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The unpublished poem has been submitted elsewhere so I’ll have to hold fire on sharing it here as for many publications it counts as prior publication.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!

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.

As Icebergs Keep Calving in the Barents Sea

We finally won the pub quiz at our local the other week. Two and a half years of trying, losing on a tie breaker twice and second place on so many other occasions, often by 1 point. Sometimes less. It was a moment of relief, a time for celebration.

And also a time for disbelief. Each week there is a news round. I have stopped watching the news. Picking up snippets here and there. The rest of the team were great, luckily. I’m still surprised we got so many right. I can’t cope with the news anymore. I won’t watch it. I turn off the radio or walk into another room.

At a time when we need real leaders the country is run by a bunch of utterly useless arseholes. From Brexit through Covid to Climate Change each crisis is an opportunity for someone to make obscene amounts of money, abetted by their friends in the media and the Houses of Parliament. The UK is in a mess. But who do the papers blame? Migrants. The feckless poor. The EU. The Labour Party from 11 years ago (to be fair they had a big part to play in setting up the conditions that led to the Middle East migrant crisis).

Yada yada yada. You know how it is. And how it grinds on. I can’t bear it anymore. And meanwhile we have incessant articles about a Llama, or cats being rescued from Afghanistan, or whatever reality show is flavour of the moment. Plus the Express wittering on about how Boris is trying so hard and is doing his best and has got another great idea and look at that Brexit bonus (these particular headlines seem to have dried up).

There’s a scene in Armageddon, that ridiculous Bruce Willis movie where they send drillers up to space to blow up a comet headed for earth, where an investigative journalist realises that the politician she is trailing isn’t running away from scandal but leaving to spend the last few weeks he has left to be with his family. Where she realises that Ellie is really ELE (sorry for the plot spoiler if you haven’t watched it).

I think of this scene pretty much every day now. The disgraced politician who is actually doing something decent as he knows what is coming and is doing what really matters. Some of the poems in my first collection, Landings, touch on a similar theme, like this one;

Taking Tea with Erwin 

I’m in the kitchen, 
making a cup of tea 
as the kids are fighting over the remote control.

The airwaves are swamped 
with the lives of near-celebrities, 
as icebergs are calving in the Barents Sea. 

Nobody is watching,
no-one is listening,
and I think of Schrodinger in ’35 

and the kids are laughing, 
and playing on the Wii, 
as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

Sometimes I feel like I am the cat, 
sometimes the vial, 
and sometimes the whole experiment; 

and I want to say, 
I want to say to them,
I just don’t know what to say, 

as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

I am so tired. Some days I feel as if I am on the Titanic (hence this particular photograph, which is apparently of the berg that sunk the unsinkable ship). Is it a recurrence of my previous bout of depression? I don’t think so. But it has affected my writing. It’s very dark at the moment. There doesn’t seem much room for light. Or for blogging for that matter, hence the silence here over the last few weeks.

But the light does get in. Somehow. It always gets in eventually. On Twitter I follow someone who asks people to share and vote on their favourite albums from a particular year. This fortnight it is 1996.

1996 was the year that the Manic Street Preachers released Everything Must Go, their fourth album, and the first following the disappearance of lyricist Richie Edwards. One of the tracks, The Girl Who Wanted To Be God is inspired by something said by Sylvia Plath. The biggest hit A Design for Life was the first song recorded and released by the band after Edwards vanished.

It’s a triumphant piece of music. The song was credited with having “rescued the band” from the despair felt after the disappearance of Edwards, with lead singer and songwriter Nicky Wire describing it as “a bolt of light from a severely dark place”.

It’s also the song that was playing on my in car CD player as I drove to the hospital to be at the birth of my first daughter. Listening to it again this week was a real reminder, that no matter how difficult the situation, there are things worth fighting for, and there is still time, there is still a chance to make a difference, with or without the fools who purport to lead us.

So I guess we’ve all got to do what we can. To work out what we can do that can make a difference. We’re not quite done yet.

Acropolis Journal

Acropolis Journal is a new online magazine with a focus on dark-themed poetry. I haven’t read all the content yet, everything I have looked at so far has trigger warnings. This is the case with the prose (poem?) that I sent that was accepted.

It’s a pretty old piece, originally written when I was in a very different place mentally. I used my state of mind at the time as a starting point to explore different difficult subject matters. Maybe it was cathartic. Whatever, I’ve tweaked it occasionally over the years, and finally sent it out, for the first time, to Acropolis.

I’m delighted it has found a home – I really wasn’t sure about submitting it anywhere in view of it’s unremitting bleakness and subject matter (suicide).

Well you have been warned.

If you want to read it you can find it here.

https://acropolisjournaluk.wixsite.com/acropolisjournal/richard-williams-nearly-forgetting

Green Ink Poetry

As previously mentioned, I have a new poem on the Green Ink Poetry website. It is now live.

You can find it, and lots of other poems on this month’s theme “pyres” via the following link.

It’s a nice clean website with some really good poetry on it – the first time I submitted they’d only had around 100 submissions, so if you are looking for a place to post your short / micro poems with an environmental / natural world theme then this is a good place to try

https://www.greeninkpoetry.co.uk/poetry-collections/pyres