The power of silence

Sleep often eludes me, and the small hours can see me committing that much turned to sin of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, to distract my mind from wakeful thoughts. This ill-advised activity usually results in the purchase of a porcelain dragon, or a bargain set of food parasols, peppered with ever increasing despair. Occasionally though, this endless search for distraction reveals something good. Something worth being awake for at the wrong end (or indeed beginning) of the day.

This extract from Michaela Coel’s speech at the Emmys needs no elucidation. I recognise myself, as I suspect many others do. This addiction to visibility, this search for validation is as toxic as any failed relationship. Perhaps it is a failed relationship – a failure of a relationship with social media, with the internet with the overwhelming slew of ways to publicise, monetise, magnify our work.

My thoughts now turn to “who am I to even think like this”. I have precious little visibility, precious little work in the world – perhaps I’m just making up excuses for my lack of presence? Yet the thing is, the search for visibility is the very reason for this lack of presence. We are all publicists now, all addicted to the rush of dopamine from seeing those “likes” creep up, all hoping that we will make it, somehow, without really knowing what “it” is.

This takes time – keeping up the social media posts, wondering why this one was liked and that one wasn’t – I live in a world where even my pets or garden could monetised if I only have the time and savvy to make it happen.

Not only does this need for visibility take time from the act of creating, it seeps into the moments I carve out to write – the ever present wonder of how this poem or tale could be marketed, how I could work it into a blog post.

The concept of celebrity is not new, but it’s importance is somehow skewed. For small time poets, or painters or singers the pure act of creating is no longer enough. We need to be seen, to be liked, to be followed and fêted worldwide. Suddenly, the concept of being brave enough to “disappear…and see what comes to you in the silence” seems like the most freedom I could possibly choose.

The obvious thing is to just step away from social media. It’s not so easy though, especially for those like me who have physical or mental conditions that make real life interaction a challenge. The praise and primping of social media brings value, even companionship – but it also brings endless noise, endless routes to comparison, endless ways to chalk up faults and failures.

Nonetheless I’m going to try. I haven’t enjoyed writing this year – I’ve allowed myself to confuse visibility with validity and my focus has shifted to somewhere that feels suffocating. I can feel my brain wanting to twist back to the words, to bathe in them, love them, let them home. I want to feel that prickle of excitement, that moment of magic that comes when heart and head meet. And so, this dark end of the year will be different, it will be devoted to writing – to seeing what comes to me in the silence.

What is a bespoke poem?

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve reopened my order book for bespoke poetry. It does occur to me though that you may be wondering exactly what a bespoke poem might be, so I thought I’d give you a little overview.

Essentially, a bespoke Poem from the Hare is a poem written by me, in collaboration with you. Usually people comission them as a gift – birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Day and the like – or for celebrations like weddings or christenings. Having said that, there’s nothing to stop you commissioning a poem for yourself – maybe to celebrate passing an exam, or just something to lift your spirits each day.

Do I need to know anything about poetry to comission a bespoke poem?

Not at all. I can talk to you about the type of feel you want for your piece, and build a poem to match. There’s so many different forms and styles that work alongside the words to enhance meaning and it’s a joy to weave them together and create something that will move and delight.

Do you need me to tell you exactly what I want you to write?

Yes and no. The more detail I have the more rounded the piece will be – but it very much depends on what you want. You may want something almost like a memoir, that records significant shared moments, or something more nuanced that celebrates a particular moment of resilience. We can talk about this kind of detail when you get in touch.

I’ve seen personalised poems on sale that are much cheaper than yours. Why do you charge more?

Good question! A personalised poem is generally a standard piece of poetry, with different names, or personal details popped in as appropriate. The work I offer is a completely original piece, written to your specifications. Made to measure rather than off the peg, if you like.

Are you any good at writing poetry?

Another good question! It’s really hard to answer – if I measure “any good” on how much work I have published, then the answer is “I think so” ! I know that I understand how to use language, rhythm, form and all sorts of other poetic devices to create emotion and tell a story – and I know that previous commissions have been well received. You can read a selection of testimonials on my page Poems from the Hare.

Do you take commissions for bespoke poetry all the time?

Writing a bespoke poem takes time,so I do have to limit the number of commissions I take. Occasionally I close my order book completely for a while, especially if I have a lot of copywriting work underway, so it’s always best to plan ahead, especially at busy times like Christmas or Mother’s Day. Having said that, if you need something a bit last minute just get in touch and I’ll do my very best to help.

Get in touch

If you’ve any other questions, or you’d like to discuss commissioning a bespoke poem, just drop me an email on kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible .

How is it the end of August?!

I mean – how is that possible? This month has meandered away under a cover of cloud.

The end of summer usually makes me sad – warm weather means less pain for one thing. I miss eating outside, watching the swifts and martins overhead and the general floatiness that comes from spending every day in long skirts and flip-flops. Autumn is beautiful, of course, and winter is pleasingly austere but summer ? Summer is for smiling and pretending I live somewhere altogether less stoical.

I feel different this year. Perhaps it’s because much of summer has been taken up with house renovation, perhaps it’s the insistent gloom of the skies over Coalbrookdale. Perhaps it was that glorious week on the Welsh coast. I don’t feel as bereft and wary of winter as usual.

It could also be because I feel I’ve regained some equilibrium. I’m writing more mindfully, rather than scribbling from a turbulent mind, which inevitably means work that is more poem than outpouring – ultimately, work that is better.

I’ve also been more proactive with submissions – looking at my Trello page and seeing I’ve only three pieces in circulation was a bit of a shock . I spent some time reviewing, redrafting and refining some of the poems I’ve made this year as well as seeking homes for them. Always nerve racking. Always exciting. Always full of “why can’t I just be happy with gardening instead of putting myself through this”.

Camping at Caerfai seems like years ago

Good news too – I’ve had a piece of flash accepted for publication by Sledgehammer Lit. who are fast feeling like my poetry-spirit home. I love what they publish and I love that they seem to like my stuff. This piece is one that I love and that I’ve found hard to home – so I’m thrilled it’s going to be part a journal I admire. A couple of poems were declined – but that’s how it goes.

New projects are brewing too – a couple of gentle collaborations with friends whose art I adore may be coming to fruition in the not too distant future.

I seem to have a new direction in terms of how I want to write. My aim is to set aside a week – autumn I hope – and do my own mini writing retreat. I’ll have to stay at home obviously, but I’m going to try to minimise other work and manage domestic duties so I can focus on reading,writing and exploring new directions. Or I might go and make furniture in the Scottish Highlands like Cate le Bon.

So summer is closing, with a whimper or a bang remains to be seen, but I feel positive about my work, and positive about where I’m going – slowly, as ever, but I’m moving. And that’s what counts.

If you’d like to comission a poem, for yourself or as a gift then you can ! I love to create bespoke poetry – it’s a privilege to be asked to express people’s love and care for each other. If you’d like to find out more just click on Poems from the Hare at the top of the page, or send me a message kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

Fallow? Or just exhausted?

I always know when my writing needs to take a back seat. My brain simply ceases to play ball. I grasp for words – and find them – but the fizzy excited feeling has faded. I’ve lost my oomph.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not writing. It means I have to turn my attention to being able to pay the bills – so my writing energy is spent on creating killer product descriptions, and beautiful web content. It’s still writing, I still enjoy it – but poetry is dormant. For now.

That said, I’ve a few pieces due to be published soon, in places like Sledgehammer, The Dawntreader and Streetcake, and they’re poems I’m really proud of. I’m also immensely pleased with the writing I’m producing for Spelt – it’s an honour to be part of this growing publication.

I’m very aware of how my style has grown over the last six months or so. I really believe in the work I’m submitting, and feel confident that they are worth reading. The need for approval ebbs and flows, of course – I’m putting my heart on a page but I feel my words are more authentic.

I’ve also realised what kind of creator I am. There are some who are market and money focused – a place I dipped into – and some who are not. This is encapsulated by an experience with a local artist who was just delighted to have found a home for a piece she’d done. This doesn’t mean she didn’t charge for her work – it means there was a genuine warmth and love for both the sketches and the recipient.

The whole experience was joyful. I have never been avaricious, and the times when I’ve been least happy have been if I try to force myself that way. I write for money, because it’s my living, but I create for the sheer love of creating, and because I have something to say. And that is when my work is at its best.

So is this a fallow period? Who knows – the warning signs that I’m pushing too hard are nipping at my ankles, and I’ve made the decision to withdraw from my York CLL course, just to recover a little breathing space. If I know myself at all, in a week or two I’ll get that naggy feeling (usually as I’m dropping to sleep) and the words will return.

Thank you – your support and interest is invaluable to me.

Kathryn xx

Reading and writing in April

What I’m reading

For those of you familiar with my blog and progress as a poet, you’ll recognise the name Wendy Pratt. I’ve been a participant in many of Wendy’s online workshops and am sure that my work would not be where it is today without the benefit of these clever, kind groups that coax and charm the best words from each other’s pens.

I recently started reading Wendy’s fourth collection of poems When I think of my body as a horse, and I’d like to tell you about the impact it has had on me and why I think you may enjoy it (even if you think you don’t like poetry). This isn’t a review of style and form – there are many of these available by people with more expertise and skill than I, like this one in The Yorkshire Times, it’s simply my responses to the work.

 I began reading When I Think of My Body as a Horse with a little uncertainty. I knew the book had a core theme  around child loss and having never, ever wanted children of my own, I wasn’t sure if I would relate to the poems in any way beyond compassionate care. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the first poem For the Bridge Beneath Which I Became a Flock of Pigeons it was clear this collection was way more than what I imagined. The poems are searingly honest accounts of the complications and terrors of being human, from the messy and embarrassing to raw, ragged pain that comes with grief, interspersed with pockets of tentative joy. Poems like The Lemon Tree and Love Letter to Scarborough on a  Saturday Night delve into the magic of being lost in music and of so many towns on a Saturday night, and the sad shock of reality ( the last lines of The Lemon Tree are a killer), before moving me to the exquisitely described tension of The Parole Office.

As I move through the pages, I find poems like Sleep that captures the beauty of everyday love, and poems like When Rabbits Die and The Leverets Dream that take me to a world between magic and reality. There are poems like Air that draw tears from I don’t know where (the same type  get when I hear a beautiful singing voice) poems that raise confused smile, and poems that absolutely explain the pain of loss. This is an extraordinary collection of work, and one that genuinely creates conversation, empathy and understanding about some of the most painful aspects of being human.

What I’m writing

I’m a little lacking in verve at the moment. After a flurry of writing, submissions and acceptances in the first quarter of the year, my brain is distracted by the joy of sowing and growing  – I feel happy and content in the beauty of my little backyard (despite the imminent build over the road) and am not delving far into emotions. I’m a rainy day poet perhaps, plus I’m never sure I have anything original to say about flowers, when it’s all been done so well before. I am about to embark on a new short course with York University Centre for Life Long Learning, so we’ll see what comes from that, plus I’ve been engaged in NaPoWriMo through my April-write-a-thon workshop. So I am writing, but perhaps not feeling it as much as I’d like.

What’s good about 2021?

It’s hard to know how to pitch these posts at the moment. There is so much that is grim, and so many people dealing with truly awful things that my tiny life, in a tiny corner of Coalbrookdale hardly seems relevant. It’s not – but then of course it is. These tiny things are what keep me going, and what give me hope. As you read, know I’m not ignorant of the wider issues, I’m just guessing if you wanted to read about them you’d go to an expert. There is enough talk and bluster scattered across social media without my adding to it.

Early morning in Coalbrookdale

Caveat laid, I’m going to confess that my year has started well. I have lots of copywriting work, a calm Christmas means January is free from its usual stuttered start, and despite everything I feel ok. Sometimes even happy. Part of this is the years of training in loving the small things – seeing thrushes and finches from my window, squealing with delight at a swoop of long-tailed tits or relishing friends’ wonderful photos of frosty mornings are enough to brighten a moment and a day. I’m writing again, after a small hiatus driven by the shock and upset of the potential build opposite, and as you may have seen on my social media pages, I’ve had some great news about a submission.

Winter light at Wenlock Edge

What’s the news?

At the end of last summer a small publishing house put out a call for pamphlet submissions, with a special call for newer writers – ones with a smattering of publication but not much more. Whilst Yes to Tigers was an interesting project, and I learnt a lot, it didn’t quite feel like my work. This opportunity presents something different – a chance for publication by an actual poetry press. I’m on the longlist, which means there is a way to go before I know if my work will be published, but getting this far is a great feeling, especially with a set of poems that means so much to me.

Why is having a poetry pamphlet published such a big deal?

Essentially it’s the next step – it means I have a collection of work that I feel confident enough to send to a publisher, who will decide if they think enough people will buy it to make it worth printing, marketing and all the other elements that go towards making poetry publication. It means I understand how to put together a set of poems that link and flow, and that I can see how the order might be, and understand a reader’s point of view. I may not get any further than being longlisted (which will make me sad, of course) but that just means I have a bit more to learn. If I compare with how I felt about my writing this time last year, this is a great place to be.

What am I working on at the moment?

This time of year is a good study time for me – no gardening means more time and energy. As well as various courses, including one on women writers, which I’m ridiculously excited about, I’m delving into How to Grow Your Own Poem by Kate Clanchy – it’s a collection of exercises, poems and prompts and is just what I need to coax my poets brain out of December. In terms of submissions and the like I’m holding back a little – my poetry brain needs a bit of time to just enjoy writing, although I’m hoping to reopen my for comissions at the end of the month.

Right now though, it’s time to just enjoy writing.

Thanks for reading, and I hope bright things happen for your day, however tiny.

Kathryn xx

What I love about poetry prompts

This year has been one of my best. Ok, so that’s not entirely true – what I mean is, this year has been one of my best as a writer. I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted in several competitions, had various pieces published including one in actual print, which always feels super special, plus I’ve published an illustrated poetry zine. Compared to the gloom and despondency I felt about my work at the start of the year, I finish the year feeling positive – about writing at least- and I put it all down to poetry prompts.

Why do poetry prompts help ?

For me it works in two ways. Firstly, it’s the element of playfulness. A prompt kick starts my mind, starts the language and rhythm circling. It may not be a subject I like or would consider, but once I give the words time, often something good emerges. Often something terrible emerges too and that’s also cool. It’s all writing and it doesn’t all need to be seen.

I’ve learnt that I either write something super quick, like my shortlisted 100word poem/story for Lightbox Originals winter competition, or I need to spend several weeks thinking, tweaking, revising. I guess this is true for most writers. I think the greatest thing that working with poetry prompts has given me is a sense of fun and possibility. I love writing again in a way that seemed impossible at the beginning of the year.

My prompt a day notebook – I’ve almost filled it this year

Where do all these poetry prompts come from?

Ah now this is my secret weapon. If you follow my blog, you’ll know I’ve taken several “prompt a day” courses, created and run by Wendy Pratt. It’s a simple idea with immense results. I benefit from the discipline of daily prompts. I also benefit form being part of a very kind online writing group that’s associated with each course. I’m not a great group person, but I’ve felt welcome, safe, and confident enough to share my work  and seek feedback.

The other aspect of this is that I’m reading countless poems each day, understanding what works, understanding how a quirk of word or comma can completely change the feel of a poem. I’m also learning what a huge range of responses a small group of people will have to a prompt. There’s no sense of “getting it wrong”. A lot of this has to be down to the attitude held by Wendy herself – even the simple fact that she allows some of us to pay a little less for the courses (and gives excellent way of self-assessment) shows an understanding that this sort of thing really is a luxury and helped me feel there was a place for me here. It’s a good feeling.

As the year draws to a close, I feel aware of myself as a writer.  My work has grown tremendously over the last twelve months; I see a stark difference between what I’m writing now and the work in Yes to Tigers for example. I seem to have a bit more confidence, and I’m definitely having a lot more fun.

Oher news

I’ve given my site a bit of refresh – I’ve a dedicated page for  my published work, as well as an updated “Why this all began” page.  News on my pamphlet submission will be coming in the next few months (and I am hating waiting – this is one of the biggest things I’ve done so far) plus I’ve the usual round of competition and journal entries.

By far the best news is that my recent ill spell seems to have passed and I’m relishing having two or three days a week where I feel able to write and work and feel very slightly free.

Wash your hands, stay safe, eat a  mince pie, and read your favourite books. Maybe try a poetry prompt too.

To a commission a poem, piece of short fiction or buy a copy of Yes to Tigers email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

You can find  out more  about Wendy Pratt’s poetry,the courses she offers and her brand new magazine Spelt here

Yes to tigers!

If you happened to see my super-awkward “unboxing” (it’s a thing you have to do these days) video last week you’ll know my zine Yes to Tigers is available now available to buy. I’m thrilled to have reached this point with my writing, and thrilled to have something to share with everyone who’s supported me over the last few years. Thank you!

What is Yes to Tigers?

Yes to Tigers is a 24 page illustrated poetry zine. It’s my first foray into indie publishing and crowdfunding and is the fruit of my time spent as poet in residence for a group of artists in the Severn Gorge. The poems are inspired by both the artwork, and the people themselves. The zine includes photographs taken during my visits, it’s a cool thing, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Why Yes to Tigers?

When I started getting in touch with the artists and makers to arrange studio visits, I followed various social media pages, to get a feel for their work. I was nervous about stepping into this world- that old feeling of being inadequate – and rarely interacted beyond a like. As I got to know people I realised this was daft, and grew a bit bolder.

Browsing Instagram one evening I spotted one of the artists, Caris Jackson, canvassing opinion on the finish for one of her pieces, Fairground Baby (which is fab) should there be tigers ? The only sensible answer is Yes to tigers! Tigers were included, the final piece looks amazing and I was astounded my boldness. That boldness kept me going when things got a little tricky with the project, kept me working on the poems when I had no idea how/I’d publish and gave me courage to send the finished work out to people to see what they thought.

Fairground Baby – by Caris Jackson

Why indie publishing?

Essentially it’s about time. When drawing up plans for my role as poet in residence my aim was to have the zine published in a year, and I wanted to stick to this. Art is a fluid thing, and this represents where the artists are at a certain point. The process of submitting manuscripts to publishers is long and didn’t feel right for this project. You can find out more about the thought process behind indie publishing and crowdfunding on my blog post Why this all began

How can I buy a copy of this wonderful zine?

You can buy direct from me! Just get in touch via my contact form or email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com. This is also the best way to get in touch if you’re interested my bespoke poetry packages.

As ever, I’m terribly coy about this,and nerves make me a bit dismissive of it as a piece of work. It does look good though (thanks to Amanda Hillier Printing) and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the work. I’m spending the last part of the year organising more magazine submissions, and drawing together another collection of work to submit to publishing houses.

Thanks as ever, stay safe, wash your hands, read more books xx

I have a big stack of envelopes

…and I’m daftly excited. Why? because it means publication day is getting closer! My zine is at the printers and soon there will be copies winging there way to crowdfunders, waiting in our wonderful local bookshop and generally making this all feel rather real. There were time when I never thought this project would bear fruit, for a variety of confidence based reasons. Having other people get behind me and give me a gentle shove has made all the difference, and the sheer joy of having support from so many people via my crowdfunder is a massive boost. As soon as the copies I’ll take a million pictures of them and let you know how you can buy one.

This confidence has helped me cast a critical eye over my other work too, and I’ve spent this month putting together my first pamphlet submission. For anyone who doesn’t know, a pamphlet is a short collection of poems, usually around 15 or so, that centres around a particular theme. For me, identifying this theme has been a case of going through my work and seeing what threads and thoughts run through my work and putting together what amounts to a kind of story. There may well be a “proper” way to do this (this is another time when I kind of wish I’d had the wherewithal to complete my creative writing degree), but going by the pamphlets that I’ve read, this seems to be how they work.  I’ve worked through things like the order, as well as refining and redrafting each poem, before summoning the gumption to press send and submit to . My little pamphlet is winging its way to Nine Pens as we speak. This is a new press that seems very friendly and open to work from new poets. They’ve already had over thirty pamphlet submissions, out of which nine will be chosen for publication. My chances of being chosen are small, but I’m getting used to taking these gambles, and the very act of putting together another group of poems that if feel are worth sharing is a positive and pleasing act.

I’ve submitted to fewer journals this year, and avoided most competitions – partly because of cash (competitions and some journals charge for submission) and also because I’m starting to see my work as a whole entity. The dopamine hit of winning a competition or getting a magazine publication has become a little less important. That doesn’t mean it’s not a massive thrill, I’ve still got my copy of Popshot casually placed on my living room table, but something has shifted in terms of validation and my ability to assess my own writing. I throw out a lot more than I keep in, but my critical eye is less hostile.

Taken in the Brecons – when we could still travel…

So a lot is happening this autumn, paid work is thin on the ground which is tricky, but hopefully something will turn up soon. I’m getting a few more views on my website which is something at least. Over the next week or so I’ll be setting up my Etsy shop, where you can by the zine, plus I will be offering bespoke poems for sale, just in time for Christmas!

Please like and share this blog, especially if you’re reading on one of the social media platforms – it’s one of the most useful ways to help me grow my audience.

Thanks as ever for your support – next post will be the title and cover reveal of the zine – how ace is that?

Stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands

Kathryn xx