However they’re dressed, not placing,we are not moving forward with work, your work is not right for us at this time, having work rejected hurts. Really.
The objective side looks at the number of entries, the people who had work accepted and rationalises. The tenacious side finds other places that are seeking submissions and submits. The side that distilled, dispersed, revised, redrafted and finally pressed send…that side wants to have a little cry. And stop putting itself through this.
Still, that does no good – what I want to learn is how to know what editors want – how do I understand? I really thought I’d chosen a good place for my pamphlet sub – but it wasn’t the case. There’s no feedback of course, so I don’t really know whether the work is terrible, or just not right – and if not, why not? And whilst I understand that time and resources are stretched I’d just really like to know – the whole process feels like grasping for smoke.
A lower ebb than usual. A longing for both time and health. Either would be good. Gloomy, to be honest. Send kittens.
My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.
For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.
We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.
This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction. More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.
The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.
Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
The creak of the barn door excites him as much as it did four years ago. Echoes of “weirdo”, “misfit”, “oddball” fade as he sees the shimmer of gold shell,the faint fissure crack, the ooze within. Just a few more months. He inches closer to the eggpen,pats the straw, wipes the struts of protective wire. Hiding in plain sight was a phrase he learned years ago and it serves him well. The jester-prince is in his thrall; bestowing years of flattery and bamboozelement have stuck in his throat but his creation is complete. Lowering himself has come to fruition. The urge to cradle the egg is strong – he turns. Discipline is essential for some, on carefully curated occasions, and he needs to experiment with how it might feel. Also he there is a faint chance it may fall from his hands. As if. He could never be so foolish. No this is the time to open the cage and breathe in its beauty for one last time before…. “Sir, sir, there’s another egg. Quick sir they say it’s important. More important. “ the boy glances sidelong at the eggpen. No one is supposed to know. Many do, but the knots of acceptability are so tangled most workers stay silent for fear of each other. Especially errand boys like this one. “I’ll have you whipped for falsehood and fakery! Nothing is more important than this. Nothing. We will be richer and more powerful than the outlanders and northfolk ever imagined.” “But it’s here. Here,packed in a velvet lined box. It looks more important …” the boy tails off at the sight of his glare. It was a new one he’d been practising. Good to have chance to try it out. He flashes it again. The boy scurries out. He lopes off, carefully arranging his face somewhere between sullen and smirk. The crowds of scroll masters and criers irk him more than usual. Whispers about an egg that would change the world play about his ears and he feels the work, all the work begin to whittle away. He makes a note to organise those monks to amend his ledgers. Battling through the odorous masses, enraptured by the jester-prince on the steps, he steps on the cats tail. Not for the first time. He would have kicked it – but the masses never approve. Another thing to iron out. He reaches the main hall. There it is. Small. Much smaller than his beautiful golden wonder . Darkest green, iridescent, a jewel in its centre. The kind of dark beauty he dreams of but always slips from his pallid grasp. Scowling at the chattering fools gathered around, plugging his ears to their talk of how mysterious – almost powerful – it looks, he clatters out of the room to his basement,bellowing instructions that he is not to be disturbed and issuing demands for ink and candles. This sort of thing always finds its way beyond the walls and he fancies it makes him more fearsome. He dreams of the egg all night. Outshimmering his glorious gold creation. His moment. His chance to show them that he is the cleverest of them all. He wakes with a start! This could work to his advantage – the people could pay the price of both eggs. He’d just tell them the new egg was a fake, a hoax a lot of nonsense. Bide his time. Once they’d seen the hatching it would be too late. But he needs to act fast. They line up as instructed. Alchemist, jester, taxman. Monks have been scribing just three words on parchment since his three am epiphany
Gold Beats Green
The phrase adorns the walls of the courtyard,on banners sewn by the tailors. He even hears it whispered.The sound of his genius muttered by the masses gives him a thrill like no other. Finally. The egg bearers assemble. Three for the imposter,fourteen for his. That kind of thing is important. The carpenters have worked for hours constructing the egg carriage,lined with silk, not a whisp of straw in sight. Imposter egg? A plain brown box,turned so the dark hearted jewel could not be seen. At the last minute he fashions a few artful tears to make it even more lowly. Oddly satisfying to work with his hands. At the sight of his nod from behind the drape, the egg bearers begin their parade. The crowd begins to chant Gold Beats Green, Gold,Beats Green. He feels his foot tap. Frivolous nonsense. He allows a smile. It will work. They will forget and just get back to paying attention his beautiful, beautiful golden marvel.
The cat saunters. The cat turns. The cat stares. Green eyes lock with insipid blue. The cat saunters. The crowd purrs. The cat darts. The eggs tumble. The shells shatter The stench. The stench. The stench seeps to throats and nostrils, tears spring to eyes, skin begins to blister.
“Gold beats green Gold beats green Gold beats…”
the jester-prince stops beating his marotte, looks around to see if anyone is still joining in. He stops and scans the courtyard for an exit. The crowd turns. A small girl whispers to her mother, who whispers to her sister who speaks a little louder and the clamour begins to rise. The stench is from the egg. No one knows which one. They both look so different but even the lowliest amongst them knows a bad egg is a bad egg. There are mutterings that the torn box egg is still intact, people begin to look, but it is no-where to be seen.Not even the torn box. Fragments of gold shell lie all around and the stench is rising. But the golden egg cannot be bad. The golden egg cannot…be bad?
Those who can begin to move, to march. Jester-prince has fled. Taxman counts. Alchemist tries to treat the sickest. The drape flutters. The cat sniffs at a speck of yolk.
Ah I’m sad this course has finished. It’s been a challenge in some ways but I’m glad I stuck with it. I feel like I’m writing with honesty and clarity, as opposed to trying to shoehorn myself into a style that doesn’t fit.
It’s an odd thing this poetry business. Social media means I have the privilege of access to the thoughts and musings of writers whom I admire, and for the most part this is a grounding experience – everybody’s human and hearing other people’s uncertainties and frustrations holds an odd sort of comfort. Constant access to people’s thoughts can also be a sapper of confidence. Human nature is to shout of our success and skulk about our failings, and some days my twitter feed seems jam-packed with people who’ve gathered another prize or successful submission. It’s a rare (and lovely) person who is brave enough to say they missed out and feel that weird sort of happy sad -happy to have tried, sad to have failed.
Having said that, I’m finding the rejections less wounding – I actually start looking for other poem homes the minute I’ve sent mine out, in preparation for the “Thank you for your work but it’s just not right for us” email. . I don’t know why feel less worried by them – maybe I’m growing more critical of my work, more objective? Maybe a tiny success was all the validation I needed.
Mostly though, my experience on these courses has meant I’m genuinely enjoying writing. Not all bits – the time spent agonising about a particular word or whether I need a comma can be infuriating, but the little moment when I sit back and think “I think I’ve got something here” are magic. This invariably fades when I come back to stuff a week later, but hey, I have to grab these little victories.
What’s next and what happened with Secret Severn Artists?
I’m taking a break from my courses next month – my regular copywriting work has been put on hold (thank you Brexit, thank you Covid) so I’m focusing my time and money on building up my client base whilst scurrying around for online agency work. A break also gives me a chance to really review the work I’ve done over these courses – it may even be time to begin putting together a pamphlet/chapbook which I have no idea how to do but I’m sure I can find out.
Finally (this seems like a long post) I’ve completed my work for Secret Severn – you may remember the project had to be curtailed due carefully managed purse strings – nonetheless I wanted to complete the poems for the artists I’d been able to visit. It’s a mixed collection, some that definitely falls into the ekphrastic category, some that is a pure flight of fancy and a found poem that I absolutely adore. I plucked up the courage to send them to the artists, and I was thrilled with their response. It was a real privilege to work with such talented people. It’s a shame the funding was cut for the remaining visits so there aren’t as many different artists as I’d have liked but I’m looking at what to do with the work – I still have an eye on getting a lovely handmade book together that includes some of the images and inspirations alongside the words.
A busy month ahead – I’m still in my own lockdown but I know the pulls on my time will begin to show soon. I intend to make the most of this next month, and hopefully embark on another of Wendy Pratt’s wonderful courses in late summer.
Thank you for reading, please like comment and share, and if you’d like to read more about the Secret Severn Artists (and maybe buy some of their amazing work) you’ll find them here.
Do you remember my decision a couple of months ago to stop taking writing so seriously, publish stuff on here and write not ‘ just for me’ exactly, but without an eye on what I think might be good enough for publication? Since then I’ve continued studying various books, including Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and Nine Arches Press The Craft, I’ve continued with various courses, (this month’s is Telling your Story another gem from Wendy Pratt) and love the discipline of writing most days, even if it’s something a bit rubbish. Being in a group of writers with a vast range of experience means I am constantly learning, both from their feedback and from reading their work. It’s one of best things I’ve done to develop myself as a poet.
In deciding to take things less seriously (which I think translates to not worrying about all those rejections), it seems I’ve freed myself to work harder, almost without realising. The combination of all this self-study and relaxing into my work means, three fab things have happened. Firstly I enjoy writing more, secondly I do more writing (every day that I can) and thirdly I’m enjoying a sniff of ‘success’.
My death will grieve foxesI have to be careful here – about my definition of success – am I going back on my decision to be an amateur? Not at all. I want people to enjoy what I write and being part of the Paper Swans Press single poem competition longlist means that’s what’s happened. My poem My death will grieve foxes is something that I worked on, tweaked, and nurtured. I researched hares (and yes, I know there are millions of hare poems, but here’s another), thought about why I’m captivated by them, read all the myths and connotations and followed the poem on its path. I loved writing it and in having it longlisted by a judge whose opinion I greatly respect, I know at least one other person loved reading it. I’ll be publishing the poem on here at a later date, maybe with a bit of unpacking around the themes, but until then you can read it as part of the e-book published by Paper Swans.
As well as my Paper Swans publication, I’ve had another poem sent out into the world this week. Marcescence is a poem wondering about how trees feel about losing their leaves, borne from watching those stubborn brown scraps that seem to cling to the branches all summer. It’s quite an old poem, that’s been through many drafts, but I’m delighted it’s finally out in the world on the wonderful Nine Muses Poetry.
Against the backdrop of sadness for those who’ve lost loved ones, those still struggling with the impact of what is a severe illness and most importantly the utter horror in the USA, celebrating these tiny glimmers of success feels wrong, disrespectful. Privileged. And the fact is, it is. I am privileged to be safe, I am privileged to be free from fear of being targeted, brutalised because of my colour. I am privileged to have a home and to have the freedom to write.
Nonetheless, with every bit of validation my confidence grows, my voice grows louder and my ability to fuel change increases. My actions and my words are tiny in the face of the huge injustice, corruption and trials people face very day, but they’re a lot more significant than doing nothing at all.
Thank you for reading, do download the e-book of all thirteen poems that placed in Paper Swans single poem competition. If you’re reading this on social media I’d love you to comment and share to increase my reach, and if you want to comment on here then I’d love to hear from you.
One of the cool aspects of this latest course is that it allows me to play with other writerly skills as well as poetry. One of my prompts this week was to write a short script inspired by the Grand Hotel in Scarborough. It’s an imposing building, with an interesting past including being bombed in WW1. I’m fond of Scarborough, it’s somewhere we went when I lived in Yorkshire (apparently, I had a mini meltdown because I had to get off the toy train), and somewhere I’ve been since. Like the best seaside towns, it’s a bit rough and ready but it’s full of life and has some very exuberant waves.
The guidance for this scriptwriting prompt was for it to be a conversation between two people, inspired by the Grand Hotel, and was to involve a secret. Here’s what I came up with.
Lucy – early 70s, polished looking, well dressed. Calm confidence.
Viv – also early 70s, neat and tidy but less fancy looking.
At a window table in the Grand Hotel in Scarborough. Turkey and Tinsel is happening in the same room. A weak voiced crooner is warbling through his catalogue of wartime songs
Viv – I can’t get over it. I never thought we’d be back.
L – You know I always wanted to come back. It’s special.
V – It is that. We had some laughs though as well eh. Locking Mrs Woods in the tower room. Never knew it were us. Good girls me and you.
L – Well you weren’t. Not according to Mother. Bad influence. Dragging me here.
V- Ooh I remember, “A chambermaid! A chambermaid! she can’t be a chambermaid!”. If only she’d known.
Lucy giggles. They break away from looking at each other to look at the Turkey and Tinsel shenanigans.
V – Awful tripe this. Remember my mam telling us about the bomb? This lot wouldn’t be so sentimental if they’d lived through that.
L – They would. This tint of nostalgia stops them having to face up to stuff. That girl I was telling you about was back at the food bank this week. Poor soul.
V – I don’t get it. Look at her over there. Dancing and flag waving like she was survived. She’s not old enough to remember WWII never mind WWI.
L- I remember Mother telling me about one chap – trifle rough but a decent sort – he said he was out feeding his chickens and suddenly it felt like the ground came up to meet him. Terrifying.
V – Or that lad who came home to marry his lass and she was killed in the bomb that morning.
L- I’d like to see them all keep calm and carry on if that happened to them. Some of them can’t even cope with hearing a voice that sounds different to their while they’re going around Tesco.
V–You’re not wrong Luce. Daft lot scared of anyone different.
L – …
They break away for a moment, look at the singing and dancing. A portly fellow ambles over. He’s a little merry but harmless.
PF – By ‘eck love you’re wasted sat ‘ere. Come and ‘ave a dance, mek an old man ‘appy
Lucy – Oh no, thank you – I’m quite happy
PF – crying shame though, love. Lovely lady like you sat on her own like.
L – Oh I’m not on my own, not at all. We’re on honeymoon. Aren’t we Viv?
I love writing dialogue, and the challenge of telling a story without all the fill in details a narrator can bring. It exercises different writing muscles, and makes me think about the quirks of speech that insinuate rather than spell out. Language, dialect and accent is endlessly fascinating and the link to the YTV clip was a a great resource. I had fun writing it, and I hope you had fun reading it.
As ever, please do share this as much as you like – social media is increasingly hard to use for any kind of publicity, and your sharing means I get to interact with more people, which makes me happy.
Self imposed isolation for almost a month (I’m not on an official list but getting a simple cold puts me out of action for weeks, so I’m taking no chances for fear of relapse). My brain has thought of nothing beyond how terrified I am for everyone and being utterly obsessed with making sure everyone I know has enough food. I seem to be morphing into some kind of domestic fanatic, making bread, baking cakes, growing veg and generally about finding one hundred and one recipes to use up beetroot. I’ve been too scared and angry to write anything that isn’t work related (and therefore essential to keep eating) and that’s been fine….
…except I’ve missed it. I’ve missed going into another world, I’ve missed sitting seeing if I can taste the right word to use, I’ve missed hunkering down into language to let all those glimmers of joy quietly glow. I abandoned my Poetry School course (thankfully I have a credit) and wasn’t sure how I’d get on with my two new ventures this month. One is a free weeklong short story course, designed by Tania Hershman, courtesy of Arvon, and my other is another poetry course from Wendy Pratt. I missed out on funding to go to Arvon this summer, so I was thrilled to have the chance to benefit from Tania’s unique take on the world and how she incorporates this into teaching and as you’ll remember from my February blogs, there is something about Wendy’s approach that gives me a freedom – and a feeling of being good enough.
I started both today, after doing a super long piece of work about safety in the construction industry (I know). My brain is sleepy, and my thoughts are a little swimmy, but I seem to be able to connect to that part of me that can escape. The first exercise in the short story program was to gather phrases from three poetry books, two instruction manuals and a recipe book, then build a story,and the prompt form Wendy was to recall and respond to being the butt of a joke ( loads of material for this one).
I’ve written a story about eating squirrels and drafted a poem about styling out a loss of control, both of which seem ideal for the current situation.
I doubt I’ll write King Lear, discover great scientific theories, or even get around to polishing up all the pieces I want to submit, but I finally feel a little more like me again, and that is a wonderful thing.
Tiny hiatus this week – my course with Wendy Pratt has finished, and I’ve a small break before my next course with Poetry School starts. I’m so grateful to be able to do these – funds aren’t abundant, and poetry is definitely a luxury, but both Wendy and the Poetry School offer discounted courses that mean I can take part in something even though getting out is tricky. I’m good at self-study, but there’s nothing quite as fab as getting feedback from other people and being able to read what other people are producing. I can’t recommend Approaching your writing with a beginner’smind enough – it’s been a great start to my writing year.
I had applied for a bursary to do my dream course at Arvon, sadly I didn’t get it (there was one bursary and many applicants), but I’m still glad I applied. The hum of disappointment is never far away it seems – just minutes before I got the news, I’d come out of a meeting where three poems have been accepted for something fab and exciting that’s happening later this year. It’s hard to keep up with the sudden changes of emotion to be honest. I’ve set myself up for another barrage of bad news by sending out a new set of submissions today too, which means I’ll spend the next few days refreshing my inbox, before getting a rejection in about six months’ time.
All the business stuff is done for a week or two though. I’ve snuck a day from writing about cleaning and car grilles to grab some time for going through my notes from Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind, and frantically trying to finish The Ode Less Travelled. I’m looking closely at form at the moment, and I love the puzzle and challenge of matching structure with meaning. In the interests of efficiency, and even fun, I might experiment by trying to structure some of fledgling poems. Anyone for a villanelle about a pyjama party?
I’m finishing my week by going to a real live workshop. It’s free, it’s just for a couple of hours, and it’s in the local library which somehow feels less intimidating – I don’t feel like there will be loads of “proper” poets there. My first ever workshop. I’m scared, but so excited. I’ll report back next week.
In the meantime, here’s a poem that’s far too silly to submit anywhere, but it makes me giggle.