Monthly Archives: January 2021

January News

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Plans For The Blog

I’m hoping to be posting here at least once a month with a poem from a collection that I’ve loved. Now that my PhD is finished, I’m finally finding a bit more time to read poetry collections and I’ve read some amazing books this month. I used to post a poem every Sunday, but I can’t keep up with the pace of that any more. But I think I can keep up with posting one poem a month along with an update of what I’ve been up to.

January Freelance Life

MENTORING
January has been absolutely full-on. In a normal year, January is usually a pretty quiet month in the life of a freelancer. Most literary organisations are making plans for the rest of the year – there’s not many gigs around as people recover from Christmas (or at least this is what I’ve found in previous years). However, because the shape and the way I make income as a freelancer has changed a lot this year, January has been alarmingly busy. I’m now doing a lot of work mentoring poets – this includes longer-term mentoring which takes place over a year or more, and working on pamphlet and full collection manuscripts. My mentees obviously had some down time over Christmas and managed to get lots of work done as the submissions came into my inbox thick and fast in the first few days of the new year.

MARKING
Last term I was also offered some teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University again. I had a break whilst I was pregnant and then finishing off my PhD, but it was great to be teaching again on the ‘Approaches to Poetry’ module, which is a whistle stop tour of poetry from the Renaissance through to Contemporary poetry. I always feel like I learn a lot when I’m teaching this module, and it was lovely to work with my former PhD supervisor again. Disappointingly, I did forget to introduce myself to the students as Dr Kim Moore though. The marking for this module started in January and is due in about four days – so I’ve been working hard on that.

WORDSWORTH GRASMERE READING SERIES
January also saw the launch of Wordsworth Grasmere’s contemporary reading series ‘Go to the poets, they will speak to thee’ which I’ve been asked to host and curate. Each event will feature a guest poet and an open mic. The reading series was due to take place last year, but obviously the pandemic scuppered that. I’m really happy that it’s now been moved online. We had the first event this month with the fabulous Louise Wallwein and some brilliant open miccers, and our next event is February 10th with Anthony Anaxagorou, which I’m sure will be just as good.

When I was designing the reading series, I decided each event should be based around a theme, and this theme should be a quotation from Wordsworth, and that this quotation from Wordsworth should link in some way to something the guest poet was exploring. I’m not sure the complexity of this is noticed or appreciated by anyone else apart from me, but I enjoyed thinking about it!

Anyway, the quotation for the February event is ‘Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge’ which I think argues for poetry’s place as the best way of getting closer to the truth of human experience. Anthony Anaxagorou’s book After the Formalities seems to me to strive for and create new ways of knowing, both in its exploration of content and form. So the theme for the February open mic is to bring a poem about knowing or not knowing in some way.

You can find all the information you need about how to book a ticket and sign up for the open mic here

The reading series will be live transcribed by Otter, and all open mic poets and guest poets are asked to send their poems along in a document so that I can screenshare during the event. I hope with the combination of these two tools, it makes the event more accessible.

DOVE COTTAGE YOUNG POETS
I’ve been running this group for quite a few years now (funded by Wordsworth Grasmere)and originally it was based in Kendal. However, during the pandemic, we’ve been meeting on Zoom and it’s been really enjoyable.

I’ve decided to open up recruitment in the New Year and as we are continuing to meet online, the group is now open to any young people based in Cumbria between the ages of 14 and 23 who would like to join. If you are a young person who would like to get involved, or you know a young person, please email Zoe McClain at education@wordsworth.org.uk for more information. Each session involves reading, writing and discussing poetry and the emphasis is on creativity and enjoyment of language.

There are also plans in place to run a group for 11-14 year olds – so watch this space!

KENDAL POETRY FESTIVAL
This is my biggest, most time-consuming project at the moment. This year it has grown from a three-day in person festival to a nine-day online behemoth. Every time I fini sh one job and tick it off the list, another one pops up. It will either be absolutely amazing, or send me over the edge! If you haven’t already had a look at our programme, you can see it here – tickets are still available, and we would love to see you there. We hope the festival can be a point of connection whilst we are all still so far apart.

Clare Shaw is my new co-director, and on Twitter the other day we started making a list of all the jobs we do to put together a festival, but then we kept forgetting them and adding more on. So here is what we got so far (although I’ve not been doing all of these in January, but still): planning the programme, contacting the poets, chasing the poets up, collecting biographies,collecting photos, writing event descriptions, writing all text for website, formatting and proofreading everything, liasing with ticket sellers, creating zoom account, researching otter, organising young poets, sharing social media posts about events to sell tickets, liasing with Katie Hale regarding the guerilla poetry project, designing Open Doors project, writing back to applicants for free tickets/bursaries, responding to enquiries asking for a reading, applying for arts council funding, applying to a charity for funding, applying to kendal town council for funding, liasing with all funding bodies, setting up zoom events for every reading, writing a press release, sending it out to organisations and media, writing to poets to remind them of time and date of their event and ask them to screenshare their poems, write to their publishers and ask them to promote their poems, I forgot all the liasing with the website designer.

Clare then replied and said ‘you missed …. multiple visits to the sites to check rooms and accessibility. Appointing and leasing with our accessibility consultant and creating an accessibility statement, working with sites to maximise accessibility, Researching online platforms, researching online accessibility, consulting with potential audiences, creating Zoom workshops and resources for nervous first time Zoomers, regular meetings with your co-director and other supporting staff and volunteers, speaking to press and local organisations, promoting on social media, appointing and meeting with blogger in residence, writing and posting blogs, choosing logos for badges, book keeping and budgeting and keeping track of ticket sales.

Whoops. And to think I said to Clare when she said she would take on the job of co-director ‘Yeah, it’s not that much work really’. Anyway, it will all be worth it!

WRITING HOUR
In amongst all of this, I’ve also been determined to make sure my own writing still gets some time. I guess a more accurate description would be ‘creative practice’ but maybe that would be off-putting for some people! I read and write in my writing hour, as for me, these two activities are very closely connected. If you are on Twitter and would like to join me, I usually post a tweet with the hashtag #writinghour at some point in the morning, and then an hour later (roughly) reply to the same tweet with #checkin to say what I’ve done. I’ve found that this means I don’t just use the hour to do admin, which as you can see from the list of jobs above is very tempting! Because I have to checkin, I need to do something, even if it is just reading a poetry collection or an essay. If you would like to join, I’m on twitter as kimmoorepoet. There are not any rules – you can take the writing hour whenever you want during the day, and if you want to join in with the checkin, just reply to my original tweet and say what you’ve been doing. It’s lovely to hear about all of the creative projects that are going on, and equally cheering to read someone confessing to struggling with taking out a comma or putting it back in for the whole of the hour! The important thing is committing to your writing, in a world where it is so easy to put that last, after all the other jobs have been done.

JANUARY POEM
Which brings me to the January Poem. The January Poem is the title poem of Wendy Pratt’s new collection When I Think Of My Body As A Horse, published by Smith/Doorstop, and available for order here. I wrote a blurb for this book a while ago and loved it then, but reading it again a few weeks ago, it felt (like all good poetry books feel) as if I was encountering it for the first time. It is a book about motherhood and grief, threaded through with animals like horses and hares which seem to burst from the pages, they are so full of life. And although it is a book filled with an unbearable loss, the overwhelming feeling it left me with was one of love. It is a book of love. Not many poetry books make me cry, but this one did, and then it made me smile.

And this is to say nothing of the technicalities of line break and form that Wendy is negotiating and mastering in these poems. I think you can see this in the title poem, which comes in the last third of the book. In a book which has explored the terrible things that can happen to the body, where the body has been always there, considered and examined, I think that first line ‘Now I think of my body’ is just beautiful, as if the body has not been ‘thought’ of before, but has instead been negotiated in a different way. And of course the line resolves into that ending, and the poem leaps off from there, like a horse.

The emotional truth of this poem really resonated with me as well – of course, if we thought of our bodies as a type of animal, then we probably would be kinder to them. And Wendy pushes and pushes this metaphor, this idea and follows it further and further. It also feels like a poem of realisation as well, as if the writer made discoveries as they were writing.

At the beginning of the second stanza, for example, she writes that ‘We do not share a language’. But the third stanza finishes with the line ‘I taught it a language of pain’. This mirroring and development of this idea felt extraordinary to me – it feels as if the reader is allowed to watch the mind tracing these revelations, this deepening of thought.

This happens again in the fourth stanza. The poem starts with the premise ‘When I think of my body as a horse’. By the fourth stanza, that distance and logical/rational thought set up by the use of the verb ‘think’ has disappeared. In the fourth stanza, the body IS a horse, and as a reader, I absolutely go with it at this point.

I love the exclamation mark used in the poem, how the exclamation mark ‘holds up’ the past conduct as ridiculous and holds me up as a reader to consider my relationship to what it is talking about. And then the heartbreak of the fifth stanza, and the acknowledgement of not blaming the body and not blaming the self, and the realisation that there must have been a time, when the speaker did blame their body, did blame the self, and the loneliness of that. And then that beautiful finish to the poem, the companionable ride.

If you love Wendy Pratt’s poem, you might also like this May Swenson poem, which is one of my favourites, and also says something important and radical and true about the body, whilst calling it a succession of animals

WHEN I THINK OF MY BODY AS A HORSE

BY WENDY PRATT

Now I think of my body
as a horse. I think of it
not as a vessel for my soul
or as an organic robot
or a means of transport,
but as another thing
I need to love and care for.

We do not share a language.
When my body asks for rest,
I have to know the signs,
have to watch the way
its elegant legs stutter
when it’s tired.

All those years I tried to train it
by punishment! How I hated
its disobedience, how I felt ashamed
of it. Poor body. I tried to cut myself
away from it, I scarred it, I starved it,
I taught it to be afraid of mirrors
I taught it a language of pain.

Now my body is a horse, I see
it is loyal, it is incredible. I line
all the bones of my body up,
from the nasal bone, to the thin string
of tail and marvel at its complexity.

I do not blame it for lost babies,
it did its best. I do not blame
myself for lost babies. I did my best.
I ride my body in a slow companionship,
comforting it at the end of the day
and I say, Body, you are beautiful,
you are beautiful.

If you would like to order Wendy’s book, you can find it here

You can also find out more about Wendy over at her website here

Wendy will also be reading in May as part of the Wordsworth Grasmere reading series, please keep an eye on the Wordsworth Grasmere website for more information

Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction

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My PhD thesis begins in a rather unconventional way – with an introduction in numbered sections, from 1-14. I called my introduction ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction’ because I wanted to introduce two of the key concepts that drove my research forward.

Firstly, the variations on an introduction part of the title. Many of you will know that I was originally (in a former/other life) a musician, so in part this is a secret nod to that time of my life. ‘The Carnival of Venice’ by J.B.Arban was one of my favourite pieces to play on the cornet or trumpet – in fact I played it in my final recital for my music degree. For those who don’t know, the Carnival of Venice is an ‘air varie’ or a ‘theme and variations’. The theme is relatively simple and melodic, and then each variation fits more and more notes around this theme. It is a piece used by performers to ‘show off’ their technical ability and cycles through double tonguing, triple tonguing, flexibility over large intervals and the requirement for fast finger work.

To capture the heart of a theme and variations, the theme must always sing through underneath all of the fancy technical dexterity on display. Or to think of it another way, the variations are multiple different ways of looking at the same theme, of hearing the same theme. So my variations on an introduction are doing a similar thing. I got to the end of my thesis and then foolishly tried to write a conventional introduction, the way I imagined a PhD introduction should be. It was pretty terrible. I wrote my variations in the same space or frame of mind as I write poetry, letting the words flow out, letting one numbered section spark off the thought of another, circling around the idea of an introduction, around all the things that need to be introduced.

The introduction as it stands now has fourteen sections which cross the boundary between academic writing, lyric essay and poetry, sometimes from one section to another, sometimes between sections.

If I wrote out what is in the image above as prose, I have to add multiple punctuation marks.

If choices are threaded through the body of a text, if the text is not a body but a landscape? If the text is a landscape there must be paths. If there is one path, there is always another. If text is a landscape with paths running through, then reading is a form of travel. If reading is a form of travel, readers must be travellers. Some of them will know where they are going. Some will be lost.

If text is a landscape, if reading is a form of travel, if readers are travellers, then the text is a journey in itself. If the text is a journey and a landscape, if all landscapes have paths, if each path is a choice, a desire, if this text has its own desires, there are bodies within it – yours and mine. We may find ourselves meeting somewhere inside.

The first time I posted the image of these words up on social media and it got shared in various places, someone on a friend’s wall asked who the poem was by. I was taken aback to hear the text described as a poem – even though writing it out as prose, I can see how important the white space is, how it invites readers to make their own punctuation, to read some of the text as a statement, some of it as a question. I can see how the white space elevates and makes more important these questions about agency and the multiple ways we have to encounter a text.

Still, I think of the text more as a lyric essay than a poem, a lyric essay that draws heavily on poetic techniques, such as the use of white space. Except on the days when I think maybe it is a poem which is drawing on the freedom of prose writing to say exactly what I mean without worrying about being too obvious or not poetic enough.

At one level, it doesn’t really matter what it is. At another, it means everything that I cannot quite pin down what I have written to fit one thing or the other.

In a creative-critical PhD, the creative work should respond and be engaged with the critical work, and vice-versa. Should the critical work not also be transformed by the creative work, making academic prose more lyrical, more poetic, less certain? I know that I wrote poems in response to my critical reading, poems about noticing things, poems about looking and what we choose to look at.

Right at the beginning of this blog post that is trying to transform into a lyric essay, I said that the title ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction’ held two key concepts for me, and then I forgot to introduce the other one which is the idea of desire lines.

Tomorrow, I am running the third and final reading drawing from my thesis. Or at least the third and final one for a long time. My thesis is a reader-directed text, consisting of fourteen sections of prose, seven groups of poems and four individual poems. The thesis is a reader-directed text. It consists of fourteen sections of prose, seven groups of poems and four individual poems. Although it can be read in a linear fashion, and will make sense when approached in this way, the reader is invited to make their way through the thesis by using a series of textual signposts (or questions) to follow desire paths/lines through the text, deciding as they go along what they would like to read next. The live event seeks to replicate this through the use of polls.

Here are Variations 5, 6 and 7 which take different looks at desire paths, what we choose to look at and how we move through texts.

Extract from ‘Desire Lines: Variations on an Introduction

Variation 5:

At the beginning of this process I thought that the readers of this thesis would create their own desire path, or desire line through the text. Defined by Robert McFarlane in his ‘Word of the day’ on Twitter as ‘paths & tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning’ (Bramley, 2018) these paths of desire would generate new meanings, new interpretations, a new text. Now I realise that the paths of desire are my own, traces of my thinking, my reading. My desire paths weave the creative and the critical together, and then pull them apart. They invite the reader to think about how they move through a textual landscape, and why they move in the way they do.

The easiest path is to read in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. This is the path of least resistance. If a reader chooses to follow a desire path, to move back and forward through these pages, through this text, then they become implicated in the text, through their choice of what to read next, or what not to read. When the reader follows my desire paths, creating their own desire path in turn, they may produce something the writer cannot control. The text becomes what Roland Barthes calls a ‘text of bliss’ – a text that:

            imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of
            boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions,
            the consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis his relation with
            language
                        (Barthes, 1975:14)

Variation 6

Instead of a desire path, call it a sightline, a line of sight. If it is true that ‘[W]e only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice’ (Berger, 1972:16) then by making choice implicit in the text, readers are forced to confront and question what they choose to look at or not to look at. This shift away from authorial control will allow a collaboration to develop between the reader and the text, where the reader actively constructs the texts and narratives rather than passively consuming them. 

John Berger argued that ‘[t]he meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it’ (Berger, 1972:29). This thesis argues that this is also an accurate way of understanding how texts communicate, particularly poetry, where the placing and ordering of poems can be extremely important in the way readers interpret and understand the wider narrative of a collection. The ordering of poems can give a different narrative arc or trajectory to a collection.

The desire paths through this text, these sightlines will not give it a different trajectory, or a different arc. This text will not finish in triumph if the reader picks one path, or in despair if they look the other way. Instead, think of it as an unfolding, where each sightline, each desire path gives the reader a different view on the one that came before and the one that is to come. Think of it as a circling back round.

Variation 7

In the poem ‘Monument’ by Elizabeth Bishop, the reader is asked to look again and again at the monument, described in painstaking detail. Bishop asks us:

Now can you see the monument? It is of wood
built somewhat like a box. No. Built
like several boxes in descending sizes
one above the other…
                                    (Bishop, 1983:23)

The first time I read this poem, I felt as if I was walking round and round the monument, seeing it from every angle, without really seeing it at all. If this thesis could transform into a single poem, it would be this one. Imagine this text as a monument. Imagine sexism as a monument. Imagine female desire as a monument. Now climb inside, crawl underneath, sit on top and look at the landscape which surrounds them both, the paths that lead to them, the sightlines, follow the lines of sight. Imagine this text as a poem.

Quotations in the above post (in the order that they appear) are from:
Bramley, E. V. (2018) ‘Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners. The Guardian.
Barthes, R. (1975) The pleasure of the text. New York: Hill and Wang.
Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. London: Penguin.
Bishop, E. (1983) Complete poems. London: Chatto & Windus.

To buy a ticket for ‘Poetry and Everyday Sexism’ head over to Eventbrite here. The event is hosted by the Manchester Games Network and is taking place on 13th January from 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets are £5 (£2 for students)