John Lucas and Shoestring Press

There’s a brief interview with writer and publisher John Lucas, in Nottingham’s Leftlion  here . It’s a good read, conveying  John’s passion for writing, publishing, cricket and music, in no particular order, and capturing a little of his direct and down to earth manner, his forthright, informed and uncompromising views, his quickness of mind, joyful independence and wicked sense of humor.  It’s a brief article so doesn’t touch on John’s vast knowledge of literature; mention any writer to him in any genre and John will have an opinion on the merits or otherwise of their works.

I met John Lucas in 2012 at a poetry reading in Nottingham. It was the first time we had ever spoken and John said he had enjoyed my pamphlet, ‘Gopagilla’,  and asked if he could have my home address.
I thought this was unusual in the age of e-mail, but duly wrote my name, street and post code in John’s well thumbed notebook. A week or so later I received a handwritten note on hand-stamped paper asking if I had any more poems as John would like to bring out a collection with his publishing company, Shoestring Press.
The resulting collection of poems came out in November 2013, and was launched in London, at the Lumen in Camden Town, and in Nottingham. I’ve still got some copies- please see the link at the top of the page if you would like one. And you can read one of John’s poems in the Guardian newspaper, here.

Shoestring make beautiful books, and have a very busy publishing schedule. Because of his reputation and the reputation of the press, John manages to sell lots of books without using the internet.
I once accused John of being a twentieth-century publisher to which he swiftly replied ‘oh, eighteenth century, please.’
Despite his suspicion that the internet is no place to sell poetry,  I understand that John has recently been persuaded to try out a paypal button on the website for one of Shoestring’s new titles-a collection of short stories by David Belbin. It remains to be seen if he will be convinced of its value!

I’m delighted to know and work with John, and to be in the company of so many fine writers.  My new collection of poems is scheduled for publication by Shoestring press in 2017.


Walking through the winter blues

For some time I’ve been aware that I’m not at my best during the winter months. I love the mists and colours of autumn, and later, the magic of a good snowfall. But the days of little light and long dark don’t suit me well. I’ll get by with my light-box and books, keep myself busy with work and family, try to see friends and get some exercise to lift my mood.

Two separate winter walks brought me a poem a few years ago. I’d been up to Croft Hill, the highest point in my rather non-undulating part of Leicestershire.  It’s above a quarry where stone has been taken since the Romans used it for the nearby Fosse way, the road that linked Exeter to Lincoln. I’ve read that Croft is derived from the old English  ‘Craeft’ meaning ‘craft’ , and that the craft in question might be that of quarrying.


There are peregrines nesting up there, and the odd finch flitting about. In most seasons there are runners and dog walkers. Once I saw an impressively patient and authoritative young woman up there, shepherding a group of wildly energetic and talkative kids who I imagine had been excluded from school.

The hill is an isolated landmark rising above the flood plain of the river Soar, and at 128 meters it’s not exactly a mountain.

Crof quarry in summer

But the shelves of the quarry with its toy trucks and conveyers are an impressive sight from the path that skirts its lip, and the walk takes you up through patches of broad-leaved woodland, across scrub and grassland and clots of gorse to the white trig point on a granite outcrop that is almost at the physical centre of England.

I’ve been up there to practice for poetry readings, standing in the crown of stones, reading my poems into the wind. A dog walking local told me that the next highest point was the Ural mountains in Russia.

Croft trig point

A few days after my walk on Croft Hill, I went around the block where I live to stretch my legs. As I passed a tree in the failing light I noticed a blackbird in the lowest branch and the first lines of a poem came to me. I didn’t have any writing materials, so I spoke the beginning of the poem into my phone and wrote it down when I got home. I like to think the rhythm and cadence of the poem comes from the rhythm of walking, and I hope the poem says something about the possibility of finding solace in solitary song,   even in dark time.

Blackbird in Winter

He’s on a branch above my head
velvet feathers at touching distance
yellow ringed eye locked to mine.

Is an alarm call frozen in his breast,
the urge to fly curtailed by heavy air,
or is it to preserve energy and heat

that he keeps still? Can he sense in me
a lack of threat, recognise the need
to move slowly through slow air,

to sing a sub-song, out-live
short days by swallowing dark,
holding on to what light there is,

braced against the grip of a wind
unchallenged and un-breathed
since it skimmed down from the Urals?

From The Sun Bathers, Shoestring Press, 2013. 


Mice nests and parcels


Apart from the process of writing of poems, the 21st century poet wishing to be read by more than a few friends and family has to send out of poems to magazines and / or competitions.

There are the seemingly endless periods where nothing seems to happen. Nothing falls onto the doormat for months. Every other poet  you know is reading at festivals and publishing everywhere. You may be happy for them, but you begin to wonder if anyone knows you exist.


And when poems are accepted there can be another wait for publication – sometimes for years.

For the poet published by a small press there are also periods when  you wonder if you will ever read to an audience again. So it goes.

Then, if you are lucky, hardworking and patient, there will be weeks when the outside world responds and several things happen at once.

My contributors copy of ‘Blame Montezuma!’ (Happenstance, 2014) was delivered by today. The post-lady brought me out of the garage where I had been emptying  the nests of mice  from a selection of children’s out-grown Wellington boots.

The London launch for this wonderfully elegant and brilliantly conceived book containing poems about chocolate from the likes of Alison Brackenbury, Hilary Menos, Clare Best, Rob A Mackenzie, David Mark Williams, Matthew Stewart and many other fabulous poets will be in September, and I look forward to posting more details then.

This week I also received a very generous review of my book from the renowned publisher and poet Peter Carpenter in Under The Radar Magazine.   Peter writes superbly and so it is a review I will cherish.

Another very kind review appeared on the website of the marvellous Nottingham based independent bookshop, Five Leaves. I also had two of my poems taken by New Walk, one of my favourite poetry magazines.

And finally my wonderful publisher John Lucas informs me he has sold out of the first print run of my book. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy. I have four copies left as I write this, and due to the successful sales I can offer then at a reduced price of £8 plus pp. If you would like one you can order one from ‘The Sun Bathers’ page of this blog.

I wish any poets reading this similar weeks. They will come. They don’t happen very often, but when they do…

NB- No mice were harmed in the making of this piece.


Poetry at The Kitchen Garden Cafe`

Jacqui Rowe, poet and publisher (with poet Meredith Andrea) of the marvellous Flarestack Pamphlets has invited me to read at the Kitchen Garden café on Tuesday.
You can read an interview with Meredith and Jacqui on Abigail Morley’s blog.

James Sheard’s collection ‘Scattering Eva’ (Cape, 2005) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection. His poems appear in the  anthology
‘Identity Parade’ (Bloodaxe, 2010.)

I’m really looking forward to hearing James read, and to the numerous floor spots.

Looking over what I’ve selected to take I realised that I have ten ‘old’ poems (that is poems from last year’s ‘The Sun Bathers’)  and eleven ‘new’ poems. This seems like a good balance, and I’m pleased I have so much new material.
I’ll have to check again that all these poems fit into a twenty-minute slot- I’m  obsessed with not over-running my allocated time-  and I’ll be reading through the set a few more times before Tuesday to make sure I’ve got my brief intro and links sorted out.

I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it. Here are the details.

POETRY BITES 7.30 pm 27th MAY, Kitchen Garden Cafe, York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14 7SA (entry through Fletcher’s, a few yards up the road). To book a floor spot contact jacquirowe@hotmail.co.uk or arrive before 7.15 pm on the night. £5 (£4 concs) inc readers.



A short (interim) interview


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.