This place

Like the ubiquitous Christmas lights and Noddy Holder yelling ‘It’s Christmas!’ , I am reminded that the end of the year is approaching by Matthew Stewart, who has posted his annual list of Best UK poetry Blogs. I think that’s the third year Matthew has kindly chosen to mention  this place- this space that I visit when I have something I would like to share.

I don’t often visit the stats page of this blog. but I looked just now, and found that I ‘ve written on here less than last year- 45 posts so far this year, as opposed to 56 posts in 2015.  Also, that there have been 6,767 visitors at the time of writing – a couple of thousand less than last year- and 11, 067 views- about four thousand views less than last year.

What is more surprising is that this place has been visited by people from 114 countries! Among them have been visits from the Bahamas, Kazakhstan, North Korea (!) , Fiji, Liberia, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, Angola, Bolivia and China. 131 visits have been from Brazil, and 1692 from the United States.

Obviously, I wouldn’t post here if I didn’t want people to read what I’ve written. But I’ve not looked into how to maximize ‘hits’ or traffic or anything like that. And I don’t know what brought so many people here from around the world. Search engines are a mysterious thing, so perhaps the person in Macau, for example, was searching for something completely different from what they found. Hopefully, some visitors were looking for what they found here.

This year, like last year,  I’ve been lucky enough to share the work of several Featured Poets, (sometimes called ‘Guest Poets )  including Keith Hutson and John Foggin, both of whom have published wonderful new work recently. I hope these gentlemen wont mind me saying that neither of them are in the first flush of youth (maybe the second or third flush). Both have had busy working and family lives, and have finally found a bit of time to concentrate on their poetry. Both are outstanding writers, and with these new publications, their work is gathering much deserved attention.  I’m pleased to say that two fabulous younger poets whose work was  featured here last year have now found publishers: James Giddings, with Templar press, and Emily Blewit whose book will be out with Seren next year.
I have also posted a sprinkling of book reviews and a couple of interviews with poets. The piece on Putting a pamphlet together has proved to be popular again, as have a series of articles about constructive criticism and feedback. The Poetry Submissions page is always well frequented. Among other subjects, I wrote a piece on depression, and a few articles about translation which included examples of the original poem and my workings on it.

Hopefully I’ve maintained a balance between showcasing other’s work and exploring and sharing a little about my own travels in poetry, both physical and otherwise. Comments on my articles on writing have suggested that people have found some of them interesting and useful, so thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment. If one person has benefited or discovered anything while visiting this place, then it has fulfilled its purpose.

A few brief notes on line breaks

to use a cliché

A friend shared a quote from the American poet Kay Ryan with me recently. It reads

‘ Edges are the most powerful parts of the poem. The more edges you have the more power you have. They make the poem more permeable, more exposed.’

I was on my way out when I read the quote and responded with my first thought which was

I’m not sure more breaks equals more power and/ or more permeability. Just asking, but can power in a poem not also lie in a certain im-permeability? A sort of locked down emotional box of words that has a physical presence that won’t budge and that you (the reader) has to climb into? Some poems seem to lose something in their over brokenness.’

I’m not sure whose work I was thinking of here. I suppose I was thinking how I sometimes read poems where line breaks seem to distract or detract from the poem. I suppose I’m of the opinion that if the words of the poem are not interesting in themselves, no amount of splicing them up or rearranging them in ‘interesting’ ways on a page will make them into a ‘good’ poem.

The poet Fiona Sampson has this to say about line length.

‘Length solemnizes a poem, lending it a sustained music which suggests it arises from sustained thinking’.

Solemnity – noun

  1. the state or quality of being serious and dignified:
    “his ashes were laid to rest with great solemnity”

    synonyms: dignity- ceremony – stateliness- courtliness- majesty
    impressiveness- portentousness-splendour- magnificence- grandeur
    augustness-formality-seriousness- gravity- sobriety- studiousness- sedateness etc

    So maybe short lines disrupt or counter or act as the opposite of these effects?

When I started writing poems I set out to make my lines as neat and regular as possible. I was probably conscious of the rhythm, but I’m not a stress of syllable counting kind of person in the same way that I can play the guitar to a certain standard without knowing how to read music. Now I am more aware of how line length effects the pace of the piece.
I’m also concerned with how lines and stanzas reflect the content.

All of my poems go through a multitude of drafts in which the line breaks change.   When I’m drafting poems the words change, of course. And the stanzas change or disappear completely. But mostly the line breaks change.  A flicker through all the  drafts of even (and sometimes especially) my shortest poems would make for animation almost comparable with the movements of an ant hill in summer.

What am I looking for? It is hard for me to say since I am ‘feeling’ for what looks and reads ‘right’ and this seems to vary from poem to poem.

To get a little clarity into these rather random musings, here are some definitions.

A line (at least in English poetry) is a row of words. This line ends or breaks for a reason other than the margin on the right-hand side of the page.  So the line- break is the point at which, for whatever reason (and there may be many) the poet chooses to make the reader turn back to start the next line. This point of turning was known in Latin as the versus. And this is where the term verse comes from

verse ; Middle English vers (e), fers line of poetry, section of a psalm, Old English fers < Latin versus a row, line (of poetry), literally, a turning, equivalent to vert (ere) to turn (past participle versus)

It seems verse is so termed because a large percentage of the power of poetry  is concentrated in the turning of the line; the point at which the word confronts white space, variously characterised or described as the void, the frame, silence.

The line leads the reader’s
eye, either to a
stop, or over
an edge

and on
to somewhere else.

The above is an example of enjambment- the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line-break.

Enjambment mid 19th century: French, from enjamber ‘stride over, go beyond’, from en- ‘in’ + jambe ‘leg’.

Generally speaking (there are such things as ‘prose poems’ of course, which I don’t know much about at the moment) it is the line break that makes a poem a poem.  A conscious decision has been made by the poet to break a line. The power that resides in the line’s turning point  becomes a subject of obsession for the poet. The end of a line is the place where it the poet is perhaps most aware of being in the driving seat. As the pilot of the de Havilland Chipmunk I sat in as a lucky fifteen year old air cadet one said to me, ‘You have control’. And as I found out a few seconds later when he took it back after my banking was a little too sharp, control should be used with care.   The eye of the reader can be taken where the poet wills.

The first collection I came across where short and long lines worked together was John Burnside’s ‘Swimming in the flood’ . I was amazed at how the lines conveyed fragmentation. Reading the collection’s title poem, it  feels to me as if the eye is moving over a panorama,  in this case the surface of the flood waters.

Here are the opening lines

Swimming in the flood

Later he must have watched
the newsreel,

his village erased by water: farmsteads and churches
breaking and floating away

as if by design
bloated cattle, lumber, bales of straw,

turning in local whirlpools; the camera
panning across the surface, finding the odd

rooftop or skeletal tree,
or homing in to focus on a child’s

shock-headed doll.

Some general points on line length

1.  Long Line Poems. – generally don’t leave much white space. Often narratives or lists.  Long line poems might adopt an authoritative voice, one of importance or mock importance.  Some might have psalm like quality or hypnotic quality like Kim Moore’s ‘A Hymn for the Scaffolders’, or they may have ‘breathless’ incantatory quality like Allen Ginsburg’s ‘Howl’.

  1. Short Line Poems One effect of short-line is to speed the poem along. Short lines contain and confine and focus the poem, so that each word seems to gain in importance. End and beginning words are lit by the white space around them.
  2. Medium Line Poems A ‘happy medium’. These are probably the most common form of poem. Medium lines can give an understated and nuanced feel. Direct ancestor of the sonnet.
  1. Staggered or undulating line poems Tend to be interested in disrupting or reconfiguring the way the poem is taken in. Speculative, experimental, disjointed, disorinatating. Form as a reflection of content.  A classic example is Ciaran Carson’s ‘ Belfast Confetti ‘I’d be interested to read any comments that take up any of these threads.



Mark Pajak, featured poet

I first met Mark Pajak last year in Manchester. It was a splendid day for me since I had the great pleasure of reading in the John Rylands library with the wonderful Liz Berry. I bumped into him again at the launch of my friend James Giddings pamphlet in Sheffield. Mark mentioned that he had been invited to read in Leicester, and although I was unable to attend the reading I was able to meet him for a brief chat and a coffee.  He had copies of his newly published pamphlet with him and I duly purchased a copy.

I read through it in one go. The abundance of vivid and inventive imagery makes the collection compelling and many of the pieces are instantly memorable. There are poems which deal with childhood and adolescence but manage to skirt nostalgia. Narratives are coloured with startling word choices. The work is precise, controlled and measured , unfolding carefully and without hurry.  It is economic without being sparse or losing its internal music. While many of the poems deal clinically and chillingly with themes of violence and tragedy, the work never feels emotionally ‘cold’. Other poems confront illness and loss in a way that is moving without being overtly sentimental. And while there are echoes of Heaney, Hughes, and Farley, particularly in thematic concerns such as the interaction between the be spoiled urban environment and its ‘nature’, Mark has a distinctive and unified style of his own. I particularly liked the three poems below and asked Mark if I could them. He kindly agreed.



Mark Pajak was born in Merseyside. His work has been published in MagmaThe North and The Rialto among others, been highly commended the Cheltenham Poetry Competition and National Poetry Competition and won first place in the Bridport Prize. He has received a substantial Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North and was 2016’s Apprentice Poet in Residence at Ilkley Literature Festival. His first pamphlet, Spitting Distance, was selected as a Laureate’s Choice and is published with smith doorstop.

Tickling the Canal

Believe in the dream… Beware the danger
Marie-Nicole Ryan

Lured to the canal on her dad’s yarn
of Alaska and how he’d tickled fish

from icy rivers. And though this is only Bootle,
Liverpool, and rats wicker in the reeds,

a mallard rasps and a condom eels by
on the current, she thinks herself Inuit

in this northern wind that shivers the water
as a magnet will skitter iron shavings.

So she dips her small hands, motions
as if beckoning and waits for the trout.

But there are no trout. Instead, in the sunk
smoke of algae, sticklebacks scatter

like a shoal of razors. Under the drowned
hull of a bathtub, a pike as long as her arm

slys its snout upwards. The rusty ring
of its gullet ready to slip on a finger.


… and in their glance was permanence
John Berger

At sixteen, I did a day’s work
on an egg farm.
A tin shed the size of a hanger.

Inside its oven dark
two thousand stacked cages,
engines of clatter and squawk.

My job, to pass a torch
through the bars for the dead hens
and pack them tight into a bin bag.

All the time my mind chanting:
there’s only one hen. Just one
ruined hen repeated over and over.

In this way I soothed the sight
of all that caged battery,
their feathers stripped to stems,

their patches of scrotum skin,
their bodies held
in the dead hands of their wings.

But what kept me awake
that hot night in my box room,
as I listened to the brook outside

chew on its stones and the fox’s
human scream, was how
those thousand-thousand birds

had watched me. And really
it was me repeated over and over,
set in the amber of their eyes.

Me, the frightened boy in jeans
stiff with chicken shit, carrying
a bin bag full of small movement.

A foot that opened. An eyelid
that unshelled its blind nut.
A beak mouthing a word.

Camping on Arran, 1992

Dad, you had shared with me your sleeping bag.
And we lay like hands held in one pocket.
When the dark flickered and a pause before

thunder; a sound like the sky waking.
And waking with it, I trembled, trapped,
a boy in a storm, in this tight space

ripe with your sleeping man’s body.
But when the canvas flared again
white with a hem of shadow grass,

you were awake and counting
down the seconds to thunder.
And I, listening, was struck still.

As each count became less
-the storm brighter, louder-
I could feel a closeness

like breath in the air.
And I fell asleep
as rain would fall; soft,

then in a rush.
You counting us
into the eye.

From ‘Spitting Distance’

The private and public art

I’ve been putting my new book together. This provides the best distraction from world events and involves opening a word document and pasting poems in the order I wish them to appear. I’ve had an idea of running order for a while. Yesterday I was tempted to radically revise this order, to put one ‘successful’ poem after another- poems I like that have attracted favourable comment, won or been placed in competitions or been placed in good magazines. I don’t want to give the impression that I am not happy with all the work- I am. It was just a question of ‘front loading’ the collection with the most striking pieces (although the idea of ‘most striking’ is of course in itself subjective.)
When I mentioned this idea to my twelve-year-old son he said that that would be like making cookies in which some had all the chocolate chips and some had none. He suggested that the chocolate chips should be distributed throughout the cookie mixture, not concentrated in a few. With this metaphor in mind, I reverted to my previous sequence with the intension of making the book read evenly, hopefully providing an equal sprinkling of the poetic equivalent of chocolate chips throughout.

The oldest poem in this collection was written before the last book came out, the most recent perhaps found its current shape this afternoon.
I have a publication date. March 2017. This has made the business of finding a title and cover image more pressing. I’m fortunate that, after a week of thinking I had nothing that would fit,  a title seems to have arrived and with it an idea of an image for the cover. Below are three covers I’ve mocked up from on-line design websites. The actual cover  will feature original artwork, but these images are intended to give an artist designing the cover an idea as to what I would like.
One of the working titles for the collection was ‘Trace’ and was accompanied by an image of a fossil.


My next title idea was ‘Arterial’ since there is a sequence of poems about my time as a coronary care nurse in the collection.


When the title changed from ‘Arterial’ (above) to ‘The Great Animator’ (below) I realised I needed a more animated image than the static tree. I do love the image above, so have asked an artist friend to try to create a hybrid incorporating, if they can,
the style of the first and the sense of movement from the second image.


As far as the poems themselves are concerned I’m fortunate that my editor John Lucas has provided some light notes, suggested amendments and points to consider. However, this guidance aside, putting a book of poems together, in my experience, is a strange solitary business involving selecting and ordering poems, making amendments, going back and forth across revisions and rewriting or reinstating previous versions of poems.

With this in mind it was very important for me to get out of the office and hear poetry spoken to an audience. In a time of rapid political change it seems coming together with ‘like’ minds is in itself a political act. It is great to connect with others and to see how poetry responds and reflects social change.

Sarah Howe and Tom Pickard were reading at the launch of the latest New Walk magazine in Leicester this week. I am familiar with Sarah’s work having reviewed her incredible collection ‘Loop of Jade ‘ for The Compass magazine.  Ezra Pound said that poetry is news that stays news, and Sarah Howe’s subtle and intelligent take on power and its misuse certainly has a timeless quality. She also read some more recent work, written during her recent spell as a lecturer in the United States.

I had only read one poem by Tom Pickard before meeting him and hearing him read. Tom’s easy and unaffected way with a listening audience was a joy to experience. Tom writes the sort of poetry that can appeal to any kind of audience, from the academic to the casual listener. I know he has been invited to read in many universities in Europe, the USA and UK. I imagine he could walk into a pub anywhere and read his poems without seeming out-of-place. His work, which incorporates ballads, short, punchy pieces and longer sequences, traverses forms and genres whilst remaining resolutely his own. Tom read a selection of poems that were by turns funny, erotic, political and deeply concerned with landscape in the most vivid experiential sense.  Tom’s poems are certainly accomplished and affecting on the page. However. it is hard to convey how much his reading brought to the work, and it was a timely reminder of the power of poetry as a collective public experience.

Helen Mort’s ‘No Map Could Show Them’

Before the recent failings of my body, too tedious to go into here, I used to do a bit of hill walking, scrambling and rock climbing. I visited France a couple of times and tried to climb Mont Blanc with a friend. The weather was poor on that occasion and we turned back after a night in a hut below the last long ascent to the summit. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully (apart, perhaps, for a line or two in a poem about working a night shift as a nurse) to write of climbing; of being attached to a companion on a rope, held aloft by figures and toes, of the texture and colour of rock and the body and mind’s relationship to it, of mountain environments where I’ve been frightened, elated, contemplative, challenged and humbled.


I learnt, through experience, that despite the use of the term ‘conquer’ in relation to reaching the summit, no human being conquers a mountain: rather, weather permitting, a mountain may allow the climber a brief experience of a world away from an urbanised life. I remember, on one occasion telling a companion that I felt I was part of the mountain. This might sound ridiculous, but I was experiencing a completeness and profound sense of belonging I hadn’t experienced before. Related to that feeling is the one I sometimes get when I am totally absorbed in writing poems. Perhaps I find it difficult to write ‘mountain’ poems due to the enormity of the mountain landscape. Or maybe the profundity of the experience makes it hard to capture in words. Maybe the language used to describe extreme and rugged terrain and physical struggle is a barrier to the capturing the inner world of the climber. I’ve also tried writing about climbers, but have not been satisfied with the results, often regarding what I’ve written as one dimensional and lacking, for want of a better word ‘soul’.  .  

Not everyone struggles as I do, however. In her second collection, ‘No Map Could Show Them’ Helen Mort has written a number of immersive, contemplative poems about climbing and climbers. There is a sure-footed purity to her poems, a hard-won simplicity that seems ideally suited to this subject matter. It is as though a light, strong and precise touch is exactly what is required to make these poems adhere to the page and memory. Perhaps it is the nature of both poetry and climbing that one false move could result in a fall.

I began to read this book the day before it was announced that the climber Junko Tabei had died. Tabei was the first woman to climb Everest. Years ago I used to pour over climbing books; Chris Bonington’s, Joe Simpson’s, Henrich Harrer’s ‘The White Spider’. It didn’t occur to me at the time that all these books were written by and about men and that there might be other stories and ways of seeing human relationships with mountains.

One aspect of this collection is its attempt to address this imbalance, to articulate and celebrate the lives of women mountaineers, to give voice to those who were often ‘not on the map’ in terms of recognition by male peers and the wider world in general.    ‘An Easy Day for a Lady’ works, on one level, as the sort of ‘ climbing poem’ I admire. It captures something of the freedom and altering of perspective, both visual and in relation to how the viewer sees their life, afforded by climbing. It’s the kind of poem that should you close your eyes and listen, as I did at a recent reading given by its author, is able to transport you to a high place, a place where, should you turn round to look, you will see ‘the swooping absence/ of the face, the undone glaciers, crevasses closing in on themselves/ like flowers at night’.  But the poem also works in its address of historical (and sadly not so historical) gender issues, dealing as it does with the irrelevance, to the woman narrator, of the title’s 1920’s  quotation ‘An Easy Day for a Lady’, this being shorthand for a climb considered to be beneath a man once two women alone had achieved it. The speaker of the poem and her female companion,  ‘en cordeefemininineare literally and metaphorically above such language, unconstrained by social mores and able to ‘give back the silence/ at the dawn of things’. Other poems address the constraining garments considered suitable in Victorian times. The narrator in ‘Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal’ longs to stand in her blue dress ‘ beneath the falls/ at Lauterbrunnen, higher/ than all society, a teardrop/ if only you saw me/ from the sky.’ Miss Jermima’s frustration, anger and sadness at her confined existence are all conveyed in this short and deceptively simple piece.


The sequence of poems about the climber Alison Hargreaves is haunting, displaying great understatement and sensitivity.

Containing sixty- five pages of poems, this collection feels and is substantial. Much of the work voices the rage of the suppressed and maltreated. There are also tender pieces and humorous touches.   Many of these poems are celebrations of achievement; records of overcoming, or attempting to overcome, not only the often  harsh conditions of the mountains, but also the everyday adversity and prejudice encountered by those in all environments, both elevated and domestic. Many of the protagonists, mainly, but not exclusively female, speak in refusal to have their worth defined or measured by others. I began writing here as a quick response to highlight some of the qualities I admire in the poems about climbing and climbers. There is a great deal more to discover. I am looking forward to reading this collection thoroughly and with care.




Three new anthologies

I am pleased to have recently received new poetry anthologies from three excellent independent presses.

First to arrive was Vanguard Editions #2 Poetry Anthology. It is an eclectic collection, beautifully made, full of surprises and great value at only £5. There is an impressive selection of work from the likes of Ian Duhig, Dan O’Brien, Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch and many other fine contemporary writers.   I’m grateful to the editor, poet, writer and director of the Faber academy, Richard Skinner, for asking me to contribute and pleased that my fairly newly minted poem, ‘The Glass Delusion’ was to hand when Richard contacted me. We agreed a couple of small changes to line breaks were needed and I’m very happy with the version that appears the anthology.


Next came ‘New Boots and Pantisocracies’  from Smokestack Books. This project started as a blog set up in the aftermath 2015 UK general election by Professor Bill Herbert and Andy Jackson who initially decided to publish a poem a day for the first hundred days of the new government in order to record responses, in poetry,  to the prevailing political atmosphere. The project grew and remerged in order to take in responses to the outcome of the EU referendum. At 181 pages it is an impressive tome, and contains work from Daljit Nagra, Hannah Lowe, Suzannah Evans , Jon Stone and many others. I’m pleased my own poem, ‘Election Night’, which was specifically written in response to the result and casts an eye back to nineteen-seventy nine, is sandwiched between poems by Clare Pollard and Helen Mort as I have long been an admirer of their work.  You can read some reflections on the anthology from Sheenagh Pugh here.  



Finally, there is ‘Millstone Grit’, an anthology of work by poets associated  with Sheffield Hallam university. I attended Hallam a couple of years ago to study a postgraduate course, and was pleased to be asked to contribute by editors Noel Williams and Rosemary Badcoe. The book represents a new venture into publishing for the editors of Antiphon magazine, and contains poems by T.S Eliot Prize shortlisted poets Katherine Towers and Ruby Robinson, as well as wonderful poets like Julie Mellor, Beverley Nadin, James Giddings (who has a new book out with Templar Press) and Suzannah Evans. There are also two poems from me. You can see a list of contributors and order a copy here for the very reasonable price of £6.50 (UK) including post and packing.

All three anthologies give an idea of the wide range of work being produced and published by poets in the UK, both in terms of stylistic approach and subject matter. The ‘New Boots’ book might be of particular interest to those who feel poetry is divorced from contemporary events and are looking for responses to current affairs. Both the other books contain varied reflections of contemporary life by some of the best poets currently producing work in the English language.

Clive James ‘Letter to a young poet’

I’ve sung the praises of on-line poetry magazines on here before. Another new publication, The Scores  went live ( think this is the correct term) this morning.  I haven’t had a proper look yet but the first issue contains  work by many well-known (in the poetry world) poets, as well as an introduction by Don Patterson  and an interesting ‘Letter to a young poet’ piece by Clive James.  I read Rilke’s original letters to a young poet some years ago, and am always interested in advice, thoughts  and ‘wisdom’ relating to poetry .

James’ piece begins with an echo of Rilke’s original letter. Basically, James suggests that unless you are dedicated to the point of obsession to writing poetry, you should give up. Unless you find yourself driven to it to the point where you can’t help it, do something else. James’ reasoning for this advice is that – ‘ the chances of failure are too high, and the disappointments are too cruel.’ I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that failure and cruel disappointment are the overriding experiences of the poet. Of course there must be many frustrated writers out there, but I have also met several hundred who’s lives have been enhanced and enriched by their involvement. Perseverance, dedication, and the occasional check on one’s motivations and expectations might be valuable.  I hesitate to suggest that one shouldn’t aim high, but it would be a good idea for a young poet to know the number of poets wishing to be published, for example, by Faber and Faber, as opposed to the number who actually are. If we are talking about ‘failure’ in terms of publishing (and it is not clear what James means by ‘failure’ ,) then I think it reasonable to believe that one can be published, firstly in magazines and later perhaps in pamphlet or book form.   James continues ‘  the average stacked shelf is not only more useful to society than the average poem, it is actually superior as a work of art. ‘  I suppose this statement too,  depends on a definition or definitions of  ‘average’, ‘usefulness’ and ‘art ‘ in relation to poetry and supermarket shelves.

James also writes

‘ Train yourself to care less about the praise. You should work your new poem to perfection not because it will please more people that way – it might please fewer – but because in its finished state it will prove itself an independent artefact invulnerable even to your own doubts. If the poem has its own confidence, the day will come when you can look back on it and wonder how you did it. ‘

This seems like good advice. If only it were  possible to ‘train  yourself ‘ to care less about praise. In my own experience, one becomes less concerned with both praise and negative criticism as time goes by. When starting to share poems with others , it is of course possible to be elated or deflated by their reactions. Only experience and time can develop confidence in the work (I like the idea of the poem having its own confidence.)  Another factor in how someone responds to praise is their temperament.  Some people will always be buoyed or swayed more than others by praise. For my part, although pleased by it, I’ve always found it a little difficult to accept, ( and here I hope I don’t sound ungrateful,)  of little use.

While I find James’ trademark laconic pessimism  (some might say realism)  a little too negative,  I did find aspects of the article enjoyable, and think the idea of inviting people to write such a letter is a good one.

The piece also contains an odd reference to Malcolm Muggeridge’s thoughts on how the contraceptive pill might effect the light in a woman’s eyes.  I found this off-putting and unnecessary reference, betraying, perhaps, some of  James’ generation’s  lack of subtly and sensitivity when approaching gender issues, or maybe illustrating a predilection for deliberately stirring up a little controversy with offhand sexist generalisation. James’ includes some thoughts on notebooks and how to organise work in progress, and some may find this useful.  Whilst a certain amount of organisation is undoubtedly required to keep work in progress accessible and orderly, I found the setting out of one particular approach a little prescriptive when applied to poetry. This may be because I am resistant to being told how to work, preferring to find ways that suit me best (although I am not a ‘young poet,’ and therefore not the addressee of the letter.) However, I believe there are  many ways of working, and individuals will eventually find what works best for them.

On reputation and career, James writes

‘If you start thinking about your reputation, or even about your career as a poet, you are in the wrong frame of mind. What matters most is the poem, not the poet. ‘

I’m fortunate in that the words ‘career’ and ‘poet’ have never appeared in the same sentence in my mind. Of course I understand why people use ‘career’ in relation to their poetry; either because it suggests a developmental path (which can be a comforting conception ) or that it adds credibility to their dedication to poetry, or perhaps they are referring to the fact that their writing is an intrinsic part of an academic or performance based life.  I am fortunate in that my poetry has always been largely separate from such concerns. As for reputation, maybe that, like beauty, is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

My  favourite line from Clive James’ piece is this.

‘If even a few people remember a line or two in a poem you wrote, you’re not just getting there, you’re there. That’s it: and all the greater glory is mere vanity’