NaPoWriMo: 9 days in


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! 🙂


Poetry Masterclass

Three factors made this afternoon a possibility:

  1. A subscribers’ monthly email newsletter
  2. My half day at work
  3. Paying for three hours’ parking (just in case…)

Thanks to Lydia Towsey’s monthly Word! newsletter, I found out about today’s free-and-open-to-all event at University of Leicester: a poetry masterclass with Seán Body, renowned poet and School of English Creative Writing Fellow.  This was the first event run by UL’s Centre for New Writing (details of the Centre’s forthcoming launch and further events at the end of this post).

Seán Body was born in Co Limerick and has lived his adult life in the Greater Manchester area. He joined Manchester Poets in 1988, establishing Tarantula as a Manchester Poets imprint. He is a founder member of Manchester Irish Writers, which produced several volumes of short stories and poetry, and is editor of the poetry magazine Brando’s Hat. His poetry has won prizes in competitions including, Ver Poets, Peterloo and Bridport, and a short story won the Irish Post Listowel Writers Competition. His many publications include: Seasons (2003); Lines of Dissent (2001); Witness (1995); At the end of the Rodden (as editor); Scríbhneoírí (1997); Poems from the Readaround (as editor). Lapwing are publishing his Collected Poems in 2 volumes, the first of which is out now.          (Biography credit: University of Leicester: News and Events)

Body opened by reading a new (and, as yet, untitled) poem of his own which demonstrated his “…awareness of the strength of restrained, clipped language.” (Sarah Tierney).  Before critiquing poems by three (very brave) English students, Body drew on a wealth of editorial and publishing experience to talk about what he looks for in a poem:

    • engaging from the start, an invitation from poet to reader
    • well-crafted in terms of rhythm and structure
    • a reverence for language: the weight of words; how words and spaces work together
    • fresh: the world through new eyes; what’s there, rather than what we are told to see
    • capturing the particular with accuracy and precision
    • attention to sound, and the pattern of sounds
    • words that chime with historical events: “hear it/unpack echoes…the myriad voices/vying for attention…grace notes lingering/in some abandoned room” from Workshop (Witness: Lapwing 2013)

And from his critical commentary:

    • be clear about what you are trying to say: why is it important?
    • images should be particular and arresting: a conscious camera click rather than an open shutter recording anything and nothing
    • make the poem do what you want it to do in the best possible way: ordinary language used well, rather than academically influenced

Afterwards, an opportunity to chat over a cuppa in the cafe with the students, Drs Harry Whitehead and Corinne Fowler, and Seán Body (thank you, Dr Fowler)

As if that wasn’t enough to make my afternoon, a question and answer session with the focus on editorship, sadly taking my leave before my parking time was up (and again, thank you).

I’m looking forward to reading my signed copy of Witness, a revised and extended edition from Lapwing.  Also to attending at least one of the forthcoming events:

John Siddique: Tues 30th April 6.30 – 7.30 pm in Ogden Lewis Suites, Field Johnson Building

SuAndi: Wed 15th May 4 – 5 pm in David Wilson Library, 1st floor Seminar Room

Launch of the Centre for New Writing: May tbc, with Meera Syal in conversation with Graham Rawle, Alison Moore and graham Mort

Further details from Dr Harry Whitehead: email at

A study: found items

Five days before term starts (and, yes, I know how lucky I am to have two weeks’ holiday over the festive season).  In a late flurry of physical activity, I’m endeavouring to bring order to the paper mountain and general writerly detritus that is my study.

Significant finds/unearthed treasures/look-sees slowing progress so far (in no particular order):

  • Moth, a CD of poems read by Fatima Al Matar from her collection, The Heart and the Subsidiary
  • Stephen King’s On Writing
  • Helena Nelson’s How Not To Get Your Poetry Published
  • art postcards from Florence (including black and white photograph: Riflessi, a campanile in a long puddle)
  • last year’s Adriatic diary
  • street map of Barcelona
  • hand-painted papier maché trinket box (beautiful, empty)
  • 2 quill feathers collected on a Leicestershire Landscape Walkshop
  • handmade book of 11 poems  and digital voice recorder
  • 33 Ways To Stay Creative (printed from a Facebook friend’s shared photo)
  • set of bookmarks: a series of 11 haiku by Antony Owen commemorating International Hiroshima Day 2012
  • 3 bulging folders of poems: several years’ worth of workshopping and discussion at Soundswrite, Leicester and South Leics stanzas
  • 16 filled notebooks of jottings, free writing, first drafts
  • 8 new & unused notebooks (they caught my eye/were a bargain/just because)
  • notes, writing goals and steps from Continuing Professional Development Workshop
  • Putting a Pamphlet Together: Mslexia workshop by Clare Pollard
  • editors’ personalized rejection letters
  • Poetry in the Waiting Room (for Derby hospitals) vol 5: poems to brighten your wait

Desk and top shelf of bookcase sorted, the rest on hold (so many possibilities…)