Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sunday Poem – Polly Atkin


Afternoon everybody! I’m writing this post as fast as possible, as I’m leaving to go to poet Antony Christie’s house for his 70th birthday get together.  I’m counting on Antony not reading this blog before we all get there, as it’s meant to be a surprise!

Yesterday I went to the Theatre by the Lake to meet the Alligator Theatre company who are putting a show together which they want to write as a collaboration with local writers.  I was the only poet there, but there was a ‘non-fiction writer’ and then a few playwrights.  It was a really interesting afternoon and I think the play will be really interesting.  All I have to do now is send them some poems and see if I get chosen – I don’t know how much chance I’ve got, not being a playwright, but I would love to be on the project – so tomorrow I will send them some poems for that.

And today I bought a new car!  Or at least, took out a loan to get a new car.  I’m picking it up on Tuesday.  After I’ve had my filling.  So no more moaning about cars, hopefully.  On this blog or in real life.

Today’s Sunday poem is by Polly Atkin.  I went to Polly’s launch of her new pamphlet last weekend and was blown away by her poetry.  She is the inaugural winner of the Mslexia Pamphlet competition

Mslexia is a magazine for women writers and they are running the pamphlet competition this year as well – the pamphlet has been beautifully produced and published by Seren so it’s well worth a go!  You can order Polly’s pamphlet for a mere fiver from Seren at

Polly seems to have slipped under the radar in some ways – she has had a pamphlet out before with Austeigger Press called Bone Song and she has a lot of poetry competition wins to her name – the Troubadour in 2008 and the Kent and Sussex in 2011 so she’s been writing for a while but I don’t think her poetry is as well known as it deserves to be.

There was a question and answer session after Polly’s launch and I was also struck by how good she was at answering questions – very articulate and clear.

Polly’s new pamphlet is called Shadow Dispatches.  It was very difficult to pick a poem again – I loved lots of them but I went for this one about a local Grasmere character  – Henry the Swan because of the fantastic descriptions.  I also love the litany-like feel of the repeated words ‘No grace’

Mute – Polly Atkin

No grace in the nicotine yellow curve
of your throat, snakeish, its throb as you swallow,open your toothed beak, croak, gutteral.

No grace in its muscular sway, in the way
you haul your body like a curse up the muddied
lawn, lumbering, clumsy.  No beauty

in your antediluvian call.  No music.
No love, no song at all.  Ugly
as a god you crawl from the silted shore,

grotesque, hissing.  We’d heard one night
you learnt the steps by moonlight, climbed
to the door of the hut and stopped, shocked

by your transformation, too almost human.
But there was no prince in you, no, no royalty.
Close up, only the leprous knob

on your forehead, your mark of longevity, bulbous,
crackled old leather, a slow black slug.
Can you eat pearls, isolate milk from water?

Now you have dragged yourself up from the lake
to show us your pain.  Injured, you curl
on yourself and shudder.  Mute as a myth.

We bring seed, drink, grow brave, creep closer.
Your fierce neck droops.  So like a god.
Helpless, we leave you to suffer.  Wake

in the grey light thinking of you, in the rain,
your threat display, your dinosaur motion.
And then I see it, your grace.  The beauty

of continuation.  You do not sing.
You build that low down growl you trill
like an aria and we know you’ll live.

Dentists, Doctors and Poetry of course


Evening folks.  This week I have had one dentist appointment, one doctor’s appointment and have been to one poetry reading.

My dentist appointment was on Monday, which meant I spent the morning worrying about the appointment and then the afternoon recovering from it.  I have a cavity apparently so I have to go and get a filling next Tuesday.  Cue much moaning from me – I’m terrified of dentists and haven’t been since 2008, so I guess I only have myself to blame (I’ll say it before anyone else does)

Then Tuesday I went up to the Wordsworth Trust to hear Tishani Doshi and Priscila Uppal.  It was a really, really good reading.  I already had Tishani’s book after hearing her read at Ledbury Poetry Festival last year but I knew nothing about Priscila Uppal but she is now one of my Favorite Poets.  There is a poem in her book ‘Successful Tragedies’ called ‘In Your Sickness’ which I’ve copied out and am carrying with me – I don’t do that very often, but I keep coming back to it, reading it out loud, reading it to myself.  I don’t know if it’s online or not.  So that was a very successful poetry reading – to find a new poet that I love – new to me, not new to poetry – she is a very big Canadian Poet.  Anyway, here are the first couple of  lines of that poem and if they don’t make you want to go and spend a tenner on the book I don’t know what will…

‘It is your body, soft as an old bed,
the fleshy pillows of your fever
that make me want to deliver you like an old letter
back to a first love…’

And then on Wednesday I went with one of my GCSE pupils to an extra rehearsal to practise his ensemble piece – he has to play a solo with a band.  I got back after 9pm on that night – so no poetry that day.  Barrow Steelworks Band had kindly agreed to let my pupil come and have an extra practice with them before he records it with the junior band on Monday – I played my trumpet for the first time in a long time – by the way, Barrow Steelworks are recruiting for players, so if anyone used to play a brass instrument and feels the urge to do so again, or has always wanted to play an instrument…get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with the conductor.

And today I went to the doctors  and found out I have to have a minor operation to remove a lump from my skull.  It’s a perfectly harmless lump, apparently, apart from the fact it’s very sore at the minute – it’s such a minor operation that they can do it at the doctors surgery.  The doctor was completely puzzled when I appeared worried about this – but I’ve not even broken anything before and I don’t like pain.  It’s actually a benign cyst, but that sounds more horrible than the vague word ‘lump’.  So the dramatic part of my personality, which lets face it, makes up 90% of my psychological makeup is feeling like I’m physically falling apart, getting old, etc etc.  The doctor said ‘It’s no more serious than going to the dentist’ which was an unfortunate analogy in my case.   The best thing the doctor said though, and this is the real reason I’m writing about something fairly personal on a blog which anyone can read, was the line ‘At least you’ll get a day off work.  You don’t want to bleed on any of your pupils’.

Is it advisable to rant about lumps and fillings on a blog and sandwich a poetry reading between the two?  I don’t know.

And for those who are dying for updates about the car situation – still no new car yet.  I’m fluctuating between buying a £500 car from a random, or going wild and buying a brand new one on a finance plan…. the middle ground of a ‘good’ second hand car has not worked too well for me with the last couple of cars….

To finish with poetry – I have just submitted to a poetry magazine and a competition tonight.  Which of course, isn’t really poetry – it is the fluff and feathers around poetry, but it has cleared out my stock of poems which means my mind feels clear and there is space for some new poems to fly in….

Sunday Poem – Heidi Williamson


This week has been filled with work and lots of poetry.  On Wednesday I was the guest poet at Zeffirellis in Ambleside.  This was organised by Andrew Forster of the Wordsworth Trust.  There was a really good turn out, lots of open mics and the combination of being able to eat pizza whilst listening to poetry turned out to be very popular, and not nearly as antisocial as it sounds.  I didn’t notice any loud chomping noises whilst I was reading anyway!

Unfortunately the garage said my car would need a £1000 to get it going again, so it has gone to the great car graveyard in the sky – more commonly known as the scrappers.  I am still quite hacked off about it, as I still owe money on the car but trying not to think about it.

Meanwhile, me and hubby are ‘sharing’ his car which has led me to the discovery that I don’t like sharing, and I’m not good at it so we are looking round for a very cheap car.  There is no massive rush at the minute,as we are just about managing to share one.

Yesterday was Polly Atkin’s launch of her pamphlet -she was the winner of the inaugral Mslexia pamphlet competition, and her pamphlet ‘Shadow Dispatches’ is published by Seren.  It’s very blue and pretty and I really enjoyed the reading.  The reading was at Grasmere at the Wordsworth Trust.  Polly is a really good reader of her work, and her poems are packed full of imagery.  I think one of her strengths, from a first read through of it is the wonderful similes and metaphors she uses.  I would definitely recommend it.  I got a lift with Mark Carson and we whizzed off pretty sharpish afterwards so we would have time to eat and get sorted out before Poem and A Pint in the evening.

Poem and A Pint was great!  If you missed Billy Letford you should be kicking yourself- although not too hard, as he is reading at the Wordsworth Trust in June, so you could go and see him read there.  He recites all his poems from memory, no introductions and it feels as if the poem is holding the audience still – then he stops and the spell is broken and we all breathe again before the next one.  A masterclass in how to give a good reading – I would love to perform more like that – although if I just copied it would be ridiculous – but I have got lots of ideas of how to improve my own performance.

And today I am very proud of myself.  I lost the argument with the hubby as to who has the car – he was going hiking in the Lakes so his need was greater – so I actually used a bus to get to Ulverston.  I don’t know why but I have had an irrational dislike of buses – I think it’s from having to catch them every day in Birmingham when I was teaching there.  And once in Birmingham, I’m sure I saw a flea leap from the person’s leg who was sitting next to me on to my leg.  Now rationally, it was probably some other high-jumping insect, as I probably wouldn’t have been able to see a flea but I can’t help being convinced it was a flea.

So, this morning a nice bus driver stopped even though I was standing at the wrong bus stop and let me on the bus to Ulverston and it was absolutely fine.  No fleas – in fact hardly any passengers.

I was going to a Poem and A Pint committee memeber’s house who was looking after Billy Letford -we’d been invited for tea and cake.  That was very nice, and I got back again on the bus, no excitement, no traumas.

I think I also don’t quite believe that the buses adhere to timetables – and I hate waiting.  But I’ve decided these are irrational thoughts, not based on experience of Barrow buses, so I’m going to have to give them more of  a go I think.

Today’s Sunday poem is by Heidi Williamson. Her first collection ‘Electric Shadow’ is published by Bloodaxe and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. It was also shortlisted in 2012 for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry.

I read ‘Electric Shadow’ only recently, although it came out in 2011 and I really enjoyed the book.  It is easy to see why it has garnered so much interest- she uses unusual angles to write about big themes like in the poem ‘At the hands-on science centre’ when she recounts a couple standing between parrallel mirrors – really this poem, I think, is about relationships and power and absence, but she approaches this through the doorway of a science centre – which is unusual I think.

So when I spotted Heidi on Twitter I asked her if I could have a poem from the book.  As in most cases when I have permission to pick any poem from the book, it was hard to settle on one.  I decided to pick the strangest one in the collection because it was my favorite.

You can order ‘Electric Shadow’ from Bloodaxe here and you can find out more about Heidi Williamson here:

So here is the poem:

If Then Else – Heidi Williamson

your lover asks you to bite his tongue,
do it
Else you are alone and bloodless

you cannot find yourself, Then
find another
Else you are alive and loveless

you breathe numbness, Then
rejoice quietly
Else you are woken

you age, Then
Else you age lifelessly

you die, Then
Else you age lifelessly

you die, Then
Else you die thoughtlessly

you wish to eat apples and oranges, Then
Else no distinctions can be made

If Then Else: A logic statement in high-level programming that defines the data to be compared and the actions to be taken as a result.  There can only be one of two outcomes.  There is no scope for ambiguity. 

Sunday Poem – Miceal Kearney


So it’s now the end of the Easter holidays.  Tomorrow school starts again – although I don’t because it’s my day off!  It is however, the first rehearsal for Barrow Shipyard Junior Band in the evening, so it’s not a full day off.

On Friday I went to Liz Venn’s in Glossop and had a lovely evening talking about poetry and drinking red wine.  The next morning we were both going to the Advanced Writer’s School workshop in Sheffield at the Poetry Business, and as I pulled into the car park my car stopped working.  Cue much ringing around, as of course I didn’t have the details of my breakdown cover – I knew it was through my car insurance, but I couldn’t even remember the company I was insured with.  I cursed myself lots for being so disorganised and swore to change in future.

Eventually hubby found details to discover I’d been stingy and paid for the lowest level of breakdown cover which would take my car and leave it at the nearest garage – which would be no good as it was Saturday.  I don’t know what my logic was when I bought this – especially as I am flying up and down the country so often in my car.

I was also giving Jennifer Copley a lift back to Barrow and I remembered my Dad telling me when I first started driving, after paying for me to be an AA member, that they would come and get me anywhere, as it was me that was insured, not my car.  I had of course, let my membership lapse when my dad decided I was old enough to pay for it on my own.  I asked Jenny if she was an AA member – and we were saved!  It was like being with the Queen, as she had Gold Membership, which meant the AA came out and towed us all the way back to Barrow.  The AA man was very nice as well – not only did he drop Jenny off at her house, he then dropped my car off at the garage, and then dropped me at the house.

So amidst all of this sorting out I was also trying to do some writing at the workshop, which I’ve been looking forward to for weeks.  I did manage to start one poem which I think could be something .  It’s called ‘An Ode to my Trumpet on the 1st Year of its Retirement’.  I’m going to try and type that up tomorrow.

Next week there is an open mic at Zefirellis in Ambleside and I’m the guest poet – but there are poetry and music slots so it would be lovely to see some of you there if you live within striking distance.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Miceal Kearney.  I met Miceal in Fermoy last August at the Fermoy International Poetry Festival ( )

It’s running again this year so I hope he is going to be there again!  Miceal is a really interesting poet and a lovely guy .  He lives in the west of Ireland and works on the family farm.  He is a brilliant and memorable performer of his work and the fact he has won various poetry slams – the 2006 Cuirt Poetry Slam in Limerick, the 2007 Baffle Bard, the 2007 Cuirt Poetry Grand Slam and the 2007 North Beach Poetry Nights’ Grand Slam all attest to this.  His first collection was published by Doire Press in 2008 and is called ‘Inheritance’.  You can order it from

The book is full of the real life of living and working on a farm.  It is a mixture of loneliness and camaraderie, of an understanding of what it is to work on the land and a bluntness about the harsh realities of this.  I am a true hypocrite – an animal lover and a meat – eater and I found Miceal’s truths challenging yet brutally honest and thought-provoking.  I really would recommend the book – or go to Ireland and find out where he’s reading.  It will be worth the trip.

I chose this short poem from the book because I think it illustrates some of those themes that weave their way through the poems.  I think it’s a beautiful poem – simple, direct, convincing.

Make a Wish – Miceal Kearney

In this sunny meadow sheep bleat.
Today is my birthday.
The evening breeze
blows out my candles.
The sheep still bleat.

Before I go,
each guest will get some cake –
rude not to share.
Five pieces I will cut:
the sun, the wind, the sheep
and me.
The last piece I will keep
for the moon.

Reading poetry, pyjamas, April Poets and collection thoughts


Good morning everybody! Arrgh, it’s already the last day of the Easter holidays!  The weekend doesn’t count you see, that’s the weekend.  This is the last day that I can sit and think, what SHOULD I be doing today – hmm, nine o clock Friday, I would be doing a half hour lesson in a primary school for two trumpets, one cornet and a baritone player.

Today I’m off to Glamorous Glossop to visit the lovely Liz Venn.  Apparently there will be red wine and bolognese.  Tomorrow morning we are both going to the Poetry Business for our next Advanced Writing School workshop.  This has two advantages – I don’t have to get the train at 6.20 am on Saturday morning and I get to see Liz!  And because yet again, there is a replacement bus service on the train line I can drive back with Jenny Copley to Barrow and get back at a reasonable time.

So I’ve been vaguely taking part in National Poetry Writing Month – which is where you join a group and write a poem a day.  I’m part of a ‘secret’ group on Facebook and I am a guest prompter which means I have to do a couple of prompts on certain days to set people off writing poetry.

I feel like I’ve already written about this in a previous post – sorry if I’m repeating myself!  Anyway, I’ve been reading other people’s posts, sometimes commenting, mostly being a silent, lurking observer, but what I have done all week is to basically sit in my pyjamas for most of the day and read poetry.  I went to the remainder bookshop in Sedburgh and got lots of brand new poetry books for half price and I’ve just been reading through those.  I made myself a nest and a flask of tea so I didn’t have to keep getting up and just sat and read.  So poets I’ve read this week include Phillip Gross, Heather Williamson, Peter Levi, Lucie Brock-Braido, Esther Jansma….I haven’t read all of these cover to cover – I’ve been kind of dipping in and out.

I’ve been playing Lucky Dip with the Poetry Archive whilst doing the washing up.  I learnt a Don Paterson poem off by heart.  I’ve written one poem which I think might be worth going on with and maybe five rubbishy ones.  I’ve done a map of my first collection which you can see below.  Barrow-in-Furness-20130410-00239

The boxes are themes and the little bits of writing are poems and I’ve done lots of spidery lines all over the place to see how they join up with each other.  I thought a lot about whether I should add little bits about the collection in between these conversations with other poets and I decided I would, although it feels strangely revealing and private to do so.  I know where there are gaps in the collection now, where I need to write more poems.

Last night I went to an April Poets event in Lancaster.  I’m really glad I did bother myself to get out of my nest and my pyjamas because it was a really nice event.  The room was packed with audience which is lovely to see – the open mic was great and the invited guest poets – Michael Crowley, Pauline Yarwood, Carole Coates and Judy Brown were varied, interesting and entertaining.

I had a chat with poet Antony Christie in the bar and from this very short conversation I think I’ve pinned down the first poem in my collection.

So this is how I’ve decided to ‘do’ National Poetry Month – pretty much what I do all the time, but more of it.  Lots of reading, a little bit of writing, and getting out and about as much as I can to see what else is going on with other poets.

By the way, if any of you do live anywhere near Lancaster, check out April Poets web page

They host events twice a year, and they are always fantastic and very well organised.  The next one is in November – I don’t know who is reading yet, but keep your eye on the website.

Claire Dyer’s Launch of her Debut Collection ‘Eleven Rooms’


Claire Dyer A5 poster

Look!  It’s the lovely Claire Dyer’s launch tomorrow of her debut collection ‘Eleven Rooms’ published by Two Rivers Press.  Apparently they are packing them in at the launch at  Waterstones in Reading – so I would ring and see if they could squeeze you in.

It starts at 7.30pm and the phone number is 0118 9581270, just in case my link doesn’t work.

If you would like to find out more about Claire you can go to her website at or to the Two Rivers Press site which is

I met Claire a couple of years ago on a writing course at Ty Newydd – and she is a Very Lovely Lady.

The Path to A First Collection – Roy Marshall on his way to Shoestring


Morning folks

Today is a strange day – the day after Margaret Thatcher died.  I was born in 1981, so I was too young really to know anything about politics in the 80’s.  My parents didn’t like Thatcher – my husbands dad,  apparently really admires her – he came over her from Australia in the 70’s and has often said to the hubby that ‘this country was on its knees before Thatcher came into power’.  My natural instinct is to dislike her policies – the miners strike, calling Mandela a terrorist – but I haven’t really enjoyed seeing people rejoicing and celebrating her death.  I think every death diminishes us all – I’ve seen some footage which I’ve not seen before – I didn’t really pay attention to anything going on around me until I started writing.  My natural instinct, before seeing all the footage was to dislike her but that shot that we keep seeing when she says ‘You U-turn if you want to – the lady’s not for turning’ – I can’t help but feel a grudging admiration for her.

Then I started to think how would I feel if say, Cameron died or Osbourne? Would I rejoice then – seeing as I can’t even listen to them on the radio or watch them on the T.V without becoming enraged…and I wouldn’t.  I feel like I know much more about Cameron and Osbourne than I do about Thatcher – I’ve lived through their policies and government and followed what they’ve done..but I still wouldn’t be happy if they were dead.  There is something unseemly in celebrating death – and who said (or did I imagine it) that each death diminishes us all…or maybe I am being sanctimonious, and I’m speaking about Thatcher from a position of ignorance really…but I didn’t want this blog to not acknowledge what is going on in the world at all…but now I want to go back into Poetry World after that brief foray into the ugliness..

I’m currently working on my first collection.  Ah, that sentence.  It hides so much!  It feels like it’s going very slowly for me.  I have enough poems, but I feel that the collection hasn’t travelled far enough yet – I don’t fee like I’ve written the first poem yet – so it’s hard to get them all in an order.  When I was gathering up the poems and trying to assess where I was with the collection, I started to look online for advice on how to order the poems.  There wasn’t really much around, apart from the old advice about laying all your poems out on the floor.

So I’ve decided to start a new feature on the blog.  I’m going to be talking to different poets about their experience of putting together a first collection.  I’d like to get as many poets from as many different publishing houses as possible.  I’ve got commitments from poets who are publishing with Salt, Cultured Llama and Burning Eye Books so far and that is more than enough to be going on with for now!  It’s not going to be regular – apart from maybe being once a month and it will take different forms.  Sometimes it might be an article, an essay, an interview or something else!  I’m sticking to first collections, because I think by default, once you’ve done it once, it’s easier!

This first one is a interview, or conversation with Roy Marshall who is busy with the final preparations for his first full collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ with Shoestring Press, due out in November 2013.  You can find Shoestring Press at  His first pamphlet ‘Gopagilla’ was published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012.  Roy lives and works in Leicestershire.  Roy blogs at

Kim: Hi Roy.  Thanks for agreeing to take part in this feature.  I wonder first if you could talk a little about the general geography of the collection – how many poems will be in the book?  I know you are in the process of finalising the manuscript now – is the book divided into sections?

Roy: Hi Kim. Thanks very much for asking me to take part. I’m really looking forward to reading the other poets’ contributions to this feature.  I like the way you apply the word ‘ geography’ to describe the shape of a poetry book.
I’ve got sixty-four pieces in the current draft but this might change.  The manuscript isn’t divided into sections. I don’t see the poems as naturally falling into sections so they’re all tucked up together in one big bed, or one boarder-less undulating land mass if we’re talking geography. I do think sections work very well in some instances; for example, I loved the ‘Erratics’ part of Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch’s collection ‘Banjo,’ which came out last year. All the poems in that part were thematically linked and worked brilliantly together. But sometimes I’m not sure why poetry collections have sections as there seems to be no obvious reason to break up a book.

There is a short sequence of four or five poems in ‘The Sun Bathers’ about Leonardo Da Vinci which are grouped together, but they are not under any separate heading as there are only a few of them. And I’ve also put the poems about visiting relatives in Italy as a child together. Again, there were only four or five so I didn’t put them under a separate heading. Apart from those groups I’ve tended to mix themes and lengths of poems in a way that I hope keeps the collection flowing. So I’m happy not to have any superimposed borders on the geography of this book; I hope the variations in theme and style will make the journey interesting and surprising.

Kim: Yes, I enjoyed Samantha Wynne Rhydderch’s ‘Banjo’ too.  I think you’ve touched on the heart of what I’m trying to get at with these features – the act of physically putting the collection together.  I really like the way Michael Symmons Roberts in ‘Corpus’ has a sequence of poems scattered through the collection – actually he has two sequences – ‘Carnivorous’ which are numbered 1 to 5 and ‘Food for Risen Bodies’ which are numbered 1 to 7.  These poems seem to act as a thread throughout the collection and are one of the reasons why the whole hangs together.  How have you ensured the poems ‘flowed’ into one another, putting aside the childhood and the Da Vinci ones, which you’ve already said sat together naturally?

Roy: I’ve been relatively laid back about the order of this collection. I did the classic thing of laying the poems on the floor and seeing how they work together, and I came to a list of contents fairly easily. I was happy with it early on, less neurotic than last time. There are so many possible ways of arranging a book of poems and I was glad to settle on a running order early on and relax.

I think the experience of putting a pamphlet together really helped me. When I assembled ‘Gopagilla’ I tried link poems as much as possible so I grouped of all the poems about childhood and family together. I’ve done that again in this book, but with a full collection you have much more room to play with. It gives you more options to scattered or weave poems in and out.  So ‘childhood’ poems or ‘love’ poems can crop up in more than one place and be separated by other types of poem, for example humorous or political or third person poems; I’ve got a couple of third person poems, one about Neil Armstrong’s wife Janet and one about the cyclist Graeme Obree.

I think this collection is more about ’emotional travel.’ The ordering is slightly mysterious to me and to do with things ‘feeling right’.  But there are little clusters of thematically linked poems. For example, I’ve got two poems about being a nurse, so these two sit next to each other as one builds on the atmosphere of the other. The poem after that is ”I Dreamt Of Smoking,’ a poem you kindly posted on your blog Kim, which is another recollection poem, so I think this goes  with the nursing poems because they are similar, if not exactly the same, in emotional tone. This cluster seems to shade or shadow each other emotionally.

Elsewhere I’ve deliberately put pieces together to break up or lighten things, to change mood or direction, to stop the collection becoming too staid or predictable and to keep things entertaining. I think I got the idea to mix things up a bit from a chapter called ‘Into Print’ in Fiona Sampson’s book on poetry writing. I’m generally not too keen on reading about writing poems, I’d rather read poems, so no offence to Fiona, but it was one of the few parts of the book I of real interest to me because of its practical relevance to making a book. That’s why I think this feature is such a great idea as it will help people share their thoughts and experiences.
Kim:That’s really interesting.  I quite like the phrase ’emotional travel’!  I wonder whether this is usual, for the order to come fairly naturally.  That happened to me with my pamphlet, apart from the first poem which I couldn’t decide on.  I’ve just re-read the chapter ‘Into Print’ from Fiona Sampson’s book ‘Poetry Writing – The Expert Guide’ and you are right, it does have some very useful stuff in there so thanks for the reminder.  Could you talk a little about the link between your first pamphlet and your first collection?  I’m in the process of assembling my first collection at the minute, and I’ve had conflicting advice about how many poems to include from the pamphlet.  Some people say put the whole pamphlet in, someone else said 15 out of the 20, other people think it should be much less.  How many have you included, and how do they sit alongside your newer work? 

Roy: That’s another really good question. It is hard to know how many pamphlet poems to put in. I’ve bought collections and been disappointed if they have too many duplicated poems from the poet’s pamphlet. I started wondering if I should only put in a couple in order to give ‘value for money’.
A poet friend of mine said all I needed to worry about is getting the best stuff in there. So I took some more from the pamphlet and had about seventeen or eighteen out of the twenty-five pamphlet poems in the first draft manuscript. My editor wasn’t too keen on a couple of them so I put them to one side. They didn’t feel essential to the character of the book so I didn’t argue, and maybe they can go in another book.

Now there are fifteen poems from the pamphlet interspersed with other poems. This doesn’t feel too many to me, the balance seems about right. Some of them feel refreshed by sitting next to new poems.

I recently had a very productive period of writing; it was fairly crazy. I was writing a poem a day for a couple of weeks, so I had a lot of newer poems to choose from. But since this is a first collection I think it needs to gather up a good percentage of the poems from the pamphlet as a sort of summary of where I’ve been to date. I’m very fond of some of those earlier poems. One or two define my style and themes and have been well appreciated so it would fell wrong to leave them out. Also, my pamphlet has nearly sold out and there are no plans for a reprint as far as I know, so I wanted those poems in the book.
I think that generally people will want to see poems they know from a pamphlet because they are fond of them and it’s good to see the familiar collected alongside the unfamiliar. If you use the analogy of an album then you might say people want to hear the hits that got them interested in the first place.  I think it’s about balance and in the end only the person in this situation can decide how to achieve that.

I’m not sure I fully answered your question Kim, about how the poems from the pamphlet sit together with the newer ones. Physically, they are dotted about through the book. The first one doesn’t appear until four or five poems in which I like because I want people to have the freshness of reading poems they don’t know first. One or two of the ‘newer’ poems were actually written before the pamphlet came out but not included in that because they didn’t seem to fit. But as I said, with a book there is more room. I loved working on the pamphlet but the book feels a more relaxed, more generous affair.

Kim: Thanks for this Roy, this is really interesting.  I’m just thinking about your comment of the first pamphlet poem appearing 5 or 6 poems into the book which is a very good tip!  I was wondering if you could talk a little about how you picked which poem was the first poem from your new stuff?

Roy: As you know Kim, I haven’t finalised the running order yet. In fact I’m probably putting it off a little, either because I’m savouring the process or because I’m worried about getting it ‘right’, or a bit of both.

At the moment the first poem is an unpublished one called ‘Blackbird in Winter’.
It’s a special poem for me because, at the risk of sounding like a mystical hippy, the poem ‘came through me’ rather than ‘to’ me. I went for a walk one cold afternoon and saw a blackbird. The majority of the poem seemed to arrive fully formed in that moment. I had no paper or pen or other means of recording with me at the time, so I had to remember the words by repeating them to myself as I walked home. The poem’s arrival is a lovely memory.

The poem is short and clear. It seems to have no slack or spare words. The other reason I like it is for the atmosphere it seems to create when I read it. I’ve read it two or three times to an audience, and it seems to generate a certain kind of intensity of listening. I’m sure you’ve had this experience Kim, where you can almost feel the collective concentration deepen in response to a poem. I can only describe it as a spiritual moment.

That’s why this little poem opens the book. If I felt like I’d written it instead of ‘receiving’ it
I’d feel something like pride; I have other poems which generate a kind of pride, partly because I know how much work went into them. But this one feels different, it goes beyond that. It feels like a kind of gift, to me and to the reader.

Kim: This is a really interesting reason for selecting that poem to be first – at least for now!  I think I’ve had lines come into my head that refuse to leave, but I don’t think I’ve ever really had a whole poem.  I have had poems come out fully formed and I haven’t really done much work to them, then others which I’ve slaved over to get right.  I wonder what is happening in our brains in these two instances!  Thank you for all your answers Roy, you’ve been amazingly generous with them.  I wondered to round things off if you had any advice you would like to give to someone starting to put together their first collection – practical, spiritual or emotional?  Or all three!

Roy: Thank you Kim, I’ve found gained a lot of insight about what I’ve been doing from answering your questions.

I did wonder about showing the manuscript to other people. In the end I decided to do this and I’m waiting to see what they think. Given that both of them are brilliant poets and lovely people I think I’m on safe ground. My advice is to show your work and ask for opinions, but only from people you trust and whose work you respect. Who knows, maybe if my manuscript comes back covered in ink I might freak out and wish I’d kept it to myself!
But seriously, I don’t think this will happen. I like to think that I’m ready for this book in several ways, not least in that I have developed sufficiently to be able to consider criticism and suggestions without losing confidence in my ability to make final decisions.

I’d like to mention my editor John Lucas. He’s fantastically relaxed and it seems to have rubbed off on me a little. John is a poet himself with about fifty years in the poetry publishing business, so I feel my book is in safe hands. I understand that editors can vary greatly in their approach to making suggestions, and John was pretty happy with the first draft of the manuscript so I’m very fortunate to be working with him as this has removed any of the pressure I might otherwise have felt.

I’d like to wish anyone in the position of putting a first collection together all the best. If you are, I hope you can relax and enjoy the process and celebrate your achievements to date. Try and trust your instincts.  The work involved in getting enough poems together for a good book is something only another poet can appreciate. Thanks again Kim, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.

Sunday Poem – John Foggin


Today is the end of the first week of the easter holidays for me.  It is also the end of the first week of National Poetry Month.  For the first time this year I am taking part in a group on Facebook to write a poem a day for the month of April.  I thought this would be a good way to celebrate National Poetry Month.  As with most things though, it’s never that simple is it?

I’ve written a poem on Day 1, 5 and 6.  We’re on Day Seven now – so my hit rate is not too good.  I’m finding it torturous to put first drafts up – I don’t have time to do any work on them, so they are literally first drafts.  This goes against everything that comes naturally to me – I’m normally a perfectionist, I like to put poems away for a while before showing them to anybody… But you’re on holiday I hear you cry – surely you have lots of time!  Yeah – that’s what I thought, but no.

I never normally write poetry unless I feel absolutely compelled to – so this is a strange way of working for me.  If I don’t feel like writing, I normally just read so this is very different for me and I wouldn’t say the three poems that I have written even sound like me – I know they are not good poems – but maybe it’s a good thing that I’m writing differently.  I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s poems as well and commenting when I can and it is teaching me not to be so precious about stuff…

Apart from agonising over that and trying to write something to put up, I’ve been busy just doing other stuff.  On Monday I drove over to Halifax to read at Puzzle Poets, to a small but beautifully formed audience.  The lovely John Foggin turned up, despite being in the middle of a rugby match and it was lovely to see him again.  I’ve met John a few times at Poetry Business workshops and it was great to hear him read on the open mic as well.  John’s enthusiasm for poetry is infectious.  I heard John read the Sunday Poem on the open mic and asked if I could have it for the Sunday poem.  More on that later.

Anyway, then I stayed at the lovely Gaia Holmes’s house – full of fabrics, and georgous dresses hanging up, just waiting to be worn, and purple ornaments and lovely objects and plants everywhere – she also has a Sunday Poem on here  and then the next day I drove down to Leicester and did a reading at the Y Theatre for Word!.

There were about twenty open mics before me – this sounds horrendous, but it wasn’t because they were interesting, varied and they all stuck to their 3 minutes and were very disciplined.  I really enjoyed the whole evening.  My mum, dad, twin sister, aunty, old running coach and a friend from university who now lives in Leicester turned up as well so it was a good night.  It was great to see Maria Taylor of Nine Arches Press and Roy Marshall of Crystal Clear Creators as well and to hear them read.  I also saw the lovely Jayne Stanton who was on my residential course in Grange – great to hear her read again on the open mic.

I sold four books at the Puzzle and six books at Word! and my mum bought a second edition copy of my pamphlet to go with her first copy edition so a grand total of 11 pamphlets sold for the two days.

Then on Thursday it was back up to Cumbria with my twin sister – it took us about six hours to do a journey that normally takes three and a half – the M6 was a nightmare.  I’m suprised we didn’t kill each other.

Then on Friday I was interviewed on BBC Radio Cumbria about the two brass bands that I run – the link is here and it’s about 40 minutes in if you would like to listen to it.  I got myself nervous all day about doing the interview, but doing it was much easier than thinking about doing it!

On Saturday I went with Mr P, a teacher that I work quite closely with at one of my schools to a brass repairer who has some old instruments that he reconditions and services and sells for very cheap so spent a nice afternoon with that wonderful smell of old brass and valve oil and grease.

And today I’ve just got back from walking the dogs with the hubby – we had a lovely walk – saw a collie rounding up some sheep on the fell, a farmer helping a lamb give birth and wiping his hands on the grass afterwards, a dead sheep that was wedged between two rocks, a buzzard and it was hot enough to sit down outside the cafe in Broughton for lunch.

Poetry news – I got paid for the residential course that I ran with Jenny Copley in February!  A lovely cheque arrived in the post with enough money to finally pay off the credit card!  I also got a cheque for £30 for an article that I’ve written for Artemis so very happy about both of those things.  I’m writing a review of Hilda Sheehan’s new book alongside Emily Berry’s new book for Under the Radar mag – deadline June/July.  I’m looking forward to re-reading both books again – I think they both use language in very interesting ways and they both write about the body as well – so that may be my ‘door’ into writing the review.

So the Sunday Poet today is John Foggin.  I know John has had a poem in The North before, but I don’t think he has sent much work out really – he is an undiscovered gem!  Thanks to John for letting me use his poem here – as I said, he read three cracking poems on the open mic, abandoned a rugby game to come and support me and is generally a lovely chap.  I hope you enjoy the poem.

It Snowed for Thirty Years – John Foggin

And there was so much we forgot;
colours, mainly – or how to say them.
Lost all those synonyms for greens and browns:
sepias, terracotta; chartreuse, malachite and lime.

We coined a whole new lexicon for shades of black.
We had to put a stop to conversation-killing
compound words and phrasal nouns
that lumbered like battalions of Panzers
through the cowering sentences they’d occupied.

… words for the shiny black of fresh split coal;
the edging-on-purple-or-plum of skies
at a certain time of night; 
the black you see
behind the fireworks show that’s on your retina
when the lamps go out in caves; 
the black
ingrained in the nails of time-served car mechanics.

You get the picture.
Don’t get me started on the shades of lilac
shadows in blown drifts, of blues in layered ice,
of whites in dry, or wet, or spindrift snow.

Our children roll their eyes
if ever we start on about the way
words used to be when the world
was just as young as us.
Before the snow.