ideal time to continue my poetry education via MOOCs I started way back in January and abandoned part-way through as work life, etc took precedence.  So here’s what I’ve been up to, online:

Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy (Glasgow University via FutureLearn):

‘Pop Art Rabbie’ by Sheilagh Tennant

Format: a three-week course comprising videos, articles, texts/lyrics, memory quizzes(!) and forum discussions

My verdict: a comprehensive introduction to life and works of Scotland’s bard.  Does what it says on the tin but this one failed to engage me in the way that other MOOCs have done (videos were mini lectures rather than debate between academics or tutor-student workshops/tutorials and I felt ‘talked at’).

Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing (The University of Warwick via FutureLearn):

futurelearn.com

futurelearn.com

Format: a six-week course comprising video discussions, poem/novel/play texts, articles, surveys (for research purposes) and forum discussions.

My verdict:interesting discussions on the physiology and treatment of stress, heartbreak, bereavement, PTSD and trauma, depression and bipolar, ageing and dementia, and the benefits of reading/sharing literature for therapy and wellbeing.  What niggled me: Stephen Fry’s dismissive remark regarding ‘free form’ poetry during a week 1 video discussion (in fact, the wealth of contemporary poetry was largely ignored throughout the course).

Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death & Disaster (The University of Iowa via novoed.com):

iwp.uiowa.edu

iwp.uiowa.edu

I’m a late starter to this MOOC (week 3 of which starts tomorrow), but the beauty of this beast (as far as I’m aware) is it’s available year-round and one can begin at any time (provided you don’t wish to join in the discussions on the online forum – which I don’t).  I’m currently engaged in week 1: Circumstance & Documentary.  Each week there’s an introductory video (engaging discussion between academics; approx 40 mins) followed by a series of reading texts including study notes and afterwords, then a question for discussion via the forum.

I’ll let you know how this one goes but, in my experience of MOOCs to date, UK universities have much to learn from those in the USA.

Still on my MOOC To Do list is Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Anderson Centre via FutureLearn).

I’m also looking forward to a return visit to ModPo in September (I intend doing ModPoPlus, this time around).

Which MOOCs are you currently engaged in, have enjoyed to date or are looking forward to this coming autumn?  I’d love to hear your views and choices via the comments box below.

Catching up on reading

First, the confessional: it’s been over five months since I last clicked ‘Add New’ on the drop-down menu under ‘Posts’ on this site’s Dashboard.

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I’ve either been too busy (Really?  Then how come…):

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Warwick Davis ‘auditions’ for Moggy in the Wood

Or too tired (Ditto).

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Or both.

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Okay, you get the picture(s).

Whatever I’ve not been doing, I have been reading.  Lots. I’ve made real inroads into that To Read jenga tower.  Here’s a just small selection of recent poetry reads:

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I have subscribed to Magma for years; I consider it to be one of the best ‘shop windows’ for the breadth and the best of contemporary poetry.  Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth both shocked and enthralled; compelling reading.  Annette Boehm’s The Knowledge Weapon is Bare Fiction’s newest pamphlet publication.  I bought this online after Boehm’s reading of poems from the pamphlet, with introductions, on Transatlantic Poetry.  You can watch the podcast, including Victoria Kennefick’s fine reading, here.

Add to these several novels and the odd fashion/lifestyle mag (all now shared/re-homed via the staff room coffee table), links to articles and other ‘stuff’ on Twitter and Facebook plus a growing number of blogs I follow and – well, you get the picture.

In the spirit of catching up, I’ve just unearthed four unread copies of NAWE Writing in Education periodicals from my Writing-Stuff-(Not)-On-The-Go bag after the latest issue landing on the hall floor with this morning’s post:

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The focus of the current issue is Teaching Creativity, a subject close to my heart, both as a writer and as a Primary Teacher.  In fact, it is Robert Hull’s article, Testing Times for Schoolchildren, that has prompted this post.  From a Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, ‘Where go the boats?’ being washed up on the barren shores of comprehension testing in a KS1 Reading test to test rehearsal and time devoted to wrestling with grammatical concepts like ‘cohesion’ and ‘fronted adverbial’ in primary classrooms across the land at the expense of a creative, integrated narrative of reading and writing.  Hell, yes, I’m right with you, Mr Hull.

I must add, at this point, that the ‘Poetry By Numbers’ and end-of-year league-table-posted-on-the-form-room-wall of exam results approach of my 1970’s ‘Girls’ High Schooling’ was not dissimilar to the current regime.

Nevertheless, teachers then, as now, did/do succeed in fostering a love of words/books/reading and in enriching children’s lives in spite of national legislation by politicians in ivory towers and ‘education professionals’ with vested interests (oh, yes, ye pedlars of products).  I don’t remember her name but I do remember the A’level English teacher who brought to life Cantos I to IV of Byron’s Don Juan as if it was a  pop-up book.  And there were other inspiring teachers, too.

And poetry worked its own magic:  the vivid, shocking imagery of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est and Mental Cases brought home the horrors of trench warfare better than any History lesson ever could; the sound echoes of W H Auden’s On This Island led me to rediscover the poem forty-odd years after studying it, when I could only remember the pluck/and knock of the tide and the shingle scrambles after the suck/-ing surf.

There are many talented writers and artists in education who inspire creativity.  Last October, poet David Harmer got ‘down with the kids’ from Nursery to our uber-cool Year 6s for Whole School Reading Day during Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading week.  (He came highly recommended by Year 5 pupils and their previous teachers who’d attended his workshop session funded by Whatever it Takes during Author Week).  He engaged and involved every pupil with his lively and comical performance of poems about space aliens, pirates, parents and teachers.  In writer-led creative writing workshops, Years 2 and 6 wrote their own class poems which they performed to the rest of the school before our visiting poet presented each class with a set of signed copies of his poetry books.

And the legacy, minister? Since then, poetry has appeared regularly throughout the school in displays of pupils’ creative writing; a Year 5 pupil gave me a personal performance of her ‘latest poem’; an increasing number of poetry book loans from our KS1 and KS2 libraries appear as ‘table top’ reads or go home in book bags.  And, in a post-SATs teacher swap, our Literacy Coordinator was treated to an impromptu rendition of Harmer’s ‘Mr Moore’ poem as their own Mr W retreated down the corridor.

As More Able, Gifted & Talented coordinator, I’ve another To Read pile:

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Whatever you’re reading this summer, may the power of words continue to delight/surprise/shock/educate/inspire/transport/transform.

One for left-handed readers.

For left-handed readers.

2016: the year in which…

I’m bucking the trend for year-end reflection, here.  Reader, this ain’t no retrospective.

I’m feeling purposeful:

  • I’ve dealt with the ironing pile (small, but, oh, how I hate those cotton shirts that cling to their wrinkles…)
  • I’m resisting the urge for a wardrobe purge (far too depressing)
  • I’m feeling smug in the way that teetotallers/designated drivers can, on New Year’s Day 🙂
  • I’m planning on this being a speedier-than-normal blog write, as I’ve not had any lunch yet
  • I might even clean another kitchen cupboard (not the one with out-dated baking products, and packets of bread sauce mix I couldn’t find on Christmas Day 2014 – that box has been ticked already)

I’m not about to make any New Year resolutions, either.  Instead, I’m hoping (or wishing – or both) that 2016 will be the year in which:

  • my hubby gets better from the injuries resulting from an RTA two years ago – or receives treatment/surgery/alternative therapy to alleviate symptoms/pain and improve his mobility – or at least is able to better control his pain level with drugs. This wish comes a post script: that we get out and about more, together.
  • the world I am leaving for my grandchildren will become a safer, more harmonious and caring place where people put aside their petty differences (and that includes inter-party and party-specific political argy-bargy – on which I have maintained a steadfast silence on social media – I want no part of it), misguided beliefs and greed for power and material wealth
  • I shake off the self-doubt that means I waste so much of my available time for writing, resorting more and more to the fail-safes of reading and social media
  • I look even harder for the chinks of light and let the passage of time take care of the dark days

I’m longing for my too-late-to-call-it-lunch, now!

I wish you all health, peace and happiness for 2016 – whatever that means for you, however you set about achieving this for yourself and your loved ones, and whoever you choose to spend the wealth of these intangibles with.

I’ll leave you with some lines of Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is thing with feathers
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all-

You can read the whole poem (314) here.

 

 

 

After ModPo: a few thoughts

I’ve blogged about MOOCs and ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) on more than one occasion.  After two previous attempts, I’ve just completed ModPo 2015’s 10-week course: I read the poem texts, watched and made notes on podcasts and videos of poem discussions. I decided not to write any of the four assigned essays.  Neither did I offer comments on discussion forums.  There just aren’t enough work-free days in my week to fulfill those commitments.

Why did I ‘do’ ModPo?  Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I do have ‘staying power.’  Maybe I wanted to devote even more time to reading, for a while.  The more I read, the more I’m aware how poorly read I am – woefully so, in terms of American poetry.

Anyway, before I consign another A4 spiral-bound notebook to the nether regions of my study, I’m allowing myself time for reflecting on what I’ve learned.  Said notebook is rammed with cut-and-pasted-in poem printouts, annotations and contextual notes. The wretched thing won’t shut.  As I type, it’s on the dining room table beside my laptop – mouth half-open.  It’s got so much it wants to say but that’d make for a very long blog post.

I’ve spent the past ten weeks reading/listening to the modern and contemporary American poetry that constitutes the ModPo syllabus – meeting almost all of the poems and poets for the first time.  Many of them are what you (read ‘I’) might call ‘difficult’ poems.  I would certainly have moved swiftly on, had I encountered them during solitary web browsing.  I might not have persevered as far as a second, never mind a close reading.

ModPo has been a ten-week act of interrogating the language of each poem: its sounds (including sonic translations of the work of others), the writer’s creativity – or deliberate uncreativity(?!), choice of form or constraint (or lack thereof) and whether form reflects content.  And what of the writer’s choice of words? What happens when Gertrude Stein frees a subject/object from its imposed name?  What happens when language is freed from the conventions of syntax?

That notebook is making me ponder how much I might have missed/passed over in my poetry reading to date.

Some commonalities amongst the ModPo poets:

Each poet interrogated language – its sounds/words/syntax/structure – to extract or communicate new meaning or truth.

Each poet radicalised the conventional use of language and ‘made it new.’

Their poetry requires the reader – or listener – to work harder in search of meaning which lies in ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ is written.

To paraphrase a closing comment from one of the ModPo TAs: How can we, as writers, interrogate language to represent our own narratives and confront our shared experience?

Charles Bernstein said that the point of literature is not to give answers but to ask questions.

If poetry is about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what,’ then am I looking – or listening – hard enough?

ModPo course materials are available for use until Sept 2016.  Today is the last day for registration if you’re interested.  There’s no fee.  Here’s the link.