Poetry and Settled Status for All

The anthology, “Poetry and Settled Status for All” (CivicLeicester, 2022) is now available https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1916459374

The anthology presents 114 poems and short prose pieces from 97 writers from around the world exploring themes that include lived experience of migration, refugee and undocumented migrant experiences, and the hostile environment. 

The anthology features contributions from seasoned writers with many publications to their names alongside emerging voices and has been described variously as “powerful”, “thought-provoking” and “effective”.

I have a poem in the anthology (it previously appeared in Landings and before this somewhere else – Envoi I think – I’ll have to double check!)

Imagine Portsmouth Poetry Competition

Just a quick post to plug the Imagine Portsmouth Poetry Competition results.

I didn’t win, but did secure a £75 voucher for having a highly commended poem. Which was very nice. I have a certificate as well! Not quite up there with a friend’s freedom of Moldova award, but it’s something!

You can read the winning entries here;

https://imagineportsmouth.co.uk/poetry-competition/

I don’t know which of my poems was successful – I sent in four, including one that was new – the other’s had previously appeared in print, in magazines and also in my first collection.

The unpublished poem has been submitted elsewhere so I’ll have to hold fire on sharing it here as for many publications it counts as prior publication. Two of the published ones have been shared here, so here’s the third. An old poem celebrating the history of this wonderful city in reverse chronological order.

For those who don’t know, Spice Island is at the tip of Old Portsmouth, a great place to visit and watch all the shipping moving in and out of Portsmouth and Gosport harbours. Perhaps with a pint from the Still & West or Spice Island Inn

Spice Island Looking Back

And nothing much has really changed;

before spinnakers
both concrete and canvas,
before outlet shopping centres
all these restaurant chains
with make-believe authenticity
from China, India, Italy, Americas
and everywhere in between,
before ro-ro ferries and banana boats,
before Hermes, Invincible and all the rest
out past the crowds South Atlantic bound
or Vanguard aground in the harbour mouth,
before arms races wars and disarmaments,
before Dreadnought before Warrior
wrought iron and polished wood
straddling steam and sail,
before cobbles, before tram-lines
with no-where left to go,
before press gangs and shanty songs
rowdy drunks and roustabouts
Jack-the-Painter and mutinous intent
slow cutters and floggings around the fleet,
before mudlarks and admirals,
before “England expects”
first-rate and third-rate and crossing the line,
before Mary Rose
overladen one last time,
before crescent and star
and “heaven’s light guide our way”,
before city walls and battlements
isolated farms and Viking raids
and Roman galleys to Portchester,
before traders up and down the coast
fine cloth and spices and pottery goods,
before all of this and so much else
a child fetches water from the lips of a stream;

a trail of footprints
in tidal sand.

12,032

A new poem that may well have a new title every few months or so….

12032

We both inhale
and exhale the same air
feel cold in our fingertips
warmth on our backs
see the world with similar eyes
(though my sight is apparently shorter)

So why the fuck do you still vote Tory?

NB. 12032 people voted Conservative at the North Shropshire by-election

It’s not just Johnson. I loathe the whole gang of grifting scumbags. If you truly, genuinely, think they are doing a good job and are acting in the country’s best interests then you need to read up on what their plans are, and the laws that are currently going through the Houses of Parliament.

This is not about their illicit parties. Though these are vile enough when so many others have suffered so much.

This is not about Brexit. Though so much has been destroyed for so little on that particular altar of hubris.

This is not about corruption. Though we’ve had more than our fill of dodgy deals for party donors and friends of the the Conservative party through the so-called VIP Lane.

If / when Johnson goes, another narcissistic sociopath will be along soon enough to replace him. The laws he has enabled will continue to be pushed through parliament. And we will all be diminished because of it.

First Rejection of the Year!

Received my first rejection of the year today! The first of many, no doubt.

There was no explanation, beyond the generic ‘it’s not for us’. Poetry editors don’t tend to explain why. I don’t blame them. There are a good number of writers out there who have a somewhat overrated opinion of themselves, who would respond to specific feedback with justification of why the editors are wrong and or / further requests for clarification at best.

Editing a poetry magazine, whether in print or online is a time consuming matter. It is not done with profit in mind. So if you are sending out poetry and getting rejection messages, don’t be a dick.

Your poem has been rejected for one of the following;

  1. In the view of the editors it wasn’t a fit for their publication
  2. In the view of the editors, whilst it was a fit there were others that fitted better and they didn’t have enough space to include your poem
  3. They already had enough poems like yours for this specific edition and didn’t want any more
  4. In the view of the editors it wasn’t very good.

That’s it.

Last year fourteen of my accepted poems were taken by the first publication I sent them to, five by the second place, two by the third, four by the fourth and three by the fifth.

Ultimately, it’s all down to personal opinion. Editors do miss plenty of work that ends up in the canon of great poetry (Sylvia Plath anyone?). Having said this, don’t kid yourself – if your poem has been rejected 20, 30, 40 times, it probably isn’t very good.

Stick it in a drawer for a few weeks then have another look at it. Obvious imperfections may become more apparent – sometimes we are too close to what we have written and need time away from it to see where it could be improved.

Read it aloud several times – how does it sound? Have another look through – are there any words or lines that stand out against everything else? Is this because they are good or is it because they don’t actually fit the poem?

Take it to a virtual or online workshop, share it with poetry friends (but not on social media as that might count in the eyes of some editors as being published).

But keep going.

Keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting and don’t be disheartened.

Keep reading poetry – not just the greats but contemporary work. It will influence your writing. If you don’t read poetry, and don’t read a wide range of poetry, from different eras, countries, styles and writers, how are you going to write anything worthwhile?

Good writing starts with good reading!

Good luck for your writing in 2022!

Saying Farewell to 2021

The end of another year. One that I, like most people will be glad to see the back of.

Yes there have been highlights. I’ve had successes poetry-wise;

15 poetry magazine acceptances and a couple of anthology appearances this year (which is a lot by my standards). Ten of which were for publications that I’d not had success with previously. Thank you to the editors of the following (in no particular order); Ink, Sweat & Tears, Football Poets, Abergavenny Small Press, Dreich, 192, Green Ink, Acropolis, Interstellar, Words for the Wild, Poetry & All that Jazz, High Window Press, Crow Name, Chichester Poetry, Fair Play Shakespeare Anthology and the Civic Leicester Refugees Anthology for accepting and / or publishing my poetry this year.

Also thanks to West Wilts’ Radio Poetry Place, Portsmouth Hospital Radio and the BBC for sharing recordings of my writings.

I changed job, and am in a much better place career and earnings-wise. I’m also incredibly busy, recruiting across Australia, Singapore and the US – which is one reason for this blog being so erratic over the past few months.

I almost didn’t renew because of this, but have decided to do so – I have two sequences of poems that I am finished with, so will be trying to publish this year. For a number of reasons I may end up self-publishing at least one of them. I guess this blog can help with publicity if either of these comes to pass.

But 2021 has been another year of challenges – political, environmental, societal and personal. Our narcissist prat of a PM and his cabinet of charlatans continue to wreck havoc with what remains of our standing in the world, whilst damaging our democracy and their future accountability. We should be alarmed.

Environmentally I am coming to the conclusion that we are fucked. There isn’t the willpower to do anything meaningful about it (and yes we are all complicit in our own little ways – I’m finally getting round to changing my bank account from First Direct who heavily support oil producers and other organisations that are ruining the planet – I should have done it years ago).

But we still have each other, our songs, our music, our love. We need to find time and space for our relationships, to support and thank those who mean a lot to us.

I’m think of James Rodd, who chose to end his life at the end of October. I wish I had talked to him about my own struggles with mental health and how I found a way out of my own personal abyss. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, but I will never know.

Or John Haynes, the brilliant poet who passed in the same month. I heard about John’s death recently, via a post on Facebook. I went to a number of workshops that John ran in his home in Waterlooville. He was always kind and supportive, his knowledge of poetry and other poets immense, and his guidance to me and other writers locally was incredibly important. I never properly thanked him.

But time gets in the way. Or rather the way we use it does. I should probably write in more detail about John’s work. Restart my From My Poetry Bookshelf series. Maybe I will. Plenty of friends have had new books out in the last year that would justify greater coverage, even from my tiny corner of the poetry world – Claire Dyer and Greg Freeman for starters. But I probably need to learn to write better reviews first!

Lots of thinking on how to improve this blog over the next couple of years. Looking at the stats those posts that have got most traction haven’t actually been about poetry. Maybe that’s the way for me to go! So watch this space.

In the meantime, I hope you find the time and words to help and support those who need it within your own network, and to thank those who have been a help and have supported you in 2021. I know it’s a cliche, but the days slip by and we run out of time before we know it.

Have a peaceful and happy start to 2022.

A Crowd of Swaying Strangers

I was pinged on Thursday. Apparently I had been in close contact with someone on Monday 29th who had tested positive for Covid. My test results were negative. It’s just a stinking cold then.

I’m not surprised I was pinged – on Monday night I was at a Stereophonics concert in Portsmouth. This was, by their standards an ‘intimate’ gig, (they are due to be playing a couple of 70,000 sellout concerts in Cardiff soon).

I’m not a huge Stereophonics fan. They didn’t play my favourite song of their’s, (Local Boy in The Photograph), or my second favourite (A Thousand Trees – which someone laughably described on the radio as their favourite song about the environment – it’s actually about an allegation of child abuse), and there was a big bloke standing in front of me for much of the gig. But you could see why they are recognised as being such an excellent live act. Kelly Jones, you and the rest of the band put on a brilliant show.

And the sound and lighting was superb. The lighting in particular. I will always look at the lighting at any show with a lot more interest than I would have before recent events. I’m sure you would have appreciated it, James – and if not, I’m sure you would have let me know why.

How much have I missed this? Standing in a crowd of swaying singing strangers. It felt so good, I felt so alive, to be in this crowd of commonality. It’s why I love football, the singing, the chanting, the mass humanity (although not so much at yesterday’s Pompey match…).

With the Omnicrom Variant spreading here in the UK, and new restrictions starting to come into force, I don’t know when I’ll next be able to go to a gig.

I have a ticket for Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Bristol on January 19th (funnily enough no-one else I know wants to go and see a Canadian anarchist post – rock collective on a Wednesday night in January), and have a list of other concerts I want to go to. Because life is short. Our time is so, so, short.

I’m very aware that this blog has been somewhat erratic over the past few months – there are a whole range of reasons for this. But time has been a major factor.

I’ve been recruiting for roles in San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney and now Frankfurt. The clients have been based in Denver, Houston, New York and Salzburg. Working across 8 different time zones has been a challenge. Speaking to candidates at 5 AM and then 10 PM on the same day. It’s my choice – I don’t request, need, or deserve any sympathy. The main project, (thirteen roles in San Francisco & Singapore for a consultancy working onsite at Facebook), should complete in a couple of weeks, the Australian role has excellent candidates in the frame. Once these are done, things should get back to normal, or whatever that is these days.

Hopefully then, I’ll have more time for writing, for blogging, and for creating events for the South Downs Poetry Festival – I was asked to help spread events to the west of the downs, but haven’t managed to do much at all. I also have to sort out my second manuscript for my publishers, Dempsey & Windle, and have a long sequence that I wrote a few years ago that I am considering self-publishing, perhaps in online / downloadable format. Lot’s to get stuck into in 2022. So I guess I’ll keep this blog going.

A quick plug for anyone looking for last minute Christmas presents for the poet in their life. Why not buy them a book from an independent poetry publisher?

Dempsey & Windle – www.dempseyandwindle.com

There are plenty of others of course, but I should really champion my own publisher above anyone else!

Feel free to add any other publishers you rate in the comments – I’ll share them here with my small following.

Meanwhile, keep well and keep safe. I guess we all have to make our own decisions on what is an acceptable risk now and into next year. But for me, live music, live theatre and live sport are central to my life, and I really struggle without them. Even if the event is a disappointment – yes, Portsmouth FC I am looking at you right now…so much for an FA Cup run this year!

Good luck, and see you on the other side – if not at a raucous concert or football match, maybe at a more genteel poetry event, such as one I went to a very, very long time ago….

An Evening at the Haiku Club

Corduroy trousers
hush puppies and smug faces
words trapped in aspic

….NB, and yes, I know this isn’t actually a haiku, but that’s part of the point of the poem….

Remembering James

This blog has been very quiet for the past month. I have been deeply affected by the loss of a close family friend, who chose to end his life at the age of 24.

I’ve known James all his life. He was a kind, funny, warm and intensely loyal person. He was also an autistic person. Around 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic. Statistically, autistic adults are 9 times more likely to take their life than members of the general population. Autistic children are 28 times more likely to think about, or attempt suicide.

When I heard the news I tried write something that evening, simply as a way to try and process my thoughts, to put down how I felt, my initial reaction. I did come up with something – the verses are short, ragged, and of the moment. I’m not sure what to do with them, share them here, send them out or just stick them in a drawer. I do think I need to give the family the option to see them first, which is why I’m not posting them here. Yet.

I was honoured to be asked to write a poem to be read at the funeral on Thursday. I’ve written a lot from personal dark spaces in the past. This was on another level, and the most difficult poem I have ever written. My focus was to remember James for who he was, whilst also reflecting on how he passed, and how we can try to reconcile this with how we all try to continue. We are all scarred by the suicide of a loved one – some of course more deeply than others. But all who knew James are changed by his passing.

From a practical perspective, I wanted to try and include different aspects of his life that different members of the congregation on Thursday could take from the poem. I also needed to use a form that was easy to read as I didn’t know how I would be affected when trying to read the poem.

I also wanted to reflect on society’s attitude to those who are different from what is considered the norm (whether in a neurological context or for any other reason). As a general rule it is nothing like good enough.

If you are looking for guidance from our country’s leadership on what a compassionate society looks like then you can forget it. If you haven’t noticed their attitudes towards the poor, disabled and anyone else who is vulnerable in this country then you really haven’t been paying attention. Look at their actions over the past 10-11 years, look at their policies. Look at the language they use. There is consistency in this.

If someone keeps punching down despite the evidence of how it is affecting the people they are hurting, then they clearly do not care about the consequences.

So we have to reflect and work on our own attitudes, how we engage with people in our own lives. We can’t be complacent. This is always a work in progress. We do not know what anyone else is going through. We just need to be kind. Try to help in our own small way.

The day of the funeral was a bright, cold late autumn morning. As someone who worked with light, (James was a lighting engineer working on cruise ships), I’m sure he would have appreciated its’ beauty. The service was desperately sad, but at the same time there was so much warmth, kindness and love. Each address fitted in with the others perfectly. I got through my poem, just.

I’m sharing it here, not for any weird kind of self-promotion, but purely because I want something positive to come from this tragedy. The family have set up a page in memory of James, with the option for people to make a donation to the Autism Society. If you feel able to donate, the link can be found here;

https://jamesrodd.muchloved.com

And if you are reading this, and have been considering taking a similar course of action to that which James took, then please, please, speak to someone. Ask for help. Phone the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123. You are loved far more than you will ever know.

For everyone else, please be kind. That person who is in your way or who has held you up in a shopping queue for a couple of minutes or is a bit of an irritant in your day? That person who dresses differently, who acts slightly differently to what you see as being normal? Take a step back. Think about how you are going to interact with them. And if you can’t be kind then keep your mouth shut and walk away. Go home, take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and try to be better next time.

Poem for James

You who so lived for light’s beautiful glow,
so talented at illuminating the cast,
to make them the centre of the show.
Now in this place, we are all here for you.
There’s a black hole in the middle of the stage
as we sit here waiting, wishing for your cue.
 
But though we are broken, lost, and confused,
this darkness is spot lit with solace to take,
for each of our memories will not be diffused
like so many messages from those who you knew,
from school to university to shipmates at sea,
of how lives were enriched when shared with you.
 
I remember a boy who lived passions to the full –
Thomas the Tank and happy meal toys,
dens in the woods and light-sabre duels,
the only person I’ve known who liked attack of the clones.
But yours was a force in so many lives,
if only you could see you were never walking alone.
 
Liverpool FC and northern flat caps,
but you were at home in the Winchester downs,
riding up hills or throwing sticks for the labs,
or here in this church with congregational friends.
So we sit here wrapped in our individual thoughts,
this dark desperate sky that simply won’t mend.
 
But even though the light seems so far away,
we remember the boy who grew into a man.
That brilliant speech on Dan’s wedding day,
the way that you shined with such familial pride,
and while we are lost will never know why,
we’ll hold on to your smile, how you were so kind.
 
Everyone’s riding their own different race,
white, green, yellow or polka dot pink,
freewheeling mountains others can’t face.
And so, I reiterate to everyone here,
there is no shame in how James has passed,
keep your hearts strong and memories clear. 

This was a boy who tried to find his own path,
when at a model village and told to hold hands
he caused a queue instead of letting anyone past.
This is a man whose desert island disc choices
Were eight different finishes from the tour de France.
If only society could celebrate such different voices.
 
If there can be a legacy let it be that we do not speak
if we are tempted to fault those who are not like us.
We all have our moments when we know not what we seek,
and a fragile stem holds up each and every flower.
There is a line in Corinthians fifteen
that might help some at this bleakest of hours –
 
if there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body.
I like to think that he’s up there now,
headbanging along to Bohemian Rhapsody,
or playing air guitar as if he’s Angus Young,
or spinning wheels down the Alpe D’Huez,
or just sitting with Dobby in the morning sun.
 
For James is at peace now, free from any pain,
and while we will treasure our own memories
we will also hold tight to all those who remain.
Though we can’t turn back the clock, can’t rewrite time,
we can walk together and share in the silence
and nurture his light wherever it shines.

Acropolis Journal

I’ve not been on here much for a while. I’ll explain why in due course. But anyway, I have a couple of poems in the latest edition of Acropolis Journal, which is moon-themed.

You can read them here.

https://acropolisjournaluk.wixsite.com/acropolisjournal/issue-two

They include a poem written when my eldest daughter was 10, and another which is very dark and relates to my own feelings when at my lowest ebb. It comes with a trigger warning, and, for reasons I will explain another time, isn’t something I could write today.

Poetry & Settled Status for All – An Anthology

Something brief for National Poetry Day; I have just been informed that I a poem in this anthology – The poem that appears is called The Transmutation of Geese and originally appeared in Landings my first (and so far only) collection. There’s a crowdfunder appeal towards publishing costs;

https://www.gofundme.com/f/poetry-settled-status-for-all?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer

If you do get a copy I hope you enjoy it – I have no clue who else has work in the anthology, but it should be a good varied selection, and all for a worthy cause.