Eight years ago this month a very small press called Crystal Clear Creators published a pamphlet of my poems.
I was forty five years old.
The publication came about five years after my first encounter with contemporary poetry. I had taken my infant son into the now defunct bookshop Borders on a rainy morning. After we had read Percy the Parkkeeper, Charlie and Lola et al, I discovered the huge poetry section and returned as soon as I could, sitting on the floor and reading book after book in a state of awestruck wonderment.
The shop also stocked poetry magazines such as The Rialto, The North, and Stand.
I began reading and writing more, and after a while sent off some poems. Beginners luck meant my first published poem appeared in The Rialto. Another was awarded second prize in the Ledbury poetry competition judged by Billy Collins. I also received rejections; one from The North included a handwritten note saying they liked ‘something in every poem’ . I was full of energy and excitement, and as soon as a poem came back I sent it out again. My writing process was slow and intense, but the poems that survived were as good as I could make them. Bloodaxe books editor Neil Astley gave another poem a prize, further boosting my confidence, as did having poems chosen in competitions judged by Clare Pollard, Nick Drake, Don Patterson, Paul Farley and others who’s work I admired.
I attempted to recite a poem from memory at a prizegiving, but froze after the first line. Within a couple of years I had enough poems to enter a (free) pamphlet competition funded by the Arts Council and was one of the six poets and short story writers chosen for publication.
The pamphlet, Gopagilla was launched and sold well. It was favourably reviewed in the TLS, alongside other debut pamphlets that year by Kim Moore and Suzannah Evans. I hadn’t expected Crystal Clear publications to get noticed beside established and accomplished pamphlet producers like The Poetry Business, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Later in 2012 I attended a reading in Nottingham and the tall and imposing figure of John Lucas (poet, publisher, novelist, editor, literary biographer, jazz cornet player and professor of literature, among other things,) approached me to ask if I was the Roy Marshall who had just had a pamphlet out. I remember John saying he’d enjoyed the poems as much as anything he’d read in recent years and would be happy to publish a full collection with his Shoestring Press if I had some more work I’d like to send him.
Eight years later (it feels like another lifetime) I still find this an unlikely event, but after a further six months of writing and revising, and with a little help from friends who read the manuscript and offered comments, I sent the typescript to John in the post.
The Sun Bathers was published in 2013, and shortlisted for the Michael Marks award, together with books published that year by Faber, Carcanet and Bloodaxe . John Lucas, whose Shoestring Press didn’t (and doesn’t, for various reasons,) generally receive as much attention as some other poetry publishers, was very pleased.
I was still working as a nurse during these years, but managed to secure an award to study for a part time Masters degree in creative writing
at Sheffield Hallam. The ups and downs of that period are another story, but one thing the course did allow was time to write, and in 2017
my second collection, The Great Animator, was published.
Last night at Nottingham’s brilliant independent bookshop, Five Leaves, I launched my book of versions of Montale’s poems, together with Martin Stanard and Matthew Barton who read from their new collections of translated work.
In the eight years since I entered the Crystal Clear competition, my work has been widely published in Ireland and the UK. A poem appeared in ‘Poems in The Waiting Room’ in New Zealand. Poems have taken me around the country to listen and read at festivals and evening and daytime events. I’ve read in hushed University lecture theatres and in pubs, in grand Georgian buildings and airy tents, in noisy cafés and pin-drop quiet libraries, in a public square, in Victorian theatres and in several beautiful gardens. I’ve met hundreds of poets, from the young to the not so young, and been touched by many who took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed my work. I have taught workshops to writers groups and in University. I’ve judged a children’s poetry competition and made lots of friends. Did someone once say that poetry makes nothing happen?