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How can poetry speak to us if it does not take risks, say something bold and new, make adventurous leaps with language and form?

This was the synopsis of the online course I’ve just completed through the Poetry School.

 

Facilitated by Jennifer Wong, an engaging and insightful poet from Hong Kong, students were encouraged to explore unknown territory, step out of their comfort zone, to experiment with form and technique. Jenny shared work by Emily Berry, Ocean Vuong, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Christopher Reid, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Clarke, Karen Solie and Mimi Khalvati as inspiration, and also provided an extended reading list for those who want to fall further.

We drafted portrait poems, found poems, mirror poems, poems about names, historical happenings, ghazals and pantoums. And once again it was wonderful to connect with poets across the world to discuss work, exchange feedback, and share our own creative practice and inner being.

I participate regularly in the online Poetry School community and would highly recommend browsing their catalogue of courses—Jenny’s running another one, Possibilities of the line, later this year—because it’s always good to broaden those poetic horizons.

is Daniel Sluman’s second collection published by Nine Arches Press; sharp and unflinching work exquisitely rendered to convey aspects of mortality in all its bleak beauty.

Daniel is a UK-based poet with whom I first became acquainted participating in his Poetry of Pain course hosted online through the Poetry School. Daniel suffered with bone cancer when he was young and in these poems, he shares flashes of the trauma endured brilliantly, as well as those places and events no one wants to speak of.

In the terrible, there is pain and suffering, blood and release, acceptance and love, narcotics and knowing, and a frank realisation of the body’s fragility and the life it contains.

In ‘1991-2006’ we’re shown a fast-forward of father and son travelling in ‘a pounded blue ford’, ‘the faces from our life passing like boarded-up doors’. In ‘morphine’ ‘it waits for me to twist the lid’ and ‘dream of a wonderful weight on the chest sinking further towards the stalling heart.’ And in ‘angels’ there’s a bitterness, ‘as we reel the rope to knot around their chests’, pull and wait ‘for the snap of feather-bone & rib’.

The vessel in which we travel can be subject to ‘strange weather’ (a concept explored in ‘doppelganger’) threatening its delicate balance, and so I want to leave you with this poem, a poignant reminder the barely bearable is often shared:

 

& this is love

 

as she goes limp & falls into my arms

like an important looking letter

I help her to the bathroom

 

& sit on the other side of the door

tearing nails between my teeth

clutching the phone like a safety rope

 

& this is love    how we live between

the side-effects of glittering pills

the wads of her dead hair snarled

 

in the plug-hole    the morning cigarette

that shakes in her hand before her kiss

once again says whateverhappens    I ring

 

the ambulance when her head smacks

the floor    & in the crazed flutter of her lids

I see a million lives for us    each one perfect

 

Copyright @ Daniel Sluman 2015

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

Buses

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  🙂

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.

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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.

DSC_2619

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  🙂

Having recently received three rejections in a row from three different magazines/journals, an element of self-doubt can start to creep in – what am I doing wrong, how can the poems be improved, am I wasting my time, etc. Successes are wonderful, celebrated and then filed but maybe its human nature to dwell that bit longer on failure and make it personal.

frog

During my period of procrastination, I remembered a recent essay Kim Moore wrote during her digital residence with the Poetry School, where she describes her path to publication along with some practical hints and tips she learned along the way. But what I found really interesting (and somewhat reassuring!), is the overlap between the lists of magazines Kim’s work has been accepted in and rejected by (have duplicated it below for ease):

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There are particular magazines and journals I would love to get into, a few of which are on Kim’s list, so the message here is clearly one of perseverance!

Kim also went onto say that one of her poems was rejected 13 times before being accepted as part of a collection, and then went on to win an award in its own right.

So if you’re like me and have some work that you feel does have a certain something but just keeps coming back (a boomerang springs to mind!) don’t despair, it may just be a case of it finding its home.

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.

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