‘How’s the poetry?’

How is the poetry going?’ my colleague asks.
‘Good, thanks.’

I hope that will always be my answer. Because poetry is in my life for good; we’ve been together for years.  Poetry brings me presents when I’m not expecting them. It’s brought me images in bed. We play together. We sit quietly doing nothing. We work out. Sometimes, it sulks and won’t talk to me for days. Weeks even.  It becomes preoccupied. We obsess over detail and argue until we have to walk away for a while. Sometimes we are passionate about each-other to the exclusion of all else.  I confide in poetry and it confides in me. We go for walks and drives. We get too busy to see each other. We are ships in the night. We delight each other. We share secrets and jokes. We have a thing for mountains. We share memories we haven’t shared yet. We have big ideas and plans.  We show off to each-other and reign in each other’s excesses. We have a laugh. We travel. We argue over the best way to proceed.  We research together and develop new enthusiasms.   We learn together. We talk about life and death and things we wouldn’t tell anyone else.  In its absence, I’ve wondered, in those lonely, self-pitying, neglected times, if poetry is having an affair. Equally, I’ve been cool and calm and got on with my life. The reunions have been marvellous. And after arguments, the getting back together is, well….

To return to the question:  I wonder if the person meant ‘How is the writing going?’  The answer could change on a daily, or hourly, or minute by minute basis. Anything could happen.  But basically, I know the writing is going to be OK. Poetry and I have been together too long to worry about our highs and lows too much. Even when we are not communicating, we feel each other’s presence. We’ve been through so much. We’ll always have Paris, even though we made that particular Paris up.

If looked at in another way, the question might refer to publications, readings, book sales, the stuff that comes with sharing, or trying to share ones poetry. And my answer might be ‘Hmm, not much happening at the moment ‘ or  ‘Good thanks, I had a reading last week.  The venue was great. The people were great. If I never read again I’ll be happy. I didn’t fall over on my way to the microphone.’  But I know that in a month, or four or five, I’ll be fretting about not having any readings. Not that I’ve tried very hard to get any (I’m working on this.)

Publications come and go. But the latest ‘Success’ or ‘failure’ wears off soon enough. This week’s publication or returned poem will soon be last month’s
publication or returned poem. I’ll either be flushed with ‘success’, quietly getting on with things or hankering to be noticed again.

Poetry knows all about my insecurities, vanities, ego driven actions. It nods sagely. It looks out of the window, not knowing what to say.  Sometimes it feels embarrassed. But it knows I need to seek approval. It knows about my jealousy and generosity. It doesn’t get involved in that stuff. Poetry knows I’ll be driven back to it by no other motive than the fact I can’t help myself.

Poetry knows that all I really need is for the two of us to be alone, with no distractions. It knows it all comes down to us.

Reading at the John Rylands Library

A few months ago I was delighted to be invited to read at John Rylands Library in Manchester by Janet Rogerson of Poets and Players.


Piccadilly Square, Manchester

I was doubly pleased when I learnt that I would be reading with Liz Berry, who’s book ‘Black Country’ I recently reviewed on here (see Poetry Reviews page above) . If you’ve read the review you will know I am a great admirer of Liz’s work. I was also looking forward to meeting fellow readers Geraldine Monk, and the unique musical/spoken word performers, Les Malheuraux.

John Rylands
John Rylands Library

The library reading room was even more beautiful and impressive than it
had appeared in the pictures I’d seen, and for a big space it felt warm and intimate, possibly because, although cathedral-like in structure, it was, as Liz Berry said, a cathedral to books.  All the performances were highly enjoyable.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading (I’ve noticed from the video that  I’m a bit of a fidget, but my family will tell you I never could keep still)  met some lovely people and had a great time.
I’ve added a link to my reading at the end of this post, and you can find Liz Berry’s magical reading, Geraldine Monk’s intriguing piece, and the singular distraction that is Les Malheurax on the same page. Performances at Poet’s and Players. youtube page

How does it feel?

A friend asked me where my poems come from. It was easy make a list for her. They come from memories, from past or recent experience, from reading, from news stories, radio, media, real life (whatever that is,) dreams etc. They come from the walking into the shallows that before you know it become depths. I’ve got a feeling there are going to be lots of metaphors in this piece..

I thought about what it feels like to be writing a poem. Some poems come about very deliberately. There is planning involved. There is research. An idea or image appeals, and like the director of a film, I’ll steer the poem forwards, shaping it so that it resembles the idea or vision. There are often many lines edited out of the final version.

The poems that I have most enjoyed writing, (and perhaps these are also my best poems) have been written on what felt like the very edge of control; like riding rapids in a canoe, or leaning a bike into a fast downhill turn. I’m talking about the first few drafts here, not the meticulous process of polishing that happens later. It is an exhilarating place (if you can call a state of mind ‘a place’) to be passing through, a place between knowing and unknowing, or rather knowing in the moment it is happening  that the poem is happening, but not knowing  where it will turn next.

There is more going on here than a balancing act, although this is part of it.  It is also a state at the intersection of conscious and unconscious, of written language and mental image, of the sound and the appearance of words, between literal and associated meaning. Once in a while a poem will feel like it being discovered and that I am the one lucky enough to be uncovering it, blowing a layer of dust off words that were already there.

And this is what I sometimes forget; I can’t make discoveries without exploring. And exploring is reading and writing and sometimes just looking out of the window. I can’t discover anything unless I literally and metaphorically let myself explore;  wandering into a derelict house, time traveling to be with Elvis or Leonardo or Amy Winehouse (or becoming them,) looking under stones, finding a truth and not letting it go, climbing down fire-escapes, rummaging in the dressing up box and swimming to the bottom of the river, going to the dodgy nightclub with the sticky floor and dining in an expensive restaurant (that one is definitely imaginary) listening to the wind rolling cans in the alley and bending the trees in the wood; becoming a child who is brought gifts by crows, smelling the diesel and candyfloss blowing through the screams and generators of the fairground and also the perfume of the pines; feeling breeze on my skin, borrowing telescope and microscope and taking turns to look though each.


Some thoughts on not writing

This piece is for writers who are not writing as much as they would like and are worried about it.   

I don’t like the term ‘writer’s block’. I don’t think it is helpful. That doesn’t mean I don’t have periods when I start to wonder if I will write anything ever again. I do. And whether you use the term ‘block’ or not, I do empathize with those who find it difficult to get through periods of not writing very much or not at all.   People use the term ‘block’ when they feel incapable of producing anything of worth. But to label a phase of relative or complete inactivity as ‘block’ seems to imbue it with a tangible quality and thus give it a great and sinister power.         


The word ‘block’ makes me think of an obstruction. This implies that the normal state of the writer is to be a freely flowing conduit of words that has somehow been occluded.
Gushing stream

And I don’t believe this to be a normal state for any writer. Sometimes writing comes easily and sometimes…

Writing is hard

Assuming you do not make your living as a writer and thus have strict deadlines and output targets to meet,  the only person putting pressure on you to produce work is yourself. You are the boss. So take the pressure off. Be a kind and understanding boss. If you are worried about your ‘not writing’ try to find out what seems to be the matter. Sit yourself down and ask yourself how you are feeling.

Be good to yourself

If you are worried about not writing, it is important to try to figure out why you aren’t writing so that you can do something about it. I suspect that only you will be able to figure this out. There may be several reasons. Perhaps life is exhausting at the moment and there is little emotional and intellectual energy left to devote to writing. If you need a break, take one.

Sometimes not writing is normal.


It is possible that you have become cynical or, more seriously, depressed. This means you won’t be able to access your emotional or intellectual resources. You may find it is hard to notice the fine detail of both your internal and external material. If you think you are depressed, you might consider getting help.

Not writing can be linked to inertia or staleness brought on by lack of change. It may be that you have not been stimulated by new experiences, environments, challenges or relationships for a while. Your routine, if you have one, may need shaking up.


It could be that you have simply not been reading, listening or taking in any
sort of art and so have not been providing your imagination with inspiration.

Or it could be that you are suffering from self-doubt a common state of mind among even the most successful writers.

There’s no easy way around this, but try to think of what you have achieved so far. This may be a piece of work (published or unpublished) that you are pleased with. You may remember compliments about your work from friends or strangers. Try to see yourself as those who have praised and encouraged your work have seen you. It might not help. But it’s worth a try.

Every writer is different in terms of how frequently they produce work and in what quantity. Poets I’ve spoken to have told me they haven’t written a thing in months or even years, and in one case, decades.

Similarly, reactions to this phase of ‘not writing’ will range from relaxed to mild anxiety to terror.    I’m lucky in that I think I’m probably at the more prolific end of the scale. I go through periods of high productivity (I’m not sure how productive as I haven’t stopped to count but certainly more than one poem in a week) to periods of low productivity (a poem every month or two, although again I’m not sure I want to spend time counting.) There is no ‘normal’ output for a writer and certainly not for a poet. And for poets the ratio of ‘keepers’ to ‘unsuccessful’ poems also varies greatly; some poets write tens of ‘almost’ poems for every one that ‘works’ and others write a high percentage of poems they consider worth sharing.

Personally , I notice I’ve been writing less poetry these last few weeks and more pieces for this blog. That could change tomorrow. I haven’t been planning to write these articles more frequently. I seem to be in a state of mind where subjects occur to me spontaneously and I begin to write about them. Of course I do a little research and thinking about the subjects, but generally the last few posts were conceived, written, re-written and posted within a period of a few hours(OK, sometimes more than a few hours) . But if I can’t think of anything to write about here next week I won’t be surprised as I suspect my brain will be working on something else.  As long as I’m writing something, anything – I know I’ll be happier about my writing than if I’m not writing at all.

There are a whole set of strategies for dealing with what is generally described as writers block.  There are numerous books and websites offering advice on how to get going again.  I hope I have made it clear that not writing is only a problem if you are distressed by it.  I’ve briefly touched on a few aspects which most writers will recognise as possible barriers to writing.
Here are a few more ideas to finish with.

You should get out more.
You should get out more

If you are stuck in some way- whether you are staring at the blank page or screen, endlessly redrafting or spending unproductive hours browsing the web.- you should think about getting up and doing something else. You might need a break from serious thought, or you might need an environment to do some serious thinking. I find walking is essential for mental and physical wellbeing and there are well documented research findings which illustrate how walking and creativity are related.

You should stay in more


Alternatively, depending on your honest self diagnosis, you may need to set yourself some writing targets and stick to them. You might need structures such as prompts, or to sign up for a course such as these helpfully highlighted by Josephine Corcoran, or one run by the Poetry School.   It may be that you need to write more in order to write.

You might need other people
Other People

so join a writers group or workshop or find a mentor.

You may have become incredibly critical of your work. You might be nipping your buds before they flower. It’s good to be aware of this and allow yourself the freedom to write what comes into your head. Loosen up.  Forget you are a perfectionist for a while. Let yourself enjoy writing again.

It’s possible that you are not writing about what you need to write about. Reading can help you discover different approaches. For example, writing
in the third person may allow you to approach difficult or painful subjects.

Ultimately, the hardest task for the non-writing writer
is to understand and accept themselves as they are right now. Once this is done, and if not writing is considered a problem rather than a normal phase for that individual, it might be possible to find strategies that help to address the cause or causes.

Giving a reading


This piece is for poets who are going to be reading a set of 10, 15 or 20 minutes, or perhaps longer – the sort of length you might read as a guest poet or at the launch of your pamphlet or book.

I’ve been lucky enough to have given a few of these readings  (although they have been rather sparse lately so if anyone reading this would like me to read, please do get in touch! ) and I’d like to share some of my thoughts.

Of course you will bring your own approach and style to your reading depending on the type of work you write and the type of person you are. Here are some general points and ideas which might be worth considering. I’ve titled this piece ‘Giving a reading’ because you might like to view your reading as a gift to your listeners. Whether they have paid to see you or not, people have come to listen and deserve the best reading you can give them. And you will want your poems to be properly presented.


Stay within the allocated time

Find out how long you are going to be reading. You should contact the organiser if they haven’t been specific.   I don’t really like to read for much more than 20-25 minutes without a break, as I think that a 20 minute slot is often enough to give a good taste of a reader’s work.

When you know the time frame you are working within you can choose some poems you would like to read.  In the past I’ve changed poems as the mood took me, but recently I’ve found I’m happier to work out a set and stick to it.

Practice as if reading on the night; I like to break the ice by greeting the audience and perhaps saying something about the venue, for example ‘Thank you for inviting me to read. It’s wonderful to be in Slough, the inspiration for Betjemen’s great poem.’

Ice Breaker

When practicing, I work out and include any intros and links between poems.  I always plan to read for at least half a minute less than my allocated time. I’ve learnt that trying to cram in as many poems as possible and reading up to the final second makes for a less comfortable and more pressured reading.

If you read to your allocated time you’ll be able to relax, slow down a little, and enjoy yourself more. If you read longer than your allotted time people will notice, not least those others who are patiently waiting to read. Keeping to time is less essential if it is your book or pamphlet launch, but generally most hosts are acutely aware of what they have to fit in and will probably think it rude if you overrun. Finishing slightly early and perhaps leaving your audience wanting more is better than reading for too long. If people would like to hear more from you, they can always ask you. Think of that 30 seconds you are giving up as a little sacrifice to the poetry gods.


Choosing poems

This may seem obvious, but the poem you open with should hold the listener’s attention. Choose poems which that you find easy to read;  poems that sing, that follow the rhythms of your heart and the ebb and flow of your breath. Poems that work well on the page may be too dense to work well when read.  I tend to choose work that I can read fluently and avoid the trickier ones.


I think it’s a good idea to choose work that is reasonably accessible to the first time listener. Of course this depends on the sort of poems you write, and I don’t think I write many poems whose meaning is obscure, but I might avoid something that would perhaps require careful reading once or twice to fully grasp. I have seen an audience’s attention drift when faced with impenetrable work.


You might want to change pace and the tone of your set in a similar way to the variations one gets at a rock concert (unless it’s a Status Quo concert). Decide if you want to follow an elegy with the brasher, flashier poem, or go for more gradual changes pace and tone. You might like contrast, so follow a quiet downbeat poem with the equivalent of the full tilt high energy rocker to wake everyone up again.

Have you got a ‘funny’ poem?  If you haven’t, a good anecdote can get a laugh and be a mood changer.


People like to know where poems have come from, so you could mention your inspiration for a piece.  But keep introductions and stories brief. You can say a lot in a few words. You are a poet and brevity is the name of your game. If you do explain where your poem comes from, or need to explain a word, phrase or historical reference, do so as succinctly as you can. Nobody likes an intro that is longer than the  poem it is introducing.

As you do in your writing, try to avoid repetitive or unnecessary phrases. I’ve seen poets introduce each poem with ‘This next poem is…err.. one I wrote a while ago’..  You can lose the word ‘next’ for a start  – we already know it’s the next poem- and we probably don’t need to know when you wrote it.

Reading new poems

There are places to try brand new poems and places to stay with your familiar ‘greatest hits’. Again, it’s up to you but a new poem may not be finished. Do you want it to make its debut yet? You could save your latest for your next local open mike and go with poems you know from experience that people like.


When you have chosen your poems, read them aloud and time yourself (with introductions.) If the poems don’t fit into the time frame, drop one or substitute a shorter piece. Do you enjoy reading them? Do they fit together? If you don’t think your selection is working, choose different poems and/or re-jig your set.

Reading poems from a sequence

This can help create an atmosphere. Sequence poems can build on one another to make a narrative, much as they do in a book or pamphlet.  If you are reading from a sequence it might be best to select a couple to give people a taste rather than taking up the whole space with one aspect of your writing.


Transporting your poems  

I use a faux leather-bound black book with plastic pockets to carry and protect my poems. The pockets allow me to keep the poems in the order I am reading and prevent loose leaves becoming drenched in wine or coffee or cascading around my feet when I’m reading.
People will tell you to read from your book or pamphlet to promote it, holding the cover so that listeners can see it.  I have done this but never liked having to switch back and forth to marked pages.  I might mention that a poem is from a collection and that I have copies available. People will buy your work if they like it, regardless of whether you are holding a copy of your book to read from or not.

Practice. Again

On the night (or afternoon) of the reading

the british are comming

Get there early. Find the venue. Have a wee. Check your flies are done up, your skirt isn’t tucked in to your knickers. Say hello to the people running the event and to any other poets who might be about. Check out the space. Make sure you can see. I once had to borrow a torch in order to read.

Have a bottle of water to hand.

Drunken poet

When it comes to alcohol, plenty of poets like a ‘loosener’ before reading. Plenty of others won’t drink any alcohol until after they have read. The days of the drunken poetry reading are best left behind. Slurring, rambling, swaying and falling into the audience do little to enhance a reading.

Can people hear you? If you are worried that they can’t, ask the audience.  Remember to thank the person who introduced you and/or invited you. If you are reading after an open mike and you are good at thinking on your toes you might want to comment on a theme that came up in another reader’s poem. This will help to show that you are a good listener and appreciate others work as well as being there to read your own.

Hopefully, if you have been given your own reading slot you will have read enough times to be able to relax a little. Your pulse my still be fast, your mouth a little dry, but you won’t be terrified or shaking like you were when you first read to an audience.


My reading has improved a lot over the years and whereas before I used to rush and fidget I now try to keep fairly still, make some eye contact and read at an even pace. I’ve slowed down since I started.  In general I’ve noticed that poets who haven’t read much to audiences are in a hurry. I give myself little reminders to take a little breath between title and poem.

Stick around at the end

If you don’t have to rush off to catch  train  you may be surprised to find people complementing your work or your reading or both. If you have travelled some distance, a compliment or two can make the whole trip feel really worthwhile.




Putting a poetry pamphlet together.

This piece is addressed to those poets who haven’t had a collection published before, so I’ll be covering what I consider to be the basics of putting a pamphlet together based on my own experience and including ideas and advice I’ve picked up from my reading and listening to others.

The majority of poetry pamphlets contain twenty to twenty-five poems. The first thing you will need (apart from enough poems of course) is to set aside some



Selecting and ordering poems is a creative exercise that requires attention and care.  If you are hurried or under pressure to meet a deadline you probably won’t be able make the best judgements and as a result you are unlikely to enjoy the process or have the satisfaction of knowing you have put in your best effort.
It’s best to start the process and return to it over a period of days, weeks or months.

You will need print copies of all the poems you are going to consider. It is much easier to take an overview of your work and consider the ordering of your pamphlet if you have sheets of paper to handle rather than word documents to move about on screen.

If you have exactly twenty-two poems I would suggest that you should wait until you have a broader range to choose from.  Ideally, a number  of these poems will have been previously published in magazines or placed in competitions. I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to send off for a pamphlet competition (most involve you parting with cash) without having had affirmation from a couple of magazine editors that some of the work is of a publishable standard.

If you have more than enough you are in a very good position.  It can be difficult  to select the poems you are going to submit. You could begin by asking yourself

Which of these poems do I love?

Thinking Poet

If you can also explain to yourself why you love those poems then that’s great. It indicates a knowledge and understanding of your work and of its qualities.  You may be reading this and thinking ‘of course I know what I like about my work’. But if you don’t then it’s worth thinking about this.

I felt largely clueless when putting my first pamphlet together.
I struggled with just about every aspect from selecting poems to
putting them in order and choosing the title. Everything turned out well in the end, and I am still very pleased with the finished product.


But I realise that I didn’t have much distance from my work and wasn’t able to see it’s qualities and flaws as clearly as I think I can now.
Another pair of eyes can help, particularly if those eyes are experienced at reading poetry. I was lucky enough to receive some advice from a poet/editor friend.   If you are lucky enough to have one (or preferably more) trusted poetry friends, get them to take a look at some stage in this process and tell you what they think.


Although other people’s opinions can be very valuable and useful, there is no shortcut to gaining a better understanding of your work. Only reading and writing and re-writing can help you develop this.
But feedback can be invaluable, and even those comments or suggestions you don’t agree with can be as useful as those you do in helping you understand your work (I hope to say more on this in another article.)

Back to the pamphlet; if there are no poems you love or even like, either you are having a confidence crisis day/week/ month/ year (poets regularly do this) or perhaps you really haven’t got to where you need to be in terms of writing what you would like to write. In which case it’s best to have a re think and don’t enter any competitions because you probably aren’t ready yet.

You need to be sure (at least some of the time) that you have work of sufficient quality and quantity to be in with a chance of getting published before you start splashing the cash. Your poems present a part of you to the world, so you want them to be as good as you want them to be (if you see what I mean.)

Along with the poems you love there will be the poems you like. And there will probably be the poems that were hard-won; tricky to pin down, endlessly revised and perhaps in your eyes not quite satisfactory.  Some might be ‘alright’. You need to put all these poems in a pile.  The poems you leave out can always be included in a full collection or in another pamphlet at a later date. You might want a ‘definitely’ pile, a ‘maybe’ pile and a ‘not for this collection’ pile.

Trust yourself. There is a reason you are doubtful about a particular piece. It may be that it needs more work or that it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest, in which case you could hold on to it until you are able to write other poems that are similar in tone.  What you are looking to do right now is to present your best work in the best order.

Your choices will no doubt be influenced by any or all of the following. The poem has been

a) published in a magazine
b) placed in a competition
c) praised by people when you have read it aloud. (In my case there was the time the slightly drunk chap in the cap and purple flares said
‘I bloody loved the one about the bird’. )
d) given positive feedback from any other source other than grandma, such as teachers, lecturers, poet friends, writing groups etc.

A poem that’s been published in a good magazine may well have added kudos in your eyes. But this does not necessarily mean you should include it. It might be years old and you may have moved on and feel you can write much better work now than when the editor of Paper Sandwich Tower published it two years ago.

None of the reasons on the list above should count if you don’t like the poem. Sometimes, when making decisions about what should be left in or out, we need to make what can only be described as ‘little leaps of faith’.

leap of faith


You have a pile of definitely and maybe poems. Now you can look at




You are going to take your reader on a journey. It is generally thought to be good practice to place one of your strongest (or the strongest) poem at the start of the collection. You will need to capture the reader’s attention, and obviously you want the next two or three poems to be among your best too in order to sustain that good start.

Themes, narratives, dialogues, connections

There are several approaches to ordering poetry collections. Single themed pamphlets can be extremely effective, with poems linking and building on each other to explore a subject or subjects.  If you have a set of poems like this that works well together than I’m sure you don’t need to read on.

If you don’t have a single unifying theme there are still likely to be themes running through your poems. You can think about how these might work together to create narratives that help you decide how you would like your pamphlet to unfold. You may be able to set up dialogue between poems by placing them in succession. Poems can enhance one another by echoing or expanding on an idea, emotion or image. You could group similar poems in section or sequence or space them throughout the pamphlet as a kind of recurring thread that ties the pamphlet together.


Poems on the floor

If you lay all your poems on the floor you can have an overview of how they may fit together. You can do this as many times as it takes, perhaps putting the poems away and spreading them out again at a later date to see how you feel about the choices you made last time.  You can experiment with different orderings and may even begin to enjoy yourself.


It’s a good idea to check that you are not covering the same ground with different poems. Repetition of images and use of the similar language can sometimes be OK in a larger collection, but should be avoided in a slim pamphlet where such these things are more likely to stand out.

You might want to show your versatility by including poems that vary in tone, rhythm and texture. This is probably an obvious suggestion, but it may be good to graduate and shade these changes so that a humorous piece is not placed next to one about a fatal industrial accident. It is also worth thinking about interspersing longer poems with shorter ones to vary the rhythm of the pamphlet and make varied requests of the reader’s attention to sustain their interest.


If you feel that there might be a poem missing that will provide the necessary cohesion you need for the pamphlet to feel more complete, you might try to write that poem. It’s not something I’ve felt the need to do yet, but I can understand how this situation might arise and how the poems might cohere around a particular piece, perhaps one that could draw together some of the main themes of the collection.

Just as the first poem needs to one of your best, the last should also be among your strongest. If it is memorable it will leave your reader with a sense of your work, and like any good finale, will leave your audience wanting more.



I think most people find choosing a title for a book or pamphlet of poems difficult, and I’ve written about this subject on here before. If you’ve kept a list of possible titles you might have one or two to try out on other people. If you haven’t got one you might try looking for significant words of lines or themes that occur in the collection.


You might feel that after all this careful consideration your choices have been set in stone. But if your pamphlet is accepted for publication, a good publisher should always be able to discuss the work and make suggestions for improvement. You may end up doing some revising  or being asked to consider substituting a poem or two or five.  My first pamphlet was changed a few times with poems dropping in and out of the line-up.

If your pamphlet does not win a competition or receive an acceptance from a publisher you sent it to, you will have to deal with the initial disappointment (along with the four hundred other people who also sent in work.) But your time will not have been wasted. You will have gained experience in selecting work and looked closely at it to gain an idea of its merits and deficits. You will have identified themes and narrative threads and tried different ordering of poems to see how they fit together, as well as perhaps receiving advice and suggestions on how you might improve your work. You may even have found a title that you like.





It’s been a while

Copies of the new print run of my book arrived on my doorstep today. If you would like to buy a copy please click the link on ‘The Sun Bathers’ page above.

In other news, I’m pleased to have been invited to read with Liz Berry, Geraldine Monk and Les Malheureux at the John Rylands Library in Manchester next month. If you read my review of Liz’s ‘Black Country ‘ on here a while back you’ll know high highly I rate her work and the venue  is lovely so I’m looking forward to it. You can find details on the Poets and Players website.

Like a lot of people, I’m not at my best at this time of year, so it was  good to hear that my short story ‘Late’ has been highly commended in the Bare Fiction  short story competition.  Bare Fiction is a relatively new and very well produced print magazine that has already established itself with its good looks and excellent production values, website and launches. I understand that the short story competition  attracted 571 entries, with similar numbers entering poetry and flash  fiction categories.

I’m rather pleased about the commendation for my story. Its been a while since I wrote my last one. In fact I think I was eleven years old. It received an A plus from Mrs Taylor. I couldn’t spell very well and my presentation wasn’t great, but the enlightened Mrs Taylor looked beyond these details. My next English teacher (Mr Big) also liked my writing. He liked one story so much he asked me to copy it out so he could print it in the school magazine. I didn’t copy out the story. I don’t think I could be bothered.  I missed the deadline.


Decades passed.  I wrote one or two poems that I never showed to anyone. I wrote some songs. A very talented musician friend, Pete Aves recorded one of my songs on an album. I also wrote some sleeve notes for Pete’s albums. But no short stories.

I studied nursing at university and for I while the only writing I did was essays. In the mid noughties I started writing poems again, many of which went into my pamphlet and full collection. I wrote a couple of poetry reviews for magazines, and a few articles on subjects that interest me for the blog you are reading now.

In 2012 I won an award which enabled me to start a part-time MA in writing.  But it was now 2014 and I had not written one single word of a short story for about thirty years.

I signed up for the short story module on the MA thinking it would be the nearest thing to poetry. I was fortunate in that the lecturer, Felicity Skelton, was funny, brilliant, organized, knowledgeable and absolutely passionate about the form. In my experience of education people like this are rare and can rescue you from the despair, disaffection and confusion that educational establishments can sometimes foster.


I didn’t read everything Felicity asked us to read, or complete every exercise; but I did read things I wouldn’t have normally read. I’d read almost nothing but poetry and autobiography for years. And I had to produce some work and so I wrote. I wrote before and after going to work, I wrote between poems, before and after the school run, before cooking, after eating, late into the night and very early in the morning. I wrote whenever I could.

Frantic writer

To my amazement, I wrote three stories in quick succession.  I followed ideas not knowing where they  would go.

Jack K

I avoided distraction. I researched where I needed to add detail. I finished the things I started to write.  I felt liberated by the form, not having to re-consider and weigh every word in quite the same obsessive way that I do when writing poetry whilst still enjoying the constraints that short story imposes.  I was disciplined enough to write when I didn’t feel like writing, and this loosened me up. I was pleased when my work received good feedback. And this time, I even wrote my stories up in neat.

Where can I send my poems? Part 2

Yes, you are a brilliantly creative person who writes wonderful poetry.
We both know that.

You're Awsome

But if you want anyone to see your work  (and there are many good reasons for having work published, as expertly pointed out by Helena Nelson here,) you must approach the submissions process systematically and methodically.

Here’s a few more words on submitting poems to magazines. It’s fairly basic information but I  hope someone might find useful.

Find out what’s out there.


This will take some time but the internet has made research fairly easy. For the UK and Ireland,  The Poetry Library has a good list of both print and online magazines. They also publish a list of magazines they have received in any given month, and I like to have a look and see if there are any titles I don’t know, and to see which poets are being published where. The Poetry Kit also has a good list. Poet bloggers produce lists of current magazines. You can find a really good one  at Abigail Morley’s blog. Poets also post lists of places they have been published on their websites.

Bear in mind that no list can ever be absolutely inclusive or right up to date since editors’ change and small poetry magazines come and go. The good news is that while some magazines disappear, new ones (both print and on-line) appear all the time. Look at the acknowledgements in the books and pamphlets of the poets whose work you admire to see which magazines have taken their work. If you are lucky enough to be able to visit the Poetry Library on the South Bank or the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh you will find a massive range of magazines.


University libraries often keep a good selection. You might have friends who subscribe to poetry magazines. If you see something you like, borrow, buy or better still, subscribe. You might also find a good selection in your local independent bookshop (Five Leaves in Nottingham deserves a special mention here.)

If you live in the middle of nowhere, most magazines, even the small ones, have a website where you should find some of the basic stuff you need.  You can also keep an eye out for new magazines on social media.

Where would you really like to be published?

Have a closer look. Identify magazines that look interesting to you.
Are the poems the kind you write or aspire to write? Are the production standards high? Does the whole outfit strike you as well run and serious? Was the website last updated in 1998?  Does the magazine have clear submission guidelines?  Is the information attractively laid out and clearly written? Does the language put you off (eg. too formal/ too informal?)  Are there examples or indications of the type of work the editors prefer to see?

poetry  magazine

Make a list of magazines you are really interested in . It is not always easy to decide if the magazine is right for your work. If it’s not immediately obvious to you what sort of work they prefer
then  don’t spend too long in trying to figure out a particular editor’s preferences; look to see what they generally publish, and if you like the look of at least some of the work in the magazine, have a go, even if it’s a really ‘top flight’ magazine.

Some people advocate a ‘start at the lower end and work on up’ approach. By ‘lower end ‘ I mean the smallest magazines as opposed to the ones most established. Again, established is debatable term, but in this in context I mean those that most poets would like to be featured in.   But it might be an idea to spread your submissions across a range of publications. It seems reasonable that if you only send to the ones that everyone want’s to be in, you will receive more returned poems than if you aim a little lower. With the advent of the internet and the seeming increase in the number of people wanting to publish their poems,  small magazines can become bigger magazines very quickly. But you will never receive an acceptance from a magazine you love and aspire to be in unless you submit to it. And you can sometimes learn from having your poems returned, particularly if the editor takes the time to write something in response to your work (see below.)

Sometimes, it will be obvious that a particular publication is wrong for your poems. There is no point in getting rejections from ‘The Journal of Experimental Boiled Egg Related Verse’ if your poems are neither boiled egg related nor experimental. Editors are allowed to have preferences. Their taste may well differ from yours. That’s OK. They might even like different TV programs and types of sweets to you. Do you like the magazine? If you don’t like what they publish then don’t send them your stuff. Send it somewhere you do like instead. But revisit magazines too. They change and get better.

 Be good at the basics

Check guidelines with care. Find out the editor’s name. If it is available use it in your e-mail or letter. Does the magazine have a submissions window? Do they specify a maximum number of submissions? Any special requirements (font type, SAE only, e-mail subs, poems in the body of the e-mail or attachment?) Is there some indication of how long a response might take (for various reasons, these are not necessarily accurate reflections of the response time, and in some cases are rather optimistic estimates.)

Review your poems and put them into groups for submission.   You might select poems that some your versatility or put sequences together. I can think of one or two magazines that state that they like sequences, but generally this is up to you. Reread to make sure they are as you want them and free of mistakes.



A covering  letter should be brief. I understand that editors have preferences. Some are interested in and enjoy reading personal information, others do not. I think it best to keep your biographical details short.  Ending the letter with ‘Yo, big up to you bro’ is probably not appropriate (particularly if the editor is female.)  I always end with something like ‘Thank you for your time and consideration.’ If you truly like something in the magazine you’ve seen you might want to mention it briefly. Everyone likes positive feedback.

If you have publication credits, don’t list them all. Maybe two or three of the ones you are proudest of. You want the editor to focus on your poems. A commended poem in the East Flitwick poetry competition matters a great deal to you. It probably doesn’t matter to the editor.

Before you seal the envelope or send the e-mail make sure your records are up to date. I keep a simple list with the title of magazine and poems submitted and date of submission. Other people have more sophisticated systems such as spread sheets,  and you can’t go wrong with a system such as Jo Bell describes here.

Keep your poems out there. They won’t get published if they are not circulating. And don’t give up on getting into the magazine’s you love. If you are happy to keep your poems at home, fine. If not
set aside a little time every so often to concentrate on the business of sharing them.

Never Give up

But try, if you can, to concentrate on reading and writing new poems while your old ones are away. It is hard to be patient while waiting for responses. The best thing to do is not to wait. (I have just broken away from writing this to run to the front door. Junk mail and bills instead of a response from the editor of ‘The Amazing Singing Machine.’ I sent them may best poems seven months ago. Back to the writing..)

When you have an offer of publication you should be in a position to immediately respond with something like this;

‘Thank you for your letter.  I’m delighted to be able to accept your kind offer to publish my poems in Bottoms up Review.”

Simultaneous submissions can make things complicated. If a magazine doesn’t specifically state that they take them I think it’s best to comply in order to avoid the awkward possibility of telling the editor that your poem has already been accepted elsewhere and that you have wasted their time. It’s a personal choice, but even if a magazine states that they take simultaneous submissions, I tend to avoid them.

Acceptance and publication

Not all magazines send proofs. It’s great if they do. It is probably inevitable that one or two of your poems will not appear as you intended. The editor didn’t leave out the space between your first two stanzas to cause you pain. Mistakes do occur. Humans make them.


Enjoy the moment.  Support the magazine if you can afford to subscribe. Share the news on social media if you feel inclined. If you do share your news, you will find that there are plenty of people who will enjoy and celebrate your success with you.

And success leads to success. Editors read magazines and notice poems and names. Meeting editors at readings may also lead to requests to submit poems (but don’t expect publication to result).

Dealing with rejection (or the ‘returned poem’)


If your poem comes back send it out again. Burn the rejection slip or use it as wallpaper. I’ve thrown all mine away, but I know some people like to keep them. I remember the encouraging ones. I wish I could advise you on how to be good at accepting rejection. I’ve said something about this subject on the Poetry Submissions page of this blog.  There’s probably quite a few books on the subject. I think a little (or a lot) of disappointment is inevitable. Send the poems out again.



Suggested changes and rewrites

There is no obligation for editors to comment on your work. They might have taken a little time to write to you and they see promise in your submission. If your poem is returned with something encouraging like ‘Enjoyed these, please do try us again’ —then don’t ignore this. Try there again. Not everyone receives these comments and they suggest that your work was near to being accepted. If you don’t have other poems ready, wait until you do and then send again, perhaps starting your cover letter with a little reminder such as; ‘thank you for your encouraging response to my last submission. I have enclosed further poems as per your suggestion.’

Different versions

I have, a few times, re-drafted a poem between submission and acceptance. I might then write in my acceptance reply to say I’ve made another version in case the editor would like to consider it.  If they prefer the original, fair enough, that is the poem they accepted.

One of the first poems I submitted was accepted on the proviso that the first two lines were deleted. I agonized over the proposed change and decided I couldn’t do it so politely declined. A year or so later I realised that the editors suggestion had been a good one.

This has to do with how quickly you send your work out after ‘finishing’ it. I have got a little better at putting a poem away and waiting before sending it out.  When you are certain that a poem is as good as it can be, it often pays to wait and come back to it. You will nearly always discover things that can be cut or changed to improve the poem. There are no rules for this. How long this takes depends on the kind of writer you are.

Hare and Tortoise

Some poems will never be exactly as you want them to be. But an editor might like or even love them just the way they are. You won’t know unless you send them off.

Whatever the merits of your work, the chances of it being published in the manner in which you would like it published are improved by organisation and research. Presentation and persistence are vitally important. The choices you make in submitting your work and your responses to the highs and lows of the process, will be, like your poems, unique. But remember, in facing the frustrations, uncertainties, pleasant surprises and triumphs you will encounter,
you will not be alone. It’s all part of the job.

Where can I send my poems? Part 1.

Part 1.

This post has nothing at all to do with the process of writing or with enjoying writing. But, regardless of whether you enjoy submitting to magazines or not, if you want to get your work published, you will need, at some point, to try and learn and understand as much as you can about the process. And you will need to become organised and methodical if you want to increase your chances of publication.
A few years ago I started to send my work out to magazines.
I was somewhat anxious.

Nervos person

I wondered if any of my poems were any good.  I was in love with one or two. I wondered which magazines to send too. Should aim high or low? Because my mate, Pete, thought my poems were great, perhaps the editor of Shoot the Moon would too? Not that I’d ever seen a copy of Shoot the Moon, or any other poetry magazine at that point.

I wondered if the magazines I was considering sending to were too good for my work. Or maybe there weren’t good enough.  Maybe I was being a fool in thinking anyone would print my stuff?

I got hold of some poetry magazines and sent poems to the one’s I liked the look of.

Over the next five years I must have submitted to over sixty different  magazines of varying quality and with vastly different circulation numbers. (You can see a list of some of them on the ‘About’ page of this site if you are interested.)  The more I experienced the undulating ride of acceptance and rejection, (I sometimes think we should these something less pejorative – ‘returns’ perhaps?) the more comfortable I became with the process.  At first, rejection was a jolting pot hole. And I would become airborne at every hump-backed acceptance.


But these undulations became less acute and the ride got a little smoother.

I received some rejections for what I considered to be my best work, and acceptances of poems I thought weren’t  particularly good.  Sometimes my first submission was accepted and was followed by a succession of rejections from the same magazine. Sometimes I persisted after repeated rejections. On other occasions, I decided to submit elsewhere and stop bothering that particular editor with poems that obviously (for whatever reason) weren’t for them.

During this period some lovely magazines that took my work sadly ceased to exist ( like Smiths Knoll and The Shop)  while others came into being. Once or twice I must have come close to having work taken by magazines I’d love to tick off my list, because the editors took time to write a few encouraging words or ask me to send them more work.
I’m not sure I realized that they meant what they said and so I didn’t always follow up their suggestion. But there is still time.

Many people will tell you nothing comes close to your first poetry acceptance.

victory 2

It’s true in my case. But every offer to publish is still something to celebrate.

I’ve been thinking about submissions from the other side of the process, and thought it might be useful to look behind the mirror – to think about The Editor, the person who has taken on the task of sifting through hundreds or thousands of poetry submissions.

Letters to the editor

This is the person who hopes to find something new, something beautiful that they can share with their subscribers.  This is the person who is committed to giving their readership the best selection of poems they can muster. In the case of all but the largest magazines, they don’t do this for money or for reflected glory. Their greatest wish is for your poem to arrive complete, developed, revised and (if at all possible) stunning. That is all. There is nothing else they want. And yes, of course this is all about the subjective appreciation of art. But when it comes to the rejection of your poem, it’s not personal.


I mention this because I’ve often heard people use the phrase ‘They rejected me.’ I may have even used it myself. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this; you are not your work. If your work is returned (and there may be many reasons for this – I’ve written about before on the Poetry submissions page of this blog.) I know it’s only a phrase, but it is important to remember that the editor is not rejecting you. Nor are they rejecting your entire body of work, possibly forever. Developing belief in your work takes time. Confidence in your ability fluctuates.

Pablo Neruda looking sad

Ok, it’s not the best feeling in the world to have your work sent back.
And it’s hard to get a perspective on the situation.

But your returned work is just one in a batch of a maybe a few hundred poems the editor wasn’t able to publish this time.

Imagine this. The editor comes home from work.  She/he kisses the dog, strokes their partner, feeds the kids, puts the bins out, then sits down to read some of the 147 poems that have recently arrived.  The editor opens a submission and likes the first line, only to feel disappointed at the next. There are four spelling mistakes and a grammatical error. The title of the next poem, ‘To Autumn’ does not inspire with its originality. The next poem is nearly there; if only the last three lines weren’t. Promising, but it could do with a re-write; shame. The editor yearns for something to surprise them, to delight them, something to sweep them up and away so that they forget the desk, the rain-rivuleted window, their aching back, even the pile of submissions.  But it isn’t happening tonight. This funny poem isn’t really funny. The editor goes to put the kids to bed. The editor returns refreshed, or possibly more tired, only to open a poem typed in a weird font. The sender has not read the submission guidelines.  The next has an interesting image of a crane (the bird) on a crane (the mechanical lifting device). The poem starts well but unfortunately breaks into unconvincing rhyme towards the end. You get the picture.

Panning for gold

The editor is dedicated. So they have another coffee and go back to work. At last they find some good pieces which are set aside to be re-read. Or perhaps to bring to the editorial table where they will discuss and argue over the merits and deficiencies of the work until agreements (and possibly compromises) are reached.  When the stack of poems has been sifted and considered and carefully re-considered and the best work selected, it’s time to contact contributors, to make sure the poems are available, to request and collect biographies for contributors notes, to assemble  pdfs, letters and e-mails, to put the magazine in order, to write an editorial, to set  layout and send proofs, to arrange printing, publicity and dispatch and possibly a launch night. And here come the next batch of submissions. How can you help the editor in their quest to find work that is appropriate for their magazine? How can you help them support your work?  Where do you start?

Part 2 coming soon.


Featured poet- Emily Blewitt

I’ve often written here about the opportunities poetry readings and festivals afford for meeting people and making new friends. This year I arrived for my one-day visit to the Aldeburgh Festival and soon bumped into my friends Maria Taylor and Kim Moore. Also in this company of poets were Holly Hopkins and the very smiley Emily Blewitt.

It has been my great pleasure to feature several guest poets on this site over the past couple of years, all of them in their twenties.  I read a couple of Emily’s poems on-line and liked them, and I wondered if she would be interested in sharing some of her work, so I contacted her after the festival.  I’m delighted that Emily responded with the following poems and a short piece I had requested in which she talks a little about herself and her influences.

Ladies and gentlemen, Emily Blewitt.

2014 was a big year for me.  It was a year of firsts: my first poetry residential course (with Kim Moore and Jennifer Copley at Grange-Over-Sands), my first poetry festival (Aldeburgh), my first transatlantic flight (to New York, on holiday) and my first blog post.  I started kickboxing fitness classes at my local gym and wrote a poem about it, which got me in Poetry Wales.  I wrote some poems about recovering from depression and by so doing recovered my voice, which had been lost for a little while amid experiencing the same depression.  I became bolder, irreverent, sexier and louder.  Off the page, I began reading at open mic nights and was invited to be a guest poet at Cardiff’s ‘Made in Roath’ festival.  I got engaged; I embarrassed my fiancé at open mic nights by pointing him out after I’d read a poem about him.  Past his blushes, he didn’t really mind.

I also spent some time discovering poets who were new to me and rereading books that had been waiting patiently on my bookshelf.  Current favourite collections include Kim Moore’s If We Could Speak Like Wolves, Jonathan Edwards’s My Family and Other Superheroes, Bronwyn Lea’s The Deep North and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish.  And there’d be something amiss if I didn’t mention the poets who first touched me and made me want to write poetry – Kate Clanchy, Kathleen Jamie and Sharon Olds. I think you can probably see their influence on my early poems, which are very much concerned with sound and domestic life.

It’s now 2015, and here’s a selection of poetry that I’ve chosen to show where I am now.  These are exciting times. Here’s to the next twelve months.


When in Recovery

Get out of bed. Feed the cat.
Add a level teaspoon of sugar to builder’s tea and stir clockwise.
Resist the urge to stick your knife in the toaster.
Be reckless enough to descend hills at a decent pace
but pick your mountains wisely. Get out of breath.
Focus on words, wasting them.  Take citalopram –
four syllables, once a day, behind the tongue.
Understand that there are days you watch yourself
as though you are a balloon held aloft your body
by a slip of string you fear will break.
Grow your hair.  Buy exotic oils at discount stores
and comb them through. Think in colour.  Sit in the salon and explain
no blue is blue enough now.  Try red – pillar-box, satanic red.
Enjoy the sharp press of the needle, its single tear of blood
when you pierce your nostril.  Put a diamond in it so it winks.
Find your meridian by placing your index and middle fingers together
and tapping a tattoo on the top of your head.
Accept that sun-worship is good, the Vitamin D produces serotonin
and sensation. When you cry, howl at the moon.
Wear your rituals lightly.  At the end of each day, step out of them
as though they’re expensive silk lingerie.

Originally published by Carolyn Jess-Cooke in ‘Voicing Shadows, Singing Light’



I will make myself Morticia Addams.
I will grow my hair to my waist, wear

floor-length black velvet.
I will smoke.

I will hang gilded mirrors, watch myself
pass without reflection.

I will slowly descend great staircases, intricately laced
with antique cobwebs.

I will hold brief but meaningful conversations
with the spiders.

My house will be ruined;
my underwear immaculate.

The bed in which I wrap my tongue
around my husband’s French

will be cast iron, four-postered,
shrouded in silk.

Published in Cheval 7 (Parthian, 2014).


When I Think of Bald Men

I think of vultures, the misunderstood deep-cleaners
of the Sahara, immune to disease.  The ones who orderly gather
in committees, who are proud of their collective nouns:
a venue, kettle, or volt of vultures putting together

the agenda before arranging sandwiches for delegates
and mince pies at Christmas; vultures photocopying Any Other Business
in Confidential purple; vultures washing-up and picking clean
leftovers in the staffroom, at the buffet table; a wake of vultures

that dance, dad-style in lines, or bob their heads to a kill in time
to the music.  Vultures that shout And all’s weeeellll! at 3am
after the Office Christmas Party; vultures that tidy up the mess
in the Ladies made by a gaggle of geese, parliament of owls, an exultation

of larks, brood of chickens, tiding of magpies, a murder of crows…
Vultures with their trouser legs rolled up, showing milk-bottle legs
vultures with laughter lines and wrinkled backs-of-necks;
vultures that are nicknamed Bearded Vulture,

Slender-Billed Vulture, Red-Headed Vulture, White-Rumped Vulture
by their vulture friends.  Every office has some –
you know the men I mean.  The ones that are reluctant
to fly; the ones that hiss when threatened.


(Previously Unpublished)




You are man, now.
Stand upright as this house
you were born in, your arms
these green oak beams
which hold us, as you take me

through the finish:
the fine brushed grain
of my smooth round belly,
a perfect curve
so rare in carpentry.

Yet I am undone, too –
frayed as this half-finished shawl
I am knitting, my hands
scrabbling for spools,
unravelling thread –

how you were carried
the Welsh way,
slung high on the hip.
Your cheek to my breast,
crumpled as cloth.


First published in Nu2: Memorable Firsts (Parthian, 2012).



My Colours

First, on my right forearm, a peacock in jade and gold
so when I flick my wrist its feathers unfold
and fan out like the winning hand at cards;

On my left breast, in oyster-grey,
beats the anatomical diagram of a heart;

A tiger’s fierce orange and black stripes stalk my back
to hide the scars, while in plain sight
between my shoulder blades two white wings take off;

On my collarbone a cicada sings
in yellow glory to crimson catkins;

On my right breast, Blodeuwedd, the owl girl with amber eyes
becomes lilac, lavender, foxgloves, daisies,
and above my womb the moon waits in all her phases;

Coiled around my inner thigh a snake hisses, bottle-green,
while at my hips, macaws kiss;

On my right foot, a greyhound sprints straight off the blocks;
At my left heel curls a brown hare and an orange fox;

A mandala in Indian sand circles my elbow;
On my ring finger glitters a diamond in rose gold;

I am strawberry blonde and oriental raven,
an ephemera of red kites wheeling through stormy skies;

Love, when I show you my colours
I am a riot, a cacophony, a bird of paradise, a polka

on mosaic tiles, a gilded kingfisher diving blue.

Previously Unpublished



Emily Blewitt was born in Carmarthen in 1986. She has published poetry in various print-based and online anthologies, including Poetry Wales, Furies, Cheval, Nu2: Memorable Firsts, Brittle Star, Pomegranate and Cadaverine.  Emily won the 2010 Cadaverine/Unity Day Competition, and was selected as a Honno ‘Poet of the Month’.  She was Highly Commended in the 2014 Terry Hetherington Award and will be a guest poet at Seren/Literature Wales’ First Thursday of the Month event in February.  She is studying for a PhD in English Literature at Cardiff University.  She blogs at emilyblewitt.wordpress.com.