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A few thoughts on a Thursday evening

I’ve just dispatched some poems for consideration by the editors of a poetry magazine. After six years of doing this, I still find the process of submitting poems exciting.  I’m not a gambling man, but I think the buzz of putting one’s poems ‘out there’ might be similar to the experience of laying down a bet. Unlike gambling, there is really nothing to lose. Indeed, I’m sometimes quite glad when poems are returned- I get another go!

A friend of mine has just had some work accepted by a really good poetry magazine. After an initial (and ridiculous) pang of envy I was able to be genuinely pleased for him. This is because a) he is a lovely bloke and b) because his work is startlingly individualistic and as fresh as wet paint. James Giddings work was featured on this blog a while ago, and I’m pleased that he is sending work out and that editors are beginning to notice his obvious talent.

I’m also delighted to announce a new series of interviews that will be posted on here soon. The last batch was a year or so ago, and included Ian Parks, Matt Merritt,  Jodie Hollander, Maria Taylor and Kim Moore. The new series will begin with Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House. Martin’s second collection will soon be published by the excellent Shoestring Press.

You may have noticed that Leicester is in the news. Robin Houghton recently featured the city in the first of a series of articles about regional poetry scenes, continuing with Cumbria. Robin’s articles are well researched and definitely worth a look.

Finally, one of my own poems was recently published by The Morning Star. If you go to their webpage you can also read work by Leicester poet and reviewer, Emma Lee.         

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A post reading report and ‘Catching the light’

There was a lovely display of poetry books at the Mappin Street Blackwell’s on Wednesday night. I was warmly welcomed by organisers and hosts Bev Nadin and Ben Wilkinson and had time for a chat with fellow readers and guests before the reading.

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Reading poetry to an audience for twenty minuets in a brightly lit and pin-drop quiet bookshop is hard.  Despite my familiarity with my own poems, some of the emotion bottled there will occasionally leap out to catch me by surprise and make reading difficult.  My voice was a bit cracked due to a sore throat, and I was a tad more nervous than usual. I did overcome my nerves to read some newer poems as well as a selection from ‘The Sun Bathers’ and my rehearsed links seemed to work well according to my supportive friends Vicky and Zaffar and Chris.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to fellow poets Shelley Roche- Jacques, Janet Rogerson and Rory Waterman, all of whom read superbly. I’d thoroughly recommend Janet’s Rialto pamphlet ‘A Bad Influence Girl’ which John McAuliffe accurately describes as a place where ‘the extraordinary meets the recognisable and everyday’  in poems ‘whose timing is bewilderingly confident and assured.’

There is a tremendous two page review of poetry pamphlets in the TLS today entitled ‘Catching The Light’. Andrew McCulloch has written a skilful summary of recent publications, allocating a paragraph each to eighteen pamphlets in what reads as a ‘best of 2012-13’ selection. I’m very pleased that my friends Kim Moore, Suzannah Evans, David Clarke, Ian Parks and  Jodie Hollander ( two of whom have recently been interviewed on this blog) all receive favourable reviews, as Andrew McCulloch  succinctly identifies the main strengths of the various collections .

My own ‘Gopagilla’  is also reviewed with quotations from ‘Zen Garden,’ ‘The River Swimmers’  and ‘La Gioconda.’  I was very happy to read McCulloch’s comment that my poems ‘hold words to the light until they catch it and flash with sudden truth.’

It is a tribute to the production and editorial values of my first publisher, Crystal Clear, that this pamphlet has made it into such esteemed company. Although all the presses can be described as ‘small’ , excellent presses such as Smith Doorstop, Flarestack, Tall Lighthouse and Rack have all been established for some time. The series produced by Crystal Clear Creators was a first venture into pamphlet production.

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A short (interim) interview

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The series of interviews published on this blog last month proved to be very popular. I really enjoyed thinking of questions and was rewarded with some brilliant and enlightening responses from Matt Merritt, Ian Parks, Rebecca Bird, Maria Taylor and Jodie Hollander. If you haven’t read these yet then do have a look. There are more interviews with contemporary poets and publishers coming up , but while the next batch is cooking I thought I’d post my own brief responses to two questions I was asked yesterday by my publisher’s publicity officer, Michelle Rose.  I’ve lengthened my responses slightly for this post.
Michelle’s  questions were

 Could you tell me about your collection? What inspired it? What are your influences?
This is my first full collection so it contains a selection from all the poems that I’d written up to the date I had to submit the manuscript to the printer. I started seriously focusing on poetry about eight years ago. When I say focusing, I mean reading and writing and re-drafting to the point of obsession. Prior to that I had always written the odd poem, but I hadn’t read a great deal and I was completely unaware of the contemporary poetry scene or the world of small magazines. Then in 2009 I sent my first poems out. One of the first I sent was published by the magazine The Rialto, another was chosen for publication in an online Guardian work shop.  Another came third in the Ledbury Poetry prize.

I started going to readings and meeting people, some of whom later became my friends.  I kept on submitting poems and having a number published. In 2011 I felt I had enough for a pamphlet. This seemed the next logical step so I entered and was fortunate to win the Crystal Clear Pamphlet competition. Part of the prize was getting editorial advice from the poet Wayne Burrows.
Wayne helped me weed out the weaker poems and tighten up the stronger ones.

The pamphlet got good reviews, and John Lucas of Shoestring Press wrote to tell me he had enjoyed the collection and to ask if I had any more work as he would like to publish a full collection. I was delighted, and began the process of looking at my work again and selecting possible poems.

I rewrote several and received astute advice from John and from a couple of poetry friends. I was writing a lot of new poems at the time I was assembling the manuscript, so quite a few of those got in, including the title poem, The Sun Bathers.  It was written on a train ride back from Sheffield. I’d wondered into the Graves Gallery and found an exhibition of the work of the artist Leonard Beaumont.  I bought a post card of one of his images it’s a 1932 lino cut in the Vortic style. It’s of two girls on a beach and it’s called ‘Sun Bathers.’  The poem was inspired by that image: it speculates on who these girls might be, how their parent’s lives might have been disrupted or destroyed by war and the way in which their own lives will soon be disrupted by another war. One theme of my writing has always been concerned with the impact on individuals of war.

Other poems are inspired by an interest in nature and trying to capture some of its transience and beauty. Also, with some time distance between my time as a Coronary Care nurse and the present,  I was able to write one or two poems about my experiences there. Other poems are about my family and others about historical figures. Some are vivid childhood recollections of emotion. There is a short sequence of poems about Leonardo Da Vinci which comes from a much longer sequence. These are the poems I decided to keep.
I had another ten or twenty new poems I liked, but was advised to keep these for a second book, which was good advice. It’s great to have some new poems in the bag so to speak, and not to feel I’m starting from scratch.

As for influences on my poetry, I think I’ve assimilated ideas from everywhere including film, music, art, novels. I admire lots of poets but it is very hard to say how directly my own work has been influenced.  Other people may find it easier to identify similarities between my work and that of other poets. I’ve had some very flattering comparisons made; I’ve been delighted that one or two people have mentioned Edward Thomas. But I’ve only read a few poems by Thomas so I don’t know if he has influenced me directly.  The poets I enjoy tend to display mastery of control and balance and a lack of excess or extraneous words.  A list would have to include Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Paul Farley, Robin Robertson, Jean Sprackland, Dannie Abse. I’m also a fan of Clare Pollard, Kim Moore and Maria Taylor, all for different reasons.

The Sun Bathers will be published in November 2013.

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New Tall Lighthouse Pamphlet from Jodie Hollander

I had the pleasure of meeting Jodie Hollander earlier this year whilst on a trip to north Wales. Jodie was over from the States for a week, and she mentioned that her debut poetry pamphlet, ‘The Humane Society’ was due this year from Tall Lighthouse, a small press with an impressive roster of poets including Aoife Mannix, Brendan Cleary, Helen Mort and Liz Berry. I’ve only read a few poems from Jodie’s collection but have been struck by their intense focus on objects to convey emotion with originality precision and power.

Jodie Hollander is originally from Wisconsin and now lives and works in Washington DC. An alumni of the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University, her poetry has appeared in a number of poetry magazines and journals both in the UK and America. She has also received a Fullbright Scholarship and is due to receive a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013.
The Metronome

She set the metronome ticking,
her children the pendulum, rocking
back and forth from Mother to Father,
Father back to Mother. Then she’d twist
the knob to Father-Mother, Mother-Father,
or call out Allegro!, and they’d speed up:
FatherMother, MotherFather, FatherMother.

Her children walked sideways, their eyes
shifted horizontally, they looked dizzy, even
possessed—missing the cars zooming in front
of them, but somehow they always heard
Mother’s tempo, and passed from this
lover to that lover, from that lover to this.

From The Humane Society, 2012 Tall Lighthouse press
available here, price £4.
Poem re-produced here with Jodie’s kind permission.