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Every so often I review my subscriptions to refresh and spread the financial love as it were. I have my constants – Mslexia, Poetry Salzburg, Magma – but it pays to explore other publications, which is how I found SLICE.

Published twice a year out of New York, SLICE combines stunning visuals with themed fiction, non-fiction, poetry and interviews. This issue’s theme is ‘Borders’, be they personal, geographical or meta-physical.

I have a confession – rarely do I sit and read a magazine/journal from cover to cover in one sitting. This one I did. Bookended with engaging fiction – from ‘August’ by Aja Gabel, about a woman post-affair to whom a neighbour’s dog takes a shine through to Tara Isabel Zambrano’s ‘New Beginnings’, describing the delicate dance between a couple who first met at an Indian grocery store – there’s much to absorb to find or lose your own lines.

The poetry’s good too. In Josh Bettinger’s ‘Still Life with Bridge as Handshake of Lands’, inanimate objects are given life existing among us and in ‘Night Water’ by Josie Schoel, people are cyclical trying to connect from within their own orbits.

A gem is the ‘Exquisite Corpse’, a game where one writer drafts the first part of a story with their final line being passed to the next to continue it (I remember doing this at school!). Four writers were asked to play, with their words translated from Arabic, French, Swedish and Catalan to create a unique stitched story, which centres around an Institute given four facades.

So, if you’re looking to subscribe to something new, I’d recommend SLICE, because the images speak too, inspiration for that next writing project perhaps…

I went to a workshop yesterday facilitated by Jane Turner Goldsmith at Adelaide University called ‘Write Yourself’.

Jane is a psychologist as well as a talented writer, who I first heard speak at Salisbury Writer’s Festival a few years ago. Having had a synopsis accepted by the Australian Psychological Society, Jane was keen to try out her workshop before rolling it out to a wider audience. I was one of six who volunteered and very happy I did.

Writing as therapy is a hot topic, with research by Pennebaker showing the therapeutic benefits associated with this particular form of self-expression, both mental and physical. In six hours, we completed 10 exercises, ranging from writing about something we were proud of and the significant object we were asked to bring along, through to eating chocolate mindfully and introducing narrative to a traumatic event. One of my favourites, and the most emotive for me, was writing a letter to our younger selves. When time was called, I couldn’t stop.

Parameters were given from the start. No one had to share what they’d written, only if they felt comfortable doing so. Some did, others chose not to. Jane was also interested in how we felt about completing each exercise – anxious, scared, enthused – to gauge how they’d be received. And this is the important bit.

As said, Jane is a registered psychologist with extensive experience in this area and so was very adept at managing the emotional consequences of such self-exploration. I’ve recently assisted a fellow writer in the UK, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, to publish an article in the latest issue of Mslexia about the safeguards in place when writing about mental health, and how alarmingly many running such workshops are not adequately equipped to deal with the fallout. Fortunately, I was able to provide examples of good practice here.

For me, the workshop was emotionally exhausting. I revisited traumas and even went places I’d never been. But then I didn’t expect anything less. Being a poet who draws on experience to produce work, this was safe ground. And completing the exercises has given me the foundations for five pieces I intend to develop further. So thanks again Jane for letting me be one of your guinea pigs. I’ve found new squeaks 😊

I had completely forgotten about this, so it was a nice surprise in all the madness when the latest issue of Mslexia arrived in our postbox…

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Don’t think I will ever tire of seeing this little chapbook in print.  And hope no one else does either  🙂

Well I saw the new year in with some of my favourite people…poets! And what better way to celebrate than with a chilled glass of wine (or three) and yummy food under a canopy of vine leaves in a beautiful home in the Adelaide Hills. Perfect.

And sticking with tradition, we were each asked to share achievements from the old year and aspirations for the new, which got me thinking…

2015

So looking back at the last 12 months, one major success stands out – the publication of my first collection – yay me! I must admit I’m rather proud of it and love catching a glimpse of it in our bookcase.

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Being guest poet at Hills Poets is another memorable experience, aswell as reading at Lee Marvin alongside the greats (fingers crossed I get invited back!).

This blog has also proved it’s worth, with views from here, the UK and US – all 2,300 of them (is that any good?) – with the most popular post being my launch in pictures peaking at 95 views.

So going back to publishing, with acceptances inevitably come rejections, and looking at the stats I think I’ve had more than my fair share:

  • 23 rejections across journals, magazines and anthologies
  • 7 acceptances predominantly in journals and magazines both in print and online

There’s a ratio in there somewhere – and I don’t think it would look too good!

2016

So looking forwards, what’s on my agenda for this year?

I have a couple of ideas for further collections – one full length and the other possibly another chapbook, we’ll see.

And among the rejections are a few poetry journals and magazines I really want to appear in, namely RABBIT, Cordite and Mslexia, so plan to keep on improving and just keep on trying.

A longer term ambition is to get a room of my own for writing. Having stayed last night at a fellow poet’s house complete with study and writer’s cottage, it would be absolutely wonderful to have a space just for poetry – with books lining the walls, my writing journals piled on the desk, a view, inspirational photos, snippets, notes, etc…alas still a dream for the time being. One day 🙂

 

This was the title of an article by Pascale Petit in the current edition of Mslexia, and it was an interesting read.

Mslexia

Pascale has a long list of poetic achievements and some fantastic collections, including The Zoo Father and The Huntress, both published by Seren. The latter focuses on her mother, as does this feature, in which Pascale explains the emotional journey she took when attempting to write about her mother and the impact of the abusive relationship she had with her. Those familiar with Pascale’s work know that animals and the Amazon are strong influences, and to be able to write freely about her mother Pascale identified these with her, in particular a golden jaguar quickly followed by a snow leopard, wolverine, giraffe, etc.  By doing this Pascale managed to literally exorcise herself of her mother’s ghost, eventually being able to think of her and love together in the same space, thanks to Pascale’s love for the creatures representing her mother in her work.

And this is what I love about poetry – catharsis is one of its many facets, giving us the opportunity to transfer difficult people and experiences onto those things so much more familiar to us and that feel far less uncomfortable. There is much to be said about this painful and then pain-free process.

Pascale Petit

I met Pascale by attending one of her courses at The Poetry School a few years ago back when I was living in London. The session was called ‘Life Class for Poets’, and focused on generating poetry from image, be they still pictures or a moving life model, encouraging us to free write whatever they inspired within us.  I remember I produced some pretty weird and wonderful pieces, which I really should make the time to revisit and develop further.

I’m currently using Pascale’s Towards a Collection course booklet I brought and downloaded from The Poetry School website (I tried to enroll for the face-to-face course but by popular demand it was over-subscribed, so I was thrilled to find I could still access the materials).  For anyone looking to do this it’s an invaluable tool, and I particularly like the simple exercise of surrounding yourself with all the poems you’re thinking of including to look for themes, patterns, and a general sense of how they look next to one another. You quickly see what works and what doesn’t, those that belong and those that belong somewhere else.

I’ve been experimenting with Haiku recently, a fascinating art form originally created by Japanese poets.

haikus

Essentially Haiku are short poems (fitting with my poetic style perfectly!) that use sensory language to capture a feeling or image.  Often inspired by nature, beauty or a poignant experience, traditional Haiku employs a five-seven-five syllable line count separated by a ‘cut’.  This creates two parts in the poem, with the final line bearing some comment or reference to the statement made by the first two.  And it’s amazing just how much you can pack into such a small space!  I love this technique, developing snapshots of time, place and feeling.   The challenge for me has not been the succinctness but the objectivity – describing without interpretation or analysis, in other words ‘you’ stay away, something often alien to a poet…

However, it has clearly paid off (literally!) as I was delighted to wake up this morning (being 10 and a half hours ahead of the UK) to the news of winning the Little ms February Haiku competition!

little ms

Little ms is Mslexia‘s monthly e-newsletter packed full of inspiration, snippets, quotes, forthcoming calls and comps, and general literary entertainment that I look forward to receiving in my inbox.  February’s topic was hypnotise, and my Haiku was inspired by a large brown snake we saw at the side of the road on our drive to the Flinders Ranges, that was actually reared up and hissing at the traffic, as if it was angry it couldn’t cross!  So thank you Mslexia, for the boost to continue with my Haiku!

I have just started my online feedback course through the Poetry School based in London hosted by Catherine Smith. Catherine’s work is just delicious, her collection of small stories, The Biting Point, evoke such powerful imagery in a hauntingly beautiful way.

biting_point_front_cover

The course runs over 10 weeks with members of the group uploading poems for feedback from each other on a fortnightly basis. Poets can upload as many versions of the same poem during this time, for Catherine to then feedback on the final version at the end of each two week slot. The idea is to dig out those ‘problem pieces’ that just don’t feel right – and I have plenty of these believe me, where I like a particular line or concept but something is just not working.

I’m finding it to be an incredibly useful experience, and have created a feedback document for each of my own pieces in which I’m saving all the comments I receive to later review the work with these to hand. And I’m meeting some wonderful like-minded poets along the way, who I hope to remain in contact with after the course has finished.

January has been a busy month. Other things keeping me buzzing are submissions – five achieved so far to a mixture of magazines and competitions – keeping up to date with the latest publications which yes, does involve purchasing some collections and books, and working out which sessions to attend during Adelaide Writers’ Week starting later this month. So having my wonderful Writer’s Diary has been an absolute saviour! It has really got me organised with submission deadlines, when to work on them in advance as I have, in the past, missed some due to a lack of allocated time, so every Friday now is just chock-a-block of what to achieve. The old paid job gets in the way 😉

We all write differently, not just in what we do but how we do it.  And I’m always really interested to hear how other people write – what tools they use, do they have a favourite place or dedicated space, what conditions they favour, etc.  I’m actually part of an online group in the London Poetry School called A Room of One’s Own, which is all about this very topic, and where we can post pics of our places.  This is mine…

 

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Living down under I basically follow the sun, which starts in the front room of our house and then gradually moves round to the back.  So first thing in the morning, this is just perfect.  I tend to draft my poems initially in pencil in one of  many patterned notebooks, sometimes leaving it for a while, could be hours, days, weeks depending on how it ‘feels’ before typing it up on my laptop.  I always carry a smaller notebook (the above are A5 size) and pen wherever I go in case inspiration hits me, or I hear, see, smell something that evokes a feeling or memory.

Over the new year, I also took the time to organise my filing system so now have different coloured folders for my published work and correspondence, pending submissions, both to do and hear back from, and the draft of my first collection I’m working on (this was the perfect excuse to wander around many a stationery store, something I love to do, leaving the husband at home of course!)  I used to be religious in recording my submissions, i.e. what has been sent to whom and when, etc., but then got lazy, which often happens with me I’m afraid.  Now with my new Mslexia Writer’s Diary there is no excuse as it contains space for such records, and I’ve even got into the habit of noting what I need to do every Friday, my dedicated writing day and one of the reasons I went part time at work.

So there you have it.  My ideal place to write would be in a small but bright room filled with all things poetry and an interesting view, be it ocean, countryside or mountains (mine is currently our driveway).  Working on this too!

With the beginning of a new year, I thought it would be a good time to review 2014 and take a look at some of the things I have achieved with my writing.

Review

Producing a short film for my poem

Being one of the winners of mindshare’s When words come to life poetry competition and given the opportunity to create a short video clip to accompany my piece was a most interesting experience. I learnt a great deal about storyboarding poems using impact, music, breath and movement, as well as finding that place you have to get to when reading aloud. And I made some good friends along the way, all of whom have either been impacted by or are involved in mental health.

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Breaking into the US market

Having been published in the UK, Australia and Canada, it was wonderful to be accepted into a journal published out of Maine in the US to add to the compliment of continents. The Aurorean was a journal I’d had my eye for a while due to the quality of work it publishes and the awards it has won. I can now be defined as an international poet – long may it continue!

Submitting a draft of my first collection

Having some time off work recently gave me the opportunity to finally develop a first draft of my first collection. Not as easy as you originally think and very all-consuming, but with the help of a course I took with Pascale Petit at the Poetry School and some words of wisdom from Kim Moore on how she did it, I managed to create a fairly cohesive submission that has been sent off to a publisher in London. Let’s see what happens!

What to focus on in 2015

I will continue to submit to magazines and journals but perhaps be more selective, and take a step back from the competitions. I must make more of an effort to attend literary events and readings to network, and keep up with what’s happening on the local poetry scene. And in an attempt to be more organised, I’ve treated myself to the Mslexia 2015 Writer’s Diary, an invaluable resource that I’m wondering how I did without really. If anything comes from my first collection submission then that will take up a large chunk of my time to develop further and fine-tune. I also received news just before Christmas that some of my work has been accepted by a very reputable webzine in the UK run by one of my favourite poets, but more about that shortly.

So here’s to another 12 months of poetry success. A happy new year to you all, keep writing  🙂

Apart from reading, and reading widely, another good tip for a poet is to subscribe to some poetry journals and writing magazines, to also help keep them appraised of the latest events in the literary world.  I currently subscribe to seven publications, a mixture of pure poetry, book reviews and general writing, one of which is Mslexia.

 

Mslexia logo

 

This magazine, published out of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, prides itself on being an ambassador for women’s writing, to get their voices heard in what can still be construed as a rather male-dominated field.  An interesting article in the current issue focuses on ‘bestselling poets’, with only three in the top ten prime sellers actually being alive at the moment.

Not surprisingly Carol Ann Duffy tops the charts, with an increase in her sales income on last year by just under £20,000 to £195,992.  I love Duffy’s work, the rawness and reality of it, two of my favourite pieces being from her collection of Love Poems, ‘Drunk’ and ‘Valentine’, in which she picks you up and makes you ‘be’ in the scene with her.

There’s an even split in the top ten in respect of gender, which includes the likes of Heaney, Plath and Armitage, and the piece reminds us that the poet’s income is a mere ‘pittance’ compared to the bestsellers in other genres, giving the example of historical fiction queen Philippa Gregory who earned close to £1 million this year.

 

money

 

And so it ends with the advice of don’t give up the day job, which is all too true.  I have been lucky enough financially to be able to reduce my working hours for the first time in my life to focus purely on my poetry but yes, poets face an interesting challenge – to dream in a realist world.

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