What I’ve been reading this summer

The UK summer heatwave rendered me incapable of doing little else but hugging the shade with a goodly supply of water, tea and reading material.  I granted myself leave from writing a blog post, last Sunday.  Writing output amounted to little more than notebook drivel on nights when it was too hot to sleep.  I never find it too hot to read, though.

I’ve blogged before about collecting poems that I’ve read in magazines or online: the ones I love and those I might wish to re-read or refer to, at some point in the future.  There are more than a few I’ll cut out and keep from the Europe issue of Magma.  As a long-term subscriber, I think it’s quite possibly the best issue in years (I can’t comment on my TBR copy of the Film issue).  It could so easily have been Brexit-centric but issue 70 was, as always, a net cast wide in terms of style, subject and takes on a theme.  Poems that made me smile: Duncan Chambers’ Les Vacances; Sarah Juliet Walsh’s Le Rêve.  One that made me laugh out loud: Astra Bloom’s Sacré.  My absolute Top Three poems of political/social comment: Fiona Larkin’s Hygge; William Roychowdhury’s Farage for a Migrant Worker; Katriona Naomi’s Slowly, as the talk goes on, we are getting nowhere.

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Occasionally I admit to abandoning a book I wasn’t enjoying.  I did enjoy Lemn Sissay’s lecture, Landmark Poems, at University of Leicester in May.  I follow his morning tweets.  I was looking forward to reading Gold from the Stone, New and Selected Poems (Canons).  However, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t for me.  So I will gift it to someone who will read and treasure it.  If you think that could be you, do let me know in the comments box below.

Hot off the TBR pile, my current poetry read is Deborah Alma’s Dirty Laundry, (which I pre-ordered at the same time as Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After?)  It’s daring, direct and highly readable.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I have a large and growing collection of Nine Arches Press poetry collections, and justifiably so.

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I’ve recently re-subscribed to Shawna Lemay’s blog, Transactions with Beauty.  It’s a tranquil space amidst the clamour of the world-wide web.  I related to her latest post, Ways of Being a Writer. I think I’ve been several of these kinds of writers, at certain points in time.  It’s a reminder to stop beating myself up over my (lack of) writing (as in paragraph one, above, for instance!).

On Thursday evening, I attended an author talk at a neighbouring village library, organised by the lovely Debbie James, independent bookseller extraordinaire, of The Bookshop, Kibworth.  (Do drop by if you’re in the area.  The Table of Temptation is aptly named).  Damon Young, author of The Art of Reading, gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk: a philosopher’s perspective on the power (and responsibilities) of the reader.  Damon is appearing at Edinburgh Book Festival, if you’re interested. I’m looking forward to reading this, my latest book purchase:

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What have you been reading, this summer?

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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:

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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.

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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…

Instead of a poetry social life

This week, I’m suffering from a bout of cabin fever (life stuff, eh).  Just about everyone in the poetry world is sharing the love at Verve Poetry Festival (or so it seems, as social media serves to fuel my envy).  I’ve also missed two Midlands poetry open mic nights and Saturday’s South Leics stanza meeting.

I’ve not been totally bereft of a poetry social life, though.  Thanks to the kindness of a fellow Soundswriter who gave me a lift, I attended our poetry reading/discussion/workshopping meeting on Tuesday.  And there have been ‘injections’ of poetry to sustain:

A Valentine’s Day gift from my husband (okay, I did drop a very specific hint about this one):

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I was pleased to find this sassy little number includes Jo Bell’s ‘The Shipwright’s Love Song,’ which I think I first experienced as a film poem, a few years ago.  (It might have been this one).

The latest e-newsletter from the Academy of American Poets comprised a themed selection of love poems; among them, Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Love at First Sight.’  I love the narrative that belies the title of this poem – the premise that Chance has been toying with them/now for years. I’ve copied the last four lines into my notebook, to savour:

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

I always get a poetry kick out of coming across another unfamiliar/new poem by one of my favourite poets.  Liz Berry’s poem, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of writer and book vlogger Jen Campbell’s latest (Dissect a Poem) video.  Berry’s poem is a journey through the unmapped territory of new motherhood; there’s a pervading sense of detachment and isolation right up to the last line’s turning point of this rite of passage.

Current reading also includes issue 58 of The North (I know, I’m really behind with my reading of poetry mags).  I nearly punched the air on reading Anthony Wilson’s ‘I Come to Your Shit’  Hell, yes! (If nowt else, I hope I’ll be remembered as a supporter).

Whatever you’re reading, I hope it nourishes the parts etc 🙂 x

 

On much ado and doing nothing much

I do my best to keep abreast of current affairs in the small world of poetry.  This week I’ve spent not a little time reading Rebecca Watts’ PN Review article and  various responses to it, from Hollie McNish’s prompt and proactive one (if Watts attempted to hang her victim using the poet-in-question’s previous remarks on the quality of her own work, the latter acquitted herself well and with dignity) through Helen Mort’s (concise; bang on) to @Mslexia’s Twitter poll (overly simplistic, inciting further polarity).

(Personal opinions in brackets).

I’ve recently read a couple of collections that weren’t to my taste. And that’s fine with me.  I embrace the breadth of style, form, subject and media of contemporary poetry whilst acknowledging that the world would be a boring place if we all shared the same tastes and views.  But then I’m not a reviewer.  Nor am I the Reviews Editor of an ‘august’ poetry journal.

Here’s a selection of collections/pamphlets I’ve enjoyed lately (in reading order only):

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I purchased four of them following live readings by the respective poets; of these, I’ve enjoyed previous publications by one poet and look forward to reading further work by the other three – and although one received a rather scathing review by a popular online reviewer, I loved its lyrical poems; the other two I ordered online as soon as they were published, as I do any publication by my favourite poets.

I didn’t set out to write any more than a brief comment on this week’s furore.  I am, however, intent on growing my blog, beginning with blogging weekly (on Sundays).  I’m pleased, therefore, that my teeny tiny blog has attracted a few new readers and followers via the 2018 Revival Tour list of weekly bloggers, so thank you for dropping by, if you’re one of them!

Some weeks, a blog post is the only writing I manage.  I am more than a little perturbed at how days turn into weeks of doing ‘nothing much’ now that a day job no longer lays claim to my time.  Instead, any number of new and customary displacement activities present themselves (the subject of another post, maybe).  And another curveball (life, eh).

Whether the writing’s happening or not, I remain on the lookout for suitable homes for those ‘finished’ poems not currently submitted anywhere.  I’ve recently sent off two poems to a themed magazine that published one of mine a few years ago, and entered one poem for an ‘auspicious’ poetry prize (this poem has no ‘previous’; it fitted the theme).  I find that I like the level playing field of poetry competitions more and more. Robin Houghton’s latest post poses some valid considerations, whether you’re a frequent or reticent entrant to poetry competitions.

Whatever you’re writing and/or reading this week, enjoy x

 

 

 

2017 year-to-view

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On a personal level, 2017 will live long in my memory as the year in which:

  • I retired from Primary School teaching
  • We down-sized
  • My husband’s sudden illness and ongoing recovery put everything else into perspective

Consequently, my poetry year has comprised short periods of intense activity and extended periods when writing (and reading, too, at times) could not have been further from my mind.  And, at one point, I felt less like reading and writing poetry than I have ever felt.

Writing:

  • April was a good month: Carrie Etter’s NaPoWriMo Facebook group, the prompts and spirit of mutual encouragement saw me writing daily – at best an early poem draft, at worst a few lines in my notebook.  There’s a legacy in lines for future fodder, poems-in-progress and poems already submitted.
  • Published: a poem in Eyewear’s ‘Best British & Irish Poets’ 2017 anthology and a poem in issue 66 of The Interpreter’s House magazine.
  • Accepted: a poem for the DIVERSIFLY anthology (Fair Acre Press) to be published next month; two poems for issue 21 of Under the Radar magazine to be published next spring.
  • Rejections: numerous, which is a good thing in that, for a while, there was hope for those poems, and I then had the choice of whether to re-draft or re-submit them.
  • Submissions still ‘out there’: 5 poems entered for 3 competitions.
  • Ready for submission: 9 poems, being 7 re-submissions and 2 first submissions.

Reading:

3 stand-out poetry collections/pamphlets:

  • Some Couples by Jennifer Copley (HappenStance)
  • All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra (Nine Arches Press)
  • This is Not a Rescue by Emily Blewitt (Seren)

3 poems for our times that I keep going back to:

Online reading: far too much to include, but notably:

  • blogs by other writers/poets (you know who you are, and thank you all for enriching my reading with new-to-me poets, poetry and blog sites).
  • Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: rich seams to mine (and a reminder to self that I’m waaay behind on these weekly posts).
  • Jen Campbell’s Youtube channel: she’s responsible for numerous purchases of prose and poetry this year, including her own books.

Events:

Some helped to keep me sane when ‘stuff’ was way too stressful; others were highlights.  Since I’ve opted to limit myself to three worthy of mention:

My sincere thanks go to:

  • Soundswrite poetry group and South Leics poetry stanza: for lively poetry discussion and insightful feedback on poem drafts.
  • Farhana Shaikh and fellow writers across the genres at monthly Writers’ Meet-ups in Leicester.
  • Matthew Vaughan and Leicester Central Library: for monthly Write On events showcasing the work of Leicester writers.
  • And, not least, to all of you who have taken the time to read, ‘like’, comment on and share my blog posts this year.

 

Wishing you all a happy New Year! 🙂

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 🙂

 

 

 

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.