The intermittent blogger

I’ve never been very good at getting into a routine about things; before I retired, my PA had to virtually get me into an armlock to make me go through my post, write agendas etc. Spending my time reading, writing and cooking is much more enjoyable, of course, but there are things that I ought to do much more regularly and frequently. Like blogging, for example, and submitting poems for publication. And keeping track of those which I have submitted. Perhaps I ought to go back to setting time aside for such things in my calendar. Which would mean using a calendar. I feel a resolution of sorts coming on. Ahead of that, here’s a list of poems that have been published since I last blogged:

‘Grandmother’s footsteps’
‘Portland Bill’ and ‘Between the Years’
‘You decide’
‘Winter solstice’
‘An incomer’, ‘My grandfather’s garden’ and ‘Schrödinger’s poem’
‘Storm Front’

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We wish you…

a merry whatever you celebrate and, of course, a happy New Year.

I rounded off the year with the good news (for me, anyway) that my poem ‘You decide’ will be published on Ink Sweat and Tears on 9th January. Thing is, I know what will happen as soon as I see it live on the site: I’ll see all the bits that I should have edited out. And the bits that no-one in their right mind would have written in the first place. And then I’ll cringe for England.

At least, that’s what happens when I look at most of the poems I’ve published this year. Don’t get me started on the ones that I haven’t allowed to see the light of day yet. Then there are the poems that were sent back to me with a kind or not so kind rejection: it seems that there’s nothing like a rejection to sharpen the eye and ear. So my resolution for 2018 has to be to get better at editing my own poems!

And here’s a quick update of a few poems published since I last blogged:

‘Labile’, in Sentinel Literary Quarterly
‘What does the heart mean in popular culture’, also in SLQ
‘My mum’s dream job’, in Ink, Sweat and Tears
‘Gift of the Author, in issue 11 of Picaroon
‘A good girl’, in the Poetry Shed

Tales of Doggerland

I sent ‘Tales of Doggerland’ off to the Borderlines competition, more in the spirit of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ than with any thought that I might get anywhere in the competition. At least the entry fee was going to a good cause, I said to myself. You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather (substitute more imaginative metaphor of own choice) when I heard I’d won.

Unlike other (most?) competitions, Borderlines doesn’t publish the shortlisted poems online or in print. But the poem has been read in public (not by me – unfortunately I was away for the prize-giving) so it feels published to me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable submitting it elsewhere just to notch up another publishing credit. With the permission of one of the organisers, I’ve decided to publish it here and link the post to my Facebook page.

If anyone reading this feels inclined to enter poetry competitions, I would recommend Borderlines, for the excellence of their communication: they are unusual in that respect.

Anyway, here it is:

Tales of Doggerland

A vast, lost and once-inhabited landscape, a Mesolithic Atlantis that lies under the southern half of what is now the North Sea. Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways.

Listen.This was our home: plains
where great beasts grazed, woods
full of deer, fruit sweet and plump.
It is said that children grew strong
and people knew no hunger or fear.

And this was our home: a land
of black soil, of silver rivers teeming
with fish, riverbanks gold with grain
at summer’s end. Our people thrived
in that place, so the old tales say.

But this too was our home: marshes
that shone copper at sunset, nights
alive with the croak of frogs and itch
of gnat bites. Year after year people
watched the sea gnaw into the land.

Listen and I will tell you of starved
beasts, sick children and lost hope:
the long trek from our drowned home.
Let us wait, the elders say, one day
we will return. We are waiting still.

Oeuvre due…

Sorry for the dreadful pun. Weeks ago I promised a few people to post links to all of my published poems on Facebook; I thought this would be the easiest way to do it, plus it gets over the issue of my failure to blog for, ooh, ages.

Anyway, here it is:

The archiving of Snakeskin is a little hit and miss; at the moment the March issue isn’t on the website but a revised version of the poem I had accepted for that issue is on my last blog post (I know, over two months ago. Don’t go on.). If you click on that link, you’ll find a page which lists some recent issues of Snakeskin; ‘An Encounter in Wimborne Minster Church’ and ‘The Perseids’ are in the June issue.

‘The Blue Fairy Book’ is on the post of 26th June; it was first published in the February issue of Three Drops from a Cauldron, which you can find here.. I’ve also got poems in the March and August issues, and one forthcoming in the September issue.

Amaryllis is Poetry Swindon’s blog; it’s published two of my poems, both of which you can find here . Algebra of Owls has also published two poems, available here .

And here’s one on the Ink, Sweat and Tears site – you have to scroll down a bit.

Forthcoming in the next couple of months: ‘The Selkie Wife’ in Three Drops from a Cauldron, ‘My Mum’s Dream Job’ in Ink, Sweat and Tears and ‘Gift of the Author’ in Picaroon.

Less is more

This was the easiest lesson for me to learn when I tried writing stories and the hardest when I started to write poems. It’s that thing about murdering your darlings; there are some lines/images/phrases I found (and still find) very hard to let go. And I do tend to bang on a bit…

In the end I came up with the 25% rule, to focus my mind: the final version of a poem ought to be 25% shorter than the first draft. Now, I stuck to that pretty rigidly when I submitted ‘On the Record’ to the March 2017 edition of Snakeskin, an online journal which deserves to be read more (it’s here, for those of you are interested). To my great delight, the poem was accepted – it was the second of my poems to be published. But when I went back to it after a couple of weeks I could see that it needed to be much tighter and in the end I reduced it by getting on for another 20%. And changed the title.

Maybe I ought to review that rule?

Here’s the revised version of the poem:

Secrets of a Political Wife
(after William Shakespeare, Anthony Trollope and Sarah Vine)

Reflect, I told him, get to know your skin.
His is terribly pink, of course, as if he’s
scrubbed it clean. I call him my choirboy,
my dear, darling, good little pet politician.
He’s far from breed standard, although

wonderfully affectionate. To the victrix
the spoils. Consider it not so deeply,
I said, cut out all forms of sugar, eat
good fats and don’t unbend your strength.
Although there are no miracle cures,

things on which I resolve are generally
accomplished. Don’t let folly unman you,
I said, sex is a cerebral activity. Exercise,
my love, screw your courage to the sticking
place and always give as good as you get.

Rest, I told him: you know the season of all
natures is sleep. Remember that stress
shows on your face. You must have specific
assurances. Exfoliation really works. Do not
concede any ground. Be your stubborn best.

My favourite child

Not, of course, my favourite child, although I have enjoyed the thought of Dan and Laura looking at this blog title with a degree of outrage. As we all know, parents don’t have favourites.
What I mean is my favourite poetic child. When I send off a little batch of poems to an editor, I always include a poem I am especially proud of and maybe one to make up the numbers – one that I’m not especially convinced by. As often as not, that one is accepted and my favourite is rejected. And though I still get ridiculously overexcited at any acceptance, when that happens I always feel a little – what? – miffed, I suppose, that my special baby hasn’t been fully appreciated.
This may, of course, mean that I am a crap judge of my own work. While that’s always possible, I mostly submit poems that I’ve either submitted for MA assignments or workshopped with friends and that I know have gone down well. What the rejected poems have in common is that they tend to be more playful and experimental in their approach. Fundamentally, I need to find some poetry journals that will let me play.
Suggestions, anyone?

Bull, horns, etc.

This is the first poem I had published, in the February 2017 Three Drops from a cauldron. Good magazine, if you don’t know it (have a read here). By spooky coincidence, it appeared on my 60th birthday.

The Blue Fairy Book
after Andrew Lang

The girl reads as they comb the nits from
her hair. Her mum. Betty from upstairs.
The mannikin tore himself in two. Red
Roses by Yardley is thick in the air. Snow
White was quiet and helped in the house.
Toads came out of the saucy girl’s mouth.

The women tell each other tales. The girl
wonders where they get their stories from.
Someone had a breast took off and a man
turned into a beast. His wife saved up for
years to leave, but she still comes back to cook
his tea and wash and iron his clothes each day.

A good deed brings its own reward, said the fairy
to the king. Betty thinks up her shopping list
while her husband’s doing it. It don’t take him
long, she says. When the bear came close, his
skin fell off and showed he was a prince. A girl
has been found in the bath. She’d cut both wrists.

His dead wives were lined up by the walls.
Dried blood darkened the floor. She’s in a
world of her own, says her mum. God knows
what’s going on inside her head. The girl
dreams as they comb nits from her hair.
Red Roses by Yardley is thick in the air.