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;
It’s been a while (again). I’ve been really busy with other aspects of life over the past couple of weeks. I resigned from my day job, (you don’t think I make a living from poetry do you?), last week, and start a new one on Monday. My old employer seemed surprised that I didn’t want to stay working on a week-by-week contract having been brought back into my old role on a one month trial following furlough, redundancy and subsequent work in a different part of the business. Four weeks into the trial and with no confirmation of my status I have taken another opportunity, where hopefully my efforts will be more valued – I was at the previous firm for 6.5 years all in, but I guess I hadn’t quite proved myself yet. Maybe I might have done so if I’d stayed another 10 years or so.
In more important personal news, I took my son, our youngest child, to Leeds, to start his first term at university. I didn’t think it would affect me that much, but I was in bits afterwards. I got my shit together at around Chesterfield on the way back. I didn’t do myself any favours with my musical choices, listening to Bloom, the brilliant 2012 album by Beach House. My favourite track, Lazuli, starts with the following lines;
In the blue of this life Where it ends in the night When you couldn’t see You would come for me
I’ve no idea what the video is about. Still, it’s a beautiful song. Well I think so.
I switched to podcasts for the rest of the journey home. You’re Dead to Me did the trick.
But that point where your last child leaves home is such a huge moment psychologically. It’s a bigger deal for them of course, but you are left with all those thoughts of them growing up, and questions around your parenting. Did I do enough, was I a good parent, could I have done more?
Who knows. It’s all guesswork. We do what we can. Well some of us do.
I spoke with him today. He’s settled in well, has got a good group of friends, and I can relax. Or relax as much as a parent ever can. You never truly relax do you?
I meant to write this post on September 14th. By complete accident I heard on the radio that this was Gobstopper Day, and I wanted to tie the post in with this important date in the calendar.
Originally called a Jawbreaker, the Gobstopper became a popular sweet around the world when it was introduced by the Ferrara Pan Candy Company of Forest Park, Illinois. Italian-born Ferrara Pan moved to the States in 1908 and created the sweet using almonds coated in sugar, before starting the firm in 1919.
Should you be interested in more information on the history of the gobstopper go to;
Those who have read this blog regularly, or who have a more than passing acquaintance with my work will know what’s coming next. One piece of my writing that has always gone down well at readings, (it’s the only one that I have been asked to read as an encore), is about my son eating a gobstopper the day after his seventh birthday.
I’ve shared this here before, but wanted to do so again, today. Because it’s central message applies, not just to my son, but to anyone else starting university, or a new school, or a new place of work, a new venture, or some other major life change.
What colour do you want your future to be?
It Was Only His Second Ever Day Of Being Seven…
…and he was having a gob-stopper as a treat after a swimming lesson. They were waiting for his sisters to finish getting changed. His father was trying to read the paper. The economic outlook was not good. An election was near. Pompey were about to get relegated. Rolling the sweet around the roof of his mouth, he held it out between his teeth. “What colour is it, Dad? “ he said. “Red, the colour of lava spewing out of the earth, or that Kit-Kat wrapper,” his father replied, pointing towards the floor near a bin in the corner. The boy laughed. A few moments later, between the local and international news, he asked again, “What colour now?” His father looked up.“ Orange, the colour of the sun sliding over the horizon, or a bottle of Lucozade from the drinks machine” The boy smiled. Skipping the letters page, his father had a half-hearted go at the Sudoku. “What now?” “Yellow, the colour of sand on a tropical beach, or a packet of Starburst.” The gob-stopper had shrunk considerably the next time he asked, somewhere in the editorial comments. “Green, a canopy of trees, just after rain, or a bottle of Sprite”, came the answer. As the minutes slipped past, they kept going, through Football, Rugby and Motor Sport , each time the boy asking the same question, as the world in his mouth got smaller. “Blue, for the sea on a Bounty bar wrapper”; “Indigo, for a packet of pickled onion monster munch”; Violet, for the colour of dark, an hour before dawn. Asking again, his exasperated father replied “What colour do you want it to be? It can be any colour you want. You decide.” The boy opened his mouth and held the small globe of sugar on the tip of his tongue. It was white, all colours and no colour, like a ball of light at the beginning of time. The boy tipped back his head, swallowed it whole.
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 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).
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
A while back, just before lockdown, I was asked to get involved in the South Downs Poetry Festival (SDPF). The SDPF runs throughout the year, and I’ve been tasked with generating ideas and events to the west of the South Downs – think Portsmouth, Petersfield, Havant, Guildford, as far across as Alton (but not Winchester, which already has it’s own excellent festival).
The SDPF already has a strong presence in the East of the area, particularly around Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst, Petworth, but needs more events and activity to the west.
I’ve not done much so far – Covid and other commitments have got in the way – though I did manage to set up a Shakespeare’s birthday event with Dempsey & Windle. I am now finally looking to put some of my own ideas into practice, but am also open, of course to other suggestions.
One thought I had was to run a sport themed poetry event at a location that has a particular resonance for sport – there are a few locations with a strong link historically to cricket and football in particular – but the locations I had in mind are not easy to get to without a car, and I wonder if the theme is too narrow.
I’m particularly interested in poetry associated with history and place – however am very open to any suggestions. So if anyone reading this has any ideas, whether in terms of workshops, readings, open mic events / walks, whatever, in the western part of the South Downs then let me know. As we hopefully open up over the coming months I am keen to see how we can develop the SDPF in this area.
For more information on the SDPF and to see events already scheduled for the year please go to;
I nearly always write to music. Quite often I’ll listen to the same track on loop whilst writing. Plenty of other writers I know don’t do this, preferring to work in silence.
But I struggle to write without having music on in the background.
The music doesn’t have to be related to the subject matter. Song for Zula by Phosphorescent is clearly a song about broken love, about something that wasn’t as it seemed, but I spent many hours listening to it whilst writing a poem about a pigeon! Not just any pigeon, mind you. This one;
Tonally the song fitted the wistful melancholy of the poem itself (I’ll not share it here yet as it’s in a submission pile somewhere). Hopefully you’ll see Poem for Martha in print or online sometime soon. It almost got published in Butcher’s Dog magazine, so I think it has some merit. I’m just trying to find the right place for it. I digress.
You can hear Song for Zula here;
I usually write to music that doesn’t have any strong connection with a personal memory. As someone who is always looking out for and listening to new music, (when I say new, I mean new to me), this may not necessarily be significant, but I do think that too much familiarity, particularly if that familiarity is associated with a particular time of my life, would influence the creative process too much.
Looking back to my late teens and early twenties I used to listen to Talk Talk on repeat. This may have been a factor in my creating a whole folder of dire heart-on-my sleeve lost love poems that I threw away as they were so bad.
As it happens I was clueless then as to the real meanings of some of these songs – Such a Shame for example is actually inspired by a story of a psychiatrist who bases his actions/decisions on the cast of a dice: The Diceman, a novel published in 1971 by George Cockcroft (pen name Luke Rhinehart). It’s clearly suggested as such in the official video which you can see here: https://youtu.be/lLdvpFIPReA (Unlike the Song for Zula link I can’t seem to embed the video into this post).
Whatever, I couldn’t write poetry now whilst listening to It’s My Life,Such A Shame, Life’s What You Make It, or anything else by pre Spirit of Eden Talk Talk. The memories these songs drag up are too wince-inducing for me to want to revisit at the best of times, let alone when I am trying to create something new.
Over the last few weeks I have primarily been listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor whilst writing. Like the later iteration of Talk Talk, GYBE are a post – rock band. Unlike Talk Talk, with the exception of the occasional sample, their music doesn’t have any lyrics. Mladic , the track which I’m sharing below is apparently named after Ratko Mladic, responsible for organising the Srebrenica massacre and extradited to face trial in The Hague at around the time this song was recorded.
At 19 minutes 59 seconds long it has time to build different themes and motifs into the track. It’s one of GYBE’s heaviest tracks, and works particularly well when listened through headphones. Thematically, (rising darkness through despair, defiance and ending with hope for redemption), it fits the tone of what I am currently writing about, if not the exact subject matter.
I think the only times when I have written poetry whilst in silence was when on an Arvon course or in some other writing workshop. Maybe I’ll suggest sticking Mladic or The Dead Flag Blues, (which is equally expansive and apocalyptic, if more so), on full volume next time I’m in one and seeing how everyone else reacts!
I have experimented with this – trying to write poetry whilst listening to The Trammps’ Disco Inferno or Reach by S-Club 7 simply didn’t work. Maybe it’s just me, and the sort of subject matter that I am drawn to.
What about you? Do you write to music? If so, what works? Let me know!
Delighted to receive a copy of the latest Dreich anthology, Summer Anywhere. My poem On the Success or Otherwise of Disposable Barbecues makes an appearance amongst 200 pages of poems by other poets. I’ve not read them all yet, (my copy arrived yesterday), but what I have read so far is excellent. Fellow Portsmouth poet (and Ted Hughes award winner) has a superb poem in the anthology.
I’ve had a couple of new acceptances in the last couple of days – another acceptance for Green Ink Poetry, and a poem in the first edition of Acropolis Journal. Both are online magazines. I’ll share both when they go live, though one is pretty dark – to put it mildly – and will need a trigger warning.
I thought I would use this as an opportunity to share how I track my poetry submissions – it would be great to see what systems other writers use. If you are a writer then let me know what works for you!
I’m submitting on a weekly basis and plan to carry on doing so – with a new collection potentially happening next year it’s fairly important to do so. It’s also great to read the work of other poets and discover new voices that are worth following and looking out for.
It’s also important to read each magazine before submitting anyway – in some cases I’ve felt that the publication isn’t right for my writing, or only potentially suitable for certain poems / styles – Green Ink Poetry for example tends to focus on shorter form poems. I hadn’t picked up on this the first time I sent in a submission, but had realised this by the next time since I actually read the magazine properly! The poem that was successful was one that I sent in specifically because of this.
I’ve also learnt the importance of tracking what you send out – firstly to avoid duplications (some magazines accept simultaneous submissions, some don’t), and also to avoid sending something to the same publication twice, which I almost did today when submitting to Little Stone Magazine. But luckily I had been keeping a record. Here’s a screenshot showing some of this year’s submissions. The greyed out bold entries are successes, the greyed crossed out italicised poems are rejections, and the other ones are active poems.
The magazines are a mix of print and online, brand new and well established publications, that will get anything from a couple of hundred to several thousand submissions per issue. I am absolutely delighted with every acceptance. Every publisher is trying to build credibility and their own magazine presence, so for them to accept one of my poems is a big deal.
I keep a summary of where I am over the course of the year in terms of acceptances / submissions etc. I’m not tracking percentages … yet!
Alongside this list I have a spreadsheet that I use – poems are organised in columns – waiting to be sent out, submitted or published. If submitted I have a 6 month ‘nudge’ date / date when available when I get back to the editors to chase an update, though the vast majority get back to me very quickly – I’ve had rejections within 48 hours on a couple of occasions! If I don’t hear back then the poem is moved back to the available list
You’ll see that the poem titles are in some cases in colour. I do this in order to track how often a poem has been sent out. After all, if it’s been rejected a lot of times maybe it just isn’t good enough? Whilst you can’t see it here, some recent acceptances have been for poems that have been submitted four or five times before. Sometimes it is simply a case of finding the right home for that particular poem.
A couple of other pointers;
If the poem in the published column is in bold it has been accepted by a publication that I haven’t had work in before.
If the poem is in italics and pale blue, it is a previously published poem that has found a new home in a magazine or on a website that accepts work that has appeared elsewhere before.
So what do you think? How do you track your poetry submissions? I’d love to find out!
I’ll finish this post with a link to each of the three magazines mentioned in this post;
A quick mention for a competition being run in my home city;
Can you capture Portsmouth? Enter Imagine Portsmouth’s creative competition and help celebrate Portsmouth’s vision for the future. This summer, Imagine Portsmouth is asking people in Portsmouth to get creative and share how they see Portsmouth – through a poem. Aspiring poets of all ages can take inspiration from the city vision and submit entries online. The winning entries will be selected by a panel of expert judges from across the city. The winners will have their work showcased online and there will be a £75 prize for the winning poem.Poems may have been previously published as long as you have the copyright.Find out more and enter at
I may well enter, though it will have to be something new I think – most of my Portsmouth poems probably won’t fit the city vision!