Monthly Archives: December 2020

Goodbye 2020

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Like many people, I can’t say that I’m not relieved to see the back of 2020! However, even amongst the global pandemic, the misery of lockdown and the loneliness of not seeing as much of friends and family as I would like, there have been some wonderful and magical things that have happened this year, so I thought I’d resurrect my annual review blog post this year (I think it fell by the wayside last year).

So I’m going to cycle back through 2020 month by month and hopefully find a highlight for each one!

January

This was the month that Ally started nursery at just seven months old. She seems so little now and she is 19 months old, so I can’t quite believe, looking back that I was brave enough to take her and hand her over to a stranger. Of course back in January, I could go in with her for lots of visits before finally leaving her there. I wouldn’t exactly call this a highlight because I still feel like I’m being torn in half – I both want to be with her and I want to work and these two things are not compatible. I still miss her when she is at nursery – I still obsessively check the parent app for photos and updates from the nursery, but that decision to put her into nursery in January meant that I could finish my PhD in time.

February

I still can’t quite believe I’m writing this but in February I went to London to the actual Abbey Road Studios to record a poetry album with the wonderful Cerys Matthews. The album is called We Come From The Sun and there are some amazing poets on it – you can watch a promo video here and pre-order the album if you feel so inclined! Cerys Matthews Announces Ground-Breaking New Poetry Album ‘We Come From The Sun’ (abbeyroad.com)

I remember Chris, Ally and I got the train down to London really early, and Ally had woken me up all through the night, so I felt awful. I did manage to get my photo taken outside the Abbey Road studio by Cerys Matthews though 🙂

Also in February, I had a final meeting with two of my supervisors Nikolai Duffy and Michael Symmons Roberts. This meeting was really important because it was the first time Michael had read my whole PhD (rather than just the poems). I was really nervous in case he said it was terrible or thought the whole premise and way I’d structured it was not going to work, but he liked it, and the rest, as you say is history!

All through February, I’ve got entries in my diary like ‘Ally in nursery 11.30 -5pm. Look at Russian Formalism’ (that’s 13th February) or 18th Feb ‘Ally in nursery – work on relational failure section’. Just looking at those juxtapositions between mothering and academic thinking and writing makes me dizzy. Probably like a lot of people, I am often critical of myself and not as kind as I should be, but I feel a lot of tenderness towards my February 2020 self. I think she did ok.

March

Oh March! Where to start. I was supposed to go to Sweden to read at Littfest on the 12th March. Until quite late on the 11th March, I was still swithering about whether to go or not – I was worried about getting stuck out there and unable to get back to Ally. As it happened, the festival had to cancel because of the pandemic and the UK itself went into lockdown on the 23rd March.

Throughout February, whilst trying to finish the small matter of a PhD thesis, I’d also been commissioned by the BBC to write 5-7 minutes worth of poems in response to The Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth/Coleridge. This was one of those commissions I just couldn’t say no to, even though to say it was stressful doing it at the same time as the thesis is an understatement. But somehow I wrote my poems and went to record them in Salford on the 16th March at the BBC studios. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be the last in-person work I would do for a while.

Just before lockdown descended, I handed in my thesis in person on the 19th March, but the shadow of what was about to happen was definitely making itself felt. I took a selfie of me and my bound thesis and then scarpered home pretty quickly.

It was this week that my freelance work started to be cancelled – a ‘Poetry Bus’ that I was doing with Clare Shaw for the Wordsworth Trust on the 19th March, a poetry workshop in Barrow and a residential writing course at Ty Newydd – all cancelled that week which added up to nearly £2000 of work. By the end of March, I was starting to really panic about money and finances. I was fully freelance for the first time and I’d carefully planned my work once I finished my PhD and I had enough booked in the diary to survive – and suddenly it was all disappearing.

April

Throughout April, I was doing a lot of reading for the Forward Prizes. Honestly, it might sound like a nightmare, reading over 200 books but it kept me sane during those early lockdown days. I did start slowly making my way through from January, but I picked up the pace a lot once the thesis was handed in. It was really wonderful to have this deep reading and immersion in poetry to focus on when everything else was at a standstill.

The nurseries were shut so Chris was looking after Ally a lot whilst I read hundreds of poetry books. At the end of April, I was due to go to St Ives to run the annual residential down there but obviously that was cancelled.

And I almost forgot (how could I!) that April is National Poetry Writing Month and I actually managed it this year, a poem a day, egged on by various friends and my twin sister. Looking back, this was one of my best 2020 decisions – it’s led to the formation of a weekly critiquing group which has meant I’ve had to write a poem every week. It feels like this group, probably more than any other I’ve been in has really pushed my writing on, partly because of the intense schedule, but also because of the high calibre of writers that take part. And that is to say nothing of the friendship, which it feels like an honour to be on the receiving end of.

May

Throughout a bit of April and May, I started mentoring poets. I’ve always done a little bit of this, but quickly realised that this would need to be developed to become my main source of income. I now have six long-term mentees and really enjoy working with them – it’s definitely something I will continue doing, even when/if everything gets back to normal.

I also ran my first Digital Poetry workshops during May – learnt how to use Zoom, Eventbrite etc. I’m planning to do more of these in the New Year – so watch this space! I also took part in the Seren ‘Stay at Home’ event – my first reading on Zoom – thanks again to my brilliant publishers for inviting me to do this, which was another bit of very welcome freelance work.

Forward judging and judging meetings continued throughout May – so still some intense reading going on in every spare minute I had.

And Ally had her first birthday which we celebrated just the three of us because of lockdown. I remember feeling sad she wouldn’t see her family or any of my friends, and telling myself that at least she wasn’t old enough to really understand the difference.

June

I had a poem accepted in an anthology called Poems from Pandemia edited by Pat Cotter and published by Southword Editions, ran some workshops for the Poetry Business and spent the weekend of what should have been Kendal Poetry Festival feeling sorry for myself.

July

I was commissioned by Ledbury Poetry Festival to write a poem in response to current events and I read the resulting poem ‘For My Daughter’ at an event in July at the re-organised online Ledbury Poetry Festival. I am full of admiration for Ledbury for the speed in which they organised an online festival – they acted swiftly and put on an amazing weekend of events. I hosted the Ledbury Versopolis event as well which felt really special – to hear different languages and connect to poets from across Europe at a time when it felt like the world, or at least the world I could move about in was shrinking.

The Forward Prize shortlists had been announced and in July I got to interview two of the shortlistees. First was the amazing Nina Mingya Powles. You can see the interview here, and I recommend buying her first collection, Magnolia 木蘭 published by Nine Arches Press. The second was Rachel Long – interview here and her first collection is called My Darling from the Lions, published by Picador, and also highly recommended.

I also read for the Over the Edge reading series on Zoom – it was lovely to do a reading again, even if it was online.

August

August was pretty quiet apart from my PhD viva. My two examiners were Jean Sprackland and Sinead Morrisey, and now the extreme anxiety and stress of actually doing it is over, I can appreciate what an amazing gift my viva was, to be able to talk about my work with these two fabulous writers. And I passed (with minor typos) and it all turned out ok and I couldn’t go out and celebrate so I stayed at home and had an afternoon tea instead.

In August, I also had some poems published by MAL journal and read at the launch, alongside some intimidatingly talented thinkers and writers – you can read the poems here

More cancellations happened over these last few months, but again, another upsetting one was the chance to go and read in Slovenia at the Days of Poetry and Wine Festival towards the end of August. Again, I live in hope that eventually I’ll be able to go there and read when things get back to normal.

September

September bought another Forward Prize interview with the brilliant Pascale Petit – talking about her collection Tiger Girl. You can see the interview here and the final judging meeting for the Forwards took place during this month. Again, it was really exciting and invigorating to talk about poetry with the other judges and the whole Forward experience is definitely one of the highlights for me of 2020.

In September, I ran an online residential for Ty Newydd with co-tutor Jonathan Edwards which was really enjoyable and again, another welcome bit of freelance work.

At the end of September the ‘Contains Strong Language’ festival came to Cumbria, if in a socially-distanced way. I got the opportunity to read my Lyrical Ballads commissioned poems again alongside Helen Mort (who also read Jake Polley’s work who couldn’t make it) and Zaffar Kunial (who appeared via a recording). You can watch the video of this event here BBC Arts – Contains Strong Language, 2020, New Lyrical Ballads at Contains Strong Language. I also appeared on The Verb – again can’t quite believe I’m writing that alongside Helen Mort, Luke Wright and Hussain Manawer – you can listen again to this episode of The Verb here BBC Radio 3 – The Verb, Wordsworth: Experiments in Living at Contains Strong Language. I also appeared on another Radio 4 programme about my now home-town Barrow, much-maligned, usually by those who haven’t even been here! This was a show hosted by Luke Wright and Kate Davis was also reading/talking on this show.

At the end of September I ran the first of my ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’ events, drawing on my PhD thesis and using audience polls to make the whole event interactive. It was on Zoom, and sold out in about two hours! Thanks to all of those participants who took a punt on what was something new and a bit different.

October

I ran another online residential in October, this time for Garsdale Retreat – again a fantastic and intense week and the Forward Prize ceremony took place, again all on Zoom, which I was sad about because I would have liked to have gone to London and swanned about and drank wine, but never mind. Caroline Bird was the winner of Best Collection, Will Harris for Best First Collection and Malika Booker for Best Published Poem – you can find more about these fabulous winners and the other shortlisted poets at the Forward Prize website.

November

Throughout September, October and November I was teaching mostly online but one session a week face to face at Manchester Metropolitan University. It has been to put it mildly, really hard work. If I hear one more person talk about students not being taught I will scream. All I have seen is lecturers and colleagues doing their absolute best to provide quality resources and teaching in very difficult circumstances.

I curated an episode of Poetry Please in November – and recorded it whilst sat in my pyjamas in my living room. The wonders of technology. You can listen again here.

I also hosted the first Poem and a Pint event with the brilliant Jacqueline Saphra in November – I’m sure we will put at least one more on via Zoom in the New Year, so again, watch this space.

I found out in November that I won the Ledbury Poetry Competition – again can’t believe I’m writing that either. The judge was a poet I hugely admire, Liz Berry. Winning was a nice surprise. And even nicer as in December, my roof started leaking, so the prize money is going to repair the roof and sort our guttering etc out!

December

A leaking house roof, the cancellation of my annual Poetry Carousel residential and a lot of terrible weather have been a challenge this month.

But highlights have been organising an online launch for one of my closest friends Jennifer Copley (her book is available from Pindrop Press – called What Happens to Girls – it’s brilliant – buy it). I also went to the launch of another friend’s pamphlet – Rachel Davies with her Every Day I Promise Myself – again another fantastic pamphlet, well worth the money!

And the other wonderful thing that happened in December was finding out that I’d been successful in my application to the Arts Council for a ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ grant. I had no expectations that I would be successful – my project is to write a book of lyric essays and the money I’ve been awarded means I’ll get one day a week for eight months to concentrate on this. Again, this feels like a bit of a dream. So that was my 2020 – a whistle stop tour – just one more thing I’ve missed out…

My 2020 Creative Practice

Apart from finishing my PhD thesis which I very much see as part of my creative practice, particularly because of the form the thesis is structured in and the way the creative and the critical work talk to each other, I also managed to finish my second collection, finally, finally. Seren have agreed to publish it and it is scheduled for October 2021, when I’m hoping that things will be at least a little more back to normal and I’ll be able to do some live readings.

I also at some point during 2020, although I don’t know when, managed to write a lyric essay, which then went on to win £500 in the Southword Essay competition. You can read it in Southword 39 . The other winner was Helen Mort, and her essay is really beautiful and worth buying the magazine for that alone.

I also wrote another lyric essay called provisionally What The Trumpet Taught Me which is unsurprisingly about trumpet playing, but also about gender and class. Subject to funding, this will be published as a short book in Autumn 2022, but I won’t mention the publisher here yet just in case they don’t get their funding and it all falls through!

I’ve got a few other lyric essays on the go at the moment – one about motherhood, and the other about domestic violence and its aftermath – both have been submitted to different journals so fingers crossed for those.

I am still writing poems – mainly about motherhood and bodies and fear and anxiety. I haven’t sent any of the new poems out anywhere yet, although I did read one at Rachel’s launch. They still feel too new to publish – I don’t know yet if they are interim poems or the real deal.

And now it is 11pm on New Years Eve, and usually I would be standing on stage with the soul band I play with, the Soul Survivors. I would be worrying about my lip and whether it will make it through the next set. It would be red hot on stage with the lights and the dance floor would be full, there would be queues at the bar, people would be hugging and leaning in to each other to be heard above the music. This is the first New Year’s Eve in years I’ve been in my pyjamas and been at home. I thought I’d be fed up – but Ally went to bed at 7pm ( last night she decided to party from 1.30am till 6am – I’m not even joking) so we watched Home Alone and I ate two bags of chocolate to celebrate the last night of this strangest of years.

This feels like a bit of a self-centred blog post, but I wanted to focus a little on what I have done, despite everything this year. I wanted to look inward a little instead of thinking about the terrible things that are happening, the incompetence of the people who should be looking after the country…Somehow we have all muddled through – we have made it this far! Both in this blog and in life 🙂

I hope you have a peaceful New Year, and thank you for the friendship and support. I hope to see as many of you as possible in 2021.

The gap between one thing and another

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I always find the gap between Christmas and New Year a strange one – in previous years, I don’t feel as if I noticed it. Or maybe I wished it away. This year I find I have learnt to appreciate it. It feels like I’ve stepped off a speeding train and have some time to just look around at the scenery. I guess one reason is because I’m not spending it down in Leicester, visiting family and then the long journey back up to Cumbria.

Time feels different between 25th December and the 31st – it seems to stretch to twice its actual length, so I thought I’d post some things that I’m looking forward to in 2021, and a few virtual events that I’m running or involved in that I’d love to see you at.

Poetry and Everyday Sexism January 13th

This will be the third and final of these events which draw directly from my PhD thesis. I’m running this event as part of the Manchester Game Studies Network. For those of you who haven’t attended one of these, this is an audience-directed event which explores everyday sexism and female desire using poetry and prose. I’ve created a series of polls so that the audience choose what they would like to hear next. Although I’ve ran this event twice, there are still parts of the thesis that I haven’t read at any of the previous events. I could probably write another thesis on the experience of running these events – part of what I’ve realised is that there is at least one section that I will never get to read, because it relies on a large part of the audience admitting that they are judgemental – which lets face it, none of us want to be be and most of us will not admit to! If you have been before, I hope to see you again for this final event, which I am hoping will spin off in a completely different direction to the other two. I should put a content warning as well that there will be discussion during this event of gender-based violence and sexual assault. But I also want to say that my research is about what we choose to look at (or not) in poetry. It’s about the body. It’s about the experience of being a poet, and a female poet in particular. It’s about the experience of performing poetry and audience reactions to that performance. It’s about my own journey towards feminism and how I learnt and am still learning what bell hooks called ‘critical consciousness’ which is ‘critical understanding of the concrete material that lays the groundwork for that personal experience…and what must be done to transform it’.

Tickets are £5 or £2 if you are a student, or if you can’t afford either, please get in touch and I’ll send you a freebie. Tickets available here from Eventbrite: Poetry and Everyday Sexism hosted by the Manchester Game Studies Network Tickets, Wed 13 Jan 2021 at 19:30 | Eventbrite

All The Men I Never Married

It’s been five years since the publication of The Art of Falling so I’m really happy that my second collection of poetry All The Men I Never Married will be published by Seren in October 2021. It feels like I’ve been working on this book forever, and I’ve found it very hard to let go of. I’m still working on it now but I think I’ve finally got the order of the poems sorted at least. A few weeks ago I started exchanging cover ideas with my editor at Seren, Amy Wack and it was only then that this next book started to feel real, as if it could actually happen. I am really hoping that by October, it will be possible to do some live readings and maybe even have an in-person book launch, but who knows!

Developing Your Creative Practice: Arts Council Grant

After handing my PhD in the day before lockdown happened and then doing my viva on Zoom, I’ve basically somehow managed to make a living as a freelance writers. I’ve applied for one academic post for a Creative Writing Lecturer and got a job interview, and am pleased to say that I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much, but didn’t get the job. Since then I’ve been keeping my eye out for Creative Writing posts but they are few and far between, especially as my specialism is in poetry. Most posts seem to want prose or at least someone who can do both.

However, since writing my thesis I’ve become more and more interested in writing prose. I really enjoyed the writing part of it. I tried a few short stories this year and sent them out a few times but didn’t get anywhere. Also they felt as if they didn’t really have any life in them – I can’t explain it, but something about the form didn’t feel right.

I then started thinking about my thesis and how I could use what I’d already written and turn that into something and decided to try writing lyric essays. I sent one in for the Southword Essay Competition and to my amazement was one of the winners (alongside the fabulous Helen Mort). The essay isn’t available online, but you can buy a copy of Southword 39 here. After the disappointment of realising that I wasn’t cut out to be a short story writer or a novelist (or at least not yet) it doesn’t quite feel real to win £500 for the first essay I’ve sent out. My essay is called ‘Yes, I Am Judging You’ and is drawn from some of my PhD research.

I decided to put together an Arts Council grant application to the ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ fund. You can apply for up to £10,000 to develop your own writing, and I decided to apply for time to develop my essay writing, and to start to write a book of lyric essays. I still can’t quite believe that I’m writing this but I was successful. My project starts at the end of July 2021. From then, I’ll have one day a week for eight months to work on writing (and reading) lyric essays.

I am really excited about having this time to write, and I’m hoping as a side-effect that as I start to publish more essays, this will open up the academic jobs that I can apply for.

Kendal Poetry Festival 2021

Many of you will already know about Kendal Poetry Festival, but just in case you don’t, please check out our website. I am the co-director along with Clare Shaw and we have been working so hard to move the whole festival online.

The original festival was due to take place in June 2020 and obviously in March we had to cancel. It turns out cancelling a festival is just as much work as organising one.

However, the festival has now moved online, and will be running from February 19th-28th. The whole programme is online here, and we have a fantastic, and much expanded lineup. The whole festival will take place on Zoom. All readings are £5 but you could also buy a Festival Pass for £60 which means you can access everything (apart from workshops). We also have two open mic events running throughout the festival, and free ‘Writing Hours‘ every morning with either myself or Clare, and longer writing workshops with some of our festival poets.

Signing Off

I’m going to sign off now, and I hope to be back here blogging a little bit more regularly in 2021. I’ll also be back with a new shiny website, so watch this space! And finally, I hope you all had a good Christmas and all the best for the New Year. I hope to see you all in 2021.