Thursday 12 December 2013

The Truth in (my) Poetry

I read part of my Sun Daddy sequence at CafĂ© Writers on Monday night and was surprised when someone in the ladies toilets said to me that they hoped I would have a better Christmas this year. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised - this kind of thing happens a lot when I read from my prose poem sequence. I just hadn't expected it with the Sun Daddy poems - they seem more extreme to me, plus they feature a kind of mythical family.

When I read my prose poems people often come up to me afterwards wanting to talk to me about my (or their) childhood. They want to know whether my family were in the Plymouth Brethren,or to sympathise with me about the horrible father in the poems, or else they want to share their own experiences of growing up in a religious family.  I love talking to people about this kind of stuff, but occasionally someone will say that they feel cheated by the fact that the family in the poems is fictional (even though I usually say this when I am reading them). This always surprises me a little because unless a poet clearly says that a poem is based on a real incident I usually assume that a poem is to a greater or lesser extent a work of fiction. Those same people would not approach a novelist with the same kind of questions. Neither my prose poems or my Sun Daddy and circus sequences are real. I do not come from a religious family - in fact my father is an atheist - but of course a writer can't help drawing on their own experiences to a certain extent. There are concrete details in my poems that are directly stolen from my own childhood, and one or two of the prose poems stemmed from things half remembered, which I used as a kind of springboard for the poems, expanding and changing events to suit the needs of the poems. It is these concrete details that make the poems seem believable. The Sun Daddy poems were inspired by someone I knew, but again I have changed and evolved the character to suit my own needs.

If I wanted to write an accurate version of my life story I would write a memoir or an autobiography. There is a liberation in the writing process that allows one to go beyond what is real. I can explore the darker aspects of human nature. The girl in the prose poems although very young is not very likeable or very nice - there is a naivety  to her too though - she is a product of her upbringing, she repeats things that she has heard adults say without necessarily understanding them, and she has a child's ability to feel outraged by the world. The girls in the circus poems too are an exploration of the dark side of childhood, in these poems I am exploring the way that children can be cruel to one another, and also exploring the tension between cruelty and love.

Monday 2 December 2013

Repetitive Thinking and Creative Block

Having just read my last two blog posts I realise that I have been repeating myself - what I thought was a new thought or revelation, I had actually already articulated in a blog post a month or so earlier. Should I be worried about this? Or is it just the way the human mind works: visiting and revisiting a problem until it is solved or at least explained?

For writers (and probably other types of creative) artistic block can be a major issue. For me writer's block is something that crops up again and again. I have got more used to it now though. It is like a tiresome old friend that turns up from time to time expecting a meal and a bed for the night and then stays for days until his welcome is well and truly worn out. I don't greet it with the blind panic I used to waste on it when I was a newer writer. I know that if I do the things that keep me inspired and unblocked - morning pages, artists dates, looking at art, reading poetry - then I will get inspired again at some point. It is when I neglect to do these things that my mind becomes all silted up and I can't even begin to think about writing. There are other things that impinge on my creativity too - too much teaching (I suspect that teaching - or at least the preparation - uses the same creative part of the brain as writing), reading too many novels, stress, noisy neighbours and watching too much TV are all things that seems to affect my ability to write.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Can Reading Novels Effect Your Productivity?

It is no secret that I have been far less productive writing wise since I finished putting together my collection, but I am pleased to say that that while I am still not prolific I have started writing poetry again - phew! I had put my lack of productivity down to various things - the fact that I put so much effort into getting the work finished by my Arts Council deadline, the fact that I wrote so much new material whilst I was working with my mentor, the all but demise of my regular workshopping group, even the possibility that once the collection was finished and I no longer had deadlines that I wasn't as motivated to write. All of these reasons may in part be true, but this week another reason also occurred to me.

I am in the Readers Circle reading books for potential inclusion in next years's Writers' Centre Norwich Summer reads programme, which means that as well as reading poetry I have also been reading a lot of short story collections and novels. Whilst reading (good) poetry and short stories often leaves me feeling inspired to write, I find that I reading a novel rarely, if ever, has the same effect - even if it is an outstanding read. I am not sure why this is - it may be because novels are so immersive - they draw you into another world, and create a reality that we believe is real while we are reading. Or it may be that the novel just works on a different area of the brain to poetry or art, but whatever the reason it seems likely that the amount of novel reading I have been doing during the last couple of months may have a direct correlation with my decreased productivity in the poetry writing department. It will be interesting to see of my urge to write increases after the programme is finished in January.

Monday 7 October 2013

Reading and Writing

In the last few days I have found myself trying to analyse how (and if) my reading patterns affect my writing. I have written very little poetry in the past couple of months, and while it's true that this might have a direct correlation with certain events that have occurred in my life recently, I found myself also wondering if it is to do with what, and how much, I am reading.

I know for instance that I write more poetry if I am reading poetry - but not just any poetry, it has to be something really inspiring. In fact some poetry collections are so inspiring that they send me running for my pencil an notebook. It is like some kind of weird alchemy - I don't know how it works but it does - in the same way that morning pages can up my creativity levels. I have been reading poetry though, and quite a bit, but none of it has really given me that poetry high that makes me want to write. The last two collections that did that were "Raptors" by Toon Tellegan and "Autobiography of Red" by Ann Carson. Nothing I have read over the summer has come close to them sadly.

The other thing is that I have been reading a lot of fiction - both novels and short stories. I am reading more than usual because I am in the Summer Reads reading circle, but I am reading other books as well those. I don' t know if reading a lot of fiction stops me writing poetry, or if I am choosing to read a lot of fiction as some sort of escapism from real life. I know that when I went through a prolific poetry phase last year I was hardly reading any fiction at all, but that could just be coincidental of course.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Getting back in the saddle

It's an interesting thing that since, for all intents and purposes, I have pretty much finished putting together my collection that my creative drive seems to have been at a very low ebb. I don't think that it is just because of finishing the collection - although it always helps me to have goals and deadlines to work to. Unfortunately finishing the collection has coincided with the demise of my regular work shopping group as well - half of them have moved away, and the death of a very old friend.Consequently I have had had a couple of months of writing very little at all, which has felt very frustrating.

However I have just returned from a two week break on the Norfolk coast and I am now ready to get back in the writing saddle. Today I was poetry busking in Wymondham - it was the opening event of the Wymondham Words Literature Festival. There were about eight readers who took it in turns to read a poem - some of their own and some by other people. It was great to hear such a variety of poetry read out, and also to be given a surprisingly warm reception by the public who were going about their Saturday shopping. My next move is to find a new work shopping group, or recruit some new members for the existing one. I also want to make a definite space for writing in my house. i am thinking of reclaiming the tiny back room upstairs, and to set myself times for writing and stick to them.

Friday 19 July 2013

Change and Upheaval

Once again I am finding the work/writing balance difficult to maintain. Upheaval and change in my working life seems to have a knock on effect on my writing, which is hardly surprising I suppose. I think the fact that some of my work is writing guest blog posts also has an impact - this week I have been using my creative muscle to write about online games rather than for writing and editing poetry. Of course I could just be making excuses - what I really need to do is finish writing my covering letter and send out my collection to publishers. I am hesitant though, when you have worked so long and hard on something, it can be quite a blow if it gets rejected.

On the plus side there have been some positive things happening - this week I ran a workshop called "How to love poetry" as one part of Writers' Centre Norwich's Summer Reads programme. I was very nervous - I had never tried this kind of workshop before, and I wasn't sure what kind of response to expect. It was a boiling hot day and I had massively over-prepared. I felt it went quite well, but I am my own worst critic so I came away just seeing all the things that I could have done better. Today, however, someone sent me a link to a blog post by one of the participants - her response was exactly the kind of thing I had hoped for - she is now wiling to give poetry another chance. I felt elated - what more could I ask for? You can read her blog post here.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Collections and Families

My collection is almost finished, I just have a little more work to do - a few small edits, plus a couple of poems to take out and a new sequence to insert. It feels very scary at this point. I have put in so much work - it will be hard if it gets rejected. I am being realistic about it of course. I know that not much new poetry gets published, and that for every new book a publisher takes on there will be dozens of equally good books that don't make it into print. Add to this the fact that Salt recently announced that they are no longer going to be publishing work by new poets and the chances of a book seem very slim indeed!

However, despite this, I keep on writing. I am currently working on a new sequence. The sequence features a kind of mythological family, but is set in modern times. The sequence revolves around the misogynistic father character who is called Sun Daddy. I have long been interested in the dynamics of families, the different types of family dysfunction, the ways that families handle (or don't handle) pain - the way they bury it, share it around, pass it on.

Family is of course as old as history itself, but the modern family is a much more recent construct. It is often disconnected from the wider family support networks that were relied on (for better or worse) in previous times. The modern family is often an insular, disconnected, and often alienated beast, without the safety net of the family network or organised religion to fall back on in times of hardship. We are an increasingly mobile society, so it is little surprise that the modern family unit is often located geographically far from parents, siblings, and home town. Given this lack of unconditional support it is hardly surprising that families make sometimes make up rituals, rules and coping mechanisms all of their own.

Friday 19 April 2013

Walking the Line

Finding the work/writing balance is something that many writers have written about and for many of us it continues to be a struggle. It can be especially hard when your paid work uses up much of your creative energy. I am in just such a predicament at the moment; trying to balance copy writing, teaching and other freelance work alongside finishing my poetry collection and trying to generate new work. It's not easy I can tell you. At the moment paid work is winning the battle.  I know this has to change though - I am not happy when I am not working on my writing.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Journals etc.

Just looked at my last two blog posts and realised that I have failed hopelessly in my mission to post a fragment of writing every day. I have however been endeavouring to write morning pages, and I am managing to keep up a visual diary - although I am not managing to do it every single day.

This week I have been reading Claiming breath by Diane Glancy which is a book of prose poems written over the course of one year. During this year Glancy's mother dies and also her house is broken into several times. Although these are important themes in the book, the over riding theme is that of the writing process and the idea of self and identity - and ultimately how all these things fit together. It is a fascinating and inspiring book, moving between prose proper and more experimental poems where Glancy plays with the form and with language itself.

It made me think that I would like to keep some kind of poetic journal myself, and seeing as it is my birthday this weekend - that seems like an ideal time to start. I will keep the journal for myself - but I am hoping that something good - some poems, or some kind of personal insight might come out of it.

On other matters Anna De Vaul and I are editing the next issue of Lighthouse - something that I am looking forward to and feeling nervous about in equal measure.

Friday 1 February 2013

Blind Pen Portrait

the mirror reflects a self
unrelated to the one
who parties on the inside

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Resolutions and Bits of Poems

I am doing well with my new year's resolutions. I have sent some work out - not much - but some. I have been doing my morning pages most days and I have started a visual diary too. I started the visual diary for two reasons: 1) I miss making art, and 2) I want to see if it enhances my writing. More creative stuff has got to be good right? I have also been trying to put whole days aside to work on my poetry, although I think it would be useful if someone confiscated my broadband modem on those days!

Today I had the bright idea of writing a small poem about writing every day and posting it on my blog - well realistically it won't be every day, but a girl can try...

Here is today's effort:

Memory fragments -
the way smells can take you back
and fill your head with words.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Creative Block

I once read an article that claimed that there was no such thing as creative block. At the time I wasn't sure how I felt about what the author was saying - I certainly experience times where I am less creative. Often these times correlate with other stuff that is going on in my life - I might be stressed, busy with work or preoccupied with something with that take up all my creative energy. I also have times of extended procrastination - sometimes I think that during these times my brain is working silently away on something. Before Christmas for instance I was thinking a lot about the order of my collection, it took up a large amount of my creative energy until I came up with a new order. Now I know that I need to re-order it again, and what is more I also need to produce some new work - but since I was ill over Christmas my creative juices seem to have dried up.  I have experienced these creative deserts before - sometimes even reading favourite or new authors isn't enough to inspire me. I know it will pass - the worrying thing is that I have a deadline to work to. I find myself longing for another writing retreat in Wells...


111) Maybe This Time - Alois Hotschning (fiction)
110) Search Procedures - Erin Moure (poetry)
109) Carrying My Wife - Moniza Alvi (poetry, re-read)
108) The Storm House - Tim Liardet (poetry, re-read)
107) The Bridle _ Meryl Pugh (poetry)
106) Stag's Leap - Sharon Olds (poetry)
105) Swimming Home - Deborah Levy (fiction)
104) Open Door - Oscar Guardiola-Rivera (fiction)
103) Portrait of My Lover as a Horse - Selima Hill (poetry)
102) The BBC International Short Story Competition 2012 (fiction, short stories)
101) Cosmic Ordering for Beginners - Barbel Mohr and Clemens Maria Mohr (non fiction)
100) Unleash Your Creativity - : Secrets of Creative Genius (52 Brilliant Ideas) - Rob Bevan and Tim Wright (non fiction)
99) Spider Bones - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
98) Little Gods - Jacob Polley (poetry)
97) Burying the Wren - Deryn Rees-Jones (poetry)
96) Stone in a Landslide - Maria Barbel (fiction)
95) Beside the Sea - Veronique Olmi (fiction)
94) The Beautiful Indifference - Sarah Hall (fiction, short stories)
93) Pelt - Sarah Jackson (poetry)
92) Nameless Earth - Robert Gray (poetry)
91) Swift - Jennie Feldman (poetry)
90) The Book of Blood - Vicki Feaver (poetry)
89) A Little Book of Meat - Selima Hil (poetry)
88) Lunar Moths - Jo Haslam (poetry)
87) 81 Austerities - Sam Riviere (poetry)
86) The Polish Boxer - Eduardo Halfon (fiction)
85) Recyclopedia: Trimmings, S*PeRM**K*T, and Muse & Drudge - Harryette Mullen (poetry)
84) These Days - Leontia Flynn (poetry)
83) Tender Buttons - Gertrude Stein (prose/poetry)
82) Cobweb Walking - Sara Banerji (fiction)
81) Arguing with Malarchy - Carola Luther (poetry)
80) Clueless Dogs - Rhian Edwards (poetry)
79) Grace - Esther Morgan (poetry)
78) The Underground Man - Mick Jackson (fiction)
77) Wild Abandon - Joe Dunthorne (fiction)
76) Profit and Loss - Leontia Flynn (poetry)
75) Fall - Amy Newman (poetry)
74) For the Good of the Earth and Sun Teaching Poetry - Georgia Heard (non fiction)
73) Misadventure - Richard Meier (poetry)
72) That Awkward Age - Roger McGough (poetry)
71) A Light Song of Light - Kei Miller (poetry)
70) The Keys of Babylon - Robert Minhinnick (fiction, short stories)
69) 26a - Diana Evans (fiction)
68) Maggot - Paul Muldoon (poetry)
67) The Wasteland and Other Poems - T.S. Eliot (poetry - re-read)
66) Ramshackle - Elizabeth Reeder (fiction)
65) The Opposite of Falling - Jennie Rooney (fiction)
64) Occupation - Angela France (poetry)
63) Down the Rabbit Hole -Juan Pablo Villalobos (fiction)
62) Jack Straw's Castle - Thom Gunn (poetry)
61) Salt Rain - Sarah Armstrong (fiction)
60) Jo Shapcott - Tender Taxes (poetry)
59) Jo Shapcott - Phrase Book (poetry)
58) Jo Shapcott - Electroplating the Baby (poetry)
57) Best American Poetry 1997 - edited by James Tate (poetry)
56) Broken Things - Padrika Tarrant (Fiction - short stories)
55) Of Mutability - Jo Shapcott (poetry - re-read)
54) Best American Poetry 1992 - edited by Charles Simic (poetry)
53) The Water Babies - Charles Kingsley (fiction)
52) The Last Falcon and Small Ordinance - Paul Perry (poetry)
51) It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be - Paul Arden (non fiction)
50) London Bridge - Simon Smith (poetry)
49) Anvil New Poets 2 (poetry)
48) Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie (fiction)
47) Waffles - Matthew Welton (poetry)
46) Before I go to Sleep - S.J. Watson (fiction)
45) Legato the Ju-Ju's Cure - Simon Parsons (poetry)
44) The Departure - Chris Hamilton Emery (poetry)
43) All That I Am - Anna Funder (fiction)
42) Glad of These Times - Helen Dunmore (poetry)
41) A Bowl of Warm Air - Moniza Alvi (poetry)
40) Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (fiction)
39) Carrying Rain - Karen Dennison (poetry)
38) Carrying My Wife - Moniza Alvi (poetry)
37) Sidereal - Rachael Boast (poetry)
36) Mangoes and Bullets - John Agard (poetry)
35) Selected Poems - Elizabeth Jennings (poetry)
34) The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins (fiction)
33) Devil Bones - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
32) 206 Bones - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
31) A Smell of Fish - Matthew Sweeny (poetry)
30) Remember - Agnes Lehoczky (poetry)
29) The Dark Film - Paul Farley (poetry)
28) Flatlands - Victor Tapner (poetry)
27) This Line is not for Turning: An Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Poetry - edited by Jane Monson (poetry)
26) Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson (fiction)
25) The Book of Matthew - Matthew Welton (poetry)
24) Intimates - Helen Farish (poetry)
23) Domestic Violence - Eavan Boland (poetry, re-read)
22) Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen (fiction)
21) Stonepicker - Frieda Hughes (poetry)
20) Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson (fiction)
19) Spilt Milk - Sarah Maguire (poetry)
18) Homesick for the Earth: Selected Poems - Jules Superviele with versions by Moniza Alvi (poetry)
17) Ariel - Sylvia Plath (poetry - re-read)
16) We needed coffee but... - Matthew Welton (poetry)
15) The Knife Drawer - Padrika Tarrant (fiction)
14) Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (fiction)
13) Wordsmithery: The Writer's Craft and Practice - Edited by Jayne Steel (non-fiction)
12) The Range-Finder's Field Glasses - Graham High (poetry)
11) Collected Poems 1968 - Roy Fisher (poetry)
10) Fiere - Jackie Kay (poetry)
9) Glad not to be the Corpse - Lydia Harris (poetry)
8) Appearances at the Bentinck Hotel - Tim Cockburn (poetry)
7) Divining for Starters - Carrie Etter (poetry)
6) Black Juice - Margo Lanagan (fiction - short stories)
5) Public Dream - Frances Leviston (poetry)
4) Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes (poetry - re-read)
3) Birmingham River - Roy Fisher (poetry)
2) Standard Midland - Roy Fisher (poetry)
1) Salt - Jeremy Page (fiction