Ink Sweat and Tears

A post this morning to plug a prose poem of mine which makes its’ first appearance on the Ink Sweat & Tears website today. It’s one of a 25 – 30 page sequence of prose poems / hybrid / flash fiction pieces with driving, childhood, loss, reconciliation and Tangerine Dream as running themes.

It does beg the question, what is poetry? One of my friends, on receiving a copy of Landings was disappointed that there wasn’t much, if any, line-ending rhyme in the collection. Whilst most published contemporary poetry dispenses with the obvious rhyming that many non-poets would think is an essential element of poetry, it does have an internal metre and rhythm. You could argue that a lot of performance poetry actually follows the end-rhyme tradition more frequently than non-performance poetry. Which is the more radical? It’s all moot though. Poetry is, or should be, a broad church.

As for prose poetry, it’s not exactly a new phenomenon – haibun anyone? But where does poetry end and prose begin? Where does poetry become hybrid writing or flash – fiction?

Let me know in the comments. Oh, I almost forgot. A link to the poem;

On Rejection

I received my first poetry rejection of the year last week. I’ve had enough over the years to not be bothered by them. They come with the territory, no matter how good a writer you are.  “I love my rejection slips,” wrote Sylvia Plath. “They show me I try.” 

A rejection means very little in terms of meaningful judgment on the quality of the rejected poem, or poet for that matter. Rejected poems can do very well elsewhere – see this article in the Irish Times about Damen O’Brien’s poem that won the €10,000 Moth prize last year.

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/a-10-000-poem-read-nave-winner-of-the-moth-poetry-prize-1.4242121

It’s a subjective business, and each editor has different perspectives on what they are looking for. It can often be down to what else has been sent in. Sometimes a theme will come together based on other submitted work, leading to poems that had been strongly considered being discounted (this happened to me last year). Alternatively, an editor may receive several perfectly useable poems that are all about the same subject. I’ve been part of the editing team for South on three occasions, for one of which we received three poems by different poets about a relative’s glasses. They were all perfectly publishable – but were we going to accept all three?

There’s also the volume of submissions to consider. Some magazines get several thousand for each issue. Even the lesser-known online publications will get submissions in the hundreds. Again, judging by my experience as an editor, most of these will be pretty good. So rejections are par for the course.

So getting a poem accepted is a joy rather than something to expect. My numbers from last year are as follows – I didn’t send out as much as I would have liked – whilst some seem to have been able to focus on sending submissions and / or writing about Covid, I couldn’t.

Magazine Submissions 23 – Acceptances 3 – New Magazine Acceptances – 1

Competitions 4 – Acceptances / Placements 2

I also had 6 poems appear on blogs (other than this one!) in 2020

Not really much to shout about is it? But that’s the point of this post. As writers we have to enjoy success in whatever form it comes , and not be disheartened by the failures.

Anyway, each time a poem comes back, there’s a chance to to find a home for it somewhere else. Obviously after 5 or 10 rejections it might be worth reviewing and editing before sending it out again, but you’ve just got to keep moving, keep sending the work out, in the knowledge that some of it, somewhere, will stick.

I guess what goes for poetry submissions goes for life in general.

Keep on keeping on.

Oh and the photo at the top of this post? It became the front cover for my first poetry collection which came out in 2018. If you’d told me a year earlier that I’d be launching my first poetry book in September 2018, I’d have asked you what you were smoking. Sometimes success is closer than you think.

Abergavenny Small Press

A quick mention that I have a couple of new poems appearing in the second online edition of ASP magazine. You can read them here – but do also look at the other poetry and flash fiction appearing in this new magazine. All magazines, whether print or, as in the case of this one, online, take a lot of time to put together and deserve all the support they can get.

https://www.asppublishing.co.uk/richard-williams

Day Job Distractions

It’s been a while since I last posted here. Like many before me, and many, many more to follow, my period in furlough was ended by notice of impending redundancy. Poetry doesn’t pay the bills, and I had to devote a lot of time to a) searching for a new role and b) building my sideline art , photography & sporting memorabilia business to cover some of my ongoing bills.

Happily (for me) , I have managed to secure a new part-time contract role developing my former employer’s online presence. I’m really looking forward to starting the new challenge.

Maybe I’ll be able to use what I learn there to increase my followers on this site, though judging by the amount of spam I am now getting, visibility levels are improving significantly, even without my posting anything for a couple of weeks.

I also haven’t been writing much in the way of poetry – my focus has been elsewhere for obvious reasons. I have managed to make a few submissions though (one polite and encouraging rejection so far – the others should be along soon!).

One piece of poetical success was appearing in this year’s Poetry & All that Jazz magazine, which is linked to Chichester Festival (online this year of course). It’s an excellent magazine, with work by writers such as Louis de Bernieres, Mario Petrucci, Maggie Sawkins and many others. Definitely worth getting a copy if you still can.

I’ll post the poem here at some point.

Have a good weekend.

On Becoming a Professional Poet

Simon Armitage was on Desert Island Discs recently. If you haven’t heard the show then it’s definitely worth a listen – an excellent interview and some great music choices ( you can still catch it on the BBC website at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j120 )

One thing he spoke about was the first time he had a poem accepted for a magazine. It’s a huge moment for any writer, to find that someone who doesn’t know you appreciates what you are doing and thinks that there is enough merit in your work to put it in their publication. Every poet will get enough rejection notes to paper at least a couple of rooms in the course of their attempts to get their work in print. Even now, with over 100 poems in various magazines I still get a huge boost when one is accepted.

The first magazines I had success with included the now defunct Poetry Monthly, Wire, Tandem and Sol. Small poetry press magazines tend to come and go with regularity. Or they used to do. Now many of the smaller ones are only online. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, though it is lovely to pick up a publication and see your work nestled in amongst other more well-known names. My sole appearance in Tandem was noteworthy for me in that the same magazine also had a poem by Seamus Heaney in it. I do occasionally wonder if he read my own contribution.

These magazines are so important in the nurturing of poetry. It’s a pretty thankless task for editors – a small number of subscriptions, sackfuls of poetry, quite a lot of it written by someone who hasn’t read anything more contemporary than Keats, or hasn’t made any attempt to understand what sort of poetry fits with the magazine’s ethos. 

If you want to support poetry in the UK, and also get an understanding of what contemporary poetry is all about then I’d strongly recommend subscribing to a few magazines – off the top of my head I would recommend the following – Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, The North, The Rialto and South. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are plenty of others that are excellent that I have no experience of as a subscriber or submitter of work and hence haven’t mentioned in this list. 

Also books. Buy poetry books. My publisher, Dempsey and Windle have a sale on at the moment – buy two and get a third mystery book free – it might be mine! Go to www.dempseyandwindle.com for details. 

Poetry isn’t exactly the most profitable career choice, either for writers or publishers. If you are on this page and want to support poetry in the UK then please spend a few pounds on a magazine subscription or a book or two if you can afford to do so.

Back to Desert Island Discs. Simon Armitage got a £2.50 cheque for his first acceptance (most magazines pay in the form of a free copy rather than money). He kept it rather than cashing it in. 

In my case the cheque was for 50p from Sol Magazine. I recently found it in a bag of receipts, bank statements and old football programmes whilst attempting to clear out the loft – which is a long term project even under lockdown. There have been plenty of occasions when I have wished I had put the money into my bank account, but am glad now that I didn’t. It’s nice to have a memento of the day that I became a professional poet (!)

The poem itself is short, which probably helped in terms of getting published , and is about Friday and Saturday nights in a Somerset market town. Frome now is pretty upmarket and, apart from a couple of pubs that don’t seem to have changed much, (namely the Blue Boar and the George Inn), is almost unrecognisable from the place I grew up in. Back then, there wasn’t a hand-crafted boutique quinoa parlour to be seen. Weekends were absolute carnage. Not for nothing is Frome Town FC’s nickname ‘Dodge’ (as in Dodge City); 

I’m not sure that this poem is quite what Frome Town Council will be looking for in terms of material for their next marketing campaign, but I am open to offers if it is of interest.

Unhappy Ending

Borderland
Of Sentry posts in nightclubs
Ambushes lie in wait

Wish upon a Stanley blade
Alone again
Too pissed to know or care

Away and running
Fighting drunk
Another Saturday night

Notes from the Phoney War

I’ve started this post several times. Getting the tone right has been a challenge. It feels, to me, here in Portsmouth, a bit like the situation in Autumn 1939, when as far as most British people were concerned, the war was happening somewhere else.

I am not working at the moment, at home in furlough (financial support seems to be the one area of policy that the government seems to have broadly got right at this time), so have been busying myself with housework, playing cards with the family, and latterly managing Bath City on Football Manager – as things stand, The Grecians are second in the National League South (thanks for asking…).

I also have a loft full of god-knows-what to sort out, and am working on the annual accounts for my sideline online art, photography and sport memorabilia business – more of this anon – my accountants are going to be very surprised at how early they will be completed this year!

What I am not doing is spending all days on the BBC, Guardian or other news websites, trawling Twitter, or checking Facebook updates every half an hour. It is easy to be overwhelmed by current events. If Italy and Spain are anything to go by, there is a lot to get stressed about, in terms of when the impact of this pandemic really kicks in here in the UK. We all need to protect our mental health, and this is one way I am trying to protect mine.

As an example I had no idea that Johnson had tested positive until one of my kids told me – to be fair I was managing Bath City in a crucial FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round derby match with Weston-Super-Mare – so I had much bigger priorities at the time!

I’m not making light of things. I am very lucky to be employed, living in a safe home and without having underlying health issues that would cause me to be unduly worried on a personal basis. The situation is horrendous. I know, and am related to, plenty of people for whom infection with Covid-19 would be far more dangerous. I also have family members who work for the NHS (more on this government’s utter hypocrisy in this respect in a future post perhaps) .

But this virus will be defeated. We will come through this. Hopefully society will be kinder, less self-obsessed, and more akin to that envisaged by those who voted for the Attlee government in 1945. We will see. Whatever, this crisis will pass.

I’m going to finish with a short poem I wrote a long time ago, during the Bosnian War. I worked with someone who had emigrated to London from Serbia (I think ) years before. Nothing happened between us – she was a) married and b) out of my league, but it did lead to the following poem, which appeared in the now defunct Poetry Monthly International magazine. It’s typical of my earlier poetry, which was often a lot shorter (and so easier to place in magazines!), and more straightforward language-wise. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether my poems have progressed or regressed since then!

Mostar 1991

We will return some day
to this place
our place
where the stillness of night
is the stillness and silence
of water
moving between us

Springwatch 2029

I just found an attempt at an environmental themed haibun on the Poetry Magazines website at the South Bank. This was one of a pair that originally appeared in South – this one in issue 41, from April 2010. It’s interesting looking back at old magazines, plenty of familiar names whose work I admire and who are continuing to develop as writers, following their own path.

As for the subject matter, irrespective of the merits or otherwise of this poem – which didn’t appear in my (only) collection, I’ve struggled over the years to write about the environmental catastrophe we are facing. It’s a theme I often return to, more so now. This poem was a relatively early attempt to tackle this subject. I’m not sure it works – but would be interested in any comments.

It was also an early attempt at a haibun -a form I really need to revisit and learn more about . If anyone has any suggestions as to writers or poems to read then please comment accordingly, thank you!

Anyway, enough waffle – the poem…

Springwatch 2029

If CCTV cameras still worked, still ran their twenty-four-seven-three-six-five loop,then it would end like this. A breeding cliff of guillemots on the high Guildhall walls. Fulmars nesting in a roofless ruin of pubs. A cormorant drying wings on the balcony of the Theatre Royal as the tide licks what remains of the Walkabout Bar. A beach of glass stars, ground down rubble and shipwrecked steel. Girders the ribs of near-skyscrapers. Corralled at the storm line on Winston Churchill Avenue, a twisted pile
of cars, waiting in turn. A church near-obliterated by the shock of it all, roof tiles scattered as confetti. Thrift greens the gaps between pews, pink flowers carpeting the nave. Further out, salt water rules. The Solent flows around museums, swallowing debris. Foundations split open, currents pull history into the sea. As tower block stacks collapse, windows guillotine reflections, slicing the past. What’s left of the harbour station, a reef of brick and metal, train tracks ending in mid-air. Above churned-up surf, gulls roller-coaster a spiral of wind. But underneath is calm. Go deep enough and underneath is always calm. The soundless feeding of a slowly
dancing shoal. A silver slivered slick-stream of eels. The swaying ballet of seaweed.

Endlessly shifting
the margins of existence
a mud-spit of life

South Poetry Magazine Issue 60 Launch

I’ve had poems accepted a number of times by this magazine, which as it’s name suggests, is based in the South of England (though they accept submissions from anywhere). The contents are selected by different guest poets, and all submissions are judged anonymously. Each issue also has a larger selection of poems by a profiled poet, alongside an editorial piece to accompany the poems.

I was delighted to be the profiled poet for issue 60. The editorial piece was kindly written by Denise Bennett, who is an excellent poet whose books are worth checking out if you aren’t already aware of her writing.

There is a launch reading event for each issue, where poets appearing in the magazine can apply for a reading slot – the first time I ever read any of my poems was at a South launch event in Bournemouth.

The launch event this time was in Southampton. As a Portsmouth supporter with a couple of poems in the selection that reference Pompey, I was slightly concerned that I might be ambushed by Saints fans. Whilst this didn’t happen (despite some good natured banter!) my chair did collapse when I sat down after finishing my reading, so perhaps there had been an element of sabotage after all !!

The profiled poet’s reading is recorded – if you are interested you can see mine here on Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYz764EhgoA&t=308starget%3D_new .

For more information generally on South Magazine, please go to www.southpoetry.org