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 🙂

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Philip Gross

I own two books by Philip Gross – The Water Table (winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009), and Love Songs of Carbon (from 2015), both published by Bloodeaxe Books. I’m not quite sure why I only have two of his collections. In my opinion he is one of our best contemporary poets.

I grew up in Somerset, so a lot of his location – based writing has deep resonance for me (Gross was born in 1952 in Cornwall), and The Water Table in particular is centred on the South West of England, with a particular focus on the Bristol Channel. Not only poems of place, but there is also elemental poetry about water itself.

Here’s Gross reading Severn Song, the final poem in the collection;

There are poems of environmental change – Atlantis World and Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade, which begins with the lines;

Last night it came knocking, a first
since the end of the Ice Age. A stray eddy brought it,
a backhander from the Gulf Stream. It was heading
inland, could it be to spawn?

Other highlights (for me at least include a long poem which lifts off with observations in a retail car park (Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA), and a sequence running through the book (Betweenland I to Betweenland X) which as their titles suggest, explore the spaces between land, water and air.

A body of water: water’s body

that seems to have a mind (and
change it: isn’t that what makes
a mind, its changing?) not much
prone to thinking – rather, thoughts
curl through it, salt or fresh, or hang

between states: sometimes gloss
the surface with their oil-illuminations.

(from Betweenland I)

There are other poems of course, on other subjects, but this is a collection that is held together by water and how it connects us to our past and who we are. A good review can be found in the Guardian here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/23/philip-gross-poetry-eliot-prize

You can buy it on Bookshop.org here:

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781852248529

There is an excellent review of Love Songs of Carbon , Philip Gross’ eighteenth collection in the Wales Art Review here:

https://www.walesartsreview.org/poetry-love-songs-of-carbon-by-philip-gross/

It’s another superb collection, and as with The Water Table, it’s a book I highly recommend.

As with The Water Table, it’s on my poetry bookshelf at;

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781780372587

This collection explores different themes, predominantly of ageing, and the language is, as with The Water Table word perfect. Take the first seven lines of A Walk Across a Field

A week of snow, slight melt, refreeze
and it comes to this: the ground
withholds consent
to every step;

it has us grappling, gasping, at each other,
like the fond emergencies
of young love.

To quote Michael Symmons Roberts & Moniza Alvi, writing in the PBS bulletin

‘The writing is sinewy, urgent and resourceful. The poet is a master of form, deploying his visual and aural patterns for emphasis, as if the page were a musical score. The absolute poise of the lines carve a way through the knotted difficulty of the raw material’.

Interested in finding out more? I’m going to finish with the classic social media / blogger’s faux pas, with a link away from this blog, but it’s worth it. You can read, and hear, a lot more of Philip Gross’ work via his website, at;

https://www.philipgross.co.uk

I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest post in my From my Poetry Bookshelf series. Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Empty Nest – Poems for Families – Edited by Carol Ann Duffy

My youngest child was 18 at the end of last week. Today is Father’s Day. Both events have prompted me to revisit this collection of poems for families, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, which I was given as a present earlier this year.

As with all good anthologies it includes a wide range of poems from across the centuries, that are as relevant now as they were when they were written – Here’s one from Charles Kingsley, writing in the mid-19th century

A Farewell

My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
No lark could pipe in skies so dull and grey;
Yet, if you will, one quiet hint I’ll leave you,
For every day.

I’ll tell you how to sing a clearer carol
Thank lark who hails the dawn on breezy down;
To earn yourself a purer poet’s laurel
Thank Shakespeare’s crown.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make Life, Death and that last for ever,
One grand west song.

Personal highlights include two lovely poems written by Jackie Kay to her son – Gap Year and Piano 4pm, which make me want to buy her Bloodeaxe selected poems, and stunning Eavan Boland contributions including The Pomegranate, which starts as follows;

The only legend I have ever loves is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.

Poems on letting go feature strongly as you would expect, such as Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis, written for his son Sean, which if you don’t already know it starts with the following stanza;

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with the leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

and ends with these lines:-

How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Or Stephen Spender’s To My Daughter

Bright clasp of her whole hand around my finger,
My daughter, as we walk together now.
All my life I’ll feel a ring invisibly
Circle the bone with shining when she is grown
Far from today as her eye are already.

But this isn’t just a book of parental reminiscence, there are poems written for parents – Charles Causley’s Eden Rock makes an appearance, as does Yvonne Reddick’s witty Things My Father Told Me, there are poems for lost children, such as Sharon Olds’ devastating To Our Miscarried One, Age Thirty Now and William Stafford’s For a Lost Child which finishes with the lines;

I found your note left from a trip that year
our family travelled: ‘Daddy, we could meet here’.

We are all changed by parenthood, and I know that when my son leaves for university in a couple of months time it is going to hit me hard. As W.S Merwin writes in Separation (this is the full poem so I hope it’s OK to share it here);

Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its colour.

Back to Empty Nest. This really is an excellent collection of poems, suitable for poets or non- poets alike. It’s widely available, including on Bookshop.org here;

https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5319/9781529028683

The last poem in the book is Shard, by Ella Duffy, (Carl Ann Duffy’s daughter) which ends

You danced on the road, blowing kisses,
giddy with seeing me,

your daughter, blinking my small light
down on the city;

the space between us swollen
and homesick, a mile long.

After the last year and a half, the poignancy of words like this comes into even sharper view.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – John Glenday – Selected Poems

A bit later than normal, this week’s from my poetry bookshelf post is a (brief) introduction to the work of John Glenday.

John Glenday was born in Broughty Ferry in 1952. He has said in interview that his mother was a reader, his father not at all. She gave him the words, his father the silences, a Glenday-like formulation. His ambition to be a poet was first fired in his teens. ‘A lot of people do [want to be poets in adolescence], but I never grew out of it…. Every job I’ve had is really something I’ve had to keep me while I’m writing.’ He studied English at the University of Edinburgh, and after graduating became a psychiatric nurse. Currently he lives in Drumnadrochit and works for NHS Highland as an addictions counsellor.

The above paragraph was taken from the Scottish Poetry Library’s introduction to John Glenday, which can be found here:

https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poet/john-glenday/

I first came across Glenday’s poetry at a zoom reading hosted by Walthamstow based Forest Poets. Incidentally their next event is a reading by George Szirtes, which I’m sure will be excellent – another poet who I shall have to write about at some point. if interested, you can buy tickets here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/forest-poets-presents-george-szirtes-tickets-156941112091?fbclid=IwAR1uUbsM7iZxxTJJ12_htDthvAYHDcpokgsjXjNvaMxLTdU1SOa0qUe27qU

I thought John Glenday’s reading was great, and was compelled to go out and purchase a copy of his collected poems afterwards. Those of you reading this who are familiar with his poetry will know that he is a superb, lyrical poet, with a beautiful and clear use of language and the space between words.

Take this, the title poem of his second collection, Undark, written about the Radium Girls;

Undark

And so they come back, those girls who painted 
the watch dials luminous and died. 

They come back and their hands glow and their lips 
and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like alien snow. 

It was as if what shone in them once had broken free 
and burned through the cotton of their lives. 

And I want to know this: how they came to believe 
that something so beautiful could ever have turned out right, 

but though they open their mouths to answer me, 
all I can hear is light.

The Selected Poems is a very good starting point and includes poems from four collections, and others that were not, until then, available in a collection. They are uniformly excellent, with a diverse range of subjects and forms – there is a lot of rigour and structure underpinning the lyrical quality of language.

A lot of the poems have a strong connection to the sea and sky, to the landscape and ecology, but also there are poems of love, of family history and a range of other subjects.

You can hear Glenday reading a short selection of poems on the Poetry Archive website, including Tin, which uses the fact that the can opener was invented forty-eight years after the tin can as a starting point for a whimsical and yet poignant poem.

Tin

To quote the blurb on the back of the Selected Poems, Glenday shares with W.S. Graham and Denise Riley an obsession with speech, silence and limits of knowledge, and with what form the energies that flicker along the border might take.

I’ll finish with the last stanza from The Skylark , which originally appeared in his fourth collection, The Golden Mean

one cloud, one thread of wind,
one song to hang
like nothing over everything.

If this brief (well it is 10.15 PM as I write this) introduction has whetted your appetite then you won’t be disappointed if you explore his writing further.

Helena Nelson in the Friday Poem

An interesting interview with Helena Nelson in the Friday Poem.

I happened to stumble on a link to this article in my Twitter feed. I thought I’d share it here having written about Happenstance Press in my From My Poetry Bookshelf blog post last weekend.

It’s a really good interview. I wasn’t aware of The Friday Poem blog before. Looks like it’s well worth keeping track of.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Tiger – Cliff Forshaw

In addition to books on my poetry bookshelf, I also have a lot of pamphlets, including this one by Cliff Forshaw, published by Happenstance Press in 2011.

Pamphlets are a great way for poets who haven’t had a collection in print to pull together an initial selection of work, or for other writers to create a smaller thematic collection of poems.

Tiger falls into the latter category. It is 22 pages long, and themed around the now-extinct Tasmanian Tiger. I ordered this, partly due to an interest in the subject, and also due to wanting to see what the Happenstance Press publications were like, since I was planning on submitting a pamphlet’s work of work myself.

This, like the other Happenstance press pamphlets I own, (I haven’t ordered any for some time, but will do at some point when funds permit), is very elegantly put together, with a crisp and clean layout.

Tiger comes out of a writer-in-residence period in Hobart in 2004, (memo to self to check whether the Tasmanian Writers Centre are still offering these!), and starts with the following poem;

Loop
62 seconds of the extinct Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger on film. 

Within the box, it growls, it twists,
scowls through its repertoire of tricks,
ignores the camera — or gurns up close, turns 
again, to flop, to gnaw that paw-trapped bone.

It paces out its trap of light; one hundred reps 
while hindquarters zither bars of sun;
claws cage’s mesh, hangs stretched
as if to take the measure of itself.

You saw. You see. And what we’ve got is what was shot:
short clips, fragments caught and stitched 
together in a loop of black and white.

Nine lives? Not quite. It’s down. It’s out. 
It’s on its feet and born again. Like a repetition 
compulsion, like… like reincarnated light.

You can watch Forshaw introducing and reading the poem on YouTube, shared by The Poetry Archive, through the following link;

There’s also a Guardian article which goes into this particular poem in detail here;

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/22/poem-of-the-week-cliff-forshaw

and you can watch the clip that inspired Loop here;

It’s one of the strongest poems in the pamphlet, and the one that has been shared the most online – presumably as a result of the Guardian choosing it as one of their poems of the week.

The second poem, Barcode, brings us up to date with the Tasmanian Tiger’s contemporary relevance;

Barcode
 
Extinct, this creature’s everywhere
from CD sleeves to bottled beer.
With trademark stripes, it zebras out
between the gums’ abstracted light.
They’ve even tigered my hired Mazda’s plate.
Everything’s branded. Tasmania – your natural state.

Now you see them. Now they’re gone.
Did this tiger’s go-faster stripes
aid recognition in the loping pack?
 
Eucalypts, eucalypts at speed,
late sun flickers through those trees:
at the tarmac’s edge, off-cuts of fur, strange weeds.
 
Billboards, stores along the newly-metalled road:
ironic ads, that hide’s barcode.

I’ll not reproduce anything else from Tiger, as it is still available for sale from Happenstance Press here;

https://www.happenstancepress.com/index.php/shop/product/24-tiger-cliff-forshaw/category_pathway-14

The other poems, also mostly in the form of sonnets, expand on the themes of man’s interaction with this now mythical ghost of an animal. There are poems about museum specimens, roadkill, shadows glimpsed beyond headlights, and a jaunty final poem which connects the Tiger with another long-dead Tasmanian, actor Errol Flynn – I’m not 100% sure about this last poem – I can understand the desire to lighten the sequence, but I wonder about how it fits with the rest of the poems. But that’s a minor quibble and more a reflection on my personal taste.

Both Barcode and Loop , which have been shared elsewhere online, are also available in Vandemonian, a full length collection about the inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land, (an earlier name for Tasmania), which was published by Arc in 2013. I don’t own it yet.

For more detail on Cliff Forshaw and his work (he is both a writer and painter), go to http://www.cliff-forshaw.co.uk

As for Happenstance, you can see their current range of collections here;

https://www.happenstancepress.com

You’ll not see anything from me there – my submission was, rightly, rejected. It was disjointed and simply not good enough. Most of the poems I submitted needed serious editing, and that’s being kind. Only one, (Bird in Hand – which you can find elsewhere in this blog), made it into my first collection.

But what I did receive from Helena Nelson, who owns and runs Happenstance Press, was a very thoughtful and detailed rejection letter, with notes on most of the poems I had submitted. She summarised by saying that there ‘was something there’ with my writing, but I was ‘trying too hard’.

If you happen to stumble across my blog Helena, then thank you. Your rejection letter had a lot of influence on a writer who was still trying to find a voice, even back in 2011/12.

And that brings me to my final point. Poetry publishers need support. They need people to buy books, pamphlets and magazines. Without this they cease to exist. So if you haven’t bought any books for a while, or subscribed to a magazine, then please bear this in mind! Small-press independent publishers of poetry in particular need our support right now.

Poetry Recordings – Charles Causley – Eden Rock

I thought I would start delving into the marvellous poetry archive of audio recordings. Something to share regularly on a Tuesday night perhaps? If so, let me know your favourites, and I’ll share them here to this blog’s gradually widening audience.

Here’s Charles Causley reading Eden Rock. That last line. Phew.

https://poetryarchive.org/poem/eden-rock/

Charles Causley (1917-2003) was born and brought up in Launceston, Cornwall and lived there for most of his life. When he was only seven his father died from wounds sustained during the First World War. This early loss and his own experience of service in the Second World War affected Causley deeply. His work fell outside the main poetic trends of the 20th century, drawing instead on native sources of inspiration: folk songs, hymns, and above all, ballads. His poetry was recognised by the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In addition to these public honours, the clarity and formality of his poetry has won Causley a popular readership, making him, in the words of Ted Hughes, one of the “best loved and most needed” poets of the last fifty years.

The above paragraph was lifted directly from the Poetry Archive website.

Wallace Stevens – Poems Selected by John Burnside

John Burnside, of whom I have not written yet, is one of my favourite poets, which is one of the reasons I got this book. It’s one of a series of poet – to – poet series Faber collections, where a well known contemporary poets writes about, and chooses a small selection of a another poet’s work. Like most, if not all, of the other books in this series it is now out of print (so doesn’t appear on my Bookshop.org page – my attempt to cover some of the hosting costs of this blog – currently at £6.40, which really isn’t going to help that much!).

It’s a small selection – 126 pages in total – not really enough to cover more than an introduction to a poet’s work. But in some ways for an unfamiliar reader it’s a better option. Not as daunting as a collected poems, and, as in this case, a good way to see how a particular poet’s style has developed over time.

This is particularly the case for someone like Wallace Stevens, who is perhaps most remembered, at least, here in the UK, for his earlier poems, primarily those published in Harmonium, his first collection. Harmonium was published in 1923, when the poet was 44 years old.

Harmonium includes The Snow Man, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Sunday Morning, Peter Quince at the Clavier, and perhaps most famous of all, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, which starts as follows;

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

II
I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

IV
A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

The literary scholar Beverly Maeder writing for the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens speaks of the importance the author placed upon linguistic structure in many of his poems. In this instance, Stevens is experimenting with the application of the verb ‘to be’ in its many forms and conjugations throughout the 13 cantos of the poem. As Maeder states, the poem “uses or even focuses on ‘to be’ in seven of its thirteen variations on the blackbird. The blackbird is pictured in a different situation and articulated in a different grammatical context in each fragment’ (Beverly Maeder Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens).

Another interpretation can be found here on the poem analysis website;

https://poemanalysis.com/wallace-stevens/thirteen-ways-of-looking-at-a-blackbird/

There are plenty of others. But Burnside asserts that ‘Far too many of us still see Stevens as the poet of ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird‘ and ‘The Snow Man‘ but, as fine as these are, he was much more than that’. This selected collection includes some of the longer sequence poems written towards the end of his life, and shorter poems from his final collection. One of the most well known of the former is An Ordinary Evening in New England, which in thirty-one cantos of six three line stanzas is an extraordinary piece of writing, an extended meditation on what is imagined and what is real. A lot of Stevens’ poetry is about poetry itself (usually a turn-off for me), and is challenging and difficult to fully understand, but then isn’t that the point? Not just with Stevens’ poetry, but with poetry, and life generally? The Twelfth stanza reads as follows;

XII

The poem is the cry of its occasion,
Part of the res itself and not about it.
The poet speaks the poem as it is,

Not as it was: part of the reverberation
Of a windy night as it is, when the marble statues
Are like newspapers blown by the wind. He speaks

By sight and insight as they are. There is no
Tomorrow for him. The wind will have passed by,
The statues will have gone back to be things about.

The mobile and immobile flickering
In the area between is and was are leaves,
Leaves burnished in autumnal burnished trees

And leaves in whirlings in the gutters, whirlings
Around and away, resembiling the presence of thought
Resembling the presences of thoughts, as if,

In the end, in the whole psychology, the self,
the town, the weather, in a casual litter,
Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.

One poem that, unsurprisingly isn’t included in this book, and also seems to be overlooked by others is ‘Like Decorations in a N….. Cemetery’ – a long poem about death and disintegration into nothingness. Apparently it should be read as an ellipsis, as in (My Poetry is) Like…., and it’s been described as a modernist masterpiece. But I can’t get beyond the vile title, which compounds the use of the N word, (I originally wrote the poem title here in full, but am uncomfortable in having it anywhere on my blog), with a negative appropriation of what is, (or was when it was written in the 1930s), an African-American tradition of grave adornment.

Of course Stevens was a product of his time, something that those commentators who acknowledge this racist language are quick to point out, but does that mean we can give a free pass to someone whose response upon learning of Gwendolyn Brook’s winning the Pulitzer Prize: was to say, apparently to a shocked reaction from those others in attendance, “Who let the coon in?”

Apart from the aforementioned title, (the poem itself doesn’t appear to be as discriminatory although I’ve only read it the once, so I may be missing something), his poetry is generally seen to be ambivalent towards those of other ethnic backgrounds, as opposed to being openly hostile. His upbringing and non-poetic life as a highly successful insurance businessman meant he had little interaction with non-whites.

Of course racism was commonplace in America at that time, (and still is of course, as recent events clearly illustrate), but where do we draw the line with poet’s beliefs and attitudes to others? What about Eliot and Pound’s anti-semitism? Or Pound’s (and for a short time Stevens’) support for Mussolini?

Outside poetry, do we discount Miles Davis’ music because of his violent misogyny? Or what of contemporary musicians such as Morrissey, Ian Brown or Noel Gallagher, and their comments on Covid, or politics (or in Ian Brown’s case pretty much anything!).

Then there’s the allegations of transphobia against JK Rowling and the reaction from fans who said they couldn’t read the books any more – there are, as you’d expect, a lot of articles on that particular controversy online. If you want to find out more then try this summary from the Scotsman website as a starting point;

https://www.scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/books/jk-rowling-twitter-why-harry-potter-author-has-been-accused-transphobia-social-media-platforms-2877977

So where do we go from here? Can we separate the person from their art? Should we? Even with contemporary artists it’s difficult – adding the prism of time makes it even harder.

There’s a good article on Miles Davis here – and how the author tries to deal with their conflict over loving the music and hating the actions of the person who made it

https://music.avclub.com/miles-davis-beat-his-wives-and-made-beautiful-music-1798242163

Or perhaps we should acknowledge the flaws of the individual as a way to have a deeper understanding of their art, as this article on Picasso, who like Davis had, by all accounts, a deeply unpleasant attitude to many of the women in his life;

https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/art-politics/the_picasso_problem_why_we_shouldnt_separate_the_art_from_the_artists_misogyny-55120

I keep going round in circles on this – ultimately we all have our own lines beyond which we won’t go, (I’m old enough to have seen Gary Glitter in concert and quite enjoyed it in a mock-ironic way, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near his music now), but I think we have to try, where possible, to separate the person from their art, whilst acknowledging the reality of the creator of the work and try and help, in our own small way, towards the dismantling of abhorrent views and attitudes in current and future generations.

You can admire Guernica, A Kind of Blue and An Ordinary Evening in New England without admiring their creator as an individual.

As for Stevens, it’s instructive to bear in mind that following her award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks was on the awards panel for the award in 1955. When the other two votes were split between e.e. cummings and Wallace Stevens, she gave her casting vote to Stevens. If she was able to separate the man from his work, perhaps we should be able to do so (see this following article and comments on the poetry foundation website for details).

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet-books/2008/02/wallace-stevens-after-lunch

What do you think? Let me know.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I say apparently because I’ve been avoiding much of social media for the duration. All the influencer posts. All the one size fits all advice from people who aren’t trained in the area or are just repeating glib suggestions. I’m being harsh. I am sure the posters concerned are trying to do good. And maybe they do reach out and help someone. Fair enough.

But those of us with closer, lived experience in this area maybe don’t need reminding every single time we scroll through Facebook or LinkedIn, (and yes, I know I’m potentially being hypocritical here, but at least if you’ve got this far you have done so by choice ).

For a lot of us every week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Something we deal with. Every. Single. Day. It’s exhausting. Looking out for signs, trigger points, anything that might lead to some kind of relapse. And along comes a well-meaning mental health awareness post to brighten our day. And then another, and then the first post again, shared by someone else we follow.

Not only this, but these articles are so full of sweeping generalisations – just because I’ve suffered from depression it doesn’t mean I know anything about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any of the other myriad conditions that people have to find a way of living with. It’s as if someone who once had a broken leg can automatically be an expert on mitigating the effects of varicose veins.

Although as Gillian McKeith managed to build a career as a ‘nutritionist’ from not much more than an intense interest in the contents of someone’s bowels, it isn’t that surprising. Anyone can be an expert on anything if enough people are listening. Being full of shit can be highly profitable.

Back to Mental Health Awareness Week itself. It’s 2021. Surely we’ve had enough focus on developing awareness of these issue by now for this to be unnecessary? But then I hear a colleague in the office moaning because someone won’t go to work because they are ‘a bit sad’. Yes maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have snapped. But perhaps they were just covering their own insecurities, their own issues, their own illness. Many of us are just trying to find a way to deal with our own crap (unless we’re Gillian McKeith of course).

Despite my colleague’s comment, I do think attitudes are changing – I only have to think back to what it was like in the 80s and 90s to see how far we have come, and initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week have probably played a part, despite my ambivalence and curmudgeonly annoyance. Just don’t expect me to share any chain mail social media posts on this subject (or any other for that matter).

There is so much that still needs to be done. I could rant and rage about the government’s woeful attitude an funding cuts to mental health provision in the name of austerity, but I’m not going to bother. They aren’t listening and they certainly don’t care.

On a personal level I’m not at the stage where I am willing to divulge everything that I went through. Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t see some badge of honour confessional from me in this post.

One thing I will say is that in my case there were times that I felt as if the treatment was as bad as the illness it was treating (it wasn’t). The prose piece which follows at the end of this post, (at this stage part of a much larger sequence I am writing – though it might not make the final cut), is an attempt to give an insight into one aspect of my own treatment through the use of (in my case a relatively low dose) anti-depressant medication.

Having started by criticising advice being given out during Mental Health Awareness Week, I am going to give two pieces of advice of my own.

Firstly, from personal experience and what I’ve read, I don’t think you can properly begin to deal with depression in someone until that person realises or accepts that they have a problem. Secondly, if you are struggling with depression and getting to the point of thinking that those you love will be better off without you being around, then you are wrong. The void you will leave behind is far greater than anything anyone who cares about you will be feeling right now.

Anyway, before this ends up as one of those self help articles I pilloried at the start of this article, here’s the poem / flash / hybrid writing piece. It hasn’t appeared anywhere else before. It’s entitled Sertraline (the anti-depressant I was taking for some time). To misquote The Verve, sometimes the drugs do work, even if we don’t always think they are at the time. They helped, and alongside the support of health professionals and my wonderful family and friends I was able to find my way back from the dark.

Sertraline

A comfort you said it was being unable to feel. You’d paid for the fog with your own credit card. It came in a box of bitter-white pills. Slip one from its pod and sleep not needing to dream. 

Numbness is a blanket. Tuck in the edges. The gaps where light might grow. It’s a fair price to pay for a few hours of peace.

A bus-stop shelter in a nondescript town, where stormwater guttering sluices with despair. Been waiting for years for a way out of this place. For a discourse of traffic through a diaspora of spray.

Walking the centre in a figure of eight. Stanchions of concrete stained with rain. Shopping precinct garlanded with for sale signs. The acrid scent of alleyway piss. Playing chicken with passing cars. The thrill of knee brushing steel.

Or finding a feather in the park. Look how it shimmers in the sheen of a summer moon. Remembering a smile, the whiteness of teeth, the shape of a laugh. But there is no iridescence here. I like it that way. 

I’m not the man I thought I’d become.