Truth vs. accuracy

One of the things I’ve struggled with in the couple of years I’ve been writing poetry is the extent to which a poem needs to be accurate – what I mean is, a truthful account of what actually happened. My instinct was that I had to stick to the facts. This was arguably derived from my last job, where I had to be able to back up any claim I made with evidence. Learning to do things differently – to focus on emotional truth and to stop trying to fit every detail in – has been quite difficult for me. The breakthrough moment was on Will Harris’s Poetry and Philosophy course, where we were told to start a poem with a lie. The poem that came out of that, ‘Making Space’ is probably the most emotionally truthful thing I’ve written, and definitely the least accurate (my mum’s ghost doesn’t come and sit on the side of my bed at night!). Which doesn’t mean that I think I’ve cracked it, but since then I’m much quicker to see and cut the stuff that just doesn’t need to be in the poem, however true it is.

There’s a link to ‘Making Space’ below, along with some other poems I’ve had published in July and August.

Making Space

Night lights

In the quiet zone

West

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First night nerves

It had to happen eventually – I ran out of reasons to avoid reading one of my poems in public. So there I was at Slader’s Yard in Broadchurch West Bay, clutching my copy of ‘Making Space’ and wishing I could be anywhere else. It’s not that I have any reason to mind speaking in public, as such – after all those classes and staff meetings, not to mention open evenings, it would be very odd if that were the case. Nonetheless, there seemed to me something much more exposing about reading a poem I’ve written than giving a speech. Anyway, it was fine in the end, due in no small part to Charles’s support. I didn’t lose my copy of the poem, my hands didn’t shake as I read from it, people laughed in the right places and no-one looked embarrassed for me. And – yay – they clapped at the end. The odd thing, at least it seems odd to me, is that when I stood up in front of the room it all felt familiar: just like all those times I stood in front of parents and staff.

The poem I read is going to be published on 15th July, on the Atrium site. I’ll have poems on Ink, Sweat and Tears and Words for the Wild in the next couple of months, too. Plus I’m crossing my fingers about another 3 or 4 submissions.

Here are the poems I’ve had published since I last blogged:

‘Tidal Blessing’ and ‘Counterparts’ in the May edition of Three Drops from a Cauldron

‘Poem on a line by Douglas Dunn’ and ‘My mother said’ in the May edition of Snakeskin.

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’

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.