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This is a gem of a book. Edited by Abegail Morley, Catherine Smith and Emer Gillespie, co-founders of Ekphrasis, this anthology of poems reveals new perspectives on Alice in Wonderland from some outstanding poets.

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With an insightful foreword by Ian Duhig, the book formed part of the British Library’s ‘150 years of Alice’ celebration ‘creating a dialogue between one art form and another’. And there are some big names in here keeping the editors company – Sharon Black, Helen Ivory, Sarah Salway, Penelope Shuttle and Tamar Yoseloff to name a few, contributing exquisite pieces. I will draw on some favourites.

In Abegail’s ‘Daisy Chains and Downers’ we find an Alice-esque girl ‘hanging out on Stanley Road after dark’, where ‘clocks untick’ and ‘time slackens’ culminating in ‘You can date me by bone density, scraps / of fabric, the shape my heart makes as it stops’, a beautifully haunting stanza.

In Helen’s ‘Wunderkammer with Escher Stairs and Cheshire Cat’ we fall into its bizarre world where ‘the ladder kinks off into another room’ and the infamous ‘drink me’ bottle ‘shrinks the day / and the cat shapes a cave from her sleeping bones’.

In Catherine’s ‘The Grin’ a child waits outside ‘the Head Teacher’s office, / convicted for day-dreaming in Trigonometry’ as their grin takes on a life of its own, ‘to take its place in the longest grass, / with all the other banished grins, / the smirks, the yawns, the blurted truths’.

In Heidi Williamson’s ‘Disappearance at six o’clock’ Alice is asked to wake up ‘step out of your dream now’, a poem inspired by Stephanie Bolster’s Portrait of Alice with Persephone, where there are ‘clouds in the water / like drowned breaths’.

I could go on but it would be better to read it firsthand. Poetry lovers should get a copy of this collection simply for the quality of work it contains. Non-poetry lovers should also because let’s face it, who doesn’t love Alice?!

Lee Marvin readers last night were Andrew Peek, Sergio Holas, Kelli Rowe and Linda Marie Walker at the Dark Horsey Bookshop introduced by Ken Bolton.

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Andrew kicked off the bill and was a tough act to follow. Having never heard him read before, Andrew described his work as bipolar poetry, starting with a poem called ‘On sitting down to that floored version’ in which he compared creating a poem to working in an abattoir, an interesting juxtaposition! Andrew then shared a poem about NSW rain with vivid images of ‘hail like angry fists’ and ‘cars jet-ski around corners’. His next poem was quite poignant given the current refugee crisis in Europe called ‘Everything will heal’ with the haunting line of ‘hearing his story quietly breaking its bones’. Andrew performed like an actor and is incredibly engaging and humorous, demonstrated in his poem for insomniacs in which he listed every aspect of night – spears of stars, partner’s snoring, dump truck noise – then ended with ‘shit, it’s 9am!’ Andrew finished with three short poems about love in his ‘Nature of the victim’ series and a poem in French dedicated to his granddaughter Scarlett on the front row. I was so taken with Andrew’s work I purchased a copy of his collection The Calabar Transcript published by Five Islands Press, which I’m looking forward to diving into.

Sergio was another first time reader for me, but again like Andrew, not to Lee Marvin. Sergio’s work was a series of short poems, statements almost, opening with ‘Spirit one’ about plastic bags floating in the skies of Adelaide and then ‘Spirit two’ in its oceans, simple yet thought-provoking stuff. In ‘It’s irrelevant’ Sergio advises us to get a computer ‘let it do your sums, correct your fails’ and in his next ‘Cave work’ there was a beautiful line of ‘trying to fix, with wasted tools, my reptilian brain’. Like Andrew, Sergio shared a poem alluding to refugees called ‘Dictation test’ and then a cute little poem about a parrot in the park, which ended with the line ‘as a 747 pollutes the canvas, the little parrot blesses enamored people looking out onto the giver of life’. Sergio’s work provides snapshots of life, feeling and thought, little tidbits to make you stop and think, something we quite often don’t do.

Kelli I’ve heard before and apparently started reading at Lee Marvin when she was very young (and is still a youngster!) Kelli read ‘The language of flowers’, a piece of prose based on an academic essay filled with striking images of ornamental cherry trees, almond blossoms and where flowers are humanised to become ‘bone flowers, fragile and suspended’. When Kelli reads she appears small and demure but her writing is far from this – it has impact, pulling you in and keeping you there. I remember the last time she read a piece about a dollhouse and it’s these intricate worlds she creates that are so appealing. The story took a somewhat comical turn when Kelli talked of racing worms and cutting up slugs, with a rather abrupt ending, just when we were getting comfortable, where her friend suggests salting as a better means of slug riddance and then ‘looks at me, looks down at his beer and does not look back’.

Linda’s work I fell in love with when I brought a copy of her little book The Woman, Mistaken published by Little Esther Books (which I should have taken along to get signed!) and so it was wonderful to actually meet her, more so when Ken explained that it was because of Linda these readings began. Linda read prose called ‘I can’t see a thing’ full of naked visceral images where ‘hills vanish like dreams’ and there’s ‘talk of trees’. It was reminiscent of her previous work, a patchwork of hauntings, conjuring up a line for me from one of Helen Ivory’s Waiting for Bluebeard poems in which ‘heartbeats are pressed into walls’, instilling life into inanimate things while balancing references to death ‘when someone goes away, days are eternal.’ And there’s ‘a little book of nothing’, ‘plans drawn wrong’, ‘terrifying visits of early mornings’ and opals mistaken for pearls giving the piece a fairy tale feel, along with a gorgeous line of ‘tender lost days of horror put among soft things’. As with Kelli’s piece, just as we were getting settled in, it ended with ‘and could be a tip, press into my thumb’.

I particularly enjoyed Tuesday’s readings, the breadth and depth of work shared yet at the same time with something held back, a certain restraint, an undertone, a sadness or longing, echoes of my own.

I recently found out about a project very close to my heart through Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed. To help promote Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK from 11-17 May, Sarah James will be using her blog to host With You In Mind. Sarah James

Sarah is an inspirational poet whose work has been widely published in a variety of journals, anthologies and newspapers, as well as in solo collections. The first, Into the Yell, was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2010 and won third prize in the International Rubery Book Awards the following year.   Sarah’s second collection, Be[yond], was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press in 2013, who have also published her latest book, The Magnetic Diaries, earlier this year.

Like countless others, Sarah has her own stories of mental health that she shares on her site and through her work, something I can relate to as I do the same in my own (try it, it can be very cathartic!).  So having been involved in the last couple of mindshare poetry projects to promote Australia’s Mental Health Week in October, I contacted Sarah to offer my support for her project and any help to promote it. I was then thrilled to be asked by Sarah to use my poetry film, Black dog, in an advance posting of her project.

So keep an eye on Sarah’s site over the coming week to read some fantastic poetry from the likes of Helen Ivory, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Abegail Morley and Catherine Smith, all of whom have generously donated some of their work to this very worthy cause.

you wait and wait, and then there’s more than one!

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Ink, Sweat & Tears (IS&T) is a UK-based webzine run by Helen Ivory, an amazing poet with a path of wonderful work, my favourite collection being her most recent, Waiting for Bluebeard published by Bloodaxe Books.  I’ve also participated in an online course hosted by Helen a few years ago through the Poetry SchoolTransformation and Magic I believe it was called – that encouraged students to think about the more fantastical side of poetry, letting the imagination go forth and then some.

Anyway, IS&T is a coveted place to be, so I was thrilled when I found out Helen wanted to publish some of my work on her site, which went live on Friday.  This is actually one of my favourite poems (us poets all have them) so I’m really pleased it’s out there being shined on.  Happy days  🙂

When I lived in London I participated in a few Poetry School courses, including a workshop with Pascale Petit and an online course facilitated by Helen Ivory.

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Last week the school hosted their first Digital Open Day via CAMPUS, a social network for poets.  I signed up to participate in a couple of their live Q&A chats but unfortunately, due to some technical issues our end plus the time difference, was not able to be actively involved.

However, following each event transcripts were posted on the site for group members to access so I was able to catch up on what I missed.  The live session Path to a First Collection provided a real insight into the heads of prestigious editors – Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books (also see Jo Bell’s latest blog) and Amy Wack of Seren – and poets – Kim Moore and Hannah Lowe.  Neil and Amy explained what they look for in a submission to grab (and hold) their attention, whereas Kim and Hannah’s perspective was from the submitter and the arduous task of fine-tuning their work before sending it in.  It is an invaluable read for anyone making steps to putting their initial manuscript together, be it a full length or pamphlet collection.

Kim Moore is also the Poetry School’s new Poet in Digital Residence.  Kim is a wonderful poet based in Cumbria, with her intriguing first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves published by Inpress and eagerly awaited first full length collection due out in 2015 from Seren.  Kim has also been widely published in some of the top literary magazines, such as Rialto and Ambitand after reading her first blog I’m looking forward to more.

Yesterday I tried a different writing technique.  Usually an idea comes to me or a title, first line or the last, I leave it to take shape in my head for a while and then write it down (normally in pencil unless I happen to be on my laptop) giving special care to punctuation, line breaks, stanzas, etc.  I almost try to get a final version straight off.  But yesterday, with a topic in mind, I just wrote – a solid block with no attention to sentence structure, breath or indeed anything other than getting down what I wanted to say.

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This came about after reading some work by Sarah Chapman, a dynamic young poet most recently published on Helen Ivory’s Ink, Sweat and Tears webzine.  An interesting result, quite liberating in fact.  I think the lesson I learnt is a very simple one all poets experience –  that deviating from what feels comfortable and familiar can lead you into a very new space to explore and in which to make your mark.

I am just in the throes of finalising the piece and then intend to submit it to one of a number of magazines on my increasing to do list !  Let’s see what kind of reception it gets…will keep you posted.

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