Time passes…

P1020631

Cave Prints
27/o7/15

Back from a trip to Picardy,
seated in my box-room office
and looking for a change
in more than weather,

I take down the linocut
of a hare among poppies,
a skull from Da Vinci’s notebook,
Clausen’s head of a fair

and serious girl, the abstract in oils
by someone  I knew in another life,
a Van Gough postcard  and a portrait
by Modigliani, but leave

the aboriginal flurry
of red and yellow hands
framed ten years back,
minute fingers and leafy palms

in autumnal colour
as fresh as if just lifted
from a tray of poster-paint,
gently pressed and held to paper.

Good news

I’m very pleased to have received news that my book, The Sun Bathers has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy prize. You can read the full shortlist on the Poetry Society webpage here.

As you will see if you follow the link, it is an illustrious list containing some brilliant poets and so I’m surprised and delighted to have made the shortlist.  I’m grateful to my publisher, John Lucas of Shoestring Press for entering the book for the bi-annual prize which is for a ‘distinctive first collection’. The prize was instigated by colleagues of the late Michael Murphy, who tragically died at the age of 43 of a brain tumour in 2009.
There’s more a little more information about Michael and the prize that bears his name here.

It has been a joy of receive congratulations from many poets through social media. In addition to this, any writers reading this will know how important it is to receive the occasional affirmation to help offset the nagging doubts and insecurities about their work.  Yesterday, I was fretting over the latest drafts of the next book . Today I’ll just let myself count my blessings and remember all the hard work that went into the last one. Thanks.

Why I write, continued.

Why I write, part five.

wave

Some reasons to write. Vanity. Maybe, a bit. Politics. They’re in there. Preservation of histories, mine, ours. Anger; unresolved, redirected, worked out. For the love of language, the malleability of it, the carpentry of poems. And love, sometimes, maybe, if I am brave enough.

Why I write, part six

A Mystery.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to do this. Writing should be fun. A privilege. What metaphor can I employ to tell you how dissatisfied I am with my latest poem?  How about a hydro-electric metaphor? I am dissatisfied with my failure to convert the wave containing idea and emotion into a form of electricity. When the poem, or the genus of the poem arrived, it felt powerful, smooth, inevitable, generous, gorgeous.
Where did that energy come from? Where is it now?

Why I write, part seven.

I’m in a metaphorical dance hall. There is a lot of potential distraction.
There is possibility in the air.  There is a poem here somewhere, waiting to dance. I’m shy, but I gather courage. The poem takes my hand at my first approach. This feels natural, although I’m slightly nervous and slightly high with excitement. We dance for a while. I have not trodden on its feet. I have not said or done anything to cause offence, to cause it to leave. I’m playing it cool. But not too cool. We will dance. We will practice. We will become complete.

Why I write, part eight.

There were nursery rhymes. There were all kinds of jazz records with voices and rhythms and wonderful lyrics. There was my sister’s pop and rock. There was a transistor radio. There was ‘If I Had a Hammer’. There were hymns. There was ‘Top of the Pops’.

Why I write, part nine.

Kerouac and wearing black.

I’m sixteen and I’ve met a guy at FE college who writes poems. I’ve written poems myself, to be read only by my girlfriend. This guy is serious. He has long hair and wears black, even in summer. He doesn’t try to get his poems published. We don’t care or know about any of that. It is enough to be poets and wear black boots even in summer and smoke. We are poets, even though I have only read a bit of Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes and I only write a few (although I mean what I write and remember them still) and never show them to a soul.

Why I write, part ten

I think maybe I’ve got used to this rush that is like nothing else. Here it comes, the swell. I am riding the poem, I am on it, I am cutting through the tunnel of the wave forever

Why I write, part eleven

There is a block of stone in the middle of my afternoon. There is a poem inside. I must get my tools. I’ll go to get them slowly, or at a run, depending on how daunting the block is,  how sharp my tools are and where I’ve left them.

Why I write

Why I write, part one.

My exercise book comes back with ‘see me’ written in it. But it’s ok. This time there are lots of ticks in red pen and an ‘excellent’ at the end.
The teacher wants to tell me that I’ve written a really good story. Crucially, I already know it is a good story. When she asked me if this is all my own work, I am able to lie convincingly since I am convinced . I am able to lie convincingly because  although I know that my story has been heavily ‘based’ on the Puffin book I’ve read and loved, I know the story is still mine.  I have inhabited the story, and this, and my subversion and adoption of it, makes it all the more mine . I’m ten years old and I’ve been rushed along in the writing of it. I’ve felt older than I am, in control, and though I don’t know how to describe this feeling, I have been simultaneously lost and found. My teacher asks me to read my story aloud to the class. She records my reading on a cassette tape. She has overlooked my undulating pencilled handwriting, the phonetic spelling, the doubtful provenance, the backwards d’s and b’s. Thank you, Mrs Goodman.

Why I write, part two.

Almost forty years have passed. I’m typing this at speed, crouched over the keyboard, shouting downstairs to my son to turn the telly off, help himself to cereal if he’s still hungry after the tea I’ve made for us. I’ve been driven to this keyboard. The washing up is still to be done, tomorrows sandwiches are yet to be made. The desire to communicate has surfaced despite the fact that my wrists and forearms, shoulders and back, are sending messages of pain that I suspect are familiar to many writers, some of whom may not even out of their thirties. The pains are related to poor posture, repetitive strain, possibly carpel tunnel. I wake up with pain. It fluctuates. It is self inflicted. When I’m in a mood to communicate, as I am now, the pain is a chronic irrelevance. It shoots up my arms to let me know I am transgressing some limit; that late night stint at the keyboard or those days of intensive writing, unproductive, transcendent or somewhere in-between, have extracted a price.

I am writing this to post on the internet, that incredible interface between us which allows me to publish what I am writing almost as soon as I have thought it and also allows you to respond if you so wish. For this reason  I feel the need to add that I don’t need advice about desk ergonomics, anti-inflammatory drugs, Pilates, the benefits of core strength exercise or swimming. I know. I should look after myself. I know this in the same way a smoker knows that he or she should not smoke. Thank you for your concern, if, indeed,  you are concerned. And if you are suffering as I am, then please, see a doctor and  think about your writing posture.
But my point is this. Despite each key-strike causing pain, despite the fact I will receive no financial gain from this piece, I’m still writing it and what I want to know is, why?

Why I write, part three

It is 1980. I am going to a party. Yellow socks are in. People are snogging all-over the front room of someone’s house. The girl whose parents own the house are out. Her name is Susannah or Jane and I don’t really know her or how I got invited. I meet a girl. We start going out.  She is impressed when I give her some poems I’ve typed. Need I say more?

Why I write, part four

It is nearly two o’clock in the morning. I think this poem is finished. If I were in a frame of mind for analysis, I might find I have explained something of my own life to myself. I will hopefully have explained it in a way which might reflect someone else’s life. For now, in this moment, I have transformed the world. My past has collided with my present in mid-air and there has been a miraculous controlled landing. I am tired but elated. For now.

Tiffany Anne Tondut, featured poet,

I met Tiffany at the launch of Magma magazine, issue 61, and was struck by her poems (she read two) which seemed to have an authority and memorable originality. I felt there was an unusual vibrancy and freedom to her work ( ee cummings sprang to mind), which can only be a good thing.
After I complemented Tiffany and asked her if she would like to be featured here, she kindly supplied the following poems and this brief biography.  Having heard Tiffany read a few of her poems I was obviously aware of the technical skill, dexterity  and emotional resonance of her work, but  nevertheless, I was unprepared for the impact of ‘Canary Girls’, or the breath-taking power of  w’althemstow h’eights,  which I am very pleased to publish here.

After publication in Poetry News, Tiffany’s poems have appeared in Rising,
The Moth, Morning Star, The Rialto and elsewhere. She is interested in  ‘outlaw, lyrical, and dialect poetry.’ Much of her work is influenced by, and explores, modes of Lorca’s  ‘duende’.Tiffany is re-launching Silkworms Ink as co-poetry editor and her pamphlet beautiful bastards / beautiful bitches is, slowly, forthcoming.  You can find out more at www.tiffanyannetondut.com

floodlights

i promised to write about your black jeans
but then i read an almost made up poem
by charles bukowski. bukowski and his girl
wrote letters back and forth but that was way back
in the 70s when they didn’t have facebook.
i guess i could write you paper letters
between our electronic ones, then at least
we could touch the same sheets.
bukowski’s girl wrote poems about angels and god
in capital letters. the poems i type for you
are in lower case, but bold. i’ve hung out with famous
actors & artists, but unlike her, only some of them
were my lovers. the men i’m dating now you’re ok with,
you’re not jealous, because we haven’t met.
we got close three times but you cancelled twice
and i pulled out the last. i wish i hadn’t, but i’d physically
met a man that week, on the street, and you wrote:
i hope he treats you like the diamond that you are.
he didn’t, of course, and what i’ve found out, is men like him
don’t care about the poems inside the girl, just the girl
whose lips kiss their egos for a night. it makes me wonder
why men who touch me disappear, when you message me
every day with virtual love. one night, you left a voicemail
on my phone about a sandwich. hearing your drunk
yorkshire accent made me laugh with pain. i wanted
more. i know i’m not the best female poet on the scene
but all i care is maybe you think i am. and i love you
the way a woman loves a man she’s never met,
only cherishes his photos, his texts. i know i’d love you more
if i could see your black jeans discarded on the floor
of your brighton flat, the one with the balcony, and i’m
stroking your nude back saying “remember floodlights on our skin?”
but that hasn’t happened. perhaps it never will
and my poems will sadden. men will keep forgetting me
or worse, i’ll meet a nice enough guy and never write you again.
i don’t have a crying bench, near a bridge, over a river,
where i go every night and weep for who i haven’t touched,
but that doesn’t mean i don’t think of going there.
unlike bukowski, you haven’t heard about my suicide.
i only write of wanting to die. in 3 or 4 months
i hope i’ve met you. and i don’t care if you’re unfair to me.
i’ll be unfair to you.

w’althamstow h’eights

a were gypsy, loose as orse:
aughty, ungry, nobody’s flame;
are-bell eyes, slew as curse.

a thought e wouldn’t want me, bu e did.

e drove me oop t’heath fer windswept walks.
we parked, fidgeted, talked.
e said a smelt of life,
is valley girl.
a named im darkling –
pupils so black, stars culd sink.

a loved the damage in is grin
an the danger.
e loved me wild, bu culdn’t let me go.
oft-times e buckled, gripped, slipped –
called me philistine, o bitch.

a writhed.
e said a needed taming.
a reared.
e brought a riding crop.
a howled.
e broke me in.

a thought e cannot kill me. bu e did.

Canary Girls
i.m ‘The Canary Girls’ of Munition Factories 1914-1918

No machine had ever felt the plumage of a girl.
No girl had ever flown inside the cabin of a crane
and worked it.

News broke swift – fields of houses emptied.
Whole factories beating deft with women’s wings.

Every flock had tools to ply:
some hammered, quick as beaks; others preened steel
or weighed and measured, nursing bombs
with a mother’s eye.

New girls hatched in night shifts –
faces bright as yolk from packing shells with TNT.

Feathers erupted – streaks of fire through skin.
Some girls burned, blew away.

After hearing Amy Winehouse on the radio this morning

 

 

Amy

Back To Black

Success, whatever it was, whatever
you thought it was, stuck its tongue
in your mouth, undressed you swiftly,
had its way, and left. The accolades
need not have led to emptiness,
left you smashed on arrogance,
a cocktail of insecurity and conceit;
nor soured your breath, lain down
on your voice the way an LA heat-haze
lays down to smother morning breeze;
nor pulled you into lights that left you
looking into black, the audience
out there somewhere, gazing back,
heads level with your feet.

26/05/15.

Another version – now an ‘unlucky’ or 13 line sonnet. Although I liked the idea of her feet being level with people’s heads, I think this is tighter and better.

Back To Black

Success, whatever it was, whatever
you thought it was, stuck its tongue
in your mouth, undressed you swiftly,
had its way, and left. The accolades
need not have led to emptiness,
you smashed on arrogance,
a cocktail of insecurity and conceit;
nor soured your breath, lain down
on your voice the way an LA heat-haze
lays down to smother morning breeze;
nor pulled you into lights that left you
looking into black, the faces
out there somewhere, gazing back.

Another version, 2 days later..

Back to Black

Success, whatever it was, whatever
you thought it was, stuck its tongue
in your mouth, undressed you swiftly,
had its way, and left. The accolades
need not have led you to emptiness,
smashed on arrogance, a cocktail
of insecurity and conceit;
nor soured your breath, lain down
on your voice the way an LA heat- haze
lays down to smother morning breeze;
nor pulled you into lights that left you
looking into black, an audience
out there somewhere, gazing back,
their heads level with your feet.

An Interview with Jane Commane, publisher, editor and poet

Jane in a hat

Hi Jane. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on the success of Nine Arches Press. You’ve managed to publish a steady stream of poetry collections as well as Under The Radar magazine, and Nine Arches also contributes to the poetry scene in the midlands and beyond with excellent events such as the regular Shindig! readings.  You’ve also been the first publisher in residence at a poetry festival, and Nine Arches is receiving some well deserved attention, winning a Sabotage award for most innovative publisher last year and recent high profile reviews in the Guardian and elsewhere.

 When did you first have the idea to set up an independent press and did you model Nine Arches on any other publishers? Did you seek advice from established presses when setting out?

I was working for another small publisher at the time. As that post finished, it just seemed like there was a lot of great, unpublished work out there, and a lot of talent that wasn’t really finding a platform. Under the Radar magazine emerged first, as a way of providing an outlet for some of that, and the publishing then grew pretty rapidly from that point in all kinds of directions.

UTR
Under the Radar

In those early days, I think Nine Arches drew lots of inspiration from various publishers, rather than any single one, though I have long admired Bloodaxe’s poetry books (The New Poetry was given to me as a teenager and turned me onto contemporary poetry), and enjoyed a lot of Faber, Carcanet and Arc poets at that time too. In part, it was about setting out to do something a bit different from what was already on offer and make our own place within things. I had this sort of idea that a publisher could be like my favourite independent record labels – a distinctive style and approach but with lots of individual voices on board.

I was incredibly lucky in that I didn’t have to look far for advice and support – in many instances it came to me. A few months after setting up the press in 2008, Nell Nelson at HappenStance sent me a lovely and very supportive note.   Others too were immensely kind and offered encouragement and support;  not least Simon Thirsk at Bloodaxe Books, who over several years has been a very generous source of a lot of sound and sensible advice, for which I am deeply grateful. Being part of Inpress also means that there is a sense of comradeship and friendly support between publishers – Tom Chivers at Penned in the Margins and Clive Burnie at Burning Eye Books also inspire me, and though what we all publish is quite different, we do enjoy catching up and sharing experiences and talking about publishing.

mELANCHRINI
Melanchrini, From Nine Arches 

Seven years in and I’m about to take the plunge this summer and become a full-time self-employed publisher, writer and editor. That’s both very exciting and just a little scary at times – but most of all I can’t wait to have more time to dedicate to Nine Arches, the books and to the poets I work with.

Congratulations on your self employment-  a well deserved reward for all your hard work and dedication!  I’m sure the readers of this piece will join me in wishing you continued success and all the best with this important work.  It’s also great to hear how supportive others in the poetry world have been.

The artwork, design and distinctive house style of Nine Arches books and Under the Radar magazine are impressive and reflect a strong sense of identity and commitment to design. Could you tell me a little about the images you use? Have you any formal training in photography, web design or other aspects of the visual arts?

The images we use mostly come from a brilliant young photographer called Eleanor Bennett – her images really struck me as distinct and eye-catching. We also occasionally use images from elsewhere, like Jo Bell’s cover which is by artist Heather Duncan.

kITH

I have some formal training – I did an Arts course at college, I loved making imaginary record sleeves and little fanzines when I was a teenager, and I’ve done the odd bit of training here and there, but mostly I have picked up these things as I’ve gone along – I taught myself to typeset and bought old software cheaply off eBay when I first set out to get things up and running.

I understand that you have, for the time being, moved away from pamphlet publishing in order to concentrate on full collections. I wondered if there were economic reasons for this shift or if there was another reason for this change in focus?

Mainly economic, partly instinct. I love pamphlets, don’t get me wrong – I am immensely fond of them and I think they are a vital part of the poetry ecosystem.

But it did feel Nine Arches had to make a move away from them if the press was to grow and if we were to ever stand a chance of selling the poetry book collections in larger numbers. Pamphlets are labours of love, and take a lot of time and care, almost as much as a full collection in many ways. Yet in the main they cannot be sold in most bookshops and their pricing isn’t viable for online retailers. I did want to build Nine Arches, and knew as popular as the pamphlets were, their audience would always be a little bit more limited – my hope has been to try and bring poetry to bigger audiences, and to do that I think that the shift to books only was a big but important step.

If you want a publishing house to grow in any way, you do have to be aware of ensuring you keep evolving what you do – having itchy feet is important, it makes you keep pushing on to try new things and improve what you do. Each year I hope the books have evolved a little bit more – I’ve just made a decision to upgrade our covers and production values this year on all future titles, which has been a big step, but also a commitment to readers, to poets and to our own future as a publisher. I want our books to be artefacts that readers treasure and return to.

Tony Williams

With regard to editing collections, I wonder if you could say a little about what you think makes a good editor?

Care, attentiveness; the ability to listen as well as challenge and gently support writers to make their poems the very best they can be.

I tend to edit collections in several stages – there is no point going at poems with the hedge shears and hacking at them – that way you lose the nuances. You want to tread with care and see what’s beneath the wilder fringes of a poem! And often, you are trying not lose too much of that essential wildness in the editing process. I also want to build a good editorial relationship with that poet – to better understand where they are coming from, what’s at the heart of their writing and what we need to fix and what we need to just tweak and refine. Every single poet and collection is different, and will need differing amounts and types of editorial input.

It’s about being respectful, but also being able to challenge and ask questions of poets – ‘what does this mean’, ‘why this word/phrase’ or ‘what are you trying to say here?’. We’ll talk these things through, and if a poet has a good enough reason for something, it’ll stay. There’s this mutual trust too – so I’ll take that leap of faith with them in cases where I can see and understand something matters and is important to leave in, even if that moment I’ve not quite grasped it myself. No editor is infallible or perfect, after all; you have to be willing to go with some things in poems, give them time to settle like sediment, trust the poet in what they’re doing.

Matt's Book

 Matt Merrit’s Elephant Tests
Read a review here.

 Would it be possible to broadly define a style, a particular type of work that Nine Arches are most likely to be interested in?

I usually do resist trying to be pigeonholed like this, and I don’t like to define what Nine Arches does too much, as I think it’s both limiting to our existing poets and to those who might read, buy or submit to us. I like to surprise and be surprised!

But if we are going to try to talk about what I’m looking for in a poetry collection, I am most interested in original and striking work that speaks with its own, distinct voice. Poets who aren’t trying to be like anyone else. And poets who keep trying to get better, evolve, do their thing differently or simply just grow as a writer and have a unique perspective on things to offer readers and audiences.

In many ways it is so much easier to tell you what I’m not looking for!

I wondered if your role as an editor has had any effect your own writing, and if so how?

Yes – mainly in that I don’t have very much time to write now I’m an editor! But joking aside, actually, most of the impact is far more positive on the whole. You can’t be precious about your own poems when you have to so objective about other peoples’ poems. So you do become a quicker, more decisive editor of your own work. Being an editor does allow you to develop a bit more detachment in the process of redrafting and refining the poems – and makes you less tolerant of darlings and suspected flim-flammery in your own poems. If I can’t convince myself of the need to keep something, or if I can take it away and, like a Jenga tower, the rest of the poem still stands, I know it’s right to edit it out.

With regard to your own poetry, can you sight any influences on your work? Are you working on a collection at the moment?

I have a number of influences; RS Thomas is one of my all-time favourite poets for that subtle precision, the sharpness and doubt. Louis MacNeice too. Allen Ginsberg was a fond teenage favourite, as was Plath, and both remain close to my heart. Alice Oswald’s Dart had quite a big  impact on me early on when I was trying to think about how to write about places and landscapes and structure my work.

Dart

I love the poems of Claire Crowther with their quirky and magpie-eye for a sharp, inventive turns of phrase. I have a great fondness for John Clare; there’s a connection for me with his work in terms of the political nature of English landscape.

I have long been interested in poets of the Second World War too, like Alun Lewis and Keith Douglas, and more recent war poets like Brian Turner.  I like work that is political and outspoken; I am drawn to Peter Reading’s terrifying/electrifying poems, and admire for very different reasons the Midlands elegies of Roy Fisher, and Joel Lane’s quicksilver lines. And a wide range of contemporary poets with exacting, strong and original voices – poets like Liz Berry, Daljit Nagra, Luke Kennard, Kei Miller, Imtiaz Dharker, Helen Mort and many others.  I try to read widely, and do also read a lot of pamphlet and small press collections.  I’m trying also to read more international poetry, and read more poetry in translation at the moment.

There’s quite a few non-poetry influences too – music being a big one, as well as film and art. Anything weird and stirring basically, so from Twin Peaks to Stanley Spencer’s incredible paintings. And place too – I find place, its history, landscapes and stories (particularly places marked by industry or social change) probably the number one influencer of my work. Place is always political and always has something to say for itself. I also love museums and history, and maps are bit of an obsession too, it has to be said. Give me an OS map and I’ll be happy all day.

Maps and Leg.

Maps and Legends available
at Nine Arches.

I’ve not so much been working on a collection but slowly drawing together a body of poems over a number of years which is now starting to resemble a collection of poems in some form I hope. I have regained a better sense of my writing in the last two years too – there was a time when my confidence in my own poetry took a bit of knock, and lost faith in my writing, but I’ve been going through a process of rediscovering my work in a way and that has felt rather exciting and incredibly liberating too.

Thank you so much for your time Jane. 

Magma 61 Launch

Last Friday I attended the launch of Magma 61 magazine at the Poetry Review bookshop in London’s Bloomsbury. I arrived early, as I always do when I can, and walked to the venue from Kings Cross St. Pancreas via the British Library with its Eduard Paolozzi sculpture in the piazza

P1020375

and the amazing, and at the time of writing still free, British Museum which
was hosting an exhibition on Greek sculpture.
P1020387

The streets around Shaftesbury Avenue, where I used to wonder the guitar shops some thirty years ago (do you know the song ‘Wild West End’ by Dire Straits?) looked quite different, and the air was full of Spanish and Italian voices in this most cosmopolitan of cities.

I’d previously attended launches of this excellent magazine, which has a theme and a guest editor for each issue, at the Troubadour, a venerable coffee shop and relic of a bohemian past that had seen performances by luminaries of the  British Jazz and Folk scene of the fifties and sixties including Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Much as I had enjoyed the atmosphere at the previous venue, it was lovely to wander around the bright and fantastically well stocked Poetry Review Bookshop.  With time to spare, I popped into the nearby Oxfam Bookshop and managed to pick up a Faber copy of Seamus Heany’s 1991 collection, Seeing Things  for a bargain £2, as well as Don Patterson’s new ‘readers guide’ to the poems of Michael Donaghy ‘Smith’ for £6, which I’ve dipped into since and can highly recommend .

A good start to the evening. Returning to the London Review bookshop ,
I was pleased to see fellow Leicestershire poet Pam Thompson, as well as having a brief chat with headline reader Simon Barraclough whose new book ‘Sunspots’ (Penned in the Margins) has been recently published before the reading began.

P1020384

This edition of Magma is entitled  ‘The Streets’ and contains a marvellous range of work related in some way to this theme.  Magma is a brilliant magazine, featuring established writers (this issue contains a poem by Christopher Reid, among many other widely published poets) alongside those with somewhat shorter publishing records. If you have tried to get into this magazine before, do keep sending them your work. As I’ve said before persistence pays off when submitting to magazines, and with revolving editorship, a new theme for each issue and a wide variety of styles of work published , you may just have the poem the editors are looking for to complete the next issue.
Magma 61
The poems and poets were introduced by Jon Sayers, co-editor of this edition, who spoke of the great pleasure (and hard work) that had gone into the selection of the poems in this edition from over 2000 submissions that were sent in. It was a great evening with many stand-out readings. I particularly enjoyed work by Christine Webb, Pam Thompson, Tiffany Anne Tondut (whose poems I’m hoping to feature here in the near future)  and Linda Goulden.

Magma Launch

Also impressive was Gram Joel Davis who faultlessly recited his long poem ‘World Away’  without reference to the text. Simon Barraclough rounded off the evening in fine style with a selection of work old and new.

I was pleased that several people approached me to say they had enjoyed my own poem, ‘Google Street View’ which I introduced by recalling that some seventy years ago bombs had fallen across this city and that my Dad was one of the people sheltering underneath them.

Me at Magma 61  Launch

I had time to round off the evening with  a drink or two with poet and teacher Neil Elder before heading home.

Celebrating Crystal Clear

Last night saw the launch of Crystal Voices, an anthology of poems and stories celebrating ten years of the arts organisation and publisher based in the East Midlands. You can check out the list of writers in the anthology and order a very reasonably priced copy here.  

The launch took place at the Western pub spoken word night, Shindig! and followed readings by Jo Bell and Jonathan Davidson, whose new books, Jo’s ‘Kith’ and Jonathan’s ‘Humfrey Coninngsby’ I can highly recommend.

Shindig! is a regular open mike  with guest readers,  an event jointly run by Crystal Clear and the wonderful Nine Arches Press, and over the years the list of visiting readers has begun to look like a who’s who of contemporary poetry.

One of the most valuable aspects of these readings is the sense of community that has built up among the attending writers and readers over the years, with familiar and new faces gathering at the bi-monthly events to chat and enjoy and support each other’s work.  The event is well run but relaxed, and there is a respectful and democratic atmosphere in which everyone’s voice is given an equal chance to be aired and shared.

Crystal Voices

The Crystal Voices anthology, edited by poet and co founder  (with award winning writer Jonathan Taylor)  of the organisation Maria Taylor, contains work by writers who have been involved with the organisation in some way, either via publication in CCC’S magazine Hearing Voices or through attending and reading at events over the years.

True to the spirit of CCC, newer writers are included beside more established poets published by presses like Carcanet, Bloodaxe  and Smiths Doorstop, and the anthology gives some idea of the varied range of writing and the numerous writers that have all benefited in some way from their association with this ambitious and well run organisation.

I first encountered Crystal Clear via their pamphlet competition. I was persuaded by my friend Tracy Twell to enter, and my pamphlet ‘Gopagilla’ was published and launched in 2012, alongside other winning writers Ally Stoneman, Jess Mayhew (recently nominated for the Melita Hume Prize), Charles Lauder, Andrew Graves and Hannah Stevens.

Apart from some magazine publications and one or two in competition anthologies, ‘Gopagilla’ was the first time I’d had my work brought together between covers. I was delighted with the artwork and quality of the publication and with the promotion and support I received. I had, and still have, a great relationship with the organisation.

One outcome of the publication of Gopagilla (forgive me if you’ve heard this before) was that John Lucas, esteemed writer and publisher of Shoestring press, wrote to tell me how much he had enjoyed the pamphlet and asked “have you got anymore as I’d like to publish a full collection.”

CCC is a not-for-profit arts organisation devoted to developing, producing, publishing and promoting new writing.  Such organisations are the life blood of writing in this country, allowing new writers a platform to share and develop their work, to gain exposure, experience  and confidence.

The scope of CCC’s activities and involvement in supporting grass-roots creative writing of all kinds in and around the East Midlands over the past ten years is too great to list here. If you’d like to find out more you could visit their website. Whatever the dynamic partnership behind Crystal Clear decides to do next, you can rest assured that it will be done with care and sensitivity and will be motivated by a selfless desire to support the writers and writing in the region. Here’s to the next ten years!

Seven reasons to be cheerful about writing poems

You can create a private space where imagination can bloom- a place that remains private, even when you share it.

You can feel what you mean and express it, even though you might not dare to articulate it any other way.

You can find out what you didn’t know.

The un-ambiguous word can illuminate the inarticulate mood.

You can translate a sense of reality or unreality into something tangible.

You can reassemble your scattered worlds and talk to the dead.

You can catch and hold this sliding life.