The Poetry Business

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It is always good to have work published in magazines you really admire. The North, published by the Poetry Business, is such a magazine.

I first submitted some poems (in retrospect, probably not very good poems) in 2010. They came back with a note from Peter Sansom. He wrote that although they wouldn’t be taking any of my poems this time, they liked things in every poem. I was disappointed of course, but later realised that such encouragement isn’t always forthcoming from busy editors, many of whom send out printed rejection slips or standard e-mails.

The following year I took out a subscription to the magazine and went up to Sheffield for a workshop or two. I was extremely nervous at first, but after a couple of visits I was greeted by Peter and Ann as an old friend. I also got to meet some lovely supportive people, including John ‘The Great Fogginzo’ Foggin, Will Kemp and River Woolton.

My first poem in the magazine appeared in 2012 alongside poets whose work I greatly admire- poets like Rory Waterman, Kim Moore, Suzannah Evans and Julie Mellor. A lot has happened since my first forays into the poetry world in 2009 and I’ve been extremely fortunate. Earlier this year Pam Thompson invited me to support Peter and Ann, along with the brilliant Maria Taylor, at the Y theatre in Leicester. I’m pleased to say I have two poems in the latest Issue – actually three poems, since David Cooke quotes my little poem ‘Wren’ in its entirety in his rather generous review of ‘The Sun Bathers’. This issue of the magazine has been guest edited by Jonathan Davidson and Jackie Wills and contains 138 pages of poems, articles, reviews and features.

Mice nests and parcels

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Apart from the process of writing of poems, the 21st century poet wishing to be read by more than a few friends and family has to send out of poems to magazines and / or competitions.

There are the seemingly endless periods where nothing seems to happen. Nothing falls onto the doormat for months. Every other poet  you know is reading at festivals and publishing everywhere. You may be happy for them, but you begin to wonder if anyone knows you exist.

a POET

And when poems are accepted there can be another wait for publication – sometimes for years.

For the poet published by a small press there are also periods when  you wonder if you will ever read to an audience again. So it goes.

Then, if you are lucky, hardworking and patient, there will be weeks when the outside world responds and several things happen at once.

My contributors copy of ‘Blame Montezuma!’ (Happenstance, 2014) was delivered by today. The post-lady brought me out of the garage where I had been emptying  the nests of mice  from a selection of children’s out-grown Wellington boots.

The London launch for this wonderfully elegant and brilliantly conceived book containing poems about chocolate from the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Hilary Menos, Clare Best, Rob A Mackenzie, David Mark Williams, Matthew Stewart and many other fabulous poets will be in September, and I look forward to posting more details then.

This week I also received a very generous review of my book from the renowned publisher and poet Peter Carpenter in Under The Radar Magazine.   Peter writes superbly and so it is a review I will cherish.

Another very kind review appeared on the website of the marvellous Nottingham based independent bookshop, Five Leaves. I also had two of my poems taken by New Walk, one of my favourite poetry magazines.

And finally my wonderful publisher John Lucas informs me he has sold out of the first print run of my book. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy. I have four copies left as I write this, and due to the successful sales I can offer then at a reduced price of £8 plus pp. If you would like one you can order one from ‘The Sun Bathers’ page of this blog.

I wish any poets reading this similar weeks. They will come. They don’t happen very often, but when they do…

NB- No mice were harmed in the making of this piece.

Poem from Ver Open Prize, 2014

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The Horses

In the first bright slew of laughter and bedclothes
we hear them, and cars slowing to pass,
the drifting talk of their riders.
They clop through gathering dark
as lights come on and the baby kicks and dreams
inside you. Hooves break the skin of our sleep,
wake us to green shoots
or rusted leaves, to shoe prints in early frost,
a puddled road and soft scatterings.
The boy grows tall and oversleeps,
as we lie tangled or back to back,
while the phone brings news
of a slipping away, a collapse
into nearly nothing.  Blossom glows
and is blown to blizzard, blackbirds return
to build in clematis. But always,
we hear horses, though we never know
their barrelled flanks, the sway
and tilt of a saddled back,
as they trot through the days
of promise, arrival, exit.

 

Roy Marshall

A version of this poem was first Published in The Ver Prize Anthology, 2014.

Featured Poet Maria Isakova Bennett

I’m delighted to feature a poem by Maria Isakova Bennett.
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I met Maria at the prize giving and launch of the anthology of the Ver open poetry competition. Maria won first prize with her poem ‘Adrift.’

My poem, ‘The Horses’ was highly commended by the adjudicator, Clare Pollard. This is the second year I have attended the event, having been lucky enough to have had a poem highly commended by Nick Drake last year.

The prize giving and reading takes place in the wonderful theatre in Verulamium  Park in St. Albans, a short walk from the flat where I used to live. I had several reasons for entering again this year. Firstly, I was blown away by the quality of entrants last year. Secondly I knew Clare Pollard would be reading. I’m a huge fan of Clare’s and have met her once or twice before so was looking forward to saying hello.  And thirdly, a proportion of the monies from this event go to a local charity, this year a shelter and support organization for homeless people in the area.

There were 865 entries and the quality of the winning and selected poems was once again outstanding. Clare gave an insight into the difficulty of selecting the 40 anthology poems. She explained, prior to giving a virtuoso reading of her own work in the second half, how ultimately, each time she reread the winning poems her sense of having made the right decisions got stronger.

Maria’s poem ‘Adrift’ packs a subtle and powerful emotional punch. It is highly empathetic and carries a compassion for its characters’ lives that seems  rooted in  experience.  You can click on the link above to read the poem. Maria has also been kind enough to provide the poem below.

Maria mostly lives in Liverpool close to the Irish sea where she makes art, stories, cakes and poetry – but mostly poetry. After filling diaries with unshared meanderings for over twenty years Maria studied Creative Writing with the Open University 2007-09, and at Lancaster University 2010-12 where she graduated with an MA. She has recently participated in Bill Greenwell’s online poetry clinics at Exeter University. Maria’s poems have been published in the UK, Ireland and the US. She also reviews for Orbis.

Maria’s first pamphlet is forthcoming later this year and will be published by Poetry Bus Press. Her work has been highly commended in the  Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Competition and has been shortlisted in  and Cinnamon Press debut poetry collection.

The Paper Tree

I thrash from a sea bed to the surface, breathe,
backstroke through dreams. Last night –
Oxford. Jericho, cafes lit

in the afternoon. A panini, an Americano,
and I’m in every cafe where I talked with him
from here to Rosapenna.

The years flicker – notebook pages turn –
the story sleeps. I dig into my bag
for scissors, shred and quill paper. A tree rises

from the pages’ heart: its branches frayed.
The table is scattered with paper remnants –
the book won’t close:

I hug it to me, leave
and wander through crisp air. The tree
in my arms as my boots echo

I am with him again –
late at night in a cellar bar,
drinking till we fall.

First published in Prole

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel poetry

I’ve just listened to a radio programme presented by Paul Farley, which examined the link  between hotels and writing. It  prompted me to look up my own ‘hotel’ poem, one that was absent from both my pamphlet and my book. I’m not sure why- I  think my editor thought hotel themed poems were ten a penny.
The poem came from my experience of traveling for work. I took a couple of those ‘airport- hotel- airport’ trips and the supposed glamour of travel revealed itself to me for what it was.   A  version of this poem appeared in Iota 90.

In the Hilton Hotel

I left my heart in the Hilton Hotel,
a throb in a twist of night wound sheets.

Other trips had been marred by loss;
the credit-card in Prague, missed
when gin infused tonic at 20000 feet;

Dad’s slim gold watch, sunk into the dust
shed by 4000 guests
behind a bedside lamp.

And the ring on a soap-dish
when I handed back the key;
unintended gratuities, found in the wake

of hung-over departures,
kept by those on scant wages.
My wife noticed the pallor and torpor

as she greeted me. Later, when she laid
her ear to the vacant room of my chest,
the game was up for good.

 

Feedback. Some Thoughts.

 

JIMI-HENDRIX4
Jimi – Master of feedback.

My first experience of receiving feedback on a poem was in a workshop. The facilitator, a very fine poet and teacher, suggested that the word ‘thrum,’ which appeared in my poem, was ‘dodgy’. There was some sniggering in the group. Someone disagreed “Nothing wrong with ‘thrum’” they suggested. I was a little hurt. My confidence was shaken. After all, it had taken guts to share my work.  But several years later I found the poem in question. It was not the word ‘thrum’ that struck me but the overall tone or feel of the poem. It did not ring ‘true.’

Of course the events in a poem don’t actually have to have been experienced for a poem to work. But there has to be some ‘truth’ to the poem, some integrity that makes the poem believable on some level. My poem had been overdramatic and self important and the word ‘thrum’ seemed to me at this later date to epitomise the problem with the piece. In singling out this word the facilitator had been trying to tell me that the overall effect was disingenuous.  I should mention that the facilitator did like the last line of the poem, which was about a dorm full of sleeping soldiers, one of whom gave ‘a long low laugh/ that could only arise from love.’

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I remember these comments, positive and negative, so vividly, because I was a vulnerable soul holding up my fragile early work for examination. It was excruciating. In those days I was desperate to impress and easily upset or knocked off course. I was equally sensitive to praise and became smug and self-satisfied if positive comments were passed. I’m glad to say I am much more robust when it comes to feedback these days. And, through experience, I am better able to judge my work and better able to recognise valuable feedback when it is given and to ignore unqualified comment, by which I mean un-grounded, poorly explained feedback.

Mentor

I am interested in understanding how feedback works and what criteria make it work efficiently. I had invaluable experience of working with a mentor on my first pamphlet.  His most valuable contribution was in weeding out poems that weren’t up to scratch. At the time I was not very good at judging my own work and tended to think that just because a poem had been taken by a magazine it must be ‘good’. My mentor helped me realise this was not necessarily the case.  As we worked, (somewhat erratically and un-systematically as poets often will,) I was able to reject many of his comments and suggestions and to take others on board.

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When it came to getting the manuscript for my next book together I was fortunate in having a couple of well respected poet friends to look it over. Each provided suggestions, as well as criticisms and praise. Some of the criticisms initially annoyed me. I got over it; they were, after all, only opinions and were offered in the spirit of friendship and support.  The net effect of their help was a boost to my confidence.  This was because comments and suggestions were explained. I could clearly see the points being made and make up my mind as a result. And luckily for me, praise was part of the overall package.

I’ve sketched out a few ideas below related to this topic. Many may seem obvious,
particularly to trained educationalists and mentors, but my experiences of receiving feedback so far (in higher education, as well as less formally) have led me to believe that much of this is far from common practice.

1. Meeting to discuss work is often fruitful, but written feedback should also be given to allow time to consider and understand the feedback after the meeting.

2. Written feedback should be sufficiently detailed, stating what the reader considers to be working and why, and conversely what doesn’t and why not. There is little or no value in non-specific or vague feedback.

3.  Feedback should be clear and meaningful. Ambiguous or obscure comments are of no value and may even be frustrating or detrimental. Saying ‘I don’t like this’ is not the same as saying why. I appreciate it is not always easy to state exactly why something isn’t working but you should make every effort to do so. If, for example you say, ‘I don’t like this- it’s too heavy’- try to articulate what you mean by ‘too heavy’ and relate it to the content, structure, or whatever it is that specifically causes this response.

4. Clarity helps overcome resistance to criticism. If I don’t understand what you are saying my response is likely to be negative, confused and unproductive.

5. Feedback should be timely It goes without saying that no-one likes to wait too long for a response. If I can’t get back to someone quickly I will give them some idea of when I will and stick to it.

6. Feedback should be constructive no matter how good/ bad / indifferent the work. The idea is to maximise potential by identifying strengths and weaknesses. Highlighting areas for improvement and development need not be done in a negative or destructive way. Measured, thoughtful suggestions for alternative approaches take time and effort but will provide valuable in the long run.

7. Feedback should be honest- if not it will be worthless. Tricky, but see above. There is no point in avoiding pointing out what doesn’t work for you. Again, skill is required in communicating this type of feedback. It is always useful to point out that yours is only one opinion. Simply say why you like something and simply say why you do not.

8. Provide opportunities for the learner to respond and show they have understood or not understood the feedback. Identify helpful examples or sources related to the work. i.e, has someone else written in a similar style or on a similar subject.  Would looking at a piece of work help to inform the writer or to perhaps see something in a different light and enable a different approach?

8. Feed- forward Identify possible things to work on next. Again, try to make specific suggestions. Ask the mentee if they are interested in setting a couple of targets, either to do with reading or writing new work within a timeframe. Include a challenge .This relates to the above and has the effect of keeping the relationship going during a period when the parties are not in communication.

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Midsummer Festival and Antiphon

Sheffield’s all new Midsummer Poetry Festival is now in full swing and you can find details of events here.

The line-up features an exciting eclectic mix of poets, including a number of Poetry Business pamphlet winners  .

Highlights include readings from James Caruth, Rebecca Farmer, Holly Hopkins and Ben Wilkinson on 10th June, as well as readings from the likes of Helen Mort, Susannah Evans, David Tait, Angelina Ayres, Alison McVety , Chris Jones, Sally Goldsmith and Julie Mellor.

I’m happy to say I’ll be reading on Saturday 14th at Bank Street Arts (3:15pm -4:30pm,) with Nia Davies, John Harvey and A.B. Jackson.

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There are workshops, a symposium on putting together an anthology, and other events spaced regularly over the next few weeks, all either free or at refreshingly low prices. You can read a selection of work by poets at the festival in the new issue of the brilliant Antiphon, together with work from an international roster of poets and a selection of reviews.  You can read my own poem ‘Ammonite’ here, as well as a review of Ben Parker’s ‘The Escape Artists’ (tall-lighthouse.) here.