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

South Downs Poetry Festival

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;

www.sdpf.org.uk

Dreich – Summer Anywhere Anthology

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.

You can order a copy here if interested;

https://hybriddreich.co.uk/product/summer-anywhere-pre-order/

How I Track my Poetry Submissions

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;

Green Ink Poetry – https://www.greeninkpoetry.co.uk

Acropolis Journal – https://acropolisjournaluk.wixsite.com/acropolisjournal

Little Stone Magazine – https://www.littlestonejournal.co.uk

Have a look – there might still be time to submit for the next issue 🙂

Imagine Portsmouth

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!

Abergavenny Small Press

Having a little break from the Poetry Bookshelf blog posts whilst I think about how to develop this page further. It was becoming more of a chore than a joy – and I think it was starting to reflect in the writing.

The last couple of library posts weren’t as good as I would have liked them to be, but writing a strong, detailed post takes time. Something I have been short of recently. It is what it is. In the meantime, a little bit of positive news on the personal writing front, as I have had a prose piece accepted in the latest edition of Abergavenny Small Press’ online journal.

You can read it here;

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