A box containing copies of my new collection ‘The Great Animator’ arrived today. Officially launching with readings in March, it’s not yet available from my publisher Shoestring Press, Amazon or other outlets at present, but you can buy a copy directly from me if you go to this page and click the Paypal link. I had some trouble setting up the button, but a twelve year old friend of my son assisted me. The cover price is £10, but I’m offering it for £9.50 including postage and packing. I’ll be reading from the book in London, Leicester and Manchester next month. Please see Readings page for details. Thank you.
If I’d looked it up later that day
I would have found the hollow bone edge
is called the wrist; that a slope descends
to forewing, that overlapping coverts
are lesser, greater, median, and scapulars are where
the back begins. If I could have looked beyond
the raw, torn joint, and stood at the mouth
of my coppice den, to let it fall open
like a satin fan, I’d have seen the perfect shoulder
of the bastard wing, full flush secondaries
and mantel of the hind, each quill
blue black and slickly primed.
But what it lacked was all I saw so I ran,
as rooks mocked and raved
in the ruin of trees.
First published in The North, January 2017.
Today is St. Valentines day, and inspired by poet Emily Blewitt who has posted some of her favourite love poems, here a few of my own favourites.
The first is by Robin Robertson, better know, I would suggest, for his powerfully visceral and dark re-writes of classical myths such as the death of Acteon.
This poem, Primavera is a simply beautiful poem expressing his love for his daughter Kate.
I don’t have a link to the second poem. It is from Rory Waterman’s Carcanet collection, ‘Tonight the Summer’s Over ‘ and is called ‘In the Avenue of Limes.’
I have had the pleasure of reading with Rory several times, and we launched our first collection’s together in Nottingham. At Rory’s suggestion we each
read one of the others poems. I chose this one to read, for among other things its setting ( the lovers are in the National Arboretum) but mostly for it’s wonderful
repeated coda as we leave the couple in the eponymous avenue where’ autumn was falling/ in ceaseless drifts of twos/and fours..’ and ‘ I lost myself in you/
dashing to clutch at flurries/ of washed-out hearts. Dashing/ to clutch at flurries of washed-/ out hearts. Dashing to clutch/ at flurries of washed-out hearts.’
I love the Frank O’Hara’s 1959 poem, ‘Having a Coke with you’ I’m not going to explain why (does anyone need to explain why they love a Frank O’Hara poem?) except to say I think it is brave and again, beautiful. Here is Frank reading it.
I discovered Dannie Abse’s ‘Epithalmion’ when I was researching poems to read on an evening where, with two other poets, I selected and read some favourite love poems in a restaurant.
Dinner was included in the price and we had a wonderful evening! I don’t recall exactly what I selected, but I know it I loved Abse’s poem at first sight. I also challenged myself to read John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’ over the profiteroles.
As we all discover if we are lucky, love is not just for the young. This poem is by the late great Tom Duddy who, before his premature death, published some wonderful poems with Happenstance.
Sometimes, when she and I find ourselves
seated just inside the door of the hotel bar,
two or three young women will come prancing in,
all innocence, high-booted glamour, and
dark-eyed casting about, and she must wonder
out of the corner of her eye if I may not be
taking in too much. If she only knew
what a heavenly and carnal peace I feel
as my thoughts withdraw from the bare,
emblazoned backs and sweep down towards
her dear pale hands at rest in her lap, one
cupped inside the other, palm resting open.
No women poets so far. Here is the marvellous Clare Pollard. This poem is from her collection ‘Changeling’
The Caravan .
And here is Miroslav Holub’s ‘Love’. This poem hit me as something completely different. I was a thirteen year old, not particularly interested in poetry. I still love it.
I love ‘Night in Arizona’ by Sarah Howe for it’s quiet, delicate and intense intimacy.
Then there is Edwin Morgan’s sexy ‘Strawberries’ ! And a poem by Maria Taylor that I can’t find at the moment. And ‘Before you Came’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. And ‘Nativity’ by Sheri Benning .But time is running out and I must away before the clock strikes again and so finally, because Emily got me started on this, here is one of her poems, featured here in January 2015.
My Colours, by Emily Blewit
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.
The proof copy of my second full poetry collection dropped through the letterbox earlier this week.
I’m very pleased with the way it looks and feels. The cover image, which was made for me by art student Ayo Byron, is just what I wanted. I had sent Ayo a few ideas – images of trees and their roots- and asked him to produce something with movement to reflect the title. The title itself comes from a poem of that name, a poem ostensibly about the wind and the fact it knows no borders.
I’m also pleased to say I am happy with the poems and their order. This book is more varied in subject and style and feels more substantial than my last one and I am delighted with the paper quality and overall look and feel of it. But then this high quality is to be expected from my publisher, Shoestring Press. The book will be available to buy in March, and I’ll be launching it and reading with other poets in London, Manchester and Leicester and posting details here nearer to publication.
Over on poet Clare Pollard’s blog this morning Clare has highlighted a number of sources for free poetry including the online magazines Prac Crit and Poetry and Poems in Which . These are great developments, making quality poetry and interviews and articles available to those without the means to obtain it otherwise. I also received a copy of the hefty 188 page print magazine The North this week. I’m pleased to have three poems from my new book in this edition. Now in its thirtieth year, The North continues to prove that high quality print magazines can co-exist and thrive alongside new online formats. Clare also mentions a project called ‘All That’s Ever Happened’ an e-book anthology of New North Poets she was involved in mentoring for the Poetry School. One of the poets included in the anthology is my friend James Giddings, who I met when I studied in Sheffield some years ago and whose poems have featured here before.
‘Free poetry! There’s almost too much of it these days. How am I going to convince people to pay £9.95 when my book comes out in two weeks..’
The cover price of my book is £10, so I too have been wondering about this. But then I’ll certainly be buying Clare’s book. And I would even if it were available free online.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, while I’m grateful that online magazines and e-books enable me to read a wide variety of poetry for no expense, it is still from the pages of the book in my hand that I most enjoy absorbing poetry.
I appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a physical book, and through my own involvement I am aware of the many hours it takes to produce one. In the case of my own book, there was the time invested by my editor, John Lucas, who carefully read and made notes on the typescript. The typescript was then set by a skilful typesetter who, from the times on the e-mail correspondence I received, seems to be working very late at night and very early in the morning as he fits his company’s work in around other (I imagine more lucrative) employment. Many e-mails were exchanged before the final layout was achieved. Similarly, the young art student I asked to design the cover dedicated many hours to producing and honing the image I wanted. Then I had to write and re-write the poems, which took several years, although not without a break, you understand!
I love poetry books. Volumes are generally slim and unlike novels, several hundred can sit on the bookshelves of a small office. I can take a book down and weight my pocket with it when I go for a walk across the fields, a habit I developed many years ago. If I have an appointment that might involve a wait or train journey, I can slip a poetry collection or two into my bag and know I have this insurance against waiting-room or platform dullness. While on-line poems, magazines and books are a marvellous and convenient development, I still love turning pages, still love the feel of a physical book. Like Brian Patten’s ‘stolen Orange’ , a poetry book, un-reliant on technology or anything other than my eyesight, has always been for me ‘ a safeguard against imagining/ there was nothing bright or special in the world.’
I attach the document to the e-mail. It consists of a title page, acknowledgements page, contents page, fifty-eight poems and a ‘notes’ page, this last being mostly white but for three small paragraphs. I check the attachment has loaded properly, scan the document to make sure nothing has altered. Take a deep breath. My pulse is slightly elevated. In contrast, the book is serenity
itself. It adjusts its seat and headrest, flips down the visor on its helmet, tightens belt buckle and shoulder straps, hits play on the music system. The speakers are off on the monitor but I know the book well enough to guess that it has chosen either ‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Stones or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin. We both know there is no turning back. Only one of us will ever be resigned to this fact. I can delay no longer. We’ll see each other on the other side. Click.
From my hand to the printer’s inbox at a speed of approximately three hundred and six million miles per hour; a lot less than the blink of an eye. There the book will be helped out of its capsule and set into its final format before being printed onto paper. Bound between covers and packed in a bubble wrap envelope, it will return to earth through the letterbox of my front door. I don’t tend to get excited in advance. The day before will do. But it hits me now. Another book, five years on from the last one. Five years. That’s all it took.
My new collection, ‘The Great Animator’ will be published in February.
To launch the book I’m delighted and honoured that I’ll be reading with the American poet Michael Waters and the Romanian born poet Mihaela Moscialue. It is worth clicking on the links as above as these are two very interesting and highly regarded poets, and I am looking forward to listening and learning from them both. It is definitely worth clicking on the link to the read the review of Mihaela’s latest book by John Lucas.
John’s style, clarity and forthright opinions are a breath of fresh air in a poetry reviewing culture that often fails to explain why the reviewer thinks something is good or not good, and to incorporate aspects of poetics and wider cultural contexts in a concise, clear and engaging way.
Readings will be at Leicester on March 11th and in London the following week. There may also be a reading in Manchester.
All that remains is to send the typescript to the printer along with the artwork I have commissioned from graphic art student Ayo Byron.
“ I don’t know exactly where ideas come from, but when I’m working well ideas just appear. I’ve heard other people say similar things – so it’s one of the ways I know there’s help and guidance out there. It’s just a matter of our figuring out how to receive the ideas or information that are waiting to be heard.” ― Jim Henson
Jim Henson was of course the genius behind the Muppets. But his thoughts on ideas being mysteriously ‘out there’ and ‘waiting to be heard’ by those ‘working well’ are echoed by many poets (Alice Oswald articulates the idea in this recent interview). In my own practice I have often found that the poem I wish to keep will arrive on the tail of another poem I have been struggling to write. It is about being receptive, to have all the creative muscles warmed up and ready to receive whatever it is, from wherever that may be. And surely part of this ‘working well’ , for a poet, is to be reading well. I’ve been wondering lately, if my ability to ‘receive’ has been impaired by wading in the stream of internet communication.
It is seven years since a poem I had written first appeared in print. At the time I was not on Facebook or Twitter, and I had no smart-phone or tablet. I used the internet sparingly and when I did it was predominantly to research poetry magazines or to look up poets. I was still working days, nights and weekends as a nurse in a coronary care unit and had little time for anything else. At some point in the preceding five or six years, on a visit to the local bookshop with my baby son, I discovered contemporary poetry. As well as my role in the team at the hospital, I was a full-time dad and sole carer to my son for two days a week. So my first ‘serious’ attempts at writing poems had to fit around nursing, building towers with bricks, pushing a swing in an empty windswept park, changing nappies, spooning mush and so-on.
Two years on from that first poem publication in the Rialto magazine and a few publications later, I won a competition and had a pamphlet published as part of the prize. A year after that my first full collection appeared. Gradually I caught up with social media developments. I joined Facebook and was befriended by and friended hundreds of poets, many of whom I had never met. I learnt not to be drawn into debates or arguments where misunderstandings were likely to occur. One comment on a thread might lead to countless updates that filled my e-mail inbox as people joined the conversation. I subscribed to blogs and newsletters, found my inbox clogged, and unsubscribed. I became aware of research that highlighted the dopamine rush that occurs when people ‘like’ your posts. I enjoyed the feeling of connection to an online ‘community’. I shared my news and triumphs and was moved by heartfelt responses. I highlighted causes I thought important, vented anger over political events in an environment where I soon realised that my views were unlikely to be challenged since the majority of my online friends were involved in the delivery of state education and healthcare. I gradually became aware that just logging on to see what was happening could take me to news stories that might potentially distract and detract from writing or reading anything of real quality.
Despite my increased internet use, I continued to write and send work for publication. I’ve been told I am a prolific writer, and am pleased that a second collection is due out in a couple of months. Recently I began to question the value of time spent on the internet and particularly its impact on my writing output. After all, I started to write poems, to send them out and be published, without any ‘connections’. I learnt by reading. I wrote by writing. I didn’t have the means, nor the need, to share any achievements and had not developed a Pavlovian dopamine release response to ‘likes’ and kind comments. Not that I’m knocking the value of receiving generous and unsolicited praise and support which has buoyed me on many occasions. Nor am I suggesting that a total cold turkey long-term withdrawal from social media, or from the internet in general, would suit me. I’m not entirely sure that I have the will or the willpower.
Social media can serve various positive functions in facilitating contact and sharing information. It can be a place where writers can express themselves and receive support and encouragement. However, apart from proving to be a distraction in benign ways, one aspect of social media is the potential to lead users to make unhealthy comparisons with those who are ‘doing well’ – winning prizes, being published, reading at festivals, delivering workshops etc. In the inevitable lull between the next publication or reading, it easy for anyone, even someone who is doing relatively well (and I include myself in this category) to feel that the poetry world is one non-stop party from which they are excluded, a party full of interlocking acquaintances and friends, all of whom are enjoying more ‘success’ than them. Despite having thought carefully and written about ‘success‘ in poetry , I am not immune to such pitfalls.
Poetry is a slow art. Reading poetry requires undivided attention. It is a means of communicating that is probably the antithesis of the super-fast communication highways that now infiltrate most people’s waking lives.
I feel very positive about certain aspects of my internet engagement. I enjoy writing this blog and find it useful and hope it is useful to others. Among its other functions, it is a place where I can clarify thoughts such as these. And of course even ‘idle’ browsing of the Internet can reveal thought provoking articles or information that can enhance writing. Generally I think it is good to connect and engage via the Internet. As long as this doesn’t become a major time consuming preoccupation.
I began this piece by recollecting how I started out writing poems; by reading them, and by working away when I could, without distraction. Somewhere, I forget where, I read that anyone thinking of writing poems should read all the poetry books on their shelf before starting to write. I am aware that I don’t read nearly enough, and that several collections I’ve bought of late have not received sufficient attention or thought.
So I’ll start there.
Here is a simple poem by Wendell Berry, with a simple message.
How to Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
From the Poetry Foundation