my first ever poem is about to be published


Well, that isn’t actually true. I’ve written loads of poems, but I’ve just had one accepted for publication for the first time ever.

Anyway its very short and a bit silly, but it works – it’s a ‘proper’ poem with a recognisable form. I love writing free poetry but there’s a different kind of satisfaction to be got from the structured stuff,  a bit like a fiendish puzzle, there’s an audible crunch when it fits together perfectly.

Encouraged by the strapline: It’s OK, you’re allowed to be funny I sent something off. So at some point in the next couple of months my tiny poem, The Thirty Second Mariner will be online at the delightfully named Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis site run by Jonathan Pinnock.

On a bit of a roll, I’ve also had a flash piece accepted by Spelk Fiction, and Rising Dawn will be on their site on 20th June.

Pretending poetry, songs of liberty and Ursula le Guin


The thing about running your own business is that holidays become almost entirely theoretical. It’s a holiday to leave the computer for long enough to hang out the washing on a sunny day, it’s a holiday to take the long way to the post office, it’s a holiday to read something that isn’t for work, or to listen to something that requires your full attention on the radio, or to take a day to learn new songs.

The thing about running your own business is that you can build a holiday in anywhere you want to, and around anything you want to, and justify it as ‘work’.

So a week in Cumbria because one of the poets in The Other Side of Sleep had organised a reading in Grange-over-Sands and it’s too far to go and not stay over, and if you have to stay over, well…

A few days with friends in Bath and a stop over with another on the way to Cheltenham.

So I briefly pretended I’m a poet last week. As I said whilst doing so, I am not a poet, I occasionally write poetry, it really isn’t the same thing. So here’s me pretending to be a poet, with one poem and two flash fictions that happen to kind of work as poems.

cherry grange os

If you want to hear how real poets do it you can listen over on the Arachne Press website. I’ll be pretending again at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on Saturday in the company of Angela France, Math Jones, Bernie Howley, Kate Foley and Jennifer A McGowan.

In the meantime I’ve been listening to Ursula le Guin on Radio4, first an epic 2 hour catch-up with The Left Hand of Darkness, and then a 30 minute documentary, with the woman herself, and various writers who admire and were influenced by her, including Neil Gaiman,  Karen Joy Fowler and David Mitchell. I found myself falling in love with LHD all over again. I read it first in my teens, and again about 5 years ago, and I am in awe of le Guin’s talent and the subtlety of the adaptation for Radio by Judith Adams, everything I remember is there, and the bitter, bone deep cold swells through the recording so, so well. Listening to Gaiman and Mitchell say words to the effect of ‘this is why I became a writer’, I wonder: is this why I became a writer? (and unlike ‘poet’ I do identify as ‘writer’ because even when not writing I obsess about it – think about my characters, interrogate my bad habits, consider plot twists, discover great titles in over heard conversations…) and I think the answer is probably YES.

The Left Hand of Darkness has been one of  my favourite books since I first read it, and unlike many others was even better on the second reading, and still made me cry (and I think another re-read is due). Discovering it so early, probably about the time I began to seriously think I might write ‘for real’, it must have had a huge impact. It is hard to tell, I read voraciously at that point, three books a day at weekends, back to back, swimming in words. I’m sure I amalgamate many of those books in my mind, not sure what comes from where, but LHD stands out from the morass, as do other of le Guin’s books: The Tombs of Atuan and The Lathe of Heaven in particular. They are doing an adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea (My first ever le Guin read, when I was probably nine or ten) on Radio4 Extra next week – LISTEN!

Did you think you were going to get away without a reference to music? Ha! fooled you.

I spent Saturday immersed in songs about making choices and community and freedom, taught by the marvellous Lester Simpson in preparation for the next ‘big idea’, a celebration of Magna Carta in the week of the actual 800 year anniversary of the first draft being signed (if you ignore the change of calendar in the 18th Century). Nearly 50 people turned up and we sounded amazing. Here’s a sample…

You’ll get a chance to hear the songs we are working on in a more polished format at West Greenwich Library, 7:30 on Thursday 18th June. More on that nearer the time. There is a call out for STORIES for the event over at Arachne, you have til Mayday.

Right. Off to my next ‘holiday’, in Bath for readings of Solstice Shorts at Oldfield Park Books, this evening!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 1st


Aemelia (or her sister Angela) Bassano

A new month, but no birthday to celebrate. I’ll have run out of people whose dates I haven’t found soon and then where will I be?

Ok, never mind. Today we are composing birthday odes for Emilia Bassano Lanier aka Aemelia Lanyer 1569–1645

Emilia was  Jewish, the  illegitimate daughter of Venetian musician Baptista Bassano and Margaret Johnson, her father worked as a court musician to Henry VIII. She married Alphonso Larrier, another musician when she became pregnant by her lover Lord Hunsden. The portrait here (by Hilliard) is almost certainly of one of the Bassano sisters, and even if it isn’t Emilia, gives us some idea what she may have looked like.

Emilia was a feminist and a poet – the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry, Salve Rex Deus Judaeorum; in it she works her way through just about every woman in the bible, pointing out how important they are to Judaism and Christianity.

She has been claimed as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, (you know, – my mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun? – that one) and even more delightfully and controversially to have written or collaborated on some of his work… Her family certainly knew people Shakespeare knew, and there is a reasonable likelihood that her brother-in-law and Shakespeare worked together at some point. It’s an attractive idea, but let’s stick to what is certain.

But surely Adam cannot be excused,
Her fault though great, yet he was the most to blame;
what weakness offered, strength might have refused,
Being lord of all the greater was his shame…
… If Eve did err, it was for knowledge sake,
No subtle serpents falsehood did betray him
If he would eat it, who had power to stay him?
Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love,
which made her give this present to her dear,
That what she tasted, he likewise might prove
Whereby his knowledge might become more clear…
…Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to your selves no Sovereignty;
You come not into the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?

Eve’s Apology.

[men…] Forgetting they were born of woman, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 22nd February


Vincent

Today’s birthday girl is

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950)

also known as Nancy Boyd when writing prose, and who called herself ‘Vincent’.

Vincent was an American poet and playwright in 1923 she became the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, her first poems were published when she was in her teens, and already a bit of a ladies woman.

She first came to attention when she was passed over for a prize, and (to their credit) the men who had ranked higher than her protested that her poems was better, in one case handing ver the prize money. Nothing like a little controversy to launch a girl’s career, and she needed help the family were living in abject penury, and one of the pluses of the fuss was that Vincent attracted a wealthy patron who paid for her to go to college.

Her poetry was feminist and pacifist (during WWI). She had affairs with both men and women,  notably Edith Wynne Matthison, a British actress.

Edith Wynne Matthison

Edith Wynne Matthison

letter to Edith Wynne Matthison

You wrote me a beautiful letter, – I wonder if you meant it to be as beautiful as it was. – I think you did; for somehow I know that

your feeling for me, however slight it is, is of the nature of love…When you tell me to come, I will come, by the next train, just as I am. This is not meekness, be assured; I do not come naturally by meekness; know that it is a proud surrender to You.

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

But you, you foolish girl, you have gone home to a leaky castle across the sea to lie awake in linen smelling of lavender, and hear the nightingale, and long for me

I do not think there is a woman in whom the roots of passion shoot deeper than in me

One things there’s no getting by,
I’ve been a wicked girl,
Says I…
But, if I can’t be sorry I might as well be glad !

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried

Sense, Sentences and Sensibility – building poems from scratch


I’m running a poetry workshop on Friday.  I keep quiet about poetry most of the time, but the opportunity came up (through Spread the Word), and I’ve been flexing my poetry muscles at the Poetry Cafe’s Poetry@3, Poetry at Mr Lawrence’s and the Towersey Festival recently, so here I go!

I’ll be exploring how poems work and finding your own voice through use of as many senses as possible (very possibly using props!)  Suitable for novice and more experienced writers of poetry.

Join me at

Donald Hope Library
Cavendish House, High Street, Colliers Wood, London SW19 2HR
Friday 21st February between 1-3pm. FREE!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 11th February


Karoline von Günderode 11 February 1780 – 26 July 1806  romantic poet, her works often had strong heroic women in the central role, and was critical of traditional gender attitudes.

I have to say she behaved a bit like an opera heroine, and this doesn’t strike me as entirely a good thing – Jane Austen would have had comments to make about sensibility.

I’ve often had the unfeminine desire to throw myself into the wild chaos of battle and die. Why didn’t I turn out to be a man! I have no feeling for feminine virtues, for a woman’s happiness. Only that which is wild, great, shining appeals to me. There is an unfortunate but unalterable imbalance in my soul; and it will and must remain so, since I am a woman and have desires like a man without a man’s strength.

Sounds good doesn’t it, but she had an affair with a married man Georg Friedrich Creuzer, who divorced his wife to be with her. Unfortunately, persuaded by his friends that Caroline was unsuitable, he left her. (Or depending on which version you go by,  he wouldn’t divorce his wife).  As a result of the stress he got ill, and Caroline, believing he was dying (or furious he wouldn’t divorce his wife…), killed herself… Georg survived the illness (if there was one).

Actually, not sure why I’m including her, I’m writing this and thinking, idiot! But there you go, idiots abound, and sometimes they can be fun to be around, briefly.

I think I would be delighted if she declined the invitation, I’d be having to keep an eye on her the whole time, and keep counting the knives: not restful.