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…

2016 retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading poetry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jayne 🙂

 

 

 

Gratitude

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

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

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

This isn’t about poetry.

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

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

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