The Hunger by Rachel Plummer — Proletarian Poetry

Proletarian Poetry is always an interesting blog to follow, they post some smashing poems, like this one by Rachel Plummer.

 

A family we know have just had their lives changed irrevocably. She worked as a school administrator, had been there for fifteen years. He was a sparky who ran his own small business with his son as an apprentice. Last summer, he had a massive stroke; he is unable to move one side of his […]

via The Hunger by Rachel Plummer — Proletarian Poetry

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Grave Goods and the Grieving Process

Something happened this week that took me away from my ‘nowadays’ life and planted me firmly back into grief. I’ve been trying to make these blog posts about writing and uni and the creative process, because that’s really what my life is about. But something happened at the cemetery where my daughter is buried this week, and because that is also what my life is about, and because the experience of the death of my daughter, has shaped my life, my thought processes and my creative process, it’s important to talk about that too. I’ll try and keep it brief.

 

Every birthday and Christmas since we lost our daughter, my husband and I have agonised over what to take to the grave to remember her. She was a baby, would be a child now and whilst I don’t imagine her playing about the headstones or sitting in a tree, cherub like, as many parents imagine their children, I do imagine her going back into the earth and helping the earth. Therefor I bring things like insect houses, and bird baths and sometimes other things, this year it was a lovely white wreath for Christmas, because it looks pretty with the pink roses and because I want her little grave to be pretty. I get anxious if I don’t visit her grave and tidy it and lay flowers and bring little gifts. I don’t feel anxious once I have done that. It’s about doing the best for her, as her mum, because the sis the only place I can do things for her, practical things, as a mum would.  We have a little fence around her grave, because I can’t bear the thought of people stepping on her, or a lawnmower going over the top of her. This may well seem odd to other people, I can’t tell anymore what is and isn’t odd when one is considering the burial place of a child. In ancient times people put things in the grave with their children, like this incredible twin burial with it’s mammoth shoulder bone: Twin burial which, while I don’t know in any factual or scientific extent,  I am certain will have been put there to protect those two little babies. They may have marked the graves, left flowers and food, offerings too, but we’ll never know. These days we certainly do. Be it flowers, planted shrubs or as in the case of the cemetery where my daughter is buried, and all the cemeteries in the UK, we leave toys, wind chimes, wind mills, decorated stones, things that mean something to us, things that show the world that the baby or the child is not forgotten. The instinct to parent doesn’t end at death. You will know, if you have lost a child, the utter misery that is knowing they are alone in the cemetery, in the cold and the dark without anyone there to offer comfort. That instinct is strong. And it’s why people leave solar powered lights on the graves. After I’d seen the sign, I found this article: Scarborough news in which a councillor describes the cemetery as ‘like a disco there are that many LED lights flashing. It looks like a night rave.’

I can’t decide which hurt more, the prioritising of the appearance of the cemetery over the personal need to grieve, or the article which was insensitive to the point of painful. There doesn’t seem to have been any empathetic approach to this, which really saddens me.  What I do know is that I went home and I cried for three days wondering if someone had been on my daughter’s grave, measuring the distance between headstone and grave edge, touching her things without my permissions, judging us on whether our method of grieving fell within the parameters of their rules or not. It hurt.

I’ve made this petition, it’s to bring to attention that this is not the best way to go about  this, and to make it plain that grieving parents are still parents, that the lack of empathy and understanding over the individual needs of grieving people in general needs to be addressed. Please do sign it and share it if you can.

Petition on Grave Items

Thanks x

 

All my Mad Mothers: A Review

One of those books that is on my ‘to buy’ list, this review makes me want to buy it even more.

Aoife Lyall

Jacqueline Saphra’s debut collection, All my Mad Mothers, is one of observation and experience, resistance and discovery, inhibition and abandon. The poems within are vivacious explorations of daughterhood, adulthood, and motherhood, a spinning wheel of rebellion, conformity, protest and revelation.

Analogous to reading the old family encyclopaedias, these poems contain the secret thrill of self-discovery, an exhilarating exegesis of the female body as it responds to age and expectation.

The collection begins with ‘In the winter of 1962 my mother’, a poem that navigates the silence and isolation of a woman who fails to subscribe to contemporary social norms:

travelling round and round in shrinking circles
not sure how to execute the move outwards
into another lane never having been
properly taught how to make an exit

Given the deluge of fairy tales ready to instruct generations of young girls on how to acquire a husband (a passive mixture…

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Top Five Tips for not being put off by the Top Ten Tips that tell you you’re dreadful

Poetry is one of those subjects that seems to court strong opinion on not only its value, but also on what it actually is. There are countless blog posts; usually written by poets, arts journalists or reviewers, about what makes good poetry, how to write a good poem, what poetry isn’t, even what the correct and incorrect way of reading poetry is. I genuinely think that these sort of posts must be written by people totally at ease and confident in their own poetry and their own style of poetry, people that are absolutely certain of what poetry is. God, how I envy those people! I find posts that tell me what the wrong sort of poetry is make me a bit wobbly, they make me question whether my own poetry is wrong. I also see a lot of blog posts and social media posts talking about the poetic voice, specifically the ‘I’ voice in poetry.  These posts tend to infer that the ‘I’ voice is too inward looking, too navel gazing, that the way to write poetry is to look outwards, not inwards. Of course, the ‘I’ voice, by its very nature, tends to talk about personal experience, either of the writer or through the prism of the writer’s experience. Are we not to write about our own personal experiences? Is that navel gazing? The idea that people shouldn’t write about their personal experiences is an odd one. Every poem ever written was written with the writer as filter, and that filter is always the writers personal experience, whether they are the subject or not. You cannot avoid that filter, nor should you, that’s what makes poetry the incredible and subjective art form that it is, not whether it has the word shard in it, or whether it explores the breakdown of your marriage,  experiences of illness, sex, body image, death, being unstable or mentally ill, or the experience of watching a play of drinking a coffee or imagining the rustle of Elizabeth the first’s dress or describing a journey or the existential crisis of the human condition, but whether it connects on an emotional level to the reader, whether it elicits an emotional response and causes a reaction. That’s a difficult quality to define.

There are lots and lots of absolutely brilliant writers writing about their personal experiences at the minute, a lot of them are women. For a long time, women were put off writing about there own experiences, because women’s experiences tended to be unrepresented in what was a very male dominated arena. The idea was that women’s experiences, and I’m specifically thinking about experiences seen through a woman’s eyes whether childbirth, menstruation, motherhood, sex, marriage, work, whatever, that those experiences were unimportant because the world was directed in its gaze to the ‘real’ world as seen from a male perspective. I think writing about the experience of being a women is still somewhat frowned upon, even women writers question the validity of their story. But my point, my very long winded point, is that who’s to say what is right and wrong here. Good poetry is good poetry and what is good to one person isn’t necessarily good to another. I think there’s room for a lot of different styles and voices as I think there is room for lots of different styles of music. In fact, poetry is very much like music. There are the same sort of arguments that go round and round about what does and doesn’t constitute music. If you’re trying to write poetry and are being frightened off it by what is and isn’t a poem, don’t be, especially if you’re just starting out. So here are my top five tips for not being put off by all the top ten tips available to poetry writers:

  1. The first rule of poetry club is to write it, don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, just write. You can’t write a poem unless you actually write a poem. It doesn’t matter if you never show it to anyone, it doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish or you think it’s rubbish, if that pen isn’t on the paper or the keys aren’t being pressed then it’s never going to be written. What’s the worst that could happen? You write something that someone else doesn’t like. So what.
  2. Bear in mind that articles that tell you what you are doing wrong are click bait, they play on the insecurities of emerging writers looking for advice, they’re there to boost blog posts and draw people to websites. Every time you search for advice and all those negative sites come up, ask yourself why they aren’t telling you what you’re doing right when you write.
  3. As just mentioned, if you’re looking for advice, look for websites and blog posts that tell you what you are doing right, or what you could do right rather than pointing out what you’re doing wrong. They are generally more genuine and helpful. Also look on reputable websites where it is in their interests to encourage good writing: magazine and society websites are a good starting point.
  4. Allow yourself to get it wrong. With all due respect to the brilliant writers that are trying to help emerging writers along, the only way to get it right is to get it wrong a few times. Set yourself a challenge: my big challenge was always sonnets and how not to make them look like awful twisted Shakespeare rip offs. Keep going, keep making mistakes, and at some point you will have made all the mistakes and you’ll be poet laureate and ride around in a gold carriage wearing a crown made out of parchment. Or at least you will know that you have learnt the rules. A long gone friend of mine used to say ‘you can’t follow the rules unless you know how to break them first’.
  5. You don’t have to be the best. If you want to write, just write. If it makes you happy to write, then write. If you do want to be the best, then keep going. Ask advice from real writers and editors, the best way is to fork out the six to twelve quid that it might cost you to get feedback on your poem from a genuine writer that you admire, they will usually critique poetry but we do like to buy food and pay our bills too so best to offer payment. You could always take your work to a writer’s surgery or apply for some of the brilliant free enterprises that are about that are designed to help writers gain experience from other writers.

Finally, write about your own experience, they make the world richer. How does anyone ever know what anyone else’s experiences are if we don’t write about them. Try and be unique with it, try and write in a way that means that you own it, that your story is yours alone, but do not be put off telling your story because someone else thinks you should only write about stuff that isn’t you. Write about that AS WELL. The two are not mutually exclusive and a poet that can be as easy in their own skin, opening up their heart to the world as they are describing a stage show, or a flower or a drink or a pike or a hawk in the rain is holding all the cards. Don’t label yourself and put yourself in a filing cabinet, just write.

 

x

 

So Long, 2017: The Boring NYE Round Up

In many ways, 2017 was a quiet year. But the quietness was not a desolate, empty quiet, it was a contended, slow moving river of quiet; a thick, silvery slide of being, of just being. I am slowly learning to accept the moment, and more, to enjoy the moment and not strive and not regret, just to be here in the present. That was what I was aiming for in 2017 and I feel like I have achieved that. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my lows, I have had my wobbles, I have worried about my career, I have been bereft with grief for my daughter, for the family we won’t have, but I have not lived in that grief, I have not drowned in the very bleak lows that I have experienced on occasion this year. On the whole, this has been a good year. The highlight, of course, was my latest collection coming out with Valley Press. I’d been anxious about it, not knowing whether it was a strong enough collection to be published, but it’s out there, I’m happy with it, it’s selling well. I can’t ask for more than that, I don’t want to ask for more than that. I’ve had some really lovely feedback from readers, and that is the best sort of accolade one can have. I read a twitter post by Jandra Sutton (@jandralee) today which said:

‘Your book doesn’t have to be one of the ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2018′ to be worthwhile. You’ve done something huge, and sharing it with the world takes courage. Don’t let some arbitrary list take away your joy!’

It sums up very nicely how I feel. I am terrible for comparing myself to other people, especially on social media, where the fish eye lens exaggerates and enhances everyone you look at whilst diminishing your own successes. But I feel I am moving forward with a greater sense of my own abilities and my imposter syndrome muzzled and under control. One of my greatest memories for the year is from my book launch and the absolute happiness of a room full of smiling people, cake, wine, chatting and feeling at ease in my own skin. I’ll remember that for a long time; the way the November light etched into the window and the warm wood of the panelled room held us all. My friends from Newcastle had travelled down to see me that day and a good friend from Hebdon Bridge had travelled over too, there were friends i’ve not seen for years, people I used to work with, ex students and mentees and the room was a mixture of poetry people and non poetry people, some of which were experiencing a poetry ‘event’ for the first time. I feel honoured that that event was my book launch. So yes, good, warm, solid memories. The sort of memories that can’t be eaten up with anxiety, instead, they become the memories that when you think of that time, that moment, your back gets a little straighter, your head gets a little higher.

My other highlights include becoming a columnist for Yorkshire Life Magazine which means I have the opportunity to write about life on the coast, pretty much a dream come true for me. It was a big tick on the things I wanted to achieve in 2017. And it is part of my other big tick, which was to make headway in the plan to become a full time writer. I’d wanted to increase the amount of work I was doing that was directly related to writing and poetry, whilst decreasing the amount of work I was doing which had nothing to do with writing and I managed that. I’d given up dog walking a few months ago, but then made the decision to close down my animal care business altogether in December. I realised, after a couple of particularly manic weeks where I couldn’t fit everything in and I found myself turning down paid writing work to do some animal care jobs, that I was using it as an excuse. I was hiding behind the animal care business because I was afraid to make that big step from one boat to another. That’s how it feels, to me, when I imagine it, like I had a a foot in two boats. The time was right to give it up and trust myself to be a full time writer. I know I have done the right thing, because I can feel it in my chest, like my conscience had been tap tap tapping me and telling me I wasn’t being true to myself. It was a huge relief, making the decision, but tinged with fear. Yesterday I spent the morning clearing my office and changing my filing cabinets around to reflect the change in priorities. I came across various bits and pieces from 2014 when I was starting the animal care business: my first business cards, my first posters, all really happy memories. I have a warm, happy feeling of accomplishment looking at them. I  did that, I worked with a foot in the animal care business and a foot in the writing world, juggling university at the same time to get to this point and it is a good, good feeling to now be putting both feet into my writing career. Without the animal care business I will now be able to work on my PhD more thoroughly too. I already feel like a big stress-weight has been lifted, everything is so much less chaotic all of a sudden. I don’t know how I was doing everything at once, but I have a feeling I wasn’t doing any of it to the best of my abilities.

Which brings me to next year and the plans I have. Next year is the year that I will be putting together the next collection. I’ll be spending the year writing new poems to add to the ones I already have, doing some research and really getting my teeth into it. I have deliberately kept the amount of new stuff I’m doing down to a minimum for next year so that I can give the work I am doing my full attention. I think this might be some of the best work I’ve ever produced, but no doubt this feeling will be followed by crushing self doubt once I get down to it. The three things I have planned for 2018 are getting the backbone of my PhD written, the new collection and getting my writing workshop up and running again. These are not small projects, so it’s important that I am self aware enough that I don’t put some procrastination devices in between me and the work. Procrastination, I have discovered, is much more about a lack of confidence than anything to do with laziness. I hope to pre empt that lack of confidence by being aware of it, if that makes sense. I am hoping that I may get some help with funding so that I can free up more time to concentrate on the collection but if I’m not lucky enough to get the funding I will be working on it at the weekends, which is no different to what I have always done. I’ve been juggling different parts of my life for what seems like forever.  Ideally I would have three months of solid work on it, but without funding this is much more likely to take the whole year and the project would be reduced in scope, unfortunately. So fingers crossed that one of the organisations I am applying to thinks this is a good idea and wants to help me. I don’t want to say too much about it all yet as it involves some big ideas and I don’t want to jinx myself. I am very much treating it as a project that will have a degree of community engagement, but as I say, I am keeping it under my hat for now so watch this space.

Other new year’s resolutions include being a bit stricter with my daily meditation sessions; I’ve let them slip when I am busy and that’s really the opposite of how it should work. I’m also having another crack at veganism in January and my journey towards being zero waste continues, very very slowly. I guess my biggest resolution is in the form of how I talk to myself, how I use social media and how I live my life: there needs to be more living in the moment, less attachment to striving for success.less comparison with other writers. Success comes in so many different forms. I think the sort of success that I am aiming for is to just write, to do the thing that I am driven to do. I don’t want to ask for more than that. If I am writing, then I am content.

There are so many people in the poetry community that have helped me, bolstered my confidence and inspired me, so thank you and thank you to the writers who keep writing. FullSizeRender-10

Happy New Year

x

 

The Mole is in Physical Form

Since I last posted I have been super busy, as usual. I am continuing to work on the Stillbirth Commission, working on an arts funding application for a community project in Scarborough, I’ve written an article for a magazine, interviewed Helen Mort and Kate Fox (both incredible and a joy to interview) worked like a maniac to get enough abstracts written so that I can hand in a good chunk of invoices (which ensures that my mortgage and bills are paid and I get to eat food for the month) and had a productive PhD meeting with my new supervisors. The big news, though, is that my new collection, Gifts the Mole Gave Me is back from the printers and ready for me to go pick it up next Thursday, which is its official launch date. Between now and then I am frantically trying to get the marketing information that lovely Valley Press have asked me to put together for publicity purposes, trying to organise a nice launch, which will be in Scarborough and getting ready to get this out and get reading from it.

This is the point in the publication process where my nerve wavers a little. The book is now in physical form. I have received some terrific feedback and endorsements from Carole Bromley,  Deborah Alma and Richard Skinner, but now this thing that I created, this book of thoughts and little doorways into my life and my personal life is up and away into people’s homes where they will read and either like or dislike it, or feel nothing about it whatsoever. The real worry is that, even though the book’s themes are about physical movement and how that is mirrored in psychological movement, walking, travelling, observing, and the search for belonging; the rooting for roots,  I am still writing about still birth and miscarriage and these are things that I have written about before, in all of my collections. The fear is that people will think me a one trick pony. Why should I be bothered by this? I’m not sure. Rationally I want to say strongly: this is my story, these are the poems I have written at a time in my life when I was tunnelling out of my daughter’s death. I write what I write when the poems are there. I can only write when the poems are there. The poem-fishing process is a delicate trout tickling affair when it comes to catching the slippery little blighters, the poems will only be there when they are there. But then, I find I am justifying myself to…who? Myself? Do I think I have to justify writing about my daughter’s death because I’ve written about it before? If I was mentoring myself I’d tell myself that the poems speak for themselves, if they are strong poems then they are strong poems, I am not stuck here, I am not writing the same poem repeatedly, it is more like the poems are tracking my journey. Be proud, Wendy, you’re allowed to be proud of your work. It is not a loud collection, it does not shout, it does not stamp or crash into the lime light, this is a quiet, subterranean collection. The metaphorical mole is on a journey, always, underground, in the dark, until that moment when the earth is turned and the mole feels the light, suddenly, and can suddenly see how far its come (here biology messes with my metaphor as moles have ridiculously bad eye sight and probably cannot see where they have been or are going, they only exist in their own moment…which is another metaphor entirely)

I am moving like the mole, through and up to the light. I am disturbing the earth and turning up treasures I didn’t know existed.

My first reading from the new book is at Mark Conner’s Word club in Leeds on the 27th. I will admit to being a bit nervous. There are a fair few Yorkshire based poems in the collection, I shall probably read those. It’s nice to be around Yorkshire folk for the first reading. It’d be smashing to see you there.

Until next week

x